Don’t be afraid! HALLOWEEN HAVOC! is returning!!

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Beginning this Saturday (that’s tomorrow, folks!), I’ll be doing the second annual “Halloween Havoc!” horror movie marathon! 31 scary film reviews in 31 days for all you connoisseurs of macabre movies out there. All the big fright stars will be here: Karloff! Lugosi! Price! Cushing! Lee! Godzilla!

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You’ll get chills down your spines as we look back at man-made monsters, vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, zombies, and things that go BOO in the night. Last year was a big success, and I’m hoping you’ll (grave)dig this year’s tribute to the horror films of yesteryear. There’ll be Universal classics, Hammer horrors, AIP spooktaculars, undiscovered gems, and famous monsters of all ilks. As always, every post will be reblogged on THROUGH THE SHATTERED LENS   , where the crew of writers there will also be offering their terrifying takes on shocking cinema. Join the “Halloween Havoc!” party right here on Cracked Rear Viewer beginning Saturday October 1st! If you dare!!

Kitty Litter: SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE (Allied Artists 1960)

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Let’s get it out of the way right now- SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE is bad. Real bad. Like mind-numbingly bad. Despite the presence of sex kittens Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld, this movie is a smelly litter box in desperate need of cleaning. It’s an Albert Zugsmith extravaganza, so you know right off the bat it’s gonna be a stinker. Zugsmith had once been a producer at Universal, overseeing prestige films like WRITTEN ON THE WIND and TOUCH OF EVIL. But when he went into independent productions, Zugsmith chose to go the low-budget exploitation route and even though he managed to attract some well-known names, his little epics usually stunk to high heaven.

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The movie revolves around the talents of Mamie Van Doren, a beautiful creature whose best assets weren’t her acting. She plays Dr. Mathilda West, a genius hired to take over the science department at Collins College. Thinko, a supercomputer/robot type thing, recommended her without realizing she was once Tassels Montclair, a stripper known as the Tallahassee Tassel Tosser. Yuk yuk. All the men on campus go gaga over her because she has blonde hair and big hooters. Yuk yuk yuk.

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There’s really not a lot of plot to describe. Tuesday Weld’s boyfriend, the inimitable Norman “Woo Woo” Grabowski, is the captain of the football team who’s afraid of women. Yuk yuk. Mickey Shaughnessy and Allan Drake are two gangsters hunting down “Sam Thinko”, who’s bleeding their boss dry by winning all his bets, not realizing it’s the computer/robot thing. Yuk yuk. Brigitte Bardot wasn’t available, so they got her little sister Mijanou to play an exchange student doing “research” on American men. Yuk yuk yuk. Louis Nye makes an inauspicious film debut as Thinko’s creator Dr. Zorch, and his assistant is none other than Vampira (not in costume, though)! Pamela Mason is dean of students who’s hot for rich Texas school benefactor Jackie Coogan. Martin Milner (billed as Marty) is on hand as an administrator; he’s also credited as associate producer so he should’ve known better. John Carradine is a horny professor; he and Mamie dancing the Charleston and Tango together is probably the film’s highlight.

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Conway Twitty is here to sing one unmemorable song. There’s some monkeyshines with Mamie’s per chimp Voltaire. And for some reason, Charlie Chaplin Jr and Harold Lloyd Jr were hired to do bit parts as a fireman and policeman, respectively. Why? Who knows? All I know is that the thing plays like an extended burlesque skit, and a pretty lousy one at that. The only interesting tidbit I dug up while researching this mess is that Drake was a stand-up comic whose claim to fame was that his wife was having an affair with Mafioso Anthony “Little Augie” Carfano, and both were found executed in Little Augie’s Cadillac a year before Drake made this bomb.

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You can probably tell I really don’t have much to say about this piece of crap except to tell you to avoid it, unless all the above nonsense appeals to you in some kind of perverse way. Don’t torture yourselves the way I did by sitting through this turkey. It’s my job to view schlock like this; you have other options!

RIP Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore

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Mention the name Herschell Gordon Lewis to film fans and you’ll get two responses. They either love him or hate him. I fall cleanly into the first camp, as I’ve always loved the demented cinema of Mr. Lewis, who passed away Monday at age 87. Whether watching a triple feature of terror at the old Capital Theater on a Saturday afternoon, or later rewatching his movies via the magic of VHS, Herschell Gordon Lewis’s blood soaked no-budget epics provided hours of gruesome entertainment for me, and helped warp my impressionable little mind (like it needed any help!).

Blood Feast (1963)
                                                                Blood Feast (1963)

Lewis got into the film business in the late 50’s, teaming with sexploitation king David F. Friedman to make a series of nudie-cutie flicks like BOIN-N-G! and GOLDIELOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, before creating their first masterpiece, 1963’s BLOOD FEAST. The film’s about Fuad Ramses, an Egyptian caterer who slaughters young women in order to revive the goddess Ishtar. Blood and guts filled the screen in glorious Blood Color (according to the poster) like no one had ever seen before. The movie was a smash on the drive-in circuit, and though it was trashed by critics for its ineptness, the team of Gordon and Friedman laughed all the way to the bank.

2000 Maniacs! (1964)
                                                  2000 Maniacs! (1964)

My favorite Lewis classic is 2000 MANIACS!, in which a group of Yankee tourists stumbled onto a Southern town inhabited by the ghosts of dead Confederates seeking revenge. The unsuspecting “guests” are dismembered, decapitated, drawn and quarter, and rolled downhill inside a nail-spiked barrel in gory, graphic ways. The movie is so delightfully demented, with no redeeming social qualities whatsoever, that you can’t help but love it!

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
                                                                    The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

After COLOR ME BLOOD RED, about a mad painter similar in theme to Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD, Lewis and Friedman parted ways. Lewis kept cranking out the carnage-filled craziness on his own: GRUESOME TWOSOME, THE WIZARD OF GORE, THE GORE-GORE GIRLS. He returned to sexploitation (SUBURBAN ROULETTE, BLAST-OFF GIRLS!) and dabbled in other genres, like the teensploitation JUST FOR THE HELLOF IT and even children’s fantasy (JIMMY THE BOY WONDER). Yet it’s his lunatic horror movies for which he’ll always be remembered. Nobody dared to put that much blood and gore onscreen until Herschell Gordon Lewis broke the barrier. He’s a pioneer of independent filmmaking and whether you like his stuff or not, you’ve got to respect him for doing it his way.  Like Ed Wood, he had his own vision of moviemaking, sick and twisted sure, but damn entertaining. He’ll be missed.

Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)

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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder, Rock goes way out of his comfort zone portraying a sexual predator and gives one of his best screen performances. Tiger’s a family man, Masters level psychologist, and first class scoundrel not above killing the girls he seduces when they get too close, and Rock gets to show off his acting chops to good advantage.

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A subplot involves John David Carson making his debut as Ponce de Leon Harper, a student with sexual hangups who’s taken under the wing (and covers!) of substitute teacher Miss Smith, played by Angie Dickinson . Angie is always good, but Carson’s kind of stiff as the kid with a perpetual hard-on (pun intended!), which is a shame, because the character’s central to the film. His career never really took off, and he was relegated to mainly low-budget schlock like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE after this.

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The cast is peppered with Familiar Faces, such as Telly Savalas as a police detective out to solve the high school murder spree, Roddy McDowell as the school’s principal, Keenan Wynn as a bumbling local cop, and STAR TREK’s James Doohan as Telly’s assistant. Barbara Leigh, best known for almost starring in a Hammer movie adaptation of the horror comic VAMPIRELLA (which sadly never got off the ground), plays Tiger’s loving but unsuspecting wife. Another STAR TREK vet William Campbell appears, as does funny Susan Tolsky (of TV’s HERE COME THE BRIDES). The “Pretty Maids” are all pretty hot, including cult actress Joy Bang, Gretchen Burrell, Aimee Eccles, JoAnna Cameron (later Saturday morning superhero Isis!), Brenda Sykes, Topo Swope (daughter of Dorothy McGuire, now a top talent agent), and Gene’s daughter Dawn Roddenberry.

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There are underlying themes of oppression, non-conformity, and even racism in the film, but let’s be honest, it’s basically about sex! There’s lots of nudity, befitting a 70’s flick, and some may find it creepy seeing Rock Hudson getting down with all these nubile young chicks. As I said earlier, the film couldn’t be made in today’s repressive climate, but back then it was anything goes. I don’t know how you feel about it, all I can tell you if I was a horny 17-year-old back then, I’d have screwed Angie Dickinson’s brains out, too!

