Friday, February 22, 2019

Review: Gallery of Horror (1967)

Gallery of Horror (1967) presents five horror tales based on stories written by Canadian Russ Jones, of Creepy and Eerie fame. Producer/Director David L. Hewitt was not a fan of horror movies, and this disinterest clearly had an impact on the film, which explains the lack of blood (and horror) one expects from, well, a horror film.

It's a good example of a really bad movie made on the cheap, utilizing an overabundance of stock footage (of varied quality) that was added to make it look like it cost more than $30K to make. It's the kind of movie where classic horror stars of the silver screen went to die, and in this case the poor souls are John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr.

Carradine introduces each story with lengthy, verbose passages that were not originally scripted but added because Hewitt ran out of money and was unable to film a sixth segment. Despite the horrible script, he and Chaney--being consummate professionals--still manage to infuse some life into the dialogue, although the obvious lack of direction clearly affected the performances of the other actors. Speaking of which, many of them had multiple roles in the film in order to save time and money.

Hewitt had originally wanted to make a movie tie-in to Creepy magazine, but was turned down by publisher Jim Warren--so he went to the source, Russ Jones, who created Creepy and Eerie. Aside from the last segment, all tales were penned by Jones. Before he was contracted by Hewitt, he had written a few stories and planned to sell them to producer Milton Subotsky, for an anthology film similar to his Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965). Too bad he went with Hewitt instead.

Each segment has a twist ending, and after a few minutes in you pretty much know what it will be.

"The Witches Clock", or, "Howdy, stranger, that's some fine cosplay"
"The Witches Clock" - Yes, that is the actual spelling of the title. In this first segment, a young couple finds an antique Grandfather clock in the basement of their new home. They had just relocated to Salem, Massachusetts, and seemingly bought the mansion sight unseen since they had no idea a witch had been hanged on the grounds during the infamous trials of old. Oh, and there's basically a coven of dead witches buried in the crypt below. Anyway, they drag the clock up into the main room only to discover it isn't working, and the front is locked. Good thing the key still happens to be sitting on top of it! As soon as they get the clock working, an elderly man, Tristram Halbin (John Carradine), unexpectedly shows up at their door dressed in clothes that were fashionable two centuries ago...and it rapidly goes downhill from there.

"King Vampire", or, "I'm Russ Jones (R) and I can write, draw, AND act"
"King Vampire" - A killer is running amok in the dank, dark streets of London, and Scotland Yard's finest are stumped. Each victim is found drained of blood, with bite marks on their neck, and the murderer--who apparently has a voracious appetite, since bodies are dropping everywhere--has been nicknamed "King Vampire." Why he's considered "The King" of them is anyone's guess. Toward the end of the story, one of the investigators gets reassigned to a new case because, I suppose, numerous poor people being slaughtered in the crappier parts of London no longer warranted the extra manpower. But I digress. As he's on his way out the door, he randomly suggests that maybe the culprit isn't a man, but a woman! Why? Because the killer is apparently "slight-figured" and therefore not a man--since all men back then were buff..? This story was originally about Jack the Ripper (or Jackie, in this case), but was changed by Hewitt. Russ Jones has a cameo as the unfortunate innocent bystander who is killed by an angry mob in a case of mistaken identity--right in front of police, who idly stand by as it unfolds. Tant pis! Mob justice FTW!

"Monster Raid", or, "This title makes no sense"
"Monster Raid" - This is the worst segment, and repeatedly uses stock footage while the main character drones on about his big plans for revenge, in voice-over segments that pretty much just repeat events that happened in the previous flashback scenes. The less I say about this one the better. Jones wrote this script on the studio lot basically as they were shooting it, and it shows. It was loosely based on his story "Return Trip!" from the pages of Creepy magazine. The scientist seeking revenge was played by Ron Doyle, although the zombie version of the character was performed by Russ Jones (who also designed the makeup).

"Spark of Life", or, "That was the worst bender, ever!"
"Spark of Life" - Doctor Mendell (Lon Chaney Jr.) is obsessed with continuing experiments based on the research of some forgotten colleague named Frankenstein, who dropped the ball after being exiled from the University and had his work torched by--one can only assume--angry townsfolk. Mendell is close to proving his theory of bringing the dead back to life, which seems to just involve jamming an electrode into the arm of a corpse then pumping it with electricity--and voila! This story has one of the better twist endings. But, my God, the acting and pacing is horrid. Chaney is great, of course, although apparently he was sweating so much during his scenes that he couldn't wear makeup, and went through many costume changes. The drinking was clearly taking its toll.

"Count Dracula", or, "Dracula can't see his reflection, nor his questionable facial hair"
"Count Dracula" - Introduced by Carradine as "Count Alucard" because I guess they feared legal action while filming, then changed their mind upon release. It's basically the Coles Notes / Cliff Notes version of Bram Stoker's tale--albeit just the scenes of Harker at Castle Dracula, and a version of the vampire Lucy running about the graveyard preying on locals (all events take place in Transylvania). This segment has the best twist ending, although the Count (Mitch Evans) looks absolutely ridiculous. Hewitt should have had Carradine play the role.

All in, this is one of the worst anthology films I've had the displeasure to watch, and did so just because I'm researching writer Russ Jones, who demanded that he not be credited under his real name (he wanted to use a pseudonym). I doubt the problem was with his original stories. As he once said, "It was fun [to make], but I knew it wasn’t gonna look good on the resume!"

* OUT OF ****

Film stills are hard to come by. Here are a couple from the segment "Spark of Life".

"Next time, I'll check the cause of death before reanimating..."

"Whatever you do, don't look behind you..."


Images courtesy of The Dwrayger Dungeon.

Suggested reading:

Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews with Classic SF and Horror Filmmakers 
by Tom Weaver. McFarland, 2007.
(Includes an interview with Russ Jones about his experiences making this movie.)

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