Back to the decades when horror and films in general transitioned from black and white to color as I take on eight movies that I’ve recently added to my collection.
GORILLA AT LARGE (1954)
At long last I’ve found the name of a movie that was broadcast on television in 3D in the 80s and required you to purchase the glasses at a specific retail store. Not only did I find out the title, I unintentionally bought it because it was included on a double feature DVD with another movie I was intentionally purchasing.
There sure were a lot of murder/mystery/horror movies that took place in a carnival/circus arena back in the day. Fun thing about this one is that a big gorilla is one of the main suspects.
One of the other suspects is a young, handsome Cameron Mitchell. He and his girlfriend work at the carnival and discover one of the recently fired employees they’ve been clashing with dead in a cage. Anne Bancroft plays a trapeze artist who is sort of hot for Cameron and wants him to dress in a gorilla costume for a publicity stunt. There’s also a strange caretaker who watches out for the gorilla and believes it will do whatever he says.
Indeed, there are a lot of people making enemies at the carnival and a lot of people who could be looking to kill someone. But is the gorilla doing all the killing? Because it sure does break out of the cage a lot.
The detective on the case is the same detective from The Exorcist, seemingly perfecting his role for the horror classic 20 years ahead of time without realizing it.
My favorite part of Gorilla at Large is definitely when the big hairy beast sneaks into the mirror maze to terrorize one of the main ladies. Eek! Good scene.
NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER (1960)
It’s hard to believe that Hammer Films, best known for all their Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing movies, was responsible for a film this scandalous and groundbreaking—and still freakishly relevant in every aspect. The title alone tells you all you need to know. This isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense, but it is devastating as it blatantly takes on the horrors of an issue that dare not be addressed publicly back then. And by the time the film is over, we even get a scene that is so masterfully crafted it delivers more terror than so many horror movies out there.
We see two girls playing in the woods. One girl convinces the other that there’s an old man in a mansion on the hill who will give them candy, so they skip their way up there…
The main girl is the daughter of the new principal in town. When she gets home, she tells her parents she and the other girl danced naked for the old man in exchange for candy. The mother is horrified and wants to go to the police. Shockingly—and realistically—the grandmother argues that the girl could be making it up and they shouldn’t blow it out of proportion, and even says seeing a town flasher in her childhood didn’t hurt her any and makes excuses for the man’s behavior by describing it as arrested development.
This begins a disturbing examination of the anti-female, anti-child, pro-privilege world we live in. When they go report the incident the police defend the old man, who is a member of a well-to-do family that makes huge contributions to the town, and the cop even says making the little girls strip is no big deal! The mother learns everyone in town knows the old man likes little girls and he was even in an asylum for a while. The son of the old man threatens to ruin the principal and his family. Gossiping women are heard placing the blame on the girls. A mother won’t let her little boy go swimming with the principal’s daughter for fear she’ll accuse him of something. The father of the other girl refuses to let her even speak of the incident let alone corroborate the story the principal’s daughter has told.
Then comes the court hearing. It’s immediately made clear the defendant’s family has an in with the judge. The jury is comprised entirely of older white men. The defense lawyer viciously grills the principal’s daughter and makes her look like a liar.
You can imagine how the case turns out.
But just when you think the movie is coming to a close, the girls meet on a desolate road…and the old man fucking pops up out of the woods! Holy fuck! This sequence and its camera angles are bone-chilling as he silently pursues the two terrified girls through the woods, to a rundown cabin in the woods, and even as they try to get away in a boat.
This movie is dark, and be warned—it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the mentally ill.
STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! (1961)
Despite the horrible jazzy sixties music that accompanies it, the opener of this movie—a car with a “just married” sign on it smashed into a big truck on the road—immediately gets your attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t do a good enough job of holding it.
The couple survives, and the guy who was driving the car is now recovering from a head injury that is causing him to have violent urges to kill his new wife!
When they go on vacation, they meet a psychiatrist who offers to help him work through his issues. But the psychiatrist has issues of his own…
In therapy, the psychiatrist forces him to confront his killer desires.
If only that meant there were going to be a load of murders. There aren’t. This is a psychological manipulation thriller, and it’s not that thrilling at all. Scratch that. This is kind of thrilling…
THESE ARE THE DAMNED (1962)
I guess this film is kind of haunting, but it’s more a science fiction film than horror and takes almost until the end to truly clarify its apocalyptic point.
