Archive for the British Horror Category

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Posted in British Horror, Christopher Lee, Frankenstein, Hammer, Hazel Court, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on September 16, 2011 by Bill Courtney
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
1957/ Director: Terence Fisher/ Writers: Jimmy Sangster , Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth
The Curse of Frankenstein is truly a history making movie. Prior to Curse Hammer had had some success as a film studio and with the Quartermass films and X The Unknown found a niche in the horror genre. Curse was their first color film, and what a first it was. The scenes are lush and vibrant as well as chilling and nightmarish. Under the direction of the brilliant Terence Fisher the movie single handedly revives the Gothic horror film. While it was a return to the classic, atmospheric horror themes established in the 30’s by Universal studios, but Hammer would certainly tell the stories with their own style. Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would turn the focus of the story on the character of Victor Frankenstein rather than the monster. The obsessed doctor and his hideous creation are played by Hammer first timers Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee got the role basically because of his 6’4′ height, a feature that almost prevented him from landing the role he would make legendary, that of Count Dracula. However it is Cushing that shines as the driven and insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He does frequent himself with hunchbacks as he robs graves but he aligns himself with his brilliant tutor. In later Hammer Frankenstein films the Igor type hunchback is eschewed for career driven young men who fall under Frankenstein’s evil charm. Cushing is dashingly handsome and his face conveys the doctor’s charisma and madness. He is a sociopath really who will let no one stand in the way of his ambitions.

The story essentially follows the classic Frankenstein tale, that of a man whose supreme creation turns into a monster that sets out to destroy its creator. The film has a wrap around narration and opens up with a priest arriving at the jail house where a broken and disheveled Victor await the guillotine. He does seek absolution but just wants someone to believe his incredible story, and that it was a ‘monster’ that murdered his jealous house maid. We are taken back in time to when an already rich and arrogant young Victor Frankenstein meets his brilliant new tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and the two form a deep connection as time passes. However Victor’s passion run darker and more sinister than Paul’s as he desires to test their live reviving techniques on humans and not just small animals. Paul, though strong willed, is susceptible to Victor’s vision and passion and he is soon cutting corpses from the gallows to use in experiments. As in all Frankenstein stories the sublime nature of Frankenstein’s creation is not its physical form, hewed together from collected body parts, but it is to be the thing’s magnificent mind.

While all of Paul’s and Victor’s experiments are going on the house Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (the lovely Hazel Court) has come to stay following the death of her mother. She and her mother have long been cared for financially by Victor and now the two are to be paired in an arranged marriage. But the ambitious Victor has been dallying with the house keeper Justine (Valerie Gaunt) and whispering sweet nothings in her ear¡­ sweet nothings that while rear their ugly heads and spell Justine’s doom eventually. Paul grows fond of Elizabeth and pleads with her to leave and while she senses his sincerity she is intend on wedding Victor. And Victor in the meantime had solved the problem of how to get a brilliant brain into his patchwork ubermensch, he will simply invite the gifted Professor Bernstein up for dinner and chat, then push him over the banister and kill him in a truly amazing scene that does not look like a dummy was used. Paul is over wrought with disgust at Victor and a conflict ensues in the crypt and the brain is damaged, but Victor continues his experiment to success. But his success nearly kills him. After pleading with Paul for assistance in operating the apparatus he returns to his laboratory to find the creature has been brought back to life in his absence. There is a fantastic scene where Lee quickly unbandages his face and reveals the hideous features of Victor’s dark labors. This scene totally scared the daylights out of as a ten year old staying up and watching this late at night all alone. Hammer was careful not to provoke powerful Universal studios with the monster’s makeup and what they did was a creature that looks bloodless and grotesque, with clumps of mangled flesh hanging from its neck rather than neat stitching scars. Lee’s monster has little time on screen in comparison to Karloff’s, and the time spent is in anguish and despair. The creature looks disgusting and shows its homicidal rage instantly upon seeing its creator. The thing escapes and rather than befriending an old blind man kills him. Paul shoots it in the face and in a rather gory scene for the time.


Victor will not give up and digs the beast up and in the last parts of the film it kills the scorned Justine and is discovered by a desperate to understand Elizabeth. While there is moral ambiguity with Cushing’s Frankenstein, a feature not to found in his Van Helsing or other Vampire hunters, he tries to save Elizabeth in the end from the beast he has to destroy. He comes to his senses far too late and in the end he is deserted at the guillotine by Paul and Elizabeth. Could Paul have saved him by verifying the existence of a monster? Or would he have only implicated himself? Did he take it on himself to be Victor’s judge for his horrible crimes? Did Paul fall in love with Elizabeth and see this as a solution to more than one problem?
The film ends with this questions and as we know the story continues in more fine Hammer Frankenstein films. I have the next three in the series and I will get them in due time. Before closing I want to comment on two more things. One is on Terrence Fisher’s marvelous use of interior shots. He does this well in all his films (The Brides of Dracula for another example) and his use of cluttered rooms and exotic interior camera angles is a quality I have long loved in his work. In fact his exterior shots are often bland unless his is using studio sets. The other thing I found noteworthy of this true classic was the score by James Bernard, who scored some of Hammer’s best soundtracks. But this one is simply thrilling and you cannot help but feel Victor’s anguish and fear all the more because of this score.

X-THE UNKNOWN/1957/HAMMER FILMS/JIMMY SANGSTER

Posted in British Horror, Dean Jagger, Hammer, Jimmy Sangster, Science Fiction-Fantasy on July 22, 2011 by Bill Courtney
X-THE UNKNOWN
1957/Director: Leslie Norman/ Writer: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley, Jameson Clark, William Lucas
I was really excited to finally find a copy of this film online. Along with the Blob it is a movie that left me afraid to step out of my bed at night for fear something be lurking and oozing under it, waiting for me. Originally slated to be a sequel to Hammer’s Quatermass Experiment (released as The Creeping Unknown in the States) film but when writer Nigel Kneale refused permission to use his Bernard Quatermass character another film was put together that very much resembles the earlier Quatermass productions. American actor and Oscar winner Dean Jagger heads the cast and was an attempt to draw in an American audience. The film was the first writing product for production manager Jimmy Sangster, who would later go on to write some of Hammer’s more memorable films as well as direct a handful. Direction on X was begun by American director Jospesh Losey (see my post on The Servant) who was essentially in exile in England after having been blacklisted as a communist sympathizer. Some of his scenes are supposed to be in the film even, but after a few days he was removed from the position for what was reported to be health reasons. Actually Dean Jagger refused to work for an alleged commie lover and so Leslie Norman took over the job.

The film opens in the bleak bogs of Scotland where a group of soldiers are conducting tests looking for hidden radioactive isotopes. The testing is soon interrupted when a fissure opens up and two soldiers suffer sever radiation burns. The matter is brought to Dr. Royston who has been working in his little hideaway on experiments involving radioactivity. When he inspects the fissure he concludes it very well could be bottomless and the area is sealed off. Later two boys are out on a dare and while creeping into the decrepit lodgings of a local hermit one of them encounters something and suffers lethal radiation burns. A canister of Royston’s radioactive experiment is found there, much to his consternation. There is a lot of talking and scientific explanations between the films genuinely creepy moments. Later a medical Lothario sneaks a very willing young nurse into what appears to be the x-ray room and one of the film’s best moments occurs when the flesh melts off his face after he encounters the thing. The nurse goes into one of the best horror film screams on record, so good the scene earned a place on my site’s banner. There is a lot more talking and explaining of theories but the films moves along well enough. The creature is not revealed until the last part of the film and it is not bad really. This is a couple years before the blob and the movie was obviously pinched in the budget department. But when your monster is a pile of radioactive mud you are not worried too much. The thing oozes around and over things in believable fashion and I suppose I wish we had seen more of the mass. The beast is done in of course by a quick scientific method that makes little sense but in all these old movies science is both the monster and savior.
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The film is bleak and done in a pretty serious tone. Even the obligatory comic relief provided by two soldiers (one played by Anthony Newly) is nipped when they are consumed by the pile of slithering radioactive mud. It is a movie typical of the times in most ways and the evil was something in part man made and in part unknowable. The thing is basically unstoppable, but like the Blob there was a way to destroy it if you only thought hard enough and could hang on until the last fifteen minutes of the film. Hammer of course will always be remembered primarily for their lushly staged and designed horror films, but they did some other things as well and I think X the Unknown is one of their truly hidden gems. Hidden in a pile of radioactive sludge. A really good movie in my opinion and I think all regular readers of the Café would not be disappointed with it.

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL/1974/TERENCE FISHER/PETER CUSHING

Posted in Anthony Hinds, British Horror, Hammer, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on July 20, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL

1974/Director: Terence Fisher/Writer: Anthony Hinds

Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prowse, John Stratton, Michael Ward, Elsie Wagstaff, Norman Mitchell   

This was the last of the Hammer Frankenstein series and it actually takes up where Frankenstein Must be Destroyed left off as the prior film, The Horror of Frankenstein, broke the continuity of the films by going back to when Frankenstein was younger. Horror also suffered a bit by the absences of Terrence Fisher as director and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, but more on that film another post. Cushing and Fisher are both back for this 1974 film, as are Anthony Hinds (writing as James Elder) and Hammer composer James Bernard. In a couple more years Hammer would see itself all but out of business as the British film company that revived gothic horror and with Monster from Hell they ended on a pretty good note. The only flaws for me are the title that does not really suit the film’s atmosphere and the rather shoddy monster played by David Prowse (Darth Vader) who also played the creature in Horror of Frankenstein as well. There were understandable budget constraints with the film since Hammer itself was going under. The idea of some sort of Neolithic monster is not in and of itself that bad and certainly the monster here is one of the most unique in the annals of Frankenstein films. I think it could have worked better really with less rubber makeup and fakey body hair. But it is easily over looked after a while really. Some people have criticized Madeline Smith’s as the mute assistant Angel but I liked it. The close ups of her face are beautiful and the innocent character’s charm may have been soiled by exploiting her ample endowments with a title corset as is known to be the attire of most Hammer queens.

In Monster from Hell it is now some seventeen years since we have been introduced to Cushing’s generally maniacal and unsound Victor Frankenstein. In this final chapter he is the now resident doctor Carl Victor and treats the inmates of an insane asylum where he himself was initially housed as a resident. He has since gained his position of power by having information that would spell the nasty end of the current director Herr Klauss (played with superb sleaze by John Statton). Soon admitted into the asylum for “sorcery” is the brilliant young doctor Simon Helder (Shane Bryant of Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter) who has long admired the works of Victor Frankenstein. His acts of sorcery involves the creation of life, or of the reanimation of the dead more accurately. He is carted away after the drunken grave robber he employed spilled his guts to the local constable.

