Category Archives: Ghost Story

Till Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Called back into action.

It’s been 5 years since our team of Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd) saved New York City from impending ghostly doom only to be thanked by getting sued for all the damage they created in the process, which promptly sent them out of business. Now though there are signs of an even worse attack from the supernatural in the form of an ectoplasmic river underneath New York, which is being strengthened by all of the negative energy from the citizens that live there. Can our team of heroes put on their uniforms once more and save the city from yet another ghostly attack while also coming to the aid of Dana (Sigourney Weaver) who finds that an ancient sorcerer (Wilhelm Von Homburg) is trying to possess her newborn child?

The premise pretty much starts the film out on bad footing and it’s never able to recover. The idea that they’d be driven out of business by a barrage of lawsuits didn’t make much sense to me. The ghosts that were terrorizing Dana’s apartment building in the first film were witnessed by thousands of spectators as they stood outside on the ground and watched the three men drive them away, so they should’ve been viewed as heroes and those that tried to sue them would’ve been vilified. Besides it was the mayor (David Margulies) who gave them the permission to do whatever they needed to do to take the ghosts out, so if anyone was to be a target for the lawsuits it would’ve been his office and the city. What is even worse is that after the first 40 minutes the story eventually goes back to the original premise where the team becomes popular again and their services are in-demand, so why couldn’t the film simply started from that point as it makes the entire first act come off like a complete waste of time otherwise.

Although it’s great to see Janet Margolin, who plays a prosecuting attorney, in her last film appearance, the court room scenes are static and not right for this type of genre. The ghosts are not scary or frightening like they were in the first one either and instead come off as cartoonish and boring.

Murray gets pigeonholed in a dull routine where he spends most of the time trying to desperately rekindle his romance with Dana, which isn’t interesting. Ramis and Aykroyd seemed more intent on stealing back some of Murray’s thunder by not having him come along on a few of their missions including a long segment where they discover the evil river underneath the city, which is just not as funny without Murray there.

Weaver pretty much just goes through the motions in a part that really does not allow her much to do. I was also confused as to why she had been a musician in the first film, but in this one she had strangely crossed over into being a painter. Rick Moranis and Annie Potts are equally wasted and forced into a makeshift romance simply because the writers didn’t know what else to do with them.

William Atherton, who was so good at playing the prissy, arrogant heavy in the first film, gets sorely missed. Kurt Fuller tries to take up his slack, but he is not as effective. Former wrestler von Homburg plays the evil sorcerer, but his voice ended up being dubbed by Max von Sydow, which made me wonder why they didn’t just cast him in the villainess role to begin with since he was the far better actor.

Just about all the jokes fall flat and the climactic finish which features an animated Statue of Liberty is really lame. The story is never able to gain any traction or momentum, doesn’t add any new or interesting angle to the theme and should’ve been trashed before it was even made.

My Rating: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, Amazon Instant Video

Ghostbusters (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who ya gonna call?

Due to this film’s recent reboot set for official release tomorrow I thought it would be great to look back at the one that started it all. I haven’t seen the remake and have no plans to, so this review will concentrate solely on the original. However, if you have seen both feel free to leave a comment comparing the two and telling us which one you liked better.

The story here centers on Peter (Bill Murray), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon (Harold Ramis) who are three parapsychologists who lose their jobs at Columbia University and decide to open up their own paranormal extermination service out of an old, abandoned firehouse. At first business is slow, but it quickly picks up once they capture a particularly pesky ghost known as slimmer from a ritzy Manhattan hotel. Soon they find themselves the center of demand and media attention. Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is a cellist who finds her apartment to be haunted and the womanizing Peter becomes smitten with her and is quick to come to her aid only for her to end up becoming possessed by the demon. The three then must use all of their abilities and weapons to try and stop it as well as the plethora of other ghouls who were mistakenly released into New York’s atmosphere when an aggressive EPA agent (William Atherton) forced them to shut down their ghost containment system.

