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Saturday, February 27, 2010

BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS: How do you like your meat pies?

By Steve D. Stones

Bloodthirsty Butchers is director Andy Milligan’s treatment of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The story of Sweeney Todd has been filmed many times, including the 1936 film starring Tod Slaughter, and more recently the 2008 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp in the role of Sweeney Todd.

Bloodthirsty Butchers wastes no time in immediately assaulting the viewer with graphic violence. A young man from Dublin, Ireland comes to London and visits Todd’s barbershop for a shave and haircut. Todd comments on the young man’s valuable ring. He quickly wraps his head in a towel and slits his throat multiple times with a shaving razor. Then, he chops off the young man’s hand with a meat cleaver and removes the ring from his finger. Viewing this scene, I’m reminded of the infamous thumb-chopping scene in Hershell Gordon Lewis’ cult masterpiece Two Thousand Maniacs.

Although the scene is graphically violent, there is also a level of unintentional humor about it. As Todd chops off the hand, the camera shows a close-up, which is obviously a fake rubber hand.

Todd’s wife Becky runs a meat pie shop. Todd and Becky are murdering prostitutes, vagabonds and drunks in London and using their bodies as fresh meat for their meat pie business. A customer comes by the meat shop one day to complain about finding human hair in a meat pie she bought from the shop. This scene is unintentionally humorous because the lock of hair she shows to Becky looks as if it was freshly cut from someone’s head.

Todd also has a sidekick, played by actor Berwick Kaler, who is billed in the opening credits as “The Head Butcher.” His real name in the film is Tobias. Kaler is one of Milligan’s stock actors who appeared in many of his films, including The Man With Two Heads, The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here, and The Body Beneath. Kaler has a very distinctive, unforgettable face that adds to the uniqueness of Milligan’s films.

Although Bloodthirsty Butchers does not use Milligan’s trademark “swirl camera” technique, the film still employs many of Milligan’s distinctive characteristics. He shows the viewer many bizarre, cockeyed camera angels and extreme close-ups of actor’s faces as they exchange dialogue with each other. The film also has a very gritty and grainy appearance to it from being shot as a 16 mm film and blown up to fit larger movie and television screens. I could not imagine a Milligan film without these unique characteristics, even though his 1980s films use none of them. The 80s Milligan films have a bigger budget, so they lack some of the raw, gritty charm of the 60s and 70s films.

A big thank you goes out to Video Kart, Ltd in New York for releasing Bloodthirsty Butchers on DVD in 2003 with The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! Midnight Video had released a VHS tape of both films in the 1980s, but both films were unavailable in the 1990s until Video Kart released them on DVD in 2003. Midnight Video also had a VHS tape of Torture Dungeon in release in the 1980s, but that title is also unavailable. Occasionally copies of it appear for sale on e-bay. I’m happy to report that I own a Midnight Video copy of Torture Dungeon after much hard work in trying to track it down.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All about 'Octaman'

A small ecological scientific expedition, headed by Kerwin Matthews,star of such great 1960s classics as Jack The Giant Killer and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, travels to a small Latin American fishing community to study radioactive contamination in the water. Here they take blood samples of local villagers, since their diet consists mostly of foods found in the sea. One member of the expedition, Mort, discovers a strange, small creature similar to a small octopus. The creature looks like a cheap rubber toy for kids.

Matthews decides to return to the United States to seek more funding for his research and to continue the expedition. He presents his findings to Jeff Morrow, star of This Island Earth and The Creature Walks Among Us. Morrow is not convinced of Matthews' hypothesis that the small octa-creature is a result of contaminated water, so he decides not to fund the rest of the expedition.

Matthews then turns to a wealthy rancher named Johnny Caruso to fund the remainder of the expedition. Caruso is not a scientist, so his interest is mostly in finding his next sideshow attraction and to profit from its discovery.

After returning to Latin America, the expedition learns of a local myth of a giant half man, half sea creature, who attacks and murders local villagers. If any of this sounds familiar, that's because it was written and directed by Harry Essex, a screenwriter for the 1950s classic: The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Some viewers have described Octaman as a low-budget version of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. There are some similarities. For instance, there is a scene where the expedition is trying to leave the local area in their motor home. They encounter a fallen tree that blocks their path on the road, making it so that they cannot leave. This is similar to when the creature in The Creature From The Black Lagoon moves a fallen tree in front of the boat expedition.

It is important to note that the unique Octaman creature was an early creation of makeup wizard Rick Baker, who has gone on to have a very successful career in many big-budget Hollywood films, such as: American Werewolf In London, Star Wars and The Howling. Baker won an academy award for his work on American Werewolf In London and The Nutty Professor. His earliest work was Octaman and in assisting Dick Smith in make-up effects in The Exorcist. The female lead in Octaman, Pier Angeli, died of a barbiturate overdose while the film was in production.

The film was never released theatrically, and went straight to television and later video.

What makes Octaman so interesting is the fact that it is a summation of so many earlier monster movie creatures from the 1950s. As I watched Octaman, I couldn't help but think of the creature in Monster of Piedras Blancas, the tree creature in From Hell It Came, and of course The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Octaman is worthy of a viewing, if not only to see an interesting reference to so many classic monster movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Watch a clip below!

-- Steve D. Stones

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Godzilla Versus Monster Zero



Godzilla versus Monster Zero, 1965, directed by Ishiro Honda, color, 93 minutes. Starring Nick Adams as Astronaut Glenn, Akira Takarada as Astronaut K. Fuji, Yoshio Tsuchiya as Controller of Planet X and Kumi Mizuno as Miss Namikawa. Schlock-meter rating: Eight and one-half stars out of 10.

This is an extremely enjoyable, very campy monster-fest with shoddy but fun special effects as Godzilla and Rodan team up to defeat Monster Zero (also known as Ghidorah) and thwart the plans of the controller and the rest of the evil baddies who rule Planet X in a galaxy far, far away. Also, vampy Asian Kumi Mizuno plays a semi-robot spy who gets the hots for mumbling Nick Adams, the Marlon Brando of low budget shockers.

As is often the case with these wonderfully kitschy Japanese monster films, the plot seems to have been hatched out after an all-night mushroom party. Astronauts Adams and Takarada explore Planet X. There, they are told that Monster Zero threatens that planet and Godzilla and Rodan are needed on loan to beat him. The Planet Xers, to get Earth to help, offer a cure for all diseases as a swap for the muscle-bound monsters. Earth agrees but after the monsters are delivered, the baddies of Planet X pull a fast one, telling earthlings that unless they agree to be colonized, the three monsters will destroy Earth. Chaos results with lots of stock footage of wars and riots. All looks grim, but eventually hard-working scientists learn that a recently invented tinny sound can render the Planet X baddies insensible; also an electronic ray is invented to free Godzilla and Rodan from the computerized clutches of the Planet Xers, who are controlled by computers themselves.

The dubbing is surprisingly well done in the American version on AMC. Adams' Jersey persona is in great form as he utters lines like "dirty double crossers," "you rats," and even "baby!" during his romance with the spy Mizuno's Miss Namikawa. Notes: Adams and Mizuno were briefly lovers off the screen. They also starred together in Frankenstein Conquers the World. In 1968, Adams, who had once been nominated for an Academy Award before his career slipped, died of a drug overdose.
-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Interview with Jimmy McDonough, author of The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan

It's no secret that at Plan9Crunch, we are fans of the cult filmmaker Andy Milligan. His no-budget grindhouse films of a generation ago had a unique stamp that defined Milligan's compelling, dysfunctional style. Milligan died of AIDS almost 20 years ago, broke and more or less forgotten. Biographer Jimmy McDonough spent time with Milligan in his final years, and helped with a couple of his later films. His biography of Milligan captures the life Milligan led, from Cafe Cino productions, off-0ff Broadway productions, grindhouse filmmaking and his gay, hustling lifestyle that led to his death. We sent Jimmy several questions about Milligan, and he was kind enough to answer them with candor and insight. McDonough has written several acclaimed biographies that include the lives of Neil Young, Russ Meyer, and his latest, due out in about a week, Tammy Wynette. http://www.amazon.com/Tammy-Wynette-Tragic-Country-Queen/dp/0670021539 Here's the interview, unedited, conducted by Doug Gibson and Steve Stones. Thanks again, Jimmy!
---
1) How much of an influence did Cafe Cino have on the evolution of grindhouse (42nd St.) cinema and eventually on mainstream cinema?

McDonough: I'm not sure it had any influence on 42nd Street. It had a great deal of influence on Andy, though. Freedom. It gave him the license to create. And to make flesh certain fantasies lurking in his mind. Very powerful, that. If I had a time machine that is one place I'd go back to...the Cino, to watch one of Milligan's productions. Better yet, watching Andy watching of his productions. See those beady little eyes dancing as he utters a low, evil chuckle, all while watching a couple of actors beat up on one another. I think the Cino days held great promise for Andy. He had a big framed picture of Joe Cino, an unusually sentimental thing for Milligan. I still have it."

2) Why didn't Andy Milligan, in your opinion, make it out of the grindhouses as a director, given that he had more critical success at Cafe Cino and as an off-Broadway theater director? McDonough: "He was self-destructive. Milligan refused to tailor his act for anybody. He was incapable of it. And Andy could be an angry, angry guy. It scared people. Producer William Mishkin was the only one who could deal with Andy for more than a picture or two, and even that relationship was fraught with tension. Mishkin gave him the opportunity to make movies, but it was never financially rewarding enough to lead anywhere. The limitations were always the same--and primarily it was, "make it for nothing." Bill was a very cautious individual who wanted to see a return for every dollar spent. Andy was caught in a trick bag, stuck on the Mishkin plantation. All he could do was grind out one cheapo film after another. Eventually he burned out and grew very bitter about it all."

3) There seems to be mixed accounts as to whether or not Milligan actually made some of his films in England. One individual told us that he did not make any of his films there. Can you somehow confirm if Milligan did/did not make any of his films in England? What evidence or information do you have to suggest that Milligan did indeed film in England?

McDonough: Didn't make any films in England?!? You can't be serious. What poppycock. Is this the same "individual" who goes around claiming Andy wasn't homosexual? Bloodthirsty Butchers, The Body Beneath, Nightbirds, The Man with Two Heads, The Rats Are Coming... were all shot in England (parts of Rats were shot on Staten Island). The English estate where Milligan shot Body Beneath and Rats--do you think that's a set? Done with CGI? All the overseas actors--Berwick Kaler, Julie Shaw, Annabella Wood, Dennis DeMarne, so many others--did Andy fly them all to Staten Island? He didn't have enough in the budget to buy the crew coffee! You read the book, right? Reliable witnesses like John Borske and John Miranda are quoted about working with Andy overseas. Andy HIMSELF talks about living and working in England. He made films for an English producer, Leslie Elliot, also quoted in the book. Are they liars? Did I make it all up? What would be the point of such a conspiracy, anyway?"

4) What are your thoughts as to whether or not Milligan will ever achieve the cult status of someone like Ed Wood? Could Milligan ever achieve the same status as Wood, and could you envision Hollywood ever making a big budget film of his life, like Tim Burton did of Ed Wood? If Milligan will never achieve the status of Ed Wood, why is this?

McDonough: There was a certain innocence about Ed Wood (however angora-swathed) Milligan never had. Andy comes from a grimier, more recent time. He kind of picks up where Wood left off. Every week I get more and more mail about Andy. So something is happening, however tiny. Much to my amusement, there has been talk of a film of The Ghastly One, but I don't see how that particular environment could ever be replicated. Maybe in England. Don't tell anybody!"

5). In your own view, what is it specifically that makes Milligan films so sought after by cult film fans? What is his appeal to you as a writer?

McDonough: You know how there are these utterly obscure 45s that record fanatics savor? Some nobody--let's call him Herman--cuts a few great records at midnight in the back of a radio station and only 500 copies slip out to the world. Herman doesn't make a dime, works his entire life as a high school custodian, then dies of cirrosis of the liver at his Mom's house. Twenty years later he has a fan club in Sweden and the French are writing books about him. Suddenly Herman's got a cult! It may only be twenty-six people, but they're willing to die for the guy. Why? Who knows. Something in what Herman did struck a chord within these few. And if one person catches the virus, it's a given somebody else will get it, too. That's one of the few things that makes life bearable: sharing a movie or a book or a song with another person. Suddenly you're not alone. Everything's so homogenized these days, it's like it all comes out of the same fast-food vat. Movies are so slick, TV is all the same reality show, the radio's filled with songs that have been AutoTuned free of emotion. There's no use crying about it, that's just the way things work. The Model T turns into the PT Cruiser. You can't escape it. Andy is a refreshing antidote to all that. His is a timeless world, a dirty aquarium swimming with threadbare thespians in outlandish costumery, all of them ranting and raving the Milligan world view. Within seconds you know where you are, and it isn't pretty. There's something so original, so crackpot about the vision. For better and for worse, there's nothing remotely like it. Andy's movies are looking better and better as the years go by. I think I was too hard on his films in the book. That's the only thing I regret about The Ghastly One. What appeals to me most of all is that Milligan did it against all odds. People laughed at him, told him he was no good. He kept right on going. Make no mistake, Andy was an artist. You may think his art is something that should be scraped off the bottom of your shoe, but he was a true artist until the bitter end. One of the many reasons I admired him."

6) Milligan is noted for his "swirl technique" in early films, as well as long shots and facial closeups. Is this all due to the limitations and weight advantages, of an Auricon, or did he have his own style techniques that he deliberately used?

McDonough: "I think it was a combination plate. Andy couldn't be bothered by technical things, even the simplest adjustments that would've made his films a thousand times more bearable. The guy had no patience. Try to show him a different way of doing anything and he went berserk. Yes, he was affected by the limitations of his equipment, but primarily he was driven by emotions that way were beyond his control. Andy was a walking, talking 'swirl camera.' So that seeped out of his fingers and through the 16mm Auricon. His 35mm pictures are more earthbound. You couldn't 'swirl' that tank."

7) I was watching Tom Vazzo on a GURU DVD extra talking about working with Milligan's later films. He has little nice to say about Milligan's film-making. You were there for a couple of films. I'd like you to relate some positives of Milligan's skills that showed up even in a film such as Monstrosity?

McDonough: "You can't judge Andy by Hollywood (or even 'Independent Filmmaker') standards. He existed in a creepy little snowglobe all his own. Milligan made pictures for no money. NO MONEY. Anybody who's worked in the film business knows how hard it is to make a movie, particularly if you're a one man band like Milligan. There was something heroic in the way he did it. And he swept you up in the enthusiasm. It was the best fun ever. I wish you could've been there. I worked on big budget Hollywood pictures and it was a total bore. With Andy it was always total lunacy. Whenever I get together with Charlie Beesley, my primary cohort from those days, we end up doing impressions of Andy--or his much-beloved 'script girl' Frank Echols, who was always rolling his eyes at whatever atrocious faux pas Milligan had just committed. Honestly, I think of those times and I laugh out loud. Some of the happiest days of my life, working for Andy.

8) In The Ghastly One, you describe Milligan as an ill-tempered misanthrope capable of tantrums and vilifications, yet your affection for the man comes through in a genuine manner. Explain this paradox. How could someone who pushed so many people away from him be so well liked by you and others? 

McDonough: Explain? I don't think I can. My job as biographer is to evoke, not explain. Cantankerous, complex characters deserve friends, too. I've spent my life around them, and apparently I am one. Andy could be screaming about shooting drag queens one minute and then turn around and do something so kind and gentle you'd do a double-take. Not many people saw this side of him, but it was there. Not a day goes by that I don't think of Andy. I still wear the cowboy boots he gave me. I still have the cowboy shirts he made for me. And they still reek of his scent, which, I must tell you, is quite unforgettable. Eau d' Milligan!" 

9) Why were Milligan and other grindhouse filmmakers so easily manipulated and exploited by people such as the Mishkins, etc. Did they have any legal recourses they could have used?

McDonough: "I think a loaded gun would've worked much better. Those days were like the wild west. A handful of people held the power on 42nd Street. They controlled what played there. You wanted to play your pitiful little picture there, fine, but bend over first. A handful of distributors were savvy enough to swim in this shark tank and William Mishkin was one of them. He was the filter between Andy and the powers that be. Once Milligan lost Mishkin, it was really over for him. No way was he going to deal with somebody like Bingo Brandt and emerge without his feathers. I have a lot of respect for William Mishkin. Did he treat Andy as good as he could've? Probably not. But they made a lot of pictures together. And those lurid campaigns we all love came from Bill's feverish mind, nowhere else. In terms of exploitations campaigns the guy was a genius. I love the posters and pressbooks for Milligan's pictures as much as the movies themselves. I have a lot of respect for William Mishkin. Did he treat Andy as good as he could've? Probably not. But they made a lot of pictures together. And those lurid campaigns we all love came from Bill's feverish mind, nowhere else. In terms of exploitations campaigns the guy was a genius. I love the posters and pressbooks for Milligan's pictures as much as the movies themselves."

10) Do you think any "lost" Milligan films, such as The Naked Witch and "The Degenerates," might have prints that are still lurking out there somewhere?

McDonough: "You never know. I think I might've just located a 16mm reel that I believe is from "Depraved."

Last question: If you have any box office information on Milligan's films, we'd love to share that info on the blog. Also, any chance of a release of Nightbirds some day? (It took us a long time to find Torture Dungeon, Blood and Legacy of Horror, and I'm not sure the last two were worth it!

McDonough: "(I'm) happy that my collection of Milligan films now resides with the noted Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and he plans on releasing them on DVD. Mr. Refn is just the man for the job. He loves all things Milligan and I know he'll do a great job with it all. A huge relief, that." Editor's Note: "Nightbirds" was released in 2012 by BFI DVD's Flip Side label with "The Body Beneath" and extras.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn


1987, Color, 85 minutes (less in some foreign versions). Directed by Sam Raimi. Cast includes: Bruce Campbell as Ash, Sarah Berry as Annie Knowby, Dan Hicks as Jake, Ted Raimi as possessed Henrietta Knowby, Denise Bixler as Linda, and John Peaks as Professor Raymond Knowby. Schlock-Meter rating: Eight stars out of a possible 10.

So many reviews like to call Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 a comedy, or a tribute to the Three Stooges, and there are some great "gross-out" gags, as well as my favorite comic scene, where Bruce Campbell's Ash, minus his possessed hand, traps it by piling a copy of Hemingway's "A Farewell To Arms" on a container holding the hand. Yes, this film contains a lot of comic parody, and after the first half Campbell plays his part mostly for laughs. And it's true that Raimi's very fast-paced, boom-boom-boom "I'm going to jar the viewer every 30 seconds" seems a tribute to Stooge-like filmmaking. And the excessive gore does desensitize the viewer after a while.

But let's not forget that Evil Dead 2 is a very scary, suspenseful thriller that throws out just about every horror/action plot element that exists. Most work. There are only a few clinkers, and the result is a cinema gem. Critic Roger Ebert pegged it best when he wrote that the film was not in bad taste, but about bad taste. Evil Dead 2 is sort of remake of Raimi's micro-budgeted Evil Dead, but with a little more plot and a twist ending that set up another, even more comic sequel, Army of Darkness. The plot: Ash and his girl Linda (Bixler) decide to squat for a night at a cabin in the Michigan woods. Once there, Ash turns on a tape recorder where a professor, who lives in the cabin, invokes a chant from The Book of the Dead that sends a demon to the cabin. From that point on, all hell breaks loose. Eventually, Ash and a few later arrivals, including the professor's daughter (Berry), are forced to fight it out with the demons.

The film is so fast-paced that you just marvel at the speed and special effects in the film that you forget the plot is pretty light. Director Raimi was destined for bigger assignments (A Simple Plan, Quick and the Dead, the Spider Man series). He's thrifty and economical. I suspect many minutes were spliced out of the final cut of Evil Dead 2 to maintain the fast pace, horror shocks and, yes, comic timing. Most of the cast is mediocre, except for Campbell, who is outstanding. For the first half of the film, he is largely responsible for carrying the flow of the film, and he uses the right amount of fear, fatigue, anger and outrage to pull it off. There are great visual effects, including a twisted, ominous looking bridge over a high drop, a dancing headless woman-demon, a human snake, a psychopathic hand, a woman being attacked by a tree, a demon's eyeball flying into a screaming mouth, and the most chilling, Ted Raimi's possessed Henrietta Knowby, a thoroughly gruesome old demon hag who hangs out in the cellar.

By all means rent or buy Evil Dead 2. It's well worth the price. However, while it is funny, expect more shivers than chuckles. Also, those who leave the room for a snack will miss several shock scenes. They happen so fast.

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Retro-Plan9Crunch: Andy Milligan's 'Torture Dungeon' -- An Appreciation


By Steve D. Stones


From the moment Andy Milligan’s film Torture Dungeon arrived at my doorstep, I knew I had something very special. Not only because the film is so rare but also because I had to sweat blood to find it. Type the words Torture Dungeon into the search engine of any mail-away video and DVD company, and the result that comes up is always the disappointing Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon. Amazon.com even lists Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon as: Torture Dungeon.

If you’re not a careful buyer, you could end up buying the wrong film, which is what happened to me. Finally I was able to find a VHS copy of the film on e-bay issued by Midnight Video, a company no longer in business. This tape is my most cherished video in my collection. I proudly display it on my video shelf as an ancient relic of a bygone era. Because the film is so rare and not listed in most film encyclopedias, I consider it to be “The Holy Grail of Cult Films.”

If you have never seen a Milligan film, I suggest you start with Torture Dungeon. You won’t be disappointed. Norman-Duke of Norwich, played by Gerry Jacuzzo (aka Jeremy Brooks),star of Milligan’s gay bath house short Vapors, is determined to rise to the throne and become king. He will do anything to acquire the throne, including murdering members of his own family to become successor to the crown. An opening sequence shows his half brother being decapitated on a beautiful spring day while admiring a flower. This gives us a clue for the violence that is in store for the rest of the film.

A legal council, headed by Neil Flannigan, star of Milligan’s Fleshpot On 42nd Street and Guru The Mad Monk, decides the rightful heir to the throne should be Albert, played by Hal Borske, a mentally challenged half-wit who picks his nose, talks like a child, eats bugs, and wears a tacky wig. The council is eager to marry Albert so he can provide a new heir.

The council selects a pretty peasant girl named Heather, played by Susan Cassidy, to be his bride. Heather can’t seem to keep her breasts inside her blouse throughout the entire film, which suits this male just fine. The problem with the council’s plan is that Heather is already in love with another local peasant named William. One sequence shows William and Heather running around nude in a pool of water. Milligan is careful not to show too much flesh by disguising parts of their bodies with tree branches and foliage.

Another violent scene in the film shows William being nailed to a barn door in a poorly lit sequence as black hooded executioners drive a pitchfork through his chest. This is a recurring theme seen in many of Milligan’s films, such as: The Ghastly Ones, The Weirdo and Carnage. Some of the film’s strangest dialogue comes from the Norman-Duke of Norwich character. In a scene where his wife enters their bedroom, he says: “I live for pleasure and pleasure alone . . . next to power, of course.” He goes on to say: “I’m not a homosexual. I’m not a heterosexual. I’m not asexual. I’m trisexual. I’ll try anything for pleasure!”

This may be perhaps some of the strangest dialogue ever put on celluloid. Even stranger is Milligan’s trademark swirl camera technique used in the film, particularly during William’s pitchfork murder and at the end of the film when Heather tries to ride off on a horse. The camera seems to swirl around in circles in a close-up of Susan Cassidy’s right thigh as she tries to ride off to avoid Norman.

Milligan also has the uncanny ability to completely disguise the smallness of his interior locations, said to be on Staten Island, by hanging lots of draping fabric over furniture and doors. The actors wear amateurish attire unrealistic to the clothing styles of the Middle Ages. All these characteristics give the film a very unique charm that is typical of so many cult films.

Some critics have suggested that Torture Dungeon is Milligan’s Richard III or Romeo & Juliet. That may be far reaching, but it is an interesting film that will satisfy connoisseurs of underground cult films. You may even want to view it back to back with Milligan’s Bloodthirsty Butchers, its original theatrical double feature.

Bloodthristy Butchers is Milligan’s take on the Sweeney Todd-DemonBarber of Fleet Street story. Neil Flanagan’s transvestite character in Fleshpot On 42nd Street even gives the double feature a plug in the film by saying: “Let’s go see Torture Dungeon playing on a double bill with Bloodthirsty Butchers down at The Waverly.” Don’t miss it! You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Slaves of the She Mummy: A review


{Previously, We brought Plan9Crunch readers the story of the micro-budget feature, Love Slaves of the She Mummy. It's a fascinating two-part tale of creating a film for about $6,000, told by the director, Sherman Hirsh, screenwriter of "Surgikill" and "Lords of Magick." I've watched Love Slaves of the She Mummy three times in the past couple of weeks, as well as an extras disc (a new DVD version has just been completed) and I offer these observations as well as a review of sorts.}

Sherman Hirsh's "Love Slaves of the She Mummy" is both a spoof and an homage. Vampira, Shock Theater, Ghoulardi, Elvira, and many, many more "TV morticians" graced TV screens in cities and took turns hosting horror films that had long used up their week-to-a-year stints on the big screens. Love Slaves involves "Morbid Mort's Midnight Mausoleum Matinee," a fictional show on a fictional UHF TV station that is one step above public access. "Mort (played by improv comic Mitchell Gordon) and his gang of freaks host the latest public domain classic, the spoof"Love Slaves of the She Mummy," which has the feel of a film made for $750 and change. It's all directed skillfully by Hirsh, who captures the feel of a low-rent horror film hosting show based on his own recollections of Cleveland's Ernie Anderson, who played Ghoulardi.

As mentioned, technically the film is well made. Hirsh deliberately creates a shoddy look and sound quality to "Love Slaves" and it almost seems like a real movie, with worn print discolored from too many bookings and lack of care, sliced and diced to fit the time frame and ego of a low-rent TV horror host. The "plot" of Love Slaves" is deliciously simple: The brother of a city employee is found insane, mumbling about a mummy that enslaves. Our hero and a typecast lady cop (who fades in and out of the film) investigate the insane man's claims and the mummy.

Appropriately, the majority of the 85-minute movie is devoted to "Morbid Mort's show." That's really what Love Slaves is, a salute to all the horror host shows that have flickered on our TV screens. Gordon, who resembles Jared Hess' Napolean Dynamite, so long as you imagine him as having gone insane from living in Idaho too long, has a lot of manic energy. He deserves credit for keeping the entertainment value of the faux show pretty consistent. His co-hosts, a ghoul, a ghoul with a prominent tongue, and two cute ghoulettes, are capable but definitely background material. This is Gordon's show. His energy determines whether it succeeds.

And most of the skits work. I particularly like a public service announcement for interns at the fictional station that includes convicts as a 'no-no,' and a "Poetry Pit" reading of the cast that is hysterical, if a bit too long. Also very funny is an "interview" with the "executive producer" of Love Slaves. It's great farce, with Gordon's Mort caustically dealing with the producer's bull*&^% about what a huge success the film is.

Hirsh freely inserts "in-the-know homages to the genre, such as a "trailer" for Love Slaves that warns potential viewers of suffering long-term damage if they see the film. That was a tactic used by many independent film producers, including AIP for The Screaming Skull" and Harry Novak for his "Living Dead" trilogy, which was in itself three European horror retreads from the 1960s. I also particularly like a short scene where, after a commercial break, just prior to the film resuming, we see that we are watching "the American version." And there is a fun scene where Mort and the gang, perusing a Psychotronic Video magazine, miss the end of a commercial break.

But if Love Slaves was all spoof, it wouldn't be a feature length film. Unlike cheapie film spoofs in such films as "Amazon Women of the Moon," most viewers, if they tuned in to "Love Slaves" in mid scene, wouldn't know it was a spoof for a while. "Love Slaves" is just "bad" enough, with the wooden acting and dime store sets and FX, to be believable.

And that brings us to a certain irony about Morbid Mort's Midnight Mausoleum Matinee: It remembers a genre that -- quality wise -- has disappeared. Morbid Mort's "show" is actually better than the horror host crap shows we have today: There are still several going strong. If you have the Retro Television Network or MyTV Network, or access to public access in some areas of the country, you can watch Offbeat Cinema, Cinema Insomnia, Wolfman Mac's Chiller Drive In, Midnight Monster Hop ... but the truth is, these shows are bad ... in the bad sense. Most are public access shows picked up by bottom feeders such as RTN to fill space between Wilfred Brimley diabetic supply ads and ads for those unfortunates swamped with credit card debt.

In fact, I'm not sure that less discriminating viewers of "Love Slaves" -- who miss the obviously spoofed newscast that precedes "Morbid Mort" and "Love Slaves" -- would even realize, at least for a while (there is an ad for a pro-suicide hotline that only an idiot would assume is real) that they are watching a spoof. This may doom long-term success for the film. It's better than what it spoofs today, and its real affection for Ghoulardi and other long-gone horror hosts are likely unknown to most viewers today.

I would like to see "Love Slaves" picked up and ran on a TV station some day. It would be a hoot to contrast the fake TV ads created by Hirsh's vivid imagination with the low-rent real ones that would be on the station that aired "Love Slaves!"

Notes: The two-disc DVD of the 85-minute version includes an extras disc with rehearsals, Gordon's audition, outtakes, deleted scenes and production stills. This post's reviewed extended version is not on the market yet. The original, longer (95 minute) version of "Love Slaves" is available for purchase on the Internet at http://www.filmbaby.com/films/928 Other stars of Love Slaves include Gregg Stickeler, Pauline Lang, Briony James and Daria I. Dunall.

-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Raven: A horror classic!


By Doug Gibson

Simply put, "The Raven" (1935) is a masterpiece. And credit for its perfection belongs to star Bela Lugosi, who is magnificent as the brilliant, deranged, courtly and insane Dr. Richard Vollin, who is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he has built real Poe-inspired torture devices in his dungeon.

Lugosi's Vollin is implored upon to save the life of a beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher. Once he restores her to health, he fall in lust with her and wants her for himself. Rebuffed by Thatcher's father, he hatches a plan to invite the dancer, her father, her fiance, and others to be tortured and murdered. In his feverish mind, Vollin believes that by killing, he can be released from his Poe obsessions.

Vollin's unwilling helper is Edmond Bateman, a murderer on the lam who bewails his ugly face. He begs Vollin to bring beauty to his countenance. Instead, Vollin makes him uglier and then promises to fix his ugliness after he kills his guests.

Lugosi is juat brilliant. He's gentlemanly and manic, polite and cruel, courteous and a raving lunatic. The short, 61-minute film is tightly directed by Lew Landers. It is an example of Universal's cruelty to Lugosi that he received only half as much as Karloff earned, although Lugosi's Vollin is the real star, the real villain.

This is a film that should not be missed by any horror film fan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Love Slaves of the She-Mummy – Embracing the Chaos, Part 2


{PART 2 – Morbid Mort’s Midnight Mausoleum Matinee}
By Sherman Hirsh

{Previously, I wrote about how the movie LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY came to be. I expounded on the origins of the Late Night Horror Host phenomenon, and how I used that to synthesize my own version. With the movie part finished, I was now able to develop the show itself and come up with a horror host.}

But who was my Horror Host? Should I rip off one of the originals, or try to create my own, i.e., the one I would do if I had the opportunity? Drawing on my own experience, I invoked the spirit of Ghoulardi, who has an imitator called The Ghoul, who in turn has an imitator called Son of Ghoul. My host would be a small town no-talent hack who was the imitator of an imitator of an imitator times 10.
Most of these shows were called “Shock Theater”, after the standard package of AIP, ALLIED ARTISTS, HAMMER & UNIVERSAL films licensed to the stations. I would avoid trademark turmoil by giving my show an original name. I wanted something new but sort of inept. I settled on MORBID MORT’S MIDNIGHT MAUSOLEUM MATINEE. It’s clear, yet excessively redundant too much.
Being a local show, I had to throw in a lot of obscure references only a regular viewer would find familiar. If you have ever had the experience of watching TV in a town other than the one in which you live, you’ll know the feeling. It all looks so different, yet so normal. Imagine viewing LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY as if you were stuck in a motel on a Friday night with nothing to do except watch TV. You endure commercials for local firms and products, different news and weather personalities, etc., and then you decide to watch an old movie you had not seen for years. Plus, you were curious about this Morbid Mort. Would he be as great (or lame) as the horror host in your hometown? Who, or what, was this “Zombina” Mort keeps attacking? Was there really a disease the local adolescents feared called FEJI, Flesh Eating Jock Itch?
And what does Mort’s catch phrase “EMBRACE THE CHAOS” really mean? Remember, I’m riffing off Ghouldardi. My dilemma was doing Ghoulardi without actually doing Ghoulardi. Morbid Mort theoretically is doing Ghouldardi without ever having seen Ghoulardi. Ghoulardi’s catch phrase, one of many, was “STAY SICK”. EMBRACE THE CHAOS is a reference to the anarchy and unrestrained lunacy that appeal to so many adolescent males, the core audience of Horror Host shows.
I wanted to know more about the Horror Host genre. I knew there were others working the Monster Movie beat, but since I don’t have access to the TV stations of other cities, I needed information one was not likely to find in a library. Was there any repository of the annals of Late Night Horror Host lore? YES! MONSTER MAGAZINES! FILMFAX, CULT MOVIES, PSYCHOTRONIC, and all the others, some of which are still on the stands. However, the greatest advocate of Horror Hosts was SCARY MONSTERS. I found a load of articles, a veritable cornucopia of Horror Host data. I don’t know about you, but there are some magazines I never throw away. SCARY MONSTERS, despite a somewhat juvenile tone, was never short on facts. Putting what I got from Scary Monsters together with my own experiences, and what I made up, I was able to conceptualize a reasonable replica of a “typical” small time Late Night Horror Host.
However, there was another factor most people have overlooked. Almost every standard gag a Horror Host does, e.g., crashing the movie, weird visuals, creative use of music and sound effects, etc., has its genesis in the work of pioneering TV surrealist, Ernie Kovacs. A Horror Host goes on the air and plays with the station and the medium itself. Nobody did this before Ernie Kovacs. Zacherly was the first Kovacs imitator, and every Horror Host after Zacherly imitated Zacherly. This is why I acknowledge the two Ernies, Ernie Kovacs and Ernie Anderson in the credits for Love Slaves of the She-Mummy. Just as a footnote, it should be noted that one of Ernie Kovacs’ co-workers was Richard Lester, the director of all the early Beatles films, and a worthy surrealist in his own right.
Ghoulardi did most of his shows in Limbo, just a black, setless studio with a single underlight, as did other hosts. Some hosts had sets. I like sets. I like the opportunities sets offer for improvisation through the decorations and props. My guy, Morbid Mort, got a set.
I work alone. I can’t afford an assistant, at least not one who wouldn’t steal my camera. I had to do all of the behind-the-scenes work on the movie myself. As Dirty Harry says, “A MAN’S GOT TO KNOW HIS LIMITATIONS.” I knew I needed a lot of time to prepare the set. I started building Mort’s set in April of 1998. 4’x8’ sheets of corrugated cardboard, with a cheesey magic marker “stone” pattern formed the walls of Mort’s pseudo-Gothic lair. It was set up in the corner of my apartment where once had stood the throne room of the palace of “Vulnaviana, The Demon Queen of Lemuria”!
The walls were textured with a variety of oddments and found objects. The same store where I bought the costumes supplied a skeleton candelabra and an inflatable Egyptian sarcophagus. If you look closely, you will also see the poster for LORDS OF MAGICK. The fireplace is adorned with an inscription of Mort’s EMBRACE THE CHAOS, written in runes. The actors brought additional unsolicited props and decorations, all of which added to the illusion that the set had been there a long time and had accumulated a realistic quantum of clutter. When actors like what you are doing, they will contribute!
MORBID MORTIMER McCOBB – Morbid Mort – The Morbid part is obvious. Mortimer is a funny name and the MORT part suggests the Latin word for Death. McCobb? Just a play on the French word MACABRE, which most Americans pronounce as “macobb”, swallowing the R, unless you are a fan of the William Castle film of the same name which people had referred to as “MACK-A-BREE”.
Two interesting little anecdotes came out of that. I looked up the origin of the word MACABRE, and my unabridged dictionary had none. Then, I forget where, but I read that the word actually has a Scriptural origin. There is the Biblical story of Judah Maccabee, an Old Testament war hero responsible for a particularly bloody campaign, inspiring the French to coin a slang word for a bloody corpse: MACABEE’. MACABRE describes something in the manner of, or which resembles a mangled stiff. One of the buyers of Love Slaves of the She-Mummy bought it because his name WAS McCobb and he collected anything bearing his family name. Hey, a sale’s a sale!
Mort was played by Mitchell Gordon, a full time improv comic and part-time waiter. He was an enthusiastic performer, but his improv background sometimes got in the way. In improv, one milks a concept for everything it has. I was constantly at odds with him because I wanted him to make a point and move on. Instead, he would grab my idea and run with it. He was at times brilliantly funny, and at other times he bogged me down in superfluous dialog. He did, however, nail the personality of an obnoxious semi-pro TV Late Night Horror Host.
I gave Morbid Mort a few stooges. The obligatory Hunchbacked Henchman was played by Robert Grindlinger, a talented make up artist and long time actor. He had appeared as a child actor on DARK SHADOWS!
Rob’s wife, Briony James, was Circe, Mort’s girlfriend. If you get to see LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY, you’ll notice that in the first segment, there is no Circe. The actor I originally cast as Circe decided at the last minute of the first shooting day, that she “didn’t need This for her resume” and declined to participate. We improvised some compensatory dialog and hoped we could find a Circe later.
Briony showed up the next day and asked to just watch the shooting, but I offered her the part and she graciously accepted. Historical note: I took her name, Circe, (Greek for Hawk), from the Homeric legend of the witch who turned men into pigs. There was a very good Horror anthology in the late ‘50’s called Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and it ran a story about a modern version of Circe I saw and never forgot.
The Girl was played by a brilliant performer, Daria I. Dunall. She had played the Lemurian Priestess, Zenobel in the movie section, and when she saw my casting ad for the TV Show shoot, she called me and asked for a part. I told her to dress anyway she wanted and create her own character. I can’t praise her talent enough. She’s cute, creative, and a joy to work with. She did exactly what I wanted her to, and I rarely had to tell her what that was. She is a total professional and I wish I could use her again.
Character #5 was Malocchio, a repulsively ugly puppet I created after the basic TV shoot to be in quick segments I used to fill in gaps in the TV Show I couldn’t fix with the humans. If Mort blew a line, I could have Malocchio (Italian:“Evil Eye”) not only say the right line, but give Mort a hard time about it. There was no Malocchio when I conceived the movie, but I needed something to mend the tears.
We shot the TV segments over three weekends in October of 1999. We started with a sketch in which Mort flashes people in a silent movie. Then we shot the opening of the show, followed by other sketches and the little inserts Mort and the gang threw in to corrupt the movie.
Mitch had only committed to three weekends, so when his time ran out, we stopped. However, the cast members were so clever and productive, by the time we wrapped, I had more than I needed to finish the movie.
When the cast wasn’t there, I also shot a variety of commercials, bumpers, and all the other crap TV stations stick in between slivers of entertainment. Not all of it made it to the DVD.
I had originally wanted to burn and blow up things like Ghouldardi did, but alas, it was not to be. I wanted to use more blood than I did. Again, there was my security deposit to consider, as well as my neighbors. I had already disturbed their peace and tranquility with several weekends rife with screams, gun shots and weird chanting. No one complained. Maybe those things aren’t abnormal in North Hollywood.
Recently, I changed my mind about how simplistic I wanted the TV show and the feature to be, and went back and added new sound effects, music and a few visual doodads. I also cut 10 minutes from the original 95 minute running time. “They” declared that little movies should always run 87 minutes. SURGIKILL runs 87 minutes. LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY now runs 85 minutes.
However, I hate to waste good material and I decided to put the excluded material worth saving on its own DVD. I will be including some of this neglected material in the Extras disc included with a new version. While preparing the EXTRAS disc for the new version, I had to, I mean I had the opportunity to revisit all the original footage. While searching for deleted scenes and the most embarrassing blown takes, I discovered that I could have made it better. I got a powerful urge to re-edit the whole movie, an impulse I had to resist. I realized that if I cut the thing using all the angles I shot, it would get “good”. Shoot it right, edit it wrong – that’s not how they taught it at Film School!
The project ground to a halt and languished for a spell. I tried to edit it using old fashioned tape to tape methods. It was so totally slow and frustrating, I gave up frequently. In four years, I managed to edit only the first 38 minutes. That, coupled with the demands of work and a crisis in my physical health kept LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY on hold for 7 years.
Then, my fortunes reversed and I was able to acquire a gutsier computer and enter the world of digital Non-Linear Editing. I was able to edit the whole project from scratch in a matter of weeks. Once finished, I had to find a way to get it to my soon-to-be adoring public. I offered it to Troma. Troma declined. Filmbaby.com did not. The original release version is available there. The pimped out version will probably end up on eBay, along with all the obsolete editing equipment I bought and abandoned. Or at a yard sale.
While all of the people who were friends of mine got their copies, the majority of the cast members have never seen it. As soon as the original version was completed, I wrote to all of the cast members I could not contact in person. Every letter came back – Address Unknown. They had all moved. Of course, that had nothing to do with their association with the movie.
So that’s the saga of LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY. Although the film is still largely unknown, it did get a favorable review in David Oakes’ ZMDB, the Zombie Movie Data Base. And Filmbaby recently sold its last copy and ordered more, so get yours now before they run out! But wait, there’s more! I’m older now, but little wiser. I’m still trying to get SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM!, a new film, together. Wanna be a Zombie? I can’t promise you raw brains, but there will be pizza.
By this weekend, read a review of the DVD of Love Slaves of the She-Mummy!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Love Slaves of the She-Mummy – Embracing the Chaos

Welcome, Plan9Crunch Fans, you may recall a pair of very interesting essays from screenwriter Sherman Hirsh, where he recounts his part in the production of cult director Andy Milligan's final film, and where he recounts the making of the the low-budget medieval time traveling adventure Lords of Magik, both penned by Sherman. In the following three-part essay/review, Sherman provides readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of micro-budget feature filmmaking. Earlier in the decade he wrote an directed "Love Slaves of the She-Mummy, a feature within a mythical horror host's world, Morbif Mort. This witty film cost only several thousand dollars, and was shot on weekends in the filmmaker's home. Its genesis, and how it was made, is as fascinating as the film. Enjoy Part 1 of "Love Slaves of the She Mummy -- Embracing the Chaos, by Sherman Hirsh!
---
“…Once upon a Friday Night, a Long, Long Time Ago…”

{PART 1 – The Movie in the Movie}
Being welcomed back to Plan 9 Crunch, a Cult Film’s best friend, for the third time is a singular honor. My little $6000 farce, LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY is not a cult film in the usual sense, in that there is no small hardcore group of aficionados for the film, i.e. a “CULT”. Rather, this movie is for the cult, that cult being the hardcore group of aficionados of Late Night Horror Hosts. I recently ran HORROR HOST through Google, and registered 606,000 listings! Somebody out there cares about Horror Hosts. Must be that “Cult”.
They don’t make Horror Hosts like they used to. Almost every major TV market in the U.S. had one. The most famous one, of course is New York’s “ZACHERLY, THE COOL GHOUL”, who set the standard for all the others. He was imitated on the West Coast by the late, lamented Maila Murmi as “VAMPIRA” and “SEYMOUR”. In Cleveland, my home town, we had Ernie Anderson’s “GHOULARDI”.
There was a nationwide proliferation of wacky weirdos who trashed old exploitation films. They all did funny little sketches, electronically insinuated themselves into the movie, made nasty comments about the competition and picked up a little extra cash doing personal appearances all over their market areas. Some worked alone, while some accomplices, usually co-workers at the station.
In the early ‘50’s, the major studios released a large portion of their pre-1950 movies to TV stations. In the beginning, the stations didn’t just run the movie. Instead, they would have a local personality sit in a big easy chair and introduce and seriously explain the film. Zacherly was lampooning this when he sat on his throne and conspired to assassinate his movie. Every Horror Host after that did some permutation of Zacherly’s model.
The success of these shows was based on the concept that after 5 days of scholastic regimentation and homework, a kid could kick back with a Coke and a bag of Fritos and watch this weird jerk do vicariously all the loud dumb stuff Mom won’t allow in the house.
Audience participation was a huge factor in the success of these programs. Fans could send in pictures and letters and the host would show the pictures and read the letters if they weren’t too dumb. The host was the real show. The movie was just a target.
The heyday of the Horror Host is over. Outside of a few cable access amateurs doing grossly derivative material wrapped around whatever Public Domain movies they can scrounge, there are few left of any importance. The reasons for this are purely mercenary. In the beginning, the movies were relatively inexpensive, the shows were cheap to produce and their popularity made them profitable. Then, the studios pulled the films and put them out on Home Video. However, the Number One reason the various Shock Theater shows had their final fade outs was Infomercials, which cost nothing and paid better. Your local Horror Host was a victim of Ron Popeil and his peers.
Another reason was that, at the time, no one took these performances seriously, including the Hosts, themselves. For some hosts, it was just another chore to be done around the station. In most cases, the Horror Host gig was just a sideline. Ernie Anderson only made $64 a show. He did Ghouldardi for roughly 3 years and split Cleveland for LA, where he became a major announcer at ABC. Until his death in the mid-‘90’s, you could hear his voice between shows, as well his stint as the announcer on AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS in its early years.
This was typical of the job. Most of the Horror Hosts only did their shows a couple of years and them quit when it got too demanding or stopped being fun. In later years, Anderson had little regard for Ghoulardi, and didn’t understand how the character still had fans so long after this minor entry on his resume was ancient history.
Remember GREMLINS II, JACK THE BEAR, and FRIGHT NIGHT? Remember what they had in common, besides being relegated to ‘80’s nostalgia? They all had Horror Hosts as characters. I couldn’t find any movie actually about a Horror Host, so I made one.
The ‘90’s - I was Jonesing to make another movie. I formulated several concepts which got cut for various reasons, mostly monetary. I settled on doing a Horror Host based movie because it would use a single main set for the show itself and a few improvised sets where an imitation “cheapie” would be staged.
Like most filmmakers, I maintain a file of assorted ideas, titles and half-baked, half finished scripts. I raided it, looking for inspiration. I love blatant, nasty titles. Low budget movies need loud titles, because with no stars, the promise of cheap thrills is the best way to get attention.
From my list of lurid titles, I chose LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY. I had already written ZOMBIE MARINES WASTE VEGAS, I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE, and a few others, so I needed a virgin title. LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY would be the feature film my host was presenting.
I could just as easily have gone with “NIGHT OF THE GUTSTOMPER”, “WOLF WOMEN OF HOLLYWOOD”, or “VISCERA:ATTACK OF THE KILLER GUTS FROM THE HAUNTED MORGUE”. I did a little research to find out if there was a film already using my proposed title and the closest I could find was a listing on IMDB for “LOVE BRIDES OF THE BLOOD MUMMY”(’73). I never heard of it either.
I had to write a “bad” movie. I had to violate all the principles I had learned from writing 20+ scripts, and commit all the mistakes on purpose I had unlearned. I set about writing a bad script. Awkward, unnatural dialog, a hackneyed, improbable plot, supernatural claptrap and wall to wall movie clich├ęs; all would be employed to create a movie a Horror Host could trash mouth with impunity. However, for the sake of the viewing audience, this bad movie could absolutely not be boring!
SYNOPSIS - LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY: Kyle Lyle, (Gregg Stickeler)a researcher, is contacted by police Detective Dali (Erica Cohen)regarding the arrest of his brother, Desmond,(Michael Enright)a reporter. Desmond has gone crazy, ranting about someone in his head. Kyle visits Desmond in jail and Desmond tells him about Vulnaviana, (think Vulnavia, stolen from Dr. Phibes) a dangerous cursed mummy. As soon as Kyle gets home from Desmond’s apartment with the mummy, he receives a mysterious phone call, and is goaded into meeting the caller. Mr. Minneapolis, (ME!)a rich diseased swindler, wants Vulnaviana, and tries to buy her from Kyle, who of course, refuses. Not that it matters, since Minneapolis has dispatched Blurt,(Gary Levinson) his staff mental case, to steal Vulnaviana anyway, just in case Kyle won’t cooperate, which he didn’t. However, Blurt blunders and allows himself to touch Vulnaviana, allowing her to enter his mind and take over, obviously what happened to Des. Kyle comes home and is confronted by Det. Dali, who wants to know what the corpse of a mental patient is doing dead on his floor, not that it matters, since Blurt gets up and leaves, announcing cryptically that it’s not the right time. Kyle returns to jail to consult with Desmond who tells him he must allow a priestess, Zenobel (Daria I. Dunall) to dispose of the Demon Queen. Meanwhile, Blurt, under Vulnaviana’s control, has killed Minneapolis and returns to Kyle’s place to kill Kyle and get the mummy so Dr. Sam Brancsisco (Sterling Von Radcliffe) can restore her flesh and she can rule, etc. The mad doctor has kidnapped an innocent girl (Pauline Lang, who did double duty as the living incarnation of the Demon Queen)whose body he will raid to restore Vulnaviana. THEN IT GETS WEIRD!
Principle photography of the pseudo-movie called LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY commenced in November of 1997, with a cast comprised of friends, co-workers, and total strangers who volunteered to sacrifice a few weekends to appear in non-paying roles in a weird little nano-budget hobby movie shot in the living room of my North Hollywood apartment. Actors will work for free if they like the part and you feed them. The cast of LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY was paid in Pizza, and as is customary, would receive copies of the finished movie.
The Lead and the Mad Doctor were people I worked with at my day job. A homicidal looney was played by “Vladek Blut”, actually old friend Gary Levinson, the creator of HELLROLLER, the first movie about a serial killer in a wheelchair. The rest of the cast members were pros and semi-pros who answered my ad in an LA casting paper.
We shot on weekends, which allowed me to use the rest of a week to build each of the seven sets. I built them from cardboard, paper drop cloths, found objects, and whatever else I could find. If you can’t scrounge, you can’t make these movies. The sets were decorated with stuff I already had as well as stuff I literally found in the street.
I had to buy a few props. In the course of shooting this movie, I learned the location of every Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift store in North Hollywood, as well as the location and contents of a slew of 99 cent stores. The exotic wardrobe was off-the-shelf costumes I scored in Hollywood. I rented a gorilla suit from a friend for a cripplingly exorbitant $20.
Production was relatively easy. My cast was totally professional, with no attacks of temperament, no refusal to comply with my requests and no shortage of actual creative contributions. For the seven weekends we shot, I filled 9 Hi8 tapes with action, drama, conflict, paranormal phenomena and pathos, all of it deliberately crappy. It was the Cinematic equivalent of SPINAL TAP. The whole “movie” was finally done and the Horror Host part was next.

{In the next installment, to be released late Tuesday night, Sherman recounts the making of the TV Show, itself. You’ll meet Morbid Mort and his gang, and experience the process of pretending to do TV.}

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Have Rocket Will Travel: -- Stooges fall down!

By Doug Gibson

If you want to watch the Three Stooges in a movie, watch the unknown oater gem Gold Raiders but don't watch Have Rocket Will Travel, a pathetic 1959 mess that even the most dedicated Teletubbies watcher will not stomach.

It's a dreadful hodgepodge of unfunniness. The boys, Moe, Larry and Curly Joe, are dimwitted janitors who befriend a sexy scientist. They blunder into a space ship and head off to a planet. There they encounter a talking unicorn and match wits with an even stupider master computer that HAL would have drowned in a river.

Once the doofuses return home, an additional party scene is tacked on and then this tired mess, directed by David Lowell Rich, finally ends. It's a very long 76 B&W minutes.

I have nothing against the Stooges. I like their shorts. If you want to see the trio at their best, catch any number of the Columbia one-reeler. But avid this horrendous mess.

Here's a clip from this mess:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

THE CREMATORS: Giant Fireballs Invade The Earth!


By Steve D. Stones

Harry Essex, director of the 1971 classic Octaman, brings us this low-budget gem. Essex is also credited as a co-writer responsible for the 1953 classic Creature From The Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space. The DVD of this film is distributed by Retromedia, and has a “Bikini Drive-In” introduction by Fred Olen Ray and his sidekick Miss Kim. The film stars Maria De Aragon, who went on to star in Star Wars episode IV in the costume of Greedo the bounty hunter. As an added bonus, the DVD contains an interview with De Aragon.

The film opens with a local native Indian being chased by a giant fireball, which apparently has come from outer space. The fireball rolls over the Indian and burns him to the ground, reducing him to ashes. The opening narration sounds like the voice of Arch Hall Sr. from Eegah. Later sequences in the film show the same stock shot of human ashes being blown into the air after the fireball attacks victims.

Meanwhile, Ian Thorn, a local scientist, is studying the waters off the local shoreline. It is never clear throughout the entire film where it takes place, but we have to assume it is Florida or any small coastal town, since many of the shots show an ocean shoreline. Director Essex shot Octaman in Florida, so this is why I also suspect The Cremators was also shot there.

Thorn finds strange, small glowing crystals in the local waters. He takes some of them back to his lab to be studied and places one in a package to be mailed to a colleague in Michigan for further investigation.

While delivering the package to a local post office, Thorn gets the feeling he is being chased by something. He gets out of his truck, but finds nothing. He delivers the package to a postal carrier. The carrier is later chased in his vehicle by a giant fireball and burned to death. Ian and the local sheriff later investigate the burned remains of the postal carrier’s vehicle. Ian’s package is found but not completely destroyed in the remains.

Later, a local native brings his dead cat to Thorn to try and discover what killed the cat. Thorn conducts an autopsy and discovers a fragment of one of the glowing crystals inside the belly of the cat. He also discovers another crystal fragment inside the belly of a dog he finds by the side of the road. Somehow local animals are eating the glowing crystals found in the local waters of the town.

Although I greatly enjoyed viewing this film, I find some of the plot points a bit confusing. For example, what does the glowing crystals being eaten by local animals have to do with the giant fireballs attacking local citizens? I suppose the connection is that many of the victims find a glowing crystal just before they are attacked and burned by the giant fireballs.

However, this still adds some confusion. Are the giant fireballs attracted to the glowing crystals, or are they a result of the glowing crystals? Plus, why don’t the giant fireballs attack the animals who eat the crystals, and why do they only attack when someone picks up a crystal? These are all questions that enter into my mind as I view the film.

The film certainly leaves more questions to the viewer than it answers. At the end of the film, Thorn arranges a small circle of crystals on the ground in an attempt to attract the giant fireball. Like a hen looking for her newborn hatchlings, the fireball comes for the circle of crystals. Thorn is able to destroy the fireball with an explosion.

If you are familiar with It Came From Outer Space, it is easy to see some similarities to this film. However, It Came From Outer Space is a much better scripted and well-produced film. Fans of Octaman are encouraged to see The Cremators, if only to see what director Essex made after Octaman. Enjoy!