Hercules Unchained (1959)

In Italy, this movie is known as Ercole e la Regina di Lidia (Hercules and the Queen of Lydia) and it’s loosely based upon various Greek myths and the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, as envisioned by co-writers Ennio De Concini and Pietro Francisci, who also directed. It’s also the second — and last — Hercules movie with Steve Reeves in the lead.

Hercules has been brought in to settle the battle over who should rule Thebes between brothers Eteocles and Polynices. However, a magic spring looks so refreshing and Hercules is hypnotized by a harem girl and becomes the kept man of Queen Omphale of Lydia (Sylvia Lopez, who sadly died the same year this movie was made), who plans on sleeping with our hero until she gets bored and turns him into a statue.

Luckily, Ulysses is on hand to help him get his memory back, just in time to decimate three wild tigers in order to rescue his wife beloved Iole (Sylvia Koscina). Then, our hero realizes that he should just let the two brothers kill one another.

Wrestling fans will be happy to see Primo Carnera (he was also a boxer and known as the Ambling Alp) show up as Antaeus.

Mario Bava served as special effects supervisor on this film (he was the cinematographer for Hercules and Hercules Conquers Atlantis; he would then direct the incredible Hercules In the Haunted World), which you can definitely see in the foggy dream sequences.

While Reeves would leave the series to Reg Park, the two Hercules files he was in would be successful all over the world.

You can watch this on Tubi with Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing or check out the original on YouTube.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Wasp Woman (1959)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally posted this review on January 11, 2020.

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.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Giant of Marathon (1959)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat PeopleI Walked With a Zombie, Night of the Demon), this film also has a credit for Mario Bava as directing it. That’s because a few days before it was due to play theaters, major scenes had to be reshot when the editor discovered that several extras were smoking cigarettes on camera*.

Our hero is Phillipides, who if you want something visual and it’s not too abysmal…just kidding. He’s played by Steve Reeves.

In between battles between our hero and the Persians, there’s an attempt to marry him off to Charis (Daniela Rocca, who became famous from the movie Divorce Italian Style, which was written by the same writer as this film, Ennio De Concini; she also fell hard for that movie’s director Pietro Germi and attempted suicide after he turned her down), but his heart is set on Andromeda (Mylène Demongeot).

While this has little of his style, the fact that Bava got the film done in time won him some major favor from Galatea Film, who rewarded him by giving him the chance to make his own project and direct it. That ended up being Black Sunday.

*Bruno Vailati also directed some scenes. He’s listed as the AD, but in Demongeot’s biography, she claimed that Tourneur left most of the directing to his assistant.

You can watch this Metro-Goldwyn Mayer release on Amazon Prime and YouTube. There’s also a Film Crew riff version on Tubi.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Bat (1959)

The 1959 version of The Bat is the fourth version* of the story, all based on the 1908 novel The Circular Staircase. This played a double bill with the Hammer version of The Mummy.

Agnes Moorehead plays Cornelia Van Gorder, a mystery author who gets involved with a bank president and his physical (Vincent Price) who are trying to scam $1 million dollars ($8.9 million adjusted for inflation) when a forest fire breaks out.

Meanwhile, a giallo-esque masked villain named The Bat is tearing out the tender throats of young women with his steel claws. He learns of the scam and terrorizes an entire house full of women, among them Darla Hood. Yes, the very same Darla from Our Gang in her last role.

Crane Wilbur, who directed this, started his career as an actor. He was also a screenwriter and wrote House of Wax.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi or download it from the Internet Archive.

*The other versions are the 1926 silent film The Bat, as well as the 1930 movie The Bat Returns and a 1920 stage play.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Manster (1959)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cat A. Waller has this bio on his website and who am I to dispute it?

“My full name is Rock Benjamin Armstrong. Seriously. I hate my real name so please call me “Arby (R.B.? Arby? Get it?), “Cat” or “Cat A. Waller” if you’d rather be formal. I live in Santa Monica, California, where I was born on March 12th. I’m a Pisces, not that that’s a big deal or anything. I wear glasses. I’m a huge media freak, pretty much a geek even. I was a roadie for a local new wave band way back when, used to write for The New Monkees TV show, and I once worked in The Beverly Center (a rather upscale mall in Los Angeles). I love beatniks and armchair psychology and that’s just about all there is to it.”

Larry Stanford is an American reporter stationed in Japan. His latest assignment? Interviewing some Japanese scientist guy named Dr. Robert Suzuki, who has a laboratory in a volcanic mountain and is working on…  um…  some sciency new evolutionary people-mutato-re-creationing experiment (real 50’s mad scientist stuff, right?) using his own home made drugs and cosmic rays or something. He has tried before but only ended up turning his brother into some kind of hairy ass killer ape thing and his wife into a scary freak with a big head who can’t talk (he keeps her in a cage). His brother tears apart a couple of Japanese chicks taking a relaxing dip in a natural spa in a cave in the mountain so the doctor sprays his brother with some steam (seriously), shoots him with a pistol, and tosses the body in a lava pit hidden behind a big metal door. Larry doesn’t know about any of this though.

When Larry first meets him Dr. Suzuki seems like a nice enough guy, and being a gracious host he gives Larry a drink. As it turns out it’s a glass of doped up booze. Larry passes out so the Doc injects some science juice into Larry’s right shoulder. Later, when Larry awakes we’re off and running. 

The science juice brings about changes in Larry. At first all he wants to do is get drunk and cheat on his wife. His poor Li’l Wifey-Poo is back in The States, waiting for his return. “Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll get home when I get there!”, he says, being all grouchy when he and the wife are sharing a phone call, “Lotsa work, Honey. I’m swamped here!”. More drinking and cheating commence. Then his right hand starts cramping up and we get a rousing blast of Theremin music. OOOOH WEEEE OOOOH OOOOOOOH!

A couple of nights later Larry spends some drinky and cheaty funtime with Tara, an Asian dame with absolute total babeosity who’s escorting Larry around Tokyo, keeping tabs on him, and secretly reporting the progress of the experiment back to Dr. Suzuki. When he and Tara get back to Larry’s place who’s waiting for him? You guessed it pal! Larry’s wife! Insert DUH DUH DAAAH music here!

It turns out Wifey flew to Japan to surprise Larry, accompanied by one of Larry’s old guy pals. When they see the condition Larry’s in, and who he happens to be in that condition with, Larry’s wife is understandably frazzled. She begs him to fly back to The States with them but Larry ain’t having none of that noise. He’s busy having a big pile of kicks and he’s not going anywhere soon. Except out the door. He’s up for more drinky and cheaty funtime with Tara.

This brings up some questions: Is Larry a dick because of the drug? Is he a dick because of the drinking? Is it a combination of the two? Or has he always been a dick but the movie didn’t tell us about that?

And, does his drinking affect the drug? Or is it part of the experiment? Dr. Suzuki doesn’t seem concerned about Larry kicking back the happy sauce so who knows? 

Aw, it’s just a B-movie so whatever, right? What’s the dif?

Anyway, Larry keeps on keeping on with that reprobate behavior like only a good white 50’s American misogynist can. Then, one night his right hand grows hair! Yeah! Like werewolf movie style or Robin Williams or something! Thick black back of the hand hair! 

What’s next? An eye grows out of his shoulder! He murders people and grows a second head! All of this leads to another body growing out of Larry’s body and separating into its own fully formed shape! And it lives!

Then it comes to a conclusion (screw spoilers!) and there’s one of those speeches about the duality of man and all that basic science fiction rhetoric that we’ve all heard a couple of zillion times before. 

End Credits and we Fade To Black.

Did I like it? Hell yes! I love this kind of thing! Of course I was drinking at the time and oohing and aahing and laughing pretty hard.

Would you like it? If you happen to be into crappy movies of this ilk I’d say yes. Being a drinker wouldn’t hurt either.

Where can you find it? It’s in public domain so not all that hard to find. YouTube has it all over the place.

If you’d like more info Google this sucker and read all about it.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Head (1959)

“The body is gone…but The Head lives on!” That’s what brought them out in theaters in 1960 to see this on a double bill with The City of the Dead, I guess. What they got was a German film — originally known as Die Nackte und der Satan (The Naked and the Satan) — redubbed and made ready for American viewing. 

A scientist named Professor Dr. Abel (Michel Simon) — and if you need two titles like that then yes, you are a genius — has invented a serum that keeps a dog’s head alive even after the body has died. So when he dies, his assistant (Horst Frank, The Dead Are Alive) cuts off his head and keeps it alive so that he can give the hunchbacked nurse a new body. Hijinks ensue.

Someone should have made a movie of the life of Simon. The son of a Catholic sausage maker and a Protestant housewife, he left home at an early age, living on the streets and giving boxing lessons for money before becoming a clown, an acrobat and a Swiss soldier before applying his bizarre looks to a life as an actor. He was also the man who tried out the new call girls for France’s most elite brothel owner, Madame Claude, as well as being the owner of one of the world’s foremost collections of erotica, housed within a weed-covered home that was interconnected by tunnels and patrolled by an army of pet monkeys. 

At the time of making this, Simon had had the left side of his face and most of his body paralyzed after a bad reaction to some stage makeup. He needed money and wanted to work, but didn’t want many to know just how bad he was. The producers of this film assured him it would only play in Germany, yet it ended up playing all over the world. Luckily, he’d recover and end up being in plenty of plays and movies afterward.

Now what can we do about fixing up Professor Dr. Abel with Jan Compton?

You can watch this Trans-Lux Release public domain ditty on Tubi and YouTube.

Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

Filmed at the same time as Ski Troop Attack and released on a double bill with The Wasp Woman, this Monte Hellman movie would mark the first of his many projects with Roger Corman.

Hellman would say, “What interested me about it was that it really wasn’t a monster movie. Roger liked Key Largo very much. I think that was one of his favorite movies. He kept making Key Largo just different versions of it. In this case he added a monster to it.

As for the titular beast, Hellman would say, “They literally spent two dollars at the dime store. It was mostly angel hair and paper mache monster.” The crew nicknamed the beast Humphrass. It was created and operated by Chris Robinson, who would go on to play the lead in William Grefé’s Stanley.

Basically, a gang gets together and tries to steal some gold, but ends up waking this monster and, well, bad things happen.

Linné Ahlstrand, who plays the doomed barmaid Natalie, was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for July 1958 and Richard Sinatra, who plays Marty, was a cousin of Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s things like that that sell a movie, you know.

There was a sequel planned — that’s why this ends like it does — but it never happened. However, Corman would pretty much make the movie all over again in 1961 and call it Creature from Haunted Sea.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

REPOST: Santa Claus vs. the Devil (1959)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we finish our last week of Mexican films, I’ve decided to bring back perhaps the most frightening one of them all. This is a movie that has obsessed me for years and I hope that you aren’t as damaged by it as I am. It originally ran on December 17, 2017.

Let’s get this out of the way. This is a movie made by maniacs who have nothing less than the goal of decimating your sanity. View this movie at your own peril.

René Cardona — who also brought us Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy — originally crafted this film, which was remixed for American audiences by K. Gordon Murray, known as the “King of the Kiddie Matinee.” Ever wondered why Santo was called Samson in the U.S. dialogue? You can thank Murray, who also provides the near-manic voiceover for this film.

On Christmas Eve, Santa is getting ready for his big night as he always does, by playing his organ while children all over the world sing, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa as he leaves his Toyland castle in space.

If you’re already wondering why anyone would change Santa’s basic character beats, well, buckle up. Have we got some Christmas magic for you.

In Hell, Satan tells Pitch, his main demon, to go to Earth and make kids hate Santa. Why? Who knows — we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.

Pitch asks five kids to help him enrage Santa Claus. Four of them are complete assholes — three brothers who like to start shit and Billy, the son of rich but absent parents. They break some windows but Pitch fails to talk Lupita, a poor girl, into stealing the doll she wants. An angry Santa watches from space with the help of his magic telescope and children helpers. Remember that part of Santa’s songs?

Santa also has a device that allows him to watch the dreams of children, further creating a police state only dreamed of by elves on shelves and Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Lupita has a dream where adult-sized dancing dolls demand that she learn how to steal.

Then, the three brothers break into Billy’s home and steal all of his gifts. Then, they have the temerity to write to Santa and tell him that they have been good all year, but his voice takes over their minds and informs them that he can see everything.

Let me see if I can process what happens next: Santa is able to get gifts to everyone in the world because of his most trusted henchman, Merlin the Wizard. No, not Ringo Starr from Son of Dracula. No, this friend of Saint Nick gives him sleep powder, a flower that allows him to disappear, a magic key that will open any door on Earth and mechanical reindeer. But oh no — the three evil boys are plotting to enslave Santa. Enslave Santa — that’s how dark this movie is ready to get.

Want to get really dark? One of Santa’s helpers, Pedro, is played by an actor named Cesáreo Quezadas, who was also known by the stage name Pulgarcito, thanks to appearing in the popular film of the same name. This would be like us calling Bela Lugosi Dracula for the rest of his life. He often played plucky orphans, but as he hit puberty, his acting career suffered, leading to him holding up a shoe store in 1971. After some time in jail, he got married and had four kids, but ended up leaving his wife for his secretary, Claudia, and having two kids with her. Those two boys, Gridley and Guillermo, found a video of their father having sex with their stepsister, Mariana. He’s still in jail today, over a decade later.

Remember Lupita? Well, she and her mom pray that she gets a baby doll, but she asks for two — one of which she will give to Baby Jesus, which is kind of like when you ask your parents for money so you can buy them a gift at the Santa shop at school and all they get is a piece of shit covered with glitter or a cheap screwdriver set that you wonder why they never use.

Santa just wants to get gifts to everyone on Earth, but Pitch keeps screwing with him. And Billy? His parents go out to eat and just leave him all alone. Santa helps out there and even has time to give the three bad kids coal after they try and steal his sleigh.

Pitch is finally lucky enough to empty all of Santa’s dream powder and then the jolly old man drops his magic flower and he’s fucked. A dog chases him up a tree and the devil’s majordomo calls the fire department to come — so everyone can see Santa and ruin his magic — but Merlin helps our hero escape and blast the demon with a fire hose.

Don’t worry about Lupita. She gets her doll as Santa goes back to his castle. Whew.

This movie won the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the 1959 San Francisco International Film Festival. I can only imagine that this was one of the early LSD experiments and not a film festival based on artistic merit.

This movie has so many insane ideas, it’s difficult to summarize them. From learning that demons primarily eat hot coals to the fact that every child that works for Santa must wear a racist costume that denotes their country of origin (all Japanese children wear kimonos, all Americans are cowboys), this is a movie brimming with barely concealed menace.

But here’s what’s really weird — even though Santa has made all of his children codified by country, none of them know anything about the countries they come from. What is happening?

This is a movie that explains how Santa can be everywhere at once: he is from the Fifth Dimension and as we all know from reading Grant Morrison comics, that is the dimension of imagination. Therefore, as a Fifth Dimensional being, Santa is able to transcend the reality of our dimension and do things that would break our minds were we to contemplate them too long — just like I am doing when I write this. I am putting your brain in danger right now by forcing you to reason with the fact that the physical properties that ground us in the Third Dimension can be pushed beyond the infinite. Merry Christmas.

Santa Claus can also feel physical pain when his mechanical manifestations are hit with rocks. This makes even less sense. Why, in a world where Lucifer constantly is trying to murder him, would Santa put himself in such mortal peril?

This is a movie that raises more questions than it does answers. You ask, “Where does Santa come from,” knowing that he comes from the North Pole and are shocked to learn that everything you know — including the very way our universe and its laws are governed — is a lie. This is a movie made to keep children occupied, whether on TV or in the movie houses where it ran yearly for three decades, while parents try to get a merciful break. But a central point of the film is for parents to stop ignoring their children, so any child ignored in such a way will have to feel lost in the maelstrom of emotional pain that this movie wields like a scalpel.

This is what I get for watching Santa Claus vs. the Devil at 4 AM. Pure pain, questions that chatter at my mind and the slowly evolving knowledge that this motion picture could have only been created by the eldritch powers of the Ancient Ones who wait for us Behind the Wall of Sleep, where their madness will infect our souls and cause our children to eat their way from their wombs.

You can watch this movie on Amazon Prime or on YouTube.

BONUS: Here’s some art that I made of this movie that ran in Drive-In Asylum special 3.

The Killer Shrews (1959)

During World War II, Ray Kellogg was a US Navy Lieutenant as part of the O.S.S. Field Photographing Branch. That’s where he met John Ford and when Kellogg came back to the U.S., he headed off to 20th Century Fox, where he eventually became the head of the special effects division and helped invent CinemaScope.

He directed four films: The Giant Gila Monster; My Dog, Buddy; and The Green Berets, which he co-directed with John Wayne and Mervyn LeRoy.

But today…today we’re here to discuss the fourth of his films: The Killer Shrews.

James Best has the lead in this movie as Captain Thorne Sherman. Best is probably best known for playing Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, but he was a classically trained actor. So was Sorrell Brooke, who played his partner-in-crime Boss Hogg. The two often delighted in improvising most of their scenes together. And while they were working with younger and even untrained actors, by all reports they treated everyone incredibly well.

In addition to acting, Best was also a painter of some renown, a writer, a black belt and even ran an acting school, counting Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey, Clint Eastwood (who posted the insurance bond on Best so he could be on Dukes as the actor had a history of heart attacks), Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Regis Philbin, Lindsay Wagner (who was his family babysitter before he encouraged her to act) and Quentin Tarantino as his students. Here’s some trivia: he was also a cousin of the Everly Brothers.

So why did he do this regional horror film? “I did the original The Killer Shrews as a favor. I made a movie with Sammy Ford, who was friends with a special effects man, Ray Kellogg, who wanted to direct his own picture. And we looked at the original’s script, and he didn’t have hardly any money whatsoever, but I did him a favor by acting in it. Ken Curtis, of course, was producing it from the start. I like Ken, and he wanted me to do it, so I went down there to Texas where we shot this thing. I didn’t realize it was so cheap. I mean, it was really cheap. For me it was a blast, but it was so bad! I think it was voted the worst picture of the year at the time. And then it caught on as a drive-in cult film, and believe it or not, after so many years I noticed that it was playing all over the place.”

Sherman and his crew are delivering supplies to a remote island that’s manned by a group of research scientists led by Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet, who was a Yiddish theater actor), research assistant Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon, a former pirate radio operator who went on to create one of the first mobile news units in American radio, as well as the first traffic reports, jingles, all-news radio station and “easy-listening” programming; he also produced this film, The Great Gila Monster and Escape to Victory), Marlow’s daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, the Swedish daughter of a steel factory manager that had been Miss Sweden for 1956; her Universal Pictures contract wasn’t successful, although she was in the TV show Love That Bob and the Rowan and Martin movie Once Upon a Horse…), her about to be cucked fiancee Jerry (Ken Curtis, who was the lead singer for the Sons of the Pioneers on their big hit “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” before he was Festus on Gunsmoke) and the man who takes care of all of them, Mario.

They picked the wrong research lab to visit, because it turns out that the scientists have been experimenting on shrews to test a serum that will shrink humans to reduce world hunger. But the problem is that the drug makes shrews twice as big. You’d think they would have figured that out long before they started injecting shrews, but I’m no scientist.

Before long, the shrews show up — The Rats Are Coming! The Shrews Are Here! could be another title for this — and chew right through the walls of the lab, along with anyone that gets in their way. The humans confound these monsters by using oil drums as suits of armor and making it to the beach, just in time for Ann’s fiancee to get eaten alive when he stays behind. She and the manly hero celebrate with a kiss as they leave behind the island and the shrews to their fate.

The beauty — or horror — of this film is that the close-ups of the shrews are all hand puppets, while the long shots are coonhounds with giant rugs over them. This is the same effect technique that was used in the rat movie Deadly Eyes twenty-three years later.

A sequel, Return of the Killer Shrews, was produced in 2012, bringing back best after fifty-four years as Thorne while Bruce Davison (Willard himself!) taking over the role of Jerry. It also features Best’s Dukes co-stars John Schneider and Rick Hurst. There was also a parody remake in 2016.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. It’s also available in color on Amazon Prime or you may choose to hear riffing over the movie from Mystery Science Theater on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Girls Town (1959)

Mamie Van Doren was the bad girl of her era and this movie is one of the many reasons why. Despite being 27 at the time of filming, she plays 16-year-old Silver Morgan, who fends off an assault by knocking a man off a cliff. That is enough to send her to Girls Town, a place where bad girls turn to God thanks to some nuns.

Can Silver win over the tough women of Girls Town?

Will Serafina get to meet Paul Anka?

Will Silver’s sister Mary Lee (Elinor Donahue, Father Knows Best) escape the evil clutches of Fred (Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog!) and white slavery in Tijuana in time to reveal that it was really her that killed the man and not her sister?

Producer Albert Zugsmith was a master of exploitation, getting his start with movies like Invasion U.S.A.The Incredible Shrinking Man and Touch of Evil before finding his niche with movies like High School Confidential!Sex Kittens Go to College and the perfectly named Movie Star, American Style or; LSD, I Hate You. He also wrote, produced and directed noted comic strip bomb Dondi, which I really need to get to soon.

Director Charles F. Haas studied under T.S. Elliot at Harvard, which seems the perfect place to learn how to make movies like Summer Love with John Saxon, The Beat Generation with Van Doren and Platinum High School with Mickey Rooney.