devil's partner (charles r. rondeau, 1961)

This is the seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 7 is called "Hades' Choice Week":

What the Hell?!

Alt. take: Beelze-busted!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film prominently featuring the Devil.

Junk, but watchable, if only barely. If you and a couple of friends made this movie and showed it to your other friends, they would likely be amazed that you were able to pull off an actual feature film. But the competition isn't home movies, it's movies like Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea, with which Devil's Partner was released as part of a double-feature. Devil's Partner is competent, but it completely lacks any of the goofy fun that Corman regularly turned out. This can happen when both of your screenwriters are making their debuts as writers (neither ever wrote another film). Director Charles R. Rondeau was a prolific television director whose five feature films were nondescript.

The plot has an unlikeable old man dying mysteriously in a small town, after which his nephew turns up and insinuates himself into the community. He's up to no good, and soon lots of people are dying in unusual ways (being chased down and stomped by a horse is particularly silly). Rondeau and company do what they can to hold things together ... as I say, it's a competent movie, it just lacks anything beyond that basic competence. The acting is decent, with a couple of recognizable faces (Ed Nelson, Edgar "Uncle Joe" Buchanan). Still, as is often the case with such movies, the best thing is that it's only 73 minutes, so you won't be wasting too much of your time.


the raven (lew landers, 1935)

This is the fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 5 is called "Universal Monster Week":

The originators of the form here in American horror, the Universal Monster series offers up...scares? Well, they used to, anyway. For the most part, they're now fun novelties to look back upon and maybe even poke fun at if you're into that sort of thing.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Universal Monster movie.

There are a couple of Universal Monster films that are legit classics ... for me, the two James Whale/Boris Karloff pictures Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein top the list. There are other good ones, and at the least, Universal provided a base that ensured even the lesser pictures were OK. The Raven is one of those lesser movies, and to be honest, it's only borderline OK.

The plot is silly, designed solely to stuff the name Edgar Allan Poe into the picture. Bela Lugosi plays a deranged doctor with a Poe obsession, and that's pretty much the extent of Poe's influence on the movie.  Lugosi's doctor has recreated some of the torture devices featured in Poe's stories, most notably one from "The Pit and the Pendulum". Boris Karloff plays an escaped murderer who, via silly plot shenanigans, is forced to do Lugosi's billing (the doctor has a name, but face it, the characters are essentially "Lugosi" and "Karloff"). Some of the frights are scary enough, and the movie only lasts a minute longer than one hour, so it's not a burden to watch it. But Lugosi's hammy overacting is worse than usual, overshadowing Karloff's usual touching portrayal of a monstrous person. There is nothing here to excite anyone other than Universal completists.

 Other Challenge choices included The Incredible Shrinking Man.


creature feature: the giant claw (fred f. sears, 1957)

As often happens with crappy movies like this, the trivia is more interesting than the movie. So I should mention a couple of things that didn't suck about The Giant Claw. The acting by leads Jeff Morrow and cult fave Mara Corday is decent. Some of the dialogue (writers were Samuel Newman and Paul Gangelin) is OK ... at one point, it sounds like outtakes from To Have and Have Not. Fred F. Sears does what he can with the low budget, which was pretty much his best talent as a director.

But that budget! The title monster is as ludicrous as any seen in 50s sci-fi. The legend is that Ray Harryhausen was intended to do the monster effects, until producer Sam Katzman decided to pay $50 (!) to a Mexican model maker. The resulting marionette elicits laughter every time it appears. (One of the trivia points of the film is that Morrow saw it in his hometown, but left before the movie ended because the crowd kept laughing at the monster and he didn't want to be recognized ... Wikipedia adds that "he allegedly went home and began drinking"). One standard way to save money on these films is to use stock footage, and Katzman certainly does this. But he also uses footage from other movies. The IMDB lists Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe as source material. Not to mention the general similarities to Rodan.

