Category: Gore Films

Twitch of the Death Nerve

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Video Nasty #5 of 72

Year of Release: 1971
Directed by: Mario Bava
Run Time: 84 minutes
Alternate Titles:  Originally titled Reazione a catena (Chain Reaction), also released as A Bay of Blood, Blood Bath, Bloodbath Bay of Death, The Antecedent, Ecology of a Crime, Last House on the Left Part II, and New House on the Left. Since this might be the most re-titled film in history, I’ve probably missed quite a few.
UK Censorship Status: Released with 43 secs cut in 1994. Re-released uncut in 2010.

Although he’s a pretty well known figure among hardcore horror movie nerds, Mario Bava isn’t quite as well known with anybody else.  In fact, when I was trying to find a decent download of this movie, I mentioned his name to my wife and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders.  So if you haven’t seen Black Sabbath, or Kill, Baby, Kill or even Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (good lord) then all you really need to know is that Bava was a very stylish director that worked in a variety of “low” genres. Everything from science fiction to sword and sandal flicks.  There was a lot of junky Italian movies that came out in the 70’s and 80’s, it was kind of the heyday for that kind of thing there, but you can always pick Bava’s work out because it’s well, decent. I mean, not usually great story-wise but visually it’s usually pretty boss. Lots of stylized camera work and neat use of color and lighting. The other really interesting thing about Bava is that even though he’s not quite as good as the great Dario Argento, his work might just be more influential.  This film, for instance, pretty much kick started the whole freaking slasher genre!  That’s a pretty tall order for something that was pretty much totally critically dismissed on its original release. But then the critics never seemed to like this type of movie anyways….

Bava’s style is clearly evident in the opening scenes where we get long lingering moody shots of the bay where the entire film is set.  There’s an air of melancholy and loneliness that’s very well established even before we get to the sad old lady in the wheelchair, sadly staring out through the rain soaked window.  It’s kind of beautiful, in a depressing way….and then someone puts a noose around the old lady’s neck and hangs her from the ceiling. Then the man that did that gets brutally stabbed by somebody and left bleeding on the floor.  This opening, with it’s one two punch of brutality that’s also a sick joke, pretty much let’s you know two things: this is going to be quite a bit different from Bava’s other work and he ain’t going to hold anything back so you’d better buckle your seat belts.
Getting into the plot of the movie proper is a bit tricky because it’s an incredibly muddled story. Even reading a synopsis of it after I just watched the movie doesn’t really help much.  The basics of it go as follows, as best as I can sort out: The old bitch that died in the opening owned the bay (of blood?) and was strangled by her husband, who was in turn slaughtered by someone else. A real estate agent and his mistress plot to take the bay from the husband, who they have no idea is dead.
Also involved in this is the old woman’s daughter and her husband, who travel to the bay and are essentially after the same thing. They also have no idea the old man has kicked the bucket.  They met up with a kooky fortune teller and her unpleasant bug collecting husband where from they learn that the old lady had an illegitimate son named Simon that makes a living as a fisherman of sorts.  The couple plans to murder Simon to make sure that the land will be theirs.
Got all that? To make matters even more clear and well structured, there’s a bunch of random teenagers that wander into the movie and a couple of kids that the real estate agent left behind to go gallivanting off in search of ill gotten money.
Now have you got all that? I sure hope so, because I’m still a bit lost….

It’s really the confusing story and the fact that so many characters just kind of wander in and out of the narrative that keeps this movie from really achieving classic status.  That’s kind of sad because otherwise this thing is fucking great.  If you’re looking for brutal onscreen murder, this is one you need to watch.  I’ve seen a lot of nasty movies in my time and even I was shocked by not just the sheer amount of fatalities, but the sheer visceral nature of a lot of them as well. On top of that, most of them are just really creative and cool!  The gore films that came before this one on this list, like Blood Feast and The Ghastly Ones, had grue that was cheap and incredibly fake looking.  This might have been one of the first films to try and make its gore as realistic as possible, which it admirably succeeds at, even by today’s standards! Check out that head chop late in the film or the infamous hatchet to the face! No wonder this thing was so influential!  There’s even a couple of scenes that the Friday the 13th films outright stole, including a  buxom woman skinny dipping and a rather awesome spear thrust through a couple of copulating teenagers.  I guess they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Gore aside, what really sets this film apart is that it’s both a more stylish film than it’s many rip-offs and a smarter one as well.  A lot of critics have dismissed the film as unintelligent but if you’re paying attention, there’s a lot of very clever and subtle things you can catch.  Like a bug pinned to a board that’s strikingly similar to a character’s death later on or a bell tolling before another one bites it (Get it? For whom the bell tolls?)  It’s just so damn cool, even when you’re scratching your head over the impenetrable story.
Death Nerve (or one of its many many other titles) is also a film that actually has an underlying message that gets spelled out in what might seem like a bit of throwaway dialogue early on.  That message is that humans are essentially animals that will do anything to survive and/or get what they want. They’ll think no more of ending another person’s life for their own gains than shoving a bug in a jar of ether.  It sets a remarkably cynical and morbid tone, but in the end it all finishes up with a sick, and quite funny, joke that all of a sudden makes you look at what came before in a different light. Were we supposed to be finding all of this violence and unpleasantness amusing? The director and writers obviously did!  How remarkable…

Death Nerve ends up being a film that has a lot of flaws but it somehow ends up being better than the sum of its parts. Isn’t it weird when that happens?

Watch the trailer here (And get a sample of that groovy score!)

Random Things

  • Oh man, that jazzy score! Italian horror pretty much set the standard for horror movie music for decades to come and it’s in full force here.
  • I liked this one a lot but sometimes it feels like you’re watching a template for future movies rather than an actual movie itself.  Which is kind of an odd feeling…
  • Horror movie legend Sir Christopher Lee, a Bava fan at the time, reportedly walked out of a screening of this film in disgust.  I wonder what he thinks of it now?
  • This film would make a great double feature with 1960’s Peeping Tom, another film that’s hugely influential to the slasher genre, but also a much more coherent experience.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a film before where every single fucking character is a scumbag out for their own ends and they all get what they deserve! Bava deserves some kind of award for that, for sure.

Next Time: The rather notorious Last House on the Left

Night of the Bloody Apes

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Video Nasty #4 of 72

Year of Release: 1969 (English language version released in 1972 with additional scenes)
Directed by: René Cardona (Additional scenes by Jerald Intrator)
Budget: Who the Hell knows?
Run Time: 81 minutes
Alternate Titles: Originally titled La Horripilante bestia humana (“The Horrible Man-Beast”), also released as Horror y sexo (“Horror and Sex”) and Gomar—The Human Gorilla
UK Censorship Status: Released with approximately 3 mins of pre-cuts in 1999. Re-released uncut in 2002.

Generally when I write these reviews, I try and give my thoughts on the movie right after I’ve seen it, so it’s all fresh in my head. But honestly, after this one was over I sat for a good hour trying to think of what the Hell I was going to say.  I can’t fill much space by recounting the plot,  because there really is none. Basically,  a scientist tries to help his dying son by giving him a gorilla’s heart which of course turns him into a horrible man-beast that just wants to kill the men and rip the women’s clothing off. There’s a detective that’s trying to solve the murders and a whole lotta Mexican wrestling footage that doesn’t have anything to do with anything!  That’s about it.
I will say this, though: This movie is fucking nuts.  But that’s pretty much par for the course with Mexican horror films. Unlike similar films from other countries, Mexico’s low budget genre films weren’t really concerned with things like “logic” or even making any damn sense at all.  And if you think their horror movies are bad, you should check out their kid’s films! Total unadulterated insanity in its purest form.  What makes Night of the Bloody Apes (there’s really only one ape-man) interesting is that it’s actually two different types of low budget film in one. One the one hand it’s a juvenile and really silly monster movie that’s obviously influenced by the American poverty row films of the 1940’s, complete with a mad science lab in the basement of a suburban home and a guy in a cheap ape suit. But then it’s also (thanks to some inserted footage) a sleazy grindhouse movie complete with implied rape, lots and lots of boobs, and a whole heck of a lotta cheap as shit gore! And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. There’s face squishin’s, head rippin’s and eye poppin’s a plenty as our lovable ape-man goes on several rampages over the course of the film.  There’s even some real (!) heart surgery footage thrown in there for good measure! Aye carumba!
This feeling of being two totally different movies (which I guess it kind of is) really makes this one hard to wrap your head around.  It probably doesn’t help that the dubbing is some of the worst ever recorded, a result of the voice actors having to read literally translated Spanish word for word.  And thus we get gems like

“…it’s more probable that of late more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror!”

And a closing bit of dialogue that makes it seem like our heroes are just kind of shrugging off the events of the entire film!
So even with the excessive blood and nudity (and even the heart surgery) the film still remains too goofy to really be all that offensive.  I mean there’s a scene where the man-beast slowly walks through his house still wearing his pajamas while scare chords blare on the soundtrack.  In the early scenes where they steal the gorilla from the zoo, the close ups are stock footage of an orangutan but when it’s shot with a dart, it turns into a man in a cheap gorilla suit!  So I’m not sure why this of all things was put into the UK censorship board’s cross-hairs. It reportedly had something to do with the video cover, which featured a pair of bloody surgeon’s hands, which means that they’re just as dumb as this film is.

Conclusion: A must watch for fans of nutso low budget trash!

Watch the trailer here (Just a warning, it does feature quite a bit of the surgery footage!)

Random Things

  • The graphic inserted footage was filmed by the guy that did the exact same thing for another one of my favorite bits of Mexican grindhouse madness, The Curious Dr. Humpp. Although the extra stuff inserted into that masterpiece was of a decidedly more pornographic bent!
  • The color palette for this film sure does include a lot of red and green, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
  • Is there such a thing as too many gratuitous shower scenes? I think this movie has like three in a very short space of time!
  • Oddly, this is actually a remake of the original director’s earlier film Las Luchadoras contra el medico asesino (The Wrestling Women vs. the Murderous Doctor). I guess he felt like he didn’t say everything he wanted to with the original?
  • I’m still a bit disappointed that there was no female wrestler vs. ape-man action happening onscreen. I mean, why set it up that’s how she makes her money if you’re not going to go anywhere with it? Film, I am disappoint.

Next Time:  We enter the 70’s proper with Twitch of the Death Nerve

The Ghastly Ones

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Video Nasty #2 of 72

Year of Release: 1968
Directed by: Andy Milligan
Budget: $13,000 (estimated)
Run Time: 81 minutes
Alternate Titles: Released in the UK as Blood Rites, also re-released in the US as Blood Orgy
UK Censorship Status: No UK re-release

[Bell rings, kids take their seats]
Alright now, alright! Calm the Hell down! You crazy kids. Before we rip into today’s movie like a steak at a barbecue, we should probably take a look a look at the chef who cooked it. Well, sort of cooked it. Okay, took a bloody raw hunk of meat, threw it on a platter, and called it a steak. He went by the name of Andy Milligan. Now please open your textbooks to page 666 and read along with me…

Andrew Jackson Milligan Jr. was born an army brat on February 12, 1929 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was a captain and his mother was a neurotic booze bag who was both physically and mentally abusive to both her children and her husband, fostering a vile hatred of women in the young man that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
After graduating high school and serving a stint in the army, he dabbled in acting on stage and ran a dress shop before getting involved in the off-Broadway theater movement of the 1950’s, where he got his first directing experience as well as sharpening his dressmaking skills enough that he actually owned and operated his own clothing boutique for awhile (if you can’t tell, along with everything else Milligan was, he was also very very gay).
In the early 1960’s, Milligan got into film making with a 30 minute short titled Vapors, set in a gay bath house. This film caught the eye of several exploitation film producers, which got his almost 30 year career up and running.
Milligan’s early films (most of which are now lost) were basically soft core porn but after purchasing a Victorian era mansion on Staten Island, he started making horror movies. Today’s subject was his very first one.

I give you a bit about the history of Milligan for two reasons. One: His life is incredibly interesting to read about, and two: because it really helps to kind of understand his films a little bit better.
See, while Herschell Gordon Lewis was the kind of guy that I’d love to sit down and have a beer with and talk about film, Milligan is the kind of guy that I would cross the street to get away from. By all accounts, he was a very unpleasant person to be around. This bit from Wikipedia is a pretty good example of the kind of guy he was:

“Milligan had a reputation throughout his life of being extremely demanding and bad-tempered, often provoking fights or arguments with actors, film producers and financiers as well as strangers he would meet on the street. He would be abusive and frequently shout and yell at actors working on his films or plays for not getting the work done fast enough and even physically assault actors and actresses often by slapping them across their faces and laughing if the women he slapped would break down and cry. A non-smoker and non-drinker, Milligan was said to throw fits and tantrums in public and private if people around him smoke, drank, or used drugs.”

Milligan basically hated the world and everyone in it, but especially women. He even did things like get married to a stripper and then spend the night celebrating at local gay bars, probably just to hurt her. His only real friends were just as messed up as he was, including one that was involved with an abortion clinic bomber!
But see, the thing about Milligan’s movies is that even though they’re obviously the products of someone not quite right in the head and they should be depressing and impossible to watch, they’re just so stupid and poorly made that they become laugh riots instead.
Because Milligan wasn’t just a bad director, Milligan was possibly one of the worst directors of all time…

A good indication of what you’re getting into when you plug this movie into your eye holes is the pre-credits sequence, which has nothing to do with anything else and is kind of like it’s own little short film. Basically a couple of dorks wander around an island until they find a house. “Look, a house!” Exclaims the dorky young man before the camera cuts away and we never get a good look at the house.
Eventually the young man wanders away because he “Wants to explore the island.” But not the house, the house has nothing to do with anything. In fact nothing in this movie has anything to do with anything. After struggling with some bushes, the stupid young man is set upon by somebody and his eyeball is stabbed out. Hilariously, said eyeball balloons to about tennis ball sized once it’s out!  Then the young woman is also hacked apart by the machete wielding maniac as well. Open credits.
Here in about 6 minutes, you basically learn all you need to know about Milligan’s entire oeuvre. Basically, that the man did not know what in the Hell he was doing but through sheer force of will he was going to get his goddamn movies made, goddamnit! He didn’t know where to put the camera, he didn’t know how to move the camera, he didn’t know how to pace anything, he didn’t know how to light anything, and he sure as shooting didn’t know to edit anything.
This total incompetence at achieving even the most basic aspects of film making is really what makes Milligan’s films so unique and makes him still a popular cult figure in the bad movie world. His film’s aren’t just awful, they’re Andy Milligan awful! You can’t really mistake them for anybody else’s.

Getting back to the movie proper, three sisters all receive letters from their late father’s lawyer. Before we even meet the lawyer, we get to spend a lot of time with the sisters and their husbands in what Milligan obviously thought was an accurate representation of happily married life. Of course, Milligan was never actually happily married once in his entire life, so these scenes come off as rather strange bits of idle chatter, that of course have nothing to do with anything. However we do get in a bit of mild nudity, which probably pleased the 42nd Street crowd at the time. Hooray, I guess.
Eventually, and that’s a big “eventually” we get to meet the lawyer who for some odd reason has a head painted with goofy grey make up with random bits of hair stuck on his face! I guess that’s supposed to indicate that he’s old? I don’t know.
The lawyer reads off a statement from the old bastard which basically states that his daughters need to spend three nights in the father’s old house on an island, alone except for the humble servants that still live there (who the Hell’s been paying them all this time?). In three days time the lawyer will come back to the island and read the will and an old trunk in the attic will be opened, for some reason. (the trunk never actually gets opened.)
The servants consist of two older women and a mentally handicapped hunchback named Colin who I guess was supposed to be the murderer in the opening.
Curiously, even though everyone else is decked out in hand-made Milligan-style Victorian type period wear (another trademark), Colin is sporting what looks like a blazer and jeans! Besides killing people who wander onto the island, the hunchback’s extracurricular activities appear to include getting beaten senseless by one of the housekeepers and killing and eating small animals with his bare hands. Such befalls the fate of one poor rabbit when Colin slinks off while everyone else is walking to the house. (Don’t feel bad for poor Mr. Bun-Bun though, he was obviously stuffed.)
Colin is, of course a pretty typical and pretty obvious red herring in what should be a pretty typical Ten Little Indians rip-off, which it would be if it were made by someone else. But we’re in Andy Milligan-Land after all, so nothing here is typical at all….

