MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Men with Steel Faces (1940)

Men with Steel Faces is an edited movie version of the serial Phantom Empire, which stars Gene Autry as — who else? — Gene Autry, a singing cowboy who also has a Radio Ranch where he broadcasts a show every day and also has a dude ranch for kids where Frankie (Frankie Darro) and Betsy Baxter (Betsy King Ross lead the Junior Thunder Riders.

All three of them are kidnapped by soldiers from the advanced underground empire of Murania — justified and ancient — who have laser guns, robots and an evil queen named Queen Tika. Meanwhile, Professor Beetson and his gang are trying to steal all of the riches of Murania and double meanwhile, there’s a rebellion looking to overthrow the evil empire.

This serial went on to inspire the NBC series Cliffhangers!, which had a sequence called The Secret Empire. There’s also the Fred Olen Ray movie The Phantom Empire which is directly inspired by this, as are the legends of the Shavers*, which you can learn more about in the movie Beyond Lemuria. Other movies that have an under the world army include The Lost City, which pretty much outright steals from this serial and The Mole People.

I love the idea of cowboys interacting with futuristic science fiction and celebrate any movie that makes it happen again, even poor ones like Cowboys vs. Aliens.

*The Shaver Mystery was created — or discovered — by factory worker Richard Shaver who was able to hear within the center of the Earth and wrote to the magazine Amazing Stories and suddenly, that entire pulp was all about creatures and civilizations that existed within the Earth that are quite a bit like Phantom Empire. Then again, this movie’s writer Wallace MacDonald got the idea for this story when he was getting gas at the dentist.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974)

Oh man, 1970s TV movies and UFOs go together like blood and half-naked teenage camp counselors.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Pete Moore (Glenn Ford), the commander of the Whitney Air Force Base 458th Radar Test Group, has sent a crew made up of Captain Bishop (David Soul), Capt. Riggs (Robert F. Lyons), Lt. Ferguson (Stanley Bennett Clay) and Lt. Podryski (Greg Mullavey) out on flight 412, which the title tells us is of course going to, you got it, disappear. Well, the UFO doesn’t cause that, but government spooks sure do. And that means that Moore and Major Mike Dunning (Bradford Dillman) have to find out what happened.

Shot like a documentary, this movie has some major issues when it comes to accuracy. When the first scenes of the jets are shown, they’re U.S. Marine McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II fighters. Later, Grumman F9F Panther fighter aircraft are shown, planes that didn’t fly after the 50s. Maybe that was the government doing that, adding disinformation to a movie that is supposed to give us the real info on aliens.

Director Jud Taylor mainly worked in TV and is known for TV movies like Revenge!Weekend of TerrorSearch for the GodsAct of Love and the TV miniseries of The Old Man and the Sea. It was written by George Simpson (who mainly worked in sound for movies) and Neal R. Burger. They also wrote the 1990 TV movie Ghostboat together as well as the novel it was based on and the books Thin Air, Fair Warning, Severed Ties and Blackbone.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Shadow of Chinatown (1936)

Shadow of Chinatown is a 65-minute version of the 300-minute long serial of the same name. It’s all about San Francisco’s Chinatown is being destroyed by Victor Poten (Bela Lugosi) and The Dragon Lady (Luana Walters), hired by white businesses to decimate the new Chinese businessmen who are taking away their profits. Unlike most serials of the time, it’s intriguing to see a movie in which white people are attacking Asians instead of sinister Fu Manchu being a stereotypical bad guy.

Look, it’s a movie in which Bela Lugosi mesmerizes women into hating the Chinese as much as he does.

This was directed and written by Robert F. Hill, who had 116 directing credits in his career. After World War II, Universal sent him to Japan to open a movie studio where he warned that the locals would try to attack him if he started an American studio in their country. He needed to get a doctor’s permit to prove his wife needed care back home before Universal would let him give up. The next person who tried had that happen as Japanese filmmakers attacked him and used the studio Universal built for themselves.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Menace from Deep Space (1956)

Clean-cut, square-jawed Rocky Jones of the Space Rangers was the lead character of a syndicated science fiction series that ran for two seasons from February to November of 1954. Shot in black and white, the show was about Rocky’s adventures as the space policeman for the United Worlds. Flying in his Orbit Jet XV-2 — and later the Silver Moon XV-3 — Rocky was a victim of budgets, as despite having a laser gun, he often defeated villains with his fists. Just as often, those villains were people in costumes speaking English instead of some alien tongue. Also, no matter where women came from — even lead villain Cleolanta, Suzerain of the planet Ophecius — they all love him in a precursor to the way James T. Kirk would be able to land any lady, even the green ones.

Rocky Jones was created by Roland D. Reed and starred Richard Crane as Rocky and former Our Gang member Scotty Beckett as Rocky’s co-pilot Winky. It was sponsored by Gordon Baking Company, which is why one of Rocky’s other ships was called the Silvercup Rocket after one of their bread brands. The show was greeted with a ton of cash-in merchandise, including watches, space dollars, badges, buttons, records, comic books and clothing.

Charactets changed in the last season, due to Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) dying of a heart attack — he was replaced by Professor Mayberry (Reginald Sheffield) — and Winky (Scotty Beckett) being arrested for possessing a weapon after being implicated in an armed robbery at the Cavalier Hotel in Hollywood. He left for Mexico, wrote some bad checks, got in a gun battle with the police and was jailed until he came back to the U.S. in 1954. He was replaced by a new comedy character, Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon). As for Cleodata, the new enemy became Juliandra, Suzerain of Herculon, played by Ann Robinson.

There are 39 episodes of the show with 36 being broken into 3-chapter arcs that were edited into TV movies. Menace from Deep Space are the “Bobby’s Comet” episodes that originally aired on April 6, 1954. The story is all about the Jovian moon Fornax, which is filled with energy crytals that Rocky and his friends — as well as his enemies — all want. Is it a Cold War analogy? Probably not. Yet the villains do dress like Arabic people and Cleodata refers to Rocky as an infidel, which is pretty strange.

There may be a kid sidekick, but Rocky’s love interest Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) sure has a fancy car.

Ralston also sponsored a show called Space Patrol and working with Blue Bird shoes, gave away a spaceship. Here’s the ad copy courtesy of Solar Guard: “A hugh silver and scarlet rolling clubhouse, the Commander’s rocketship, the Terra IV. The ship is 35′ long, 10,000 lb in weight with a full size motorized flatbed truck to pull the Rocket. You can take the rolling clubhouse on trips, camp outs with your dad, sightseeing trips, or use it for you and your friends Space Patrol Headquarters. It has bunk beds lights, cooking equipment, and lockers for space gear. In addition to the Ralston Rocket there is $1,500 in cash to spend.”

There was also supposedly a rocket that traveled to promote Rocky Jones and for years, I’d hear rumors that people had found it. Imagine having your own space ship.

For a fictionalized retelling of the days of space kids TV, check out the Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin comic book Satellite Sam.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Eternal Evil (1985)

Hungarian-born Canadian director George Mihalka is probably better known for My Bloody Valentine than this movie, which also has the title The Blue Man.

Paul Sharpe (Winston Rekert) is a TV producer who meets the mysterious Amelia Lambro (Karen Black and wow, what a mysterious woman to meet) who teaches him how to astral project. The only problem is that when he does that, horrible things happen to other people, like his therapist, whose bones and organs are crushed by psychic power.

Meanwhile, Helen (Joanne Cole) is somehow able to convert Paul’s business partner from homosexuality to heterosexuality because she too is an eternal blue-formed ghost being and her centuries-long partner is Amelia, also known as Janus, and they exist beyond simple things like gender identity and sexual preference. The entire goal has been to destroy Paul’s life by having him kill his therapist, his father-in-law and wife through the powers shown to him so that Janus can take over his body.

Writer Robert Geoffrion also was the man who wrote the equally strange The Surrogate. This one is just as daffy and I say that in the nicest way possible.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Evil Brain from Outer Space (1965)

About the Author: Paul Andolina is one of my favorite people to talk movies with. If you like his stuff, check out his site Wrestling with Film. This was previously a part of two other Mill Creek months, the first on November 15, 2019 and the second appearance on November 24, 2020.

Evil Brain from Outer Space is a science fiction film from 1965. It happens to be a couple of the Japanese Super Giant films that have been hacked up and spliced together to make one English dubbed film. It’s an odd movie about a group of aliens who send one of their own to earth to stop the brain of the evil mutant Balazar from destroying humanity. 

Special effects films and television shows are big in Japan and they have been since Godzilla roared onto screens. The Super Giant series from the late 50’s is a bunch of stand-alone films that are about the deeds of a man named Giant of Steel or as he is known in EBfOS Star Man. Star Man is a superhero basically and he wears some pretty nifty lycra outfits, he looks like a luchador that forgot his mask at home.

Evil Brain sees Star Man coming to earth to stop a few evil doctor/scientists who are in league with the evil extraterrestrial brain of Balazar. There is a hawk that hangs out with one of these doctors and a one-legged man who serves the other. There are some pretty awesome mutants who fight Star Man in this film as well. One looks like a chupacabra from the black lagoon and has strange tendril-like fingers and makes some weird noises, if I had seen this a child I would have been scared of him immediately. I actually said out loud, “WTF is that?” while watching the movie. He is by far my favorite part of the film. The other mutant is a long-haired demon lady who doesn’t quite know how to put on her lipstick. She jumps around and scratches the air while making demonic cat noises. There are also some generic henchmen mutants as well.

I would love to see the Super Giant serials in Japanese with English subtitles but I’m not sure they can live up to the insanity that is this film. It seems longer than it is because there is too much jibber-jabber. Honestly would love to see Star Man just mess up some mutants and forgo the plot altogether. If you like psychotronic films this is definitely the one for you. I have no idea what they were thinking when they pieced this bad boy together. I’d like to believe there was some acid involved and a whole lotta pot. It is in black and white but it still is a lot of fun. 

If you have any interest in the Tokasatsu trend in Japan and want to see an earlier effort you can’t get much better than Evil Brain from Outer Space.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: The Lost City (1935)

Kane Richmond went from being a football star at the University of Minnesota as Fred Bowditch to becoming a film salesman before testing and getting the lead in the boxing serial The Leather Pushers and becoming a fixture in serials like Spy Smasher and Brick Bradford as well as playing Lamont Cranston — otherwise known as The Shadow — in The Shadow ReturnsBehind the Mask and The Missing Lady. His career moved on to playing supporting roles as well as TV work before retiring in 1966.

In The Lost City, he plays a scientist named Bruce Gordon who climbs the Magnetic Mountain and descends into the secret world of the Lemurians who are led by the evil Zolok. He’s played by William “Stage” Boyd, who was tired of being confused with actor William Boyd and added the middle name to somewhat haugtily proclaim that yes, he had stage experience. He also had a major drinking and drug problem that got so bad that — keep in mind this was during Prohibition — he started not only losing roles, but cost the other William Boyd his RKO contract because papers would print photos of the non “Stage” Boyd every time “Stage” Boyd got in trouble. This was his final role. As for his namesake, he changed his name to Bill Boyd and overcame being penniless in 1931 when RKO fired him and got the role that would change his life: Hopalong Cassidy.

When that film series ended up in 1948, Boyd had nearly bankrupted himself again by buying the rights to every film, something few actors did. He sold or mortgaged everything he owned, which didn’t pay off until he took one of his older pictures to the local NBC television station and offered it at a low rental cost, hoping that people would start talking. They did. He became one of the first national TV stars with every one of his films sold to NBC, got a new radio show and rebuilt his personal fortune.

Back to Lemuria.

Zolok has gone full Ming and created natural disasters to weaken the human race before his takeover. He’s also keeping Dr. Manyus (Josef Swickard) — and his daughter Natcha (Claudia Dell) — and forcing him to transform Lemurians into mindless giants as well as making his enemies, the spider loving Wangas, into weak slaves.

Back to Hopalong Cassidy. One of the other actors in this film, George “Gabby” Hayes, who plays the sidekick of Hopalong named Windy Halliday from 1935 to 1939. He quit that role when he felt he wasn’t being paid what he was worth and left for Republic Pictures. He had to change the name of his character to Gabby Whitaker and ended up being even more successful, appearing in 44 Roy Rogers movies, 14 Wild Bill Elliot films and 7 movies with Gene Autry. He also became a TV star once westerns became big on the new medium. While in the movies he was a gnarled up old man who spoke in strange gruff phrases, he was actually an intelligent and well-spoken man.

Gorzo, the dwarf bad guy in this, is played by Billy Bletcher, whose career is filled with nearly a hundred roles. He’s best known for playing the Big Bad Wolf and Mickey Mouse’s enemy Pete in the early Disney cartoons. He also worked with Pinto Colvig to do the ADR voices of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

The Lost City is not all that different from The Phantom Empire, taking that Gene Autry serial and moving it from a cowboy-friendly locale into the jungle. Producer Sherman S. Krellberg would edit the twelve episodes into four movies and added new footage to create new endings for each movie. The character Queen Rama and the Wangas, butthen made another version that had all of those characters and called it City of Lost Men. He also made another version of this in the 70s that is full of continuity issues.

Director Harry Revier made several early Tarzan movies but I know him best for the truly berserk Lash of the Penitentes, an early exploitation film promising women whipping themselves and, yes, delivering while cashing in on a then-well-known controversy.

As for Lemuria, it was a major obsession for occultists at this time. Theosophy founder Madame Helena Blavatsky had written a system of magic that involved Lemuria as the place where humans came from originally. We can also tie the underground world to another popular mid-20th century myth, The Shavers. Checkout films like The Mole People and the sort-of-doc Beyond Lemuria to learn more. Or ask me. I can talk about this kind of weird stuff for days.

The Lost City looks dated today but was state-of-the-art in 1935. Check it out for yourself and see how far movies have come.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: House of the Living Dead (1974)

Also known as Shadows over Bridge Farm, Curse of the DeadDoctor Maniac and even Kill, Baby, Kill, this is a South African/British coproduction that mixes science fiction and horror. Yes, it did just straight up take that Bava title.

It’s also kind of House of Usher, as Lady Brattling wants her family to end, what with her son Michael running the house while his brother Breck (both roles are played by Mark Burns) hides in his room and tries to finish an experiment that creates a physical version of the soul outside the human body. Michael’s fiancée Mary then shows up and wants to start making heirs, all while the help engages in voodoo and a murderer is so close by, starting with animals and soon killing humans.

Director Ray Austin mainly worked in television and also directed Virgin Witch. The script is by Marc Marais (Crash!) from a story by John Brason. They made a movie in which a man operates on monkeys and traps souls in liquid, but put a title on it that promises zombies and does not deliver them. It’s kind of too mannered and needs the kind of director that allows everyone to go insane in the heat of the plantation and scream and wail and collapse into terror, but it never gets there.

 

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: End of the World (1977)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on October 25, 2018.

Bill from Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum always jokes about movies where nothing happens as being his favorite movies. If that’s true, he must absolutely adore this movie.

Christopher Lee, the main selling point of this movie, said, “Some of the films I’ve been in I regret making. I got conned into making these pictures in almost every case by people who lied to me. Some years ago, I got a call from my producers saying that they were sending me a script and that five very distinguished American actors were also going to be in the film. Actors like José Ferrer, Dean Jagger, and John Carradine. So I thought “Well, that’s all right by me”. But it turned out it was a complete lie. Appropriately the film was called End Of The World.”

The film opens with a shaken Lee as a Catholic priest trying to get to a phone call. All hell breaks loose and a diner is destroyed, with the owner blinded by coffee before being killed and the pay phone being blown up. Turns out that Father Pergado is due to be replaced by the alien Zindar. Good start. And it was the trailer, filled with science fiction machines and evil nuns that got me interested in this picture!

Professor Andrew Boran discovers radio signals that predict natural disasters.   He and his wife investigate, discovering that they come from a convent where aliens have taken over. The aliens want him to join them, as the Earth is too diseased to exist.

The leads are wooden and only seem to want to have sex with one another, yet there are no love scenes. They’re utter failures at being heroic and simply move the plot along to its conclusion, where we learn that the Earth is filled with glitter. It blows up real good!

There are some ridiculous moments, such as Lee’s true form and seeing nuns operate supercomputers. Seriously, if I just read the description of this movie, it’d sound like everything I love. But seeing the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: House of the Dead (1980)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the genius behind Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. This was first on the site on November 28, 2018.

Ultra low budget films really turn me on sometimes, and House of the Dead has another sexy thing going for it: it’s a horror anthology. It’s one of those obscurities that received a very limited theatrical release, and was then relegated to cruising the backwaters of VHS. A recent blu ray resurrection by Vinegar Syndrome is a welcome chance to get acquainted with one of the more imaginative films of its type.

For some reason, the film was packaged theatrically under the misleading title Alien Zone, which says nothing about the actual content of the movie. It’s actually a supernatural film that deals with a man who finds himself lost in a rainstorm. He’s just come from seeing his mistress, and takes a taxi back to his hotel in order to phone his wife. The cab leaves him off in an area that isn’t familiar to him, and it drives off, leaving him stranded down a dark alley. A strange, older man emerges from the darkness and offers our protagonist a chance to get out of the rain, taking him inside the building and giving him coffee. The protagonist soon realizes his host is a mortician, and the old man insists on giving him a tour of the facility. The individual stories emerge as the mortician opens each casket and letting the protagonist look at the bodies.

House of the Dead gives you some bang for your buck, because it has four stories — five if you count the wraparound segment. The tone is definitely that of an old EC comic book, with nasty people doing horrible things and then suffering some kind of karmic justice. The first is about a schoolteacher with a disdain for children who is confronted by monsters, the second deals with a serial killer who lures women to their doom inside of his apartment, the third is about two dueling detectives who set out to murder each other, and the fourth shows an arrogant businessman’s rapid transformation into a derelict after he is trapped and tormented inside a warehouse of torture.

The stories are intriguing, although a few of them are awkwardly realized. Most disappointing is the story about the serial killer, because it starts out so damn good. It’s a found footage short, a collection of private films shot by the killer on a hidden camera. Each one shows him inviting a different woman to the apartment and finding ways to lure them into perfect position so he can murder them in front of the camera. It becomes increasingly disturbing, and you wonder where the story will go, and then suddenly it is over and it went nowhere. It had such an interesting setup, too, with a non-linear timeline and intercut news footage of the subject being attacked by camera-wielding reporters while being arraigned.

The best of the four stories by far is the fourth, which is a damn near brilliant piece of film. Most of it is performed solo by actor Richard Gates, who portrays a cocky businessman with a serious lack of empathy for others. He is confronted by a derelict outside of what he thinks is his office building, and he dismisses the man rudely, yelling after him “Why don’t you get a job?” Once inside the building though, he realizes he has walked into an unfamiliar storefront, with a vacant office space inside. Lured to an open elevator shaft by noises from below, he leans inside too far and falls down into the shaft, landing on his face. It’s a brutal moment that looks terrifyingly real, even though it’s just clever editing. This begins a gradual erosion of his humanity by some unseen antagonist; he is now in a Saw-like chamber of horrors, where he is wordlessly tormented by a falling elevator, a room where a wall of blades threatens him, and ultimately a prison cell where he is fed only bottles of alcohol. A door automatically opens some undetermined length of time later and he emerges into daylight, himself now a drunken man in a dirty suit approaching passersby for help and being rejected.

The film has a distinct visual look, which is often difficult when shooting a low budget movie. It’s not exactly striking, but it does creep into your brain a little by what it *doesn’t* show you. This movie does “anonymous and vacant” extremely well. Alleys are dark and vague, with strategically lit doorways and dark alcoves. That abandoned building is both ordinary looking and totally sinister, with simple but effective traps for its victim, almost like anybody could have set it up. Even the “house” of the title, which is purported to be a funeral home with a mortician’s workshop, is rendered onscreen only as a series of vague hallways and dim areas lit only by carefully directed lamps and bulbs, leaving most of the rooms in shadows.

A lot of the wraparound story is clunky, to say the least, like the awkward way the mortician narrator abruptly disengages from several of the stories, especially the ones with protagonists who don’t end up dead on screen (after all, he’s explaining to someone how these people ended up corpses in a funeral parlor). But the runtime is short (79 minutes), and it contains a few moments that are effectively creepy. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d hope to find in a budget DVD collection.