The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

The fact that a movie called The Swinging Cheerleaders (AKA Locker Room Girls and H.O.T.S. II) is so good rests on the fortune that this was co-written and directed by Jack Hill. It’s a movie that promises cheerleaders and sex. Sure, it delivers that. It also gives you a crime story, a tale of journalism and a wife so enraged by her husband’s infidelity that the one scene she shows up for is volcanic, ending with her screaming that she plans on carving her name into a girl’s anatomy.

Kate (Jo Johnston in her one-and-done role) is writing an article for the college newspaper about how cheerleading demeans women, so she joins the squad. Yet she soon finds herself bonding with the girls.

There’s Mary Ann (Colleen Camp), who wants her boyfriend Buck to stop sleeping around and marry her. Lisa (Rosanne Katon) is the one having an affair with a married professor. And Andrea (Rainbeaux Smith!) just can’t go all the way.

But there are bigger problems. All of the adults are betting on the football games, including the dean, the coach and Mary Ann’s dad, a local businessman. They’re willing to do anything it takes to keep their scam going, too.

Strangely enough, when this movie and The Student Body played a Dallas drive-in, Randall Adams and David Harris were in attendance and used the film as an alibi when they were investigated in the murder of Dallas police officer Robert W. Wood. When Adams said that he had to leave as he didn’t feel comfortable with the content, it led to his conviction. You can learn more in the documentary The Thin Blue Line.

I saw someone on Letterboxd say that “If Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was about college cheerleading, this would be that movie.” What a great way to explain this.

It’s totally not the teen sex romp you think it is, yet it has a scene where multiple people in a row all punch a security guard in the face, which should be a moment in every film.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Cugini Carnali (1974)

Cugini Carnali translates as First Cousins, but this movie was also titled The VisitorHot and Bothered, La PrimaLoving Cousins and High School Girl.

This is the story of Nico d’Altamura (Alredo Pea, who was also in two other commedia sexy all’italiana, the Dagmar Lassander-starring Classe Mista and the Edwige Fenech movie The School Teacher), who is a shy sixteen year old who falls in love with his city-born cousin Sonia (Susan Player, Invasion of the Bee GirlsMalibu Beach).

This comes from director Sergio Martino, who you may know better from his early 70s master class on making giallo — Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the KeyAll the Colors of the DarkTorsoThe Strange Vice of Mrs. WardhThe Case of the Scorpion’s Tail — or his sexy bedroom movies with Edwige Fenech.

Nico comes from a more provincial family than Sonia and while his parents are strict, they have their secrets. His father is sleeping with the family maid (Rosalba Neri, Lady Frankenstein) and also waiting for their uncle to die, but he keeps alive either out of spite or to keep sleeping with prositutes. When Sonia comes to town, she causes a scandal by wearing miniskirts to church and sunbathing nude, but let’s face it, Nico has no idea what he’s in for.

Martino was a genre hopper. The year following this movie, he made two poliziotteschi (Gambling City and Silent Action), a giallo (The Suspicious Death of a Minor) and Sex With a Smile, which features Barbara Bouchet, Fenech and Marty Feldman. This may not be his best movie, but it’s not his worst.

Junesploitation 2021: Truck Turner (1974)

June 8: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is blacksploitation.

Released by American International Pictures as a double feature with Foxy Brown, this movie features Isaac Hayes as former pro football player turned bounty hunter Mack “Truck” Turner. After another successful job with his friend Jerry, he gets another bounty from Fogarty (Dick Miller), but not before seeing his girlfriend Annie (Annazette Chase, The Toy). She wants him to give up this crazy and violent life.

That next job is all about catching a pimp named Gator (Paul Harris, Across 110th Street), who runs and ends up getting killed. His main lady Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols!) gets all of his prostitutes under control and makes a deal with all of the other pimps in Los Angeles. Whoever kills Truck Turner gets to be the main pimp. Only Blue (Yaphet Kotto) takes the challenge, but no matter what he tries or who he hires — a veritable rogue’s gallery of villainy — Truck keeps making it through.

