Un Fiume di Dollari (1966)

A River of Dollars was released in the U.S. as The Hills Run Red. It was directed by Carlo Lizzani (Crazy Joe) and shot at the Dino De Laurentiis Studios in Rome and in the newly constructed Western town set at Dinocitta.

After the Civil War, Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo, who narrated Black Sunday) and Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter*, Death Walks in Laredo) have stolen a wagon full of money before the law closes in. They cards to see who will take the fall and Jerry stays behind and gets sent to the brig for five years.

As he returns home, he learns that Seagull never helped his wife and child, which explains why his home is deserted. Even worse, when his villainous ex-partner sends a gang to kill him off. He’s helped by Winnie Getz (Dan Duryea, The Burglar), who tells Seagull that he’s killed Brewster, who goes along with this plan and takes the name Jim Houston.

Seagull had a very similar plan, as he’s now known as Ken Milton, and has hired a crazed killer named Garcia Mendez (Henry Silva). And oh yeah — Seagull killed our hero’s wife and had his son think that he was an orphan. Someone is gonna pay and that somebody is named Seagull. Or Milton.

This is a perfectly serviceable Italian western, livened up by Silva, who is always a great bad guy.

You can get this from Kino Lorber.

*This role was intended for Burt Reynolds.

Pánico (1966)

With a name like this, I just had to review this one.

It’s directed by Julián Soler, who also made Santo vs. Blue Demon in AtlantisEl Castillo de Los Monstruos and El Hombre y La Bestia, this is a three-part horror anthology.

The first story — Pánico — has nearly no dialogue, just a young girl (Ana Martin, who is in a movie I just have to track down — La Mujer del Diablo, as its a Mexican gothic occult movie directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna) being hunted as she runs through the woods, followed by a witch (Ofelia Guilmáin, The Exterminating Angel) with a knife. She keeps seeing the same three boys over and over again, as well as the doll of a child. At the end, she ends up strangling the witch and then dying within the real world, as she had been trapped in a mental institution after the three men we keep seeing had assaulted her, which cost her her unborn child.

In Soledad, Joaquín Cordero (Dr. Satan!) and José Gálvez (the devil in Macario) have just buried the body of a girl during a plague. They soon turn against one another and the hallucinations both suffer leave them — and you — wonder who is alive and who is dead.

Finally, the last story is Angustia, which is a cover version of Poe’s The Premature Burial with some comedic elements, as a scientist and his cat both ingest chemicals that make them seem dead. He’s played by Aldo Monti, who would go on to direct the giallo-esque Santo en Anónimo Mortal and an occult thriller called Seducción Sangrienta that I also need to track down. He spends much of this story trapped in his coffin, trying to get anyone to notice that he is still alive, including his wife (Alma Delia Fuentes, Blue Demon Destructor of Spies and Peligro…! Mujeres en Acción). By the end, he of course gets buried alive and then reincarnated as a catterpillar that his grieving wife steps on.

This was written by Ramón Obón, who has over a hundred script to his credit, including Las SicodélicasThe Empire of DraculaLa Señora MuerteSanto vs. Los LobasEl Látigo contra SatanásLa Furia de Los Karatecas and Terror y Encajes Negros.

Plenty of weird fun here and it feels really experimental. The short running time really helps, as unlike modern portmanteaus, it never drags.

The Golden Bat (1966)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article originally ran in Drive-In Asylum issue 20. You can get it right now on the Etsy store.

While many of us would consider the first superheroes to be Superman or Batman, the truth is that The Golden Bat (Ogon Batto) predates both of them by nearly a decade and is considered the world’s first comic book superhero. 

The character was created by sixteen-year-old Takeo Nagamatsu and twenty-five year-old Suzuki Ichiro in 1931. They were inspired by, of all things, Golden Bat cigarettes and the mythology department of Tokyo’s Ueno Royal Museum. However, they sought to create a hero based on science rather than magic. 

The Golden Bat made his debut in a traveling storytelling show known as kamishibai, which means paper play. He was so popular that after World War II, his adventures continued in both manga comics (including work by Osamu “The Father of Maga” Tezuka), anime and film.

I know you didn’t crack open this issue of DIA to read about obscure comics. So let me get to the reason why I’ve picked Ogon Batto to spotlight. The first live-action film starring this character was made by Toei — yes, the same studio that brought you The Green Slime, Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion and Message from Space — in 1966. 

While made in the same year that the Batmania craze was spreading like wildfire, this film is a strange mix of movie serial and Eurospy with a watchful eye toward the sentai shows that would dominate Japanese kids TV by the late 70’s. 

Professor Yamatone (Sonny Chiba, eight years before he’d make The Street Fighter for this very same studio) and his family have taken a visit to Egypt. While exploring the tomb of a legendary god of justice — you guessed it, Ogon Bat — the agents of Dr. Erich Nazo take Yamatone captive. This has something to do with Nazo’s home planet Icarus being drawn toward Earth to destroy it and a giant robot that he keeps under the sea.

