Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Vaught has worked in the entertainment industry for several years. Nick currently serves as an Associate Producer on the upcoming horror documentary In Search of Darkness: Part III. Nick also worked on the long-running CW series Supernatural. In 2019 he co-wrote the well-received episode “Don’t Go in the Woods.” In addition, Nick has written punch up jokes on multiple TV pilots and teamed with actor Jason Mewes to help write his biography.

No matter how much of a horror buff you think you are, no matter how many horror movies you think you’ve seen, there’s always a lot more out lurking in the shadows, or in this case the basement. I had never heard of Don’t Look in the Basement before signing up for this assignment. I chose it simply on its title alone. Why? For starters, it has a similar name of an episode of the show Supernatural I co-wrote called “Don’t Go in the Woods.” Beyond that, the title intrigued me because I was always scared of basements as a kid, well basements and attics. I think a lot of us are. They’re dark, dank, dirty; much like the worst corners of our brains where our most devious thoughts lurk. On top of that, they usually only have one way in or out, which makes those locations prime real estate for horror set pieces.

The movie’s set in a sanitarium in the middle of nowhere. The head doctor, “Dr. Stevens” (Michael Harvey), has an unusual way (isn’t that always the case) of dealing with his patients. He believes in letting his patients act out their realities in the hopes it will right them. Dr. Stevens also treats his patients like family; he doesn’t even lock their bedroom doors at night. 

This practice ultimately backfires when Dr. Stevens is working with a patient, “Judge Oliver W. Cameron” (Gene Ross), whose dialogue is mainly repeating his title over and over. Judge Cameron is chopping wood with an axe, which ends up in the back of Dr. Stevens. The head nurse, “Jane St. Claire” (Jessie Lee Fulton), is able to subdued Judge Cameron. This is however the last straw for Nurse St. Claire who herself was the subject of a violent attack from patient “Harriet” (Camilla Carr), who is obsessed with a plastic baby doll, that she believes is real. Harriet attacked Nurse St. Claire believing St. Claire was trying to steal the before mentioned baby. Harriet kills Nurse St. Claire by slamming her head in a suit case!

With Dr. Stevens and Nurse St. Claire dead, “Dr. Geraldine Masters” (Annabelle Weenick), is now the lone doctor. Soon after she takes over, she’s greeted by “Charlotte Beale” (Rosie Holotik), who informs Dr. Masters that Dr. Stevens hired her as a new nurse for the sanitorium last week. Dr. Masters had no knowledge of her hiring and is reluctant to uphold Dr. Stevens’ commitment. Finally, Dr. Masters relents and brings Nurse Beale on board. 

Nurse Beale soon meets the other patients: the brute of a man, “Sam” (Bill McGhee), who has the mentality of an eight-year-old after being lobotomized by Dr. Stephens, “Sgt. Jaffee” (Hugh Feagin), who suffers from PTSD after Vietnam, a nymphomaniac, “Allyson King” (Betty Chandler), a prankster, “Danny” (Jessie Kirby), who you know is crazy because of his loud and obnoxious laugh, and a couple others. 

As Nurse Beale gets to know the patients and watch Dr. Masters work, she begins to wonder if Dr. Masters isn’t a danger to the patients. Her suspicions are seemingly confirmed when it’s revealed that Dr. Masters is actually a patient and that Dr. Stevens let her pretend to be a doctor. But are the patients messing with Nurse Beale to get back at Dr. Masters? Who’s telling the truth? Who can be trusted? What’s in the damned basement? The truth perhaps, or a body or two? There’s a couple of fun turns that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and wants to.

Don’t Look in the Basement was shot in 1972, on a shoe-string budget of $100,000 over twelve days. It came on the heels of The Last House on the Left and immediately gives off a similar feel. Written and directed by S.F. Brownrigg, who made a few decent horror films in the 70’s; Don’t Look in the Basement is dirty and grimy and has the look and feel of a documentary, just as a lot of horror movies of the era did. The movie is also infamous for ending up on the U.K.’s Video Nasties list.

The low budget movie actually benefits from the use of a single location. The staff and patients seemingly exist apart from the rest of the world, save for one outside character. The isolation raises the paranoia between the characters; not exactly knowing who or what information to trust, especially for Nurse Beale. 

The movie isn’t your traditional slasher fare. The violence is spread throughout the movie; it’s not one kill after another. And the majority of the gore is held back until the finale, when viewers are treated to a blood bath. The movie is more of a character study and the no-name actors do a very good job with their characters, especially Bill McGhee as the sympathetic, Sam. The characters are treated as humans with real ailments opposed to caricatures. 

Don’t Look in the Basement seems to have been buried by the countless other horror films in the 70’s, but it’s definitely worth a look. It’s sort of like if Session 9 was filmed in one small portion of the Danvers Mental Institute and we got to know the patients. This movie is a great reminder of why we used to be scared, and maybe still are, of the basement. 

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We first wrote about this movie on March 16, 2021. As a bonus, we even have a mixed drink recipe that we shared when this aired on our weekly Saturday night show.

We often refer to movies as “Brownriggian” when we watch films on Saturday nights all night with the Drive-In Asylum Double Feature on Facebook Live. There’s no better example of what this word means than S. F. Brownrigg’s 1973 shocker Don’t Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten AKA Death Ward #13.

Dr. Stephens, the main doctor at Stephens Sanitarium has a theory that patients should be able to freely act out their insanities in the hopes that someday they will snap back to reality. You know, if I’ve learned one thing about asylum doctors from, well, Asylum and Alone in the Dark, it’s that they’re all just as insane as their charges.

Before one of the older nurses can retire, we have the Judge (Gene Ross) chopping the doctor with an axe and Harriet (Camilla Carr) smashing the nurse’s head inside a suitcase. So when Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, the cover girl of the April 1972 Playboy, as well as appearances in Horror High and the ghostly hitchhiker in Encounter with the Unknown) shows up for a new job and things seem weird. Or Brownriggian. In short, everything feels off. Hallways and stairwells seem like passageways to other dimensions and sweaty horror lurks sleeping like some kind of Southern gothic force of dread and menace.

This is a place filled with human children, killer women obsessed with sex, an elderly woman who thinks that flowers are her kids, a military man who lost his platoon in Vietnam and more. Even the sane are driven mad just by being in their presence.

There are plenty of people who decry Brownrigg’s movies, but I’m certainly not one of them. They invite you to worlds that are not our own and seem to come from a dimension far from here. For that and the vacation to the psychotronic that they offer, we should celebrate them.

For an added treat, check out JH Rood’s journey to the set locations, which you can download from the Internet Archive.

Don’t Look in the Basement is available on Tubi.

BONUS: Here’s that drink we mentioned.

Sam’s Popsicle 

  • 1 oz. amaretto
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. heavy cream or half and half
  1. Put everything in a shaker and do your thing until fully mixed.
  2. Pour over crushed ice in a cocktail glass. Enjoy!

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Craze (1974)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally posted this on October 19, 2018. Now it’s come back for the grave for our Mill Creek month.

Thanks to his work on Amicus films, Freddie Francis will always get a pass. And Jack Palance has made some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen so much better. Therefore, I wanted to like Craze way more than I ended up enjoying it.

Palance stars as antique shop owner by day, cultist by night Neal Mottram. The film starts with him sacrificing a nude woman to the African god Chuku, whom he believes will reward him with both wealth and power. It’s movies like this that make being a devil worshipper seem rough and pointless. Every single turn, you have to hunt someone down, kill them, get an alibi and run from the cops. It’s a lot of work and when it’s over, you still lose your soul.

Diana Dors is in it and her life story is way more interesting than the film. She gained her first fame as a Monroe-esque blonde bombshell promoted by her first husband, Dennis Hamilton. After a career of sex comedies and Page 3-style modeling, it turned out that her husband was defrauding her. Still after that, she made further headlines by holding parties where she supplied hot young starlets and plenty of drugs to a large number of celebrities. The real stinger was that she had cameras all over the house to capture the action. The Archbishop of Canterbury even publically denounced her!

