Tag 1970s

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Dynarama Means Supreme Adventure!

Sinbad and his crew accidentally acquire part of a mysterious golden tablet which was being delivered to Koura, an evil magician. Upon arriving in the kingdom of Marabia and speaking to the Vizier, Sinbad finds out that Koura had planned to find all three parts of the tablet which would show him the way to a fountain of youth and provide him with the necessary powers to rule Marabia forever. With Sinbad’s piece and the Vizier’s piece, they set sail to find the final piece of the tablet and put a stop to Koura’s evil plans.

 

After The Valley of Gwangi’s disappointing box office returns, stop motion effects maestro Ray Harryhausen and long-time producer Charles H. Schneer returned to the world of fantasy adventure. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad had been a rip-roaring success in 1958 and Jason and the Argonauts provided even more of a triumph in 1963 but other films such as First Men in the Moon and Mysterious Island had failed to set the world alight. Interest in this type of special effects driven film had dwindled. A couple of other projects had stalled and Harryhausen needed to get something off the ground. So it was decided that Sinbad would return, fifteen years after last sailing onto the big screen. He returned not just once here but again a couple of years later in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Whilst fondly remembered nowadays for their innocent charm, neither of these Sinbad films rank up there with Harryhausen’s best work.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is a good fantasy film but not a great one. Whilst it doesn’t feel as epic as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (the monsters, whilst impressive, are less grand than the cyclops or the roc), you certainly get more of an exotic feel. The locations are more varied, the costumes more lavish and the colours more plentiful. Heck, even the cast look more Arabian so as not to repeat the same mistake of featuring a white-centric cast portraying Arabian sailors. Whilst the budget for this film was considerably low for the type of movie it was, the production design and the cinematography really give it that full-on fantasy feel. These truly feel like foreign lands, inhabited by strange beasts and even stranger tribes.

Like the majority of the films that he did special effects for, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad has a plot which is merely a dot-to-dot connection between all of the Ray Harryhausen-engineered special effects set pieces. You really do get the sense that the film is just biding its time between the next Harryhausen monster popping up, with the flimsy plot acting as a pointless Macguffin for Sinbad to set sail. The problem with the two later Sinbad films opposed to Harryhausen’s earlier hits is that the pacing was dreadful. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the worst culprit, saving almost all of its good stuff until the final third. It’s quite a slog to get through and then when you eventually do get to see the monsters, generally speaking they’re pretty unimpressive considering the standards that Harryhausen had set.

There’s the usual variety of monsters taken from all manner of mythology, religion and folk tale but apart from one fantastic creation, the rest just aren’t memorable in the slightest. You remember the Cyclops. You remember Talos. You remember the skeletons. You’ll remember little from this. The centaur and the griffin which fight at the end of the film are well-designed but they look like poor imitations of more popular Harryhausen monsters and don’t really generate the ‘wow’ factor from the audience. There is the customary monster versus monster tussle which doesn’t really create any excitement and is a shadow of previous encounters. The ships figure head which comes to life in creaking wooden glory is decent because it’s slightly different to what Harryhausen usually created but doesn’t do an awful lot and doesn’t really pose much danger. Previously, these were the highlight of the films but it seemed like Harryhausen was running low on ideas and they end up looking like afterthoughts, shoe-horned into the film rather than having the film built up around them.

The one major gripe I have is with the homonculus, the small winged creature which acts as Koura’s eyes and ears early in the film. Whilst the effect itself is typical Harryhausen (and again seems to be a rehash of previous monsters), I fail to see the need for it to be included in the film. Could they just have Koura use a crystal ball or something to spy on Sinbad? It seems like the animation wasted precious time for Harryhausen when he could have been focusing on something bigger and better for Sinbad to fight. He did the same thing again in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger by animating a baboon for a large portion of the film when a real-life monkey would have been sufficient to see to the needs of the plot.

Thankfully, these weaker rehashes of earlier work are rectified with the inclusion of Kali, the six-armed fighting statue. Not taking into the account the religious ramifications of bringing to life such a thing, the monster is amazing. The fight between Kali and Sinbad’s crew is superbly choreographed and highly exciting as the statue moves around swinging swords and really getting stuck in. It’s a pity that this wasn’t the final set piece of the film because it’s as good as anything you’ll see in any of Harryhausen’s films and the film never really gets back up to full speed after it. Coupled with a barnstorming musical accompaniment from composer Miklós Rózsa and the scene is the film’s highlight. If you want to see where George Lucas got his inspiration for General Grievous from, check this scene out.

John Phillip Law looks more like an Arabian sailor than his predecessor did and manages to deliver the goods where it matters. He’s not the best actor and some of his delivery is a bit stunted but he is more than capable of handling himself in the action scenes. Tom Baker makes for a suitably slimy Koura, adding a right amount of nastiness to a role which is sometimes dogged by camp and cheese but genuinely looks like a fun role to be playing. Caroline Munro looks stunning in a low-cut, cleavage-heavy dress as the slave girl Margiana and provides the necessary eye candy. I’m hard-pressed to think of any woman who looked as drop-dead gorgeous during the 70s and 80s than Ms Munro. Rounding off the cast are a whole host of supporting actors to provide Sinbad with an always-expendable crew. You wonder why so many men volunteer to sail with him when the history of survival for his crew is not good in any of these films.

 

Harryhausen would only make two more films after this one. Realising that father time and father technology were catching up, he called it a day after Clash of the Titans. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad clearly shows that the ideas were running low and he was running out of steam by this point. It’s a decent Saturday afternoon timewaster and still infinitely better than the likes of today’s soulless CGI-driven drivel.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Gory! Ghastly! Ghoulish!

Forty years to the day since the last manifestation of their dreaded vampirism, the Karnstein heirs use the blood of an innocent to resurrect the evil that was the beautiful Carmilla. Taking the name of Mircalla, she heads to an all-girls school to indulge in the blood of nubile victims. As the school tries to cope with the sudden surge in dead bodies, horror writer Richard LeStrange falls in love with Mircalla and tries to persuade her to forsake her vampire ways.

 

Starting with The Vampire Lovers and ending with Twins of Evil, Lust for a Vampire was the second of Hammer’s loose ‘Karnstein’ vampire trilogy featuring a female bombshell in the role of an undead bloodsucking menace which were based on the Gothic novel Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Basically a female Dracula, the first film set male pulses racing and censors into a frenzy over its frank depictions of lesbian vampires, extremely daring for its time. Desperate to tap into this new well of potential, Hammer decided to keep the ideas going and this infusion of softcore eroticism with their traditional Gothic approach was to continue. After all, it wasn’t like Hammer to milk an idea for all it was worth…… (Seven Frankenstein films, eight Dracula films and four Mummy films).

Dracula was old hat by the time The Vampire Lovers rolled out. Hammer began to realise that no one wanted to see some ever-aging old man (no offence to Mr Lee!) lust after and get jiggy with young women, not when the alternative was to witness smoking hot young lesbians lust after and get jiggy with young women. The stark sexuality of The Vampire Lovers was a clear decision to showcase what Hammer believed its audience was now craving: stunning young ladies in various states of undress sinking their bloody fangs into each other. Times were a changing but sadly beneath the sexed-up surface, Hammer had big problems.

Lust for a Vampire had a bit of a troubled pre-production. Original director Terence Fisher had to pull out due to a leg break. Peter Cushing withdrew when his wife became ill. And Ingrid Pitt, who shot to fame in the original as Carmilla, refused to return for whatever reason. So the potential of what may have been had these three talents been present remains to be seen. But In many ways, Lust for a Vampire is the embodiment of what was going wrong with Hammer in the late 60s and early 70s, with or without the presence of that trio of talent. Struggling to find new material which had the same impact of The Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula, the studio was recycling the same old stories time and time again. Changes were being made both in front of and behind the cameras, with the likes of the old guard of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Terence Fisher becoming side-lined in favour of newer, fresher talent trying to make the same impact as this trio had done when Hammer hit the big time (though Fisher was due to direct this until he broke his leg).

Despite the changes, Lust for a Vampire is little more than your typical Hammer vampire film. There’s a lot of nice eye candy with the lavish sets, colourful garbs and anatomically-pleasing actresses. There’s the usual music, the array of characters populating the background of the film and the Gothic vibe still flows freely. But it had all become very mechanical by this point, even a little cynical. I mean why set a film about lesbian vampires inside an all-girls’ school? Events happen just as you’d expect them to. There’s no unpredictability anymore and everything runs like clockwork, from the opening kill scene right to the angry villagers storming the castle at the end. A few scenes of decent atmosphere, including a fantastic resurrection sequence and eerie midnight romp in a fog-shrouded graveyard, are scattered throughout but on the whole this is been there, done that material.

Jimmy Sangster, was the man who wrote the screenplays for Hammer’s big three hitters from the late 50s, takes the helm for this one but can’t seem to rejuvenate the same tired formula. With pen in hand, Sangster did some amazing work but was unable to replicate this behind the camera. Also joining in the new guard is Ralph Bates who made a couple of appearances in Hammer films during the late 60s and early 70s, clearly being groomed as a younger, more dashing version of Cushing or Lee. Bates’ performance as the feeble-minded teacher is pretty good and the scene in which he begs the vampire to bite him and turn him into a servant (and thus pleasure him) is a highlight.

The real star of the show is the actress who took over the lead role from Ingrid Pitt. Yutte Stensgaard is just as easy on the eyes, if not more so, and is the archetypal image of the buxom Hammer leading lady from this era. The role involves her shedding clothes frequently (no complaints here), bearing some false vampire teeth from time-to-time and erm, did I mention removing her clothes? Stensgaard’s voice has been dubbed over and she’s not the greatest actress but could be pound-for-pound one of Hammer’s most sensual, exotic leading actresses. Her character is torn between her vampiric urges and the man that truly loves her and Stensgaard’s natural vulnerability is well-matched for this dual role. She was very much a one-hit wonder and I doubt too many other actresses made as an indelible impression as her in the vampire genre.

 

Lust for a Vampire is most likely the Hammer film most adults will have in mind if they’re asked to talk about the elements of the typical Hammer film and that’s mainly down to its stunning star. Overall, it’s passable entertainment, nowhere near as rampantly sexy as it’s made out and generally does what it has to do with minimum fuss, providing just enough of the good stuff to keep you ticking over.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dogs (1976)

Dogs (1976)

Don’t Pet Them … Fear Them!

In a small California town, mutilated cows are baffling the local authorities. It is clear that the attacks are not the work of coyotes or wolves but when some of the town’s citizens are found dead, the finger of blame is pointed at the town’s dogs which are grouping together in packs and inexplicably attacking people. A pair of college professors attempt to find out what is turning domestic pets into blood-thirsty killers before it is too late.

 

‘Animals attack’ films were all the rage in the 70s as every sort of animal imaginable suddenly become a man-eater, peaking with the monstrous success of Jaws in 1975 but taking in bees, spiders, grizzly bears, ants and frogs along the way to name a few. Preying upon fears that nature would begin to take revenge upon man’s meddling with the planet, Dogs places man’s best friend in the role of the avenger, striking back at mankind for whatever reason (it’s very sketchy at best). It’s hardly got enough in it to warrant cult status but Dogs was surprisingly effective in places. For someone who doesn’t like dogs, the thought of being ripped apart by them had already me freaking out a little beforehand. I guess if you’re a dog lover, then that notion becomes absurd.

The daft premise could have bombed had the material not been taken seriously but thankfully Dogs is as straight as they come. There’s not a joke or sight gag to be had though most likely lots of unintentional humour will arise should you decide to watch this with a few beers. Though the film is meant to be about the four-legged fiends of the title, too much time is spent with the talky, two-legged kind. There is about a twenty minute chunk of time from the title credits in which the main characters are introduced and talk academically and scientifically in very droll fashion. It’s a stretch to sit through it all but there are a couple of vague reasons thrown around for why the dogs are acting in this fashion. Nothing is really explained and the film ends in very similar anti-climactic fashion to Hitchcock’s The Birds in which more questions will be raised than answers.

After the half-way point, the film does pick up a lot of pace as more dog attacks happen and the film’s big set pieces begin to come into play. When the film finally gets into the correct gear, Dogs ticks off the right boxes and unleashes its horror elements. With the majority of the film taking place at night, there’s a suitably menacing vibe to the film. Seeing a pack of ravenous dogs charge out of the darkness towards their victims is an effective sight to send shivers down the spine. The dog attack look real, as stunt people are chewed on by real dogs, and as we all know from seeing dogs in real life, they can be quite aggressive and relentless when they get their teeth into something. The only weakness with the dogs is the lack of them – there are about twenty dogs in total, a variety of breeds, but you never really get the sense that the scale of this uprising is widespread.

Though the film isn’t very bloody, there’s enough splashed around to make it effective. Also adding to the ambiance is a creepy sound effect used when the dogs begin to howl and pack up before an attack – sort of like a warning alarm. This is used to good effect on a number of occasions, particularly during a nail-biting scene involving a drunk posse who have been camping out in the wilderness to hunt the menace, not realising what they have got themselves in for. It’s a fantastic sequence, well-shot, atmospheric and ratcheting up the tension as the posse can’t see the dogs but they can hear them getting closer and closer.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum is top-billed as the alcoholic hippie professor Harlan Thompson and pulls most of the movie together. He’s a bit irritating and abrupt at first but mellows out as the film progresses and he does less talking and more action. There’s good support from George Wyner too who will most likely be remembered more as a comedy actor for his roles as Colonel Sandurz from Spaceballs or the camp director from American Pie 2. Wyner is pretty solid in a straight role as the other college professor. Linda Gray would go to later worldwide fame in Dallas.

 

A dismal first half an hour kills off a lot of momentum that the second half should have had but Dogs tries it’s hardest to recover with some memorable moments and a honest approach which treats its daft idea with a lot of respect. It’s like The Birds…only with dogs…and it’s nowhere near as good. Thankfully the sequel teaser at the end involving a sinister-looking cat didn’t come to fruition.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killdozer (1974)

Killdozer (1974)

Everyone Knows a Machine Cannot Kill. Except the Machine.

A mysterious alien force takes control of a massive bulldozer and proceeds to kill off the crew of a remote construction site on a small island off the coast of Africa.

 

That’s about all the plot you’re going to get from a hokey film like Killdozer. Made-for-TV in 1974, this is now virtually forgotten about – never released on DVD to date in the UK, never shown on television as far as I can recall and what few copies there were on VHS have been well worn over the years. Sometimes there are reasons for such obscurity.  I managed to watch this via a Youtube upload which has since been pulled so those wanting to check it out will be disappointed.

Despite the title, which is something a modern studio like The Asylum would love to have devised for one of their outlandish social media frenzies, Killdozer is sluggishly boring and never once lives up to any sort of throwaway potential the novelty value of a killer bulldozer may have had. At a slender seventy-four minutes, the material that is presented barely manages to extend that far and will have you reaching for the fast forward button before the first quarter is over. It’s just dull. There’s only so many adjectives I could use to describe it so the simplest one will do. It’s dull. Slow. Not a lot happens. No excitement. Dull.

For a start, the idea to locate this monstrous machine in the middle of nowhere with only a handful of construction workers to kill off amidst a few tents is daft as it takes away half of the fun of a bulldozer going on a rampage. Where are the buildings being smashed down? The cars and buses being taken out? A city or even small town location would have been the perfect place to unleash the bulldozer but keeping it confined to a small island without roads and any real buildings is a big cop out. I understand the budget not stretching that far but the idea was more less dead-on-arrival and the location doesn’t help matters one bit. It’s bland, pretty lifeless and looks to have been shot entirely in a quarry somewhere.

Forgive me if I’m wrong but aren’t bulldozers supposed to be really noisy, chugging lumps of metal which you could hear driving up on you? Not the Killdozer! This is a stealth vehicle, capable of smashing its way out of trees and bushes to spring out on unsuspecting victims at a moment’s notice. It’s not like it needs much prompting either with the few characters in the film displaying a sense of stupidity that wouldn’t even wash in the 80s teen slasher films. Who thinks it is a good idea to hide from a twenty-tonne bulldozer inside the metal pipe it has just you crawl into? Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the bulldozer never once manages to appear alive and the film falls flat as a result. There’s hardly any tension or excitement due to its slowness and you could easily outrun it if you put your mind to it. Even the prospect of a bulldozer versus digger showdown can’t liven things up.

The guys that sparsely populate this film consist of a few stock characters including the recovering alcoholic asshole foreman, the token black guy, the nervous one who breaks down and the popular guy. That’s pushing it for individual features as they’re so non-descript that it’s impossible to tell them apart at times. They do a lot of standing around talking and never really seem to ‘get’ the situation that they are faced with especially given their aforementioned stupidity. When the bulldozer is the smartest thing on show, you’ve got issues with your script.

 

Killdozer is dreadful fare which should have been left to rust on the seventies scrap heap. It’s hard trying to find positives to say about it. Even its short running time drags out for an eternity.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1972)

You have nothing to lose but your mind.

In order to meet a requirement for employment, a young psychiatrist interviews four inmates of a mental asylum. He hears their stories about the revenge of a murdered wife, a tailor who makes a unique suit, a woman who questions her own sanity and a man who builds tiny robots with lifelike human heads. The psychiatrist must then decide which inmate is the former head doctor in order to secure his job.

 

Think British horror and Hammer will most likely be the first name on your lips, and rightfully so. The studio dominated the late 50s and 60s with its succession of period Gothic horrors featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, various mummies, werewolves and more. However, you would find a solid case to argue for Amicus, a rival British studio which, after the success of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors in 1964, churned out a further seven horror anthology films of varying levels of quality. Asylum was made mid-way through this schedule and acts as a critical high point where the creativity and originality had just about peaked and the films hadn’t got too formulaic for their own good.

The best thing about these anthology films is that they would feature a number of smaller stand-alone horror stories which usually ran for about ten to fifteen minutes and were linked together by a framing story. The stories were usually well-paced, snappy affairs which meant that if you didn’t like it then you’d only have to wait a few minutes before the next one began. It’s a something for all approach that worked well across their anthology films. For each weak segment, there was always a strong segment to rebound with. Asylum is no stranger to this way of working. Everyone will find something different to enjoy and the four different stories will each appeal to a certain horror lover.

The framing story for Asylum is probably the most interesting of the Amicus anthologies and does a nice job of linking together the individual stories. Writer Robert Bloch (who had previously penned The House That Dripped Blood, not to mention writing the novel Psycho) creates a mysterious tale in which the audience are being tested as much as the young psychiatrist. It also helps that Amicus’ film stock always looked dull and devoid of colour, certainly compared to their lavish Technicolour Hammer counterparts. The gloomy look adds to the creepiness and bleak nature of the asylum.

The first story isn’t particularly exciting about a husband who kills his wife because she won’t give him a divorce. It’s not great although it does feature a highly memorable image – that of a woman’s severed head, wrapped in brown paper, coming back to life and beginning to breathe through the paper. It’s quite an unnerving effect as the body parts squirm and making the paper rustle. However, no reason is given for the woman’s body parts coming back to life and this somewhat sours the whole episode.

The second story is also pretty low key as an impoverished tailor is paid a visit by a mysterious stranger who gives him an even more mysterious material from which to make a suit for his son. Barry Morse gives a sympathetic performance as the tailor and Peter Cushing adds a touch of class as the stranger with a lot to hide. The material glows quite weirdly and the set up to the finale is quite nice, if somewhat predictable. Cushing isn’t in it enough to make much of an impression so it’s a good job that Morse is able to hold his own.

The third story is arguably my least favourite but potentially the best developed of the four as a young woman is released from a mental home to stay with her brother. However she keeps having visions of her friend ‘Lucy’ who tells her to run away. Charlotte Rampling gives a good performance as someone who is delusional but Britt Ekland is her usual self: looks good but doesn’t cut it in the acting chops. The twist in this film is highly predictable right from the start even for the least seasoned horror veterans.

