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Elvira's MTV Halloween Party (1984)
Elvira hosts a six hour Halloween presentation from 1984
ELVIRA'S MTV HALLOWEEN PARTY from 1984 has happily survived the years, uploaded by more than one source for YouTube viewers, its main section a special presentation of George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" interspersed with Cassandra Peterson's usual sparkling repartee. Her fame quickly grew from the inception when Los Angeles station KHJ-TV decided to revive its late night horror movie in 1981 with a new character in place of Larry Vincent's 'Seymour,' Cassandra's knockout looks, heavy pancake makeup, jet black beehive wig, and ample cleavage earning a rise in greater viewership with her already expert comic timing. This evening also featured her appearance on ABC's THE FALL GUY, opposite special guest star John Carradine, present here as well: "as a special Halloween treat we've taken our MTV cameras to the home of that grand master of the macabre, John Carradine...Mr. Carradine gives us the tender story of 'The Loneliest Pumpkin.'" This reading finds Jack O'Lantern's inglorious existence brightened by a little girl who takes him home, only to be cut up and transformed into a prize winning exhibit! (the story lasts for just under two minutes). Carradine returns to rhapsodize about our buxom host in delightful fashion: "Elvira is to Halloween what the turkey is to Thanksgiving, what the ham is to Easter..." Elvira: "what about the Christmas goose?" "oh, I forgot about the Christmas goose!" (he announces with the expected result!). Short intros feature celebrities like Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, Laraine Newman, Richard 'Cheech' Marin, Nazz's Todd Rundgren, and frequent visits from Elvira's partner in crime 'The Breather' (John Paragon), who had previously appeared with Carradine in a one off NBC broadcast from June 2, WELCOME TO THE FUN ZONE (we're also treated to trailers for "The Brain Eaters," "The Wild Women of Wongo," and "I Was a Teenage Werewolf"). Elvira fans will rejoice at the wealth of material, while Carradine comrades can continue to savor his every moment on screen.
Welcome to the Fun Zone (1984)
One time only Saturday night broadcast boasting musical guests and comedy
WELCOME TO THE FUN ZONE served to preempt SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in its 11:30 time slot on June 2, 1984, a youth oriented variety show that was never picked up for an NBC series, boasting plenty of musical guest stars and some familiar faces doing comedy sketches. Barry Hansen's Dr. Demento serves as announcer, introducing hosts Rusty Cundieff, Tawny Moyer, and Charles Zucker, the studio audience enjoying the likes of 'Weird Al' Yankovic doing "I Lost on Jeopardy," John Paragon as singing sensation 'Ramon Azteca,' Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs with guitarist Carlos Santana ("Watch Your Step"), and The Fabulous Thunderbirds doing "Who Do You Love." Marc Weiner's amazing puppet tricks with his Weinerettes (as Michael Jackson, Boy George, and The Rolling Stones) precede The Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling with decidedly dangerous utensils. Roger Corman's "It Conquered the World" is used for a precursor to Mystery Science Theater, prior to a special presentation by Richard Webb's Captain Midnight (stock footage from the 1950s show). Perhaps the best bit comes early on, a self contained horror spoof lasting just over 5 minutes, its title "The Golf Course That Dripped Blood" an apt one for the blood spattered 'mad slasher' era kick started by "Friday the 13th." John Candy plays it straight as a family man who takes a wrong turn and winds up at the decidedly weird and desolate location run by John Carradine's Ben Allen, a former pro himself who was accused ("Accused, yes...convicted? Never!") of killing 20 golfers with a specially designed course. A sand trap sinks more than Alvy Moore's putt, a man eating tree swings into action to grab those who 'slice' into the woods, a spectre may or not be real, and a gigantic footprint that won't part with any golf ball on its turf spell disaster for this hapless bunch. All the while, Carradine's insane laughter proves infectious and even the cops are unable to prevent another foolhardy foursome from a fearful fate. As obscure as this broadcast certainly is, it's definitely worth a look to see the legendary John Carradine well cast in a role lasting nearly a minute and a half on screen, even John Candy can't compete in the laughs department.
Tales of Tomorrow: Frankenstein (1952)
Lon Chaney reprises The Monster for the second and last time
TALES OF TOMORROW stood out as a live half hour science fiction series on ABC from 1951 to 1953 done for adults rather than the usual targeted audience of children, and adapted stories from some of the premiere authors of the day. This 16th episode (out of 85) was broadcast Jan. 18, 1952, a severely truncated version of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," its sole casting coup being one time Monster Lon Chaney, donning a scarred and bald Vin Kehoe makeup that differs markedly from Jack Pierce's classic Universal design for 1942's "The Ghost of Frankenstein." It's a disastrous modern update set in a castle located in a lake, John Newland a nondescript Victor Frankenstein quickly getting down to monster making business, Chaney throwing off the sheet cover to stumble off the slab and confront his creator. This Creature may be mute but remains quite noisy with his sputtering growls, angry once he sees his reflection in a mirror, finally shot by Victor before plunging out a window into the off screen water, only to return for a final showdown crackling with electricity. The likelihood of Lon being inebriated during this live telecast is confirmed by the way he consistently handles prop furniture, at one point even mouthing "I'm saving the chair" as he gently sets it down, obviously under the assumption that it was the final dress rehearsal. If indeed he was reportedly 'mortified' afterwards he was still able to continue in small screen roles in more than 100 broadcasts over the next 17 years, though never again called upon to play The Monster. John Newland would go on to host ALCOA PRESENTS ONE STEP BEYOND, as well as directing classic TV movies like 1973's "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."
You Asked for It: Lon Chaney Jr. (1951)
Very early and candid television appearance for Lon Chaney
YOU ASKED FOR IT was the brainchild of host Art Baker, requiring viewers to send in postcards asking for things they wanted to see, airing for two seasons on the old Dumont network before switching to ABC. This episode has an approximate air date of Aug. 1951, its main focus a reunion of Hal Roach's silent 'Our Gang' performers, who were never featured as TV's 'Little Rascals,' opening with photos of beautiful models from Pin-Up magazine coming to life to autograph their own pictures for soldiers stationed in Korea. In between is a request for footage of one of the silent screen's greatest actors, Lon Chaney, in scenes from 1923's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, actually narrated to a certain extent by his acting son Lon Chaney, Jr. The younger Chaney discusses his father's pantomime skills as coming to him at a very early age, as his parents were both deaf mutes who taught him sign language as well as physical expressions for certain words. During the short screening we see the elder Chaney perform such emotions as fear, anger, love, and gratitude, the entire piece wrapping up after just over 8 minutes. This was only the fifth television appearance for Lon Jr., a rare occasion where he talks of his illustrious father and duplicates some of the skills passed down from generation to generation, thankfully preserved on YouTube and other sources.
The Texan: No Love Wasted (1959)
Lon Chaney and Marian Seldes
THE TEXAN was a successful series for Desilu that only lasted two seasons because star Rory Calhoun was eager for more big screen roles. His character, Bill Longley, is depicted as a former Confederate Captain who now roams the West alone as a gunman aiding the downtrodden, unlike his real life counterpart, a serial killer whose life was snuffed out on the gallows. 1959's "No Love Wasted" is a first season episode distinguished by the presence of longtime Western veteran Lon Chaney as Wylie Ames, who starts out looking like a villainous fellow picking fights at the local saloon, only coming to his senses with the arrival of his former Captain Bill Longley, Ames the sergeant who courageously saved his life on two occasions. Longley's arrival is well timed, as Ames explains how he's been corresponding for two years with a single woman looking for a husband, and she's due on the next day's coach to marry Ames and become stepmother to his young son Jody (Eugene Mazzola, the Pharaoh's son in "The Ten Commandments"). Unfortunately, the expectant father who was knocked to the floor during Ames' drunken rampage has now died from his injuries, the victim's two brothers unwilling to accept an apology in gunning down the defenseless Ames on his own property. Not only does Longley have to console the already widowed bride (Marian Seldes), he also has to defend both her and Jody when the killers return to the Ames ranch for a final showdown. Scriptwise it's a bit too neat and tidy overall but it definitely comes as a shock to see Chaney's repentant character deliberately murdered, while his crime was purely accidental. Acclaimed stage actress Marian Seldes makes a strong impression, first mistaking Longley for her would be husband (understandable, as the bridegroom sent her his Captain's photo instead of his own!), then displaying both fragility and courage in safeguarding Jody's life. The handsome Calhoun is actually the weak link, almost walking through his role, working again opposite Chaney in A.C. Lyles oaters "Young Fury," "Black Spurs," and "Apache Uprising." The director was veteran Robert Florey, who worked exclusively in television after 20 years of feature films.
Wagon Train: The Chalice (1961)
Lon Chaney and Richard Jaeckel
"The Chalice" is one of those fourth season episodes that fell into the abyss after the death of star Ward Bond, a period that introduced John McIntire as his replacement but for those very reasons has received little airplay on television in syndication. All regulars are present save Robert Horton (even newcomer Denny Miller puts in a brief appearance), the story revolving around Sicilian immigrants Marcello Canevari (Harold Heifetz) and wife Lisa (Argentina Brunetti), waiting for help to arrive alongside their wagon load of grapes from the vineyard, in need of as much water as they can find so by necessity the couple partake of their own brew. Terry Wilson's Bill Hawks provides that assistance, even asking Carstairs (Lon Chaney) to allow the Canevaris to store their extra water jugs in his wagon, the one with more room. In time Carstairs figures that that these travelers will owe him a debt for helping them out, eventually sending his young associate Barker (Richard Jaeckel) over to their wagon to find something worth stealing. He takes a box containing a valuable chalice but doesn't reckon striking Lisa to get it, leaving her for dead and riding off with the goods. Neither thief realizes that their heavy bounty is not gold and jewels but simple glass and stones, their sins catching up with them before final judgment inside a monastery. Oddly, Harold Heifetz never acted again beyond this sole television performance, while Western veteran heavy Lon Chaney vacillates in keeping viewers off balance as to his ultimate goal, whereas Richard Jaeckel is in his element with single minded purpose.
The Deputy: Brother in Arms (1961)
Lon Chaney and Denny Miller
THE DEPUTY, lasting two seasons on NBC and an early credit for producer/creator Norman Lear, was essentially a vehicle for second billed Allen Case, despite Henry Fonda's starring presence as Marshal Simon Fry of Arizona's Silver City, shooting all his scenes in a matter of weeks to allow time for his busy film career. Case's Clay McCord is a storekeeper who puts on his deputy badge in Fry's absence, an expert shot but reluctant to use a gun, which actually plays a part in this 68th episode, "Brother in Arms," featuring Denny Miller as Clay's boyhood friend Billy Jason, a fast draw with a gun in his face, using McCord's father as his primary inspiration. This does not sit well with Clay's remembrance of his late father, with his great reverence for life and a preference to talk it out rather than shoot it out. Having legally gunned down a hostile loser in self defense in front of both marshal and deputy, Billy's sharpshooting reputation has followed him from town to town, only admitting to being in Silver City for a homecoming. His true intention is revealed soon enough, confronting wealthy Tom Arnold (Lon Chaney) about his long dead father, who was killed in a mine cave in before Billy was born, partners in the mine before Arnold gave up every penny to buy out every share from the widow, living a poverty stricken life that finally ended four weeks earlier, for which the youth blames the older man. Arnold has no desire to strap on a gun against this unexpected foe, but he does have a staunch ally in peace maker Clay. Lon Chaney essayed a great many villainous roles in feature Westerns, but was eminently skilled in sympathetic oaters on the small screen, with a final twist to add perspective to a well written half hour, the last of 15 episodes directed by veteran David Butler.
Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966)
One of John Carradine's least rewarding performances
1965's infamous Embassy double bill of "Billy the Kid Versus Dracula" and "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" never seemed to be paired together on television. The concept of vampires out West had been tried once before in Universal's 1959 "Curse of the Undead," an effective performance by Michael Pate as the mysterious gunslinger who pays the penance for murdering his brother after he takes his own life, living out his existence as a vampire. Here we have the immortal John Carradine to reprise the role he had played at Universal in both "House of Frankenstein" and "House of Dracula," with one Stoker adaptation done in color for MATINEE THEATRE shortly after Bela Lugosi's death (oddly enough, the name Dracula is never once mentioned on screen but is present in the script, the picture reviled by its star right up to his dying days, David Letterman even joking that it was a true story). Directed in 5-8 days by William 'One Shot' Beaudine, the same auteur behind 1944's "Voodoo Man" (his previous choice for worst film) and 1946's "The Face of Marble," one must conclude that his dislike for the grizzled veteran was fairly strong. Truth be told, this was one actor who could have included multiple nominees for 'worst film,' and so far as starring roles go this at least was one that offered more screen time than any other player, unlike top billed efforts like "The Wizard of Mars," "Blood of Dracula's Castle," or "Blood of Ghastly Horror." Dracula simply turns up out of nowhere to stalk an immigrant family traveling by coach whose pretty daughter becomes his latest victim despite the crucifix in her hand, vampire lore somewhat lacking in Carl Hittleman's script. We next see him yawning at the chatter of a talkative woman and her tenderfoot brother, a journey to the Bar-B Ranch where her niece Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman) has accepted a marriage proposal from Chuck Courtney's nondescript Billy the Kid, here not only whitewashed but seemingly emasculated as well. Dracula's attack on an Indian maiden puts them all on the warpath, everyone on the stagecoach massacred and the vampire able to steal the identity papers off the corpse of Betty's uncle, James Underhill, arriving in town before news of the surprise tragedy. From there he poses as Betty's uncle, secure in his disguise because they've never met, barking orders while trying to avoid the prying eyes of Virginia Christine's Eva Oster, mother of the opening victim. There's definitely a creepy vibe to 'Uncle James' admitting to his young niece that he intends to make her his mate, Courtney truly no match with ordinary bullets, the vampire hunter strictly an amateur who has to look it up in the physician's manual, Olive Carey as Dr. Henrietta Hull, perhaps a nod to Western veteran and 'WereWolf of London' Henry Hull (her son, Harry Carey Jr., puts in a cameo to report the stagecoach massacre). A much better supporting cast makes for a better watch than its Jesse James cofeature, with Bing Russell (Kurt's father) up to no good in cahoots with Dracula, Richard Reeves as the bartender, and possibly the one actor with more credits than John Carradine, serial great Roy Barcroft as the sheriff.
Not enough camp value to break up the tedium
Among the most infamous double bills of the decade was Embassy's Western hybrids "Billy the Kid Versus Dracula" and "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," two 8 day wonders shot virtually back to back in June-July 1965 by director William Beaudine, producer Carroll Case, and screenwriter Carl Hittleman. As expected, the neat and tidy backstory of Jesse is a total whitewash depicting him as a 19th century Robin Hood, similar to a current TV series called THE LEGEND OF JESSE JAMES starring Christopher Jones in the title role, and Allen Case as Frank James. John Lupton's casting was actually a good choice, best remembered for costarring opposite Michael Ansara's Cochise in the 1956 series BROKEN ARROW, the only other well known cast member veteran Jim Davis as the laconic sheriff (Nestor Paiva has a cameo as a saloon owner losing a bet). As Frankenstein's granddaughter Maria, little known Narda Onyx, a native of Estonia's Baltic coast, gives her final performance in her only starring vehicle, paired with Hungarian-born veteran Steven Geray as older brother Rudolph, who also threw in the towel after one more picture. The opening reel establishes them as European refugees from the law, now conducting experiments in an abandoned monastery in Mexico, her task to find the perfect human guinea pig to house her grandfather's artificially-created brain, only to see the locals depopulate the area after being told their missing family members died of a contagious disease. Who should come ridin' along but Lupton's Jesse James, coming off a disaster at Northridge (!) before this new venture with what's left of The Wild Bunch concludes with sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) wounded by a bullet in the shoulder. Pretty Juanita (Estelita) must divert the duo to the Frankensteins, where Maria rejoices in muscular Hank while also trying to make an unsuccessful play for Jesse. Only at the one hour mark does a woman scorned get down to business by transforming poor Hank into hulk 'Igor,' first to dispatch turncoat brother Rudolph for using poison to sabotage the experiment, then to 'kill Juan-Nita!' Neither fans of the Old West nor lovers of camp horror are likely to enjoy this tedious exercise in padded running time, Lupton and Davis playing it straight, Cal Bolder an expressionless cipher no matter what the scene, Estelita a comic highlight with her wide eyed countenance. Only Narda Onyx seems fully committed, a chip off the old block who achieves success too late to do much of interest.
How bad is it? How bad do you want it!
