Ha! Sounds like a long time ago, doesn’t it? In fact, the first film in this foursome is nearly 100 years old and its plot is still being ripped off to this day. So let’s see how the past has shaped the present in horror.
MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)
I checked this one out because it’s included as a bonus on the Blu-ray of the Vincent Price 1953 movie House of Wax, which is actually a remake…and a very faithful one at that!
It’s amazing to see how well-formulated the macabre plot was back in 1933, even if there are no shock moments of people being turned to wax. Best of all—a strong female reporter is the lead character here.
No, wait. There’s something even better. She becomes suspicious of how incredibly real the figures are at a new wax museum where her friend’s fiancé works. And her friend is? Fay Wray! Amazing.
The film is more of a tame mystery than a horror, but there is a “Phantom of the Opera” vibe given off by the big baddie, and he’s as creepy as they came back then.
HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)
While William Castle mastered the art of immersive theater gimmicks, with intros speaking directly to the audience, this film tries but fails miserably, with an emotionless narrator going on for 13 minutes about hypnosis before the movie even begins.
The film is from the director of Fiend Without a Face, one of my faves. Here he combines two plots into one with his take on the wax museum craze.
The owner of the wax museum in this film also happens to be a crime writer, so instead of killing people to create figures for his museum, he does it so he’ll have crimes to write about. What I’m saying is the museum is absolutely irrelevant here.
I do like the film’s willingness to go for the gruesome, especially in 1959. Despite there being no gore, the kills feature some unique weapons and concepts. However, they are few and far between. The film focuses on the writer’s state of mind and the way he makes his museum assistant into a ghoulish monster that commits the crimes.
Annoyingly, as with many of these old movies, one good kill is spoiled by a ridiculously misplaced, upbeat jazz number blaring (I assume to soften the severity of the kill), but the film saves itself with a near jump scare moment at the end that feels almost like a contemporary scene.
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)
I just love 1960s b-horror movies that pushed the envelope with sex and gore, and as campy as The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is by today’s standards, it definitely wasn’t for mainstream audiences of that time period.
A doctor doing transplant experiments steals his girlfriend’s severed head after a car accident and then goes on a hunt at seedy clubs for a hot chick to put the brain in. There are long dance scenes and even a cat fight! Ah, the sixties sleaze of it all.
Meanwhile, back at the lab the girlfriend’s head moans about wishing she had been allowed to die (pretty sadistic). She also learns from the doctor’s assistant that a hideous experiment gone wrong is locked behind a door in the room. She convinces the creature to do her bidding, but all we get to see for most of the movie is its hand reaching out a peek-a-boo window in the door.
It all comes to a head when the doctor brings a female specimen to the lab to do his operation. I have to say, this is a pretty satisfying monster when it’s revealed.
It even bites off and spits out flesh. Ew! Definitely a template for so many horror films that came after it.
THE CRAWLING EYE (1958)
I would almost guarantee that Carpenter’s The Fog and Stephen King’s The Mist were both inspired by this film (also known as The Trollenberg Terror), a definite goodie from my late brother’s stash of DVDs.
People at a mountain resort are terrorized when a) mountain climbers begin turning up headless, and b) creepy smoke can be seen encircling the mountain.
One girl has some sort of ESP and can communicate with the presence in the smoke. Meanwhile, there’s a crazed dude with a pick axe running around the mountain killing people. This little movie is packed with horror concepts.
The creature finally comes out of the smoke screen at the end to attack a whole building. It’s a huge, squid-like creature with tentacles and one big eye! Awesome, and also super campy and funny at this point in time. Even the hubby was laughing with me.