Monday, October 28, 2013

Short Film: Swing You Sinners! (USA, 1930)

The great master Max Fleischer, the producer behind Betty Boop and so much more, was always good for animated weirdness, as we already revealed last January when we presented one of his weirder early cartoons, Bimbo's Initiation (1931), as the Short Film of the Month. Since then, on one of those rare days when we weren't just surfing the web for porn, we stumbled upon an online article over at entitled 5 Old Children's Cartoons Way Darker Than Most Horror Movies which, aside from also including Bimbo's Initiation as one of the five, also introduced us to this cartoon, the 9th of Fleischer's Talkartoons, Swing You Sinners!, which the website rates as the darkest of them all. As Cracked says, "Officially, LSD was first produced in 1938. We say 'officially' because this cartoon says it's from 1930, and there's no way it was created without massive doses of acid being pumped into everyone involved." Without a doubt, Swing You Sinners! is as weird as it is disturbing, and a perfect short for us to share with you.
Not that the short would indicate just how weird it is as a whole when it starts, as the first few moments are as generic as it gets, featuring a situation — attempted theft and subsequent chase — that echoes many a later cartoon, be it Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn or any number of lesser- or better-known characters. But just wait until our wanna-be chicken-thief on the run enters the graveyard...
Sing You Sinners from Honey (1930):
Like so many cartoons, a then-current aspect of pop culture plays an integral part of Swing You Sinners! Namely, the hit foxtrot entitled Sing You Sinners (music, W. Franke Harling; lyrics Sam Coslow) from the 1930 movie musical Honey starring Lillian Roth (of Alice, Sweet Alive [1976]). The original song was used again as the title track to the 1938 Bing Crosby movie Sing You Sinners (first 14 minutes) — like Honey, also directed by Wesley Ruggles (11 June 1889 – 8 January 1972) — and, before and since, has been covered dozens of times. The original lyrics, if course, were somewhat changed for the Fleischer cartoon.

Smith Ballew sings Sing You Sinners (1930):
Though the main character in Swing Your Sinners! remains unnamed, he is generally viewed as an another early version of Bimbo, who, if you discount the even earlier (and forgotten) Fleischer dog character Fitz the Dog as a forerunner, had debuted earlier that year in the Talkartoon Hot Dog (1930 / full cartoon) as a skirt-chasing cat-caller — or possibly a john is search of a hooker — but only got his name seven shorts later in Sky Scraping (1930 / full cartoon) and, the following year, his best-known and characteristic appearance in The Herring Murder Case (1931 / full cartoon). Here, although obviously (?) a dog, his nose is oddly reminiscent of how a much more famous mouse looked around that time.

Sing You Sinners by the Harlem Hot Chocolates (1930):
The animation of Swing You Sinners!, credited to Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears, is uneven, varying from primitive to pretty decent,  but the schizophrenia of the drawing only adds to the overall strangeness of the events. But to describe this short as strange is a bit of a disservice, for not only does more than one scene move it into the realm of seriously disturbing and a good two thirds of the short is simply macabre, but the character basically seems to die at the extremely abrupt ending. To put it simply, Swing You Sinners! is a masterpiece of irreal insanity. Enjoy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1962, Italy/Austria)


This Austrian-Italian horror film was originally released under the names Lycanthropus (Italy) and Bei Vollmond Mord (Austria/Germany), but when it was brought to the US in 1963 to join a double-bill with Corridors of Blood (1958 / trailer), it was not only given a wonderful pop title track, Ghoul in School, sung by the unknown (possibly studio-created) group named "The Fortunes", so as to increase its appeal to the younger crowd, but was also bestowed with its best-known and catchiest title, Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory. Tune and title aside, the teens of the day were most likely disappointed by the movie, which is less a teen horror film than an oddly schizophrenic amalgamation of German krimi (ala the German Edgar Wallace films that had just gained popularity in Europe) and Italian Gothic.
Fan-made video: The Fortunes – The Ghoul in School
In other ways, Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory is rather a B&W predecessor of the classic Italian giallo, complete with — in addition to the titular werewolf — an unknown killer in black gloves who, like the werewolf, is unmasked by the end of the movie. That this tinge of giallo is noticeable in the movie is perhaps not all that surprising when one takes into account that the original screenplay was scripted by no one less than the extremely prolific and long-active Italo-filmscribe Ernesto Gastaldi, whom many see as one of the granddaddies the giallo genre and, to an extent, the Spaghetti Western. (To list but some of giallo, horror and westerns films that he worked on as writer:  The Scorpion with Two Tails [1982 / trailer], Torso [1973 / trailer], All the Colors of the Dark [1972 / trailer], Short Night of Glass Dolls [1971 / trailer], The Murder Clinic [1966 / trailer], The Whip and the Body [1963 / Italian trailer], Horror Castle [1963 / trailer], The Vampire and the Ballerina [1960 / trailer], Vengeance is Mine [1968 / Italian trailer], One More to Hell [1968 / German trailer], Sartana the Gravedigger [1969 / German trailer], The Horrible Dr. Hichcock [1962 / Italian trailer], The Case of the Bloody Iris [1972 / trailer], Blade of the Ripper [1971 / Italian trailer] and So Sweet... So Perverse [1969 / main theme]).
The director of the Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory, Paolo Heusch (26 Feb 1924 — 21 Oct 1982) is likewise Italian, but the movie's cast is international, with actors and actresses coming from Poland, France, Austria and Germany. (Interesting to note that Heusch, perhaps herewith the director of the first Italian werewolf film, is also the director of The Day the Sky Exploded [1958 / trailer], which many consider to be the first Italian science-fiction film.) Who knows what language Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory was actually filmed in — as sometimes some mouths actually move in synch with the dubbing, it is conceivable that everyone simply spoke their own language — but the English-language dub does serious damage to the movie. One is often hard-pressed to believe that a native speaker wrote it, particularly when they start talking about this or that "assassinated" person.
But while the dub, much like some the narrative events, does garner a giggle or two now and then, it, like the whole movie itself, is not terrible enough to make Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory a truly hilariously and enjoyably bad film event on the level of, dunno, The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1959) or Jail Bait (1954) or Mädchen from the Mambo Bar (1959) or Bloodlust! (1961) or Isle of Sin (1960) or Horrors of Spider Island (1960). Amidst all that is bad, too much is sometimes good — the B&W cinematography, the camera work and compositions, the gothic touch, the intriguing mystery angle — to make Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory craptastic. The film is an oddity to say the least, for it has enough personality to not truly be simply mediocre, but at the same time is neither good enough nor bad enough to truly be any "good" as a good film or a bad one.
In itself, Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory is a bit of a misleading title, as although there is a (relatively hairless) werewolf at work in the movie, it not only never enters the dorm, but all the action occurs in and around a girl's reformatory. (Had the film ever been re-released during the women-in-prison phase, it surely would have been called "Werewolf in a Girl's Reformatory".) And it is to this reformatory that the new biology teacher Dr. Julian Olcott (Carl Schell, the least successful of the Schell family of actors, also found in Escape from East Berlin [1962 / trailer]), a disgraced doctor with a secret past. And no sooner does he arrive than does the pretty troublemaker Mary Smith (an unknown Mary McNeeran) get killed on her way home from a midnight visit to the nubile-loving benefactor of the school, Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac, a French-born character actor that can even be found in films as big as How to Marry a Millionaire [1953 / trailer]), whom she has been blackmailing. Two other reformatory gals, Priscilla (the highly attractive Barbara Lass, of Der Pfarrer von St. Pauli [1970 / German trailer], at the time still Roman Polanski's first wife) and Sandy (Grace Neame), saw her slip out into the night, and when Priscilla learns that the dead Mary was blackmailing someone, she decides to find out whom and, she assumes, thus find out who the murderer is.
There are is no lack of suspects, either: aside from Dr. Olcott and Sir Alfred, there is the crippled caretaker Walter (Luciano Pigozzi, "the Italain Peter Lore" doing Peter Lore, also found in the background of Alien from the Deep [1989] and Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye [1973]); the seemingly benign director of the school, Dr Swift (war hero and familiar character actor Curt Lowens of, among others, Necronomicon: Book of Dead [1993 / Japanese trailer], Mandroid [1993 / trailer] and The Entity [1982 / trailer]), the teacher Leonore MacDonald (Maureen O'Connor), the aged and icy wife of Sir Alfred, Sheena Whiteman (Annie Steinert), and more... Mrs. Whiteman, in any event, is quickly taken off the list of suspects by falling victim not to the werewolf that killed Mary, but to a mysterious killer wearing black gloves.
Despite its title and the presence of a werewolf of sorts, Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory is less a horror film than a somewhat talky mystery film, and as such is a disappointment for those expecting the traditional innocent-cursed-to-kill every full moon. Indeed, the lycanthropy in this movie is not even due to some unnatural curse, but rather to purely biological grounds: a rare malfunction of the pituitary gland that goes haywire when triggered by the full moon is the cause — and damned if Dr. Olcott's past fall from public grace isn't directly tied with his former research into the sickness; research that more than one person at the reformatory desperately wants to get their mitts (furry or leather) on. Mary, in turn, just wants to find out who the killer is, and she continually puts herself in danger to do so.
It is the mystery that she so wants to solve that is the true focus of this too-oft slow-moving movie, and Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory milks the mystery as much as it can, with Mary's suspicions — like those of the viewer — continually shifting directions until both the werewolf and the killer are (disappointingly) revealed to the viewer mid-way into the movie not by any sleuthing on part of Mary, but simply as an element of the plot development.
Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory is one of those movies that we here at A Wasted Life really don't know what to do with. We would like to say that we like it, and we would like to be able to recommend it, but we can't. At best, we can say we enjoyed and found it interesting. But in all truth it does drag, some of the key actors are rather bland, and the script not only offers one too many idiotic turns (such as the scene with the caretaker at the local bar or his later midnight murder of a girl and subsequent death) but is also extremely dialogue heavy — a flaw intensified by the bad dubbing. On the other hand, the Euro-babes are attractive schoolgirl fantasies and the gothic trappings are nice, as are aspects of the direction and both the giallo and mystery elements. However, none of it is in any way helped by the inferior quality of the digital versions of the film available online or as a DVD.
Still, we also have to admit that we went into this movie expecting a cheap and laughable horror flick; had we expected an early but serious and dry giallo with a decidedly unique twist, perhaps we would have enjoyed the movie even more. And if you, the viewer, go into this movie expecting the latter, perhaps you might enjoy it a bit more, too.

As an extra attraction and just for the hell of it, we would like to present the trailer to I tabù (1964), the second-to-last film produced by Guido Giambartolomei, the producer of Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory. An early Mondo Cane (1964 / Italian trailer) imitation, the English-language release, entitled Taboos of the World,  is narrated by no one less than Vincent Price...
Trailer to Taboos of the World:

Monday, October 14, 2013

R.I.P.: Ray Harryhausen, Part IV – Addendum

Ray Harryhausen
29 June 1920 — 7 May 2013

With Clash of the Titans (1981), Ray Harryhausen made his last feature-length film. Thereafter, he was pretty much in retirement, possibly in part forced because he couldn't get the financing for any of the subsequent feature projects he initiated (Sinbad and the Seven Wonders of the World, Sinbad Goes to Mars, People of the Mist, Force of the Trojans and The Story of Odysseus all never went past the planning stage.) But even if the day and age of the Harryhausen Film had come to an end, he stayed active: a short film here, a commercial there, an occasional appearance as a Talking Head, and now and then even a guest appearance of varying size in the films of others, particularly those of younger filmmakers that had grown up with his earlier movies.
Here, in Addendum, we take a look at some such projects — as well as a few in which there was no Harryhausen connection at all, other than a subtle complement or obvious homage to Harryhausen the Filmmaker that influenced so many a generation of directors and scriptwriters. The selection is far from complete, and purely arbitrary....

DairlyLea Dip Commercial
OK, it's an advertisement — but Harryhausen made it. A fun spoof of One Million Years BC... Wonder who the babe is; without or without Dairylea Dip, we here at A Wasted Life wouldn't mind eating her, too.

The Story of 'The Tortoise & the Hare'
Way back in the 1950s, this short was originally intended to be one of Harryhausen's Storybook Review films, but when the financially lucrative feature-film projects began to happen The Tortoise & the Hare was put on the back burner — for a full fifty years. But the day did come when, thanks to the assistance of the animators Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, the team behind The Old Man and the Goblins (1998 / full short) and Graveyard Jamboree with Mysterious Mose (1999 / full short), Harryhausen's stop-motion version of tis Aesop's fable was completed. The version found above on YouTube loses its sound at the end, but as it is we all know the story... The narration, while it lasts, is supplied by the professional voice-over artist Gary Owens, whose rare bodily acting jobs includes a turn as the sheriff in the hilarious First Blood (1982) / Most Dangerous Game (1932) rip-off, Kill Crazy (1990 / trailer).

Flesh Gordon
(1974, dirs. Michael Benveniste [15 April 1946 — May 1982; suicide] & Howard Ziehm)

"Ooh, the pain! The humiliation! The hemorrhoids!"
Monster (Craig T. Nelson), after being shot in the butt by Flesh Gordon.

Uncut trailer:
The legendary campy spoof of the Flash Gordon serials was, of course, made without the participation of Ray Harryhausen, but his influence can be seen in the monsters and some of the staging of certain scenes. The special effects for Flesh Gordon were done by a group of up-and-coming special effects artists including Rick Baker, Jim Danforth, Dave Allen, and Dennis Muren, and they were so aware of their debt that the monster, addressed as the "Great God Porno" in the movie, was supposedly nicknamed "Nesuahyrrah" off-screen, nothing less than Harryhausen spelt backwards. On film, by the way, Nesuahyrrah / The Great God Porno is voiced by an uncredited Craig T. Nelson, whom most of us might know from films such as The Return of Count Yorga (1971 / trailer), Scream Blacula Scream (1973 / trailer), Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986 / trailer) and Poltergeist (1982 / trailer).
The duo behind the film, Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm, along with producer Bill Osco, hold a special place in film history: their first joint film project, from 1970, Mona the Virgin Nymph aka Mona (full NSFW film), is the first feature-length hardcore pornographic film with a "plot" to ever receive broad theatrical release in the USA, a good two years before the far more famous heterosexual classic Deep Throat (1972 / title track) and a year before the gay porn classic Boys in the Sand (1971) spurted and splattered across the silver screen. Mono was screened without credits back then, as porn was still illegal to make, but the profits the filmmakers gleaned from their historically notable film (and, of course, their first follow-up porn, Harlot [1971]) went into the financing of Flesh Gordon.
Flesh Gordon, as is already obvious simply by the sheer endless amount of names on the cast that have a porn past and/or future, was originally shot in XXX and, as is not unheard of in porn films of the time, was to include both straight and gay scenes — but this time around Benveniste & Ziehm ran afoul of the authorities (as making porn was still illegal in LA at the time) and had to "surrender" all the hardcore footage to the Vice Department, who surely enjoyed it but also lost it. (Therefore, don't expect anything too hardcore in the supposed "uncut" version now easily available on DVD.)
Producer Bill Osco, by the way, has had his fingers in many an interesting if cheap pie, including the cult films of his former wife Jackie Kong, the director of Blood Diner (1987 / trailer) and The Being (1983 / trailer). As "Januse Alucard Stellof", he even directed the rare and incompetent Gross Out (1990) and Urban Legends (1998), while under his real name he acted in (among other films) Cop Killers (1973 / trailer) and, under any number of other names, helped produce films as diverse as the XXX documentary Hollywood Blue (1970), Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy (1976 / trailer) and the exploitive Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (1993 / first 10 minutes).
Of the two directors, Howard Ziehm (aka Hans Johnson, Albert Wilder, Lynn Metz, Linus Gator, Howard Johnson, L Metz, Harry Hopper and Lester Romano) waved his weenie in front of the camera a few times (in the feature-length Miss Passion [1984], for example, as well as in an occasional loop like those edited into Ginger Lynn Non-stop [1988, also featuring Harry Reems] and Rachel Ashley Collection [2005]), but he preferred to direct X-rated loops and poverty row porn such as the corn-porn Seeds of Lust (1971), The Incredible Body Snatchers (1972), Sexteen (1975 / NSFW scene), Star Virgin (1979 / NSFW trailer) and Naughty Network (1981 / full NSFW film).
The plot of Flesh Gordon? A storyline somewhat reminiscent of the real thing, of course: Emperor Wang the Perverted (William Dennis Hunt), the illegitimate ruler of the planet Porno aims his mighty 'Sex Ray' weapon towards Earth, which turns everyone into sex maniacs. Football player Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams of Time Walker [1982 / trailer]), along with his girlfriend Dale Ardent (Suzanne Fields — aka Sandra Dean, Judi Lawson, Cynthia Westcott, Susannah Fields, Cindi Adams, Cindy Stokes and Cindy Hopkins — of My Little Sister [1971 / trailer], Street of a Thousand Pleasures [1972 / entertaining NSFW trailer], Run, Jackson, Run [1972 / full NSFW film], Virgin Hostage [1972 / full NSFW film), The Stewardesses [1969 / trailer] and Aphrodisiac!: The Sexual Secret of Marijuana [1971 / full film]) and Professor Flexi-Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins), set off towards Porno to destroy the Sex Ray and save Earth's virtue — and face dangers such as the Great God Porno and the evil Chief Nellie (Candy Samples of Superchick [1973 / trailer], Prison Girls [1972 / trailer], and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979 / trailer]) and find help from Amora, Queen of Magic (Nora Wieternik — aka Me Me, Nora, Paula Principe, — of The Geek [1971 / trailer]) and a very gay Prince Precious (Lance Larsen of The Psychopath [1973 / scene]).
Flesh Gordon ends with the promise of a sequel — "Don't miss the next exciting episode: The Perils of Flesh" — but despite movie's success, it didn't materialize. Instead, some 15 years later director Howard Ziehm pulled together an almost all-new and notably non-porn cast to make Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders, which hasn't met the same cult popularity yet...
Trailer to the sequel:

(1978, dir. Luigi Cozzi)
Cool Cinema Trash is 100% right when they say, "It's easy to lump Starcrash in with the countless space operas that followed in the successful wake of Star Wars (1977 / trailer). Starcrash is more than an imitator. It manages to establish its own set of rules (logic be damned) in a wacky, low-budget, fantasy universe." Of course, Ray Harryhausen had nothing to do with this much-loved guilty pleasure, but watch the trailer and you will see more than one cheesy and cheap homage to the filmmaker's classic films of yesterday in this wonderful piece of entertaining trash featuring the slumming Christopher Plummer — all his scenes were supposedly shot in one day — and the not-slumming former faith healer Marjoe Gortner (of Mausoleum [1983 / trailer] and The Food of the Gods [1976 / trailer]), Caroline Munro, David Hasselhoff (of Piranha 3DD [2012] and Witchery [1988 / trailer]), and Joe Spinell (of The Undertaker [1988 / trailer] and Vigilante [1982 / trailer]). Starcrash was released onto the unsuspecting public by the great Roger Corman, who picked up the film when the normally not-so-choosy American International Pictures turned it down; the movie was written and directed, as "Lewis Coates", by the under-appreciated Italo trash director Luigi Cozzi, the talented man who also brought us The Killer Must Kill Again (1975 / trailer), Contamination (1980 / trailer), Hercules (1983 / trailer) & Hercules II (1985 / trailer), Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989 / trailer), Paganini Horror (1989 / trailer) and a some other fine flotsam.
All Movie explains the plot: "The story begins familiarly enough, with a huge spaceship tracking through an extremely colorful space scene while under attack by some kind of unknown and deadly force resembling a lava lamp. Being no match for the '60s acid-flashback rays, they manage to jettison a few escape pods just before being blown to kingdom come. Fast forward now to the other end of the galaxy, where we find the best smugglers in town — gorgeous Stella Star (Munro) and space-pimp Akton (Gortner) — outrunning a band of cops on their tail. Eventually, they're caught, taken into custody, and sentenced to intense Labor Camps [...]. A break-out ensues, and in the intense laser shoot-out, Stella manages to escape, only to be captured again by the semi-green-skinned Thor (Robert Tessier of Nightwish [1990] and The Velvet Vampire [1971 / trailer] and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell [1990 / trailer / full film]) and his annoying southern-drawled robot, Elle (voiced by genre veteran Hamilton Camp, of Wishcraft [2002 / trailer] and Evilspeak [1981 / trailer, the latter film alongside character actor R.G. Armstrong]). Brought in front of the Emperor of the Galaxy (Plummer) and reunited with Akton, the sexy duo find themselves suddenly in charge of finding Prince Simon (Hasselhoff). Thus begins the heroes' amazing adventure through space and time as they search for Hasselhoff and end up fighting Amazons, Cavemen, and the Evil Count Zarth Arn (Spinell) along the way."

(1978, dir. Joe Dante)
We here at A Wasted Life love this classic Joe Dante film, as can be gleaned from our review of the movie, which can be reached by clicking on the title above. Even Steven Spielberg likes it, and once even christened the movie "the best of the Jaws rip-offs".
The plot, as explained by Derek O'Cain at imdb: "A young couple stumble across an abandoned US Army test site on a mountain, in which is a huge pool. Thinking it's an ordinary swimming pool, they jump in. But this pool is home to the piranha, and the couple are eaten alive. A young woman P.I. (Heather Menzies-Urich — seen below from here Aug 1973 Playboy pictorial) is hired by the father of one of the missing kids to find them, and she meets up with an alcoholic outdoorsman (Bradford Dillman) who lives on the mountain. The two of them find the test site and drain the pool to see what's in it. As they do they are accosted by Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) — the sole resident of the test site — who informs them that the inhabitants of the pool were the products of a gene-splicing experiment called 'Operation Razorteeth', designed to produce a mutant strain of piranha fish for deployment in the Vietnam War against the NVA. The fish could live in cold water and breed at a high rate. Realizing that a children's summer camp and the Lost River Lake Resort downriver are in the piranhas' path, they set out to try to stop it. The piranha are well ahead of them, and they kill several people on their way downstream. When they try to warn the camp director and resort owner of the danger, they are arrested. Thanks to the woman's ingenuity they escape custody and race down to the camp in a state police car to warn them. But the piranhas have already struck — and there are others who want to keep the danger of the piranha a secret..."
Not long after Paul Grogan (Dillman) & Maggie McKeown (Menzies-Urich) break into the science facilities, there is a few-second-long "What the fuck?" interlude in which, unnoticed by the couple, a baby Ymir (originally from Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth [1957]) is seen hiding behind things in the lab. The Ymir really has nothing to do with the movie and is never seen again later in the movie; it's appearance is merely an off-the-wall tribute to the Harryhausen from the filmmakers. 
Piranha was re-envisioned in 2010 as — Duh! — Piranha 3-D.

Spies Like Us
(1985, dir. John Landis)
Like that similarly unfunny comedy and legendary flop Ishtar (1987 / trailer), Spies Like Us is an homage to the unbearable Bob Hope & Bing Crosby Road to Wherever films — thus the Bob Hope cameo. Ray Harryhausen (seen briefly as a surgeon in tent sequence) is one of the many other names — including Terry Gilliam, Sam Raimi, Joel Coen, B. B. King, Martin Brest and Frank Oz — to make a cameo appearance somewhere in this flick, yet another of John Landis's many, many, many lesser efforts. As to be expected, Spies Like Us was a hit. As was the title track by Paul McCartney, who unbelievably enough was once a member of a music group called The Beatles and actually made good music; reaching number 7 on the US charts, the song is to date his last solo hit in the US.... and considering the quality of the crap he has been doping for years now, let's hope  it remains so.
TV Guide tells it like it is: "Austin Millbarge (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase) are a pair of bumbling government workers handpicked by the CIA to be decoy agents in a highly secretive mission. The two end up in the camp of some Afghan rebels, where a volunteer medical team mistakes them for a pair of important doctors. When the error is uncovered, the two are off on the road to nowhere trying to find out about this unnamed mission. Karen Boyer (Donna Dixon), one of the doctors at the rebel camp, hooks up with the boys, for she is actually a "real" CIA agent who seems to know what this mysterious mission entails. [...] The nature of their mission is kept hidden from both the bumbling spies and the audience until the movie's climax, but the buildup is so tedious and unfunny that the payoff just isn't there. Landis' direction is indulgent, to say the least, with big landscapes, big crashes, big hardware, and big gags filling the screen. What he forgets is character development, that all-important factor that must exist for comedy to work well."
Paul McCartney — Spies Like Us:

The Puppetoon Movie
(1987, dir. Arnold Leibovit)
In '87, Arnold Leibovit followed up his 1985 documentary on George Pal, The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (trailer) with this collection of some ten of his shorts presented within a wrap-around story featuring other, better-known stop-motion characters such as Gumby and Pokey and the Pillsbury Doughboy. As was already mentioned in R.I.P.: Ray Harryhausen, Part II, one of Harryhausen's first jobs was working for George Pal doing Puppetoons — and thus we use this opportunity to present another two Puppetoon shorts that Harryhausen worked on and that were also presented in this compilation film.
Hoola Boola (1941):
The DVD Review is all praise for the project, saying: "Before he conquered space or whizzed us through time, filmmaker George Pal created animated short films such as the world had never seen before nor seen since. Like the alchemists of old, he transmuted pieces of wood into fluid, moving beings. Arms undulated, legs arched, feet shuffled, and faces bloomed in eight-minute bursts. The era of sharing his gift, a complex and painstaking process known as 'replacement animation,' unfortunately came and went, as do all Camelots. Thanks to the new Image release of Arnold Leibovit's The Puppetoon Movie, we have a chance to once again experience not only Pal's mastery of that lost art but regale in his gentle pleas for tolerance, compassion and love."
The Little Broadcast (1943):
TV Guide, on the other hand, may see Hoola Boola as one of the best shorts of the compilation, but is nevertheless less fawning in its opinions: "There's a very brief prologue and epilogue in which tribute is paid to Pal by more recent, better-known stop-motion characters, like Art Clokey's clay-animated Gumby [...] and Speedy Alka-Seltzer. If that gesture is meant to make the Puppetoons interesting for modern children, it's largely futile. With a few exceptions [...], Pal's Puppetoons seem stodgy and antiquated, interesting from a technical standpoint but very much grounded in attitudes and aesthetics of days gone by. Presented in their entirety, these shorts definitely come off poorly compared to the timelessly lively Disney, Warner Bros., and Fleischer studios animation from the same period. Furthermore, many Puppetoons trafficked in the offensive racial stereotypes of yesteryear."

(1992, dir Sam Rami)
Per say Ray Harryhausen had nothing to do with this film, but we here at A Wasted Life would dare to say that had there never been a Harryhausen, there would also never have been this film. We love the movie, which we are always ready to see again and again and again — with or without smoke. 
The plot, as described by the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review: "Ash (Bruce Campbell) is thrown back to the 14th Century by the demonic timewarp. There he is captured by the troops of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) but awes them into thinking that his chainsaw and shotgun are magic weapons. To return home he must retrieve a copy of The Necronomicon from a graveyard. However, his bumbling ends up creating an evil doppelganger of himself and raising an army of the dead. As the undead army marches on Lord Arthur's castle, Ash is reluctantly persuaded to teach the peasantry chemistry and steam power to defend against the onslaught."

Beverly Hills Cop III
(1994, dir. John Landis)
Hmmm, we here at A Wasted Life are tempted to accidentally overlook this turd here, yet another typically sub-standard John Landis and Eddie Murphy cinematic turkey, but like most Landis films a variety of big names appear in the backgrounds of various scenes, including (once again) Ray Harryhausen in a bar scene. (Other names seen somewhere include Martha Coolidge, Joe Dante, Arthur Hiller, George Lucas, Peter Medak, Barbet Schroeder, George Schaefer and John Singleton.)
The plot, as explained by Todd "Mainstream Taste" Baldridge at imdb: "One night in Detroit, during a shoot-out at a chop shop, Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) sees his boss, Inspector Douglas Todd (Gilbert R. Hill), getting killed by a well-dressed man. Using his last breath, Inspector Todd tells Axel to get the man who shot him, and Axel says that he will do that. Axel does some looking around, and finds the killer's vehicle at Wonder World, a theme park in Beverly Hills, California. In Beverly Hills, Axel is reunited with his friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who tells Axel that John Taggart (John Ashton) is now retired and living in Arizona. Billy is now the deputy director of operations for joint systems interdepartmental operational command (JSIOC). Billy also has a new partner named Jon Flint (Hector Elizondo of Turbulence [1997]). Axel checks out Wonder World, which is owned by Dave 'Uncle Dave' Thornton (Alan Young). At Wonder World, Axel rescues two kids who are stuck on a ride that broke down, and after this, Axel is taken to see the park's head of security, Ellis DeWald (Timothy Carhart of Red Rock West [1993] and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh [1995]), and Axel recognizes DeWald as Inspector Todd's killer. Jon refuses to believe this, because DeWald is one of Jon's friends. Ellis runs a counterfeiting ring that uses the theme park as a front. Axel is also falling in love with Janice Perkins (Theresa Randle of Spawn [1997]), who works at the park. When Dave gets shot by DeWald's men, Axel is accused of being the man who shot Dave. With the help of Billy and Jon, Axel sets out to prove his innocence and get revenge on DeWald."
During the shoot, the bloated film bloated from an estimated at $55 million to an excess of $70, but as Peter Travis at Rolling Stone points out, it didn't help any:  "Whatever juice is left in the Cop franchise or in the once unstoppable career of Eddie Murphy peters out ignominiously in this poor excuse for a sequel. If Murphy feels energized by returning (after seven years) to the role of Detroit cop Axel Foley, a fish out of water in the hills of Beverly, you can't tell it from his slapdash performance. The clown prince who exploded in [...] the first Cop in 1984 (trailer) is now the preening fat cat who squanders his gifts [...]. As directed by Martin Brest in the original Cop, Murphy created a real character in Axel. This time, as directed by John Landis — whose talents seem equally exhausted — Murphy merely paints Axel on."
The mandatory pop song, Keep the Peace, was supplied this time around by the Aussie band INXS, the hunky lead singer of which, Michael Hutchence, died three years later of either (depending on which source you choose to believe) depression-induced suicide or auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong.
INXS sings Keep the Peace:

Mars Attacks!
(1996, dir. Tim Burton)

"I want to thank my Grandma for always being so good to me, and, and for helping save the world and everything."
Richie Norris (Lukas Haas)

We will admit that we weren't quite thrilled by this movie the first time we saw it — the star power turned us off — but Mars Attacks! has aged well and gets more entertaining with each passing year. Still, it was a bit of a flop when it was released in the shadow of the much more seriously commercial and unintentionally stupid Independence Day (trailer), which gets more annoying as each year passes — once, we at least liked the first half of Emmerich's hit, but now we find the whole overblown turd a gagger.
As everyone knows, Mars Attacks! is based on a series of Topps trading cards from 1962 drawn by the great artist Wallace "Wally" Wood (an example of which is seen above). A class-A black comedy, a satire of the USA, and a loving parody of the great sci-fi flicks of the 50s, it includes more than one obvious nod to past projects of Ray Harryhausen — most obviously, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). Originally, Burton intended to do the aliens in stop motion, but budget considerations made him change to CGI.
The plot, as according to the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review: "Hundreds of flying saucers from Mars near the Earth. It is presumed they must be peaceful because they are an advanced species. However, upon landing, the Martians incinerate the envoy that peacefully greets them and then start gleefully slaughtering humanity en masse."
Among the many faces to appear in the film were Lukas Haas (as Ritchie, who you may guess from the quote above survives), who once starred in one of the great overlooked horror films of all time, Lady in White (1988 / trailer); his Grandma was played by the great Sylvia Sidney (of  Damien: Omen II [1978 / trailer] and God Told Me To [1976 / trailer]), in her last feature-film appearance.
The Slim Witman songs that saves the world in Mars Attacks!Indian Love Call:

Mighty Joe Young
(1998, dir. Ron Underwood)
Once upon a time director Ron Underwood even made a truly excellent genre film — Tremors in 1990 — but then he made City Slickers (1991 / trailer) and since then everything has been downhill. This remake of the 1949 film of the same name, the first feature film that Harryhausen worked on, was as big of a flop as it was unneeded. It earned back little more than half its budget upon its original release, and is pretty much already forgotten by everyone. The movie didn't seem to damage the career of its lead female, Charlize Theron, but has anyone seen Bill Paxton lately? Ray Harryhausen appears somewhere in the film alongside the female lead of the original version, Terry Moore, for a very short exchange. (Terry Moore, as Jill Young [Theron] walks by: "She reminds me of somebody, but I can't think who." To which Harryhausen replies: "You, when we first met.")
The plot, according to John Sacksteder ( at imdb: "The movie opens with poachers attacking a group of gorillas. Animal preservationists fight the poachers, which ends with one gorilla and a young girl's mother (Linda Purl of Fear of the Dark [2003]) dead. In the melee, a particularly large gorilla baby attacks the head hunter (Rade Serbedzija of  Snatch [2000 / trailer]) and bites his thumb and forefinger off. The film immediately passes into the future and the young girl has grown up to be Charlize Theron and the gorilla has grown to be 15' tall and weighs 2000 pounds. The two are best friends who play together. When poachers again appear, a representative (Bill Paxton) of a California wildlife refuge convinces her to transfer the gorilla she has named Joe Young to the refuge. Of course, once there the former hunter shows up seeking revenge. Terrorizing the gorilla without letting his human handlers know, the gorilla goes on a rampage across Los Angeles." All's well that ends well.
Ron Underwood went on to direct the much better movie, The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002 / trailer), perhaps the only "Eddie Murphy film" since 48 Hours (1990 / trailer) that we here at A Wasted Life actually enjoyed.

Monsters, Inc.
(2001, dir. Pete Docter, David Silverman and Lee Unkrich)
OK, so Harryhausen had nothing to do with this totally sweet Pixar/Disney film, but the filmmakers do throw in two obvious homages (and probably more lesser obvious ones) to the great special effects master, so we see it as OK to present the movie here. And in case you don't already know, the obvious homages are: the sushi restaurant where Mike and Celia are at is called Harryhausen's and, in a reference to It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), the bartender has only six tentacles. 
The plot, according to the German website Uncut: "Das große haarige Monster Sulley (John Goodman of Red State [2011 / trailer]) und sein kleiner einäugiger Freund Mike (Billy Crystal) sind Mitarbeiter der Monster AG. Ihre Aufgabe ist es, in der Nacht kleine Kinder zu erschrecken, um aus der Energie ihrer Schreie Strom zu gewinnen. Was die Kinder aber nicht wissen ist, dass sich die Monster selbst noch viel mehr vor den Menschenkindern fürchten. Dementsprechend groß ist der Schreck bei Sulley, als er entdeckt, dass sich das kleine Mädchen Boo (Mary Gibbs) in ihrem Paralleluniversum eingeschlichen hat."

(2003, dir. Jon Favreau)
For some odd reason, Ray Harryhausen supplies the voice to the polar bear cub seen somewhere in this movie. Almost everyone involved in this flick has made better films... 

Corpse Bride
(2005, dir. Tim Burton & Mike Johnson)
The homage paid to Harryhausen in this wonderful stop-motion masterpiece is slim, but we love the film so we'll take advantage of any excuse to present it. There is a scene in this film in which Victor (Johnny Depp) plays the piano; look close when he leans back and you can see the nameplate reads "Harryhausen".
Corpse Bride is the first feature-length animation film that Burton himself "made" — contrary to popular opinion, he only produced A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 / trailer), which was actually directed by Henry Selig (the director of Coraline [2009] and James and the Big Peach [1996]). Since this film here, Burton has gone on to do another stop-motion masterpiece Frankenweenie (2012 / trailer).
The plot of Corpse Bride, as explained by Urban Cinefile: "The penniless but dustily aristocratic Everglots (Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney) want — need! — their son Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) to marry the crass social climbers' dowry-endowed sweet daughter Victoria (Emily Watson). The shy Victor fumbles his wedding rehearsal and stumbles into the woods to practice, where he accidentally vows to marry a bride who is not only jilted at the altar, but ... deceased (Helena Bonham Carter). Dragged into the world of the dead, Victor tries to get back to Victoria, who is hurriedly married off to Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant), but the wedding is yet to finish when the world of the living and of the dead briefly collide."
Corpse Bride, by the way, also features a nice homage to the public domain Walt Disney animated short The Skeleton Dance, which we happened to choose as our Short Film of the Month for March 2010, and also has a slight similarity to the wonderful Mexican stop-motion short Hasta los huesos / Down to the Bone (2002), which we happened to choose as our Short Film of the Month for July 2009.... In Hasta, however, the young man is dead but doesn't know it yet.
Burton's co-director for Corpse Bride, Mike Johnson, long ago made the music video to Primus's cover version of The Charlie Daniels Band's song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which we present below just for the heck of it... 
Primus — The Devil Went Down to Georgia:

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
 (Directors: Steve Box, Nick Park)
The real trailer:
Released the same year as Corpse Bride, and also even featuring the voice of Helena Bonham Carter as the lead female character, the stop-motion feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit also features the exact same homage to the great Ray Harryhausen as in Corpse Bride: the nameplate of the piano reads "Harryhausen". Likewise, probably not unintentional in a film as full of movie references as this one, there is a scene reminiscent of Mighty Joe Young (either version) in which the creature falls from great heights and then appears dead only to open its eyes... This, the "first vegetarian horror movie" ever made, went on to beat Corpse Bride and win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
The plot, as supplied by The Media Nook: "In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wallace (Peter Sallis of The Night Digger [1971 / trailer], Taste the Blood of Dracula [1970 / trailer] and The Curse of the Werewolf [1961 / trailer]) and Gromit are the owner-operators of Anti-Pesto, a humane pest-control company. When we join the action, the town is preparing for the annual Giant Vegetable competition, hosted by Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham-Carter). While Anti-Pesto has no trouble dealing with regular rabbits, a monstrous rabbit who feeds by moonlight poses a bit more trouble. Will Anti-Pesto be able to tame the beast or will Lady Tottington be forced to turn to her suitor and avid hunter, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Finnes)?"
The better, fake trailer:

