For the past few months, I’ve been attempting to watch and review every film to be found in Mill Creek’s 50 Chilling Classics box set. Here’s are 6 quick reviews of the latest few “chilling classics” that I’ve found the time to watch.
1) Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (Dir by William Beaudine)
This 1966 western/horror hybrid is just about as stupid as you think it is but it’s also a lot of fun if you’re in the right mood. Notorious outlaw Jesse James (John Lupton) attempts to hold up a stagecoach but, in the process, his hulking partner Hank (Cal Bolder) is serious wounded. Some helpful peasants direct Jesse and Hank to the mysterious German doctor who happens to live in a nearby dark and scary house. That doctor is Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and she’s been conducting experiments to bring dead Mexicans back to life. Imagine her joy when the nearly dead Hank shows up at her laboratory. Anyway, Maria performs a brain transplant on Hank and once Hank comes back to life, she informs him that his new name is “Igor.” Yes, she does. That plot description pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie but I vaguely enjoyed vaguely paying attention to it. Maria’s German accent is hilariously overdone, the Frankenstein laboratory is full of pointless electrical things, and a character dies halfway through the film just to later show up again with no explanation. It’s that type of movie.
2) Scream Bloody Murder (dir. by Marc Ray)
So Matthew (played by Fred Holbert) is a disturbed young man who murders his father with a tractor and loses a hand in the process. He’s sent off to a mental asylum for a few years and while there, he’s given a sharp and potentially deadly hook as a replacement for his hand. Seriously, why would you give a weapon like that to a mental disturbed person who has just murdered his own father? That’s just one of the many mysteries that goes unexplored in 1973’s Scream Bloody Murder, an occasionally watchable slice of entertainment that is ultimately too slow and predictable to really be effective. Once Matthew is released from the asylum, he goes on the expected murder spree and goes all Collector-like on a prostitute named Vera (played by Leigh Mitchell, who also plays Matthew’s doomed mother in a clever bit of Oedipal casting). Mitchell and Holbert both give surprisingly good performances and director Marc Ray comes up with a few visually inventive scenes of mayhem but, for the most part, this film never quite lives up to the excessive promise of its premise.
3) Silent Night Bloody Night (dir. by Theodore Gershuny)
Filmed in 1972 and subsequently released in 1974, Silent Night Bloody Night is a real treat, an atmospheric thriller that has a wonderfully complicated plot that will keep you guessing. On Christmas Eve, Jeff Butler (James Patterson) comes to an isolated town to arrange the sell of his grandfather’s home. As we discover through some wonderfully dream-like flashbacks, Jeff’s grandfather died nearly 40 years ago when he was set on fire in his own home. With the help of local girl Diane (Mary Woronov), Jeff investigates his grandfather’s death and discovers that the town is full of secrets and people who are willing to kill to maintain them. Director Theodore Gershuny uses the low budget to his advantage and the sepia-toned flashbacks are truly disturbing and haunting. Ultimately, Silent Night Bloody Night feels like a dream itself and the mystery’s solution is less important than the journey taken to reach it.
4) Sisters of Death (dir. by Joseph Mazzuca)
Technically, this isn’t the best film to be found in the Chilling Classics box set but it’s still one of my personal favorites. The 1977 film opens with a very baroque sorority initiation that ends with one of the sisters being killed in a game of Russian Roulette. A few years later, the surviving sisters are invited to an isolated and lavish estate where it turns out that the dead girl’s father (well-played by Arthur Franz) is looking for revenge. This film is predictable and a lot of the plot depends on people refusing to use any common sense but Sisters of Death is such a fun little melodrama that I can’t complain too much. The film plays out like a surprisingly violent Lifetime movie and it all ends on a wonderfully cynical note.
5) War of the Robots (dir. by Alfonso Brescia)
Whatever you do, don’t watch War of the Robots alone. Seriously, you need somebody there — preferably several people — so you can take turns making snarky comments and rude jokes. Otherwise, you’ll just be stuck watching this amazingly bad science fiction film from 1978 and wondering how much more of it you can take. Set in the generic future, War of the Robots tells the story of what happens when two human scientists are kidnapped by a bunch of robots. Capt. John Boyd (Antonio Sabato) is sent to get the scientists back and the end result? A war of the robots. Or something like that. This is one of those films where it’s difficult to really pay that much attention to what’s happening on-screen. However, it’s worth seeing just for the chance to spot the wires that are enabling the model spaceship to hang over the “alien” landscapes. Naturally, since this film was made in the 70s, everyone wears space suits with really wide lapels.
6) Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (dir. by Paolo Heusch)
First released in 1961, Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory is an Italian/Austrian co-production. It was originally titled Lycanthropus and while Werewolf In A Girls Dormitory is a lot more memorable, it also makes this film sound like a lot more fun than it actually is. This slow and oddly somber film tells the story about a series of murders that occur at a school for delinquent girls. The school’s newest teacher is the obvious suspect but then again, the killer might just be a werewolf. I liked the look of this film — the film is lit to emphasize shadows and it gives the whole thing a very noir-like feel — but, much like Scream Bloody Murder, this movie was just too slow to really be effective.
So, out of this batch of 6, I would definitely recommend that you track down and see Silent Night Bloody Night and Sisters of Death. I would also definitely suggest that you do your best to avoid War of the Robots. As for the other 3, they’re all better than The Wicker Tree.