SLASHER MONTH: Peeping Tom (1960)

Michael Powell made The Red Shoes, which is about dedication to ballet, and also made this, which is one of the first movies to have a slasher POV shot and it nearly ruined his career and I can appreciate that duality.

Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is never seen without his camera, which allows him to capture life, but is really an instrument of death, recording the last minutes of the lives of several ladies of the evening. It doesn’t seem that Mark gets any delight out of these kills, only watching them, planning them, covering up his involvement and doing it again. He’s spent most of his life being a constantly recorded live test subject for his recently deceased father, teaching dear old dad the psychological impact of fear on the nervous system.

When he meets Helen, who is writing a children’s book about a magic camera, he spies on her from afar but she rewards his shyness and oddities with kindness. It’s an alien tongue to Mark, who is used to dealing with women who exchange cash for intimacy and are repaid with death.

Predating Psycho by two months, slasher films find some of their start here. Yet this film goes beyond the codified must-haves of the form to present a killer that we start to empathize with, as strange as that sounds. Mark has never had a chance, never had anyone who cared about him more than as a test subject. He was even recorded as he struggled at his mother’s death bed.

When released in puritanical Britain, this movie was savaged and Powell’s career never recovered. There’s a theory that this reaction is why Hitchcock never screened Psycho for critics and wet directly to the common people with it. He was worried that a film with similar beats would be seen in the same light. It would be years until the film was praised as much as it deserved.

Scorcese went so far to recommend this movie that he claimed that a filmmaker could study only Fellini’s and this and learn all there was to know about filmmaking; they “…say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates. From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”

You can watch this on Tubi.

Midnight Lace (1960)

HOLLYWOOD GIALLO (+ ITS OTHERS), the awesome IMDB list by Schwenkstar, described this nascent giallo as “Stalker disguises his voice in a creepy manner to hide his identity, a multitude of red herrings keep you guessing, and a shock reveal.”

What it did not tell me was that Midnight Lace starts Doris Day — of all people — as American heiress Kit Preston, a young girl who is one day threatened by an unseen voice inside the fog that threatens to kill her, keeps gaslighting her and makes her think that she’s going insane.

Day vowed to never make another thriller after this movie, as she said it so emotionally drained her. She stayed true to her word. Perhaps the reason why she was so mentally destroyed by this picture was that in order to be properly inspired to be afraid, she called upon a memory of her first husband dragging her out of bed and throwing her into a wall.

Midnight Lace is pretty much like a cover version of a Hitchcock thriller. Beyond having so many of his stars — Day was in The Man Who Knew Too Much, John Williams was a cop in Dial M for Murder* and To Catch a Thief, as well as John Gavin being in Psycho, this feels like, well, Dial M as a telephone is how the killer goes after our heroine who has a husband named Tony.

That said, the ending, which finds Day trying to escape through the scaffolding of her house after the reveal of who the villain really is — well, that’s the whole reason to watch this.

*Anthony Dawson and Herbert Marshall were also Dial M and this movie.

Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

Director Giorgio Ferroni’s career ended when he went deaf in 1972. Before that, he worked in many of the genres of the Italian exploitation film world, from peplum like Hercules vs. Moloch to westerns like Fort Yuma Gold and Eurospy like Secret Agent Super Dragon. His last major directing efforts would be The Night of the Devils, which is an adaption of Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy’s The Family of the Vourdalak (which also inspired Viy and Black Sabbath) and a 1975 comedy Who Breaks…Pays.

The first Italian film shot in color, this movie takes us to an island in Holland that houses a sculpture of several women created by art professor and sculptor Professor Gregorious Wahl. Hans van Arnhim has traveled here to learn what the statues mean, but he’s also found love in the form of Wahl’s sickly daughter Elfie.

Now go with me on the plot. It turns out that the sculptor has hired a doctor to keep his daughter alive. Together, they run a secret lab where Elfie receives blood-transfusions from kidnapped female victims who posthumously become part of the stone art of the professor. So — House of WaxEyes Without a FaceMill of the Stone Women.

Still, 60’s Eurohorror is, as they say, where it’s at. There’s so much to love in this movie and I love the doomed heroine and the just as damned hero who cannot help but to remain in love with her. This also has the interesting formula of gothic horror + science fiction + the magic of Technicolor.

The Leech Woman (1960)

A few years before Mondo Cane would popularize the use of tribal footage, The Leech Woman takes scenes of African wildlife and tribal dances from the 1954 adventure movie Tanganyika to spice up its tale of a middle aged woman becoming young again by, well, becoming a leech woman.

It starts off promising — a mysterious old woman named Malla (Estelle Hemsley, who was an early African-American star) claims to have been brought to America as a slave nearly 140 years ago and wants to be beauitiful and young for one more night, but only in her home country of Africa. To pay for the trip, she promises to teach endocrinologist Dr. Paul Talbot the secret of how she has stayed alive for so many years.

Dr. Paul is the kind of jerk given to saying things like “Old women give me the creeps.” Too bad that he’s married to a woman ten years older than him. But after a trip to Africa, in which he witnesses a ritual in which a man is killed and his pineal gland secretions harvested and mixed with orchid pollen.

His wife turns the tables and kills off Dr. Paul, using his glands to become young again — yet gets older every time it wears off — murdering people under the secret identity of her niece Terry Hart. She falls for a lawyer and tries to use the glands of his girlfriend, but it doesn’t work, so she does what we all would: throws herself to a window, leaving behind a husk.

Director Edward Dein also made Curse of the Undead. This movie was made so that Universal-International would have a movie to play with Hammer’s Brides of Blood. That movie is magic. This perhaps not so much.

Pollyanna (1960)

Based on the novel Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, this story had already been adapted into a movie with Mary Pickford in 1920. By the late 1950s, the book was still selling 35,000 copies per year, so Walt Disney bought the rights and got the biggest cast he’d ever used for one of his movies, with people like Jane Wyman, Richard Egan and Karl Malden, who is absolutely fabulous as the town’s preacher.

The heroine of this story is, of course, 12-year-old Pollyanna, the orphaned daughter of missionaries who has come to Harrington to live with her very rich and very strict aunt, Polly. Pollyanna’s greatest skill is that nothing brings her down; she’s so optimistic that people may get upset with just how cheerful she is about life.

You know who doesn’t love life, despite pretty much owning the town and ruling the people? Her aunt. In fact, her aunt is such a horrible person that it takes Pollyanna falling off a ledge and becoming paralyzed to make her realize just how salty she can be.

Roy O. Disney, the studio business head and Walt’s brother, made thousands of Pollyanna photo locket necklaces to sell in Disney gift shops. They had the quote “When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.” inside, which was attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Finding one of these necklaces on vacation with his family, writer and director David Swift asked the studio to recall this product. Lincoln never said that quote and Swift had made it up.

This was Hayley Mills’ first Disney film and she’d pair up with Swift again for The Parent Trap.

House of Usher (1960)

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” this was the first of eight Poe adaptions by Roger Corman, often working with writer Richard Mattheson. Shot in fifteen days, it was a big gamble for American-International Pictures, who had mostly done black and white double features. This was a color movie with a big budget by AIP’s standards.

The most important thing to know is that the Usher family are all cursed to grow mad and that horrible portent has spread to the very home they live in, which is crumbling around them and even destroying the very ground that it sits upon.

Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon, Black Sabbath) thas traveled to the House of Usher to take his fiancee Madeline, which is opposed by her brother Roderick (Vincent Price), who is determined to see his family’s bloodline end with this generation. This leads to an argument so brutal that Madeline’s catalepsy is triggered, making her appear dead and when she’s buried alive, she fully gives in to the madness within the Usher family, bringing the entire home down in flames all around everyone but our hero, who leaves with nothing.

Although Corman and Lou Rusoff are the people usually given credit for the AIP Poe cycle of films, Damon spoke up on a Black Sabbath commentary track, claiming he gave Corman the idea and was even allowed to direct The Pit and the Pendulum. This story hasn’t been confirmed, as here are several images of Corman directing that movie.

The success of this movie led to not only many more films with Corman and Price working together, but also the same sets and special effects being used over again. You can spot the Usher house set ablaze in more than one movie. It was really a barn scheduled to be demolished.

