1958's "The Giant Behemoth" was originally shot as "The Behemoth" before being issued in Britain as "Behemoth the Sea Monster," one of the last credits for stop motion animator Willis O'Brien, best known for the 1933 classic "King Kong." Director Eugene Lourie was actually responsible for kicking off the giant monster subgenre with 1953's "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," itself inspired by the 1952 rerelease of "Kong," yet this retread was not conceived as another dinosaur on the loose. Envisioned as a glowing, shapeless blob-like creature that emits radiation from a distance, the distributors demanded a more substantive menace and Lourie delivered. The budget was considerably lower of course, Ray Harryhausen bypassed for the elderly O'Brien, granted only eight weeks for his animation wizardry but delivering over the final two reels. British titles of the 50s often imported at least one Hollywood actor to ensure distribution on the US, and here we have a very good one in Gene Evans, and paired with future Doctor Watson Andre Morell (opposite Peter Cushing in Hammer's "The Hound of the Baskervilles") both lend gravitas and credibility to a basic yet watchable story. The sighting of a legendary Behemoth by a fisherman killed by radiation burns, plus tons of dead fish littering the coast of Cornwall confirm that something very large and deadly is preying below the surface. Jack MacGowran's paleontologist barely has a chance to actually spot the monster before its electric eel-like emissions of radiation blast his helicopter to pieces. The Behemoth finally emerges from the Thames to wreak havoc on London at the one hour mark, and even though the same shot of a crushed automobile is used three times it's still a rare instance of stop motion animation by someone other than Ray Harryhausen. The nominal romantic lead was essayed by John Turner, showing off his burnt hand before vanishing from the film, later the star of 1964's "The Black Torment."
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)The very first movie broadcast on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1963
30 December 2019
For Pittsburgh viewers, 1957's "The Brain from Planet Arous" has become known as the very first movie broadcast on Chiller Theater on a Saturday afternoon, Sept. 14, 1963, kicking off 20 years of Chilly Billy until its inevitable end on New Years Day 1984. It was a production of Howco International Pictures, serving theaters throughout the South from Arkansas to North Carolina, an obviously Poverty Row outfit below even American International or Allied Artists, on par with Lippert ("King Dinosaur") or Astor ("Frankenstein's Daughter"). The same filmmakers went on to greater cult glory with Allied Artists' 1958 "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," director Nathan Juran, using the pseudonym Hertz, and producer/cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette, the star a game John Agar, just one year removed from the Universal days of "Revenge of the Creature," "Tarantula," and "The Mole People," still stuck in the science fiction rut he'd hoped to escape. As nuclear scientist Steve March, Agar and his assistant (Robert Fuller) are based in the Mojave Desert to examine odd bursts of radiation at desolate Mystery Mountain, represented by Bronson Caverns, the ubiquitous outdoor location not just for Westerns but all low budget genre producers since 1933's "The Vampire Bat." His assistant ends up dead and poor Steve is then possessed by disembodied criminal alien brain Gor, from the distant planet Arous (air-us), which causes consternation for Steve's pretty fiancée Sally (Joyce Meadows), not expecting her intended to return a crazed sex fiend with mad desires. Fortunately, she soon learns everything from benign lawman brain Vol, keeping close tabs on Gor/Steve from inside the family dog, one victim after another becoming a burnt corpse behind Steve's glare, the thick contact lenses quite painful for the actor, who nevertheless relishes the rare opportunity to go against type as a villain. On a reported budget of $58,000 the acting could have been a lot worse, the outlandish premise and outsized props featuring in a climax that leaves poor Steve literally brainless (a more sober treatment of the same plot was done in 1966's small scale British entry "Invasion").
The Unknown Terror (1957)First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1963
5 December 2019
1957's "The Unknown Terror" was a production of Robert L. Lippert's Regal arm distributed by 20th Century-Fox, shot in Darryl F. Zanuck's new CinemaScope process under the working title "Beyond Terror" but redubbed RegalScope for these little 'B' pictures (other Regal efforts include "She Devil," "Kronos," "Ghost Diver," and this film's cofeature "Back from the Dead"). They only lasted three years before receiving a name change to Associated Producers ("Return of the Fly" and "The Alligator People" were among the first under this banner), but the week long schedule on a fixed budget of $100,000 apiece did not change. "The Unknown Terror" certainly looks poverty stricken, its depiction of a Caribbean island village consisting of one cramped street crowded with extras, starring John Howard ("The Invisible Woman," "The Undying Monster") as millionaire explorer Dan Matthews, determined to find his wife's missing brother lost in search of the fearsome 'Cave of Death' (which we see before the opening credits). The actual hero is Peter Morgan (Paul Richards, "Phantom of the Rue Morgue," "Beneath the Planet of the Apes"), who was crippled after selflessly saving Matthews from certain death, so Dan feels obliged to offer him the job of guide, his wife Gina (Mala Powers) insistent on coming with them. Things quickly take an ominous turn when the native who led the way to the tiny village disappears, the lone nearby American Dr. Ramsey (Gerald Milton) providing accommodations for the trio but remaining secretive about the dreaded cavern. There's a sacrificial altar, a fresh corpse (the victim's tongue already cut out), and death dealing islanders covered in fungus that the doctor has discovered; unfortunately, the special effects crew accomplished this by covering the actors in cotton wool and soap suds, which has earned the film a certain notoriety, though not enough to keep it from falling into near total obscurity after its 20 year TV run. This author confesses a nostalgic affection for this admittedly minor effort, despite the many questions that go unanswered, though it's no surprise to learn the fate of Gina's missing brother.
La sangre de Nostradamus (1962)Last of the Nostradamus quartet
7 October 2019
1959's "The Blood of Nostradamus" marked the finale to the quartet of films starring Mexico's most famous vampire actor German Robles, preceded by "The Curse of Nostradamus," "The Monsters Demolisher" and "The Genie of Darkness." The narrative running through them all is that Nostradamus is the undead son of the original 15th century French seer, conducting a reign of terror against an elderly professor belonging to a society of non believers. Unlike his clean shaven Count Lavud from "The Vampire" ("El Vampiro") and "The Vampire's Coffin," the actor's Nostradamus cuts a dapper, striking figure in his goatee and homburg, and there's a measure of fun to be had whenever he's on screen, but the less said about his hunchback assistant the better, K. Gordon Murray's decision to use the dumbest, most grating voice possible destroying much of the atmosphere from every sequence in the crypt. Seeking vindication for his illustrious ancestor by proving his supernatural powers to the professor only results in everyone out to get the old bat, believing that by removing the ashes of his ancestors from his coffin they ensure his demise at sunrise, only to find that the ashes belonged to someone else that the vampire had killed. Like previous entries the choppy storyline is split into several parts, the chief of police targeted by Nostradamus, who needs only the darkness of an eclipse to ensure success, then a singer in an adult cabaret actually suffers the vampire's bite as witnessed by the professor's daughter, the next to die also resulting in the hunchback falling to his death. The final portion lurches into science fiction, a combination of power cells electromagnetically producing sonic waves that disable Nostradamus, but not before he drives the citizens on an all out assault on the laboratory to destroy both the professor and his work. The vampire is able to escape his adversaries in bat form but finally meets his doom at the end of the sword cane belonging to his deceased enemy Igor, which was used to destroy a zombie/vampire servant at the conclusion of "The Monsters Demolisher" (played by Jack Taylor, his back broken in "The Genie of Darkness" by the hunchback wearing a Bob Denver/Gilligan sailors cap). Certainly the end was a long time in coming if indeed it was intended as a 12 chapter serial, later refuted by Robles, and also the longest of the entire series at 83 minutes. Most viewers opine that this is the weakest of the four but that's a matter of conjecture, none are truly outstanding and for the most part Nostradamus doesn't get much to do besides make pronouncements like his real life namesake, but Robles cemented his reputation as one of the screen's most indelible vampires, never to play another due to the shady nature of these productions (he does turn up in "The Brainiac" and "The Living Head," however). One misses Jack Taylor, yet it's a genuine surprise that his character laid the groundwork to finally dispose of the pesky bloodsucker, while Domingo Soler as the dogged old professor died in June 1961, well before any of these features finally saw release.
