Category Archives: 1960

Blu-Ray News #174: Village Of The Damned (1960).

Directed by Wolf Rilla
Starring George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn

Warner Archive is bringing one the creepiest movies ever made to Blu-Ray — Village Of The Damned (1960). I’m not gonna go into any detail on this — there might be someone out there who hasn’t seen it, its 1964 sequel (Children Of The Damned) or its (why?) remake.

One quick thing: MGM was gonna shoot this in the States with Ronald Colman, but due to complaints from religious groups, it was shelved. Eventually, the studio brought it back to life as a British picture starring George Sanders (who’s perfect). So glad they made it in the UK.

Warner Archive has scheduled this trip to Creepsville for release later this summer. Can’t wait to see how good this thing’ll look in high-def. Essential.

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Filed under 1960, Barbara Shelley, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

RIP, Lewis Gilbert.

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Lewis Gilbert (left) directs Sean Connery and Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice

Lewis Gilbert
(March 6, 1920 – February 23, 2018)

Lewis Gilbert, who directed the underrated James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967), has passed away at 97. In a couple more weeks, we would’ve been 98. You Only Live Twice gets a lot of flack, but to me it’s a knockout — from the incredible sets by Ken Adam to one of John Barry’s best Bond scores to the fact that Sean Connery hits a guy with a sofa! It’s big, loud and a bit obnoxious, and I love it.

He also directed the hip and influential Michael Caine movie Alfie (1966). Then there’s the terrific Sink The Bismark! (1960), with Kenneth Moore, Dana Wynter, Michael Hordern and some outstanding model work — all in black and white CinemaScope. It’s just a great thing all-around.

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Filed under 1960, 1966, 1967, James Bond, Lewis Gilbert, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #154: Two More Hammer Double Features From Mill Creek.

A couple years ago, Mill Creek Entertainment treated us all to a couple of twin-bill Blu-Rays of some Hammer horror pictures. While some folks had problems with the transfers — I thought they were terrific, you sure couldn’t complain about the price. My hope was that those titles would sell enough to warrant more, and it looks like they did. The next two double features pair up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960) and The Maniac (1963) with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). All four of these were originally released by Columbia in the States.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

These four films come from Hammer’s string of often Psycho-inspired thrillers of the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch. This is a good one.

Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Starring Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

In a way, it’s hard to believe this story of an old man praying on young children even exists. But it does, Hammer made it, and while it’s hard to take (especially is you have a teenage daughter), by implying what’s happening rather than showing it, it becomes all the more effective. That’s a lesson I wish all filmmakers would learn. Not for everyone, for sure, but it’s excellent.

Oh, it was called Never Take Candy From A Stranger in the UK.

(The) Maniac (1963)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Kerwin Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, as he pounds gallons of brandy, is a little jarring.

Michael Carreras’ direction is a bit flat, and the movie suffers for it. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. What the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope — love those B&W ‘Scope pictures!

For some reason, Columbia dropped the The from its title in the US.

Richard Burton (center) is about to kick Donald Houston’s teeth out in Where Eagles Dare (1969)

Donald Houston, the picture’s maniac, would go on to appear in my all-time favorite movie — he’s the Nazi agent Richard Burton kicks in the face during the cablecar fight in Where Eagles Dare (1969). In Maniac, he’s appropriately over the top, and stills of him with his torch and goggles fascinated me as a kid.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

This time, Hammer aimed for something more in the vein of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). They wisely got the great Richard Matheson to write it and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead to star. Good, creepy stuff. This would be Bankhead’s last role, aside from her turn as Black Widow on Batman.

Mill Creek has these scheduled for a March release. I’m eternally grateful for their ongoing efforts to bring movies like these to hi-def at such low cost.

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Filed under 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Richard Burton, Richard Matheson, Robert Aldrich

Happy Birthday, Vera Miles.

Vera June Miles
(Born August 23, 1929)

Vera Miles was lucky enough to survive Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but she had to be the one to discover Mrs. Bates.

Vera shot scenes as John Wayne’s wife in The Green Berets (1968), but they were cut by Warner Bros. I’ve never even seen a still from one of her scenes. Wayne made it up to her by casting her as his better half in The Hellfighters (1968).

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Filed under 1960, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Vera Miles

Happy Halloween.

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Halloween in Wisconsin in 1960 looks like it was a lot of fun, especially the Paul Landres double feature at the Neenah.

Here’s hoping your Halloween is every bit as terrific.

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Filed under 1960, Hammer Films, Paul Landres, Roger Corman, The Three Stooges

Blu-Ray Review: The City Of The Dead (1960, AKA Horror Hotel).

