Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973): Another Look

Editor’s Note: Sam Panico previously reviewed this Christian-leaning extensional film as part of our February 2020 “Box Office Failures” theme week of reviews. As we fill out our ever-expanding database of reviews of “Christian Cinema” films from the ’70s that we’ve missed, we brought this film back for another look.

Sam and I are split on this film. But he hasn’t outcast me, as was Jonathan, from the B&S flock. For we are still united in our love of Godfrey Ho and Bruno Mattei films. And there will always be The Astrologer, right Sam?

And what does this all have to do with the “Jesus Rock” movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s? Read on, brother.

The September 17, 1981, cover of Rolling Stone #352, with a picture of Jim Morrison emblazoned on the cover, proclaimed: He’s Hot, He’s Sexy and Dead. In the early ’70s, the same could be said about Jesus Christ, for the Son of God ruled the airwaves and theater screens.

To set up the “why” of this tale of existential seagulls (as well as the “hippie Jesus” romps Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar), we need to look back to the positive message of the “Jesus Rock” movement born out of the disillusioned “Summer of Love” of the late ’60s.

At the time, as Sam Pacino pointed out in his review of the Christian apoc-documentary The Late Great Planet Earth*, the hippie occult generation’s dreams flamed out at Altamont and was annihilated on Cielo Drive. I have to add that, the hippies, whether they accepted it or not, were long since assimilated by Madison Avenue. There was still money to be made at the expense of the “Summer of Love,” for it was no longer an ideal, but a marketing campaign.

Enter Brother J. to breath new life into a down-the-tubes advertising crusade.

The short-lived “Jesus Rock” genre (for a contemporary context: think of the 36-month run of the Nirvana-driven Grunge era) hit its peak in 1972 when the Doobie Brothers scored a Top 40 hit with “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Other bands topping the Billboard charts were the Stephen Stills-led “supergroup” Manassass (with Chris Hillman of the Byrds) and “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free” (1972) (remembering the Byrds started the genre with their 1969-version of the Doobies’ later hit), “Jesus is a Soul Man” by Lawrence Reynolds (1970), Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the the Sky” (1970), Charlie Allen and his band Pacific Gas & Electric with “Are You Ready” (1971), Sweathog with “Hallelujah,” “Put Your Hand in the Hand” (1971) by the Canadian band Ocean, “Joy to the World” (1971) by Three Dog Night, and “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” by Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974).

Myrrh Records, a leading Christian music label, had their catalog distributed via A&M Records, which brought Petra (a Southern/Country Rock concern) to a national stage. Ohio’s Glass Harp (friends with the Eagles’ Joe Walsh, then of the James Gang), signed with Decca, and the Resurrection Band broke new ground with their Zeppelin/Sabbath “heavy blues” take on the genre. The smash hit, Broadway “Rock Operas” Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were adapted into films; their respective cast albums and soundtracks topped the charts, with singles from each becoming Top 40 hits for Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman, Helen Ready, and even Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.

So, with Columbia and Universal releasing their competing films versions of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973 (in March and August, respectively), the odd-studio out, Paramount, wasn’t missing the “Jesus Rock” boat. So they optioned writer Richard Bach’s 1970 best-selling novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And since the book — as did the two stage-to-films that inspired its production — didn’t come with a soundtrack, Paramount, through Columbia Records (his label), contracted Neil Diamond to write a companion piece to the book/film. Yes, Neil Diamond, the bane of many’s musical existence (not me), made a “Jesus Rock” album — and topped the album and singles charts.

Jonathan (aka Jesus Christ, voiced by James Francisus) tires of the boring life in his sea-gull clan. So he experiments with new, always more daring flying techniques (putting way the flesh and finding his spiritual side). Since his spiritual quest goes against the communal grains, the flock’s elders (Hal Holbrook) expel him from the clan (as was, if you know your Bible, Jesus). So Jonathan sets out upon the Earth to discover wisdom, find disciples, and a higher reason for being.

Needless to say, the general public had a hard enough time comprehending spiritually conflicted, sentient computers and alien interpretations of heaven as an all white-luxury hotel suite, as an astronaut traveled his “inner space” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, most — film critic Roger Ebert infamously walked out of the film — weren’t going for intelligent seagulls backed by a Neil Diamond soundtrack.

The seagulls, of course, do not actually talk; you’re hearing their “thoughts,” as it were, courtesy of a voice cast rounded out by Juliet Mills and Richard Crenna. You have to give Hall Bartlett credit, who, without the benefits of CGI or animation, somehow managed to film seagulls and frame it with dialog to give us an impression the gulls, in fact, talk.

If Roma Downey and her husband/producing cohort Mark Burnett (who found great success with their The Bible miniseries and 2014’s Son of God) remade this, courtesy of technology, the gulls — as do all of the animals in today’s films and television commercials, would actually, “talk.”

But let’s let this one be.

If you enjoyed the book — which many (criminally) dismissed as metaphysical drivel and thus, hated the movie — you’ll love the movie, a movie that is of its time and place: a time when seagulls could talk and Jesus was, in fact, “hot, sexy and dead.”

You can enjoy the soundtrack, in its entirety, on You Tube. The film is easily found on multiple PPV streaming platforms.

* We’ve also taken a second look at Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and its part in the “Jesus Rock” movement of the ’70s, this week.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andre Couture writes about film on his blog Celluloid Consommé and on Letterboxd. You can hear his voice talk about monsters on Humanoids From the Deep Dive from time to time and read his Twitter rambles by following him at @demonidisco.

There’s something infatuating about how weird 70s science fiction can get. It’s hard to encounter those stories that haven’t been filled in with the jargon of the time, injecting it with a time capsule-like quality while further embellishing whichever angle the sci-fi narrative is presenting, usually a sociopolitical one.

Invasion of the Bee Girls feels like the polar opposite of something like The Stepford Wives — in effect an act of revenge against men for all they take for granted and continually and casually oppress. It’s just so fitting that it takes the form of mutated women seducing men to death, literally.

The film opens on Neil Agar (played by William Smith, Captain Devlin and Count Sodom from Hell Comes to Frogtown) who is sent to California to investigate the mysterious death of a bacteriologist at Brandt Research, a government facility. It’s when he talks with some of the other lead scientists that he notices a lot of them are quite the players, living extravagant sex lives on the side. More bodies pile up that fit the same cause of death: congestive heart failure caused by sexual exhaustion. What a way to go! If anything, death by sex might be too good for these people.

In an early scene the local sheriff holds a meeting for the townspeople that feels ripped straight out of a Jaws ripoff. In some ways this one kind of is, too. But what this scene has going for it is wonderful and breathes some much-needed air into the movie. It includes an amusingly dated V.D. joke that even gets the town chuckling about the murders. I mean, if you’re going to make a sci-fi picture about women experimentally mutating bee DNA to kill male playboys with sex, you might as well have a sense of humor about it.

We loosely follow Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford from Messiah of Evil) during her bee escapades while she wears large gaudy black sunglasses which at first seem to just be her own weird fashion choice that she’s latched onto (or Ford’s insistence on wearing them during her scenes as if she were recovering from a hangover while filming, something Cameron Mitchell fans can identify with). But as we see more and more Bee Girls they all don the same style. I’d say it works for some more than others, and while you’d think it’s not really that creepy just think how a crowd of them staring at you would feel like.

There’s one thing inarguably chilling in this and that’s the transformation sequence in the film where we see the entire process of what it takes to transform someone into the titular Bee Girl and its equal parts intense and frightening. In a completely dialogue-free sequence, a hypnotic drone sounds with a heavy dose of blue light blasting onto the subject. Various assisting worker Bee Girls cover the subject with a weird white substance that looks a little too much like Fluffernutter, then seal them into a chamber where bees swarm and cover every inch of their body. Daniel Robitaille, eat your heart out. They then emerge and the white stuff is peeled away, exposing the newly mutated lady inside. Truly creepy shit, and all achieved visually with no need for dialogue. If nothing else this is what you came to see.

Invasion of the Bee Girls is director Denis Sanders’ last feature film and Nicholas Meyer’s first film writing gig — he actually almost removed his name from the film after rewrites but was convinced to keep it. Got to take those credits when you can, I guess.

Exploring: Actress Sherry Miles of The Velvet Vampire fame

A Harlequin for my heart: Image courtesy of Sherry E. DeBoer via her IMDb page from a “Teen” magazine photo shoot.

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.

Sherry Miles, top right, on Hee Haw. Yes, that’s Barbie Benton (Deathstalker, Hospital Massacre), bottom left/courtesy of Worthpoint.
What might have been: Sherry won — then lost — the role of Bobbie to Ann-Margret in Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge (1971) — which also starred the equally burgeoning Jack Nicholson and Candace Bergen. Image courtesy of the Sherry E. DeBoer Archives, via IMDb.

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’s Half 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.

Adorable. Sherry in 1969 on Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour/Walt Disney Television.

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)

Everything . . . ended up on VHS in the ’80s. Everything.

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.

The Phynx (1970)

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.

No streams to share, but here’s the trailer.

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

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)

Also known as Maniac in the VHS ’80s.

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 We Go (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.

Calliope (1971)

The new and improved Calliope.

“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.

Yuk Yuk.

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)

Also known as Starcrossed Road on ’80s VHS shelves.

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.

You can watch this on You Tube.

Your Three Minutes Are Up (1973)

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.

You can watch the trailer and full film on You Tube.

Harrad Summer (1974)

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.

The Pack (1977)

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 Cujo to 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.

The blue eyes and crooked smile that launched a thousand ships: Sherry, in her final role for an episode of TV’s Wonder Woman. Imagine Sherry going “Scream Queen” and dominating the Slasher ’80s . . . what might have been.

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.

* Learn more about Hee Haw at this fan site.

Some of our other actor and director career explorations include:

Exploring: Eddie Van Halen on Film
Exploring: The Movies of Don Kirshner
Exploring: The Films of (the late) Tawny Kitaen
Exploring: The Films of Ukrainian Model Maria Konstantynova
Exploring: SOV ’80s Director Jon McBride
Exploring: Elvis Presley-inspired Fantasy Flicks
Exploring: Sylvester Stallone: 45 Years After Rocky
Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nate Roscoe has been writing about film since the age of six, quite literally: he recalls penning an appraisal of Beauty and the Beast for a school assignment way back in ’91. His mastery of critique has improved a fair bit since then, and he recently contributed essays to a couple of Blu-ray releases from 88 Films. Currently, he is in the process of writing his first book. Nate is the editor of Trash to Tarkovsky, a blog devoted to the esoteric crannies of cinema. Catch him on Twitter @nutellanate

Psychiatry and cinema have always had a tempestuous rapport. For every well-intentioned – though seldom discerning – probe into the subterrain of mental illness, there are dozens of tone-deaf endeavours that circumvent authenticity for the glamour of lurid sensationalism. The setting of an institution, especially, has long been a prosperous fount of cinematic hysteria: that timeworn motif of sterile corridors stretching down to padded white cells, a motley crew of blathering idiots, sexual deviants, and slobbering freakshows housed within.  

Make no mistake about it: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) is neither shrewd nor particularly sensitive in its gauging of psychological impairment. But nor is it as trashy, violent, or exploitative as its moniker and marketing – or, indeed, its time spent back in the day on Britain’s notorious ‘video nasties’ hit list – would have you believe. The brainchild of Texan trash-master S. F. Brownrigg and screenwriter Tim Pope, the story follows beautiful Charlotte Beale (charismatic Playboy model Rosie Holotik) as she lands a new job at a privately-run hospital known for its subversive methods of treatment. Keen to make a good impression on both her employer (the formidable Annabelle Weenick) and those in her care, the young nurse does her level best to embrace the challenges that come with the role, but a sequence of alarming incidents in the workplace pushes her precariously close to the brink of her own sanity.

Predating Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) by two years, one can surmise that sanatorium-based horrors such as Bedlam (1946) and Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963) – along with the more traditional genre trappings of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) – were pivotal to the inception of Basement. What it manages to cobble together from those illustrious scraps is a kind of psychotronic chamber piece, a late-night Southern Gothic soap opera comprised of oddball characters and the histrionic quintessence of golden age Douglas Sirk. As with the bulk of Brownrigg’s oeuvre, the visuals secrete a primitive austerity that could almost be certified as artless, yet there’s gumption to be found in the forthright technique; the stationary angles and invasive close-ups lending a docu-like immediacy to the picture’s stained, sweaty visage. Praise must also be bestowed upon the production design, the maze-like belly of the institution (a claustrophobic snarl of hallways, bedrooms, and staircases) evoking a malevolent ambience all its own – a would-be haunted house inhabited by drifting human spectres.

It is mostly in its allusion to the inconceivable terrors of Vietnam that Basement sets itself apart from the crud-laden crowd, pulling on the strings of post-war paranoia so prevalent at the time with a subplot involving Sgt. Jaffee (Hugh Feagin), an ex-military inpatient who spends his every waking hour warding off imaginary nemeses. As metaphors go, this one’s about as subtle as an AK-47, though it does suggest that Pope’s script was shooting for something a little deeper than surface-level schlock – an ambition it best achieves when it’s casting an affectionate spotlight on the quaint peculiarities of its subjects. 

Whilst building to an expectedly berserk crescendo that sees the titular crypt (conspicuous by its absence thus far) come fleetingly into play, it is an unshakeable air of sadness, rather than one of revulsion, that lingers heaviest as the credits begin to roll. It’s impossible for us not to feel pity for these condemned pariahs, these flesh-and-blood footnotes in an unforgiving world that has long since turned its back on them (the original US release title, The Forgotten, feels so much more pertinent in this respect). The film overall could be described in much the same way: an anomalous footnote in the annals of Seventies drive-in cinema, as scrappily eccentric and singularly indefinable as those poor broken souls up there on the screen.

Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Vaught has worked in the entertainment industry for several years. Nick currently serves as an Associate Producer on the upcoming horror documentary In Search of Darkness: Part III. Nick also worked on the long-running CW series Supernatural. In 2019 he co-wrote the well-received episode “Don’t Go in the Woods.” In addition, Nick has written punch up jokes on multiple TV pilots and teamed with actor Jason Mewes to help write his biography.

No matter how much of a horror buff you think you are, no matter how many horror movies you think you’ve seen, there’s always a lot more out lurking in the shadows, or in this case the basement. I had never heard of Don’t Look in the Basement before signing up for this assignment. I chose it simply on its title alone. Why? For starters, it has a similar name of an episode of the show Supernatural I co-wrote called “Don’t Go in the Woods.” Beyond that, the title intrigued me because I was always scared of basements as a kid, well basements and attics. I think a lot of us are. They’re dark, dank, dirty; much like the worst corners of our brains where our most devious thoughts lurk. On top of that, they usually only have one way in or out, which makes those locations prime real estate for horror set pieces.

The movie’s set in a sanitarium in the middle of nowhere. The head doctor, “Dr. Stevens” (Michael Harvey), has an unusual way (isn’t that always the case) of dealing with his patients. He believes in letting his patients act out their realities in the hopes it will right them. Dr. Stevens also treats his patients like family; he doesn’t even lock their bedroom doors at night. 

This practice ultimately backfires when Dr. Stevens is working with a patient, “Judge Oliver W. Cameron” (Gene Ross), whose dialogue is mainly repeating his title over and over. Judge Cameron is chopping wood with an axe, which ends up in the back of Dr. Stevens. The head nurse, “Jane St. Claire” (Jessie Lee Fulton), is able to subdued Judge Cameron. This is however the last straw for Nurse St. Claire who herself was the subject of a violent attack from patient “Harriet” (Camilla Carr), who is obsessed with a plastic baby doll, that she believes is real. Harriet attacked Nurse St. Claire believing St. Claire was trying to steal the before mentioned baby. Harriet kills Nurse St. Claire by slamming her head in a suit case!

With Dr. Stevens and Nurse St. Claire dead, “Dr. Geraldine Masters” (Annabelle Weenick), is now the lone doctor. Soon after she takes over, she’s greeted by “Charlotte Beale” (Rosie Holotik), who informs Dr. Masters that Dr. Stevens hired her as a new nurse for the sanitorium last week. Dr. Masters had no knowledge of her hiring and is reluctant to uphold Dr. Stevens’ commitment. Finally, Dr. Masters relents and brings Nurse Beale on board. 

Nurse Beale soon meets the other patients: the brute of a man, “Sam” (Bill McGhee), who has the mentality of an eight-year-old after being lobotomized by Dr. Stephens, “Sgt. Jaffee” (Hugh Feagin), who suffers from PTSD after Vietnam, a nymphomaniac, “Allyson King” (Betty Chandler), a prankster, “Danny” (Jessie Kirby), who you know is crazy because of his loud and obnoxious laugh, and a couple others. 

As Nurse Beale gets to know the patients and watch Dr. Masters work, she begins to wonder if Dr. Masters isn’t a danger to the patients. Her suspicions are seemingly confirmed when it’s revealed that Dr. Masters is actually a patient and that Dr. Stevens let her pretend to be a doctor. But are the patients messing with Nurse Beale to get back at Dr. Masters? Who’s telling the truth? Who can be trusted? What’s in the damned basement? The truth perhaps, or a body or two? There’s a couple of fun turns that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and wants to.

Don’t Look in the Basement was shot in 1972, on a shoe-string budget of $100,000 over twelve days. It came on the heels of The Last House on the Left and immediately gives off a similar feel. Written and directed by S.F. Brownrigg, who made a few decent horror films in the 70’s; Don’t Look in the Basement is dirty and grimy and has the look and feel of a documentary, just as a lot of horror movies of the era did. The movie is also infamous for ending up on the U.K.’s Video Nasties list.

The low budget movie actually benefits from the use of a single location. The staff and patients seemingly exist apart from the rest of the world, save for one outside character. The isolation raises the paranoia between the characters; not exactly knowing who or what information to trust, especially for Nurse Beale. 

The movie isn’t your traditional slasher fare. The violence is spread throughout the movie; it’s not one kill after another. And the majority of the gore is held back until the finale, when viewers are treated to a blood bath. The movie is more of a character study and the no-name actors do a very good job with their characters, especially Bill McGhee as the sympathetic, Sam. The characters are treated as humans with real ailments opposed to caricatures. 

Don’t Look in the Basement seems to have been buried by the countless other horror films in the 70’s, but it’s definitely worth a look. It’s sort of like if Session 9 was filmed in one small portion of the Danvers Mental Institute and we got to know the patients. This movie is a great reminder of why we used to be scared, and maybe still are, of the basement. 

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We first wrote about this movie on March 16, 2021. As a bonus, we even have a mixed drink recipe that we shared when this aired on our weekly Saturday night show.

We often refer to movies as “Brownriggian” when we watch films on Saturday nights all night with the Drive-In Asylum Double Feature on Facebook Live. There’s no better example of what this word means than S. F. Brownrigg’s 1973 shocker Don’t Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten AKA Death Ward #13.

Dr. Stephens, the main doctor at Stephens Sanitarium has a theory that patients should be able to freely act out their insanities in the hopes that someday they will snap back to reality. You know, if I’ve learned one thing about asylum doctors from, well, Asylum and Alone in the Dark, it’s that they’re all just as insane as their charges.

Before one of the older nurses can retire, we have the Judge (Gene Ross) chopping the doctor with an axe and Harriet (Camilla Carr) smashing the nurse’s head inside a suitcase. So when Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, the cover girl of the April 1972 Playboy, as well as appearances in Horror High and the ghostly hitchhiker in Encounter with the Unknown) shows up for a new job and things seem weird. Or Brownriggian. In short, everything feels off. Hallways and stairwells seem like passageways to other dimensions and sweaty horror lurks sleeping like some kind of Southern gothic force of dread and menace.

This is a place filled with human children, killer women obsessed with sex, an elderly woman who thinks that flowers are her kids, a military man who lost his platoon in Vietnam and more. Even the sane are driven mad just by being in their presence.

There are plenty of people who decry Brownrigg’s movies, but I’m certainly not one of them. They invite you to worlds that are not our own and seem to come from a dimension far from here. For that and the vacation to the psychotronic that they offer, we should celebrate them.

For an added treat, check out JH Rood’s journey to the set locations, which you can download from the Internet Archive.

Don’t Look in the Basement is available on Tubi.

BONUS: Here’s that drink we mentioned.

Sam’s Popsicle 

  • 1 oz. amaretto
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. heavy cream or half and half
  1. Put everything in a shaker and do your thing until fully mixed.
  2. Pour over crushed ice in a cocktail glass. Enjoy!

The House That Vanished (1973)

“When you finish watching this, R.D., please let me know if the house ‘vanished,’ and if so, where did it go?” *
— Bill Van Ryn, Drive-In Asylum

The Italian theatrical one-sheet.

To start off this review, I’ve opted to use the Italian theatrical one-sheet — the title translates as the effective and logical, The Shadow of the Murderer — that gives this fourth film by Spanish writer and director José Ramón Larraz a decidedly giallo feel, but it’s not. Yeah, we are back to that ol’ “it’s not a giallo” debate that applies to Larraz’s directorial debut, 1970’s Whirlpool, and his 1971 follow up, Deviation — both considered Hitchcockian erotic thrillers (rife with lesbianism, natch) that lean towards the bloodless psychological. That debate continues with what I believe to be the quintessential Larraz production: his more subtle, restrained sixth production, Symptoms (1974). Courtesy of its lesbian subtext, it was Larraz’s seventh film, the Spanish-British co-produced Vampyres (1974), that became his best known, most successful film.

Originally known in its homeland as Violación y…?, aka Rape and?, the eventual title settled on for the English-speaking, overseas international marketplace was the generic Scream and Die. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and the U.K., The House That Vanished title was marketed. However, before that title appeared on U.S. drive-in screens, it went by two other, sexploitive titles: Don’t Go in the Bedroom and Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom. Four years gone, the film was still barnstormin’ across American drive-ins as a double-biller under the (idiotic) titles Psycho Sex Fiend and Psycho Sex.

Okay, let’s load her up and figure out where the house, went. . . .

Drive-In snack bar lobby card.

Valerie Jennings (Scotish-born British Playboy and Penthouse model Andrea Allan; she previously appeared in several episodes of the U.S.-imported British series UFO and Space: 1999) takes up with Terry, a photographer who sidelines as a petty jewel thief. While on a trip through the countryside, they become lost in a fog-shrouded darkness. For help and shelter they break into a secluded, what seems abandoned country home — and look for jewels. Instead, they find the passports of multiple women. When another couple enters the home, they hide — and witness a woman’s sex-murder-by-switchblade.

Becoming separated from Terry (an in-his-debut Alex Leppard; lots of British TV) and barely escaping with her life, Valerie returns to London — and discovers Terry never returned (well, his-now-trashed car, does; and a photo from her still-in-the-backseat modeling portfolio is missing). Not wanting to implicate herself in the robbery, she doesn’t report Terry’s disappearance (“You know how he’s always ‘off,’ without telling anyone.”), instead choosing — with her friends (a couple who owns a pet monkey for no particular herring-reason) — to try to find the house on her own.

Oh, yes. True to the title: they can’t find the house**. And true to any smudge-proof make-up cutie of the Spanish and Italian variety (see Paul Naschy’s Panic Beats for more on that horror phenomenon): in the wake a loved one’s murder or disappearance, Valerie finds a new love. But our timid sculptor, Paul (Larraz stock player Karl Lanchbury; four films, up to Vampyres), in addition to bedding Val, has an incestuous affair with his aunt (they make ceramic theatre masks, aka death masks “. . . like the ancient Incas used to make.”). And true to any Spanish or Italian Hitchcockian film noir: Valerie’s model-flat mate is raped and murdered (Judy Matheson of 1971’s Lust for a Vampire). Coincidence? That new, floor-below eccentric neighbor who raises pigeons (Peter Forbes-Robertson; 1966’s Island of Terror with Peter Cushing), is he behind the sudden rash of strange goings on in the building? Do all of those strange events lead Valerie back to the “house that vanished”? Do we see giallo-black gloves-in-POV? Does Valerie find Terry’s body, only to discover Paul and his aunt (Maggie Walker; the 1973 British comic strip adaptation, Tiffany Jones, and fellow 1974 sexploiter, Escort Girls) are behind it all?

So, to answer the $1.98 Beauty Pageant question for Bill Van Ryn: Was the house really there in the first place? Was it a “ghost house” that only appears so as to swallow the souls of weary travelers? Where did it go?

My take is that Paul and his incestuous aunt are ghosts. When travelers come by, the house appears, spews a fog, the travelers become disoriented, and the house “takes” them; the masks they make are from their victims. Since Valerie got away, Paul and his aunt came to the city to lure her back to the house. So, the house didn’t so much “vanish,” as it was never really there in the first place. You know, like that Scottish village in Brigadoon (1954) with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse that Herschell Gordon Lewis clipped for Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). Then, when Paul murdered his pedophilic Aunt Susanna to save Valerie, it “killed” the spirit of house (Paul’s grandparents and parents lived there; his father committed suicide in the house because his “mother was too beautiful,” etc.) — and it couldn’t “vanish” anymore, so the cops found it.

