I first encountered Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby, Kill — or Operazione Paura (Operation Fear) — as all great movies should be encountered: in the foggy evening at a drive-in after none too few beers and other intoxicants. The only downside of this movie is that I can’t get back the feeling I had when I saw it the first time.
This movie was Bava’s return to gothic horror, yet it had no budget to speak of, reusing music from other films and with the maestro probably not even being paid for his work. In fact, the entire cast and crew worked for free to finish the film. The budget was so tight that instead of using a crane for one shot, Bava had to make due with a seesaw.
In the U.S., it was released as Curse of the Living Dead, which isn’t anywhere near as great of a title.
Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Knives of the Avenger) has been sent to a small village to perform an autopsy on Irene Hollander, who has died of mysterious circumstances. Medical student Monica Schufftan (Erika Blanc, The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave) has been assigned as a witness; she soon sees something horrifying as a silver coin is inside the dead woman’s heart.
There’s also a ghostly little girl who either frightens people or convinces them to kill themselves. She’s Melissa Graps — actually played by the son of Bava’s concierge Valerio Valeri — the daughter of a baroness who is punishing the town. And Monica may be more involved in this strange town and these spectral doings than she can imagine.
As shocking as a child urging people to impale themselves and slash their own throats is today, I can only imagine how shocking it was in 1966. This movie has moments that feel like pieces of a dream, like when Eswai chases himself continually through the same endlessly repeating room.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John A. Frazier is absolutely crazy about the movies. In fact, he has been known to go crazy at the movies, too.
It’s New Year’s Eve and on the Gamma 1 space station the party is in full swing. There’s a “Space Spectacular” wherein Commander Michael Halstead’s crew take to the stars in space suits, link their bodies and spell out “Happy New Year.” It is a raucous affair going all night. At one point one officer is found buzzing around outside, drunk as a skunk. The officer who brings him inside says, “He’s drunker than a miner on Mars!”
As the revelers continue celebrating, the Delta 2 space station is attacked by strange lights. When Halstead sends men to investigate, the people they find are frozen stiff.
“Seems like they all died from fright,” reports back one rescue team member. They realize some of the frozen people are still alive.
The attack is the result of the Diaphanoids, malevolent creatures made of light.
“You can’t stop them. They’re lights but they have shape. They’re more than light! They’re things! They’re things!”
Then the Delta 2 space station completely disappears, followed by Alpha 1 and Alpha 2 space stations also disappearing.
Back on Gamma 1, when the Diaphanoids attack, Commander Halstead moves everyone into a room fortified with lead titanium walls. It is a move that saves their lives. “They can’t get through. That was my hunch.” A couple blasts of radiation send the Diaphanoids scurrying away.
Captain Dubois is commandeered by the aliens. His body is used as a vessel to communicate with the humans. He takes Michael Halstead and his crew to their planet. (Connie Gomez has also been taken to the alien’s planet. Connie and Michael constantly bicker like a couple of little kids, but they seem to like one another.)
General Halstead, Michael’s father, gives Michael and his men a small window of time to save as many abducted people from the alien planet before he blows it up.
Halstead and his troops locate Delta 2 personnel tossed away like garbage on the alien’s mining planet. Any living bodies are serving as hosts for the aliens.
Time is ticking away and General Halstead is hot to press the button that will blow the Diaphanoid’s planet out of the cosmos.
Will Michael Halstead save Connie Gomez and the others from the clutches of the Diaphanoids? Will he survive to live another outer space adventure? Will he keep bickering with Connie Gomez if he gets her to safety?
I won’t spoil the fun this science fiction comic adventure delivers. War of the Planets is a fun Italian space opera that is part of a four chapter series. The other movies in the series include Wild, Wild Planet (1966), War Between the Planets(1966) and The Snow Devils (1967). They are all pulp space tales of heroic men of action and women in peril, told just before man actually walked on the moon.
The miniature effects are pretty fun, the space fashions are shiny, and the interior sets are colorful and mod. Not the entire same cast is in all the movies of the series, as the Gamma 1 space station is the main continuity throughout the series. All of the films were directed by Antonio Margheriti, who used the name Anthony Dawson.
I encourage you to give these films a watch, especially if you are a fan of pulpy 60’s space adventures. War of the Planets, Wild, Wild Planet and The Snow Devils are all available on the Warner Brothers Archive Collection DVD-Rs. War Between the Planets is available on a double feature disc with Creation of the Humanoids by Dark Sky Films.
(I don’t know how familiar fans are with these movies. From what I could locate, these movies don’t seem to have had much of a Home Video presence. I could only dig up an old Midnight Madness VHS copy of War Between the Planets, which was released under the TV title Planet on the Prowl, from Montgomery Home Video, from the mid 80’s. Before these DVD/DVD-R releases, I could only find that Wild, Wild Planethad been released on Laserdisc by MGM.)
Bert I. Gordon was known as “Mister B.I.G.” which was a reference to both to his initials and to his preference for directing movies with giant-sized monsters and people like The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast and Attack of the Puppet People.
His daughter Susan Gordon appears in this movie as well. This was her last film role, as she also was in four of Gordon’s other films: the aforementioned Attack of the Puppet People, The Boy and the Pirates and Tormented.
In this film, which originally aired on December 3, 1969 on ABC, Susan plays Susan Shelley, who believes that her father Edward (Don Ameche!) killed her mother Jessica (Zsa Zsa Gabor!). After three years in a convent, she’s reunited with her father and his new wife, her former governess Francene (Martha Hyer, The House of 1,000 Dolls).
Soon, she’s being gaslit by visions of her mother set ablaze and pushed toward insanity, all so that the rest of the family can inherit mommy’s money.
Maxwell Reed is made up with scars to portray Anthony, the caretaker who tried to save Jessica. He was the first wife of Joan Collins in real life and she’d later accuse him of drugging her and taking advantage of it on their very first date.
Wendell Corey (The Astro-Zombies) also shows up as an attorney and Signe Hasso, who was once promoted as the next Garbo, plays a nun.
Hedy Lamarr was originally cast in ty Zsa Zsa Gabor’s role, but she was fired when she was arrested at a Los Angeles department store for shoplifting an $86 pair of slippers. Gene Tierney was originally going to play Francene Shelley but dropped out, as did Merle Oberon.
It was filmed in the legendary Greystone Mansion, which has been host to plenty of films, such as Batman and Robin, The Big Lebowski, Death Becomes Her, Flowers in the Attic, Phantom of the Paradise and The Witches of Eastwick. The home was unfurnished, but Gordon was able to get all of the furnishings from newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s New York City apartment to fill it.
This is an interesting little TV movie, with no real people to root for, but plenty of great fashions and colors. It’s almost like a little American giallo, except you know, Burt I. Gordon is no Mario Bava. That said, it’s a fun little escape.
About the Author: You
can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his
rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook. He also writes
for B&S Movies.
Are you in the mood
for a hammy n’ macabre horror flick of the worst Ed Woodian proportions, rife
with bad puns and pratfalls (“Mort the Mortician” takes a Three Stooges-inspired
tumble on skateboard) punctuated by trombone “Wah-Wah-waaaahhhhhhs” that would
give Benny Hill or Paul Hogan pause? Do you have a hankering for a hokey
Sweeney Todd knockoff?
graphic-rubbery violence via bloody store-mannequin legs—punctuated by
kidnapping, murder and cannibalism that makes the one-take scenes of Night of the Ghouls look like The Exorcist?
Well, how about a film
starring an ex-TV Batman (no, it’s not Adam West)?
Damn, this is hard
How about a film
starring an ex-husband of Kim Darby (who our young hearts crushed on via the
1973 TV horror, Don’t
Be Afraid of the Dark) who got top billing in an ‘80s Halloween rip, Don’t Answer the Phone, co-starring with
the guy who forced Buttermaker to coach the Bad News Bears (Ben Frank)?
Yes, we have better things to do with 63-minutes of our lives. And it would be longer if not for the original cut of the film being banned and its graphic, sans one scene, stock-footage of real surgeries being removed, resulting in this shorter Mill Creek TV edit. (No print of the unedited version is known to exist . . . and not worth searching for, anyway.)
The truth is: If The Undertaker and his Pals hadn’t lived far beyond its shelf-life, courtesy of early ‘70s Drive-In double bills with the somewhat similar The Corpse Grinders (people turned into cat food) and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which left youthful impressions on the future members of the Misfits and the Gravediggaz, as well as Rob Zombie, no one would have bothered to search out this cinematic tombstone. (For those of you who didn’t know: The Misfits used the movie’s posters in their promotional materials, while the Gravediggaz and Rob Zombie sampled lines from the movie into their songs “Rest in Peace” (6 Feet Deep) and “What Lurks on Channel X” (Hellbilly Duluxe), respectively.)
Ah, the rock ‘n’
roll connection of the film got your attention.
Let’s fire up The Undertaker and his Pals!
Lowery, television’s second Batman, burned through a marriage with noted ‘40s
actress Jean Parker (she co-starred with Lon Chaney in the ‘40s film-noir
piece, Dead Man’s Eyes) and
co-starred with future Monkee Mickey Dolenz in the late-‘50s series, Circus Boy. But once the guest TV roles dried
up, and Lowery landed in “The Case of the Cannibal Restaurateur,” he saw the
writing on the wall. After starring in a forgettable western-comedy, 1967’s The Ballad of Josie—he retired from the
The heartthrob star
and ex of Kim Darby in this horror-parody, James Westmoreland (as Detective
Harry Glass) started out in the biz as “Rad Fulton”—his agent’s answer to Rock
Hudson. Outside of a short-lived ‘60s TV western, The Monroes (when he began using his birth name professionally),
his career never rose beyond bit parts in TV series and films. Don’t Answer the Phone was his biggest—and final movie; he retired
after one-off episodes on T.J Hooker
and The New Mike Hammer.
responsible for paring the Batman and the star of Bonanza, I mean The Monroes,
in this Herschell Gordon Lewis laugh (not so funny) fest?
Writer-director T.L.P Swicegood started out promising enough. He adapted Robert Sheckley’s human-smuggling adventure, Escape from Hell Island; a film which everyone forgets in the Sheckley oeuvre. (Sheckley’s books: The Prize of Peril, Immortality, Inc., and The Game of X served as the framework for The Running Man, Freejack, and Condorman, respectively). Then Swicegood got the idea of doing a comedy rip on what’s considered as the first “splatter film”: Hershell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast (1963). It was Swicegood’s final film. Oh, and speaking of “final films,” the cinematographer on this one, Andrew Janzack, also never directed another movie . . . after the mess that was Terror in the Jungle (also on Mill Creek’s Pure Terror Box Set; be sure to check out our recap of all the films).
“Are you going to
get to the plot or am I going to have to hit the IMDb?” says the disgruntled
B&S Movies reader.
Okay, so there are
these, three they-aren’t-Alfred Hitchcock-Norman Bates psychos on Fonzi-cycles—courtesy
of, it seems, sepia-toned stock footage clipped from another movie. So The Dork
Angels speed around town for three minutes of padding, you know, so as to get
the film’s running time beyond one hour. What? They’re talking on phones in
wide angel shots? What are they saying? Who are they calling?
Finally! We’re in
color for the shot-footage and have our first kill! The “biker toughs” kill Sally
Lamb, a blonde Marilyn Monroe-clone kewpie doll during a home invasion—and
steal her legs. “Leg of Lamb” is tomorrow’s special. (You see the juvenile “jokes”
of this film?)
So in steps not-so-dirty Harry Glass to solve (Da-duh-Dun) “The Mystery of the Bargain Basement Lucio Fulci Gore Murders,” AKA “Who Keeps Killing My Secretaries and Is Setting Me Up?” And big surprise: Harry ain’t Jim Rockford, so the bodies are going under the cleaver, through the meat grinders, and taking acid baths with frequency.
In steps victim #2:
Harry’s replacement secretary: Ann Poultry. (Ugh.) Oops, Ann threatened Spike,
the cannibal diner’s owner, with the ‘ol “I’m calling the Health Department”
“Oh, yeah, Sally
Fei. Well, I may have jerked off to you when you played a sexy robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Binkini Bombs, but
this (CHOP!) is for taking my money
for Women of the Prehistoric Planet,”
says Spike. Yep, Sally Fei has become tomorrow’s “Fried Chicken Special.” (Insert
“Hey, how come you
guys never place any meat on your store order,” says the soon-to-be-meat-cleaved-to-the-head,
ethnic grocery delivery guy. “You’re just a greasy spoon fry cook. Why are you
reading medical text books?”
Thanks ethic grocery
delivery guy: patrons now have a choice between white and dark meat for their chicken
dinner. (The film’s dialog-joke, not mine; insert trombone.)
“Hey, wait a second,
you Jayne Mansfield clone,” says P.I Harry Glass. “You look like that actress
Warrene Ott who—not once, but three times—played Jethro Bodean’s love interest
on the Beverly Hillbillies during a three year period. Couldn’t you get any
“Hey! I did a Bewitched, too. By the way, my character’s
name is Friday. I guess they wanted Tuesday Weld for the role and couldn’t get
her,” says Warrene.
“Did you read the
script, Warrene? It’s a ‘joke,’ because you’ll be ‘Friday’s Special’ at the
cannibal diner down the street.”
“Oh, you’re making
me hungry, Mr. Glass,” Warrene flirts.
“Well, why don’t
you go down to the corner cannibal diner for a Hamburger?” the clueless Harry
whiff later: cue the “scary” surgery stock footage as Doc gets his jollies
fondling the internal organs of Jethro’s old squeeze and Spike caulks up “Hamburger
Special” on the menu.
So, besides ripping
off Hershell Gordon Lewis, what in the hell is going on here? Are they building
a Henenlotter-style Frankenhooker in
the kitchen? Reviving an Aztec God? Preparing for an Egyptian ritual? Is Mort
the Mortician a Nazi War Criminal with Hilter’s head in the freezer? (In this
lone paragraph, I just synop’d a better movie that the actual movie I’m
Nope. It’s a
bilk-the-bereaved funeral scam. Yawn.
Turn out, business is slow and no one is “paying for the extras.” So Mort, the not-so-Tall Man of the Morningside of these proceedings, AKA The Shady Rest Funeral Home (“Free Trading Stamps with each burial,” proclaims the banner over the front door), is one of the motorcycle toughs. His “Burke and Hare” are Spike, who owns the local greasy spoon, AKA The Greasy Spoon Diner (ugh), and Spike’s Jethro “I’m gonna be a surgeon someday with my 6th grade education” dopey brother, Doc. Thus: Doc gets free surgery practice, Spike gets free meat, and Mort gets bodies to embalm—and “sticker shock” on the extras, because, well, you know, it’s harder to embalm someone without arms or legs and it costs more.
“What the hell? Why
did you guys tie me up over this vat with a fog machine inside?” says Spike.
“Didn’t you read
the script? That’s a vat of acid. Just scream as we lower you into it.”
“Oh, okay, and what
happens to you, Doc?”
“Oh, I do a head-on
with a truck on my motorcycle when I botch a kidnapping attempt on Warrene
arrrhgh-aah-ahhhahaha,” screams Spike entering the fog machine’s belch. “You
mean the chick that played Friday? I thought we turned her into Friday’s ‘Hamburger
Special,’ in the last scene.
“No, Warrene plays two
characters in the film,” says Mort the Dork.
And where’s “Clint”
in all this mayhem?
‘Ol Rad Fulton-Westmoreland manages to get himself killed via throwing-a-smoke-bomb-and-metal-crap-through-an-opened-door-crack-and-cue-the-bomb-explosion-sound-effect rigged by the bumbling Mort the Undertaker. Seriously, that’s what happens. Rad walks out the door . . . and he’s gone . . . and I seriously think he quit the film and Swicegood said, “Screw it, he’ll die in a paint can bomb explosion because I can’t afford the pipe to make a pipe bomb.”
And what happens to
that ‘ol horn dog, Mort?
Well, since he’s
the last man standing from the Morningside Marauders, he falls off a building rooftop
trying kidnap Warrene #2, again. But wait, he’s alive?
“Hey, are you going
to need me for anything else? I booked a Gunsmoke,” says Robert Lowery.
“Yeah, Robert. We
need to end this movie and R.D needs to go. So take this knife and stab this
“Don’t worry, Mort’s behind it, ready to kill you. It’s
called ‘irony,’ it’ll be funny.”
“Wow, I was in Circus Boy, and this fuck fest is all I
can get? I’m retiring,” says Robert Lowery vanishing behind the curtain.
don’t go. You get Warrene in the funny epilog. She even eats a hamburger as the
credits roll,” says T.L.P Swicegood.
And with that, I’m
going to have a Big Ott and and Six Pack of Sally Fei-Nuggets.
DAY 7. DAIKAIJU: The bigger the better. Who needs a city anyway?
Today’s theme is close to my heart. As a young kid in the 1970’s, WFMJ-TV 21 in Youngstown, Ohio played monster movies every night at 1 AM (or later, if Tom Snyder was on). They only had so many Godzilla films before they’d run out and have to run a secondary Toho franchise.
Yes, this movie is a franchise, the sequel to 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World. Instead of Nick Adams, this time we have Russ Tamblyn as the American star. This is the third and final film that Toho would collaborate with Henry G. Saperstein on (in addition to the Frankenstein, they also made Invasion of Astro-Monster together).
Saperstein was an interesting guy — he specialized in licensing, working with Col. Tom Parker as Elvis Presley’s licensing agent as well as creating and selling merchandise for Debbie Reynolds, Rosemary Clooney, Chubby Checker and the Three Stooges. He’d go on to syndicate golf and bowling shows in the infancy of TV, as well as buying UPA, the studio that made Mr.Magoo. He led them to syndicating the Dick Tracy TV show, another merchandising goldmine. He also purchased the rights to the Japanese spy spoof Kokusai Himitsu Keisatsu: Kagi noKagi (International Secret Police: Key of Keys), which became What’s Up, Tiger Lily? with help from Woody Allen.
At the end of 1965, Toho informed director Ishiro Honda that his director’s contract would not be renewed, despite successes like the original Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, the unstoppable Destroy All Monsters, Rodan, Mothra and many more. Of course, he kept directing for Toho, but now there was the stress of wondering if each job would be his last.
To add to that stress, it’s said that Russ Tamblyn and Honda were often at odds, with the American actor refusing to read his lines. Honda’s chief assistant, Seiji Tani (who would go on to be the second unit director for Destroy All Monsters) would tell the authors of Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa: “Honda-san had to hold back and bear so much during that one. Russ Tamblyn was such an asshole.”
I don’t know how much you know of Japanese culture, but for someone to go on record saying such a thing is a major deal. For what it’s worth, Saperstein would later say that Tamblyn was “a royal pain in the ass.” As all of his lines were dubbed in Japanese, the American actor had to go back and redub the US version. He forgot all of the words, so what’s in the film is completely improvised. If only Tab Hunter, the original actor picked for this movie, stuck around.
The film was originally announced as The Frankenstein Brothers, then The Two Frankensteins, Frankenstein vs. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Decisive Battle and Frankenstein’s Fight. Regardless of the title, this is one of my favorite Toho films. I’m not the only one. Brad Pitt has gone on record saying it’s the reason why he wanted to become an actor. The battle between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill: Volume 2 was called the “War of the Blonde Gargantuas,” with Tarantino screening the film for Hannah. And both Tim Burton, Nicholas Cage and Guillermo del Toro cite the film as one of their favorites.
Maybe it’s because of the scene where Kipp Hamilton sings “The Words Get Caught In My Throat,” which ends with one of the titular beasts grabbed her as she finishes her act. Has any monster movie been this gleefully crazy? I mean, would Devo cover any other monster movie song?
It all begins on a dark and stormy night, as a fishing boat is attacked by a giant octopus, which is then destroyed by a green giant who proceeds to decimate the boat. Only one survivor makes it, telling the authorities that it was Frankenstein.
The press picks up the story and interviews Dr. Paul Stewart (Tamblyn) and his assistant, Dr. Akemi Togawa (Kumi Mizuno, who starred in plenty of kaiju epics), who once had a baby Frankenstein in their possession.
Yes, in the original film, Frankenstein was born in a very strange way. German officers had taken the heart of the original Frankenstein’s monster from Dr. Riesendorf and sent it to Hiroshima for further experimentation. Of course, once the bomb dropped, the beast was irradiated and became a feral boy running loose through the streets, eating small animals and becoming immune to radiation. He eventually becomes a giant and battles Baragon, who would go onto appear in many Toho films (you can also see his skull in Pacific Rim Uprising).
There end up being two beasts in this one: Sanda, who is the original from the first film and Gaira, a piece of tissue that was torn off, made its way to the sea and fed off plankton until it grew into giant form. The new creature hates humans and is hurt by daylight, while Sanda attempts to save people.
The final battle, as the two monsters fight into Tokyo Bay, is amazing. Their skirmish is so violent, an underwater volcano ends up taking both of them out. Sadly, there would be no third film in the series, despite rumors that one of them would battle Godzilla in an upcoming film.
There are multiple American versions of this film, with the Saperstein cut removing all references to Frankenstein Conquers the World and the creatures called gargantuas instead of Frankensteins.
Haruo Nakajima, who played Godzilla in 11 of the original 15 movies, has claimed Gaira as his favorite role, as the costume was very easy to move in and his eyes were visible, allowing him to show more emotion.
I have a test as to whether or not I can be friends with someone. If they watch a kaiju movie and make fun of how cheap it is or how fake it looks, they have no imagination. In my mind, this movie looks incredible, with huge sets and intricate monster costumes. I’ve watched this hundreds of times and it gets better with every single viewing.
David Hewitt started his career as an illusionist for a traveling spook show called Dr. Jekyll’s Strange Show before Forrest J. Ackerman helped get him into movies by getting his script Journey Into the Unknownmade into The Time Travellers. His directing debut was 1965’s Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, a movie where actors would run into the audience to enhance the film’s antics.
He also directed Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors, which had a title way too close to Amicus’ Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, so it also ran as Return from the Past, The Blood Suckers, Alien Massacre, The Witch’s Clock and Gallery of Horror. He also directed Hell’s Chosen Few, The Mighty Gorga (he’s also Gorga, the giant ape) and The Tormentors. Later in his career, he moved into optical effects, working on films as varied as Inspector Gadget 2, Willow and The Quiet American.
Today, we’re here to talk about bikers vs moonshiners vs. the syndicate vs. the government exploitation film The Girls From Sunset Strip.
The screenplay for this film came from Pat Boyette, a news anchor in San Antonio, Texas who went on to become the producer of a daytime talk show, a puppet show and TV commercials. Turning to comics, Boyette worked mainly for Charlton Comics, where his character the Peacemaker — he loves peace so much he’ll kill for it — became the inspiration for the Comedian in Watchmen. He wrote and drew hundreds of comics for Charlton, including s Ghost Manor, Ghostly Tales, Space Adventures, The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, Cheyenne Kid, Korg: 70,000 B.C., Flash Gordon, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, The Phantom and The Six Million Dollar Man. He was also responsible for writing and directing films like No Man’s Land, The Dungeon of Harrow and The Weird Ones.
Three hillbilly girls — Red, Jessie and Lil — take on three bikers, led by Teach (Gary Kent, The Black Klansman) and aided by Animal and Todd. Of all people, Casey Kasem plays the government man, Conrad, while Jack Starrett (Race with the Devil, Cleopatra Jones) is the sheriff. The hero is Pike, who is played by Jody McCrea. He was in a ton of beach movies, including Operation Bikini, Beach Blanket Bingo and How To Stuff a Wild Bikini. Interestingly enough, he was the only American International Pictures actor who could actually surf. And oh yeah — Bing Crosby’s son Lindsay is in this.
But we’re here to talk about the girls, because this movie isn’t called The Boys From Thunder Strip. Red is played by Maray Ayres, who is also in The Cycle Savages and looks a lot like Mary Woronov. Jessie is Megan Timothy, who appeared in three of Hewitt’s films, as well as Al Damanson and Bud Cardos’ The Female Bunch and the Russ Meyer directed Good Morning… and Goodbye! Lil is Melinda MacHarg, who really didn’t do much other than this film.
The film starts with one of the girls being assaulted by one of the boys, but honestly, stuff just happens after that. I mean it — sides are constantly switched, cops are brought in and turned on in moments and Pike keeps getting beat up.
It was shot on Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property located in Chatsworth, California. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. In Brian Albright’s Wild Beyond Belief!: Interviews with Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s, Gary Kent said that members of Manson’s Family would often visit craft services and beg for food.
The Girls From Thunder Strip was shot by cinematographer Gary Graver, who was, of course, the preferred cameraman for Orson Welles. Honestly, the behind the scenes stories of this movie are probably way more interesting than what was filmed.
I’ll admit it. I cheated. Instead of watching this movie in its original form, I found a version that had Joe Bob Briggs do commentary. Unlike modern commentary tracks where bloggers and magazine writers try in vain to impress you with how cool and smart they are, Joe Bob just hangs back and blows your mind with his limitless info. It made this movie way better than it deserves.
Paired with director William Beaudine’s other cowboys against the supernatural film Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, this film supposes what would happen if Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter Maria would come to the American wild west along with her brother Rudolph to use prairie lightning to turn immigrant children into slaves that will help continue their father’s experiments.
Meanwhile, Mañuel and Nina Lopez are leaving town before their daughter Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez, Rio Bravo) is killed. And here comes Jesse James (John Lupton, Airport 1975), Hank Tracy and Butch Curry, the leader of the Wild Bunch (no, not the Peckinpah film), who are here to steal $100,000 from a stagecoach. Yep, Jesse James did not die on April 3, 1882.
The crime gets foiled when Butch’s brother Lonny tips off Marshall MacPhee (Jim Davis, Jock Ewing the patriarch of the Ewings of TV’s Dallas) in exchange for becoming his deputy and getting reward money for Jesse James. Everyone but Jesse is shot, with Hank barely surviving. They hide in the Lopez family’s camp and Juanita takes them to the Frankensteins in the hope that Hank’s mortal wound can be healed.
Maria, of course, is in love with Jesse instantly, even faking suicide to get in his heart. She’s goth before goth was goth, basically. Jesse manages to escape another trap and kills Lonny, who has tried to bring him back in. Maria Frankenstein has transformed Hank into Igor, her new servant, and killed off her brother. She then orders him to kill Juanita, but he turns on his mistress. In a final scuffle with Jesse, Juanita kills the monster with Jesse’s revolver. She begs the famous outlaw to stay with her, but he goes off into the sunset, arrested by the sheriff.
I fear that I’ve made this movie sound way more interesting than it really is. The one good thing I can say is that the lab equipment was provided by Ken Strickfaden, who loaned out his gadgets for all of the Universal films, as well as Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Blackenstein.
That said, William Beaudine started his career as an assistant to D.W. Griffith on The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. His directing career stretched from 1922 to 1966, with this being his final film. Harry Medved’s book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, gave Beaudine the nickname “One-Shot” because everything ended up being in his films, like actors screwing up their lines or special effects not working properly.
The truth is that he actually had some talent and worked with plenty of talented films, including Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett and W.C. Fields. However, bad judgment and worse luck ruined his career.
Beaudine was brought to England in the 1930’s to work with their top stars. He directed there and expected to come back to the United States with his A-list status intact. Sadly, studios no longer wanted to pay his salary. And even worse, he lost his personal fortune when a bank he bought an interest failed. It got worse. Most of his UK income was then seized by the British government in taxes.
Then, publicist-turned-producer Jed Buell and Dixie National Pictures offered Beaudine $500 to direct a one week job: an all black picture. The director realized that if he took this job, he’d never return to the limelight. But at that point, he was near destitute and needed the work.
William Beaudine reinvented himself as the master of low budget films, forgoing art for survival. He recouped his finances through the amount of work he turned in, working in all genres and with stars like Bela Lugosi in the absolutely bonkers film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, the East Side Kids and nearly half of Monogram Pictures’ series of Bowery Boys comedies. In fact, he became the master of sequel series films, also working on films with characters like Torchy Blane, Jiggs and Maggie, The Shadow and Charlie Chan.
He also directed Mom and Dad, the film that pretty much set up the exploitation movie pipeline until the death of grindhouses. Produced by Kroger Babb, this film was distributed by a loose knot organization that called themselves the Forty Thieves. You had guys like S.S. “Steamship” Millard, who produced Is Your Daughter Safe?, Samuel Cummins whose Public Welfare Pictures and Jewel Productions brought the public 10 Days in a Nudist Camp, J.D. Kendis who produced Gambling with Souls, Dwain Esper who brought one of the original serial killer movies Maniac to the public (as well as buying Freaks from MGM for just $50,000 and re-distributing films like Reefer Madness), Willis Kent who had The Wages of Sin, Louis Sonney who owned the West Coast with films like Hell-a-Vision and Howard “Pappy” Golden, who was known for stealing prints from the other thieves. They weren’t a studio as much as an informal trade association, kind of like the old National Wrestling Association, that used something they called the “states rights” system. Truly, Mon and Dad is an exploitation landmark and we wouldn’t have so many of the films we love without it.
Beaudine became so well known for his efficient directing that Walt Disney himself used him for several films (he directed the special Disneyland After Dark, whose title was appropriated by the Danish rock band D-A-D). TV was tailor-made for the director, as he worked on shows like Lassie. He was even the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space alum Criswell’s TV series, Criswell Predicts!
This Western horror mix would be his last film, although after Bruce Lee became famous, several episodes of The Green Hornet that he directed would be packaged as feature films — 1974’s The Green Hornet and 1976’s Fury of the Dragon.
Look, this isn’t a great movie. But it’s fun. And it’ll lead you to learning a lot about exploitation films and Old Hollywood, if you want to learn more.
Don’t have the Chilling Classics box set? You can watch this for free on the Internet Archive.
John S Berry really came through, getting this next Chilling Classics movie our way on a quick deadline. I watched this movie too, so I can feel the pain that he had to go through. I never want anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do, you know? You can check out John on Twitter.
When it comes to the world of cinema (especially bargain, Mill Creek sets) I often remind myself at just how difficult it is to get a movie made, any movie. I try to live by the Shock Waves podcast credo of how the movie that you didn’t like somewhere it may live as someone’s favorite movie and to be positive.
We really do have enough negative bullshit going on many fronts these days (and most days) to let it soak into what a lot of us like, movies. When I am not a huge fanboy, supporting pied piper or when my neck is sore from shaking it I just repeat the mantra “It was not for me. But if you liked it please enjoy, it was not for me.” I guess this is my cinema version of the Bill Burr philosophy of “fair enough.”
Maybe this is too much philosophy for a movie by a western movie involving Frankenstein’s monster directed by a man who had close to 350 known films. But really isn’t this the 1966 version of indy cinema in the vein of Abe Lincoln vs. Zombies?
William Beaudine also made Billy the Kid vs. Dracula in the same year. Maybe he shot them back to back or maybe these were some passion products that he always wanted to do. He could make films fast and cheap, according to IMDB “Instead of shooting full coverage of scenes, he would shoot only what he knew was absolutely necessary. This saved both production time and raw stock, an important factor at the Poverty Row studios where he worked.”
The film has a few things going for it. On my second viewing after a long day, I appreciate it more. The previous night even with sleeping in and a nap under my belt I dozed off about half way thru and decided I would attempt later. The poster artwork has a distinct style and I wonder what young kids thought in the context of the times. Did they laugh at the crazy concept or did they wonder what the evil lady and monster had in store of the Robin Hood of gunfighters?
This movie is made for when you can’t sleep at 3AM or an afternoon when you are home sick from school. I cannot imagine watching this many more times but I am hoping to snag the version with Joe Bob Briggs commentary once it is somewhat affordable on the eBay. I am not sure if it is anyone’s favorite movie or ranked in their top 20 but it has its charm, unlike the lead who plays Jesse James John Lupton.
He is a very slender blonde hair guy and does not seem to have any charm or wit to his personality. Lupton reminded me of Jim Varney (Ernest Goes to…) with a thin blond mustache. Is it wrong that in my fantasy booking of a remake I have Ernest playing Jesse James and William Smith from Grave of the Vampire playing loveable oaf muscle man Hank Tracy? But I am sure the budget was not huge but I am sure Beaudine was able to turn a profit.
The film has some good ideas for the story but it never really has a scary or creepy vibe. It starts off with a pretty bland western feel (I have probably seen too many shoot ’em up carve ’em up Spaghetti Westerns) and Jesse James is seen as a noble outlaw. His big galoot of a buddy Hank Tracy is trying to win them some money in a fist fight. Hank is a huge dude and I instantly think he is going to be the star of the movie. Nope, Hank wins his fight IE does all the work and Jesse just threatens the would be welcher and gets their money.
Most of the town folk are leaving and the Frankenstein bro and sis are running out of folks to experiment on. Dr. Maria Frankenstein is actually the granddaughter of Dr. Frankenstein and she works with her brother Dr. Rudolph (who looks like a Grandpa) on various mind control, raising from the dead, super soldier kind of experiments. Seems like mainly what they get done is ruining Maria’s hair with a rasta painted helmet and either killing off the person or injecting them with some good ole skull and crossbones poison.
Luckily Maria just happens to flip thru the right book and figures out why her experiments failed. She needs a strong man and lucky for her one will soon land in her lap. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Jesse and Hank have been double-crossed by the remnant of the Wild Bunch. Hank takes a bullet for Jesse and they are on the run.
They run into Juanita and her family and she decides to take them to get help for Hank. The Frankensteins patch up Hank and don’t trust Juanita. Jesse must be giving off some sort of pheromone because not only does Juanita decide she loves him but Maria is smitten too (funny scene her brother teases her for actually being human and she paintbrushes him). But really he is more into his badass outlaw persona and chooses to stay on the run.
I am not too sure why they wouldn’t be into Hank. He is built like a brick shit house and seems very loyal and sweet. Jesse comes across cranky and moody and he smokes a lot so he probably has hot trail breath as well. Hank does not come across too bright but neither does Jesse. Jesse is easily conned and taking this noble approach way to far.
Jesse is sent away for “medicine” which is really a note incriminating himself so he will get caught. Before he goes on his mission Juanita (who is probably the smartest one) begs him not to go. She sees it is a trick and Jesse in his pompous ass fashion tells her a version of a man has got to do what a man has got to do and leaves to the near town.
Even after her begging him he has no inkling to maybe take a peek at the letter just in case. This arrogant SOB doesn’t even hold up to any light and try to read the letter. Nope he figures Dr. Maria is so smitten with him she is on the up and up.
Jesse gets some revenge and Juanita calls him on his macho BS as she has seen what Dr. Maria has done to poor Hank. Hank was smitten with Maria before he was Igor and Maria cannot stand the thought of Jesse becoming a mindless beast. Actually with Maria controlling him maybe he would have a little more charm. Juanita goes to get the Sheriff and saves the day and Jesse. At the end, Jesse rides off with the Sheriff and I am not sure if he is going to jail or to hang from a willow tree.
The film ends with a sad ending for Hank. Sadly for him, Juanita was a pretty good shot with her eyes closed but lucky because there were no gaping bullet holes in his chest. Poor Hank is buried and to add insult to the injury his grave says “Hank Tracy He was Jesse James’ friend.” Come on! The guy can’t even have top billing on his own headstone!!!
Jesse James is an egomaniac and I wish Hank as Igor would have squeezed him until he was just a hat and a bad mustache. Hank would have lived out his days with Juanita raising a family, they would have saved money on horses on account of Hank could be the plow horses.
Star Pilot predates TV’s Star Trek, yet it features references to Star Fleet, warp speed and impulse drive. However, the costumes for its female crewmembers are perhaps a bit — well, a lot — sexier than anything the U.S.S. Enterprise would ever have on board.
Directed by Pietro Francisci, who was behind the Steve Reeves starring Hercules and Hercules Unchained, this film is about the adventures of Chaena, the commander of a spaceship from the constellation Hydra. She takes an Earth scientist and his friends to repair her ship and then back to her home planet for genetic research.
Originally titled 2+5: Missione Hydra, this movie was re-released in 1977 under its new title to cash in on Star Wars. It’s filled with footage taken from other movies, like Doomsday Machine, Gorath and Invasion of Astro-Monster. As a result, it seems like a cut and paste mess, which is probably because it is.
If you were the kind of kid who devoured Starlog and watched every science fiction movie no matter what in the 1970’s, then you should watch this. All normal — or somewhat normal — folks should consider this a hard pass.