Monthly Archives: October 2011

Best Ignored

As Halloween approaches every year, I choose on a theme for my increased horror viewing in October: One year I’ll watch all the Universal Horrors; another year, it’s the Hammer films; on another year, it’s all the Lugosi films I can gather etc.

This year, I found myself not thinking ahead to Halloween and couldn’t figure a theme that didn’t feel repetitive. Then I realized I had a short stack of movies that I hadn’t seen in over a decade: my VHS tapes.

Most of these were either not released in DVD yet and a few I just hadn’t gotten around to upgrading for one reason or another. As I picked up my Kino video of The Monster Walks, I surmised it must have something to do with cost (Kino tends to be on the pricey side- but usually worth it). As it unspooled in my VCR, however, I was reminded why I never bothered.

And I thought Kino was a quality brand...

The Monster Walks is as tawdry and predictable as it gets- and it’s even hard to make amends for the period it was made in (1932). Incredibly stagey with a camera that is so immobile, you could mistake it for Ryan Gosling in Drive, the film is best used as a yardstick to make you better understand why audiences were so gaga about Universal’s cycle of horror thrillers.

It’s a spooky melodrama involving relatives gathered for the reading of a will in a creepy old home that houses a bigass chimpanzee. Why? “Because the master of this house were proponents of the theories of Charles Darwin” we are told- as if this was cause to boo and hiss.

Yup. It’s a Halloween movie for the Tea Party.

Gee. Didn't I see that in "The Cat and The Canary" and every other film of that era?

Now, if the crap story and dubious scares obtained by conjuring up the Scopes Monkey trial aren’t enough, the film also descends into the lower depths of American scren comedy with jaw-droppingly awful stereotypical racial humor delivered by or at the expense of the black cast member.

Willie Best, credited here as "Sleep N' Eat".

Comedian Willie Best, a talented performer and writer, was unfortunately saddled with playing dim-witted, lazy, chatty “negro” servants. In addition, his first five films saddle him with the cringe-inducing stage name “Sleep N’ Eat” in the credits.

Mind you, I caught the Bob Hope film The Ghost Breakers the weekend before and, despite letting Best act under his real name, the characterization they saddled him with wasn’t much better. One scene has Hope nearly colliding with Best in the dark. “You look like a black out in a blackout” Hope quips “remind me to paint you white.”

Sigh…

This one will tax your patience folks.

Pain Level: 8/10

Quality of Pain: Probably won’t feel bad to ignorant people.

Painjoyment™ Index: Very low. There is not enough genuine laughs to ease the pain one gets watching this. 


Corny candy

Away from the bright glare of Hollywood’s major dream factories, Poverty Row cranked out gritty little nightmares.

While most of the films are ultimately forgettable and stuck in the boring netherland between good and “so-bad-it’s-good”, some of the films prove to be entertaining to this day- albeit on the corny side.

Such a bit of candy corn is the Bela Lugosi vehicle, The Devil Bat.

This time around, Lugosi (screen history’s most beloved Dracula) plays not a vampire, as the title might infer, but an inventor whose exotic fragrances turned a corporation into a massive money machine. However, Dr. Carruthers (as he is called) missed the boat by asking for cash up front rather than shares (which, by the way, oddly mirrors how Lugosi kept ending up with limited paycheques for films that play to this day).

So the ninety-nine-percenter doctor’s plan for revenge against his One-percenter former colleagues is to develop a prototype after-shave designed to attract the electrically enlarged bat he keeps in his attic.
Electrically enlarging bats used to be more popular than train modeling.

Most amusing is watching the deliciously sinister Lugosi talk his former partners and prospective victims into sampling the fragrance only to bid them a cheerful “Goodbye. Eh eh eh…”

Enjoy this Halloween treat!

The Devil Bat

Pain Level: 5/10

Quality of pain: Like someone used too much cologne.

Painjoyment™ Index: High


Saber-Tooth Vampires?

Despite all the guffaws and snickers directed at Ed Wood, there remains some Producer-Directors much more deserving of any denigrating epithet one can muster. One such director is Al Adamson.

Ed Wood’s films are goofy but Adamson’s films are downright deranged. For the amateur bad-movie watcher, they could result in personal injury. They challenge the very concept of narrative structure in a manner which could afflict Jean-Luc Godard with a massive priapic condition.

Al Adamson’s movies do more than challenge your notion of film, they make you question why Edison bothered inventing that form of entertainment in the first place.

Psycho-a-go-goDracula vs FrankensteinSatan’s Sadists are all borderline crazy but it’s Horror of the Blood Monsters (also released as Vampire Men of the Lost Planet or Space Mission to the Lost Planet) that really takes the golden straitjacket home.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: An outbreak of violent vampirism has broken down in dimly lit areas of Earth.

The source of that contamination has been identified. It is a small distant planet which is worthy of note for two reasons:

The first reason is that their sun ‘s radiation produces odd monochromatic  hues in the atmosphere of the planet. This effect is brought to you in the film via the magic of Spectrum X.

Spectrum X was simply using black and white footage and printing it monochromatically.

It’s really useful for working footage of an older black and white movie into your new color film.

The second thing that’s worthy of note about that planet is that their humanoid inhabitants are still in the cave-dweller stage of their development.

And afflicted as they are with the vampire plague, this can only mean one thing: Vampire Cavemen.

Or more precisely, Saber-toothed Vampire Cavemen.

Yes. You read correctly.

The bulk of Horror of the Blood Monsters comes from a 1956 Philipino caveman/horror film called or Kahariang Bato  or Tagani. Spectrum-X and the whole hokum about the atmosphere of the planet was an excuse to recycle the 14 year old Philipino footage into the new film.

The space travel scenes come from the sci-fi cheapie Wizard of Mars and they’ve even thrown in the same damn “crocodile vs lizard” footage from the 1941 One Million Years B.C. used in countless films including Robot Monster.

Those guys are at it again?

As if all of this wasn’t whacked enough, they’ve hired “Brother Theodore” to narrate. For those unfamiliar with the New-York art scene, Brother Theodore Gotlieb is a philosopher and podiatrist who became a regular fixture on Late Night with David Letterman with is patented brand of insane ranting

And, of course, the crowning touch is the casting of John Carradine in the scenes meant to tie all this together. Carradine is the patriarch of a legendary acting dynasty and an accomplished actor but, from the late 50s on, one should be weary of any film that gives him top billing.

The resulting unholy mixture has been taking viewers off guard for decades- especially since the mid-eighties when the movie started showing up on late night television where it used the lateness of the hour to escape the attention of a sober, coherent audience.

But now, thanks to the magic of YouTube, you don’t have to wait until 3am to get your brains scrambled. Trust me, no matter what time of the day you watch this you’ll feel it’s 3am and that you’re running the kind nasty fever that has you conversing with distant ancestors.

Enjoy!

Pain Level: 9/10

Quality of Pain: Like a hickey from a really really primitive person.

Painjoyment™ Level: Very high.

[Note: In more recent years, Adamson’s oeuvre has been eclipsed with the odd B-movie way in which he died. In 1995, his body was found under his newly renovated hot tub. The contractor who did the renovation work is currently serving a 25 year sentence for the murder. The Cinémasochist prefers to remember the man for is work.]



80% Accurate – 20% of the Time

Most people know Criswell today as the pedantic fop who opens the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space full of fatalistic bombast declaring “We are all interested in the future for that is where you and I will be spending the rest of our lives. And remember, friends, future events such as this, will affect us in the future.”

Criswell was a minor media figure, a bit of cultural flotsam who became a television fixture during the 50s and 60s. Following his march 1963 prediction on the Jack Paar Show that JFK would not seek reelection because of something that would happen to him in Dallas, Criswell gained a reputation for accuracy – or at least boasted of having one.

He would become a frequent guest on Johnny Carson‘s The Tonight Show where Johnny would quantify his predictions as being “80% accurate- 20% of the time”.

Here is his appearance on The Tonight Show to ring in the the new year, 1966.

Of course, this kind of notoriety just screams of a book deal which leads us to today’s topic the 1968 book CRISWELL PREDICTS – from Now to the Year 2000!

This striking lime green book with the slightly psychedelic cover begins with a picture of baby Criswell and actually ends with a picture of Criswell in a coffin from the film Night of the Ghouls. The contents are even weirder.

In it he declares to have been mute until the age of four; his first words spoken during an Indiana thunderstorm. “The rain will stop” he reportedly uttered. It did. This, he points out, was his first prediction.

