Man, when you get Bruno Mattei to make a mondo, you get something that’ll shock even the most jaded of us. Like me.
Working under the name Jimmy Matheus and basing his work on German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis — which had already been made into a film by Albert Zugsmith — you may think, hey, this could very well be a well-thought-out exploration of man’s carnal side. I mean, the opening even gives credit to Sigmund Freud, the Marquis De Sade and Masters and Johnson.
Then you realize, hey, it’s Bruno Mattei.
This movie was so upsetting on release that 38 minutes of the film was cut in its native Italy. This is the same country that gave birth to movies like Giallo In Venice and Salò. It did, however, run uncut in Germany. They got to see everything from a sex maniac cutting off a girl’s leg and a sex change operation to flirting with farm animals and priests making sweet, sweet love to dead people.
Now, that’s the stuff I felt comfortable discussing in this review. Just imagine what got left out. Nope, it’s worse than that.
Mattei also made a sequel, Sesso Perverso, Mondo Violento, bringing on Claudio Fragasso to direct the second unit.
Anyways, there’s also a lot of stock footage and, if you’ve never seen a mondo in your life, plenty of scenes taken from other movies and outright fake moments presented as being real. There are also experts debating what we see, lending an air of scientific meaning to what one can only assume is footage that someone, somewhere finds inordinately arousing.
Editor’s Note: The original Battlestar Galactica series that debuted on ABC-TV on September 17, 1978, was cancelled on April 29, 1979. As part of our “Space Week” tribute this week — which was inspired by our most recent “TV Week” tribute in April — we’re reflecting back on the 42nd anniversary of the show’s cancellation with a look at the two overseas theatrical films culled from the series: Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack and Conquest of the Earth. We’ll also take a look at the additional twelve telefilms culled from the series’ episodes in this review.
Even at its cheesiest and lowest of budgets, the production values of ’70s and ’80s American telefilms and TV series rivaled most Asian and European productions. Thus, many of the TV movies and series-pilot films reviewed at B&S About Movies — such as The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)* — became theatrical features in the overseas markets.
In Britain, the series UFO and Space: 1999 became Invasion: UFO and Destination Moonbase Alpha, while the 1973 Canadian TV production The Starlost was rebooted with a series of films beginning with The Starlost: The Beginning. In addition, two-part episodes of popular U.S. series — such as the Season 5 episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man (1976), “The Secret of Bigfoot” and “The Return of Bigfoot” — were cut into foreign theatricals. And those U.S. TV productions became significant box office hits that turned their actors — however brief — into “movie stars.” Just ask American TV actors Nicholas Hammond and Reb Brown, both who became overseas stars as result of their respective, short-lived Marvel/CBS-TV series, The Amazing Spiderman (1977; Columbia Pictures) and Captain America (1979; Universal Pictures), being cut into blockbuster theatrical films (each reached #1 in Japan). And Lou Ferrigno, thanks to those The Incredible Hulk series-to-films reduxes, he did alright and carved out a decent overseas theatrical career with Hercules, The Adventures of Hercules, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, and Desert Warrior.
While us post-Star Wars lads n’ lassies were mesmerized by the initial Battlestar Galactica TV movie/theatrical in 1978 (recut into the syndicated three-episode arc, “Saga of a Star World”), we quickly grew weary of the subsequent ABC-TV series, as its blatant stock footage recycling from the initial film — with very little, new SFX shots produced — bored us pretty quickly. And, as the ratings dipped each week as result, the stories and the effects only got cheesier and cheaper, and repeated and recycled, which only led to more boredom.
When the series was cancelled after one season, the reason given was that the ratings didn’t justify the reported production cost of one million dollars per episode. One million? Seriously? And how many times did we see those same SFX shots of the barrel-rolling vipers to screen left and a Cylon Raider flying into screen right before it was blasted into space dust? And did you, Mr. Producer, not think we wouldn’t notice the Terran shuttle in “Greetings From Earth” was a stock shot from (the even more god awful) Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? And the ol’ “space Nazis” trope from Star Trek from over decade ago, really? So, uh, if the series wasn’t cancelled, would Adama and friends encounter a “gangster world” and a “gladiator world” in quick succession? And why not, you’d already stuck us with “western world” (“The Lost Warrior”) and “knight world” (“The Young Lords”) episodes. Did you learn nothing from the stock prop room and wardrobe adventures of the Starship Enterprise, Mr. Producer? What was next, retreading the Star Trek episodes with Starbuck forced into an arena battle by aliens with a Gorn? How about Starbuck and Apollo flying through a space anomaly that spits out their evil doubles — and giving Apollo a beard and Starbuck a Sulu face scar? And why not? BSG’s sister series, Buck Rogers, became a Star Trek pastiche with Hawk as Spock, Buck as Kirk, and Wilma as Uhura in its second — and final — season. And what was the friggin’ deal with Boxey and the Daggit skirting the Battlestar’s security protocols every week?
Ugh. So, yeah, of course many of us wee lads abandoned the show halfway through its 24-episode run (17 original episodes of the series were made, five were two-part shows). Sure, the first two episodes (4 and 5) that ran as “The Lost Planet of the Gods” were certainly up to the standards of the initial movie, but things got a bit dopey by the time of “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero” (8 and 9) with its clone buffoonery. And again, the single-night episodes in between the two-parters, with their even dopier western and knights of the round table tropes, were worse (by the Lords of Kobol . . . Fred Astaire, are you frackin’ kidding?).
Ultimately, the series failure — a series that we all wanted to succeed — was the result of corporate greed; a greed that also resulted in the creation and failure of Buck Rogers, natch, for rival network NBC. (Today, the once ABC-aired series is now the property of NBC-Universal. You can watch BSG: TOS online at NBC.com.)
The initial plan was to rollout BSG (as with Buck Rogers) across 1978 as four annual, miniseries sequels to the three-hour (3-part) pilot film. The other planned films were “Lost Planet of the Gods (4-5),” “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero (8-9),” and “War of the Gods (15-16)” — the aforementioned space Nazis mess that was “Greetings from Earth (19-20)” was developed later, when ABC-TV decided it wanted to go to a weekly series. That decision, in turn, not only strained the show’s budget (and resulted in raiding the prop and costume departments and the stock shot boondoggling), but left the writers scrambling for quickie episodes to fill out the series (thus the western, knight, and Nazi tropes). It also resulted in the three mini-series suffering cuts to fit into a two-part, hour-long format.
And that brings us to the source material behind the series’ finest hour courtesy of a story arc and characters (Lloyd Bridges on his A-Game as Commander Cain) that rivaled the initial TV movie pilot — an arc that, like the two-part “Greetings from Earth,” was developed as result of going-to-series. (An honorable mention goes to Patrick MacNee as Count Iblis in “War of the Gods.”) For the overseas folks in the U.K., continental Europe, and Japan, what we enjoyed as “The Living Legend,” they enjoyed as Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack. And while our overseas sci-fi brethren didn’t know any better at the time — to get the BSG: TOS DVD set and watch TV the version of “The Living Legend” instead — we sure did.
Why? Because this overseas theatrical cut is a load of feldercarb; the broadcast version is better (even more so with the DVD series pack, instead of its syndicated commercial run).
It’s one thing to add footage to the two 40-minute episodes to create a theatrical-length piece, but the editors on this daggit-dung decided to take out the Cylon attack footage from “Living Legend” and replace it with attack footage from “Fire In Space (14).” Why not use both scenes? Why take out the romantic triangle subplot between Starbuck, Cassiopeia, and Cain? And really, you went all the way back to the clearing of the space mines scene from “Saga of a Star World” to beef up the film? And yes, that’s footage from The Towering Inferno in there. (And footage from Earthquake shows up in Galactica: 1980, natch.) And, in addition to the plot holes, character’s hairstyles change without reason. And character voices change. And Sheba — remember, the whole purpose of the “Living Legend” arc was to add her character to the cast — is mostly left on the cutting room floor. It’s a frackin’ editorial and continuity mess.
While you may be able to find used copies of the VHS (which were eventually made available in the U.S.) in the online marketplace, beware of the DVD reissues — even the region-free presses — which do not play on U.S. decks (or computers). Another problem: the DVD runs five-minutes shorter than the VHS (at 103 min. vs. 108 min.). Why cut those five minutes? Why are scenes — such as the Cylon fuel depot attack — truncated, missing dialog and plot explanations? And why the different sound effects for the Vipers and Raiders?
And speaking of the series-cancelled-and-returned second season Galactica: 1980: Our overseas brethren known the three-part “Galactica Discovers Earth” pilot as the third, official Battlestar Galactica film, Conquest of the Earth (1980), aka Galactica III, in some Euro-countries, Japan, and Australia.
Ah, but did you know there were 12 more BSG films issued after the three theatrical features? And no . . . Space Mutiny isn’t one of them!
In 1988, this frackin’ South-African pile of daggit dung was added to the BSG-verse, an abomination that makes the Universal telefilm hodgepodges look like Oscar winners. Oh, feldercarb, it makes Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, aka Turkish Star Wars, look like a statuette recipient. So, frack you, Action International Pictures*˟, for manipulating those foreign copyright loopholes and giving us an Ed Woodian Star Wars that you should have titled Battlestar 9 from Outer Space.
But I digress, again.
As with the aforementioned UFO, Space: 1999, and The Starlost finding a new, overseas life as theatrical, television, and home video features: After Conquest of the Earth, the third and final BSG foreign theatrical film, and prior to the syndication of the series’ 24 episode-installments, Universal Pictures edited the BSG series episodes to create 14 telefilms (two went theatrical, natch) for foreign distribution in 1981. (It’s said that some local U.S. UHF stations aired the TV movie versions of the series. I never saw them myself during their original 1981 run and only on VHS after the fact.) As you can see from the pairings of the vastly different episodes, these movies — as with Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack — also suffer continuity and editorial faux pas. The highlights — well, the worst of the films (depending on personal opinions) — are:
Experiment in Terra: An edit of “Experiment in Terra” (22) cut with content from Galactica: 1980‘s best episode, “The Return of Starbuck” (2.10), along with a chunk of “Saga of a Star World (1.1). But we do get a pretty cool, never-before-seen prologue explanation from Commander Adama about the Cylons — learned from Adama’s Galactica logbook discovered floating in space by an Earth astronaut.
Murder in Space: An edit of “Murder on the Rising Star” (18) with scenes from “The Young Lords” (11).
Space Prison: An edit of “The Man with Nine Lives” (17) and “Baltar’s Escape” (21).
Phantom in Space: An edit of “The Lost Warrior” (6) and “The Hand of God” (24).
Space Casanova: A combination of “Take the Celestra” (23) and “The Long Patrol” (7).
Curse of the Cylons: A hodgepodge of “Fire in Space” (14) with scenes from “The Magnificent Warriors” (10).
The rest are based on their multi-episode series counterparts:
Saga of a Star World: An all-new, third edit of the series that differs from the three-part syndicated series installments and the overseas/U.S. theatrical release.
Lost Planet of the Gods: Features restored scenes cut from the series version.
The Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Features restored scene cut from the series version.
The Living Legend: This is the third version of the Commander Cain tale, after the initial series episodes and the Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack theatrical repack.
War of the Gods: After “The Living Legend,” the second best episodes of the series, again, thanks to Patrick MacNee’s turn as Count Iblis.
Greetings from Earth: The absolute worst episodes of the series. And even the makers knew: they (thankfully) deleted the abysmal vaudeville soft-shoe routine by the plastic-headed/white-faced robots Hector and Vector.
Conquest of the Earth: An all-new, third edit of the Galactica: 1980, aka BSG Season 2, three-part pilot arc “Galactica Discovers Earth,” which also includes footage from the season’s two-parter “The Night the Cylons Landed.” And look out for Baltar and Lucifer in this version — bought in from the old BSG: TOS episode, “The Young Lords.”
Each of these telefilms are given their own, unique open and closing credits, along with new scenes (both newly shot and leftovers not used) and alternate, unused SFX shots. Outside of watching these movies, U.S. audiences seen most of these scenes as deleted outtakes included as “bonus features” on the BSG DVD/Blu-ray box sets of the series. But be on the lookout for plenty of Universal stock footage pillaging throughout, such as the Fembot footage from The Six Million Dollar Man timeline being incorporated.
While the always-the-pro Lorne Greene performed a number of voice-overs for these movies by providing narration to help link the unrelated episodes flow, Dirk Benedict, Herbert Jefferson, Jr., John Colicos, Patrick MacNee, and Jonathan Harris also pitched in with voice-overs and dialog loops. Richard Hatch opted out of the project (it seems he was pissed over the Galactica: 1980 mess) and another actor — that sounds nothing like him — looped his lines (and it’s as a bad as it sounds). (Don’t forget: Later on, Hatch was pissed that Universal passed on his Galactica novels and film reboot*).
