Lee Majors Week: Strait-Jacket (1964)

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on January 21, 2019. We are rerunning it for our “Lee Majors Week” of film reviews.

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hollywood suddenly had roles for older actresses, as part of psycho-biddy films. And no one was more in demand than Joan Crawford, who agreed to be in this William Castle film with the following demands: script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary and 15 percent of the profits.

Lucy Harbin (Joan!) has spent two decades in a mental hospital after the axe murders of her philandering husband (Lee Majors!) and his mistress. After she gets out, she moves in with his brother Bill (Leif Ericson, who is also in I Saw What You Did with Crawford, along with his wife Emily and her daughter, Carol (Diane Baker, who Crawford hired to replace Anne Helm).

Ironically, Crawford herself was a replacement for Joan Blondell, who was injured before filming and couldn’t make the movie.

Carol seems happy and unharmed by the fact that she watched her mother sliced up her father and his lover with an axe. In fact, she does everything she can to keep her mother from being depressed, changing her look back to how she appeared when she was young.

Soon enough, Joan is acting the hell out of this movie, a new series of axe murders are happening and George Kennedy shows up looking young and perverted. Oh yeah — you can also totally play a drinking game by looking for every appearance of Pepsi in this movie. Even crazier, the character of Dr. Anderson was played by Mitchell Cox, who was not an actor, but rather the Vice President of the Pepsi-Cola Company. Joan did this one all on her own, without even asking Castle. Oh Joan!

Even though William Castle had the best gimmick of all — an A-list star in a B-movie horror flick — he still gave audience members little cardboard axes for coming to see the movie. And at several theaters, he brought Joan along, coming out to greet her public.

My favorite thing in this entire movie is that the Columbia logo’s torch-bearing woman is decapitated at the end of the movie!

Look — I’m not going to be unbiased when it comes to Joan Crawford movies. This one is ridiculous — a near giallo with Joan acting decades younger than she should — but that makes it so much greater than it should be.

And as for Mr. Majors: He booked this first role as Joan’s philandering husband — although uncredited — at the age 25. Soon after, he booked a 1965 episode of Gunsmoke and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Monkey’s Paw.” Then he beat out 400 other actors — including a young Burt Reynolds on the shortlist — as Heath Barkley in a new ABC western series known as the The Big Valley.

You can get Strait-Jacket from Shout! Factory or as part of the Psycho-Biddy Double Feature with Berserk! from Mill Creek Entertainment.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

With the box office success of King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra, Toho chose to send Godzilla against the butterfly in a movie that was meant for children instead of adults. It’s also the last movie — until the Heisei era — that Godzilla would be against humanity.

As a typhoon leaves behind great damage, a bluish-gray object has been left behind as well as a giant egg which is taken by Kumayama, the owner entrepreneur of Happy Enterprises. He decides that science will have nothing to do with the egg. It’s time to make money off it.

That’s when the twin Shobijin arrive and explain that the egg belongs to Mothra and if it hatches, Mothra’s larva child will destroy Tokyo as it looks for food. The Japanese government begs them to send Mothra to stop Godzilla, who has come back for the strange object left behind, one that is emitting radiation. Despite all the outside world has done to their island and even though Mothra is in great pain and dying of old age, they decide that they must help.

While Godzilla does destroy Mothra with his atomic breath, her twin children arise in their larva form and spray the King of the Monsters repeatedly with their silk and allow Godzilla to be captured.

Henry G. Saperstein acquired the American theatrical and TV rights. He planned on the name Godzilla vs the Giant Moth, but American-International Pictures bought the movie and released it as Godzilla vs. The Thing, censoring Mothra from the poster to build audience excitement for who the big green lizard would fight. After so many of their films being released in America, Toho shot footage specifically for export, such as a scene where U.S. troops help the Japanese fight the monsters.

When everyone arrives on Infant Island, the skeleton of a turtle can be seen in the background. This character, known as the Mystery Bones of Infant Island, is a living kaiju that was inspired by Mondo Cane.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Godzilla used to be the biggest and baddest there is, but with this movie, Toho introduced King Ghidorah, who was based on the legend of Orochi. By adding this villain to the Godzilla universe, the big green guy completed his journey from heel to babyface.

While I usually don’t enjoy the human parts of these movies, this one has a pretty good story. A princess pursued by assassins has been possessed by an alien who can predict the future, such as Rodan’s return and Godzilla attacking.

That alien princess has come to Earth to warn us of Ghidorah, the creature that wiped out her home planet of Venus. Only the combined powers of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra  — in larvae form as having two flying kaiju would have been too complicated — can stop this three-headed demonic force.

This film follows Mothra vs. Godzilla and continues the trend of bringing the Toho monsters together to create a shared universe. Every monster in this movie would return  for 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster

As always. Germany had the best title for this movie: Frankenstein’s Monsters in Battle against Ghidorah.

Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

This regional film was made well outside the Hollywood system, being shot in the wild and wonderful world of Huntingdon, West Virginia. Most of the cast and crew of this film were friends or relatives of director Ben Parker, who had made plenty of shorts and the film Invisible Avenger.

The writer, Clark Davis, was the general manager of WHTN-TV, and called in plenty of favors to get locations, like Martin’s Restaurant which was right down the street from the station.

It’s all about a trouble youth who is continually in trouble with the law, which makes things bad when young ladies start showing up dead and covered with lipstick. This is a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a cop movie, a horror shocker or a bad kids in trouble film. I guess it can be all of these things, but it’s mostly about people dancing and driving. Lots of driving.

John Humphries, who plays Mikey, had never acted before, so he followed the lead of Jo Canterbury, who plays Betty. The more over the top she got, the more he tried to top her. Because that’s what acting is all about, right? As Moe Phelps once told me, “All acting is is jumping up and down and yelling and screaming a lot.”

Kitten with a Whip (1964)

Ann-Margret was supposed to be the next Marilyn Monroe, but to fully live up to that idea, she’d have to make something other than musicals like Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie. So what she ended up making was a movie that Brigitte Bardot turned down.

Politician David Stratton (John Forsythe) has his wife leave home for the weekend and wakes up to an escapee from a juvenile detention center named Jody (Ann-Margret) asleep in his daughter’s bed. How’d she get out? Oh, you know, she just stabbed someone and set it all on fire.

There ends up being a trip to Tijuana and no small amount of violence at the end of this movie. That makes sense, because the hotel that these scenes was shot at is the same one that Psycho was filmed at. Speaking of recycling, it also uses the music cues from Touch of Evil.

Crazy Wild and Crazy (1964)

Man, there’s just something insane to me about camera clubs. Yes, in post World War 2 craziness, there used to be these things where men would buy cameras and would all pitch in to hire women to come pose for them. Bettie Page did it and that’s how I learned about it and I still can’t imagine how weird it was to have a bunch of leering guys barely able to focus a camera filming women who just wanted to make enough money for the rent.

Crazy Wild and Crazy is the Barry Mahon story of a photographer narrating to us all about what it’s like to shoot pictures and movies. He even goes to a nudist camp where a slide whistle appears on the soundtrack so often that you’ll start hearing it throughout your normal day. Listen — there it is.

Barry’s cast this time includes Darlene Bennett (Bad Girls Go to Hell) and her twin Dawn (Confessions of a Bad Girl), Rita Bennett (who is also in Raging Bull as well as movies by Joe Sarno), Dolores Carlos (Pagan Island), Gigi Darlene (The Love Statue), Marlene Eck (White Slaves of Chinatown), Sandra Sinclair (Blood Feast) and Maria Stinger (Goldilocks and the Three Bares).

Mahon worked with Harry Novak on this, which is really like Superman getting to meet Spider-Man in my universe.

You can download this on the Internet Archive.

The Story of 8 Girls (1964)

In case my wife reads this and wonders, “Why have you been covering movies like this all week,” it’s because of the juxtaposition of Barry Mahon. He’s a director who could make movies like this that have one minute of plot and sixty some odd moments of photographing women in various stages of undress. But I  have to respect the fact that he continually invents reasons for those moments to happen.

This time, it’s all about a modeling agency where women are treated fairly, unlike so many of Mahon’s films where violence can break out at nearly every moment.

Honestly, this is the same movie as Confessions of a Bad Girl but it’s much nicer all around and no one really gets hurt.

The Bennett Twins are in this, as is Gigi Darlene. Her life story is shared in this and it’s all true. Born in Berlin at the end of World War II, she escaped a rough home life by winning beauty pageants and moving to Queens with family friends and finally to Manhattan, where she started posing for nudes, exotic dancing and appearing in the films of Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno, Mahon and other exploitation filmmakers.

Working as a feature dancer, she met her husband, a hypnotist named Charles Lamont. She quit dancing and acting at his request and they went on the road and played Vegas together until 1980, when they retired to Florida. Sadly, he died soon after they retired, so she became a real estate agent and started acting again, appearing in movies as an extra, which earned her a SAG card.

Gigi’s name came from, of course, the movie Gigi and the first name of one of her best friends, the aforementioned Darlene Bennett. Her abrupt vanishing act led to this question in the credits of Michael  and Roberta Findlay’s Curse Of Her Flesh: “Whatever happened to Gigi Darlene?”

You can download this from the Internet Archive.

Bunny Yeager’s Las Vegas (1964)

You know, this movie isn’t very good, but I just want to talk about Bunny Yeager, so indulge me.

Linnea Eleanor “Bunny” Yeager was born in Wilkinsburg, one of the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and moved to Florida when she was 17. There, she got teh ncikname she’d use for the rest of her life. It either came from Lana Turner’s character Bunny Smith in Week-End at the Waldorf or because Yeager played the Easter Bunny in a school play.

Just a few years out of school, Bunny won plenty of beauty paegents, including Miss Army & Air Force, Miss Personality of Miami Beach, Queen of Miami, Florida Orchid Queen, Miss Trailercoach of Dade County, Queen of the Sports Carnival and Cheesecake Queen of 1951.

She never wore the same outfit twice and made plenty of the clothes that other girls wore for their shoots. She’s even been credited with being one of the influencers that made the bikini a hot number in the mid 50’s.

Originally, Bunny went to school to be a photographer so she could save money and make her own prints. However, one of her class projects ended up being the March 1954 cover of Eye magazine and she went pro. Bunny was one of the first photographers to shoot girls in natural light.

She’s probably best known for popularizing Bettie Page (she shot her January 1955 Playboy centerfold) and her work in Playboy, including discovering the very first centerfold, Lisa Winters. She also appeared in the magazine herself five times and was photographed by Hugh Hefner in a pictorial named “Queen of the Playboy Centerfolds.”

Once sexy movies got more gynecological, Yeager moved into mainstream magazines and even took the famous photo of Ursula Andress in her white bikini from the set of Dr. No.

Before the sexual revolution, Bunny Yeager was working within the male gaze to be a trailblazer. She’s one of my heroines and deserves so much more credit and interest than now. Check out her photos today and you’ll see imagery that remains incredibly alive.

As for the movie, there’s no story, it’s just Bunny taking photos of girls and it will make you sad, because it’s shot in the wonderful old Las Vegas, filled with neon and tiki bars and everything magical that the world threw away.

The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964)

Not only did Del Tenney write, produce and direct The Curse of the Living Corpse, he was the Living Corpse. Made with drive-in theater tycoon Alan V. Iselin, this ran on double bills with The Horror of Party Beach, which is an odd couple, except that they were made by the same people.

When Rufus Sinclair dies, he has a will that takes into account his fear of being buried alive. To gan their inheritance, his family must follow his instructions. They don’t, they get doomed to death from their greatest fears and we have a film.

The curse proclaims that Bruce will lose his looks, Abigail will burn alive, Phillip (Roy Schneider in his first movie) will be suffocated, Vivian (Tenney’s wife Margot Hartman) will drown, his servant will join him in the grave and his nephew James (Hugh Franklin, who was married to Madeleine L’Engle) will lose his wife Deborah (Candace Hilligoss, Carnival of Souls).

A masked killer is working on making those prophecies into reality and one by one, everyone pays the price. But who is it? Is Rufus still alive? Or someone else trying to take the inheritance for themselves?

It’s not great, but man, the poster sure is. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Repost: Iron Angel (1964)

Editor’s Note: We originally enjoyed this movie back on March 22, 2020, as part of our review of Mill Creek’s Explosive Cinema 12-pack. Now it’s back as part of their B-Movie Blast 50-film pack.

Mill Creek Explosive Cinema set, you are one strange duck. You assault us with Crown International Pictures releases that have been seen by tens of people and then, in the middle of it all, give us a black and white war movie from the mid 60’s about women in combat. How do you do what you do?

North Korea: A bunch of citizen soldiers have to take out a mortar position and make it back to the safety of Uncle Sam, but that’s not as easy as it seems.

Jim Davis, Jock Ewing himself, leads the men. Don “Red” Barry, who played Red Ryder, shows up, as does Tristram Coffin (Rocket Man from King of the Rocket Men) and L.Q Jones, who we all know would someday make The Brotherhood of Satan and  A Boy and His Dog, films that just blow my mind for how astounding they are.

Director Ken Kennedy would go on to be the set decorator for Return to Boggy Creek. He also directed the women in danger movie The Velvet Trap and the 1990 version of The Legend of Grizzly Adams, which starred Gene Edwards as Grizzly. Who? He was one of the stuntmen from the TV series. L.Q. Jones is in that, too.

This would be Margo Woode’s last film, as she played heroine Nurse Lt. Laura Fleming.

A gung ho movie about Americans winning the war in Korea. So there’s that. You can download this from the Internet Archive if you want to see a war movie that just about no one else will watch in 2020.

B-Movies are explosive!!!