L’arma, l’ora, il movent (1972)

The Weapon, the Hour & the Motive examines not only murder but the idea that a Catholic priest — Don Giorgio — is having an affair with two different women — Orchidea (Bedy Moratti,  — Women in Cell Block 7) and Giulia Pisani (Eva Czemerys, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) — and tries to break things off with both of them before he’s killed. Since Inspector Boito (Renzo Montagnani) has already fallen for Orchidea — whose husband has just committed suicide — what’s the hope for a fair inspection of who the killer could be?

The only person who may know is a young orphan who lives in the church named Ferruccio, who once watched while Don Giorgio self-flagellated, and who now is kept drugged and quiet. There’s also the matter of a skeleton-filled catacomb under the church in addition to nuns taking baths fully clothed and whipping one another fully nude.

This is the only film that Francesco Mazzei directed, while he also wrote This Shocking WorldSergeant KremsConvoy of Women and A Girl Called Jules. He co-wrote the story with Marcello Aliprandi, who would direct a similar movie, Vatican Conspiracy, in 1982. Mazzi also wrote the screenplay along with Mario Bianchi, The Murder Secret), Bruno Di Geronimo (who wrote A Quiet Place to KillWhat Have You Done to Solange? and Puzzle) and Vinicio Marinucci (SS Experiment Love Camp). 

I can’t even imagine the reaction this movie had when it came out. Fulci had been abused by the way audiences, critics and social critics treated him after Don’t Torture a Duckling.

La morte scende leggera (1972)

Death Falls Lightly begins when Georgio Darica (Stello Candelli) comes home from a crime-related business trip only to find that his wife has been killed. So his lawyer suggests that he grab his girlfriend Liz (Patrizia Viotti, Amuck) and head off to a hotel, but when he gets there, the owner (Antonio Anelli) has also killed his wife, so he asks him to help bury her, but then George remembers that the hotel was abandoned. So is he going insane? Are these people real? Did he actually kill his wife?

The next part of this movie gets absolutely ridiculous in the best of ways, as people appear, get murdered and come back to life, all while someone commits suicide on a Satanic altar, invisible killers attack George, prog rock blasts and a monkey shows up out of nowhere. It also has the absolute dumbest of all giallo police, which is saying something. Like, there’s a very low bar for giallo cops and these ones may be the worst.

Director Leopoldo Savona also made Byleth: The Demon of Incesthe same year, the same year I was born, which probably means something.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Dr. Phibes double feature

EDITOR’S NOTE: These articles originally were on the site on March 31, 2019 and April 1, 2019. These are two of my favorite movies and I’m so excited that Kino Lorber has released them on a double blu ray along with commentary tracks by director Robert Fuest, The Dr. Phibes Companion author Justin Humphreys and film historian Tim Lucas, as well as radio ads and trailers. You can get it from Kino Lorber. Honestly, this is a must buy.

The Abdominable Dr. Phibes (1971): Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey claimed that the main character in this Vincent Price film was based on him. Well, his name is Dr. Anton Phibes and he’s an organist, researcher, medical doctor, biblical scholar and ex-vaudevillian who has created a clockwork band of robot musicians to play old standards at his whim. Seeing as how nearly all of these things match up with LaVey, I can kind of see his point.

Director Robert Fuest started by designing sets. While working on the TV show The Avengers, he got excited about directing and ended up working on seven episodes of the original series and two of The New Avengers. Soon, he’d be working in film more and more, starting with 1967’s Just Like a Woman. Between the two Phibes films, And Soon the Darkness, The Final Programme and The Devil’s Rain!, he became known for dark-humored fantasy and inventive sets, several of which he designed himself.

This movie is one I can’t be quiet about. It’s one of the strangest and most delightful films I’ve ever seen.

Dr. Anton Phibes died in Switzerland, racing back home upon hearing the news that his beloved bridge Victoria (an uncredited Caroline Munro) had died during surgery. The truth is that Phibes has survived, scarred beyond belief and unable to speak, but alive. He uses all of the skills that he’s mastered to rebuild his face and approximate a human voice. Also, he may or may not be insane.

