2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: Rope (1948)

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 SuspiriaInferno 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 WindowThe Man Who Knew Too MuchThe 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.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: Die Sister, Die (1972/1978)

DAY 24 — 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.

Warning: This scene does not occur in the actual film. And where’s Clint’s credit?

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 Review

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.

The Remake?

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.

* Other early-70s, poorly-distributed and lost, U.S. drive-in horrors to venture to go along with your watch of Die, Sister Die! — each with their own, special bit of crazy — are Brotherhood of Satan (1971), Death by Invitation (1971), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), The Night God Screamed (1971), Simon, King of the Witches (1971), Touch of Satan (1971), The Velvet Vampire (Sigh, Sherry Miles . . . skyrockets and unicorns gallop!) (1971), Asylum of Satan (1972), Necromancy (1972), The Baby (1973), The Bride (1973), Messiah of Evil (1973), Warlock Moon (1973), Legacy of Satan (1974), and Satan’s Children (1975).

We supply links to watch for all of those films in the reviews — most on Tubi or You Tube. As for Die Sister, Die!, you can watch it as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. Oh, and here’s the trailer.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 23: The Mummy Theme Park (2000)

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 PlanktonFlight to HellThe Golden Grain and Psychovision. His animation skills — he worked on Cinema ParadisoThe Shark HunterThe Wild BeastsAtlantis Interceptors and 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?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

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.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*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!?!

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 23: Darkest Soul (1994)

DAY 23 — DEPT. OF INDUSTRY & LABOR: A story based on doing a job. Speaking of jobs, your psycho-gig ain’t finished yet, there’s still 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.

Yes. The uploaded image we found is cut n’ cropped as seen — and we are grateful to have 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’re 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 they 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.

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 about a Doug Ulrich and Al Darago four-pack? And — reissue-shingle executives — can I write the liner notes? Hey, I always go the shameless groveling route.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 22: Circle of Fear “Dark Vengeance” (1973)

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?

You can watch this on YouTube.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 22: Night Creature (1978)

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 OmenNight 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).

The TV promo spot.

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.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 21: Razorback (1984)

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?”

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 20: Nightmare Castle (1965)

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.

Mario Caiano has made movies across nearly every genre that an Italian director can work in, from peplum like Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules to westerns such as A Coffin for the Sheriff, giallo like Eye in the Labyrinth and berserk freakouts like Love Camp 7, The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe and the kinda giallo Ombre Roventi.

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.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 19: Zora the Vampire (2000)

19. CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKIN’?: When you let an unexpected guest in, you may be in for a long night.

You know who you should never let in? Vampires.

Count Dracula is sick of Romanian blood, so he leaves for a country that he knows from television: Italy.

That’s a lot different than the comic book this was based on, Zora the Vampire, in which 19th-century aristocrat Zora Pabst becomes possessed by the spirit of Dracula and suddenly has a lust for blood and, well, sex. Instead of Catherine Deneuve, who inspired the look of Zora in the comic books, here she’s played by Micaela Ramazzotti and is an artist who is not all that upset about Dracula being in love with her.

The Manetti Bros. directed this and I’ve seen it described as an “unfortunate experience” for them. Luckily, it seems like they’ve recovered quite well, as they’ve made movies in the science fiction, musical comedy and horror genres. Their latest movie is a new version of Diabolik, which I’m looking forward to seeing.

The movie Zora is a strange thing. Imagine if someone made Barbarella as a children’s film. But hey — I’m just excited to see any new horror movies made in Italy.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 19: The Night God Screamed (1971)

DAY 19 — CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKIN’?: When you let an unexpected guest in, you may be in for a long night.

Editor’s Note: While we’ve included this — controversial — film as part of our Christploitation genre cataloging, we’ll also briefly delve into the Hagsploitation genre, turn you on to a few “hippie flicks,” as well as discuss other, analogously lost, U.S. made Drive-In horrors released around the time of this film.

Christ, Hags, Manson, and rubber skull masks, oh, my!

I know. I know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema including a crime-horror romp that advises “death is the only way out,” courtesy of Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), Female Animal (1970), The Man from O.R.G.Y (1970), I Eat Your Skin (1971), Teenage Sex Report (1971), Son of Dracula (1973), Dynamite Brothers (1974), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972).

Hey, this ain’t no trope-laden site ensuing with cliched, generalized lazy thinking, buddy pal-o-mine: this is freakin’ B&S About Movies in Pittsburgh, baby: we don’t write for stinkin’ food or for reissue DVD/Blu swag. We choose our God-Christploitation reviews the fracked up way because we dig the film at hand: no reissue promo-campaigning required.

Besides, it can’t always be about Estus Pirkle and Ron Ormond (The Second Coming will get you there, brother), which, if they kept making movies together, a proto-slasher about a serial killer twistin’ the Good Book probably would have been the next, logical celluloid-Pirkle step. Don’t forget: he’s the guy who jammed sharpened bamboo sticks into children’s ear canals. And when he’s not inducing them to puke, he cuts them down from hanging trees onto a field of buried pitchforks, then tosses them in mass graves. (no, really; we’re not making it up). The folks at Mondo Stumpo summed Pirkle’s psychotronic years, brilliantly: Christian Gore.

So, yeah. Estus Pirkle vs. Lee Madden. No contest. Pirkle wins. Hands down.

The Pirks’ celluloid triad If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Burning Hell, and Believer’s Heaven (well, it’s a little bit more positive; but kids are still being tossed in mass graves) are still more gag-inducing and horrifyingly sick than this faux-Manson ditty brought to you by Cinemation — again, the studio that gave you the likes of the not-even-close, exploitative bile-inducer, I Eat Your Skin. As Sam the Bossman has opined in his Pirkle-Ormond opuses: all three films are stuck in our collective minds way longer than any blockbuster — or Christian film or horror film — we will see this year. Or any other year. Digital streaming or hard-copy reissues. Period.

Eh, well. Maybe not.

Madden really scraped the offensive bottom of — and broke through the rusted bottom of — the Christploitation barrel. And people lost their minds over The Exorcist and The Omen? I mean, a Catholic Priest crucified on his own cross? Top that, Mr. Friedkin and Mr. Donner. Well, actually — in terms of quality — you did.

Anyway, long before you youngins were exposed to Charles Manson by way of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, there was a mini-cottage industry of “hippie flicks” that borrowed from the Manson myth — courtesy of instilling the idea that all of Haight-Asbury’s flowery-denizens were blood-thirsty killers. So, we got the likes of the hippie-crime romps Psych-Out (1968), the double bill to I Eat Your Skin with I Drink Your Blood (1970), The Cult (1971), The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), the document/reenactmentary of The Other Side of Madness (1971), the Andrew Prine with a goat insanity of Simon, King of the Witches (1971), the really fine Deathmaster (1972), Thumb Tripping (1972), the “Manson as a filmmaker” with Snuff (1976), and, of course, the incredible Steve Railsback as Manson in the exquisite TV movie, Helter Skelter (1976).

Yeah, there’s a “Exploring: Charles Manson on Film” feature to be had . . . someday.

Now, back to the Godsploitation, aka Christploitation, portion of today’s programming: a weird genre to begin with, depending on the critical whims of the writer (in the case, Sam Panico and yours truly), the films included, can be controversial choices. Even B&S contributor Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum questioned today’s movie choice. And when BVR furrows his brow, well, you’ve just hit celluloid pay dirt. And only God knows what the dude who hates it when we use the word “trope” in our reviews (and takes a moment from his day to let us know), will think. . . . The night the critic screamed, indeed.

Offensive: When a priest purchases a cruciform for his church, transports that sign of Christ in the back of a pick up truck, stops at a gas station, and a white-robbed hippie takes a siesta on said cruciform, you’ve just exploited the Holy Savior.

Now, one would never consider a British horror film starring Christopher Lee as a “Christploitation” piece: but when your film is based upon the works of occultist author, paranormalist, and “secret society” founder Dennis Wheatley — himself a friend and collaborator of fellow occultist and Thelema religion founder Anton LeVey — the movie based on his book, The Devil Rides Out (1969), a book in which the big guy of the underworld, Baphomet, and his buddy, the Angel of Death, shows up — both ultimately defeated by the power of Christianity — the film ends up on the (my) list.

The same could be said for Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). Although it’s part of the psychobiddy sub-genre (i.e, old, crusty women terrorizing “sinning” young women, aka “hagsploitation”), when you have Tallulah Bankhead in crazed, full-on religious hysteria exorcising a corrupt Stephanie Powers, that films ends up on the stone immaculate perimeters of Christ/Godsploitation (my) lists. And our speaking of Tallulah Bankhead attempting to reignite her career in a horror film brings us to — gulp — Jeanne Crain, the star of The Night God Screamed.

Remember how the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio lamented about British model Jeannie Shrimpton in the lyrics of “Behind the Wall of Sleep”; how he’d gleefully commit a murder if she so purred the request? Yeah, for me, it’s like that with the Academy Award for Best Actress-nominated Jeanne Crain — for her title role in 1949’s Pinky.

Yeah, I had it bad for Jeanne Crain. Sigh. Remember how Superman time-travel willed himself back to the past to hook up with Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980): Calling Dr. Gerard Finney, time-hypnotize me to a Jeanne Crain romance.

As with Veronica Lake making her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Joan Crawford appearing in Berserk! (1967) and Trog (1970), and Wanda Hendrix (zoinks!) closing out her career at the age of 44 with a Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain attempted an early ’70s comeback — her last film was Hot Rods to Hell (1966) — with a horror film: inspired by Charles Manson. Sadly, it was not meant to be. When her “big horror move” failed to spark interest, the divine Ms. Crain called it a day after working with — fifth-billed, mind you — Charlton Heston in Skyjacked (1972).

So, with Alex Nicol — an actor/director in The Screaming Skull (1958) and director for Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror (1971) — thespin’ it up with an early James Sikking (Outland, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) — Jean Crain stars as family matriarch Fanny Pierce in a tale directed by Lee Madden.

Wait? Not Lee Madden of the biker flicks Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), and the hunter-on-private island romp Night Creature (1978).

Oh, hell, yes. Strap on the popcorn buckets. Let’s unpack The Night God Screamed.

Lee Madden’s second — and final — horror film, which he also wrote, during his all-too-short, six-film career. His others were the sexploiter The Manhandlers (1974) and, get this: the abysmal horror-comedy, Ghost Fever (1986), with Sherman “George Jefferson” Hemsley.

The reason this offensive, yet stunning movie failed: it’s a slow-burn, psychological thriller that, instead of the shocking gore and violence you’d expect from a Manson-inspired film, it’s all about the atmosphere. Another reason: due to its provocative title, small town and rural communities with theaters refused to carry the film; they acquiesce to the alternative title of Scream. The third reason: Jerry Gross was against-the-sprokets and Cinemation was going under . . . while barely releasing it in 1971, the film stumbled around as a second-biller until 1974, never to find its well-deserved audience. The same marketing snafus happened to the youth-seeking devil worshipers romp, Brotherhood of Satan (1971), the exquisite gaslighter, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the dreamy The Velvet Vampire (1971), William Girdler’s debut Asylum of Satan (1972), the weirdly, Clint Eastwood-connected and released-stalled Die Sister, Die! (1972), the toy-making Devil worshiping of Necromancy (1972), Jean-Marie Pélissié’s art house-beauty, The Bride (1973), the utterly bonkers and also questionably-rated, The Baby (1973), the stellar post-Romero craze of Messiah of Evil (1973), and the flawed but captivating Warlock Moon (1973).*

Eh, so what else is new in the puritanical bread baskets of America?

So, rightoff the bat, the Fundamentalists are loosing their nuts: we open with a monk-hooded figure dragging a six-foot tall cruciform through the woods. And our faceless monk looks down from a hill upon a lakeside baptismal ceremony conducted by our ersatz Jesus, aka our ersatz Charles Manson, i.e, “Billy Joe,” as he complains to God about “the man” coming down on his faux-Chuckness because they dig Jesus, and do dope only to “turn on to” Jesus, and that they’re not a phony, money-grabbing ministry, lying and stealing from their flock. . . .

Oh, and the dude in the robe: he’s The Atoner. And the baptism? The Atoner drowns you, the “Judas,” into the afterlife.

So, with that bit of Christ exploiting out of the way; we finally get to this review’s raison d’étre: Jeanne Crain is Fanny, the put-upon wife of Pastor Willis Pierce (Alex Nicol) who oversees a small chapel and soup kitchen in a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood.

The prim n’ snobby Fanny hates her life and wants out. And I want her to move in with me.

Anyway, the “path” to the way out leads the Pierces to run afoul of Billy Joe and his sidekick, The Atoner. And yes, they crucify Pastor Willis to a cross inside his church because, well, God has advised Billy Joe that the Pastor is a false prophet.

So, a year passes: Fanny is PTSD’d (I’d still put up with her; I’ve cohabited with far worse), hearing her husband’s and Billy Joe’s voices — even though hubby’s dead and our faux-Manson is in prison.

Then, taking cues from Charles Manson seeking revenge on Beach Boys associate Terry Melcher for reneging on a “deal” to record his music**, Billy Joe’s clan descends on the convicting Judge Coogan’s house to extract revenge: instead, they find Fanny, who came to work as a housekeeper and assistant to the judge, his wife and four teen (well, casting older-than-teens, natch) children.

Well, not really. Do we really have to explain “gaslighting” to you?

My poor, dear Jeanne really goes through the ringer in her final, leading role. Put your head on my shoulder, let me whisper in your ear, baby.

While not exactly graphic-bloody in A Bay of Blood (1971) sense, The Night God Screamed is, never the less, like The Baby before it, still a pretty brutal and intense movie — filled with religious imagery — for a PG-rated film. The trailer isn’t doing the film justice. As for “exploitation” critical descriptors, aside: Jeanne Crain is still a friggin’ hotter-than-hell MILF. Paging Dr. Gerard Finney, R.D Francis is seeing rainbows and skyrockets, again.

It’s hard to believe that, in a ’70s UHF-TV world that played A Bell from Hell (1973) — a movie with human-sized puppets playing pianos and women hanging upside down in an abattoir — The Night God Screamed never playing on TV is a crime against the ultra-high frequencies that white-noised my brains with the Drive-In delights that I was too young to see back in the day. Thank god for the VHS ’80s.

Although there’s earlier issues, the Trans World Entertainment 1987 VHS reissue was the best-distributed/courtesy of Paul Z at VHS Collector.com.

Sorry, kiddies. There’s no freebies or with-ads streams to share. But the DVDs are all over the online marketplace, VHSs are out there, for the ever-the-analog purist. And if there’s one, pure ’70s horror DVD to add to your collection, The Night God Screamed comes highly recommended. Do it.

* Other early-70s, poorly-distributed and lost, U.S. Drive-In horrors to venture — each with their own, special bit of crazy — are Touch of Satan (1971), Legacy of Satan (1974), and Satan’s Children (1975).

** That’s finally been all squared away with Tom O’Dell’s stellar, 2019 documentary, Manson: Music From an Unsound Mind (Tubi).

More films from the genre to explore.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.