1966 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARE CASTLE AND THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z

“Thunderbird International Pictures Presents The Death Curse of Tartu, a legend black with evil and red with the blood of innocent youth!!! Photographed in the forbidding depths of the Florida Everglades, this is the incredible story of an archeological excursion, planned as an educational attraction and ending as a blood-spattered nightmare!!! Cold and slimy creatures without mercy hunt and kill, controlled by the soul of a rotting corpse. They danced over the grave of Tartu who was restless in his coffin and made passionate love on his burial ground until … they faced the terrible reality of The Death Curse of Tartu! Was it really a killer shark in the swamp waters? Or  was it… Tartu, who had sworn vengeance on all who disturbed his grave?  See the bloody massacre of terrified youngsters as Tartu, the witch doctor, returns to wreak vengeance. See The Death Curse of Tartu, coming soon to this theater.”

And…

“Famous characters of the fairy tale world together for the first time. It’s all new when K. Gordon Murray presents Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters. See the Wicked Witch and all her bad guys. Bad guys? Mr. Hurricane! The Robot! Carrot Head and the Siamese Twins: two-in one. Frankensteen. A giant spectacle in color with a story that children and grownups will never forget.  Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters! 

Nightmare Castle (directed by Mario Caiano) rarely makes best-of Barbara Steele films lists, with even the star herself seemingly holding it in low esteem. Although a pastiche of Steele’s earlier work, Nightmare Castle is entertainingly tailored to the actress’ idiosyncratic screen persona and remains one of the better-filmed opuses in her oeuvre. As in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), Steele is cast in dual roles, one of which is a revenge-seeking disfigured ghost (hence its alternative title, The Faceless Monster).

Its virtues are hardly found in the narrative about a sadistic husband (Paul Muller) who tortures and kills his unfaithful wife (Steele) along with her lover (Rik Battaglia), then marries her mentally unstable sister to get the inheritance. Exquisite cinematography (Enzo Borboni), a top-rate dissonant score (Ennio Morricone), Steele at her her most beguiling, and Caiano’s attention to detail renders the plot secondary. Almost surrealistic in parts (one scene clearly was a major influence on 1998’s Ringu), Nightmare Castle is shockingly sadistic and misogynistic (Battaglia loses an eye in an unsettling torture scene, and Steele gets acid to the face, followed by an  S &M electrocution). It’s also visually and musically memorable, and yet another director with a Steele fetish allows the star to sear. Unfortunately, the dubbing is poor, but the valuable Blu-ray from Severin Films is a considerable improvement over previous releases. Among its extra features are complete versions of the Steele-starring films Castle of Blood (1964) and Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965).

“Flavos: the delicious, oriental treat that’s out of this world for taste-tempting goodness. Light and delicious, full of tender, juicy fresh shrimp meat. America’s favorite shrimp roll. You’ll say they’re shrimply delicious.”

“Free for our patrons… Men, women, boys, girls…through the cooperation of Leading Business Places …You may now have free admission to this theater. Ask for DividenTickets  when you shop at Nelson’s Liquor Mart. Hywy 51 North of Bridge. Tomahawk’s Largest & Finest.”

“See you in CHURCH Sunday! When you attend church, it’s not an ordinary act. It is something worthwhile. When you attend church, you come to GOD’S house to adore, worship and praise. See you in CHURCH Sunday!”

1966 may very well be among the most shocking years in the entirety of cinema. It’s the year that  Jess Franco actually made a relatively good film with The Diabolical Dr. Z (so maybe there’s hope for  Zack Snyder yet). Perhaps Alejandro Ulloa’s lensing inspired Franco to move beyond his typical laziness.

The titlur mad doctor (Antonio Jimenez) actually gets bumped off early in the film, leaving his daughter (Mabel Karr) to take up a doctoral course in revenge. She gets a bit of help from Miss Death (Estella Blain) at the local jazz club, which naturally means a typical Franco jazz score (by Daniel White, who makes a cameo, along with Franco himself). There is one theory that Franco merely made films to show off his love of jazz, and in many cases that may be factual, but here it’s icing on a cake with macabre set pieces (including an arachnid stage show), kinky mannequins, a doomed sexpot hitchhiker, a hillside strangler, and an off-the-charts fisticuffs finale in a decadent castle. What more could you ask of the prolific hack? He deserves a break today with The Diabolical Dr. Z.

“Please remember to replace the speaker and heater when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the (currently out-of-print) double-feature DVD from Sinister Cinema.

1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror.  Christopher Lee’s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped Jess Franco to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off! Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by Victor Fleming) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. Peter Cushing is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

 

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema