Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Gallery of Horror (1967)

... aka: Alien Massacre
... aka: Blood Suckers, The
... aka: Dr. Terror's "Gallery of Horror"
... aka: Galería del terror (Gallery of Terror)
... aka: Gallery of Horrors
... aka: King Vampire
... aka: Return from the Past
... aka: Witch's Clock, The

Directed by:
David L. Hewitt

This low-grade horror anthology was first released theatrically under the title Dr. Terror's “Gallery of Horror” on a double bill with Hewitt's The Wizard of Mars (1965) until the makers of another similarly-titled anthology called DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) took issue. It was then  promptly reissued as The Blood Suckers and on a double bill with The Liver Eaters (aka Spider Baby). The first crop of posters enticed audiences by calling it the “World's Weirdest Movie,” but the second batch went even further into sure-to-disappoint-the-audience territory by promising there was “Nothing like this in the history of HORROR!,” it was “The most gruesome horror ever shown!,” it was not recommended for “people who faint easily” and that it was “So shocking – it will... SLIVER YOUR LIVER!” If only it were one-tenth as exciting! It later frequently played on TV sheared of about 4 minutes and under a host of different titles including Return from the Past, and also as King Vampire and The Witch's Clock; names of two of its five segments. The source stories for some of these were from Canadian artist, illustrator and publisher Russ Jones, who became one of the pioneers of the graphic novel when he co-created Creepy in 1963. He followed that up with numerous other comics, stories, novels (usually written under his nom de plume Jack Younger) and now-famous illustrations gracing both paperbacks and magazines; often of classic movie monsters.

In framing scenes clearly copying Boris Karloff's linking footage in Bava's anthology Black Sabbath (1963), we see swirls of multicolored fog and then our tuxedo-clad host John Carradine appears in front of plain, colorful backdrops to introduce each segment. He talks about witches, warlocks, magic, curses and “black powers” before our first story - “The Witches Clock” - begins. Relocating from Manhattan to Massachusetts, horror writer Bob Farrell (Roger Gentry), who's working on a magazine article on witchcraft, and his wife Julie (Karen Joy) move into a centuries-old mansion rumored to have been once inhabited by witches. While exploring the downstairs dungeon, they find a majestic old grandfather clock and decide to move it upstairs into their living room. After opening it and getting the pendulum swinging once again, mysterious stranger Tristram Halbin (Carradine) shows up at their door looking for work in exchange for room and board. The couple agree to hire him as a handyman. Dr. Barnaby Finchley (Vic McGee) shows up to tell him about Lucy Mahler, “the only real witch there ever was,” how she “enchanted” a clock so that it could bring the dead back to life and how she and her family are all buried in a crypt right downstairs.

This first segment really sets the stage for the rest of this pitiful film. You'll first notice the amount of lengthy medium and long shots of the cast standing around talking as if this is some filmed stage play and the camera is sitting on a tripod somewhere off in the corner. Then you'll notice there are few editing cuts, absolutely no close ups for dramatic effect and that the camera hardly ever even moves. Then you'll finally come to the conclusion that the director hasn't shot nearly enough footage and certainly didn't have things like scene transitions in mind while filming. As a result, he has no other option but to continually uses fade outs in between scenes. In this first story, characters will be standing at the clock when it fades to black and standing in the same exact spot wearing the same exact clothes when it's supposed to be at another time when it fades back in. When Hewitt's not doing this, he's simply splicing in footage borrowed from numerous films Roger Corman had made a few years earlier. The acting is terrible (several lines are even flubbed), the story is lame and predictable, the photography is dark and murky and the barely-decorated sets are all on the level of some small town community theater production.

After some more Carradine jabber we move on to our second story: “King Vampire.” In London, the thirteenth blood-drained female victim of a killer the press has dubbed “King Vampire” is hauled into the morgue. Detective John Brenner (Ron Doyle) heads down to the Wamsley Lake district to talk to some “gutter scum” who have seen the killer. Most are hostile and uncooperative, but good ole Mrs. O'Shay (Margaret Moore) describes him as being a “man with the face of a corpse.” She ends up getting killed, the mob beat an innocent man to death and the vampire's identity is finally revealed. This somehow manages to be even worse and more useless than the first story. Despite the setting, only some of the actors even bother trying to do accents. The ones who do shouldn't have bothered as they only end up embarrassing themselves. It cuts between an office set and a London street scene that looks like it takes place inside of some black void a few times and then it's over. Ron Brogan co-stars as an inspector, Gentry also appears as the leader of the mob and the innocent guy who's killed is writer Russ Jones in a uncredited cameo.

Tale #3 is called “Monster Raid.” Faithful servant Desmond (McGee again) helps his undead “master,” a murdered scientist named Charles Spalding, escape from his tomb. The mummy-like living corpse talks about how hard it is to ”... control these decaying limbs and musclessss” and then we go into flashback mode as Charles takes a speedy, The Raven-stock-footage carriage ride home to take his revenge. Keeping a little too busy in his lab with his experiments, Charles (Doyle again) didn't notice that his wife Helen (Rochelle Hudson) was carrying on with his colleague Dr. James Sevard (Gentry again) behind his back. The adulterous duo then hatched a plan to murder him and take credit for his experiments but Desmond overheard the conversation and relayed the information back to Charles. For revenge, Charles decided to test out his new formula on himself but was given a concentrated form by his adversary that's turned him into a zombie. While still awful, considering this actually has a made-up living corpse, decent-looking lab equipment and two (wow!) instances where the camera moves forward it is slightly less awful than the first two.

Up next is the anemic Frankenstein retread “Spark of Life” centering around Dr. Mendell (a puffy and ragged-looking Lon Chaney Jr.) and medical students Cushing (Doyle again) and Sedgewick (Joey Benson). Mendell, a former colleague of one Baron Eric Von Frankenstein back at “Hamburg University,” believes electricity is the “primary force of life” and also believes what his baron pal was preaching back in school before he was thrown out: that electricity can bring the dead back to life. He demonstrates how an electric jolt can move a hand and then the three men decide to test out Mendell's theory of “electro biological resuscitation” with a cadaver and a more powerful energy source. They end up resurrecting the corpse of a man named Amos Duncan (McGee again) only to discover that Amos was an executed knife-murderer. By a slim margin, this shot-in-two-rooms story is the best of the bunch due to a mildly amusing – albeit predictable - twist at the end.

Since one vampire tale apparently wasn't enough, we finish up with “Count Dracula.” A coachman (Gray Daniels) refuses to take Jonathan Harker (Gentry again) up to a count's castle because of the “shroud of darkness” that surrounds it. Harker finally makes his way there on foot, meets the bearded and pale Count Alucard (Mitch Evans) and the two discuss his acquisition of Carfax Abbey in London. Alucard claims he suffers from an “ancestral malady” that causes him to sleep through the day and cannot sign the papers until the following night. Jonathan is visited in his room by female vampire Medina (Joy again) and then joins the town Burgermeister (McGree again) and a mob in their search for whoever or whatever has killed a small child. This is a terrible uncredited adaptation of a portion of Bram Stoker's novel with an added surprise twist at the end that's both childish and moronic. This segment also splices in more Corman stock footage than the previous four, which are incidentally the only nice-looking shots in the entire films.

Despite how unbelievably bad this whole collection is, it's certainly not in the so-bad-it's-good realm of cheap oddball entertainment; it's merely pathetic, amateurish and boring to sit through.

Much confusion was caused when this was first issued on VHS in 1987 by Regal Video. Regal used the same exact cover art featuring a sexy blonde brandishing a gun (see above), same false write-up on the back and same new title (Alien Massacre) for its releases of both this and Hewitt's Wizard of Mars. In fact, the VHS boxes for both were identical so you had no way of knowing just what you were renting back then. I don't know if this was an accident on their part or if they just didn't care, but I suspect its the latter. Wade Williams now owns the rights to this and has issued a restored DVD through Image Entertainment but, trust me, it's not going to be worth anyone's time unless they're either extremely easy-to-please or a nostalgic adult who saw this on TV as a kid.



kochillt said...

It's bad but I've always had a certain affection for it, since viewing RETURN FROM THE PAST as a kid. Carradine is his usual professional self, while Chaney easily out acts his amateur co-stars with a boisterous performance. He hadn't lost his sense of humor, commenting before one take: "all right gentlemen, here we go with the same old shit!"

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

This came off like some REALLY bad community theater production (with production values to match) so I felt bad Carradine and Chaney were reduced to something like this. Guess that happened to many of the other Golden Age horror stars in the 50s and 60s. Seems like Karloff, Price, Lee and Cushing were snagging most of the better roles then, which left a lot of the other ones slumming. I wonder how John and Lon were paid to appear in this...

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