The Boneyard Collection
(2006, Edward L. Plumb & L.J. Dopp)
We could find little info about producer, director, screenwriter and actor Edward L. Plumb, but since around the turn of the century he's been an active man: more or less totally under the radar, he's produced any number of direct-to-video genre films of varying lengths, many of which also feature any number of cult names of times past and present. The Boneyard Collection is a compellation film of four tales plus the framing host segment (featuring "Dr. Acula", or rather, the late Forrest J. Ackerman); the individual segments, filmed over a period of five years, are entitled Her Morbid Desires, which seems to have been given a solo release two years later; Cry of the Mummy, which was directed by L.J. Dopp; and Boogie with the Undead and The Devil's Due at Midnight.
We know nothing about movie, but Trash City Review says: "The most amazing thing about these is the horror star-power accumulated by Plumb, with the names appearing, albeit mostly briefly [...]: Tippi Hedren, Barbara Steele, Robert Loggia (we thought he was dead), Brad Dourif, Kevin McCarthy, Ken Foree, Susan Tyrell, even Bobby 'Boris' Pickett (we were sure he was dead. Hang on. Yep, April 2007). On that side of things: wow. Simply, wow. Unfortunately, most of the content doesn't live up to the fire-power [...]. The film starts off with the lengthiest sequence, 45 mins or so, entitled Her Morbid Desires, about a film-shoot making a Dracula movie, which is plagued by mysterious deaths. Outside of the parade of celebrities — one party scene includes Brinke Stevens, Elvira, Ray Harryhausen and, bizarrely, Rod McKuen — there's very little memorable here. The next section is [...] Boogie with the Undead, in which an all-girl band takes on an army of zombies. While not a bad idea, it outstays its welcome, and would have been better off at 90 seconds in length. The third part, Cry of the Mummy is the best, telling the tale of Egyptian mummy Shep (Rees), who wants to make it big in Hollywood, but refuses to do horror, because of the typecasting. [...] It's got plenty of nicely-satirical jabs at LA and its culture, or lack thereof. The film finishes with [...] The Devil's Due at Midnight; as with its predecessor, it's too long, though I enjoyed Foree's turn as a witch-hunter. Overall, it's more miss than hit, and those who might appreciate the plethora of horror references, will likely turn their noses up at the PG-natured approach, which seems about forty years out of time."
Her Morbid Desires — the segment with a guest appearance of Harryhausen, among others — was released as a solo DVD two years later in 2008. 

Ray Harryhausen Presents: The Pit and the Pendulum
(2007, dir. Marc Lougee)
The Pit and the Pendulum Logo Design by Ghoulish Gary Pullin. According to SexGoreMutants, "The story goes that [director] Lougee was invited to make a short film in honour of Harryhausen's 80th birthday bash in 2000. The pair struck up a friendship that day after Harryhausen enjoyed Lougee's effort, and agreed to make a short film together. Harryhausen suggested doing something based on the work of Poe and Lougee set about preparing an adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher. However, this proved to be too large in scale and so the project was altered to accommodate an adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum."
And thus Harryhausen became the producer of this stop motion short. The plot, as Where the Long Tale Ends explains it, is relatively faithful to Poe's tale: "The Pit and the Pendulum follows a victim of the Spanish Inquisition as he is brought to trial and sentenced to a fate in the dreaded dungeon. Locked in darkness and struggling to maintain his faith and sanity, he begins to realize the terrible fate his captors have in store for him."
Zombie Closet is of the opinion that "While Poe's story is required reading for many college kids, this visualization of the torments suffered by the unnamed prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition would be a welcome addition to the curriculum. While a bit of license is used for dramatic visual effect (the prisoner doesn't have a metal helmet locked around his head in the original story), the short seven-minute film adheres to and captures the essence of terror with vivid detail in its CG-enhanced miniature sets and stylized puppets."

Burke and Hare
(2010, dir. John Landis)
Momentarily the last feature-film directorial project of Landis, made 12 years after his previous feature film project, the unknown comedy  Susan's Plan aka Dying to Get Rich (1998 / trailer). In Burke and Hare, Harryhausen appears in the background as a "distinguished doctor".
The synopsis, as found at Urban Cinefile: "William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) are barely scratching out a living in 1820s Edinburgh. After yet another failed scam, they return to Hare's lodging house where his wife Lucky (Jessica Hynes of Shaun of the Dead [2004 / trailer]) tells them that a tenant — a rare source of revenue — has suddenly died on rent day. As the boys decide how to dispose of the body over a drink, they discover that a corpse can fetch a good price from Dr Knox (Tom Wilkinson) studying and demonstrating anatomy, in the city that leads the world in the subject. Encouraged, they begin to turn it into a business, while Burke falls for aspiring actress Ginny (Isla Fisher of Swimming Pool [2001]) who is looking for investors in her all-female production of Hamlet."
The blogspot Alone in the Dark says "With the subject matter [...] and the fact it's from the director of An American Werewolf in London (1981 / trailer), you might be going in to Burke and Hare expecting a horror. [Huh?] In actual fact it's a knockabout black farce, and a reasonably funny one at that. Considering they barely scratch the morality of the situation, it's probably the only way to make the material palatable." The movie is, of course, inspired by the true story of Burke and Hare, which has already inspired or been worked into any number of movies, including Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher (1945 / trailer), with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff; Oswald Mitchell's The Greed of William Hart (1948 / trailer), starring Tod Slaughter (of Sweeney Todd [1936]); The Anatomist (1956); John Gilling's The Flesh and the Fiends aka Mania (1960 / trailer), starred Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence; Vernon Sewell's Burke & Hare (1971 / trailer) and Freddie Francis's The Doctor and the Devils (1985 / trailer), with Timothy Dalton. They also show up in Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) as employees of Dr. Jekyll, and undoubtedly served as the inspiration for the grave-robbers Willie and Arthur in the funnier 2008 comedy horror I Sell the Dead (trailer).
In Landis's Burke and Hare, by the way, the final steadicam sequence through the real-life Edinburgh University Medical Museum ends on the real skeleton of William Burke.

Ray Harryhausen — May he rest in peace.
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