31 Days of Horror: The Velvet Vampire

Vampires go with everything. You cannot think of a genre where vampires would be ill-suited. There have been vampire war movies, science-fiction films, rom-coms, outright comedies, and there’s even a Dracula ballet production. Even with that in mind, however, if you had me assemble a list of the top five things I’d never expected to see in a vampire film, “dune buggies” might not be #1, but it’d be there somewhere. After watching The Velvet Vampire, however, I’d be embarrassed for my narrow-minded thinking.

The Velvet Vampire is a production from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, so right off the bat you know where we’re headed. That the copy I saw was distributed by Cheesy Pictures helped drive this truth home like a stake through the heart. Nevertheless, it’s movies like The Velvet Vampire that I subject myself to watching 31 horror films every October. There’s some gems out there, even if they’re rough as a bloodstone found in an abandoned mine, which make me glad I undergo this yearly ordeal.

The film concerns Diane LeFanu (true vampire fans’ ears just perked up there), a vampire who dwells in a remote if lavish home in the desert outside of Los Angeles. While in L.A. getting a bite to eat, she meets Lee and Susan, a married couple attending a showing at the Stoker Gallery (perked ears there again). Lee is clearly smitten by Diane, much to Susan’s annoyance, and gladly accepts an offer for the two of them to stay at her home for the weekend. On the way to her house, the couple’s car breaks down, forcing them to remain with the (unknown to them) vampire and her servant, Juan, while awaiting repairs. Diane doesn’t waste time putting the moves first on Lee, than on Susan, causing tensions to rise and the audience to wonder who, if anyone, will live through the weekend.

The Velvet Vampire is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is bloody fun. Diane is played by Celeste Yarnall, who nerds of a certain age and interest will remember as Yeoman Martha Landon from the original Star Trek series. Lee and Susan are played by Michael Blodgett, who was reportedly drunk throughout the entire shoot, and Sherry Miles (aka Sherry E. DeBoer), who had her dialogue coach on set with her through the entire production, but you certainly wouldn’t guess that. Poor Sherry is tasked with playing a badly-written role—Susan has more mood swings than a playground and changes her mind faster than a pit crew changes tires—and she doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it off. But, as I mentioned above, the film does feature a dune buggy and lots of driving around the desert in it. You can’t get more 1971 than a dune buggy, so I’m along for the ride, even if it ends up at the grave of the vampire’s husband out at the old burying ground.

The ending of the film is worth the ride. It is one of the most WTF moments in film I’ve ever witnessed. Without going into details, I found myself asking deep questions as a former denizen of Los Angeles. Namely, “If some random stranger ran up to me and gave me a crucifix, would I be down for one weird ass flash mob?” Because that’s the only way to explain the film’s climax.

Despite the wackiness and poor acting along the way, I’m giving The Velvet Vampire three skulls out of five (3/5) and can see myself revisiting this one again the next time I need a bad film fix that’s enjoyable rather than tortuous. If you’re of a like mindset, check this one out.

Dark Shadows Sidebar

Episode 276   

The episode opens with a repeat of the previous episode’s ending. Willie tries to dissuade Jason McGuire from opening Barnabas’ coffin in search of the jewels he believes are inside. When Willie finally washes his hands of the matter, Jason is rewarded with the iron grip of Barnabas Collins around his throat. Cut to opening credits.

We return to find a dead Jason McGuire slumped behind Barnabas’ coffin. The vampire takes Willie to task for potentially endangering him by bringing McGuire down to the basement while he slumbered. Willie protests that he had to and knew Barnabas would soon awaken so was in no danger. The vampire promises to deal with Willie later, but first they must remove McGuire’s body to somewhere no one will ever find it. Willie shrinks at the idea of touching his friend’s corpse, a fact that Collins’ chides him for. When Willie asks if Barnabas ever had a friend who died, Collins is reminded of someone for whom he cared greatly and who died very young. Willie is struck by how Barnabas sound almost…”Human?” the vampire finishes the thought for him. Barnabas commands his lackey to help with the body and the two lug the corpse of Jason McGuire up the stairs, leaving his cap behind. Once gone, the ghost of Sarah Collins appears, picks up the hat, and places it atop the coffin, the faint sounds of “London Bridge is Falling Down” played hauntingly on the flute as she does so.

At Windcliff Sanitarium, Dr. Woodard, the Evans family doctor, is consulting with Dr. Hoffman about Maggie Evans. Maggie, formerly a prisoner of Barnabas Collins as part of his scheme to transform her into Josette, is believed to be dead by most of Collinsport—a gambit concocted by Maggie’s father Sam Evans and Dr. Woodard to protect her from the as-yet unknown parties who kidnapped her. Dr. Woodard wants to show Maggie a sketch of Sarah, hoping that it will jar her out of the metal fugue she’s been suffering from since her escape from the Old House. Dr. Hoffman is opposed to the idea, fearing it might cause Maggie to suffer a setback, but Dr. Woodard is adamant. When Maggie is brought into the office, she’s shown the sketch and, after an initial moment of not recognizing Sarah, suddenly gasps out her name.

Dr. Woodard presses Maggie for more information, but doing so sends her into hysterics. She begins singing “London Bridge” and repeating the rhyme that Sarah taught her to help her escape the Old House basement cell (resulting in Maggie being dragged back to her room chanting “Lock her up! Lock her up!” a phrase which has much different connotations in 2022 than it did in 1967). Dr. Hoffman is angry at Dr. Woodard, but he insists that this is the first step in Maggie regaining her memory and solving the mystery of who kidnapped her.

Meanwhile, Barnabas and Willie have carried McGuire’s corpse to the Collins family tomb with the intention of hiding it in the secret room, a place that hasn’t been discovered in 200 years. Willie buries McGuire in the floor and the two remove themselves from the hidden chamber. Outside, in the tomb proper, Barnabas has second thoughts of burying McGuire in the family crypt, a place set aside for the Collins’ eternal rest. He recalls his family, including his father and mother, along with his sister Sarah, who perished at the age of nine. Willie guesses that Sarah was the friend he spoke of earlier and Barnabas affirms this. He recounts that he mended her doll the day before she died and she perished holding the doll in her hands. The two then depart the tomb, only for Sarah to appear. She takes a seat atop her coffin, cradling her precious doll in her arms.

31 Days of Horror: The Black Water Vampire

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A group of young filmmakers goes into the woods to shoot a documentary about a number of gruesome murders that took place there. Along the way, they discover mysterious symbols marking the trees, experience something brush their tent in the middle of the night, become lost, have an argument over a map, one of them mysteriously vanishes, and are then never heard from again. All that remains to mark their trip is the footage they shot along the way. Oh, but this time around it’s a vampire, not a witch.

As the above strongly suggests, The Black Water Vampire is not just a found footage horror movie inspired by The Blair Witch Project’s success, but guilty of stealing the superior film’s entire structure. Nothing says being on the bleeding edge of filmmaking than aping a 15 year-old movie most of your audience has already seen.

I’d provide a more detailed synopsis, but if you’ve seen The Blair Witch Project, that’s entirely unnecessary. The Black Water Vampire features a cast of four people, rather than three, takes place during the winter, and spends slightly more time in civilized parts before venturing out into the woods. Otherwise, you’re not going to find much in the way of new ground in this one. The film is more competently done and the acting of a better quality than a movie from say The Asylum, but there’s not much going for it other than that. If you’re not a fan of found footage movies, this one isn’t going to change your mind. If you are, just rewatch The Blair Witch Project instead of spending 82 minutes on this one.

While not an utter train-wreck, the lack of creativity means The Black Water Vampire earns a paltry one-and-a-half skulls (1.5/5). I’m hoping this isn’t an omen for the rest of the month’s viewing.

Dark Shadows Sidebar

Episode 275

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard lies abed in the nebulous state between the waking world and that of dreams. Her mind wanders, frantic to know the fate of her daughter Carolyn, who fled when she learned that her mother supposedly killed her father 18 years ago. The truth has come to light that Mr. Stoddard faked his own death, but Carolyn is unaware of this. Elizabeth, although now free of the guilt that left here chained to Collinwood for nearly two decades, cannot rest until she learns where Carolyn is.

Carolyn returns to the mansion after spending the night walking and thinking. Rousing her mother, she apologizes for fleeing, saying that she should have known that any act her mother did was to protect the family. Elizabeth is shocked that Carolyn feels the need to apologize to her and the two reconcile. Carolyn learns that her father may still be alive, out there somewhere, and that Jason McGuire has been given 24 hours to leave Collinsport or be arrested.

Speaking of McGuire, we return to the Old House where Jason has just broken in. As he searches for the jewels he knows are present, he’s discovered by Willie, who tries to convince McGuire to leave the house before Barnabas discovers him. Jason is not going to be dissuaded until he gets what he came for and strong-arms Willie into revealing the jewels are in the basement—along with Barnabas Collins. When Jason seems intent to venture down into the cellar to get the jewels, a desperate Willie tries to dissuade him, going so far as to reveal that Barnabas isn’t alive. “He’s dead, but he walks around at night,” Willie attempts to explain. McGuire refuses to be taken for a fool and heads downstairs to search for the jewels.

McGuire discovers Barnabas’ coffin in the basement as an increasingly frantic Willie tries to warn him of the danger he’s in. Willie produces a handful of jewels, stating they are extra pieces Barnabas wanted him to sell. “Take these and leave,” he begs McGuire, but McGuire wants all the jewels. Willie declares the remaining jewels are bricked up in the cellar wall and there’s no time to retrieve them before Barnabas discovers the two men. McGuire believes this to be another ploy to prevent him from finding the jewels and that they must be hidden in the coffin. He pries open the lid…and the icy-cold hand of Barnabas Collins latches around his throat as Act Four draws to a close!

31 Days of Horror: Count Yorga, Vampire

The calendar page has turned and we once again stand on the threshold of a fresh October. That means one thing: it’s time to brush the dust off this blog and delve into another installment of “31 Days of Horror!”

I began the tradition some years ago of watching 31 different horror films throughout October and providing brief, hopefully useful and humorous, reviews of each film on social media. That yearly celebration has since moved to this blog, starved for content as it is. The rules of 31 Days of Horror are simple. I try to watch 31 frightening films before November 1st arrives, with the stipulation that they can’t be movies I’ve seen before. There’s usually an over-arching theme to each year’s choices, and 2022is no exception. I try to watch one film a day, but sometimes life gets in the way and I have to catch a double-feature here and there to get caught up. Last year, I didn’t finish in time, but did manage to complete the challenge before the New Year arrived. Let’s hope I do better this time around.

The theme for this year’s 31 Days of Horror is vampire movies. On the one hand, this might be challenging, because I’ve seen A LOT of vampire movies over the years. On the other, however, there’s A LOT of vampire movies out there, being one of the simplest horror films to make. All you need is some fangs and red food coloring and you’re all set. When it comes to horror movies, my tastes run towards the vintage, preferring films from the 1960s and 1970s over more modern fare. Luckily, this time period saw a boom in vampire films and I haven’t’ quite drank that vein dry yet. Expect Jean Rollin to make at least two appearances before the month is through.

Given both this year’s theme and my predilection for the 1960s and 1970s, I’m including a bonus feature this time around: the Dark Shadows Sidebar. Dark Shadows, the seminal gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971, has long been on my “must watch list.” But with 1,225 episodes, it’s a bit of an undertaking. I’ve worked my way through a small portion, but I’m still in the black and white era. Hoping to make headway and because they’re short, I’ll be watching an episode of Dark Shadows each day during October to help speed me along my journey through Collinsport.

OK, are we all clear on what this is all about? Let’s dive in then with Movie #1: Count Yorga, Vampire!


The year is 1970 and a suspiciously coffin-shape crate arrives at the Port of Los Angeles. After a meandering drive through the City of Angeles, the box arrives in a mansion in the hills overlooking L.A. Count Yorga has arrived and all Caucasian, somewhat affluent people,  beware!

We first meet the Count as he leads a séance for a trio of couples as they attempt to contact the spirit of one woman’s mother. Donna has recently lost her mom, who had been dating Count Yorga at the time of her death (from pernicious anemia, of all things). When Donna goes into hysterics during the séance, the Count calms her with hypnosis—while also inserting hypnotic commands into her subconscious—despite the protestations of Donna’s boyfriend, Michael, and friends Paul and Erica. Order then restored, Count Yorga departs the party (“I believe I brought a cape.”), driven home by Paul and Erica. At the gate to Yorga’s home, the bestial Brudah, who I’m fairly certain is related to Torgo from Manos: the Hands of Fate, greets his master, and the Count invites the pair in for a drink. Paul wisely declines, but unfortunately their VW microbus gets mired in the one patch of mud in the entire Los Angeles area as he and Erica attempt the drive home. Their efforts to free themselves unsuccessful the couple decide to have some “adult time,” only to be disturbed by a fanged Count Yorga rapping on the microbus’ window. Paul is knocked out before he gets a look at his assailant and Erica strangely can’t recall any details of the attack. The following day, suffering from blood loss, Erica visits Doctor Jim Hayes, who finds some strange sediments in her bloodstream. And with that, we’re firmly in low budget Dracula knock-off territory, with Erica playing Lucy, Donna as Mina, and the bumbling men folk as the bumbling men folk. Can they thwart Count Yorga and save Erica and Donna from his insatiable thirst? My money’s on “unlikely.”

Count Yorga, Vampire began (un)life as The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire! and is still sometimes credited that way. The Loves of Count Iorga was intended to be a soft-core porno, but somewhere along the line the decision was made to go for outright horror. Honestly, I think this was the right call as it’s much more enjoyable as a bad horror film than it would have been as an earnest soft-core skin flick.

The somewhat seedy origin of the movie is visible throughout. There’s not much budget up there on the screen and most of the cast was never heard from again. The plot is laughable at times, but I honestly can’t say for certain how much of that was intended and how much was accidental. Our fearless vampire killers aren’t the most cunning of hunters (their initial plan to destroy Count Yorga involves making him stay up past his bedtime by failing to take the host’s hint it’s time to go home). This might be a conscious decision by the writer and director—the same person in this case—to underline these are modern people trying to wrap their heads around an antiquated superstition come to life. These are people who don’t even own a crucifix, after all. Their less hunting their quarry than flailing around in the dark, hoping for results.

Count Yorga is played by Robert Quarry, who has a string of low budget sci-fi and horror films on his CV. Quarry is actually quite good when the script allows him to be. He’s delightful in the film’s final act as he lords over the bumbling hunters who’ve come to kill him about how utterly they are out of their depth. Yorga goes so far as to ask to see one of their stakes, made from a chair leg, then return it to him as a gesture of their impotence. I can’t say much for the rest of the cast aside from there being a distinct resemblance between actor Michael Murphy (who’s still working today) and a very young Ron Pearlman.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Count Yorga, Vampire. I’m a bit of sucker for any vampire film that takes place in the greater Los Angeles area, so I was half-sold from the moment I saw the Port of Los Angeles sign. The film is entertaining enough and it got a few laughs out of me, which is perhaps not what the cast and creator was hoping for. I won’t be revisiting the Count anytime soon, but I found it amusing enough during our time together to give it 2.5 skulls out of 5 (2.5/5)

Dark Shadows Sidebar: Episode 207

Jason McGuire’s scheme to blackmail Elizabeth Collins Stoddard into marriage is thwarted when it comes to light that Elizabeth did not in fact kill her husband Paul Stoddard 18 years ago. Despite Elizabeth’s promise not to press charges against McGuire, the conman is given 24 hours to leave Collinsport for good. Robbed of the fortune he expected to be his as Elizabeth’s husband, Jason heads out the Old House on the Collins Estate, hoping to finagle funds out of his old partner-in-crime Willie Loomis. Arriving at the rundown manor, he overhears Willie and the vampire Barnabas Collins plotting.

Having failed to brainwash Maggie Evans, a local waitress, into assuming the identity of Josette du Pres Collins, Barnabas’ long-dead lover, the vampire has chosen a new vessel to transform into Josette. The first step of this new scheme is to ply the unnamed target with choice pieces from Josette’s jewelry chest. McGuire spies the jewels as Barnabas selects the first piece and quickly decides his money woes are over.

Cornering Willie outside of the Old House, McGuire threatens to reveal Willie’s role in the abduction of Maggie Evans and expose the plot to brainwash the new Josette (who Willie believes will be Victoria Winters, the Collins family governess) unless Loomis steals some of the jewelry for him. Willie begrudgingly agrees to do so and the two con artists plan to meet at noon at the Blue Whale, Collinsport’s favorite bar down by the wharf.  

As McGuire waits for Willie to meet him, Victoria Winters comes to the Blue Whale looking for Carolyn Stoddard, last seen when she learned her mother purportedly murdered her father. Carolyn fled before it was revealed that Paul Stoddard is still alive, and Victoria has been seeking her all around town. McGuire attempts to talk things over with Vickie, but she wants nothing to do with him. Never one to let another get the best of a conversation, McGuire drops hints that he might know something about Victoria’s past and identity, facts that even Vickie doesn’t know (and setting us up for a plot line to come, I’m sure).

Willie arrives and is eager to depart, but McGuire forces him to sit down and give him the stolen goods. Rather than the hoard McGuire expected, Willie hands over a single broach, claiming that was all he could steal without Barnabas noticing. McGuire is enraged and decides to take matters into his own hands. The episode closes with McGuire breaking into the Old House, utterly unaware he’s entering into a vampire’s lair…

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: The Devil’s Rain

My sole criteria for “31 Days of Horror” is that they have to be movies I’ve never seen before. I’m slightly cheating with the final film in this year’s marathon. I have seen the end of this one, catching maybe the last 15 minutes of it once in college. That was enough to tell me it was a stinker, but I figured “In for a penny…” and I might as well subject myself to it in its entirety. Besides, it fits right in with this year’s theme of black magic, Satanism, and witchcraft movies.

The movie I speak of is The Devil’s Rain (1975), a film that stars Earnest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, AND John Travolta. I mean, how could you not watch a movie with that level of talent across the board?

The movie’s plot concerns a book that once belonged to the witch and Satanic high priest, Jonathan Corbis (Borgnine), but was stolen from him 300 years ago by one of his coven members in an attempt to save the soul of a loved one (at least, that’s what I think was going on). The descendants of that thief have guarded the book ever since, but now Corbis is really putting the screws to them. Mark Preston (Shatner) decides to test his faith against Corbis’ in an attempt to rescue his mother and father from the priest’s satanic clutches, but that doesn’t pan out too well. Next thing you know, Mark’s brother, Tom (Skerritt) gets the call his whole family’s gone missing and runs to help along with his wife, Julie (Joan Prather) and his friend Dr. Sam Richards (Albert). Can they stop the cult before they unleash the Devil’s Rain (or something)?

The Devil’s Rain was summed up succinctly by Australian film reviewer Michael Adams who called it “the ultimate cult movie”: “It’s about a cult, has a cult following, was devised with input from a cult leader, and saw a future superstar indoctrinated into a cult he’d help popularize.” The cult leader Adams refers to is Anton LaVey, the notorious and very publicity-minded founder of the Church of Satan, who served as a technical advisor on the film and has a small role along with his wife. The future superstar is a reference to Travolta and his well-known connection to Scientology. Travolta was purportedly introduced to Dianetics by co-star, Joan Prather, during filming, leading to his eventual association with the Church of Scientology.

Despite the high potential for sheer camp enjoyment, I found The Devil’s Rain to be an utter mess, even more so than the last 15 minutes of the movie which features lots and lots of melting people shuffling around in the rain. I swear, the movie isn’t even 90 minutes long and they still had to pad it out with shot after shot of eyeless faces running like a box of Crayola crayons left atop the space heater. The Incredible Melting Man didn’t have this much melting in it.

The joy I did get from the movie was entirely unintentional. Corbis’ cult members all lose their eyes when they join up, leaving black sockets in their place. This gives them the appearance of wearing Halloween masks. At the risk of spoilers, Shatner ends up an eyeless cult member, so he looks exactly like Michael Meyers from Halloween given that the iconic “The Shape’s” mask was based on a Captain Kirk mask. I chuckled, anyway. I’ll take what I can get here.

Unintentional Michael Meyer’s cameos notwithstanding, The Devil’s Rain is a real slog through the mud and deserves only 2 skulls out of 5. I was hoping for so much more, but I got exactly what I expected.

That wraps up this year’s 31 Days of Horror (delayed). I managed to squeak in the final film before the ball drops and 2022 is upon us. If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience and I hope you do check out some of the titles I subjected myself to this time around. I’ll be back in about 10 months with another 31 Days of Horror.

Happy New Year, everyone!

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: In Search of Ancient Mysteries

This is not a horror movies and would ordinarily be outside the scope of my yearly marathon. However, it is firmly in the area of 1970s weirdness that I focus on around these parts and it’s been sitting on my watch list for a while now. It technically deals with aliens, so that makes it horror-adjacent and good enough for my purposes here.

In Search of Ancient Mysteries (1974) was a TV movie special produced as a sequel to In Search of Ancient Astronauts, which aired the previous year. With titles like these, you might think they’re inspired by the writings of Erich von Däniken …and you’d be right. Cashing in on the success and public interest in the ancient astronaut theory Von Däniken documented in his book, Chariots of the Gods, these two specials cover the same material: Was Earth visited long ago by beings from the stars?. These specials in turn proved popular, popular enough to launch the TV series In Search of… starring Leonard Nimoy.

But before we get that far down the road, we’ve got to make it through In Search of Ancient Mysteries. Narrated by Rod Serling’s dulcet tones, we are treated to a lot of globetrotting on a quest for unexplained oddities and inexplicable disappearances. All the highlights are hit: Peru, Mexico, Greece, the Bimini Road, the Bermuda Triangle, the Nazca Lines, etc., with each being offered up as evidence of mysterious, vanished cultures that might have been alien colonies in humanity’s distant past. I truly dig this kind of woo-woo pseudo-archeology. I don’t believe a lick of it, but I do find it comforting, strangely enough. It conjures up memories of a very young me staring at the wooden-sided color TV my parents owned, sitting far too close to the screen and drinking up every last bit of this stuff. That nostalgia is the very reason this blog exists, so I can’t throw too much shade around here.

There’s nothing particularly innovative offered up by In Search of Ancient Mysteries. By now, it’s all common knowledge if you pay any attention to this bunk. Nevertheless, grainy 1970s footage of crumbling ruins, the Bimini Road, and Flight 19 makes me happy on some deep, innocent level of my psyche. For that, I give In Search of Ancient Mysteries 3 and a half skulls out of five. Deduct 2.5 skulls if you’ve got no interest in this material and/or didn’t grow up as an impressionable 1970s’ child.

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: Demons of the Mind

I’d never heard of this one before I stumbled across it on Prime Video. The film’s description read “A physician discovers that two children are being kept virtually imprisoned in their house by their father. He investigates, and discovers a web of sex, incest, and Satanic possession.” How can you go wrong with that?!

Demons of the Mind (1972) is a Hammer production starring B-movie stalwart Patrick Magee as the somewhat shady Dr. Falkenberg. Dr. Falkenberg comes to the estate of Baron Zorn to treat his children, Emil and Elizabeth, both of whom have various issues. Trailing along in his wake is Carl Richter, a young former doctor who met Elizabeth in Vienna where she was undergoing treatment. Richter isn’t convinced there’s anything wrong with Elizabeth and suspects she may be suffering from the projected psychosis of her father, who believes the Zorn bloodline is tainted with madness. While this is all going on, young women keep going missing in the forest around the Zorn estate, leaving the villagers (and the audience) wondering who’s responsible for these crimes.

Demons of the Mind starts off on an interesting note. I thought we were going into psychedelic territory with the movie. There’s little dialog in the few several minutes of the film as Elizabeth is brought home, drugged to keep her calm, and she watches the world pass by the family coach. Here POV shows the world a trippy landscape of soft focus and a warbling soundtrack. Flashbacks intrude, breaking up the chronological order of what we’re seeing, leaving the viewer uncertain of what is occurring and when. It would have been a more interesting film if the movie leaned further into this. Instead, the narrative becomes more traditional soon thereafter and we’re treated to a standard gothic tale of suicide, madness, and murder.

The movie has some interesting touches, like Dr. Falkenberg’s hypnosis device or the “Carrying out Death” ritual in the village. Michael Horden plays a wandering priest who seems half-mad, yet might be serving a higher purposes and the sub-plot involving him makes for entertaining viewing. Originally, Marianne Faithful was cast as the role of Elizabeth, but was recast when the insurance company balked at backing the film with Faithful involved. One wonders what we might have gotten with her in the role.

Demons of the Mind is an average film that could have been much more had it shown a bit more bravery. As a middle-of-the-road movie, I award it the middle-of-the-road score of 2 and a half out of 5 skulls. Check it out if you’re a Hammer completionist or you’ve got nothing to do on a rainy afternoon.

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: The Spell

As I watched this evening’s movie, I grew curious as to what year Carrie was released. Checking IMDB, I see it debuted in 1976. That made a great deal of sense, because this film clearly owes a great deal to Stephen King and Brian de Palma.

The Spell (1977) was a TV movie featuring the story of Rita, an overweight and unpopular high school student who develops supernatural powers and begins seeking revenge on those who made fun of her. The Spell’s writer claims to have not seen Carrie while writing the screenplay, but even if this is true, the parallels between the films makes it impossible to watch The Spell without thinking of the superior de Palma movie.

The film hangs itself heavily on the hexploitation of the 1970s, including not only witchcraft but a roving parapsychologist who gives us the usual breakdown of psychic energy for those in the back. Rita’s powers seem to rely more on the occult than the psychic, making her at least a little different than telepathic Carrie White. Another difference is that Rita revels in her power, finally finding something that makes her stand out from her peers in a (to her mind) positive way instead of one to be mocked for.

I’ll give The Spell this: the young actors both give fine performances, which isn’t always the case with less experienced child stars. Rita is played by Susan Myers, who had an otherwise undistinguished acting career, appearing on TV series and a minor role in Revenge of the Nerds. She shows real pathos as Rite, even as we watch her become corrupted by her own power and her desire to be unique. Rita’s sister, Kristina, is played by Helen Hunt, a name familiar to most readers, I’m sure. Hunt turns in a deft performance for such a young age and it’s no wonder she went on to have a long and varied career.

Despite the Carrie comparisons and its TV movie origins, The Spell was better than I’d expected. It’s not going to be on anyone’s Top 10 list, but it’s both enjoyable and a relic from the time when TV movies were a television standard. These two factors earn it a score 3 out of 5 skulls.

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: Tales that Witness Madness

I’m really, really running out of anthology films so it’s a good thing we’ve only got four more movies in this year’s marathon. This evening’s installment, however, doesn’t come from the studios of Amicus Productions, but could easily be mistaken otherwise. Instead, tonight’s film is from the good folks at World Film Services, who’ve done nothing else you’ve heard of. Can they compete in the world of horror anthology films? Time to find out!

Tales that Witness Madness (1973) uses the roughly the same wrapper story as Asylum: A person arrives at a mental hospital, in this case Dr. Nicholas, to speak with the institution’s director about several patients. This film’s doctor is Dr. Tremayne, played by Donald Pleasence (who seems to be prepping for his role as Dr. Loomis in Halloween a few more years in his future). Dr. Tremayne has claimed to have solved the cases of four patients and takes Dr. Nicholas on a tour of the facility. Along the way, we’re introduced to each patient and discover their cases all have paranormal elements—if Dr. Tremayne (and the short films shown as flashbacks) are to be believed.

Case #1 is that of Paul, a young boy whose imaginary friend, “Mr. Tiger,” seems to have killed and eaten his parents. Case #2 is Timothy, who may have been transported back in time on a penny farthing bicycle with unfortunate consequences. Case #3 is that of Mel, who developed unnatural affections for the curious dead tree he brought home, ones which the tree appears to have reciprocated. The last case is that of Auriol, who hosted a lavish Polynesian-themed dinner party with murderous results.

Tales that Witness Madness simply isn’t as strong as the Amicus films, but it’s not a terrible movie. The last two shorts are by far the best, with Mel’s vegetative sweetheart having solid folk horror vibes. The luau film is definitely a product of its time, with actors in brownface playing Polynesians and some far from politically correct exoticism tainting the movie. I will admit, however, I got a lot of personal enjoyment responding to every invocation of the god Mamalu by doing my best Ricky Ricardo “Babaloo!” Try it at home and see how it works for you.

While somewhat weak, the movie still entertains. It’s the worst of the anthology movies I’ve watched this year, but the bar was set pretty high by The House that Dripped Blood. In my opinion, Tales that Witness Madness earns 2 and a half skulls out of 5 on the old skull-o-meter, making it film worthy to pass the time with, but not one you’ll likely revisit.   

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: The Skull

I kept seeing this one on my recommended movies suggestions and avoided it like the plague. I had it confused with The Screaming Skull (1958), a film that turned up on MST3K if that’s any indication of its quality. Upon closer examination, I saw Peter Cushing’s name, a man whose become the iconic figure of this year’s movie marathon, listed among the credits so I gave it a chance.

The Skull (1965) in question is that of the Marquis de Sade and the acquisition and subsequent consequences of obtaining it form the plot. Stolen from the Marquis’ grave—and the Marquis, himself, really—the skull quickly does in the hapless, grave robber phrenologist who stole it, then vanishes into the world of occult antiquities. We’re introduced to this world some years later at an auction where frenemies Christopher Maitland (Cushing) and Sir Matthew Philips (Christopher Lee, naturally) are competing for a quartet of diabolical statues. Phillips succumbs to a strange trance-like state during the bidding, paying far more than Maitland can afford—and more than the statues are worth. Something is clearly amiss. After the auction, seedy occult antiquities dealer Anthony Marco approaches Maitland, offering to sell him the skull of the Marquis de Sade. Maitland later learns the skull was stolen from Phillips, but he’s in no hurry to reclaim his property. It appears the skull vanishes on the night of the new moon, the time when satanic powers are at their height. Despite the warning and a death or two, Maitland acquires the skull and is soon facing off against the demonic powers of the dead de Sade—or perhaps the demon who possessed him.

The Skull is an Amicus production, albeit not one of their anthologies. It’s a solid film and it’s always good to see Cushing and Lee sharing scenes together. I did have some trouble engaging with the movie, but I suspect that was because it was the third film I’d watched that day as I tried to wrap up my marathon before the year’s end. I’d like to return to it in the future when I can focus more on what’s happening and less on the clock counting down.

Despite the distractions, I still enjoyed the movie enough to give it 3 out of 5 skulls. Or maybe that’s 4 out of 6 skulls if we’re including the Marquis’ in the tally. In any case, this film is heads above Gallery of Horrors, but that’s not saying much at all.

31 (Revived) Days of Horror: Torture Garden

Once more it’s back into the Amicus Productions catalog for another anthology film. We’re treated to some familiar names and faces when we enter the Torture Garden (1967)!

As with the rest of the Amicus anthologies, Torture Garden consists of four films plus a wrapper story. This time, the wrapper tale is the sideshow of Dr. Diablo (played by a delightful Burgess Meredith). The cast also includes Jack Palance and Peter Cushing (of course), and is directed by Freddie Francis, who also helmed other Amicus features like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull, as well as Hammer’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

The four stories involve glimpses into the possible futures of the unfortunate souls that stay behind to witness a Dr. Diablo’s special sideshow attraction: a wax doll of Atropos, the Fate that severs your life line. These are cautionary tales, intended to give each person a chance to turn away from their evil ways.

The first tale concerns a spendthrift playboy who tries to chisel money out of his uncle, only to discover the high cost of his uncle’s fortune: appeasing a diabolical cat. The second short is about an aspiring Hollywood actress who learns the secret means some stars use to stay on top of the marquee, a method that comes at a steep price to one’s humanity. The third movie, maybe the weirdest, is about the doomed love triangle between a concert pianist, a journalist, and a piano. The final film sees Jack Palance and Peter Cushing as rival collectors of Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia and examines the lengths some people will go to in order to collect the rarest pieces of a famous person’s life.

Torture Garden is a solid entry into the Amicus anthology series. All four films are quite fun, with the second and fourth episodes being my favorite. Watching Burgess Meredith and Jack Palance devour the scenery is always a treat, especially given they’re playing against more staid British actors. I happily award Torture Garden 3 and a half out of 5 skulls, keeping the lovefest for Amicus films flowing this year.