Archive for the Forrest J. Ackerman Category


Posted in AIP, Basil Rathbone, Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hopper, Forrest J. Ackerman, John Saxon, Science Fiction-Fantasy on May 31, 2011 by Bill Courtney


1966/Director: Curtis Harrington/Writer: Curtis Harrington
Cast: John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, Florence Marly, Robert Boon, Don Eitner, Forrest J Ackerman
ALSO KNOWN AS: Flight to a Far Planet, Planet of Blood, Planet of Terror, Planet of Vampires, Space Vampire,The Green Woman
At first I was a little disappointed when I read that some of the stylistic and stunning space scenes from Curtis Harrington’s 1966 Queen of Blood were taken from a couple Russian sci-fi periods from a couple years earlier, one being Meshte Nastreshu (1963) and the other Nebo Zovyot (1960). I have never seen either film and understand they are pretty hard to locate online, though Nebo Zovyot was released in some sort of edited fashion by producer Roger Corman and then fledgling director Francis Ford Coppola. But I cannot find that version of the film either. Harrington as well was working for Corman as an upcoming director and writer when Queen of Blood was released and the copy/paste type technique of filmmaking, “borrowing” scenes from obscure, foreign films, was a common practice for films produced by Corman at AIP at the time. Other filmmakers, some mentioned here at the Café like Al Adamson, also used this technique in patching together film projects. Adamson often pieced together fragments and sections of his own films made over a period of years but sometimes, as with Horror of the Blood Monsters, did something similar as was done by Harrington and Corman with Queen Blood, and used footage from an unknown Filipino film. The difference is that Horror of the Blood Monsters looks like crap basically and Queen of Blood appears almost seamless in the way the films merge together. I admit that while watching it, before reading any reviews which is how I usually watch films and avoid sites like my own brimming over with spoilers, I noticed a few odd moments but never thought I was seeing more than one film. I think the film looks marvelous really and the sets have that stylized science fiction look and feel of the sci-fi pulp paperback covers of the period.

The film, along with Mario Bava’s lush and atmospheric 1965 masterpiece Planet of the Vampires (Terrore Nello Spazio), it could be argued, influenced some aspects of Ridley Scott’s horror/sci-fi film Alien, though as far as I know writer Dan O’Bannan has never cited the films as influences. The “subliminal” influences on Alien from Queen of Blood are astronauts responding to what appears to a signal or beacon from an intelligent life force in space and then a subsequent rescue mission that finds said alien intelligence and allows it aboard the rescuers space ship, only to have the creature begin to prey on the crew members one at a time. There is also the concept of the alien creature leaving pulsating, gooey eggs behind and had the sixties had the vision of franchised sequels no doubt Queen of Blood could have spawned at least based on the ending of the film where a beaming assistant (played by Forrest J. Ackerman) holds a tray of slimy alien eggs he is carrying back to earth for research purposes.

The general story takes place in the future world of 1990 at the International Institute of Space Technology which is chaired over by the brilliant and esteemed Dr. Farraday, played by then AIP regular Basil Rathbone. Astronaut Laura James (Judith Meredith) has detected signals from deep space that are soon interpreted by Dr. Farraday as a message from an alien life form that they are traveling so that the two species may meet one another. Later a video log Laura intercepts shows that the aliens are in distress and have crash landed on the planet Mars. A rescue mission is put together quickly comprised of Laura, Paul Grant (played with amusing method style acting by a young Dennis Hopper), and crew commander and voice of science Anders Brockman (Robert Boon). Left behind and none to happy about it is Laura’s boyfriend Allen Brenner (John Saxon) who nonetheless supports his better half as she ventures off to the red planet on the rescue mission. The ship of course encounters trouble in the form of a sunspot and radiation and in the process loses critical fuel supplies. They manage to find the alien space craft and even find a dead alien onboard and as any person in a similar situation would do just leave it there when they leave.

Somehow Farraday concludes that the aliens must have abandoned their mother ship on a rescue ship and that the ship is somewhere on the surface of Mars. This is just the excuse Allen Brenner and pal Tony Barrata (Don Eitner) have been waiting for and they convince Farraday to allow them to go on a rescue mission that will take them to Phobos, one of Mars’ moons, and from there they will go to the Planet in a small rescue craft whose fuel will be conserved because of the gravity on Phobos or something. This is all explained in long winded and overly complicated classic sci-fi lingo and even a blackboard drawing that is priceless.

After they have been on Phobos for a while and the launch window for the right area Mars is getting closer they look out their window and see the alien spacecraft they are all looking for. Damn. Now how much more lucky can you get. The alien escape craft had landed on Phobos and Tony and Allen take off (with less than a half hour before the launch window is closed) to investigate. Onboard they find a comatose, green alien woman and lug her back to the two man Meteor space craft. In one of the more flawed scenes of the film they decide to do a coin toss to see who has to stay behind in the alien ship while the other takes the Meteor to Mars. Later aboard the Oceano we discover that Allen Brenner won the bet, much to Laura’s relief. But basically the Tony Barrata character is written out of the story completely. It is a serious loose end and I wish his fate would have been more resolved, even if it meant the likable character had died in some fashion. Well it is not the end of the world and soon the Oceano get the fuel it needs and blasts off and is traveling back to Earth with a the alien female as its new passenger.

And what a strange and at times downright spooky passenger she is. Played by TV star Florence Marley the alien is human in appearance except for her green flesh. When she first comes around and sees the three men of the crew her smile is a combination of uncontrolled lust and hunger, yet when her gaze finally rests on Laura James it quickly turns to revulsion. It is decided that a male crew member will watch over and Paul Grant gets the honors. Hopper’s early pre-Easy Rider performances are usually pretty restrained and easy to watch and here is really at times rather charming. He tries to instruct the alien in the use of eating utensils but she does not want to eat, and does not want to drink water even after Paul shows her how to suck on a straw. She reacts violently when Anders approaching with the biggest blasted syringe I have ever seen to take a blood sample and knock it from his hands and breaks it. He seems sort of bewildered as to why the alien creature, surrounded by total strangers, is adverse to him jamming this elephant needle in her arm. Later when the crew is asleep we learn what nourishment the creature rally wants when she hypnotizes Paul and drains him of all his blood. He is found dead the next morning and she is sleeping off her night’s feeding. What follows is an interesting exchange between Anders, who is actually sympathetic to the creature, and Allen, who sees the creature as a murderer and danger. Anders seems to feel Allen is trying t impose his human sense of morality onto an alien being who may not have the same moral sense as a human being and Allen is disgusted and afraid of the creature who just killed his friend by draining all the blood out of his body. Anders wins, with Dr. Farraday’s approval, the debate and the creature is left free and fed some sort of plasma solution. Now I am all one for these high browed ethical debates that go around in circles about the nature of good and evil, as much as the next guy anyway, but Allen has a point: the thing just killed a crew member. Maybe restraining her or locking her in the supply closet is not a bad idea. And Anders himself realizes this soon enough when he becomes the next victim.

Laura and Allen find her feeding on his dead body and in a brief conflict the alien receives some scratches on her shoulder which prove to be fatal for her as she bleeds to death. Secreting green blood all over the space ship floor. The films concludes with Laura and Allen finding batches of disgusting, pulsating eggs all over the ship but there is no time to destroy them as eager an excited Farraday comes aboard to gather the eggs and alien body and take them all back to earth, where we can only guess what will happen next.

The film achieves an atmospheric quality not too common to American science fiction films of the period and the end is result is all the more interesting since the film was, as stated, patched together using footage from two Soviet films. It should be noted here that the year before Harrington had worked with Corman and AIP on another film using footage from yet another Russian made film (one I actually have here in undubbed or subtitled Russian) called Planeta Bur. The AIP film was called Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and starred Basil Rathbone as well as the space center commander who watched from the control room as the Russian actors speak dubbed English on the surface of Venus. Sadly I have never been able to finish the Russian film due to the fact I get bored watching a film where I cannot understand the dialog or plot, but it is a nice looking movie and I would definitely like to see more Russian sci-fi from the 1960’s. I guess these patchwork AIP films are as good a place to start as any until some high quality prints are subbed into English someday.



