Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Gallery of Horrors (1967)

Originally titled Dr Terror's Gallery of Horrors in order to try and cash in on the popularity of Amicus' first anthology film, Dr Terror's House of Horrors, Gallery of Horrors, (variously, and pretty much arbitrarily, retitled The Blood Suckers and Return from the Past for various rereleases), pretty much represents the bargain basement of exploitation movies.  Designed entirely to cash in on the success of another producer's title and format and exploiting the names of two clapped out horror icons - John Carradine and Lon Chaney, (it's typical that the film couldn't even recruit old time horror stars of the first calibre, like Karloff. Lorre or Rathbone, settling instead for second stringers like Carradine and Chaney) -  to give it a sheen of credibility, Gallery of Horrors doesn't have an ounce of originality, let alone quality.  But what else can we expect from a movie directed by David L Hewitt, the man behind The Mighty Gorga and many other ultra low budget exploitation items?  Hewitt's productions were very much in the tradition of Hollywood's poverty row studios like Monogram or PRC, but with even sparser resources at their disposal.

Like its near namesake, Gallery of Horrors is an anthology film, featuring five stories, headline stars Chaney and Carradine only appear in one story apiece - although Carradine also acts as host, introducing each story - with the rest of the unknown cast playing multiple roles.  Sadly, none of the stories are any good, with obvious 'twist' endings, atrocious dialogue and acting to match.  Regardless of where or when they are supposed to be set, the cast make no attempt to adopt appropriate accents or speech patterns and the same rudimentary sets and props are on view.  The second episode, 'King Vampire', for instance, is, according to Carradine, set in Victorian London, but apart from a few references to Scotland Yard and vaguely period costumes, there's little evidence to back this up, with the cast speaking and behaving like a bunch of mid-sixties Californians.  This episode also underlines the film's utter paucity of production values, with the 'exterior' scenes shot against a black backprop with a few props like lampposts in evidence.  Carradine's introductions often seem completely divorced from the episodes they precede: he describes 'Spark of Life' (with Lon Chaney) as being set in mid nineteenth century Edinburgh, yet everyone wears contemporary clothing, Chaney has a very 1960s looking telephone on his desk and there aren't any Scottish accents in evidence.  It also has nothing to do with bodysnatching, despite Carradine's claims.

The movie climaxes with a segment entitled 'Count Dracula', which rewrites several arbitrarily assembled segments of Bram Stoker's novel and culminates with a 'twist' ending revealing that Johnathan Harker is really a werewolf and is at Castle Dracula, not to sell the Count Carfax Abbey, but to usurp him as the area's local monster.  Clearly inspired by the 1931 Lugosi Dracula, it mimics the Universal film's first appearance of the Count at the top of a flight of stairs and throws in those villagers with blazing torches who used to rampage through the climaxes of Universal's monster movies.  Even the Burgemeister is there, complete with Tyrolean hat, lederhosen and bad accent.  Although Mitch Evans as an ineffective Dracula is awful, this is probably the film's strongest segment.  Certainly the graveyard and mausoleum sets are far better than those in other segments and, shrouded in fog, form the basis of some quite atmospheric sequences.  But it isn't enough to save the film, which is, overall, terrible. 

That said, it is quite mesmerizingly bad - you find yourself drawn in and just have to keep watching.  The fact that the entire thing is studio bound and shot on cramped, minimalist sets which seem at odds with the widescreen photography, (all of the exterior shots and scenes of blazing destruction are stock footage from Roger Corman's House of Usher), gives it a strange, clammy and dislocated atmosphere.  Everything seems to be taking place in some sort of limbo, which has no connection to the 'real' world.  Indeed, there is no evidence that any 'outside' world  exists (not counting the stock exterior footage) - only blackness can be seen through the windows of each set.  It is endless night in the world of Gallery of Horrors.  The disjointed dialogue and stiff acting performances just add to the surreal feeling.  The thing that Gallery of Horrors most resembles are those early TV dramas, which were often broadcast live, made on tiny, cheap sets and which substituted talk for action.  None of which actually redeems  Gallery of Horrors in any way - it is still a bottom-of-the-barrel slice of exploitation.



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