Kiss of the Tarantula (1976)

Posted in Drive-In with tags on October 12, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

So silent

So deadly

So final

KOTT_Titles

Kiss of the Tarantula (1975) crosses into two sub-genre of horror film. On one hand it is a misfit revenge movie similar in tone and competence to the killer snake movie Stanley (1972) and Horror High (1974) (a spin on the Jekyll and Hyde tale), with story elements possibly derived from Stephen King’s first published novel Carrie (1974) or Brian De Palma’s film Carrie (1976).  There are also definite similarities to the rat film Willard (1971). On the other hand, the movie falls under the category of when spiders attack films.  These include Frogs (1972)(cameo), Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977) and the far superior Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), starring William Shatner.

KOTT_1

Introverted Susan Bradley (Suzanna Ling) lives with her mortician father Walter (Eric Mason, Grave of the Vampire, 1972) and over-bearing sadistic mother Martha (Beverly Eddins).  Susan has a fondness for spiders. Her mother beats her anytime she handles or talks to a spider. Susan later discovers that her mother has a lover and is planning to have her father killed.  Having none of that, young Susan places a plump Mexican redknee tarantula (Brachypelma smithi) in her bed. Susan’s mother has a heart attack and dies. Susan grows up to be a beautiful, albeit odd young woman who harbors tarantulas in the basement of the funeral home.

KOTT_2

As a halloween prank, some of the [oldest ever] local high schoolers sneak into the Bradley Funeral Home to steal a coffin. Susan discovers them, asks them to leave, but the pranksters discover Susan’s spider room.  One of the tarantulas is crushed under the boot of badboy Joe Penny (Mark Smith).

KOTT_3

Later, in an effective scene in a ventilation duct, Joe is greeted by several tarantulas. Claustrophobes and arachnophobes stay clear.

KOTT_4

Kiss of the Tarantula has a creepy sub-plot with Susan’s uncle John (Herman Wallner), who was her mother’s lover, also showing sexual interest in Susan.  Uncle John is also investigating the murders and discovers the tie to Susan.  What will Uncle John do? The ending is surprising, macabre and good twisted fun.

Kiss of the Tarantula was directed by Chris Munger. IMDb notes that along with actress Suzanna Ling, this is their single contribution to film.  It’s a shame —while Kiss is passable drive-in fodder and mediocre filmmaking, the film holds your interest and has some effective moments. This would make fun pairing with Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).  I give this film 5/10 stars. Fun drive-in nonsense boosted with unusual ending.

KOTT_5

Italian One-Sheet, below.

kiss_of_tarantula_poster_01

Castle of the Walking Dead (1967)

Posted in Lee & Cushing with tags on October 7, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Castle of the Walking Dead_Titles

Castle of the Walking Dead (aka The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism)(1967) is another well-constructed European horror vehicle that played frequently on UHF TV in the 1970’s.  It’s loosely based on the Poe story The Pit and the Pendulum, and would make a perfect late night companion film opposite Roger Corman’s 1961 Vincent Price classic. Castle of the Walking Dead (not to be confused with the moody Castle of the Living Dead) features Christopher Lee as the diabolical Count Frederic Regula, who returns from the dead to seek revenge after he was drawn and quartered.

Castle of the Walking Dead_Based on Poe

The films stars Karin Dor as Baroness Lilian von Brabant and Lex Barker as Roger von Marienberg, who are descendants of council members that ordered Regula’s death. Fans of 007 will immediately recognize the beautiful Karin Dor who appeared in You Only Live Twice (1967).  She also appears in Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969). Barker was a handsome actor popular in the 1960’s, having parts in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and in several German-made TV westerns.  Carl Lange plays Regula’s servant Anatol. In the copy I watched he sounds like a dead ringer for John Furlong, who narrated the prologue for Faster, Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill! (1965). I’m wondering if Lange was dubbed by Furlong. The film is well cast with solid actors.  The film’s script doesn’t allow much screen time for Christopher Lee, but when he’s in it he delivers the goods.

Castle of the Walking DeadThis film is loaded with bizarre props, such as bodies suspended from gnarly old trees, castle dungeons and corridors filled with skulls, weird murals, a pit filled with snakes, spiders and scorpions and nefarious torture devices.

Castle of the Walking Dead_Gnarly TreesThat’s Count Regula in the box, soon to be resurrected by his servant Anatol.

