Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mystery Movie: THE STRANGE LOVE LIFE OF HITLER (1972)



An adult movie titled THE STRANGE LOVE LIFE OF HITLER opened in Seattle on March 31, 1972 with ad art swiped from LOVE CAMP 7. It could be a re-titling of that film, or it could be something else, like HITLER'S HOUSE OF PLEASURE...


...which opened in San Francisco with NAZI SLAVES in January 1971.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Movie Ad of the Week: GRINGO (1985) a.k.a. STORY OF A JUNKIE (1987)



GRINGO, Lech Kowalski's grim documentary about one-eyed East Village smack addict John Spaceley, opened at the Waverly Twin (now the IFC Center) on November 22, 1985.


The release expanded to three outer borough theaters in the RKO chain on April 25, 1986.


Troma acquired the film, changed the title to STORY OF A JUNKIE, and opened it at the 42nd Street Liberty on April 10, 1987, on a triple bill with FAT GUY GOES NUTZOID and THE TOXIC AVENGER. The DVD from Troma contains a Lech Kowalski audio commentary and an interview with producer Ann S. Barish.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Mystery Movie: KUNG FU COPS (1975)



Something called KUNG FU COPS opened in Buffalo, NY on April 30, 1975. Both the title and the artwork are new to us. Any ideas?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Guest Review: TIGER BY THE TAIL (1969)

Il nostro buon amico Tim Ferrante, a 30-year-plus veteran of the world of fandom, returns to the Temple today for another installment of "Guest Reviews." In addition to writing for such publications as Fangoria, Starlog, Gorezone, Comics Scene, and The Splatter Times, Tim created the Westerns...All'Italiana! fanzine in 1983, co-founded The Phantom of the Movies' VideoScope magazine in 1993, and for 10 years owned and edited GameRoom, a magazine aimed at fans and collectors of coin-operated pinball and video games. He was the vice president of the publishing company Imagine, Inc. and also wrote, produced & directed the trailer compilation video DRIVE-IN MADNESS! (1987). Here he is with a review of...


TIGER BY THE TAIL (1969)

Written by Charles A. Wallace
Produced by Francis D. Lyon
Directed by R.G. Springsteen

CAST: Christopher George, Tippi Hedren, Dean Jagger, Charo, Glenda Farrell, Skip Homeier, John Dehner, Alan Hale, Jr., R.G. Armstrong, Lloyd Bochner, Dennis Patrick

Reviewed by Tim Ferrante

R.G. Springsteen’s TIGER BY THE TAIL (hereafter TBTT) provides a warm return-to-childhood experience for those of us who gluttonously ingested ‘60s television programs. Christopher George top-lines its cast of familiar TV faces that’s augmented with fallen big screen beauty Tippi Hedren.


George portrays Steve Michaelis (Mick-AY-lis), a military vet returning to the States after a three year Southeast Asia tour. A stopover dust-up in a Mexico bar creates some bad press that follows him to his home turf of El Paso and the ire of his brother Frank (Dennis Patrick), the prominent shareholder of Ruidoso Downs race track.


Steve’s inauspicious welcome by his testy brother suspiciously coincides with the track's delivery of $1 million by armored truck and an armed robbery that goes exactly as unplanned when brother Frank is killed. It’s an inside job and the perpetrators are gifted with the perfect patsy: Steve Michaelis.


After all, he has the most to gain by Frank’s death...he’s the sole heir to his brother’s controlling interest in Ruidoso Downs! Sheriff Chancey Jones (John Dehner) encourages his prime suspect to assist the official investigation with his own snooping.


But time is of the essence; Frank’s will stipulates that Steve must make a buyout offer to the four other owners within three days otherwise the controlling shares revert back to them. The suspects are many and all possess enough motive to want Frank dead. Steve gradually peels the onion between frame-up attempts, bullets, a dead body here and a punch-up there. The last Act’s surprise reveal pits him and the robbery’s mastermind in a one on one confrontation.