But truth be told: Even with their faux pas, these hodgepodge films are a fun watch for two reason: First, for the inventiveness of the screenwriters in somehow creating continuity between such varied episodes. They were certainly up against it, kudos to them! Second, these series-to-film repacks exist in a universe unto themselves — outside of the original series’ plotting — with their “alternate” timeline. Again, it’s fun to compare the series to the films and (as a screenwriter myself) be fascinated by the creative process to maximum Universal’s bottom line.
Sadly, unless you’re able to track down any VHS taped-from-TV or VHS home video repacks (foreign or domestic), these telefilms are lost to the cathode ray snows of yore. Fans of the original series have been clamoring for DVD and Blu-ray box sets of these movies for years, myself as well, as I’ve only seen half of them as result of discovering their used VHS-versions years after the fact. As for Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack: we found four extended scenes (one in German) on You Tube (posted below) from the film for you to enjoy that gives the story arc from beginning to end.
The blogspot site, The 100the Planet (which helped in our research and memory jogging; so grazie, fellow warrior), did an absolutely magnificent job watching all 14 films and breaking down their respective plots. So, if you’re a die-hard fan of the original BSG series, it’s a great read. And we also thank BattlestarWiki.org for their assistance in preparing this review. And don’t forget, we went Star Wars crazy with our month-long review of the films (over 50!) that inspired — and were inspired by — Star Wars with our Exploring: Before Star Wars and Exploring: After Star Wars featurettes.
* Be sure to check out week-long tribute to the film career of Lee Majors! All the review links — and more — can be found with our “Lee Major Week Wrap Up” featurette.
** Did you know Richard Hatch made his Galactica: The Second Coming pitch film with low-budget, direct-to-video auteur Dennis Devine sidekick Jay Woelfel? True story. Check out our “Drive-In Friday: Dennis Devine Night” to learn more.
*˟ We kid. We love David A. Prior, David Winters and Peter Yuval’s AIP films around here. Why do you think we reviewed The Silencer and Firehead (just to name a few) in the B&S offices?
As part of the launch of Cliffhangers, NBC was really betting on Susan Anton. She’d started by singing commercial jingles for Muriel Cigarettes and the Serta Perfect Sleeper Mattress. She also had about thirty appearances on The Merv Griffin Show before getting one of the weirdest national TV show chances ever: a summer replacement variety series on ABC, Mel and Susan Together, produced by the Osmond Brothers.
He wasn’t a household name and no one knew who she was.
The show was off the air in four weeks, but she was picked as one of Time Magazine’s “Most Promising Faces of 1979.”
Fred Silverman remembered her when he moved to NBC and picked her for this show. The network even gave her NBC a special contract — just like the golden age of Hollywood — which had her make “an almost unprecedented number of appearances” to get known by the American TV audience.
She plays Susan Williams, who learns of the death of her reporter brother Alan, who was on the cusp of a major conspiracy story. An event was due to happen that would shock the world and someone had learned how to profit. His hit and run death didn’t sell with her. And seeing as how she’s also a reporter for The Dispatch, she picks up her brother’s work and tells her editor Bobby Richard (Ray Walston) that she has until May 15 — three weeks! — to learn the truth.
Starting with “Chapter 2: The Silent Enemy,” Susan would learn that a nuclear bomb had been built in America and was to be used to kill numerous world leaders during a peace summit at Camp David.
“Chapter 12: Crypt of Disaster” was part of the last episode of Cliffhangers that never aired in the U.S. Luckily, all of the episodes were edited into one movie, The Girl Who Saved The World. You can’t imagine my excitement when I watched this in syndication and learned how the story ended up.
1979 was Dracula’s year with the TV movie Vampire, Love at First Bite, the Frank Langella Dracula, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Salem’s Lot, Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, Thirstand Nightwing all being released.
Let’s add one more.
The goal of The Curse of Dracula was to make the vampire a tragic hero devoid of camp. Michael Nouri was perfect for this. playing a bloodsucker who was also a professor of East European History at Southbay College in San Francisco.
His enemies were the grandson of his greatest challenge, Kurt von Helsing (Stephen Johns), and the daughter of one of his past loves, Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter).
In this version of Dracula, the count has moved twety coffins packed with Transylvanian soil to America, but Kurt and Mary have used a computer to located and destroy twelve of them.To catch Dracula, Mary signs up for one of his night classes and at a party at his place afterward, she discovers that he knows who she is and just wants to be left alone.
The story started with “Chapter VI: Lifeblood” and would be the only Cliffhangers installment to reach its conclusion. It also gave birth to two movies, Dracula ’79* and World of Dracula. Ten chapters of The Curse of Dracula were produced, compared to eleven for Stop Susan Williams and twelve for The Secret Empire.
In the TV movie cut, Dracula removes the stake from his heart. That’s because there was a plan to create a Curse of Dracula TV show, but sadly, it was never to be.
It’s 1880 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. A group called the Phantom Riders are stealing gold, which gets U.S. Marshal Jim Donner (Geoffrey Scott) on the case. It turns out that these are no ordinary criminals. Instead, they’ve come from an Inner Earth alien city named Chimera.
The plot is lifted from the 1935 Gene Autry singing cowboy movie serial The Phantom Empire. There, Gene fights the Thunder Riders from a subterranean alien city named Murania.
With the series starting with “Chapter 3: Plunge Into Mystery” — Cliffhangers wanted to put people into the middle of the action — Donner is healing from being blasted with one of the Riders weapons. He later saves Maya (Pamela Brull), who is the daughter of Chimera’s overthrown ruler Demeter, with a whip just like Lash LaRue. Now, the city is commanded by her uncle orval (Mark Lenard, who was also Sarek, Spock’s father), a wheelchair riding maniac who wants to take over the world with the mind-controlling Compliatron, which is powered by gold.
There’s also another alien female named Tara (Diane Markoff) who is on the evil side yet has the hots for our hero. I remember being strangely attracted to her as a seven-year-old Sam and not knowing why.
The story expanded to have a greedy mine baron working with the evil side of Chimera, a giant spider, a mine collapse and even spaceships. But sadly, we’d never see these episodes in America. “Chapter 13: Partisans Unchained” and “Chapter 14: Escape to the Stars” would only play in Europe and we wouldn’t even get a compilation movie for The Secret Empire like the other two serials, Stop Susan Williams and The Curse of Dracula, had.
It’s funny because a lot of critics hated this segment, thinking that science fiction and cowboys had no business being in the same story. Maybe they didn’t know about the serial it was based on. Maybe no one was really ready for serials. But if they could have only released this two years later, when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, this may have been a bigger success than it was.
As is the case with any actor who achieves a level of fame in the TV and film realms, Lee Majors, courtesy of his clout with The Six Million Dollar Man, was able to parlay his star into his own production company, Fawcett-Majors Productions, co-run with his then wife, Farrah Fawcett (the company dissolved upon their 1982 divorce). To help establish the company, during his 1977 contract negotiations for the series, Majors wanted his production shingle brought on as an independent producer in association with Universal Studios. While the negotiations soured between Majors, Universal, and ABC television, it didn’t matter: after five seasons, the show’s ratings, as well as those of its sister show, The Bionic Woman, declined, and both series were simultaneous cancelled in 1978.
Fawcett-Majors Productions made its feature film debut with the Vietnam war drama, Just a Little Inconvenience (1977) starring Majors, which aired on U.S. television. The company also produced the Farrah Fawcett-starring Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978) and Sunburn (1979) — both which flopped at the box office (and Saturn 3 sealed the deal on Farrah’s theatrical career). Meanwhile, Majors chose three films for himself, each which became popular, much-run HBO favorites: The Norseman (1978), Killer Fish (1979), and this action adventure — which, according to a 2015 interview with screenwriter Leigh Chapman, started out as Look Down and Die — about a rogue crew of The Magnificent Seven-styled steel workers against an evil corporation to complete a skyscraper project.
Now, if Leigh Chapman’s names rings a bell, that’s because she’s named dropped often around B&S About Movies with the blaxploitation classic Truck Turner, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Chuck Norris’s The Octagon (1980), and The Fast and Furious precursor King of the Mountain.
For his director, Majors picked the Roger Corman-bred Steve Carver, who brought us the Pam Grier blaxploitationer The Arena, along with the mob epics Big Bad Mama and Capone. Remember when Hollywood tried to turn Heavyweight Boxing champ Ken Norton into a movie star? Steve Carver directed it: Drum. Then there’s Carver’s Chuck Norris two-fer with An Eye for An Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade. And we recently reviewed his own Fast and Furious precursor: Fast Charlie . . . the Moonbeam Rider.
Returning to his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, and filmed in the surrounding Fayette County, Majors, acting as Executive Producer, pulled together all of the usual actors we care about here at B&S About Movies as his burly crew of steel workers: Jennifer O’Neill (The Psychic) as his construction damsel-in-distress, Art Carney (who co-starred with Farrah in Sunburn) as Pignose, George Kennedy (Top Line) as Big Lew, Terry Kiser (forever known as “Bernie” from Weekend at Bernie’s) as the ladies man Valentino, character actor extraordinaire Albert Salmi (Escape from Planet of the Apes) as Tank, Robert Tessier (who got his start in the biker romp The Born Losers and co-starred with Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard) as Cherokee, and the great Richard Lynch (Ground Rules) cast-against-type as a good guy (well, almost) with his character, Dancer.
It all starts with construction magnate Big Lew Cassidy — a guy who likes to get up the girders and get his hands dirty — who falls to his death (A.J Bacons, the stuntman who doubled for Kennedy, died when the airbag split on impact). So in steps Big Lew’s inexperienced, spunky daughter Cass Cassidy . . . and she’s determined to finish off the last nine floors and meet her father’s deadline before the bank forecloses.
By recruiting the best “ramrod” in the business. But according to Pignose: one’s dead, one’s on a project in Canada, and one’s in Saudi Arabia. So that only leaves the once great Harry Stamper(Bruce Willis) Mike Cattan (Lee Majors), but he washed-out of the steel biz to become a long-haul trucker. And, to be honest: Mike’s the only one crazy enough to fly to an asteroid to drill through a solid-iron rock attempt topping off an impossible nine floors in three weeks.
So, once Cass gets the reluctant ex-ramrod on board with the ol’ “I thought I was meeting a real man” speech, they’re off to recruit the “best of the best” (now this really is starting to sound a lot like Armageddon, sans the asteroid) to finish the job before Cassie’s slimy uncle Eddie (Harris Yulin!) and his partner Kellin (the always welcomed heavy, R.G Armstrong!) absorbs his estranged brother’s company.
While this Majors theatrical hopeful played in duplexes, triplexes and drive-ins, Steel — along with Agency starring Robert Mitchum and and The Last Chase with Burgess Meredith — bombed at the box office. And the failure of the earlier The Norseman and Killer Fish didn’t help either. And, with that, Majors returned to a successful five-year run with ABC-TV’s The Fall Guy and a succession of successful TV movies throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, such as Starflight One, A Smokey Mountain Christmas, Fire: Trapped on the 37th Floor, and The Cover Girl Murders (which also starred Jennifer O’Neill).
Opinions vary on Steel. You can chalk it up to my youthful nostalgia for those HBO days of yore, but I love this movie and think it’s one Majors’s best. This is good ol’ fashioned, non-CGI filmmaking with real men on top of real steel girders, real prefabbed steel floors dangling from choppers, and real steel girders crushing real stretch Cadillac limos. And you can watch it all on You Tube.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on November 22, 2018. We are rerunning it as part of our “Lee Majors Week” of film reviews.
When I was a kid, there was an urban legend that Lee Majors moved to a small town outside Youngstown, Ohio, because the locals didn’t care what a big star he was. Everyone had an encounter with him, but many found his wife Farah Fawcett to be off-putting. I don’t know if these stories are true, but I want them to be. I do know that Lee and Farah did inspire the song “Midnight Train to Georgia,” though.
Let me sum this one up in short sentences: Priceless emeralds. Hidden jewels. Hungry piranha. Model shoot. Late 1970’s decor. Exotic Rio de Janeiro locations. Suspicion. Jealousy. More piranha.
Other than Lee Majors, this film is a cavalcade of my favorite stars. Well, maybe not favorite. But close. Karen Black is here! And there’s Margaux Hemingway, who is as good at being a supermodel as she is bad as an actress. And here’s James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) as the main guy you’re supposed to hate. And is that the doctor from Total Recall, Roy Brocksmith? Former NFL quarterback, NHRA drag racer and December 1980 Playgirl centerfold of the month Dan Pastorini come on down! Wow! It’s Anthony Steffen from The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave! And finally, it’s the man whose The Sixth Sense ruined the syndicated episodes of Night Gallery, Hour Magazine host Gary Collins, the bane of my childhood!
This whole mess (but we love it here at B&S!) is directed by Antonio Margheriti, who we all know and love as the creator of perhaps the finest movie ever made, Yor, Hunter from the Future. The film was also one of three films that Fawcett-Majors Studios co-produced in 1979 — the others being Steel (also reviewed this week, look for it) starring Lee, and Farrah’s Sunburn . . . with Art Carney and Charles Grodin!
Killer Fish is more caper than Jaws rip-off. But hey, how many movies have Lee Majors sitting in a limo with a cane that has a crocodile’s shrunken head on it, much less him swimming through piranha? And that’s why Lee rocks our VHS world at B&S About Movies.
You know, dynamite fishing seems goofy enough and then it unleashes a prehistoric monster and that monster somehow only can live by drinking the blood of women.
Luckily, as they say, Gloria DeHaven is in this. Twice, really.
Bog tries to lure teenagers into the theaters and drive-ins with a hip, happening cast that included Aldo Ray, Leo Gordon and Marshall Thompson in support of DeHaven, a true star of the great old days of Hollywood now running through a swamp chasing and being chased by big eyed monsters.
Actually, I kind of love that this movie has so many older actors in it. And it also makes me wonder, why exactly do swamp creatures love human women so much? Do their own ladies get upset about it? And most importantly, what’s the point of fishing with dynamite?
This movie was originally called Friday the 13th until the makers of that franchise negotiated with this film’s producers to use that title. Well, the tales of Crystal Lake are better known than this film, but man, this is one weird slice of 1979 and that’s the way we like it.
It starts with our hero, David, being forced to kiss his father’s dead lips as he lies in a coffin while other kids snicker, “Now you’re an orphan.” If you think, “Well, that’s pretty dark,” you might want to stop watching right now.
It turns out that David watched his parents die in a murder-suicide and now suffers from horrific migraines while being raised by his puritanical aunt. It turns out that our hero’s father was obsessed with Africa and one of his father’s friends encourages the same thoughts in David, encouraging him to believe in ancient non-Christian deities.
This movie was started in 1968, is missing about thirty minutes and is still a dreamlike force that has stuck in my head since I watched it. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s weird in all the best of ways. It’s a movie obsessed with elephants, bread and kids making their own monkey gods to deal with death.
This movie moves as slow as it gets, like a doom metal band obsessively playing the same riff over and over with only slight deviations until suddenly you’ve been lured into a hazy daze and then they hit you over the head with an entirely new section of music before slowing down again and lurching right back into that same riff for another long, slow and grinding near-infinite length of time.
“For the first time on the screen a strange thriller that takes you into the psychic world of plants.”
Yes, in 1979, people were talking to their plants, using biofeedback devices to hear from them and even singing to them. For everyone obsessed with the 80’s, let me tell you, the 70’s were way better.
Director Jonathan Sarno did post-graduate work in playwriting and directing at the Yale School of Drama under directors Arthur Penn, George Roy Hill, Elia Kazan, Roberto Rosselini and novelist Jerzy Kozinski. He’s an artist and yet here he is, making a horror movie about psychic plants, but life is great that way. Sarno wrote this, along with Lamar Sanders, and also produced the movie and acts in it.
I don’t even know where to start with this movie. I mean, the phrase Kirlian is because the photographer detective at the heart of this movie, Rilla Hart, has a photo in this style that represents the energy field of the exotic plant that her sister Laurie owned before her death. And oh yeah, her sister could literally talk to that plant.
An occult low budget movie about talking plants and a psychic named Dusty who brags about how he has surpassed human existence and is one with the plants despite mainly working the night shift loaded trucks and also knows the exact moment that they will expire? What could make this better? How about a cameo by Lawrence Tierney as a police detective? Yeah, that’ll do it.
There’s another release of this called The Plants Are Watchingthat cuts a fair amount of footage, so go for this one. It’s so twisty and oddball that it could pretty much be classified as an American giallo, what with its dream logic and ending which reminded me of The Cat o’ Nine Tails. It’s a relatively sexless journey through the same end of the world New York City as Driller Killer, but you know, with plants.
Honestly, this movie is way better than it has any right to be. In a perfect world, it would have been the first film that Sarno turned into a cult film and we’d be celebrating everything he made afterward instead of him going into making travel videos. There’s honestly nothing else like it.
Oh yeah, one more thing.
In the credits, it thanks the owner of Day of the Triffids for the use of a scene from that movie. That man? Philip Yordan, whose strange movie Night Train to Terror is a nexus point in my strange film obsessions. Much like how the Church of Satan connects The Car, Tippi Hedren’s Roar and Jayne Mansfield, that movie is the crux of so many of the pathways that researching weird films has led me down.