Sophisticated, Saucy, and Sinister Sixties Scares!
By Kristin Battestella
Say that one three times fast, then sit back and enjoy this quick variety of twisted films from that turbulent decade!
The Devil’s Hand – Commissioner Gordon strikes again! Neil Hamilton’s pushing freaky voodoo dolls, mental projection, and sexy dames in this 1962 cult-astic romp. The photography is poor and jumpy, and the introductory narration is weird. The dialogue is both realistic and yet very dated and sexist. The costumes are ugly, and this evil Gamba cult abounds with hokey rituals. Though I’ve seen worse iffy, Tibetan stereotypes, uncouth Asian music and drums, and more racist dancing hinder a few scenes. The mid century symbolism and most of the action here will be too tame and predictable for audiences today. All that potentially going against it and yet the creepy dolls, intriguing mystery, and weird dreams work. Cute things like the slide across bucket seats and decent acting go a long way, too. It seems a lot of scary movies both old and new always have these kinky, relatable, but engaged men getting tempted by evil women. They like it, and so do we. Combined with a few shocks and plenty of tease-ability, this one is a fun, entertaining hour.
Games – Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Simone Signoret (Room at the Top), and James Caan (The Godfather) star in this 1967 mindbender from Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter with Helen?), and the fun costumes, gadgets, and trickery add to Ross and Caan’s young and sexy. They’re very good at being bent with weird antiques, colorful décor, and an increasingly twisted mix of freaky foreplay. Classy as always, Signoret is mysterious, multifaceted, pushy, flaky, yet more endearing than our initially unlikable snotty rich party couple is. The suspense sequences, intense crimes, and psychic twists may seem weird. However, as the tables turn, the audience is hooked and drawn into the demented pace, surprising events, and jump moments. Wise viewers may find the plot predictable, but this is a nice little thriller for stylish horror lovers and fans of the cast.
Spirits of the Dead – I’m not really a Jane Fonda fan, but she looks superb in this colorful 1968 Italian anthology with designs from Edgar Allan Poe. Perfect locales, music, horses, castles, and foggy coasts set an ethereal, dreamy mood for the first tale here. The period costumes and sixties fusion might be a bit too Barbarella, and some will be put off by the spoken French and reading subtitles. Yet Fonda fans will enjoy the suggested kinky and ménage taunts- even if it’s her brother Peter (Easy Rider) sparking the obsessions. ‘Metzengerstein’ is more sauce than scares, but it might have made a nice fantasy movie by itself. By contrast, ‘William Wilson’ adds Italian occupation and religious motifs for the second installment. Iffy kid acting, look a likes, and flashbacks can be confusing to start and some of the butchery won’t be for everyone. However great fashions, sweet cadavers, autopsy educations, and historical brutalities are scary good- not to mention a dark haired, poker playing Brigitte Bardot (And God Created Woman) to keep the questions on one’s conscious and duality from getting too dry. Terrence Stamp (Billy Budd) is a wonderful drunkard in the almost too trippy ‘Toby Dammit’ finale, but cool Roman amusement, bizarre locations, and weird play within a play production keep the plot from being too nonsensical. Though the final ten minutes get tough, the well-edited and intense driving scenes make for a fitting overall conclusion. Not all will enjoy the near psychedelic period and foreign sensibilities, but this is some twisted fun for fans of the players and all involved.
Tormented – There’s some soap opera melodrama in the acting, romance, and blackmail of this black and white 1960 ghost tale, and there are over the top music cues to match. Some of it is predictably fun, even ridiculous, and the bullet bras enter the room before the ladies! It’s tough to take your ghost’s threats seriously when the entity is so…buxom. The narration is also a bit much, and nothing is really that scary- particularly the annoying kid (Susan Gordon, daughter of the director Bert I. Gordon, Empire of the Ants). All that aside, this one isn’t that bad. The spooky lighthouse and nice seascapes might be hampered by the black and white, but the gray palette helps the freaky early effects and eerie ghostly hi jinks. Richard Carlson’s (Creature from the Black Lagoon) dilemma, scandal, and titular emotions are an intriguing consequence contrasting the pleasant mid century costumes and feelings. There’s a taint to his would be bliss thanks to the unscrupulous spirits, and the mayhem creates some tense moments and room for a twist or two.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – We can’t imagine anyone but Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in a sibling rivalry this extreme! The two Oscar winners (Jezebel and Mildred Pierce, respectively) finally clash onscreen in this 1962 adaptation from director Robert Aldrich (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte). The introductory rise thru the show business eras, fun vaudeville tunes, vintage film reels, swift editing, period clothing, cool cars, and plenty of suspense all cap off the warped drama and black and white demented nostalgia. De Vol’s (Pillow Talk) over the top yet on form and fitting music adds to the fun weirdness of seeing the slovenly done up Davis. Perhaps we tend to think of her as so nice and grandmotherly today- unlike Crawford. Thanks to the likes of Mommie Dearest, it’s a little ironic to see her as Ms. Sympathy. And yet…both ladies put our expectations on end, and it’s a tough call on whose is the better performance. Although the shock moments are probably well known now, the audience wonders how far off the deep end the wonderfully cruel and simplistic scares will go. There’s great, bemusing trepidation in the little things we take for granted in the 21st century- getting a letter to a neighbor, not knowing what’s for dinner, leaving the phone off the hook. Minds, mirrors, twisted selves- the unraveling of this relationship train wreck is quite horrific- or at the very least criminal! Where is the desperation greatest? Who’s more deserving of their internal hostage via the wheelchair or the childlike mind? This staple is perfect for classic film fans, fans of the cast, and anyone looking for a sophisticated feminine horror spin.
(It's not what you think, I assure you!)
And Now for a Bad One!
The Amazing Transparent Man – This 1960 short, low budget, SF horror from the young American International Pictures starts ominously enough, with a creepy long drive and good music. Unfortunately, not much else genre fair actually happens. With the military chase and crime as is there just isn’t anything that scary or even a whole lot of sci-fi. Although there are good mad scientist machinery and sounds effects, there’s also lots of talking about taking over the world thru invisibility. Thus, all the demented science comes off a little too dry. Despite being only an hour, it’s easy to zone out or even fall asleep- unless you’re poking fun or having a drinking game here. This one is a definite no no unless you take it for the bemusement alone.
(But this is what I call Horror!)