Archive for the AIP Category

THE URANIUM CAFE NECROFILES/VIOLENT MIDNIGHT/CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR /FROGS/BAMBOO SAUCER

Posted in AIP, Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Necrofiles, Ray Milland, Sam Elliott on September 2, 2011 by Bill Courtney
VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (aka PYSCHOMANIA)

1963/Director: Richard Hilliard/Writers: Richard Hilliard, Robin Miller

Cast: Lee Philips, Shepperd Strudwick, Jean Hale, Lorraine Rogers, Dick Van Patten, James Farentino

This is a really decent early slasher/stalker style film produced by Del Tenney, who would go on to direct films like The Horror of party Beach, I Eat Your Skin (Zombies) and Curse of the Living Corpse. The direction by Richard Hilliard is stylish and atmospheric. It came out at a time when a spat of films where showing the influence of Hicthcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. But the film is a cut above the rest in terms of story, acting and imagery. We have a pretty decent police style mystery (with none other than Dick Van Patten, from prime-time’s Eight Is Enough, as the tough talking detective who has two men suspected of some slashing murders in the local college town. There is the tortured artist type (Lee Philips) who paints nude women and has anger issues and a incorrigible punk (James Farentino) who seems the logical suspect but we are thrown a surprise ending that seems more like a Giallo style ending. In fact the film has a few Giallo elements, including a black leather gloved stalker and lots of strange camera shots but the film in fact predates the Giallo genre by a year or two. Bava’s trend sitting Black and Black Lace had yet to be released. Shot in sharp b/w with a good music score it is a must for any fan of stalker/slasher styled films but before they became an actual film genre.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (aka THE CRIMSON CULT, THE CRIMSON ALTAR)

1968/Director: Vernon Sewell/Writers: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln

Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, Virginia Wetherell, Rosemarie Reede

Barbara Steele plays the evil witch Lavinia who has placed a curse on the descendants of the small village where she was executed centuries before during the witch trial of Europe and Britain. She looks great all painted green and wearing some sort of horned witches hat. Of course the curse has finally found it way down the line to last of the descendants Robert Manning (Mark Eden) who has come to the village, during the time of the year when it celebrates its wicthy history, to find his missing brother. He attempts to enlist the help of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in his search and I think you can imagine how that turns out. The film has that psychedelic feel of the period with mod dances and groovy parties. Sexy women run around in skin tight clothes and the acting is great, of course, but the film over all is not what you might have wanted from all the talent involved. Karloff was ill during the production and I am not sure if his character being confined to a wheelchair was part of the script or was necessary for the ailing actor. Torture chambers and scenes bordering on S/M make this a must see for fans of the 60’s and 70’s witch films.

FROGS

1972/Director: George McCowan/Writers: Robert Hutchison

Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden

One of the first eco-horror or animal attack films API’s Frogs is not really that spooky in any real way and the Frogs themselves pose no threat to anyone except to a wheelchair bound Ray Milland at the films end. Millionaire Jason Crocket (Milland) is not going to let anything ruin his annual 4th of July celebration on his plantation style mansion in the Florida swamps. The celebrations are joined by a recently boatless, and sometimes shirtless, Picket Smith (Sam Elliot). Smith was knocked into the swampy lake waters by Crocket’s typically drunken son Clint, played by Adam Rourke who made some of the better biker films of the late 60’s like Hells Angels on Wheels with co-star Jack Nicholson. Also running around in an extremely tight little yellow 70’s style suit is Jason’s daughter Karen (Joan Van Ark of the Dallas spin-off Knot’s landing). While nothing much ever happens in the film I still found it fun to watch. Sam Elliot is good in his super-macho way in this early role. The deaths actually occur by rebelling against destructive mankind animals like snakes, spiders, alligators and even lizards who can somehow figure out the right combinations of poisons to knock over to kill one party-goer in the hothouse. An interesting synthesizer score that sounds like someone just a new Moog or Arp and was pluncking around on the keys and turning the dials to see what would happen. Strangely interesting film overall.

BAMBOO SAUCER

1968/Director: Frank Telford/Writers: John P. Fulton, Frank Telford

Cast: Dan Duryea, John Ericson, Lois Nettleton    , Bob Hastings, Vincent Beck

Not one of those films too many people have ever heard of and so all the more deserving of a mention here at the Cafe. A cold war period sci-adventure that is mostly for cheese lovers. While the film is campy from the get-go the film makers were trying to make a real science fiction with a message. The American military has information that the Red Chinese are holding onto a downed alien space craft which they are keeping in the super secure location of a run down old church in the undeveloped countryside. A team led by Hank Peters (Dan Duryea in his last role) sneaks into China with little trouble and there run into a team of Russians who are on the same mission. The film focuses not so much on the threat of the aliens but on the message that we have to cooperate as a species in order to survive (too bad, I wish a big bug had jumped out and eaten a Red myself) and the Ruskies and Yanks unite to use the UFO escape the more evil of the three Chinese. The acting is pretty bad and the camera work and editing are worse, but I enjoyed this one anf recommend it.

