The Night the World Exploded (1957)

The Night the World Exploded (1957) movie poster

director Fred F. Sears
viewed: 11/01/2017

One of the first ever natural disaster movies (please check me on this), The Night the World Exploded shows that it’s not nice to trick Mother Nature.

“It’s almost as if the earth were striking back at us for the way we’ve robbed her of her natural resources. Not very scientific, is it?” This line is spoken by “Hutch”, played by Kathryn Grant, not only the sole woman in science, but virtually the sole woman in the movie.

Made by producer Sam Katzman and director Fred F. Sears as second feature with their astoundingly hilarious The Giant Claw (1957), The Night the World Exploded is by contrast a more earnest horror film. Human activity has brought about a new very unstable element higher into the planet’s crust, causing massive earthquakes.

Hopeful science, like cloud-seeding, saves the day. The element is neutralized in water, so busting dams and flooding places, causing rain somehow solves everything. I say it’s hopeful because humans are able to clean up their messes. An unlikely scenario in which we currently reside.

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969) movie poster

director  René Cardona
viewed: 10/01/2017

Night of the bloody rapes, AMIRITE?

Night of the Bloody Apes is such a mashup of early 1960’s style (and lady wrestlers) with gore and nudity all over the place. The gore is indeed heightened by the inserts of actual heart surgery footage including holding a still-beating heart outside of a torso. The other gore might be less convincing, like murdering a guy by ripping off his bloody toupee/scalp, but it’s copious.

In some ways the movie is quite sentimental. The mad doctor’s love for his son is the motivation for his experiment of placing a gorilla heart into a human being. Combining man and an organ from a less evolved primate triggers what is bestial in man, his less evolved instincts/drives, leading him on a campaign of rape and murder.

And turns him into a lumpy faced monster.

Mexican horror films are pretty consistently awesome.

It Conquered the World (1954)

It Conquered the World (1954) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 09/24/2017

It Conquered the World (spoiler: It didn’t)

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World is really a half-decent 1950’s sci-fi alien invasion picture. It’s undermined (or alternatively enhanced), however, by a classically comical schlock monster that is almost impossible to take seriously.

In the 1950’s it’s always about Communism, isn’t it?

The film starts with a nice opening shot following cool, low budget title sequence. More than anything, it features a cast of folks who perform well and would go on to bigger, better things. Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, and Peter Graves perform nobly.

It features some quintessential 50’s sexism, what with women not understanding stuff like science and whatnot, though also winds up having the wife take on the monster with a shotgun towards the end. So, feminism?

“The world is full of fat heads, full to overflowing.”


Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964)

Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964) movie poster

director Jerry Warren
viewed: 09/04/2017

I like how the Wikipedia author refer to Jerry Warren as “occasional film maker”.

I think it better to call Jerry Warren the author of the most boring bad cult films of all time. Like really, really, really boring.

I doubt that he was the originator of the idea of buying up foreign films (in this case two Mexican films, La Casa del Terror (1959) and La Momia Azteca (1957) and Frankensteining them into something new. But he truly does that here. La Momia Azteca was the source material for his also 1964 Attack of the Mayan Mummy which itself contributes to Curse of the Screaming Werewolf.

The best parts of Curse of the Screaming Werewolf are Lon Chaney, Jr. and the footage from La Casa del Terror. I’ve really enjoyed the Mexican horror films that I’ve managed to see and eagerly wish to see more.

But it is also true that eschewing dialogue through much of this “montage”, if you will, Warren does indeed stumble into some near Surrealist territory. There is so much dissociation and lack of concern for narrative coherence, it does sort of delve into a fantasy of mind.

Or maybe I drifted off somewhere.

Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965)

Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965) movie poster

director  Domenico Massimo Pupillo
viewed: 06/16/2017

Terror-Creatures from the Grave is the most Ed Wood-ian non-Ed Wood, Jr. horror title I can think of. It’s original Italian 5 tombe per un medium (or Five Graves for a Medium), while more accurate, I guess wasn’t an American marketing person’s idea of a seat-filler.

This was the final film in my mini-Barbara Steele marathon, but not necessarily the best to end on. A Barbara Steele film isn’t JUST measured by the amount of Barbara Steele in it, but it is indeed an impactful scale for assessment nonetheless.

Here, the disembodied hands of plague victims long-dead come to life in one of the film’s more vivid moments. Outside of this, the anniversary of the death of Steele’s character’s husband brings about a mysterious call to a notary/attorney from beyond the grave to pay witness to the deaths of all present at the husband’s demise.

Though I’m far from having completed the Barbara Steele 1960’s Italian horror cycle, I’ll stop here at present and catch my breath a bit.

The Ghost (1963)

The Ghost (1963) movie poster

director Riccardo Freda
viewed: 06/14/2017

I’ve already noted the Giallo bent of some of these 1960’s Italian Barbara Steele horror vehicles, flitting between the inexplicable and the evil’s more man-made. I’ve also noted the Hitchcockian qualities therein, especially on the more human-wrought horrors. Director Riccardo Freda apparently like to pay his homage quite clearly. The characters of The Ghost, like his earlier Steele picture The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) are homonyms of the “master of suspense.”

Interestingly, per WikipediaThe Ghost channels a different suspense master, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955). I guess that is a semi-spoiler if you’re waiting to find out whether or not the doings are spiritual or more of this earthly plane.

The story has a somewhat convoluted scenario with an ailing Dr. Hichcock, swinging between suicide and a will to live, while rescued and followed by attempted murder by his wife (Steele) and his physician.

Maybe the least interesting of my Barbara Steele mini-marathon, though fitting so well within this continuum, wives and husbands and murder and ghosts, and that damn solarium, I don’t know what else to say.

