Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Dragons! Lugosi and World War II propaganda!

Black Dragons is probably Bela Lugosi's oddest C-movie cheapie, and let's face it, the competition is fierce. But, oh, how I love these old '40s gems. It's a Monogram film, made under its Banner Productions. I'm sure it played in LA and NYC street theaters and smaller cities and towns, perhaps paired with an East Side Kids flick?

But I digress: Black Dragons, 1942, directed by William Nigh, runs 64 B&W minutes and stars Lugosi as Dr. Melcher and Monsieur Colomb. He's a sinister guy who pops up just as a bunch of American industrialists are getting mysteriouslybumped off. There is also pretty Joan Barclay as the niece of a Dr. Saunders, who is all mixed up in whatever is going on. It's also fun to see future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore as an FBI agent.

Now, we have mysterious deaths, we have Lugosi. It's all set to be a horror, right ... ahem, no. This is 1942, the U.S. is at war with the Axis, and Monogram head honcho Sam Katzman saw money to be made by creating a combination thriller/WW2 propaganda anti-Japanese film. So that's what Black Dragons is, and it makes the film an interesting historical curio piece.

You see, these U.S. industrialists are Japanese spies, created through plastic surgery to look like the American industrialists. Lugosi was the Nazi-like surgeon who did all this in Japan ... and then was doublecrossed and thrown in prison. Somehow -- the film sort of glosses over this -- Lugosi escaped Japan and headed to the U.S. to get his revenge on the spies.

As I mentioned, I love these time-capsule films. Monogram was famous for its bizarre intricate plots that its ultra-low budgets just could never keep up with. They dissolve into fun nonsensical action. Lugosi is Lugosi in this film. He's wonderful, whether he's coyly flirting with starlet Barclay or cleverly and calmly dispatching his victims. And there's also that wonderful, ubiquitous menacing, Monogram music.

The boom of video and DVD plus public domain has made Black Dragons easy to find. It's often in the $1 DVD bin at Wal-Mart or in the 20- to 50-set public domain offerings. Those with broadband Internet can watch it free on the Net. Buy it and enjoy an hour's diversion into a different filmmaking existence.

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, July 26, 2010

From Hell It Came – Giant Tree Monster Attacks Native Tribe!

By Steve D. Stones

Harry and Michael Medved released a book in 1980 entitled: The Golden Turkey Awards – The Worst Achievements In Hollywood History. In the book, the Tabonga walking tree monster in the film From Hell It Came is nominated in the category of “The Most Ridiculous Monster In Screen History.” The monster that wins in this category is Ro-Man, the gorilla with a scuba helmet, from Robot Monster.

Although the Tabonga monster is quite ridiculous, the film is still a lot of fun to watch. It would make a great double feature with Giant From The Unknown or Godmonster of Indian Flats.

A group of American scientists are conducting secret government experiments on a remote Pacific Island. The natives of the island grow fearful of the scientists and their experiments. They capture one of the Americans named Kimo and sacrifice him by driving a stake through his heart. Before his death, Kimo warns the natives that he will come back from the dead to avenge his death. He is buried in an upright grave with the stake still in his chest.

Soon, a giant tree monster begins to grow out of Kimo’s grave. The scientists discover the tree has a heartbeat and is radioactive. The tree is uprooted and begins to attack the natives.

Like the giant carpet shag monster in The Creeping Terror, victims of the Tabonga seem to intentionally fall to the ground to allow the creature to attack them. This adds to some of the unintentional humor of the film. Seeing pulsating tree bark as the creature’s heartbeat is also quite humorous. Rubbery, flimsy limbs of the creature flap in the wind as he walks around attacking the natives. The creature even has giant nostrils and big beady eyes, resembling something from a child’s nightmare. This is one fun movie! Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Bury The Living: Black Pins Seal Your Fate

By Steve D. Stones

This taut psychological horror film could just about rival any Alfred Hitchcock thriller of the same era. The film stars Richard Boone in the role of retail store President Bob Kraft. Kraft has been appointed by members of his family to help manage part time a local cemetery as a service to the community.

A large map of the cemetery is on display in the cemetery office. In the map, black colored pins are stuck in plots representing those who have passed on. White pins on the map represent those who are still living, but have a plot reserved for the future.

One day Kraft accidentally sticks two black pins in a plot reserved for a recently married young couple. The couple turn up dead the next day, having died in a car crash.

Kraft’s next victim is a toy maker named William Isham. Kraft randomly sticks a black pin in the map reserved for Isham. Isham is reported dead later that day.

To prove Kraft is not insane, the cemetery committee demands that he put black pins in the reserved plots of each of the members. One by one, each committee member turns up dead.

Various scenes in I Bury The Living are reminiscent of silent era German-Expressionist films. For example, as Kraft slowly begins to lose his mind in the cemetery office, the map on the wall slowly gets bigger and bigger. The map finally becomes so large that it nearly consumes the entire room, as Kraft puts a gun to his head to commit suicide. The map becomes a symbol of Kraft’s insane mind, much like the unstable, angular environments seen in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari representing the insane mind of the protagonist Francis.

A local Utah cable channel – channel 9 The Utah Education Network, has featured I Bury The Living a number of times on their Sci-Fi Friday program, which airs every Friday at 9 p.m. A big thumbs up for I Bury The Living! Watch the trailer above!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vincent Price in The Tower of London

By Doug Gibson

I absolutely love this low-budget 1962 gothic adaptation of Shakespeare (well, sort of) that stars Vincent Price as the mad wannabe king Richard who goes around slaughtering anyone who gets in his way, all the while dealing with those voices in his head and derisive laughter only he can hear.

It's directed by Roger Corman, who can stretch a budget as far as it can go without snapping. The black and white adds to the grim mood. There are some chilling scenes. A young maiden is tortured to death on a stretching rack. A man is murdered when a cage with a hungry rat is placed over his head. The scenes of a climatic battle that leads to Richard's death are from the 1939 Tower of London, a fine adaptation starring Boris Karloff.

I want to spend a little time on star Vincent Price's performance. A characteristic of Price's is he can be truly evil while keeping his tongue in his cheek. In Tower, he is clearly mad, and carries a confused, pained expression on his face. It's excellent acting. The audience almost wants to feel sorry for a suffering madman doomed to defeat, but he's simply too evil to care about.

A great film, easy to find on TV or buy. Also stars Michael Pate, Joan Freeman and Sandra Knight. It's fast-paced at 79 minutes.

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Crawling Eye: Attack of The Giant One-Eyed Creatures

 By Steve D. Stones Released in 1958, The Crawling Eye was also entitled The Trollenberg Terror in many European markets. The film was a companion feature with another British film – The Cosmic Monsters. Both films cast American actor Forrest Tucker in the leading role. While traveling on a train in route to Mt. Tollenberg in the Swiss Alps, Tucker meets two young sisters who are part of a clairvoyant stage act. One of the sisters, played by Janet Munroe, has ESP and insists on getting off the train at the Trollenberg Station. She senses strange activities happening on the mountain. Tucker accompanies the two sisters to their hotel and later travels up to the mountaintop to meet a scientist friend who is conducting experiments in a bomb proof laboratory. Scientists in the laboratory conclude that a strange radioactive force is causing clouds to move in unnatural ways around the mountaintop. Meanwhile, climbers on the Trollenberg Mountain are turning up missing and some are found decapitated. Munro is able to see their fate before it happens. The climax of the film shows the radioactive clouds covering the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, and then the clouds quickly travel up the mountain to the laboratory. The hotel occupants and scientists hide out in the laboratory as giant one-eyed creatures with long tentacles attack them. Tucker radios in jet fighters with bombs to destroy the creatures. Although this film is a much more technically superior film than the Cosmic Monsters, I recommend viewing The Crawling Eye with its companion film - The Cosmic Monsters. Tucker also starred in another great monster movie that same year in 1958 – The Abominable Snowman of The Himalayas, which was produced by Hammer Studios of England. This time Tucker teams up with the great British actor Peter Cushing. The punk rock band The Misfits recorded a song in 1999 inspired by The Crawling Eye. Watch out for those Crawling Eye creatures!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

All About Zombies on Broadway

Zombies on Broadway, 69 minutes, B&W, RKO. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Starring Wally Brown as Jerry Miles, Alan Carney as Mike Streger, Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Renault, Anne Jeffreys as Jean LaDance, Sheldon Leonard as Ace Miller and Darby Jones as Kolaga, the Zombie. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

This is an enjoyable 1940s B movie with Brown and Carney, RKO's version of Abbott and Costello, as PR hustlers announcing that a new NYC nightclub, The Zombie Hut, will open with a real zombie. To them it's just a gag, but toughman mob owner Leonard tells them to come up with a zombie or else. That sends the boys to the island of San Sebastian where, with the help of a beautiful dancer (Jeffreys), the boys overcome a zombie creating mad scientist (Lugosi) and return with a zombie.

The cast is wonderful. Comedians Brown and Carney do a passable imitation of Abbott and Costello. Carney plays Costello, while Brown is the AbboTt clone who ends up with the strikingly beautiful Jeffreys. Leonard is menacing in his stock role as gangster hood. Thrown in for atmosphere is Darby Jones, who bugs his eyes out as impressively as he did in Val Lewton's classic I Walked With a Zombie. The film moves at a fast, easy pace. Lugosi is suitably conniving as the mad scientist and there's a fun twist ending.

RKO had high hopes for ex-vaudeville performers Carney and Brown, but they never seriously threatened Abbott and Costello at the box office. Still, they made several amusing B features and fading horror star Lugosi appeared in two, the other being One Body Too Many. This seldom-seen-today film is a must for Lugosi fans and those who enjoy the old 1940s B programmers.

-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Gold Raiders: The Stooges Go West!

By Doug Gibson

"The Gold Raiders," 1951, B&W, 56 minutes, directed by Edward Bernds, starring George O'Brien as "George O'Brien," The Three Stooges, Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard, Lyle Talbot as Taggert, Sheila Ryan as Laura Mason and Clem Bevans as Doc Mason.

This "oater" is a curio, mainly because it features the Three Stooges in supporting roles. The very short B-film stars silent and early talkie cowboy film star George O'Brien as a lawman turned insurance man hired by mining companies to get their gold safely to the bank. Crime boss Lyle Talbot wants to steal the gold. He tries to get information on where the gold is being taken from a drunken old doctor (Bevans) who, with his stooped figure and drawling voice, is made for westerns.

The Three Stooges play bumbling peddlers who ally with O'Brien to keep the gold safe. Gold Raiders is an OK film. It's nothing special from the hundreds of other "oaters" made in Hollywood but an aging O'Brien does an OK job shooting and fighting. Talbot, who starred in Ed Wood films, is a good villain and the Stooges are funny.

Director Bernds, who helmed many Stooge shorts and later some features, told Cult Movies Magazine that Moe Howard was envious of Abbott and Costello and wanted to get into features. The result was Gold Raiders, an almost forgotten film today that was meant more as a comeback vehicle for O'Brien. Bernds recalled that the film was trashed by critics but, in my opinion, it really isn't too bad. Its main handicap is an abysmally low budget. It was shot in five days and looks it. One unintentionally funny scene includes a close-range shootout in a cramped saloon where almost no one seems to get shot. The film is also unique in that it may be the only western ever made where an insurance man is a two-fisted, gunslinging hero!

Despite the obscurity of Gold Raiders, the Stooges later made several features where they were the stars, including The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, Snow White and the Three Stooges and The Outlaws is Coming. Truth is, though, I enjoy the lean and mean Gold Raiders more than any of the later bigger-budget efforts. The Stooges are more effective as comedy relief, rather than the main components of a film

Notes: The makeup for Gold Raiders was done by Ed Wood regular Harry Thomas. Gold Raiders was released by United Artists but plans for a sequel with the Stooges and O'Brien were abandoned. The film was released to TV several years later and then sat for decades forgotten until 2006 when Warner Brothers released it on DVD. It can be bought via