I saw this film when it was first released and found it to be hilarious, but was worried that after all these years it might not come off as well, but to my surprise it hasn’t aged at all and is still quite fresh and inventive. Usually even in the best of comedies there will be jokes that fall flat, but here every one of them hits-the-bullseye and I enjoyed how the creative script see-saws the humor from the subtle to the over-the-top. The plot is imaginative, but manages to create and stick to its own logic that is consistently clever and amusing, but never silly.

The special effects are also impressive. Usually in comical films the ghosts or monsters are made to be benign and goofy, but here they are frightening, which again helps keep the story from ever getting one-dimensional.

Murray’s glib and detached persona is at a peak level and his throwaway lines, which were almost all improvised, are gems. Aykroyd and Ramis, who wrote the script, wisely step back and give Murray full control to steal the spotlight, which he does effortlessly.

The supporting cast is equally great. I never considered Weaver particularly suited for a role as a love interest, but her sharp, caustic manner works as a nice contrast to Murray’s smart-ass presence. She also becomes quite sexy during the scenes when she turns into a demon. Rick Moranis as her nerdy neighbor is hilarious and has some of the funniest moments in the film particularly the scene he has at a party he throws in his apartment and the way he introduces each guest as they arrive.

Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is the icing-on-the-cake in a film where amazingly everything clicks perfectly. Why the studio heads felt there was a need to revamp this franchise is a mystery. I realize they are running out of ideas and feel the urge to retool what has been successfully done before in order to appeal to the ‘new generation’ of filmgoers, but this is one classic that should’ve been left alone.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Death Ship (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost ship haunts ocean.

Members of a luxury ocean liner collide with a mysterious ship that comes out of nowhere. The liner sinks, but a few of the passengers manage to survive by boarding on a raft and going out to sea. After a few days of being afloat in the watery abyss they come into contact with the ship that they collided with. Having no other options they board the vessel only to find that no one else is on it. At first they are relived, but then creepy things begin to occur making them feel that it may be haunted. When the ship begins killing off members of the group one-by-one the remaining people look for a way off, but find nothing available.

The film starts out okay with a likable enough cast filled with veteran B-actors. The collision and subsequent sinking of the luxury liner as some definite tinges of The Poseidon Adventure to it and I’ll give props to the shot showing a grand piano crashing several stories down as well as the way the engine room quickly and realistically fills up with water. The ghost ship has a nice threatening quality and is shot in a way that gives it effective creepiness and makes it like a third character.

The performers do their best and giver earnest performances although it’s hard to believe that any of them could possibly have taken the material seriously and could only have been doing this for the money. I did not like the way George Kennedy’s character goes from being this surly prick of a sea captain to a man possessed by the evil spirits of the ship as I liked the way his character’s disagreeable personality meshed with the others and made the group dynamics a little more interesting.

The ultimate problem with the film though is the fact that there is no second or third act and the whole concept would’ve worked much better as a thirty minute episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ instead of trying to stretch it out to feature film length. There are just so many creepy shots of the ship, foreboding music and scared reactions of the cast one can take before it all becomes quite old and redundant.  

The ending is unsatisfying and doesn’t explain anything. Yes, we understand this is a ship once used by the Nazi’s to torture victims, but why is it haunting these waters and why did it decide to collide with the ocean liner and if it has collided with other ships then why hasn’t it been detected by world governments and possibly gone under attack by armies in an attempt to subdue it? Again, as a creepy short story or an episode of an anthology series it might’ve worked, but as a film it is boring, one-dimensional and lacking any type of unique spin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD

The Changeling (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead child haunts house.

Still grieving from the sudden loss of his family in a freak accident composer John Russell (George C. Scott) decides to move to the Pacific Northwest where he finds a large stately mansion to move into. He feels it would be the perfect place to reflect and continue with his work, but instead realizes that it is haunted by a child who was murdered there years earlier. With the help of Claire (Trish Van Devere) who had procured the property for him they investigate its history and find that there is a connection between the killing and an influential senator (Melvyn Douglas).

One of the aspects about this film that I did like was that it was given a big budget and the on-location shooting that was done from New York, Seattle and even Toronto gives it a strong visual backdrop and makes it light years ahead of the average horror film that is usually crippled from the start by its meager funding. The mansion is impressive at least the outside of it, which was actually only a façade that was constructed when they couldn’t find a real one to fit their needs. However, the idea that a single man would move into such a large place seems ridiculous and there’s nothing that says ghosts can’t haunt small homes that would be more practical place for one person to live in.

Scott gives an unusual performance in that he shows little of a frightened reaction when the scares occur. To some extent I liked this as the screams and shocked expressions in most horror movies become overdone, but when a vision of a ghostly boy appears in a bathtub and all Scott does is calmly back away it seems to be underplaying it a bit too much.

I also felt that Van Devere’s character was unnecessary and was put in only because she was Scott’s real-life wife at the time, but it seemed unrealistic that a real estate agent who was merely an acquaintance to John would get so wrapped up in his quandary or even believe him to begin with. No relationship is ever implied, but it would have made more sense had the character been written in as a girlfriend.

I realize there are those that consider this to be a ‘really scary’ movie, but I found it to be pretty flat. The ‘scares’ as it where consist of nothing more than a child’s ball rolling down a staircase twice, whispery voices, a runaway wheelchair and a few doors slamming. There is also a fiery finale that borders on the hooky and a tacky séance and if that is enough to keep you up all night then have at it.

Spoiler Alert!

The idea that this child, who was sickly and if he died before his 21st birthday the family fortune would go to charity, so the father kills him and has him replaced with another child who later grows into being this powerful aging senator, didn’t make sense in that I didn’t see where the ‘justice’ was in getting back at the senator who had nothing to do with the killing or even knew about it. He was simply an innocent child taken from an orphanage and the product of a nefarious scheme by the father, so why not go after the dead soul of the murdering father and leave the senator alone? The senator dies from a heart attack that we are lead to believe was caused by the ghostly presence of the angry child, which to some extent makes the protagonists look like the bad guys since they were the ones that precipitated the meeting that lead to the death and instead should’ve tried to prevent it.

I was also confused by the whole backstory about John’s family being killed in a roadside accident that begins the movie since it really didn’t have much to do with the main plot and could’ve easily been left out completely.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I first saw this film over 20 years ago and wasn’t all that impressed with it then and I’m still not. I realize it has its legion of fans, but to me it’s just an average ghost story and far from being a classic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Medak

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

Available: VHS, DVD

Raw Force (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghosts of martial artists.

A group of martial arts students board a boat owned by Hazel (Hope Holiday) and piloted by Harry (Cameron Mitchell). During their ride the boat catches fire and they are forced to abandon it and get into a raft. After several days at sea they come upon an island that is the home to some ghosts of famous martial artists as well as a female slavery ring run by a group of monks. When the three groups meet it becomes a wild ride of sex and violence.

The film, which was shot entirely on-location in the Philippines, is clearly an exploitation cheapie and on the sex side it does pretty well as there is an abundance of nudity particularly during the first 45 minute or so that should satisfy any voyeur since the models for the most part are pretty good looking. However, the script is corny and dumb. Way too much time is spent on the set-up featuring a lot of stale conversations between wooden characters and comic sidelights that are silly and uninspired. The action itself is poorly captured and not very exciting while lacking in blood or realistic looking special effects.

Veteran character actress Holiday is actually the best thing playing a ditzy middle-aged woman sharing a love/hate relationship with Mitchell. Carl Anthony who plays Lloyd a man who considers himself much more of chick magnet than he really is amusing and Camille Keaton best known for her role as Jennifer Hills in the original I Spit on Your Grave and slated to star in its recently announced sequel has a bit part as a ‘girl in toilet’.

This film may be good for a few laughs on a bad 80’s movie night with friends, but the limited budget doesn’t allow it to distinguish itself from the myriad of other B-grade features that came out at the same time. The film’s one and only good moment comes during a scene at a bar where a fight breaks out and the naked lady stripper continues to dance on the bar top while remaining completely oblivious to the action around her.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Kung Fu Cannibals

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Edward D. Murphy

Studio: American Panorama

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Hearse (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by a hearse.

