Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering New Year's Evil

Happy Days star Roz Kelly stars in this early 1980s slasher film directed by Emmett Alston. Like so many horror films of the 1980s, this one is an attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise.

Kelly is a punk rock mother hosting a New Year’s Eve party at a hip New Wave music club in downtown Los Angeles. Her teenage son comes to see her at the club with flowers, but she completely ignores him. A maniac killer, played by Kip Niven, calls Kelly at the club hotline to inform her that he will commit a murder every hour until 12 midnight as part of his New Year’s resolution. A club worker named Yvonne is the first victim to be killed in a bathtub in a club dressing room.

The second victim is a pretty blonde nurse at the local hospital. The killer predictably poses as a new hospital orderly who lures the nurse into a hospital room with champagne and proceeds to stab her to death after making out with her. Another nurse at the hospital discovers her body in a closet.

The killer continues to call Kelly at the music club in a disguised voice to inform her that he is committing murders. He even plays a taped recording over the phone of him stabbing the nurse at the hospital. Kelly is now forced to take his threats seriously. She asks the local police department for police protection.

By now the viewer has been exposed to lots of really bad punk rock performances, zebra striped T-shirts, and 1980s mullet hairstyles. Where are The Ramones, The Misfits and The Sex Pistols when we need them?

Feeling rejected by his mother, Kelly’s son sees his mother performing on television at the club with a punk band. In a fit of anger, he tears apart the roses he brought for her, and stretches one of her red nylon stalkings over his face as if he is about to become a killer himself. This is a particularly confusing scene because by now we already know who the killer is and what he looks like, so any attempt to suggest that the killer could be Kelly’s son seems unnecessary. The killer now shows up at another dance club in L.A. dressed in an obviously fake moustache and three-piece suit. He tells another pretty blonde girl at the bar that he is a business agent for many Hollywood actors in town. He convinces her to leave the club to attend a business party. She refuses to go alone with him, so she takes one of her club friends with her.

This spoils the plans of the killer to get her alone. The three drive in the killer’s Mercedes to a gas station, where the killer strangles one of the girls with a bag full of marijuana. He hides in a Dumpster to attack the second girl as she comes out of the gas station with a bottle of champagne. The killer stabs her to death. As the killer flees the scene, he is harassed at a stop light by a motorcycle gang. The killer speeds away from the motorcycle gang and hides out at a local drive-in theatre.

The movie screen advertises a film entitled Blood Feast as a feature playing at the theatre, but it is not Herschel Gordon Lewis’ schlock masterpiece from 1963, unfortunately. After stealing another car from a young couple making out at the drive-in, the killer shows up at the New Wave club, manages to club a police officer in the head at a back entrance, and puts his police uniform on, which conveniently fits him perfectly. Under police protection outside her dressing room, Kelly sits in front of a mirror putting on make-up as the killer suddenly appears in her room in a jogging outfit and a Halloween mask.

She sees him in the mirror, but is not frightened. He removes the mask, and reveals himself to be Richard Sullivan, her husband. She is not frightened by his presence because she has no idea he is the killer. As the couple gets into an elevator, it becomes evident to Kelly that her husband is the killer.

He holds a knife up to her and saying:“I’m fed up . . . You’re just like all the other women in my life. Women are manipulative, deceitful, immoral and very, very selfish!”

His reasoning for killing here seems very petty and unnecessary. Wouldn’t his actions make him “manipulative, deceitful, immoral and selfish?” If he was so fed up with his wife, why didn’t he just request a divorce from her? Why go through the troubles of killing several innocent women to get to her? In the post O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson world we live in today, it seems highly unlikely that a man would go on a killing spree killing innocent victims just to prove a point with his wife.

However, I realize this film was made long before the O.J. Simpson ordeal of the1990s, and the Scott Peterson ordeal early in this decade. As the film comes to an end, Richard chains his wife to the bottom of the elevator and is chased by policemen who fire shots at him. He is chased to the top balcony of the building, where he puts the Halloween mask back on and jumps off the building, committing suicide. His son emotionally removes the mask from him.

The film ends with a shot of Kelly being wheeled into an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance is wearing Richard’s Halloween mask, and the paramedic on the passenger side lies dead on the floor of the ambulance. Could the killer now be Kelly’s son?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL follows in the long line-up of so many 1980s slasher/horror films. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so many others, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an attempt to use a holiday title to cash in on the slasher craze of the 1980s.

-- Steve D. Stones

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday terror: Silent Night Deadly Night

By Steve D. Stones

Just how sleazy is the holiday horror film SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? Paige Hurley, a concerned parent from Minnesota said: "My 3-year old son saw the television commercial for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT last week and now refuses to sit on Santa’s lap for our annual Christmas picture this year. What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving?" Roxanne T. Mueller of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said: "SILENT NIGHT, DEALY NIGHT is a sleazy, miserable, insulting piece of garbage!" Actor Mickey Rooney said: "How dare they! I’m all for the First Amendment, but … don’t give me Santa Claus with a gun going to kill someone. The scum who made that movie should be run out of town." As you can see, critics were not very kind to this movie.

Like DON’T GO IN THE WOODS . . . ALONE, this film has a special appeal to me because it was filmed locally in Heber City, Utah. In fact, directors James Bryan and Charles Sellier Jr. both worked on the Grizzly Adams TV show of the 1970s.The story begins with a young family traveling to a Utah mental facility to visit their grandfather on Christmas Eve. For years, the grandfather has pretended to be unconscious and mute. After greeting the grandfather, the parents leave the room to attend to some formalities with the superintendent while Billy stays to watch his grandfather. The grandfather begins to warn little Billy that only good children can receive gifts from Santa, and Santa severely punishes all naughty children.

On their way back home, Billy expresses a lack of interest in Santa visiting their home on Christmas because he is afraid of being punished. Soon they encounter a man dressed in a Santa suit pulled off the side of the road with car trouble. The Santa has just robbed a local convenient store. The father pulls over to offer help, but the man points a gun at him. He quickly puts the car in reverse, crashing into a nearby ditch. The father is knocked out unconscious. Santa pulls the mother out of the car, raping and murdering her. Billy witnesses her murder after fleeing from the car and hiding in the brush near the ditch.

Four years later in December 1974, Billy is now living at Saint Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children. Mother Superior disciplines Billy for showing a violent crayon drawing of Santa to his classmates. While walking in the hallway to his room, Billy witnesses a young couple having sex in their room. This triggers a flashback in his mind of the rape and murder of his mother. Even sitting on Santa’s lap at the orphanage seems to trigger the violent flashbacks of his mother.
It is now Christmas time 1984, and Billy is a grown up teenager working at a toy store. One of his co-workers constantly teases and bullies him at work. He develops a crush on a pretty brunette girl who also works at the toy store. He even has sexual fantasies about her in his dreams. His boss insists that he dress up as Santa to greet costumers. He is very hesitant to take on this assignment because of what he witnessed of his mother many years ago, but soon agrees to dress up as Jolly O’ Saint Nick.

One night while leaving the store, he witnesses his bully co-worker raping the pretty brunette girl in the back storage room. Once again, this triggers another flashback of his mother being raped. This time he becomes violent and kills the man by hanging him with Christmas lights. For the rest of the film, Billy goes on a murdering rampage with an axe and dressed in his Santa suit.
One particularly sleazy and gratuitous scene in the film shows Linnea Quigley, the most famous star of the film, having sex on a pool table with her boyfriend. She hears a cat outside the house and decides to open the front door topless to let it inside. How many women would really open the front door topless to let a cat in the house? This is not very believable. Soon Billy enters the home and picks Quigley up, impaling her on the antlers of an antelope head hanging above the fireplace. The real Santa will have quite a surprise when he comes down this particular chimney tonight!

Although I’m a fan of this film, I do have my criticisms of it. This film is an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween some six years earlier. The 1980s ushered in the "slasher genre" as a result of Halloween, and this is one of many 1980s films that fits this category.

What makes Michael Meyers such a believable killer is that we really do not know why he kills, and we never see his face. Plus, we feel Meyers is evil and has no remorse for his actions because he is not aware they are wrong. The Billy character in this film is not quite believable because we are given a long history into his life, and he appears to be the typical all American boy up until he witnesses the girl at the toy store being raped by his co-worker. He does not come across as being evil and seems to be killing for only the sake of witnessing a rape. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why parents all across America were protesting and banning movie theatres for screening this film.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a film I would only recommend to fans of the "slasher genre" of the 1980s. If you’re looking for a well-made, classic holiday horror film, I would highly recommend BLACK CHRISTMASfrom 1974. BLACK CHRISTMAS pre-dates the "slasher genre" by nearly a decade, and is said to be John Carpenter’s inspiration for Halloween.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Tribute to Bettie Page

BETTIE PAGE: The Sultry Smile of a Nashville Girl

By Steve D. Stones

Just what is it about a sexy girl with jet-black hair dressed in a bikini and nylon stockings that gets our heart rate pumping so rapidly? When it comes to pin-up queen Bettie Page, it’s the sultry smile and look of innocence mixed with naughtiness that really sweeps us off our feet.