Director Jonathan Kaplan, who went from movies like this and The Student Nurses to bigger things like Heart Like a Wheel and The Accussed, told Monthly Film Bulletin that Truck Turner was written for Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum or Ernest Borgnine, but Larry Gordon at AIP said, “Well, we can’t get any of them so now it’s a black picture.”

Junesploitation 2021: Cry of a Prostitute (1974)

June 3: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is a movie with Henry Silva in it.

Henry Silva is 92 years old and if life works out the right way, he’ll outlive us all. He was so good as a student at the Actor’s Studio that when they did A Hatful of Rain, he made it to the Broadway play and the movie.

Yet amongst folks like you and me, we know Silva from showing up as mobsters, killers and general scumbags in all manner of movies from so many countries. He had his first lead in 1963’s Johnny Cool, killing off so many bigger actors, like Mort Sahl, Telly Savalas, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr. before Elizabeth Montgomery sells him out. But by November of that year, the President was dead and no one wanted to see a dark film noir.

In 1965, Italy came calling and Silva took a chance. He moved his entire family there and launched a career of playing, well, more horrible people. The next year, The Hills Run Red made him a star in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. And by 1977, he’d been in twenty-five movies. Stuff like Almost Human, gritty gangster versus cops films that audiences loved.

Silva made movies in Hong Kong (Operation: Foxbat), Japan (Virus), Australia (Thirst), Spain (Day of the Assassin), Canada (Trapped), France (La Marginal) and for TV (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century). He’s the kind of guy who can be in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai just as easily as L’ultima Meta or Megaforce.

It’s hard to pick just one Henry Silva movie, but I picked perhaps one of his most brutal.

Playing as Quelli Che Contano (Those Who Matter) in Italy, as well as Love Kills and Guns of the Big Shots, this Andrea Bianchi-directed film is made of everything mean you can imagine. What else would you expect from the maker of Strip Nude for Your Killer and Burial Ground? A meditation on the value of mindfulness?

When the Italian mob families of Don Ricuzzo Cantimo and Don Turi Scannapieco keep their battles and crimes going to such a degree that they’re smuggling heroin in the body of a dead child — yes, this is how the movie begins — the big bosses leave the decision as to how to handle business in the hands of Don Cascemi.

He calls in an expert — Tony Aniante (Silva) — and tells him to kill everyone, which he does with no small amount of Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars influence. There’s a lot to deal with, like the fact that Scannapieco has it in for Cantimo because he killed his son-in-law and made his daughter go off the deep end while also crippled her son. And oh yeah, Ricuzzo’s week (Barbara Bouchet, more on her in a minute) decides that she’s got to get some Silva stirring up in her guts. If that doesn’t get confusing enough. Ricuzzo’s youngest son and Scannapieco’s younger daughter are also ready to play an eternal game of hide the cannoli.

Hey wait — didn’t you say this movie was brutal and potentially deranged?

Why yes, I did.

Before it’s over, we have heads exploding as they’re shot, a child’s body on an autopsy table, a head goes flying out a windshield, multiple dead bodies smashed by a steamroller, a bandsaw go clean through someone’s head and Silva drag Bouchet around a barn, beat her with a belt, then beat her in the face with the belt buckle, then have violent bloody sex with her in a grimy barn. Earlier in the film — because this is an Italian film where women come to enjoy all manner of upsetting couplings, our hero shoves her head into a bloody pig carcass while they make love — well, not really, right? — in the kitchen. To make things worse, Bouchet is totally turned on by this experience. Then she tells her husband all about it, because that’s the only way they can make love. Yes, this movie is the scumbag movie that scumbag movies warned you about.

Tony is brutally efficient, whistling his signature song before quickly blasting guys in the head with his Luger, like some unholy Italian western character combined with his Johnny Cool role. He’s death itself, as a scene of him walking into a Sicilian town has everyone closing their windows rather than even seeing him show up. Stick around for the end of the film, which neatly explains exactly why Tony whistles that tune as he murders everyone around him.

Released in the US with that garish poster above by Joseph Brenner Associates — the people who brought you EyeballThe Devil’s Rain!The Girl in Room 2A and many more — Cry of a Prostitute was sold with the tagline, “For a lousy twenty-five bucks, some people think they can do anything!” along with Bouchet’s abused face.

Bouchet would tell House of Freudstein, “That was unpleasant I didn’t remember it being that unpleasant when we made it. In fact I prefer not to remember too much about that one. When Quentin Tarantino arranged a screening of some of my movies in LA he opened with that one and I wish he hadn’t…” However, in Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s, Silva claims that Bouchet was tougher than nearly any of the men he met in those movies and intimidated him.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Howard Avedis Week: The Teacher (1974)

“Well, come on in a minute. I’m not gonna rape you.”
— So says Ms. Marshall to her student, Sean, as she washes her car, squiring her legs off with the hose

So, courtesy of the IMDb and Wiki — we’re saving you the digital trip — we know Howard Avedis graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master of Arts, where he also won the coveted George Cukor Award. But instead of being recruited by say, Universal or 20th Century Fox, he was recruited by . . .

Crown International Pictures. And no one escapes their Crown International Pictures fate. Not when your George Cukor award leads to filming suggestive scenes of nymphos with water hoses. The studio hired Avedis to write and direct the pseudo-Giallo murder thriller The Stepmother (1972) starring Latin sex symbol Alejandro Rey (Fun in Acapulco with Elvis Presley; the when-animals-attack classic The Swarm; TerrorVision). Next up in the Avedis-Crown contract was The Teacher, a film shot in 12 days for $65,000.

Okay, so . . . as you can see by the very cute and prim-and-proper Angel Tompkins (we kid you not: in another when-animal-attack flick, The Bees and, we kid you not, closing her career with a bit part in Micheal Fischa’s Crack House; which we review this week, so look for it), we’re in a grindhouse variant of the award-winning box office bonanza that was the Dustin Hoffman-starring The Graduate. Yep. Angel is our “Ms. Robinson” this time.

Now, I remember my parents getting dressed up to see the “dirty” The Graduate (read our review of Rage that gets into those bygone days of yesteryear when going to the movies was an “event”). Seriously, that 1967 romantic-comedy was a HUGE DEAL with its college student played by Dustin Hoffman seduced by — and having a sexual relationship — with Anne Bancroft. The Graduate was right up there with Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, and Warren Beatty in Shampoo — in terms of being “dirty” because of its shedding the ’50s aesthetic and having “adult themes” that were, like The Teacher, branded “vulgar” and “lurid.”

Yeah, right. I watched all of those films years after the fact on VHS and was, well, bored by the films. I mean, they’re good films, but not the “shock” I was expecting. The same goes for all of those Golden Age of Porn films: yawn. This is it? So, if you take away the Mike Nichols restraint — and give his cougar Anne Bancroft a hose, and eliminate the iconic, artful “through the legs” shot and the memorable church scene of that film — you’d get The Teacher. Only, Tompkins, while enjoyable, ain’t no Bancroft and Jay North — while good here in his first adult film role — still ain’t no Hoffman. And Avedis, god love ’em, ain’t no Nichols.

And neither is our other, love struck (crazy) pup here: Anthony James. We are talking the go-to screen baddie of the ’70s from Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter and the forgotten ’70s apoc’er Ravagers. He was Malcolm McDowell’s right-hand heavy in the Roy Scheider helicopter flick, Blue Thunder. James is pure awesome. You need a sweaty psycho: call Anthony James. (We just lost James in May of last year). And Uncle Howie knows this because he brought James back for the 1978 hicksploitation romp, Texas Detour (which we also reviewed this week, so look for it).

So, anyway . . . it’s the summer. And love is in bloom — and stalking, natch, has blossomed because, well, it’s Anthony James and he must stalk — the 28-year-old Diane Marshall (at the time of filming, James was thirty-two; he’s not a “teen” but the older brother to one). And one of his buds in on the leering is his brother’s fellow high school friend: Jay “Dennis the Menace” North. Bikini bathing on boats and strip-naked exercising, ensues — all watched from the comfort of an old warehouse down by the docks where James lives with his brother.

Now, before we go onward: a school teacher who can afford to live on a boat on the riverfront? How, on a teacher’s salary . . . well, because, if not, this film review would stop right here. And her drifter-dreaming husband doesn’t have the required two pennies to rub . . . but I digress. Well, wait. I also need to point out she lives in a nice Cali-style split-level with a shiny Corvette in the drive way (for a sexy-boner car wash). Now, I dated a couple of school teachers . . . and between the salary and the student debt, they either lived in a dump or a crackerbox or had a bitchy-bossy roommate that dissed me at every opportunity. So what’s the dealo, here? Is our fair-haired teacher a prostitute on the sly? Dealing drugs? Her hubby’s a drifting, ne’er-do-well bum. so he’s no help. . . .

I know, quit over thinking and just trip n’ fall into the plot holes and get on with the review.

Yikes. I’d be “Hot for Teacher,” too.

So, in addition to James and North, their other horny little buddy — and James’s little brother — played by Rudy Herrera, Jr. (who did this and The Stepmother for Howard, then quit acting — at least on film), also has the hots for Ms. Marshall. And the trio fights over her. Well, see yahs later, Rudy: he goes over the warehouse railing to his death. Of course, this puts James’s Ralf Gordon and North’s Sean Roberts at romantic odds and sets up our needed “love triangle.” Of course, Ralf has the upper hand: he’ll tell the cops Sean murdered lil’ brother Louie.

Well, it seems no one is going to Scarborough Fair, for there is no scent of parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme. And here’s to you Mr. Gordon and Mr. Roberts, for Ms. Marshall lusts after you more than you know. And Ms. Marshall needs a little Jesus more than she knows.

Yeah, that’s right: Ms. Marshall is not officially divorced yet. And when the ol’ drifter-hubby returns from his drifter excursions, she tells him she wants a divorce, because, well, she’s having fun playing these two emotionally immature ne’er-do-wells against each other — the type who, when they get upset, go for an old army bayonet, in short order. That’s this film: hoses and bayonets. And binoculars that our faux Ms. Robinson was aware of all along: for she’s a kitten with a whip, but she’s no Ann-Margret. Or Mamie Van Doren.

Regardless of the scathing press accusing CBS-TV’s Dennis the Menace star Jay North “bottoming out” in a (Golden Age of) porn film, The Teacher is in no way on the level of the works of producer Bill Osco, he the king of the “erotic art film,” aka porn, that launched the “Golden Age of Porn” and unleashed the likes of Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat and Marilyn “Rabid” Chambers in Behind the Green Door. Yeah, the grindhouse Golden Age’er The Devil in Miss Jones may have cleaned up at the box office the year before, but this Avedis entry is not the least bit “erotic” or “art” for that matter. Yeah, the repetitive grindhouse washout plays and VHS replays add that grainy, 8MM feel of the uploads on this — and there’s the cheesy “wah-wah” guitar n’ flute music that adds to the porn vibe — but it’s not a porn. So watch without the worries of having to Ivory out the eyeballs . . . or stuffing a dish towel down your frontside for any “accidents” of the tent-pitchin’ variety. Prop your popcorn box on your lap without concern — and watch with boredom.

Yeah, Hollywood sucks (no pun intended). And its critics and puritanical gossip columnists are worse. Jay North — again, who’s actually very good here; not Hoffman good, but decent — filled with high hopes at this attempt at an adulthood transition into films with The Teacher, wrapped up his career. He reappeared in two more projects: a 1980 TV movie Scout’s Honor and 1985’s Wild Wind (I’ve seen nor never heard of either) in small support roles. Today, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, he came to work as a counselor for the Florida Department of Corrections, a career he still holds today.

Here we go again! The copy of The Teacher we bookmarked to share was gone by the time we went to press. However, we found a copy on a new Tubi-styled free-with-ads stream service called FlixHouse — and it’s an app that can be downloaded though Amazon Prime and runs on your Android, Amazon Fire TV tablet, and Apple TV. However, you can also stream FlixHouse online on your PC or laptop without a download. It looks safe and legit to us. You can watch, HERE, on FlixHouse.

Oh, if you’re keeping track, Uncle Howie loves “affairs” in films, so be sure to check out They’re Playing with Fire and Separate Ways (that review is coming), the former with Sybil Danning, the latter with Karen Black. Just wow.

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.

Death in Space (1974)

When Colonel Cliff “Rocky” Rhodes (ubiquitous ’60s biker flick stalwart Jeremy Slate), commander of an astronaut crew, mysteriously disappears through an airlock during a mission orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, it appears to be a simple case of suicide . . . or was he murdered? In the vastness of space, and with their communications array damaged, only one of his crewmates can be the murderer. Who among the crew had a reason to kill Col. Rhodes?

Back on Earth, in Mission Control, George Maharis (TV’s Route 66; Murder on Flight 502 and SST: Death Flight), Cameron Mitchell, and Sandy Kenyon (The Doors tome Down on Us) work on the case while Susan Oliver (yes, the Green-skinned girl from Star Trek) frets as the put-upon wife. The ship’s crew stars Star Trek alum Robert Walker, Jr. (“Charlie X”), TV actor John Carter (The Andromeda Strain; fellow TV flick Earth II), and William Bryant, whose long TV career began in the ’50s and lasted into the late ’80s. Margaret O’Brien, who stars as Mrs. Rhodes, won an Oscar for Outstanding Child Actress* for Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944), starred in Jane Eyre (1943), The Canterville Ghost (1944), and continues to work in television and indie films. She’s currently in production on her 75th project, Love Is in Bel Air (2021).

Sadly, as I fondly as recall this flick, the adult screenwriter in me today sees this as a Bechdel test failure: why not have either Susan Oliver or Margaret O”Brien in a meatier role as an astronaut? Well, this is set in the same present-day Apollo-Saturn V-Skylab era that’s just a few nautical miles down the equator from Marooned (1969) penned by Martin Caidin of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) fame. Men ruled the stars back in the Kennedy-era and women didn’t conquer space until the far-flung “future” in Project Moonbase (1953), Gog (1954), King Dinosaur (1955), and Angry Red Planet (1959) — even though they were stuck wearing sensible corked-wedged mules and smart black ballet slippers to go with their waist-tailored and pegged flight suits, and smart gauchos with knee-high boots. And screaming and imploring men to “do something” and shoot everything in sight.

But I digress. Again. . . .

Is the odd-looking “New Line” log on the box the same studio later acquired by Turner Broadcasting and merged into Warner Brothers? Your guess is as good as ours.

So . . . why are we here reviewing another Cameron Mitchell (Space Mutiny) sci-fi epic?

Well, it’s another “TV Week” at B&S About Movies . . . and all of that talk concerning Cameron Mitchell and his family’s galactic oeuvre for Allan Sandler and Robert Emenegger’s Gold Key Entertainment — which we discussed at length in our previous review of the studio’s 1981 release, Lifepod — got me to thinking of this ABC-TV movie obscurity (part of the “Wild World of Mystery” shingle) originally broadcast on June 17, 1974. Since I was Apollo crazy and still into my Matt Mason toys, I remember watching Death in Space when it first aired, then again in a post-Star Wars world during a late-night, local UHF-TV rebroadcast — pre-VCR (damn it).

Now, if you know your sci-fi the way we know you do, then you know the whole “murder mystery in space” plotting of this ’70s galactic progenitor was done to a lesser and lesser effect with the Canadian TV romp — which also aired in the U.S. as a first-run Showtime movie — Murder in Space (1985), and the Viacom/CBS-TV production Murder by Moonlight (1989) that, to make it all the more confusing, aka’d in the home video realms as “Murder in Space.” Courtesy of their respective directors, Steven Hilliard Stern (The Ghost of Flight 401 and This Park is Mine) and Michael Lindsay-Hogg (the Beatles “What If” flick Two of Us), and respective stars in Michael Ironside and Martin Balsam, and Brigitte Nielsen and Julian Sands, both films also ran as overseas theatrical features. The effects, sets and costumes are fine, but look cheap in the post-Star Wars environs and each feel like Battlestar Galactica: TOS (we’re reviewing that telefilm-verse this week, look for them) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century two-part episode rejects.

Mattel’s Major Matt Mason courtesy of SyFy Wire. Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks have been trying for years to get a feature film made.

Sadly, like Don Kirshner’s lost-to-the-ages TV rock ‘n’ roll horror, Song of the Succubus, the only known surviving copy of the English language print of the Agatha Christie-inspired space mystery of Death in Space is stored at the Library of Congress. Never released in an English-language VHS (as far as our research indicates), this Charles S. Dubin-directed telefilm was, however, issued as a dubbed VHS throughout Europe (which is where our image comes from).

In spite of the “Red Scare” blacklisting frenzy of the 1950s (along with Dalton Trumbo, the Award-winning writer of Roman Holiday and Spartacus; the subject of the Brian Cranston-starring Trumbo), Charles S. Dubin, fortunately, was able to build a prolific resume (mostly for CBS-TV) consisting of over 100 series (including 40-plus episodes of M*A*S*H; a few Kung Fu episodes) and TV films dating back to the early ’50s. Making his first bow in the sci-fi genre with the one-season anthology series Tales of Tomorrow, he made his feature film debut with the early rock ‘n’ roll flick Mister Rock ‘n’ Roll (one of five films starring famed disc jockey Alan Freed).

William Bryant starring in the much easier to find King Dinosaur (1955).

Of his many TV movies, Dubin’s best known are his take on Cinderella (1965; starring Ginger Rogers!, Walter Pidgeon!, and Celeste Holm?) and Murdock’s Gang (1973; Janet Leigh), with the best VHS-distributed of them — courtesy of William Shanter starring (more Star Trek connections!) — being The Tenth Level (1976). That same year he directed his second and final feature film: the car-crashin’ hicksploitation romp, Moving Violation** (1976). And, if you’re a TV movie airline disaster connoisseur (Did you check out our last “TV Movie Week” back in December dedicated to those films?), he directed the Arthur Hailey-penned (Airport) International Airport (1985) starring Gil “Buck Rogers,” aka “The Polish Sausage,” Gerard.

The western-bred scribe behind the Brother typewriter is the one and only Lou Shaw, who not only tweaked the dialog on the U.S. version of Hannah, Queen of the Vampires, aka Crypt of the Living Dead (1973), and wrote The Bat People (!), but many-an-episode of Lee Major’s The Fall Guy*˟, as well as an aborted attempt to turn Westworld into the series Beyond Westworld (and Dubin directed the failed series version of Logan’s Run!).

Image Left: Robert Walker, Jr. from the Euro-VHS of Death in Space courtesy of todocoleccion.net. Image Left: ABC-TV promotional still of Jeremy Slate courtesy of Worthpoint.com.

Sigh . . . what I would give to see this faded childhood memory, again, that I’ll always pair with almost-the-Six Million Dollar Man Monte Markham’s The Astronaut (1972). Mill Creek Entertainment or TV distributor Park Circus (Do those Lane Caudell flicks in your library, too, Park Circus) needs to get in touch with the Library of Congress and get this one out on DVD or on the air of the national retro-channels Antenna or Cozi. Other lost TV movies I want to find — that are not uploaded online, anywhere — are the Adam West-starring Curse of the Moon Child (1972) and the ABC-TV “Wild World of Mystery” entry Distant Early Warning (1975) starring Micheal Parks.

Ah, those hazy, snowy memories of TV yore that haunt your ol’ analog memory cores — and reviews that connect Oscar winners to Star Trek guest stars and the guy who wrote The Bat People. You gotta love ’em.

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

* Read the tale of Margaret O’Brien’s stolen and 40-years returned Oscar at The L.A Times.
** Check out our “Hicksploitation Month” round-up of reviews.
*˟ Check out our “Lee Majors Week” tribute, which includes a review of The Six Million Dollar Man.

And be sure to look for our “Space Week” review tribute to Lifepod, this week.

Dark Star (1974)

As a kid, I was obsessed with seeing Dark Star. This film, which combined the talents of John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon, Ron Cobb, Greg Jein and Bob Greenberg, was constantly in the pages of Starlog.

When I finally saw it — it played theaters until 1980 and then I was able to rent it when I got older — it didn’t live up to what I wanted it to be. Now, watching it as an old man instead of a kid just starting his life, I get it. It finally makes sense to me: even a job in space is totally going to suck, no matter how fantastic the worlds we get to travel to.

Twenty years into their mission to destroy unstable planets with Thermostellar Triggering Devices so that these worlds don’t threaten future colonization of other planets, the crew of the Dark Star has all gone insane. Or dead, as Commander Powell — voiced by Carpenter — is just a voice from cryostorage.

Lieutenant Doolittle dreams of surfing. Sergeant Pinback — O’Bannon — claims to be Bill Frug, a liquid fuel specialist, and says that the real Pinback is dead. Corporal Boiler has grown obsessed with his mustache. And Talby just watches the universe go by. None of them will be able to escape the crushing ennui of this voyage or a ship that is falling apart, filled with talking bombs that have learned Cartesian doubt.

In the end, all you can do is surf out into nothingness and burn out instead of fading away.

This started as a 45-minute 16mm student project with a six grand budget, but to get it in theaters, it needed more footage and to be pushed to 35mm to get in theaters. John Landis got the filmmakers in touch with Jack H. Harris, who padded the film some more. O’Bannon would later say that somehow “the world’s most impressive student film and it became the world’s least impressive professional film.”

Beyond writing and starring in the movie, O’Bannon also designed several of the film’s special effects, including one of the first usages of hyperspace in a movie. The influence of this movie goes beyond that, as O’Bannon would use the sequences with the evil ball to write Alien and the British show Red Dwarf would take the ball — pun unintended — and run with an entire series based on the themes of this movie.

As for influences on the movie, Phillip K. Dick’s idea of frozen dead people communicating from beyond definitely informs the commander. O’Bannon would later adapt We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and Second Variety as Total Recall and Screamers. Plus, while I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s the exact same way that Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope wraps up.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Shot in 1971 for around $470,000, producers Bill Osco (who produced one of the films that brought about the Golden Age of adult films, Mona, as well as three Jackie Kong movies, The BeingNight Patrol and The Underachievers), Walter R. Cichy and Howard Ziehm (who directed this movie) held out in the hopes that a big studio would release this movie. Maybe they should have waited until Star Wars came out and really got people into science fiction!

The film was made with a mix of adult industry people, special effects talent like Mike Minor (the first two Star Trek movies, as well as The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. The Beastmaster and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins), Greg Jein (1941), Jim Danforth (whose name is backward in the credits; he worked with Harryhausen on a number of films), Dave Allen (Equinox, pretty much all of Full Moon’s effects for their early films) and Rick Baker (do you need to know what he’s worked on?) and science fiction fans like Bjo Trimble, Tom Reamy, George Barr and Cornelius Cole III.

Originally featuring both straight and gay hardcore penetration, this footage was surrendered to the L.A. vice squad to avoid a charge of pandering. There was also a legal challenge from Universal Studios, who claimed — and was pretty much correct — that the movie completely copied the first chapter of the Flash Gordon serial. The filmmakers added a text scroll claiming that the movie was a parody and included “not to be confused with the original Flash Gordon” in all of the advertising for the film.

The FX guys hated the porn producers so much by the end of the shoot that they held film of the effects until they were paid (Dave Allen insisted on being paid in cash every day) and they were not listed in the credits of the film.

Professor Gordon (John Hoyt, When Worlds Collide) learns that sex rays are being fired at our planet and one of them hits the aircraft that his son, Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams, who would go on to make Time Walker) and Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields, the daughter of a Mormon bishop who appeared in more than sixty adult films before this), are inside. They end up having sex and parachuting into the lab of Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins) who takes them to the planet Porno to stop the sex rays.

They are soon attacked by Emperor Wang (William Dennis Hunt, who would be the only person to reprise their role in the sequel) and his Penisauruses. After a lengthy orgy, they are all sentenced to die, except for Dale, who will be married to Wang. Flash is saved by Queen Amora (Nora Wieternik), but their ship is shot down.

Flash and Jerkoff both survive, however, and almost stop Dale and Wang’s wedding when it is invaded by the lesbian armies of Chief Nellie (Candy Samples!), who tries to keep the Earthwoman for her sapphic soldier squad. Help arrives in the form of Prince Precious (Mycle Brandy) of the Forest Kingdom before a living idol kidnaps Dale, but luckily, the good guys win in the end. Oh yeah — that’s Craig T. Nelson as the voice of the Great God Porno, who was called Nesuahyrrah by the animators (Harryhausen backward).

This movie is pretty dumb and I say that in the most affectionate way possible. It’s like a Mad Magazine parody except, you know, people are naked for most of it. It’s the kind of film that’s made for 16 year olds who totally shouldn’t be seeing it (and obviously will find a way to see it).

The Stranger Within (1974)

Richard Matheson took his novelette Trespass, threw in a little science-fiction twist and added no small part of Rosemary’s Baby to make a completely downbeat 70s exploration of the terrors of pregnancy.

Ann and David Collins (Barbara Eden and George Grizzard) didn’t expect to have a baby. After all, she’d had so many issues when they tried before and he’s since had a vasectomy. Even though he’s sure she’s cheated on him, he sticks around but suggests that an abortion might be best. Yet when Ann tries to terminate the pregnancy, she gets in so much pain that the doctor will not perform the procedure.

Things don’t get any more normal from there, as Ann begins painting strange visions of alien planets and gets pregnancy cravings for tons of salt, raw meat and black coffee. She also forces herself into the coldest temperatures, begins to exhibit amazing healing abilities and disappears into the mountains for days at a time.

Only her friend Phyllis (Joyce Van Patten) and a hypnotist named Bob (David Doyle) are able to get to the truth. She has been impregnated by someone else and it’s an alien who gets drunk on coffee and speaks through her. Woah — this movie gets wild and doesn’t let up, as the end has numerous women rising like zombies and carrying their newborn children to an alien where they all leave our world behind.

Lee Phillips also made The Girl Most Likely To… and The Spell, which are also worth looking for if you love TV movies.

The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)

The Phantom of Hollywood was one of the last films shot on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backlot, which was being demolished at the time of filming. It’s actually a major plot point, as it takes the place of the backlot of Worldwide Studios, the fictional studio within this movie.

A disfigured actor — just like the Phantom of the Opera — is killing anyone that tries to take down the studio. There are some great shots of famous films of the past — The Philadelphia StoryGrand HotelMutiny on the BountyThe Wizard of Oz — juxtaposed with the sets that have fallen into disrepair.

In 1974, no one — perhaps save the Phantom — knew the value of this history.

This one has a great cast, with Jack Cassidy (father of Shaun and David), Broderick Crawford, Peter Lawford, Jackie Coogan, John Ireland, Kent Taylor, Corinne Calvet and more appearing. It was written by George Schenck, who the normal world may know as one of the main writers and executive producers of NCIS, but we know as the writer, producer and director of Superbeast (and the writer of Turkey Shoot, too!). Director Gene Levitt is best known for creating Fantasy Island.

You can download this from the Internet Archive.