The final story doesn’t last too long and is basically a set up for the finale as Herbert Lom’s doctor creates little robots with lifelike human heads and says he can bring them to life by the power of thought. The robot looks really freaky with their little human heads but the segment isn’t really meant to be as long as the others. It leads right into the finale when we find out just who is the doctor and it’s quite a twist ending. It’s a chilling ending which comes out of nowhere and rounds the film off nicely. It will make you smile, laugh and shiver at the same time, which is precisely the sort of black humoured-horror that Amicus was aiming for.

 

As far as anthologies go, Asylum is a great way to spend eighty-eight minutes. The production is professional enough, the atmosphere suitably creepy for the setting, there are some big names to hold the cast together and there’s a little bit of gore too. It’s a great example of the anthology format being used in the right way.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)

Trapped On A Lost World of Prehistoric Monsters

A group of astronauts escape the imminent destruction of their starship on board an escape pod and head for the nearest planet which appears to be capable of supporting human life. After crash landing on the surface, the survivors find that they have no way of signalling for a rescue and set off to find a safe place to set up camp. However the planet is inhabited by an array of carnivorous dinosaurs which see the new arrivals as food.

 

Save for Ray Harryhausen flying a flag for stop motion monster movies, I didn’t think anyone else made these type of stop motion effects-driven films in the late 70s. But after recently discovering Planet of Dinosaurs and The Crater Lake Monster, I was wrong and look forward to uncovering more of this dying breed of film. Planet of the Dinosaurs is a cheap and nasty drive-in movie by definition but hides within it a fantastic array of stop motion special effects that would have Ray Harryhausen giving them a round of applause.

Straight from the off, Planet of Dinosaurs looks to be a blatant Planet of the Apes clone as we head into familiar territory. As well as the ‘Planet of…..’ title, here we have a spaceship which crashes into a lake in a remote location on a barren planet and the crew are forced to escape before their ship sinks. Stranded without hope of rescue, the crew then set off in pursuit of shelter, food, water and some form of civilisation. Only this is where the comparisons then end – instead of intelligent simians, these unlucky astronauts come face-to-face with a whole host of hungry dinosaurs. And this is where the fun begins. Far from being a serious science fiction flick, Planet of Dinosaurs descends into a cheese fest of epic proportions.

After being harassed by the dinosaurs for the first half of the film in which some of their number are picked off, the survivors decide to fight back and let the dinosaurs know who is in charge (as humans as a race have a tendency to do in science fiction films). From about the half an hour mark, the film is almost a non-stop collection of sequences involving various humans battling against the dinosaurs using spears, bow and arrows and stockades. If you came along thinking that you’d be cheated out of plenty of dino-action, then you’re completely wrong.

Planet of Dinosaurs‘ strength lies in the quality of its monsters. The dinosaurs are old school stop motion. And there are a lot of them. I can’t believe how frequently they appear on the camera. To say that this made outside of the studio system and given how low cost the rest of the film is, the special effects look fantastic. The T-Rex is the standout monster, looking suitably menacing, and could easily have been lifted from a Ray Harryhausen film. There are a stegosaurus, a triceratops and a brontosaurus to name a few others which are all animated with precise skill and technique. A few familiar names crop up in the effects department including Jim Danforth who worked on films like Jack the Giant Killer and assisted Harryhausen in the original Clash of the Titans. With talented people on board to produce some quality special effects, it makes a nice change to actually see where the money has gone.

The script and the acting do the most harm to Planet of the Dinosaurs. Whilst the story itself is basic and sees the ‘futuristic’ humans having to revert back to hunter-gather mode (which is perfectly completed by the abrupt final scene), the dialogue is appalling , though thankfully there’s not as much dialogue as I was expecting given how much action there is. These lines are delivered just as badly by the cast. Made up of gruff, bearded-men and good-looking, busty women, the film could be mistaken for some low rent porno flick. But it adds a little goofy charm to proceedings, especially as one male character spends almost the entire length of the film without his shirt on.

It isn’t just the quality of the dialogue and the delivery of them which is frustrating but the manner in which characters constantly put themselves in danger by making really stupid decisions. The females are the worst – if they’re not forgetting to pack communications equipment when their escape pod sinks, then they’re dropping the group’s food supply over the edge of a cliff. With the captain being an ineffectual dweeb who wants to run from the dinosaurs, another crew man wanting to beat his chest and do his best caveman impression, and another character just generally annoying the hell out of everyone by moaning about everything, there is dissent among the crew. Unsurprisingly, we never get to really know any of the characters in any great depth other than their stereotypes and so our support lies squarely in the dinosaurs, on whose planet these annoying characters have been dumped.

Planet of Dinosaurs also comes off like Tour of the Planet of Dinosaurs during the many scenes of the survivors walking around the desolate landscape looking for safety. There are far too many scenes of them climbing rocks, walking through swamps and scouring through bushes. There’s little attempt to drive the narrative in any direction and by the end of the film, whilst you may have had a fun time, you’d wonder what the point in it all was.

 

Planet of Dinosaurs is a curious film which didn’t sound particularly great but ended up being a lot of cheesy fun. Though it’s supposed to be set in the future, this is 70s camp at its purest. It’s got its fair share of problems but the quality and sheer number of special effects throughout the film should guarantee stop motion fans a great time.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crater Lake Monster, The (1977)

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

A beast more frightening than your most terrifying nightmare!

The heat of a meteor crashing into Crater Lake causes a dormant dinosaur egg at the bottom of the lake to hatch, unleashing a giant aquatic dinosaur which soon develops a taste for human flesh.

 

Cited as one of the worst monster movies ever made, The Crater Lake Monster comes with a hefty reputation to maintain. It does sound like one of those old school sci-fi ‘atomic monster’ flicks that were all the rage in the 1950s but this one was made in 1977, no doubt as some kind of throwback during a time when interest in the Loch Ness Monster had been revived thanks to the exploits of Robert H. Rines’s expeditions. If only The Crater Lake Monster had proven as captivating an attraction as the myth of Nessie.

Make no mistake about it – The Crater Lake Monster lives up to its reputation. With a shoestring budget and unpolished production values, it’s the sort of 70s film that would have played well in drive-ins. Utter tripe from beginning to end, the film does at least have one redeeming factor in the form of the monster. But in order to get to the sporadic and brief highlights, you’ve got to slug it out with one of the genre’s most awful creature feature films.

A lot of the flak comes from the film’s unnecessary focus on Arnie and Mitch, a couple of country bumpkins who live near the lake and provide the film’s copious amount of comic relief. Glenn Roberts and Mark Siegel seem friendly and innocent enough but their characters should have had background roles. I’m not sure whether director William R. Stromberg was the only one who found their antics hilarious but no one else will. It’s padding and blatant padding at that. The two men live up to numerous backwoods stereotypes as the dim-witted handymen who work for beer and each other’s monotonous company. Desperate to stretch out it’s running time to be classed as a full feature film, The Crater Lake Monster also features lots of random zooms and close-ups of the nice scenery. It sure looks like a nice place to visit but this is meant to be a film not a promotional video.

It’s not like anyone in the cast is any better though. Richard Cardella as Sheriff Hanson and Bob Hyman as Doc Calkins are both horrendous in their roles. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe that both men were the local sheriff and doctor respectively and got roped into shooting the film when the director turned up at the lake with a few crew members and asked them to star in a film. Cardella has no other screen credits to his name whilst Calkins only had a prior credit. Based on this evidence, cinema has not missed out on any tricks with either man.

With all of these ‘actors’ running around the lake and local town and doing anything and everything but encountering the monster, the film never gets going. I would say that the pace is off but there is no pace at all. Stromberg doesn’t have any grasp of narrative or structure and just lets things pan out as slowly and as dully as possible. Coincidentally he also co-wrote and produced the film and has never directed, produced or written a film since. I guess that’s all you need to know about the quality on display. Characters are introduced and then dropped. Minor characters become the main focus. There’s no sense of urgency with anyone despite there being a monster on the rampage.

So the film itself is total rubbish but the actual monster looks fantastic. Brought to life with glorious stop motion to give it a realistic feel, the monster is a class above others in its genre and something more akin to a lesser Harryhausen creation. The man responsible, David Allen, went on to have a fantastic career creating the visual effects for such films as Q, the Winged Serpent (also featuring a stop motion dinosaur-like monster), Batteries Not Included and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It just proves everyone has to start somewhere in the film business and it is clear from this film that Allen had talent.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly given the practicality of stop motion, the monster isn’t allotted anywhere near enough screen time and does little more than waddle about on its flippers and roar. The finale involving the monster battling the sheriff in a bulldozer is a big let down too. However in plenty of other scenes, the monster is simply represented with an oversized head floating around underwater. This looks nothing like the monster in stop motion form. But I suppose that is the least of the film’s problems.

 

The Crater Lake Monster is nearly as bad as its reputation claims but the brief stop motion special effects are worth one look and I’m sure you could find a highlight reel lurking on Youtube to save you the ordeal of sitting through the full film. It’s just a shame that these effects are wasted in this hokey micro budget film and are not displayed in something bigger budgeted and more professional.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vampire Lovers, The (1970)

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Beautiful temptress …… or Bloodthirsty monster?

A countess and her daughter attend a ball held by General Spielsdorf. The countess is called away after the death of a friend and her daughter, Marcilla, is allowed to stay with the General and his daughter until she returns. Soon afterwards, the General’s daughter starts to suffer from nightmares, growing weaker by the day and eventually dying from vampire bites. Marcilla disappears and lodges in with Roger Morton and his daughter. Soon the same mysterious illness begins to strike Morton’s daughter, Emma. It turns out that Marcilla is actually Carmilla, a descendant of the Karnstein vampire clan, who have returned to quench their thirst for blood.

 

The Vampire Lovers was made at a time of change for Hammer. New faces were being brought in behind-the-scenes to replace the established old guard and with them came a new wave of horror films, more commercially-aware and which slowly ditched the restrained Gothic pieces of old, replacing them with heaving and more often than not exposed bosoms and greater quantities of bright red blood. The exploitative change in direction was a response to the more shocking European horrors that were beginning to emerge and many consider this the beginning of the end for the studio, which wouldn’t live to see out the rest of the decade. It was ironic that the studio which originally pushed the boundaries of the genre further than they had ever gone in the late 50s and early 60s was now being left behind and made to look out-dated just as they had done to their rivals. That being said, it’s during this period that Hammer produced some of their most interesting work. Proving that there was life in the vampire sub-genre away from Dracula, Hammer loosely adapted the 1872 novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (a novel which pre-dates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some time) and managed to milk it into a trilogy. The Vampire Lovers is the first of this bold new wave of Hammer films, sleazier and more gratuitous than ever before.

All I can say is…..phew! I needed a cold shower after this one. The Vampire Lovers is arguably the steamiest film Hammer ever produced. Compare the sexually-deviant vampires in this one with Christopher Lee’s now-stuffy (at the time) Dracula and the difference in tone is amazing within the space of a few years. Though the exploitative elements look tame by today’s standards, I can only imagine the outcry at such explicit sights of lesbian vampires back in the 70s. Nubile, innocent young women wear flimsy nightgowns, take them off for the camera and cavort and fondle each other in vampiric desire. At times the lesbian elements seem to overwhelm the film and with all of the cheap titillation, the viewer can forget that there is meant to be a serious horror film in here somewhere.

The subject matter lends itself to these exploitative elements but make no mistake about it, this is a Hammer film and their visual prowess was still here in force: mysterious mountain-top castles, fog-shrouded cemeteries, creaky mansions and superstitious villages. Costumes are bang on the money for the time period being portrayed and the film still has that Gothic gloss in everything it portrays. It’s just that this time there’s a whole load of saucy lesbianism running rampant throughout! The Technicolour horror elements are still as charming as ever, with fake fangs, neck bites and a rather weak nightmare sequence clearly stamping the date on the proceedings. But there are also a couple of great beheadings and a nasty staking too for good measure, which upped the ante for what the studio usually got away with.

The Vampire Lovers also introduces the horror world to Ingrid Pitt, who would go on to become one of the genre’s most noted actresses with the brief number of appearances she made in the genre. Ms Pitt’s thick Polish accent gives her character a nice exotic European charm to add to the Gothic vibe of the film and she manages to convey predatory evil and being sympathetically sexy at the same time. It’s her other, ahem, attributes that the film makes best use of it. There’s no denying that the late Ms Pitt had an amazing body and the film is happy to show it off at every opportunity. But the character is a tragic one, wanting to be with her young girl lover forever, only to give in to her primal urges and destroy that things she craves the most – love. Pitt’s sad dialogue after she has witnessed the funeral cortege pass by is as good as anything Hammer ever put to the screen.

All-round acting legend Peter Cushing gets top billing but his time was passing for Hammer and his role is more secondary than anything. Cushing is still on top vampire slaying form when he does show up, showing that he’s lost none of his touch when it comes to staking or beheading the creatures of the night. He’s just grossly underused and bookended into the prologue and finale, with little to do in between. Also of mention is the pretty and chaste Madeline Smith, who plays one of the objects of Marcilla’s affections. Smith has this ridiculous English rose natural beauty and quickly became one of my favourite Hammer girls in her few appearances with the studio.

 

The Vampire Lovers is one of Hammer’s most daring films and definitely their most sensual and erotic work, infecting the narrative with an almost dream-like quality. Though the frequently-naked ladies detract from the more serious moments, there is no question that the well-developed characters and progressive themes for the time (a lesbian vampire, there’s one for the feminists!) make this Gothic horror at its finest.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

When the price of lust is death!

Susan Stevenson and her brother fly to New Guinea in search of her missing husband and enlist the services of an anthropologist to guide them into the dense rain forest. They set off into the jungle but find out that he was captured by a cannibal tribe and that the same fate awaits them.

 

Ah the Italian exploitation cannibal sub-genre. Such an trashy, graphic and repulsive genre that it’s even hard to want to call them films sometimes because they are so depraved and perverse – I mean who in their right mind comes up with these ideas? They went to lengths that no other films dared to go out of decency and, rightfully as was the case in a few extremes, were banned across the world on the whole, Cannibal Holocaust being the most infamous of the bunch.Unfortunately it’s a sub-genre which cannibalises itself so much that once you’ve seen one of these tropical terrors, then you’ve seen them all.

Although slightly less offensive than some of the other sub-genre, Mountain of the Cannibal God adheres to the basic cannibal story of a group of white explorers (and usually expendable guides) head off into the remote jungle in pursuit of some MacGuffin where they have some minor run-ins with other natives before stumbling upon the cannibal tribe and, in rather unsporting fashion, decide to eat their guests. The film looks more polished than the rest, clearly has a bigger budget and isn’t as nasty as its companions. Everything is done as tastefully as possible – if that is possible in itself, knowing how brutal these films can get. The bad taste is kept to a minimum and the animal violence has been toned down – those who have seen the uncut version of Cannibal Holocaust will attest to the disgraceful and sickening acts of wildlife masochism on display. It is still present however and seems to be a token inclusion in this sub-genre, reflective of the no holds barred raw brutality of nature but more used for shock and horror tactics to disgust the viewer rather than send out any primal messages. It has nothing to do with what is happening on screen which is a travesty.

Though on the surface it seems less offensive and more mainstream than its counterparts, make no mistake about it,Mountain of the Cannibal God does boast plenty of expected cannibalistic carnage. Dwarf cannibals are punted over cliffs to have their heads smashed on rocks below. Bear traps crush and maim the legs of those unlucky enough to be caught in them. Would-be rapists are castrated for their indiscretions. Stomachs are ripped open and intestines fed to the tribe. The quality of the make-up effects range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

The big difference with this one is the relatively high star power on display. Making the sub-genre a bit more accessible by casting big names, Mountain of the Cannibal God boasts Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach in the lead roles, a decent coup for such a low budget, obscure Italian film.Andress seems to need the role more, agreeing to doff her duds and go naked for an infamous scene in which she is painted head-to-toe and worshipped by the cannibals.Keach was at a career low at this point (no kidding!) and seems more bored than anything but no doubt a free holiday helped to gloss over that issue.

Despite the moments of gore and the decent cast, Mountain of the Cannibal God rarely gets going at any sort of pace. It takes the characters too long to make any sort of progress into the jungle and despite odd moments of non-speaking guides being killed off bydeadly fauna and flora, there’s not a great deal of stuff happening on-screen. Little more than a step-by-step link between set piece scenes, the narrative gears up towards a finale which never once looks like it will deliver anything short of a total dud. Despite all of the cannibal carnage on screen, the film never gives off any sort of realism vibe. You know you’re watching a film and not a snuff movie, though this may be down to the presence of ‘named’ actors instead of obscure ones.

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God merely goes through the usual Italian cannibal exploitation film motions, only this time with the bonus of a famous cast. More professionally made but lacking the raw, nihilistic punch of some of it’s counterparts, it’s neither the best of this sub-genre, nor the worst either.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Incredible Melting Man, The (1977)

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The first new horror creature

An astronaut returns to Earth from an ill-fated mission to Saturn and is stricken with an awful disease, literally melting away. Escaping his hospital confinement, he finds that the only way that he can stay alive is to kill and eat human flesh.

 

With a title like The Incredible Melting Man, what do you think you are going to get when sitting down to watch it? Well there’s a man in it and, yes, he does melt. 1977 may have been more noted for its other monstrous sci-fi hit (a film set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) but this low budget goop-fest showed that there was still life in adult-orientated shock-horror sci-fi that didn’t involve gold-plated droids and heavy-breathing bad guys. Don’t make any mistakes though – The Incredible Melting Man is not a good film and has been sent up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, though whether it warranted such an accolade remains to be seen.

The Incredible Melting Man sounds decent in concept – the idea of astronauts returning to Earth after being stricken with galactic diseases out of the limits of human knowledge has been a well that many sci-fi films have tapped in to (The Quatermass Experiment springs to mind). But the execution of that concept is woeful. With direction that is lifeless, a script that is as bizarre as it is terrible (with arguments about crackers being a random highlight) and overall production values that scream 70s movie, the film should never have been given the fame that it seems to have garnered.

Well that is until the make-up effects are called in question. When you sit down to watch a film about an incredible melting man, you expect to see an incredible melting man. Thankfully, and rather surprisingly given the poor quality of everything else on show, the special effects are marvellous but that’s expected when Rick Baker is behind them (he did the make-up inStar Wars the same year as this). The gradual decay of the ‘melting man’ is disgusting and you really sympathise for the character all the way through the film right through to the final meltdown.He is a gruesome sight to behold and the effects are done splendidly – at one point one of his eyes just drops out because the flesh and bone holding it in place has melted so badly.Though clearly not meant to have any deeper meaning in the script, the idea that by killing someone else you can preserve your own life is a moral dilemma that would make for interesting analysis. If you were in his position, would you kill to extend your life? Or just horribly melt away?

Unfortunately the special effects are the only positive in the film – the rest of The Incredible Melting Manis virtually a plot-less stalk ‘n’ slash film in which we’re introduced to a minor non-character, they are given a few brief moments to impress the camera and try and eek out some sort of personality before they meet their doom at the hands of Mr Gloop. Replace the astronaut with a guy in a mask and a machete and you have the sort of structure to the narrative.

The acting is shocking too, porn industry standards have been set higher. Undoubtedly the star of the show is of course Alex Rebar as the Melting Man who just stumbles around the woods like a zombie and doesn’t really do much since he’s usually caked up in make-up. The script says that he’s getting stronger as he melts and that he can kill people easier but surely if he’s losing body mass, bone structure and muscle tone, he’ll be getting weaker?

 

Ah who cares?The Incredible Melting Man is absolute nonsense with the exception of Rick Baker’s special effects and it has become a cult favourite because it’s so appalling. Check it out and have a good laugh at how a reasonable concept can make a trashy film when the makers of the film have no idea what to do with it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