When I said that Milligan didn’t know how to do jack shit that involved movie-making, I really meant it. His camera-style is disarming even if you’re expecting something amateurish and terrible. A lot of the movie is shot through close-ups of the actor’s faces, even when there’s other things happening that we should be able to see. My favourite bit is a scene where two people are talking and one is completely off-screen, except for his nose! At one point he actually leans in to get into frame! And it got left in the actual movie! Amazing.
He also does this thing where when something bad is happening, he spins the camera around and around, for no good reason at all. Maybe to get the audience dizzy and disoriented? Maybe he thought it just looked cool? I have no idea.
Then there’s the gore that is sandwiched in-between the endless scenes of characters idly chatting about nothing to kill run-time. I’ll give Lewis his due, even though his blood and entrails looked cheap, they have nothing on Milligan’s red paint and Papier-mâché skin. I’ve never attempted to make a film before in my life even I could make better looking grue than that!
In fact, I think I could probably make a better film than Milligan as well but I doubt it would be half as entertaining and I doubt that anybody would want to sit and write about almost 60 years later. Maybe I should get rid of my conscience and start slapping people around…

Andy Milligan died of AIDS at the age of 62 in 1989. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Los Angeles since he was flat broke at the time and none of his skeezy friends could afford to buy him a burial plot or even have his body cremated. It seems like a fitting end for someone who lived such a dirty life and left behind such a bizarre legacy.

[Bell rings]
Hey, hey hey! I dismiss you, not the bell! Sit your asses down! Okay, Jimmy! Would you like to tell the principal what you just said! That’s what I thought! Damn kids…

Watch the trailer (which features most of the gore scenes!) here

Random Things

  • There is a mild rape scene in this movie. It was either dictated by the producers or put in at Milligan’s own insistence as another show of his gigantic hatred of women but it comes out of nowhere between two people who seemed to be on good terms before and is never mentioned again!
  • In his non-fiction book Danse Macabre, Stephen King calls this film “The work of morons with cameras.” He was wrong though. It was mostly the work of one moron with probably one very cheap camera.
  • I actually own a copy of this one:  Something Weird Video’s fantastic double feature disc that also contains Milligan’s previously lost Seeds of Sin. It’s a great package that’s pretty much essential if you’re a Milligan fan or addicted to 42nd Street trash like I am.

Next Time: Love Camp 7

Blood Feast

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Video Nasty #1 of 72

Year of Release: 1963
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Budget: $24,500
Run Time: 67 minutes
Alternate Titles: Originally advertised at drive-ins as Egyptian Blood Feast
UK Censorship Status: Released with 23 seconds cut in 2001. Re-released uncut in 2005.

We open on a woman returning home from somewhere (we later find out it was work). She takes off her coat and switches on the radio, which is broadcasting a warning about a psycho murderer roaming the streets. She gives a disgusted face and then shuts the radio off. Undisturbed, she disrobes and gets into the bathtub. She hasn’t soaked for very long when a shadow falls over her! It’s a man wielding a machete! He stabs her in the eye, killing her instantly and then hacks off one of her legs before leaving the scene. The camera lingers on the carnage like a teenage boy ogling his first pair of breasts. Cue opening titles…
For anyone familiar with slasher films, this scene is going to produce a bit of deja vu. It’s a pretty basic set up and nasty pay off that you can find in about a million cheap gore films made throughout the 70’s and 80’s. The thing is, this isn’t either of those decades, this is 1963!
One of the many amazing things about Blood Feast is that there was really no precedent for its existence. There had been splatter films made before in Japan but nothing on this level had ever been seen in American cinemas, especially with the stranglehold the Production Code had held there since the mid 1930’s. This is even more amazing if you know that the Code hadn’t even been abolished yet! It was a few years before a slew of more mainstream films started chipping away at the censorship board and a full five years before the new ratings system was put into place. For all its many faults director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ and producer David F. Friedman’s cheap little slasher really was ground breaking and oddly historically significant. But how does it stand up after decades of imitations and rip-offs that followed in it’s wake?

