HOUSE OF EVIL (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

HOUSE OF EVILHouse of Evil (1968) lobby card. Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff`s series of Mexican films is anything but routine. Of the entire ill-reputed group, House of Evil (1968) has something that most resembles a traditional plot. It is orthodox only in that it is a retread of the old dark house scenario. However, that genre is filtered through such bizarre ineptness that it would be an incredulous stretch to claim House of Evil is a film bordering on coherency. The movie is available via that valuable distributor, Sinister Cinema. Their brief assessment of House of Evil is telling: “not bad.”

house of evil video

As with Fear Chamber, House was co-directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez and co-stars south of the border sexpot Julissa. A murdered girl has been found by local villagers and, just like another recent victim, her eyes have been torn out. Upon hearing the news, Matthias Morteval (Karloff) is mightily upset. His friend and doctor, Emery (Angel Espinoza), tries to simultaneously caution and calm Matthias. Dr. Emery reminds Matthias of similar murders in Vienna, involving Matthias’ brother Hugo. Before a painting of his late father, Matthias pulls himself together and vows to rid their garden of the evil weed that has sprung up. The camera pans, revealing that the eyes have been cut out of the fatherly figure in the painting. Continue reading “HOUSE OF EVIL (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK”

ALIEN TERROR (1971): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

ALIEN TERROR KARLOFF MOVIE AD

Alien Terror (1971) (AKA) Sinister Invasion is one of the oddest of Boris Karloffs final six movies, but it is hardly the most exciting. It begins with typical Sixties screen credit font and pseudo jazz that sounds like it was composed for period porn.

ALIEN TERROR AKA SINISTER INVASION VHS KARLOFFALIEN TERROR 1971. Boris Karloff, Yerye Beirute

Boris is Professor Mayer, and he and his scarred (Ygor-like) assistant Isabel (Maura Monti) are playing around with some power ray thingamajig. It shoots through the roof and hits a spaceship which just happens to be flying by and looks like one of those rocket invader ships from the old Atari arcade games. One half expects a lost Adventures of Superman episode and that at any moment some green Martian is going to show up.  Alas, all that shows up is Laura (Christa Linder), the professor’s niece; she is having a fit because her uncle has just blown another hole in the roof.

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SNAKE PEOPLE (1971): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

KARLOFF SNAKE PEOPLE POSTER

Snake People (AKA Isle Of The Snake People) feels like pure Jack Hill; that is, Jack Hill the exploitation guru to whom Quentin Tarantino has built an altar.

Isle Of The Snake People (1971) Yolanda Montes

The opening narration is a duller variant of Criswell’s repetitive but puerile Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) monologue: “During Many centuries in Various parts of the world, Various diabolical rites and ceremonies have been practiced in homage to Various sinister gods who are believed to have Many supernatural powers. These rites are generally known as voodoo!”

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CAULDRON OF BLOOD (1970):AN ODDITY FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

CAULDRON OF BLOOD BORIS KARLOFF POSTER

Santos Alcocer’s Cauldron of Blood (1970) (AKA Blind Man’s Bluff) was filmed in 1967, but languished on the shelf until its release three years later (to little fanfare, despite its potential marketing as one of horror icon Boris Karloff`s last films). Where Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) was a low-rent knock off of Black Sunday (1960), Cauldron is an equally low-rent rip of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and House of Wax (1953).

CAULDRON OF BLOOD AKA BLIND MAN'S BLUFF BORIS KARLOFF POSTERCAULDRON OF BLOOD KARLOFF LOBBY CARD

Karloff co-stars with veteran Viveca Lindfors (who is possibly best know as the queen who aroused Errol Flynn in 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan). Cauldron was shot almost entirely in Spain, and is remembered only as an accidental idiosyncrasy from late in Karloff’s career.

Cauldron Of Blood lobby card. Boris Karloff

Cauldron of Blood is not a good film, but it is a queer film, quite unlike anything else in the Karloff cannon, which may be explained by the fact that Karloff was not even the preferred choice for the role of the blind sculptor Badulescu. Producer Robert D. Weinbach had wanted Claude Rains, but Karloff was brought into the project after Rains was found to be terminally ill (Rains died during the pre-production stage of the film). Karloff is not even top-billed, which was an extreme and curious rarity.

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FEAR CHAMBER (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

FEAR CHAMBER BORIS KARLOFF MOVIE AD

A lot of people have expressed the wish that horror icon Boris Karloff could have ended his career with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968). But Karloff, on his last leg, pushed himself through six more movies, four of which were the Mexican films for producer Jack Hill and director Juan Ibinez. This last six pack of films is, by consensus, godawful. Why did Karloff do it? According to his biographers, the actor said that he wanted to “die with his boots on.” And he nearly did just that.