Genii of Darkness (1962)Third of the Nostradamus quartet
7 October 2019
1959's "The Genie of Darkness" ("Nostradamus el Genio de las Tinieblas") came third in the Nostradamus quartet, following second chapter "The Monsters Demolisher," continuing the initial film's outline of German Robles' undead Nostradamus predicting murder and mayhem, his colorless adversaries seated for lengthy discussions on how to stop him. The introduction of vampire hunter Igor (Jack Taylor) provided a late spark, vanquishing a zombie-like servant with a sword through the heart, sending Nostradamus into a clutching fit that leaves him on the floor. Unfortunately this one contains more footage of the vampire's hunchback assistant Leo, rightly called an imbecile by his master at one point despite saving him from immolation courtesy the previous film's climax, but at least Leo's cackling witch of a mother lasts just long enough to literally burn for daring to question the power of Nostradamus. Evenly divided into three sections like the serial it was purported to be, the first ends with the shocking demise of Jack Taylor's vampire hunter Igor, followed by a subplot in which the intended target is a woman already dead yet refusing to fall under the vampire's spell due to the strength of her love for another. The final third brings back the professor's society of nonbelievers, now quite eager to assist in the destruction of Nostradamus, his coffin discovered in a deserted hilltop house, the ashes of his ancestors upon which he must nourish himself during the day the key to his demise. While the imbecile is out stealing a new coffin, Nostradamus causes the deaths of two scientists examining those ashes, the professor wrongly assuming that justice has prevailed since he disposes of them at sunrise. A definite anticlimax setting up "The Blood of Nostradamus," on par with "The Monsters Demolisher," affording more screen time for German Robles who does not disappoint even when the picture does (that dimwitted hunchback in the Gilligan cap and his clinging Jewish mother are dubbed by the absolute worst voices that K. Gordon Murray ever selected). It's debatable as to whether or not this is the best of the quartet, there's more for Robles to do but also too much of his blubbering assistant.
Second of the Nostradamus quartet
6 October 2019
Spanish-born actor German Robles debuted on screen wearing the fangs of Count Lavud in "El Vampiro" and "El Ataud del Vampiro" in 1957, clean shaven and wearing a Lugosi tuxedo, going on to do a series of 1959 features as the son of the legendary French prophet and astrologer Nostradamus who died in 1566, here depicted as an alchemist and practitioner of the undead. How the family branched off into Mexico for "The Curse of Nostradamus" ("La Maldicion de Nostradamus") is never explained, setting up the entire series by having this descendant prove his supernatural powers to a professional skeptic who refuses to reveal the truth to his association of non believers. Like his predecessor, this bearded Nostradamus is prone to making predictions, usually carrying out the sentence of death on each victim himself, only met with opposition when he threatens the professor's daughter. Robles lamented how the producers and director Federico Curiel ran a scam on the studio by claiming to be making a 12 part serial (usually reserved for television not movies), thereby depriving him of greater revenue, never again donning the fangs once the new decade dawned on his vampire persona. "Curse" concluded with Nostradamus buried under an avalanche of rubble when platinum bullets don't seem to hit their target; second entry "The Monsters Demolisher" ("Nostradamus y el Destructor de Monstruos") continues along the same vein, the main set of characters the same in all four, Robles himself looking more imposing in mustache and goatee but still lacking in actual screen time. Domingo Soler is the elderly professor, Aurora Alvarado his pretty daughter, Julio Aleman his younger assistant, now so convinced of the vampire's existence that he decides to resign from the own association as they stubbornly cling to the notion that there are no such things. Two school boys playing hooky discover the buried body of Nostradamus and are chased away by his hunchback slave, dubbed with the most foolish voice imaginable, proving as much a bungler as his master in failing to kidnap the professor's daughter (too heavy to run with, one supposes). As for the plot, Nostradamus only targets a pair of would be victims in this one, a young boy who actually emerges unscathed, and a convicted murderer set to hang at dawn, only to attack two medical students/body snatchers at the morgue in the picture's most effective sequence (each pistol shot producing another hole in the undead killer's chest). A new character then shows himself, Jack Taylor as Igor, whose family has been dispatching vampires since the 13th century, using mirrors to pinpoint their location. After the second student prefers to jump to his death in the presence of the new vampire, Igor and his allies find his hidden crypt and drive a sword through his heart, which also sends Nostradamus falling over in what appears to be a similar fate (hardly, with two more sequels to follow). It's definitely a surprise to find the 23 year old Taylor making his horror debut south of the border, Oregon-born yet working almost exclusively overseas, relocating from Mexico to Spain where he became a staple of early 70s horror in such Paul Naschy titles as "Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf" and "The Mummy's Revenge," Amando De Ossorio's "The Night of the Sorcerers," or Jess Franco's "Count Dracula" opposite Christopher Lee. Director Federico Curiel went on to do over 70 features in 25 years, including a number of Santo films plus two with John Carradine, "Las Vampiras" and "Enigma de Muerte."
El ataúd del Vampiro (1958)Introduced K. Gordon Murray to Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
3 October 2019
Like Miami's Ivan Tors, K. Gordon Murray (his nickname was 'Kagey' for his initials) conducted all of his English dubbing at Florida's Soundlab studios in Coral Gables before making a mint with not just horror entries but a series of children's films such as "Rumpelstiltskin," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Santa Claus," often performing narration himself. Universal's 1931 Spanish language "Dracula" was a huge success south of the border, but as a film industry the genre didn't truly take off until the 1950s, and while most think of masked wrestlers battling the Universal monsters 1957's "The Vampire's Coffin" and its predecessor were serious takes on the undead, though this sequel lacked the atmospheric setting of "The Vampire" ('Dracula set on a hacienda'), the first half located in a modern but deserted hospital, the rest dividing time between musical numbers in a theater and a shadowy wax museum. Mere weeks after "El Vampiro" premiered in October 1957, producer Abel Salazar was already shooting the follow up, rejoined by three more cast members for their second go round, including ingenue Adriadne Welter as Martha and Alicia Montoya as Martha's Aunt Mary, foiled by two grave robbers who steal the body of German Robles' Count Lavud, the stake still protruding from his heart, moving the coffin to the local hospital where Marion (Carlos Ancira) works with Salazar's Henry. His partner in crime (Yerye Beirute) is employed at the local wax museum, greedily sneaking back in to steal the Count's medallion, but in removing the stake restores the vampire to vengeful life, again casting a spell upon pretty Martha while also attacking a preteen girl in her hospital bed, and a streetwalker who fails to outrun the old bat. German Robles looks more comfortable in his second outing and proves ready for another shot, soon to arrive with the Nostradamus quartet. The urban milieu is no match for the isolation of "The Vampire," but at least this time Salazar actually dispatches his adversary, in bat form as well. Already typecast as thugs, Yerye Beirute would be familiar with Boris Karloff fans in both "Fear Chamber" and "Incredible Invasion," plus "Bring Me the Vampire" and Lon Chaney's "La Casa del Terror."
