Translate

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three of Bela Lugosi's best Monogram cheapie thrillers

In the early 1940s, Bela Lugosi signed a deal to star in several Monogram low-budget horror flicks (a couple were comedy/thrillers with the East Side Kids). It was a decision that allowed Lugosi to be the top actor on the set, an occurrence diminishing at Universal Studios. The films are mediocre save Lugosi's usual excellent performance. Unlike Boris Karloff, for example, Lugosi never phoned in performances in low-budget films. We've reviewed most of the Monogram films at Plan9Crunch, but I want to give capsule salutes to three of my favorites.

Doug Gibson



BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT, 1942:

Although the competition is fierce, this is likely the most kitschy delight when it comes to chaos and convolution. Lugosi plays a man cursed with three personalities: college professor, kindly operator of skid row soup kitchen and ruthless criminal. My favorite Lugosi scene: When the master criminal, reacting to a low level crook's joy at being part of a big robbery, casually tosses the crook off a multi-story roof, thereby creating the disruption necessary for he crime. Review here.



THE APE MAN, 1943:

Often derided as a "worst film," it isn't. Lugosi goes way beyond what's just to give some dignity to this film as a mad scientist who turns himself into part ape and has to kill to get a spinal fluid that might cure him. Wallace Fox and Louise Currie are also excellent co-stars who play journalists who foil his plans. See this film. Our review is here.



THE INVISIBLE GHOST, 1941:

Lugosi's first Monogram has a convoluted plot but benefits from above-average direction from Joseph H. Lewis. Lugosi plays a kindly man whose wife deserted him. Unbelievably, she still lives on the grounds and he goes quite mad when he catches glimpses of her. The deaths lead to the execution of one innocent man whose brother (same actor) comes to the house to seek justice. Lugosi's hypnotic walk when under the murder spell of his wife is campy but the actor also brings pathos to it. Former silent star Betty Compson plays Lugosi's estranged, insane wife.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Six Jerry Warren classics on DVD from VCI Entertainment!


By Steve D. Stones

If you thought Ed Wood made ridiculously bad films, it’s likely you’ve never sat through a Jerry Warren Z-movie bomb. VCI Entertainment and Kit Parker Films teamed up in 2013 to release six Warren classics on two DVDs. Each DVD has three films with trailers, deleted scenes and interviews with cast members – such as Katherine Victor and Geraldine Brianne Murphy – the women who wore the Yeti costume in Man Beast (1956).

Volume One contains The Wild World of Bat Woman (aka She Was A Hippie Vampire - 1966), Curse of The Stone Hand (1964), and Man Beast (1956). Volume Two contains Attack of The Mayan Mummy (1964), Creature of The Walking Dead (1965) and House of Black Death (1965) – starring horror icons Lon Chaney and John Carradine.

Three of the films on both volumes are chopped up Mexican imports that Warren cut then added scenes with padded, long dialog and boring voice-over narration. The added scenes combined with the existing Mexican footage are confusing and do not add much to the finished product. Attack of The Mayan Mummy, Curse of The Stone Hand and Creature of The Walking Dead are all examples of this.  Creature of The Waking Dead is the most watchable of the three, but may still test your movie watching attention span.

Warren makes better films when he does not rely on cutting existing footage from imports. Man Beast is a good example of this. The film has a simple, easy to follow plot concerning an expedition that sets out to find the existence of Yeti creatures in the Himalayan Mountains. The film may look cheap, but at least it does not confuse the viewer, as his chopped up Mexican imports do. It may be his best film ever.

I’m hopeful that VCI Entertainment and Kit Parker Films will release a third volume on DVD of Warren’s films that includes three more of his beloved drive-in fodder  classics– such as The Incredible Petrified World, Teenage Zombies and Invasion of The Animal People. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.  Happy viewing. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cult movies writer Frank Dello Stritto's memoir published in Standard-Examiner newspaper


On Aug. 17, 2014, my review of Frank J. Dello Stritto's memoir, "I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It: Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s With Televison Reruns & Old Movies," (2014, Cult Movies Press) was published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper. Here is the beginning:

The term "monster boomer has been used by author Frank J. Dello Stritto to describe himself and it is an apt definition. He's one of those born in the decade after World War II, and a significant portion of his taste in popular culture was shaped by television and movies, and the shows and films most likely to be enjoyed by a boy growing up in New Jersey in a traditional two-parent family.

To read the rest of the review, please go here.

To read an interview I conducted with the author, go to this earlier Plan9Crunch post.

To purchase Frank's memoir, please go to this site.

-- Doug Gibson


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo: Steckler's oddly titled superhero masterpiece



By Steve D. Stones

Low budget director Ray Dennis Steckler is best known for creating the first so-called “monster musical” – The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed Up Zombies (AKA Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary). Like most of Steckler’s films, he cast his wife Carolyn Brandt in a leading role in Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (AKA The Adventures of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo).

As campy as the title may be, the person who created the opening titles for the film forgot to put a letter N and D after the letter A so that the title would read: Rat Pfink And Boo Boo. To further complicate matters, a letter P was placed in front of the word Fink, likely to not confuse the Rat Fink character in this film with the famous Rat Fink character created by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the 1960s. Confused yet? Perhaps this was Steckler’s way of avoiding copyright infringements?

A group of hoodlums is constantly harassing Ceebee Beaumont by calling her on the telephone. Ceebee is the beautiful girlfriend of rising rock singer and teenage heartthrob Lonnie Lord, played by Vin Saxon (AKA Ron Haydock). The group follows and kidnaps Ceebee, played by Steckler’s wife at the time – Carolyn Brandt, and demands a ransom of $50,000.00 from Lonnie.

Lonnie and his gardener, played by Titus Moede, thrust into action by dressing up in costumes similar to Batman & Robin, but instead they wear ski masks. They call themselves Rat Pfink & Boo Boo, in case you haven’t guessed by now. The two catch up with the hoodlums and save the day by rescuing the girl and avoiding a confrontation with a giant ape named Kogar.

Various interesting scenes in the film use colored filters over the black and white photography, such as an opening night sequence in blue of the hoodlums attacking a young woman to steal her purse. Other scenes use a red filter over the black and white.

The DVD and video print of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, sold by Sinister Cinema in Medford, Oregon has a short introduction by director Steckler. Steckler’s films have gained a strong following in recent years, and have even been featured on Turner Classic Movies, a cable network that screens classic films.

Steckler spent the last few years of his life living in Las Vegas running a video store. He passed away in January of 2009. May his films live on forever for cult movie fans to enjoy for many generations to come!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An interview with cult films author, essayist Frank J. Dello Stritto


(UPDATED WITH LINK TO REVIEW ON AUG. 10, 2014) Today's blog post is an interview with cult films scholar Frank J. Dello Stritto. For at least two generations, Dello Stritto has published many essays -- in publications such as Photon, Cult Movies Magazine and Scarlett -- on the monster boomer films that defined childhood for so many fans on the cult films genre today. Dello Stritto is also an expert on the life of the best screen vampire, Bela Lugosi. He is the author of a collection of essays, "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore," and co-author, with Andi Brooks, of "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," which deals with Lugosi's last major stint as Count Dracula on the stage. This interview accompanies a review of Dello Stritto's new memoir, "I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It: Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns and Old Movies," published by Cult Movies Press, who also are the publishers of his other books. I am also reviewing his memoir for my newspaper, The Standard-Examiner, and will include a link to the review when it is published. Here is the link.
-- Doug Gibson

1) You mention that the classic Universal horrors that you love so much do not scare you. Why is that so, in your opinion?

Dello Stritto: If I had seen "Dracula" at age 4 or 6, it might have scared me, esspecially if I saw it in a dark theatre. I did not see Universal horrors until my late pre-teens/early teens, and on television. Too old for the kind of visceral fear that I felt seeing "War of the Worlds" (at age 3, in a theatre).

"Scary" was never a factor in my watching the Universal horrors. I sensed early on that I was watching a mythology unfold, that I was discovering sagas that thrived just before my birth. I discovered a lot of multi-film series on afternoon television--the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzans, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes. But the Universal Horrors were true sagas, continuing stories across many films. They captivated, and I had to see them all.

2) Do you think children today are capable of the same type of fear that you got from War of the Worlds and Flash Gordon as a young child? Or has current technological advances, in real life and film, dulled our senses or imagination?

Dello Stritto: Technology has nothing to do with it. Babies still cry, and children are still afraid of the dark. The first fears --loss of parent, loss of home, loss of safety -- are as potent as ever. A movie that taps those fears, or taps memories of them, can still get to viewers, young and old. 

I don't think the Universal Horrors tap those fear, though. At least not for me. They tapped a curiosity about a fantastic past that I found irresistible. 

3) You wrote a memoir on your love of cult films and cult TV and your efforts to learn more about these youthful attractions as an adult. What is the spell that these films have over baby boomers that produce the scholarship, magazines, as well as kitsch that is published today?

Dello Stritto: I don't think anyone really sheds what fascinated them in their youth. Rather like the power that first loves hold over some of us. For some reason, my generation hangs on to the entertainments of their youth longer and more strongly then most. Maybe because we were raised in an era of affluence, but raised by parents who were children of depression and war. Possessions were few and dear to them, and became many and just as dear to us.

I am not boasting or confessing, but television was my best and most reliable friend when I was young. It was a good friend -- it never let me down, and though life took me in many directions, I never forgot my debt to it. 

Do people -- young or otherwise -- need myths? If so, I found mine in the films and TV that I write about.
4) What is a chief difference between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in their legacy today. Most people I talk to say that while Karloff made more money than Lugosi, the latter easily outshines him in leaving a legacy in the genre. If you agree, why?

Dello Stritto: Their legacy is their films. Karloff made better career choices, had better luck, and so made more good movies, gave more solid performances. I doubt his Frankenstein's Monster will ever be equaled. 

Lugosi's output is erratic, but at his best, no one can match him. His characters seem almost otherworldly. An almost obligatory scene in his movies has other characters discussing how other he is. Odd, but real -- believable perhaps because Lugosi made them real and unearthly at the same time. Karloff's characters move us because we can relate to them. Lugosi's great performances make us step back in awe.

I can count those great performances on my fingers. Most of Lugosi's films are pretty bad. He shares some of the blame, but I wish that he had had better luck and better sense so that we could have many more fine performances.

Karloff's legacy rests on a fine body of work; Lugosi's rests on a unique persona that shined all too rarely.

5) I'm about 10 to 15 years younger than you. I can recall scrambling to watch an old Universal horror late at night but by adulthood, I had VHS to see films in order. Do you feel watching these series films in scattershot order as you grew to young adulthood provided a unique perspective in appreciating them, or was a barrier to fully appreciating the films?

Dello Stritto: Before home video, I watched only the movies that television and theatres let me see. So, I saw the Universal Horrors in no particular order, at odd times, and at irregular frequencies. Three years separate my first and second viewings of "Son of Frankenstein," whereas I first saw "Bride of Frankenstein" three times on the same day. Watching the movies like that forced the viewer to piece them together for himself, and so required some thought and imagination -- especially since the continuity between them is not always so good.

But I don't think that helps the appreciation of the films. Who would suggest that a miniseries' episodes should be watched in random order, or that a novel should be read out of sequence?

The scholarship on old movies can be divided into pre- and post-home video, and the post-home video age definitely has the advantage. In film books written in the 1960s and 1970s, the authors--certainly knowledgable--often get the details wrong, because they are doing a lot from memory. Once we could play and replay a movie while we wrote about it, the quality of the books went way up.

Future generations will never know the world that I knew -- only seeing what a small handful of TV stations choose to let us see. Straddling both worlds may give me a different perspective, but I don't think it gives me any advantage. Unless, you consider the thrill of opening the Sunday newspaper to the week's TV listings, and seeing that a long-awaited film is at last going to air.  

6) Expound the shared experience of, as a young adult, heading to NYC to travel to a film festival or theater and see an old genre film that hadn't been in circulation for decades. Was there an electricity in the audience?

Dello Stritto: I usually watched old movies on TV alone. As more and more old movies appeared, I knew that I was not alone--that other people somewhere out there were watching them too. So, when an old horror popped up at the revival theatres, people like me usually showed up, and made great audiences. All of us had been waiting years to see these movies, and you felt the excitement. I remember the audiences, around 1970, for single, separate  showings of "Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "The Old Dark House" -- both at Lincoln Center in New York. Both are lighthearted horrors, and the audience laughed at the fun parts, and watched in awe at the horror parts. Their electricity was palpable.

Some other long-missing horrors--like "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," "Freaks," and "The Most Dangerous Game"-- turned up at revival theatres that played them continuously for maybe a week. That diluted the audiences, but they were still appreciative.

I must say that I hesitate to go to the rare horror revivals in theatres today. There is always someone is the audience, or some group,  who come only to laugh at and mock the film. They ruin the experience for everyone else. That didn't happen in the 1970s, when we were so glad that a missing horror had at last turned up. 

7) Do you feel that the old scary movies, comedies, serials, etc., that you saw as a child enhanced your imagination as a youngster?

Dello Stritto: Yes. At their best, they really exercised my sense of wonder and awe: the dead could rise, men could turn into animals, animals into men, weird creatures lived just over the horizon, and scientists pursed crazy quests. I thought about my own crazy quests.

I would add to the horror films, the fantastic TV that I watched. "One Step Beyond" and "The Twilight Zone" often had ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges or choices. Very easy to empathize with them. Hard not to, in fact. "Thriller" -- when it dealt with the supernatural -- had great ghost stories and witches' tales. A "Thriller" episode, "The Hungary Glass," is for me still the scariest hour in television history. After it ends, a viewer has to ponder how vulnerable we are to forces utterly beyond our control

Personally, I liked science fiction movies, but never dreamed of travelling to other planets or travelling through time. I would much rather have met a mad doctor or a werewolf.

8) You talk about efforts to gather original information about Bela Lugosi and you and Andi Brooks basically destroyed a negative myth with your "Vampire Over London - Bela Lugosi in Britain." As a film historian, what's it feel like to unearth a nugget, or hug chunk, of information that has not surfaced in scholarship yet?

Dello Stritto: Take a great historical figure -- Washington or Lincoln, Napoleon or Caesar -- and imagine that somehow historians had overlooked a year in his life. That's the thrill that Andi and I felt when we started getting into Lugosi's 8 months in Britain in 1951. The Lugosi biographies at the time basically said that he went to England in 1951, did not do much and came home months later. I knew that could not be true, because Lugosi spent money freely. He could not live months without some income. So, when Andi and I joined forces, we set out to document what he had done.

We envisioned a magazine article, but we kept finding people that worked with, or knew Lugosi while we was in Britain. We still are--we are now preparing an updated edition of "Vampire Over London - Bela Lugosi in Britain," which will include new reminisces that we have uncovered.

So, what began as an article grew into a book. What began as a documentation project took on a theme: the great man's last hurrah, last grasp at a comeback. Researching the book -- as we started finding so much information -- was a great adventure.
  
9) As a youngster, you saw many trailers for films that you did not see for many more years. "The Fly" comes to mind. How often did a film that you waited to see for years meet the expectations of the trailer?

Dello Stritto: Honestly, the raw fear that I felt watching some coming attractions has rarely been matched. The trailer for "The Fly" and for "Horror of Dracula" really terrified me. I guess I saw the movies themselves 10 years later. Of course, by then, I was older, had read a lot about them, and seen a lot of movies with pretty strong stuff. So, the films did not scare me at all. I won't say that I was letdown, but the "experience" did not match the coming attractions.

In 1958, my older brother stayed up late to watch "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man" on "Shock Theatre." He told me all about the next day, and that was my real introduction to Universal Horrors. I wanted to see all these monsters. I had to wait 6 years before the movie came to TV when I could see it. Yes--I was disappointed, but how can any movie live up to 6 years--almost half my life--of adolescent imagination?  I like the movie alot now, but that first viewing was a letdown.

10) Did the kids of the 1950s project a fear of World War III in some of the films in the theaters? Or were the films just scary on their own without the news headlines?

Dello Stritto: My generation grew up knowing that the world could destroy itself, and we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought us to the very brink. The brinksmanship lasted about a week or so, and I remember a constant sense of dread. Real pending doom.

Still, I never walked into a movie theatre fearing WWIII, but often enough I walked out that way. There were schlocky movies like "Day the World Ended" and "World Without End" that had humans turned to monsters by radioactivity. "Radioactivity" was a really scary prospect for kids watching movies, since it made a lot of monsters. There were classy movies like "Fail Safe" which captured some of the feel of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

WWIII and the apocalypse was the specialty of "The Twilight Zone." Some of its best episodes have ordinary people dealing with the coming war, or its aftermath. There is an episode called "The Shelter" which was really scary, even though all its characters are just simple people living in a suburb. A lot of these episodes aired before the Missile Crisis. So, for kids like me, our "background" for what was happening came from "The Twilight Zone."

So, I don't think my generation projected a fear of WWIII on the movies and TV. Exactly the opposite -- the movies and TV exploited the themes. We learned about how WWIII might play out from them.

Finally, it still astounds me that you prefer the 1938 A Christmas Carol to the 1951 version.

Dello Stritto: I get that a lot. Those who like one version cannot fathom those who like the other. Young people do not appreciate that for a long time, those were the only two versions available. Now, there are many fine "Christmas Carol" movies out there, but a generation ago it was 1938 vs 1951. We can debate that -- but what's the point, no minds will be changed. You like one or the other, or wonder why anyone likes either.

I try not to say what I think are the "greatest films" or the "best films." I prefer to say what are my favorite films are. The 1938 "Christmas Carol" is one of my favorites. I've seen it dozen of times, and will probably see dozens of times in the years to come. I just can't say that about the 1951 version.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Quick reviews -- Broadminded, The Invisible Ray, Gun Crazy, Blood of the Man Devil



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.