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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review of 'Dick Tracy Versus Cueball'




By Doug Gibson


The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 5o worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was a popular a generation ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the trailer above!




Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review of PRC's 'Dead Men Walk'


Dead Men Walk, 1943, B&W, 64 minutes. Producers Releasing Corp. Directed by Sam Newfield. Starring George Zucco as Dr. Lloyd Clayton and Elwyn Clayton, Mary Carlisle as Gayle Clayton, Nedrick Young as Dr. David Bentley, Dwight Frye as Zolarr, Fern Emmett as Kate and Hal Price as the sheriff. Schlock-meter rating: Six stars out of 10.

This 1940s PRC cheapie about a vampire who rises from the grave and attempts to destroy his niece to spite his brother is a lot of fun. It stars horror great Zucco in dual roles; as occultist brother Elwyn who is murdered by his good brother, a doctor named Lloyd, also played by Zucco.

Alas, the evil Elwyn's death fails. Elwyn has learned how to resurrect himself as a vampire. With the help of demented servant Zolarr (Frye in a great, meaty role), he begins to murder. A woman driven crazy by grief (Emmett) suspects him, but no one takes her seriously. Once she starts to gain credibility, she is killed off by Zolarr. Elywn's chief target, however, is revenge against his brother. He appears to the startled doctor, and promises to suck the lifeblood from his beautiful niece Gayle (Carlisle). She's engaged to another doctor (Young) who, as Gayle starts to wither away, begins to suspect Lloyd of trying to kill her. There are rumors all over town that Lloyd killed Elwyn and the townspeople, spurred by the murders, start to talk vigilantism. The sheriff blusters a lot, but accomplishes little. Eventually, there is a showdown between the undead Elwyn and brother Lloyd.

The low budget, of course, seriously hampers the film. The FXs are virtually non-existent. Zucco's Elwyn seems to fade away rather than pass through walls. The lighting is very poor. The script weak. Many of the characters are stereotypes. There's the rich doctor, the rich young couple, the crazy old lady, the blustery sheriff, the very superstitious townspeople. The acting, except for Zuco and Frye, is quite poor. The direction, by cheapie legend, Newfield, is pedestrian.

However, the plot is quite unique for a vampire film of that era. Film writer Frank Dello Stritto, writing in Cult Movies 27, describes Dead Men Walk as the best plotted vampire film of that era. However, Dello Stritto agrees the finished product is mediocre.

Nevertheless, Zucco is magnificent. The doctors are not cast as twins. It's amazing how different Zucco appears as the respected Dr. Lloyd Clayton and the balding, gaunt brother Elwyn. His timing and delivery is first rate. Frye's Zucco is menacing, and watching it is bittersweet, since the talented horror star died of a heart attack a few months after completing the film. Students of the early horror films, particulary Poverty Row Bs, should own Dead Men Walk. It's easily available on VHS or DVD.

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors



By Doug Gibson

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors, 1966, Color, 82 minutes, American General Pictures. Directed by David L. Hewitt. Starring John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Rochelle Hudson, Roger Gentry, Ron Doyle, Karen Joy, Vic Magee and Mitch Evans. Schlockmeter rating: Four stars out of 10.

This David Hewitt cheapie anthology of horror tales of questionable scariness is legendary for the panning it has received from critics of the genre. The critics are right; this a poor film, with an incredibly low budget. For the entire five tales, I counted only two sound stages. In one case, to save money I suppose, a sound stage was darkened in an unsuccesful effort to make it appear to be a London slum.

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors was essentially an attempt to cash in on the horror anthology craze of the mid 1960s; two better films of that genre that come to mind are Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Black Sabbath. According to reviewer Tom Weaver in Cult Movies 17, Gallery of Horrors was shot for either $60,000 (that seems too high) or $20,000, or even $15,000! The narrator for the five tales is the ubiquitious John Carradine. He stands in front of (I kid you not) a rigid screen mat of a castle and shoreline. The mat only takes up half the screen, so the producers filled the other half with a blue background.

The acting, except for Carradine, is atrocious from all the performers, including, unfortunately, Chaney Jr. Actress Karen Joy is at least beautiful. The tales are poorly developed. Reviewer John Stanley in Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again described the tales as the "scrapings of the horror barrel." There are "twist endings" but the lazy screenwriting (or perhaps it's the low budget) never allow the "payoff climax" to develop. A viewer will wait for the telegraphed twist at the end but just as it starts, the segment ends without exploring the consequences of the plot.

Like any low-budget poverty issue, the film is full of stock footage. According to Weaver's review, stock footage of castles and background music was lifted from the popular Edgar Allen Poe films of that era and other American International pictures. The special effects are laughable. Animated blood sweeps over the screen clumsily in an effort to end segments, and "fires" dance around stock footage of castles.

None of the five tales is particularly interesting, but some are less mediocre than others. The first concerns a couple (Gentry and Joy) who buy an old house in Salem. They find an old, supposedly 17th century clock (that type of clock did not exist in that era), re-set it, and an old man (Carradine, in the film's best performance, which isn't saying much)appears. He asks for an old family. The husband learns the family contained a witch (who never appears on screen by the way), and that Carradine and the witch are likely back from the dead because the haunted clock was re-started. The husband stops the clock, and Carradine burns up. The twist ending has another couple buying the house, setting the clock, and "presto," Carradine reappears.

The second tale is the worst. It concerns a vampire-like creature marauding London slum residents in the 18th century. The twist ending is embarrassing. The third tale may be the best. It had potential. A cuckolded living dead zombie doctor, murdered by his wife and corrupt colleague, returns with his faithful servant to exact revenge. Again, the low budget destroys any potential for surprise, and there is a laughably long far away stock shot of a carriage racing to the doctor's castle that seems to go on forever.

The fourth tale stars Lon Chaney Jr, as a former colleague of Dr. Frankenstein. Chaney's character is now a respected medical professor. With the help of two students, he resurrects a murderer. It's sad to watch the bloated semi-drunk, elderly Chaney stumble through his role. As Weaver points out, Chaney neither looks nor acts like a doctor and should have played the revived corpse (played by Vic Magee). Also, though it seems a colleague of Dr. Baron Von Frankenstein would be living in the 19th century, Chaney's character checks his wristwatch and answers a ringing 1960s-model phone in this episode. The final episode is a poor twist on the Dracula legend that ends with Jonathan Harker (Gentry)turning into a werewolf and turning on Count Alucard, played by Mitch Evans, hands-down the worst Dracula in screen history. Despite the poor quality of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, it's worth a rental if it can be found. It's an example of the kind of low-budget, harmless, sometimes fun schlock that played drive-ins and on Chiller Theater on TV in the 1960s and 1970s.