Castle of the Walking Dead_The Baron in StasisCastle was directed by Austrian Harald Reinl, best known to sci-fi enthusiasts as the director of the pseudo-scientific Chariots of the Gods (1970) and In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973)(a TVM reworking of Gods). He was a capable director known for a visual flair. I’d love to see some more of his films including The Carpet of Horror (Der Teppich des Grauens)(1962), where he directed Karin Dor, and Deadly Jaws (1974), a sunken treasure film.  His Dr. Mabuse films, starring Gert Frobe are entertaining, fast paced vehicles.

Castle of the Walking Dead_Pendulum

Ah, and then there’s that pendulum!

Castle of the Walking Dead_Cross

Christopher Lee vs. the Cross.

Castle of the Walking Dead_Lee in anguish

My copy of Castle of the Walking Dead ran about an hour. I suspect it was heavily edited. The print is crappy and appears to have been derived from a video tape.  I would love to see a good copy of this film in its entirety. This is another Christopher Lee gem and perfect Halloween fodder.

Revenge of the Spacemen (2014)

Posted in Bad Films I Love, Flying Saucers with tags , on October 6, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Revenge of the Spacemen_TitlesI have never agreed with the brothers Medved assessment of Edward D. Wood, Jr. being the worst director of all time.  As a writer Wood penned horrendous dialogue and was as bad behind a lens.  Like Howard Hawks, Wood prefered a stationary camera, but unlike Hawks, his films often wandered out of focus. A few of his films are just terrible, including Glen or Glenda (1953) and the unwatchable Night of the Ghouls (1959). Bride of the Monster (1955) is his best film, which isn’t saying much, but it does have footage of Belá Lugosi and Tor Johnson, who make it interesting. And then there is Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), undoubtedly Wood’s most entertaining film, featuring cardboard props, paper plate flying saucers (I always thought they looked like hub caps), inept dialogue, terrible editing, ridiculous situations and bad acting. However, Wood did something where several others failed. He made films in Hollywood. That’s saying a lot.  It’s unfair to call him the worst director of all time.

When I review a film I assess the film in context with the budget. Effective films made for nearly nothing like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (2010) score high on my list, whereas 100 million dollar messes don’t. That is one of the reasons I skewered the promising and hugely disappointing Godzilla (2014).

I have a soft spot for independently made low-budget regional fantasy films.  I like the atrociously bad Swamphead (2013), filmed in Wisconsin, and I like Jay Summer’s sci-fi parody Revenge of the Spacemen (2014).

Spacemen_Story Credits

Two years ago at the Cinema Wasteland Show, Strongsville, Ohio, Jay approached me about helping develop a story treatment for an homage to the 50’s teenager vs. aliens films.  This is a broad sub-genre basically pitting hipster teens, inept adults and authority figures (cops or military ilk) against  blobs, little green men in space suits, or rubber creatures. In Spacemen, you’ll see elements of Teenagers from Outer Space (1959), The Blob (1958), Invaders from Mars (1953), a later entry, Spaced Invaders (1990), the immensely entertaining Pandemic Studios game Destroy All Humans (2005-2008), and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). I worked up a 10-page treatment that expanded upon Jay’s premise of a rural Ohio family, fetching shotguns and at odds with a spaceship full of little green men.  I added the moonshine loving characters Cooter Ray (Richard Raphael, Zombie Apocalypse, 2010) and Catfish Bob (named after one of my friends father-in-law). Cooter Ray and Catfish Bob were inspired by the bumbling and bickering Tahei and Matashichi from The Hidden Fortress (1958). [There, I’ve done it! I’ve managed to include Kurosawa in a review of Spacemen]. My treatment also included the notion *SPOILER* of alcohol being caustic to the spacemen.  I also added the rock-n-roller Ozzy and perhaps a per other characters.

George spots the saucer.

However, the story was rough and Jay sent it off to Conor Duffy who developed the final script.  Most of the dialogue was developed by Conor. Spacemen is an amateur film, but it has moments.  The flying saucer (a model kit of the Forbidden Planet C-57D) sat in my basement for 6 years. I like the special effects by Rockets & Monsters Makeup and Prosthetics, who added lights to the ship and created some effective green screen shots (check out MT Morgue LLC on Facebook).  Some of the night scenes of the aliens in silhouette are creepy.

Spaceman

The story has three basic plot threads. The hick Johnson clan, lead by beer-guzzling Mrs. Johnson (Janine Sarnowski) battle the spacemen who have landed on their farm.  Teens George (George Tutie), Janet (Janet Jay, a Cinema Wasteland regular), Ozzy, and a few others independently take on the aliens while drinking PBR.  Cooter Ray and Catfish meet the aliens and Ray gets anal-probed, resulting in a trip to the doctor (who’s a hoot) and one of the more entertaining bits in the movie.

