Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone,  John Hoyt, Don Rickles, Dick Miller

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 19min

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Doctor James Xavier (Milland) is getting an eye exam in anticipation of doing some sort of experiment on himself. His mission, should he choose to accept it (which he probably will as he is the one who came up with it in the first place), is to attempt to expand the spectrum of human vision.

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In other words: he wants to be able to see through people’s clothes at parties

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After a fatal test run on a monkey, he goes straight to a human test subject: himself. Which seems a bit presumptive given the fatality of the first test, but hubris has always been a great blinder. As are, it turns out, the eye drops he uses to change his own vision.

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“It’s so weird how the same eye drops that killed the monkey have some averse effect on human beings too! As a scientist, I never could have anticipated that.”

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Sure, at first the main effect of the drops is a new ability to check people for diseases, broken bones, internal injuries and unflattering underwear, but Xavier soon grows addicted to the drops, and his vision changes for each new dose. How far is he willing to go?

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Creepy, shiny, slightly cross-eyed contacts-far? Or even further?

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X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is just the right amount of fun, silly, schlocky and overly dramatic to appeal to our sensibilities. Add to that a wonderful cameo by Dick Miller, eating as per usual, and Ray Milland as the eccentric genius and we’re completely sold.

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We also enjoyed the effect created by the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-3D “Spectarama”

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X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes reminded us quite a bit of The Invisible Man, although the main character is slightly less crazy. Slightly. We loved the circus act, the amazing dancing at the party, the creepy contacts, and the drama of it all. This may no longer be on the list, but we’re not ones to turn down a Roger Corman movie if we have an excuse for one. A good choice if you’re looking for something a bit silly for a lost weekend. (See what we did there?)

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This is a man who has survived a Roger Corman movie marathon

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What we learned: The main character is called Dr Xavier and can see what others cannot, similarly to Professor Xavier from X-Men. This movie was released in September 1963, just like the first X-Men comic which featured Professor Xavier. Mind. Blown.

Next time: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Bonus: Bitter Harvest

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Peter Graham Scott

Starring: Janet Munro, John Stride, Terence Alexander, Anne Cunningham, Alan Badel

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Jennie (Munro) is a small town girl living in a lonely world. She takes the midnight train going anywhere. Well, actually, she gets a drunken ride with a couple of older men to their apartment in London and is raped and abandoned. But that doesn’t sound as nice.

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“What do you mean, raped? A beautiful young ginger girl who deliberately drank champagne in the company of strange men cannot possibly be raped.”

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Her whole life she has dreamed of the luxury and fame she’s been sold in commercials and movies, but when she tries to pursue it, she is brutally punished by every man she meets. After the rape, she meets barman Bob (Stride) who invites her to stay with him, and the two start a relationship. However, Jennie is not satisfied with just staying at home and being a girlfriend – she wants a career of her own, which Bob sees as a threat to their relationship. Actually, he sees everyone as a threat to their relationship, and would rather have Jennie stay at home and never talk to anyone but him ever again. When she meets abusive producer Karl Denny (Badel), she immediately (and completely out of character) surrenders to him and leaves Bob.

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“Well, I just figured one abusive asshole is as good as the next. At least he can make me famous.”

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Now, Bitter Harvest is an interesting one. Everything we’ve read about this movie (which, granted, isn’t a lot, but still) seems to suggest Jennie is a manipulative, selfish young woman who will do anything to get ahead, and who doesn’t appreciate what she has. But this is not how we read it at all.

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Even her obliviousness to the attempted seduction when she’s caught in the bathtub seemed genuine and not manipulative

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What we saw was a young, sweet and naïve, though willful, girl who stood up for herself and dreamed of a more exciting life. When she told “nice guy” Bob she was pregnant at their first meeting, she wasn’t lying but thought she told him the truth – she had had sex (read: had been raped) and thus she must be pregnant.

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It’s bad enough waking up naked in a strange man’s bed without having to worry about pregnancy

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Also, she never lies to Bob about what she needs money for, or where she’s going. She just (rightfully) assumes that this is her choice to make, and that if he loves her, he will support her choices. However, despite his kindness in taking her in when they both think she’s pregnant with another man’s child, Bob is a controlling and condescending asshole who resorts to threats and violence when Jennie makes her own choices. When she refuses to leave with him, he tries to strangle her, suggesting he’s not really the nice guy he is painted to be.

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A girl who doesn’t do what you tell her and goes out to see people to further her career even though you told her not to? And then has the audacity to talk back to you, the good guy, when you stalk her to drag her back home? Better strangle that bitch!

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Jennie’s willful and autonomous side is also what makes her complete surrender at Denny’s slap seem out of character. Personally, we feel that in order to control her like that, he needed to build up to it, not slap her on the first night. However, perhaps her hope of a better life blinds her.

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We’re just saying, the Jennie from the first part of the movie would never let herself be slapped into submission. At least not on the first date.

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Finally, just a couple of words about the popular interpretation of her “little black book” that the police find in her apartment: we didn’t interpret that as evidence of her “promiscuity” as many suggest, but as evidence of Denny prostituting her. However, none of us has read the book the movie is based on – our interpretation is based solely on the movie we watched. And in that, we think Jennie has been unfairly treated by several viewers.