KONGA/1961/HERMAN COHEN/MICHAEL GOUGH

Posted in AIP, British Horror, Gorillas-Yetis-Bigfoot, Herman Cohen, Michael Gough on July 17, 2011 by Bill Courtney

KONGA

1961/Director: John Lemont/Writers: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel

Cast: Michael Gough, Margo Johns, Jess Conrad, Claire Gordon, Austin Trevor, Jack Watson, George Pastell   

Producer/writer Herman Cohen is a name that will be popping up here at the Cafe on a regular basis. Eventually there will be posts on his great dirve-in classics The Bride of the Gorilla, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, his AIP classics like I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and How to Make a Monster,  and Horrors of the Black Museum. In fact Konga is not our first introduction to the works of this dedicated film-maker. I reviewed Trog starring Joan Crawford and Michael Gough, a few posts back and it, like Konga, was one of the color films Cohen made while in England during the 60’s and 70’s. He would also make the thriller Berserk (I do not even know if I have that film here or not. I need a hunchbacked, mute assistant to sort out all the stuff I have on DVDs or on my hard-drive) with Crawford while in England and I understand most people like it more than Trog, but I thought Trog was pretty darned entertaining. Appearing in five of his British productions was actor Michael Gough who seems to have been given free reign with his roles and he had the time of his life hamming them up to the extreme. While some consider his ultimate over-the-top achievement to be the insane curator and scientist Edmond Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum I think he is utterly hysterical as Dr. Charles Decker in the sadly underrated Konga.

During the late 50’s and into the 60’s giant animals and insect swarmed over the surface of the planet, usually the products of atomic radiation or explosions. Most of these unruly brutes were confined to downtown Tokyo or the deserts of the Southwest United States. But for a brief periods some giant monster decided to vacation in Europe and we were treated to some fairly intriguing films like 20 Millions to Earth, Reptilcus, Gorgo, The Giant Behemoth and a couple others before the creatures all had their visas revoked and sent back to Japan and the States. Cohen seemed to have an ongoing interest in killer ape type films and with Konga he made perhaps his best man-in-a-monkey suit ever. The title obviously is a reference to King Kong and in one poster I saw online the title was given as King Konga. Konga is a movie that is really savaged online and is undeserving of the venom it receives. But then maybe these film viewers never grew up with Saturday afternoon Tarzan films or late night creature feature fare. It may be unimaginable to people born after at least the invention of the VCR, mush less DVDs and computer media players, that there was a time when there were basically three TV stations to choose from and the programs on those stations represented the totality of what you were going to see on the tube at any given moment. Of course there were affordable drive-ins and matinees back then but when you a kid with no money and no car you learn somehow to make the best of what you have before you. I grew up in a world where huge Styrofoam boulders hurled by Hercules always bounced off people before they slowly collapsed. In real life they would be flattened to a pulp instantly. I also grew up on more than a few men-in-monkey suit adventures. And come to think I do not know if I have ever seen a genuine gorilla run amok in a movie. The costumes either got better after 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes or they began using computer graphics after that technology developed. What actor would actually want to deal with a real gorilla in a rage?

Make no mistake that the most enjoyable aspects of Konga are Gough’s take no prisoner style of overacting and the corny ape costume. The dialog is hokey but not in an American B-movie style, but in a British B-movie style and I have come to see that is certainly a difference in the way Americans approach a low budget horror film compared to their British counterparts. While Yanks seem to realize they have a turkey on their hands they have some fun with it, the Brits really seem to want to raise even something as ludicrous as Konga to some higher level. Luckily director John Lemont (born in Canada but lived and worked in England) and Gough follow Cohen’s B-movie instincts and Konga never becomes anything too serious. If what I just said sounds like some sort of criticism of British cinema let me be clear that some of my favorite films of all time were British films of the late 50’s to early 70’s. I do not mean only horror films but the social dramas that starred great actors like Terrance Stamp, Tom Courtenay, Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. These are some of the best movies ever made. But we are here to discuss Konga aren’t we?
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Konga is more about the maniacal obsessions of one Dr. Charles Decker than a giant ape. The King Sized gorilla does not really appear until the last fifteen minutes of the movie actually. There are actually four stages of development for Konga: a baby chip, a grown chimp, a grown gorilla and then a giant gorilla that actually does little damage to downtown London. Not as much as Godzilla would do in his sleep in Tokyo or Osaka anyway. Botanist and University Professor Decker was presumed dead in the jungles of Africa after his small engine plane went down and burst into flames. He suddenly appears from the wilds of deepest, darkest Africa one day with a little chimpanzee in tow. Now this scene is simply marvelous. Actor Gough looks utterly uncomfortable with the little chimp and as he is giving an interview at the airport he is holding the chimp and compulsively rubs the darned thing nearly bald. In one scene he is leaning forward in the chair and rubbing the chimps ear thoughtlessly. This scene is mentioned by a few other reviewers of the film so I am not alone in my amazement at how unrelaxed Gough seems to be with the little guy. Anyway, during the interview Dr. Decker explains that he stayed in the jungles and lived with natives of his own accord for one year in order to pursue experiments with some of the insect eating plant life there, that he calls insectivorous with a mad twinge in his voice, and that he has discovered some sort of genetic link between the plants and human beings and that soon his discoveries will have many biology textbooks rewritten. With no further delays he is back to his post at Essex College and his extremely nice campus housing with a laboratory in the basement. He shares the details of his adventures with his assistant Margaret over a warm glass of brandy. As the conversation progresses it becomes clear in a vague British way that Decker and Margaret (Margo Johns) were once more than just friends. Decker is as cold and distant and just down right callus as any pompous snob could be and yet Margaret seems to the desperate type who fears being an old lonely spinster. Her feathers are ruffled still more by all the attention and concern Decker lavishes on Konga, the baby chimp. Decker is clear that Konga is crucial to his experiments in genetics and that the chimp will change forever the world when he helps to prove that there is an evolutionary link between plants and animals.

