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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The excellent Hammer vampire tale, Twins of Evil



By Doug Gibson

"Twins of Evil," Hammer's 1971 tales of Count Karnstein turning one part of a lovely pair of twins into a vampire, is not as impressive as other Carmilla-themed films, such as "Lust For a Vampire," or "The Vampire Lovers," but nevertheless it retains its status as a classic due to star Peter Cushing's strong performance as Gustav Weil, fanatical vampire hunter, so enslaved by the mysogyny of his faith and his fear of the undead that he'll solemnly burn to death any young woman who doesn't act normal. The opening scene, where Weil and his brotherhood abduct and burn a young girl to death, indicts Weil as a dangerous fanatic, a man not safe with young women and their instinctive sexuality.

Appropriately, Weil's eagerness to burn female flesh provides righteous indignation for viewers. Yet Cushing is no Matthew Hopkins, as portrayed by Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General." Weil is no hypocrite nor a luster of his victims, nor is he a man who revels in his evil acts. He's a fervent believer in the Old Testament "thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Cushing's Weill, while acting with a maniacal religious fervor, believes he is freeing his victims, releasing them from vampirism to a life with Christ. Late in the film, when it slowly dawns on Cushing that he may have been too zealous, that some of his victims were indeed innocent, his pain and remorse is evident. As both atonement and revenge, he fails to protect himself as he goes after the evil count.

"Twins of Evil" is a prequel to the Carmilla story and films. The evil Count Karstein (Damien Thomas) is tired of the limits to pleasure and evil he can attain as a mortal. He summons an ancestor vampire, Countess Mircella, (Katya Wyeth) who turns him into a vampire. Eager to satiate his lusts and increase his evil, he sets his sights on two gorgeous twins who have moved to Karnstein from Venice to live with Weil and his wife, Katy, (Kathleen Bryon). The twins are portrayed by Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson. Mary plays Maria Gellhorn and Madeleine is her twin Frieda. Maria is the more timid, pious twin. Frieda is rebellious, furious with her uncle Gustav and eventually is drawn to Count Karstein, who willingly becomes a vampire. There is a subplot where Anton, a liberal teacher at the girls' school, is attracted to Frieda. Anton and Gustav, not surprisingly, clash over the latter's vampire hunting. The film climaxes with a hunt for Frieda and the ensuing possibility that the virtuous Maria may pay for her sins.

As I have mentioned, it's easy to hate the fanatical, misogynous Gustav, but he does have one fact to rest on: there are vampires out there stealing the souls of the innocent. Midway through the film, it's a testament to Cushing's acting skills that the audience starts to root for him as he goes after Frieda and the Count. The Collinswood twins are gorgeous. They are not trained actors, and it shows in their performances. Madeleine does a better job than her sister Mary, but that may be only because she as the meatier role as the bad Frieda. The print I saw has very little nudity. The most explicit scene is where Frieda, pretending to be the innocent Maria, attempts to seduce and bite schoolteacher, Anton.

The Karnstein saga was a Hammer trilogy that, as mentioned, includes "Lust for a Vampire" and "The Vampire Lovers." This is intended to be the first chapter. Watching these movies is a pleasant reminder of how vulnerable and difficult it once was to be a vampire. With the constraints of the cross, daytime, coffins, foes such as Van Helsing and Weil, and native soil, one could understand why successful vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula had pride that overlapped into egotism. They had survived through time. Count Karstein and Frieda are, ultimately, not-too-difficult prey for Weil, Anton and others. It remains a constant annoyance to this reviewer that the above-mentioned disadvantages are not a problem for today's "Calvin Klein" vampires that infect films such as "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Being Human" ...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Teenagers From Outer Space – Squeaky Clean 1950s Entertainment


By Steve D. Stones

If it wasn’t for the wooden acting and poor production values, the 1957 sci-fi film - Teenagers From Outer Space could pass with flying colors as a well-made, entertaining piece of celluloid. The film was distributed by Warner Brothers, which seems a bit odd, considering most low budget sci-fi films of the 50s era could never get a major studio like Warner Brothers to fund or distribute their product. The film couldn’t be placed in the Ed Wood School of bad acting and film making because, from a technical stand-point, its cinematography is well done, and the actors seem to take their dialogue very seriously. Many have suggested that this film could be a blueprint for the Terminator films, since the plot is one long chase sequence.

A group of teenage aliens led by actor King Moody land their spaceship somewhere in the Hollywood hills to place a gargon creature from their planet to harvest for food. Gargons have to be raised a safe distance from their planet. The gargon showed on screen is nothing more than a lobster in a cage.

Gargons grow to a million times their original size. One teenager named Derek, played by David Love, insists that the gargon creatures not be placed on planet earth because he has found evidence of intelligent life in the form of a dog. The dog is blasted with a ray gun by Thor, one of the other teenage aliens. All the aliens in the ship wear overalls that look like an auto mechanic might be wearing.

Derek insists that gargons not be raised on earth as he threatens the rest of the alien crew with his ray gun. Derek escapes, and Thor is assigned to chase after him and bring him back to the ship. Derek finds his way to a Hollywood neighborhood where he lodges with an attractive young girl named Betty and her grandfather. Betty and her grandfather naively accept that Derek is dressed in a strange outfit, and carries no luggage with him.

The rest of the film is a long, drawn out chase between Thor and Derek. While hunting for Derek, Thor blasts a gas station attendant, a sexy girl in a swimming pool (what was he thinking?), a college professor and a couple of police detectives with a focusing disintegrator ray-gun. Thor stops at nothing to find Derek and bring him back to the spaceship. The ray gun shines a reflective ray as the actor points the front of it in direct sunlight.

In a clich├ęd subplot, Derek falls in love with Betty, played by Dawn Anderson. Eventually Derek has to tell Betty that he is not of this earth. She is not too concerned, and maintains her love for him. The two go scouting for Thor’s ray gun after he is thrown from a car in a chase.

As Derek and Betty search for the ray gun near Thor’s car crash, a giant rear projected lobster (i.e. a gargon) appears on screen to attack the couple. Derek conveniently finds Thor’s ray gun in a bush and blasts the rear projected lobster as it falls to the ground.

The entire film has a Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie & Harriet innocence to it that seems appropriate for the era. Some of the music used in the film can be heard in George Romero’s 1968 film – Night of The Living Dead, and Robert Clarke’s 1959 film – The Hideous Sun Demon. Director Tom Graeff cast himself as a newspaper reporter. Some accounts suggest that he cast David Love in the role of Derek because the two were gay lovers at the time. Neither of the two men went on to make a living in films in Hollywood. Scary Monsters Magazine #88 has devoted the issue to Teenagers From Outer Space, with interviews and articles about the film and surviving cast members and crew. The film is now in the public domain, and can be found in many DVD packs with other low-budget 1950s sci-fi titles. Happy Viewing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book on Columbia comedy shorts offers a fascinating glimpse of two-reeler history


                                                                    By Doug Gibson

The Columbia Comedy Shorts, Ted Okuda and Ed Watz’s interesting history — courtesy of McFarland Press — of the 25 years of two-reel comedies the studio generated is fascinating reading if your a genre buff, and interesting even to the fan whose knowledge of Columbia shorts is limited to the several score shorts that starred the Three Stooges. Reading the book, I was amazed at the depth of the comic talent that Jules White grabbed for Columbia over three decades. I was aware of the Stooges, of course, and the former big-name silent stars who worked with Columbia — Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Andy Clyde — but I’d wager very few know of Vera Vague, or Sterling Holloway, or Billie Burke, or Maxie Rosenbloom and Max Baer, or Hugh Herbert, Walter Catlett, Collins & Kennedy, Harry Von Zell, and solo efforts from future Stooges Shemp Howard and Joe Besser, and even Bert Wheeler, plus Wally Brown. All, and more, were under contract with Columbia shorts. (Vague, by the way, garnered two Academy Award nominations, note the authors.)

Okuda and Watz wrote this valuable reference guide before the era of broadband Internet, and YouTube, and Google archives. At that time, only the Stooges were easily available to watch. Others required 16-millimeter film purchases. That’s changed. I can go to YouTube and watch the Columbia shorts of Langdon, Keaton, Clyde, Shemp, Chase, and even catch one of the obscure comedies of Baer and Rosenbloom, which were not available to the authors. In fact, most of Columbia’s other stars failed to catch on in the TV era for two reasons: one, they didn’t have the sheer volume of episodes of the Stooges; and two, nor did they have the fan base. This bears explaining — as enjoyable as the Columbia efforts of Langdon, Chase, Keaton, etc., are, the shorts are not these comics’ best works. Columbia, which under Jules White, stressed loud gags and action, defined the Stooges; many of the others had to adapt to Columbia.

This is not a criticism of Jules White, who seemed an amazing man, with tremendous energy and a desire to grab as many comics as he could while at the helm of the two-reeler section of the studio. From reading this book, which benefits from extensive interviews with Jules White, director Edward Bernds and feature player in many shorts, Emile Sitka, it’s apparent that the executives' disinterest in the shorts department — so long as it was making money — allowed tremendous autonomy for White. According to the book, salaries for the stars ranged from $500 an episode to $1,000 (for Keaton), to $1,250 (for Langdon) and to $2,500 an episode for each of the Stooges.

While most of the shorts were heavy on slapstick, White, and also producer Hugh McCollum, sometimes offered more subtle humor, such as Sterling Holloway, popular in the late 40s and 50s. Also, director Bernds was able to complete some shorts that provided more humor than just slapstick. His Stooges’ short, “Micro-phonies,” (watch below) remains my favorite for just that reason, including the opportunity to hear the beautiful voice of Columbia’s most famous comedy shorts woman, Christine McIntyre, who has achieved iconic status as a Stooge player.

As mentioned, while the Stooges were honed on Columbia’s fast-paced, loud action templates that sometimes ended abruptly, it frequently led to lesser efforts from the other stars. However, as the authors note, by the latter 1930s, Langdon, Chase, and many others were looking for work, and in no position to turn down the above-average paydays. Jules White clearly admired the players he offered starring roles for in the shorts, and it’s a pleasure for genre fans to watch Langdon and others provide laughs in that later era. And, it’s important to remember, the Columbia shorts were wildly popular. Even a sub-par Langdon effort, such as “A Blitz on the Fritz,” was a huge hit for movie-goers watching these shorts prior to the main films. The Stooges were so popular that Columbia used the popularity to boost their feature films, the authors note.

“The Columbia Comedy Shorts: Two-Reel Hollywood Film Comedies, 1933-1958” provide the ingredients that made the shorts. There are short profiles of the directors, Jules White, his brother Jack White (Preston Black), as well as Bernds, Charley Chase, Del Lord, and the unfortunate Harry Edwards, who appears to have been everyone’s least favorite, except for a loyal Harry Langdon. Not surprisingly, the authors note that Edwards was eased out after Langdon’s death in late 1944. Information is included on the writers, how the films were shot, including sound effects, previews, casting, budgets, stunts ... and injuries, pay scale, etc. There are even script samples. Readers may be surprised at how closely the Stooges, for example, followed scripts. The comedy chaos can lead to an assumption that much of the action was ad-libbed, but not really.

All of the shorts produced are provided at least a paragraph of information, and the authors are careful to note where scenes from other shorts were used; a practice that occurred often in the more lean-budget 1950s. For example: Although Christine McIntyre had left Columbia by the mid-1950s, footage of her was used in later “new” shorts.

There are short biographies of professionals involved in Columbia productions. I haven’t mentioned Vernon Dent, a mainstay throughout the Columbia shorts era. Always a featured player, his talent was equal to the stars. Reading Dent’s short biography, I wanted to learn more. It's great to learn that there is now full-length biography of this comedy pioneer, "Vernon Dent: Stooge Heavy ...,” from BearManorMedia. The versatile McIntyre, in so many of the Columbia shorts, would be an interesting biography, in my opinion. Edward Bernds penned an autobiography, “Mr. Bernds Goes to Hollywood,” but I have yet to read it.

Okuda and Watz have compiled a valuable, interesting film history tool, with fantastic nuggets of information. It’s as valuable today as it was in 1986, when first released. Now that many of these shorts can be viewed at home, the book is a handy resource. You can buy the book here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Adjust Your Tracking ... nails the life of the hard-core VHS horror collector




Review by Plan9Crunch co-blogger Doug Gibson

There's a scene in "Adjust Your Tracking," the new micro-budget, partially funded by kickstarter.com, film documentary, from fans Levi Peretic and Dan Kinem, where Zack Carlson, former cult film master of Alamo Drafthouse turned Hollywood creative writer, perfectly encapsulates the addictive obsessions of the true VHS film collector. As Zack relates, he and his girlfriend were walking down a business avenue and observed a former video star, now locked and shuttered with the lights off. Zack observed through the window a few score abandoned VHS movies.

He proposed to his wife that he break into the forgotten store and rescue the VHS films. Because he was with a less obsessed companion, Zack's proposed felony was successfully rebuffed. But if he had been walking alone? Well ...

I'll be 50 in a couple in a couple of months and it's been a joy to experience the birth, rise and fall of the VHS era in my lifetime. I can relate to the two-score plus VHS film fans and collectors who relate the glory era of the neighborhood video store. Thirty years ago you could walk into the local video store and ponder the cover art of "Dr. Butcher M.D., Medical Deviate." Yeah, the film was sort of boring, in that ultra slow, ultra gory Italian Fulci-like style, but as one contributor to "Adjust Your Tracking" recalls, just the box art, with the clam shell, was worth it.

There were treasures in the mom and pop video store, courtesy of Wizard Video, Midnight Video and other long-gone labels. "Bloodthirsty Butchers" promised a gorefest with its clamshell, as did "Torture Dungeon." They turned out to be strange tales of dysfunctional families with fake gore. Today, both "Bloodthirsty ..." and "Torture ..." are among the most sought-after VHS horror tapes, commanding well above $100. (Steve Stones and I. co-bloggers, here, snagged "Torture Dungeon" for about $60 a few years ago.

The 1980s video store was really like a treasure hunt, where early John Waters tapes was next to "Smokey and the Bandit," where "Crazy Fat Ethel," "Criminally Insane" and that long forgotten student films tape of Stephen King stories were found close to "Friday the 13th." Other low-budget films made it on the shelves in those days: "The Lords of Magick," "Cain's Cutthroats," "Gallery of Horror," "Wizard of Mars," etc. I recall those days of leaving a large deposit -- the tapes cost $90 then -- since I had no credit card. I even spent $6 bucks or so renting VCR players at times. Before Blockbuster, the locals needed more tapes to fill up the stores' inventory. Cheap distributors flooded the stores with wonderful kitsch. And there was that section in a back room for, ahem, adult tapes.

Today, a VHS horror collector is more happy to find a VHS of "Woodchipper Massacre" than "Halloween." The more obscure, the more bizarre, the more perverse, are the most sought-after. According to the documentary, a very obscure little gorefest called "Tales From the Quadead Zone" is number one on the most-popular list, fetching $600-plus dollars on ebay.

However, as the interviewees remind us, "Quadead," and other 80s gems can sometimes be fetched for as low as $1 to $4 at a thrift store. To the VHS collectors, it's akin to "Indiana Jones" getting his pants dusty searching through boxes and shelves for hours, passing by 98 percent of old VHS and finally finding that gem. ( I digress here to recall my excitement when I came across a 90s VHS, director's cut, of Jack Hill's "Spider Baby," where Lon Chaney Jr.sings the title song.}

The documentary's interviews flow very well, moving through titled subjects and various idiosyncrasies. The collectors almost caress the films as they move among their VHS tapes' shelves. One fellow recreated, in his basement, a 1980s-era video store. The horror section was his favorite, of course. One fan started a VHS horror collectors fan site on Facebook, and it's great to see the group's growth and success lead to a small but well-attended convention on Pennsylvania.

This is a salty documentary. The F word flows freely, snippets of old tapes are gory enough for NC-17 and there's even some gay porn that finds its way into the film. I won't reveal how, but it's a hilarious anecdote. This genre film, playing in festivals around the nation, will please most viewers. VHS fans will love it. I saw it via a review code at Vimeo.com, but I await its future release ... on VHS, naturally.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Lon Chaney Jr. ... Mantan Moreland, and Jack Hill's classic 'Spider Baby'



Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, B&W, 1964. Directed by Jack Hill. Starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Bruno, the chauffer, Carol Ohmart as Emily Howe, Quinn K. Redeker as Peter Howe, Beverly Washburn as Elizabeth, Jill Banner as Virginia, Sid Haig as Ralph, Mary Mitchel as Ann, Karl Schanzer as Schlocker, the lawyer and Mantan Moreland as the messanger. Schlock-meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.


