Sunday, February 21, 2021

Newspaper mentions of Return of the Ape Man


This week at Plan9Crunch we re-visit Monogram with Bela Lugosi's "Return of the Ape Man." For a very long time this was a hard Lugosi poverty-row effort to find. I remember high-fiving after snaring a weak DVD-R duplicate via E-Bay. Of course now, you can buy the Blu-Ray, which I have done. My friend David Grudt and I have checked Newspaper Archives and and found a healthy selection of ads and even reviews, no doubt from the film's PR department, though.

Here's a few ads. It was paired with many films, including an 'oater, Trail to Gunsight, many serials, including Perils of Nyoka, a comedy short, Wedded Bliss (I ended up acquiring a copy of that Columbia short), as well as a Universal ghost comedy, Ghost Catchers. Also Monogram ran it with an East Side Kids feature, Follow the Leaders, and other features of the glorious '40s. It even was paired with what must have been a re-issue, the mid 1930s Boris Karloff horror, The Walking Dead. The film also headlines a Halloween spook show!

Here is a review of Return of the Ape Man I posted in the past:

In “Return of the Ape Man,” one of Bela Lugosi’s final Monogram offerings, his deviously mad scientist, Professor Dexter, offers , with polite arrogance, this laconic remark at a fashionable party to another guest. “You know, some people’s brains would never be missed.” Shortly afterward, Dexter tries to prove it by luring the intended of his partner’s niece to his laboratory for an unwilling partial brain transfer to a reanimated, prehistoric “ape man.” Only the interference of partner Professor Gilmore, with the added persuasion of a gun, stops Dexter. “He might not die,” is Dexter’s defense.

If not for Lugosi, “Return of the Ape Man” would be virtually forgotten. Even John Carradine underplays his role as Gilmore to the point of near narcolepsy. The rest of the cast also seems to play their roles with lethargy. The script, frankly, is unimaginative, and cheats viewers of a climax with Bela’s character alive. But Lugosi’s Dexter is his second-best mad scientist role; only Dr. Vollin in 1935’s “The Raven,” surpasses Prof. Gilmore in mad, ethics-be-damned-crime-be-damned, obsession. Like Vollin, Gilmore is courtly, charismatic, dedicated and mad as a hatter in his desire to reanimate a primitive human and provide him a decent brain, at any cost.

Casual fans of the genre may not know that Lugosi played a mad scientist far more often on screen than he did a vampire. He has some great lines in “Return of the Ape Man.” They include: “Murder is an ugly word. As a scientist I don’t recognize it;” and “Fool, you’ll pay for this!” is Dexter’s angry retort when Gilmore stops him the first time. The too-passive Gilmore eventually becomes the subject of Dexter’s partial brain transplant, and the mad glee that fills the countenance of Lugosi’s Dexter is chilling and unforgettable. Do yourself a favor, Lugosi fans, see “Return of the Ape Man.

Now, here are a few newspaper "reviews" of the film and more ads.: One review is a "phooey" pan from then Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fidler.

Watch this film via YouTube here.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Grapes of Death - Jean Rollin's Most Frightening Film


Review by Steve D. Stones

Although made in 1978, the opening scene of The Grapes of Death (French title Les Raisins De La Mort!) reflects the times in which we live today with the Coronavirus pandemic. Winery workers dressed in cloth coverings and masks on their faces walk the fields of the Roubles wine making vineyard in central France while spraying pesticides on the grape crops. Tractors also drive over the fields spraying pesticides.

A young vineyard worker named Kowalski collapses in the arms of his supervisor after driving the fields in a tractor and complains of having a fever and neck pains. The boss dismisses his complaints and orders him back to the fields to work. He tells Kowalski that more tightly fitting masks are soon to arrive.

After his shift, Kowalski boards a train with only two other young women college students on board who are traveling to Spain. One of the girls named Elizabeth (Marie George Pascal) leaves her compartment on the train to find another empty compartment. While Elizabeth sits in the compartment reading a magazine, Kowalski enters the compartment and sits down. His neck and face begin to drip with a disgusting ooze of pus. This frightens Elizabeth, so she runs out of the compartment as Kowalski slowly chases after her. Elizabeth finds her friend Brigitte dead in another compartment. She pulls the emergency stop cord on the train and quickly runs from the train.

After walking for hours in the French countryside, Elizabeth arrives in a small village and runs to knock on the doors of local residents to get help and call the police. She enters the home of Antoinette (Patricia Cartier) and her father. Antoinette's father has a strange growth on his left hand – similar to the growth Elizabeth saw on Kowalski's neck and face on the train. The father and daughter offer Elizabeth a glass of wine as she desperately pleads to use their telephone to call the police. They tell her that their phone and car do not work.

Antoinette and her father insist that Elizabeth stay with them as she tries to flee the house. She is taken to a bedroom upstairs where she finds Antoinette's mother lying dead on a bed with her throat slashed. Antoinette explains to Elizabeth that it was her father that killed her mother. She gives Elizabeth the car keys to leave the village, but both girls are confronted by the father as they try to leave the house. Antoinette is raped and impaled with a pitch fork by her father as Elizabeth leaves the house in the car.

After crushing Antoinette's father against a rock with the car, Elizabeth drives to another nearby village and is confronted by another young man who has a strange growth on his forehead oozing with pus. Elizabeth leaves the car after shooting the man in the head with a gun. She then encounters Lucy (Mirella Rancelot), a blind girl who has wandered away from the nearby village.

Lucy and Elizabeth make their way back to Lucy's home after walking the French countryside all evening. The village is a grim sight of dead bodies lying on the ground and fires burning homes throughout the village. Lucy is desperate to find her brother Lucas (Paul Bisciglia). When Lucas is found, he too has a growth on his face – along with the rest of the villagers who appear to be zombies.

Nailed to a door in crucifixion style, Lucy is found raped and dead, killed by her brother Lucas. Lucas decapitates Lucy in the most gruesome scene of the film. The village zombies begin to chant - “Lucy, we love you, Lucy, we love you”

Elizabeth is pulled into a house in the village by porn actress Brigitte Lahaie. Lahaie's character does not have a name in the film, so I will refer to her as Lahaie. Elizabeth is told by Lahaie that the house is owned by the local mayor and his wife, both were killed by the villagers. She also tells Elizabeth that they will be safe if they remain in the house.

Eventually leaving the mayor's house, Lahaie incapacitates Elizabeth outside the house so the zombie villagers can attack her. In a sexy see-thru night gown, Lahaie blazes the town with a torch while walking two dogs. Two men in a pick up truck, Paul (Felix Marten) and his friend Lucien (Serge Marquand) arrive to save Elizabeth. Lahaie removes her night gown to prove to the two men that she is not marked like the rest of the village zombies. Director Jean Rollin never misses an opportunity to show naked female flesh in his films, as Lahaie has done for him many times.

Elizabeth, Paul and Lucien eventually make their way to the vineyard where Elizabeth's fiance Michel (Michel Herval) is employed. The trio determine that the zombie outbreak of the villagers must have been a result of the wine consumed by the villagers at the Grape Harvest Festival a week earlier. Paul and Lucien claim they were immune because they drank beer at the festival instead of wine.

It's no mistake that throughout the entire film Elizabeth wears a purple colored shirt, the color of grapes and royalty, as she stands in a winery tank at the end of the film with the purple walls of the tank sharply contrasting the purple of her shirt. The blood of her fiance Michel drips on her face from above the tank. The blood sacrifice symbolism in Christianity is apparent in this final sequence of the film – both with the blood on Elizabeth's face and the reference of wine as part of the sacrificial ritual. This scene connects well with the crucifixion of Lucy in an earlier scene. I'm not sure if director Rollin had this symbolism in mind as he constructed the final scene, but viewers could certainly interpret it this way.

The Grapes of Death may be Rollin's most commercial effort in film making and is said to be the first French zombie film. It is certainly Rollin's most frightening and well-made film. Most of Rollin's previous films are an exercise in strange surrealism and have interesting elements of experimentation to them. The Grapes of Death has often been compared to George Romero's Night of The Living Dead (1968) and The Crazies (1973). Both Romero and Rollin employ zombies to communicate the perils of a natural disaster. Happy viewing. (Watch the trailer here.)