SAVAGE CINEMA: Little Laura and Big John (1973)

I have no idea why this is on the Savage Cinema set from Mill Creek, but man, when has anything these box sets have on them make any narrative sense? “We have all these Crown International movies and some maniac, somewhere, someday, is making a Letterboxd list about these movies no one other than he cares about!” I love you, Mill Creek. I do.

Back in 1929, John Ashley murdered a Seminole trapper named Desoto Tiger and dumped him in the site of what would someday be the Hoover Dike. Days later, in Miami, he sold some of those furs and got caught, but was repeatedly allowed to escape custody. So yeah, he was the first white man jailed for killing a Native American. But no one took it seriously and, go figure, he did a whole bunch of others crimes, including piracy on a British colony in the 1920’s, of all things. He also joined with Laura Upthegrove to become white trash heroes, defying banks and the government until he was jailed.

Their story gets even crazier, as Upthegrove married a member of Ashley’s gang named Joe Tracy in order to avoid testifying in his trial for murdering a taxi driver. Ashley then planned to rush the jail, act like he was saving Tracy and then planned to kill him in a fit of jealousy. So she todl the law, who killed everyone involved after handcuffing them and pretty much executing them in a move that was completely against the law.

Upthegrove hid out for a few years until she got in an argument with a man trying to buy moonshine from her. She ended up drinkinhg Lysol and dying. Her mother decided that she was better off dead, so she never called for help.

Fabian Forte plays John and Karen Black plays Laura, so whoever casted this movie knows my heart. Ross Kananga, who is also Seminole, plays Tiger. Kanaga is the man who did the stunt where James Bond jumps over the alligators in Live and Let Die, getting 193 stitches before filing was done. He’s also where Yaphet Kotto’s character gets his name from. Also, Paul Gleason from The Breakfast Club, one of film’s greatest jerks, is the sheriff.

Luke Moberly, who was in the art department for Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things, wrote and directed this. It was the only film he’d ever direct. It was made in 1969 and didn’t come out for four years. It also has a debt to 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, but you probably figured on that.

Steel Arena (1973)

Thanks again to my friend Hoss for finding this one — early Mark Lester is not easy at all to track down!

Lester was able to get a bunch of stunt drivers — Dusty Russell, Buddy Love, Gene Drew, Dutch Schnitzer, Speed Stearns, Ed Ryan, Big Tim Welch and Dan Carter — and instead of making just a clip collection of stunts, he created a narrative around all the car damage.

Lester told The Pink Smoke, “I was at the Sacramento River on vacation, just river rafting. I ran into a group of guys there who looked like Hell’s Angels. And I said ‘What do you do?’ They said “We’re the Circus of Death.” They traveled the circuit putting on shows. So I went to some of those and just thought, “Wow.” Originally I wanted to make it as a documentary, then I realized “I know all the real people, I’ll just write a narrative around it.””

He also called this movie a post-Vietnam parable, with gladiators in cars. Kind of like Knightriders, except eight years earlier and no one holds Lester in the same esteem as George Romero. Well, you know. Except me.

I really dug the rambling nature of this film, as well as the open ending. If you can find it, take the time to enjoy it.

The Holy Mountain (1973)

I have no idea how to properly convey how important this movie is to me.

Directed, written, produced, co-scored, co-edited, set designed, costumed and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, this is a film that reduces me to tears at times if I even think about it.

Words will fail to explain what this means. This is an absolute movie, one that can only be explained by those that have experienced it, meditated on it and have been changed by it.

The story comes from Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross and Mount Analogue by Rene Daumal, an unfinished book that is nearly all allegory. The end — which is not an end but a beginning — is what Jodorowsky felt was the proper way to finish the story.

I find it hard to watch all of this film in one sitting, as the bursts of images unlock such deep emotions within me that I can only fully explain months after the watch is over.

Last year, I went through a professional divorce. In an attempt at trying to mend fences and rebuild the relationship, I gave away my blu ray of this film. It was, quite honestly, my most prized possession. It was an attempt to divest myself of material objects and destroy my ego, to lay myself bare and show that I was ready to continue the journey that we had started together. “I want you to have this,” I barely choked out. “This is my heart.”

I don’t know if my former co-founder ever watched this film. The fact that it never came up again told me what I needed to know. I’ve grown past this pain, which nearly ruined my love of film.

Instead, I have decided to move on, to take my own journey. The loss of this film was just the loss of a blu ray. Its lessons have not disappeared, the power that it has over me has not grown dim. If anything, I have reflected on my own path up and down the mountain and found that I have not regretted a step.

Please find this movie for yourself.

REPOST: Dr. Tarr’s Horror Dungeon (1973)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we dive into all things Mexican horror this week, we brought back this completely wonderful and strange film, which would be a perfect one for you to discover or watch again. 

If all Juan López Moctezuma directed was Alucarda, he’d still be celebrated. Throw in the fact that he was behind the camera for El Topo and also created this little piece of strangeness and you can see that he’s someone to be celebrated.

A journalist has traveled to Dr. Maillard’s (Claudio Brook, AlucardaThe Devil’s Rain!) remote mental institution to write a story about the progressive treatment the doctor offers: patients are free to roam and fully live out their fantasies. However, when he gets there, the reporter learns from the doctor’s daughter Eugenie that he hasn’t met the real doctor, just one of the inmates that is quite literally running the asylum and randomly quoting Aleister Crowley. Even better — Susana Kamini, Justine from Alucarda, shows up as a cult priestess!

Imagine if Hammer or Amicus made a movie in Mexico, with all of the dialogue in English, and fed massive amounts of drugs to everyone involved. That’s pretty much how I imagine that this film was made. It’s also an Edgar Allan Poe story (The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether), but really, it’s also a costume drama with more powdered wigs than a British courthouse. And man, has there ever been so sensationalistic a title?

Will you like it? Not if you’re expecting a horror movie. Again, the Chilling Classics set confounds expectations, seeming like it will only feature the worst schlock and somehow embracing Mexican art cinema. I can only imagine that there’s a basement in the Mill Creek offices where the maniac that chose the films for this set signed off on it with a feather pen and a giant flourish, exclaiming, “I hope this makes someone’s brain melt!”

Beyond watching this on the Chilling Classics box set, you can also find it on Amazon Prime. If you want a much better looking copy of this film, Mondo Macabro released it as The Mansion of Madness, complete with a brand new digital transfer and Guillermo dl Toro discussing the director.1973

El Castillo de la Pureza (1973)

In the book Customs and Cultures of Mexico by Peter Standish and Steven M. Bell, the authors refer to the films of director Arturo Ripstein’s films as ones that “highlighted characters beset by futile compulsions to escape (their) destinies.” As such, many of his films feature bleak colors and pathetic characters who struggle to retain any scrap of dignity. The Harvard Film Archive referred to him as the link between “Mexico’s studio-era and the new generation of auteur directors.”

The title of this film was given to Ripstein by Mexican surrealist Octavio Paz by way of a seminal essay on Marcel Duchamp. In it, Gabriel Lima (Claudio Brook, Simon of the DesertLicence to Kill) imprisons his family from the temptations of the rest of the world, dominating them and subjugating them in the same way that a totalitarian government would hold them against their will. Meanwhile, the family struggles to subsist with their homemade rat poison business. It was based on a real life story.

The father is the ultimate in evil, as despite him abusing his sons for not memorizing passages about how a man should be, he does not follow them. In the outside world that he has forbidden them from ever seeing, he is a continual debaser of virgins while in his own domain, he continually attacks his wife for knowing any man before him.

The film was nominated for ten Arial Awards, winning Best Picture (in a tie with Mecanica Nacional and Reed, Mexico Insurgente), as well as awards for Arturo Beristain for Best Suppoting Actor, Diana Bracho for Best Supporting Actress, Ripstein and José Emilio Pacheco for Best Original Screenplay and Manuel Fontanals for Best Scenography.

In 2009, the film Dogtooth was a critical and commercial success for Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos, but to many, it seemed that it outright stole the story and several key moments from Ripstein’s film. The director’s response? He considered sending him a message that said, “I hope we win” when the film was nominated for an Oscar. Such is life, as many Mexican films are truly lost on the world stage and unacknowledged at best.

It’s hard to call this a horror film. It exists in its own strange universe, beyond the world of normal man while at the same time it struggles to inform us in a parable-like way of what happens when pride comes before the fall.

Tango 2001 (1973)

As I started watching this movie, I thought, “This is the exact kind of movie Mondo Macabro would put out.” Which makes sense, because it was volume one in their Greek Collection.

The Tango Club is where the swinging characters of this movie spend their tome. There’s Rosita (Dorothy Moore, who is one other movie, another Greek giallo Death Kiss), who uses drugs and her womanly wiles to get Joanna (Erika Raffael, Four Dimensions of Greta) into bed. Stathis (Lakis Komninos, using the boring Western name Larry Daniels) reacts to this as no man before or since has. He flips out and beats both of them, killing Rosita. Things are just starting, trust me.

Meanwhile, rich voyeur Joachim is filming the killer while he brings home other women from the club. And then there’s Joachim, who was impotent until he discovered the dead body of Rosita and now, he’s in love.

We covered Dangerous Cargo, another Kostas Karagiannis movie, a few weeks ago. Needless to say, this movie makes that one look tame by comparison. Drugs, fuzzy psychedelic music, rampant nudity, sex, murder, gratuitous dance numbers and all manner of perversion, including romantic fantasies between the living and the dead abound. Yep, this one has something for every member of the family.

You can order this from Mondo Macabro.

Ricco the Mean Machine (1973)

I get it. This movie isn’t a giallo. But what is it, really? It was sold under so many titles, from the more horror-centric Cauldron of Death (complete with completely insane poster) to the more crime-oriented Gangland, the great Italian title Un Tipo Con una Faccia Strana ti Cerca per Ucciderti (A Guy With a Strange Face Is Looking for You to Kill You), The Dirty MobMean Machine and even O Exolothreftis (The Terminator) in Greece.

It was written by Jose Gutierrez Maesso, who wrote Django and was an uncredited writer for the magical Pensione Paura. He’s joined by Santiago Moncada, who wrote A Bell from HellHatchet for the Honeymoon and The Corruption of Chris Miller, along with Mario di Nardo (The Fifth CordFive Dolls for an August Moon). Directing all of this mayhem is Tulio Demichelli, who made the utterly insane Assignment Terror, as well as The Two Faces of Fear Espionage in Lisbon and the well-named There Is Someone Behind the Door.

Make no mistake — this is a movie awash with exploitation, gore, aberrant behavior and no real heroes. In short, it’s exactly the kind of movie you come to this site to read about.

Rico Aversi (Chris Mitchum) has just got out of jail, two years after Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy, the inspector from The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) killed his father. Everyone wants Rico — notice that his named is spelled completely unlike the title of the movie — to kill the boss off, but Rico just wants to enjoy life outside of prison.

Malisa Longo (Cat in the Brain) plays his girlfriend — and who used to love Rico’s woman — and she enjoys sleeping with the hired help, which gets one unlucky member of the workstaff castrated in shocking detail. Then, his John Thomas gets shoved in his mouth and he’s dipped into acid and turned into soap. This movie is not interested in being unoffensive. Plus, you get Paola Senatore (Eaten Alive!) as Rico’s sister, whose death sets him finally on the path to revenge.

Robert Mitchum is one of my favorite actors ever, so it kind of pains me to admit this his son kind of slumbers through this leading role. But then again, everyone else in this movie is going to seem boring next to Barbara Bouchet, who pretty much sets the screen on fire, dances on the flames and sets it ablaze all over again in this movie. Anyone could show some leg to get the attention of some criminals. Bouchet goes all in, dancing nude on the roof of a car, covered in fog, giving her all no matter how grimy this scumfest gets. Without her, this movie would be passable. With her, it’s transcendent.

So yeah. It’s not a giallo. But man, if you’re coming in looking for bad behavior, gorgeous women and great clothes, it has all of that covered.


The Legend of Hell House (1973)

John Hough knows how to make a horror movie. The IncubusTwins of Evil?  American Gothic? Yeah, I’m a fan.

Richard Matheson? Yes, him too.

Man, team them up and throw in AIP producer James H. Nicholson, making one of two non-AIP pictures before he’d die, and you get some magic.

You don’t have to look up the other movie he produced. It was Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Dr. Lionel Barrett is enlisted by eccentric millionaire Mr. Deutsch to look into life after death at the Mount Everest of haunted houses, the Belasco House. It was once owned by “Roaring Giant” Emeric Belasco, a huge pervert and millionaire who tortured and killed enough people at his home that it’s filled with ghosts long after his disappearance.

He brings his wife and two experts: mental medium and spiritualist minister Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin, NecromancySatan’s School for Girls) and medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall!) who is the only survivor of the last time someone tried to get to the bottom of this house of secrets.

Fischer is soon battling not only the advances of Barrett’s wife, but also the spirits of the home, including Daniel, the son of Belasco. His ghost not only sexually assaults Florence, but then dumps a giant crucifix on her.

Man, the reveal of this movie is so berserk that I don’t feel like sharing it here, despite this movie come out a year after I was born. I’m old, so imagine!

There are some lessons here. Don’t go to haunted houses. Don’t neglect your wife sexually. And if a ghost cat attacks you, leave.

You can get this from Shout! Factory.

The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

Someday, scholars will speak in awe of the post-Star Trek Satanic twosome of Shatner films, which would be this movie and The Devil’s Rain! Until then, maniacs like me will yell into the uncaring silence and tell you that for a shining moment — or literally two — the once and future Kirk would die twice (spoilers be damned, again literally) while facing off with the Lord of the Flies.

Originally airing on CBS on February 13, 1973, I first learned of this movie in a TV Guide Book of Lists that featured Anton LaVey discussing the most Satanic TV moments of the last decade. This movie has it all: Mario Bava lighting, a cursed altar, Shatner drunk and railing againt humanity, and finally, a bunch of Old Hollywood actors daring to sacrifice a young child to the Left Hand Path.

Sure, the flight from London to New York is supposed to be mainly cargo — that druid altar I hinted at before — but the plane still has plenty of talent on board. There’s Captain Ernie Slade (Chuck Connors), as well as an architect (Roy Thinnes, who would enter this territory again in The Norliss Tapes) and his wife (Jane Merrow, Hands of the Ripper) who have placed said altar on board. There’s also Paul Kovalik (Shatner), a priest who has lost his way, and super rich Glenn Farlee (Buddy Ebsen, who makes it awesome as it’s basically Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones against Satan). You also get Tammy Grimes — whose daughter Amanda Plummer looks just like her — as well as Lynn Loring (also in the occultist Black Noon), Paul Winfield, France Nuyen (Code Name: Diamond Head), Will Hutchins, Darleen Carr (she’s in the TV remake of Piranha), Russell Johnson (The Professor!) and H. M. Wynant (Hangar 18).

Shot on the sound stages at CBS Studio Center, some people have the wrong idea that this is Shatner’s worst movie. They’re wrong. This movie is everything. My wife looked at me near the end and said, “This is pretty intense for TV.” I told her that life was cheap in 1973.

Director David Lowell Rich would also make Satan’s School for GirlsSST Death Flight and The Concorde … Airport ’79, all movies that some people would make fun of. Not me — this is my bread and butter. It tastes delicious.

You can watch this on YouTube:

The Cat Creature (1973)

Originally airing December 11, 1973 on ABC, this Curtis Harrington-directed, Robert Bloch-written take on Cat People was originally planned as a starring vehicle for Diahann Carroll. However, her ABC contract ended and the film needed to be rewritten.

It’s such a tribute to Cat People that Kent Smith, who starred in that film and its sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, appears.

Smith plays an appraiser who finds a sarcophagus in a house that he is surveying. Inside is a mummy wearing a solid gold cat’s head amulet that has a curse attached to it. Just then, he’s killed by a cat creature and a thief played by Keye Luke steals the amulet.

David Hedison — who played Felix Leiter to two different James Bonds — is a cop on his trail. Showing up for support are Meredith Baxter as a salesgirl,  John Carradine as a hotel clerk and Stuart Whitman as a police lieutenant.

Gale Sondergaard, who played Universal’s Spider Woman in two films, is also here as an occult bookstore owner named Hester Black. It was one of the first movies that she had made since 1949, thanks to the blacklist and her support of husband Herbert Biberman.

The day after shooting wrapped, she was called back for some closeups. It was all a ruse When she arrived on the set in makeup and costume, Charlton Heston presented her with an Academy gold statuette to replace one that she had won for 1936’s Anthony Adverse.

Want to check this out for yourself? Here it is on YouTube: