Monsters and Murderers, Ghosties and Ghoulies, Vampires and Voodoo Queens… they’re all back this October for Cracked Rear Viewer’s 5th Annual Halloween Havoc, 31 days of horror film reviews to celebrate the Halloween season! This year, I’ve lined up the most eclectic, esoteric, and downright weird collection of creepy movies ever assembled, ranging from the sublime to the (quite frankly) ridiculous, all tied together by the thread of terror! Not to mention weekend extras you’ll wanna keep an eye out for… just pray you don’t lose the other eye to some maniac in the process!! The fearsome fun starts tomorrow right here at Cracked Rear Viewer, and I hope you’ll join me for 31 Days of Devilish Delights!
Rugged Robert Mitchum is pretty much the whole show in MAN WITH THE GUN, a film by first time director (and Orson Welles protege) Richard Wilson. It seems a strange choice at this juncture of Mitchum’s career. He was just coming off four big films in a row (RIVER OF NO RETURN, TRACK OF THE CAT, NOT AS A STRANGER, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER ), then makes a low budget Western that harkens back to his days making ‘B’ Zane Grey Westerns at RKO. But that was Mitchum; always the maverick who did things his way.
The film itself isn’t bad: Mitchum plays a notorious gunslinger, a “town tamer” hired by Sheridan City to clean things up from the clutches of boss ‘Dade Holman’ (who isn’t seen til the end, but whose influence is everywhere). There’s a subplot with his ex-wife Jan Sterling, now running the dance hall girls at The Palace, and the whereabouts of their five year old daughter. Another subplot involves Karen Sharpe, daughter of town council leader Emile Meyer, catching feelings for Mitchum, to the chagrin of her young, headstrong fiance John Lupton. But don’t let the soap opera elements fool you: MAN WITH THE GUN is an exercise in violence, with Mitchum a killing machine who has no problem mowing down bad guys. Wilson and N.B. Stone Jr’s script dips briefly into the psychological reasons Mitchum’s character does what he does, making him more than just a one-dimensional gun-for-hire.
Wilson had helped stage plays for Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air, and worked as Welles’ assistant on CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and associate producer on LADY FROM SHANGHAI and MACBETH. He completed the documentary IT’S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES shortly before his death in 1991, and appears posthumously in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND . While he’s no Welles, Wilson manages to create some moody, almost film noir-ish scenes with the help of ace cinematographer Lee Garmes (the burning down of The Palace in particular is well staged). His directorial filmography is skimpy, but includes some interesting vehicles, like THE BIG BOODLE (starring a dissipated Errol Flynn), AL CAPONE (with Rod Steiger as Scarface), the well-regarded noir PAY OR DIE, and the AIP sex romp THREE IN THE ATTIC.
MAN WITH THE GUN also benefits from a supporting cast of Familiar Faces, including veteran Henry Hull as the ineffective town marshal, Ted de Corsia as the Palace’s manager (complete with bad French accent!), Leo Gordon and Claude Akins as heavies, young Angie Dickinson as a saloon girl, and Jay Adler, Barbara Lawrence (as a dizzy blonde), Burt Mustin, Maidie Norman, Maudie Prickett, Stafford Repp, Buddy Roosevelt, Amzie Strickland, and James Westerfield (who sets up the film’s finale). The film’s no classic, but will satisfy fans of both Westerns in general, and Robert Mitchum in particular. I fall into both categories, so of course I liked it; the rest of you will have to watch and judge for yourselves!
Quick, name an actor who’s played villains opposite everyone from Batman to James Bond, and Captain Kirk to TJ Hooker. Not to mention sharing screen time with stars like Ann-Margret, Lucille Ball, Lon Chaney Jr, Pam Grier, Nancy Kwan, Lee Marvin, and Anthony Quinn, and working with directors as diverse as Robert Aldrich, Jack Hill, Richard Fleischer, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, and Rob Zombie. There’s only one, and his name was Sid Haig, one of the last links to Old Hollywood and an Exploitation Icon, who sadly passed away yesterday at age 80.
Young Sidney Moesian, born 7/17/39 in Fresno, was bitten by the show biz bug early, dancing onstage as a child and even scoring a regional rock hit with his teenage band The T-Birds:
Sid got his acting education paying his dues at the famed Pasadena Playhouse, alongside roommate Stuart Margolin (THE ROCKFORD FILES, DEATH WISH, etc). His first feature was Jack Hill’s 1964’s SPIDER BABY , which didn’t get released until about four years later, and didn’t really hit it’s stride until being rediscovered during the VHS boom of the 1980’s.
SPIDER BABY concerns the quirky Merrye family, with Sid as the drooling, psychotic Ralph, brother of homicidal sisters Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), watched over by caretaker/chauffeur Bruno, played by horror vet Lon Chaney Jr. in what’s arguably his best latter-day performance. Even Mantan Moreland shows up in this blackest of black comedies, The two old pros are fun to watch, but Sid holds his own in a fine (if bizarre!) debut.
With his long, lanky frame, bald dome, and scruffy beard, Sid Haig was soon typecast mainly as a bad guy, but not always. In the beach flicks BEACH BALL, you can catch him on his beloved drums backing up The Righteous Brothers, and in IT’S A BIKINI WORLD , Sid plays ‘Daddy’, car customizer and owner of teen hangout The Dungeon. But in mainstream films of the era (POINT BLANK, THE HELL WITH HEROES, CHE!) Sid’s definitely not on the side of the angels.
He kept really busy on television during the 60’s, making his first TV appearance as ‘Augie the Hood’ on a 1962 episode of THE UNTOUCHABLES. He donned the bandages of his former co-star Chaney to play The Mummy in a 1965 LUCY SHOW episode titled “Lucy Meets The Monsters”, during the Classic Horror Revival of that decade (ahh, the good old days!!). He was one of King Tut’s (Victor Buono) henchmen on a BATMAN two-parter, one of the Lawgivers on the STAR TREK episode “Return of the Archons”, and made the rounds of both TV Westerns (LAREDO, THE IRON HORSE, DANIEL BOONE, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, GUNSMOKE) and spy shows like THE MAN FROM UNCLE, the spoof GET SMART, and nine (count ’em) different episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – as nine different bad guys!
Sid was one of William Smith’s biker gang, who kidnap Ann-Margret in CC & COMPANY (starring NFL quarterback Joe Namath!). He has a small part as a prisoner in director George Lucas’ debut THX 1138, but his next found him in a higher profile film, as one of Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s henchmen in 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , with Sean Connery returning to his iconic role as James Bond. Other more mainstream film roles followed: one of the hobos in EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, ‘The Arab’ in THE DON IS DEAD, a bouncer in BUSTING. But it was in the world of low budget Exploitation movies that Sid really began to make his mark.
Jack Hill’s 1971 THE BIG DOLL HOUSE helped kicked off the popular “Women in Prison” genre, with Sid as a sleazebag opposite Pam Grier, Judy Brown, and Roberta Collins. In Hill’s THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972), he’s a revolutionary named Django (!!) and Pam’s his girlfriend Blossom, who leads a prison breakout. BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973) finds Sid as Ruben, enlisted to hunt down escapees Pam and Margaret Markov in this distaff version of THE DEFIANT ONES directed by Eddie Romero. 1974’s SAVAGE SISTERS (aka EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE) casts him as a comic crook alongside Vic Diaz, up against genre stalwarts Gloria Hendry, Cheri Caffaro, and John Ashley in another fun, action-packed Romero epic!
Sid was no stranger to Blaxpolitation either, teaming again with Pam Grier and director Hill for two slam-bang genre entries. In COFFY (1973), he’s once again a henchman,this time to mobster Alan Arbus, with Pam as “the Baddest One-Chick Hit Squad” (according to the lurid movie poster!) out to avenge her brother’s death. FOXY BROWN (1974) has Pam again in vengeance mode, and Sid (you guessed it!) another mean henchman.
The oddly endearing Filipino sci-fi flick BEYOND ATLANTIS (1973) casts Sid as one of the treasure hunters who stumble upon a race of half-human, half-amphibians, with a cast that features Patrick Wayne, John Ashley, Filipino vets Vic Diaz and Eddie Garcia, and George (ROBOT MONSTER) Nader. On the small screen, Sid had a recurring role on Norman Lear’s soap opera spoof MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN as Texas, a Fernwood auto factory worker and colleague of Mary’s (Louise Lasser) husband Tom (Greg Mullavey). The Saturday morning kiddie show JASON OF STAR COMMAND, during the height of the original STAR WARS craze, cast him as Dragos, the main villain and antagonist of hero Jason (Craig Littler). (Trivia Note: STAR TREK’s James Doohan was also in the cast during the first season as Jason’s commander!).
More TV guest shots followed: THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, GET CHRISTIE LOVE! (the closest thing to a TV version of Blaxploitation!), THE ROCKFORD FILES (with former roomie Stuart Margolin), EMERGENCY!, POLICE STORY, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, HART TO HART, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, TJ HOOKER, THE A-TEAM, THE FALL GUY, HILL STREET BLUES, MCGYVER. But by 1992, Sid had grown tired of Hollywood and quit acting. In a 2004 interview with KAOS2000 Magazine, he explained: “I just didn’t want to play stupid heavies anymore. They just kept giving me the same parts but just putting different clothes on me… I resented it”. He stayed off the screen for almost ten years, popping up only in Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN (1997) as a judge, and starring his old friend Pam Grier in the title role. Believe it or not, Sid worked as a licensed hypnotherapist during these years.
Sid’s comeback began with a cameo as a grinning pirate in the Rob Zombie music video “Feel So Numb”:
This led to Zombie casting Sid in his feature film directorial debut, 2003’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, an homage to all those crazy Grindhouse horror movies of the 70’s (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, etc). Sid is the deranged Captain Spaulding, leader of the murderous Firefly brood (all of whom are named after characters in Marx Brothers movies – but all you film buffs already know that!!). The terror is cranked up to 11, and Sid Haig was introduced to a new audience, and worshipped as a horror icon! Henchman no longer! Captain Spaulding and his’family’ (Bill Mosley, Sherry Moon Zombie) returned for 2005’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, and will be back October 14 for 3 FROM HELL, scaring the crap out of us all at the local multiplex (I know I’ll be there!).
Sid Haig had a long career as a character actor, and I’ve only touched on the highlights of it. He wasn’t a ‘star’, but a solid supporting player who lend his special brand of lunacy to his parts, and fans like myself were delighted when Rob Zombie made him an “overnight horror sensation” after almost 50 years in front of the cameras. Thanks for all the ‘B’ Movie and TV memories, Sid… we won’t forget you!
News has reached us that character actor Sid Haig has passed away at age 80. I’ll have a full tribute/career retrospective on Sid later tonight or tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, enjoy this pictorial tribute to the late, great Sid Haig…
Richard Pryor (1940-2005) has been hailed as a comedy genius, and rightly so. But Pryor could also more than hold his own in a dramatic role. Films like WILD IN THE STREETS, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, and BLUE COLLAR gave him the opportunity to strut his thespic stuff, and GREASED LIGHTNING gave him top billing as Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver. Pryor plays it straight in this highly fictionalized biopic about a man determined to break the color barrier in the predominantly white sport of stock car racing.
We see Scott returning to his rural Danville, VA hometown after serving in WWII. He tells everyone he wants to drive a cab and someday open a garage, but his secret wish is to become “a champion race car driver”. He meets and falls in love with Mary (Pam Grier, who’s never looked more beautiful), and they eventually marry. Meanwhile, Wendell and his friend Peewee (the always welcome Cleavon Little ) begin running moonshine, eluding local Sheriff Cotton (Vincent Gardenia) for five years before finally getting busted.
A local race promoter (Noble Willingham) who’s heard of Wendell’s driving skills bails him out, wanting to put him in a car and “make some money offa his black ass”, believing blacks will turn out in droves to cheer him on, while the whites will want to see him crash and burn – literally! With loyal mechanic Woodrow (singer Richie Havens) and white ex-driver Hutch (Beau Bridges) as his pit crew, Wendell battles the odds, not to mention redneck rival Beau Wells (Earl Hindman, neighbor Wilson of TV’s HOME IMPROVEMENT), as he races in Darlington, Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Daytona, and other famous tracks, until becoming a bona fide star. A serious crash puts Wendell out of racing, but he stages a miraculous comeback (really, is there any other kind in these films?) against Mary’s wishes, entering the Grand National and winning the checkered flag!
Pryor plays the NASCAR legend with grit and determination, not letting anything stop him from achieving his dream, including the prejudice of the era. He and Pam Grier began dating around the time of GREASED LIGHTNING, and the affection the two had between them shows onscreen. The supporting cast is terrific, and Hindman’s Beau Wells is a composite of several NASCAR drivers, including legend Richard Petty. Others in the cast include civil rights activist Julian Bond in the small role of Pam’s first boyfriend, Lucy Saroyan (daughter of writer William) as Bridges’ wife, and Bill Cobbs as Pam’s dad.
Director Michael Schultz keeps the pedal to the metal, and has quite a decent resume himself: COOLEY HIGH, CAR WASH, the Pryor comedies WHICH WAY IS UP? and BUSTIN’ LOOSE, and KRUSH GROOVE (we won’t talk about SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND or DISORDERLIES!). The real stars of GREASED LIGHTNING may be stunt coordinator Ted Duncan and his team of drivers, who make the track action look real, along with some skillful editing by Randy Roberts and Bob Wyman. Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles (SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG) is among four credited writers.
GREASED LIGHTNING may not be entirely factual, but it is entirely entertaining, and was obviously a labor of love for Richard Pryor. The story of a man overcoming all obstacles to achieve his dream is something Richard Pryor could definitely relate to, and through all his real-life trials and tribulations and, like Wendell Scott, he did just that.
We’re way overdue for a Cleaning Out the DVR post – haven’t done one since back in April! – so let’s jump right in with 4 capsule reviews of 4 classic crime films:
SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (Warner Brothers 1930; D: John Adolfi) – Early talkie interesting as the screen debut of James Cagney , mixed up in “the booze racket”, who shoots bootlegger Warren Hymer, and who’s penny arcade owner maw Lucille LaVerne covers up by pinning the murder on daughter Evalyn Knapp’s ex-con boyfriend Grant Withers. Some pretty racy Pre-Code elements include Joan Blondell as Cagney’s “gutter floozie” main squeeze. Film’s 60 minute running time makes it speed by, aided by some fluid for the era camerawork. Fun Fact: Cagney and Blondell appeared in the original Broadway play “Penny Arcade”; when superstar entertainer Al Jolson bought the rights, he insisted Jimmy and Joan be cast in the film version, and the rest is screen history. Thanks, Al!
THE BLUE GARDENIA (Warner Brothers 1953; D: Fritz Lang ) – Minor but well done film noir with Anne Baxter, after receiving a ‘Dear Jane’ letter from her soldier boyfriend, falling into the clutches of lecherous artist Raymond Burr ,who plies her with ‘Polynesean Pearl Divers’, gets her drunk, and tries to take advantage of her. Anne grabs a fireplace poker, then blacks out, wakes up, discovers his dead body, and thinks she killed him. Did she? Veteran noir cinematographer Nicholas Musuracra’s shadowy camerawork helps elevate this a few notches above the average ‘B’, as does a high powered cast led by Richard Conte as a newspaperman out to solve the case (and sell papers!), Ann Southern and Jeff Donnell as Anne’s roommates, George Reeves as a dogged homicide captain, and Familiar Faces like Richard Erdman, Frank Ferguson, Celia Lovsky, Almira Sessions, Robert Shayne, and Ray Walker. Based on short story by Vera Caspary, who also wrote the source novel for LAURA. Not top-shelf Lang, but still entertaining. Fun Fact: Nat King Cole has a cameo singing the title tune in a Chinese restaurant, but the real ‘Fun Fact’ is the guy playing violin behind him… that’s Papa John Creach, who later played rock fiddle in the 70’s with Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Hot Tuna!
ILLEGAL (Warner Brothers 1955; D: Lewis Allen) – ‘Original Gangster’ Edward G. Robinson stars as a tough, erudite DA who sends the wrong man to the chair, crawls into a bottle of Scotch, and crawls out as a criminal defense attorney working for racketeer Albert Dekker. EG’s practically the whole show, though he’s surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, including Nina Foch as his protege, Hugh Marlowe as her husband, Jan Merlin as Dekker’s grinning torpedo, Ellen Corby as EG’s loyal secretary, and Jayne Mansfield in an small early role as Dekker’s moll. Keep your eyes peeled for some Familiar TV Faces: DeForest Kelly (STAR TREK) as EG’S doomed client, Henry “Bomber” Kulky (LIFE OF RILEY, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) as a witness, Ed Platt (GET SMART) as the DA successor, and sour-voiced Herb Vigran, who guested in just about every TV show ever, as a bailiff. Fun Fact: Co-screenwriter W.R. Burnett wrote the novel LITTLE CAESAR, which Warners turned into Eddie G’s first gangster flick back in 1930!
DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (20th Century-Fox 1974, D: John Hough) – The late Peter Fonda costars with sexy Susan George in this classic chase movie from the Golden Age of Muscle Cars. Fonda and fellow AIP bikesploitation vet Adam Rourke (a personal fave of mine!) are a down-on-their-luck NASCAR driver and mechanic, respectively, who pull off a robbery and are saddled with ditzy George, with Vic Morrow as the maverick police captain in hot pursuit. The stars are likable, the cars are cool (a ’66 Impala and a ’69 Charger), and there’s plenty of spectacular stunt driving in this fast’n’furious Exploitation gem, with an explosive ending! Fun Fact: Roddy McDowell has an uncredited role as the grocery store manager whose family is held hostage.
BONUS: Now kick back and enjoy the noir-flavored blues of Papa John Creach and his band doing “There Ain’t No More Country Girls” from sometime in the 70’s:
The kids are back in school, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting cooler. Yes, my friends, summer’s almost over, but before it ends, let’s take one more trip to the drive-in and enjoy a pair of Crown-International Exploitation classics. Crown was responsible for a slew of “teen sex” drive-in flicks in the 70’s and early 80’s. You know the type: the “teens” are all over 21, and the “sex” consists mainly of topless babes and some heavy necking!
Our first feature, 1978’s MALIBU BEACH, is the quintessential Crown-International “teen sex” romp. School’s out, and all the hardbodied California kids head to said beach for some frolicking in the sand and surf. Pretty Dina gets a summer job as a lifeguard, and meets handsome football hunk Bobby. A leather jacket wearing musclehead named Dugan tries to get between them, but we all know he’s got no shot! And that’s about it for plot in this harmless but likable little effort – nothing really happens, but it’s a fun way to kill an hour and a half, and good for a few chuckles along the way.
We get all your basic stereotypes (like nerdy rich kid Claude and hot’n’horny Gloriana), a pair of lunkheaded cops, lots of bouncing boobs, pot smoking, beer drinking, hell raising, and a dog that likes to steals bikini tops, all set to a generic rock score. We even get a silly little JAWS parody thrown in at the end for good measure! True, it doesn’t sound like much (and really, it isn’t), but MALIBU BEACH has a certain charm about it, and I liked it a lot. It’s shot well, the cast is appealing, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the shenanigans going on. What more do you want from a drive-in flick, anyway?
The cast is made up of mostly unknowns, with a few exceptions. Pretty Kim Lankford, best known as Ginger on the prime time soap KNOTS LANDING, plays pretty Dina. James Daughton (Bobby) challenged Fonzie to “jump the shark” in that infamous episode of HAPPY DAYS that coined the infamous phrase, but will forever be remembered as Greg Marmalade, arch enemy of the Deltas in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE! And Stephen Oliver, who plays the creep Dugan, played creep Lee Webber on the hit series PEYTON PLACE, and was typecast as a creepy biker in films like ANGELS FROM HELL, the cult classic WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS , and Russ Meyer’s MOTORPSYCHO.
Now let’s all head to the snack bar before our second feature:
Got all your snacks and soft drinks? Good, let’s look at our next film, 1979’s VAN NUYS BLVD…
…this one set in the 70’s milieu of aimlessly cruising up and down the main drag. Makes me nostalgic for cruising the Ave in my Chevy Nova back in the day; it’s just not the same in a Hyundai! But I digress. Like MALIBU BEACH, the plot of VAN NUYS BLVD is skimpier than the carhop’s uniforms. Country boy Bobby decides to jump in his customized van and head to where the action is, namely cruising up and down Van Nuys Blvd. He meets gorgeous van driver Moon, and they engage in a running battle of the sexes. They’re both competitive, trying to outdo each other, so you know by the end they’ll be madly in love, because that’s how these things work!
In between, we get some comic set pieces, including a pig loose on the beach, and the plight of skeezy Officer Zass, the scourge of the cruisers. We also get some disco dancing, with the Kansas City Glitter Girls doing a dance number called “Boogie Down the Boulevard”, a silly but entertaining bit of filler. There’s hot rods and muscle cars, an overaged cruiser with an impressive moustache named Chooch, lots of T-N-A, and smutty jokes that managed to make me laugh despite myself. It’s all goofy, trivial nonsense, but well done far as these exploitation flicks go.
Director William Sachs was also responsible for one of Crown-International’s best known films, 1980’s GALAXINA, starring the doomed Playmate Dorothy Stratton (whose story was filmed as Bob Fosse’s STAR 80). Another ex-Playmate, Cynthia Wood, plays Moon, while costar Bill Adler (Bobby) was a Crown International regular (THE POM POM GIRLS, THE VAN ) who’s also in Jack Hill’s SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. You probably won’t recognize anyone else in the cast unless you’re an Exploitation fan: Tara Strohmeier (carhop Wanda, who winds up with Chooch) appeared in such fare as THE STUDENT TEACHERS, CANDY STRIPE NURSES, COVER GIRL MODELS, THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE, and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (and plays horny Gloriana in MALIBU BEACH).
The Drive-In’s now closed for the season, as we’re getting ready to hunker down for the winter months. Hopefully, we will reopen next spring to take a look at more Exploitation delights. Don’t forget to remove the speakers from your windows before driving off, and ya’ll come back now, ya hear?