The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.jpg

My head’s been shrunk! Oh the horror! The horror! Anthropologist Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) believes that the men of his family have been cursed for generations by the native South American tribe he studies. Shortly after his brother, Kenneth (Paul Cavanagh), discovers one of the tribe’s shrunken heads in his house, he’s found murdered and his head goes missing. In pursuit of the tribesman Zutai (Paul Wexler) and a rival scientist (Henry Daniell) who has become a part of the tribe, Drake attempts to end the curse once and for all…  With career best performances by Franz and Daniell, this is a tremendously atmospheric exercise in genre which belies its impoverished production values. Charles Gemora created award-winning shrunken heads in addition to his duties as make-up artist in this parable concerning race relations and the impact of white men on the New World. Written by Orville H. Hampton and directed by the underrated and enigmatic yet prolific B director Edward L. Cahn, this rivals his early collaborations with screenwriter Tom Reed and may well be the best film ever made.

The Witches (1966)

The Witches movie poster.jpg

A fascination with the occult is obviously what drives most of the Hammer output. This adaptation of the novel by Norah Lofts writing as Peter Curtis (and sitting accusingly on my bookshelf, for, oh, maybe 20 years at this point) by Nigel ‘Quatermass‘ Kneale, has a lot to recommend it. Not least is the leading actress, Joan Fontaine, in what would prove to be her last screen appearance, although there are those who swear Kay Walsh (once Mrs David Lean, the first of 4 in that role) is better. Anyhow, Fontaine is a schoolteacher who returns from a traumatising stint in Africa only to discover there’s a coven of the eponymous in a little English village where she has presumed upon a quiet life. There’s a fascinating supporting cast – Alec Cowen, Ingrid Boulting, Leonard Rossiter, Carmel McSharry, to name but some. Oh, that boy playing Ronnie is of course Martin Stephens, the little fiend from The Innocents. It was his final screen appearance – he went to Queen’s in Belfast and trained as an architect. A different time.