Bettie Mae Page was born April 22nd, 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee to Walter Roy Page and Edna Mae Pirtle. She was the second of six children. After the stock market crash of 1929, the Page family struggled to survive like so many other American families. This caused a break down in the Page home. Edna was forced to place Bettie and her two sisters in an orphanage while she worked as a laundress and hairdresser to save enough money to bring the family back together. Bettie soon learned to cook and sew, which proved to be very useful when she made many of herown dance costumes for her 1950s performances.

From a very young age, Bettie exhibited great talent and excellence in everything she did. She was voted "most likely to succeed" at her High School and became the co-editor of the school’s newspaper and yearbook. She also served as program director of the drama club and secretary-treasurer of the student council. At the time of her graduation, she was at the top of her class academically and received a $100.00 scholarship to Peabody College, where she majored in Education. She married Billy Neil in 1943.

After a brief period of teaching, Bettie decided to move to San Francisco to pursue her first passion; acting. While in San Francisco, she landed her first modeling job and was able to travel all over the world for her work. She developed a strong interest in Haitian culture, which would later have a large impact on her "bondage and discipline" work in the 1950s.

In 1947, Bettie divorced Billy Neil and headed to New York City. At this time, New York had become a Mecca for young people trying to make it in the entertainment industry. The post-war era of the late 1940s and early 1950s saw an economic boom in the United States. Television was the new medium, and opportunities to be a part of the entertainment business were endless.
Also at this time, an off duty police officer with an interest in photography named Jerry Tibbs spotted Bettie on the boardwalk at Coney Island and asked her to pose for some pictures. Tibbs suggested she cut her bangs, which has become the trademark look of Bettie’s now iconic appearance.

Bettie soon met Irving Klaw and his sister Paula, who were running a small mail order business to market photographs of pin-up girls. During her brief time with Klaw, Bettie created some of her most memorable photos and films that were thought to be lost or destroyed forever as a result of the McCarthy era witch hunts that took place in the 1950s. Both Bettie and Klaw were subpoenaed to testify before the U.S. Senate because of these "lewd materials." This was a time of strict moral restrictions in American culture, and Klaw’s photographs and films strayed outside those strict codes of the time. Feeling the pressures of the McCarthy inquisitions, Klaw eventually gave up his mail order business for good.

After Bettie’s appearance in the January 1955 issue of Playboy, and some photos taken by Bunny Yeager on a beach in Florida, Bettie seemed to disappear forever. In 1958, she had a religious conversion, and decided to devote her life to her newfound faith. That may have been the end of Bettie’s former life and her photos, as far as she was concerned.

Then, the 1960s ushered in a new generation of sex entertainment that immediately became mainstream culture. Audiences were treated to "nudie cutie," nudist camp and other soft-core features, which were rapidly becoming popular forms of enterainment. The strict moral codes of the McCarthy era were breaking down very quickly. The films of Barry Mahon, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, Russ Meyer and David F. Freidman were popular drive-in fare at this time. Collectors were also seeking out the Irving Klaw films made with Bettie a decade earlier.

The 1970s saw entertainment becoming even more liberal by introducing hard-core sex films. Stars such as Linda Lovelace, John Holmes and Marilyn Chambers all were new names familiar to a sex-starved public.

Soon a cult following developed around Bettie Page and her photos. Her image could be seen everywhere, including posters, t-shirts, trading cards, comic books, fine art paintings, and even lunch boxes. Bettie became familiar to a whole new generation of fans. Collectibles of Bettie Page are a sought after commodity.

Sadly, Bettie passed away on Thursday December 11th, 2008 of heart failure at the age of 85. She was not able to achieve her life long goal of living until the age of 100, but her images and films will live on forever in the hearts and minds of her devoted fans all over the world. Her sultry smile and sexy girl with the jet-black hair image will live on forever.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A look at The Milpitas Monster

By Steve D. Stones

In recent years, Millcreek Entertainment has released a series of 50-movie DVD box sets with cheap public domain films that would normally be unavailable to buy or rent. These boxed sets are a real treasure for any serious film buff of low budget horror and monster movies. The DVD sets are very affordable and amount to around 40 cents a movie.

Chilling Classics is just one of many sets put out by Millcreek. This set contains an interesting and very rare mid-1970s film called: The Milpitas Monster. The small town of Milpitas, just forty miles past San Francisco, is experiencing a series of neighborhood garbage raids. Locals are waking up every morning to giant slimy footprints in their driveways and garbage scattered all over the yard. Meanwhile local scientists are conducting experiments on water samples of the nearby-polluted Milpitas Lake.

It turns out that a giant creature was spawned from the pollution of the lake, and is now terrorizing the local citizens. It’s up to the town drunk and some local high school students to save the day and destroy the beast.

The climax of the film shows the monster on top of a TV transformer as a helicopter knocks the beast off the tower, similar to the ending of the 1933 classic King Kong.

The most interesting aspect of this film is the cheap, yet strange-looking monster. The monster has bat-like wings, and wears a mask that looks similar to a gas mask. His eyes light up like many of the monsters that confront Godzilla in the Japanese monster movies.

Although the film ends with the monster’s claw rising out of Milpitas Lake after he has fallen from the TV tower, a sequel to the film was never made. Perhaps the locals of Milpitas were unable to raise the funds to produce a sequel?

It’s interesting to note that Ben Burtt, who created the sound effects for all the Star Wars movies, also contributed to the effects of this film. Burtt’s career after this film obviously took a much more successful path.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A look at Leonard Gardner's Fat City

Hello blog-readers, it's been a little quiet the past few weeks. Steve is busy with end-of-semester stuff on a large scale at the classes he teaches at Weber State University. I am busy at work and finishing up the class I teach at the University of Utah. We plan a lot of posts and reviews as the year ends and begins.
I've decided to throw up a book review I had published too many years ago in the long-gone Salt Lake City Event magazine. It is of the novel, Fat City, by Leonard Gardner. It's the nest boxing novel published since The Harder They Fall. It's also a great John Huston-directed film, which is slated to be shown on Turner Classic Movies in February. So here goes!
Fat City

Fat City, by Leonard Gardner, reminds me a lot of a John Steinbeck novel. It takes place in northern California -- Stockton, to be exact -- and is a story about lost dreams, skid row, alcoholism, self destruction and day labor workers picking crops and being bossed around by callous overseers. The time is the late 1950s. Billy Tully is a washed-up 29-year-old ex-boxer who barely survives life in a downtown hotel. Tully carries a major torch for his ex-wife, who left him when his fighting career went south. He works picking fruit and spends his nights drinking. Sometimes he flirts with Oma, a young, alcoholic, bitter widow who lives with a black man.

One day Tully goes to a YMCA, and coaxes an 18-year-old named Ernie Munger to spar with him. To Tully's surprise, Ernie whips him handily that day. Prodded by Tully, Ernie goes to the gym and starts training under the eye of Ruben Luna, who used to train Tully. Ernie, who works nights at a gas station, marries his girlfriend Faye when she becomes pregnant. Tully keeps working the fields, but begins to imagine a comeback. He moves in with Oma, and then follows Ernie to the gym to start his own comeback under Luna s watch.

Fat City is a lot more than a boxing tale, however. Gardner's writing is superb. He has a talent for getting inside the heads of and fleshing out the personalities of even minor characters. For example, there's this young boxer named Wes Haynes. He trains hard and is filled with dreams of success. In his first fight, Wes is knocked out in the first round. "Wes ... was overcome with dejection. He had made no secret of his training. Acquaintances at school had spoke to him as if he were a professional, and he had not cared to correct them. He had believed he would be one soon enough ... Now he felt he should have known all along that he was nothing."

There is no glamor in the fight game in Gardner s novel. Tully and Ernie are brought to the gym for quixotic reasons; Tully to regain the glory he had in his youth (and maybe his ex-wife, although that's a pipe dream more fueled by booze than love). Ernie just wants enough extra cash to support a wife and baby. But there's no money in fighting. Ernie gets $10 for fighting four round bouts. Tully's comeback fight -- a main event 10-round tough win over a fading, ring-wise veteran from Mexico -- nets him only $100. He soon returns to booze -- even Oma has left him. Alcoholism destroys Tully. It makes him a self-pitying whiner. He blames his manager Luna for a long-ago boxing loss. Soon after Tully's comeback win, he is filthy and homeless, struggling to find a place to sleep on the street.

Perhaps Ernie is meant to be a younger Tully. However, he lacks the talent of his mentor and we're left with the impression that boxing won't consume his life. He's roped into marriage with Faye before he's ready. There is a scary scene where the usually mild-mannered Ernie is consumed with jealousy after seeing an ex-boyfriend of Faye's. In a mild yet chilling manner, he demands from Faye to know about her past sex life, all the while insisting it's no big deal. Faye, never having seen this insecure, possessive side of her new husband, eventually bursts into tears. "...that deep animal moaning, terrifying in its immodesty, rose from behind her hands. It was a sound he had never heard before. ... Faye, it doesn t bother me. It doesn't bother me. It really doesn't bother me."

