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 

Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1960s Collection: Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963)

Hogan (Jack Lemmon) has quite a life. He’s an independently wealthy landlord of a California apartment complex that he rents exclusively to beautiful women for just $75 a month. Women are his passion, which is why he has a swinging bedroom to rival Dudley Moore’s pad from Foul Play.

Now, he has his sights set on Robin Austin (Carol Lynley, Beware! The BlobThe Night Stalker), which is the perfect thing to get his mind off his breakup with Irene (Edie Adams, who was both emotionally and financially devastated by the death of her husband Ernie Kovacs, so friend Jack Lemmon got her hired and her part expanded from the play that inspired this movie). And who cares if Robin is Irene’s niece, right? Well, those are Hogan’s morals…

Speaking of morality, Robin wants to live with her fiancee David (Dean Jones, as always just on the edge of screaming and being mad at everyone), but doesn’t want them to sleep together. As you can imagine, this drives David mad and gives Hogan plenty of chances to break them up.

The best part of this movie? The older married couple that works for Hogan, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, who are played by Paul Lynde and Imogene Coca.

Hogan’s cat, Orangey, had quite the career. Trained by Frank Inn, who also was the owner of Green Acres’ Arnold and Petticoat Junction’s Higgins — also the first Benji — Orangey was in everything from the TV series Our Miss Brooks and The Beverly Hillbillies to This Island Earth and The Diary of Anne Frank. He’s most famous for his roles as the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and for menacing Grant Williams in The Incredible Shrinking Man. He also was the lead in the movie Rhubarb, which was a name that he also used.

Director David Swift may be best known for Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, but he also wrote How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and directed another movie on the Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1960s Collection set, Good Neighbor Sam.

Mill Creek’s new Through the Decades: 1960s Collection has twelve movies: How to Ruin a Marriage and Save Your Life, The Notorious Landlady, Under the Yum Yum Tree, The Chase, Good Neighbor Sam, Baby the Rain Must Fall, Mickey One, Lilith, Genghis Khan, Luv, Who Was That Lady? and Hook, Line and Sinker. You can get it from Deep Discount.

Scum of the Earth! (1963)

The first roughie and the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David F. Friedman, Scum of the Earth! tells the story of Kim Sherwood (Vickie Miles, AKA Allison Louise Downe, who was also in several other Lewis movies like She-Devils on Wheels), a college girl She-Devilshe wrong way and ends up trying to pay her tuition with glamour photos. But you know how the road to hell goes. It ends up going deeper and deeper, with Kim getting blackmailed into doing more and more explicit photos and dealing with sexualized violence, which is pretty insane for 1963.

Shot in six days and filmed in the same Miami locations that Blood Feast stained, it was made in black and white so that it would look filthy, like some kind of smoker film that would start turning on some old cigar smoking men before turning on them and shocking them with its willingness to make its sex violent. There’s also the matter of Sandy, another older girl, and her willingness to put the young Kim through all this so that she herself can escape.

Lewis — and Friedman — were the kings of talking you into the theater. They blessed this movie with some of the best taglines ever, like “Hell is their only address and they offer you a cheap substitute for fulfillment … in exchange for your soul!” and “Depraved. Demented. Loathsome. Nameless. Shameless. These are the Scum of the Earth!”

Lewis also knew how to write some dialogue, with stuff like “All you kids make me sick! You act like little Miss Muffet and down inside you’re dirty, do you hear me? Dirty! You’re greedy and self-centered and think you can get away with anything. You’re no better than the girl who sells herself to a man, you’re worse because you’re a hypocrite. And now little Miss Muffet is in trouble and she’s all outraged virtue. Well you listen and you listen well, you’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale.” 

This was beyond hot stuff in the early 60s. Now you can stream it into your home. Times have changed.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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.