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Monday, December 10, 2012

A trio of Ray Dennis Steckler films

By Doug Gibson

I watched three Ray Dennis Steckler films over the weekend: "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living," "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo," and the 30-minute version of "The Lemon Grove Kids." Steckler's been dead a few years. He was fortunate enough to gain some cult fame while alive. Like a lot of cult figures, Steckler gained some notice early in his career, lost steam after that, and moved into adult films in the later stages of his career. He eventually bought a couple of video stores in Las Vegas. As his cult status grew, he enjoyed acclaim as one of the truly nice guys in the film netherworld. His films were sold widely, particularly on Sinister Cinema.

We'll post our previous reviews of "Incredibly Strange Creatures ..." and ""Rat Pfink ..." below but I want to waste some space on "The Lemon Grove Kids." It's Steckler's tribute to the Bowery Boys and he does an on-target impersonation of Huntz Hall. It was so good that Hall threatened to sue the man who idolized him, Steckler. As a film, "Lemon Grove" is a patchwork, advanced home movie of disconnected shots and many actors mugging for the camera. The film I'm reviewing starts with the Lemon Grove kids wanting to protect a teenage girl from a semi-hood and bizarrely ends with a foot race to settle a gang war. It's funny as heck, with real actors, such as Steckler, Carolyn Brandt and Coleman Francis mixed in with the amateurs, Steckler's extended family and friends. I love noise effects that punctuate some of the antics of the cast. It's appropriately bizarre to see sunny California as the background to Steckler's version of the Bowery Boys.

One great highlight of Steckler's films, these three included, is observing Southern California in the 1960s. For anyone who was aroun in those times, it's a nostalgia fest. I particularly love the shots of the old long-gone Pike amusement park in Long Beach from "Incredibly Strange Creatures ..." and the mixture of sneak and staged shots from a real parade in "Rat Pfink ..." All three films also have great shots of the California shore.

So, here's reviews for the above-mentioned films:

INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES


Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, 1963, director Ray Dennis Steckler, Starring Cash Flagg (Steckler), Carolyn Brandt. Color, 82 minutes. (Also know as The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary.) Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10.
By Doug Gibson

I'll say this much: Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is a GREAT title. And for that the late director/star Steckler gets three stars right off the bat. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is very confusing, and only the carnival scenes somewhat save this semi-bore, and very non-scary, monster musical with strippers who are very clothed. 

A word about the carnival. It looks a lot like the old Pike in Long Beach, Calif., a wonderful amusement place by the beach that was torn down more than 25 years ago. If any web surfers reading this can verify this, I d love to know.

The plot is very tangled and poorly developed, but here goes. An ugly gypsy fortune teller (who looks a lot like a tired Liz Taylor with a big mole) turns a bunch of hapless fortune seekers into scarred, drugged-out zombies who have an urge to kill. (Why do zombies always have an urge to kill in films? by the way.) No reason is ever given as to why the gypsy wants these zombies around. One night free spirit, cool young guy (Steckler), who looks a bit like a homely Nicholas Cage, goes to the carnival with his rich-girl lady. They have a spat when he eyes a comely dancer, and she stalks off.

Steckler goes after the dancer, and falls into the clutches of the evil fortune teller. He spends the rest of the film wandering around in a daze, occasionally killing and once trying to kill his girl. Later the zombies revolt and wreck havoc around the carnival. Steckler is pursued to the beach, where he meets his fate. Steckler is nota bad actor. He later was very good in a private eye flick he directed, Super Cool. He also made some great C films, including the spoofs Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Lemon Grove Kids series, as well as genuinly nervy psycho killer film called The Thrill Killers.

But this film is too undisciplined to take seriously. Several times scenes don't seem to mesh with the plot and often there is no explanation for why anything is occurring. The viewer is never told how the evil gypsy controls minds. She mumbles in dreams and we see a bad imitation of the Twilight Zone spiral (was this film shot originally in 3D?). In theaters ushers were forced to dress up like zombies and run through the theaters. Steckler's then-wife, Carolyn Brandt, who often starred in his films, plays a sexy carny dancer.

It was advertised as a monster musical and as a result, we're forced to watch a lot of bad singing and dancing. The acting is overall poor. The best part of the film is the weird carny world where so much of the action occurs. The film captures the seedy side of small-time carnival life a generation ago. Unfortunately, the limitations of the filmmakers and likely, a very tiny budget, produce what s mostly a talky bore. But still a great title! I must mention that Steckler, in interviews I have read and watched, seems like a good guy, modest and candid. Other titles for this film included "Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary." This is the film Steckler is best known for, even if it's not his best. Try "Body Fever" or "The Thrill Killers." It's fun to see Steckler acting in the film. He was a fine thespian. The film was also spoofed in MST3K.

RAT PFINK A BOO BOO

By Steve D. Stones

Low budget director Ray Dennis Steckler is best known for creating the first so-called “monster musical” – The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed Up Zombies (AKA Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary). Like most of Steckler’s films, he cast his wife Carolyn Brandt in a leading role in Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (AKA The Adventures of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo).

As campy as the title may be, the person who created the opening titles for the film forgot to put a letter N and D after the letter A so that the title would read: Rat Pfink And Boo Boo. To further complicate matters, a letter P was placed in front of the word Fink, likely to not confuse the Rat Fink character in this film with the famous Rat Fink character created by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the 1960s. Confused yet? Perhaps this was Steckler’s way of avoiding copyright infringements?

A group of hoodlums is constantly harassing Ceebee Beaumont by calling her on the telephone. Ceebee is the beautiful girlfriend of rising rock singer and teenage heartthrob Lonnie Lord, played by Vin Saxon (AKA Ron Haydock). The group follows and kidnaps Ceebee, played by Steckler’s wife at the time – Carolyn Brandt, and demands a ransom of $50,000.00 from Lonnie.

Lonnie and his gardener, played by Titus Moede, thrust into action by dressing up in costumes similar to Batman & Robin, but instead they wear ski masks. They call themselves Rat Pfink & Boo Boo, in case you haven’t guessed by now. The two catch up with the hoodlums and save the day by rescuing the girl and avoiding a confrontation with a giant ape named Kogar.

Various interesting scenes in the film use colored filters over the black and white photography, such as an opening night sequence in blue of the hoodlums attacking a young woman to steal her purse. Other scenes use a red filter over the black and white.

The DVD and video print of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, sold by Sinister Cinema in Medford, Oregon has a short introduction by director Steckler. Steckler’s films have gained a strong following in recent years, and have even been featured on Turner Classic Movies, a cable network that screens classic films.

Steckler spent the last few years of his life living in Las Vegas running a video store. He passed away in January of 2009. May his films live on forever for cult movie fans to enjoy for many generations to come!


This link is to a tribute we wrote about Steckler after his death. (Read)

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