BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE, PART TWO (1942-1944)

Bowery at Midnight (1942), directed by , is a surprisingly dour crime melodrama, with a dash of horror (no doubt mandated by ‘s casting). It borrows heavily from another Lugosi vehicle, Dark Eyes of London (1939), although the earlier movie was from an Edgar Wallace story. Bowery At Midnight is comparatively muddled. As in Dark Eyes, Lugosi again sort of plays dual roles, and does some actual acting. The explanation of why his professor character needs a second identity (he uses a soup kitchen as a front to recruit gang members) is nonsensical, however, as is his need to keep zombies in the basement (?!?) Despite its muddled narrative, this, along with Black Dragons, may be the strangest of the Monogram Nine. It has pacing issues, but Lugosi’s performance and the ending, which is still jolting even today, almost make up for the film’s numerous flaws. It has quite a cult reputation, which is perhaps why fans have a trio of options to purchase superior editions from Roan, Troma, or the Retromedia Blu-Ray edition.

Those who think Bela Lugosi reached the nadir of dignity working with may want to check him out with glued-on whiskers, hunched over, grunting like a monkey, and scratching his arm pit in 1943’s The Ape Man. It’s directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine who got his name because—you guessed it—he almost never did a second take. The plot rips off an earlier Monogram property, 1940’s The Ape (with ). That one at least had a decent central performance, despite its ludicrous plot. Ape Man, however, may be Lugosi’s most humiliating hour, with the actor looking more like an Amish preacher than an ape man, whining about his condition as he scrunches in a corner, needing spinal fluid. It’s poorly lit and, despite its obvious intent to be a parody, its dreadfully dull. It’s so bad that the white-bread heroes ( and Louise Curry) are actually a relief from the tedium. If they, and the film’s strained humor, are enough to interest you, it’s in the public domain, so there’s YouTube or some inexpensive DVD editions (none of which are remastered).

https://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&language=en_US&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00004WG7M&asins=B00004WG7M&linkId=1e3fa9fafbfb0ae9c7039f6cf860bf64&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=trueGhosts on the Loose (1943, directed by Beaudine) is Lugosi’s second—and thankfully final—team-up with the Bowery Boys. As in The Ape Man, the film is poorly lit. Beaudine seems to have stuck the camera in the middle of room, yelled “action,” and left for lunch. The (very) minimal charm and energy of Spooks Run Wild is completely absent here, and Lugosi has nothing to do. He was lucky. Ava Gardner (of all people) embarrasses herself far more in this utterly dismal excrement. This is easily the worst of the lot, something even the most forgiving defenders of the Monogram Nine unanimously agree on. The Roan Group did what they could with the DVD.

https://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&language=en_US&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B016BSRZES&asins=B016BSRZES&linkId=389aa71f1758abefdccd93379500af72&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=trueBy contrast, Voodoo Man (1944, again directed by Beaudine) is a hoot, with a trio of horror stars in Lugosi, George Zucco, and . Girls are disappearing from Zucco’s gas station. Yes, you read that right. Carradine is the imbecile abductor working for Dr. Lugosi, whose wife has been a zombie for 22 years. His scientific skills having failed him, Lugosi becomes a Voodoo Man, abducting pretty girls in an effort to transfer their souls into his wife. Darn it, none of the girls have worked so far. Yes, its a ludicrous reworking of The Corpse Vanishes, only this time we have a horror writer (Todd Andrews) whose bride-to-be gets abducted. A clearly stoned Carradine beats a drum, Lugosi and Zucco sport wacky robes, and Andrews wonders if the shenanigans would make a good movie starring Bela Lugosi. Its tongue firmly in cheek, Voodoo Man sizzles in its ridiculousness. Lugosi is good here, leading a colorful cast who seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s contagious. We should be grateful to Olive Films for not subscribing to the film’s reputation as bad cinema, because they remaster it like it’s a neglected masterpiece. This is my personal favorite of the Nine.

https://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B075TQRV8Z&asins=B075TQRV8Z&linkId=7d8aed7e9440ac7b85069bd52a794a3d&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffffReturn of the Ape Man (1944, directed by ) is not a sequel to The Ape Man. According to the credits, it also stars Lugosi, Zucco, and Carradine, but Zucco became ill and was replaced by Frank Moran. Lugosi and Carradine thaw out a Neanderthal  man and want to give him a brain transplant. Lugosi intends to use a wino, but things do not go right, and Carradine is toast. The result is a murdering caveman who plays the piano. Oh, and he hates blow torches, too. Lugosi echoes the film in being goofy and entertaining as hell. Some, probably people who used to pull the wings off butterflies, cite this as the worst of the Nine. Ignore them. Olive films did. My advice: buy the Blu-Ray of this and Voodoo Man and throw one hell of a bad movie party.

BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE, PART ONE (1941-1942)

Professionally and personally, ’s best decade was the 1930s, but even that was a Grand Guignol roller coaster. Shortly after his star-making turn in ‘s Dracula (1931), Lugosi, known for throwing lavish parties for his Hungarian cronies, filed for bankruptcy. Paradoxically given his financial difficulties, he simultaneously became a prima donna, and was subsequently fired from Frankenstein (1931), which would have secured his inheritance the horror crown of the late . Instead, the role of Frankenstein’s Monster went to . Lugosi was denied a contract with Universal and forced to freelance during the heyday of the studio system. With that, and his personal life in shambles (wife #3 left him, and four years later he married wife #4 and abused her too until she left him as well), Lugosi zig-zagged between big budget productions and slumming in Poverty Row productions.

The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934) was one of the first of those Z-Grade chillers. It was made for Monogram studios, directed by William Nigh, and produced by George Yohalem. It has a wretched reputation as embarrassingly racist, cheap pulp, with Lugosi as a Chinese villain with a Hungarian accent. Clocking in at barely an hour, it still manages to be poorly paced, with long stretches of dullness. It’s halfway over before Lugosi even dons the menacing Fu Manchu attitude and silk robe, torturing the hell out of the white heroes, including the obnoxious wisecracking . Although we desperately hope that Lugosi will get to slaughter Ford, it’s the 1930s, and we’re going to be disappointed. Still, Lugosi delivers in a hammily animated performance and Lotus Long, in a criminally small role, almost steals every scene she’s in. It’s been remastered for DVD by the esteemed Roan Group and released on Blu-ray by Retromedia. The Mysterious Mr. Wong reportedly made a good profit for the studio; enough for Monogram producer Sam Katzman to remember, and offer a nine-picture deal to a down-on-his luck Lugosi in 1941.

“The Monogram Nine,” as the series has come to be known, is the stuff of infamy. They are perhaps “topped” only by Lugosi’s later work with —although we could argue that the Monogram opuses are still better than Lugosi’s entire1950s output. Alas, as dreadful as they all are, none of the Nine approach the zany nadir of the Wood trilogy. Even bad movie lovers, coming to these movies for the first time, may be disappointed after sampling such delightful morsels as Glen or Glenda(1953). With one very slight exception, the direction in all of the Monogram Nine could be said to be on autopilot, with Lugosi merely being told to be Lugosi. But, nobody does Bela Lugosi better than Bela Lugosi. While he doesn’t rank among the world’s great actors, Lugosi had charisma aplenty, and that he delivers in spades, never condescending to the material (a crime of which Karloff could sometimes be guilty). That must count for something, because quite a few of these lesser Lugosis have been remastered and released on Blu-Ray.

http://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&language=en_US&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B01MS740XT&asins=B01MS740XT&linkId=2316bbc695e3b412e1c31dce016c947b&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=trueThe one well-directed exception is the first of the Monogram Nine: The Invisible Ghost (1941), directed by. Lewis has a cult following similar to that of ; he was stuck primarily with cheapie projects, and yet managed to instill  considerable craft into them. Lewis is best know for My Name is Julia Ross (1945), the noir Gun Crazy (1950), his cinematic swan song, Terror in a Texas Town (1958), and a pair of above average westerns. The Invisible Ghost features Lewis’ typical stylish direction: expressive lighting, tracking shots, unorthodox camera angles, etc. This easily makes it the best directed of the Monogram Nine, and it looks fabulous in Kino’s HD Blu-ray transfer. The script, however, is utterly pedestrian. There is no invisible ghost. Instead, there’s the believed-to-be-dead adulterous wife of Lugosi’s Dr. Kessler. Mrs. Kessler is in fact quite alive, appearing occasionally at the window to send Lugosi into a trance-like homicidal frenzy. Lewis milks extreme closeups of the murderous Lugosi to craft an aptly sinister milieu. Lugosi is in full Lugosi mode, but even he’s practically upstaged by the startling non-stereotypical, intelligent performance of African American actor Clarence Muse as the butler. If you can get past the astounding absurdity of its plot (and the annoying meddlesome heroes), the beauty of the Kino edition makes for a divertingly hokey hour.

