Sixties Scares Again!
By Kristin Battestella
Black and white or color, big horror names or mid century unknowns – a lot of scary movies made in the sixties were hit or miss. Here are a few low budget good, better, and worst shockers from that swanky decade of yore.
Terrified – A masked, suit and tie-wearing vigilante buries people alive in shallow graves before driving folks off the road near an old west ghost town in this 1963 caper. Although there’s some bad acting from the generic cast and one hokey, fainting old lady who can’t handle the swerving cars, the titular start is indeed, well, titular thanks to the slow torment of these victims. The young love triangle potential isn’t fifties sweetheart in tone – these older protagonists are classy couples amid scares and cool cars even when the dated dialogue or seemingly deep analysis on fear and crazy are too obvious. People do spend a bit too much time driving from one location to the next and merely talking about past actions and town kooks, making this 80 minutes feel slow. However, the scary action is an interesting, slasher precursor style almost Saw-esque in his games, mystery, and sick motivations. Abandoned saloon halls and old cemeteries work with the on scene, in camera design, and the atmospheric music accents the terror despite the poor sound quality today. Black and white photography hides the most likely cheap production savings but also adds to the isolated, old time mood. Solitary shadows, flashlights, and cobwebs heighten the danger as the pace increases amid largely anonymous villainy, surprising fates, and onscreen physicality. I’m surprised this is so obscure for the B movie low expectations are more than met here for a fun, spooky late night. I mean, who goes down thru the trap door in the creepy old west ghost town when a killer is on the loose, honestly?!
Trauma – Wheelchair bound Lynn Bari (Blood and Sand) adds an air of class and poise in this black and white 1962 hour and a half before the eponymous scary watery action ensues. Writer and director Robert Malcolm Young (Escape to Witch Mountain) jumps right into understandable fear of wide-eyed young girls scared to walk alone in the woods at night. The bizarre state of mind mood is quickly set by old houses, furniture covered with sheets, and handymen who may or may not be creepy. The atmosphere is also surprisingly suggestive – one young girl with all these men of varying degrees of pursuit and affection around her, including a suspicious husband John Conte (The Man with the Golden Arm) who conveniently moves in to control his ward turned amnesiac wife Lorrie Richards (The Magic Sword). While some of the supporting acting is over the top and the public print’s picture may be a little flat, eerie music and the shady innuendo is enough to keep the audience interested as our sick young wife goes exploring in a dark, disturbing mansion full of hazy memories, gas lighting, and scares. Scenes with one or two persons talking may be slow to some, and architecture firm scenes don’t go about revealing the information on mysterious building additions, family secrets, and past scandals very well. However, the twists and natural fears are intriguing enough to see the mystery through to the end – unless you are a viewer with a fear of water or drowning! I’m surprised this little treat is so unknown, too.
Doctor Blood’s Coffin – Widowed nurse Hazel Court (The Masque of the Red Death) and her traditional, tight, white uniform pretty up this 1961 British hour and half full of radical human experimentation, old-fashioned medical styles, big bottles of chloroform, classic cars, and more. Good scary scoring, suspenseful moments, action, violence, and twists pick up as the unethical medicine intensifies, but confusing cave action and obvious romance make the pace uneven. The plot also meanders, taking its precious time in getting to what is a sweet, heavy finale. The lack of subtitles, poor sound, and a badly lit picture unfortunately interferes with the intriguing morality versus science debates and food for thought consequences. Likewise, leading man Kieron Moore (The 300 Spartans) feels a little too dry compared to the pizzazz we expect from Hazel. Fans of Court can enjoy a viewing and the story here is enticing enough, but the low budget filming, poor print, and lack of polish can make this one tough to watch for casual horror audiences.
Madmen of Mandoras – Deadly government G-gas toxins, elusive antidotes, supposed science fiction shockers, abduction scandals, and not so much horror opens this 1963 black and white mishmash filled with more standard action, gunfire, and attempted noir than genre fair. Yes, somehow there are military looks and evil Nazis. Sure, this is the 74-minute version of what was also later padded to 90 minutes and called They Saved Hitler’s Brain. However, a wooden cast and too many stupid people make it tough to care for the loose story either way. A weird flashback dumps the eponymous “Mr. H.” angst into the middle of the picture, but what do the missing persons have to do with this Frankensteinish goofy? When explanations are finally given after all the traveling, mid century cars, fancy planes, faux Spanish talk, and swanky dancing, it’s a whole lot more of too many things clashing at once, and ultimately, none of it makes any sense. Hitler’s head has been on ice and we’ve been watching anonymous shootouts and belly dancing? If you can stand it, this is laughably bad thanks to the Hitler head in jar riding in the backseat. No, you didn’t misread that!
Nightmare in Wax – The dialogue is tough to hear at times and the script doesn’t make much sense in this 1969 copy harkening Vincent Price and mid-fifties horror with its warped, intentionally extreme color saturation. Unseen killer perspectives, a creepy elevator, and ominous parking garage violence quickly fall prey to a confusing wax who is who and flashbacks interrupting the police investigation. The film within a film feelings of wax displays, disappearing stars, old Hollywood name dropping, and recognizable wax models don’t help a cast that’s nothing to write home about – toss in a unclear, convoluted revenge, blackmail, attempted sexy, and hip sixties music and this 95 minutes feels overlong. The few scary moments, creepy settings, wax twists, murder, drugs, and hypnosis unnecessarily jump back and forth with the flashbacks, and menacing chases don’t happen until an hour into the film. This was clearly made fast and furious to cash in on a drive-in double bill, and without any real gore or nudity, this feels like a too tame knock off. Some low budget horror audiences may find that tone just fine, but there could have been a lot more mystery and scary museum designs instead of an inexplicable, rehashed mess.