Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Space Probe Taurus with the Wizard of Mars monster

Space Probe Taurus, 1965, American Independent, B&W, 73 minutes. Directed by Leonard Katzman. Starring Francine York as Dr. Lisa Wayne, James B. Brown as Colonel Hank Stevens, Baynes Barron as Dr. John Andros and Russ Bender as Dr. Paul Martin. Schlock-Meter rating:4 stars out of 10.

AIP had high hopes for Space Probe Taurus. Initially planned as a theatrical release, a sequel was in pre-development while the futuristic sci-fi was being filmed. After Leonard Katzman (son of 40s cheapie mogul Sam Katzman) finished the film, AIP execs watched the film. Plans for a theater release were scrapped. The sequel was put on the shelf permanently, and Space Probe Taurus was quickly sold to television. It was a smart move. Space Probe Taurus is so corny although it has a fun goofiness. There is less than 7 or 8 minutes of action in the entire film. The actors talk and talk and talk and talk and still talk. Whenever our stars meet any space monsters (and they're pretty pathetic) the action never rises higher than a Buster Crabbe serial. The sets and FXs are awful. A talented high school class could do a better job. The script is cliche-ridden with stock characters (feminist lady scientist, gruff chauvinist commandeer who will win over the girl, money-grubbing wise-cracking crewman who will of course die, and elderly scientist egghead).

The plot: It's supposed to be roughly around the year 2000, although everyone looks and acts like its the 1960s. Memo to filmmakers: When attempting a futuristic fantasy, try to have space exploration equipment that post dates 1960. Hope 1, a state-of-the-art space ship, is off on a journey to probe the universe. The search is for a planet that humans may one day colonize. The spaceship and its journey through outer space are accomplished with childish FXs that would embarrass any four-year-old Star Wars fan. It's obvious the ship is a 12-inch model and outer space looks like a blackboard with shiny stuff attached to it. Meteorites resemble toasted marshmallows. Yet, for some reason, as I have mentioned, it's goofy fun.

Before our heroes find the planet they are looking for, they intrude on a space station run by a lone alien with a face full of granola. When the alien understandably attacks the U.S. space soldiers they quickly kill him and blow up his ship. That is probably the best scene in the film! The "Space Monster," by the way, is also in the ultra-cheapie film "The Wizard of Mars." Eventually, our boring heroes, after a lot of talk and a definitely-uncool-in-2000 Me Tarzan, You Jane romance between Colonel Stevens (Brown) and Dr. Lisa Wayne (York), find an inhabitable planet. The wisecracking Dr. Andros (Barron) loses his life battling another alien, and our heroes, as they return home, name the planet Andros 1, in his memory.

Notes: Director Leonard Katzman rebounded from this mediocre effort to be a huge success in television. He created, among other hits, Wild Wild West, Walker Texas Ranger and Dallas. Like many independent films, Space Probe Taurus has had other titles, including First Woman Into Space, Flight Beyond the Sun, Space Monster and Voyage Into the Sun. American Movie Classics aired the film twice during the month of April 2002. If one searches enough, Space Probe Taurus can generally be bought via the Internet

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, January 28, 2013

Invasion of The People Eaters - Giant Carpet Shag Consumes Teenage Lovers

I recently received a DVD in the mail from Sinister Cinema entitled – Invasion of The People Eaters. I bought the DVD fully knowing that this title is the alternative title for what is regarded as one of the worst movies of all time – The Creeping Terror. When I bought the DVD, I assumed that perhaps this print may have scenes missing or later added to The Creeping Terror. Be aware if you purchase this film from Sinister Cinema because this is not the case. Only the title sequence has changed.

The Creeping Terror is notorious for the monster of the film looking like giant carpet shag that lethargically crawls around locations as his victims literally shove themselves into the opening at his feet. That is how bad and unconvincing this monster is. The viewer cannot help but laugh hysterically at the victims as they make no effort to escape the giant carpet shag, but instead push themselves into his large orifice.

One teenage girl is consumed by the monster at a dance hall as the monster makes his way across the dance room floor. Her sexy nylon covered legs are shown as she pushes her way into the monster. A sun bathing beauty in a bikini is also consumed by the monster in another scene. Even a young mother is attacked while hanging her laundry out to dry in her backyard. Instead of running from the monster, she stares dumbfounded at him until he eats her for lunch.

The Creeping Terror is also notorious for the sound man accidentally dumping the recorded sound for the film in Lake Tahoe, which is the location where the film was made. Most of the film is dubbed in boring voice over narration typical of industrial short films children watched in elementary school. The Invasion of The People Eaters print sold by Sinister Cinema has large portions of the film where the sound is not dubbed in sync with the movement of the actor’s mouths, making it difficult to view (as if the movie isn’t already tough enough to sit through).

The Creeping Terror may have been made in an attempt to cash in on some of the success of a film made six years earlier – The Blob (1958) starring Steve McQueen. The opening sequence shows spiraling lines encompassing the title and credits, similar to The Blob, although they are not animated as they are in The Blob. Happy Viewing!!!

-- Steve D. Stones

Friday, January 25, 2013

Halloween, as interpreted by Rob Zombie!

John Carpenter’s classic film Halloween literally took the box office by storm in 1978. It was immediately hailed as “the new Psycho of the 1970s” and remained the highest grossing independent film for more than 20 years, despite a budget of only $320,000.

It ushered in the “slasher genre” of the 1980s, and remains a classic of the horror film. Its influence can still be seen in many horror films of today.

 Rob Zombie’s 2007 reworking homage to Carpenter’s film is also a real treat for the horror film aficionado. Zombie concentrates on giving the audience the point of view of the Michael Meyers character, his childhood, and the transition he makes from a child’s clown mask to the iconic Michael Meyer’s mask that has become so familiar to moviegoers and horror fans.

This time we see a more human side to the Meyers character and less of the supernatural characteristic that defines Meyers in the Carpenter film. The Meyers family can be defined as the typical dysfunctional, middle-American family, with a divorced mother, Deborah Meyers, who works as a stripper, played by the director’s wife Sherrie Moon Zombie, and her deadbeat lazy boyfriend who constantly argues with Judith and avoids the children.

The Meyers home is in constant chaos, which drives Michael to trapping and killing animals in the home bathroom while wearing his clown mask. Zombie makes many of the same references that Carpenter makes in his film, such as a scene of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film The Thing playing on the television, and the music of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Young Michael Meyer’s even wears a KISS T-shirt to school.

The one reference that got my attention immediately is a scene of a young couple having sex in the Meyer’s rundown house while they play the punk rock song “Halloween” by The Misfits, which is sung in Latin. Zombie has also kept the eerie Carpenter score from the original film intact. Zombie spends more time showing the audience the interaction that takes place between Dr. Samuel Loomis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and Michael Meyers as a child. Dr. Loomis records his thoughts into a tape recorder while videotaping young Meyers in his handmade masks.

Meyers spends his time at the sanitarium making paper mache masks. His obsession grows to a room full of masks covering every inch of wall space in his cell. Another major difference between the two films is that the Lori Strode character in the Carpenter film is a virginal, bookworm babysitter who avoids boys out of complete shyness. Lori Strode in the Zombie film is at times a very sexual, nasty teenager who isn’t afraid to use foul language and talk about boys. She appears to be more confident about herself, and enjoys participating in the normal behaviors of a teenage girl.

From a complete visual standpoint, I found this film to be very well made, with genuine scares that kept me on the edge of my seat. Zombie manages to make horror films that combine bizarre visuals and rapid montages that work well with his choice of sound and music. Like his music and live performances, you will walk away from Halloween feeling very entertained and genuinely frightened.

I highly recommend this film to any horror film buff and fan of Zombie’s music. Two thumbs way up on this one!!!!!

-- Steve D. Stones

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dick Tracy vs. Cueball -- great fun

By Doug Gibson

The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 50 worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was a popular a generation ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the movie above.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A look at 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.

Black Sunday is a masterpiece. It kicked off a stellar career for Bava, who would later show how well he could use color to invoke terror in audiences. There is a long, interesting essay on Black Sunday in Danny Peary's first volume of "Cult Films."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

'White Slaves of Chinatown' - grindhouse girls!

By Steve D. Stones

If White Slaves of Chinatown doesn’t put you to sleep, nothing will. However, it was successful enough to spawn other films in the so-called “Olga Series” – Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor, Olga’s Girls and Olga’s House of Shame. White Slaves of Chinatown is the first in the series.

Olga’s House of Shame is considered to be the best of the series. Both White Slaves of Chinatown and Olga’s House of Shame include boring voice over narration, similar to the narration in The Creeping Terror. All the films in the series were made in 1964.

White Slaves of Chinatown is full of scenes showing enslaved prostitutes shooting up heroin and undressing in Olga’s slave pits. Olga keeps young women captive to sell them as street prostitutes to keep her drug business of heroin, marijuana and opium going. A number of scenes show the captives being tortured, but with minimal and unconvincing reaction shots from the victims. Olga burns a victim’s breast with a cigarette. Another victim is tortured with her hand pressed in a table vice.

One of the enslaved prostitutes becomes pregnant. Producer George Weiss, who produced Ed Wood’s sex change epic - Glen or Glenda, plays the doctor who performs the off camera abortion.

The opening montage of newspaper headlines is borrowed from an earlier exploitation film – The Devil’s Sleep (1951).

White Slaves of Chinatown is sold at Something Weird Video in Seattle, Washington as part of Frank Henenlotter’s “Sexy Shockers From The Vault.” Henenlotter is a B-movie, exploitation expert employed by Something Weird Video, and director of such cult classics as – Basket Case, Brain Damage and Frankenhooker.

Eli Roth, director of Hostel, and other directors of the “torture porn” genre are greatly indebted to the Olga series of the 60s. Happy viewing of this grindhouse classic!

Friday, January 11, 2013

RIP Theodora Thurman, 'sexy weather girl,' and star of Ed Wood's 'Jail Bait'

We were reading Rex Reed's annual long, New York Observer piece on celebrities who died in 2012 and our eyes lifted when we noticed the inclusion of "Tedi Thurman." He describes her as "the sexy, smoky voice that kept America enthralled delivering torrid weather reports all weekend on NBC’s innovative radio marathon Monitor during my high school salad days." Indeed, she did. However, she was also known as one of the stars of the lesser-known Ed Wood classic "Jail Bait." In her only film, which must have been a test run for bigger things that did not materialize, at least in films, Thurman played the gun moll of gangster Timothy Farrell. She's beautiful in the role, and her acting is not too bad. However, in Rudolph Grey's oral biography of Wood, Thurman mentions that after the film, she went off to Europe to model. In the same book, Farrell mentions that Thurman had a lot of people protecting her during the shoot. Thurman was 99 when she died last September 17 in Palm Springs, Calif. She was born in 1913 in Idaho. She must have lived a fascinating life. Perhaps some day a biography will be written about "Jack Parr's sexy weather girl," as Thurman described herself.

In the meantime, we re-run this review of "Jail Bait," from blogger Steve D. Stones, and allow viewers to enjoy the smoky voice and beautiful persona of "Tedi" Thurman. Steve didn't mention Thurman in the review, but she does a capable job as Farrell's moll, Loretta. Most of the VHS and DVD box covers contain the iconic shot of her (below) holding a gun.

-- Doug Gibson

By Steve D. Stones

You have to hand it to Ed Wood. He had a way of creating interesting feature length films lacking in talent, acting skill and budgets. Plan 9 From Outer Space is considered his worst film of all time, yet it may be his most entertaining and enduring. His early classic – Jail Bait, borrows from earlier “film noir” crime classics, such as Little Caesar and Scarface. If you recognize the score in Jail Bait, it’s because it was featured in another early 50s cult classic – Mesa of Lost Women, a film that also has a distinction of being one of the “worst films of all time.” The Hoyt Kurtain score really gets under your skin, annoying the viewer with its overblown repetition, much like it does in Mesa of Lost Women.

Wood’s sweetheart Dolores Fuller starred in both Jail Bait and Mesa of Lost Women. Her role in Jail Bait was much meatier, but her acting career was short lived. She later went on to write songs for Elvis. Her autobiography was released in 2009 entitled: A Fuller Life - Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me - giving her account of her life with Ed Wood.  

Monotone voiced Timothy Farrell, who also starred in Wood’s Glen or Glenda, wants to hide his identity from the police after holding up a theater in Monterey Park, California. He employs the help of a plastic surgeon, played by Herbert Rawlinson in his last role, to change his facial features. Rawlinson agrees to the procedure, only to save the life of his son, who killed the night watchman at the Monterey Theater. Rawlinson later discovers that Farrell has already killed his son.

In a predictable “plot twist” the viewer can see coming from a mile away, Rawlinson changes Farrell’s face to look like his son, played by Clancy Malone. Farrell is now implicated for the killing of the night watchman at the Monterey Theater. The Los Angeles Police chase Farrell, and a gunshot kills him as he falls into a swimming pool.

It should be noted that beefcake weightlifter Steve Reeves, who went on to play Hercules, plays a police investigator in Jail Bait. He tries to put the moves on Dolores Fuller in the film, but she does not bite. An unrelated burlesque sequence was added to the film many years later, which was discovered when the long lost negative was found.  A VHS copy of Jail Bait released in the mid-1990s by Rhino Video contains the long lost burlesque sequence, and a DVD print by Passport Video also contains the lost sequence.

Oddly, director Tim Burton gives no mention of Jail Bait in his 1994 biopic of Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp. Wood’s films, books and collectibles are today valuable gems for film buffs and collectors. Happy Viewing!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gutter Auteur an interesting criticism into work of grindhouse filmmaker Andy Milligan

By Doug Gibson

"Gutter Auteur: The Films of Andy Milligan," McFarland Press, 2012, is the latest subject of film criticism from Rob Craig, who earlier tackled "Ed Wood: Mad Genius" for the same press. To be honest, it doesn't really matter much if readers agree or not with Craig's comments and criticisms of the late grindhouse filmmaker, Milligan, who completed about 30 very low-budget films over nearly three decades, the 60s to early 90s. (Most of his films were completed prior to 1975). What's important is that Milligan, and his films, are receiving this depth of examination and commentary. Milligan, 1929-1991, made unique films which developed tiny cult interest prior to his death. In the past generation, thanks largely to an excellent biography by Jimmy McDonough, articles from Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog) and more critiques from Sleazoid Express author, the late Bill Landis, his cult has grown, albeit very slowly.

As good as McDonough's biography is, if focused more on his life than his films. Craig's effort -- despite some introductions -- including a thin one from Milligan contemporary Robert Patrick -- and background information on grindhouse cinema and the culture of sleaze that defined the now-gone 42nd Street theater district, where Milligan's films flourished, -- focuses on the films, describing them, deconstructing them, and even providing some information on how they fared commercially. For those who have seen enough of Milligan's films, "Seeds," "Torture Dungeon," "Bloodthirsty Butchers," "Nightbirds," "Blood," "The Ghastly Ones," "The Weirdo," ... and so on, it won't be a surprise that Craig views Milligan's work often as harsh, dysfunctional deadly attacks on the traditional family, motherhood, heterosexual relationships, heterosexual oral sex and happiness, which simply is not an approved ending in a Milligan film. Sex is twisted in a Milligan film, which often features incest.

To find the reasons for this pessimism, Craig hearkens back to McDonough's biography, which revealed the extremely dysfunctional family that Milligan grew up in. It included a morbidly obese, probably insane mother and a hapless, enabling father. The early films of Milligan are lost, thanks to a producer who destroyed them. However, a surviving early film, "Seeds," probably is representative of Milligan's early "sex" films, that dealt with life in the city and family. Craig regards "Seeds" as both a sex film and a horror film. Perhaps, but the horror is not traditional; it's comprised of a family literally rotting from hate and dysfunction, where violence and murder seems a natural result rather than a plot twist. (In the Seed DVD extras, there is a "working print" of Seeds that is far better than the main film, which is slowed down considerably by 35MM sex inserts. (Milligan shot Seeds and most of his films in 16MM blown up). The inserts almost ruin the film.

Milligan's "horror" films are better described as period pieces produced -- mainly for producer William Mishkin -- that fit a particular commercial need for 42nd Street fare but still enabled Milligan to produce his Genet-like and Grand Guignol-type attacks on traditional values, including the family and sexual relations. A dressmaker by trade, his films include garish colors, elevator music, and roses. They include "Torture Dungeon," his version of Shakespeare by way of Staten Island, "The Man with Two Heads," his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which Craig aptly notes may be the best version of Stevenson's classic tale, "Bloodthirsty Butchers," his take on Sweeney Todd, "Blood," his monster-mash of Universal's creations, "Monstrosity," his take on "Shelly's Frankenstein, "The Body Beneath," his vampire take, and "Guru: The Mad Monk,: his dark riff on religious dogma. (And to think I've only mentioned a few of his films!)

Craig understands that sampling Milligan, while not exactly a pleasant experience, is time well spent intellectually. They provide a glimpse into a world where positive results are simply not possible due to the ugliness that dominate human relationships. Take the recent BFI Flip Side DVD release of the once semi-lost Milligan film, "Nightbirds," which Craig critiques. In it, a young man meets a beautiful woman who enraptures him with sex, then casts him away. He dies and the predatory woman goes after a new man to ruin. As Craig mentions, it's a claustrophobic film, with most of the action confined to a single room. The male protagonist is a pathetic figure, a mere fly for the evil woman's web. It's also impossible not to keep watching.

Milligan was literally a one-man filmmaker, doing everything from directing to gaffer work to music scoring in order to make his films cheaply for Mishkin and others. Most of his films cost about $10,000. It's a tribute to his ramshackle skills (perhaps mostly learned as a director for the iconic, tiny Caffe Cino in the early 1960s) that Milligan could create these haphazard agitprop worlds on the cheap yet create characters and situations that hooked viewers.

By most accounts, Milligan could be a very unpleasant man. He drove away potential investors and friends and railed against Mishkin and other producers, although he seemed to live comfortably enough for more than two decades. He bought homes and a small hotel in Staten Island, and an off-off broadway theater in New York City. He eventually moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, and capped off his career making films for William Mishkin's son Lew, who was not as bright as his father. Lew Mishkin hated Milligan so much that he, as mentioned, deliberately destroyed copies of his earlier films. To this date, film sleuths are still looking for titles such as "The Naked Witch" and "Tricks of the Trade," and others that Mishkin Jr. melt for copper and spite. From time to time, Milligan films are discovered. Examples include "Vapors," his first film, a pre-Stonewall short about life in a gay bathhouse, "Seeds," and "Nightbirds."

It's interesting that Craig also did a book on Ed Wood. Both Milligan and Wood died in poverty. Milligan and Wood are diverse in that Wood was a likable chap with limited skills who destroyed himself with booze.  Milligan was a very skilled filmmaker who made his films in slapdash fashion. Milligan, although a prowler of gay night sex (he would die of AIDS) was not a drinker or drug abuser. His harsh personality drove away relationships that might have improved his finances.

Craig's criticisms  are interesting. He takes a somewhat contrary view of some films. He's less enthusiastic of "Vapors" and "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" than other critics are, and he likes later Milligan efforts such as "Legacy of Blood," and "Blood," more than many other Milligan enthusiasts. I appreciate his strong thumbs-up critique of "Monstrosity," the Frankenstein knockoff starring Milligan actor Hal Borske, that is a terrific, satirical comedy that deserves more notice. (In fact, memo to the folks at TCM Underground -- there are a wealth of Milligan films that deserve late-night Friday showings on your series.) One nice piece of observance by Craig is how Milligan, in his later films, "Carnage," "The Weirdo" and "Monstrosity," appear more kind to the protagonists than in earlier films, although the films still retain the customary dysfunctional endings. Craig, like McDonough, has only scorn for "Surgikill," Milligan's final hospital horror comedy. While the movie is very crude and juvenile, it does have some positive moments, and a Milligan touch, a drag queen nurse.

"Gutter Auteur" is a good read, and an improvement on Craig's otherwise OK book on Wood, which relied too much at times on feminist theory. I agree with Craig that Milligan's films are better on the big screen (I have yet to see one that way, unfortunately) I hope "Gutter Auteur"  takes a place as a work that contributes to Milligan's slow-but-baby-steps-consistency march to greater cult status. His films are fascinating slap-dash pieces of dysfunction, and Craig understands that, and provides some interesting commentary. Despite this book, a great biography and other works, I suspect there's more to learn about the fascinating life and work of Milligan.

For those uninitiated in Milligan, here's a great scene from Torture Dungeon (below).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Muddled Mind a look at Ed Wood's fiction

Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr., by David C. Hayes, 2009 update, Ramble House Press, Reviewer received a review copy.

By Doug Gibson

Depending on your point of view, Ed Wood was either a famous, or infamous filmmaker. What the average Ed Wood fan doesn't know is that Wood wrote a heck of a lot of novels, short stories and news articles; 80 novels, several hundred short stories and a few hundred non-fiction articles. And Wood was a damn good writer, Imagine Elmore Leonard writing without an editor and submitting a first draft. That's Wood.

The tragedy of Wood's life is that he was a drunk; after the mid 1960s most of his written work -- and all of his film work -- was in porn. But even that sleaze had Wood's iconic and unique touch and value. His books and sleazy magazines -- many of which he created all by himself -- are still in demand, fetching big prices for collectors.

It's high time someone provided a detailed overview of Wood's literary output, and Chicago writer, actor, screenwriter and filmmaker David C. Hayes does a pretty good job in Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood Jr. It's a reference book of all of Wood's writing; from the semi-sleazy mid-60s tales such as Death of a Transvestite and Devil Girls to the raunchier books and stories and finally the hard-core porn Wood was reduced to writing his final years.

Hayes' book is tongue in cheek at times, with a fictional "co-author," and it's not a deep book, but it's of real value to Wood fans. We learn what an amazing, tireless writer Wood was even with the crutch of alcoholism. For example, he was invaluable to the fly-by-night porn magazine publishers of the 1970s. Wood would write an entire issue of "Tales for a Sexy Night" or another similarly title magazine, and then do again a few weeks later.

In what Hayes describes as The Golden Age, Wood wrote some fast-paced, compact Elmore Leonard-type novels, such as Killer in Drag, Devil Girls and Death of a Transvestite. They are not porn, and must have earned Wood some prestige as a writer, although he was probably lucky to see $2,000 for all three books. Wood's desperate straights made him easily exploitable by low-brow publishers. (Come to think of it, that's also a fate that plagued the actor Bela Lugosi, who, as most know, starred in a few Wood films)

Hayes repeats what I have read in other sources that writing porn is part of what destroyed Wood in the last years of his life. Muddled Mind respects Wood enough to offer critiques on his work to the bitter adult sleaze end. Hayes writes with both humor and respect for Wood. It is amazing that more than 30 years after his death, we are still finding Wood novels, stories and articles (he wrote often under pseudonyms) and it's likely that 50 years from now, we'll still be finding Wood's output. He was indefatigable.

I've saved the best part of Muddled Mind for last. It includes complete copies of three excellent, distinct Wood stories. The first, The Night the Banshee Cried, is a spooky tale of a woman fearing a sinister presence. It's Wood's very credible effort to invoke the atmosphere of Edgar Allen Poe. The next, Pearl Hart and the Last Stage, is a very entertaining fictional essay on an infamous lady stagecoach bandit. Again, Wood manages to capture the spirit of a Zane Grey-type tale.

The last, and best story, To Kill a Saturday Night, is simply brilliant. The tale of a pair of bloviating farm workers contemplating casual murder on their day off will remind readers of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Both Pearl Hart ... and To Kill ... were written in the 1970s, a time when Wood was sadly, firmly padlocked into lowbrow porn. But even then, an alcoholic semi-bum, the man could still write talented prose.

There is one more treat in Muddled Mind. There is Wood's prologue to an audio version of Plan 9 From Outer Space that was produced by Wood's porn producer Pendulum Press. The audio may have been a reward for Wood's previous workload. Who knows? Wood wrote this prologue after being kicked out of his apartment. Living as a charity case with actor Peter Coe, Wood died days after he penned this friendly, optimistic intro with a lot of literary license. If you love and admire Wood's work, you will get goose bumps reading this. It's nice that Wood was aware, while alive, that there was a young cult following for his work. He deserved that.

Muddled Mind is a great follow up to Wood's literary life after we were teased about it in Rudolph's Grey's excellent oral biography on Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy. Ramble House is a very tiny press, and Wood fans should be grateful that it is critiquing Wood's writing and searching for more of his works. In fact, Ramble House, under the name Woodpile Press, is selling reproductions of much of Wood's writings. Muddled Mind has a list of the offerings. This is wonderful news and we hope Ramble House keeps rambling.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Earth Versus the Spider - a '50s monster flick

Earth Versus the Spider, 1958, 73 minutes, black & white, American International Pictures, directed by Bert I. Gordon, produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff. Starring Ed Kemmer as Mr. Kingston, June Kenny as Carol Flynn, Eugene Persson as Mike Simpson, Gene Roth as Sheriff Cagle, Hank Patterson as Hugo the Janitor, Merritt Stone as Mr. Flynn. (Also known as The Spider) Schlock-Meter rating: 7 1/2 stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

It would have been fun to have been alive and old enough to go to the movies in the 1950s. Imagine being able to see The Incredible Shrinking Man, I was a Teenage Werewolf, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the Puppet People, and so many others on a big screen. Earth Versus the Spider who have also been a treat to see as well. Okay, it’s pretty lame, stuffed full of stock characters and a lame looking big spider (courtesy of the all-time cheap FX winner, Mr. BIG, Bert I. Gordon), and the web in the “cave” looks like rope (and why doesn’t it stick to and trap those kids who travel all over it?).

But the film is fun to watch, and that garners it a 7 and a half on the Schlock-Meter. The plot concerns a giant spider who lives in a cave outside a small town. One day a typical dad disappears while driving home with a gift for his typical high school-age daughter. She and her typical high school boyfriend search for him in a typical cave and escape the spider. A typical beer-bellied sheriff laughs at their story, but is persuaded by a typical high school science teacher “egghead” to check things out. They encounter the spider and supposedly kill it with massive doses of DDT. But typically, the spider awakes in the high school gym during a typical school dance. Typically, the spider kills a typical janitor too stupid to run. Typically, the typical girl and her typical boyfriend have returned to the typical cave to find the gift dear old typical dad bought her (she left it there). Typically, the big spider returns to the cave and there’s a battle royal (or the type you can get for these type of low-budget films).

The spider makes a cool, annoying high-pitched whine whenever it is close and sounds a lot like several dozen mental patients screaming at once. The spider’s victims are rubber fake corpses with drawn faces made to look as if the blood has been sucked out of them. By all means rent Earth Versus the Spider. Sure it’s lame, but there’s hardly a dull moment in this tame predecessor to today’s Scream movies. It’s a look at bargain filmmaking generations ago.

Watch the MST3K riff below:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Plague of the Zombies

Plague of the Zombies, 1966, British film, directed by John Gilling, Hammer Films, 91 minutes, starring Andre Morell as Sir James Forbes, Diane Clare as Sylvia Forbes, Brook Williams as Dr. Peter Thompson, Jacqueline Pearce as Alice Mary Thompson, John Carson as Squire Clive Hamilton, Alexander Davion as Denver and Michael Ripper as Sgt. Jack Swift. Schlock-meter ranking: Eight stars out of 10.

"Plague of the Zombies" is a superior Hammer entry from the mid-1960s. A very English gentleman doctor (Morell) heads to the small British village, Cornwall, with his daughter (Clare) to visit a protege (Williams) who is the local doctor. Mysterious deaths are occurring. The next to die is the local doctor's wife (Pearce). It's soon discovered that the graves are devoid of corpses. To solve the case, Morell and the local police sergeant (Ripper) reach back to Carribean lore and the local, very rich squire (Hamilton) who also has an abandoned tin mine ... or so everyone thinks.

Prior to George A. Romero' "Night of the Living Dead," most zombie films involved Haitian voodoo to create the undead. The best example of this is Bela Lugosi's "White Zombie." "Plague of the Zombies"was the last great zombie film with the familiar Caribbean origin The film's villian, Squire Clive Hamilton, is a student of the Haitian occult and eagerly takes its teachings back to his native village. Carson's character is less evil than fanatic. Even as the net closes in on him, he can't stop from trying to turn pretty Sylvia Forbes (Clare) into a zombie. The scenes of zombies toiling in the abandoned tin mine and roaming the country are chilling, as is Alice Mary Thompson's (Pearce) change to a zombie.

As protagonist and antagonist, Morrel and Carson are superb. The former masters the droll wit and sense of honor of an old English gentleman. The latter mixes his mask of polite, gallant breeding very well with his loathsome zombie-creating persona. It's an effective contrast. The Cornwall villagers are realistic. "Plague of the Zombies" does a good job detailing the class differences between the ultra-rich squire and the poor villagers. The oppressed villagers are mere toys for greedy Squire Hamilton and his henchmen. This theme of class injustice lends depth to what might have been just a routine horror programmer.

"Plague of the Zombies" is worth more than a rental. Cult film collectors should own a copy for repeat viewings. It's an example of Hammer at its best. It can easily be found for sale in VHS or DVD prints.

Notes: Morrel, who died in 1978, had a long and distinguished career. His credits include "Dr. Who," "Quartermass and the Pit," "Ben Hur," and he was the voice of Elrond in Ralph Bakshi's animated "The Lord of the Rings." Director Gilling directed and produced the 1952 Bela Lugosi film "Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire!" It wasn't until 1986 that another major release tackled the zombies, Caribbean curse plot. It was Wes Craven's "The Serpent and the Rainbow." An alternate title for "Plague of the Zombies" is "The Zombies." The film was released on a double bill with "Dracula: Prince of Darkness."

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM – Death and destruction, one zombie at a time

Editor's note: Doug Gibson, Plan9Crunch co-blogger speaking, today we have another fascinating essay from Sherman Hirsh, screenwriter of Surgikill and Lords of Magick as well as director of Love Slaves of the She Mummy (also here) and the new Scream, Zombie, Scream. As the previous, well-read blog entries show, Sherman describes, with affection and detail, the world of low- and micro-budget filmmaking. His love for film and writing is evident in his essays, and we're proud to offer this inside-look at the making of "Scream, Zombie, Scream." I've watched the film and it's a lean, witty tale that provides a new twist on the zombie genre. When it's ready for sale via amazon, etc., we'll provide a link. Thanks, Sherman.

By Sherman Hirsh

Where do movies come from?  For some filmmakers, it’s a desire to make a pot full of money, achieve fame and meet girls.  For others, it’s an act of homage to the classic movies of the past.  For the rest, like me, it’s just the love of making movies.  Writing a script is putting a daydream on paper.   Shooting is the process of drawing that daydream into the realm of reality.  Seeing that dream play out for a flesh and blood audience is, well, when it happens to you, you’ll understand.

So, where did SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM come from?  I had just put out LOVE SLAVES OF THE  SHE-MUMMY, was itching to make another movie.  While I didn’t really want to make another living dead movie, I had to face the fact that I was going to make a movie without recognizable Stars.  However, in the world of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, the plot is the star.  If I wanted to make a movie a lot of people wanted to see, I had to go with the flow.  Sci-Fi and Fantasy require special props and costumes, and price themselves out of the micro-budget class.  That leaves Horror, but I had no interest in the current trend of torture and psychotic puppets. That left the monster genre.   I couldn’t bring myself to get involved with sexy teenage vampires and angst ridden werewolf kids. 

We live in the Age of Recycling. We recycle, repurpose and reuse anything we can, including ideas.  We claim to love originality and creativity, but actually, we ultimately always return to the tried and true.  As a Mass Communications major, I was taught that nothing can ever be more than 15% new.  So, if one is careful and analytical, one can detect several element of SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM as having established origins, but what’s the fun in that?  So what if I took a pinch of Jekyll and Hyde, a touch of Frankenstein, a little Orwell and some Romero?  It’s a Zombie movie, not a serious statement on the Human condition.  Or is it?

Anyway, bowing to convention and hoping to ride the current wave of interest in zombies, I would concoct a tale of ravaging undead. But I had a problem.  Most zombie movies involve an army of zombies terrorizing and devouring an entire community.  That wasn’t going to happen on my budget.  So, how do I tell a worthwhile story using only one zombie a time?  Well, I would have to build a new kind of Zombie.

However, I was also conscious of just how many zombie movies there are, and I was reluctant to commit to what I feared was an exhausted genre.  As it turns out, it was and is not, but I still had to put my own spin on it.  There are two kinds of zombies.  In my classification system, the real Voodoo zombies, who are victims of ritual drugging and brainwashing, constitute Type 1.  They are living people who think they are dead.  There hasn’t been a voodoo zombie movie in ages.  Type 2 zombies are the typical walking corpses, who escape from their graves to attack the Living.  I needed a new species of zombie, one created by science for the selfish purposes of the scientist.  Which purposes?  Why, to rule the world.  What other reason is there?

A successful movie needs a memorable title.  I went through several until I settled on SCREAM, ZOMBIE SCREAM.  I wanted “zombie” in the title, but I also knew that I needed to imply action, so I needed a good action verb in the title, too.  However, I refused to do another “ATTACK OF THE …” anything.  Screaming is associated with madness, and I had the line about how you had to have a soul to scream, so SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM seemed like a good original choice.  Then I remembered SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.  Too late.

A brilliant bi-polar renegade has the power to turn living people into vicious zombies.  OK, nothing new there, but what if he could turn you back afterward?  Consider the possibilities.  We pick up the story with our loony, who has the temerity to call himself “Orpheus”, reveling in the sight of the President of the United States gutting a scientist on live TV.  The response to this by the Nation is to have a ruthless federal agent break his former partner, who had gone crazy fighting zombies,  out of a high security psychiatric facility and set him and a very cute but dangerous female assistant, on a variety of zombies.  We got our zombie Holocaust, just one zombie at a time.

To accomplish this film, I decided to shoot the whole movie using Green Screen chroma key, a system most people have come to know as enabling the filmmaker to put his subject into any image as a background.  All I needed was the actors and a few pieces of furniture and I could turn any room into anyplace imaginable.  Except that it paralyzes the camera.  If you move the camera, the subject moves but the background remains stationary, giving the whole scene a sloppy, amateurish appearance.  So, all my shots had to be made, locked down, from the same place.  Never again!

I rented a vacant one-room apartment in the North Hollywood building where I lived and set up my studio there.  The large living room became my sound stage.  The kitchen became the makeup room, and the bath room became very hard to get into at times.   We shot over ten weekends, April through June of 2010, and got very good shots, some of which were unusable due to street noise and the fact that we were shooting under the final approach to Burbank airport.

You need two elements to make a film, Time and Money.  The Micro-budget realm seeks to transcend this by shooting for pocket change whenever the cast and crew can get it together.  So, how much did SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM cost?  To tell you the truth, I didn’t keep track.  I worked without a budget, just spending whatever I needed to. The actors got $50 a day, the studio cost $700 a month, the makeup artist got $200 a day, I spent several hundred dollars on props and costumes and thousands on equipment I intended to use again. The finances on this project are a convoluted mess, but I didn’t do it for money.  I can’t tell you how much the film cost. I never expected it to make any money, so I never expected to have to account for any.  If I had to give an estimate, I’d probably guess something in the $10 – $15,000 range. I had been saving up for it for a couple years and I knew I had enough to finish.  I even have some cash left over for the next one.

Having little in the way of production values, the actors had to work hard to sell what I always recognized as a truly preposterous concept.  I deliberately wrote the script to be short, since I knew it would get stupid if I let it run too long.  I was constantly coaching the actors to put a lot of energy and personality into the portrayals. Sometimes they listened and sometimes they just puttered along.  Usually, the inconsistencies in the acting were due to the lack of rehearsal time we could use.  Also, I cheated and had several of the actors play more than one role.  This dilutes their concentration.

A few of the actors were exceptional.  Devai Pearce, who originally auditioned for the part of “Jo Ann”, Orpheus’ pregnant zombie girlfriend, ended up playing 4 parts, as well as functioning as assistant director, talent coordinator, mic boom operator, cue card writer, and anything else I had to throw at her. 

There could not have been a better choice than William Reinbold, who played Orpheus. He had to undergo violent mood swings and did so skillfully.

Andy Mullins as the Shock Jock did a fabulous job.  This was a particularly important part to me, since I had at one time been a radio talk show host and had modeled the character,” Gary Z”, after a real talk show host, the late Gary Dee, with whom I had worked in Cleveland.  He was incredible.  He makes Howard Stern look like an amateur.   Andy’s zombie ate Wayne Hellstrom as the TV interviewer. Andy also hosts a celebrity show as” Red Karpett”.

The venal televangelist, “Rev. JE$$ Ble$$”, was ably played by Gregg Stickeler, a full-time business professional who finds time to be semi-professional actor.  He is a filmmaker in his own right and was the star of my previous feature LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY.  His character is a TV preacher who is so phony, he wrote his own bible. He is a parody of all those “God-wants-your-money” hucksters who pollute the airwaves.  This was a touchy part to write, since I had to avoid all reference to any real religious values and symbols.  Gregg had to read the absurd gibberish I wrote as if it really were the Gospel

Supporting players Marco Tazioli and Galen Sato played two roles each as did Andy Mullins.  The exquisitely beautiful and talented Branca Ferrazo was cast sight unseen over the phone when the actress who had originally committed to the role de-committed. She played a starlet named “Brittany Normandie” opposite Bouvier’s ”Dawn Rivers” and a news anchor who gets zombie-beat while reading the news with Michael Swinehart.  Sometimes you just get lucky.

I also got lucky with Maria Olsen, a tremendously talented and enthusiastic performer.  She is well known in the independent film community as someone who will act for anyone if she likes the project.  She is a professional character actress who also generously helps promote the work of others.  If you saw PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTING THEIF, you will recognize her as the teacher/fury.

The real stars of the movie were Tony Gracia and Raeshia Oli as the two dedicated zombie stompers. Our villain was not Orpheus, who is really the Problem. The real heavy is “Agent Schmeterling”, the nasty G man who makes more trouble for the heroes than the nut job.  Albert Marrero Jr. bullied his way magnificently through the part.  Even Bouvier, the star of Andy Milligan’s SURGIKILL, for which I wrote the original script, makes a guest star appearance as the secret ruler of the world.  She appears as “Dawn Rivers”, her stage name in Andy’s last personal film, MONSTROSITY.

A pregnant Zombie needs a lullaby.  I wrote one.  You can hear The Zombie Lullaby in a video I made on YouTube.  I was able to get it recorded at a professional recording studio owned by a friend of Devai, Theo Mordey. He recorded Devai singing her own tune, and processed it so she would harmonize with herself. It was not a part of the original script but it came out so creepy that I used it as background music for a couple of Devai’s scenes.

I wanted to see if I could find rhymes for ZOMBIE.  I remember a cartoon series in the ‘60’s called Milton the Monster.  It had a character named Abecrombie the Zombie. That was the only known rhyme for zombie, for a long time.   I was only able to find two more. Taking the part “–ombie”, I went down the alphabet shopping for rhymes.  A-ombie, no.  B-ombie, OK,  BOMB BE.  Hence the lyric, “Though every gun and bomb be aimed to shatter your sweet head…” c,d,e,f,g, all the way to M.  M-ombie  “ ..will I your loving Mom be..” etc.   After M, nothing. 

We plowed through the shooting and I embarked on the task of editing the final film.  So, why is it just coming out now?  How many excuses can you stand?  3 times my computer crashed and took my edits with it.  I got sick, I moved, I finished the film 4 times and discovered I didn’t like the way it came out.  I finally got it to look halfway decent and kicked it out of the nest to fly or die on its own.  You can sample SCREAM ZOMBIE SCREAM on YouTube.  Besides the ZOMBIE LULLABY, there is a scene between Orpheus and JoAnn, and a trailer I made.   We’re still working on how it will be sold.  Stay tuned.  Anyway, that’s where this movie came from.