Saturday, September 29, 2012

Blog log notes from Doug Gibson and Steve Stones

By Doug Gibson

One particularly fine possession I have is a 1960s-era long-playing vinyl of Disneyland's "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." Frankly, I'm not sure my record would work; it has scratches. Hence, I own an MP3 of the album. But I miss the scratchy hoary ambiance of "Chilling, Thrilling that I used to hear, until I discovered exactly that on YouTube.

As the Halloween season starts, enjoy that classic Disney Halloween tape, as it was meant to be enjoyed (above).

Thanks to TCM, watched hours and hours of classic early comedy shorts. Besides enjoying the best of well-known comics such as Laurel & Hardy and W.C. Fields, happily revisited the works of Harry Lngdon, Ben Turvin, Andy Clyde, Billy Bevan ...

Thanks to Steve, I have an old Goodtimes VHS copy of Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. I may review it soon. It's an amusing multi-murder mystery that is mostly Lou's show, as a bumbling bellhop. Karloff plays a red-herring swami in the flick. His performance is uninspired, as if he couldn't be bothered to go all out on a comedy. As usual, it never occurred to the idiot suits running Universal in 1949 to cast Lugosi in the title role. Bela had just re-energized Abbott and Costello's career with his great turn as Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But the studio ignores Bela and hands a fat acting fee to Karloff, who couldn't be bothered to reprise his role in "... Frankenstein.'' Meanwhile, Lugosi's forced to scratch a living in summer stock and spook shows.

Sixty-plus years later, the only delayed consolation for Bela is that "... Meet the Killer" remains obscure. ad Lugosi been in it, his usual great performance would have made it a more popular option today.

We reviewed W.C. Field's great short, The Dentist, earlier this week. To end this post, here's a fragment section, courtesy of YouTube, of Fields in "A Mormon's Prayer," a silent from 1928.

Friday, September 28, 2012

W.C. Fields, The Dentist and an homage to a stag film

By Doug Gibson

I had the opportunity to watch, again, this pretty fun 1932 Sennett comedy short, "The Dentist," starring W. C. Fields as a gruff, eccentric dentist and his travails with his daughter, who loves the ice man, his golf game, as well as some golf buddies and life in the dentist's office interacting with his pretty nurse and a few eccentric patients.

As mentioned, Fields is great. Only Fields can wave away concern about patient's pain with lines such as, "Oh, to hell with her," or "Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?" This is a film made just before the dreaded Hayes Code restricted Hollywood fare to a G rated-type fare. "The Dentist" is PG fare, with Field's mild growling, suggestive sarcasm, and in one particular one very sexually suggestive scene where dentist Fields burrows himself deep between a lady patient's very wide, very bare legs in order to force a tooth extraction. (A portion of the scene is shown above). The lady patient is played by willowly, Elise Cavanna, and she sort of looks like a sexier version of Carol Burnett. Although Fields' character has no romantic intentions, the scene is definitely played as a sexual satire. Cavanna's groans of pain contain more than a hint of passion, and after the tooth is extracted, she lies back in the chair, limbs splayed, with a countenance that hints of "afterglow."

I have recently learned that the scene between Fields and Cavanna was indeed a sexual spoof. It was a based on a popular stag film of the 1920s, called, "The Slow Fire Dentist." In the film, a dentist and a lady patient take things a good deal further than Fields and Cannova. It's an interesting bit of film history and, as mentioned, it's a good bet "The Dentist" would never have been allowed to be screened had it been made a couple of years later.

Rumor has it that there's an even spicier version of "The Dentist" out there but I suspect the Turner Classic Movies print, which is shown at least once a year, is complete. The 20-minute film was directed by Leslie Pearce. If one wants to see Fields at his best in a feature film, I suggest 1934's "It's a Gift."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Carnival of Souls – A True “Cult Classic.”

By Steve D. Stones

The cult status of this 1962 low-budget film can never be overstated. A 1989 theatrical re-release with restored missing footage brought it out of TV obscurity and back into the public spotlight. Director George Romero credits this film as inspiration for his 1968 film - Night of The Living Dead. The film continues to influence up and coming horror directors. It is an exercise in psychological horror, avoiding any graphic horror imagery.

Young Mary Henry, played by Candace Hilligoss, races across a Lawrence, Kansas bridge with friends when their car plunges into a river, killing all passengers in the car. Mary emerges hours later from the river, with no recollection of the accident. To forget the terrible accident and rebuild her life, Mary moves to Utah to take a job as a church organist. During her travels, she encounters strange zombie like creatures who haunt her in her dreams and in reality. One of the zombies is director Herk Harvey, who appears to be the most convincing and creepy zombie. He even appears in an empty church with Mary as she practices on the organ.

The zombies continue to haunt her as she flees a department store in down town Salt Lake City, running sporadically in front of the Salt Lake LDS Temple visitor’s center. While boarding a bus, she encounters a large group of zombies in black gowns. She finds herself drawn to an old fairgrounds carnival, the Saltair Fairgrounds west of Salt Lake. While wandering around the fairgrounds, the zombies chase after her, but don’t seem intent on harming her or eating her for lunch. The film ends with a tow truck pulling the crashed car from the Lawrence, Kansas river. Mary is still in the car with her friends.  All the girls are deceased.  

The most effective aspect of this film is the exploration of the fine line between life and death. The eerie organ music heightens the creepy feeling of the film. A Wade Williams print of Carnival of Souls shows a green tinted sequence of Hilligoss walking down a narrow alley as a van nearly runs her over. Other prints restore a conversation sequence between Hilligoss’ land lady and a psychiatrist. A cheap VHS print of the film distributed in the mid-1980s by Goodtimes Video shows the title sequence of the film as – Corridors of Evil. Avoid this print at all costs. Happy Viewing!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bela Lugosi recites Poe's The Tell Tale Heart

By Doug Gibson

Above is a fantastic treat for horror film fans, a recording of the late, great Bela Lugosi reciting Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart." It's brought courtesy of YouTube, posted by a cool-sounding person named "thezombiecheerleader," who provided great graphics to go along with Lugosi's recitation. Only several hundred people have surfed to this page; it deserves far more viewers.

The poster put together a great picture to add color to the story. According to Lugosi biographer Arthur Lennig in "The Immortal Count," the above tape was discovered in the past generation by cult film historian Lee Harris, who passed it onto former Cult Movies magazine editor Buddy Barnett, who now edits Mondo Cult. Anyway, Barnett shared it with Lennig.

Probably recorded in 1947 or by Lugosi with his then-agent Don Marlowe, it's not a professional recording, although conducted at WCAX in Burlington, Vt.. There is no background music or end pieces. My guess is that Lugosi was practicing for his spook show that would include his storytelling of the Poe tale. He does a great job, never losing a sinister edge and slowly, just like Poe's tale, losing his sanity and composure as the tale unfolds. The final 30 seconds of The Tell Tale Heart (and please watch it) are a marvelous as Lugosi exudes passion and fear as his voice breaks with emotion.

Lennig downplays the history of Lugosi's "The Tell Tale Heart" bookings, writing that the show appeared "in such obscure places that the dates it played remain lost and it quickly folded because of its meager drawing power."

That's not quite true. Further research, revealed in the new book, "No Traveler Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi," by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger, confirm that "The Tell Tale Heart" show didn't last very long but it had significant performances, was accompanied with press coverage and media ads. The show opened in Rockford, Ill., in late 1947 to a large crowd -- 1,500 -- at The Coronado theater in Rockford. Lugosi was interviewed by the Rockford Morning Star. The Poe play, which was accompanied by a Lugosi film ("Dracula" was the co-feature in Wisconsin) eventually planned a moves to Minnesota and Michigan. "There are graphics of vintage newspaper ads about Lugosi "Tell Tale Heart" play.

Unfortunately, despite the great start, the play's success declined rapidly. Marlowe, who was notorious for flashy starts and low future cash, had booked obscure theaters and lesser Lugosi co-features, such as "Spooks Run Wild" and "The Return of the Ape Man". Profits disappeared -- it's reported that Marlowe had promised Bela $2,000 a week -- and by early December future showings were cancelled. "No Traveler Returns" writes that on Dec. 10, Lugosi had signed for $1,250 a week to do vaudeville.

In all, it appears that Lugosi performed his "The Tell Tale Heart" show at most 8 times, perhaps a few more. History is murky. As the the above recitation shows, preserved on the Net, he was more than up to the task.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teenage Caveman – Corman’s Least Effective Film

By Steve D. Stones

The problem with most cave men movies is that they portray women as curvaceous cuties with make-up and well groomed hair, and men with barbershop haircuts and Harvard accents. Roger Corman’s 1958 film – Teenage Caveman is difficult to take seriously because of this problem. Actor Robert Vaughn even called it “the worst movie of all time,” and never includes it on his resume of films he has starred in. The one thing going for Teenage Caveman is that it uses the bizarre monster costume seen in Bernard Kowalski’s 1958 film – Night of The Blood Beast.

Vaughn plays a bored teenager (in case you didn’t know already, even though he was well into his 20s when this film was made), who breaks the law of his tribe and wanders beyond the river in search of “the God whose touch kills.” In his first attempt, the tribe sentences him to death, but does not follow through with the sentence. Vaughn tries a second time, and confronts the monster known as “the God whose touch kills.” The monster is killed and revealed to be a caveman from another tribe in a costume attempting to scare off Vaughn’s tribe from traveling beyond the river.

When the monster is unmasked, Vaughn discovers a book inside the costume with images from the 20th century, such as a picture of an atomic explosion, the United Nations building in New York, and two military men shaking hands. We then realize that Vaughn and his tribe are not prehistoric men, but surviving members of a post-holocaust, post-nuclear war society. Maybe that accounts for their clean cut haircuts and fluent use of the English language?

Some accounts of this film have suggested that its original title was – I Was A Teenage Caveman, to cash in on the success of the 1957 Michael Landon film – I Was A Teenage Werewolf. However, no one has ever been able to verify this claim. In his autobiography – How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood & Never Lost A Dime, director Roger Corman mentions that the original title of Teenage Caveman was Prehistoric World, and was shot at Bronson Canyon above Los Angeles in just ten days for $70,000. The sequences of prehistoric monsters fighting each other is taken from an early 40s caveman movie – One Million B.C.  Happy viewing!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Voodoo Man - a non-convoluted Lugosi Monogram film

By Doug Gibson

I really like 1944's Monogram film, "Voodoo Man," the last film Bela Lugosi starred in for Sam Katzman's Monogram/Banner film company. It was released, however, prior to the earlier Lugosi film, The Return of the Ape Man. I love all of the Monogram Lugosi films, the wild plots, the very low budgets, the dank lighting, the dreary non-horror leads, the typed-last-night dialogue. "Voodoo Man" for a long time was not seen as much as other Lugosi Monograms, and it took a while years ago to find and buy. However, with the Net generation, you can watch it above courtesy of YouTube. Still, I never see it on Turner Classic Movies or other television, even today.

That's too bad, because it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall). In typical Monogram nonsensical fashion, he lures his prey (and he has a home full of zombie-like beautiful women) with the help of a service station owner, George Zucco, who sends the girls to Lugosi via a roadblock. Lugosi, watching them on that newfangled thing called a television transmitter, sends an electrical ray that stops their cars. At that point, two moronic but relatively gentle henchmen, played by John Carradine and Frank Moran, kidnap the lovelies and take them to Dr. Marlowe's lair, where Zucco, a high priest to the God, Ramboona, attempts to transfer their lives to Marlowe's "dead" wife.