Spooks Run Wild (1941, directed by Phil Rosen) features the East Side Kids vs. Lugosi as the “Monster Killer.” Only, he’s not. He’s just a stage magician and a red herring. The East Side Kids were also known as the Dead End Kids and the Bowery Bows. They were led primarily by Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall and were popular for about a decade. It’s hard to see why. Their schtick is embarrassingly obvious and frequently racist, with resident African American Sammy Morris as the butt of their jokes (i.e. he gets bug-eyed and spooked over his own shadow). Spooks Run Wild is a tiresome play on the old dark house genre with thunderstorms, skeletons in the closet, spooky candles, and tripping-over-shoelaces double takes. Lugosi, not having much to do, is a caricature here, and sleepwalks right through it. Worse, it’s dreadfully dull. The best thing that can be said about it is that it’s better than the follow-up (to be covered in part 2).

http://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&language=en_US&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0002T7YXA&asins=B0002T7YXA&linkId=7117ed644ecb26bde4ce739ea3ac7b06&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=trueBlack Dragons (1942, directed by William Nigh) is Monogram’s contribution to the war effort ,and of course they do it in their typically cheap style. Lugosi is again in dual roles and gives a good, animated performance as a Nazi hypnotist killing off the Japanese spies who betrayed him. Nigh takes note, giving the horror icon plenty of sinister eye closeups. The story is paper-thin and it takes too long to get moving, but once it does, it moves at a good clip. Its cheapness is evident, using stock footage, which weirdly includes ‘s funeral. We almost forgive its too-many-flaws-to-count, as this is an utterly bizarre entry which goes for the jugular with a shock finale. As wartime propaganda, its heart is in the right (if idiosyncratic) place. Future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore has a small part. Go for the Roan Group release.

http://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=366weirmovi-20&language=en_US&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XVYVH2X&asins=B06XVYVH2X&linkId=bd733c3bb824b310ddd7c1ec20c66250&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=trueThe Corpse Vanishes (1942, directed by Wallace Fox) was featured on , which should be an indication that it’s dreadful and preposterous enough to actually be fun. Brides are dying at the altar after smelling an orchid. Could that be a clue? All their corpses were stolen by sinister types in a hearse. Could that be another clue? Not to fear, the resident Lois Lane-styled journalist (Luana Walters) is on the case, and she thinks that that leering mortuary guy’s got something to do with it. Lugosi’s got a sick bitchy wife at home—a countess (Elizabeth Russell, from Cat People)—and she needs virgin brides to make her feel better (hey, it’s 1942). Husband and wife both sleep in coffins, which is thankfully never explained, and have a trio of loyal, but inept henchmen: an old lady and her two sons (a dwarf and a hulking idiot). A thankless Lugosi beats on the boys, and he’s gonna get it back good. Lugosi again plays his stock mad doctor character and there’s nothing special about his performance. Although it’s shoddy, cheap cinematic junk food, it zips along outlandishly enough to make it the most enjoyably lighthearted of the Monogram Nine. It would make a great double feature with Lugosi’s Devil Bat (1940, made for PRC). As with the Mysterious Mr Wong, The Corpse Vanishes has been released by both Roan (DVD) and Retromedia (Blu-ray).

BLADE RUNNER (1982) & BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

When Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was released this Fall, many were surprised that it did not meet box office expectations. Nor did it’s father, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Having seen the original on its opening weekend, I’m among those who witnessed its initial weak box office evolve into a cult phenomena.  John Carpenter’s The Thing, released the same year as Blade Runner, also took off slow amidst lukewarm reviews, yet both became examples of visionary science fiction, joining a small cluster of classic films from the last half century that includes Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Alien (1979), E.T. (1982), Videodrome (1983), Back to the Future (1985), The Fly (1986),  A.I.(2001), Minority Report (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mine (2004), Children of Men (2006), and Prometheus (2012) (and of course a few others). Like  Steven Spielberg’s aforementioned Close Encounters, competing edits of Scott’s Blade Runner (my advice: go with “The Final Cut”) didn’t hinder its eventual cult status.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?,” the iconographic texture of Blade Runner was apparent mere moments into its release, despite the awkwardness of the silly studio-mandated Phillip Marlowe narration (supplied by star Harrison Ford as Deckard) and a happy ending that was woefully unconvincing for a film that practically defined dystopian noir. Thankfully, Scott was able to restore the film and added to it considerable by omitting those executive errors (while excising five minutes).

With his “Final Cut,” Scott cemented Blade Runner as his second (and greatest) of three unquestionable science fiction classics (the first being Alien and third being its belated prequel Prometheus—which of course will provoke futile debate). The cast is uniformly excellent. Despite its initial weak box office performance, Blade Runner made a brief star of antagonist Rutger Hauer, whose characterization of the replicant Roy is far more haunting and aptly hammy than its source material. The same could be said for Sean Young; she’s magnetic as Rachel, in her chic 2019  Joan Crawford shoulder pads and Louise Brooks-inspired bob, diaphanously exhaling a smoky-treat. Darryl Hannah as Pris (with lethal thighs), Brion James as Leon, and the eternally underrated Joanna Cassidy as the snake-wielding Zhora make a trio of memorable replicant villains, more poignantly human than most of the humans. Apart from Ford’s Deckard, who—as has been noted and debated endlessly—is possibly a replicant himself, the human exceptions are Joe Turkell as doomed Dr. Tyrell and William Sanderson as the pathos-ridden toymaker Sebastien. Both remain etched in the memory.

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1964 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: HORROR CASTLE AND CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD

Our Next Attraction…

“The most exciting feature of the year! Lady in a Cage… and Olivia de Havilland is in it! A lady in a cage, locked in her own madhouse of insane intruders, powerless to stop the psychopathic horror that hems her in. Olivia de Havilland helpless before the rage of such characters as the Wino, half-crazed with his own destroying sin… the Hustler, a blousy has-been—the most amazing role Ann Southern has ever played… the Muscler, lusting for the last wild thrill of killing… the Weirdo, a blonde psycho driven to tempt, to taunt, to destroy… the Wildo, frenzied by a woman’s body or the razor edge of a sharp, glittering knife. They’re all in Lady in a Cage, the picture that is not for the weak; and perhaps, not even for the strong! If you cringe at violence, scream at fear, faint at horror—Lady in a Cage may not be for you. But if you can take the screen’s hyper-dramatic excitement—don’t miss it! Olivia de Havilland is shocking the screen as the Lady in a Cage.”

Also…

Party Girls for the Candidate. See the wild sex party that rocked the nation’s capital. Party Girls for the Candidate will bring you love scenes that only adult moviegoers will understand. Party Girls for the Candidate will show you party girls who will do anything for a price. Party Girls for the Candidate stars those two sensuous personalities, Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson, and introduces to the screen three exciting new personalities: Ted Knight as the candidate; Eric Mason as Buddy Barker, the ex-senate page-boy who built an empire of influence in the nation’s capital; Rachel Romen as Mona Archer, the innocent girl who succumbed to Buddy Barker’s web of sex intrigue. Party Girls for the Candidate is the most explosive film ever produced in Hollywood. Party Girls for the Candidate is a must see for every moviegoer. Don’t miss it!”

 

Horror Castle (AKA The Virgin of Nuremberg, directed by Antonio Margheriti) is one of the first Italian Gothic films shot in color. It was successful enough to green-light a followup the next year: Castle of Blood, starring Barbara Steele. Having coaxed the genre into two of its earliest, most popular color productions, Margheriti should be better known; but ultimately he’s merely a competent craftsman instead of an inspirational original, and the move to color inevitably proved an aesthetic step back (although financially beneficial) for the genre. Still, Horror Castle is a reasonably effective entry. The color, like the surreal lounge score by Riz Ortolani, is paradoxically both ill-fitting and striking. Margheriti’s sensual color palette echoes the auburn quality of minor Italian cult starlet Rossana Podesta and he compositionally caresses her into the macabre surroundings.

Storywise, Horror Castle is hardly earth-shaking. Newlywed Mary (Podesta) has some horrific visions within the ancestral German castle of husband Max (Georges Riviera), who resorts to the standard “you must be tired from the trip” response. Her visions include a victim of an iron maiden and a sadistic crimson executioner prone to punish sins with surprisingly gruesome methods (one involving a rat). She runs, falls, faints, and recovers in bed, to Max’s condescending “it must have been a horrible nightmare.” Marguerite mantles Mario Bava with gusto in a chase-through-the-garden scene and milks all he can from the fascistic color scheme.

Max has a couple of apparently sinister servants in Erich (a poorly dubbed, but memorable Christopher Lee, in a supporting role) and Martha (Laura Nucci), but themes of Nazism and the Valkyries provide an unexpected contemporary, pathos-laden twist, and red herrings as well.

Despite its flaws, Horror Castle is stylish and animated; possibly Margheriti’s best work, aided by an off-the-scale fiery finale.

“Our tempting, tasty french fries go with everything. Come and get ’em. They are hot, they are delicious.”

“Taste tantalizing hot tamales; rich, creamy milkshakes taste just right; snow cones—frosty flavor rich refreshment; cigarettes—all the best known brands!”

“Hello young lovers—whoever you are—we’re glad the LOVE BUG caught up with you! But… we must insist that you do not allow his bite to effect your conduct while this theater. Public demonstrations of affection will not be tolerated here. ‘Nuff said? Thanks, the Manager.”

“Attention Night Owls… Here comes a BIG DUSK TO DAWN SHOW! You’ll see 6 Full-length features packed with action ‘n fun. All different. BRING THE GANG! COME OUT EARLY! Stay as late as you can. You’ll have a ball! Don’t miss the Big DUSK TO DAWN SHOW!”

“There are words men live by. Words of strength, of wisdom, of peace. We urge you to find the spiritual comfort and guidance  we all so greatly need. Attend your place of worship regularly.”

It’s usually not a good sign when a film has three credited co-directors (Warren Kiefer, Herbert Wise, and Michael Reeves). Castle of the Living Deadalso had a trio of writers (Keifer, Reeves, and Fede Arnaud) and an international cast speaking three languages. No one was able to reign in the project.

Living Dead is known for another memorable Christopher Lee performance, for the debut of  Donald Sutherland (in a trio of roles), and for a well-executed climax written and directed by Reeves, whose work so impressed producers that he was later tapped to direct future cult favorites The She Beast (1966), The Sorcerers (1967), and The Conqueror Worm (1968) before his untimely overdose. It’s hampered most by its poverty-level budget, but despite everything it manages to project an original personality.

A group of circus performers happen upon the castle of Count Drago (Lee) who has a hobby of mummifying four-legged critters. Of course, it’s not long before he moves on to the two-legged variety, supplied by the theatrical troupe.

Numerous scenes are nonsensical, having little to do with the unfolding plot. Naturally, those include vignettes displaying various three-ring circus acts with a scene-stealing dwarf (Ennio Antonelli). Caked in opaque white makeup and black mascara, Lee gives an otherworldly, German Expressionist-styled performance, and thankfully dubs his own voice this time. Other standout performances include Gaia Germani as Laura, whose beauty Drago seeks to “preserve forever,” Mirko Valentin (who had a small part in Horror Castle) as the count’s sadistic, bug-eyed assistant, Luciano Pigozzi as Dart, and Sutherland (with Sutherland).

Cinematographer Aldo Tonti (who had previously worked with Fellini) manages wonders with a meager allowance and casts the film in stylishly detached, icy bleakness.

Languidly paced, which is both an asset and a hindrance, the kinetically bizarre finale is pure Reeves.

“That you for your patronage. Please drive carefully.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema.

1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MALIBU HIGH AND THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS

Gas Pump Girls (directed by Joel Bender) is a slice of 70s drive-in T&A. Not aspiring to be anything else, it revels in its Americana kookiness. June (Kirsten Baker) takes over a gas station from her uncle (Huntz Hall from the Bowery Boys) after he has a heart attack. She trains her tight tanktop, short-short-wearing girlfriends to pump gas (“Stick it in, squeeze it, and let it peter out”), which naturally leads them to take on a big bad oil company. Musical numbers and topless scenes are thrown in just for the hell of it, and why not? There’s a punk gang, too; the film is almost a hybrid of the Ramones doing a Grease soundtrack on a “Happy Days” set with a bit of Rockythrown in. Yes, it’s that cool. It was influential and Bender does wonders with virtually no budget, making this quintessential 1970s trash.

H.O.T.S (directed by Gerald Seth Sindell) is another uddersploitation offshoot of Animal House. It can be summed up as politically incorrect campus topless football. Given that its inspiration isn’t very good to begin with, H.O.T.S. doesn’t set it sights very high, and is all the better for it.

Linda Blair’s cleavage, Linda Blair’s legs, lots of hair, lots of polyester, lots of spandex, and lots of skating add up to a late 70s campfest in Roller Boogie (directed by Mark Lester). It’s embarrassing in the best way.

Bad men kidnap a busload of pretty, all-American cheerleader boobs in The Great American Girl Robbery (directed by Jeff Werner). Ra-ra.

Malibu High (directed by Irvin Berwick) is what 70s drive-in cinema was all about—sex, drugs, and amorality. Hallelujah! Kim (Jill Lansing, in her only film role) is flunking school, just got dumped by her boyfriend for a rich bitch, hates her bathrobe-wearing mama, and her daddy killed himself. What’s a girl to do? First, bed all the teachers. Now, Kim has a 4.0 GPA, but she wants nice things, too, dammit. With her new miniskirt, Kim figures she might as well get paid for what all those stupid girls do for free. Meet Kim, the hooker who’ll rock your van into the gates of paradise. Alas, poor Kim also likes the wacky tobaccy, and we know what that demon will do—turn you into a gun-toting hitman with a pop-gun. Lansing plays her sociopath without an ounce of sympathy and even less talent, with thespian skills so tawdry that it’s easy to see why she became a minor cult goddess. Even worse is the writing, which seems penned by a clueless tenth grader, and the score by a tone deaf composer. It’s mind-boggling enough to be a trash masterpiece that can rank with the likes of Larry Buchanan.

In the future, future generations may see fit to an erect a future Mount Rushmore homage to the likes of Ed Wood, Al Adamson, Doris Wishman, and Larry Buchanan in the future. And why wouldn’t they, with gems like Buchanan’s Mistress of the Apes? See Susan (Jenny Neumann) fill a pair of white daisy dukes. See Susan teach a missing link how to deep throat a banana. See Susan scratch her armpit and beat her boobs. See Susan become goddess of the jungle. Among the injustices of the world is the academy’s total failure to nominate “Ape Woman” as Best Original Song.  Oh, e, oh, oh, e, oh.

Weasels Rip My Flesh is not a long-lost  Frank Zappa movie. Rather, it’s a Nathan Schiff opus that’s among the most uproariously incompetent movies ever made. (Keep in mind that Schiff was a 16-year-old teenager with a Super-8 camera and a $400 budget).  A NASA probe from Venus crashes in Long Island, emits radiation, and creates a giant paper machete weasel. The acting is mortifying, the audio is often indecipherable, the editing and writing are mind-numbing, and the cheap camerawork is shaky,  but Schiff managed to make a cult film for the ages. God bless him.

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1964 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

straight-jacket

1964 was nearly as productive a year for the cinematic horror genre as 1963 was. Coming from the barrel bottom was Jerry Warren’s improvement on 1960’s La Casa del Terror, Face of The Screaming Werewolf, starring (sort of) Lon Chaney, Jr. and Yerye Beirut (who later co-starred with Boris Karloff in a string of Mexican films co-produced by Jack Hill). Chaney was probably less embarrassed (although doubtfully any less sober) working for Hammer director Don Sharp in the well-received Witchcraft. Fellow Hammer veterans Freddie Francis and Peter Cushing collaborated on the actor’s only non- Terence Fisher directed Frankenstein opus, The Evil of Frankenstein, which initially received poor reviews, but has since been reassessed in a more positive light (in some quarters). Without a star actor (or competent director) Hammer’s The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (DirMichael Carreras) was as limp as its title character. However, the dynamic trio of Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Barbara Shelley did their best work (despite a silly-looking title creature), as usual, for Terence Fisher in The Gorgon. Lee didn’t fair as winningly in the Warren Kiefer/Luciano Ricci co-directed Castle Of The Living Dead, despite having closing scenes directed by an uncredited Michael Reeves. Lee moved from a castle to a mere crypt in Crypt Of the Vampire (directed by Camilio Mastrocinque), which was as narratively pedestrian as its title,despite undeniable atmosphere. The icon of Italian Gothic cinema Barbara Steele (and the last living of the classic horror stars) was also at home in a castle setting in Castle Of Blood (Co-Directed by Antonio Margheriti and Sergio Corbucci) and teamed again with Magheriti in The Long Hair Of Death, which we will be covering soon in a Steele triple feature. The final two Poe films from Roger Corman and Vincent Price, Masque Of The Red Death and Tomb Of Ligeia were  among their best received, although the latter features yet another ingratiatingly whiny, flowery performance from its  star. Rounding out a busy year, Price starred in The Last Man On Earth (Co-directed by Ubaldo Ramona and Sidney Salkow),  the first of several big screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend,”none of which astoundingly could get right.

the-incredibly-strange-creatures-who-stopped-living-and-became-mixed-up-zombies

Blood and Black Lace predictably became yet another cult film from Mario Bava, but even he could not compete with the legendary Kwaidan (directed by Masaki Kobayashi), which puts most Western horror anthologies to shame. Down several notches is Del Tenney, who has an inexplicable cult reputation, but as both I Eat Your Skin and The Horrors Of Party Beach prove, that status is undeserved for such a dullard. Spiraling downward, ever downward we come to Ray Dennis Steckler’s biggest budgeted film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which is more famous for its title than the film itself. There’s a reason for that; It also commits the cardinal sin of being hopelessly dull. It doesn’t have zombies per se, but victims of the carnival fortune teller, Madame Estrella who throws acid in people’s faces, turning them into “monsters.” Despite bad sound, obnoxious acting (including Steckler himself under the pseudonym Cash Flagg) and execrable “rock and roll” numbers that have nothing to do with the plot, it’s sort of decently shot-in color- by Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind-1977), but even the lensing is guilty of “incredibly slow and pointless shots of carnival rides,” which would perhaps be a better title.

