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 visitor’s 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.

BAVA WEEK: Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

Using some of the same sets from Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis, Mario Bava (Blood and Black LaceBlack Sunday) created a masterpiece with this film. Featuring Reg Park (who appeared in four Hercules films and was considered a mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Christopher Lee (The Satanic Rites of DraculaThe Wicker Man, everything good and right about horror movies), this would influence every sword and sandal movie that would follow, as well as films like Flash Gordon.

Despite the size of the budget and the cheapness of the sets, Bava crafts a totally unique world, filled with rich colors and billowing smoke. And with Lee as King Lico, there’s finally a villain that feels worthy of Hercules’ bold heroics.

As Hercules returns from many adventures, he discovers that the love of his life,  Princess Deianira, has lost her memory. Unbeknownst to him, Lico is responsible. Working with the forces of the underworld, he wants her for himself (and Hercules out of the way). He sends Hercules, Theseus and Telemachus on a suicide mission to steal the Stone of Forgetfulness from a small island within a lake of fire. For love, Hercules will dare anything, diving headfirst into what normal men fear. 

Indulge me in hyperbole for a moment, but Bava could be seen as very much the same. He made a bet with himself on this film, “attempting to shoot it with one segmented wall containing doors and windows and four movable columns.” Facing down a challenge and attempting to outdo the past Steve Reeves Hercules films while crafting a visual style all his own — Bava exceeds expectations here.

To me, the heart of the film is the differences between Hercules and Theseus. Hercules is driven by duty, devotion and love, while Theseus is addicted to new experiences, whether they be violent or sexual. When he is turned against Hercules, you know that our hero will forgive him, no matter what. His strength goes beyond physical — it extends to his heart.

There’s a scene in the film where the Queen of the Hesperides tells Hercules this advice: “Believe only what you do, not what you think you see.” That’s a perfect thought for this film. You may see fake rocks, silly costumes and a goofy plot. Or you can enjoy this film’s simple pleasures, wild colors and otherworldly feel. 

There’s always a divide in how I see movies and how others do, which often leads me to not always want to share a film. Do you know what I mean? I honestly adore a film like Holy Mountain or The Beyond, but I know that by telling someone who isn’t willing to accept some of the faults, to simply see it as a dumb movie instead of a treasured story, I’m just going to get upset. This L.A. Weekly article sums it so well. Bava was operating on a small budget, with a small script, but delivered beyond measure. A story where one of the main characters must realize that in order to find true happiness for all, he must give up his own happiness? That’s deeper than the papier-mâché boulders and wooden performances here hint at.

Within the confines of what is expected, Bava is able to move us, to inspire us, to wow us, to take us to another, better world — one filled with smoke and lava and neon and beauty. We are limited now by the fact that every film must look perfect and clean and realistic. I’ll take one Hercules in the Haunted World over every movie that will play in moviehouses this year.

UPDATE: You can watch this for free on Amazon Prime.

CHRISTMAS CINEMA: The Night Before Christmas (1961)

This movie is brought to you by our friend Paul Andolina, who created the website Wrestling with Film. He loves Russian and Christmas movies more than anyone I know. This is literally at the center of both of his loves, so I invited him to share it with all of you:

As I sit at my computer listening to Russian Christmas carols after having just watched Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka aka Night Before Christmas, I realize that is important to inform you about Russian traditions before jumping into my review for the film. Russians are free to celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas now that the Soviet Union has dissolved but that wasn’t always the case. During the years of communism in Russia and its many republics New Year’s Eve would be celebrated instead. It was and still is today celebrated by lavish spreads of food and drinks, reveling, and enjoying family and friend’s company and it is when Father Frost (Ded Moroz) and his companion the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) visit the children and deliver presents.  It is also celebrated by watching movies such as Carnival Night, and the so popular it’s now part of the vernacular of the Russian language, Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath. Christmas is usually celebrated on January 7th instead of December 25th due to the the use of the Julian calendar.

Among the many movies watched during the day before and on the day of January 1st is an adaptation of the short story Night Before Christmas(Noch Pered Rozhdestvom) by Ukrainian and Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.  Elements of supernatural horror were largely unwelcome by Soviet standards in film, but fairy tales and literary adaptations were allowed to use them. This movie is directed by Aleksandr Rou who is no stranger to films with such elements as most of his filmography is fairy tale films based on folklore and literature.

This film is largely about the antics of the denizens of Dikanka. Among them is Vakula the blacksmith and painter, his arch enemy the devil, his love interest Oksana, a witch named Solokha, and the many men who pay her a visit.  The devil has a grudge against Vakula for painting an unflattering depiction of him and vows to pay him back in like.

It is set on the evening of the day before Christmas.

This is short flick with a runtime of little over an hour. It is quite an easy watch. It’s fun to watch the devil, here depicted as a silly little creature, stir up trouble by causing blizzards with his digging in the snow and spinning in circles. He also swims into the sky to steal the moon. There are many antics of the town drunkards, carolers, and a particularly funny scene when too many suitors show up to Solokha’s house. It is mostly a love story though as amidst all the goings on of the evening, it is largely focused on the wooing of Oksana by Vakula. Oksana rebuffs him many times, even insisting she will only marry him if he brings her the slippers the Tsarina wears. There is also a semi-disturbing scene of a sorcerer named Patsyuk which means rat in Ukrainian eating Russian dumplings using magic.

I highly recommend this film to fans of surreal film, international films, and fairy tales or just kitsch in general. So curl up this New Year’s and enjoy this film which can be watched for free on youtube subtitled in English here: