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The Deputy: Brother in Arms (1961)
Lon Chaney and Denny Miller
THE DEPUTY, lasting two seasons on NBC and an early credit for producer/creator Norman Lear, was essentially a vehicle for second billed Allen Case, despite Henry Fonda's starring presence as Marshal Simon Fry of Arizona's Silver City, shooting all his scenes in a matter of weeks to allow time for his busy film career. Case's Clay McCord is a storekeeper who puts on his deputy badge in Fry's absence, an expert shot but reluctant to use a gun, which actually plays a part in this 68th episode, "Brother in Arms," featuring Denny Miller as Clay's boyhood friend Billy Jason, a fast draw with a gun in his face, using McCord's father as his primary inspiration. This does not sit well with Clay's remembrance of his late father, with his great reverence for life and a preference to talk it out rather than shoot it out. Having legally gunned down a hostile loser in self defense in front of both marshal and deputy, Billy's sharpshooting reputation has followed him from town to town, only admitting to being in Silver City for a homecoming. His true intention is revealed soon enough, confronting wealthy Tom Arnold (Lon Chaney) about his long dead father, who was killed in a mine cave in before Billy was born, partners in the mine before Arnold gave up every penny to buy out every share from the widow, living a poverty stricken life that finally ended four weeks earlier, for which the youth blames the older man. Arnold has no desire to strap on a gun against this unexpected foe, but he does have a staunch ally in peace maker Clay. Lon Chaney essayed a great many villainous roles in feature Westerns, but was eminently skilled in sympathetic oaters on the small screen, with a final twist to add perspective to a well written half hour, the last of 15 episodes directed by veteran David Butler.
Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966)
One of John Carradine's least rewarding performances
1965's infamous Embassy double bill of "Billy the Kid Versus Dracula" and "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" never seemed to be paired together on television. The concept of vampires out West had been tried once before in Universal's 1959 "Curse of the Undead," an effective performance by Michael Pate as the mysterious gunslinger who pays the penance for murdering his brother after he takes his own life, living out his existence as a vampire. Here we have the immortal John Carradine to reprise the role he had played at Universal in both "House of Frankenstein" and "House of Dracula," with one Stoker adaptation done in color for MATINEE THEATRE shortly after Bela Lugosi's death (oddly enough, the name Dracula is never once mentioned on screen but is present in the script, the picture reviled by its star right up to his dying days, David Letterman even joking that it was a true story). Directed in 5-8 days by William 'One Shot' Beaudine, the same auteur behind 1944's "Voodoo Man" (his previous choice for worst film) and 1946's "The Face of Marble," one must conclude that his dislike for the grizzled veteran was fairly strong. Truth be told, this was one actor who could have included multiple nominees for 'worst film,' and so far as starring roles go this at least was one that offered more screen time than any other player, unlike top billed efforts like "The Wizard of Mars," "Blood of Dracula's Castle," or "Blood of Ghastly Horror." Dracula simply turns up out of nowhere to stalk an immigrant family traveling by coach whose pretty daughter becomes his latest victim despite the crucifix in her hand, vampire lore somewhat lacking in Carl Hittleman's script. We next see him yawning at the chatter of a talkative woman and her tenderfoot brother, a journey to the Bar-B Ranch where her niece Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman) has accepted a marriage proposal from Chuck Courtney's nondescript Billy the Kid, here not only whitewashed but seemingly emasculated as well. Dracula's attack on an Indian maiden puts them all on the warpath, everyone on the stagecoach massacred and the vampire able to steal the identity papers off the corpse of Betty's uncle, James Underhill, arriving in town before news of the surprise tragedy. From there he poses as Betty's uncle, secure in his disguise because they've never met, barking orders while trying to avoid the prying eyes of Virginia Christine's Eva Oster, mother of the opening victim. There's definitely a creepy vibe to 'Uncle James' admitting to his young niece that he intends to make her his mate, Courtney truly no match with ordinary bullets, the vampire hunter strictly an amateur who has to look it up in the physician's manual, Olive Carey as Dr. Henrietta Hull, perhaps a nod to Western veteran and 'WereWolf of London' Henry Hull (her son, Harry Carey Jr., puts in a cameo to report the stagecoach massacre). A much better supporting cast makes for a better watch than its Jesse James cofeature, with Bing Russell (Kurt's father) up to no good in cahoots with Dracula, Richard Reeves as the bartender, and possibly the one actor with more credits than John Carradine, serial great Roy Barcroft as the sheriff.
Not enough camp value to break up the tedium
Among the most infamous double bills of the decade was Embassy's Western hybrids "Billy the Kid Versus Dracula" and "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," two 8 day wonders shot virtually back to back in June-July 1965 by director William Beaudine, producer Carroll Case, and screenwriter Carl Hittleman. As expected, the neat and tidy backstory of Jesse is a total whitewash depicting him as a 19th century Robin Hood, similar to a current TV series called THE LEGEND OF JESSE JAMES starring Christopher Jones in the title role, and Allen Case as Frank James. John Lupton's casting was actually a good choice, best remembered for costarring opposite Michael Ansara's Cochise in the 1956 series BROKEN ARROW, the only other well known cast member veteran Jim Davis as the laconic sheriff (Nestor Paiva has a cameo as a saloon owner losing a bet). As Frankenstein's granddaughter Maria, little known Narda Onyx, a native of Estonia's Baltic coast, gives her final performance in her only starring vehicle, paired with Hungarian-born veteran Steven Geray as older brother Rudolph, who also threw in the towel after one more picture. The opening reel establishes them as European refugees from the law, now conducting experiments in an abandoned monastery in Mexico, her task to find the perfect human guinea pig to house her grandfather's artificially-created brain, only to see the locals depopulate the area after being told their missing family members died of a contagious disease. Who should come ridin' along but Lupton's Jesse James, coming off a disaster at Northridge (!) before this new venture with what's left of The Wild Bunch concludes with sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) wounded by a bullet in the shoulder. Pretty Juanita (Estelita) must divert the duo to the Frankensteins, where Maria rejoices in muscular Hank while also trying to make an unsuccessful play for Jesse. Only at the one hour mark does a woman scorned get down to business by transforming poor Hank into hulk 'Igor,' first to dispatch turncoat brother Rudolph for using poison to sabotage the experiment, then to 'kill Juan-Nita!' Neither fans of the Old West nor lovers of camp horror are likely to enjoy this tedious exercise in padded running time, Lupton and Davis playing it straight, Cal Bolder an expressionless cipher no matter what the scene, Estelita a comic highlight with her wide eyed countenance. Only Narda Onyx seems fully committed, a chip off the old block who achieves success too late to do much of interest.
