1960s

Horrors Of The Red Planet (1965)

horrors of the red planet

This cover makes the film look A LOT scarier than it is.

 

Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as The Wizard Of Mars which hints at the film’s take on The Wizard Of Oz and has also been released as Alien Massacre. When watching the film I completely missed this homage to L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book but reflecting on it I don’t know how. Horrors Of The Red Planet even has a golden road!

Horrors Of The Red Planet tells the story of four astronauts who crash land on Mars with only enough oxygen to last for four days. Rather than wait for a rescue team that may or may not be coming, they decide to try and find the main stage of their rocket which was lost during the crash. The team consists of Dorothy (How did I not see this reference?!) played by Eve Bernhard, who seems to bring very little to the space mission except a pretty face (I guess it was the 1960s…); quick to anger Charlie (Jerry Rannow); Doc (Vic McGee) who is filled with some very spurious science; and the leader Steve (Roger Gentry) who is probably the most wooden of all the terrible acting.  The four head out to Mars taking little with them, a raft, a gun and some very flimsy looking spacesuits. It is a good thing that a) the gravity on Mars is the same as Earth’s, b) there is water on Mars for the raft and c) the Martian atmosphere, whilst thin, has enough oxygen to boost their limited supply and contains no poisonous chemicals.

Whilst on the hunt for the rest of their rocket the team encounter various trials, which I’m assuming are the ‘horrors’ mentioned in the title. Such horrors include large leech-like amphibians more akin to Pokémon than monsters and the inside of a volcano. The team make it safely through the volcano only to discover that the signal the were receiving was emitted by an older unmanned probe. After giving up hope, a storm uncovers the ‘golden road’ which leads them to an ancient and uninhabited city, presumably a version of the Emerald City.

Up until this point the film was pretty enjoyable with very dubious science and only slightly better special effects. The special effects featured the budget director’s methods of choice including blatant cutaways to stock footage and poorly applied overlays, especially for the volcano. Unlike The Deadly Bees though, there was some attempt at consistency, for example the sky on Mars always appearing red (although an obviously painted landscape). This may also have been a reason why so much of the film takes place either in a cave or in a city without windows. The second part of the film however is less good and is taken up primarily by John Carradine (The Grapes Of Wrath) as “The Wizard of Mars” doing a very boring monologue to camera whilst superimposed on a picture of a galaxy. What follows this is clearly a rush job in which director David Hewitt running out of time and having no ruby slippers as in the original tale as well as taking advantage of giving the only well-known actor (Carradine) as much screen time as possible.

This is pretty much the last 20 minutes or so of the film.

This is pretty much the last 20 minutes or so of the film.

It is no surprise that Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as a TV movie. The first half is pretty enjoyable with the poor special effects and bad science, it is definitely not a movie to take seriously nor would I recommend it for realism. However the poor second half really lets it down, so if you are going to watch it I would stop at the appearance of Carradine’s large translucent head.

Rating: 2/5

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The Witches (1966)

the witches

The Witches which was released in the US as The Devil’s Own which is also the name of the novel the film is based on. It opens with a dramatic scene in an unspecified country in Africa in which Gwen Mayfield, played by Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion, is chased out of town by a tribal uprising lead by the witch doctors one of who looks like a giant Mr Potato head. The rest of the film is set in a very different location in the small rural village of Heddaby where she is recruited to be the schools new headmistress by the wealthy siblings Alan and Stephanie Bax, Alec McCowen (Frenzy)and Kay Walsh (Oliver Twist)respectively.

Heddaby seems like a wonderful place to recuperate after the dramatic incident in Africa, however it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems. The first clue that something is off about the village is the revelation that Alan is not a priest as he first presents himself; in fact, there is not even a current church in the village. The headmistress’s attentions focuses on two students, Linda Rigg (Ingrid Boulting, The Last Tycoon) and Ronnie Dowsett (Martin Stephens, Village of the Damned) who, at fourteen has a blossoming potential romance. However, this relationship is cut short when Ronnie mysteriously falls into a comma and coincidently (or not) a doll missing its head with pins stuck in it is discovered.

Things go from bad to worse for Gwen with the death of one of the villagers leading her to jump to the conclusion that there is a coven in the village intent on human sacrifice (quite a large jump from the supposed suicide or accidental death of a drunk man) and she is briefly hospitalised and loses her memory. At the climax of the film, Gwen Mayfield returns to Heddaby in an attempt to regain her memory. Unfortunately, she stumbles onto a ritual in which the villagers intend to sacrifice poor Linda Rigg and she is her only hope of survival.

I have to commend The Witches imagination in costume and props, it has to contain the most ominous feather duster on screen. The witches costume at the final dramatic scene is something to behold, a bright orange tabard with a three horned goat creature on and an excellent headpiece comprised of burning mummified hands. There is little to write about either the acting or the soundtrack in the film, both are average, neither excellent nor remarkably bad and both make the film easy to follow and a joy to watch, ramping up the tension throughout the film.

Not one of Hammer Horror’s best films it is nevertheless an enjoyable, if slow to get started, to watch with some bizarre costume choices. It is missing the usual blood and boobs of a hammer film so don’t expect it but what you get instead is a creepy off-beat tale of witchcraft. I particularly enjoy the link the film makes between witchcraft in different cultures, from the wilds of Africa to the quaint English countryside.

