Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Revenge of the Blood Beast (1966) w/ Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele was in a lot of horror films. I knew her name long before I’d ever seen her in anything, because I had an old Famous Monsters magazine which featured pictures from Black Sunday (1960). The movie looked scary, and I really wanted to see it. Unfortunately, this was years before home video became a thing, and there was simply no way to see an old movie unless it happened to come on TV late one night. Even after I was able to rent movies on Beta, Black Sunday was not one of the titles available at my local video stores. I finally bought a VHS copy years later, which was put out by Something Weird Video (?!). I guess there was no mainstream distributor for that movie at that time.

Meanwhile, I had read a few horror movie review books, and I knew that Barbara Steele was in a lot of other horror movies. Many of them had been made in Europe, and had similar sounding titles and descriptions. Many of them had been released under several different titles, in fact – perhaps trying to sound like their more successful brothers and sisters. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) was also known as The Terror of Dr. Hichcock, The Frightening Secret of Dr. Hichcock, Raptus (?!) and The Terrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock.

The Ghost (1963) was retitled to The Spectre, Le Spectre du professeur Hichcock, and Lo spettro de Dr. Hichcock.

Castle of Blood (1964), which was sometimes called Danse Macabre, is a similar title to Nightmare Castle (1965), which was also known as The Night of the Doomed and The Faceless Monster.

One day I bought a cheap VHS tape in a bargain bin, because it had Barbara Steele’s name on it. I had never heard of the movie, but it had Hitchcock in the title. It turned out to be a movie that was better known under another title. It’s been so long now that I’ve forgotten which movie it was (and I lost that tape years ago).

After that experience I would always ask myself, upon coming across an unfamiliar Barbara Steele movie, have I already seen this movie? Do I in fact own this movie? Is this just a retitling of another, more famous, movie? It got to be very confusing, and I passed up more than a few VHS tapes and DVDs over the years.

Recently I came across a very nice Blu-ray edition of Revenge of the Blood Beast (1966), starring Barbara Steele, and I immediately asked myself the questions. I managed to figure out that the movie was also known as The She Beast, and that seemed really familiar to me. I could picture the old VHS box in my mind, and I was convinced that it was very similar to a movie called The Faceless Monster.

There’s also an unrelated movie called She Freak (1967), which might have been adding to my confusion. I wrote about that one not too long ago on another Friday night

VHS box for She FreakVHS box for She Beast starring Barbara SteeleDVD box for The Faceless Monster starring Barbara SteeleAnd then there was the description of the plot…

The She Beast: “The wife falls into a mountain lake and her life force reactivates a hideous old witch…”

This sounds a lot like the description of another Barbara Steel movie called An Angel for Satan (1966): “Steele is a beautiful tourist at a mountain village where she’s possessed by a vengeful spirit formerly housed in a statue found at the bottom of a lake.”

How many mountain-lake-evil-spirit-possession movies can there be?

I was convinced that I had probably seen Revenge of the Blood Beast before – and that I may even own a copy on VHS or DVD – but I was certain that I did not have the Blu-ray. So, I decided to pick it up (since it was on sale).

I was shocked to discover, last Friday night, that I had never seen Revenge of the Blood Beast under any title. Even more shocking, given the fact that this one tends to get more negative reviews than many other Barbara Steele movies, is that fact that I quite enjoyed it.

I had been afraid that it would be a somewhat confusing, mostly boring, lesser example of a Euro-horror film. It was more like a good old fashioned B monster movie. The kind of movie that I used to watch on Not Quite Classic Theatre all those years ago. It actually shares a lot of similar traits with one of my favourites B-movies from that era, Monster on the Campus (1958), which I wrote about just a few weeks ago. Both are about normal people transforming into murderous monsters when exposed to the right waterborne stimulus (in one case, a prehistoric fish, in the other, a dead witch at the bottom of a lake).

Revenge of the Blood Beast has a sense of humour, and moves along quite quickly. It’s never particularly confusing, and I was never bored. It rates lower on the IMDB than many of the other Barbara Steele movies. Black Sunday gets a 7.2, The Ghost rates 6.2, Castle of Blood scores 6.8, etc.  Revenge of the Blood Beast only manages a 4.6. This would normally suggest a sub-par viewing experience, but I couldn’t have been more delighted. Perhaps my expectations had been sufficiently lowered by that 4.6 – and the bad reviews I had read, but I’ll never know for sure. 

Revenge of the Blood Beast (1966) is a fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that may not be the best of Barbara Steele’s oeuvre, but it’s an entertaining B-movie monster movie that I’m glad to have (finally!) seen. I will definitely be watching it again on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

There are a lot of movies called The blank of blank (insert action in first blank and name of person in second blank). The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), The Violation of Sarah McDavid (1981), The Seeding of Sarah Burns (1979) and the less formal The Seduction of Gina (1984), The Awakening of Candra (1983), The Initiation of Sarah (1978), The Violation of Claudia (1977), The Taming of Rebecca (1982), The Taking of Christina (1976) – the list goes on and on. It seems as if the second blank – the name – most often represents a woman, while the movies themselves most often fall into one of two categories: Made For TV Movies of the Week or Golden Age Adult Cinema. Can you tell by the titles which ones are which? Probably not. But both categories are fertile ground for Not Quite Classic Cinema.

The Initiation of Sarah (1978) falls into the first category and was in fact an ABC Monday Night Movie. I didn’t see it back then, in sprite of the fact that I was always on the lookout for scary movies on TV. I remember watching other made for TV horror films that year, like Summer of Fear (1978) – which I believe was called Stranger In Our House at the time – but The Initiation of Sarah somehow came and went without me even noticing it. 

I sometimes talk about the fact that home video, or VCRs, really took the place of going to the drive-in for people of my generation. We were too young to drive cars or get into R-rated movies, but we were somehow allowed to rent those same weird and forbidden movies on VHS and Beta. Our VCRs became the home drive-ins of our youth, and we took full advantage.

Prior to those glorious days, made for TV horror films – and other edgy genres that were somehow adapted for TV – were all that we underage trash junkies could access. Anyone remember made for TV women in prison films like Born Innocent (1974) with Linda Blair and Cage Without a Key (1975) with Susan Dey? If VCRs were the home drive-in of my youth, then made for TV movies were the home drive-in of my childhood. 

Ad for Born Innocent (1974)

Ad for Cage Without a Key (1975)I suppose it’s no surprise that once we were able to rent R-rated theatrical movies, we lost interest in the made for TV stuff. Some of those old TV movies were released on VHS and Beta. It wasn’t always easy to tell if a movie had been made for TV, but we would look for words like “teleplay” in the credits. Whenever we found one on the shelf, we would laugh and scoff at the idea of renting it. Our attitude seemed to be “This movie won’t be any good… it won’t be scary… it won’t have any gore or nudity in it… it’s made for TV so it will be suitable for children – yuck!” So if I came across a copy of The Initiation of Sarah in those days, I would have avoided it like the plague.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I started to realize that a lot of those old TV movies were actually good. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, my friend Brian and I have actually taken to seeking out old TV horror films and watching them during our annual all day movie marathon. And I think I speak for both of us when I say that a lot of the R-rated movies we watch can’t hold a candle to classic made for TV movies like The Night Stalker (1972) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973). A few years ago I purchased a Shout Factory TV Terrors DVD that included The Initiation of Sarah. I brought it with me to our annual movie event a few years in a row, but for some reason we kept passing it over in favour of other films. Last year, thanks to the current pandemic, we were unable to hold our event – and it seems doubtful that we will be able to reschedule it any time soon. So, last week I decided that perhaps it was time for me to investigate this particular TV terror on my own (sorry, Brian)…

The Initiation of Sarah is not quite in the same class as made for TV masterpieces like The Night Stalker, but it’s a pretty darn entertaining film. I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of many post Carrie (1976) films that were majorly influenced by it. The term rip off, or knock off, might be used to describe it (and not entirely unfairly). It does manage to distinguish itself with some other, non Carrie-like elements. For one thing, Shelley Winters guest stars as Mrs. Erica Hunter – not Sarah’s overbearing, insanely religious mother, which would have been too on the nose in terms of recreating Piper Laurie’s role in Carrie (but I somehow found myself making that connection anyway) – no, Shelley Winters plays the quirky den mother to the uncool sorority that Sarah manages to join (the only one that will have her). If the movie had stopped there, things would have been okay, if a little ordinary. But it turns out that Mrs. Erica Hunter is some sort of expert on witchcraft and the supernatural – and she recognizes that Sarah has some extraordinary powers. At the risk of including a mild SPOILER, by the final reel of the film, Shelley’s performance takes a sharp turn from quirky, interfering den mother to full on Satanic Priestess, and – as anyone who knows Shelley Winters can likely imagine – she does it very well.

Shelley Winters guest stars as Mrs. Erica Hunter in The Initiation of Sarah (1978)The rest of the cast is pretty stellar as well. Kay Lenz stars as Sarah Goodwin (doesn’t that name somehow ooze witchcraft? Maybe it’s just me). You might recognize her from movies like House (1985), Stripped to Kill (1987) and the early Clint Eastwood directorial effort Breezy (1973). I first got to know her in one of my all time favourites, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). She also stars in one of the other TV movies I mentioned earlier, The Seeding of Sarah Burns (1979). 

There is also a very bad blonde sorority girl who tries to make Sarah’s life hell (somewhat reminiscent of Nancy Allen in Carrie) played by Morgan Fairchild. I recall seeing her play a string of “bad blondes” back in the 1980s. The Initiation of Sarah was a relatively early effort from her, but she already had the woman-you-love-to-hate thing down. It’s no surprise she went on to star in some prime time soaps, like Flamingo Road (1980-82).

The movie was directed by Robert Day, who has almost 100 credits as a director, mostly in television. He did make a few theatrical feature films early on, including The Haunted Strangler (1958) with Boris Karloff and Corridors of Blood (1958) with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee. 

The Initiation of Sarah (1978) is a perfect example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema made for TV in the 1970s. Even though I had never seen it before, it gave me powerful feelings of nostalgia. The actors, the music, the atmosphere, the suspiciously familiar story – it all adds up to cinematic Déjà Vu of the very best kind. If you didn’t grow up watching these kinds of movies at your home drive-in, you might not appreciate it quite as much as I do, but it should still provide enough entertainment value to justify 96 minutes of your time. It will certainly always be a welcome sight for me on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962)

My back has been acting up lately. I don’t know why. I recently lost 15-20 pounds so, if anything, my back should feel better not carrying that extra weight around. But then again, I’m no stranger to chronic aches and pains. My neck, my jaw, and my upper back are often stiff and sore at the end of the day.  I’ve even been known to experience inexplicable pain in my left arm (which one can’t help but recognize as a possible symptom of a heart attack). The first time I experienced the arm pain, I went to see a doctor at a walk in clinic.

“Hold your arm like this,” he said to me, placing it in an upright, fist waving sort of pose. He then took hold of it and pulled it toward him. I offered no resistance, so my arm immediately folded over into a straight line.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Don’t let me pull it.”

Oh. Okay. I curled my arm upward until my fist pointed at the ceiling and tightened the muscles as if I was holding onto someone who was dangling off the edge of a cliff. The doctor grabbed my arm with both hands and tried to pull it toward him. He threw all of his body weight into it, and suddenly he was Lou Costello and I was Buddy Baer, or Frankenstein’s monster, or some other immovable person, and Abbott was shouting from offstage “Are you gonna let him get away with that?!”

I should perhaps mention that my Dad introduced me to weightlifting when I was young, and twenty some years later I was still using his old dumbbells to do two or three exercises a day. Hardly a serious training program, but it was a way of adding a little bit of activity to my long hours spent sitting still at a desk.