A middle-aged dude on a trip gets tricked by a beautiful young girl into being beat up and mugged by her brother and his gang of thugs—brother played by Oliver Reed. And yet the next day when the girl visits the older man on his boat, he forgives her for dicking him over and tries to convince her to run away with him to escape her toxic brother.
And so they take off with the brother’s gang chasing them.
Meanwhile, there’s a group of young kids being held captive, controlled, manipulated, and lied to in an underground cave, where they communicate only with a man on a monitor who promises some day they will have all the answers they seek.
Eventually the runaway couple and the brother cross paths with the kids, who allow the trio to stay with them. But the trio begins to think these mysterious kids, who are all cold to the touch, are actually dead!
The truth is very of its time and concerns the military and the horrors of war. These children may be the damned, but they sure aren’t the Village of the Damned.
This is a fun little thriller that begins with an implied rape and implied revenge involving a blow torch. Eek!
Then a handsome drifter dude gets stranded in a bar. He falls for the girl working there, but her stepmom starts vying for his attention. Turns out the stepmother’s husband is the guy who killed the rapist at the beginning and is in a mental institution now.
The stepmother has a great idea. They should break the husband out of the institution and get him to flee the country for escaping so then they can be together.
In classic thriller fashion, there are unexpected twists, and nothing is as it really seems. And the final chase scene is a visually arresting sequence thanks to the unnerving location.
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964)
This one feels like Hammer Films decided to make a quick buck on a generic mummy movie rather than hire Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing…to star in yet another generic mummy movie.
There’s no denying these mummy movies are all the same. A mummy is discovered. The Egyptian government warns those who dug it up not to take it. They do.
On the boat ride back home, some psycho is on the loose killing people just so that there will be some murders before the mummy finally comes to life 53 fricking minutes into the movie. After the killer is caught, after the exhibit opens, and after the 53 minute mark, the mummy at last starts lurking around in the shadows to kill people.
It’s not particularly scary, not gory, and not very unique in terms of plot. But if you like mummies, there’s a mummy.
DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965)
With this movie about one woman holding another woman captive and physically and psychologically torturing her, I actually feel like Hammer Films took the general premise of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? from a few years before and crafted a much darker and disturbing film not bogged down by the drama, scandal, and camp factor that has grown around Baby Jane over the decades due to its two stars.
The stars here are Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers, who deserve a hell of a lot more recognition in horror history for their phenomenal work together in this movie.
Stefanie is about to get married and decides to visit Tallulah, the mother of her previous boyfriend, who died in a car accident.
Tallulah is a fricking religious nut under the impression that Stefanie and her deceased son are meant to be together forever. She imprisons Stefanie in her home, keeps her at bay with a gun, and has the help of her faithful servants, one of them played by young Donald Sutherland. But veteran actor Peter Vaughan is the standout servant, coming across as truly psycho and sleazy as he plays by his own rules when it comes to handling Stefanie.
Shit (and Tallulah) gets really crazy by the final act, and the film is packed with plot devices that have since been used again and again in imprisonment horror movies and thrillers.
If you love Baby Jane and Misery and have never seen this one, definitely check it out.
This was Joan Crawford’s final film, and it perfectly follows all the rules of traditional sci-fi/horror/creature feature flicks.
Some scientists head into an underground cave and two cuties strip down to their shorts.
Within minutes we see TROG!
Trog is an ape man that never fully evolved. He kills one of the scientists, but Joan, another scientist, works to convince her colleagues that they should absolutely not kill Trog because there’s so much to learn from him.
So begins the clash between her and her peers as she attempts to domesticate him. Things go good, things go bad. Bible quotes are tossed around (by fricking scientists) to support both views on whether he should live or die. And Joan Crawford actually says the words “human sperm”. Awesome.
In an attempt to further prove Trog’s importance, Joan calls for brain surgery and a drug treatment that will allow them to see his thoughts. This leads to a substantial scene inside his brain featuring all different dinosaurs battling each other to the death.
And at last, in the final act, Trog escapes and wreaks some havoc as he is hunted down by authorities. Joan Crawford would have gotten a lot of heat for making this movie if she hadn’t died, but personally, I found it to be a fun little creature feature midnight movie.