Halloween Havoc! Extra: The Mind-Warping World of EC Comics!

William M. Gaines’ graphic and gruesome line of horror, crime, and science fiction comics helped turn America’s youth into mouth-foaming, homicidal Juvenile Delinquents until they met with a horror of another kind – Dr. Fredric Wertham and the U.S. Congress! These beasts effectively destroyed EC through censorship and propaganda, ending one of graphic arts’ most creative eras. But EC still lives in the hearts and minds of horror fans everywhere, so here’s gallery of ten spine-chilling covers from the Golden Age of EC Comics! Spa Fon!

 

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Halloween Havoc!: BLOOD HARVEST (Titan International 1987)

Wisconsin-based auteur Bill Rebane has made some interesting movies: THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT, THE DEMONS OF LUDLOW. I’m not necessarily saying they were good films, just interesting! Rebane entered the slasher film sweepstakes with 1987’s BLOOD HARVEST, a lunatic entry starring falsetto singing wonder Tiny Tim (“Tip Toe Through the Tulips”) as a delightfully demented clown named Marvelous Mervo!

I’ll try to give you a brief description of the madness going on here: so there’s this girl Jill (Itonia Salchek) who returns home from college to find her parents gone and her house painted with the words ‘Scum!’, ‘Thief!’,  and ‘Bastard!”. Welcome home, Jill! It seems dad worked for the bank that’s been foreclosing on all the local family farms, including Jill’s ex-boyfriend Gary’s (Dean West) parents, who were murdered, leaving Gary in charge of his loony brother Mervyn (Tiny Tim), who spends his time dressed in clown make-up.

Are you with me so far? Good, because now the fun begins! People in Jill’s life begin to disappear, like her new fiancé Scott the football star, who takes a baseball bat to the forehead and is trussed up like a pig and hung upside down. Scott, by the way, marked the film debut of Peter Krause, who went on to TV success in SIX FEET UNDER and PARENTHOOD, which is much better than taking a bat to the forehead and being hung like a smoked ham!

It’ll be pretty obvious to those familiar with slasher schlock who the real killer is before the film’s half over (hint: it’s not the clown!). There are some really dull stretches, alleviated somewhat by Salchek spending a lot of time naked. The film doesn’t really pick up until the final twenty minutes or so, where the gore gets going good! Rebane doesn’t have the deranged flair of a Herschell Gordon Lewis  , but certainly shares the Godfather of Gore’s psychotic spirit. Unfortunately, much of BLOOD HARVEST is shot on grainy, badly lit stock, with out of focus shots and a disjointed quality to the script. And this was the special “Director’s Cut” I watched!

As for Tiny Tim… well, he’s not bad! The lunatic clown Marvelous Mervo seems tailor-made for his unique personality, and though he’s as obvious a red herring as can be, he’s certainly appropriately creepy! Tim even gets a chance to warble the title tune and a couple of bars of other songs (my favorite: “Good Night, Ladies”), and BLOOD HARVEST probably wouldn’t be remembered at all without his presence (in fact, I could’ve done with more of Tiny Tim’s trilling and less of the oh-so-80’s synth score). So I’m actually going to recommend this no-budget slasher entry for it’s DIY aesthetic, Salchek’s nubile nudity, and Mr. Tim’s performance as Mervo. It’s a Bottom of the Grindhouse Barrel of Fun!

Happy Friday the 13th!: THE STUPIDSTITIOUS CAT (Complete 1946 Cartoon)

October is usually reserved for all things Halloween, but today just happens to be Friday the 13th! Originally considered a day to avoid bad luck, the superstition has been superceded by Jason Vorhees and the FRIDAY THE 13TH series of slasher films. ‘Triskaidiskaphobia’ runs rampant in the 1946 cartoon THE STUPIDSTITIOUS CAT, a Paramount entry starring Buzzy the Crow, voiced by Jackson Beck as an Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson parody and directed by Seymour Kneitel. Toss some salt over your shoulder and enjoy THE STUPIDSTITIOUS CAT!:

  What do you think of that, Jason?

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE AMAZING TRANPARENT MAN (MCP 1960)

Director Edgar G. Ulmer made some astounding contributions to the horror/sci-fi genres: THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, THE MAN FROM PLANET X . Unfortunately, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN isn’t among them. The below-low budget movie (shot on location in Dallas simultaneously with BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER) tries to throw too many things at the wall, and nothing really sticks, thanks to a weak script and short 57 minutes running time.

Ulmer does show flourishes of his brilliance in the opening scene, where safecracker Joe Faust breaks out of prison, is chased by hounds through the woods, and is met by a woman who drives him to a deserted looking, isolated farmhouse. But by this time, he had been beaten down from years of Poverty Row work with little to no recognition, and you can tell Ulmer just took the money and ran with this one.

 

The woman is Laura Matson, one of a nest of spies led by ex-Army Major Kremmer. Faust is told “eminent nuclear scientist” Dr. Ulof is experimenting with “fissionable materials” in order to create an “invisible army” and take over the good ol’ USA! Kremmer needs Faust’s expertise to steal the volatile atomic X-13 element. Faust performs the dirty deed, then decides to go into business for himself, and with Laura as his accomplice robs a bank… then suddenly rematerializes in mid-heist!

The scenes where Faust becomes invisible are shot from his POV, and finds the other actors flailing about as if they’re being punched. It’s pretty silly looking, trust me. The transformation special effects by Roger George aren’t half bad as these sort of things go, but the grand finale, with Faust and Kremmer battling in the lab, ends with stock footage of an A-bomb explosion! So is the movie sci-fi, crime, or a thinly disguised anti-nuke screed? Like I said, nothing really sticks.

Character actor Douglas Kennedy (Faust) snarls and growls and basically chews the scenery. Marguerite Chapman (Laura) is best known for the 40’s serial SPY SMASHER. James Griffith (Kremmer) pops up frequently in movie and TV Westerns as a bad guy. Ivan Triesault (Ulof) appeared in CRY OF THE WEREWOLF and THE MUMMY’S GHOST. Pat Cranshaw, who most of you know as the sheriff in the AIR BUD movies and countless sitcom roles as an old codger, makes his debut as a security guard. Veteran Universal make-up genius Jack Pierce gets a credit, but he doesn’t create anything memorable. Like Ulmer, he probably just took the money and ran.

The dialog in Jack Lewis’s script features exchanges like this: Ulof: “Why do you ask these questions?” Faust: “Because I want answers!” Literary gold, this is not! It’s all a mishmash of ideas that never really gels. Ulmer went on to make two more films (1961’s JOURNEY BENEATH THE DESERT and 1964’s THE CAVERN) before his death in 1972. His filmography (especially his noir masterpiece DETOUR ) deserves to be reexamined, but unless you’re a completest, cross THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN off your list.

Halloween Havoc!: RETURN OF THE FLY (20th Century-Fox 1959)

Last year’s “Halloween Havoc” took a bug-eyed look at THE FLY , so this year we’ll buzz in on it’s sequel. RETURN OF THE FLY was done on a much lower budget and trades in the original’s Technicolor for black and white, but it’s got a lot going for it. A creepy atmosphere and a strong performance from Vincent Price help lift the movie above it’s admittedly ‘B’ status, and while not wholly successful, it is fun for “Bug-Eyed Monster” fans.

The film opens at the rain-soaked graveyard burial of Helene Delambre, widow of Andre and mother to young Philippe, who’s now all grown up. Uncle Francois (Price) finally relates the truth about Andre’s mad experiments with matter disintegration/reintegration to Philippe, and the brooding youngster now wants to resume his father’s work and vindicate his legacy. Together with his fellow scientist Alan Hines, Philippe begins to reassemble his father’s machinery, moving the lab to his late grandfather’s secluded country estate, where he’s in a relationship with the housekeeper’s daughter Cecile.

Francois cautions Philippe not to mess with things beyond the realm of man, but reluctantly agrees to finance his work. What neither man knows is that Alan is actually Ronald Holmes, a wanted British industrial spy who plans on stealing Philippe’s plans and selling them to the highest bidder to shady fence Max (operating out of a funeral parlor!). Alan/Ronald sneaks into the lab late one night and begins to take microfilm pics of the blueprints when he’s surprised by a British detective assigned to hunt him down. He conks the cop on the noggin, places him in the disintegration machine, and poof! he’s gone.

Philippe hears a commotion in the lab and goes downstairs, where Alan/Ronald gives him a lame explanation about attempting to bring back a rat they’d disintegrated earlier. Philippe leaves, and the spy brings back the cop’s body… who’s atoms have meshed with the rat’s, and their hands have switched! Alan/Ronald squishes the human handed rat underfoot and calls Max to help dispose of the body. Returning to the lab to finish his dirty deed, Alan/Ronald is confronted by Philippe, and a fight ensues. Alan/Ronald overpowers Philippe and puts him in the machine, tossing a fly in for spite (“I’ve always hated them”, Philippe says earlier in a bit of foreshadowing).

He turns some dials and flips some switches, the machinery whirs and hums to life, and… well, you know what happens next! Philippe is now Philippe/Fly, and after Alan/Ronald shoots Francois and steals his car, Philippe/Fly seeks revenge! Hunted by the police, Philippe/Fly dashes through the woods (his large headpiece almost falling off at one point!), and tracks down Alan/Ronald and Max, killing his former friend in a gruesome scene at the funeral parlor (you can hear Alan/Ronald’s neck go “crunch”), then nonchalauntly putting him in an empty coffin and flipping the lid shut.

This is writer/director Edward Bernds’ best feature film, which isn’t saying much. I’ve covered his work before (see QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS ), so I won’t rehash his career; suffice it to say the former Three Stooges/Bowery Boys director made an eerie little flick with the budget he was given to work with. Bernds even recreates the original’s famous “Help me!” scene to good effect. Brooding young Brett Halsey (later a star of Spaghetti Westerns under the nom de screen Montgomery Wood) does well in the role, Price is always good in these things, and John Sutton (BULLDOG DRUMMOND’s Inspector Tredennis) replaces Herbert Marshall’s Inspector Charros as Inspector Beacham. Dan Seymour, the poor man’s Sydney Greenstreet, adds some fine villainy as the crooked Max. All in all, RETURN OF THE FLY is a few notches below it’s predecessor, but enjoyable enough on a “Saturday afternoon at the Monster Movies” level for some Halloween fun.

Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (Universal 1932)

We can’t have a proper ‘Halloween Havoc!’ without inviting Bela Lugosi to the party, now can we? After all, his 1931 hit DRACULA practically invented the horror movie as far as ‘talking pictures’ go. Both Bela and director Robert Florey were slated to work on producer Carl Laemmle’s next horror opus FRANKENSTEIN, but Laemmle wasn’t satisfied with their version, handing it over to James Whale, who hired a bit player named Boris Karloff to portray the monster of science, and the rest is history. Lugosi and Florey were instead given MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale, to bring to screen life. This was the first of Bela’s “mad doctor” role, a part he would essay twelve more times in films of varying quality.

It’s Carnival Night in 1845 Paris, and med student Pierre Dupin takes his girlfriend Camille L’Espanaye to make merry watching exotic belly dancers, “wild” American Indians, and other ‘oddities’. Oddest of all is the grotesque Dr. Mirakle and his ape Erik, “the monster who walks upright… the beast with a human soul”. The sophisticated, imperious Mirakle espouses his theory that  man is descended from apes, leading to cries of “Heresy!” from the gathered masses. Erik seems to take a shine to Camille, grabbing then caressing her bonnet, and gripping Pierre by the throat in a jealous pique. Mirakle apologizes to the mademoiselle, yet sends his henchman Janos to follow her.

Later, Mirakle’s carriage comes across a knife fight by two ruffians over the affections of a prostitute. Both men die on the fog-shrouded, dimly lit waterfront, and the frightened hooker is scurried away by Mirakle, taking her to his hidden lair, where he puts her in bondage on a makeshift tilted cross, determined to make her “the bride of science”, mingling Erik’s blood with her own to see if she’s worthy. Under the microscope, Mirakle screams the prostitute has “rotten blood” (what did he expect?), and she dies on the cross, a martyr to mad science, released through a trap door into the River Seine.

Pierre, besides being a med student, is also an amateur sleuth, and has been investigating the murder of the girl and two other “ladies of the evening”. He discovers a mysterious “foreign substance” in their blood samples, and learns it is ape’s blood. He tracks down Mirakle at the carnival, who answers curtly to Dupin’s questions, telling Pierre he’s about to leave for Munich. Pierre discovers this to be a lie, and follows Mirakle and Janos to an abandoned warehouse down by the docks.

Soon Mirakle comes calling on Camille, only to be rebuffed at the door. Never one to take no for an answer, he sends Erik to kidnap the girl, killing her mother in the process and stuffing her up the chimney. Pierre happens to be in the vicinity, and hearing the screams, he rushes upstairs. The police prefect conducts an inquiry, receiving three different answers from three different witnesses (and an excuse for some ethnic comedy relief). Pierre is exonerated when Madame L’Espanaye is found up the chimney, her hand clutching ape hair, and they race to Mirakle’s secret lair. He’s about to inject Erik’s blood into Camille when the simian escapes his cage and throttles his master to death, scooping up Camille and escaping via the rooftops of Paris, where brave Pierre finally shoots the beast and saves his lady-love from certain doom.

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE has it’s good and bad points. The best is obviously watching Lugosi at the height of his acting prowess, his continental charm not quite masking his unibrowed, demonic countenance. Bela’s startling performance as Dr. Mirakle ranks among his finest film roles, and you’ll be mesmerized once again by his talent as an actor. Karl Freund’s cinematography is a marvel of nourish lighting, accentuating the eeriness of the expressionistic sets. A scene set with Camille on a swing pushed by Pierre, the camera positioned in her lap, is quite innovative, and that aforementioned scene involving the prostitute (who’s played by Arlene Francis, later of TV’s WHAT’S MY LINE? fame) is one of the darkest in early horror cinema, a scene that could only be made during the Pre-Code era, as is much of the material here.

Among the film’s bad points, holding it back from being a true horror classic, are the cloyingly sweet lovers Pierre and Camille. Their romancing is sickeningly sappy to behold, and Sidney Fox (Camille) has such a squeaky voice you wonder what Pierre sees in her. Leon Waycoff was just starting his film career, and quite frankly he isn’t all that good; the actor got better as time went on, after changing his name to Leon Ames . The rest of the cast is hit and miss; Noble Johnson and D’Arcy Corrigan among the hits, Bert Roach, Torbin Meyer, and Herman Bing the misses.

Charlie Gemora once again donned his “gorilla suit” to portray Erik, as he did in countless other films: SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, BLONDE VENUS, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, SWISS MISS, ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, WHITE WITCH DOCTOR. I’ve no complaints about Gemora; however, close-up stock footage of Erik features different species of apes at different times, negating the effect. MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE didn’t do well at the box office, as apparently audiences were turned off by all the talk of evolution and interspecies mating. Florey went on to an interesting career as a ‘B’ auteur, while Lugosi… well, we don’t have to rehash his descent into lower-case pictures again. We all know whatever script he was handed, Bela gave his all for his art. That’s why, 86 years after beguiling the world in DRACULA, Bela Lugosi still reigns supreme in Hollywood’s Horror Valhalla!

Halloween Havoc!: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (AIP/Hammer 1971)

Hammer’s ‘Mummy’ movies never really did it for me, but BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a shroud of a different colour. Adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel “The Jewel of the Seven Stars”, the movie suffered some behind the scenes setbacks, which contribute to its choppy nature. The backstage chaos began when original star Peter Cushing’s wife passed away after only a day’s filming. He was replaced by Andrew Keir (QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT). Then before shooting was complete, director Seth Holt (TASTE OF FEAR, THE NANNY) died of a heart attack, and Hammer veteran Michael Carreras had to step in to finish the film. Despite all this, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is one of the better latter-day Hammers, picking up steam as it goes along, with a great performance by sexy star Valerie Leon.

Leon plays Margaret Fuchs, who was born the same day her father Professor Julian Fuchs (Keir) opened the tomb of Egyptian Queen Tera. Margaret grows up to be not only a dead ringer for the evil queen, but is given a large ruby ring on her birthday for protection. But the ring pulls Margaret under the spell of Tera’s power, and soon she and her boyfriend (who goes by the name Tod Browning!! ) get involved with supernatural shenanigans courtesy of dad’s former expedition partner Corbeck (James Villiers, THESE ARE THE DAMNED), gathering up ancient lost relics taken by other expedition members.

The murders are fairly gory, and there are some good frights along the way to the climax, when Queen Tera rises from the dead and battles Margaret for dominance. This was Leon’s only starring role, and she makes a fine Scream Queen. I’m surprised Hammer didn’t use her for other horror entries; instead she continued appearing in the CARRY ON series and a pair of James Bond flicks (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). Also in the cast is George Coulouris, veteran of such classic films as CITIZEN KANE, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and WATCH ON THE RHINE.

I’m not saying BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a great horror flick; it’s far from perfect, and the behind the scenes tragedies hurt the continuity. But Leon and the cast somehow make it all work, and I’d choose it over the 1980 remake THE AWAKENING, with Charlton Heston and Susannah York trapped by a moldy script. At least this version has Valerie Leon to ogle, and she delivers a treat for your Halloween viewing.