EDITOR’S NOTE: I love this movie and that was apparent when it was originally on the site on November 19, 2018. As Curtis Harrington week continues, let’s go back and watch it all over again.
I like to play this game where any time the title of the movie is mentioned, I scream and cheer like I’m Pee Wee sitting on Chairy. Good news for me — What’s the Matter with Helen? says it’s title more than once, leading to me wondering if I should invest in the paper bags full of confetti that Rip Taylor always seems to have to throw around.
Two young men are going to jail for life after murdering an older woman. Then, we see their mothers — played by Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds — as they bravely face an angry mob and drive away. As they make their way home, an anonymous phone call takes credit for the attack which bloodied up Winters’ character Helen. Reynolds character Adelle then reveals her plan to pack up her cardboard standup of herself and move to California to start a dance studio. Soon, the two ladies have changed their last names and gone west.
This is a movie packed with odd situations and even odder characters, like elocution teacher Hamilton Starr and a tramp who continually bothers Adelle. And oh yeah — Helen is madly in love with her friend and becomes insanely jealous to the point that she often sticks her fingers into metal fans when she isn’t listening to Sister Alma (Agnes Moorehead) on the radio. Alma is obviously Aimee Semple McPherson, the 1920’s and 30’s celebrity whose Foursquare Church’s faith healing radio broadcasts were the forerunner of modern televangelism and charismatic Christianity.
Adelle falls for Lincoln Palmer (Dennis Weaver), the father of one of her students. He’s rich as it gets, rich enough to pay for gigolos to dance with her while he watches in yet another one of those moments that would get explored in a modern movie and are just another creepy aside in this one.
Between Helen murdering people who break into their house, then trying to be forgiven by Sister Alma all while having flashbacks to her husband being run over by a plow, her madness soon overtakes the film and things proceed to a rather sudden and shocking conclusion. There’s also an extended miniature golf sequence and numerous rabbit murders, as well as the reveal that Helen may have been right to kill at least one of the intruders.
According to Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters’s psychiatrist had warned her not to take this movie, as she was about to play a woman having a nervous breakdown while she was actually having one. She claims that Winters became her character to the point that the studio considered replacing her with Geraldine Page, who had plenty of hagsploitation cred after starring in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
Winters also totally caught the lesbian undercurrents — well, they’re not so well hidden, so let’s say overcurrents — in the movie, but the scenes where she really played it up were left on the cutting room floor.
It’s worth noting that this was an Oscar-nominated film — for Reynolds outfits, that is. If you have a Debbie Reynolds crush, good news. This is the movie for you. This is also the movie for you if you love musical numbers about animal crackers.
Every single person in this one is disreputable, even the children, who are forced to dress as showgirls and purr songs like “Oh, You Nasty Man.” This posits What’s the Matter with Helen? as a forerunner of calling out the blatant sexuality of child beauty pageants years before Jon Benet was murdered.
I’ve always wanted to see this movie, despite its trailer and poster giving away the ending. What were they thinking? That said, there’s enough weirdness here to sustain my interest, even if I knew how it was all going to turn out.
Speaking of police, hey, there’s the fuzz right there in the title. Said cop is played by David Hartman, who would go on to host Good Morning America from 1975 to 1987. He’s Officer Jerry Frazer and somehow, he ends up splitting an apartment with pediatrician Jane Bowers (Barbara Eden). They’re quite the odd couple — that had to be the pitch for this — as he’s a traditional man’s man who dates a Playboy Bunny (Farrah Fawcett!) and she’s a believer in women’s lib who has a mother’s boy for a fiancee (Herb Edelman, who would one day be Blance’s ex Stanley on The Golden Girls).
This is just packed with TV stars, like M*A*S*H* and Dragnet‘s Harry Morgan as Jane’s father, Jo Anne Worley as the feminist leader of Women Against Men Dr. Debby Inglefinger and Julie Newmar as an aspiring porn star who asks Jerry to arrest her so she can have a place to sleep.
It’s 74 minutes of fluff, you know exactly where it’s going but man, there’s nothing like early 70s TV to just make our 2021 world feel a little better.
Lucky Moore is really Carlo Croccolo, who acted in around 137 movies and made two of his own, this one and Gunman of One Hundred Crosses, and they’re both on the low end of the Italian Western but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t watch them, learn something and perhaps be entertained.
The main reason for me watching this is that the camera operator was a young — well, thirty-five — Aristide Massaccesi using his real name. The footage that he shot for this movie would find its way into a movie that he directed early in his career, Bounty Hunter In Trinity.
The O’Hara brothers run a small town in the west and despite the bounty on their heads, they’re working with Judge Wilson to make farmers sign his name to their land deeds and then kill they kill them and split the will. It seems like a great scam, but then Burt Collins comes to town and after a rigged game of cards, he kills two of the O’Hara’s men. On his way to escape from the town, he runs into the mysterious lawyer James Webb (yes, Klaus Kinski is on the side of the angels and I feel very strange about it). After killing three more gang members, Burt gets the job of sheriff instead of going to trial.
Meanwhile, the O’Haras are told that Burt is visiting his brother Peter, who lives in the wilderness with his Native American wife Sarah (Marina Malfatti, All the Colors of the Dark, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave). They kill him, set the house on fire and — yes, an Italian movie — assault his wife but she lives. That’s their big mistake, because she’s probably the deadliest person in this movie, using a knife and firing explosive arrows (that become a major part of Bounty Hunter In Trinity) to kill just about everyone that’s done her wrong.
Look — Klaus Kinski is a lawyer who hides hundreds of his guns inside hollowed out law books and one assumes he goes from town to town in the west and finds situations where people of low morals need to be dealt with harshly while having no real morals himself. If we forget most of the rest of the movie — I’m also all for Malfatti killing those that so grossly wronged her and yes, that assault scene is really rough — and just think about a movie where Klaus tries cases, then opens a book, stares at someone and shoots them, your watch of this film is worth it.
Well, you know how the VCRs roll at B&S About Movies . . . where a review of Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror, as well as Blood Mania, leads to a reader inquiry and discussion on whatever happened ever happened to Pete . . . which inspires a two-fer review of Vixen! and Love Me Like I Do to finish off his all-too-slight resume. And those discussion about Pete left us wondering . . . “What ever happened to Gene Shane from Werewolves on Wheels and The Velvet Vampire?”
Well, as you know, we solved “The Case of Peter Carpenter” with that said, two-fer review, and we peeled away at the onion that is “The Mystery of Gene Shane” watering our eyes with our review of The Velvet Vampire. Luckily — because we are so exhausted from those two crazed investigations of our favorite actors of yore — “The Case of Sherry Miles,” now known as DeBoer, is more easier slice and diced, thanks to her involvement in her own IMDb page, along with the many, loyal websites* dedicated to all things Hee Haw (an old “Kornfield Kountry” TV series that aired on CBS in the ’60s).
So, let’s pay tribute to one of our favorite — and missed — actress of the ’60s and ’70s.
That Teen modeling spread we used for our banner, above, soon transitioned Sherry into an acting career, which began with the pre-Gilligan’s Island Bob Denver series The Good Guys (1969), an early Aaron Spelling series, the counterculture sci-fi drama, The New People (1969), and Medical Center (1969) starring Chad Everett (The Intruder Within). Sherry’s other, early ’70s appearances included the popular series Mod Squad, Nanny and the Professor, Pat Paulsen’sHalf a Comedy Hour, The Name of the Game, The High Chaparral, The Beverly Hillbillies, Adam 12, Love American Style, and The Partridge Family (Sherry over Susan Dey, every day of the week — and twice on Sundays!). As we crossed the nation’s bicentennial, Sherry appeared on the popular series Baretta with Robert Blake (Corky), Police Woman with Angie Dickinson (Big Bad Mama), Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with future director Dennis Dugan (Love, Weddings & Other Disasters), and Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter (Bobbi Joe and the Outlaw). And let’s not forget Sherry’s 26-episode run as part of the comedy ensemble on the homegrown variety show Hee Haw* during its 1971 to 1972 season.
A one-time heiress to the Hawaii-based Long’s Drug Store chain (now owned and operated by CVS since 2008; I’m in there, often), Sherry Miles got married, became a DeBoer, and retired from the business after her final, on-camera appearance during the third season of Wonder Woman. Since her retirement, she’s become a long-respected animal rights activist.
Some of Sherry’s films you may not know. Others you have seen. And, hopefully, after this “Exploring” feature, you’ll search out the others. But you’ll surely revisit with Sherry in everyone’s favorite film of her career: The Velvet Vampire, a film so gosh-darn fine that, no offense to Sherry, intended: even if she weren’t in it . . . basically, we’re telling you to put The Velvet Vampire on your must-watch list, unintended insults to Sherry, be damned.
Okay, let’s unpack Sherry’s all-too-brief, big screen career, shall we?
Cry For Poor Wally (1969)
Russell Johnson (the Professor of Gilligan’s Island fame) stars as the small town sheriff in this “based on a true story” crime-drama filmed in Dallas, Texas. Johnson confronts Wally (a very good Keith Rothschild in his only film role; Johnson is equally fine): a fugitive on the run who takes a woman hostage in a diner with the goal of staying out of prison — no matter the cost. As Johnson tries to talk down Wally, the story flashes back as to the “why” it all happened: upon the death of his mother, his father leaves (abandons) him for greener pastures; his girlfriend (Sherry Miles) also contributes to his psychotic break.
Keep your eyes open for another slight-resume actress in Barbara Hancock, who we enjoyed in her fourth and final film, the “GP” horror film, The Night God Screamed (1972). In addition to Russell and Sherry, this is packed with a great cast of familiar character actors of the you-know-them-when-you-see-them variety of Elisha Cook, Jr., Bill Thurman (!) ,Gene Ross, and Paul Lambert.
Cry for Poor Wally proved to be the only producing and directing effort by Marty Young. Screenwriter Marshall Riggan followed with the Christian apocalypse drama Six-Hundred & Sixty Six (1972) and completed his features career with the lost, psychological horror, So Sad About Gloria (1973).
There’s a copy on the Internet Archive to stream. There’s also a ten-minute highlight reel — of its opening diner scene — courtesy of our friends at Scarecrow Video on You Tube, who also contributed the film’s full-digitized upload to the IA.
To say Sam and I love this movie — Sherry’s presence, aside — is a well-worn trope.
The Phynx are a manufactured band — kind of like the Monkees meets Stripes — made up of A. “Michael” Miller, Ray Chipperway, Dennis Larden and Lonny Stevens. They’re trained in all manner of espionage, as well as rock ‘n roll, including meeting Dick Clark, record industry-emissary James Brown, and being taught how to have some “soul” by Richard Pryor. Hey, wait a sec . . . didn’t Cliff Richards and the Shadows do the “spy rock” thing in Finders Keepers (1966)?
At once an indictment of the system and the product of the very hand that it is biting, The Phynx occupies the same weird space as Skidoo, i.e., big-budget Hollywood films trying desperately — and failing — to reach the long-haired hippy audience — like the Monkees with Head — yet failing to understand them at any level. Sort of like the next film on today’s program.
Since this is locked up in the Warner Archive, there’s no streams to share, but here’s a clip on You Tube.
Making It (1971)
Ugh. The marketing of movies.
Based on the theatrical one-sheet and the R-rating, you’re expecting a soft-core sexploitationer: you actually end up with a not-so-bad, smart “coming of age” teen dramedy. As it should be: it’s written by Peter Bart (for 20th Century Fox), who you known best as the co-host, with film executive Peter Guber, of AMC’s film talk and interview programs Shootout and Storymakers, as well as Encore’s In the House. True movieheads known, that, after his screenwriting career, Bart was a writer at the New York Times, an Editor-In Chief at Variety, and later a Vice President of Production at Paramount Studios. While serving as the screenwriting debut for Bart, Making It was also the feature film debut for longtime TV director John Erman (Outer Limits, My Favorite Martian, Star Trek: TOS); continuing with TV series, Erman directed numerous TV movies into the early-2000s.
While Sherry Miles is what brought us here: we’re also captivated by a cast that features early roles for the familiar Bob Balaban, David Doyle (yep, Bosley from TV’s Charlie’s Angels), character actor extraordinaire John Fiedler, Denny Miller, Lawrence Pressman, and Tom Troupe, along with the brother-sister thespian duo of Dick and Joyce Van Patten.
Based on the ’60s best-seller, What Can You Do?, a very young Kristoffer Tabori (later of Brave New World and a Star Wars video game voice artist) stars as Phil Fuller: a 17-year-old ne’er-do-well clone of David Cassidy (who would have been perfect in the “grown up” role) living with his widowed mother (Joyce Van Patten). He quenches his self-centered needs by using the girls in his school (prom queen, Sherry Miles), his nerdy best friend (a very young Bob Balaban), and his basketball coach (Denny Miller) — by taking up with his wife (Marlyn Mason). Meanwhile, Joyce Van has or own sexual issues: she’s facing the thoughts of an abortion after shacking up with an insurance agent (played by her brother!). Then Phil, himself, deals with the issues of abortion when he gets one of his high school-conquests, pregnant.
In the end, what you get in the frames of Making It is not a sexploitation comedy, or even a “coming of age” dramedy, but an insightful examination of a pre-Roe vs. Wade world regarding the legalities surrounding abortions (then illegal in California, where this takes place, but legal in New York, where a Patten’s character considers going to get one).
It’s pretty heavy stuff of a time and place, but without the favorable atmosphere of Fast Times of Ridgemont High — if that film centered soley on Mike Damone knocking up Stacy Hamilton. My youthful nostalgia for movies like this slide in nicely next to an early Sam Elliot in Lifeguard, Dennis Christopher in California Dreaming, and the genre change-up with Cathy Lee Crosby in Coach. Your own nostalgia mileage — and for all films Sherry Miles — may vary.
My enjoyment of this movie, which serves as the suffix-title to this retrospective on Sherry Miles, is unbound. Sherry is not only stellar in it: so is the cast, under the pen and lens of Stephanie Rothman. Simply put: this is a beautiful, creepy film.
Swinging Lee Ritter and his vapid, but pretty wife, Susan (Sherry Miles), make the mistake of accepting the art gallery invitation of a mysterious, red-dressed vixen, Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall), to visit her secluded, desert estate. The couple soon discover Diane is a centuries-old vampire — and both are objects of her bisexual thirsts.
The Todd Killings (1971)
Fans of the based-in-fact teen murder tale of River’s Edge (marketed on the later VHS “slasher” reissues as Maniac; it’s why we rented it) will enjoy Sherry Miles’s second — after Cry for Poor Wally — true crime drama, this one based on the true story of ’60s thrill-killer Charles Schmid, known as “The Pied Piper of Tuscon.”
The film was inspired by a March 1966 Life magazine article about the killings, which, in turn, inspired the 1966 short anthology story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Schmid’s exploits were also loosely adapted into the Treat Williams-starring Smooth Talk (1985), as well as the (woefully inferior) films Dead Beat (1994) and The Lost (2005).
Skipper Todd (an outstanding Robert F. Lyons, a much-seen ’60s TV actor in his fourth feature film, but first starring role) is a charismatic, 23-year old ne’er-do-well who charms his way into the lives of out-of-his-age-bracket high school kids in a small California town. The girls, of course, fall instantly for him and head out to the desert for some romantic fun — only never to return. As in the true crimes that inspired River’s Edge, Todd, aka Schmid, was assisted by his girlfriend and best friend in luring, killing, and burying the victims. Shocking for its time, Belinda J. Montgomery and Richard Thomas are frontal nude; Montgomery’s is cut from the later VHS versions.
As with Cry for Poor Wally, this is another one of those lost, underrated gems — it’s heartbreaking for all concerned, even the beyond salvation Skipper Todd — of the Drive-In era rediscovered, not during the UHF-TV ’70s, but the home video ’80s. The quality comes courtesy of its familiar cast of a just-starting-out Richard Thomas (as Skipper’s loyal hanger-on buddy), along with Edward Asner, Barbara Bel Geddes, James Broderick, Michael Conrad (remember the gruff commander on Hill Street Blues?) Gloria Grahame, and Fay Spain. Also keep your eyes open for musician-actress Holly Near in her third role; she made her debut in the critically lambasted Angel, Angel Down WeGo (1969).
There’s no trailers or streams to share — well, there’s a You Tube Italian-dub to skim — but the DVDs abound in the online marketplace. This is a great film. It’s also a nihilistic, downbeat one, but still worthy of a watch.
“Spoofs today’s sex films (i.e., porn) the way Batman spoofed Super Heroes!” — tagline for the original, first release of Calliope
I just can’t see my dearest Sherry signing on the dotted line for a goofy, post-Russ Meyer wannabe skinflick that proclaims: “It spreads, and spreads, and spreads,” only to equate its comedy to a beloved Adam West TV series. Obviously, what was presented during negotiations to Sherry, and what was distributed to theaters, differed. Wildly. But what else should we have expected from writer-director Matt Climber, he who gave us The Black Six (1973), Pia Zadora in Butterfly (1981), and a sex-bent take on Indiana Jones with Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984)?
Well, this movie. That’s what. And this one is truly a lost film.
So much for producing an Americanized remake of the significant and cinematically-respected La Ronde (1950), a 1900s-era, spicy-romantic, French-language comedy by German-born director Max Ophüls, which earned a 1952 “Best Screenplay” Oscar nod. He also repeated that Oscar feat with his next film, Le Plaisir (1952), which earned a 1955 nod for its Art Direction, done by Max, himself. So loved was La Ronde in its homeland, as well as across Europe, Roger Vadim (Barbarella) updated the film as Circle of Love (1964), with his soon-to-be lover, Jane Fonda. As for the Ophüls original: it took four years before U.S. film sensors approved the film, sans cuts, for theater showings in 1954.
As for the U.S. remake, originally released under the title, Calliope, what could go wrong: everything. Didn’t you hear the sound of two-time Oscar-nominated Max Ophüls turning over in his grave?
Both films are concerned with ten people “in various episodes in the endless waltz of love” (they go “round and round,” thus the titles), as they each hop from encounter to encounter . . . and that’s were it all stops. Dead.
Since Americans were still swingin’ from the free-loving, Summer of Love ’60s, and Mike Nichols answered the “sex revolution” charge with the aforementioned Carnal Knowledge (1971) (and Paul Mazursky’s 1969 effort, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), Allied Artists (an outgrowth of Monogram Pictures, a library now owned-split among Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor, and Paramount; Warner owns Calliope) decided that, instead of the main protagonist (now a hippie musician instead of soldier-on-leave) eventually finding love with the partner he started off with (Sherry Miles, now a band groupie, instead of the original’s prostitute) . . . he receives “the gift that goes on giving”: a sexually transmitted disease, i.e., venereal disease, since this was the ’70s and not the AIDS ’80s.
Calliope (no theatrical one-sheets exist, at least online), needless to say, bombed. Ah, but the “Golden Age of Porn” was in full swing, so Allied Artists didn’t give up: a year later, in 1972, the reimaged Love Is Catching hit the circuit; it opened in, of all places, the home base of B&S About Movies: Pittsburgh. It bombed, again, and harder than a Richard Harrison Philippine film he was edited-into and never signed on to do.
This soft-sexploitation romp causes me to reflex on poor Gerald McRaney and Tom Selleck, each scoring their first major roles in Night of Bloody Horror and Daughters of Satan, respectively. The scripts are pretty good . . . and work is work . . . and they thesp’d up a sweat to make it all work . . . then J.N Houck, Jr., and worse, in Tom Selleck’s case, since U.S. major, United Artists, backed it, cheesed the films with exploitative ad campaigns. Just like Calliope. And Skidoo. And Myra Breckinridge.
Sherry, six films in to her career, and just missing out on a co-starring role with Jack Nicholson in one of Mike Nichols best films — a frank, adult-discussion of modern-day sexual issues — was deserving of a better, leading lady role than this STD sex farce.
Sure, it’s a well-shot picture, and the acting is pretty decent (we have great character actors Marjorie Bennett and Stan Rose, on board). And it’s not all that bad; sure, modernizing from the early 1900s to the late 1960s is inspired. And it’s not at all porny, since the sex scenes are implied, more than shown . . . but I still have this need to go back in time and kick someone . . . for having my sweet Sherry transmitting VD in a movie.
But things are looking up, nicely, with our next feature.
The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972)
From a sexploitation flick to a Christian cinema obscurity: only in Tinseltown, baby. And while his name is nixed from the one-sheet (whatever, Plekker, nice n’ cheesy paste-up work): the writer-director here is Ken Osborne, the man behind the pen and lens on the biker flick Wild Wheels (1969). He also appeared in our Uncle Al Adamson’s Blood on Dracula’s Castle (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).
And there’s more!
In addition to Sherry Miles, we have Marty Allen and Eric Estrada? Ray Danton (too many ’60s to ’70s TV series to mention)? Bruce Kimball (Rollercoaster)? Where’s the VCR. Load the tape. LOAD THE TAPE!
The pedigree is the thing in this imperiled-musician-in-a-spiritual-crisis tale, not only with our director, Ken Osborne: the scribe behind this Christploitationer, Ralph Luce, also wrote Wild Wheels. Why, yes, that’s Robert Dix and William Kerwin from Satan’s Sadists, and Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, respectively, in the cast, as well as, again, a very youthful, pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada. And we mention Erik a second time, since this second film in his career was also his second Christploiter. The first was The Cross and the Switchblade, which starred ’60s crooner Pat Boone, as directed by Don Murray (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).
The Ballad of Billie Blue is the tale of a drug-and-boozed out country music star — our faux-message “Jesus Christ” of the proceedings — sent to prison, aka Hell, on a bum murder rap; he finds God by way of a prison preacher and a Christ-following country music star.
Regardless of its secular, exploitative pedigree, this was Rated-G — and it ran as a “Special Church Benefit” in rural theaters, as well as in churches and tent revivals. Granted it’s no country-cautionary tale in the vein of A Star Is Born (1976) with Kris Kristofferson, but it’s not a total disaster.
I still say the Oscar-winning dramedy Sideways (2004) starring Paul Giamatti (in the Beau Bridges role) and Thomas Haden Church (in the Rob Liebman role) stole this movie lock, stock, and wine bottle. But I digress. . . .
So . . . the ’70s and their slew of ne’er-do-well “buddy films” were entertaining times, with the likes of Midnight Cowboy (1969), starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Busting (1974), with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, Freebie and the Bean (1974), starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, and Let’s Do It Again (1975), with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.
My old Pop loved his “buddy films,” so you didn’t have to sell us twice — especially when the buddies are Beau Bridges and Ron Liebman. And we ain’t hatin’ Janet Margolin in the frames, either. Mom and Pop dumped me at the sitter to see this back when; I watched it later, amid the ultra-high frequency haze of my pre-cable TV youth. All, of course, were rented, again, when they hit home video.
Oh, and speaking of Sideways: this isn’t just a buddy film. You know all of those Judd Apatow, gross-out “road movies” you love: this is where that road, began. Only without any of the Paul Rudd or Seth Rogen annoyance aftertaste.
Charlie (a perfectly cast Beau Bridges) is a henpecked office drone-doormat at a dead-end job, engaged to harping woman (Janet Margolin, Planet Earth). The lone spark in his life is his “idol,” Mike (an even more perfectly cast Rob Liebman), a narcissistic and misogynistic, well, dickhead, of a buddy. So, to get Charlie out from under his soon-to-be-loveless marriage — and his own, mounting debts and his recently cut-off unemployment benefits — the pair hits the roads of the California coast on Mike’s last two, usable credit cards, subsidized by a little bit of larceny. Along the way, the pick up two, nubile hippie chicks (in the expertly cast) June Fairchild (Up In Smoke) and Sherry Miles.
So, somewhere in the frames is a message about America’s newfound “liberation” forged in the ’60s (more effectively done with Beau’s brother, Jeff, in 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), but while this warms the ol’ UHF-TV cockles of watching it with ol’ Pop all those years ago, Your Three Minutes Are Up is an erratic, rambling TV movie-flat messadventure that could have easily went the bloody-serial killer route — if not for its purposeful, comedic slant. Think Easy Rider sans the drugs and bikes, or Five Easy Pieces with Liebman as our ersatz Jack Nicholson, and you’re on the right road in this still, effectively cast and well-acted adventure.
Look, Steven Hilliard Stern (The Park Is Mine) is directing . . . so what’s not to like, here?
Well, uh, not much, in this woefully dated “sex revolution” tale that sequels the box office hit, The Harrad Experiment (1973), which grossed $3 million against $400,000.
So, why did this sure-fire hit, flop?
Well, the character of James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption) doesn’t return. Tippi Hedren’s does, but is replaced by a lookalike in Emmaline Henry (Ms Amanda Bellows from TV’s I Dream of Jeannie). And Don Johnson and Bruno Kirby bowed out. Sure, Laurie Walters (Warlock Moon; later TV’s Eight Is Enough), who made her acting debut in the original, is back, and so is bit TV actress Victoria Thompson, but who is coming to see either? And we want more Sherry Miles, thank you.
Note to executives: When you loose three quarters of your cast, don’t make the sequel.
Anyway, the premise is that faux-Stanley and Harry, along with real-Sheila and Beth, are out on summer break from their first year at Harrad College: it’s time to test their new found sexual freedom in the real world. Or something. Like going back and re-watching Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice and Carnal Knowledge.
Hey, I champion Stern’s TV work just as much as my fellow fan of the VHS obscure, but this is simply yawn-inducing . . . .the total opposite of The Harrad Experiment, which has Don and Bruno — especially Bruno — going for it. Robert Reiser and Richard Doran in their places, well . . . they’re not awful: they just don’t have the same spunk to make the hippie proceedings, hep.
No streams, but the DVDs are out there; here’s the trailer.
Okay. So, the heart breaker and dream maker of my wee-lad years, Sherry Miles, closes out her career by running around an island with Joe Don Baker to escape a pack of wild dogs . . . get this: under the lens of Robert Clouse of Enter the Dragon, Black Belt Jones, and Golden Needles fame?
Load. The. Tape. Now.
Sure, this beat Stephen’s King’s Cujoto theaters and was all about a literal army of dogs biting everyone on Seal Island — which has nothing on Dog Island from Humongous. So, was Robert Clouse inspired by the 1976 film starring David McCallum that you don’t want to confuse with The Pack, aka Dogs? Probably. No, not Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (1978), as that one starred Richard Crenna. Get your horror dog movies, straight, buddy! Did Clouse’s dog romp inspire Earl Owensby’s (Dark Sunday) backwater sheriff fighting off government-bred mutts in Dogs of Hell (1983)? Probably.
What else can we say: it’s a killer dog movie. Not even Sherry’s presence can save it. But horror was hot and, as an actor, you jump the trend and hope for a hit. Well, it is to us, at B&S About Movies. We’re weird that way.
There’s no freebie streams, but the PPVs are out there; here’s the trailer.
So wraps this latest “Exploring” featuring, this one on (sigh . . . skyrockets . . . rainbows . . . fields of flowers . . . hearts with angel wings) Sherry Miles. Be sure to click the “Exploring” tag below to read the full list of all of our “Exploring” features on the lost, forgotten and awesome actors and directors, as well as genres, of the Drive-In ’60s, the UHF-TV ’70s, and VHS ’80s eras.
Yeah, we’re doin’ it for the celluloid love. And because we’re just crazy that way. This is B&S About Movies, after all.
Yeah, I know . . . Mickey Rooney was a big star in the 1930s and 1940s, and, for most, seeing him in an ersatz, horrified version of the noir classic Sunset Blvd. is considered a fall from grace, but I really like him here. His work as B.J Lang is as memorable to me as was his work as the mentally handicapped Bill Sackter in the CBS-TV movies Bill (1981) and Bill: On His Own (1983). Yeah, I know, this forgotten Rooney resume entry is on a Mill Creek box set, which leads the many to write off the movie as a “stinker” and that the Mick is slumming, and that we’ve seen it done better with Terrance Stamp and Samatha Eggar in The Collector (1965).
Chalk up my affections for the film as result of seeing it for the first time on my first solo drive-in excursion with a few friends on an undercard with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) . . . and for the life of me, I can’t remember the main feature. . . . Brainworm alert!
In the world of exploitation, you’ve heard the term “hagsploitation” mentioned to describe aging actresses, aka hags, regulated to finding work in horror films, holding on the last vestiges of their once glamorous, contract player-studio system careers.
And we’ve reviewed most, if not all of them.
Edith Atwater was just one of the many, ’40s starlets finding work in the hagploitation, aka psychobiddy, sub-genre: a genre where old, crusty women either terrorized “sinning” young women or are simply jealous of the girl’s youth, so they “gaslight” them into insanity. You know Edith Atwater, best, from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi’s The Body Snatcher (1945), which was her third feature film; she also appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford — herself a “hag” actress with the likes of Berserk! and Trog. Edith then fell into a lot of TV work for the remainder of her career into the mid-’80s to pay the bills. In between, she did another hagster with Die Sister, Die!(1971).
So, if the women are packed in a “hagsploitation” crate . . . where does that leave the older, male actors, such as Mickey Rooney? Such a film is B.J Lang Presents — a film which falls under the “trollsplotation” tag* used to describe aging actors stuck in horror films — a film that found a new, video ’80s shelf live under the title, The Manipulator.
So, you’ve noticed the name of Luana Anders in the credits?
Yes, that means this Rooney tour de force also fits nicely into the hag-cycle of ’70s horror films. We first enjoyed Anders in the teensploitationer Reform School Girl (1957), but remember her best for the incessant UHF-TV replays of The Pit an the Pendulum (1961) and Dementia 13 (1963). By the late ’60s, with an A-List film career not coming to fruition, Anders, like many actors, transitioned to television, appearing in the likes of That Girl, The Andy Griffith Show, and Hawaii Five-O, just to name a few.
The writer and director behind the madness, as it were, is Yabo Yablonsky, in his debut in both fields. His is a name know you known courtesy of his Sly Stallone connection for writing the WW II soccer-war drama, Victory (1981). In between, Yabo gave us the forgotten TV films — which played as Euro-theatricals — Revenge for a Rape (1976) and Portrait of a Hitman (1979), courtesy of their starring then/still hot Mike Connors (then of TV’s Mannix fame) and Jack Palance (with Rod Steiger, Bo Svenson, Ann Turkel, and Richard Roundtree), respectively. Of course, martial arts junkies know Yabo best for giving Joe Lewis — one of only five men to beat Chuck Norris in the ring — his film debut in Jaguar Lives! (1979)**.
Okay, enough with the backstory. Let’s unpack this film . . . one where Mickey Rooney cuts loose in an amazing performance. (Yes, amazing. This is my review, after all.)
The plot is simple: Rooney is the once respected, Hollywood’s premiere makeup man, B.J Lang, who, ironically, aged out of the business and has been tossed aside by the glitzy-guady Grauman’s Chinese Theatre crowd. So he snaps and kidnaps an actress (Anders), holding her hostage in an abandoned prop house on a forgotten studio backlot to “star” as Roxanne to his Cyrano in his “movie” version of Cyrano De Bergerac — made of his own reality mixed with his hallucinations. To that end: Mick’s talking to mannequins and people who aren’t there, as he longs for the days — as did the off-her-nut Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950) — when he had the ear of Cecil B. DeMille.
Yablonsky may be — as you can tell from his continued work as a writer (which included lots of uncredited “doctoring” work) — a decent writer, but he’s no director of distinction. Clearly, he’s influenced by the earliest splatters of Italian Giallo, here, (mixed with a soupçon of Phantom of the Opera; the 1925 version with Lon Chaney, Sr. or Claude Rains 1943 version, take your pick), hence the creepy mannequins — and more so as B.J Lang remembers the gold ol’ days of putting makeup on Marilyn Monroe: so he puts the makeup on himself and struts around like the actress — as an ersatz Norman Bates. Then there’s the zoomin’ n’ swooshin’ experimental camera movements, the shakes, the psycho color palate — and for a little ’60s acid tripping, lots of strobe lights. So, in the directing and cinematography departments, many opine there’s no class nor style. Uh, maybe they’re right: the proceedings are more of an attempt to copy Mario Bava than to bring anything unique to the lens. Name a camera trick. Yabo’s got it jammed in there, somewhere in the frames. As with his actors: he’s going for it and making an impression.
In the end this is a Rooney and Andres joint (more so for Rooney) — with a slight cameo by Kennan Wynn as wino bum squatting in the theater (who Rooney subsequently ofts) — with the duo going at it with gusto, which, for me, makes it worth the watch.
This pretty much got (very) loosely remade-ripped (more effectively) as Fade to Black (1980) and that film, as with The Manipulator, also has more detractors than fans. You can watch a free-rip of The Manipulator on You Tube. Of course, it’s available on Mill Creek’s Drive-In Movie Classics 50-movie pack, which we are featuring all this month at B&S About Movies.
* You need more trollsploitation flicks with aged-out and down-and-out A-List actors reinventing themselves in a 70s horror film? Then look no further than Tony Curtis in The Manitou and BrainWaves (the latter also with Keir Dullea), Kirk Douglas in Holocaust 2000, Rock Hudson in Embryo, Fritz Weaver in Demon Seed.
** We’ve reviewed the films of two of Chuck’s other opponents: Tonny Tulleners in Scorpion (1986) and Ron Marchini, whose career we dedicated a week of reviews.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We wrote about this moldy oldie (in the best of ways) back on March 4, 2020.
Will to Die? Blood Legacy? Legacy of Blood?
Whatever you call it, this 1971 film has a plot as old as movies themselves — a patriarch gathers his family to hear his will. Carl Monson, who wrote The Acid Eaters and also directed Please Don’t Eat My Mother was behind this.
This is the last movie for Rodolfo Acosta, who either played Mexicans or Native Americans in Westerns usually. John Carradine is also in this — of course, this movie was made for him — and Richard Davalos (Blind Dick from Cool Hand Luke and the cover image for The Smiths albums “Strangeways, Here We Come” and two of their greatest hits collections), Faith Domergue (Perversion Story), former pro wrestler Buck Kartalian, Jeff Morrow (The Creature Walks Among Us) and John Russell, who replaced James Doogan on the second season of Jason of Star Command.
Yes, the outside of the house is also the same mansion that was used for Wayne Manor. You haven’t gone completely bats yet.
Maurizio Lucidi is probably better known for his westerns like My Name Is Pecos than any other movies he made. After watching this giallo, I wish he had done more in the genre.
Stefano Augenti disillusioned advertising executive (Tomas Milan) gets all Strangers On a Train with the unsavory Count Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clémenti) and come up with a plan to take out one another’s problem relatives. Stefano agrees to kill the count’s brother, who is in the way of his rightful inheritance, whole Tiepolo will kill the ad man’s wife who refuses to cash out of his business.
Matteo starts playing with Stefano and informs his supposed partner’s wife about the plan before she’s strangled. He has the evidence that will keep the police off Stefano, but will only send it if his brother is murdered as agreed upon.
Milan even contributed the lyrics and vocals to a song in this movie, “My Shadow in the Dark,” which was performed by the New Trolls.
The Mondo Macabro release of this movie has a new 4k transfer from the original film negative as well as interviews with writer and assistant director Aldo Lado and Balthazar Clementi. Plus, there’s commentary by Peter Jilmstad and Rachael Nisbet, as well as an exclusive extended version and alternate scenes.
First, it’s confused with German director Eberhard Schröder’s Die Klosterschülerinnen, aka The Convent Students, which also made the rounds as Sex Life in a Convent, but is also known as . . . Girls in Trouble. Second, that film, and this Sybil Danning vehicle (well, not really) is not only co-directed by Schröder: both star German glamour model and Euro-sex kitten Doris Arden (1968’s So Much Naked Tenderness and 1972’s Nurse Report). Third, while it’s a softcore skinflick (uh, not really), it ends up on “Christploitation” lists due to its anti-abortion and pro-life slant in its chronicle of several pregnant women on their way to get abortions.
While it played across Europe in 1971, it finally made it to America during the height of the “Golden Age of Porn” on U.S. shores as The Joy of Love.
But this ain’t no porn . . . or the least bit golden. And there’s no joy in watching it. And it’s not a Christian flick . . . or the least bit saving. Everybody got duped with this one. No one was entertained by it and everybody hated it. But what else would you expect from a film that markets both the porn and God-believing markets?
Lacking a fluid narrative, the film actually plays as a series of documentary-styled vignettes. So what we really have here is an omnibus films of seven tales on the dangers and horrors of abortion. And now you see why it ends up on Christploitation lists.
In the first tale, two women are in court over a botched kitchen-abortion. Then, we meet a kidnapped and raped 13-year old girl forced to keep her baby because the law doesn’t allow abortions. In the third tale, a knocked up young lady has miscarriage forced upon her. Then, we’re inside a mobile — and illegal – abortion clinic. Then a secretary is raped by her boss, who then send her to the U.K. for an abortion. We also meet a woman who visits an abortion doctor who drugs her and takes porn-pictures of her to make some pocket change. And in the final, seventh tale, a young, pregnant girl begs a doctor for an abortion; he calls in priest to read her the riot act.
So, what happened back in that opening court room scene?
Well, the old bag with the kitchen knife who almost murdered the young woman, gets three years. The girl — who was almost murdered, mind you — gets six months in jail because, well, she’s a “slut” that already had a child previously that she gave up for adoption.
As you can see, this West Germany ditty is far from being a skin flick. And it’s just one of those oddball flicks you spotted behind the green curtain during the video store ’80s because Sybil Danning’s presence sells the tape — then you discover she’s only the wife of the judge from the first segment, she’s not an aborter or abortee, and she shows us no skin. And the whole movie is actually pretty disgusting and you start to wonder what the big deal was about you finally aging-in to get behind the green curtain.
Obviously, there’s no trailer to show you or links to stream it online. But make no mistake: this offensive lesson in tedium that would give Ed Wood pause, exists. Sybil Danning fans can skip this — we implore you, skip this — and go directly to Malibu Express or They’re Playing with Fire.
Oh, and beware of Eberhard Schröder skin flick rabbit holes. It’s a sexually twisted filmography you’d rather not know about. Trust us. Don’t do it. (But you know you will.)
“You know what sells films, sweetie: tits and cheap lighting. What in the hell is this artsy-fartsy brass bed in the middle of the desert crap? How in the hell am I suppose to recycle this into another film? And we’re calling it ‘Cemetery Girls,’ got it?” — Roger Corman schools Stephanie Rothman on the fine art of exploitation filmmaking (not really, we are trying — and failing — at being funny)
This is the type of review I enjoying writing for B&S About Movies, as it was born out of chatting about film with our loyal readers whom reach out to us via review comments, our feedback form, or social media.
The review begins when I had chats with Mike Perkins, professional librarian extraordinaire, who, in working with B&S About Movies’ friend and contributor, Mike Justice of The Eerie Midnight Detective Agency site, solved the mystery of the short-lived career of ’70s actor Peter Carpenter (which we discuss within a two-fer review of Peter’s work in Vixen! and Love Me Like I Do).
Then Mike Perkins and I got to talking about Peter Carpenter’s he-was-there-then-he-was-gone doppelganger in actor Gene Shane . . . and, as with Pete, there’s little-to-nothing known about Gene’s life after he wrapped up career his with The Velvet Vampire. As with Pete: Gene only did four films: the others are Run, Angel, Run! (1969), the lost Bernard L. Kowalksi* flick with David Janssen, Macho Callahan (1970), and Werewolves on Wheels (1971). Unlike Pete: Gene branched off into legit TV series, with the ratings-toppers The High Chaparral and Bonanza (1969), but he got his start in the short-lived, forgotten series The Guns of Will Sonnett and The Outcasts (1968).
And so ends the resume of Gene Shane . . . well . . . if we believe the Digital Content Managers of the IMDb, which list Gene starring as “Jesus” — of all characters — in the 2004 Larry Buchanan quasi-documentary, The Copper Scroll of Mary Magdalene (see his Jim Morrison romp Down On Us, aka Beyond the Doors, for more on the ‘Buch’s paranoia-docs lifespan). Ah, but ye DCM’ers of the IMDb, busted again, ye are: that film is actually The Rebel Jesus shot in the ’70s and shelved. Buchanan finally got around to editing it for its 2004 release — when he died. (Oh, get this: the film also stars Garth Pillsbury from Peter Carpenter’s Vixen! — so there’s that to mull over.)
So, what does that mean?
Well, Gene Shane, aka Duece Berry in Werewolves on Wheels, if you’re keeping track, like Peter Carpenter before him — vanished from the face of the Earth after four films, with The Velvet Vampire, in fact, as is his last work (plot spoiler: or is it?).
Cue Mike Perkins to the B&S About Movies cubicle farm: he’s already on The Case of Gene Shane. So stayed tuned . . . for the ‘Perk will find out, and when he knows, you’ll know, right here on the pages of B&S About Movies.
Alrighty, then. Let’s unpack The Velvet Vampire.
So, yeah, Roger Corman, who bankrolled this through his New World Pictures shingle, didn’t like the end product — so he dumped The Velvet Vampire into Drive-Ins on a double-bill with Jose Luis Merino’s (awesome!) Spanish-Italian co-production Scream of the Demon Lover (1970). Meanwhile, USC trained writer and director Stephanie Rothman — who previously served in both capacities on The Student Nurses for Corman — was disappointed on how Corman handled the movie, as well as its box-office reception. (This from the guy who rips off Star Wars by way of The Magnificent Seven — and recycles Battle Beyond the Stars over and over again in (the even worse) Space Raiders and Forbidden World, but in the cooler Galaxy of Terror.)
In an interview, “Feminism, Fantasy and Violence: An Interview with Stephanie Rothman,” in the Journal of Popular Film & Television, Rothman spoke of the film: “It’s not a traditional horror film nor a hard-core exploitation movie. In some places it was booked into art theatres. In others it had [a] one week saturation release in drive-ins and hard-top theatres. There was no consistent distribution pattern for it because people responded differently to it and I think that may be part of the [film’s failure].
Stephanie, screw Roger. We friggin’ love this movie!
I love how The Velvet Vampire starts: We have the eyeball-melting Celeste Yarnall (my heart is weeping, again; sigh, Celeste) walking alone across a city-at-sleep: she’s decked out in a mod-red dress. And a ubiquitous biker tough (the always-welcomed character awesomeness of Robert Tessier in an early, pre-The Longest Yard roll) tries to mug-rape her. (Yeah, right, Robert, that’ll work.) Next thing you know: Diane LeFanu (know your Sheridan LeFanu and “Carmilla” from In a Glass Darkly) causally washes her hands in a park fountain.
Then Mr. LaFanu heads on over to an art gallery (run by Gene Shane as Carl Stoker; who’s part of the plot twist) filled with erotic wares — as real-life blues artist Johnny Shines preforms his song, “Evil-Hearted Woman.”
All this in the first five minutes? I’m hooked.
We haven’t even gotten to the dune buggy-innuendos. Or the (simply stunning) phantasmal, desert-surrealism scenes. Or the woman-on-woman sucking-snake-venom-out-the-leg (thigh, but no triangle-of-death shot) scene. Or the hints of cannibalism and necrophilia. Or the subtle, implied lesbianism.
So . . . our vamp, the divine Ms. LaFanu, picks up Lee Ritter (Eric Stolz-lookalike Michael Blodgett from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Disco Fever), a sex-swingin’ married guy at the gallery and invites him and his put-upon (very hot blonde) hippy wife, Susan (more heart-weeping for Sherry Miles-DeBoer of The Phynx), to her secluded desert estate — conveniently located near an abandoned mine and an old graveyard (filled with the long, mysteriously-dead miners). Sharon’s attended to by her slave: Juan (Jerry Daniels; some U.S. TV, but Lee Majors’s The Norseman).
What raises Stephanie Rothman’s vamp-fest above most of the cliche vampress romps of the ’70s — and puts it, for me, on level with my beloved Hammer’s “Carnstein trilogy,” as well as the great Count Yorga and greater Lemora, Lady Dracula — is that Rothman eschews the conventions of yore: Ms. LaFanu lives in the desert and embraces the sun, she’s a voyeur (as the couple has sex), has a reflection, sucks down raw chicken livers, and jumps into her hubby’s grave and pines for him as she cries on top of his pine box. And she may not even be a vampire: just a psycho with a blood fetish/illness. And, unlike those Hammer-Euro vamp-babes of old: she’s bisexual and blood is blood, after all.
What the frack, Rog? I have no idea what you didn’t like, here, desert brass beds and the sexuality of snakes, be damned.
Oh, this friggin’ epic movie!
Rothman does a wonderful job symbolism-editing Ms. Ritter’s desert snake bite moment with Ms. LaFanu sinking her fangs into Mr. Rothman. Meanwhile, Rothman’s cinematographer, Daniel Lacambre, really knows how to work a lens under the baking sun, inside mine shafts, and empty mansions — and the later L.A. train station chase. The love scenes between Yarnall and Blodgett couldn’t be more artful, tasteful, and exotically shot — without degrading into Russ Meyer-removed sleaze. (Which is probably why Corman hated it: too arty and not “exploitative” enough. Whatever, Rog. Don’t you have some unimaginative stock footage to recycle?) Again, the desert-surrealism of the Ritters in bed in the middle of the desert wasteland: don’t tell me Don Coscarelli wasn’t inspired by Rothman’s frames. That’d be like saying Sam Raimi wasn’t inspired, i.e., ripped off, Equinox to make Evil Dead.
Critics, both pro (Frack you, Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times) and just-run-of-the-mill codgers, slag the acting — especially Blodgett’s. Granted, no one, besides Celeste Yarnall, is jumpin’ on the A-List (well, maybe so; Yarnall retired for a spell from acting after working with Burt Lancaster in ’73’s Scorpio; but did a LOT of U.S. television, prior), but everyone’s thespin’ fine. And I distinctly remember — because I had a mad-as-hell boy-crush on her — Sherry Miles in reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies, Adam-12, The Partridge Family, and Police Woman. You don’t book all of those jobs by not being good at your job. (I was supposed to be married to Sherry by now — and playing second guitar for the Monkees. Sigh, childhood dreams.)
And that’s what this not-really-a-lesbian-vamp-flick is: a dream. I love this movie . . . and a bag o’ chips. Thank god Corman didn’t wrestle it away from Stephanie Rothman to add more boobs and lesbian-love to screw up a perfect horror film.
Yes. Perfect. Don’t debate me on this point.
You can free-with-ads stream The Velvet Vampire on Tubi TV. There’s also a non-commercial rip on Daily Motion. As you can see from the trailer, you can purchase the restored DVD from Scream Factory, as well as other imprints.
Stephanie, Sherry, and Gene, Oh, My!
Did you know Sherry booked — then lost — the role of Bobbie in Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge to Ann-Margret (Viva Las Vegas). So, yeah, Sherry thespian-rocked it. No worries, though. Sherry ended up in Your Three Minutes Are Up with Beau Bridges, Harrad Summer for Steven Hilliard Stern (This Park Is Mine), and The Pack with Joe Don Baker for Robert Clouse (The Ultimate Warrior), great films, all.
If you’re keeping track, and a Stephanie Rothman completist: She also wrote and directed Blood Bath (1966), It’s a Bikini World (1967), something called Group Marriage (1973) (which we never heard of), the Escape from New York precursor, Terminal Island (1974) (which we’re absolutely convinced John Carpenter ripped; inspired by Watergate, my ass, John), and the soft-sexer The Working Girls (1974).
Stephanie also wrote our much-loved Patrick Wayne-Sid Haig adventure-cheapy Beyond Atlantis (1973), and the late-’70s T&A’er (see William Sachs’s Van Nuys Blvd. for the breakdown on that genre) Starhops (1978). Oh, and before Corman gave her the reins, between ’65 and ’66, she served as a producer on Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Beach Ball, and Queen of Blood. You’ll also see her production-credited on Corman’s Gas! Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. Be sure to check our the extensive Wikipedia page dedicated to Stephanie’s life and insights; it’s a story of hard luck and bad knocks. She deserved so — as you’ll see from The Velvet Vampire — much more. What a movie!
Speaking of Wikipedia: Yes, there will be an all-new Wikipedia page created for Gene Shane — as well as Peter Carpenter. That’s Mike Perkins-money-in-the-bank . . . and a bag o’ chips.
But, uh . . . have we been Shane-duped?
There’s also an actor known as Gene Otis Shayne, often credited Gene Otis Shane or Gene O’Shane (1936 – 2017). An Al Adamson stock player, he made his feature film debut in Uncle Al’s own vamp-romp (woefully inferior to The Velvet Vampire), Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), and a biker-romp, Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).
I never gave it much thought, until now. Outside of the brown vs. blue eyes, they look like the same guy, to me. The plot thickens . . . but I’ll leave this in Mike Perkins’s capable hands. I am still coming down from blowing my brain cells with three back-to-back Robert Rundle** film reviews (long story). I can’t handle the information download of Gene Shane-Duece Berry-Gene Otis Shayne-Gene Otis Shane-Gene O’Shane as being the same person, not after the tales of Rundle.
We’ll keep you posted on . . . The Case of the Two Gene Shanes. (Dah-da-dun!)
DAY 19 — CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKIN’?: When you let an unexpected guest in, you may be in for a long night.
Editor’s Note: While we’ve included this — controversial — film as part of our Christploitation genre cataloging, we’ll also briefly delve into the Hagsploitation genre, turn you on to a few “hippie flicks,” as well as discuss other, analogouslylost, U.S. made Drive-In horrorsreleased around the time of this film.
I know. I know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema including a crime-horror romp that advises “death is the only way out,” courtesy of Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), Female Animal (1970), The Man from O.R.G.Y (1970), I Eat Your Skin (1971), Teenage Sex Report (1971), Son of Dracula (1973), Dynamite Brothers (1974), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972).
Hey, this ain’t no trope-laden site ensuing with cliched, generalized lazy thinking, buddy pal-o-mine: this is freakin’ B&S About Movies in Pittsburgh, baby: we don’t write for stinkin’ food or for reissue DVD/Blu swag. We choose our God-Christploitation reviews the fracked up way because we dig the film at hand: no reissue promo-campaigning required.
Besides, it can’t always be about Estus Pirkle and Ron Ormond (The Second Coming will get you there, brother), which, if they kept making movies together, a proto-slasher about a serial killer twistin’ the Good Book probably would have been the next, logical celluloid-Pirkle step. Don’t forget: he’s the guy who jammed sharpened bamboo sticks into children’s ear canals. And when he’s not inducing them to puke, he cuts them down from hanging trees onto a field of buried pitchforks, then tosses them in mass graves. (no, really; we’re not making it up). The folks at Mondo Stumpo summed Pirkle’s psychotronic years, brilliantly: Christian Gore.
So, yeah. Estus Pirkle vs. Lee Madden. No contest. Pirkle wins. Hands down.
The Pirks’ celluloid triad If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Burning Hell, and Believer’s Heaven (well, it’s a little bit more positive; but kids are still being tossed in mass graves) are still more gag-inducing and horrifyingly sick than this faux-Manson ditty brought to you by Cinemation — again, the studio that gave you the likes of the not-even-close, exploitative bile-inducer, I Eat Your Skin. As Sam the Bossman has opined in his Pirkle-Ormond opuses: all three films are stuck in our collective minds way longer than any blockbuster — or Christian film or horror film — we will see this year. Or any other year. Digital streaming or hard-copy reissues. Period.
Eh, well. Maybe not.
Madden really scraped the offensive bottom of — and broke through the rusted bottom of — the Christploitation barrel. And people lost their minds over The Exorcist and The Omen? I mean, a Catholic Priest crucified on his own cross? Top that, Mr. Friedkin and Mr. Donner. Well, actually — in terms of quality — you did.
Anyway, long before you youngins were exposed to Charles Manson by way of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, there was a mini-cottage industry of “hippie flicks” that borrowed from the Manson myth — courtesy of instilling the idea that all of Haight-Asbury’s flowery-denizens were blood-thirsty killers. So, we got the likes of the hippie-crime romps Psych-Out (1968), the double bill to I Eat Your Skin with I Drink Your Blood (1970), The Cult (1971), The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), the document/reenactmentary of The Other Side of Madness (1971), the Andrew Prine with a goat insanity of Simon, King of the Witches (1971), the really fine Deathmaster (1972), Thumb Tripping (1972), the “Manson as a filmmaker” with Snuff (1976), and, of course, the incredible Steve Railsback as Manson in the exquisite TV movie, Helter Skelter (1976).
Yeah, there’s a “Exploring: Charles Manson on Film” feature to be had . . . someday.
Now, back to the Godsploitation, aka Christploitation, portion of today’s programming: a weird genre to begin with, depending on the critical whims of the writer (in the case, Sam Panico and yours truly), the films included, can be controversial choices. Even B&S contributor Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum questioned today’s movie choice. And when BVR furrows his brow, well, you’ve just hit celluloid pay dirt. And only God knows what the dude who hates it when we use the word “trope” in our reviews (and takes a moment from his day to let us know), will think. . . . The night the critic screamed, indeed.
Now, one would never consider a British horror film starring Christopher Lee as a “Christploitation” piece: but when your film is based on occultist author, paranormalist, and “secret society” founder Dennis Wheatley — a friend and collaborator of fellow occultist and Thelema religion founder Anton LeVey — the movie based on his book, The Devil Rides Out (1969), in which the big guy of the underworld, Baphomet, and his buddy, the Angel of Death himself, shows up — and both ultimately defeated by Christianity — the film ends up on the (my) list.
The same could be said for Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). Although it’s part of the psychobiddy sub-genre (i.e, old, crusty women terrorizing “sinning” young women, aka “hagsploitation”), when you have Tallulah Bankhead in crazed, full-on religious hysteria exorcising a corrupt Stephanie Powers, that films ends up on the stone immaculate perimeters of Christ/Godsploitation (my) lists. And our speaking of Tallulah Bankhead attempting to reignite her career in a horror film brings us to — gulp — Jeanne Crain, the star of The Night God Screamed.
Remember how the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio lamented about British model Jeannie Shrimpton in the lyrics of “Behind the Wall of Sleep”; how he’d gleefully commit a murder if she so purred the request? Yeah, for me, it’s like that with the Academy Award for Best Actress-nominated Jeanne Crain — for her title role in 1949’s Pinky.
Yeah, I had it bad for Jeanne Crain. Sigh. Remember how Superman time-travel willed himself back to the past to hook up with Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980): Calling Dr. Gerard Finney, time-hypnotize me to a Jeanne Crain romance.
As with Veronica Lake making her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Joan Crawford appearing in Berserk! (1967) and Trog (1970), and Wanda Hendrix (zoinks!) closing out her career at the age of 44 with a Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain attempted an early ’70s comeback — her last film was Hot Rods to Hell (1966) — with a horror film: inspired by Charles Manson. Sadly, it was not meant to be. When her “big horror move” failed to spark interest, the divine Ms. Crain called it a day after working with — fifth-billed, mind you — Charlton Heston in Skyjacked (1972).
So, with Alex Nicol — an actor/director in The Screaming Skull (1958) and director for Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror (1971) — thespin’ it up with an early James Sikking (Outland, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) — Jean Crain stars as family matriarch Fanny Pierce in a tale directed by Lee Madden.
Wait? Not Lee Madden of the biker flicks Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), and the hunter-on-private island romp Night Creature (1978).
Oh, hell, yes. Strap on the popcorn buckets. Let’s unpack The Night God Screamed.
The reason this offensive, yet stunning movie failed: it’s a slow-burn, psychological thriller that, instead of the shocking gore and violence you’d expect from a Manson-inspired film, it’s all about the atmosphere. Another reason: due to its provocative title, small town and rural communities with theaters refused to carry the film; they acquiesce to the alternative title of Scream. The third reason: Jerry Gross was against-the-sprokets and Cinemation was going under . . . while barely releasing it in 1971, the film stumbled around as a second-biller until 1974, never to find its well-deserved audience. The same marketing snafus happened to the youth-seeking devil worshipers romp, Brotherhood of Satan (1971), the exquisite gaslighter, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the dreamy The Velvet Vampire (1971), William Girdler’s debut Asylum of Satan (1972), the weirdly, Clint Eastwood-connected and released-stalled Die Sister, Die! (1972), the toy-making Devil worshiping of Necromancy (1972), Jean-Marie Pélissié’s art house-beauty, The Bride (1973), the utterly bonkers and also questionably-rated, The Baby (1973), the stellar post-Romero craze of Messiah of Evil (1973), and the flawed but captivating Warlock Moon (1973).*
Eh, so what else is new in the puritanical bread baskets of America?
So, rightoff the bat, the Fundamentalists are loosing their nuts: we open with a monk-hooded figure dragging a six-foot tall cruciform through the woods. And our faceless monk looks down from a hill upon a lakeside baptismal ceremony conducted by our ersatz Jesus, aka our ersatz Charles Manson, i.e, “Billy Joe,” as he complains to God about “the man” coming down on his faux-Chuckness because they dig Jesus, and do dope only to “turn on to” Jesus, and that they’re not a phony, money-grabbing ministry, lying and stealing from their flock. . . .
Oh, and the dude in the robe: he’s The Atoner. And the baptism? The Atoner drowns you, the “Judas,” into the afterlife.
So, with that bit of Christ exploiting out of the way; we finally get to this review’s raison d’étre: Jeanne Crain is Fanny, the put-upon wife of Pastor Willis Pierce (Alex Nicol) who oversees a small chapel and soup kitchen in a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood.
The prim n’ snobby Fanny hates her life and wants out. And I want her to move in with me.
Anyway, the “path” to the way out leads the Pierces to run afoul of Billy Joe and his sidekick, The Atoner. And yes, they crucify Pastor Willis to a cross inside his church because, well, God has advised Billy Joe that the Pastor is a false prophet.
So, a year passes: Fanny is PTSD’d (I’d still put up with her; I’ve cohabited with far worse), hearing her husband’s and Billy Joe’s voices — even though hubby’s dead and our faux-Manson is in prison.
Then, taking cues from Charles Manson seeking revenge on Beach Boys associate Terry Melcher for reneging on a “deal” to record his music**, Billy Joe’s clan descends on the convicting Judge Coogan’s house to extract revenge: instead, they find Fanny, who came to work as a housekeeper and assistant to the judge, his wife and four teen (well, casting older-than-teens, natch) children.
Well, not really. Do we really have to explain “gaslighting” to you?
My poor, dear Jeanne really goes through the ringer in her final, leading role. Put your head on my shoulder, let me whisper in your ear, baby.
While not exactly graphic-bloody in A Bay of Blood (1971) sense, The Night God Screamed is, never the less, like The Baby before it, still a pretty brutal and intense movie — filled with religious imagery — for a PG-rated film. The trailer isn’t doing the film justice. As for “exploitation” critical descriptors, aside: Jeanne Crain is still a friggin’ hotter-than-hell MILF. Paging Dr. Gerard Finney, R.D Francis is seeing rainbows and skyrockets, again.
It’s hard to believe that, in a ’70s UHF-TV world that played A Bell from Hell (1973) — a movie with human-sized puppets playing pianos and women hanging upside down in an abattoir — The Night God Screamed never playing on TV is a crime against the ultra-high frequencies that white-noised my brains with the Drive-In delights that I was too young to see back in the day. Thank god for the VHS ’80s.
Sorry, kiddies. There’s no freebies or with-ads streams to share. But the DVDs are all over the online marketplace, VHSs are out there, for the ever-the-analog purist. And if there’s one, pure ’70s horror DVD to add to your collection, The Night God Screamed comes highly recommended. Do it.