Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

When I was a kid, my Dad would come home from work and lie down on the living room couch with a newspaper in his hands. If I came into the room a few minutes later, I would often find him asleep, with the newspaper still open. If I spoke, or made a noise, he would wake up and tell me that he was just resting his eyes.

I often wondered how he could be sleeping at 5:30 PM. I would go to bed at 9:30 PM and lie awake reading for hours some nights.

Nowadays, I go to bed much later, after having watched a movie long after I should have been asleep. I still try to read, but often can’t make it through an entire page before I need to give up and turn out the light. During the day, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, trying to figure out what to type next or how to solve an editing problem. And I must admit that sometimes I find myself waking up with a stiff neck, having fallen asleep sitting up with my head hanging down at an awkward angle. I’m never sure how long I’ve been out, but if I didn’t work at home alone I might tell people that I’ve been resting my eyes.

So, the secret to falling asleep during the day might be not getting enough sleep at night. Or it might just be getting older. I’m sure that some combination of the two is what works best for me. I used to laugh at one of my university professors who once said “I don’t know about you, but when I wake up from a deep sleep, I get up, stagger around, and don’t know where I am.” Now, I would simply nod my head in agreement (if my neck wasn’t too sore).

And speaking of waking up from a deep slumber…

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) was Hammer Films’ second attempt to revive the legendary monster first unleashed by Universal Pictures in The Mummy (1932). Unlike most of the monster franchises, like Dracula and Frankenstein, the Mummy movies tend to be about different mummies every time. The original Mummy, played by Boris Karloff, was arguably the best and, unfortunately, only a one-off character. The Universal sequels, such as The Mummy’s Hand (1940) were all about a different mummy named Kharis. They had a very different feel from the original film as well. Kharis was a shambling, stumbling monster who did the bidding of others. And he never spoke. Karloff’s Mummy was intelligent, and much scarier in a way. The Kharis films were still entertaining, but they lacked the creepiness of the first film.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is more related to the Kharis films than Karloff’s. The monster is a mummy named Ra-Antef and, like Kharis, he is a shambling, bandaged figure who seems to be controlled by whoever holds a certain amulet.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is not Hammer’s best film. It’s a little slow to get going, and even features a long sequence recreating (if one can recreate an imagined historical event) the theatrical unveiling of Ra-Antef to an eager crowd. It’s convincing, and interesting, but seems to take forever to get to the point. However, once Ra-Antef starts to bring his own brand of justice to those who violated his tomb, the movie becomes quite entertaining. There are some very effective moments, and one particular entrance that would make Jason Voorhees proud.

In some ways, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a perfect example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. It’s a monster movie from years gone by, which might have played on late night TV back in the 1980s (and probably did). It’s not The Mummy (1932), or even The Mummy (1959) – Hammer’s first foray into the series. It’s one of the less revered sequels, and as such, it would have been right at home on Not Quite Classic Theatre (the much revered TV programme of my youth). They never showed Dracula (1931), but they did show Dracula’s Daughter (1936). If they had bought a package of films from Hammer, I could imagine that this one would have been a part of it.

In any case, I’m glad I finally saw The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), and I would happily watch it again on a future dark and stormy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Gorgon (1964)

I remember seeing Clash of the Titans (1981) in a movie theatre when it was brand new. For those who may not know, this was the last movie to feature Ray Harryhausen’s ground breaking stop motion animation special effects. Ray Harryhausen had done effects for such #NotQuiteClassicCinema classics as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), and, perhaps most famously, Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and the Sinbad movies, beginning with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and including my personal favourite Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). Harryhausen produced Clash of the Titans, which felt like a continuation of what he’d been doing with Sinbad… and Jason…(bringing mythological creatures to life, etc.) and retired (more or less) shortly thereafter. 

By 1981, Harryhausen’s style of special effects were a little old-school next to the likes of the Star Wars movies, but they still had me completely captivated as a kid. Seeing the film again, just a couple of years later, I noticed the difference. But that first viewing was magical. Perhaps the most memorable sequence to me, was the one in which Perseus, our hero, confronts the Gorgon Medusa in her lair. Being a fan of horror movies, even at that young age, I found the portrayal of Medusa, with live snakes for hair, to be delightfully monstrous. Anyone who dared to look directly at her was turned to stone (as evidenced by the collection of stone statues all around her), and that was frightening and exciting all at once. Over the years, i have rarely encountered a cinematic creature more memorable than Medusa.

Over the next two decades, I spent a lot of time in video stores, examining movie boxes and renting as many as seven tapes at a time (thanks to a special deal at Movie Village, my store of choice during and after my university days). I recall seeing the box for The Gorgon (1964) on the shelves, but for some reason I was never moved to rent it. It certainly did not have the effect on me that the box for Vice Squad (1982) had had. I wonder why?

I had loved Medusa in Clash of the Titans, and I immediately recognized her style of snake-hair on the front of the box. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe I felt like I had already seen the ultimate Medusa movie, and I didn’t need to se this one. Or maybe I felt like it was something that I had liked as a kid, but that I had no real interest in now that I was older. Or maybe I noticed that it was a Hammer Film that didn’t feature vampires or Frankenstein and I didn’t see the point in that. Who knows?

Of course, all these years later, the fact that The Gorgon is a Hammer Horror that doesn’t feature vampires or Frankenstein is precisely what makes it interesting to me. And so I watched it, for the first time, last Friday. And the first thing that I must clarify is that it is NOT a Medusa movie after all. It’s about another Gorgon named Megaera. Why? Perhaps because Medusa had been famously killed centuries ago, so how could she be in Europe in relatively modern times turning townspeople to stone? 

But wait! It gets weirder. According to Greek mythology, Megaera is not a Gorgon at all. She is an Erinýe, or Fury. There were three of those, just as there were three of the Gorgons. And the Erinýes also had snakes for hair, so perhaps the filmmakers figured six of one, half dozen of the other. Or maybe it was as simple as the name Megaera sounds a bit like Medusa, and is slightly easier to pronounce than Stheno or Euryale, the actual other Gorgons. Who knows? 

None of this really matters, because The Gorgon is an entertaining monster movie that has more in common with a classic werewolf story than an ancient Greek epic. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I hate spoilers and I think people should experience movies for themselves to get the full effect. Let’s just say that there have been a series of murders in a small European town in the early 20th century. And the town’s doctor, played by Peter Cushing, is covering up the fact that the victims have all turned to stone. Christopher Lee plays a professor and friend of our young hero, Paul (Richard Pasco), who comes to town to help find out who murdered Paul’s brother and father. 

Apparently The Gorgon was the first movie to feature both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee since The Mummy (1959). If that’s true, this film is certainly proof that a reunion was long overdue. They are both excellent, and their performances make The Gorgon (1964) required viewing for all fans of horror, Hammer Films, and #NotQuiteClassicCinema. Either one of those men, on his own, would be a good reason to spend a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. Both of them together make it essential.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962)

My back has been acting up lately. I don’t know why. I recently lost 15-20 pounds so, if anything, my back should feel better not carrying that extra weight around. But then again, I’m no stranger to chronic aches and pains. My neck, my jaw, and my upper back are often stiff and sore at the end of the day.  I’ve even been known to experience inexplicable pain in my left arm (which one can’t help but recognize as a possible symptom of a heart attack). The first time I experienced the arm pain, I went to see a doctor at a walk in clinic.

“Hold your arm like this,” he said to me, placing it in an upright, fist waving sort of pose. He then took hold of it and pulled it toward him. I offered no resistance, so my arm immediately folded over into a straight line.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Don’t let me pull it.”

Oh. Okay. I curled my arm upward until my fist pointed at the ceiling and tightened the muscles as if I was holding onto someone who was dangling off the edge of a cliff. The doctor grabbed my arm with both hands and tried to pull it toward him. He threw all of his body weight into it, and suddenly he was Lou Costello and I was Buddy Baer, or Frankenstein’s monster, or some other immovable person, and Abbott was shouting from offstage “Are you gonna let him get away with that?!”

I should perhaps mention that my Dad introduced me to weightlifting when I was young, and twenty some years later I was still using his old dumbbells to do two or three exercises a day. Hardly a serious training program, but it was a way of adding a little bit of activity to my long hours spent sitting still at a desk.

My arm didn’t budge, and the doctor let go, out of breath. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that arm,” he laughed. Then he got a little more serious. “The only other thing it could be, is your heart,” he told me. “You seem a little too young for that, but we might as well do a test.”

So, the doctor hooked me up to an E.K.G. and tested my heart. When it was over, he approached with a handful of paper. “To me, ” he said “this looks perfectly normal. But I’ll send it to a cardiologist just to be sure. If there’s a problem, we’ll give you a call.”

They didn’t call. But did that really mean I was okay? Or were they just taking their time get ting back to me?

When my arm flared up again a year later, I went back and saw a second doctor. He was able to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my heart. HIs theory was that a tight neck muscle was pinching a nerve which was referring pain to my arm. “It’s probably caused by something simple, like that way you sit at your desk,” he suggested.

This was years ago, and since then I’ve seen a couple of physiotherapists who have given me exercises to deal with various chronic injuries. I’ve also tried to sit in a better way, in a better chair, etc. and I’ve even made myself a standing desk so I can work while standing up. Unfortunately, standing all the time causes other problems, with my feel, knees, etc. So, I try to mix things up on most days.

A couple of years ago, I was given an opportunity to write scripts for a half hour true crime television series. The only catch was I had to write one script on spec, as a kind of audition. If they liked it, they’d pay me for it, use it, and then hire me to write a whole bunch more. I only had a few days to write this demo script, and because it was my “audition”, I wanted to make it as good as I could. So I sat in my desk a lot, writing. I think I sat there for about 18 hours on the last day, not moving until the script was done.

The good news is that the producers loved it. While I waited for them to send me a contract and a bunch of other paperwork, I started my daily routine of stretching and exercising. I had been doing it for over two months, and I was feeling much better.  I had lost close to 20 pounds, and I had not been in pain for weeks.

And then, as I was in the midst of one of the most basic stretches, my back suddenly screamed at me. I could barely get up off of the floor. Once I was standing up straight I felt okay, but trying to get and in and out of a chair was murder. And I had several pieces of paper to print out, sign, scan and send back to the TV producers. I wound up awkwardly signing them against a wall.

To make this ridiculously long story a tiny bit shorter, the back pain stuck around for a few days and then disappeared.

Now, three years later, it’s mysteriously returned . And just like last time, I’ve been exercising and stretching more –  and I’ve recently lost weight!  So, apparently those things are bad for you…

It’s true that, like last time, I’ve also been spending more time sitting at my desk. Perhaps this could be at the root of my problems. But on the other hand, it could be something more sinister…

In Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962), a college professor, who seems to have all the luck, discovers that his wife is a witch, and that she has been protecting him from the evil forces that could destroy his life and/or career. He is, of course, a non- believer, and forces his wife to stop with all her silly, superstitious mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately for him, this is when everything in his life starts to go wrong. Is witchcraft real? The professor, and the viewer, will have to decide before the end of the movie.

I had never seen Burn, Witch, Burn before last friday. It’s a British horror film, not dissimilar to something Hammer might have done. Perhaps a closer comparison could be made to Curse of the Demon (1957), or Horror Hotel AKA The City of the Dead (1960), or even Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in which a husband’s career may be affected by supernatural forces. 

So, perhaps if my inamorata had placed the right charms around our home, my back pain would have never returned, and my last play would have been a smash success…

Who am I kidding? That kind of thing only happened in the 1960s.

In any case, I liked Burn, Witch, Burn very much. I knew right away that I was in horror heaven, when a voice boomed out at me with this warning/disclaimer: “Ladies and gentlemen, the motion picture you are about to see contains an evil spell, as used by practitioners of witchcraft for centuries… ” I believe that this was actually added by the American distributor, American International Pictures, but it loved it.

Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962) made for a perfect #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. Fans of atmospheric, intelligent, black and white, British supernatural horror films (or any portion thereof), should definitely seek this one out. I know I am delighted to have it in my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library, and I will be enjoying it again sometime in the not too distant future.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Torture Garden (1967)

I seem to recall that somebody told me never to watch Torture Garden (1967). He may have gone so far as to say that it was the worst movie he’d ever seen. Well…

Clearly he’d never seen any truly bad movies.

Torture Garden is a well made movie, with good actors, good production values, etc. It is not even in the same category as the “worst movies ever made”. I could name a few titles that might be contenders, but no matter which ones I choose, there will be someone out there who will say “But I love that movie…”. And I will most likely nod my head and say “So do I.”

I am a connoisseur of “bad movies”. I have friends with whom I watch movies, and we often refer to our marathons as “bad movies nights”. But this does not mean that we judge all of the movies we watch to be “bad”. Often we discover movies that we quite like; lost gems from the video fringes and bargain bins of yesteryear. Sometimes a movie is objectively “bad”, but it is 90 minutes of pure entertainment. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is often called “the worst movie ever made”, but it is actually quite fun to watch. This raises the question: If a movie if entertaining, can it truly be called bad?

          

One of my favourite movie review books, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, gives Plan 9 From Outer Space three stars (on a four star system). On the same page he gives Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me (1971) three stars. These movies are at opposite ends of the spectrum, quality-wise, but O’Neill gives them the same rating. He calls Plan 9… a “grade Z masterpiece” and notes that it is “a lot funnier than many intentional so-called comedies.” A lot of books would give Plan 9… zero stars, or half a star, and dismiss it as a “bad movie”. I admire O’Neill’s approach, which I think is more useful. Incidentally, O’Neill also gives Torture Garden three stars. One might be tempted to think he gives all movies three stars, but I can assure you that this is not the case.

Torture Garden is an entertaining horror anthology by Amicus Productions, the British film company that specialized in horror anthologies (Tales From The Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973), etc.), It is written by well known author Robert Bloch, most famous for writing Psycho. All of the stories in Torture Garden involve an element of the fantastic; something that could be described as “far fetched”, if one was particularly inclined to stick with realism. I could imagine that this might be why some people would say Torture Garden is  a “bad movie”, or in fact “the worst movie” they have ever seen.

But that’s complete nonsense, isn’t it? Good movies can be made from ideas that are utterly absurd. I can think of a few personal favourites that if someone had pitched to me before they were made, I might have said “How the hell is THAT going to make a good movie?” The idea, or concept, isn’t always the most important thing. A composer friend of mine was once looking for an idea for a new musical. He wanted it to be “perfect”, so he kept running ideas past me and asking what I thought. Most of the time I would say “That’s an idea that could work.” Eventually I said “Look, it doesn’t matter what IDEA you choose. The trick is just to pick something and work hard to MAKE it good.” Who would have thought that a musical about cats would be a monster success (not withstanding the new movie adaptation which some people are calling “the worst movie they have ever seen)?

Torture Garden (1967) is not the worst movie I have ever seen. I enjoyed it – perhaps all the more for having been warned away from it once upon a time. The fact that some people feel it’s horrendously bad makes it #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema and the perfect addition to a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Curse of the Voodoo aka Voodoo Blood Death (1965)

Curse of the Voodoo aka Voodoo Blood Death (1965) is a movie I used to see on video store shelves.  When I found a copy in a bargain bin on my recent travels, I was unsure if I’d ever seen it or not. I’ve looked at the box so many times over the years that I could convince myself that I’d rented or bought it at some point in the past. But seeing as it was 75% off the already low cover price, I decided to give it a try.

It was completely new to me, and considering that it only gets a 3.0 on the imdb, it’s a pretty slick little movie with good performances from some serious British actors ( Dennis Price, Lisa Daniely, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, etc.). To be honest, I was expecting a no-budget piece o’ crap that would have played as a second or third feature at drive-ins. Curse of the Voodoo is more like a low-rent Hammer film, and deserves a higher rating than 3.0. 

Perhaps it’s the subject matter that causes many people to dismiss it. Movies about voodoo, and/or African safaris, run the risk of portraying antiquated racial stereotypes – and I’m sure Curse of the Voodoo contains it’s share. Incidentally, I’m not convinced that this movie actually has anything to do with voodoo. It’a about a British hunter who kills a lion (which is considered a god to an African tribe called the Simbazi) and may or may not be cursed because of it. It’s a psychological horror story, mostly set in England.

Considering the public outrage when an American hunter killed a protected lion a few years ago, this movie could serve as a cinematic salve for those who wished to see the hunter punished – like a good vigilante movie can calm the nerves of those angry about rampant crime waves.

Curse of the Voodoo aka Voodoo Blood Death (1965) is not a perfect movie, but it would have totally fit in with the B-horror films I used to see see on late night TV, and so l welcome it to the realm of #NotQuiteClassicCinema.