In the young Helder Frankenstein sees the opportunity to return with full vigor to his life’s dream of creating not only a living human being from the rotted and mangled parts of dead bodies, but a literal superman endowed with genius and artist talent. The film at times makes note of the Baron’s own lack of refinement in these areas. He admits he is tone deaf and unable to appreciate beautiful music and he shows no interest in higher mathematics. He sees these are the necessities his creation must possess in order that his own brilliance will be revealed. Before the arrival of young Helder the Baron had to rely on the hands of Angel to do the intricate surgical work required to bring a collection of corpses back to life as his own hands were burned and crippled. This no doubt is a tie in to the ending of Frankenstein Must be Destroyed were his creation in that film (played excellently by Hammer regular Freddie Jones) walks into a burning house with Victor thrown over his shoulder.
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In Monster from Hell Frankenstein selects as his subject the body of a inmate who recently attempted suicide. The man is Neolithic in appearance and is easily driven to violence and shows particular interest in dicing up people with broken glass. Victor soon is sewing on the hands of a sculptor and making ¡°arrangements¡± to acquire the brain of the melancholy (though not insane) Professor Durendel (Charles Llyod pack). In this sequence we can see how obsessed and ruthless Frankenstein has become regarding his goals and the gaunt faced and wild eyed portrayal by Cushing is one of his best. The film version I have is the DVD version released in the states which is from their original edited and censored prints. I understand there is a foreign version fans are waiting for that contains a few extra minutes of gore that is unusual for Hammer. In one scene during surgery Frankenstein becomes frustrated with his useless hands and takes a severed bleeding artery in his mouth to clamp it. There are a few other quick scenes in the operating room that do not appear in this American version.

The monster, as in most Hammer Frankenstein films, is a tortured creature who is more than vaguely aware of his dire situation. While I did not care much for the appearance of the cave man type monster in this addition to the series I certainly felt it was one of the most suffering. A musical and mathematic genius’ brain trapped inside the body of a grotesque and suicidal apeman. The thread that connects all Frankenstein films is that the monster turns on its creator and rather than give the doctor the worldwide acclaim he seeks it sets about to destroy him.

In the final scenes the monster runs amok in the madhouse and kills Herr Klaus in a scene that, according to my research, was edited by a few seconds of some spurting blood from a throat wound. The film ends in a most bizarre and un-Hammer style when the inmates, for some reason, turn on the monster and rip it to shreds. They literally disembowel the beast and in yet another edited out scene are supposed to trample its entrails underfoot. Certainly extreme for a Hammer scene that would often show blood but not delve much into actual gore. The movie seems to end on at tone that may have been a set up for yet another sequel with the Baron perhaps assuming total control of the madhouse and young Helder becoming his protrogee and successor. It was not to be the case and the Hammer Frankenstein saga ended here. One closing thought I have about the film is that it captured the feeling and atmosphere of the early films one last time. Though made in 1974 the movie, through Fischer’s able direction, retains the appearance of Hammer’s early glory days. My only criticism of this film might the monster but it is a small criticism really when held in light of the movie’s entirety. Not the greatest film to ever come out of Hammer but still one of its better horror offerings.
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KONGA/1961/HERMAN COHEN/MICHAEL GOUGH

Posted in AIP, British Horror, Gorillas-Yetis-Bigfoot, Herman Cohen, Michael Gough on July 17, 2011 by Bill Courtney

KONGA

1961/Director: John Lemont/Writers: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel

Cast: Michael Gough, Margo Johns, Jess Conrad, Claire Gordon, Austin Trevor, Jack Watson, George Pastell   

Producer/writer Herman Cohen is a name that will be popping up here at the Cafe on a regular basis. Eventually there will be posts on his great dirve-in classics The Bride of the Gorilla, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, his AIP classics like I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and How to Make a Monster,  and Horrors of the Black Museum. In fact Konga is not our first introduction to the works of this dedicated film-maker. I reviewed Trog starring Joan Crawford and Michael Gough, a few posts back and it, like Konga, was one of the color films Cohen made while in England during the 60’s and 70’s. He would also make the thriller Berserk (I do not even know if I have that film here or not. I need a hunchbacked, mute assistant to sort out all the stuff I have on DVDs or on my hard-drive) with Crawford while in England and I understand most people like it more than Trog, but I thought Trog was pretty darned entertaining. Appearing in five of his British productions was actor Michael Gough who seems to have been given free reign with his roles and he had the time of his life hamming them up to the extreme. While some consider his ultimate over-the-top achievement to be the insane curator and scientist Edmond Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum I think he is utterly hysterical as Dr. Charles Decker in the sadly underrated Konga.

During the late 50’s and into the 60’s giant animals and insect swarmed over the surface of the planet, usually the products of atomic radiation or explosions. Most of these unruly brutes were confined to downtown Tokyo or the deserts of the Southwest United States. But for a brief periods some giant monster decided to vacation in Europe and we were treated to some fairly intriguing films like 20 Millions to Earth, Reptilcus, Gorgo, The Giant Behemoth and a couple others before the creatures all had their visas revoked and sent back to Japan and the States. Cohen seemed to have an ongoing interest in killer ape type films and with Konga he made perhaps his best man-in-a-monkey suit ever. The title obviously is a reference to King Kong and in one poster I saw online the title was given as King Konga. Konga is a movie that is really savaged online and is undeserving of the venom it receives. But then maybe these film viewers never grew up with Saturday afternoon Tarzan films or late night creature feature fare. It may be unimaginable to people born after at least the invention of the VCR, mush less DVDs and computer media players, that there was a time when there were basically three TV stations to choose from and the programs on those stations represented the totality of what you were going to see on the tube at any given moment. Of course there were affordable drive-ins and matinees back then but when you a kid with no money and no car you learn somehow to make the best of what you have before you. I grew up in a world where huge Styrofoam boulders hurled by Hercules always bounced off people before they slowly collapsed. In real life they would be flattened to a pulp instantly. I also grew up on more than a few men-in-monkey suit adventures. And come to think I do not know if I have ever seen a genuine gorilla run amok in a movie. The costumes either got better after 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes or they began using computer graphics after that technology developed. What actor would actually want to deal with a real gorilla in a rage?

