The Beatniks (1960)

Paul Frees really did it all. Actor, voice actor, comedian, impressionist, screenwriter and even writer and director, at least for this one movie. He’s even the “Ghost Host” in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and Disneyworld.

Originally intended to be called Sideburns and Sympathy, this movie is all about Eddy Crane, a small-time crook who gets discovered by a music exec. However, his old gang can’t give up their ways. Then there’s the worry of his old girl, Iris, who is getting left behind for the music exec’s secretary. Things won’t end well.

So yeah. The movie is really bad. But let’s judge Paul Frees, who did so many other cool things, like the films of George Pal (the voice over for the rings in The Time Machine, the reporter in War of the Worlds, the narration that starts Doc Savage), the voices of John Lennon and George Harrison in The Beatles cartoon, the voice of The Millionaire, as well as the vocal chords behind Colossus: The Forbin Project. He’s also the man behind the narration that apocalyptically ends Beneath the Planet of the Apes: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead”.

You can watch this on YouTube. You can also download it on the Internet Archive.

And Die of Pleasure (1960)

You have to hand it to French director and screenwriter Roger Vadim: he had a way with the ladies. Unfortunately, he always cast those wives and girlfriends in his movies. His wife Marie-Christine Barrault starred in four of his French TV movies, Bridget Bardot starred in And God Created Woman, and Jane Fonda in Barbarella. And when he opted for a longtime affair in lieu of marrying Catherine Deneuve (Fréquence Meurtre, aka Frequency Death), she starred in Vice and Virtue. And Annette Stroyberg (credited here as Vadim) starred in this “art house” lesbian vampire romp.

If you’ve never experienced Vadim’s work, one must take into consideration that he got his start in the visual arts as fashion photographer; for his films he employed famous French cinematographer Claude Renoir. So Vadim’s version (French title: Et Mourir de Plaisir; aka And Die of Pleasure, American title: Blood and Roses/To Die With Pleasure) of Sheridan Le Fanu’s influential short story “Carmilla” (part of his 1872 collection In a Glass Darkly) forgoes the adaptation conventionality of Hammer Studios’ early ‘70s “fleshy” trilogy variations of (the highly-suggested watches) The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, aka “The Karnstein Trilogy” (and Hammer’s other effective vamper, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, acts as sidequel). Others lurking in the La Fanu catacombs are the more straightforward, third adaptation, Terror in the Crypt starring Christopher Lee (1964); the first was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s equally-dreamy Vampyr (1932). The creepiest and most atmospheric of them all (unofficially) is Mario Bava’s looser-read of Black Sunday (1964) (which also pinches from Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 Russian vampire tale “Viy” contained in his collection Mirgorod) that stars the heart-weeping Barbara Steele as a vampire-witch hybrid (one of the film’s alternate-titles was, in fact, Revenge of the Vampire).

If you’re raised on cinema’s modernized, CGI-blood suckers—ones that blatantly swish through screenwriter-guru Syd Field’s Paradigm, coughing and wheezing under a rising sun on the run to the medi-script offices of Golden, Towne & Truby—then Vadim’s vamps aren’t your goblet of corpuscles. For this ain’t no fanged fiend of the Al Adamson Blood on Dracula’s Castle variety. This is a vampire of class and style: a Nantucket vampire; not a Bowery bloodsucker.

Vadim is all about impressions. He gives you rich set designs and stunning cinematography awash in colors enveloping dreamy visuals; he fills your eyes with pleasure (a singular drop of blood across flesh of breast; a dreamscape view through a set of French Doors of Carmilla swimming a water-filled room); he fills your cortex with the psychological and the ambiguous.

Is it real? Is it a dream? Is a stunning female vampire thou art loose on the lush Euro-estate of young Carmilla’s family? Or is she experiencing a mental breakdown as result of suppressing her homosexuality for her bisexual girlfriend Georgia (Elsa Martinella of Elio Petri’s “art house” take on Richard Cornell’s The Most Dangerous Game: The 10th Victim) who’s rejected her for marriage to a young squire? As Carmilla ran off to wallow in self-pity, did she stumble into the tomb of vampire? And is that vampire in control and causing Carmilla to commit acts of murder?

Two “Thumb Up,” right Sam? So, have we decided: Am I the “Siskel” here?

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

Too Hot to Handle (1960)

Released in the U.S. as Playgirl After Dark, this was Jayne Mansfield’s first film away from 20th Century Fox after her star started to dim. The studio loaned her out for this British drama, directed by Terence Young (Dr. NoFrom Russia With LoveThunderball, The Klansman).

While billed as “an exposé of ‘sexy, sordid Soho, England’s greatest shame,” the film may not appear all that scandalous today. But in 1960, Mansfield’s see-through outfits and sexy music numbers kept the movie out of American theaters until puritanical heads cooled. Playboy came to the rescue of horndogs everywhere — I mean, discriminating gentlemen — and showed several shots of the film to build interest.

Mansfield plays nightclub siren Midnight Franklin, who wants her man Johnny Solo  (Leo Genn, Lizard In a Woman’s Skin) out of the business of owning the Pink Flamingo. When an underage dancer named Ponytail (Barbara Windsor, who was in nine Carry On movies) is killed, the cops and the crooks are all over Johnny. One of those underworld types is a very young Christopher Lee.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Challenge (1960)

Released in the U.S. as It Takes a Thief, this U.K. film has Jayne Mansfield as Billie, who acts demure by day but leads a gang of robbers at night. One of their old members, Maxton, went to jail and they think he knows where the big score they made got hidden. They take his son, despite the ending which lets everyone know that the money had been found three years ago.

The cast includes Anthony Quayle (The Guns of Navarone), Peter Reynolds (Devil Girl from Mars) and Robert Brown (who was M in the Bond films from Octopussy to Licence to Kill).

Director John Gilling has a pretty good resume of films in his history, like The Flesh and the Fiends, The Plague of the Zombies and The Mummy’s Shroud. This isn’t the best interesting movie you’ll see, but as always, Mansfield rises above the material.

The Loves of Hercules (1960)

Also known as Hercules vs. the Hydra, this Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia-directed peblum starts with Hercules’ (Mickey Hargitay) empire being invaded by the villainous Licos (Massimo Serato, Don’t Look NowThe Humanoid) and his bride killed by the army of Ecalia. Hercules goes wild and is only stopped when the king is murdered by an unseen hand and his daughter Queen Deianira (Jayne Mansfield!)

The rest of the film involves Hercules pining for the queen, who is already married, Licos trying to get with her and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, turns all of her lovers into trees and makes herself look exactly like Deianira to try and get with our hero. Oh yeah — there are also battles with a hydra and a bigfoot looking beast.

Filmed on location in Italy during the height of the sword and sandal era, Mansfield was offered the film while she was shooting The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw in Spain. She agreed as long as Hargitay got the lead. She was four months pregnant while making this movie.

Look, any movie where Hercules saves Jayne Mansfield from a mad bull by wrestling it is going to win me over.

You can watch this on YouTube.

La Llorona (1960)

Rene Cardona directed this take on the Crying Woman of Mexican legend. It starts with newlyweds being told the legend and flashes back to the origin of the story, where a woman named Luisa is spurned by her husband for not being pure Spanish. She kills their children before being put to death. The reason the story is being told to them? Because the bride is a descendent of the conquistador who wronged Luisa. Now, his entire family has been cursed to die violently.

I’ve joked that every few years, we get a new and worse retelling of this legend. Luckily, this is one of the better versions, with an ending filled with some genuine fright and doom. When viewed by modern audiences, it will seem slow and like a stage play, but to me, that was part of its charm.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Macario (1960)

The first Mexican movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, it was also entered into the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. It’s based on the B. Traven novel The Third Guest and is loosely based on an old border legend. It also bears similarities to the Grimm Fairy Tale Godfather Death or The Death’s Godson. It was directed by Roberto Gavaldon.

Poor, hungry peasant Macario longs for just one good meal on the Day of the Dead. In fact, he’s so hungry that after seeing a parade of turkeys, he says that he will no longer eat until his dream of eating an entire roast turkey. His wife steals him one as he goes off to work.

As Macario prepares to eat, three men appear to him. The first one is a fine gentleman who is the Devil and the second is an old man. Macario refuses to share with them, as he believes they are powerful enough to get the food  themselves. But a third man, a peasant much like our hero, gets the turkey right away. And that man is Death.

Death is touched by this and becomes friends with Macario, but they never speak, merely stare at one another. He also gifts him with magical water, which can heal any injury. That gift will lead him through all manner of toil and trouble and one final meal with Death.

You can watch this on YouTube.

 

Conquistador de la Luna (1960)

Rogelio A. Gonzalez directed two of the movies that I feel most strongly about when it comes to classic Mexican science fiction and horror: The Ship of Monsters and Dr. Satan vs. the Black Hand. Both of these movies refuse to play by any rules of the genre and mix humor with outright shocks. They also make frugal use of their budget to craft truly fantastic vistas that some would say were impossible to craft for the money.

This film, however, is a vehicle for Mexican comedian Antonio “Clavillazo” Espino, who plays a bumbling fix-it man who finds himself on a rocket for the moon and up against four-armed aliens that look way more frightening than this simple film would deserve.

The aliens are led by an even more intimidating creature, a large brain that floats around on its own power that would have scared the absolute pants off of me had I seen this as a kid. More of the brain! More of the aliens! Less of the hijinks!

Orlak, El Infierno de Frankenstein (1960)

Rafael Baledon was an actor and director who also created the 1963 film The Crying Woman. Here, he makes his own take on the Universal Frankenstein mythos with a film that is broken into four parts, as by splitting it up into four sections like a movie serial, Baledon was able to get around some Mexican union laws.

Jaime Rojas (Joaquin Cordero, Vacation of Terror 2Dr. Satan) has just been released from jail when he helps Dr. Frankenstein escape from prison. The scientist succeeds one more time in making new life in the form of the bestial Orlak, a monster with Rojas’ face that the evil doctor controls via radio waves to kill numerous men, women and even a baby.

Orlak, The Hell of Frankenstein was written by Carlos Enrique Taboada, who would go on to become perhaps one of the most important voices in Mexican horror. I’d point to his movies Even the Wind Is AfraidPoison for the FairiesThe Book of Stone and Darker than Night is examples of prime storytelling and talent.

La Nave de los Monstruos (1960)

Rogelio A. Gonzalez made more than 70 movies, but I wonder if he ever made anything near as good as this movie, which is perhaps one of the strangest films I’ve ever had the delight to witness.

I was wondering how to even describe this movie. Basically, Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe, Miss Mexico 1953 and a third-runner up for Miss Universe) and Beta (Lorena Velazquez, Miss Mexico 1960 and also Zorina queen of the vampires in Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro) have come from Venus to find men to repopulate their planet. Of course, they can’t resist biting people or falling in love with Lauriano (Eulalio “Piporro” Gonzalez, one of the kings of golden age of Mexico comedy and the literal embodiment of Northern Mexican culture), a singing cowboy.

Sure, that would set up a great movie, but this is Mexico. Which means that the ship has a robot named Tor who is collecting a whole bunch of monsters — why, the title translates as Ship of Monsters, surprise! — and those monsters are about to go crazy. There’s Uk the cyclops, the many armed Carasus, Prince of Mars Tagual, Utirr the spider and the dinosaur skeleton named Zok. Also, Tor falls for a jukebox. And some of the special effects were ripped off from the Russian movie Road to the Stars.

Imagine if Ed Wood lived in Mexico, had a better budget, lucked out and had magnificent actresses willing to wear swimsuits and high heels, as well as a singing cowboy. Then we’d cut open slice open a peyote cactus and make him sit in a cave until he made this and it still might not this charming and odd.

You can watch this on YouTube.