The following article is reprinted from the April 1985 issue of NEW CANADIAN
FANDOM, Canada's national science fiction fanzine.
For Diehard Film Viewers Only
Prologue: Before launching into the body of this article, there are a few
things that I want to set straight. First, those who dislike films are advised to re-read the title. To the best of my knowledge, a good number of science fiction buffs, myself included, moonlight as film fans. I've had enough experience though with all of the various subgenres within the sf/horror field to know that there may be many polar opposites, and I don't expect everyone to be into films. It is to those readers who find cinema more bearable than fingernails on a blackboard, and most of all for my own pleasure, that this article is written. As a footnote, those who dislike film "fans" and look down at buffs of that or any other entertainment medium, earn somewhat less respect from yours truly. (The same principle applies to film buffs with a similar snobbish attitude toward nonfilm buffs.) I can better understand opposition to all vicarious imitations of life than I can to one specific type. In my opinion, matters of private taste cannot legitimately be represented as dogma without exposing the proponent as a pompous fool. Any door that fails to swing both ways is nothing more than a sham.
Second, while all of the films reviewed here in capsule form are available to
television there isn't a "made-for-TV" picture in the lot. Everything here received some, if in many cases very limited, theatrical distribution. The thoughts expressed reflect nothing more concrete than my own subjective impressions. I also want to stress that the "standards" employed are those observed during more casual viewings such as on television. Entertainment value, except that provided by unintentional camp, has most definitely been taken into consideration. This may appear self-evident, but a handful of self-styled "Film Scholars" look down on this approach. In one sense, the following collection was compiled at random, but in another, the structure is deceptively formal. My avoidance of over-publicized titles is deliberate. Many of the best—and many of the worst—films in the genre have been exposed to the point of absolutely indelible deja-vu. You will find no signs of Bride of Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, Alien or King Kong (the first version) here. Neither, granting equal time for the same reason, will you be forced to encounter the movies over-exposed due to their "lack" of quality such as Plan Nine From Outer Space, Robot Monster, Bride of the Monster, and Cat Women of the Moon.) Sitting through films of this prestigious nature may offer greater promise of satisfaction, but if I read one more word about them, I'll scream!
As a result of my efforts to bypass monotony, the majority of those films
I've chosen to cover are relatively obscure, even among circles of horror/sf/fantasy film fans. As a further result, most are ultra-low budget (not necessarily a pejorative), shoe-string and independent productions that ended up being distributed to quickie first-run openings, the drive-in circuit, kiddies' matinees and all-night flophouses, if at all. Even on the tube, treatment is shabby; these are more likely run as late night second features and specialty shows than on the networks (although, ironically, that's where two on this list debute TV-wise). The names at the end of each capsule review are those of the lead players; the country at the opening denotes the origin.
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The Astro-Zombies (USA, 1971). The title gives us an accurate picture.
Mindless, amateurish mishmash of pseudo-horror and espionage as operatives of "both" sides compete for a mad doctor's reanimation device. Neither seems particularly concerned that the "zombies" automatically engage in murderous rampages, and we, the audience, aren't given any clear indication of the motives behind such anti-social behaviour other than that the reanimated corpses are instantly struck with a compulsion to kill females. (The "mad scientist," incidentally, is aided by a traditionally hunchbacked lab assistant, while an ever present and unidentified woman spends the entire picture strapped to a table, periodically screaming and fainting, but serving no apparent purpose other than the titillation of kinkier viewers.) Absurdist trash might be tolerated by the kiddies, but it's doubtful that anyone else will go for it. Even the laughs, and they do exist to a limited extent, aren't enough to prevent the itches from attacking. Tom Pace, Joan Patrick, John Carradine, Wendall Corey, Rafael Campes, Victor Izay.
Boy Who Cried Werewolf (USA, 1973) This lightweight mediocrity reminiscent of
the slightly more palatable 50's quickies is no great shakes, but does relatively well considering the extent of potentially lethal drawbacks facing it. (For example, the incredibly unconvincing "make-up" closely resembling a second-rate Halloween costume, laughably hammy acting by the person behind the obvious mask, the cornball equation of "hippy" and "Jesus" movements, the intrusion of exceptionally bad comedy relief and some stereotypic soap opera exchanged between the film's love interests.) A man is turned into Werewolf by a lycanthropy bite received during a wilderness trip and is discovered by his prepubescent son whose vain attempts to convince others that his findings are more than flights of fancy justify the title. Merely fair (and then only by grade "B" standards), yet still a miniature cut above its economic counterparts, but leaves little, if any after taste. Not worth going out of one's way to see, and probably won't make a powerful enough impression to be remembered on anyone's "ten worst" list, but at least it shouldn't agonize shut-ins. Scott Sealey, Kerwin Matthews, Elaine Devry, Bob Hommel, Robert J Wilke, Susan Foster.
Cave of the Living Dead (Germany, 1962) Atrociously dubbed and talky,
plodding and chiefly uneventful crud effort at combining espionage and horror. The secret agent investigating mass murders suspected to be of a cloak and dagger nature learns that they were actually committed by a colony of modern day vampires. Dullsville incarnate. Health and Welfare should attach a warning to this one. Carl Mohner, Adrian Hoven, John Kitzmiller, Wolfgang Priess.
Creature With the Blue Hand (Germany, 1969) Another in the string of oddball
crime films Germans are so fond of labelling "horror." Most are released directly to TV in this country, although this one was an exception, having been distributed with the Phillipines-shot Beast of the Yellow Night. This badly dubbed murder mystery with horror overtones tells of an innocent man wrongly convicted of being a costumed mass murderer (the uniform's glove is blue; hence the title, which is an example of limb climbing if I've ever seen it) who escapes prison intent on establishing innocence by (literally) unmasking the true culprit. No better and no worse than others of its ilk; about average, in fact, but in light of the field's general condition, I see no reason to torture oneself. Harold Leipnitz, Klaus Kinski, Diana Koerning, Carl Lange.
Equinox (USA, 1968) An amateur film, which was rewarded with (limited)
commercial release after being screened by poverty-row distributors, shows it's home movie origins (except in the surprisingly good special effects and the talented script) and for that reason alone may be unfairly condemned without a trial by purists and pseudo-intellectuals, but if so, it's their loss. Redeemed by a consistently bizarre atmosphere, this is no unforgettable classic, but it is several cuts above the average "cheapie." College students come up against satanic forces while searching for a professor (Fritz Leiber in a brief but pivotal role) who disappeared while investigating the occult in a rural site. The script consistently alternates the refreshingly plausible (as grade B horror films go) and the outrageous. This film was more impressive at the release date, before screen depictions of Satan and his minions had grown commonplace. Edward Connel, Barbara Hewitt.
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror (Spain, 1968) Ohmigod! Most foreign cheapies
are pretty bad, yes, but this utterly brainless garbage, apparently designed with grade-schoolers intentionally in mind, makes the others look good. Most imports suffer from tawdry American treatment (bad dubbing, editing, etc.) and while this is no exception, it looks as if it were miserable to begin with. Unfortunate viewers will wonder what the title has to do with the content if they miss the brief (and probably tacked on by US distributors) explanation that the Frankenstein clan changed it's name somewhere along the line to "Wolfstein" and were cursed with lycanthropy as punishment for the Baron's crimes. Yeah, sure. Worse yet, the miasmic plot concentrates on an unrelated man turned into a werewolf by a bite from (you guessed) it) Wolfstein. Further complicating this topsy-turvy mess, his efforts to find a cure lead to his unwitting involvement with a vampire pair posing as professional exorcists to secure a steady stream of victims. Unsurpassed idiocy. Among the screen's darkest moments. The extremely tacky look that leaves no question about the picture's financial status compounds my amazement that this one ever made it to other shores. Paul Naschy (the Spanish John Belushi), Diana Zura, Mike Manza, Gilbert Granger, Anita Avery.
The Fury (Usa, 1978) Poor old Brian DePalma temporarily lived down his
positive reputation with this tedious hokum, as bad as most of the worst "C" cheapies, but without the excuse of a shoestring budget to make it more tolerable. A muddled fantasy-horror-espionage combination where, following the abduction of his telekinetic son, a former spy sets out to crush an unscrupulous cloak and dagger outfit utilizing paranormal secret weapons. No sense of enthusiasm is radiated, although it is to be assumed that at least a smidgen was involved. This vapid absurdity is dull enough that the potential for camp is rarely realized. Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgrass, John Casavettes, Charles During, Carol Rossen, Andrew Stevens.
Invasion From Inner Earth (Canada, 1974) Markedly shoddy physical appearance,
an indicator of the virtually nonexistent budget is transcended by stress-building tension and a weird atmosphere in an eerie Night of the Living Dead imitation. Travelers stranded in a strangely deserted rural Manitoba encounter aggressive emissaries of a subterranean race. Attention to a "hollow Earth" theory and a brooding sense of doom dominates this cheap but creepy little yarn. Certain elements, like the theft of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly theme song are better left ignored. This film is no classic, but has more to offer than it initially leads us to believe. Slightly more competent acting than traditionally associated with these ultra-cheapies comes in handy. Paul Bentzen, Debbie Pick, Nick Holt, Karl Wallace.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (USA, 1971) Regarded as a "mini-sleeper" by
some, this uneven shocker does indeed posses isolated moments, but they are too far between to sustain closer examination. A string of film clips might have been more effective… A former mental patient and her husband move to a small town inhabited by vampires. Her observations are, of course, taken as symptomatic of mental illness. The moderately unexciting script could benefit from a more stable flow of events. This one has potential, but is skittish. Zhora Lampert, Kevin O'Conner, Barton Heyward, Gretchen Corbett, Mark Claire-Costello.
Lost Continent (UK, 1969) (This is not to be confused with the earlier
"dinosaur" film of the same name.) This painfully juvenile film adaptation of Denis Wheatley's Uncharted Island might satisfy the youngsters, but it is unsuitable fare for anyone else. In a Victorian setting, sea-going smugglers and their unwary passengers are stranded in unfamiliar territory where they run into monsters and a hostile civilization. Nothing much happens, which means that Wheatley's novel must not have been followed very closely. This is not just a bad Hammer film, but a bad film period, and not at all what we've come to expect from the England. Eric Porter, Hildegare Neff, Tony Beckley, Nigel Stock, Suzannah Leigh.
Man Who Haunted Himself (UK, 1970) Imaginative, and stylish, if somewhat
prolix, novelty. As the title implies, an executive recently discharged from the hospital is jeopardized by his unscrupulous double. No Citizen Kane, but this obscure, almost unknown sf movie should be seen by those who insist that the field has never produced anything of worth. The "surprise" ending, previously used in another picture is predictable, but what the heck. Viewers who didn't see the antecedent might be impressed. Roger Moore, Hildegarde Neil (not Neff), Anton Rogers, Olga Georges-Picon, Thorley Waters, Alastair MacKenzie.
Man With the Icy Eyes (Italy/USA, 1971) This inept crime/melodrama/mystery
with almost incidental supernatural overtones isn't as inspired as some in the foreign-cheapie category, and never attains more than run-of-the-mill stature. Likewise, the uneven dubbing isn't uniformly bad, but just obvious enough to let us know that it wasn't shot in Hollywood. A newspaper is menaced by elements of both mortal and occult origin while trying to vindicate an erroneously convicted assassin. The obvious efforts at trying to generate suspense fail. Fair as late night TV features go, an evaluation which you may interpret as you like. Antonio Sabato, Barbara Bouchet, Victor Buono, Keenan Wynn.
People That Time Forgot (UK - USA, 1977) The dinosaurs are more convincing
than the virtually catatonic lead player, although the supporting cast is adequate at light work. If one is able to ignore Patrick Wayne's wooden performance and some of the uproariously sexist dialogue (causing one to wonder if this is what the title refers to), this so-so film version of E R B's novel is one of the more palatable of the special kiddie matinee-oriented fantasy adventures. A search party hunting a missing war hero in the Antarctic discover a "lost" tropical area populated by prehistoric beasts, warring tribesmen, and the obligatory volcano. No new ground is broken, but the execution is somewhat above the average lost world opus. The inconsistent special effects alternate between the exemplary and the poor. This innocuous froth holds little for anyone past puberty, but if you can recall your younger days, it's not too bad. Beside Wayne, principals include Sarah Douglas, Thorley Waters, Dana Gillespie, Doug McClure.
S-S-S-S (USA, 1973) Almost no atmosphere or suspense, but a mildly diverting
script and a lack of pretension make up for it. An unwitting college student is subjected to experiments by a typically deranged serum researcher intent on solving our problems by creating a snake-Homo Sapiens hybrid. A fun film, with a healthy sense of vitality, this one is raised from being another juvenile "monster-on- the-loose" picture by not taking itself too seriously. The tounge-in-cheek approach plays it straight for the kiddies, and as near-satire for adults. Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies, Jack Gina, Richard B Shull.
Stanley (USA, 1970) This one seems indecisive about whether it wants to be
psychological horror, action-adventure, mild crime, or an "anti- establishment youth cult" film. It compromises in nearly episodic fashion, and as a result, fails miserably in each department. The first half, straight adventure, focusing on a defender-of- wildlife Vietnam veteran (who happens to be a native American) who skirmishes with a band of villainous hunters is just typical haphazard cheap film fare. It goes progressively downhill in the second half where he abruptly transforms into a homicidal maniac using snakes as a murder weapons. The one- dimensional nature is emphasized by the film's pretension of "making a statement". Unbelievable finale. Chris Robinson, Susan Carole, Alex Rocco, Steve Alaimo.
Teenage Zombies (USA, 1960) When players actually speak lines like "eck" and
"ugh", you know what to expect. Incredibly bad, outrageously amateurish, substandard by even home movie standards, this is representative of the era ostentatiously oriented toward adolescents, but aimed more at prepubescent minds. This is a downright embarassment, wherein teenage castaways on a tropical island become the target of a female mad scientist employed by "the Enemy" to conduct mind control experiments. The plot to turn the good guys into mindless vegetables is foiled, of course, but the calibre of acting talen makes one wonder. The bulk of monster antics are supplied by the obligatory and homicidal lab assistant. One of the all-time worst, this falls short of approaching it's own unique form of high art. You won't quite believe the stupidity unraveling before your eyes. Don Sullivan, Katherine Victor, Steve Conte.
Thin Air (UK, 1968, aka The Body Stealers) The tepid script condemns
well-made sf/super/spy concoction to mediocrity. The government agent assigned to investigate disappearances of key military personnel discovers that they were abducted by hostile aliens. Moderately dreary, but quickly forgotten. Patrick Allen, Lorna Velda, George Saunders, Hillary Dwyer, Maurice Evans, Neil Connery, Allan Cuthbertson.
Tower of Terror (UK, 1971) Not much atmosphere, and only a tad more suspense,
a fairly enjoyable psychoshocker/mystery/-suspense yarn. As two of the most vital ingredients in the film are left dangling (although continuity appears intact in all other departments), it seems likely that this film suffered unwise editing. A co-ed turns amateur sleuth to avenge the victimization of a close friend by the rapist-murderer plaguing the campus. Not up to the level of most UK thrillers, but a cut above the average American cheapie, it lies somewhere in between. Suzy Kendall, Frank Finley, James Laurenson, James Donald.
The Twisted Brain (USA, 1974, alternate title, Horror High) Fantastically
predictable but somehow mildly entertaining formula cheapie (due to competent acting), a downtrodden (and conventionally milquetoast) student is afflicted with chemically- induced split personality and goes on to wipe out his enemies while under the influence of his alter ego. Heavily flawed, but acceptable on it's own shoddy terms. Trashy, but for the lenient, amiable. Pat Cardi, Rose Holotik, Austin Stoker, John Niland.
Valley of Gwangi (USA, 1969) The prestigious Ray Harryhausen special effects
can't hide the fact that every cliche in the books is used here, and the story is a welfare recipient's rehash of King Kong. This extremely poor combination monster tale and trite western is recommended only for the most insistent completist. A Wild West Show inadvertantly discovers a prehistoric valley. After the predictable shenanagins take place, a dinosaur is captured, exhibited, and breaks loose, causing all manner of havoc. Sound familiar? In more ways than one, it is. Unfortunately, the pathos element that made the forerunner work is conspicuously absent. The merit of the visuals can't salvage the lame, anemic, lacklustre and quite tiresome screenplay. Really plastic. James Franciscus, Gilda Golan, Richard Carlson, Lawrence Naismith, Curtis Arden.
The preceding was reprinted from the April 1985 issue of NEW CANADIAN FANDOM. Comments, requests for hardcopy (with artwork) or submissions to NCF should be directed to Robert Runte, 72326,730. (You might want to use e-mail, since forum messages are sometimes scrolled off the system faster than I can check for messages…)