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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plan9Crunch retread: Billy the Kid versus Dracula!


Billy the Kid versus Dracula

Billy the Kid versus Dracula, directed by William Beaudine, Circle Films, 1961. Starring John Carradine as Count Dracula, Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid, Melinda Plowman as Betty Bentley. Others in cast include Harry Carey, Jr., Roy Barcroft, and Olive Carey. 1966, Color, 73 minutes. Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10.

I have a soft spot for this movie, which puts me at odds with just about every other film critic. Okay, I know that the plot is feeble, the acting poor, the special effects a joke. And it's a fraud to vampire lore, since Carradine spends a lot of his time out in broad daylight.

Nevertheless, it's a fun little film if not taken seriously and the offbeat plot (Hero Billy the Kid matching wits with Dracula) is unique enough to merit a few stars. The plot: Dracula (on vacation?) is in the Old West. He provokes Indians into killing everyone on a stagecoach, then assumes the identity of a rich Eastern banker whose niece (who Dracula has the hots for) is about to marry a reformed Billy the Kid. THAT IS a bizarre plot -- even Ed Wood may not have come up with something that unique. Virginia Christine, the future Folger Coffee lady, is great as the real vampire-hunter in the film, and Olive Carey is feisty and likable as an elderly lady doctor. There is one semi-chilling scene in the film, where a collection of stagecoach riders murdered by Indians in a plot hatched by Dracula.

This is definitely not Carradine at his best; in fact he seems many times to just walk through his role (he considered it his worst film, but it's not), but the old vampire master has a few good scenes, and manages to be quite sinister at times. Billy The Kid versus Dracula was made with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (not quite as good). Both were directed by Beaudine and played primarily Saturday kiddie matinees together. The film can be seen occasionally late at night on TCM.

-- Doug Gibson



Monday, April 19, 2010

THE EMBALMER: Murdering Madman In Venice

By Steve D. Stones

The Embalmer originally played on a double-bill in drive-ins in 1966 with the Barbara Steele film The She Beast. It was later put on a triple bill in the early 1970s with the Ted V. Mikels classic The Corpse Grinders and The Undertaker & His Pals. The Sinister Cinema DVD print of The Embalmer contains an interesting trailer for the triple bill encouraging movie patrons to sign a certificate of assurance guaranteeing to be of healthy and sound mind, and to not hold the theatre management liable for any heart conditions suffered while viewing The Embalmer. This was a clever gimmick to draw patrons into the theatre. A nurse was also on attendance to take the blood pressure of movie patrons.

A maniac dressed in a hooded monk’s robe and skull mask (similar to the mask used by The Crimson Ghost in the 1947 serial) is kidnapping young beautiful girls, draining their blood and injecting them with a serum to preserve their beauty forever. He puts their bodies on display in glass cases in his underground hideout in the catacombs under the city of Venice in Italy.

A young newspaper reporter is determined to solve the case of the missing girls. He helps a tour group find their hotel, and later guides them around the city. He falls in love with the leader of the tour group named Maureen.

Meanwhile, The Embalmer is busy kidnapping and drowning young girls by pulling them into a canal above the catacombs. He seems to have a taste for brunettes. An archaeologist discovers the Embalmer’s hideout. The Embalmer kills him and places his body in a coffin used as a stage prop for a local music club. Patrons at the music club are horrified when they witness the corpse of the archaeologist fall out of the upright coffin during a performance.

One of the girls from the tour group becomes the Embalmer’s next victim. Maureen is determined to find the girl. She enters the apartment of the hotel manager and discovers a secret passage to the catacombs through the fireplace. She discovers the Embalmer’s hideout in the catacombs. He chases after her as the young reporter hears her screams and comes to her rescue. The Embalmer and the reporter struggle in a fight. The reporter is able to remove the skull mask of the Embalmer to discover he is the hotel manager.

What I find so clever about this film is that the mask and identity of the Embalmer is not shown to the audience until the end of the film when Maureen discovers his hideout. Up until this point in the film, we only see the backside of the Embalmer as he hovers over his victims to inject them with a serum. Many clever point of view shots are shown of the Embalmers legs as he is walking to sneak up on his victims. This helps to build up tension and suspense.

Since The Embalmer is an Italian horror film, it is dubbed in English for American audiences. However, this does not distract from the film in any way. Both Alpha Video (oldies.com) and Sinister Cinema sell The Embalmer on DVD. Both prints seem to be of equal quality, and likely come from the same source material. I recommend that you view The Embalmer together with another Italian horror classic, such as Castle of Blood or Terror Creatures From The Grave. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

MONSTER A GO-GO: Attack of The Crusty Faced Spaceman



By Steve Stones

I have sat through many awful films in my lifetime, but this one
definitely takes the cake. Monster A Go-Go began production in the early
1960s by director Bill Rebane, who brought us The Giant Spider Invasion,
then was passed on to Herschell “Godfather of Gore” Lewis in the
mid-60s. The original title was: Terror At Half Day. Half Day refers to
a town in Illinois. Lewis purchased the film, added filler footage and
came up with the idea to release it on a double-bill with his hillbilly
epic Moonshine Mountain. Lewis’ screen credit appears as Sheldon S.
Seymour, a pseudonym he frequently used to give the impression that he
was not the one doing most of the work on his films.

An astronaut goes up into space and crashes back to earth. A crusty face
giant standing over eight feet tall emerges from a cardboard painted
space capsule to terrorize the countryside. His first victims are a
young couple making out in a car. He then strangles a scientist
investigating the crash scene and attacks a group of young sun bathing
beauties. The Chicago Fire Department later traps the giant in the city
sewer. The plot is similar to First Man Into Space and The Snow
Creature.

According to Scary Monsters Magazine issue #74, director Bill Rebane had
been introduced to Ronald Reagan (yes, THE later to be President Reagan)
in downtown Chicago early in the project and suggested that Reagan star
in the film. I’m glad Mr. Reagan never agreed to star in Monster A
Go-Go. I can’t imagine the Carter Democrats running negative political
ads on TV of Reagan starring in this film. What a disaster this would
be. Thank you President Reagan for not starring in this film!

The film concludes with one of the most confusing and lame endings in
the history of motion pictures. As the Chicago Fire Department traps the
giant in the underground sewer, a telegram from Washington is relayed to
the Chicago Police Department informing them that astronaut Frank
Douglas has been found in a lifeboat alive and well on the North
Atlantic Ocean. The giant is never captured, and the viewer is left
wondering if the giant was a second astronaut in the capsule or was he
someone who arrived from another planet. It’s a very confusing and
abrupt ending.

It’s hard to recommend a film like Monster A Go-Go. The only film worse
than this one is The Creeping Terror and Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Still, like all Z-Grade cult films, it does improve a bit with each
viewing. The plot and acting overall is really not that bad. The pacing
of the film is what kills it the most. Not much footage is shown of the
wandering space giant, which also hampers the film.

Although the film runs only 69 minutes total, it feels as if it runs six hours long. The end sequence showing the Chicago Fire Department seems to drag forever. Fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis and Bill Rebane need only apply here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

All about The Wizard of Mars -- Great title, lovable film


I really love this 1963 David Hewitt ultra-low budget space opera. I'll say right off that one of the aliens in this film is the same "Space Monster" from the Leonard Katzman schlock-fare also called Space Probe Taurus.

Ripped off from L. Frank Baum's famous tale, The Wizard of Oz, here is the Wikipedia description of 85-minute, color "The Wizard of Mars":

The title character is portrayed by John Carradine, who gives a lengthy monologue as a projection near the end of the film. The film centers on four astronauts--Steve (Roger Gentry), "Doc" (Vic McGee), Charlie (Jerry Rannow), and of course, Dorothy (Eve Bernhardt), shown aboard ship wearing Silver Shoes--who dream they are struck by a storm and encounter the Horrors of the Red Planet (one of the film's video retitlings), and eventually follow a "Golden Road" to the Ancient City where they encounter the title character, who is the collective consciousness of all Martians.

It's that crazy. The characters are wonderful stock space opera fare: The older mentor astronaut. The sexy woman astronaut who eventually gets the hots for the stud, leader astronaut. And, of course, there's the wisecracking astronaut. There is Hewitt's signature of touch of foamy, wavy fire waves that he has used in other films. I particularly like a strange creature -- guided by offscreen hands -- that menace the astronauts while they row in a Martian canal. The creature looks like a low-rent Tingler!

The space fare is low budget and I love the asteroid showers! This is a fun film. I first became aware of it while watching Something Weird OnDemand trailers. I found it on an old VHS that was titled Horrors of the Red Planet and said Lon Chaney Jr. was in it? WRONG. I later learned that Wizard of Mars was shopped as "Alien Massacre" along with Hewitt's schlocky "Gallery of Horrors," which features Chaney Jr. Such is the life of low-budget sci-fi being peddled in the early days of VHS and even Beta!

It became almost an obsession to find this film with its original title, and Plan 9 Crunch finally did, and old 80s VHS release had it. Carradine s wonderfully bizarre spouting nonsensical dialogue as "The Wizard." Of course it's all a dream. That really doesn't make sense, but again, the film really doesn't make sense. I loved it. Watch it as a double-feature with "Space Monster" or Hewitt's better "Journey to the Center of Time." You won't be disappointed.
-- Doug Gibson


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another Castle Films classic short! FRANKENSTEIN

PLan9Crunch readers, I love these old Castle Films short adaptations of great old horror flicks. Watched 'em many times as a kid and thanks to the Web, they are back. Take 10 minutes, sit back and enjoy the great Boris Karloff in "Frankenstein." -- Doug Gibson

Saturday, April 3, 2010

GURU THE MAD MONK: He’ll terrify and torture your soul!


By Steve Stones

Since Easter Sunday is upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a religious themed film. In case you haven’t noticed by now, the bloggers here at Plan Nine Crunch are huge fans of director Andy Milligan. Until we were finally able to track down a VHS copy of Milligan’s Torture Dungeon, Guru The Mad Monk was our favorite Milligan film. It remains a particular favorite of ours.

Any film that is critical of organized religion and religious fanatics has got my immediate attention. Actor Neil Flanagan plays the evil father Guru, who presides over the Church of Lost Souls. Guru is perhaps Flanagan’s greatest and most convincing role of any Milligan film he appeared in. I can’t help but feel great contempt for Guru as he tortures and executes his victims, all in the name of religion and power.

Like Victor Hugo’s classic Quasimodo character from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Guru has a disfigured, hunchback sidekick named Igor, played by Jack Spencer.

The opening credits of Guru The Mad Monk are some of Milligan’s best work. Production credits are revealed in calligraphic letters in an old book from the Middle Ages. This is in keeping with the medieval theme of the film. The mood is then shattered as the opening credits cut to the sound of passing cars in the background as Nadja, played by Judith Israel, is forcefully taken from the Church of Lost Souls and thrown into a jail cell. Although she is innocent, Nadja is accused of murdering her infant child.

Carl, played by Paul Lieber, is madly in love with Nadja, and is able to persuade father Guru to set her free on the condition that he provide Guru with fresh dead bodies to sell to help fund the bankrupt church. Guru knows of a potion that will induce the illusion of appearing to be dead, which he suggests Carl administer to Nadja.

Guru sends Carl to his evil mistress Olga to obtain the potion. Olga is dressed in an awful 1960s flower-power meets Renaissance dress. In order to obtain the potion, Carl must agree to leave the execution block in the execution chamber uncleaned of the blood of recent victims so that Olga may collect the blood and use it in her strange experiments. Olga laps up the blood with plastic fangs attached to her teeth. Perhaps these are the same dime store fangs Milligan used in Blood and The Rats Are Coming, The Werewolves Are Here!

Although Guru The Mad Monk runs just under an hour in length, the film had a budget of $20,000, which was considerably larger than any of his previous films. This was also Milligan’s first horror film to be shot in 35mm. I recommend the DVD print put out by Retromedia. It is a much sharper and cleaner print than the one put out by Sinister Cinema that looks as if it was dunked in red punch and has many deep scratches on it. Fans of Neil Flanagan cannot afford to miss Guru The Mad Monk or his next effort with Andy Milligan – Fleshpot On 42nd Street.