The Ghastly Ones

Blood_Rites_FilmPoster

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

Blood-Feast1

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

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Satansslave
AKA Evil Heritage

Gorehouse Greats #9

So what would you do if your dad one day just up and went “Hey, I’ve got a brother I’ve never told you about and he lives in the ass end of British nowheresville! Let us all go visit him and we will have a jolly good time!”
You would probably look at him sideways and maybe suggest that he ease up on the homemade wine, right? Not 20 year old Catherine York (B-movie horror regular Candace Gendenning). Not only does she take off for the week of her birthday, she leaves behind her boyfriend, John (Michael Craze, who was also in Terror).  Yeah, this is going to end real well!
Everything actually goes fine until they arrive just outside their uncle’s expensive looking mansion and both dad and mom burn to death when their car mysteriously hits a tree!  We are then properly introduced to the group of lovely fun people who we’ll get to spend most of the film’s running time with.  There’s uncle Alexander York (played by Michael Gough who’s been in damn near everything), cousin Stephen York (who we saw earlier in the film raping and murdering a random American girl), and the unrelated Frances who functions a some sort of secretary to Alexander and soon to be former lover of Stephen.
If you’ve seen a British Satan worship film from the 1970’s you pretty much know what’s going to happen, that is almost everybody is going to die a horrible painful death for your amusement.  Thus, Satan’s Slave offers absolutely no surprises at all. So what does it offer?

In my write-up of Terror, I noted that director Norman J. Warren started off doing nudie movies until he found success with this film and moved in a horror-centric direction.  As a result, Satan’s Slave is kind of situated halfway between two genres: sexploitation and grisly horror. Quite honestly, it’s a kind of uncomfortable mix. If you’ve seen stuff like David F. Friedman’s The Defilers (1965) or any seedy exploitation from the 60’s and 70’s, you know the kind of uncomfortable I’m talking about.  For example, Satan’s Slave includes a male on female sexual assault (the woman is killed after), a priest who orders a woman stripped nude and whipped (she’s then burned to death), and several scenes where random nude women are sacrificed to Satan.  It’s that grimy mix of nudity, sex, and violence that really made this film a success when it was released and not any skill on the part of its director. Because frankly without all of this rather nasty, and mostly female directed, depravity the movie would be pretty freaking hard to sit through. Mostly because it’s. so. sloooooow.  The story inches along like a snail stuck on flypaper until the next bit of skin, “shocking” plot twist, or cruel bout of violence. This is also something I noted with Warren’s Terror: Blood and boobs are pretty much all that makes these films worth watching.  That kind of thing can be fun if you’re in the right mood, and aren’t too bothered by women literally being treated like meat, but it can also be very boring.  Satan’s Slave ends up being about 30% icky fun and about 70% “dear lord is this thing over yet?”
So while Warren still has a cult following with freaks like me that love this kind of thing, after watching two of his films, I’m just not that big of a fan.  I need a bit more to keep me from falling asleep, you know? I want to go to the carnival and ride the rides, man! I want to eat cotton candy until I get sick and ogle the bearded lady.  Staring at the dude biting the head off the chicken all night isn’t really my style.
On the other hand, that fingernail file to the eyeball was pretty bitchin’. Sigh.

Rating: C-

Random Things

  • We get another kind of neat opening credits thing with this one.  Every single drawing on display would make a really killer t-shirt.
  • I think there’s like 4 pairs of boobs that get shown in the first 10 minutes of screen time. Not even kidding.
  • Sadly, my small collection of David F. Friedman movies are stuck back in The States. Who wants to mail my copy of She Freak back to me?
  • It’s weird that, thanks to this DVD set, that you can find this movie for about 5 bucks at Wal-Mart. Is this the kind of thing your average Joe Lunchpail puts on his TV set when there’s not football to watch? Cause that would be pretty cool if it were true.

Terror (1978)

TR5

Gorehouse Greats #8

Even though I haven’t seen any of his films besides this one, director Norman J. Warren is actually kind of a big deal in the British b-movie world.  This is from Wikipedia:
“Along with Peter Walker, Warren’s films are sometimes dubbed ‘New Wave’ British horror, on the basis that they upped the ante in terms of explicitness, were set in modern-day 1970s Britain and centered around young protagonists of ages between 20 and 30, distinguishing them from the period piece horrors of Hammer Films that had appeared before.”
He started off directing sex films and branched out into horror with Satan’s Slave in 1976, a movie that is also on this set, and now has something of a cult following.  That’s kind of cool, really.  I can dig it.  I wish my life was half as interesting…

We start off with a kind of a neat trippy opening title sequence which, much like the film’s maddeningly vague title, tells you absolutely nothing about what the movie is going to be about.  Then we cut to a woman running through a field while a bunch of villagers give chase.  A couple of them set up a rather large bear trap which she of course steps into. It turns out that she’s a witch and they’re going to burn her at the stake! Where’s Barbara Steele when you need her?  Actually this feels a lot like a Barbara Steele witch movie but with Andy Milligan style cheapness and incompetence.  Just when things are starting to get interesting and the evil witch is getting burned at the stake, an end title card comes up! Turns out that this was just a movie within a movie and the cast and crew sit around and cackle at how silly it is.  Notably, the poor production values in this ‘fake’ movie are about on par with what’s in the actual film.
It also turns out that the director of the film based it around real life events that stretch way back into his family history.  Turns out his family is cursed, or something. It’s kind of vague.  Not only is the plot needlessly thin, it seems like nobody involved in the making of this thing seemed to care about it at all! See, this ancient witch is supposed to be trying to destroy this dude’s family but it’s random people that keep getting murdered.  At one point this cop just kind of wanders into the film and gets offed!
So the plot doesn’t matter a pill and a half but what about the characters?  Nope. We don’t get enough information about them to really give a shit either. They’re just meat for the mill.  Some of them, like the crazy ex-film star that lives at the boarding house don’t even contribute to anything! So what does this movie have to fill it’s run time and validate it’s existence?  Well, one thing really: Graphic death scenes.  Since there’s nothing to really link anything together in any way that would define any normal film, Terror is really just one nasty blood soaked scene after another.  I think it’s ironic that a set called “Gorehouse Greats” would take 8 movies to really give us some gore, but it’s on par with the exploitation experience.
But let’s get to those deaths shall we? My favorite is probably the creepy dude at the strip club that gets his neck cut with piano wire, tumbles over a railing, and gets impaled on a gate! And then he’s found all ground up in a garbage truck the next morning! Truly there’s no kill like overkill.
There’s also the dude that gets his head cut off by a falling window pane and the camera just kind of lingers on the scene like it’s a fine oil painting or something.
Even the stabbings are surprisingly graphic. It’s easy to see why a film like this would be envelope pushing in a country, and at a time, where Hammer Horror was a big deal and the censors were constantly looking over everybody’s shoulders.  There’s even full frontal nudity in the strip club scene! Courtesy of a short haired androgynous looking woman who plays with a whip! Yowza!
To cut right to the point, Terror is pure unadulterated trash.  It’s a dumb poorly made movie that steals from just about everywhere it can, primarily from Dario Argento’s Suspiria, but it delivers exactly what you’d want: blood and nudity.  If you’re looking for anything else, I’d stay far far away.
Oh yeah, and Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew turns up in a rare non-Star Wars bit part as a mechanic. Terror came out the same year as The Star Wars Holiday Special! Talk about a two-fer of junk!

Rating: C+

Random Things

  • No, this isn’t The Terror, that Jack Nicholson/ Boris Karloff movie that Roger Corman made while the sets from another one of his movies was being torn down.  Did you know that was one of the first “classic” b-movies I ever saw? Well now you do.
  • There’s a scene where a girl is attacked by a flying car and I swear it looks like Harry Potter has a grudge against her. It’s pretty fucking funny.
  • There’s another part where a dude gets attacked by a pile of discarded film, which I can honestly say I have never seen before. I’ve seen people get attacked by bed sheets, a stupid looking lamp, and a goddamn exploding coke machine and now I’ve got another one to add to the list.  Sigh.
  • According to IMDB the film stock that was used in that scene was actually damaged prints of Saturday Night Fever! Oh the humanity!
  • If you look quick backstage at the strip club, somebody has written “Sham 69” on a mirror with lipstick. The scabby punk inside me did a backflip into a pile of used heroin needles when I spied that, let me tell you…

Stanley (1972)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gorehouse Greats #7

Tim Ochopee is a Seminole Indian and a recently returned Vietnam veteran that lives all alone in a Florida swamp.  All alone, that is, except for his hoard of dangerous snakes that he can somehow control and keep from biting him.   He uses these snakes to get revenge on the people that have wronged him. These people include a local sleazeball (Alex Rocco, who’s been in everything from The Godfather to The A-Team) who wants to turn every snake in The Everglades into belts, his group of dumbass henchmen, a burlesque stripper well past her prime, and her scummy husband/manager (played by somebody named ‘Butterball’ Smith!).  Why yes, this is an eco horror movie from the 1970’s, how did you guess? And a low low low budget eco horror movie from the 1970’s at that. If that plot synopsis didn’t give you a clue, the awful acoustic folk music that plays over the opening credits should give you another hint.  That and the unfortunate fashion choices on display…

Let me get this out of the way right now: I dislike this movie. A lot.  I’ve read reviews that call it cheesy fun, and yeah, I can kind of  see it. It’s directed by William Grefe who is probably best known for 1965’s Sting of Death, possibly the only killer jellyfish movie ever made. Grefe is a terrible director but when he’s not being excruciatingly boring, his movies can be fun sources of unintentional comedy. But stuff like Wild Rebels and Death Curse of Tartu don’t include any actual animal cruelty like Stanley does. I hate seeing animals killed on screen.  There’s just no goddamn excuse for it.  Even in a movie like Cannibal Holocaust, which I actually think has some merit to it, I can’t condone it. With a worthless piece of shit like Stanley, it’s somehow even worse.  At least Cannibal Holocaust isn’t hypocritical enough to shoehorn in messages about preserving the earth and being nice to animals and then show a whole family of rattlesnakes being bludgeoned to death with the butt end of a rifle.  Jesus Christ.
Even without the pointless reptile slaughter, Stanley is an ugly film, ugly in a way that only a low budget production from the 1970’s can be. If you ran your hand across the actual film print, you’d find it covered in a thick layer of dirt and hair grease.  Even the bad performances and questionable stylistic choices that the movie presents over and over again can’t make up for the fact that the whole thing is just depressing to look at.
I honestly didn’t find anything fun or entertaining here and it’s been a long time since a film left such a bad taste in my mouth.  It doesn’t help that it doesn’t know when to fucking end and goes on long after all the bad guys are dead.  You can even see where it should cut and bring up the end credits about two or three goddamn times! That’s typical Grefe though, sadly.  Punching his audience in the face with mind numbing boredom is his calling card.

There were so many of these eco horror movies that came out in the 1970’s, and most of them are a Hell of a lot more fun to sit through than this. If you want to see one that actual delivers on the cheesy goods and won’t make the animal rights activist in you want to run screaming into the night, check out Frogs, a film produced in the same year.  Or Night of the Lepus, a film about giant killer bunny rabbits! Everybody loves bunnies, right? Just…avoid this thing. Trust me.

Rating: F

Random Things

  • The thought that came up in my mind the most while this was on the TV (other than “I want this to be over”): Only the 1970’s could have produced clothes that look like that.  And a lot of cocaine.
  • Reviews of this movie all inevitably bring up that it is pretty much just Willard but with snakes.  Not having seen Willard, I myself cannot comment on the connection.
  • For such a skeezy film, I was honestly surprised at the lack of female nudity on display.  Not that you’d really want to see any of these people naked.  There is quite a few scenes of shirtless men though.  Maybe Grefe swung in the other direction?
  • Swamp movies are interesting in that the actors and crew just freaking have to be massively uncomfortable during filming. I mean, it’s a freaking swamp! Smelly water, dangerous animals, tons of mosquitoes. A barrel of laughs, I’m sure.

The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)

Brain

Gorehouse Greats #6

Is it really possible for a film to be influential and famous even though very few people have actually seen it?  Well, I think Madmen of Mandoras (Or MoM, as I like to call it) is proof that it certainly can happen. You probably know of this thing by its much better alternate title: They Saved Hitler’s Brain. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons or Futurama, it will probably bring up images of heads in jars, specifically Hitler’s. Why they didn’t call it “They Saved Hitler’s Head” I don’t know but I guess it doesn’t have the same ring to it. The version with this alternate title is actually quite a bit different. See, when David Bradley’s dirt cheap little war thriller was sold to TV in the 1970’s, a bunch of extra footage was produced and cut in which mostly consisted of a bunch of idiot detectives stumbling around pretending to be connected to the events of the actual film, which worked about as well as you’d think. This extra footage somehow managed to be even crappier than the original movie, which is quite a feat, let me tell you….

So this would normally be where I, your handsome and ever so clever writer, would recap the plot of the film.  See, these things usually follow a formula. I hooked you in with that brilliant and oh so witty opening paragraph so now I get to bore you with explanatory filler. But, um. Okay. Plot. There’s this dude and his wife, whose dad happens to be scientist. Happens to be a scientist that’s developing some kind off improbable death gas that could easily destroy the entire world in two twitches of Hitler’s tiny mustache. Why the Hell you’d make something like this I have no idea but thankfully they’ve also developed an antidote! And dude’s wife’s father is the only scientist that knows how to make this antidote, or something. So this secret Nazi faction kidnaps both the gas and this science dude (and his other irritating “teenage” daughter, who looks about 35 years old and talks in made up youth slang) and takes them to the shitty tropical island of Mandoras (not a real place). It’s up to dude and his wife to save science dude and the world! Oh, and the Nazis take orders straight from Hitler himself, who is just a head in a jar.  Bet you did Nazi that coming! Ha ha ha! Sigh.

It’s actually much more complicated (and stupid) than my paltry attempt to explain things but that’s the gist as far as I could wrap my head around it. But really, none of that “plot” shit even really matters because there is Hitler’s severed head in a jar.  Without that, this movie would be practically worthless. Maybe not as painful as say Red Zone Cuba, but just boring and cheap and forgettable. In fact, I watched both versions of this thing on a different box set a few years back and even after sitting through it twice that’s all I could remember about it.  But man are those perfectly wacky moments worth the confusing chain of events, stupid double crosses, worthless characters that add nothing to anything, and horribly weak ending.
It’s really the guy that plays Hitler that makes it so awesome. When we first meet him he’s shouting at his superiors and gesturing like he’s got some kind of nerve problem.  Then when he’s just a head he does almost nothing but make shifty eyes and twitch his facial muscles like…he has some kind of nerve problem. Maybe the actor really did? I can’t think of another way to explain his performance but it’s brilliantly cracked.
And then there’s the part where they pick him by attaching little freaking handles to his jar and then put him in the middle backseat of an automobile like he’s some kind of small child.  It’s in my top ten funniest things I’ve ever seen, along with that time in high school that my friend Laura ate a live June Bug and that part in Shakes the Clown where Shakes tells that snotty little kid off.

Yeah, I can’t really figure this movie out. It’s like it seriously wants to be Casablanca or some other WWII spy thriller but that doesn’t work when your script and plot ideas sound like they were spit out by your friend’s creepy uncle that sits alone all day in his basement and self publishes novels that nobody in their right mind would read…and then your snarky cousin stole one of his books and wrote a in part about Hitler’s head in a jar.  Who was this movie intended for? How did it get made? So many unanswered questions. Oh, and I’ve got another one: “why did I sit through this for the third time?”
Of course I know the answer to that one: because I am a sucker for punishment.  I did it all for a head in a jar.

Ratings: Actual movie: D-
The part where Hitler’s head shouts “Schnell, schnell!”: A++

Lessons this movie taught me

  • It is possible to be sitting next to a person when they get shot and have no idea it just happened. (Silencers do not work that way!)
  • The proper way to dispose of a body is to shove it in a phone booth.
  • It’s okay to have sex with a dude you just met like two days ago as long as you’re married first.
  • The right way to deal with getting caught up in convoluted schemes to destroy the world that involve people getting shot, your friends turning out to be Nazis, and dictators in Tupperware containers is with a cheerful smile and a can-do attitude.
  • A woman can only take so much death and contrived plot twists before she snaps and starts randomly screaming. The proper way to deal with this is to slap her across the face and take her back to the car.
  • And lastly, the most important lesson of all: Hitler’s head is made of wax and looks damn cool when it is on fire. Mein Fuhrer! I can melt!

The Devil’s Hand (1961)

The_Devil's_Hand

Gorehouse Greats #5

Where do I even start with this one? How about with that poster up there, which is typically misleading. There is no actual “Devil’s hand” in the actual movie, the title is symbolic.  I do like it though, it reminds me of Manos: The Hands of Fate.  Anything that reminds me of Manos is a good thing in my book.
So what exactly do we have here? What we have in our much too eager sweaty hands, is a very early devil worshiping movie! I know this isn’t the first of its kind (be sure and check out The Seventh Victim (1943)) but it does seem to anticipate the boom in these kinds of movies that started in the late 1960’s.  Of course this being the early 1960’s, they couldn’t actually call Old Scratch by his real name so the cult in this one worships…Gamba: the very scary “Devil-God of Evil.”  How in the Hell the actors in this could say that freaking name without cracking up, I’ll never be able to figure out. It’s almost as bad as Exorcist II but Gamba is a much less silly name to say than Pazuzu and there’s no drunk Richard Burton to flail around and scream it. (Incidentally, drunk Richard Burton is what every movie needs to have.)
So our hero of this thing is a man named Rick (played by Alan Alda’s dad!). Rick really isn’t the best looking guy in the world. Or the most interesting. Or the smartest. And yet girls seem to fawn all over him. He’s getting married to the innocent Donna Trent (Mexican actress Ariadna Welter making her only American film appearance) but problems arise in the form of strange dreams he keeps having where he’s visited by a random blonde bombshell named Bianca (Linda Christian, who’s life is much more interesting than her film career). The movie takes a turn for the amazingly goofy when we end up in a doll shop run by Neil Hamilton (Inspector Gordon in the 1960’s Batman TV show!) and Rick gets seduced by Bianca and joins a murderous devil cult!  It doesn’t take much coaxing for him to join either, because Rick really is that much of a dope. Or he just really wants to get into Bianca’s pants that badly.  Probably a bit of both.

I mentioned in my last write-up that Rex Carlton was an uncredited producer on this and the whole thing really does have the feel of something he’d be involved in. That is, hilariously loopy in an endearing innocent kind of way, but with more than a touch of sleaze to the whole thing.  There’s a ton of implied sex, which is kind of surprising for the time. You don’t even have to read between the lines to get that Bianca just wants Rick around for the D and if the movie turned out differently, she’d probably eventually just throw him away and find some other idiot boy toy to play around with.  The whole movie is pretty much about a dude cheating on his fiancee, who’s in the hospital for most of the running time with a voodoo induced chest injury.  I won’t even get into the misogyny that lurks behind of all this either.  You can pick that out for yourselves.
No, I want to talk about this “cult” of eeevil people who do eeeevil things like…um…actually they really don’t do much of anything. Their leader kills people who betray Gamba’s trust but that’s about it. They spend most of their time sitting around listening to a dude play the bongos.  It’s also worth nothing that they mostly appear to be bored middle-aged suburbanites that just show up at meetings because it’s more interesting than sitting at home watching reruns of Leave It To Beaver.
“So what are doing tonight, Ethel? I hear there’s a swell program on the DuMont network at 7 o clock.”
“Oh, the leader called. There’s going to be a sacrifice tonight!”
“Ooooh, call the babysitter! I’ll get our coats!”
So they go and the chant Gamba’s name over and over, watch someone get sacrificed by that doofy looking wheel-o-knives thing, maybe they catch some dinner after at a reasonably priced restaurant, and a fun time is had by all.
I’m not even sure what this cult is supposed to be either. It’s this odd mix of voodoo, witchcraft, and Satan worship and there’s even a random Buddha statue sitting in the temple!  Ha ha, what? I know, right? That pretty much describes this whole movie. “Ha ha, what?” indeed.

Rating: C+

Random Things

  • You know this is a cheap horror movie from the early 1960’s because a sweaty dude drives a car over a cliff. Two sweaty dudes get offed in this!  Lesson #1: Don’t be a sweaty guy in an early 60’s horror movie.
  • The opening title theme is actually a pretty cool surf rock tune. We hear it again later when Rick yells at Bianca to turn it off. What a loser!
  • Lesson #2:  Scotch tape fixes voodoo. I just know that will come in handy soon.
  • “So what did you watch today?” “Oh, this movie about a devil worshiping cult that meets behind a doll shop.” “Well I found a french fry in my onion rings.” “Looks like we both had an eventful day.”