Friday, January 30, 2015

Plan9Rewind: Scream Zombie Scream -- a look at tiny-budget filmmaking

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 THIEF, 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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

'Lamebrains and Lunatics' an excellent guide to silent film comedy

Review by Doug Gibson

Lame Brains & Lunatics: The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten of Silent Comedy“ (BearManor Media), by Steve Massa is a very comprehensive account of the "forgotten" stars of silent comedy 90 and 100 years ago. There's less of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd and more of Billie Ritchie, Fay Tincher, Alice Howell and Max Linder.

To be honest, I will soon have a review of this book published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper, of which I am the features and entertainment editor. But I want to give readers a glimpse of the book as well as solid recommendation that they dip into their savings and purchase it from Bear Manor, either the dead tree edition or the inexpensive Kindle edition.

The book, which includes a comprehensive index of the silent comedy era and an excellent index, which is a luxury we sometimes don't see in genre book, covers silent comedy in two ears. Its early years, which started in the years after 1910, and the later period of the 20s. There are some poignant tales of silent stars who died early, including Ritchie, a model for Charles Chaplin, who lingered on and died after being attacked by ostriches. There's the tragic life of French superstore Max Lindor, who eventually, with his wife, committed suicide several years after dealing with the horrors of World War I.

There's the obscurity-to-stardom tales of Alice Howell, who was just toiling in pictures to help her family, and chubby toddler Joe Cobb, who visited Roach studios on a vacation with his parents and gained a starring role in the Our Gang series. Massa also explains how the low-key comedy talents of Harry Langdon inspired Stan Laurel to create the memorable Laurel half with Hardy as a teammate. It was a rough business, silent comedy, with lots of stars and studios crowding for market share. From star to has been in a year or two was not uncommon.

I could go on but let's wait for the review. In the meantime, "Lamebrains and Lunatics" is solid addition to the scholarship of silent cinema. Although it's depressing to think that the vast majority of these early comedians' work is gone, lost forever, Massa is optimistic that still more films of this era, as well as information of the performers, is waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Vampire's Ghost -- Republic's 1940s vampire film

By Doug Gibson

This is an interesting 1945 vampire tale, only 59 minutes, from Republic Pictures. It's semi-obscure and few retailers carry it (I've been waiting years to catch it on Turner Classic Movies) but it's just interesting enough to have a chapter in McFarland's "Son of Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film" and Frank Dello Stritto gives it a couple of pages in his collection of essays "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore."

Plot involves saloonkeeper Webb Fallon, a haggard-looking white man with impeccable manners, who runs a small saloon in an African port. There have been vampire attacks on the natives, and they are getting restless. They speak the language of drums, and the drums spell Fallon (John Abbott) as their chief suspect.

They are right of course. Fallon is a vampire, centuries old and very tired. He bemoans his fate but also accepts it with chilling simplicity. When he sets his sights on the pretty fiance of a young Englishman, it looks as if nothing can stop him.

What makes The Vampire's Ghost so interesting is that it deviates from the standard vampire plot made famous by Bela Lugosi. Vampire Fallon can move around in the light and sleeps in a bed with native soil from his grave by the bed.

As mentioned, he's sympathetic early but Webb is able to give his vampire a sort of polite heartlessness that underscores the undead sociopath that lies beneath his gentleman English exterior. In one scene, Fallon ruthlessly and quickly dispatches a boat captain and saloon dancer who have cheated him at cards. He also plays with the boyfriend (Charles Grodin) who knows that Fallon wants his fiance (Peggy Stewart). Fallon the vampire seems detached, as if he is repeating a game he has played many times before. He relies on sapping the inner strength of his potential victims. The languid, remote location of his life (Africa) underscores his soft deadly power.

If you can find this film, it's worth a buy, particularly if you enjoy the changing genres of vampire film. Surprisingly, in its own quiet way, The Vampire's Ghost predates Twilight.

Notes: The Vampires Ghost was written by Leigh Brackett, who wrote Star Wars 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Roy Barcroft, who played the doomed boat captain, later played a sheriff in the 60s cult film Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The Vampire's Ghost, directed by Lesley Selander, was released on May 21, 1945. In the early 1970s, it played on the TV movie show Creature Features paired with House of Frankenstein. Another good blog review:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Harry Langdon, Irene Ryan add comedy to 1940s B-film Hot Rhythm

By Doug Gibson

Hot Rhythm, 1944, Monogram studio, 79 minutes, black and white. Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Dona Drake as Mary Adams, Tim Ryan as Mr. O'Hara, Irene Ryan as Polly Kane, Robert Lowery as Jimmy O'Brien, Harry Langdon as Mr. Whiffle, Sidney Miller as Sammy Rubin, Jerry Cooper as Tommy Taylor, and Robert Kent as Herman Strohbach. Rating: 6.5 stars out of 10.

"Hot Rhythm" is a mostly forgotten poverty-row B feature from the mid 1940s. I was fortunate enough to catch it on Turner Classic Movies recently. Whatever interest remains of it is mainly because if features comedy legend Harry Langdon in a supporting role. Langdon would die in late 1944 and by then his film roles were a mix of starring Columbia comedy shorts and character roles, usually comic, in low-budget features.

As it stands, "Hot Rhythm" is a pleasant time-waster that spoofs the music industry of that era. The plot involves small-scale starlet Dona Drake as "Mary Adams," a young singer with high hopes toiling as a jingles warbler for ads. A very small-scale executive in the music company, Robert Lowery, as "Jimmy O'Brien," falls for her and records a song for her. Because he's inflating his importance to "Mary," Jimmy adds Mary's voice to a well-known band led by "Tommy Taylor" (Jerry Cooper). 

This all leads to chaos as the music's company's blustery owner, "Mr. O'Hara," wonderfully played by Tim Ryan, sends out the recording, then, fearing he's plagiarized, tries to hastily recoup the records. Mary gets fed up with Jimmy's lies, but still kind of likes him. 

Irene Ryan, better known 20 years later as "Granny" on "The Beverly Hillbillies," provides very heavy comic relief as a scatterbrained temporary secretary to Mr. O'Hara, "Polly." Through a series of misadventures, she manages to provide background singing to a song. When Mr. O'Hara is desperately trying to discover Mary Adams' identity, Polly assumes he's talking about her. She's hired and actually gets a record contract. Initially, Polly's singing stinks, but she later delivers a nice, understated version of "The Happiest Girl In the World," justifying her surprising contract.

Irene Ryan is a talented comedian, and she works well with Tim Ryan, who was briefly her real-life husband, but a little of her can go a long way. I'm surprised she never had a career at Columbia as a shorts comedy star. More subtle in his humor than Ryan is the comic legend, Langdon, who plays "Mr. Whiffle," Mr. O'Hara's personal assistant. Langdon's best scene is when he stands in for a medicine tonic ad that won't fizz, then fizzes too much. With perfect comic timing, Langdon reacts to the situation, trying to put the fizzy glass in his suit pockets at one point. In a couple of scenes, Langdon and Irene Ryan use their comic skills to good result.

Alas, this is not a "Harry Langdon film," and his character disappears midway through the film, and does not return.

Dona Drake is a gorgeous actress who sort of resembles Ava Gardner and she has a good singing voice. A couple of the songs include "Where Were You" and "Right Under My Nose." Lowery has middling leading man charisma as her main suitor but there's very little chemistry between the romantic leads. This is mostly Drake's fault; her acting skills are mediocre and she radiates no romantic interest in Lowery.

As mentioned, though, this is a fun film and probably very indicative of the types of movies that one could see prior to the "A" film at the local movie theater 70 years ago. It's lighthearted and doesn't have an ounce of malice in it. Viewers will enjoy Drake's beauty, some good songs as well as the comic skills of Tim Ryan, Harry Langdon and Irene Ryan (Below). 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Them! The first and best of the 50s giant bug movies

By Steve D. Stones

Them is 1950s sci-fi/horror at its best. The film plays on the fears of the atomic age and atomic testing. It's surprising that in today's digital age, the film has not been remade with digital giant ants. A film like Them is a masterpiece for its time, and likely would not hold up well as a remake in our age of global terrorism and the Internet.

A New Mexico state trooper, played by veteran actor James Whitmore, encounters a six year old girl wandering aimlessly through the desert. The girl is in complete shock, and will not reveal how or why she ended up in the desert. Whitmore discovers that the little girl's family trailer was attacked and destroyed during the night by something large. Only the little girl survived the attack.

The FBI is called in to help solve the mystery. In the meantime, a store owner is attacked and killed not far from where the trailer was destroyed. It appears that whatever attacked the store was looking for sugar. Whitmore's trooper companion is also killed in the attack.

FBI agent James Arness, who played Matt Dillon on TV's Gunsmoke, becomes impatient in not being able to identify what the plaster casted print taken from the destroyed trailer scene is. A father-daughter team of entomologists - Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon, are called in to identify the print. The two have a good idea of what the print is, but keep their findings carefully guarded until they know for sure.

While visiting a spot near the destroyed family trailer - Arness, Whitmore, Gwenn and Weldon are confronted by a large ant. This confirms Gwenn's theory that atomic testing done in the desert before the ending of World War II has turned ants into giants.

Gwenn and Weldon discover the nest of the giant ants in the desert and order that the police and military destroy it with fire. Weldon enters the burned out nest with Arness and Whitmore - only to discover that two winged queen ants and their consorts have escaped.

After a number of reports of giant ant sightings - Arness, Gwenn, Weldon and Whitmore track the two escaped queen ants and their consorts to a nest in the underground sewer system of Los Angeles. The film ends with the military once again burning up the discovered nest.

Part of the effectiveness of Them is in not showing the giants ants very often, but implying their presence in a number of scenes. Keeping in mind that this is low budget film making at its finest - implying the presence of the giant ants helps to build the tension in a number of scenes.

Actor Edmund Gwenn is superbly cast as a grouchy old scientist who is level headed and strikes down the military whenever their suggestions jeopardize catching the giant ants. Arness is also convincing as the simple simon FBI agent who is anxious to solve the case quickly. Weldon provides window dressing for the male audience, but also plays a convincing role.

A number of giant insect films were soon to follow after the premiere of Them in 1954 - such as: The Deadly Mantis (1957), Tarantula (1955), The Black Scorpion (1957) and Monster From Green Hell (1957). Them remains the best of this sci-fi sub-genre. Happy viewing!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Black Cat: Edgar Ulmer, Lugosi and Karloff

By Doug Gibson

The 1934 Universal Studios' The Black Cat is a magnificent film, the best pairing of stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It is masterfully understated, both rivals mad but possessed of grace, dignity and impeccable manners. Lugosi is the good guy, but he's also crazy enough to skin the bad guy (Karloff) alive at the end.

The plot involves an American mystery writer, and his fiance (Julie Bishop) honeymooning in Hungary. They meet a courtly gentleman, Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who is traveling to meet an old nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, played by Boris Karloff. It reminds me a bit of the famous Hungarian novel, Embers. The tone of the film has a classic Hungarian fatalism.

While traveling to a city, a coach overturns. The young couple and Lugosi seek shelter at Karloff's forbidding castle. It is built on the site of a prison, where Werdegast was once held. He seeks his wife and daughter, who were in Poelzig's care. Karloff's Poelzig is the soul of courtesy, but that masks a truly terrifying evil. There are dark secrets in Castle Poelzig, and once Werdegast learns them he's driven to righteous madness.

Stuck in the middle of this is the young bride (Bishop) who becomes an object of desire to Poelzig. Naturally, that puts her husband in danger too.

This brisk, 65-minute horror film is well directed by Edgar Ulmer, who later hamstrung his career by winning the heart of a Universal executive's wife. The plot moves at a dignified pace, and what is literally a cinematic chess game grows more sinister until suddenly the horror of Karloff's character bursts out to the audience.

Lugosi excells at his role, that of a decent man with decent gestures who can't suppress his bitterness and longing. His final rage is memorable. There's little of Edgar Allen Poe's tale, just a cat that Lugosi's Werdegast has a phobia of and Karloff sometimes puts to use.

Horror fans, and Universal afficianados will love this black and white classic. Watch it in a single setting, marvel at the skill of horror experts Lugosi and Karloff. They deserve such respect.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another review of that surreal Ed Wood classic, 'Glen Or Glenda'

Glen Or Glenda, 1952, 67 minutes, BW, Screen Classics Productions. Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.. Starring Bela Lugosi, Daniel Davis (Ed Wood), Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell, Tommy Haines, Charles Crofts, Conrad Brooks, Captain DeZita. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

I first saw Glen Or Glenda? when a copy of the video arrived as part of the press kit for the mid-90s film "Ed Wood." The copy was murky, very dark and difficult to understand. It also ended abruptly without any final credits. As a result, I wasn't too impressed.

However, I learned later there were better versions available with more of the film so I invested $10 and purchased Rhino Home Video's print. I saw a much different film that is a must for Ed Wood fans and an excellent addition to any cult movie library.

Like any other Ed Wood film, it's a ridiculous story, incomprehensible at times and very poorly acted. However, like any Ed Wood film, it is unique and the actors surprisingly inspired. The plot: A transvestite commits suicide while in drag. A cop talks with a psychiatrist, who tells the cop that society must seek to understand transvestites and those who seek to change their sex. The psychiatrist tells the cop two stories: One is of a secret tranvestite (Davis/Wood) who wants desperately to wear his fiance's (Fuller) angora sweater. The other tale recounted is of a WW 2 war hero (Haines) who wants a sex change operation. All of this is sort of overseen by a spirit (Lugosi) who sits in a chair covered with fishing net and ominously spouts nonsense like "snips and tails and puppy dog tails," "pull the string," and "the story must be told."

The acting is just awful. Wood's girlfriend Fuller doesn't rise to the level of an eighth grader playing Juliet. The scene of her expressing her mental torment when Wood asks to wear her sweater is pure camp. Throughout the film the uninhibited Wood strolls through Hollywood dressed in drag looking in store windows. The dialogue is atrocious: "Give this man satin undies ... and he can be a credit to his community and his government." Like many micro-budget productions, much of the film utilizes voice-over narration.

Still, it's a great cult fim and merits its nine stars on the schlock-meter. Wood's creative chaos is in full force and it makes for deliriously entertaining scenes. Stock footage just swirls throughout this fun film. There are shots of buffalo stampedes, steel mills pushing out hot metal, military battles, kids playing ball and more. Wood's frenetic energy keeps the pace fast. Indeed, the only time the film slows down is a few moments of cheescake semi-bondage scenes of women in underwear (not directed by Wood) that producer George Weiss added for the "raincoat" crowd.

Cult movie fans will love the montage scenes where Glen dreams of telling his fiance of his secret. He's attacked by all his friends including the devil, delightfully performed by DeZita.

Glen or Glenda? as silly as it is, was actually a fairly courageous topic for Wood to tackle in 1952. It's pomposity and lack-of-tact direction made it a cult film rather quickly. Indeed, it was haunting midnight movie houses in New York by the 1970s. 60 years ago, very few would imagine it would still be viewed often today. Watch it below:

Monday, January 5, 2015

'Invisible Agent' was a patriotic film success in 1942

By Doug Gibson

How many of you have heard of "The Invisible Man," the one starring Claude Rains from Universal in 1933? Probably a healthy percentage. It's a legitimate classic, with Rains, then an unknown, giving an intense, unforgettable performance as scientist Jack Griffin, turned insane by his invisibility formula.

Precious few likely recall "The Invisible Agent," one of four sequels to the Rains' original, which was also directed by James Whale, by far Universal's best horror director. However, the 1942 "Invisible Agent" was Universal's top-grossing sequel in the Invisible Man series. It was part of a long series of World War II-era patriotic, propaganda films that cast the Axis, mostly Germany and Japan, as the baddies to be defeated by tough Allies.

Playing a Nazi and a Japanese follower of Toho are respectively, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre, and both are very good in their roles, particularly Lorre. The veteran actor is very sinister and menacing. In a particularly strong horror scene, he disembowels Hardwicke with a knife and then kills himself with the knife, because both men failed in their duty.

The hero of the movie is two-fisted everyman Jon Hall, playing the grandson of Raines' character. Although working as a printer in the USA, Hardwicke and Lorre try to grab his invisibility formula. They fail. Hall goes straight to the U.S. military, eventually allowing the USA to use his formula if he can be the spy. He embarks on a very dangerous into Nazi Germany, battling Hardwicke, Lorre and others to grab a list of Axis spies in the U.S. 

While there, he matches wits with a beautiful double-agent spy, the truly gorgeous starlet Ilona Massey. Both are attracted to each other but Hall's character is never sure if Massey can be trusted.

All ends well in this pro-war effort film, which is quite exciting. Directed by Edwin L. Marin, it plays often as a tightly directed, higher quality "daredevil" serial-like movie, as Hall and the other good guys escape death on several occasions. Supporting cast includes veteran character actors J. Edward Bromberg, as a pompous Nazi officer, and Keye Luke as a Japanese surgeon.

There is one twist to this Invisible Man series film. Hall, particularly in scenes with Massey, swaths himself in cold cream, and shades and head covering, to present a very lifelike outline of himself. It's a bit too lifelike, though, as we can see his teeth and inside of his mouth. In one scene designed to show the cruelty of the Axis, actor Albert Bassermann, an Allied spy in Germany, is tortured by Nazis. When Hardwicke's character demands he sign a "release" form stating he was not mistreated, he displays his mangled, broken fingers, explaining he can't write due to the torture.

At 81 minutes, "Invisible Agent" is well worth the asking price. Amazon sells it as part of the Universal Invisible Man series. Watch the trailer below.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Original 1958 classic – The Blob

By Steve D. Stones

Actor Steve McQueen was just 28 years old when he played his first screen role as a teenager on a date tracking down a giant cherry colored blob that comes to earth from a meteor crash. His girlfriend, actress Aneta Corsuat, -- misspelled in credits as Corseaut -- would later appear as Helen Crump on the 1960s TV series – The Andy Griffith Show. The Blob has everything a low-budget 50s sci-fi movie could offer – poodle skirts, Brill creamed hairstyles, classic cars and dopey, untrusting cops.

While necking in a car high in the neighborhood hills, McQueen and Corseaut witness a meteor crash nearby. They track the meteor to the property of an old farmer. The farmer cracks open the meteor to discover a Jell-O-like substance that consumes his arm.  Writer Stephen King pays homage to this scene in Creepshow (1982) – by also playing the role of a curious farmer who finds a meteor in his backyard.

McQueen and Corseaut take the farmer to a local doctor, where his body later becomes fully consumed by the Jell-O growth on his arm. The farmer transforms into a giant blob and consumes the doctor and his nurse. McQueen reports this incident to the local police, but they have a tough time taking the report seriously, even after investigating the scene of the crime at the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, the blob grows larger and larger as it consumes more victims in the town. McQueen and Corseaut track the blob to a local supermarket and are forced to barricade themselves in a meat locker. Here they discover that the blob does not like the cold as it tries to slither under the meat locker door but is repelled by the cold.

In a scene shown at the drive-in from the movie Grease (1978), dozens of teenagers run out of a theater as the gooey blob slithers through the theater doors and out into the street. The marquee on the theater advertises the film – Daughter of Horror and actor Bela Lugosi’s name.  

After warning many local teenagers and attempting to warn local police again of the blob menace, McQueen and Corseaut become trapped once again, but this time in a local diner. The blob has consumed the entire diner, trapping everyone inside. McQueen sprays a CO2 tank on the blob as it crawls down the basement stairs of the diner.

The local high school principle, Mr. Martin, assigns the teenagers to gather up fire extinguishers at the school. The extinguishers are used to freeze the blob – allowing the victims inside to escape.
The film ends abruptly with a shot of a parachuted crate landing in the snow of the frozen arctic. The viewer has to assume that the blob is contained inside the crate. The shot is likely stock footage because it is grainy and out of focus.

In 1972, a sequel was made entitled - Beware! The Blob (aka Son of Blob).  A 1988 remake of The Blob was also made. As remakes go, this 1988 version is not too bad, but does not reach the level of a drive-in classic of the original 1958 version. Happy viewing!