1963 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GHOST AND DEAD EYES OF LONDON

“From caves and sewers come The Slime People! They kill, kill, kill! There’s no escape from The Slime People! Nothing can stop the horror of The Slime People! For a new adventure in terror, live through the wild blood bath of The Slime People!”

The Ghost (directed by Riccardo Frida) stars Barbara Steele in another homicidal adulteress role. Hyped (misleadingly) as a sequel to Frida and Steele’s successful The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Ghost, is woefully predictable and is not this director’s best work. However,  Steele is nearly at her best, and puts to rest any questions regarding her status as a genre cult icon.

Terminally ill invalid doc John Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is obsessed with seances, while his wife Margaret (Steele) carryies on a torrid affair with her husband’s physician Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin). John has a loyal governess in Catherine (reliable character actress Harriet Medin; a Mario Bava regular and memorable as the POTUS in Death Race 2000) who suspects that her mistress is up to no good. Impatient for John’s natural demise, Margaret plots with Charles to whip up a batch of poison. The dirty deed carried out, the philandering couple don’t count on a hitch in the will and an avenging ghost before their inevitable comeuppance.

Frida’s ho-hum scripting plods, but The Ghost is salvaged by Steele’s malevolent magnetism (Raffaele Masciocchi’s camera swoons over her). Flavorfully-filmed, unnerving vignettes include an animated wheelchair descending the stairs (prefiguring The Changeling), a nightie-clad Steele wielding a razor, a scheming feline Medin ascending the stairs, flaming annihilation, and a magical finale with betrayals galore. The Ghost is probably the only film in history that has you rooting for a murderess in a fur coat.

“Take a break. Add to your enjoyment of the show with the taste-tempting array of special treats available to you at the refreshment stand. Everything to temp your palate… And everything is fresh… and of finest quality. Pep Up! Fresh Up!  at our refreshment stand!”

“Let the light of faith shine upon you and your love ones. This week and every week … worship together in the church of your choice. ”

“If you should accidentally tear speakers off… turn it in at refreshment building, box office or to any attendant. ”

“Is everybody happy? Then let’s go…

Dead Eyes of London (directed by Alfred Vohrer ) is a smartly paced gem in the German “Krimi” genre. Based on the Edgar Wallace novel, it’s a notably superior remake of 1939’s The Dark Eyes of London (directed by Wallace Summers, which in itself is a slightly underrated opus in the Bela Lugosi canon, although hindered by ill-fitting comedy relief). This Vohrer remake improves on the simplified original with an aptly complex script by Egon Eis. Vohrer, who practically made a career of cinematic Wallace adaptations, has an affection for the material which is contagious.

Hairy, blind, Tor Johnson-like brute (Ady Berber) dispatches victims galore, frequently in the London fog, choreographed effectively to the famous first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Inspector Holt (krimi favorite Joachim Fuchsberger) finds the victims in the Thames. They all have braille writing on their persons and, it turns out, sizable insurance policies.

Heinz Funk’s idiosyncratic score aptly echoes a cast of equally idiosyncratic characters, including Eddi Arent as a knitting Scotland Yard sergeant, and so-slimy-he-leaves-a-trail (and also wears-his-sunglasses-at-night) Klaus Kinski. It’s outlandishly violent and spiked with queer humor (a mouthy water-pick view, a killer boob tube, a voyeuristic crucifix, a blowtorch-wielding priest, and a skull with smokey treat treasures). Vohrer makes memorable use of stylish sets and costume design, enhanced by Karl Lob’s crepuscular lensing. It’s probably a notch shy of being a contender for the 366 Weird Movie List, but it’s highly recommended for the locals.

“Please remember to place the speaker on the post when you leave the theater.”

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

Advertisements

1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror.  Christopher Lee’s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped Jess Franco to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off! Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by Victor Fleming) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. Peter Cushing is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

 

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

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

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.

1960 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: HORROR HOTEL AND THE HEAD

“Hitch your goose pimples to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock … and away you’ll go, screaming your head off! The good doctor is more than a little strange. He’s a lot loony, and he gets more so with every cute corpse he chops up and every beautiful bride he boxes in. Scary ghosts, black cats, secret doors. What more do you want? But there is more, even more horrible hanky panky than you can imagine in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. In blood red, ghost green turned blue, and gold fright color.”

“Welcome to the mad, mad world of The Awful Dr. Orloff, in funeral black and white. Such carryings on and such carrying out you’ve ever seen. The Doctor’s dilemma has to do with an impossible cure he’s blood-bent on effecting, no matter how many beautiful girls are tortured and killed in the process. If you like to shiver and shake, quiver and quake, there’s mayhem on a monstrous scale in the most unlawful, really awful, awful Dr. Orloff.”

Horror Hotel (AKA City of the Dead, directed by John Moxey) is the premier production from Milton Subotsky (who also wrote the story) and Max J. Rosenberg. Subotsky and Rosenberg are primarily known for forming Amicus Productions and popularizing the horror anthology format. Although Horror Hotel might be seen as a precursor of Italian Gothic cinema, it really is a case of style over substance, albeit an entertaining one. Its pedestrian writing keeps it from attaining a classic status. However, the film belongs to art director John Blezard and cinematographer Desmond Dickinson (who had previously won the award for best photography for Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet at the 1948 Venice Film Festival). Together, the two create a haunting milieu.

The film opens in the village of Whitewood, Massachusetts with the burning of witch Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) in 1692. Naturally, she puts a curse on the villagers torching her and vows to return for revenge as the bride of Lucifer. Equally predictable, we have little sympathy for the puritans, and are almost inclined to wish her well.

Circa 1960, Professor Alan Driscoll ( Christopher Lee) teaches a course on witchcraft and has zeal for his subject, and little patience for his skeptical students, with the exception of Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson). It helps that she’s serious, even volunteering to continue her research in Whitewood. It helps even more that she’s a looker.

Although Horror Hotel is an early entry in the witchcraft genre, the plot’s bullet points are paint-by-number. Driscoll’s sinister motives are blatantly obvious from his introduction, as is the identity of the reincarnated Selwyn and the intended victim (which echoes Psycho, although the films were released only a few months apart). The Whitewood fog machine could have used a little less juice, but images of zombie-like villagers and monks lethargically dragging life-size crosses through a graveyard craft an undeniable visual tension, despite the narrative predictability.

A gas station owner, mute servant, and blind priest add up to a cliched trio of soothsayers. Lee’s role is secondary, but highly effective (reportedly, he was pleased with his performance and the film, which he referred to as an “American Gothic”), but it is Jessel who steals the film.

“Refreshing ice cold, Coca-Cola with a bright, right taste and special spark all it’s own. Enjoy a coke at our snack stand right now.”

“And now Intermission. Refreshment time. Fresh candies—the flavors you love. Assorted drinks—your favorite beverages. Hot coffee. Hot dogs the way you like them. Ice cream smoothly delicious.”

“Try a tasty treat for the whole family. Hung’s Shrimp Egg Roll. They’re deliciously hot and now being served at our refreshment stand.”

“Your attention please. May we bend your ear for a few seconds? The Miracle Mile, Northwestern Ohio’s only all-winter drive-in theater, is happy to announce that this year (1960) we are installing the all-new high powered, Golden Hot Shot Electric In-Car Heater—the heater that heats quicker, circulates more heat faster than any heater available on today’s market! Continue to enjoy the pick of the pictures all winter in the toasty warmth of your own car with the Miracle Mile’s All New Electric In-Car Heaters. Guaranteed to heat your entire car.”

“Would you like to do a good deed? If you have a shut-in or handicapped friend living with or near you, bring them with you next time you attend this theater… we’ll admit them free to help you bring some sunshine into their lives. So remember… bring along your shut-in friends or invalids as our guests. Just ask the cashier for a shut-in pass.”

The Head (1959, directed by Victor Trivas) is another example proving that the cinema medium is more than just writing and filming narratives. Trivas’ credentials would indicate something more substantial than the movie’s title and premise so. After working under Sergei Eisenstein and  G.W. Pabst, Trivas’ directorial debut, No Man’s Land: Hell On Earth (1932),  was seized and destroyed by the Nazis in 1940 due to its pacifist message, leading the filmmaker to take refuge in France and America. Primarily a writer, The Head is Trivas’ last directing credit; ill health forced his retirement the same year (he died in 1970).

Two German Expressionist production designers: Hermann Warm (whose impressive resume includes art direction on  Robert Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, F.W. Murnau’s   The Haunted Castle,  Fritz Lang’s Destiny, and Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr) and Bruno Monden (who worked extensively with Paul Verhoeven—no, not  that one, the earlier one) contribute immensely to The Head. The opening credits, with barbed white lettering over a dark, full moon-covered sky, are Tim Burtonesque. Its atmosphere is punched in by a bizarre electronic score (by Willy Mattes, who did  The Horrors Of Spider Island later that year) which could well have fit into the post-Webern school of composition; but unfortunately, we only hear it occasionally. With its budget, the film is like the poverty row product cranked out by Monogram and PRC factories from the previous decade. Naturally, The Head is compared to the more infamous The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962). In place of catfights and mondo dialogue, The Head features wretched dubbing; weird performances from cult German actors Horst Frank (in a rare leading role) and Michael Simon (as a disembodied head); a haunting modernistic house that looks like it might have been designed by  Edgar G. Ulmer (surrounded by a purgatorial forest); a hunchback who is given the body of a stripper and begins touching herself; and a where-the-hell-did-that-come-from subplot about the exotic dancer and her loser artist boyfriend whose dad hated him. It’s all carried out glumly. Even in Z-grade trash, those German artists can’t resist being wacky; one suspects it’s in their DNA.

“Please remember to hang your speaker on the post before you leave the theater.”

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

1955 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER AND PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES

Coming Attractions:

“The Picture that unmasks society’s secrets. Jail Bait: the story of boy-crazy girl and gun-crazy guy. The most feared of our modern underworld—men who hate the law and abuse even those they love. See the siren-screaming, gun-blazing thriller, Jail Bait.”

The Violent Years. See what happens behind locked doors of a pajama party! Teenage killers fearing no law! Thrill Girls of the highway! Girl gang terrorists! Untamed girls of the pack-gang! Adolescent gangsters taking their thrills unashamed! Terrifying realism clawing at your unbelieving mind! See The Violent Years.”

Bride of the Monster was Ed Wood’s  most financially successful work, which of course isn’t saying much. It’s success may lie in its attempts to meet mainstream genre expectations, and the fact that it’s Wood’s only film to actually feature a star performance from Bela Lugosi. (In Glen or Glenda, Lugosi was a bizarre narrator. Plan 9 from Outer Space infamously used a few seconds of Lugosi footage, shot mere days before his death, making it a brief, posthumous non-performance which many Lugosi filmographies don’t even list). Rather than pursuing his own twisted muse, Wood, a Lugosi fanboy, attempts to fulfill what he imagines 1955 audiences want from a film starring Bela Lugosi, and therefore Bride of the Monster doesn’t reach the levels of inspired lunacy of the pair’s other collaborations. However, Ed Wood can only be Ed Wood and, in his defense, he’s deprived of good taste—which numerous artists have rightly observed is the enemy of great art. Wood made some of the greatest naive art of all time. Thankfully, Bride of the Monster was produced before booze, poverty, and obsessive kinkiness grabbed poor Eddie by the throat and took him down, which means it’s charming as hell. Adding to its goofy grace is Lugosi’s last starring performance (he had what amounted to a mute cameo in Reginald Le Borg’s The Black Sleep in 1956), which features a beautifully mangled speech that serves as an almost perfect swan song for the horror star.

Lugosi fans (and they are legion, or at least once were) are hardly apt to admit it, but their object of adulation was one of the genre’s worst actors, due in no small part to his clear disdain for the English language and astoundingly poor career choices. With damned few exceptions (notably, Ygor in Son of Frankenstein), he was a one-note performer. Even Lon Chaney, Jr. had more range (although according to peers and biographers, both actors were a tad slow on the take and fared best when actually directed by someone playing to their mental facilities-or lack thereof). What Lugosi had, however, is an undeniable screen presence that brought a sense of mystery even to some of the most unimaginable crap ever produced. No matter to what extent Lugosi slummed it, he gave his roles a dignified pathos. That’s never more apparent than here, a role that’s kind of a summation of his secondary celluloid personality as a mad scientist (his primary one, of course, being the vampire). In Bride of the Monster he is given the aptly loony name Dr. Eric Vornoff. Vornoff has a pet octopus and a brute, mute henchman named Lobo ( Tor Johnson). Unfortunately for Vornoff, Lobo received more than an ounce of tenderness (for pretty girls, that is). Oops, too much!

During a dark, stormy night, two unlucky hayseeds stumble upon an old dark house, known as the “the old Willow place,” now occupied by fascistic scientist Dr. Vornoff. He doesn’t prove hospitable. Frightened by his “monster” Lobo, the two run into nearby Lake Marsh (more of a pond) and fall victim to a rubber octopus (temporarily “borrowed” by Wood from his studio day job). One of the good old boys survives the ordeal only to be strapped to Vornoff’s dentist’ chair and fitted in a chrome helmet thingamajig. He winds up like all the others: “Dead!”

Loretta King, who had given Wood a couple hundred bucks, landed the plum role of ace reporter Janet Lawton. Her acting is actually worse than Wood’s girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, for whom the part was originally written (after filming, Fuller dumped Wood for having relegated her to a bit part). Lawton, who apparently learned the news gal trade by overdosing on Lois Lane comic books, types away about a monster on the loose, much to the eye-rolling chagrin of her boyfriend, Lt. Dick Craig (Tony McCoy, whose daddy was both Wood’s butcher and the film’s financier) and his captain (Harvey Dunn).

Enter monster expert Professor Strowski (George Becwar), a spy “from the old country” intent on bringing Vornoff back home to create a race of atomic supermen.

A snooping Janet gets captured by Vornoff and fitted for a bridal gown, although screenwriter Wood neglects to inform us who the intend groom is. Vornoff gives a heart-breaking speech, to Strowski, about being hunted like an animal and “proving, here in this forsaken jungle hell, that I’m alright.” The line is misspoken, having originally been written as “proving that I’m right.” Either Wood liked the flub, or, more likely, failed to even notice. Lugosi’s aged, emaciated frame (the result of a long drug addiction) renders the speech even more pathetic.  After feeding Strowski to the “real monster” (the rubber octopus), Vornoff attempts to zap Lawton, but Lobo likes her angora sweater and, well, things end with a big bang.

Despite his frailty, this is Lugosi’s funnest mad doctor performance and a climax to a quarter century of celluloid hamming. Bride of the Monster zips along briskly like a tale told by a lovable nine-year-old idiot. The production stories are legion. These of course include Wood and company forgetting to steal the octopus’ motor, thus forcing their actors to juggle the creature’s legs to “make it look like it’s killing you.”

“The show starts in eight minutes. Yum, yum, it’s time for a tasty and refreshing snack. We promise to satisfy your hunger, your thirst, your sweet tooth, so visit our refreshment center now. Let’s Go!”

“Show starts in five minutes. Visit our snack bar and treat yourself to some delicious Castleberry pit-cooked barbecue sandwiches, cooked the Castleberry way: slowly, over open pits of glowing charcoal, then seasoned with a sauce that’s zesty, yet delightfully mild to please the entire family. Also, get some french fries to go with your delicious Castleberry barbecue sandwich. There’s still plenty of time to come and be served at our refreshment center before showtime.”

“See you in CHURCH Sunday. When you attend Church, It’s not an ordinary act, it is something worthwhile.  When you attend Church, you come to GOD’S House to adore, to worship, to praise.

SEE YOU IN CHURCH SUNDAY!”

A poor man’s ripoff of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster from the Ocean Floor, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues features a practically empty beach; shoddy underwater photography; a mind-numbingly asinine spy subplot; a pointless, inanimate monster; wretched dialogue; even more wretched acting; and characters so ingratiating that one hopes in vain for the phantom to coffee-up, come out of his slumber, and slaughter the lot of them. At least Wood had enthusiasm for his trash. Director Dan Milner doesn’t  even try. A few laughs might be had if one can stay awake through this snooze fest.

“Please remember to return your speaker on the post before you leave the theater.”

1944 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CORPSE VANISHES AND VOODOO MAN

This is the introductory entry in a new series covering movies that originally played in drive-in-cinema double bills across the country.

One of the first drive-in theaters premiered in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. The venue’s popularity reached its zenith from the 1950s to the early 1980s. Still, the 1940s was also a robust decade for the drive-in, which specialized in low budget B-films, especially horror and science fiction. The setting was also unique in that drive-ins continued to screen films from the 30 and 40s all the way until the late 70s. For a more extended discussion, see the previous article Cinema Under The Stars.

Coming Attraction! Black Dragons!

“Suicide or murder in the shadow of a nation’s capitol? The screen’s master of horror, Bela Lugosi has the answer to this mysterious death. Lugosi as the madman on a mission of vengeance, vengeance  against 6 men who plot the destruction of a nation at war.”

Coming Attraction…

“Ominous footsteps in the night foreshadow terrifying death. By Day… A Man Of Honor. By Night… A Beast Of Horror. Bela Lugosi. The Invisible Ghost.

Brides are dying at the altar, and somebody’s responsible. Before being forever robbed of the opportunity to lose her virginity, each bride was given an mysterious orchid—with a scent. Whoever heard of an orchid with a scent? Maybe it’s a clue. Another clue might be that the same undertaker shows up at every crime scene—and he looks just like Dracula. Odd, too, that everyone of the brides’ corpses vanish! Luana Walters is the spunky reporter giving Lois Lane a run for the money, and stealing the entire film.

Bela’s got a bitch of a wife, too (Elizabeth Russell, from Cat People). She hates aging but, somehow, the blood of virgin brides acts like botox for her. Bela, being a mad doctor, injects it. He’s got a pair of henchman, too: Frank Moran (who’s kind of a precursor to Tor Johnsons’s hulking brute in Bride of the Monster) and dwarf Angel Rossito (from Freaks).

The movie has an imbecilic charm, but it never quite reaches the sap level of PRC’s The Devil Bat (1940) or Lugosi’s work with Ed Wood.

“Show starts in 10 minutes! We will now have an intermission time before starting our next show!”

“Get the item that adds to your personal comfort. Cigarettes? Here they are! Get the kind you prefer and enjoy them thoroughly; all the most popular brands.”

“Ice cream bars! It’s the handy way to enjoy smooth, rich, creamy ice cream. Get some!”

“Crisp, flavorful fish sandwiches. Gold and brown and crunchy outside and tender and juicy inside for a snack or a meal. ”

1944 babes are disappearing along Laurel Road after stopping at Nicholas’ gas station. Nicholas (George Zucco) is in cahoots with the henchmen Toby ( John Carradine) and Grego (Pat McKee) who in turn work for crazy doc Marlow (Bela). Doc has a wife who has been a zombie for twenty plus years and he believes, if he gets the right girl, that a voodoo ceremony will unzombify his beloved. Toby and Grego are, ahem, a tad feebleminded, which makes Doc’s job harder. There’s a also a pesky fiancee and some really cool voodoo robes. There isn’t scare one, but it’s a tacky variation of The Corpse Vanishes and has the good sense to be even more senseless.

Although The Corpse Vanishes (directed by Wallace Fox) was made in 1942, it was double billed two years later for the drive-in-circuit with Voodoo Man (directed by Willam Beaudine). Both movies are part of Lugosi’s infamous “Monogram Nine.” For the unenlightened, this was a poverty row horror series produced by Sam Katzmann, starring the already faded Dracula actor in some of the most inept movies made. Voodoo Man is the last of the infamous Monogram Nine.

“Please remember to replace the speaker on the mast when you leave the theater. Thanks for being with us this evening. We hope that in some small way we have been able to add to your comfort, pleasure, and relaxation.”

Both films are available on a Legends double feature DVD with vintage drive-in ads, trailers, and countdowns. Olive Films has recently released Voodoo Man on Blu-ray in a pristine transfer.

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.

Continue reading

1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE RETURN OF THE BIONIC BOY

The final year of exploitation cinema’s greatest decade begins with Alien, the film that made the careers of director Ridley Scott and star Sigourney Weaver. Ian Holm stands out in a top-notch ensemble, which includes the late John Hurt, Tom Skerrit, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, and Veronica Cartwright. Seven years later, James Cameron took a very different route with the belated, high octane sequel, which, unlike its predecessor, was an immediate hit. Apart from the performances of Weaver and Bill Paxton, however, Cameron’s sequel doesn’t stand up, lacking the tension, freshness, and sense of wonder of Scott’s original, which took its time earning its cult status.

Likewise, The Brood cemented David Cronenberg’s reputation as a startlingly original and provocative filmmaker. Status quo critics, such as Roger Ebert, were mightily offended. Thank God.

Staying consistent, Ebert missed the boat again with Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. It spawned a lot of imitations, including Coscarelli’s inferior sequels, which have curiously imitated the imitators.

Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre is a homage to F.W. Murnaru’s original. Although some will undoubtedly scream blasphemy, Herzog’s effort, starring Klaus Kinski  in the role made famous by Max Schreck, is the equal of the 1922 classic.

Dracula (directed by John Balham) was an unnecessary big budget remake with  a feathered-hair Count (Frank Langella). Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance co-starred.

With the success of Carrie, it was inevitable that Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, would be adapted too. Surprisingly, it was made into a mini-series. Even more surprisingly, it’s directed by Tobe Hooper, although like Poltergeist, it feels more like the work of its producers. David Soul, riding high on his “Starsky and Hutch” popularity, stars, but James Mason, as usual, steals the show.

Cleopatra Wong (Marrie Lee) showed up in 1979 for a couple of ass-whuppin features: first in Bobby A. Suarez’ The Devil’s Three (AKA Mean Business). As usual with Suarez, oddity is in his DNA. In order to save the day, Cleopatra has to dine with the devil (Johnny Wilson), who’s not literally the devil—he’s just a gang lord who goes by that name. Along the way she picks up a flaming bunny in drag (Chito Guerrero) and a four hundred pound psychic (Florence Carvajel) as sidekicks. It’s low budget, badly dubbed, G-rated (well, perhaps PG-rated) lunacy at its most inspired. It probably played at every drive-in theater in the country, for which it was tailor-made.

The Return of the Bionic Boy features a returning Wong, teaming up with the Bionic Boy (Johnson Yap) who is not only bionic, but also an eight-year-old Tae Kwon Do master. Suarez and company jump on the bionic bandwagon, pitting our heroes against Nazis, laser thingamajigs, the campiest gay villain in all of cinema history, and a fire-breathing pseudo-Godzilla as the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. Being expired cheese, this comes with a manager’s special discount, including a fee pack of antacids for afterwards. Enjoy.

Continue reading

ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

Forty years after his superb 1977 début with The Duelists,  Ridley Scott has proven, more often than not, to be an engaging filmmaker. At nearly 80 years of age, he remains a provocative dinosaur from the school of ambitious science fiction, a genre he excels in, but has only worked in sporadically. Along with the late Stanley Kubrick, Scott does it better than anyone—arguably, even better than Kubrick. It’s often forgotten today, but upon its première, Alien (1979) was criticized by some as a jazzed-up variation of the gorilla in a haunted house. Those trappings were deceptive. If Alien were only that, it would hardly have come to be considered a science fiction/horror yardstick. The same could be said for 1982’s Blade Runner, which was initially a critical and box office flop, but became a cult phenomenon. When Scott belatedly returned to the Alien franchise, he produced the sublime and startling Prometheus. It proved to have too many unresolved mysteries, was too aesthetic, too peculiar, too cerebral, and too resourceful to be the fix that the formula craving audience desired. With Alien: Covenant, he delivers a hybrid: a sequel of sorts to Prometheus, and a vague segue into Alien. It’s a summer blockbuster that, coming from Scott, is something more. As can already be seen by its modest American opening and outraged reactions spewed by those who prefer their sci-fi unchallenging, Covenant is not going to please face-hugger followers. And unless it does well overseas, the likelihood of another Scott-helmed Alien seems a stretch. Although that is almost predictable, it’s also unfortunate.