Phibes believes that the doctors who operated on his wife were incompetent and therefore must pay for their insolence. So he does what anyone else would do: visit the Biblical ten plagues of Egypt on every single one of them.

Phibes is, of course, played by Vincent Price. No one else could handle this role. Or this movie. There’s hardly any dialogue for the first ten minutes of the movie. Instead, there are long musical numbers of Phibes and his clockwork band playing old standards. In fact, Phibes doesn’t speak for the first 32 minutes of the movie. Anyone who asks questions like “Why?” and says things like “This movie makes no sense” will be dealt with accordingly.

After the first few murders, Inspector Trout gets on the case. He becomes Phibes’ main antagonist for this and the following film, trying to prove that all of these murders — the doctors and nurse who had been on the team of Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten!) — are connected. Phibes then stays one step ahead of the police, murdering everyone with bees, snow, a unicorn statue, locusts and rats, sometimes even right next to where the cops have staked him out.

Dr. Phibes is assisted by the lovely Vulnavia. We’re never informed that she’s a robot, but in my opinion, she totally is. Both she and the doctor are the most fashion-forward of all revenge killers I’ve seen outside of Meiko Kaji and Christina Lindberg.

Writer William Goldstein wrote Vulnavia as another clockwork robot with a wind-up key in her neck. Fuest thought that Phibes demanded a more mobile assistant, so he made her human, yet one with a blank face and mechanical body movements. I still like to think that she’s a machine, particularly because she returns in the next film after her demise here. Also — Fuest rewrote nearly the entire script.

After killing off everyone else — sorry Terry-Thomas! — Phibes kidnaps Dr. Vesalius’ son and implants a key inside his heart that will unlock the boy. However, if the doctor doesn’t finish the surgery on his son in six minutes — the same amount of time he had spent trying to save Phibes’ wife — acid will rain down and kill both he and his boy.

Against all odds, Vesalius is successful. Vulnavia, in the middle of destroying Phibes’ clockwork orchestra, is sprayed by the acid and killed while the doctor himself replaces his blood with a special fluid and lies down to eternal sleep with his wife, happy that he has had his revenge.

If you’re interested, the ten plagues Phibes unleashes are:

1. Blood: He drains all of Dr. Longstreet’s blood

2. Frogs: He uses a mechanical frog mask to kill Dr. Hargreaves at a costume party

3. Bats: A more cinematic plague than lice from the Biblical plagues, Phibes uses these airborne rodents to kill Dr. Dunwoody

4. Rats: Again, better than flies, rats overwhelm Dr. Kitaj and cause his plane to crash

5. Pestilence: This one is a leap, but the unicorn head that kills Dr. Whitcombe qualifies

6: Boils: Professor Thornton is stung to death by bees

7. Hail: Dr. Hedgepath is frozen by an ice machine

8. Locusts: The nurse is devoured by them thanks to an ingenious trap

9. Darkness: Phibes joins his wife in eternal rest during a solar eclipse

10. Death of the firstborn: Phibes kidnaps and the son of Dr. Vesalius

I love that this movie appears lost in time. While set in the 1920’s, many of the songs weren’t released until the 1940’s. Also, Phibes has working robots and high technology, despite the era the film is set in.

There’s nothing quite like this movie. I encourage you to take the rest of the day off and savor it.

How does Phibes live up to being a Satanic film? In my opinion, Phibes embodies one of the nine Satanic statements to its utmost: Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek. The men and woman whose negligence led to the loss of Phibes’ wife were never punished. Phibes had to become their judge, jury and yes, destroyer.

On the other hand — or hoof, as it were — Phibes is the exact antithesis of the ninth Satanic sin, Lack of Aesthetics, which states that “an eye for beauty, for balance, is an essential Satanic tool and must be applied for greatest magical effectiveness. It’s not what’s supposed to be pleasing—it’s what is. Aesthetics is a personal thing, reflective of one’s own nature, but there are universally pleasing and harmonious configurations that should not be denied.” So much of what makes this film is that Phibes’ musical art is just as essential as his demented nature and abilities. Music is the core of his soul, not just revenge.

Another point of view comes from Draconis Blackthorne of the Sinister Screen: “This is an aesthetically-beauteous film, replete with Satanic architecture as well as ideology. Those who know will recognize these subtle and sometimes rather blatant displays. Obviously, to those familiar with the life of our Founder, there are several parallels between the Dr. Anton Phibes character and that of Dr. Anton LaVey – they even share the same first name, and certain propensities.”

Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972): The fact that this movie exists gives me hope. There are moments when life gets me down, when I wonder about my place in this world and if humanity is essentially horrible. Then I remember that great films like this exist and it makes me feel a lot better. You should do the same thing if you’re ever in an existential crisis.

Dr. Phibes is back, three years after he laid down in the darkness next to the corpse of his beloved wife. Now, however, he has learned that the secret of eternal life — held by a centuries-old man — is in Egypt. I don’t care why he’s back. I’d watch Dr. Phibes go grocery shopping!

Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) has in suspended animation in a sarcophagus alongside his wife Victoria Regina Phibes (Caroline Munro). When the moon aligns with the planets in a way not seen for two millennia, he returns, summoning the silent Vulnavia (thus confirming to me, at least, that she’s really one of his robots as she died in the last film; furthermore, she’s played by Valli Kemp, who took over for the pregnant Virginia North) to his side.

Phibes plans on taking his wife’s body with him to Egypt, where the River of Life promises her resurrection. As he emerges from his tomb, his house has been demolished and the safe that contained the map to the river lies empty. That’s because the map has been stolen by Darius Biederbeck, a man who is hundreds of years old thanks to a special elixir. He may also be every bit Phibes’ equal.

Darius is played by Robert Quarry, who American International Pictures was grooming to be Price’s replacement. There were tensions between the two on set, including a moment where Quarry was singing in his dressing room and challenged Price by saying, “You didn’t know I could sing did you?” Ever the wit, Vincent Price replied, “Well, I knew you couldn’t act.” Quarry would had already played Count Yorga in two films for AIP and would go on to be in The Deathmaster, where he played hippie vampire Khorda, but the AIP style had already fallen out of style. He’s also in tons of Fred Olen Ray films, like Evil Toons where he’s the uncredited voice of the demon.

Biederbeck wants eternal life for himself and his lover Diana (Fiona Lewis, Tintorera…Tiger Shark). Phibes and Vulnavia are on his trail, immediately entering his home, murdering his butler and stealing back the map. Everyone connected with Biederbeck comes to an ill end — Phibes places one inside a giant bottle and throws him overboard. That murder brings Inspector Trout back on the case, as he instantly recognizes that only one man could do something like that.

The rest of the film’s murders are based on Egyptian mythology versus Biblical plagues. Hawks and scorpions become his weapons, along with gusts of wind and bursts of sand. Phibes has also brought an army of clockwork men with him the desert to do his bidding.

Phibes finally exchanges Diana’s life for the key to the River of Life. As he floats the coffin containing his wife down the water, he beckons Vulnavia to join them. As his lover tries to comfort him, Biederbeck begs Phibes to take him with them. He begins to rapidly age and dies as Phibes loudly sings “Over the Rainbow,” which might be the best ending of any movie ever made.

There were plans for a whole bunch more of these films and the fact that they were never made saddens me to this day. I’ve heard that a third film would Phibes fighting Nazis. I’ve also heard that it’d be about the key to Olympus. Or Phibes going up against  Dr. Vesalius’ son. Or Victoria Phibes herself coming back, just as sinister as her husband. There have been titles thrown around like Phibes Resurrectus, The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes and The Brides of Dr. Phibes. There was even thought of Count Yorga facing off with Dr. Phibes, a fact which delights me to no end.

There was also a pitch for a TV series and what looked like an animated version, with Jack Kirby himself providing the pitch artwork!

Other ideas included Dr. Phibes in the Holy LandThe Son of Dr. Phibes (which would have pitted the doctor and his son against ecological terrorists), Phibes Resurrectus (which would have David Carradine as Phibes battling against Paul Williams, Orson Welles, Roddy McDowall, John Carradine and Donald Pleasence. The mind boggles at the thought, let me tell you!), a 1981 Dr. Phibes film where the WormwooInstitutete would have destroyed his wife’s body and then their strange members, including transvestite twins obsessed with economics and nuclear weaponry, fail to match wits with Phibes) and finally, Phibes was almost a role for Peter Sellers in a Pink Panther film where hed also play Clouseau and Fu Manchu. You can learn more about these at the Vincent Price Exhibit site.

There was also a story in 2013 that Johnny Depp was going to star in a Tim Burton directed remake. That obviously didn’t happen.

So much of this film fits into the same Satanic themes as the original. However, you can add in a few new wrinkles. One of the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth states “When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.” All Phibes wished to do was take his wife to Egypt and bring her back to life. Once Biederbeck stole from him, his fate was sealed.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 11: Lucifer Rising (1972, 1980)

Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising is as much a ritual as it is a document of the counterculture of the mid 60s in California. He was influenced by — as always — Aleister Crowley and his poem “Hymn to Lucifer.”

nor of good nor ill, what aim hath act?
Without its climax, death, what
savour hath
an impeccable
machine, exact
paces an inane and pointless path
To glut brute appetites, his sole
How tedious were he fit to comprehend
Himself! More, this
our noble element
Of fire in nature, love in spirit, unkenned
Life hath no
spring, no axle, and no end.

His body a bloody-ruby radiant
With noble
passion, sun-souled
Swept through the dawn colossal, swift aslant
On Eden’s imbecile
He blessed nonentity with every curse
And spiced with
sorrow the dull soul of sense,
Breathed life into the sterile universe,

With Love and Knowledge drove out innocence
The Key of Joy is disobedience.

Crowley referred to life as a near-boring machine that must be enlivened by the Lucifer the lightbringer, not a devil, but a near-mythic hero that represents the spirit of art and inspiration.

Anger began to search for a young man who could personify Lucifer for his planned film and seemed to find him in 1966 in the form of a musician named Bobby Beausoleil, who has said: “Before we really got into a discussion of what Lucifer Rising was to be about Kenneth showed me his films. I had heard of Scorpio Rising, but I hadn’t seen any of his films. The idea for Lucifer was to be the antithesis of Scorpio, which was kind of a death-image type of thing. The concept was that I would be representing the coming of the new age. In a mythological sense, we have come through matriarchy, we have come through the mother goddess. We have come to patriarchy where the goddess is male. And the Aquarian Age is supposed to represent the age of the child. This was the character I was supposed to play.”

Beausoleil served as Anger’s chauffeur but as Beausoleil was strictly heterosexual — opposite of Anger — there would be growing resentment and bad blood, as instead of a personal relationship their friendship was more business. For starring in the film and be allowed to score the movie with his band Magick Powerhouse of Oz, Beausoleil would not be paid but could live in Anger’s home for free.

Anger talked about the film more than he made it, according to the actor, but he was also making private films for collectors and also Invocation of My Demon Brother, which also features Beausoleil. After a September 1967 Equinox of the Gods didn’t go to plan, Beausoleil left Anger’s home. Anger then placed an ad in the Village Voice in which he declared his own death — IN MEMORIAM. KENNETH ANGER. FILMMAKER 1947–1967 — before burning several of his films.

Leaving for London in 1968, Anger came into the orbit of John Paul Getty Jr. — who would be a key patron of his art — and the Rolling Stones, whose Mick Jagger would score Invocation of My Demon Brother. After an attempt to make. Crowley biopic, he came back to Lucifer Rising and cast Chris Jagger as Lucifer, Performance director Donald Cammell as Osiris, Marianne Faithfull as Lilith and her brother Chris and the Rolling Stones’ personal photographer Michael Cooper signed on to help, with fashion designer Laura Jameson designing the costumes.

Eight minutes were filmed in Anger’s apartment with directors Cammell Dennis Hopper and Alejandro Jodorowsky in attendance before scenes were lensed in Germany and Egypt, then firing Chris Jagger.

Then the film stalled again.

Jimmy Page and Crowley became friends briefly and he nearly scored the film before Anger got into an argument with Page’s wife Charlotte, who threw him out of their London home.


Bobby Beausoleil had joined a whole different group, the family of Charles Manson. After kidnapping Gary Hinman and cutting off his ear before eventually murdering him set up to look like black revolutionaries did it. In 1970, a Superior Court jury in Los Angeles found the 22-year-old Beausoleil guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death, mostly due to the testimony of his pregnant girlfriend Kathryn “Kitty” Lutesinger.

By 1979, he wrote Anger from prison and all was forgiven. With help from a prison teacher, Beausoleil received musical instruments and recording equipment, formed the Freedom Orchestra and recorded a 44-minute soundtrack. As for the Page soundtrack, it was released in 2012 as Lucifer Rising and Other Sound Tracks and is also on the Sound Tracks box set.

This is Anger’s last work and the purest surrealism that I feel he’d create. Sure, the origins are rough, it took a long time to make and it caused no small manner of mental anguish — Faithful taking tons of drugs with her to Egypt nearly got everyone jailed — but the results are true art. And that UFO? A real one buzzed the crew and no one could film it in time and it needed to be recreated.

Also: the best satin jacket ever made.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 8: A Reflection of Fear (1972)

Screenwriters Edward Hume and Lewis John Carlino both had some really incredible careers. Hume wrote the pilot episodes for CannonThe Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones, as well as The Day After while Carlino wrote SecondsThe MechanicCrazy Joe and Where Have All the People Gone? amongst other movies. Here, they adapt the Stanton Forbes novel Go To Thy Deathbed for director William A. Fraker, who usually worked as a cinematographer on movies like GamesExorcist II: The Heretic and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. He wouldn’t direct another movie after this until The Legend of the Lone Ranger.

Inside a mansion lives the fifteen-year-old Marguerite (Sondra Locke), her mother Katherine (Mary Ure) and her grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso). Our heroine takes daily injections of something with no label, all while discussing her paranoia with her dolls, collecting amoebas and painting disturbing images. Now, her father Michael (Robert Shaw) wants to reconnect with her after nearly ten years, as he’s about to divorce her mother to marry Anne (Sally Kellerman).

Soon, her mother and grandmother are dead at the hands of one of her dolls, Aaron, and Anne is growing concerned by just how physical the relationship between father and daughter becomes. Even when they attempt to make love, the camera finds Marguerite joining in from another room, alone, in synch with her father.

There’s no way that this is going to end well for anyone, obviously, but the twist at the end? Oh yes, no one will see that coming. Also, Locke is 27 playing 15, a woman trapped in a child’s body, so perhaps the twist is one you will imagine.

This movie stayed hidden for some time, as actual filming completed in the early part of 1971, but its premiere was not until late 1972 and it wasn’t released until the winter of 1973. I wonder just how much the film’s subject matter had to do with that.

Ghost Story episode 13: “Time of Terror” (1972)

The last episode under the Circle of Fear title, as well as the last appearance of Sebastian Cabot hosting as Winston Essex, “Time of Terror” is one of the darkest episodes in the series, based on Elizabeth Walter’s short story “Traveling Companion” and written by Jimmy Sangster and Richard Matheson.

Patricia Neal, who was in another Ghost Story, is Ellen Alexander. She has finally convinced her husband to take time away from his work and take her on vacation, but nearly as soon as they check in to a casino hotel, his bags are packed and he’s moved to another room. She can no longer find him and is horrified to discover a lottery in the main room where couples are tearfully split up forever when their numbers are called.

Beyond Neal, who is perfect in this, Craig Stevens is hotel manager, full of calm in the face of telling people the inevitable. He’s usually remembered for playing Peter Gunn, but he’s quite good here in a different role. Alice Ghostley plays a domineering woman who is struck down by the game, wondering why they planned and dreamed so much when her husband’s number is called. It was also great to see Lynn Hamilton, who was so good as Fred Sanford’s love interest Donna.

Director Robert Day started his career in England before coming to America, where he mainly worked in television. That said, his directed work is more memorable than many of his contemporaries thanks to his solid guidance of movies like Ritual of EvilThe Initiation of Sarah and Scruples.