“My predictions are not written to win literary attention.” he writes at the end of his intro. It’s worth noting this prediction is bang on. But literary classic or not, the book is a hoot.

His first prediction in the book is entitled “HOMOSEXUAL CITIES”.

I predict that perversion will flood the land beginning in 1970. I predict a series of homosexual cities, small, compact, carefully planned areas, will soon be blatantly advertised and exist from coast to coast. These compact communities will be complete with stores, churches, bars and restaurants which will put the olden Greeks or Romans to shame with their organized orgies. You wil be able to find them near Bston, Des Moines, Columbus, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Dallas and Miami.

He adds that “perversion will parade shamelessly” in these cities. Was he talking about Gay Pride?

In fact, a lot of Criswell’s prediction seem to be obsessed with sexual politics. He also predicts a gaseous drug with aphroisiac qualities will overtake the land in the “Aphrodesian Era” (from May 1, 1988 to March 30, 1989). This, he writes, will cause massive perversion across the land – including a man wanting a court’s permission to marry is pet cat. It will culminate in a major sex scandal in the White House as the Secretary of State himself would be found “practising horrifying types of perversion with a group of young boys and girls”.

He also foretold that britain would legalize gay marriage in 1969 (he was off by only 35 years on that one); that no state would outlaw nudism and that Broadway shows woul have all-nude casts performing sex acts on stage.

He also predicted contraceptives would be in the water supply and that prospective parents would have to apply to the state to obtain the antidote. This, he said, was the only way of controlling the population explosion.

Frankly, reading the book is probably more entertaining now that history has unfolded. It’s a lot like sneaking a peek in a Freemason’s library and reading their alternate history. Personally, I like recounting these in the past tense. Here are some of the events you may have missed:

On August 9, 1970, a woman killed Fidel Castro.

A meteor destroyed London in 1988.

On june 9th, 1989, a “strange and terrible pressure from outer space” flattened Denver, Colorado by turning all metal into matter of rubbery consistency.

Between February 11 and May 11, 1983, women all suffered a traumatic loss of hair.

Oh, and more importantly, on August 18, 1999, the world ended.

That claim is backed up with the most irrefutable of arguments:

A study of the prophets – Nostradamus, St. Odile, Mother Shipton, The Bible—indiscates that we will cease to exist before the year 200o! Not one of these prophets even took the trouble to predict beyond the year 2000!

In other words, you shouldn’t be here. (Come to think of it- me neither.)

There are a few semi-accurate predictions in the book. One is for the disappearance of cash, to be replaced by “No coins, no bills, just a punch card” which is quite similar to our debit cards.

In addition to the book, Criswell also released an LP of predictions. Here are a few exerpts:

In his twilight years, Criswell became Mae West’s personal soothsayer. According to fellow Ed Wood alumnus Maila Nurmi (Vampira), West would cook up a storm and bring food to Criswell. Other sources say she used to sell her older cars to him for $5.

He did resurface again in a film written by Ed Wood, Orgy of the Dead, which is just a showcase for strip acts set in a cemetery.

Criswell left this mortal coil on October 4th 1982, just as the whole cult of Ed Wood was emerging. No word on wether he saw that coming or not.

Here, as an extra bonus to celebrate The Cinémasochist’s 50th post is Criswell in Night of the Ghouls (a.k.a. Revenge of the Dead), a long-lost Ed Wood film he actually has a part in. The film is often pegged as a sequel to Plan 9 from Outer Space, but in actuality, it’s a sequel to Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

Enjoy!

Pain Level: 8/10

Quality of Pain: Predictable

Painjoyment™ Level: Sweeeeeet!


I may be alone on this…

With all the internet tantrums over recent Blu-Ray releases, I thought I’d join the fray with a foot-stomping request of my own.

I WANT A BATTLEFIELD EARTH BLU-RAY! I WANT! I WANT! I WANT!

I want to be able to feel every inner-ear-disrupting “dutch” angles accentuate the vomitous over-performance by Travolta. I want to listen to this wretched self-proclaimed “bestselling novel”- bolstered by artificially inflated sales figures- being delivered by actors doing their best to sound like they’re doing Shakespeare in the Park in the middle of a flaming hockey riot.

But most of all, I want what the DVD edition denied me: In an attempt at countering some of the bad press the film garnered when released in 2000, the Warner Home Video release was a reedited (i.e. cut down) version of the film. This means the true awfulness of Battlefield Earth is being denied to us. At least Star Wars fans still have the beloved 1977 Star Wars on one of the releases (albeit in a relatively low-def Laserdisc transfer).  The more politically correct 20th anniversary of Spielberg’s E.T. still included the original cut so why not B.E.?

Besides, even the producer’s reaction to winning the Razzies was to chuckle and say it was helping sales. So, wouldn’t an “improved” cut be detrimental to sales? Why is it mainstream media discriminates against those of us that consciously and admittedly watch crap?

I own this figure. It talks to me.

True, the DVD does have its moments. especially when one activates the Director’s Audio Commentary track and listens to that clueless snob Roger Christian (Assistant-Director of The Phantom Menace) compare himself to Kurosawa not 30 seconds into the film. Christian goes on to list science-fiction films that were rejected by their contemporaries like Star Wars and Blade Runner. But frankly, while these films had some mixed reviews, they didn’t attract the universal ire that this massive pile of Psychlo poop did.

He also spends a lot of time defending some of the silliest scenes by claiming he instructed the actors to play it “comic book style”. However, conversations with some of the actors who have worked on the film reveal the opposite was true: In a scene where the fugitive humans eat rat, Christian suggested they ad-lib their dialogue. When actor Jason Cavalier suggested the line “It tastes like chicken!”, Christian flew into a rage and started delivering a soliloquy about how important a contribution to literature this book was.

I have the full set of these, too. Mint condition!

But, despite this, the DVD denies some of the crunchiest bits of cinematic kibble.

The “lost” material, it tuns out, is still out there. Recent airings of the film on satellite and cable networks include those scenes. Fortunately, someone collected them on YouTube.

But just seeing them here is not enough. I want to re-experience these moments as part of the longer narrative. I want a fully nipple-clamped cinémasochist session with this film again and reexperience the off-the-chart bad-movie-gasm I originally got from the whole “Man-animal can’t fly” bit (2:40)- which incidentally, explains why Cavalier’s character just plain vanishes halfway through the film.

Make it happen, Warner. Please. I beg you.

Pain Level: 10/10

Quality of Pain: Like being in a room full of guys holding up copies of Dianetics.

Painjoyment™: Would you mind closing the door behind you? I’d like to be alone with my talking Terl action-figure for a bit. Thanks for being so understanding.

I’ve got the bigger codpiece here, understand?


Daughter Dearest

Harry Thomas‘ name has graced the credits of so many classic bad films, it’s easy to dismiss him as a hack. As make-up artist employed on such memorable offerings as Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space  or Richard Cunha’s She-Demons, Thomas has provided us with many a make-up that would bear the brunt of many a film writer’s ire.

However, one needs to contextualize here. Sure, he’s no Jack Pierce (Universal’s legendary head of make-up who gave us the iconic looks for  Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster or Chaney’s Wofman) but he was Jack Pierce’s assistant – and he knew what he was doing.

Thomas’ true enemy was the budgets he was working with and the often clueless egos of the hack directors he was working for.

Case in point: Ed Wood. In his twilight years, as Thomas reminisced about his long and accomplished career in magazines like Filmfax and documentaries like The Haunted World of Ed Wood, he would relate some pretty outrageous tales about Ed’s view of “realism”: Much of the guffaws directed at “Daniel Davies” (Ed, acting under a pseudonym) during his onscreen time in Glen or Glenda is attributable to his godawful failure at appearing feminine under that cheap wig. Thomas explains that he had devised a wig and make-up to make him look more passable but that Ed insisted on apearing as he did in the street in the name of being honest and pulling no punches.

Another one concerns Plan 9’s aliens. Again, Thomas had designed something that would give the invaders a different appearance but Ed nixed it claiming he was making a message film and did not want to cheapen it with bug eyed or silver faced aliens. Somehow, I can’t help but think this translates as “I can’t afford this.”

It was on the set of Richard Cunha’s promethean epic Frankenstein’s Daughter that Harry had to show himself the most resourceful when confronted with a major challenge.

The film’s title is a tad confusing. It refers not to the female progeny of the infamous cadaver-as-human-kit doctor. In fact, the Frankenstein in this film is the son of Victor, Oliver. So who’s the daughter then?

Thomas was given a couple of looks to work on. One was for a young teenage girl whose features are grossly distorted as the result of Ollie’s nightcaps. (What purpose that serves? It creates a female teenage monster in a nightshirt that roams the neighbourhood making girls scream- do you really need a better motivation?). As she pops up in the film’s opening minutes and ends up with the film’s title superimposed on her oatmeal covered puss, one might be inclined that she is the titular monster- she is not.

The second monster Thomas had to create is the film’s ultimate creature:  A big Karloffian lumbering brute. The role was given to Harry Wilson (a character actor with acromegaly) and no indication was given to Thomas that Wilson would be playing a female creature.  In the film, the doctor believes his father’s mistake was in creating a male monster and that a female one would be instinctively subservient.

It’s obvious the doctor hasn’t dated much.

And so it was that Harry Thomas unveiled his monsterpiece of out-of-control growth hormones and spirit glue on set only to be informed at that moment the big burly creature was the wrong gender. They had to shoot NOW, so there was no time to start from scratch and certainly no money.

This is where Thomas showed his true genius.

He pulled out some lipstick and liberally smothered it on Harry Wilson’s mouth.

Problem solved.

Let Max Factor bring out the woman in you.

Here’s the full feature for you to play at your next Avon party.

Pain Level: 7/10

Quality of Pain: You’ll be fine as long as you don’t think. Then it’s just going to be like a nagging migraine.

Painjoyment: High

How did Karloff's face end up on this Mexican lobby card?


Look at that punum!

Voted the most handsome man in his class in his high school yearbook, Rondo Hatton developped Acromegaly – a syndrome caused by excess growth hormone being produced by the anterior pituitary gland. As a result, his limbs kept lengthening and his chin and nose grew forward, giving him the appearance of gigantic goon.

In 1930, while working as a journalist in Tampa, Hatton was covering the shoot of the film Hell Harbor when his mug caught the attention of director Henry King who cast him in a small role.

In 1936, Hatton decided to take the plunge. He moved to Hollywood where he began taking small uncredited roles  in movies. Perhaps his most notable appearance of that period is as a contestant in the “ugly man competition” scene of the classic RKO version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame opposite Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo.

But it was at Universal that Hatton’s carrer began to take off. There, he became “The Creeper” and publicized as “The Man who needs no make-up“.

"The Creeper", doing what he does best: creeping.

Now acromegaly actually makes bones more brittle and weakens a man despite the increased size. But on film, it does make for a rater impressive presence. Hatton’s first incarnation in that persona was in the sixth film of their Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone, The Pearl of Death (1944). Known here as the “Huxton Creeper”, Hatton’s character is a gigantic brute who picks men up and folds them in two- snapping their spines like twigs. Truly a memorable screen menace.

Over the next two years, Hatton would play “The Creeper”  in about a half dozen films before succombing to a heart attack brought on by his condition.

His final film was The Brute Man in 1946. The film is an unremarkable “programmer” (designed to be part of a double-feature program). In it, “The Creeper” is seekin revenge over his high school buddies whose prank left him in this state.

However, the studio was merging at that point and was dropping the B-movie unit. Also, the death of Hatton would make the studio appear exploitative. So The Brute Man was dumped by selling it to PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) a poverty row studio who could live with the finger pointing. For PRC, it represented a step up to have a release whose credits included big studio names like legendary make-up man Jack Pierce. Pierce was the make-up man behind the look of Universal’s “Unholy Three” which consited of Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster and Chaney’s Wolfman.  His name here definitely feels out of place here. However, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the tyrannic make-up man would claim he designed Rondo’s face himself.

Posthumously, Rondo’s appearance would inspire the character Lothar in Dave Stephen’s Graphic Novel The Rocketeer.

His mug would grace the screen again via prosthetic makeup worn by Tiny Ron Taylor in the 1991 feature film version.

Tiny Ron Taylor as "Lothar"

Here, pretty people,  is the complete feature The Brute Man for you to gawk at:

Pain Level: 5/10

Quality of pain: Not very pretty

Painjoyment™ Level: More of a curiosity than a bad movie.