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW didn’t do well at the box office, and Roddenberry returned to TV and sci-fi, supplementing his income with talking about STAR TREK on the college lecture circuit. The show had developed a cult following by then due to its popularity in syndication, and by the end of the decade STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE hit the big screen. The voyages of the Starship Enterprise will always be Roddenberry’s lasting legacy, but if you’ve got a taste for black comedy, check out his twisted PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW.

 

It’s the original THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN- or is it? (United Artists 1960)

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There’s a large hue and cry about the upcoming remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (and remakes in general) among classic film fans. “How dare they”, it kind of goes, “Why, that’s blasphemy!”. The truth is, Hollywood’s been cannibalizing itself since almost the beginning, and remakes have long been a staple of filmmakers. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a remake of Akira Kurasawa’s Japanese film SEVEN SAMAURI, moved to the American west by producer/director John Sturges . And while quite frankly most remakes can’t hold a candle to the originals, this 1960 action epic can stand on it’s own as one of the great Western adventures.

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Sturges assembled a macho cast to tell the tale of bandits terrorizing a small Mexican village, and the seven hired guns who take on the job of defending them. Top billed is Yul Brynner as Chris, the black clad gunslinger who puts together the crew. First among them is Steve McQueen   , star of TV’s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE and on the cusp of film stardom after appearing in 1959’s NEVER SO FEW. McQueen plays Tanner, honing his ultra-cool persona in this breakthrough role. He also gets the best lines, like “We deal in lead, friend”. Cool indeed!

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Charles Bronson had been around awhile before taking on the role of O’Reilly, and his scenes with the adoring Mexican children who idolize him are standouts. Bronson would do a bunch of these all-star actioners (THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE DIRTY DOZEN  ) before becoming a solo action icon in a series of 70’s films. Lanky young James Coburn was just beginning to get noticed in movie and TV appearances when he was cast as the knife-throwing Britt. Robert Vaughn   was another up-and-comer at the time, essaying the part of Lee, an outlaw who’s losing his nerve. (That would never happen to Napoleon Solo, his star-making role in TV’s THE MAN FROM UNCLE!) Brad Dexter was a veteran actor, usually cast as the heavy; he adds humor to the part of soldier of fortune Harry Luck.

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Horst Buchholz, “The German James Dean”, was already a star in Europe when he took the role of Chico, a cocksure young gun out to prove himself with these seasoned professionals. Buchholz was just beginning to branch into English-speaking productions, which later included Billy Wilder’s ONE TWO THREE and the excellent NINE HOURS TO RAMA. He probably would’ve been a bigger star if he hadn’t turned down the part of The Man With No Name in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Clint Eastwood is forever grateful for that!

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These seven take on bandit chief Calvera, played to perfection by Eli Wallach, foreshadowing his Tuco in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. While the rest of the cast plays it low-key, Wallach’s over-the-top bad guy offers a nice contrast, dominating every scene he’s in. Veteran Vladimir Sokoloff as the village elder gives a solid performance. Familiar Faces include Whit Bissell, Val Avery, Bing Russell, Robert Wilke, Jim Davis, and Victor French in minor roles. Mexican actress Rosenda Monteros is also on hand as the love interest for Buchholz.

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William Roberts gets credit for the screenplay, but it’s a bit more complicated then that. Blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein did the original adaptation, which was rewritten by Walter Newman. Roberts made some changes while on location and asked for a co-credit, prompting Newman to ask for his name to be removed from the credits. I’m not sure just who wrote what, only that the screenplay works as one of the all-time action greats. Charles Lang’s majestic cinematography is a work of art in itself, as you’d expect from the man behind the camera on such classics as THE BIG HEAT  and SOME LIKE IT HOT. Speaking of works of art, Elmer Bernstein’s score is one of Hollywood’s best known and best-loved. That theme has been sampled in countless movies, TV shows, and recordings, enjoying a second life as the theme for countless TV commercials for Marlboro cigarettes in the 1960’s.

So the question is, will I go see the new version? Probably not. I’ve seen the trailers, and it looks okay. It might even be pretty cool. But it won’t be Steve McQueen/Charles Bronson/James Coburn cool. And there lies the rub as far as remakes of classic films goes. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is the perfect action flick in every respect, and it’s hard to top perfection. The 1960 movie does it by bringing Kurosawa’s samuari original to the Old West, adding a new spin to the story. But for the most part, remaking a classic (or even semi-classic) film seldom works. Now, if they had put the new Seven epic in outer space, we might be having a completely different conversation about this latest Hollywood remake!

*Author’s Note: TCM is showing this movie tonight (9/22/16) at 8:00PM EST. Watch and enjoy!

 

 

 

Folsom Prison Blahs: INSIDE THE WALLS OF FOLSOM PRISON (Warner Brothers 1951)

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Filmed on location inside the infamous prison, and with a testosterone-loaded cast led by Steve Cochran  , David Brian, Ted de Corsia, and Philip Carey  , I expected INSIDE THE WALLS OF FOLSOM PRISON to be slam-bang entertainment along the lines of BRUTE FORCE . Well, not so much. The trouble’s not with the cast, nor the atmospheric direction of Crane Wilbur. It’s Wilbur’s script that commits the cardinal sin of any action film: too much talk!

Even the prison itself talks, narrating the opening credits: “I am Folsom Prison. At one time they called me Bloody Folsom. And I earned it…”, intones the prison, voiced by Charles Lung (an appropriate name for someone who talks to much!). The movie begins with an attempted jailbreak, put down by sadistic Warden Rickey (de Corsia) and his thugs. He then ratchets up the punishment, making life even more miserable for the cons, until new Captain of the Guards Mark Benson (Brian) is assigned by the institution’s board of directors. Benson’s a reformer who witnesses the deplorable conditions and implements policy changes designed to rehabilitate the men. The warden goes along at first, but instructs one of his trusted sergeants (Edward Norris of THE SULTAN’S DAUGHTER  ) to keep his eyes and ears open.

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When con Red Pardue (Carey), up for parole soon, rats out an escape attempt by Ferretti (young William Campbell  in one of his first roles),  the warden puts him back out in the yard, to Benson’s chagrin. Red is an explosives expert and needed to finish a job. Ferretti offers Tinker (Dick Wesson) $300 to make sure Red never leaves Folsom, and in a tense scene, Tinker sabotages Red with his own dynamite, blowing him to kingdom come!

Benson blames Warden Rickey for Red’s murder, and resigns in disgust. Rickey now has full control of the prison once again, and reinstates his brutal reign of terror. The cons, led by lifer Chuck (Cochran), make a daring takeover of their cellblock, and this is where the action begins to quickly pick up. Unfortunately, it just as quickly fizzles out, and the damn prison starts talking again to wrap things up!

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Crane Wilbur had been around since the dawn of cinema, having been the hero of 1914’s sensational serial THE PERILS OF PAULINE. Returning to the stage, he wrote and toured with an updated version of THE BAT, later filming it with Vincent Price in 1959. He’s probably best known for his screenplay on another Price shocker, HOUSE OF WAX. Wilbur wrote and/or directed movies in every genre, from prison dramas (ALCATRAZ ISLAND, CRIME SCHOOL) to film noir (HE WALKED BY NIGHT, THE PHENIX CITY STORY  ) , exploitation (HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS), juvenile delinquents (THE DEVIL ON WHEELS), science fiction (MYSTERIOUS ISLAND). He penned two of Boris Karloff’s Warner vehicles (WEST OF SHANGHAI, THE INVISIBLE MENACE) and Price’s HOUSE OF WAX follow-up THE MAD MAGICIAN. Crane Wilbur’s last film HOUSE OF WOMEN was a distaff version of his many prison flicks. He died in 1973.

Besides the tough guy actors I’ve already mentioned, Paul Picerni, Danny Arnold, Tom Dugan, Anthony George, Damian O’Flynn, George Wallace, and Sheb Wooley all add their machismo as various cons and guards. Anyone who’s seen the biopic WALK THE LINE knows this is the film Johnny Cash was watching which inspired him to write his hit song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The Man in Black like the movie a lot. As for me, I thought it was okay, but could have been so much better. I prefer Cash’s country classic, so here it is:

 

A Pair of Aces: Laurel & Hardy in SONS OF THE DESERT (MGM 1933)

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Laurel and Hardy are still beloved by film fans today for their marvelous contributions to movie comedy. Rooted firmly in the knockabout visual style of the silent screen, the team adapted to talking pictures with ease, and won the Best Short Subject Oscar for 1932’s THE MUSIC BOX. The next year the duo made what’s undoubtably their best feature film SONS OF THE DESERT, a perfect blend of slapstick, verbal humor, and situation comedy benefitting from a fine supporting cast and the undeniable chemistry between Stan and Ollie .

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The boys are at a meeting of their lodge The Sons of the Desert when it’s announced all members must swear a sacred oath to attend the annual convention in Chicago. Timid Stanley is afraid his wife won’t let him go, but blustery Ollie insists, boasting about who wears the pants in his family. Of course, Ollie’s just as henpecked as Stan, and his wife laughs in his face, not to mention crowning him with a vase! Ollie concocts a scheme to trick the wives by feigning a “nervous breakdown”, and gets Stan to have a lodge brother pose as a doctor (Stan gets a veterinarian!). The bogus doc claims the only cure for Ollie is a cruise to Honolulu (!), and Stan is designated to accompany his friend.

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The ‘subterfuge’ (a word that baffles Stan) works, and soon the boys are living it up in Chicago, with lots of drinking, dancing-girls, and tomfoolery going on. They meet up with an obnoxious practical joker from Texas who calls his sister in Los Angeles as a gag. Ollie begins to flirt with her over the phone, that is until he realizes he’s talking to his own wife! Looks like the joke’s on him!

Headlines in the newspaper back home state the Honolulu ocean liner the boys are allegedly on is sinking in a typhoon, and the panic-stricken wives, thinking their husbands are heading for Davy Jones’s Locker, hightail it to the docks. The boys return home after the girls leave for the docks, and are even more panic-stricken when they read the news of their imminent demise! They hide out in the attic, while the wives go to a picture show to calm their nerves. You know it, they see a newsreel featuring their spouses prominently cavorting in Chicago. Stan and Ollie end up on the roof in a rainstorm (after being struck by lightning!!), and a cop, catching them shimmying down the drainpipe (where Ollie gets stuck in the rainbarrel), marches them to their wives. Ollie comes up with a wild tale about being shipwrecked and having to “ship-hike” home. Stan breaks down and confesses (even after Ollie threatens to tell his wife he smoked a cigarette in Chi-town!), and is rewarded for his honesty with chocolates and TLC. As for Ollie… well, after his wife pummels him with every dish and piece of crockery in the house, Stan comes over and tells him, “Honesty is the best politics”. Ollie beans him with a remaining pot for his ill-timed advice!

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All this allows Stan and Ollie to indulge in some of their wackiest bits; I especially love the slapstick silliness involving Stan, Ollie. Mae Busch, and a tub of hot water when Ollie’s playing sick. Then there’s Stan innocently munching on wax fruit in the Hardy’s living room. Laurel’s malaprops (calling their lodge leader “the exhausted ruler” for example) are always welcome, but it’s his big-worded soliloquy in the attic (and Ollie’s reaction) that got me laughing. Hardy’s bullying of his little pal is offset by his cowering before his wife, and it wouldn’t be a Laurel & Hardy film without Ollie getting the chance to tell Stanley, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”.

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“The ever-popular Mae Busch” (to quote Jackie Gleason) is Ollie’s wife, and she’s at her shrewish best here. In fact, you can see a lot of Ralph and Alice Kramden in the relationship between Mae and Ollie. Dorothy Christy plays Stan’s gun-toting, duck hunting wife, and she holds her own in her only film with the boys. Comedian Charley Chase is the raucous conventioneer from Texas, and he’s a hoot. Chase starred in his own two-reelers and features for Hal Roach , and after moving to Columbia, he directed some of the Three Stooges best 30’s efforts. If you’ve never seen any of Chase’s solo work, do so immediately; you’re in for a treat!

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Familiar Faces in the cast include Lucien Littlefield as the ersatz doctor, and if you look close you’ll find Stanley Blystone, Ellen Corby, young Robert Cummings , Charlie Hall, and producer Hal Roach himself. Actor Frank Craven wrote the story, embellished by Laurel and Hardy and five others, including director William A. Seiter, a Mack Sennett vet who also worked with comedy teams Wheeler & Woolsey, Abbott & Costello, and the Marx Brothers. SONS OF THE DESERT is by far my favorite Laurel & Hardy feature, a timeless classic that gets better every time I view it. There’s an international Laurel & Hardy fan club called “Sons of the Desert” that’s still active,  with thousands of members in the U.S. and abroad. I wish there was a chapter near me, I’d sign up today!