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.
Archive for the Christopher Lee Category
1963/Director: Richard Hilliard/Writers: Richard Hilliard, Robin Miller
Cast: Lee Philips, Shepperd Strudwick, Jean Hale, Lorraine Rogers, Dick Van Patten, James Farentino
This is a really decent early slasher/stalker style film produced by Del Tenney, who would go on to direct films like The Horror of party Beach, I Eat Your Skin (Zombies) and Curse of the Living Corpse. The direction by Richard Hilliard is stylish and atmospheric. It came out at a time when a spat of films where showing the influence of Hicthcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. But the film is a cut above the rest in terms of story, acting and imagery. We have a pretty decent police style mystery (with none other than Dick Van Patten, from prime-time’s Eight Is Enough, as the tough talking detective who has two men suspected of some slashing murders in the local college town. There is the tortured artist type (Lee Philips) who paints nude women and has anger issues and a incorrigible punk (James Farentino) who seems the logical suspect but we are thrown a surprise ending that seems more like a Giallo style ending. In fact the film has a few Giallo elements, including a black leather gloved stalker and lots of strange camera shots but the film in fact predates the Giallo genre by a year or two. Bava’s trend sitting Black and Black Lace had yet to be released. Shot in sharp b/w with a good music score it is a must for any fan of stalker/slasher styled films but before they became an actual film genre.
CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (aka THE CRIMSON CULT, THE CRIMSON ALTAR)
1968/Director: Vernon Sewell/Writers: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln
Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, Virginia Wetherell, Rosemarie Reede
Barbara Steele plays the evil witch Lavinia who has placed a curse on the descendants of the small village where she was executed centuries before during the witch trial of Europe and Britain. She looks great all painted green and wearing some sort of horned witches hat. Of course the curse has finally found it way down the line to last of the descendants Robert Manning (Mark Eden) who has come to the village, during the time of the year when it celebrates its wicthy history, to find his missing brother. He attempts to enlist the help of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in his search and I think you can imagine how that turns out. The film has that psychedelic feel of the period with mod dances and groovy parties. Sexy women run around in skin tight clothes and the acting is great, of course, but the film over all is not what you might have wanted from all the talent involved. Karloff was ill during the production and I am not sure if his character being confined to a wheelchair was part of the script or was necessary for the ailing actor. Torture chambers and scenes bordering on S/M make this a must see for fans of the 60’s and 70’s witch films.
1972/Director: George McCowan/Writers: Robert Hutchison
Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden
One of the first eco-horror or animal attack films API’s Frogs is not really that spooky in any real way and the Frogs themselves pose no threat to anyone except to a wheelchair bound Ray Milland at the films end. Millionaire Jason Crocket (Milland) is not going to let anything ruin his annual 4th of July celebration on his plantation style mansion in the Florida swamps. The celebrations are joined by a recently boatless, and sometimes shirtless, Picket Smith (Sam Elliot). Smith was knocked into the swampy lake waters by Crocket’s typically drunken son Clint, played by Adam Rourke who made some of the better biker films of the late 60’s like Hells Angels on Wheels with co-star Jack Nicholson. Also running around in an extremely tight little yellow 70’s style suit is Jason’s daughter Karen (Joan Van Ark of the Dallas spin-off Knot’s landing). While nothing much ever happens in the film I still found it fun to watch. Sam Elliot is good in his super-macho way in this early role. The deaths actually occur by rebelling against destructive mankind animals like snakes, spiders, alligators and even lizards who can somehow figure out the right combinations of poisons to knock over to kill one party-goer in the hothouse. An interesting synthesizer score that sounds like someone just a new Moog or Arp and was pluncking around on the keys and turning the dials to see what would happen. Strangely interesting film overall.
1968/Director: Frank Telford/Writers: John P. Fulton, Frank Telford
Cast: Dan Duryea, John Ericson, Lois Nettleton , Bob Hastings, Vincent Beck
Not one of those films too many people have ever heard of and so all the more deserving of a mention here at the Cafe. A cold war period sci-adventure that is mostly for cheese lovers. While the film is campy from the get-go the film makers were trying to make a real science fiction with a message. The American military has information that the Red Chinese are holding onto a downed alien space craft which they are keeping in the super secure location of a run down old church in the undeveloped countryside. A team led by Hank Peters (Dan Duryea in his last role) sneaks into China with little trouble and there run into a team of Russians who are on the same mission. The film focuses not so much on the threat of the aliens but on the message that we have to cooperate as a species in order to survive (too bad, I wish a big bug had jumped out and eaten a Red myself) and the Ruskies and Yanks unite to use the UFO escape the more evil of the three Chinese. The acting is pretty bad and the camera work and editing are worse, but I enjoyed this one anf recommend it.
The title Hercules at the Center of the Earth is probably closer to the actual Italian title but the titles Haunted world and Hercules vs. the Vampires conjures up more of a Bavaesque world. The story opens up with Hercules and his friend Theseus (George Ardisson) traveling to the kingdom of Ecalia. His true love Princess Dianira (Leonora Ruffo) is waiting longingly for him. He makes quick work of a band of apparent cutthroats who attack him and Theseus along the way even hurling a huge wagon a few of them. Unbeknownst to Hercules the highway robbers are actually assassins that were sent by the evil Lico played by the always reliable Christopher Lee. To my understanding another British actor dubbed Lee’s voice for the film though it really sounds like him most of the time. When Hercules arrives at Ecalia he discovers that not only has his old friend the king has died and his brother Lico has assumed control of the kingdom but that Dianira has been stricken some strange ailment that has left her in a confused, dreamy state all of the time. Of course we can quickly figure out that it is Lico who has put some spell over Dianira to prevent her from ascending to the throne that is rightfully hers.
Hercules is told by the Oracle Sybil that Dianira’s mind can only be restored by the powers found in the Stone of Forgetfulness located in Pluto’s underworld of Hades, and so Hercules sets off on the quest with Theseus and the less than reliable Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) who plays the obligatory goofy sidekick. Before entering Hades Hercules has a quest he must perform first and that is to retrieve the fabled Golden Apple of the Hesperides. The three set off on a ship and soon find themselves on the mythic island and it strange inhabitants of women who dwell in eternal darkness and Procustes the stone monster. To get at the apple Hercules must climb a huge tree surrounded by raging fires and lightening. All of this world is made the more intriguing by Bava’s often extreme lighting effects and elaborate, though low budget, sets. Hercules retrieves the apple and is soon in Hades where the sets get even more grand and visually stunning. While in Hades Hercules does not do battle with monsters or soldiers so much as with the dangerous elements of Hell itself. In one scene he and Theseus must cross, hand over hand, a rope suspended over a lake of fire to reach the stone of Forgetfulness. There a set backs but the magic stone and Hercules returns to Ecalia to rescue Dianira and confront the evil Lico and his legion of zombies who are all taken care of rather easily by Hercules and the huge pillars he hurls at them. Ultimately that seems to be Hercules’s solution to any major threat. Picking up a huge pillar or boulder above his head and hurling at his adversary or adversaries. I sort of wish he had grabbed a sword and chopped up a few of these zombie creatures. The sets here are done in a fine, classic horror style but the actual action is wanting for the most part. That is not a major issue in my book however. The underground worlds, the palace’s and Oracle’s temple are splendid to behold.
As I said at the beginning sword and sandal/peplum films are not everybody’s cup of coffee. There is most definitely a high level of cheese involved in these projects and some of the films made in this genre are deserving of the designation “bad film.” If you like bad cinema you will not find the genre wanting. Last night I watched a little of a peplum called Colossus and the queen and was literally dumbstruck at how terrible the film was. Of course I can’t wait to get back and finish it when I have the free time. However Hercules Unchained and Hercules in the Haunted World would not fall in this ultra-bad category by any stretch though there are some pretty corny moments. These Greek and Roman were usually treated by there European creators with all the sanctity that Biblical epics were treated by their American counterparts. They suffer however from nearly non-existent budgets and casts of mediocre to poor actors. But they are still lots of fun and I find myself being pulled into the myths and legends the films are trying to retell.