Posted in Al Adamson, American Horror, Camp-Cheese, Exploitation, Forrest J. Ackerman, Lon Chaney Jr., Mad Doctors and Scientists, Russ Tamblyn, Soundtrack Samples on May 23, 2011 by Bill Courtney
1971/Director: Al Adamson/Writers: William Pugsley, Samuel M. Sherman
Cast: J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr., Anthony Eisley, Regina Carrol, Zandor Vorkov, Angelo Rossitto, Russ Tamblyn, Jim Davis, John Bloom, Forrest J Ackerman
AKA: Blood Freaks (working title), Blood of Frankenstein, Satan’s Bloody Freaks, Teenage Dracula, The Blood Seekers, The Revenge of Dracula
Dracula vs Frankenstein is certainly one of Al Adamson’s more memorable offerings. Released by his and partner’s Sam Sherman’s Independent-International Pictures company in 1971 the movie is a “high point” for Adamson’s technique of joining together previous films projects and in some cases (as with the utterly bizarre Horror of the Blood Monster) inserting unrelated film footage from other  films entirely. With Dracula vs Frankentstein the effect is a little more cohesive than he is usually given credit for though the story and production are pretty shoddy in typical Adamson style. I am saying that as an Adamson/Sherman production it is one of the better projects. The movie is entertaining enough in a midnight movie way and is lots of fun for fans of bad movies though others would be well advised to stir clear of this debacle.
The film has some notable once greats in the cast. Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story) has an out of place role as a biker. If the character seems reminiscent of his character Anchor from Satan Sadists it is more than a coincidence since scenes from a prior Adamson/Sherman project, a sequel to Satan Sadists, was used. That project got shelved for a couple years and some footage wound up in Dracula vs Frankenstein along with newly shot scenes where Tamblyn and crew appear noticeably older and heavier. Here the biker characters seem to pop up to intimidate one of the female characters once in a while for no explainable reason and simply wind up hacked to death by veteran horror star Lon Chaney Jr. who appears here in his final film role. Chaney looks weak and feverish most of the time and would die a year later from liver failure and beri beri. Also appearing in his last film role is screen bad guy J. Carol Naish whose film career, like Chaney’s, goes back to the 30’s. Naish works from a wheelchair throughout the film and was in such feeble condition he could not remember his lines. He read from cue cards and in some scenes you can see only one eye scrolling left to right as he read because his glass eye would not move. Naish would also be dead within a year. In a small role is Famous Monsters of Filmland founder and editor Forrest J. Ackerman who gets his back snapped by the freaky looking Frankenstein Monster. And in a less mentioned role is tough character actor Jim Davis (Jock Ewing of Dallas) who plays a police detective.

The whole project was began in 1968 as The Blood Seekers and that time Naish and Chaney played a mad scientist and his mute, idiotic assistant. Seems mad scientists can only enlist the help of retarded cripples in the genre films of the 60’s and 70’s. The misguided though brilliant doctor sought the secret of eternal life to help mankind but in the process had to kill off pretty young girls to perfect his formula.  Their is always some blasted snag to every mad doctor’s benevolent plan of saving mankind it seems. The film didn’t go anywhere and was canned but later Adamson wanted to revive the project and with Sherman decided to releases the film as a Dracula and Frankenstein film. The story gets blurry here really for me and Sherman had promised a film called Dracula vs Frankenstein and had a release date scheduled with distributors and was unable to actually release the film because it was far from finished. Instead he got his hands on Paul Naschy’s debut film that was a small hit in Spain called La Macrca del Hombre Lobo (maybe The Mark of the Werewolf). The film was originally shot in 3D and was released in the states as Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror though the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Frankentstein. The film was a bit of a success though and Sherman likes to take some credit for Naschy’s soon to come success in the field of 70’s Euroshockers. I guess all this filled contractual agreements and allowed Adamsons to get back to assembling the mess that would become the film this post is about. Another film of the same title was released in 1972 by Jess Franco and the two are sometimes confused by people seeking to see one or the other. And to make it all still more confusing there is a 3rd film with the same title released in 1969. That one is actually a Spanish film that was the last role of Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still).
Unfinished film projects seem to be the thing that fueled Adamson the most and many of his movies were patched together over a period of years and the haphazardness of the end product is what gives the films their notoriety or appeal depending on the predisposition of the viewer. Things did not work out with Sherman’s original choice for Dracula, John Carradine-who had starred in Adamson’s bewildering Blood of Dracula’s Castle-and so to play the count they enlisted someone with absolutely so acting credibility whatsoever. Adamson selected former stock broker Robert Engle for no better reason than he liked the way he looked for the role. I thought he looked like a pimp myself. With the help of Forry Ackerman changed his name to Zander Vorkov  (a combination of Anton Szandor LaVey and Boris Karloff). This was supposed to be in the tradition of film greats like Karloff and Lugosi who changed their names to something dramatic but Engel’s comic book name is the least of problems with him and his horrible performance. He really seems to want to try and be an actor and it must have put the zap on him to see his name in the credits as “Introducing Zander Vorkov”. Luckily he made only one more brief appearance in Adamson’s next film Brain of Blood as a Muslim priest or something who dies in the first few scenes then he vanished from the world of film forever.
The story is very confusing and at times simply incoherent. This is in part due to the conflicts in the two scripts (there is orphaned dialog from the first script about some “parchment” that never appears in the film at no point) and mismatched film stock as well as the poor quality of filmmaking itself. The opening credits are sort of cool though and the Moog laden music score by William Lava is listenable at times. The opening scenes shows Dracula unearthing the remains of the Frankenstein monster (played by John Bloom who would also appear along side Vorkov in Brain of Blood as yet another monster) and killing the night watchman. This is the only person Dracula drinks blood from in the entire picture. I am thinking that the action here takes place where the rest of the film does and that is around the Los Angeles area. Exactly why the Frankenstein monster wound up buried in a grave in southern California is not explained. Maybe the opening action takes place in Transylvania or some spooky place but I am not sure and do not see any reason to review the film once more to be clear. If I am mistaken just smack me a couple times. The scene ends abruptly and soon a girl is strolling along the beach and the next thing you know her head is lobbed off by the imbecilic Groton (Chaney in a role that echoes back to his excellent portrayal of Steinbeck’s Lenny in Of Mice and Men because Groton cuddles a small puppy throughout the film). Suddenly the story cuts to Las Vegas where we are treated to an entire song and dance routine by Judith Fountain (played by Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol). We soon discover that her sister Jodie has come up missing in the Venice district of LA. and she leaves to see what information she can gather. Cynical and life weary Sgt. Martin (Jim Davis) is little help as his spouts off his nihilistic diatribe and grumbles that the “world is a dark place” and hits the viewer over the head with a hammer as he clicks the overhead light off.
Judith is off on her own and in the hippie side of town alone and looking for Jodie. A couple hippies of note is future trash film maker Greydon Clark as Strange and Anthony Eisley (Samual Fuller’s The Naked Kiss) who plays Mike, a slightly older and patronizingly wiser hippie guy with a really weird necklace. Judith asks the bartender of a local hippie dive about her sister and after he passes this information onto his boss (none other than Russ Tamblyn as the biker Rico) he is told to slip her an LSD mickey and soon she is freaking out and hallucinating and dancing around in weird clothes. Why Rico felt he had to give acid to a woman who is asking about Jodie remains a mystery since he had nothing to do with her death. The spaced out Judith aided by Strange and his girlfriend Samantha. Now I should mention that earlier in the film (or maybe it is a little later, I totally forget) Strange and Samantha had taken a tour of the “funhouse” of Doctor Duryea (Naish) and met the lovable midget (or dwarf or little person) Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto who would also appear in Brain of Blood with Vorkov and Bloom, and he would again play a midget). The guy is really annoying and eats the dollar bill that Strange probably had to panhandle all morning for. The funhouse is a collection of torture instruments and murder recreations that are almost impossible to make out because the lighting is so damned bad. In many cases Adamson elected to use natural lighting to ill effect. Maybe he did not elect to or more likely did not know better. Adamson did not have future Deer Hunter cinematographer Vilomos Zsigmond aboard this time to help out as he did with other projects like Horror of the Blood Monsters, Blood of Ghastly Horror and Psycho A Go-Go, though little in those “works” show much of Zsigmond’s skill anyway.
Guests to the funhouse are treated to Duryea’s blatherings about illusions and reality and all sorts of meaningless mumbo jumbo, while all the time the good doctor is using the the funhouse as a front for his real purposes. In the basement which is reached by an elevator (this is confusing since the funhouse rests on top of a pier on the beach with trap doors that open directly over the beach itself) he is carrying on the experiments as his calling, as the last of the Frankensteins, to… er… well… I am not sure what his calling is. It has something to do with the original story for Blood freaks I think, before Naish was actually a descendent of the Frankenstein’s, who is now called Duryea as he was adopted by the Duryea family in an attempt to explain the original name of Naish’s character from the first film. He is seeking some drug that will benefit mankind by endowing people with eternal youth. As mentioned earlier he must kill attractive young girls to get the base for his serum or whatever. And the kills must be in a state of total fear so that the correct balance of chemicals is produced. This is where the mute and idiotic Groton comes in. Normally passive and withdrawn he becomes a frothing maniac after the doctor injects him with a drug that unleashes the killer in him. He then goes out to the beach area around the pier on a regular basis and chops off girl’s heads. Duryea is also assisted by the dwarf/midget/little fella Grazbo in his research.
Well, one night while Duryea is hanging out in the funhouse alone when out of the shadows walks Count Dracula and we are treated to some of the most highhanded and ludicrous dialog of the entire film. A strange effect is added to Vorkov’s voice and it is all warbly and echoy. I guess this is suppose to sound eerie and supernatural but in fact it sounds rather like someone’s voice being amateurishly processed through some audio filter. The dialog that takes place in the “underground” lab is too outlandish to go into. There is stuff about the Duryea being crippled by some rival doctors or something and one in particular is Dr. Beaumont (Ackerman) who also was responsible for burying the Frankenstein monster-after all his associates died in some unnamed epidemic and are conveniently written out of the script before we ever see them-in the graveyard we saw at the beginning (so it must have been LA and not Transylvania) and that Dracula now has the beast and Duryea must continue with what he is destined to do as a Frankenstein. That is to, what? Do something with the deformed freak. And he has to hurry as the Zornov comet is passing close to earth on that same night fro the first time in like a hundred years or so and the Zornov comet is important for some reason. As dracual looks out the window we get to see the Zornov comet and I think it is best you just have a look for yourself at this thing. Beaumont is later killed by the monster in a classic scene for any fan of famous Monsters of Filmland. I found some scenes from FMF and posted them below and you can see Forry doing the best acting in the film.
To release us from the mounting tension and suspense Adamson cuts to a groggy Judith who was taken by Strange and Samantha to the local over 30 hippie who can still be trusted a little Mike. Mike introduces himself and informs her, after her asking where she is, that “this is my pad.” They quickly conclude that Dr. Duryea’s funhouse is the focal point of the all the disappearances and it is this scene that Judith makes mention of the “parchment” that Jodie had gotten from there. What parchment? Jodie’s head is hacked off within moments of her character being introduced. There is no friggin’ parchment in this movie but maybe there was from Blood Freaks. Who the hell cares.
They take off to the funhouse and miss the slaughter of Samantha and Rico and his gang by Groton, which again takes place under the pier of the funhouse. The bodies are later found by Strange and Sgt. Martin who finally figures he should go down to the beach and look into all these missing person reports. Earlier Mike and Judith had managed to escape from Dr. Duryea’s evil clutches after they found Jodie there with her head sown back on and a blank stare on here face. Grazbo dies a pretty cool death when he falls through the trapdoor onto Groton’s ax. Duryea winds up decapitated by the show’s guillotine and Judith runs out to the roof and soon Sgt martin gets to do hid job and shoots Groton with out warning or Miranda rights.  The ending that now follows was discarded by Adamson and it is available, I think, on the Troma DVD release of the film. Basically the film ends with Judith and Mike alive and staring at each other as Dracula and the monster die off and turn to dust. Adam son was not satisfied with the ending and decided to re-shoot it… but not all the cast was available for the re-shoot, including John Bloom as the monster and Anthony Eisley as Mike the hippie. No problem to get a stand in for Bloom who was covered in make up any way. Harder for Eisley, so Adamson actually stood in for him himself and had Dracula zap him in the back with his evil ring (whose designer receives mention in the opening credits for some reason) as he ran away. It is a totally comical scene with low grade animation and frozen frames. It is during this sequence also that Frankenstein starts battling Dracula in the confusion and some we actually have some combat between the two monsters and it continues a little later as well in some of the worst lit scenes in a movie filled with horrible lighting.
The film was shot on 16mm film stock and when the final confrontation between the monsters occurs it is all shot in a thick wooded area using natural lighting. The action is often washed out and the sunlight cutting through the tree leaves and branches does not help at all. In any case, the final scenes of the newly shot ending are interesting enough as Dracula rip the monster limb from limb concluding with its spongy looking head. But the fight went on a little too long and Dracula is too far from his lair as the sun rises higher and higher. He makes it back within feet of the entrance and starts to dissolve in a scene that contains the best special effects of the film but that is not saying much of course. In the tradition of older films that would cut away from a transformation then back Adamson switches between shots of the sun rising and then back to Dracula in various stages of decay. Here Vorkof has the opportunity to display the breadth of his acting ability as his thickly made up face dissolves into Styrofoam.
I can certainly recommend Dracula vs Frankenstein to fans of campy midnight movie fare. Others are warned to steer clear. I have actually come to like Adamson’s work and find some of it more watchable than a lot of the grade-z material I have sat through recently. Like Ed Wood Jr, who I repeat was not the worst filmmaker of all time by far, Adamson seemed to possess some vision but lacked some fundamental filmmaking or story telling skills to bring it all together in a cohesive package. But that’s does not mean he work is void of talent or at least watchable and enjoyable moments, even if those moments are often campy and unintentionally comical. There will certainly be more Adamson reviews here as I have about a dozen or so projects he was involved with. The next one will either be Brain of Blood of the unbelievable Horror of the Blood Monsters.