Supposedly, Dors left over 2 million pounds to her son in her will. It could be unlocked via a secret code in the possession of her third husband, actor Alan Lake, but he killed himself soon after she died from cancer. Despite the best efforts of codebreakers and even a TV special, the money has never been found.

Anyways — Craze. There are plenty of British starlets in this, too. Juli Ege from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to name one. I chose to watch this because Suzy Kendall from Torso and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was in it. And Marianna Stone from Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? shows up as well.

It’s not horrible, but it’s very slow. Palance is great — of course he is — but even he has a lot to contend with here. You can watch it for yourself on Amazon Prime and see what you think.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally wrote about this movie on August 21, 2018. Now we’re bringing it back with some edits for Mill Creek Month.

Is there an actor that can save any movie for you? There is one for me: John Saxon. I have sat through many a piece of absolute shit only because Saxon shows up to be the hero of the day, even if he’s usually the villain.

TV reporter Carrie Madison (Kay Lenz, The Initiation of Sarah, House) is trying to meet with mad scientist Dr. Hartmann when she literally runs into Dan Roebuck’s (Richard Hatch, TV’s Battlestar Galactica) truck. Once they find the scientist, his machine causes them all to disappear to the parallel world of Vonya, which is populated by cavemen and the warlord Kleel (John Saxon, of course) who has plenty of Earth technology.

Director Terry Marcel also was behind the films Hawk the Slayer and Jane and the Lost City, so obviously sword, sorcery and science fiction was his bread and butter. Too bad that his bread and butter tastes so bad.

If you want to see John Saxon out act everyone around him — sadly I wish this were higher praise — and a ragtag group of aliens fight cavemen, I guess you should watch this. I can recommend several much better movies in this genre, though. That said, it’s free to watch on Tubi.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Red Rings of Fear (1978)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wrote about this movie during our giallo week on September 16, 2021. Check it out and please share your thoughts on this film in the comments.

This is the third entry in a loosely linked series of films that are known by the pretty much pervy title of the Schoolgirls in Peril trilogy. All of these movies have young girls shockingly be interested in sex and being murdered for it.

The series starts with Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange?, one of the best films in the giallo form, which he followed with What Have They Done to Your Daughters? Sadly, Dallamano would die before this movie was made, but he is credited for writing the screenplay.

When the body of a teenage girl is discovered wrapped in plastic twelve years before Laura Palmer, Inspector Gianni DiSalvo (Fabio Testi) finds himself investigating a clique of young women called The Inseparables” who attend a prestigious all-girls school and were friends with the victim.

One of their number is Fausta Avelli, who was also in Don’t Torture A DucklingThe Psychic and Phenomena. And Helga Line, who was in everything from So Sweet…Perverse and Nightmare Castle to The Vampires Night OrgyHorror Rises from the Tomb and Black Candles, is in this.

Most of this movie recycles the past two films, but man, the ending where the first killer casually kills himself and then there’s the reveal of the real person behind everything? That makes watching this all worthwhile.

Mill Creek Drive-In Movie Classics: B.J Lang Presents, aka The Manipulator (1971)

Yeah, I know . . . Mickey Rooney was a big star in the 1930s and 1940s, and, for most, seeing him in an ersatz, horrified version of the noir classic Sunset Blvd. is considered a fall from grace, but I really like him here. His work as B.J Lang is as memorable to me as was his work as the mentally handicapped Bill Sackter in the CBS-TV movies Bill (1981) and Bill: On His Own (1983). Yeah, I know, this forgotten Rooney resume entry is on a Mill Creek box set, which leads the many to write off the movie as a “stinker” and that the Mick is slumming, and that we’ve seen it done better with Terrance Stamp and Samatha Eggar in The Collector (1965).

Chalk up my affections for the film as result of seeing it for the first time on my first solo drive-in excursion with a few friends on an undercard with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) . . . and for the life of me, I can’t remember the main feature. . . . Brainworm alert!

