VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Treachery and Greed On the Planet of the Apes (1981)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the May 9, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Making a Planet of the Apes TV series was a plan by its producer Arthur P. Jacobs as early as 1971, but because the movies were still doing well at the box office, development was put on hold until Battle for the Planet of the Apes was complete in 1973.

Sadly, Jacobs died within days of that film being released and his production company sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, who sold the first three Apes movies to CBS. When they aired in September of that year, they did big ratings and that’s when the network got excited about the potential of a series. They even turned down other series in development, like Gene Roddenberry’s Genesis II, instead making that as a series of TV movies while Apes was greenlit for 14 episodes.

Made for $250,000 an episode (around $1.5 million today), the show aired from September 13 to December 27, 1974 before ratings didn’t live up to expectations. The show had a whole new cast of humans to worry about. Colonel Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Major Peter J. Burke (James Naughton) are astronauts who — just like Taylor — have crashed landed on the future world of the apes. They become friends with Galen (Roddy McDowall, who had already played Cornelius and Caesar), a chimpanzee who has been tasked with their care. The rest of the apes see him as their master; they certainly don’t feel that way. Their main nemesis would be the brutal Security Chief Urko (Mark Lenard, Spock’s father), who defies Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman, taking over for Maurice Evans, but even wearing the same costume) by wanting to kill the humans instead of bringing them back to be studied.

Yes, this is in the same universe as the films — well, until the planet gets blown up, so maybe a side universe — as Zaius mentions that human astronauts landed a decade before. Or maybe not, as in Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race and Politics in the Films and Television Series, Eric Greene theorized that the show takes place in the year 3085, which is 900 years before Taylor’s crash in the original film and 400 years after the Lawgiver’s sermon in Battle. As the show has a society where apes are in control of humans, the Lawgiver’s message of equality between man and ape has failed. Maybe the end of Battle had it right all along.

The good news is that the show looks amazing. They had a great set — it was mostly shot in what is now Malibu Creek State Parks — and after five movies, creating the ape makeup had become an art form.

Where the show suffers is, well, no one cares about the humans. By the last of the movies, the story had moved from Taylor and Brent to Cornelius, Zaius and their son Caesar as the true heroes. Going back to the original idea of humans on the run felt like a step backward, even if the show is really well done. Yet that look cost a ton, so the show had to do way better than it did. It was developed for television by Anthony Wilson, a story consultant on Lancer, the creator of Future Cop and Banacek and the man who wrote Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby). Even wilder, the story consultants were Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who went on to make so many show that I also grew up with, including creating Scooby-Doo, as well as Bigfoot and Wildboy, and producing cartoons like Chuck Norris: Karate KommandosRamboTurbo TeenRubik the Amazing Cube and perhaps most importantly, the post-apocalyptic Jack Kirby-driven series Thundarr the Barbarian.

A year after this show ended, NBC aired thirteen episodes of Return to the Planet of the Apes, an animated series in which three more astronauts — Bill Hudson (Tom Williams), Jeff Allen (Austin Stoker, who was MacDonald in Battle) and Judy Franklin (Claudette Nevins) — who try to navigate a world divided between the apes, regressed humans and the advanced mutants. Creative director Doug Wildey, who also was the creative force behind Johnny Quest, had only seen the first two films, so that’s what you get in this show. But hey — General Urko, Zira, Cornelius, Dr. Zaius and Nova are all in it.

After that show only lasted a season, it seemed like no one wanted to watch the apes any longer. Then, something funny happened.

UHF stations started getting the rights to show the films and would air them in Ape Weeks that did big local ratings. But after a few years, there weren’t any more ape movies to show, right?


In the early 80s, Fox reedited ten of the episodes into five television films. Each film combined two episodes and they even shot new prologues and epilogues with McDowall as an aged Galen. The films were titled with some of the wildest names in the series: Back to the Planet of the Apes, Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes, Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes, Farewell to the Planet of the Apes and — the film we’re here to really discuss — Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes.

Made up of two episodes, “Horse Race” and “The Tyrant,” this film combines what are really episodes nine and eleven of the show, so they don’t go together at all. Trust me, if you were a big Apes fan like my brother and I were — actually was, his house is filled with Ape memorabilia including a neon smoking ape sign — you were beyond excited for more.

In “The Horse Race” segment, a human blacksmith named Damon (Russ Martin) and his son Gregor (Meegan King) get involved in the adventures of Virdon, Burke and Galen. When a scorpion stings Galen, Gregor saves his life by riding a horse to get the antidote. Despite saving an ape’s life, Gregor finds himself up for execution because, after all, ape law says that humans are not allowed to ride horses. To win back the blacksmith’s son’s life, Virdon agrees to put his life up against chimpanzee ruler Barlow’s (John Hoyt) best rider. And that ends up being, of course, Urko.

Directed by Jack Starrett (Run, Angel, Run!Cleopatra JonesRace With the Devil), this episode is filled with action. It was written by David P. Lewis (Death Ship) and Booker Bradshaw (who in addition to being a writer was also an actor; he’s in CoffySkullduggery and is one of the voices in the American dub of Galaxy Express 999). Lenard said that Starrett was “a funny sort of Western director; he brought humor into it, lots of fun and a kind of carnival atmosphere with horse racing.”

In a funny story — as told to future X-Men writer Chris Claremont in a UK issue of the Marvel Planet of the Apes comic book — Lenard said that Starrett had no idea who he was out of makeup. “I’d done several days of shooting and had a late call, so I went out to the Fox Ranch early and said hello to him. He got a funny look on his face, and I said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And he said, “Well, I’ve seen you somewhere; I’ve seen your face somewhere.” And I told him I was Urko. He turned crimson, blushed, and got embarrassed.”

The action is probably why this was Harper’s favorite episode. In an interview in the book I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews With 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi by Tom Weaver, he said “I knew how to ride pretty well because, years earlier, I’d worked on a ranch out in South Dakota for one summer. The other ape was played by a stuntman — Wesley Fuller — a guy who had been a regular, and he really could ride. I said, “Jesus, where’d you learn to ride like that?” and he said, “That’s my bag, baby!” I don’t know if he was a jockey or not, but he was an excellent horsemen. There’s one scene where you can see that I’m riding full-out and he’s riding next to me, and he starts hitting me with his whip, and then I grab the whip — it’s an old, standard thing in Westerns, where you take the whip out of the other rider’s hand and smack him back with it. He worked with me on that, and we were even able to keep the horses going at a pretty good clip as we carried this off. And the stuntmen hated horses. They said, “They’re dumb animals, and they’re heavy, and you can’t predict them and you can’t really control them!” So they hated horses! I had three stuntmen working on that episode, doubling me. Two of them broke a leg, and one wrenched his ankle or his knee so badly he was incapacitated for the rest of the shoot. All three injuries involved the horses.”

This episode was also turned into a book, Journey Into Terror.

The second part of the film is “The Tyrant” episode, which was directed by Ralph Senensky (a TV career that goes from The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive all the way up to Star TrekNight GalleryThe Wild Wild West, the TV movie Death CruiseHart to Hart, the Casablanca TV series and so much more) and written by Walter Black (tons of TV, including The FlintstonesBonanzaThe High Chaparral and S.W.A.T.).

Our heroes must stop the plans of a corrupt gorilla official named Aboro (Percy Rodrigues), who is using the huge taxes he throws at humans to fund the bribery he’s using to stay in power. Galen disguises himself as Octavio, Zaius’ assistant, and turns Aboro against Urko. In fact, he goes so far that he tries to have the ape general murdered. Burke is conflicted but ends up — for not the first time in the series — working with his enemy.

Senensky has an amazing site where he breaks down everything he directed, including this episode. He got the basics of the show and what made it work right away: ” recognized back then that the series was a reenactment of early America’s history with slavery, with the humans being the enslaved. What I didn’t recognize, but do now, is how much the format of Planet of the Apes bore a very strong resemblance to that of The Fugitive. The two astronauts and Galen, like Kimble, under constant pursuit by the law, would become emotionally involved each week with some person or persons, and the following story would proceed from there.”

