Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dad Made Dirty Movies a fun read on the life of cult films director Stephen C. Apostolof

 Review by Doug Gibson

There's a lengthy passage in the biography, "Dad Made Dirty Movies: The Erotic World of Stephen C. Apostolof," McFarland, 2020, in which our subject Apostolof is in dire straights. It's 1978 and his film, "Hot Ice," is a flop. "Hot Ice" is -- by design -- not a soft-core porn film. It's an attempt to make a light-hearted R-rated diamond heist spoof.


More on "Hot Ice" later, but the problem is that Apostolof is finding out there's no interest from distributors in a "mainstream" Apostolof film. His mostly successful track record of making a soft-core porn film, earning lots of money, and sinking profits into the next similar film is now stalled. The low-budget producer/director and sometimes distributor is hurting financially. Apostolof haunts a distributor he's worked with before, literally begging them to take on "'Hot Ice." 

The distributor won't budge. But in an interesting twist, a member of that company asks Apostolof if he could meet filmmaker Ed Wood, who has worked on several Apostolof films. Wood is slowly dying from the effects of long-term alcoholism, and Apostolof knows he's not capable of even a lunch. But, promoter to the end, he dangles -- perhaps in hopeful jest -- a lunch with Wood if his film is picked up.

The film is not picked up. There's no luncheon with Ed Wood. Frankly, the interested employee was teased by his colleagues for even having an interest in Wood's films. Apostolof would never make another film. He did envision more and in vain tried to get them off the ground, including a planned sequel to his most-popular film, "Orgy of the Dead."

It is kind of ironic, or at least interesting that the death of Ed Wood in late 1978 coincides with the professional filmmaking death of Stephen C. Apostolof. The Bulgarian-born filmmaker was the real last link Wood had to the film industry. As "Dad Made Dirty Movies" authors Jordan Todorov and Joe Blevins note, Wood likely saw in Apostolof a last link to the "legitimate" film industry, meaning anything other than the hard-core porn film/writing business.


"Dad Made Dirty Movies" is a great (cult) filmmakers biography, the best I have read since Rudolph Grey's Wood oral bio, "Nightmare of Ecstasy" -- which Apostolof contributed to -- and Jimmy McDonough's bio of Andy Milligan, "The Ghastly One. ...

A 2011 film documentary of the same name, directed by Todorov, preceded the book.

Apostolof had such an interesting life. Born in Bulgaria, he became a lifelong fierce anti-communist and was imprisoned as a teen by the communist regime. He eventually escaped the country, fleeing to Istanbul, where he slept for a while on the beach and later toiled as a piano player in a cabaret/bordello.

He tried to join the U.S. Army, but not being a citizen ended that dream. He almost joined the French Foreign Legion, but changed his mind. The young Apostolof, not yet 21, ended up in Paris in 1948. He lived a bohemian lifestyle and was active in the large circle of Bulgarian emigrants there, which included anti-communist activism. In 1950 he emigrated to Canada, and settled in Toronto, where he met his first wife, Joan Mary Higgins. After their wedding, the pair moved to Los Angeles, Calif.

Apostolof frequently switched jobs, with an eye to making it in the movies. He got an opportunity when he produced the very low-budget, "Journey To Freedom," 1957. It's based very loosely on Apostolof's escape from communism, with communist agents chasing the protagonist as far as America. In the cast is cult actor/wrestler Tor Johnson. It's available for free with Amazon Prime. I have watched it. It's passable low-budget second-half-of-the-bill fare. Apostolof is seen in a cameo. The young producer erred in not nailing down a distributor, but eventually Republic, where Apostolof found a job, picked it up. When all was finished Apostolof got some money back, $7,150, but not enough to avoid bankruptcy.


For several years he worked at various jobs, including at IBM, trying to keep bills paid for the family. His marriage with Joan ended in late 1963. By the middle of the decade, Apostolof met a man named Ed Wood. With an eye on entering the still new, "nudie pictures" genre, he bought a screenplay from Wood for $400 and helmed "Orgy of the Dead."

Like so many others, Ed Wood's presence and influence paved Apostolof's cult status today. The graveyard setting mixed with stilted nudie cuties dancing, the booming voice of Criswell as Emperor of the Dead, along with a Vampira clone. A cheap mummy and werewolf prancing around, all terrorizing an innocent couple; a script with Woodian dialogue. The film is premium cult unique. It recently received an upper-crust Blu Ray release, with extras and film commentaries.

Apostolof settled into the soft-core porn film world easily. Without Wood, he made several films, often aping salacious current interests, such as "Suburbia Confidential" and "College Confidential."  "Lady Godiva Rides" sounds more intriguing. 

The choicest parts of the biography start with "Orgy of the Dead" and end with the ill-fated "Hot Ice." It's fascinating to get this glimpse into the professional and family life of a "dirty movies" filmmaker. Although there's a lot of input from Apostolof's children, and his last wife, Shelley, there's no rose-colored glasses.


It's sometimes gritty truth. We meet a father who loves his children, and his faith, but is not above extramarital dalliances in his first marriage, and making the grimy, misogynistic soft porn of the late 60s to mid 70s. We see a family patriarch who can make money off the movies but is lax on providing long-term security. 

And Apostolof, like many of his colleagues, was not above stretching, or completely changing, the truth. After all, the man sold sizzle more than steak. One anecdote of Apostolof's that is likely stretching the truth is his oft-reported claim that at his first meeting with Ed Wood -- at the Brown Derby restaurant -- Wood arrived in drag. Grey, for example, considers it a tall tale.

And, there's a lot of Ed Wood in the book; and that's great. He helped, usually as a writer and/or assistant director, in Apostolof's 1970s films. He even acted in one, "Fugitive Girls," playing three roles! "Fugitive Girls" may be Apostolof's best film. It has a basic story, women escaping a prison, and follows through the plot without the constant sexual intercourse interludes of other Apostolof efforts. With a larger budget and better filming locations, it might have been a decent second bill for American International Pictures. Wood does well playing the sheriff and an old mechanic named Pops.

The "Hot Ice" misfire, as the authors relate, happened due to fears that low-budget soft-core popularity was near the end. The previous middle-aged dysfunctional male fantasy sex films repulsed Apostolof's wife. Apostolof badly wanted to break into mainstream films. He would not do hard-core films. In fact, he used Stephen C. Apostolof in the credits. In his skin films he was always AC Stephen.

I have watched "Hot Ice" and it's just too low-budget across the board to have been a successful endeavor. The leads are actually pretty good and seem to be loose and enjoying themselves. But the script drags too much in the first half. Stock shots of skiing -- from previous Apostolof films -- with drab music seem a bit like home movies.

The book has enough about Ed Wood to be the genesis for a conventional biography of the man. It's fun to read of Wood being handed a $500 check for doing a "novelization" of "Orgy of the Dead." He then does a happy dance in the publisher's office. There is Apostolof's anger learning Wood swiped publicity pictures of "Orgy of the Dead." There's photos of a puffy Wood -- looking quite drunk and sadly very unimportant -- at the seventh anniversary celebration of Apostolof's film company. And there's an anecdote of Wood showing up too drunk to play a role in "Hot Ice," and later sobbing apologies to Apostolof about his drinking problem. 


I also enjoyed reading about Apostolof's brief attempt to run a movie theater and show his films. He hoped to avoid losing money to distributors. Despite Criswell's "prediction" that the theater would be a great success, it failed.

From reading the book, I'm sure Apostolof cared about Ed Wood and considered him a close friend. Wood's widow Kathy resented Apostolof, yet had appreciated the work he gave her husband. She may have kept details of Wood's funeral from Apostolof.  It's likely Wood worked very cheaply given his well-known alcoholism.

Ed Wood and Apostolof were alike in conventional ways; strong anti-communists, and conventionally conservative males with a dated, "Mad Men" perspective on sexual issues. The authors note that Apostolof's sexual stars were not very young adults, but more seasoned adults, who preferred dark bars and intimacy in drab hotel rooms.

While it grated on Apostolof that his late-in-life fame was largely Wood-related, the now-impoverished man, living on Social Security and forced to accede to his working wife's living decisions, was pleased at the recognition he received. It took him to film festivals in Japan, England, France and provided some income, as well as hope that he might make a sequel to "Orgy of the Dead," the Wood-related film that garnered most attention. He also entered a lifetime friendship, and regular phone calls, from "Nightmare of Ecstasy" author Grey. Apostolof lived a long life, dying in 2005 at 77 after a major stroke. He lived his last years with Shelley in Mesa, Ariz.

The constant theme in any biography or recap of a Wood associate's life is the paradox that Wood was considered a down-and-outer. Yet, Apostolof, Gregory Walcott, Tor Johnson, Vampira, and others owe 90 percent of their acclaim to the once-condescended-to Ed Wood.

Yet, if Wood had never met and worked with Stephen C. Apostolof, this wonderful book would probably not exist. So, in the end, it's a plus for all, including the reader. The book can be purchased via Amazon here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Silent Night, Bloody Night – 1970s Gothic Holiday Horror

Review by Steve D. Stones 

This 1972 film – Silent Night, Bloody Night is not to be confused with the infamous 1980s horror film – Silent Night, Deadly Night about a murdering Santa Claus. This film was made long before Silent Night, Deadly Night. Although Silent Night, Bloody Night takes place at Christmas time, the film is not a Christmas movie, but more of a Gothic horror suspense film that lays the foundation for many of the late seventies and early eighties slasher and mass killer films.

Wilford Butler owns a mansion with his family in East Willard, Massachusetts. On Christmas Eve 1950, he dashes out of the house engulfed in flames. He is pronounced dead from the fire and the official medical examiner's report indicates that his burns were an accident. No one attends Butler's funeral on New Years Day 1951. Butler's will leaves the mansion and the surrounding property to his grandson – Jeffery Butler (James Patterson). The house remains empty for twenty years and used briefly as an insane asylum for the criminally insane.

After twenty years passes, Jeffery Butler decides he wants to sell the mansion. He sends a New York lawyer named John Carter (Patrick O'Neal) to Arlington County, Massachusetts to meet with city officials to sell the home. Charlie Towman (John Carradine) a journalist who runs the local newspaper and mayor Adams (Walter Abel) are two of the city officials Carter meets with. Towman cannot speak, so he communicates by ringing a bell. Carter proposes to the officials that Butler wants to sell the mansion for $50,000. While the group contemplates the offer, lawyer Carter stays in the mansion that night with his girlfriend.

Later that night, Carter and his girlfriend are murdered in bed by an intruder with an ax in one of the most grisly scenes in the entire film. The murderer leaves a crucifix in the hand of Carter before he leaves the violent scene. The room is left in a bloody mess. Butler arrives at the mansion and takes Carter's car after his own car breaks down earlier that day.

Although Butler sent Carter to the city officials to propose a sale price for the mansion, he goes to the mayor's house to speak with him about the mansion after finding the sheriff's office empty. The mayor's daughter Diane Adams (Mary Woronov) greets Butler at the door with a gun after seeing him earlier that day broken down on the side of the road. Diane mistakes him for a dangerous stranger. Butler identifies himself and asks if the mayor or sheriff could provide him with a key to the mansion. The mayor is not home, so Butler takes Diane with him to go find mayor Adams.

Sheriff Mason, the town sheriff, is killed with an ax at Milford Butler's grave. Butler and Adams arrive on the scene at the cemetery and find Mason's glasses crushed in front of Wilford Butler's tombstone. One by one, city officials appear to be missing or murdered as the night progresses.

The last fifteen minutes of the film reveals a great deal about the plot and secret past of the Butler family, as well as many of the murdered city officials, with interesting flashback sequences filmed with a sienna filter in soft focus. The killer calls city officials on the phone and speaks in a creepy, whispering voice, which is something we see in other future horror films – such as Black Christmas (1974). The camera also shows interesting point of view shots from the perspective of the killer, much like director John Carpenter did in opening shots of the original 1978 – Halloween.

It's interesting to note that a number of cast and crew members of Silent Night, Bloody Night were Andy Warhol superstars – Mary Woronov, Candy Darling, Tally Brown, Lewis Love, filmmaker Jack Smith and artist Susan Rothenberg. Although released in 1972, production of the film took place in 1970 at Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York under the alternative titles of Death House (Deathouse) and Night of the Dark Full Moon.

The film was never registered with the United States Copyright Office, so it immediately fell into the public domain. Most public domain prints I've seen of this film are very worn and out of focus. This may not be the best holiday horror film, but it's an interesting little gem that is rarely discussed, and has mostly been forgotten, which is unfortunate. Happy Holidays and happy viewing.

This film currently is included as an Amazon Prime film free to Prime members. A better print is also available for free at Tubi.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Comparing Ebenezer Scrooge in 1930s cinema -- Britain versus the USA

By Steve D. Stones


During Christmas time in the mid-1980s, I walked into a Musicland store at my local shopping mall to look at Led Zeppelin cassette tapes. As I passed the VHS movies section, I was drawn to an image of Sir Seymour Hicks on the front cover of a video box. The image looked worn and hand-colored. It was contained on a VHS print of the 1935 version of Scrooge, put out by Goodtimes Home Video.

Although I have never been much of a fan of Christmas movies, the image on the VHS box made me want to purchase the film. Instead of buying a Led Zeppelin cassette tape (I didn't have enough money), I decided to buy the Scrooge video. Not being knowledgeable at the time of when sound films were first made, I assumed Scrooge was going to be a silent era film with intertitles and music.

When I got the video home and began to watch it, I was greatly intrigued by the worn out appearance of it. The print was slightly out of focus and very dark in contrast. Nothing on the screen was sharply focused. This did not disappoint me in any way or take away from my experience of enjoying the film.

I loved how the 1935 film portrayed 19th century London as dark, gritty and poverty stricken. Most exterior shots of the film show London as dark, overcast and foggy. This made me think I was watching a classic Universal horror film, and not a Christmas film.

The full length version of Scrooge (which was not the version I bought) runs one hour and eighteen minutes and uses elements of German Expressionism. Sharply defined shadows cast on solid, flat walls, and even on Scrooge's face, often frame and emphasize a character in the scene. The ghosts of Jacob Marley and of Christmas past and future are not shown, but greatly implied for the viewer to imagine, which adds to the intrigue I felt as I watched the film for the first time.

Sir Seymour Hicks (seen above) has the perfect droopy old face to communicate his crusty, selfish character, but at the same time show a genuinely frightened and fearful expression when confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Reginald Owen's depiction of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1938) shows us a taller and younger Scrooge. He's just as grumpy and hard nosed at Hicks' Scrooge, but he is missing more hair and his appearance is less poverty stricken. He dresses well and presents himself as prim and proper.


The 1938 version of A Christmas Carol shows us a more upbeat, hustle and bustle depiction of 19th century London in the opening sequence. The Cratchit children play a game of sliding on an ice sheet in the streets of London and throw snowballs at other children. The 1935 Scrooge shows us a bleak view of London that discourages children from playing out in the streets. We wouldn't expect to see children out in the streets in the 1935 version.

Scrooge's home in the 1935 version is a run down, untidy one bedroom apartment with few furnishings and minimal lighting. In the 1938 version -- starring Reginald Owen, seen above -- he appears to live in a mansion with fancy furnishings and lots of space – giving us the impression that he is much better off financially than the 1935 Scrooge. The viewer gets a sense that the 1935 Scrooge is a more isolated and introverted man who avoids people completely because of his living environment.

The 1938 A Christmas Carol relies less on expressionist elements of sharp shadows and dark interiors and more on well lit interiors, helping to clearly define each ghost that visits Scrooge. The ghosts are not implied, but clearly shown to Scrooge and the viewer. More screen time is spent with each individual ghost in the 1938 version.

The 1938 film was the first Hollywood sound version of A Christmas Carol – produced by MGM studios, so the much larger budget is clearly apparent in the film. The lower budget and minimal elements of the 1935 Scrooge helps to communicate the poverty stricken atmosphere contained in the Charles Dickens story.

Whatever version of A Christmas Carol you choose to watch this holiday season, Charles Dickens' story will remain a great classic of Christmas entertainment. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Ed Wood's Jail Bait -- a look at it through old newspaper clippings

Another series of Plan9Crunch looking at the history of a cult film through clippings.


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

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

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

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

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

I, Doug Gibson, wrote that review long ago. I like the second newspaper clip because it mentions a star, Dolores Fuller. The above clip at top mentions many stars of the Howco film, including Lyle Talbot, Steve Reeves, and Theodora Thurman. I think the woman in the ad is Mona McKinnon, who had a smaller role.

Jail Bait played in many areas, Ohio, California, but it did a lot of business in the South, where Howco marketed their films heavily. My friend David Grudt, who helps with these searches, located an actual newspaper review from the Elizabethtron, Tenn., Star edition of Sept. 25, 1955. I know the review is lifted -- likely -- from a press package, but it's great to find records of reviews for these films. They didn't get many published. It's below:

Nice to see Clancy Malone, Timothy Farrell, and Bud Osborne get mentioned too. I am sharing several clips that David Grudt unearthed for this blog post. The first and second are from the Sacramento, Calif. Bee editions of Aug. 15 and 16, 1954. The third is from the Columbian, Miss., Progress of Nov. 18, 1954. The fourth is from the Greenville, S.C., News of Aug. 16, 1954, and the final is a blurb notice of Jail Bait playing in the Tampa, Fla. Times of Nov. 13, 1954. You will notice that Jail Bait played in some "adult" theaters with burlesque-type films. I hope the burlesque films satisfied any prurient interest of attendees, because is at best a mild PG film. I guess the adult houses used the hard-to-see sequence involving a striptease, Other theaters used the cringeworthy blackface routine The last time I saw Jail Bait on television - this year - neither sequence was used. The scene, not needed for story flow, was excised. 

It might interest readers to know that a Sam Katzman-produced film, Teenage Crime Wave, was also released in 1954, a bit later than Jail Bait. However, Teenage Crime Wave in some locations used the name Jail Bait as its title. We had to watch for this while we researched Wood's film. In the early process, I downloaded ads with the wrong Jail Bait. The ad below for an all-night drive-in showing of thrill films includes Jail Bait. It was published in the Jackson, Tenn., Sun on July 9 1954. I am at least 80 percent sure this is Wood's film.

Finally, enjoy a few more ads of Jail Bait that I located, as well as noting the films that played with it. I love the diversity of the films that Jail Bait played with. Everything from Untamed Mistress and Naughty New Orleans to Our Miss Brooks and Heidi! Even today, Jail Bait frequently airs on The Movies Channel in the middle of the night.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

A Christmas Past - Silent-era Holiday Films


By Steve D. Stones

This Kino Video DVD collection of 10 short silent era Christmas holiday films is an interesting treat, considering that most of the films are over 100 years old. The films really communicate a sense of what life was like at the beginning of the 20th century in the early days of the age of automobiles and the airplane. The collection of films dates from 1901 to 1925.

On this DVD set is included the nine films – A Holiday Pageant At Home (1901), A Winter Straw Ride (1906), A Trap For Santa (1909), A Christmas Accident (1912), The Adventure of The Wrong Santa Claus – An Adventure of Octavius, Amateur Detective (1914), Santa Claus vs. Cupid (1915), Santa Claus (1925), A Christmas Carol (1910) and The Night Before Christmas (1905). Most of the films run less than 20 minutes long.

A Winter Straw Ride (1906). A group of young, playful girls climbs on board a horse sleigh for a casual ride through the snow. The girls are happy and giddy, even when they encounter a group of young boys who throw snowballs at them as they pass on a road. The sleigh eventually gets stuck in the snow and overturns, dumping all the girls out into the deep snow. The girls attack a middle-aged man and smear snow in his face. Running through the snow, the girls throw snowballs at each other. Everyone appears to be having lots of fun in this short film. You'll be reminded of those winter days of the past playing out in the snow with your childhood friends when you see this film.

A Trap For Santa (1909)
. This short film opens with the text on screen: No Work For Father. Misery And Want – The Family's Lot. A hardworking father and husband is out of work, unable to make a living for his family. It's Christmas time, and the father is greatly depressed that he cannot provide a good Christmas for his family during this time that is supposed to be cheerful and merry. The father spends his time at the local bar drinking his problems away. One day he leaves his house for good and places a note under the door to his wife and children saying that they would all be better off without him. His wife later receives a letter in the mail that she has inherited a moderate fortune from her deceased aunt's estate.

On Christmas Eve, the children set a trap for Santa by placing a tight wire wrapped around a chair next to the Christmas tree that leads to their bedroom. Their depressed father climbs through a window to get into the house. The mother suggests that he dress up as Santa and give the children gifts that she has purchased from her estate inheritance. Dressed as Santa, the father distributes the gifts to the children, and the whole family is happy for Christmas.

The Adventure of The Wrong Santa Claus (An Adventure of Octavius – Amateur Detective) (1914). A man named Octavius receives an invitation to play Santa Claus in the Randall family home in Oakville. He packs a Santa suit in a suitcase and travels to the Randall home. After having dinner with the Randall family, Octavius goes upstairs to get into his Santa suit. While putting on the suit, a burglar enters the Randall home, knocks out Octavius unconscious and locks him in a bedroom. The burglar puts on a different Santa suit and goes downstairs to steal gifts from under the Christmas tree. Mrs. Randall finds Octavius knocked out in the locked bedroom. Octavius chases the burglar down the street as they are both still dressed as Santa. After chasing the burglar on board a moving train, Octavius is finally able to confront the burglar at a street corner news stand and have him arrested. The Randall family gets their basket of gifts back for Christmas. Octavius falls in love with the oldest daughter of the Randall family.

Santa Claus (1925). I consider this film to be the best in the entire set. It is also the longest film – running at 28 minutes. The opening title tells the viewer that this is a fantasy filmed in Northern Alaska. Children sleeping in their beds on Christmas Eve awaken to sneak downstairs to the home Christmas tree to wait for the arrival of Santa. They want to ask Santa what he does when it's not Christmas.

When Santa arrives, the children sit on his knees and he tells them that he lives in the Land of Winter near the Polar Sea. He tells them his home is guarded by goblins of the deep, which are sea lions. A polar bear patrols the land and sometimes Layluk, the northern wind, comes howling from ice caves to Santa's ice castle. On nights like these, Santa hurries back to his ice castle to help his elves and gnomes work on Christmas toys. He also tells the children that he cares for reindeer during the entire year. He even occasionally drinks reindeer milk.

Once a year, Santa meets with the Easter bunny to tell him which girls and boys deserve the prettiest Easter baskets at Easter. He watches children all over the world in his giant telescope. He also keeps a record book of all children to record their behaviors and what gifts they want at Christmas.

Santa also meets with Jack Frost, who he considers to be the greatest artist in the world. Here we see a man dressed in a white snow suit with a magic wand with a star wave his wand across snow to create beautiful ice crystals. 

The scenes of Santa's workshop and all the toys being made are some of the most amazing scenes in the film. Santa meeting with Eskimos before Christmas, and entering their homes on Christmas Eve to bring toys for Eskimo children are also some of the interesting highlights of this film. Santa's sleigh even overturns in the deep snow, showing the viewer some of his challenges of getting toys to children on Christmas. Santa loves his job so much that he overcomes these challenges.

This Holiday Season, consider viewing some silent era holiday films that take you back to the early days of the 20th century. These films may not be big-budget, Hollywood-produced films with famous directors and great cinematography, but they capture an interesting moment in time that communicates what Christmas time was like over 100 years ago. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Beast of Yucca Flats -- what was it paired with in theaters?


How about that clipping from November 1967 in Redlands, Calif. A triple bill of "spook" features, designed for the kids. Besides Wasp Woman and Madman (sic) of Mandoras (AKA They Saved Hitler's Brain) Beast of Yucca Flats was the third film, a role it usually played in its distribution history. I have to assume that if the show was for kids, the brief boobs scene at the beginning of Beast of Yucca Flats was edited out. 

I often wonder how the many ultra-cheap cult films were marketed? Where did they play and for how long. With my subscription to Newspaper Archives and a friend who has access to, Plan9Crunch has started an occasional series of films' clippings history.

As I noted in a past of Beast of Yucca Flats (below) Beast had a tough distribution go initially. The producers rented theaters in San Diego at first. But it had a small but steady distribution for a decade, almost always as a second or third feature. It played often on TV in the later '70s. Look at the interesting films it was paired with, including  Outlaw Riders, with Valda Hansen. Tony Cardoza was the producer of Outlaw Riders and also co-produced Beast. The Beast of Yucca Flats also played with The Mysterians.  The Newspapers and dates are below the clips. Note than an ad claims Beast is in "dazzling color." I have never seen a print of Beast that is in anything other than black and white. Have you? I think the whole "dazzling color" thing was a fib! 

Here is our review of this fun cult film. Trust me, you may gape when you first see it but it grows on you.



We need to give this ultra-cheap, kitschy 55-minute film its due -- it has persevered. It's gone from simple schlock to unique so-bad-it's-good cult film status. Heck, it even survived a MST3K riff. Here, for the record, is my several-year-old review after my first viewing.

Few films are as inept as The Beast of Yucca Flats. After watching it, I'm convinced that a talented group of ninth graders with a few thousand dollars and a long weekend could do a better job than Tor Johnson, Coleman Francis and company. (Nah, I take that back several years later) The plot? A woman is murdered. A defecting Russian scientist (Tor Johnson) is attacked in a desolate part of Nevada by communist agents. An atom bomb explodes. Tor is turned into a mutant beast who wants only to kill. Tor kills, then chases a hapless family through the Yucca Flats. Finally, two inept cops kill Tor. (Yeah, the plot is the same).

Be forewarned: The preceding plot summary is far more exciting than this dog of a film. (NOT TRUE ON RETROSPECT) There is virtually no action, (wrong) and when Tor is on the chase, his big, aging blubbery body inspires far more pity than fear. (Today I change pity to fascination; Tor looks ill and is very obese, but give him credit for lumbering around a very hot desert outdoor set) Francis shot the film without dialog, which was dubbed badly into the finished film. The viewer rarely sees lips move when actors speak. (This adds to a unique, other word-type surrealism to the film. No one seems to be looking at each other, even when they speak. In fact, for all his grunts, Tor the beast appears to be the best listener) Also, the self-pretentious Francis adds ridiculous, over-the-top narration, spoken like a man on LSD. My favorite meaningless phrase is "Flag on the Moon." (NOT TRUE ANYMORE: the bizarre narration adds to the film's outlandish plot and conspiracy. In this film, everyone looks disgruntled and depressed or lazy. I love the scene where one of the desert cops is roused from looks like a bout of morning sex with the missus or mistress. As he leaves, to narration, the broad in the bed gives him a look of utter disgust and cynicism. It somehow seems very appropriate for the bizarro world director Francis has unleashed.)

It merits three stars only because The Beast is Tor Johnson, whose always fun to watch bellow. Those who dare watch it should see the MST3K version. At least there's a few laughs. (Doug Gibson speaking: I must admit, adding to this a few years later after originally writing the review, the film has grown on me. It is bad, but unique and strangely watchable; a real cult film. I give it an extra star!) (and now I've added an extra star. (Also, I neglected in the original review to mention the nude scene prologue, which makes no sense. A young woman gets out of the shower. Sits down a very depressing cot-bed, and is squeeze-strangled to death by a fat, meaty hand that look like Tor's. But why, the good Dr. Javorsky has yet to be nuked? Ah, the intentional nonsensical plot of a cult cheapie!

Notes: Ed Wood actor Conrad Brooks has a small role; Cult figure Titus Moody helped with production; Coleman Francis directed three films spoofed by MST3K: Beast, Skydivers, and Red Zone Cuba; Francis' wife and sons were in the film. The non-MST3K version has a very brief nude scene. "Beast of Yucca Flats" is essentially a silent film, with narration and brief dialog, obviously recorded since you don't see the speaking actors' faces. The entire film can be seen on YouTube and is part of the UEN Sci-Fi Friday cycle of movies. (I'll add that this cheapie played the third or fourth bill of drive-ins and grindhouses for more than a decade -- I guess that nude scene paid off. I read somewhere that originally, the producers could not find a distributor so a movie house was rented in San Diego. Apparently, the film sold well here, and Tor was mobbed by fans.)

Film is here, grindhouse scene virtually edited out

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Bela Lugosi Monogram film Black Dragons looked through the clipping services time capsule

Cult film fans, here is "Black Dragons," the Bela Lugosi-starring Monogram film released mere months after Pearl Harbor in 1942. Poverty-row studios were quick to capitalize on the new World War, and Lugosi's tale of a Nazi plastic surgeon gaining revenge on Japanese members of the Black Dragons turned into U.S. industrialists determined to destroy Uncle Sam's economy was as endearingly patriotic, and wacky, as the dependable Monogram cheapie.

We love these films though. They are entertaining madness, always featuring a magnificent performance by Bela Lugosi, even when surrounded by pedestrian direction and acting, and writing that seems to have been written in one night, and then constantly changed every 15 minutes. Here's a link to a review I wrote of Black Dragons on the blog. There's a link to the film.

A snippet of the review: 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!

Back to the blog. Myself and my friend David Grudt have been going through separate clipping services, trying to create time capsule looks at classic cult films, how they were promoted through newspapers of the times, the smaller the towns and cities the better. We found a surprising amount of clips regarding Black Dragons; perhaps that is due to its World War II storyline. Enjoy these clips, whether ads, mentions or reviews. When there is not a date or newspaper attached to the graphic, we'll provide the information.

And do yourself a favor -- watch Black Dragons. It's a lot of semi-coherent fun. Get you magnifying glass for the Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood column. Black Dragons is mentioned 7 lines before the end of the second paragraph in column two. Below that we were thrilled to find an actual review in the Alabama paper, although it's probably from the movie's press packet.

In the below Movieland, Its People and Products column hed, in the March 17, 1942 Appleton, Wisc., Post Crescent, the next graphic, part of the column, mentions "Black Dragons."

AND HERE ARE A COUPLE MORE REVIEWS, we were thrilled to find them published, from Detroit and Cumberland, Md. Detroit is a little tough to read. 

Finally, one more ad we culled, from the aforementioned Appleton, Wisc. Post Crescent, June 5, 1942. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Two spooky Halloween-appropriate novellas for ominous fall nights


This fall I probably watched about 50 Halloween-appropriate films as Oct. 31 approached.  But I also read a couple of Halloween-appropriate novellas. It’s time to share those with Plan9Crunch readers.

The Turn of the Screw

First, here’s a mini-review of Henry James’ “ The Turn of the Screw.” The tale of a governess convinced that her young, brother/sister charges are in deadly peril from two malevolent spirits has been often adapted to stage and screen. I really enjoy the 1961 adaptation, “The Innocents,” and my wife and I enjoyed Netflix’s recent mini-series adaptation, “The Haunting ofBly Manor.”

The adaptations tend to assume that there really are ghosts at Bly Manor. James’ novella, which I find refreshingly creepy, creates a tale in which all that’s going on could just be in the mind of the governess. That adds to the horror as events reach tragedy. However, James’ also offers us the possibility that the hauntings are real. I got chills reading this book as our narrator/governess would set a scenario where the “evil” man and former “governess,” both dead, would reappear, eager to enter the souls of the children.

I don't think James wanted us to know if it all was real, or not.

Memoirs of Murder: A Prequel to the 1932 Classic, White Zombie

And now, on to the next spooky novella I read this Halloween season. It’s Memoirs of Murder: A Prequel to the 1932 Classic, White Zombie.” It’s penned by a fellow I know, Brad Braddock, who runs Arcane ShadowsPress. Here is more about the film White Zombie.

Here’s my review:

It tells of the early life of Murder Legendre, the satanic, evil antagonist of the classic film, White Zombie. The novel takes an already evil man, living in Haiti, and shows how he embraces Satanism and energetically collects souls to turn into zombies to run and increase his empire.

I particularly like Braddock's dialogue. He presents Legendre speaking in a consistent matter-of-fact tone of an evil genius, justifying every evil deed as an accumulation of his earthly kingdom. It contrasts well with characters who represent good, some who know how evil he is but are simply unable to best Legendre on his own turf.

This is a dark novel. There are are scenes of torture, murder and even worse. It can be tough and at times I was wishing for some relief. However, it is a prequel to the story of a man who has accumulated an empire in White Zombie. And it's fascinating to have a novel that sets up perfectly a viewing of White Zombie. And, Braddock does make sure that Legendre learns, to his eternal disappointment, that he can't have everything he wants.

These are great, inexpensive reads. Here is a link to “The Turn of the Screw” and another to “Memoirs of Murder ….

--- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Haunting - An Excellent Haunted House, Supernatural Thriller

Review by Steve D. Stones
Based on the 1959 novel – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting (1963) ranks as one of the best haunted house-ghost story films in the genre. The film really packs a punch of scares and will make you want to sleep with a light on after you see it. It's a perfect film for the Halloween season. 

Built in a remote area of New England by a man named Hugh Crane in the early 1870s, Hill House has a reputation for being evil and haunted because of a series of unfortunate accidents that took place there. Ninety years ago, the carriage of Crane's young wife crashes into a tree, killing her, before she even sets eyes on Hill House. 

After the accident, Crane stays in the house and remarries while raising his daughter Abigail. Shortly after the marriage, his second wife falls down stairs in the house and is killed instantly. Crane is accused by locals of killing his second wife, so he flees to England, leaving Abigail in the house with a maid servant. 

Abigail stays in the same nursery room of the house for her entire life until reaching old age as a bed ridden invalid. One night while calling for the maid, Abigail dies in the nursery room. The maid inherits the house, but years later goes insane and hangs herself at the top of a spiral staircase in the library. The spiral staircase proves to be one of the creepiest features of the house, as we see in two separate incidences later in the film. 

Being intrigued by all the stories and misery surrounding Hill House, Dr. John Markway, played by distinguished British actor Richard Johnson, decides to conduct a supernatural experiment in Hill House with carefully selected human subjects. 

A distant relative in Boston of the maid rents the house to Markway, but warns him that everyone who ever stayed in the house never stayed there more than a few days. Luke (Russ Tamblyn), whose aunt now owns Hill House, is one of the group of four staying in the house during Markway's experiment. He is a skeptic of Markway's investigations and beliefs in the supernatural. 

Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom) arrive at the house as test subjects. Eleanor has spent the last eleven years taking care of her ailing mother, so she is anxious to be a part of the group. Theodora was selected by Markway because of her skill of extra sensory perception. Eleanor was selected for experiencing a poltergeist as a child. 

During the first night at Hill House, Eleanor and Theodora hear loud pounding sounds in the walls that get progressively louder. The pounding transitions into a loud laughter of a female voice. While passing Eleanor and Theodora's room that night, Luke and Markway claim they did not hear any pounding in the walls. The two women laugh off their experience as something unexplained. 

At breakfast the next morning, Luke is asked if there is anything that frightens him. He mentions something in the hallway leading to the dining room that frightened him, so he takes the group to the hallway. On the hall wall written in chalk it says: Help Eleanor Come Home. 

Already fragile, Eleanor has a complete breakdown after seeing her name written in chalk. Down the hall from the chalk writing, Dr. Markway discovers a “cold spot” in the hallway near the nursery where occupants standing in the spot can see their breath and feel cold chills. 

Markway's wife Grace (Lois Maxwell) arrives at Hill House to warn her husband that a reporter has learned of his investigations at Hill House despite his attempts to keep the investigations a secret. Markway asks his wife to leave immediately, but she insists that she stay in the house with the group, even though she is a skeptic of the supernatural, much like Luke. She wants to stay in the nursery where Abigail spent most of her life. 

Markway tells her the room is locked and he does not have a key, but the door is wide open as the group approaches the room. Loud banging in the walls and high-pitched wind sounds penetrate the halls of the house the night Grace arrives. Markway runs from the parlor to go check on Grace in the nursery. Grace has disappeared and cannot be found. 

While the group searches for Grace, Eleanor climbs the spiral staircase in the library and is frightened by Grace when she appears through a trap door at the top of the stairs. 

On the DVD audio commentary for The Haunting, actress Julie Harris, who plays Eleanor, mentions that she felt very isolated and distant from the other actors during the production of the film. Her feelings reflect and enhance the great performance she gives on screen because she is the outcast of the group who is always emotionally fragile and distant from all the other actors on screen. On the DVD audio commentary, Actor Russ Tamblyn confirms that Harris was very distant from the other actors during the entire production. 

 Perhaps the biggest star of the film is the richly ornate, Rococo interiors of the house. The richly detailed relief wall carvings and sculptures in the house are a visual treat. A close up shot of a wall relief in Eleanor's room gives the chilling appearance of the face of a monster. 

The stark black-and-white photography greatly enhances the scary and foreboding feeling of the film, which is one of many reasons why the 1999 color remake fails viewers. The 1963 film relies on the psychological impact of not showing any horror on the screen, but instead allowing the viewer to anticipate the horrors that might appear. 

This Halloween season, I highly recommend the original 1963 chiller – The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise. Happy viewing and Happy Halloween!