Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tower of Evil (1972)

Directed by Jim O'Connolly
Written by George Baxt and Jim O'Connolly

Rated R for bloody violence and lots of nudity.

"Tower of Evil" is part of a British Horror 4-Film Box Set I recently purchased. Other films in the set include "Curse of the Voodoo", "Horror Hospital", and "Inseminoid" (review still to come).

I've read a few other reviews of "Tower of Evil" while looking for good screenshots, and found a wide divergence of reactions to the film. People either love it or hate it. I fell somewhere in between. I feel like there are some promising elements in "Tower of Evil" that were never fully fleshed out. Perhaps it's due for a re-make?

"Tower of Evil" is what John Carpenter's "The Fog" would have been if it had been made by pervy British hippies on a shoestring budget. During the opening credits, the "helicopter shot" of a lighthouse is clearly just a camera tracking around a shoddily-constructed model of a lighthouse. I'm not against using models, but if you're going to try and con a theater-full of people into believing your model is a real building, it had better be a damned good model.

Through the fog, we see two fishermen sailing towards the lighthouse. They have a brief, cryptic conversation about how they need to do something about the island, and it's long overdue. Upon arriving, they are shocked to find a nude male body lying facedown in a puddle being fed on by carrion crab. They proceed to the main building and discover a man in a butterfly shirt impaled on the wall with a large, golden scepter of some sort. You may recognize this actor (Robin Askwith) as Jason Jones from "Horror Hospital".
As they proceed through the building, the fishermen find a naked woman, with her hair covering her face, lying dead on the floor. They try to brush the hair out of her face, but her head falls off entirely and rolls down the stairs. The older of the two fishermen opens a closet to discover a nude, crazy girl (Candace Glendenning) who promptly stabs him with a sharp stick, killing him. She runs naked in the fog for a bit and then gets conked on the head by the other fisherman.
The police bring the crazy naked lady to the mainland for questioning, a task which is made more difficult by the fact that she's slipped into some kind of catatonia. Luckily, Dr. Simpson has a psychedelic seizure-inducing light show that reputedly reactivates dormant minds long enough to ask them a few questions. While psychology in film is seldom very true to life, this arrangement is particularly unbelievable. I'm guessing that a significant portion of the budget for this film was spent on hallucinogens. "A bank of colored lights that flashes in pretty patterns? Groovy! That sounds pretty scientific to me!"
The treatment miraculously works, triggering a series of disconnected memories from the girl, whose name we discover is Penny Read. Her flashbacks reveal that she had been on the island with her boyfriend and two other hippie teens. Penny's female friend has bad vibes about the island, but the others ignore her. They smoke grass and walk around naked in true "free love" spirit until they are killed off one by one by a man with long fingernails who appears to be smeared with his own excrement. At this point, Penny begins to have some kind of seizure and they have to turn Dr. Simpson's Funkadelic Groove Machine off for a while to let her rest.
Meanwhile, an expedition to the island has been mounted by some archeological folks who are looking for a hidden Phoenecian treasure trove. They believe the golden scepter that they found is one of many treasures buried in a tomb somewhere on the island. A private detective, Evan Brent (played by Bryant Haliday of "Curse of the Voodoo" and "Devil Doll") accompanies them to find out who was responsible for the killings. 
Bryant Haliday as "The Great Vorelli" in "Devil Doll" (1964).
Now Bryant is normally a pretty good b-movie actor. The previous movies I'd seen of his were both black and white, and I was saddened to see that he didn't transition to color very gracefully. His face, which is pock-marked and blotchy, looked great in black and white. In color, Haliday looks like an overcooked sausage. His role in this movie is too small to really offer much opportunity to amaze us with his acting skills. For Haliday at his strongest and most intense, check out "Devil Doll".
 Evan Brent (Haliday) and Brom (Gary Hamilton) on the way to the island. 
The archeologists who accompany Brent to the island are the worst possible teammates for a dangerous expedition. They consist of two men and two women who have nearly all had romantic relationships or slept with one another. The bitterness between the four makes for funny dialogue, but they're ultimately pretty poor characters. On their way in, they remark that there are no gulls or birds of any kind on the island (a clever cover for the fact that most of the "island" footage is clearly shot in a studio, where there would be no birds).
The two ladyfolk archeologists are both shagadelic, and tease the boys mercilessly with their wiles. In the meantime, Evan Brent reveals that he believes there to be a system of caves underneath the island that are the probably resting spot of the treasure. The treasure is guarded by a statue of Baal, a god who the Phonecians worshipped with orgies and blood sacrifices. Unfortunately, Saul, the former lighthouse keeper, is also somewhere in the caves under the island. You see he's gone totally insane following the deaths of his wife and son, and now lives in squalor, attacking anyone who sets foot on the island. It is implied that Baal is somehow connected to Saul's craziness and the island's abnormally high fatality rate in general, but a clear connection is never drawn.

And so the stage is set for what can only be a very silly finale. I won't give away too much about the ending, but the film stays fairly true to the classic slasher film formula. What it lacks in coherence and quality writing, "Tower of Evil" makes up in bloody horror and gratuitous nudity.
I'd give "Tower of Evil" a 6/10, which I'm sure some would say is a generous rating. It's a film with a lot of great elements that was just put together in a less-than-ideal manner. The pacing, the acting and the low production value really robbed this movie of being what it could have been. There are some truly frightening images in the film (like a really creepy family portrait of Saul with his wife and baby) that periodically renew one's interest in the film interspersed with overlong scenes of badly written (and acted) dialogue. Overall, I'd steer clear if you're a casual horror fan, and check out the campy fun of "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" or "Horror Hospital" instead. If you're a brit-horror nut, it may be time to take your own trip to the "Tower of Evil".

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