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Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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07 November, 2009

Too Many Tributes...

I was saddened earlier this year to read of the death of Hank Locklin at the age of 91. That name might not sound familiar to most of you, but for a few who share my taste in music, chances are it will ring a bell. Locklin, a member of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly fifty years, sang one of my favorite country songs of all time, Please Help Me, I’m Falling. The song, released in 1960, was a huge hit for Locklin years before I was born; yet even today, it remains one of my favorites.

My taste in music, it does appear, is much the same as my taste in many other areas… fixed firmly in the past. While seldom am I given to introspection, it has occurred to me previously that I’m in truth a creature of another time, another era. I often feel as though I was born fifty or sixty years too late, or that I had been mysteriously transported into a future not entirely my own.

Lately it seems as though I’m even more out of place. In recent years, I’ve had the occasion to write many tributes to those who have passed on. Beginning with a triple tribute to Dennis Weaver, Don Knotts, and Darren McGavin three years ago this past March, I’ve composed eulogies to Richard Valley, Ben Chapman, Forry Ackerman, and most recently Robert Quarry. And to speak frankly, I’m tired of eulogizing people that are responsible, to a greater or lesser degree, for my love of Horror.

Now before too many of you break out your thesaurus in order to find as many synonyms as possible for “ungrateful SOB”, (churlish has always been my personal favorite…) let me qualify my statement by saying that it’s not the writing of these tributes that I object to, it’s the necessity. Many of the stars and icons of my youth are now reaching the age where the need for such celebrations of one’s life and accomplishments are always a possibility. Many are already gone; sadly, more than remain with us. The writing of such tributes is easy; dealing with the loss of yet another fragment of childhood is the difficult part. It’s easy to forget that, for those of us now in our forties, childhood was a long time ago. The people that we idolized as children were twenty and thirty years older than we were then, and still are, if they’re still with us at all.

The only thing from the world of entertainment that had a greater impact than the monsters on me as a child was Star Trek. I was a Trekker from the beginning, and have never lost my love of and fascination with the world created by Gene Roddenberry when he set out to make a series that would be, in his words, “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars…” The people who created that series, who brought it into our homes and transformed it from a TV show to pop culture phenomenon, are now in their sixties and seventies; several have passed away in recent years, including Roddenberry, the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” himself. The most recent of the Trek family to leave us was Majel Barrett Roddenberry, widow of Gene and the familiar voice behind the Enterprise’s computer, as well as Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series.

These deaths, especially of James Doohan and DeForrest Kelly, who played Scotty and McCoy respectively, struck me more deeply than most. This is a part of my childhood I’m not yet ready to surrender, and all due respect to Simon Pegg, there is only one Scotty.

Lately, I’ve had to write far too many tributes, for far too many childhood heroes, and I want it to stop. I don’t want to have to eulogize any more ‘elders’ of Horror, or bid farewell to more cherished moments of my youth. I want to honor those we still have with us, and show them our appreciation now, before it becomes a eulogy. We genre fans should cherish the elders of our “tribe”, and use the time we have left with them to absorb the lessons and memories they have to share with us. People such as Kevin McCarthy, Ricou Browning, Julie Adams, John Zacherle, Bob Burns, and Conrad Brooks are a physical connection to a time most of us know only from grainy images in black & white, a time when cinematic giants still walked the earth. Those times, and those icons, are long gone now. It would be a shame for us to fail to appreciate our last links to them until it was too late.

And, in a broader sense, it is a shame anytime we fail to realize that those who possess the wisdom of age seek only to pass it along to a younger generation, and when we fail to take advantage of that wisdom.





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The Joys of Dollar Store DVD's

February 1st was my birthday, and the day before, I arrived home to find a large box sitting on my front porch, from a very good friend who shares my love of Horror films. Now, I’ve never been known for patience when it comes to gifts; as children, my little brother and I would sometimes unwrap our Christmas gifts to see what we were getting, then re-wrap them. So it was that, finding myself with such a box filled with wrapped packages, I didn’t calmly set them aside to be opened the next day. I ripped into them like Oprah with a box of Ho-Ho’s.

Inside, wrapped in bundles of three or four, were DVD’s. Not just any DVD’s, but Dollar Store DVD’s.

Now, for those of you who haven’t availed yourselves of the joys of shopping at Dollar Stores, just think back to the days of five and dimes; anything you could think of, and a lot you wouldn’t, at bargain prices. These were the places that defined generic long before we had ever heard the word used.

Sure, it might not have been the highest quality stuff, and you might not have wanted to do all your shopping there, but what treasures you could find! A flashlight with a squeeze-trigger, so you never needed batteries. A package of comic books, never the popular ones, and they always had big round stickers plastered on the front (which we would discover, years later, made them worthless to collectors…) but still, comic books. The candy that always tasted just a little different than what you’d get in the better stores. You never quite knew what you’d find, what you’d buy, or what you’d think of it once you bought it.

Well, Dollar Stores, those shops and emporiums that advertise everything in the store sells for one dollar, are today’s version of the 5¢ & 10¢ stores of my childhood memories. While some of the mystique is gone, and for most items I’m content to head to Wal-Mart or Kroger’s, the one thing that dollar stores excel in now is their DVD’s.

Now, I’m not talking first-run, blockbuster fresh off the press DVD releases, and you won’t find the Universal Monster Legacy sets on the shelf here. What you will find, however, is in many ways better.

The DVD racks in these stores are filled with keep cases and cardboard sleeves, printed boldly with film titles you may have never heard before. INVISIBLE AVENGER; ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS; NIGHTMARE CASTLE; ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS… lurid, daring titles, telling you everything important about the movie contained therein.

And much like the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks used to be, (back when they actually put prizes in boxes of Cracker Jacks…) you’re never sure of what you’re going to get when you open the package. It may very well be the worst movie you’ve ever seen. It may be a rare gem that you never knew existed. But you don’t know until you get that movie home and pop it into the player.

As a long-time fan of the dollar store DVD’s, I’ve experienced both the highs and the lows of buying the cheap discs. Some of the most horrendously unwatchable films in my collection were Dollar Store DVD’s, such as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2: SAVAGE VENGEANCE, (as though the original needed a sequel…) A*P*E, (a South Korean King Kong wannabe that was, for a surprisingly long time, the single worst movie I owned…) and GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN comprise, in part, the very dregs of my collection. But for these films I paid a grand total of three dollars; less, when you consider that they were accompanied by other, somewhat better movies. Would I have bought them had I known what I’d be getting? Maybe not, but where’s the fun in that? This way, I’m out almost nothing, and I can say I’ve had the dubious pleasure of watching the same three guys walking past a camera repeatedly, firing caps from obviously fake rifles at a Korean dude in an equally fake monkey-suit.

Sometimes though, you hit a winner. You put that disc in your player, and discover that you’ve found that classic you’ve hunted for years, or some movie fondly remembered from childhood, only you long ago forgot the title. Once in a while, you’re surprised by a movie that’s been retitled, perhaps something you’ve been looking for only to find you’ve acquired it by accident. That’s what happened when I watched ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS for the first time. I was expecting, at best, a Fulci-like copy of the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and at worst, some mildly inoffensive Voodoo tale. What I got was a curiously retitled EL BUQUE MALDITO, aka THE GHOST GALLEON, the third installment in Amando de Ossorio’s brilliant BLIND DEAD quadrilogy.

While it is obviously a direct transfer from the videotape, this was long before Blue Underground presented us with their definitive boxed set, and the videotape had proven impossible for me to track down. To have this film to watch and enjoy made up for all the dreck that was contained on the same disc.

Thus it was with this shipment of Birthday Videos. While there were some that I had, that’s usually the case; I’ve often had to buy a Dollar Store set that had three movies I already owned to get one I didn’t. And yes, there were some definite dogs in the bunch, movies such as THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, and REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES.

But inside that box were some true gems, as well. Koji Shima’s Uchûjin Tokyo ni arawaru, aka WARNING FROM SPACE, which was the first Japanese Sci-Fi Special Effects film, or Tokusatsu, shot in color. From Italy came SEDDOK, l'erede di Satana, better known here as ATOM-AGE VAMPIRE. And the prize of the bunch, an eight-episode collection of ONE STEP BEYOND, a series that ran on ABC from 1959-1961. Something like Kolchak meets the TWILIGHT ZONE, this long-forgotten classic was superb, frightening, and impressively enjoyable.

My point is simple. For what probably amounted to less than $20, someone was able to give me, not only one of the best birthday gifts I’ve gotten in a long while, but also the joys of wading into a big stack of DVD’s, not quite sure what I’d find. You can’t do that with something you’ve paid $29.99 for. Let’s say you buy the latest Collector’s Special Director’s Cut Boxed Edition of the newest Hollywood blockbuster, get it home, and discover it reeks. You have no choice; you’re pissed off, and want to throw the DVD across the room like a Frisbee®. Only the damn thing cost you $30… so you stick it back in its case and toss it on a shelf to gather dust.

But with Dollar Store DVD's, you don’t care if you get a clunker. Even at their worst, you’re only out a dollar. And, at their best, you’ve gained so much more.




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The Worst Horror Films ever Made?

I’ve often heard, as have many of you, that there is a movie out there so incredibly bad, so incompetently filmed, so horribly acted, that it deserves the appellation “Worst Movie Ever!” A film by a director whose ineptitude has become legendary. A film by the name of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

But conventional wisdom, as it so often is, just may be wrong in this case. Is PLAN 9 a bad movie? Yes, no doubt about it. Is it the worst movie ever made? Not hardly.

First, let me say that I do have some experience with bad movies. As a Horror Film-Fan with a moderately large collection of genre films, (@ 2,200 or so…) it’s not surprising that perhaps as many as 60% don’t really qualify as “good” movies. For every FRANKENSTEIN, EXORCIST, or SIXTH SENSE I own, there’s two or more movies the likes of MURDER IN THE ZOO, HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN, or THE ITEM. That’s natural; good movies are few and far between, and in a random sampling you’d be doing very well to come up with four out of ten winners.
But films such as PLAN 9 fall into a special category. These movies aren’t just bad; they approach the status of legend. They’re often described as “…so bad they’re good”, and PLAN 9 is the movie that is most often damned with such faint praise.

However, while Ed Wood’s putative masterpiece is without a doubt a truly ripe wedge of stinky cheese, compared to some of the films in my possession it comes out smelling like a rose. I would go so far as to state that PLAN 9 isn’t even Wood’s worst film, instead granting that title to the extraordinarily bad GLEN OR GLENDA.

Please allow me to suggest these three over-ripe pieces of Limburger for your consideration for the title of Worst Movie Ever. You may agree, you may disagree. But if you’ve had the misfortune to sit through any of these stinkfests, then you truly have my sympathy. And if, like me, you sat through all three?

Then you have my deepest respect and admiration.

1.) A*P*E—(1976): Perhaps inspired by Paramount’s remake of KING KONG, or at least by the size of it’s Box-Office take, a joint South Korean-American copy was rushed into production as rapidly as they could round up the largest collection of no-talent hacks ever to grace a film set; at least, one that didn’t have the words “DEBBIE DOES…” featured prominently in the title. Paul Leder took the Director’s credit; he should really give it back. If there was ever a movie worthy of having Alan Smithee’s name attached, this is it. (If that name sounds familiar, check it out on IMDb.com sometime…) Picture a film so horrifically atrocious that the cast (the only recognizable member of which is future “Growing Pains” mom Joanna Kerns…) actually looks embarrassed to be seen in it, and you have A*P*E. From the scene of the giant ape wrestling what appears to be the carcass of a dead shark, to one of the Ape throwing a terribly out-of-scale Huey helicopter into a cliff, then flipping it the ‘bird’, this film is one incredibly long, incredibly boring blooper reel. Though the Ape is repeatedly cited as being 36 feet tall, he routinely towers over four and five story buildings; effortlessly bats helicopters that should be larger than he out of the air; and chucks rocks with such force that they destroy 40-ton Main Battle Tanks. There simply is no redeeming quality to this celluloid crapfest.

2.) DEMON HUNTER ~aka~ LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN—(1965): Chances are good that, if you weren’t born or raised in the deep South, then you’ve probably not been exposed to this rancid piece of regional filmmaking, and if that’s the case, then count yourself lucky. Starring George Ellis, using his horror-host identity of Bestoink (no, that’s not a typo…) Dooley, and featuring what is perhaps the lamest creature design this side of a Scooby-Doo cartoon, this film has long been the single worst movie in my collection. Ellis, who’s oddly-named character hosted The Big Movie Shocker on WAGA in Atlanta from the late ‘50’s to the late ‘60’s-early ‘70’s, was apparently the ONLY actor (and I use the term loosely…) to show up for the audition. We are treated to long scenes of Bestoink walking, Bestoink driving, Bestoink eating, Bestoink sitting up in bed… well, let’s just say we see a LOT of Bestoink. What we don’t see much of is: Plot; good acting; decent Special Effects; believable dialogue; sharp photography; and any reason whatsoever to care. It does appear that there is a complete reel of the film (approximately 11 minutes worth…) missing from the VHS prints that were available several years ago. That must have been the ‘good’ reel, because the others are garbage. I would usually recommend you see a bad film at least once, just to experience it. Not with this one—instead, just bang your head against the nearest wall for 65 minutes… the effect is the same, only more entertaining.


3.) FURANKENSHUTAIN TAI CHITEI KAIJÛ BARAGON ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD—(1965): I know people that love this movie; that swear that it’s a great film. I also know people who believe Elvis is currently touring the galaxy with little gray alien roadies. Neither group is correct. No, this is NOT a great film, and yes people, Elvis is really dead. I wish I could say that the premise of this movie is the most absurd thing about it, but that would be wishful thinking. In the waning days of World War II, the Nazis attempt to smuggle their greatest secret out of the country to their last remaining ally, Japan. What was this great secret? Germany’s Atomic research? Their latest jet engine? No. The disembodied, but still beating, heart of Frankenstein’s Monster. Seems the scientists in charge of it are planning to resurrect the Monster to do battle with Der Fuhrer’s enemies. And just where does this Teutonic superweapon wind up? You guessed it—Hiroshima, just before the big bang. I’ll spare you the various plot twists and turns; (there are many…) suffice it to say that this film couldn’t be more of an incomprehensible mess if it were directed by Uwe Boll. (Oh God, now I’ve given him the idea for a remake…) The truly sad part is that the sequel to this movie, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, is actually a very good film, far superior to this garbage. If only they could’ve made the sequel first!

Well, there you have them… your contenders for Worst Horror film ever made. Could I list more? You can bet the house AND the dog on that. But why bother? If those three cinematic floaters haven’t convinced you that PLAN 9 might not be that bad after all, then just keep watching the skies.

Oh, you might want to bring a lawn chair… I hear there might be a concert.






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DVD Review: THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER

Title: THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER

Year of Release—Film: 1957

Year of Release—DVD: 2000

DVD Label: Image Entertainment




There are bad movies, and then there are Bad movies… movies that are so unintentionally awful that they’re actually enjoyable. THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER is certainly one of the latter.

Directed by Ronald Ashcroft from a script by Frank Hall, TASM has a fairly standard plot for the late ‘50’s, with an alien who has landed on earth encountering a small group of humans to battle for domination of the planet. The differences are that here, the alien invader is a gorgeous female in a skin-tight bodysuit, and the humans she encounters are far from our best and brightest, as was the norm for these films.

The film stars Robert Clarke as a scientist whose mountain cabin is invaded twice, first by a band of gangsters running from the law with a kidnapped heiress. Soon, however, they realize that they are not alone on the mountain, and that all their lives are endangered. They must work together to overcome their mutual enemy or die.

While the dialogue is terrible, and the acting would seem sub-par in a high-school production, the conflict among the inhabitants of the cabin is interesting, as is She-Monster herself. She was nearly a great deal more interesting, as a tight budget, tight schedule, and most importantly a tight costume combined to cause Shirley Kilpatrick to perform some contortions to conceal the fact that the costume’s seams had given way in the back. Overall, the film is a good one for fans of Classic B-movie Cheese; not good, but not so bad that you can’t enjoy it.

The Image Entertainment disc is typical of the company’s releases… better than average, though not by a large margin. I’m assuming that the print used for the transfer is the best one extant; if not, then that is a major problem. The picture varies in quality from merely decent to dark and grainy. Fully understandable in a nearly fifty-year old film, but some effort should’ve gone in to cleaning it up more.

However, other than the poor picture quality the disc is about as good as you could expect. One complaint I do have, and this is common among older B-movies released to DVD, is the lack of either subtitles or closed captioning. Frequently, the audio is of as poor quality as the video, and if you’re even slightly hearing-impaired, as am I, understanding the dialogue can be difficult. The difference between a captioned film and one without may be minor, but the subtitles greatly enhance my enjoyment, and are missed when not present.

This is easy—simply put, there are none. Well, there is the theatrical trailer for the film, and a rather complete set of liner notes, well-written and informative. But this isn’t a DVD you’ll pick up because of the bonus features.

The purpose of any review, at least in my opinion, is to give you the information you need to decide whether or not you should plop down your hard-earned cash on a book, or a movie ticket, or, as in this case, a DVD. Just like most of you, I work hard for a living, and on those occasions when I have some extra money to put down for a new disc for the collection, the last thing I want is to feel that I’ve been ripped-off. So I’ll only give you the straight, unvarnished truth about any DVD I review.

So the question is “Should you rush out to buy this one?” No… at least, not at it’s $14.99 list price. And not unless you are familiar with 1950’s B-movies in general, or else you might feel disappointed when you get it into your player. But there are plenty of retailers and e-tailers who have this one priced a lot lower than fifteen bucks. DeepDiscount DVD has it for less than eleven, and it’s at Amazon for about fourteen.

Still, it gets down to how much you love the cheesy old low-budget horrors of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, and whether or not the words “Ed Wood—Creative Consultant” fire up your desire to see this one. If so, then by all means grab it. But remember, grab it cheap.




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DVD Review: THE WICKER MAN (2006)

Title: THE WICKER MAN

Year of Release—Film: 2006

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: Warner Home Video


Christopher Lee, possessing no small body of work with which to compare it, has stated that his portrayal of Lord Summerisle in the 1973 film THE WICKER MAN was his favorite role. I doubt very seriously if anyone will be making a similar claim regarding this chunk of cinematic excrement, the horrendously unnecessary remake from the uninspired Neil LaBute.

Robin Hardy’s 1973 version of the film, written by Anthony Shaffer, was one of the best Horror Films of the ‘70’s and remains one of my favorite British Horrors. It’s a literate, intelligent, beautifully filmed story of an isolated island village with pagan beliefs, and the devout Christian policeman sent to investigate a young girl’s disappearance. The remake bears only a superficial resemblance to that classic, and the differences are not endearing.

Nicholas Cage is a fine actor; he can, when called upon, perform well in a wide variety of roles. Comedy; drama; romance; action… all are film genres at which Cage has succeeded. Horror, however, has not yet been added to that list. He is singularly unimpressive in the role of Edward Malus, a California Police Officer summoned to aid an old girlfriend (Kate Beahan in an emotionless, lifeless job of acting…) in a search for her missing daughter. He finds an isolated community in Puget Sound following ancient Celtic practices, led by Sister Summersilse, played by the usually talented Ellen Burstyn. No one shines in this mish-mash of bad characterization, illogical plotting, and horrible dialogue, especially when compared to the exceptional performances of Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, and Elke Sommer in the original.

Nor is the acting the only area of deficiency in this remake. The script, by director LaBute, is in a word, terrible. Everything that made the original film unique and impressive has been stripped out, replaced by special effects and dream sequences. The slow, steady build-up to a dramatic, frightening, satisfying conclusion has been supplanted by jump-cuts and sudden scares. When the end does arrive, you’re well past the point of caring any longer.

The Double-Sided disc is about what you would expect for a major new release, even an inferior one. The quality is excellent, with subtitles and multiple language tracks. It seems like putting lipstick on a pig to this reviewer, but WHV maintains its high standards on this DVD.
Warner Home Video, usually the one of the best DVD distributors out there, at least in terms of the bonus features, really skimped on this dog. Perhaps this reflects the generally poor reception the movie received in theatrical release, or maybe there simply wasn’t enough interest in doing something special for the DVD. Whatever the reason, there is an absolute dearth of features here.

The main “special feature” is the extended version present on Side A of the disc, promising scenes “too shocking…” for theatrical release. Don’t bother. It sucks just as much as the theatrical version, only for a longer period of time… 102 minutes of my life, to be exact. I’m certain, as I someday lay on my deathbed and my life passes before my eyes, I’ll be forced to relive each and every one of those 102 minutes in slow motion, in partial expurgation of my past sins.

The only other features on the disc are the theatrical trailer and a commentary track, featuring the director, cast member Leelee Sobieski, (who has maybe four lines in the movie…) and the costume designer. I guess the craft services guy and Best Boy were too busy to make it in. As much as I enjoy looking at Sobieski on film, listening to her drone on about a movie she barely appears in is not my idea of entertaining; nor am I interested in hearing how LaBute got the idea to bastardize one of my favorite films. It is telling that none of the leads saw fit to record commentary for this project, however.

There is usually a price-point at which I consider a movie a good buy, even one that I may not find as entertaining as it could be. This disc does not have such a price. I got mine out of a $5 discount bin, and I feel ripped off. Please take whatever money you might have planned to spend on this refuse, and instead hunt for the superb 1973 original. If you do insist on watching this, then please, wait for it to hit TV… at least that way, all you’ve lost is time.





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DVD Review: The Del Tenney Double-Feature: HORROR OF PARTY BEACH / CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Title: The Del Tenney Double-Feature: HORROR OF PARTY BEACH / CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Year of Release—Film: 1964 / 1964

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Dark Sky Entertainment/MPI Entertainment


In the annals of B-Movies and Drive-In Horror Films, there are many directors who, though more or less successful in their day, are generally forgotten by modern audiences. Directors such as Andy Milligan, Bert Gordon, and Herschell Lewis all were familiar names to Drive-In and Grindhouse moviegoers from the late ‘50’s through the mid-‘70’s, though only Lewis retains any notoriety today.

Another director who thrilled Drive-In fans in the ‘60’s was Del Tenney, a one-time Broadway actor who went into directing in order to spend more time with his family. He’s written, produced, and directed a handful of low-budget films over the past forty years, but his greatest success came with three films done in the early ‘60’s: ZOMBIES ~aka~ I EAT YOUR SKIN, and the two films on this disc, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE.


HORROR OF PARTY BEACH

Long derided as one of the worst movies ever made, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH has always fascinated me. Not because I doubted its reputation, just that I thought no movie could be as bad as I had heard this one was said to be. And I was correct… though no one will claim that this film was unjustly ignored by the Academy, it hardly deserves to be considered as one of the worst films ever produced.

Filmed on location in Stamford, Connecticut, using local bands (oh yes, this IS a musical…) and actors, the plot is bare-bones simple, and pre-dates the very similar HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP by a decade-and-a-half. Some toxic waste is dumped off the coast, leaks out of the container, and washes over some human remains on the bottom of the ocean.

The remains mutate, as well as re-animate, transforming into a type of half-fish, half-man zombie. Needless to say people are soon being slaughtered in rather impressive numbers for a film of this vintage, though of course not the ones you’d really like to see go.

It’s not easy to sum this one up in a paragraph or two. Is it a bad movie? Oh, yeah. The dialogue is horrible; the acting reminds me of my 1st Grade school play; the Special Effects are laughable; and I’ve seen Calvin Klein commercials that made more sense. Is it as bad as I’ve always heard? No, not hardly. If you’re an aficionado of Low-Budget, Low-Grade Horror Films, there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy here. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Released about the same time as HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, this movie fares a little better than the former, with a higher standard of acting helping it immeasurably. The cast here at least appears to be professional, and includes Candace Hilligoss of CARNIVAL OF SOULS fame in her only other screen role. It’s also notable as Roy Scheider’s screen debut, just a mere decade before he would find himself hunting a certain shark off the coast of Amity Island.

The plot is the best part of this film, giving it a Giallo-like feel, reminiscent of Mario Bava’s REAZIONE A CATENA ~aka~ BAY OF BLOOD. Tenney does well with it, though I would’ve preferred that he had left the comedy relief on the cutting room floor. The story moves at a brisk pace, and your attention doesn’t really have time to wander through the various holes that do crop up in the plot.

Unfortunately, the decent cast is given nothing to work with in the way of dialogue. Every speech sounds as though it were written by a 14-year old girl smitten with the works of Jane Austen. Helen Warren, as Abigail, the matriarch of the clan, is given to soliloquies that would do Lady Macbeth proud, and Scheider’s character Philip is so pompous you find yourself hoping he’s the next victim.

While this movie isn’t as well known as the other half of this twin bill, it’s by far the better of the two. Yes, it does have problems, but remember this film was shot in Connecticut, probably for less than $100,000. Much less, from the looks of it. Don’t expect filet mignon, and you won’t be disappointed by Salisbury steak.

For two movies that probably grossed less than the price of a new Cadillac, (in 1964!) Dark Sky / MPI have really done a nice treatment on this disc. The prints used for the transfers, particularly the one for CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, are spectacular; clean, sharp and complete. The inclusion of subtitles is, as always, appreciated, and overall, the presentation on this collection is well done, as is the standard at MPI.

Though the disc isn’t piled on with extras, there are a few, and they’re nicely done. Both films have director’s commentaries; not bad—informative, interesting, better than some of the scripted dialogue in the movies. There’s also a videotaped interview with Tenney as a special feature on the HORROR OF PARTY BEACH menu. Though interviews with young directors occasionally come off as “I love me, and here’s why you should love me too…” personal ads, the older generation has generally outgrown that, and their interviews can often be founts of the trivial esoterica that I love. Tenney’s is no exception, and is an enjoyable addition.

With a list price of $15 or so, I would give this one a qualified buy recommendation, and that qualification would be “…If you know what you’re getting.” If you’re a casual Horror fan, with very little exposure to the Drive-In cinema of the ‘60’s, then I’d say try to rent it first. You might like it, you might not. At least you’ll keep your losses to a minimum.

But if you still have fond memories of warm summer nights under the stars, as a parade of cheesy horror films shone through your windshield, then I think you’ll enjoy this one. And at $15 for two movies, (shop around, though, you can find it much cheaper…) it’s hard to pass this one up.





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DVD Review: SNAKES ON A PLANE

Title: SNAKES ON A PLANE

Year of Release—Film: 2006

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: New Line Home Entertainment



I’ve learned to be suspicious of Hollywood hype. The more I’m told how great a movie will be, the less likely it will be that it is. A perfect case in point: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. After months of being told that it was the greatest Horror movie since Edison first threaded film onto a projector, I finally saw it… and realized that I could’ve shot a better film with a drunken chimpanzee as my D. P. Thus I had no burning desire to see the aptly-named SNAKES ON A PLANE when it hit theaters last August. Logic told me that any film subjected to the overwhelming flood of hype that it had received just had to be a Grade-A crapfest; the cinematic equivalent of Paris Hilton. Having just watched the DVD, I now believe that might be too kind a description, and offer my apologies to Ms. Hilton for the comparison.

I will say this for the film: You definitely get Truth-in-Advertising with the title. You’re promised SNAKES ON A PLANE, and by damn that’s what you get. I’d rather have a comprehensible plot, decent acting, and competent directing… but they didn’t promise that. At first glance, the idea is appealing… an airliner, thousands of miles from land, infested with venomous reptiles. Given a good, or even plausible, script, it could’ve been a decent movie. Even with this hodge-podge of jump cuts and shock scenes, a good cast might have made something watchable out of it. Instead, we’re just supposed to believe that, on short notice, a crate full of poisonous snakes, smuggled into Hawaii from California, is loaded onto an airliner… along with an explosive device to release them at the proper time. You can’t board an airplane with nail clippers anymore, and the last time I flew I nearly had to answer the question “boxers or briefs?” for the entire airport to see, but they were able to sneak what amounts to a snake-bomb onboard a plane at the last minute. If you’re capable of doing all that, then why bother with the snakes?

With a decent cast and strong direction, even this ludicrous concept might have worked… God knows I’ve seen worse. But not even Samuel L. Jackson and Juliana Margulies can save this stinkfest, and with direction this sure and competent, David R. Ellis must have been the skipper of the Titanic in a past life. Jackson, who can be a great actor when called upon, demonstrates that he’s also capable of sleepwalking through a film; a remarkable feat, considering he delivers every line at a full-volume shout. Margulies, whose descent into obscurity continues unchecked since her departure from ER, does nothing to halt that slide here, and there are no standouts among the rest of the easily-forgotten cast.

The only positives I can find in this movie are technical in nature. The use of live snakes for most of the shots is especially pleasing. Snakes are extremely hard to model convincingly in CGI, (remember ANACONDA?) and the live snakes impart a much-needed dose of reality to the film. They also provide the lion’s share of the acting talent present in the film. Another high point is the accuracy of the 747 flight deck and passenger cabin sets. Airliners are seldom as large as they are made to appear in the movies, and rarely do films accurately capture the look and feel of the flight deck (or cockpit…) on aircraft. The production design team did an excellent job on this one, capturing just how claustrophobic and small even the massive fuselage of a Boeing 747-400 can be.

New Line Home Entertainment may be the current equivalent of American International Pictures, but they do put out a nice DVD. The audio and video quality is good, though there was some minor pixilation on my disc. There are multiple sound and subtitle options, which is nice. Overall, it equates to a very nice frame… for a landscape of a garbage dump.

I’ve got to admit, this disc does come loaded with extras, some more entertaining than the movie itself. You have Deleted and Alternate scenes, though considering the scenes that made the cut I sure don’t want to see what didn’t. There are several Documentary featurettes, including SNAKES ON A BLOG, an examination of the internet phenomena that the film inspired. The best of these are a look at the snakes themselves, and how the handlers controlled the interaction between the human and animal actors.

Once again, though, you don’t buy a DVD for the extras, and no matter how good the special features are, they can’t make up for a movie as bad as this one.

Regular readers of CreatureScape know that I have nothing against bad movies… hell, I’ve turned my love of cheesy, crappy films into a writing career. All I ask, of any movie, is simply that it entertain me, and doesn’t insult my intelligence. SNAKES ON A PLANE fails both tests. I can’t even recommend this as a bargain rental. Remember people, I bought this DVD so that you won’t have to!




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Junkyardfilms.com’s Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month!: BLOOD FREAK

Title: BLOOD FREAK

Year of Release—Film: 1972



[Author's note...I usually review only movies that are out of print. However, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I couldn't let the occasion pass without reviewing Blood Freak...the one and only blood-sucking, chopper riding, Bible thumping, dope smoking, limb hacking, were-turkey monster movie!]

Herschel (Steve Hawks) plays Good Samaritan to a pretty girl, Angel (Heather Hughes) stranded by the side of a highway. She takes him home to her drug-smoking sister, Ann (Dana Cullivan) who is having a pot party. Ann offers Herschel a hit but he declines. Later Angel is having a prayer meeting in which they, along with a group of other young people, discuss right (anti-drug) and wrong (pot). Angel offers Herschel the use of her couch until he finds a job. Angel's friend owns a turkey farm and offers Herschel a job there starting next week. This gives the beautiful and seductive but not terribly bright Ann more than enough time to convince Herschell to try some of her specially enhanced pot and big, dumb Herschell finally agrees. It's not long (about ten minutes) before he's hopelessly hooked and is heating up the sheets with the more than willing Ann!

This seems like the perfect time to mention that this movie is sporadically narrated by chain-smoking co-director Brad Grinter, who spouts disconnected Biblical nonsense from a script on his desk throughout the picture. More on Brad later.

Herschell starts his new job, which isn't taking care of turkeys as he thought. Instead, he's coerced by two scientists into eating an entire turkey that has been, unknown to him, laced with a potent chemical. This amazing gastronomical feat he accomplishes without a side single serving of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce or a drink! Soon, he's feeling ill and lies down in a field to rest. When he awakens, he's a new man—one with a gigantic Paper-Mache turkey head—and a hunger for the blood of other drug-addicted teens! He kidnaps a couple of heroin-addicted teens and kills them by hanging them upside down and slicing their throats, drinking their blood as it spurts. (Except, some crewmember put the jets in the wrong places and it spurts out of their blouses instead!) A fat redneck attacks him and Herschell kills him, too. (If you listen to the female screams in this movie, you'll realize quickly that it is the same sound loop used over and over...making Grinter the inventor of the female Wilhelm Scream!)

Herschell goes back home to Ann, who's surprised to see this change in her man. Ann waxes philosophical about how difficult a relationship between a normal female and a man who's part turkey would be. "What would our children look like?", asks Ann. "Gobble-gobble-gobble,” exclaims Herschell and Ann, carried away with his reasoning and her passion, gives in to him! The next day, Ann, full of regret about causing Herschel to turn into a turkey-monster, enlists a couple of her drug-dealing friends to supply Herschell with even more drugs.

Herschell goes on a rampage, killing another heroin addict and drinking her blood. An older man witnesses this and attacks Herschell but Herschell breaks his neck. Herschell is then attacked by a fat man who stabs Herschell in the eye with an ice pick. Herschell, screaming like a baby (Honestly! In a baby's voice!), kills the fat man. Meanwhile, Ann's horny druggie friend, a real sleaze-ball, tries to convince Ann that Herschell's two-timing her. Ann, disgusted, goes to bed. The druggie friend needs more drugs but the door-to-door pusher won't give him any more until he pays for his last shipment. Druggie friend tells the pusher her can have a go at Ann in return for drugs and the pusher takes him up on it. However, during the sexual attack Ann faints with fright and he flees only to be caught by Herschell, who has witnessed all of this through a window. Herschell chases the pusher into a woodworking shop and cuts pusher leg's off with a table saw. (This is the most effective special effect in the film because Grinter used an actual amputee and added blood-filled prosthetic legs.)

Dawn breaks and an exhausted, blood-covered Herschell goes back to the turkey farm. There he falls to his knees and, in a pleading gobble-gobble voice, prays to God for help. Two drug friends of Ann's sneak up behind him with a raised machete and... The scene changes to an actual live turkey, flopping around with it's head cut off! (This is the most gruesome scene in the movie!) The next scene shows Herschell's turkey-head lying on a platter next to a roasted turkey that's being ripped apart by human hands. Was this all a drug-induced dream!?!

But, as hard as it is to believe, this mish-mash of a movie has a happy ending. Angel, who works at a drug rehab, gets Herschell help and he kicks the drugs. Angel encourages Herschell to seek out an older-but-wiser Ann. He does and they all live happily ever after. The chain-smoking Brad Grinter reads some more Biblical doggerel, then collapses onto the desk and coughs up a lung! The End!

Brad Grinter used mostly his film students as actors in this movie. With few exceptions, none ever made another movie. Steve Hawkes had a previous career starring in Italian Tarzan movies but that ended with a fire on the set that left Steve with serious burns, some of which are visible during the first love scene in Blood Freak. Heather Hughes acted in two previous Grinter films. Made with a budget that couldn't have been more than a few thousand dollars, this movie should be on a shelf moldering away, long forgotten by the outside world, there is so little to recommend it. However, it's so much fun! A true candidate for "worst movie ever made,” it has everything a bad movie lover could want! Bad acting, inept directing, terrible script, amateuristic special effects and a narrator who can barely remember (or speak) his lines! BUT WAIT! This Something Weird Video release isn't done astounding you yet! It has an added extra short titled "Brad Granter, Nudist"! It seems this middle-aged, skinny, five-pack a day, Elvis wanna-be was a nudist in his spare time! And, that my friends, is the true horror of Blood Freak! Gobble up this tasty mess on Turkey Day!

Enjoy! Or not!

MSTjunkie





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