OK, you're wondering why I call this non-convoluted. My only defense is to recount the other Lugosi Monogram plots but I don't have 100 pages to do so. ... Back to the film, a Hollywood screenwriter, Ralph Dawson, off to marry his sweetheart, is sent by his studio boss (named SK, an inside Sam Katzman joke) to write a screenplay about the missing girls, which has, not surprisingly generated a lot of news.

The film, 62 minutes long, moves swiftly and carries the viewer's interest. It may be outlandish, but it's never dull. Lugosi is, actually, a his biographer Arthur Lennig notes, a sympathetic character, despite his kidnappings. He's endured 22 years of his wife's zombie-like state, and conveys his despair well. "Voodoo Man" has a dream cast, with Lugosi and Zucco together. It's a lot better than their other pairing, "Scared to Death." Carradine is cast out of type as one of the henchmen and has been criticized but I like his work in the film.He seems to be having fun and even manages to look creepy when he bangs the drums during the Ramboona God ceremonies. Moran, a former prizefighter, is good as his partner.

Monogram starlets Louise Currie and Wanda McKay are two of my favorites. Both are gorgeous and capable actresses who worked with Lugosi more than once. In fact, Katzman called Currie the low-budget Katharine Hepburn because of her striking beauty. Unlike most Monogram.Banner romantic male leads, who tend to be stiffs, Michael Ames' Ralph Dawson has energy and personality on the screen. He later changed his screen name to Tod Andrews and guest starred on both and early late Andy Griffith Show episodes, Veteran actor Henry Hall is well cast as the amusing sheriff and has a fun time saying "Gosh All Fishhooks!" when the script calls for it.

But the best, and perhaps most famous line, is delivered by Ames' Dawson in the film's epilogue. Handing the script to the producer, he turns to movie company's president and suggests a casting choice: "Why don't you get Bela Lugosi. It's right up his alley!"

It certainly was, but it was Lugosi's last Monogram film role. Initially, things looked better for Bela in 1944. He was in a higher-budget horror spoof, "One Body Too Many," for Fine Arts Productions and then signed a three-picture deal with RKO that included "The Body Snatcher." But his film career would dry up in the latter 1940s, and he only made two films in that decade after the RKO deal. One, fortunately, was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." As the decade progressed, most of his earnings would come barnstorming the country, on the stage in summer stock and other venues, usually performing as "Dracula" or as "Jonathan Brewster" in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Last Woman On Earth – Another Corman Quickie!

By Steve D. Stones

Actress Betsy Jones-Moreland gets caught in a love triangle in The Last Woman On Earth. She, her crooked husband obsessed with money and a young lawyer go scuba diving off the coast of Puerto Rico. When they surface from the waters of the ocean, they discover that the oxygen has been pulled out of the earth’s air, causing everyone to die. They survive by drawing air from their scuba tanks. Soon, the earth’s air returns, and the three are left to a world of dead bodies and decay. Jones-Moreland decides she has an attraction for the young lawyer (Edward Wain), and a battle to win her heart ensues between the husband and the lawyer.

Director Roger Corman had the reputation of quickly creating several films back to back to save time and money. He often employed many of the same actors and crew from film to film. He filmed The Last Woman On Earth back to back with Creature From The Haunted Sea. That film also featured beauty Betsy Jones-Moreland, Edward Wain (aka Robert Towne) and Anthony Carbone. Edward Wain is actually screenwriter Robert Towne, who went on to write the screenplay for Academy Award winning – Chinatown, starring another Corman stock actor – Jack Nicholson. Four years later in 1964, an Italian production crew created – The Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price, based on Richard Matheson’s book - I am Legend.

Sinister Cinema in Medford, Ore., sells a color print of The Last Woman On Earth in which at least two scenes are missing that can be seen in the black and white print, of which a YouTube print is shown above. These missing scenes show Betsy Jones-Moreland with much darker hair. I suspect the two missing scenes were edited from the color print because the change in hair color was apparent to viewers. Enjoy!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Sunday blog log: RIP Richard Sheffield

On Sundays at Plan9Crunch, Steve Stones and I (Doug Gibson) will offer a paragraph or two about books we've read, movies we plan to review and other news. Just I few hours ago I learned the sad news, via the Facebook page of Bela "Dracula" Lugosi, that Richard Sheffield has died suddenly at age 74. Richard was the co-author with Gary Don Rhodes of the excellent book, Dreams and Nightmares, (buy it here) that detailed Lugosi's final years. Richard, as a teen in Los Angeles, befriended the aging Lugosi and provided the movie star a lot of happiness in his final years. In fact, Sheffield was the last person to see Lugosi alive, visiting him a few hours prior to his death in August of 1956.

I just finished re-reading Arthur Lennig's great bio of Lugosi, "The Immortal Count," and earlier Saturday evening, had polished off the final few chapters, which are replete with tales of the teen Sheffield, and his pals, hanging out with Bela, his final wife, Hope, and Forrest Ackerman. I'm actually envious when I read of how Richard and Lugosi would spend evenings doing scenes from "Dracula," with Richard taking the Renfield role. ... Ironically, about a week ago I finished reading Don Rhodes latest Lugosi book, "The Forgotten Years," which deals with Lugosi's career in the last half of the 1940s, and is full of interesting, detailed information about his stage work in that time, including summer stock and spook shows.

If you want the best books about Lugosi, you can't go wrong with authors Lennig, Don Rhodes and Sheffield, as well as Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Rhodes, who wrote a fascinating account of Lugosi's 1951 "Dracula" stage tour in England as well as detailed recaps of his English films. ... Again, RIP Richard Sheffield, and enjoy your reunion with Bela!

Last week I watched the 1944 Bela Lugosi Monagram film "Voodoo Man" and plan to review it. I watched comedy shorts from the Stooges, Harry Langdon and Ben Turpin and hope to include those on the blog. I am awaiting via Amazon a couple of Lugosi films, the 1941 "The Black Cat" and the '40s "Night Monster," with an eye to review both soon. ... I was on vacation from the Standard-Examiner this week and the SE cartoonist and I enjoyed watching "Best Worst Movie," the tribute to "Troll 2." ... A week ago, Steve and I discussed Torture Dungeon; watch for a video soon!

-- Doug Gibson

Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Saint's Double Trouble" - Lugosi lite!

By Doug Gibson

At Plan9Crunch, our goal is to offer six blog posts a week, and Saturday's offering will usually be a shorter, two- or three-paragraphs offering. 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. I had never seen a "Saint" film before, but I plan to correct that. 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.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jail Bait, the Ed Wood film that missed Tim Burton's cut

Jail Bait, 1954, 72 minutes, Howco, B&W. Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Starring Lyle Talbot as Inspector John, Dolores Fuller as Marilyn Gregor, Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Boris Gregor, Steve Reeves as Lt. Bob Lawrence, Clancy Malone as Don Gregor, Timothy Farrell as Vic Brady, Theodora Thurman as Loretta, Bud Osborne as the night watchman, and Mona McKinnon as Miss Willis. Conrad Brooks has a cameo. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

Jail Bait is a cult film lover's delight. It's Ed Wood's first foray into crime pictures, and except for a very annoying musical score, it's not a half-bad film. Of course, it has Wood's mark of organized chaos, where he simply didn't have the budget to make this picture, but that just adds to the viewing fun. It's the film Ed Wood made in his heyday that Tim Burton did not include in his bio-pic "Ed Wood."

The plot concerns a young man gone bad from a nice family (Malone) and his sinister confederate in crime (Farrell, who really is good in the role). Malone is eventually killed by Farrell, who then takes the slain gangster's sister (Fuller) and father (Rawlinson) hostage. The dad is a plastic surgeon, and he has a few tricks up the sleeve for Farrell at the end of the film. Talbot and strongman Reeves (in his first film) play cops assigned to catch Malone and Farrell. Theodora Thurman, who was a top model in the 1950s, plays Farrell's moll.

The acting is, of course, weak, and Wood hurries through each scene, reflecting the tiny budget. But Wood's eccentric personality is on full display. Depending on which print you view, action is interrupted for a minstrel show or a very faded scene of a striptease. (my copy shows the striptease) Also the climax of the film takes place at a motel, where Wood stole shots. Wood tries hard to achieve a type of film noir atmosphere, and almost succeeds at times, particularly with Farrell.

Like any Wood film, the story behind the movie is just as interesting as the film. Watch silent film star Rawlinson very closely during his scenes as the aging dad/plastic surgeon. If he appears tired it shouldn't be a surprise. He died the morning after filming. Rawlinson's role, in fact, was intended for Bela Lugosi, but he was too sick to do it. Also, Reeves took 27 takes to tie his tie, which must have driven the thrifty Wood mad. The great actor Jimmy Cagney was visiting the motel where Wood and cast was stealing a scene shot. Cagney offered to be in the film, but everyone was chased from the motel by the irate manager. If you are a Wood fan, buy Jail Bait. It's a must for your cult films collection. But even those who aren't Wood fans will find it worth a $2 rental. By the way: Jail Bait in the title refers to a gun, not a woman.
-- Doug Gibson

Murders in the Zoo ‘astonishingly grisly’ for 1933

By Doug Gibson

“Murders in the Zoo” is a largely forgotten fairly large-budget Paramount film from 1933. It merits far more attention. Like its Paramount predecessor, the better-known “Island of Lost Souls,: it has scenes of sadism and pain that are unique for its era. Film critic Leonard Maltin has called the film “astonishingly grisly.” In any event, it’s a great tale and well worth owning.

The opening scene is a shocker. A man, Taylor, is being calmly tortured by Lionel Atwill’s character, who comments that he’ll never kiss another man’s wife again. Taylor is left in the jungle, presumably to die due to the elements or wild animals. Hands tied behind his back, he staggers forward. As he turns his face, the camera reveals that his lips have been sewn shut!

The film involves a sadistic, psychopathic millionaire sportsman named Eric Gorman, played very well by Atwill, who murders men who display a romantic interest in his wife, Evelyn, played by Kathleen Burke (the panther woman in “… Lost Souls.”  The murdered man, we learn, had kissed – in jest – Evelyn. Gorman announces that he has disappeared.

Gorman returns from the Indo-China region with many wild animals that are put in a financially struggling zoo. The principals there include Professor Evans (Harry Beresford), his pretty daughter Jerry Evans (Gail Patrick), and her romantic interest,  Dr. Jack Woodford (played by future cowboy films star Randolph Scott). Meanwhile, Evelyn, despite her brutish husband, is engaged in an adulterous affair with playboy John Lodge, played by Roger Hewitt. Also thrown into the plot for comic relief is alcoholic public relations man Peter Yates, played by Charlie Ruggles, a popular comedy player of that era. In fact, Ruggles is top-billed!?

More murders occur prior to the climax. It’s interesting to see films other than “… Lost Souls” that feature the iconic, beautiful Burke, and she’s not a sympathetic character. Nevertheless, the audience cares about her fate because her husband is a world-class movie villain. Atwill’s pursuit of Burke’s Evelyn from their home to the zoo, where he throws her, alive, over a bridge with alligators below is chilling.

By far the most interesting character is Atwill. He is absolutely superb portraying a combination of intimidation, strength and cruelty. Picture a combination of Leslie Bank’s Zaroff in “The Most Dangerous Game” and Lee J. Cobb’s Johnny Friendly in “On the Waterfront.” A merciless character, he sees his wife as his possession. Atwill’s Gorman is also cunning, able to change his personalities and facial expressions on a whim to to his advantages and desires. The scene where he demands sex from his unwilling, repulsed wife is macabre. 

Atwill’s performance is worthy of Lon Chaney’s best silent offerings and it would have been interesting to have seen Chaney in the role. Scott is semi-bland as the ultimate hero who gets the girl but it’s fun to see him in a non-cowboy role.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ten preferred horror films, from Doug Gibson and Steve D. Stones

(I hold these films in high esteem for many reasons. Don’t assume the first I mention is the most frightening I have ever seen. Today that honor goes to the original Halloween, but tomorrow it may be the original Psycho, and the next day it might be the original The Haunting. … Note the inclusion of “the original,” which tells us something about the ubiquity of crappy remakes out here.) And as the viewer can clearly see above, there has never been a monster as scary as Lon Chaney's Phantom!
-- Doug Gibson
      Frankenstein, 1931: Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster produced sympathy from audiences. After he left the series, the monster turned into a stumbling, grunting animal.
      Dracula, 1931: Bela Lugosi’s portrayal forever defines how a vampire should behave. Dark, aristocratic courtesy, slow, deliberate movements and speech, befit a creature who has existed for almost an eternity.
      Phantom of the Opera, 1925: Lon Chaney created the most repulsive, horrifying monster ever.
    Night of the Living Dead, 1968: George A. Romero’s decision to turn the dead into flesh-eating zombies created a thriving horror genre that has yet to reach its peak.
5     The Haunting, 1963: The best of the haunted house horror films. This Robert Wise film scares the hell out of viewers with atmosphere, imagination and a few knocks on a door.
      The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974: This film merits inclusion because it spawned a genre that has yet to abate – the “slasher” genre of nihilistic, giggling, drooling maniacs. Watching this film is akin to screaming for an entire day.
     Psycho, 1960: A classic of suspense, and one of the first films to provide a shock ending most audiences won’t see coming.
     Halloween, 1978: John Carpenter’s masterpiece is perhaps the scariest film ever. He takes the time to develop characters the audience cares about, and then has them dispatched in suspenseful scenes involving the now-stereotypical soulless killer. Carpenter also heightens the terror with skillful use of foreground shots.
      The Blair Witch Project, 1999: This film launched the genre of horror films that are comprised of found video or experienced in a secondary medium. The Paranormal series is an example. “Blair Witch…” is also very scary, claustrophobic, and unsettling with its jerky cinematography.
    The Sadist, 1963: This film represents the ignored low-budget film that is so good that it slowly merits attention and gains acclaim. Arch W. Hall Jr. is frightening as a merciless teen psychopath, accompanied by a moronic girlfriend, who terrifies some teachers at an abandoned roadside inn just outside Los Angeles.  The chatter of the Dodger pre-game show on the car radio as the horror ensues is unsettling.
       Honorable mention: Them, 1954: The post-World War II and Cold War era moved viewers from traditional monsters to new, nuclear-initiated monsters and mutations at home and in outer space. My favorite is this tale of mutant ants that need to be stopped before they realize they can take over the world.

My Top 10 horror films, By Steve D. Stones

1)      Dawn of the Dead (1978 version)
2)      Nosferatu (1921 version)
3)      The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 silent)
4)      Hellraiser (1987)
5)      Night of the Living Dead (1968 version)
6)      The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 version, not that crappy 2003 version)
7)      Black Sunday (1960 Mario Bava film, not the 1970s football movie)
8)      Carnival of Souls (1962 version)
9)      The Evil Dead (1983)
10)   Shock Waves (1976)
So here are our Plan 9 Crunch favorite horror films, courtesy of Doug and Steve. Most, if not all, are reviewed on this site. Read the reviews, watch all 19 mentioned. We’ve seen them all, more than once.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teddy at the Throttle is classic early slapstick romance

By Doug Gibson

This month (September 2012) Turner Classic Movies is showing early silent Mack Sennett/Keystone Company comedy shorts. They are a treasure to view and my favorite so far is 1917’s “Teddy at the Throttle.” I don’t know if by that date a damsel in distress, a feckless boyfriend, a dastardly villain, the scheming vamp, a heroic dog – and a girl tied to the railroad tracks – had become clich├ęs already.

Certainly, “Teddy at the Throttle” does not take itself seriously. It’s a great comedy, with lots of slapstick that includes slips in the mud and a very fat man taking up two seats on a train. But it’s a must-see film for fans of the silent era. Fortunately, TCM has the full 27-minute version. (YouTube has a couple of shorter versions, a 24-plus minute-version without music and a 22-minute version one that focuses more on the orchestra than the film (see above).

The plot is simple and well-suited for a one-reel comedy farce.  The young lovely is “Gloria Dawn,” played by Gloria Swanson, who is engaged to “Bobbie Knight,” a rather simple-minded by good-hearted man, played by Bobby Vernon. Gloria is an orphan, and her finances are being handled by “Henry Black,” “her rascally guardian,” played by Wallace Beery. Black, of course, is stealing Gloria’s money. He enlists his vampy sister, played by May Emory, who easily turns the head of simple-minded Bobby. At that point,

Black moves in on a repulsed Gloria, hoping to marry her for her cash, get rid of her, and split the loot with his sister. There’s an uncaring aunt who hangs around, lots and lots of extras and of course, there’s “Teddy,” a faithful dog who turns out to be a big hero.

The film, directed by Clarence G. Badger, is fast-paced, manic comedy at its best. The two stars, Swanson and Beery went on to much bigger status, and they are fantastic. Swanson is so vulnerable that you want to reach into the screen and take her away from the villainous Beery, who has no qualms about tying her to the railroad tracks and gleefully anticipating her horrendous death. Ah, but Teddy won’t let that happen.

Besides YouTube and TCM, you can buy Teddy at the Throttle as part of a Kino Collection DVD. It’s worth the cash.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Red Zone Cuba, the worst film ever?

By Doug Gibson

I sat through Coleman’s Francis’s 1966 mess, “Red Zone Cuba,” AKA “Night Train to Mundo Fine.” It’s 89 minutes that even with Mystery Science Theater 3000’s gags thrown in, feels like a three-hour movie. I believe if I ever dared watch this film sans the comedy thrown in, it would feel like 890 hours and I would suffer some of horrible, reverse “Infinite Jest” coma-induced death with feces abounding.

There is one reason to see this film. With his sole bit of sense, Francis had John Carradine come in for a day and shoot an opening for the $30,000 film. His acting is ho hum, but then Carradine, I kid you not, sings the film’s theme song. The camp value of Carradine belting out the vocals to “Night Train to Mundo Fine” is a hoot. He sings well, with his hoarse voice. That’s not a surprise since he was a Shakespearian actor. And he compares almost as well as Lon Chaney Jr. did when the aging, alcoholism-ravaged thespian sang the title tune to the camp/horror classic “Spider Baby” earlier in the 1960s.

But the remaining 85 or so minutes, eh, it’s just awful. The film is boring, the characters colorless, the plot incredibly confusing and meandering. The editing is terrible; there are cutaways that leave the viewer bewildered as to what is happening and what has happened. The characters mumble, and that’s just when they are actually speaking. Much of the film was shot mute with no soundtrack synchronized. You hear mumbled words sans the speakers mouths being shown.

The plot involves three crooks on the lam from the cops. Their leader is played by Francis, and Crly of the Three Stooges lookalike without an ounce of charisma. He tries to affect a tough, Broderick Crawford type of toughness but fails. His cohorts are played listlessly by Anthony Cardoza and Harold Saunders. On the lam, the trio is recruited as mercenaries for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. This portion offers a tad bit of hilarity with Cardoza, one of the producers, putting on a beard and makeup and playing Fidel Castro. (I know this sounds camp/hilarious but in the hands of director/writer/producer Francis, it isn’t. ) The “training” and “battle” scenes are so low budget that it appears that no more than a dozen or so people actually participated in the Bay of Pigs.

Somehow the guys escape from Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. They return to the USA, commit a few crimes. In one scene Coleman throws an old storekeeper down a well. The scene is badly shot and fools no one. Eventually, Coleman and his cohorts are shot dead around a train station and the film ends. The last line, delivered in Francis’s overly solemn narration: “Griffin ran all the way to hell, with a penny and a broken cigarette.”

Hard to watch, boring and nonsensical, it’s still worth a MST3K watch for Carradine, Castro and a few jokes. But stay away from the director’s cut! Actually, if you have the courage, watch the MST3K-less "Red Zone Cuba" above!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Wasp Woman – The Original “Bee Movie.”

By Steve D. Stones

The Wasp Woman proves that beauty is only skin deep. Its message is a universal truth that all of us must confront – we all get old, lose our youth and beauty, and eventually die. There is no magic potion for maintaining youth and beauty forever. Any attempt to find it proves to be disastrous.

A young woman (star Susan Cabot) who heads a cosmetics firm wants to find the fountain of youth and beauty. She employs the help of a crack-pot scientist who extracts enzymes from queen wasps to compound in a royal cosmetic jelly. The scientist first conducts experiments on various animals to see if the jelly can make them young again. His experiments prove successful on cats, dogs and hamsters. Now his task is to inject Janice Starlin, the cosmetics mogul, with his youthful serum.

The process is very slow going. Janice sees no changes in her appearance, even after weeks of injections. Soon, she begins to see her features become youthful again. In a company conference, she becomes the talk of the meeting, shocking her colleagues with her youthful appearance.  Three of her colleagues, however, are greatly concerned for her safety.

The injections begin to go wrong, changing Starlin into a murderous wasp faced creature. She murders a snoopy colleague and a night janitor in the scientist’s laboratory. In a fight with one of her female colleagues, she is flung out the window of her high rise office, falling to her death.

The most intriguing aspect of The Wasp Woman is the feminist message that we should all accept and cherish who we are on the inside and not worry about what we look like on the outside. If our friends, peers and family truly love and accept us for who we are, we really don’t need to waste any time worrying about how youthful and good looking we may or may not appear on the outside. True beauty lies in a person’s heart and mind. Janice Starlin’s vanity in The Wasp Woman ultimately becomes her undoing.

Actress Susan Cabot starred in a number of director Roger Corman’s low-budget films, such as Viking Women and The Sea Serpent (aka The Saga of The Viking Women & Their Voyage To The Waters of The Great Sea Serpent), Sorority Girl, War of The Satellites and Machine Gun Kelly with Charles Bronson. Cabot passed away of an apparent homicide in Encino, California on December 1986 at the age of 59.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Mysterious Mr. Wong -- Bela Lugosi as the sinister Chinaman

By Doug Gibson

For a huge Bela Lugosi fan such as myself, it was sort of an outrage that I had not yet seen 1934's "The Mysterious Mr. Wong," Mr. Dracula's first foray into the low-budget world of Monogram Studios. The film is ubiquitous. You can watch it at several locations on the Internet (see above). It's also a staple of the DVD sets of 20 or 50 public domain films that can be purchased for $10 to $20. I shucked out $5 for an copy because I like the impressive cover art that firm provides.

Based on a story by cult writer Harry Stephen Keeler, the tale is, in a crazy sort of way, a little like Lord of the Rings set in cramped Chinatown. Mr. Wong (Lugosi) a tough-looking power-crazy hood who masquerades as a meek shop owner, is busy murdering various Chinese contemporaries in order to get the 12 gold coins that Confucious minted before his death. Through murder and theft, Wong has nabbed 11 of the 12. If he can get them all, he'll achieve some sort of world domination (the script is a little fuzzy on this, but he definitely wants that coin.

Wong, though faces some tough competition from wisecracking newspaper reporter, Jay Barton (played by Wallace Ford, whose fantastic in these types of roles). In between doubting the cops' belief that the murders are over a gang turf war, Barton slowly, in his own inimitable style, begins to piece together who exactly Wong is and what he wants.In his spare time, Barton -- who gets his hands on the 12th gold coin -- breezily romances newspaper operator girl Peg, played by the pretty Arline Judge. It all leads to a final showdown where Wong menaces Jay and Peg.

This is nowhere near Lugosi's best film, but it's a fun way to waste 68 or so minutes. Despite its low budget and usual "where-the-heck-is-this-going" Monogram plot, it was lean enough to carry my wife and son through the film. And Lugosi, although one look at that nose kills any belief that he's Chinese, is suitably menacing. Scenes where he brutally tosses a man down into a cellar filled with rats is almost chilling, as is a scene where he bullies two Chinese women who disapprove of his plans. And he certainly has sadistic, murderous plans in store for Jay and Peg (Judge screams well) as the climax approaches.

William Nigh's direction is OK; he keeps scenes moving briskly. Ford has his usual good snark and adequate comic timing. Robert Emmett O'Connor is not too bad as an inept Irish cop to provide humor fodder. Another plus is a chance to witness what life was like 78 years ago in the outdoor city shots as well as the studio shots of he newsroom Jay and Peg work in. Worth watching and a must for Lugosi fans.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jail Bait – An Early Ed Wood Classic

By Steve D. Stones

You have to hand it to Ed Wood. He had a way of creating interesting feature length films lacking in talent, acting skill and budgets. Plan 9 From Outer Space is considered his worst film of all time, yet it may be his most entertaining and enduring. His early classic – Jail Bait, borrows from earlier “film noir” crime classics, such as Little Caesar and Scarface. If you recognize the score in Jail Bait, it’s because it was featured in another early 50s cult classic – Mesa of Lost Women, a film that also has a distinction of being one of the “worst films of all time.” The Hoyt Kurtain score really gets under your skin, annoying the viewer with its overblown repetition, much like it does in Mesa of Lost Women.

Wood’s sweetheart Dolores Fuller starred in both Jail Bait and Mesa of Lost Women. Her role in Jail Bait was much meatier, but her acting career was short lived. She later went on to write songs for Elvis. Her autobiography was released in 2009 entitled: A Fuller Life - Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me - giving her account of her life with Ed Wood.  

Monotone voiced Timothy Farrell, who also starred in Wood’s Glen or Glenda, wants to hide his identity from the police after holding up a theater in Monterey Park, California. He employs the help of a plastic surgeon, played by Herbert Rawlinson in his last role, to change his facial features. Rawlinson agrees to the procedure, only to save the life of his son, who killed the night watchman at the Monterey Theater. Rawlinson later discovers that Farrell has already killed his son.

In a predictable “plot twist” the viewer can see coming from a mile away, Rawlinson changes Farrell’s face to look like his son, played by Clancy Malone. Farrell is now implicated for the killing of the night watchman at the Monterey Theater. The Los Angeles Police chase Farrell, and a gunshot kills him as he falls into a swimming pool.

It should be noted that beefcake weightlifter Steve Reeves, who went on to play Hercules, plays a police investigator in Jail Bait. He tries to put the moves on Dolores Fuller in the film, but she does not bite. An unrelated burlesque sequence was added to the film many years later, which was discovered when the long lost negative was found.  A VHS copy of Jail Bait released in the mid-1990s by Rhino Video contains the long lost burlesque sequence, and a DVD print by Passport Video also contains the lost sequence.

Oddly, director Tim Burton gives no mention of Jail Bait in his 1994 biopic of Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp. Wood’s films, books and collectibles are today valuable gems for film buffs and collectors. Happy Viewing!!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Bucket of Blood – Roger Corman’s low-budget masterpiece

By Steve D. Stones

Director Roger Corman has a reputation for creating quickie exploitation themed films made on a shoe-string budget and filmed in a matter of a few days. His film – A Bucket of Blood is no exception. Bucket of Blood is often referred to as the precursor to another Corman masterpiece – Little Shop of Horrors. Both films star Dick Miller.

A lonely coffee house waiter named Walter Paisley, played by Miller, can’t seem to fit in at The Yellow Door – a swanky beatnik hangout that displays local art, music and poetry. One day he accidentally stabs the land lady’s cat while trying to cut a hole in his apartment wall. He discovers a way to grab attention at The Yellow Door by molding clay around the corpse of the cat to create realistic sculptures. His next victim is an undercover narcotics cop who follows Paisley to his apartment to bust him for heroin.  Patrons of The Yellow Door praise Paisley for his artistic genius and hail him as a great sculptor.

One sassy patron however is not convinced of Paisley’s talents. Paisley follows her home to ask for a nude posing session to sculpt her figure.  Paisley murders the beautiful woman, then his next clay masterpiece and first nude is set in motion. Beatniks at the coffee house arrange for an exhibition of Paisley’s sculptures and invite art critics and collectors.

At the exhibit, a patron discovers the flesh of the murdered woman showing through the molded clay. The patrons realize that Paisley’s work is a fraud and chase after him for the murders of the victims used in his sculptures. He completes his greatest masterpiece by smearing himself in wet clay and then hangs by a noose from a rafter in his apartment.

Actor Dick Miller played the character Walter Paisley in at least five films. His cult status was further solidified when James Cameron cast him as a gun store clerk in The Terminator. His character of Walter Paisley is seen as a janitor in the 1988 horror classic – Chopping Mall. He played a flower shop patron in Little Shop of Horrors who eats flowers sprinkled with salt. Happy Viewing!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Spanish 1931 Dracula with sexy Lupita Tovar

Dracula (Spanish-language version), 1931, 104 minutes, Universal, black and white. In Spanish with subtitles. Directed by George Medford and Enrique Tovar Avalos. Starring Carlos Villarias as Conde Dracula, Lupita Tovar as Eva Seward, Pablo Alvarez Rubio as Renfield, Barry Norton as Juan Harker, Carmen Guerrero as Lucia, Jose Soriano Vioscia as Dr. Seward and Eduardo Arozamena as Professor Van Helsing. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 and 1/2 stars out of 10.


Universal's Spanish-language version of Bram Stoker's tale was shot at the same time the Bela Lugosi classic was filmed. The same sets, props and backdrops were utilized. As the story goes, the Spanish-language version was shot late at night, after other Dracula director Tod Browning's cast and crew shot during the day. This version was out of circulation in the United States for decades before being rediscovered. The film is wonderful, and only the talent of Bela Lugosi prevents it from rating as high as the "conventional" Dracula. In fact, in many ways, this longer, more gothic, version is an improvement on director Browning's too often stagey version. However, star Lupita Tovar, very sexy in the film, is still with us and just celebrated her 102nd birthday!

The Spanish-version Dracula is a very sensual movie. However, unlike Lugosi -- who is the sexual creature in Browning's film -- it's the women in the Spanish-language Dracula who radiate sexuality. Unlike the buttoned-up, Victorian-like Helen Chandler's Mina Seward in Browning's version, Lupita Tovar's Eva Seward (the same character) is a sexual creature whose erotic awakening is brought on by Conde Dracula (Villarias). She's shy and virginal at first, but, late in the film, in a low-cut nightgown which shows a surprising amount of cleavage for a 1931 film, she rises from her bed under Dracula's spell, eager to meet the night. Carmen Guerrero, as Dracula victim Lucia, is also sexier than her counterpart in Browning's version.

Also, the Spanish-speaking version of Dracula is much longer than Browning's version. Sometimes this hurts -- occasionally the film will lag as scenes go on to long -- but mostly it's an improvement. Characters like the mad Renfield, Eva Seward and Professor Van Helsing are more developed, and viewers will care more about their fate. Also, there are wonderfully spooky scenes that are missing in Browning's version. They include: Dracula walking through a spider's web without disturbing it; Renfield's horror at watching Dracula commanding a door to open; the terror of sailors battling a storm who see Dracula on their ship; shots of rats and bugs as Dracula's had reaches out of his coffin; and Renfield repeatedly assuring Dracula that no one knows of his trip to his castle in Transylvania. There is a wonderful scene -- not in the Browning film -- where Renfield, politely relating the history of his life to Van Helsing, calmly stops to catch a fly. Also, Renfield's death at the hands of Dracula is captured in a more brutal shot than in Browning's film. Finally, Tovar's Eva Seward is much more aware of her fate and the possessive spell Dracula has over her. In a memorable scene, she begs Professor Van Helsing to kill her after Dracula is finished with her.

The weakest link is Barry Norton's Juan Harker. He's as mediocre as David Manners in the Lugosi film. Villarias as Conde Dracula does a good job, but he pales in comparison to Lugosi. But in fairness, who can compete with Lugosi? Lugosi is sinister and charming. Villarias is forbidding and creepy. Also, Villarias will occasionally mug too much for the camera, a problem that Renfield's Rubio (who also does a good job overall) has as well. Rubio's madness is a bit more forced that Dwight Frye's Renfield. Instead of Frye's calculating, horror-filled mad chuckles, Rubio periodically breaks into hysterical screaming, which is annoying. Arozamena's Van Helsing is good, but also fails to rise to the level of Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing in the Browning film. His delivery is a little too forced, and his character lacks the subtle wit that Van Helsing utilized while verbally sparring with Dracula. Vioscia is adequate as Dr. Seward.

However, if you're a Dracula fan, you'll love this film. It's a must for any cult film collector and today can be easily found (Amazon sells it online). As mentioned, the story is richer (viewers of this film now know what Browning cut from his Dracula) and Villarias, while no Lugosi, is still better than 90 percent of the rest of the Draculas of filmdom. Also, the "I never drink ..... wine" line is as great in Spanish as it is in English. Co-director Medford was a veteran of many silent films.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Colossus of New York – Colossal Entertainment, 1950s Style

By Steve D. Stones

Next to Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still and Robbie The Robot from Forbidden Planet, the giant robot in The Colossus of New York may be the most widely recognized robot of 1950s cinema. Poster art of the film depicts the robot as if he is towering over downtown Manhattan like Godzilla and King Kong, when he really only stands about eight feet tall.

A brilliant scientist, played by Ross Martin, is struck and killed by a truck in Norway. His brother and his father transplant his brain into the head of a giant robot. They desire to keep his genius alive by keeping his brain alive. Martin later realizes he has become a robot and mourns for his wife and child.

The robot eventually becomes out of control and goes on a murdering rampage in New York, making his way to the United Nations building. His long flowing cape and chiseled appearance looks similar to figures found in Ancient Roman times. His eyeless sockets emit a powerful ray, which he uses to destroy people inside the United Nations. Despite the robot’s ability to destroy and kill, he has a desire to do good as his son befriends him and discovers the robot is his father. The robot’s rage is mostly a result of the jealousy he feels of witnessing his brother fall in love with his wife. He desperately asks his father to destroy him.

The film concludes with his young son destroying him inside of the United Nations building. Actor Ross Martin went on to star in the successful 1960s TV show - The Wild, Wild West. Director Eugiene Lourie went on to direct the early 1960s creature feature – Gorgo. Happy Viewing!