Saturday, February 28, 2009

Graveyard Goodies!

Snack bar menus handed out at drive-ins to promote CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Reviewed by Nathaniel Poggiali

Smooth-talking Joe Esposito (Antonio Sabato) is parachuting in Hong Kong as part of an advertisement campaign for Chinese spaghetti. His best friend Scotty McCoy (muscleman Brad Harris, credited as 'Robin McDavid') is a hustler who busts heads on a shipping dock when he gets caught with loaded dice. Joe and Scotty live in a boat and need money to live their dream of opening a distillery. They agree to deliver packages for a shady businessman, Girogiakis (Gianni Rizzo), while protecting his interests from a rival, Mr. Wang (George Wang).

Joe falls for the Greek's mistress (Karin Schubert) and Scotty for beautiful 'Little Junk' (Ling Ping), a shy young woman who drags her five little brothers around searching for a husband. Despite these romantic diversions, our moronic heroes live together, slap each other’s backsides and have to be pushed into relationships with women; in one scene Harris is thrown into Sabato’s lap and delivers a few lines to the man’s crotch! Amidst subtle gay panic, it is revealed that Joe and Scotty have been hired to deliver $3 million in narcotics, and that Giorgiakis and Wang are faking the dispute and plan to kill the Greek's knucklehead delivery boys.

Director ‘Frank Kramer’ (Gianfranco Parolini) built a career out of campy westerns (the SABATA trilogy) and spy adventures (the KOMMISSAR X series, also starring Harris), but this broadly comic turn is a weak cousin to the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer vehicles. Sabato was always a wooden leading man and his character is slimy when he should be lovable. It is also worth noting that the actor dubbing him is difficult to take, particularly when he's ogling Schubert in voice-over ("That's it, honey, take care of it -- take good care of it.") Harris' character is basically a bully cheating innocent people and beating up thugs half his size, and there are the expected jokes about dog meat and Chinese restaurants (yawn, snore). I might have cracked a smile once or twice but can't recall even a chuckle, and the film drags on for 105 minutes -- a ridiculous running time for such nonsense, particularly when the “jokes” are lazily executed and the story nowhere to be found. Some eye-catching Hong Kong locations and a somewhat amusing twist ending, but that’s about it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

SHATTER (1974) meets the Destructible Man!

For today's main course I've sliced, diced and stir-fried the Hammer/Shaw Brothers collaboration SHATTER (1974) for the incomparable Flying Maciste Brothers (Howard S. Berger and Kevin Marr), who will serve the tasty treat to you over at their great Destructible Man blog. Don't be a dummy -- grab a plate and dig in here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Endangered List (Case File #23)


U.S. release in 1976

(Above: newspaper ad from the Detroit News, July 16, 1977)

(Below: poster from the Philippines)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fantasy and Science-Fiction: Soviet Style

by Lawrence McCallum

During the 1950s, one rarely heard mention of Soviet films in the United States unless it was with a negative slant. Even American films about the Soviet struggle during World War II seemingly ceased to exist despite a few exceptions. NORTH STAR (1943), which cast Dana Andrews and Walter Brennan as anti-fascist Soviet patrons, was reissued in 1956 with a veneer of anti-communist feeling. The film was re-titled ARMORED ATTACK and included new documentary footage of the brutal Soviet intervention in the Hungarian revolution.

McCarthyism created a political atmosphere that was not compatible with what seemed to be the intrusion of Soviet culture in an American society. Such "cultural subversion" was frowned upon by American distributors who didn't care to risk being investigated by the House of Un-American Activities.

With the end of the fifties, the two Joes (Stalin and McCarthy) were in the past. The de-Stalinization program of Nikita Khruschev brought a new freedom to the USSR. The United States, likewise, showed a relaxation of certain internal pressures. Grigory Chukhrai's BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1960) was widely acclaimed by American critics who admired both its poignant human story and the absence of any overt political propaganda. Such films, however, often lacked strong commercial possibilities and were booked only at tiny art theatres.

American distributors in the early sixties began to consider Soviet productions that were more suitable for Saturday matinee crowds. Some intriguing titles that were tentatively scheduled for release, unfortunately, never reached American theatres. SADKO (1953), for example, was a fantasy-adventure in the sword and sorcery vein. The film concerned a young warrior who encountered mythological menaces that included a Harpy-like bird-woman. It was released in the U.S. by Roger Corman's Filmgroup under the title THE MAGIC VOYAGE OF SINBAD in 1962. FLYING CARPET (1956) told the story of an ancient genie who was mystified by modern society after being released from an enchanted jar. SAMPO (1959), a Finnish-Soviet co-production, was about a Conan-like hero who entered a dark kingdom called "The Kelevala" and struggled against its evil ruler, Lord Louhi. The film's bizarre characters included a variety of witches and warlocks plus a birch tree that could talk. Like SADKO, it was acquired by Roger Corman and released in the U.S. by his Filmgroup (as THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE) in 1963.

One of the few Soviet fantasy-adventures to be released in the United States was the spectacular THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON (1960). This widescreen, color production was shot in 1956 under the title ILYA MUROMETS. The story took place in the Russia of many centuries ago when a horde of barbaric Asians called "The Tugars" subjugated a Russian peasant village. The courageous Ilya Muromets escapes the village and vows to return with an army of liberation.

During his wanderings, Ilya performs many deeds of bravery, such as the defeat of the fearful, troll-like "wind demon." His feats of valor are so impressive that they inspire an alliance between Ilya and the armed forces of an independent city-state. A huge army descends on the Tugars, defeating them and destroying their deadly, fire-breathing dragon. Ilya Muromets is united with his family once again and his village resumes its peaceful life, free of foreign tyranny.

THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON contained the ideological points that were typical of Soviet period adventure films. Such efforts stressed unity among the common people, selfless devotion to the good of all men and a strong determination to resist all foreign aggression.

These ideas also formed the philosophical framework of many Soviet science-fiction films set in the near-future. A noticeable distinction, however, was that the costume dramas with semi-historical settings were often more strident in their jingoism. One of their space operas, released in the United States by American International Pictures (AIP), exhibited a softer stand toward foreign elements. An in-depth discussion of that film now follows.

THE HEAVENS CALL (1960) was a simplistic but ultimately positive look at East-West tensions as expressed in the race for space. Rather than being vile or despicable, the Americans depicted in the film are dedicated but overly ambitious men who make rash decisions. The impetuous course that they take comes about when the American astronauts, who are about to embark on a flight to Mars, discover that the Soviets are also ready to launch a manned expedition to the red planet. The Americans recklessly try to beat the Russians to their destination and are caught in the middle of a meteor shower. After crash-landing on one of the Martian moons, the Americans are rescued by the Russians. Both crews join forces and journey forth to conquer Mars together. All men are brothers and real human progress can only be achieved through that realization.

THE HEAVENS CALL was one of two Soviet films purchased for U.S. release by Roger Corman. After being rewritten and restructured by Corman, the film was released in 1963 by AIP under the title BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN. The U.S. version took place some years after a thermonuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. North America had been consolidated as a nation called "Xenon Minor." Europe is united under Soviet control as "Xenon Major." Much of the remaining story was unchanged – except that the roles of the competing space crews were reversed! It is the Russians who recklessly try to accomplish the first Mars landing. In the American version, the Soviet crew fails to survive the crash-landing of its vessel.

It may be interesting to note that BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN was the first film to feature the work of Francis Ford Coppola, excluding his uncredited directorial assist for THE TERROR (1963). Coppola created a special effects sequence that was intended to add excitement value to the Soviet film.

A key scene that Roger Corman disliked in the original THE HEAVENS CALL became the focal point for Coppola's work. That scene concerned a querulous young Russian, highly resentful of Americans, who rejects the alliance between the Soviet and American space explorers. He begins exploring the Martian terrain without the accompaniment of his comrades. During his wanderings, the Russian sees the remarkable sight of a golden statue atop a hill. The form is of a gilded cosmonaut and the Russian's eyes widen in surprise at viewing it. He backs away in awe and the excitement of this strange encounter causes him to faint. When he regains consciousness, the statue is gone but the other crew members have arrived. The young Russian greets them eagerly, having been imbued with a new sense of awareness. His strange vision reminded him that space exploration is a noble cause that rejects the prejudices of the past.

Reportedly, after viewing this scene, Roger Corman wrinkled his nose and shook his head before turning to Francis Ford Coppola. "Cut the shots of the statue," Corman told Coppola. "Put two monsters fighting on the hill." Coppola followed orders and constructed two "cute creatures" that were manipulated by invisible piano wires. The scene now ended with the young Russian being found dead, apparently of a heart attack, after watching the duel between the two Martian monsters. And so, we saw an amusing example of commercialism in action. Routine but saleable programmer material was used to replace a Stanley Kubrick-like symbolic sequence.

Roger Corman also purchased a Soviet space opera entitled THE PLANET OF STORMS (1962). This effort became the basis for two films that merged Soviet footage with American sequences. The better of the two films, released by AIP, was QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), which seemed to incorporate the best effects footage from THE PLANET OF STORMS. Curtis Harrington directed QUEEN OF BLOOD, which concerned the rescue of an alien emissary who has crash-landed on one of the Martian moons. The space crew taking her to Earth discovers, almost too late, that the female alien is a vampire. After two of the astronauts fall prey to her blood-lust, the alien dies with mere scratches suffered in a scuffle with the heroine. The other-worldly vampire, we soon discover, is a hemophiliac.

QUEEN OF BLOOD was impressive mostly for its colorful Soviet footage which probably included a few leftover scenes from THE HEAVENS CALL. Curtis Harrington generated some fair suspense from his thin material and this low-budget thriller featured some good character performances by Basil Rathbone and Czech actress Florence Marly.

The main body of THE PLANET OF STORMS was contained in AIP's VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967). This effort was quickly released to television, though it may have had a limited release in some parts of the United States. The film was a largely predictable outer-space adventure about an expedition sent to a newly discovered planet that has remnants of an extinct (?) civilization. One crew member claims to have found evidence that the alien race still survives somewhere on the nearby barren world. The final scene proves this claim to be true for, as the spaceship departs, we see the image of a humanoid creature reflected in a pool of water. Otherwise, this space opera features the usual heroics including confrontations with natural obstacles and a battle with lizard-like monsters.

VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET contained several poorly-shot U.S. sequences with Basil Rathbone repeating his Dr. Farraday characterization from QUEEN OF BLOOD. Stephanie Rothman directed with a heavy hand and genre favorite Faith Domergue was wasted in a throwaway supporting role. The end result was a needlessly "Americanized" failure that may have been better in its original form.

Serious fans of science-fiction were more pleasantly surprised by SOLARIS (1976), the Soviet version of Stanislaw Lem's famous novel. In this case, it was the Soviets who did some pruning and removed a few scenes that were politically sensitive. Nevertheless, the film retained its disturbing fascination with symbolic implications about the Stalinist era.

SOLARIS concerned a deep space probe that unexpectedly encountered an alien life form. The intruding alien is fairly ambiguous and defends itself by probing the minds of the cosmonauts, then assuming the identities taken from human memories. Crew members now confront people who have been dwelling only in the dark corners of long-buried remembrances. Although these appearances are illusions, the cosmonauts cannot deny the disturbing, even tragic memories that are recalled. When we reach the film's climax, the alien's intentions may not be important to us. Instead, we begin to wonder how often devotion to duty makes hash of human lives. Ideologies and social "awareness" produces functionaries who often forget about past lives destroyed in the name of social progress. The alien intruder of SOLARIS symbolizes the human conscience – which can be a troublesome and frightening thing.

More recently, the "Rambo" syndrome has produced simplistic political views that have not gone unnoticed by Soviet observers. A similarly eclectic response from the Soviets is their anti-CIA political thriller THE LAST VOYAGE (1986). International tensions increase and subside, both in the real world and in that of the movie theatre. The present conflicts obvious both in American and Soviet films will probably become less intense, much as they did with the end of the 1950s. Who knows what Soviet cinematic treasures will emerge from the practice of "glasnost?" Only time will tell.

[Originally printed in Temple of Schlock #14, December 1988]

Monday, February 23, 2009


Reviewed by Paul DeCirce

Sam Peckinpah's BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974) is one film that will probably be eternally misunderstood, as it skates a surreal edge of parody and seriousness that can rarely be comprehended by modern twinkie-headed viewers. It is one film that has been marked by far-divided criticism, making many 'worst of' lists, yet making Roger Ebert's top list. Peckinpah is best known for his film THE WILD BUNCH and his 60s television writing and directing of GUNSMOKE, THE WESTERNER, and KLONDIKE. He is universally renowned for breathing an edgy, stylized form into violence, often seen by the shoot-out. His work, in this fashion, influenced many great moderns, including Scorsese, Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Walter Hill.

Peckinpah was one step down the hill at this point in his career, coming off of the critically panned PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. His previous film, THE GETAWAY was a highly fashioned hit starring Steve McQueen. He'd also had a growing reputation as explosive and hostile director, with such films as STRAW DOGS and MAJOR DUNDEE, depicting a stinging violence and defamation toward women. Unfortunately, the critical flushing that GARCIA received probably broke him down; y'know, two turds in a row kind of thing. I recently viewed this film to see what I thought about its 'love it or hate it' cult status.

I have little claim to clearing the confusion about whether it's 'good' or 'bad,' but either way its both enjoyable and infuriating, like Peckinpah's best work throughout his entire career.

The film begins with an innocent girl admiring her pregnant body by the water. This soon turns into exposed breasts and a broken arm before 'el jefe' of a Civil-War era Mexican town. This town boss claims the stud that impregnated her 'was like a son.' Then he offers a cool million US to a stack of American looking 70s gringos to 'bring him the head' of the stud Alfredo Garcia. As fine a premise for any Tarantino film you'll see, I assure you.

These creepy, greasy American bounty hunters team up for the dough and somehow find their way to a somehow different tiny little Mexican town (stock airplane footage in tow). There they find an American piano player named Bennie (Warren Oates) who just happened to have a girlfriend who'd slept with Alfredo not a week earlier. Oh by the way, Alfredo's dead from drunk driving. Following this? It's easy. Bennie's offered a cool 1% for the delivery of the head to the slick gringos, who have shop set up in some Playboy meets Bonanza plush hotel, giving Bennie $200.00 to work with.

At this point the film dissolves abruptly into a wretchedly filmed 45 minutes of lifeless script concerning Bennie and a female floozie. Watch out, everyone, Bennie is falling in love with his crab-having ho-bag chiquita. We're subjected to eye-rollingly bad scenes of their growing love and sordid backstory (Bennie -- they said four days to get the head or they kill you, moron! Perhaps it's time to wrap up the f'in picnic, y'know?) More talk of marriage, more talk of love, more talk of marriage, chiquita almost raped by Kris Kristofferson, more talk of...memories... you get the gist...

These middle reels will have even the most sedate of viewers scratching their necks and reaching for the popcorn. There's an immense amount of time devoted to Bennie's back-story about his issues of commitment, love and devotion. All of this is undoubtedly a reflection of Peckinpah's problems and growing addiction to coke and booze (though the coke wouldn't come in later, until James Caan would turn him in on in THE KILLER ELITE). Hey, man we don't care. Get to the frickin' machine gun.

It's only the direct turn the film takes when Benny is smacked on the head with a shovel at the gravesite that makes up for the smoldering heap previously exposed. The final 30 minutes of the film are much more indicitive of the style that Tarantino, Scorsese, even possibly Coppola would revere and flat-out steal. The tale of revenge, madness, drunkenness and violent retribution. The action scenes in classic rhythm and style of the 70s grindhouse nature. Slow motion shoot-em-ups with quick edits of cars crashing, cheap blood popping limply from an extra's chest, grimace! chest clutch! It's Hollywood dramatic violence at a form so fundamental to today's filmmaking it's almost like watching an instructional video on how to film violence. Oh yes and gleefully for the sake of itself -- childlike self-indulgence jarring the half-asleep audience from their semi-slumbers. A shovel to the head!

Right to the end 'shot' of the film it all stays consistent on the theme of ultimate vengeance. It's the only way to make up for so much character development in the first half of the film, not to mention the script is worsened by stiff delivery between the characters, tricky and confusing on-location sites, uneven lighting, funky musical scoring; much of the film seems like a ruse to further fuel the violent delivery.

But to what effect? The unique catharsis Bennie has does lead to somewhat shocking cinema; but Peckinpah seemed to lean too heavily on the staging of his final themes to keep this audience interested. It dissolves into a clean and taut shoot-em-up, with morals left to the audience's meddle, which I usually dig, but did we really need to wait for 90 minutes?

However, history has leaned kindly on this, potentially Peckinpah's last classic. His career is infamously riddled with his warring with production companies and his spending of more and more time in his on-location trailer (sniff sniff) while his assistants did the work. While in no way on par with THE WILD BUNCH, GARCIA does manage to touch upon the concepts of insanity, greed, revenge, lust and martyrdom all in two reels. Perhaps this film was the most telling of Peckinpah's inner demons, as his career careened farther away, so too did Bennie's sanity, until he found himself way too deep in for his own good. Talking to a head in a bag.

Either way, it's chock full of nudity, bitch-slapping and throw-down gun fights (especially the scene where an entire Mexican family gets machine-gunned down), even though you won't believe me until about 80 minutes into it. As a genre-crossing stew of 70s style and lingo, alcoholic-driven themes of self-depreciation, and hackneyed divisions of exploitation cinema, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is unique and surprisingly enduring.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One-Sheet of the Week: EAGER BEAVERS (1980)


Re-released by Motion Picture Marketing (MPM) in 1980 as EAGER BEAVERS

The guy being used as a footstool is Lon J. Kerr, co-founder of MPM

This Week on 42nd Street -- 1982

Here are the double and triple features that played the Deuce twenty-seven years ago this week. Theaters are listed in east-to-west order.








Cine 42





Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stay up with Jerry and watch...the Oscars?!

Last summer at DVD Panache I stated that Roger Corman and Jerry Lewis deserved honorary Oscars, and now I'm happy to report that Jer's getting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award tomorrow night at the 81st Annual Academy Awards. Meanwhile, here at the Temple we are busily preparing for our week-long celebration of Le Roi du Crazy next month to mark his 83rd birthday. The festivities start Sunday, March 15th and continue through Saturday the 21st. Mark your calendars!

THE CUTIE by Donald E. Westlake

Westlake Passes On, Is Still The Stark Kraven Krime Best!
Keep It On "The Cutie"

The Keeper of the Pit

Some months ago the mystery world saw the passing of Donald E. Westlake. Gat, I SAID cat was one tough guy at the typewriter, could slam ya down to the killing floor with his tales of hitmen who never knew from deadpanic. Stories of the sordid sorta guy who could walk after a day of mayhem into his bedroom, find his best gal dead in his bed and without thinking or blinking know in which part of Joisey to Parker.

Or the Don could put ya on the killing joke floor with crime caper comedies, be it with that Fugitive Pigeon driving every one of said book's characters cuckoo, or with his novel wherein a batcha mob boys come up against a wandering corpse intent on giving them coffin fits. With hardcase comedy laid out flat from funeral fun, AND with bang gang slammers so straight it was criminal, the man has left us one wonderful and Busy Body of work. Westlake could take a tense with suspense situation and turn it upside the hard-boiled head down, gunmoll with that straight face and a panther-fast pace. Characters in Westlake didn't much get a chance to make with the funnies themselves, be they smooth-shootin' upright even in their wrong end of the law, or living in a piece worth parodying for. They were too occupied dodging bullets on some Damsel-through plan, as if only the man in the Big House in the Sky knew howlin' hilarious it all was. Even as He slippedcha a cosMickey Finnish.

For an example of the straightforward bad-ass thriller type of Westlake, Schlock out, that is, check out any of the man's Parker books, as written by Richard Stark. Stark was a role model for Stephen King way Bach, man. KAPOW a days all ya need is to Google the entire series, no ex-con-cuses that ya need a used book dealer to "Hunter" down, The Hunter being the very first of some of crimedom's nastiest con-tinuing character novels, to the very slayfest.

For a fine fun collection of Westlake's shorter cosmickilly comic material, seek out his The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution. In fact, that story is what witch turned the ole Keep onto Westlake many a full moon and a slays back, I believe in an old Dell Hitchcock anthology. For a case hysterical of what can ghoul wrong after a murder's committed, leading up to the narrator being CON-mitted, you can't do better. Wotta wicked writer the man was. He had it all, and all ways told it in point blank prose. Humor sideways. Violence dead-on. Narrator hitmen in the murderous muddle. Dialogue slipp'ry as a cold snap that makes yer spring come way tomb late.

As old Westlake fans know, such curious and furious facts are old noose. The ghouled noose is that Hard Case Crime, arguably the best new paperback line since the early DAW Books, has just released 1960's The Cutie, the first novel Westlake published under his own name. Thing's AKA The Mercenaries. Somewhere in crime time it screams, uh, seamy stockings, I mean seems to lick thighs, dammit, likewise been known as The Smashers. Udder way, one look at the gal on the current version's Ken Laager cover and ya nude, I demean know yer in fur a good time. Okay, so she's got this lil firearm steada a kill-off caliber Thompson, and hokay she's not undressed in a bikini. Wet her that Cramps her style or naughty, ya just know she's one "Cutie" with a double-barreled deLux Interior...

Ah, butt the, ahem, trick of Hard Case Crime covers often is: some of us guys buy their books, then because of the hot pistol packing mammar, that is, mama on the, er, front, we gotta churn aROWLnd and rebuy the drool thing! Thigh, I mean, why? Cuz our first copy's cover's already been eaten. By mouths!

Naughty witch standing, the gal on our cover in question is rather a Hard Case X-ception. Yeah, yeah, the bad babe blurb sez "There are many ways to sell yourself." And yeah, fur shear,
the deceased damsel in the story does indead sell herself, butt not in any professional way. There's this reason the book was called The Mercenaries, and even though our comely corpse had a thing fur the all nightie buck, she wasn't just some dime broad.

Thing is, the "Cutie" in question isn't the woman on cover or under covers. The "Cutie" is actually what the mob guys involved call the person who set them up to knock 'em down. Story's told by "Clay," a hired gun for the New York City crime czar. Clay arranges "accidents." Keeps people in line even when the boss sez it means their dyin'. Clay's good at hit. Job's got him a Mercedes-Benz to go with his young insurance agent outta college image. And the babes seem to find him quite preem-i-yummy.

Weather or not Westlake toned some items up or down for republication, The Cutie has a nice feel for the city of its day. Even the time set gets ya, since it's August and miserable in the metropolis of the world, the kinda weather that can get even a normal insurance type all seven year itchy. Ya gotta love the start of Chapter Two: "Outside was the city, and it had halitosis. The air was hot and damp, and breathing was a conscious matter." The reader just knows something's gonna break and bust soon, and Clay will have to be the boy to pick up the pieces, even as he looks over his sweat-soaked shoulders for Johnny Law wanting to give him his own personal police-y. And it's making him all sorts of Bronx cheerful.

Here's the set-up to get up and go shootin': 2 A.M. in August heat. Clay and his gal Ella are lying abedded down and about to get UP. The doorbell rings. It's Billy-Billy, a small timer Clay knows. Guy wants in because he needs help as in, as Clay sez unlayed her, "with a capital H." Billy-Billy gets his name from being a hapless stutterer. Rather like yer reekviewer here, who has been known to rePit himself.

Seems BB's visit isa matter of life and death, er, dealing. No wonder Billy-Billy has the willie-willies. Last he knew he'd hopped the H.-bound train out on the street, then he must have nodded off derails. Comes down and to in an apartment he's never seen before, and the only udder occupant is a dead woman, her throat all blood and ragged. Billy-Billy may not be a mystery fan, althoughwhodunnit knows? But I'd butcher he knows that even if the dead dame was once a knife girl, she won't be shopping for necklaces anygore. Unless they're cut-rate and prices are slashed.

But hey, did I say slayback when that most of Westlake's mobboys don't have much of a scents of humus? Clay does, scumtimes. Like when he has to deal with police person Grimes, which is soon. B-B's scares-ly told Clay his sad whacked out story than there's this knock at the door, and the cops are behind it. Their lad Grimes of crimes gives Clay the grilling but good. Seems a tip-off's led them to Clay, who has by now hidden B-B behind the bar in his den. Looks like Clay's own name will soon be mud, and he too will be ducking Billy-Billy clubs from behind bars. Not that he doesn't give Grimes comic re-grief through-out the book. When told B-B perp a' non-straighted the murder, Clay tells Grimes " Billy-Billy doesn't have the strength to kill time." Up to you reading it to learn if Grimes up and clocks him.

Soon after in chapter one we learn Clay has a history with Grimes. You'll love Clay's theory on the four types of cops: fanatic, honest-but-reasonable, bought and rented. Grimes, he sez, is of the second type, who are rugged when they've got something on you. Which means, insurance guy look on Clay or not, Grimes would dearly love to send him to the All-State pen.

Pen or no pen, even Clay hasn't an inkling B-B's already abscroundreled from the cops and H.eaded out for parts unknown. Grimes and his gang leave, and Clay and Ella show signs of wondering if their relationship will last. The old tough-guy who can't retire can any one woman "stick" with a mobman whose job is to BANG! any holed body?

The plot in a rifle shell? Billy-B. is a personal favorite of a man he befriended back in the war. Man became head of the European arm of the mob. Here with U.S., Clay's boss runs the Big O in the city they named twice that ain't always so nice. Big boss from abroad doesn't want B-B nailed for the girl's demise, and no one goes against the big boss when Organization orders are on his say-Mafioso.

So it's up to Clay to find Billy, who could be hiding in any of the city's junkie Burroughs. Plus he has to find and put down the killer of one Mavis St. Paul, who's been aROWLnd town awhile as an ass fur sinnin', I SAID "aspiring" actress. Trail leads from old roomies to ex-lovers of various degrees of show biz savvy. Too bad all Mavis ever got to see of the stage was curtains.

The book's a nice lil piece of its crimes and times. A club Clay checks out seems to favor comedians imitating Mort Sahl and Orson Bean. Okay, the Keep's bean abutter, uh, been about some years of leers and jeers, but such references to other modern readers may not stand up. Oh well, Clay seems well-informed, might even be inclined to tell that ya mention of his time's con-temporary satirists, by 2009, might take a-Bruce-ing.

Book also has some nice observations by Clay upon the day's cars, about which he has a few tails. Not that that's a STOP sign he's gonna face all scummers' fists AND bullets and not successfully DODGE e'm. Man's determined to take things to a high-octane FIN-ish. And spooking of rear enders, you'll love when Clay and the gang have to dispose of a body, so they take it on a last ride out to the Joisey boonies, dump the corpus delect-died and strap broom-like gadgets to the back'a the car. Whereupon they drive away and their tracks are no more and much less gore. Hey, Clay never said working for the Organization wasn't whisk-y!

The Cutie is Hard Case's fourth Westlake. The earlier ones include Somebody Owes Me Money, one of the man's more humorous books, the story of a cabby cheated of his money by various and scumdry criminal types. Anybody who has ever read Westlake but not Owes Me should enjoy it most fare-ly. And boy does our hero the cabby give the bad guys holy hail!

The other HCC Westlakes? There's 361, one of the Don's straighter crime numbers. Lad returning from the service is picked up by his pop. Dad's driving them along, they're minding their own business and blam!, along scums a car weapons blazing at 'em. Dad dies, and by Jesus Chrysler the son has to track down the killers and the reason they made his homecoming such a gundowner. Then there's Lemons Never Lie, starring Grofield, Parker's old cold-cashgrab cohort . Grofield and some new partners in crime attempt to rob a brewery of its payroll. The heist quickly hops heads south, meadless tomb slay. Old Parker readers would certainly say Parker would think his old bud wiser...

So, new to Westlake or not, many's the crime fiction reader should get a slam bang out of The Cutie. Heck, it's even book-ended. Opens with the doorbell ringing, ends with same bell ringing again outside Clay's door. And no, I won't tell ya if his galfriend, whom he now wants to marry, does or doesn't when asked tell Clay to go to Ella. Won't even say if that bell con-seals an ending that will have you raisin' James M. Cain. If I did, ya might send some rat-a-tat prose to riddle me with a friggin' Thompson...

Instead, lemme redhot recommend The Cutie, and it's solution as to who he or she is, and by the time Clay got through, was. Heck, I'll even endorse Westlake's sky-fi stories, like "The Question"able one he did with Laurence M. Jan-ifer of "Bloodworld." Or "Murder In Space," where, being Westlake, the man proves no matter the crime, time or space, homicide is ALWAYS galax-seedy.

Murder of fact, and as the closer, I'll even mention some Westlake on film to check out. Man's been done by directors as die-versed as Peter Yates and John Boorman. For professional violence ala Parker, watch PAYBACK, then grab Boorman's POINT BLANK...featuring an oily Sid Haig!.. starring Lee Marvin, and sit yerself right up close to the Blew-away-ray. For crime capers to comedie for, try maybe the one with Robert Redford, you might even laugh yer HOT ROCK's off. (I suggested the movie version of THE BUSY BODY to Clay's cop pal Grimes once, and he had me subjected to a strip search and Sid Caesar!)

Friday, February 20, 2009


Back in the mid-1980s, when SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES would occasionally turn up on the USA Network, the wiseass in charge of writing the descriptions for the New York Times’ television listings had nothing more to say about the movie than “Happy broomstick, Andy.” I wonder now if that was a typo and the wiseass had meant “hippy” rather than “happy,” for SIMON is a movie that could only have been produced in that 12-to-18-month window when flower power collapsed under the weight of Altamont, Kent State, My Lai and Manson. Pipe dream: “The movement sure could used a groovy cat like Simon around to cast a few spells and make the world safe for strawberry alarm clocks and peanut butter conspiracies.” Reality: “We better get this nonsense wrapped by the end of the week and out to the drive-ins or we’ll hit the vanishing point when Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle start a panic in needle park, and I don’t think Sweetback or Shaft will be too sympathetic to our cause, uh, man.”

A trippy counterculture character study masquerading as a horror movie, SIMON is very much a product of its time but benefits greatly from Andrew Prine’s energetic performance in the titular role, an egotistical warlock who believes he is the reincarnation of a great magician but lives in a storm drain and ekes out a living casting spells for the wealthy where-it’s-at crowd. With the help of young Turk (George Paulsin) and spacey Luana (Brenda Scott, Prine’s ex-wife), the pill-popping daughter of the district attorney, he intends to force is way into the domain of the gods by stepping through a magic mirror (psychedelic visuals courtesy of Cinefx). Writer Robert Phippeny and director Bruce Kessler spend the first hour getting a groovy little vibe going, only to turn the trip into a bummer with a haphazard third act involving drug pushers and crooked cops. Suddenly, whole pages of the script appear to have been torn out prior to shooting, and even the most attentive viewers will wonder if they nodded off and missed something.

The late producer Joe Solomon specialized in offbeat youth films that dealt with social misfits -- "losers,” he called them -- and this is the fourth such film Dark Sky has rescued from washed-out VHS and TV print hell. As with the others (including WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS), they’ve done a splendid job. The picture is sharp and in the proper anamorphic widescreen ratio (in this case, 1.78:1), the Dolby 2.0 sound is fine, and English subtitles are available. The current trend of skipping audio commentaries in favor of shorter featurettes continues here, with no complaints from this reviewer. “Simon Says” is an entertaining 17 minute chat with Prine, who has a great attitude about the film considering it marked his departure from third-banana roles in “A” movies to a 35-year career in schlock flicks and special guest villain appearances on episodic TV. In the 12-minute “Making White Magic” the spotlight gets turned on Kessler, who went on to a busy career in television but is always enthusiastic when discussing his handful of interesting low-budgeters (ANGELS FROM HELL, KILLERS THREE, THE GAY DECEIVERS) and has fond memories of making SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. The original trailer and radio spot, running 60 seconds each, round out this groovy package.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"'Cherry Hill High' Rated by Cherry Hill High Kids"

CHERRY HILL, N.J. – Life for high school students in this suburban community bears little similarity to the fun-filled, free-loving attitude portrayed in the film "Cherry Hill High." The R-rated picture is being shown at a number of drive-ins throughout Southern New Jersey and five local high school students were selected to act as critics for the film.

"There are no girls like that in the high school here," said one of the student-critics. "I'm still looking for them." One student-critic summed-up the sentiments of the group by stating: "This movie is the pits."

(Boxoffice, 11/21/1977)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In the late 1960s, Independent-International Pictures head honcho Samuel M. Sherman bought a 15-minute black-and-white documentary about Lithuanian milkmaids, had Al Adamson shoot wraparound scenes with Scott Brady as a cop tracking down a nut who calls himself The Bulimic Strangler, and released it as GURGLE-A-GO-GO. Eight years later, Sherman tinted the whole movie purple, turned it upside down, had a film student from Long Island shoot new footage of an ophthalmologist from Yonkers playing the Wolf Man, added a subplot about bikers and the baaaaad black cop trying to catch them, and re-released it as GHASTLY SCREAMS OF THE BLOODY SADISTS. But wait! Five years after that, Adamson was brought back in to shoot new footage of Regina Carrol as a medium named Inga who contacts the spirit of the Wolf Man (who is called “Frankenstein” in this version), all the footage with the ophthalmologist in fur and fangs was passed off as a flashback, the stuff about the milkmaids became a flashback WITHIN the flashback, John Carradine was rented for one afternoon to do a prologue in which he explains (in a broad Irish brogue) that the purple tinting is actually a revolutionary new film process called HALLUCINOGENIC HORSESHIT-O-VISION, the title was changed to BLOODY SMILES OF THE SEXY STEWARDESSES, and Commander USA showed it three times during the summer of 1986 before Super Video released it priced for rental at $59.98 as I AM SUCKER (PURPLE).

OK, I could’ve gotten a few of the facts wrong -- like maybe it was the summer of 1987, not ’86, and now that I think about it, Lawrence Tierney played the cop, not Scott Brady -- but anyway, you get the picture. Don't you?

One of those rare cases in which a DVD as a whole actually exceeds the sum of its parts, Image Entertainment’s 2-disc set of RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD could very well be Sam Sherman’s greatest accomplishment since Zandor Vorkov, and I’m not joking this time. I own 17 of the DVDs featuring Sherman’s audio commentaries, and I paid for all but 2 of ‘em, so I think I know what I’m talking about. To fully appreciate the RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD experience, avoid everything that’s been written or said about the movie until you’ve watched all 3 versions of the film included in this package. For maximum enjoyment, put on Disc 1 first and begin with DYING DAY, Brett Piper’s $17,000 wonder, shot on 16mm in 1983. After 5 minutes, you’ll want to tear it out of your player and set it on fire, but DON’T! Stick with it, because it gets much better.

Finished? OK, now hit the bathroom, get a drink of water (or if you’re old enough, the first beer in that 12-pack that's chillin’ in the fridge), toss a bag of popcorn into the microwave… Good. Now you’re ready for Disc 2. DARK NIGHT is what you want to explore next. Sit back. Enjoy. See you in about 80 minutes.

All done? Great! Remove Disc 2 from your player and replace Disc 1. Now, the big decision: Do you watch RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD with the Sherman audio commentary first, so you can find out what the heck is going on, or do you just take the plunge and figure it out on your own? I’ll leave the order up to you, but you have to watch this version of the movie twice -- once with the audio commentary on, once with it off. See you in about 3 hours.

Knock-knock, I’m back. Hey, you’re smiling! That was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? What was your favorite part? I liked it when Bob Allen, who was the villain in DARK NIGHT, turned up as a nice guy in RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD. As usual, the audio commentary by Sherman was packed with lots of interesting bits of information. People have criticized some of his previous commentaries for not being scene specific, or for only covering half or a third of a feature film, but I’m not one of those people. I think we’re all very fortunate to have him recording these commentaries for us.

OK, back to the DVD. It’s time to read the wonderful liner notes by John Charles, associate editor of Video Watchdog magazine and author of The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997. For those who own the other Image/Sherman releases, the trailers for BRIDES OF BLOOD, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, BEAST OF BLOOD, BRAIN OF BLOOD, BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRES, HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, and THE BLOOD DRINKERS have been thrown into the mix one more time, and the “House of Terror” live horror show promo is here again as well.

Forget about sound and picture quality. DYING DAY and DARK NIGHT are work prints, so this is the best we’re going to get. I’ve never seen RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD in any other form -- it premiered on the old USA Up All Night program in 1989 and was then released to video for a while -- but I can’t believe it ever looked better than the version presented here.

Bottom line: If you’re a Sam Sherman/Independent-International fan like myself, you own this disc already -- but if you have any interest in low-budget filmmaking, or you fancy yourself a schlock movie historian, you really owe it to yourself to pick up this fascinating and surprisingly fun DVD as soon as possible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yakuza art!

This nice piece of Terry Austin artwork appeared on the inside front cover of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #18 (November 1975) to go with a long article on THE YAKUZA that appeared in the same issue. If it ends up on a t-shirt, I want one, and if you get it airbrushed onto your Chevy van, please send pictures.

Monday, February 16, 2009

From Beyond to the Cutting-Room: The Unrated Director's Cut of FROM BEYOND

by Paul DeCirce

In 1986, Charles Band and his Empire Films were squarely in the middle of the resurgent horror film industry. Churning out a long string of b-graders meant to cash in on the new VHS home video market, Band was on the look out for anything that could interest his audience. His bigger successes included THE DUNGEONMASTER, GHOULIES, TRANCERS and Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR. Based loosely on H.P Lovecraft's short-story "Herbert West: Re-Animator," RE-ANIMATOR scored big with home video viewers for its over the top, tongue-in-cheek mixture of gore and sleaze. It also severely bunched the panties of the MPAA, who never saw the film to rate it. Even unrated, the film did big business for Band and Gordon's sudden future as a horror filmmaker.

A three-picture deal was made between Empire and Gordon; FROM BEYOND went on to become the first of them. Again based on a short story by Lovecraft ("It Came From Beyond"), FROM BEYOND has developed a solid cult following as top-notch in the '80s ilk of genre horror, mostly on the legs of Stuart Gordon's flexible direction. His stylish usage of low-budget contraints and his history in theatre, mixed with the right amount of situational humor, lewd sexuality and realistic grue has set a bench-mark of what '80s horror is renowned for. His other films, including DOLLS (87), CASTLE FREAK (95), KING OF THE ANTS (03) and the excellent DAGON (01), as well as a respectable non-genre career in THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT (98) and the recent EDMOND (05) as well as writing HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS have won him many fans and much respect in the indie-film industry. He's also set to direct HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR with William H. Macy for 2010.

But if people thought RE-ANIMATOR was too much...forget FROM BEYOND. For some reason, Gordon had to deliver an R rating for this film, and it was rejected three times. When it finally did get its rating, a number of intense and key scenes of gore, sexuality and depravity were missing, making the theatrical release a little tame and clumsy, though fans of the genre recognized it as an achievement. Little did us trolls know it would be twenty years before we'd see the film in its intended form.

And what a form it is. The missing footage has been lovingly replaced almost seamlessly and now the true power of this low-budget gem is fully in place. As Gordon himself said, "the film got its balls back." The story opens with Jeffrey Combs and Ted Sorel playing scientists making advances on the pineal gland, or sixth sense, the un-excercised muscle located in the center of the forehead. With wild tones of science fiction insanity, Sorel absorbs too much frequency from their attic-fashioned 'resonator' machine, causing his head to explode. That's in the first three minutes, folks.

Combs' character is ultimately placed in the care of psychiatrist Barbara Crampton (who is rather young and unconvincing as a doctor), who decides it best to re-create the horrific situation to discover what they'd been fooling with all along. She is soon turned seriously on by the stimulation as it reverberates to her, ahem, nether region and begins revisiting the dangerous space of the 'resonator,' until finally, Sorel returns -- apparently unharmed -- and from there the machine begins working on its own, drawing Combs, Crampton and a police officer (played by Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD) into a twisted path of addiction and destruction.

While the story seems a bit played by today's standards -- and it's an amicable job from the actors -- it's truly the special effects and tense action scenes that give this movie its legs. The disfigured creature Sorel becomes, apparently from over-stimulation of the pineal gland, is a special-effects hallmark, utilizing film-layering, puppetry, clay-mation, make-up, slime and good old-fashioned camera placement. At one point Sorel's face appears to have grown into a long worm like gland, and Gordon's usage of varying long and close-up shots completely convinces the audience there's a face at the end of this long, penis-like appendage.

After a number of close calls, Combs' pineal gland bursts forth from his forehead in grotesque fashion, like a limp little worm wriggling curiously while his eyeballs loll in his head. This leads to Combs' returning to the hospital where the film really picks up the pace and careens into a crash and burn climax of gore, explosions and insanity that ranks among the most memorable for its time.

The film, now fully restored, features a high count of gross-out scenes of perversity and gore. The sixth-dimension Sorel rudely exposes Crampton's pert breasts and rubs slimy elongated fingers all over them before dipping below screen for an inferred invasion. Combs' character does a lot more truly disgusting brain eating than the theatrical cut had, including an entire shot of him sucking the brains out of a doctors eyeball, after spitting said appendage rudely onto the floor. There's also a lengthy televised long shot of some rough S&M, featuring more breasts and violence. It's fair to say this uncut edition is pretty much packed with horrific A-level gore and slime and sleaze.

Gordon makes effective use of low-budget scenery by using a lot of purples, violets and velvety colors, skewed camera close-ups and in other places, brightly lit exposure of gore. Lee Percy, the editor, keeps the film moving at an excellent and interesting pace, and Richard Band's score uses strings and funky synth to good impact, if not a bit dated.

The complete picture draws certain comparisons to like-minded films of scientific experimentation, most accurately as a poor-man's comparison to Cronenberg's THE FLY, curiously released the same year. As an examination of the connectedness of our deeper urges of pleasure addiction with what might be right and wrong, the film succeeds in its lurid frankness. Void of morals, forgiveness or apology for its pseudo-scientific madness, the uncut FROM BEYOND successfully replaces a sense of rhythm and gut-punching that had indeed been castrated for its theatrical release.

Band has continued to be a major figure in the now booming DVD industry, most notably with his PUPPET MASTER films. While many of today's equivalent ilk lack the creativity and usage of technique and inventiveness of the '80s kind, it seems as though the B-Grade home viewing industry still remains hungry for the kind of sleaze that FROM BEYOND benchmarked. Stuart Gordon's career has veered into more diversity and he seems on the upsurge, with excellent additions to the Masters of Horror TV series, as well as highly rated features, such as KING OF THE ANTS and his most recent full-length, STUCK.

While the MPAA questioned Gordon's motivation at crafting such a disgusting and dirty-feeling film, now that it's restored, it's better to enjoy the ride and marvel at how the film manages to repulse while at the same time ask the viewer to admit the truth: they love it and they want more. Indeed a far cry from the philosophical questions raised by Lovecraft's fascination with the potential of the human mind, but by no means beyond the realm of the horrific framework his fiction created. Indeed it came FROM BEYOND, and twenty years later, it has finally arrived.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Endangered List (Case File #22)

“’Hangup’ is a film which I believe will be equally popular with black and white audiences alike. One of the reasons I did ‘Hangup’ is because I believe there’s an even greater need for pictures that appeal to both audiences. ‘Hangup’ is made with black actors and white actors but it doesn’t matter all that much who plays whom. What matters is that the story is about PEOPLE.” -- Henry Hathaway, director

HANGUP (1974)

William Elliott (Ken Ramsey)
Marki Bey (Julie Turner)
Cliff Potts (Lou Tillman)
Michael Lerner (Richards)
Wally Taylor (Sergeant Becker)
Timothy Blake (Gwen)
Fredd Wayne (Felder)
Midori (Sally)
David A. Renard (Bud)
Pepe Serna (Enrqiue)
Rafael Campos (Longnose)
Lynn Hamilton (Mrs. Ramsey)
William Bramley (Simpson)
Bob Delegall (Jennings)
Barbara Baldavin (Beverly)
Morris Buchanan (Dave)
Danny “Big” Black (Jim Jim)
Herbert Jefferson, Jr. (Ben)
Jerry Ayres (Jerry)
Joe Renteria (Paul)
Sy Prescott (Morton)
George Murdock (Captain Gorney)

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Screenplay by John B. Sherry and Lee Lazich
Based on the novel “The Face of Night” by Bernard Brunner
Director of Photography: Robert Houser, A.S.C.
Art director: Jim Halsey
Edited by Chris Kaeselau
Sound: Harold Lewis
Set Decorator: Robert Benton
Music Editor: John Caper, Jr.
Music by Tony Camillo
Title Song, “Hangup,” written by George Barrie
Associate Producer: T.W. Sewell
Production Manager: Byron Roberts
Costume Supervision: Nedra Rosemond Watt
Makeup Artist: Rolf Miller
Cosmetics by Polly Bergen
Script Supervision: Lloyd Nelson
2nd Assistant Director: Anthony Brand
1st Assistant Director: Pepi Lenzi

94 minutes
MPAA rating: R

A Brut production
Released by Warner Brothers


Ken Ramsey (WILLIAM ELLIOTT), a handsome, 25-year-old middle-class black rookie on the Los Angeles Police Department undercover narcotics squad, works with Lou Tillman (CLIFF POTTS), a 27-year-old white officer in the same capacity. The team is investigating the death of a cocktail waitress, Sally (MIDORI), found dead in her apartment with a needle in her arm. The officers believe she may have been given a lethal dose of “pure.”

Sally had a roommate named Julie Turner (MARKI BEY). Ken goes to a sleazy model studio and finds Julie, age 23, who was once the most popular girl and cheerleader in high school. At one time she had everything going for her. Now she’s an addict. Ken knew Julie when they were in Venice High School. He felt something for the girl then, and he still does.

Initially, Julie thinks Ken is there to take pictures of her. His purpose is dual: he’s a cop with a job to do, but he is also young and pent up.

Ken invites Julie to dinner ostensibly for old times’ sake. He also informs his boss, Sergeant Becker (GLYNN TURMAN), that he has found Julie and she is a hype.

After dinner they go to Julie’s apartment and Ken shows her a picture of Sally – dead. Julie suddenly realizes he is a cop. Ken needs information from the girl.

Julie says Sally’s connection was a guy named Johnny, but is vague about him. Under tremendous emotional pressure she admits that her habit is “two bags a day,” and she needs help. Ken agrees to take time off from the force and his school and stay with Julie while she kicks the habit, knowing full well that being connected with a junkie could mean the end of his career.

During a romantic idyll at the beach, Ken pries the name of Julie’s connection from her – a man named Fred Richards (MICHAEL LERNER). He then talks the girl into setting up an appointment to make a purchase with the man.

Ken is taped with a microphone and Lou waits some distance away in the car with the recorder. Ken returns to the model studio where he took pictures of Julie and enters Richards’ quarters in the back.

After satisfying himself that Ken is “cool,” Richards accuses Ken of wanting to turn Julie out to hustle for him.

“…If you have any such notion, you are going to find yourself hanging on a meat hook in the morgue.

“I’ve built up a whole string of high-paying white johns that are just crazy for that…”

Richards then delivers the heroin to Ken who forces the marked money upon him, and in a wild rage, attacks Richards with such intensity and fury that he doesn’t hear the door shatter. Lou stops the outraged Ken from kicking the unconscious Richards to death.

Ken faces Julie with the knowledge he now possesses concerning her past. She earnestly tries to explain that she only lived the life of a hooker to support her habit and that Ken is the only man she ever loved. Ken can neither accept her explanation nor cope with the situation as it is. After harsh words, Ken packs a suitcase and leaves the grief-stricken girl.

Becker confronts Ken with his irrational actions: “Two broken ribs, three teeth that had to be surgically extracted, twelve stitches upper right cheek…besides everything else, you blew us a peddler we never knew about.”

The distraught Julie goes to Richards, claiming that Ken never came back with the “h,” has done a con job on them both, and pleads with him to get her some heroin. Richards seemingly believes the girl and promises to see that she is supplied if she agrees to work under the same conditions as before. Julie calls Ken and tells him that she is shooting up, and a piercing scream of agony from her sends Ken rushing to her apartment, but he is too late. Julie is dead from mainlining a dose of heroin that has been mixed with strychnine.

Ken tells Lou that he is certain Julie has been killed by Richards, and asks Lou to help him prove it. Staked out in a furniture store across the street from Richards’ studio, Ken and Lou keep many nights’ vigil on Richards’ activities. Finally, the pair become certain that Richards is selling, and through a hype, set him up for a buy.

A wild auto chase and gunfight ensue. Richards is killed, and the policemen seriously wounded.

“You blew it again. What a lousy cop,” Lou says to Ken. Ken’s infatuation with Julie has been his “hangup,” and he faces an uncertain future.

For a review of Bernard Brunner's source novel, The Face of Night, visit The Paperback Film Projector.

One-Sheet of the Week: TRAUMA (1976)


U.S. release as TRAUMA (1976)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

42nd Street vs. Chi-Town, part two!

Jon Putnam sent in the Chicago movie listings for this week in 1979, highlighting the grindhouses in the Loop and some of the more colorful theaters in the outlying areas. I thought it would be interesting to dig up the 42nd Street line-up for the same week and pit the two monsters against each other. Enjoy!








Cine 42










Englewood: THE WIZ / THE CAR



Rhodes: THE WIZ

53 Drive-In



"Cable’s Commander USA Talks About His Video Vault, Origins"

by David Cuthbert
Newhouse News
August 1988

“My favorite movie,” says Commander USA, “is ‘Doctor of Doom.’ Oh yeah. It’s a Mexican classic. It’s all about this mad doctor in Tijuana, see, and he’s involved in inter species brain transplants. This woman comes to work for him and he puts her brain into a wrestler’s body, and then into a gorilla! Boy, you can’t beat those Mexican movies.

“I like ‘The Braniac,’ too. You ever see that one where the monster sucks people’s brains out with this long tongue? What a guy! And women wrestler movies. Oh yeah. Vampires and women wrestlers were very big there for a while.”

They still are on “Commander USA’s Groovy Movies,” the Saturday afternoon schlockfest on cable’s USA Network. Each week, superhero Commander USA (“Legion of Decency, retired”) takes us into his video vault somewhere beneath a shopping mall in the wilds of New Jersey.

Bad knees forced the commander out of the superhero business, which wasn’t all that much, to hear him tell about it. “When the superheroes were dividing up the territory, Superman got Metropolis and I got Topeka, Kansas,” he says. “But heck! Being able to leap tall buildings isn’t much in Topeka. I think the tallest building is four stories.”

The commander enters his video vault with a trench coat over his red-white-and-blue superhero costume. He’s somewhat past his prime, with a bit of a paunch and a decided leer. His ever present cigar comes in handy for drawing the face of Lefty, the commander’s hand puppet. Lefty is the commander’s right hand. Literally. (“I met Lefty when I was on vacation in the Finger Lakes.”)

The commander’s video vault is the ultimate House of Schlock, with an endless supply of terrible movies to feed the multitudes of ravenous trashophiles coast-to-coast.

The movies the commander shows usually aren’t listed in any of the standard movie guide books. Leonard Maltin has never heard of this week’s attraction, “Bloodbath at the House of Death,” a British gem from 1985. But Jim Hendricks can tell you all about it.

Hendricks is the 42-year-old actor who created and plays Commander USA and shares with him a fondness for bad movies.

“’Bloodbath at the House of Death’ is actually pretty good,” says Hendricks. “It’s a very elaborate spoof, with Vincent Price and Pamela Stephenson. It’s about tracking down murderers in this little town and there are these whistling monks. They do a song about who was murdered and how to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’ And some of the best parts of the movie take place at this pub called the Duck and Pullet.”

Hendricks was a struggling actor who was driving a cab when he answered an open audition by the USA Network four years ago. “They said, ‘Bring your own character’ and I had this character I’d done on radio in Junction City, Kansas, called Uncle Willie.

“Uncle Willie was playing rock and roll and telling kids stories at 2 in the morning. We had a lot of fun with him. So I took Uncle Willie to the audition. I had him in a trench coat buttoned all the way to the neck, you know – one of those guys.

“Well, the producer hated Uncle Willie. He wanted a superhero in the worst way, and I guess that’s what he got.

“We tossed some ideas back and forth and came up with a retired superhero who was really Uncle Willie in tights.

“We went on the air in January of ’85 and we’re finishing up our fourth season. Originally, the commander showed two movies and two serials. We were on the air for five hours! It took a lot of preparation and production time.

“Now we show just the one movie, and what goes on in the video vault usually ties in to what’s going on in the film. That means we actually have to watch the movies. When we showed ‘The Witchmaker,’ we had a couple of witches on who where trying to upgrade their image with a membership drive. Or maybe it was a dis-membership drive.”

Offbeat hosts for bad movies have been making something of a comeback lately, probably prompted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Al Lewis of “The Munsters” has been doing his geriatric vampire Grandpa on WTBS and the commander’s been getting some competition in New York from a new fella name of Morgus.

Hendricks would, however, like to get Elvira into his video vault. “Can you imagine how the commander would react? He’d probably break out in a rash!”

“When I first came on,” he recalls, “they gave me a 13-week contract and said, ‘Maybe.’ And that was fine with me, you know. I was used to low-paying jobs that fulfilled you artistically where you changed in the hall. A paying job for four years was unheard of to me.

“I really enjoy this guy a lot, but with show business, you never know. It could be Pink Slip City tomorrow.

“But heck, I’m not worried. I’ve still got my hack license.”

Friday, February 13, 2009


“The percentage of adults corrupting minors who have not yet reached 14 is in the region of 80%. These astounding facts should be made public. It is the goal of this motion picture to present the facts openly.”

I think it’s safe to say that if a softcore sex flick titled 14 AND UNDER opened today at your local multiplex, Chris Hansen would be waiting inside with a Dateline camera crew and a herd of state troopers to have a serious talk with anyone fool enough to be caught holding a ticket. But thirty-plus years ago a West German import with that title played in theaters all over the U.S., and many newspapers ran the eyebrow-raising ad campaign (shown above) in their movie listings alongside Disney and other family-friendly movies. One citizen of Marion, IL voiced her outrage to the Southern Illinoisian in February 1976: "The advertisement in your paper '14 and Under...too young to know better, too old to say no!' showing a young pig-tailed girl through a keyhole was deeply offensive. Children must not be used by your newspaper nor Varsity 2 theatre in this manner for money-making purposes. If we prostitute our children, we are doomed. Likely this ad was accepted without thought in a routine way by your advertisement staff. You need to rethink a policy that allows such an occurrence."

"We are happy when our 14-year-old children speak foreign languages, but we condemn them for discovering sex, self-stimulation and the joys of love,” explains our narrator, who will soon reveal himself onscreen as a badly-dubbed middle-aged man claiming to be a psychologist. “Our morality is two-faced. We turn a blind eye to our children being influenced by licentious magazines, publicity or by provocative dress, but on the other hand, we are shocked when our children fall for temptations. The cry goes up, 'The youth of today is degenerate!’ And yet it is NOT degenerate. It only SEEMS so.”

The degenerates are all behind the scenes on this one, starting with producer Wolf Hartwig and director Ernst Hofbauer, here taking their SCHOOLGIRL REPORT lunacy one detestable step too far. The queasiest of their tasteless collaborations, 14 AND UNDER was unleashed in the U.S. by Atlas Films at the same time they were also peddling THE PASSOVER PLOT and several of Fred Williamson’s Po-Boy productions. By 1977 it was being handled by Burbank International Pictures, a company known for sexy West German imports like SWINGING WIVES, OFFICE GIRLS and BETWEEN THE COVERS.

14 AND UNDER opens with a potentially explosive open-ended case, then slips into the usual episodic Hartwig/Hofbauer “sex report” formula before returning to the first case to inform us of its resolution.

(1) 14-year-old Gisela (Christine von Stratowa) is home alone and enjoying a bath when Walter, the good-looking 30-something business associate of her parents, drops by for a meeting with Gisela’s mother, who is out shopping. Walter decides to wait for her to return. “I’ll go finish my bath,” Gisela tells him, “Help your self to a drink.” Instead, Walter follows her into the bathroom and offers to wash her back. Gisela hands him the washcloth and tells him that her father sometimes washes her back. “It’s nicer being washed by me than by your father,” Walter says, "I'm much gentler so it feels better. Why don’t you call me ‘uncle.’” By the time Gisela’s mother walks in on them a few minutes later, Uncle Walter has ditched the washcloth and is doing everything by hand.

“What will Gisela’s mother do?” the narrator asks over a close-up of the stunned woman’s face as she spies her nude daughter writhing under Walter’s caresses. “As a psychologist for minors I’m often faced with a problem of this nature and I would like to tell you one or two cases from my experience to familiarize you with the problem a little more -- to make you think about this case before you see what Gisela’s mother decided to do.”

(2) Bratty little Charlie -- played by that kid we saw wayyyyy too much of in SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 3 -- constantly interrupts his foxy older sister while she’s having “meetings” behind locked doors with “the insurance man.” To get rid of Charlie for a few hours, the sister gives him a few dollars to go to the movies. When that doesn’t keep him away, the boyfriend offers to pay him ten cents for every beard he sees on the street. The story ends with a lame punchline involving a busload of bearded hippies.

(3) 14-year-old Hans is caught shoplifting a stopwatch and is forced by the storeowner -- the attractive middle-aged Mrs. Yeager -- to sign a confession. Mrs. Yeager then proceeds to call on young Hans every day for sex, sometimes in her own bed while her husband’s at work.

(4) Two young children, Hansey and Rosie, watch their parents have sex through the bedroom keyhole. “Gosh, I’ve never seen a wiggley-woo like that before!” Hansey exclaims.

“And he’s putting it in mama’s pee hole!” Rosie squeals.

“No he’s not, Rosie! He’s putting it in mama’s poo-poo hole! And he’s pushing!”

When the two rascals quote some of the more provocative bedroom talk to their parents that night at dinner (“You were making a noise, and mommy said you were like a stallion!”), the father flips out and starts slapping around the little tykes.

The psychologist, who has been narrating the film up to this point, suddenly appears onscreen to address the audience directly. “That the parents should have a sex life is only natural,” he says, pacing around his office, hands behind his back. “It’s the most natural thing in the world, and it is probable that one day the children will see it happen. But what the parents should never do is to get angry at their children, since children can’t understand what the reason is for their anger.”

(5) Carlo the horndog (Rinaldo Talamonti) corners cute co-worker Annie in the stockroom and starts groping her breasts, calling them “golden apples” and then threatening to pick other types of low-hanging fruit. The sexual harassment is derailed by the arrival of an elderly lady (Rosl Mayr), who helps Annie get revenge on the creepy little Italian.

(6) Edgar, a spoiled rich teen, pressures his sexy twentyish French maid Annette into having sex with him.

(7) The weakest of the three stories -- due more to print damage than the incompetence or tastelessness of the filmmakers -- has three girls in a competition to see who can lose her virginity first. I think that’s what it’s about anyway. Here’s what I managed to catch in between missing frames: Two girls in the woods, completely naked for some unexplained reason, hide behind some bushes to wait for a third girl to show up with the guy she’s supposed to have sex with -- SPLICE -- the two girls are having a lesbian encounter -- SPLICE -- the third girl, named Topsy (Ulrike Butz), shows up with a nervous nerdy type who talks out of the corner of his mouth like Bill Murray in CADDYSHACK, and they start going at it on top of an anthill -- SPLICE -- “There’s a tingling all over my body! Oh, it’s never been like this before!” -- SPLICE -- “Oh my God! I’m covered with ants!” -- SPLICE -- the other two girls are watching them, giggling -- SPLICE -- the nervous nerd mutters something out of the corner of his mouth about getting laid indoors from now on -- CUT TO...

(8) ...a shot of pigtailed Sonja Jeannine milking a cow -- “Rosie is only 13. She’s a country girl. But her daydreams are those of every healthy adolescent.” Her daydreams may be healthy, but everything else about her is pretty friggin' diseased, from selling herself to the local boys for $20 a pop to blowing a shopkeeper for a clothing discount. When the police raid an elderly playboy's estate and find Rosie among the naked young things playing horsie with a bunch of horny octogenarians, it's off to juvie hall for our undesirable little milkmaid.

At the end, as promised, the psychologist informs us of how Gisela's mother handled the bathtub situation. No big surprise here, since this was made by chauvenistic men: mom tiptoes back outside and rings the doorbell to give Gisela and Walter time to clean up and "to avoid a scene," as she puts it to Gisela's outraged father (hey, what was he doing washing his daughter's back anyway?!). A few days later, mother and daughter have a heart-to-heart sex talk over ice cream, while Walter is free to soap up somebody else's 14-year-old daughter.

The VHS from Something Weird Video, wisely deleted from their catalog, runs 61 minutes and is missing at least one complete story that is pictured in the U.S. one-sheet: a woman discovers that her boyfriend's waning sexual interest in her is reignited every time he sees her spank her pre-teen daughter. I can think of two disgusting old German guys who should've been spanked instead.