Hot Car Girl (1958)

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our first review in our three-day “Bernard Kowalski Week” tribute that takes us from 1959 to 1989. If you don’t know his film work, you know his TV work. Kowalski directed multiple episodes of the hit ’80s series Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., Jake and the Fatman, and the epic (it was for me), Airwolf. Here’s his first movie for Roger Corman.

Oh, be sure to click that “Bernard L. Kowalksi” tag and the end of all of the reviews this week to popular the reviews in one easy-to-use list. Let’s get day one started, shall we!

“She’s hell on wheels . . . and up for any thrill!”

Seems Mr. Screenwriter dipped the pen into the Shakespearian ink; for this is Othello with hot rods.

Duke (Richard Bakalyan; you’ve seen him across his 150 TV credits into the early ’90s) and Freddie (John Brinkley, who’s traveled this rockin’ road before in Hot Rod Rumble, Teenage Doll, and T-Bird Gang) finance their hot roddin’ lifestyle by stealin’ cars n’ strippin’ auto parts for a fence. When they, along with Duke’s girl, Peg (June Kenney, also of Teenage Doll, but also of 1959’s Attack of the Puppet People and Roger Corman’s Sorority Girl), are goaded into a road race by the resident bad-girl, Janice (Jana Lund, also of High School Hellcats with Yvonne Lime, Elvis Presley’s Loving You, and the rock flick classic, Don’t Knock the Rock . . . but since this B&S About Movies: it’s all about Frankenstein 1970 for our Lundness), a motorcycle cop dies. Let the frames and double crosses, blackmailing and betrayals begin, Desdemona.

Oh, almost forgot: Bruno VeSota is in this as Joe Dobbie (seriously). What ’50s and ’60s film wasn’t the Big V in? Yep, there he is in Attack of the Giant Leeches, A Bucket of Blood, and The Wasp Woman . . . but also of the early rock flicks Daddy-O, Rock All Night, and Carnival Rock. It is actors like you that gives our lives at B&S meaning, Mr. VeSota. We bow to you, sir.

And it’s all brought to you by a man whose directing career we’re tributing this week: Bernard Kowalski, who followed this up with Night of the Blood Beast, then his third film, Attack of the Giant Leeches. Before going into business with Roger Corman, Kowalski got in start in television, directing episodes of the ’50s westerns Frontier and Broken Arrow, along with the David Janssen-starring cop drama, Richard Diamond: Private Detective, and the military drama, The Silent Service. Has anyone ever encountered his lost TV Movie pilot for the Peter Graves-starring Las Vegas Beat (1961)? We’d love to see it. You know us and TV Movies around here.

We previously featured Hot Car Girl as part of our weekly “Drive-In Friday” featurette.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Giant from the Unknown (1958)

You may have seen this movie as Giant from Devil’s Crag and The Diablo Giant. It’s directed by Richard E. Cunha, who also directed She Demons, Missile to the Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. It tells a story that started way before it became a big deal in the 70s — cattle mutation by alien forces!

It stars Buddy Baer — the man who nearly beat Joe Lewis and the brother of Max Bear — as the gigantic Vargas. And even better, it has makeup by Jack Pierce, the same man who did the effects for the Universal Monsters.

Just as interesting in light of UFO theories that also became more popular years later, the alien creatures in the film are thought to be demons or gods by the Native Americans that have encountered them for centuries.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Screaming Skull (1958)

Distributed by American International Pictures, The Screaming Skull was part of double features with Earth vs. the Spider or Terror from the Year 5000. It was the first movie that Alex Nicol directed, as he was tired of the roles he was being offered. He also made Three Came Back and Point of Terror.

In case you were worried about the contents of this movie, it starts with an open coffin and a narrator explaining that the end of this movie is so terrifying that it may kill you, while reassuring you that should you die of fright, your burial will be paid for by the film’s producers. I would assume that this contract is now null and void, so you should watch this movie with caution*.

Jenni and Eric are newly married, but this isn’t Eric’s first time at the altar. His first wife died when she slipped and hit her head on the edge of a decorative pond. If that doesn’t seem weird enough, Jenni has just gotten out of an asylum after the death of her parents. Her very rich parents.

Mickey (Nicol) the gardener was childhood friends with Eric’s first wife, whose ghost may haunt the home. Also, perhaps even more strange is the fact that she looks just like Jenni’s mother. Jenni demands that the portrait of the dead woman be burned and when that happens, it leaves behind a skull.

