Sunday, June 28, 2020

Attack of The Giant Leeches – Terror In The Florida Everglades!

Review by Steve D. Stones

Here's another awesome Blu-Ray double feature put out by Retromedia – Attack of The Giant Leeches (1959) (aka The Giant Leeches) with Teenagers From Outer Space (1959). Both prints of the films are in excellent quality. Produced by Roger Corman and his brother Gene, Attack of The Giant Leeches was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and features the bizarre organ music of Alexander Laszlo. The film also features July 1959 Playboy centerfold – Yvette Vickers. A skim budget of $70,000 was all it took to produce this B-movie masterpiece.

A swamp hillbilly from the Florida Everglades named Lem Sawyer (George Cisar) encounters a strange creature in the swamps while poaching for wildlife. Sawyer fires several shots from his gun into the creature, but is unable to stop the creature as it swims away. Later that evening, Sawyer reports this incident to his swamp buddies at Walker's General Store. His buddies laugh at him and don't believe his wild story.

That same evening, Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota), owner of Walker's General Store, confronts his wife Liz (Yvette Vickers) for being bossy with him and for prancing around the store while scantily dressed in front of his swamp friends. Liz appears to be bored with the marriage and does not listen to a word Walker says to her.

Unknown to Walker, Liz has the reputation of being the town harlot. Liz leaves Walker's store for a date with Lem that night. During the date, Lem and Liz are attacked by the same creature that Lem confronted with his gun. Lem is killed by the creature as game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) arrives in time to save Liz.

Refusing to learn from the attack, Liz continues her harlot ways by parking in a car by the swamp with Cal Moulton (Michael Emmet) as the two kiss and make out on a blanket. Dave Walker catches the couple in the act and threatens his wife and Cal with a shotgun. Walker becomes angry with the couple and orders that they walk out into the swamp where they are attacked by giant leeches and taken to an underground cave. Walker later hangs himself in jail because the local authorities believe he was responsible for killing Liz and Cal.

After two poachers are attacked in their boat and taken by the giant leeches, a search party led by game warden Benton searches for the two poachers and Liz and Cal. Dr. Grayson (Tyler McVey) suggests to his daughter Nan (Jan Shepard) and Benton that perhaps giant leeches are living in a cave under the swamp and are responsible for all the missing persons reports. He recommends that a charge of dynamite be placed in the swamp to bring the leeches to the surface. Benton refuses to go with this plan, stating that it's his job to preserve wildlife and that perhaps the four victims could still be alive in a cave below the swamp.

Although Benton threatens to arrest Dr. Grayson if he's seen in the swamp with explosives, Grayson and his daughter Nan place a charge of dynamite in the swamp. The bodies of the two poachers and Cal float to the surface as angry Benton arrives at the scene. Grayon's theory about an underground cave proves to be correct when an autopsy reveals that the bodies had only been dead for a few short hours. Liz Walker's body is yet to be found.

Benton and a diver go into the water with spear guns to kill the giant leeches after Liz's body comes to the surface from a second dynamite charge. Watch carefully for scuba tanks poking out of the giant leech costumes as they confront Benton and his diver companion in the water. Overall, the appearance of the giant leeches is quite effective.

It's interesting to note that Attack of The Giant Leeches played on a double-bill on the drive-in movie circuit with director Roger Corman's film – A Bucket of Blood (1959). In 1960, the film later played on a double-bill with Corman's – House of Usher (1960). Attack of The Giant Leeches remains in the public domain because its copyright has never been renewed. A remake was made in 2008. I have not seen the remake, but I've heard from several sources that it's not very good.

Director Bernard L. Kowalski also directed another great cult classic – Night of The Blood Beast (1958) which also stars Michael Emmet and Tyler McVey. The bizarre organ music by Alexander Laszlo used in Attack of The Giant Leeches was first used in Night of The Blood Beast.

Sadly, actress Yvette Vickers' mummified body was found in her home in April 2011 by a neighbor. She was 82 years old at the time of her death. Autopsy reports suggest that she may have been deceased for a year or more before her neighbor discovered her body. Her July 1959 Playboy photos were taken by cult director Russ Meyer. She can be heard giving audio commentary with film historian Tom Weaver on the 2007 DVD release of Attack of The 50 Foot Woman.

For further information about Attack of The Giant Leeches and other American International Pictures films, see the excellent and exhaustive book – American International Pictures – A Comprehensive Filmography (2019 McFarland) by author Rob Craig. I consider this book to be one of my most cherished film encyclopedias in my personal library. Happy viewing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Poverty row Lugosi films getting more respect nowadays

Essay by Doug Gibson

I love the book, Poverty Row HORRORS, by Tom Weaver, published originally in 1993. I earlier reviewed it here and interviewed Weaver here. Weaver can be a bit mean in his criticism (he uses the term "lowly hacks" to describe Steve Sekely and Frank Wisbar. That's bad enough. But he even snarks that the term "maybe" applies to Edgar G. Ulmer! Come on!

Nevertheless, he does love the poverty row films, and his pre-Internet book is a fantastic source, with detailed production notes, analysis and various reviews of the era. There is also an exhaustive filmography for dozens of actors who performed in the low-budget horrors; and a great index.

Although he can criticize Lugosi, Weaver understands that Lugosi is a major reason there is fandom for the poverty-row era. His PRC film, Devil Bat, and the nine Monogram films he made are the linchpin of this genre. George Zucco of PRC and John Carradine, who worked for multi poverty-row studios, can't compare to Lugosi's' efforts. As Weaver notes, Zucco could come across as mean and Carradine too often gave passive, or downright goofy (think Voodoo Man) performances.

But Lugosi gave it all in these five-day productions. He took it as seriously as if he was starring in Dracula. You can appreciate Lugosi's pride in his craft by watching Boris Karloff give less than his best effort in low-budget films (a good example is Karloff in Monogram's The Ape).

I digress to read passages from a couple of publications of that era that also recognized Lugosi's value to poverty row and why it has an impact today.

From Midnight Marquee Actors Series Bela Lugosi (1995) Gary Svehla writes, "Bela ... approached every movie as though each film performance was as important as the one before. Good films, bad films; good characterizations, cliche roles simply were not part of Lugosi's vocabulary. The only thing that seemingly mattered was the next film and the next performance. Approach the current film as being the ultimate chance to display your talents and perhaps you would have the opportunity to act again. Or, to state the philosophy more succinctly, an actor is only as good as his last film."

Here is an excellent assessment of the Monogram films from Michael Copner, formerly of Cult Movies magazine, writing in the 1990 publication, Bela Lugosi: Then and Now (also known as Cult Movies 1): "If you go into it expecting the nice atmosphere and music of the Universal productions, if you expect the thing to actually make sense, you're going to be in trouble. These movies are the pulp novels of the screen; their only purpose in the world is to make money. So you must watch them in the same way -- just a string of meaningless events going on until Bela Lugosi can come back on the screen again. That's why we're here. If you do that, you will actually begin to enjoy the cheapness a bit, and develop a new appreciation of what  Bela was able to do with absolutely nothing to go on. If this were Michelangelo, forced to create something with a single crayon on a sheet of cardboard; or Paderewski, having to perform on a baby's toy piano, you'd give them this same consideration, wouldn't you? Take this attitude the next time you watch The Corpse Vanishes and you will be amazingly rewarded."

I took Copner's advice and have been rewarded by these films for generations.

At the back of Weaver's book, he has 26 genre experts rate the nine Monogram films 1 through 9. The reviewers include Forrest J. Ackerman, Richard Bojarski, Buddy Barnett, Copner, Weaver, Svehla, Richard Gordon, Joe Dante, Arthur Lennig, and William K. Everson. A lot of these reviewers died in the ensuing years.

The cumulative results are not surprising for almost 30 years ago:

1) Invisible Ghost
2) The Corpse Vanishes
3) Voodoo Man
4) Bowery at Midnight
5) Return of the Ape Man
6) Black Dragons
7) The Ape Man
8) Spooks Run Wild
9) Ghosts on the Loose

I think today, more than 25 years later, that Invisible Ghost (a screen shot is seen above) is still the technically best film. It's probably not the funnest film, though. I'd go with The Corpse Vanishes, and then Black Dragons. Other fun films are Bowery at Midnight and The Ape Man. In my opinion, Voodoo Man and Return of the Ape Man would be second and third on the list. I think they have gained more respect the past decade or so, primarily because Lugosi's performances are so strong. His mad scientist, Professor Dexter, in Return of the Ape Man, is almost as good as his Dr. Richard Vollin in The Raven. And the East Side Kids films are still 8 and 9, although Spooks Run Wild is three times as good as the dismal Ghosts on the Loose, which really wastes Bela. Here I go:  My list:

1) Invisible Ghost
2) Voodoo Man
3) Return of the Ape Man
4) The Corpse Vanishes
5) Bowery at Midnight
6) The Ape Man
7) Black Dragons
8) Spooks Run Wild
9) Ghosts on the Loose

Be aware, that my choices for 4, 5 and 6 are more or less a tie.

This pandemic spring I re-read Lennig's superb biography of Lugosi, "The Immortal Count." My only peeve is that Lenning really seems to despise Lugosi's Monogram films, although his barbs are perhaps mostly directed at the lazy writing, poor acting by co-stars, and direction. But these poverty-row films, as Weaver and others point out, are a major part of Lugosi's legacy today. Without them, I don't think his mystique and fan base would be as strong. Imagine what we'd think today if Lugosi had chosen to be a consistent seventh lead in an A level studio pumping out dramas in the 40s and 50s? Boring. I much prefer Bride of the Monster.

I've noticed this past year a resurgence, and increased respect, for the poverty-row films of the '40s, particularly Lugosi's. Recently, we have reviewed, from  BearManor Media, "Bela Lugosi and the Monogram 9," with critical essays from Gary D. Rhodes and Robert Guffey. And we have reviewed two short story anthologies based on Monogram and other poverty-row films. They are "The Monogramthology," from Arcane Shadows Press, and "Chillers: Tales Inspired By Classic Horror Films," (compiled by Brad Braddock), from Midnight Marquee Press. Authors in both those collections include genre writers Greg Mank and Frank Dello Stritto.

But again, no matter how "respectable" these films become, they are still thrillers to be enjoyed, to have fun with. Weaver's Poverty Row Horrors is a must for fans to possess. You can buy it here.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Painted Ladies uses art as inspiration for short stories

Review by Doug Gibson

Beth Porter has a distinguished career in the entertainment industry, both on stage and in film, as an actor and in duties behind stage and screen. She is also an accomplished writer of fiction. We have reviewed her memoir and a novel on this blog. In the anthology "Painted Ladies: a kaleidoscope of stories," Porter pens stories that are inspired by famous art, often with political subtexts that include feminism, socialism, capitalism, war, health care, and more.

The stories are, most importantly, entertaining. In some of the longer ones, the reader is jolted out a relaxing comfort with the characters and plot, disrupted by historical events that cause pain and misery. I'm going to provide brief accounts of three stories I particularly enjoyed and allow readers to encounter others' unawares. The artists and the stories behind the art are worthy of much discussion but the focus is on the stories in this review. The creators of art we see are E'douard Manet, Pauline Modersohn-Becker, and Edward Hopper.

The above painting serves as inspiration for the tale "JoJo's Eyes." (I will add that Porter offers introductions to the short stories, offering pertinent information about the artists, how the world was in the time the art was created, and analysis of the its meaning.)

The story is set in the late 19th century Paris, the Folies Bergere, and moves through the lives of people who make a living from the entertainment offered. The painting is fascinating. The young lady with inscrutable expression stands in front of a large mirror. We see what she is seeing. The story provides glimpses into the lives of the artists, barkers and other workers there. A pandemic killing many, a touch of irony given today, is afflicting characters. There is an abrupt, very sad death.

"JoJo's Eyes," is both a love story and a tale of trying to survive in a perilous environment, where one's livelihood is threatened by events that can't be controlled. The woman in love represents the young woman in the painting, whose dreams extend beyond just a counter. The story reveals what the atmosphere and visual stimulation must have been at these shows 140 years ago.


This second painting inspired my favorite story of the anthology, "The Ghost Goose." It involves a young girl, "Lottie," who lives a happy but isolated farming life with her parents. One day, while Lottie is playing in a cow shed, her parents are swept away by a tornado. Not quite realizing this, although she does see the destruction, the youngster harbors a belief that her parents, while injured, are just lost. One of the early sounds she hears after the tornado's destruction is the honking of a goose.

Lottie is taken in by a generous, loving family, who treat her like a daughter. She loves and marries their son. The family live in town, the father a successful butcher. Eventually Lottie and her husband restore the damaged farm. Life is idyllic for Lottie and her adopted family. Very abruptly, even jarring to the reader, World War I intrudes, demanding a steady supply of rural males to fight, witness horror, and -- for some -- to die, whether in battle or solitude. Porter conveys the emotional impact of the war on its conscripted, its volunteers, and their families, and communities. It destroys relationships, harms rural economies, brings late-in-life grief and shortens life spans. Lottie and her husband, named "Deet," become survivors, like so many others, adjusting to the disruption.

The mysterious honking is the "The Ghost Goose," and the fate of her parents is always in Lottie's mind through the decades of her life. What I enjoy most about this story is Porter's descriptive ability to convey what life was like on an isolated farm, and the village life, of 100 years ago. I'd love to see this adapted into the visual, as a film.


This painting inspires a story, "The Round Table," set in New York City, some years before World War II beckoned, in a shabby diner, near a bus station. It starts as a damsel in distress tale. A man, likely unmarried, on the make, approaches the "doll" sitting alone at the table. The girl is very hesitant to speak, or even acknowledge, her nighttime suitor.

Still, the lame come-on lines are uttered. "Let me be Frank, ... because that's my name, Frank," is an example.

Slowly he gets reaction from the young lady. Not intimidated by "Frank," she tells him at first she's waiting for someone. More queries bring a tear or two. She accepts a handkerchief from "Frank," who imagines himself a protector. She invites him to sit down. He learns her name, "Wilma."

This is a brief story with a kick at the end, although a second reading made me wonder how I missed clues the first time. Maybe I'm a bit like Frank. I was single until my mid-30s, and while I never had an interaction that concludes as Frank's did, I empathize with the uncertainty of a man trying to approach, and impress, an attractive woman he has never met before. The awkwardness; the only somewhat sincere bravado; the condescending masculine outrage at offenses related by the damsel.  For heterosexual single males, it's a necessary risk.

"The Round Table" has a quirky ending that leaves you thinking. I see parallels in "Frank" with other males of the arts that don't get the girl. They include "Mr. Warburton" in Orwell's "A Clergyman's Daughter," and Charles Laughton's "Sir William Porterhouse" in the James Whale-directed pre-code classic from 1932, "The Old Dark House."  We reviewed that film here.

Beth Porter's Wikipedia page is here.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Beast From Haunted Cave, a review

Review by Steve D. Stones

Retromedia Entertainment has put out a beautiful Blu-Ray print of Beast From Haunted Cave (1959) on a double-bill with The Wasp Woman (1959). Both films were produced by director Roger Corman's fledgling company – Film Group. The Blu-Ray of both films also includes additional scenes added to both films to pad out the length for television broadcasting. This Blu-Ray is a great nostalgic collectible, since both films played on a double-bill at drive-in movie theaters when they premiered.

A Chicago businessman named Alexander Ward (Frank Wolf), his secretary Gypsy Boulet (Shelia Caroll) and two of Alex's employees – Marty (Richard Sinatra) and Byron (Wally Campo) arrive at a mining ski town in South Dakota during the winter ski season. Alex, Marty and Byron plan to blow up the town mine, known as the Broken Boot Mine, to create a diversion so they can rob the town's Administrative Building payroll office to steal gold bars in a safe.

Alex employs ski instructor Gil Jackson (Michael Forest) to teach his employees how to ski. Gil is unaware that the group plans to rob the local Administrative Building. The group expresses an interest in skiing to Gil's mountain cabin. Gil is also unaware that the group wants to hide out in the cabin after the robbery. In the meantime, the group is staying in the ski lodge until the day of the robbery.

The night before the robbery, Marty takes the local bar waitress named Natalie to the Broken Boot Mine to plant explosives. While in the mine, an unseen creature attacks the couple and takes Natalie to another location on the mountain. Marty rushes back to town to tell his boss Alex about the incident and tells him a monster killed Natalie. Alex does not believe him, despite Marty describing a giant egg of the monster in the mine.

The next morning, the explosives ignite, killing one old man in the mine. As the town's attention is diverted to the mine explosion, Alex, Marty and Bryon crack the town payroll safe and steal two gold bars each. When they return to the ski lodge, they meet Gil and Gypsy at the top of the ski hill. The group spends the day skiing to Gil's mountain cabin.

While on route to Gil's cabin, the group sets up an overnight camp. Venturing outside of the camp, Marty encounters the creature from the Broken Boot Mine as the rest of the group is sleeping around a campfire. Marty also witnesses the body of cocktail waitress Natalie cocooned to a tree from the monster. He fires several shots at the creature and awakes the rest of the group. Realizing no one will believe him, Marty tells the group he saw nothing.

The group arrives at Gil's cabin the following morning and meets Gil's housekeeper named Small Dove. Tensions begin to weigh heavy on Gil as he realizes his guests are up to something. Alex appears to not appreciate Gil's hospitality and the two get into a fist fight. Gil and Gypsy become romantically attracted to each other and decide to sneak away from the group to a nearby haunted cave.

In the haunted cave, Small Dove has been taken by the monster and cocooned to the cave wall. Alex, Marty and Byron have traced Gil and Gypsy to the cave and are attacked and killed by the monster as they enter the cave. It is in these final scenes that the viewer gets to see the full view of the monster. Previous scenes only show parts of its body, such as a tentacle reaching out to strangle a victim.

The music used in this film can also be heard in another low-budget Corman gem – Attack of The Giant Leeches (1959). Actor Michael Forest went on to star in The Outer Limits and Star Trek TV series. Actor Frank Wolf's most famous appearance on the screen is of playing an Irish landowner named McBain who is gunned down by Henry Fonda and his henchmen in the 1968 Italian western masterpiece – Once Upon A Time In The West.

The director of Beast From Haunted Cave, Monte Hellman, went on the direct two other great cult classics – The Shooting (1966) with Jack Nicholson and Two Lane Blacktop (1971) starring James Taylor. Hellman was also an executive producer for Quentin Tarantino's first film – Reservoir Dogs (1992). Happy viewing!