DISMEMBERCEMBER: A Visit To Santa (1963)

This is a combination Pittsburgh and holiday movie at the same time, as it was made by Clem Williams Films, an industrial films company that rented cartoons, popular movies and industrial films to high schools and colleges. They also made money distributing highlight films from the Steelers, Pirates and other Pittsburgh-based sports teams and sold all of their inventory to Kit Parker Films in 1985 with Clem himself retiring to Florida.

It’s also without a doubt the most yinzer yuletide movie ever made, as we first start in the home of Dick and Ann as their mom prepares them for bed and her quiet calm down speaking voice crackles with the patois of Pittsburgh, our local tongue one created from trying to yell over the blast furnace. “Yinz kids better go to bed before Santy comes dahn here tonight and not leave yinz no gifts,” she intones before refusing Dick’s request for water and acquiescing to his wish to tell his father good night. Dad’s in 1963 Pittsburgh did not put their kids to bed or even speak to them because they were either in the mill or drinking afterward.

Ann then wonders, “Did Santa get the letter we sent him?” We then see the letter, which is inside the mittens of Kris Kringle himself. Santa sits in a mid-century bachelor pad with a large leather La-Z-Boy which seems nothing like anything you’ve ever seen in any Christmas story, much less a Santa who has a magic helicopter or elves like Toby, who responds to the commands of Santa by saying, “Your words are my command, Santa.”

I mean, is it any wonder that Santa lives in a capitalist society where he himself rules over the proletariat eternal children, commanding them on a whim to fly to the Steel City to pick up two strangers and brag about his toy empire?

Santa’s location is actually a store called The Famous — thanks to the amazing Tube City Online web site — at the corner of Fifth and Market in McKeesport, once the center of industry and shopping and today what can charitably be called a ghost town. The holiday village is the ground floor of the also now gone Penn-McKee Hotel.

The magical McKeesport of a better time.

The crazy thing is I recognized this parade route because when I first started my life as a pro wrestler, the rookies all had to participate as part of the Pro Wrestling eXpress float and walk the parade route. An early Saturday morning, before the show, carrying a banner, throwing candy to kids who whipped it back at us and laughed. You pay your dues when you’re green.

There’s also a scene with Santa arriving on the Gateway Clipper and also him arriving — via rocket ship! — at what was the then one-year-old Olympia Shopping Center, a gleaming vision of the future up on Walnut Street.

This film is filled with terror, beyond the wonderful visions of holiday McKeesport, such as finding out that dolls are “fun to wash, to dress, to spank,” that little boys are bored by dolls and that when little girls play house they “cook and scrub the whole day long then serve a TV dinner.”

Dick may also be a budding hollow-eyed monster, as he watches a train set, he asks Santa, “Santa, do these trains ever wreck?” Santa nods and Dick can barely contain himself in reply, intoning “Garsh, that’s fun. Oh, no wrecks today.”

As Dick and Ann prepare to leave, Santa suddenly realizes the reason for the season, as the war on Christmas had not yet been fought and the man who coincidentally was given the dignitary title of Saint Nick says, “So glad you came. The entire Christmas celebration is to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ hundreds of years and the wonderful spirit of Christmas.” This ensured that Catholic schools throughout Allegheny County would come back over and over to rent this from Clem Williams.

Then, the film descends into Lynchian-madness decades before that was a thing, as the kind of Hammond organ that used to blare through malls trying to get you to come in and buy an organ kicks into full holiday hysteria and the man playing Santa stares coldly at the screen and just keeps saying, “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to all! Merry Christmas!” even after the audio stops playing.

There’s also an aside that Santa is too large to fit into some chimneys now, as a movie for kids about Santa, one to make them happy, fat shames the man who gives of himself to help make the season special.

At one point, the parade goes past what is now a Dollar General, the same place where last year there was a Santa display that had him carrying a gun and a baseball bat. Times have certainly changed, even if McKeesport still puts on a Salute to Santa parade every year.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Tomb of Torture (1963)

I love that at one point Italian gothic horror was getting imported to America regularly. Like this movie, known as Metempsyco over there and directed by one and done Antonio Boccacci who was mostly a paperback writer.

Shot in sepia tone, it stars Annie Alberti — a one-time fumetti novel star — as Anna Darnell, who is tormented by visions of a dead countess. Her father does the only sensible thing. No, he doesn’t pay for her therapy and give her space to solve her issues. No, instead he takes her to the castle where the countess lived — and a place where at least two women have died in recent days — and lets her work it out. Well, hope you do well, Anna, and enjoy that strange mutilated hunchback doing all the tying up and killing.

This was released in the U.S. along with Night of the Vampires which was given the title Cave of the Living Dead.

You can watch this on Tubi.

ARROW BOX SET RELEASE: Gothic Fantastico: The Blancheville Monster (1963)

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can also check out this review by Dustin Fallon of The Blancheville Monster.

Released in Italy as Horror, this film’s script by Gianni Grimaldi and Bruno Corbucci was said to be based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Sure, there are some parts of The Fall of the House of Usher, A Tale of the Ragged Mountains and Some Words with a Mummy, but it’s as much a true Poe as the films of Roger Corman.