Never intended to set the world on fire, 1956's "Fire Maidens of Outer Space" served as Britain's answer to "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars," "Queen of Outer Space," or "Missile to the Moon," bonafide female pulchritude in bulk for ogling male astronauts to easily partake. The sole creation of triple threat writer-producer-director Cy Roth, it managed to entice Hollywood actor Anthony Dexter to 'pop over the pond' as Luther Blair, captain of a quintet of astronauts blasting off to explore Jupiter's 13th moon, the only one capable of sustaining life as we know it. The same type of plywood mock up of a downed spacecraft used by Bert I. Gordon for "Kinf Dinosaur" (showing only a small portion outdoors with a ladder) soon gives way to a screaming female in the clutches of what is described as a horrible monster but looks nothing more ferocious than a skinny guy in black tights with an immobile mask through which only his eyes can leer through (a few warning gunshots in the air are enough to drive him away). The blonde bombshell played by Susan Shaw naturally turns out to be Princess Hestia of the colony New Atlantis, indeed the descendants of our sunken nation from eons past, who never left behind any evidence of their knowledge of space flight to allow them to escape to this new world. The only man they find is her father Prasus (Owen Berry), so feeble that when he passes out after a Mickey Finn he looks as though he's really passed on to the great beyond! There are about a dozen starlets playing the Fire Maidens, their first born leader Duessa (Jacqueline Curtis) plotting to sacrifice Hestia to the sun gods before the monster decides to party until dawn. Even then the picture was acknowledged as the worst of its kind, cheap and irredeemably shoddy, yet somehow endearing in its unashamed awfulness like an Ed Wood masterpiece. Anthony Dexter came into prominence winning the title role in 1951's "Valentino," here coming off a starring vehicle opposite Lon Chaney on location in El Salvador, "The Black Pirates," his career diminished further by later performances in "12 to the Moon" and "The Phantom Planet." If nothing else, its relatively brief running time and frequent dance moves by our scantily clad Fire Maidens prove more entertaining than similar, more serious British efforts like "The Terrornauts," making male viewers blissfully imagine a very happy set once the cameras shut down.
The Terrornauts (1967)
Retread of "This Island Earth" sunk by lack of budget
1967's "The Terrornauts" proved too ambitious for an Amicus budget, topping a dismal double bill with the only slightly better "They Came From Beyond Space," box office duds to ensure no further outer space adventures were forthcoming. The John Brunner script was adapted from Murray Leinster's 1960 novel "The Wailing Asteroid," the outline following Universal's "This Island Earth" of aliens securing aid from Earth to fight an interstellar battle that will save their galaxy. Hoping to learn something about other beings in the universe has been a lifelong ambition for Dr. Joe Burke (Simon Oates), ever since he received a curious cube as a child that inspired a dream of a world with two suns. The skeptical leader of Project Star Talk (Max Adrian) tires of their finances being drained away without results, allowing only three more months to discover concrete evidence from their intricate radio telescope. Immediately, a signal reaches them from a small asteroid repeating like an SOS call, prompting Burke to put together a transmitter to send an answer to the mysterious messenger, resulting in a ship arriving to transfer Burke and four others to the asteroid center manned by a lone robot (looking suspiciously like a rejected version of one of Dr. Who's Daleks). Various tests meant to confirm the visitors' intelligence and good intentions allow for them to decipher the secret behind the messages, an enemy force set not only to destroy the asteroid but also the planet Earth. Universal provided an adequate budget to bring "This Island Earth" to vivid life (even though the climactic view of the alien world is all too brief), but for this film Amicus started out with a decent script with a pitifully small budget that renders every action sequence downright laughable. The wires are clearly visible during space flight, the miniatures too obvious, the entire cast uninvolved, and one scene where Zena Marshall's exotic scientist is captured for a human sacrifice ends so swiftly and abruptly that it must have been done strictly to promise a colorful poster (reminding one of Cy Roth's inept "Fire Maidens of Outer Space"). A rather sad finale for 41 year old Zena Marshall, best remembered as the very first Bond Girl to bed Sean Connery's 007 in 1962's "Dr. No."
The Brain (1962)
Best version of "Donovan's Brain" is a departure from earlier adaptations
1962's "The Brain" marked the very first genre film for Oscar-winning cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis (his innocuous debut at the helm was 1961's "Two and Two Make Six"), the third screen version of Curt Siodmak's 1942 pulp novel "Donovan's Brain," first adapted by Republic as "The Lady and the Monster" in 1944, followed 9 years later by Lew Ayres's self titled remake. Republic's initial outing was weighed down by the intrusive non presence of Olympic skater Vera Hruba Ralston, only remaining faithful to its literary source during the second half, while this entry ratchets up the mystery for a sci fi-tinged whodunit venturing further away from Siodmak's prose (not necessarily a bad thing). Peter Van Eyck takes the lead as Dr. Peter Corrie, working with assistant Frank Shears (Bernard Lee) on experiments to determine the life span of a monkey's surgically removed brain, fortuitously nearby when an airplane crash presents them with the brain of ruthless financier Max Holt, introduced right after the opening credits, an imperious nature punctuated by the impulsive tapping of his right thumb. Unlike Erich von Stroheim's characterization in the first version, Van Eyck is no preconceived mad scientist, he performs an unethical operation but remains cooly rational even as he falls under the influence of the calculating brain, anxious to learn the truth behind the crash, accidental or deliberate murder. Corrie's first act in Holt's service is to produce a list of suspects, including Holt daughter Anna (top billed Anne Heywood) and son Martin (Jeremy Spenser), family attorney Stevenson (Cecil Parker), shady chauffer Gabler (George A. Cooper), and grasping mistress Marion Fane (Maxine Audley). Corrie remains the central figure throughout, his possessed moments revealed by that incessant tapping, and this element of the story is left open even after the culprit is exposed in the climax, perhaps a disappointment for some but logical nevertheless. Freddie Francis would go unbilled for additional scenes filmed for Steve Sekely's "The Day of the Triffids," so his next credited assignment became his first at Hammer Films, Oliver Reed's "Paranoiac," Amicus first acquiring his services for 1964's "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors."
They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1970
1967's "They Came from Beyond Space," like its cofeature "The Terrornauts," essentially brought down the curtain on the brief vogue for sci fi from Britain's Amicus Films, who profited from Peter Cushing's Dr. Who features yet badly floundered with this flop double bill. Director Freddie Francis blamed the lack of budget on Montgomery Tully's mishandling of "The Terrornauts" but audiences could not have been enthralled by producer Milton Subotsky's repetitious script or the overly familiar elements done better in previous outings (adapting Joseph Millard's 1964 source novel "The Gods Hate Kansas"). It's another alien invasion conducted on the sly, and only Robert Hutton's Curtis Temple avoids being possessed by the captors through the silver plate surgically implanted in his head, learning that the woman he loves has become the leader for those working on Earth, with frequent trips to the moon and back in a swiftly built rocket ship hidden beneath a lake. Interesting tidbits almost make up for the near total paucity of action, particularly one sequence in which Maurice Good's intelligence officer contracts a mysterious and fatal disease during a telephone call (red spots popping up all over), only to be seen later on working as one of the worker bees for the alien hive. Temple doesn't seem to get the message as his antique jalopy (perhaps a nod to John Steed in THE AVENGERS) gets turned away at the gate time after time, it truly degenerates into comedy on the third try. Eventually he shoots down the power lines for the electrified fence to climb over, inspect the facilities, kidnap his girl, then free her from their control with the aid of Zia Mohyeddin's Farge. Back to the launching pad for a trip to our satellite, where Michael Gough makes his long awaited appearance as 'Master of the Moon,' explaining all about his race of advanced intelligent beings who have long abandoned physical form, and their benign intention to die back on their home planet (STAR TREK did the same thing far better and on smaller budgets). After such a lengthy buildup the climactic fizzle only confirms the picture's mediocrity. Robert Hutton ("The Man Without a Body," "Torture Garden") extended his unspectacular career in England until his final role in Freddie Francis' "Tales from the Crypt," working in the same story with Peter Cushing.
The Lady and the Monster (1944)
Probably the most faithful adaptation of Curt Siodmak's "Donovan's Brain"
1944's "The Lady and the Monster" was among the few Republic examples of the horror genre (serials and outdoor pictures were their bread and butter), unfortunately tainted by the godawful presence of Czech skating star Vera Hruba Ralston, sweetheart and later bride of studio president Herbert J. Yates, who spent 14 years spending extravagant amounts on her box office failures until the Poverty Row outfit finally collapsed at the same time as RKO. This was the first of three adaptations of the 1942 novel "Donovan's Brain," the first penned by screenwriter Curt Siodmak, so popular that he conceived a 1968 sequel called "Hauser's Memory," earning its lone adaptation as a 1970 TV movie, followed by 1991's "Gabriel's Body." The original title graced the 1953 version with Lew Ayres, while the second remake, 1962's British-German "Vengeance," was branded "The Brain" for American audiences. Yates only decided on the final moniker to signify Vera's importance to this initial screen version (no relation to George Zucco's "The Monster and the Girl"), shooting titles including "The Monster," "The Monster's Castle," "The Monster and the Lady," and "The Brute" (a later reissue earned yet another title, "The Tiger Man"). When cutting away from the intrigue to return to her attractive yet superfluous character the film only grinds to a halt, spending the entire first half on exposition before finally getting down to business. Erich von Stroheim enjoys one of his best remembered leading roles as Dr. Franz Mueller, whose isolated home outside Phoenix is an impressive castle where he conducts experiments on the brains of animals to see how long they survive when the body is deceased. Just as he and assistant Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) pine for the use of a human specimen a nearby plane crash claims the life of renowned financier William H. Donovan, perhaps the most distinguished brain that any mab lab could want, pronounced dead by the local coroner to allow easier access to what lies inside the skull. Only at the midway point do we finally receive the novel's plot in more detail, Cory (the actual protagonist on the written page) encouraged by Mueller to continue the experiment through a telepathic link, sending the unwitting guinea pig west to Los Angeles to try to free a convicted killer from federal prison. Also taking an interest in Cory's every move are Donovan's scheming attorney (Sidney Blackmer) and faithless wife (Helen Vinson), left penniless by her husband's cleverness, multiple bank accounts set up only by an odd signature. The mystery holds up until the finale, where Cory explains all in a sadly perfunctory dialogue session, Mueller receiving his comeuppance from an unexpected source.
David L. Hewitt's American General fails to salute
David L. Hewitt's American General Pictures strikes again with 1967's "Journey to the Center of Time," following on the heels of cofeatures "The Wizard of Mars" and "Gallery of Horror" but lacking the presence of John Carradine, whose agent did manage to provide Scott Brady and Anthony Eisley for the project, something of a remake of Ib Melchior's "The Time Travelers" from 1964, made to coincide with Irwin Allen's teleseries THE TIME TUNNEL. Call it a waste of time, but with another quartet of scientific adventurers venturing into Earth's future (6968 to be exact) before going way back to 1 million B.C. (complete with giant lizard from "One Million B.C."), whatever hoped for thrills are dashed by excessive talk and virtually no action. Scott Brady's self centered industrialist is strictly out to make a quick buck, while Anthony Eisley, Abraham Sofaer, and Gigi Perreau are forced to prove that they can travel further than 24 hours into the future if the project is to maintain funding. Only a single shot from "The Time Travelers" is used (the rocket ship ready for takeoff), the actual arrival coming only at the half hour mark, the tale of alien invasion lasting but 15 minutes in front of a black backdrop before moving forward into the past (endlessly represented by footage from war movies, Westerns, and gladiator entries), a typical low budget jungle/cavern set with only the threat of molten lava keeping viewers awake (there's a very brief shot of the bat-rat-spider creature from Melchior's "The Angry Red Planet" flashing by on the viewing screen so fast one might easily miss it). Ray Dorn's Hollywood Studios still give off the same barren feel as in "Gallery of Horror" or "Blood of Dracula's Castle," but at least it proves better than Hewitt's "The Mighty Gorga" a sad reunion for Brady, Eisley, and Kent Taylor.
The Purple Gang (1959)
Robert Blake does Edward G. Robinson
1959's "The Purple Gang" was an Allied Artists take on a real life gang of juvenile mobsters terrorizing the Detroit underworld of the 20s and early 30s. Largely a work of fiction with plenty of stock footage narrated by Barry Sullivan's Police Lt. Harley to allow for some authenticity but so far as gangster pictures go this one is pretty routine. The one standout is former child actor Robert Blake as Purple Gang leader 'Honey Boy' Willard, heading straight for the big time with a protection racket aimed at Canadian bootlegging, then a shakedown of local laundry businesses which forces the Mafia to show its hand in the fray. Even women aren't safe from their brutality, from Harley's pregnant wife (Elaine Edwards) to the attractive social worker (Jody Lawrance) whose psychobabble was previously a thorn in Harley's side, later executed between the eyes by a would be rapist who knows she can finger every culprit. There's nothing new to distinguish it from previous, better known efforts, only Blake's claustrophobic sociopath to help it stand out at all, 8 years before his more chilling turn in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."
The Time Travelers (1964)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1967
"The Time Travelers" was a theatrical release from AIP first conceived as "Time Trap" by director Ib Melchior and special effects technician David L. Hewitt, shooting in Nov. 1963 with a fairly decent cast combining veterans and newcomers. Melchior's previous screenplays with Sidney W. Pink included "The Angry Red Planet," "Reptilicus," and "Journey to the Seventh Planet," with Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires" still ahead, and its similarities to Allied Artists' 1956 "World Without End" proved influential to future titles. A trio of scientists work feverishly to master a time portal located on a university campus, and along with hot shot electrician Danny (Steve Franken) manage to open a doorway from present day 1964 to the future world of 2071, a difference of 107 years. Danny absent mindedly wanders through the entrance and beckons the others to follow, all of whom are attacked by a marauding band of mutants living on the barren surface, before being welcomed by an underground society of normal humans led by benevolent council leader Varno (John Hoyt). Preston Foster, legendary 'synthetic flesh' moon killer in Lionel Atwill's 1932 "Doctor X," is the group leader, Philip Carey his second, gorgeous blonde Merry Anders the lone female, granted the guided tour throughout the facilities of what is described as a dying world, what little food and supplies left currently being loaded aboard a rocket ship that will transport them under suspended animation to another earthlike planet outside our galaxy. They cannot provide accommodations for the four newcomers but do offer enough resources to help them rebuild a new time portal to return them to their own period, if the mutants don't finish them all off first. Hewitt's effects hold up well on a low budget, though he did take it a bit too far with his own version of the same story done even cheaper, American General's 1967 "Journey to the Center of Time." There's a nice android factory for the mechanical workers, and a cameo from Forrest J. Ackerman as a technician who admits having things 'squared away,' but for male viewers the actress to remember is Delores Wells, Playboy Playmate of the Month in June 1960 and a veteran of three 'Beach Party' entries, as charming and gorgeous as can be as Reena, whether putting on a sexy light show for lucky Danny, or sharing a rather naughty sauna scene with Merry Anders, both leaving little to the imagination with as much bare skin as censors would allow. Merry's decorative presence is more involved than her wasted turn in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," while this marked the final role for the still attractive Joan Woodbury, alluring femme fatale of Poverty Row Hollywood, nearly 30 years since her unbilled turn as the tiny Queen in James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein."
The Bamboo Saucer (1968)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1970
1967's "The Bamboo Saucer" began life over a decade earlier as "Project Saucer," going by the working title "Operation Blue Book" before its final moniker was decided a year after production started in Sept. 1966 (a third title was attached for rerelease, "Collision Course"). Receiving story credit on his final film was Universal's ace special effects maestro John P. Fulton (he passed away during preproduction), the one responsible for the Invisible Man series, plus the glowing effect for "The Invisible Ray" and "Man Made Monster." Writer/director Frank Telford was able to forego shooting in Spain for easier access on Western sets in Lone Pine, California, a simple story somewhat drawn out to 103 minutes but not an uninteresting one (theatrical distribution by World Entertainment Corp). John Ericson's veteran pilot is casually dismissed by superiors when he spies a flying saucer that cannot be seen on radar, maneuvering in all directions to avoid collision. His attempts to prove its existence put him in touch with Dan Duryea's Hank Peters, who shows him a sketch of the saucer drawn by a peasant farmer in a remote mountain range of Red China, leading a small team of scientists to claim the saucer for the United States. All we learn about its two alien occupants are that they died outside the ship and were cremated by the local villagers, the little group parachuting behind enemy lines to find a similar expedition of Russians on the same mission. An uneasy alliance is formed, Ericson naturally falling for Lois Nettleton's pretty blonde Anna, who speaks English and translates for both sides. It plays out in all too predictable Cold War fashion until the saucer's discovery at the midway point, but the interior is disappointingly reminiscent of low budget drek like "The Wizard of Mars." It's a welcome surprise to see the surviving cast members take off inside the spacecraft on automatic pilot, returning to its home base on Saturn at the speed of light, so at least there's a payoff more satisfying than Mikel Conrad's "The Flying Saucer," a 1949 production that never once takes flight, its saucer built by foreign powers. The actors are all hamstrung by one note characters, some of whom are ill suited for serious roles after years of comic television work. The biggest name is that of top billed Dan Duryea, his last feature shortly after appearing in "Five Golden Dragons," as one of the Dragons with George Raft, Brian Donlevy, and Christopher Lee.
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1969
1965's "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters" served as cofeature for Realart's already completed "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," both produced by George Edwards and an uncredited Roger Corman, this title written and directed by Michael A. Hoey, son of character actor Dennis Hoey. An adaptation of Murray Leinster's 1959 novel "The Monster from Earth's End" had been in limbo for a number of years (working titles "The Nightcrawlers" and "Monsters of the Night"), Hoey's script trying to recapture "The Thing From Another World" in its isolated setting and unseen terrors (actually more in tune with John Carpenter's 1982 remake). Animals and prehistoric vegetation found in Antarctica are on a flight to the US, making a refueling stop on Gow Island in the South Pacific when unforeseen occurrences leave the plane devoid of all personnel but the pilot, in a state of shock from which he never recovers. One penguin is noticeably missing but the remainder still on board, while the botanical marvels receive a proper burial in the tropical soil near the naval base commanded by Anthony Eisley's Lt. Charles Brown. A strange corrosive substance is found on the plane and even some of the buildings, before the discovery of the fist-sized creatures responsible, designed to look like large spiders. Walter Sande's Dr. Beecham examines one and believes that it's only an infant version of an adult, omnivorous trees based at the South Pole with the ability to pull up the roots and pursue its prey under frigid conditions, now growing and multiplying in the island humidity. Hoey's script is weak on characterization, clunky dialogue, and too much unfunny comic relief, but the mysteries increase nicely until the running time is used up, the payoff achieved by poorly integrated stock footage of fighter jets dropping napalm on the monsters, their scenes added in postproduction by actor/director Jon Hall. Hoey's disappointment in the bereft bark also required Arthur C. Pierce to shoot scenes of mainland authorities arriving at the final solution, just to bring the picture up to feature length. Eisley's assessment to maintain suspense by keeping the focus on the island turned out to be in accord with his director, and while it's not "The Day of the Triffids" it remains a better film than its camp reputation, much of it brought on by the wooden presence of an unglamorous Mamie Van Doren, who owed Corman one more picture on her contract, Anthony Eisley previously introduced in Corman's "The Wasp Woman" in 1959.
Operation Eichmann (1961)
Fully committed performance from Werner Klemperer
1961's "Operation Eichmann" served as an Allied Artists quickie to cash in on the upcoming trial of Adolf Eichmann (beating Stanley Kramer's big budget "Judgment at Nuremberg" to theaters by 9 months), who was the man in charge of the 'Jewish problem' that eventually led to over 6 million Jews being exterminated at Auschwitz, captured in Argentina in May 1960 (Dr. Josef Mengele was also targeted but proved more elusive). Perhaps his still being fairly unknown accounted for the screenplay's lack of real factual information, the first half most effective in showing Eichmann's ruthless efficiency in conducting mass murder while also punishing prisoners and bribed officials who cause dissention in the ranks. The second half falls down in its lackluster pursuit of the exiled Nazi on the run, moving from Germany to Madrid, Kuwait, and finally Argentina, his own comrades only too eager to be rid of him one way or another. The narrator is a former Auschwitz prisoner who remains a distant outline to the audience, never a fleshed out character they can identify with, unable to compete with Werner Klemperer's dynamic Eichmann, a fully committed performance that produces the surely unintended, lopsided effect of rooting for a brilliant tactician who eluded capture for 15 years (convicted and hanged for his crimes in June 1962). Joining Klemperer in the Nazi ranks is John Banner, both future veterans of HOGAN'S HEROES, a comic depiction of the war that could only have been possible during a decade climaxed by Mel Brooks and his "Springtime for Hitler" number in 1968's "The Producers." The director was outdoor action specialist R.G. Springsteen, whose only qualification for this touchy subject had to be shooting fast on the cheapest sets to strike while the iron was hot. Making his film debut in the unbilled part of Klaus is Eric Braeden, whose best known movie roles in "Colossus: The Forbin Project" and "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" preceded his longtime tenure on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, which commenced in 1980.
Station Six Sahara (1963)
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater only in 1970
1962's "Station Six Sahara" ("Endstation 13 Sahara") a German-British coproduction with a cast to reflect both nations, plus top billed sex symbol Carroll Baker from the 1956 "Baby Doll" in the erotically charged central role. Peter Van Eyck is the imperious supervisor of an oil station located 200 miles from civilization deep in the Sahara (filming on location in Libya), the male workers signing on for a claustrophobic 5 year term, played by Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Mario Adorf, and newly arrived Hansjorg Felmy. Petty animosity about coffee, letters, or poker come to a halt when a car speeds out of the darkness to crash on their property, the unscathed passenger a blonde bombshell (Baker), the injured driver her jealous ex-husband (Biff McGuire). Her arrival comes at the midway point, yet the predictable nature of events doesn't change, right up to the anticlimactic ending, the love starved men a fairly unlikable bunch all clamoring to earn some down time alone with Carroll, a strong willed temptress never even breaking a sweat. Most surprising are the considerable screenwriting credentials of Bryan Forbes and Brian Clemens, the director Seth Holt a promising talent coming off Hammer's Hitchcock-inspired Christopher Lee classic "Taste of Fear." Martin Scorsese is a longtime admirer of this title, but minus the promised nude scenes it must have seemed even longer than 99 minutes.
Worthy special effects in need of a more concise script
1969's "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" was an ambitious feature project from television producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, creators of such puppet series as SUPERCAR, STINGRAY, and THUNDERBIRDS (and later UFO and SPACE: 1999). Its original British title "Doppelganger" rather gives the game away so far as a certain twist during the picture's second half, but with an impressive budget and cast, plus the set design and expected technical wizardry it's still fascinating in a purely visual sense. Some may see this as a descendant of George Pal's "Destination Moon" or Richard Carlson's "Riders to the Stars" in its depiction of astronaut training, on the cusp of the actual lunar landing in July 1969, Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a definite influence. EUROSEC (European Space Exploration Council) leader Jason Ross (Patrick Wymark) discovers a mysterious planet thus far hidden from view because it lies directly on the opposite side of the sun and orbits at the same rate of speed as the earth. The threat of a saboteur (Herbert Lom) hastens plans to finance an expedition with a team consisting of Col. Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) and physicist John Kane (Ian Hendry), only moving ahead with the backing of the United States. Liftoff is finally achieved at the 43 minute mark, and like Apollo 11 breaks off in sections until only the two man capsule attempts to land on the planet's surface, crashing in flames that prove fatal for Kane, who is still able to pluck Ross from his seat in the wreckage. Over an hour into the picture we encounter the curious twist, that Ross apparently finds himself right back on Earth after three weeks in space when the round trip voyage was supposed to last six weeks; even stranger, all labels, books, everything printed out can only be read in front of a mirror, even time moves backward as it gradually dawns on Ross that this is not the world he came from but the intended planet that was targeted all along. Had the story not taken so long to literally get off the ground, or the anticlimax been such a letdown it might have qualified as one of the few British classics of science fiction, excellent special effects in service of a disjointed script that casually touches on things like sabotage or infidelity then drops the subject.
Cyborg 2087 (1966)
Not as bad as expected, boosted by Michael Rennie's presence
Low budget releases from United Pictures Corporation always give off the appearance of a garish TV movie, from directors Franklin Adreon or Francis D. Lyon. It was a genuine casting coup to have Michael Rennie on hand for 1966's "Cyborg 2087" to play cyborg Garth A7 from the year 2087, sent back in time to modern day 1966 for a secret mission that can alter the future for the better. Our only clue to his condition as half man/half machine (the full term is 'cybernetic organism') is a plate on his chest from which a ruby shaped homing device must be removed to prevent two 'tracer' assassins from the totalitarian future from tracking him. Karen Steele and Warren Stevens are the two scientists who come to his aid, Eduard Franz the target of all this trouble, about to present a perfected form of radio telepathy that will ensure socialist rule in the 21st century, so Garth must convince him not to do so in the short amount of time before the demonstration. Another Arthur C. Pierce script with good ideas later put to more impressive use in Arnold Schwarzenegger's TERMINATOR films, Wendell Corey looking as zonked as he did in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet,' sadly stuck with all the most groan-worthy lines as the exasperated sheriff. Only 15 years since Klaatu in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Rennie obviously trades on his previous role but with little to do but keep running there's almost nothing he can add, the climactic fistfight proving a real letdown for those expecting sci fi thrills.
It's cheap and misleadingly titled but does present some good ideas
1965's "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" formed a double bill with "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters," a last gasp theatrical revival for Jack Broder's Realart Pictures, sitting on the shelf for over a year prior to release, then quickly sold to television after a lukewarm box office response. Producer George Edwards was involved in both, coming off double duty for director Curtis Harrington on "Queen of Blood" and "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet," hardly venturing far with this similarly titled item announced as "Prehistoric Planet Women," screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce at the helm to direct his own script for the only time in his sci fi career. The 11 day shooting schedule finished in June 1965, its threadbare sets and pitiful effects allowing very little in the way of acting from a cast comprised of veterans like John Agar, Wendell Corey, Keith Larsen, and Glenn Langan, with up and comers like Robert Ito (KUNG FU, QUINCY), Stuart Margolin (THE ROCKFORD FILES), Adam Roarke (Ray Milland's "Frogs"), and Paul Hampton (David Cronenberg's "Shivers"). Worst of all is the misleading title and ad campaign, promising girl fights and giant creatures, offering one rather civilized cave man briefly battling a few savage primitives, a giant lizard that gets roasted in five seconds, and a ludicrous puppet tarantula that lunches on Stuart Margolin's back. The opening credits unspool to the theme from "Creature from the Black Lagoon," Wendell Corey top billed as Admiral King, returning to Earth with two fellow ships trailing behind, forced to locate the one that has crashlanded on the aforementioned planet called Solarius, where the last survivor is a female Centaurian (most of whom are played by Asians) who gives birth to Robert Ito's Tang, the titular prehistoric caveman grown to full adulthood by the time King's Cosmos arrives at the speed of light (space time continuum is something that STAR TREK would pick up on). Various crew members go out for one reason or another, beautiful Irene Tsu as Centaurian Linda naturally enjoying a nude swim before being menaced by an ordinary boa constrictor, rescued from near drowning by the alert Tang. Love at first sight is sadly unavoidable in a 90 minute feature, lesser characters biting the dust yet comic relief Paul Gilbert criminally surviving to improvise much of his unfunny schtick. Director Arthur C. Pierce isn't able to overcome the crippling budget with any visual interest but his script does deliver a few ideas that most cheap sci fi items don't bother to examine, just try to forget that twist during the last 20 seconds, perhaps the funniest gag of all.
The Bubble (1966)
Longtime nemesis for infuriated TV viewers
1966's "The Bubble" became the first American feature to be shot in 3-D (called Space Vision) since Universal's 1955 "Revenge of the Creature," from the same writer-director who made the very first 3-D feature "Bwana Devil" in 1952, Arch Oboler, veteran radio producer and creator of the chilling LIGHTS OUT (Canada did come out with "The Mask" in 1961). Unfortunately, suspense is definitely lacking in this misfire, a young couple and their aircraft pilot forced to set down in a curious land of discarded movie sets filled with people who behave like mindless robots, like the cab driver whose only line is repeated ad nauseam: "cab mister?" How the couple's baby can be born in an understaffed hospital of such automatons is beyond comprehension, and even worse, our three protagonists barely bat an eye at the strangeness around them. Eventually it dawns on these dimwits that this community is surrounded by a transparent bubble that allows no escape, and since they flew in from the sky they surmise that the dome was temporarily uncovered. Speculation is that the people are caged animals in some sort of extraterrestrial zoo where experimental specimens can be plucked away from some higher power. Bewildered viewers at the time found the unexplained circumstances infuriating, particularly in light of the incredibly misleading new moniker "Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth" ("The Bubble" was, if anything, painfully accurate), no relation to Bill Rebane's 1972 cheesefest "Invasion from Inner Earth." No characters to identify with, no one behaving with any semblance of common sense, a multitude of drab props never letting the audience know that nothing is real, well it ain't "Strawberry Fields Forever," which at least packs plenty of drama into four minutes of listening pleasure over this overlong exercise in TV movie-style tedium (Oboler's plans for further 3-D endeavors wisely dissipated after this miserable failure).