My arm didn’t budge, and the doctor let go, out of breath. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that arm,” he laughed. Then he got a little more serious. “The only other thing it could be, is your heart,” he told me. “You seem a little too young for that, but we might as well do a test.”

So, the doctor hooked me up to an E.K.G. and tested my heart. When it was over, he approached with a handful of paper. “To me, ” he said “this looks perfectly normal. But I’ll send it to a cardiologist just to be sure. If there’s a problem, we’ll give you a call.”

They didn’t call. But did that really mean I was okay? Or were they just taking their time get ting back to me?

When my arm flared up again a year later, I went back and saw a second doctor. He was able to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my heart. HIs theory was that a tight neck muscle was pinching a nerve which was referring pain to my arm. “It’s probably caused by something simple, like that way you sit at your desk,” he suggested.

This was years ago, and since then I’ve seen a couple of physiotherapists who have given me exercises to deal with various chronic injuries. I’ve also tried to sit in a better way, in a better chair, etc. and I’ve even made myself a standing desk so I can work while standing up. Unfortunately, standing all the time causes other problems, with my feel, knees, etc. So, I try to mix things up on most days.

A couple of years ago, I was given an opportunity to write scripts for a half hour true crime television series. The only catch was I had to write one script on spec, as a kind of audition. If they liked it, they’d pay me for it, use it, and then hire me to write a whole bunch more. I only had a few days to write this demo script, and because it was my “audition”, I wanted to make it as good as I could. So I sat in my desk a lot, writing. I think I sat there for about 18 hours on the last day, not moving until the script was done.

The good news is that the producers loved it. While I waited for them to send me a contract and a bunch of other paperwork, I started my daily routine of stretching and exercising. I had been doing it for over two months, and I was feeling much better.  I had lost close to 20 pounds, and I had not been in pain for weeks.

And then, as I was in the midst of one of the most basic stretches, my back suddenly screamed at me. I could barely get up off of the floor. Once I was standing up straight I felt okay, but trying to get and in and out of a chair was murder. And I had several pieces of paper to print out, sign, scan and send back to the TV producers. I wound up awkwardly signing them against a wall.

To make this ridiculously long story a tiny bit shorter, the back pain stuck around for a few days and then disappeared.

Now, three years later, it’s mysteriously returned . And just like last time, I’ve been exercising and stretching more –  and I’ve recently lost weight!  So, apparently those things are bad for you…

It’s true that, like last time, I’ve also been spending more time sitting at my desk. Perhaps this could be at the root of my problems. But on the other hand, it could be something more sinister…

In Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962), a college professor, who seems to have all the luck, discovers that his wife is a witch, and that she has been protecting him from the evil forces that could destroy his life and/or career. He is, of course, a non- believer, and forces his wife to stop with all her silly, superstitious mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately for him, this is when everything in his life starts to go wrong. Is witchcraft real? The professor, and the viewer, will have to decide before the end of the movie.

I had never seen Burn, Witch, Burn before last friday. It’s a British horror film, not dissimilar to something Hammer might have done. Perhaps a closer comparison could be made to Curse of the Demon (1957), or Horror Hotel AKA The City of the Dead (1960), or even Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in which a husband’s career may be affected by supernatural forces. 

So, perhaps if my inamorata had placed the right charms around our home, my back pain would have never returned, and my last play would have been a smash success…

Who am I kidding? That kind of thing only happened in the 1960s.

In any case, I liked Burn, Witch, Burn very much. I knew right away that I was in horror heaven, when a voice boomed out at me with this warning/disclaimer: “Ladies and gentlemen, the motion picture you are about to see contains an evil spell, as used by practitioners of witchcraft for centuries… ” I believe that this was actually added by the American distributor, American International Pictures, but it loved it.

Burn, Witch, Burn AKA Night of the Eagle (1962) made for a perfect #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. Fans of atmospheric, intelligent, black and white, British supernatural horror films (or any portion thereof), should definitely seek this one out. I know I am delighted to have it in my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library, and I will be enjoying it again sometime in the not too distant future.