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1962 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: MONDO CANE, EEGAH, AND WILD GUITAR

“All the scenes you will see in this film are true and are taken only from life. If often they are shocking, it is only because there are many shocking things in this world.”

mondo-cane-1962

Thus, Mondo Cane not only introduced America to the mondo name and genre, it also was the first shockumentary to play in cinemas internationally, unsettling both critics and audiences who had never seen anything like it. It became a grandfather to countless pseudo-sequels and imitations, including the infamous Faces of Death, and for that reason alone Mondo Cane is of historical importance to bizarre cinema aficionados. Although dated and outdone by its successors, Mondo Cane retains its power to provoke—and that is the sole purpose of this film, which further renders it an original in every way.

mondo-cane-1962

Although Mondo Cane has been accused of having a xenophobic perspective, its hard to make that point when the filmmakers (Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi , and Guiltiero Jacopetti) consistently contrast primitive and western customs through condescending narration. It’s really a series of mostly unrelated film clips. Food is the theme most explored: from Asians eating dog, to rattle snake entrails in the marketplace, to pigs beaten to death in New Guinea, to civilized diners devouring ants in a posh restaurant.

mondo-cane-1962

A scene of a sea turtle slowly dying on a radioactive beach is beautifully harrowing and juxtaposed against the extended, revolting spectacle of a bull goring a man to death. While recommending the film to anyone with suicidal tendencies probably would not be a good idea, Mondo Cane is not without some humor, seen in its pet cemetery vignette, and in the contrast of savage native women being fattened to become the bride of a chieftain with Western women rolling their fat away on the floor. Very well-shot and surprisingly endowed with a sterling score (by Nino Oliviero), Mondo Cane is cinema at its most bi-polar and nihilistic. How nihilistic is it? It’s the only film I know of that will inspire the viewer to pity a man-eating shark.

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KEN RUSSELL’S VALENTINO (1977)

ken-russells-valentino-1977

Of all the star-worshiping that went on during silent cinema, it is perhaps the obsession with Rudolph Valentino that is most mystifying today. When he died prematurely, at the age of 31, numerous fans were so distraught as to commit suicide. His funeral was besieged by thousands, and a legend was born when a mysterious lady in black began annually placing funeral wreaths on his tomb for decades to come. Valentino had such an impact on pop culture that everyone from Bela Lugosi to Elvis Presley were influenced by him.

rudolph-valentino

Yet today, there are relatively few Valentino film festivals or revivals, and when his films are seen (rarely), they will inevitably prove disappointments. Valentino never made a great film. In fact, most of them are dreadful. (In his defense, he didn’t make very many). Of course, someone will inevitably make the tiresome 21st century claim that this is true of most movies from the silent era, despite the fact that there are plenty of films from that period that have good writing, performances, direction and hold up even better than many films of the Fifties and later. We could attempt to produce examples of stellar acting in lesser films, however, this does not work with Valentino. Although his charisma scorches, his acting is extreme in its use of silent film cliches, mechanical and bizarrely exaggerated to the degree that it elicits amusement today as opposed to the near orgasmic reaction of his contemporaneous fans. Undeniably eroticized, his screen persona was also amoral; he was a rapist. Otherworldly, he doesn’t even seem human, which is perhaps why he is primarily known by name alone. It’s doubtful if many today would even recognize his image.

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1961 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE CHOPPERS, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, AND WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY

 The Choppers (1961) Arch Hall, JR

Arch Hall Jr. is practically American cinema’s masochistic patron saint of Juvenile Delinquent exploitation garbage. Guided by daddy Arch Sr. (who penned the script and produced)The Choppers was Junior’s first film in a mercifully brief career (he retired in 1965 to become a musician and aviator—daddy was ex-Air Force).

To most contemporary viewers, Hall, Jr. is possibly best known for his second film, Eegah (1962)after it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000—although to the cult crowd, his crowning achievement is 1963’s The Sadist. Both of these will be covered here, along with Wild Guitar (1962), in upcoming exploitation collections from their respective years.

 

In Leigh Jason’s The Choppers, Hall is cast as Jack “Cruiser Bryan, the greasy-haired rockabilly leader of a gang of car-part thievin’ JDs. After stripping down cars, the Choppers take their loot to junkyard dog Moose (Z-movie veteran Bruno VeSota, familiar from Attack of the Giant Leeches, Wasp Woman and Bucket Of Blood), who gives them ten cents on every buck!

The Choppers (1961) Arch Hall, JR

Working out of their chicken coop truck, the Choppers also siphon gas out of unsuspecting vehicles, with Cruiser taking the role of the lookout guy who taps the steering wheel to the radio music he loves (which, the credits reveal, is Hall’s own song). For most of the film, the Choppers remain one step ahead of bland coppers and insurance suits. Later, we actually get to see Hall strum his guitar and sing “Monkeys in my hat band, I can do a handstand.” The jaw-dropping scene alone makes the entire film worthwhile. With rhyming genius like that, we can totally understand how Cruiser is a chick magnet who attracts a 1959 Playboy centerfold!

The Choppers (1961) Arch Hall, JR

The yawn-inducing plot requires a comeuppance, which seems a tad harsh for the Choppers stealing car parts, but the producers probably realized a minute or so of something resembling excitement was necessary.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961 Mario Bava)

Mario Bava‘s Hercules In The Haunted World stars Christopher Lee with apocalyptic hair. Bava and Lee, together with a bulging pair of male mammary glands in a loincloth (Reg Park), overcome laughably bad dialogue, near-fatal comic relief, echo boxes informing us that “these are gods!”, a prosaic plot, shrill dubbing, a green monster who must have been an ancestor of Sigmund The Sea Monster, and a bulimic budget to produce one of the most psychedelic sword and sandal fantasy flicks of the early 60s.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961 Mario Bava) Christopher Lee

With painted sets and sky, diaphanous tints, swirling ink vapors, and transcendent camerawork, Bava’s cardboard Hades is the quintessence of orgasmic psychedelia masquerading as Greek mythology. For a G-rated movie, there’s plenty of testosterone bandied about, both between Hercules and Theseus (George Ardisson) and Lee and Deianria (Leonora Ruffo).

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961 Mario Bava) Christopher Lee

It almost doesn’t matter that Lee’s baritone is tragically dubbed. He’s still in full vampiric mode: seducing, impaling and stabbing (with a pair of wire cutters, no less).

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961 Mario Bava)

As for the plot- it’s not really exploitation per se, but it’s as irrelevant as any in the sword-and-sandal genre, and the movie stars that god of drive-in cinema, the much-missed Christopher Lee… so, no apologies given for slight cheating here.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961 Mario Bava)

Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory certainly is exploitative horror, but those expecting only to be titillated by hairy boobies might be slightly disappointed because, despite its camp title and opening credits song “(The Ghoul In School),” this is a surprisingly atmospheric chiller directed by Paolo Heusch. Like Bava, Heusch employs what craft he can to overcome an inept script and dialogue. Unlike Bava, he doesn’t really succeed, although credit should be given for the effort. It is an Italian production that was purchased by MGM, dubbed into English, and shown on a double bill with the underrated Robert Day/Boris Karloff feature Corridors of Blood (1958).

Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory (1961)

Doc Julian (Carl Schell) is the new science professor at an isolated girls dormitory. He has a shady past, having unintentionally killed a patient whom he tried to cure of lycanthropy (werewolfism). Acquitted, he finds employment at the dormitory whose director has an obsession with werewolves.

Meanwhile, Sir Alfred (Maurice Marsak), the administrator, has been playing hanky panky with Mary (Mary McNeeran). Mary offers Alfred sex in exchange for her release from the dorm. Adhering to Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) rule that sex equals death in horror, Mary gets stalked and murdered by a werewolf during the full moon. The scene recalls the atmosphere from Universal’s Wolf Man, but is decidedly more gruesome and actually better shot (avoiding all that canned Universal fog). Mary’s slashed body is found, face up, lying in a creek in the woods surrounding the dorm.

Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory (1961)

With Julian being the new kid in town, he is quickly suspected and…  a muddled plot follows, filled with idle chatter, blackmail, a red herring, pseudo-scientific babble, and a werewolf who looks more like Mr. Hyde than Lon Chaney Jr. Still, we watch this type of thing for the Gothic atmosphere, which this is chock full of; for a pretty girl (Barbara Lass, the first Mrs. Roman Polanski) getting terrorized; and for stylish supernatural mayhem—all of which Werewolf delivers. Alas, it tries to be too many things—a murder mystery (which is no mystery), a bad girls in a reformatory pic, and Euro horror. It veers closest to success in the latter. The title alone’s worth a bucket of cheese popcorn.

Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory (1961)

 

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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