Munecos Infernales (1961)

Better known by its U.S. title Curse of the Doll People, this movie was directed by Benito Alazraki, who also was behind Santo contra Los Zombies and Espiritismo, both made the same year as this film.

Four men have stolen an idol from a voodoo priest. I don’t have to tell you what a bad idea that is in any country. Soon, evil dolls begin killing their family members years before we even heard of Puppet Master. It’s actually based on the book Burn Witch Burn! by A. Merritt, which has nothing to do with the movie of the same name. That British-American film was originally called Night of the Eagle and based on the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife.

Speaking of that movie, it had a Paul Frees-narrated prologue in which he read a protective spell for the audience, who were also given further occult defenses via a special pack of salt and the words to an ancient incantation.

This movie has no such assurances.

K. Gordon Murray, who brought The Brainiac and Santa Claus up north, as well as the writer of Shanty Tramp, also brought this movie to America, but not before adding some new scenes.

Ramon Gay, who was in all of the Aztec Mummy films, stars. He was one of the brightest lights in Mexican cinema when a dispute over the affections of the actress Evangelina Elizondo ended with her estranged husband shooting Gay dead.

You can watch this on Tubi.

El Mundo de Los Vampiros (1961)

A year after making this movie, which translates as World of the Vampires, Alfonso Corona Blake would direct Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro

Count Sergio Subotai is a vampire who is seeking to wipe out the descendants of his greatest enemy. I’d like to state for the record that he is played by Guillermo Murray. When I was a nino taking el espanol, anyone named Bill was called Guillermo, which means William. So this vampire is really named Mexican Bill Murray.

Another fact that this movie taught me is that instead of a stake through the heart, sunlight, garlic or a cross, music is the best weapon to use against a Mexican vampire. I take that back — stakes are also used.

That said, there are some attractive female vampires and an organ made of human bones and skulls, so this movie isn’t all bad.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Santo Contra los Zombis (1961)

Predating Night of the Living Dead by seven years, Santo was already battling zombies before it was cool, then played out.

That’s because the police can’t deal with the shambling walking dead, so they turn to the man in the silver mask to drop elbows on them.

There’s one harrowing scene where the zombies set an orphanage on fire, then decide to beat up every child inside. Luckily, Santo jumps through a window — wearing a cape no less — and starts hitting chops on them. He battles nearly all of them, who can’t be stopped by bullets, even when two cops get felled by just a punch. One of the zombies seems to favor stomps and he does so to, as they say, stomp a mudhole in our hero. Don’t worry — he gets a big babyface comeback.

Look for luchas Black Shadow, Gory Guerrero (father of Eddy and inventor of so many wrestling moves) and El Gladiator.

This was Santo’s first starring role — at the age of 41 no less — and he makes the most of it. He’s pretty much Batman in the best of ways, except he refuses to wear a shirt and has, as mentioned before, a glamorous cape. I can’t even quantify how much I love this movie. The funny thing is, somehow Santo’s films would grow even stranger, encompassing spy films, whatever was hot in horror at the time and femme fatales who just had to possess our masked hero. He made over fifty of these films and I wish he’d made five hundred more.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Five Minutes to Live (1961)

It doesn’t matter how many hipsters embrace Johnny Cash. Cash transcends labels and goes beyond demographics. As a teenager, that photo of him violently thrusting his middle finger toward the camera got me through high school. And his book, Cash: The Autobiography is filled with the kind of amazing BS stories that probably aren’t true but totally could be, like him wandering in a cave to die, walking until his flashlight gave out but being lured back out by June Carter’s picnic cooking.

Along the way, Cash made Five Minutes to Live, also known as Door-to-Door Maniac. He’d appear in only movie that I think is stranger than this one, his 1973 vanity project Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus.

Cash is Johnny Cabbot, a man who uses his guitar skills to be a door-to-door teacher as a scam to kidnap a bank president’s wife, but the bank guy wants to run away with his mistress instead (Pamela Mason, first wife of James). There’s also a young Ron Howard and an impossibly young Vic Tayback, too. And Cash’s guitar played Merle Travis is also in here.

Yeah, Mel from Alice and the Man in Black in a gangster movie. Cash wrote the title song after hearing that his friend Johnny Horton died. I’ve also heard that the song “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” is also for him. Horton was the second wife of Billie Jean Jones, the widow of Hank Williams.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Devil’s Partner (1961)

Directed by Charles R. Rondeau and produced by Hugh Hooker, an actor and stuntman. The two teamed up before in 1958 to make The Littlest Hobo. Hooker would do stunts for years while Rondeau would work mainly in TV after this.

Writer Stanley Clements played one of the East Side Kids, Stash, and when Leo Gorcey left the Bowery Boys in 1955, Clements took over as their leader. Starting with 1965’s Fighting Trouble, he played Duke Coveleskie until the series ended its run in 1958 with In the Money.

We open with Pete the hunchback who lives in a shack in Furnace Flats. While this sounds like the start of a filthy limerick, Pete obliterates your senses by killing a goat and making a hexagon on the floor with its blood.

Pete’s gone and replaced by Nick Richards. They’re both played by Ed Nelson from Peyton Place, so some Satanic silliness is going on. He’s fond of using animals to attack people, like having dogs maul their owner’s faces and cows sacrifice themselves to cause car crashes. He wanted revenge and he’s gonna get it — in a way that has nothing to do with the poster for this movie.

Look for Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe Carson from Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies) and Richard Crane (Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe‘s sidekick Dick Preston).

This movie film gathered dust until it was acquired by Roger and Gene Corman and paired with  Creature from the Haunted Sea.

You can watch it right here.

 

PURE TERROR MONTH: Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)

The only thing this movie has in common with Psycho is the title, but that seemed like reason enough to try and drag people into the theater. It does have Ronnie Burns, the son of George and Gracie, as the lead, which is something, right? And Pamela Lincoln from The Tingler!

After his brother is sentenced to death at a trial, a teen rebel named Chet goes bonkers. No one can help him — not his sister, his best friend or even his girl. He loses any semblance of reality and attacks the son of the attorney who sentenced his brother to death.

Michael Granger, who plays Lieutenant Mac, the cop who gets involved, followed up being in movies like this and Creature With the Atom Brain by appearing on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof. Russ Bender shows up, too. He’s in a ton of B and lower grade movies, everything from Panic In the Year Zero! to Maryjane. Don Devlin, who was in Blood of Dracula and later became a producer, plays Moe.

This is directed by Boris Petroff, who was also in the chair for Shotgun Wedding and The Unearthly. For its time, it’s interesting that all three of these films were written by a woman named Jane Mann. You’d think that, but Jane Mann is really…Edward D. Wood. If you’re wondering why all of the music from this movie comes directly from Plan 9 From Outer Space, now you have your answer.

You can check this out for free on the Internet Archive and Amazon Prime, if you don’t have the Pure Terror box set.

Night Tide (1961)

Written and directed by Curtis Harrington — one of the leaders of New Queer Cinema and also the director of Queen of BloodWhat’s the Matter with Helen?Who Slew Auntie Roo?, Ruby and so many more — this film was always one I wanted to see as it features Marjorie Cameron in a small role.

Harrington had also shot a documentary about her — The Wormwood Star — and I’ll forgive you if you have no idea who she is. Cameron was many things — an artist, poet, actress, and probably most essentially, an occultist. A follower of Crowley’s Thelema, she was married to rocket pioneer and nexus point of all things 20th century occult, Jack Parsons. In fact, Parsons believed that he had conjured Cameron to be the Whore of Babylon/Thelemite goddess Babalon as part of his Babalon Working rite, which he conducted alongside L. Rod Hubbard. No, really. It may have also opened our world to the aliens that have obsessed us since Kenneth Arnold reported a UFO in 1947.

After a suicide attempt and being institutionalized, Cameron gathered a group of magic practitioners around herself that she called The Children, whose sex magic rituals were to create a moonchild. She was now pregnant with what she referred to as the Wormwood Star, but that ended in miscarriage. Many of The Children soon left, as her proclamations of the future had grown increasingly apocalyptic.

Cameron’s orbit — much like her husband’s — unites both the worlds of art and the occult, straddling appearing in the films of Kenneth Anger, working with UFO expert and contactee George Van Tassel and appearing in Wallace Berman’s art journal Semina.

Why did I tell you all this? Because it fascinates me that she’s in Night Tide.

Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper!) is a young sailor on shore leave who meets Mora (Linda Lawson, who is also in William Castle’s Let’s Kill Uncle), a woman who makes her living appearing in a sideshow. They fall in love before he learns that her past boyfriends have drowned under mysterious circumstances. That may — or may not — be because Mora is a siren, a legendary creature who exists to lure men to their deaths. Adding to her suspicions is the mystery woman (Cameron) who calls to her and demands that she follow her destiny.

One evening, under a full moon, she invites him deep sea swimming, but cuts his hose, forcing him to surface so that she isn’t tempted to kill him. She then swims into the depths of the ocean, fulfilling the call of the mystery woman. And when he returns to the boardwalk, her dead body is still in the mermaid sideshow, now there for visitors to gawk at her dead eyes.

Despite a police confession as to who the killer is, the strange woman in black and her call to the sea is never explained.

Anton LaVey discussed this film in Blanche Barton’s The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton Szandor LaVey. “There’s a whole genre of films that are just little evocative low-budget gems that I certainly wouldn’t call schlock but that are also being revived as a consequence of more attention in those directions. Director Curtis Hanington’s first movie, Night Tide filmed around the Santa Monica Pier and Venice. California in the late ’50’s, is a psychologically intricate story about a young sailor (Dennis Hopper) who falls in love with a mermaid It’s just wonderful to see these precious works of art being finally given the attention they merit.”

According to Spencer Kansa’s Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron, Anger introduced Cameron and LaVey, who was delighted to meet the actress, having been a fan of the film.

You can download this movie from the Internet Archive or buy the Kino Lober blu ray. Or check out the gorgeous restored version at Nicholas Winding Refn’s ByNWR site. Refn also owns the film’s original print.

The Devil’s Messenger (1961)

I know that Lon Chaney Jr.’s career highlight was being in the Universal monster movies. I realize that the end of his life seems sad — he suffered from throat cancer and heart disease after decades of hard drinking and smoking. In fact, Robert Stack claimed in his autobiography that Chaney and Broderick Crawford were known around the Universal lot as “the monsters” due to how much they drank and raised hell.

Despite living in his father’s shadow, Chaney could be one hell of an actor. After all, he played Lennie Small in the original Of Mice and Men. You get reminded of that when you watch late period Chaney and he has to use his voice and body instead of makeup in films like Spider Baby (why I haven’t reviewed that yet I have no idea).

That brings us to The Devil’s Messenger, a 1961 anthology that takes three episodes of the Swedish TV series 13 Demon Street. From the tale of a 50,000-year-old woman trapped in ice bewitching scientists to a man who learns of his death in a dream to a photographer who attacks a woman in teh snow and can’t escape her, these are some pretty decent stories. And oh yeah — there’s a framing device starring Chaney, Karen Kadler and John Crawford that was directed by Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein).

Guess what? Those three Swedish episodes — The Photograph,” “The Girl in the Glacier,” and “Condemned in Crystal” — were directed by Curt Siodmak. Who is that? Oh, only the guy who wrote the original The Wolf ManI Walked with a ZombieSon of Dracula and House of Frankenstein as well as directing Curucu, Beast of the Amazon and The Magnetic Monster.

Look, any movie where Lon Chaney Jr. makes good on Satan’s plot to nuke the world is one I’m going to love.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: The Devil’s Hand (1961)

Also known as Witchcraft, The Naked Goddess, Devil’s Doll and Live to Love, this black and white film is all about some people in Los Angeles who want to be ahead of the Black House’s curve in San Francisco and start worshipping Satan…err, Gamba, the Great Devil God.

Probably the most interesting thing that I can tell you about this movie is that Chess Records released Baker Harris and the Knightmares’ “Theme from ‘The Devil’s Hand.” No word on how many people bought it.

Rick Turner (Robert Alda, Father Michael from the bastardized version of Bava’s Lisa and the Devil that was retitled The House of Exorcism, which strangely enough also has a similar plot to this movie, so Satan has to be behind this coincidence) keeps seeing a succubus, a nearly nude vision of a woman dancing in the clouds. Soon, he has come to a doll shop that has one in the exact image of his dreams, which is a likeness of Bianca Milan (Linda Christian, the first Bond girl).

Understandably, his girlfriend Donna (Ariadna Welter, El Vampiro) is freaked out when she finds a doll that looks just like herself. Rick is too after the shop owner Frank Lamont (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from TV’s Batman) knows him by name. He also refuses to sell Donna her doll, instead stabbing it and causing her no end of pain.

Of course, while his lady is in the hospital, Rick becomes Bianca’s lover. She’s been sending thoughts into his mind and wants him to join her cult and takes him to a meeting, where Gamba decides if a woman lives or dies when his wheel of knives descends on a woman. She lives, but a cult member takes photos of the event.

Donna is cured by midnight and released from the hospital. There are bigger problems, as the cultist who took the photo is a reporter who Frank curses and kills like Dr. Lavey cutting out photos of Jayne Mansfield.

Soon, the cult is having another meeting to test Rick, asking him to choose if Donna lives or dies. Who knew being in a devil cult had so many meetings? It seems like an awful lot of commitment to make. He chooses her and all of the cult dies in a fire.

The film ends quite ambiguously for when it was made, as the couple thinks everything is copacetic and we soon see in the skies, waiting for him. This is one weird movie, one that feels like a waking dream.

You can watch this for free on the Internet Archive or on Amazon Prime with your membership.

CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (1961)

This entry was written by Bill Van Ryn, who is behind the amazing Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum. Bill knows more about movies than probably anyone I’ve ever met before and teaches me something new every time we talk.

Did you ever wonder what it takes to be a member of law enforcement in a horror movie? If you ever saw the movie Pieces, then you may have questioned why a school that’s being plagued by chainsaw murders would be allowed to carry on business as usual. Seeing as the killer has not been apprehended and the police have no idea who’s doing it, why would the school officials and the police department allow the school to stay open? More importantly, why would students stay there?  The same goes for today’s film, Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory, an Italian movie from 1961 originally titled Lycanthropus. It was released with the new title in the US in 1963, on a double bill with Corridors of Blood, and a groovy bubblegum rock and roll jam called “The Ghoul In School” glued onto the titles in hopes of selling it to the young crowd. Check out the track on YouTube if you dare, it’s funny how the lyrics also include the phrase “corridors of blood” to help sell the double feature.

But what of the movie itself? While it’s no classic, it’s not bad for what it is, if you’re willing to ignore the ridiculous aspects of the story. For instance, it’s set in a school for “wayward girls” who all happen to be stunningly beautiful. In addition to the school staying open despite murders occurring there, the students are prone to wandering around outdoors at night, even though there’s a werewolf outside that has already reduced the student body by a few heads. Lead actress Barbara Lass is especially pretty and vulnerable in that European horror heroine kind of way, and the hero actually leaves her alone OUTSIDE the school one night after walking her home. None of these people are behaving as if the threat is legitimate, even though we see enough of the attacks to know that it really is a werewolf.  The identity of this werewolf is a mystery, or at least the filmmakers hope so, with multiple red herrings much in the style of a giallo. The problem is, the herrings are way too red, and once you scratch them all off the list, there is the werewolf. Although there’s not much surprise, there’s a lot of atmosphere.

There’s also an overabundance of characters, making the plot a convoluted tangle. New professor Julian Olcott (handsome Austrian actor Carl Schell) is immediately suspected when his arrival at the isolated school coincides with several mauling deaths of young students. There is a blackmail plot (again similar to a giallo) involving a creepy instructor (Maurice Marsac) who is having liasons with the female students, with a packet of incriminating love letters being the hot item it seems the werewolf will kill to protect (think of the revealing diary from Blood and Black Lace).

It’s sometimes difficult to take a film dubbed into English seriously — not that we should take a film like this too seriously, anyway. But actors who performed an English dub track were sometimes not the best performers, and it’s hard for any of the performances to seem convincing. We’re left with the film’s ability to create atmosphere on a visual level, and this one actually pulls it off. The sets are suitably creepy, including the bleak looking “school”, the outdoor wooded areas, and the black and white cinematography seems to be a lot better than any current transfer of the film reveals. Hopefully one day we’ll get a decent home media rendering of the original film.