Eddie Cantor once observed that in show business, “Likeability is 90 percent of the battle.” His insight is clearly evident with Christopher George’s spot-on portrayal of self-assured Steve Michaelis and explains why he worked continuously until his death in 1983. George is exceedingly likeable regardless of his character, so when it came to leading man duties for TBTT casting director Kerwin Coughlin knew exactly who he needed. His quick rise to notoriety was well-earned. The handsome George had already appeared in commercials, trod Broadway boards, wowed photographers as a print ad model in the early ‘60s and starred as Sgt. Sam Troy in ABC-TV’s THE RAT PATROL (1966-1968). He appoints his character with charm, strength and a determined will to solve his brother’s murder.


Tippi Hedren portrays Rita Armstrong, Frank Michaelis’ arm candy squeeze who Steve suspects may have something to do with the robbery and murder. She portrays Rita with detached sexuality similar to her characters in two Alfred Hitchcock films, THE BIRDS (1963) and MARNIE (1964). Hedren’s casting is notable; five years earlier she was one of Hollywood’s hottest names with no shortage of directors who wanted to work with her. Hitchcock, who’d signed her to an exclusive contract in 1961, launched the erstwhile unknown into immediate fame. But it was her resistance to Hitchcock’s oppressive control and the rejection of his tender advances that resulted in the portly auteur dousing his plans for Hedren’s long term superstardom. After only two pictures Hitchcock handcuffed her career, damaging it so severely that it would never recover. By 1969 she’d swapped leading men like Sean Connery in MARNIE for Christopher George in TBTT. Ironically (fittingly?) Hitchcock’s post-Hedren years produced only four more films with only one – FRENZY (1972) – exhibiting any notion of the director’s gift for terror and suspense. Hedren's rear view summation of her mentor's punishment? “[Hitchcock] ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life.”


The film is indeed a treasure for its pleasantly familiar cast, all of whom were seasoned pros used to working in the fast-paced production of weekly episodic television. Alan Hale, Jr. plays race track co-owner Billy Jack Whitehorn. He gives Whitehorn a “Skipper-ish” overlay that’s abandoned when delivering some shady “I know nothing!” lip to Steve Michaelis’ probing. It’s a tangential part, but Hale portrays the worried man effortlessly.


Few actors possess Lloyd Bochner’s ability for playing scheming crooks with such smarmy class. He’s cast as Del Ware, a track co-owner who agreed to the robbery, but never agreed to murder. Steve brings the conflicted nervous wreck to the brink of a near confession early on, but it’s too little info and fate has a decidedly different plan for Del Ware. The Canadian-born Bochner’s wall-to-wall television and movie appearances began in the ‘40s and didn’t show any signs of slowing until the ‘90s when the actor was in his seventies. Amongst a lifetime of fictional characters and voice-overs, the multi-talented performer is never more delightful than when he was himself – on more than one occasion – as a celebrity guest on the early ‘70s syndicated game show, BEAT THE CLOCK. For Bochner it was a bit of a homecoming as the show taped the majority of its seasons in Montreal even though it was an American production. Watching the ever-polished Lloyd Bochner executing crazy stunts in a race against time is a long-lasting visual incongruity!


Another TV notable is John Dehner who portrays Sheriff Chancey Jones with some of his adept western acting style. Jones is a big city cop who came to El Paso for a softer gig as his segue into retirement. He’s a savvy, firm-footed lawman who eventually warms up to Steve, tolerating his heavy-handed approach in finding his brother's murderer and the missing million. Dehner’s background is throat deep in performance genres and artistic pursuits. It would have been impossible not to have heard or seen him during his most productive decades. He worked as a Disney animator (!), he performed on radio, in motion pictures and countless TV shows. His wonderful baritone pipes gave voice to hundreds of cartoon characters and narrations. Whether it was a dull-witted Nazi on HOGAN’S HEROES (1965-1971) or a colorful tale-spinning drunk on BONANZA (1959-1973), John Dehner brought studied professionalism to every part. His appearance in TBTT is one of its shining attributes.


The list of household faces also include Dean Jagger, Charo (in her American film debut), Skip Homeier, Burt Mustin and the great R.G. Armstrong whose supporting role as law officer Ben Holmes is a thorough misuse of this remarkable actor.


TBTT was filmed in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico (its race track remains fully operational to this day) doubling for El Paso, Texas. Various online sources can’t seem to agree on its release year with 1968, 1969 and 1970 all being cited, but TBTT’s National Screen Service code is 69/322 which indicates the film’s theatrical availability in the last quarter of 1969. It was one of several produced by United Pictures Corporation (UPC) whose primary mission was to make feature motion pictures suitable for network and syndication television. UPC co-founder and TBTT's producer was Francis D. “Pete” Lyon. His film career began in 1923 as a menial studio laborer when the future Academy Award winner – for co-editing BODY AND SOUL (1947) – needed money to pay his $25 per semester college tuition. In his 1993 autobiography, Twists of Fate: An Oscar Winner's International Career (Evanston Publishing, Inc.), he explained UPC's business plan:


“[In 1966] some associates and I started United Pictures Corporation to produce color feature films aimed principally for the growing syndication and network television markets. We produced a program of nine action-adventure pictures with a couple of science fiction shows included. As the guiding forces of the production team, Earle Lyon (no relation), a most knowledgeable filmmaker, functioned efficiently as executive producer. I had directed some WELLS FARGO episodes he produced at Universal and thought he had fit into our program. Edmund Baumgarten, a former Bank of America motion picture loan officer and former president of Regal Pictures, was in charge of business affairs; I was in charge of production. We were fortunate to get a couple of imaginative writers. Arthur C. Pierce and Charles Wallace came up with some interesting scripts and were very cooperative in our small production group. I directed five of the nine pictures we made, and all but the first one, CASTLE OF EVIL (1966), which was distributed independently, was sold to CBS either for network or syndication. We believed that a well-mounted product with recognizable names in the cast, made at a modest price, would return a reasonable profit to the production company from the television markets alone. Other shows we sold to CBS include CYBORG 2087 (1966), DIMENSION 5 (1966), THE DESTRUCTORS (1968), MONEY JUNGLE (1967), THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1969), PANIC IN THE CITY (1968) and TIGER BY THE TAIL (1969). As an example of our casting, in TIGER BY THE TAIL, we were able to get Christopher George, Tippi Hedren, Dean Jagger, Alan Hale, Jr., Charro, Glenda Farrell, John Dehner and other competent people. I was credited as producer and R.G. “Bud” Springsteen as director, with Earle Lyon as executive producer. When we organized UPC, with financing by Canadian oil interests, it was our plan to do our own distribution. However, the backers later saw an opportunity to spin off some of the costs by accepting a distribution deal (and some financing) from Harold Goldman Associates for a healthy percentage of profits.”


The UPC business model of creating product for starved broadcasters was a pioneering idea at the onset. Reviews of TBTT and its UPC-produced siblings sometimes make mention of their “made-for-TV look” or comparing them to “an expensive made-for-tv movie.” As Lyon indicated, the films were indeed made with a sale to television in mind and a lesser concern for theatrical play dates. In a sense,they were made for TV films but not in the conventional meaning of the term. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be long before the networks assumed full control of programming needs by financing their own “made-for” productions designed to attract specific audiences, age groups and – more importantly – advertisers!

R.G. Springsteen - photo from www.westernclippings.com

According to the IMdB, TBTT was director Springsteen’s last film. He spent a lifetime making B-westerns, episodic television and bottom-billed programmers for Republic Pictures and independent producers. Undeniably a skilled filmmaker, his expertise was founded in budget conscious productions and explains TBTT's visual impact.


It also marked the penultimate film edited by Terry Morse. Like his colleague Francis Lyon, Morse's career stretched back to the silent era. His most notable directing assignment were the sequences filmed for the American version of GODZILLA (1957) featuring Raymond Burr.


Perhaps TBTT – and UPC'S output in general – is best summed up by a quote in Lyon's Twists of Fate bio. It's attributed to yet another budget conscious filmmaker, Edward L. (INVADERS FROM MARS) Alperson, who understood when to stop spending time and money on a project for marginal gain. Lyon worked as an editor on a couple of his films. Upon finishing a complete edit of which Alperson approved, Lyon suggested to his boss that he go back and make a few fixes he felt were needed. The penny-pinching Alperson simply turned to Lyon and said, “Pete, don't die from improvement.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Review: Italian All Night Splatterfest (Phoenixville, 8/30/2014)

Former 'zine editor Tim Mayer is back with another festival review, this time from the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, famous for its appearance in THE BLOB (1958). These days Tim runs the blog Safe House -- but if you're too young to remember the five issues of Fear of Darkness that he cranked out in two years (1982-1983) with the help of such contributors as Bill Landis, Jim Morton, Rick Sullivan, Richard Green, Kris Gilpin and Dave Szurek, then you need to read Chris P's interview with Tim in the book Xerox Ferox, pronto! While you wait for your copy to arrive from Headpress, check this out...


Colonial Theatre's
Italian All Night Splatterfest 3
August 30, 2014
Colonial Theatre
Phoenixville, PA

by Tim Mayer

Another year has passed and another Italian Splatterfest at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville has come and gone. This was the third one. I attended last year’s but didn’t make the one previous so I can’t compare it. Once again I made it all the way to the end. This time my buddy Bill who attended with me made it to the end as well, but our mutual friend Troy couldn’t be there. But there is next year...

The crowd was much the same as last year. A smattering of local metal heads, punkers, film students and over the hill cinemaniacs (such as myself). Some people did the smart thing and had lounges in the back row so they could relax. Some even brought blankets and pillows. Thank Gawd the theater served coffee in the lobby because I needed a boost between movie four and five.

The Colonial has been doing an outstanding job bringing these odd little feature films to the area. If you’d told me in my Exploited Film Society/Fear of Darkness days that I would someday be able to see quality prints of these obscure films in an art house I’d assumed you’d taken leave of your senses. But a dedicated group of fans have sought out the prints and secured the rights to show them in a real theater. Well almost all the rights: more on that later.


As usual, the show opened with a warm-up from the committee who puts on the First Friday horror and cult movie shows. They mentioned the titles of the films we were about to see and credited the theater for allowing them to be shown. Then they handed out prizes based on the ticket number given on entering the theater. Won a DVD of RATS myself, but gave it to the metal couple sitting next to me. I’ve got enough DVD’s and don’t need any more.

From the announcements it became clear one of the movies they were going to show had a rights issue. Thus, in keeping with their request, I’m not going to mention the name of it. I will say that I’d never heard of the film before, which is always a plus.


After some trailers of other Italian horror movies, the show began. The first movie was THE BEYOND (a.k.a. THE SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH. A cheer went through the crowd as Fulci’s name appeared under the director’s credits. This was your standard blood and guts Italian gore fest with little in the way of plot. Filmed in 1980 in the southern USA by an Italian cast and crew, it was one of the best films to be shown. The print was in very good shape, so I’m assuming they got hold of one of the Grindhouse releasing versions. It was complete, unlike the one I saw in St. Louis over 30 years ago. The plot is about a woman who buys a cursed hotel outside New Orleans. It may possess the entrance to hell. With plenty of gore effects, including a man getting his face eaten by tarantulas, this proved to be a big hit.


After some popcorn and soda, the next film began: CREEPERS (PHENOMENON). The print was in good shape and I’d been eager to see this one on a big screen after seeing it for the first time on video years ago. This was director Dario Argento’s attempt to have the same success he’d had years earlier with SUSPIRIA. A film star’s young daughter finds herself in an exclusive Swiss boarding school where a sinister killer is offing local girls. Is the killer someone she knows? Will the local police detective solve the case? I wish I could say it was worth the wait for the big screen version, but the film just doesn’t hold up that well. It was nice to see a young Jennifer Connelly on the big screen, but the movie’s plot ran in all sorts of directions. And most of the big name 80’s rock bands whose music were featured in the film had only a token amount of songs.


And of course you need a real humdinger like DOCTOR BUTCHER MD to make the festival. Originally filmed as ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, the movie was released in the U.S. as DOCTOR BUTCHER in 1982 when given a new opening and different score. At the time, some New York City fans got into the act by staging a whole Dr. Butcher road show complete with fake patients and nurses. The film itself is about a SE Asian island where zombies are roaming and cannibals are on the rampage. Naturally it begins in NYC, but shifts to the exotic locales once the plot starts moving. This was by far the worst looking print of the evening as it had faded into a red hue. However, the audience didn’t seem to mind.


Next was the movie we’re not supposed to mention due to the rights issue. I will say that [deleted] was faded red, defiantly shot in Italy, and concerned a murder mystery as opposed to a gore express. I didn’t recognize any of the actors in it, another reason why it never had a big release in the U.S. [deleted] featured a masked killer who went around whacking people while dressed as a Roman Catholic cardinal. I wish I could say more, but we were specifically asked not to mention the title on social media. Shhh!

By now the hour was late and many attendees had left the theater. I managed to stagger to the lobby and buy a coffee which kept me going to the final movie: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (U.S. title: MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY). One of the many “Terror in the Jungle” movies which were lensed by Italian studios in the late 70s, CANNIBAL FEROX is the standard most film fans use for extreme splatter porn. I’d never had the opportunity to watch it, cannibals on the rampage isn’t a theme which attracts my interest. The plot concerned a group of Americans who travel to the jungles of South America to prove that cannibalism doesn’t exist. I am not making that up. Along the way they find out otherwise, but not before dealing with drug dealers on the run and vengeful indigenous people. Surprisingly, it was the best movie of the bunch, with a good group of actors, tight direction and a decent story line. What I didn’t care for, and what is the biggest criticism of the movie, was the casual slaughter of animals during the film. Several times we get to see the local tribes hack up live turtles and gut alligators for dinner. I could have done without either of those scenes. The “hook” ending is just as bad as I’d heard.


About 3:30 AM we all managed to stagger out of the Colonial Theatre and make our way home. I was surprised at how many people made it all the way to the end. As for me, this will be a warm-up to the 24 hour horror festival this October in Philadelphia.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Movie Ad of the Week: Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Blood Shed (Chicago, 1968)



The Blood Shed, Herschell Gordon Lewis' short-lived attempt at Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, opened at 1331 North Wells Street in Chicago's Old Town on Friday, July 19, 1968. Before the Godfather of Gore moved in and painted it red, the building had been home to a restaurant called Mr. Pumpernickel. Lewis turned the kitchen into a projection booth so he could show horror movies, including his own, but the theater's raison d'être were the stage shows featuring characters like Wanda Werewolf, Irving Vampire, and especially Count Satan, who would simulate the throat slashing of audience members and even recreate the infamous tongue ripping from BLOOD FEAST. Daniel Krogh, co-author of The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis and His World of Exploitation Films (FantaCo, 1983), worked as "the non-union projectionist" as well as "sometime ticket taker and troubleshooter" at the Blood Shed, and provides a description of the theater and its gruesome live shows in his long out-of-print book (Chapter 11, "Butchery Live on Stage: The Saga of the Blood Shed Theatre"). Not one of Lewis' more successful business ventures, The Blood Shed -- later renamed Le Cinema Bizarre -- didn't stick around Old Town for more than a few months but remains a fascinating sidebar to his films and most likely inspired him to make THE WIZARD OF GORE two years later.












Compiled by
John W. Donaldson
and Chris Poggiali

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Movie Ad of the Week: WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1977) a.k.a. THE COED MURDERS (1980)



Massimo Dallamano's LA POLIZIA CHIEDE AIUTO/POLICE CALL FOR HELP (1974) opened in 14 theaters in the New York area on March 18, 1977 under the title WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? Two years later, distributor Peppercorn-Wormser closed up shop and sold their library to Nicholas M. Demetroules of NMD Film Distributing (This explains why HOUSE OF EXORCISM, BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS, MONDO MAGIC, DUEL IN THE TIGER DEN, THE SHE-BEAST and other Peppercorn-Wormser releases were still playing theaters in the '80s). Demetroules re-released the Dallamano film as THE COED MURDERS, and on November 28, 1980, sub-distributor Bedford Entertainment opened it on 21 screens in the NY area -- including a few of the same screens that had played it three and a half years earlier.