Sunday, May 30, 2021

Bela Lugosi's The Ape Man often co-featured with B westerns


There he is, the great Bela Lugosi in one of his most iconic poverty-row roles, Monogram's "The Ape Man." In this post Plan9Crunch blog is doing its occasional peek at how these vintage films were covered in the newspapers. 

What I found particularly interesting is that movie houses of 1943, when the film was released, often paired "The Ape Man" with westerns. Look at "Sierra Sue," with Gene Autry, or "Blocked Trail," with the "Three Mesquiteers," who included Bob Steele. 

And it played with other poverty-row chillers, as one ad showing it with George Zucco's "The Black Raven." It was also a featured film on old-time spook shows; note its presence in Dr. Zomb's Black Mask Mysteries, and a Midnite Voodoo Party show. Of course it played with comedy shorts; one shows an Our Gang short offering, another a Three Stooges short. And a trip to see "The Ape Man" included a serial chapters. One was "Daredevils of the West." Another was "Adventures of Smiling Jack." 

We've included some published in newspapers PR blurbs and photos, and a columnist musing (unsigned). I particularly like "Handsome Bela Lugosi will star in ..." from the columnist. OK, they're talking about "Return of the Ape Man" but I think it's cool that as late as 1943 Lugosi was still being described as handsome. 

Here's a portion of a review I wrote in this blog on "The Ape Man."

Of such bizarre plots were Monogram cheapies of the 1940s created. It's a lot of fun to watch, even if the production values are predictably low. Lugosi, as usual, acts far above the product he's pitching, and he manages to make the audience feel sympathy for his plight. His ferocious temper tantrums are effective. He nearly strangles his sister in one scene. Urecal, by the way, is great as the slightly creepy sister. In an Los Angeles Times review (the paper actually liked the film) the reviewer suggested Urecal be given her own horror film to star in. So far as I know, it never happened, although she was also very good in the Lugosi vehicle The Corpse Vanishes. Currie and Ford as the wisecracking journalists have strong chemistry. B movie veteran actor McDonald is also an asset to the film. In a bit part is Earnest Morrison, better known as Sunshine Sammy Morrison of The East Side Kids.

I really like the photo below describing Bela as the Master of Horror. You can watch The Ape Man here. As always, my friend David Grudt, of Long Beach, Calif., assisted in finding these newspaper treasures. I do plan on adding an index below, in the near future, noting where each clipping originally appeared.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Strangler of the Swamp, an effective atmospheric poverty-row horror

This is a fabulous film, Strangler of the Swamp, perhaps Producer Releasing Corporations best, along with Bluebeard, although I have a soft spot for The Devil Bat. The 1946 film is lean, just under an hour, directed by Frank Wisbar. It's a sort of remake of a German film Wisbar made in 1936. The atmosphere is incredible. The swamp is other-wordly, and the rural Americans seem to exist in another time and world. Charles Middleton, the gaunt, frightening Strangler, was the Emporer Ming in the old Flash Gordon serials. Rosemary LaPlanche, former Miss America, has a purity and innocence that connects to the vengeful Strangler. 

A young, later to be famous as a director/writer Blake Edwards, is good as LaPlanche's love interest. Rural locals in the film are well cast as well. (LaPlanche later starred in PRC's weird "sequel" to "The Devil Bat," "Devil Bat's Daughter. 

Some writers I respect, including Tom Weaver in Poverty Row Horrors, have trashed this film and accuse many "Strangler" fans of parroting an earlier upbeat review by William Everson in "Classics of the Horror Film." I can't speak for others, but I never read Everson's book and Weaver is just plain wrong. There is a pervasive atmosphere of dread Wisbar creates as the Strangler slowly goes after his revenge. The swamp creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the dread. I admire LaPlanche's mixture of stoicism and faith to deal with the terror.

Here is a small capsule review I wrote for "Strangler of the Swamp" as part of a column for The Standard-Examiner and also on Plan 9 Crunch's main blog:

"Strangler of the Swamp" — Made in 1948, this atmospheric thriller involves a man, hanged for a murder he didn't commit, who returns as a ghost and assumes the role of ferryman at the swamp. Instead of ferrying passengers, he strangles locals in revenge. Finally, a young woman (Rosemary LaPlanche) prepares to offer herself as a sacrifice to get the ghost to leave. The strangler (Charles Middleton) was "Emperor Ming" in the old "Flash Gordon" serials.

As mentioned, a great 40s C genre film, better than most A productions of that time. Don't miss it!
-- Doug Gibson

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Black Scorpion a dull programmer but has superior stop-motion effects

The Black Scorpion, 1957, 88 minutes, AMEX Productions, B&W. Directed by Edward Ludwig. Starring Richard Denning as Hank Scott, Mara Corday as Teresa Alverez, Carlos Rivas as Artur Ramos, Mario Navarro as Juanito and Carlos Muzquiz as Dr. Velazco. Schlock-Meter rating: 5 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

This tale of giant scorpions is a mostly dull programmer that is enhanced a bit by superior stop-motion animation special effects of giant scorpions attacking humans, animals, cars, trains and each other. Despite the better-than average FXs for this low budget, the film is marred by repeated close-up viewings of a giant black scorpions' face. It's a sort of silly looking, staid puppet-like image that drools, and will draw a few chuckles.

Here's the plot: Mexico is suffering a spate of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This unleashes a whole group of giant black scorpions from the bowels of the earth that crawl out at night and ravage the countryside. A pair of geologists (Denning and Rivas) help the police and scientists try to find the creatures' weak spots. The climatic battle takes place in a huge soccer stadium in Mexico City.

The acting is pretty blah, and the plot recycled fatigue. We have a dull love tale between Scott and Corday, an annoying stereotypical, nosy boy (Navarro) who you wish a spider would kill, and some unfunny, tasteless jokes. But scenes of the scorpions attacking a train, fighting each other in a volcano's cave, and one terrorizing Mexico City are fun to watch. You can rent the film at YouTube. A bright spot is the FXs were prepared by Willis O'Brien, the creator of the stop-motion effects for King Kong.

The Black Scorpion has much better FXs than Earth Versus the Spider, another '50s cult film, but it's uninspired story and dull stretches rate it lower as a cult film than than the gleefully inept Spider. Worth renting only for the effects, and keep the fast-forward on your remote handy.
-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Sinister Cinema – Drive-In Double Feature #92 – A Ray Dennis Steckler Double Feature

By Steve D. Stones

Sinister Cinema is a small mom and pop movie distribution business in Medford, Oregon, that sells many obscure and long forgotten science-fiction, cult, sword & sandal, horror, exploitation and juvenile delinquent films from a forgotten era of cinema. I am greatly indebted to Sinister Cinema for many of the obscure films in my personal film library. Many of the titles they sell cannot be found anywhere else, which is one of many reasons why I always purchase films from them. One of their most interesting offerings is their “drive-in double feature” series of two films with trailers and intermission clips inserted between films on DVD format.

A particular drive-in double feature favorite of mine from Sinister Cinema that I have in my collection is Drive-In Double Feature #92, which is a Ray Dennis Steckler double feature of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed Up Zombies (1963) and The Thrill Killers (1965). Director Steckler directs and acts in both films, and goes by the screen name of Cash Flagg.

If Steckler continues to be discussed for decades to come, it is likely that The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living & Became Mixed Up Zombies will be the film that he is most known for. The title of the film is a spoof-parody of Stanley Kubrick's film – Dr. Strangelove (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). In this film, Steckler plays an unemployed romantic named Jerry who takes his girlfriend Angela to a carnival on a double date with friends. Jerry becomes obsessed and falls in love with a gypsy dancer named Carmelita at the carnival and is later hypnotized into becoming a crazed killer by a fortune teller. In one scene, he murders an alcoholic dancer, played by his beautiful wife at the time – Carolyn Brandt. Cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, who went on to become Oscar winners for other films, worked on this film. The film is also known as The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary, and its condensed title of – The Incredibly Strange Creatures. The film is regarded as the first “Monster Musical.

Next up on this great DVD double feature, we have Steckler's third film from1964 – The Thrill Killers. Here Steckler plays a thrill killer named Mort “Mad Dog” Click, who kills a man in his car with a gun while hitchhiking. Click is meeting with his brother Herbie (Herb Robins) and two escaped psychos from a local insane asylum. Meanwhile, struggling actor Joe Saxon (Brick Bardo) continues to promise his sexy wife Liz, played by Liz Renay, that he'll make it as an actor someday. Liz is tired of his promises, so she leaves him to go to her sister's diner nearby. Liz and her sister are held up and terrorized at the diner by Herbie and the two escaped psychos. The psychos have just come from killing a young couple – played by Steckler's wife Carolyn Brandt and Ron Burr. The closing fight sequences and chase sequence of Steckler being chased on a horse down a rough road by Titus Moede on a sheriff's motorcycle are amazing and well done for a low-budget film. Actor Herb Robins went on to direct his own cult film in 1977 – The Worm Eaters. Be on the lookout for actor Arch Hall Sr. in The Thrill Killers, who directed the caveman epic - Eegah in 1962 – starring his son – Arch Hall Jr.

If you're a collector of old, obscure and forgotten films like me – you don't want to miss the drive-in double features offered for sale by Sinister Cinema. Some of the other drive-in double-feature DVDs offered by Sinister Cinema are – Drive-In Double Feature #4: Attack of The Giant Leeches and A Bucket of Blood, Drive-In Double Feature #140: I Eat Your Skin and Beach Girls And The Monster, Drive-In Double Feature #163: The Split (aka The Manster) and Screaming Skull, along with many other double feature titles for sale. Many of these double features are paired up together as they originally played at drive-in theaters. Happy viewing!