Friday, November 30, 2012

Outlaw Riders with the late Valda Hansen as a nun!


"Outlaw Riders" is a 1971 film that belongs in a time capsule marked Hollywood 1970s derivatve biker film. It was produced by Tony Cardoza, who gave us "The Beast of Yucca Flats" and it's a low-budget mix of "Easy Rider" and "Born Losers." It's a motorcycle gang/hippy cliche-fest. The riders spout words like"split," "make the scene," "fuzz," "crash" etc.

Plot involves an outlaw motorcycle gang headed by two couples (Bambi Allan, Jennifer Bishop, Bill Bonner and Bryan West). The gang is badly hurt by a botched robbery and the four stars, the only survivors, eventually head to Mexico, where they have to combat a gang run by a sadistic Mexican (Rafael Campos). Campos is the only "name star" in the film, although he was far away from his better days in "West Side Story."

I like this film for all its low-budget shortcomings. The mostly outdoor American West setting with long dusty cycle treks give it a nostalgic, time-capsule feeling. Cult film fans will enjoy the short cameo from Ed Wood star Valda Hansen as a nun who treats one of the injured bandits. Rumor as it that Hansen was a paramour of producer Cardoza. Film has the same type of downbeat ending as "Easy Rider." Hanson had a featured role in this film, much as she did in Night of the Ghouls, Cain's Cuththroats, and the sex-romp Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman. She had bit parts in bigger films, such as The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid and Slaughter's Big Ripoff. She was an interesting part of Ed Wood's life who died in 1993 of cancer.

I have no idea what exposure or success "Outlaw Riders" had in 1971. The color, 86-minute Tony Huston-directed film has a lot of violence but little sex, which might have cut down on its grindhouse potential. It's fairly hard to find today, but not impossible. My video copy is in great shape. It would make a nice DVD offering for a multi-disc set of biker films.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Boom In the Moon -- Keaton on the rocks

By Doug Gibson

There's really no big reason to see Boom In the Moon ... unless you are a cult film fanatic. (And that's why we at Plan 9 Crunch are reviewing it) It's an obscure Buster Keaton feature from 1946, made in Mexico when Keaton was at the low point of his career (he later rebounded via TV and cameos in big-budget films). But in the mid-1940s, Buster Keaton was begging for work.

But, first some background: In the 1920s, Keaton was the king of cinema comedy. But he had a drinking problem that became more acute when talkies came and he signed a multi-picture deal to make comedies with Jimmy Durante. To put it charitably, Durante's manic, often-unfunny rantings grated on Keaton's physical, stone-face comedy. During the making of their last film, "What No Beer?" Keaton was so drunk he trashed his dressing room and disappeared from the set for several days. After the film wrapped, MGM canned Keaton.

After that, Keaton existed for almost 20 years in a sort of has-been netherworld. His chief income was making mostly second-rate comedy shorts for Educational Pictures and Columbia. Those efforts were overshadowed by The Three Stooges and Little Rascals shorts. He had not starred in a film for a long time when he accepted the lead role in Boom in the Moon, or as it was known in Mexico, The Modern Bluebird ("El Moderno Barba Azul)

It is a very low budget, often strange movie starring Keaton and a bunch of mediocre Mexican actors. Buster plays a sailor in a lifeboat who drifts for weeks. He doesn't know the World War 2 is over and thinks he is in Japan when he lands in Mexico. He is immediately arrested and accused of being a killer of young girls. He's paired with another clownish prisoner (Angel Garasa). The pair are offered the choice of flying to the moon in a very goofy professor's rocket instead of execution. After a bunch of clowning they accept. Somehow the professor's very pretty niece (Virginia Seret) is in the rocket when it blasts off.

After a few days the rocket lands. The trio thinks they are on the moon, but they are really just a few miles from where they took off. The two convicts are cleared ... No more synopsis in case some readers want to watch the film. (It's hard to find. The best bet is to check amazon and ebay for used copies)

The first half is a little better than the last half because Keaton has the opportunity to use a lot of physical comedy, including a funny bit in his cell. The last half unfortunately allows too many actors to babble, including one Mexican actor -- playing a silly psychiatrist -- who will cause viewers to grind their teeth in pain at his performance. The rocket is so low budget that it would not have qualified for a C-movies serial in the 1930s. Still, Keaton occasionally, with his physical deadpan humor, comes off well in a few scenes. Ironically, Garasa, as Keaton's sidekick, is as nasal and annoying as Durante was with Keaton 15 years earlier.

Keaton has very little dialogue, although the others prattle on too much. Boom in the Moon could have been a lot better if it had been shot silent, and relied on Keaton's emotion and physical comedy. But that likely occurred to nobody in 1946.

The film was released theatrically in Mexico and played only in Spanish for 37 years, including U.S. TV on Spanish-speaking stations. It was briefly released via VHS with English dubbing in 1983. The release wasn't very long and the film has become a little hard to find. I'm glad I watched it -- I have wanted to for at least a decade. It was good to see Keaton starring in any feature in 1946. Despite the poverty-row film, Keaton still retained flashes of the great talent in the The General and Steamboat Bill Jr., etc.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

House of Dracula a guilty pleasure

(Editor's note: I'm reading, and soon will review, Tom Weaver's excellent book, "John Carradine, The Films." However, I don't always agree with Weaver's opinions of low-budget cinema, and he didn't care for "House of Dracula." I did, and here's my review for Plan9Crunch -- Doug Gibson.)