FEAR CHAMBER LOBBY CARD BORIS KARLOFF

Karloff’s final and bizarre six pack are indisputably awful within the accepted meaning of the word. Several of them, however, are downright bizarre products of their time, which now might be looked at as examples of naive surrealism. The films are: House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), Cauldron of Blood (1970), Isle of the Snake People (1971), and Alien Terror (1971). Continue reading “FEAR CHAMBER (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK”

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932) AND THE MUMMY (1932)

Murders in the Rue Morge (1932, Dir. Florey) Lobby card

After the successes of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) Universal Studios and Carl Laemmle, Jr. became anxious to produce vehicles for Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. After seeing unsatisfactory test footage for an early run at Frankenstein, Laemmle had sacked both director Robert Florey and actor Lugosi from that project. To make amends, Laemmle assigned Florey and Lugosi Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and teamed them with cinematographer Karl Freund, who had done extensive work in German Expressionist cinema, including The Golem(1920, d. Paul Wegener), The Last Laugh (1924, d. F.W. Murnau) and Metropolis (1927, d. Fritz Lang).

Murders in the Rue Morge (dir. Robert Florey) Bela Lugosi


Murders in the Rue Morgue
 was the first of a Poe-inspired trilogy starring Lugosi, followed by The Black Cat (1934, d. Edgar G. Ulmer) and The Raven (1935, d. Lew Landers). The star and Freund’s camera (barely) save the film from Florey’s banal touch. Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle is a far cry from the Count in his evening tux. Adorned in curly top, unibrow, and carnivalesque mad scientist duds, Mirakle is a Darwinist pervert who seeks to mate a  young woman with his Adam-like Ape, Erik, through some kind of mumbo-jumbo blood transfusion. Of course, Mirakle really gets his jollies by tying attractive, barely legal-aged girls to a king’s cross before penetrating them with a needle. Naturally, there are failed experiments before Mirakle thinks he has found Eve in Sidney Fox. Fox, a delicate, saccharine actress, is pure decor. No doubt she got the role via her engagement to a Universal Executive, whom she wedded later that year (it proved to be a stormy marriage, ending in the actress’ suicide in 1934). Continue reading “MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932) AND THE MUMMY (1932)”

THE VAL LEWTON HORROR COLLECTION

  RKO Studios, grumbling over their great misfortune with Orson Welles and Citizen Kane (1941), hired Val Lewton to produce nine low budget horror films. The executives handed Lewton a list of idiotic titles and told him to make some “horror pitchers” that could make money. The RKO execs were looking and hoping for a cheap hack in Lewton. What they got instead was an erudite artist. Numerous directors have imprinted their body of work with their own personality. Few producers have. Val Lewton, did and he began with a film which highlighted two of his own phobias: cats and … Continue reading THE VAL LEWTON HORROR COLLECTION

EDGAR G. ULMER’S THE BLACK CAT (1934)

THE BLACK CAT (1934) POSTEREdgar G. Ulmer has a cult reputation, particularly in France. The late British film critic, Leslie Halliwell, believed that reputation to be wholly undeserved, since most of Ulmer’s films ranged from B to Z status. Ulmer did not begin that way when, in 1934, he was handed “complete freedom” in an A (A-) production, teaming, for the first time, Universal Studio’s reigning horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in the Poe inspired The Black Cat. The resulting film, and Ulmer’s affair with his employer’s wife, quickly ended a promising top-notch studio career almost as quickly as it began.

THE BLACK CAT LOBBY CARD

This first Karloff/Lugosi teaming was also their best. That is because of their eight collaborations this was their only joint-starring project directed by a visionary auteur. In The Black Cat Lugosi was cast as protagonist Dr. Vitus Werdegast, and Karloff as antagonist Hjalmer Poelzig. In the original, uncut film, Lugosi’s hero does some less than heroic things. Enough of Vitus’ sinister quality remains that Lugosi gives us a hero we are never quite comfortable with. Under Ulmer’s direction, Lugosi’s performance is superb, an extreme rarity for this actor. As good as Lugosi is, Karloff is even better and, as unpopular as it may be to say now, Karloff was always a far better actor than his co-star.

THE BLACK CAT DECO SET

Ulmer’s “complete freedom” came to a screeching halt when universal execs saw the filmed footage and script. Lugosi’s hero rapes the heroine, the heroine occasionally turns into a black cat, and Karloff’s Poelzig is skinned alive and last seen crawling on the floor with his skin hanging from his body as Lugosi’s mad hero laughs hysterically. All of these scenes were cut from the film and, par the course at that time, were destroyed. There are conflicting accounts as to whether the scenes were shot and then burned, or merely scripted and axed.

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MICHAEL REEVES’ THE SORCERERS (1967)

Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers (1967), starring Boris Karloff, became a barely noticeable cult film in a cinematically innovative era. A few prominent, hip critics took note of Reeves, and, in some quarters, predictions were made that he could become a horror director of the caliber of James Whale, Tod Browning, Jacques Tourneur, or Terence Fisher. Reeves’ had only made one previous film, the low budget The She Beast (1966) starring horror icon Barbara Steele, but it was imitative of Mario Bava‘s work and received scant notice. In contrast, The Sorcerers was stylish, quirky, and unique, although it was also low … Continue reading MICHAEL REEVES’ THE SORCERERS (1967)