David L Hewitt is often included on lists of the worst film directors of all time but I wasn’t sure that was really justified. Yes, his debut picture ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964) was a snooze-athon of truly epic proportions and his final film ‘The Lucifer Complex’ (1979) featured a villain who was killed by an opening door but that was 2 (maybe 3?) unfinished films chopped up and stuck together so some narrative problems were inevitable. On the credit side he did write and direct the interesting ‘Journey to the Centre of Time’ (1967), a low budget tale of time travel which had some fresh ideas and an unusual, if illogical, ending. However, that same year he made ‘Dr Terror’s Gallery of Horrors’ (1967) and his place in the Hall of Shame was ensured forever.
The film consists of 5 tales of ‘terror’ sandwiched into less than an hour and a half and all introduced by Carradine standing in front of a blue screen with a shot of a castle from a Roger Corman ‘Poe’ movie in the background. These introductions are completely pointless dramatically but obviously ‘pad’ the running time a little. We open with ‘The Witch’s Clock’ and a lovey dovey young couple taking possession of a creepy old house. A mysterious stranger (Carradine again) becomes their caretaker. This is all reasonable enough if a bit mundane. Then the local doctor arrives for some of the most clumsily written exposition ever and we crash suddenly to an inept climax involving superimposed flames and a hacksaw cut to burning castle footage from another Corman ‘Poe’ movie. It’s like someone tore out a load of pages from the middle of the script.
Next up is ‘King Vampire’ as a couple of Scotland Yard inspectors(?) with very dodgy English accents attempt to track down a ‘Ripper’ like killer. My favourite part was when one of our heroes attempts to convince a mob of suspicious locals to help. There are only 3 actors and the rest of the crowd is played by an audio track of background voices. The actor simply stares past the camera to deliver his lines to them. Up next is a tale of revenge delivered in a comedy voiceover by a living corpse travelling by horse and carriage, allowing for more excessive use of Corman ‘Poe’ footage (maybe it was on sale?) Many of the camera shots are ‘locked off’ and tight on characters who enter and exit from outside the frame. The inevitable conclusion is that we are seeing the only existing part of the set and that these had been broken up after some other production and Hewitt had hired them on the cheap at the last minute. It all looks like a local amateur stage production that someone has filmed.Our penultimate story features Lon Chaney Jr as a medical doctor trying to bring the dead back to life. It’s set in the mid-1800s but Chaney looks at his wristwatch to check the time. He doesn’t look well. For the gripping finale we get a retelling of the Dracula tale in about ten minutes flat. Jonathan Harker stakes vampire brides as the screen is covered with cartoon wipes of dripping blood. At the climax, one actor drops out of sight below the camera so he can put on his monster makeup. It’s a fitting ending to a truly magnificent horror experience. Ed Wood would have been so proud.
Yes, this is micro-budget film making, probably shot in less time than it took to write this review but, in terms of script, performances and execution it is simply awful. The ideas are hopelessly derivative, the dialogue unspeakable and the production cheap and tatty. On the plus side(!) it’s certainly not dull and a source of great entertainment for lovers of terrible movies, who will be laughing throughout.
Hewitt only made 8 features and 1 short. ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969) is his take on a giant ape and dinosaurs. Clips look ‘interesting’. It’s on my list of Top 10 films to find.