Make no mistake that the most enjoyable aspects of Konga are Gough’s take no prisoner style of overacting and the corny ape costume. The dialog is hokey but not in an American B-movie style, but in a British B-movie style and I have come to see that is certainly a difference in the way Americans approach a low budget horror film compared to their British counterparts. While Yanks seem to realize they have a turkey on their hands they have some fun with it, the Brits really seem to want to raise even something as ludicrous as Konga to some higher level. Luckily director John Lemont (born in Canada but lived and worked in England) and Gough follow Cohen’s B-movie instincts and Konga never becomes anything too serious. If what I just said sounds like some sort of criticism of British cinema let me be clear that some of my favorite films of all time were British films of the late 50’s to early 70’s. I do not mean only horror films but the social dramas that starred great actors like Terrance Stamp, Tom Courtenay, Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. These are some of the best movies ever made. But we are here to discuss Konga aren’t we?
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Konga is more about the maniacal obsessions of one Dr. Charles Decker than a giant ape. The King Sized gorilla does not really appear until the last fifteen minutes of the movie actually. There are actually four stages of development for Konga: a baby chip, a grown chimp, a grown gorilla and then a giant gorilla that actually does little damage to downtown London. Not as much as Godzilla would do in his sleep in Tokyo or Osaka anyway. Botanist and University Professor Decker was presumed dead in the jungles of Africa after his small engine plane went down and burst into flames. He suddenly appears from the wilds of deepest, darkest Africa one day with a little chimpanzee in tow. Now this scene is simply marvelous. Actor Gough looks utterly uncomfortable with the little chimp and as he is giving an interview at the airport he is holding the chimp and compulsively rubs the darned thing nearly bald. In one scene he is leaning forward in the chair and rubbing the chimps ear thoughtlessly. This scene is mentioned by a few other reviewers of the film so I am not alone in my amazement at how unrelaxed Gough seems to be with the little guy. Anyway, during the interview Dr. Decker explains that he stayed in the jungles and lived with natives of his own accord for one year in order to pursue experiments with some of the insect eating plant life there, that he calls insectivorous with a mad twinge in his voice, and that he has discovered some sort of genetic link between the plants and human beings and that soon his discoveries will have many biology textbooks rewritten. With no further delays he is back to his post at Essex College and his extremely nice campus housing with a laboratory in the basement. He shares the details of his adventures with his assistant Margaret over a warm glass of brandy. As the conversation progresses it becomes clear in a vague British way that Decker and Margaret (Margo Johns) were once more than just friends. Decker is as cold and distant and just down right callus as any pompous snob could be and yet Margaret seems to the desperate type who fears being an old lonely spinster. Her feathers are ruffled still more by all the attention and concern Decker lavishes on Konga, the baby chimp. Decker is clear that Konga is crucial to his experiments in genetics and that the chimp will change forever the world when he helps to prove that there is an evolutionary link between plants and animals.

While he lived with the natives I the jungles of Uganda he discovered that certain plants had properties that when concocted into the proper potion can make life forms grow larger. Exceptionally larger. And if that weren’t enough the potion also puts the receiver under the mental control of the person who administers it to them. That is down right convenient. The first thing to do, after shooting the house cat who licked up a little of the potion, is to give little baby Konga an injection in his rump. I wonder what Gough was thinking as he had to bend down behind this little chimpanzee and, I assume, pretend to stick a hypo in its arse. After some worbly visual effects Konga is now an adult chimpanzee who is soon serving tea on a platter to Margaret, who has now warmed up to the furry fella a bit more. Decker’s greenhouse is now filled with fantastic insectivorous plants. One looks like a huge egg plant with its tongue hanging out. Another is a huge Venus Fly Trap, the type you used to be able to order out of the back of comic books, only much larger.

Well Decker must still pay the bills and he back in the classroom showing a film documentary he made while living with in native village. He explains how lucky he was to rescue all of the photographic equipment from the quickly descending aircraft before he bailed out, and let the pilot plummet to a fiery death. He has some after class words with his curvy, bombshell student named Sandra Banks (Claire Gordon), who not only fills out a sweater quite nicely but is also his most promising and dedicated student. He wants Sandra to assist him with his class more and with some outside projects as well. She is tickled to no end to help the professor in his studies but Decker is simply oozing with lechery. None too happy about the situation is Bob (Jess Konrad) who is smitten with Sandra, but she has made it clear to him that her studies and career come first. The guy would probably be portrayed as jock in an American film but here is simply some awkward nice guy who is sure he can win the girl if he is given the chance. Later Decker has a meeting with Dean Foster who read some about Decker’s claims of standing modern evolutionary theory on its head in the newspaper interview form the airport. The Dean and Decker are soon in a heated debate where basically Decker is called a madman and told he will have to take some time off to rethink his position on established school approved theories. Decker is a guy who easily gets pissed off and when you  take a egomaniac with a volatile temper and mix it in with a super-growth serum that also gives the administer mind control abilities and I think you may have some serious problems on your hands.

Decker takes none to kindly to being called mad and having his tenure threatened so he hightails it home and injects the tea serving Konga with yet another dose of the serum and after some more worbly visual effects Konga transforms into a full grown gorilla, or a full grown man in a fairly decent (for the time) gorilla suit. No point in splitting hairs here over the fact that a gorilla and chimpanzee are two different species since this is a minor flaw in most all ape films. And anyway, what would a giant chimp look like? A gorilla most likely.  Now this leads to another issue most all ape flicks had, and that is how in the hell can a full grown gorilla get around town without causing a commotion. Now I suppose here Konga only had to get from Decker’s dwellings on Essex College campus to Dean Foster’s place but it still stretches the imagination a tad that someone would not notice the brute lumbering about. Needless to say he bursts ungraciously into the Dean’s study and kills him. Decker is a suspect because the heated argument (which he terms a debate between professionals) was over heard by Dean Foster’s secretary. Decker is as arrogant and pompous as any man can be while being interviewed at Scotland Yard but is released because the police are looking for either an animal or incredibly strong man.

Decker holds a cocktail party later for friends and faculty and there meets Professor Tagore (George Pastell from the excellent Hammer version of The Mummy) who it just so happens is conducting almost identical experiments as Decker and is at the point where he is ready to announce his finding to the scientific community. Decker has not worked this hard to be robbed of glory now and so later he pays Tagore a visit at his laboratory and brings Konga along with him to make sure his point is clear. The scene where Gough orders Konga to attack is simply fantastic. He bellows the command in a maniacal fashion that perhaps on he or Richard Burton could have pulled off. Now that Decker has found a way to handle problems with anyone who stands in his way he decides to use Konga to remove the obstacle between him and the luscious Sandra; duffy Bob. Any ambivalence Decker may had about how to settle matters with Bob are erased when Bob basically assault him and kicks his academic ass while Decker’s and some of his class are on a field trip. Bob is simply jealous and lets Decker know he does not want him interfering in his romantic plans for Sandra (though she has basically blown him off repeatedly). Well Konga shows up and kills poor Bob right in front of his own home. I think all these murders takes place in a span of time of just a few days. Decker just cannot control himself. Margaret has let Decker know too that she is absolutely aware of what he is doing and yet she will not go to police so long as he agrees to make an honest women of her finally, to which he agrees with the utmost sincerity, until her back is turned and it is plan that Decker is not the least bit interested in Margaret as anything other than someone to fill up his syringes.

In what is the most unsettling scene of the movie Decker invites Sandra to his place to show her his research and offers her the position of his assistant. He shows her the hot and humid green house with all his strange plants and then loses all control and then starts manhandling her in a scene that Gough must have decided had to be utterly over the top to work. He plants the most awkward and sloppy series of slobbery kisses ever put on film on her reluctant face while proclaiming his love for her. Poor guy must have really gotten lonely out in the jungles. Margaret over hears the entire nauseating conversation and in a jealous rage runs down to poor Konga’s cage and inject him yet again and gain control of him. Problem is she gives him just a wee bit too much and he grows to King Kong size proportions and crashed through the roof of the house. He picks up an immobile rag doll version of Margaret and throws it to the ground and kills her. Sandra has her arm caught by a huge Venus Fly Trap plant and is, presumably since we never see it happen, killed by it in some grisly fashion. Outside Konga grabs Decker, who keeps yelling “let me down Konga” and heads off on a less than climatic rampage into downtown London. I cannot think of another giant ape film where a man is held by the beast and not a beautiful female that the ape has become enamored with. Actually nothing much happens to London at all and Konga is actually killed by machine gun fire from the British Army who arrive on the scene in mere minutes. Konga hurls Decker to the ground before dying and in the final scene reverts back to a baby chimp in a pretty strange looking closing shot. One of Gough’s “greatest” performances in my humble opinion.
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FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN/1967/TERENCE FISHER/PETER CUSHING

Posted in Anthony Hinds, British Horror, Hammer, Mad Doctors and Scientists, Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Terence Fisher on July 6, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN
1967/Director: Terence Fisher/Writer: Anthony Hinds
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont
Frankenstein Created Woman is the fourth of the Hammer Frankenstein films and sees the return of Terence fisher as director after a brief absence from the helm while Freddie Francis directed The Evil of Frankenstein. Anthony Hinds is back as script writer under the familiar pseudonym John Elder. We will get to The Evil of Frankenstein another day as I will eventually get all the Hammer Frankenstein efforts reviewed then move on to the Dracula films. But I did want to clear something up that puzzled me for a while regarding the film Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. In that film I made the error of stating in my review of that film that Baron Frankenstein shows the damage he received at the end of Frankenstein Must Be destroyed. I was recalling that from memory and I am far from an expert on the films but it would seem that in Frankenstein Created Woman Frankenstein already shows some damage to his hands. We may infer from this that the injuries were received at the end of 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein when the castle burns down and then explodes (like in the James Whale version) though it not shown or explained. Anyway, I always wondered about his hands in that film and need to go back and rewatch Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, a fine Terence fisher film as well, and see if his hands are gloved in that one.
There are a few things that set Frankenstein Created Woman apart from the other Hammer Frankenstein features. The most obvious would be the selection of lovely Susan Denberg to the play the “monster.” The Hammer male monsters were all loathsome creatures to be sure with the possible exception being Frankenstein Must Be destroyed where Freddie Jones shows the scars of brain surgery but looks fairly human. The other monsters were mutilated messes that could not speak and were violently insane. Denberg as Christina is beautiful and intelligent (after her transformation, getting to that) though confused and possessed. She is gentle when she is not butchering the men who had her lover Hans take the fall for the murder of her father. This leads to another difference in this film with the other Hammer masterpieces; the Baron (played again with sheer brilliance by Peter Cushing) is more sensitive and caring towards his creation. And who wouldn’t show more affection towards doe eyed, victimized Playmate Denberg than Christopher Lee’s mutilated lunatic in The Curse of Frankenstein.
In this case Cushing’s Frankenstein is perhaps the most likable of his screen interpretations, though he still reeks of pompous arrogance and a tendency to see living humans as nothing more than potential for another of his experiments with the dead. But, unlike some of the other films, he does nothing to expedite anybody’s demise but he does not look gift horses in the mouth either. He is certainly an opportunist and manipulator but his goals in this film are not centered on stitching together rotted chunks of dead flesh to ultimately create a deformed mockery of humanity that is supposed to wow all the skeptics in Geneva but they are centered instead on the human soul itself. Yes, Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in this film is concerned with the state of the human soul and how long it remains in the human after death. The only operating he does is when he performs the most miraculous example of plastic surgery in history on the deformed Christina and turns her from a scarred and limping bar maid into a stunning beauty. He shows concern and affection for Christina and other people as well, to some extent anyway. In one scene that takes place in a court room he is even shown thumbing through the Bible in a fashion that, while not indicating he was about to be born again, shows more curiosty than contempt.
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The story takes place in a small and remote village on the edge of the Balkan Mountains. This time the good Baron is assisted by the good natured but mumbling and sometimes addled brained Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) and by the young man Hans Werner (Robert Morris). Though bright and a hard worker Hans has a tainted past I that his father was the village rascal who wound up with his head in a guillotine for killing a man. Hans witnessed this as a lad and while he is none the worse for the event on the surface he harbors a volatile temper that he sometimes loses control of. As stated already Frankenstein’s experiments center on the human soul itself. In most of the Hammer Frankenstein films the Baron is presented as a scoffing man of science who seems to have little use of religious gobbledygook or those who profess any sort of faith in any of it manifestations. Here the Baron does not even try to establish the existence of the soul and it is taken for granted it exists. What he is concerned with is how long the soul lingers in a body right immediately following death. After an experiment where he is revived from a frozen state the conclusion is about one hour. The success of the experiment is cause for celebration and the two men send Hans to the local tavern to get a battle of campaign on credit. The doctor and Baron between them cannot afford a bottle of campaign! To make sure he can get the drink Dr. Hertz gives Hans his nice over coat to offer in trade. When Hans arrives the inn keeper, Herr Klive, is out but his daughter Christine has in the kitchen preparing food. Christina has some scars on the left side of her face that are never explained and walks with a limp. She also seems to have some partial paralysis in her left arm and hand. Well luckily handsome Hans is one of those rare guys who looks for the beauty inside and he is smitten to the core with Christina though her father thinks he is not good enough for her because, as they say, like father like son. It is not like there are hordes of other suitors beating down the door to his house to court his deformed daughter but he seems to be holding out anyway.
Three local lads born with silver spoons in their rude drunken mouths show up as Hans is leaving. They are looking for another meal and drinks on their growing tab. They do not want Herr Klive to serve them and insist on petrified Christina being their hostess. They ten begin to tease and torment her and soon Hans loses his cool and a fight breaks out. One of the young men, Anton the leader, receives a knife slash across his forehead from a now out of control Hans. When the police arrive in their little pointy Balkan helmets and subdue him the knife is wrested from his grip by Herr Klive. Hans, in anger, says he will kill Herr Klive for that. Well, I think we can see where is going to head right? Soon the Baron and Doctor arrive and manage to get the spoiled little rich boys to pay for their meal for them in exchange for medical treatment. These guys can’t even buy a meal at the local tavern! Thing cut to Hans in bed with Christina. He likes chicks with scarred faces, gimpy legs and paralyzed hands. She helps to cool his anger at the three lads as they serenade Christina outside her window with songs about the ‘ugliest angel.’ We may have no clue as to what kind of creation the good Baron is going to come up with in this film but we know these three guys are monster fodder.
Later the lads go back to the inn and sneak in for free drinks and when Herr Klive returns they figure the only reasonable thing to do is cane the man to death. The police find Dr. Hertz’s overcoat and it soon linked to Hans. Since the apple never falls too far from the tree he is the only suspect and is soon before the judge in a kangaroo court that finds him guilty of murder. He will not tell them that he was in Christina’s bed the night before and destroy her reputation. Well, what reputation really. She is a crippled girl whose father was just murdered. She is away to another village seeking advice on her medical issues but returns in time to see Hans beheaded, the same way he saw his father executed years before. She is driven to commit suicide by leaping into a river. What does this mean? It means that the good Barn suddenly has two fresh bodies to try out his human soul experiments on. He bullied Dr. Hertz into threatening the jail guard with blackmail unless he was allowed to borrow Hans’s corpse for an hour or so. They extract his soul and keep it suspended in some sort of chamber. Soon the soul is being transplanted into the body of Christina who has also received miraculous reconstructive surgery from the baron and Doctor. If they did this as a sideline even they could surely pay for their own meals and a bottle of booze once in a while. Soon Christina wakes up looking like a Playboy Playmate and asking in a dubbed voice who she is. Frankenstein decides he needs to help jar her memory. Best to be delicate and sensitive in these areas. The mind of a such a girl must be a fragile thing. So with all the compassion Cushing Frankenstein has come to be known for he wheels her off in a carriage with her eyes covered then lets her get a sudden peek at¡­what, the old Inn she used to work at? Her old home? Nah, that would eb too brutal on her psyche. Better to uncover hher eyes and let her see the guillotine where, as the soul of Hans, she was executed. She screams and passes out and the Baron smiles and declares the entire event a success.
At this point the film takes another slightly different approach to the story than the other Hammer Frankenstein films in that the creation becomes more of a stalker/slasher type killer with revenge as her motivation. Rather than having people run in fear from a hideous monster or chase the creature through the streets with pitch forks the victims here are willingly lured to their deaths by meat cleavers and knives by the sultry Christina. The only other monster in the annals of Frankenstein history as pretty would probably be Michael Sarrazin in Frankenstein: The True Story. After Christina begins her killing spree the metaphysical theme of the film is all but forgotten about. Too bad. It could have explored it a bit further. Frankenstein seems to have a pensive and reflective moment at the films conclusion when he stares off into the sky after Christina, successfully this time, commits suicide by leaping from a rocky cliff into a rocky surf. Still his Cushing’s Frankenstein remains amoral at best through the film. His arrogance is born of his education and aristocratic upbringing. In fact he may well be above the ignorant town’s people. At the trial for Hans he does what eh can to vouch for the lad but the people in the court room are fueled by the knowledge that Han’s father was a killer and never are the character’s of the three well to do’s called into question but rather they are called on to testify against Hans. They are suspicious of the Baron and are convinced he is engaged in black magic and witchcraft, an accusation he denies but admits that if doctorates were presented for such studies he would no doubt have one. It may have been a strange move on the studio’s part to dub Denberg’s Austrian accent since the story takes place in the Balkan Mountain region. Sure, that would require maybe a Serbian accent but I think her real voice would have been fine. Luckily, in my opinion, this film was released before Hammer went into its nude phase in the late 60’s. While Denberg is lovely it may have ruined the film if the studio has slipped in gratuitous breast shots, which were soon to become common in their Gothic Horror films. I love Terence Fisher’s work but I am not an expert. Did he ever show any exposed breast in any of his films? There would be no need to as this master story teller was more than capable of doing his job while the actors kept their clothes on. Another pretty good Frankenstein outing from Fisher, Hinds (Elder), James Bernard (score) and Mr. Cushing.
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TROG/1970 /FREDDIE FRANCIS /JOAN CRAWFORD/MICHAEL GOUGH

Posted in British Horror, Freddie Francis, Gorillas-Yetis-Bigfoot, Herman Cohen, Joan Crawford, Michael Gough, Robert Hutton on June 23, 2011 by Bill Courtney
TROG

1970 /Director: Freddie Francis/Writers: Peter Bryan, John Gilling

Cast: Joan Crawford,  Michael Gough, Bernard Kay, Kim Braden, David Griffin, Robert Hutton   

Now here is a film that is really beaten nearly to death in reviews over the net and while it deserves some degree of flagellation it is not the total waste of time most people make it out to be. There is some degree, albeit half-hearted, talent involved with the project and while the movies suffers from an over serious attitude often found in British low budget films it is nonetheless worth a watch. At least if you the type who can watch and enjoy other films that producer Herman Cohen produced while he still lived and worked the US such as I was a Teenage Werewolf and I was a Teenage Frankenstein. In fact 1970’s Trog was originally slated to be called I was a Teenage Caveman. Appearing in the film is a regular of Cohen’s other British horror films (Horrors of the Black Museum, Konga, Berserk and The Black Zoo) the manically over the top and hammy Michael Gough. Leading the cast in her swan song film role is Oscar winner Joan Crawford who had all but slipped into 60’s style B movie oblivion after 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. While a lot of her films during this time are derided I thought a couple, like Straight Jacket and Cohen’s Berserk, were pretty good “psychotronic” fare. Off screen Joan was not only downing copious amounts of vodka but more than her fare share of Pepsi as well. In fact, everyone on the set was drinking Pepsi since Joan had become a member of Pepsi’s board of directors and I managed to find a couple amusing shots of Joan sharing a cold bottle of the soft drink with Trog himself. The last piece of talent involved is none other than seasoned Hammer actor, cinematographer and director Freddie Francis (Dracula Has risen from the Grave, the Evil of Frankentstein). Surely Trog will not be remembered as the nadir of any these people’s careers but I found it a fair watch. I may be slightly biased here as Trog holds some sentimental value for me. I saw the film a couple times back when it was first released in San Antonio Texas (Joan Crawford’s city of birth) at the Lackland Air Force base matinee for all of .35 cents. Some young friends and I had a good time reinacting some of the scenes later.

To enjoy the film one must first enjoy the guilty pleasure of the classic man in an ape suit adventure. This can run the gamut from the irritatingly comical Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (irritating because of the obnoxious Martin & Lewis rip off duo of Duke Mitchell and Sonny Petrello, review coming eventually) to Planet of the Apes (the original of course) and even Stanley Kubrick’s opening sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Speaking of 2001 the mask used for Trog is part of a custom used by one of the prehistoric men in Kubrick’s classic. But they literally only used the mask and it is obvious as there is a ape like head with wild and wooly hair planted onto pos a place skinned, hairless guy (Joe Cornelius). Actually Trog does not look too bad and is a step up from previous men in suit apes. He even has some facial expression and lip movement that was lacking in the 1968’s Planet of the Apes masks.
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Trog opens up the credits appearing over a trio of college buddies exploring the English country side looking for caves to explore. They stubble upon a cave that does not appear on any of their maps and excitedly prepare to be the first to explore it. The interiors of the cave, though unrealistically well light, look like something from a Hammer Film of the period, no doubt Freddie Francis’ influence. The lads find an underground spring and showing absolute lack of good judgment decide to swim under the cave wall to see where it leads. Well, it leads to a chamber where a troglodyte exists. It never really explains why he is still alive or how he managed to survive in cave other than he may have been frozen solid and thawed out recently but he is not happy and kills one of the students and drives the other to a near nervous breakdown. The spelunking student who opted to lag behind  Malcom Travers (David Griffith) takes his friend to the Brockton Research Center located, fortunately, right down the road. And if that weren’t lucky enough the Center’s area of research just happens to be anthropology. It is headed by Dr. Brockton, of course, who is played by Joan Crawford who simply never seems to look like a brilliant anthropologist. She is fascinated by Malcom’s story and suspects the creature he describes may just happen be to a prehistoric missing link, the kind anthropologists and evolutionary scientists have bben searching the world over for, and by golly there is one in a cave a short drive from her research center. She goes to the cave with Malcom and appears in its depth in a goofy looking white leisure suit, the same place the three spelunkers arrived at using by crawling and shimmying along in the dark. She aims her camera into a dark niche and on her first shot captures a great picture of what appears to be a troglodyte about to hurl a massive rock in her direction.