On a personal level, the best thing about The Giant Claw is that my wife picked it. I've been watching crappy Creature Features on Saturday afternoons for 60 years, but she usually rolls her eyes at the idea. So I was happy to watch this one, since I don't get too many opportunities to enjoy a Creature Feature with my wife.


creature feature: the curse of frankenstein (terence fisher, 1957)

The film that introduced Hammer Films to horror. British television star Peter Cushing played Baron Frankenstein, Christopher Lee was the monster, and Hazel Court began her career as The Queen of Scream (although she had been in movies for more than a dozen years), setting the standard for Hammer heroines, big screams and big cleavage (Court's autobiography was called Horror Queen). Frankenstein is far more the center of this film than is the monster, and Cushing is as good as anyone has been as the Doctor. Lee is hampered by his makeup, which was created shortly before shooting began, looked cheap (albeit ugly enough), and didn't give Lee much chance to draw our sympathy the way Karloff did.

The biggest problem with the film is that the first half, wherein Frankenstein works to perfect his ability to create life, is kinda boring. It was a big hit in its day ... some attribute this to its being in color, thus letting audiences get a better experience when watching the gore. As you might expect, the gore, however shocking it was in 1957, barely raises an eye today.

There's nothing really wrong with The Curse of Frankenstein. The acting is good, and for such a low-budget film, it has an attractive look to it. But all in all, nothing special.

The quick shot of Peter Cushing looking into the magnifying glass brought this scene instantly to mind:


creature feature: the skull (freddie francis, 1965)

Amicus Productions came out of England in 1962, but it was founded by Americans. Their horror films are a lot like Hammer, probably on purpose. The Skull is directed by Hammer stalwart Freddie Francis and stars Peter Cushing and, in a smaller role, Christopher Lee. It is based on a short story by Psycho novelist Robert Bloch, "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade", and the title of that story pretty much explains the plot. After his death, the Marquis' skull is stolen from his grave, and it carries with it an evil that travels across time to the present day (I was surprised when people in The Skull turned on lights and rode in cars ... I didn't realize we'd moved past the 19th-century prologue).

The whole thing is loony nonsense, but Cushing effectively makes us believers, at least for the 83-minute running time. (Even at 83 minutes, The Skull is stretched thin ... there's a lot of filler.) Francis gives us some ingenious looks, in particular some shots from a point-of-view inside the skull. While the effect of the skull floating ominously in space sounds silly, it's actually effectively scary. The music is by Elisabeth Lutyens, an interesting figure of some note. She was a composer of some repute, and the first woman to score a British film.

None of the above raises The Skull much beyond the norm for 60s horror, but it's reasonably entertaining.


creature feature: strait-jacket (william castle, 1964)

Not all Creature Features are the same. This one stars Joan Crawford, and that right there is a big difference from the norm. It wasn't the only time Crawford worked in the "Psycho-biddy" (aka Hag Horror) genre. In fact, she was there at the beginning, in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? While they weren't psycho-biddy, her last two movies were called Berserk! and Trog. Point being, Crawford gives Strait-Jacket some star power, but the end of her career stuck her in several similar pictures.

The screenplay was by Robert Bloch, who wrote the novel on which Hitchcock's Psycho was based. Beyond Crawford and Bloch, though, the key figure in Strait-Jacket was the legendary producer/director William Castle. Castle was best known for his promotional gimmicks, which he gave names to: "Emergo", "Percepto", "Illusion-O". "Percepto" was used for The Tingler, one of the stupidest movies ever (the title character was a parasite attached to human spines that emerged whenever someone was really scared). Stupid, yes, but the gimmick was classic: at some theaters, a vibrating device was placed under some seats, and when, in the movie, a Tingler escapes in a movie theater, those seats vibrated. The odd thing was, growing up and watching these movies on TV, minus the gimmicks, they were still enjoyable.

Strait-Jacket was relatively low-key in this context: audience members were given cardboard axes as they entered the theater.

As for the movie, Crawford gives her all, even managing on occasion to avoid the kind of hammy overacting you expect from a camp picture like this. She doesn't embarrass herself, and that's probably all we can ask. An uncredited Lee Majors makes his first big-screen appearance. Diane Baker is fine as Crawford's daughter. Crawford had a lot of control over the movie ... she made sure to stick a six-pack of Pepsi in one scene, and the man who plays her doctor in the film was non-actor Mitchell Cox, who was a Vice-President at Pepsi. Other than completists, I don't know that fans of Crawford need to see this, but fans of William Castle will enjoy it, if they haven't already seen it.


creature feature: abbott and costello meet the mummy (charles lamont, 1955)

People who have never seen it probably don't believe that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a good movie. By a happy coincidence, Universal had Abbott and Costello under contract and all those Universal horror characters needing a new outlet. So you take the two comedians, toss in Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein's monster, toss in Lenore Aubert as a femme fatale, and voila! They had the original Wolf Man, Lon Chaney, Jr., reprising his classic role. And most notably, Bela Lugosi made only his second (and last) appearance as Dracula. There were some classic A&C skits, and the scares were actually real. And Abbott and Costello were still in the prime as one of the most popular comedic duos around.

This set off a series of "Abbott and Costello Meet" movies. There was Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, and Meet the Invisible Man, and Meet Captain Kidd, and Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Meet the Keystone Cops.

Which takes us to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. It was the last picture they made with Universal, and their next-to-last movie, period ... Lou Costello died in 1959.

It wasn't very good. The Mummy was played by stuntman Eddie Parker, and he wasn't scary. The other stars were people like Michael Ansara and future Mel Cooley Richard Deacon (he wasn't scary, either). Marie Windsor livened things up a bit, and the last fifteen minutes or so are fun in a frantic way. But Bud and Lou look tired. In the credits, their characters are listed as Pete Patterson and Freddie Franklin, but during the film, they just call each other by their actual names, as if it didn't really matter (it didn't). The whole thing plays like a Crosby-Hope-Lamour Road movie, only a weak one. Peggy King popped in for a song, and in an incongruous moment, there's a giant lizard of some sort (it wasn't scary, and the special effects weren't special).

So it's easy: if you have a hankering for something like this, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is out there. Don't bother with The Mummy.


creature feature: the curse of the werewolf (terence fisher, 1961)

Decent Hammer film, but no more than that. Oliver Reed plays the title character ... he only got second billing, though, and was paid only £90 a week. Of course, he doesn't even turn up until halfway through the movie, so maybe the billing and the paychecks were appropriate. Probably the most interesting other person in the cast was Anthony Dawson, who was a bad guy in 3 of the first 4 Bonds, twice as Blofeld.

This is the only werewolf film made by Hammer Studios. It was also the first werewolf film to be shot in color. It looks OK, as most Hammer films did. As I said about The Brides of Dracula, "the Hammer films were a step above the usual" for late-night Creature Feature TV shows. But this fact, plus the presence of Oliver Reed (who admittedly makes a good werewolf), don't make The Curse of the Werewolf into a good movie. It drags, especially during the first half, and characters that seem important disappear later in the film. Worst of all, the film takes place in "Spain", so while everyone speaks with a British accent, their names are Don Alfredo and Leon and Christina Fernando. Once in a while, someone calls someone "Señor," and it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.


what i watched

Quite a mix of things over the last few days, so I'm stuffing them all into one post.

Julius Caesar. We've enjoyed watching our friend Arthur over the years in various plays, but since he moved down south (more jobs!) we only get to see him when he gets a spot on a TV series. So it was fun to watch a production of Julius Caesar by the Evergreen Theatre Collective, which was shown live on Facebook, with Arthur as Marc Antony. The production was quite inventive in using the quarantine effectively, with the cast showing up on the mosaic screen we've all gotten used to in the Zoom-meets-COVID era. Caesar was cut to fit a running time of about 90 minutes, but continuity was always clear. Arthur kicked ass on Antony's famous orations ... as I said, he is the first person I know who played a role previously done by Brando. Caesar was played by an African-American woman, which gave a different spin, more because it was a woman than because she was black. We knew we would like seeing our friend, but the entire production was quite good. [edited to add YouTube video of performance]

Ivan the Terrible, Part II (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1958). I had watched Part I ten years ago (Ivan the Terrible, Part I), which is to say, I didn't remember much of what happened in that earlier film. I read up a bit and then jumped into Part II. Eisenstein had planned a Part III, but it never happened. He finished Part II in 1946, but the Party didn't like it and it wasn't released. Eisenstein died in 1950, Stalin in 1953, and the film was finally released in 1958. Part II is magnificent to look at, and Prokofiev's score was great, but for me, everything was static. Eisenstein loved his close-ups and his montage, but in this case, I was unimpressed. #228 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

One section of the film is in color, and this dance vibrates with movement. (When you click on the video, you'll be asked to watch on YouTube.)

Creature Feature: The Little Shop of Horrors (Roger Corman, 1960). Has there ever been a more apt example of sublime-to-ridiculous? From Shakespeare and Eisenstein to Roger Corman. This is the original quickie that later spawned the musical. The making of the film has become legendary over time, and who knows what is true and what is exaggeration? The budget was $30,000, give or take a few grand. They shot it in 2 1/2 days, give or take a day. Corman saved money by making full use of Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the screenplay ... Griffith also appeared on screen in two different roles, did the voice for Audrey Jr., and managed to get his grandmother, his father, and other relatives in the picture. Jack Nicholson has a brief role as a pain-loving dental patient. Is it any good? For as cheap as it was to make, sure, it was good. It has become a cult classic, certainly worth a view if you've never seen it and have 72 minutes to spare. But I wouldn't go overboard.


creature feature: curse of the demon (jacques tourneur, 1957)

I'll let the IMDB explain the variations in the versions of this film:

This film exists in three English language versions: (1) The original British release under the title "Night of the Demon," (2) Columbia's edited version for release in the U.S. under the title "Curse of the Demon" and, (3) over 20 years later, Columbia replaced their edited U.S. version with the original British version but with the title also changed to "Curse of the Demon."

I watched the TCM version, and their explanation is more detailed, but ultimately ironic:

One last comment about Curse of the Demon: the film has existed in two versions ever since its release in 1957. The British release, entitled Night of the Demon, had a running time of approximately 95 minutes. The U.S. version, released as Curse of the Demon, was trimmed by some thirteen minutes, reducing its length to 82 minutes, and placed on a double bill with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), a Hammer horror production.... The trim 82 version is certainly an entertaining funhouse ride but the "fat" that [American producer Hal E.] Chester pared away makes the original British release a much richer and satisfying experience.

I call this "ironic" because TCM seems to be arguing in favor of the British original, but the version they showed was the U.S. one.

This was nonetheless probably appropriate for the nostalgia angle of watching Curse of the Demon in 2020. I'm sure I saw it more than once as a kid, and the version I saw was certainly the American edit, so TCM did me a favor.

Curse of the Demon is a decent picture with some pedigree. Director Jacques Tourneur had done such pictures as Out of the Past and I Walked with a Zombie. Dana Andrews had appeared in Oscar winners like The Best Years of Our Lives and Laura. Peggy Cummins was great in Gun Crazy. The production design was by Ken Adam, at the beginning of a career that included two films with Kubrick, seven Bond movies, and two Oscars.

All of which helps lift the movie above the usual Creature Feature. It's on a par with The Revenge of Frankenstein. But it is nowhere near the level of an Out of the Past. The demon looks silly, and Tourneur didn't want to show it anyway (he was overruled by the studio). It's a low-key thriller, better than some but not really a classic. #753 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, which is nonsense.