Saturday, March 30, 2013

A look at the 'Family Visit' episode of The Andy Griffith Show

Here at Plan 9 Crunch, we are fans of The Andy Griffith Show. Here's a review of the TAGS episode "Family Visit." I have been really into TAGS of late. Watched about 10 episodes this weekend, including this one. I'm reading the great book, "Mayberry 101" and enjoying the many podcasts on the TAFSRWC's websites.

The Andy Griffith Show, Season 5, Episode 3, "The Family Visit." Starring Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, Frances Bavier. Guest starring James Westerfield and Maudie Prickett as Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nora.

As TAGS afficionados know, Don Knotts needed a few breaks a year from TAGS duties. Oftentimes, the Barney-less episodes lack the manic comic punch Knotts offered, but it often allowed others to shine. A good example is Frances Bavier's blend of comedy and pathos in "The Bed Jacket." Another Barney-less gem is "The Family Visit," which first aired Oct. 5, 1964. (It must be wonderful to be a TAGS fan who saw these episodes premier)

The episode starts with an enjoyable Taylors-on-the-Front-Porch scene where the family relaxing, is greeting other families on their way to preaching and spending time with relaxed chatter. Aunt Bee's observations about several generations of Beamers walking to church leads to reminiscing about their own relatives, and why they don't see them more often. It is finally decided to invite Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nora and their two boys for a weekend in Mayberry.

Once Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nora arrive, the comedy conflict arises. As the Taylors learn, our memories favor the positive, not the negatives. Ollie and Nora are nice folks, but a fussy, middle-aged pair who like to bicker. Their sons tussle with Opie. Nora wants to set Andy up with a "skinny widow with a bakery truck" -- "with the original paint," Ollie chimes in. Ollie, bless his heart, is an impulsive blowhard and house messer-upper. He also dreams he's riding a bike, as bedmate Andy discovers. In short, after a couple of days with Aunt and Uncle and the boys, the Taylors have had their fill of a family visit. Of course, that's when Ollie and Nora decide to extend the trip for a week. Andy finally gets rid of the family by calling a reckless bluff Ollie made earlier. There is a fun epilogue where Andy gives Aunt Bee an incredulous look when she pines to have Ollie, Nora and the boys back soon.

As always, Griffith, Bavier and Howard are good but the success of "Family Visit" must go to ubiquitious character actors and TV comedians James Westerfield and Maudie Prickett. Both were fixtures in mid-century TV and film and their comic timimg as a long-married, squabbling couple is perfect. Some of their best scenes include Nora forcing a busy Andy on the phone with "the skinny widow" and Ollie bullying a meek traffic violator. Westerfield and Prickett's squabbling over "Ollie always forgetting" is also classic TV comedy. Westerfield and Prickett's Ollie and Nora characters were, frankly, good enough to become regulars on TAGS or as a spinoff TV sitcom.

Notes: Westerfield played the character of "Big Mac" in the classic 50s film "On the Waterfront." He was in dozens of TV shows, including Mayberry RFD, and a fixture in westerns. Prickett later played an occasional roles as Mrs Larch in TAGS. She was also in Mayberry RFD and Gomer Pyle USMC and Bewitched and Dragnet. Uncredited roles included "The Music Man" and "North by Northwest."
-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Three distinct, but interesting cult films

All of these films are available via amazon for sale.

SANTO EN EL TESORO DE DRACULA: The 1969 Mexican masked wrestler battles with Dracula and a masked criminal in this insane, chaotic entry that blends time travel, the Lugosi Dracula tale and a search for Dracula's treasure in one convoluted flick. It's funnier than heck, though, particularly the time travel sequences, the cheesecake scenes of a Latina lovely in a sheer nighty, and the obligatory wrestling. And what's with that mask, Santo, do you ever take it off to sleep, shower, make love ...?
THE MONSTER: The presence of Lon Chaney Sr. as a mad scientist/doctor who is using patients at a sanitarium the imprison several is reason enough to watch this too-often stagy adaptation of a popular comedy thriller stage play of that era, 1925. Johnny Arthur, a comedian of that era, provides the laughs but Chaney's menace and strong facial emotions dominate the film.
THE SEX KILLER: Viewers will feel like they'll need a strong shower after watching this grimy, 1967 Barry Mahon directed "nudie roughie" filmed in that era just before grindhouses surrended and starting showing triple XXX. "The Sex Killer" would be an R today. It's about a loner who works in a manniquinn factory who progresses from peeping to rape and murder, although only breasts and flimsy nightwear is shown. The film is worth viewing only for the stark, lengthy shots of New York City in the 1960s. In fact, it's almost like a documentary of the city's grimy section of that era. The final scene, which scans the New Yorks business and industrial skyline, is great gonzo cinematography.

-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gun Crazy and some other fun films

By Doug Gibson

I have a conundrum; I watch lots of great cult films but have no time -- at least now -- to review them in depth. So, in the spirit of Leonard Maltin, here are four capsule reviews of some films I've watched recently. I hope in the future to write longer reviews of these films on Plan9Crunch! Gun Crazy is often on TCM and enjoyed it again this past evening 3/23/13.
Broadminded, First National, 1931, starring Joe E. Lewis, Bela Lugosi, Ona Munson, William Collier Jr. and Thelma Todd. 3 stars - This semi-forgotten Joe E. Brown comedy (it's not on DVD or VHS) is a treat for cult movie fans who want to watch a pre-Dracula Lugosi. As Pancho Arango, a hot-tempered Latin lover, Lugosi shows his comic skills in dueling with the clownish, wide-mouthed Brown, who pesters him. Plot involves Brown and Collier as playboys traveling across the country and meeting girls. In California the leads fall in love with various blondes, including Munson, who played Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind. Film has funny moments and Lugosi shows his versatile, comedic  character acting skills. I caught this long-awaited viewing courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. Opening scene is of a "baby party" for adults that is prurient when one looks at the women, and creepy when looking at the males, especially Brown!
The Invisible Ray, Universal, 1936, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton. 3 stars - One of the classic 1930s Universal pairings of Karloff and Lugosi. This film is unique in that it is a science fiction film, rather than a horror film. Karloff and Lugosi are scientists who travel to Africa to find "Radium X," who Karloff has proven crashed into earth millions of years ago. "Radium X" is discovered, but contact with it turns Karloff radioactive, and deadly to the touch. Lugosi prepares medicine that counters the poison, but when Karloff's wife, (Drake) leaves him for an adventurer, Lawton, Karloff, going slowly insane, shirks the medicine and goes on a killing spree. Violet Kemble Cooper is creepy as Karloff's mother. Easy to buy and usually on TCM once a year.
Blood of the Man Devil, 1965, Jerry Warren productions, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Dolores Faith. 1 star - This is a so bad it's good film. Trash film producer Jerry Warren took an uncompleted film, finished it with mainly lots of bad bikini dancing, advertised horror legends Carradine and Chaney Jr., and produced an incomprehensible yet compelling mess. Film involves a town of devil worshipers locked in a power struggle between dueling warlocks Carradine and Chaney Jr., who never appear on screen together. How could they? They were making different films! The whole mess is populated with actors who, besides the leads, look nothing like devil worshipers. The plot sort of resembles a dark arts version of Peyton Place with the screen's cheapest werewolf mask. This barely released film, which amazingly has atmosphere, must be seen to be believed. Sinister Cinema sells it. See a short feature on the film here
Gun Crazy: 1950, King Brothers Productions, Peggy Cummins and John Nall. 4 stars - This low-budget gem is a film noir classic of the lovesick male with a reform school past who falls for the bad girl and follows her to both of their dooms. Cummins and Nall, little-known actors, generate real sparks as greedy sharp shooters who don't have the patience to live a normal life. When she kills in a robbery and the law closes in on them, the claustrophobic atmosphere director Joseph H. Lewis creates is outstanding and final love to the death moments between these two losers is moving. There's a reason Gun Crazy is taught in many film schools. Don't miss it. It's easy to buy and pops up on TV often.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Up with traditional horror cinema and down with torture porn

This column by Doug Gibson was originally published in the Aug. 1, 2007 Standard-Examiner. It includes a plug for Ed Wood's 1955 wonderfully creaky mad scientist seeks revenge shocker, "Bride of the Monster," starring Bela Lugosi, in his final substantive role. It also starred Tor Johnson, a Wood regular. Ed co-wrote, produced and directed "Bride." It was sneaked, incredibly, with Deborah Kerr's "The End of the Affair!" (At left, Tor Johnson menaces Loretta King in "Bride.")

Dump the 'torture porn' and enjoy an old 'chiller'

by Doug Gibson

Scary cinema is fad-based. We had the creature-features of 60 and 70 years ago ("Frankenstein," "Dracula," "The Wolf Man"), then the atomic, science fiction thrillers ("The Thing," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"). Alfred Hitchcock was a genre himself in the 1960s and early '70s with "Psycho," "The Birds" and "Frenzy."

Gore films were the fad as I grew up. It started with George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," gained momentum with Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and sort of peaked with Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," a clever satire of consumerism.

When I was a teen, John Carpenter's very scary, and slyly amusing, "Halloween" kicked off the "slasher film" fad. "Nightmare on Elm Street" kept that going, and the dreadful "Friday the 13th" started a string of even worse summer camp slasher movies — anyone remember "Sleepaway Camp" or "The Dorm that Dripped Blood?" Unfortunately, I do.

I stopped watching new horror films in the early 1990s. The movies stopped being original to me, although — hate to say this, maybe I just got tired of blood and guts. Today, if I want to see a scary movie, I choose a spooky ghost story, such as "The Others" or "The Sixth Sense" or "Haunted," a low-budget 1995 chiller.

Regarding today's fad — torture porn, such as "Saw" and "Hostel": Not only do I avoid that junk, I'm already planning strategies so my children will spurn it.
In my 40s now, I find myself enjoying old, forgotten films, tiny-budget cheapies from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s. I saw these titles in the 1970s' TV Guide, listed after midnight on Los Angeles' several independent TV stations.

A few I got to watch; most I missed. But I never forgot them: "The Ape Man," "Bowery at Midnight," "Scared to Death," "Murder By Television," "Plan 9 From Outer Space," "Carnival of Souls," "The Man with Nine Lives," "King of the Zombies." The studios that made these films — Republic, Monogram, Producers Releasing Corporation, Golden Gate Pictures, Lasky-Monka — they're long gone.

The films have ceased their ubiquitous presence on late-night TV, except rare dates with Turner Classic Movies and UEN's local Sci-Fi Friday movies. But you can buy them all on DVD now — some for a buck.

Still, it's sort of sad. As I explain to my skeptical wife, there is a sense of community watching one of these old movies on TV. We're an audience — unseen and far apart — but nevertheless, fans sharing a great film. You don't get that feeling when you watch a film on disc or tape.

For what it's worth, a few recommendations — by decade — of these old chillers. Are they scary? Most, frankly, no. But they are original, with ambitious plots that go as far as a small budget allows.

The 1930s
"White Zombie" — This 1932 film stars Bela Lugosi as "Murder Legendre," an evil sorcerer who helps a rich, selfish young man lure a young couple to an island. The selfish man loves the woman, but his plan to win her backfires when the woman is turned into a zombie by Legendre. The film's chills still hold up, particularly the scene of zombies toiling in a sugar mill and the atmospheric castle against a cliff.

The 1940s
"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.
The 1950s "Bride of the Monster" — This 1955 film is probably the best Ed Wood directed. Sure, that's not saying much, but an emaciated, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi is still good as embittered, exiled mad scientist Eric Vornoff, who "vill perfect ... a race of atomic supermen vich vill conquer the vorld!" Wood staple Tor Johnson, a 400-pound wrestler, is also in the movie. The low budget includes a photo enlarger as an atomic energizer and a rubber octopus as the monster of the marsh.

The 1960s
"Spider Baby: Or the Maddest Story Ever Told" — This comedy/horror is creepy. It stars a very old Lon Chaney Jr. as the caretaker for an insane family. They suffer from a syndrome that causes them to degenerate into children, then babies, then prehuman savages. Relatives come to the house to institutionalize the family. It proves to be a long, horrific night. "Spider Baby" was filmed in 1964 but not released until 1968. Chaney Jr., who could barely talk due to his advanced alcoholism, actually sings the title song.

Gibson is the Standard-Examiner's assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at

Saturday, March 16, 2013

'Leprechaun' -- a St. Patrick's Day treat!

By Steve D. Stones

Long before actress Jennifer Aniston starred in the hit 1990s TV series Friends, she starred in the low budget horror feature - Leprechaun from 1992. Warwick Davis plays the role of the title character – Leprechaun. Davis also starred as one of the Ewoks in Star Wars Episode VI – Return of The Jedi, and went on to star in director Ron Howard’s film Willow from 1988.

A drunk Irishman named O’Grady returns to his North Dakota home after claiming to capture a leprechaun in Ireland and forcing him to reveal the location of a pot of hidden gold coins. The leprechaun hides in one of O’Grady’s suitcases to murder O’Grady and his wife when he returns home.

Before his death, O’Grady manages to trap the leprechaun by nailing him inside a wood crate. He places a four-leaf clover on top of the crate in hopes to keep the leprechaun trapped inside forever.

Ten years later Tori, played by Aniston, and her father move into the rundown O’Grady home. Tori and a house painter discover the crate containing the leprechaun in the basement. The leprechaun soon escapes and is determined to find his bag of gold coins.

Another house painter at the O’Grady residence follows a rainbow in the sky, which leads to an abandoned old truck. Inside the truck is the bag of gold coins.

For the entire film, the leprechaun terrorizes Tori and the house painters in an attempt to get his coins back. Writer-director Mark Jones manages to build tension in the first forty minutes of the film by keeping the leprechaun’s face in shadow or by projecting his silhouette as a shadow on walls. The tension soon dissolves as the viewer is revealed the grotesque features of the leprechaun.

Since Aniston has gone on to star in many big budget Hollywood films, it’s likely she no longer includes Leprechaun on her resume, mostly out of embarrassment. Warwick Davis has not gone on to star in many significant films since the Leprechaun series, likely because he is always conveniently tape-cast as a “little person” in every film he stars in.

Perhaps director Mark Jones and director Claudio Fraggasso should team up to create a Leprechaun-Troll II feature together? Both involve little green people and lots of green color. What great fun a movie like this could be. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A so-so biography of Lon Chaney Jr., but at least there is one

By Doug Gibson

Lon Chaney Jr. is an interesting subject for a biography. Most of his career he appeared a tortured man, prematurely aged by severe alcoholism. A good biography, that would ferret out secrets of his personal life, the conflicts that turned an attractive star-to-be to an aging, almost grotesque, physical hulk in only 20 years, would be compelling reading. Unfortunately, we didn't get that type of biography from Don G. Smith, who 17 years ago authored Lon Chaney Jr., Horror Film Star, 1906-1973. (McFarland). Link.

Smith's biography reads at times like the longest magazine feature article ever written. It covers Chaney's career in great detail. In fact, at times the reader will grow tired of painstaking precise, in-depth recaps and author analysis of Chaney's many films. While this affects the flow of the biography, Smith does include as much information as he felt necessary about Chaney's career. In fact, the endless details underscore that Chaney had the most diverse screen career of the three most iconic horror film actors, Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff. This may tick off the legion of genre writers who like to poke fun at Chaney, but the sheer volume of his resume makes him the most versatile actor of the trio, and maybe the best. Cheney's better films were not horror films. They include "Of Mice and Men," "High Noon" and "The Defiant Ones," films in which Chaney provided a bulky screen presence that included inner turmoil within his character.

Unlike Lugosi, who literally had to beg for screen work in his last years, or Karloff, who had the luxury of picking and choosing fat-fee assignments at the end, Lon Chaney Jr. constantly worked on films, staying active, and I presume appropriately paid, throughout his career. He was in many westerns, sometimes cast as an Indian. He played oafs, good-natured or otherwise, in films as diverse as "The Cyclops" and a string of the last B-movie, second-feature westerns produced in the mid 1960s. He worked for directors as diverse as Stanley Kramer and Al Adamson.

Although best known for his tenure as Universal's horror star for a few years in the 1940s, Chaney was, as Smith relates, a reluctant entrant into the acting business. He learned his trade slowly, appearing in a long string of low-budget, mostly forgettable films in the 1930. Playing Lennie in "Of Mice and Men" gained him accolades, but I'd argue that the most critical film of Chaney's early career was his "monster film tryout" with Universal in 1940, a 59-minute programmer called "Man Made Monster," reviewed here.

In this lean, low-budget film, Chaney effectively played a large, easy-going man turned into a reluctant killer, an electronic monster, by a mad scientist, well portrayed by Lionel Atwill. His performance was good enough, and contained enough pathos, to convince Universal to make him the star of "The Wolf Man." And, with that, an iconic horror star was born.

Smith does a capable job of recounting the ups and downs of Chaney's career in films. I particularly like the attention paid to -- as early as 1996 -- to his early 60s film, "Spider Baby," that has turned into a genuine cult classic two generations-plus after it was barely released. That film proves that even a battered, ugly Chaney still contained magic enough to make a film great when he was so motivated. And Lon sings the title song! (Listen)

Where his biography fails, as mentioned, is providing anything above the bare details, or shaky speculation, about the demons that tormented Chaney Jr. and turned him into a textbook, lifetime alcoholic that essentially frittered away a decent star turn with Universal through his alcoholic antics and boorish behavior on the sets. Incredibly, Chaney's early life, his parents' troubled marriage and separation, his being raised by deaf grandparents, and his ambiguity at taking on his late dad's career and becoming an actor, is recapped in roughly 10 pages! That's ridiculous.

Certainly, the relationship that Chaney had with his famous father, Lon Chaney, must have had an impact on his future. Smith acknowledges this, and tries to analyze dad's effect on junior, but he simply doesn't have the sources to have his conclusions taken seriously. In fact, often the main source for the author's many muses is Curt Siodmark, the Universal writer of "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and director of Chaney's film "Bride of the Gorilla." It's nice that Smith had an opportunity to chat with Siodmark before he died, but he shouldn't be a major source for Chaney's private life. This leads to conclusions from Smith, such as that Chaney was a latent homosexual, that may be interesting but certainly lack sufficient sources. At one point, Smith ludicrously attempts to link Chaney's calling Bela Lugosi "Pops," as evidence of Chaney's deep need to connect with a father figure that was supposedly denied him by his dad. Again, this may be proven true if explored in greater detail, but it had nothing to do with Lugosi being called "Pops."

One interesting part of Smith's biography is his dissection of the film, "Son of Dracula," which he describes as Chaney's greatest acting job as a horror star. I had previously thought Chaney's portrayal of "Count Alucard" was weak, agreeing with dismissive reviews that called Chaney's Count a "kept man." However, after reading Smith, I watched the film again, and I have re-evaluated my opinion some. Chaney does effect menace and strength in the film. My mistake is comparing him to Lugosi, my favorite horror actor, and projecting the Lugosi persona in a film where Lugosi's Count would have been miscast.