Notes: According to Weaver, Carradine received $3,000 and Chaney Jr. $1,500. Also, Weaver said Carradine was supposed to play Count Alucard, but had to leave to fulfill another acting commitment. Gallery of Horrors was the last speaking role Chaney Jr. had. Like many low-budget films, the film had many titles. Others include The Blood Suckers, Gallery of Horrors, Return From the Past (it's TV title) and even Alien Massacre! In 1981 it was released to video as Gallery of Horror by Academy Home Entertainment. How disappointed many teens must have been after renting this "unrated" title with a misleading cover, thinking it was a very gory horror flick, and discovering a hokey, tame unscary G-rated film! Today the film can be purchased via www.moviesunlimited.com and is often available at ebay for auction.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION: A Volkswagen disguised as a giant spider!

By Steve D. Stones

The 1970s was a time in low budget filmmaking when directors attempted to bring back the giant bug craze of the 1950s. Kingdom of The Spiders, Bug, Squirm, Empire of The Ants and The Giant Spider Invasion were just a few of these films in the 1970s to use the theme of giant insects.



Bill Rebane, who brought us the 1960s cult classic(k) Monster-A-Go-Go, directed The Giant Spider Invasion. Alan Hale, who played the skipper on TV’s Gilligan’s Island, is typecast as a local Wisconsin sheriff. Hale also appeared as a sheriff in the early 60s cult classic The Crawling Hand. Other veteran actors include Barbara Hale of TV’s Perry Mason and Steve Brodie of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

A meteor crashes near a farm in Wisconsin. A farmer and his alcoholic wife soon discover their cattle are being slaughtered. The farmer picks up a small meteor fragment and takes it back to his home to crack it open. When he’s finally able to crack the meteor open, a larger spider comes out with fragments of diamonds. Soon, the home is infested with spiders. The farmer collects all the diamonds he can find in several meteor fragments he smashes open. He hopes to get rich from the diamonds.

Later, the farmer discovers a dead body in the field, which was attacked by spiders. He decides not to report the body to the sheriff, but instead buries it. He leaves his wife later that evening to fool around with his mistress who lives nearby.

While retiring to bed that night, the farmer’s wife discovers a giant spider in her dresser. She runs out of the home and into a shed, where she is attacked and killed by an even larger spider. The spider used for this scene reminds me of the cheesy rubber spider used in countless 1950s science fiction films, such as Cat Women of The Moon, Queen of Outer Space and Missile To The Moon.

Eventually the farmer is attacked and killed by the largest mother spider. Scenes of the farmer and other victims being attacked by the mother spider look similar to the victims being attacked by the giant carpet shag in The Creeping Terror. Victims appear to shove themselves into the mouth of the spider, instead of allowing the spider to pick up the victim with its teeth. This is an obvious special effects blunder from not having the capability to use digital technology at the time, or some type of animation effect.

There are a number of hilarious sequences in the film. The sequence of people running across a baseball field as the spider is chasing after them is perhaps the funniest. The giant spider appears to be made of paper mache. Most sequences of the giant spider are so quick that the viewer hardly has time to make out what it is made of. That is likely intentional.

Michael J. Weldon says in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film that the mother spider was attached to a Volkswagen beetle and driven around during filming (get it, a bug driving a bug?). The director Bill Rebane confirms this in an interview on the DVD of the film put out by Retromedia.

I would say that The Giant Spider Invasion borrows mostly from two 1950s films, The Blob and Tarantula. It’s a mixture of giant spiders and falling meteors. If you’re interested in seeing or purchasing this film, I recommend that you seek out the DVD version put out by Retromedia. It includes an introduction by Son-of-Ghoul washing a midget at a car wash. A comic book is also contained inside the DVD case. It’s a copy of the original comic book of the film that was distributed in theaters in the mid-1970s when the film premiered. You can also watch the film at Hulu.com. Keep a can of bug killer on hand for those pesky spiders!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Earth Versus the Spider


Earth Versus the Spider, 1958, 73 minutes, black & white, American International Pictures, directed by Bert I. Gordon, produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff. Starring Ed Kemmer as Mr. Kingston, June Kenny as Carol Flynn, Eugene Persson as Mike Simpson, Gene Roth as Sheriff Cagle, Hank Patterson as Hugo the Janitor, Merritt Stone as Mr. Flynn. (Also known as The Spider) Schlock-Meter rating: 7 1/2 stars out of 10.

It would have been fun to have been alive and old enough to go to the movies in the 1950s. Imagine being able to see The Incredible Shrinking Man, I was a Teenage Werewolf, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the Puppet People, and so many others on a big screen. Earth Versus the Spider who have also been a treat to see as well. Okay, it’s pretty lame, stuffed full of stock characters and a lame looking big spider (courtesy of the all-time cheap FX winner, Mr. BIG, Bert I. Gordon), and the web in the “cave” looks like rope (and why doesn’t it stick to and trap those kids who travel all over it?).

But the film is fun to watch, and that garners it a 7 and a half on the Schlock-Meter. The plot concerns a giant spider who lives in a cave outside a small town. One day a typical dad disappears while driving home with a gift for his typical high school-age daughter. She and her typical high school boyfriend search for him in a typical cave and escape the spider. A typical beer-bellied sheriff laughs at their story, but is persuaded by a typical high school science teacher “egghead” to check things out. They encounter the spider and supposedly kill it with massive doses of DDT. But typically, the spider awakes in the high school gym during a typical school dance. Typically, the spider kills a typical janitor too stupid to run. Typically, the typical girl and her typical boyfriend have returned to the typical cave to find the gift dear old typical dad bought her (she left it there). Typically, the big spider returns to the cave and there’s a battle royal (or the type you can get for these type of low-budget films).

The spider makes a cool, annoying high-pitched whine whenever it is close and sounds a lot like several dozen mental patients screaming at once. The spider’s victims are rubber fake corpses with drawn faces made to look as if the blood has been sucked out of them. By all means rent Earth Versus the Spider. Sure it’s lame, but there’s hardly a dull moment in this tame predecessor to today’s Scream movies. It’s a look at bargain filmmaking generations ago.

-- Doug Gibson

Plan9Crunch is on Sci-Fi Surplus!

