The Great Gila Monster (1959)

Filmed near Dallas, Texas, this movie was produced by Dallas drive-in theater chain owner Gordon McLendon who wanted his own movies. This was shot back-to-back with The Killer Shrews. Unlike most regional drive-in films, both received national and even foreign distribution.

This movie is also a lie. That’s no Gila Monster. It’s a Mexican Beaded Lizard.

A young couple are pre-arrdvarking as they overlook a ravine when the giant Gila Monster appears and murders them. The rest of the movie is spent with their friends alternatively looking for them and running from the lizard.

If you ever wanted to see a small lizard play with a model train set and then bother some teens as a sock hop, then this is the movie for you.

Luckily, Chase Winstead is on hand, ready to drive nitro-filled hot rod dead center into the monster, blowing it, as they say, up real good.

Ray Kellogg, in addition to the previously mentioned The Killer Shrews, also co-directed The Green Berets. He got to direct this movie in exchange for creating the special effects. It was produced by Ken Curtis, who played Festus on Gunsmoke.

This movie features Don Sullivan (The Monster of Piedras Blancas), French Miss Universe 1957 contestant Lisa Simone (she’s also a Moon Girl in Missile to the Moon), former Sons of the Pioneers member Shug Fisher, Fred Graham (who falls to his death at the beginning of Vertigo) and local disc jockey Ken Knox, who helped pick the music for the movie.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or download it from the Internet Archive. There’s also a colorized version on Tubi. You can also watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

There are so many movies worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space.

This is a movie that should have had the budget of an epic, yet had the budget of your grocery store visit. Yet it doesn’t stop trying to be that movie, no matter what.

I blame the Medved brothers who named it the “worst film ever made” in their book The Golden Turkey Awards. Wood and his film were also posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Awards for Worst Director Ever and Worst Film. Many of the people who think of this as a bad movie have never seen it.

If you’ve seen it on TV, you may laugh about seeing the boom mics and pieces of the other film equipment. Wood never intended for this to happen. Plan 9 was composed and shot for the 1.85:1 aspect ratio theatrical projection, the predominant widescreen format of its day. It was never intended to be seen in a 1.33:1 open matte aspect ratio or on a TV screen. Then again, Wood also incorporated stock footage as well as other film he’d shot of Lugosi in the 1:33:1 format, so everything looks cropped improperly.

The film begins with Criswell, one of Wood’s friends, playing the narrator, starting things off by saying, “Greetings my friends! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives!” Jeron Criswell King — The Amazing Criswell — grew up in a troubled family in Indiana where he learned to sleep in a coffin.

At some point in the mid-50’s, Criswell began buying time on Los Angeles TV channel KLAC Channel 13, selling his Criswell Family Vitamins. At some point, he started filling out dead air on the show by proclaiming predictions for the future. Eventually, this made him something of a celebrity and even friends with Mae West (who sold him her old luxury cars for as little as five dollars), appearances on The Jack Paar Show and a writing career that included a weekly syndicated newspaper colum and three books, including From Now to the Year 2000, Your Next Ten Years and Forbidden Predictions. In these books, he predicted that a laser beam would destroy Denver, that cannibalism would become commonplace and that the world would end on August 18, 1999. Sadly, Criswell died 17 years before he could see if that prediction would come true. Supposedly, he claimed that JFK wouldn’t run for re-election because something would happen in November 1963 and friends like Maila Nurmi  — who are we to deny Vampira herself, may I ask you? — claimed he really as a psychic.

He also appeared in two other Wood-related films, Orgy of the Dead and Night of the Ghouls. In this film, he literally says “my friends” four times in under a minute and speaks in his typical televangelist style. I also adore that the judge from TV’s Divorce Court, Bob Shields, was Criswell’s announcer.

Man, I could talk about Criswell all day and how he predicted Mae West and Liberace’s brother would go to the moon with him or how his wife had a dog she was convinced was her cousin Thomas reincarnated or that Mae West actually recorded a song about him, but we gotta get back to this movie.

“Can your heart stand the shocking facts about graverobbers from outer space?”

After a funeral, a UFO causes a plane to nearly crash. That same UFO lands at a graveyard and causes the dead — Vampira! — to rise and kill the gravediggers. The old man, distraught at the loss of his wife, steps in front of a car and kills himself. And that’s how Bela Lugosi — at least Bela in stock footage and being played by Ed Wood’s chiropractor — shows up in this movie.

This is a term known as a fake Shemp, given because there were four shorts that the Stooges had to contracturally finish under their 1955 contract with Columbia (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers and Commotion on the Ocean). Sadly, Shemp Howard died of an unexpected heart attack at age 60. So what did they do? Well, through a combination of Joe Palma standing with his back to the camera and stock footage, the films were completed.

This term was invented by Sam Raimi, who used it to describe the many ways that he and his friends — Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, Josh Becker, David Goodman and his brother Ted Raimi — would fill in for roles on the original Evil Dead for people who had long since left the production.

See — I get distracted easily! Back to the action!

Inspector Clay (Tor Johnson!) is on the case. Well, he is until he’s killed off by Vampira and not-Bela in zombie form, renanimated by Plan 9, the fiendlish plot of Eros (Dudley Manlove, the best name ever), who uses it to resurrect the recently dead by stimulating their pituitary and pineal glands.

Eros has come to Earth because  human weapons development will one day discover Solaronite, which can blow up sun particles and start an uncontrollable chain reaction that just might blow up the entire universe. Yeah — I wouldn’t trust humans with that weapon either. After all, we are as Eros says, stupid. “You see? You see? Your stupid minds. Stupid! Stupid!”

All it takes is a block of wood to knock out zombie Tor Johnson and save the day, rescuing the zombified Paula Trent and blowing the UFO — or is it a model kit or a hubcap or perhaps a paper plate — up real good.

Art by Mitch O’Connell.

In true Ed Wood fashion, everyone and any one had a role in this movie. The Rev. Lynn Lemon, who plays an unnamed minister, was one of the Baptist producers of the film, while gravedigger J. Edward Reynolds was a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention in Beverly Hills and executive producer of this movie.

I love Plan 9 From Outerspace. Sure, that’s just a shower curtain getting reused over and over. Yes, one of the cops keeps pointing his gun at himself. And man, the story makes no sense and then makes even less by the end. But who cares? Are you not entertained? Can you forget it? And how many people know of this film that don’t know one other 1950’s science fiction movie?

Art by Mitch O’Connell. Available from have so many options if you want to watch this:

Tubi has the film available by itself, with Rifftrax and also a live Rifftrax version.

Amazon Prime has the movie in black and white, colorized, with Rifftrax and also has the documentary Unspeakable Horrors: The Plan 9 Conspiracy all about the true story of the film.

You can also download it at the Internet Archive.

NOTE: The UFO poster art for this article comes from Pittsburgh artist Jim Rugg.

House On Haunted Hill (1959)

William Castle is one of my heroes. While he isn’t a world-class director, he was a top of the line showman. His book Step Right Up!…I’m Going to Scare the Pants off America is required reading. You can also check out the great documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle story to learn more.

One of his gimmicks that he used to sell his movies was called Emergo. As theaters played this movie, an elaborate pulley system released a plastic skeleton that would fly across the presumably horrified — or amused and even rancorous — audience.

This movie ended up being a huge success. Alfred Hitchcock — who Castle often imitated in movies like Homicidal — took and made his own low-budget horror film. You’ve probably seen it. It’s called Psycho.

It’s such a simple set up: Frederick Loren (the always awesome Vincent Price, whose line in this movie “It’s close to midnight” starts off the Michael Jackson song “Thriller,” a track on which he also appears) is an eccentric millionaire — is there any better kind? — who invites five people to a party for his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart, Spider Baby) in an allegedly haunted house.

If any of these people can survive one night, they get $10,000. They include test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long, who was the professor on Nanny and the Professor), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum, yes the sister of Robert), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal in his next to last film; the actor Marshal died two years later from a heart attack while appearing in Chicago with Mae West in a production of her play Sextette. He had a heart attack on stage but finished the performance. The show, as they say, must go on…), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig, probably best known for this movie) and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Mr. Nicklas from Rosemary’s Baby).

The only thing that these strangers have is that they all need money. The Lorens also hate one another and are convinced that they are trying to kill one another. And for what it’s worth, Watson believes that the house is genuinely haunted by the ghosts of those murdered there, including his brother. There’s also a vat of acid in the basement that was used to kill the previous owner’s wife.

So is the house truly haunted? Is Annabelle trying to kill her husband Frederick? Who will survive? And how cool would it have been to have seen this movie in person with a giant skeleton bursting loose at the right moment?

House On Haunted Hill was filmed at the Ennis House in Los Feliz California, which was designed in 1924 by Frank Lloyd Wright. It also appears in the movie Blade Runner and was the mansion that Angel, Spike, and Drusilla lived in on the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was also used on the soap opera show within a show Invitation to Love on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

This was remade in 1999 and that film also had a 2007 sequel, Return to House on Haunted Hill.

You can get this movie as part of Shout! Factory‘s The Vincent Price Collection II on blu ray. Or you can watch it with or without Rifftrax commentary on Tubi. You can also watch it in black and white or in color on Amazon Prime. It’s also available on the Internet Archive.

One last bit of trivia: The theme song to this movie actually has lyrics! They are:

“There’s a house on Haunted Hill / Where ev’rything’s lonely and still / Lonely and still / And the ghost of a sigh / When we whispered good-bye / Lingers on / And each night gives a heart broken cry / There’s a house on Haunted Hill / Where love walked there’s a strange silent chill / Strange silent chill / There are mem’ries that yearn / For our hearts to return / And a promise we failed to fulfill / But we’ll never go back / No, we’ll never go back / To the house on Haunted Hill!”

Terror Is a Man (1959)

Call it Blood Creature, Creature from Blood Island, The Gory Creatures, Island of TerrorGore Creature or it’s most well-known title Terror Is a Man, but what you should really call it is the first of the Blood Island films. These movies, produced by Eddie Romero and Kane W. Lynn, include Brides of Blood, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood.  I guess you can include The Blood Drinkers too, if you want.

This movie was in theaters for nearly ten years — all the way until 1969, when distributor Sam Sherman re-released it as Blood Creature with a warning bell that alerted the audience to impending gore.

William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr, who was almost The Shadow in a TV pilot that was turned into a movie called The Invisible Avenger) is the lone survivor of a ship that has crashed on Blood Island. Also there are Dr. Girard (Francis Lederer, whose Simi Hills home is considered a landmark residence), his frustrated wife Frances (Greta Thyssen, who was in three of the Three Stooges shorts and Cottonpickin’ Chickenpickers) and his assistant Walter Perrera.

Much like The Island of Dr. Moreau, Girard is making half-man, half-animals like the panther he’s been experimenting on that tends to attack villagers. Of course, the doctor’s wife falls in love with the protagonist and the beast gets loose and kills all sorts of people, including his creator. But hey — that mummy like cat-eyed fiend seems to survive at the end, as a small island boy sends him away on a rowboat.

Gorgeous natives. Strong men. Crazy doctors. Werecats in bandages. Blood Island. Truly, this one has it all.

You can get this in its best format ever from Severin or watch it on Amazon Prime.

The Wasp Woman (1959)

Produced and directed by Roger Corman, this movie was originally a double feature with Beast from Haunted Cave. When it was released to TV two years later, a new prologue was added by director Jack Hill to add to its running time.

The musical score from this film may seem familiar, because it’s the same music from Corman’s A Bucket of Blood. It was written by Fred Katz, who sold Corman the same score was used for a total of seven films, including The Little Shop of Horrors and Creature from the Haunted Sea.

Janice Starlin is the founder and owner of a large cosmetics company,  (Susan Cabot). She starts losing money when the public begins to see that she is aging, so her scientists reverse the aging process by using the royal jelly of the queen wasp. It doesn’t work fast enough, so she breaks into her own company’s lab and injects herself multiple times.

So she gets twenty years younger over the weekend, but occasionally transforms into a wasp woman who kills people. At the end, when acid is thrown in her face, that scene was more real than it should have been. Someone had filled the breakaway bottle with water and it was so heavy that when hit her, she thought that her teeth had been knocked out. To make matters worse, the fake smoke used to simulate the acid also choked her. So after she fell through the window, she found herself unable to breathe. To save herself, she tore off her makeup as well as a good chunk of skin around her neck.

Things didn’t get much better in life for Susan Cabot. This was her last film and at the end of her life, she suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. The psychologist that she was seeing felt that she was so troubled that he could no longer see her and her home was filled with trash and rotting food.

After her mental health continued to worsen, Cabot’s 25-year-old son, Timothy Scott Roman, beat her to death with a weightlifting bar. While he would initially claim that a man in a ninja mask was the killer — thinking that no one would believe her struggles with mental illness — the truth was that she woke him screaming and attacked him with both a scalpel and the barbell. His defense attorneys claimed his aggressive reaction to his mother’s attack was due to the drugs he took to counteract his dwarfism and pituitary gland problems.

Prosecutors changed the charge to voluntary manslaughter at the end of the trial, as no evidence had been presented to support the premeditation required for a murder conviction. Roman, who had already spent two-and-a-half years in jail, was sentenced to three years’ probation.

Corman remade this with director Jim Wynorski for his Roger Corman Presents series on Showtime.

You can watch this on Tubi and Amazon Prime. You can also watch it with the Cinematic Titanic crew riffing on it on Tubi.

Invasion of the Animal People (1959)

Known internationally as Terror In the Midnight Sun and in its native Sweden as Space Invasion of Lapland, this movie was brought to the U.S. by Jerry Warren, who cut 25 minutes from its running time — including a nude shower scene with lead actress Barbara Wilson — as well as shooting a new beginning featuring narrator John Carradine. Of course, when he sold the film to syndication later, a whole bunch of new material had to be shot to pad out the film’s running time. That new footage features several doctors discussing the mental problems of the lead character. Warren also shot a new UFO abduction scene. Never let it be said that the maker of The Wild World of Batwoman didn’t keep up on trends.

However, in Fred Olen Ray’s book The New Poverty Row, he did reveal “I’d shoot one day on this stuff and throw it together…I was in the business to make money. I never, ever tried in any way to compete, or to make something worthwhile. I only did enough to get by, so they would buy it, so it would play, and so I’d get a few dollars. It’s not very fair to the public, I guess, but that was my attitude…You didn’t have to go all out and make a really good picture.”

Diane Wilson and scientist Erik Engstrom just want to fall in love, but all the mutilated reindeer keep getting in the way. That’s because three humanoid aliens have a gigantic and hairy fanged beast that they’re commanding to tear up houses and eat Santa’s steeds. Yes, this movie is years ahead of modern paranormal theories that place Bigfoot in the employ of grey extraterrestrials.

Virgil W. Vogel, the director of this movie, also was behind The Mole People. He was an editor on Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man and Touch of Evil, too. Most of his career was spent directing for television, which he did all the way up to his death in 1996.

You can watch this on Tubi with help from Rifftrax or on Amazon Prime.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Gene Corman broke into the film industry before his brother Roger, working as an agent before becoming vice president of MCA, representing such clients as Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Richard Conte, Harry Belafonte and Ray Milland.

By the late 50’s, he moved to produce his own films before starting his own producing unit at MGM. and then becoming vice-president of 20th Century Fox Television.

This film is directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who also created Night of the Blood Beast and Sssssss. It was written by Leo Gordon, who had hundreds of roles as an actor, as well as being the author of movies like The Wasp WomanThe Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl.

Did you know that there are larger than human intelligent leeches that live in the Florida Everglades? Yep. There sure are.

Those leeches love nothing more than dragging human beings down into their underwater caves and slowly feeding off their blood.

Liz Walker (Yvette Vickers, who was Playboy‘s July 1959 Playmate of the Month in a centerfold that was photographed by Russ Meyer; she’s also the girl who starts all the trouble by cheating with the husband of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) is the first victim. Again, she plays a loose woman who is cheating on her husband, so she and her new man must pay.

Game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark, who was Dick Malloy in the Agent 077 series of films), his girlfriend Nan Grayson and her doctor father are the heroes here and they deal with the leeches in the way that we all knew they would: they use dynamite to blow them up real good.

So yeah. Giant leeches. Wanton women. Dynamite. Cheap film making.

How cheap? Corman didn’t want to pay the grips the extra money for pushing the camera raft in the water, so at first, the director did it, then his brother and finally Corman himself. The cold water led to Corman getting pneumonia and ending up in the hospital. And yes, that is the same music from Night of the Blood Beast. The exact same music is also in Beast from the Haunted Cave.

This movie had some legs. In 1959, it played a double bill with A Bucket of Blood. Then, a year later, it ran alongside Corman’s brother’s film House of Usher. It was also remade in 2008 by Brett Kelly and written by Jeff O’Brien in a film that starred no one you’ve ever heard of.

You can watch this on Tubi with and without commentary from Mystery Science Theater. It’s in the public domain, so you can also grab it from the Internet Archive and watch it on Amazon Prime.

PURE TERROR MONTH: The Manster (1959)

Thanks to Dustin Fallon from Horror and Sons for this entry. He’s always been a big promoter of our site and has been instrumental when it comes to getting writers for this project. I’ve always had fun writing for his Halloween projects and am so glad that he repays the favor. 

The Manster is a 1959 film written by George Breakston. Breakston started his career as a child actor in the 1930’s, eventually moving into producing and directing in the 1950’s. However, for this film, Breakston shared directorial duties with Kenneth G. Crane. While Breakston had primarily directed jungle-themed action flicks up until that point, Crane had already established something of a genre film pedigree, having directed 1957’s Monster from Green Hell and edited the US release of Ishiro Honda’s 1955 film Jū Jin Yuki Otoko (released in the States as Half Human in 1958). The Manster was first released in Japan in 1959 as The Two-Headed Killer, but re-titled for its 1962 American release.

The film opens to find the women of a small Japanese village attacked by a large ape-like creature. This is followed by a scene featuring a scientist who is arriving at his lab to look for the escaped creature, whom he refers to as “Kengi”. In the lab is a large cage containing a heavily deformed woman, whom the scientist sadly tells that he is unable to safely release. The creature soon appears, and it is revealed that not only was this beast once a man, but that he was actually the scientist’s brother!! The scientist, a Dr. Suzuki, releases a noxious gas from a large machine and even shoots the beast a few times in order to stop it. He tosses the corpse of the creature that was once his brother into an incinerator, which both saddens and angers the caged woman.

Some time later, and presumably not too long after the opening events, an American reporter arrives at Suzuki’s laboratory. The reporter, a man named Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley, who is probably best known for providing the voice of “Jeff Tracy” on The Thunderbirds), has been assigned to write an article covering Suzuki’s research on the effects of cosmic rays in evolution. The assignment is to be his last before returning home to his wife in New York, whom he has not seen for months.  However, once Suzuki discovers that the man is in Japan alone, he seizes the opportunity to use Stanford, albeit without the man’s consent or knowledge, as the latest guinea pig in his series of genetic research experiments. Suzuki offers Larry a sedative laced drink and, once unconscious, injects him with an experimental chemical agent.

 Larry later awakens from the stupor, but the doctor admits nothing of what he has done to the American. Suzuki gives the reporter a few non-incriminating photos from earlier research and experiments, the creature that was once known as “Kengi” clearly omitted from the included images. Larry departs, believing his story to be completed. That is, until a few days later when Suzuki rings Stanford’s Tokyo-based office to say that he is in town and would like to meet with Larry for some drinks.

Before his night out with the scientist, Larry calls his wife back home in the States. The couple express just how much they miss each other, and how they can’t wait for Larry to finally be back home. However, Larry’s words of love and devotion are seemingly quickly forgotten as he is next seen kissing up on a geisha at a small get-together organized by Suzuki. Stanford becomes increasingly inebriated as the night progresses, quickly becoming just another slobbering drunk who can’t keep his hands off the ladies.

Stanford succumbs to the spell of this new carefree way of living, even delaying his return home so that he can enjoy more of the moral degradation that he’s been lead into. He begins to ignore calls from his office and from his wife, instead spending his free time with the geishas that Suzuki arranges or out getting sloshed off of sake with the scientist at bath houses. Suzuki even initiates a romance between Stanford and his assistant, Tara, in the hopes of further distracting the man from his obligations at work and at home in order to observe the results of his secret experiment. It’s during one of these mineral baths with the lovely Tara that Larry first begins to feel the effects of Suzuki’s injection, although he has no clue what is happening to him nor why.

Larry moves from spending his free time with geishas to spending all of his time with Tara, drunkenly stumbling from evening to evening, out on the town with the woman. However, one evening turns particularly sour for Larry when he and his new “lady-friend” return to his hotel room to find his wife waiting for him. Suspecting that infidelity may be behind his delayed return home, Mrs. Stanford offers her husband an ultimatum: return home with her or stay in Japan with Tara. Unfortunately, her ploy backfires.

Larry leaves the hotel with Tara, returning the woman to her home. Tara informs Larry that she would be willing to commit to a relationship with him, but not while his current marriage is still… well, “current”. Larry returns once again to the hotel, this time to officially end his marriage. However, upon returning to the hotel room, the effects of Suzuki’s serum begin to physically manifest in full. The married couple get into a heated argument, with Larry prepared to choke out his wife before she flees from the room in terror.

Confused, angered, and unable to control the changes coming over him, Larry wanders the streets of Japan. He comes across a small Buddhist temple, killing the priest that waits inside. He later awakens on the floor at Tara’s home, and despite now wearing the dead priest’s prayer beads, he remains completely oblivious to his earlier act of evil. Any attempt to recall the events from earlier are dismissed once Tara decides that sex is more important.

Larry continues to wander the streets, frequently losing control to the force taking over him and murdering more women who have made the mistake of walking at night unaccompanied. Meanwhile, Dr. Suzuki sits proudly by, unconcerned by the side effects or repercussions of what he has wrought. By this point, Tara has developed feelings for the American, and vocally disapproves of the doctor’s methods. Granted, it’s far too late to actually change things now as Larry has already become a hairy, 2-headed monstrosity with a propensity for killing.

From here, The Manster devolves into a marginally tedious “chase film”, with the Japanese police force attempting to track and stop the creature once known as “Larry” to little success.  The prop used for the beast’s other head is pitifully ineffective, except for perhaps the scene in which we can see it up-close and making facial expressions. Granted, this scene actually features a person in facial appliance playing the role, but the effect is still quite laughable, even by effects standards of the era.

Meanwhile, Suzuki prepares a counter agent to inject the “Stanford monster” with, should it return to the lab. And “The Larry’s” do indeed soon return, destroying the lab and killing Suzuki in the process, but not before the doctor can inject the man. This conclusion coincides with the eruption of a volcano near the lab. There would seem to be some semblance of humanity left within Larry, as he has the decency to save Tara from the lab. Well, maybe “decency” isn’t exactly the right word to use, seeing as the Manster backhands the woman into unconsciousness first, and how he’s only saving her so that he can mate with her later on.

The two halves finally do split apart, allowing the “real” Larry to revert to his normal self. The other half’s first and only act of independence is to toss Tara into the open mouth of the volcano, only to be pushed in itself mere seconds later. Larry is carried away to seek medical assistance, but thankfully, the local police have full intention of filing charges against Larry for his crimes. The film attempts to end with an uplifting monologue from the editor character in which he tells Mrs. Stanford, as well as the audience, to believe in the inherent “goodness” of Larry’s spirit, as well as that of all men. While that is all well and good, Larry still murdered a bunch of people. That fucker’s gonna fry!

Ultimately, The Manster is a surprisingly sleazy, yet moderately entertaining take on the “Jekyll and Hyde” tale. Performances are respectable, even if the dialog is a little thin. Unfortunately, the film’s selling point, which would be the titular “monster”, is more than underwhelming. Arguably more damning, even at just over 70 minutes long, poor pacing makes the second half of the film drag.

While, overall, I do enjoy the film for what it is, this one may be a “tough sell” for many. The Manster, in my humble opinion, while watchable, is not one of the stronger films on this box set.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 11: A Bucket of Blood (1959)

DAY 11. THE OLD WAY. Watch a classic from 1959 or before.

A Bucket of Blood aspires to art as much as it does junk. Written by Charles B. Griffith, whose name you can associate with films as disparate as Smokey Bites the DustBarbarella and Death Race 2000, it’s a tale of trying to figure out how to create art when all you can do is repeat words and images. Maybe that’s what art really is.

Roger Corman himself directed this one, shot in five days for $50,000. But hey — AIP wanted a horror film and had sets left over from Diary of a High School Bride. The same set would also be used for The Little Shop of Horrors.

We start by hearing the beat poetry of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton, The Masque of the Red Death) at The Yellow Door cafe. People only know when to clap when they’re told, as the people he decries as sheep really live up to it. But it’s art, baby.

Busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) yearns to be part of this hip crowd and wants to win the heart of Carla (Barboura Morris, The Trip), a friendly hostess at the club. As he fails to make her a sculpture, his landlady’s cat Frankie (Myrtle Vail plays the snooping older woman; she’s actually Griffith’s grandmother) gets stuck in the wall. He tries to cut it out of the wall, but ends up killing the cat. So he does what any of us would: he covers it in clay, sticks a knife in it and calls it art.

The next morning, Walter’s boss Leonard (Antony Carbone, Creature from the Haunted Sea) makes fun of the morbid art, but Carla loves it. So up it goes, on display, where the beatniks all fall in love with it. One of those crazy cats named Naolia gives him some heroin to remember her by, but Walter has no idea what it is. 

As he’s followed home by undercover cop and total fink Lou Raby (Bert Convy!), he’s told he’s going to be arrested for possession. He panics and hits Lou with a frying pan, giving him another piece of art called “Murdered Man” for everyone to fall in love with. But the secret’s soon to get out, as Leonard sees fur sticking out of his “Dead Cat” piece.

Walter is now the king of the artistic set, except for Alice (Judy Bamber, Dragstrip Girl), a model who is pretty much disliked by everyone. Walter asks her to be in his model and she agrees, only to be strangled and turned into his next art object. The results so impress Brock that he throws a party for Walter, who drunkenly beheads someone directly after and shows the results to his boss.

This has to end like all wax-related films. Walter finally feels enough self-worth to propose to Carla, who rejects him and soon learns that the sculptures are really human bodies covered in wax. Everyone chases him home, where he makes his last piece of art from himself — the “Hanged Man.”

Dick Miller said of the film — in the book Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers — “The story was good; the acting was good; the humor in it was good; the timing was right; everything about it was right. But they didn’t have any money for production values … and it suffered.”

Miller would go on to play a character named Walter Paisley in the films Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Chopping Mall, Night of the Creeps, Shake, Rattle and Rock!, Rebel Highway, The Adventures of Biffle and Shoosterror and Schmo Boat.

The movie was remade in 1995 as part of the Roger Corman Presents series on Showtime. While never available on DVD, it was released as The Death Artist on VHS. It adds perhaps the one thing missing from the original: Paul Bartel. He and Mink Stole play a rich couple looking for new artists. Walter is played by Anthony Michael Hall, Carla by Justine Bateman, Shadoe Stevens is Maxwell and Sam Lloyd is Leonard. Taking place in a cappuccino bar, it also features Will Ferrell and David Cross in some of their first roles.

If you want to see this, I recommend the Olive Films Signature Edition, made to commemorate the film’s 60th anniversary. It comes complete with a new 4K scan of the film, short docs on Corman and Dick Miller, commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of the documentary That Guy Dick Miller as well as an interview with Griffith, a rare prologue from the German release and even a digest version of the film that was released on Super 8!

Much like their release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that came out earlier this year, this is another great release from Olive.

Jack the Ripper (1959)

Produced and directed by Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker (the same guys who helped bring The Saint to movies and TV), this 1959 take on Jack the Ripper is based on Leonard Matters’ theory that the killer was a doctor with revenge on his mind. As in Matters’ book, The Mystery of Jack the Ripper, Jack is murdering prostitutes to avenge the death of his son. The difference is his son died of venereal disease in the book and here, he committed suicide once he learned that his lover was a prostitute.

By now, you know the rules: Whitechapel. 1888. Jack the Ripper on a tear.

Scotland Yard’s Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne, Star Wars’ General Willard) gets a visit from NYPD pal Sam Lowry who, despite having no jurisdiction, becomes part of the investigation. Along the way, Sam falls for modern London lady Anne Ford and runs afoul of her guardian, Dr. Tranter. 

Jimmy Sangster, who wrote so many Hammer films, has been credited as this film’s screenwriter. It establishes so many of the narrative beats that future Ripper films will follow.

Perhaps just as interesting as the film, producer Joseph E. Levine held a luncheon for major film distributors to kick off U.S. release of the film. At one point, he had Brinks guards wheel in $1 million dollars in cash to show off exactly how much he was putting into promotion. He’d had success doing the same thing with 1958’s Hercules, which starred Steve Reeves. Between plenty of TV ads and saturating theaters with over 640 prints of the film, the film had huge ticket sales and a high number of holdover dates. But, according to Joseph E. Levine, the film was a failure. In their sale copy, Severin says that “audiences were horrified by the film’s startling violence, graphic nudity and bloody Technicolor climax.”

It did, however, have a song that went with it. Nino Tempo released the song “Jack the Ripper” on RCA, backed up by composers Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo and his orchestra. Comic Steve Allen was tapped to write the lyrics! Check it out!

Severin just released this on blu ray, complete with plenty of docs, a robust commentary track with co-director/co-producer/co-cinematographer Robert S. Baker, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and assistant director Peter Manley, moderated By British horror historian Marcus Hearn and two versions of the film: the original UK cut and the trimmed American version.