1965 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: DIE MONSTER DIE, MONSTER A GO-GO, AND INCUBUS

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After the bonanzas of 1963 and 1964, 1965 was a comparatively lackluster year for horror and exploitation flicks, with a few exceptions at both ends of the spectrum. Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Suzan Farmer, and Freda Jackson starred in Die, Monster, Die, directed by Daniel Haller, which was one of the first big screen attempts at an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. Released by AIP for the drive-in double feature circuit along with Mario Bava’s  cult fave, Planet Of The Vampires, Die, Monster, Die has more kinship to that studio’s Poe  product than to Lovecraft. It also has a distant relationship to Hammer Horror: Jackson previously appeared in Brides Of Dracula, and Farmer went on to do both Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk for the studio the following year. Additionally, elements of Die, Monster Die are clearly related to Universal’s Man-Made Monster(1941) and Columbia’s mad doctor series.

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With Universal horror icon Karloff and Rebel Without a Cause heartthrob Adams as the two leading men, Die, Monster, Die feels like a queer hybrid. The aged Karloff, suffering the effects of emphysema, is wheelchair bound (and will be for the rest of his career and life), but he evokes formidable English mystery from his blanket and chair. In sharp contrast is all that pent-up, pushy, youthful American angst from Adams, who is aptly vulgar and a standout in his Jersey accent.

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Stephen Reinhart  goes to visit Susan Witley at her parents’ home in the English village of Arkham. Stephen had met Susan at the college they attended together in the States, but when he stops at a local pub, he discovers the entire village paralyzed with fear in regards to the Witley estate (calling to mind Ed Wood’s daffily delivered dialogue from 1955’s Bride Of The Monster, “stay away from the old Willow’s place!”) Poor Stephen can’t get anyone to give him transportation and is forced to walk. Upon finally arriving at the Witley estate, he discovers that the surrounding plant life has all mysteriously died. He is greeted with hostility by Susan’s crippled father, Nahum (Karloff), who demands that Stephen leave at once. Nahum is interrupted by a beaming Susan and introduced to her mother, Letitia (Jackson), who is bedridden and hidden behind a veil. Letitia intercedes for Stephen and asks him to take Susan away from this charnel house. A short while later, Nahum’s servant, Merwyn (Terence De Marney) collapses and dies. After Merwyn’s late night burial, followed by a phantom-like figure appearing at the window, Stephen and Susan make their way into Nahum’s greenhouse and discover abnormally enlarged plant life and mutated critters. “It looks like a zoo on hell,” declares Stephen. After some Sherlock Holmes/Watson sleuthing, he and Susan unlock the dreadful secret: Nahum has been “experimenting” with radioactivity from a meteorite. Hoping to undo an ancestor’s evil deeds (whatever those were) Nahum plans to help feed the world with mutated plant life! Of course, things go awry and everyone who worked in the greenhouse has been either mutated or killed. The phantom figure turns out to be a former maid, now a butcher knife-wielding mutant. Both Letitia and Merwyn were victims, and now it’s Nahum’s turn as he transforms into a green thing with an axe, leading to a fiery climax.

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The opening plot sounds like a number of the Vincent Proice/Roger Corman screen treatments of Edgar Alan Poe. Despite the ho-hum overfamiliarity, Die, Monster Die has rich cinematography (by Paul Beeson), delightfully dated FX (including Karloff’s green thing stand-in), a vibrant score (from Don Banks), and a crackerjack performance from Karloff. Performances like this explain how an almost eighty-year-old, handicapped actor kept getting parts personally tailored to him up until his death four years later. Even Adams is pretty good (much better than his other ’65 performance—see below). With a zippy pace and Gothic sci-fi milieu, Monster is perfect drive-in fodder and must have made a helluva cinema-under-the-stars bargain when paired with Planet of the Vampires.  First released for home video as part of MGM’s Midnight Movies series (coupled with 1970’s Dunwich Horror, also directed by Haller), it has been upgraded to Blu-ray in a gorgeous transfer from Scream Factory and looks better than ever. Primarily criticized on its release for straying too far from it’s source story, “The Colour out of Space,” it has since has garnered a cult reputation as a fun mix of nostalgic Gothic horror and science fiction.

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BARRY MAHON DOUBLE FEATURE: THE WONDERFUL LAND OF OZ (1969) & THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965)

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Barry Mahon is another 366 weird movie saint awaiting canonization.  His directing breakthrough was with the Errol Flynn fiasco Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), which is essential bad film viewing. For another eleven years, Mahon made one godawful film after another until someone wised up and quit funding this hack (he died in 1999, never making another film after 1970). He was something of a Zach Snyder for his time, although no one was stupid enough to give Mahon millions of dollars.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Most of Mahon’s films were  Z-grade nudies (International Smorgas-BroadThe Adventures of Busty BrownFanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico), but there are a few execrable standouts, with The Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969) and Thumbellina (bundled into 1972’s certified weird Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny) being among the most memorable.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Literally looking like garage filmmaking, The Wonderful Land of Oz opens with a warbled song and introduces us to hanging sheets, Glinda (still annoying, regardless of who plays her), a papier-mâché purple cow with blinking eyes, and badly costumed characters, including the Wogglebug: a man with antenna, bug eyes, and a walrus mustache.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

The Tin Man and Scarecrow are obligatory characters, but Pumpkinhead has replaced the Cowardly Lion. Someone forgot to give him a microphone under that oversized head because we can barely hear him. It hardy matters, because he seems to be struggling with his lines. His fellow cast members, who frequently talk to themselves, are no help, mumbling their cues as they move lethargically, seemingly having overdosed on tranquilizers.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Tip (Channy Mahon, Barry’s rugrat) replaces Dorothy. Tip is loaded with dull angst over his evil stepmother, the Wicked Witch Mombi ( played by someone named Ziska). She makes the boy go to bed on time, and when he attempts to rebel against such parental sadism, she vows to turn him into a statue. Comatose slapstick and phlegmatic sing-a-longs are visually accompanied by a cardboard fence (which we keep expecting to fall over) and half a gallon of straw on the soundstage floor to represent a stable. Tip flees with the aid of Pumpkinhead, who is brought to sort-of life via magic powder. The two run afoul of an obnoxious high school band (is there any other kind?) headed by teenaged brat General Jinjur. Tip and Pumpkinhead manage to make it to Emerald City (it’s a short walk around the garage), but rather than encountering a wizard behind the curtain, Tip gets magically transformed into a girl (he doesn’t put up much of protest) by Glinda, who confirms what we have always known: she is more Dolores Umbridge (the real villain of Harry Potter) than goodwitch (although she is called a fairy here). That sickening, bloated pink dress and K-Mart tiara fools no one. After that suburban porn reject Glinda forces a sex change on poor Tip, she does an exit stage left, cruelly depriving us yet again of the chance to see her die a horrible death.

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RUSS MEYER’S FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! (1965)

Faster Pussycat, KILL! KILL! (1965 Russ Meyer) Poster

Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! (1965) comes by its cult reputation honestly. John Waters  once proclaimed it “the greatest movie ever made.”  Like most of Meyer’s films, it was initially dismissed as cheap sexpolitation, but there is always more to Meyer than surface, fetish, or cleavage. It stars the statuesque half-Japanese/half-Apache Tura Satana as a black leather clad dominatrix Varla, who left such an impression that a hard rock band took its name from the movie.

Faster Pussycat, KILL! KILL! (1965)

In addition to buxom wrasslin’ babes, go-go-dancers, and desert hot rod racing, FPKK is imbued with Meyer’s trademark, frenetic precision editing, sharp and superior black and white photography by Walter Schenk, an aptly kitsch score from the psychotronic lounge by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter that echoes the dusty terrain, and good sound: all of which are rarities for shoestring-budgeted indies.  Meyer self-distributed his pictures, so his body of work has been well preserved.

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DORIS WISHMAN’S BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)

BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965) theatrical release poster

To the alternative cineaste, Doris Wishman is somewhat akin to what Mary, the Mother of Christ, is to Catholics. She was a considerable influence on luminaries such as John Waters, Roger Corman, and Quentin Tarantino. Like them, Wishman approached genre films with an idiosyncratic enthusiasm for the art and the business. Her films are sexploitation roughies, nudie-cuties, and precursors to the grindhouse films. Therefore, she also has her detractors, who compare to her to the likes of Ed Wood. Wishman was a true, self-taught outsider artist. And like most outsider artists, being a maverick had its advantages and disadvantages (she never had the budget she needed). Wishman was as tenebrous and quirky as her films. She often told elaborate lies about herself and remained defiant to the end, mocking conventional attitudes. “I’ll continue making films in Hell” she said, terminally ill, only days before her passing at age 90. If that anecdote doesn’t endear her to you, well, you may have come to the wrong film site.

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DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965)/SCREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY (1965)

Something Weird Video offers up two of the most obscure, absurd, sexually depraved white trash soapers in this 1965 double feature.

DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965) poster

Day of the Nightmare was directed by John A. Bushelman. Bushelman’s directorial credits are few, but he was a prolific editor of low budget cult trash. Cat Women on the Moon (1953), Frankenstein 1970 (1953, starring Karloff), the Sinister Cinema favorite Tormented (1960), and Village of the Giants(1965) are among his (ahem) “notable classics.”

DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965) Dave Harmon, John Ireland

Familiar B-actor John Ireland (who had an off-screen reputation rivaling Errol Flynn‘s) virtually sleepwalks his way through what amounts to a supporting detective role, despite receiving star billing. That leaves the rest of the acting chores to unknowns who, with one exception, are not up to the job. The direction and lighting is as bland and anonymous as the acting and the title, which is unfortunate because, despite lethargic execution, Day of the Nightmare teeters on the edge of having real sensationalist potential by mid 60’s film standards.

DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965)

The plot is related to William Castle‘s more atmospheric Homicidal (1961). Jonathan Crane (Cliff Fields) is an artist with a few loose screws. He is married to Barbara (Beverly Bain, in her sole screen credit). Poor Barb is a much put-upon wife, and Bain is the only actor able to overcome Bushelman’s static direction.  She invests enough into her character to create an interesting portrayal which, alas, does not salvage the film.
Crane cries (embarrassingly) at his psychiatrist office, Crane has a drag persona, Crane likes to watch lesbos get it on, and Crane has an S & M fetish. The film opens with our hero lashing an unattractive model on her buttocks.  Cliff Fields’ turn as a queen has to be one of worst drag performances ever burned into celluloid. He sports sunglasses at night, a crumpled raincoat and a lopsided dishwater blond wig (he looks a bit like an uncanny precursor to Michael Caine’s transvestite psycho killer in 1980’s Dressed To Kill).

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THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965): EXISTENTIAL POTPOURRI

THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965) poster

Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) is a filmmakers’ film. Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorses, Luis Bunuel, and David Lynch are among its impassioned devotees.  Has’ film is also a cult favorite, no doubt helped by Jerry Garcia’s advocacy.  Superlative artistry and bold originality would be reason enough for its elevated aesthetic standing, but The Saragossa Manuscript also begs description.

THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965) theatrical release poster

The methodical, brooding, short-lived Zbigniew Cybulski (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958) heads a prodigious cast that remarkably fleshes out Count Jan Potocki’s 19th century, picaresque, magical realist novel.  After the discovery of the titular manuscript, The Unknown Soldier is transported in time and space joining Alfonso van Worden’s (Cybulski) on a phantasmagorical, anecdotal journey during the Napoleonic Wars.  Van Worden leads his uneasy party down a depraved path through the Spanish Mountains, temporarily settling at the infamous Sierra Morena.

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THE CAMERAMAN (1928) AND FILM (1965)

Both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd warned Buster Keaton against signing with MGM studios. Keaton was enticed by a financially lucrative offer, but his peers cautioned that such a deal would not be worth losing artistic control. Keaton signed anyway and, in his own words, “wound up making the biggest mistake of my life.” MGM in the 1920s was the closest a Hollywood studio ever came to a fascist state and, as predicted, Keaton discovered he had sold his soul. He was finished as an artist. The Cameraman (1928) was Keaton’s first film for MGM and studio interference quickly became the status quo. The … Continue reading THE CAMERAMAN (1928) AND FILM (1965)

ST.LUIS

Moving pictures merely repeat what we have been told for centuries by novels and plays. Thus, a marvelous instrument for the expression of poetry and dreams (the subconscious world) is reduced to the role of simple REPEATER of stories expressed by other art forms”-Luis Buñuel. Simon of the Desert (1965) was Buñuel’s final Mexican film before moving to France. His Mexican period is often considered a repository of “anti-religious” films, although a more apt description might be “anti-ecclesiastical.” This 45-minute pilgrimage is an incomplete work (due to haphazard funding), but even in its truncated state, it is a shockingly substantial … Continue reading ST.LUIS