El vampiro (1957)Seen only once on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1968
1 October 2019
Producer Abel Salazar and lead German Robles, the most indelible stars of Mexico's horror genre, captured the imagination with 1957's "The Vampire" ("El Vampiro") and its sequel "The Vampire's Coffin," plus "The Brainiac" and "The Living Head" (in addition, Robles played a vampire in "El Castillo de los Monstruos" before a quartet of Nostradamus features: "The Curse of Nostradamus," "The Monsters Demolisher," "The Genie of Darkness" and "The Blood of Nostradamus"). Far more prolific as an actor, Salazar helped spearhead the K. Gordon Murray invasion north of the border with six more titles of varied interest: "The Man and the Monster," "The World of the Vampires," "The Witch's Mirror," "The Brainiac," "The Living Head" and "The Curse of the Crying Woman." "The Vampire" may have come first, the filmmakers admittedly inspired by Bela Lugosi's interpretation ('Dracula set on a hacienda'), but even viewed during its time can only rank as average, the obviously low budget revealing itself with the nonexistent man-into-bat sequences, at least cleverly cutting from the vampire ready to leap into the air to a shot of a bat on a wire. Ramon Obon's script supplies the atmosphere but tends to drag with its excess of dialogue, despite the likability of Salazar as the amateur vampire hunter, and especially ingenue Adriadne Welter, who also returns for the sequel (lesser roles to come in "The Brainiac" and "100 Cries of Terror"). Set in Sierra Negra, pretty young Martha arrives to visit her ailing Aunt Mary (Alicia Montoya) at family estate The Sycamores, accompanied by traveling salesman Henry, actually a doctor summoned to examine Mary, whom we see entombed in the crypt before they finally arrive, her sister the black clad Aunt Eloise (Carmen Montejo) not present due to her undead state (attacked in the pre credits sequence and now serving the master). The property has been terribly run down for years, Aunt Mary terrified by a vampire's curse to claim her for a victim, Count Lavud (German Robles) finally emerging at the 24 minute mark to receive a coffin filled with his native soil from Baconia, firmly ensconced in Mexico where his brother had perished a hundred years ago and is now ready for revival in two moons. His ultimate goal is to purchase The Sycamores from the delectable Martha, to the extent that she becomes his latest target for a living blood bank (he only needs two attacks to make her his undead mistress), only her pesky Aunt Mary simply refuses to stay dead and in fact proves to be the one who finds the Count's lair to drive a lengthy stake through his heart (the sequel picks up where this leaves off). Director Fernando Mendez ("The Vampire's Coffin," "The Black Pit of Dr. M," "The Living Coffin") gets by with a few rickety sets and the staging does feature some nice shots of the Count magically appearing in a beam of light, the attacks featuring not only bared fangs (before even Christopher Lee for Hammer) but the bloodsucker shown to bite his victims on the neck, even a young boy doesn't get spared. Its most egregious error is in giving little screen time to the central menace, Robles also shortchanged in the sequel, in which his Count just doesn't convey much menace, requiring a sword off the wall to duel the would be hero to a standstill. It's no carbon copy of Bela's triumph and is quite different in tone yet there are enough charms to carry it through, and remains superior to "The Vampire's Coffin."
Muñecos infernales (1961)Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1968
25 September 2019
1960's "The Curse of the Doll People" ("Munecos Infernales" aka Infernal Dolls or Hellish Dolls) is definitely one of the more memorable Mexican entries from the pen of Alfredo Salazar, brother of actor/producer Abel, and author of the Aztec Mummy trilogy plus "The Vampire's Coffin," "The New Invisible Man," "The Man and the Monster," "The World of the Vampires," "Doctor of Doom" and "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy" (at the helm was director Benito Alazraki, later efforts including "Spiritism" and El Santo's starring debut "Invasion of the Zombies"). Held over from the Aztec Mummy series is actor Ramon Gay, who was shot to death by a jealous husband shortly after filming concluded, while Quintin Bulnes essayed similar voodoo master roles in "The Living Coffin" and a pair of Boris Karloff Mexi-movies, "Snake People" and the very similar "House of Evil" (more murderous dolls at work). Haitian voodoo rituals are discussed rather than seen to start, as a quartet of adventurers make the fatal mistake of stealing a precious voodoo idol to hightail it back home to Mexico, only for the mesmerizing priest to follow, placing a curse upon them and their families to begin at the stroke of midnight on a certain date. Incredibly, the main culprit who previously boasted of adding the idol to his collection grasps his chest and expires at the exact time predicated, and by the half hour mark all four despoilers have perished, each succeeding doll emerging with their features. The Devil Doll Men are nattily dressed in suits and ties, using a long poison needle like a piercing knife, standing about three feet tall, about the size of a ventriloquist's dummy (Richard Gordon's "Devil Doll" would not be made until 1963). Viewers would forever remember the lifeless staring masks, a fine makeup job reproducing the four actors, right down to the beard, mustache or glasses; we actually see one attack a cop before being run over, a kind of autopsy showing its severed head with glowing eyes conducting its hypnotic effect on the female lead (Elvira Quintana), the chest cut open prior to purifying fire destroying the remains. These tiny assassins must obey the master or face severe punishment, delivered in a small crate to their intended victims by a silent zombie complete with shriveled face, another nice touch that delivers additional chills. The only real detriment, apart from the 13 minutes of footage cut from the AIP-TV print (reduced to 69 minutes) is the script's plodding nature, but once the dolls start walking things improve dramatically. The casting of gorgeous top billed Elvira Quintana as a voodoo expert was also an achievement for such an obviously low budget production, it was her sole genre credit in a career that abruptly ended with her premature death in 1968.