In the world of exploitation, you’ve heard the term “hagsploitation” mentioned to describe aging actresses, aka hags, regulated to finding work in horror films, holding on the last vestiges of their once glamorous, contract player-studio system careers.

And we’ve reviewed most, if not all of them.

Edith Atwater was just one of the many, ’40s starlets finding work in the hagploitation, aka psychobiddy, sub-genre: a genre where old, crusty women either terrorized “sinning” young women or are simply jealous of the girl’s youth, so they “gaslight” them into insanity. You know Edith Atwater, best, from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi’s The Body Snatcher (1945), which was her third feature film; she also appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford — herself a “hag” actress with the likes of Berserk! and Trog. Edith then fell into a lot of TV work for the remainder of her career into the mid-’80s to pay the bills. In between, she did another hagster with Die Sister, Die! (1971).

In line behind Joan Crawford was Tallulah Bankhead with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), studio starlet Veronica Lake, who took her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Wanda Hendrix closing out her career at the age of 44 with the Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972; another Mill Creek recycler), and ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain attempted an early ’70s comeback with The Night God Screamed (1971).

So, if the women are packed in a “hagsploitation” crate . . . where does that leave the older, male actors, such as Mickey Rooney? Such a film is B.J Lang Presents — a film which falls under the “trollsplotation” tag* used to describe aging actors stuck in horror films — a film that found a new, video ’80s shelf live under the title, The Manipulator.

So, you’ve noticed the name of Luana Anders in the credits?

Yes, that means this Rooney tour de force also fits nicely into the hag-cycle of ’70s horror films. We first enjoyed Anders in the teensploitationer Reform School Girl (1957), but remember her best for the incessant UHF-TV replays of The Pit an the Pendulum (1961) and Dementia 13 (1963). By the late ’60s, with an A-List film career not coming to fruition, Anders, like many actors, transitioned to television, appearing in the likes of That Girl, The Andy Griffith Show, and Hawaii Five-O, just to name a few.

The writer and director behind the madness, as it were, is Yabo Yablonsky, in his debut in both fields. His is a name know you known courtesy of his Sly Stallone connection for writing the WW II soccer-war drama, Victory (1981). In between, Yabo gave us the forgotten TV films — which played as Euro-theatricals — Revenge for a Rape (1976) and Portrait of a Hitman (1979), courtesy of their starring then/still hot Mike Connors (then of TV’s Mannix fame) and Jack Palance (with Rod Steiger, Bo Svenson, Ann Turkel, and Richard Roundtree), respectively. Of course, martial arts junkies know Yabo best for giving Joe Lewis — one of only five men to beat Chuck Norris in the ring — his film debut in Jaguar Lives! (1979)**.

Okay, enough with the backstory. Let’s unpack this film . . . one where Mickey Rooney cuts loose in an amazing performance. (Yes, amazing. This is my review, after all.)

The plot is simple: Rooney is the once respected, Hollywood’s premiere makeup man, B.J Lang, who, ironically, aged out of the business and has been tossed aside by the glitzy-guady Grauman’s Chinese Theatre crowd. So he snaps and kidnaps an actress (Anders), holding her hostage in an abandoned prop house on a forgotten studio backlot to “star” as Roxanne to his Cyrano in his “movie” version of Cyrano De Bergerac — made of his own reality mixed with his hallucinations. To that end: Mick’s talking to mannequins and people who aren’t there, as he longs for the days — as did the off-her-nut Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950) — when he had the ear of Cecil B. DeMille.

Yablonsky may be — as you can tell from his continued work as a writer (which included lots of uncredited “doctoring” work) — a decent writer, but he’s no director of distinction. Clearly, he’s influenced by the earliest splatters of Italian Giallo, here, (mixed with a soupçon of Phantom of the Opera; the 1925 version with Lon Chaney, Sr. or Claude Rains 1943 version, take your pick), hence the creepy mannequins — and more so as B.J Lang remembers the gold ol’ days of putting makeup on Marilyn Monroe: so he puts the makeup on himself and struts around like the actress — as an ersatz Norman Bates. Then there’s the zoomin’ n’ swooshin’ experimental camera movements, the shakes, the psycho color palate — and for a little ’60s acid tripping, lots of strobe lights. So, in the directing and cinematography departments, many opine there’s no class nor style. Uh, maybe they’re right: the proceedings are more of an attempt to copy Mario Bava than to bring anything unique to the lens. Name a camera trick. Yabo’s got it jammed in there, somewhere in the frames. As with his actors: he’s going for it and making an impression.

Hags n’ trolls in one box set! And Shannon Tweed. But no Gene.

In the end this is a Rooney and Andres joint (more so for Rooney) — with a slight cameo by Kennan Wynn as wino bum squatting in the theater (who Rooney subsequently ofts) — with the duo going at it with gusto, which, for me, makes it worth the watch.

This pretty much got (very) loosely remade-ripped (more effectively) as Fade to Black (1980) and that film, as with The Manipulator, also has more detractors than fans. You can watch a free-rip of The Manipulator on You Tube. Of course, it’s available on Mill Creek’s Drive-In Movie Classics 50-movie pack, which we are featuring all this month at B&S About Movies.

* You need more trollsploitation flicks with aged-out and down-and-out A-List actors reinventing themselves in a 70s horror film? Then look no further than Tony Curtis in The Manitou and BrainWaves (the latter also with Keir Dullea), Kirk Douglas in Holocaust 2000, Rock Hudson in Embryo, Fritz Weaver in Demon Seed.

** We’ve reviewed the films of two of Chuck’s other opponents: Tonny Tulleners in Scorpion (1986) and Ron Marchini, whose career we dedicated a week of reviews.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Savage Journey (1983)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Night Train to Terror connected movie was part of another Mill Creek set, The Excellent Eighties. We reviewed this on February 27, 2021 but why not read it again?

This movie made this entire month worth it.

That’s because it unlocks another part of the saga that is my fascination with the utterly strange and mysterious Night Train to Terror, a movie that I have written about more than once.

While this movie is listed on IMDB as a 1983 made for TV movie, the truth is that this movie was originally released six years earlier as Brigham. I love this comment on the movie from Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, which stated that the film came about as David Yeaman wanted to “create a film billed as authentic and sympathetic to the LDS view. Top Hollywood brass was involved, primarily Oscar-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan, and the LDS public grew excited to finally see themselves depicted accurately on screen.”

Oh man. Let’s take a break from this quote just to remind everyone who Phillip Yordan was. In The Phillip Yordan Story, a Hollywood urban legend is just part of his legend. It was claimed that Yordan hired someone else to go through law school for him so that he could get a degree without doing the work.

While Yordan is the listed writer on nearly a hundred movies, including DillingerDetective Story and Broken Lance*, the jury is out on what films he actually wrote. Some believe that many of the movies he wrote were actually a front for blacklisted writers, who still wanted to make films, giving Yordan all the credit and half the paycheck.

In the late 1950s, Yordan finally got caught. He mixed up two scripts, delivering a Fox script to Warner Brothers and vice versa. Seeing as how he was under contract at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck threatened to get him blackballed at all the major studios. A few years later, his secretary would claim that she was the real writer of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and things got so bad that Columbia demanded that he have an office on their lot where they could watch him write, guaranteeing that he was the author. Despite this new contract, he was still hustling scripts at other studios and was fired and forced to return his paycheck. This time, he really was told you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

Yordan then showed up in Spain, working for Samuel L. Bronston, using folks like Ray Bradbury, Ben Barzman Arnaud D’Usseau, Julian Halevy and Bernard Gordon, who really wrote The Day of the Triffids, not Yordan.

By the mid 60s, he was back in Hollywood, a survivor of everything from being blackballed to going bankrupt, working as a script doctor on movies like Horror Express — also a horror movie set on a train — and Psychomania.

At the end of his life, he worked as an adjunct screenwriting instructor at San Diego State University and was writing scripts for movies like The UnholyMarilyn Alive and Behind Bars (which is also part of Night Train to Terror), Cataclysm (ditto), Cry Wilderness and this movie.

Back to our friends at Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, who wrote that “Unfortunatley, when released, Brigham proved a critical fiasco. It was criticized for poor acting, incomprehensible chronology, sensationalized violence, incredibly poor casting, lack of dramatic focus, and even for recycling wagon train footage from earlier films like Brigham Young itself. The film was quickly withdrawn, reedited, and re-released early the following, billed as The New Brigham. Similar attempts at repackaging continued as it was apparently again revamped and christened Savage Journey a few years later (perhaps to parallel the 1983 handcart film Perilous Journey). Despite this, Brigham remained a critical flop, and modern Mormons, if they remember it all, do so with humor or derision.”

Yes, this was a movie that Yordan made specifically for the Mormon Chuch and along the way, he brought director Tom McGowan, who — yes, you got it — also directed Cataclysm, and Richard Moll, who would star in that film and Marilyn Behind Bars. Seeing as how both movies are segments in Night Train, it gets really disconcerting watching Moll have hair, not have hair and be played by a double with astoundingly hairy arms.

Other actors who appear in both films include Maurice Grandmaison, who plays Brigham Young himself and Papini, the homeless Catholic priest who attempts to help the heroine Claire Hansen; Stephen Cracroft, Phineas in this one and a first AD on Night Train; Lou Edwards, Brother Becker in Mormon times and a production manager on Night Train; Faith Clift, who was Claire Rudley in this movie and appears as Claire Hansen in Night Train (she was also Yordan’s wife, showing up in his movies Captain ApacheHorror Express and Cry Wilderness); an uncredited Marc Lawrence (yes, the very same man who made Pigs and appears in Night Train as Abraham Weiss) and most importantly, Yordan’s son Byron, who is the song and dance man doomed to die on Satan’s Cannonball, but not before he sings “dance with me, dance with me” more times than you can count.

I’m astounded that this film exists. Actually, I’m so into the fact that Yordan did, a flimflam man who claimed to have never read a newspaper before the age of fifty, yet somehow was a lawyer who became an Oscar-winning writer, a producer and the connection between so many movies that are just plain strange.

So how’s the movie?

Moll, who used the named Charles Moll for this film, sums up Savage Journey best in the movie The Work and the Story, saying “All independent films suck, all Mormon films suck, and, ergo, an independent Mormon film must royally suck.”

*A movie he won an Best Original Story Oscar for, despite it being a remake of 1949’s House of Strangers and the fact that he probably didn’t write a single word of the actual script.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Murder Mansion (1972)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We covered this wild movie of many titles when it was part of the Mill Creek Chilling Classics box set on November 1, 2018.

I love Mill Creek multipacks. Sure, the quality is abysmal at times. Often, you get the same films on multiple sets. And you get bad dubs. But let’s face it — often you can find these sets used for $5 or less and you get up to 50 amazing films. That inspired me to spend the month of November gathering some of my favorite writers and fans of the site to tackle the Chilling Classics box set.

Originally released as La Mansion de la Niebla (The Mansion in the Fog) and also known as Murder Mansion, this Spanish/Italian film fuses old school haunted house horror with the then new school form of the giallo.

The plot concerns a variety of people drawn to a house in the fog, so the original title was pretty much correct. There are plenty of European stars to enjoy, like Ida Galli, who also uses the name Evelyn Stewart and appeared in Fulci’s The Psychic as well as The Sweet Body of Deborah. And hey, there’s Analía Gadé from The Fox with the Velvet Tail. Hello, George Rigaud, from All the Colors of the Dark and The Case of the Bloody Iris! They’re all here in a movie that seems to make little or no sense and then gets even more bonkers as time goes on.

This was one of the 13 titles included in Avco Embassy’s Nightmare Theater package syndicated in 1975 (the others were MartaDeath Smiles on a MurdererNight of the SorcerersFury of the Wolfman, Hatchet for the HoneymoonHorror Rises from the TombDear Dead DelilahDoomwatchBell from HellWitches MountainMummy’s Revenge and The Witch). How did these movies play on regular TV?

There’s a history of vampires in the house, the previous owner was a witch and hey — this is starting to feel like an adult version of Scooby Doo with better-looking ladies. That’s not a bad thing. But if you’ve never watched a badly dubbed giallo-esque film before, don’t expect any of this to make a lick of sense.

Don’t want to buy the whole box set? This is playing for free on Amazon Prime.

Mill Creek Drive-in Classics: This Island Monster (1954)

Well, for me, this tale of an Italian undercover treasury agent infiltrating an island-based drug smuggling ring that results in the kidnapping of his young daughter isn’t a drive-in classic: it’s a scratchy n’ snowy, UHF-TV classic (well, bore). Those UHF days were the days when a young kid was enamored with all things Boris Karloff. What did my snot-nosed little brat of yore know about Karloff being way past his prime at this point in his career?

Well, with a title like that, well, at least I can warn you this is not a horror film. Leave your memories of The Body Snatcher (1945) and Isle of the Dead (1945) at the porta. Oh, and Boris is barely in it: he shows up in the beginning, vanishes in the second act, then returns to finish off the flick. Plot spoiler: he’s the head clubbing and gun shooting mastermind behind the kidnapping to stop the investigation. His cover story is that he’s a kindly gent who runs a child’s hospice . . . and runs bootleg milk.

Ugh. This flick is cheap and clunky and that smokey ballroom scene looks like they were going for Casablanca — only Karloff is no Bogart — and the production is so cheap the American distributor didn’t make the effort to hire the ex-Frankenstein actor back to dub his own voice in this Italian thriller — a thriller with no action and too much talk (and the high-pitched dub on the kidnapped kid is beyond annoying; somebody gag her, already). Sure, everything you’d expect in a pre-Giallo Italian noir is here: We’ve got a government agent and drug smugglers, cops-in-the-pocket of a criminal mastermind (Karloff), a femme fatale, double-crosses, herrings of red, and chinzy car chases. But again: all done with a lack of action and too much chitty chat.

Director Roberto Bianchi Montero bounced around from genre to genre in the Italian film industry: spaghetti westerns, with Seven Pistols for a Gringo and The Last Tomahawk, to peblum, like Tharus Son of Attila, war movies, like 36 Hours to Hell (with Richard Harrison), Eye of the Spider (with Klaus Kinski), exploitative erotica, like Mondo Balordo (1964), and horror, like So Sweet, So Dead (1972).

Screenwriter Carlo Lombardo sounds like a familiar name with a long resume in many genres (you’re thinking of actor Carlo Lombardi, by the way), but he’s not: amid Lombardo’s work in operas — he’s regarded in Italy as the father of the late 19th and early 20th Century revival in operas — he wrote two more, Italian-only TV movies.

We never reviewed Frankenstein (1931) proper, but rest assure: we reviewed ALL of the knock-off flotsam amid our pages. You need more Giallo? Check out our “Exploring: Italian Giallo” featurette. “Film noir,” you ask? There’s our “Drive-In Friday: Black & White Nite” to ponder, along with our reviews of Rope, Spellbound, and Dead of Night (all 1945) to get you started.

You can watch a nice rip of This Island Monster on Tubi.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and Medium.

Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: The Devil’s Hand (1961)

About the Author: Shannon Briggs has been a passionate fan of cinema ever since his grandmother recorded The Monster Squad on VHS through cable and gave it to him. You can see more of his musings on Twitter @MisterShannonB and read more his reviews at https://letterboxd.com/MisterShannonB/

Just a few seconds into the opening titles of “The Devil’s Hand”, the viewer isn’t greeted with the ominous score you expect from a horror film about a deadly cult. No, Baker Knight’s theme for the film is instead a surf-rock medley that would be a comfortable fit for a fun beach comedy with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It’s a head-scratching choice. This is indicative of the film’s overall out of touch nature with tone and how incredibly goofy it is when tackling the subject of cults.

The plot of The Devil’s Hands consists of Rick (played by character actor Robert Alda, probably best known for his guest roles in a plethora of 1960s and 1970s television shows and was Alan Alda’s father.) haunted/mesmerized by vivid visions of a beautiful woman (Linda Christian, from the 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale) and is shocked when he passes by a doll shop and sees a doll identical to this mystery woman. He brings his fiancé, Donna, (Ariadna Welter) to the shop and not only does the shop owner, Francis Lamont (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from the 1960s Batman) recognize him, but states that it is of Bianca Milan and also declares that Rick ordered the doll. Rick has no memory of this, and things get even weirder when a doll that looks like Donna is discovered by the couple as well, but Francis refuses to sell it because it already belongs to someone else.

As soon as Rick and Donna leave, Lamont walks into a secret room in his shop and stabs the doll that looks like Donna with a pin. Donna collapses and is taken to a hospital for heart spasms. Rick has another vision of Bianca and tells Donna he wants to deliver the doll to Bianca but pledges his loyalty to Donna. However, minutes after meeting Bianca, Rick folds like a poker hand and is immediately DTF for Bianca. Turns out Bianca was using thought projections to appear to Rick and convinces him to join a cult meeting of the devil god, Gamba, led by Lamont. The meetings consist of bongo playing and interpretive dance around a statue of Buddha for some reason. Oh, and the occasional human sacrifice as well. Can Rick withstand Bianca’s charms enough to realize that joining a death cult probably wasn’t probably the best idea?

The Devil’s Hand attituded towards cults seems to mix fear of otherness pertaining to African/Asian iconography and huge smattering of voodoo. In fact, the most notable scene is when the worst undercover reporter is discovered, and Lamont stabs a pin through the head of the like-like doll of said reporter. The reporter is seen immediately clutching his forehead in pain and the car comically goes off the road and falls down a cliff where it immediately explodes. The voodoo stuff, while obviously ignorant, at least makes sense in the plot. When the film is trying to convey the evils of Eastern religion through bongos and sensual dancing, it’s just embarrassing.

As far as the cast, Christian’s Bianca is really the main focus as the story focuses on her allure and sensuality. However, the film cannot seem to make its mind on if she is a femme fatale or a more sympathetic character. Her scenes with Lamont seem to hint at a seething animosity but nothing really comes of it, and she mostly comes off as a loyal second in command. Alda’s Rick is the most frustrating because it never really confirms whether his initiation into the cult is due to brainwashing or lust. At times he seems to be under some sort of spell. For example, after joining the cult, it is revealed that Rick has done substantially well financially and has newfound luck. You think something may come of this revelation but…shrug. Most of the time, he seems to have all of his senses and eventually reconciles with Donna after basically gaslighting her for the second act of the film (our hero). Hamilton’s Lamont is by far the best performance even if saddled with some of the silliest dialogue in the film. Weltner’s Donna isn’t given much to do outside of advancing the finale and being a link to Rick’s humanity when the film decides to make him a loyal fiancé again. 

Directed by William J. Hole Jr., The Devil’s Hand (a.k.a. Witchcraft, The Naked Goddess, Devil’s Doll and Live to Love) was completed in 1959 but wasn’t distributed until 1961, when Crown International Pictures acquired it. Surprisingly, while mostly filmed in Los Angeles, some production was done in Mexico City, Mexico. Hence, the use of Mexican actresses Christian and Welter (whose stilted English is noticeable). Not surprisingly, the film seemed to made on cheap and quick and most of the cast wasn’t fond of it, specifically Christina and Alda. Screenwriter Jo Heims would go on to write the Elvis as twins’ vehicle, Double Trouble, and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. Hole Jr., primarily a television director, would do a few more B-movies throughout the 1960s but finish out his career directing episodes of The Bionic Woman

The Devil’s Hand is a more of a curiosity than an enjoyable movie. It’s 50’s viewpoint of cults and primarily Satanism is so quaint that it would make 1975’s The Devil’s Rain chuckle. Like I said at the beginning, having a surf rock score for your Satanic horror film was a choice.