This would be a good time to leave if you were her, because that ghost — and the fact that her husband is gaslighting her — are both absolutely real.

The cast members for this movie were each paid $1000 as well as the promise that a share of the profits would be shared. As you can imagine, no one was paid any more than that first grand.

*When William Castle did the same publicity stunt for Macabre, he actually paid for this insurance. Nicol did not.


KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Varan the Unbelievable (1958 and 1962)

How can a movie be made twice with the same footage and not be the same movie? Welcome to the world of kaiju cinema, where American producers only wanted the monster footage so that they could add in familiar Western faces and all monster kids wanted was more time for rubber suited destruction.

Originally made as Daikaijū Baran by Tomoyuki Tanaka, the creator of Godzilla, this was acquired by our friends Crown International Pictures — the company I love so much that I made a Letterboxd list to ensure that I see every one of the films they released — and put on a double feature with a re-edited, shortened and retitled East German/Polish science fiction movie they called First Spaceship on Venus.

Where the Toho film is filled with menace and an astounding close where Varan goes bonkers and destroys everything he possibly can, the American movie has Myron Healey* as Commander James Bradley (he was also a military man in The Incredible Melting Man) and as a kid, he would be the kind of leading man that I was instantly bored watching.

I mean, who would you rather watch? An embittered old army guy or a god monster who looks like a flying squirrel?

You know why I love Toho? Varan shows up briefly in Destroy All Monsters. Ah, if only we got to see more of him than this one film, which was originally a co-production with the ABC Network!

*This may be a made up story, but supposedly Healey believed he was going to shoot his scenes in Japan like Raymond Burr and not in Bronson Canyon. When Healy guested on Perry Mason, he shared the story with Burr, who told him that all of his scenes in Godzilla were shot on a Hollywood set.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1958)

While the majority of science fiction points toward liberal worries against groupthink — nearly every version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers — Rocket Attack U.S.A. is at once fantasy and propaganda. I have no idea if Barry Mahon believed in what he was selling — the man did fight for our country after all and spent time in a concentration camp — but I think he did know that he could make some money off of the worries that Sputnik was going to destroy America.

Secret agents John (John McKay, who is also in Mahon’s The Dead One and Cuban Rebel Girls) and Tanya (Monica Davis, She Shoulda Stayed In Bed1,000 Shapes of a Female) have learned that the aforementioned Russian satellite is being used to guide a nuke to New York City because our country’s ICBM defense system didn’t have enough funding. And the stinger is that the U.S. forces are barely able to fight back, meaning that we’re all going to be waiting in lines for borscht soon enough.

Art Metrano, who would play Mauser in the Police Academy movies, shows up here as a truck driver. You can’t miss him.

I guess the Red Menace was soundly defeated by the 1960’s, as Barry moved on to making movies where women sat around, smoked cigarettes and got naked instead of movies warning us about Russia. Maybe he got bought off. Or maybe, just maybe, it was more fun to hang out with Bunny Yeager in Las Vegas.

You can watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this movie on Tubi. The original version is on the Internet Archive. You can pick up your own copy — which we reviewed — as part of Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion 50-film box set that we unpacked back in November 2020.

REPOST: Missile to the Moon (1958)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We already posted this one, way back on March 3, 2020. That said, if you’re going to do a week of movies all about evil women taking over the Earth, you have to include this one, right?

Have you already watched this movie? Well, maybe.

Missile to the Moon is an even lower-budget remake — is that possible? — of the low-budget film 1953 film Cat-Women of the Moon.

That movie had 3D going for it, but this one has much younger men in the heroic roles and an army of international beauty contest winners playing the moon maidens. But the dreaded moon spider? Yep. That’s the very same prop from the original film. It was originally built for the movie Tarantula, so here’s to Hollywood for being green years before anyone knew what recycling was.

This film was shot in the Vasquez Rocks, where all cheap films decide to show what the moon or an alien planet looks like. A red gel over the lens of the camera was the attempt to make the sky look different, yet no science was given to the script. How do people explode into flames when there’s no oxygen, after all?

Anyways, two escaped convicts named Gary (Tommy Cook, who is also in High School Hellcats and would go on to write and produce Rollercoaster) and Lon (Gary Clarke, TV’s The Virginian) stowaway on a rocketship that Dirk Green is piloting back to his home satellite, the moon. He’s soon killed by a meteor storm, of course.

Also on board are hunky Steve Dayton and his fiancee June (Cathy Downs, The Amazing Colossal Man), who obviously had no idea what they were getting into. They all soon find themselves up against an underground empire of gorgeous moon women and their evil ruler, Lido (K. T. Stevens, who also shows up in They’re Playing With Fire).

Rock men. Giant spiders. Nina Bara, who was on TV’s Space Patrol. Leslie Parrish, who would go on to pretty much invent C-SPAN and remains an environmental activist. Laurie Mitchell, who plays a very similar role in Queen of Outer Space opposite Zsa Zsa Gabor. Marianne Gaba, the Playboy Playmate of the Month for September 1959, who also plays a robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. These are the menaces and maidens that our convicts must face on…the moon!

This was directed by Richard E. Cunha, whose Frankenstein’s Daughter made the other half of the double bill that this movie appeared on. It was written by H.E. Barrie, who was also behind She Demons and Girl in Room 13 (two other Cunha films), and Vincent Fotre, who wrote Baron Blood.

I have a weakness for movies where female societies have taken over the moon. I blame, of course, Amazon Women on the Moon.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. There’s also two different Rifftrax versions: One has Mike Nelson and Fred Willard (Amazon Prime and Tubi) and the other has the original crew (Tubi).

The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1958)

Released on a double bill with The Astonishing She-Monster, this Roger Corman-directed epic was the result of a pitch by a special effects company, believe it or not.

Corman was approached by special effects experts Irving Block (who wrote Forbidden Planet) and Jack Rabin (whose credits include everything from the effects for The Night of the Hunter to Humanoids from the DeepThe NorsemanDeathsport and the TV pilot for The Adventures of Superpup), with the duo making an oral presentation that won him over. Block and Rabin agreed to work for a small fee in exchange for a cut of the profits, with American-International Pictures putting up the financing.

With 1958’s The Vikings in theaters, Corman wanted to get this one out fast and cash in. That said, it was a lot of work, with nearly seventy camera set-ups a day. And the shooting was dangerous, too, with actors nearly drowning, almost riding horses off the cliffs of Bronson’s Canyon and getting hurt.

In the article “Wasps! Vikings! Sea Serpents!” in Fangoria 52, actor Richard Devon said that Viking Women was “a disastrous film to work on. It was as if Roger was really trying to shorten his skimpy shooting schedules even more than before. He didn’t waste a frame. Nor did he spare anyone’s feelings on the set. He was an absolute demon.”

It’s the tale of the Viking women — of course — who head out to rescue their missing men, led by Desir (Abby Dalton, Rock All Night; she replaced Kipp Hamilton*, who held out for more money).

Their husbands, brothers and sons have been taken by Stark (Devon) of the Grimaults and made to work in the mines. There’s also the matter of dealing with a sea serpent, which is dealt with thanks to the heroic sacrifice of Vedric (Brad Jackson, once billed as “The World’s Youngest Magician” whose career faded due to his obsession with reincarnation and the occult).

Also appearing are Susan Cabot (who was in plenty of Corman’s films, such as The Wasp Woman and War of the Satellites), June Kenney (the good girl gone bad in movies such as Sorority Girl and Teenage Doll), Betsy Jones-Moreland (who in one Corman movie literally played the Last Woman on Earth), Pittsburgh native Jonathan Haze (The Little Shop of Horrors), Playboy February 1957 Playmate of the Month Sally Todd (Frankenstein’s Daughter) and Gary Conway (who was on TV’s Lands of the Giants). Also, if you liked the dogs in Teenage Cave Man, they’re in this movie too.

In his book, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Corman would confess that he learned “an important lesson from this movie: don’t fall for a sophisticated sales job about elaborate special effects.”

He went on to say, “I realized I had been had. (Block and Rabin) had simply promised something they could not deliver. A great sales pitch had distorted my judgment and AIPs.”

*Kipp is, of course, the singer who performs “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat” in War of the Gargantuas, a former Miss Optometry and the sister-in-law of Carol Burnett.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Wild Women of Wongo (1958)

One of only two movies that James L. Wolcott would direct — the other is a compilation film called The Best of Laurel and Hardy — this is one odd duck. It also features scenes that were, believe it or not, directed by his friend Tennessee Williams, who was on set and thought it’d be fun to try.

It’s shot inside Coral Castle, an oolite limestone structure that was built by one man, Edward Leedskalnin, who either used ley lines or reverse magnetism to move and carve numerous stones — all by himself — with several weighing multiple tons. Other movies shot there include Nude on the Moon and La Furia de Los Karatecas.

Mother Nature herself explains to us an experiment that she created with Father Time. On the island of Wongo, they made two tribes, the ugly and violent men and the gorgeous women. On the island of Goona, they did the exact opposite.

Now, the four tribes have come into contact with one another, as the brutish apes of Wongo have attacked the attractive men of Goona. That tribe sends their king’s son to seek help and he discovers the attractive women, who suddenly realize that they no longer have to settle for the grotesque men that their mothers and grandmothers once did.

Going against tradition has its downside, as the crocodile god of the people — played by stock footage — grows angry and demands their deaths. They rebel, defeat their opressors and make their way to Goona, just as the good looking men of the tribe are engaging in the ritual where they must survive weaponless in the jungle. The women easily defeat them and take them for husbands while the less good looking races find one another too.

The women of Wongo are played by Marie Goodhart, Michelle Lamarck, Val Phillips, Jo Elaine Wagner, Adrienne Bourbeau (not Adrienne Barbeau, who would have been 12 when this was filmed), Joyce Nizzari (Playboy Playmate of the Month for December 1958, who was photographed by Bunny Yeager and would serve as one of Hugh Hefner’s personal assistants in the 1990’s), Jean Hawkshaw, Mary Ane Webb and Candé Gerrard.

The women of Goona were played by Barbara Lee Babbitt, Bernadette, Elaine Krasher, Lillian Melek (Pagan Island), Iris Rautenberg and Roberta Wagner.

If you want to learn more about them — and this slice of strangeness — I recommend the Women of Wongo page.

I’m trying to think of what message that this is all trying to send and how it ties into our week of female-based societies when it really seems that this movie is all about outward appearance. It does have a talking parrot and lots of alligator wrestling, so it has that going for it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

It’s amazing just how much Amazon Women on the Moon got the parody of this movie right, all the way down to the uniforms.

What’s even more astounding is that this movie was written by Charles Beaumont, who wrote “Number Twelve Looks a Lot Like You” for the Twilight Zone, as well as 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Intruder and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Masque of the Red Death.

Oh man, this movie.

Edward Bernds is mostly known for Three Stooges and Bowery Boys shorts, but he also made Return of the FlyHigh School Hellcats and Reform School Girl, which are three movies that I absolutely love. He was hired by producer Walter Wanger, who had just got out of prison for shooting agent Jennings Lang when he caught him making time with his wife Joan Bennett.

Exiled to Allied Artists, he bought this movie, which wasn’t made for a decade and by which time others at the studio were looking for properties that had already been paid for. Throw in some recycling of Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Cat-Women of the Moon and Fire Maidens from Outer Space, as well as actual recycling — Queen of Outer Space uses sets and ships from World Without End, footage from Flight to Mars, another ship from the Bowery Boys movie Paris Playboy and costumes from Forbidden Planet— and you have a movie.

The far-flung future world of 1985 is when Captain Patterson (Eric Fleming, Rawhide) and his crew of Lt. Mike Cruze (Dave Willock, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz, The Silencers) and Professor Konrad (Paul Birch, Day the World Ended) are attacked by a laser beam that crashes their ship on Venus, where they run afoul of Queen Yllana (Laurie Mitchell, who is also in the very similar Missile to the Moon). This masked matriarch presides over a society of all women, having killed all men after her face was scarred ten years ago. Well, not all the men — some of the scientists have been kept on a prison colony on one of the planet’s moons*.

Luckily, the all-white crew of JR “Bob” Dobbs lookalikes is helped by Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor, perfectly cast as the only Hungarian beauty queen in space) and her female comrades Motiya (Lisa Davis, the voice of Anita, the female owner of the 101 Dalmatians), Kaeel (The Monster That Challenged The World) and Odeena (Marilyn Buferd, the only actress I can think of who was in Les Belles de nuit and won Miss America and was also in The Unearthly).

For all my attempts at assembling a week of movies about matriarchies, Talleah and her friends long for the love of men, which means that this women-run planet cannot survive. It all falls apart when the queen decides to destroy Earth and the disintegrator backfires, killing her and putting Talleah in power.

Even though their ship is fixed, Earth’s leaders demand that they remain on Venus for a year, which is exactly what they wanted anyway. Everyone begins to embrace and hug one another and…well, let’s leave it up to your imagination.

You know who wasn’t happy? One of the crew left behind his girlfriend, who was played by Joi Lansing (Hillbillys in a Haunted House, Bigfoot).

The strangest thing about this movie, however, is that it predates Star Trek by eight years and the uniforms that the queen’s guard wear are in the same red, blue and gold colors.

*Strange, because Venus has no moon.

Project Moonbase (1958)

“In 1948, the Secretary of Defense proposed that the United States build a space station as a military guardian of the sky.”
— From the film, according to the words of James Forrestal, the First Secretary of Defense, under President Harry Truman

“Today, I’m thrilled to sign a new order taking the next step to create the United States Space Force.”
— President Donald J. Trump, February 2019

Yep, that’s Hayden “Dr. Bellows” Rorke from I Dream of Jeannie.

Robert A. Heinlein, the “dean of science fiction writers,” may have penned the short story and adapted-to-screenplay, and ex-Douglas Fairbanks stuntman-turned actor Richard Talmadge may have come to second-unit direct on the classics Casino Royale, How the West Was Won, and The Greatest Story Ever Told, but they’re either two of Hollywood’s most blatant sexists or producer (on his final film) Jack Seaman creatively-overruled the production. Or studio chief Robert Lippert — whose Lippert Pictures gave us the superior Rocketship X-M (1950) (that Hollywood has been trying to remake for years) — saw Heinlein’s future world of women running space stations and moon bases as poppycock. The Bechtel Test scene-failures of Generals threatening over-the-knee spankings to female officers, mansplaining spaceflight to a female gossip columnist (instead of Hedda Hopper, we get the offensive Polly Prattles . . . women “prattle,” ha-ha), and offhand commenting on Ms. Praddle’s wide girth, that “it costs the government $300-a-pound to send anything into space and everything must weigh under 150 pounds” must be heard to believed. And the insulted women just role their eyes and chuckle at the “jokes.”

Women in space as pilots is bad enough, but running the mission! Why . . THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!

Yeah, Dalton Trumbo didn’t write this . . . and Colonel Briteis is more Wilma Deering than Ripley. And when you see the Col. (called “a nice kid” as her last name is mispronounced as “bright eyes” by superiors) clad in those shorty-short camping cargos, tights, and ballet flats — and a space tee-shirt cut to accentuate the breasts — you’ll know what I mean by more “Deering than Ripley.” And dig those headpieces: is this where Alfonzo Brescia got his costuming ideas for his Italian “Pasta Wars” oeuvre? (Shameless plugging of our “Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars with Alfonzo Brescia” featurette.)

So goes the future-history of 1970: a world where the era of #MeToo was not yet foretold; a future were the “Enemies of Freedom” plot their the moon base mission foil with an Ed Woodian oscillator, a short-wave radio, and an office intercom plopped on a wooden desk à la Plan Nine from Outer Space.

It helps when the U.S Air Force — who ran space before NASA — lends you their concept models.

“You need any help?”
“Can I strap you in?”

— Maj. Bill Moore exhibiting more chauvinistic chivalry to the female Colonel “Bright Eyes” ready to climb aboard and strap into the rocket

While Heinlein’s pen changes up the space opera tomfoolery from the usual intelligent-but-weak female Bechtel Test boondoggles of The Angry Red Planet, Gog, and King Dinosaur — by giving us a female U.S. President and moon base commander — the “women are equal” subtext is lost in space against all of the condescending male-nationalism. Oh, did we mention the orders for Maj. Bill Moore to propose marriage to Colonel Briteis — and be the first marriage on the moon — are preformed by our Madame President of the United States? And while that flip of the script gives Project Moonbase the distinction as the first onscreen portrayal of a female president, Madame is also a female president complicit in matrimonial servitude.

Ad astra per aspera, my dear galactic concubine. May your hardships and adversity, be light.

However, even with its sexist dialog faux pas and the MST3K ribbings, aside: Once we get into space, Project Moonbase is a fascinating watch, with those official U.S. Air Force models, along with split-screen photography of astronauts walking upside down in corridors and sitting in chairs on walls, and shuffling along in magnetic boots (more like Robin “The Boy Wonder” rejects) — all before Kubrick came up with the idea. And, if you’re a junk cinema fan, you’ll notice the set and costume similarities with the also-slagged Cat-Women of the Moon (also released in 1953; but a day apart from each other via different distributors). And bash that alien-women-rule-the-moon romp as you may, but, courtesy of decent against-the-budget set designs, its a not-as-bad-as your MST3K-led to believe.

You can watch Project Moonbase — unriffed — on You Tube.

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