While he lived with the natives I the jungles of Uganda he discovered that certain plants had properties that when concocted into the proper potion can make life forms grow larger. Exceptionally larger. And if that weren’t enough the potion also puts the receiver under the mental control of the person who administers it to them. That is down right convenient. The first thing to do, after shooting the house cat who licked up a little of the potion, is to give little baby Konga an injection in his rump. I wonder what Gough was thinking as he had to bend down behind this little chimpanzee and, I assume, pretend to stick a hypo in its arse. After some worbly visual effects Konga is now an adult chimpanzee who is soon serving tea on a platter to Margaret, who has now warmed up to the furry fella a bit more. Decker’s greenhouse is now filled with fantastic insectivorous plants. One looks like a huge egg plant with its tongue hanging out. Another is a huge Venus Fly Trap, the type you used to be able to order out of the back of comic books, only much larger.

Well Decker must still pay the bills and he back in the classroom showing a film documentary he made while living with in native village. He explains how lucky he was to rescue all of the photographic equipment from the quickly descending aircraft before he bailed out, and let the pilot plummet to a fiery death. He has some after class words with his curvy, bombshell student named Sandra Banks (Claire Gordon), who not only fills out a sweater quite nicely but is also his most promising and dedicated student. He wants Sandra to assist him with his class more and with some outside projects as well. She is tickled to no end to help the professor in his studies but Decker is simply oozing with lechery. None too happy about the situation is Bob (Jess Konrad) who is smitten with Sandra, but she has made it clear to him that her studies and career come first. The guy would probably be portrayed as jock in an American film but here is simply some awkward nice guy who is sure he can win the girl if he is given the chance. Later Decker has a meeting with Dean Foster who read some about Decker’s claims of standing modern evolutionary theory on its head in the newspaper interview form the airport. The Dean and Decker are soon in a heated debate where basically Decker is called a madman and told he will have to take some time off to rethink his position on established school approved theories. Decker is a guy who easily gets pissed off and when you  take a egomaniac with a volatile temper and mix it in with a super-growth serum that also gives the administer mind control abilities and I think you may have some serious problems on your hands.

Decker takes none to kindly to being called mad and having his tenure threatened so he hightails it home and injects the tea serving Konga with yet another dose of the serum and after some more worbly visual effects Konga transforms into a full grown gorilla, or a full grown man in a fairly decent (for the time) gorilla suit. No point in splitting hairs here over the fact that a gorilla and chimpanzee are two different species since this is a minor flaw in most all ape films. And anyway, what would a giant chimp look like? A gorilla most likely.  Now this leads to another issue most all ape flicks had, and that is how in the hell can a full grown gorilla get around town without causing a commotion. Now I suppose here Konga only had to get from Decker’s dwellings on Essex College campus to Dean Foster’s place but it still stretches the imagination a tad that someone would not notice the brute lumbering about. Needless to say he bursts ungraciously into the Dean’s study and kills him. Decker is a suspect because the heated argument (which he terms a debate between professionals) was over heard by Dean Foster’s secretary. Decker is as arrogant and pompous as any man can be while being interviewed at Scotland Yard but is released because the police are looking for either an animal or incredibly strong man.

Decker holds a cocktail party later for friends and faculty and there meets Professor Tagore (George Pastell from the excellent Hammer version of The Mummy) who it just so happens is conducting almost identical experiments as Decker and is at the point where he is ready to announce his finding to the scientific community. Decker has not worked this hard to be robbed of glory now and so later he pays Tagore a visit at his laboratory and brings Konga along with him to make sure his point is clear. The scene where Gough orders Konga to attack is simply fantastic. He bellows the command in a maniacal fashion that perhaps on he or Richard Burton could have pulled off. Now that Decker has found a way to handle problems with anyone who stands in his way he decides to use Konga to remove the obstacle between him and the luscious Sandra; duffy Bob. Any ambivalence Decker may had about how to settle matters with Bob are erased when Bob basically assault him and kicks his academic ass while Decker’s and some of his class are on a field trip. Bob is simply jealous and lets Decker know he does not want him interfering in his romantic plans for Sandra (though she has basically blown him off repeatedly). Well Konga shows up and kills poor Bob right in front of his own home. I think all these murders takes place in a span of time of just a few days. Decker just cannot control himself. Margaret has let Decker know too that she is absolutely aware of what he is doing and yet she will not go to police so long as he agrees to make an honest women of her finally, to which he agrees with the utmost sincerity, until her back is turned and it is plan that Decker is not the least bit interested in Margaret as anything other than someone to fill up his syringes.

In what is the most unsettling scene of the movie Decker invites Sandra to his place to show her his research and offers her the position of his assistant. He shows her the hot and humid green house with all his strange plants and then loses all control and then starts manhandling her in a scene that Gough must have decided had to be utterly over the top to work. He plants the most awkward and sloppy series of slobbery kisses ever put on film on her reluctant face while proclaiming his love for her. Poor guy must have really gotten lonely out in the jungles. Margaret over hears the entire nauseating conversation and in a jealous rage runs down to poor Konga’s cage and inject him yet again and gain control of him. Problem is she gives him just a wee bit too much and he grows to King Kong size proportions and crashed through the roof of the house. He picks up an immobile rag doll version of Margaret and throws it to the ground and kills her. Sandra has her arm caught by a huge Venus Fly Trap plant and is, presumably since we never see it happen, killed by it in some grisly fashion. Outside Konga grabs Decker, who keeps yelling “let me down Konga” and heads off on a less than climatic rampage into downtown London. I cannot think of another giant ape film where a man is held by the beast and not a beautiful female that the ape has become enamored with. Actually nothing much happens to London at all and Konga is actually killed by machine gun fire from the British Army who arrive on the scene in mere minutes. Konga hurls Decker to the ground before dying and in the final scene reverts back to a baby chimp in a pretty strange looking closing shot. One of Gough’s “greatest” performances in my humble opinion.
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ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS/1966/LARRY BUCHANAN

Posted in AIP, American Horror, Camp-Cheese, John Agar, Larry Buchanan on July 11, 2011 by Bill Courtney
Zontar, the Thing from Venus is a near no budget made for televison remake of the Roger Corman AIP sci-fi classic It Conquered the World. It is a reasonable question to ask if the world really needed an even lower budgeted remake of It Conquered the World and why on earth one was ever made. When It Conquered the World was initially made, AIP was a struggling independent motion picture company led by the business savvy producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson. The company churned out low-budget but profitable films one after the other primarily aimed at a youthful audience. On the labors of talented directors like Roger Corman, Edward L. Cahn and Herman Cohen AIP had, by the mid-sixties, become perhaps the most successful and powerful of the independent film companies in Hollywood. A logical step it seemed was to move into the now lucrative syndicated television market and so AIP-TV was formed. One of the projects AIP-TV took on was to remake a handful of its earlier film and release them in color to a new generation of movie viewers. To rewrite and direct some of these films they got legendary z-movie shlock meister Larry Buchanan who was used to working with little money and talent on his films and yet still managed to at least break even if not turn a small profit. He produced altogether eight films for AIP-TV–which also included The Eye Creatures, a remake of the Edward L. Cahn film Invasion of the Saucermen and Mars Needs Women- with his Azalea Pictures company based out of Dallas Texas. Zontar is considered by many to be the best of his Azalea remakes and even has B-movie icon John Agar in the role originally played by Peter Graves in the original film. Of course one can hardly say that the best Larry Buchanan film is anything that is going to excite the masses. They are films for the cognoscenti of camp and cheese only and rise to the quality of an Al Adamson movie at best.

The more than slightly delusional scientist Keith Ritchie (Tony Houston) assists an alien being named Zontar to come to Earth in an unmanned space probe in order to help mankind rise above its own evil nature. His old friend and colleague Curt Taylor (Agar) tries to reason with him but Ritchie is a true believer who will not be swayed by arguments.  But Zontar has intentions other than assisting mankind in its struggles. Soon the entire world is brought to a stand still by Zontar from his secret headquarters in a cave. The military is helpess and the leaders of Jackson Texas come under the mental control of Zontar via bat like creatures that implant control devices into the base of their necks. It seems all that stands between Zontar and it’s plans for world conquest are Taylor and Ricthie’s devoted wife Dora (Susan Bjurman). How can Zontar be stopped? Who is under his control and who can be trusted?
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If you’re familiar with It Conquered the World then you recognize the above synopsis. In fact Zontar strays very little from the original story by Charles B. Griffith. The cold war analogy is still thinly veiled and the conflicts between the two friends and their opposing ideologies remain about the same. What does change noticeably is the quality of the film itself. Corman’s b/w film is considered a cheese classic but it is not really a bad film at all. I do not hate remakes in any way simply because they’re remakes but I prefer that a remake simply not be the original film told over exactly scene by scene. A remake should try to make use of advances in film technology as well as vary the story enough so that people familiar with the original will nod at the deliberate hat’s off styled similarities and be surprised as well by a few twists and surprises in the new story. There are no twists or turns in Zontar. The same people die in the same manners and the same people live at the end. The dialog is practically the same scene by scene with the most minuscule of variation. The ‘step-up’ from b/w to color is a let down as well. The original film looked fine in b/w while Zontar looked bland and washed out in it’s flat 60’s type color that you see in so many of the Something Weird releases. I usually have a hard time distinguishing day-for-night shots from just day shots in old films but in this film it really was exceptionally difficult. The Azalea films were mostly shot on 16mm and with little or no professional lighting. In some instances the film was manually slowed down to about 12 frames per second rather the usual 24 to allow for the poor lighting of the sets. The actors actually had to move slower when this was done or they would appear to move in fast motion when the film was played back at the regular frame rate.

The laboratory sets are cheap looking and Keith Ritchie’s living room looks like the model of garish, trying to be hip 60’s bad taste. A couple other things worth noting. First is the weird looking NASA space probe at the beginning which I mistook for an alien flying saucer at first. It is the same space used in  Buchana’s The Eye Creatures I think and it just looks amazingly hokey. Even a jaded b-movie fan such as myself felt my jaw falling in disbelief that this was supposed to be a space probe built by the United States. The other thing, which is actually a bit of an improvement on the first film, is Ritchie’s choice of weapons to kill Zontar in the showdown at the end. Tom Anderson used a blow torch of all things. It was an interesting scene but what kind of superior creature brings the world to a screeching standstill but gets killed itself by a blowtorch in its eye? To Buchanan’s credit he mulls this issue over and has Ritchie develop a super laser that is the only thing able of destroying Zontar amid a display of psychedelic film effects.

While the original seems pretty heavy on the talking side of things that is true of many horror and sci-fi films of the period. One way to stretch out a film that is low on budget and special effects to have people pad up the frames with lots of talking until something happens. It is the quality and delivery by the actors of the dialog that makes the difference. In ‘It’ the dialog and monologues appear thought out a bit by Corman, Lou Rosoff and the uncredited Charles B. Griffith. And while some of it may seem preachy or heavy handed at time I believe the lines were written and delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. You get the sense the actors are having fun with the script and scenes. The lines in ‘It’ are often delivered with poker faced zest by Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van. In particular Beverly Garland delivered her lines in such a way that some passages have become a little classic over the decades. In Zontar the actors simply cannot act and the dialog written by Buchanan and Hillman Taylor, whose only two writing credits are Azaela remakes, is simply warmed over samples from the original film. In Zontar Susan Bjurman–Garland’s counterpart- just cannot act but overact she does. And it is not the sort of bad acting that is fun to watch and replay. It the type that is grating and annoying most of the time. As far as the alien creature’s Eartly allay goes Lee Van Cleef’s shoes are big ones to fill as Tom Anderson in ‘It’ and the emotionless Tony Houston as Ritchie does not even try it seems. In fact everyone is wooden and lifeless except for John Agar, doing the Peter graves role, who always tried to honestly earn his pay check no matter how horrible his roles became by the mid-sixties. At times it is hard to tell if the gauntness of his facial expressions are his interpretation of his character or Agar unconsciously displaying his disbelief he is actually in this movie. There are a couple goofy soldiers who seem to be Buchanan’s attempt at the comic relief supplied by the always reliable Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze in It Conquered the World but they just seem nervously goofy at best.

Finally we cannot conclude this article without addressing Zontar himself. The original Beluah –the name given to the Corman film creature by cast and crew- was created by the master of low budget makeup effects Paul Blaisdell and is simply iconic in appearance. That cannot be argued I feel. I am sure most every one has seen the great publicity shot of Beverly Garland screaming as Beluah peers menacingly into the window at her. But to be honest the three eyed, bat-winged Zontar is not too shabby really, or at least not for a Larry Buchanan production. It is more bat like in appearance than Beluah which has been referred to an alien celery stalk. Really in this case I do not feel one looks any better than the other and want to give Buchanan some credit for coming up with something a little original here. Historically Beluah will be remembered as few fans of b-cinema have not seen the image even if they have never seen the film. Zontar is much more obscure due to the very nature of the film itself but he is not a bad looking monster for the time period. Zontar’s motives are the same as It’s and he wastes little time on backing out of the promises he made to scientist Ritchie. Zontar has no intention of assisting mankind and seems rather intent on initiating some sort of preemptive strike against the human race. Again though it is strange that a creature with such power chooses to hang out in a cave on the edge of a small town. I do feel the cave in Zontar is a step up from the one in It Conquered the World though. It is more of a cavern than cave and is the lurid lighting takes advantage of the fact the film is shot in color. Like It Zontar chooses only to gain control of the local town leaders rather the leaders of the Pentagon or White House. And in the end, like also It  he is basically killed off in simple hand to hand combat though in a more inventive manner perhaps.

There is a legend, maybe true or maybe not, that Larry Buchanan sometimes edited his films with duct tape. Even if it is just another b-movie myth it says something of the man’s reputation as a film maker that such a story even exists. I have only seen two other of his Azalea films for AIP TV and certainly Zontar, the Thing from Venus is the best of the three. But that is not really saying too much and I am trying hard to be fair with this film since I am a fan of low quality classic cinema. Fans of grade Z style movies by film makers like Ted V. Mikels and Al Adamson will find it worth a watch, if for no other reason than to compare it to the original. Most others will find little of value here.

IT CONQUERED THE WORLD/1956/ROGER CORMAN/BEVERLY GARLAND

Posted in AIP, American Horror, Beverly Garland, Camp-Cheese, Lee Van Cleef, Paul Blaisdell, Roger Corman on July 11, 2011 by Bill Courtney
IT CONQUERED THE WORLD

1956/Director: Roger Corman/Writer: Lou Rusoff

Cast: Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef, Sally Fraser, Dick Miller, Taggart Casey   

Today’s post features a film that is surely among the classic of great American cheese. It Conquered the World may be one of the best example’s Roger Corman’s amazing ability to squeeze everything possible from a low budget and tight production schedule. Like many low budget horror/sci-fi films from the period there is a lot of dialog to carry the film. Now you either love all this dialog or you hate it. Many people find it all unbearably boring while other, like you humble  reviewer here, find the corny dialog, crazy scientific explanations and pompous messages more enjoyable than the action scenes. Just look at this sample from the film’s ending where  hero Paul Nelson (played by the late Peter Graves) muses over the actions of his misguided friend Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef):

He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature… and because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can’t be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And when men seek such perfection… they find only death… fire… loss… disillusionment… the end of everything that’s gone forward. Men have always sought an end to the toil and misery, but it can’t be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from Man himself.

I think he could have added “Goodnight sweet Prince” at the end there and it would have become as immortal as anything the Immortal Bard himself would have written.

