Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scrooge: The first sound version of Dickens' classic Christmas tale

Scrooge, 1935, 78 minutes, B&W, British. Directed by Henry Edwards. Starring Sir. Seymour Hicks as Ebenezer Scrooge, Donald Calthrop as Bob Cratchit, Robert Cochran as Fred, Mary Glynne as Belle and Phillip Frost as Tiny Tim. Rating: Seven stars out of 10.
This very creaky British version of Dickens' A Christmas Tale can't hold a candle to the 1951, 1984 and 1999 versions, but it's better than the 1938 Hollywood adaptation. It stars Hicks as Scrooge. The British actor had the part down pat. He had played Scrooge for decades on the British stage. Nevertheless, he plays Scrooge as a crochety old crank, which is one of your reviewer's pet peeves. I prefer Scrooge to be played as a smug, self satisfied superior sort, such as Sims, Scott and Stewart portrayed Dickens' miser in other adaptations. The result is that Scrooge's experience is a startling comeuppance for him. Like Saul of Tarsus, he's literally brought to his senses and scared straight through divine interference. But with an old crochety Scrooge, all he goes through seems like a scolding that a child would take from an elder.
But still, this is a must-see version for fans. The London sets are simply marvelous. You can feel Victorian England in this film better than any other version. Also, a pleasant surprise is Calthrop as Bob Cratchit. He is the only Bob Cratchit that's able to stand up to Scrooge. Indeed, early in the film, he mutters of Scrooge's miserliness when denied coal for the fire. The other actors are adequate for their roles. One chilling scene has Tiny Tim (Frost) laying dead on a bed for Scrooge to see during the third spirit visit.
There are some odd twists to the film. Not much is told about Scrooge's childhood, and a really strange scene is with Marley's ghost. To the audience he is invisible, though it's clear Scrooge can see him. There is a scene early in the film, inserted for some reason, of Queen Victoria receiving a Christmas toast from London's leading citizens. The final scene where a changed Scrooge fools Cratchit and gives him a raise has the pair taking the day off, rather than having some smoking Christmas bishop to drink. Scrooge, quite an expressionist film, is a curio of early British filmmaking and certainly worth a rental for the holidays. For decades this film was literally out of circulation, but with the advent of video it enjoyed a comeback and can now usually be found on TV each holiday season and can be purchased. It can also be seen for free on the Web. Go to is (Internet Movie Database) page to watch the film. Enjoy the film; watch it above!
-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER: A Curvy Cutie Invades The Earth!

By Steve D. Stones

What do you get when you combine all the poor qualities of filmmaking, such as bad dialogue, unconvincing special effects, amateur acting, boring long shots that seem to last forever, mismatched stock footage and frequent continuity errors? The result is a film like The Astounding She-Monster. Still, the film has many redeeming cult qualities to recommend it to any cult film fan.

For starters, She Monster was directed by a protégé of Ed Wood named Ronnie Ashcroft. Wood is unaccredited as a “creative consultant” for the film. Ashcroft made a film with all the markings of a Wood film. In fact, if the opening credits were left out, it would be easy to mistake She-Monster for an Ed Wood film. The opening credits even say: “Hollywood International Pictures Presents,” just like the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The music for the film is by Gunther Kauer. The same music was used for another cult film, The Beast of Yucca Flats. Actor Kenne Duncan, who appeared in Ed Wood’s Night of The Ghouls (AKA Revenge of The Dead), also appears in She Monster. Another Wood regular, William C. Thompson, served as director of photography. These qualities alone make The Astounding She-Monster an immediate cult item.

The film opens with a boring long shot of wealthy socialite Margaret Chaffee, played by Marilyn Harvey, leaving her mansion to drive away in a Cadillac. Chaffee is a wealthy Beverly Hills socialite. As she drives down the street in another boring long shot that lasts forever, she is stopped and kidnapped by Nat Burdell and Brad Conley, played by actors Kenne Duncan and Ewing Brown.

A meteor soon crashes high in the San Gabriel Mountains, bringing with it a sexy space alien in a tight spandex suit, played by Shirley Kilpatrick. Geologist Dick Cutler, played by Robert Clarke, and his dog Egan, witness the meteor crash near Cutler’s cabin.

Burdell and Conley are next seen driving the kidnapped Chaffee to the San Gabriel Mountains. A second woman named Esther Malone, played by actress Jeanne Tatum, appears in the car with them. Malone appears to be drunk. The group is forced off the road by the site of the sexy alien. Why she is called a “She-Monster” in the title of the film is anyone’s guess? She is any thing but frightful. In fact, she is very sexy and beautiful.

The group leaves their car on the road and walks to Cutler’s cabin. Duncan and the group force their way into the cabin and take Cutler as a second hostage.

Conley soon sees the She-Monster starring in the window of the cabin and leaves to investigate. He takes Cutler’s dog Egan with him. He and Egan are attacked and killed by the She-Monster. Burdell goes out looking for him and brings his corpse back to the cabin. The corpse is covered with radium poisoning. Cutler insists on going out to find his dog, but Burdell continues to hold him at gunpoint.

The group finally decides that they must get away from the She-Monster by leaving the mountain in Cutler’s jeep. While driving down the mountain road, the She-Monster blocks their path, forcing them out of the jeep. Burdell is attacked and killed by the She-Monster as he attempts to flee the jeep.

Cutler and Chaffee flee back into the cabin and are met once again by the She-Monster. Cutler throws a bottle of nitric acid on the She-Monster, and she immediately disintegrates. Chaffee notices the She-Monster’s necklace on the cabin floor. Cutler opens the locket to find an important message.

It turns out that the She Monster is an emissary sent by the Council of Planets with a message of peace for the earth. Cutler concludes that the She-Monster only attacked because she was forced to protect herself.

It’s interesting to note that The Astounding She-Monster follows in a long line of alien invasion-themed films that saturated the drive-ins of the 1950s. Hollywood produced many much better films earlier in the decade of a similar theme, such as The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Thing From Another World.

Robert Clarke also starred in The Man From Planet X in 1951, which has a similar theme to The Astounding She-Monster. In Man From Planet X, the alien also attempts to communicate with those who encounter it, but is misunderstood as being an enemy from outer space.

Cult film fans are greatly indebted to Wade Williams for rescuing and buying the copyright of a number of films that would have otherwise been lost or never released on DVD, such as The Astounding She-Monster, Ed Wood’s Night of The Ghouls, The Cosmic Man and Cat Women of The Moon, among many others.

I’m still waiting for a Robert Clarke film festival to come to my town so that I can see Man From Planet X, The Hideous Sun Demon, The Astounding She-Monster, The Incredible Petrified World, Beyond The Time Barrier, Terror of The Blood Hunters and Secret File Hollywood all in one day’s screening. In the meantime I will be satisfied seeing these films on DVD. Watch out for that curvy cutie in a tight spandex outfit!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review of Muddled Mind: all about Ed Wood's books

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. For info on the reproductions, send an e-mail to the address above.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON: Be sure to wear sun tan lotion!

By Steve D. Stones 

I have to admit that The Hideous Sun Demon is my favorite low budget monster movie of the 1950s. I would have loved to see this film on a drive-in movie screen in the late 1950s. It would be even more interesting to have seen it on a double bill with another Robert Clarke film, such as The Man From Planet X, The Astounding She Monster or Beyond The Time Barrier. 

Clarke starred in The Astounding She Monster just a year before he directed and starred in The Hideous Sun Demon. He took some of his profits from She Monster and invested them into this film. In his autobiography “Robert Clarke: To B or Not to B: A Film Actor’s Odyssey,” Clarke mentions that he had a desire to create a film similar to the Robert Louis Stevenson story Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. He was impressed with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde while seeing it in a movie theater at the age of 12. 

He wanted to create a film that would have much more substance than The Astounding She Monster. Viewing The Hideous Sun Demon, it is easy to see some of the similarities of the Stevenson classic. 

One major difference is that Clarke’s character, Dr. Gilbert McKenna, is a victim of an atomic experiment gone wrong. Dr. Jekyll willingly conducts experiments on himself to understand the duality of good versus evil in every man’s soul. Plus, Clarke’s character has a conscience of not wanting to kill innocent victims. 

After his transformation of the Sun Demon and back to Dr. McKenna, McKenna expresses a deep regret for his murder victims. In his own mind, he is a victim himself, and has no desire to want to commit murders while he is in the normal state of being Dr. McKenna. While in a transformed state of being the Sun Demon, McKenna cannot control his murderous desires. 

What makes The Hideous Sun Demon so appealing to me is the unique Sun Demon costume worn by Clarke. It is a truly unique and frightful costume. Clarke claims to have paid $500.00 for the costume. Like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Clarke transforms into the Sun Demon while wearing his everyday clothes. Many of the production stills taken for the film show Clarke’s trousers drenched in the front and back. This is because the actor was sweating heavily from the heat of the costume. Nevertheless, it adds uniqueness to the creature and makes it more believable, in my opinion. 

Another unique element of Sun Demon is the timeless theme of beauty and the beast. Clarke cast busty blonde Nan Peterson, star of Louisiana Hussy, as a beautiful nightclub singer that Dr. McKenna becomes infatuated with. McKenna falls in love with her, but he knows his love cannot last because of his condition. After a lustful night on the beach with the girl, McKenna abandons her as the sun comes up to transform him into the Sun Demon. 

There is even a love triangle aspect to The Hideous Sun Demon. Dr. McKenna works in his laboratory with a pretty young brunette named Ann Lansing, played by Patricia Manning. In one particular scene, McKenna hides in the cellar of his basement after returning from a murder spree as the Sun Demon. Lansing confronts him in the cellar. She expresses her concern and care for McKenna, but he rejects her sympathies for him. She goes on to say that she loves McKenna and wants to find help for him.

Perhaps the most touching and sentimental scene of the film is when McKenna once again is confronted in a hiding place, only this time by a five year old girl in a 50s poodle skirt. McKenna is being pursued by local police, and hides in a mill near the little girl’s home. She offers to bring him cookies and decides to be his friend. This is the most touching scene of the film. The little girl rushes home to steal some cookies to give to McKenna. Her mother discovers she is about to take the cookies to McKenna, so she calls the local police. 

McKenna flees the mill and immediately transforms into the Sun Demon. McKenna is chased to the top of a giant gas tank, where he meets his death as a policeman shoots him and he falls to the ground. This scene is not unlike the ending of well-known monster movies, such as Frankenstein and The Phantom of The Opera, in which the local townspeople chase the monster and he meets a violent death, only in this case it’s the local police who chase the monster. 

Some critics suggest that the formula of The Hideous Sun Demon does not work because the Sun Demon can only transform into the monster in the sunlight, unlike other monsters, such as The Wolf Man and Dracula, who lurk in the dark.

I disagree with this assessment of Sun Demon. A monster who lurks in the dark is certainly much more scarier than one which is out in the daylight, but The Hideous Sun Demon is not attempting to surprise or scare the audience in the same way that creatures of the dark are known to do. The Hideous Sun Demon is the result of atomic radiation, so he is a victim of his environment, and not a product of the undead coming back to life, such as a zombie or a vampire. 

He is also not a product of several parts of a corpse being assembled together, such as Frankenstein’s monster, so he is not intended to be a monster of experimentation. This is what makes the Sun Demon a unique creature and interesting film.

Monday, November 16, 2009

All about 'Monster A Go Go'

Monster a Go Go

Monster a Go Go, 1965, starring Phil Morton and Harry Hite. Directed by Sheldon Seymour (Herschell Gordon Lewis. Film originally started by Bill Rebane. Around 80 minutes long. Film garners a * on the 10-star Schlock-Meter.

In Monster a Go Go, a once normal size spaceman emerges from his capsule. He s now 10 feet tall and deranged to boot. He apparently kills several people and generally wrecks havoc. The authorities close in on him. Just as he s about to be captured, the monster seems to vanish. A narrator solemnly explains that none of this ever happened. All is well.

Yes, Monster a Go Go is as bad a movie as the synopsis indicates. It's unwatchable except in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, and even then it's a tough sell. There is virtually no plot to speak of. We are taken to fields, sleazy clubs, boring living rooms, etc. We listen to a dull narrator and even duller characters talk on and on. According to some web surfers at the Internet Movie Data Base, a human ringing voice is used to dub in the ringing of a phone in a scene from Monster a Go Go. I don t remember this exact scene from my viewing, but I was so bored that it's quite likely I let that bit of comedy pass by unnoticed.

More interesting than Monster a Go Go's inane plot and execution is the story of the film itself. It's an example of the type of film released by some exploitation filmmakers. There's no effort to make a coherent story; they just want the film in the can. Then, they can make a great movie poster and drive suckers into theaters, get their cash and leave most disappointed. Directors Al Adamson and Ted V. Mikels did it to perfection in the 60s and 70s, although in fairness, a few of their films clicked.

Anyway, a guy named Bill Rebane started this film, but soon gave up. Cult film director Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs) bought up the unfinished movie, I presume added a few scenes and tacked on the title Monster a Go Go to try and cash in on the '60s youth movement. Except even Lewis couldn't put his name on this turkey. He used the pseudonym Sheldon Seymour. Avoid it like the plague.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos: Directed in 1972 by John Waters, this film was a huge hit on the midnight movie circuit of the 1970s. The film concerns a transvestite mother named Divine who lives in a rundown trailer park outside of Baltimore, with her son Crackers and her mother Eddy "The Egg Lady," who lives in a child's playpen and eats raw eggs.

Divine's family call themselves "The Filthiest People Alive." Watching "Pink Flamingos" is like viewing an episode of "The Osbournes" on MTV. No matter what dysfunctional problems your family may have, "The Filthiest People Alive" have it much, much worse. This is a recurring theme in many of Waters' films, such as "Female Trouble," "Polyester" and "Serial Mom."
(Originally published in the Standard-Examiner)
-- Steve Stones

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: The Omega Man

"The Omega Man." Long before Will Smith and the 2007 film "I am Legend" hit movie screens, Richard Matheson's novel was filmed as "The Omega Man" in 1971. This is the second screen adaptation of his novel "I Am Legend."

Biological warfare has wiped out life on Earth, and lone survivor and scientist Robert Neville, played by Charlton Heston, is forced to forage the streets of Los Angeles in search of supplies. Neville holes up in his high-rise apartment at night, as plague-stricken zombies try to force him out of his "honky paradise." The film is appealing because the ending gives us hope that, regardless of what disasters mankind faces, there will always be a way to start over again and continue the human race.

Fans of the 2007 film "I Am Legend" must see this film, and the first screen adaptation made in 1964, appropriately titled: "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price.
(Originally published in the Standard-Examiner)

-- Steve Stones

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Get ready for "THE SKELETON' DANCE!"

Thanks to Jennifer Thorsted of Colorado for letting us know about this vintage gem of early cartoon creepiness!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

THE CREEPING TERROR: Attack of the giant carpet remnant.

By Steve Stones

Someone once said that The Creeping Terror makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. I’m not sure if I necessarily agree with that statement, but any self-respecting film critic will tell you that The Creeping Terror ranks in their list of top five worst films of all time. The Golden Turkey Awards, a book written by Harry and Michael Medved in 1980, has helped to catapult The Creeping Terror into cult status over the last thirty years or so.

Martin Gordon and his new bride Brett are returning home to Angel County, California after a two-week long honeymoon. Gordon’s uncle is the county sheriff, and Martin serves as his senior deputy. The sheriff receives a call to investigate the crash of a space rocket. Martin and Brett join him in the investigation. The group arrives at the crash site to see a space rocket covered with trees and undergrowth, as if the rocket has been there for a long time. They also find the hat of Ben’s junior deputy Jeff lying outside of the rocket. Jeff was killed while entering the rocket. The sheriff crawls under the rocket to investigate and is attacked and killed by an unseen creature inside who growls like a lion.

What follows for the rest of the film is a series of attacks by a monster that looks like a giant piece of carpet remnant with vacuum pipes sticking out of its head. The monster attacks a group of picnickers, a youth dance hall, a grandfather fishing with his grandson in a stream, a couple making out under a tree, and a mother hanging her laundry on a clothesline. Each victim stares longingly at the creature without any attempt to run or quickly get away from it. Some of the victims even shove themselves into the opening of the creature, which is presumably the mouth.

One scene in the dance hall shows a pair of sexy legs wearing nylons and high heels sticking out of the opening of the monster as if she shoved herself into the creature after it entered the dance hall. A girl making out with her boyfriend in a bikini under a tree willingly shoves herself into the creature as it hovers above her without allowing the creature to incapacitate her before it tries to eat her.

What really makes the film drag is the voice over narration throughout the entire film. The narrator sounds like many of the boring, monotone narrators of the sex education scare films we were forced to watch in junior high school to scare us into never having pre-marital or unprotected sex. Apparently the folks who worked on this film somehow lost the soundtrack to it, so many of the sequences of dialogue between actors is missing. This is why the boring narration was added later. Some scenes show actors together not talking, yet we hear a dubbed in sound of their voices to indicate that they are supposed to be talking to each other. Very strange indeed.

Every time I view this film, I can’t help but ask myself a number of questions concerning the lack of logic in the film. For example, in the dance hall scene, the viewer is treated to sequences of dancers on the dance floor shaking their booty, then continuous close up shots of the monster’s head outside the dance hall near some trees. Suddenly, by some strange force of magic, the monster appears in the dance hall, and the dancers start to panic. One girl shouts, “My God, what is it?” How the giant monster even got through the doors of the dance hall is anyone’s guess? He could barely fit in the space rocket, let along squeeze through the doors of a dance hall gymnasium. This adds to the unintentional humor of the film.

An opening sequence in the film shows a grainy stock footage shot of the launching of a space rocket played in reverse to indicate to the viewer that the shot is supposed to be the rocket crashing. This is another unintentionally funny sequence in the film.

The most ridiculous and funny sequence is near the end. A group of military soldiers slowly walk up to the creature and pretends to be firing their rifles into it. They pretend to jerk backward with the recoil of their guns, but it looks fake and unconvincing. Some of the guns even look like wood cut outs.

Not only has the Medved brothers’ book The Golden Turkey Awards helped to stir up interest in The Creeping Terror in recent years, but the book also nominated The Creeping Terror for the category of The Most Ridiculous Monster in Screen History. Unfortunately, the Ro-Man monster
in Robot Monster won that category, but if my vote ever counted, I would place it for the monster in The Creeping Terror or the giant sheep monster in God Monster of Indian Flats. However, that does not mean that I’m not a fan of The Creeping Terror.

Like fine wine, The Creeping Terror gets better with age and multiple viewings. It’s not a film that would ever make it into anyone’s list of “must-see” or best film categories. If you’re a fan of bad and obscure films, then you must seek out The Creeping Terror. Watch it on a double bill with Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Beast of Yucca Flats and you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book review: Ed Wood, Mad Genius

Review by Doug Gibson
(Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films, by Rob Craig, 2009, McFarland, Jefferson, N.C., 306 pages, and (800) 253-2187. The reviewer received a review copy from McFarland.)
Although some fans of Ed Wood may take issue with me, I think Woodmania has gone through four distinct phases:
The first was the "tiny cult" phase, as Wood fan Fred Olen Ray described it. This was the pre-Medved era, where small groups of fans would stay up late to watch "Bride of the Monster" or "Plan 9 From Outer Space" on Movies 'till Dawn. On NYC's 42nd Street, Wood's mysteriously delirious "Glen Or Glenda" would play at midnight on the weekends to surprisingly full houses. This is where Wood pop biographer Rudolph Grey first witnessed a Wood film. I myself first caught Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" on LA's Channel 9's Movies Till Dawn about 30 years ago. It was followed by "The Creeping Terror." (What a delightful double feature!)
The second Woodmania phase was the early '80s Medved-inspired "Golden Turkey Awards" smarmy hysteria, which lifted Ed Wood into the pop culture consciousness. Wood became famous, but his films were mocked with deliberate glee. "Bad" film festivals featuring Wood films popped up everywhere. Long-forgotten Wood associates such as Vampira, Conrad Brooks, and Paul Marco were lifted out of obscurity and into second careers. Wealthy Wood fan Wade Williams paid a long overdue editing lab bill and rescued Wood's "lost" film "Night of the Ghouls" from probable destruction. There were a few perceptive critics, such as Danny Peary, author of Cult Films, who saw more than just easy-to-mock foolishness in Wood's films during this time, but most of us laughed at Wood, and the early documentaries on his life, such as "The Incredibly Strange Film Show," were mostly condescending and disrespectful.
The third Woodian phase occurred in the 1990s and lasted into the early years of the new century. It was the Wood-as-tragedy era and it included Grey's respectful oral biography, "Nightmare of Ecstasy," There were also the much-celebrated Tim Burton film, "Ed Wood," and two feature-length film documentaries on "Plan 9" and Wood's career, Web sites that celebrated Wood's work sprang up, and there was the emergence of a tiny film journal, "Cult Movies Magazine," that treated Wood with genuine respect. Also, small printing presses, such as Four Walls Eight Windows, began to re-print Wood's pulp novels from the '60s. You could actually go into a Barnes & Noble and buy "Death of a Tranvestite." That era faded away; Wood's novels left bookstores and Cult Movies Magazine folded. But Wood's cult remained strong enough to survive.
And that brings us to the fourth and current phase of Woodmania -- Ed Wood-as-literary-and-film-criticism fodder. Yes, it's true -- Wood's work is of interest to the learned. Rob Craig's "Ed Wood: Mad Genius" is an extremely detailed and provocative academic criticism of just about all of Wood's film work, whether, director, writer or adviser, the author is able to track down. It's a fascinating read for Woodphiles, but I wouldn't recommend it for Wood beginners. The book can be very ponderous at times. It defines dreary academic prose at times. Due to its depth, though, I wouldn't be surprised if "Ed Wood: Mad Genius" makes it onto the reading list in institutes of higher learnings' film studies classes.
Truth be told, there's a lot of academic folly in "Ed Wood: Mad Genius." It's tough to swallow Craig's claims that Wood's low porno is full of deliberate jabs against male-female relationships. The sad truth is Wood's porno efforts were only concerned with meeting male sexual fantasies. There's nothing to deconstruct. The actors have no clothes. And the book veers into silliness with its claims that "Plan 9" heroine "Paula Trent" is coyly suggesting to her worried, sexist pilot husband "Jeff" that she may engage in adultery or masturbation while he's gone flying in the "wild blue yonder."
But literary and film criticism are full of "throw-every-theory-in-including-the-kitchen-sink" approaches. The Wood fan who plows through the denser parts will encounter observations on Wood's films that are fascinating, unique and indeed, at times on-target. Take "Glen Or Glenda," for example. Craig accurately cites it as Wood's most personal/political film, but he also draws comparisons on psychiatrist Carl Jung's theories of the destructive conflict that can arise when the inner self competes with the outer self. That is at the heart of "Glen's" dilemma with fiance "Barbara." Through Wood's film and a comparison of his early years, Craig also presents a good case that the film is a harsh criticism of Wood's mother for raising him to prefer women's clothing.
Critic Peary opined that Wood made his films so ridiculous as a means to mask his provocative personal and political statements that were really too extreme for the conservative 1950s. If his films were more understandable, Peary argued, they'd never get shown. Take "Plan 9," which Peary saw as a brave critique of the 1950s U.S. military buildup. But Craig interestingly takes that theory a step further and argues that Wood used many of the tactics of minimalist director/producer Bertolt Brecht. The ridiculous special effects and sets in films such as "Plan 9," "Jail Bait," "Bride of the Monster," and "Night of the Ghouls," may have had a lot more thought attached to them than we previously thought. They unconsciously create a believable scenario for the audience through the surrealistic, almost agitprop-like sets. The bizarre dialogue of a Wood film creates a dream-like state -- almost a dream world, unique to the viewer.
Rather than be considered a joke, Wood is closer to a Luis Bunuel in his ability to suspend our normal world and draw us into a cinematic other-world for an hour and a half.
Craig makes a strong case that Wood used the absurdity of Brechtian theater to seduce the audience into accepting his alternate reality that was on the screen. Wood's characters, the dolt Kelton the Cop, the drunk in the police station, Lobo the monster, the military men in "Plan 9," etc., the dysfunctional nuclear family, existed in their own world or time, separate from our realities. There's never a clear evidence in a Wood film where something is occurring, or even if it is occurring in our world. If we take these Brechtian ideas, Craig argues, it's easy to accept that night and day intermix so often in Plan 9, or that a photo enlarger in "Bride" can be an atomic growth machine, or that the very, very low-budget, slapped together "Night of the Ghouls" can be as fascinating as "Waiting for Godot" in its bewildering minimalism.
There are other examples of the singular, alternative universe of a Wood film. Until reading Craig's book, I had not realized that Wood's "Jail Bait" occurs only at night, or that Wood's "The Sinister Urge" has detectives who both rail against and obsessively look at the criminal pornography. We need to watch these films more than once to notice this, or to note that "Plan 9" has a lot of dialogue that bravely attacks the popular 50s conservative military buildup jargon. For all his slapdash, low-budget, one-lung procedures, Wood, Craig argues, deliberately created a different world for his viewers, no matter how pitifully few were in theater audiences when his films were released. This alternative universe, mixed with the provocative ideals espoused in the cross-dressing "Glen Or Glenda" or bizarre sci-fi tale "Plan 9," guaranteed that a long-time, never-ending Wood cult would eventually form and not go away. How could it? His film are pleasant narcotics for his devotees.
Indeed, the strongest argument for Craig's alternate universe theory is the iron hold Wood's films have on viewers 50-plus years later. Other low-budget sci-fi horror hodgepodges of the 50s don't have this hold, no matter if they are occasionally watched fondly by genre fans. Ten minutes of "Bride of the Monster," that Craig accurately pegs as an homage to the Bela Lugosi Monogram films of the 1940s, are more interesting than any film Roger Corman ever directed.
That's simply a fact.
While reviewing this book, I watched six Wood films, "Glen," "Jail Bait," "Bride," Plan 9, " "Night of..." and "Sinister Urge." I noted the critiques of Craig, and I witnessed many of his observations in "Ed Wood, Mad Genius." Craig's book, which throws in hundreds of critical theories, some wild, some sound, regarding Wood, his movies and screenplays, (the book is very thorough) is worth having because it offers unique, important ideas about Wood that are new ideas.
The truth is we have not plumbed the depths of our Ed Wood obsession. There is a new criticism book of his novels and short stories, "Muddled Mind," that has been published. There's room for more critiques of Wood, and Craig is right in saying that despite Grey's very interesting oral bio of the director (1924-1978) we are still waiting for a definitive biography of Wood.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Unearthly!

The Unearthly
The Unearthly, 1957, Director: Brooke L. Peters; Cast includes John Carradine, Tor Johnson, Allison Hayes, Myron Healey; About 75 minutes in most prints. *******1/2 out of 10 stars on the Schlock-Meter

The Unearthly boasts Ed Wood’s giant Tor Johnson among its cast, which automatically bumps it up a star or two on the Schlock-Meter. The tale is pretty standard fare for 1950s sci-fi/horror filmdom; Mad scientist John Carradine uses unsuspecting patients to try and graft on a “17th gland,” which the “good” doctor hopes will create eternal life. The problem is, all of the previous human guinea pigs he’s tried the gland procedure on have turned up mentally impaired and deformed. They exist -- a pretty motley bunch -- in the basement.

Pretty Allison Hayes is Carradine’s next intended victim, but she’s saved by Myron Healey, who plays an undercover cop who infiltrates Carradine’s sanitarium pretending to be a killer on the lam. Don’t you love these convoluted plots. Anyway, it’s up to Healey to save the day, since the patients of Carradine are too dense to realize that their ranks are shrinking rapidly.

Surprisingly, Carradine makes a pretty effective bad guy in this low-budget offer. He’s more subtle, resisting the urge to revert to his usual “over-the-top” overacting. The few times Carradine raises his voice in anger, his sinister side is effectively revealed. Tor Johnson, as Carradine’s hulking helper, is actually allowed a few lines of garbled dialogue. There are a few shots of Allison Hayes in a low cut nightgown, which must have a excited quite a few movie-going boys just entering puberty in 1957.

Some of the more glaring inconsistencies include: The sanitarium appears to be located in a secluded, out-of-the-way site, but it only takes the police a couple of minutes to arrive when called; none of the “patients” of Carradine’s doctor appear too concerned that Tor Johnson’s grotesque “Lobo” is on the staff; also, it’s amusing to see characters feign the effects of being shot in the stomach without any blood or bullet holes showing up.
The Unearthly is definitely worth a rental, if just to see one of the few films Tor Johnson made.
-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, November 1, 2009

THE APE MAN: Don’t monkey around with this movie!

By Steve Stones

Of all the roles Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi played in his career for low-budget studios, such as Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), this is the one role he is criticized for the most. That’s unfortunate because, as with all his roles, Lugosi really gets into his role of the Ape Man and takes the role very seriously. He even moves around hunched over like a monkey, swaying his arms back and fourth.

Directed by William Beaudine in 1943, The Ape Man stars Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster. Brewster has been conducting some unusual experiments on himself in his laboratory. These experiments have transformed him into a half ape, half human creature. An opening sequence in the film shows Lugosi in a cage with a gorilla, which is obviously another actor in a fur and rubber suit.

Brewster must obtain human spinal fluid to inject into himself in order to reverse the process of his ape transformation. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Jeff Carter, played by Wallace Ford, and his photographer Billie Mason, played by the lovely Louise Currie, arrive at the Brewster home to interview Mrs. Brewster and take pictures of her. Mrs. Brewster tells the reporters that the home is haunted, and plays a record of haunted sounds in the home.

Dr. Brewster becomes greatly upset by this as he secretly watches the interview from another room. Brewster then returns to his laboratory in anger, and throws glass beakers at the cage of the gorilla. This is one of the more priceless and unintentionally funny scenes of the film.

Another priceless scene in the film shows Brewster arriving at Dr. George Randall’s office in a coat and hat still looking like a half ape, half human creature. He brings the gorilla with him and demands the aide of Randall in helping him obtain human spinal fluid. Randall’s butler enters the office, and the gorilla kills him so that Brewster can extract his spinal fluid.

Carter later discovers a blurred image of Brewster standing behind Mrs. Brewster in a photo Mason took at the home. The photo makes Carter want to investigate the Brewster home once again.

After Carter’s second visit to the Brewster home, Dr. Brewster becomes anxious to obtain more spinal fluid to speed up his recovery. He leaves his laboratory with the gorilla to go on a murdering rampage to obtain the fluid from murder victims. Eventually the gorilla ends up killing Randall because he refuses to help Brewster obtain more spinal fluid.

It’s hard to believe that The Ape man was made only twelve years after Lugosi’s iconic performance in the 1931 Dracula. Unfortunately, Lugosi’s career was on a fast decline by the late 1930s as a result of being typecast after Dracula. This made it difficult for him to receive offers for roles in bigger budget films.

Like another horror actor of his time, John Carradine, Lugosi recognized that work is work, and he accepted and appreciated most of roles that came his way, playing them with dedicated professionalism. If there’s any actor who deserves great respect for his hard work, dedication and tenacity in the early days of the cinema, it is Bela Lugosi. Forget what critics have said over the years about The Ape Man and watch it anyway. You’re not likely to go ape over the film, but perhaps you may enjoy seeing Lugosi walking around imitating a monkey.

You can catch this film for free on various Net sites if you have high-speed Internet. Here's the trailer!