Goregirl’s TOP 10 Favourite Horror Films From 1961
IMDB listed 149 titles for 1961; 48 of those were full length feature films. I do not include shorts, documentaries, made for TV movies or TV series on these lists. Like 1960 there were several television shows and their individual episodes listed that included Twilight Zone, Thriller, Way Out, and Great Ghost Tales. I seen just 26 of the 48 films from this year. Not only did I see fewer films from 1961 than any other year of the decade, but it has decidedly been my least favourite year. Only one film received a coveted perfect 5/5 rating. One film received a 4.5/5, four films received a 4/5 and the rest of the top ten are films I rated 3.5/5! I really had to reach to come up with a top ten. Granted a 3.5/5 (7/10) isn’t a bad rating. I certainly liked a film I rated 3.5/5 and would recommend it, but it also means I found it to be flawed. There were four other films that received consideration for 1961; Gorgo, What a Carve Up!, Santo Vs. The Infernal Men and Ghost of Oiwa.
#10 THE DEAD EYES OF LONDON
Directed By: Alfred Vohrer
I mentioned the Krimi film movement in my review for Circus of Fear. Although Circus of Fear hails from the UK I mentioned Krimi because it was based on the writing of Edgar Wallace. The Krimi film movement is German made films based on the work of crime writer Edgar Wallace. There were quite a few Krimi films made through the sixties and I think The Dead Eyes of London is one of the best. Wealthy men are being murdered and a home for the blind may be behind the killings. Blind men? Crazy! The story is pretty wild and it serves up more than its share of fast-paced thrills not to mention some rather impressive violence for 1961. The Dead Eyes of London is chocked full of atmosphere and there are moments that are quite chilling. There are some lulls here and there but overall the film keeps a steady pace. From its excellent opening scene to its exciting finale the film kept me intrigued. There are plenty of bizarre and eccentric characters particularly notable was Reverend Paul Dearborn played by Dieter Borsche. The Dead Eyes of London is solid entertainment and is a violent and exciting horror crime thriller.
Directed By: William Castle
Despite Homicidal’s similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the film is pure William Castle. Like all his films previously, Castle includes his trademark gimmick. Castle offered a money back guarantee for those too frightened to see Homicidal’s shocking climax. Just before the climax a clock appears on the screen. If you leave before the clock runs out, you will get your money back. BUT, you’ll have to stand in the “Coward’s Corner” until the other patrons are let out of the theatre. This is particularly hilarious since “the twist” is so frightfully obvious! Despite the painfully obvious twist the film kept me engaged throughout. An attractive blond woman checks into a hotel under the name Miriam Webster, offers a bellhop $2000 to marry her and ends up stabbing a justice of the peace! We learn the woman’s real name is Emily and she is the caretaker for a mute wheelchair bound woman named Helga. Miriam Webster is in fact the name of the half-sister of Emily’s employer Warren. The plot thickens when we learn Warren is about to come into a large fortune. The film has a lively pace and is even surprisingly dark at times with its themes of child abuse and sexuality. Joan Marshall is fascinating to watch as the callous Emily who slowly unravels during the course of the film. Emily is not particularly likable with her hissy fits, erratic spats of anger not to mention a few rather weird and awkward moments but her theatrics are a great deal of fun to watch! Homicidal is an entertaining thriller that despite the obvious “twist”, still has a few surprises and Joan Marshall’s deliciously over-the-top performance as Emily is worth the price of admission!