There’s also two cops, two romances, alien-human sex, a green horse, Mika the Racoon, Jake the Wonder Dog (who eats an anal probe), and a bizarre Benny Hill inspired slap-stick scene played to the tune of Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax.  The film has everything.  Keep in mind this is ultra-low budget and disjointed filmmaking. My girlfriend called it an abomination with too much [green] fart humor.  This is basically the hack version of Blazing Saddles in Ohio.

Catfish Bob and Cooter Ray encounter the spacemen.

Catfish Bob and Cooter Ray

Cooter takes fire.

Rich Raphael_Cooter Ray

Civil engineer and part-time actor/stunt-coordinator Rich Raphael will never be mistaken for Laurence Olivier, but he is always entertaining.  I liked him as Axel in Zombie Apocalypse (2010). In Spacemen he really cuts lose on the material, getting anal-probed by aliens “with their green wandering hands”, expels a bovine’s worth of green methane, has green glop squeezed out of an abscess, has a probe pulled from his “backdoor”, downs a medicinal beer and proclaims “booyah”, and probes an alien. That’s quite a responsibility.

Cooter Ray Glop Scene

Mrs. Johnson (Janine Sarnowski) encounters her green horse.

Spacemen_Horse

Behold a spaceman brandishing an anal-probe.

Prober

For all the schlock, Revenge of the Spacemen has some decent amateur acting.  I thought the core group delivered convincing lines (there were a few stumbles). George Tutie and Janet Jay were likable as the leads and are probably the most capable actors.  I’d like to see them return in another film. Fred Munkachy seems to have delivered his lines with gusto and was fine as Taggart the cop.  Rich Raphael is a presence in any film as far as I’m concerned.  He’s entertaining.

There’s also way too many characters in this film and by the end it comes apart. I would have preferred the film played more subtle (the opening scenes of the spacemen in shadow are effective), with diminutive aliens not prominently shown.  I would have preferred seeing three well-designed aliens rather than 12 clumsy ones, but why quibble? Sci-Fi/Comedy is a difficult genre to nail.  Spacemen is parody and a lot of fun.  Grab some moonshine and popcorn and enjoy.

This film premiered at the Cinema Wasteland Show on October 4, 2014.  I was there and loved every minute of it.

The Kids

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3361192/

DVDs COMING SOON

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

Posted in Lee & Cushing with tags , on October 6, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Castle of the Living Dead_Cropped Titles

Somehow, while growing up feasting on everything from Browning to Bava I missed this Italian-French horror gem featuring Christopher Lee as the mysterious Count Drago, and Donald Sutherland, in his first role, where he plays an old hag and a Napoleonic officer.  Apparently Sutherland also plays a third role (see TCM article), but I can’t spot it. The film reviewed here is a crappy copy duped from a VHS tape derived from a usually dependable vender at the Cinema Wasteland show. I am certain there are far superior prints out there.

Lee plays the villain who welcomes a traveling troupe of gypsy circus performers to his castle.  Lee’s henchman is the sadistic Sandro, played with gusto by Mirko Valentin.  The performers include the beautiful Laura (Gaia Germani, Hercules in the Haunted World, 1961), the greedy Bruno (Jacques Stany), the giant mute Gianni (Ennio Antonelli), Eric the love interest (Phillippe Leroy), the harlequin Dart (Luciano Pigozzi), and a dwarf (I can’t find his name anywhere).

Castle of the Living Dead_3

As far as 1960’s Euro-horror go, The Castle of the Living Dead (1964), holds its own due to an unusal story with Lee rendering “animals” in stasis with an elixir, interesting on-location photography (at a botanical garden?), fluid camera work, a decent cast, and tight direction by Warren Kiefer, Luciano Ricci and Brit Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General, 1968), who is usually credited with directing the final sequences of the film.  Lee is especially in good form as Drago.  However, at times his delivery reminded me of his Count Dooku presence in the crappy Star Wars prequels.  The towering Lee has such a tremendous presence in this film, and with his top hat he’s perhaps 7-foot tall and looks like a sardonic Abe Lincoln!

Chris Lee in Top Hat

Castle of the Living Dead_Lee

The evil Drago describes the origin of his potion. For this scene Lee dipped a flower into liquid nitrogen and it crumbles as he flicks his finger at it.

Castle of the Living Dead_6

Count Drago in top hat with Donald Sutherland as Sergeant Paul.

Castle of the Living Dead_Lee_Sutherland

My one quibble about the film might be the direction of Donald Sutherland.  He’s fine as the old hag, but comes across as forcing the comedic lines as Sgt. Paul.  His dialogue with Lee also comes across as being awkward. “I urge you sir… Get those gypsies packing…”

Castle of the Living Dead_5

The Castle of the Living Dead offers unusual set designs by production designer Carlo Gentili.  These include a witch’s den, Drago’s hall with mounted birds and animals, a laboratory, and a few other surprises.

Twinkling of an eye

The menacing Sandro towers like the Frankenstein monster.

Castle of the Lving Dead_2

The Castle of the Living dead was photographed by Fellini and Visconti cinematographer Aldo Tonti (Nights of Cabiria, 1957).  The film is a joy to watch, with weird camera angles and sculptures of dragons and other mythological creatures.  Few horror films so eloquently used on site locations as The Castle of the Living Dead.  Pull this one out for Halloween!

Castle of the Living Dead_1

TCM FILM ARTICLE

 TRAILER

http://youtu.be/CoOqNxPAu0k

 

 

 

 

Under the Skin (2014)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , on September 18, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Under the Skin_Dot

Under the Skin_Nova

Under the Skin_Inception

Under the Skin_Eyeball

Under the Skin_Titles

With the possible exception of Prometheus (2012), Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin (2014) has garnered more complete polarization in acceptance from film-goers than any recent film I can remember.  You either think it is a mind-blowing masterpiece or it sucks —my girlfriend hated it.  A NY Post critic called it a “sci-fi snooze-fest”. This film is not about butt-naked Scarlett Johansson picking up guys, humping them, and subsequently eating them like a reptilian creature in V.  It’s one of the most subdued, impressively lensed and intelligent sci-films of the last decade.  In tone and pacing it reminds me so much of Nicholas Roeg’s underrated cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), which some people are also not apparently impressed with HERE (to each their own). Both films deal with an alien entity thrust into human form or society and struggling to adapt to new conditions.  Along with John Carpenter’s Starman (1984), The Hidden (1987), Alien Nation (1988), Under the Skin and The Man Who Fell to Earth are perhaps my votes for the best aliens-in-society films.

Under the Skin_Conjugation

Scarlett Johansson is a stunning physical beauty, but her deadpan delivery is the same in every film, and no matter who is directing her and whether she is cast as a horny no-talent pianist opposite Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), or a repressive friend in Ghost World (2001), a love interest in Lost in Translation (2003), in a Woody Allen film, as a superhero ex-KGB agent, as a woman with total brain functionality, or a voice of an operating system she is still Scarlett Johansson.  Her acting range in limited, but as an alien with awkward social skills she is perfectly cast.  I agree with claims from the on-line Indiewire that her performance in Under the Skin is “unlike anything [she] has done before,”  but I don’t agree that her performance is erotic. However, I do think it is one of her best performances.

Under the Skin_Searchiing

The opening moments set the tone. This film is minimalistic. It’s Kubrickesque. Modern smart phone tapping audiences want action and exposition —an explaination for everything. Tap tap. Where does the alien come from? Is the alien here to destroy humanity or mine for water? Why is ScarJo driving around in Scotland? Answers are not needed. It’s not about why, but about where will the journey take us. Remember that Michael Myers was the boogie man. Rob Zombie missed out on the concept in the remake. He had to explain why the heavy became the boogie man.  That’s not important. It just is.  ScarJo drives around Scotland in a van, picks up men and then consumes them.  Along the way she changes. That’s what the film is about.  Earth is a hostile planet.

 

Under the Skin_Surf

I like how ScarJo uses cheap pick up lines to lure in men.  She says corny things like [paraphrasing] “Do you surf here often?” or “Are you from here?” I’d jump in a van with ScarJo anytime anyplace anywhere for anything.

Under the Skin was exquisitively lensed across urban landscapes and rugged Scottish terrain by DOP Daniel Landin. The contrasting settings, use of primary colors and earth tones make this film like few sc-fi’s I’ve ever witnessed.  It’s one of the most visually haunting films I have ever seen.  I really think it is that good.

Under the Skin_Waiting

I’ll end with a few screen captures.  This film was all about imagery.

Under the Sin_Loner

Under the Skin_Bus

Shadow Alien (played by Antonia Campbell-Hughes).

Under the Skin_Revelation

Production Notes

RIP Richard Kiel

Posted in RIP with tags on September 10, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

One of the greats has passed. Rest in peace “Jaws”.

20140910-222647-80807735.jpg

20140910-222828-80908829.jpg

RIP Joan Rivers

Posted in RIP with tags on September 4, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS