Archive for Barbara Steele

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Barbara Steele, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, European Horror, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Gothic Horror, Italian Cinema, Italian Horror with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965) bbbtcposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

First of all, this movie has one of the greatest titles in the horror pantheon.  Come on, who wouldn’t pay good money to see TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)? There’s gonna be terror, creatures of some sort, and possibly some graves.  This title is up there with some of Al Adamson’s best movie monikers, like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970) or BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  Fortunately, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is a much better film than anything Adamson ever attempted, and there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that unbelievable title.  TCFTG is one of many European gothic horror films that found their way across the pond.  These movies, made with little money but lots of imagination, were often stylish and bizarre.  The women were beautiful and possessed only costumes with plunging necklines.  The heroes were strong-jawed, masculine men with hair all over their bodies.  The doctors were all mad.  The castles (of which Europe has in large quantities—hurray for cheap locations!) were always decaying.  And the zoom lens was quite often hyperactive.  It was as if France, Spain, England, and especially Italy were attempting to out-Hammer Hammer Studios.  Sometimes, they did, but often they fell short.  Still, they were dripping with gothic atmosphere and sheer spookiness.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE has an ace in its pocket, however, as it stars the lovely Barbara Steele, Queen of Euro-horror and the main attraction of such other films as BLACK SUNDAY (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (1975), and the original PIRANHA (1978).  Her face was all ice-queen, innocent one minute and warped with wickedness in the next, with cheek-bones that could cut glass.  She often played more than one part in these films: the good sister and the bad or the burned witch and the woman she later possesses.  And she could pull it off!  She had a sort of otherworldly look to her that prevented her from becoming a true box office star, but she could work those horror movies (and the fans) like nobody else, becoming a cult figure later in life.  She’s still working, too, having just starred in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM (2012), an Italian/U.S. co-production that is a disturbing psychological horror film.

Anyway, Barbara Steele is fabulousness personified, and if you’ve never watched her movies, go and rectify that immediately.  Now, on to today’s feature presentation, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE!

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Filmed n gloriously moody black and white, we don’t even have to wait five seconds before we get our first fast camera zoom!  A man having a drink in a tavern sees a hand outside the window (Zoom in on that hand!), and he dons his hat and coat and rushes outside into the streets of some unnamed village circa 1920 or so.  He stumbles to his horse, and the animal decides it doesn’t like him any longer, rearing back and kicking the man in the face, opening up his skull in a gruesome scene. 

As credits roll, so does a man driving a primitive automobile to a decaying castle (natch), Villa Hauff.  This is strong-jawed, young attorney, Albert Kovac, played by Walter Brandi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR,-1965, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, 1960, CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1962…oh the sheer joy of those titles!).  He greets the daughter of the deceased Dr. Hauff, Corinne, played by the lovely Mirella Maravidi (I KILL, YOU KILL, 1965).  Albert has been sent for to look over Dr. Hauff’s will, and he isn’t even disturbed that the man is now dead…or by the box of disembodied hands in the foyer!  The daughter takes him to her step-mother, the doctor’s second wife, Cleo, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele.  She informs him that Dr. Hauff has been dead for a year after falling down the stairs.  So, who sent the message to Albert’s office?

A storm comes out of nowhere, and the attorney is invited to spend the night until the weather breaks.  The women are at the villa to transfer Dr. Hauff’s corpse from his grave in the ground to the family crypt, per the dead man’s wishes.  It turns out the good doctor was a practitioner of the black arts, a kind of sorcerer.  And the villa was erected on the ruins of a fifteenth century hospital where the victims of the plague in the area all died after having their hands cut off so they couldn’t spread the disease. 

Before going to bed, the attorney finds a recording from the doctor all about the plague victims that were buried in the garden.  He also claims that he’s summoned the victims from their graves and now he is among them.  Corrine bugs out, claiming she’s seen her father walking the hallways.  Mom, however, doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calms her down a bit. 

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

The next morning, Albert finds that an owl has flown into the engine of his car and destroyed it (What? Does this happen often in Europe?).  During the day, Albert falls for Corinne, Corinne freaks out several times, seeing her father stalking the countryside, and various villagers shake their heads and mumble about the anniversary of Hauff’s death.  The village’s new doctor is murdered, discovered by Corinne and Albert (who don’t seem very worried about it).  The coroner states it is a case of heart failure, even though there are long scratches covering the man’s face and acid burns on his cheeks.  The villagers believe anyone who was present at Hauff’s death (such as this new doctor) is marked to die.  Sure enough, three of the five people who were in the house when Hauff tumbled down the stairs have died mysteriously.  The fourth person on the list of witnesses is murdered and felt up by a pustule-ridden rotten hand.  There is a fifth witness signature, but it’s illegible.  Who will be the fifth victim of the Hauff Curse?

Albert, still hanging around after two days without a client, is present for the disinterment of Dr. Hauff’s corpse.  The gardener opens the casket, revealing an empty grave.  Cleo, wearing one fabulous hat, is stunned by the revelation.  Albert figures out that the fifth name on the list is his boss, who was busy and didn’t come to the Villa Hauff when summoned.  Only, now he really is coming to the moldering manse.  When the attorney, Morgan, shows up, he is instantly attacked by Hauff.  Only, nobody else sees it!

When night falls, all the secrets behind Dr. Hauff’s mysterious death will be disclosed.  Passions will be ignited, and the handless plague victims will rise from their graves to avenge the doctor’s name while unleashing a virulent new strain of the plague.  It’s a creepy, surreal finale that does include terror, graves, and creatures!  Will anyone survive?

Only—if the plague victims’ hands were chopped off and displayed in the foyer—then why do they have hands when emerging from their graves? 

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is full of spooky atmospheric touches like a maid with her own secrets, cobwebbed corridors, violent thunderstorms, curses, a mute gardener, sweeping music, one eerie song about pure water, odd dubbing, elaborate sets, and creepy sound effects.  Despite the effectiveness of the movie, the director, Massimo Pupillo (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) didn’t like the end product, so the film was originally credited to producer Ralph Zucker.  In a weird twist, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE played on a double bill in America with BLOODY PIT OF HORROR!  Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic night at the drive-in?

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE isn’t the best Euro-schlock-horror to be made in this period – it’s no BLACK SUNDAY – but it’s an eerie little film, buoyed by terrific atmosphere and the wonderful Barbara Steele. 

I give it three owls in engines out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

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Meals for Monsters: SHIVERS (1975)

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, David Cronenberg, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Parasites! with tags , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SHIVERS (1975)
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

Considering his output for the past two decades, it’s easy to forget David Cronenberg was once the undisputed master of anatomical horror.  Before his more cerebral exercises like SPIDER (2002) and A DANGEROUS METHOD (2011) or his action movie dabbling like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and EASTERN PROMISES (2007), he made a career out of scaring his audiences with images of our flesh gone horribly wrong.  SHIVERS (1975, a.k.a. THEY CAME FROM WITHIN), his first feature, was a unique exploration into these fears, and was a sign of his greatness to come.

In urban Canada, an apartment complex stands alone on an island, an insulated haven for its residents.  There is an on-site store, dry cleaners, even a medical center.  They never have to leave, if they don’t want to.  It’s the perfect environment for Dr. Hobbs to conduct his latest experiment—a parasite that will rid humans of (what he believed to be) their false pretenses of civility, and bring out our basest instincts for pleasure.  This parasite was supposed to remain contained to one girl—his sixteen year old lover.  However, the parasite is spread sexually, and she has started the epidemic.  One by one, the residents are infected, becoming thoughtless hedonists themselves.  And, as each becomes a sex-crazed zombie, they spread the infection on to new victims, and the rate of infected multiply.  Can the one doctor stop the parasite before the entire complex falls victim?

SHIVERS is different from most horror films, because there is no killer.  People aren’t fighting any great monster or psychotic murderer, but rather their own base instincts and desires.  And what’s more frightening: losing your body or losing your soul?

That’s really a question that only the individual can answer for themselves.  All I know is a movie that steeped in the id deserves a delicious, indulgent meal with perhaps one or two aphrodisiacs.  After all, why should mindless nympho Canadians have all the fun?

Two things that can increase the libido are champagne and strawberries.

CHAMPAGNE AND STRAWBERRY COCKTAIL

Make sure the berries are very ripe (almost to the point of being over-ripe), and smash them in a bowl.  Add a couple scoops to the bottom of the glass and fill with sparkling wine.  As you drink, the bubbles will help break down some of the strawberry, mixing it in with the beverage.  After the liquid has been drunk, the berries are even tastier after absorbing a bit of the alcohol.

The main course is where you can really fill your loved one full of mood-enhancing foods.  Some of the most popular (and perhaps most effective) are asparagus, pomegranate and scallops.  They can become a fun, wonderful meal.

SCALLOPS WITH POMEGRANATE AND WINE SAUCE

Cook a batch of plain white rice.

In a small saucepan, combine ¾ cup rose wine (such as white zinfandel), a cup and a half of pomegranate juice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil, and continue to boil at medium heat for twenty minutes.  Just before serving, whisk in ¼ cup butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Season scallops (I used smaller bay scallops, but the large sea scallops will work fine) with salt.  Sauté in olive oil until opaque.  Place on a bed of the rice.  Top with a few spoonfuls of the sauce and thinly sliced fresh basil.

For the asparagus:

Rinse the asparagus and break off the tough, woody bottoms.  Wrap them in bunches of six or seven with a slice of prosciutto.  Sprinkle with a little bit of red pepper flakes. Roast in a 375 degree oven for about fifteen minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy. There is no need to add salt, because the prosciutto is salty enough, and since the fat renders off with cooking, you will not need to add oil or grease the pan.

For dessert, one of the most popular aphrodisiacs for women is chocolate.  Home-made truffles may sound difficult but are surprisingly easy.

HOME-MADE TRUFFLES

Put chocolate chips in a small bowl (any kind, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, even white chocolate works fine).  Heat heavy cream over medium-low heat until just before boiling.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate a little at a time, stirring until the chocolate is melted and the cream is incorporated (it should take between ¼ and ½ cups for your standard size package of chocolate chips).  If it cools before the chocolate is completely melted, microwave for fifteen seconds at a time.  Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator until just set.  Roll the chocolate into balls (this is a VERY messy step, so if you are planning on making this a hot date, you might want to prepare these before putting on your nice shirt).  The truffles can then be rolled into any number of coatings.  I used cocoa powder and chopped pecans, but coconut flakes, rainbow sprinkles, even bacon bits can be delicious.  Keep the truffles refrigerated until serving.

SHIVERS was an amazing directorial debut, and a perfect introduction to the “body horror” Cronenberg would build his career on.  By the time he got to such masterpieces as VIDEODROME (1983) and DEAD RINGERS (1988) he had nearly perfected his sense of style and dread.  It’s a damn shame he seems to have moved away from terrors of the flesh.  If we’re lucky, he’ll come back to the genre.  But in the meantime, at least we have SHIVERS and a tasty meal to keep us going.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel