25. SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE*: Sleep deprived and still alive… for now. (*Does not have to be set in Seattle)
Hey all — just got back from Seattle, then a week quarantine from Becca who got COVID-19, which is pretty much like me being normal because all I did was sit in my basement and write about movies and here I am, still writing about movies.
Produced by Aaron Spelling and Douglas S. Cramer, Dark Mansions had the elevator speech of “kind of like Dynasty if it were Dark Shadows,” which is to say, it’s Dark Shadows. It was also not picked up for a series and back in the wonderful days of 1986, if that didn’t happen, we got the burn off TV movie and would say, “Man, I wish that was a series.” But even if it was, it would have lasted ten episodes and a bunch would have only played in Europe and I’d still be writing this article, just slightly different.
That said — Joan Fontaine as reclusive matriarch Margaret Drake! Linda Purl from Visiting Hours! Melissa Sue Anderson fromLittle House on the Prarie (and the voice of Snowbird from Alpha Flight on the X-Men cartoon and yes, that kind of information is inside my brain)! Lois Chiles, who is both Holly Goodhead and the thanks for the ride lady from Creepshow 2! Nicollette Sheridan! Dan O’Herilhy! Grant Aleksander (Phillip from Guiding Light)! Raymond St. Jacques (the street preacher from They Live)! Paul Shenar (Dream Lover, Scarface)! And a ghost haunting all of them!
Director Jerry London also did Killdozer, so there’s that. The show was written by Anthony Lawrence (who speaking of shows that died before their time also created The Phoenix), his wife Nancy and Robert McCullough, who wrote for Falcon Crest and that helped with this I guess.
A lot gets set up. Nothing gets resolved. And that’s how it goes for a pilot. Just think, in another reality, I’m posting the YouTube link for each episode and not just this one and done.
DAY 25 — SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE*: Sleep deprived and still alive . . . for now. (*Does not have to be set in Seattle . . . so Belgium, works!)
Just so you know what you’re getting into with this very odd, badly acted and poorly scripted tale about a deranged (our “sleep deprived” lad) American brigadier general (our auteur, Burr Jerger) living in Belgium as he awaits trial for his atrocities committed in Vietnam: General Massacre was deemed “unacceptable” by the American Humane Association for “animals killed during filming” (a cow and a couple of ducks), upon its release in 1976 on U.S. shores. The backlash so damaging to the film, Burr Jerger, the film’s director, writer, producer, and lead actor, sued the U.S. government for “conspiracy” against this film, which he described as a “cinematic protest against war.”
Okay. Well enough, Burr. But you still harmed, maimed and killed animals to make your anti-war statement. And those “auteur” excuses didn’t fly with Ruggero Deodato butchering squirrel monkeys and river turtles to make his “statement” film, either.
Anyway, when Wilbur “Burr” Jerger filed suit in 1975 in the Los Angeles federal courts, he claimed the FBI and CIA maintained an illegal dossier on him for his “political activities.” Jerger also alleged in the lawsuit, after a conspiracy born out of those files, caused the release of General Massacre to be irreparably damaged and he lost $100,000.
Who is this Burr Jerger?
Well, the West German auteur also resides in those weird, hazy frames of celluloid resided by Peter Carpenter: a vanity auteur that went all out on his masterpiece, with Jerger managing one quadruple-threat to Carpenter’s two of Blood Mania and Point of Terror. And both vanished from the business after four films when their master works, failed. And, like Carpenter, Jerger passed through the Russ Meyer turnstiles. But unlike Carpenter, Burr also passed through Jean Rollin’s turnstiles. (For another lost soul of the celluloid turnstiles, check out our overview of Gene O’Shane’s career in our review of The Velvet Vampire.)
Jerger actually stuck around for more than four films as an actor: he made five: he appeared in Captain Sindbad (1963; a West German film edited into Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers), No Survivors, Please (1964; a black and white alien invasion tale), and an uncredited appearance (thus the four-to-five snafu) in Fanny Hill (1964) for Russ Meyer. Jerger made his final acting bow in Jean Rollin’s The Demoniacs (1974; a sexploitation, haunted island/pirate romp).
Jerger initially came to Europe in 1961 as a free-lance-reporter for Show Business Illustrate, Ebony and Globe Photos. That led to his making his cinematography and directing bones as the set photographer on Escape from East Berlin (1962), as well as working as a production assistant on A Cold Wind in August (1961), and as an assistant director on the French-made films Madame Sans-Gene (1961) by Christian Jague, and Cartouche (1962) by Philippe De Broca.
However, while Burr worked on all of those films in East Germany and France, he was actually born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Married to Lieva Lone, his co-star in The Demoniacs, he died on May 12, 1982. It was after his failures in film, that he relocated from Belgium, to Paris, and back to the United States, working as he began: a freelance writer and photographer. He would go on to write an (unnecessary) novel based on General Massacre, as well as The Saga of April 6th, and a storybook, Four Letter Words.
“Politics are the extension of war.” “Civilians are as much the enemy as men in uniform.” — the ravings of a warmonger
We learn of those ravings via a non-linear, flashback story as our U.S. WW II and Korean War veteran awaits his trial for the atrocities he committed in Vietnam. But what’s his excuse for killing his wife (whom he met-raped during a Nazi Germany tank raid) for cheating on him (he chases her into the forest around his estate and shoots her)? And killing his daughter — whom he has the incestual hots for — when he catches her with his hospital orderly?
In between, our General goes nuts on his Antwerp estate, where he “commands” his troops and straps on his weapons and hunkers down in the woods — woods now haunted by his wife on ghostly horseback. Oh, and our General has “recruited” his old Vietnam lackey, Corporal Tsai, to film his “war games,” his hateful and racist insights on the world, and his animal murders . . . which are graphic, ugly, and down right cruel as the camera lingers as the life leaves the cow. Then, to make matters worse: there’s the close up of the duck’s eyes as its life leaves the body.
Oh, yes, for there is a “statement” in the murder of cows and ducks . . . but the proceedings are just so clumsy across all of the inept disciplines that Burr Jerger kept for himself — on top of the art house pretensions deploying every sweeping and zooming camera trick in the book known to cinematography — as we flash to and fro from 1945 Nazi Germany to our fair General’s freakout in the Antwerp wood, the “anti-war” message Jerger intended, is lost.
Yes, Burr. War is awful. But your movie, even more so. And animals died for it. Certainly not one of the proudest moments of my little ol’ VHS home library.
There’s no freebie streams or trailers to share, but you can get DVDs from DVD Planet, if you must.
24. 2 CLOSE 4 COMFORT: A main character suffers from claustrophobia.
Outside of the expected films like Psycho and Rear Window, Hitchcock has been a blindspot to me, despite my obsession with the krimini and giallo films that owe a debt to his work. Let’s change that!
Based on the 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, this movie was adapted by Hume Cronyn — yes, the actor and husband of Jessica Tandy — with a screenplay by Arthur Laurents.
After Lifeboat, this is the second in a series of Hitchcock’s films that take place in limited settings. Plus, it takes place in real time and appears to be a series of single takes that are covered by some really clever editing by William Ziegler (who also worked on Strangers on a Train and Spellbound for Hitchcock).
Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) want to prove their intelligence by staging the perfect murder. And to do so, they don’t just theoretically discuss it. No, instead, they strangle their old classmate David Kentley (Dick Hogan), hide his body in their apartment and then invite their friends over for a dinner party.
This whole scheme came from discussions they had back in college with their housemaster Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) about Nietzsche’s Übermensch and De Quincey’s theory that murder is a way of showing one’s superiority over others. Yes, the same opium-loving De Quincey whose writing inspired Suspiria, Inferno and Mother of Tears. So he’s a guest to take part in their artwork, as it were, as are several former classmates, friends and even the dead man’s father.
The claustrophobia of this movie comes from not only the killers being unable to deal with the impact of their crime — it’s one thing to calmly discuss a murder in the classroom and its another to actually get your hands dirty — as well as the fact that there’s a dead body in a trunk the entire time that people are making merry.
If you’re looking for a movie that pushes the limits of what could be done at the time, Rope is it. That’s totally not claustrophobic, as Hitchcock was pushing for something that hadn’t been done on film before. The long unbroken shots — which frustrated Stewart, who claimed that the experiment was worth taking but didn’t work — were unlike anything in standard moviemaking at the time. And it led to really technical things needing to happen, as the entire set was on rollers and could silently be moved as parts come in and out of the scene. What you aren’t seeing is a huge crew that were constantly moving heavy furniture and the huge Technicolor camera so as they wouldn’t be seen on camera, as well as multiple sound and camera people so that everything could remain in constant motion.
Keep that in mind as you watch the acting in this movie, as there was also a series of cues that the talent had to follow as well as actually act in the movie. Of course, this also led to plenty of issues on set, as there was an incident when the camera dolly ran over and broke a cameraman’s foot. In order to keep filming, he was gagged and dragged off the set. That take is in the movie.
Beyond that, this is shot on a stage with a gigantic cyclorama as the background — the largest one ever made — which had models of the New York skyline, as well as working chimneys and lights, a sunset that was artificially created as the movie’s runtime moves along and even spun glass clouds that could change position and shape.
Hitchcock even shot a prequel to the film in the trailer, showing the world outside the apartment, showing that he implicitly understood how to sell one of his movies by telling the audience that this would be the last time that they’d see David Kentley alive.
This movie was pretty controversial at the time, as the implied relationship between the leads led it to be banned in some cities. Keep in mind that this movie is less than a century old when you complain out how people are so sensitive. This is where we’ve come from and it wasn’t all that long ago.
This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights were bought back by Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia. The other four lost films were Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry and Vertigo. They were finally re-released in theaters in 1984 after thirty-five years of not being seen. Again, we live in a different world where everything is available; it was not always this way.
DAY24 — 2 CLOSE 4 COMFORT: A main character suffers from claustrophobia(and was Clint Eastwood “too close for comfort” in that editing suite with Jack Ging?).
If only there was an olive-skinned Italian beauty adorned in a graveyard-appropriate mini dress and heels escaping a phalanx of zombie arms in an errant set piece from Paul Naschy’s Horror Rises from the Tomb and Panic Beats.
Well, actually . . . as the plot unfolds, our faux-Naschy Giallo babe, here, is British-American bombshell TV actress (from the late ’50s to the late ’80s) Antoinette Bower (Superbeast, Blood Song, Prom Night, Time Walker), so, it’s not a total loss. Well, yes it is: For as the beauty of Annie blinds us, instead, we get a “Hagsploitation” romp with a down-and-out Edith Atwater (our “Day 24” shut-in, here) — as our “screaming Amanda.” And, come to think of it, even though she was still stunning, the way Hollyweird objectifies women, even at youthful 39, our divine Ms. Bower — who never ends up in a red dress and heels nor is on the run — is on the cosine of appropriation of hagsploition.
So, goodbye pseudo Paul Naschy Giallo ripoff. Hello, psychobiddy riot.
Yes, the old hag in this exploiter, Edith Atwater, you know best from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi’s The Body Snatcher (1945), which was her third feature film; she also appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford (herself a “hag” actress with the likes of Berserk! and Trog), then fell into a lot of TV work for the remainder of her career into the mid-’80s to pay the bills.
Atwater was just one of the many, ’40s startlets finding work in the hagploitation, aka psychobiddy, sub-genre where old, crusty women either terrorize “sinning” young women or simply are jealous of their youth, so they “gaslight” them into insanity (and sometimes string ’em up in cellars or dungeons or attics). In line behind Joan Crawford was Tallulah Bankhead with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), studio starlet Veronica Lake, who took her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Wanda Hendrix (thumpy-whumpy goes my heart) closing out her career at the age of 44 with the Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), and ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain (skyrockets . . . rainbows . . . unicorns) attempted an early ’70s comeback with The Night God Screamed (1971). And let’s not forget Agnes Moorehead in Dear Dead Delilah (1972). Oh, toss Cult of the Damned, the aka’d “horror version” of Angel, Angel Down We Go (Let’s rock ‘n’ roll, Jen, baby!) that starred 1944 “Best Actress” Oscar Winner Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette) on the hag stacks.
The plot of Die Sister, Die! concerns the greed of Edward (Jack Ging; our “Clint” connection): he tires of the “allowance” granted him by his sister Amanda (Edith Atwater) as he becomes impatient for her death and his inheritance. To hasten her demise, or at least stop her suicides (twice in one year) from being thwarted, Edward hires Esther Harper (Antoinette Bower), an employment-desperate, discredited ex-nurse to watch over her. The $25,000 deal: When Amanda tries for her third suicide attempt, let her succeed — if a heart attack isn’t induced, first. To Edward’s dismay, Esther and Amanda take a shine to one another; now Esther is less than enthusiastic about killing the old woman (e.g., induce a heart attack) — instead becoming more curious about the secrets held in the house, especially as to the whereabouts of a mysterious third sibling, Nell. (Two shut-ins! Where’s my “bonus points,” Scarecrow Video folks?) Nell, of course, either took the money and ran off to Europe, or Amanda killed her, or Nell killed pop, and so on, etc.
So, yeah, sorry. No zombies. Just a lot of Henry James-screw turning mixed with some Hitchcockian-hallucinations amid the twisted Edward and Esther romance.
Yes, this was, in fact, a Hitchcockian “passion project” by producer and director Randall Hood, who got his start working with the horror maestro on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in the mid-’60s. His other two films: The children’s film The Two Little Bears (1961), which starred Eddie Albert, later of Green Acres TV fame . . . and vaudevillian slapsticker Soupy Sales, if that tells you anything. Then something called The Touching and the Not Touching (1965), which sounds like a soft-porn-cum-sexploitation flick . . . only it stars Robert Walker, Jr. (Charlie X from Star Trek: TOS) with Asian actors — never heard of it in all my UHF or VHS years.
As you can see by the dual years in our review’s title, Die Sister, Die! was a beleaguered production. While its pseudo-Gothic proceedings look like it was shot sometime in the Hammer-Edgar Allan Poe-inspired ’60s, it was actually shot in 1972. Randall Hood ran into production problems and the completed, but unedited film, languished on the shelf. Then, on August 16, 1976, at the age 48, Hood, died of cancer.
In steps the film’s star, Jack Ging.
Now, for your ’80s TV kiddies, you’ll remember Jack Ging in his most famous role as the recurring General Harlan “Bull” Fulbright on NBC-TV’s The A-Team. If you’re a B&S About Movies frequent visitor, you know he got his start in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959). Then there’s you spaghetti western fans who know Ging for his working alongside his longtime pal, Clint Eastwood, in Hang ‘Em High (1968) and High Plains Drifter (1973). Jing also starred in Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971), as well as Sssssss (1973), and the TV air disaster romps Terror in the Sky (1971) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974).
As you can see by the credits — of which we barely scratched the surface — Jack Ging was never the “star” or leading man, but he was always a solid, stock support player. Which is why completing Die, Sister Die! was so important to him: it was his lone, leading man role where his name led on the marquee.
So, back to Jack Ging’s longtime friendship with Clint Eastwood: Opinions vary, but it is believed that, as a favor to his friend, Clint ghost-edited the film. Randall Hood’s longtime friend, the 206-plus credited composer Hugo Friedhoffer (Sergeant York and Casablanca are two of them), who retired after working on Airport (1970), signed on to score the film as a favor to Hood. So distraught by the death, Friedhoffer never scored another film.
Also supporting in this Gothic take on Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) — which made the UHF-TV ’80s rounds as The Companion — is Kent Smith, who goes all the way back to the classic, Cat People (1942), and Robert Emhardt, who I’ll always remember in my pop’s cherished 3:10 to Yuma (1957). Thanks to the cast — especially the effectively sinister Jack Ging — this somewhat dry, TV movie-paced mystery thriller is worth a watch. Freidhoffer’s all-original score is, of course, excellent.
Eastwood assist or not, the film is also expertly edited, but no editor is without a solid cinematographer providing the frames. To that end, Michael Lonzo, a respected camera man who has provided commentary tracks and supplements to DVD reissues of classic films, such as Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), delivers a well-lit, well-shot film. So bravo to Jack Ging for seeing it through, six years after the fact. Die Sister, Die! is a well-made, solidly acted, good watch of a film filled with my own, drive-in undercard and UHF-TV memories.
Die Sister, Die! also has its fans, one of which is the prolific Dustin Ferguson (110-plus films strong since 2007, with eight films in various states of production) who completed a 2013 (cheesier, over the top) remake starring Brinke Stevens in the gaslighted, Edith Atwater role.
23. DEPT. OF INDUSTRY & LABOR: A story based on doing a job. Speaking of jobs, yours ain’t finished yet, 8 days to go!
I used to worry that I would run out of berserk Italian movies, especially when the 1990s give way to the 2000s but that shows what I know, because The Mummy Theme Park — the jobs in this movie would be theme park owner, photographer and model in case you wonder — is one of the most baffling, weird, wonderful and just plain strange movies that I’ve seen.
Alvaro Passeri has only directed five movies*, including Plankton, Flight to Hell, The Golden Grain and Psychovision. His animation skills — he worked on Cinema Paradiso, The Shark Hunter, The Wild Beasts, Atlantis Interceptorsand more — really come in handy here because this is a movie that sees its low budget and says, “We can do more.”
An earthquake reveals the underground City of the Dead in Egypt and Sheik El Sahid get the somewhat bright and probably more deranged idea to take all of the mummies and fit them with animatronics and turn them into a Jurassic Park in the sands. He wants it to be a big deal, so he calls over photographer Daniel Flynn (Adam O’Neil) and his co-worker Julie (Holly Laningham) to take photos of the place, which as far as I can tell is one room with mirrors and miniatures and all manner of in-camera and in-post special effects working as hard as they can and then some to make this movie look bigger than it is while also looking cheap while also appearing to be one of the most charming movies I’ve ever seen. It’s neon, it’s glitter, it’s robot mummies, it’s insane.
And yet, this isn’t a movie made goofy on purpose. It’s deliriously sure of itself and yet unaware of what it is at the same time and that’s the combination that I love more than any other when it comes to weird movies.
Can the flash of a camera bring mummies back to life? Are women’s breasts the only thing that can stop them? Will heads get torn off? Will someone puke up everything inside them? Can a chase scene go on forever? Will there be long scenes of fashion that pad the running time? Will there be a model train that goes through a sphinx? Is there also an evil sorceress? Will the sheik’s harem fight against one another and will one of them also be a hologram? Will there be a souvenir shop that has pharaoh heads that spit out beer?
I mean, this is the kind of movie where a dude gets his head sliced in half and the results look like those cutaway pages in encyclopedias we all used to obsess over. And for that reason and so many others, this is perfect. Man, I’m still processing this movie. I keep reading reviews laughing about how cheap this movie looks and we should be so lucky to have this in our lives.
*Under that name, that is. There’s also the rumor that he’s Massimiliano Cerchi, the name under which he’s directed seventeen movies including The Penthouse that came out this year. Unless there are two directors and special effects guys who have the same name and I’ve been surprised before and if you do the math, Cerchi was making those movies when he was eight. IMDB used to have them as the same person and now they’re separated, so perhaps…who can say!?!
DAY 23 — DEPT. OF INDUSTRY & LABOR: A story based on doing a job. Speaking of jobs, yours ain’t finished yet, 8 days to go!
How obscure and hard-to-find is this second SOV entry on the joint resume of Doug Ulrich and Al Darago: this is the only image of the original VHS we could find — our thanks to the Letterboxd user who uploaded and preserved it.
Sigh . . the memories are flooding back . . . hitting the ol’ mom-and-pop video store (one of many that I member-haunted) sandwiched between a quickie market and Punjabi eatery with a gym on the corner bay next door to an insurance agency; a dinky-cheesy outlet stocked (an SOV honeyhole!) with way too many titles under the Shock-O-Rama banner, as the owner was stocking the shelves more for himself — god bless him — than his clientele, obviously. That store also carried Doug Ulrich and Al Darago’s first SOV entry, Scary Tales (1993), Snuff Kill (1997), and this, their second effort, Darkest Souls.
If you haven’t guessed from the cover: we dealing with grave robbing. Tommy and Mark are your typical slacker-losers who want the riches without the work. So, they’re fired from gigs and job-hoping a lot, to finally bottom-out — literally — as grave diggers. As the come to realize they’re digging holes for rich people dripping in jewels, they resort to grave robbing. And like the tagline says: they find their “treasure.”
So, if I had to rate them: Snuff Kill is the best of the trio; as I said in my review of that film: it has the best acting and the film’s lead, Mark Williams, is effective. Then Scary Tales. Then Darkest Soul, which isn’t as O.T.T as Snuff Kill — and what film is — but it’s a well-written film that’s only undone by the script playing against-a-budget and has a nice Coscarelli-Morningside vibe. Then, again: I’m a guy who does tombstone rubbings and road tripped graveyards in my carefree days, so I dig stories about grave diggers. I enjoy the progression of the Doug Ulrich and Al Darago trilogy, as you watch them grow as filmmakers. Thus, Snuff Kill became their tour de force as result of all the things they learned from Scary Tales and Darkest Soul: Snuff Kill has the gooey gore of Scary Tales and the fleshed out story of Darkest Soul.
I have to admit that I lost touch with my inner SOV as I aged-out of the ’90s and home video outlets became gift shops and insurance offices — and even 501c3 bible-bangin’ outlets. Thus, I wasn’t aware that Doug and Al made a comeback of sorts with 7 Sins of the Vampire (2013), a film I discovered as I gathered my thoughts for my last October review of Snuff Kill. You’re right: 7 Sins of the Vampire is on my watch list and that review is coming by the end of the month.
The AGFA – American Genre Film Archive has released Darkest Soul on Blu-ray in 2020 as part of their Blu-ray release of Scary Tales. I’m a purest: I’ll always go for the VHS before a DVD or Blu. But it’s near impossible to find VHS copies — outside of grey or retro-repacks — of the original tapes. I still have Snuff Kill, lost Scary Tales to the blue screen of death, and only rented-and-watched Darkest Soul a few times — and never came across an errant cut-out-bin copy. So, thanks to the AFGA, you can get, not only Darkest Soul, but also Scary Tales, on one convenient disc. And it’s great to go home again — even if it’s a digital cheat, so for that AFGA and Vinegar Syndrome, we bow before your pseudo-VCR altars in eternal thanks.
Now, how’s about a Doug Ulrich and Al Darago four-pack?
22. BEASTS OF BURDEN: One where a horse/donkey/mule/ox etc is doing some serious work.
This was supposed to be Devil Story but I got so excited after I watched it that I jumped the gun and posted it, thinking that surely I’d find another movie to fit the bill.
I spent almost this entire month trying to find another one.
This is an episode of the show Ghost Story, which changed its name to Circle of Fear midway through its one season. Executive produced by William Castle, the original idea for the show was to have Sebastian Cabot play Winston Essex, the owner of a mysterious hotel called Mansfield House, which was really San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado where Wicked Wicked was filmed.
By episode 14 of 22, the show was retitled and Cabot was out and the show still suffered poor ratings, despite featuring writers like Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana and Jimmy Sangster.
Episode 15 was Dark Vengeance, which was written by Peter Dixon (whose career was all over the place in TV, working on everything from the Superman 1950s TV series to the Masters of the Universe cartoon) and directed by Herschel Daugherty (The Victim).
While working at a construction site, Frank (an incredibly, near imposible young Martin Sheen) finds a box that can;t be opened. He becomes obsessed with it and finally is able to break into it, revealing only a broken mirror and a toy horse that upsets his wife Cindy (KIm Darby, queen of the TV movie supernatural heroines) to increasing mania.
Of course Cindy would have a past with the horse. But how do you get it back in the box or even destroy it when it can even survive being set ablaze?
There’s no way a goofy wooden horse should be so damned frightening, but everyone is beyond committed to making this happen. Man, after seeing this episode, now I have an entire series to devour. This show suffered comparisons to Night Gallery, but after all, shouldn’t every anthology show made ever after Serling’s masterwork suffer that fate?
DAY 22 — BEASTS OF BURDEN: One where a horse/donkey/mule/ox, etc. (or a jungle cat?), is doing some serious work.
Sam, the head honcho at B&S About Movies, speaks a lot of celluloid truths: one of them is that Donald Pleasence really will take anything for a paycheck. Now, Ross Hagan, we know that he always takes everything offered. But wow . . . why is the stunning Nancy Kwan, here? Well, when times are tough and a buck is a buck, you sign on the dotted line for a ripoff of The Most Dangerous Game* — only set on a hunter’s private island. To that end: Donnie is our big-game hunter (and entrepreneur, race car driver, archeological temple restorer, etc.) who brings a killer leopard to his private island, turns it loose, and starts his hunt. Oops! Don’s daughter, played by Nancy Kwan, with her Texan squeeze, played by Ross Hagan, show up for an unexpected visit. Or something or other. . . .
Yeah, in the tradition of William Girdler’s Grizzly, we sort have a Jaws ripoff, here, or as we like to say, a “Bastard Pups of Jaws,” with a killer leopard on the loose, gnawing its way through its cast . . . like one of those killer dog flicks (which we explore in full, with our “Ten Horror Movie Dogs” feature) starring Joe Don Baker, David McCallum, and Richard Crenna. Yep. Just like a William Girdler flick — be it Grizzly . . . or Abby or Project: Kill or Day of the Animals or, hell, The Manitou, which, even though it’s based on a best-selling novel, is still a cash-in on The Omen — Night Creature, aka the poor leopard who was captured by ol’ Donnie and dumped here, doesn’t have an original spot on its hide.
But wait . . . it’s an all black leopard.
Eh, all I know is that Lee Madden, he of my beloved biker romps Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), is knocking out his second horror film of the triple-threat that takes Charles Manson, washed-up studio contract players, aka “Hags,” and Jesus Christ to exploitation task with The Night God Screamed (1971).
Sadly, even with my fandom for those entries in Madden’s resume, I’ve never made the effort to seek out his sexploitation-action romp about three girls running their own brothel with The Manhanders (1974), which is an oversight that only a Mill Creek public domain box set can correct. I will not, however, ever . . . never, subject myself to Mr. Madden’s final film, Ghost Fever, for I have no desire to see a movie with TV’s George Jefferson as its star. (Besides, Madden knew a real dog when he scratches the fleas: he took the Alan Smithee credit.) Anyway, after Angel Unchained, this is Madden’s second and final writing credit, which, again, serves as his second and final horror film after — IMO — his best film, The Night God Screamed.
Speaking of movie wisdoms: Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum loves films — such as Prey — where nothing happens. But I don’t even think the Ryn can handle these maddening Madden reels of nothingness. Thankfully, someone took the time to cut this meandering, 83-minute snore fest into a 13-minute edit. Yeah, its like that: 70-plus minutes of this film isn’t necessary to get to the point of it all.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you something about the film.
Well, it’s not — in spite of the “Donald Pleasence of Halloween” plug — a horror film: this is pure a thriller . . . with no thrills nor suspense. And the leopard is just a regular, run-of-the-mill leopard: it’s not possessed by Satan or injected with any manipulated DNA strands. The poor leopard is just sacred — after it’s capture from its jungle home in Thailand — and dumped into a foreign habitat. Wouldn’t you be pissed off after being drugged and caged and dumped in a foreign wood? Man encroaches on the animals’ environment, but the animal is the “monster.” So either kill it or capture it, for the tourism trade can’t suffer.
And suffer the animal does.
We are in the middle of Thailand and shooting on the sly, so PETA wasn’t on site, and it’s 1978 pre-CGI, so yes: We have ourselves a vile-as-fuck Ruggero Deodato joint of the who-gives-a-fuck-about-spider monkeys-and-river turtles variety, for we need the cat to do what we need it to do before we loose “the Golden Hour.”
Then there’s the not so “magical” cinematography.
Here we are, in the middle of one of the most exotic lands on the friggin’ planet, and yet, Lee Madden managed to make Thailand look like a shot-through-cheese cloth fucking mess. Even the Nancy Kwan, Jennifer Rhodes, and Russ Hagan (as our resident Texan-styled tour guide, natch) sub-plotted love triangle is an utter bore. Oh, but out-sucking the lover’s plot is the POV-cat stalking, which is out-sucked by the voice over narration required to thread the travel log footage into non-coherency.
Everything in this movie sucks. Shame on Lee Madden for snookering a film studio for a free Thailand vacation as a poor leopard suffered for it.
Don’t pay a time for this offense to cinema. Watch it for free on You Tube — if only to scratch another Donald Pleasence flick off that must-watch-everything-Donnie-ever-did watch list.
* We run down the “human death sport” genre in our review of Elio Petri’s sci-if pop art’er, The 10th Victim.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
21. BARN HOWLS: There are strange things afoot at the farm. Bonus points if you see a pumpkin patch!
Between the cinematography of Dean Semler (The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) and the lunatic vision of Russell Mulcahy (who was known for his music videos before making movies like this and Highlander; some of the videos he directed include “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, “Vienna” by Ultravox and tons of Cultre Club and Duran Duran songs), Razorback looks better than any movie about a gigantic rampaging pig should.
But not just any pig. A giganic razorback that’s so maniacal that it eats its own young and now has the power to implicate men in the murder of their family. That kind of pig. Most of the film’s budget went to making six animatronic pigs that were used for different stunts, including a special boar made to attack cars.
As for real boars, they really are pretty tough. Can they be stabbed in the throat and keep going? I honestly don’t want to find out for myself. But hey — this is a Jaws on land film that even has “New Moon on Monday” show up on the soundtrack. And there are moments where the camerawork gets nearly psychedelic and you think, “Hey, is this art or a movie with a giant pig that eats people?”
20. CASTLEMANIA: Something that takes place in, where else, a castle.
A couple of months ago, I was doing my usual weekend of looking at used DVD stores when I noticed an older man staring at the stacks of used movies. He stopped and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you what movies I should get?” It turns out that his wife had recently died and he missed watching horror movies with her and wanted to bring back some memories. He had no idea how streaming worked and had just gotten a DVD player, so as we continued talking, it turned out that he really liked Barbara Steele in movies and was surprised that he could own this film. It made me feel really great that I could help someone out like this as well as realize that Ms. Steele has been bewitching men of all ages all around the world for decades.
This is the kind of gothic madness that I love so much, starting with Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller, Malenka) discovering his wife Muriel (Steele) having the gardner plant some seeds inside her. He shoves a hot poker in the man’s face, burns her with acid and then electrocutes both of them before removing their hearts and gviing their blood to de-age his servant Solange (Helga Liné!). And then he finds out that he isn’t the heir to the castle — it turns out that Muriel has an identical sister named Jenny (also Steele) who is mentally deranged but will become his new bride.
I’m in. All in.
Stephen and Solange begin to gaslight Jenny but she has the ghosts of the dead lovers on her side, as well as Dr. Derek Joyce (Marino Masé, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times). This movie looks beyond beautiful and really allows Steele to showcase her acting skills (and her piercing eyes).
“If you’re gonna scream, scream with me,” sang Glenn Danzig in the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments,” which was inspired by this movie. Nightamre Castle is everything great about black and white gothic melodrama and I just want to live within every frame of this film. It’s also the first horror score that Ennio Morricone would write.
You have so many choices to see this. For the easy way, just stream it on Tubi. Or you can do what I did and buy the Severin blu ray, which has commentary by Steele, an interview with Caiano and Castle of Blood and Terror Creatures from the Grave included.