Bloch and Harrington did The Cat Creature together and there is a “cat woman” to be found in that movie similarly dressed as the one in the 1942 Cat People movie. Obviously, both were fans and influenced by producer Val Lewton’s movies from the 1940s – the running times of the tv movies are as short as a Lewton film as well. Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943) was of the Haitian variety too.
What follows in Hamilton’s investigative trail includes him killing a man who rises from a coffin at the local funeral parlour. Upon reporting to the police that he has shot the zombie, they’re baffled as there is no proof.
Composer Robert Prince (1929-2007) has done a good horror score and it is probably not surprising his music cue from tv series Circle of Fear aka Ghost Story (1972) was used in Annabelle Comes Home (2019).
Director Harrington also had a fixation with Poe, not uncommon, as his first and last short films were based on Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher short story.
“Now do you understand I belong to Varrick because I am dead,” says one of Hamilton’s girlfriends. Who is this mysterious man Varrick that leads the zombies?
There is no humour in The Dead Don’t Die as Harrington goes for atmosphere. It deals with what happens to “the innocent victims of injustice” as the zombie population consists of people apparently framed for murder and executed.
“We can’t win,” says Hamilton’s girlfriend about Varrick, who bursts into flames once her voodoo doll is set alight. While Milland says: “Do you believe all this stuff about voodoo and zombie magic?”
They go and dig up Hamilton’s brother and the coffin is empty. It’s surprising the empty coffin scenario should be written by Bloch before Mrs Bates’ coffin in Psycho and Ed Gein’s grave-robbing was made public. Perhaps it wasn’t in the original story.
More twists occur and people die, either decapitated or run down by trucks. All in the best possible taste, as this is a 1970s tv movie after all.
It all ends in a refrigerated industrial property where Varrick’s children will “rise on my order and on my command”. Yes, another who wants world domination on the scale just a bit bigger than that of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)!
With Milland apparently Varrick, Hamilton is saved by his zombie brother… but it appears to have all been a hallucination – no bodies in the fridges and no Varrick. It’s as atmospheric as a film of its era can be – Gargoyles (1972) is another good tv horror movie – as Hamilton is driven away totally perplexed at the end of the film.
Just to mention Harrington’s feature Games with Simone Signoret (1921-85 pancreatic cancer), James Caan and Katharine Ross. Kent Smith (1907-85 heart failure) has a small role, again he starred in Lewton’s Cat People and its “sequel” The Curse of the Cat People (1944). Harrington’s at it again.
Signoret’s role was apparently meant for Marlene Dietrich (1901-92 renal failure) but Universal Studios brass vetoed the choice.
Signoret plays mental games with Caan and Ross when she turns up on their doorstep. They too like to play parlour games and others of a less destructive variety. This Avon lady who “sells overpriced cosmetics” eventually presents the couple with a pair of pistols… What’s on her mind?
You won’t care as Games lacks any real tension until there’s a scene with an elevator in the couple’s home, a disconnected phone cord and someone whistling London Bridge is Fallling Down… What people will do for money or with money in Harrington’s case as he would never again work with such a top-level modern-day cast although Caan and Ross went on to greater success in other films.
Following The Dead Don’t Die, Milland made the more than slightly interesting The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), a modern day giallo – or an Italian murder mystery common in the 1960s and 70s based on novels with yellow covers. Giallo means “yellow” in Italian. The Pyjama Girl Case is based on an “unsolved” murder case which occurred in Australia in the 1930s.
That case had the partially burnt body of a woman in her 20s found on the side of a country road in 1934. Her body was kept by the Australian authorities in formaldehyde for over a decade as they tried to identify her. She was found dressed in yellow silk pyjamas with a Chinese dragon motif, something out of the ordinary for Depression era Australia.
This Spanish-Italian giallo is directed by Flavio Mogherini (1922-94) whose work rarely gained much notice outside of Italy.
The Pyjama Girl Case opens with a song by former model and singer Amanda Lear (1950-) over the credits. She almost sounds like a man – very unisex. The song ends with the discovery of a woman’s burnt body on a beach.
The film’s cast features Milland, along with Mel Ferrer (1917-2008 heart failure) who did many a pasta or paella movie over the years, and British-Australian actor Rod Mullinar (1940-) who would follow this movie up with a role in the Aussie horror Patrick (1978), a movie deemed iconic enough for a remake in 2013.
While most of the outdoor scenes in the pyjama movie were shot in Australia – Sydney was the location – it is obvious that Milland never set foot in Australia for the production. He is doubled as he enters buildings and the rest of the film’s studio work must have been shot in Europe. Even a restaurant scene shows cars driving on the opposite side of the road outside.
“He lives on a beach, he has a beard and he prefers his own company,” says someone about a possible suspect, whose hobbies are questionable. In fact, he’s caught indulging in his hobby by detective Milland when he enters his porn filled shack to question him.
To add to the ghastliness of it all, it turns out the girl who was burned was also raped, in fact, gang raped… Meanwhile Silver Streak is playing at a cinema as beautiful Italians Michele Placido (1946-) and Dilila Di Lazzaro (1953-) go from meeting at the movies to proposing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.
The burned body in the movie is kept like in the real case, although in the film she is put on display as if in an art gallery as throngs of people pass by to have a look. Also, in the movie, the fact she is wearing yellow pyjamas is also used. Instead of a Chinese dragon motif a sack which also covered the body contains an Asian variety of rice.
Also used in the film is a motif at the beginning where the body is found on the beach inside of two wrecked motor cars on top of one another. This idea is used in the exact opposite as the rich character of Mel Ferrer has vintage cars inside his palatial mansion. Polar opposites of failure and success. Rich and poor. Oil and water. In fact, the two stories are like two blades of scissors far apart and seemingly not connected but they come together almost unexpectedly in the end like when Placido drops his glasses in the murderer’s car and the arms of the glasses cross.
The crux of the movie being the burnt corpse of the pyjama girl. One of the lurid things about the film is when Di Lazzaro allows herself to be sexually abused by a fat man and a teenage boy who looks like he has a giant cold-sore on his mouth.
The mystery of the original pyjama girl was “solved” at a time when the effectiveness of the New South Wales police department in Australia was called into question. A decade after her murder the pyjama girl’s husband admitted to the murder and she was identified. That denouement has been questioned to this day as well as the actual identity of the body. Was Linda Agostini really the pyjama girl or did she only fit the physical profile? It is said even the colour of the eyes of the body and Agostini didn’t match…
The silk garment being some sort of item of the “symbolic morals” of the victim, so, it too reflects sadly upon the character in the movie who loses a baby and offers herself up as a prostitute.
Milland was back in a wheelchair for Frogs producer George Edwards again one last time for The Attic (1980). It has often been described as a horror movie but is more of a psychological thriller which is low on thrills. It is, however, anchored by a lead performance by actress Carrie Snodgress (1945-2004 heart failure). She plays a soon to be replaced head librarian and functioning alcoholic who has attempted suicide. She daydreams about torturing her wheelchair bound nag of a father including pushing his face in his dinner plate and throwing an electric heater at him while he is in the bathtub.
Carrie’s love of her life disappeared on her wedding day and she makes up for it by sleeping with strangers and going: “Your name is Robert, it’s 1960 and we’re in love.” The Attic disappoints horror fans – it’s slightly boring – and certainly the climax makes up for watching the rest of the film. If you want some drama maybe you’ll like it.
It was around the time of the making of The Attic that Milland’s only son committed suicide. The actor was still married to his wife of over 50 years when he died.
And now it’s time for what is Ray Milland’s final theatrical film The Sea Serpent aka Hydra (1984). Directed by Amando de Ossorio (1918-2001) who came up with the Blind Dead movies in his native Spain… The Sea Serpent had been his dream project for many years.
The results for the director were so disappointing for him in terms of the special effects that he retired following its release. The director had already suffered the indignity of using a toy boat apparently set fire in a bathtub for the climax of his Blind Dead movie The Ghost Galleon (1974). It really does look like it! Unfortunately, it took another sequel and another decade for things to go from bad to worse. He made a couple of X-rated movies in between… For The Sea Serpent, de Ossorio had to use something akin to hand puppets to show the giant monster of the title.
The film stars Timothy Bottoms (1951-) and Taryn Power (1953-2020) who is the daughter of matinee idol Tyrone Power (1914-58 heart attack). Taryn’s older sister Romina’s daughter Ylenia Maria Sole Carrisi (1970-94) disappeared when she visited New Orleans as a backpacker in early 1994.
Mystery surrounds her whereabouts and mother Romina still thinks she is alive while her father singer Albano Carrisi (1943-) had her declared dead several years ago. Someone said they saw her jump off a boat into the Mississippi River which her father believes is true.
“The sea monster, it does exist,” says sea captain Bottoms, who has apparently sunk two ships, possibly while under the influence of alcohol. But we know better as it is a giant glove puppet which sinks ships and gobbles up seamen in that order. All the while making a horrible screeching sound.
The Sea Serpent of the title has been created through the military dropping nuclear weapons into the ocean off the coast of Spain… Taryn sees her drunk friend get eaten one drunken night when she goes out to sea in a small paddleboat… and soon Taryn and Bottoms will be on the trail to prove the monster exists.
“I have also seen the sea monster,” Bottoms tells Taryn, as she is kept in a Lisbon hospital for psychiatric tests after claiming to see the giant serpent. Bottoms needs an “important man” to help them, while the serpent approaches its latest victim, a lighthouse, with some rip-off Jaws music not too different to the score used in Great White (1981).
“He’s rather a strange man, they say he’s a bit mad,” says a librarian, who doesn’t hesitate in recommending professor Milland to the odd couple. Milland doesn’t believe them at first…
It’s great to see Milland in this trash as he lifts what would be a totally unwatchable travesty into a, well, cult film. Actually, the whole cast has to be commended for valour.
“It looks like a submarine,” says the serpent’s latest victims, smugglers in a rowboat as they spot its wake one moonlit night… Add a criminal conspiracy when a surviving smuggler is murdered in hospital.
Argentine writer and film director Leon Klimovsky (1906-96), who was a familiar face in spaghetti westerns and horror in Europe in the late 1960s and early 70s plays a doctor.
Also another familiar face from over a hundred Spanish and international films is Victor Israel (1929-2009) who goes up in flames as another victim of the monster on a pier. This only proves the respect de Ossorio had when he made this film.
But never since the mismatched effects of classic bad movie The Giant Claw (1957) has there been such gravitas from a capable cast over the lousiest of monster creations.
“We just want to convince it to go someplace else,” says Milland about their plans for the creature when actor Jared Martin (1941-2017 pancreatic cancer) joins their club.
Taryn is voluptuous, while Bottoms has a porn star or Freddie Mercury type moustache and Milland, well, he treats the role with almost winking good humour.
The Sea Serpent climaxes with a toy helicopter, a toy train – steam driven, of course – getting destroyed along with a large model bridge… di Ossorio has delivered an ‘epic’ bathtub type ending with gigantic flames leaping as a fuel tanker from the train topples into the bay and explodes. The Sea Serpent flees… perhaps for a sequel! But everyone abandons Milland when he thinks of going after it as he says they have “no spirit of adventure”. Cut to the sea serpent in a cave at the bottom of the ocean and then freeze frame whereupon we are treated to the credits.
Ray Milland didn’t really care what he appeared in during his second bite at a career. He already had an Oscar and maybe he needed the money. And I mean it when I say – he has to be admired for that!