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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Teenagers from Outer Space -- wooden-acted cult manna


By Steve D. Stones

If it wasn’t for the wooden acting and poor production values, the 1959 sci-fi film "Teenagers From Outer Space" could pass with flying colors as a well-made, entertaining piece of celluloid. The film was distributed by Warner Brothers, which seems a bit odd, considering most low budget sci-fi films of the 50s era could never get a major studio like Warner Brothers to fund or distribute their product. The film couldn’t be placed in the Ed Wood School of bad acting and film making because, from a technical stand-point, its cinematography is well done, and the actors seem to take their dialogue very seriously. Many have suggested that this film could be a blueprint for the Terminator films, since the plot is one long chase sequence.

A group of teenage aliens led by actor King Moody land their spaceship somewhere in the Hollywood hills to place a gargon creature from their planet to harvest for food. Gargons have to be raised a safe distance from their planet. The gargon showed on screen is nothing more than a lobster in a cage.

Gargons grow to a million times their original size. One teenager named Derek, played by David Love, insists that the gargon creatures not be placed on planet earth because he has found evidence of intelligent life in the form of a dog. The dog is blasted with a ray gun by Thor, one of the other teenage aliens. All the aliens in the ship wear overalls that look like an auto mechanic might be wearing.

Derek insists that gargons not be raised on earth as he threatens the rest of the alien crew with his ray gun. Derek escapes, and Thor is assigned to chase after him and bring him back to the ship. Derek finds his way to a Hollywood neighborhood where he lodges with an attractive young girl named Betty and her grandfather. Betty and her grandfather naively accept that Derek is dressed in a strange outfit, and carries no luggage with him.

The rest of the film is a long, drawn out chase between Thor and Derek. While hunting for Derek, Thor blasts a gas station attendant, a sexy girl in a swimming pool (what was he thinking?), a college professor and a couple of police detectives with a focusing disintegrator ray-gun. Thor stops at nothing to find Derek and bring him back to the spaceship. The ray gun shines a reflective ray as the actor points the front of it in direct sunlight.

In a clich├ęd subplot, Derek falls in love with Betty, played by Dawn Anderson. Eventually Derek has to tell Betty that he is not of this earth. She is not too concerned, and maintains her love for him. The two go scouting for Thor’s ray gun after he is thrown from a car in a chase.

As Derek and Betty search for the ray gun near Thor’s car crash, a giant rear projected lobster (i.e. a gargon) appears on screen to attack the couple. Derek conveniently finds Thor’s ray gun in a bush and blasts the rear projected lobster as it falls to the ground.

The entire film has a Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet innocence to it that seems appropriate for the era. Some of the music used in the film can be heard in George Romero’s 1968 film – Night of The Living Dead, and Robert Clarke’s 1959 film – The Hideous Sun Demon. Director Tom Graeff cast himself as a newspaper reporter. Some accounts suggest that he cast David Love in the role of Derek because the two were gay lovers at the time. Neither of the two men went on to make a living in films in Hollywood. Scary Monsters Magazine #88 has devoted the issue to Teenagers From Outer Space, with interviews and articles about the film and surviving cast members and crew. The film is now in the public domain, and can be found in many DVD packs with other low-budget 1950s sci-fi titles. Happy Viewing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Doctor Dracula, another Al Adamson two-movie composite


Review by Doug Gibson

I mentioned "Doctor Dracula" in an earlier post. It's not much of a film and merits its very low rating on IMDB.com.

What makes the film marginally interesting is one, it's directed by schlock auteur, the late Al Adamson, two it's likely the only film in which Dracula meets Svengali, three, it has John Carradine (although what trashy '70s film doesn't) and four, it's another example of Adamson practicing film composites, in which he takes two thin films to make an even thinner film.

Adamson and his partner Sam Sherman got their hands on an unreleased film called "Lucifer's Women." They shot a vampire tale to mix with it and managed to get a few actors from the earlier film to create a plot that is deliciously nonsensical in the Adamson tradition.

The film commences with a vampire killing a woman who welcomes his bite. We then switch to an author and mystic named Wainwright (Larry Hankin) lecturing and hypnotizing an audience. He has a book about Svengali. In the audience is Carradine's character and a doctor, Gregorio, (Geoffrey Land) who is openly derisive of Wainwright.



Also in attendance is the daughter, Stephanie, of the woman slain in the opening scene. She's played by actress Susie Ewing, best known as the trucker "Hot Pants" in the film "Smokey and the Bandit."

Stephanie is desperate to find out why her mom died. She consults Wainwright but he's not helpful. She receives greater assistance from Gregorio but his help comes with a bite; more on that.

We also kick to dull scenes in a nightclub where a beautiful singer named Trilby (get it) is performing. Wainwright is falling in love with her. That's because he is turning into the reincarnation of Svengali. There's a whole cult of people, including Carradine, who worship the devil and are involved in the Svengali resurrection. Wainwright/Svengali doesn't want to kill Trilby but the devil cult has a more powerful pull on him and she eventually is readied to be sacrificed. More later.

Meanwhile, Gregorio is -- big surprise -- really Count Dracula. Occasionally he kills women including a somewhat amusing scene where he gives the bite to a tipsy floozy who loves being in a coffin, played by Adamson's wife, Regina Carroll.

In what is probably the sole scene that provides any chills, Gregorio/Dracula produces the undead mother of Stephanie. She has no human qualities left, and openly scorns her daughter.

Dracula has similar plans for Stephanie, and he begins a slow process of controlling her. She may have something to say or do about that later; more on that.

Eventually, the film leads to the sacrifice of Trilby, played by Jane Brunel-Cohen. She may be the worst actress I've seen in a film. Even as she's about to die, she's incapable of conveying emotion.

Dracula crashes the sacrifice and viewers expecting a battle royal between the bloodsucker and the Svengali cult will be disappointed. Spoiler alert: Dracula wins with barely an effort. Land, by the way, is not too bad as Dracula. He's far better than Zandor Vorkoff in "Dracula Versus Frankenstein" or Mitch Evans in "Gallery of Horrors."

There is an abrupt, mildly surprising ending involving Stephanie and Dracula that I won't give away in case you want to see the flick. I recommend it only to Adamson completists and fans of composite films, of which Adamson made several,

The history of the film is interesting. It was made in the late 1970s, in which Adamson's Independent International, and other indie schlock producers, were being moved out of the business. Bigger studios were either making their own shockers or buying better-produced low budget shockers and tidying them up for major releases.

To my knowledge, "Doctor Dracula" was only released to television, which may explain why it's very tame, with virtually no nudity. Rumor has it that it played VHS with Adamson's "Horror of the Blood Monsters" and it got a sole DVD release in 2002. The DVD has the trailer for "Lucifer's Women." A better idea would be for Sam Sherman to apply the entire Paul Aratow-directed film, Lucifer's Women," (if it still exists) as an extra to the DVD.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bela Lugosi as character actor: The Saint's Double Trouble





By Doug Gibson

At Plan9Crunch, today's review is the 1940 film, "The Saint's Double Trouble," filmed in late 1939 for upper-tier film producer RKO. If you're a Bela Lugosi completist, you need to see this entry in the Saint, Simon Templar, series with starred George Sanders, and which is today the most popular offering precisely because Lugosi is featured in a supporting as -- literally -- the "partner" of a the Saint's adversary in this film, "Boss" Duke Bates, a ruthless jewel thief who casually kills anyone who gets in his way.

What's most interesting for Lugosi fans is that this marks the dawn of the era when Lugosi -- except for a few monster pics -- was shoved out of great roles in A upper-budget productions. In film after film that wasn't a Monogram or other low-budget offering, Lugosi would usually be wasted as either a "red herring butler type" or a "secondary criminal." He's the latter in "...Double Trouble." As the Egyptian partner of Boss Bates, he has decent screen time in the 68-minute programmer, but no real memorable lines. He's more cautious than the sociopathic Bates.

This is still a fun film and Lugosi provides good acting skills. Sanders absolutely a delight as the British, superficially polite rogue who matches wits with both police and crooks. The character, Simon Templar, is based on a popular detective series of the time penned by Leslie Charteris. "...Double Trouble," however, was the one flick that was not based on a book. The plot is a tad convoluted but clever, and it all warps up well. These programmer mysteries were forerunners to TV detective shows.

Today, the Saint might make a good series for cable or even HBO if the producers wanted to unclothe a few actors. Frankly, that would seem a bit gauche for Sanders' Saint, who has a fine time flirting with and protecting the gorgeous daughter (Helene Whitney) of a past professor of his who is, unfortunately, rubbed out by Bates before justice is served. The film was directed by Jack Hively and Jonathan Hale ably portrays Inspector Henry Fernack, who matches wits with the Saint in more than one film in the series. A fun film, so long as one accepts that Bela is only a minor presence in the movie.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Braniac -- Mexican horror kitsch at its best



By Steve D. Stones

Producer K. Gordon Murray took a number of Mexican horror films in the late 1950s and early 60s, duped them in English and released them to American audiences. The Brainiac is one of many of his Mexican imports released in the early 1960s. Like many of the Mexican imports from Murray, The Brainiac stars German Robles, who starred as a vampire in other Mexican films.

The year is 1661. A Mexican Baron, played by producer Abel Salazar, is accused of witchcraft, “dogmatism,” infidelity and other crimes. The Spanish Inquisition sentences him to be burned at the stake. Before his death, he vows to return from his grave and seek vengeance on all the descendants who execute him.  As the Inquisition reads the charges against him, he smirks and laughs at them, showing no fear of his sentence.

Fast forward to the year 1961 and the Baron returns to life from a fallen meteor in the sky. It is never explained why the Baron’s soul has to return in the form of a meteor, which adds to some of the strangeness of the film. After crashing on Earth from the meteor, the Baron attacks a man as his clothes magically appear on the Baron after the victim’s death.

The Baron continues his womanizing ways of the past by picking up beautiful women at local bars. Soon, he hosts a formal party for some of the descendants of his executioners to kill them. Before he attacks his victims, he turns into a forked tongue demon with pincher hands that sucks out the brains of his victims with his tongue. He keeps their brains in a chalice locked away in a chest. He occasionally eats the brains as a quick late night hors d’oeuvre.

The pulsating mask of the Baron as he transforms into the forked tongue demon is hilarious, and not to be missed by any fan of low-budget monster movies. Close up sequences show the demon placing his forked tongue behind the neck of his victims as he attempts to suck out their brains. Very silly stuff, but also very entertaining and fun to watch. Seeing the demon walk around in a three piece suit as his face pulsates and his pincher hands move like a crab has to be seen to be believed. You won’t want to miss – The Brainiac.  Happy Viewing!