Halloween (and ‘Halloween Havoc!’) may have come and gone, but for horror fans every day’s Trick or Treat! Here are 5 fright films scraped from the bottom of this year’s candy bag:
THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (United Artists 1956; D: Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodriguez) – This US/Mexican coproduction stars Guy Madison (TV’s WILD BILL HICKOCK) and Patricia Medina (PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE) up against a giant prehistoric Allosaurus in the Old West. The movie starts as just another standard Western until the three-quarter mark, when the beast finally makes his appearance. Jack Rabin’s cartoonish special effects can’t hold a candle to the great Willis O’Brien , who’s given credit for the film’s story idea (later remade as the much better VALLEY OF GWANGI ). Good as Saturday matinée kiddie fare, nothing more. Fun Fact: Patricia Medina was the wife of actor Joseph Cotten, who made quite a few horror flicks later in his career.
THE DEADLY MANTIS (Universal-International 1957; D; Nathan Juran) – Another William Alland-produced sci-fi flick from the fabulous 50’s, coming at the end of the ‘Big Bug’ cycle, involving a prehistoric Praying Mantis awakened from its frozen slumber to wreak havoc across North America. Air Force Colonel Craig Stevens teams with paleontologist William Hopper and pretty magazine reporter Alix Talton to stop the flesh-eating terror – mainly by talking it to death! Some of the Arctic set scenes are reminiscent of Howard Hawks’ THE THING, but don’t get your hopes up, this film’s nowhere near that classic. This ‘Big Bug’ is a Big Bore! Fun Fact: Director Juran won an Oscar for his art direction on 1942’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, and his later directorial credits include a pair of sci-fi hoots from 1958: THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and the immortal ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN!
INDESTRUCTiBLE MAN (Allied Artists 1956; D: Jack Pollexfen) – Lon Chaney Jr stars as Butcher Benton, an executed convict brought back to life via a massive dose of electric current, giving him superhuman strength in this horror/crime hybrid. Chaney, looking pretty ragged due to his alcoholism at this point in his life, does well in a mostly mute role as the murderous Butcher seeking revenge on the double-crossing rats who sold him out, giving an athletic, energetic performance. Dad would’ve been proud! The rest of the cast is game, but hampered by the ultra-low budget and somewhat silly dialog (“You rotten, stinkin’ mouthpiece!”). Casey Adams (later known as Max Showalter) plays the detective on the case, narrating a’la DRAGNET’s Joe Friday, and Robert Shayne (SUPERMAN’s Inspector Henderson) and Joe Flynn (MCHALE’S NAVY’s Capt. Binghampton) are the biochemists who revive the Butcher. The macho script was written by two women, Vy Russell and Sue Bradford, who also penned the 1963 cult classic MONSTROSITY! Not a great film, but not all that bad; Chaney fans will definitely want to take a look. Fun Fact: DP John Russell (Vy’s husband) was also the cinematographer on another horror film of note – Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece PSYCHO!
BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA (Embassy 1966; D: William Beaudine) – The Count goes West to battle a reformed Billy the Kid in this no-budget piece of dreck. John Carradine reprises his role of Dracula from his Universal days, but even at his most demonic can’t save this juvenile schlockfest (though his crazed hypnotic eyes are pretty scary!). It features the cheeziest rubber bat this side of THE DEVIL BAT , and is padded with plenty o’stock footage. The acting, script, and direction are all rock bottom, making this fail as both a Western AND a horror movie. Yet somehow, the producer enticed veterans like Roy Barcroft, Marjorie Bennett, Harry Carey Jr and his mom Olive Carey , Virginia Christine, and Bing Russell to appear. Must’ve done a casting call at the unemployment office that week! The film was shot in just 5 days – and it shows! Fun Fact: This was the last feature for both director Beaudine and Miss Carey, both of whom started their film careers at the dawn of motion pictures (Beaudine in 1915, Olive Carey in 1913).
SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (AIP 1973; D: Bob Kelljan) – This much maligned sequel isn’t as bad as some claim, just not as good as the original. William Marshall is back as the undead Prince Mamuwalde aka BLACULA , and Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier plays a voodoo cult priestess! There’s some neat touches updating the usual vampire tropes for the 70’s Blaxploitation crowd, and a decent supporting cast (Michael Conrad, Bernie Hamilton, Richard Lawson, Don Mitchell, Lynn Moody, Barbara Rhodes). A fun little fear flick that’s better than it’s reputation. Fun Fact: Director Bob Kelljan also helmed another AIP vampire sequel, 1971’s THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA.
See you next October, fright fans!
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