Saturday, August 1, 2020

Night of The Blood Beast – Aliens Impregnate Space Traveler

Review by Steve D. Stones

With titles like Hot Car Girl (1958), Attack of The Giant Leeches (1959) (aka The Giant Leeches), Blood and Steel (1959) and this 1958 film – Night of The Blood Beast, how could any cult movies viewer of forgotten low budget gems not want to be a fan of director Bernard L. Kowalski's films? These lurid titles are enough to attract the attention of any obscure movie fan.

A young astronaut, John Corcoran (Michael Emmet), loses control of his space rocket while en route back to earth. He crashes near Walker's Pass in Florida, where the spacecraft was launched. A photographer, Donna Bixby (Georgianna Carter) and technician Dave Randall (Ed Nelson), arrive on the scene from a nearby space agency tracking station to investigate the damages. The two discover a large hole in the side of the spacecraft as if something forced its way out, and Corcoran lying dead inside the spacecraft. Bixby photographs the wreckage for future investigation.

Astronaut Corcoran's body is brought back to the space tracking station in Florida for an autopsy performed by Dr. Alex Wyman (Tyler McVey) and his assistant Dr. Julie Benson (Angela Greene). Although his body appears to be deceased, his blood pressure and heart rate appear to be normal for a living person. A blood sample from his body reveals strange, abnormal cells that show he is infected with something foreign. Dr. Benson and Corcoran were engaged to be married, so Benson is very emotional about his death.

Later that evening, an unseen creature attacks and kills Dr. Wyman by decapitating him and suspending his body in a medical examination room. Astronaut Corcoran comes back to life at the time of Wyman's death, and the group immediately thinks he's responsible for killing Dr. Wyman.

After an x-ray of Corcoran's chest reveals alien embryos impregnated in his body, the strange creature that killed Dr. Wyman bursts into the room again to communicate with the group, but Randall and Steve Dunlap (John Baer) fire shots at the creature, forcing him to flee the room. The entire room becomes engulfed in flames.

The space tracking station has lost all communications with the outside world. Electrical power has also been knocked out. Randall, Dunlap and Bixby leave the station to track the creature and to discover the source of what knocked out their radio communications. While tracking the creature, Bixby is attacked as Randall and Dunlap fire shots over the creature's head. The creature flees once again.

In a third attempt to track the creature, Corcoran pleads with Randall and Dunlap to not meet the creature with violence, but instead attempt to communicate with it. Randall and Dunlap agree to Corcoran's plan, but are still skeptical, so they take along Molotov cocktails to saturate the creature with gasoline and to ignite him with flames. The group tracks the creature to a nearby cave, where it communicates to the group its plans of an alien race coming to earth to dominate. Corcoran kills himself at the cave to prevent the birth of the alien embryos in his chest.

Night of The Blood Beast had an original working title of Creature From Galaxy 27, and was produced by Gene and Roger Corman. Director Kowalski was only 28 years old at the time he directed the film. The film played on a drive-in double bill with another Roger Corman produced film – She Gods of Shark Reef (1958). She Gods is a complete yawn-fest compared to the superior Night of The Blood Beast.

Watching this film, I can't help but think that perhaps director Ridley Scott may have been inspired by at least the story of Night of The Blood Beast when he created Alien (1979). Many sources report that Scott received most of his inspiration from Mario Bava's – Planet of The Vampires (1965) and perhaps Edward L. Cahn's film – It! The Terror Beyond Space (1958).

The Alexander Laszlo music of Night of The Blood Beast was also featured in Kowalski's 1959 film – Attack of The Giant Leeches. Laszlo's score can also be heard in the 1950s TV space adventure – Rocky Jones - Space Ranger and the 1959 drive-in hit - Beast From Haunted Cave.

Most exterior shots were filmed at Bronson Canyon caves at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. This location was also used in many other cult classic films of the 1950s, such as Unknown World (1951), Robot Monster (1953), The Day The World Ended (1955), I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958) and Teenage Caveman (1958). Speaking of Teenage Caveman, the creature costume used in Night of The Blood Beast will make an appearance in Teenage Caveman.

Night of The Blood Beast would certainly make an excellent double-feature with Kowalski's other lurid sci-fi adventure – Attack of The Giant Leeches. Happy viewing.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Andy Warhol's Bad -- a '70s cult film

By Doug Gibson

I just watched "Andy Warhol's Bad," one of the Factory's films from the 1970s that sought to shock people, a la John Waters, etc. There are the requisite shocks: limbs being cut off, a dog being stabbed, and the biggee, a baby tossed out of a tenement several floors high. With deliberately poor FXs, the camera lingers on this stuff.

"Bad" s mostly forgotten now. It's attempt at savage, gross-out black comedy never goes as far or as acid as John Waters' contributions, such as "Female Trouble," Desperate Living" or the infamous "Pink Flamingos," which has the late Divine eating dog poop. (FYI, the dog pop scene is not the most disturbing scene in "Pink Flamingos," -- not even close. So "Bad" has faded away.

And that's for the best; although the best produced Warhol film, it's often dreary as the main actors, Carrol1 Baker and Perry King, underplay their roles. In fact, King has more energy than Baker, perhaps the only time King had more energy than a co-star in any film! Other Warhol films, such as "Trash," and the monster flicks, are more interesting.

The plot involves Baker as running a hair removal and murder for hire businesses out of her home, which she shares with a doughty family, a few hit girls, including the beautiful actress Stefania Casini. Enter hit man Perry King, who needs to stay a few days before his appointment to kill an autistic boy whose parents want to get rid of. There's also a creepy cop harassing Baker, who basically is the main breadwinner in the dysfunctional family business. The film is as close a look at persons who are basically sociopaths sans any moral functions as any other film has attempted. Susan Tyrell has a role as Baker's marginally moronic daughter in law, who the sociopathic hit girls like to torment.

"Bad" is not a bad film lol, it's just not a great film,. I'd suggest '70s cult completists watch it, though, to see what cinema was competing with Waters for gross-you-out black comedy genre. The 1977 film runs a too-long 105 minutes. Watch a clip below.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Attack of The Giant Leeches – Terror In The Florida Everglades!

Review by Steve D. Stones

Here's another awesome Blu-Ray double feature put out by Retromedia – Attack of The Giant Leeches (1959) (aka The Giant Leeches) with Teenagers From Outer Space (1959). Both prints of the films are in excellent quality. Produced by Roger Corman and his brother Gene, Attack of The Giant Leeches was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and features the bizarre organ music of Alexander Laszlo. The film also features July 1959 Playboy centerfold – Yvette Vickers. A skim budget of $70,000 was all it took to produce this B-movie masterpiece.

A swamp hillbilly from the Florida Everglades named Lem Sawyer (George Cisar) encounters a strange creature in the swamps while poaching for wildlife. Sawyer fires several shots from his gun into the creature, but is unable to stop the creature as it swims away. Later that evening, Sawyer reports this incident to his swamp buddies at Walker's General Store. His buddies laugh at him and don't believe his wild story.

That same evening, Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota), owner of Walker's General Store, confronts his wife Liz (Yvette Vickers) for being bossy with him and for prancing around the store while scantily dressed in front of his swamp friends. Liz appears to be bored with the marriage and does not listen to a word Walker says to her.

Unknown to Walker, Liz has the reputation of being the town harlot. Liz leaves Walker's store for a date with Lem that night. During the date, Lem and Liz are attacked by the same creature that Lem confronted with his gun. Lem is killed by the creature as game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) arrives in time to save Liz.

Refusing to learn from the attack, Liz continues her harlot ways by parking in a car by the swamp with Cal Moulton (Michael Emmet) as the two kiss and make out on a blanket. Dave Walker catches the couple in the act and threatens his wife and Cal with a shotgun. Walker becomes angry with the couple and orders that they walk out into the swamp where they are attacked by giant leeches and taken to an underground cave. Walker later hangs himself in jail because the local authorities believe he was responsible for killing Liz and Cal.