Soon the news spreads and the community, led by Dr. Brockton, is at the entrance of the cave in quest of Trog. It is not long before Trog is out of the underground river and killing scuba divers and idiotic cameramen who feel they do not have to use their zoom lens but rather should walk within a foot or two of this raging beast to get a good shot. Dr. Brockton soon immobilizes the pissed off caveman with her hypo gun and he is taken back to the institute, much under the angry criticism of local land developer Sam Murdoch (Michael Gough) who sees the troglodyte as a threat to his investment plans. Who wants a cozy country cottage next door to an ape beast who has already killed a student, a scuba diver and two newsmen. And I have to be honest I sort of see his point. Dr. Brockton must all these lost lives as collateral damage in the big scheme of things and soon she is having Trog play with dolls and toy trains in her research center where he happily gulps down rubber looking lizards for snacks. She is soon joined by scientists from around the world in her quest to establish that Trog must be kept alive. Among the imminent researchers and doctors who support Brockton is the American surgeon Dr. Richard Warren (played by The Slime People’s Robert Hutton) who does something that allows Trog to voice simple and mostly incoherent sounds. All of this worthwhile research is being carried on the in the shadow of town hearings to determine whether or not Trog is a threat to the community or not. The hearings get a little too “lofty” as Brockton, the voice of scientific reasons, squares off against Murdoch the voice of prejudice and religious superstition and sound real estate planning.

Things almost turn against Trog when he kills a German Shepard dog that just wanted play ball with Trog and Dr Brockton, but ultimately the hearings favor letting the murderous caveman remain alive and run around the grounds of the Brockton institute with only Dr Brockton and her young assistants to watch over him. Sam Murdoch has had it and one night breaks into the laboratory holding Trog (after waylaying a night guard with a crow bar of course) and soon is taunting him and throwing objects at him and finally releasing him from his cage. Bad idea, since a minute or two later Trog kills Murdoch and escapes into the local countryside and into the local town where he runs amok for a few minutes. During that time he turns over a car and causes it to immediately burst into flames, throws a produce stand clerk through a plate glass window and hangs the neighboring butcher on a meat hook. The towns folk panic and run through the streets and at one point even run past a Pepsi stand. Again, this is at the behest of Ms. Crawford who wanted product placement for the soft drink in most of her latter films.

Trog grabs some little girl and seeks shelter in a nearby cave though I am not sure if it is the same cave he was discovered in. The British army show up in force and though Dr. Brockton is able to coax the child away from Trog the general sentiment is one of “enough is enough” and the soldiers descend into the cave and amazingly miss Trog at point blank range for a few machine gun clips until finally he is hit and falls and impales himself on a stalagmite. The film is not really too violent except for the meat hook part and even that is pretty tame. Crawford was reputedly unhappy with the results and after viewing the movie claimed she may have committed suicide had it not been for her conversion to the Christian Science religion. Instead she stayed home and became a reclusive “Mommie Dearest” until her death in 1977. She would stop drinking in her last couple years because of her commitment to Christian Science. Michael Gough is great playing the snobbish aristocrat he typically plays but his scenes are pretty sparse. Movies here at the Cafe are not Oscar winners and this is not a movie for people who cannot tolerate bad cinema. It is certainly a bad and cheezy flick but it is well shot and no way a total waste of time. The story has been done before in most all the gorilla movies and the only thing really missing the beauty to further give sympathy to the beast and make its inevitable death at the hands of the military more heart rending. I assure you no will cry when Trog gets blasted at the end and what does that ultimately say about us as a species? That would be another high brow ethical debate for Dr. Brockton and Sam Murdoch had Trog not killed Murdoch. 

 

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE/1958

Posted in British Horror, Camp-Cheese, Science Fiction-Fantasy on May 29, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
1958/Director: Arthur Crabtree /Screenplay: Herbert J. Leder
Cast: Marshall Thompson, Kim Parker, Kyanaston Reeves, Stanley Maxted, Terence Kilburn, Gil Winfield

This is a great little disembodied brain movie full of cold war paranoia and strange science gone awry angst. I could not figure out why these supposedly Canadian and American actors all had weird British or Irish sounding accents until I read that it was part of a series of British movies filmed during the late 50’s that were supposed to be set in the States. It is on the Criterion Collection which as I understand tries to find and transfer the best quailty prints possible. Well, the film looks great and is a barrel of fun. Plenty of unintentional laughs and some really disgusting looking brains that crawl like inch worms using their spinal cords.

The story takes place on and around an American military base somewhere in western Canada. The characters are typical 50’s sci-fi sterotypes… the dashing and sickingly noble hero and sexy but coquettishly innocent female lead who fall in love with each other after the obligatory cold period, the brilliant and ultimately altruistic scientist whose vision to help mankind turns against him and destroies him, and a whole slew of doofy supporting characters that hardly have a disembodied brain between the lot of them. The misguided doctor creates a machine that projects his thoughts as teleketic energy and soon he can move small objects around his room. This is to suppose to help the world somehow. His thoughs soon evolve into an invisible and muderous power that is later made visible by increasing the level of radioactivity at the military base. The creatures are stop-action animated brains that spurt gobs of blood when shot or hacked with axes. One scene I really liked was when some Canadian redneck (played by a Brit) comes mumbling into a room where a meeting of the towns folk is going on. His brain has been drained by the one of the beasts and the look on his blithering face is classic.

Definintly worth a look. Loads of fun and campy dialog that is taken seriously by the cast of bad actors. Check out the weird Jerry Lee Lewis lookin’ guy that runs the nuclear power plant. But the brain beasts are not the only radiactive matter in this fantastic B-gem. The movie contains enough plutonium to power a microwave for six months or more.