The She Beast (1966)

The She Beast (1966) movie poster

director  Michael Reeves
viewed: 06/11/2017

Known mostly for his last finished film, Witchfinder General (1968), Michael Reeves didn’t live long enough to build much of filmography. But it is the quality of Witchfinder General that has endured and thus made Reeves’s tragically short life one of those obscure tidbits of horror film history.

It’s also what led me to dig up The She Beast.

Actually I started to watch an incredibly beat-up version of the film on a DVD, only to really bethink myself that I was willing to bet a better version was out there on YouTube. And indeed there was. If anything, it’s underscored the importance of making sure that any worthwhile film is seen in its best available context and further reason that film restoration is so important.

Because The She Beast, even restored, isn’t a great film. But it’s interesting, slightly weird, and vaguely comic. And the restoration done makes a world of difference.

It stars the magnificently gorgeous Barbara Steele though there is all too little of her in it. It’s about a hideously ugly witch who was drowned in a lake (somewhere in Transylvania?), brought back to life by a doddering Van Helsing, and possessing a young newlywed (Steele).

I have no idea if it was seen by Roman Polanski, but it seems quite the template for his The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), strange semi-gothic horror comedy that it is.

Surely, no one would be remembering Reeves if this was his only film, but as part of what might have been, not the worst starting point for a directorial career.

The Brain (1988)

The Brain (1988) movie poster

director  Ed Hunt
viewed: 03/29/2017

The first 15 or so minutes of The Brain are pretty fucking prime. It’s 1980’s sci-fi/horror and culture satire with freak-out surrealism and crazy hallucinations. The comic satire of pop psychology self-help cultism starts out as mordant and hilarious.

Sadly, the movie can’t keep this pace and limps along through occasional blasts of humor, cheap practical creature effects, and a lot of running and chasing. Still, you’ve got this lovely/awful “brain” behind it all, which controls people’s minds and causes hallucinations in those it cannot control, that also manages to eat people and grow. It’s like a long-lost “Madball” toy on steroids.

This comes from Ed Hunt, he of Bloody Birthday (1981) and features David Gale (so well appreciated in Re-Animator (1985). That’s not real pedigree for this Canadian science fiction slash horror silliness, but it doesn’t need one.

Tom Bresnahan plays Jim, perhaps one of the most obnoxious teenage heroes ever to grace the silver screen. I kept rooting for him to get bitch-slapped.

Still, that opening sequence. And WTF with sodium?

Viy (1967)

Viy (1967) movie poster

directors Konstantin Yershov, Georgi Kropachyov
viewed: 03/01/2017

Whether it’s considered horror or just dark fantasy, the 1967 Soviet picture Viy is pretty awesome. Since being turned on to Russian fantastika cinema, I’ve become a still very wet behind the ears devotee.

But up until this point, I’d only seen the films of Aleksandr Rou. One of the other key names that comes up is Aleksandr Ptushko. Ptushko worked on the effects of Viy and the neither of the film’s two directors Konstantin Yershov nor Georgi Kropachyov have many other credits to their names. I’m not attributing anything, just saying what little I can here. Viy is adapted from Ukrainian the folk tales that Nikolai Gogol wrote, for one more key name.

Compared to Rou’s films, it’s quite a bit much more dark, though still very much steeped in the fantasy worlds of Russian storytelling. Other viewers have compared it to Sam Raimi, noting the somewhat comic aspects of the story of a young wastrel of a would-be priest sitting up three nights with the body of a witch that he killed. But oddly I was reminded of aspects of Japanese horror films about the work, a flavor of that, perhaps.

Viy is not nonstop insanity, but it eventually gets there. The visual effects and designs are surprising and strange, building up to a total phantasmagoria at the end, as good as anything I’ve seen. It’s not the kind of horror that will scare you, but Viy is visually wonderful.

I watched this on YouTube, which isn’t something I do often. So worth it, though.

Angel’s Flight (1965)

Angel's Flight (1965) title shot

directors  Raymond Nassour, Kenneth W. Richardson
viewed: 01/28/2017

Somewhat maligned (one user review reads “Bad Writing, Bad acting, Bad Editing – Great Locations!”) and super obscure, the 1965 film noir Angel’s Flight is pretty interesting. It’s named for the funicular railroad running up Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill, the structure still exists, though the hill itself and the neighborhood depicted in the film, were razed in 1969 via urban renewal.

I’d noticed the Angel’s Flight funicular railroad in another film noir, 1949’s Criss Cross, and it really caught my eye. Apparently, Angel’s Flight and Bunker Hill showed up in a bevy of films noir like Cry Danger (1951), Joseph Losey’s American re-make of M (1951), and Robert Aldrich’s classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955). I’ll have to make it a point to watch and re-watch those.

The movie itself is low budget and feeling it, but watching the movie via a rough YouTube print, cries out for restoration. To get your hands on an obscure flick, it’s worth watching, but the print doesn’t do the movie any favors.

Indus Arthur stars as a neighborhood burlesque dancer (read: “stripper”) who slashes “pretty men” when they start to get fresh. William Thourlby (the original Marlboro Man) is the drunken writer who wants to pen an ode to Angel’s Flight, falls for the dancer, and discovers her secret.

There are campish aspects to the movie, but it’s also far from the worst movie of its period and type. The camera work is actually pretty good. And then it’s got what it has: location, location, location.

There is an excellent write-up about Angel’s Flight on by Steve Eifert. I had the pleasure of seeing the railway first-hand the very day I watched the movie (the raison d’etre for the viewing), but it’s very interesting, even if you can’t see what’s left of it in person.