To give you an idea of how wonderfully loopy this film is, you should know that a large plot point centers on an evil book club! Not just any evil book club, however. This one is run by a Mr. Fuad Rhamses (Mal Arnold who also appeared in Lewis’s sickie Scum of the Earth), exotic caterer extraordinaire. Of course, a loopy movie needs a loopy villain and boy does Rhamses ever fit the part! If his habit of cutting apart members on his book club list to revive Egyptian goddess Ishtar (not actually an Egyptian goddess) wasn’t enough, Arnold imbibes the character with what’s possibly the very essence of camp, before camp was even invented. He seems to be relishing every bit of goofy dialogue that comes out of his mouth and chews the scenery with gleeful abandon. But my favorite thing about this character is that he’s supposed to be an old man but he’s really a young man who’s hair (and eyebrows!) have been unconvincingly spray painted grey! Besides his limp, and the times people mention his age, there’s no other indication that he’s supposed to be a senior citizen! So there’s your first slasher movie villain, how about the victims?
Well, the main one is 1963 Playboy playmate of the month Connie Mason, who certainly wasn’t cast for her acting abilities because, well, she really has none. At all. Her performance can probably best be described as somewhere between a small child reading off a Teleprompter and someone with a bit part in a school play. Even the other actors were reportedly bothered by her lack of skill, which is really saying something since no one in this movie can act their way out of a paper bag!
As Fuad moves through a series of nubile young things, most with beehive hairdos, chopping off body parts along the way he still has to manage his business which, in a rather convoluted way, leads him to cater a party for Connie Mason. Mason, in another bit of coincidence that should shock nobody, is also dating the police detective (former sideshow barker William Kerwin who eventually married Mason) that’s trying to solve the recent string of brutal murders! Oh the humanity! (As a side note: everybody in this film seems to know everybody. It’s like everything that happens onscreen is self contained in it’s own cheap bloody universe!)

To be blunt, Blood Feast is not a very good movie in the strictest sense of the word. Lewis was never a great director at the best of times and his first stab at a horror film after years and years of nudie movies is shaky at best. The sets are dirt cheap, the acting is grade school level, and the screenplay is atrocious. Everything about the film is just…tacky. It’s like John Waters before John Waters started making movies. The difference is that Waters is a talented film maker that makes campy trash on purpose while I doubt Lewis could have possibly made anything else!
But it’s hard to complain when everything is just so much goddamn fun. And that’s really the difference between this and a lot of the nasty trash that came out in its wake. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie now and I still laugh like an idiot every time I watch it. One really gets the feeling that the whole movie is just one big joke and indeed there’s a certain sick gleefulness to every frame of the movie that gives this away. It’s hard to imagine anybody writing and delivering lines like “Have you ever had…an EGYPTIAN FEAST?” or “Well Frank this looks like another one of those long hard ones!” without knowing that it was goofy as all get out. This isn’t a serious movie at all and anyone looking for meaning beyond giving a middle finger to basic human decency with one hand while grabbing piles of cash with the other should have their tongue ripped out and put into a stew pot.

So, yes. I would say that Blood Feast holds up really well in sort of an odd way. Even the gore, while incredibly cheap, is surprisingly plentiful and quite explicit, even by today’s standards (check out that tongue ripping scene! Yeesh!). While I don’t think this is the best Lewis/Friedman collaboration, that would probably be 1964’s Two Thousand Maniacs!, it’s still one of my very favourite films and a damn good one to start this project out with.
I’m still not sure why it’s on the Nasties list while stuff like Lewis’s The Gore Gore Girls or The Wizard of Gore aren’t but that’s really the magic of censorship, isn’t it? It’s wonderfully nonsensical in both the best and worst ways.

Watch the Trailer Here

Random things

  • Out of all the bad acting in this movie my favorite is probably the guy who’s girlfriend gets killed on the beach. Dude over acts so hard it’s almost like his head is going to explode!
  • To give you an idea of just how wonderfully cheap Blood Feast was, there’s a dream sequence where a woman gets stabbed on an alter…and the knife is very obviously plastic!
  • While there’s very little nudity on display, it’s very obvious in some places that the film’s producer and director both came from the sexploitation industry. There’s a whipping scene in particular that’s almost kinky!
  • Lewis on his own movie: “I’ve often referred to Blood Feast as a Walt Whitman poem. It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.” Ouch!

Next Time: Andy Milligan’s The Ghastly Ones