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Unfair or not, she gets her punishment in the end, as all willful and ambitious girls must.

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As mentioned, there are some similarities between Jennie and Patsy from The Small World of Sammy Lee, made especially clear to us as we watched them as a double feature. The difference is that Patsy stumbles into the sex trade because of her love for a man, while Jennie falls into it due to ambition and a hope for a better life for herself. Thus, Patsy makes it out while Jennie must be punished. Really – give us time and money and we can probably write a thesis on this. Although we suspect this has already been done many times over…

So, how do we feel about Bitter Harvest? We think it’s an interesting film to watch, but it’s problematic enough that we can see how it has been removed from the list.

What we learned: Apparently, girls should be satisfied with what they have, whether it’s an uneventful life in a small, dead town or as a spouse to a man prone to violence whenever he doesn’t get his way.

Next time: Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Spain, 1546. Mr Barnard (Kerr) comes from England to see where and how his beloved sister Elizabeth (Steele) died. He meets his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) and his sister Catherine (Anders) and is offered a strange and vague explanation of Elizabeth’s death.

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“Suffocation from too-tight corset” is not among the excuses. Neither is “tripped over own voluminous skirt and broke neck.”

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Family doctor Leon (Carbone) later reveals to the grieving brother that his sister died of fright. Since more details are surely required after such a statement, Medina confesses that his bride had become obsessed with the inquisition era torture chamber in the cellar, and that she perished in an Iron Maiden.

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We’ve always felt that a house is not a home without a fireplace, a lounge area, and an indoor torture chamber. We’re having ours installed next weekend.

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But is this all there is to it? Barnard is still not satisfied, and as we delve deeper into the house’s secrets, we learn that Medina’s father killed his brother and wife in the chamber when his children were young. Young Nicholas witnessed the ordeal and was never the same again.

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Exhibit A: this is now his default resting face

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As Medina devolves into madness, strange things also begin to happen in the castle… So what really happened to Elizabeth? Is she haunting them? Or was she buried prematurely, House of Usher-style?

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And why didn’t anyone bother informing doctor Leon of the dress code for the evening? These questions will haunt us…

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Pit and the Pendulum has everything we love: Gothic castles, secret passageways, hidden torture chambers, ghosts, murder, madness and torture. It is morbid, grotesque and lovely, and we completely adored Vincent Price as the confused, distressed widower. Barbara Steele’s eyes are as haunting as they were in Black Sunday, and she is the perfect Gothic heroine/villain (take your pick here). Personally, we are of course suckers for anything Poe (and Corman. And Price.), so we had no choice but to include this even though it is no longer on the list. It’s fantastic!

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Best watched by squinting from inside an Iron Maiden. Well, we say “best”…

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What we learned: Crazy is hereditary.

Next time: Carnival of Souls (1961)

Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 33min

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Somewhere in 18th century Spain, a beggar (Wordsworth) goes to a castle to ask for some food and/or money. But the marquis (Dawson) is a cruel man and a bully, and he imprisons the beggar and promptly forgets about him. Left in the dungeon for fifteen years, the poor man is forgotten about by all but the jailer and his mute daughter.

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One look at this man and we would have run for our lives. Unfortunately the beggar didn’t share our instincts for people.

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After those fifteen years, the daughter (Romain) refuses to be raped by the marquis, and he throws her in the dungeon with the beggar. Apparently, he has forgotten all about the girl’s kindness to him and rapes her himself, and then dies (karma’s a bitch!).  The girl is sent back to the marquis so that he can have his way with her, but having been raped once already, she’s not about to let the bastard win, so she kills him and flees.

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Sometimes it’s a good, and righteous, thing to be a backstabbing bitch

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The runaway girl, now pregnant, is later found in the woods by Don Alfredo Corledo (Evans) and Teresa (Talfrey) who take her in and, when she dies in childbirth on Christmas Day, take on the responsibility of her newborn son.

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“Say, Teresa, do we know who the boy’s father is..? I only ask because he seems to be displaying some rather unusual dental development here which has me quite confused”

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Turns out though, unwanted children born on Christmas Day are cursed to be werewolves. Which makes us wonder why lycanthropy isn’t a bigger social problem than it currently seems to be. While young Leon (Reed) at first manages to keep his condition under control, once he grows up and faces adversity as well as love, he loses what little control he has and all hell breaks loose.

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Honestly, we were half expecting him to break into song once he had climbed the bell tower. Colour us disappointed.

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The Curse of the Werewolf was removed from the list after we’d already bought it, so as is tradition, we’re doing it anyway, dammit! And we’re glad we did. We loved the opening credits with the sad werewolf, the interesting explanation for the condition, and Leon’s partner in crime (not literally though) José.

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Also, even though it preceeds it by almost 5 decades, this is yet another werewolf better than the atrocity in The Prisoner of Azkaban. No, we’re still not over it.

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In many ways, it’s more a drama than a horror, except the ending which is very Frankenstein. But we believe it works for fans of both genres. Well worth watching! Even though there are apparently at least 1000 films which are better than this one… Let’s call it number 1001 and recommend it anyway. Happy New Year!

What we learned: Don’t give birth to unwanted children on Christmas day. We know, it’s a bit late for 2018, but keep it in mind for next year.

Next time: Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)