EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran in Drive-In Asylum #23. Buy it now.
One of my obsessions is the memory of not knowing. Now, so many of my movie-watching choices are planned in advance. Yet as I grew up in the 70s, we had the opportunity to be surprised by movies on a daily basis. Sure, you could go through the latest issue of TV Guide and highlight every science fiction and horror movie, planning your viewing habits. Yet just as often, the movies listed would not air and you’d have no idea what was coming next.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that horror hosts were playing movies that came in packages. There’s a reason why all those old Universal Monsters got big again at the dawn of the UHF era; those films were in Screen Gems Shock And Son of Shock syndicated packages.
Perhaps the most interesting syndicated package is AVCO Embassy’s Nightmare Theater. Years before they got into the John Carpenter business, this collection of films may have made money for its distributor, but it’s rather astounding that these movies played TV before theaters, although there are some theories* that some played Spanish-speaking grindhouses on the West Coast before being sold to low power UHF stations and horror hosts played them to what had to be somewhat baffled kids.
Nearly every movie that is contained in this collection is delightfully off in the very best of ways. And I have the sneaking suspicion that not much was cut from these films, as some listings – particularly KCOP-13 in Los Angeles — went out of their way to inform younger viewers that these films had some mature content.
Also known as The Witch In Love and Strange Obsession, this movie was based on Carlos Fuentes’ novel Aura. It has two standouts of Italian genre cinema, Richard Johnson and Ivan Rassimov, in the cast and concerns a historian being asked to translate some ancient erotic texts within a haunted library. It had a release in the U.S. by G.G. Productions in August of 1969.
Rarely mentioned amongst the normally cited Bava classics, yet it’s one of my favorites, a film in which Bava even metatexturally references his past work, as the cops are thrown off the case when a scream is explained as a TV playing Black Sunday. Somehow combining elements of the giallo, a nascent slasher, a fashion film and even a mannequin movie, it deserves to be talked about way more often by way more people.
Marta (1971, directed by José Antonio Nieves Conde)
I can’t even imagine how exciting it would have been to catch this film and not be ready for it. Marisa Mell — who was so possessed by the mystical and sexual desire she felt for her co-star and lover Stephen Boyd that they had a real-life exorcism — plays a woman who enters a home dominated by a potentially dead mother and a definitely murdered last wife who looks just like her. Also known as …After That, It Kills the Male and Devours It, which may be the best title ever.
Dear Dead Delilah (1971, directed by John Farris)
The only domestic film in the package, this was produced by AVCO and concerns a murderer running loose within a mansion, lopping off the heads of those seeking the half-million dollars worth of money hidden within the house. And oh yeah — Agnes Moorehead and a shockingly gory shotgun murder.
This movie opens with Cathy’s Curse level insanity: our lead walks around her house and finds a knife stuck in a wig, a voodoo doll and finally, a bloody cat in her bed. That’s when a little girl appears out of nowhere to inform her that she took care of the stupid cat before running away. Carla follows her to the garage, throws gasoline all over the place and sets everything — including the little girl — on fire. Somehow, the movie tries to follow that, as that woman’s boyfriend dumps her and heads off to a castle!
Sure, it’s nice that you can call up any movie at any time via the internet, but just imagine being a pre-teen at two in the morning in 1977 and being confronted by Paul Naschy becoming El Hombre Lobo after being bit by a yeti, killing himself, being revived by the evil Dr. Ilona Ellmann who also brings back our hero’s ex-wife from the dead and turns her into a werewolf.
Doomwatch (1972, directed by Peter Sadsy)
This Tigon offering was a remake of a recently ended TV series that was created by several Dr. Who alums. A chemical spill leads to people eating contaminated fish and treating any outsider with the type of British contempt that gets city folk trapped inside burning effigies.
Originally released as La Mansion de la Niebla (The Mansion in the Fog), that title makes plenty of sense, as this is about a group of people all drawn to, well, a foggy mansion. It’s a pretty interesting mix of the gothic Eurohorror of the 60s with 70s giallo.
Sometimes, I get lost in thought and wonder, “Did people seek out Naschy films in the 70s?” I’d like to think they did and were excited that they could potentially see two of them on their local monster shows. This one introduces Alaric de Marnac, a beheaded warlock who returns to life centuries later to get revenge (and star in a sequel, Panic Beats).
Somehow, this aired uncut on Pittsburgh’s beloved Chiller Theater (July 7, 1979 and December 26, 1981), giving everyone in the City of Bridges the opportunity to watch Klaus Kinski push a needle into a girl’s eyeball. Throw in some Ewa Aulin and a trippy vibe and the fact that D’Amato was so happy with the film — his hopes were dashed, sending him on a lifelong quest to just make money instead of art — that he used his real name in the credits: Aristide Massaccesi.
Director Guerín fell — or jumped — from the tower housing the titular bell on the last day of shooting and died. The film was completed by Juan Antonio Bardem. One assumes that Bardem did the best job he could to combine all the many parts that Guerín into some whole. What remains is a movie that is at times brutal and alternatively feels like a dream.Viveca Lindfors name was used often in the ads for this movie, as she was at one time pushed as the new Garbo.
At some point in the mid 70s, some kid in his pajamas had to confront the slow-motion magic of de Ossorio as the director let flow leopard bikini-wearing women with fangs running wild through day for night jungle drinking the blood of their victims when they aren’t being whipped until their clothes fall off.
The Mummy’s Revenge (1975, directed by Carlos Aured)
Paul Naschy plays the mummy and the priest who brings him back to life in Victorian London, teaming with Helga Liné to kidnap, murder and harvest virgin blood. Look — if Naschy wasn’t around for Universal and couldn’t get in a Hammer movie, he was just going to make his own.
There was even a pressbook for this package and three issues of Monster World (March, May and July of 1975) featured extensive coverage of the movies.
My young years were spent watching hours upon hours of movies, not unlike today. The difference then was I had no responsibility outside of making sure I was on time for Superhost on WUAB-43 then ready for Chilly Billy later that night, staying up watching movies until my eyes shut, then waking up for an Abbott and Costello movie. The syndicated movies would give way by the late 80s, due to infomercials actually paying for air time. And by then, just like free TV would ruin movies, video rental stores were decried by Joe Bob because drive-ins were closing. And just a few years later, Blockbuster pushed out the mom and pop stores, then they were gone too.
Today’s high tech world is great. Don’t get me wrong. But the Nightmare Theater package is an amazing moment in genre history, a time when many got to see their first lurid glimpses at Eurohorror.
*Hatchet for the Honeymoon definitely played U.S. drive-ins as a double bill with Suspiria.
Information and images in this article were sourced from Mike Mariano, a poster to The Latarnia Forums. The information and images from Monster World come from Zombo’s Closet (www.zomboscloset.com).
Rick Dalton was born in the midwest and moved to Los Angeles where he found his initial fame on the TV series Bounty Law before moving on to a Universal contract that saw him make four movies for the studio before returning to TV to play the villain of the week on shows like The Green Hornet, Mission Impossible and Lancer. He also made plenty of Italian films, like Jigsaw Jane; Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said TheGringo; Nebraska Jim; Red Blood, Red Skin and Operazione Dyn-O-Mite! He eventually reinvented his career and became a big star of direct-to-video films like The Fireman series and Coming Home In a Body Bag.
Of course, he’s also a fictional character in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, but Rick Dalton’s Hollywood career has roles in both real and made for the movie movies.
Tarantino has promised an entire book about Rick’s career — in the world of the movies, Tarantino writes the book after meeting Roger Ebert and Dalton at the 1996 Hawaii International Film Festival — and explains every single acting role of Leonard Dicaprio’s character. This book promises to have synopses, critical quotes and notes on Rick’s film and television career until 1988.
That book may or may not be released. Until then, we have this list.
A Strange Adventure: The role of Harold Norton was played by Ben Cooper in our universe, but in the world of Rick Dalton, he played that part in this William Witney movie.
Jubal: Rick played Woody in this Delmer Daves-directed movie opposite Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Jack Elam and Charles Bronson. No suck character appears in our world.
Away All Boats: Rick has an uncredited part as Private Pickford in this movie.
These Wilder Years: Rick was an uncredited football player in this Roy Rowland-directed, James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck-starring movie.
Tales of Wells Fargo (season 1, episode 13: “Jesse James): In the universe of Tarantino, Rick Dalton plays Jesse James instead of Hugh Beaumont; he encounters Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) when he’s accused of robbing a train.
Whirlybirds: A syndicated series produced by Desilu Studios, Rick appeared in an episode directed by Bud Springsteen (who directed eight episodes of the show between 1957 and 1959; he also directed Double Jeopardy).
Rick also appeared in the shows Tombstone Territoryas The Salt Flat Kid in the episode “Wyatt Earp Tells No Tales,” as Jessie James on the “Death at Northfield” episode of Lux Video Theatreand as Buzz in the “So Long Miss Mulligan” episode of M Squad.
Big Sky Country: Part of being a TV actor is being in pilots that aren’t picked up for a series. Rick played the oldest son on this show that was produced by Dick Powell, David Niven, Charles Boyer and Joel McCrea’s Four Star Productions.
Bachelor Father: Rick played Kelly’s (Noreen Corcoran) boyfriend in the episode “Girls Will Be Girls.”
Man with a Camera: In this Charles Bronson-starring series, Rick appeared in the episode “Second Avenue Assassin” as Joey Savoyen.
Tales of Wells Fargo: Rick was Butch Cassidy in the episode “The Hole in the Wall Gang.”
Darby’s Rangers: Rick was Sgt. Hank Bishop in this movie, directed by William A. Wellman and starring James Garner. In real life, that part was played by Stuart Whitman.
Young and Wild: Rick played Richard Edward “Rick” Braden in this Wiliam Witney movie, a part played by Rick Marlowe in our world.
Bounty Law: Rick starred in this series from 1959-1963 and appeared in 48 episodes as Jake Cahill. Produced by Robert Fuzz and Lee Donowitz (who was part of the drug deal in True Romance and is the son of Donny from Inglorious Basterds), several episodes were directed by Paul Wendkos (The Brotherhood of the Bell, The Mephisto Waltz), who Rick would work for through this career. Tarantino has mentioned that Rick was in some of the director’s 70s TV movies.
Rick’s co-stars were Martin Kove and James Remar; the character first appeared on the show The Restless Gun.
This series is based on Wanted Dead or Alive, which starred Steve McQueen. Dalton’s series ran on NBC at the same time McQueen’s ran on CBS. Beyond the moment where they meet in the film having such dramatic weight, Tarantino’s book had the working title of Rick Dalton: The Man Who Would Be McQueen.
Battle of the Coral Sea: Rick had a small role in this Paul Wendkos-directed movie which starred Cliff Robertson, L.Q. Jones and Tom Laughlin.
Rick picks Wendkos as his favorite director and talks about this movie when he meets with agent Marvin Schwarz in the novelization. “Yeah, I started out with him in my early days,” Rick replies. “I’m in his Cliff Robertson picture, Battle Of The Coral Sea. You can see me and Tommy Laughlin hangin’ out in the back of the submarine the whole picture.”
Riverboat: Rick appeared in a guest role opposite Burt Reynolds and Darren McGavin in a William Witney (who Tarantino called out as a reference in Kill Bill volume 1, joining Charles Bronson, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Leone, Shaw Brothers regulars Cheng Cheh and Lo Lieh, Djangodirector Sergio Corbucci and Lee Van Cleef)-directed episode. Witney directed six episodes during this time period that could be the one that Rick was in.
Drag Race, No Stop: Another William Witney film — this time one not from our reality — that had Rick as the lead and a cast that included Gene Evans, John Ashley and Richard Bakalyan. It was written by Vanishing Pointdirector Richard C. Sarafian.
Commanche Uprising: Another fictional film, it had Rick in a cast that includes Robert Taylor, Joan Evans, Claude Akins, Charles Bronson, Jay C. Flippen, Michael Dante and Tarantino’s acting coach in our reality, James Best. It was directed by Bud Springsteen and written by Samuel A. Peeples, the creator of Lancer. The poster is based on Navajo Joe.
The Chapman Report: In this George Cukor-directed film — an actual movie in our universe — Rick played Ed Kraski, who was portrayed by Ty Hardin in real life. That actor, who left Hollywood to make movies in Italy — like Sergio Corbucci’s Eurospy movie Death on the Run — was an inspiration for the fictional Rick.
Big Game: Another fictional movie, this time directed by Stewart Granger.
Hellfire,Texas: Rick appeared in this fictional adaption of the real book by Nelson and Shirley Wolford, which in our world was made as A Time for Killing. Both worlds have the same cast — Glenn Ford, Inger Stevens — and Phil Karlson directing.
Tanner: Based on the Phil Karlsen film Gunman’s Walk, this was a big movie for Rick, as he even promoted it on an episode of Hullabaloo with The Kinks that had Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as hosts. This film was directed — in the movie world — by Jerry Hopper.
Jigsaw Jane: Rick played the killer in this pre-Argento giallo-style thriller that co-starred Suzanne Pleshette, Paul Burke, Jack Cassidy, Lloyd Bochner, Alice Ghostley and Aldo Ray. It was directed by TV movie king David Lowell Rich and written by Jerome Zastoupil, who is actually Tarantino (it’s his middle name and the last name of his stepfather).
The 14 Fists of McClusky: This movie is why Rick had a working flamethrower in his garage, the exact one he used to burn up Susan Atkins. Based on Roger Corman’s 1964 film The Secret Invasion, Phil Karlson’s Hornets’ Nest and Rober Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, Rick stepped in to replace Fabian Forte after the singer injured his shoulder. The 14 Fists of McClusky also had Rod Taylor as McClusky (a name Tarantino used as the warden in Natural Born Killers; it’s Burt Reynolds’ last name in Gator; Rod Taylor’s last movie was Inglorious Basterds), Virna Lisi, Sal Mineo, Van Johnson, Tom Laughlin, Kaz Garas and Adam West. Directed by Paul Wendkos, the footage shown in Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood is from Stole Janković’s 1974 movie Hell River.
There’s also a fan poster by Octavio Terol for the Italian release of this film under the title Combaterre All’Inferno (Combat In Hell) that I imagine was re-released in Italy after Rick became a star there.
Rick returned to TV after his movie career didn’t work out and was often a guest star or villain of the week on shows like:
Tarzan: Directed again by William Witney — who had several episodes in season 2 of this show, which would be 1967 — Rick played Brick Bradford in the episode “Jewel of the Jungle.”
Bingo Martin: In the episode “Hell to Pay,” Rick was Rocky Ryan. This is a fictional show that starred the fictional actor Scott Brown.
The Green Hornet: Rick appeared in an episode called “Hornet Hunter” as Thompson Shaw which is a lot like the episode “Invasion from Outer Space.” In that episode, Gary Kent served as the stunt coordinator on the episode. Kent was married to stunt woman Tomi Barrett, so we can see him as Randy Miller (Kurt Russell) who is married to Janet (Zoë Bell). Randy is, of course, the brother of Mike Miller, the killer from Death Proof. This would also be when Cliff Booth fought Bruce Lee.
Salty, The Talking Sea Otter: Rick signed a four-picture deal with Universal and his performance in this movie ended it. He played Jed Martin in this movie which seems based on the Ricou Browning movie Salty, which is about a sea lion.
Rick only made one appearance in this rough year:
Land of the Giants: Rick was Dr. David Hellstrom in “The Capture.” This episode had to have been directed by either Irwin Allen, Sobey Martin, Henry Harris or my pick, Nathan Juran, who directed The Brain from Planet Arous, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.
The F.B.I.: William A. Graham directed “All the Streets Are Silent,” the eleventh episode of the first season of this show. Rick played the part of Michael Murtaugh. In our world, Burt Reynolds played that role.
Lancer: Rick appeared as villain Caleb DeCoteau in the pilot of this show. This is where he’d meet child actor Trudi Frazer and director Sam Wanamaker (played by TV Spider-Man Nicolas Hammond) and discover that he had a future as an actor. The real Wanamaker would direct Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
After meeting with his agent Marvin Schwarz, Rick would have dinner with Sergio Corbucci and his wife, costume designer Nori Bonicelli. The actor didn’t know much about Italian films — this is not a unique thing, as when Sergio Leone came to America, he struggled to find actors willing to make a movie with him — and he confuses Corbucci with Sergio Leone and doesn’t respect him much, but goes to Italy to make movies anyway.
Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said The Gringo: Rick plays Ringo, a role that several Americans — Mark Damon, Montgomery Wood and Ken Clark are others — played. The poster artist for so many Italian movies, Renato Casaro, painted the poster that appears in the movie. This movie was directed by Calvin Jackson Padget, who is really Giorgio Ferroni, the director of Mill of the Stone Women.
Nebraska Jim: Tarantino knows his Italian westerns. Savage Gringo AKA Gunman from Nebraska was called Nebraska Jim in Germany. Rick starred in this movie with Daphna Ben-Cobo, who is played by Tarantino’s wife Daniella Pick.
Red Blood, Red Skin: Based on the novel The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian by Floyd Ray Wilson (whose name inspired the boxer Butch kills inPulp Fiction), this movie was inspired by the Nathan Juran-directed Land Raiders and shares its star — Telly Savalas — but also has Carroll Baker in its cast. It was directed — in the movie universe — by Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, who made a movie that had to have influenced Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the gore-filled Cut-Throats Nine.
Cannon for Cordoba: This is a real movie, shot in Spain by Paul Wendkos and starring George Peppard. Rick would play the part of Jackson Harkness, which Don Gordon did in our timeline. Pete Duel, an actor who inspired Rick thanks to his alcoholism and an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, is also in this.
Hell Boats: A Wendkos movie that Rick acted in opposite James Franciscus.
Operazione Dyn-O-Mite!: Rick played Jason in this Eurospy movie directed by Antonio Margheriti. The footage in the movie comes from Sergio Corbucci’s Moving Target.
Rick also appeared on the shows Matt Lincolnand Mission: Impossible in 1970 and had some level of new fame after saving the life of Sharon Tate.
Tarantino said, “But the thing is, on the episodic-TV circuit, he’s a bigger name now. He’s not quite Darren McGavin, all right? Darren McGavin would get paid the highest you could get paid as a guest star back in that time. But Rick’s about where John Saxon was, maybe just a little bit higher. So he’s getting good money and doing the best shows. And the episodes are all built around him. So as opposed to doing Land of the Giants and Bingo Martin, now he’s the bad guy on Mission: Impossible, and it’s his episode.”
Rick appeared on the shows Cade’s Countyand Benacaek, a show that starred George Peppard. Perhaps in this universe, Rick was able to tell Peppard to stay on his show and not end it for a movie career.
The Deadly Trackers: Rick was in this movie, directed by Barry Shear, along with Richard Harris, Rod Taylor and Al Lettieri.
Grizzly: Rick played Don Stober instead of Andrew Prine in the timeline of the movies.
The Fireman: Rick was in a series of direct-to-video movies in which he — according to Screen Rant — plays a cop and Vietnam vet whose discover of police corruption leads to the death of his young partner, played by Samuel Jackson. Dressing as a firefighter and using the flamethrower that Rick would forever be known for, his character sets criminals on fire in a movie a lot like Exterminator 2.
Rick produced and directed this movie with Cliff doing the action scenes. It led to two sequels and a whole new career of Rick making VHS era ripoffs of bigger action movies and working with Cannon Films.
Tarantino said, “Cliff Booth in 1979 or ’80, wrote a vigilante exploitation movie for Rick … Rick read it and goes, “We can do this better,” so Rick rewrites it and the two of them are going to produce it, they get the money, and it’s a vigilante movie called The Fireman. The lead character was in the Vietnam War — it’s very similar to The Exterminator — he became a cop and then he started seeing this whole group of bad apple cops that are killing guys and are completely corrupt. And they end up killing his partner, played by a very young Samuel L. Jackson. The film becomes a real big hit, and that makes Rick, he gets a third career, going into the ’80s, as a straight to video action star.”
Coming Home In a Body Bag: Rick starred in this Anthony Irvin-directed, Anthony Irvin-produced movie that gets discussed in True Romance. It also had Somerset O’Neal in the cast, who played the leader of Fox Force Five, a pilot for a TV show that also had Mia Wallace as the deadliest woman in the world with a knife, Raven McCoy. That show within a movie — Pulp Fiction — is based on The Doll Squad.
One surmises that the fatal ending of True Romance kept the sequel from getting made.
Rick retired in 1988 after his action stardom brought him back one more time to Italy as well as the Philippines. He moves to Hawaii with his wife Francesca Capucci and meets Tarantino at the 1996 Hawaii International Film Festival.
Movies Rick didn’t get:
Rick lost out on the role of Lover Boy in Gidgetto Tom Laughlin and Virgil “The Cooler King” Hilts in The Great Escape to Steve McQueen. He also offered to play Hud Dixon in The Specialists but Sergio Corbucci went with Johnny Hallyday.
Ads Rick was in:
Old Chattanooga Beer: Rick did a commercial for this beer on an episode of Bounty Law. The same beer shows up in Death Proof.
Plenty of directors have made extreme cinema. However, only a few have been arrested for murder and owned the title Monsieur Cannibal.
Ruggero Deodato started life as a music prodigy, directing an orchestra by the age of seven before quitting once his teacher sent him away for playing by ear. Through his friendship with Renzo Rossellini, he started working with Renzo’s father Roberto and Sergio Corbucci, who he worked with as the assistant director for Django.
Deodato also made three movies of his own, Hercules, Prisoner of Evil; Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen; Gungala, the Black Panther Girl; Donne… botte e bersaglieri, Vacanze sulla Costa Smeralda, I quattro del pater noster, Zenabel and the TV series Il triangolo rosso and All’ultimo minuto before leaving to work in advertising.
It was in 1977 that Deodato would plant his flag in the genre that he is best known for: the cannibal film. While these movies have their roots in the jungle adventure genre, they really took root when Umberto Lenzi made The Man from Deep River in 1972. Released as Sacrifice! in the U.S., it was basically a remix of A Man Called Horse yet set in the Green Inferno. Deodato would take that film and push it with a series of cannibal-themed movies like Jungle Holocaust (aka Last Cannibal World) and Cannibal Holocaust, the watershed of all cannibal and found footage films.
Lenzi claims that the only reason Deodato got to make Jungle Holocaust was because he was busy making Almost Human and wasn’t offered enough money by the producers; this could just be part of the somewhat feud between the two directors, as when Lenzi made Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) in 1980, Deodato said, “I think the forefather of the cannibal genre was me. I had not seen Umberto Lenzi’s movie Man from Deep River. So my film, Last Cannibal World, really originated, and was written to start this whole cannibal trend. I studied a lot of books on the subject and documented some of it from National Geographic magazine as well. I also looked closely at the ritualism of cannibalism and I don’t believe Lenzi did that with his film. Maybe Lenzi did it after I made Last Cannibal World. You know, when he went on to do Cannibal Ferox. He didn’t do it first, that’s for sure. When I finally saw his film, it was more of a copy of A Man Called Horse.”
Maybe Luigi Cozzi is the arbitrator of this argument. He said, “To me, the real beginning of the cannibal genre is Cannibal Holocaust. It was a legitimate success at the box office, but not in Italy as it was banned, blocked and withheld. They distributed it at a later date, but it was dead by then. However, it did astonishing business abroad.”
Cannibal Holocaustis either a work of exploitation junk madness or an art film inspired by the political unrest of Italy at the time. Can it — perhaps by accident — be both? How strange is it when the filmmakers — particularly Deodato if interviews by the cast are any indication — are just as bad if not worse than the characters on screen?
Ten days after the movie’s premiere, it was confiscated under the orders of a local magistrate and Deodato was charged with obscenity, which if you’ve watched any Italian films is incredible with the sheer outrages one sees in these films. And then, in one of those no news is bad news PR moments, the charges against Deodato soon included murder, as some believed the actors who portrayed the missing film crew and the impaled actress were actually murdered. This could be the ultimate kayfabe press story, but the actors — who some claim were told to hide for some months to get across the idea that this was a real snuff film — and special effects crew were called to court to prove Deodato’s innocence. That said, he received a four-month suspended sentence for obscenity and animal cruelty as eight real animals were murdered during the making of the movie. The film didn’t play Italy uncut until 1984.
It’s also on the list of films distributed on video cassette that were criticized for their violent content by the UK press and various organizations such as the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. You can read more about the Video Nasties in our three-part article. Start with part one, which has Deodato’s cannibal film, right here.
The director also made Last Feelings and Concorde Affaire ’79 during this period as he fought to retain his directing license.
As groundbreaking as Deodato was before 1980, I believe that he made movies just as interesting and wild after, starting with his Last House on the Left-influenced House on the Edge of the Park, a movie so indebted to Craven’s movie that it even has star David Hess in the cast. As I wrote in my initial review of the film, “Deodato makes a film that continually assaults not just the characters” and again, it found one of his movies on the section 1 Video Nasty list.
Billed in the U.S. as Richard Franklin, Deodato’s next film would be the improbable Raiders of the Lost Ark/Road Warrior mix and match that is Atlantis Interceptors (aka Raiders of Atlantis), which has an all-star — well, Italian exploitation all-star — cast including Christopher Connelly, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov and a young Michele Soavi.
The slasher boom in the U.S. led to two larger budget films for Deodato.
Cut and Run was intended as a Wes Craven film and had an R-rated and international cut packed with more of the wildness that Deodato was known for. Fran Hudson (Lisa Blount, Prince of Darkness) is investigating a war in the jungles of South America between drug cartels and the army of Colonel Brian Horne (Richard Lynch), who has a gigantic assassin named Quencho (Michael Berryman) on his side. Plus, you get Willie Aames in a Mickey Mouse shirt, Karen Black, Eriq La Salle, Gabriele Tinti, John Steiner and Barbara Magnolfi. It’s as if the big world of Hollywood has met the Italian industry for this one, which features bodies torn in half and crucified, as well as references to Jonestown.
The second larger budget film Deodato worked on was Body Count, which has Charles Napier, Ivan Rassimov, John Steiner, Cynthia Thompson, David Hess and Mimsy Farmer in a movie that combines the stalk and slash camp action of Crystal Lake with the haunted burial ground of Cuesta Verde. It also has an RV, dirt bikes and a blaring synth score from Claudio Simonetti. It’s also the kind of movie that claims to be in Colorado yet was shot in the Cascate di Monte Gelato forest park.
Like most Italian exploitation directors, Deodato tried nearly any genre that was hot at the time. The Lone Runner is the next example. This post-apocalyptic film stars Italian mainstay Miles O’Keefe (the Ator series), Raiders of the Lost Ark bad guy Ronald Lacey, John Steiner, Hal Yamanouchi and Yugoslavian actress Savina Gersak, who ends up in all manner of movies I obsess over, including Iron Warrior, Afghanistan – The Last War Bus, Curse II: The Bite, Beyond the Door III and Midnight Ride.
Deodato’s next film, The Barbarians, moves into another Italian-beloved genre, the peplum film by way of Conan the Barbarian pastiche. This was a well-trod genre for the director, as the first movie he made was Hercules, Prisoner of Evil.
What would be better than one barbarian? How about two? Twin brothers — The Barbarian Brothers! Made for Cannon Films, with a script by James R. Silke (Ninja 3: The Domination, Revenge of the Ninja), this takes the best of the venerable Cannon and throws in Italian stars with America talent, so Richard Lynch and Michael Berryman appear in the same movie as George Eastman and Virginia Bryant.
A movie that is almost the entire Conan movie redone with double the brawny beefcake swordsmen, this movie is fun from start to finish, with an episodic story that takes the brothers from young members of a circus to battle gigantic monsters.
The next film that Deodato would direct was Phantom of Death, a way late in the cycle giallo with horror elements that boasts Michael York as a man aging prematurely, Donald Pleasence as an inspector and Edwige Fenech as the love interest. This is one of the few films in which you can hear Fenech’s voice undubbed.
Dial:Help is one of the strangest films in Deodato’s career, a mix of horror, giallo and telephones acting as both protector and antagonist for Charlotte Lewis. Working from a script by Franco Ferrini (Phenomena, Sleepless, Opera), this is probably the most gorgeous of all the movies Deodato would direct, including a wild scene that shows the reason behind these murderous phones: an abandoned phone line for people who had their hearts broken, an office where all of the operators are dead and can reach out from the other side. It’s a crime that this movie isn’t yet available on blu ray.
Deodato also worked in Italian TV, making two episodes of Il Racatto, the mini-series Ocean (which features David Hess, Michael Berryman and Martin Balsam), eight episodes of I ragazzi del muretto, six episodes of We Are Angels (featuring the wild team of Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas as criminals hiding out as monks; it also has appearances by Hess, Berryman, Richard Lynch and Erik Estrada), ten of the Carol Alt-starring Thinking About Africa, an episode of Incantesimo 8 and the TV movie Padre Speranza (Father Hope), which stars Spencer.
Deodato also made two theatrical films in the early 90s, the child-friendly drama Mom I Can Do It, starring American actors Chistopher Mattheson and Elisabeth Kemp (He Knows You’re Alone) and The Washing Machine, a sex-packed giallo tale of three sisters, murder and dead bodies found inside washing machines. Again, sadly, this has not yet been reissued in the U.S. so it hasn’t found an appreciative audience.
An appearance by Deodato in big fan Eli Roth’s film Hostel: Part II — which also has a cameos by Fenech as an art class professor — led to the director appearing in films like The Museum of Wonders, Endless Dark, Phantasmagoria and the Italian horror history-referencing Lilith’s Hell in which he plays himself.
After an eight year break, Deodato would direct a segment in The Profane Exhibit, the short Io e mia figlia and a segment in Deathcember. He also would make Ballad In Blood, his first full-length movie in a quarter century. Based on the Meredith Kercher murder case, it retains much of the headline chasing, boundary pushing blood and sleaze that Deodato has traded in for his entire career. Recently available from Severin in the U.S., one can only hope that the label finds a way to bring official releases of his other films to American collectors.
Deodato has also found his way into numerous documentaries — Shudder devoted an entire episode of Cursed Films to his most notorious movie and he’s one of the main interviews in The Found Footage Phenomenon— and has even been the subject of several himself, including Deodato Holocaust.
While Deodato’s films aren’t for everyone, they are important movies to study and enjoy for those willing to take the journey. He’s certainly one of the more interesting Italian filmmakers and one of the last surviving links to the heyday of 70s and 80s darkness that emerged from the country.
Sadly, died on December 29, 2022 at the age of 83. He leaves behind not just a cannibal that changed movies forever, but a rich career filled with movies worth exploring.
A couple of weeks ago on the Drive-In Asylum Double Feature, Bill, Gigi and I were discussing why there weren’t more disco-based slasher movies. Sure, disco died — or so they say, but it never went away and we all know and love this — during Disco Demolition Night on Thursday, July 12, 1979 in Chicago.
That said — Halloween came out in 1978 and disco-based films were still coming out as late as 1980. So why didn’t the slasher genre create more disco-based films?
Here are the few that are agreed upon disco slashers. Can you think of any other ones? We’d appreciate finding more!
Keep in mind — we’re not discussing rave movies or just movies set in nightclubs. And no, even though Phantasm has a flying silver ball, it’s not a disco slasher. Carrie has a disco ball too, but I just don’t think it belongs. This would also write off movies like Hellraiser III, Terminatorand Blade. Nightclubs and raves don’t count.
Prom Night: Perhaps the most well-known of all the few disco slashers, Prom Night came out in 1980, just at the time that there was that strange disco backlash. There’s a story that this movie was shot with the actors dancing to tracks by Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, France Joli and Pat Benatar, but according to composer Paul Zaza, the publishing rights to the songs were larger than the budget of a Canadian tax shelter slasher could afford.
According to the documentary The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night, producer Peter Simpson had Zaza xerox those songs and do slightly different remixes of them for use in the movie. The resulting $10 million dollar copyright lawsuit was settled for $50,000.
The soundtrack was released — originally — only in Japan and the music made its way into other Zaza-scored movies like Ghostkeeper and Curtains.
Don’t Go in the House: With a psychopath who falls asleep listening to loud music on headphones finds himself leaving the safety of rock and roll for the sped up cocaine beats of disco, you can only imagine that the least of his sins is throwing a candle at a young dancer’s hairspray filled coif, an act that barely gets her friends to stop doing the hustle.
A truly mean spirited blast of sheer degeneracy — and therefore everything wonderful about the slasher form — Don’t Go In the House has songs like “Boogie Lightning,” “Dancin’ Close to You,” “Straight Ahead” and “Late Night Surrender” playing in between moments of women being set ablaze and a mother rotting somewhere in a house that has an impossibly huge torture chamber in the basement.
Bloody Moon: Leave it to Jess Franco to embrace not only the slasher, but disco. Throbbing beats play over a poolside disco party, killers with ruined faces, incest, bladesaw butchery, kids getting hit by cars and roller disco. It’s one of those slashers that you keep on saying, “Surely there’s no way they’ll take things this far,” and then Franco says, “I’m actually kind of feeling restrained by this movie and you should see when I really go for it.”
Discopath: While made more than 25 years after the other examples on this list, this is all about a New York fast food cook who goes into a trance killing statue — murderdrone? — whenever he hears disco. After a series of killings, he runs to Montreal and begins wearing special clothing that cuts out sound and makes him almost deaf. But when a surprise disco party at the school where he works as an audio-visual tech goes down, the rage comes back.
House on the Edge of the Park: Before their night of psychosexual madness, Alex and Ricky were planning on going to the disco. So when a disco party breaks out in Gloria’s house and she humiliates Ricky by making him strip and drink, is it any wonder that Alex remembers he’s David Hess and takes over the party, beating people, tying them up and pissing all over them?
Riz Ortolani is seriously astounding, the only music man I can think of that would pair cannibals impaling someone from ass to mouth with a gorgeous sad song. So beyond Cannibal Holocaust, the songs “Sweetly” and “Do It to Me” in this movie just flat out get me ready for the strobe light.
Eyes of Laura Mars: Alright, this might be more disco giallo than disco slasher, but go with us for this. KC & the Sunshine Band and Odyssey are on the soundtrack, so that’s more than enough to qualify this for the list.
Actually, this is totally a disco slasher because beyond the music, disco is all about fashion. And this movie, well, it is fashion. It’s a movie that I want more people to see and appreciate, as it has some really wild moments.
I’ve debated including The Disco Exorcist, but it’s not a slasher. Climax has some great dancing scenes and death as well, but it feels too EDM. Cruising is more punk rock and BDSM and murder mystery than slasher. Fright Night is more nightclub than disco. And Murder Rock feels more Flashdance than Can’t Stop the Music.
The sad fact is that there should be so many more disco slashers. Hopefully, you can think of a few more and put them in the comments.
Finally — something fun that I found as I was writing this:
Spacetoonz are awesome — making DJ video mixtapes of some of our favorite horror movies. Their new mix — Bloody Disco Balls — has a preview on Vimeo and you can buy it now from Diabolik DVD.
A few years ago, I came up with an All-Star movie baseball team. Now that the Pro Bowl is coming this weekend, I’ve picked my lineup of the best movie football players. I invite you to reply with your own draft to see if you can defeat my team — The B&S About Movies Bullies.
Quarterback – Shane Falco, The Replacements
I have a theory here, so go with me. Falco was recruited to play for the Washington Sentinels after a strike hit the league with four games left in the season. He’s a former All-American from Ohio State who badly lost the Sugar Bowl and just fixes boats instead of being a star quarterback. Or is he just undercover? Because he’s played by Keanu Reeves, who also played FBI Special Agent John “Johnny” Utah in Point Break, an Ohio State quarterback who went undercover after leaving football thanks to a knee injury. Also, who amongst us hasn’t been hungover on a Sunday and enjoyed The Replacements on WTBS?
Back up: Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon
Does anyone love football more than a man that introduces himself to an alien race by shouting “Flash Gordon: Quarterback, New York Jets.”? When the game gets close, he will save every one of us.
Running back – Billy Cole, The Last Boy Scout
Sure, there may be better running backs. But how many other players are Tae Bo king Billy Blanks, much less will bring a gun on the field and kill as many players as he can to ensure that the L.A. Stallions win? So like Eternal Champions on Genesis, I have pulled Billy from the point in time before he blows his mind out all over the endzone and jammed him up with even more PCP guaranteeing some chaos.
Fullback/running back – Guard Dunham, The Longest Yard
If you’re just starting to figure out that most of my team has no concerns about penalty yards, just remember that I’m from the hometown of the biggest heels in football, the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that’s the bottom line.
Wide receiver – Rod Tidwell, Jerry McGuire
I might despise this movie, but I have no worry that Tidwell can get the yards we need to win. I am prepared to show him the cash.
Wide receiver – Phillip Elliot, North Dallas Forty
Sure, he has a painkiller problem, but who in the league doesn’t? This team needs a veteran to get the kids in line and there’s no one better at that than this guy.
Tight end – Cheeseburger Eddy, The Longest Yard
I’m drafting based on passion. After all, he’s the man who said, “I got the shakes that’ll make you quake. I got the fries that’ll cross your eyes. I got that burgers that’ll… I just got burgers.”
Yeah, he may not emotionally be that prepared for the big leagues, but there’s no one that cares about the team (and his truck) more.
Guard – Jamal Jackson, The Replacements
A big part of me just wants to draft the entire Washington replacement squad. But that feels like cheating.
Tackle – Louie Lastik, Remember the Titans
“I’m Louie Lastik, I’m offensive lineman, naval family just moved here from Bayonne, someone said football, so I come runnin’. What’s goin’ on everybody?” Welcome to the team. Also, Ethan Suplee, who played thsi role, is in amazing shape today, so that goes into account.
Tackle – Jumbo Fumiko, The Replacements
I promise, no more Washington Sentinels after this one.
Center – Manumana, Necessary Roughness
Good at playing both sides, this big man is perfect for my team of bruisers.
Defensive Line – Switowski, The Longest Yard
I picked this one because that’s Bob Sapp. If you watched Japanese wrestling in the 2000s, he was one of the few bright spots.
I’m excited to change the NFL with my team and finally bring a woman on the field. Plus, I can’t pick Nigel “The Leg” Gruff because I promised no more players from that movie. I debated Ray Finkle from Ace Ventura Pet Detective, but this seemed like the right call.
As we’ve spent an entire week covering the mainstream films of Gregory Hippolyte Brown, also known as Gregory Dark, there’s an entire other list of directing duties that he worked on that you’ve seen but may have not recognized.
Yes, we understand that he had quite the career in adult, but starting in 1996, Dark started directing music videos — back when that was a thing and MTV played them — and achieved plenty of success. The idea that the man who made Let Me Tell Ya ‘Bout White Chicks was making preteen friendly videos was a big story to magazines like Esquire, who published the Tom Junod article “The Devil in Greg Dark,” which starts with this: “He was a pornographer. Maybe the worst pornographer. Now, through Britney and Mandy, he’s teaching our teenage daughters about budding desire.” and perpetuates Dark’s legend by saying that the director “…might be the devil.”
It also explains why so many bands hired him.
“There’s a whole generation of kids who learned about sex from my fucked-up movies. A lot of gangster rappers and guys in heavy-metal bands still come up to me and say, “Gregory Dark, I had my first sexual experience watching New Wave Hookers!””
Click on any of the song titles to see these videos.
The Melvins “Bar-X the Rocking M“: The first video that Dark sort of fell into, this definitely has the feel of the adult work that he was making in 1996, but was the start of his video career. Adult actress Roxanne Hall, who told Dark in the adult film Snake Pit that ” like knives, I like to be cut, I like to be choked. I like weird sex. I like it rough and I know one of these days I’ll end up dying with a smile on my face,” appears in this video. You can learn more about the video in this incredibly well-written Diabolique article.
Sublime “Wrong Way” and “Doing Time“: Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996 the day after their last live show and two months before their third album would become a success. With no band to actually perform the songs, MTV put both of these Dark-directed videos into heavy rotation. Doppelganger cameraman Vance Burberry was the cinematographer for “Wrong Way,” while Kim Haun, the cinematographer on “Doin’ Time,” was the cameraman on Malibu High. The makeup on “Wrong Way” was by former adult actress Kelly Nichols.
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot“: Co-directed with Bob Murawski, the Academy Award-winning editor of The Hurt Locker, this was the second video for this song, as the first “wasn’t up to MTV standards.” It won the band a nomination for Best New Artist in a Video at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. This was shot by Julian Whatley, who ran camera on se7en.
Orgy “Blue Monday“: At the time of this cover song’s release, more people probably knew the Orgy version than the original New Order version.
Mandy Moore “Walk Me Home” and “So Real“: The dichotomy of the man who directed Traci Lords as a preteen — unknown to Dark — and the preteens who shaped the buying and romantic identity of other preteens is fascinating, particularly when you consider that Dark’s father was an occult-interested anthropologist and his main father figure was a psyops military analyst (from Dark’s interview with The Rialto Report).
Vitamin C “Graduation“: Dark discussed this video on The Rialto Report, saying that while he didn’t like the song, he recognized the challenge of showing the changes in a woman’s life in a short video and that’s why he enjoyed the results. As Colleen Fitzpatrick, Vitamin C would appear in several movies, including Dracula 2000.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Beebe grew up in the Northeast. He studied film at the University of Hartford. He’s held boom mics, wrangled cables, grabbed a camera etc. on little local shoots. He is a music fanatic, and is working on a book devoted to the NYC underground hip hop scene of the ’90s. He plans on following that with writings on obscure hard rock and proto-metal bands of the ’70s. His favorite film is Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar.
Have you ever been struck by how interrogating and shamelessly harsh certain horror titles seem? Who Saw Her Die? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? are both infamousgialli that without doubt inform the viewer an unpleasant experience awaits. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is one of a few examples of psychological terrors directed by Curtis Harrington that also comes to mind; it’s ridiculous sounding, but nevertheless accentuates mystery and violence, particularly, harm to a female. It’s also another title that begins with use of the 5 Ws. The late Harrington was an American filmmaker who often displayed a European sensibility and an extravagant visual style, but this is where most of the similarities between his work and the notorious Italian subgenre end. Something like Alice,Sweet, Alice is regarded among horror obsessives as a perfect American attempt at being thematically and stylistically linked to the best gialli. While no stranger to cinematic bloodletting, Harrington instead falls into a seemingly less celebrated, slightly more restrained and somber cinema of “Personality” horror, a sub-genre that was defined by writer Charles Derry in a 1974 issue of the great CINEFANTASTIQUE (Volume 3 Number 3). That very article serves as an invaluable document in placing Harrington as a major figure in a category that specializes in depicting madness on screen, with a less flashy, slower paced, perhaps old fashioned manner, in comparison to the loud and gorier approaches of his Italian counterparts. The giallo-inspired original Halloween is of course beloved as a film that puts viewers thrilled to the point of clinging to or jumping out of their seats. Watch Harrington’s The Killing Kind on a rainy day or a lonely late night, and you’ll be more likely filled with dread and reflections on the emotional well-being of yourself and those who you know closely. No wonder it seems that Curtis is forgotten by so many! But is he really forgotten? Beginning with the groundbreaking (in my view) piece by Charles Derry, in which he is included with William Castle and Robert Aldrich to complete the triple threat of Personality horror auteurs, there are highly recommended sources to seek out for beginners to Harrington, and maybe even the genre enthusiasts that had written him off as only having a minor role in horror film history. Even if his style and concerns appear to make for an unpleasant chore to some, there’s a lot to unpack in the story of his youth and career in Hollywood, experiences and accomplishments that at the very least grant Harrington as a practitioner of high art.
Let’s go back to the CINEFANTASTIQUE article for a moment. We can easily make the connection between the campy sounding titles What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?by Aldrich and Harrington’s What’s the MatterWith Helen? The latter arrived almost 10 years after the legendary Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford vehicle, which is arguably the film that launched the “crazy old lady” genre, also often labeled as “hag-horror”. The formula for Aldrich’s 1962 film, based on a novel of the same name, proved to be an overall astounding success. A few years later, Harrington began making similarly titled, disturbing thrillers focused on the fragile mental states of aging women imprisoned in run down mansions, sadly hanging onto memories of a foregone era. The longing for a glorious comeback in the showbiz universe is also a reoccurring element shared between the two directors. So is Harrington an opportunist? Maybe, but in the sense that he saw a chance to be greenlit while also working with imagery, characters and themes that were genuine obsessions of his. His debut feature film was the waterlogged Night Tide (1961) and like the highly regarded Avant-garde shorts he started with as a teenager/young man in the 1940s-1950s, a gloomy atmosphere and preoccupation with loss, madness and death was already prevalent. The CINEFANTASTIQUE overview of Personality horror cinema also includes an early interview with Harrington, and it reveals that he was determined to cast Old Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich, then in her mid-‘60s in his first major studio film Games (1967), and importantly, in discussing What’s the MatterWith Helen? he says: “To me, the film was a very affectionate recreation of a period in Los Angeles history which I have my own tremendous feeling of nostalgia for. I was trying to show lives on the fringe of Hollywood in the ‘30s.” In addition to being fascinated by middle and older aged women and actresses, Harrington also had a knack for directing them. He was applauded by industry veterans for being able to evoke intense performances from a number of actresses who weren’t known to suffer fools lightly, while managing to also stay friendly.
About those outlandish film titles: they appear to have been imposed on Harrington by studio heads and producers, something that plagued his filmography, just like he was forced to work with screenwriters and cinematographers who he detested. The two Harrington/Shelley Winters films discussed here are based on scripts and stories with far subtler titles. Any interview with Harrington has plenty of sad and frustrating recounts of development hell and productions where he had little choice but to personally fulfill multiple tasks and still find his work compromised when released theatrically, and on television. And home video-the story behind the botched first videocassette release of his sole gross out flick Ruby (1977) is laughably perplexing.
Another major genre magazine was Fangoria, where Harrington was interviewed in the early 1980s by the late, legendary author of fanzine Sleazoid Express, Bill Landis, in one of his few submissions to the more mainstream publication. This is interesting because if you read the Sleazoid Express book, which covers the exploitation film explosion in the Times Square movie theater scene, neither Harrington nor his films are mentioned. Nothing in the Harrington oeuvre fits Sleazoid. His films undoubtedly played drive-ins and grindhouses, but how likely is it that they splattered across screens to the delight of rowdy crowds in the way that Make Them Die Slowly famously did? Landis’ interest in Harrington is probably a result of their shared connection to a peer from the Avant-garde days, Kenneth Anger, who Landis later authored a biography on. Anger had a falling out with Harrington and eventually Landis, but there was a time when both Kenneth and Curtis, as early as their teenage years, were renowned worldwide as two groundbreaking homoerotic, experimental filmmakers. Anger never involved himself with feature-length studio film production, but he enjoys an almost rock star reputation because, well, he hung out and collaborated with the likes of Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page. There’s also the notion that Anger’s shorts were more electrifying and influential to popular culture than the shadowy, tormented early cinema of Harrington. As mentioned, Kenneth Anger was once a friend but has been known to be a somewhat volatile, difficult personality. Despite making no secret of his constant battles with pushy studio execs, “creative producers”, clueless cameramen, inferior set dressers, incompetent writers, by pretty much all accounts, Curtis Harrington was one of the nice guys.
“Before Lynch…Before Cronenberg…CURTIS HARRINGTON” proclaims the cover of the Nov/Dec 1992 issue of Video Watchdog, graced by a chilling close-up of the crazed smile of the Queen of Blood (ironically, one of his more impersonal projects). This issue features an outstanding collection of writing on Harrington, with Stephen R. Bissette’s typically brilliant analysis and historical overview of the early experimental shorts, a videography by VW publisher Tim Lucas and an interview with Harrington conducted by longtime friend Bill Kelley. Throughout, Harrington offers candid recollections of his career-long battles with the Hollywood studio system; at this point, he hadn’t made a feature film in nearly a decade. Something that makes this interview so endearing is how he often finds himself laughing at the absurdity of the film business. He has a sense of humor about how his hard work, talent and personal vision can so easily go down the drain. Overall, he seems like a pretty nice guy!
Here’s a weird question: what do ‘90s indie rock darlings/mopes Pavement and Curtis Harrington have in common? No, he didn’t direct one of their videos. They both were handled by sophisticated record label Drag City, in Harrington’s case publishing his posthumous autobiography aptly titled Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood in 2013. The same year, Drag City in collaboration with Flicker Alley also released The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection on Blu-ray. Both, of course, are unequivocally essential.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD release of The Killing Kind, his most blistering film
VCI Entertainment’s Blu-ray/DVD release of Ruby, which is simultaneously his most fun movie and troubled production. This one is a very dingy and ridiculous piece of work. And very ‘70s, even though it was, like many Harrington’s, a period piece. The transfer is decent enough and the cut is thankfully his preferred version. The bonus features include interviews with Harrington conducted by David Del Valle, a saint to the genre, who surely is Harrington’s biggest fan, from 1988 and 2001. There are multiple audio commentaries with Del Valle, excellent liner notes (!) by Harrington expert Nathanial Bell and yet another audio commentary, this time with Harrington and Ruby herself, actress Piper Laurie
Also, on some dreary day or especially dark evening, take a look at two specific television movies of his, How Awful About Allan and The Dead Don’t Die, charming and spooky little gems that Harrington doesn’t disown, and that can be easily found online.
In 1980, Joe D’Amato started Filmirage, a production company that would help create his movies as well as the films of others. They released more than forty movies in fourteen years, which is a pretty good record. By 1994, D’Amato had made the move to almost strictly making adult films and had left theaters and even the horror movie shelves behind.
Here are the movies of Filmirage, some of the most disreputable blasts of sleaze ever committed to celluloid.
Anthropophagus (1980): The studio started strong with this release, a gut muching, busting and destroying downbeat beach epic that has a menancing tone that still strikes hard four decades after it was made. You need to get the insanely awesome Severin Video rerelease or watch it as The Grim Reaper on Tubi.
Absurd(1981): I hold firm to my belief that this movie was set in Pittsburgh during the Super Bowl XIV game against the Los Angeles Rams. It’s also my third favorite movie in the Halloween series, because it’s pretty much the second one all over again. I mean that as a recommendation. Severin Films re-released this film with all of their trademark quality and insanity. You can also watch it on Tubi.
Cuando calienta el sol… vamos a la playa (1981): This movie about Stefano, a boxer on holiday who falls in love. It has Giovanni Frezza in its cast, so beware.
Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982): The first of the series of four sword and sorcery films, Ator is great if you love giant spiders, Edmund Purdom, Sabrina Siani and can deal with a hero who totally wants to get down with his sister.
Endgame(1983): This entire site sometimes feels like my love for this movie. I mean, end of the world psychic ninjas and mutated fishmen and Laura Gemser and George Eastman and just order it from You can get it from Severin.
L’alcova (1985): If you come home from the war and bring Laura Gemser to your wife who already hates you and has been having an affair with your secretary, things are not going to work out. They’re going to be crazy getting there, though.
The Pleasure (1985): Oh man, this movie is wrong on the kind of level that only an Italian sex drama written by Claudio Fragasso and directed by Joe D’Amato can be. TL:DR a girl falls for her father’s old lover, who wants to recreate her through the young girl.
A Lustful Mind (1986): When Alessio’s mother died, he lost his voice. After his father gets married again, he’s sent to live in the country to recuperate. And while daddy is playing with the new mommy, an aunt and an art restorer, his son is sailing the seas of mayonnaise wishing it was him doing all the actual sex.
Convent of Sinners(1986): Joe D’Amato. Who else would make a movie in which a girl is assaulted by her father, sent to a convent, falls for a priest and then has lesbian nuns accuse her of being possessed so that they can scissor out her sins?
Christina (1986): Christina is wealthy and neglected, which is exactly the kind of recipe for a D’Amato movie heroine. You’ve seen it before, but you can see Laura Gemser every day for the rest of your life and it’s still as great as the first time. Also: I apologize that this article has become “ways to mention how wonderful Ms. Gemser is.”
Delizia(1986): When a centerfold takes over her family home, all manner of lovemaking ensures. Lead actress Tinì Cansino claimed she was the niece of Rita Hayworth. Who are we to call her out?
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987): Some people are content to watch 9 and 1/2 Weeks. Joe D’Amato was determined to make a better movie and he had Jessica Moore on his side, as well as the city of New Orleans as his majestic canvas. Way better than it has any right to be.
StageFright (1987): It’s not hyperbole when I say that Michele Soavi is at the same level as Argento, Fulci and Martino. Even in his first movie, a slasher written by George Eastman and produced by D’Amato, he’s immediately firing on every cylinder and unleashing sheer mayhem, as well as one of the best-dressed killers ever. Watch it on Tubi.
Ghosthouse (1988): Also known as La Casa 3 — don’t get us started — this Umberto Lenzi film is everything Filimrage: the soft darkness of shot on film madness with a synth soundtrack and characters who want to convince you they’re in an American movie but have been beamed down from another galaxy. Also, the fact that Lenzi used Humphrey Humbert as his name on this movie delights me every single moment of every day.
Top Model (1988): It seems like Filmrage delights in confusion: Top Model is the sequel to Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, yet there is also an Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2. This one is way better, perhaps even better than the first movie. It also has a theme song that plays more than the one in Super Fuzz.
Too Beautiful to Die(1988): Let the rest of the world think giallo is dead. Just like disco, it will never go away. This high fashion blast of insanity tops my list of 80s giallo and you can get it from Vinegar Syndrome.
Witchery(1988): The next Ghosthouse film boasts Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff, as so many of the Filmirage movies were made with the hopes of conquering America through theaters and then, if that didn’t work, VCRs. You can watch this on Tubi.
Dirty Love (1988): Who would make a dirtier Dirty Dancing and cast Jeff Stryker in it? We all know the answer. Joe D’Amato. It also features the incredibly named Valentine Demy, who went from waitressing to lingerie model to D’Amato star while she was 17. Today, she’s still making adult films. By the way, the video box above is perhaps my favorite D’Amato ad object ever made, as it has a great tagline — “Dirty Love continues where Dirty Dancing dare not go” — and a sticker that screams “Directed by Joe D’Amato the maker of Eleven Days, Eleven Nights.” Who did they make that for? Me?
Zombi 5: Killing Birds (1988): I get the feeling that sometimes, all Joe D’Amato wanted to do was chill. The jury is out as to whether he directed this, but I say he did. Somehow he got Robert Vaughn to be in a movie about zombie birds, so God bless him. You can order this from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Tubi.
11 Days 11 Nights Part 3(1989): I assure you that there’s a second film in this series and it came out two years after this one, while Top Modelis also listed as the second movie. Look, things are confusing. What can I tell you?
Interzone (1989): An Italian post-apocalyptic movie written by Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi and director Deran Sarafian (Alien Predator) that I somehow have not watched yet? How does this happen? And it has Tegan Clive, The Alienator, in the cast? I’m sorry to the readers of our site, I am really dropping the ball.
Blue Angel Cafe (1989): Tara Buckman, of Night Killer fame, is an exotic dancing lounge singer in love with a politician who loses his fortune and sobriety thanks to her adoration. You know, D’Amato could have made ten movies with Buckman and I’d watch them all. Sadly, he only made this and High Finance Woman.
Hitcher in the Dark(1989): Umberto Lenzi may not have made as good a film as The Hitcher, but darn it if he didn’t make perhaps a more fascinating one. Daddy issues, RV driving, murder on the highway, mind games, this was released in Italy as — you know it — Hitcher 2. You can get this from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Tubi.
La stanza delle parole (1989): With Henry and June seeming like it was going to be a big arthouse deal, Filmirage wondered, “But can you make a version more people want to jack off to?” Enzo Sciotti got the memo and made a poster that destroys minds and pushes young boys into puberty before they’re ready. The Laura Gemser is the nearly too rich cherry on top. “Based on the diaries of Anais Ninn?” Oh Filmirage, you crazy.
Any Time, Any Play (1990): A card dealer and a lounge singer fall out of love, into other beds and back into love, bringing organized crime down on them.
Deep Blood (1990): If you thought Joe D’Amato didn’t have a Jaws ripoff in him, then you don’t know Joe D’Amato. Or Federiko Slonisko. Or Michael Wotruba. Or David Hills. Or Kevin Mancuso. Or Joan Russell. Or Raf Donato, the name he used when he directed this. You can get this from Severin, who used our quote on the back cover, or watch it on Tubi.
High Finance Woman(1990): Tara Buckman and Joe D’Amato come together again for a story about a stockbroker — the title says so much — who has an affair with a father and son.
Metamorphosis (1990): George Eastman directed this version of The Fly was called Re-Animator 2 in Spain. If that doesn’t tell you why I love it, you haven’t been reading this site. You can watch it on Tubi.
Quest for the Mighty Sword(1990): Joe D’Amato could have made five thousand Ator movies and I would be defending every single one of them. This one — also known as Ator III: The Hobgoblin, Hobgoblin, Quest for the Mighty Sword and Troll 3 because it has the costume from Troll 2 — finds D’Amato reclaiming his character after Iron Warrior, a sequel he did not like.
Body Moves (1990): A disco fight. Yes, somehow Filmirage was trying to get into all the different hot angles of the late 80s and 90s and dance competitions seemed the way to money. You have to love them for trying.
Beyond Darkness(1990): Also known as Evil Dead 5, Horror House II, Ghosthouse 6 and House 5, this Claudio Fragasso-directed film has Troll 2 star Michael Stephenson, D’Amato filming things and Laura Gemser making the costumes. You can get it from Severin or watch this tale of a child murderer coming after a priest and his family on Tubi.
Troll 2 (1990): Somehow, Joe D’Amato was able to send Claudio Fragasso, his wife Rossella Drudi, costume designer Laura Gemser and the Filmirage crew to Utah to make one of the strangest movies ever. I hate that people watch this ironically, because I just plain love it. It’s a pure example of a movie that came from another reality to ours and has no idea how human beings act. It’s literally like being in an ever-changing dream, including a moment where you piss all over your family’s dinner.
The Crawlers(1990): Known by many names, just like the man who directed it, you can call this Troll 3, Creepers or Contamination .7. It’s got killer plants, an attack on Utah and horribly dumb humans in it. You already know that I love it. Go ahead, watch it on Tubi.
Passion’s Flower (1991): Jeff and Gordon own a drug store and just when Jeff gets to town, he falls in lust for a woman that turns out to be his brother’s wife who wants her to kill him and he wants to kill them both and look — Laura Gemser plays a prostitute so kind that she gives Jeff a freebie when he forgets his wallet. Obviously, this movie is total science fiction.
Ossessione fatale (1991): D’Amato — and a few other Italian directors — realized that the erotic thrillers that American video stores and cabe wanted were just giallo. This time around, D’Amato went back to Emanuelle and Francoise to tell the story of a woman who turns the tables on a man, turning him into a captive slave and using him for pleasure. Of course she moves on and he falls in love.
Il diavolo nella carne (1991): Also known as War Baby and The Devil in the Flesh, this has three female nurses and a female doctor encounter commandoes and a wounded prime minister and, well, love comes from rough handling I guess.
Favola crudele (1991):The Dark Tale is the story of a 9-year-old who falls for the handsome of her dreams prince who is really a terrorist because didn’t Fulci lie when he warned us, “No one will ever know whether the children are monsters or the monsters are children.” Directed and written by Robert Leoni, who also wrote American Rickshaw, Santa Sangre and My Dear Killer.
11 Days, 11 Nights 2(1991): A sequel in name only, even though the character of Sarah comes back and is now played by Kristine Rose. After being married and quickly separated, she gets the new job of being the executor of the estate of Lionel Durrington, one of her past lovers and the richest man in Louisiana. Consider this Malibu Express with less guns and somehow almost as much sex. Which means it’s closer to Stacey.
A Woman’s Secret (1992): I love when American actors find themselves in Italian productions. This D’Amato-directed film has Margaux Hemingway (I mean, she’s also in Killer FIsh and They Call Me Bruce? so perhaps I should not be so surprised) as a woman whose New Orleans affair becomes dangerous. Also — Apollonia Kotero. Yes, the Apollonia from Purple Rain. How did Joe — who produced under the name John Gelardi and did cinematography as Frederic Slonisko — not get Laura Gemser, who was on set as the costume designer, into a scene with Apollonia? Maybe as fun sisters who have a Pretty Woman shopping scene?
Door to Silence (1992): I would assume that John Savage had a two-movie deal with Filmirage and followed Favola crudele with the last movie that Lucio Fulci would direct. I mean, it has a quote that doesn’t match the source material, one of my favorite Fulci tics: “When you go to the gates of nothingness, no one will be near you: only the shadow of your death – Book Four of the Apocalypse.” Yet when producer John Gelardi saw the film, he thought it was too slow, so he went back to New Orleans and shot some new scenes. Gelardi is, of course, Lucio Fulci. And he replaced Fulci’s name — supposedly his last few films didn’t do well — with the alias H. Simon Kittay.
Frankenstein 2000 (1992): As D’Amato closed in on the end of his directing career, he made what should have been a no-brainer, a film that had Donald O’Brien as the monster and Cinthia Monreale as the woman he died protecting, now animating him from her coma. It should be great, it isn’t, but it’s still interesting, which is more than most movies can say.
Una tenera storia (1993): This was Laura Gemser’s last film role, which makes me pretty sad. Let’s pause for a moment so I can collect myself. Ah man, who ordered all these onions? Anyway, Love Project is a soap opera pretty much, but you know, with sex. Cinemax sex. If you look at the credits and see a Daniele Massaccesi, that isn’t Joe. It’s his son. Look at softcore movies bringing families together.
Tales of Red Chamber (1993): The genius of D’Amato is that people thought that these films that he produced were straight up Asian movies that he imported. Well, Robert Yip is…Joe D’Amato. He made a bunch of these movies and they’re on the list, but any time I’m really down (like just a minute ago, thinking of Laura Gemser being done acting) I say Robert Yip out loud and I get happy.
Instinct (1994): Joe D’Amato used the name James Burke for this film about a woman who moves into the home of her dead sister and this is an erotic thriller, which we all know is a giallo.
China and Sex(1994): Filmirage closed up shop with one last Robert Yip-directed film. The end of an era, one filled with zombies munching people, houses filled with evil children, Laura Gemser and the hundreds of names of Joe D’Amato. Just seeing the name before a movie makes me feel better about this sad world. Take some time, track down some of their movies and see if you feel the same.
Editor’s Note: This cinematic journey will take us from 1970 to 1983, as we explore 36 films.You’ll find links to individual, expanded reviews for some of those films, which will, in turn, have links to watch the films online. There is, admittedly, a lot to unpack here. So bookmark this article — and come back, often — for your one-source guide to discovering Christian films, films that exploited the genre, and other films that searched for the deeper meaning and purpose of man.
Trailers and/or the full films for each film we’ve reviewed can easily be found online through a wide array of video hosting and streaming service.
We dove deep into the radioactive, post-apocalyptic pools with our two-part, two-month long September and October 2019 extravaganza with all manner of “End of the World” flicks — as well as a few from the Christian Cinema subgenre of biblical prophecy-based films.
Since then, as is our obsession with niche genres, we went a little bit overboard as we reviewed more of the puritanical pablum. So, let’s round up all of those “Christian Cinema” reviews — along with a few new ones, and a few you won’t expect — as we learn more about the beginnings of the genre and its post-apocalypse subgenre concerned with the Apocalypse as foretold in the Book of Revelations of The Holy Bible.
Christian Cinema is known by secular audiences as Christploitation or Godsploitation, and as with any “-ploitation” sub-genre of films, such as Blaxploitation or Hicksploitation*, someone is exploited. So instead of African-Americans or Southerners, Jesus Christ is used to gain financial success. Only, instead of clipping taboo trends or lurid content concerning sex and violence into the frames, these proselytizing flicks center around Christian practices. As is the production model of any -ploitation film, Christian Cinema product takes their “wholesome” plot points way over the top (even more so than secular exploiters), where all non-believers are inherently evil (and ripe for the guillotine, fiery pits, or mass graves), Russians, Chinese, and Israeli peoples are behind the “end times” and are inherently damned (at least in the older, more crazed films), and Christians are perpetually oppressed for their (cheesy) patriotism (e.g, a gun is put to a believer’s head as they are told to renounce Christ; they’re bound, then dropped on spikes, etc.).
Christploitation films — even more so with their updated, ‘ 90s and ’00s versions — are in fact, not analogous to the secular, major studio biblical films of old; films that intended to inspire hope (but were “exploitative” none the less). Most of the films we explore on this list (and others we name drop within reviews) are intended to frighten you into believing. That is if they don’t make you, the secular viewer, guffaw, first. And that’s because Christian filmmakers, as well as Christian musicians, are creating their preaching-to-the-choir art solely for religious purposes, forgetting they need to create good art; a non-hokey art that will appeal to a mass audience beyond their respective Christian targets. Thus the reason for the major studio biblical-based films garnering more positive reviews and box office returns than their low-budgeted, Christian-indie counterparts.
In the pages of the book Media, Culture, and the Religious Right by Linda Kintz and Julia Lesage (1998; University of Minnesota Press), we learn that, in the 1940s, Christian film libraries emerged. Soon, Christian businessmen, most notably Harvey W. Marks, who started the Visual Aid Center in 1945, invested in the what became the earliest video stores, by creating libraries for the faithful to rent audiovisual materials and supplies churches with product. By 1968, Christian Cinema, a small theater in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, was opened by Harry Bristow to screen Christian-based films. That theater-based ministry continued its mission until its newer location in Ambler, Pennsylvania, ceased operation in the mid-1990s.
Subtly is not part of the narrative in most of the films we’re looking at or referring to; most wear their earnestness (especially those of the post-Cloud Ten Productions variety; now PureFlix has entered the fray alongside Albany, Georgia-based Sherwood Pictures) on their sleeves, leaving one with a sanctimonious, but never dull (well, sometimes; okay, most times) film. Whether or not the film is irreverent or irrelevant to one’s life depends on the secular or Christian insights of the viewers. Christian cinema isn’t for everyone, as is horror films based/set within the Bible (such as The Exorcist or The Omen) are for everyone.
While biblical-based films have been produced since the silent era and the earliest days of the “Talkies,” (1915’s Civilization, 1935’s Golgotha, and 1941’s all-Black production The Blood of Jesus are worthy of mention) the genre hit its stride in the 1950s, with the major studios’ “Books of the Bible ” epics of Samson and Delilah (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), Quo Vadis (1951), The Robe (1953), Salome (1953), Slaves of Babylon (1953), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), The Silver Chalice (1954), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), The Big Fisherman (1959), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Esther and the King (1960), The Story of Ruth (1960), Barabbas (1961), Francis of Assisi (1961), King of Kings (1961), A Story of David (1961), Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and The Bible: In the Beginning(1966). Also released during this period were Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic take with The Milky Way (1969) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s neo-realist (a really fine must-watch) The Gospel According to Matthew (1964). Other faith-based films released during this period included A Man Called Peter (1955), Mother Joan of the Angels (1961), Satan Never Sleep (1962), Lillies of the Field (1963), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966), 7 Women (1966), and The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). And while it is looked upon as a war film, Sergeant York (1941) chronicles the faith-based life of Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I. (The faith-based life of World War II conscientious objector Desmond Doss is chronicled in 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge.) Then there’s the “western” Stars in My Crown (1950), where a pastor preaches in a dangerous town — with a gun on his side.
Of course, all of those early, major studio, secular versions of the bible were rife with A-List stars, such as Stuart Granger, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with the “faith” aspects of the film’s source materials taking a backseat to the glitz and glam of Hollywood (even more so with 2014’s later, competing Sfx spectacles Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale and Noah starring Russell Crowe). It was time for churches and faith-based production companies to begin making their own films to get the story, straight.
Prior to the Christian Cinema industry that we know today becoming big business in the ’90s and ‘2000s, courtesy of widespread, mainstream theatrical and cable television showings, as well as those Christian media concerns embracing the DVD format to distribute their proselytizing wares, the church-financed indie-genre started out as “roadshow” films.
Those were the days when films literally “hit the road,” traveling from church showing to church showing, from tent revival to tent revival. No secular drive-in or indoor theater would offer a free screen for such fare, and the organizations behind these early Christian Cinema flicks weren’t about to pay to “four-wall” a tour of secular venues (a marketing venue that worked for the much later, Christian-oriented film, Flywheel, from Albany, Georgia’s Sherwood Pictures). So, the first exposure for the many (well, the followers of a particular church or pastor) of several of the films on this list were inside church auditoriums, chapels, and revival tents. Some may have had additional showings on local/rural UHF-TV channels in the 1970s, as well on the 1973-incorporated, UHF-based Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Then, with the advent of the home video market, these once lost, underground church n’ tent films broke away from their puritanical obscurity into the secular, VCR-inclined curiosity seekers during the home video ’80s.
As the home video marketplace completed its transformation from analog tapes to DVDs, Christian author Tim LaHaye, along with writer Jerry B. Jenkins, inspired a Christian-leaning post-apoc industry in 1995 with their first book in the 12-title Left Behind adult novel series. The books, replete with elements of sci-fi, horror and action, became a series with critical acclaim and sales that matched the secular works of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. In the pages of a February 2005 TIME magazine interview, world renowned pastoral leader Jerry Falwell said, “In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s [the Left Behind books] probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.”
And as with King and Clancy before him, Hollywood optioned LaHaye’s works for theatrical adaptions, which became a tetraology franchise by Canadian’s Paul and Peter LaLonde Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures, a studio that specializes in end-times films. The original three films were Left Behind: The Movie (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), and Left Behind: World at War (2005). The films were so successful in the home video and cable television marketplace, a big screen theatrical reboot starring Nicolas Cage (be sure to visit our exploration of Nicolas Cage’s career),Left Behind, was released in 2014.
But let’s step back for a moment.
In between the paranoia-driven insights of Donald W. Thompson, with his decade-long, four-part Thief in the Night film series, and secular exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond teaming with Mississippi evangelist Estus Pirkle to let loose a half-dozen films, most which dealt with the tales of the Apocalypse, mainstream studio 20th Century Fox stole their “thunder,” if you will, to give us Richard Donner’s influential The Omen (1976). Its tale of the coming Antichrist not only spawned four sequels between 1976 to 1991, as well as a 2006 remake, it spawned a puritanical plethora of Italian and Spanish knockoffs**.
Prior to The Omen, William Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, The Exorcist, more so inspired the European film industry**, with the book’s 1973 film adaptation by William Friedkin. But those films, as they wore on, shed their religious elements and concentrated on the horror, to the point the “faith element” that served as the soul purpose of the films by Donald W. Thompson and Ron Ormond, were lost. Some of those faith-based elements of early ’70s Christian Cinema found their way back in the major studio system, with Columbia Pictures’ apocalyptic-horror drama The Seventh Sign (1988) and New Line Pictures took a break from the Freddie slasher flicks to produce their biblical thriller-drama, The Rapture (1991).
And that takes us back to 1995 and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s debut, best selling book, Left Behind.
Inspired by LaHaye’s books, the LaLonde Brothers, prior to their optioning of Left Behind as the best-distributed film from Cloud Ten Pictures, produced their own tetraology based on the end times chronicled in the Book of Revelations. The first in the series, known as Apocalypse (1998) during its initial release, was retitled Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm for the home video market. The next films in the series each carried “Apocalypse” colon prefixes with Roman numerations for the sequels Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000), and Judgement (2001).
Paul and Jan Crouch’s TBN, which began airing these modern-day biblical apoc flicks to ratings success, weren’t going to be “left behind,” so they bankrolled their own “End of Times” flick with Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004). That film, starring faith-based actor David A.R. White, led to his forming his own studio, PureFlix (think Netflix, only for Christians). The studio, in turn, produced their own Rapture films with The Moment After (1999), The Moment After 2 (2006), In the Blink of an Eye (2009), and Jerusalem Countdown (2011). Of course, the biggie for TBN was the theatrically-released The Omega Code (1999) starring Casper Van Dien and Michael York, which spawned an equally-successful sequel in Meddigo: The Omega Code 2 (2001).
Each of these proselytizing flicks, as with the Left Behind series, upped their Christian Cinema game by casting past-their prime actors, but reliable and dependable actors none the less, such as Stephen Baldwin, Corbin Bernsen, Gary Busey, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, Nick Mancuso, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mr. T, and Eric Roberts. And, as with Cloud Ten Pictures, those films also achieved significant sales, rentals, and ratings. They also failed with secular critics, with the word “worthless” accompanying their zero-to-half-star reviews. But evangelical reviewers — the intended audience — loved the films, lamenting their “transformative messages” for the masses.
Transformation or movement of the Holy Spirit was, of course, not the goal of the obviously superior produced End of Days (1999) directed by Peter Hyams and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and The Book of Eli (2010), backed by producer royalty in Joel Silver and starring Denzel Washington. Those films backburner the faith-aspects and placed the obvious sci-fi, horror and action elements prevalent in the books written by John (the Apostle or of Patmos; opinions vary) to the forefront. And once Christian-based studios, such Cloud Ten Productions, PureFlix, and Sherwood Pictures began breaking box office and retail rental records (with films like Do You Believe? and Let There Be Light), the major studios responded with, again the likes of Exodus: Gods and Kings (Christian Bale as Moses), Noah (Russell Crowe as the crazy boat guy), and Mary Magdalene (2018; Rooney Mara as Mary and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus).
Now, let’s see if we can transform you with our reviews to these lost premillennialist flicks — with a few tangents that question who and what is the purpose of man — of Christian Cinema. Remember, we, as a society, just came out of the Vietnam War and were still feeling the dread of the Korean War. Man needed answers. And Hollywood was ready to answer the calling to instill either apeirophobia (the fear of eternity) and ouranophobia (the fear of heaven) in movie goers to make a buck. For you need not be a Christian to exploit Jesus Christ. Amen.
Aliens mixed with your bible was big business in the ’70s, much to the chagrin of the traditionalist fire-and-brimstone brigade (who believe UFOs “are Devils” sent to distract you) — and this is the film where The History Channel’s Giorgio A. Tsoukalos got his ancient aliens schtick. First released as Erinnerungen an die Zukunft, a German-produced film based on Erich von Däniken’s 1968 worldwide best-seller Chariots of the Gods? , this ancient aliens trailblazer extrapolates aliens and interplanetary craft to the Holy Bible’s Book of Ezekiel.
When this raked in $26 million in U.S. box office and received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, documentaries on the mysteries of Earth and space, were thou loosed. A down-on-his-luck William Shatner got into the ancient-biblical astronauts game with Mysteries of the Gods (1977), while Rod Serling pulled a paycheck in 1973 with In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection — all released by Sunn Classics, the studio behind Chariots.
On a personal note: I had a pastor tell me that there can’t be life on other planets, as Jesus doesn’t have the time to go from planet to planet, flying from galaxy to galaxy on a chariot, dying for everyone’s sins.
But isn’t Jesus the Son of God who turned water into wine and fed the 5,000-strong multitudes with five loaves and two fish? Can’t Jesus do everything? Aren’t all things possible with God? And why does Jesus have to fly on a chariot? Can’t he just “appear” where he needs to go in an instant?
Then I was forced to watch a Rom Ormond-Estus Pirkle flick in the chapel for our mandatory Wednesday service to wise up my inquisitiveness. For the rule is not to question: It is DO as Pastor says . . . or it off to the “bible room” you go. Yes. The Bible Room. (It’s not as bad as Carrie White in the closet, but it’s damn close to it.)
Christian Cinema of the ’70s boils down to this trailblazer based on the worldwide, 1963 best-seller on the life of Pentecostal pastor David Wilkerson (45 million-selling ’50s pop singer Pat Boone) who — alone and with no money — goes to the mean streets of Brooklyn to witness to street gang members. He comes to meet Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada), the leader of the Mau Maus, whom he eventually transforms though Jesus Christ. A box office success — directed by actor Don Murray (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) — the film was dubbed into 30 languages and has been enjoyed over the years in 150 countries.
Erik Estrada would impress, again, in his second film, one that is also critically (criminally) remembered as a Christploiter — but is not the least exploitative — the musician-cautionary tale, The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972). Don’t let the presence of Pat Boone deter you: both he and Estrada, are excellent; while Don Murray proves as a solid director who should have made more films.
The first exposure of this early Christian post-apoc’er by secular audiences was the film’s dialog appearing on Negativland’s albums Escape from Noise (1987) and Helter Stupid (1989) (which subsequent garnered mainstream press in alt-rock publications, a first for Pastor Pirke). Courtesy of the “modern” technology of VCR, this once forgotten film, not seen outside of church services and tent revivals, found a new audience on home video. After one viewing, we, the secular, sinning hoards were hooked; we sought out the rest of the utterly insane Ormond-Pirkle canons.
If you were unfortunate enough during your middle-to-high school life subjected to 16-mm shorts regarding drugs, vandalism, and teen pregnancy during social sciences and civics classes (which also played in private schools), that’s what we have here: the same slanted, low-budget drive-in styled production values, only as a pastor’s sermon unfurls with docudrama reenactments of his message. Footmen‘s production came about after Westerns and exploitation drive-in purveyor Ron Ormond survived a single-engine plan crash; upon “finding God,” he woke to the literal, fire and brimstone teachings of Mississippi pastor Estus Pirkle. Together, they’d make three films; Ormond, with other pastors, made a half dozen faith-based films, in total.
If you want to see a film where good Christian folks are subjugated by Communists, forced to renounce Jesus Christ and accept Fidel Castro as their personal savor (at gunpoint) this is the film. But be warned, this Ormond-Pirkle debut is rough watch . . . and not because of its production values, but of its squeamish violence. Christians are wiped out by machine gun; they’re stabbed, hung, tortured and murdered. Children — children — are made to hang, then dropped on buried pitch forks — at least the ones who don’t have their hands bound behind their backs, only to have bamboo shoots shoved into their brains through their ears, leaving them to puke their guts out.
Mind you, this film is meant to inspire you. But as is the case with most of the films on this list, Christians prove they’re sicker than Satanists and excel in shilling their outright fear equals inspiration marketing technique. Seriously, the kids really go through the ringer in this one, to the point of it almost being a pedo-snuff film. I need to stop talking about this film, now, as its upsetting me.
Next up for Ormond-Pirkle traveling salvation show, The Burning Hell.
* We love this movie so much so that frequent guest writer Herbert P. Caine took another swipe at it as part of our 2022 April Movie-thon. Yes, pardon the pun, but Estus Pirkle is a celluloid god in these here parts. Fear the Reaper, ye sinner.
We know. We know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema starting off with a crime-horror that warns “Death is the only way out,” as brought to us by Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), I Eat Your Skin (1971), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972)?
Well, it was the ’60s and Charles Manson-inspired films, such as The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), were all the rage — and when you’re director Lee Madden of Angel Unchained (1970) fame, you work in a little Jesus teachin’ and preachin’ into the counterculture frames to upend the religious establishment. And Madden did just that. When it comes to the Christploitation genre — even in the shadow of Estus Pirkle’s admittedly honorable films — this is a real scrape through the rusted bottom of the barrel.
Ex-20th Century Fox starlet Jeanne Crain co-stars with director Alex Nicol (Point of Terror) as a preacher’s wife on the run from a faux-Manson and his “Jesus freaks” hippie minions after they crucified (literally) her preacher-husband. They, of course, get off, only to lay a revenge-siege to Crain’s country home.
So, yes. It’s an unconventional Christploitation listing. But after Pirkle jamming sharpened bamboo shoots through children’s ears, this film is — while offensive — still a peaceful stroll to Damascus. Just thank us for our decorum in not including the Christ-Sexploiters Girls in Trouble (1971), The Astrologer (1975), and Dark Sunday (1976). (Hey, we just did!) Ditto for the Bette Midler musical screech-fest, The Greatest Story Overtold, aka The Thorn (1971) — which is less enjoyable than an Estus Pirkle bamboo shoot in the ear. Oh, Bette . . . being nailed down to wood would be more enjoyable.
The pedigree is the thing in this imperiled-musician-in-a-spiritual crisis tale (Starcrossed Roads in its VHS shelf life), with our director being none other than Kent Osborne of the counterculture dune buggy romp Wild Wheels (1969); as an actor he appeared in Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula’s Castle and Five Bloody Graves. The scribe behind this Christploitationer, Ralph Luce, also wrote Wild Wheels; and that’s Robert Dix and William Kerwin from Satan’s Sadists and Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, respectively, in the cast, as well as a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada (in his second, faith-based film and second film overall; his first was The Cross and the Switchblade).
It’s the tale of a drug-and-boozed out country music star — our faux-message “Jesus Christ” of the proceedings — sent to prison, aka Hell, on a bum murder rap; he finds God by way of a prison preacher and a Christ-following country music star.
Regardless of its secular, exploitative pedigree, this was Rated-G — and it ran as a “Special Church Benefit” in rural theaters, as well as in churches and tent revivals. But, unlike a Pirkle movie: no children were harmed to get its salvation message across.
6. Pilate and Others (1972)
It took forever to find a copy of this on VHS with subtitles, but the days of pre-Internet grey market catalogs came though — and this film didn’t disappoint.
Andrzej Wajda touched on biblical adaptations with his art house take, Samson (1961), a philosophical amalgam that sets World War II to the Old Testament tale of Samson. While that film is not well-know outside of its Polish homeland, Pilate and Others was rediscovered upon its showing at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival where Wajda received and honorary Golden Bear.
Wajda’s satirical take, set in 1930s Germany, is based on the 1967 Russian novel The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov (set in Moscow). U.S. audiences didn’t know or care about the film until it began appearing on video after the BIFF showing; suddenly aware, now U.S Christians had issues with Wajda ‘s contemporary take on Pontius Pilate, which placed the Roman governor of Judaea on the same Nuremberg platform where Hitler gave his speeches.
Yeah, no one wants a New Testament-based biblical set in Germany. That’s their loss. There’s several other Euro adaptations of Bulgakov’s multi-language best-seller, but Wajda’s is the best known.
So, you think Donald W. Thompson, with his four-part A Thief in the Night series, had the sci-fi end of the Christploitation spectrum locked up? Think again: Thompson may have made it to the tents, first (in March ’72), but this imaginative, against-the-budget apoc’er by writer Marshall Riggan (the secular debut Cry for Poor Wally, the later psych-horror So Sad About Gloria) is, by far, the superior film. The quality comes courtesy of the always-dependable Joe Turkel (ironically, of the later, influential apoc’er, Bladerunner) starring as a Colonel in command of a secret mountain-computer brain facility when the Rapture, then Armageddon, breaks out.
Shown exclusively at churches, tent revivals, and Youth For Christ centers into the ’80s (yes, part of another Wednesday Chapel “Media Day” we had once-a-month at school), it was re-discovered by the booming ’90s Christian film market and reissued on DVD as 666: Mark of the Beast. If you’re a fan of Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Silent Running (1972), and the trapped-in-a-bunker-by-bats apoc’er Chosen Survivors (1974), then you’ll enjoy this science fiction-inflected Christploiter.
Donald W. Thompson is an indie writer-director not well-known in secular circles as Ron Ormond who began in secular films, but when it comes to Evangelical Christian Cinema, Thompson is a prolific filmmaker who created 16 films centered around his faith. His best known work to secular audiences — due to its Good Life TV Network showings (Inchon) — is the Christian-romantic drama All the King’s Horses (1977). The many have sought out that film, as it stars an early Dee Wallace (who we came to know in The Howling) and Grant Goodeve (Mark Hamill’s replacement on TV’s Eight Is Enough).
But it was Thompson’s pioneering “Rapture” tetralogy series — all written by Russell Doughten, who produced and did uncredited direction on The Blob; no really — that that had the greatest impact among evangelicals searching for non-secular entertainment. The prolific films, concerned with biblical “End Times” prophecies, crafted two decades before Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of novel and films, dispense with the family-friendly evangelism of Thompson’s other films (and the fire and brimstone mania of Ron Ormond’s later films), placing the bible into a contemporary sci-fi/horror context.
While A Thief in the Night wasn’t made as a TV movie, but for roadhouse showings in churches (where I got stuck watching them during Wednesday chapel), it certainly all plays as a TV movie. And if you know your TV movies, these religious apoc’ers come complete with the same, strained acting, harshly-lit flat production values, and all the stock music cues you expect. Thompson, however, effectively hits all of the plot points (a one-word UNITE organization, marking of hands and foreheads, etc.) from the rash of all the of the bible-poc films produced in the Left Behind backwash, so it makes for a fascinating watch. Even more so considering Thompson produced his film — and was most likely inspired by — Hollywood’s mainstream, post-apocalyptic sci-fi craze with the likes of The Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973), and The Ultimate Warrior (1974).
Strangely enough, as it is peppered with radio and black and white TV broadcasts (and awful stock music), A Thief in the Night plays as a Christian version of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead — sans the zombies, which are replaced by disappearing, i.e., raptured, people. Oh, and instead of the Communists of the Ormond-Pirkle gospel train, it’s the U.N — the United Nations themselves — which will lead the world’s demise.
Should you watch? Well, it’s purported that over 300 million have seen the film and converted (i.e., scared) more people to Christ than any other Christian film. What proof Thompson can offer to back up that claim, is questionable.
Next up: A Distant Thunder, aka A Thief In the Night II.
This odd-duck documentary-portmanteau trilogy of “true tales” narrated by Rod Serling doesn’t really belong here, but the second installment, The Darkness, is concerned with “a hole to Hell”: a real-life hole to Hell that swallows a dog and drives a man insane. You can’t get more biblical than that or find another reel of tabloid filmmaking any finer.
The studio behind it, American National Enterprises, returns with Mysteries from Beyond Planet Earth.
10. Godspell (1973)
As with Andrzej Wajda’s contemporary bible take set in Nuremberg, Germany, faith-based audiences weren’t keen on a Broadway musical adaptation of parables from The Holy Bible‘s New Testament Gospel of Matthew set in contemporary New York City. One look at John the Baptist gathering disciples (aka, ’60s hippies) to follow Jesus Christ (decked out in a Superman “S” tee-shirt and suspenders), who then take to the streets as a roving acting troupe to reenact Jesus’s parables . . . well, out came the picket signs. The pickets didn’t matter: the secular reviewers were split and generally towards the positive, but the film’s box office barely broke even.
The “Jesus Rock” soundtrack, however, is fantastic, courtesy of the four musicians from the original stage production and cast album — Steve Reinhardt on keyboards, Jesse Cutler on acoustic and lead guitar and bass, Richard LaBonte on rhythm guitar and bass, and Ricky Shutter (Bo Diddley and Gary U.S. Bonds) on drums and percussion — returning for the film. Assisting in the studio are Hugh McCracken (Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel’s early recordings) and Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman fame and A Year at the Top, which has its own religious bent to it).
Columbia Studios, Universal Studios, and Paramount all got into the “Jesus” game with their respective films Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So Johnny Cash easily pitched his country-gospel musical take on the life of Jesus to 20th Century Fox, who released this in March amid those films — and met the same public and critical indifference. Narrated by Johnny Cash, his heartfelt (and not the least exploitative), self-financed production that shot on location in Israel came with an accompanying double album of all-original music penned by Cash, June Carter (who stars as Mary Magdalene), and Kris Kristofferson (who doesn’t star, but would have made a great Jesus).
12. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Before he let thou loose Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on an unsuspecting world, Robert Stigwood produced this Norman Jewison directing effort based on the 1970 Broadway rock opera.
The film goes meta, as it begins with the cast and crew traveling by bus into the Israeli desert to re-enact the Passion of Christ. They set up their props and get into costume as the story begins, concentrating on the conflict between Jesus and Judas during the week of the crucifixion of Jesus.
As with Godspell released in March, the August release of JSC met to mixed reviews — with outright criticism from religious groups. The film, however, garnered Golden Globe nobs for its lead actors Ted Neely (Jesus), Carl Anderson (Judas) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene).
You can stream Jesus Christ Superstar on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Google Play Movies.
The September 17, 1981, cover of Rolling Stone #352, with a picture of Jim Morrison emblazoned on the cover, proclaimed: “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy and Dead.” In the early ’70s, the same could be said about Jesus Christ, for the Son of God rules the airwaves and theater screens.
So, with Columbia and Universal releasing their competing films versions of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973 (in March and August, respectively), the odd-studio out, Paramount, wasn’t missing the “Jesus Rock” boat. So they optioned writer Richard Bach’s 1970 best-selling novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And since the book — as did the two stage-to-films that inspired its production — didn’t come with a soundtrack, Paramount, through Columbia Records (his label), contracted Neil Diamond to write a companion piece to the book/film. Yes, Neil Diamond, the bane of one’s musical existence (not me) made a “Jesus Rock” album — and topped the album and singles charts.
If you enjoyed the book — which many (criminally) dismissed as metaphysical drivel and thus, hated the movie — you’ll love the movie, a movie that is of its time and place: a time when seagulls could talk and Jesus was, in fact, “hot, sexy and dead.”
While Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle’s debut film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? turned your stomach — courtesy of its child abductions, bondage and murders by communist soldiers — this film tells you of the aftermath of those sinners who failed to follow Jesus — and will give your outright nightmares. Again, fear equals inspiration.
According to the statistical preaching of Pastor Pirkle, people enter Hell at 60-bodies per minute to the tune of over 3,000 each hour of every day, where those worms will eat you forever and ever and ever and ever. People — as with all Christian films obsessed with swords and guillotines — are beheaded. People are actually seen burning in Hell, covered in blood, sores, and soot, while chased by devilish, fanged centaurs. Yes, we do see real worms and grubs crawling on people — and not even the most discriminating Italian zombie purveyor will hold back the puke. Fear Factor contestants wouldn’t make the background-extra actor grade, as they’d run screaming from the set.
Hey, scoff if you will at Pirkle’s sermons, but Ormond’s against-the-budget depictions of Hell, as well as his actors, are impressive (considering they’re non-pros working for free-for-Jesus) and on equal to the previous depictions of Hell imagined by Jose Majica Marins as Coffin Joe in (the obviously better made) This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Yeah, it’s all a bit goofy, but still powerful.
And, with that, the Ormond-Pirkle “grindhouse gospel” train rolled into the station and Ormond made The Grim Reaper (1976). Their next dual-project is a companion piece to The Burning Hell, known as The Believer’s Heaven (1977), which does for Heaven, what this film does for Hell. However, between the making of The Burning Hell and The Grim Reaper, the Ormond family made the “travelogue/documentary” feature, The Land Where Jesus Walked (1975).
If there’s a cinematic kitchen sink to the freak-out-the-puny-humans genre of ancient alien-cum-biblical films, then his entry from exploitation sausage factory American National Enterprises (also gave us the previously entry, Encounter with the Unknown), is it. No theory is too obscure nor too crazed for discussion. Biblical clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (who believed Jesus was the reincarnation of Adam) talking about Atlantis and UFOs? You bet. Then there’s the Bermuda Triangle, Telepathy, ESP, firestarters, Kirlian photography that captures auras, and examinations on plants being able to communicate. And there’s still frames left to discuss witchcraft, Satanism, Black Masses, the Hollow Earth, Bigfoot, black holes, genetic engineering, clones, and cryogenic suspension and reanimation.
You need more weirdness and unexplained Earthly phenomenons concerning Edgar Cayce, Bigfoot and Atlantis? Then you need to watch The Force Beyond (1977). Bankrolled by FVI – Film Ventures International (see our “Drive-In Friday” feature on the studio), it’s directed by William Sachs (Van Nuys Blvd.) and Orson Welles, the voice behind another film on our list, The Late Great PlanetEarth, narrates. And don’t confuse The Force Beyond — remember, it was the Year of Our George Lucas — with The Unknown Force (1977), in which Jack Palance bellows about psychics, miracle healers, and Man’s and the Earth’s untapped energies.
Needless to say my church and youth pastors (Sam?) preached against and warned our parents not to let us see Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. For UFOs, again, “are Devils” and “there is no life on other planets” . . . because Jesus just haven’t enough time in his enteral life to die for everyone’s sins, and God didn’t “seed” other planets to then “seed” the Earth. Oh, the memories . . . that Wednesday chapel service when my blue-plaid blazer and pink-striped tie pastor went off the deep end, saliva spraying, collecting in the corners of his mouth, ranting-to-aneurysm about George Lucas and Glen Larson as the “false prophets” of Satan. Horrifying, good times? You bet! (Maybe it’s true: God punished George with Howard the Duck and Glen with Buck Rogers, after all.)
Ron Ormond’s third Christsploitation flick — sans Estus Pirkle and his cheap suits — is a loose rewrite of The Burning Hell that dispenses with the preaching-documentary reenactments of If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell. This time, the Baptist propaganda pedaled is a drama about a family asunder amid a crisis of faith.
A God-fearing mother and her preacher-aspiring son toil as her husband and stock car racing other son refuse to attending church. When their son dies in a race, the father falls under the spell of a fortune teller, communicating with the dead, so as to comfort his wife and keep her out of the graveyard. Meanwhile, a pastor (Greg Pirkle, the son of Estus) refuses to perform a sermon for the dead son, because the son rejected Jesus and was cast into Hell.
Oh, this movie . . . when the fortune teller connects to the after world, with the winds, the screaming, and the photo-trickery imposed ghosts. When Frankie, the son, comes out of a wall, crying out for “his momma.” Then there’s momma’s flashbacks, the stock car racing, Estus’s wife, Julie, showing up as a Spirit Halloween-cackling witch, and appearances by Jack Van Impe and Jerry Falwell. . . wow, this one has it all: all played serious and straightforward, which makes is all the more entertaining. Again, Ormond’s against-the-budget Hell scenes are effective. If you take away the heavy-handed Bible message, you have a scrappy, little Drive-In horror exploiter cash-in on The Exorcist and The Omen, here.
Don’t fret, dear believer. The agit-preaching of Pastor Pirkle returns in The Believer’s Heaven.
A documentary based on the best-selling book by David Balsiger made by Sunn Classics (Hanger 18) on the cheap and quick in Park City, Utah, was bound to happen. The main point of all of this: Noah’s Ark “has been found” on Turkey’s Mount Ararat, yet physical and political challenges have kept mankind from studying the ark any further.
Sunn’s magic worked: In Search of Noah’s Ark was the number nine movie for all of 1976, up against the likes of Rocky, the aforementioned The Omen, King Kong and Silver Streak. Sunn made this movie for next to nothing and it grossed $55 million in the U.S. So, there, take that, you gomorrahites of Tinseltown.
My life’s current mission statement is to instill an obsession in B&S About Movies’ boss Sam Panico equal to my own over this religious-variety show pastiche. Think of an adult version of TV’s The Monkees obsessed with the parables of Adam and Eve and Noah and the Ark from The Holy Bible. Then envision ’70s song and dance man Ben Vereen — decked out in green sequence suits and red dump jumpsuits, as the Devil — singing the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Oh, ye believer, yes there is more, as you haven’t begun to scratch the surface of watching TV’s Mary Tyler Moore whisked off into a disco-ballet version of The Wizard of Oz.
No, I am not explaining my own LSD trip. This is real. This films exists. This film is an epic disaster on equal with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Italian-produced religious-disco disaster that is White Pop Jesus. And we thank God that Ms. Moore opted to sing Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken” and not the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” for the big “Flood” set piece. And while the proceedings are bad, it is still not as awful as Bette Midler’s foray . . . which, now, just got two more mentions than it deserves in this “Exploring” feature. Stop it, Bette! We are not giving your train wreck of a movie a full review, no matter how many times you interject!
The ecclesiastical crowd wasn’t thrilled with British biblical scholar Hugh J. Schonfield’s published translation of The Holy Bible‘s New Testament — from a Jewish perspective. And everyone — especially the Catholic Church — wasn’t thrilled with his controversial non-fiction work, The Passover Plot (1965).
A decade later, the book was pretty much forgotten. But the Jesus train was rolling down the tracks and the major studios optioned all the best materials. So leave it to our old ’80s video junk cinema buddy and exploitation bandwagoner Menahen Golan (who gave us his futurist Adam and Eve new wave musical The Apple in 1980) to adapt a controversial book that concluded that the Holy Savior’s death and resurrection was a conspiracy purported by Jesus — who drugged himself to feign death — and his followers.
Now, you say you’re not up for a biblical conspiracy flick, but would the fact that Michael Campos, he of the early ’70s Oliver Reed post-apoc’er Z.P.G. (1970) and the Blaxploition classic The Mack (1973), directed it, interest you? Perhaps that Zalman King portrays Jesus (and shot the rape-sleaze fest Trip with the Teacher the year previous)? That Donald Plesence is Pontius Pilate? That TV character actor Dan Hedaya (Joe Versus the Volcano) is one of the Twelve Disciples?
Not since Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ — penned by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s (equally forgotten) 1955 novel of the same name — with its depictions of Jesus Christ pulling himself off the Cross and engaging in sexual intercourse (it’s all symbolism, not literal; exploring spiritual conflicts), caused more rabid outrage and protests than The Passover Plot. But let’s not forget Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which set solely on the horrors of Jesus’s suffering, The Da Vinci Code (2006), with its claims Jesus Christ was married, the German-made Pilate and Others (1972), with it’s satirical take set in 1930’s Germany, and Jesus of Montreal (1989) with its contemporary take in Quebec by a down-on-their-luck acting troupe hired to put on The Passion Play.
You can free stream The Passover Plot on You Tube and Vimeo. (We’ve since given this film a full review proper, in honor of cinematographer Adam Greenberg, who shot Lemon Popsicle, and its American remake, The Last American Virgin. So controversial, Pat Boone, the star of The Cross and the Switchblade, purchased national syndicated TV time to create an hour-long show asking people not to go see The Passover Plot.)
Ron Ormond follows up The Grim Reaper with this fourth film in his “Christian Exploitation” phase. This time, Ron produces and directs with a script by his producing partner Estus Pirkle (who wrote Footmen and The Burning Hell). In this biographical tale-cum-documentary, real-life fire-and-brimstone preacher Estus W. Pirkle conveys to his followers what a Christian Heaven looks like, according to his interpretation of the Bible. (Immense marbled chapels supported on Corinthian columns; everyone wears white robes and sports a pair of — in a nice, budget effect — transparent angel wings.) Thank God, Estus toned it down. After the first three, horrific-saving films, we needed something a little more upbeat.
Nope. Think again. Thou let it loose, Estus.
We’re only three minutes in and we’ve already had a bubbling pit of boiling mud and an earthquake, along with post-quake famine and plague, and heavy equipment digging mass graves. Yeah, the depictions of a literal Hell are back. And Dear Lord, more dead children, piled up in a mass grave? How did the Estus convince the parents to convince the kids to portray dead bodies in a big hole in the dirt? How? Why are children always tortured and butchered in Estus’s films? Thank god no sharpened bamboo sticks are jammed into brains via ear canals.
I need to stop talking about this film. I’m getting upset, again.
21. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Passing on a film by director Franco Zeffirelli (1967’s The Taming of the Shrew; 1968’s Romeo and Juliet) isn’t an option. Originally a miniseries backed by Sir Lew Grade (Saturn 3) and airing simultaneously on ITV in the U.K., Rai 1 in Italy, and NBC-TV in the U.S. and running at 382 minutes, the current DVDs run at a criminal 10-minutes short at 374 minutes; the older VHS is even shorter, at 270.
The casting is the thing, here: Robert Powell is fantastic as Jesus, as is Ian McShane (of the recent John Wick franchise) as Judas Iscariot. Then there’s Ernest Borgnine (Escape from New York) as a Roman Centurion, James Farentino (The Final Countdown) and James Earl Jones appearing as disciples, along with Rod Steiger and Anthony Quinn, and Micheal York as John the Baptist.
Watch this, if just for the great filmmaking and acting. It’s a magnificent epic.
This second entry in the A Thief In the Night series is pretty much a retread of the first film, only this time it’s not a “dream”; the premonitions have become real. Although there’s been a six-year gap between productions, most of the original players are back, with Patty, who, it turns out, didn’t jump off the bridge to escape the Mark of the Beast in the first movie. Again, that was the “dream,” remember?
Now, she’s awake and awaiting execution — by guillotines — for her refusal to accept the Mark. She escapes and spends the rest of the film avoiding the murderous U.N. troops, which is now known as UNITE (and now, instead of those nifty red, white and blue vans (well, one) from the first film, now we’re stuck with a drab, UPS-styled brown van. And how’s about those nifty, drab-green Cuban military uniforms to keep pushing that evil Communist angle?
As hokey as a Jack T. Chick’s track can be, the production values are non-existent, but creative, and the non-linear scripting is inventive, with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. Then there’s the subplots about the evils of UFOs (again, with UFOs are demons, ugh), how credit cards and the “Mark” aren’t the same thing (oh, the folly of those who believe we are “already marked”), and the guillotine are back. Oh, how turn-the-other-cheek Christians rejoice in their razor-sharp guillotines and sinner-head removals.
Next up is part three in the series: Image of the Beast.
Roger Ebert listed this as one of his most hated movies on his site and it’s one of the entries in his book I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie. (That’s two for him on this list: the other was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.)
Eh, what did Sunn Classic producer Charles E. Sellier Jr. care? He said of his juxtaposition between revival house and grindhouse that he “believes God wants me to do the films I do, otherwise He wouldn’t have made me a success.”
As with Sunn’s previous documents we’ve reviewed in this feature, In Search of Noah’s Ark and the later In Search of Historic Jesus, this documentary on the “science” behind Christianity cleaned up at the box office, as Sunn Classics four-walled it in out-of-the-big-city rural drive-ins and single/dual-plex theaters.
24. Born Again(1978)
Frank Capra, Jr. produces this uplifting, biographical film on the life of Richard M. Nixon’s Special Counsel and Watergate co-conspirator, Charles Colson (Disney stalwart Dean Jones). He comes to his conversion to Christianity while in prison and incorporates the Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Courtesy of the full cooperation of the federal government and the Episcopal Church, this AVCO Embassy Pictures’ production (yes, they brought you Escape from New York) gets a lot out of its budget — even though it was, at the time, the highest-budgeted religious film and the first religious film released by a major distributor. Dean Jones, as well as Anne Francis as his wife (TV’s Honey West, Forbidden Planet), are both excellent throughout. Highly suggested.
You can watch this courtesy of the Jesus Wept Movies You Tube portal. If you need the other side of the story: consult Alan J. Pakula’s critically acclaimed All the President’s Men (1976).
How can you pass up a film by nature film purveyor Pacific International (Challenge to be Free, Mountain Family Robinson, and The Adventures of the Wildness Family) based on a 1970 international biblical gloom n’ doom best-seller — complete with narration by Orson Welles interspersed between biblical reenactments, chicken-little-the-sky-is-falling talking-head academics, stock footage of war, starving children, gibberish about entomology cross-breeding of bees, planetary alignments, and supercomputers running Ronald Reagan through numerology algorithms to determine if he is the dreaded Antichrist?
This movie rocks, for it is a mutual obsession between myself and Sam Pacino, the head honcho around here. I know Sam the Bossman, with his overexposure to all things post-conversioned Ron Ormond, can relate: freaked out and obsessed when the Rapture was coming — and if we had a “ticket” to ride. Sure, we can laugh at it now over our Rolling Rocks (Olde Frothingslosh, if you got ’em), but back in the day, this movie scared the crap out of us and other Church-laden kiddies.
Since this was a major studio film, there were no copies to play for Wednesday chapel. So a school field trip was planned. I hated school field trips (long story), so I played “sick” that day . . . and received an “F” for the day — in all subjects.
26. The Nativity(1978)
The great Bernard L. Kowalski — for whom we did a week-long tribute — expertly directs John Shea and Madeline Stowe, both in their feature debuts. They star as Mary and Jesus, in this against the-budget television movie based on the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There’s not much middle ground with this (well-down, IMO) adaptation: fundamentalists appreciate the acting (you’ll recognized many, familiar character actors), but not the fictional liberties taken with the Holy Bible’s text.
There’s no online streams, but you can enjoy the trailer and these clips (1 & 2) on You Tube.
When your on-the-cheap documentary on Noah’s Ark grosses $55 million is U.S. box office, you know Brother J will get his own docudrama — and score box office gold. Again, the casting is the thing, so if you want to see John Rubinstein (who would go on to play Daniel Webster on Netflix’s Sabrina and Einstein of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) in reenactments as Jesus, then this is your movie. And if you wanted to know more about the Shroud of Turin, well, you get that in the frames, as well.
Sunn Classics also hit box office gold with The Bermuda Triangle (1979) and (the scary as hell) Nostradamus romp with its own post-apoc slant, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981). Yeah, no one did the mysteries-of-man documentary genre better in the ’70s than Sunn Classics.
28. Jesus, aka The Jesus Film(1979)
After the musical versions on the life of Jesus from the hands of Columbia Studios (Godspell), Universal Studios (Jesus Christ Superstar), Paramount (Jonathan Livingston Seagull), and 20th Century Fox (The Gospel Road), it was time for a movie proper on Jesus of Nazareth — and this finely crafted drama was Warner Bros. late-to-the-major-studio-Jesus-Game offering. And it’s a very well-made film, one filmed at over 200 locations in Israel.
Based on the gospel of Luke in the New Testament, and unlike any other film on Jesus, this six-million dollar production shot in full English, with actors also speaking in their character-appropriate Aramic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. That latter multi-language version is then voiced-over in numerous languages for its international distribution — and noted as the most translated film in history. Regardless of those efforts to assure the film appealed to and was accessible to everyone, with its historical and culturally accurate take and high production values, many were taken aback by a jovial Jesus; non-stoic savior, laughing in glee as a newly converted-to-God tax collector returns his ill-gotten gains to those he’s cheated.
Now, you probably do not want to watch a historically accurate drama on Jesus Christ. But I think you would watch one where Jesus is portrayed by (incredible) British actor Brian Deacon; he who starred in Paul Naschy’s cohort Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974). Mostly working in British television, Deacon currently works as a video game voice artist.
Other, later dramatic depictions on Jesus you may be interested in, courtesy of the casting, is Jesus (1999), with Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate, and Last Days in the Desert (2015) with Ewan McGregor as Jesus. Then there’s the supernatural bonkers The Young Messiah (2016) that may interest you — since it’s based on a book by vampire purveyor Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (2005), centered on the Holy Savior as a young boy.
You can stream a copy at the Jesus.net You Tube portal.
29. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Sure, Eric Idle and the Python troupe will inspire you to watch a parody on the Holy Scriptures. But we’ve been here before with Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic, but not as parody-driven, The Milky Way (1969).
Remember Python’s take on the Beatles with The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)? Well, it’s like that: an alternate-universe Jesus, if you will, with Brian (Graham Chapman) born at the same time as Jesus — and Brian gains his own following. Of course, Christians and Catholics alike lost their minds, even thought Idle and his cohorts insisted the film was a goof on organized, man-made religions and not a spoof on Jesus or The Holy Bible itself. And so it goes.
At least Life of Brian is funny. The same can’t be said for Bette Midler’s (never understood the fascination; singer or actress) utterly abysmal The Greatest Story Overtold, aka The Thorn (1971), where she screeches as a trope-laden Jewish mother. (Oh, come, Bette! Three times? We’re not going to do a full review. Stop it.) The same goes for the awful, religious satires In God We Trust with Marty Feldman (who we love, but), and Wholly Moses with Dudley Moore (both 1980), not because of their subject matter — but because they’re just inherently stupid. Watch the Python’s version . . . and just leave the Jesus parodies, at that. Moving on.
There’s Blu-ray rip on You Tube to enjoy — and you will!
Ron Ormond returns with his fifth directing-producing effort in this follow up to The Believer’s Heaven. This time, Ron goes the bioflick route with the story of Ed Martin (who appears briefly on camera and narrates; Ormond’s son Tim, in addition to scripting, also stars as the younger Martin), a former chain gang convict who converts to Christianity in 1944 and founds the HopeAglow Prison Ministry. Martin gets his “big break” when the prison’s God-fearing warden inspires Martin to take over for an absent preacher on the prison’s Sunday services — and Martin comes to convert a convict intent on murdering him.
Clocking in at an hour, in terms of old fashioned, drive-in style “chain gang” movies, this is a pretty good flick. Granted, this is no Cool Hand Luke, but Tim Ormond was shaping up as a pretty decent actor, here, in his first leading-man role carrying an entire film. While appearing in all of his dad’s Christploitation works — except for The Second Coming — he also appeared in Ron’s secular works Girl from Tobacco Row,White Lightnin’ Road, and The Exotic Ones. (Ron’s other pre-salvation movies we’ve reviewed include Please Don’t Touch Me and Mesa of Lost Women.)
Yeah, we can trash on the “prosperity preachers” of today: we’re talking at you, Joel Osteen and Creflo “fifteen-year-old daughter beater” Dollar (Senator Grassley didn’t dig enough on you, Ceffy; you can’t hid behind the bogus 501c3 paper trail, forever). However, not all pastors are false prophets, such as “Brooklyn Bishop of Bling” Lamor Whitehead (finally caught for his thievery). Ed Martin was one of the (very, very few) real deals actually “called” by God; a true apostle who served people with a legitimate compassion on equal with the calling of Christ’s original twelve. (David Wilkerson of the aforementioned The Cross and the Switchblade, is another.)
This is a touching film that’s only undone by its budget. And highly recommended.
31. The Day Christ Died (1980)
After Sir Lew Grade and NBC-TV gave us their take on the life of Christ with Jesus of Nazareth (1977), CBS-TV was bound to get in the game with this effort bankrolled by 20th Century Fox for overseas TV and theatrical distribution.
An adaption of Jim Bishop’s 1957 book of the same name, it’s adapted by James Lee Barrett, he who scripted bible epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). So, yeah, this 142-minute dramatization (that survived cuts and made it to video, intact) on the last 24 hours on Jesus Christ’s life is that good. Really good.
Of course, everyone lost their minds — as with The Gospel Road (1973) and Jesus (1979) — of a jovial Jesus who laughs and plays with children, and in this case, of Chris Sarandon’s (Fright Night) Jesus playing an ersatz game of primitive football with the Apostles. For our Lord Savior must be a perpetually dour, stoic contemplator who never smiles.
Oh, the youth sermons denouncing this film! My youth pastor went off the deep end with the verse and overhead slides. I am talking red, pock-marked cheeks obsessed to the point of a brain aneurysm. “Jesus doesn’t play games! He’s the Christ sent to save our souls, not to play games! While he’s wasting time playing a game, a soul is not saved and lost!” Then, we were subjected into force “witnessing” labor; for if we did not witness to a person, and that person goes to Hell, we too, shall go to Hell. So, thanks, for that, Chris Sarandon. But you’re still the best Jesus, next to Robert Powell, and Brian Deacon, in that order.
Scoff if you want at this third installment in the A Thief in the Night series, but even-against-its-budget, the production values, scripting, and direction is improving with each film. And it’s even more intense that the previous A Distant Thunder.
Yes, Patty’s back, but not for long: Uh-oh, we are flashing back to and fo, and forward again, and within — again — as Patty, finally, looses her head to the guillotines. Amen.
So, now, we meet David, Kathy, and Leslie, a trio of freedom fighters, aka warriors for Christ. And it’s this film’s focus on these Christian guerrillas battling the evil UNITE forces — with its budgetary pinching of the paramilitary police state plotting of Escape from New York, as the Antichrist is full-on dictator mode and God rains down his golden bowels — that gives third installment more of a sci-fi vibe over the first two films. Then there’s the computer hacking, the evils of UPC codes, the manufacturing of fake Mark chips, literal giant locusts swarm the Earth (not seen due to budget), and a nuke drops.
Just wow. This one has it all. And there’s still one more film to go: The Prodigal Planet.
Ron Ormond comes full circle with his sixth and final production, which serves as the directing debut and second writing credit of his son, Tim Ormond (he served as an editor and cinematographer all of his father’s Christploitation films). The story returns to the apocalypse, as a troubled man continues to avoid church — and fails to pay heed to the Bible stories unfolding before him — even as the end of the world draws nigh.
Sadly, Ron Ormond died during the film’s pre-production, which Tim and Ron’s widow, June, to complete the film as a final testament to his life. While there’s six other pastors spewin’ the brimstone, here, Ormond’s fans (moi) miss the paranoid mania of Estus Pirkle’s crazed scripting and dedicated preaching. As with 39 Stripes prior, for a production on a shoestring budget, Tim was shaping into a decent filmmaker (the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar, Jesus arriving on a horse-clouded phalanx, and the John Carpenter-styled “new world” police are impressive). While he stopped acting in 1979, Tim continued to work behind the camera on a half-dozen faith-based film into the late ’90s — even one starring Jim “Ernest P. Worrell ” Varney (but not as that character).
There’s no trailer or streams to share of this lone, lost Ron Ormond film. If Sam and I had the resources, we’d restore this film as part of an ongoing Ormond box set series: secular and religious. We love ya’, Ron!
In a tale that predates the Tim LaHaye-inspired “religious thriller” industry by a decade, a Christian woman, who is part of an underground rebellion, teams with a newspaper reporter to warn the world of the dangers behind the ever-growing One World Foundation. Along the way, unlike most Christian films, real actors show up — in the form of Alvy Moore (an astronomer-cum-Christian scientist) and Buck Flowers (a scruffy desert rebel, natch). Needless to say, their (minor) parts are the only ripples of hope in this otherwise flat production — but it’s still an ambitious, inspired effort.
Film and television sound editor David R. Elliot, in his lone writing and directing effort, was certainly influenced by Donald W. Thompson’s and Hal Lindsey’s eschatological works that we’ve discussed. I, however, can’t help but think the post-apoc visions of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York served as an influence, here, courtesy of the (slightly) above-the-usual (non) production values of low-budget Christian films — especially ones that veer into sci-fi territories — as Elliot gives us car chases under helicopter sniper fire by black-clad soldiers, over-the-cliff car crashes, and some techo-trinkets.
This watching-paint-dryer possesses none of the charms of the Russell Doughten (Six-Hundred & Sixty Six) and Donald W. Thompson’s (A Thief in the Night) PreMillenialist Dispensationalism flicks we talked about in this feature, and it lacks the techno-trickets of David Elliot’s take on the last days.
The copywriters on this claim this is a “fast moving, dramatic” film. I’m not sure what movie they were watching, as this overly-talky, proselytizing pablum moves at a dry, snail’s pace (and dry snails don’t move). If this film’s goal was to “convert” the non-believer to Christ, well, it pushed viewers towards Satan-rock loving atheism (see Raging Angels).
If the title hasn’t already given it away, the Beast, aka the Antichist, has risen and driven his heel into the backs of the world — a world where money is now worthless; a world besieged by every manner of natural disaster, government corruption, and oppression. Seattle is (low-budget) nuked. Of course, we experience none of this, in camera: we learn about it from a whiny, out-of-work college professor and the once kindly, now Machiavellian small-town Sheriff who will force the Mark on our collegiate — no matter the cost.
So: Years of the Beast, Early Warning, or Six-Hundred Sixty Six in the apoc-religious sweepstakes: the latter — easily, by three-lengths — for the win. Yes, even beating Thompson’s fourth and final. . . .
Well, it took Donald W. Thompson a decade (1972 to 1983), but he final wraps up the A Thief in the Night series with this fourth and final film. As with Patty back in part II, aka A Distant Thunder, David, our hero from Image of the Beast, didn’t die. He’s been rescued from the chopping block by Connie, a UNITE double agent with BUMS (Believers Underground Movement Squad) from the previous film, an organization that weeds out Christians for beheading. Of course, Connie’s con is to have David lead her to the rebel’s hidden base (yeah, the sci-fi crazed Star Wars era certainly had something to do with this).
Oh, this film has it all! It’s pure ’80s post-apoc, with non-believers stuck with a leukemia outbreak and facial legions, monk-adorned, wasteland-roaming monks, helicopters, and God cleaning up the mess with a battery of B-roll ICBMs. Oh, and the maps and sermons dispensed via flashback, directing us through the plot, as is the norm in the series . . . are back, and more than ever before.
It’s an indie-Christian roadshower like this that gives films like Years of the Beast a bad name. For this may be hokey, but it is — unlike Years of the Beast — never boring. Not for one single frame. For Donald W. Thompson was the man when it came to Christian apoc-mania.
Our list of these 36 films is by no means complete in our exploration of Christian Cinema — and its exploitative perimeters — in the 1970s. You’ll also find uplifting, faith-based messages in the following films:
Witchhammer (1970) — Czech Republic filmmaker Otakar Vavra adapts the best-selling Czech history novel Kladivo na čarodějnice (1963) by Vaclav Kaplicky; the 17th century tale chronicles the real-life, human rights atrocities of the North Moravia Witch Trails of the 1670s by Witchfinder Inquisitor Boblig von Edelstat in which 100 people were murdered. While dismissed as an early Euro-horror film, it is, in fact, an important literary-cinematic lesson of man’s ills in political-based paranoia and political prosecution that ranks with with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953).
Brother John (1971) — James Goldstone (later of Rollercoaster fame) directs Sidney Poitier’s passion project regarding a man who can sense death and appears to offer spiritual comfort to the troubled. A valiant film that was a box office failure for Columbia Pictures.
Johnny Got His Gun (1971) — Directed by Dalton Trumbo and co-written with Luis Buñuel (of the aforementioned The Milky Way; 1969), this anti-war statement adapted from Trumbo’s own 1939 novel of the same name, stars Timothy Bottoms and Jason Robards. A powerful film, but not an easy one to watch.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) — Franco Zeffirelli, who also gave us the previously reviewed Jesus of Nazareth, directs this tale on life of Italy’s Saint Francis of Assisi. The Saint’s life was examined four times, previously: by Federico Fellini (1950), Louis de Wohl (1961), Liliana Cavani (1966), and Pier Paolo Pasolini (1966). Cavani explored the Saint once more in 1989 with Francesco, starring Micky Rourke as Francis. Both versions — all, in fact — are must watches for their stellar filmmaking.
Pope Joan (1972) — Directed by Michael Anderson, Liv Ullmann and Franco Nero star in this examination of — be it literal or myth (this film treats it as fact) — the legend of the female Pope that ruled the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Not a great film, but the familiar cast of Lesley-Anne Down, Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, and Maximilian Schell, captivate, none the less.
Soul Hustler (1973) — Shooting in San Diego (at a 1971 Osmonds’ concert) under the title That Lovin’ Jesus Man, then reissued on the drive-in circuit as The Love-In Man and Matthew, then The Day the Lord Got Busted (1976), this plays a lot like The Ballad for Billie Blue (1972) — with its concerns about a faith-crisis “Jesus Rock” musician. Matthew Crowe, a hard luck musician (Fabian Forte; A Bullet for Pretty Boy), joins a preacher’s touring tent rival. As the evangelist’s career rises, so does Matthew’s; the usual drugs and sinful carousing intervenes. Christsploitive to the extreme, the act is known as Matthew, Son of Jesus: Matthew wears a white robe and sandals and sings at a mike’d pulpit; his band adorns in brown monks’ robes.
Luther (1974) — Stacy Keach, who impressed in the better-known American neo-noir The New Centurions (1972) and boxing drama Fat City (1972), is equally stellar as the German theologian and Augustin monk who brought about the 16th-century Reformation. The directorial quality behind the lens comes courtesy of Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green (Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, 1946; the multi-nominated A Patch of Blue, 1965, as a director).
Christmas Lilies of the Field (1979) — A made-for-television sequel — produced by the Osmond Family (yes, as in Donnie and Marie) — to the 1962 theatrical feature Lillies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier. Now played by Billy Dee Williams, Homer Smith returns to the Arizona desert to build a school and orphanage to go with the chapel he built in the previous film. International, multi-award winning Austrian-Swiss actress Maria Schell (1974’s The Odessa File) as the Mother Maria is, of course, excellent.
Peter and Paul (1981) — Anthony Hopkins and Robert Foxworth star as the disciples Peter and Paul in this CBS-TV four-hour miniseries based on the Book of Acts concerned with their apostolic missionary in the wake of the death of Jesus. The top-flight cast is rounded out by Herbert Lom as Barnabas, along with Eddie Albert, Raymond Burr, Jose Ferrer, and Jon Finch. Shot on the Greek island of Rhodes, it was nominated for two, and won one Emmy (for make up; the second nod was for costumes).
* Be sure to visit our other film-genre explorations with our ongoing “Exploring” series:
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews, as well as short stories by R.D. Francis based on his screenplays, on the Medium portal. You can learn more about his work on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Movies (the link guides you to a text-only site-listing of all of his reviews).
Well, you know how the VCRs roll at B&S About Movies . . . where a review of Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror, as well as Blood Mania, leads to a reader inquiry and discussion on whatever happened ever happened to Pete . . . which inspires a two-fer review of Vixen! and Love Me Like I Do to finish off his all-too-slight resume. And those discussion about Pete left us wondering . . . “What ever happened to Gene Shane from Werewolves on Wheels and The Velvet Vampire?”
Well, as you know, we solved “The Case of Peter Carpenter” with that said, two-fer review, and we peeled away at the onion that is “The Mystery of Gene Shane” watering our eyes with our review of The Velvet Vampire. Luckily — because we are so exhausted from those two crazed investigations of our favorite actors of yore — “The Case of Sherry Miles,” now known as DeBoer, is more easier slice and diced, thanks to her involvement in her own IMDb page, along with the many, loyal websites* dedicated to all things Hee Haw (an old “Kornfield Kountry” TV series that aired on CBS in the ’60s).
So, let’s pay tribute to one of our favorite — and missed — actress of the ’60s and ’70s.
That Teen modeling spread we used for our banner, above, soon transitioned Sherry into an acting career, which began with the pre-Gilligan’s Island Bob Denver series The Good Guys (1969), an early Aaron Spelling series, the counterculture sci-fi drama, The New People (1969), and Medical Center (1969) starring Chad Everett (The Intruder Within). Sherry’s other, early ’70s appearances included the popular series Mod Squad, Nanny and the Professor, Pat Paulsen’sHalf a Comedy Hour, The Name of the Game, The High Chaparral, The Beverly Hillbillies, Adam 12, Love American Style, and The Partridge Family (Sherry over Susan Dey, every day of the week — and twice on Sundays!). As we crossed the nation’s bicentennial, Sherry appeared on the popular series Baretta with Robert Blake (Corky), Police Woman with Angie Dickinson (Big Bad Mama), Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with future director Dennis Dugan (Love, Weddings & Other Disasters), and Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter (Bobbi Joe and the Outlaw). And let’s not forget Sherry’s 26-episode run as part of the comedy ensemble on the homegrown variety show Hee Haw* during its 1971 to 1972 season.
A one-time heiress to the Hawaii-based Long’s Drug Store chain (now owned and operated by CVS since 2008; I’m in there, often), Sherry Miles got married, became a DeBoer, and retired from the business after her final, on-camera appearance during the third season of Wonder Woman. Since her retirement, she’s become a long-respected animal rights activist.
Some of Sherry’s films you may not know. Others you have seen. And, hopefully, after this “Exploring” feature, you’ll search out the others. But you’ll surely revisit with Sherry in everyone’s favorite film of her career: The Velvet Vampire, a film so gosh-darn fine that, no offense to Sherry, intended: even if she weren’t in it . . . basically, we’re telling you to put The Velvet Vampire on your must-watch list, unintended insults to Sherry, be damned.
Okay, let’s unpack Sherry’s all-too-brief, big screen career, shall we?
Cry For Poor Wally (1969)
Russell Johnson (the Professor of Gilligan’s Island fame) stars as the small town sheriff in this “based on a true story” crime-drama filmed in Dallas, Texas. Johnson confronts Wally (a very good Keith Rothschild in his only film role; Johnson is equally fine): a fugitive on the run who takes a woman hostage in a diner with the goal of staying out of prison — no matter the cost. As Johnson tries to talk down Wally, the story flashes back as to the “why” it all happened: upon the death of his mother, his father leaves (abandons) him for greener pastures; his girlfriend (Sherry Miles) also contributes to his psychotic break.
Keep your eyes open for another slight-resume actress in Barbara Hancock, who we enjoyed in her fourth and final film, the “GP” horror film, The Night God Screamed (1972). In addition to Russell and Sherry, this is packed with a great cast of familiar character actors of the you-know-them-when-you-see-them variety of Elisha Cook, Jr., Bill Thurman (!) ,Gene Ross, and Paul Lambert.
Cry for Poor Wally proved to be the only producing and directing effort by Marty Young. Screenwriter Marshall Riggan followed with the Christian apocalypse drama Six-Hundred & Sixty Six (1972) and completed his features career with the lost, psychological horror, So Sad About Gloria (1973).
There’s a copy on the Internet Archive to stream. There’s also a ten-minute highlight reel — of its opening diner scene — courtesy of our friends at Scarecrow Video on You Tube, who also contributed the film’s full-digitized upload to the IA.
To say Sam and I love this movie — Sherry’s presence, aside — is a well-worn trope.
The Phynx are a manufactured band — kind of like the Monkees meets Stripes — made up of A. “Michael” Miller, Ray Chipperway, Dennis Larden and Lonny Stevens. They’re trained in all manner of espionage, as well as rock ‘n roll, including meeting Dick Clark, record industry-emissary James Brown, and being taught how to have some “soul” by Richard Pryor. Hey, wait a sec . . . didn’t Cliff Richards and the Shadows do the “spy rock” thing in Finders Keepers (1966)?
At once an indictment of the system and the product of the very hand that it is biting, The Phynx occupies the same weird space as Skidoo, i.e., big-budget Hollywood films trying desperately — and failing — to reach the long-haired hippy audience — like the Monkees with Head — yet failing to understand them at any level. Sort of like the next film on today’s program.
Since this is locked up in the Warner Archive, there’s no streams to share, but here’s a clip on You Tube.
Making It (1971)
Ugh. The marketing of movies.
Based on the theatrical one-sheet and the R-rating, you’re expecting a soft-core sexploitationer: you actually end up with a not-so-bad, smart “coming of age” teen dramedy. As it should be: it’s written by Peter Bart (for 20th Century Fox), who you known best as the co-host, with film executive Peter Guber, of AMC’s film talk and interview programs Shootout and Storymakers, as well as Encore’s In the House. True movieheads known, that, after his screenwriting career, Bart was a writer at the New York Times, an Editor-In Chief at Variety, and later a Vice President of Production at Paramount Studios. While serving as the screenwriting debut for Bart, Making It was also the feature film debut for longtime TV director John Erman (Outer Limits, My Favorite Martian, Star Trek: TOS); continuing with TV series, Erman directed numerous TV movies into the early-2000s.
While Sherry Miles is what brought us here: we’re also captivated by a cast that features early roles for the familiar Bob Balaban (made his debut in in the iconic Midnight Cowboy), David Doyle (yep, Bosley from TV’s Charlie’s Angels), character actor extraordinaire John Fiedler, Denny Miller, Lawrence Pressman, and Tom Troupe, along with the brother-sister thespian duo of Dick and Joyce Van Patten.
Based on the ’60s best-seller, What Can You Do?, a very young Kristoffer Tabori (later of Brave New World and a Star Wars video game voice artist) stars as Phil Fuller: a 17-year-old ne’er-do-well clone of David Cassidy (who would have been perfect in the “grown up” role) living with his widowed mother (Joyce Van Patten). He quenches his self-centered needs by using the girls in his school (prom queen, Sherry Miles), his nerdy best friend (a very young Bob Balaban), and his basketball coach (Denny Miller) — by taking up with his wife (Marlyn Mason). Meanwhile, Joyce Van has or own sexual issues: she’s facing the thoughts of an abortion after shacking up with an insurance agent (played by her brother!). Then Phil, himself, deals with the issues of abortion when he gets one of his high school-conquests, pregnant.
In the end, what you get in the frames of Making It is not a sexploitation comedy, or even a “coming of age” dramedy, but an insightful examination of a pre-Roe vs. Wade world regarding the legalities surrounding abortions (then illegal in California, where this takes place, but legal in New York, where a Patten’s character considers going to get one).
It’s pretty heavy stuff of a time and place, but without the favorable atmosphere of Fast Times of Ridgemont High — if that film centered soley on Mike Damone knocking up Stacy Hamilton. My youthful nostalgia for movies like this slide in nicely next to an early Sam Elliot in Lifeguard, Dennis Christopher in California Dreaming, and the genre change-up with Cathy Lee Crosby in Coach. Your own nostalgia mileage — and for all films Sherry Miles — may vary.
My enjoyment of this movie, which serves as the suffix-title to this retrospective on Sherry Miles, is unbound. Sherry is not only stellar in it: so is the cast, under the pen and lens of Stephanie Rothman. Simply put: this is a beautiful, creepy film.
Swinging Lee Ritter and his vapid, but pretty wife, Susan (Sherry Miles), make the mistake of accepting the art gallery invitation of a mysterious, red-dressed vixen, Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall), to visit her secluded, desert estate. The couple soon discover Diane is a centuries-old vampire — and both are objects of her bisexual thirsts.
The Todd Killings (1971)
Fans of the based-in-fact teen murder tale of River’s Edge (marketed on the later VHS “slasher” reissues as Maniac; it’s why we rented it) will enjoy Sherry Miles’s second — after Cry for Poor Wally — true crime drama, this one based on the true story of ’60s thrill-killer Charles Schmid, known as “The Pied Piper of Tuscon.”
The film was inspired by a March 1966 Life magazine article about the killings, which, in turn, inspired the 1966 short anthology story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Schmid’s exploits were also loosely adapted into the Treat Williams-starring Smooth Talk (1985), as well as the (woefully inferior) films Dead Beat (1994) and The Lost (2005).
Skipper Todd (an outstanding Robert F. Lyons, a much-seen ’60s TV actor in his fourth feature film, but first starring role) is a charismatic, 23-year old ne’er-do-well who charms his way into the lives of out-of-his-age-bracket high school kids in a small California town. The girls, of course, fall instantly for him and head out to the desert for some romantic fun — only never to return. As in the true crimes that inspired River’s Edge, Todd, aka Schmid, was assisted by his girlfriend and best friend in luring, killing, and burying the victims. Shocking for its time, Belinda J. Montgomery and Richard Thomas are frontal nude; Montgomery’s is cut from the later VHS versions.
As with Cry for Poor Wally, this is another one of those lost, underrated gems — it’s heartbreaking for all concerned, even the beyond salvation Skipper Todd — of the Drive-In era rediscovered, not during the UHF-TV ’70s, but the home video ’80s. The quality comes courtesy of its familiar cast of a just-starting-out Richard Thomas (as Skipper’s loyal hanger-on buddy), along with Edward Asner, Barbara Bel Geddes, James Broderick, Michael Conrad (remember the gruff commander on Hill Street Blues?) Gloria Grahame, and Fay Spain. Also keep your eyes open for musician-actress Holly Near in her third role; she made her debut in the critically lambasted Angel, Angel Down WeGo (1969).
There’s no trailers or streams to share — well, there’s a You Tube Italian-dub to skim — but the DVDs abound in the online marketplace. This is a great film. It’s also a nihilistic, downbeat one, but still worthy of a watch.
“Spoofs today’s sex films (i.e., porn) the way Batman spoofed Super Heroes!” — tagline for the original, first release of Calliope
I just can’t see my dearest Sherry signing on the dotted line for a goofy, post-Russ Meyer wannabe skinflick that proclaims: “It spreads, and spreads, and spreads,” only to equate its comedy to a beloved Adam West TV series. Obviously, what was presented during negotiations to Sherry, and what was distributed to theaters, differed. Wildly. But what else should we have expected from writer-director Matt Climber, he who gave us The Black Six (1973), Pia Zadora in Butterfly (1981), and a sex-bent take on Indiana Jones with Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984)?
Well, this movie. That’s what. And this one is truly a lost film.
So much for producing an Americanized remake of the significant and cinematically-respected La Ronde (1950), a 1900s-era, spicy-romantic, French-language comedy by German-born director Max Ophüls, which earned a 1952 “Best Screenplay” Oscar nod. He also repeated that Oscar feat with his next film, Le Plaisir (1952), which earned a 1955 nod for its Art Direction, done by Max, himself. So loved was La Ronde in its homeland, as well as across Europe, Roger Vadim (Barbarella) updated the film as Circle of Love (1964), with his soon-to-be lover, Jane Fonda. As for the Ophüls original: it took four years before U.S. film sensors approved the film, sans cuts, for theater showings in 1954.
As for the U.S. remake, originally released under the title, Calliope, what could go wrong: everything. Didn’t you hear the sound of two-time Oscar-nominated Max Ophüls turning over in his grave?
Both films are concerned with ten people “in various episodes in the endless waltz of love” (they go “round and round,” thus the titles), as they each hop from encounter to encounter . . . and that’s were it all stops. Dead.
Since Americans were still swingin’ from the free-loving, Summer of Love ’60s, and Mike Nichols answered the “sex revolution” charge with the aforementioned Carnal Knowledge (1971) (and Paul Mazursky’s 1969 effort, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), Allied Artists (an outgrowth of Monogram Pictures, a library now owned-split among Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor, and Paramount; Warner owns Calliope) decided that, instead of the main protagonist (now a hippie musician instead of soldier-on-leave) eventually finding love with the partner he started off with (Sherry Miles, now a band groupie, instead of the original’s prostitute) . . . he receives “the gift that goes on giving”: a sexually transmitted disease, i.e., venereal disease, since this was the ’70s and not the AIDS ’80s.
Calliope (no theatrical one-sheets exist, at least online), needless to say, bombed. Ah, but the “Golden Age of Porn” was in full swing, so Allied Artists didn’t give up: a year later, in 1972, the reimaged Love Is Catching hit the circuit; it opened in, of all places, the home base of B&S About Movies: Pittsburgh. It bombed, again, and harder than a Richard Harrison Philippine film he was edited-into and never signed on to do.
This soft-sexploitation romp causes me to reflex on poor Gerald McRaney and Tom Selleck, each scoring their first major roles in Night of Bloody Horror and Daughters of Satan, respectively. The scripts are pretty good . . . and work is work . . . and they thesp’d up a sweat to make it all work . . . then J.N Houck, Jr., and worse, in Tom Selleck’s case, since U.S. major, United Artists, backed it, cheesed the films with exploitative ad campaigns. Just like Calliope. And Skidoo. And Myra Breckinridge.
Sherry, six films in to her career, and just missing out on a co-starring role with Jack Nicholson in one of Mike Nichols best films — a frank, adult-discussion of modern-day sexual issues — was deserving of a better, leading lady role than this STD sex farce.
Sure, it’s a well-shot picture, and the acting is pretty decent (we have great character actors Marjorie Bennett and Stan Rose, on board). And it’s not all that bad; sure, modernizing from the early 1900s to the late 1960s is inspired. And it’s not at all porny, since the sex scenes are implied, more than shown . . . but I still have this need to go back in time and kick someone . . . for having my sweet Sherry transmitting VD in a movie.
But things are looking up, nicely, with our next feature.
The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972)
From a sexploitation flick to a Christian cinema obscurity: only in Tinseltown, baby. And while his name is nixed from the one-sheet (whatever, Plekker, nice n’ cheesy paste-up work): the writer-director here is Ken Osborne, the man behind the pen and lens on the biker flick Wild Wheels (1969). He also appeared in our Uncle Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).
And there’s more!
In addition to Sherry Miles, we have Marty Allen and Eric Estrada? Ray Danton (too many ’60s to ’70s TV series to mention)? Bruce Kimball (Rollercoaster)? Where’s the VCR. Load the tape. LOAD THE TAPE!
The pedigree is the thing in this imperiled-musician-in-a-spiritual-crisis tale, not only with our director, Ken Osborne: the scribe behind this Christploitationer, Ralph Luce, also wrote Wild Wheels. Why, yes, that’s Robert Dix and William Kerwin from Satan’s Sadists, and Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, respectively, in the cast, as well as, again, a very youthful, pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada. And we mention Erik a second time, since this second film in his career was also his second Christploiter. The first was The Cross and the Switchblade, which starred ’60s crooner Pat Boone, as directed by Don Murray (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).
The Ballad of Billie Blue is the tale of a drug-and-boozed out country music star — our faux-message “Jesus Christ” of the proceedings — sent to prison, aka Hell, on a bum murder rap; he finds God by way of a prison preacher and a Christ-following country music star.
Regardless of its secular, exploitative pedigree, this was Rated-G — and it ran as a “Special Church Benefit” in rural theaters, as well as in churches and tent revivals. Granted it’s no country-cautionary tale in the vein of A Star Is Born (1976) with Kris Kristofferson, but it’s not a total disaster.
I still say the Oscar-winning dramedy Sideways (2004) starring Paul Giamatti (in the Beau Bridges role) and Thomas Haden Church (in the Rob Liebman role) stole this movie lock, stock, and wine bottle. But I digress. . . .
So . . . the ’70s and their slew of ne’er-do-well “buddy films” were entertaining times, with the likes of Midnight Cowboy (1969), starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Busting (1974), with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, Freebie and the Bean (1974), starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, and Let’s Do It Again (1975), with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.
My old Pop loved his “buddy films,” so you didn’t have to sell us twice — especially when the buddies are Beau Bridges and Ron Liebman. And we ain’t hatin’ Janet Margolin in the frames, either. Mom and Pop dumped me at the sitter to see this back when; I watched it later, amid the ultra-high frequency haze of my pre-cable TV youth. All, of course, were rented, again, when they hit home video.
Oh, and speaking of Sideways: this isn’t just a buddy film. You know all of those Judd Apatow, gross-out “road movies” you love: this is where that road, began. Only without any of the Paul Rudd or Seth Rogen annoyance aftertaste.
Charlie (a perfectly cast Beau Bridges) is a henpecked office drone-doormat at a dead-end job, engaged to harping woman (Janet Margolin, Planet Earth). The lone spark in his life is his “idol,” Mike (an even more perfectly cast Rob Liebman), a narcissistic and misogynistic, well, dickhead, of a buddy. So, to get Charlie out from under his soon-to-be-loveless marriage — and his own, mounting debts and his recently cut-off unemployment benefits — the pair hits the roads of the California coast on Mike’s last two, usable credit cards, subsidized by a little bit of larceny. Along the way, the pick up two, nubile hippie chicks (in the expertly cast) June Fairchild (Up In Smoke) and Sherry Miles.
So, somewhere in the frames is a message about America’s newfound “liberation” forged in the ’60s (more effectively done with Beau’s brother, Jeff, in 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), but while this warms the ol’ UHF-TV cockles of watching it with ol’ Pop all those years ago, Your Three Minutes Are Up is an erratic, rambling TV movie-flat messadventure that could have easily went the bloody-serial killer route — if not for its purposeful, comedic slant. Think Easy Rider sans the drugs and bikes, or Five Easy Pieces with Liebman as our ersatz Jack Nicholson, and you’re on the right road in this still, effectively cast and well-acted adventure.
Look, Steven Hilliard Stern (The Park Is Mine) is directing . . . so what’s not to like, here?
Well, uh, not much, in this woefully dated “sex revolution” tale that sequels the box office hit, The Harrad Experiment (1973), which grossed $3 million against $400,000.
So, why did this sure-fire hit, flop?
Well, the character of James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption) doesn’t return. Tippi Hedren’s does, but is replaced by a lookalike in Emmaline Henry (Ms Amanda Bellows from TV’s I Dream of Jeannie). And Don Johnson and Bruno Kirby bowed out. Sure, Laurie Walters (Warlock Moon; later TV’s Eight Is Enough), who made her acting debut in the original, is back, and so is bit TV actress Victoria Thompson, but who is coming to see either? And we want more Sherry Miles, thank you.
Note to executives: When you loose three quarters of your cast, don’t make the sequel.
Anyway, the premise is that faux-Stanley and Harry, along with real-Sheila and Beth, are out on summer break from their first year at Harrad College: it’s time to test their new found sexual freedom in the real world. Or something. Like going back and re-watching Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice and Carnal Knowledge.
Hey, I champion Stern’s TV work just as much as my fellow fan of the VHS obscure, but this is simply yawn-inducing . . . .the total opposite of The Harrad Experiment, which has Don and Bruno — especially Bruno — going for it. Robert Reiser and Richard Doran in their places, well . . . they’re not awful: they just don’t have the same spunk to make the hippie proceedings, hep.
No streams, but the DVDs are out there; here’s the trailer.
Okay. So, the heart breaker and dream maker of my wee-lad years, Sherry Miles, closes out her career by running around an island with Joe Don Baker to escape a pack of wild dogs . . . get this: under the lens of Robert Clouse of Enter the Dragon, Black Belt Jones, and Golden Needles fame?
Load. The. Tape. Now.
Sure, this beat Stephen’s King’s Cujoto theaters and was all about a literal army of dogs biting everyone on Seal Island — which has nothing on Dog Island from Humongous. So, was Robert Clouse inspired by the 1976 film starring David McCallum that you don’t want to confuse with The Pack, aka Dogs? Probably. No, not Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (1978), as that one starred Richard Crenna. Get your horror dog movies, straight, buddy! Did Clouse’s dog romp inspire Earl Owensby’s (Dark Sunday) backwater sheriff fighting off government-bred mutts in Dogs of Hell (1983)? Probably.
What else can we say: it’s a killer dog movie. Not even Sherry’s presence can save it. But horror was hot and, as an actor, you jump the trend and hope for a hit. Well, it is to us, at B&S About Movies. We’re weird that way.
There’s no freebie streams, but the PPVs are out there; here’s the trailer.
So wraps this latest “Exploring” featuring, this one on (sigh . . . skyrockets . . . rainbows . . . fields of flowers . . . hearts with angel wings) Sherry Miles. Be sure to click the “Exploring” tag below to read the full list of all of our “Exploring” features on the lost, forgotten and awesome actors and directors, as well as genres, of the Drive-In ’60s, the UHF-TV ’70s, and VHS ’80s eras.
Yeah, we’re doin’ it for the celluloid love. And because we’re just crazy that way. This is B&S About Movies, after all.