It was directed by Alberto De Martino who I celebrate for so many of his remake remix rip-off movies like OK Connery, The Antichrist and Holocaust 2000. Outside of those movies, he also made the wild giallo cop movie hybrid Strange Shadows In an Empty Room. It won’t sell you on this movie if I told you that he said that it was “a little film of no importance.”

Emilie De Blancheville (Ombretta Colli, who would one day become the President of Milan) has returned to her family’s ancestral home only to learn that everything has changed. Her father, the Count Blancheville, has become disfigured and gone mad, locked in a tower. Her brother Rodéric (Gérard Tichy) has taken over the home and rules over his servants with an iron fist after, well, all the old help has been killed. And now, the Count is loose and sure that if his daughter is killed before his 21st birthday, the curse on the Blancheville family will end. And oh yes — there’s also a cold and evil housekeeper known as Miss Eleonore played by Helga Liné.

AIP sold this to American TV, so if you watched horror shows from the 60s to the 80s, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this. However, you haven’t seen it look as good as it does in the new Arrow box set.

Along with a new video introduction by Italian film devotee Mark Thompson Ashworth, a limited edition 80-page book featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rob Talbot, Jerome Reuter, Rod Barnett and Kimberly Lindbergs, a fold-out double-sided poster and limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch, The Blancheville Monster also has commentary by filmmaker and film historian Paul Anthony Nelson, a new video essay by writer and pop culture historian Keith Allison, a new video interview with author and filmmaker Antonio Tentori, opening credits for the US release of the film and a trailer.

You can get this set from MVD.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Twice-Told Tales (1963)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally appeared on the site on July 6, 2021. Kino Lorber has re-released this on blu ray, including audio commentary by film historians Richard Harland Smith and Perry Martin, a “Trailers From Hell” with Mick Garris and the theatrical trailer. 

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 — are 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 On Earth.

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 Hawthorne’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 is for you. If you don’t, never speak to me again.

La maldición de la Llorona (1963)

An older Mexican horror film that actually played in the U.S. — American-International Pictures offered it for syndication in 1965 — The Curse of the Crying Woman is another film that attempts to translate the legend of La Llorona, the crying woman, and does the best job of any I’ve seen.

The film starts with full realization of the weirdness and wildness within, as a carriage ride is interrupted and all three passengers are hunted down by a mysterious woman in a long black dress served by her three monstrous dogs and an even more frightening henchman. In case you wondered, “Did Black Sunday play in Mexico?” this scene will definitely answer affirmatively.

That’s when the film introduces us to Amelia, our heroine, who has come to stay at the home of her Aunt Selma, a place covered with cobwebs, where the cries of a woman can be heard at night and bodies of generations of relations decompose in the basement. One particularly relative was a powerful witch who will come back to power and take Selma to an afterlife filled with black masses and blood drinking, a fact that she excitedly relates to a shocked Amelia.

From there, the film descends into wild scenes of Selma transforming into the Crying Woman, an eyeless creature surrounded by thousands of eyes, as well as a black mass filmed in negative and dead bodies coming back to life. It’s a movie that transcends its inspiration and delivers its own artful — and scary — take on a legendary story.

El monstruo de los volcanes (1963)

Volcan Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain in Aztec) is just miles away from Mexico City and has been erupting for the entire last week (as I write this it’s June of 2022) giving off up to 36 steam and gas emissions a day.

Why would you try to build an elevated train across a volcanic mountain? Is it any wonder that there have been numerous incidents that have led to lost lives as the corporate bosses demand more progress? The workers believe that these murders are being caused by the treasure guardian of the ancient Aztec leader Montezuma. A gigantic man, covered in white fur, with a face like that of an owl and enough strength that it can tear men apart.

Directed by Jaime Salvador and written by Federico Curiel (Arañas InfernalesLas Momias de Guanajuato) and Alfredo Ruanova (El Pueblo Fantasma), this movie marks the first time I’ve seen a fluffy white sasquatch on film. It’s also the initial time — and this is more shocking — that the bigfoot has the power to obscure men’s minds.

The entire creative team would return to the very same story in a few months by making the sequel, El terrible gigante de las nieves.

Duello nel Texas (1963)

Gunfight In the Red Sands was directed by Spanish director Ricardo Blasco, who wrote the script with James Donald Prindle and Albert Band, the father of Charles. It’s also the first western to feature a score by Ennio Morricone — under the name Dan Savio — and the second to star Richard Harrison.

The family of Ricardo “Gringo” Martinez (Harrison) has discovered gold on their land. This would be good news if the youngest son, Manuel, didn’t shout about it while drunk at a saloon in Carterville. Soon enough, three masked men soon show up at the Martinez home, kill the father, wound Manuel and steal the gold — riding past the unaware Gringo who is just returning home after years of fighting with guerillas against the Mexican government.

Gringo — so called because he was a white child adopted by the Martinez family — seeks the help of Sheriff Lance Corbett to find the killers, but can only identify by their horses. That’s not going to help when the entire town of Carterville wants the gold.

As this was made back in 1963, it’s much closer to an American western than the rough and brutal movies that Italy would soon be making. Cinematographer Massimo Dallamano would go on to work with Sergio Leone and make his own movies, including What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 14: The Demon (1963)

Purificata (Daliah Lavi, The Whip and the BodySome Girls Do) is a young girl in Southern Italy who is obsessed with Antonion (Frank Wolff, Once Upon a Time In the WestDeath Walks on High Heels) to the point that she gets him to drink her blood and nearly murders a cat outside his home as he attempts to consummate his marriage. That night, she’s bound and assaulted by a shepherd and the first person that finds her, a young boy, soon dies after being near her.

Purificata is on record saying that she is a witch who speaks to Satan, so her family tries to heal her by having Zio Giuseppe exorcise her. He also assaults her, after which she finds Antonio plowing his fields. She begs for him to save her and he violently throws her to the ground. After, she begins to become possessed and the villagers try to set her ablaze. Her family rescues her for a time by burying her underground, but she escapes and is found by nuns as she hugs a tree.

The nuns seem to calm her until one says, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and Purificata strangles her. All manner of welts appear on Antonio’s body, who is told to burn an old tree in the middle of the village. He is met by Purificata and the two make love in the dirt. As the sun rises, he stabs her.

Directed by Brunello Rondi, who also made Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle, and written by Luciano Martino and Ugo Guerra, who followed this with The Whip and the Body, this folk horror film feels brutally able to happen in the world we live in today. It shocked me numerous times and it’s one I’ve thought about several times since I watched it. It’s on the Severin All the Haunts Be Ours box set.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 5: X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963)

Roger Corman originally made this movie about a scientist, but that was “too obvious” so he changed the lead to be “a jazz musician who had taken too much drugs, and I get into about four or five pages, and I thought, “You know, I don’t like this idea”, and so I threw the whole thing out, and started back and went back with the scientist, which was the original idea.”

Shot in three weeks on a budget of approximately $300,000 — that seems luxurious for Corman — and played a double feature with Dementia 13.

It stars Ray Milland as Dr. James Xavier, who is trying to increase the range of human vision, allowing hums to see the ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths and even beyond. Being a somewhat mad scientist, he tests the eyedrops on himself and soon can do more than just see through clothes, he can see shapes, colors and forms even when his eyes are closed, as his eyelids can’t stop the visions.

After a friend is killed by accident, he heads for Vegas, where he wins money at casinos and becomes part of a sideshow. The problem is that by this point, his eyes are entirely black and he can’t shut off the visions that allow him to see into the heart of the universe.

Finally, a revival church tells him that if his eyes offend him, he should pluck them out. So he does! What an ending!

I’m spoiling that to tell you how awesome Roger Corman is.

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King claimed that there was an unshot ending with Milland screaming “I can still see” after gouging out his eyes. Corman replied by saying, “Now it’s interesting. Stephen King saw the picture and wrote a different ending, and I thought, “His ending is better than mine.””

With great small roles for Don Rickles and Dick Miller, this movie moves so fast and gets so much in that it’s nearly perfect. The effects may be dated, but who cares? They work. The whole movie just works.

You can watch this on Tubi.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Death Whistles the Blues (1962) & Rififi in the City (1963)  

About the Author:  Sean Mitus grew up watching “Chiller Theater” & Pittsburgh UHF Channels and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last eight years.  Sean enjoys all genres but has lately become fascinated with Italian horror, giallo and poliziotteschi films.

Want something different from Jesus “Jess” Franco’s eurosleaze/eurohorror filmography, well look no further than Severin Films’ wonderful two-in-one disc Franco Noir. The prolific career of Jess Franco, born Jesus Franco Manera, spanned seven decades from 1954 to 2013.  Franco’s early filmography fit with more traditional Spanish cinema showing an entertaining visual flair.

Shortly after he directed The Awful Dr. Orloff, Franco directed La Muerte Silba Un Blues AKA Death Whistles the Blues in 1962.  It was a spirited foray into the crime genre taking inspiration from Film Noir. Just one film later, Franco directed Rififi en la ciudad AKA Rififi in the City (connection to Jules Dassin‘s Rififi by the definition of rififi meaning trouble/violent conflict/a brutal show of force).  

Both films have the dramatic light and dark shading typical of film noir.  Death Whistles the Blues has creative camera moves in the opening scene with the death of a musician and fine tracking and crane shots throughout.  There’s also a fine action sequence with exciting staging and flashy editing.  Rififi in the City has even more use of noir dark and light contrast throughout.  Both films feature wonderful jazz scores with live performances that add flavor to the proceedings.

As for the story, all you need to know is Death Whistle the Blues deals with double-crosses and betrayals coming back to haunt some of the characters. Rififi in the City followed a dogged policeman setting out to avenge a confidential informant’s killer while those involved meet their deaths at the hands of a surprise killer.  

Do yourself a favor and check out Death Whistles the Blues and Rififi in the City for good examples of noir cinema from Jess Franco.  You won’t be disappointed!

You can get both of these movies in the Franco Noir set from Severin.

References

Franco Noir featurette by Stephen Thrower; Severin Blu-ray © 2021