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Friday, September 30, 2011

Swamp Girl -- a real cracker film!



By Doug Gibson

"Swamp Girl" is a real "cracker" film. A deep South drive-in, Saturday matinee film that bombed at the box office largely due to that dichotemy. The film is very tame, tame enough indeed to play at a kids' Saturday matinee. That is was a best a soft PG is a bit perplexing given that the director was Don Davis, who was more comfortable shooting soft-core porn in that era. (Davis also has a memorable but small role as a drunk in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.)

"Swamp Girl" is an interesting film and watchable. It stars a "Marcia Brady" lookalike (Simone Griffith) who is a gorgeous teenage blonde named Janeen who lives in the swamp with her guardian, a black man she calls "Paw." It seems that Swamp Girl was abandoned as a baby and later Paw rescued her from drug dealers who killed her earlier guardian. Despite living in a swamp, swamp girl is gorgeous, with creamy white skin, tanned shaved legs, beautifully coiffed blonde hair and wears a cut summery type of dress. She also is friends with the local sheriff (Claude King) and the swamp ranger, played by southern crooner Ferlin Husky (he of Hillbillys in a Haunted House fame).

To go on, one day a con and his girlfriend are on the run. They turn up at Swamp Girl's house, kill "Paw" and take Swamp Girl hostage as they seek escape through the swamp. However, Swamp Girl, who knows the swamp all too well, turns the tables on the baddies and makes their lives miserable in the swamp. Eventually, the bad guy sinks to his death in quicksand and his girlfriend is eaten by 'gators. (There's a subplot involving some local criminals who want to kill Swamp Girl for some reason but viewers can ignore and just star at Griffith prancing through the swamp)

Besides the plot as mentioned, Ferlin Husky sings a song or two and I think there's a half-baked, chaste romance between Swamp Girl and a deputy. There's also, and let me make this clear, no R-rated material in this film. As mentioned, it's quite tame.

It's an enjoyable 70 minutes or so and is a chance to see a genre film (southern justice) that is very low budget and all late '60s early '70s deep South. And, it was filmed at a real swamp, Okefenokee Swamp Park, near Waycross, Georgia. It can be purchased via Something Weird, which recently showed the film on OnDemand cable. Enjoy the trailer above!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Haunted House - The Screaming Skull



The Screaming Skull - Free Burial For Frightened Viewers!


By Steve D. Stones

Director Fred Olen Ray once said that The Screaming Skull is perhaps the greatest low budget film made with only five actors and one location. If it wasn’t for Roger Corman’s 1961 classic The Pit & The Pendulum, I would agree with Ray. The Screaming Skull has my vote as second best for a film limited to less than six actors and one location.

The film opens with an interesting gimmick of a coffin opening with a sign inside that says: Reserved For You. The narrator insures viewers that the producers promise a free burial for anyone who dies of fright while watching The Screaming Skull. I wonder if they ever had to follow through with their promise?

Next, a boiling stream of water is shown with fog as a skull floats to the surface and a loud screaming of a wild bird is heard. The bold letters of THE SCREAMING SKULL dash out in front of the floating skull.

Eric Whitlock brings his new bride named Jenny to his mansion in the countryside after having been gone for two years. Eric lived there with his former wife Marion, who died in the garden when she slipped and fell on a concrete wall, banging her head.

The reverend Snow and his wife arrive to meet Jenny and to bring the couple some groceries for the night. Eric informs reverend Snow in private that Jenny’s parents had died many years ago in a drowning accident, making her emotionally unstable, but also inheriting their wealth.

That night while in bed, Jenny hears a constant banging sound, which she discovers to be the wind banging some window shudders against the house. The next morning she tries to make friends with the shy, introverted gardener named Mickey by suggesting they take some flowers to Marion’s gave.

The following night Jenny has nightmares as the sound of screaming peacocks haunts her dreams. She wakes to the sound of a loud knocking on the front door. She opens the door to discover a skull on the doorsteps. What follows for the rest of the film is a series of Jenny finding the skull all over the mansion, driving her insane.

Eric suggests that Jenny is hallucinating, and that perhaps her nightmares are a result of a portrait in the house of Marion. Eric decides to burn the portrait as Jenny witnesses the destruction of the painting. As the couple rake over the hot coals from the fire, another skull emerges, causing Jenny to faint.

It turns out that Eric placed the skull in the ashes of the fire to frighten Jenny. His goal was to drive Jenny insane so that he could inherit her wealth.

By some supernatural force, the skull returns to haunt Eric, causing him to be struck by lightning and drown in his garden pond, the same pond where Marion was killed.

It’s unfortunate that many film encyclopedias give The Screaming Skull such a poor rating. I find it to be a fun little film worthy of any serious B-movie fan’s list of guilty pleasures. It’s a film that goes well with a large bucket of buttered popcorn and a soda drink at 1 in the morning. Who knows, perhaps the producers of The Screaming Skull may still promise you a free burial if you die of fright while watching the film? Happy viewing!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Werewolf of London




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. In a way, Hull's dilemma is similar to John Abbott's in The Vampire's Ghost (Republic, 1945). They are reluctant monsters!

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 or you can buy it fairly cheap.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Ape Man with Lugosi!



The Ape Man, 64 minutes, 1943, Monogram, Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster, Louise Currie as Billie Mason, Wallace Ford as Jeff Carter, Henry Hall as Dr. George Randall, Emil Van Horn as the ape, J. Farrell McDonald as Police Captain O'Brien and Minerva Urecal as Agatha Brewster. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

This is a screwball horror film, but a lot more entertaining than most viewers will expect. It's sheer pulp horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. The plot involves a scientist (Lugosi) who for unexplained reasons accidentally turns himself into an ape man. Not trusting his sanity, he frequently locks himself up with an ill-tempered ape (Van Horn in a campy performance). Lugosi's ape man needs human spinal fluid to have even a chance to regain his former appearance and posture. This involves murder and when a colleague (Hall) refuses to help, Lugosi literally goes ape, and commits several murders. He's encouraged by his creepy sister (Urecal) a noted spiritualist who records the groans of ghosts. Lugosi's nemesis are a reporter/photographer duo who soon become wise to all the creepy occurrences.

Of such bizarre plots were Monogram cheapies of the 1940s created. It's a lot of fun to watch, even if the production values are predictably bottom of the barrel. Lugosi, as usual, acts far above the product he's pitching, and he manages to make the audience feel sympathy for his plight. His ferocious temper tantrums are effective. He nearly strangles his sister in one scene. Urecal, by the way, is great as the slightly creepy sister. In an Los Angeles Times review (the paper actually liked the film) the reviewer suggested Urecal be given her own horror film to star in. So far as I know, it never happened, although she was also very good in the Lugosi vehicle The Corpse Vanishes. Currie and Ford as the wisecracking journalists have strong chemistry. B movie veteran actor McDonald is also an asset to the film. The film is slightly marred by a truly goofy character who acts as a red herring, cutting into scenes for no reason and offering cryptic comments and warnings. At the end, he reveals himself to be the author of the tale. As The End is flashed on the screen, he remarks "Screwy, isn't it?"

Like any low-budget film, there are amusing contradictions. Why does Lugosi have an accent, and his sister doesn't? Also, why doesn't anyone seem to notice the ape-like Lugosi and his pet ape traipsing through the city? Of course, suspension of disbelief is a requirement to fully enjoy a Monogram film. So just sit back and take in the show. It's a fun hour of escapism and a great treat for those who enjoy the old C and B horror films. Notes: The film's shooting title was They Creep in the Night. In England, it was titled Lock Your Doors. There is a nostalgic reference to the times when Currie chides Ford for being 4F, and consequently not serving in World War II. He retorts that he's scheduled to enlist at the end.
The Ape Man plays often on UEN's (Utah Educational Network) Sci Fi Friday and has a podcast to go along with it. There are many versions of the film. It is free to watch on the Web. Hopefully, Turner Classic Movies will air a pristine print of the film some day, but watch a version above!.

The Ape Man with Lugosi!



The Ape Man, 64 minutes, 1943, Monogram, Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster, Louise Currie as Billie Mason, Wallace Ford as Jeff Carter, Henry Hall as Dr. George Randall, Emil Van Horn as the ape, J. Farrell McDonald as Police Captain O'Brien and Minerva Urecal as Agatha Brewster. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

This is a screwball horror film, but a lot more entertaining than most viewers will expect. It's sheer pulp horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. The plot involves a scientist (Lugosi) who for unexplained reasons accidentally turns himself into an ape man. Not trusting his sanity, he frequently locks himself up with an ill-tempered ape (Van Horn in a campy performance). Lugosi's ape man needs human spinal fluid to have even a chance to regain his former appearance and posture. This involves murder and when a colleague (Hall) refuses to help, Lugosi literally goes ape, and commits several murders. He's encouraged by his creepy sister (Urecal) a noted spiritualist who records the groans of ghosts. Lugosi's nemesis are a reporter/photographer duo who soon become wise to all the creepy occurrences.

Of such bizarre plots were Monogram cheapies of the 1940s created. It's a lot of fun to watch, even if the production values are predictably bottom of the barrel. Lugosi, as usual, acts far above the product he's pitching, and he manages to make the audience feel sympathy for his plight. His ferocious temper tantrums are effective. He nearly strangles his sister in one scene. Urecal, by the way, is great as the slightly creepy sister. In an Los Angeles Times review (the paper actually liked the film) the reviewer suggested Urecal be given her own horror film to star in. So far as I know, it never happened, although she was also very good in the Lugosi vehicle The Corpse Vanishes. Currie and Ford as the wisecracking journalists have strong chemistry. B movie veteran actor McDonald is also an asset to the film. The film is slightly marred by a truly goofy character who acts as a red herring, cutting into scenes for no reason and offering cryptic comments and warnings. At the end, he reveals himself to be the author of the tale. As The End is flashed on the screen, he remarks "Screwy, isn't it?"

Like any low-budget film, there are amusing contradictions. Why does Lugosi have an accent, and his sister doesn't? Also, why doesn't anyone seem to notice the ape-like Lugosi and his pet ape traipsing through the city? Of course, suspension of disbelief is a requirement to fully enjoy a Monogram film. So just sit back and take in the show. It's a fun hour of escapism and a great treat for those who enjoy the old C and B horror films. Notes: The film's shooting title was They Creep in the Night. In England, it was titled Lock Your Doors. There is a nostalgic reference to the times when Currie chides Ford for being 4F, and consequently not serving in World War II. He retorts that he's scheduled to enlist at the end.
The Ape Man plays often on UEN's (Utah Educational Network) Sci Fi Friday and has a podcast to go along with it. There are many versions of the film. It is free to watch on the Web. Hopefully, Turner Classic Movies will air a pristine print of the film some day.