Saturday, May 30, 2015

An unauthorized Mexican remake of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

By Doug Gibson

I came across a film, released via DVD by Image Entertainment Latino, called Frankestein (sic), El Vampiro, y Compania," made in 1962 by Cinematografica Calderon S.A., a Mexican film company which still exists. The movie is a comedy and a blatant remake of the Abbott & Costello classic "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." That is about the only admirable quality of the film. It's bottom-of-the-barrel low and the comedy is of the crude, unfunny type where the "funny man" screams and mugs his face up and generally does a sixth-rate imitation of Huntz Hall.

And this is a bad film. Frankly, it's very obscure and there is no English dubbing available. On IMDB it declares the dubbed version lost, but I wonder if the film was never dubbed because the producers were worried they'd be sued by Universal, which produced the Abbott and Costello film. My DVD is of course only Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish but the film can be followed by anyone familiar with Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein. In that sense it can be fun to watch, but boy it's mediocre and unfunny.

The original film has Bud and Lou as inept shippers of big packages and crates. While unloading crates containing the original Dracula and Frankenstein monster for a spook show owner, it turns out the monsters are genuine. They escape and Bud and Lou are arrested for having lost the merchandise. They are bailed out by a sexy insurance investigator who hopes the boys can lead her to the merchandise. Rotund Lou is being romanced by a sexy doctor who is helping Dracula resurrect the Frankenstein monster. The wolf man contact the boys, hoping to stop Dracula. It all ends in a party and then a castle where Dracula and Lou's paramour hope to place Costello's brain in the head of the monster. There's a subplot involving a romance between the insurance investigator and Dracula's assistant at the castle (he doesn't know about the nefarious plans) and the usually funny gags with Abbott being frustrated at Costello's "success" with the women.

The remake, Frankestein, El Vampiro, y Compania," stays pretty faithful except for these changes, which were probably due to budget constraints. There is no insurance investigator. Her role is instead played by a new character, the daughter of the spook show owner. And Dracula has no assistant. The daughter makes eyes at the Mexican version of Bud Abbott. Also, the wolfman has little to do, which is not too bad because his mask is pathetic. It looks like a $9.99 mask one could find at any store.

The "funny man" in the film, the Lou Costello character, is played by a Mexican comic named Manuel "Loco" Valdez. His name is Paco As mentioned, he's more Huntz Hall than Lou Costello. The Abbott character, not really comic, is played by Jose Jasso and called Agapito. The best part of the film is the healthy amount of attractive, dark-haired, voluptuous Mexican starlets. They look healthier than the monsters, particularly El Vampiro, played by a painfully thin, noodle-necked seventh-rate John Carradine named Quintin Bulnes. The Frankestein monster is adequate for a college film and as mentioned, the Wolfman is an ill-costumed afterthought.

One of the problems with low-budget poorly scripted, badly acted spooks comedies is that the monsters are played as ridiculous and worthy of being laughed at. The vampire in this film tries to be funny and ridiculous, mugging and jerking around. In Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the monsters retain their dignity and the comics are funny solely by their reactions to the monsters.

Other stars include Nora Veryan as the sexy doctor who entices Paco to the castle. It's worth a look, particularly if you want to see what other filmmakers did with the famous Abbott and Costello. As mentioned, no English dubbing is known to exist, but if you can get this cheap, enjoy. The IMDB page is here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Danger: Diabolik - A Fun, Kitsch Laden Crime Caper

By Steve D. Stones

Danger: Diabolik (1967) is Italian director Mario Bava's most kitsch laden film. Bava is best known for his atmospheric horror and suspense themed films - such as Black Sunday and Kill Baby Kill.  Diabolik, however, is pure tongue in cheek, psychedelic era entertainment. The viewer might even mistaken it for a 1960s TV episode of Batman. The character of Diabolik even has an underground, secret headquarters filled with computers and other electronic devices - just like Batman's bat cave.  Diabolik dresses in a skin tight black outfit, similar to a diver's suit.

After stealing ten million dollars from under the noses of government agents and a priceless emerald necklace, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) confronts an Italian crime boss named Ralph Valmont - who has kidnapped Diabolik's girlfriend Eva (Marisa Mel) in exchange for the ten million dollars and the necklace.

Diabolik and Valmont fall out the bottom of a plane during a fight and land safely on the ground, as government agents quickly close in on the two. Valmont is killed by gun fire, while Diabolik swallows a capsule to give the appearance of being dead, allowing him to live in suspended animation for twelve hours.
Diabolik escapes while on the examination table at the hospital morgue, then plans his next big heist - the robbery of a 20-ton gold bar being transported by train. 

He blows up a bridge the train travels across carrying the giant gold bar and retrieves it underwater. He takes the gold bar back to his secret headquarters. 

The ending of the film may be giving a parody reference to the 1964 James Bond film - Goldfinger. Diabolik melts down the gold bar, but is accidentally solidified in the hot gold while wearing a protective suit.  Although the government agents think he is dead, he winks at the viewer through his helmet to indicate he's still alive.

The coolest aspect of Diabolik is that he does summersaults across the hood of his Jaguar when he's in a hurry to get away, and sleeps in a giant bed piled with money. The strange psychedelic score by Ennio Morricone adds greatly to the kitsch quality of the film. Opening credits give the impression of being spun in the spin cycle of a clothes washer.  Happy viewing!

(Art by Steve D. Stones)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The time Bela Lugosi made a World War II propaganda film

By Doug Gibson

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

But I digress: Black Dragons, 1942, directed by William Nigh, runs 69 B and W minutes and stars Lugosi as Dr. Melcher and Monsieur Colomb. He's a sinister guy who pops up just as a bunch of American industrialists are getting mysteriously bumped off. There is also pretty Joan Barclay as the niece of a Dr. Saunders (Robert Frazer), who is all mixed up in whatever is going on. It's also fun to see future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore as an FBI agent.

Now, we have mysterious deaths, we have Lugosi. It's all set to be a horror, right ... ahem, no. This is 1942, the U.S. is at war with the Axis, and Monogram head honcho Sam Katzman saw money to be made by creating a combination thriller/WW2 propaganda anti-Japanese film. So that's what Black Dragons is, and it makes the film an interesting historical curio piece. One has to appreciate Katzman's ability to mix patriotism with a quick buck! He had this film in the can and ready for theaters by late spring 1942. The film ends with a banner headline, "Jap spy ring smashed!" and a fade out of Old Glory, the American flag.

You see, these U.S. industrialists are Japanese spies, created through plastic surgery to look like the American industrialists. Lugosi was the Nazi surgeon who did all this in Japan ... and then was doublecrossed and thrown in prison. Somehow -- the film sort of glosses over this -- Lugosi escaped Japan and headed to the U.S. to get his revenge on the spies. The plot is delightfully bizarre. Lugosi not only conducts plastic surgery on the Japanese agents, he lightens their skin and provides them accents, as well as hair and body shapes. All the industrialists who are now having doubles were killed off sans anyone knowing, even their families! Once Lugosi's character is tossed into a Japanese cell, which appears to be all stone, he somehow is able to conduct perfect plastic surgery -- from his bag -- on another prisoner!

As I mentioned, I love these time-capsule films. Monogram was famous for its bizarre intricate plots that its ultra-low budgets just could never keep up with. They dissolve into fun nonsensical action. Lugosi is Lugosi in this film. He's wonderful, whether he's coyly flirting with starlet Barclay or cleverly and calmly dispatching his victims. And there's also that wonderful, ubiquitous menacing, Monogram music. As Lugosi biographer Arthur Lennig notes, this was the last film in which Lugosi (in his early 60s) was considered attractive to a young lovely. Barclay does flirt rather unabashedly with Bela. Also, Robert Frazer, who co-starred with Lugosi in the classic "White Zombie," is in this film.

The boom of video and DVD plus public domain has made Black Dragons, once rather obscure, easy to find. It's often in the $1 DVD bin at Wal-Mart or in the 20- to 50-set public domain offerings. Those with broadband Internet can watch it free on the Net. Buy it and enjoy an hour-plus diversion into a different filmmaking existence. I love the opening sequence, where fat, bloated and old Washington pols, lobbyists and businessmen are partying with lots of liquor, cigars and blonde babes. Some things never change.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Biography breathes life into the career of Three Stooges' mentor Ted Healy

Review by Doug Gibson

I recently purchased "Nobody's Stooge: Ted Healy," by Bill Cassara (Bear Manor Media) here (and be advised it's much more inexpensive via Kindle), It's an entertaining fact-filled account of the life of a man who was a major star in 1920s vaudeville, the creator of The Three Stooges and later doing well as a studio contract star when he suddenly died near the end of 1937, mere days after becoming a father. Cassara's book has garnered plaudits; it was recently named a finalist in the biography category of the International Book Awards.

Healy was a mere 41 when he died, and his abrupt death was a real shame. Had he hung around for another 25 years or so, he almost certainly would have continued having strong acting roles, and likely would have been an early TV variety hour or comedy series star. He was a Master of Ceremonies superstar, a variety show talent with strong sketch comedy skills, as well as an ability to banter with audiences and co-stars. He defined being comfortable on the stage and screen.

He grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional family although their economic circumstances were better than most. He was a boyhood friend with "Moe" of the Three Stooges and both performed with a diving entertainment show as boys. Healy moved steadily into stage prominence. As Cassara reports, he was an early blackface star in the manner of Al Jolson. After he married a beautiful entertainer named Betty Braun, the pair's act, and their supporting players, reached Broadway star status. It was around that era that Healy developed the Three Stooges, as well as other Healy perennials, into his acts. As Cassara notes, an early "Stooge" was a show business plant in the audience.

Healy and Braun eventually split; Ted was not a faithful husband. It was inevitable that Healy's star would reach into the movies. Initially, he took Moe, Larry and Shemp/and sometimes Curly into the movies with him, including a stint of shorts. One of their first features (although it's Healy as the star and The Stooges in supporting roles) was the 1930 Rube Goldberg-scripted film "Soup to Nuts." While reading "Nobody's Stooge," I bought the film and watched it. Aside from Ted's role as a reporter in the MGM film, "Mad Love," I had never seen a Healy film.

I'm so glad I watched "Soup to Nuts." (imdb page) It's a time-capsule joy; the type of Hollywood romance with wisecracks and vaudevillian skits arranged into a Goldberg-esque plot. Ted plays the chief salesman of a failing costume shop. His bickering banter with his girlfriend, who works at the shop, has the timing and comedy of a Fred and Ethel Mertz. The characters are not unique, but fresh. There's Ted, his girlfriend, the proud shop owner, his lovely niece, and the nice young man who takes over the shop and falls in love with the niece.

Ted hangs around at a firehouse that employs Moe, Larry and Shemp, as well as an eccentric mute fireman, played by Fred Sanborn, a tiny man with bushy eyebrows, a Chaplin-like walk, an amusing running gait, and strong musical skills. He was one of Healy's vaudeville team and I guarantee that viewers will find him fascinating, whether they like him or not.

Much of the film has scenes with sketches that were likely related to vaudeville sets, physical and others, in the past, and there's a Fireman's Ball scene that features an extremely entertaining set of Ted and the Stooges. Rube Goldberg, by the way, has a cameo as do some silent comedy stars. Anyone who enjoys the Stooges, Healy, and early sound Hollywood variety comedy/musicals, or vaudeville, should watch the film. I'd love to see "Soup to Nuts" produced as a stage musical comedy.

Back to the biography; eventually The Stooges' screen time with Healy at MGM diminished and as Cassara notes, they were dropped and went on their own to eventual success with Columbia's shorts department. Healy continued working as a contract player, and worked with substitute Stooges as well.

As mentioned, Healy struggled with some issues, marriage fidelity, drinking, hanging out too often with cronies and hangers on, and he had tax problems. The government was attaching much of his earnings. Hurting for money, he filed suit against the Stooges of Columbia for allegedly appropriating his acts. This is a difficult charge to prove and the suit languished sans success until its dismissal long after Healy was dead.

The lawsuit has fueled rumors that Healy and the Stooges were highly antagonistic toward each other. Cassara makes a good case to debunk this with quotes from the Stooges praising Healy and paints the lawsuit as a not uncommon yet largely unsuccessful type of lawsuit that happens occasionally in the entertainment industry.

Cassara also debunks conspiracy theories, some published in prominent sources, that Healy was beaten to death or killed by the "mob" for gambling debts. As the book relates, Healy died after a long weekend of celebrating his son's birth (to his final wife, Betty Hickman) with a huge amount of drinking. He was involved in a fight that resulted in a wound to his head that was treated by a doctor very shortly before his death at his home. When his personal doctor delayed signing a death report, media speculation swirled.

Cassara is a retired law enforcement professional and he methodically deconstructs -- with some expert colleagues' help -- and discounts such conspiracies. The wounds from the fistfight don't seem severe enough to have killed Healy. The almost certain cause of Healy's death was an infection to his kidneys that was worsened to a grave condition by either a massive off-the-wagon weekend of drinking or a heavy drinking weekend from a severe alcoholic. Tragically, Cassara notes that Healy, certainly in agonizing pain from the kidney infection, may have unwisely been self medicating with drinking to alleviate the pain.

Healy died a few days before Christmas 1937; his wife Betty, recuperating from the delivery, was not told of her husband's death for a few days. Although still an in-demand Hollywood star, he did not save his money and left his family in poor financial condition

Although he's an entertainment footnote today, and certainly his relationship to the Stooges has him overshadowed by their iconic status, he was a far bigger star in 1937 than his former proteges, and his death and funeral were major news.

I urge cult movies fans, and particularly vintage talkie variety and comedy fans, to search for Ted Healy footage; he's really superb, and I envy anyone who gets to witness his talent for the first time. A pre-code YouTube clip short is below, and purchase "Soup to Nuts" and locate say, "Hollywood Hotel" the next time it's on TCM.

And buy Bill Cassara's biography of Healy, which besides debunking rumors provides a fascinating look into the stage star who created the Three Stooges and contributed strongly to the early years of cinema.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The comedy Buster Keaton made in Mexico -- Boom in the Moon

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 a bit hard up 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 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 semi has-been netherworld. A key income was making mostly comedy shorts for Educational Pictures and Columbia. Those efforts were overshadowed by The Three Stooges 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 that 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. A spanish version DVD is at but costs $79.95 when I last checked.

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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ed Wood also wrote novels; review of Death of a Transvestite

Death of a Transvestite, by Ed Wood Jr., 172 pages, Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 1999. Originally published by Pad Library in 1967 under the title Let Me Die in Drag.

Review by Doug Gibson

Besides making some of the most cultish ... and unique films ever produced, Ed Wood produced a lot of writing. He may have written more than 100 novels, and perhaps 1000 short stories. Friends recall that the prolific Wood could wake up, sit down in front of a typewriter and finish an entire screenplay by the evening. Wood's second career writing novels and stories, however, took off in tandem with his alcoholism. He wrote exploitation novels for the cheap paperback market, receiving only a few hundred dollars a book and no royalties. Many of his books have pseudonyms, and by the end of his life, he was writing mainly pornography.

In Nightmare of Ecstasy, Rudolph Gray's excellent oral biography of Wood, the author points to Killer in Drag and Death of a Transvestite as Wood's strongest literary efforts. He's probably right. Death of a Transvestite, a sequel to Killer in Drag, was written before Wood had more or less entirely gravitated to porno. It's a sleazy but entertaining tale of Glenn, a hit man for the Mafia who is also a transvestite, albeit a heterosexual one. The story begins with Glenn in prison, facing execution, relating the story of his life to the warden. In return, the warden will allow Glenn to be executed in drag.

It's actually better than it sounds. Wood was too lazy a researcher to produce a great book, but he captures the underbelly of the characters and settings. Cliches, sleazy prose, sex scenes, violent deaths and hyperbole abound in Death of a Transvestite, but the novel has heart. You root for Glenn. Try to imagine Elmore Leonard producing a first draft of a novel written in a couple of days without spell checks and, presto, you have Death of a Transvestite.

Most of Wood's books are out of print of course, and they command a very high price (in the hundreds of dollars) when an original can be found. However, Four Walls Eight Windows Press, a publisher with offices in New York and London, has reintroduced a few of Wood's novels. (Some were introduced in England in the late 80s) Death of a Transvestite and Killer in Drag can be found at most bookstores, and another Wood re-release, an earlier previously unpublished novel called Hollywood Rat Race, can be purchased via Amazon.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Genius at Work, the Bela Lugosi film you haven't seen

By Doug Gibson

I finally got a chance -- courtesy of Turner Classic Movies -- to see the Lugosi film that for decades was just about impossible to catch; RKO's 1946 "Genius at Work," a 61-minute programmer for the B comedy team of Abbott and Costello imitators Wally Brown ("Bud") and Alan Carney ("Lou"). It's the second RKO B feature Bela Lugosi made with the low-rent team, who were at least better competitors to A and C than Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo were to Martin and Louis. The first film was the better-known "Zombies on Broadway," with Lugosi a standard mad scientist.

Bela's a henchman named Stone in "Genius at Work," second banana to the film's chief baddie, criminologist Latimer Marsh turned serial killer "The Cobra," played by Lionel Atwill. Wally and Alan are radio detectives who are playing up the Cobra's kills. Ironically, Marsh is their mentor, advising the unsuspecting pair. Eventually, the boys radio show produce, the very attractive Anne Jeffreys, starts to suspect Marsh as a suspect and he and Bela's plan the demise of the radio boys and their lovely producer.

It's important to recall that this is a vehicle for the comedy pair of Brown and Carney. Atwill and Bela play second fiddle as time is spent to provide the stars A and C-type comedy interludes. Perhaps the most effective comedy is when the boys find themselves in Atwill's Marsh's torture dungeon museum in his home, and later when they sneak back into Marsh's home. During these scenes the sinister Lugosi plays off the boys well, scaring them in comic manner.

Here's some notes I provided to a fan/historian of the genre, a co-author of a book on Lugosi, who has yet to see the film: It's nothing special, but it's a fast-paced, enjoyable comedy mystery. Brown and Carney (the Abbott and Costello wannabes) are radio detectives trying to solve kidnappings/murders by "The Cobra." A criminologist, played by Lionel Atwill, is sort of a mentor to them. However, Atwill is The Cobra and with his henchman, Stone (Lugosi) is planning to off the boys because their radio producer, played by Anne Jefferys, is starting to get suspicious. There are a couple of cops for the comedy team to play off and a scene in a torture dungeon museum in Atwill's home that is played for laughs with Lugosi tormenting the duo. It's only an hour, and the second third drags a bit due to some poor plotting but it picks up well at the end. I kept thinking that Lugosi (deserved) the Atwill role until the final reel, where Atwill's character disguises himself as an old woman in a dress, and now I'm glad Lugosi had the lesser role. Final note: No great shakes, but better than Leonard Maltin or Richard Bojorksi claim it is. I'll watch it every so often.

This was the great Lionel Atwill's final feature role; he was dying of cancer and the film was released after his death. He seems a little frail but does a good job. It's a relatively quick film and has enough lowbrow laughs and a good-enough performance from Bela to merit repeat viewings. I mentioned that it was hard to find until recently. "Genius at Work" was recently as an On-Demand DVD offering of several Brown and Carney films but at a pricey cost. Fortunately, TCM aired it and a long-time goal of this reviewer was fulfilled.

Notes: The film was the final of a three-picture deal Lugosi had with RKO. The others were "The Body Snatcher" and the aforementioned "Zombies on Broadway," which Jeffreys was also in. It was his second-to-last movie assignment with a major studio. His last would be "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Leslie Goodwins directed "Genius At Work," the last of the comedy duo's eight pictures with RKO..

Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Andy Warhol's Bad' a savage, gross-out curio from the 1970s

By Doug Gibson

I watched "Andy Warhol's Bad," one of the Factory's films from the 1970s that sought to shock people, a la John Waters, etc. There are the requisite shocks: limbs being cut off, a dog being stabbed, and the biggee, a baby tossed out of a tenement several floors high. With deliberately poor FXs, the camera lingers on this stuff.

"Bad" s mostly forgotten now. It's attempt at savage, gross-out black comedy never goes as far or as acid as John Waters' contributions, such as "Female Trouble," Desperate Living" or the infamous "Pink Flamingos," which has the late Divine eating dog poop. (FYI, the dog pop scene is not the most disturbing scene in "Pink Flamingos," -- not even close. So "Bad" has faded away.

And that's for the best; although the best produced Warhol film, it's often dreary as the main actors, Carrol1 Baker and Perry King, underplay their roles. In fact, King has more energy than Baker, perhaps the only time King had more energy than a co-star in any film! Other Warhol films, such as "Trash," and the monster flicks, are more interesting.

The plot involves Baker as running a hair removal and murder for hire businesses out of her home, which she shares with a doughty family, a few hit girls, including the beautiful actress Stefania Casini. Enter hit man Perry King, who needs to stay a few days before his appointment to kill an autistic boy whose parents want to get rid of. There's also a creepy cop harassing Baker, who basically is the main breadwinner in the dysfunctional family business. The film is as close a look at persons who are basically sociopaths sans any moral functions as any other film has attempted. Susan Tyrell has a role as Baker's marginally moronic daughter in law, who the sociopathic hit girls like to torment.

"Bad" is not a bad film lol, it's just not a great film,. I'd suggest '70s cult completists watch it, though, to see what cinema was competing with Waters for gross-you-out black comedy genre. The 1977 film runs a too-long 105 minutes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A comparison between Ed Wood the film and Ed Wood the book

By Doug Gibson

Tim Burton's wonderful film, Ed Wood, recently was chosen as one of the "new classics," by Entertainment Weekly. It's a worthy selection. Burton's black & white tale of Hollywood in the 1950s is a romanticized fairy tale. Johnny Depp's exuberant, ceaselessly optimistic Wood carries the day with a triumphant Plan 9 from Outer Space premiere at the Pantages. (That didn't happen, of course. Plan 9 was screened once at the tiny Rialto and then sat on the shelf for three years). When Plan 9 was put into general release, Wood didn't see a cent.

Later, before the credits to Burton's film roll, the epilogue tells us Wood descended into alcoholism and pornography. It's appropriate that not be shown in Burton's film. It is, as mentioned a fairy tale, of optimism and perserverance. In a general sense, it is accurate. Wood battled tremendous odds in the 1950s. He filmed Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls with virtually no money. He managed to attract a diverse and eccentric collection of well-known and semi-known cast names, including Dolores Fuller, Criswell, Kenne Duncan, Steve Reeves, Bud Osborne, Timothy Farrell, John Carpenter, Harvey Dunne, Lyle Talbot, Vampira, Herbert Rawlinson, Gregory Walcott and, of course, Bela Lugosi. It appears Wood's enthusiasm was contagious, and many thought he might make it. That he didn't have a long career at least in directing low-budget thrillers must be attributed to his alcoholism, which made him unreliable. Even near his death, his writing was amazingly prolific. More than one friend recalls him writing a screenplay in a day. He wrote hundreds of paperback novels.

The following are some inconsistencies between Burton's Ed Wood, the romanticized, fairy tale film, and Grey's often gritty absorbing oral biography account of Wood's short rise and long descent. One day I'll add to this as time goes on. Here are inconsistencies by film:

Glen or Glenda: In the book, George Weiss is shown as short and trim. In the film he is an overweight slob; It is doubtful that Wood's gay friend Bunny Breckenridge auditioned transvestites for the film. By the way, actor Bill Murray does a great job portraying Breckenridge. The film set for G&G though, matches it as described in the book. Lugosi was not divorced, as the film depicts him. He was still with his wife, Lillian, although she left him soon after. In fact, Grey reports that Lillian pushed Lugosi to take the film. It is also very doubtful Wood gave G&G to a major producer to watch, as the film shows. Also, the film shows Depp's Wood as unhappy that the film was not reviewed in LA. Obviously, Wood would have known where the film was debuting and not checked the LA Times for a review. Burton's scenes of Wood's company stealing shots on LA streets are accurate, according to Grey.

Jail Bait: This film is not even mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood (probably for time and continuity reasons) so let's give it some ink. It's a crime thriller that involves a hood (Farrell) pressuring a plastic surgeon (Rawlinson) and his daughter (Fuller) to make him a new face. Interesting co-stars were Reeves (in his pre-muscleman days) and then-top model Theodora Thurman. Also in the cast are Wood regulars Mona McKinnon, Don Nagel and Bud Osborne. The film's score, which is a bit grating, was taken from Mesa of Lost Women. Howco Films released the film, which likely mostly played the southern drive-in circuit. It's too ambitious for its budget, but is not a bad hour-long time waster. According to Grey, scenes were stolen at an LA motel. (Scene stealing is shooting at private and public locations without permission) Grey, and many rumors, claim that ex-silent film star Rawlinson died the morning after his scenes were shot. Lugosi was slated to play the plastic surgeon, but was either exhausted from his recent Las Vegas gig, too addicted to morphine, or perhaps just had a better offer.

Bride of the Monster: Burton's scenes in LA's Griffith Park of Wood filming in the early AM the finale to Bride are accurate to Grey's description with one exception: Lugosi never got in the water to tangle with a rubber octopus. That was handled by his stand-in, stuntman Eddie Parker. Burton portrays Loretta King, who starred as a nosy reporter, as an airhead. Grey's depiction is fairer, and recent interviews support that she was a capable actress who got the job not for her supposed money, but for her skills. Dolores Fuller's anger at losing the role is accurately portrayed in both film and book. Also, Burton is very unfair to leading man Tony McCoy. He is portrayed as borderline retarded. Wood calls him the worst he ever had in Grey's book. But a viewing of Bride of the Monster shows McCoy to be a very average but capable actor. He certainly knew his lines and can be personable on screen. In fact, McCoy and King were both handled by agent Marge Usher, who supplied Wood with several actors.

Plan 9 From Outer Space: First, although it is a marvelous scene in Burton's Ed Wood, Wood and his idol Orson Welles never chatted at a Hollywood bar. That scene is fiction. By the way, Wood's friend and actor Conrad Brooks plays the bartender in that scene. Also, Burton has Vampira and Kathy Wood being baptized as a Baptist with other Wood regulars to get funding for the film. I don't believe Vampira would have done it, and Kathy Wood says in Grey's book she wouldn't get baptized. It is doubtful Wood would have been angry at Gregory Walcott being cast in his film, since he was a minor name actor at the time. Also, Wood never agreed to his film, Grave Robbers From Outer Space, being changed in title to Plan 9 From Outer Space, as Burton's film show. A minor point; but Ed and Kathy Wood did not meet at Lugosi's hospital, as the film shows. In later interviews, Kathy Wood said they met in a bar. The film was not premiered at the Pantages, and certainly wasn't the elaborate affair as Burton's film shows. In fact, Wood sold the rights to Plan 9 to his Baptist financier, J. Edward Reynolds, for $1 (as Grey recounts) and the film received a minimal release from a small firm, Distributors Releasing Corporation of America. It opened as a second bill to a now-obscure British film called Time Lock.

Night of the Ghouls: Again, not mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood, this film was a sequel to Bride of the Monster, as it involved Tor Johnson's giant Lobo, and a semi sequel to Plan 9 as it had Paul Marco's Patrolman Kelton and Duke Moore's Lt. Daniel Bradford in the cast. It involves a phony medium (Duncan, in a role obviously intended for the late Lugosi) and his young squeeze (Valda Hansen) ripping off elderly fools in an old house. The tables are turned on the pair as the police close in on them and the dead really do start to awake. It has Criswell, narrating from a coffin as he does in Plan 9 and having a brief acting role as well. (Let me digress and say that Jeffrey Jones was brilliant as the late psychic in Burton's film). As mentioned, Tor Johnson's Lobo shuffles around menacingly. The film is intermixed with scenes from an unreleased Wood film called Final Curtain. That sequence, which stars Moore and actress Jeanne Stevens, is quite creepy. After years of not being available for viewing, Final Curtain finally had a screen showing and was released to YouTube a while back. You can see it here and we have embedded it below. Night of the Ghouls was premiered but Wood ran out money, couldn't pay a lab bill and the film was seized for about a quarter of a century before Wood fan Wade Williams paid the bill and it was released. The film's budget is threadbare and dirt-cheap. A cut out picture of Ed Wood is posted on a police wall. The police commander's office has no doorknobs. Obviously, Wood planned more editing and shoots before he lost control of the film. Night of the Ghouls was the first in a planned sequence of films that Wood wanted to make.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It Came From Hollywood a smarmy look at bad films

By Doug Gibson

"It Came From Hollywood," 1982, color, directed by Malcolm Leo and Andrew Solt, Paramount Pictures, 79 minutes. Starring Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Cheech and Chong and a host of “bad movies.” Schlock-meter rating: 5 out of 10.

“It Came From Hollywood” ...  I saw the film in a movie theater 33 years ago. I watched it recently again on YouTube and I have to say that’s it’s not as good as I thought it was way back then.

It’s definitely unique, and stands as an early offering in the bad movies cum cult films craze that started in the late 1970s, ’80s. But, like much of the film critiques of that era, it’s smarmy to the max, with bad puns and skits making fun of these lower-grade “C” movies, rather than treating them with affection and noting the efforts with good humor and appreciation. Indeed, the film is based on the once-popular book, “The Golden Turkey Awards,” which mocked these films in similar manner.

Stars Candy, Radner, Ackroyd and Cheech and Chong connect the films, via subject sections, with Saturday Night Live-type skits that range from passable (Candy) to mediocre (Ackroyd and Radner) to gosh-awful with Cheech and Chong, who are so dated and unfunny that no film spoofed in “It Came From Hollywood” is half as bad as the faux stoned duo. 

The best thing about “It Came From Hollywood,” and the reason to see it via YouTube on a weekend, is the sheer number of “so-bad-they-are-good” films with excerpts in the movie. I counted 95 and there’s an admirably wide selection of genres, from all-black films, to gorilla epics, to 50s juvenile films, to druggie films, to monster flicks, to bad melodrama, to states rights exploitation, and a special section “honoring” Ed Wood, which Candy handles with some class. I’m pleased to see the late ’40s cheapie “Daughter of the Jungle” featured, a classic of the bad film genre that has disappeared of late. For a list of the films, go to

There are so many beloved bad films that it saves the smarmy anthology and forces me to recommend it for cult film buffs. There's "Maniac," (1934), "Isle of Forgotten Sins," with classic 20-shot gun battle between two six-shooters, "Fire Maidens From Outer Space," "Runaway Daughters," "The Amazing Colossal Man," "Prince of Space," "Slime People," "Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies," "Mars Needs Women" and so. You get the picture: Ignore the dumb skits and just enjoy the clips.

On the minus side, the smarmy filmmakers occasionally slam a film that is actually considered a great film, even classic of the genre. “The Fly” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man," "Creature From the Black Lagoon," and "Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" are some examples of miscast films.
There’s been no official DVD release of this film, and the out-of-print VHS is very expensive to buy. To watch “It Came From Hollywood,” and please do if you love the films noted, go to

Saturday, May 9, 2015

An ironic 'Mother's Day' post from Plan9Crunch

By Steve D. Stones
"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."
-William Ross Wallace

Movies don’t get much more graphic in violent content than Mother’s Day, unless you’re watching Henry-Portrait of A Serial Killer or the original Last House On The Left. The title of the film might suggest that this is some fluffy, sentimental chick flick dedicated to all mothers on Mother’s Day. It isn’t. The film is a full-blown exploitation, horror story. I would not recommend that any self-respecting mother watch this film because of the extreme violence, particularly against women.

Mother’s Day was directed, produced and written by Charles Kaufman, brother of Lloyd Kaufman of Troma films. Only the sick minds at Troma could come up with a film like Mother’s Day, which would be a compliment to the folks at Troma. Troma is responsible for such cult classic(k)s as: The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Redneck Zombies. The Kaufman brothers cast their mother in the roll of mama. Their sister, Susan Kaufman, served as production designer. It appears that Mother’s Day is indeed a family affair, no pun intended.

Three women named Abbey, Jackie and Trina get together for a reunion. The three were college roommates at Wolfbreath College in the 1970s. They travel to the Deep Barrens camp area in New Jersey and camp next to a beautiful lake.

The next morning, two hillbilly brothers named Ike and Addley witness the girls skinny-dipping in the lake. Apparently their mother named them after two 1950s politicians – Eisenhower and Stevenson. That night the boys attack the girls, tie them inside their sleeping bags and drag them back to their backwoods home. The girls are tied to some exercise equipment in an upstairs room.

Jackie is later dragged out of the room and forced to act out scenes from movies with the two brothers as their mother watches. Jackie refuses to participate, so she is raped and beaten by one of the boys, then stuffed in a dresser drawer.

Abby and Trina are able to escape and find Jackie in the dresser. Jackie is unable to walk, so the two girls quietly carry her out of the house and back into the woods. Abbey decides to stay and watch over Jackie while Trina goes for help. While Trina is gone, Jackie dies. Trina returns after finding their car inoperative. The two girls decide to avenge Jackie’s death by returning to the house to kill the mother and her two boys.

One of the boys is stabbed in the neck with a TV antenna and clawed in his groin with a hammer. The other boy has drain cleaner poured down his throat and a TV set bashed over his head. Mama is smothered to death with a plastic pillow in the shape of large breasts.

Despite the extreme graphic violence and low budget, there is not much to fault with in Mother’s Day. The acting is well above average and the plot is direct and easy to follow. Even to this day, Mother’s Day remains in the top 100 highest grossing independent films of all time. That says something about the film, good or bad.

This Mother’s Day, keep your mother away from a film like Mother’s Day. She deserves a nice bouquet of flowers, a bottle of perfume and a nice greeting card. After all, she’s earned it. She’s your mother. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!!

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Written by Steve D. Stones

I have a strange theory. Some of my colleagues in the academic world of art  may scoff me for this theory, especially when comparing the two men that I’m  about to compare. My theory is this: Could the current interest in director  Ed Wood and the tragedy surrounding his life have come about for many of the  same reasons as the Dutch Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh? Okay, laugh  all you want, but I see many similarities in these two interesting men.

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and no one really  paid much attention to his work while he was alive. Not until long after  his death did the public begin to see the real genius in his life’s  work. His paintings now sell for more money than most famous artists who  have ever lived.

Ed Wood suffered a similar fate. His movies never did  much business, and not many people took him very seriously during his  lifetime. Not long after his death, Wood became a tragic star of the movie  industry. He is often written about and discussed more than any famous movie  director, living or dead. There are many books dedicated to the life and art  of Ed Wood, and hundreds of articles that have been written about him. Ed  Wood film festivals and retrospectives are held every year around the world.  Wood has become a cottage industry.

Director Tim Burton even made a  big budget Hollywood movie in 1993 about Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp in the  role of Wood. Many documentaries have also come out about the life of Wood. A  big budget Hollywood film was also made about Van Gogh in 1956 entitled Lust  For Life, written by Irving Stone and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kirk  Douglas played the role of Vincent Van Gogh.

Over the last thirty  years or so since his death, it has become “hip” and sophisticated to say  you’re a fan of Ed Wood and his movies, even though most reputable film  critics still regard his films as amateurish and terrible. Could it be that  Ed Wood was just a misunderstood genius? That is the question that many of  his devoted fans often ask themselves, including my good friend Doug Gibson  and myself.

Why is it that Pop-Artist Andy Warhol can make a boring  eight-hour film of a man sleeping and we call it “art,” yet Ed Wood makes a  bold and entertaining political statement about aliens invading the earth in  Plan 9 From Outer Space and we call it “trash?” Wood’s Glen Or Glenda is  also regarded as “trash,” yet it too makes a very bold statement about  the need for tolerance of cross-dressing males and men who want a  sex change. Pretty bold stuff for 1953.

Van Gogh was said to suffer  from frequent hallucinations. We see this expressed in many of his paintings,  including his famous Starry Night painting. The swirling, thick impasto  strokes of paint in The Starry Night give the viewer a hallucinogenic state  of mind. Ed Wood also expressed a dizzying, hallucinogenic state of mind in  many sequences found in Glen Or Glenda.

Could it be that Van Gogh was  also misunderstood? Both Ed Wood and Vincent Van Gogh were heavy drinkers.  Both men were also womanizers. Wood’s mother dressed him up in little girl’s  clothing when he was a boy because she wanted a girl. Van Gogh’s mother often  rejected him because she was never fully able to get over the death of her  first-born son, also named Vincent. Both men also surrounded themselves with  artists who were rapidly declining in their careers, or had yet to be  discovered. Wood dabbled in pornography later in his career, and Van Gogh  slept with prostitutes.

Ed Wood may have never slashed off any part  of his body, as Van Gogh did with his ear, but I say the similarities of  these two men are too uncanny to overlook. I stand by my theory. The world  loves the tragic story of the tragic life of a creative genius.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The silent Tom Sawyer from 1917

Tom Sawyer, 44 minute-version, B and W, 1917. Directed by William Desmond Taylor. Starring Jack Pickford as Tom Sawyer, Edythe Chapman as Aunt Polly, Helen Gilmore as Widow Douglas, Robert Gordon as Huckleberry Finn and Clara Horton as Becky Thatcher. Schlock-meter rating: Eight stars out of 10.

This early silent is an interesting curio, creaky but far more entertaining than you'd think. Jack Pickford, brother of Mary, plays Mark Twain's famous scamp, and while he was old for the role (20), he pulls it off with a talented performance. His best scenes are when he cons his buddies into whitewashing the fence and his romance of Becky Thatcher, played by 13-year-old Clara Horton. Pickford had an "aw shucks" type of charm that must have made him pretty famous 85 years ago. Chapman as Aunt Polly is agreeably fussy and Gordon smirks effectively as Huckleberry Finn.

The acting is highly melodramatic, the sets are very effective. On the Internet Movie Database, on reviewer describes the film as having the "feel of an old photo album." Incredibly, this was not the first adapation of Twain's novel. That occurred in 1907. The film ends halfway through the novel, the climax being Tom and Huck crashing their own funeral. This has confused several reviewers, but the story goes that director Taylor divided the film into two movies. A year later he released Huck and Tom, which is the second half of the novel. The tinny score irritates a bit, but the film, recently shown on TCM cable channel, is a real treat for silent film buffs.

Director Taylor was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1922, a scandal that still thrills Hollywood today. Star Jack Pickford died in 1933, his career and health ruined by fast living.
-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tonight on Svengoolie -- Man Made Monster with Lon Chaney Jr.

By Doug Gibson

Tonight, on ME TV's Svengoolie, TV watchers an see the 1941 Universal horror film, "Man Made Monster," starring Lon Chaney Jr. in the title role. The film pre-dates "The Wolf Man," which made Chaney an iconic figure in horror cinema. However, "Man Made Monster," a thrifty $85,000 B-effort from Universal, was essentially a try out for Chaney, a look see from Universal executives as to how Chaney Jr. would do in a monster role. He passed the test. The film is a lean, effective little shocker.

Chaney stars as Dan McCormick, a carnival worker who does an act where he survives electrical shocks. It's mostly fake, as he admits with a grin. McCormick is the sole survivor of a horrific bus crash (well-displayed on the screen). His survival interests a pair of scientists, Dr. Paul Lawrence (Samuel Hinds) and Dr. Paul Rigas, (Lionel Atwill). The latter, Rigas is a mad scientist who wants to create a master race of persons charged by electricity. While Lawrence is away, Rigas makes McCormick his guinea pig, injecting him with huge shots of electricity, turning him into a glowing monster while charged, and a drooping, non-responsive near-invalid when the shocks wear off. Also in the cast are Anne Nagel, as Lawrence's niece, and Frank Albertson, as a newspaper reporter. They supply a mild romance as well.

Things hit a climax when Chaney, falsely accused of Lawrence's murder (he killed the good doc while charged and manipulated by Rigas) attains super-monster status when his state-sanctioned electrocution strengthens him rather than kills him. Strangely, this scene is talked about rather than shown.

Chaney is effective as a good-natured common man manipulated into being a killer by a mad scientist. The performance is the beginning of the role he would perfect as Lawrence Talbot the wolf man, although Talbot is more sophisticated. At this point in his career, Chaney often utilized a little of his "Lenny" performance that he had done so well in 1939's "Of Mice and Men." The film is capably directed by George Waggner. The Universal B movies, despite wild plots, tend to be leaner and more disciplined than the C films produced by Monogram and PRC ... Perhaps it's because the writers there were better paid.

The real star of "Man Made Monster" is Lionel Atwill. He is brilliant as a cold-hearted, single-minded, fanatical mad scientist. The role was intended for Boris Karloff but it's fortunate Atwill got it. Karloff would not have been this good. You can watch the 59-minute film here.