Friday, October 21, 2016

Kurutta Ippeji

A Page of Madness (1926)

Teinosuke Kinugasa

Janitor works at asylum so he can be near his mad wife, with their daughter's visit causing inadvertent consequences. Memories of the past, with the depressing present in the sanitarium, form this collective tragic potpourri that is further saddened by the visual representation of crazed, disturbed patients within the confines of the location. Eventually the janitor and those doctors at the asylum clash, with the patients also involved as both onlookers and participants. Highlights include opening dance that is both imagined as a grand presentation as if on an elaborate stage only to be explained as in a patient's mind & the patients losing control when the dancing girl inadvertently draws their attention, encouraging wild reaction that places the staff in a riotous situation they must temper.


This will be difficult for some as no titles of dialogue help to serve as exposition for certain characters, with their actions and behavior as guide for what we see. The confluence of images often spilling over and into each other, as fantasy, memory, and reality must do to those mentally ill unable to balance it all can be quite jarring. Some powerful imagery and this overwhelming feeling of loss and accepting it (losing one's mental faculties is about as tragic as death itself) really drives home a grueling decision the janitor and daughter must make at the end. A silent film masterpiece I think. The asylum activities also offer us an inside glimpse into the prison of madness that holds them.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

A few young men board a train for certain destinations, encountering a passenger (Peter Cushing) who fancies himself a “teller of the cards”, a tarot deck found spilled out of his bag during a brief nap in a car, and with their permission (they must tap on the top of the deck three times) Cushing foretells a possible fate awaiting them; these fates make up the stories in this Amicus anthology. Cushing, with bushy eyebrows and rough beard, looks like a ogre, but his inoffensive and polite voice counteracts his sinister appearance. 


The first tale has an architect commissioned to an island to revisit his ancestral home sold to a now-deceased archeologist with a widow who lives there with a groundskeeper and maidservant. Supposed legend was a dispute over the property, with the architect’s family perhaps getting rid of the opposition to the claim. A coffin is found with a possible werewolf inside. But is what is inside the coffin the architect needs to worry about? Rather disappointing opening tale just doesn’t do enough with the werewolf to satisfy to my liking, and the possibilities with the hidden room in the basement doesn’t get enough time to utilize the premise of “ancestral curses”. Sometimes anthologies feature stories just perfect for the fifteen/twenty minutes given to them. I think with this one, it needed more time to build upon its historical significance to the architect and the current owner.

The second tale is a doozy: a vine growing on the wall of a father’s house develops intelligence and a will to preserve itself threatening him and his family! The vine seems afraid of fire but will that fear remain? A vine killing a dog and a grown man (an authority in plant species), soon growing at an alarming rate to the point where it is strangling the outer exterior of the entire house just looks preposterous. Thankfully it’s over rather quickly as not to overstay its welcome to embarrass itself any longer than necessary. Done completely straight instead of tongue-in-cheek might charm an audience more accepting of it than I was.

As each “premonition” is introduced, Cushing’s “Dr. Shreck” seems to pressure the other men to participate, as Lee continues to offer his art critic disapproval (“It’s just nonsense!” Lee chimes in…). When Cushing pulls a fourth card at the urging of those who listened to their premonition, always it seems to be the “death card”.

Third tale has a happy-go-lucky musician of jazz band booked to the West Indies to perform, soon encountering voodoo. So the musician hears of voodoo and experiences a live celebration in dance and sound, primed to take from them some of the music and incorporate it into his own band’s routine. Despite warnings from the chief among these celebrators that the musician should not steal from their god, Dembala, he doesn’t heed to them, returning home without a care in the world. Sure enough, he has a music number using from the voodoo sound he heard in the West Indies with the expected supernatural results befalling him. A lot of wind with doors and windows blowing up and shut. Voodoo tribe representative arrives to snatch away the music piece penned by the musician, leaving him fainted on his apartment floor. That’ll teach him to steal.

My favorite of the tales has Lee as an incorrigible, snobbish art critic with the kind of opinion many seem to hold with great importance. He offers his opinions with plenty of grandiose elitism. It is like a poisoned pen, except his is with harsh words. What makes this so much fun is the artist Lee rips into at an art showing: Michael Gough. Gough gets him, too. While a company of onlookers follow Lee as he denounces Gough’s work, a “new artist” has a painting to supposedly be featured at the gallery for which the art critic is asked to offer his “astute opinion”…as Lee finishes praising the painting for all its qualities, Gough and his assistant reveal the artist, a monkey! A good laugh for all at Lee’s expense is quite gratifying. And Gough gets in his head. Every time Lee is around to speak to an audience, Gough is there to torment him with his lone snafu that made his opinion questionable. So desperate to rattle off Gough, Lee runs him over! In doing so, Gough loses his hand and the pain of not being able to paint causes him to eat a bullet. But the hand…disembodied and dangerous to Lee! Lee can’t get rid of it…but it might just get rid of him! Gough, for once, garners some sympathy while Lee is perfectly hissable.

Donald Sutherland certainly seems to stand out in this British cast as the final man to receive his possible fortune. He’s a young doctor who brought home a French wife, working in a small practice with mentor, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian). What Sutherland doesn’t realize is that his wife is a vampire and one of her victims is a boy unfortunately leaving his window open at night. Adrian influences Sutherland to put a stake through her, but what Donald doesn’t realize is that there just might be more than one bloodsucker living in his little town! Sutherland’s appearance in an Amicus horror anthology will certainly garner interest from his fans and those curious to see him so young in his career. In about five years he’d be one of the most successful American actors working in such films as M*A*S*H and Klute. Here his character is a worthy patsy for a vampire to use to get rid of a rival. It is a clever twist that leaves poor Sutherland looking like a mad fool, carried away in cuffs as the police take him for a loon.

The disembodied hand special effect is rather ineffective in today’s climate of spoiled audiences getting their computer graphics. This has been done a few times, once more by Amicus with “…And Now the Screaming Starts!” For the most part, this works because I think there’s plenty of room provided to imagine this all in Lee’s mind. As if the hand is a manifestation of a guilty conscience he can’t rid himself of.

I got a good kick out of Cushing’s part in the film. Being an unapologetic Cushing fanboy, seeing him made up to look like a gruff and grim purveyor of doom would later be a type of model for his antique shop owner in “From Beyond the Grave”. Lee scoffing at him over and over, only to be convinced that Cushing might just have a gift is most amusing. Neil McCallum (as the architect), Alan Freeman (as the father facing the vine; Bernard Lee of James Bond fame is a “plant specialist”), and Roy Castle (as the musician thieving voodoo sound) make up the remaining cast, all taken aback by Cushing’s premonitions and how the cards read bad towards them.

As expected, the anthology format for Amicus followed a number of characters introduced to potential scenarios that often meant misfortune for them. Typically they meet a framework character (twice Cushing) that introduces them to what they might or will face (or have already faced). Most of the time it never ends well for them. This early Amicus effort is no different. 

Werewolf: **
Creeping Vine: *½
Voodoo: **½
Disembodied Hand: ***
Vampire: **½
Framework: ***½

The Oblong Box (1969) is that Price film that kind of lingers on the periphery while the Red Deaths and Pit/Pendulums are right at the forefront getting all the attention. This isn't prime Price but his star power nonetheless is unmistakable even when he's considered hammy or not at his best, his name carries weight. A horse kills an African boy and supposedly Sir Edward is considered responsible, with a natives' disfiguring and sorcery of madness sentenced to him. Price is brother Sir Julian, himself not quite free of certain sins in Africa, where their business "plunders the land of its riches" (sugar) and is quite wealthy because of it. The dead boy's murder is a catalyst that springs all that befalls aligning forces associated with Edward and Julian... including a swindling attorney (a game Peter Arne), a witchdoctor (Harry Baird) brought from Africa, the attorney's colleague, and even a scientist (Christopher Lee) who pays for bodies supplied by Burke and Haire types robbing graves for him. Alistair Williamson could have been just a stunt double considering he's dubbed by a rich, textured English voice...

Hillary Dwyer is Price's love interest, but his Julian is as accursed as Edward...doom awaits them. Uta Levka as a busty hedonistic pub sex worker and Sally Geeson as a lusty maidservant offer less cherubic gals that aren't quite as classy as Dwyer...they're more carnal than cultured.

Edward goes mad over and over, leaving his trail of bodies, under the crimson hood, while Julian seems to be ready for happiness and marriage. These two will meet again.