House of Dracula, 1945, Black & White, Universal, 67 minutes. Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Starring Onslow Stevens as Dr. Edelman, John Carradine as Count Dracula (aka Baron Latos), Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster, and Skelton Knaggs as Steinmuhl. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

House of Dracula is a guilty pleasure. Filmed just as WW 2 was ending, it and its companion piece, House of Frankenstein, signaled the permanent slide of Universal horror films as second-billed B movies. The sets are cheaper, plot explanations are often ignored, and the direction is quick and economical. Still, these films are a lot of fun and boast much higher production values than their competitors of the time from Monogram and PRC.

The plot is quite bizarre. Both Dracula (Carradine) and Talbot the Wolfman pop up at an eerie castle run by the famous doctor Dr. Edelman (Stevens), who seems to exist there only with his deformed nurse and beautiful daughter. Nearby is a village full of stock rural Europeans that Universal always seemed to provide as a backdrop to these films. Anyway, both Dracula and the Wolfman seek cures via a combination of psychiatry and medicine, a theme that was explored in Dracula's Daughter. Edelman seems rather unperturbed by all this, and goes about helping the two. However, Dracula can't keep his lips off the doctor's beautiful daughter's neck, and Talbot the Wolfman somehow escapes from his self-imposed prison while a wolf and discovers the Frankenstein Monster hiding in a cave. Edelman manages to kill Dracula, but not before the Count contaminates Edelman's blood with his own. Much to the doctor's horror, he transforms often into a dreadful creature, unable to control a desire to kill, and another to bring back the Frankenstein Monster to life.

Viewers, just sit back and relax. Let this goofy but fun plot unfold and enjoy a handful of Universal monsters fight it out on the screen. Carradine is better than expected. He plays his role in a subtle manner, which is smart because he lacks Lugosi's passion. Chaney is a contrast of self pity and ferocity, depending on whether the moon is full. Strange has little to do as the Frankenstein Monster but wave his arms wildly. Stevens' transformation to madman is chilling at times. He casually has his faithful nurse murdered. Veteran creepy character actor Skelton Knaggs adds atmosphere as a villager who whips up the town against the doctor. All in all, House of Dracula is worth a midnight rental.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sanity break: Enjoy the infamous 'Bambi Versus Godzilla'

It's been a long holiday weekend and with the frantic Christmas season beginning, take a 2-minute break and enjoy the infamous, delightful Marv Newland student film "Bambi Versus Godzilla," courtesy of YouTube, which is a pretty cool component of the IT age!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Just In Time For Black Friday – It’s Black Friday (1940), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff

By Steve D. Stones

Just In Time For Black Friday – It’s Black Friday (1940), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
No, this movie is not about what happens at retail outlets the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the opening sequence of the film shows dates on a calendar slowly tearing off a page until it stops on Friday the 13th. The film stars two great horror icons - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Both give fine performances in the film, even though they never appear on screen together.

Karloff stars as a doctor who is sentenced to the electric chair at the beginning of the film. Just before his electrocution, he gives a book of writings to a newspaper reporter who he trusts. We go back in time to witness a horrible accident of Professor George Kingsley, one of Karloff’s friends, who is ran over and killed in a car by gangsters being chased by police. A gangster named Red Cannon is also killed in the accident, leaving behind a half a million dollars hidden somewhere.

Karloff decides to transplant Cannon’s brain into the head of his deceased friend in hopes that Cannon will reveal the location of the money. No surgical procedure is ever shown on screen, and we never see how Karloff is able to steal Cannon’s brain while still evading police.

Karloff takes Kingsley to the same New York hotel that Red Canon hid from the police in. As Karloff pries Kingsley for information about the money, his features begin to transform into Cannon until he actually becomes Cannon. Cannon leaves the hotel in the body of Kingsley to kill members of his gang that left him for dead. Newspaper headlines report the murders of Cannon’s gang members.

Film noir elements are used in a sequence when Cannon hides in the back of a car to surprise a member of his gang to strangle him. As the gangster gets into the car, vague shadows consume Cannon’s face to hide his identity. Cannon lunges to strangle the man inside the car.

Lugosi’s character, a member of Cannon’s group, sets a trap to follow Cannon to find the money by using Cannon’s girlfriend as bait. The plan backfires when Cannon discovers Lugosi hiding in the closet of his girlfriend’s apartment. Lugosi and the girlfriend are shot and killed by Cannon.

The police question Kingsley at the end of the film when a taxi driver is tipped a thousand dollars by Cannon as he flees the murder scene. Kingsley does not remember the incident after being unconscious. His body returns as Cannon to seek out Karloff and the money. When Karloff shoots Cannon, he switches back to Kingsley’s body, and the viewer is now aware of why the film started with Karloff being sentenced to the electric chair.

Black Friday can be purchased in a Universal Studios- Bela Lugosi DVD set with four other Lugosi films - The Black Cat, Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Raven and The Invisible Ray. This set is a must have for any serious Lugosi fan and collector of his films.  Watch these films back to back. They are great fun. Watch a trailer for Black Friday here.

