The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)/Circus of Fear (1966)

Watched both of these Saturday night with the Mad Doctor lightninglouie senior. Neither of us were up for Sardonicus again. Amazon Prime is full of obscure horror and suspense flicks from the 1950s and ‘60s, a number of which I’d never heard of. Many of them are cheap and schlocky, some are surprisingly well-crafted. Most seem to have received recent transfers and look pretty decent in HD.

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Note: the trailers are super-spoilery, as was often the case in the old days, so if you want to go in without having crucial plot elements revealed you might want to hold off until later.

Ancient curses. Immortality. Heads gone missing and showing up in unexpected places. Phantom skulls. Looks campy but it manages to play things pretty straight. Directed by Edward L. Cahn, who made numerous genre movies, including The Creature With The Atom Brain, Invasion of the Saucer Men and It! The Terror From Beyond Space (inspiration for Alien). Also a shitload of “Our Gang” comedies. Script by Orville H. Hampton, who also wrote Rocketship X-M, The Snake Woman, and the blaxploitation classic Detroit 9000 (“The day I follow Aubrey Hale Clayton on a wet deck... that day, I cut my throat”).

Shakesearean actor Henry Daniell plays the mysterious Dr. Emil Zurich. In the ‘30s he and his wife were involved in a Hollywood sex scandal. According to P.G. Wodehouse:

Apparently they go down to Los Angeles and either (a) indulge in or (b) witness orgies – probably both … there’s something pleasantly domestic about a husband and wife sitting side by side with their eyes glued to peepholes, watching the baser elements whoop it up. And what I want to know is – where are these orgies? I feel I’ve been missing something.

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Don’t we all. Paul Wexler, who plays the mute undead servant Zutai, was one of the first presidents of the Mini Coopers Owners of America, despite being 6'6". Everyone must have a vehicle of some kind, even the very tall.

Circus of Fear, aka Psycho-Circus in the USA. Anglo-German production, with Christopher Lee as the masked lion tamer Gregor, Leo Genn as Inspector Elliott, Suzy Kendall as Natasha, Margaret Lee (of Secret Agent Super Dragon fame) and a young (and intense) Klaus Kinski as Manfred. Marketed as horror but really more of an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, who also did The City of the Dead (also with Lee) and many American TV shows and made-for-TV movies, including The Night Stalker (introducing Carl Kolchak) and the Charlie’s Angels pilot. Produced and written by Harry Alan TOWERS!!!, adapted from a novel by Edgar Wallace, an insanely prolific bestselling mystery/adventure writer who also wrote an early draft of King Kong before dying unexpectedly of diabetes. Really tight, masterful armed car robbery sequence in the opening scenes, filmed on location in London.

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Don’t be misled by the trailer above, the picture quality on the movie was excellent. Joe Dante likes it.

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