Here at Plan9Crunch, we want to give a big shout out to the online blog.audioshow SciFi Surplus http://scifisurplus.com Our blog was given some time on audiocast SciFiSurplus's Audiocast115 http://scifisurplus.com/115 We kick in for a couple of minutes at about 36:50 but listen to it all. Topics include Spider Man, Firefly, Avatar, James Cameron and we even think we heard "Jar Jar" mentioned!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review of the classic Vincent Price British horror film 'The Conqueror Worm'

The Conqueror Worm (Also known as Witchfinder General)1968, United Kingdom, American International release, Color, about 88 minutes. Stars: Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, Hilary Dwyer as Sara, Rupert Davies as John Lowes, Robert Russell as John Stearne and Ian Ogilvy as Richard Marshall. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

Ever wanted to see how really evil a person Vincent Price could portray in a film? Go rent, or buy, the Conqueror Worm. This is a magnificent film about 17th Century England and witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (Price) who is the law in a war-torn land. The plot: The sadistic Hopkins and his henchman Stearne (Russell) terrorize towns by executing “witches” and collecting cash for their services. In Brandiston, they torture an aged preacher. In order to save the preacher’s life, his niece Sara (Dwyer) agrees to be Hopkins’ sex slave. But after Stearne rapes Sara, Hopkins loses interest in Sara and kills her uncle.

Back from the wars arrives Sara’s intended Richard Marshall (Ogilvy) and when he finds out how his fiance has been treated, he swears vengeance and goes after the witch hunter, who lays a trap for Marshall. I won’t give away the climax, except to say that the intensity of the last scene has been matched by few cult films.

Atmosphere keeps The Conqueror Worm moving at a fast pace. The characters seem believable, whether they are in a pub, at war or witnessing the execution of a “witch.” Critic Danny Peary describes Price as never having been better. Peary also talks about the triumph of evil, which “will emerge victorious” despite whether Hopkins or Marshall kills the other. In the film, the viewer is jolted into a sense of overwhelming pessimism of the situation. One wonders at the end if the protagonist (Marshall) is really any better than Hopkins.

Credit to the gloomy but effective mood of Conqueror Worm goes to the director Michael Reeves. He was a major new talent in Britain in the 1960s. Besides Conqueror, he directed The Castle of the Living Dead, 1964, and The Sorcerers, 1967, with Boris Karloff. Sadly, Reeves took his own life in 1969.
-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, January 16, 2010

THE SLIME PEOPLE: Up From The Bowels of The Earth!


By Steve D. Stones

For every decade since the silent era, I have a favorite low-budget monster movie. For the 1960s, I would say that The Slime People ranks as one of my all time favorites, next to Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. The Slime People has everything a fan of low-budget monster movies can ask for, such as: strange creatures, wooden acting, two beautiful girls, lots of foggy atmosphere and a fruitcake TV reporter, just to name a few.

Robert Hutton stars and directs the film. He went on to star in another 1960s cult film, They Came From Beyond Space. Joseph F. Robertson, a marine buddy of director Ed Wood, served as the producer of The Slime People. The film also stars lovely Susan Hart, who went on to star in War Gods of The Deep with Vincent Price, and Les Tremayne, star of the 1950s H.G. Wells classic War of The Worlds.

The film opens with TV reporter Hutton trying to land a small plane at a private Los Angeles airport. He is advised over the plane radio not to land because of a thick fog blanketing the sky. Eventually he lands to
find the airport completely abandoned. Soon, a science professor and his two young daughters find Hutton in their car at the airport and convince him that all radio and telephone communications are down. Hutton gets into the car and leaves with the group.

Hutton is shocked to see the devastation of destroyed buildings and dead bodies in the streets of Los Angeles. He convinces the group to go to his television studio where they might be able to find some news films on the devastation and reports of the Slime People, who have caused the
devastation. On route to the TV station, the professor describes how the Slime People have built a wall of fog around the city and how they have come from the bowels of the earth beneath.

The group watches several newsreels at the TV station confirming the devastation and activities of the Slime People. A drunken vagabond forces the group to leave the screening room. They are greeted outside by some of the slime creatures carrying lances. Hutton and the group run into another TV studio and barricade themselves in the studio. A young marine who wants to help the group meets them. The marine tries to get fresh with Bonnie, one of the professor’s daughters, while the rest of the group sleeps.

Hutton tries to establish communication with the outside world by broadcasting a message from the group over television transmission. The attempt fails, and the group decides to leave the TV station in search of a better location.

The group encounters an eccentric writer, played by Les Tremayne, who joins them on their journey. Looters attack them as they drive through the neighborhood streets of Los Angeles. The writer is eventually attacked and killed by the slime people.

Soon they arrive at a grocery store and barricade themselves in a meat locker. The professor comes up with the idea to use common table salt to pour over sections of the fog walls to break through the wall. While leaving the store to test this idea, the professor’s daughter Bonnie is kidnapped by the slime people and taken to a local cavern inhabited by the slime creatures. Hutton and the marine go after Bonnie and are able to rescue her from the cave. The sequence of Hutton removing the spear from a lance and driving it into the chest of a slime creature as blood spits out the other end of the lance is priceless.

Eventually the group is able to discover the location of the slime people’s fog machine. The professor destroys the fog machine, which allows natural air to flow freely through the atmosphere. This of course chokes the slime people and they die of asphyxiation. Apparently it was the fog that allowed the slime people to live above the earth’s surface in an attempt to conquer it.

What I love so much about this film is that it has an interesting mixture of monsters combined with a post-apocalyptic theme that is seen in so many great 1960s and 70s films, such as: The Last Man On Earth, The Last Woman On Earth, Night of The Living Dead, Panic In The Year
Zero, In The Year 2889, Dawn of The Dead, The Omega Man, The Earth Dies Screaming, Chosen Survivors, The Andromeda Strain, and the list goes on and on.

Is The Slime People a masterpiece? I would say NO, it is not, but that should not discourage viewers from seeing it. It’s often difficult to put into words what is so appealing about viewing a forgotten low-budget monster movie that most people would never care to want to ever see. I
suppose a person has to have a certain “taste” for these types of films.

Whatever your personal tastes are, I would like to encourage you to see The Slime People. Keep the popcorn handy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Retro-Plan9Crunch: All about Andy Milligan's cult classic 'Surgikill'

This popular Plan9Crunch post originally ran Sept. 7, 2008:


In the late 1990s and early part of this century, a consistent Andy Milligan cult almost developed. A book was published, a few of his films were released, there were some articles in film genre pubs and zines ... but then it faded. But a tiny cult remains, think Ed Wood in the mid-70s. Here at Plan 9 Crunch we offer a DVD-R of Milligan's hard-to-find "Torture Dungeon," and we've sold at least a dozen in a few months, as far away as Peru and a university film society in Turkey. Milligan's films are crude, even "bad," but he was unique. The swirl camera, the cheesy gore (fake heads, boiled eggs in eyes), the garish, slapped-on costumes by "Raffine," the uber-dysfunctional families, the males getting it in films such as "The Ghastly Ones," the very unsexy sex scenes, the gritty camera, so effective in Fleshpot on 42nd Street. ... And I'm sure our readers could add more.

Now, on to Surgikill: A few months ago, Plan 9 Crunch came in contact with screenwriter Sherman Hirsh. He penned the original screenplay to Surgikill. Andy Milligan changed enough of it to get screenwriting credit, Sherman was given original story credit. Plan 9 Crunch, after a long wait, finally got a chance to see Surgikill. It's a different experience. It's Andy trying comedy. Sherman will tell readers why Andy made a comedy in the following fascinating essay he offers Plan 9 Crunch. Sherman's piece is fascinating. It offers readers a detailed glimpse into Milligan's late career, as well as a look into the competitive world of low-budget filmmaking. There is information in this essay that has never been published before. We're happy to share it via Plan 9 Crunch. And we want to share the news that a DVD release of Surgikill is coming soon. We'll let you know when! After Sherman Hirsh's essay is a review of the VHS version of Surgikill from Plan 9 Crunch's Steve Stones.

So, start reading cult film fans, you're in for a treat! (And if you'd like to buy Torture Dungeon, send us a note via a comment!!)

-- Doug Gibson
---
SURGIKILL – A Writer’s Perspective
By Sherman Hirsh
The Public rarely knows how a film was intended to be. The practice of including "Extras" on DVD’s has created an appetite among fans for deleted scenes and commentaries about what was intended vs. what got released. SURGIKILL, the movie that concluded Andy Milligan’s film career, is in the process of being prepared for its first DVD release, but there will be no extras, so this will be the only look anyone is likely to get at what happened behind the scenes.

I am always a little amazed at how much interest there is in SURGIKILL. For a long time, it was listed as a mere footnote to Andy’s filmography. There was a period during the 90s when it seemed like every periodical within the realm of Fantastic Journalism had a piece about the career of the auteur of "THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE," with most of them mere reiterations of the versions which just preceded them. One writer, a New York actor who had worked with Andy, thought it may have been a re-make of the European classic, "EROTIKILL."

This was during the time when SURGIKILL was still one of several unreleased Milligan films. When I became aware of all of this, I figured it would be a good time to get SURGIKILL out. I don’t own any of SURGIKILL, but I was still in contact with the producers, ( in fact, I am still working with them on the development of new projects,) and in 1996, I called their attention to all of this ink Andy was getting and they agreed with me and started the long arduous process of getting SURGIKILL out. Why was it long and arduous? That is part of the tale of the Genesis of this film, a film which is about equally despised and enjoyed by various Andyphiles.

It all started with a script written by a 38-year-old Viet Nam veteran who, having exhausted all of the cinematic possibilities of Cleveland, emigrated to L.A., in hopes of having something resembling a Hollywood career. He, I, had come to Hollywood hoping to get into production. Instead, I ended up in a series of lack-luster McJobs, that left little energy to pursue a production job, but a lot of time to write. I made my first sale of an original script in ’85. It was a XXX "Adult" film, and I got the princely sum of $1500 for it. That was followed by several more, including one that was declared #1 Adult film of the Summer of ’86.

This brought me to the attention of a director who was planning to produce a few cheapies for cable. We kicked around a few ideas, and I delivered a Spy script, a drama about someone who liked to murder teenagers, and he settled on THE THOUSAND YEAR QUEST, a Sword & Sorcery fantasy. He wanted and I delivered a script he could realize in two weeks of shooting and would cost no more than $120,000. What he got was a movie that cost $400,000, took over a year and a half to finish and was released as LORDS OF MAGICK. It is notable for having a scene in it where porn icon Ron Jeremy plays a zombie who gets blown up by the magic of one of the hero wizards.

Armed with something resembling a track record, I started a campaign to get myself a directing gig. Once again, I offered the potential backers several possibilities. One was a European-style crime farce about actors robbing banks, not for the cash, but for the publicity. One was a chiller about some college geeks who piss off a long dead witch in a swamp.

And there was that humorous, light splatter piece about the nice little hospital with a slasher problem. It was written in the Spring of ’87, under the working title of "Horror Hospital." I would show it to the teenagers at the place where I worked and they all liked it. I told them I needed a stronger title, and one guy suggested "Surgical Kill." That made me think of SURGIKILL. I recently became aware of an English group calling itself Surgikill, and I contacted them, asking where they had gotten the name. Other than claiming it had nothing top do with the movie, they were little help.

I found a company, Media Arts Productions, who liked the scripts, and they went with the medical horror story first, because of the reputation horror films have for costing little, being easy to shoot, not needing Stars, having an automatic audience, etc. The swamp witch piece went on the back burner, where it still languishes.

We had long discussions about how I would direct it and what I would need, and they seemed to be all for my concepts. Then I learned that they wanted a name director, and after seeing a want ad Andy Milligan placed in the LA Times, and without discussing it with me first, brought him in to shoot my movie. Fine, thinks I. I’ll get the next one. I was still on the shoot as writer and cranked out what seemed to be an endless supply of new or modified material. I even wrote a whole new serious version for a possible partner that absolutely no one liked, and the project went back to my serio-comic version.

We were all invited to Andy’s house in Hollywood on Orange Drive, the house where he eventually shot part of MONSTROSITY, for a pleasant brunch, and some light business chat. He was prepping MONSTROSITY at the time, and SURGIKILL would be next. He put on the charm, told me he liked the script, and I got to talk to him at length. We kicked around some technical points, filmmaker to filmmaker. He told me some of his frugal filmmaking techniques.
I brought up the popular notion that he had made films in Europe. He told me he had never made a film in Europe and had no idea where the idea came from, and I believed him. I bring this up because it shows up in 90 percent of the stories about Andy and is totally false.
He invited me into the kitchen to help prepare our meal, and we discussed his film vs. his theater career. Then he hit on me. I’m straight. We spoke little after that. Brunch was good, though.

Not long after, I noticed his casting notice for MONSTROSITY in a local trade paper, and thought I would audition just to see what would happen. At the time it was still called IT, but there was a conflict with a little thing Stephen King wrote about a monstrous clown with a thing for balloons and some annoying kids and Andy decided to change it later. However, I was inspired by all this and in August of ’87, I wrote a screenplay around Andy. It was originally called I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE, and was about a low budget shooter who is making monster movies with real monsters cooked up by his mad scientist partner. He casts his movies by kidnapping kids who come to LA to become stars, and forcing them to become HIS stars. He also sends his monsters to discipline critics who give him bad reviews.

We got invited to Andy’s studio to watch him shoot what was still called IT one night. Andy had rented a vacant bar at the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard In fact, I had been there a couple years earlier as a guest of a friend of mine who was playing in the house band when the place was called the On Club. His assistants told me the place was haunted and they were always seeing "things" and hearing "things." They also showed me several hundred dollars worth of change they had harvested from around the bar, change dropped by countless bartenders over who-knows-how-many years.

I only got to speak to Andy briefly that night. I did get to tell him he had inspired I PUKE ON DRACULA'S GRAVE. He enjoyed hearing that.

Make up and special effects on IT were handled by a talented artist named Rod Matsui. We discussed many topics while we waited for the cast to get ready. I talked about my experiences, and mentioned I had had a script ripped off by a certain director who has a reputation for similar abuses. At the mere mention of the name, half the actors in the room, long time members of the LA low budget Indie community, and apparently survivors of this director, shot me some of the nastiest looks I ever got, and I once got a nasty look from Bettie Davis!

Shooting began in a small grocery store. I observed Andy’s shooting style from the standpoint of someone who had gone to Film School. I was appalled! His lighting was primitive, a single professional grade light and a suitcase full of clip-on worklights. He shot with the lens aperture wide open and never used a light meter, leaving it to the processing lab to make things works. This accounts for the "gritty" look a lot of low budget films have.

The mic was placed on the floor, pointing in the general direction of the action, resulting in a load of room tone and echo. Now, this is a proper way to mic a live stage show, but the acoustics of an LA Mom & Pop food store call for a different approach. Unfortunately, Andy had none.

IT and SURGIKILL were shot on 35MM film. Andy usually used what are called short ends, the leftovers of unused film from other shoots, and are cheaper than "new" film. Andy’s modus operandi was to shoot the take, and check the gate on his ancient Arriflex studio camera. If there was film in the gate, he would move on to the next set up, on the assumption that he didn’t run out of film during the take. Retakes were rare on a Milligan shoot. However, there were so many low budget films being shot in LA at the time, there was a total famine of short ends and Andy was forced to buy more expensive full loads.

If you’ve seen MONSTROSITY, you may recall a scene where some lowlifes have abducted a lady and are making their escape. At one point, they almost get into an accident with another car. That was real! I was standing behind the camera when that was shot and the other car came out of nowhere. Just a lucky coincidence of someone being in the wrong place at the right time! We managed to hang around for the rest of the shoot. After that, I never saw Andy Milligan again.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of SURGIKILL. Andy conducted casting calls at his studio, where he encountered Bouvier. She is a multi-talented artist, designer, entrepreneur and performer, who has extensive credits in stage, film and TV. I’m not sure, but I believe she also, along with her business partner, may have invested in SURGIKILL, along with the usual moneyed lawyers, real estate investors and a few parasites who hang around with filmmakers so they can pickup cute starlets. Principal photograpy began at a decommisioned hospital near downtown Los Angeles, a neighborhood so foul, people had to be escorted to and from their cars. The weirdos in the movie were pale copies of the real homeless who lived around the facility. Additional scenes were shot at Andy's studio on Sunset.

On a personal note, I embedded a little joke in the script. I refered to the Jail Ward as the J Ward. If you recall your cartoon history, you'll remember that Jay Ward created Rocky & Bullwinkle. And the dog, Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman. That was my limp way of getting revenge for 20 years of Sherman and Peabody jokes. Unfortunately, Ward died before the film came out, so my vengeance is hollow and vain.

Credits are sometimes "adjusted" to suit special circumstances. For instance, Andy gets credit for the screenplay for SURGIKILL, while I, who wrote several complete drafts before Andy signed on, am relegated to "Original Story" Actually, Andy wrote very little. What Andy did originate was a large component of improvisation. He regarded the script as a catalog, not a blueprint. He would choose a scene here and a scene there and staple it all together later. SURGIKILL is about 30 percent my work, as opposed to LORDS OF MAGICK, which is about 80 percent mine.

The picture was completed, and sat for several years in the garage of one of the investors, due to the usual commercial conflicts. Andy went back to his studio and put on plays for two years until his AIDS rendered him too weak to function, and he eventually died.

The folks at Media Arts had to ransom Surgikill back, and then find a distributor. At the time, maverick film distributor and innovator, TROMA, was trolling for finished films, as they still do, and CEO Lloyd Kaufman was reputedly an Andy Milligan fan and liked SURGIKILL. However, TROMA’s standard contract is so convoluted and restrictive, it scared Media Arts away. For instance, the contract grants TROMA total ownership of ALL rights, for ALL time, even on OTHER PLANETS! Media Arts decided to pass, and eventually undertook self-distribution. They figured it was the only way to get their $90,000 back. ( THE BIGGEST BUDGET ANDY MILLIGAN EVER HAD!) Then, in early 2000, I got a surprise in the mail, a VHS copy of "ANDY MILLIGAN’S LAST FILM… SURGIKILL." And now, 20-plus years after its origination, SURGIKILL is being spiffed up for DVD release.

It is not generally known that after Andy’s commitment was up, others on the shoot shot new scenes, like one with a poorly done Oliver Hardy impersonator, and re-cut the movie. People who thought they knew what they were doing shot their half-baked ideas and glued them to the movie. What you may see is not exactly want Andy intended, and definitely not what I intended.

Critics love to pick movies apart and assign their own significance to the pieces. SURGIKILL is characterized as a departure from films in Andy’s established style. Andy didn’t want to do those anymore. Andy’s illness depressed him and made him want to make a light happy comedy. My script, although very humorous, was not a farce. Andy made everybody an idiot, and the hospital totally incompetent.

My original philosophy was to make it a good hospital, populated with quirky but capable professionals. I, quite simply, wanted the audience to care about the characters. Instead, you get a bunch of doctors who are all jerks, and nurses who are all airheads, except for the head nurse who was a drag queen, something I have always suspected was a nostalgic reference to Andy’s New York experience. I once asked Bouvier what it was like to kiss a man in a dress, and she said it was weird!

In my script, Nurse Shirley Krankhaus was a very competent, overworked head nurse. Also, calling "her" Nurse Ratched, from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, I regarded as a totally corny cliche'. Just like I wanted Dr. Schweitzer, the 17-year-old intern, to be smart and stable, not a wimpy nerd sucking on a pacifier. The way it turned out, you not only don’t care about these people, you want the killer to waste the whole mob!

Now comes the Big So What. I am acutely aware that the public doesn’t care about what they don’t see. They embrace or reject SURGIKILL based on what they glean from the screen. To most people, SURGIKILL is Andy’s. Nobody cares two figs about writers, anyway.

So what do I really think about SURGIKILL? There are parts that scream to be taken out, but most people don’t see it from the perspective of someone who has seen the real SURGIKILL in his head for 20 years. I don’t hate it. I do resent some of the events, but I’m glad I had the experience.

It works as what it became. It’s a different movie from the one I conceived. While it’s not what I wanted it to be, what’s there is not bad. I’m not talking about quality. I’m talking about the single basic thing a film must not be; BORING. A bad movie is a boring movie. Basically, SURGIKILL is not boring. If sheer technical/aesthetic/social quality were the most important values, then we would never have seen anything by John Waters and Troma would be a long-forgotten failure.

SURGIKILL is not a movie for the masses. It has no strong clear hero, the plot is ragged and the characters are too much alike. It has Cult appeal, but not within the established Andy Milligan community, if such a thing exists. It is an anomaly, and while it may have its advocates, it will never be a full member of the Andy Milligan canon, nor be discussed in the same terms. If there is a SURGIKILL sub-cult, we'll soon know!

SURGIKILL represents one of about 30 screenplays I have written, and one of five to actually be produced. I was a filmmaker a long time before I was a writer. I was drafted out of my first job in film, a job I got while I was still in film school, and sent to Viet Nam. I was a college-level film teacher. I worked in film and video in many capacities. I was a radio talk show host. In fact, radio is my second love after film.

When Andy Warhol said that in the future, everybody would be famous for 15 minutes, he was almost right. I’ve had about five or six 15-Minute Fames, and I’ll probably get a couple more. My little movie LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY is out there, selling a few copies. I’m prepping SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM! for production this Fall. Maybe I’ll shoot I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE. Maybe I’ll shoot MY version of SURGIKILL someday. Actually, I have a lot of notes pertinent to SURGIKILL 2, but I can’t really talk about that right now.



Sherman Hirsh
North Hollywood, CA
September 1, 2008

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SURGIKILL review

In 1988, underground filmmaker Andy Milligan embarked on directing his final full-length feature film. Media Arts Productions LLC produced it. The film was to be a black comedy set in a small community hospital called Goode Community Hospital, named after Dr. Grace Goode, a character in the film played by Darlene Van Harlingen, also known as Bouvier. Her husband, John Van Harlingen, was the executive producer. This film is quite departure from the canon of other Milligan films, which were over the top sex and gore epics. The film was shot in an abandoned neighborhood clinic near downtown Los Angeles.

Dr. Goode is desperately trying to keep her small hospital in functioning order as some of her staff and patients are being murdered one by one. Not to mention that she is constantly being hounded to sell the hospital for other greedy business prospects.

The film is full of over-the-top gags and gimmicks that are occasionally funny and sometimes overstated and juvenile. For example, one particularly funny scene, at least to me, shows an old woman arriving at the hospital reception desk with a bedpan stuck to her butt. Two hospital orderlies attempt to pry it off her as she stands in complete embarrassment. Other scenes show characters being hit over the head with a bedpan, or splashed with urine from bedpans. These scenes quickly become overstated. Some of the characters constantly repeating: "We care about the people we care for," quickly gets exhausted too.

Another particularly funny scene shows an old woman lying on her back in the operating room with an arrow sticking out of her butt. Apparently her husband had mistaken her for an archery target and accidentally shot her in the butt. Perhaps her husband was on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney at the time, long before he became Vice President?

A latter scene in the same operating room has Dr. Harvey and Dr. Schweitzer performing a gallbladder surgery. They can’t seem to find the patient’s gallbladder, so they end up tearing out several of the organs from the patient. This particular scene has some connection to earlier Milligan films because it is intentionally and graphically violent, even if the organs used in the scene are obviously unconvincing and fake. Herschel Gordon Lewis would be proud of this scene.

A connection this film has to earlier Milligan films is the nurse-receptionist character and drag queen Ronna, who is very similar to the drag queen in Milligan’s excellent Fleshpot On 42nd Street, played by Neil Flanagan. Ronna is later revealed to be Robert Goode, who is Grace Goode’s cousin and the murderer in the film. Robert is murdering hospital staff and patients in hopes to inherit the family hospital for himself.

Nurse Ronna and Dr. Grace Goode are the two characters I enjoyed the most, and felt the audience would have the greatest connection to. The young, fresh out of medical school Dr. Schweitzer, seems a bit unconvincing to me as he constantly sucks on a baby’s pacifier, implying that he is young, inexperienced and "wet behind the ears." This character gets a bit annoying too. Many of the actors in the film are way over the top in their acting, and frequently shout their lines, much like in an early John Waters film.

Is Surgikill a great film? No, but who cares? I like movies to occasionally be campy, over-the-top and unbelievable, otherwise I would not be writing articles for this web site. Is Surgikill Andy Milligan’s best film? Probably not. I place my vote with Torture Dungeon, which I regard as his greatest masterpiece. Still, any die-hard fan of Andy Milligan cannot afford to miss this entry in his filmography. It may not have the same low-budget, gritty charm as his films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it is worthy of a viewing, if only to see what his last film looks like before his death in 1991. Like Milligan’s earlier films, I am confident that Surgikill will continue to gain a strong cult following as the years go by. Fans are eagerly awaiting a DVD release soon.

-- Steve D. Stones

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

THE TRAGIC LIVES OF TWO TRAGIC GENIUSES: Ed Wood & Vincent Van Gogh



Written by Steve D. Stones

I have a strange theory. Some of my colleagues in the academic world of art may scoff me for this theory, especially when comparing the two men that I’m about to compare. My theory is this: Could the current interest in director Ed Wood and the tragedy surrounding his life have come about for many of the same reasons as the Dutch Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh? Okay, laugh all you want, but I see many similarities in these two interesting men.

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and no one really paid much attention to his work while he was alive. Not until long after his death did the public begin to see the real genius in his life’s work. His paintings now sell for more money than most famous artists who have ever lived.

Ed Wood suffered a similar fate. His movies never did much business, and not many people took him very seriously during his lifetime. Not long after his death, Wood became a tragic star of the movie industry. He is often written about and discussed more than any famous movie director, living or dead. There are many books dedicated to the life and art of Ed Wood, and hundreds of articles that have been written about him. Ed Wood film festivals and retrospectives are held every year around the world. Wood has become a cottage industry.

Director Tim Burton even made a big budget Hollywood movie in 1993 about Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp in the role of Wood. Many documentaries have also come out about the life of Wood. A big budget Hollywood film was also made about Van Gogh in 1956 entitled Lust For Life, written by Irving Stone and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kirk Douglas played the role of Vincent Van Gogh.

Over the last thirty years or so since his death, it has become “hip” and sophisticated to say you’re a fan of Ed Wood and his movies, even though most reputable film critics still regard his films as amateurish and terrible. Could it be that Ed Wood was just a misunderstood genius? That is the question that many of his devoted fans often ask themselves, including my good friend Doug Gibson and myself.

Why is it that Pop-Artist Andy Warhol can make a boring eight-hour film of a man sleeping and we call it “art,” yet Ed Wood makes a bold and entertaining political statement about aliens invading the earth in Plan 9 From Outer Space and we call it “trash?” Wood’s Glen Or Glenda is also regarded as “trash,” yet it too makes a very bold statement about the need for tolerance of cross-dressing males and men who want a sex change. Pretty bold stuff for 1953.

Van Gogh was said to suffer from frequent hallucinations. We see this expressed in many of his paintings, including his famous Starry Night painting. The swirling, thick impasto strokes of paint in The Starry Night give the viewer a hallucinogenic state of mind. Ed Wood also expressed a dizzying, hallucinogenic state of mind in many sequences found in Glen Or Glenda.

Could it be that Van Gogh was also misunderstood? Both Ed Wood and Vincent Van Gogh were heavy drinkers. Both men were also womanizers. Wood’s mother dressed him up in little girl’s clothing when he was a boy because she wanted a girl. Van Gogh’s mother often rejected him because she was never fully able to get over the death of her first-born son, also named Vincent. Both men also surrounded themselves with artists who were rapidly declining in their careers, or had yet to be discovered. Wood dabbled in pornography later in his career, and Van Gogh slept with prostitutes.

Ed Wood may have never slashed off any part of his body, as Van Gogh did with his ear, but I say the similarities of these two men are too uncanny to overlook. I stand by my theory. The world loves the tragic story of the tragic life of a creative genius.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Strangler of the Swamp

This is a fabulous film, perhaps Producer Releasing Corporations best, along with Bluebeard, although I have a soft spot for The Devil Bat. The 1946 film is lean, just under an hour, directed by Frank Wisbar. It's based on a German film. The atmosphere is incredible. The swamp is other-wordly, and the rural Americans seem to exist in another time and world. Charles Middleton, the gaunt, frightening Strangler, was the Emporer Ming in the old Flash Gordon serials. Rosemary LaPlanche, former Miss America, has a purity and innocence that connects to the vengeful Strangler. A young, later to be famous as a director/writer Blake Edwards, is good as LaPlanche's love interest. Rural locals in the film are well cast as well. (LaPlanche later starred in PRC's weird "sequel" to "The Devil Bat," "Devil Bat's Daughter.

Some writers I respect, including Tom Weaver in Poverty Row Horrors, have trashed this film and accuse many "Strangler" fans of parroting an earlier upbeat review by William Everson in "Classics of the Horror Film." I can't speak for others, but I never read Everson's book and Weaver is just plain wrong. There is a pervasive atmosphere of dread Wisbar creates as the Strangler slowly goes after his revenge. The swamp creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the dread. I admire LaPlanche's mixture of stoicism and faith to deal with the terror.

Here is a small capsule review I wrote for "Strangler of the Swamp" as part of a column for The Standard-Examiner and also on Plan 9 Crunch's main blog:

"Strangler of the Swamp" — Made in 1948, this atmospheric thriller involves a man, hanged for a murder he didn't commit, who returns as a ghost and assumes the role of ferryman at the swamp. Instead of ferrying passengers, he strangles locals in revenge. Finally, a young woman (Rosemary LaPlanche) prepares to offer herself as a sacrifice to get the ghost to leave. The strangler (Charles Middleton) was "Emperor Ming" in the old "Flash Gordon" serials.

As mentioned, a great 40s C genre film, better than most A productions of that time. Don't miss it!
-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, January 7, 2010

King of the Zombies


Watch King of the Zombies in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com


King of the Zombies, 1941, B&W, 67 minutes. Directed by Jean Yarbrough. Starring Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland. Schlock-Meter rating 6 stars out of 10.

This is an old curio from Monogram, forgotten by most, enjoyed by purists. The plot involves three men in a plane who crash land in a West Indies island and encounter a very strange doctor (the role cries out for Bela Lugosi) who has a zombie-like wife, a cute secretary, and a collection of zombies. He also has an allied military officer held captive (it's WW2), and the convoluted plot involves the mad doctor wanting allied military secrets. He's foiled, of course, as his zombies eventually turn on him.

The film has none of the atmosphere, moods or chills of White Zombie. It substitutes comic relief for frights. The only character who shows any real depth is Mantan Moreland, who plays Jeff, the black sidekick of the crash victims. It's a very racist role, from a different, less-tolerant era, but Moreland, whose first name is even a tacky racist gag, brings life to his character. The scenes where he mistakenly believes he's a zombie are very funny. There is the usual romance between crash victim Purcell and secretary Woodbury.

Not a great film, but worth a look for fans and others who want to study the C movies from poverty row 60-plus years ago. Notes: Yarbrough also directed the Lugosi PRC film Devil Bat; It's rumored that Lugosi was slated to play the mad doctor in King of the Zombies. It certainly would have been a nice contrast to his evil, mad doctor role in White Zombie.


-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My review of 'Best Worst Movie'

Film tells the story of the cult of 'Troll 2'

By Doug Gibson

This review originally appeared in the Aug. 11, 2009 Standard-Examiner.

http://www.standard.net/live/opinion/topofutahvoices/180254/

There is a scene in "Best Worst Movie," Utah native Michael Stephenson's film homage to "Troll 2," the movie that haunted his youth, where a young Los Angeles woman explains that you can't understand how remarkable "Troll 2" is with only a recap of the plot.



If you tell someone that it's about a family that goes on vacation and battles human-eating vegetarian goblins, they won't get it, she says. They must experience it, she insists.

She nails it. For those who love a cult film, telling others why it's so great can make us feel like a Mormon missionary in West Hollywood -- they give us a hostile, guarded, "no" look. But when we finally find that rare investigator who watches the film, feels what we do, and becomes a convert, it's just like the angels are singing!

"Troll 2," filmed mostly in Morgan County about 20 years ago with an Italian crew and novice actors, created no buzz. Unreleased in the U.S. and quickly shelved to video, its biggest impact was the long-term embarrassment it brought stars Stephenson, who played a young boy, Connie Young, who played his teenage sister, and George Hardy, who played their dad.

Its director was Claudio Fragasso, a gore-helmer more comfortable directing blood 'n guts zombie films in Europe. Its screenwriter, Rossella Drudi, candidly admits her script is a polemic against vegetarianism. Its bizarre, fractured plot, blended with poor acting, silly costumes and jaw-dropping dialogue, make it an '80s big-hair mix of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

How could this film not find a cult? And sure enough, "line upon line, precept upon precept," "Troll 2" started gaining converts. The film has played to sold-out crowds across the nation. "Nilbog Invasion," last year's pilgrimage to Morgan, was nirvana for fans.

Back to "Best Worst Movie," which plays this weekend at the Salt Lake City Film Festival. It's that rare treatise of a cult film that can appeal both to cultists and the uninitiated. Stephenson's direction is superb. He mixes scenes well. Transitions are smooth and no scene lingers too long. "Best Worst Movie" is not static, a fault that mars documentaries about another great cult film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

"Best Worst Movie" belongs to star Hardy. Stephenson centers his film around the Alabama dentist, who for almost two decades regularly fields the question, "Didn't I see you in a movie?" You can't help but like the charismatic Hardy, with his upbeat persona, smile and big laugh. He seems bewildered, yet delighted, with his film's postponed success. The scenes of Hardy's quiet life in Alexander City, Ala., are very interesting. The viewer will enjoy watching Hardy and Stephenson mingle with fans and encourage other "Troll 2" participants to join the screenings and talk about the film and their lives.

And therein lies a reason Stephenson's film appeals to all viewers. Save for director Fragasso, most agree the film is a turkey. They're just grateful that there was some element in its awfulness that turned it into a cult film. Fragasso also fascinates. He's a complex subject. He's a gracious, upbeat showman most of the time, but Stephenson manages to capture his anger and bitterness when he hears the cast mocking the film or audiences laughing at scenes he directed as serious drama.

Cast and crew provide more human interest. Robert Ormsby, "Grandpa Seth" in "Troll 2," freely admits that he's "frittered his life away." There's the semi-disturbing scenes of "Troll 2" star Margo Prey (mom in the film) being visited by Hardy and Stephenson. Prey lives a reclusive life tending to her aged mom. Calling Prey very eccentric is likely an understatement.

"Troll 2" stars Young and Darren Ewing are still working actors. Their reactions to the cult of "Troll 2" provide interesting contrasts. Young, although a good sport, admits she's not a convert and is bewildered by the cult enthusiasm. Ewing, however, embraces the Warholesque "fame" and accompanies Hardy to fan festivals in Europe and Texas.

The festivals are a bust, though, and Hardy admits he's getting tired of the "Troll 2" notoriety. Just before the film ends, he tallies his personal and professional life as far bigger accomplishments than his 15 minutes of "Troll 2" fame.

He's then asked if he would star in a "Troll 2" sequel Fragasso and Drudi are preparing.

If you want to know the answer, go see the movie.

Here is a link to the "Best Worst Movie" Web site: http://bestworstmovie.com/

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Remembering "The Rogues Tavern"




By Doug Gibson

"The Rogues Tavern," 1936 black and while film, directed by Bob Hill, produced by Mercury Pictures and released by Puritan Pictures, is one of the reasons I love film. It's just a stroke of luck, and a blessing, that this low-budget, 70-minute C-movie is still around for film fans to enjoy. It's like stepping into a wonderful time capsule, and getting a glimpse of what your grandparents watched in the 1930s before the "A" picture was shown.

Enough reminiscing, here's the plot. Wallace Ford (Jimmy Kelly) and Barbara Pepper (as Jimmy's fiancee Marjorie Burns) are detectives heading to the Red Rock Inn to meet a justice of the peace and get hitched. "It is a dark and stormy night" with lots of whistling wind and there are quite a few eccentrics in the tavern. They include the renters, Mr. and Mrs. Jamison (Clara Kimball Young and John Elliott), a mentally-challenged handyman, Bert, (Vincent Dennis), and a collection of nervous, shady characters, including a nervous, but very beautiful Mexican lady named Gloria Rohloff (Joan Woodbury). Finally, there's also a dog, Silver, Wolf, running around.

For reasons known only to themselves, the Jamisons deny Jimmy and Marjorie two rooms, or one if the justice of the peace arrives. The couple, who are a poor man's Nick and Nora -- for those who recall William Powell and Myrna Loy of The Thin Man series -- settle down in the lobby, which boasts a very impressive fireplace. (According to the book, Forgotten Horrors, the film was lensed at RKO-Pathe Studios, which was favored as a place for low-budget production companies, who liked the fireplace as a prop)

Back to the film: One by one, the nervous, shady characters start getting murdered. Jimmy, with typical Wallace Ford bravado, starts to take charge of the investigation. Fiancee Marjorie, a very pretty blonde who acts a lot like Lucille Ball, tries doggedly to help her slightly sexist love interest. At first the dog is the chief suspect, but interest soon coalesces around a mysterious "Wentworth," who apparently called the endangered characters to the inn, and later a mysterious "Morgan." We soon learn that the nervous character at the inn have a history of jewel thievery.

That's all the plot I'll provide. This is an "old dark house" programmer, common for the era. What makes The Rogues Tavern special is that it's better than the average C-movie programmer. The murders are well plotted, it' a bit goofy, Ford and Pepper are talented actors with good comic timing. My favorite lines of witty dialogue involve Pepper, after reflecting on the romantic fireplace, exclaim to Ford, "I feel so poetic, I could make love to a snowman." Ford retorts, "If that justice of the peace doesn't show up, you'll have too!"

In fact, Rogues Tavern boasts an excellent cast. Besides Fox and Pepper, Kimball Young and Elliott were silent film stars. Woodbury wears a very slinky dress that thumbs its nose at the Hays Commission morality censors of that era. Her breasts, while not shown, are quite well defined despite being covered.

Ford starred in the legendary "Freaks" for Universal but was mostly a C- and B-movies star. He was a good actor with comic timing and may be best known for his role in the Bela Lugosi Monogram effort The Ape Man. Woodbury was a steady actress who appeared in the Monogram film, King of the Zombies. Pepper, who was a friend of Lucille Ball's, later in her career was a regular on Green Acres.

The film is fairly easy to find. It can be purchased at oldies.com and sinister cinema and is part of a 50-film set that can be bought cheaply. You can watch it free on the Net (watch it above) and it's the type of film that should pop up on Turner Classic Movies. I've been lobbying TCM to air it. The sets are better than an average C-programmer, which probably was filmed for less than $40,000.

The film has a lot of twists, some clever, some clumsy. It's about 10 minutes too long, particularly in the last third, with too many red herrings and static scenes. But the climax is fun, and a bizarre surprise, and the first 45 minutes are very entertaining in its mixture or murder and comedy mystery.