Don’t get hassled by all those pesky Black Friday shoppers out there today. Maybe it’s best to stay home and watch this 1940 classic – Black Friday. Happy Shopping!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Billy the Kid swaps gunfire with Dracula's bite

Billy the Kid versus Dracula

Billy the Kid versus Dracula, directed by William Beaudine, Circle Films, 1961. Starring John Carradine as Count Dracula, Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid, Melinda Plowman as Betty Bentley. Others in cast include Harry Carey, Jr., Roy Barcroft, and Olive Carey. 1966, Color, 73 minutes. Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10.

I have a soft spot for this movie, which puts me at odds with just about every other film critic. Okay, I know that the plot is feeble, the acting poor, the special effects a joke. And it's a fraud to vampire lore, since Carradine spends a lot of his time out in broad daylight.

Nevertheless, it's a fun little film if not taken seriously and the offbeat plot (Hero Billy the Kid matching wits with Dracula) is unique enough to merit a few stars. The plot: Dracula (on vacation?) is in the Old West. He provokes Indians into killing everyone on a stagecoach, then assumes the identity of a rich Eastern banker whose niece (who Dracula has the hots for) is about to marry a reformed Billy the Kid. THAT IS a bizarre plot -- even Ed Wood may not have come up with something that unique.

This is definitely not Carradine at his best; in fact he seems many times to just walk through his role (he considered it his worst film), but the old vampire master has a few good scenes, and manages to be quite sinister at times. Billy The Kid versus Dracula was made with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (not quite as good). Both were directed by Beaudine and played primarily Saturday kiddie matinees together. The film can be seen occasionally late at night on TCM. Antenna TV, just prior to Halloween, showed it as a movies-all-night double feature with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

The film boasts some acting names with heavy chops. Besides Carradine, there's Olive Carey, Bing Russell, Marjorie Bennett, Roy Barcroft and Harry Carey Jr. Virginia Christine plays a European maid who tries to foil Dracula. She later became the "Folger Coffee woman" on TV ads. Director Beaudine was a Hollywood legend, famous for producing low-budget films on schedule and for an overall cheap price.

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Brainiac (El Baron del Terror) – Fiend From Beyond Time

By Steve D. Stones

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Zaat – A Man, Fish, Monster or Devil?

By Steve D. Stones

Zaat is such an obscure early 1970s cult gem that it rarely appears in any film encyclopedia. Scary Monsters Magazine dedicated their issue #38 to Zaat. Film Chest recently released Zaat on a Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack. A lobby card of poster artwork of the film is also included in the pack. This is a must have for any true fan of rare cult monster movies.

A bitter Cypress Grove, Florida scientist, Dr. Kurt, conducts experiments on himself and local marine life. His experiments turn him into a half-human, half-fish monster. He goes on a murderous rampage to find a perfect female mate to turn into a fish monster to breed with. He also pollutes the local waters to make fish wash up to shore in an attempt to make them into mutant monstrosities. In Kurt’s lab is a circular chart that looks similar to an astrology wheel. On the wheel are poorly drawn images of women he wants to kidnap and colleagues he wants to murder for ridiculing him. As he murders his victims, he crosses them off his chart. 

A group of filmmakers in 1970, led by director Don Barton, set out to create a regional monster, B-movie in Florida in hopes it would get local screenings, and then move onto national screens. Writer Ron Kivett and Lee Larew came up with the idea to create a monster movie based on a Florida phenomenon of walking catfish.

 What makes Zaat such a fun gem is that although it is a 70s low-budget film, it has all the markings of earlier 1950s monster movies. Some 50s monster movies that come to mind are Creature From The Black Lagoon, First Man Into Space, Monster of Piedras Blancas and From Hell It Came. A number of other low-budget monster movies were made in the Florida region in the 1960s & 70s that would make a great double-feature with Zaat, such as Octaman, Sting of Death, Death Curse of Tartu and Milpitas Monster. Happy Viewing!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Devil Bat, Lugosi turns iron into gold

The Devil Bat
The Devil Bat, 1941, Producers Releasing Corporation, directed by Jean Yarbrough. Starring Bela Lugosi, Suzaane Kaaren, Dave O’Brien, Guy Usher, Hal Price. Sixty-nine minutes. Schlock-Meter Rating: *********1/2 stars out of 10 stars. Note: Also sold on some video labels as Killer Bats.

By Doug Gibson
Okay, I know that the plot of Devil Bat is silly. I know the budget is a $1.89. I know the special effects are ridiculous with rubber bats swooping down to victims’ necks. I’m aware that many critics, including John Stanley (whom I respect) consider Devil Bat an example of Lugosi’s slow side to oblivion, and Ed Wood movies.

Nevertheless, I love this film. It is a great cult movie because it has heart. Lugosi -- and the rest of the cast -- take their job seriously. They take a sow’s ear and turn it into a silk purse. The plot is as follows: A seemingly kindly scientist (Lugosi) has toiled his entire life for a perfume company. The scientist’s discoveries had made millions for the firm’s family, but he remains a salaried employee. For that he is bitter and angry, and has harvested killer bats that will attack the scent of a perfume. Of course, Lugosi gives the perfume to the rich family members, and murders occur. By the end, nosy reporters and cops uncover Lugosi’s crime and he is killed at the end. Of course, as was PRC’s and other minor 40s film companies’ wont, there is also a love story mixed in this thriller.

Bela Lugosi’s greatest talent was providing an excellent performance no matter the subject matter. His performance as a brooding scientist, bitter, angry, feeling underappreciated, is a masterpiece. There is a scene at the beginning of Devil Bat where the family members of the firm -- who really seem to love the scientist -- throw him an appreciation testimonial and provide him with a $25,000 gift. Lugosi’s scientist is all decorum in this scene, and it’s chilling when he’s alone and the mad, angry, bitter murderer is revealed. It’s an effective contrast, which I don’t think other 40 chiller stars George Zucco or John Carradine could have pulled off.

By all means, rent Devil Bat (I recommend you buy it) and lose yourself in a great actor making the most of a simple story. Lugosi on screen can hypnotize a viewer. One ignores the plot flaws and poor special effects and appreciates a master actor in a great performance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Regional Horror Films book offers interesting interviews and long list of films

By Doug Gibson

If you're a cult- or alternative-film fan/geek like I am, and I assume most of our readers are, then Brian Albright has provided a great service with his latest McFarland Publishers book, "Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews." (here) The book is comprised in two parts: a series of interviews with directors or persons otherwise associated with regional horror films; and a lengthy, fairly complete listing, state-by-state, of regional, ultra low-budget horrors for the 32 years covered.

Albright correctly describes a regional film as shot outside of the entertainment industry, or southern California, and not associated with a major, or even minor, studio. In many cases, these were labors of love, or hobbies that turned into several-year projects, punctuated by stubborn persistence by the filmmakers to get the thing done. What's fairly consistent through the interviews that Albright gathered -- probably over several years since some of the essays are from 2008 -- is that the filmmakers saw little, or no money, from their endeavors. Distributors took all the cash, the films were pirated and sold throughout the nation and world, the made-for-video market collapsed in the late 1980s ... survivors of the original filmmaker sold the film for a quick buck, and so on. (It would be interesting for McFalarland to publish a book on the many ways ways small-time, regional filmmakers were shut out of whatever cash flow came from their films.)

It's wise that Albright resists the urge to provide interviews involving regional films that hit it big and spawned imitators, such as "The Evil Dead" or "Night of the Living Dead." While their stories are fascinating, there is more than enough articles and books out there for fans to go to. Instead, Albright picks an eclectic group to interview. I particularly enjoy the interview with Robert Burrill, the man behind "The Milpitas Monster." Although previously published in FilmFax, the story of how a school and a small city banded together to make an ecological monster film, partially as a protest against a larger city critic's slamming of said city, is interesting. What started out as a short literally grew, like a monster, into a finished film.

In fact, future filmmakers can learn from some of the stories, including Donald Barton of Florida, who cobbled together investors willing to put in almost $100,000 to make "Zaat," a story about a scientist who turns himself into a catfish monster. (Barton even got a local Baptist church to help out!) After seeing "Zaat" falter and even be turned into other titles by distribution deals that yielded no money, Barton shelved his movie for 30 years before fans convinced him to publicize it on the Web, show it -- to a big crowd -- at an locla theater, and (later) move it back into DVD distribution. Amazingly, I watched "Zaat" recently on Turner Classic Movies' TCM Underground series; a similar "distinction" was awarded another Florida regional film listed in the compendium, "Carnival Magic," directed by the late Al Adamson. (It was also fascinating to learn that regional horror films were easier to make due to tax write offs that were unfortunately eliminated by Congress, strangling the genre by the latter half of the 1980s.)

It'd be nice to see a TCM Underground showing for regional director, J.R. Bookwalter, who is interviewed by Albright, mostly about "The Dead Next Door," his homage to Romero's zombie movies that for a while, received some support from "The Evil Dead" director Sam Raimi. Bookwalter eventually moved into low-budget producing and distribution, and it's facinating to read about the details of that industry. It may be the only viable way for most talented micro-budget regional horror filmmakers to make some bucks.

I also enjoyed the interview with the eccentric Milton Moses Ginsberg, who crafted the bizarre monster/political film, "The Werewolf of Washington," a staple today for horror movie hosts looking to cheaply lampoon public domain films. Ginsberg, who admits to being most horrified by "The Wolfman" as a youngster, created in the early 1970s what seems like a natural take off on the Watergate ... except that the film was hatched and created prior to the Watergate scandal breaking. In any event, it's a prescient regional film, and (of course) died quickly at the box office, before being pirated to the VHS and DVD market.

As mentioned, the compendium is fairly complete, and includes at least a paragraph, and most often more, on the hundreds of regional films included. A lot of low-budget cult figures are covered pretty well in the list, including Andy Milligan and Bill Rebane. The video nasty Utah regional horror, "Don't Go In the Woods ... Alone," is included, as well as the interesting, Texas regional from the 1960s, "The Black Cat." The pre-porno adult regional filmmakers are mentioned from time to time, including the late Barry Mahon's "The Sex Killer," which captures many bleak late-1960s shots of the New York City business districts.

A lot of the films mentioned in this book, including "Black Cat" and Milligan's "Torture Dungeon," would be great picks for future TCM Underground selections. Let's hope the brains behind that series is reading Albright's book..

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Charlton Heston as 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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Becoming a big fan of George Sanders as The Saint

By Doug Gibson

Blog note: We've been axed, banned, or whatever it's called from The Monster Kid Classic Horror Movie Forum, it has all the words. It came as a surprise. Years ago I was advised by friends to add our blog posts to the Forum, and so I usually have. When we started updating our posts more this fall we of course noted those on the Monster film forum. And then a couple of days ago, boom, we're banned.

To be fair, I had some email notice but I never checked administartor email (who does?). I went to the forum to post and surf the many interesting subjects and posts. (It is an amazing site). Apparently, the Forum-meister regarded me as a spammer. While I find that mildly insulting, it's his site and I have replied with an apology and a promise to not include any more of my blog posts on his site. I would like to be reinstated, just to continue reading the interesting information, but we'll see.

It's trimmed our hits by half, which is a downer, but since this site is a labor of love and we've made no money in several years, blog participation is not a huge deal. (Perhaps if I promise to donate $100 from Google Ads to the Monster Forum people when I reach that minmum payout (I think I'm at $40-something now so it'll be a long wait) ... the Monster forum folks will allow me back on. ...

With the family, watched The Saint Strikes Back, George Sanders' first foray as Simon Templar for RKO's series of the rogue sleuth created by Leslie Charteris. That makes three Sanders' Saint films I've seen so far (The Saint's Double Trouble and The Saint in London being the others) and I am a huge fan of Sanders in the series. Simon Templar is one of the great personifications. In "... Strikes Back," the Saint is in San Francisco to both thwart a criminal mastermind, solve a murder and restore the reputation of a late, disgraced policeman whose daughter, played by Wendy Barrie (who was in other Saint films), wants Simon dead. The whole shebang centers around the search for a master criminal named Walderman.

Jonathan Hale is back as Templar's fan/nemesis, Inspector Henry Fernack, who kind of reminds me of Inspector Japp to Hercule Poiriot. It's a joy to watch Simon's roguish affection to this good man. Of course, Sanders's careless flirting and banter with Barrie's Val Travers is a hoot. Barry Fitzgerald's Irish charm and brogue is put to good use and playing a courtly roles as a criminologist is Jerome Cowan, who played the guy who prosecuted Kris Kringle in "Miracle on 34th Street."

There are many great scenes, and an appropriate complicated ending where everything is tied up rather neatly, but my favorite scene may be Sanders's Templar, charming an Irish cop with his perfect faux Irish accent. It occurs early in the film, after an opening murder, where Templar successfully gets Val Travers away from inquisitive police. Next week, on TCM at 10, Saturday, Nov. 17, will be "The Saint in London."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mesa of Lost Woman -- Howco regional craziness

By Doug Gibson

I just watched the Howco so-bad-it's-good mini-budget classic "Mesa of Lost Women." Plot in a nutshell: A couple is found near death wandering in the desert near Mexico. The man, a pilot, recounts a bizarre tale of escaping a 600 foot mesa in the Mexican desert -- they crash-landed -- where a mad scientist, Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan) turns insects, particularly spiders, into beautiful women and dwarfish, disfigured men. While he's recounting his tale, a stereotypical Mexican nods somberly and knowingly. The tale, in flashback involves several characters, including Dr. Masterson, a colleague of Aranya driven mad played atrociously by an actor named Harmon Sevens. There is also Dr. Aranya's prized creation, Tarantella, a tarantula turned sexy dish played by Tandria Quinn. Throughout the entire a flamenco guitar musical score from Hoyt Curtin assaults the viewers' senses. It's so grating as to almost unbearable. Ed Wood fans who have seen "Jail Bait," another Howco regional cheapie, will recognize the score. It's the same.

I don't want to dwell any more on the plot. The film must be seen to be fully impacted and comprehended, as Ed Wood might write! It was a Howco release, the company run by AJ White and Joy Houck, the latter owned a lot of drive-in theaters in the south and I'm sure "Mesa" played at everyone. The film, includes Wood's then girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, in a small role. The special effects are a hoot. There's a cheap model of a plan "flying" through air as it prepares to "crash" on the mesa. A giant spider on the mesa that's allegedly killing everyone wouldn't pass muster in a second-rate haunted house. Stereotypes abound, including the sexy insect women and their gnarlish insect men. Dr. Aranya explains the transformation difference is because females are better spiders than males.

Two directors are listed, Herbert Tevos and Ron Ormond. It seems Tevos started the film but was eventually canned and replaced by Ormond, a colorful figure who progressed from cheap science fiction to cheap near-nudies and eventually closed his career making sadistic Christian films for southern hell-fire-and-damnation congregations that in loving detail recounted the burning horrors that awaited sinners who chose Sunday afternoon football over church services. Eventually, I'll get around to reviewing the Ormond family's Christian scare films of the 1970s.

Despite its low budget and ridiculous plot, "Mesa" sort of resembles "Island of Lost Souls" with Coogan's Dr. Aranya playing the Dr. Moreau role. The film, as bad as it is, is a lot of fun, even with the jarring musical score. (The only worse score I have heard is the awful "For Love or Money" song from the 1967 Ed Wood-involved nudie of the same name.)  I like to imagine that Ed Wood, working for Howco at the time, might have contributed a bit to the final product. One of the campies scenes has the sexy Tantarella, who I guess is a stand in for Kathleen Burke's "The Panther Woman," doing a hoochie dance at a dusty Mexican cantina. In the Medved Brothers' "Son of Golden Turkey Awards," the film was named "Most Primitive Male Fantasy." I almost forgot to mention that veteran low-budget actor Lyle Talbot, another Wood actor, provided the narration.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies

Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, 1963, director Ray Dennis Steckler, Starring Cash Flagg (Steckler), Carolyn Brandt. Color, 82 minutes. (Also know as The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary.) Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

I'll say this much: Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is a GREAT title. And for that the late director/star Steckler gets three stars right off the bat. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is very confusing, and only the carnival scenes somewhat save this semi-bore, and very non-scary, monster musical with strippers who are very clothed.

A word about the carnival. It looks a lot like the old Pike in Long Beach, Calif., a wonderful amusement place by the beach that was torn down more than 25 years ago. If any web surfers reading this can verify this, I d love to know.

The plot is very tangled and poorly developed, but here goes. An ugly gypsy fortune teller (who looks a lot like a tired Liz Taylor with a big mole) turns a bunch of hapless fortune seekers into scarred, drugged-out zombies who have an urge to kill. (Why do zombies always have an urge to kill in films? by the way.) No reason is ever given as to why the gypsy wants these zombies around. One night free spirit, cool young guy (Steckler), who looks a bit like a homely Nicholas Cage, goes to the carnival with his rich-girl lady. They have a spat when he eyes a comely dancer, and she stalks off.

Steckler goes after the dancer, and falls into the clutches of the evil fortune teller. He spends the rest of the film wandering around in a daze, occasionally killing and once trying to kill his girl. Later the zombies revolt and wreck havoc around the carnival. Steckler is pursued to the beach, where he meets his fate. Steckler is nota bad actor. He later was very good in a private eye flick he directed, Super Cool. He also made some great C films, including the spoofs Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Lemon Grove Kids series, as well as genuinly nervy psycho killer film called The Thrill Killers.

But this film is too undisciplined to take seriously. Several times scenes don't seem to mesh with the plot and often there is no explanation for why anything is occurring. The viewer is never told how the evil gypsy controls minds. She mumbles in dreams and we see a bad imitation of the Twilight Zone spiral (was this film shot originally in 3D?). In theaters ushers were forced to dress up like zombies and run through the theaters. Steckler's then-wife, Carolyn Brandt, who often starred in his films, plays a sexy carny dancer.

It was advertised as a monster musical and as a result, we're forced to watch a lot of bad singing and dancing. The acting is overall poor. The best part of the film is the weird carny world where so much of the action occurs. The film captures the seedy side of small-time carnival life a generation ago. Unfortunately, the limitations of the filmmakers and likely, a very tiny budget, produce what s mostly a talky bore. But still a great title! I must mention that Steckler, in interviews I have read and watched, seems like a good guy, modest and candid. Other titles for this film included "Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary." This is the film Steckler is best known for, even if it's not his best. Try "Body Fever" or "The Thrill Killers." It's fun to say Steckler acting in the film. He was a fine thespian. The film was also spoofed in MST3K. Watch the trailer above!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kill, Baby, Kill Another great Mario Bava classic

By Steve D. Stones

In 1966, Italian director Mario Bava made this gothic supernatural classic – Kill, Baby, Kill! The film was also marketed as Curse of The Living Dead and under its Italian title – Operazione Paura. Bava is considered a master of the Italian “Giallo” genre in film-making.

A coroner, played by Italian actor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, arrives in a small 19th century Carpathian town to conduct an autopsy. He discovers that the death of a child is haunting locals, who were responsible for her death. The ghost of the girl seeks her revenge on the locals by driving them mad enough to commit suicide. A local witch is also spinning evil sorcery in the town. Gold coins are found embedded in the hearts of villagers who are found dead. The coroner realizes that the dead child has put a curse on the village. He encounters the ghost of the child while visiting her mother, the Baroness Graps.  The Baroness has a strange painting of the girl covered in spider webs on her castle wall.

Bava uses a number of filming techniques that have become characteristic of his directing style. For example, a number of scenes show a character peeking through a window or standing in a doorway as the camera quickly zooms in closely to the character, and then quickly pulls out and away from the person. In one very surreal sequence, a child is swinging back and forth on a swing as if the camera is in her lap, zooming closely to a tombstone off in the distance as the child swings forward.  Bava also uses strange red or blue lightning in a number of scenes, which he also repeats in Planet of The Vampires (1965) and Danger Diabolik (1969). In another scene, actor Rossi-Stuart runs through the baroness’ room over and over again, as his duplicate catches up behind him.

Kill, Baby, Kill is not the masterpiece of Bava’s 1960 film – Black Sunday, but it is still an effective horror film worthy of your viewing. Happy Viewing. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ogden, Utah, regional classic: Don't Go in the Woods ... Alone

By Steve D. Stones

This film is of particular interest to me because it was filmed in my native state of Utah. The composer who created the music, H. Kingsley Thurber, is a resident of my hometown of Ogden City. Thurber is responsible for composing music tracks for popular video games of the 1990s. With the exception of the four main actors in the film who play the young campers, most of the cast members were from Salt Lake City. Many scenes in this film were shot at Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful mountainous location up Provo Canyon here in Utah. The film was banned in the U.K. in the 1980s as a "video nasty," and remains banned in that country to this day. Unlike many cult films, I actually loved this film the first time I viewed it. It usually takes me several viewings to appreciate a cult film.

There are many interesting "point of view" shots in the film. One shows the camper Joanie, played by actress Angie Brown, tearing through a sleeping bag after she has been strung up in a tree inside the bag as a prank from her boyfriend. As she tries to tear through the bag to get out, she witnesses the murderer of the film through a hole in the bag as he runs down a mountain trail and stabs her boyfriend in the stomach with a knife tied to a long tree branch. The murderer is similar to the maniac Jupiter in Wes Craven’s 1977 classic "The Hills Have Eyes." On the audio commentary for the film, director James Bryan describes the maniac-murderer as a Siberian-Shaman looking character.

One very creative murder sequence shows a young mother painting on canvas outdoors in the mountains as her infant is bouncing up and down in a baby swing. The canvas she is painting on has only been painted with green strokes of paint. Suddenly she is murdered and gushes of red blood splatter across the canvas, making an interesting use of complementary colors together. I don’t know how intentional this was in the film. For those of us who paint frequently and know about color schemes, it is an interesting sequence. There are also many "fake scares" in the film that set the audience up for thinking they may see the murderer attack a character in the film. Many of these sequences turn out to be a "fake scare" to add to the black humor of the film.

Although the humor sequences outweigh the serious ones, it is often hard to tell whether the film wants to be a full-blown black comedy, or a serious horror film, This may be one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed the film the first time I viewed it, and continue to enjoy it with each viewing. If you pay careful attention to the film, you will notice that every time a new character is shown on screen in an awful costume, you can guarantee that this person will be the next to be killed. This is part of the black humor director Bryan is trying to get across in the film. Death comes to those with a horrible fashion sense.

A particularly tacky scene shows Cheri and Dick making out in the back of a Volkswagen Van on their honeymoon night. Dick repeats: "Cheri, Cheri, you’re the most beautiful thing that has ever come into my life." This is pretty bad dialogue to say the least. The director once worked in the porno business before he worked on the Grizzly Adams television show of the 1970s, so this may be why he intentionally gave these two characters the tacky names that he did and their poor dialogue. To add to the tackiness, the interior of the van is designed with a poster of Farrah Fawcett plastered to the ceiling with gold trim, red shag carpet, and heart-shaped pillows. Perhaps the interior of the van was once used as a set for a porno film? The awfulness of the van’s décor would lead us to believe so.

It seems like such a cliché to have an overweight, soft-spoken sheriff of a small town in a low-budget horror film, but this may be the most convincing character in the entire film. The sheriff, played by Texan Ken Carter, flies a small plane into the skies in search of a missing person reported lost. This sequence seems like homage to Coleman Francis’ plane scenes in "The Beast of Yucca Flats" with the sheriff fulfilling the role of Tor Johnson. Another scene shows Carter helping a pretty young roller skater from falling to the ground as she runs into him getting out of his police vehicle. The sheriff frequently wipes his brow from sweating profusely, which has also become another cliché in low-budget horror films.

If you are a fan of low-budget horror films and a native of Utah, I highly recommend that you view this film. The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD distributed by Media Blasters is full of extra features, such as a short featurette made by director James Bryan with cast and crew members, two audio commentaries and a poster and production still gallery of the film. You are guaranteed to get your money’s worth if you purchase this DVD. It is one of the most cherished DVDs in my collection.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Unearthly -- Carradine chews up the scenery


                                                              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

By Doug Gibson

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. In a more quiet way, he's still chewing up the scenery. 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. Watch the MST3K riff above.

Friday, November 2, 2012

White Zombie -- Lugosi's '$800' blockbuster

By Doug Gibson 

"White Zombie" is a marvelous film. Panned by the supercilious critics of the 1930s, the 1932 voodoo/zombie Haitian mystical horror film is an established classic today. Frankly, all the credit goes to Bela Lugosi. His character, Murder Legendre, is a cinema masterpiece of horror. Evil, courtly, always thinking of revenge and sans a conscience, he is a dark God of the Caribbean, creating zombie slaves for various whims, to fuel his sugar cane mill, to punish his enemies, and merely to amuse himself.

The plot, as virtually everyone knows, involves a young couple, a banker, Neil, and his fiance (John Harron and Madge Bellamy) rather strangely traveling to Haiti to be married in the mansion of a sugar plantation owner, Charles, (Robert Frazer) who Bellamy's character, Madeleine, barely knows. Charles has an obsessive crush on Madeleine, and repeatedly begs her to marry him. She rejects his overtures with quiet patience. However, Charles lust is so strong that he accepts help from Legendre to make it appear Madeleine has died and then have return as a pliant zombie. (There is an early, pre-Hays code scene Bellamy, dressing for her wedding, is quite sexy in undergarments)6

 Anyway, after Madeleine's "death," her stunned, bereaved husband spends most of his time in a saloon until prodded by a local missionary, Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) to double check on Madeleine's death. Bruner, a longtime resident of the island, suspects that Legendre may be involved. Meanwhile, the merciless Legendre casually turns Charles into a zombie after the repentant suitor begs to have the lifeless Madeleine restored to life. (It needs to be mentioned that prior to George A. Romero's influence, cinema zombies -- thanks largely to "White Zombie" -- were generally sinister slaves for evil henchman.)

The independent film was directed by Victor Halperin and produced by his brother, Edward. It was shot on the Universal Studios backlot. The Halperins were ordinary talents. "White Zombie" was their only money-maker, and its success is owed only to Lugosi. Although shots of the zombies are impressive, including a chilling scene where a zombie falls into a cane masher, the rest of the actors, with the partial exception of Cawthorn, are dull and lifeless. Bellamy is beautiful but as stiff as a state. Frazer is OK but mostly emotes, and Harron is weak as the romantic lead. Lugosi simply dominates the film, with his cheerful evil and his ability to convey devil-like behavior with affability. The film has a wonderful climax that includes zombies stepping off cliffs and falling to new deaths without a sound.

How much Lugosi earned and how much the $60,000 or so film earned is still debated. Lugosi claimed he was only paid $800 for the role. If so, that would be criminal, although he was in poor economic straits at the time and needed cash. I suspect he was paid at least a couple of thousand dollars, still a paltry sum. Lugosi also claimed the film grossed $8 million. That's likely untrue. It was a huge hit. Gary Don Rhodes, in his excellent book, "White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film," estimates that the film grossed about $1.75 million, a lot for that time period. Rhodes also writes that the Halperins only earned $80,000 from the film.

In any event, someone made a lot of cash from the movie. The fiscal abuse Lugosi dealt with his entire career from Universal and other studios has always annoyed me. What a pity that whoever got the lion's share of White Zombie's earnings couldn't be bothered to write Lugosi a check for $25,000 or so -- a pittance of the film's profits? After all, he was the sole reason that the film was a blockbuster. Anyone who has seen the pitiful, non-Lugosi 1936 Halperin follow up, "Revolt of the Zombies," knows that all too well.

I hope that wherever the folks who profited from "White Zombie" are, they've offered a beyond the grave apology to Lugosi for stiffing him on the proceeds of the film. As a matter of fact, the Universal execs should also be apologizing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

‘The Cat and the Canary’ created what we expect from a haunted house

By Doug Gibson

“The Cat and the Canary,” a 1927 silent from Universal, directed by Paul Leni, a student of the German expressionist school, is a fun spooky/silly horror/comedy. It’s based on stage plays of that era — the 1920s — that were popular, with spooky forbidding mansions, red herrings, young lovelies in peril, bumbling cops, and homicidal maniacs. While “The Cat and the Canary” is a reaction to what was popular 85 years ago, it also over time is the genesis of many of the cliches that horror film viewers expect from haunted houses for at least two generations after the film.

There’s the forbidding mansion in a state of decay, the ominous housekeeper, the deceased, crazy-in-life owner who has gathered his heirs to the mansion for a reading of his crazed will. There’s the collection of eccentric relatives, including a young lovely and a bumbling good guy who has a crush on the lady. There’s the stereotypical murder, a killer on the loose, and escaped madman, a bumbling cop or two, a sinister doctor, a creepy lawyer, and a couple of other oddballs thrown in for good measure.

That’s essentially the plot of “The Cat and the Canary.” Twenty years after crazy old rich Cyrus West dies, he gathers, by his command, his heirs to the mansion. They include the young lovely Annabelle West (Laura LaPlanche), and her cousins, bumbling Paul Jones, (Creighton Hale), and more forbidding Charlie Wilder (Forrest Stanley). Hale’s Jones, by the way, looks just like a befuddled “Harry Potter,” complete with the glasses and unkept hair. How ironic that generations earlier, we had a “Harry Potter-ish” character in cinema. Of course, he’s not a wizard, although he ends up being the hero in this tale.

Not surprisingly, young lovely Annabelle is the heir and will keep her riches as long as the doctor is assured she is not insane. If she’s proven insane, an unnamed person, whose name is in the lawyer’s pocket, will inherit all the cash. (I forgot to mention that the envelope with that name was apparently opened up.) Such are the convoluted but fun plots. It isn’t long before the lawyer is murdered and a murderous fiend is haunting the mansion, trying to bump people off and harm our heroine.

As mentioned, director Leni incorporates much of the silent German expressionist film style. Expressionist thought puts feelings, inner particularly, above the action that is being portrayed. We feel the haunted house through the prism of the actors, more so than through the action we are seeing. The haunted mansion is almost dream-like in its many hallways, stairs, curtains and claustrophobic atmosphere.

I particularly like one of Leni’s touches at the beginning, where he portrays Cyrus West’s madness by portraying him as a “canary” surrounded by cats eager to feast on him. It is important to recall that this is a spoof, and there is very witty comedy throughout. Hale in particular plays the wimpy-turned-heroic hero as well as many silent comedians such as Lloyd and Chaplin. Also providing very strong acting chops is Martha Mattox, who plays the forbidding, gloomy housekeeper, Mammy Pleasant.

“The Cat and the Canary” was a big hit and was remade in 1930 as “The Cat Creeps,” which was Universal’s first sound horror film. A Spanish version was made as well. Unfortunately, “... Cat Creeps” is believed lost. In 1939, it was remade as a comedy vehicle for Bob Hope. There was a 1961 Swedish version made and in 1970, Richard Gordon produced a British version. However, the 1927 version remains the best version. The film was, as mentioned, based on a popular play of the same name.

The classic haunted house setting, the expressionist horror mixed with laughs provides a nice atmosphere fit for a Halloween viewing. The film is often shown on Turner Classic Movies.