Archive for the American Horror Category

MANIAC/1980/JOE SPINELL/CAROLINE MUNRO

Posted in American Horror, Caroline Munro, Gore, Joe Spinell, Tom Savini, William Lustig on October 9, 2011 by Bill Courtney
MANIAC
1980/Director: William Lustig/Writers: C.A. Rosenberg,Joe Spinell
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Rita Montone, Tom Savini
For my article about the William Lustig film Maniac I simply scanned over the disk for some new screen captures and watched a few scenes over to refresh my memory. I will probably rewatch the film in its entirety soon but I have seen the movie a few times in the past and will rely more on my general impressions of the movie from past viewings than from a fresh rewatch. I first rented the film on VHS back when I lived in San Antonio Texas. It was time when I was renting stuff I read from films books I owned, like The Psychotronic Video Guide and my collection of horror books. There was no Internet back then to learn about films. The reason I watched the film was because Tom Savini did the effects and it was a period when I wanted to see every film Savini had something to do with. Sadly the guy now has decided to be an actor rather than a special effects master. In fact even back then he appeared in many of the films he worked on, such as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Martin. Savini’s make up work on this feature are some of his goriest to be sure. One classic scene is almost universally reviled by critics and it features Savini himself getting his head blown off by a point blank range shot gun blast. It still looks horrible three decades later.
Now the real problem with this movie is not Savini’s graphic make-up effects or the over top performance by star and co-writer Joe Spinell. Both Savini and Spinell are great, as is Carolyn Munro as Anne who is pursued by Spinell’s psychotic and sexually disturbed  Zito, but the trouble is with Lustig’s often shoddy direction and the overly bleak story by Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg. Of course I still recommend the film. All films here at The Uranium Café are recommended and films I like. But there is some reason I did not want to sit through it yet one time to do a better review. And yet it must say something about me that I have seen the film three or four times already. I just am not in the mood for the film’s despairing atmosphere right now is all. The same issue with the German film Necromantik. I have been wanting to rewatch it for a review but do not want to put myself through the experience right now. And I may be too harsh on Lustig’s direction since the film had a very low budget of about $350,000 and was shot, like The Last Horror Movie, guerrilla style (meaning usually without filming permits for locations). But some of the editing and production guffaws are simply creative negligence. And yet those glitches give the film some much needed campyness as the overall tone is otherwise unrelentingly grim and oppressive.
The story is about a lonely and schizoid landlord named Zito who keeps a collection of mannequins in his apartment. He likes to adorn the mannequins with the scalps of real women and then have conversations with them in his bed. He has monologues with his dead mother who was a cruel, over bearing prostitute. After a while Zito gets bored with his current bed partner and set off to find a new victim. Any film like this requires suspension of disbelief and acceptance of certain implausibility’s. But the relationship that develops between obviously sleazy Zito and photographer Anne is a little too much. Anne accidentally snaps a photo of Zito and while attempting to retrieve the picture, for whatever reason, Zito develops an appreciation for Anne’s work and soon he and Anne are dating and she actually seems attracted to the scum bag in some scenes. Now whether Zito is a twisted serial killer or not is beside the point. It is stretching things a little too much to think hot looking professional photographer Anne would waste much, if any, time on him or give a damn about any of his opinions on her work. The gore sequences are great if you like that sort of things and Spinell is over the top in a fun sort of way but the film lacks any of the wit or humor found in The Last Horror Movie and one wonders if Spinell is trying to deliver a film similar to Taxi Driver in which he a small role.

An interesting piece of trivia is that the song Maniac, used in the film Flash Dance, by Michael Sembello was inspired by the film. It was not, as some sites report, written specifically for the film. Nonetheless the score was disqualified for an Oscar award after it was discovered it was not written specifically for Flash Dance. In fact some lyrics were altered for the Flash Dance version. Here is an example of before and after maniac lyrics:
Before:
He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure,
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door
After:
She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor
And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before
I would like to hear that original version myself if a version was ever recorded.The movie was released without a rating and it is felt it would have received an X rating at the time of its release for its extreme violence. Spinell wanted to do a sequel to the film but died in 1989. It was certainly a film role only he could pull off. However that has stopped Lustig from sealing a deal in 2009 to do a remake of the film. I just think one Maniac is enough and who in God’s name could ever weep over a mannequin wearing a bloody scalp the way Joe Spinell could?

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER/1965

Posted in American Horror, Camp-Cheese, Frankenstein, Science Fiction-Fantasy on September 13, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER

1965/ Director: Robert Gaffney/ Writers: R.H.W. Dillard, George Garrett

Cast: Marilyn Hanold,  James Karen, Lou Cutell, Nancy Marshall, David Kerman, Robert Reilly, Bruce Glover

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster takes place on sunny Puerto Rico instead of Japan and is a fine example of a great bad movie that is worth watching more than once. It is really not a terribly made film in some respects. The film editing is not bad and there is a good music score (one song by the Distant Cousins may have been the inspiration for the riff from one of my favorite Thrill Kill Kult songs, Babylon Drifter) and the space ship interiors are far from the worst on record.

The story is about secret, cyborg astronaut Frank Saunders (Robert Riley) whose rocket is shot out of the sky by space aliens who think it is an attacking missile. When the aliens discover that Frank has survived the attack they g down to Earth themselves to finish off the potential witness that may jeopardize their mission; acquiring a breeding stock of nubile young earth girls, most in bikinis. Frank (as in Frankenstein) is also searched for by human scientists Adam Steele (played by James Karen, most famous for his roles in Return of the Living Dead, and even recently as the CEO in The Pursuit of Happyness) and cry baby Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall). Of course during the crash of his spaceship poor Frank has half his face burnt off and his circuitry all screwed up, so sometimes he over reacts and kills people with his bare hands or machetes. Eventually frank winds up trying to rescue the earth girls from the aliens with Dr Steele and there meets the “space monster” Mull and they have a less than epic battle that destroys the space ship and nasty aliens.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT. HELL, SHARE IT IF YOU DON’T. 

The performances of Marylin Hanold and Lou Cutell as the alien princess and her henchman offer up some of the best moments in the film. Lou Cutell’s nodding and sleazy grins are nearly as classic as his poorly done bald wig make up. Actor Bruce Glover (Crispin Glover’s father and one of the gay hitmen in Diamonds are Forever who kept try to bump off 007) appears briefly as an alien. The movie was voted as one of the 100 worst of all time (what more of a recommendation do you need) though, as I said, is hardly a total flop in all technical departments. You may have a fun time watching all the stock military footage and checking out the swinging gogo pool parties, until they are crashed by ray gun totting aliens who wear space suits that look very much like NASA training gear. It is really a good example of how a chessy camp classic can earn a persistent cult following, and for good reason. It is my definition of a “feel good” movie. It was fun to watch the unintended laughs and guffaws and one of those films that can be enjoyed alone for “research” or a movie party flick.

THE BLOB/1958/STEVE McQUEEN

Posted in American Horror, Science Fiction-Fantasy, Soundtrack Samples on September 13, 2011 by Bill Courtney

THE BLOB

1958/ Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr./ Writers: Kay Linaker (writer), Irvine Millgate (story)
Cast: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland, Alden ‘Stephen’ Chase, John Benson, Lee Paton, Vincent Barbi
The Blob is a successful combining of the horror and teenage delinquent film genres. While the teens in the film are not really ‘delinquents” in my opinion they are still teenagers and therefore what they say and do is always suspect to the local adults. The film was a success for the time at the box office, which must have really irked new leading man “Steven” McQueen who opted for a one lump payment of $2,500 to $3,000 (depending where you read) rather than 10% of the profits, which went over $4 million. Also it seems the young McQueen appeared promising enough to be offered a three film contract from the film’s producers, but he was so difficult to work with he was released from the contract. He would of course go on to become a film legend in Hollywood. The movie was made outside Hollywood by an independent film company and it is nicely shot film and well acted.

First I want to say that this film, along with the Hammer film X-The Unknown, were two movies that terrorized me as a boy of about 12 or 13. Both movies are about an amorphous substance that is slimy and oozy and can slither, creep and crawl under things or get though ventilator grills easily. This posed a real problem for me at night trying to sleep and I remember covering the heating vents on my floor with encyclopedias to prevent entry, but knowing that if the Blob (or X) wanted in there was no way I was going to stop them.

The movie opens up with young Steven Andrews (McQueen) putting the moves on the classic “I’m not that kind of girl”  tease Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut) up on the local lover’s lane. While Steven assures her his intentions are honorable and she in not just another girl a meteorite (The movie’s working title was The Meteorite Monster and The Molten Meteorite) crashes to earth over the nearby hills. An old man played by veteran actor Olin Howland , in his last role, finds the smoldering space rocks and stars poking at it with a stick and soon has his arm covered with a flesh consuming “blob”. Steven and Jane rush him into to town, to Doc Hallen, who in turn, along with his nurse, are consumed and soon the havoc in on. Of course Steven and his teenage friends must contend with the local adults and police who all think kids are up to no good (especially when the said high school student, like McQueen, is actually 28 years old!).
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT. HELL, SHARE IT IF YOU DON’T.

People begin disappearing though we really only see about four people get eaten, or adsorbed if you will. This is my one real complaint about the film. At one point Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe) estimates maybe forty people have died during the night. The movie would have been more exhilarating if we had seen some of these deaths. Luckily the acting, dialog, nicely photographed scenes and cool looking monster help things move along without the visible death scenes. After lots of futile attempts at convincing parents and cops the truth is revealed when the patrons of the local theater, who were there to see a horror movie of course, come screaming out onto the streets with the ever growing blob on their tails. Steven and Jane seek shelter in a diner after grabbing Jane’s doofy little brother who in one of the best scenes in the movies hurls his “empty” cap pistol at the creature. The blob surrounds the diner and seeks out the five people inside the diner while the rest of the town stands about fifty feet away and watches in horror. I never understood as a kid  why the blob did not just turn on the crowd and absorb all of them. Well, the weakness (all old movie monsters had one special weakness that the hero had to discover by the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie) is soon discovered… C02 fire extinguishers. The blob is frozen and sent to the North Pole, never to be heard from again until Larry Hagman revived it in his more comical version Beware the Blob in 1972, with stoned hippies like Robert Walker, rather than hot rodding 28 year old teenagers, on the menu.

The movie is very well made and while it is a B-movie it is not what I would call a bad movie, either in a good sense or bad. The catchy title song was co-written by Burt Bacharach and was a hit song on the radio at the time. A link to a Blob site is given below and this is a true cult classic. A remake was made in with Kevin Dillon in 1988 where the Blob is the product of yet another secret government/military agency with nothing but security and profit on its always evil agenda. Well, I like the space Blob myself and all the mystery it brought with it. The film just looks rich and nice and one can see that McQueen is a real talent in his first film role. Not to be missed.

http://ia700600.us.archive.org/8/items/swf-player/player.swf

THE BLOB TITLE SONG

THE CREEPING TERROR/1964

Posted in American Horror, Camp-Cheese, Vic Savage on August 16, 2011 by Bill Courtney
Sometimes I run across a film so appallingly bad I fall in love with it. How can this be you ask? probably you don’t ask this, but humor me please. Well I am a fan of bad movies and as bad as The Creeping terror is it is still not the worst film I have ever seen. Some of the stuff promoted by Something Weird Video certainly is more dismal than this mess. However director, producer  A.J. Nelson/star Vic Savage’s as (Deputy Martin Gordon) z-grade science fiction slice of cheese makes the works of Ed Wood Jr. and Ted V. Mikels look more like Orson Welles at his peak. So, I recommend it to those out there who love to see a movie that makes their jaws fall open slack in disbelief. For the less refined or masochistic I would suggest taking a pass.
There is some evidence that the move never even had a theatrical release and no reviews exist from 1964 nor are any theatrical release dates recorded. It began showing up on Creature Feature type shows about 1976. I thought it was strange that no theater posters existed or at least none that I could locate. Only some DVD covers, but no theatrical posters.  Normally I find several for each film I review and often try to post two or three versions for each movie. The only thing I found here was some drawing that I do not believe is a movie poster and the DVD cover which is simply a snapshot of the opening titles.
The most notable thing about the movie is that it, like The Beast of Yucca Flats, is narrated  in an annoying fashion and the actors have very little actual dialog. I would put the amount of narration at 95% of the film. I have read that the soundtrack to the movie was last and that as a last resort they had Larry Burrell do the deadpan narration that at first is annoying but quickly becomes the most entertaining element of this lovable turkey. Other sources say that the dialog that was going to be dubbed later was simply discarded to save money.

The camera work is simply horrendous. I have seen few films with worse photography. I cannot even use the word cinematography here. It is way too white and lacks any contrast. It looks like more quality documentary footage from the 1930’s. There are some odd “experimental” camera angles where obviously the camera man simply climbed up into a tree and shot down through the leaves. The acting is notably bad but it could have been worse had the actors actually had to speak their lines. I do want to make a note of one memorable thespian and that is one Jack King who plays a fat grand dad who yells out the name Bobby a million and a half times. In one scene he falls into a small creek with his shirt open and blubber bouncing as he flees the monster. It is a very strange scene and even the stranger when you realize that this guy went on become a porn star in Sweden. A couple Swedish sex romps he is credited with “starring” in are Big Fat Man and Fat Peter Horn. I have not seen these and I am not encouraging anyone out to track these things down.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.

Now of course the feature attraction of the film is Terror itself. If you have ever read about this film and seen the remarks about this monster I can assure you they are understatements at best. Words alone can describe this thing though walking carpet seems to come close enough. It is obviously a patch work of thick fabrics tossed over about four or five stage hands to make up the body and one man for the neck and head. It looks more than a little like those Chinese dragons you see on Chinese New Year where you can see the guy’s feet even. There are some sort of plastic tubes dangling from the top of its head that gives it a Whoopie Goldberg appearance.

The thing is so slow that someone in a wheelchair could easily escape it but it devours groups at a time because there either stand there and stare it with mouth agape (as I was before the TV screen) or they are always preoccupied with making out in a car or on a blanket somewhere. Some people have the courage to fight the beast, such a folk singer at a “hootenanny” who tries to kill it with his guitar. Then there is a group of the worst trained Army soldiers ever to wear the uniform who bunch up together and decide that they need to shoot the beast from point blank range rather than from, lets say, twenty yards away. I am sure bullets travel that far. Then when the Terror attacks they do what any highly trained group of US combat personnel do: they bunch up more and then fall to the ground in a heap and let the thing slowly creep over them.

I could go on and on but why? I encourage you to see it really. At 74 minutes it is hardly longer than your average root canal. I enjoyed it really in a masochistic sort of way. It was so horrible I will probably have to watch it once or twice more. While unarguably a terrible movie it has some legend behind it and it is what I think of as a bad movie you love to loathe. I simply cannot feel unhappy when I watch something like this. Here is a good clip someone put together for Youtube. In fact it about shows the best scenes of the movie. Enjoy it, if you can.

Info on the new docu-drama Creep about Vic Savage:

Film homepage

PDF file on Vic Savage documentary CREEP

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE/1959/BEVERLY GARLAND/LON CHANEY JR.

Posted in American Horror, Beverly Garland, Lon Chaney Jr. on July 17, 2011 by Bill Courtney
THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE
1959/Director: Roy Del Ruth/Writers: Orville H. Hampton
Cast: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr., George Macready
Lately I have been getting in lots of old – horror and sci-fi films I have always heard about but have never seen. I grew up with images in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland of films like Invisible Invaders, Gorgo, Not of this Earth (the original) and many others but never caught them on any creature feature shows while growing up. By the time VHS came out I seemed to have lost some interest in these old films and followed a different and often darker path for many years. Now suddenly I find myself drawn back to these often harmless and quaint little gems and recall how Forrest J. Ackerman handled them with such care despite their often corny stories and shabby production values. One film I finally got around to seeing for the first time at the ripe old age of fifty one is 1959’s The Alligator People. Of course before I ever see a film I have an image of the film in my mind and in the case of The Alligator People the actual movie just did not come close. Not for better or worse but the movie was not what I had conjured up in my mind based on old pictures I had seen in horror magazines. For one thing the film should probably be called The Alligator Person since that is about the total number of alligator people we deal with for the most part. There are people covered in odd shaped shrouds that we assume are also alligator people in some state of mutation but nothing much ever happens with them though the images are a bit creepy.

I liked the film (as I like almost all of the films here at The Uranium Café with a couple exceptions) for a few reasons. I love Beverly Garland. She adds something special to any role she played in during her time as a scream queen during the late 50’s and early 60’s. She can act better than most of the gals in this category. She usually played the roles straight and had no problem hamming it up in situations that a bit ludicrous (such as facing off against the celery stalk from Venus in Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World). The film also has Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his most memorable roles as a sleazy, one armed, alcoholic gator hating swamper who tries to slime himself all over Miss Garland in his swamp shack.  The film also features some of the early work of make-up maestro Dick Smith. Smith is known for his work on films like The Exorcist and Taxi Driver but he did not start off at the top. This should be kept in mind as you stare in amazement at the final result of the cobalt treatment fusing man and alligator into one‘horrifying’ monstrosity. The cinematography by 1929 Oscar winner Karl Strauss in the film is exceptional for the genre with high contrasting black and whites that gives it a film noir quality at times. Director Roy Del Ruth did not usually work in the horror sci-fi area and did well enough with a story that could, in the final analysis, only end up a fine cheese classic.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.

Garland plays Jane Marvin, a woman with a secret past trapped in her repressed memories. The wonders of modern psychology in the form of hypnosis unravel these secrets little by little. Her true identity is that of Joyce Hatton. Joyce was dumped on a train while on the way to her honeymoon by her husband Paul Webster (Richard Crane) after he receives a mysterious telegram. Could the telegram be connected to Paul’s miraculous recovery from devastating injuries he received in a plane crash during the war? Does my stating the matter in the form of question give the answer away? Joyce finally traces Paul’s possible location to a plantation style manor in the Louisiana bayous where Dr. Mark Sinclair has been conducting tissue and limb regeneration research using reptiles, alligators, humans and radiation. In these 50’s and 60’s horror/sci-films radiation was at the root of almost all evils. The house is also occupied by Paul’s protective mother, a bunch of studly guys in tight white t-shirts that keep the patients in line and drunken, bitter handy man Manon (Chaney). Manon simply hates gators and the one thing he hates more is gator people. There are great scenes of laboratories with lots of dials and lights, swamps and snakes and Paul as the result of Manon’s drunken revenge: the Alligator Man. The make up for the creature really is not as bad as most people make it to be. It does not reek of Smith’s later genius either but I sort of liked it. I sort of wish we had seen more of it to be honest and that it was a little more evil. Good guy Paul wrestling with the gator’s carnivorous instincts. But like many films from the period we are treated more to long winded dialogs and scientific theories than to actual monsters. However  The Alligator People is a film that I would watch again because I sort of like those melodramatic dialogs and scientific musings on the benefits and evils of radiation.

.

MESA OF LOST WOMEN/1953/RON ORMOND/TANDRA QUINN

Posted in American Horror, Camp-Cheese, Dolores Fuller, Ron Ormond, Tandra Quinn on July 15, 2011 by Bill Courtney
MESA OF LOST WOMEN
   
1953/Directors: Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos/Writer: Herbert Tevos

Cast: Jackie Coogan, Allan Nixon, Richard Travis, Lyle Talbot, Paula Hill, Robert Knapp, Tandra Quinn, Dolores Fuller

I will agree somewhat with what one reviewer said about Mesa of Lost Women in that it seems to be more fun to read about it and the myths and legends surrounding it than it is to actually watch. Even seasoned cheese lovers seem to have a hard time with this film. I as well have a hard time with it though I have seen it a few times. The film is pretty short, only about 70 minutes, so considering you watch it in two parts it is not that much time out of your life really. The part of this movie, for me, that really makes the experience difficult is the infamously bad film score, but more on that in a moment. The film is often said to look like something Ed Wood Jr. would have created but I am not sure. I have long felt Wood was cast as the worst film director f all time and when a bad film (and Mesa of Lost Women is a bad film) comes along it sometimes is said to look like something Ed Wood Jr. would have done. I have long felt that Wood was a better film maker than the film world in general gives him credit for. But that may be a topic for a special post some other day. Mesa of Lost W omen however does have some connections to Ed Wood Jr. in an indirect way and those tenuous connections have led to speculation that Wood was involved with the project in some way or that he and Ron Ormond worked together. Maybe we can have a quick look at some of those before moving on.

First is the narration by Lyle Talbot. It is not the way the narration is read that is a problem but what the narration has to say or to pontificate to be more precise that has made it noteworthy. In fact I am posting the introduction later in the post for the reader to study and analyze at their leisure. Talbot would work with Wood in a few projects such as Glen or Glenda, Jailbait and Plan 9 from Outer Space. The narration does have a feel that one could call Woodesque but the famous Wood Criswell narrations and monologues were still years down the road. The film also has a brief but credited appearance by Wood’s gal-pal and film regular Dolores Fuller. She appears fleetingly at the end of the film where she surveys the desert landscape from some boulders and in the process adds a question mark the film’s ending. ¡®Is this really the end?’ Sort of thing. The most apparent connection is the already mentioned film score by Hoyt S. Curtain that would reappear one year later in Ed Wood’s Jail Bait, where it was really inappropriate and annoying. The film score consist of a Spanish style guitar played by someone who cannot Spanish guitar strumming two or three chords over and over. Occasionally the score is punctuated by a couple dissonant piano chords that pushes the score from the realm of the tedious into the irritating. And it not just that the Spanish sounding music is horrendous but it played constantly even over scenes that would worked with no score at all. People sitting around a campfire talking do not need repetitive guitar chords and clangy (at best) piano poundings to make the scene work better. Well Ed Wood Jr. liked the scored and lifted it literally from Mesa to his Jail Bait film which is basically a teenage delinquent film about a girl gang that terrorizes middle class America. I read earlier a site stating that while Ed Wood Jr. did not actually work on the film his influence can be seen and felt but I need to make clear that MOLW came out in 1953, the same year that Wood’s first film Glen or Glenda came out. It is hard to image Wood being any sort of influence after only one film released the same year as the film he was supposed to actually have influenced. Well lets move past these heated issue that may never be resolved and look at who is actually credited with creating this camp classic.

The directing credits are split between Herbert Tevos and Ron Ormond. We visited Ron Ormand’s The Monster and the Stripper here at the Caf¨¦ and soon to come will be Please Don’t Touch Me and his piece of evangelical religious propaganda If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?. Not much on the net about Herbert Tevos and at IMDB he is only mentioned as co-writer and co-director of this one film. This is the man’s legacy in life. Seems to be different accounts as to how and why Ormond too over the project and what parts are his as far as the script and finished shots go. Not much on the net about Herbert Tevos and at IMDB he is only mentioned as co-writer and co-director of this one film. This is the man’s legacy in life. Seems to be different accounts as to how and why Ormond too over the project and what parts are his as far as the script and finished shots go. What seems to be clear is that project started off as Tevos’s alone and depending on who you read the project was canceled because he was too difficult to work with or that it all simply fell apart financially and artistically. Tevos seems to have vanished from the face of the earth and gave up on the project her called Tarantula and Howco Productions pulled in Ron Ormond to finish the script and shooting. There seems to be no way to tell where on man’s vision ends and the other begins but the final result is one of the most infamous z-movies of all time.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.

The story is a bit convoluted but essentially it is a mad doctor tale. The said mad scientist is Dr. Aranya and is played by Uncle Fester himself Jackie Coogan. He sports a mangled eye ball which he has no problem showing off by taking off his eyes glasses when talking to people. He has a vision that involves insects (hexapods the narrator calls them) ruling the world and in his laboratory hidden in the caves of the Zarpa Mesa in the middle of the Muerto Desert in Mexico. If you do not know basic Spanish and have no clue what Aranya and Muerto mean have no fear for the narrator and actors will fill you in with free Spanish lessons. The doctor’s experiments have so far yielded a race of supposedly super spider-woman like Tarantella (Tandra Quinn) but I am not sure exactly what super powers they actually have other than doing odd dances for drunken patrons in cantinas at night. The experiments with men have not turned out so well. We are reminded how male insects are usually puny and weak and so the male results of his crossbreeding experiments have continuously produced nothing but dwarves (like Angelo Rossitto of various Al Adamson films fame). Later in the film the dwarve’s faces pop out at us suddenly in instances of strangely inappropriate editing. Doctor’s Aranya’s experiments have drawn the attention of Mr. Masterson (Harmon Stevens) who must have read about them in the latest scientific journals and then looked up his address for the secret caves of the Lost Mesa in the local phone book. Masterson is at first intrigues and curious abut the doctor’s experiments (or else why risk the Desert of Death just to meet the guy). He has no issues with his experiments producing subservient spider women who can’t dance or grinning dwarves but he draws the line when he sees a giant spider wearing a halter top. Tarentella injects him with something that drives him insane but he still manages to escape and winds up at the local Muerto Desert insane asylum.

Now I am leaving out a crucial element to the deeper understanding of the plots twists and turns. The story we are discussing now is being told as a flash back. Or maybe it is a flashback within a flashback or two simultaneous flashbacks, one by pilot Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) and one is, possibly, a peek into the mind of Pepe the simple Mexican jeep driver. We are introduced to Grant and his girl friend Doreen (Paula Hill) at the films beginning by narrator Lyle Talbot as he ruminates over the place of the puny bipeds known as mankind vs. those of the hexapods (insects I guess though spiders, which the film is sort of about, have eight legs so shouldn’t he be talking about octapods?) in the scheme of the Universe. They are wandering around getting their brains friend in the sun but luckily an oil surveying team spots them and takes them back to camp where all the flashbacks begin. This takes us back to our synopsis where Doreen and her rich husband Jan Van Croft (Nico Lek) are being entertained at the same by the recently escaped from the loony bin Dr. Masterson (who is very well dressed, extremely polite and packing some heat) and the uncoordinated Tarantella as she does the dance of the spider woman or something. But no matter how coordinated she is the music score was never meant to dance to so I’ll cut her some slack. Masterson will not and he shoots her in cold blood and then kidnaps Doreen and Jan and they head to Jan’s waiting plane which is piloted by our hero Grant.

Also among the gang is George the male nurse (George Barrows) and manservant Wu (Samuel Wu) who can only speak in short aphorisms and sayings that sound like samples from a Confucius primer. After a failed hijacking from the dingy Masterson (any could have cold cocked this space cadet and taken the gun from him at anytime) the plane is forced to land on top of the Lost Mesa of Zarpa of course. Soon Doreen is seeing giant spiders puppets (well, one giant spider puppet actually) that look just like the one in Cat-Women of the Moon, released the same year and as far as I know had no involvement by ed Wood Jr.. George feels the need to roam around alone on top of the Mesa even after Doreen has seen huge spiders and soon is killed off. All the time extreme close-ups of a grinning Angelo Rossitto keep cropping up at the oddest moments. When a valuable comb is lost by Doreen in all the confusion Jan Van Croft keeps really pissed off and demands it be fund. Poor Wu walks off mumbling ancient proverbs into the night and suddenly Doreen realizes that while she loved Jan for his money she suddenly has lost interest in one split moment and falls for Grant who is dirt poor because he probably would never make a fuss over a lost comb like that. Wu we find out is actually working for Aranya and he reports the situation to the doctor who repays his services by having his spider girls maul him to death. Eventually of course Grant, Doreen and Masterson wind up in Aranya’s laboratory for the final scenes of everyone calling Aranya insane and he gloat a little before his inevitable demise at the hands of the good guys. As it happens the drug Tarantella gave Masterson wears off just at this moment and he throws together a couple batches of bubbly liquids laying on the table in just the right proportions to make a liquid time bomb. No, seriously. And everyone just stands and looks and waits to be blown up but Masterson tells Grant and Doreen to run for it and no one stops them or runs themselves and so soon the lab blows up. We are back to the oil camp with grant ranting abut the need to get some oil cans and blow up the Mesa. Of course no believes him. His brain is cooked. No one but Pepe or course, but he is just a jeep driver and, well, a poor, superstitious Mexican guy.

.

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE/1967

Posted in American Horror, Camp-Cheese on July 14, 2011 by Bill Courtney
MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE
1967: Director: Harold P. Warren/Writer: Harold P. Warren
Cast: Tom Neyman, John Reynold , Diane Mahree, Harold P. Warren, Jackey Neyman
Though my memory about the details is a bit faulty I have actually seen Manos: The Hands of Fate as a stand alone film and not the MST3K version that has made the film a cult classic. It must have been on VHS or perhaps some strange late night cable programming. I recently got a hold of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version and certainly the on running commentary by Joel, Tom Servo and Crow T. make the movie a more enjoyable experience. In fact the Manos episode has become one of the most popular of MST3K’s 198 episodes. This may well be due to the notion that the worse the movie the better the MST3K episode will be. I think I will clear up something before going into a commentary about this film. Certainly Manos: The Hands of Fate is a lousy movie. Amateurish and inept from the opening shots to the last. But that mean it is a film that I hate? No. And I will not doubt watch the MST3K version again late one night (though I do not know if I could watch it this again with the gags supplied by space prisoner Joel and his robot companions). I have ejected several films from my DVD player and tried again to watch them but just can’t. In the horror genre for example American Zombie has been ejected three times and that is the last. I just cannot stand it. However I have seen Manos twice now and, while it is a load of total crap, I will no doubt see it an again. In any case I just want to brag about having seen this one as a stand alone film in the same way a veteran may want to brag about having survived the storming of Normandy Beach.
There is some speculation as to whether or not the film was actually began as a bet between El Paso Texas fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren and screen writer Sterling Silliphant who was in El Paso to help with the filming of the TV series he was working on the time, Route 66. Legend has it that Warren met Silliphant and told he that film making was so easy that he, lacking any training whatsoever, could raise the money and write and direct his own film. It is said he began the script on a napkin while still seated the table with Silliphant. Another version of the story simply claims that while Silliphant and Warren did meet and discuss films no bet was ever made. Warren was so impressed and inspired by the hard working Silliphant that he simply took it on himself to create a movie. Whichever version is true the actual course of human history was little altered. 

READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.

Warren was apparently a smooth talker and businessman and managed to raise about $19,000 and recruited actors from a local theater and modeling agency. Unable to pay wages Warren promised the cast and crew and portions of the films profits. Well I think we know what they all got paid then, right? The film absolutely bombed and Warren never even broke even. If not for the MST3K episode the film would have remained perhaps in dire obscurity forever. Ed Wood Jr.’s films are often panned for their incompetence but I have honestly never thought they were all that awful. What that says about me is a matter for the Freudians perhaps but when compared to abominations like this wood’s film show some technical skill and passion that his detractors just do not want to allow him. Manos was shot with an antiquated Bell and Howe 16mm camera that had to be manually rewound after 32 seconds of filming. This is cited as a contributing factor (along with the cast and crews lack of film making experience) for the editing and continuity errors that plague the movie from start to finish. There are also issues with lighting and sound that make the film look very cheesy in the worst ways imaginable. The camera did allow sound recording and all sound was dubbed later. This does not mean a good audio track could not have been laid down in post production and I have read that Fellini added all the audio to a couple films after they were completely shot with no live sound. Here though the sound production is so shoddy as to defy belief. At times the MST3K gags focus on the fact that some of the dialog sounds like it is being done by the same person and very likely could have been. The camera work is of the poorest quality and the acting is simply laughable. And all of this is Warren’s baby as he (in Orson Welles style grandeur) has his name all over the credits as producer, writer, director and star.
The story is a simple one really and involves the barest of plot and interaction between the characters who all remain undeveloped and one dimensional. The cast is led by Warren himself as Michael the husband and father of a family who decide to take a soothing vacation in the hostile, barren deserts around El Paso Texas. I have driven through El Paso and it is not a place to stop and hang out. Since Warren was from El Paso it seems sensible to make the film there I guess. Along for the relaxing ride in the blazing sun is his wife Margaret and his daughter Debbie and the family dog, a black poodle whose name is Peppy if that ever comes up a quiz. They get lost while looking for the picturesque (I am sure) Valley Lodge. While they drive around endlessly we are treated to camera shots from the front seat of the car of bleak dirt roads and are introduced to a reoccurring couple in the film, the obligatory 60’s make out pair. In almost all of these old films like this are necking teenagers (who all look thirty at least) who are totally oblivious to the world around them. A couple hick cops keep interrupting them and when the stub complains that they aren’t doing anything the cops advises them, “well, whatever it is you ain’t doing go and don’t do it somewhere else.” That is a paraphrase but I am not about to review the film just to get the correct prepositions. Eventually Michael and family wind up at a weather worn old house and are met at the door by the only really interesting character in the film, Torgo. Torgo is played by actor John Reynolds who committed suicide not long after the films release. The suicide was related to issues Reynolds had been suffering before the making of Manos, such as a drug problem, and his involvement with the film did not influence the act. Though had it been the only factor involved it would be a reasonable explanation for suicide. Torgo stammers and stutters his lines in such a odd way that you can’t help but watch and wait and wonder if he is going to actually say anything. He has the hugest thighs in the world and walks like he was just chugged a bottle of Tequila. There was actually a reason for the huge thighs not many people may be aware of and that was that Torgo was actually supposed to have been a Satyr with goat legs. Shots all through the film show him wearing shoes but that was the original intent auteur Warren had in mind.
Torgo keeps warning the family that “The Master” will not be happy with their presence but they feel it is okay to intrude into the house of someone named the Master who has a simpering, wobbly manservant named Torgo in the middle of the El Paso wastelands. Some of what happens next is not clear to me because, to be honest, often nothing happened. The shots are static and dull and the characters often ramble or repeat dialog. If I cannot recall the sequence of events perfectly it does not matter in the big scheme of things I assure you. There is some sort of howling outside and Peppy the sissy poodle does what any lapdog does when it hears a possibly rabid wolf in a howling frenzy, it runs out the door and after it. Michaels later finds Peppy dead and he and Margaret decide to not tell Debbie the truth and so they just keep avoiding her inquiries into where her doggie is. At one point while Michael and Margaret are arguing about what they should do and not do Debbie gets up off the sofa and leaves the room, prompting them to exclaim moments later “where is Debbie!!!” They soon find her outside with a Dober Pincher, the same one that appears in a portrait of the Master on the wall of the sparsely furnished living room. And that is another issue here, the house itself is simply the sort of run down desert shack you find all over Texas usually occupied by beer drinking rednecks. It just does not have any atmosphere. There is also some scene where Torgo starts to play with Margaret’s hair and after just a little longer time than is necessary she freaks out and tells him to never do it again. It is obvious Torgo really likes Maragret.
It is discovered as well that outside the house where Debbie went looking for the now deceased Peppy there are a bunch of hibernating women tied to Grecian pillars all dressed up in gowns that look like something from an old sword and sandal film. Soon Torgo is outside and whispering sweet nothings in the ears of and fondling the bodies of the sleeping women, who are in fact the Master’s wives. Soon the Master himself is awake and is not very happy with how Torgo handles things while he and his wives are sleeping and tells Torgo that he must die and then takes his sweet time about carrying out the punishment and dumb ass Torgo just continues to hang around. Outside the women have all began wrestling in the sand over their disagreements about what to do with the family. Some say let them go. Others say kill them. Michael has since been knocked unconscious by Torgo and in a strange scene one of the Master’s wives seduces and slaps his unconscious body. The two hillbilly cops show up later and chase off the still necking teenagers and wonder if they should investigate the sound of gunfire they hear in the desert night. Torgo gets his hand burned off by the Master and runs off in the desert while the Master bust his gut laughing over the situation. When Michael shows up later with a gun he had in his car (and just finished using on a stock footage rattlesnake to protect his family) he confront the Master and empties the pistol into him to no effect and the film fades to black. In the closing scenes Michael has taken Torgo’s place but is not as interesting really and Margaret and Debbie (the little girl !!!) are dressed in togas and tied to pillars with the other wives. Does this mean the Master is a pedophile or what? Freaky. The movie ends with Michael talking to young girls lost in the desert and the closing title “THE END?” Get it? A question mark. Is this really the end or not? God let us hope so. It was certainly the end if Warren’s film career. Other than for the ending of The Blob this gimmick is the last gasp of a hack filmmaker.
Well this film is only for the special few I assure you. For those who enjoy cinematic ineptitude only. As I stated earlier I recommend the MST3K version. The character of Torgo would reappear in later episodes of MST3K for comedic relief.

.