How bad is it? How bad do you want it!
Never intended to set the world on fire, 1956's "Fire Maidens of Outer Space" served as Britain's answer to "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars," "Queen of Outer Space," or "Missile to the Moon," bonafide female pulchritude in bulk for ogling male astronauts to easily partake. The sole creation of triple threat writer-producer-director Cy Roth, it managed to entice Hollywood actor Anthony Dexter to 'pop over the pond' as Luther Blair, captain of a quintet of astronauts blasting off to explore Jupiter's 13th moon, the only one capable of sustaining life as we know it. The same type of plywood mock up of a downed spacecraft used by Bert I. Gordon for "Kinf Dinosaur" (showing only a small portion outdoors with a ladder) soon gives way to a screaming female in the clutches of what is described as a horrible monster but looks nothing more ferocious than a skinny guy in black tights with an immobile mask through which only his eyes can leer through (a few warning gunshots in the air are enough to drive him away). The blonde bombshell played by Susan Shaw naturally turns out to be Princess Hestia of the colony New Atlantis, indeed the descendants of our sunken nation from eons past, who never left behind any evidence of their knowledge of space flight to allow them to escape to this new world. The only man they find is her father Prasus (Owen Berry), so feeble that when he passes out after a Mickey Finn he looks as though he's really passed on to the great beyond! There are about a dozen starlets playing the Fire Maidens, their first born leader Duessa (Jacqueline Curtis) plotting to sacrifice Hestia to the sun gods before the monster decides to party until dawn. Even then the picture was acknowledged as the worst of its kind, cheap and irredeemably shoddy, yet somehow endearing in its unashamed awfulness like an Ed Wood masterpiece. Anthony Dexter came into prominence winning the title role in 1951's "Valentino," here coming off a starring vehicle opposite Lon Chaney on location in El Salvador, "The Black Pirates," his career diminished further by later performances in "12 to the Moon" and "The Phantom Planet." If nothing else, its relatively brief running time and frequent dance moves by our scantily clad Fire Maidens prove more entertaining than similar, more serious British efforts like "The Terrornauts," making male viewers blissfully imagine a very happy set once the cameras shut down.
The Terrornauts (1967)
Retread of "This Island Earth" sunk by lack of budget
1967's "The Terrornauts" proved too ambitious for an Amicus budget, topping a dismal double bill with the only slightly better "They Came From Beyond Space," box office duds to ensure no further outer space adventures were forthcoming. The John Brunner script was adapted from Murray Leinster's 1960 novel "The Wailing Asteroid," the outline following Universal's "This Island Earth" of aliens securing aid from Earth to fight an interstellar battle that will save their galaxy. Hoping to learn something about other beings in the universe has been a lifelong ambition for Dr. Joe Burke (Simon Oates), ever since he received a curious cube as a child that inspired a dream of a world with two suns. The skeptical leader of Project Star Talk (Max Adrian) tires of their finances being drained away without results, allowing only three more months to discover concrete evidence from their intricate radio telescope. Immediately, a signal reaches them from a small asteroid repeating like an SOS call, prompting Burke to put together a transmitter to send an answer to the mysterious messenger, resulting in a ship arriving to transfer Burke and four others to the asteroid center manned by a lone robot (looking suspiciously like a rejected version of one of Dr. Who's Daleks). Various tests meant to confirm the visitors' intelligence and good intentions allow for them to decipher the secret behind the messages, an enemy force set not only to destroy the asteroid but also the planet Earth. Universal provided an adequate budget to bring "This Island Earth" to vivid life (even though the climactic view of the alien world is all too brief), but for this film Amicus started out with a decent script with a pitifully small budget that renders every action sequence downright laughable. The wires are clearly visible during space flight, the miniatures too obvious, the entire cast uninvolved, and one scene where Zena Marshall's exotic scientist is captured for a human sacrifice ends so swiftly and abruptly that it must have been done strictly to promise a colorful poster (reminding one of Cy Roth's inept "Fire Maidens of Outer Space"). A rather sad finale for 41 year old Zena Marshall, best remembered as the very first Bond Girl to bed Sean Connery's 007 in 1962's "Dr. No."
The Brain (1962)
Best version of "Donovan's Brain" is a departure from earlier adaptations
1962's "The Brain" marked the very first genre film for Oscar-winning cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis (his innocuous debut at the helm was 1961's "Two and Two Make Six"), the third screen version of Curt Siodmak's 1942 pulp novel "Donovan's Brain," first adapted by Republic as "The Lady and the Monster" in 1944, followed 9 years later by Lew Ayres's self titled remake. Republic's initial outing was weighed down by the intrusive non presence of Olympic skater Vera Hruba Ralston, only remaining faithful to its literary source during the second half, while this entry ratchets up the mystery for a sci fi-tinged whodunit venturing further away from Siodmak's prose (not necessarily a bad thing). Peter Van Eyck takes the lead as Dr. Peter Corrie, working with assistant Frank Shears (Bernard Lee) on experiments to determine the life span of a monkey's surgically removed brain, fortuitously nearby when an airplane crash presents them with the brain of ruthless financier Max Holt, introduced right after the opening credits, an imperious nature punctuated by the impulsive tapping of his right thumb. Unlike Erich von Stroheim's characterization in the first version, Van Eyck is no preconceived mad scientist, he performs an unethical operation but remains cooly rational even as he falls under the influence of the calculating brain, anxious to learn the truth behind the crash, accidental or deliberate murder. Corrie's first act in Holt's service is to produce a list of suspects, including Holt daughter Anna (top billed Anne Heywood) and son Martin (Jeremy Spenser), family attorney Stevenson (Cecil Parker), shady chauffer Gabler (George A. Cooper), and grasping mistress Marion Fane (Maxine Audley). Corrie remains the central figure throughout, his possessed moments revealed by that incessant tapping, and this element of the story is left open even after the culprit is exposed in the climax, perhaps a disappointment for some but logical nevertheless. Freddie Francis would go unbilled for additional scenes filmed for Steve Sekely's "The Day of the Triffids," so his next credited assignment became his first at Hammer Films, Oliver Reed's "Paranoiac," Amicus first acquiring his services for 1964's "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors."
They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1970
1967's "They Came from Beyond Space," like its cofeature "The Terrornauts," essentially brought down the curtain on the brief vogue for sci fi from Britain's Amicus Films, who profited from Peter Cushing's Dr. Who features yet badly floundered with this flop double bill. Director Freddie Francis blamed the lack of budget on Montgomery Tully's mishandling of "The Terrornauts" but audiences could not have been enthralled by producer Milton Subotsky's repetitious script or the overly familiar elements done better in previous outings (adapting Joseph Millard's 1964 source novel "The Gods Hate Kansas"). It's another alien invasion conducted on the sly, and only Robert Hutton's Curtis Temple avoids being possessed by the captors through the silver plate surgically implanted in his head, learning that the woman he loves has become the leader for those working on Earth, with frequent trips to the moon and back in a swiftly built rocket ship hidden beneath a lake. Interesting tidbits almost make up for the near total paucity of action, particularly one sequence in which Maurice Good's intelligence officer contracts a mysterious and fatal disease during a telephone call (red spots popping up all over), only to be seen later on working as one of the worker bees for the alien hive. Temple doesn't seem to get the message as his antique jalopy (perhaps a nod to John Steed in THE AVENGERS) gets turned away at the gate time after time, it truly degenerates into comedy on the third try. Eventually he shoots down the power lines for the electrified fence to climb over, inspect the facilities, kidnap his girl, then free her from their control with the aid of Zia Mohyeddin's Farge. Back to the launching pad for a trip to our satellite, where Michael Gough makes his long awaited appearance as 'Master of the Moon,' explaining all about his race of advanced intelligent beings who have long abandoned physical form, and their benign intention to die back on their home planet (STAR TREK did the same thing far better and on smaller budgets). After such a lengthy buildup the climactic fizzle only confirms the picture's mediocrity. Robert Hutton ("The Man Without a Body," "Torture Garden") extended his unspectacular career in England until his final role in Freddie Francis' "Tales from the Crypt," working in the same story with Peter Cushing.
The Lady and the Monster (1944)
Probably the most faithful adaptation of Curt Siodmak's "Donovan's Brain"
1944's "The Lady and the Monster" was among the few Republic examples of the horror genre (serials and outdoor pictures were their bread and butter), unfortunately tainted by the godawful presence of Czech skating star Vera Hruba Ralston, sweetheart and later bride of studio president Herbert J. Yates, who spent 14 years spending extravagant amounts on her box office failures until the Poverty Row outfit finally collapsed at the same time as RKO. This was the first of three adaptations of the 1942 novel "Donovan's Brain," the first penned by screenwriter Curt Siodmak, so popular that he conceived a 1968 sequel called "Hauser's Memory," earning its lone adaptation as a 1970 TV movie, followed by 1991's "Gabriel's Body." The original title graced the 1953 version with Lew Ayres, while the second remake, 1962's British-German "Vengeance," was branded "The Brain" for American audiences. Yates only decided on the final moniker to signify Vera's importance to this initial screen version (no relation to George Zucco's "The Monster and the Girl"), shooting titles including "The Monster," "The Monster's Castle," "The Monster and the Lady," and "The Brute" (a later reissue earned yet another title, "The Tiger Man"). When cutting away from the intrigue to return to her attractive yet superfluous character the film only grinds to a halt, spending the entire first half on exposition before finally getting down to business. Erich von Stroheim enjoys one of his best remembered leading roles as Dr. Franz Mueller, whose isolated home outside Phoenix is an impressive castle where he conducts experiments on the brains of animals to see how long they survive when the body is deceased. Just as he and assistant Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) pine for the use of a human specimen a nearby plane crash claims the life of renowned financier William H. Donovan, perhaps the most distinguished brain that any mab lab could want, pronounced dead by the local coroner to allow easier access to what lies inside the skull. Only at the midway point do we finally receive the novel's plot in more detail, Cory (the actual protagonist on the written page) encouraged by Mueller to continue the experiment through a telepathic link, sending the unwitting guinea pig west to Los Angeles to try to free a convicted killer from federal prison. Also taking an interest in Cory's every move are Donovan's scheming attorney (Sidney Blackmer) and faithless wife (Helen Vinson), left penniless by her husband's cleverness, multiple bank accounts set up only by an odd signature. The mystery holds up until the finale, where Cory explains all in a sadly perfunctory dialogue session, Mueller receiving his comeuppance from an unexpected source.
David L. Hewitt's American General fails to salute
David L. Hewitt's American General Pictures strikes again with 1967's "Journey to the Center of Time," following on the heels of cofeatures "The Wizard of Mars" and "Gallery of Horror" but lacking the presence of John Carradine, whose agent did manage to provide Scott Brady and Anthony Eisley for the project, something of a remake of Ib Melchior's "The Time Travelers" from 1964, made to coincide with Irwin Allen's teleseries THE TIME TUNNEL. Call it a waste of time, but with another quartet of scientific adventurers venturing into Earth's future (6968 to be exact) before going way back to 1 million B.C. (complete with giant lizard from "One Million B.C."), whatever hoped for thrills are dashed by excessive talk and virtually no action. Scott Brady's self centered industrialist is strictly out to make a quick buck, while Anthony Eisley, Abraham Sofaer, and Gigi Perreau are forced to prove that they can travel further than 24 hours into the future if the project is to maintain funding. Only a single shot from "The Time Travelers" is used (the rocket ship ready for takeoff), the actual arrival coming only at the half hour mark, the tale of alien invasion lasting but 15 minutes in front of a black backdrop before moving forward into the past (endlessly represented by footage from war movies, Westerns, and gladiator entries), a typical low budget jungle/cavern set with only the threat of molten lava keeping viewers awake (there's a very brief shot of the bat-rat-spider creature from Melchior's "The Angry Red Planet" flashing by on the viewing screen so fast one might easily miss it). Ray Dorn's Hollywood Studios still give off the same barren feel as in "Gallery of Horror" or "Blood of Dracula's Castle," but at least it proves better than Hewitt's "The Mighty Gorga" a sad reunion for Brady, Eisley, and Kent Taylor.
The Purple Gang (1959)
Robert Blake does Edward G. Robinson
1959's "The Purple Gang" was an Allied Artists take on a real life gang of juvenile mobsters terrorizing the Detroit underworld of the 20s and early 30s. Largely a work of fiction with plenty of stock footage narrated by Barry Sullivan's Police Lt. Harley to allow for some authenticity but so far as gangster pictures go this one is pretty routine. The one standout is former child actor Robert Blake as Purple Gang leader 'Honey Boy' Willard, heading straight for the big time with a protection racket aimed at Canadian bootlegging, then a shakedown of local laundry businesses which forces the Mafia to show its hand in the fray. Even women aren't safe from their brutality, from Harley's pregnant wife (Elaine Edwards) to the attractive social worker (Jody Lawrance) whose psychobabble was previously a thorn in Harley's side, later executed between the eyes by a would be rapist who knows she can finger every culprit. There's nothing new to distinguish it from previous, better known efforts, only Blake's claustrophobic sociopath to help it stand out at all, 8 years before his more chilling turn in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."
The Time Travelers (1964)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1967
"The Time Travelers" was a theatrical release from AIP first conceived as "Time Trap" by director Ib Melchior and special effects technician David L. Hewitt, shooting in Nov. 1963 with a fairly decent cast combining veterans and newcomers. Melchior's previous screenplays with Sidney W. Pink included "The Angry Red Planet," "Reptilicus," and "Journey to the Seventh Planet," with Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires" still ahead, and its similarities to Allied Artists' 1956 "World Without End" proved influential to future titles. A trio of scientists work feverishly to master a time portal located on a university campus, and along with hot shot electrician Danny (Steve Franken) manage to open a doorway from present day 1964 to the future world of 2071, a difference of 107 years. Danny absent mindedly wanders through the entrance and beckons the others to follow, all of whom are attacked by a marauding band of mutants living on the barren surface, before being welcomed by an underground society of normal humans led by benevolent council leader Varno (John Hoyt). Preston Foster, legendary 'synthetic flesh' moon killer in Lionel Atwill's 1932 "Doctor X," is the group leader, Philip Carey his second, gorgeous blonde Merry Anders the lone female, granted the guided tour throughout the facilities of what is described as a dying world, what little food and supplies left currently being loaded aboard a rocket ship that will transport them under suspended animation to another earthlike planet outside our galaxy. They cannot provide accommodations for the four newcomers but do offer enough resources to help them rebuild a new time portal to return them to their own period, if the mutants don't finish them all off first. Hewitt's effects hold up well on a low budget, though he did take it a bit too far with his own version of the same story done even cheaper, American General's 1967 "Journey to the Center of Time." There's a nice android factory for the mechanical workers, and a cameo from Forrest J. Ackerman as a technician who admits having things 'squared away,' but for male viewers the actress to remember is Delores Wells, Playboy Playmate of the Month in June 1960 and a veteran of three 'Beach Party' entries, as charming and gorgeous as can be as Reena, whether putting on a sexy light show for lucky Danny, or sharing a rather naughty sauna scene with Merry Anders, both leaving little to the imagination with as much bare skin as censors would allow. Merry's decorative presence is more involved than her wasted turn in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," while this marked the final role for the still attractive Joan Woodbury, alluring femme fatale of Poverty Row Hollywood, nearly 30 years since her unbilled turn as the tiny Queen in James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein."
The Bamboo Saucer (1968)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1970
1967's "The Bamboo Saucer" began life over a decade earlier as "Project Saucer," going by the working title "Operation Blue Book" before its final moniker was decided a year after production started in Sept. 1966 (a third title was attached for rerelease, "Collision Course"). Receiving story credit on his final film was Universal's ace special effects maestro John P. Fulton (he passed away during preproduction), the one responsible for the Invisible Man series, plus the glowing effect for "The Invisible Ray" and "Man Made Monster." Writer/director Frank Telford was able to forego shooting in Spain for easier access on Western sets in Lone Pine, California, a simple story somewhat drawn out to 103 minutes but not an uninteresting one (theatrical distribution by World Entertainment Corp). John Ericson's veteran pilot is casually dismissed by superiors when he spies a flying saucer that cannot be seen on radar, maneuvering in all directions to avoid collision. His attempts to prove its existence put him in touch with Dan Duryea's Hank Peters, who shows him a sketch of the saucer drawn by a peasant farmer in a remote mountain range of Red China, leading a small team of scientists to claim the saucer for the United States. All we learn about its two alien occupants are that they died outside the ship and were cremated by the local villagers, the little group parachuting behind enemy lines to find a similar expedition of Russians on the same mission. An uneasy alliance is formed, Ericson naturally falling for Lois Nettleton's pretty blonde Anna, who speaks English and translates for both sides. It plays out in all too predictable Cold War fashion until the saucer's discovery at the midway point, but the interior is disappointingly reminiscent of low budget drek like "The Wizard of Mars." It's a welcome surprise to see the surviving cast members take off inside the spacecraft on automatic pilot, returning to its home base on Saturn at the speed of light, so at least there's a payoff more satisfying than Mikel Conrad's "The Flying Saucer," a 1949 production that never once takes flight, its saucer built by foreign powers. The actors are all hamstrung by one note characters, some of whom are ill suited for serious roles after years of comic television work. The biggest name is that of top billed Dan Duryea, his last feature shortly after appearing in "Five Golden Dragons," as one of the Dragons with George Raft, Brian Donlevy, and Christopher Lee.
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1969
1965's "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters" served as cofeature for Realart's already completed "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," both produced by George Edwards and an uncredited Roger Corman, this title written and directed by Michael A. Hoey, son of character actor Dennis Hoey. An adaptation of Murray Leinster's 1959 novel "The Monster from Earth's End" had been in limbo for a number of years (working titles "The Nightcrawlers" and "Monsters of the Night"), Hoey's script trying to recapture "The Thing From Another World" in its isolated setting and unseen terrors (actually more in tune with John Carpenter's 1982 remake). Animals and prehistoric vegetation found in Antarctica are on a flight to the US, making a refueling stop on Gow Island in the South Pacific when unforeseen occurrences leave the plane devoid of all personnel but the pilot, in a state of shock from which he never recovers. One penguin is noticeably missing but the remainder still on board, while the botanical marvels receive a proper burial in the tropical soil near the naval base commanded by Anthony Eisley's Lt. Charles Brown. A strange corrosive substance is found on the plane and even some of the buildings, before the discovery of the fist-sized creatures responsible, designed to look like large spiders. Walter Sande's Dr. Beecham examines one and believes that it's only an infant version of an adult, omnivorous trees based at the South Pole with the ability to pull up the roots and pursue its prey under frigid conditions, now growing and multiplying in the island humidity. Hoey's script is weak on characterization, clunky dialogue, and too much unfunny comic relief, but the mysteries increase nicely until the running time is used up, the payoff achieved by poorly integrated stock footage of fighter jets dropping napalm on the monsters, their scenes added in postproduction by actor/director Jon Hall. Hoey's disappointment in the bereft bark also required Arthur C. Pierce to shoot scenes of mainland authorities arriving at the final solution, just to bring the picture up to feature length. Eisley's assessment to maintain suspense by keeping the focus on the island turned out to be in accord with his director, and while it's not "The Day of the Triffids" it remains a better film than its camp reputation, much of it brought on by the wooden presence of an unglamorous Mamie Van Doren, who owed Corman one more picture on her contract, Anthony Eisley previously introduced in Corman's "The Wasp Woman" in 1959.
Operation Eichmann (1961)
Fully committed performance from Werner Klemperer
1961's "Operation Eichmann" served as an Allied Artists quickie to cash in on the upcoming trial of Adolf Eichmann (beating Stanley Kramer's big budget "Judgment at Nuremberg" to theaters by 9 months), who was the man in charge of the 'Jewish problem' that eventually led to over 6 million Jews being exterminated at Auschwitz, captured in Argentina in May 1960 (Dr. Josef Mengele was also targeted but proved more elusive). Perhaps his still being fairly unknown accounted for the screenplay's lack of real factual information, the first half most effective in showing Eichmann's ruthless efficiency in conducting mass murder while also punishing prisoners and bribed officials who cause dissention in the ranks. The second half falls down in its lackluster pursuit of the exiled Nazi on the run, moving from Germany to Madrid, Kuwait, and finally Argentina, his own comrades only too eager to be rid of him one way or another. The narrator is a former Auschwitz prisoner who remains a distant outline to the audience, never a fleshed out character they can identify with, unable to compete with Werner Klemperer's dynamic Eichmann, a fully committed performance that produces the surely unintended, lopsided effect of rooting for a brilliant tactician who eluded capture for 15 years (convicted and hanged for his crimes in June 1962). Joining Klemperer in the Nazi ranks is John Banner, both future veterans of HOGAN'S HEROES, a comic depiction of the war that could only have been possible during a decade climaxed by Mel Brooks and his "Springtime for Hitler" number in 1968's "The Producers." The director was outdoor action specialist R.G. Springsteen, whose only qualification for this touchy subject had to be shooting fast on the cheapest sets to strike while the iron was hot. Making his film debut in the unbilled part of Klaus is Eric Braeden, whose best known movie roles in "Colossus: The Forbin Project" and "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" preceded his longtime tenure on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, which commenced in 1980.
Station Six Sahara (1963)
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater only in 1970
1962's "Station Six Sahara" ("Endstation 13 Sahara") a German-British coproduction with a cast to reflect both nations, plus top billed sex symbol Carroll Baker from the 1956 "Baby Doll" in the erotically charged central role. Peter Van Eyck is the imperious supervisor of an oil station located 200 miles from civilization deep in the Sahara (filming on location in Libya), the male workers signing on for a claustrophobic 5 year term, played by Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Mario Adorf, and newly arrived Hansjorg Felmy. Petty animosity about coffee, letters, or poker come to a halt when a car speeds out of the darkness to crash on their property, the unscathed passenger a blonde bombshell (Baker), the injured driver her jealous ex-husband (Biff McGuire). Her arrival comes at the midway point, yet the predictable nature of events doesn't change, right up to the anticlimactic ending, the love starved men a fairly unlikable bunch all clamoring to earn some down time alone with Carroll, a strong willed temptress never even breaking a sweat. Most surprising are the considerable screenwriting credentials of Bryan Forbes and Brian Clemens, the director Seth Holt a promising talent coming off Hammer's Hitchcock-inspired Christopher Lee classic "Taste of Fear." Martin Scorsese is a longtime admirer of this title, but minus the promised nude scenes it must have seemed even longer than 99 minutes.
Worthy special effects in need of a more concise script
1969's "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" was an ambitious feature project from television producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, creators of such puppet series as SUPERCAR, STINGRAY, and THUNDERBIRDS (and later UFO and SPACE: 1999). Its original British title "Doppelganger" rather gives the game away so far as a certain twist during the picture's second half, but with an impressive budget and cast, plus the set design and expected technical wizardry it's still fascinating in a purely visual sense. Some may see this as a descendant of George Pal's "Destination Moon" or Richard Carlson's "Riders to the Stars" in its depiction of astronaut training, on the cusp of the actual lunar landing in July 1969, Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a definite influence. EUROSEC (European Space Exploration Council) leader Jason Ross (Patrick Wymark) discovers a mysterious planet thus far hidden from view because it lies directly on the opposite side of the sun and orbits at the same rate of speed as the earth. The threat of a saboteur (Herbert Lom) hastens plans to finance an expedition with a team consisting of Col. Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) and physicist John Kane (Ian Hendry), only moving ahead with the backing of the United States. Liftoff is finally achieved at the 43 minute mark, and like Apollo 11 breaks off in sections until only the two man capsule attempts to land on the planet's surface, crashing in flames that prove fatal for Kane, who is still able to pluck Ross from his seat in the wreckage. Over an hour into the picture we encounter the curious twist, that Ross apparently finds himself right back on Earth after three weeks in space when the round trip voyage was supposed to last six weeks; even stranger, all labels, books, everything printed out can only be read in front of a mirror, even time moves backward as it gradually dawns on Ross that this is not the world he came from but the intended planet that was targeted all along. Had the story not taken so long to literally get off the ground, or the anticlimax been such a letdown it might have qualified as one of the few British classics of science fiction, excellent special effects in service of a disjointed script that casually touches on things like sabotage or infidelity then drops the subject.
Cyborg 2087 (1966)
Not as bad as expected, boosted by Michael Rennie's presence
Low budget releases from United Pictures Corporation always give off the appearance of a garish TV movie, from directors Franklin Adreon or Francis D. Lyon. It was a genuine casting coup to have Michael Rennie on hand for 1966's "Cyborg 2087" to play cyborg Garth A7 from the year 2087, sent back in time to modern day 1966 for a secret mission that can alter the future for the better. Our only clue to his condition as half man/half machine (the full term is 'cybernetic organism') is a plate on his chest from which a ruby shaped homing device must be removed to prevent two 'tracer' assassins from the totalitarian future from tracking him. Karen Steele and Warren Stevens are the two scientists who come to his aid, Eduard Franz the target of all this trouble, about to present a perfected form of radio telepathy that will ensure socialist rule in the 21st century, so Garth must convince him not to do so in the short amount of time before the demonstration. Another Arthur C. Pierce script with good ideas later put to more impressive use in Arnold Schwarzenegger's TERMINATOR films, Wendell Corey looking as zonked as he did in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet,' sadly stuck with all the most groan-worthy lines as the exasperated sheriff. Only 15 years since Klaatu in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Rennie obviously trades on his previous role but with little to do but keep running there's almost nothing he can add, the climactic fistfight proving a real letdown for those expecting sci fi thrills.
It's cheap and misleadingly titled but does present some good ideas
1965's "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" formed a double bill with "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters," a last gasp theatrical revival for Jack Broder's Realart Pictures, sitting on the shelf for over a year prior to release, then quickly sold to television after a lukewarm box office response. Producer George Edwards was involved in both, coming off double duty for director Curtis Harrington on "Queen of Blood" and "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet," hardly venturing far with this similarly titled item announced as "Prehistoric Planet Women," screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce at the helm to direct his own script for the only time in his sci fi career. The 11 day shooting schedule finished in June 1965, its threadbare sets and pitiful effects allowing very little in the way of acting from a cast comprised of veterans like John Agar, Wendell Corey, Keith Larsen, and Glenn Langan, with up and comers like Robert Ito (KUNG FU, QUINCY), Stuart Margolin (THE ROCKFORD FILES), Adam Roarke (Ray Milland's "Frogs"), and Paul Hampton (David Cronenberg's "Shivers"). Worst of all is the misleading title and ad campaign, promising girl fights and giant creatures, offering one rather civilized cave man briefly battling a few savage primitives, a giant lizard that gets roasted in five seconds, and a ludicrous puppet tarantula that lunches on Stuart Margolin's back. The opening credits unspool to the theme from "Creature from the Black Lagoon," Wendell Corey top billed as Admiral King, returning to Earth with two fellow ships trailing behind, forced to locate the one that has crashlanded on the aforementioned planet called Solarius, where the last survivor is a female Centaurian (most of whom are played by Asians) who gives birth to Robert Ito's Tang, the titular prehistoric caveman grown to full adulthood by the time King's Cosmos arrives at the speed of light (space time continuum is something that STAR TREK would pick up on). Various crew members go out for one reason or another, beautiful Irene Tsu as Centaurian Linda naturally enjoying a nude swim before being menaced by an ordinary boa constrictor, rescued from near drowning by the alert Tang. Love at first sight is sadly unavoidable in a 90 minute feature, lesser characters biting the dust yet comic relief Paul Gilbert criminally surviving to improvise much of his unfunny schtick. Director Arthur C. Pierce isn't able to overcome the crippling budget with any visual interest but his script does deliver a few ideas that most cheap sci fi items don't bother to examine, just try to forget that twist during the last 20 seconds, perhaps the funniest gag of all.
The Bubble (1966)
Longtime nemesis for infuriated TV viewers
1966's "The Bubble" became the first American feature to be shot in 3-D (called Space Vision) since Universal's 1955 "Revenge of the Creature," from the same writer-director who made the very first 3-D feature "Bwana Devil" in 1952, Arch Oboler, veteran radio producer and creator of the chilling LIGHTS OUT (Canada did come out with "The Mask" in 1961). Unfortunately, suspense is definitely lacking in this misfire, a young couple and their aircraft pilot forced to set down in a curious land of discarded movie sets filled with people who behave like mindless robots, like the cab driver whose only line is repeated ad nauseam: "cab mister?" How the couple's baby can be born in an understaffed hospital of such automatons is beyond comprehension, and even worse, our three protagonists barely bat an eye at the strangeness around them. Eventually it dawns on these dimwits that this community is surrounded by a transparent bubble that allows no escape, and since they flew in from the sky they surmise that the dome was temporarily uncovered. Speculation is that the people are caged animals in some sort of extraterrestrial zoo where experimental specimens can be plucked away from some higher power. Bewildered viewers at the time found the unexplained circumstances infuriating, particularly in light of the incredibly misleading new moniker "Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth" ("The Bubble" was, if anything, painfully accurate), no relation to Bill Rebane's 1972 cheesefest "Invasion from Inner Earth." No characters to identify with, no one behaving with any semblance of common sense, a multitude of drab props never letting the audience know that nothing is real, well it ain't "Strawberry Fields Forever," which at least packs plenty of drama into four minutes of listening pleasure over this overlong exercise in TV movie-style tedium (Oboler's plans for further 3-D endeavors wisely dissipated after this miserable failure).
Basil Rathbone top billed for minimal effort
On the heels of Curtis Harrington's "Queen of Blood" comes "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet," pretty much a straight up dubbing of the 1962 Soviet epic "Planeta Bur" (Planet of Storms) with minimal new scenes of top billed Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue leaving little impression (shooting title "The Clouds of Venus"). Faith is confined to the same set that was used for Judi Meredith's spaceship communications board, while Rathbone, on screen for less than 3 minutes as Prof. Hartman, remains on the same set wearing the same lab coat (all new footage was completed in April 1965). Roger Corman had purchased the Russian title but found no takers at AIP due to the all male cast of cosmonauts, Harrington signing off his work as 'John Sebastian,' dismissing it out of hand despite doing a good job of matching dialogue. Instead of Mars this offers an exploration of Venus, another ship's crew lost on the surface while a rescue team follows, encountering carnivorous plants with tentacles, a few dinosaurs, a sea of molten lava, and aquatic creatures that look no different from the ones back on Earth. It comes off better than Peter Bogdanovich's later use of the material, "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women," but neither was good enough to receive theatrical release (only "Queen of Blood" earned that distinction).
Queen of Blood (1966)
Improves on the upbeat Soviet version with alien femme fatale
1965's "Queen of Blood" received theatrical release on a March 1966 AIP double bill with "Blood Bath," both patchwork efforts instigated by Roger Corman with production chores shared with Stephanie Rothman. Writer-director Curtis Harrington enjoyed cult success with 1961's "Night Tide" but with a decided lack of funding bit the bullet to accept an offer from Corman to utilize footage from several Soviet science fiction epics, "Planeta Bur" (Planet of Storms), "Nebo Novyot" (The Sky is Calling), and primarily "Mechte Navstrechu" (A Dream Come True), essentially telling the same story of a distress signal from Mars that requires rescue by an earth ship. Harrington formed Cinema West Productions with George Edwards to bring in two features, first "Queen," then a second titled "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet," hiring Basil Rathbone for two days work at $3000 to complete all his scenes wearing the same lab coat. Top billing went to John Saxon, with NIGHT TIDE's Dennis Hopper confirming that production wrapped in April 1965 after only 8 days, Harrington's inventive script offering a far more complex plotline than in the Russian film, but still lacking any dramatic heft during all the stock footage scenes that take up nearly the entire first half (several working titles were bandied about, such as "Planet of Vampires, Planet of Terror," "Flight to a Far Planet," and "The Green Woman"). The setting is 1990, and Rathbone's Dr. Farraday still exults about mankind's first landing on the moon in 1970 (only a year off the actual landing!), answering a distress call for a rescue team to Mars, where the ambassador of a highly civilized race has crashlanded. Florence Marly, a close personal friend of director Harrington, plays the green-skinned alien femme fatale, definitely fatal to men and taking an instant dislike to female astronaut Judi Meredith. The return trip to Earth results in tragedy, as Hopper's Paul Grant is attacked by the alien, who gorges herself on his blood direct from a vein in his wrist, then Robert Boon's Commander lacks the will to defy her hypnotic power, dropping his gun to the floor as a second victim perishes in deep space (1979's "Alien" must have borrowed a few pointers about mixing horror with science fiction). Saxon's Allen Brenner is helpless to become a third meal until his girl Judi intervenes and saves his life, but there are worse things in store as they prepare to land with the corpse of the alien still aboard to Dr. Farraday's delight. "Voyage" only went out through AIP-TV, George Edwards going on to "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters," Ray Milland's "Frogs," and further collaborations with Harrington: "Games," "How Awful About Allen," "What's the Matter with Helen?", "The Killing Kind," and Piper Laurie's "Ruby."
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1975
Two years after the premiere of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" director Robert Aldrich and star Bette Davis were at it again in 1964's "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte," first conceived as "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" (Henry Farrell again supplied the source material, a short story called "Hush Now, Sweet Charlotte"). Davis again plays the lead, but this time costar Joan Crawford yielded to the pressure and was fired after holding up production, her replacement Olivia de Havilland cast against type, heading up a more star studded supporting cast but set far from Hollywood in the Louisiana bayous. The only other actor returning from "Baby Jane" is the mountainous Victor Buono, now cast as Big Sam Hollis, this picture's patriarch casting an equally long shadow over his offspring, beloved Charlotte his only child and not one to defy his edicts. A very strong opening finds Big Sam receiving a reluctant visitor to 1927 Hollisport, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), shortly after wife Jewel Mayhew blows the whistle on her husband's impending elopement with Charlotte, who cherishes a musical box featuring the love song he wrote especially for her. Unfortunately, when he sang "I'll love you till I die," he had no way of knowing that it would only be a matter of hours after this clandestine meeting, making up a story to end their relationship before a meat cleaver comes down on his wrist in full view of the camera, the blade wielded again and again in such bloody fashion that neither his head nor hands were ever found. The obvious culprit is Charlotte herself, an entire ballroom of stunned guests all witnesses to her blood-stained party gown, quietly led away by her father, who successfully prevents prosecution due to powerful political connections and a lack of evidence. Even the passage of 37 years hasn't dimmed Charlotte's love for the murdered Mayhew (Big Sam died only one year later), still coveting his music box and hopeful that the arrival of cousin Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) will clear out the workers ready to tear down the plantation to continue building a road. The only locals who look after her are Dr. Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten) and devoted housekeeper Vilma Carruthers (Agnes Moorehead), Charlotte remaining cooped up in her father's house all these years to live off of his vast wealth and to protect his legacy in the belief that he committed the murder (Dave Willock, Baby Jane's larger than life father, is here granted a cameo as a cab driver). The long suffering Jewel Mayhew is played by another beloved Hollywood femme fatale, Mary Astor (in her final role), sharing her last scene with Cecil Kellaway as an insurance investigator who wonders why she never tried to cash in the policy left by John, William Campbell as a smarmy reporter who enjoys every gory detail of the juicy scandal. Bruce Dern's infamous murder proved more graphic than anything Alfred Hitchcock devised for "Psycho" (the blade never touches the victim's body in the shower, quick cuts were the answer), another step forward in screen mayhem that would finally erupt by the early 1980s.
Shock Corridor (1963)
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater only in 1970
Samuel Fuller's 1963 "Shock Corridor" first boasted shooting titles such as "The Long Corridor" and "Straitjacket," such a topical success for Allied Artists that Fox decided to try their hand at a similar item, "Shock Treatment," starring Lauren Bacall and Roddy McDowall. Peter Breck (THE BIG VALLEY) stars as newshound Johnny Barrett, training for an entire year to ensure a spot inside an asylum where an unsolved murder took place, convinced that a Pulitzer will be his if he cracks the case. Convincing his stripper girlfriend (Constance Towers) to pose as his accusing sister he succeeds only too well, and manages to speak to each of the three patients who proved to be witnesses to the crime: James Best believes he's still fighting the Civil War, Hari Rhodes is the black man so overwhelmed by racial prejudice that he acts like a Ku Klux Klan member, and Gene Evans ("The Steel Helmet") plays the nuclear scientist so traumatized by the power he has unleashed that his mind has reverted to that of a 6 year old. Hammer beauty Marie Devereux ("The Brides of Dracula") features in the over the top sequence in which Barrett finds himself at the mercy of a room full of nymphos, she's the one singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as the other inmates swarm all over the helpless male.
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater only in 1969
1964's "The Naked Kiss" was conceived by director Samuel Fuller as "The Iron Kiss" but remained in development until after his previous success "Shock Corridor." The stunning Constance Towers served as leading lady in both features, here startling the viewer right off the bat as the prostitute Kelly, beating her repugnant pimp senseless to retrieve $75 owed to her, earning a decree of acid in the face for the next man who finds her. Two years of working small towns and growing back her blonde locks finds her in Grantville, where Anthony Eisley's Griff is a stern police chief who steers her toward a brothel that serves 'bon bons.' Instead, the maternal instinct leads Kelly in a far more productive direction, serving as nurses' aide in a ward for handicapped children, her tough yet tender entreaties enabling them to build up their strength as well as their character. Michael Dante plays Grant, grandson of the town's founder, whose wealth and poetic nature captivate Kelly toward wedded bliss, only to be shattered when she discovers him in the process of molesting a 6 year old girl. The child runs out before the dazed Kelly listens to Grant make excuses about his behavior in the mistaken belief that she too is 'abnormal,' after which he's struck down by a telephone receiver. Kelly admits all she knows about the incident but Griff doesn't believe the story about the child, and several unsavory characters emerge out of the woodwork to try to soil her hard earned reputation. It was a rare thing for a filmmaker to tackle such touchy subjects all at once, but Fuller was just the man up to the challenge. ably presenting Kelly as a living breathing woman who only wants to move on from her past and live the dream that she deserves. Anthony Eisley's only real movie leads were in low budget efforts like "Lightning Bolt," "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters," and Al Adamson's "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," while the role of Buff is played by Hammer starlet Marie Devereux from "The Stranglers of Bombay" and "The Brides of Dracula" (she was one of the attacking nymphos in "Shock Corridor," singing "Row. Row, Row Your Boat").
Mad Monster Party? (1967)
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater only in 1971
1966's "Mad Monster Party?" might not offer much to see for Boris Karloff devotees (mostly screened for Halloween), the sole full length theatrical feature from Videocraft's Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, responsible for holiday specials like RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN, and YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS. Their 'Animagic' stop motion process utilized 8-inch puppets constructed with ball joints, Karloff supplying the voice of Baron Boris von Frankenstein, leader of the 'Worldwide Organization of Monsters,' inviting all the classic Universal monsters together (plus Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) to the Isle of Evil to demonstrate his greatest explosive creation. Dracula neither resembles nor sounds like Bela Lugosi (more like The Count on SESAME STREET), Werewolf has a tail that Lon Chaney never had to endure, the original Chaney's Hunchback a not so dead ringer, The Mummy often unraveling, an overweight and always visible Invisible Man (resembling Sidney Greenstreet), The Creature from the Black Lagoon a recent addition from the previous decade. Stirring the pot is Yetch, a pretty good Peter Lorre takeoff, the envious and well endowed Francesca, and even Phyllis Diller playing herself as The Monster's Mate, right down to calling him 'Fang' as she did in her night club act (The Monster does resemble 'Uncle Boris' in the shape of his head). The Baron wishes to retire and have his allergy-ridden nephew Felix Flankin take his place (a Jimmy Stewart impression), Francesca enlisting Dracula's inept assistance in disposing of the sneezing, near-sighted nuisance. A certain giant gorilla makes a climactic appearance (only referred to by Boris as 'It'), Allen Swift provides every male vocal except Karloff's, singer Gale Garnett ("We'll Sing in the Sunshine") does Francesca, the script supplying its share of groaners courtesy MAD Magazine's Harvey Kurtzman, for a box office flop that only slipped out after nearly three years on the shelf. Too many musical numbers stop the picture cold, making its 94 minutes crawl by like molasses, but as an affectionate tribute to the Universal canon with Karloff aboard (doing the number "One Step Ahead") one could do a lot worse, its influence most keenly felt by director Tim Burton.