After two poachers are attacked in their boat and taken by the giant leeches, a search party led by game warden Benton searches for the two poachers and Liz and Cal. Dr. Grayson (Tyler McVey) suggests to his daughter Nan (Jan Shepard) and Benton that perhaps giant leeches are living in a cave under the swamp and are responsible for all the missing persons reports. He recommends that a charge of dynamite be placed in the swamp to bring the leeches to the surface. Benton refuses to go with this plan, stating that it's his job to preserve wildlife and that perhaps the four victims could still be alive in a cave below the swamp.

Although Benton threatens to arrest Dr. Grayson if he's seen in the swamp with explosives, Grayson and his daughter Nan place a charge of dynamite in the swamp. The bodies of the two poachers and Cal float to the surface as angry Benton arrives at the scene. Grayon's theory about an underground cave proves to be correct when an autopsy reveals that the bodies had only been dead for a few short hours. Liz Walker's body is yet to be found.

Benton and a diver go into the water with spear guns to kill the giant leeches after Liz's body comes to the surface from a second dynamite charge. Watch carefully for scuba tanks poking out of the giant leech costumes as they confront Benton and his diver companion in the water. Overall, the appearance of the giant leeches is quite effective.

It's interesting to note that Attack of The Giant Leeches played on a double-bill on the drive-in movie circuit with director Roger Corman's film – A Bucket of Blood (1959). In 1960, the film later played on a double-bill with Corman's – House of Usher (1960). Attack of The Giant Leeches remains in the public domain because its copyright has never been renewed. A remake was made in 2008. I have not seen the remake, but I've heard from several sources that it's not very good.

Director Bernard L. Kowalski also directed another great cult classic – Night of The Blood Beast (1958) which also stars Michael Emmet and Tyler McVey. The bizarre organ music by Alexander Laszlo used in Attack of The Giant Leeches was first used in Night of The Blood Beast.

Sadly, actress Yvette Vickers' mummified body was found in her home in April 2011 by a neighbor. She was 82 years old at the time of her death. Autopsy reports suggest that she may have been deceased for a year or more before her neighbor discovered her body. Her July 1959 Playboy photos were taken by cult director Russ Meyer. She can be heard giving audio commentary with film historian Tom Weaver on the 2007 DVD release of Attack of The 50 Foot Woman.

For further information about Attack of The Giant Leeches and other American International Pictures films, see the excellent and exhaustive book – American International Pictures – A Comprehensive Filmography (2019 McFarland) by author Rob Craig. I consider this book to be one of my most cherished film encyclopedias in my personal library. Happy viewing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Poverty row Lugosi films getting more respect nowadays

Essay by Doug Gibson

I love the book, Poverty Row HORRORS, by Tom Weaver, published originally in 1993. I earlier reviewed it here and interviewed Weaver here. Weaver can be a bit mean in his criticism (he uses the term "lowly hacks" to describe Steve Sekely and Frank Wisbar. That's bad enough. But he even snarks that the term "maybe" applies to Edgar G. Ulmer! Come on!

Nevertheless, he does love the poverty row films, and his pre-Internet book is a fantastic source, with detailed production notes, analysis and various reviews of the era. There is also an exhaustive filmography for dozens of actors who performed in the low-budget horrors; and a great index.

Although he can criticize Lugosi, Weaver understands that Lugosi is a major reason there is fandom for the poverty-row era. His PRC film, Devil Bat, and the nine Monogram films he made are the linchpin of this genre. George Zucco of PRC and John Carradine, who worked for multi poverty-row studios, can't compare to Lugosi's' efforts. As Weaver notes, Zucco could come across as mean and Carradine too often gave passive, or downright goofy (think Voodoo Man) performances.

But Lugosi gave it all in these five-day productions. He took it as seriously as if he was starring in Dracula. You can appreciate Lugosi's pride in his craft by watching Boris Karloff give less than his best effort in low-budget films (a good example is Karloff in Monogram's The Ape).

I digress to read passages from a couple of publications of that era that also recognized Lugosi's value to poverty row and why it has an impact today.

From Midnight Marquee Actors Series Bela Lugosi (1995) Gary Svehla writes, "Bela ... approached every movie as though each film performance was as important as the one before. Good films, bad films; good characterizations, cliche roles simply were not part of Lugosi's vocabulary. The only thing that seemingly mattered was the next film and the next performance. Approach the current film as being the ultimate chance to display your talents and perhaps you would have the opportunity to act again. Or, to state the philosophy more succinctly, an actor is only as good as his last film."

Here is an excellent assessment of the Monogram films from Michael Copner, formerly of Cult Movies magazine, writing in the 1990 publication, Bela Lugosi: Then and Now (also known as Cult Movies 1): "If you go into it expecting the nice atmosphere and music of the Universal productions, if you expect the thing to actually make sense, you're going to be in trouble. These movies are the pulp novels of the screen; their only purpose in the world is to make money. So you must watch them in the same way -- just a string of meaningless events going on until Bela Lugosi can come back on the screen again. That's why we're here. If you do that, you will actually begin to enjoy the cheapness a bit, and develop a new appreciation of what  Bela was able to do with absolutely nothing to go on. If this were Michelangelo, forced to create something with a single crayon on a sheet of cardboard; or Paderewski, having to perform on a baby's toy piano, you'd give them this same consideration, wouldn't you? Take this attitude the next time you watch The Corpse Vanishes and you will be amazingly rewarded."

I took Copner's advice and have been rewarded by these films for generations.

At the back of Weaver's book, he has 26 genre experts rate the nine Monogram films 1 through 9. The reviewers include Forrest J. Ackerman, Richard Bojarski, Buddy Barnett, Copner, Weaver, Svehla, Richard Gordon, Joe Dante, Arthur Lennig, and William K. Everson. A lot of these reviewers died in the ensuing years.

The cumulative results are not surprising for almost 30 years ago:

1) Invisible Ghost
2) The Corpse Vanishes
3) Voodoo Man
4) Bowery at Midnight
5) Return of the Ape Man
6) Black Dragons
7) The Ape Man
8) Spooks Run Wild
9) Ghosts on the Loose

I think today, more than 25 years later, that Invisible Ghost (a screen shot is seen above) is still the technically best film. It's probably not the funnest film, though. I'd go with The Corpse Vanishes, and then Black Dragons. Other fun films are Bowery at Midnight and The Ape Man. In my opinion, Voodoo Man and Return of the Ape Man would be second and third on the list. I think they have gained more respect the past decade or so, primarily because Lugosi's performances are so strong. His mad scientist, Professor Dexter, in Return of the Ape Man, is almost as good as his Dr. Richard Vollin in The Raven. And the East Side Kids films are still 8 and 9, although Spooks Run Wild is three times as good as the dismal Ghosts on the Loose, which really wastes Bela. Here I go:  My list:

1) Invisible Ghost
2) Voodoo Man
3) Return of the Ape Man
4) The Corpse Vanishes
5) Bowery at Midnight
6) The Ape Man
7) Black Dragons
8) Spooks Run Wild
9) Ghosts on the Loose

Be aware, that my choices for 4, 5 and 6 are more or less a tie.

This pandemic spring I re-read Lennig's superb biography of Lugosi, "The Immortal Count." My only peeve is that Lenning really seems to despise Lugosi's Monogram films, although his barbs are perhaps mostly directed at the lazy writing, poor acting by co-stars, and direction. But these poverty-row films, as Weaver and others point out, are a major part of Lugosi's legacy today. Without them, I don't think his mystique and fan base would be as strong. Imagine what we'd think today if Lugosi had chosen to be a consistent seventh lead in an A level studio pumping out dramas in the 40s and 50s? Boring. I much prefer Bride of the Monster.

I've noticed this past year a resurgence, and increased respect, for the poverty-row films of the '40s, particularly Lugosi's. Recently, we have reviewed, from  BearManor Media, "Bela Lugosi and the Monogram 9," with critical essays from Gary D. Rhodes and Robert Guffey. And we have reviewed two short story anthologies based on Monogram and other poverty-row films. They are "The Monogramthology," from Arcane Shadows Press, and "Chillers: Tales Inspired By Classic Horror Films," (compiled by Brad Braddock), from Midnight Marquee Press. Authors in both those collections include genre writers Greg Mank and Frank Dello Stritto.

But again, no matter how "respectable" these films become, they are still thrillers to be enjoyed, to have fun with. Weaver's Poverty Row Horrors is a must for fans to possess. You can buy it here.