PURE TERROR MONTH: Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

It’s hard to believe this forgotten—and to be honest, not very good—62-minute Roger Corman quickie shot in 1958 for a mere $68,000 over the course of seven days wound up in WGA arbitration, but it did: Writer Martin Varno disputed the writing credit given to Roger’s brother, Gene. Even harder to believe: Harold Jacob Smith, who worked on the film’s rewrites/dialogue doctoring, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). But, hey, look at what happened to James Cameron (Galaxy of Terror) and Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto). (By the way: Don’t forget to read my “October 2019 Scarecrow Challenge” review of Ice Cream Man starring Ron’s brother, Clint.)

Damn this 27th galaxy to hell!

Starting out as a screenplay “Creature from Galaxy 27” and influenced by the Howard Hawks box-office smash, The Thing from Another World (1951), Night of the Blood Beast tells the story of the return of the first deep space astronaut—implanted with an alien embryo. Although astronaut John Corcoran’s body seems “dead,” it maintains a blood pressure and harbors strange, alien seahorse-like cells his blood stream that grow into a lizard-like fetus. Then the film goes off into a weird, homosexual subtext with the alien and Corcoran “protecting” each other.

Ah, a human male as a walking alien-baby incubator? I’ve seen this before. Well, besides the homosexual subtext, it does sound familiar, doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it Dan O’Bannon?

Sadly, while Night of the Blood Beast is clearly an Alien antecedent, the film—because of its low-budget quality further stymied by the amateurish acting of TV series bit-players—goes unmentioned alongside the more formidable Alien precursors of Forbidden Planet, It! The Terror of Beyond Space, Queen of Blood, and, especially, Mario Bava’s Planet of Vampires. Well, doesn’t it, Dan O’ Bannon?

During its initial success, literary critics noted Alien’s similarities to the Agatha Christie tale, And Then There Were None (1939), and the short stories “Discord in Scarlet” and “The Black Destroyer” in A.E van Vogt’s collection, The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), which could have possibly influenced Martin Varno’s storytelling. It certainly did influence—although he flat out denied it—O’ Bannon’s storytelling: so much so that 20th Century Fox settled with van Vogt out of court.

Speaking of familiar: B&S readers are familiar with Corman’s house of recycling: Stunt footage from Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto turned up in several of his ‘70s hicksploitation films . . . and how many times did we see Battle Beyond the Stars SFX shots reused? Thus, you’ve seen Night of the Blood Beast’s alien costume before: In Teenage Caveman (1958), which wrapped two weeks before Blood Beast began shooting. Some film reviewers describe it as “a bear crossed with a moldy parrot”—and they’re right! Is the costume as bad as Richard “Jaws” Kiel’s The Solarite—with the light bulb eyes—in Phantom Planet (1961)? Yep. And since when does an alien, only by monitoring Earth’s radio broadcasts, develop a dialect worthy of a Royal Shakespearean Company actor? Book this parrot for the CBS Evening News. He should be holding a skull and crying out for Desdemona. “The parrot is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

If you need more fun-filled, Roger Corman sci-fi tomfoolery, check out Night of the Blood Beast’s John Baer in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) and Ed Nelson in Attack of the Crab Monster (1957).

If you want to go deep into the Alien cottage “homage” industry with B&S Movies, then surf on over to Ten Movies that Rip-off Alien and A Whole Bunch of Alien Rip-offs All at Once.

It freaks me out that I’ve seen all these movies. I don’t know if that makes me cool or just a very sad excuse for a human being.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Scared To Death (1947)

“Roots of horror” fans that enjoy digging beneath the Italian and Spanish Giallo graves of the late ’60s and ‘70s will enjoy seeing Bela Lugosi in Scared to Death (directed by Christy Cabanne of the first Kharis-the-mummy flick, The Mummy’s Hand; he uses that film’s George Zucco here) as it is the only opportunity to see horror film’s definitive Count Dracula in the “Photographed in Full Natural Color” process—his only color film. However, for everyone else: Bela fluttering around on the cheap, one-set stage play environment with a sad-recycling of his iconic role as a Dracula-like stage magician (complete with an over-the-top hammy-bad accent) in a we’ve-seen-it-before-filmed-much-later-and-done-better, drive-her-mad-for-greed plot—is a pass.

It’s blue. It’s green. It’s in live, living color!

Quicker than Norma Desmond can say, “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille,” the film goes all “Sunset Boulevard” on us, with William Holden, I mean Molly Lamont (Laura) “solving” her murder via flashbacks from a morgue slab. And like ‘ol Will, she narrates the whole movie. And even with all the morgue-exposition . . . you still don’t know what the hell is going on.

Turns out Laura’s ne’er do well husband and her loaded father-in-law doctor—who runs the sanitarium where her husband committed her—is pulling a Paul Naschy-style Panic Beats on poor Laura: murder-by-fright (without the blood or violence). Then we’re in a Ten Little Indians-rip with an Agatha Christie-menagerie featuring the requisite, weird maid, and Bela (who is really slicing the bacon—even more so than in The Devil Bat) as Professor Leonide, the requisite kook medical professional. Of course, he has a now PC-offensive-par-for-the-course deaf-mute midget sidekick (Angelo Rossitto of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) and in the much better Monogram Studios’ Lugosi vehicle, The Corpse Vanishes (1942)), which are always assigned to doctors in the films of yesteryear.

Oh, what’s that? There’s a twist?

Bela’s professor is the cousin of Laura’s father-in-law doctor and Bela’s pre-Professor gig was working as an illusionist in Europe. But wait, Laura has a phobia about foreigners—and magicians—because she’s the widow and former stage partner of a Paris magician who was assassinated by the Nazis.

What’s that? Oh, another twist?

She fled the country because authorities believed she conspired with the Nazi’s to killer her husband. Oh, but wait . . . is Bela a Nazi agent? Does Bela have a personal beef since he was a competitor of Laura’s husband’s stage act? Are daddy-in-law and Bela in cahoots?

Of course, all porcine-slicing antagonists need a hammy protagonist, and all low-budget murder mysteries needs an Inspector Poirot (place this film on a train and you’d have a Murder on the Orient Express; on a paddle steamer, you’d have Death on the Nile), so in steps the bumbling P.I Bill Raymond (Nat Pendleton) who couldn’t cut himself out of a wet paper bag, let alone solve Laura’s murder. Then there’s the equally inept Lucille Ball clone, courtesy of Joyce Compton and that annoying pillbox hat.

Every Gothic-film noir hybrid needs a MacGuffin, so some weirdo keeps popping up in windows so people can scream about the “ghost in the blue mask” (which would have been a more effective title). However, because this an early ‘40s low budget film shot in color, the mask looks green to us—so it’s really a not-so-red, green herring. And the man-in-the-mask-nonsense has something to do with a mystical death mask of a dead Nazi patriot. Who’s behind the mask?

Well, it sure isn’t Alaric de Marnac from Naschy’s Panic Beats, that’s for sure. Laura’s fretting about being “scared to death”? Me, I am fretting that this film bored me to death.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)

The only thing this movie has in common with Psycho is the title, but that seemed like reason enough to try and drag people into the theater. It does have Ronnie Burns, the son of George and Gracie, as the lead, which is something, right? And Pamela Lincoln from The Tingler!

After his brother is sentenced to death at a trial, a teen rebel named Chet goes bonkers. No one can help him — not his sister, his best friend or even his girl. He loses any semblance of reality and attacks the son of the attorney who sentenced his brother to death.

Michael Granger, who plays Lieutenant Mac, the cop who gets involved, followed up being in movies like this and Creature With the Atom Brain by appearing on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof. Russ Bender shows up, too. He’s in a ton of B and lower grade movies, everything from Panic In the Year Zero! to Maryjane. Don Devlin, who was in Blood of Dracula and later became a producer, plays Moe.

This is directed by Boris Petroff, who was also in the chair for Shotgun Wedding and The Unearthly. For its time, it’s interesting that all three of these films were written by a woman named Jane Mann. You’d think that, but Jane Mann is really…Edward D. Wood. If you’re wondering why all of the music from this movie comes directly from Plan 9 From Outer Space, now you have your answer.

You can check this out for free on the Internet Archive and Amazon Prime, if you don’t have the Pure Terror box set.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Enter the Devil (1972)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. You should grab an issue after reading this.

Independent regional production Enter the Devil was shot in Texas by producer/director Frank Q. Dobbs, who made four regional theatrical releases (one of them a hardcore porn flick titled The California Connection) before moving to a more prolific career in TV production.  Don’t confuse it with 1974 Italian Exorcist cash-in L’Osessa, which was also known as Enter the Devil in various territories. This movie belongs squarely alongside low budget devil cult opuses like Race with the Devil and The Devil’s Rain instead of possession flicks. 

A motorist traveling through the desert is victimized when his tire is shot out by an unseen person. Finding his spare tire flat, the guy hitches a ride with a guy in a pickup truck, only to end up flat on his back on a Satanic altar, surrounded by a large group of hooded figures carrying torches, who sacrifice him with a large cruciform knife. It’s safe to say the locals are pretty weird there.

The sheriff sends his deputy, Jase (David S. Cass Sr.), to investigate the man’s disappearance, and not too long afterwards, a couple of hunters find the missing guy’s car all burned out, his charred remains behind the wheel. Jase is a textbook example of an arrogant prick, behaving rudely to a gas station attendant and just about everyone else in the film, too. He stays at a lodge run by acquaintance Glen (Josh Bryant), currently hosting a group of obnoxious deer hunters who make unwanted sexual advances to Glen’s Mexican employee, Maria (Linda Rascoe). One guy in particular gets a little too eager and tries to rape Maria after cornering her in an isolated part of the lodge. Maria is rescued by her cousin, a scary Mexican dude (Norris Domingue) with a badass mustache, and we’re not too surprised when the would-be rapist ends up kidnapped by the hooded cult and thrown into a pit full of rattlesnakes.  

Maria isn’t our damsel in distress, however — she clearly knows something about the shady shenanigans going on in the area — and from nowhere comes Leslie (Irene Kelly), an anthropologist who wants to study the existence of a Christian cult rumored to be in the area. Glen moves in on her and easily invites himself into her cabin for a night of lovemaking, but we the viewers know she’s on a collision course with the Disciples of Death.

At 75 minutes, Enter the Devil doesn’t ask too much of your time, and it’s a fairly economical thriller, if a little routine. When it comes time for the hooded cultists to reveal their identities, we’re not surprised to find out that they’re the silent Mexicans who work for Glen and also in the local mine, but there’s at least one face among them that may come as a surprise to those of you who haven’t been paying close attention. There are a few well directed chase scenes, and the action inside the caves is very atmospheric. This is a PG-rated thing, so there’s no significant flesh on display or gory money shots. Can we talk about the sets, though? This movie looks more like a Western than anything else, with vast desert expanses, a dusty ghost town vibe, and spooky mines. There’s even a scene where someone is threatened by a runaway mine cart. There are a few scenes set inside the lodge cabins, which have a total late 60s shag carpet look, and I was ready to book a reservation.  

Seekers of sex and violence may be a little disappointed by how tame the film is. Cass appears in nothing but his tightie whities all of a sudden, but nobody’s naked in this one, and the Satanists aren’t intent on sacrificing any nude virgins. There is a rather horrible moment when a female victim is burned alive after being bound with barbed wire, and her body darkens horribly in the flames. That charred corpse in the beginning of the movie is pretty gruesome as well, reminding me of what happened to poor Ben Tramer in Halloween II.  It’s interesting to note that Byron Quisenberry, director of the ultra low budget Scream from 1981, did the stunts in this film and also appears as a character. 

PURE TERROR MONTH: The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Are you in the mood for a hammy n’ macabre horror flick of the worst Ed Woodian proportions, rife with bad puns and pratfalls (“Mort the Mortician” takes a Three Stooges-inspired tumble on skateboard) punctuated by trombone “Wah-Wah-waaaahhhhhhs” that would give Benny Hill or Paul Hogan pause? Do you have a hankering for a hokey Sweeney Todd knockoff?

How about graphic-rubbery violence via bloody store-mannequin legs—punctuated by kidnapping, murder and cannibalism that makes the one-take scenes of Night of the Ghouls look like The Exorcist?

Well, how about a film starring an ex-TV Batman (no, it’s not Adam West)?

Damn, this is hard sell.

Can I interest you in a nice pine box, my sweet?”

How about a film starring an ex-husband of Kim Darby (who our young hearts crushed on via the 1973 TV horror, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) who got top billing in an ‘80s Halloween rip, Don’t Answer the Phone, co-starring with the guy who forced Buttermaker to coach the Bad News Bears (Ben Frank)?

Yes, we have better things to do with 63-minutes of our lives. And it would be longer if not for the original cut of the film being banned and its graphic, sans one scene, stock-footage of real surgeries being removed, resulting in this shorter Mill Creek TV edit. (No print of the unedited version is known to exist . . . and not worth searching for, anyway.)

“I got something to say, I killed your baby today.”

The truth is: If The Undertaker and his Pals hadn’t lived far beyond its shelf-life, courtesy of early ‘70s Drive-In double bills with the somewhat similar The Corpse Grinders (people turned into cat food) and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which left youthful impressions on the future members of the Misfits and the Gravediggaz, as well as Rob Zombie, no one would have bothered to search out this cinematic tombstone. (For those of you who didn’t know: The Misfits used the movie’s posters in their promotional materials, while the Gravediggaz and Rob Zombie sampled lines from the movie into their songs “Rest in Peace” (6 Feet Deep) and “What Lurks on Channel X” (Hellbilly Duluxe), respectively.)

Ah, the rock ‘n’ roll connection of the film got your attention.

Let’s fire up The Undertaker and his Pals!

Costar-detective, Robert Lowery, television’s second Batman, burned through a marriage with noted ‘40s actress Jean Parker (she co-starred with Lon Chaney in the ‘40s film-noir piece, Dead Man’s Eyes) and co-starred with future Monkee Mickey Dolenz in the late-‘50s series, Circus Boy. But once the guest TV roles dried up, and Lowery landed in “The Case of the Cannibal Restaurateur,” he saw the writing on the wall. After starring in a forgettable western-comedy, 1967’s The Ballad of Josie—he retired from the biz.

The heartthrob star and ex of Kim Darby in this horror-parody, James Westmoreland (as Detective Harry Glass) started out in the biz as “Rad Fulton”—his agent’s answer to Rock Hudson. Outside of a short-lived ‘60s TV western, The Monroes (when he began using his birth name professionally), his career never rose beyond bit parts in TV series and films. Don’t Answer the Phone was his biggest—and final movie; he retired after one-off episodes on T.J Hooker and The New Mike Hammer.

So who’s responsible for paring the Batman and the star of Bonanza, I mean The Monroes, in this Herschell Gordon Lewis laugh (not so funny) fest?

Writer-director T.L.P Swicegood started out promising enough. He adapted Robert Sheckley’s human-smuggling adventure, Escape from Hell Island; a film which everyone forgets in the Sheckley oeuvre. (Sheckley’s books: The Prize of Peril, Immortality, Inc., and The Game of X served as the framework for The Running Man, Freejack, and Condorman, respectively). Then Swicegood got the idea of doing a comedy rip on what’s considered as the first “splatter film”: Hershell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast (1963). It was Swicegood’s final film. Oh, and speaking of “final films,” the cinematographer on this one, Andrew Janzack, also never directed another movie . . . after the mess that was Terror in the Jungle (also on Mill Creek’s Pure Terror Box Set; be sure to check out our recap of all the films).

“Are you going to get to the plot or am I going to have to hit the IMDb?” says the disgruntled B&S Movies reader.

Okay, so there are these, three they-aren’t-Alfred Hitchcock-Norman Bates psychos on Fonzi-cycles—courtesy of, it seems, sepia-toned stock footage clipped from another movie. So The Dork Angels speed around town for three minutes of padding, you know, so as to get the film’s running time beyond one hour. What? They’re talking on phones in wide angel shots? What are they saying? Who are they calling?

Finally! We’re in color for the shot-footage and have our first kill! The “biker toughs” kill Sally Lamb, a blonde Marilyn Monroe-clone kewpie doll during a home invasion—and steal her legs. “Leg of Lamb” is tomorrow’s special. (You see the juvenile “jokes” of this film?)

So in steps not-so-dirty Harry Glass to solve (Da-duh-Dun) “The Mystery of the Bargain Basement Lucio Fulci Gore Murders,” AKA “Who Keeps Killing My Secretaries and Is Setting Me Up?” And big surprise: Harry ain’t Jim Rockford, so the bodies are going under the cleaver, through the meat grinders, and taking acid baths with frequency.

In steps victim #2: Harry’s replacement secretary: Ann Poultry. (Ugh.) Oops, Ann threatened Spike, the cannibal diner’s owner, with the ‘ol “I’m calling the Health Department” ruse.

“Oh, yeah, Sally Fei. Well, I may have jerked off to you when you played a sexy robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Binkini Bombs, but this (CHOP!) is for taking my money for Women of the Prehistoric Planet,” says Spike. Yep, Sally Fei has become tomorrow’s “Fried Chicken Special.” (Insert trombone, here.)

“Hey, how come you guys never place any meat on your store order,” says the soon-to-be-meat-cleaved-to-the-head, ethnic grocery delivery guy. “You’re just a greasy spoon fry cook. Why are you reading medical text books?”

Thanks ethic grocery delivery guy: patrons now have a choice between white and dark meat for their chicken dinner. (The film’s dialog-joke, not mine; insert trombone.)

“Hey, wait a second, you Jayne Mansfield clone,” says P.I Harry Glass. “You look like that actress Warrene Ott who—not once, but three times—played Jethro Bodean’s love interest on the Beverly Hillbillies during a three year period. Couldn’t you get any other roles?”

“Hey! I did a Bewitched, too. By the way, my character’s name is Friday. I guess they wanted Tuesday Weld for the role and couldn’t get her,” says Warrene.

“Did you read the script, Warrene? It’s a ‘joke,’ because you’ll be ‘Friday’s Special’ at the cannibal diner down the street.”

“Oh, you’re making me hungry, Mr. Glass,” Warrene flirts.

“Well, why don’t you go down to the corner cannibal diner for a Hamburger?” the clueless Harry Glass suggests.

One chloroform whiff later: cue the “scary” surgery stock footage as Doc gets his jollies fondling the internal organs of Jethro’s old squeeze and Spike caulks up “Hamburger Special” on the menu.

So, besides ripping off Hershell Gordon Lewis, what in the hell is going on here? Are they building a Henenlotter-style Frankenhooker in the kitchen? Reviving an Aztec God? Preparing for an Egyptian ritual? Is Mort the Mortician a Nazi War Criminal with Hilter’s head in the freezer? (In this lone paragraph, I just synop’d a better movie that the actual movie I’m reviewing.)

Nope. It’s a bilk-the-bereaved funeral scam. Yawn.

Turn out, business is slow and no one is “paying for the extras.” So Mort, the not-so-Tall Man of the Morningside of these proceedings, AKA The Shady Rest Funeral Home (“Free Trading Stamps with each burial,” proclaims the banner over the front door), is one of the motorcycle toughs. His “Burke and Hare” are Spike, who owns the local greasy spoon, AKA The Greasy Spoon Diner (ugh), and Spike’s Jethro “I’m gonna be a surgeon someday with my 6th grade education” dopey brother, Doc. Thus: Doc gets free surgery practice, Spike gets free meat, and Mort gets bodies to embalm—and “sticker shock” on the extras, because, well, you know, it’s harder to embalm someone without arms or legs and it costs more.

“What the hell? Why did you guys tie me up over this vat with a fog machine inside?” says Spike.

“Didn’t you read the script? That’s a vat of acid. Just scream as we lower you into it.”

“Oh, okay, and what happens to you, Doc?”

“Oh, I do a head-on with a truck on my motorcycle when I botch a kidnapping attempt on Warrene Ott.”

“Wait, arrrhgh-aah-ahhhahaha,” screams Spike entering the fog machine’s belch. “You mean the chick that played Friday? I thought we turned her into Friday’s ‘Hamburger Special,’ in the last scene.

“No, Warrene plays two characters in the film,” says Mort the Dork.

And where’s “Clint” in all this mayhem?

‘Ol Rad Fulton-Westmoreland manages to get himself killed via throwing-a-smoke-bomb-and-metal-crap-through-an-opened-door-crack-and-cue-the-bomb-explosion-sound-effect rigged by the bumbling Mort the Undertaker. Seriously, that’s what happens. Rad walks out the door . . . and he’s gone . . . and I seriously think he quit the film and Swicegood said, “Screw it, he’ll die in a paint can bomb explosion because I can’t afford the pipe to make a pipe bomb.”

And what happens to that ‘ol horn dog, Mort?

Well, since he’s the last man standing from the Morningside Marauders, he falls off a building rooftop trying kidnap Warrene #2, again. But wait, he’s alive?

“Hey, are you going to need me for anything else? I booked a Gunsmoke,” says Robert Lowery.

“Yeah, Robert. We need to end this movie and R.D needs to go. So take this knife and stab this curtained doorway.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry, Mort’s behind it, ready to kill you. It’s called ‘irony,’ it’ll be funny.”

“Wow, I was in Circus Boy, and this fuck fest is all I can get? I’m retiring,” says Robert Lowery vanishing behind the curtain.

“Wait, Robert, don’t go. You get Warrene in the funny epilog. She even eats a hamburger as the credits roll,” says T.L.P Swicegood.

And with that, I’m going to have a Big Ott and and Six Pack of Sally Fei-Nuggets.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Green Eyes (1934)

Oh PURE TERROR, you box set of my dreams. Sometimes, you reward me with Italian cyborgs. Or then a movie about jungle cannibals. Or this — whatever Green Eyes is, a Chesterfield Pictures movie made before the Hayes Code. Who at Mill Creek decides what goes into these box sets?

During a masquarade ball, Stephen Kester (Claude Gillingwater, whose injury on the set of Florida Special and the premature death of his wife led to an early suicide) is found stabbed three times in the closet of his room. It could be anyone that killed him, but it’s probably his granddaughter Jean (Shirley Grey, whose acting career ended in 1935) and her fiancee Cliff Miller (William Bakewell, whose acting life went from the 1920’s to the 1970’s). After all, they ran from the scene of the crime, but not before they killed the phones and ruined all the cars.

Inspector Crofton (John Wray, he played the farmer who tries to kill Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town) and Detective Regan are in the case, as well as a mystery writer named Bill Tracy (Charles Starrett, The Durango Kid!).

Green Eyes was directed by Richard Thorpe, who is more well-known for the movie he didn’t direct than the hundreds he did.

Thorpe was the original director of The Wizard of Oz, but got fired within two weeks, as it was believed that he didn’t understand the fantasy elements of the story. He also gave Judy Garland a blonde wig and baby doll make-up that made her look anything like an innocent farm girl. The only footage from his directing that remains is when Toto runs from the Wicked Witch’s castle.

He also directed Jailhouse Rock with Elvis, Above Suspicion with Joan Crawford and several of the Tarzan films.

If you don’t have the PURE TERROR set, you can watch this for free on Amazon Prime and the Internet Archive.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Malenka (1969)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. You should grab an issue after reading this.

Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio will most likely be forever remembered as the creator of the Blind Dead series, but his first horror-themed film was 1969’s Malenka, which was eventually released in the US in 1973 with the title Fangs of the Living Dead. The movie predates the early 70s boom in Spanish horror films (for which the success of de Ossorio’s 1971 Tombs of the Blind Dead was partially responsible), although by the time it played in US theaters, Spanish directors were already cranking them out left and right. 

Malenka aspires to the Gothic atmosphere of a Hammer film, and in that regard it succeeds completely. Beautiful, buxom women in low-cut flowing nightgowns are everywhere here, as well as a creepy castle with a dungeon, a village tavern, a spooky graveyard, etc.  Set in contemporary times, the plot finds lovely Anita Ekberg as Sylvia, a young woman who is about to be married to a doctor named Piero. She receives a letter written by her uncle, informing her that her mother has died and she has inherited the title of Countess, with a castle to go along with it. When she goes to the castle, she finds that her uncle, Count Walbrooke, is a thin, pale man who is never seen during the day. Sylvia is startled to see a painting of her grandmother, Malenka, who looks just like Sylvia except as a brunette.

Also not fond of daylight is “Blinka” (or did she say “Glinka”???), one of those big-bosomed women I mentioned earlier, who appears in Sylvia’s room in the middle of the night. Blinka tells Sylvia that her uncle isn’t her uncle, and that he’s really over 100 years old. Walbrooke eventually tells Sylvia that he is a vampire, just like her grandmother Malenka was before the villagers burned her at the stake. He insists that Sylvia call off her engagement with Piero and assume the place of her deceased grandmother as matriarch of this den of vampires.  

There isn’t any of the overt nudity and graphic violence that often showed up in de Ossorio’s later work, but his movies all have a certain childlike quality that is definitely present here, especially in the way the plot is resolved. If you don’t want it to be spoiled for you, better stop reading here, but it’s really not that big of a deal because ultimately the whole thing is nonsense: Walbrooke captures the interfering Piero and chains him up, revealing that the whole thing was a ruse to have Sylvia declared insane so he can take her inheritance. Glinka goes rogue, however, and decides to tell Sylvia that the whole thing is a con. Sylvia already knows, though, and together they escape while Glinka has a catfight (batfight?) with another vampire wannabe. Inexplicably, the uncle’s body turns into an ancient corpse when Piero strikes him with a torch; his body and the portrait of Malenka burn before everyone’s eyes. Then, for some reason, when Piero and Sylvia leave the castle the next day, Piero’s accompanying friend suddenly turns into a vampire for no apparently reason and attacks a female villager.  

The double fake ending where the vampires ended up being real was apparently added without the involvement of de Ossorio, but even if it hadn’t been added, the movie still would not have made any logical sense — we see Piero examining the body of a dead woman who later turns out to have just been pretending, so he must be a pretty lousy physician. Also, there are numerous moments when Walbrooke and Glinka are alone, yet still pretending to be vampires. Maybe they were into some kind of vampire kink?

Malenka was given the title Fangs of the Living Dead when it was released in the US as part of the notorious Orgy of the Living Dead triple feature, alongside two other films given new titles containing the words “living dead”. It kept the title when it started to appear on TV, which is where I first saw it on Channel 11’s “Chiller Theatre” in Pittsburgh.  It’s an interesting vampire flick, even if it waffles back and forth about whether its vampires are real. De Ossorio’s unique treatment of horror tropes is also at its least transgressive here. There are hints of the sex and sadism that was to come, but it’s light enough here to make this movie seem more like a spooky fairy tale than a horror movie.

PURE TERROR MONTH: One Minute Before Death (1972)

Leading lady Wanda Hendrix, a contract player in the ‘40s and ‘50s with Warner Bros. and Paramount, is best known to film historians for her marriage to WWII war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy. The storybook marriage—on which the ‘50s gossip sheets thrived—was over in seven months; the controversy surrounding the marriage—Audie’s wartime PDST issues caused outbreaks of marital violence—instigated irreparable harm to Hendrix’s career from which she never recovered.

As did ‘40s starlet Veronica Lake, Hendrix made guest appearance on television series during the ‘60s, and then moved into horror films. While Lake made her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970) and Joan Crawford appeared in Trog (1970), Hendrix closed out her career at the age of 44 with this Gothic, Civil War tale originally released as The Oval Portrait.

Based on the Edgar Allen Poe short-story, this minor “old dark house” flick concerns a woman, Lisa Buckingham (Hendrix), who attends the reading of a will at her uncle’s home. She soon becomes “possessed” by the soul her cousin Rebecca, depicted—and trapped—inside an oil portrait.

While it meanders with a slowly unfolding plot awash in muddy cinematography (Are the prints bad or was the director attempting to achieve an “atmosphere”?), this Mexican shot and directed tale by Rogelio A. Gonzàlez has a José Mojica Marins-influence crossed with Mario Bava-styled horrors (Bava’s Lisa and the Devil comes to mind with its aristocrats dealing with the supernatural and necrophilia) as Lisa’s newfound behaviors—such as finding and wearing Rebecca’s old clothes—cause her cousin, Rebecca’s widow, Joseph, to go off the deep end and dig up Rebecca’s crumbly corpse for a little ballroom dance n’ romance.

Is Rebecca back from the dead for revenge? Is Lisa caught in a Let’s Scare Jessica to Death-inspired drive-her-crazy-for-the-money plot? Is the creepy, Paul Naschy-esque red-herring housekeeper giving Joseph the ol’ Henry James screw turn?

Released in the wake George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead—when horror was “hot” again—Wanda Hendrix was hoping for a big horror hit to revitalize her career. It wasn’t meant to be: three times divorced and childless, she died of double pneumonia at the age of 52 in 1981.

The film’s beautiful score is by Les Baxter, who also scored The Dunwich Horror, Cry of the Banshee, Frogs, and the Quentin Tarantino favorite, Switchblade Sisters.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Terror In the Jungle (1968)

I kind of wish that I was alive in 1968 just so I could have been part of this movie. Seriously, I’ve never seen a film that so quicky changes its tone and central theme so quickly, abandoning characters that its taken time to set up for an entirely new situation. And then we get the airplane, with swinging bands playing on it and people going bonkers before it crashes? I want to live in this insane world.

After we meet all these folks — bound for Rio — we better not get too used to them. Except for little Henry Clayton Jr., who is taking his stuffed lion to live with his mother after his parents split up. There’s also Mrs. Sherman, who may or may not have killed her husband, but has a suitcase full of money and is given to insane crying jags. And there’s an exotic dancer on board as well! And some nuns, traveling with one of their dead sisters in a coffin! And then there’s a band! And a rich dude that talks about cannibals!

Everybody is having so much fun that the band plays their big hit and Marian, the exotic dancer, shows off and even the nuns enjoy it.

However, the movie soon turns into sheer insanity, as the plane begins to crash. Money spills all over the plane, a nun gets pulled out of an open door and half the cast abruptly dies. Seriously, somehow this went from “Soft Lips” to dudes getting their foreheads split in half and a gory death with a birdcage. I have no idea what brought on this narrative shift.

Then, to top all this off, every single other person we met is eaten by alligators.

You read that right.

The entire cast is dead.

Everyone except Henry, who is now floating down a reptile filled river in the coffin of a dead nun.

What the actual hell is going on here?

The natives — yes, the cannibals that were discussed on the plane that call themselves the Jivaros — find Henry and thanks to his blonde hair and the magic of 1968’s worst special effects, he has a halo. The leader of the tribe declares that he is a god, except that one of them thinks he has to die. So he chases Henry into the jungle and the kid’s stuffed lion transforms into a real lion and eats the dude.

So wait — is Henry really a god?

This is a movie that starts with the declaration that “This pictur was filme don location in the Jivaros Regions of the Amazon Jungle. Without the assistance and encouragement of the Government of Peru it would not have been possible.”

It’s also the kind of movie that randomly has Fawn Silver be Marian, the exotic dancer. If you don’t know who she is, she’s Criswell’s assistant in Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead.

It also has three directors — Tom De’Simone directed the plane sequence, Andrew Janzack the jungle parts and the temple close was directed by Alex Graton. That may explain the strange narrative leaps that this makes.

Let’s break down each director.

Tom De’Simone went on to become adult film director Lancer Brooks, as well as creating some of my favorite films, like Hell NightReform School Girls and Chatterbox.

Andrew Janzack never directed another movie, but was the cinematographer for The Undertaker and His Pals.

Alex Graton would finally direct another movie eleven years later, a romantic comedy entitled Only Once In a Lifetime that has Claudio Brook — yes, the same Claudio Brook who was in Luis Buneul’s The Exterminating Angel — in it.

I love IMDB because it has comments directly from De’Simone in the review. I’ll share it below for your enjoyment:

“OK, now it’s my turn to weigh in on this disaster. I’m the director who’s credited with this fiasco but in my defense I have to explain that there were three directors on this film and we all suffered under a producer with no experience, no taste, no sense and worst of all, NO MONEY.

I was fresh out of film school working as an editor when I was introduced to him when he was looking for a director. I convinced him I could handle a feature having already won two awards at film festivals for two shorts I had done. This was the biggest mistake in my life. Once on, for a mere $50 a day, I realized what I had gotten into. He hired a bunch of non-SAG actors who actually PAID HIM to be in his movie. None had any experience in front of a camera and all the characters were his creation. I was stuck in that plane mock-up for two weeks with these desperate souls trying to create something from nothing. The script was only half written when we started and he said he would finish it when we got to the jungle. When we completed the plane interiors, including the now famous “crash” scene, the rough cut was 83 minutes long and we hadn’t even reached the jungle part of the story.

I told him we had to make some serious trims, both for time and for performances. He refused to cut anything. He was so in love with the crap we had he actually once said he believed that the actress playing the stewardess would win an Oscar for her scream scene in the fire. I knew I was doomed. We argued over and over about what I felt should be dropped, trimmed and eliminated until I had it. I walked from the production and that wonderful salary. Undaunted, he went to Peru and used the cameraman as the replacement director. Down there they wrote the second half of the script and shot it as he wrote it.

Back in LA they now had a bigger disaster, naturally. The film was way too long, badly shot, badly acted and unwatchable. He and this second director fought, as did I, and he then walked away as well. Now the producer was over a barrel. He had sunk what little money he borrowed and still believed he had a hit on his hands if he could just get it finished. He hired a third guy to come in and fix the problem. This genius hired a bunch of extras, put bad wigs on them and went to Griffith Park in LA and shot more crap that was even more laughable than what they got in Peru. After that the producer shopped around for stock footage of native ceremonies and came up with some god-awful crap from a 40’s schlock film and cut it in… the final disaster is what’s on screen. I’ve lived in shame my entire career because for some reason I always get the credit for making this turkey. I was one of three victims! The entire debacle was the brain child of the producer and none of us had a chance in hell to make it any better than it was doomed to be from the start.

And that’s the truth.”

In case you haven’t realized it yet, I love this movie. Like, beyond love. I’m going to bother everyone I know to tell them just how great it is and then laugh when they look at me and wonder why I enjoy this blast of craziness so much. Beware!

Update: You can also find Terror in the Jungle on Mill Creek’s “Explosive Cinema” 12-pack box set, which we reviewed in full during the second week of March 2020.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Monstroid (1979)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. He’s the inspiration for me to write more about movies.

It must have been the mid-80s when the price of movies on VHS started to come down — when the format was new, it wasn’t unusual for a new release to cost more than $90 retail, but eventually that dropped to around $40, plus suddenly there were scores of movies that were a lot cheaper than that. I fished a movie called Monster out of the bargain bin one day, mostly because it had a Giger-esque creature on the cover, and when I got it home I was more than a little disappointed by what I saw. This was maybe the worst home video transfer I’d ever seen. The colors were so washed out the movie looked black & white, and even worse, a fixed rainbow filter was over top of the image. In more ways than one, this movie was nearly unwatchable. It was exhibited theatrically as both Monster and Monstroid in 1980, and on home video it was also known as Beast From Beyond and The Toxic Horror. 

Producer Kenneth Hartford started the ball rolling on this one in 1971, with Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster) directing. Doug McClure and Keenan Wynn were both attached in the mid 70s, but this obviously did not happen, and other considerations were Aldo Ray, Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero. If you were a filmmaker who was considering Aldo Ray for your movie, then you probably already knew you were in trouble, but the coup de gras for Monstroid is the presence of John Carradine. Even more damning were Carradine’s own comments regarding the film; he allegedly said to a crew member “This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever worked on…and I’ve worked on a lot of pieces of shit.” Eventually the lead went to Jim Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum, and ultimately Hartford shot some footage in a park with his own kids, edited it into the film, and took full directorial credit from Strock. 

That was a dirty trick, but really it was the kindest thing he could have done for Strock, as Monstroid isn’t a film that anyone would be proud to have on their resume. Mitchum plays an American sent to troubleshoot problems with a chemical plant in a Colombian village; the plant has been accused of poisoning the ecology of a nearby lake, and before you can say Katahdin, a huge stop-motion creature rises from the water with the intention to shove any random human being it finds into its permanently gaping mouth. 

I have a soft spot for stop motion monsters, and while these are not earth-shattering renditions of the art form, the animation is at least on par with other low budget flicks like The Crater Lake Monster. Like that movie, though, whenever the monster is not on screen, the audience flounders with a negligible story and characters we come to neither love nor despise. I got over the disappointment of buying Monster on VHS by recording things over it. I don’t know how you’ll get over it, but I’m here for you if you need me.