The Flesh and The Fiends 1960
Flesh and the Fiends is a 1960 British horror film directed by John Gilling. The movie is a fictionalized account of the real-life Edinburgh murderers, Burke and Hare, who infamously sold corpses to medical schools in the 19th century.
The film follows Dr. Robert Knox (played by Peter Cushing), a respected anatomy lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Struggling to acquire enough cadavers for his anatomy classes, Dr. Knox becomes involved with two grave robbers, Burke (George Rose) and Hare (Donald Pleasence). Instead of just robbing graves, they escalate to murder to provide fresh bodies for Dr. Knox’s dissections.
As the duo’s gruesome activities continue, they become increasingly brazen and careless. Suspicion grows in the community, and an investigation is launched to uncover the source of the bodies. The film delves into the moral dilemmas faced by Dr. Knox as he turns a blind eye to the origins of the corpses and the increasing brutality of Burke and Hare’s actions.
Flesh and the Fiends is a dark and atmospheric horror film that explores themes of moral corruption, the consequences of desperation, and the ethical boundaries of science. It is known for its chilling portrayal of the Burke and Hare story, with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence delivering memorable performances. The film’s unsettling and macabre narrative makes it a notable entry in the horror genre.
Frogs is a 1972 American International eco-horror film directed by George McCowan who was prolific in made-for-television movies and TV series. Frogs is set in a remote and swampy area in the American South, where a wealthy and environmentally insensitive family gathers for Independence Day celebrations at their island mansion.
The film opens with a poetic sequence featuring Sam Elliott gliding through the swamp in a canoe, capturing photographs of the wildlife. As the exquisitely framed scene unfolds, the landscape initially appears serene, but soon, the camera reveals the grim sight of polluted water and scattered refuse.
The story follows Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott), a nature photographer and environmentalist who has come to the island to document the local wildlife on Crocket Island. After he is thrown from his canoe by a speedboat manned by Clint Crocket (Adam Roarke) and his beautiful sister Karen (Joan Van Ark) they come to his rescue and get him out of the lake. Clint apologizes and offers Pickett a chance to dry off back at his family estate. Finding Karen charming, he agrees to go back with them. Once there, he meets the cantankerous patriarch, Karen’s grandfather, Jason Crocket played by a now bilious and paunchy Ray Milland who has since had his share of cheap exploitation and horror flicks. He torments the family with a tyrannical iron fist. Gathered around are guests who have been invited to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Among the partygoers are Clint’s wife Jenny (Lynn Bordan) and son and Jason’s other son Michael (David Gilliam). There’s eccentric Aunt Iris played by Hollis Irving, cousin Kenny, and his girlfriend Bella (Judy Pace). They all dread spending time with Jason but they also all stand to inherit some of the family fortune one day when the old bastard finally kicks off. As Jason Crockett announces arrogantly “We are the filthy rich!”
Picket soon discovers that the island’s ecosystem has been dangerously disrupted by pollution and pesticides used by the family. The delicate balance of nature is upset, and as a result, the island’s animal population, led by an army of aggressive frogs, begins to revolt against the human intruders.
As the eerie and deadly attacks by various creatures intensify, the family members and their guests find themselves in a fight for survival against the relentless and vengeful forces of nature.
Grover, one of the family employees suddenly goes missing somewhere in the woods and this infuriates Jason, not to mention he’s got a bellyful of frogs. Pickett offers to go search for Grover and try and figure out what is inciting the frogs to overrun the place. He pokes at Jason that the island’s wildlife, including the frogs, reptiles, and insects seem to be rallying their forces against the Crocket family… and their tradition of not giving a damn about the environment, polluting it, poisoning it, and essentially treating like their own personal dumping site.
When Pickett finds Grover, Jason insists that his family not hear about the death in order not to ruin not only the Fourth of July celebration but also his birthday party. But inexplicable deaths start to occur. Michael is killed in the woods by large spiders, covering him with a network of deathly webs. Kenneth is killed in the greenhouse by lizards who knock over bottles of poisonous fumes. Then while chasing a butterfly, she is killed by snakes. Whoever is left tries to escape the island but Jason refuses to allow anything to ruin his festivities and won’t leave his island. When Bella tries to escape she and Crocket’s servants are slaughtered by birds who violently attack them. Then Clint is killed by poisonous water snakes trying to get to his boat.
With a highly intuitive intellect, the frogs sense that Pickett is about to torch them all with gasoline and they all clear out. Pickett takes Karen and her two kids and they grab a canoe all while battling various creatures along the way, including crocodiles.
The film inevitably ends with an eerie curtain call as Ray Milland is surrounded by the natural world closing in on him. The cacophony of frogs – like an ancient plague consumes the old iron-handed bully, crashing and vaulting through the windows, until they cover him while he dies of a heart attack with no one left to help him.
Frogs 1972 is a cautionary tale and a classic example of the eco-horror subgenre, one of the first ‘nature strikes back’ films where nature itself becomes the antagonist. When the balance of nature is disrupted by avaricious and self-indulgent individuals who contaminate their surroundings, it incites a revolt by a coalition of wildlife who rise up and challenge humanity’s reckless exploitation of the planet’s ecosystem, the consequences of environmental negligence and the potential for the natural world pushed to its limits – to strike back and vie for dominion over mankind.
From Beyond the Grave 1974
From Beyond the Grave 1972 was produced by Amicus Productions, a British film production company known for its horror anthology films during the 1960s and 1970s. The film was released by Warner Bros. in the United States and by British Lion Films in the United Kingdom. Amicus Productions was notable for its contributions to the horror genre, producing several successful anthology films that featured well-known actors and engaging, often interconnected, horror stories. I have a particular affection for the works put out by Amicus. They have a darkly lyrical sensibility, all infused with delicious irony and surreal and sardonic-centered storylines.
From Beyond the Grave is a 1974 British horror anthology film directed by Kevin Connor. The film is structured as a portmanteau or anthology, consisting of four separate but interconnected stories, all linked by a sinister antique shop run by the enigmatic and mysterious proprietor, played by beloved horror icon Peter Cushing.
Throughout the film, the antique shop Temptations Ltd. and its proprietor serve as the central thread that ties these tales of terror together. As each customer falls victim to the sinister objects they’ve stolen, it becomes clear that the shop is a purveyor of cursed items with a malevolent agency of its own.
The quintet of customers who have questionable ethics enter the shop and think they are swindling the shop owner out of his collectibles and antiques. They each obtain a seemingly innocuous item, only to discover that it is cursed and carries a dark and malevolent supernatural force. These stories explore the consequences of the characters’ interactions with the cursed objects, leading to chilling and often fatal outcomes.
The cast includes Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Donald Pleasance, Nyree Dawn Porter, David Warner, Ian Ogilvy, Leslie Anne Down, Jack Watson, and Angela Pleasance.
The first customer in “The Gate Crasher” is Edward Charlton (David Warner) who thinks he is conning the proprietor out of a valuable mirror, insisting that it’s a reproduction. Once he gets home, after holding a séance with friends, an evil spirit emerges from the mirror and takes possession of him. The evil specter forces Edward to commit murder in order to release him from his glass prison. After carrying out the bloody deeds, Edward himself is trapped inside the mirror until the next person comes along to set him free.
Next is the segment “An Act of Kindness” Ian Bannen plays Christopher Lowe a meek and downtrodden husband who steals a war medal from the shop and goes on to befriend a straggly pauper Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasance) selling matches and shoelaces. Lowe becomes intoxicated by Underwood’s daughter Emily (Pleasance’s real daughter Angela). Lowe also presents the medal as something he was awarded after WWII. When he wants out of his marriage to Diana Dors, he murders her so he can be with Emily, but in the end, he discovers to his horror that the whole thing has been set up by his son and the Underwoods to get rid of him.
The third customer of the story “The Elemental” Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) cleverly switches the price tags on two snuff boxes in order to purchase the one he wants at a cheaper price. He thinks he’s gotten away with it and boards the train and heads home. On the train, a kooky occultist Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton in fabulous form) excitably tells him that there is an ‘elemental’ an invisible supernatural entity sitting on his shoulder feeding on him. He readily dismisses her but soon after it is evident that something is making Reggie act out in ways that people accuse him of hurting them, though he hasn’t touched them at all. Even his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) claims that he has touched her when he hasn’t. Reggie now believes that this uncanny spirit, the elemental is vexing him. So Reggie calls upon Madame Orloff to come and exorcize this volatile spirit. However, the thing jumps out of Reggie and leaps onto Susan instead, with deadly consequences for Reggie.
In the fourth and last installment ”The Door”, William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) buys a massive antique door and brings it home, which opens a portal to a decaying blue room. Seaton and his wife Rosemary (Lesley-Anne Down) go inside and explore the space until they realize that it is a realm where a sadistic warlock named Sir Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson) dwells. The room is in the liminal space between both worlds and Seaton learns that he must destroy the door before Sinclair comes through.
From Beyond the Grave is a classic anthology horror film that blends supernatural elements with tales of moral comeuppance. With its atmospheric storytelling and memorable performances, it remains a cult favorite among horror enthusiasts and fans of portmanteau films.
The Fury 1978
The Fury is a 1978 supernatural thriller film directed by Brian De Palma and a screenplay by John Farris. The movie follows the story of a young man named Robin Sandza (played by Andrew Stevens), who possesses psychokinetic powers, which allow him to move objects with his mind. These abilities make him the target of a secretive government organization led by Ben Childress (played by John Cassavetes). Underneath and surrounding the charismatic hybrid horror/science fiction pageantry is John Williams’s evocative score. The film features quite an impressive cast. John Cassavetes, Kirk Douglas, Charles Durning, Carrie Snodgrass, Carol Rossen, Fiona Lewis, and the two Furies, Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens.
The film also centers on Gillian Bellaver (played by Amy Irving), a girl with psychic abilities, including telepathy, who becomes connected to Robin. She escapes from Childress’s organization and seeks refuge with Robin’s father, Peter Sandza (played by Kirk Douglas), a former government agent.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the government’s interest in individuals with psychic powers is not benevolent. They seek to harness and weaponize these abilities for their own purposes, often resorting to unethical and brutal means.
In the covert world of espionage, Peter Sanza, a dedicated American agent played by Kirk Douglas, finds himself facing the ultimate betrayal when his long-time partner, Childress, portrayed by John Cassavetes, turns against him. As the government becomes aware of Peter’s son, Robin, who possesses extraordinary telepathic abilities, they see an opportunity to wield this untapped power for their own purposes. In this ruthless pursuit to harness Robin’s unique gift, Peter becomes a dispensable pawn in their quest for control.
When they try to take Peter out he survives the attempt to assassinate him. But he emerges from the shadows determined to find his son and driven by a burning desire to wreak vengeance on those who betrayed him. Meanwhile, Robin is devastated by the belief that his father is dead. He has been secreted away by his new guardians and held in a secret government facility, held by the clandestine organization that wishes to exploit him.
Almost a year later, another teenager Gillian (Amy Irving) shows that she has the same telepathic abilities. Peter sees an opportunity for help by enlisting Gillian to find his son by connecting with him telepathically. Both Gillian and Robin also have the power to move objects by way of telekinesis. But when she triggers this force, her powers cause people to bleed uncontrollably. But Gillian, who has a gentle spirit is frightened and disturbed by this uncanny power of hers. She is placed at the Paragon and put in a school with other gifted telepathic students where they research and help develop their skills. This is run by Dr.McKeever (Charles Durning).
Peter is joined by his girlfriend Hester (Carrie Snodgrass) who infiltrates the Paragon so she can contact Gillian. It’s not long after that Childress and the powerful cabal of the government take Gillian to their secret lab. She can now draw a mental image of Robin being put through a series of experiments, and soon enough he becomes aware of Gillian. Robin begins to emerge as a volatile monster who has gone to the dark side, jealous of Childress’s attention he’s been giving to Gillian. He now has a murderous evil streak that the power has unleashed in him… a fury. He causes havoc wherever he goes and can siphon the blood out of people just by piercing their physical bodies with his mind. In one scene he uses his telekinetic powers to dislocate a Ferris wheel filled with passengers. Richard Kline who did the cinematography for Soylent Green in 1973 and The Andromeda Strain in 1971 creates a pyrotechnic display amidst the carnivalesque carnage.
Hester breaks Gillian out of the Paragon but gets killed, and Peter and Gillian try to hunt down Robin, which leads them to Childress’s estate, where they face the ultimate showdown with the monstrous Robin who no longer has any humanity. Once the confrontation between Robin and his father leaves Robin dead and his father committing suicide, Gillian is left in the hands of the menacing Childress. When he attempts to seduce her she goes full-blown ‘fury’ on him and rips him to psychic pieces.
The Fury is known for its stylish direction by Brian DePalma, who infuses the story with his signature cinematic flair. It offers a compelling narrative with a mix of supernatural and espionage elements, making it a memorable entry into the thriller and horror genres of the late 1970s. Many film critics consider DePalma’s work to favor style over substance, but the collection of films has a significant presence and his stylish vision has created some of the most compelling visual narratives and beautifully developed – that they stay with you whether substantive or not.
“…in fits and starts, the kind of mindless fun that only a horror movie that so seriously pretends to be about the mind can be. Mr. DePalma seems to have been less interested in the oeverall movie than in pulling off a couple of spectacular set-pieces, which he does.” -Vincent Canby, New York Times, March 15, 1978