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!: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (Allied Artists 1958)

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QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE has quite an interesting pedigree. Screenwriter Charles Beaumont (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) adapted a story by Ben Hecht, of all people, then director Edward Bernds got his frequent Three Stooges/Bowery Boys collaborator Ellwood Ullman to punch things up a little. The resulting mishmash is a huge contender in the “so-bad-it’s-good” sweepstakes, a sci-fi schlockfest featuring goofy special effects, sexism, and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

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The movie’s right up there with PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  in its cheesiness, except in glorious Technicolor. Set in a futuristic 1985, space Captain Neil Patterson (Eric Fleming, RAWHIDE’s trail boss) and his intrepid crew (Dave Willock, Patrick Waltz) are assigned to shuttle Professor Konrad (sci-fi stalwart Paul Birch) to Space Station A, where there’re “indications of some trouble up there”. Off they go into the wild blue yonder, where they witness the station being blown to smithereens by a mysterious ray (via cartoon animation), then are pulled by a mysterious force to crash-land on Venus! How do they know it’s Venus? Because Konrad takes a look at some leaves and pronounces it so, that’s how!

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The crew (wearing leftover space suits from FORBIDDEN PLANET ), are captured by a gaggle of beautiful Amazonian Venusians, who all speak perfect English. They’re taken to the palace of masked Queen Ylana (Laurie Mitchell), who has wiped out all men on Venus save for a handful of scientists living in exile on a satellite to do her bidding. Ylana believes them to be spies and imprisons them while she makes plans for a counterstrike. She sends for Patterson to be taken to her boudoir, where they share space cocktails for two. Ylana tries to seduce him, and almost succeeds, until Patterson rips off her mask to reveal her horribly disfigured face due to atomic radiation. “Men did this to me”, she says, “men and their wars”,  which explains why she hates men so much- the woman’s downright ugly (in a pretty decent makeup job by Emile LaVigne).

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Having rejected Ylana (and who can blame him!), Patterson’s sent back to his men, who’re taken by some rebel girls to the lab of scientist Talleah (Zsa Zsa, who’s NEVER spoken perfect English!). Talleah tells the Earthlings that Ylana plans to destroy Earth in two days by means of a beta disintegrator ray. They all escape and search for the weapon of mass destruction and the girls, horny after being deprived of men for so long, engage in a  make-out session with the guys inside a cave (except poor Konrad, who goes to gather firewood). After an attack by a silly looking space spider that resembles a child’s plush doll, Konrad warns them an Amazon patrol is outside. Talleah and her girls pretend they’ve captured the men in order to gain access to Ylana’s death ray.

Queen Ylana is captured by the gang, and Talleah disguises herself as Ylana to give the order to stop the destruction of Earth. Ylana breaks free and recaptures everybody, then forces them all to watch as Earth is about to be zapped to kingdom come. But Talleah’s rebels have sabotaged the death ray, causing Ylana herself to be disintegrated. The rebels take power, and are sad to see the Earthmen go. But a communication from Earth tells Patterson and his crew not to fly home in their battered spaceship, they’ll send a rescue mission that’ll take about a year or so. The men rejoice as they realize they’re about to spend a year on a planet filled with sex-starved, beautiful Amazon women!

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Yes, it’s sexist and nonsense and pretty bad, but not PHYNX-like   bad, more like a third season episode of STAR TREK  bad. It’s certainly fun, especially to watch the camera linger lovingly on all that female pulchritude. Oh yes, DP William Whitley knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and the result is a voyeur’s dream. Among the Amazons, you’ll spot 50’s babes like Lisa Davis, Barbara Darrow, Marilyn Buferd  , and Mary Ford (Mrs. Les Paul), all minor actresses who dressed up many a low-budget flick. There’s even an uncredited bit from sexy Joi Lansing  as the girl making out with Waltz’s character before they fly into space.

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Marlin Skiles’ score isn’t bad, featuring some weird instrumentation, using that 50’s sci-fi standard the theremin as well as xylophones and even a harpsichord! The sets and art direction do the best they can with a limited budget, but the special effects are just plain ludicrous. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE won’t tax your brain, and isn’t (to be honest) very good, but if you’re in the right mood, it’s goofy enough to entertain you this Halloween season. Especially if you’re a guy, and feel like spending 80 minutes ogling hot 50’s sci-fi Amazonian babes! Just ask Commander Trump:

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“Will ya quit gropin’ me, ya big ape!”

 

Youth Run Wild!: HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (AIP 1958)

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One of the most popular 50’s exploitation subgenres was the “Teenage Girl Gang” movie,  with titles like THE VIOLENT YEARS (script by Ed Wood ) and Roger Corman’s TEENAGE DOLL. The plots are pretty much interchangeable: rebellious high school chick, misunderstood by her parents, falls in with the wrong crowd. Soon she’s smoking butts, drinking booze, stealing, staying out late. There’s usually a wild party where something bad happens, and our heroine is placed in peril. If you’re into exploitation flicks, you’ll immediately recognize the storyline, and it’s reused again here to good advantage in HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS.

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Our heroine here is Joyce, the new kid at High School USA. Joyce’s parents just don’t understand her: mom’s always out playing bridge, and dad is just a prick. Joyce longs to be accepted, and is invited to join the Hellcats by anti-social Connie, a rebellious vixen whose attitude seems to be fuck the adult world, except for understanding teacher Miss Davis. Joyce goes through some initiation tests, including shoplifting, and becomes a Hellcat. In fact, Connie has plans for Joyce, to make her Hellcat #2, which causes current #2 Dolly to get jealous. To say Dolly’s a bit of a psycho is an understatement.

Meanwhile, Joyce has met Mike, who works at the local coffee shop. Mike’s an  earnest young boy working his way through night school. They hit it off, but Connie warns Joyce to stay away from him, as he’s definitely not Hellcat material. Too square. Joyce is conflicted between her feelings for Mike and her loyalty to the Hellcats, continuing to see him on the sly without the knowledge of both the Hellcats and her parents, who think she’s too young to date. Connie dares Joyce to ask high school punk Rip to a party on Saturday night, and against her better judgement she does.

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The kids break into a house where the owners are on vacation, and there’s lots of drinking, dancing, and heavy necking going on. Virginal Joyce shies away from all the action, but the boys start a game where the lights are turned out. Afterwards, someone discovers Connie face down at the bottom of a staircase, dead. All the kids freak out and split the scene. Rip and his friend drive Joyce home, but are concerned she’s gonna go to the cops. When they see Mike pull up, they follow, and a fight ensues. Mike gets the best of them, but he’s pretty banged up, and Joyce goes to his apartment to tend to his wounds.

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She falls asleep on his couch and comes home late for curfew, causing more parental meltdowns at home. Monday morning comes, and Lt. Manners is at school asking questions about the missing Connie. The Hellcats all clam up, but new Hellcat leader Dolly loses it, arousing Manners’ suspicions. Dolly calls for an emergency meeting that night at Hellcat HQ, an abandoned movie theater. But  Joyce doesn’t know she’s the only one invited, as Dolly tells her she’s the one who pushed Connie down the stairs, pulling a switchblade on Joyce. The other Hellcats find out about the secret meeting and alert Miss Davis, who alerts the police. Crazy Dolly lunges at our heroine, who ducks, causing Dolly to fall from the balcony. The cops arrive, confessions are made, and Miss Davis explains the whole thing to Joyce’s neglectful parents. Mike brings Joyce home and the family is reunited.

There’s nothing new here, just a well done take on the standard JD theme. The cast is mostly unknown, but all have interesting resumes. Yvonne Lime (Joyce)  was in a few teen flicks (DRAGSTRIP BABY, UNTAMED YOUTH , I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF) before marrying TV producer Don Fedderson (MY THREE SONS). Bret Halsey (Mike) costarred with Jack Nicholson in Corman’s CRY BABY KILLER before moving to Italy and starring in Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospy movies, sometimes under the name Montgomery Ford. Once married to actress Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL), he also has the distinction of acting in four Lucio Fulci films, including  A CAT IN THE BRAIN. Jana Lund (Connie) gave Elvis his first screen kiss in LOVING YOU, and also appeared in FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and HOT CAR GIRL. Three cheers go out to Suzanne Sydney for her role as Crazy Dolly (who tells Joyce, “Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that!” as she approaches Joyce with the switchblade). Ms. Sydney was in a couple of biker flicks, MOTORCYCLE GANG and ANGELS FROM HELL. Rhoda Williams (Miss Davis) supplied the voice of wicked stepsister Drizella in Disney’s CINDERELLA. Robert Anderson (Lt. Manners) was young George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Don Shelton (Joyce’s Dad) had roles in sci-fi films THEM! and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, while Viola Harris (Mom) is still active, recently appearing in SEX AND THE CITY 2 and THE OTHER GUYS. Martin Braddock (Rip) was in GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW and tons of episodic TV. The biggest name in the credits is probably Executive Producer Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, who starred in the first Oscar-winning movie WINGS, and was married to America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford.

Three Stooges fans will certainly recognize the name of director Edward Bernds. Originally a sound tech at Columbia, Bernds got his directorial break on Stooges shorts with both Curly (MICRO-PHONIES) and Shemp (BRIDELESS GROOM ) as third Stooge. He even directed them in a feature, GOLD RAIDERS, with Western star George O’Brien. After a shakeup in Columbia’s shorts department he moved to Allied Artists and made Bowery Boys features. Freelancing when that series ended, Bernds made some interesting low-budget flicks (REFORM SCHOOL GIRL, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, RETURN OF THE FLY). Returning to the Stooges in the 60’s, with Curly Joe DeRita now third Stooge, he did THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES and THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, then filmed the live-action scenes of their TV cartoon series before enjoying a life of retirement until his death in 2000.

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HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS isn’t a groundbreaking movie by any stretch. The familiar plot holds no surprises, but for fans of 50’s Juvenile Delinquent films, it’s an entertaining way to spend 69 minutes. I dug it, and I think you will too, if you give it a shot.

 

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