The Time Machine (1960)

There have been plenty of adaptions of H.G. Wells novel — a 1949 BBC made for TV movie, the 1978 made for TV movie and the 2002 film — but the best one is George Pal’s 1960 special effects-heavy opus, which takes H. George Wells (Rod Taylor) from January 5, 1900 to September 13, 1917; June 19, 1940; August 18, 1966 and October 12, 802,701. The deeper he goes into the timestream, the worse off humanity is, especially in the future when the highly evolved Eloi and the deeply devolved Morlocks are all that is left.

Yvette Mimieux plays one of the Eloi that our hero falls for. This was her first feature film — Platinum High School was released first, but this was filmed before that — and MGM put her under contract. Her career took to TV, American-International Pictures and plenty of fun roles in movies we love like The Black HoleJackson County JailSnowbeast and Devil Dog: Hound of Hell before retiring in 1992.

Yet the real star of this movie are the effects, like the actual time machine that was created by Bill Ferrari and built by Wah Chang, who also designed the Morlocks. Made for around $1 million dollars — the costumes from Forbidden Planet got reused and man, those must have been pretty sweaty when you consider how many movies used them — and filled with matte paintings, stop-motion and optical wizardry by Gene Warren and Tim Baar, this movie obviously won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

If you’re a fan of this movie, I recommend tracking down Time Machine: The Journey Back. Produced in 1993 for PBS stations to tie-in with the Back to the Future sequels, the first segment is all abut the making of the George Pal movie, including Gene Warren giving a rare on-air interview in which he discussed creating the special effects, along with comments from Wah Chang in which he reveals how the Time Machine itself was made.

However, that’s just the start, because the third part of this features a cannon sequel to the original film, written by the original screenwriter David Duncan. A now older George (Rod Taylor looks great!) goes to find his friend Filby (Alan Young) just before the start of World War I. George knows that his friend will die on May 15, 1916 and tries to get him to travel with him and Weena through time. He refuses and George thinks that he’ll try again, because he loves his friend. Man, just writing about this — much less watching it — makes tears drop from my eyes. That’s how much this movie means to me. This ends with Walter Kemp (Whit Bissell in his last role) showing up in 1932, wondering whatever happened to his inventor friend.

Ah man! I didn’t even mention how much I love Sebastian Cabot in this movie!

12 to the Moon (1960)

“I am now switching over to my helmet microphone. Now I am tuning on my invisible electromatic ray screen, which forms a protective shield our faces, and I will continue my commentary through my mirco-tape recorder.”
— Dr. David Ruskin, with some expositional technobabble

Image courtesy of Chunky Vintage & Antiques/eBay

Okay, so the good doctor Ruskin explained away the lack of face shields on the ISO crews’ helmets. But how to explain away the astronauts strapping themselves down onto vinyl cushion tube-webbed folding-chaise lounge lawn chairs C-clamped to the walls? Or a world where they can invent visorless helmets (did Glen Larson see this for BSG’s Egyptian-helmets) and, as the plot unfolds, magnetic-deflecting meteor technology, but uses backyard lawn chairs for G-Force space flight?

It’s true: the crew cockpit is dressed with a lawn chairs. And the rocket’s flames are a piece of cellophane fluttering against a fan. But what did you expect from David Bradley, the writer/director who gave us the Mill Creek public domain ditty that is The Madmen of Mandoras (1963), aka They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)? And to think Bradley started his career with adaptions of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1941) and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1950), both starring his high school chum, Charlton Heston (later of Planet of the Apes!).

Yep. From Heston to spaceship lawn chairs: only in the B&S-verse.

Now, you’re probably wondering: A major studio project from Columbia Pictures propped-out with lawn chairs and visorless helmets? And hey . . . why are some of the sets and props familiar?

Well, that’s because 12 to the Moon was an independent production by Bradley at California Studios, later known as Producers Studios, Inc., on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles — the same studio where another forgotten sci-fi cheapy, Mutiny in Outer Space (1965; look for our review, this week), was filmed. (The studio has since reincorporated as Raleigh Studios; learn more about the studio and other backlots and ranches at Retroweb.tv.) In need of a B-flick to double-bill with their recently-acquired Ishiro Honda-directed (1954’s Godzilla and 1965’s Rodan) Battle in Outer Space (1959) for Toho Studios, Columbia slapped their title card on Bradley’s film. After coming and going relatively quickly from Drive-Ins, Bradley’s lone star-romp received its widest exposure as result of Columbia, via its TV-arm, Screen Gems, distributing the film as part of their “X” syndication horror/sci-fi package that ran until the mid-‘70s on U.S. UHF stations.