Paradoxically, Covenant contains some of Scott’s most assured filmmaking along with his roughest. Beautifully filmed, filled to the brim with surprises, drawn out, disheveled in sections, and sporting what, on the surface, appear to be derivative fan-appeasing choices, it, along with the 1979 original and Prometheus, make up Scott’s standout Alien trilogy. These are far superior to any of the sequels made by others, including the action-oriented Alien-Rambo crowd-pleaser from James Cameron. Although Aliens is a memorably punchy film with etched-in-stone performances by Sigourney Weaver, the shiny beast (courtesy H.R. Geiger), and Bill Paxton, Cameron unwittingly gifted it to a fanbase who then pedestaled it. The eventual consequences of that dumbing-down was the trailer park science fiction franchise, Alien vs. Predator.

The consensus seems to be that Covenant is better than Prometheus but falls short of the original Alien. Undeniably, that spook house gorilla has its distinctive, addictive history, having been inspired by It, The Terror from Beyond Space, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, and John Carpenter’s Dark Star. As is well known, Scott upped the ante of anxiety by not allowing the cast to read the entire Alien script ahead of time. That tension spilled over, making a celluloid model so formidable that it merely inspired imitations.

With Prometheus, Scott escaped the doldrums of vapid ritual and crafted a film so original, so divisive, it became almost a standalone that no one would dare emulate. Although the rampaging rapist xenomorph was nowhere to be seen, Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw still manages to be impregnated with something, making for a nail-biting race against birth. Behind it all is Michael Fassbender’s bewitchingly enigmatic David, the most compelling cinematic android since Rutger Hauer’s Roy in Blade Runner and Jude Law’s “Gigolo Joe” in A.I.. Finally, Alien was exciting and fresh again.

The absence of Rapace is keenly felt in Covenant, but Fassbender’s David returns—twofold—and it’s his relationship with himself that propels Covenant and cements Scott as a late-in-life virtuoso filmmaker. He’s that rarity of rarities: an artist that started strong and, far from becoming derivative, has revisited and reflected on his body of work and ongoing themes, managing to say something epic about his oeuvre and himself. Comparatively, late in their careers, filmmakers such as Hitchcock, Chaplin, Disney, and even Picasso were producing what amounted to rudimentary, even fatigued sketches of previous wonders. The Scott of Covenant is like John Coltrane at Newport in the Sixties, expansively recomposing “My Favorite Things” into something so epic that it eradicates its former incarnations into faint skeletons. A small minority have accused Scott of compromise here, but that’s as deceptive as the criticisms thirty-eight years prior.

Continue reading

1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MARTIN

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (directed by prolific trash guru Sergio Martino), is possibly the most well-known film of the Italian cannibal genre, primarily because it has name stars in Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress. Being Martino, it naturally revels in its nastiness, which runs the gamut from castration to decapitations, shots of human entrails, and actual footage of a monkey being devoured by a python. A nude Andress certainly helped its box office. It was yet another video nasty staple in the heyday of mom and pop video stores.

Starcrash (directed by Luigi Cozzi) stars cult fave Caroline Munro in a blatant Star Wars ripoff. There’s other people in it as well, like David Hasselhoff (in his film debut) and Christopher Plummer, but it’s Munro that audiences went to see, and it’s a hoot to boot.

Starhops is a sort of Star Wars parody, but it’s essentially juvenile sexploitation, surprisingly directed by a woman: Barbara Peeters. It’s obscure, for obvious reasons.

The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (directed by Leo Penn) is a Gothic horror TV mini-series starring grand dame Bette Davis, still riding high post-Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1960). Adapted from the Thomas Tryon novel, it’s winningly offbeat with a high camp performance from Davis as the town matriarch. For unknown reasons, it’s home video distribution has been spotty, only briefly becoming available on VHS in a badly mutilated version.

Jean Rollin goes zombie with Grapes of Death. Being Rollin, it naturally is going to have a twist—amusingly, zombifying wine. Opulently bloodied, the film has a reputation as being weaker Rollin. Actually, his virtues here outweigh his usual flaws.

They Call Her Cleopatra Wong (directed by Bobby A. Suarez) stars Marrie Lee as an Asian 007 kickin’ ass of a buncha baddie henchman disguised as nuns. Naturally, it was an epic influence on Quentin Tarantino. Low-budget explosions, scantily clad femme fatales, kung fu galore, and wretched dubbing. Sorry, but you can’t call yourself cool ’til you’ve seen it.

Continue reading