1964 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: HORROR CASTLE AND CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD

Our Next Attraction…

“The most exciting feature of the year! Lady in a Cage… and Olivia de Havilland is in it! A lady in a cage, locked in her own madhouse of insane intruders, powerless to stop the psychopathic horror that hems her in. Olivia de Havilland helpless before the rage of such characters as the Wino, half-crazed with his own destroying sin… the Hustler, a blousy has-been—the most amazing role Ann Southern has ever played… the Muscler, lusting for the last wild thrill of killing… the Weirdo, a blonde psycho driven to tempt, to taunt, to destroy… the Wildo, frenzied by a woman’s body or the razor edge of a sharp, glittering knife. They’re all in Lady in a Cage, the picture that is not for the weak; and perhaps, not even for the strong! If you cringe at violence, scream at fear, faint at horror—Lady in a Cage may not be for you. But if you can take the screen’s hyper-dramatic excitement—don’t miss it! Olivia de Havilland is shocking the screen as the Lady in a Cage.”

Also…

Party Girls for the Candidate. See the wild sex party that rocked the nation’s capital. Party Girls for the Candidate will bring you love scenes that only adult moviegoers will understand. Party Girls for the Candidate will show you party girls who will do anything for a price. Party Girls for the Candidate stars those two sensuous personalities, Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson, and introduces to the screen three exciting new personalities: Ted Knight as the candidate; Eric Mason as Buddy Barker, the ex-senate page-boy who built an empire of influence in the nation’s capital; Rachel Romen as Mona Archer, the innocent girl who succumbed to Buddy Barker’s web of sex intrigue. Party Girls for the Candidate is the most explosive film ever produced in Hollywood. Party Girls for the Candidate is a must see for every moviegoer. Don’t miss it!”

 

Horror Castle (AKA The Virgin of Nuremberg, directed by Antonio Margheriti) is one of the first Italian Gothic films shot in color. It was successful enough to green-light a followup the next year: Castle of Blood, starring Barbara Steele. Having coaxed the genre into two of its earliest, most popular color productions, Margheriti should be better known; but ultimately he’s merely a competent craftsman instead of an inspirational original, and the move to color inevitably proved an aesthetic step back (although financially beneficial) for the genre. Still, Horror Castle is a reasonably effective entry. The color, like the surreal lounge score by Riz Ortolani, is paradoxically both ill-fitting and striking. Margheriti’s sensual color palette echoes the auburn quality of minor Italian cult starlet Rossana Podesta and he compositionally caresses her into the macabre surroundings.

Storywise, Horror Castle is hardly earth-shaking. Newlywed Mary (Podesta) has some horrific visions within the ancestral German castle of husband Max (Georges Riviera), who resorts to the standard “you must be tired from the trip” response. Her visions include a victim of an iron maiden and a sadistic crimson executioner prone to punish sins with surprisingly gruesome methods (one involving a rat). She runs, falls, faints, and recovers in bed, to Max’s condescending “it must have been a horrible nightmare.” Marguerite mantles Mario Bava with gusto in a chase-through-the-garden scene and milks all he can from the fascistic color scheme.

Max has a couple of apparently sinister servants in Erich (a poorly dubbed, but memorable Christopher Lee, in a supporting role) and Martha (Laura Nucci), but themes of Nazism and the Valkyries provide an unexpected contemporary, pathos-laden twist, and red herrings as well.

Despite its flaws, Horror Castle is stylish and animated; possibly Margheriti’s best work, aided by an off-the-scale fiery finale.

“Our tempting, tasty french fries go with everything. Come and get ’em. They are hot, they are delicious.”

“Taste tantalizing hot tamales; rich, creamy milkshakes taste just right; snow cones—frosty flavor rich refreshment; cigarettes—all the best known brands!”

“Hello young lovers—whoever you are—we’re glad the LOVE BUG caught up with you! But… we must insist that you do not allow his bite to effect your conduct while this theater. Public demonstrations of affection will not be tolerated here. ‘Nuff said? Thanks, the Manager.”

“Attention Night Owls… Here comes a BIG DUSK TO DAWN SHOW! You’ll see 6 Full-length features packed with action ‘n fun. All different. BRING THE GANG! COME OUT EARLY! Stay as late as you can. You’ll have a ball! Don’t miss the Big DUSK TO DAWN SHOW!”

“There are words men live by. Words of strength, of wisdom, of peace. We urge you to find the spiritual comfort and guidance  we all so greatly need. Attend your place of worship regularly.”

It’s usually not a good sign when a film has three credited co-directors (Warren Kiefer, Herbert Wise, and Michael Reeves). Castle of the Living Deadalso had a trio of writers (Keifer, Reeves, and Fede Arnaud) and an international cast speaking three languages. No one was able to reign in the project.

Living Dead is known for another memorable Christopher Lee performance, for the debut of  Donald Sutherland (in a trio of roles), and for a well-executed climax written and directed by Reeves, whose work so impressed producers that he was later tapped to direct future cult favorites The She Beast (1966), The Sorcerers (1967), and The Conqueror Worm (1968) before his untimely overdose. It’s hampered most by its poverty-level budget, but despite everything it manages to project an original personality.

A group of circus performers happen upon the castle of Count Drago (Lee) who has a hobby of mummifying four-legged critters. Of course, it’s not long before he moves on to the two-legged variety, supplied by the theatrical troupe.

Numerous scenes are nonsensical, having little to do with the unfolding plot. Naturally, those include vignettes displaying various three-ring circus acts with a scene-stealing dwarf (Ennio Antonelli). Caked in opaque white makeup and black mascara, Lee gives an otherworldly, German Expressionist-styled performance, and thankfully dubs his own voice this time. Other standout performances include Gaia Germani as Laura, whose beauty Drago seeks to “preserve forever,” Mirko Valentin (who had a small part in Horror Castle) as the count’s sadistic, bug-eyed assistant, Luciano Pigozzi as Dart, and Sutherland (with Sutherland).

Cinematographer Aldo Tonti (who had previously worked with Fellini) manages wonders with a meager allowance and casts the film in stylishly detached, icy bleakness.

Languidly paced, which is both an asset and a hindrance, the kinetically bizarre finale is pure Reeves.

“That you for your patronage. Please drive carefully.”

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

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: AN INTRODUCTORY PRIMER ON BLU-RAY

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER . Vincent Price

A Vincent Price six pack has made its way to Blu-Ray. The set features some of the actor’s most iconic roles, along with at least one surprise inclusion. It is by no means a complete collection, as it concentrates primarily on the late actor’s work with Roger Corman and AIP (since most of these movies were adapted from works by Edgar Allan Poe they are known as the “Poe cycle”). Even by that criteria, the collection is a mere introduction.

House of Wax 3D RR Quad

Price cemented his status as horror icon in Andre De Toth’s House of Wax (1953), despite the fact that that this 3D box office hit is a flat and unimaginative remake of Michael Curtiz’ vastly superior Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). In a way, this parallels Price himself. Although he has been beatified by genre aficionados, and despite doing occasionally fine acting work, Price’ carefully crafted screen persona seems more derivative than innovative. That persona lacks the authenticity of a Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, or Dwight Frye. The passage of time makes that even more apparent. Still, the veteran actor could often supply a luster to pedestrian productions, without necessarily redeeming them.

House of Wax. Vincent Price. Lobby card

Fortunately, this Blu Ray collection, although somewhat haphazard in concept and packaging, is a marketable compilation in a “Vincent Price’s Greatest Hits Volume One” style. Like most such compilations, the choices deemed “greatest” are not without debate. Continue reading

MICHAEL REEVES’ THE SORCERERS (1967)

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.

THE SORCERERS IN EASTMAN COLOR

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 budget and barely made a profit. Still, it resulted in Reeves’ being given a larger bankroll to work with in his third film: the critical and box office hit Witchfinder General (1968) starring Vincent Price.

THE SORCERERS DRIVE-IN ADThe Sorcerers (1967 dir. Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff lobby card

Reeves’ death of a drug overdose at twenty-five, shortly before the release of Witchfinder General, affected that film’s reputation. Reeves was hailed as a tragic auteur in the James Dean mold. Since then, Witchfinder General has long been lauded as one of Price’s finest films. Its was considerably helped by the actor/star himself, who listed it as one of his two personal favorites, along with Theater of Blood (1973). Having a historical subject, Witchfinder General defies its period, is highly esteemed, frequently revived, and has been readily available throughout the video age.

THE SORCERERS (STILL)The Sorcerers (1967 dir. Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff screenshot

In light of Witchfinder General’ s reputation, The Sorcerers was considered a lesser, obscure effort, partly because it seemed more dated and did not have a vital star to promote it (Karloff died a mere week before Reeves). Nor did the actor’s fans promote it. Instead, of Karloff’s late films, they waxed sentimental about Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), feeling that film was a truer coda for the “King of Horror.” It was only this year that The Sorcerers was finally made available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection.

THE SORCERERS POSTERThe Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff

The aged and poverty stricken Professor Marcus Monserrat (Karloff) is a long publicly disgraced hypnotist who invents a machine (cue sci-fi mumbo jumbo) which allows him and his wife Estelle (the delightfully vile Catherine Lacey) to project their consciousness into the minds of others. The Monserrats live in a dilapidated London flat during the swinging 60s (cue sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll), and Estelle is corrupted from bitterness due to her husband’s fall from grace. The couple find a willing guinea pig for their gizmo in stud Michael (Ian Ogilvy). Michael, bored with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, agrees to be strapped into the Professor’s mind-altering gizmo (cue psychedelia). Although clearly a product of the 60′s, The Sorcerers is imbued with a stylish, compact, contemporary impudence that transcends mere period novelty.

THE SORCERERS POSTER 1967The Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) lobby card

Once the couple psyche into Mike’s experiences, Estelle begins making up for lost years. She quickly becomes addicted to the experience, which causes her to become increasingly imbalanced. After she forces Mike into hedonism, theft, and murder, a battle of wills between Estelle and her husband leads into Being John Malkovich (1999) and Scanners (1981) territory.

KARLOFF THE SORCERERSThe Sorcerers KARLOFF LACEY

The Sorcerers stands out as a respite from Karloff’s humiliating last years. Although seriously ill, the actor gives an admirably subdued performance that rises to a crescendo in the final showdown with his wife. As good as Karloff and Ogilvy are, it is Lacey who steals the film.

The Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff

The lower budget trappings actually enhance the grittiness of a film that seems to be saying something about the jaded nihilism of the “I, me, mine” culture (well, at least it noticed it).

THE SORCERERS LACEY