Cleaning Out the DVR #21: Halloween Leftovers 3

Time to reach deep inside that trick-or-treat bag and take a look at what’s stuck deep in the corners. Just when you thought it was safe, here’s five more thrilling tales of terror:

YOU’LL FIND OUT (RKO 1940; D: David Butler) – Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, for those of you unfamiliar…

…were a Swing Era band of the 30’s & 40’s who combined music with cornball humor on their popular weekly radio program. RKO signed them to a movie contract and gave them this silly but entertaining “old dark house” comedy, teaming Kay and the band (featuring Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the immortal Ish Kabibble!) with horror greats Boris Karloff , Bela Lugosi , and Peter Lorre . It’s got all the prerequisites: secret passageways, a creepy séance, and of course that old stand-by, the dark and stormy night! The plot has Kyser’s band hired for Helen Parrish’s 21st birthday party at said spooky mansion, with band manager Dennis O’Keefe as her love interest. Bela gets the juiciest part as flamboyant phony medium Prince Saliano, Boris is a shady family friend, and Lorre his usual sinister self. Alma Kruger plays Helen’s aunt who’s into spiritualism, which sets things in motion, and bumbling Kay gets to solve the mystery. Nothing earth-shaking going on here, but fun for fans of the Terror Trio. Fun Fact: The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Song, “I’d Know You Anywhere”, written by Jimmy McHugh and Johnny Mercer, and sweetly sung onscreen by Ginny Simms, who had a brief film career of her own after leaving the band in 1941.

THE LEOPARD MAN (RKO 1943; D: Jacques Tourneur) – One of producer Val Lewton’s most unheralded films, chock full of his trademark use of sound and shadows. A black leopard gets loose from nightclub performer Jean Brooks’ act, and a series of gruesome murders follow in a small New Mexico town. This tense, gripping ‘B’ is loaded with eerie scenes; I especially liked the one in which a young girl gets locked in a cemetery and stalked by the killer cat (or is it a human – the movie will keep you guessing!). Dennis O’Keefe is Jean’s publicity agent whose stunt goes awry, Margo (later married to Eddie Albert) a castanet-clicking dancer/victim, and Isabel Jewell shines as a Gypsy card reader. Mark Robson’s marvelous editing job on this and Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE got him promoted to the director’s chair for THE SEVENTH VICTIM later that year. This chilling horror-noir doesn’t get the attention of other Lewton films, but deserves a much larger audience. Fun Fact: Based on the novel “Black Alibi” by prolific pulp author Cornell Woolrich, whose many books and short stories were made into film noir classics.

THE DISEMBODIED (Allied Artists 1957; D: Walter Grauman) – Ice Princess of Horror Allison Hayes IS Tonda, jungle voodoo queen in this low-budget shocker that wasn’t as bad as I expected, far as jungle voodoo epics go. Paul Burke costars as a filmmaker who brings his wounded friend to Allison’s doctor husband John Weingraf’s jungle compound, but let’s face it – the main reason to watch this is Allison Hayes, thoroughly evil and sexy as hell! And that memorably sensuous voodoo dance she performs…

Hot Damn! She’s the whole show in this minor chiller directed by Walter Grauman, who later helmed 1964’s LADY IN A CAGE and tons of TV (including 53 episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE). Fun Fact: Weingraf gets off the best line when he tells Allison, “There are only two places where you belong. The jungle – and the place where I first found you!”. Burn!!!  

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (Filmgroup 1959; D: Monte Hellman) – An uneven blend of the horror and crime genres courtesy of the Corman Brothers finds crook Frank Wolff and his gang (including his perpetually soused moll Sheila Caroll) plotting a gold bar heist using an explosion at a mine as a diversion. Wolff and his cohorts (perennial Corman actor Wally Campo and Frank Sinatra’s cousin Richard!) use good-looking ski lodge instructor Michael Forest to lead them on a cross-country ski trip to make their getaway, but the blast awakens a not-so hideous monster from its slumber that tracks them down! First film for director Hellman has its moments, but the rock-bottom budget defeats him. Filmed on location in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Fun Fact: The unscary monster was designed and played by actor Chris Robinson, the original “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” commercial ad guy!

HORROR HOTEL (Vulcan/Trans-Lux 1960; D: John Llewellyn Moxey) – Also known as CITY OF THE DEAD. New England 1692: accused witch Elizabeth Selwyn curses the town of Whitewood, MA as she’s burned at the stake. Present Day: college student Nan Barlow wants to do her term paper on witchcraft and devil worship, and is directed by her history professor Alan Driscoll to travel to his hometown of Whitewood for research. He even recommends she stay at The Raven’s Inn, run by Mrs. Newless (who bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth!).

Nan immediately notices strange things about Whitewood: the fog-shrouded town doesn’t look like it’s changed in 200+ years, the townsfolk aren’t very friendly, the old reverend warns her “Leave Whitewood”, and weird noises emanate from the cellar. The only person who welcomes her is the reverend’s granddaughter Patricia, newly arrived herself and running an antique bookstore. Curiosity gets the best of her and… DON’T GO IN THAT BASEMENT, NAN!!

When Nan doesn’t return home after two weeks, her brother Ronald and boyfriend Bill become worried. Patricia, too, is worried, and pays a call on both Ronald and Prof. Driscoll. The men decide separately to go to Whitewood and investigate, and that’s when the fun really begins! This is probably Moxey’s best feature film, though he does have some good TV Movies on his resume (THE NIGHT STALKER, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY). Christopher Lee is dark and ominous as Driscoll, but it’s Patricia Jessel (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM ) who stands out in a truly bloodcurdling performance as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless. The rest of the cast (Betta St. John, Valentine Dyall, Venitia Stevenson, Dennis Lotis) is equally good, and the British actors do a fine job maintaining their American accents. This incredibly creepy nightmare of a movie is an old favorite of mine, and highly recommended! Fun Fact: This was a Vulcan Production from Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who soon changed their company’s name to Amicus , premiere makers of horror anthologies in the 60’s & 70’s.

Stage Fright: THE HYPNOTIC EYE (Allied Artists 1960)

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) Directed by George Blair Shown: Lobby card

Evil hypnotists have been a movie staple since Svengali first mesmerized Trilby in 1911, but THE HYPNOTIC EYE is in a class of its own. This demented little tale is sufficiently creepy enough to overcome its meager budget limitations, and features the Ice Queen of Horror, Allison Hayes, in the pivotal role of Justine, assistant to master trancemaker Desmond.

hypno2

We start with an opening shot of a woman, thinking she’s washing her hair, sticking her head directly into the flame of a stove pilot. That’ll get your attention! A series of horrible self-mutilations have left a dozen beautiful women disfigured and the police scratching their heads. Detective Dave Kennedy discusses the bizarre cases with police psychologist Phil Hecht: “One of them stuck her face in the blade of an electric fan. Thought it was a vibrator. Another one sliced her face with a straight razor. Thought it was a lipstick brush”.

hypno3

Dave’s girlfriend Marcia thinks he needs a night out, so along with their friend Dodie they attend the hottest show in town, stage hypnotist The Great Desmond. Dave’s skeptical, but Dodie volunteers to be hypnotized, remembering nothing afterward. Later, she sneaks backstage to visit Desmond, and when she gets home has the brilliant idea to wash her face with sulfuric acid! Marcia has a theory that Desmond is behind all the ghastly mischief, but when Dave interviews the victims, none of them recall going to Desmond’s show… not even Dodie! That proves it! Now Marcia volunteers to be hypnotized by Desmond, and danger takes center stage…

hypno4

I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen THE HYPNOTIC EYE, but I will tell you about HypnoMagic!  This was part of the ballyhoo campaign for the film, featuring Desmond hypnotizing the audience (both onscreen and off) into doing his bidding by directly looking into the camera, and using a swirling psychedelic hypno disc to control our minds. This is the kind of thing William Castle   was famous for, and I’m proud to say it didn’t work on me. My will is much stronger than The Great Desmond!

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Dave and Phil follow Desmond and the hypnotized Marcia to a beatnik coffee-house, where we get to hear the latest groovy poem from a hipster played by Lawrence Lipton, titled “Confessions of a Movie Addict” :

Crazy, man, crazy! Equally crazy is Allison Hayes as Desmond’s assistant Justine, the catalyst for all the gruesome shenanigans going on, and the star of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is in fine bitchy form. Jacques Bergerac as Desmond is quite the charming sleazebag. The former star of LES GIRLS and GIGI (and ex-husband of Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone) was on his way down in the Hollywood pecking order, but still gives the role his all . The rest of the cast is nondescript, though I’ll give some credit to genre vet Merry Anders (THE TIME TRAVELERS, WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) as Dodie. Fred Demara, known as ‘The Great Imposter’ for his 50’s-60’s exploits, has a cameo as a doctor. His life was made into a movie starring Tony Curtis; let me assure you they look NOTHING alike.

hypno5

This cult classic won’t make any “best-of” lists, and isn’t as gory as what was to come in future sicko 60’s Grindhouse shockers, but it has its moments, and Emile LaVigne’s make-up jobs on the disfigured women is on a par with his work on Zsa Zsa Gabor in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE  . THE HYPNOTIC EYE is slow in parts,  but provided more than enough deranged fun to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Halloween Havoc!: ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (Allied Artists 1958)

“HAAARRRY!!!”

50ft1

It’s hard not to like ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN. Sure the premise is ridiculous, the script’s way over-the-top, the acting’s hammy, the direction’s practically non-existent, and the special effects flat-out stink. Yet the movie has an endearing, ragged charm in its unintentionally funny way that, like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  , sucks the viewer right into its bizzaro world. Plus, it’s got two of the 1950’s hottest sci-fi/horror babes, Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers!

50ft2

A giant space ball lands smack in the middle of Route 66 in the California desert. Heiress Nancy Archer swerves to avoid it, and next thing you know a giant hand grabs her! Meanwhile at Tony’s Bar & Grill, her louse of a husband Harry is living it up with local floozie Honey Parker. No one believes Nancy’s wild tale, as she’s known for being a boozer and has spent time in a sanitarium. Sheriff Dubbitt and his dopey deputy Charlie go with Nancy to the scene of the giant groping. They   find no evidence, pissing Nancy off even more than usual.

50ftx

Harry doesn’t believe her either, and tries to calm her nerves by slowly undressing her onscreen and giving her some sleeping pills. Then the shit grabs her Star of India diamond (“the most famous diamond in the world”) and hightails it back to Tony’s so he can suck face with Honey some more. Dr. Cushing (no relation to Peter) is called in the next day and states Nancy’s on the verge of her 19th nervous breakdown. His prognosis is for her to get plenty of rest, but restless Nancy trods downstairs to hit the bottle. When she watches the local TV newsman mocking her story, she reacts by whipping the bottle at the TV screen. Good thing she’s filthy rich!

giant_1958_01

Tired of everyone’s crap, Nancy drives with Harry back out to Route 66 to look for the space ball, and finds it once again! “It’s real!” I’m not crazy!”, she gloats, just as the giant paws at her again, grabbing her and the Star of India. Harry shoots at the damn thing with no success, so like any good hubby he skedaddles back home, packs a bag (after fighting Nancy’s loyal butler Jess), and makes a beeline to Honey’s hotel room. The lovers are stopped by Deputy Dopey and brought to HQ, where they discover Nancy’s been found… on the roof of her pool house!

Dr. Cushing and Dr. Lee, I mean Dr. Von Loeb, suspect Nancy may be contaminated with space radiation, and to keep her sedated load her up with morphine. Sleazy Honey thinks this is a good way to get rid of Nancy, and talks Harry into giving her an overdose. When the creep creeps back inside, he’s in for a shock, because Nancy’s grown to gigantic proportions! The Sheriff and Jess invade the giant space ball, discovering a room filled with jewels, which obviously are used to fuel the UFO. They’re attacked by the giant alien, in a medieval costume straight of out Hollywood’s Western Costuming  Company, and get their asses kicked and car totaled for their troubles.

50ft5

Nancy wakes up chained to the bed and begins screaming for “HAARRY!” She busts loose and tears the roof off her home, determined to find her miserable wretch of a husband. “I know where he is”, she bellows, “He’s with that woman! I’ll find him!” Like any irate wife, she heads to Tony’s Bar & Grill (must be the only joint in town), and tears the roof off it, grabbing for Harry. Honey’s killed under a pile of debris and Nancy clutches Harry (or rather a doll substituting for Harry) to her ample bosoms. The Sheriff blasts some electrical wires with an assault weapon, causing Nancy to go down in a heap. “She finally got Harry all to herself”, intones Dr. Cushing as our saga comes to an end.

Producer Bernard Woolner (and his brothers )  were famous (or is it infamous) for low-budget schlock like this. They ran a string of drive-ins across the South to play their fare in, and financed a few of Roger Corman’s early efforts. Director Nathan Hertz was better known by his nom de cinema Nathan Juran, winning an Oscar for art direction on John Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (bet you didn’t think Ford’s name would pop up in this post, did you!). His directing credits are uneven to say the least, with some good genre flicks (20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and some clunkers (THE DEADLY MANTIS, BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS) among them.

yvette

Allison Hayes was a gorgeous woman who projected an icy presence onscreen, but adds some pepper here as Big Nancy. Horror fans fondly remember her for ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, THE UNEARTHLY,  THE UNDEAD, THE DISEMBODIED, and THE HYPONOTIC EYE. Yvette Vickers plays  the slutty Honey, as she played the slutty Liz Baby in ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES. Blonde Miss Vickers also lit up the screen in the classic teensploitation REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, and was a Playmate of the Month in a pictorial by none other than Russ Meyer. Later in life she became a favorite on the horror convention circuit. In 2011, her body was found in her Hollywood home, and it’s said she’d been dead a year before anyone knew it. Yvette Vickers, fantasy of many an adolescent horror fan, died old and alone at age 81.

50ftxx

Despite all its flaws, and there are many, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is thoroughly enjoyable. It was remade in 1993 as an HBO movie directed by Christopher Guest, played mainly for laughs. The laughs in the original are completely unintentional, but I really believe it was made with a wink and a nod by all concerned parties. They just had to know the whole thing was goofy, yet played it totally straight. It’s a perfect movie to watch with a bowl of popcorn and some snarky, like-minded friends this Halloween season.

Halloween Havoc!: John Carradine in THE UNEARTHLY (Republic 1957)

unearthly1

John Carradine hams it up as mad scientist Dr. Charles Conway in THE UNEARTHLY. The actor gave fine performances in first rate productions like THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND and THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but by the 1940s,he took anything offered him, mostly B- horror and Western films. One thing you can say about Carradine: he was never boring. The movies might have sucked, but ol’ John put his melodramatic stamp on every one of them.

unearthly2

Lovely Grace Thomas is brought to Dr. Conway’s sanitarium by her psychiatrist, Dr. Wright. But there’s something fishy going on here! Wright has been bringing patients to Conway so he can conduct his bizarre “glandular experiments”. Conway’s latest victim, Harry Jedloe, has become a zombie-like horror in a catatonic state. The good doctor’s giant servant, Lobo, is another unfortunate result of Conway’s experiments. Lobo is played by Swedish wrestler turned horror icon Tor Johnson. Tor was a 300 lb. bald hulk who couldn’t act, but whose look was perfect for low-grade schlock like this. The character Lobo first appeared in Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER starring Bela Lugosi. Tor also played Inspector Clay in Wood’s messterpiece, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

unearthly3

Lobo finds a man sneaking around the grounds, and drags him to Dr. Conway. The man calls himself Mark Houston, but Conway has seen a police bulletin on him. He’s really Frank Scott, wanted for murder. Conway offers Houston sanctuary in exchange for becoming a guinea pig in the doctor’s experiments, which involves planting a “17th gland” in the subject, giving him eternal life and youth. Next day we meet the other patients. There’s beautiful Natalie and anxiety-ridden Danny. There’s also Conway’s lab assistant Sharon, who’s jealous of Grace and secretly in love with the doctor. After dinner, Conway regales the patients with his virtuoso organ playing while Lobo abducts Natalie from her room. The deranged medico does his glandular thing, which once again fails, with horrifying results for poor Natalie.

unearthly4

Houston warns Grace and Danny they’re in danger, and the trio plots an escape. But Conway catches them and throws the men in a cell with Lobo, while Grace is reserved for the gland transplant. The guys outwit dim-witted Lobo, with Danny giving his life. Houston confronts Conway and reveals he’s not a killer, but an undercover cop! Conway eludes him, only to be caught by the thought-dead Jedloe, who sticks a knife in the madman’s gut. The police arrive, and find a cell filled with more of Conway’s mutated monsters.

unearthly5

Sounds thrilling, no? It’s really not, except for over-the-top Carradine and fans of Tor Johnson. THE UNEARTHLY was the brainchild of one Brooke L. Peters, aka Boris Petroff. Petroff was an exploitation veteran responsible for silliness like ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961) and SHOTGUN WEDDING (1963), a Hillbilly effort with screenplay by none other than Ed Wood himself. Cowriter of this one Geoffrey Dennis was a pseudonym for John D.F. Black, penner of Blaxploitation flicks SHAFT and TROUBLE MAN. The cast features Allison Hayes (Grace), the one-and-only star of ATTACK OF THE 50-FT WOMAN. Myron Healey (Houston) was a good actor who mostly played Western heavies. Marilyn Buferd’s (Sharon) claim to fame was as Miss America 1946. Arthur Batanides (Danny) was a well-regarded character actor known for his role as Mr. Kirkland in the POLICE ACADEMY series. And Sally Todd (Natalie), besides appearing in FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1959), was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for February 1957!

THE UNEARTHLY is harmless 50s fun, with Carradine at his overacting best. And now, I’ll let Tor Johnson have the last word:

%d bloggers like this: