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.


Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

... aka: Beyond Help
... aka: Death Ward No. 13
... aka: Forgotten, The
... aka: No miréis en el sótano
... aka: Non guardare in cantina
... aka: Snake Pit, The

Directed by:
S.F. Brownrigg

Sherald 'S.F.' Brownrigg began as a combat photographer and director of army training films while still in the military. After finishing up his stint in the army, he then moved on to doing sound and sound mixing for such low-budget filmmakers as Irvin Berwick and Larry Buchanan, plus edited Buchanan's INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957) remake THE EYE CREATURES (1965). At some point in his film journeys, Brownrigg decided he wanted to start making his own movies. (Perhaps he actually watched the Berwick and Buchanan movies he'd worked on and figured there was no way he could do any worse!) Originally titled The Forgotten, Brownrigg's debut film was shot for less than 100,000 dollars over a 12 day period primarily in a plain white, sparsely furnished dorm house at Westminster College (now Trinity Institute) in Tehuacana, Texas. It was first released in a limited run by Cine Globe under its original title and put on a double bill with the cannibalism horror-comedy THE FOLKS AT RED WOLF INN (1972), but failed to gain much interest or attention that way. That all changed once the film was passed off to Hallmark Releasing.

Hallmark first issued the film under the new title of The Snake Pit on a double-bill with Mario Bava's proto slasher TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1971). They then tried it out under the titles Beyond Help and Death Ward No. 13 with the recycled “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, it's only a movie...” tag line from another of Hallmark's releases: Wes Craven's notorious The Last House on the Left (1972). Not only did they do that, but they also claimed Don't Look in the Basement (the fifth and final title given to this and the one that finally ended up sticking) was from the maker's of Last House and frequently paired the two films up together. The rest is history. Don't went on to become one of the biggest moneymakers on the mid 70s drive-in circuit, playing alongside a wide array of other genre films, including the sleazy Italian import SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971), Paul Bartel's wonderfully bizarre PRIVATE PARTS (1972) and Joe Sarno's lesbian vampire skin flick Plaything of the Devil (1973). The film continued being a workhorse into the VHS and DVD eras, especially after falling into the public domain. Other genre films copying the popular “Don't” title later emerged throughout the 70s and 80s.

At the three-story Stephens Sanitarium, a remote insane asylum, a doctor (Michael Harvey) unwisely turns his back to his axe-wielding patient and ends up getting chopped to death. And then a nurse (Jessie Lee Fulton) who's threatening to leave is suffocated in her room. Now only one staff member – Dr. Geraldine Masters (“Anne MacAdams” / Annabelle Weenick) – remains behind to take care of the “family.” Thankfully, beautiful young nurse Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, who'd previously appeared in and graced the cover of the April 1972 issue of Playboy Magazine) is on her way there to take up a position offered to her by the late Dr. Stephens. Charlotte has experience in psychiatric therapy and quit her big city hospital job to take this one, but she's hit with the bad news of the doctor's unfortunate death as soon as she arrives. Dr. Masters informs her that since she's now in charge of things, she plans on altering the doctor's original therapy techniques; techniques that involved pushing the patients' obsessions to the breaking point until they're forced to snap back into reality. That clearly hasn't been working out and, in fact, may have only worsened things. Reluctantly, Geraldine decides to keep her late colleague's promise of hiring Charlotte and she moves in the same evening. Now it's time to meet the patients...

There's Sam (Bill McGhee), a gentle, child-like black man with the mentality of an 8 year old (caused by a botched lobotomy performed by Dr. Stephens years earlier) who loves playing with toys and sucking on Popsicles and was the previous murdered nurse's favorite patient. But Sam's harmless, amiable personality turns out to be an anomaly at the sanitarium. Vietnam vet Sarge (Hugh Feagin) went crazy after accidentally causing the deaths of some of his comrades, still believes he's in the midst of a war and is paranoid that they're coming to get it. The senile, elderly Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams) suffers from hallucinations, likes to recite cryptic poems and believes that flowers are her children. Sweaty, delusional Judge Oliver W. Cameron (Gene Ross) runs around speaking gibberish legal lingo. Danny Bonaduce look-a-like Danny (Jessie Kirby) is a kleptomaniac who likes to taunt, annoy and pester pretty much everyone. Jennifer Downy (Harryette Warren) is severely withdrawn to the point of catatonia, but does manage to get an extra boost of energy whenever she's given the opportunity to spring out of closets brandishing cutlery.

There's also Harriet (Camilla Carr), a super-protective mother who goes into a rage any time anyone threatens to separate her from her baby (doll) and, rounding out the group of mixed nuts, is Allyson King (Betty Chandler), who has severe daddy issues because her pa died, her stepfather divorced her mom and then she went through a series of bad relationships culminating in marrying a guy who pimped her out and then left her for another woman. Now she's a love-starved nymphomaniac whose hobbies include whipping out her breasts whenever she's in the company of men and raping telephone repair guys in utility closets. Despite the erratic, unpredictable and often violent behavior of the patients, everyone is encouraged to live as a trusting family unit. That means, shared chores, living space and bathrooms between patients and staff, no locks on the doors and full access to pretty much everything there. This, of course, turns out not to be such a great idea.

A series of weird events transpire that soon have Charlotte wishing she'd kept her other job. She almost gets stabbed, the phone lines are cut and the talkative Mrs. Callingham is found with her tongue cut out; something Dr. Masters believes she did to herself. After we become well acquainted with all of the patients, one of them starts killing off the others and hiding their bodies. It takes over an hour for that to happen and none of it – not an eyeball skewered on one of those desktop paper spear things nor a glimpse of necro bedroom activity nor even a moment when one of the patients finally loses it and starts laying into the others with an axe – is all that shocking or shown in what one would consider gory detail. However, throwing all of these crazy and bizarre characters into a murder mystery format does lend a certain unpredictability to the proceedings. Pretty much anyone could be a killer. The amount of talk and the slow pace do eventually take their toll on the film, forcing the director to rush through and sort of fumble the finale, but the movie has another unexpected strength to help carry it through...

One of Brownrigg's strong points, one that most of his fellow regional filmmakers did not possess, was always employing talented local actors and getting good performances out of them. Regardless of how cheap his movie looks, how the location never changes and how there's little in the way of action or excitement, the actors themselves are good enough to keep the proceedings reasonably entertaining. There's not a single cast member here who's not at least somewhat effective in their part. The clear standouts here are the likable McGhee, Ross, who is brilliant at conveying madness using only his eyes (something the director also realizes considering the amount of eyeball close-ups he gives the actor) and, most especially, Weenick, who has the film's most challenging role and does an exceptional job playing it. Weenick; like the director, a veteran of Buchanan's awful movies, was also the production manager. Brownrigg wisely kept most of these people around for his subsequent forays into the genre: Don't Open the Door! (1974), Scum of the Earth aka Poor White Trash Part II (1974) and Keep My Grave Open (1976).

In 2008, a remake was announced and a poster and press materials followed, but the film was never actually made. In 2014, the late Brownrigg's son, Tony Brownrigg, decided to finally make the sequel that his father always wanted to make but never got around to. Titled Id: Don't Look in the Basement 2, the film is finished but still awaiting distribution.

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