Paul Wilson and Tom Anderson were one on the same space program whose mission it was to send one doomed space probe after another to the planet Venus. Anderson lost most of his credibility after he informed the program members he has been in contact with aliens on Venus. In many films from this period Venus was the subject of space missions and the visions of life there were varied. Some involved aliens played by Zsa Zsa Gabor even (Queen of Outer Space) and more often than not there were colonies of man hungry curvy,giggly girls just looking for a space ship full of beef cake from Earth. As we already know we are treated to any sort of aliens of the nubile nature in this film. In fact the aliens on Venus are not prone to warming up to intrusions from other planets and they have been in radio communication with Anderson in order for him to tell his fellow earthlings to cool it. Paul has stayed friends with Paul despite his rantings and he and his wife Joan (Sally Fraser) still go by to see Tom and his wife Claire (played by the always wonderful Beverly Garland in one of her most memorable performances) for dinner and small talk. A lot of the small talk between Paul and Tom takes place around Tom’s ‘high-tech’ radio equipment where he has been in communication with the Venusians for some time. Claire is at her wits end with Tom and his chat sessions with what sounds like nothing but static. Paul is a little more than a bit skeptical himself. Lee Van Cleef plays the obsessed Anderson perfectly. He tries to smooth things out with Claire by promising her soon all things will become clear and she will be rewarded in some way or another.

The command center calls Paul to inform him that a missing Venus probe has returned to Earth and crashed, conveniently, not too far from the base and Paul and Tom’s house. Imagine if that thing had crashed in northern India or Greenland. Paul is soon contacted by a Venusian who piloted the space probe back to Earth. While a superior race we soon realize that they lack the opposable thumbs required to turn little screws necessary in the construction of a space ship. They just stow away on them and then once they arrive on the planet they want to conquer with an invasion force of one they slither off into a dark cave which become the headquarters of their planetary assault. Here the film is a bit reminiscent of Robot Monster, another movie featuring and invasion force of one who hides out in a cave in southern California and wrecks havoc on the entire planet. And how better than do this than to have weird little bat like creature emerge out of your alien rectum and fly off to nip people and turn into submissive slaves who will do all your bidding.

Panic ensues and the locals run down the street of the small town like the citizens of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla. The people who have been nipped by the space bats are fairly easy to detect after a few moments of conversation as they robotronic in their thinking. Paul dispatches anyone and every one who is under alien control and this includes his wife in one of the strangest scenes in b-movie history. The scene has to be seen to be understood. Her death is completely unnecessary as far as I am concerned. But don’t go thinking I am tangled up in some sort of moral struggle over the scene because it is actually pretty cool to see Peter Graves put a slug in the gut of his once doting house wife and then run down to the military base and blow away everyone on duty there as well. Claire has had enough of her husbands delusions. In a frustrated fit at pint she announces to him that …”for a few dollars you can hire a woman who’ll fulfill all your fetishes. And when you get tired of her you can run down to the employment agency and hire another.” Not really sure how that fits into the context of the film as a whole but it is great line. She runs down to the cave to confront the monster on her own. Outside the cave area is a highly trained of wise cracking soldier that include dogfaces Dick Miller and  Jonathan Haze providing some comic relief. Of course the real comic relief comes in the form of Paul Blaisdell’s most infamous monster creation. The monster has been iconic actually and represents what is the most enjoyable about the films of Roger Corman and classic low budget sci-fi in general. The comparisons to a stalk odfcelery are not unwarranted. One stort has it that the original creature was so short that Beverly Garland, in a joking mood, basically told it to “take that” and kicked it over. Blaisdell added some extensions to the monster to make it at least a little taller than the lady it is terrorizing.

Now this creature had nearly brought the world to its knees from the dank confines of its cavernous hideaway, but in the end a solitary human with a blow torch ends its reign of destruction. Of course the human is Lee Van Cleef in a pissed off mood now because the celery stalk from Venus killed his wife. It seemed fine to let the creature destroy the rest of humanity but once things get a little personal Tom quips “I made it possible for you to come here… I made you welcome to this Earth… You made it a charnel house”.  A really enjoyable film and one of Corman’s most well known low budget efforts. The entire film was shot in less than one week. The creature came to be known on the set as Beluah and is actually supposed to be a fungus type of life form. Most fans consider it to be their favorite of Blaisdell’s collection of imaginative creations (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Invasion of the Saucer Men, She Creature). Blaisdell did the effects on Teenagers from Outer Space as well though he is uncredited. If you notice the space ship landing in both films appear to be the same footage. A great cast with immortal dialog and an even more immortal monster. Not to be missed.

MARYJANE/1968 /FABIAN

Posted in AIP, Dope, Fabian, Juvenile Delinquents-Troubled Teens, Trailers on July 2, 2011 by Bill Courtney
MARYJANE

1968/Director: Maury Dexter/Writers:Maury Dexter, Richard Gautier   

Cast: Fabian, Diane McBain, Kevin Coughlin, Michael Margotta, Patty McCormack, Terri Grrr, Richard Gautier (uncredited)

Maryjane is an entertaining little piece of 60’s AIP marijuana exploitation starring teen idol Fabian as high school art teacher Phil Blake. When Blake isn’t working on nailing the frigid girl with a big secret Elli Holden (Diane McBaine) he is trying to hold on to his job and stay out of jail after he confesses to school administrators and the town sheriff he smoked some grass in college and trying to stop ‘good kid’ –but total moody, sniveling wuss- Michael Margotta (Jerry Blackburn) from trying to join the school reefer gang ominously called the Mary Janes. The Mary Janes look like harmless extras from Happy Days. These were the good old days when doper teens all wore letter jackets –since they usually played football- and knit sweaters and the girls looked like proper little cheerleaders. The film was directed by Maury Dexter who did other AIP exploitation gems like The Mini-Skirt Mob, Wild on the Beach, The young Animals and Hell’s Belles. Actually I am not 100% sure if all of those films are AIP productions but the titles sure sound like they should be. Dexter co-wrote the script with Richard (Dick) Gautier whose face would be familiar to anyone who watched prime-time TV in the 70’s. Fabian’s singing career was waning at this time and he made a few pictures for AIP including A Bullit for Pretty Boy Floyd, also directed by Dexter. Gauiter has a brief uncredited role as a prisoner in the film. Also appearing briefly in the film are pretty Teri Garr as a party girl and producer Garry (Happy Days) Marshall as a gas station attendant. The film’s obligatory bad girl is played by the original Bad Seed herself Patty McCormick.

The film is not that bad really though certainly a cheese classic. The acting is not really terrible and the photography and color looked great. Even the ‘day for night’ shots are better than average. The film of course garners harsh criticism online from marijuana apologist who feel the sacred herb is beyond reproach and not in any way unhealthy nor does it impair driving or other motor skills. I think these old films were written and shot with tongue firmly in cheek and with most of the cast and crew buzzed out of their gourds on something or another while it was being made. Look at some of the other AIP drug films like The Trip. Can you imagine that Bruce Dern never fried a brain cell or two. I simply think one has to ‘turn off the old mind, relax and float down stream’ while watching these films and forget about social commentaries. Of course the films throws a few in anyway such as when Blake tries to convince the appalled school administrators that weed is less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol and what a shock to find out little miss goody two shoes Elli the history teachers is far beyond grass. Football jock and drug dealer Jordon Bates (Kevin Coughlin) has finally got her hooked on smack, which is where –we all know by know- smoking the devil’s weed leads all who inhale its evil fumes. Lots of unintentional laughs but not over the top or preachy. Good shit.
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MARYJANE TRAILER

THE BRAIN EATERS/1958

Posted in AIP, American Horror, Bruno VeSota, Ed Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Science Fiction-Fantasy on June 29, 2011 by Bill Courtney

THE BRAIN EATERS

1958/Director: Bruno VeSota/ Writer: Gordon Urquhart

Cast: Ed Nelson (also producer), Leonard Nimoy, Alan Frost, Joanna Lee, Jody Fair, David Hughes, Robert Ball, Greigh Phillips, Orville Sherman   

This not a film to write home about in any sense of the word, but at a mere sixty minutes and featuring an early performance by Leonard Nimoy (billed as Leonard Nemoy) it is not a total waste of time. Produced by and starring Ed Nelson and directed by Bruno VeSota (the sexually frustrated fat guy in Attack of the Giant Leeches) and so based on The Puppet Master by Robert A. Heinlein  that AIP was sued. Roger Corman settled the deal out of court for $5000 and the promise that Heinlein receive no credit for “inspiring” Gordon Urqhart’s lifeless screenplay. But as I said, the film is not really that bad that it cannot be seen and enjoyed.

The story moves along and is aided by often campy and unnecessary narration. For example in one scene we are told that the heros are visiting the local telegraph station, but there is not need to inform us of this since we can see with own two eyes that they are doing this. But it adds for some laughs, though I assume unintended ones. The residents of peaceful Riverdale Illinois have recently been plagued by violent murders and now must contend with the appearance a huge alien craft that has either come from space or the bowels of the Earth. The mystery is compounded when a scientist believed long lost reappears from the craft after some fifty years. Some of the town’s folk have fallen prey to small parasitic organisms that look like little “tribles” (as in Star Trek) with pipe cleaners for antennae that attach to the base of their necks and control their thoughts and actions. Scientist Paul Kettering (Ed Nelsen) is hot on the mystery and even journeys into the alien craft seeking answers, with are not forthcoming. A lot of the action winds up being fist fights or gun battles between the infected and uninfected, or verbal sparring between everyone and the cantankerous Senator Powers (Cornelius Keefe, billed as Jack Hill and so it is not director Jack Hill in an early acting role as is often thought). On a return trip inside the ship Kettering finds another long lost scientist, Professor Cole under total control of the alien creatures and  who is played by Leonard Nimoy, but you would not know if not for the voice. The action ends with high voltage wires frying the little brain eaters to death and the hero dying to save the girl.
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The movie has potential with the material but does not do too much with it. What have been better is if the people under the control of the creatures were not so apparent. Some act like zombies practically. It would have had more tension had the cast and audience not known who was and was not  infected, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing. I would also say a little more violence would have helped, as well as more frightening creatures. To the film’s credit it does not go over board with scientific explanations and long dialogs as is typical of a lot of films of the period. The movie takes itself seriously and the laughs are unintentional, which can make for a good time. The movie poster is one of my favorites, but here is nothing in the entire film like it. There is no woman with vampire fangs and exposed brain, or hordes people fleeing some monster. In fact the monsters are little fuzz balls that a horde of fleeing people would squash. Can I recommend the film? Sure. It is required cult film viewing in fact, and as I said it is only about an hour in length, about the same time you would spend at the dentist’s getting a cleaning.

THE SHE-CREATURE/1956/EDWARD L. CAHN

Posted in AIP, American Horror, Edward L. Cahn, Marla English, Paul Blaisdell on June 27, 2011 by Bill Courtney

THE SHE-CREATURE

1956/ Director: Edward L. Cahn/Writer: Lou Rusoff
Cast: Chester Morris, Marla English, Tom Conway, Cathy Downs, Lance Fuller, Ron Randell, Frieda Inescort
The She-Creature is a film that attempted to capitalize on the past life regression fad that swept America in the mid-50’s following the release of the book, and subsequent film, The Search for Bridey Murphy. The book is based on the real-life events (I tend to find most of these “factual” paranormal events are actually more apocryphal than actual) pertaining to a party where hypnotist Morey Bernstein was the entertainment and hypnotized a lady named Virginia Tighe who regressed into her past lives to a time when she was an Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. She would speak in an Irish accent as she recalled her 19th century life. Luckily all these people who have past life regressions seem to select a past life that has the same spoken language I guess and who can’t mimic an Irish brogue. Despite the reincarnation claims of Virginia Tighe being devastated by skeptics the book went on to be a huge best-seller and, along with the 1956 movie, people flocked to the story, and some still believe it to be true, and soon everyone and their cousin were seeking a “qualified” hypnotist to induce a past-life experience. Probably during none of these experiences did the person speak a dead or extinct language like Aramaic or Hopi. Yes, while your humble archivist of B-movie madness watches everything from giant bugs to possessed school girls he is at heart a skeptic and does not believe in UFOs or past life regressions. All that being said, I really enjoyed this film, made in 1956 like the Bridey Murphey movie, thanks to my uncanny abilities of “suspension of disbelief.”

The movie is directed by Edward L. Cahn who also happens to be the director of some of the most memorable horror/exploitation B-movies from the 50’s and early 60’s. Some of these are certainly some of my favorites, such as Dragstrip Girl, Voodoo Woman (with Marla English), Zombies of Mura Tau, Invasion of the Saucer Men and It! The terror from Beyond Space, just to name a few films made by this prolific and imaginative director. There are a few minor complaints I have about some parts of The She-Creature such as the excessive day for nights of the beach scenes. They are simply too dark and you cannot really see the faces of the characters or even the monster. As well the monster hardly appears on screen, as is often the case with films from this period. More time is spent with the human conflicts (which are needed of course to a degree) and not enough is spent on the monster itself. And while the monster is a little cheezy I like it, even its monsterish “boobs.” The creature, nicknamed “Cuddles” was designed by Paul Blaisdell do also did the monsters for creatures for Invasion of the Saucer Men and the legendary creatures from It Conquered the World. She-Creatures originally ran as an AIP double feature with It Conquered the World and what a matinee or midnight movie treat that must have been.
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In the film we find one Dr. Lambardi (played by Chester Morris perennial tough guy from the 30’s and 40’s and even more than few silent films) engaged in similar experiments as Morey Bernstein. He has under his Svengali type spell the lovely Andrea Talbot (the very endowed Marla English who switches costumes between a sexy sheer gown and an assortment of skin tight sweaters) who, similar to Virginia Tighe, regresses back in time 300 years as an Irish housewife. Andrea hates Talbot but cannot escape from his hypnotic powers. His powers are of interests to others as well. First there is the shrewd entrepreneur Timothy Chappel played by Tom Conway. At first I thought this was actor George Sanders as it looks and sounds almost identical. Come to find out Conway and Sanders are brothers. Chappel sees big bucks in marketing not only Lombardi’s past life regression angle but the fact he can predict murders in the future, murders perpetrated by a prehistoric ancestors of the human race that is revived when Andrea is in her hypnotic trance. The murders draw the interest of police detective Ed James (Ron Randall) is 100% certain Lombardi is somehow responsible for the rash of murders that have been occurring on the beach in close proximity to wherever Lombardi is located but he doe not have enough evidence to make it all stick in a court of law. Also interested in Lombardi’s experiments is his critic Dr. Ted Erikson (Lance Fuller who would appear with Marla English again in Cahn directed, Blaisdell monstered Voodoo Woman in 1957) who thinks Lombardi is a charlatan who is giving “scientific” hypnotism a bad name. As well Ted really seems drawn to Andrea and her clingy sweaters and wants to free her from Lombardi’s mesmerizing clutches. As is often the case with horror/sci-fi films of the period there are heated debates between men of science and men of faith. The scientists are portrayed as the stereotyped hard-headed dogmatists who refuse to even believe their own eyes at times. Dr. Erikson is skeptical of Lombardi and his motives but is open minded, However he is a true man of science and this is confirmed by a scene where he walks around smoking a pipe in his laboratory in a white lab coat with Clark Kent type eye glasses and a clip board where he records the activities of various lab animals.

There are usually problems with beach horror movies and I assume one reason the beach location is used is for budget purposes. The one big problem is how many people can be really be killed off on a stretch of beach maybe a couple yards long by some slow moving monster or another before it is at least seen by someone and a police sketch created? We also have the obligatory “making out” teenagers in the car killed off by the monster, and love-tortured teenagers are still being killed off on lover’s lanes to this day by monsters and psychos. The best scenes of the movie are between Lomabrdi and Andrea and Lombardi and Erikson as the two men compete for Andre’s mind and soul. There are a few cocktail party sequences featuring El Brendel and Flo Bert as a butler and maid team that is meant as intentional comic relief. There are no big surprises in the film or its ending but it is watchable classic B-horror fare. There is a list of beach horror movies I am trying to find, including The Horror of Party Beach and The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Despite the problems with beach horror movies they one of favorite sub-genres and there quite a few made during the sixties. For any fan of The Creature from the Black Lagoon styled films. A loose remake of The She-Creature was made by the Cinemax Creature Features series 2001 but it has little to do with the original version but I can recommend it as well.