Story has Arne's Trench orchestrating escape for Edward leaving him to remain buried alive. Graverobbers for Lee's surgical scientist dig Edward up, with matters spiralling out of control. Murders lead to Lee's doorstep, the crimson hood linked back to him. Cops now close to Lee has him ever most nervous.

A murdered hotel proprietor by Trench to supply a "face" representing his brother at a bed funeral, native sorcery, psycho under crimson hood, premature burial in the oblong box, and body snatching: another day at AIP!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell

The ultimate kitchen sink movie! I've seen this once before but it had been a while.


Disaster movie. Airplane goes down on a supposed island after encountering possible flying saucer emanating a bright light. There's a bomb threat and assassin who recently killed a British ambassador. Not to mention birds flying right into the plane. The sky is a vibrant orange, with one of the passengers mentioning how peculiar the atmosphere seems to be.

Sci-fi. Alien goo that crawls inhabits humans to use as hosts, once done when vessel no longer benefits the life form leaves the body to deteriorate rapidly as it turns into ash carried away in the wind.

Vampire movie. To sustain it's habitation in the human body the alien must feed from the blood of other humans, turning the victim's faces blue.

Antiwar film. The screenplay goes out of its way to condemn the human race over the wars of the film's time. One character is a war profiteer in cahoots with a corrupt politician who allowed the guy to sleep with his wife in exchange for a major contract. An American woman was flying to pick up her husband's body after he was killed in Vietnam with tearful outbursts common. Hiroshima is a part of the conversation. War footage is shown.

Apocalyptic film. The film's main heroes, a brave and protective pilot and a humane stewardess, find civilization which has been drank dry. Alien ships travel towards earth preparing for colonization.

We see humanity at its worst (the politician and weapons businessman go at each other, while the businessman's wife defends the politician who is aching for water; the politician is helped by the pilot and stewardess after he had voluntarily left the damaged, downed plane only to return when peril faced him and rewards them by locking them out! The pilot must contend with a bunch of petty, unscrupulous folks who give him nothing but grief despite being cherubic at every turn. Bickering, temper tantrums, pointed accusations, guns going off, the survivors turning on each other) and best (the pilot protects a panicky passenger as rocks avalanche from a mountain and this kid turns out to have called in the bomb threat for kicks! The pilot and stewardess help those undeserved of such kindness).

You have a head splitting open and the alien goo using the wound as an entrance into human victims. You see a bomb go off while in the hand of a goof. Bodies fall off cliffs. Petrified corpses sometimes let us see just what happens to humans invaded and then discarded. You see a mall littered with vampire victims while scattered cars reveal those inside dead. Flying saucers glowing red. This is one delightfully tacky, wacky, colorful, over the top, unsubtle, and unpredictable little everything goes genre mishmash. The cast letter rip. Even the space biologist seems to reveal a less favorable side when he's okay with sacrificing one among them to see for sure if this vampire exists...he's one of the level-headed, cerebral types. There's even a psychiatrist who instigated paranoia by pondering if a bomb was what the pilot was checking for when he and a fellow co-pilot (who perishes when the plane crashes) received a warning from headquarters, just to gauge the reactions of the passengers!

You just can't go wrong with this one. Good music and exciting direction. It is fun and fast paced. A zany treat!

Monday, October 17, 2016

City of the Dead (1960)

“For Whitewood, time stands still.”

Elizabeth Selwyn, the witch burned at the stake in New England (Whitewood, for which a majority of the film is set), proclaims her devotion to Satan, offering her soul as the Puritans chant, “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!” in the 1960 gem, City of the Dead (1960), which was also known as the “Horror Hotel” (my less favorable title for it, resorting it to some type of misleading exploitation movie). It opens with scholar/historian/teacher of the occult, played by Christopher Lee, passionately telling Selwyn’s story to a small number of students, including the most interested, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), looking to beef up her grade point average for a hopeful scholarship, is given directions to Whitewood by teacher, Alan Driscoll (Lee), and she sets off with plans to get as much information that could be found. She doesn’t realize this trip just might be her last! Driscoll just says for Nan to mention his name, and, in doing so, she would have no trouble finding a room and receiving hospitality. Is it any coincidence that the [horror] hotel of Whitewood would be ran by Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel) who looks identical to Lizzy Selwyn or that a supposed hitcher picked up by Nan would look like Selwyn’s consort, Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall)? When gathered together, these two suspicious folks talk of something near an open fire in the fireplace of the Raven’s Inn, and it is clear plans for Nan seem to be in order. Lee had this look on his face right before Nan leaves his office that just spells trouble. Someone that enthusiastic in a subject (witchcraft) and looking rather pleased when Nan is gung-ho about willingly going to a place near and dear to his (obvious) dark heart raises suspicion itself. But onward Nan goes, seemingly unaware of what she’s heading towards.

He will be pleased.”
Dennis Lotus is Nan’s brother, Richard Barlow, and when his sis remains unaccounted for the obvious thing to do is go and find her…but we know before he does this what exactly he’ll be in for, and what awaits him. Tom Naylor is Nan’s beau, Bill; he, too, obviously has a vested interest in finding her. Nan met a granddaughter, Patricia (Betta St. John), in Whitewood to a blind priest whose parish has long since been impoverished of a congregation. This priest, almost like lingering ghost, with only his face visible to Nan, warns her of getting out while she still can…you can sense that he knows all too well the evil that resides and remains in Whitewood. Patricia seems to be nervous when Nan mentions about why she’s in Whitewood, elusive when its history is brought up to her.

Whitewood is a godsend to those who love their Gothic chillers. The fog that conceals the ground, hovering at the knees, as much a landmark of Whitewood as the deteriorating buildings and disheveled graveyard  that make up the town, all leave me to marvel: this film’s main setting is the very example of why the Gothic genre is my favorite. Despite dancing couples, in modern 60s dress, lost to some jazz as Mrs. Newliss looks on with great interest to see if Nan will leave her room and join them, knowing very well that this night isn’t about any ordinary socializing.

Candlemass Eve, February 1st, is a ritualistic ceremony is to take place, and Nan will be quite the invited guest. Whitewood posits a gathering, as chants overheard outside begin to fill Nan’s room, with her inquisitively following the peculiar sound in the basement below her. What awaits her Nan couldn’t possibly imagine. This is where the film is unmerciful. You might see the Psycho model here: journeying to her doom, the opening film’s supposed lead exits the film early. Those who love her will go to find her, with themselves learning all too well the danger that befell her.

About forty-five minutes in, Lee's true colors are revealed. Seeing him defend witchcraft against Nan's brother who opposed it with his science elevates his actions later, with motives unearthed, later unveiling he was born in Whitewood. This detail, previously unknown, significantly compounds on the tragedy of Nan Barlow. He must be stopped. Elizabeth Selwyn must be stopped.

What I like about this movie is just how the risks involved with getting Nan to Whitewood and her fate at the hands of the coven is their own doom. Those that are concerned with Nan's welfare, the brother and the boyfriend, aren't about to sit around idle as time passes with no answer from her. Lee shows the concern, as well, when the priest's granddaughter shows up at his office to return a locket to Nan's family. It is easy to see that invaders to Whitewood's continued existence is at risk.... Nan might have been a victim, but because her evil teacher chose her, he and the coven jeopardized their own idyll.

One little addition included I enjoy is Jethrow's residual haunt. The fog moves and seemingly has a life it's own. Sticking his hand out, just like that eerie hitchhiker on the Twilight Zone, he asks for a ride with Nan, then Patricia. He grins wickedly when mentioning that he only appears to a chosen few...he and Newliss are especially fond of the fact she's a descendant of those accursed. In two days the witch's sabbat; tthey might just have plans for Patricia.

I love how sinister and insidious Newliss and Jethrow are. The confidence in that laugh Newliss has, feeling that eternal life thanks to Ole Scratch would continue unabated. Can Nan's brother, not particularly a religious man as much as practical, truly stop the dead as they commence with their unholy misdeeds? Will Nan's beau be able to assist? Can help from the shadow of the cross be the coven's undoing?

Although the ending is never in doubt, the sight of robed Satanists burning at the image of a huge cross, plucked from the cemetery, is a sight, as is the moody finale at the strike of twelve, a knife on the verge of slicing Patricia's throat. Richard engulfed in robed devotees, trying to free himself. The basement with its thick webs and sacrificial table under the Raven's Inn. The foggy town with its scattered flock eyeballing intruders. No safeguard against possible peril...quite a gloomy and unwelcome piece of property, a strip of haunted land whose ghosts pretend to be ordinary when their town's presentation is anything but.