City Of The Dead UK quad

Directed by John Moxey
Screenplay by George Baxt
Story by Milton Subotsky
Director Of Photography: Desmond Dickinson

Cast: Patricia Jessel (Mrs. Newless), Dennis Lotis (Richard Barlow), Christopher Lee (Alan Driscoll), Tom Naylor (Bill), Betta St. John (Patricia), Venetia Stevenson (Nan Barlow)

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John Llewellyn Moxey’s The City Of The Dead (1960), under its American title Horror Hotel, was one of those movies I bumped into a lot on TV as a kid. If I came across it, I’d always watch it through to the end.

The sets, the lighting, the fog — there’s something about this movie that really gets under my skin.

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It’s a really simple story: a college student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to Whitewood, Massachusetts, for some research on 17th-century witches (at the urging of her professor, Christopher Lee). That research ends up being a bit more primary than she had in mind, as she discovers that Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), who was burned at the stake in 1692, is running the Ravens Inn under the name Newless. Why do witches, vampires, etc. take on a new identity by simply reversing their last names?

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The City Of The Dead is often compared to Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), with it assumed that Moxey ripped off Hitch. But while there are similarities — a pretty young woman heads out on her own, checks into a creepy hotel/motel and something bad happens midway through the picture — The City Of The Dead began production before Psycho. As Horror Hotel, however, it hit theaters in the States after Hitchcock’s film debuted.

By the way, this picture is an early effort from the folks who later became Amicus Productions and made horror films throughout the 70s.

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It couldn’t be more obvious that Whitewood is a soundstage, not Massachusetts. Some see that as a sign of its limited budget, others as part of the stylized, atmospheric look. Whether it’s due to aesthetics or economics, to me it’s one of the picture’s greatest strengths. No other movie looks like this. Desmond Dickinson’s camerawork is terrific.

You can see all this plainly on the new Blu-Ray from VCI, which makes use of original material from the British Film Institute. There’s been some criticism of the framing (1.78 vs. the UK version’s 1.66; it probably ran 1.85 in the States), but the film’s never looked better on video. The contrast seems perfect, accommodating both the fog and, say, headlights in the same shot, without either being compromised. Audio is fine, doing justice to Douglas Gamley’s creepy score. And there are a slew of extras, from multiple commentaries to the trailer to the shorter US cut of the film (Horror Hotel).

No matter how shoddy it might look, I’d recommend The City Of The Dead. This Blu-ray makes it absolutely essential for fans of 60s horror.

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Filed under 1960, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, VCI

Blu-Ray Review: Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 1 — The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll/The Gorgon.

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With a string of terrific Blu-ray releases, this Fall is really turning into a hi-def trip down Memory Lane — so much of the stuff that rotted my brain when I was a kid has been announced for release on Blu-ray. One of the first to make its way to my mailbox and Blu-ray player is Mill Creeks’ Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 1.

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The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960; US Titles: House Of Fright)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher, David Kossoff, Oliver Reed

Hammer always put their own spin on the horror standards they tackled, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. Their Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) is rather boring, but his potion transforms him into the suave, yet lecherous and murderous Mr. Hyde. Minus the murder part, this seems like a precursor to Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963). This framework provides ample opportunity for everything from rape and murder to snake-charming — the kind of stuff censors pounced on, resulting in a cut-up American release from American International. This has never been held up as a prime Hammer picture, but it’s well made and Christopher Lee’s in it.

Shot in MegaScope, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll was released in the UK in Technicolor. No such luck in the States — AIP went with crappy Eastmancolor prints. Lucky for us all, Mill Creek offers up a gorgeous transfer from original, longer British material, with the proper title and the kind of eye-popping color these films are known for.

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The Gorgon (1964)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe, Barbara Shelley, Prudence Hyman

The Gorgon (1964) was the first Hammer film I remember seeing (during one of those local-station all-night Halloween marathons), and it had a huge impact on me. From the Technicolor to the blood to Cushing and Lee to the Gorgon herself, I absolutely loved this thing. And I still have a soft spot for it, even though the studio certainly made better films.

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It still has one of my favorite Hammer moments, as Professor Heltz (Michael Goodliffe) writes the letter while turning to stone. (That’d be a fun poll, wouldn’t it — “What’s your favorite single scene in a Hammer horror movie?”)

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On Blu-Ray, The Gorgon won’t turn anybody to stone. It’s beautiful. The color’s appropriately saturated, the 1.66 is spot-on and James Bernard’s score sounds great (and as eerie as ever). Some folks have been harsh on these Mill Creek Hammers, but I don’t get it. There are no complaints here. I’d love to have every horror movie the studio ever made looking as good as The Gorgon does here.

gorgonmummy-adBy the way, The Gorgon played theaters in a twin bill with The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964), which is is included in Mill Creek’s Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2, which we’ll get around to soon.

With these Blu-Rays in your collection, you might end up with some duplication from some of your other Hammer sets. But the improved picture quality and terrific price make it worth the double dip. For Hammer fans out there, this set (and Number 2) is highly recommended. Thanks, Mill Creek, and keep ’em coming!

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Filed under 1960, 1964, AIP, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Jerry Lewis, Mill Creek, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher