Editor’s Note: This review ran on December 28, 2020, as part of another one of our “TV Week” tributes — dedicated, in part, to TV airline disaster movies (see our end of the week Round Up). We’re bringing it back for our our second day of our three-day “Bernard Kowalski Week” tribute — a great director!
CBS-TV got its start in the airline disaster sweepstakes in September 1971 with this tale about transcontinental flight struck with food poisoning. To save the aircraft, the cabin crew locate a passenger with enough flying experience so that he can be coached by an experience pilot on the ground. Doug McClure, it goes without saying, is very good in his role as a Vietnam war ex-chopper pilot who’s called into action to safe the day.
While many write this off as a rip-off of ’70s airline disaster flicks — and, in a way, it is (which we will get to) — Terror in the Sky has it roots in an Alex Haley-written Canadian telefilm starring James “Scotty” Doohan, Flight Into Danger (1956). The CBC-TV screenplay was quickly rebooted as the Paramount Pictures features film Zero Hour! (1957) starring Dana Andrews — each deal with a “food poisoning” premise. Haley then took the premise and retooled n’ tweaked it again for the novel Runway Zero-Eight (1958), then again as novel Airport (1968), which, in turn, became the Burt Lancaster-starring Airport (1970). So, officially, Terror in the Sky is a bigger-budget TV remake of Zero Hour! and a loose cousin to Runway Zero-Eight. which aired on CBS-TV in September 1971.
As for Zero Hour!: Interest in the film was renewed in the ’80s when it was revealed that the Abrahams-Zucker Brothers’ (The Kentucky Fried Movie) Airplane!, which spoofed the Airport series of movies of the ’70s, was actually an almost verbatim comedy-remake of the film.
Yeah, you know why we love this, as it’s another airline disaster TV movie with bonkers casting: assisting Doug McClure are Roddy McDowall and Kennan Wynn, along with ’50s gents Kenneth Tobey (The Thing) and Leif Erickson (On the Waterfront).
Is the name of director Bernard Kowalski ringing any bells? It should. He gave us the Alien precursor Night of the Blood Beast, The Fast and the Furious precursor Hot Car Girl, and the giant monster mash classic Attack of the Giant Leeches, and the mad scientist romp Sssssss. Oh, and the western-horror about devil worshiping voodoo cowpokes, the most awesome TV movie ever, Black Noon (1971). And let’s not forget he closed out his career with TV’s Colombo, Airwolf, Knight Rider, and Jake and the Fatman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Rochester is a librarian. Mad about movies and books and film soundtracks. His favorite film is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
Crucible of Terror is a British horror movie about a crazy, lecherous artist who entombs his favourite models, whilst still alive, in molten bronze. It also has a poorly formed nonsense sub-plot about a haunted yellow kimono and a strange cult thrown in for good measure. Top billed Mike Raven, a British radio DJ who looks a bit like Christopher Lee and here has a wonderful Karloffian lisp, plays the artist and sculptor – and a really enjoyable, scene-stealing performance it is too. When his wimpy son, played by Ronald Lacey (Red Sonja) and art dealer James Bolam (familiar in many 60’s/70’s British tv series such as The Likely Lads) turn up at his studio with their girlfriends to try to persuade Raven to sell him some his art, he turns his pervy charm on the girls, played by Mary Maude (Larraz’s The Uncertain Death) and Beth Morris (Son of Dracula), trying to persuade them to ‘model’ for him. And then people get knocked off, one by one, and the film becomes an enjoyable whodunnit. Raven is the obvious number one suspect, but his crazy wife, who carries her dollies around the house and his creepy best mate, who has a spear collection in his bedroom, are, for obvious reasons, also near the top of our suspects list.
In a bizarre instance of life mimicking art Raven, whose voice was dubbed in his most well-known movie, Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire, actually DID become a sculptor, in a studio in Cornwall, the setting for much of this movie. And a terrific location it is too. Some of the shots around St Agnes; the beach and the crumbling tin mine walls are superb, a nice juxtaposition to the cramped and claustrophobic interior shots, and dark, murky scenes inside the mine tunnels.
Arguably the best bit from the movie is the opening sequence in which Raven ’embalms’ his drugged semi-naked model, played by Burmese actress, and star of numerous cannibal movies, Me Me Lai, who wakes up, her eyes suddenly staring wide in horror, just as the molten bronze is poured over her. Also great fun, especially for giallo fans, are the gruesome murders by an unseen assailant wearing black gloves. This is by no means a classic – it’s a kind of humourless version of Corman’s A Bucket of Blood – the dialogue is weak, and the hurried, muddled ending will probably leave you a bit disappointed, but this is still good fun, and worth watching for Raven’s performance – and to hear his wonderfully ‘fruity’ voice (famously dubbed by Valentine Dyall in Lust for a Vampire).
June 4: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is western.
I always say that Italian westerns bring the world together. Take this one, which is an Italian western by form, but really a co-production of the United Kingdom and Spain.
Directed by Robert Parrish — one of the many hidden hands that made Casino Royale — this is an example of one of my favorite subgenres of the cowboy movie and that would be the horror western.
Ten years ago, a group of Mexican revolutionaries led by the revolutionary leader Aguila murdered a priest and his followers. Now, a widow — Stella Sevens — has come back looking for revenge.
Talk about a cast! The town is now ruled by a priest (Robert Shaw!) who may be Aguila. Stevens hires a sadistic Mexican outlaw (Telly Savalas!!) named Don Carlos who promises to help her in exchange for gold. And soon, an army colonel (Martin Landau!!!) arrives in an attempt to find Aguila himself.
The same team made Pancho Villa, another British and Spanish western that Telly Savalas was involved with. They also made Horror Express and hired Savalas, who no doubt used the paycheck to cover his partying and gambling lifestyle. I say that not as an insult. If I could have been one person other than myself, Savalas seems like a great choice.
I’d like someone to explain to me why Stevens sleeps in a coffin — is she a ghost? — and exactly how the filmmakers arrived at setting the dance hall scene to Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” It’s not the best western, Italian influenced or not, I’ve seen, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting, in theory if not in actual filmed practice.
This is also a tremendous spolier, but Savalas’ death scene took me by major surprise and I love how he’s as shocked as I was. He keeps trying to figure out what to do when he’s emasculated by losing his trigger finger and never gets it together. As always, a wonderful performer.
Partly adapted from the 1952 non-fiction book The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley, which was turned into the play The Devils by John Whiting, United Artists had already given up on this movie after seeing how controversial Ken Russell’s screenplay was. Warner Brothers then took over but its rough sexual and violent nature, not to mention how it presented religion, led to major issues. It’s since been banned in several countries and was heavily edited for release in many countries, with several places never seeing its original uncut version.
Two scenes were cut and have rarely been shown, one where nude nuns sexually use a statue of Christ while Father Mignon watches and masturbates, as well as another that showed Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbating with the charred femur of Grandier (Oliver Reed) after he is set ablaze for his crimes.
As for Rusell, he said, “I was a devout Catholic and very secure in my faith. I knew I wasn’t making a pornographic film… although I am not a political creature, I always viewed The Devils as my one political film. To me, it was about brainwashing.”
Behind the very human — and at times occult and otherworldly — moments of the film, the dramatic narrative behind The Devils is Cardinal Richelieu working to influence Louis XIII and get him to stop the Protestants from rising up. However, Louis forbids Richelieufrom destroying the town of Loudun, having made a promise to its Governor to keep the town intact.
Whiole Loudun’s Governor has died, the town is now controlled by Urbain Grandier (Reed), who may be a popular man of God, but is also a man who has secretly married a woman. Meanwhile, Sister Jeanne des Anges, the deformed abbess of the local Ursuline convent who is sexually obsessed with Grendier, grows upset that the man she is in love with has not taken her.
The cardinal gets what he wants by accusing Grandier of witchcraft, bringing in Father Pierre Barre, a professional witch-hunter whose exorcisms are even more salacious than the crimes he has been sent to investigate. He unleashes a sexual firestorm amongst the nuns and a mockery of a trial that somehow finds Grandier convincing Barre that he is innocent. Yet it is too late. Despite his innocence, the town is destroyed.
How metal is this film? Ministry sampled it for their song “Golden Dawn” and other artists such as Belphegor and Skinny Puppy have also used dialogue from this movie.
You may have thought that Billy Jack was dead after The Born Losers, shot in the back while trying to do the right thing. The truth is, he was just getting started. An anti-authority film, this movie struggled to be made, with American International Pictures pulling out while it was being made. Then, 20th Century Fox stepped in but refused to distribute the film. Auteur Tom Laughlin would not release the sound for the film, making it unreleasable until he could own the film himself, getting Warner Brothers to distribute it. He was unhappy with how Warner Brothers sold the film, so he sued them and finally released the movie himself.
At the heart of the film, the movie presents a conundrum: the only way to achieve peace is to repeatedly beat the stuffing out of people.
Also, the Navajo Green Beret Vietnam War veteran and hapkido master known as Billy Jack is played by director (as T.C. Frank), producer (as Mary Rose Solti) and co-writer (as Frank Christina) Tom Laughlin, who is totally white. That said, the role of Billy Jack is anything but the way that Native Americans had been portrayed up until the early 70s.
Laughlin was also a muckraker, really in the best of ways. He’d written the film nearly two decades before after seeing the way Native Americans were treated in Winner, South Dakota, the home of his wife Delores Taylor. What took so long to get it to screen? Well, beyond building his acting career, Laughlin also quit acting in 1959 to start a Montessori preschool in Santa Monica, California.
After the school went out of business, he went back into acting and after the Billy Jack series, he was set to change the world with Billy Jack Enterprises, which had plans for a new Montessori school, a record label, an investigative magazine, books, a distribution company and more message-laden movies, including films for children. Yet the last movie, Billy Jack Goes to Washington, didn’t connect with audiences. Or, as Laughlin charged, it was the fault of Warner Brothers illegally selling the television rights to his films. Or even Senator Vance Hartke, who he said told him that, “You’ll never get this released. This house you have, everything will be destroyed.” in front of Lucille Ball, angered that the film correctly pointed out how senators were owned by lobbyists.
There was going to be a fifth film, The Return of Billy Jack, that ended in the 2000s when Laughoun got hurt and the money ran out. He claimed for years that it would get made with the title changing to Billy Jack’s Crusade to End the War in Iraq and Restore America to Its Moral Purpose, Billy Jack’s Moral Revolution and Billy Jack for President, with the plan to have Billy Jack and President George W. Bush debate each other.
Man, I wish that was made.
That said, the original Billy Jack is an incredibly strange movie, a film made of a singular vision.
Billy Jack is the defender of the Freedom School, a school full of happy children taught my Laughlin’s real-life wife Delores, who are assaulted from all sides by the horrible folks of the redneck town where, for some reason, they have decided to make their home. A movie this strange demands a run-on sentence like that to describe it.
This is the kind of movie where the hero must face off with a snake and purposefully be bitten with venom so that he can become brothers with the snake, as well as have a theme song “One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack),” which was recorded by Jinx Dawson and her band Coven, whose album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls is as metal as it gets, even featuring a black mass as its second side.
You don’t really watch Billy Jack. It washes over you. The words I use to describe it aren’t enough. It’s absolutely ridiculous in the finest of ways and I really want you to experience it.
Editor’s Note: We first encountered this lost ’70s teensploitation romp on February 7, 2021, when we reviewed it as part of Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack. Since it has rails, we’re bringing it back for our “Drag Racing Week” tribute to those rails of the ’60s and ’70s running the quarter mile.
Sam, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and Mix Master of Movie Themed Drink for B&S About Movies, is scary-psychic when it comes to my writing assignments. I don’t recall Dennis Christopher and Bruno Kirby ever popping up in conversation . . . Sam, how do you do it? It’s like my head is a Magic 8-Ball and you give it a shake. . . . It’s like Christmas!
Anyway . . . this why I love Mill Creek box sets — in this case, their B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack — as it gives me a chance to see a movie that I never heard of, or seen. Yes . . . even with the Den and the Kirb in the house, so I don’t know how this one slipped by me. Sure, I’ve seen my fair share of ’70s soft-sexploitation flicks and T&A coming-of-age romps (but beware of advertising department scams) but this one . . . I don’t recall ever seeing The Young Graduates on a home video self. And, based on the college chick (What, high school?) showing off some strappy-sandals leg, along with the dune buggies, cycles, and rails . . . and that Crown International logo, well, what’s not to likey, here?
Now, you know how we are about particular actors ’round the B&S About Movie cubicles, right? In this case, for moi, I was into this lost drive-in ditty from the get, as it features early starring roles for two of my favorite actors: Dennis Christopher (Fade to Black and the really cool 10-Speed romp Breaking Away) and Bruno Kirby (How is Almost Summer not on a Mill Creek set? But, you know Bruno best from City Slickers and Good Morning, Vietnam). See? All actors have to start somewhere — and sometimes it has to be a Crown International flick.
Will you just look at Dennis! He’s just a kid, for gosh sakes! Yep, 16!, and he went on to appear nearly 40 movies and made-for-TV flicks since this debut (he was also in the proto-slasher Blood and Lace that same year). And Quentin? Well, he obviously knows both of Dennis’s 1971 debuts from his video clerkin’ days, so the Q recruited Dennis as Leonide Moguy in Django Unchained. Oh, and Dennis is such a stoner dude that his name is “Pan,” and not a more stoner name there be.
Anyway, while Bruno was a bit older, at 22, he was still able to play “young,” as a high schooler seven years later — at 29 — in, again, one of my favorite of his films, Almost Summer. But I’ll always also remember Bruno for The Harrad Experiment (which, in spite of the title, is not a horror film, but a coming-of-age drama led by James Whitmore and Tippi Hedren . . . with a babe-in-the-woods Don Johnson). Then there’s Bruno’s oft-aired HBO favorite, Baby Blue Marine with Jan-Michael Vincent (that also needs a Mill Creek bow).
Oops. I digress with the Charmin squeezin’ over the actors I dig.
This is loaded with mini-dressed dancing chicks, hippes in flower-power vans, wah-wah psychedelic guitars, and drag-racing rails, hippie chicks, doobies and roach clips, squares in suits and ties who want to be engineers, and those teens who just want to dropout and ride their motor scooters. Truth: When it comes to errant draggin’ rails in a film, I choose The Young Graduates over More American Graffiti — even though the later is clearly the better made film, because the former is the more entertaining film.
Rompin’ through this Partridge Family-cum-Easy Rider-lite world is the requisite sort-of-bad girl, Mindy, who’s like an early version of a romantically confused, can’t-make-her-mind Rachel Green with her endless I-hate-Ross-I-love-Ross insanity. Here, Mindy’s dilemma is between her decent, educated boyfriend Bill or her hunky married-but-he’s-so-hot teacher.
Oops. She’s hot for teacher and the rabbit just hopped in: Mindy’s pregnant. And how does she deal? Well, she runs away with her bestie, Sandy, on motorbike ride to Big Sur, California.
Now, while this sounds like another T&A romp of the Crown variety, it’s not. Surprisingly, for a Crown flick, this ended up being a sensitive exploration of coming-of-age-teens in the ’70s that’s actually well-written. As it should be, since it was scribed by Harvard-educated screenwriter Robert Anderson, who earned two Oscar nods for “Best Screenplay” with The Nun’s Story (1959) and I Never Sang for My Father (1970). Steve McQueen and war flick fans (Hey, there, Pops!), well, you know Anderson best for The Sand Pebbles (1966), again, nominated for an Oscar. And you have to feel a bit bad for Dennis and Bruno, as I am sure, being cast in a film written by a three-time Oscar-nominated writer, they had high hopes for this film . . . then Crown International had to come up with that dopey, exploitative theatrical one-sheet.
And that’s the tale of the three-time Oscar nominated screenwriter appearing on a Mill Creek box set.
Man, I have a big affection for Tony Anthony thanks to his ability to knock out really strange Italian westerns like Get Mean and Comin’ at Ya! Little did I know that he also made a remix of Zatoichi in the American west.
Fifty mail-order brides have been kidnapped by bandits and the blind man who was hired to get them across the country, Ciego (Anthony) is on his way to get them back.
Candy, one of the villains in this, is played by Ringo Starr. Wait, Ringo? Dude, did any of The Beatles have a more interesting few years? Paul went into Wings, George was all into religion, John stayed in bed and Ringo was out and about making movies with Freddie Francis, Terry Southern, Ferdinando Baldi, Frank Zappa and Mae West.
The real bad guys are Domingo (Lloyd Battista, who wrote this movie, as well as nearly all of Anthony’s Italian cowboy films) and his sister Sweet Mama (Magda Konopka, who played Satanik), who have taken the women so that they can try and take out a general (Raf Baldassarre, who was in both of Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules movies).
Ringo even recorded a theme song for this movie that wasn’t used. It’s in the b-side of his single for “Back Off Boogaloo.”
According to Anthony, his friend Frank Wolff (Death Walks on High Heels) wanted the role of Candy as he had already played against Anthony in A Stranger In Town. Allen Klein — yeah, the same guy who was the reason we had to wait forever to get El Topo and The Holy Mountain released on blu ray — wanted Ringo, who wanted to go into acting after the breakup of the Fab Four. Wolff stopped his friendship with Anthony and killed himself shortly after this film was made.
You know whose name doesn’t show up in the credits? Bruno Mattei. Yet on several sites, I’ve seen claims that he helped direct this movie. I still haven’t found any info, but if anything, I’d assume he did some editing or second unit work. Does anyone out there know?
You may notice that all week I’ve talked about how great 70s TV movies are. That’s because they have great pedigrees. Take a look at Night Slaves, which was based on a book written by Jerry Sohl (Die, Monster, Die!; The Crimson Cult and episodes of The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone and Star Trek) and directed by Ted Post, who amongst all things made The Baby.
Clay and Marjorie (James Franciscus and Lee Grant) are a couple on the outs who take a vacation after Clay nearly dies in an accident and has a metal plate inserted into his head. The town they decide to visit is certainly nice enough, except that every night, every single person lines up like a zombie, gets in a truck and returns in the morning.
Originally airing on September 29, 1970 on ABC, this has a great cast, including Andrew Prine, Leslie Nielsen, Virginia Vincent and Morris Buchanan.
I dream of a world where more TV movies get released on blu ray. Until then, we have YouTube.
A feel like a broken record saying this, but John Llewellyn Moxey made so many different styles of movies and I really love every single one.
Take this failed pilot, in which Cameron Steele (Christopher George!) is a former escape artist turned private investigator into the unknown. The unknown in this case being the secret formula that Doctor Henry Walding (William Windom) and his brother Charles (John Vernon!) had been working on. When thugs kidnap Henry and chain up our hero and toss him in the river, of course he can bring his escape skills out to save the day.
He’s also a rich playboy and the co-owner of a Vegas nightclub called The Crystal Ball with his friend Nicholas Slye (Avery Schreiber!). It’s filled with psychics and occult magic users who would have all made for plenty of great stories if this had actually become a series.
Man, with an adventure under an abandoned theme park and a scarred up Vernon as the heel and plenty of action, this whole movie makes me wistful for what may have been. Plus, it has appearances by William Schallert, Huntz Hall and Gloria Grahame!
In the future, overpopulation has created a world in which people are allowed to have only one child and are denied all medical care when they turn 65. So, you know, it’s pretty much halfway close to the world we live in.
Another film in the storied career of John Llewellyn Moxey, this was written by Peter S. Fischer, who created Blacke’s Magic and Murder, She Wrote.
Alan and Karen Miller (Michael Cole from The Mod Squad and Janet Margolin) are a couple attempting to have a second child after their first dies. Van Heflin, in his last role, plays Senator Quincy George, a man who attempts to get them into Canada. They must face off with perhaps the most frightening of all villains: Ed Asner.
Honestly, this movie is as good as any theatrical film made at the time, painting a great picture of a world where women have no control over their bodies and the government control is near absolute. It feels closer now than ever before.