I mean, if Wes Craven can steal from Ingmar Bergman . . . does that makes sense? Larraz, well screenwriter Derek Ford, clipped Brigadoon?

“What the fuck, R.D.? I think the simpler version is that the house never actually vanished and Valerie was just an idiot who couldn’t find the house. As for Aunt Suzanna: She’s one of those sociopathic hagsploitation chicks*˟ you dig so much who used Paul to destroy the youth and beauty of the younger women Paul kept falling for, much to her incestuous dismay.”

“Valarie is a dumb bitch?’ You know what, Bill, you’re right. That’s why you run a magazine and I am just some schmuck in Pittsburgh writing movie reviews down in his mother’s basement as I wait for her to bring me my lunch of raw goat livers and a glass of milk.”

A what-the-fuck glaze permeates Bill’s bearded face. A dismissive puff of cigar billows from his lips.

“Don’t worry. It’s just an obscure reference to Brazilian filmmaker Fauzi Mansur’s Ritual of Death. Just being creative, working in those hyperlinks,” I reply to Bill, full knowing he ain’t buying into my shit. For that liver mommy’s serving is not of goat . . . but human.

Is The House That Vanished a little slow? Sure, you can see why American International Pictures trimmed 15 minutes from its original 99-minute runtime for U.S. distribution. The trade off is that the noir-cum-giallo proceedings become confusing (and you lose the extended rape scene, the hetro and incestual sex scenes). Are the yellowed frames as good as my cherished Symptoms and Vampyres? Eh, we’re lost between the two. Larraz, as his celluloid modus operandi: everything is artfully framed and shot, there is plenty of mystery (monkeys, pigeons, death masks, taxidermy heads, car junk yards . . . all that is missing is fellow Spaniard Bigas Luna’s snails from Anguish — which also had pigeons . . . mating with snails), the mood lingers and the atmosphere drips. So, you may say, “Boring. Nothing happens.” I say this is still one of Larraz’s finest. One thing is for sure: this is not “Wes Craven” in the least.

“Wes Craven?”

Yeah. The reason this fourth film from José Ramón Larraz is lost, forgotten, and sometimes, hated: its U.S. marketing — of which he had no control.

The U.S. home video prints issued by Home Media Entertainment (1984) and Video Treasures (1988) under The House That Vanished title run at 84 minutes: the same title and length as the American International Pictures cut (1974) issued to drive-ins. Those home video prints are 15 minutes shorter than the 99-minute drive-in version that first screened under the title of Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom in December of 1973. Almost a year later, after making the rounds at the same 99-minute length as Scream . . . and Die!, AIP acquired the film in October 1974 for a wider, domestic distribution: they cut the film down to 84 minutes and retitled it as an ersatz Craven clone.

As we discussed in our two-fer review of The Last Victim (1975) and Forced Entry (1973), and Death Weekend (1976): the runaway box office of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) — itself a sloppy n’ scuzzy, grindhouse remake of Ingmar Bergman’s tasteful-superior The Virgin Spring (1960) — inspired a slew of copycats. It was never Larraz’s intent to create a “faux” sequel, as was the case with the worsening, revenge-rape sub-genre entries of Roger Watkin’s Last House on a Dead End Street (1977) and Francesco Prosperi’s The Last House on the Beach (1978).

Larraz was — as Canadian William Fruet — a victim of the American International Pictures marketing department. Freut was on a higher road, in his emulating Sam Peckinpaw’s Straw Dogs (1971) from 20th Century Fox and John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) from Warner Bros. Death Weekend became more wildly known on the U.S. drive-in circuit as an ersatz Wes Craven sequel, The House by the Lake. That marketing, of course, didn’t work: the movie bombed.

In Larraz’s case, the marketing fared even worse because, not only is The House That Vanished not a gory, Italian-styled giallo nor a graphic, rape-revenge exploitation film: it’s a psychological, supernatural ghost story, akin to his previous work, Symptoms. But a buck is a buck, so drive-in audiences were duped by a theatrical one-sheet that mocked Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left — complete with its infamous “It’s Only a Movie” tagline.

It’s only a crappy marketing plan . . . it’s only a crappy marketing plan . . .

At least they give a “psychological” hint with the Hitchcock button.

A very cool You Tube portal, Belz’s Movies From the Past has done us a solid and uploaded the original, Scream . . . and Die! 99-minute print of the film. However, we found a copy of the AIP-shorter cut on You Tube, if you wish to compare. When you visit Drive-In Asylum Facebook, search for “The House That Vanished” and you’ll discover several U.S. drive-in newsprint ads to enjoy from the film.

To continue your exploration of José Ramón Larraz’s works, visit our reviews for his later (and I feel, weaker), more American-slasher oriented works Estigma (1980), Rest in Pieces (1987), Edge of the Axe (1988), and his final (U.S.) film, Deadly Manor (1990). We also speak of his works in our Spanish horror reviews of León Klimovsky’s The Vampires Night Orgy and Paul Naschy’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats, and The People Who Own the Dark.

As for that name of Derek Ford credited as the screenwriter: No, that’s not a nom de plume for Larraz. Ford’s writing credits include the early sexploitive smutter, Secret Rites (1971), the Peter Cushing vehicle Corruption (1968), and the Christmas-based slasher Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984). Amid his fifteen credits as a director, Ford gave us the “No False Metal” classic (well, it is to us), Blood Tracks (1985), as well as the tech-horror, The Urge to Kill (1989), which he also wrote.

Bill? Where are you? Bill? Bill, you fuck. Figures he’d vanish when there’s all of this monkey and pigeon shit to clean up. Why were there even pigeons and monkeys in the movie?

* There really is a tale about “The House That Vanished,” as this BBC Radio Four broadcast, explains.

** Other houses that may or not be there: The Bride (1973), which also Craven-aka’d during its drive-in life as Last House on Massacre Street. Warlock Moon (1973) has one as well, but that was more of a health spa than a house. No alternate “street” title for that one, but Joe Spano, later of TV’s Hill Street Blues, stars.

*˟ Mr. Van Ryn speaks truths: We dove down that hagsploitation rabbit hole with our review of The Night God Screamed.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Mill Creek Drive-In Movie Classics: Country Blue (1973)

Lost somewhere Burt Reynolds’s White Lighting (1973) and Peter Fonda’s Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) is this hicksploitation passion-cum-vanity project that served, not only as Jack Conrad’s lone acting effort, but his lone feature film writing and directing effort. Perhaps if his negotiations with a then up-and-coming and hot Jeff Bridges and Robert Blake — both who made inroads with their early, southern-fried films The Last American Hero and Corky, respectively (both 1973) — hadn’t broken down to the point that Jack had no choice but starring himself, maybe we’d remember this ersatz-Bonnie and Clyde (see Fabian in A Bullet for Pretty Boy) beyond its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Drive-In Movie Classics 50-film pack.

Hey, Jack, being on a Mill Creek boxer ain’t a bad place to be.

Jack Conrad is a name you know as rolling in the credits of The Howling as a producer: he was originally slated to serve as the project’s writer and director. After his dust-ups with the studio cleared: John Sayles — a two-time, future-nominated Academy Award Winner — was given the job of adapting Gary Brander’s novel of the same name. Joe Dante sat in the director’s chair (and, if you are keeping track: Dante and Sayles previously worked together on Piranha).

So goes the life of a then twenty-something film school graduate fresh of the prestigious USC Film School, one who got his first job as a second unit director on an 1870s-era drama called West Texas (1970), in addition to editing a psychological horror film called Moonchild (1972) that starred Victor Buono and John Carradine.

While Jack isn’t exactly Bridges-Blake (or even Fonda) magnetic, he’s certainly serviceable in the role of the fresh-out-of-prison, ne’er-do-well-to-inept bankrobber-cum-garage mechanic Bobby Lee Dixon. What saves the picture is the presence of well-worn, southern fried character actor Dub Taylor (Bonnie and Clyde and Bridges’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) in his lone, leading-man role as Bobbie Lee’s boss, J.J “Jumpy” Belk. Adding to the need-to-stream is the presence of equally “southern” character actor David Huddleson with one of his rare, marquee roles.

Rednecks, Vampires, and Richard Burton? We ain’t hatin’!

On a low-budget and in Tallahassee, Florida (although we are in “Georgia”) — and certainly done better, by others — Jack Conrad shoots it all on location as he opens with great shots of a local stock car mudtrack where he serves on Jumpy’s pit crew — trying to go straight. But Bobby Lee’s tired of the poverty — and he’s in love with Jumpy’s daughter: his married daughter. So, to impress Ruthie by making a better life for himself in Mexico, he returns to robbing banks — and she goes the “bad boy” route to become his “Bonnie” for the inevitable, bloody shootout.

Considering Jack Conrad was two years out of school and on his first film (around the same time, George Lucas put together THX 1138; John Carpenter assembled Dark Star), Country Blue isn’t great, but it’s not a disaster, either. Sure, there’s sound issues (not the print itself from which Mill Creek copied, but in the film itself) and a few awkward shots, some which looks like too-long, lingering filler to pump the running time. For the most part, Conrad captures everything with a decent, competent against-the-budget skill set (as you can see below: the film’s car chase set piece is well done).

Country Blue is a decent B-Movie from the mosquito-strewn, bygone drive-in days of yore. Watch it on You Tube HERE and HERE or own it as part of Mill Creek’s Drive-In Movie Classics 50-film pack that we’re reviewing all this month.

Be sure to check out our rundown of hicksploitation and redneck cinema delights from the ’70s and ’80s with our “Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List.”

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Man, what a title. Better than the original one, Dracula is Dead…and Well and Living in London, which upset Christoper Lee so much that he was outspoken at the press conference that introduced the movie: “I’m doing it under protest… I think it is fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives — fatuous, pointless, absurd. It’s not a comedy, but it’s got a comic title. I don’t see the point.”

The eighth Hammer Dracula movie, the seventh and final to star Lee (John Forbes-Robertson played Dracula with David de Keyser as the voice in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires) and the third and last to put Lee’s vampire against Cushing’s Van Helsing (they would appear in only one more movie together, House of the Long Shadows), this is pretty much the end of an era.

Every time I think of this movie, I remember Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum excitingly saying to me — after we saw the trailer at a drive-in — “It’s not enough that Dracula is a vampire. Now he has an entire army of Satanists and he wants to rule the world and he has a plague!”

It turns out that there’s a govenment occult conspiracy that only Van Helsing can stop and he’s bringing along his granddaughter Patsy Stone, err, Jessica Van Helsing.

As the cabal prepares for the Sabbath of the Undead, their mysterious fifth member is revealed to be, of course, Dracula using the identity of reclusive property developer D. D. Denham and operating out of the very same churchyard where he died in Dracula A.D. 1972.

Somehow, this is more of a Eurospy science fiction movie than the traditional horror film, but that’s kind of the beauty of the whole thing.

Somehow, this fell into the public domain in the U.S. That’s why it’s on so many Mill Creek sets under this title and the edited TV version Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Hanging Woman (1973)

Scotsman Serge Chekov (Stelvio Rosi, of Luchino Visconti’s incredible The Leopard, 1963) inherits his uncle’s estate that overlooks a small Balkans village, only to discover that Professor Droilia (Gerald Tichy, of Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon), has taken residence in the basement. As Chekov investigates, he leans the professor is a mad scientist who has perfected the reanimation of the dead — with the help of Igor (Sir Paul Naschy), a necrophiliac grave robber.

Chekov, as is the case with most of the Counts in these films, gives Peter Carpenter (Point of Terror) lessons in how to improperly treat n’ bed the ladies. Meanwhile, the professor’s put-upon wife, Doris (the heart-melting Dyanik Zurakowska), is exactly the distressed damsel we pay to see — gowns, nighties, and improper designer footwear, in check. Naschy, as usual, no matter the star or support player — amid the horny witches, the necrophilia, the zombies, the graveyards, and the Satanic coven-foolery — excels in his character’s kinked weirdness. And yes, we do get the ol’ Drolia’s creations rising in league against him amid the dumb detectives without the skill to fish the herring o’ red.

Oy! I love this film. It has everything I come to expect in a Spanish horror film subsidized by — and copying — the Italians.

The European theatrical one-sheet.

Directed by José Luis Merino as La orgía de los muertos, which translates as Orgy of the Dead (a great title), this Paul Naschy-starrer became known as The Hanging Woman during its initial U.S. theatrical release (as result of our Scottish lad, upon arrival, finding his cousin hanging from a graveyard tree). Over the years, it has been released to VHS and DVD under the titles of Beyond the Living Dead, Return of the Zombies and Terror of the Living Dead. What really twists the sprockets is this Paul Naschy curio is also known in some quarters as Zombi 3 — which also serves as an alternate title for Burial Ground, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare City, and Marino’s stomach-churner, Zombie Holocaust, aka Doctor Butcher, M.D.

Some critics have opined this was directed by Naschy associate León Klimovsky (of the excellent The Vampires Night Orgy), as result of some prints of the film — for reasons unknown — instead crediting writer-director Jose Luis Merino as “Leo Klimovsky,” while other prints anglicize the Spanish-born director as John Davidson. The “Jack Daniels” on those prints is actually Merino’s co-writer, Erico Colombo (Scream of the Demon Lover, 1970).

Usually, when it comes to Naschy — at least when he’s in the writer’s and director’s chairs — we get a film rife with Universal homages. Here, under the pens n’ lens of Jose Luis Merino, we have an effective, Italian-Spanish variant on the atmospheric-purposeful, “historical” Gothic dramas of old: to that end: if you’ve burnt out on your repeated views of ’50s and ’60s Hammer flicks (moi), you’ll have a fresh, homage-watch to the British horrors of old.

The overall effectiveness of this obscurity in the Spanish horror realms is Merino’s artful juxtaposition of the beauty of the (nineteenth-century) Spanish countryside with the bizarre-cum-sinister, red herring-rife noir dealings. Naschy, again, while only in a support role, relishes the tastelessness of his necro-creep and, as result, this slides nicely amid my Naschy-quartet favorites of Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats, Inquisition, and The People Who Own the Dark.

You can watch this as a with-ads stream — via Charles Band’s Full Moon Studio — on Tubi. For an ad-free experience, Full Moon offers it on their Amazon Prime page. The Tubi-version runs at one hour thirty-eight minutes; Full Moon’s at thirty-four.

The 2009 DVD reissue by Troma (just seeing their logo makes me ill) includes an audio commentary with Jose Luis Merino and an interview with Paul Naschy. As result of the common denominator of Dyanik Zurakowska, the DVD also features her work in Sid Pink’s The Sweet Sound of Death (1965), directed by Spain’s Javier Seto (best known to U.S audiences for the 1963 sword-and-sandals flick, The Castilian). Emptor the caveats: While the transfer stinks, Troma (claims) their DVD presents the long, uncut version; complete with nudity, it runs at one hour thirty-one minutes. However, how Troma’s is the “Definite Cut” (as advertised on the box), when it’s shorter than the Tubi/Amazon versions, is anyone’s guess.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.