The Man with the Glass Eye (1969)

One of Rialto Film’s long-running series of Edgar Wallace films — one of the fathers of the giallo — this Alfred Vohrer (Dead Eyes of LondonCreature with the Blue Hand) film predates Argento reimagining the form and instead feels very visually like Bava’s Blood and Black Lace without Bava’s camera gymnastics.

In the English dubbed version, the film starts with Wallace’s name appearing on the screen and a voice saying, “Good evening. This is Edgar Wallace speaking.”  That’s a real scary moment, because at this point, Wallace had been dead for 37 years.

There’s a poisoned cat mask — I know, right!?! — and a pool hall turning into a battle royal, as well as a woman menaced by a blowtorch — yeah, that kind of stuff  didn’t just start in the 1980’s, Siskel and Ebert — and a maniacal dummy named Snookie. Plus, it’s all set to some bouncy jazz!

I wouldn’t trust any single person in this movie. It’s literally all a pit of vipers. Well, maybe you can trust Scotland Yard. But every actor, carnie, gangster and moll in this — I thought you knew what a wretched hive of scum and villany was, but then I watched this movie!

Senza Sapere Niente Di Lei (1969)

In my quest to watch giallo that not many have and bring them to you, dear reader, I’ve been looking into the pre-Argento years and I’ve discovered this one, known in America as Without Knowing Anything About Her.

An old woman dies before the expiration of her life insurance policy and a lawyer (Philippe Leroy) investigates, but ends up falling in love with her daughter, played by Paola Pitagora. His intentions aren’t good, but neither are hers.

This is less in the shadows, light on the murder and has plenty of Milan scenery and a Morricone score to liven things up, plus an ambiguous ending that comes out of nowhere and is pretty awesome. It’s not perfect, but if you’re seeking something different, here it is.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts (1969)

The third and final Yokai Monsters movie, this time directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda and Kimiyoshi Yasuda, takes us back to feudal Japan, where Miyo has discovered evidence that could stop the corruption in her town, but when her grandfather is murdered on sacred grounds, she needs the help of the Yokai.

Unlike the second movie — which is everything you want, as it is literally packed with monsters — this is more of a horror film, using the yokai in a more frightening way as they move into becoming the guardians of youth, which seems to be the fate of nearly every Japanese monster once the sequels start adding up.

It’s nice to see all of the monsters when they do show, but after the delirious Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, this felt like a step backward. Not a bad step, but still not in the direction I wanted.

That said, the moment Arrow releases these as a boxset, I’m all over it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Pit Stop (1969)

There’s no pit stop in this movie, which is based on figure 8 racing, which features a track that purposely intersects itself, increasing the risk of collisions. That inspired Jack Hill, who originally wanted to call this The Winner.

Rick is an amateur drag racer who is in a racing feud with Hawk Sidney (an impossibly young Sid Haig, who didn’t know how to drive a car!) over a sponsorship from Grant Willard. They’re also battling over the affections of the gorgeous Jolene (Beverly Washburn, who was Elizabeth in Spider Baby), but finally come to an understanding, even after Hawk destroys Rick’s car.

Rick’s next feud is with the champion, Ed McCleod, and his real conquest is that man’s neglected wife Ellen (Ellen Burstyn!). As they have a climactic race, there’s a big crash and old Ed walks away instead of being put on a stretcher. This manly act has broken his neck and cost him his life, but as Rick attempts to take his place in the spotlight, he loses the respect of everyone, ending the film as its villain instead of the hero.

Man, you can’t go wrong with Jack Hill. Whether you pick this movie, the aforementioned Spider Baby or grab CoffySwitchblade SistersFoxy Brown or even Sorceress, you’re going to get something way better than you expect, which to me is the hallmark of a great talent.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Run, Angel, Run! (1969)

I’m not saying that all movies should have William Smith in them, but I kind of am. This was the 17th highest grossing film in 1969, which sounds like hyperbole but I’d like it to be true. It also has a Tammy Wynette soundtrack, which is another way into my heart.

Smith plays Angel, a motorcycle gang member who sells the real story of what it’s like on the inside to a magazine for ten grand — about $70,000 today — and earns the anger of every biker in the world. The word gets out — Angel is to be killed.

Unlike most biker films where the hero gets worse and worse, Angel actually finds a sheep farmer who gives him a brief moment to live a normal life off the road. Unfortunately, the gangs are never far behind.

Director Jack Starrett does some amazing things in this, like some incredibly dangerous shots of the gang on the road, shooting them with a camera that moves from biker to biker in the days before when a drone would make such a shot simple. He’s also gone wild with multiple split screens and dropped out audio and made this a living, breathing comic book.

Starrett’s wife Valerie plays Angel’s old lady, while Dan Kemp plays the kind rancher and Margaret Markov is his probably doomed daughter. Markov lights up the screen in plenty of Corman-era movies like The ArenaBlack Mama White Mama and The Hot Box.

I had a blast with this movie. It’s filled with drama and shot in a way that you totally won’t expect. Watch it and let me know what you think.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion:The Girl from Rio (1969)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Bailey is a long time photographer and film writer, who doesn’t actually hate everything, but has no fear of being a contrarian.  Follow at Twitter at @stroke_midnight or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/philbaileyphoto

Sumuru, the femme villain bent on world domination, originally created for a BBC radio serial by Fu Manchu creator and author Sax Rohmer. If there is a Sax Rohmer story, then producer Harry Alan Towers must be lurking somewhere nearby. Towers produced a series of Fu Manchu films with Christopher Lee starring as the Chinese scientist bent on world domination and decided to take on Rohmer’s lesser known creation with James Bond girl Shirley Eaton in the lead with The Million Eyes of Sumuru in 1967 and followed it up two years later with The Girl from Rio.

The Girl from Rio was directed by Eurocult legend Jess Franco, sandwiched between his two Fu Manchu films The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu. This is nowhere as gonzo as his most famous/notorious films, it still boasts some great style and a bevy of beautiful women is all manner of undressed and barely dressed. Shirley Eaton, the blonde who was killed by being painted gold in Goldfinger is Sumuru who doesn’t really do much other than lounge around and look beautiful so Eaton is perfectly cast, but the real stars of the movie are Jess Franco regulars Maria Rohm and Beni Cardoso who just fit better with Franco’s vision (that vision being long legs and bare midriffs) and you can just feel Franco’s energy perk up when they are on screen, especially the impossibly leggy Cardoso as Sumuru’s head torturer/dominatrix Yana Yuma who basically steals the movie.

If you’re waiting fora recap of the plot, forget it, because that’s basically what the director did. Rio suffers from the common ailment of Eurocult films of having simultaneously too much and too little plot, It has so many plot threads that are so underdeveloped you can’t really keep it straight, despite all of the on-screen expository telephone calls. It has something to do with a mobster and a British Lord both vying to plunder Sumuru’s island fortress: Femina. Sumuru’s island fortress comes complete with a torture chamber and an all girl army decked out in pleather halter tops, capes, and go-go boots. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of scantily clad women, just enough nudity to keep the plot moving forward. The whole affair plays out like a super sexy, R rated The Man from U.N.C.L.E episode, which makes sense as the title is an obvious play on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. tv series.

The Girl from Rio is a trashy if slight Eurocult delight that has loads of stylish eye candy. The trippy Italian comic feel to the scenes on Femina almost make up for how odd and disjointed the rest of the movie is. Structurally the movie is a bit of a mess, obviously stitched together from multiple chunks of footage that never quite convinces you that all of these people are in the same story. All faults aside, the campy, fetishistic delights that Jess Franco indulges in during the Femina sequences are well worth the 90 minutes and make the whole affair worthwhile, if just barely.

Sci-Fi Invasion month: It’s Alive! (1969)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JH Rood is from El Paso, Texas. He’s part of Ghoul Inc. Productions, a DIY group who are inspired by Roger Corman, Larry Buchanan, Frank Henenlotter, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Edward D. Wood, Jr., S.F. Brownrigg, Barry Mahon and others. I’m so glad that he took this movie, as I knew he’d not only  tell us about how it got made, but share why it means so much to him.

There’s a legend in these here hills: “When it rains and the sun shines at the same time, The Devil is kissing his wife”. And thus begins the odyssey of It’s Alive! Now, there are two films with that title, and it so happens that they were both directed by guys named Larry. This is not the mutant baby flick from 1974 brought to us by Larry Cohen. This It’s Alive! (yes, the exclamation point belongs there) predates the more well known of the two by 6 years, and was directed by Larry Buchanan. It tells the story of a freshly married couple from New York on a road trip to California, who take a wrong turn down south and run out of gas. They bump into a paleontologist named Wayne Thomas (Tommy Kirk, who appeared in a whole slew of Disney movies back in the day) who tells them there’s a house a few miles down the road with a gas pump, and they could probably find some assistance there. The couple follow his directions and find themselves at the home of an odd fellow named Greely, played by late, great Texas actor Billy Thurman, who was a Buchanan Alum and had appeared in a number of his pictures throughout the 1960’s. Greely lives with his housekeeper, Bella (Annabelle MacAdams, aka Annabelle Weenick, another Buchanan regular) in a large, creepy house in the middle of freakin’ nowhere, and runs a small roadside zoo with coyotes, lizards, snakes and various other indigenous critters. Greely is strange yet friendly at first, and explains to the stranded couple, Norman and Leilla Sterns (played by Corveth Ousterhouse and Shirley Bonne) that his zoo and gas pump were once his livelihood, before they built the new interstate and cut him off from civilization. He mentions his disdain for “The Highway People” and shows some signs of psychosis, but invites the couple inside his home to rest up a bit before the gasoline transport truck shows up to fill his tank and they can go on their merry way. Norman is a curt, rude, stereotypical New Yorker and is about as likable as a painful pimple, while Leilla is genuinely kind and rather naïve. Once inside the ginormous house, they’re introduced to Bella, who comes off as shell shocked, skiddish and mildly terrified, like a frightened dog. It’s apparent that Greely is perhaps not the easiest man to work for. For reasons unknown, Greely excuses himself to go outside and leaves the couple with Bella. While outside, Mr. Thomas shows up to check on the Sterns’. He’s greeted by a smiling Greely, and explains that he’s the one who suggested the couple ask him for help. He pops the hood on the couple’s car and asks Greely to retrieve a screwdriver from his Jeep. Greely happily obliges, but returns with a large, blunt wrench instead, and bashes Thomas over the head. He then drags the unconscious man away.

Back in the house, Bella nervously serves tea, and the stranded couple becomes more agitated with their current situation. A jovial, smiling Greely pops in, and sensing the tension, invites them to pass the time looking at the animals in his zoo. The couple agrees, mostly because they haven’t much else to do, and a caged bobcat probably seems like better company than Bella at this point. They meander their way to the crude wood and chicken wire enclosures and peer in on the poor captive animals. Greely points to the entrance of a cave, and tells Norman and Leilla that within that cave is his “prized possession”. The couple exchange glances, as if telepathically telling each other “eh, what the hell” and follow Greely into the cave. The three meander their way down dark, dank catacombs for what probably felt like an eternity, until they reach a large, dark room. Greely excuses himself to go turn the lights on, but instead pulls a lever that brings down large iron bars, trapping Norman and Leilla inside the cave. Big surprise: Greely is nuts!

After cackling maniacally and walking away, Greely disappears back to the house to have supper with Bella, leaving Norman and Leilla befuddled and terrified. Luckily, our buddy Wayne is in the cave, too, and after waking up from that nasty bump on the head, the three begin to assess their situation. Bella returns with some food a short time later, and after being pleaded with by the three captives, she tells them that she wants to help them, but she simply can’t. If she upsets Greely, he will feed her to “it”, the “Thing” that Greeley keeps in that cave that has disposed of all the other unfortunate souls who found themselves at his place. Evidently, Greeley isn’t the only monster around here. A short while later, Norman makes his way through the winding passageways of the cavern and awakens the monster! From out of the bubbling water of a hot spring comes a lizard-like creature with a massive overbite and ping-pong balls for eyes, looking like a bargain basement Sleestak. This particular monster getup was actually recycled from a previous Buchanan film, Creature of Destruction. Without going into too much detail and letting any spoilers slip through, we learn a bit more about our boy Greely and his pet
monster and how Bella came to be in Greely’s “employ”, and the whole thing plays out about as predictably as one would expect, though like most Buchanan films, it’s thoroughly entertaining through and through.

When looking at Larry Buchanan’s body of work, the films that tend to stand out, and the films he’s mostly known for, are the ultra-cheesy, made-for-television flicks from Azalea Pictures and American International, of which It’s Alive!  was the last. These films were greenlighted by Sam Arkoff, who was recycling scripts from earlier, successful films that were released theatrically. More often than not, Arkoff would get Buchanan on the phone and say something like “I need this picture made, and I need it done yesterday!”. Larry Buchanan was no stranger to working under pressure and thinking outside the box. Often times, given the extreme time and budget limitations, he would devise ways to get a scene across that was crude but effective, such as smearing petroleum jelly mixed with blue food coloring on a camera lens to create a day-for-night effect. Larry was a real trooper, and put up with things many of his contemporaries wouldn’t. His resiliency could be traced back to his beginnings, which were less than ideal for anyone. Born on the last day of January in 1923 in Lost Prairie, Texas, Larry was orphaned at an early age, and was brought up in a crowded orphan’s home just outside the Dallas metro area. He showed a serious interest in motion pictures at an early age, and was unofficially “adopted” by some of the folks at the Variety Club, a show business club in Dallas. They would give young Larry free passes to the various picture shows around town, and they let him dig through the discarded reels of film that wound up on their cutting room floor. Larry would carefully edit the mish-mash of reels together, and show them to the other kids at the orphanage, using a donated projector. Most of these were industrial films with no sound, so Larry would invent stories to go along with what was happening on the screen and do a live narrative for the other children. After high school, Larry hitchhiked to Los Angeles and managed to get a job at Fox studios briefly, before relocating to New York to join the Army Signal Corps and make military training films. At this time, Larry also began to produce short, one-reel films such as The Cowboy and The Wetback, which caught the attention of the Jamieson Film Company in Dallas, who reached out to Larry and beckoned him back to the Lone Star State. Having just become a father and not wanting to bring up a family in New York, he jumped at the opportunity to return home and make movies, a real win/win for him.

Before cementing his cinematic legacy as a schlockmeister responsible for such film as Curse of the Swamp CreatureMars Need Women and Zontar: The Thing from Venus. Larry had more dramatic aspirations, and it shows in some of his earlier work. Films like High Yellow and Free, White and 21 teetered on blaxploitation, but with more heart, feeling and social conscience. His 1964 film The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald presented audiences with a controversial yet welcomed “what if” storyline about the man who assassinated President Kennedy getting the trial denied to him by Jack Ruby. All in all, Larry helmed over 40 films during his career, and is today considered the father of the Texas feature film industry. Far from being a household name, his influence has had a ripple effect throughout the world of cinema. That young orphan boy from rural Texas who dreamed of growing up and making motion pictures did just that, and he did it with a fervent zeal. So, when you settle into watch It’s Alive!, or any other Buchanan film, I challenge you to not envision that precocious lad gleefully piecing together random bits of discarded film from the bottom of a trash bin as he concocted wild, imaginative stories to go along with them for nothing more than the entertainment of his peers. Larry is one of those filmmakers I look up to and admire the most, because he could make something from nothing. His films are a middle finger in the face of cinematic pretention and snobbery, simply by existing.

SLASHER MONTH: The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

Also known as Horror House and The Dark, this proto-slasher promised “Behind its forbidden doors an evil secret hides!”

Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, who also made Mark of the Devil and House of the Long Shadows, this takes the traditional night in a haunted house story and turns it on his head. Armstrong originally wrote this when he was just 15 years old before rewriting at the end of the 60’s, saying that he worked to “further developing its darker psycho-sexual themes and sharpening characters and dialogue to reflect the current cynical underbelly beneath the superficial Sixties culture.”

A mix of Tigon and American-International Pictures, the Western side wanted more sex, a role for Boris Karloff (whose bad health switched the role to Dennis Price) and a role for Frankie Avalon, which ruined the chance for Armstrong to cast David Bowie as Richard. The two had worked before on a short film called The Image.

American Chris (Avalon), his girl Sheila (Jill Haworth, Tower of Evil), Gary (British teen idol Mark Wynter), his girl Dorothy (Carol Dilworth, The Trygon Factor), the on-the-make Sylvia (Gina Warwick), Madge (Veronica Doran, Screamtime), Richard (Julian Barnes) and Henry (Robin Stewart) have all left a boring party for a night at a haunted house, trailed by Sylvia’s jealous — and married — ex-boyfriend Paul.

A seance upsets Sylvia, who hitchhikes home, at which point Gary is knifed by someone unseen. As the group all have criminal records, Chris tells them they need to keep this a secret from the police. And even worse, he believes that one of them is the killer.

Sam Arkoff and Jack Nicholson of AIP hated the original cut of the film and added — and subtracted — plenty. What ended up on the screen isn’t all that bad and feels like a rough draft of I Know What You Did Last Summer. And hey — I’m all for Frankie Avalon in slashers (see Blood Song).

You can watch this on YouTube.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 19: The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

DAY 19. BEYOND THE DARKNESS: Watch one with a love story in it. There’s more than one way to get mushy!

Inspired by the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, the notorious “lonely hearts killers” of the 1940s, The Honeymoon Killers tells the tale with Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler, in her film debut, as the leads.

Ray starts the film by seducing Martha and stealing money from her, but it turns out that she may be every but his equal, using her wits to help him con and even kill numerous women from lonely hearts ads.

From relationship to relationship, Ray promises to never cheat on Martha, but there’s no way that he can keep up the con. Along the way, every one that crosses their path dies, often horribly.

Originally to be directed by Martin Scorsese, who was fired from the film, it was taken over by writer Leonard Kastle, who only created this one film. Named by François Truffaut as his “favorite American film,” it looks more like a grim documentary than an exploitation film.

American-International Pictures was going to distribute this, even making ad materials, but dropped it due to the film’s “extremely gruesome and misanthropic” tone. Their loss — it’s a work of art.

I’m enthused by the fact that an ad appeared in Variety at some point in the late 70’s announcing a sequel. Although never made, the story would have involved an imagined death row conjugal visit between Ray and Martha , resulting in the prison birth of brother/sister twins who were separated at birth. Years later, the pair meets and becomes adult murderers/lovers, never suspecting that they are siblings. This movie needs to be made.

Demir Pençe (Korsan Adam) (1969)

With a title that translates as Iron Claw (Pirate Man), this movie is also called Iron Claw the Pirate and comes from the magical brain of Çetin Inanç. Fantomas — if you’re here worrying about copyrights, you’re in the wrong place — and his goon Bechet goes up against Iron Claw and his Batgirl-esque assistant to keep the villain from invading Turkey.

Somehow between 1967 and 1969, Turkish filmmakers learned that superhero cinema had moved from 1930’s movie serials to 1960’s Batmania. This feels similar to Yilmaz Atadeniz’s own Casus Kiran, a riff on Spy Smasher, which makes sense as Inanç started as an assistant to Atadeniz.

Much like most Turkish superheroes, Iron Claw is allowed to sleep with all of the evil women he wants and keep his lady Mine. Perhaps even sadder is despite the fact that she is shown to be a capable hero, she’s never given a superhero name of her own. She’s just a nameless helper who dresses in a much sexier version of our hero’s costume. Iron Clawette seems like too easy of a name and look, I spent more time worrying about it than the people who made this movie.

Yildrim Gencer — the man who played Kilink — is also in this as a mustache sporting agent on the side of good.

Beyond the steel fisted Behcet, Fantomas also employs Cancel, who is played by Feri Cansel. If you think, that might be the best villain of all time, let me tell you that he also gets away with things no movie serial villain ever does, like murdering a kindly old professor and then making a sacrifice of that man’s daughter on an altar. Well done, Fantomas!

This is another magical trip to the no limits world of Turkish film, a place where innocent kink exists fist in glove with murderous superheroes and masked villains who get away with it.

You can download this from the Internet Archive.