Fat City gives voice to the shadow people of the streets. The ones who spend hours in the bars, wake up in ratty hotel rooms, hang out at bus stops waiting to be driven to a field to pick crops, and earn just enough cash to be able to go on a week-long bender in their hotel room. For Tully, there is no difference between winning and losing. His long-term fate has already been determined. His boxing ability can only provide a short respite from another slide. But Gardner does not see Tully as a quitter. No one s a quitter among Gardner s street people. They re survivors. They claw out lives any way they can, regardless of the baggage that keeps them down.

A footnote: Fat City was made into a movie in 1972. It was directed by John Huston and starred Stacy Keach as Tully and Jeff Bridges as Ernie. It garnered excellent reviews and is available on video and DVD.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Riding the Bullet: At least it's a good e-book

By Doug Gibson

Plan 9 Crunch fans, I just watched a horrendous 2004 Mick Garris-directed film, "Riding the Bullet," starring David Arquette and Barbara Hershey. Thing is, it's a pretty darn good novella from Stephen King. It's not the first King adaptation to stink (anyone see "Dreamcatcher" or the Rob Lowe "'Salem's Lot?" But, in fairness to a spooky tale, I submit a review of King's original e-novella since I doubt the film clinker even made it to theaters:


Riding the Bullet

...the worst stories are the ones you’ve heard your whole life. Those are the real nightmares.

Stephen King can spin a great yarn and his new e-novel, Riding the Bullet, is no exception. It’s the tale of Alan Parker, semi-starving college student at the University of Maine. Alan gets a call from a neighbor that his mother, Jean, has suffered a stroke and is in the hospital. Since his “junker” car is down, Alan hitches rides for the long journey downstate from Orono to Lewiston. On the highway, in the middle of the night, Alan discovers he’s hitched a ride with the angel of death. To escape with his life, death offers Alan an awful alternative.

It’s not surprising that death is a dominant them in this very short (63 pages) tale since King wrote it while recuperating after being hit by a car. The famed writer nearly died of his injuries. The first 40 or so pages is the best. It’s very creepy when Alan discovers that the being who picked him up for a ride shares the same name on a tombstone Alan saw earlier while hitching. The story weakens a little at the end when Alan finally meets his mother in the hospital. Jean Parker is one of King’s stock characters; the loud, brassy, overweight single mom whose armpits always smell but sure as heck loves her kid.

Nevertheless, that’s a minor quibble. Readers will find it hard to stop e-turning the pages on their computer screen. The action for most of the novel moves quickly. You can lose yourself in King’s storytelling skills and forgot the slightness of the plot and that Alan is really the only developed character. To sum up, Riding The Bullet is like listening to a great tale over a campfire.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An early peek at kitschy Christmas flicks

(This essay originally ran in the Dec. 20, 2007 Standard-Examiner)

By Doug Gibson

Every December the best Christmas films pop up on TV: "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "Going My Way," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — I refer to the Boris Karloff-narrated cartoon — "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" and, of course, that other Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

We all have our favorite Christmas cinema moments. George Bailey's joyous run through Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge dancing for joy on Christmas morning, Macy's Kris Kringle speaking Dutch to a World War II orphan girl, and my favorite, crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon's surprise reunion with his mother after decades apart.

es, there are great holiday films. Much has been written about them. But today let's spill some ink about the other Christmas films, the kitschy ones. They're all over the dial. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel!

Most aren't worth five minutes of our time, but some still spread holiday magic. We've all heard of "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge," but how many recall the Fonz — Henry Winkler — starring in "An American Christmas Carol"? There are two well-received versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," but do you recall the kitschy 1973 TV version in which the lawyer was played by actor-turned-newsman David Hartman?

Even the biggy, "It's a Wonderful Life," has a kitschy cousin. Remember "It Happened One Christmas," the gender-switching knockoff starring Marlo Thomas?

Indeed, the competition is fierce for those kitschiest Christmas movies that still entertain us. But here are three finalists, all made on the cheap, yet still being sold and garnering holiday TV showings.

So, without further adieu, here is the best kitschiest Christmas film:

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship. We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm. It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho."

And now, the second-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa Claus" — Don't confuse this 1959 Mexican film with Dudley Moore's "Santa Claus: The Movie" or Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" films. This import is weird and a little creepy, but it sticks with you. Old Kris Kringle is a sort of recluse who talks to himself and lives in a castle in outer space. He has no elves. His helpers are children from around the world who can't sing very well, though they belt out a lot of songs. Santa's reindeer are, I think, plastic and he uses a key to start them. Santa also works out on an exercise belt to slim down for the chimneys. For some reason Santa hangs out with Merlin the Magician. Enter "Pitch," a devil. His goal is to stop Santa from delivering presents. Pitch is a wimpy fellow in red tights and wears what looks like a short middy skirt. Santa and Merlin foil Pitch's nefarious plans. The film also focuses on two children, a poor girl and a rich, neglected boy, who resist Pitch's temptations. There are magic flowers and even special drinks. Santa glides safely to a chimney using a parasol. If this film sounds to readers like the after-effects of taking two Percocet, you got the gist of it.

Finally, the third-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5. The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it? The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grandaughter, a sleepy cat and many toys. The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director is Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer."

A footnote: These films can occasionally be found on TV. Indeed, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Santa Claus" are usually broadcast a Friday in December on KULC Channel 9 in Utah at 9 p.m. Both Santa Claus films mentioned here have also been spoofed by the snarky robots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Forgotten horror: Werewolf of London

The Werewolf of London

by Doug Gibson

Werewolf of London, 1935, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Stuart Walker. Starring Henry Hull as Dr. Wilfred Glendon, Warner Oland as Dr. Yogami, Valerie Hobson as Mrs. Lisa Glendon, Lester Matthews as Capt. Paul Ames, and Lawrence Grant as Sir. Thomas Forsythe, Scotland Yard chief. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 stars out of 10.

The Werewolf of London, which pre-dates Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolfman by several years, drips in atmosphere. There's foggy London nights, remote Tibetan valleys and sinister chilly nights in deserted country homes. It's the tale of a London botanist (Hull) who travels to Tibet to find a rare flower which blooms when the moon shines. Also, legend has it that it serves as an antidote to lycanthropy, or literally, becoming a werewolf. In Tibet, Hull is attacked by a werewolf, and while fighting him off, is bitten on the arm. He returns to London with the flower.

Once in London, the workaholic Hull is visited by an Oriental colleague (Oland) who asks for the flower to help patients, or so he claims. Oland, who carries a charmingly sinister persona, hints that he was the werewolf Hull fought off in Tibet. Meanwhile, Hull's Dr. Glendon, much to his surprise and horror, become a werewolf. The transformation leaves him evil, and he kills several women when the moon is full. An old beau (Matthews) of Glendon's neglected wife Lisa (Hobson), visits the community and begins to suspect Hull.

This film is not too scary, but it's still very well made and very entertaining. Hull is a bit too skinny to inspire much fear and his werewolf is not too threatening or awful in appearance. In fact, the werewolves in this film aren't much stronger than the women they attack. Nevertheless, Hull's feelings of horror and helplessness at what has happened to him create strong pathos. In a particularly emotional scene Hull, desperately prays to God to spare him the werewolf curse. Then, he adds a final prayer, asking that at least he be spared of killing his wife if he be so cursed.

There are a few silly scenes of stereotypical neighbors and party guests who distract from the plot, and another subplot where the hero Matthews makes a play for Hull's wife, Lisa. But star Hull, despite his physical limitations, does a better-than-average job, and Oland also contributes to the fun. The music is splendid, and was copied in many other horror films of that era. The method of Hull's "werewolfism" is a flower plant. That was certainly changed by the time Chaney Jr. became the wolfman. Werewolf of London was a box-office flop for Universal, and that ended Hull's bid for horror star status. Still, the film holds up well today. Catch it when you can on Turner Classic Movies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All about Manos: The Hands of Fate

By Steve D. Stones

Anyone who proclaims Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Creeping Terror to be one the "worst movies of all time" obviously has never seen this film. In fact, it’s a film that is rarely even discussed in many film encyclopedias, including the Medved brothers’ "The Golden Turkey Awards." That may be because the film is just now surfacing as a cult item in recent years due to it being spoofed on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 television show in the early 1990s. The show has given Manos a whole new generation of cult fans.

An El Paso fertilizer salesman named Harold Warren directed Manos: The Hands of Fate. Warren also served as producer and screenwriter of the film, and cast himself in the role of the husband and father named Mike. Not surprisingly, Warren never went on to make or act in another full-length feature film. His role in Manos seems a bit out of place because the woman who plays his wife in the film, Diane Mahree, looks old enough to be his daughter.

The film opens with Warren and family sitting in a convertible on the side of the road contemplating where to go. They are on a family vacation and lost somewhere in the Texas countryside. To alleviate the stress of being lost, they begin to sing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream . . ." This reminds me of the times I’ve been to Disneyland with my family and they force me to ride the "It’s a small world" ride. By the time I get off the ride, I want to pull out all my hair from being knocked over the head so many times with the "It’s a small world" song heard in several different languages. A root canal procedure from my dentist would be less painful.

If you haven’t lost interest in the film by now, you may very soon as the opening sequence continues with long and boring panning shots of the family driving in the countryside in all directions. The camera never shows the moving car itself, just shots of the moving countryside. The cinematographer should have been shot for these sequences. After driving all over the place, the family decides to stop at an old worn down shack to ask for directions to the nearest motel. They are greeted by Torgo, played by John Reynolds, who walks funny, carries a charred stick, and looks as if pillows are stuffed in the knees of his pants. Torgo insists, "The Master wouldn’t approve" of the family staying overnight in the shack. He repeats this line over and over again.

We soon discover whom "The Master" is that Torgo keeps referring to as the couple becomes intrigued with a sinister looking painting hanging on the wall near the fireplace. The painting depicts The Master in a black and red robe and an evil looking dog beside him. The family becomes frightened as they hear the sound of howling wolves and barking dogs outside. They soon notice their family poodle is missing. Mike, the father, steps outside to find the poodle, where he finds him lying dead on the ground. Mike picks him up, and the dog is already as rigid as a piece of plywood. Although it may have been unintentional, I found this scene to be very funny. Why an animal would be stiff with rigor mortis so quickly seems very odd to me.

The most effective sequences in the film show The Master and his voluptuous maidens in a Pagan cult ritual. The maidens are said to be the wives of The Master, and they are dressed in see through white gowns that reveal their sexy, curvaceous bodies. Apparently the maidens shop at Victoria’s Secret for their undergarments.

The Master, who looks like singer Freddie Mercury of the British rock group Queen, commands the maidens to sacrifice Debbie, the young child of the family. The maidens cannot agree on this, so they wrestle and fight each other on the desert sand, while slapping and pulling each other’s hair.

When Torgo is placed on the altar of sacrifice to be killed for his disobedience, the camera shows an interesting close up of the maiden’s hands reaching in towards him. The Master forces Torgo’s hand into the ritualistic fire where it severs from his arm as a burning effigy.

Like so many cult films, Manos: The Hands of Fate actually does improve with each viewing, believe it or not. As with other cult films, you may find yourself wanting to take Manos home with you like an ugly lost puppy and nurse it back to health, even if your friends tell you to kick it out into the street and let it die a slow death.

The cult of Manos has been a long time coming, but fans are now beginning to open up to the film and appreciate it for what it is. This sick puppy may take lots of nursing to get it back to health, but if you keep an open mind to it, you may actually find yourself enjoying the film after several viewings, if you first don’t pull out all your hair!!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An homage to the drive-in theater

This essay originally appeared in the Oct. 31, 2007, Standard-Examiner newspaper.

By Doug Gibson

This month Turner Classic Movies has been offering Halloween-appropriate films that used to chill our parents and even our grandparents. From Ed Wood to William Castle to Roger Corman, "Bride of the Monster," "Homicidal," "The Tingler," "A Bucket of Blood," "Pit and the Pendulum," "The Terror" and other fright films flickered on TV screens this month.

I love those old movies, with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and even a very young Jack Nicholson working to induce frights and chills. If I had a time machine, I would head back to these films' release dates, pay four bits or a dollar, and enjoy a Castle, Corman or a Wood first release.

Chances are I'd have headed to a drive-in theater to see the film. Today, drive-ins are scarce, and moonlight as swap meets. There was a time, though, when drive-in theaters were ubiquitous.

Drive-ins played most film genres, but specialties were the horror or exploitation film. When Ed Wood made his cheapie, "Jail Bait," the negative and prints headed straight to the deep South, distributed by a film company that owned 50 or so cow pastures-turned drive-in theaters.
Of course, the Corman, Castle and Hitchcock films were often shown indoors, but business was always big on the weekend, when harried parents would hustle sleepy kids into the station wagon, park it, stick the speaker into the car and wait for the kids to fall asleep.

Steve Stones, a Weber State University art professor and cult film collector, remembers when the drive-in competed with the multiplex. "It was appealing to me when I did go because there was something out of the ordinary in being able to sit on the bumper or tail gate of your vehicle and see a movie with the stars and night sky above," he recalls.

I read a book, "Cinema Under the Stars: America's Love Affair with the Drive-In Movie Theater." It's a bittersweet read. The 1950s were the heyday of drive-ins. There were more than 4,600 then. There are only several hundred left. Only one remains in the Ogden area.
"Cinema Under the Stars" is full of photographs and drawings of old drive-ins and the screen ads — trailers, local business, public service announcements and concessions — that were part of the drive-in experience. The ads were so much fun you can buy them on DVD now: dancing snacks, Bernz-O-Matic In-Car Heaters or Drizzle Guards to put on your windshield ... all on sale at the snack bar!

What separates the drive-in from today's indoor theater is the drive-in was a community experience. Talk at the multiplex and you get shushed. But at the old drive-in there were playgrounds, bleachers, truck beds and privacy when the car door closed. The film was talked about as much as it was seen.

Stones recalls, "the sound coming out of those bulky grey speakers ... was not so great, but I think most people really didn't care because they were either going to make out in their car with their date that night, or discuss the movie as it was playing on the screen with their friends."
Drive-ins were where the blood 'n' gore craze began. Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Blood Feast" was a huge hit down South in 1963. In the late '60s and early '70s, as drive-ins started their slow decline, exploitation films became steady grossers. Ultra-low budget fare such as "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," "Brides of Blood," "Cain's Cutthroats," "Horrors of the Blood Planet," "A Taste of Blood," "Satan's Sadists," "Blood of Ghastly Horror" and "Don't Go in the Woods ... Alone" (filmed near Ogden) were standard drive-in offerings across America.

Purists still loved these films, cult items today, but, not surprisingly, many couples who parked to see "Blood of Ghastly Horror" found each other more interesting than the film on the screen. Many of today's Gen-Xers were conceived after mom and dad turned the sound off at the drive-in movie.

The drive-in theater turned 74 this year. Those films that made the drive-in so popular are preserved on cable channels and DVDs. A few drive-ins are still around, but evidence of their waning status is seen today, on Halloween, when the films that once shined outdoors are now only viewed within walls.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ogden's own: Don't Go In the Woods ... Alone!

By Steve D. Stones

This film is of particular interest to me because it was filmed in my native state of Utah. The composer who created the music, H. Kingsley Thurber, is a resident of my hometown of Ogden City. Thurber is responsible for composing music tracks for popular video games of the 1990s. With the exception of the four main actors in the film who play the young campers, most of the cast members were from Salt Lake City. Many scenes in this film were shot at Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful mountainous location up Provo Canyon here in Utah. The film was banned in the U.K. in the 1980s as a "video nasty," and remains banned in that country to this day. Unlike many cult films, I actually loved this film the first time I viewed it. It usually takes me several viewings to appreciate a cult film.

There are many interesting "point of view" shots in the film. One shows the camper Joanie, played by actress Angie Brown, tearing through a sleeping bag after she has been strung up in a tree inside the bag as a prank from her boyfriend. As she tries to tear through the bag to get out, she witnesses the murderer of the film through a hole in the bag as he runs down a mountain trail and stabs her boyfriend in the stomach with a knife tied to a long tree branch. The murderer is similar to the maniac Jupiter in Wes Craven’s 1977 classic "The Hills Have Eyes." On the audio commentary for the film, director James Bryan describes the maniac-murderer as a Siberian-Shaman looking character.

One very creative murder sequence shows a young mother painting on canvas outdoors in the mountains as her infant is bouncing up and down in a baby swing. The canvas she is painting on has only been painted with green strokes of paint. Suddenly she is murdered and gushes of red blood splatter across the canvas, making an interesting use of complementary colors together. I don’t know how intentional this was in the film. For those of us who paint frequently and know about color schemes, it is an interesting sequence. There are also many "fake scares" in the film that set the audience up for thinking they may see the murderer attack a character in the film. Many of these sequences turn out to be a "fake scare" to add to the black humor of the film.
Although the humor sequences outweigh the serious ones, it is often hard to tell whether the film wants to be a full-blown black comedy, or a serious horror film, This may be one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed the film the first time I viewed it, and continue to enjoy it with each viewing. If you pay careful attention to the film, you will notice that every time a new character is shown on screen in an awful costume, you can guarantee that this person will be the next to be killed. This is part of the black humor director Bryan is trying to get across in the film. Death comes to those with a horrible fashion sense.

A particularly tacky scene shows Cheri and Dick making out in the back of a Volkswagen Van on their honeymoon night. Dick repeats: "Cheri, Cheri, you’re the most beautiful thing that has ever come into my life." This is pretty bad dialogue to say the least. The director once worked in the porno business before he worked on the Grizzly Adams television show of the 1970s, so this may be why he intentionally gave these two characters the tacky names that he did and their poor dialogue. To add to the tackiness, the interior of the van is designed with a poster of Farrah Fawcett plastered to the ceiling with gold trim, red shag carpet, and heart-shaped pillows. Perhaps the interior of the van was once used as a set for a porno film? The awfulness of the van’s décor would lead us to believe so.

It seems like such a cliché to have an overweight, soft-spoken sheriff of a small town in a low-budget horror film, but this may be the most convincing character in the entire film. The sheriff, played by Texan Ken Carter, flies a small plane into the skies in search of a missing person reported lost. This sequence seems like homage to Coleman Francis’ plane scenes in "The Beast of Yucca Flats" with the sheriff fulfilling the role of Tor Johnson. Another scene shows Carter helping a pretty young roller skater from falling to the ground as she runs into him getting out of his police vehicle. The sheriff frequently wipes his brow from sweating profusely, which has also become another cliché in low-budget horror films.

If you are a fan of low-budget horror films and a native of Utah, I highly recommend that you view this film. The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD distributed by Media Blasters is full of extra features, such as a short featurette made by director James Bryan with cast and crew members, two audio commentaries and a poster and production still gallery of the film. You are guaranteed to get your money’s worth if you purchase this DVD. It is one of the most cherished DVDs in my collection.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

All about Mario Bava's Black Sunday

By Doug Gibson

Black Sunday, 1960, Italy, 83 minutes, B&W. Directed by Mario Bava. Starring Barbara Steele as Princess Asa Vajda/Katia Vajda, John Richardson as Dr. Adrej Gorobec, Andrea Checchi as Dr. Tomas Kruvajan, Arturo Dominici as Javutich, Ivo Garrani as Prince Vajda. Released in the U.S. by American International Pictures. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 1/2 stars out of 10.

Black Sunday drips in atmosphere, creating a dark, brooding tale of slain advocates of Satan rising from the grave 200 years after being executed in Moldavia and trying to exact revenge on their descendants. Director Bava uses images, sounds and nature to exact mood from his first (and some argue best) chiller. Cobwebs, dark shadows, fog, hanging branches, dense forests, decaying graves, spiked masks being driven into faces, a decayed face infested by bugs, stakes being driven in eyes, death by fire, dark nights with sound trailing away, and always the wind blowing ominously in the background, exploit our senses while watching Black Sunday.

Another example: Bava manages to produce chills by shooting a horse carriage in slow motion and soft focus. It creates a ghostly image. Later, after a hapless doctor is carried in the carriage, it rides faster than is humanly possible, adding a contrast just as creepy as the first glimpse of the carriage.

The plot involves a beautiful princess/witch named Asa (Steele), and her demonic assistant, Javutich (Dominici), who are executed early in the 17th century. Asa utters a curse against her brother (who is overseeing the execution) and his family. Asa and Javutich are executed by having iron, spiked “masks of Satan” driven into their face, a striking image. They are set to be burned, but heavy rain prevents that, and instead Asa is put in a crypt, and Javutich buried.
Two hundred years later, and Asa’s descendants still live on the land. They are a depressed, but still noble lot: Prince Vajda, his son Constantin and beautiful daughter Katia (Steele) who looks just like Asa. The Prince is worried, because it’s Black Sunday, the one day where evil spirits are allowed a chance to wreck havoc. He fears Asa and Javutich will try to avenge themselves on his family. As the plot unfolds, he has good reason to be worried.

Two doctors, one old (Checchi), one young (Richardson) are sidetracked on a journey to a medical convention when their carriage breaks down. They stumble upon the crypt with Asa in it, and the skeptical Checchi tears off her mask, revealing a rotted face infested with bugs. A bat attacks the doctor. Before killing it, he cuts his hand, dripping blood into Asa’s face. That revives her, and she calls Javutich from the grave. The pair then plot the death of the noble family, and Asa is determined to possess Katia’s youth.

This film -- with its gruesome images and tale of disciples of Satan rising from the dead -- must have been quite daring for 1960s audiences. There are still scenes that shock. A couple include Javutich rising from his grave, and a resurrected Asa’s cloak being torn from her body, revealing a decaying skeleton underneath. I was chilled by the scene where Katia’s father, possessed by Satan, matter-of-factly tells her that her being his daughter is of no relevance any more, and his only desire now is to eat her blood! Also, despite that much of the last half of the film takes place in the Vajda castle, Bava doesn’t neglect the countryside or its inhabitants. There are scenes of locals in an inn and another creepily amusing scene of a teenage girl milking a cow. In the final scene, hundreds of locals in pursuit of Asa are led by a priest.

This version is the U.S. American International Pictures release, which reportedly is inferior to the European release. Also, the dubbing by most of the cast is flat and annoying at times. I would love to see the uncut Italian version with English subtitles. Also, the plot development appears a bit thinner in the U.S. version, and some shock scenes last only a split second, which means perhaps AIP censors trimmed the violence and gore a little. Nevertheless, Black Sunday -- in any version -- is an above-average shocker that deserves its cult status.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

All about Surgikill, Andy Milligan's last film

In the late 1990s and early part of this century, a consistent Andy Milligan cult almost developed. A book was published, a few of his films were released, there were some articles in film genre pubs and zines ... but then it faded. But a tiny cult remains, think Ed Wood in the mid-70s. Here at Plan 9 Crunch we offer a DVD-R of Milligan's hard-to-find "Torture Dungeon," and we've sold at least a dozen in a few months, as far away as Peru and a university film society in Turkey. Milligan's films are crude, even "bad," but he was unique. The swirl camera, the cheesy gore (fake heads, boiled eggs in eyes), the garish, slapped-on costumes by "Raffine," the uber-dysfunctional families, the males getting it in films such as "The Ghastly Ones," the very unsexy sex scenes, the gritty camera, so effective in Fleshpot on 42nd Street. ... And I'm sure our readers could add more.
Now, on to Surgikill: A few months ago, Plan 9 Crunch came in contact with screenwriter Sherman Hirsh. He penned the original screenplay to Surgikill. Andy Milligan changed enough of it to get screenwriting credit, Sherman was given original story credit. Plan 9 Crunch, after a long wait, finally got a chance to see Surgikill. It's a different experience. It's Andy trying comedy. Sherman will tell readers why Andy made a comedy in the following fascinating essay he offers Plan 9 Crunch. Sherman's piece is fascinating. It offers readers a detailed glimpse into Milligan's late career, as well as a look into the competitive world of low-budget filmmaking. There is information in this essay that has never been published before. We're happy to share it via Plan 9 Crunch. And we want to share the news that a DVD release of Surgikill is coming soon. We'll let you know when! After Sherman Hirsh's essay is a review of the VHS version of Surgikill from Plan 9 Crunch's Steve Stones.

So, start reading cult film fans, you're in for a treat! (And if you'd like to buy Torture Dungeon, just click on the Ebay link to the right!)

-- Doug Gibson
SURGIKILL – A Writer’s Perspective
By Sherman Hirsh
The Public rarely knows how a film was intended to be. The practice of including "Extras" on DVD’s has created an appetite among fans for deleted scenes and commentaries about what was intended vs. what got released. SURGIKILL, the movie that concluded Andy Milligan’s film career, is in the process of being prepared for its first DVD release, but there will be no extras, so this will be the only look anyone is likely to get at what happened behind the scenes.

I am always a little amazed at how much interest there is in SURGIKILL. For a long time, it was listed as a mere footnote to Andy’s filmography. There was a period during the 90s when it seemed like every periodical within the realm of Fantastic Journalism had a piece about the career of the auteur of "THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE," with most of them mere reiterations of the versions which just preceded them. One writer, a New York actor who had worked with Andy, thought it may have been a re-make of the European classic, "EROTIKILL."

This was during the time when SURGIKILL was still one of several unreleased Milligan films. When I became aware of all of this, I figured it would be a good time to get SURGIKILL out. I don’t own any of SURGIKILL, but I was still in contact with the producers, ( in fact, I am still working with them on the development of new projects,) and in 1996, I called their attention to all of this ink Andy was getting and they agreed with me and started the long arduous process of getting SURGIKILL out. Why was it long and arduous? That is part of the tale of the Genesis of this film, a film which is about equally despised and enjoyed by various Andyphiles.

It all started with a script written by a 38-year-old Viet Nam veteran who, having exhausted all of the cinematic possibilities of Cleveland, emigrated to L.A., in hopes of having something resembling a Hollywood career. He, I, had come to Hollywood hoping to get into production. Instead, I ended up in a series of lack-luster McJobs, that left little energy to pursue a production job, but a lot of time to write. I made my first sale of an original script in ’85. It was a XXX "Adult" film, and I got the princely sum of $1500 for it. That was followed by several more, including one that was declared #1 Adult film of the Summer of ’86.

This brought me to the attention of a director who was planning to produce a few cheapies for cable. We kicked around a few ideas, and I delivered a Spy script, a drama about someone who liked to murder teenagers, and he settled on THE THOUSAND YEAR QUEST, a Sword & Sorcery fantasy. He wanted and I delivered a script he could realize in two weeks of shooting and would cost no more than $120,000. What he got was a movie that cost $400,000, took over a year and a half to finish and was released as LORDS OF MAGICK. It is notable for having a scene in it where porn icon Ron Jeremy plays a zombie who gets blown up by the magic of one of the hero wizards.

Armed with something resembling a track record, I started a campaign to get myself a directing gig. Once again, I offered the potential backers several possibilities. One was a European-style crime farce about actors robbing banks, not for the cash, but for the publicity. One was a chiller about some college geeks who piss off a long dead witch in a swamp.

And there was that humorous, light splatter piece about the nice little hospital with a slasher problem. It was written in the Spring of ’87, under the working title of "Horror Hospital." I would show it to the teenagers at the place where I worked and they all liked it. I told them I needed a stronger title, and one guy suggested "Surgical Kill." That made me think of SURGIKILL. I recently became aware of an English group calling itself Surgikill, and I contacted them, asking where they had gotten the name. Other than claiming it had nothing top do with the movie, they were little help.

I found a company, Media Arts Productions, who liked the scripts, and they went with the medical horror story first, because of the reputation horror films have for costing little, being easy to shoot, not needing Stars, having an automatic audience, etc. The swamp witch piece went on the back burner, where it still languishes.

We had long discussions about how I would direct it and what I would need, and they seemed to be all for my concepts. Then I learned that they wanted a name director, and after seeing a want ad Andy Milligan placed in the LA Times, and without discussing it with me first, brought him in to shoot my movie. Fine, thinks I. I’ll get the next one. I was still on the shoot as writer and cranked out what seemed to be an endless supply of new or modified material. I even wrote a whole new serious version for a possible partner that absolutely no one liked, and the project went back to my serio-comic version.

We were all invited to Andy’s house in Hollywood on Orange Drive, the house where he eventually shot part of MONSTROSITY, for a pleasant brunch, and some light business chat. He was prepping MONSTROSITY at the time, and SURGIKILL would be next. He put on the charm, told me he liked the script, and I got to talk to him at length. We kicked around some technical points, filmmaker to filmmaker. He told me some of his frugal filmmaking techniques.
I brought up the popular notion that he had made films in Europe. He told me he had never made a film in Europe and had no idea where the idea came from, and I believed him. I bring this up because it shows up in 90 percent of the stories about Andy and is totally false.
He invited me into the kitchen to help prepare our meal, and we discussed his film vs. his theater career. Then he hit on me. I’m straight. We spoke little after that. Brunch was good, though.

Not long after, I noticed his casting notice for MONSTROSITY in a local trade paper, and thought I would audition just to see what would happen. At the time it was still called IT, but there was a conflict with a little thing Stephen King wrote about a monstrous clown with a thing for balloons and some annoying kids and Andy decided to change it later. However, I was inspired by all this and in August of ’87, I wrote a screenplay around Andy. It was originally called I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE, and was about a low budget shooter who is making monster movies with real monsters cooked up by his mad scientist partner. He casts his movies by kidnapping kids who come to LA to become stars, and forcing them to become HIS stars. He also sends his monsters to discipline critics who give him bad reviews.

We got invited to Andy’s studio to watch him shoot what was still called IT one night. Andy had rented a vacant bar at the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard In fact, I had been there a couple years earlier as a guest of a friend of mine who was playing in the house band when the place was called the On Club. His assistants told me the place was haunted and they were always seeing "things" and hearing "things." They also showed me several hundred dollars worth of change they had harvested from around the bar, change dropped by countless bartenders over who-knows-how-many years.

I only got to speak to Andy briefly that night. I did get to tell him he had inspired I PUKE ON DRACULA'S GRAVE. He enjoyed hearing that.

Make up and special effects on IT were handled by a talented artist named Rod Matsui. We discussed many topics while we waited for the cast to get ready. I talked about my experiences, and mentioned I had had a script ripped off by a certain director who has a reputation for similar abuses. At the mere mention of the name, half the actors in the room, long time members of the LA low budget Indie community, and apparently survivors of this director, shot me some of the nastiest looks I ever got, and I once got a nasty look from Bettie Davis!

Shooting began in a small grocery store. I observed Andy’s shooting style from the standpoint of someone who had gone to Film School. I was appalled! His lighting was primitive, a single professional grade light and a suitcase full of clip-on worklights. He shot with the lens aperture wide open and never used a light meter, leaving it to the processing lab to make things works. This accounts for the "gritty" look a lot of low budget films have.

The mic was placed on the floor, pointing in the general direction of the action, resulting in a load of room tone and echo. Now, this is a proper way to mic a live stage show, but the acoustics of an LA Mom & Pop food store call for a different approach. Unfortunately, Andy had none.

IT and SURGIKILL were shot on 35MM film. Andy usually used what are called short ends, the leftovers of unused film from other shoots, and are cheaper than "new" film. Andy’s modus operandi was to shoot the take, and check the gate on his ancient Arriflex studio camera. If there was film in the gate, he would move on to the next set up, on the assumption that he didn’t run out of film during the take. Retakes were rare on a Milligan shoot. However, there were so many low budget films being shot in LA at the time, there was a total famine of short ends and Andy was forced to buy more expensive full loads.

If you’ve seen MONSTROSITY, you may recall a scene where some lowlifes have abducted a lady and are making their escape. At one point, they almost get into an accident with another car. That was real! I was standing behind the camera when that was shot and the other car came out of nowhere. Just a lucky coincidence of someone being in the wrong place at the right time! We managed to hang around for the rest of the shoot. After that, I never saw Andy Milligan again.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of SURGIKILL. Andy conducted casting calls at his studio, where he encountered Bouvier. She is a multi-talented artist, designer, entrepreneur and performer, who has extensive credits in stage, film and TV. I’m not sure, but I believe she also, along with her business partner, may have invested in SURGIKILL, along with the usual moneyed lawyers, real estate investors and a few parasites who hang around with filmmakers so they can pickup cute starlets. Principal photograpy began at a decommisioned hospital near downtown Los Angeles, a neighborhood so foul, people had to be escorted to and from their cars. The weirdos in the movie were pale copies of the real homeless who lived around the facility. Additional scenes were shot at Andy's studio on Sunset.

On a personal note, I embedded a little joke in the script. I refered to the Jail Ward as the J Ward. If you recall your cartoon history, you'll remember that Jay Ward created Rocky & Bullwinkle. And the dog, Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman. That was my limp way of getting revenge for 20 years of Sherman and Peabody jokes. Unfortunately, Ward died before the film came out, so my vengeance is hollow and vain.

Credits are sometimes "adjusted" to suit special circumstances. For instance, Andy gets credit for the screenplay for SURGIKILL, while I, who wrote several complete drafts before Andy signed on, am relegated to "Original Story" Actually, Andy wrote very little. What Andy did originate was a large component of improvisation. He regarded the script as a catalog, not a blueprint. He would choose a scene here and a scene there and staple it all together later. SURGIKILL is about 30 percent my work, as opposed to LORDS OF MAGICK, which is about 80 percent mine.

The picture was completed, and sat for several years in the garage of one of the investors, due to the usual commercial conflicts. Andy went back to his studio and put on plays for two years until his AIDS rendered him too weak to function, and he eventually died.

The folks at Media Arts had to ransom Surgikill back, and then find a distributor. At the time, maverick film distributor and innovator, TROMA, was trolling for finished films, as they still do, and CEO Lloyd Kaufman was reputedly an Andy Milligan fan and liked SURGIKILL. However, TROMA’s standard contract is so convoluted and restrictive, it scared Media Arts away. For instance, the contract grants TROMA total ownership of ALL rights, for ALL time, even on OTHER PLANETS! Media Arts decided to pass, and eventually undertook self-distribution. They figured it was the only way to get their $90,000 back. ( THE BIGGEST BUDGET ANDY MILLIGAN EVER HAD!) Then, in early 2000, I got a surprise in the mail, a VHS copy of "ANDY MILLIGAN’S LAST FILM… SURGIKILL." And now, 20-plus years after its origination, SURGIKILL is being spiffed up for DVD release.

It is not generally known that after Andy’s commitment was up, others on the shoot shot new scenes, like one with a poorly done Oliver Hardy impersonator, and re-cut the movie. People who thought they knew what they were doing shot their half-baked ideas and glued them to the movie. What you may see is not exactly want Andy intended, and definitely not what I intended.

Critics love to pick movies apart and assign their own significance to the pieces. SURGIKILL is characterized as a departure from films in Andy’s established style. Andy didn’t want to do those anymore. Andy’s illness depressed him and made him want to make a light happy comedy. My script, although very humorous, was not a farce. Andy made everybody an idiot, and the hospital totally incompetent.

My original philosophy was to make it a good hospital, populated with quirky but capable professionals. I, quite simply, wanted the audience to care about the characters. Instead, you get a bunch of doctors who are all jerks, and nurses who are all airheads, except for the head nurse who was a drag queen, something I have always suspected was a nostalgic reference to Andy’s New York experience. I once asked Bouvier what it was like to kiss a man in a dress, and she said it was weird!

In my script, Nurse Shirley Krankhaus was a very competent, overworked head nurse. Also, calling "her" Nurse Ratched, from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, I regarded as a totally corny cliche'. Just like I wanted Dr. Schweitzer, the 17-year-old intern, to be smart and stable, not a wimpy nerd sucking on a pacifier. The way it turned out, you not only don’t care about these people, you want the killer to waste the whole mob!

Now comes the Big So What. I am acutely aware that the public doesn’t care about what they don’t see. They embrace or reject SURGIKILL based on what they glean from the screen. To most people, SURGIKILL is Andy’s. Nobody cares two figs about writers, anyway.

So what do I really think about SURGIKILL? There are parts that scream to be taken out, but most people don’t see it from the perspective of someone who has seen the real SURGIKILL in his head for 20 years. I don’t hate it. I do resent some of the events, but I’m glad I had the experience.

It works as what it became. It’s a different movie from the one I conceived. While it’s not what I wanted it to be, what’s there is not bad. I’m not talking about quality. I’m talking about the single basic thing a film must not be; BORING. A bad movie is a boring movie. Basically, SURGIKILL is not boring. If sheer technical/aesthetic/social quality were the most important values, then we would never have seen anything by John Waters and Troma would be a long-forgotten failure.

SURGIKILL is not a movie for the masses. It has no strong clear hero, the plot is ragged and the characters are too much alike. It has Cult appeal, but not within the established Andy Milligan community, if such a thing exists. It is an anomaly, and while it may have its advocates, it will never be a full member of the Andy Milligan canon, nor be discussed in the same terms. If there is a SURGIKILL sub-cult, we'll soon know!

SURGIKILL represents one of about 30 screenplays I have written, and one of five to actually be produced. I was a filmmaker a long time before I was a writer. I was drafted out of my first job in film, a job I got while I was still in film school, and sent to Viet Nam. I was a college-level film teacher. I worked in film and video in many capacities. I was a radio talk show host. In fact, radio is my second love after film.

When Andy Warhol said that in the future, everybody would be famous for 15 minutes, he was almost right. I’ve had about five or six 15-Minute Fames, and I’ll probably get a couple more. My little movie LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY is out there, selling a few copies. I’m prepping SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM! for production this Fall. Maybe I’ll shoot I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE. Maybe I’ll shoot MY version of SURGIKILL someday. Actually, I have a lot of notes pertinent to SURGIKILL 2, but I can’t really talk about that right now.

Sherman Hirsh
North Hollywood, CA
September 1, 2008



In 1988, underground filmmaker Andy Milligan embarked on directing his final full-length feature film. Media Arts Productions LLC produced it. The film was to be a black comedy set in a small community hospital called Goode Community Hospital, named after Dr. Grace Goode, a character in the film played by Darlene Van Harlingen, also known as Bouvier. Her husband, John Van Harlingen, was the executive producer. This film is quite departure from the canon of other Milligan films, which were over the top sex and gore epics. The film was shot in an abandoned neighborhood clinic near downtown Los Angeles.

Dr. Goode is desperately trying to keep her small hospital in functioning order as some of her staff and patients are being murdered one by one. Not to mention that she is constantly being hounded to sell the hospital for other greedy business prospects.

The film is full of over-the-top gags and gimmicks that are occasionally funny and sometimes overstated and juvenile. For example, one particularly funny scene, at least to me, shows an old woman arriving at the hospital reception desk with a bedpan stuck to her butt. Two hospital orderlies attempt to pry it off her as she stands in complete embarrassment. Other scenes show characters being hit over the head with a bedpan, or splashed with urine from bedpans. These scenes quickly become overstated. Some of the characters constantly repeating: "We care about the people we care for," quickly gets exhausted too.

Another particularly funny scene shows an old woman lying on her back in the operating room with an arrow sticking out of her butt. Apparently her husband had mistaken her for an archery target and accidentally shot her in the butt. Perhaps her husband was on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney at the time, long before he became Vice President?

A latter scene in the same operating room has Dr. Harvey and Dr. Schweitzer performing a gallbladder surgery. They can’t seem to find the patient’s gallbladder, so they end up tearing out several of the organs from the patient. This particular scene has some connection to earlier Milligan films because it is intentionally and graphically violent, even if the organs used in the scene are obviously unconvincing and fake. Herschel Gordon Lewis would be proud of this scene.

A connection this film has to earlier Milligan films is the nurse-receptionist character and drag queen Ronna, who is very similar to the drag queen in Milligan’s excellent Fleshpot On 42nd Street, played by Neil Flanagan. Ronna is later revealed to be Robert Goode, who is Grace Goode’s cousin and the murderer in the film. Robert is murdering hospital staff and patients in hopes to inherit the family hospital for himself.

Nurse Ronna and Dr. Grace Goode are the two characters I enjoyed the most, and felt the audience would have the greatest connection to. The young, fresh out of medical school Dr. Schweitzer, seems a bit unconvincing to me as he constantly sucks on a baby’s pacifier, implying that he is young, inexperienced and "wet behind the ears." This character gets a bit annoying too. Many of the actors in the film are way over the top in their acting, and frequently shout their lines, much like in an early John Waters film.

Is Surgikill a great film? No, but who cares? I like movies to occasionally be campy, over-the-top and unbelievable, otherwise I would not be writing articles for this web site. Is Surgikill Andy Milligan’s best film? Probably not. I place my vote with Torture Dungeon, which I regard as his greatest masterpiece. Still, any die-hard fan of Andy Milligan cannot afford to miss this entry in his filmography. It may not have the same low-budget, gritty charm as his films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it is worthy of a viewing, if only to see what his last film looks like before his death in 1991. Like Milligan’s earlier films, I am confident that Surgikill will continue to gain a strong cult following as the years go by. Fans are eagerly awaiting a DVD release soon.

-- Steve D. Stones

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ed Wood documentaries ... Take 1

Cult fans, in the next month we will examine the several documentaries that have chronicled the career of cult filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. Here is part 1, recounting three of the documentaries. Part 2 will run in the near future.


Of all the Ed Wood documentaries that have been released in the last fifteen years or so, I would have to say that this one is the best.
Not only because it carefully examines the career and films of Ed Wood, but also because it highlights the lives and careers of the key actors of Plan 9 From Outer Space: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson and Criswell. This documentary also has informative insights and humorous commentary by famous fans of Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space, such as: Sam Raimi, Drew Friedman, Harry Medved, Bill Warren, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman and Wood’s biographer, Rudolph Grey.
Of great interest is the segment of Conrad Brooks taking the viewer on a tour of the old Quality Studios in Hollywood where Plan 9 was filmed. The first time I viewed the Plan 9 Companion, my heart raced with excitement in being able to see what Quality Studios looks like today. Conrad even reenacts a famous cemetery scene that was shot there with his co-star Carl Anthony.
Lee Harris, the host and narrator of The Plan 9 Companion, also takes us on a tour of the old cemetery location used in the opening shots of Plan 9. Director Mark P. Carducci produced the film with Harris in 1994 and released it to MPI Home Video. Vampira fans will also be pleased with this documentary, since Maila Nurmi offers many insights into her own career and the career of Ed Wood.
Although the title of this documentary informs us of being on the trail of Ed Wood, perhaps a better title would have been: On The Trail Of Conrad Brooks. I say this only because the entire fifty-six-minute documentary is from the point of view of Conrad Brooks being interviewed in his home, unlike so many other Ed Wood documentaries that interview many of Wood’s stock actors and friends. I got the feeling that the producer Buddy Barnett and director Michael Copner did not have the time or budget to include other Ed Wood actors and friends in this documentary, or perhaps they weren’t interested in anyone else’s views about Wood?
However, there are some informative aspects of this documentary. Conrad takes us on a tour of Ed Wood’s Yucca apartment complex in Hollywood, the last apartment complex he lived in before his death at Peter Coe’s apartment in 1978.
The tour also takes us to the KFWB soundstage in Hollywood, which was Ted Allen’s studio in the 1950s when Bride of The Monster was filmed there. Conrad explains in the documentary that Tor Johnson demanded double his $100.00 salary for his acting roles in Wood’s films. According to Conrad, Wood almost reconsidered using Johnson in his films because of this demand.
He also claims that Ed took a job as a cab driver in the 1970s to make ends meet. Copner and Barnett, both contributing writers and founders of Cult Movies Magazine, released this documentary in 1990. If Copner or Barnett happen to read this article, we would greatly appreciate it if Cult Movies Magazine was back in publication. The magazine is a valuable resource.
This is the only Ed Wood documentary, besides The Incredibly Strange Film Show, I am aware of to feature Ed’s wife Kathy Wood in interview segments. That alone makes it a valuable piece of Ed Wood history. Produced by Rhino Home Video in 1994, the documentary takes sound bites and images from Wood’s films and uses them to give the film a humorous narrative.
The opening gives us Kathy Wood commenting on how no one really cared much about Ed Wood until his death in 1978. Now, ironically, there is a renewed interest in his films and life. Ed’s marine buddy Joseph Robertson is also interviewed, and describes Ed’s fascination for wearing women’s clothing, even under his army outfit.
Robertson produced such 1960s cult classics as: The Crawling Hand and The Slime People. He went on to direct the adult feature entitled Love Feast, also known as The Photographer and Pretty Girls All In A Row (see my review of Love Feast on this website.).
This documentary also borrows segments of Conrad Brooks’ interviews from On The Trail of Ed Wood (see my review above of On The Trail of Ed Wood.). The documentary is presented in segments that use Wood’s name in a clever way, such as: Drift Wood, Holly-Wood, Wood’s Stock Company, and Dead Wood.
-- Steve D. Stones

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An appreciation of Jack Hill's Spider Baby

Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, B&W, 1964. Directed by Jack Hill. Starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Bruno, the chauffer, Carol Ohmart as Emily Howe, Quinn K. Redeker as Peter Howe, Beverly Washburn as Elizabeth, Jill Banner as Virginia, Sid Haig as Ralph, Mary Mitchel as Ann, Karl Schanzer as Schlocker, the lawyer and Mantan Moreland as the messanger. Schlock-meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

In the 1960s several creepy, very original low-budget B&W shockers (some loaded with black humor) were thrown into the drive-ins and theaters. Most fared poorly at the box office (the exception being Night of the Living Dead). Others included Carnival of Souls, The Sadist and Dementia 13. Perhaps the best of the lot is Jack Hill's Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, an extremely creepy, laced with black humor let's-spend-the-night-in-a-house-filled-with-homicidal-lunatics film. Spider Baby's inventive plot involves the story of The Merrye Syndrome, a disease that infects the few remaining descendants of the deceased Titus Merrye; what happens is, after a Merrye turns 10, they rapidly age backwards. As they become more childish, they become homicidal, graduating towards dementia and cannibalism as the afflicted moves past the pre-natal stage. As the story begins, the clan is cared for by loyal servant Bruno (Chaney Jr., in a great performance). Living there are sexy teenage "toddlers" Elizabeth (Washburn) and Virginia (Banner), a young man, Ralph (Haig), who has degenerated to baby status, and aunt Martha and uncle Ned who live in the basement, mewling, growling and being fed scraps of raw meat. Virginia likes to play "spider," and in a highly entertaining opening sequence, a hired messenger, played by former cult movie star Mantan Moreland, is trapped in a window sill by Virginia the spider, who use knives and scissors to "bite" him to death. Mantan the messenger is eventually tossed in the cellar to be consumed by aunt and uncle.

However, there are more visitors. Distant relatives Peter and Emily Howe, along with a overbearing lawyer (Schanzer) and quiet secretary (Mitchel) arrive and inform Chaney and the Merrye brood that they'll be moving soon, to be institutionalized. Naturally, the Merryes are less than enchanted by these developments, and the sleepover the visitors experience turns into an experience of terror. Chaney, in what must have been a first in his career, warbles the title song to Spider Baby. It's sort of a singsong rap, delivered in such kooky fashion, that it's worth the price of the film itself. The cast, with the exception of Karl Schanzer's smarmy lawyer, are all in fine form. Besides Chaney, the best actor in the film is surprisingly Jill Banner, who plays the psychopathic toddler teen Virginia. Only 17 when Spider Baby was filmed, Banner conveys a disturbing sexuality; she's best described as a pyschotic Lolita. The scene where she ties up visitor Peter Howe (Redeker), decides to seduce him and then just as quickly decides it would be better to kill him is very chilling. Had there been cable, video and dvd in the 1960s, Banner likely would have achieved notice for her role. As it is, she is best known for occasional appearances on the 1960-70s show Dragnet. She was killed in 1982 in a car wreck while developing scripts for Marlon Brando. To sum up, Spider Baby is a must for cult fans of quirky 60s black comedies.

Notes: Spider Baby cost $65,000 to make. It was tied up in bankruptcy court. Once released in 1968, it hardly played in theaters, mostly serving as the second half of double bills. It was finally re-discovered and played the midnight movie circuit in the 1990s. Director Jack Hill, a protege of Roger Corman, later directed several Pam Grier "blacksploitation" films, including Coffy. Chaney Jr., known as a severe alcoholic, only fell off the wagon once during filming, according to Hill. The veteran actor died several years after the film was completed. In 1993, the film was re-premiered in Los Angeles. Guests at the post-film party included Hill and actors Haig, Washburn and Mitchel. Actress Ohmart starred in the 60s cult shocker House on Haunted Hill. The subtitle, The Maddest Story Ever Told, was a film joke parody of the monster-budget Bible film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, which came out at about the same time. In the last year or so, Spider Baby has finally received a DVD release.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A look at Mr. BIG's Grasshoppers

Remembering Bert I Gordon's Beginning of the End

Long before Peter Graves appeared in the hit 1960s TV show Mission Impossible, he began his acting career starring in a number of low budget science fiction films of the 1950s. Some of the low budget science fiction films that he appeared in include: Killers From Space, Red Planet Mars, It Conquered The World, and my favorite: Beginning of The End.
I have a fondness for insects, particularly grasshoppers. As a boy, I would hunt them down in the fields near my home and pull off their legs or place them in a milk carton and blow them up with Black Jack firecrackers. Sometimes I even liked to put them on anthills and watch the ants attack them.
As penance for my behavior, I have used them as a subject in many of my paintings. The large grasshoppers in Bert I. Gordon’s Beginning of The End would likely get their revenge on me if they knew how badly I treated them as a child.
The 1950s ushered in a series of science fiction films with the theme of something growing large as a result of atomic radiation. Giant spiders, giant grasshoppers, a giant bird, giant ants, a giant colossal man and even a giant reptile from Japan named Godzilla were all popular forms of entertainment for post-World War II movie-goers. Director Bert I. Gordon was the master of the “giant genre.” In fact, his initials spell BIG, so he was often referred to as “Mr. Big.”
A small town named Ludlow in the suburbs of Chicago has been entirely wiped out without a trace. Pretty photographer and newspaper journalist Audrey Ames, played by Peggie Castle, is there to report on the town's devastation. The local authorities and the military are anxious to keep the story quiet, so they forbid Castle from taking pictures and printing any information about the devastation. Her newspaper editor suggests she investigate the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There she meets local entomologist Dr. Ed Waynewright, played by Peter Graves, who is conducting atomic experiments on plants. After being fascinated by Graves’ large plants, Castle convinces him and his laboratory assistant to look over the grounds of a recently destroyed warehouse near the Department of Agriculture. While investigating the grounds, they encounter several giant grasshoppers. Graves’ lab assistant is attacked and killed by one of them.
What I find so interesting about this film is the fact that actual grasshoppers are used in many of the scenes. Unlike so many giant insect films of the 1950s that use fake-looking paper mache or clay modeled insects, such as The Deadly Mantis, Monster From Green Hell or The Black Scorpion, Beginning of The End manages to use the real thing, even if it is through a rear projection method on a screen. Even the giant ants in Gordon’s own 1977 film, Empire of The Ants appear to be very fake looking and unconvincing, unlike this film. Plus, the film is not dependent on the CGI effects that we see in so many films of today. This makes it much more authentic and interesting to me.
Like so many low-budget science fiction films of the 1950s, the film manages to use many stock footage shots of military men loading shells into cannons and running around with rifles. There are also stock shots of mass numbers of people running in the streets, similar to The Day the Earth Stood Still and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. One particularly effective shot is of a woman standing in her high-rise Chicago apartment combing her hair after getting out of the shower. As she combs her hair in a white bathrobe, a giant grasshopper appears at her window, She screams loudly as the grasshopper breaks the window and the camera quickly zooms up close to the grasshopper’s head. (Too bad Oprah’s HARPO Studios in Chicago wasn’t around in the 1950s for the giant grasshoppers to pounce on!)
Other effective shots are of Graves and military men combing through a small forest as they encounter a number of grasshoppers. The grasshoppers actually look as though they’re walking between the trees as the men run to avoid them. One of the grasshoppers even manages to chase the army vehicle as it quickly drives out of the forest. These are some of the most effective sequences in the film. For unintentional humor, there is a sequence of Graves trying to capture a giant grasshopper so he can record the sounds it makes into a recorder. Somehow the grasshopper manages to make its way into a cage in Graves’ high-rise building laboratory in Chicago. How it managed to get through the door and into a cage in the lab is anyone’s guess, but it provides some unintentional humor in the film.
Also for laughs is the end sequence when the military general, played by veteran actor Morris Ankrum, uses the grasshopper call to drive them out into the nearby lake like the Pied Piper. An aerial view of the grasshoppers reveals that they are obviously floating in someone’s bathtub or bathroom sink. This is an important ending to the film, but also a very funny one too.
Beginning of The End is a film that taps into the atomic fears that so many viewers had in the post-World War II era of the 1950s. I highly recommend the film to any fan of low-budget science fiction films, especially insect lovers!
-- Steve D. Stones