Monday, February 16, 2009

All about The Corpse Grinders

By Steve D. Stones

If ever director Ted V. Mikels created a masterpiece film in his career, I would certainly rank The Corpse Grinders as his best effort. Unlike many of his other films, such as Blood Orgy of The She Devils and Astro Zombies, which have plots that are very difficult to follow, The Corpse Grinders has a coherent plot that is easy to follow.

Mr. Landau and his partner Maltby run the Lotus Cat Food Company. The company is new and just beginning to turn a profit. They are unable to keep up with the demand of their product, so they decide to use human corpses as meat for their cat food. A gravedigger named Caleb digs up corpses from the local cemetery to sell to Landau and Maltby. Several morticians also supply the bodies they need.

Dr. Howard Glass and his beautiful blonde nurse Angie Robinson serve a can of Lotus Cat Food to a cat in the doctor’s office. The cat attacks and scratches Dr. Glass after eating the cat food.

Landau and Maltby take the corpses from the cemetery to the basement of the Lotus Cat Food Company and send them through a meat grinder. The front end of the grinder spits out what looks like hamburger meat. Landau refers to the grinder as “The Hopper.”

Meanwhile, a cat attacks a middle-aged woman in her home as she is sleeping. Her husband rushes into the room, only to find that the cat has torn the woman’s throat open. She is rushed to the hospital, where Dr. Glass concludes that she bled to death from a severed jugular vein. The husband informs Dr. Glass that a cat attacked the woman after eating Lotus Cat Food. This prompts Glass to conduct an autopsy on the dead cat. He concludes that human tissue was found in a sample of the food found in the cat’s stomach.

Dr. Glass and nurse Robinson decide to conduct their own investigation into the Lotus Cat Food Company. They meet with Mr. Desisto of the Food Adulteration Agency. Desisto rejects their premise that human flesh is being used in the Lotus Cat Food product. He suggests that they meet with Lotus Cat Food Company owner Carlton Babcock who has turned up missing in recent weeks. Dr. Glass and nurse Robinson visit Babcock’s wife to try and locate him. She has no idea of where he can be found.

Desisto’s pretty brunette secretary is sent home early that day. She arrives at her apartment with groceries. She strips down to her panties and bra to lounge on the couch to drink beer and watch TV. Her cat attacks and kills her after eating Lotus Cat Food.

Glass and Robinson pay a visit to the Lotus Cat Food Company. They are greeted by Landau and Maltby and pretend to be interested in purchasing a case of Lotus Cat Food. Maltby becomes immediately suspicious of the couple, thinking they are undercover police. Landau insists on selling a case of the cat food to the couple anyway. He is not suspicious of them.
After purchasing the case, Dr. Glass examines several cans of the cat food carefully, only to discover that they contain the normal ingredients of fish and grains.

Although his tests on the cat food prove nothing, Dr. Glass decides to return to the Lotus Cat Food Company with nurse Robinson for a second look around. There they discover the door leading to the basement locked. Landau catches them trying to open the door. They pretend as if they are there to purchase another case of cat food. Landau asks them to leave.

Gravedigger Caleb is getting impatient with Landau for not paying him for the dug-up corpses. He calls Landau and demands immediate payment. Landau arrives and kills Caleb with a gun so that he does not have to pay him. Caleb becomes one more victim of the corpse grinder.

Nurse Robinson decides to do a little investigating of her own by returning to the Lotus Cat Food Company for a third time. She leaves a note for Dr. Glass, informing him of where she is going. Shortly after arriving at the cat food company, Maltby sneaks up behind nurse Robinson and forces her into the basement. He places her body on the table of the corpse grinder. Landau appears and shoots Maltby dead. Dr. Glass finds Robinson’s note, and rushes to the cat food company. When arriving, he rushes down the basement stairs where Landau shoots him in the arm. A private investigator arrives at the scene killing Landau with a shot. This puts an end to the corpse grinders forever

Despite what some critics have said about the actual corpse grinder machine used in this film, it is not made of cardboard and painted duct tape. In fact, on the extras feature provided on the DVD by Image Entertainment, director Ted V. Mikel sets the record straight by pointing out that the corpse grinder was made of plywood. I get a real kick out of the cheap looking appearance of the grinder. It reminds me of a giant space ship my friends and me tried to build out of scrap wood, buttons and bottle caps when I was a kid.

The Corpse Grinders is also appealing to me because I have a soft spot for cats. As pets, cats are great to have around because they are so independent and low maintenance. Some might say that this film shows cats in a negative light, but I don’t view it that way at all. Knowing that cat food laced with human flesh causes the cats to become fierce is what adds entertainment value to the film. If the cats were just simply attacking their owners for no particular reason, then perhaps that would cast cats in a negative light. Besides, I know cats well enough to know that they are very picky eaters, and it is unlikely they would eat human flesh in a can of cat food anyway. All the more reason why The Corpse Grinders is an entertaining film. Watch out for those cans of Lotus Cat Food!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking about Bowery at Midnight

By Doug Gibson

I saw Bowery at Midnight again, this time courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. It's an example of the Monogram Studios C-film magic Bela Lugosi was putting out in the early 40s.

The 1942 61-minute film is a classic cheapie. Lugosi dominates the film in a dual role. He's a kindly NYC Bowery shelter operator and college professor. At night he's a sociopathic criminal mastermind who kills on a whim. In the basement of his soup kitchen/shelter he runs his operations. A deranged drug-addicted doctor revives most of his victims and keeps them hidden below one of the "graves."

Lugosi's assistant, played by 40s starlet Wanda McKay, eventually snoops on him. Her boyfriend, a student in Lugosi's character's class, snoops too much and gets shot. A baby-faced killer (Tom Neal) is recruited by Lugosi but eventually become too much for the evil doctor to handle.

You can't make this stuff up. It's a wonderful, almost magical film in its low-budget wackiness. Its low budget can't possible meet its expectations, but it somehow more than pleases, with its grimy, bowery settings, Monogram staple music and, of course, Lugosi.

My review on Plan 9 Crunch's Review of the Day site is here:

I'd like to add some notes: The director, Wallace Fox, was a dependable C-movie director of the time. Co-star Tom Neal made the film noir masterpiece Detour. He was a star in the 50s before flaming out and later going to prison for manslaughter. Starlet McKay was in a few Lugosi Monogram films. Her road to Hollywood was paved via winning beauty pageants. Michael Copner, ex-editor of Cult Movies Magazine, lists Bowery at Midnight as his favorite film.

Like any cult film, Bowery certainly improves upon repeat viewing. I tag it with The Ape Man as my favorite of Lugosi's Monogram films of the early 40s.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Splatter University: Earn a higher degree in terror

By Steve D. Stones

Pretty Julie Parker is hired as a sociology professor at St. Trinians College to replace a woman named Janet Phillips, who was murdered the previous semester. Father Jensen, a paraplegic, warns Parker that her classroom may be cursed as a result of Phillips being murdered in the same classroom she is being assigned to. Ms. Parker is not one bit fearful of this, and proceeds with her first day of classes. Her first day of class doesn’t go so well. Her students are easily bored and uninterested in the class. I know the feeling. Trying to maintain the attention span of easily-bored students is like trying to lead a cat to water to swim.

Father Perkins is asked by Father Jensen to observe Parker’s class on the first day. He is unimpressed with Parker’s teaching methods after observing her discussing abortion with her students. She is called into Father Jensen’s office for discipline. Father Jensen insists that the school has a strict curriculum that she must adhere to. Academic freedom has no place at a religious school. What else is new?

Parker moves into a new apartment near campus and is constantly hounded by her talkative landlady Mrs. Bloom. Soon Parker begins dating another sociology professor named Mark. She asks him about the murder that took place in her classroom. It appears he once dated the woman, but pretends not to have known her. One of Parker’s pregnant students named Kathy goes to the drive-in movies with her boyfriend. The two make out in the back seat of the car. After an argument, Kathy leaves the car to look for her boyfriend. While wandering around in the dark, someone slashes her throat and murders her. Father Jensen expresses condolences to Kathy’s mother for the murder.

A female colleague of Parker tells her that Mark was suspected of Janet Phillips’ murder because the two were dating at the time. To find out for herself, Parker breaks into Mark’s apartment to look for clues. There she finds newspaper clippings about the murder in Mark’s desk. The next day Parker finds her colleague murdered in the classroom closet with her throat cut. This confirms to her that Mark has got to be the murderer.

She decides to leave the school and gives Father Jensen her resignation for fear she will become the next victim. Jensen tries to convince her to stay. While packing her belongings to move away, Mark confronts her at her apartment. He tries to explain to Parker that he is not the murderer. She panics and beats him over the head with her telephone. She flees the apartment and goes back to Father Jensen for his advice. While trying to comfort Parker, Father Jensen gets up out of his wheelchair and pulls a knife on Parker. Here we discover that Jensen is the murderer. She escapes from his office and runs down the halls of the school, hiding in an elevator. Jensen soon catches up to her and stabs her in the back. This scene is the most graphically violent of the entire film.

Unfortunately Mark arrives too late and discovers Parker dead in the elevator. He confronts Father Jensen in his office as Jensen attempts to quickly wipe blood off his hands. Jensen has sat back in his wheelchair, pretending to be disabled again. Mark looks up on the wall behind Father Jensen to see a bleeding crucifix of Jesus.

The film ends with two psychiatric orderlies looking through a window at Jensen in a straightjacket sitting in a padded room. He has been placed in a psychiatric ward.

Of all the “slasher flicks” that stormed the box office in the 1980s, this one seemed to stand out to me. Perhaps it was because I found myself developing a crush on the main character Julie Parker. We’ve all been “hot for teacher” at some point in our school career. She is a very classy, easygoing, laid-back kind of schoolteacher. I can actually say that I hated to see her get killed at the end of the film. I was hopeful that she would rise as the heroine of the film.

Another aspect of this film that is appealing to me is the idea that a person can easily use religious fanaticism to hide behind his or her own personal evils and insecurities. Even members of the clergy are human and prone to committing acts of evil, such as Father Jensen murdering coeds at his school. The next time one of your religious leaders asks you if you have committed a sin, hold up a mirror and ask the same question of them.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Surgikill finally on DVD!!!

Hey cult film fans: We just received a review DVD copy of Andy Milligan's Surgikill, courtesy of the film's screenwriter, Sherman Hirsh. We don't know details about the release yet or where to purchase a copy but we'll be reviewing it soon.
Here's a link to our post last summer about Surgikill, that included a review by Plan 9 Crunch blogger Steve Stones and an essay on the film by Hirsh.
We also got a copy of Sherman's film he directed, Love Slaves of the She-Mummy, and we'll be sure to review that soon as well.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rah, Rah for Satan's Cheerleaders

By Steve D. Stones

Any movie or book with the word Satan or Evil in the title has always got my immediate attention. Even as a child, I often wondered why grown adults would believe in such nonsense as the Devil any more than they would believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. Yet the majority of our population seems to strongly feel that the Devil is alive and well, and corrupts our souls. If the Devil did exist and he made this film, perhaps he deserves to be banished to Hell for corrupting the souls of viewers who sit through this turkey?

One good thing going for the film is that is that it stars Yvonne De Carlo of television’s The Munsters fame. John Carradine also stars in the film, and seems to appear in the majority of all cult films ever made. Surprisingly, Debra Hill, co-writer and co-producer of John Carpenter’s Halloween, served as script supervisor for the film. Carpenter’s director of photography, Dean Cundey, also served as director of photography for this film.

It’s the eve of the first football game of the school season, and Benedict High’s cheerleaders are on the beach practicing their cheers for tomorrow night’s big football game. They take a break and play football with some of the football players. The football coach is upset about this and tries to break up the group so that they can prepare for the game.

The day of the big game arrives, and the janitor of the High School, Billy, breaks up the cheerleaders from fooling around with one of the football players on the field. A carload of cheerleaders from the opposing team arrives on the field and showers the group with water balloons.

After football practice, the janitor sits at his office desk reciting a satanic chant while grasping his pentagram necklace. He peeks through an air vent behind the locker room wall to watch the girls showering. He places a curse on the girls by rubbing their clothes with his pentagram necklace.
As the girls and their cheer coach, Ms. Johnson, leave for the game in a car, the janitor follows behind them in his pick up truck. He continues reciting a satanic chant and clutching his pentagram necklace. Apparently he is placing a curse on the girls.

The curse causes the car to swerve off the road. Although the car has not crashed into anything, this leaves the car completely disabled. The girls walk down to the main road to flag down someone for help. Billy the janitor shows up in his truck and piles the girls into the back. Ms. Johnson sits up front as Billy threatens her while fondling her breasts.

As Ms. Johnson and Billy struggle in the front seat of the truck, Billy loses control of the vehicle. This scene is some of the worst acting in the entire film.

The girls and Ms. Johnson leave the truck and walk down the hill. Billy is not far behind them. They encounter a sacrificial altar and a giant sculpture of a horned beast. Patti, the pretty blond of the group, removes her clothes and lies on the altar. She cries out coos of orgasmic pleasure. The rest of the group seems oblivious to any of this going on. This causes the janitor to drop over dead. The group seems unconcerned and unsympathetic to his death. This is another scene of really bad acting.

They leave in the janitor’s truck and encounter John Carradine on the road picking up aluminum cans. He appears to be a vagabond. Carradine is unable to help them, so they drive further down the road and pass a sign identifying the town as Nether, California, population 360. Soon they encounter the local sheriff named B. L. Bubb. The sheriff invites them to his office. A giant pentagram hangs above the fireplace, but the girls do not seem to notice or care about it. Soon Yvonne De Carlo, the sheriff’s wife, walks into the room to greet the girls.

We soon discover that sheriff Bubb and his wife De Carla are the head of a local satanic cult and they want a young virgin girl for one of their sacrifices. Who would have guessed? The viewer can see this coming from a mile away.

After the sheriff orders the girls to stay in the upstairs room of the office, they soon escape out the second floor window and flee into the woods. One of the cheerleaders, Debbie, breaks off from the group and encounters Carradine again living in an old abandoned car in the woods. She asks for his help, but soon discovers he too is a part of the cult from the pentagram hanging around his neck. She flees back into the woods.

The entire cult chases after the cheerleaders, but they don’t seem too quick or urgent about it. They take their vicious dogs named Lucifer and Diablo with them to find the girls. The dogs may be the best actors in the film so far.

Meanwhile De Carlo stays behind and prays to a giant pentagram with an eye in the center. She summons the two dogs to attack Patti because shebelieves Patti is the "chosen one" and the virgin maiden they seek for their sacrifice.

The cult eventually catches up to the girls, but discover that none of them is a virgin except for Ms. Johnson, the cheer coach. Here we discover that Patti is actually a witch summoned by the cult.

The film ends with the girls cheering at the High School football game. Patti uses her satanic powers to get the team to win the game.

This is certainly a film that any mainstream audience would have a difficult time sitting through. The girls in the cheerleading squad fit many of the stereotypes we have of cheerleaders. Chris is busty and naive, but not nearly as naïve as Ms. Johnson. Patti is a tramp who likes to remove her clothes at any opportunity she can get, and yet she is also the smartest one of the group. Debbie is independent, and breaks off from the group to save her own skin.

If you are a fan of John Carradine, you may find this film to be a bit of a disappointment because his role is very brief. Nevertheless, you may still want to check it out anyway. Yvonne De Carlo fans may also want to see this film, if only to see what she was up to long after The Munsters television show had ended. De Carlo was a very beautiful woman, even in her later years of life, as you will see in this film. Seeing her in a red satanic cult outfit is actually kind of cute in an evil sort of way.