He also had the same experience that Starrett had with Lenard: “I never saw the real Roddy McDowall; I never met Roddy out of make-up.”

Senesky has a really well-considered appraisal of the show, saying that fourteen episodes weren’t enough for it to find its footing or its audience. His work on Star Trek showed him that science fiction series needed time to find their way.

He also spoke of the TV movies: “Since fourteen segments was not enough to send the show into syndication, ten of the shows were selected and paired off in twos to create five television movies. “The Tyrant” was combined with “The Horse Race”, retitled Treachery and Greed On the Planet of the Apes and today still plays occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel. Thirty-eight years later I still receive residuals for the endeavor. They’re not large, but they are cashable. The most amusing check I received was for an amount less than the forty-four cents the Director’s Guild had to pay to send it to me. The net amount on the check? Thirty-seven cents.”

This episode is one of the stories in the fourth Apes TV tie-in book, Lord of the Apes.

If you want to hear what it was like to be part of the Planet of the Apes TV series, director of photography  Gerald Perry Finnerman (Brother John, SssssssNightmaresMoonlightingDevil Dog and the sole survivor of a plane crash while scouting locations, which led to him wearing a metal full body brace for six years while still working) sums it up by saying, “It was a tough show. When it was canceled, I wasn’t sorry.”

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the October 25, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Seriously, how many great movies were directed by J. Lee Thompson? The original Cape FearConquest for the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud10 to MidnightKinjite: Forbidden Subjects and so many more.

Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson, TV’s Little House on the Prarie) is popular, rich and pretty. She’s a member of the biggest clique at the fancy pants Crawford Academy — the Top Ten. These snobbish, rich and rude assholes rule the school and — if you’re anything like me — you’ll celebrate their brutal deaths. Just look at how they act at their local pub, the Silent Woman. Total dicks.

One night, Top Ten member Bernadette (Canadian scream queen Lesleh Donaldson, who has been in several films we’ve featured recently) is attacked in her car by someone without a face. She plays dead, then finds someone she knows. As she explains what has just happened, the real killer slices her throat.

The rest of the gang? They could give a shit. They’re all at the bar, putting mice into old men’s beer. It’s enough to make you want to be the killer and wipe them out. But it gets worse. They play chicken on a drawbridge and are all nearly killed. Ginny even yells “mother!” as the car goes over the opening bridge. Everyone survives, but Ginny runs away, all the way to the cemetery where she tells her mother that she’s been accepted by all of the rich kids.

When she gets home, her father yells about how she’s out past curfew. And while that’s happening, Etienne, one of the Top Ten, sneaks out a pair of her underwear.

The next day, Ginny and Ann arrive late to class, leading principal Mrs. Patterson to put the entire Top Ten on notice, threatening a ban on their favorite bar. Soon, a frog dissection leads to Ginny having flashbacks that she shares with Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford, slumming it after a career in films like SupermanGilda and Pocketful of Miracles), her psychiatrist.

This is where Happy Birthday to Me pulls the rug out from under us — thirty minutes or more into the film. After the accident at the drawbridge, she underwent an experimental medical procedure to restore her brain tissue.

Meanwhile, the Top Ten are thankfully getting bumped off, one by one. Etienne dies like Isadora Duncan, his scarf caught in the wheels of his motorcycle. Greg gets killed lifting weights. Here’s where the film has a bit of a giallo feel — all of the murders are done by black-gloved hands, until Alfred (Jack Blum, Meatballs) follows Ginny to her mother’s grave, only for our heroine to stab him with garden shears. What?!?

During Ginny’s 18th birthday weekend, her father leaves town, so she goes to a school dance. There, she invites Steve (Matt Craven, Meatballs) home to smoke weed, drink wine and eat kabobs, as you do. However, while feeding Steve, she stabs him in the mouth, a murder so memorable it ended up on the poster and box cover.

The next morning, Ann comes over while Ginny takes a shower and has a major flashback. Four years ago, she was having a birthday party but none of the Top Ten would come. Her mother flipped out, got drunk and tried to take her to Ann’s competing party, where a groundskeeper told her that she would never be anything more than the town whore. Her mother gets drunker and drives off the bridge from earlier in the film, where she drowns and Ginny barely survives.

Ginny begins to think that she has killed all of her friends, including Ann who she finds in the tub. Dr. Faraday has no answers, so she kills him with a fireplace poker.

Whew! What happens next? Well, Ginny’s dad gets home and sees blood all over the place, as well as Amelia (Lisa Langlois, PhobiaThe Nest) outside in shock. Running to the cemetery, he sees his wife’s grave has been opened and Dr. Faraday’s body is in it. Then, entering the guest quarters, every one of the Top Ten members’ bodies are arranged around a table, celebrating a birthday.

Ginny arrives with a cake, singing to herself, when she slices her father’s throat. He never sees that his daughter is really there, the only living guest at the party. The second Ginny, the killer, screams about having done all of this for Ginny, but it turns out that she is Ann! The girls are half-sisters, sharing a father! What?!?

Ginny escapes and stabs Ann, just as the police arrive to ask, “What have you done?” The film fades to black — never letting us know if Ginny will be jailed or proven innocent. Then the film closes with a goofy — yet awesome — closing song by Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife Syreeta.

Columbia Pictures went full William Castle promoting this movie, suggesting theaters re-create the film’s closing scene in their lobby, inviting people to celebrate their birthday party while watching the movie, preventing anyone from entering the film during its last ten minutes and also conducting a scream contest for radio stations.

Happy Birthday to Me arrived in theaters at the height of the slasher boom, but it defies expectations. At times, it’s a giallo. At other times, it’s supernatural. And others, it’s a teen comedy. It’s also crazy that such a directorial talent made it — albeit one who was rumored to spray blood all over the set to make the film even gorier — and that Glenn Ford is in a slasher!

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Demonoid (1981)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the August 30, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

My wife wants to go away on a fancy vacation. While horror films have forever enriched my life, they’ve also damaged her chances of going anywhere. The tropics? Have you seen Zombi? A resort like Sandals? I assume that Laura Gemser will show up and I’ll be boiled in a pot. And now, thanks to this movie, we can also cross Mexico off the list.

As much as horror may have curtailed my partner’s opportunity to globetrot, it’s also imparted several important lessons to me. To wit: if your mine is over a Satanic temple where left hands were severed to honor demons and every single worker refuses to go any deeper, perhaps it’s time to find a new mine. And if by chance you discover a miniature coffin with a hand inside it, just leave it where you found it. Don’t take it back to your hotel room. This is why I’ve made it forty-six years on this Earth without being possessed or dealing with a face-melting cult in the desert.

My true joy in the movie Demonoid comes from reading the review that it received when it was released in 1981 and laughing in their prose faces. How can anyone dislike a movie where a possessed man decides that old school Las Vegas is the best place to hide out? Who can dismiss a film where Samantha Eggar obviously dressed herself in some of the most astounding fashions that the early 80s could unleash? The woman wears an ascot and oversized orange counter to explore a mine (let’s be fair, every outfit she wears in this movie are a paradox, somehow both gorgeous and ridiculous at the same time). And damn anyone who speaks ill of Stuart Whitman! This former boxer and soldier had already played Jim Jones — I’m sorry, James Johnson — in Guyana: Crime of the Century, released less than a year after that tragedy? Here, he plays a battling Catholic priest who we just know could win over Ms. Eggar if he didn’t have that pesky collar and angel on his shoulder to worry about.

Maybe they weren’t watching the Mexican cut (Macabra!), which has more dialogue, more death and a different ending? Look, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. And most of those critics, they never got pleased all that much anyways. Demonoid is worth the whole lot of them. Would they dare to feature an ending so downbeat after 98 minutes of rooting for our British heroine? I dare say no. They’d be afraid to insert so many flashing shots of a demon raising his fist, they’d be too concerned about a soundtrack that practically screams in your face and they’d sooner hide behind their film theory books than make a movie in 1981 that feels like it came from 1974.

Demonoid is why I watch movies. Samantha Eggar screaming at the top of her lungs while a mine explodes all around her? There. An appearance by Haji, she of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Bigfoot, Supervixens and the wonderfully titled Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman(whose real name Barbarella Catton wasn’t sexy enough for a stage name)? You got me. Overacting in nearly every scene? I’m riveted. A poster that promised nubile ladies reclining for a fallen angel carrying a gigantic sword? I might have piddled a little.

Keep your Oscar picks and guilty pleasures. I have no such taste or qualms. Give me Demonoid or give me a severed left hand!

This article originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum #13, which you can get right here!

You can watch this movie on Tubi.

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: The One-Armed Executioner (1981)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the September 13, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Interpol agent Ramon Ortega (Franco Guerrero) and his new blonde American children’s book author wife Ann (Jody Kay, Death Screams) are back in the Philippines after a honeymoon in San Francisco. Within minutes, the drug dealer that our hero is after — Edwards (Christopher Mitchum) — has sent his men to kill Ann and chopped off his arm. And in case you’re wondering if the drug dealer is evil, he has an evil Axis symbol on the side of his boat.

He spirals into depression and drinking, just trying to live out the rest of his life in pain when a new master named Wo Chen appears and teaches him how to fight with one hand and how to do gun fu, if you will, in which they have a gigantic training device with numbers. The master calls out the targets and Ortega gets better with each shot.

You feel for Ortega, as he found the right kind of woman, the one who sleeps with baby dolls and has sex in the shower with her shower cap on, the height of eroticism. But seriously, he really does hit rock bottom but this film pulls him up and gives him the chance to get revenge. This movie is an absolute blast from the beginning until the end, delivering the kind of weirdness and magical action that could only come from the Philippines and a master director like Bobby A. Suarez, who also directed American CommandosThe Bionic Boy, Cleopatra Wong and Warriors of the Apocalypse.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Blow Out (1981)

April 26: American Giallo — Make the case for a movie that you believe is an American giallo.

Neo-noir. Hitchcock influenced. Mystery thriller.

Or just call it a giallo.

Blow Out is even based on an Italian film — Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup — but switches photography for audio recording and trades future giallo star David Hemmings for John Travolta, a man who follows the path of many a giallo hero. Once he believes that he has recorded the sounds of a killing, he must become a detective as his need to know is too much.

In post-production on the low-budget slasher film Co-ed Frenzy, sound technician Jack Terry (Travolta) is searching for better wind effects and the perfect scream. As he takes his equipment into a park late at night, he watches a car fly off the road and with no hesitation, dives into the water to save Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen). As he sits with her in the hospital, he asks her to get a drink and is asked by associates of the man killed in the car — Presidential candidate Governor George McRyan — to get her out of the hospital.

Sally has used her feminine wiles to ruin men before, working with Manny Karp (Dennis Franz), a man who just so happened to film the accident. Jack wants Sally to work with him to solve the murder, but he’s blinded to her because, well, she’s gorgeous and he’s the hero, a man who left behind a government commission to stop police corruption after an exposed wire caused the death of an undercover cop named Freddie Corso.

This is the kind of conspiracy where you think there is one because there is one. Sally and Karp were just pawns in the schemes of  Burke (John Lithgow), who wanted to go beyond just getting photos of the politician with a sex worker and blew out his tire with a bullet. But now that he’s ruined that, he has to clear up loose ends and is killing any hooker who looks like Sally as the Liberty Bell Strangler.

He eventually lures Sally to meet him and we learn that Jack is the hero, but not a perfect one. He’s able to stop Burke but not before Sally dies. All he has left of her is her final scream, recorded as he tried to find her, and that’s what lives forever, or as long as Co-Ed Frenzy plays grindhouses. He covers his ears because he’s reduced someone he grew close to into just another piece of sound in just another movie.

I literally yelled at the screen.

Working again with Travolta and Allen, De Palma also gathered others he’d made movies with before. In this, he is different than Argento — an artist I often compare him to, as they have so many similarities such as the same age, following Hitchcock, marrying and divorcing their leading lady, having a middle-age career decline — who seemingly switched up crews between films. Here he’s working with De Palma filled the film’s cast and crew with a number of his frequent collaborators: Dennis Franz (Dressed to Kill, Body Double), John Lithgow (who was in the Tenebre ripoff shot in Raising Cain) cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Obsession) and Lazlo Kovacs (who came in when the parade scene footage was lost), composer Pino Donaggio (who also scored modern giallo Nothing Underneath) and editor Paul Hirsch (who worked on another giallo-tinged De Palma film, Sisters).

Pauline Kael said that this movie was one “where genre is transcended and what we’re moved by is an artist’s vision…it’s a great movie. Travolta and Allen are radiant performers.” Roger Ebert said that it was “inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence.” It sits with Rio Bravo and Taxi Driver as Tarantino’s top three movies. And yet it failed with the public. Today, however, it’s seen in a much warmer light.

The opening where Travolta wanders out of the recording studio and into the film office is a joy, as you can see posters for Island of the Damned (one of the American titles for Who Can Kill a Child?), FantasexThe Food of the GodsSquirmEmpire of the AntsThe Other Side of JulieThe Incredible Melting ManBlood BeachWithout Warning and The Boogey Man.

I have no idea why I waited so long to watch this movie. It’s perfect — a film about making films, a movie where movies don’t play out like movies and a thrilling exploration of how De Palma can guide you through a film and into places you had no idea you would go.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Venus of Ille (1981)

April 25: Bava Forever — Bava died on this day 43 years ago. Let’s watch his movies.

In 1981, RAI-TV in Italy showed six hour-long films based on stories by 19th century horror/fantasy authors that were directed by several Italian genre talents, including Marcello Aliprand (the writer of L’arma, l’ora, il movent), Giulio Questi (Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot!Death Laid an EggArcana), Giovanna Gagliardo, Piero Nelli, Tomaso Sherman and, most essentially to this article, Mario Bava.

“La Venere Dille” (“The Venus of Ille”) would be the final filmed work that Bava would create and it was written and co-directed by his son Lamberto. Adapted from Prosper Merimee’s story, it starts when a bronze statue of Venus is uncovered. Originally a source of celebration and wonder to the rich and powerful, the workers of the small village see the female carved form as a cursed objet d’art that can move on its own and take on the form of others. Certainly, that’s what happens when Clara’s (Dario Nicolodi, who was also in Bava’s Shock amongst her many, many contributions to cinema) fiancee Alfonso (Fausto Di Bella) places her ring upon its finger while drunk one rainy night.

Meanwhile, an antiques expert and artist named Matthew (Marc Porel, The Sister of Ursula) has been summoned by Alfonso’s father Mr. de Peyrehorade (Fausto Di Bella) to assess the value of the statue. He’s been sketching it for some days before he realizes that he’s been drawing Clara. Or is the statue becoming her?

Shot in 1979 and not aired until after Bava’s death in 1981 (and after Lamberto started making his own movies, including Macabre), this was shot on film and therefore seems of much higher quality than just a TV series. It serves as both a fitting close to Mario’s career and a wonderful gift to his son, as well as an opportunity for the two to work together on a piece of art.

The whole affair looks gorgeous with one moment of rain across the face of the statue and another where Matthew is drawing near it but obviously already obsessed with Clara, the soon-to-be wife of a friend who doesn’t seem to be all that great of a person. The story doesn’t suffer at all from being a TV episode, as at a bit over seventy minutes it has time to stretch out and engage you.

You can get the entire series from Severin.

EDIT: Thanks to Scott for catching a horrible typo. Much appreciated.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Galaxy of Terror (1981)

April 5: Roger Corman’s birthday — Whether he produced or directed the movie, share a movie for Corman’s birthday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When Frederick Burdsall isn’t at work or watching movies while covered in cats, you can find Fred in the front seat of Knoebels’ Phoenix. 

If I were to make a list of my favorite directors it would look like this: 1. Alfred Hitchcock 2. Dario Argento 3. Ridley Scott 4. Lucio Fulci and 5. Roger Corman. Why Roger Corman? If you hand him half a mil and say “I need this pic by the end of the week,” he’ll deliver. Let’s see the almighty Spielberg do that. Corman is the king of making something for nothing and we are the better for it because his movies are what movies should be…FUN. I would love to see what he could do with a budget and a solid script, but that won’t happen, so let’s accept him as the low budget God he is.

The list of people who have worked for him is ridiculous. Nicholson, Scorsese, Cameron, Coppola and a boatload of  actors who’ve all made a mark on the industry and they all learned how to do it from Roger. His adaptations of some Poe stories starring Vincent Price for AIP in the ’60s are genre classics, with The Fall of the House of Usher being a favorite of mine, as well as The Tomb of Ligeia.

Quick, true story….Vincent Price was a  frequent visitor to the Poe house here in Philadelphia. On one occasion a woman asked him how could he, as a Poe aficionado, make movies that were not very true to the original story, and he told her with a smile, “Because they pay me very well.”

These films introduced me to Roger but the two that really cemented my love for his films were the two I saw one Saturday afternoon back in 1984, Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden WorldShot almost back to back in typical Corman style (Move that corridor over here, rearrange those two rooms and voila!, a brand new ship), I raved about these two no-budget gems for years and I welcome them happily into my DVD collection.

Let’s look  back at Galaxy of Terror from 1981, starring Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Sid Haig and Robert Englund. The members of the Quest are heading to Morganthus to find the missing crewman from the starship Remus. Anyone else think this is going to end badly?

The Planet Master has just been told the fate of the Remus. He orders a military official to take over the Quest and go find out what happened. He is told by an old woman, “Death will surround you.” He should have listened. The Quest crew consists of Cabren (Albert), Baelon (Zalman King), Alluma (Moran), Kore the cook (Walston), Quuhod (Haig), Ranger (Englund) and Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell) along with Commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens) and Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie). A quick, risky hyper-jump lands them right by Morganthus and after a more risky landing on the planet they find the remains of the Remus and its crew….with one lone survivor. They return to the Quest where the Remus survivor locks himself in a room and is killed.

Wanting to avoid a similar fate they send out a group to look around and find a huge pyramid which they believe will help them in understanding what happened to the Remus. Finally gaining access, Baelon, Cabren, Alluma and Dameia go exploring, leaving Quuhod to stand guard. Back at the ship Ranger and Kore go looking for the Captain who’s gone missing.

As crew members die in the pyramid, chaos reigns in the ship as the Captain fries trying to fight an imaginary enemy. The survivors regroup back at the Quest and decide to give the pyramid another try. NOT what I would have done. They venture deeper into it eventually being separated and done in by their own fears except for Ranger and Cabren, who go on to play the final game of the pyramid and become the new Planet Master.

Several notable names worked behind the scenes on production and sets: James Cameron, Bill Paxton and Don Opper. Unfortunately, it was vilified by the critics and let’s be honest…not surprisingly. This is not Shakespeare. It is what it is, a low budget, sometimes over the top sci-film with a semi-talented cast who gave it their all. It is mostly remembered for the scene of O’ Connell getting raped by a giant maggot, but sometimes….that’s just enough. So give it a watch and enjoy it as I always have and ready yourself for Forbidden World.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Caveman (1981)

April 3: Rock and role — A film that stars a rock star.

Shot in caveman language and filmed in the Sierra de Órganos National Park in the town of Sombrerete in Mexico, Caveman is one weird movie.

It was directed and written by Carl Gottlieb, who wrote the first three Jaws movies, as well as The Jerk and Dr. Detroit. He only directed two other movies, the short The Absent-Minded Waiter and the Pethouse Video, Son of the Invisible Man, Art Sale and Peter Pan Theatre segments of Amazon Women On the Moon. This was written with Rudy De Luca, who went on to direct and write Transylvania 6-5000.

Yet I was so excited to see it as a kid, because it starred Ringo Starr as Atouk!

Atouk is a caveman who is bullied by tribe leader Tonda (John Matuszak, Sloth from The Goonies), who has the hottest of all mates, Lana (Barbara Bach, The Spy Who Loved MeBlack Belly of the TarantulaShort Night of Glass DollsStreet LawIsland of the Fishmen, man, I’ve seen so many movies with Barbara Bach). He and his friend Lar (Dennis Quaid) get kicked out of the tribe, where they battle a T. Rex, meet Tala (Shelley Long) and also are nearly killed by an abominable snowman (Richard Moll).

Speaking of dinosaurs, they were all created by Jim Danforth, who left the film when the Directors Guild of America wouldn’t give him a co-director credit. You can also see his work in When Dinosaurs Ruled the EarthClash of the TitansThey LiveThe Wizard of Speed and TimeNinja 3: The DominationCommando and so many more movies, most often as a matte painter.

When the movie starts it says that it was set on One Zillion B.C. – October 9th. That would be John Lennon’s birthday.

At the end of the movie, Atouk ends up with Tala instead of Lana. But in real life, Starr would marry Bach and they’ve been together since then.

I saw Caveman as a nine year old kid obsessed with dinosaurs at the Spotlight 88. I’m not sure what movie I saw it with. It could have been a reissue of Bob Crane’s Superdad but I’d like to think that I saw it with Super Fuzz.

You can watch this on Tubi.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Strike Back (1981)

I know that Carl Schenkel directed this film, but Jess Franco was on board — uncredited — for help and that’s good enough for me.

Yeah, the director of The Mighty Quinn and Tarzan and the Lost City worked with Franco, but hey, so did Orson Welles on Chimes at Midnight so anything can happen.

Dave (Dave Balko, the lead singer of Tempo, a band on the soundtrack of this movie) breaks out of a juvenile prison by staging his suicide and trying to find his pregnant girlfriend and get revenge on those that did him wrong — like Kowalski (Otto Sander) — and got him sent behind bars. Throughout, this has such a no future feeling — the ending will truly hammer that home — while showing you the New Wave scene in West Germany in 1981. I didn’t know the bands Blixa Bargeld, Rhe Neonbabies, Malaria, Thomas Voburka and Tempo before, but it was cool to discover them through this.

Why should you watch it? Well, there are some punk performances and man, that old Space Invaders pinball machine was awesome, wasn’t it? Also: Brigitte Wöllner, who plays Dave’s lover Corinna, was Playboy Germany‘s Miss August 1980.

Most of all, it makes Berlin seem like infinite death, doom and darkness. Man, that closing scene!

You can watch this on YouTube.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Les filles de Copacabana (1981)

Three students — Juanita (Michele Hermet), Juan (Leonardo da Costa) and Hans (Jérôme Foulon) — have grown listless with life in Paris and go to Brazil in search of adventure. Seeing as how Jess Franco directed and wrote this, well, they find it. A coming of age film from Jess? Yes. After all, he had aleady made Tenemos 18 años 22 years before.

Of course, the three are in the midst of a love triangle, even if they may not understand that, but at a young age our hormones always confuse what is really going on. This trip to Rio is actually a few hotel rooms and a clever use of stock footage but this film has some slapstick and good humor and perhaps I was in the right mood to look back on teen sex comedies — from more than just America — with fondness on the day that I watched this.

I also enjoyed that Hans would rather read Voltaire than get all of the women coming his way for some time.

So yeah, a Lemon Popsicle from the same man who brought us the sex and death at once that is Venus In Furs and Lina Romay demanding a prisoner clean her culo in Ilsa The Wicked Warden. Speaking of Lina, she shows up in a small role here, as does Nadine Pascal.