Espiritismo (1962)Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1967
24 September 2019
1961's "Spiritism" ("Espiritismo") was Benito Alazraki's low budget Mexican takeoff on W.W. Jacobs' 1902 classic "The Monkey's Paw" (he also directed "The Curse of the Doll People," El Santo's starring debut "Invasion of the Zombies," and the horror comedy "Frankestein the Vampire and Co."). Actually, that only plays into it during the final 15 minutes, as the exceedingly wordy exposition lasts over an hour while we watch the slow disintegration of a family due to financial hardships, the son insisting on mortgaging his mother's home for 20 years to help kick start his crop dusting business. As one might expect, everything comes a cropper when the liquidation fee rises from $2000 to $8000, poor Mamacita enduring a number of seances with like minded spiritualists, allowing for the sad story of a recently deceased friend who still hasn't come to grips with the afterlife. The final sitting finds her so distraught that she virtually conjures up Satan himself to solve all her worries, even granted a mysterious key before she leaves. It's not long before a stranger drops in unannounced with what he describes as 'Pandora's Box,' the one to which the key will fit, effectively tempting the mother to open up its contents at precisely midnight to reveal a severed hand (the equivalent of 'The Monkey's Paw') and the promise of $8000. Like Alazraki's "The Curse of the Doll People" the opening reels unspool with unceasing talk by comfortably seated characters, but while that film gets down to business during the second reel this promising entry never truly comes alive. Television's THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR did their version in 1965 in just under an hour, in which we never see the bloody results of the mother's wish, but what this film reveals is held back for the very end and not a long awaited moment sooner (thankfully in this instance the film does not shy away). Only the most patient of viewers may be rewarded but this one must admit defeat trying not to fall asleep. Making her screen debut was a teenaged Julissa, going on to be an unlikely leading lady for the legendary Boris Karloff in "Snake People," "Fear Chamber" and "House of Evil."
Santo in the Wax Museum (1963)Even dubbed it's a dreary affair
22 September 2019
1963's "Samson in the Wax Museum" ("Santo en el Museo de Cera") was the fifth entry in El Santo's starring movie series, 'The Silvermask Man' (as he's listed in the dubbed AIP-TV print) already a comic book hero since 1951 and by this time was doing the caped crime fighter thing in cinemas as well, director Alfonso Corona Blake previously at the helm for "The World of the Vampires" and "Samson vs the Vampire Women." As usual Santo/Samson has a secret lab where he collects evidence when not throwing opponents around the ring during his three bouts, the obvious inspiration here being Vincent Price's "House of Wax," Claudio Brook a poor substitute as a mad surgeon disfigured by Nazi atrocities (discussed, never shown), whose creations are hidden in underground catacombs, figures of Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wolf Man and Dr. Hyde, who sadly don't come to life until the final reel. Only two ordinary henchmen do all the kidnapping, the doctor planning to feature a Panther Woman in his exhibit but that never comes to pass. Aside from the frequent fisticuffs it's pretty dreary, not so much fun as "Invasion of the Zombies," but at least our hero has no use for a double to distract from his prowess in the ring (can't say the same for the Wrestling Women from "Doctor of Doom"). Claudio Brook is underwhelming as the villain, showing off his scarred hands but little else, and worked with Lon Chaney in 1955's "Daniel Boone Trail Blazer," William Shatner in 1974's "The Devil's Rain," and John Carradine in 1978's "The Bees," before doing a cameo as a bank president in the 1989 James Bond thriller "Licence to Kill" (as the cop, Madrid-born Ruben Rojo had previously featured in "The Brainiac," later playing opposite Boris Karloff in 1967's "Cauldron of Blood").
Santo vs. the Zombies (1962)El Santo's first starring vehicle
20 September 2019
1961's "Invasion of the Zombies" introduced El Santo to both Mexican and American audiences, literally translated by the dubbing as 'The Saint,' actually the first Santo feature to be filmed in Mexico following two Cuban-shot entries in which he played supporting roles ("El Cerebro del Mal" and "Hombres Infernales"), and also the one to finally establish his comic book persona as a crime fighter to the big screen (the Santo comic began publishing in 1952, lasting until three years after his death at age 66 in 1984). Wrestling professionally since the mid 30s, El Enmascarado De Plata (The Silver-Masked One) was already a formidable champion with several belts by the early 40s, and with his new superhero persona firmly established in the public eye had resisted the possibility of becoming a flop in cinema. "Invasion of the Zombies" was not only a decent introduction to the champion in the ring, it also set the precedent of allowing him to wear his cape outside the arena like Batman, complete with his own literal Batcave, enabling him to spy on his equally masked adversary by closed circuit TV (neither one is able to keep secrets from the other!). The opening match occupies an entire reel before the plot gets underway, both the cops and The Saint becoming involved after a renowned expert on voodoo is kidnapped upon his return from Haiti, though the villain has already unearthed the corpses of deceased criminals to use as an undead army to commit a series of jewel robberies (later sent to kidnap children from an orphanage). It isn't voodoo but mad science that motivates these burly creatures, wearing remote controlled belts around the waist to obey commands and impervious to bullets, difficult foes to dispatch even for our white-caped crusader. Unlike Las Luchadoras (Wrestling Women), El Santo never needed a double for his bouts, lending authenticity to every move and reaction in the ring, at least for those patient enough not to use the fast forward button. There aren't many tight spots for our hero to get out of, though he does defeat a zombie wrestler by short circuiting his belt, the key to eventual triumph with the authorities incapable of nothing but firing blanks. This was fittingly the first Santo feature to be dubbed into English, possibly by K. Gordon Murray but not distributed by him (only three more received the same treatment, including "Samson vs the Vampire Women" and "Samson in the Wax Museum"). The zombies are sadly a rather unscary looking bunch, notable cast members including Carlos Agosti, soon to play Count Frankenhausen in both "The Bloody Vampire" and its sequel "The Invasion of the Vampires," and voluptuous Lorena Velazquez, graduating to Wrestling Woman Gloria Venus in "Doctor of Doom" and "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy."
The Invasion of the Vampires (1963)Superior sequel to "The Bloody Vampire"
8 September 2019
1962's "The Invasion of the Vampires" was the direct sequel to "The Bloody Vampire," a low budget epic storyline filmed in two parts by writer/director Miguel Morayta, with many of the same cast members, among them Carlos Agosti as the vampire Count Frankenhausen, Erna Martha Bauman as Countess Eugenia Frankenhausen in the first, daughter Brunhilda in the sequel, Bertha Moss as Frau Hildegard, and Enrique Lucero as manservant Lazaro. At the conclusion of the previous entry the Count had put the bite on his beautiful Countess then disappeared, leaving his daughter Brunhilda at the Haunted Hacienda owned by her grandfather, Marques de la Serna (Tito Junko). The old man has never informed the young girl of her undead parentage, and the arrival of Dr. Ulises Albarran (Rafael del Rio), skilled in the teachings of Count Cagliostro, means that Brunhilda has another protector to watch over her during nights of the full moon. Count Frankenhausen remains at large, using his lovely daughter as a lure for young men to meet their doom at his fangs as she wanders out to Dead Man's Lake in a hypnotic trance, but the doctor needs help in gathering the proper roots to put a stop to the growing cult of vampirism. Just as much bogged down with dialogue as its predecessor but definitely an improvement for a climax worth waiting for, once the Count perishes in hilarious bat form and all his previous victims (including his Countess) subsequently rise from their coffins to walk again, an army of the undead preying upon anyone venturing out in the darkness. Only by restoring the bat corpse to its previous human state via the scientific method prescribed by Cagliostro in the first film will the evil be stopped once and for all. This time a mostly silent Count Frankenhausen appears only sporadically, and in one chase sequence foreshadows Robert Quarry's better known Count Yorga in two AIP classics from the early 70s, while both the Marques and Brunhilda were mentioned yet never seen in the initial chapter. Had the convoluted storyline been pared down to a tighter single feature it would have been hailed an atmospheric masterpiece of Mexican horror cinema, but as it is there are many who champion both pictures despite their faults.
