Horror Film Review: The Devil’s Hand (dir by William J. Hole, Jr.)


Rick Turner (Robert Alda) has a problem.

Because he’s continually haunted by strange dreams, Rick hasn’t been getting much sleep.  As he explains to his incredibly understanding girlfriend, Donna (Ariadna Welter), the dreams involve a vision of a beautiful woman named Bianca (Linda Christian), who appears to be standing in the clouds while wearing a sheer negligee and calling out to him.

Donna insists that it’s probably nothing but Rick says that, after his last dream, he felt himself being drawn to a doll shop in downtown Los Angeles.  When Rick and Donna go down to the shop, they discover a doll of Bianca sitting in the window.  The owner of the shop, Frank (Neil Hamilton), insists that Rick came in earlier and specifically requested that Frank design the doll so that he could send it as a gift to another woman.  You would think that would upset Donna but she’s more interested in the fact that she’s found a doll that looks exactly like her.

Well, you can probably guess what happens.  Eventually, the doll that looks like Donna ends up pinned to the wall of the shop and Donna ends up in the hospital with a mysterious illness.  Rick manages to track down the real-life Bianca, who greets him in her apartment while wearing the same negligee from Rick’s dreams.  Bianca explains to Rick that she’s been reaching out to him because she wants him to join a cult that worships “Gamba, the Great Devil Dog.”

It turns out that the cult meets in the back of Frank’s doll shop.  Rick attends a meeting with Bianca and discovers that the cult is made up of exclusively of beautiful young women and bland, middle-aged men.  He even gets to witness a near-human sacrifice involving a wheel that’s studded with knives.  As Bianca explains it, Gamba sometimes turns the knives into rubber and then sometimes, he doesn’t.  Gamba’s unpredictable like that.

Bianca explains that Rick can have everything he wants if he just gives his soul over to the Devil Dog.  But what about Donna, who is still in the hospital?

The Devil’s Hand is a low-budget but occasionally effective horror film from 1962.  (Apparently, it was originally filmed in 1959 but it wasn’t released until 3 years later.  Linda Christian later said that she never actually got paid for appearing in this film, as the production company apparently ran out of money during filming.)  Oddly enough, the film opens with extremely cheerful surf music, which leads you to suspect that you’re about to see some sort of weird beach comedy.  Instead, The Devil’s Hand turns out to be a film about a cult operating in the shadows of Los Angeles.

The cult is probably the most interesting thing about the film.  Though the film doesn’t specifically call attention to this fact, it’s hard not to notice that most of the male cult members appear to be either accountants or middle-management types, the type who wear cheap suits and too much cologne.  It’s impossible not to be amused by the idea of a bunch of middle class nobodies gathering in the back of a doll shop so that they can worship the Great Devil Dog.  Neil Hamilton and Linda Christian are both perfectly cast as the leaders of the cult.  Hamilton is properly menacing while Christian seems to be having fun tempting Rick into the darkness.

Unfortunately, Rick’s not a very likable protagonist.  Even though his girlfriend is in the hospital, Rick doesn’t have any problem with going to the horse track and playing the stock market with Bianca.  In short, Rick comes across as being a bit of a jerk and you can’t help but feel that Donna might be better off without him.

Anyway, The Devil’s Hand is an entertaining occult film, one that’s definitely not meant to be taken too seriously.  It’s only 71 minutes long so it really plays more like an extended episode of an old anthology show than anything else.  (It just needs a narrator.)  The story moves quickly and you’ll never forget those accountants in the back of the doll shop.

A Movie A Day #64: Gunslinger (1956, directed by Roger Corman)


gunslinger_posterWelcome to Oracle, Texas.  It’s a dusty little town in the old west.  Marshal Scott Hood (William Schallert) may uphold the law but everyone knows that the town is actually run by Erica (Allison Hayes), the owner of the local saloon.  Erica knows that a railroad may be coming to town so she comes up with a plan to buy all the land around Oracle.  She sends her lackey, Jake (Jonathan Haze), to each landowner.  Jake buys the land then murders the landowner so that he can get the money back.

When Scott is gunned down by two outlaws, his widow, Rose (Beverly Garland), takes over as temporary marshal.  Rose has two weeks until the new marshal arrives but that is just enough time for nearly everyone in town to get killed.  It starts when Rose orders Erica to close her saloon at three in the morning.  Erica loses the epic catfight that follows so she hires her former lover, Cane Miro (John Ireland), to come to town and kill Rose.  Cane is more interested in killing the town’s mayor (Martin Kingsley), a former Confederate who abandoned Cane and his brothers to Union forces during the Civil War.  Even more complications arise when Cane and Rose fall in love.

Roger Corman has described Gunslinger as being his most miserable experience as a director.  He filmed it in six days and it rained for five of them, causing cameras and lights to sink into the mud.  Both Allison Hayes and Beverly Garland were injured during filming, with Hayes breaking her arm after falling off a horse and Garland spraining her ankle while running down the stairs of the saloon.  During the filming of an outdoor love scene, both Ireland and Garland were attacked by fire ants.

Gunslinger is usually savaged by reviewers and it was featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But how can any film be that bad if it features an epic cat fight between Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes?  Gunslinger is proof that Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes were actress who could make something entertaining out of even the least inspiring material. Garland gives a serious, heartfelt performance while Hayes goes all out as evil Erica.  Years before he played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jonathan Haze is intensely weird as Jake. As with many Corman films, part of the fun is watching for members of the Corman stock company, like Dick Miller and Bruno VeSota, in small roles.   Gunslinger may not be a classic but I like it.

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Halloween Havoc!: A BUCKET OF BLOOD (AIP 1959)


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We can’t have Halloween without a good Roger Corman movie, and A BUCKET OF BLOOD is one of my favorites. This 1959 black comedy is a precursor to Corman’s THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and I actually prefer it over that little gem. A BUCKET OF BLOOD skewers the pretentiousness of the art world, the 50’s beatnik scene, and the horror genre itself with its story of nerdy Walter Paisley, a busboy at a hipster coffee house learns making it as a famous artist can be murder!

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Walter’s a no-talent nebbish longing to be accepted by the pompous clientele at The Yellow Door, especially beautiful hostess Carla. When he accidentally kills the landlady’s cat, Walter covers it in clay (with the knife still protruding in poor little Frankie!), and brings it in to work. The grotesque sculpture causes a stir among the patrons, and Walter is congratulated for his brilliant work ‘Dead Cat’. Beatnik…

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Horror on the Lens: Wasp Woman (dir by Roger Corman and Jack Hill)


Today’s Horror on the Lens is the 1959 Roger Corman film, Wasp Woman!

In this film, Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) is the head of a cosmetic company.  When she discovers that her sales are suffering because the public has noticed that she is getting older, Janice does what any dedicated CEO would do!  She agrees to undergo a radical treatment involving the royal jelly taken from a queen wasp.

Do you think this treatment will make Janice look younger?

Or will it lead to her periodically transforming into a monstrous creature?

Or will it lead to both!?

Watch the movie to find out!

Embracing The Melodrama #17: The Shame of Patty Smith (dir by Leo A. Handel)


The Shame of Patty Smith

“The story you’re about to see is true.  It’s happening right now.  The subject is illegal abortions.” — The narrator (Barney Brio) at the beginning of The Shame of Patty Smith (1962)

I began this series on embracing the melodrama by taking a look at one of the most anti-abortion films ever made, 1916’s Where Are My Children?  It, therefore, seems only appropriate that the first melodrama that I review from the 1960s should be a film that argued for the right to legal and safe abortion eleven years before the Supreme Court’s historic Roe v Wade decision, 1962’s The Shame of Patty Smith.

As with many a great melodrama, this film features a narrator.  He informs us that Patty Smith (played by an instantly sympathetic actress named Dani Lynn) is an “average girl with an average life and average dreams.”  One night, while she’s out on a date with Alan (Carlton Crane), she is attacked and raped by three thugs in leather jackets who speak like they’ve wandered over from the set of High School Confidential.  Afterwards, Alan tells her, “Three against one … there wasn’t much I could do…still, it was horrible to watch.”  He follows this up by advising her to “Try to forget about the whole thing.”

When Patty discovers that she’s pregnant, Alan refuses to speak to her and the stress causes her to make so many mistakes at her job that she ends up getting fired.  Not wishing to tell her religious parents what has happened, Patty goes to sympathetic Dr. Miller (J. Edward McKinney) and tells him that she simply cannot have a child.  Dr. Miller tells her that he sympathizes with her situation but, legally, he cannot help her.  All he can do is offer to help her put the baby up for adoption after she gives birth.

With the help of her roommate Mary (Merry Anders), Patty starts to search for a doctor who will perform the illegal procedure.  She manages to find one reputable doctor but he explains that he will need 600 dollars in cash because he could quite literally end up in jail for helping her.  Patty does not have that type of money.

Growing increasingly desperate, Patty eventually does find someone to help her.  This “doctor” (who, the narrator informs us, is actually a former pharmacist) works out of a massage parlor.  From the minute that Patty is picked up by one of the doctor’s associates to the moment that she finally steps into the pharmacist’s filthy operating room, The Shame of Patty Smith takes on the feel of a true nightmare.  For the final 30 minutes or so of the film, the screen is filled with such seediness that you literally feel the need to take a shower after watching it.  Director Leo A. Handel directs these scenes as if he were making a horror film (and, in many ways, he was) and Dani Lynn’s sensitive and frightened performance make these scenes all the more disturbing and tragic.

The Shame of Patty Smith is a real surprise.  Largely based on the title and the fact that Something Weird Video included The Shame of Patty Smith as part of a double feature with You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie!, I assumed that this would be your typical low budget melodrama.  I figured that it might be good for a few laughs and that it might have a few moments of unintentional clarity.

Instead, it turns out that The Shame of Patty Smith is a serious-minded, well acted, and thought-provoking look at one of the most important issues facing America today.  One reason that I found Patty Smith to be such a fascinating film was the fact that it was made before Roe v. Wade.  I think sometimes we hear a term like “back alley abortion” so many times that the words run the risk of losing their ominous power but Patty Smith, in detail that is chilling precisely because it is presented in such a matter-of-fact way, actually takes us into the back alley.  Those of us who were born long after the Roe V. Wade decision are often too quick to take for granted the idea that abortion has always been legaland safe and that it always will be.

A film like The Shame of Patty Smith serves to remind us of how things once were and how they very well could be again.

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