Yeah, there’s nothing quite like the Soviets launching Sputnik in October 1957 to inspire quickie-junk sci-fi features—fully equipped with lawn chairs and faux-future plastic-swivel chairs at the control panels.

However, even with the lawn chairs and added-after-the-fact exposition to explain away the helmet snafu, the special effects—once the film hits the moon—with its “heat vents” peppering the weird lunarscape, is pretty good. And the production had the sense to rent (or could afford) official air force pressure suits and helmets (the visors removed because the actors couldn’t breathe and it distorted their photographic images). Sadly, there wasn’t enough money to shoot in color, which succeeds in making 12 to the Moon look ten years older than it is, when screened alongside Toho’s shot-in-color space flick (which is a loose sequel to 1957’s The Mysterians). In addition, we’re given an intelligent script from the scribe behind Val Lewton’s classics Cat People (1942) and (okay, a lesser not-so-classic) The Seventh Victim (1943): DeWitt Bodeen, who’s backed by producer Fred Gebhardt; he’s responsible for The Phantom Planet (which starred Delores Faith from Mutiny in Outer Space) (and there’s your déjà vu sets, thanks, Fred).

The ISO, the International Space Order, is formed for the purpose of the internationalization of the moon and comes to send its first manned mission (commanded by Ken Clark of Attack of the Giant Leeches fame and manned by Francis X. Bushman and Anthony Dexter from Gebhardt’s The Phantom Planet). The international crew of Lunar Eagle 1 comprises of 12 scientific specialists from around the world: 10 men and two women (and we’re introduced to the entire crew through a lengthy expositional voiceover as they board the rocket). Are the woman (Norwegian and Japanese) matriarchal-strong? Eh, a little. Could you imagine Ripley sitting in front of a mirror brushing her hair? Or Lambert, during a course correction, losing her balance and falling into—and to the pleasure of—Kane’s arms? Or Parker walking in on a showering-undressed Ripley or Lambert—and making a “This ain’t the Waldorf” joke? Well, that all happens here. It has to: for this isn’t Space: 1999, this is Space: 1950.

Those Bechdel test fails aside, we get a bit of insightful, sociopolitical tensions among a crew that still feels the sting of the Holocaust and Earth’s racist and warring past, with the good Dr. Oroloff bragging about mother Russia’s scientific wonders getting them into space in the first place, and the Polish Dr. Ruskin coming to the defense of Israel and the rights of Jews. Meanwhile, the German Dr. Heinrich hides his own dark past: his father was a Nazi death camp commander. Oh, and the French dude is an underground communist sympathizer out to sabotage the trip. (See? Pretty heavy, cold war plot fodder for a cheapy.)

Once on the Moon, it’s time to disengage the ol’ magnetic ray screens on the helmets and partake of the conveniently “air-filled caves.” Hey, Norway’s Dr. Ingrid Bomark and Turkey’s Dr. Hamid need to have that deep, passionate kiss, right? Why? Again: Space: 1950. Of course, the Moon, according to the hopeful—and greedy “science” of the day—is encrusted with diamonds, gold, and other sparkly minerals. But they also discover the moon is filled with flesh-eating, lava-like liquids that discourage excavations. And there are pockets of “lunar quicksand” at every turn!

Then the dastardly “Great Coordinator of the Moon” taps into the ship’s computers and prints out a message warning the crew to leave the moon at once. But first, the Moonites must study the Bomark-Hamid hook up to learn what love is . . . and please leave the two cats from the lab behind, because they’ve grown fascinated with Earth felines. Do the Moonites have cans of Sheba and bags of Meow Mix with Vitaburst Tender Centers? Don’t know: for this is a plot-holed world of invisible face shields, Zero-G lawnchairs, and feline-loving, invisible Moon people.

So, do the Earthlings head the warnings by leaving the Moonites in peace and all is moon lava under the ice cave bridge?

Nope.

The Moonies send a giant, freezing cloud to encase the North American continent in ice. So a plan is devised—that the French Communist dude tries to thwart—to drop atomic matter into a Mexican volcano, so as to trigger a massive, atmospheric heat surge that will thaw the U.S. (See? Sots of plot-twists for a cheapy.)

Alas! Impressed by the crew’s valiant efforts to save the human race (it was all a test, after all), the Moonites will spare Earth and will allow them to return with open arms (or whatever appendages disembodied, cat-loving moon aliens have). (I feel bad for the cats. How will the Moonites pet the cats? Cats need human—or humanoid—contact, after all.)

See? And you thought the plots of The Asylum’s recent Earth-faces-extinction flicks Astreroid-a-Geddon, Collision Moon, and Meteor Moon were far-fetched. For the more flights we make to the Moon or Mars, the more those trips stay the same. And you can take the trip with the 12 to the Moon on You Tube.

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

First Spaceship on Venus (1960)

Also known as Planet of the Dead and Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply, this is really the East German/Polish film Milcząca Gwiazda / Der Schweigende Stern, which would mean The Silent Star in English. It’s based on Stanislaw Lew’s 1951 novel The Astronauts. The author — who also was the man behind Solaris — was critical of the final film, saying, “It practically delivered speeches about the struggle for peace. Trashy screenplay was painted; tar was bubbling, which would not scare even a child.”

So how did it make it to America? Out old friends at Crown International Pictures, who In 1962 released a cut-down and American-friendly dub of the movie — along with two other cuts under the aforementioned Planet of the Dead and Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply titles. Domestic audiences wouldn’t see the original, uncut version of the film until it was re-released by the DEFA Film Library of the University of Massachusetts Amherst as The Silent Star.

Scientists discover that the Tunguska explosion of 1908 was caused by an alien craft and not a meteor, which sends them to Venus, where they discover that the inhabitants of that planet want to irradiate the Earth and take it over. More precisely, they would have, had they not nuked themselves into oblivion.

If you watched this and thought, “Have I seen this movie somewhere else?” that would be because it’s the movie within a movie in Galaxina. If you listened to it and felt the same way, that’s because it liberally borrows — steals — music from Destination MoonThis Island Earth and The Wolf Man.

You can watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this movie on Tubi or the original on YouTube:

Teenage Conflict (1960)

Donna and Joe are two clean-cut American white kids who love science. In fact, dangerously so, as their love of the rational explanation for why things are is starting to get in the way of their love for God.

Joe is pretty smart. How smart? The dude made a satellite tracker in his bedroom, which seems advanced for 2020, much less sixty years ago when Family Films made this movie.

It seems like Donna and Joe want to apply the scientific method to their study of God, an act which offends nearly everyone in their youth group. But what will Dr. George Cooper, a science geek made good, think? Even better, he’s such a big start that when he comes to town, he’s going to be sleeping in their house, which suggests to me that being a big star in science is much like being in a well-known doom metal band or an indy pro wrestler. You might get recognized at Dollar General, but you’re still going to have to find a couch to crash on.

Guess what? The doctor turns out to be a Christian and he easily explains away the fact that he can believe in something that can’t be seen or quantified by saying, “Well then, just because science can’t measure things like love, faith and hope doesn’t mean they aren’t real.”

The funny thing is science has totally shown that they can measure emotions and their impact on the human mind, but let’s not be rude right now. Let’s get back to discussing this film.

Obviously, the geek in charge of the science club, a doubter named Sid, is going to pay tomorrow when he thinks Dr. George is on his side. Keep in mind that Sid has been pretty even-handed throughout this film. He’s going to burn in hell.

For some reason, there’s also a subplot when the kids’ mom might have cancer and it’s never resolved. Nothing is, other than the fact the kids feel bad for potentially believing that science has all the answers.

I love these movies more than I can explain. Every time I watch them, my wife comes into the room and just stares at me, wondering what message I am getting from them. I don’t know the answer myself.

You can watch this on YouTube. It’s also on the Internet Archive.