#8 THE SHADOW OF THE CAT
Directed By: John Gilling
The Shadow of the Cat is noted as being made by BHP Productions, but was made at Hammer Film’s Bray Studios. It also used several of Hammer’s film crew, including director John Gilling (Plague of the Zombies). I have no idea if this was a joint venture between the two, but it certainly has those classic Hammer attributes. Beautiful sets, great costumes, a pitch-perfect mood and great performances make The Shadow of the Cat very watchable. Although not noted in the writing credits The Shadow of the Cat is clearly a Poe-inspired tale. The Shadow of the Cat even begins with the reading of a passage from Poe’s The Raven. Walter Venable with the help of the maid and butler knocks off his wife Ella for her inheritance. The only witness is Ella’s beloved cat Tabitha. But Tabitha is no ordinary house cat and does her part to insure the guilty pay for their crimes. We know right from the start who committed the crime and who is exacting the revenge but there are still some surprises in the plot. Tabitha is an adorable girl that looks like a pretty happy well-fed feline. She could not possibly strike fear in someone’s heart! Unless of course that someone is guilty of a crime. The relentless Tabitha terrorizes the guilty and freaks the hell out of them! The police and Beth (Ella’s favourite niece) are completely perplexed by the household’s unreasonable fear of Tabitha. The Shadow of the Cat is a well-paced, esthetically pleasing, charming film with strong performances and a most enjoyable story.
#7 CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE
Directed By: Benito Alazraki
I’ve seen quite a few horror films hailing from Mexico during this journey through the 60s. Mexico had quite an active film industry through the decade. Unfortunately just about every last one of these films is dubbed, and quite badly I might add. I could not help but chuckle at some of the really over-the-top voice work in Curse of the Doll People. Nonetheless the film looks good and has an effective atmosphere with some unforgettable moments. The film is about a group of men who are cursed by a voodoo priest after stealing a ritual idol. The killers are dolls with needles! Well, not dolls so much as midgets wearing masks that look like their victims! What a trip. It was actually quite creepy! The film is reasonably paced, although it does have a wee bit of unnecessary filler but man there are some spectacular moments that easily makes Curse of the Doll People worth a watch.
#6 NIGHT TIDE
Directed By: Curtis Harrington
Besides featuring a very young Dennis Hopper I knew absolutely nothing about Night Tide. Night Tide turned out to be a delightful surprise! It is a lovely, sad, haunting film. The film is heavily character-driven and slow paced but drenched in atmosphere. I adored the film’s crumbling beach-side carnival backdrop and its eerie use of the sea it overlooks. The beautiful old carousel, the tacky attractions, Captain Murdock’s amazing collection of trinkets and an appealing score that compliments it all perfectly. Hopper plays Johnny Drake a sailor on leave who falls in love with a mysterious young woman named Mora who performs as a mermaid in the local carnival. Possibly Hopper’s most subtle performance and he is likable and empathetic as Johnny. Equally endearing is Linda Lawson who plays Mora. Night Tide is a beautiful, mysterious and enthralling film I found very appealing.
#5 TASTE OF FEAR
Directed By: Seth Holt
You can bet there will be plenty more Hammer Films to make these sixties lists! Hell there is even one more on this list. Hammer Films ruled the 1960s! Taste of Fear is a lesser known film for the studio that is a well-executed horror-mystery-thriller. A wheel-chair bound Penny Appleby comes to live with her estranged father and step-mother only to find her father away on business. The young woman believes she seen her father’s corpse in a storage shed, but when they go to investigate there is nothing there. When the appearances continue to occur she begins questioning the possibility of foul play. An overly friendly stepmom, a suspicious doctor who makes daily house calls, an eager to help chauffeur and of course the neurotic wheelchair-bound Penny are all part of the mystery. There are clues throughout Taste of Fear’s story which twists and turns leading up to an excellent finale. Admittedly, not all the revelations are a surprise, but there is one in particular I did not see coming. Just the same, it is a well-rolled out plot and they keep things interesting. Christopher Lee is quite young in Taste Of Fear and only has a supporting role as Doctor Pierre Gerrard but contributes nicely. The cast is excellent especially Susan Strasberg who plays Penny Appleby. Taste of Fear has beautiful black and white photography, a great mood, strong performances and is a pretty great little mystery.
#4 MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS
Directed By: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Mother Joan of the Angels is loosely based on the 1634 case in Loudun, France of alleged devil possession of the Ursuline nuns. Aldous Huxley wrote his book The Devils of Loudun in the 1950’s also based on this story; which Ken Russell based his 1971 film The Devils. Mother Joan of the Angels just barely qualifies as horror, and isn’t remotely exploitative, so don’t come here expecting naughty Nunsploitation. Father Suryn is sent to replace a denounced priest who was burned at the stake and deal with a convent of allegedly devil-possessed nuns. Father Suryn soon meets Mother Joan and her demons and to save her he will ultimately question his lifetime of faith. Mother Joan of the Angels is above all else a character study. Lucyna Winnicka is stunning as Mother Joan. Her possession scenes are inspired! Winnicka gives a realistic performance never going over the top. Mieczyslaw Voit is both empathetic and intense as Father Suryn. Visually, Mother Joan of the Angels is utterly stunning. Its symmetrical and strikingly stark style is a feast for the eyes. Lacking any special effects the story is relayed by the visuals and the strong performances from the two leads. Mother Joan of the Angels is a gorgeously filmed, well-acted character study though barely qualifying as a horror film it is nonetheless a compelling watch.
#3 THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
Directed By: Roger Corman
The Pit and the Pendulum is another Roger Corman/Vincent Price outing based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. According to IMDB Roger Corman produced an insane 401 films and directed 56 of those titles. Although Corman has producer credits right up to 2012, it was his 50s and 60s directorial efforts for which he will always have a fond place in my heart. Francis Barnard travels to Spain after learning his sister Elizabeth has died. Elizabeth’s husband Don Medina is the son of a notoriously barbaric Spanish inquisitor and lives in the family’s isolated castle. Francis is suspicious of Don Medina’s story that Elizabeth has died of a blood disease and much to Don Medina’s chagrin insists on staying at the castle until he uncovers the truth. The Francis Barnard character is probably my only real bone to pick. John Kerr is incredibly dull in this role. The rest of the cast however is brilliant; Vincent Price, Antony Carbone, Luana Anders and Barbara Steele are all top notch! The Pit and the Pendulum has a well-written suspenseful story that climbs steadily to its fantastic climax. The superb sets and props (especially that pendulum device!), the lush colors, its gorgeous gothic vibe, strong performances and an enthralling story all make for an entertaining watch.
#2 THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF
Directed By: Terence Fisher
This is the second (3rd if you want to include Shadow of the Cat) Hammer Film to make the list for 1961. This is The Curse of the Werewolf’s second appearance on a dungeon list, formerly appearing in the number five spot of my ten favourite werewolf films. We begin our tale with a most interesting origin for our werewolf (which I will leave for you to discover on your own). Leon’s mother died in childbirth and Leon is adopted by the kindly Don Alfredo Corledo. Leon’s lycanthropy is discovered when he is young and on the advice of a priest the boy is showered with love and attention. Love indeed seems to be the answer as Leon becomes a grown man ready to head out in to the world. All goes swimmingly well for Leon who finds true love with Cristina the daughter of the owner of the wine cellar where he works. That is until he is denied the love of Cristina and he starts to get that taste for blood. The Curse of the Werewolf is a unique entry in the werewolf sub-genre. It employs some of the classic werewolf film elements you would expect but adds many of its own interesting touches that make it stand out. It is typical Hammer with its always impressive sets, props and costumes. Beautifully and inventively filmed by Terence Fisher and perfectly acted particularly by the excellent Oliver Reed. I loved the werewolf makeup they give Reed who is incredibly likable and empathetic as Leon. The Curse of the Werewolf is a beautiful, mesmerizing and mysterious treat!
#1 THE INNOCENTS
Directed By: Jack Clayton
The Innocents is based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Miss Giddens is hired as a governess for two orphaned children living in an isolated estate in the country. She comes to believe the estate is haunted by the former governess and her lover whom are intent on possessing the children. The Innocents is as much a psychological trip as it is a ghost story. Its story is meticulously written and its seemingly simple plot is richly layered. The ending literally left me silent. Bloody hell is that an ending! Miss Giddens is a young, naive and inexperienced governess. She is a proper lady, seemingly reasonable with a gentle disposition who loves children. Miss Giddens personality traits are what make the events of the film such a mind blow. Deborah Kerr is outstanding as Miss Gibbons and gives a sublime performance that left me in awe. The Innocents is an intelligent, intriguing, brilliantly acted, beautifully filmed, dark and haunting masterpiece.