Saturday, May 19, 2012

Obras maestras del terror (1960)

... aka: Edgar Allan Poe's The Master of Horror
... aka: Master of Horror
... aka: Masterworks of Terror
... aka: Short Stories of Terror

Directed by:
Enrique Carreras

A trio of Poe tales were filmed in Argentina two years before Roger Corman's anthology hit TALES OF TERROR. For the original American release in 1964, distributor Jack H. Harris commissioned a new soundtrack and had the film dubbed. Surprisingly, the English voice actors on the dub are pretty good though there's somewhat clumsy use of narration at the very beginning. For some reason, Harris also had the third tale ("The Tell-Tale Heart") completely removed from the film to shorten the run-time down to just 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the copy I had to view was this reduced version. Even more unfortunately, the removed tale is supposedly the best of the three! Even though I missed out on that, I did enjoy the other two segments (and I plan on viewing "The Tell-Tale Heart" and adding it to this review eventually and will adjust the rating accordingly if need be). Thing begin with a slight framing device involving a maid (Mercedes Carreras), who's left alone in a big old house on a dark and stormy night while her employers are away. She decides to cozy up on the sofa with a book containing Poe's short stories and we're off.

First up is "The Case of Mr. Valdemar." Aboard a carriage, Dr. Eckstrom (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) informs his traveling companions, Dr. Chambers and McCaffrey, that he's come up with a new way to heal the mentally ill: by using hypnosis. His first client will be Lucia (Lilian Valmar), who was traumatized years earlier when she was out talking a walk, got chased by a would-be rapist and accidentally dropped her newborn baby brother on some rocks, killing him. After showing up at the asylum where a catatonic Lucia is being housed, Eckstrom administers his treatment and thinks Lucia will be cured upon awaking. Instead, she dies of shock after snapping out of it and realizing she's in a madhouse. Eckstrom puts his ideas on the back burner until a friend - young Henry Valdemar (Osvaldo Pacheco) - comes to seek his aid. Terminally ill, Henry asks Eckstrom to use hypnotism to separate his soul from his body in hopes he'll be able to live forever. As Henry is dying, Eckstrom tries again and doesn't quite get the desired results when he discovers Henry's spirit is trapped inside a immobile but well-preserved body. Everything ends with a time lapse decompisition. This is the first film I've seen with Menta, who was known as "the Spanish Lon Chaney" to those in his homeland. Looking forward to seeing more of this work after this. The man has a great look and presence for this genre.

Next up is "The Cask of Amontillado." Hard-working farmer Jean lives in a small village of Avalon, which is well-known for its wine. His bored, entitled younger wife Teresa is unsatisfied being a farmer's wife and wants to see the world. The two attend Festival of the Grape Harvest, where dashing, charismatic stranger Maurice (Carlos Estrada) shows to charm the women with his magic tricks and good looks. Jean allows Maurice to stay in their home while he's in town but it doesn't even take a week before Maurice and Teresa become lovers. Jean discovers what's been going on behind his back and lures Maurice down into his labyrinth-like cellar for a wine tasting tour. With each swig of win, an increasingly more inebriated Maurice eventually ends up at the end of the cellar, where Jean's prized cask of 18th Century amontillado rests. He passes out and awakens to find himself in a rather grim situation.

Both of these tales are solid and have good actors, but the film is in desperate need of remastering (though I have my doubts that will ever happen). They're also both fairly faithful to the Poe stories with slight alterations on each. Now I'll be on the hunt for "The Tell-Tale Heart." It originally played on a double bill with MASTER OF TERROR, which is better known now as THE 4-D MAN (1959).


Monster a Go-Go (1965)

... aka: Terror at Halfday

Directed by:
Bill Rebane
Herschell Gordon Lewis (uncredited)

What you are about to see might not even be possible... "Sheldon S. Seymour" (Herschell Gordon Lewis) needed a co-feature for his hillbilly exploitation flick MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (1964), so he bought an unfinished film from Bill Rebane (shot in 1961 under the title Terror at Halfday), shot some new footage, added narration to tie the loose ends together and then released this mega-bomb onto unsuspecting audiences. It has since gone on to be renowned as one of the worst movies of all time, so grab your "radiation repellent" and enjoy... if possible. Somewhere in the woods near Chicago, an unidentified object has crash landed. Cops following up on eyewitness reports of the crash and led by Col. Steve Conners, go to investigate. There, they find a crashed space capsule but the astronaut inside - Frank Douglas - is nowhere to be found. Nearby is a helicopter and a dead pilot "horribly mangled in a way no one had ever seen before." They take the body ("...shriveled up like a prune!") back to the lab where it's discovers the victim has been cooked from the inside out by a powerful jolt of radiation. A doctor and a military man are called in to aid the investigation.

Meanwhile, at a party, a man gets jealous his girl is jitterbugging with another guy and forces her to leave. The two go into the woods to kiss and make up but are attacked by the mutant astronaut (who's played by Henry Hite, at the time the Guiness Book record holder of "World's Tallest Man"). The guy is killed and the woman is found delirious and in a state of shock the following day. Some female sunbathers are scared off by the creature and a lab tech is killed when he ventures into the woods on his own to investigate. Authorities describe the killer as "... a radioactive something or other. 10 feet tall. 400 pounds." The film then cuts to what I assume are the scenes Lewis shot, which are a mix of boring / awkward / talky and utterly senseless. They're sat at a lab and involve the doctor brother of one of the victims, his female lab assistant and a few others. The doctor has been harboring the mutant astronaut and has managed to keep him docile for a week using an antidote. It's explained that Douglas was given an overdose of an experimental formula to help one withstand more radiation but it backfired. The creature trashes the lab, steals the antidote and escapes yet again. Since they didn't have Henry Hite for the new footage, all of this is basically discussed and not shown. Other scenes (such as a woman running out of gas and a truck driver helping her) are absolutely pointless.

Is this as terrible as it's reputed to be? Yes. Yes. A resounding YES. The dialogue, acting, editing and everything else are all terrible. Characters who seem to be a major part of the first half completely disappear from the rest of the film. I couldn't even tell some of these people apart and I stopped trying to even follow the "plot" after the first half. Though Hite looks pretty cool and menacing in his make-up, there is next to no monster action and he's only seen a couple of times and barely even does anything. In the Lewis shot footage, he was reduced to filming a few close-ups of feet walking or a shadow to represent the creature. And though there are a few laughs here (who can forget "The line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically small!") it's so incredibly boring and confusing most of the time that it doesn't even qualify for so-bad-its-good status. The big finale (which might be the least exciting ever committed to film) is basically little more than fire engines and police cars driving around at night and a few uniformed men running around. The best part is probably the title theme song performed by The Other Three.

I have a feeling if Rebane (who also provides the voice of the radio announcer) had been able to finish his original film it would have been a hell of lot more fun than this coma-inducing cult favorite. All of his scenes are more fun than the ones Lewis (that's him narrating the film) added. Released numerous times on numerous labels and also ridiculed in an episode of MST3K, the DVD I viewed was from Something Weird. They've paired it with PSYCHED BY THE 4D WITCH (1972).

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