Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Evil; Roz Kelly greets the new year

By Steve D. Stones

Happy Days star Roz Kelly stars in this early 1980s slasher film directed by Emmett Alston. Like so many horror films of the 1980s, this one is an attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise.

Kelly is a punk rock mother hosting a New Year’s Eve party at a hip New Wave music club in downtown Los Angeles. Her teenage son comes to see her at the club with flowers, but she completely ignores him. A maniac killer, played by Kip Niven, calls Kelly at the club hotline to inform her that he will commit a murder every hour until 12 midnight as part of his New Year’s resolution. A club worker named Yvonne is the first victim to be killed in a bathtub in a club dressing room.

The second victim is a pretty blonde nurse at the local hospital. The killer predictably poses as a new hospital orderly who lures the nurse into a hospital room with champagne and proceeds to stab her to death after making out with her. Another nurse at the hospital discovers her body in a closet.

The killer continues to call Kelly at the music club in a disguised voice to inform her that he is committing murders. He even plays a taped recording over the phone of him stabbing the nurse at the hospital. Kelly is now forced to take his threats seriously. She asks the local police department for police protection.

By now the viewer has been exposed to lots of really bad punk rock performances, zebra striped T-shirts, and 1980s mullet hairstyles. Where are The Ramones, The Misfits and The Sex Pistols when we need them?

Feeling rejected by his mother, Kelly’s son sees his mother performing on television at the club with a punk band. In a fit of anger, he tears apart the roses he brought for her, and stretches one of her red nylon stalkings over his face as if he is about to become a killer himself. This is a particularly confusing scene because by now we already know who the killer is and what he looks like, so any attempt to suggest that the killer could be Kelly’s son seems unnecessary. The killer now shows up at another dance club in L.A. dressed in an obviously fake moustache and three-piece suit. He tells another pretty blonde girl at the bar that he is a business agent for many Hollywood actors in town. He convinces her to leave the club to attend a business party. She refuses to go alone with him, so she takes one of her club friends with her.

This spoils the plans of the killer to get her alone. The three drive in the killer’s Mercedes to a gas station, where the killer strangles one of the girls with a bag full of marijuana. He hides in a Dumpster to attack the second girl as she comes out of the gas station with a bottle of champagne. The killer stabs her to death. As the killer flees the scene, he is harassed at a stop light by a motorcycle gang. The killer speeds away from the motorcycle gang and hides out at a local drive-in theatre.

The movie screen advertises a film entitled Blood Feast as a feature playing at the theatre, but it is not Herschel Gordon Lewis’ schlock masterpiece from 1963, unfortunately. After stealing another car from a young couple making out at the drive-in, the killer shows up at the New Wave club, manages to club a police officer in the head at a back entrance, and puts his police uniform on, which conveniently fits him perfectly. Under police protection outside her dressing room, Kelly sits in front of a mirror putting on make-up as the killer suddenly appears in her room in a jogging outfit and a Halloween mask.

She sees him in the mirror, but is not frightened. He removes the mask, and reveals himself to be Richard Sullivan, her husband. She is not frightened by his presence because she has no idea he is the killer. As the couple gets into an elevator, it becomes evident to Kelly that her husband is the killer.

He holds a knife up to her and saying:“I’m fed up . . . You’re just like all the other women in my life. Women are manipulative, deceitful, immoral and very, very selfish!”

His reasoning for killing here seems very petty and unnecessary. Wouldn’t his actions make him “manipulative, deceitful, immoral and selfish?” If he was so fed up with his wife, why didn’t he just request a divorce from her? Why go through the troubles of killing several innocent women to get to her? In the post O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson world we live in today, it seems highly unlikely that a man would go on a killing spree killing innocent victims just to prove a point with his wife.

However, I realize this film was made long before the O.J. Simpson ordeal of the1990s, and the Scott Peterson ordeal early in this decade. As the film comes to an end, Richard chains his wife to the bottom of the elevator and is chased by policemen who fire shots at him. He is chased to the top balcony of the building, where he puts the Halloween mask back on and jumps off the building, committing suicide. His son emotionally removes the mask from him.

The film ends with a shot of Kelly being wheeled into an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance is wearing Richard’s Halloween mask, and the paramedic on the passenger side lies dead on the floor of the ambulance. Could the killer now be Kelly’s son?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL follows in the long line-up of so many 1980s slasher/horror films. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so many others, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an attempt to use a holiday title to cash in on the slasher craze of the 1980s. Watch it above.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Scrooge, 1935, and A Christmas Carol, 1938 -- comparing and contrasting

By Steve D. Stones


During Christmas time in the mid-1980s, I walked into a Musicland store at my local shopping mall to look at Led Zeppelin cassette tapes. As I passed the VHS movies section, I was drawn to an image of Sir Seymour Hicks on the front cover of a video box. The image looked worn and hand-colored. It was contained on a VHS print of the 1935 version of Scrooge, put out by Goodtimes Home Video.

Although I have never been much of a fan of Christmas movies, the image on the VHS box made me want to purchase the film. Instead of buying a Led Zeppelin cassette tape (I didn't have enough money), I decided to buy the Scrooge video. Not being knowledgeable at the time of when sound films were first made, I assumed Scrooge was going to be a silent era film with intertitles and music.

When I got the video home and began to watch it, I was greatly intrigued by the worn out appearance of it. The print was slightly out of focus and very dark in contrast. Nothing on the screen was sharply focused. This did not disappoint me in any way or take away from my experience of enjoying the film.

I loved how the 1935 film portrayed 19th century London as dark, gritty and poverty stricken. Most exterior shots of the film show London as dark, overcast and foggy. This made me think I was watching a classic Universal horror film, and not a Christmas film.

The full length version of Scrooge (which was not the version I bought) runs one hour and eighteen minutes and uses elements of German Expressionism. Sharply defined shadows cast on solid, flat walls, and even on Scrooge's face, often frame and emphasize a character in the scene. The ghosts of Jacob Marley and of Christmas past and future are not shown, but greatly implied for the viewer to imagine, which adds to the intrigue I felt as I watched the film for the first time.

Sir Seymour Hicks has the perfect droopy old face to communicate his crusty, selfish character, but at the same time show a genuinely frightened and fearful expression when confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Reginald Owen's depiction of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1938) shows us a taller and younger Scrooge. He's just as grumpy and hard nosed at Hicks' Scrooge, but he is missing more hair and his appearance is less poverty stricken. He dresses well and presents himself as prim and proper.


The 1938 version of A Christmas Carol shows us a more upbeat, hustle and bustle depiction of 19th century London in the opening sequence. The Cratchit children play a game of sliding on an ice sheet in the streets of London and throw snowballs at other children. The 1935 Scrooge shows us a bleak view of London that discourages children from playing out in the streets. We wouldn't expect to see children out in the streets in the 1935 version.

Scrooge's home in the 1935 version is a run down, untidy one bedroom apartment with few furnishings and minimal lighting. In the 1938 version, he appears to live in a mansion with fancy furnishings and lots of space – giving us the impression that he is much better off financially than the 1935 Scrooge. The viewer gets a sense that the 1935 Scrooge is a more isolated and introverted man who avoids people completely because of his living environment.

The 1938 A Christmas Carol relies less on expressionist elements of sharp shadows and dark interiors and more on well lit interiors, helping to clearly define each ghost that visits Scrooge. The ghosts are not implied, but clearly shown to Scrooge and the viewer. More screen time is spent with each individual ghost in the 1938 version.

The 1938 film was the first Hollywood sound version of A Christmas Carol – produced by MGM studios, so the much larger budget is clearly apparent in the film. The lower budget and minimal elements of the 1935 Scrooge helps to communicate the poverty stricken atmosphere contained in the Charles Dickens story.

Whatever version of A Christmas Carol you choose to watch this holiday season, Charles Dickens' story will remain a great classic of Christmas entertainment. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The finest animated A Christmas Carol

Some of us recall seeing this 25-minute "A Christmas Carol" on TV (for ABC) in the 1970s. Alastair Sim plays Scrooge, and he's almost as good as he was in the classic 1951 feature "Scrooge." And even his 1951 co-star Michael Horden returns as Marley in the cartoon. This is a real Yuletide treat of an animated short that you just can't find anywhere to buy at a decent price. There are used out-of-print VHS tapes for sale at more than $33 on Amazon. That's just too much, enjoy it here, courtesy of YouTube.

Trust me -- this is a great film. It's a Richard Williams production from 1971, also starring the voice of Michael Redgrave. The animation is superb. Executive producer Chuck Jones assembled a genius staff.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ed Wood documentaries: Three early ones


This is the only Ed Wood documentary, besides The Incredibly Strange Film Show, I am aware of to feature Ed’s wife Kathy Wood in interview segments. That alone makes it a valuable piece of Ed Wood history. Produced by Rhino Home Video in 1994, the documentary takes sound bites and images from Wood’s films and uses them to give the film a humorous narrative.

The opening gives us Kathy Wood commenting on how no one really cared much about Ed Wood until his death in 1978. Now, ironically, there is a renewed interest in his films and life. Ed’s marine buddy Joseph Robertson is also interviewed, and describes Ed’s fascination for wearing women’s clothing, even under his army outfit.

Robertson produced such 1960s cult classics as: The Crawling Hand and The Slime People. He went on to direct the adult feature entitled Love Feast, also known as The Photographer and Pretty Girls All In A Row (see my review of Love Feast on this website.).

This documentary also borrows segments of Conrad Brooks’ interviews from On The Trail of Ed Wood (see my review in this post.). The documentary is presented in segments that use Wood’s name in a clever way, such as: Drift Wood, Holly-Wood, Wood’s Stock Company, and Dead Wood.


Of all the Ed Wood documentaries that have been released, I would have to say that this one is the best.

Not only because it carefully examines the career and films of Ed Wood, but also because it highlights the lives and careers of the key actors of Plan 9 From Outer Space: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson and Criswell. This documentary also has informative insights and humorous commentary by famous fans of Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space, such as: Sam Raimi, Drew Friedman, Harry Medved, Bill Warren, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman and Wood’s biographer, Rudolph Grey.

Of great interest is the segment of Conrad Brooks taking the viewer on a tour of the old Quality Studios in Hollywood where Plan 9 was filmed. The first time I viewed the Plan 9 Companion, my heart raced with excitement in being able to see what Quality Studios looks like today. Conrad even reenacts a famous cemetery scene that was shot there with his co-star Carl Anthony.

Lee Harris, the host and narrator of The Plan 9 Companion, also takes us on a tour of the old cemetery location used in the opening shots of Plan 9. Director Mark P. Carducci produced the film with Harris in 1994 and released it to MPI Home Video. Vampira fans will also be pleased with this documentary, since Maila Nurmi offers many insights into her own career and the career of Ed Wood. 


Although the title of this documentary informs us of being on the trail of Ed Wood, perhaps a better title would have been: On The Trail Of Conrad Brooks. I say this only because the entire fifty-six-minute documentary is from the point of view of Conrad Brooks being interviewed in his home, unlike so many other Ed Wood documentaries that interview many of Wood’s stock actors and friends. I got the feeling that the producer Buddy Barnett and director Michael Copner did not have the time or budget to include other Ed Wood actors and friends in this documentary, or perhaps they weren’t interested in anyone else’s views about Wood?

However, there are some informative aspects of this documentary. Conrad takes us on a tour of Ed Wood’s Yucca apartment complex in Hollywood, the last apartment complex he lived in before his death at Peter Coe’s apartment in 1978.

The tour also takes us to the KFWB soundstage in Hollywood, which was Ted Allen’s studio in the 1950s when Bride of The Monster was filmed there. Conrad explains in the documentary that Tor Johnson demanded double his $100.00 salary for his acting roles in Wood’s films. According to Conrad, Wood almost reconsidered using Johnson in his films because of this demand.

He also claims that Ed took a job as a cab driver in the 1970s to make ends meet. Copner and Barnett, both contributing writers and founders of Cult Movies Magazine, released this documentary in 1990. If Copner or Barnett happen to read this article, we would greatly appreciate it if Cult Movies Magazine was back in publication. The magazine is a valuable resource.

-- Steve D. Stones

More Ed Wood docs

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Criswell: The narrator from the coffin

And now I tell a tale of the threshold people. So astounding that some of you may faint!”
-Criswell from “Night of The Ghouls” and “Orgy of The Dead.”

By Steve Stones

Like so many of Ed Wood’s entourage of stock actors, Criswell had a very unique personality all his own. Born Charles Geran Criswell King in 1907 to an Indiana mortician, as a red-haired, freckled-face young boy growing up in Indiana, Criswell developed an interest in how future events were going to turn out. Like so many young boys growing up, his mind was looking to the future, not to the present or the past. In Criswell’s own words, he describes his family labeling him as a “freak” when he was just a boy. “And perhaps a freak I have remained.”

Prior to his appearance in Ed Wood’s cult masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space, Criswell began his career as a radio newscaster in New York. Criswell also had a successful career as a newspaper columnist. He once appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. He later established a reputation as a clairvoyant able to predict the future in very entertaining and strange ways on his television show broadcasted in Los Angeles. His TV show and syndicated column were appropriately called: Criswell Predicts.

Some of his strangest predictions included an influx of cannibalism across America, and seven women serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Other predictions included a Black Plague to hit the Midwest, the ghost of Napoleon being seen near his tomb in Paris, a secret graveyard being discovered near Denver, and the successful and inexpensive operation to change a woman into a man with the simple transplant of the sex organ.

Perhaps this prediction was fueled by Wood’s Glen Or Glenda, a film dealing with the subject of a man transforming himself into a woman by a sex change, and the rejection of transvestism in modern society. Glen Or Glenda was a film way ahead of its time in the early 1950s. His predictions were chronicled in two books he wrote: Journal of The Future and Your Next Ten Years. Criswell claimed that 86 percent of his predictions were accurate, when in fact they were seldom correct.

Criswell’s appearance in three Ed Wood films: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of The Ghouls, and Orgy of The Dead, remain as some of his most interesting and bizarre. His trademark “spit curl” hairstyle and black bow tie make him a recognizable character in contemporary popular culture.

“You are all interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable, for that is why you are here,” Criswell states while reading a cue card in the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space while atmospheric library music plays in the background. A sequence of Criswell rising from an opened coffin in Night of The Ghouls remains a personal favorite of mine. He rises from the coffin and tries desperately to keep his head looking forward, not to give the impression that he is reading a cue card in front of him, which is quite obvious to the viewer.

Criswell crossed over to the land unknown in 1982. In the future I predict that Criswell and Plan 9 From Outer Space will continue to entertain fans for generations to come. See Criswell on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show below.

Notes: Criswell’s coffin was used in Wood’s adult film, Necromania; a Web site on Criswell is here.