TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

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DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

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Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) rises from his self-imposed embalming and travels to Egypt to find the River of Life to resurrect his bride (Caroline Munro) from her eternal slumber. Phibes is in a race against time, as his rival Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) also seeks eternal life and is headed there himself with his team. Phibes, not to be undone, finds gruesome ways to eliminate his competition, as he closes in on his goal.

Sequel is again directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he and Robert Blees. The 60s art deco look also returns, as does the twisted sense of humor. This installment seems to be a bit quicker paced and has more of a sense of fun, as Phibes’ death traps are even more elaborate and he has a hidden lair in one of the tombs that would make a Bond villain envious. How did he get all this stuff into Egypt and built without notice? Who cares? It’s a delightfully devious and fun romp as Phibes now has a rival who may be, at heart, even more sinister than he is. This dynamic makes Phibes more of an anti-hero this time as he slaughters his way through Biederbeck’s team with one death more inventive than the other. Watching him outwit his nemesis and decimate his accomplices, one by one, is a lot of ghoulish fun.

Price is again in top form, as usual, as Anton Phibes. The legendary actor is a delight to watch as the diabolical madman, and this time we don’t have to hide the fact that we are rooting for him. Robert Quarry is a suitable foil for the skull faced Phibes. His Biederbeck is a smug megalomaniac and we delight in watching his scheme slowly unravel at the hands of the devious doctor. Fiona Lewis is a sexy femme fatale as Biederbeck’s accomplice and romantic interest, Diana and Phibes’ loyal assistant Vulnavia returns (somehow) as well, though is this time played by Valli Kamp. Flick also features a brief cameo by the legendary Peter Cushing as a ship’s captain and a returning Terry-Thomas in a new role.

Like the first film, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a horror legend. It’s a bit more outlandish and thus twisted fun, than the first film, though the original was a bit more gruesome. There were many plans to bring the doctor back for a third film, one project was to be directed by George Romero and another would see Quarry return and add William (Blacula) Marshall to the mix. Sadly, none ever happened. There is talk of a remake with Malcolm McDowell, but this is such a classic Price role, it’s hard to see anyone else playing the organ and wearing the skull face.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Phibes.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

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THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

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Four years earlier Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) lost his beautiful wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) during a medical procedure. Racing home upon hearing the news, Phibes himself got into a car accident and was presumed burned to death. But the doctor is not dead and though horribly scarred, he plans to exact revenge on the nine medical personnel he feels responsible for Victoria’s death. Now the police are baffled as Phibes begins to exact his revenge in the form of biblical plagues and begins a bloody path leading to the chief surgeon (Joseph Cotton) for whom he plans the worse fate yet!

Price classic is stylishly directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he, along with William Goldstein and James Whiton. The flick may take place in 1925, but Fuest gives it a 60s art deco look and a very twisted sense of humor. While Phibes’ plans for those he seeks revenge on are quite ghastly, there is a sense of fun as Phibes unleashes his plagues with an assortment of bizarre gadgets and a disguise or two. The results can be gruesome, but nothing too extreme as the film was rated PG…or “GP” as it was called during this era. There is some fun to be had in watching Phibes make a fool of Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and evade any attempts by the law to protect those still yet to meet a horrible fate. It is a bit methodically paced and feels somewhat longer than it’s 94 minute run time, but watching Phibes play the organ while plotting horrible deeds is campy, ghoulish fun with Price doing what he does best. On a technical level it is well made though some of the FX are delightfully cheesy by today’s standards.

As for the horror legend, Price is at the top of his game here as the sinister Phibes. Even having to play the role mute and add his voice later (Phibes lost the ability to speak in the accident and uses a device to emit his voice) he still chills with the look in his eyes and his mannerisms and his dialogue is still recited with that Vincent Price flair. He never goes overboard, but just over-the-top enough to give a diabolical horror movie style Bond villain vibe to the gadget making/organ playing Phibes. Joseph Cotton is another movie veteran who knows to take the campy/creepy material seriously as the main target on Phibes’ list, Dr. Vesalius. Peter Jeffrey seems to be having a good time as the constantly baffled and outwitted Inspector Trout. Another role that is meant to be campy with the actor showing just enough restraint to not become outright silly. Virginia North is a sexy femme fatale as Phibes’ silent assistant Vulnavia and an un-credited role playing Phibes’ Victoria in photos and corpse form is British film vixen and future Bond girl, Caroline Munro. A classy cast that all approach the material with proper amounts of camp or seriousness.

Overall, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a legend. As a film itself, it is a little too slow paced for it’s own good and the mix of gruesome and giddy may not always work completely, but it is still a lot of twisted fun. The diabolical doctor would return for a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the following year.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Phibes.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

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DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

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Hammer Films tried to freshen up the Dracula series and did so by bringing The Count (Christopher Lee) to modern day London and brought back Peter Cushing as Van Helsing! They also brought in a new writer and director and the film appears to have no continuity with the other previous films in the series.

The story opens in 1872 with a stage coach hurtling through the forest with Dracula and Van Helsing battling on and about it. The coach crashes and both the good doctor and the fiendish vampire die in one final battle. A disciple (Christopher Neame) of Dracula’s takes his remains and buries them outside the cemetery that now holds the body of Van Helsing. We cut to 1972 London were a group of thrill seeking, young hipsters, including Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), are planning a dark ritual at a de-sanctified, abandoned church. Their leader Johnny (also Christopher Neame) is actually a decedent of that Dracula disciple from the prologue and the black mass he holds, raises Count Dracula from his grave to start feeding on the members of the group. Now it’s up to Jessica’s grandfather, Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), to take up his ancestor’s cause and send Dracula back to Hell where he belongs!

I understand why purists of the series might consider this one a low point for bringing Dracula to the 70s and surrounding him with swinging hipsters and funky music, but I think it’s good fun. Don Houghton wrote the script and while it may not be the strongest of stories, it is refreshing to have a different setting and Cushing back as Dracula’s arch-rival. It also gives a fairly good reason for Dracula’s return as Johnny resurrects him to gain immortality. Alan Gibson directs fairly by-the-numbers, but imbues the film with so much of the 70s youth culture of the time with it’s music and fashions that, if nothing else, it gives the film a heavy 70s nostalgia to make it a treat. Sadly, the film also gives Dracula limited screen time focusing on Van Helsing, but as Cushing has been away from the series since 1960’s Lee-less Brides Of Dracula, we’ll allow it. There is some blood spattered, but after Scars Of Dracula’s R rating caused distribution problems, they went back to PG and it is limited and there is no nudity. The film has a fairly moderate pace, but there is a lot of action and there is some nice cinematography from Dick Bush and a jazzy 70s score by Mike Vickers, who replaced series regular James Bernard. A fun entry with a very 70s vibe and while Dracula’s screen time is limited, there are two nice confrontations with arch-nemesis Van Helsing bookending the film.

A good cast as usual. Again, Lee is in top form giving Dracula a sense of menace despite limited screen time. A testament to his work ethic that he performed so well, a role he came to hate. Cushing is as charming as ever and he provides a welcome boost to the film and gives his performance a nice energy and sincerity as the occult expert and ancestor of the legendary Lawrence Van Helsing. Stephanie Beacham’s Jessica Van Helsing is pretty and a bit more independent than some of the series’ ladies, but ends up being a damsel anyway. Christopher Neame seems to be channeling Malcolm McDowell’s Alex here, to a good degree, but it works in context to the character and setting. Michael Coles is functional but, a bit by-the-numbers as Inspector Murray, a cop investigating the ‘mysterious’ deaths. Last, but not least, we get hot British bird Caroline Munro as an unfortunate member of the hipster group and future Dracula snack.

So, while many feel this was the series’ low point, I respectfully disagree. I really love the 70s vibe and despite a minimal appearance by The Count, it is evened out a bit by the return of Cushing as Van Helsing. The film is loaded with 70s nostalgia, there are some very effective set pieces and is definitely enough fun to make it an entertaining watch. Lee and Cushing would return one more time to battle it out in the follow-up, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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Even surrounded by Dracula A.D. 1972‘s bevy of Hammer beauties, Lee can’t help express how tired he is of all this.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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British/American co-production is a routine and silly slasher flick that for some reason needed three writers and three directors (Mark Ezra, George Dugdale, Peter Litten) to churn out a reasonably forgettable horror with a very generic plot.

Flick has a gang of popular high schoolers led by Carol (British babe Caroline Munro) playing not one but two mean spirited pranks on awkward chemistry nerd Marty (Simon Scuddamore). The second leaves him horribly scarred and institutionalized. Ten years later the same gang is invited to a high school reunion, only to arrive and find their former school empty and abandoned. They investigate anyway and find it indeed set up for a celebration. The reunion may actually be a trap, though, as only the members of this clique were invited to this shindig. Now someone has locked them in on the eve of April Fool’s Day and is stalking and killing the popular crowd in cruel and bloody ways. Has Marty returned for revenge after all these years…or has someone else got a grudge against those who ruled the school back in the day?

This is a very boring and routine slasher that offers nothing new to the genre. It was filmed in England and cast with English actors, while trying to pass itself off as American. Epic Fail. The actors barely hide their accents, one doesn’t try to at all, and the location has a very European look to it. The film is very jokey and silly for the most part, but then suddenly expects us to take it seriously when the murders start and the hunting down of the survivors begins by our jester-masked killer. It’s shocking this bland and style-less slasher took three people to script and direct, when it barely gives the impression that there was even one creative mind on-set. The accents aside, the acting is bad and most of the cast look like they’re pushing forty much less their late twenties. Munro was 36 at the time. There is some decent gore, but the killings are preposterous and would take a lot of work and money to set up the elaborate demises, such as pumping acid into just the right plumbing and someone drinking just the right beer. There is a lot of convenient actions by our victims to ensure they are in the right place and time to meet their ends, too. Even in a silly flick like this, it’s just too hard to swallow. When the film tries to be a bit clever in it’s final scenes, it even blows that, too. Aside from a score by Friday The 13th composer Harry Manfredini, there is little to recommend here.

Quite obviously, there is little to like about this film even with buxom bird Caroline Munro as it’s lead. The story is routine and uninspired, it has a jokey tone to it and the British actors are wooden and doing a poor job of trying to pass themselves off as Yanks. There is some good gore, but most of the kills are a bit far-fetched and hard to believe that circumstances worked out so perfectly for them to occur. Characters seem to walk into their demises…as if scripted…and it took three people to write that unimaginative script. Definitely one of the lesser and forgettable 80s slashers. Not even the nostalgia factor could boost this one.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 1 and 1/2 (out of 4) jester killers.

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SATURDAY MATINEE: THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

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Going to try a new column to be rotated with my Saturday Night Double Features simply called Saturday Matinee. While all theaters still have matinee showings, when I was a kid, many theaters like the Fairview Cinema in Fairview, N.J. used to play old movies as children’s matinees on Saturday afternoons in the early 70s. It was a one time early showing of a more kid friendly film and my mom or grandfather used to take us. It got us out of the house and when we were old enough to go by ourselves, afforded my mom 90 minutes of quiet shopping time in the nearby stores. So this column will look at more lighter toned genre films that would certainly have fit at such a matinee or possibly been one I actually saw such as this 1973 fantasy adventure! Enjoy!

 

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THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

15 Years after 7th Voyage, Ray Harryhausen returned to the world of the Persian sea captain with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. A chance encounter with a strange creature leaves Sinbad (John Philip Law) in possession of a gold amulet that is being pursued by dark prince, Koura (future Dr. Who, Tom Baker) as when joined with it’s other parts, it can give the bearer unlimited power. The pursuit of the final piece brings Sinbad to a mysterious island and in the company of a beautiful slave girl (legendary genre hottie, Caroline Munro) who may be key to the proceedings. Along the way there are the numerous Harryhausen critters to complicate the voyage and the usual magic and derring-do.

Director Gordon Hessler doesn’t bring the fun as well as Nathan Juran did in 7th Voyage and he also doesn’t give the film the lively pace that flick had either, but it is still an enjoyable fantasy adventure and the cast do take their parts serious enough to make them believable, even if Law can’t really work the Middle Eastern accent that he tries to imbue the heroic captain with. The stop-motion creature effects…billed here as Dynarama…are typical Harryhausen quality, although the designs aren’t as memorable as the cyclops, or dragon, from the last film. The standouts being the centaur and the griffin featured at the climax and Koura’s flying spy. The rest of the FX are fine for the time period, but are a tad cheesy by today’s hi-tech standards…though I still find them very charming.

All in all, it is an entertaining adventure yarn and filled with nostalgic charm at this point, though, not quite the classic that 7th is. Obviously, when I saw this film as a 9 year old, it was the best thing ever…till the next movie came along. Also has an uncredited cameo by Jaws and Black Sunday actor, the legendary Robert Shaw, as The Oracle Of All Knowledge.

Followed by one more film, Sindbad And The Eye Of The Tiger, in 1977 which was a sadly disappointing and weak installment that was unfortunately the last time Harryhausen would revisit the character. There was talk of a rumored Sinbad On Mars, but that film never materialized and Harryhausen would end his legendary career with Clash Of The Titans in 1981.

Rated 3 (out of 4) sexy slave girls.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: AT THE EARTH’S CORE and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS

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This week’s double feature is actually a sequel to one done a while back featuring two of the Doug McClure/Kevin Connor/John Dark rubber monster fantasy flicks The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot. Now we have the other two in this ‘quadrilogy’, the bizarre At The Earth’s Core and, the only one not based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs book, Warlords Of Atlantis. Enjoy this double bill of cheesy monster madness!

 

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AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)

Another fun cheese fest from the Land That Time Forgot people, this time based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first Pellucidar novel…adapted by Milton Subotsky…The story has adventurer David Innes (Doug McClure) and his friend, Professor Abner Perry (the legendary Peter Cushing) test driving a deep earth drilling machine and ending up in a bizarre world at the center of the planet. While there, they battle strange creatures, tyrannical bird men and Innes finds love with the beautiful cave girl Dia (Hammer honey Caroline Munro). Will they get home alive?… will David want to, with his Earth’s core cutie now at his side?

The effects are quite cheesy with it’s styrofoam sets and rubber monsters, but free from traditional dinosaur design, the rubber monsters are quite weird and the landscape is quite psychedelic. Director Kevin Connor (Land That Time Forgot, Motel Hell) doesn’t take things too seriously and keeps the flick moving at a fast pace. His cast play their roles straight…though Cushing is delightfully over the top…but do seem to be having fun and so do we. Add some beers and both Land and People That Time Forgot and you’re good to go with a fun Saturday night of rubber creatures and cave girl cuties. Special to me because it was the first film (second film of a double feature with Bug, actually) I saw at the legendary Oritani Theatre in Hackensack, New Jersey.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 buxom cave cuties!

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WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978)

Warlords is the 4th and final of the Doug McClure/Kevin Connor collaborations and this one is based on an original story, written by Brian Hayles, whereas the last three were based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. As with the previous films, we are treated to the usual formula of action, adventure and an assortment of rubber monsters. This story finds McClure as engineer Greg Collinson, diving bell builder and part of a expedition in the early 1900s to find evidence of the existence of Atlantis. The crew of the Texas Rose find more then evidence, when they are taken prisoner and brought to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis itself. The Atlanteans are actually survivors who crashed here from the dying planet Mars. They now capture seafarers as slaves and plan to take over our planet with our own advancing technology. But there is one problem, their presence here has mutated a number of lifeforms and now these monsters are slowly destroying the Altantean cities one by one. Can Collinson and crew escape? Will the Atlanteans survive an attack by the giant turtle-like Zaargs?

Warlords isn’t quite as entertaining as some of the previous Connor adventures, the story does get a bit convoluted even for this type of flick, but it’s still fun and the added nostalgia of pre-Jurassic Park rubber monsters and model work really helps. There are an assortment of creatures to amuse, along with the Star Trek-ish sets and, of course, a busty slave girl (Lea Brodie) to add jiggle and love interest to the proceedings. Warlords may not be the best of the McClure/Connor collaborations, but it’s still charming enough for those in the mood for an old school monster movie and the kind of romantic adventure flick that they just don’t make anymore. Also stars Shane Rimmer, John Ratzenberger and dancer/actress Cyd Charisse who still had a great pair of legs here at age 56. I saw this flick in 78 at Edgewater, New Jersey’s ShowBoat Cinema, another favorite movie haunt of mine as a kid.

NOTE: Warlords is not currently available, but I luckily found my old VHS copy for today’s revisit. It’s now transferred to DVD. The first three films were released in the US by American International Pictures and Warlords was released by Columbia Pictures which might have something to do with Warlords’ unavailability.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 buxom… there’s a pattern here… Atlanteans!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MANIAC (1980)

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MANIAC (1980)

Having recently watched and really enjoyed the 2013 remake of this 1980 cult classic, I thought I’d revisit the original and see how it holds up. I’ll be honest, I never really liked this slasher flick much and upon watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed. Maniac is an ultra-gory slasher about the mentally disturbed Frank Zito (Joe Spinell who wrote the story and co-wrote the script.), a man who likes to slaughter and scalp young women and then dress up mannequins to resemble his victims, scalp and all. He was abused by his now dead prostitute mother and he has quite bi-polar feelings about women as a result. The deranged Frank is carving his way through NYC’s nightlife when he encounters beautiful fashion photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro). Frank falls for Anna, but can he keep his scalpel in his pants or will Anna join the mannequin of the month club?

As directed by William Lustig, Maniac is a sleazy horror that would fit perfectly in the Time Square grind houses it was made for. It seems more like an excuse to gorily dispatch young woman and their dates, if they aren’t alone, than an actual attempt  to make a good thriller. Spinell’s scenes of talking to his mannequins and crying about what he’s just done to the latest victim come across as more silly than scary or disturbing. Spinell, a New York native who passed away suddenly in 1989, made a career of playing sleazy street thugs and gangsters, but doesn’t have the range to really make these scenes work and they just induce giggles. Though, it does add a bit of a camp factor I must admit. The film itself is slow moving and there is no tension or suspense as the victims are basically just that, fodder for Frank’s arsenal of weapons. They are dispatched soon or immediately after we meet them and there is no emotional investment in them and their fates are obvious from the minute they appear. The film is really most famous for some of make-up FX master Tom Savini’s best gore effects, used in the victims’ deaths. The scalpings, stabbings and shootings all are quite realistic and disgusting and any effectiveness the film carries, is from his work. He even got to shoot himself as he plays a young victim’s date who has his head shotgunned to pieces by Zito. The catch is that Savini was also a stuntman and doubled for Spinell by jumping up on the car hood and shooting his own character in the face. Savini’s work here was considered quite shocking and got Maniac released unrated. His FX still hold up today, though the rest of the film really doesn’t.

My final gripe is that I don’t believe for one minute that Munro’s beautiful photographer would actually date a guy like Spinell’s Zito. Aside from the fact that he is just sleazy looking with his long greasy hair and pot marked face, more importantly, he just acts weird and the fact that he tracked her down to find her, should set her internal creep alarms off immediately. He basically stalks her and she agrees to go out with him after a strange conversation that should have any woman on her guard. Also, they don’t finally meet till the last act and their ‘relationship’ is never given time to develop to the point of believability. If it was given more time, maybe we could see Frank overcome the creep factor and win her over. Based on what little we do see, it doesn’t work. If they didn’t date, though, the movie wouldn’t go anywhere and technically, it doesn’t. Predictably, cuckoo Frank can’t help but emerge when taking Anna to visit his mother’s grave (which should have been another sign, Frankie is a tad off), which sends the movie to it’s gory and somewhat abrupt conclusion.

All in all, I recognize Maniac’s place as a cult classic 80s slasher, but Tom Savini’s masterful FX aside, I think it’s reputation far exceeds it’s actual merit.

2 and 1/2 mannequin heads

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WARNING: TRAILER IS GRAPHIC!

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