El vampiro sangriento (1962)Ambitious two part storyline bogged down by chatter that doesn't matter
7 September 2019
Miguel Morayta wrote and directed this two part storyline shot back to back in Dec. '61-Jan. '62, concluded by direct sequel "The Invasion of the Vampires." Truth be told there wasn't enough incident for two pictures, and one may safely assume that at 99 often excruciating minutes "The Bloody Vampire" would have benefited had it been pared down to a more reasonable running time. The narrative focuses on Count Siegfried von Frankenhausen (Carlos Agosti), the feared vampire who has taken for his Countess Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman), the daughter of Marques de la Serna, owner of the Haunted Hacienda near Dead Man's Lake. His mortal enemy is Count Cagliostro (Antonio Raxel), who possesses all the knowledge gathered by his ancestors on the destruction of the undead, using the black roots of a flower that only grows near a vampire's residence and beneath a hanged corpse, from which an elixir can be injected into the body to render it human rather than a victim of the cursed bite. None of this actually plays into this first chapter, which kicks off in fine atmospheric fashion with Count Frankenhausen traveling on a coach driven by the grinning skull of Death, after which it bogs down with expository chatter that really doesn't matter. Cagliostro's daughter Ines (Begona Palacios) is hired to be the new attendant for the Countess, aided by her fiancée Dr. Riccardo Peisser (Raul Farell), reluctantly welcomed by the Count as a way to keep his enemies closer. A protective servant gets his tongue cut out, and housekeeper Frau Hildegarde (Bertha Moss) throws a few tantrums when the Count shows an interest in replacing his wife with Ines as the new Countess. The Count's ultimate goal is to raise an army of the living dead but here there's no conclusion, escaping after putting the bite on the Countess, his comeuppance inevitably waiting for the sequel (Erna Martha Bauman returns not as Countess Eugenia but as her own daughter, who knows nothing of the undead state of her missing padre). The two features ambitiously combine for more than three hours, beginning in shuddery fashion and ending with two reels of spooky doings with an army of vampires emerging from their coffins, but in between it drags interminably with unceasing exposition that simply leads nowhere. Let's not even mention the bat on a wire with ears so large that one wonders how it can stay in the air!
Last and least of the Aztec Mummy trilogy
4 September 2019
In 1957 Abel Salazar's screenwriter brother Alfredo conceived of a trio of infamous titles helmed by director Rafael Portillo, "La Momia Azteca" followed by "La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca" and "La Momia Azteca contra el Robot Asesino." K. Gordon Murray imported both sequels while Jerry Warren got his hands on the first entry, going out in completely reedited form as "Attack of the Mayan Mummy" in 1963, "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" and "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy" literal translations of the original Spanish language titles, emerging fairly intact. Murray's decision to avoid the initial entry is understandable, as a whopping 15 minutes from "La Momia Azteca" kicks off this finale, nearly all the good footage of the mummy Popoca on the attack since he did not emerge from the darkness until the one hour mark (only three minutes from the climax of "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" were included). The movie is almost half over once the new plot begins with villainous Dr. Krupp aka The Bat (Luis Aceves Castaneda) having escaped his own rattlesnake death trap (dropped in by Popoca) to again renew his campaign to claim the fabled Aztec treasure guarded by the protective mummy. Using two reels of stock footage and a story told in flashback, we jump five years ahead to find out what the long vanished Bat finally has in store for the Aztec mummy, lying in repose in a local cemetery, still in possession of Xochitl's breastplate and bracelet, the prize that will reveal the location of hidden riches. The Professor and his assistant are present to witness the unveiling of The Bat's 'human robot,' only up and walking the final reel, its long awaited showdown with Popoca lasting an underwhelming 50 seconds before the bucket of bolts bites the dust, in very dusty fashion indeed (the old Bat just wasn't what he used to be). For those unfamiliar with previous entries it's not difficult to follow, but both sequels feel rather pointless being hour long quickies repeatedly discussing events already shown, and the robot turns out to be a complete nonentity (Universal twice used Karloff footage to reprise the origin of Kharis in both "The Mummy's Hand" and "The Mummy's Curse," while much of "Hand" was recycled for "The Mummy's Tomb"). As close as he came to executing the heroine in "La Momia Azteca," it bears repeating that Angel Di Stefani's Popoca becomes the hero in these two follow ups, and returns to his final resting place for the fadeout, only revived with a new name for 1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy."
The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (1957)Second in the Aztec Mummy trilogy
4 September 2019
"The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" (the literal translation for "La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca") follows the story from "La Momia Azteca," second in a trilogy concluding with "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy," all directed by Rafael Portillo and scripted by Alfredo Salazar. It's essentially a 1957 Mexican take on the then-current Bridey Murphy craze, which inspired Hollywood cheapies like Roger Corman's "The Undead," W. Lee Wilder's "Fright," Alex Gordon's "The She-Creature," Peggie Castle's "Back from the Dead," Michael Landon's "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," Ed Wood's "The Bride and the Beast," and Lon Chaney's "The Alligator People." Like the later incarnation of the Aztec Mummy in 1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy," the monster's origin is virtually identical to Boris Karloff's in the 1932 version, a high priest who dared to love virgin handmaiden to the gods Xochitl, his name in this series Popoca, played in all three by Italian actor Angel Di Stefani. The main thrust of the initial narrative is Professor Almada (Ramon Gay) putting his young fiancée Flor (Rosina Arenas) into a hypnotic state to learn about her past life as an Aztec princess, put to death for loving Popoca, wearing a breastplate and bracelet, items that reveal more hidden treasures within the Great Pyramid of Yucatan. Of equal importance is the masked villain The Bat, who covets the Aztec riches for himself and is caught by police at the film's conclusion, unmasked as mad doctor Krupp (Luis Aceves Castaneda), in search of the treasure for some great experiment. The mummy doesn't actually come to life until an hour into its 80 minute running time, spending the last 12 minutes venturing out to recapture the stolen artifacts plus the reincarnation of his beloved princess to sacrifice her to the gods a second time just as Karloff's Imhotep sought to do (this mummy resembles photos of the real thing, and despite the brevity of its appearances is rather effective). The girl is rescued before an explosion buries the mummy and her father inside the tomb, not seen in the US until Jerry Warren's patchwork "Attack of the Mayan Mummy," which jettisoned most of the 1957 footage for lengthy talking head scenes featuring the usual suspects like Bruno Ve Sota. This first sequel kicked off with Dr. Krupp's henchmen aiding his escape to kidnap Flor and use his own hypnotic powers to make her lead him to the tomb and the breastplate left behind. Also present for this lone entry is the caped crusader The Angel, a non wrestler in need to rescue from a teen accomplice, who gets himself unmasked as Almada's supposedly cowardly assistant, along for the ride once the villains invade the tomb with 15 minutes left in an hour long feature. Krupp takes what he needs among the rubble, the mummy rising for a couple minutes of menace, reappearing in the final 180 seconds to put The Bat in his place by tossing him into his own death trap filled with poison snakes. Only one five minute sequence depicting the sacrifice of the Aztec princess is recycled from "La Azteca Momia," while the series finale would wind up using more stock footage to pad out its hour long running time.
Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)From wrestling to eye gouging
3 September 2019
1968's "Night of the Bloody Apes" closed out the brief series of six Mexican efforts highlighting Las Luchadoras aka The Wrestling Women, equal parts muscle and eye candy. As part of the series however we only have one for this finale (Norma Lazareno), who gets three bouts in the opening half hour then is dispensed with until the climax (she also gets a couple of brief nude shots in her dressing room). The main character is your typical mad doctor, this time a surgeon who seeks to cure his dying son of leukemia by transplanting the heart of a gorilla into his body (gorilla blood is much stronger than a man's). To absolutely no one's surprise except his, the once sickly lad becomes a muscular ape man with face to match (Gerardo Zepeda, a specialist in monster roles), whose exploits were augmented by Jerald Intrator for the dubbed US version with necks torn, a head ripped off, a naked woman raped and mutilated, a man whose hair is ripped from his scalp, and a close up of an eye gouged out (the heart transplants a display of open heart surgery). All this brutality rather spoils the innocence of the original series entry "Doctor of Doom," the police investigation conducted without the attractive and decidedly feminine wrestler, sporting a Batgirl-like mask similar to Yvonne Craig's on BATMAN. Attempts at pathos fall flat, as the father continuously repeats his initial mistake, replacing the gorilla's heart with one belonging to a vanquished foe from the ring, so the monster becomes an ape man/ape woman, or does he/she? The masked men would continue into the 1980s but the girls became mere spectators from here on, much like the one in this picture, reduced to a helpless victim stalked by the monster before picture's end, no crime fighting heroine like Batgirl but an all too ordinary everyday character.
Probably the best of Las Luchadoras
2 September 2019
1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy" was the second in a six film series featuring beautiful women wrestling in the ring like their male counterparts but without masks to hide their identity or their good looks. Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Russell return from "Doctor of Doom," and instead of a masked villain dubbed 'The Mad Doctor' we have an Oriental baddie ingeniously calling himself 'The Black Dragon,' his henchmen in search of several parts of a cut up map that will reveal the location of a hidden Aztec treasure. The big bout features Loreta Venus and the Golden Rubi against the Dragon's judo expert sisters (guess who wins?), and then at the 70 minute mark we finally get to the tomb where the valued treasure is guarded by the mummy Tezomoc (Gerardo Zepeda, who played Gomar in the previous entry), his origin resembling that of Boris Karloff in the 1932 original, here a sorcerer able to transform himself into other creatures, cursed to an eternal existence enslaved to the corpse of his virgin beloved wearing the bejeweled necklace. Once Tezomoc exits the tomb he makes quick work of the Dragon's feeble gang (the Dragon is never seen again) before turning into a bat and returning to his sarcophagus at sunrise like a vampire (he also becomes a tarantula in a later scene). For all his scary appearance he kills no one but the villain's henchmen, and earns another burial for his comeuppance, still an improvement over the one introduced in "The Aztec Mummy," "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy," and "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy." Las Luchadoras will return in four more features by decade's end but only "Night of the Bloody Apes" would see wide distribution outside Mexico.
Doctor of Doom (1963)Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1968
1 September 2019
After 30 years of masked wrestlers and just a few feature films starring the renowned Santo, somebody had the bright idea to duplicate those rasslin' moves with gorgeous gals instead of masked marauders in a short lived series of six films, kicking off with 1962's "Las Luchadoras Contra el Medico Asesino," better known in its initial dubbed US form as "Doctor of Doom," more recently granted the title "Sex Monster" perhaps in a nod to its 1968 remake "Night of the Bloody Apes" (Rhino's redubbed take from the 80s was called "Rock 'n' Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Ape"). Like Santo, Lorena Velasquez as Gloria Venus and Elizabeth Campbell as the Golden Rubi are essentially two fisted action heroines right out of an old movie serial, the costumed and hooded villain conveniently identified as 'The Mad Doctor' having transplanted the brain of a gorilla into a human being, the final ape-like result Gomar (Gerardo Zepeda) kept locked in a cage for periodic feeding, and quite a meat eater. From there the MD decides that low IQ females should be his next targets for brain experimentation but they lack the stamina to survive the operations, guess who he figures will be next to be kidnapped? For the unenlightened the wrestling scenes that are so integral to the genre merely grind the picture to a halt, Gomar goes out on the hunt on just two occasions, the last dressed in an impregnable outfit impervious to bullets, finally disposed of when his brain is encased in the skull of a wrestling rival known as Vendetta, born to beat the tar out of Gloria Venus. The final reveal of 'The Mad Doctor' wouldn't surprise a 5 year old, who might at least find it amazing how much action gets crammed into an 80 minute running time, the most hilarious death trap a spiked wall that tries to crush its victims before Gomar can get them first. It's a novelty to see helpless males rescued by fist fighting femme fatales, lacking only the 'BAM!' 'POW!' later popularized by BATMAN, with one direct sequel for the same two leads, "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy."
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)Partially remade as "Voodoo Man"
30 August 2019
1942's "The Corpse Vanishes" came fourth in the 9 picture Monogram series starring Bela Lugosi, and despite its numerous flaws emerges as one of the better ones. Reunited with the actor were Luana Walters and Joan Barclay from his 1936 Sam Katzman serial "Shadow of Chinatown" (Barclay had just completed "Black Dragons," Monogram's third with Bela), with Angelo Rossitto back from "Spooks Run Wild," 1946's "Scared to Death" still to come. Brides mysteriously die at the altar, and newshound Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) discovers the only clue to be a special orchid giving off a curious scent. This in turn leads her to the home of Dr. George Lorenz (Lugosi), expert horticulturist and scientist deeply devoted to his aging wife (Elizabeth Russell), an insufferable Countess who needs periodic injections of a serum mixed with the glands of virgin maidens to retain her youthful appearance (that's assuming that the best place to locate a virgin is at the altar!). Adding to this menagerie are Fagah (Minerva Urecal from "The Ape Man," even funnier here) and her two sons, mute imbecile Angel (Frank Moran) and dwarf Toby (Angelo Rossitto), describing them as his 'little family' before ultimately killing the two boys. Much of the picture stays in the noisy newsroom, then the focus shifts on the Lorenz home where the reporter spends the evening wandering through hidden passageways until a convenient fainting spell finally puts her to bed. Both the doctor and his wife also sleep in coffins, a morbid touch that ultimately goes nowhere, and the final third involves setting up another bride to bring out the culprits, only for Patricia to be the one kidnapped (Lou Costello's older brother Pat delivers the deadly orchid at the second wedding). The characters are strictly cardboard, Bela's incompetent assistants offer guffaws galore, and even his earnest efforts can't raise much on the drama meter, but thanks to a plucky turn from Luana Walters it's at least watchable when the star is offscreen (a shame Joan Barclay exits too soon). It must have been a hit as the actor's final Monogram entry "Voodoo Man" was at least a partial remake, featuring the unfortunate casting of John Carradine in place of Frank Moran's imbecile (granted some dialogue at least), and poor old George Zucco chanting incessantly in ridiculous headdress to the less than great god Ramboona.
John Carradine debuts for Jerry Warren
30 August 2019
Schlock director Jerry Warren was a real hustler who started out making real movies then realized it was much easier and cheaper to take other people's films and splice them together with just a few minutes of new footage. Of course the presence of John Carradine was a plus for this initial entry, 1957's "The Incredible Petrified World," as well as "Invasion of the Animal People," "Curse of the Stone Hand," "House of the Black Death," and the truly infamous "Frankenstein Island" (Katherine Victor was also a major player, usually available for Warren's call). Only here was he top billed and for once actually deserving it (barely involved for three of the other four), as Dr. Millard Wyman, a noted scientist and oceanographer whose latest diving bell breaks from its cable in the Caribbean, falling deep into a supposedly uninhabited cavernous world. Robert Clarke, Allen Windsor, Phyllis Coates (Superman's Lois Lane), and Sheila Carol ("Beast from Haunted Cave," "A Bucket of Blood") play the intrepid quartet, all set to explore before they can figure out how to return to the surface. Unfortunately, Carradine himself remains aboard ship away from the 'action,' which, truth be told, amounts to very little. Tucson's Colossal Cave in Arizona gets a plug for location shooting, yet the visuals aren't enough for a sluggish narrative of endless talking heads. The scariest item kicks things off after the opening credits, actual scenes of a shark battling an octopus, obvious padding for even this hour long feature but more exciting than what follows (generic music cues later heard in Toho's "The War of the Gargantuas"). Carradine reaches a solution using a second bell and it's a wonder how convincing an actor he is delivering just so much claptrap, otherwise beware.
The Ape Man (1943)Lugosi's lowest ebb at Monogram
29 August 2019
1943's "The Ape Man," coming on the heels of Bela Lugosi's disastrous turn as The Monster in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," sadly ranks near the bottom of all his starring vehicles for Monogram, above only the two opposite Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall's East Side Kids (later The Bowery Boys). After the humiliation of inheriting the Monster role from Karloff he had snubbed in 1931, here he's reduced to wearing more facial hair and walking with a stooped posture, swaying back and forth in a kind of simian fashion, in a feature inspired by another Karloff film from 1940, "The Ape," a Curt Siodmak throwaway where the Boris researcher needed human spinal fluid to effect a cure for polio, the crippling disease that killed his wife and daughter and afflicts his next door neighbor. The story "They Creep in the Dark" was credited to Karl Brown, a name associated with Karloff's Columbia 'mad scientist' quintet, but Siodmak's name is nowhere to be found among the writers, producer 'Jungle Sam' Katzman truly earning his moniker in dumbing down his fifth Lugosi 'idiot picture' (his words), way too much monkey business with spinal fluid again the key. We never learn the nature of this 'great experiment' that involved self injections for Bela's Dr. James Brewster, and his confederate Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall) refuses to try what he considers a possible cure to reverse the disastrous results, not a permanent one, since the necessary spinal fluid requires the donor's death. Most of the picture is taken up by Wallace Ford's typical obnoxious reporter (the same type that plagued Lugosi in "Night of Terror" and "The Mysterious Mr. Wong"), tempered somewhat by the attractive Louise Currie as photographer Billie Mason, she was affectionately known as 'the Katharine Hepburn of Poverty Row' for her equally prominent high cheekbones (also familiar from previous Monograms is Minerva Urecal as Brewster's sister, once referred to as a 'hatchet faced barnacle' for obvious reasons). The 'actual' ape was obviously a man in a gorilla suit, Emil Van Horn's familiar costume getting more of a workout than his usual gag appearances like Abbott and Costello's "Keep 'Em Flying" (he kept busy until his livelihood was stolen). Most infuriating of all is a curious character identified only as 'Zippo' (Ralph Littlefield), peeking through windows and offering unsolicited advice from beginning to end, finally confessing to the joke in the final shot: "I'm the author of the story, screwy idea wasn't it!" It's easy to agree with one critic's assessment that it wasn't a matter of wiping off the dust but raking off the mold, and as a partial remake of "The Ape" it too managed to earn an unrelated follow up costarring John Carradine, "Return of the Ape Man," its central menace a revived prehistoric missing link.
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)Terence Fisher's least appreciated Hammer horror
25 August 2019
1959's THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is easily director Terence Fisher's least known Hammer horror, and one rarely screened until its revival in the 2000s. Shot in gritty black and white rather than the usual color, it foreshadows a similar effort the following year, "The Terror of the Tongs," a star vehicle for Christopher Lee as Hong Kong tong leader Chung King, while this film boasts the underrated George Pastell as the High Priest of the secret cult of Kali, leaving behind millions of victims all garroted by the sacred cloth. Top billed Guy Rolfe ("Mr. Sardonicus") plays Captain Harry Lewis of the British East India Company, who has spent months in 1829 Bombay trying to find answers as to the mysterious disappearances of traveling caravans of various goods robbing the English of their profits (the corpses swiftly and ruthlessly buried in shallow graves). His superior, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank), appoints an old school chum as chief investigator rather than Lewis, Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson), a supremely pompous twit who simply conducts interrogations while seated behind his desk. Lewis decides to resign after his manservant, Ram Das (Tutte Lemkow), suffers a terrible fate (his hand cut off and sent to Lewis) while searching for his brother Gopali Das (David Spenser), revealed not only to be the newest recruit to the cult but also tasked to strangle his own beloved sibling. The level of brutality is unprecedented even for Hammer, and all the better for being so effectively rendered, though possibly cut for television. Two careless followers are punished for betrayal to Kali by having their eyes gouged out (we see the eye sockets following the gruesome deed), corpses have their stomachs slit prior to burial, all sadly historically accurate. It looks like curtains for a captive Lewis, staked out under the mercilessly hot sun waiting for a cobra to strike...surprise! He just happens to have brought along his pet mongoose, ably dispatching the venomous reptile, an ill omen that forces the high priest to set Lewis free. It's amazing how tiny Bray Studios could manage to convey far off places when never venturing far from the Thames, their professionalism led by production designer Bernard Robinson, who often lent his own props for a scene (for instance, the huge globe in the Castle Dracula library in "Horror of Dracula").
Five Star Final (1931)Edward G. Robinson and Boris Karloff
22 August 2019
Warners' "Five Star Final" was among 1931's Best Picture nominees, and a chance for Edward G. Robinson to break away from gangster characterizations in "The Widow from Chicago," "Outside the Law," "Little Caesar," and "Smart Money." Producer Hal B. Wallis painstakingly duplicated the look and exact dimensions of a real newspaper office, the script adapted from the successful Louis Weitzenkorn play, based on an actual scandal sheet called the New York Evening Graphic where the author had worked after leaving the New York Times and New York World. Robinson's Joseph Randall is chief editor of the Evening Gazette, a rag that uses strongarm tactics against vendors who fail to place their paper above all others, more interested in circulation and profit by virtually any means. Randall has spent a number of years in his office, the last four of them with secretary Miss Taylor (Aline MacMahon), secretly in love with her boss and urging him to move on to a decent paper. The hard working and hard drinking Randall obsesses about washing his hands, particularly after encountering the sleazy T. Vernon Isopod (Boris Karloff), a former student who was expelled from divinity school for drunkenness and sexual misbehavior. This coincides with the arrival of Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson), whose attractive figure is enough to earn her a position as reporter, complaining about how Isopod's fervent attentions left her with no skin on her knees! (he winks at her: "you got something in your eye?"). Randall's newest assignment is to revive the 20 year old killing committed by Nancy Voorhees, 'The Love Mad Stenographer,' who shot her boss when he fathered her child but refused to marry her. It is implied that the jury's subsequent acquittal was simply due to the baby, who grew up knowing nothing of her mother's crime and is in fact about to be wed to the son of socialite parents. Nancy (Frances Starr) now goes by the name Townsend, husband Michael (H.B. Warner) willingly throwing away his snobbish family wealth out of love for her, raising her child Jenny (Marian Marsh) as his own. Jenny's impending marriage to Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushell) is at present unknown to Randall's paper, Isopod insinuating himself into their home posing as a reverend conducting church business, quickly sneaking off with Jenny's photograph and a story of how this 'murderess' is determined to marry off her daughter into a distinguished family. Once the Gazette's Five Star Final hits the streets the Townsends go into a panic, Michael seeking aid from the minister conducting the wedding, while Nancy tries vainly to implore Randall to put down the story for Jenny's sake. Michael returns home to find his wife dead from a suicidal overdose, determined to join her once he concocts a story to get rid of Jenny and Phillip. Randall is stunned by this double tragedy, while Isopod determines to 'comfort' the now orphaned daughter with some financial remuneration, only to shake in his shoes once the distraught girl shows up armed with a pistol to ask: "why did you kill my mother?" Only scenes depicting the overly cute antics of the daughter and her fiancée, plus the unrealistic, over the top reactions from the parents, bring this powerful film down a notch, a thoroughly repellant role fitting Boris Karloff very well, following his previous appearance as a luckless gambler in Robinson's "Smart Money," shooting April 14-May 11, just over three months before "Frankenstein" (he had a credited part in an actual Best Picture, 1927's "Two Arabian Knights"). Marian Marsh debuted as Trilby opposite John Barrymore as "Svengali," moving on to "The Mad Genius" with Karloff, then finally his leading lady in 1935's "The Black Room" (Anthony Bushell had his shot at Boris in 1933's "The Ghoul"). One can spot the pretty Gladys Lloyd (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson) as the publisher's secretary, and Polly Walters earns a few chuckles as the telephone operator speaking in a dead monotone.
The Magic Christian (1969)Ringo Starr adds a second Terry Southern character to his Beatles era resume
21 August 2019
1968's "Candy" marked the first non-Beatles film appearance for Ringo Starr as an actor, nearly lost in a sea of superstar cameos such as Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, and John Astin in dual roles. As Emanuel, the Mexican gardener who deflowers title virgin Ewa Aulin on the pool table (Astin: "wish I'd been there with my Polaroid!"), Ringo is more amusing than those with greater screen time, and in 1969's "The Magic Christian" actually graduates to costar billing with former Goons legend Peter Sellers. The Beatles were great fans of Sellers' Goons, and there's no doubt that this production was a lot more fun for the performers than the unwary viewers who basically shunned it at the time. Director Joseph McGrath assisted Southern on the script, along with Sellers, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (shortly before Monty Python), and the lack of a cohesive narrative may grate on some while others will find the patience to enjoy a few gems among the many gags. Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, richest man in the world, who meets Ringo's vagrant and takes a paternal interest in his welfare. Renamed 'Youngman Grand' as his adopted son, Ringo joins the tour to educate the masses that everyone has their price, the only question is how much. That's all there truly is, and for some the point is hammered home with unsubtle clarity, all designed to shock and outrage people both on screen and in the audience. Making it more palatable are the numerous cameos from familiar faces, even the John and Yoko lookalikes boarding The Magic Christian, a new ocean liner set to embark from London to America, charging $5000 per guest (this section begins at the 65 minute mark). Laurence Harvey opens with an unlikely performance as Hamlet, stripping nude for less than enthusiastic theatergoers; Dennis Price, Jeremy Lloyd and Peter Bayliss become flummoxed aboard a train ("I've been fired before, but never in Afghanistan!"), David Hutcheson is enraged at the amount of firepower required for 'a good clean kill,' John Cleese and Patrick Cargill earn laughs at Sotheby's, while Graham Chapman's Oxford team follows the lead of coach Richard Attenborough to sabotage the race with Cambridge. The Cruft's dog show finds the contestants devoured by an African black panther disguised as a canine, Spike Milligan's traffic warden gleefully swallows his parking ticket before the offer runs out in 10 seconds, the world heavyweight championship winds down as the two boxers express their affection in the middle of the ring ("the crowd appears to be sickened by the sight of no blood!"). By the time the Christian sets sail most of the stars appear out of nowhere: Christopher Lee speaks a mere six words of dialogue as 'Ship's Vampire,' stalking the corridors all too briefly before attacking Wilfrid Hyde-White's doddering drunken captain; Leonard Frey as Laurence Faggot (pronounced fah-GO) shows off a sample of hemp, then arrests the man he casually hands it to; a silent Roman Polanski is serenaded at the bar by a bewigged Yul Brynner; Raquel Welch as Priestess of the Whip lashes out at intruders who enjoy being masochists. The final sequence was typically cut from all TV prints, as Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" puts an exclamation point on the proceedings as bowler hatted, umbrella carrying citizens brave a vat filled with blood, urine and animal manure for Grand's advertised 'free money.' Very much a relic of its time, this marriage of the Goons and The Beatles earned little regard from critics but continues to gain a following for its cultural importance. From the beginning the soundtrack found favor with three tracks produced by Paul McCartney and performed by Apple band Badfinger, "Come and Get It" (written by Paul and heard throughout), "Carry on Till Tomorrow" (heard over the opening credits), and "Rock of All Ages" (heard briefly on two occasions), all issued on the first official Badfinger LP MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC in January 1970. The two stars are a good match, already good friends well before filming started in February 1969, though the picture continued the Sellers box office losing streak that only ended with a revival of the Pink Panther series. At the urging of new manager Allan Klein Ringo kept the Apple film division going over the next few years, playing a supporting villain in the Spaghetti Western "Blind Man," directing the T. Rex concert feature "Born to Boogie," and producing "Son of Dracula," casting Harry Nilsson as Count Downe (he'd just released his album SON OF SCHMILSSON dressed as Dracula on the cover). Christopher Lee enjoyed meeting all four Beatles on the set and later appeared on the front cover of Paul's acclaimed Wings LP BAND ON THE RUN.