Rating 3/5

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The Deadly Bees (1966)

The Deadly Bees

The title, The Deadly Bees, is pretty self-explanatory; however the film sets up the back story in the first two scenes. The first takes place in a government office where two suited and booted gentlemen receive a letter from a ‘scientist’ about a strain of deadly bees he has developed, warning them to take him seriously or he’ll use his bees to kill some unspecified person. The two ministers write off the letter, along with the several waste paper bins full of previous letters from the scientist as the ravings of a madman. The second scene introduces the main character, Vicki Robbins, played by Suzanna Leigh (Lust for a Vampire) an exhausted pop star that is then sent to convalesce for two weeks on Seagull Island coincidently where the deadly bees have been developed.

Vicki stays with Ralph and Mary Hargrove, played by Guy Doleman (Thunderball) and Catherine Finn (The Creeping Flesh) where she meets H.W Manfred played by Frank Finlay (The Pianist, Lifeforce), your quintessential eccentric gentleman. Manfred is an expert apiarist and is bee mad, he even breeds his bees in his house with a window into their hive. However, all is not as it seems in the Hargrove residence either, with Mr Hargrove’s unexplained nocturnal visit to the stables with a large hypodermic needle. It seems that Vicki has stumbled into a long held feud between the two men. It soon becomes clear that the real villain of the film is Hargrove who goes on to use his swarm of killer bees to kill his wife, or is it? The film attempts to keep the viewer guessing as to which of the not particularly likeable beekeepers is responsible for the swarm of killer bees but it was pretty easy to guess who was responsible from about half way through.

The film suffers from a stilted and predictable script with plot spoon fed to the viewer just to ensure that everybody gets the (hardly complex) plot. Indeed some of the best acting is from the supporting animal cast, particularly the Hargrove’s dog, Tess who is unfortunately the first victim of the killer bees. The special effects of the film are underwhelming, using a lot of spliced shots of generic bees flying around to an ominous sound track and plastic flies stuck onto the face of a victim as they are attacked. In fact, all the bees used in various sequences, from the plastic flies to the superimposed bees and the single close up of bees stinging skin seem to be different types, sizes and colours.

The Deadly Bees is an adaptation of ‘A Taste For Honey’ by H. F. Heard and is one of the director by Freddie Francis’ (The Elephant Man, Cape Fear) weaker films. All in all The Deadly Bees is a pretty naff, unsubstantial film that is not really worth watching except to marvel at the poor effects, which were bad even for that era which gave us such greats as The Birds, Jason and the Argonauts and Mary Poppins.

Fun Fact: Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones appears as a cameo at the start of The Deadly Bees playing with his previous band, The Birds.

 

13 Ghosts (1960 and 2001)

13 ghosts

The 2001 remake directed by Steve Beck (Ghost Ship) bears very little resemblance to the 1960 original by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) other than there is a house haunted by twelve ghosts left to the central family by a creepy uncle with an obsession with the occult.

In the original, the house is left by Dr. Plato Zorba to his nephew and family; Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) and their two children Medea (Jo Morrow) a flirty young woman or indeterminate age, and Buck (Charles Herbert) a ghost obsessed ten year old.  In the 2001 remake, the names are changed, the creepy uncle becomes Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and the nephew and family now consists of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), Mrs. Kriticos having died in a house fire six months previously. In both films the family are having financial problems and the offer of a large house seems too good to be true (and it turns out is!)

In both there are two other characters (not counting the ghosts) common to both films, the lawyer after the hidden fortune – Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner) and Benjamin Moss (JR Bourne) in the 1960 and 2001 films respectively, and the housekeeper/nanny who changes from the inherited housekeeper ‘witch’ played by Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch of the west in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz) to a nanny with an attitude played by Rah Digga. In the remake there are several additional characters including the psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and ghost hunter Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz).

In the 2001 film the house is a work of art, a giant glass jigsaw of sliding walls that release ghosts from the basement and in one memorable scene, cuts the lawyer in half. The house is controlled from a secret room at the top of the house from which the ghosts are released one by one by pulling levers on what looks like a giant old fashioned cash register. At the centre of this house, which turns out to be a machine is a series of concentric rings that begin to rotate from the centre as the film progresses. In contrast, the original house is the usual sprawling mansion and the only remarkable thing is a descending canopy on a bed that was used to smother people.

One thing the two films do have in common is that the ghosts can only be observed through a special pair of glasses. In the original this was used to great effect with Illusion-O, in which a ghost viewer being handed out to audience members featuring a blue and a red cellophane sections. To emulate the ghost viewer I used a handy pair of old fashioned 3D glasses but it is possible to view the film without it. William Castle appears at the start of the film and explains that when the screen turns blue (from the usual black and white) that, if you believe in ghosts to look through the red and if you don’t, to look through the blue section. The ghosts are shown in red with the rest of the scene in blue. The red filter intensifies the ghosts and the blue filter ‘removed’ them. It was very entertaining to play ghost-no-ghost by closing the relevant eye for each filter.

The ghosts in the two films are very different and play a greater role in the film’s plot in the remake. In the original the ghosts consist of four burning ghosts and a cartwheel of fire, a chef and his murdered wife and in-laws and a headless lion tamer and lion. In the remake the twelve ghosts make up the black zodiac and each has a back story. The ghosts range from the first born son (a child dressed as a cowboy with an arrow through his forehead) to the torn prince (a 1950’s jock with a baseball bat) to psychotic killers known as The Jackal and the Juggernaut.

These two films are both good films in their own right but I would not call the later film a remake of the 1960 film, rather that it was inspired by it. Neither film are particularly scary, but have different factors recommending them, the Illusion-O in the 1960 version and the amazing set design in the 2001 version.