Jane (Trish Van Devere) is recuperating from a nervous breakdown and decides to move away from the bustle of big city life into a home left to her from her recently deceased aunt, which is situated in a small town. Unfortunately things do not go smoothly. The townspeople are reticent to Jane’s presence and weird things begin to occur including a mysterious big, black hearse that appears late at night and seemingly intent on running Jane over.

I remember I first heard of this film when it was shown on Showtime during the early 80’s as part of their ‘After Hours’ films, which typically amounted to soft core sex flicks and gory horror. However, this film was only rate PG, which always made me wonder how ‘adult’ or scary could it really be.

To some degree this fares slightly better than the usual low budget horror flick at least at the beginning. There are some nice on-location shots of the San Francisco bay area and the main character is likable enough. The production values are decent and the story, as thin as it is, has a certain intriguing quality to it.

Van Devere makes for a strong female protagonist as she is quite practical and doesn’t allow herself to scare easily and seeing a female character that is confident and poised and not used simply as a sex object especially in these types of films is a refreshing change. After a while though I started to think that the character became a little too stubborn as there were so many bad things that started to occur that I think I would have left and not come back and the fact that she stays past when most other people wouldn’t makes her seem a bit irrational.

The atmosphere is minimal and the scares are almost non-existent and depend almost completely on a few doors slamming and windows bursting open for no reason. Moments of intruders breaking into the home and shots of their feet silently creeping up the stairs starts to become redundant and dull. A dream-like funeral sequence can’t save what is otherwise a slow moving plot. The ‘secret’ behind the hearse’s presence isn’t very imaginative and the film borrows too many elements from other cheesy haunted house films without adding anything unique or distinctive in the process.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: George Bowers

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD (Drive-In Cult Classics Vol. 2)

Echoes (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by dead brother.

Michael (Richard Alfieri) is a young artist who is plagued by reoccurring dreams dealing with a menacing man out to get him. He goes to a psychic and learns that this is actually his dead twin brother who died at birth and is now reaching out in attempt to possess him.

This is a unique idea that is reminiscent of the later film (and book) The Dark Half and is some ways more intriguing. Unfortunately instead of approaching it like a thriller, occult, sci-fi, or mystery it instead treats it like a social drama(!?!). The majority of the film is spent on how his obsession with these dreams affects his relationship with his girlfriend, job, and other friends. There is no suspense or chills whatsoever. The ‘visions’ are unremarkable and non-distinctive. The music is too loud and way too heavy for what ends up being very dramatically trite stuff. The climax is hooky and laughable and there is never any explanation for why this happened or how.

There are also a lot of dramatic lulls that really hurt the film’s momentum. The whole first half hour is spent on his budding relationship with his girlfriend Christine (Nathalie Nell) before it even gets to the story and the way they get together is quite stodgy to begin with. By and large the characters and dialogue are bland even the menacing spirit of the dead brother is sterile.

Star Alfieri, who also co-wrote the screenplay, just doesn’t have a strong enough presence to really carry a picture. He also has one of those annoyingly pouty pretty boy looks. Co-star Nell helps add a little contrast by having a French accent and some very practical sensibilities.

Gale Sondegard, Ruth Roman, and Mercedes McCambridge whose picture you see at the top of this post and is probably best known as the voice of the demon in The Exorcist give the film some distinction and are fun to watch even if they are given little to do. This was for all three their final film appearance. Mike Kellin has a great part as a terse art teacher who has a rather intense confrontation with student Alfieri during one of his classes that is pretty good and ends up being the film’s best moment.

You also get a chance to see a John “West Wing” Spencer. He is much younger here with more hair and a mustache and you might only recognize him through his voice.

Overall the movie is ineffective. The direction is competent enough to make it watchable, but there’s no excitement or thrills. With such an interesting idea it could have been and should have been a lot better.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Living Nightmare

Released: May 31, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Allen Seidelman

Studio: Film Corp

Available: DVD as ‘Living Nightmare’

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: One is not enough.

This is an oddly structured Brazilian film that became a world-wide hit due to its explicit, edgy storyline.  It details the account of a woman named Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) whose first husband Valdomiro (Jose Wilker), was a bit on the wild side. After gambling away all of their money he dies. She becomes determined not to make the same mistake twice, so she remarries another man who is a doctor (Mauro Mendonca) and a much more responsible mate, but also stiff and boring. Problems ensue when the first husband, who she misses because he was more erotic and exciting in bed, comes back in the form of a ghost who only she can see.

The movie on a whole is well made. The characters are all likable and the theme music, which is played throughout the film, is appealing. The on location shooting is also quite distinctive. It really gives you a genuine, rare flavor of a small Brazil village and the people who inhabit them.

My main complaint with the film is that it takes the entire first hour just too illustrate her marriage with her first husband and the second hour to show her mourning and eventual remarriage. It’s not until the FINAL FIFTEEN MINUTES that the scenario the whole film is based on actually happens. When it does it is lively and funny, but the majority of the movie is surprisingly low key and melodramatic. The highly touted sex scenes are overrated. They are too brief and spread out very thinly.

Braga does well in her star making vehicle. She is able to convey both a simple, sweet nature as well as a sultry, sensual one. She has a pretty face and really does look great naked.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruno Barreto

Studio: Embrafilme

Available: VHS, DVD (Director’s Cut)

The Innocents (1961)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children frighten their governess.

Legendary British actress Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, the governess hired to care for two children at a sprawling English estate. However, the children are not exactly as they seem. Strange occurrences and behaviors begin to manifest as well as several ghostly sightings, which leads Miss Giddens into believing that the children may actually be possessed.

The film is based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. I have not read the book, but those that have feel this is a pretty satisfying adaptation. I did like the slow, methodical pacing. It helps to build the tension as well as enhance the mystery. Things are revealed in deliberate layers, which kept me intrigued throughout.

Director Jack Clayton shows a marvelous handle on the material.  The estate that they chose for the setting is perfect and captured well in glorious black and white by famed cinematographer Freddie Francis.  There is a lot of spooky imagery throughout including a creepy nightmare sequence in the middle.  The garden with its hulking, strange statues is used quite effectively especially in the haunting finale.  The music also grabs your attention right from the start with a very eerie song that is played before you see a single image on the screen. The song is similar to the one used in Rosemary’s Baby.  In fact there are several things here that reminded me of that film as well as The Shining.

Kerr was a good choice for the increasingly frightened governess.  I loved that scared expression on her face, which becomes progressively more frequent. Yet she is also effective when the character decides to become proactive by taking matters into her own hands and singlehandedly trying to ‘cure’ the children herself.  This also helps make both the character and the story a more multifaceted because you are never sure if this stuff is really happening or all just inside her head.

What really impressed me the most though was the performances of the two children especially Martin Stephens who plays Miles the young boy. His character shifts through many different moods, playing an innocuous child one minute and then a menacing, volatile one the next. He does each one flawlessly and becomes practically mesmerizing in the process.  Pamela Franklin is also fine in the role of Flora. This was her film debut. Eight years later her career would peak playing her signature role as Maggie Smith’s nemesis in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Another thing that I liked about the children is that they are initially portrayed as being normal and even engaging.  This is unlike other films with a similar theme like Children of the Damned or Children of the Corn where the kids are given creepy features right from the start. Here it works better and is more chilling to the viewer because the children’s dark side is unsuspected.

Unfortunately, despite the film’s impeccable technical quality, I still went away feeling unsatisfied. Part of the problem is that nothing really happens.  The ghosts appear but then do nothing but just stand there, which quickly becomes tiresome. One scene in particular has the camera constantly cutting back to the lady ghost standing across the lake until she starts to look like a mannequin, which I suspect she was.  The buildup is good, but I would have liked more of a payoff.  The ending is much too vague and gives no explanation as to why this was happening, if it was happening, or whatever became of the main character.

I couldn’t help but feel that this story would have worked better as an episode from one of the old horror anthology series like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or even The Twilight Zone where it could have all been compacted into an hour. A hundred minutes seems like much too long for such little to happen. It is also interesting to note that in 1972 a film came out entitled The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando that attempts to speculate what happened to the children before the main character of the governess arrives and before James’s original story begins.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jack Clayton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD