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