Dementia 13 (1963)

Despite owning multiple copies if this film — its public domain status means that it ends up on all manner of DVD compilations — I’d never sat down to enjoy it before.

Shot after Corman Corman’s recently completed The Young Racers* — on which Coppola had worked as a sound technician, this was intended to be a rip-off of Psycho, but with more brutality. So, you know a slasher. Or a giallo, more to the point.

Coppola wrote the script to Corman’s requirements and although he was given total directorial freedom, Corman declared the finished film unreleasable and brought in Jack Hill to finish the movie.

Monte Hellman also filmed a five-minute intro that had a D-13 test to see if people were psychologically fit to see the movie. That’s what we in the movie-loving business call padding.

While out rowing in the middle of a lake after dark — really a bad idea all around — John Haloran and his wife Louise (Luana Anders, who along with William Campbell and Patrick Magee, had come to this movie from the cast of The Young Racers) are arguing about his mother’s will, which will all go to a charity in the name of Kathleen. As they bicker — and row, row, row the boat — John keels over from a heart attack and dies, which means that Louise will get nothing of his fortune. So she pretends that he’s still alive and invites herself to the Haloran family castle while her husband is away on business or at the bottom of the lake.

Perhaps going to that castle was not the best of ideas. The family is, charitably, bonkers. Her dead husband’s brothers Billy and Richard join their mother in a ritual that remembers the long-lost Kathleen, who also drowned, and Lady Haloran faints every single time.

That’s when Louise gets the bright idea to start acting like Kathleen is communicating to her from the land of the dead. At one point, she swims to the bottom of the lake and begins placing the dead girl’s toys in the water. Underneath the water, she finds Kathleen somehow perfectly preserved and when she surfaces, she’s killed with an axe. This is the sequence that sold Corman on the movie.

Here’s a crazy fact: this movie is where the Tom Petty song “American Girl” gets some of its lyrics from. In reference to another woman, Referring to another woman, Louise says, “Especially an American girl. You can tell she was raised on promises.”

It gets wilder from here with statues at the bottom of ponds, long-buried secrets and plenty more murder. It’s not the best film ever, but for a debut — well, Coppola had only made two nudie cuties before this — it’s worth a spin. And now Lionsgate is releasing a Director’s Cut nearly sixty years after this was made that will include an introduction and commentary by Coppola, as well as the D-13 test.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*They had $22,000 left, just enough to make a movie. Coppola was already a mover and shaker, gaining an additional $20,000 in financing himself by pre-selling the European rights to a producer named Raymond Stross. Now, he didn’t tell Corman that and had moved the original $22,000 into a bank account in case Corman wanted his investment back.

Bluebeard (1963)

Also known as Landru, this movie finds French New Wave director Claude Chabrol telling the absolutely true story of serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. Nicknamed the Bluebeard of Gambais, Landry kiled at least seven women in the village of Gambais, as well as at least three other women and a young man at a house he rented in Vernouillet. He also had met or been in romantic correspondence with 283 women during the First World War, many of whom he swindled out of money. The true number of Landru’s victims — as their remains were never found — could possibly be even higher. After a trial — which had no small amount of controversy due to a lack of bodies for evidence — Landru was executed by the guillotine. Somehow, his severed head ended up in Los Angeles’ Museum of Death.

Played by Charles Denner, this monster of a man seems respectable until you get to his scheme: lure wealthy old women with the hopes of romance to his home, get their money and then chop them up and set the bodies ablaze.

After this movie was released, Chabrol was sued for defamation by Fernande Segret, Landru’s last mistress, who was not pleased by how Stéphane Audran played her or the fact that she was not consulted or asked for permission for her name to be used. She’d used the money she made from telling the story to be a teacher in Lebanon for forty years and came back to France only to learn that she was the subject of a major motion picture. Segret received modest damages and retired to a care home in the town of Flers, where she later killed herself in 1968, drowned herself in the moat at the Chateau de Flers on the anniversary of Landru’s marriage proposal to her.

She wasn’t the only person unhappy with Audran. Producer Carlo Ponti hated her acting so much that he screamed, “Who’s that slut who’s playing Fernande?” Chabrol slapped Ponti and shouted back, “That’s my woman!”

