Glenn DelRossi is a home video nerd and recluse cinephile. You can find him on both Twitter and Instagram: @GWDelRossi
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Amicus Productions is often remembered as Hammer Films major competition and for their portmanteau horror turnout from the 60s and 70s. Often forgotten and neglected are the studio's standalone horror films. The Skull, helmed by famed cinematographer, Freddie Francis is a wonderful example of 60s British horror filmmaking and can stand tall among even the most well regarded of Hammer films. Starring noted Hammer alums, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the plot revolves around the skull of the notorious Marquis de Sade and the evil power it possess. Keep an eye out for the wonderfully delirious skull point of view shot I affectionately call “Skull-O-Vision”
This second film adaptation of the work of H. P. Lovecraft first appeared in the U.S. on an AIP double bill alongside Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. And while this film can't hold a candle to what I and many others consider to be one of Bava's masterworks (just look at its influence on Alien) I have no problem lauding Die, Monster, Die! as a worthwhile venture into Lovecraftian cinema. Starring a wheelchair bound Boris Karloff nearing the end of his career, the old man still packs a punch with his performance and overall onscreen presence. A gloomy country manor in the middle of a scorched land devoid of life is our setting and once you find out what Karloff has created in the greenhouse your head will spin.
Italy's output of monochrome gothic horror that appeared in the wake of films like Riccardo Freda's I Vampiri and Mario Bava's Black Sunday are a wonderful discovery for those of us genre fans who love the ghostly atmosphere of crypts and castles. Another staple of those films however is not simply the cobwebs and torture dungeons, it is a particular actress of note, Barbara Steele. Her unique dark beauty is truly entrancing.Just as in Black Sunday, here we are given a double dose of Steele's talents. In this case with her portrayal of stepsisters. Throw in a haunting score from the maestro Ennio Morricone and you have a formula for cinematic success.
Here we have the black sheep of this list. Before I had discovered and acquired a taste for the Italian spaghetti westerns I was a huge fan of the American western genre and as a result found myself enamored by the legendary John Wayne. The pinnacle of American toughness and grit. This film reunites Wayne with Dean Martin who six years prior had teamed up for Howard Hawk's masterpiece Rio Bravo. The story revolves around the four sons of Katie Elder who find themselves reunited after their mothers death and their struggle to finally do their mother proud. A great supporting cast includes James Gregory, George Kennedy, and Dennis Hopper. You won't find any controversial message hidden beneath its surface, just a well told 100% U.S. Grade A Western.
Coming full circle we arrive back with Amicus Productions and Freddie Francis. In this case we are looking at one of their portmanteau films, in fact their first. A collection of five tales of terror, the film utilizes a typical yet well crafted wraparound segment featuring the titular doctor portrayed by Peter Cushing. The nefarious doctor is traveling on a train with five men. Most notable among them Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland. With the help of tarot cards one by one he begins to foretell their futures, none of which are very pleasant. While not all of the stories are the pinnacle of horror filmmaking I do find at least three of the five are worth it. And that’sthe beauty of horror anthologies. If one doesn’t strike your fancy just hold on because another tale is right around the corner. Christopher Lee and Michael Gough star in a particularly gruesome tale involving a disembodied hand out for revenge.