As his daughter Mari begins to wail and plead for her father’s life, her tears fall into the Golden Bat’s tomb and bring him 10,000 years forward into our time from his native land of Atlantis.

This would be a strange origin story to start with, but it’s the design of Golden Bat that makes it sublime. He’s literally an aurum-armored warrior with a face like, well, a skull. He looks like the villain of the piece, more Kriminal than Superman. He pretty much invented the bat-signal, casting a giant gold bat and his laughter before each battle, before a large golden skull appears as he does. Most fights between Golden Bat and his adversaries end with most of them dead, which is strange for a hero who fights for small children.

He’s also incredibly similar to Fantomas, a fact not lost on Italian and Brazilian audiences, which renamed him as Fantaman and Fantomas respectively. Even cooler, this movie was released in Italy as Il ritorno di Diavolik or The Return of Diavolik. Deep deep down, indeed.

This is probably the point in which I should explain that the insidious Dr. Nazo looks like a giant stuffed bear with four eyes and a giant mechanical claw for a hand. His agents all have burned up faces, deploy tricks like gigantic hypno-wheels and have no compunctions menacing young children and old people.

Director Hajime Satô was also behind the senses-shattering Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell. Just imagine the weirdness of that movie, but instead harnessing it to create a superhero movie for kids. Now you have a good idea of what to expect here.

Keep an eye out for Andrew Hughes, a Turkish-born import/export businessman who inexplicably became a Japanese movie star. He was on speed dial — yes, Japanese directors had that way before we knew what it was — for anyone who wanted a Western-looking face in their film, showing up in everything from King Kong Escapes and Destroy All Monsters to Crazy Adventure, where he played Adolf Hitler. 

Sure, Golden Bat has every superpower ever — and then some — but this movie flies, making you never even realize that seventy-plus minutes of aliens, lighting-blasting staffs and skullman versus robot fisticuffs have battered your brain into jelly. 

Of course, Golden Bat’s story — not in this film, mind you — ends like every Japanese hero story ever, with both the protagonist and his arch-nemesis dead. There’s something in the Japanese culture that demands that each of its monster heroes must pay the price for their daring-do in blood. 

But The Golden Bat will return. Even death can’t hold him in her grasp when a young girl’s tears call from beyond, after all.

You can watch this movie on YouTube.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

You can’t really judge Mario Bava’s work on this film, as he entered a troubled production and rewrote and reshot it in just six days.

After the apparent death of her husband King Arald (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, The Crimes of the Black Cat, here called Frank Stewart), Karin (Elissa Pichelli, using the Americanized name Lisa Wagner) has run from the murderous Hagen (Fausto Tozzi, billed as Frank Ross). Now, Rurik, a knife-throwing stranger (Cameron Mitchell, using the name…well…Cameron Mitchell) has rode into town like a Roman Shane and is defending her and her son Moki. Of course, Moki may also have been his son and he could very well have assaulyed Karin in the past, but I guess him learning how to throw knives — and aiming them at the right people — is some kind of redemption?

This is much closer to a western than a peblum, but when you think that Bava pretty much fixed this movie — or at least got it done — in less than a week, you have to admire his talent. That said, this is not one of his best.

This played on double bills with Gamera the Invincible, which seems like a pairing I’d never put together. It’s on Tubi, but fair warning, the print is horrible.

Drive-In Friday: Elvis Racing Nite!

Hopefully you joined us — and enjoyed — our “Fast and Furious Week” tribute during the first week of August as we honored the Universal franchise, along with its ripoffs and knockoffs, and the obscure and off-beat, rubber-burning drive-in epics from the ’50s through the ’80s that influenced the those films.

And guess what?

That 40-plus film blowout still wasn’t enough . . . as one car flick skidded into another, then another . . . and before we knew it, we had another 40-plus reviews. So, to get you ready for our second “Fast and Furious Week” to run from Sunday, December 6, to Saturday, December 12, we’re rollin’ out Elvis’s car racing trilogy.

Facts are facts: Elvis flicks served us heaping helpings of cheesy camp starring “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in a wide array of professions. He was a convict, a boxer, a cowboy, a riverboat captain, a helicopter pilot, and a cowboy — who always found the time to sway his hips and sing his latest hits for a bevy of skintight, carpi-panted ladies. And road racing, be it stock cars, Grand Prix or road rally racers, was a hot sport in the ’60s. So why not place Elvis in a flame retardant suit, strap on a helmet, and slip him into a cockpit?

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

The best and most popular of Elvis’s race excursions was his role as Lucky Jackson. He’s a down-and-out waiter and aspiring racer who dreams, schemes, and parties with Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret) as he gathers up the cash to buy a new engine for his cherished Elva Mk VI Maserati so he can enter the First Annual Las Vegas Grand Prix. His man competition is mean ol’ Count Elmo Mancini and his Ferrari 250 GT. And Yep. That’s good ‘ol Uncle Charlie (William Demarest) from the iconic ’60s TV series My Three Sons as Ann’s pop.

And get this: the music and dance scenes were choreographed by David Winters . . . yes, the very same David Winters who gave us — wow, it’s not even a Star Wars dropping — the Battlestar Galatica pile that is 1988’s Space Mutiny.

Only on B&S About Movies, baby.

Spinout (1966)

Poor Elvis. Col. Tom Parker never let The King rest. But in Col. Tom’s defense: he was a master at keeping Elvis in the spotlight while he was overseas serving in the military. After Viva Las Vegas, we got seven more films within a two year period: Kissin’ Cousins, Roustabout, Girl Happy, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, Frankie and Johnny, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style.

This time out, El is Mike McCoy, a band leader moonlighting as a race car driver who must decide between breaking up with Cynthia Foxhugh (Shelley Fabares) or lose her father’s sponsorship for the big race. This time, El’s trades out his Elva Mk VI for a Cobra 427. And keep your eyes peeled for the eye pleasing ski n’ snow bunnies that are Diane McBain — who’s determined to steal Mike from Cindy — and crushed on by his band’s female drummer, played Deborah Walley.

Speedway (1968)

MGM went all out for El’s third and final race flick, casting NASCAR stars Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Tiny Lund, and Cale Yarbrough in cameos — to help us forget we’re watching a film comprised of stock footage with El process-shot onto the race track. This time out, El is Steve Grayson, a stock racer who only has eyes for IRS Agent Susan Jacks (Nancy Sinatra) and sees his career going up in smoke thanks to bad bookkeeping courtesy of his manager’s gambling addiction. And keep your eyes open for Bill Bixby and ’60s drive-in warhorse Ross Hagan in support roles.

“We gotta win this race, Elvis!”

We’ll see you bright and early, 9 AM, on Monday, December 6th as we roll out a week of over 40 more road rippin’ and rubber burnin’ flicks, as well as a “Drive-In Friday” tribute to Drag Racing documentaries.


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

WILLIAM GREFE WEEK: The Devil’s Sisters (1966, finished in 2012)

William Grefe’s roughie The Devil’s Sisters was lost for some time, but luckily, we can all watch it (and know how it ends, as eight minutes of the last reel are missing and not even Gréfe can find one of the 34 other prints that were made of the film, other than the one he got from a German collector).

Teresa leaves behind her cop boyfriend who only cares about the carnal and heads to Tijuana for a job as a maid, which of course means that she ends up locked up on the bedroom of the evil Rita, serving her male customers and shedding her virginal past. How poetic — or horrid — is it when her man shows up and he calls her a whore instead of trying to save her?

Now that the law knows that she’s been taken, our heroine is taken to The Ranch, a place where pregnant streetwalkers are kept behind bars and the barbed wire Royal Marriage Bed is used to punish those foolhardy enough to try and escape.

Also known as Sisters of the Devil, this film has some real-life ties. It’s loosely based on the story of Las Poquianchis, in which Delfina and María de Jesús González used help wanted ads to find young women, got them hooked on drugs and then tricked them out.

I really enjoyed hearing Gréfe talk over the storyboards and wish the whole film had been done this way!

Sisters of the Devil is available on Arrow Video’s He Came from the Swamp box set. Diabolik DVD should have it in stock.

WILLIAM GREFE WEEK: Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

If you didn’t have enough of teenagers in the Everglades screwing with forces they didn’t quite comprehend in Grefe’s Sting of Death — which was the other part of a double bill with this film — then good news! Four students on an archaeology assignment decide that it would be a great idea to have a shindig on the grave of Tartu, an ancient Native American medicine man.

Frank Weed, who played Sam in this, owned all of the animals that Tartu comes back from beyond within. He did not own the stock footage that was also used for some of these animals, nor his own voice, as he was dubbed for this movie.

Somehow, Tartu has the power set of your average mummy villain, except you know, he turns into animals. One of those animals is a “lake shark,” which I had to look up, and learned that true freshwater sharks can be found in fresh water in Asia and Australia, as well as bull sharks, which can swim in both salt and fresh water and are mostly found in tropical rivers. Actually, bull sharks have been found as far north as Illinois. Yet another reason why the Everglades are totally terrifying.

Why Tartu’s weakness is mud — when he makes his home in the Florida swamps — is beyond me. Man, who knows? This is kind of a nature film, you know, except for all the killing of teens after they dance. It’s got a great name. an awesome poster and really, isn’t that all it needs?

If you want to see it for yourself, you can find this movie on the new Arrow Video He Came from the Swamp set that you can grab from Diabolik DVD.

WILLIAM GREFE WEEK: Sting of Death (1966)

Sold as a double bill with William Grefé’s Death Curse of Tartu, this is Florida regional drive-in exploitation at its absolute best. I mean, sure there are plenty of movies where sea creatures rise to the beach to menace near-nude girls, but do any of them have Neil Sedaka* belting out “Do the Jellyfish?”

Shot on the very same Rainbow Springs that were once attacked by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, this starts off hot, with a hand reaching up from the depths of the ocean to murder an innocent young girl who just wants to listen to her radio.

A bunch of college kids — well, one of them is a doctor and his assistant, but come on, this is basically a slasher in the swamps — just want to drink orange drink and make fun of Egon, their host’s helper with the scary face. Why, it’s enough for a man to turn himself into a half-human, half-jellyfish maniac who knows how to use an axe when he isn’t sending an entire armada of Portuguese Man O’ War jellyfish to kill everyone.

And yeah, he does have a giant jellyfish in a tank and a head shaped like one. This is that kind of movie. That kind of awesome movie where the killer has obviously flippers on and a giant inflatable head.

You can get this on the He Came from the Swamp set that Arrow Video just released. It’s available at Diabolik DVD.

*They may have advertised special singing star Neil Sedaka, but they never promised you he’d show up, did they?

Gunman Called Nebraska (1966)

One of the joys of the deep dives that I do into film genres is when they cross over. It’s like I’m reuniting with an old friend when a director or actor appears in more than one category.

That means that I’m overjoyed to say hello again to Ken Clark, who played Secret Agent Dick Mallory in Agent 077: Mission Bloody Mary, Agent 077: From the Orient with Fury and Special Mission Lady Chaplin, as well as appearing in Tiffany Memorandum and Attack of the Giant Leeches.

As Ringo del Nebraska, this but one of thirty movies or more that use the name Ringo, in the hopes that you will think that it’s a sequel to either A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. It’s also known as Savage Gringo.

Spanish director Antonio Román started the film and producer Fulvio Lucisano claims that he fired him before he could finish, replacing him with Mario Bava. Lamberto Bava and actor Howard Ross (who is in the Fulci films Warriors of the Year 2072 and The New York Ripper as well as many more movies) claim that Mario was not there and only did the matte paintings. That said, Lamberto is listed as an assistant director, so the idea that this movie was shot all in Spain can’t be true.

This movie also has the title Prepare to Die, Ringo From Nebraska – I Am Sartana, which ties it into yet another Italian Western series! It was sold to American-International Pictures Television, which is where the Savage Gringo title comes in.

If you’re wondering — why has Sam been discussing the titles of the film and who directed it more than the actual film — well, once you watch it, you’ll figure that out for yourself.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Massacre Time (1966)

Massacre Time was originally supposed to be an Italian-Spanish co-production with Ringo co-star George Martin playing Tom Corbett. According to Troy Howarth’s book Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, the Spanish side withdrew their involvement and funding after Fulci refused to tone down the script’s violence.

Fulci instead cast Nero at the suggestion of his assistant director, Giovanni Fago, based on his look from the production stills of the recently completed Django. George Hilton was cast in the other lead and had difficulty dealing with Fulci as a director.

This was written by Fernando Di Leo, who co-wrote A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo, with the title taken from Franco Enna’s book Tempo di Massacaro.

Speaking of the violence in this film, Fulci would later claim that he pushed Di Leo to make the film as violent as possible, which Di Leo refuted, stating “I don’t know anything about Fulci’s claims that he insisted that I write a very violent movie. Fulci only directed well what was already on the page. The script was good and ready and he liked it the way it was, otherwise I’d have complied to his demand if there had been any”.

Nero and Hilton play the Corbett brothers, with Tom (Nero) coming back to their hometown to find it under the iron rule of Mr. Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati, billed as John MacDouglas for American audiences; he’s also in Nightmare Castle) and his son, Junior Scott (Nino Castelnuovo, Strip Nude for Your Killer).

Linda Sini is also in this. She also is in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling as Bruno’s mother.

Although an English-language version was made, AIP made their own dub of the film and released it as The Brute and the Beast, making it one of only two Italian Westerns released in the U.S. by the studio (the other is God Forgives… I Don’t!). In the UK, this is known as Colt Concert and in Denmark and West Germany, it was released as Djangos seksløber er lov (Django’s Six-Runner Is Legal) and Django – Sein Gesangbuch war der Colt (Django – His Hymnbook was the Colt). My favorite alternate title has to be what it was called in Hong Kong, Ghost Gun God Whip, and Spain, Las Pistolas Cantaron su Muerte (y fue Tiempo de Matanza) (The Pistols Sang His Death (and it was Time for the Killing).

You can watch this on YouTube.