This was the fourth box office failure that Chabrol would endure after Les Bonnes Femmes, The Third Lover and Ophélia. As a result, he was forced to make more commercial movies rather than the ones he wanted to make. The same thing happened to Charlie Chaplin, whose take on the same story — 1947’s Monsieur Verdoux — also was a big time bomb.

You can get Bluebeard from Kino Lorber, complete with commentary by Kat Ellinger, and a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative.

Maciste Contro i Cacciatori di Teste (1963)

Known as Colossus and the Head Hunters here in America, this peplum was directed by Guido Malatesta, who also made Tarzana, the Wild Woman and a few other sword and sandal films, as well as the Eurospy Riuscirà il nostro eroe a ritrovare il più grande diamante del mondo? (Will Our Hero Be Able to Find the Largest Diamond in the World?).

Partially shot in Yugoslavia, this Maciste sequel takes the same volcano footage from Malatesta’s Maciste contro i Mostri (Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules in the U.S.).

It stars Italian bodybuilder Kirk Morris as Maciste, but you can see original star Reg Lewis — he was in Maciste in the aforementioned Fire Monsters — in a few long shots. That’s how much care this movie put into this, a film released at the near death of the sword and sandal cycle. Queen Amoa (Laura Brown, Colossus of the Stone Age) gets kidnapped by headhunters and our heroes defies the fates to save her.

This may be the movie that you need Mystery Science Theater 3000 to get through.

Neutrón contra el Dr. Caronte (1963)

For some reason, the mongoose to the cobra that is the mad scientist is the lucha libre hero. Across several other films, Neutrón and Dr. Caronte have fought to the death. Literally, I’ve seen Caronte let slip this mortal coil several times in this movie alone.

Wolf Ruvinskis plays our hero and he was known as El Lobo Letonia (The Latvian Wolf). Born Jewish in Latvia to a Latvian mother and Ukrainian father, Wolf began wrestling professionally in Argentina as a way to help put food on the table for his poor family. He toured the world, ending up in Mexico where he wrestled until 1950. Injuries pushed him out of the ring and into acting where he played the lead in Ladron de Cadaveres and as this character in four other movies, including Neutrón vs. the Karate Killers, Neutrón vs. the Maniac, Neutrón vs. the Death Robots and Neutrón the Man in the Black Mask.

Dr. Caronte would inspire the real life rudo Dr. Karonte. According to Luchawiki, Leonardo Morgado, promoter of Arena Monumental, had the idea of featuring Neutrón and Dr. Karonte in the ring. However, there were not many matches between the wrestling versions of Neutrón and Dr. Karonte, as the rudo had a higher status than his archrival.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963)

The Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn comes from a series of novels by Russell Thorndike and was inspired by 18th-century smuggling when brandy and tobacco were smuggled into the U.S. to avoid British taxation. The books were originally made as movies in 1937 as Doctor Syn and in 1962 as Captain Clegg, which starred Peter Cushing.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was produced for the Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color TV series. Shot on location in England, it was directed by James Neilson, who also made the Disney movies The Moon-Spinners and The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin.

Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) plays Dr. Syn in three different parts, which were all edited together to run in British theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow on a double feature with The Sword in the Stone.

Dr. Syn, a country priest, leads his rebels against the armies of the King of England, who is enslaving American colonists for his Royal Navy. Think of Zorro in the pre-Revolutionary War and you have a good idea of what this is all about,

The first part of the film deals with General Pugh, who has come to the New World to destroy the smuggling ring of Dr. Syn, who is dealing with a traitor in his midst. Finally, Syn rescues his men from General Pugh before faking his death.

I’ve always been fascinated by Dr. Syn/The Scarecrow, who is nearly a horror movie character within the Disney universe. I was so happy when Disney Adventures magazine started featuring his stories in the 2000s, even crossing his story over with Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Based on “La Horla” by Guy de Maupassant, this Reginald Le Borg-directed film starts at the funeral of Simon Cordier (Vincent Price), who had been possessed by one of the horla, a race of evil monsters who exist only to make humans go nuts.

Trying to find a hobby after thinking that a prisoner has infected him with a horla, Cordier got into sculpting and fell in love with the already married Odette Mallotte DuClasse (Nancy Kovack, The Silencers). The horla makes him believe that she’s merely after him for his money, so he cuts her head off and tosses it in a river. When it’s found, her husband is executed for the crime, but Simon knows he has to get rid of the creature. So he does what any of us would — he sets his whole house on fire and dies along with it.

This was written by Robert E. Kent, who would make Twice-Told Tales with Price the same year.

Obviously, Ozzy Osbourne has seen this movie.

The Raven (1963)

The fifth of Roger Corman’s Poe movies, this was written by Richard Mattheson and based on the poem “The Raven.” It has an astounding cast with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff — who was also in the 1935 adaption — as sorcerers locked in magical combat with one another.

In the book The Raven, Mattheson said, “After I heard they wanted to make a movie out of a poem, I felt that was an utter joke, so comedy was really the only way to go with it.”

As Dr. Erasmus Craven (Price) pines for his lost wife Lenore (Hazel Court, The Man Who Could Cheat Death), he is visited by a raven that he helped to transform back into the human form of Dr. Bedlo (Lorre). Now, Bedlo wants revenge on the man who turned him into a beast — Dr. Scarabus (Karloff) — and gets Craven to come with him, claiming that he’s seen Lenore’s ghost in his enemy’s castle. Along for the ride are Craven’s daughter Estelle and Bedlo’s son Rexford, who is a very young Jack Nicholson.

It all turns out that Lenore is alive and faked her death to become Scarabus’ mistress and doesn’t even bat an eye when the evil wizard tortures her daughter. Of course, a duel between magicians is the only way this can all end.

Lorre was given to improv, which Price grew to enjoy, Nicholson loved and Karloff hated. Between that and the goofy Latin phrases the magicians say when they cast spells, this movie always makes me laugh.

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

Of the three stories featured in Twice-Told Tales, only one of them — “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” — is actually from the Nathaniel Hawthorne book. The other two — “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and The House of the Seven Gables — come from another story and a book the author wrote.

Much like Tales of Terror, all three of these stories feature Vincent Price as narrator and star. It was written and produced by Robert E. Kent, the man who brought Roy Orbison to the screen in The Fastest Guitar Alive. This was directed by Sidney Salkow, who also worked with Price on The Last Man Alive.

In “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” Carl Heidegger (Sebastian Cabot, The Time Machine) and Alex (Price) meet to celebrate Heidegger’s 79th birthday. As they look back on their lives, they learn that Carl has never gotten over the death of his fiancee Sylvia. In a drunken depression, he wanders down to her grave, only to find her perfectly preserved. As he drinks the water that rains down on her coffin, the old man — and then his friend — become young again.

Both of them decide to inject the dead woman with the water and she returns, only to inform Carl that Alex was her lover. The two men clash, only for Alex to die and Sylvia to wither to a skeleton. Alex wanders the crypt, unable to find any more of the water.

While dramatic, this story doesn’t match Hawthrone’s, during which four older people use water that they’ve found from the  legendary Fountain of Youth, near Lake Macaco in Florida. It doesn’t end on such a down note either.

“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is the story of a man (Price) who has kept his daughter like a plant in a garden, treating her with the extract of an exotic plant that makes her very touch deadly. Yet what happens when she falls in love with a young man (Brett Halsey!)?

This story inspired the DC Comics character Poison Ivy, while the story itself was based on Indian fairy tales of poisoned maidens. The pop culture life of this story also extends to the Fleetwood Mac song Running through the Garden.”

The last story is “House of the Seven Gables,” which finds a cursed family, reincarnation, an inheritance and skeletal hands emerging to attack Price. The same story had been previously filmed in 1940 and also featured Price (he plays Gerald Pyncheon here; he played Clifford in the original).

The Hawthorne novel was a major inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft, who claimed that it was “New England’s greatest contribution to weird literature.” You can detect the novel’s shadow cast over his stories “The Picture in the House”, “The Shunned House” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

They even made this into a Dell comic book!

If you enjoy anthology horror and Vincent Price, this one’s for you. If you don’t, never speak to me again.