In "Son of Dracula," Chaney's cultivated menace, that can quickly turn brutish when he feels threatened, fits in with an environment, the 1940s rural South, that would have greeted his appearance with deep suspicion and hostility. There's a touch of desperation to Chaney's Alucard, forced to rely on a local undead confederate, Louise Allbritton (who is brilliant) who, unknown to him, plans to betray him. There must have been something lacking, or falling apart, in his native Hungary, to force Alucard so far away from home. And he reacts accordingly, with intimidation, mixed with a requisite courtliness, to assert himself.

Smith recounts already related tales of Chaney's alcoholism, his feuds with actresses who found him boorish, his uneven "Inner Sanctum" films, his many shenanigans that cost him his esteem with Universal, carousing with like-minded drinking and hunting buddies, and more unpleasant details, such as his domestic abuse and his attempt at suicide when his second marriage, to Patsy Cheney, almost failed. What's infuriating, though, is we don't have any in-depth reporting from Smith that uncovers why Chaney behaved why he did. There are no serious attempts to query the people close to Chaney's life to strip bare his past life and uncover and interpret the problems that wrecked him physically and at times emotionally.

Smith's book is worth a read. It provides information, mostly of his career, that can't obtained as easily and compactly elsewhere. Its main worth is that it exists as a biography of a major cult film star. Hopefully, one day a superior biography, one along the lines of "The Count ...," Arthur Lennig's superb book on Bela Lugosi, will be written about Chaney Jr.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Three On A Meat Hook – Ed Gein Inspired Early 70s Horror Faire

By Steve D. Stones

Just about every horror film from the early to mid-1970s claimed to be influenced by the true life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the most effective and famous of the group. Three On A Meat Hook also claims to be inspired by the Ed Gein crimes. The acting is wooden, at best, but the film is still an interesting example of early 70s drive-in schlock.

The plot of Three On A Meat Hook was likely found printed on the back of a bubble gum wrapper. A group of college girls takes a trip to a local lake to skinny dip and enjoy the sun. A young man watches the girls from a distance in his boat.  He and his father live on a farm near the lake. The girls leave the lake late at night when their car breaks down. The young man comes to their aid and offers the girls shelter at his farmhouse until the morning. The girls agree, and spend the night at the farmhouse.

The young man’s father of course does not approve of him bringing the girls to the farmhouse because he does not want his son to experience sex and attraction to girls. Their relationship is similar to Norman Bates and his mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film – Psycho, although in Bates’ case, his mother was dead and still controlling him. The father is a complete control freak, and monitors his son’s every move.  
Soon, we see the girls murdered one by one in the farmhouse that night. One girl is stabbed to death in a bathtub, and two others are shot in the stomach. A fourth girl is decapitated with an ax. The film is careful not to reveal the identity of the killer, but tries to suggest that the young man is the culprit because he feels guilty about the murders and thinks he committed them.

The young man leaves the farm to drive into town to drown his guilt in alcohol at a bar. While there, he flirts with a cute waitress, then she takes him home to her apartment. The two fall in love, and return to the farmhouse. The young man’s father does not approve of his love for the waitress and attempts to kill her. The title aspect of the film is not revealed until the end when the waitress discovers three nude female bodies impaled on meat hooks in a barn.

Filmed in Louisville, Kentucky, Three On A Meat Hook is distributed on DVD by Grind Global Media as a double-feature with another early 70s grindhouse classic – Flesh Feast, starring Veronica Lake - in her last screen role. Three On A Meat Hook is at least somewhat watchable. Flesh Feast is so appalling that it is difficult to sit through its 70 minute running time. Watch them back to back. Happy Viewing!!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Angry Red Planet -- a vision of Pink

By Steve D. Stones

The interesting gimmick used to sell this film was a process known as Cinemagic in which a red colored filter is used with scenes depicting shots on Mars. However, the scenes using Cinemagic look pink instead of red, which seems very appropriate, considering one of the producers and screenwriters of the film is named Sidney Pink. I’m not sure if this was intentional or strictly coincidental, but it certainly adds to the cult interest of the film.

Three male crew members and one-woman scientist, played by Nora Hayden, lead an expedition to Mars – The Angry Red Planet. Upon landing on Mars, the crew discovers that their ship has become incapacitated and cannot leave the planet. This fact is further reinforced when the crew later witnesses a Martian peeking through the ship’s window. The Martian issues a warning to the crew that they cannot return to earth.

The four-crew members travel outside the ship to explore the planet. A creature looking part plant life and part octopus attacks Hayden. The head crew member Colonel Tom O’Bannion, played by serial star Gerald Mohr, rescues Hayden by chopping the tentacles of the creature with a machete. The creature was operated by one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.

The crew takes a second trip outside the ship and is attacked this time by a giant rat-bat-spider creature. This sequence in the film is the one which gives it it’s strange cult following. The rat-bat-spider would later appear on the 1982 album cover of Walk Among Us by The Misfits.

The strangest creature is saved for last when the crew paddles across a Martian lake in a raft and discover an abandoned city. A giant blob with a spinning eyeball on top emerges from the lake and chases after the crew as they desperately attempt to row back to shore. The blob looks as if it could pass for a Sunday dinner rump roast.

Producer and screenwriter Sidney Pink went on to work on another sci-fi cult favorite – Journey To The Seventh Planet, starring John Agar in 1962. Director Ib Melchoir also went on to work on other cult classics, such as The Time Travelers, Reptilicus, Robinson Crusoe On Mars and several episodes of The Outer Limits TV show. For more information on the life and work of Melchoir, I recommend the book Ib Melchoir – Man of Imagination by Robert Skotak, published in 2000.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Man Made Monster - Lon Chaney's tryout with Universal

By Doug Gibson

I'm reading a biography of Lon Chaney Jr., which I plan to review soon, and it prompted me to finally watch the 1941 Universal horror film, "Man Made Monster," starring Chaney in the title role. The film pre-dates "The Wolf Man," which made Chaney an iconic figure in horror cinema. However, "Man Made Monster," a thrifty $85,000 B-effort from Universal, was essentially a try out for Chaney, a look see from Universal executives as to how Chaney Jr. would do in a monster role. He passed the test. The film is a lean, effective little shocker.

Chaney stars as Dan McCormick, a carnival worker who does an act where he survives electrical shocks. It's mostly fake, as he admits with a grin. McCormick is the sole survivor of a horrific bus crash (well-displayed on the screen). His survival interests a pair of scientists, Dr. Paul Lawrence (Samuel Hinds) and Dr. Paul Rigas, (Lionel Atwill). The latter, Rigas is a mad scientist who wants to create a master race of persons charged by electricity. While Lawrence is away, Rigas makes McCormick his guinea pig, injecting him with huge shots of electricity, turning him into a glowing monster while charged, and a drooping, non-responsive near-invalid when the shocks wear off. Also in the cast are Anne Nagel, as Lawrence's niece, and Frank Albertson, as a newspaper reporter. They supply a mild romance as well.

Things hit a climax when Chaney, falsely accused of Lawrence's murder (he killed the good doc while charged and manipulated by Rigas) attains super-monster status when his state-sanctioned electrocution strengthens him rather than kills him. Strangely, this scene is talked about rather than shown.

Chaney is effective as a good-natured common man manipulated into being a killer by a mad scientist. The performance is the beginning of the role he would perfect as Lawrence Talbot the wolf man, although Talbot is more sophisticated. At this point in his career, Chaney often utilized a little of his "Lenny" performance that he had done so well in 1939's "Of Mice and Men." The film is capably directed by George Waggner. The Universal B movies, despite wild plots, tend to be leaner and more disciplined than the C films produced by Monogram and PRC ... Perhaps it's because the writers there were better paid.

The real star of "Man Made Monster" is Lionel Atwill. He is brilliant as a cold-hearted, single-minded, fanatical mad scientist. The role was intended for Boris Karloff but it's fortunate Atwill got it. Karloff would not have been this good. You can watch the 59-minute film here.