By Doug Gibson


In the 1960s several creepy, very original low-budget B&W shockers (some loaded with black humor) were thrown into the drive-ins and theaters. Most fared poorly at the box office (the exception being Night of the Living Dead). Others included Carnival of Souls, The Sadist and Dementia 13. Perhaps the best of the lot is Jack Hill's Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, an extremely creepy, laced with black humor let's-spend-the-night-in-a-house-filled-with-homicidal-lunatics film. Spider Baby's inventive plot involves the story of The Merrye Syndrome, a disease that infects the few remaining descendants of the deceased Titus Merrye; what happens is, after a Merrye turns 10, they rapidly age backwards. As they become more childish, they become homicidal, graduating towards dementia and cannibalism as the afflicted moves past the pre-natal stage. As the story begins, the clan is cared for by loyal servant Bruno (Chaney Jr., in a great performance). Living there are sexy teenage "toddlers" Elizabeth (Washburn) and Virginia (Banner), a young man, Ralph (Haig), who has degenerated to baby status, and aunt Martha and uncle Ned who live in the basement, mewling, growling and being fed scraps of raw meat. Virginia likes to play "spider," and in a highly entertaining opening sequence, a hired messenger, played by former cult movie star Mantan Moreland, is trapped in a window sill by Virginia the spider, who use knives and scissors to "bite" him to death. Mantan the messenger is eventually tossed in the cellar to be consumed by aunt and uncle.


However, there are more visitors. Distant relatives Peter and Emily Howe, along with a overbearing lawyer (Schanzer) and quiet secretary (Mitchel) arrive and inform Chaney and the Merrye brood that they'll be moving soon, to be institutionalized. Naturally, the Merryes are less than enchanted by these developments, and the sleepover the visitors experience turns into an experience of terror. Chaney, in what must have been a first in his career, warbles the title song to Spider Baby. It's sort of a singsong rap, delivered in such kooky fashion, that it's worth the price of the film itself. The cast, with the exception of Karl Schanzer's smarmy lawyer, are all in fine form. Besides Chaney, the best actor in the film is surprisingly Jill Banner, who plays the psychopathic toddler teen Virginia. Only 17 when Spider Baby was filmed, Banner conveys a disturbing sexuality; she's best described as a psychotic Lolita. The scene where she ties up visitor Peter Howe (Redeker), decides to seduce him and then just as quickly decides it would be better to kill him is very chilling. Had there been cable, video and dvd in the 1960s, Banner likely would have achieved notice for her role. As it is, she is best known for occasional appearances on the 1960-70s show Dragnet. She was killed in 1982 in a car wreck while developing scripts for Marlon Brando. To sum up, Spider Baby is a must for cult fans of quirky 60s black comedies.


Notes: Spider Baby cost $65,000 to make. It was tied up in bankruptcy court. Once released in 1968, it hardly played in theaters, mostly serving as the second half of double bills. It was finally re-discovered and played the midnight movie circuit in the 1990s. Director Jack Hill, a protege of Roger Corman, later directed several Pam Grier "blacksploitation" films, including Coffy. Chaney Jr., known as a severe alcoholic, only fell off the wagon once during filming, according to Hill. The veteran actor died several years after the film was completed. In 1993, the film was re-premiered in Los Angeles. Guests at the post-film party included Hill and actors Haig, Washburn and Mitchel. Actress Ohmart starred in the 60s cult shocker House on Haunted Hill. The subtitle, The Maddest Story Ever Told, was a film joke parody of the monster-budget Bible film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, which came out at about the same time. In the last year or so, Spider Baby has finally received a DVD release.




Thursday, August 8, 2013

Friday sanity break -- check out the Castle Films' mini-version of Dracula!

Courtesy of Castle Films and YouTube comes this eight minute-plus version of the classic Universal Bela Lugosi Tod Browning directed 1931 Dracula. Castle Films' heavily edited adaptations of classics used to be on all the time. I waited for decades to see Castle Films' adaptations and finally with YouTube we have just about all of them. I first saw this brief adaptation during an assembly at summer school in the early 1970s.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'Peach-O-Reno' is Wheeler and Woolsey at their best



By Doug Gibson

To be honest, I hadn't had much experience watching the old-time vaudeville/film comedian team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, but I'm glad I was introduced in full to the pair in "Peach-O-Reno," released by RKO Radio Pictures on Christmas Day 1931. This pre-code musical comedy with the team is simply marvelous. To my inexperienced eye with the two Ws, I tag it as a lower-brow (and that's not an insult) Marx Brothers-type film. It's very fast-paced, extremely witty, and has many fun musical numbers as well.

The plot involves Wheeler and Woolsey as Reno divorce lawyers Wattles and Swift. They have snagged all the divorce business in Reno, the divorce capital of the world because they keep it cheap and, let's face it, they're the wittiest divorce lawyers in town. They're also the coolest. The pair turns their divorce factory into a swinging casino at night. Wattles is the young attorney who more ladies swoon over. Swift, with his wit and fast moves, probably gets more action with the women.

One day, Joe and Aggie Bruno head to Reno -- in separate train seats -- to divorce. They squabbled on their 25th anniversary. Not far behind them are daughters Prudence and Pansy, trying to stop the divorce. The four naturally end up at Wattles & Swift, who have a full house, which includes a rich cowboy type who intends to murder Wattles and Swift for trying to give his wife a divorce.

I'm not going to give away the entire plot. Just sit back and enjoy the hour and three minutes. Things move from the divorce office to the casino, where young Wattles (Wheeler) dresses in drag to avoid the jealous husband. This pre-code sequence is absolutely hilarious, especially while Swift swiftly tries to gain lip time with one of the Bruno daughters. Eventually, everything gets settled in divorce court the next morning, which changes to a marriage court.

There's beautiful women, who change from their usher duties in the divorce office to more scantily clad duties in the casino at night. There's lots of gunfire but no one really gets injured. There's excellent Groucho Marx-type banter from Swift (Woolsey) with more than a few customers, including the matronly Aggie Bruno (Cora Witherspoon), and of course, there's several excellent musical numbers.

I'm glad we have Turner Classic Movies to show these films, and remind us of the many comedy talents that were out there besides the most famous, such as Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, etc. Viewers will enjoy "Preach-O-Reno," and like myself, start looking for more Wheeler and Woolsey to enjoy. It was directed by William A. Seiter. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Another look at Monster-A-Go-Go



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.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The original "The Wizard of Gore"



By Steve D. Stones

Over the years, gore specialist Herschell Gordon Lewis has not spoken fondly of his 1970 film - The Wizard of Gore. He claims he was unable to achieve the believable gore effects that he wanted in the film. His watershed gore film - Blood Feast, from 1963, broke all the rules for what was acceptable in showing extreme violence on the screen. His reputation for showing some of the most gruesome and over-the-top gore effects soon earned him the title of "The Godfather of Gore."

Blood Feast broke all the rules of tasteful entertainment in showing a woman's leg sawed off in a bath tub, a young girl's brain removed from her head, and another woman's tongue ripped out. Lewis is responsible for more sick-to-their stomach movie goers at the movie house as Russ Meyer was responsible for sexually arousing male viewers with his films at the drive-in movie circuit of the 1960s.

Like so many of Lewis' gore epics, The Wizard of Gore suffers from technical problems and strange, kitsch ridden acting, particularly from actor Ray Sager, who plays Montag The Magician in the film. Montag is not your usual dog and pony act wizard. He actually shows his illusions without any barriers blocking the audience's view.

In the opening act, he cuts off his own head with a cheap looking, cardboard guillotine. The head that rolls into a basket below the guillotine is obviously a rubber stage prop that looks nothing like actor Ray Sager, giving the viewer a taste of Lewis' tongue and cheek effects.

Next, Montag asks for volunteers from the audience to perform his gruesome illusions. The volunteers are conveniently women, and appear in a zombie-like trance. In one act, Montag saws a girl in half with a chainsaw, then pushes her innards around with his hands in extreme camera close ups. Another volunteer is punched through the stomach with a punch press. A third victim has a spike nailed through her head.

Each victim lives through the act, then later dies after leaving Montag's theater. Audience members are puzzled as to why each woman walks away from the illusions unharmed.

Lewis' next gore epic is the much less entertaining Gore Gore Girls from 1972. Lewis retired from the film business in the 1970s, and worked in the advertising industry for many years. He is now back in the director's chair directing new gore films. For further information about The Wizard of Gore and the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis, read the two very informative books: "A Taste of Blood" by Christopher Wayne Curry and "Herschell Gordon Lewis - Godfather of Gore: The Films" by Randy Palmer. Something Weird Video in Seattle, Washington has also produced a documentary about Lewis. Be sure to have a vomit bag on hand if you watch any of Lewis' gore films. Happy Viewing! (or should I say - Happy Vomiting!).