Please Don’t Touch Me (1963)

Right before Ron Ormond’s road to Damascus moment, he was making movies like this, which feel like a mondo crossed with a sex ed movie and yet have all of the best things of both genres.

Using his real name Vittorio Di Naro, Ormond directed this film (and wrote it, too). It starts with Vicky (Vicki Caron, her only role; she’s a buxom redhead who seems like someone I would have pined over in my twenties. Who am I lying, if I were single, I’d be putting her through trade school) being assaulted as a teen.

Before we can reflect on what has happened, the movie goes into mondo territory and begins showing us the history of hypnotism, which is really an excuses to show us primitive cultures who still do things like rolling in glass and walking across fire. Yes, this film will have the theme of hypnosis in it, but there’s no reason for this footage and by that, I mean that I love that this footage is in this film.

Then, without any warning, we go from a drawing of a man with a one hundred pound plus tumor in his scrotum to watch an actual open heart surgery procedure. Some horror films use Val Lewton’s blueprint for suspense. Ron Ormond just lures you in with the promise that this is a sex movie and then punches you in the stomach with some of the sickest surgical footage possible.

Now, the movie can really begin.

Vicky is supposedly a real person and this story really happened, which is also the kind of thing that I demand in nearly everything I watch. She has some hang-ups because of the aforementioned assault which lead to her never allowing her new husband to touch her. Or maybe it’s because her mother (Ruth Blair, who unfortunately only did this movie) wants her daughter to keep on being her wingwoman.

This all leads Vicky to a therapist named Bill, who is played by Lash La Rue of all people. Yes, the very same cowboy actor who starred in eleven films from 1948 to 1951 in which he dressed all in black and used a bullwhip to stop bad guys. In 1952, Lash’s comic book adventures sold nearly 12 million copies, but a decade later and we have our hero appearing as a kindly doctor instead of a man in black battling bad guys.

La Rue is the perfect person for the Ron Ormond orbit, as he became born again and did church ministry after being a movie star. He also disappeared for most of the 70s, as he took the role of teh villain in the movie Hard on the Trail without realizing that it was an adult movie. To repent, he was a missionary for ten years before showing up in movies like The Dark Power and Alien Outlaw.

Lash appears on the back cover of the Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings album “Heroes.”

In order to determine exactly why Vickie won’t let her husband near her, he brings in real-life hypnotist Ormond McGill to figure out the answers.  At some point in the 50s, Ormond had spent  in Asia with McGill in Asia researching and writing the book Religious Mysteries of the Orient/Into the Strange Unknown. They also wrote The Master Method of Hypnosis, The Art of Meditation and The Magical Pendulum of the Orient together; one wonders whether Ron gave it all up once he found God. McGill was such a mentor to Ron that he took his stage name from the man.

Despite the title, this film really does care about its subjects and how Vickie is damaged because of how she feels for her husband but can’t bring herself to care for him sexually. It’s a surprisingly deep topic for when this movie was made (shot in 1959, released in 1963).

There are also musical numbers by the Mulcay Brothers.

This movie plays like a mixtape for the mentally disturbed. I loved every single moment of it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Slime People (1963)

There’s so much fog in this movie, Lucio Fulci got jealous.

So much fog that the Elizabeth Dane wrecked.

So much fog…

You get it, right?

A bunch of lizard people emerge from under Los Angeles and use their fog machine to invade the city because, well, we nuked them out of their homes. Luckily, Tom Gregory (Robert Hutton, who also directed the movie) joins with a group of survivors to battle the slimy reptiles, who can’t deal with salt or their own spears.

Susan Hart — who would one day marry American-International Pictures president James H. Nicholson and appear in their beach movies — is one of the humans battling the mucky scaly heels.

This entire movie was filmed in the studios of KTLA but ran out of money after nine days. The slime creatures cost most of the money and none of the stuntmen or Hutton got paid. There was also the wild thought to use small people as giant voles who would lead the invasion, but when they watched the footage, it was too silly to use. Just think of that, as this movie is one of the goofiest films ever made. I wish I could watch that footage.

Hutton would go on to write Persecution, which was one of Lana Turner’s last films. It’s just as goofy — maybe more — than this one.