MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: This Is Not a Test (1962)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

This is Not a Test shares much in common Panic in Year Zero directed by Ray Milland. Both were low-budget productions released in 1962 and both deal with a group of strangers who come together in the California desert outside Los Angeles before/during a nuclear attack. Equally, both seem quaint in 2022. This is Not a Test, in particular presents a highly unlikely scenario for audiences who grew up on Mad Max or zombie apocalypse films. A lone Deputy Sheriff played by Seamon Glass sets up a roadblock on a lonely mountain pass to catch Clint (Ron Starr), a hitchhiking killer on the run. A truck carrying the fugitive along with a few other vehicles are stopped, giving Clint just enough time to flee into the darkness while all the other characters are introduced. We have a couple of gamblers, a married couple on the outs with their dog Timmy, a wise old man and his granddaughter Juney and – joining them later – a nice guy on a scooter. When news of a pending missile attack comes across the police radio, not only does the cop stay at his post, but all eight of the people stopped at the roadblock comply with his every command for the majority of the film. If this film were made today, Deputy Sheriff Dan Colter would either raid the delivery truck and flee the scene, or have his gun stolen and become Deputy Sheriff pork shoulder. In 1962, he’s the law and so “We have to do what he says.”

That’s not to say that things don’t go sideways. Colter is truly an idiot, making all the wrong decisions, including destroying a whole case of booze, which could not only be used to start fires in the post-apocalyptic world, but also to disinfect wounds. Not to mention act as a sedative against the coming horrors. 

Things unravel quickest for the dissatisfied married couple once the wife realizes her likelihood of survival is small. Looking for one last moment of happiness, she almost immediately falls into the arms of the truck driver, leaving her cuckolded husband to shoot himself with Colter’s gun in the very next scene while everyone else prepares the back of the truck as a shelter. While a few people choose to stay outside, the majority of the remaining group empty out the back of the truck and cover the air vents with mud. Although they initially plan to hunker down for at least 14 days, once inside, it takes all of 10 minutes for them to become exceptionally sweaty and claustrophobic. Colter kills Timmy the little dog for taking up too much air, a fight ensues and the group bursts forth from the back of the truck only to be greeted by a gang of looters in fresh from the hellscape that is now Los Angeles. 

Before any Negan-style nastiness ensues, the final countdown comes over the radio. Some of the people finally knock Colter unconscious, and take his car while the looters barricade themselves inside the back of the truck. Colter wakes up to find Clint running past, who, having been hiding in the woods for the pat 75 minutes, has no idea what’s going on. The film ends with Colter begging to be let inside the back of the truck. The screen turns white, we hear an explosion. The End. 

Despite its outdated social platitudes, It’s not a bad little movie. The location is used to good effect and the acting is pretty good. Although nowhere near as gruesome as the later films about nuclear war made in the 80s like The Day After, or the incredibly dark British outing Threads, which gave me nightmares for weeks, This is Not a Test is sufficiently bleak to satisfy fans of this well-worn subgenre. Best of all, it’s available for free on YouTube. 

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Ring of Terror (1962)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on March 28, 2021.

Despite playing college students, nearly everyone in this movie is pushing forty. If you can get past that, well, there’s a lot more wrong with this movie, but it’s just weird enough that it’s worth watching.

Medical student Lewis Moffitt (George E. Mather, who was 42 when this would made* and would go on to supervise the miniatures and optical effects for Star Wars) is afraid of the dark, ever since he saw a dead body when he was a little kid. Now that he’s in college — he must be a non-traditional freshman — the fraternity he’s trying to rush makes him steal a ring — a Ring of Terror? — from a dead man.

Clark Paylow, who directed this, was the second unit guy on so many beach movies and the production manager for The Conversation and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

*Actually, he was 35, as this was shot in 1955 and not released for several years after it was finished.

You can watch the Mystery Science Theater version of this movie on Tubi. You can also download the original cut of this movie on the Internet Archive.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: The Manster (1962)

Also known as Soto no Satsujinki or The Two-Headed KillerThe Manster was directed by Greg Breakstone, who was Beezy in the Andy Hardy movies. It was one of several movies that he made in Japan, where he stayed after World War II, including Geisha Girl and Oriental Evil. It was co-directed by  Kenneth G. Crane, the movie’s editor, and written by. William J. Sheldon.

Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) has been in Japan too long for his wife Linda (Jane Hylton), who wants him back in the U.S., but his last job is interviewing Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura), who works with his assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) to slip him a mickey, the kind of libation that causes a monster to grow right out of his shoulder. By the end of the movie, Larry has become two totally different beings, one willing to toss women into volcanos.

The Manster isn’t great, but it sure is fun. I mean, when else would you get to see someone fight his evil side on the rim of an active volcano?

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

I really dislike anyone who makes fun of this movie. It’s been riffed and goofed on for years, but it’s way better made than it has any right to be and is filled with some big ideas that other movies from its genre and time never would dare to include.

Shot independently around Tarrytown, New York, in 1959 under the working title The Black Door, this film finds Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) as a surgeon who just won’t accept that death is the end for his patients. And when his fiancee Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) is critically injured in a car accident that he causes, he takes her head and along with his crippled assistant Kurt (Anthony La Penna), he struggles to find her a new body to transplant her still living head on.

While Jan loses her mind due to pain and the sheer oddity of being alive without a body, Dr. Bill hits the go go clubs looking for the perfect body for her. That’s one of the strangest and most delightful moments here, as instead of just any body, Dr. Bill realizes that he needs a body that best answers his sexual needs, which means he cares less about saving Jan than satisfying his repressed desires.

Throughout this story and its slowly going mad rush to tragedy, there’s a past experiment hidden behind the door. It’s played by Eddie Carmel, a 7’3″ circus performer who was known as The Jewish Giant.

This was directed and written by Joseph Green, who owned Joseph Green Pictures. It was such a tiny corporation that it had one employee, Joseph Green, and brought so many wild movies to screens like Jess Franco’s Kiss Me Monster and Two Undercover Angels, Claude Chabrol’s Pleasure Party, Something Creeping in the DarkDeath Knocks Twice and his own film, The Perils of P.K. 

I love the way this movie takes our world and instead creates its own, a place where strippers fight on stage, where camera clubs are a plot point — Sammy Petrillo is one of the dirty men taking pictures! — and old girlfriends can be wooed back just to potentially get to be the body for a new fiancee.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 13: The Day of the Triffids (1962)

As London was assaulted by the Blitz, writer John Wyndham was who witnessed the destruction of the city from the rooftops of Bloomsbury. Many of the scenes and incidents he saw, including a quiet Sunday morning after the bombs fell, were sent in letters to his long-term partner Grace Wilson and they are in his novel The Day of the Triffids. The book also suggests that while the plant-like triffids came from space, their ability to destroy our planet came from an over-reliance on technology.

Albert R. Broccoli and Irving Allen had purchased the film rights and hired Jimmy Sangster to write the script, which intimidated the screenwriter. He didn’t think that his script was good, but that version was never made. This version, written by Bernard Gordon, who had been blacklisted due to the testimony of producer William Alland. Through his friendship with Philip Yordan — and yes, Night Train to Terror does connect to everything — the writer found regular work as a writer and producer for Samuel Bronston Productions in Madrid, even if through the goodness of his heart Yordan received full credit on movies like Circus World, Battle of the Bulge, Custer of the West, The Thin Red Line, Cry of Battle and Horror Express.

Gordon was under FBI surveillance for twenty years and we wouldn’t know that he’d written many movies if it wasn’t for journalist Ted Newsom, who discovered that Gordon was the real name behind the kayfabe author credit Raymond T. Marcus. Gordon led all blacklisted creatives when the Writers Guild of America correctly credited pseudonymous screenwriters from this era.

As for Yordan, he once told his friend Gordon, “It’s Jews like you who ruined the motion picture industry with this anti-hero shit.”

As for Day of the Triffids, it’s loosely based on the book and doesn’t really get across the apocalyptic menace within its inspiration’s pages. It does, however, have giant plants spitting poison that kills at Janette Scott, so there’s that.

Directed by Steve Sekely and Freddie Francis*, it prefigures the way that zombies keep coming in waves that trap humans within increasingly smaller places to hide. Indeed, the hospital scenes in the book inspired 28 Days Later. The goofy inspiration is that the plants are turned back by seawater, a plot twist that would be used to ridiculous effect decades later in Signs.

*Kieron Moore and Janette Scott weren’t in the original cut of the film. It turns out that there were only 57 minutes of good usable footage available, so Francis directed the entire lighthouse sequence to pad the movie.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 5: The Intruder (1962)

Also known as I Hate Your GutsShame and The Stranger, this film was bought by Roger Corman from Seven Arts in 1960. He originally saw Tony Randall as the star and the movie was turned down by AIP, UA and Allied Artistsbefore he raised the money with help from Pathé Labs, with Corman and his brother Gene paying the rest. That said, Pathé eventually got cold feet and the Cormans distributed the movie themselves.

Even though it cost only $90,000, this was one of the few Corman movies to lose money.

Corman said, “We put our hearts, our souls – and what few people do – our money into this picture. Everybody asked us “Why would you make this picture?” as if to say why try to do something you believe in when everything else is so profitable. Obviously we did it because we wanted to, and we think it’s a damn good job.”

It did teach Corman a valuable lesson. He said, “I think it failed for two reasons. One: the audience at that time, the early sixties, simply didn’t want to see a picture about racial integration. Two: it was more of a lecture. From that moment on I thought my films should be entertainment on the surface and I should deliver any theme or idea or concept beneath the surface.”

Based on the Charles Beaumont novel of the same name — Beaumont also wrote the screenplay — The Intruder has Adam Cramer (William Shatner) has shown up in the small Southern town of Caxton to disrupt integration. Even though he’s a stranger and not even a Southerner, he soon charms the entire town into going from accepting blacks and whites in the same school to attempting to use that very same school’s swingset to lynch a black student.

Shatner has claimed that the lives of the cast and crew were threatened, equipment was destroyed and permission to film in a local schoolyard was revoked. He was also told that a tree in one scene actually was used for lynching. And then the entire production was kicked out of East Prairie, MO for being Communists.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Death Whistles the Blues (1962) & Rififi in the City (1963)  

About the Author:  Sean Mitus grew up watching “Chiller Theater” & Pittsburgh UHF Channels and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last eight years.  Sean enjoys all genres but has lately become fascinated with Italian horror, giallo and poliziotteschi films.

Want something different from Jesus “Jess” Franco’s eurosleaze/eurohorror filmography, well look no further than Severin Films’ wonderful two-in-one disc Franco Noir. The prolific career of Jess Franco, born Jesus Franco Manera, spanned seven decades from 1954 to 2013.  Franco’s early filmography fit with more traditional Spanish cinema showing an entertaining visual flair.

Shortly after he directed The Awful Dr. Orloff, Franco directed La Muerte Silba Un Blues AKA Death Whistles the Blues in 1962.  It was a spirited foray into the crime genre taking inspiration from Film Noir. Just one film later, Franco directed Rififi en la ciudad AKA Rififi in the City (connection to Jules Dassin‘s Rififi by the definition of rififi meaning trouble/violent conflict/a brutal show of force).  

Both films have the dramatic light and dark shading typical of film noir.  Death Whistles the Blues has creative camera moves in the opening scene with the death of a musician and fine tracking and crane shots throughout.  There’s also a fine action sequence with exciting staging and flashy editing.  Rififi in the City has even more use of noir dark and light contrast throughout.  Both films feature wonderful jazz scores with live performances that add flavor to the proceedings.

As for the story, all you need to know is Death Whistle the Blues deals with double-crosses and betrayals coming back to haunt some of the characters. Rififi in the City followed a dogged policeman setting out to avenge a confidential informant’s killer while those involved meet their deaths at the hands of a surprise killer.  

Do yourself a favor and check out Death Whistles the Blues and Rififi in the City for good examples of noir cinema from Jess Franco.  You won’t be disappointed!

You can get both of these movies in the Franco Noir set from Severin.

References

Franco Noir featurette by Stephen Thrower; Severin Blu-ray © 2021 

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Vampiresas 1930 (1962)

As the era of silent films ends, there are those that can’t make the transition to talkies. One of those actors is Dora (Mikaela, who looks like the epitome of Jess Franco obsession, save that she was possibly too classy to follow him down his path; she’s also in From the Orient with Fury and High Season for Spies as Anne Bardot, which is a great name), who has the public perception as the cold and cunning actress she portrayed on the big screen, not the decent woman who she truly is.

I say that, but then realize she’s part of a group of former actors and musicians who trick an African-American jazz group into taking a train to Siberia so that she and her friends can put on black face and crossdress at the same time — look, if Franco is going to offend you, he’s going to really offend you — and play the club dates that that missing band is missing.

It’s also Franco making Some Like It Hot which is just as weird as a movie with a vampire title only referencing the movie they’re making at the beginning of the movie.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: La mano de un hombre muerto (1962)

The Sadistic Baron Klaus concerns a series of murders in the remote village of Holfen, a place that still may be haunted by a 17th-century baron who maintained an elaborate torture chamber that hints at the erotic nature of the horror that Franco would spend much of the rest of his career detailing.

Could it be one of the Baron’s ancestors, Max Von Klaus (Howard Vernon)? Or youngest male descendent, Ludwig (Hugo Blanco), who is warned by his grandmother on her deathbed that their family is cursed? Either way, Inspector Borowsky (Georges Rollin) and journalist Karl Steiner (Fernando Delgado) are trying to get the answers.

So yeah — it’s kinda, sorta a nascent giallo, but also a nascent Franco, because having a woman stripped topless, whipped and menaced by a hot poker had to be practically incendiary in 1962 and it presages the many outrageous things that the director would unleash over hundreds of his movies to come.

You can watch this on Kino Cult.

This movie is also on the ARROW PLAYER. Head over to ARROW to start your 30-day free trial. Subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly. ARROW is available in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices, Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Gritos en la noche (1962)

The Awful Dr. Orloff stars Howard Vernon stars as the surgical villain, who with the help of his blind minion Morpho, is out and about and taking the flesh of women to fix the face of his daughter.

Concerned with how the film would be handled by Spanish censors, Franco made a safe version for his home country and another for British and Spanish audiences that had some nudity. And still, Spanish censors were worried that this movie would damage the reputation of their country, so Franco set it in France.

Sure, it’s a riff on Eyes With a Face, but it also is the kind of movie that Franco would return to again and again, even making a sequel two years later, El Secreto del Dr. Orloff and remixes like The Vengeance of Doctor MabuseJack the Ripper and Faceless.

This is where Franco starts and the films that follow would riff on these themes, like a doom band surrounded by smoke playing the same notes over and over but so loud that your head starts to buzz and you keep hearing the same notes and then the riff changes and for Franco, that’s a quick zoom and women just lounging as murders happen all around them and then the riff gets heavier and chugs and moves and you’re in another reality where blind men are ordered by their masters to get alabaster skin for the daughter they love and you can’t wait to buy a shirt before you drive home in the snow.

You can watch this on Kino Cult.

The Awful Dr. Orloff is also on the ARROW PLAYER. Head over to ARROW to start your 30-day free trial. Subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly. ARROW is available in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices, Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com.