This episode has stayed with me longer than any of the others in the series. If you’re going to pick just one of these to watch — or want to know which episode to start with — this would be it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ghost Story Episode 11: “Touch of Madness”

Janet (Lynn Loring) has inherited her mother’s house after her death in a mental institution, a home that she must share with her aunt Hattie and uncle Jonathon (Geraldine Page and Rip Torn, who were married when this was filmed). She decides to move in and fix up the home so that her family can stay there. But of course, this is an episode of Circle of Fear/Ghost Story and that means that everything is going to wrong quickly.

After all, when Janet’s mother died, she told her, “You’re just like me.”

So when Janet sees the home, she sees what it was and perhaps what it could be instead of the shambling wreck that it has become. So when she’s cradling the family cat, perhaps she’s really giving love and attention to a rat. If you’ve read this site for any time, you may realize that I absolutely love any movie where women slowly go psychotic.

This episode was written by Richard Matheson and Halsted Welles, who also wrote 3:10 to Yuma and plenty of television, including episodes of Suspense and Night Gallery. It was directed by Robert Day, who you may know from his work on movies like the 1966 version of She, several Tarzan movies and The Initiation of Sarah.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ghost Story Episode 10: “Elegy for a Vampire”

Coeds are being drained of their blood on a small college campus, the same place where the departed Professor Pendergast had been studying the hypothesis that vampires suffer from a blood disease. And since he’s been seen at two of the attacks…

David Wells and Frank Simmons (Hal Linden and Mike Farrell, great casting!) are conducting patrols of the campus, trying to protect the female students from whatever killer is on the loose. And yes, perhaps Wells could be that killer.

This episode is based on “Pendergast” by Elizabeth M. Walter, whose “Traveling Companion” was turned into an episode of this show, as well as “The New House” and “The Concrete Captain” also being based on her stories. She also had “The Spider” appear on Night Gallery. The screenplay comes from Mark Weingart and Richard Matheson, while the direction was by Don McDougall, who also made Riding With Death and the “At the Cradle Foot” episode of this series.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ghost Story Episode 9: “Cry of the Cat”

Danny (Doug McClure, The Land That Time Forgot) is a rodeo star that falls for a young woman who pretty much casts a spell over him. But as time goes on, he starts to wonder if she’s a cougar that’s attacking the crew. Yes, Ghost Story/Circle of Fear goes for it sometimes and this would be one of those times.

Mariah (Lauri Peters) may be something other than human, a fact that only rodeo clown Dumpy (Jackie Cooper) knows to be true, as he once knew her mother. But no matter how much Danny loves her, she’s doomed, an animal trapped in the world of humans.

Mariette Hartley also appears as a past lover of our hero that helps him when things go too far, plus former Red Ryder Don Barry and Richard Benedict show up.

Director Arnold Laven also made two of the Planet of the Apes foreign release movies, taken from the TV series, Back to the Planet of the Apes and Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes, as well as multiple episodes of The RiflemanMannixThe A-Team and The Greatest American Hero. The script was written by Richard Matheson and William Bast, who wrote The Valley of Gwangi and one of the best TV movies ever, The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

This episode is a silly cowboy version of Cat People, but you know, I’m here for it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ghost Story: Episode 8 “House of Evil”

For an episode that uses the Bewitched house, this Circle of Fear/Ghost Story episode just might be the most frightening of the entire series, casting a super young Jodie Foster as Judy, a girl in love with her grandfather, played by Melvyn Douglas. Judy is deaf/mute and her grandfather, well, he’s evil as it gets, giving her the ability to speak without speaking and gifting her with a dollhouse and the ability to make cookie voodoo dolls, all because his daughter — who he speaks with beyond the veil of death — died giving birth to Judy, her husband (Richard Mulligan) has remarried and no one seems to be grieving like he is.

Trust me — you’ve never seen cookies with raisin eyes treated in so sinister a way and for as silly as the subject is, this episode is filmed completely straight. It’s a sinister old man corrupting a child into using her latent mental powers to decimate her family.

The script is a double blast from two of the best writers in horror film and TV, Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson, and it was directed by Daryl Duke, who also made A Cry for HelpFatal Memories and The Silent Partner, as well as one of the most successful TV movies ever, The Thorn Birds.

If you’re looking for the perfect episode to get into this show, this would be it.

You can watch this on YouTube.