Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Short Film: Balloon Land (USA, 1935)

Aka The Pincushion Man. Way back in 2012, while researching the old Max Fleischer cartoon Bimbo's Initiation (USA, 1931), which we presented as the Short Film of the Month for January 2013, we came upon the entertaining Cracked.com online article 5 Old Children's Cartoons Way Darker Than Most Horror Movies, whence we found Swing You Sinners (1930), our Short Film of the Month for October 2013. And now, here, yet another bat-shit crazy short from days long gone by that we were led to by Cracked.com, a masterpiece of a drug-addled kiddy cartoon by the great Ub Iwerks (24 March 1902 — 7 July 1971) — who, by the way, not only co-created Mickey Mouse but was the creative power behind our Short Film of the Month for March 2010, The Skeleton Dance (USA, 1929). 
Balloon Land is one of 25 animated short films making up the ComiColor Cartoon oeuvre, which Iwerks produced between 1933 and 36 using "Cinecolor"; Iwerks studio folded soon thereafter and he spent the rest of his life working for others — among his roster of achievements: the special effects to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963 / trailer), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. (On a less prestigious note, but concerning the short Balloon Land and not Iwerks: Balloon Land is seen in one of the all-time great bad films that help make Ed Wood Jr look like Orson Wells, The Devil's Gift [1984 / trailer]).
The more generally famous animator Chuck Jones, who worked for Iwerk early in his career, once said that "Iwerks is Screwy [Skrewi] spelled backwards." And while Iwerk's last name is real (i.e., inherited from his father, Eert Ubbe Iwerks), in idea Jones is conveying is the truth — and Balloon Land is perhaps one of Iwerks' screwiest cartoons of all. It is also, as Cracked.com points out in a paragraph entitled Condom People vs. The Masturbating Monster, oddly perverse from frame one: "Right from the title screen, this 1935 cartoon [...] lets you know there's going to be a somewhat disturbing recurrent motif in the story. Let's see if you can spot it."
The short opens with an illustrative presentation of the reproductive processes of the Balloon People, followed by an educational ditty fit for a horror movie: "Now beware, have a care, you're just filled with air, a single pin would rip your skin, and the Pincushion Man in the forest there would pop you both if you don't take care." 
Needless to say, like any good bodycount film, no matter how short, the incredulous youth wander off to look for the mythical killer and find him: a psychopathic perve who kills just 'cause he can and who looks literally like he is either always sticking the tip of his sharp prick in his nose or is poking his pointy member at kids or strangers. We can't help but ask, "What drugs were they one when they thought this one up?"
Of course, like so many films of the day (and long before and long after [see, for example, our Short Film of the Month for May 2013, Jasper and the Haunted House]), the mandatory, offensively racist stereotype can't be skipped — neither the Balloon Man who lets the psycho into Balloon Land nor the second victim of Pincushion Man's rampage would look out of place eating fried chicken in a watermelon patch.
These two offensive aspects are part of the appeal of Balloon Land, our Short Film of the Month for August 2013. We're sure you'll find other appealing aspects when you watch the short yorself. Enjoy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

R.I.P.: Harry H. Novak, Part VI: 1969

12 January  1928 — 26 March  2014

"When I was a kid, my Daddy told me, 'There's a buyer for everything.' And I lived to find out that he was right."
Harry H. Novak

Harry H. Novak, alongside David F Friedman (24 December 1923 — 14 February 2011) one of the great (s)exploitation kings of the last half of the 20th century, died 26 March 2014 at the age of 86.
A detailed career review of all the projects Harry H. Novak foisted upon the American public would be Sisyphean task at best and hardly possible, as no full and unequivocal list exists. What follows is a review of the films that we found that, for the most part, probably had Novak's involved somewhere along the way — and some that may not have. It is definitely not a complete list, and definitely not infallible, it is merely culled from sources reliable and unreliable that we found online. We also in no way suggest that the given release dates are the correct ones, they are merely the first ones we found.
If you know any we missed, feel free to send the title...

Go here for Part II (1956–64)
Go here for Part III (1965–1966)
Go here for Part IV (1967)
Go here for Part V (1968)

The Hang Up
(1969, writ. & dir. John Hayes)
Aka Vice Cop 69. The usually reliable website Critical Condition lists this movie as one in which Harry Novak was involved — and who are we to disagree? John Hayes (1 March 1930 21 August 2000), who worked with Novak more than a couple of times, was a writer, director, editor, producer, and occasional actor who is still waiting for his low budget oeuvre to be reappraised.
Films in France calls the move "mediocre, definitely not a great piece of cinema but it has some mileage — give it a go if you have nothing better to do." The Kinsey Institute is even less kind: "The Hang Up is the story of vice cops who delve into a seedy underworld of sex and sin. In it, Sgt. Walsh (played by [Tony Vorno as] Sebastian Gregory) is a police officer who will use any means necessary to stop crimes, including cross-dressing for an undercover job. When Walsh becomes involved with a young hooker (Sharon Matt), he is cast deep into a world of prostitution and murder. [...] The Hang Up includes nudity and kinky sex. Similar to William Friedkin's Cruising (1980 / trailer), The Hang Up is a film that demonizes the various worlds of alternative sexuality even as it takes advantage of these worlds' erotic appeal." Is the last not the description of most sexploitation films?
Tony Vorno was also in Fandango (1970), which we look at later, and Sharon Matt, who was one of the lead gals in H.G. Lewis's Linda and Abilene (1969 / trailer + 2), seem to have retired after this movie. John Hayes also did such fine stuff as Five Minutes to Love (1963 / trailer), The Photographer (1974 / trailer), Garden of the Dead (1972 / full movie) and, under his porn director nom de plume Howard Perkins, Baby Rosemary (1976)
Also from John Hayes — Grave of the Vampire (1972):

Erotic Center
(1969, dir. Günter Hendel)
Original title: Eros Center Hamburg. According to a list at AV Maniacs, this German flick was rereleased on video by Something Strange as a Harry Novak/Boxoffice International Pictures. We can only guess he picked it up cheap, redubbed it and sent it out to the grindhouses were it surely met more groans than moans.
Director Günter Hendel was an active participant in the German Golden Age of Sexploitation, though hardly as productive as this film's scriptwriter Alois Brummer, who for about 20 years leaked sexploitation projects as regularly as a gonorrheal dick. The plot, loosely according to the German website Zelluliod: "An American journalist (Günter Hendel as Eddie Green) is writing a report about 'the ladies' that try to get ahead in life by walking slowly up and down the street. They tell him everything, without mincing words, about how they got to their job, what their clients demand, and how they do it. In Eros Center, the attractive Biggy (Doris Arden) is murdered, and everyone who was 'doing something' there that day immediately are suspects. This includes a dangerous group of pimps that hold perverse shows in their apartment, as well as Black and White, which in this case is not a brand of whisky but, rather, young pretty lesbians willing to do acts of love in detail. [...]" Among the suspects: Biggy's Italian boyfriend, a few Johns — and Eddie Green. Whodunnit is revealed at the very end. 
Bob Elger & His Orchestra covers Roland Kovac's Hunter's Beat from Eros Center Hamburg:

Wild, Free & Hungry
(1969, writ. & dir. Paul Hunt [as H.P. Edwards])
Presented by Harry Novak. We took a short look at this flick at the R.I.P. career review of Paul Hunt, where we wrote: "Once again, Paul Hunt [directing] as H.P. Edwards. TV Guide gives it one star and says: "A mega-melodrama about a carnival owner (Frank Cuva as Frank) who gets mixed up with the mob and a motorboat racer. Romance, violence, and fast-paced speedboating leave their scars on the carnival owner who eventually loses his wife, fortune, and carnival, while retaining his only true love, a carnival employee (Monica Gayle as Diane). A happy ending has all his lost property returned to him. Tune in next week for another episode of..."
The biggest "name" in the cast is cinematographer Gary Garver (20 July 1938 — 16 November 2006) — The Howling (1981 / trailer), Eaten Alive (1977 / trailer), Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973 / trailer), Sweet Sixteen (1983 / trailer), Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971), Toolbox Murders (1978 / trailer), Satan's Sadists (1969 / trailer) Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970 / trailer) and Bummer (1973 / trailer), among many — who, under the names Robert McCulum, Robert McCallun, Robert Mc Callum, Robert Mccullam, Robert Mccullum and June Moon also had a lasting career as a hardcore porno director; we looked at a few of his porn movies somewhere along the way in our (currently) 7-part R.I.P. review of the films of Harry Reems.
Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) — Full P.D. Movie:

The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet
(1969, Peter Perry Jr. [as "A.P. Stootsberry"])
Distributed by Novak / Boxoffice International. Another movie by Peter Perry Jr. — who despite popular misconception is/was not Bethel Buckalew (who was the production manager on this film) — directing a "A.P. Stootsberry", a pseudonym that (possibly) both Perry and Buckalew may have used; proud of their films, it seems, they were not. A year later scriptwriter "Jim Macher / Jim Maher" followed up this movie with The Notorious Cleopatra (1970).
At Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, Marty McKee writes: "Laugh-In was clearly a major influence on Jim Macher, the screenwriter [...]. Shakespeare's lauded lovers break the fourth wall, toss off witty bon mots, and get psychedelic between sexploits. Catchphrases like 'Sock it to me' and 'Here come de Prince' abound, and Perry often interrupts scenes for quick cutaways to Joke Wall-style gags. 
The film [...] uses the conceit that it's a 16th-century production of Shakespeare's play performed before a group of hairy California hippies hilariously pretending to be drunken revelers. Cast members introduce themselves to the camera, many of them, like Perry, using pseudonyms. [...] To Perry, sex is a lot of rubbing and moaning — nothing hardcore, but still X-rated (though Boxoffice International tended to send these quickies out unrated). [...] Secret Sex Lives, like other period sex romps made by Perry, is rather sumptuous in its sets and costumes, which lends the sophomoric and sometimes smutty humor a touch of class it probably doesn't deserve. [...] Long lovemaking scenes aren't my cup of tea, but the enthusiastic cast and good-natured gagging make Perry’s picture one of the more entertaining of the sexploitation genre."
Forman Shane (Romeo) and Dee Lockwood (Juliet) also shared the screen together in The Undercover Scandals of Henry VIII (1970) and (supposedly) the under-appreciated horror Day of the Nightmare (1969 / full movie).

Riverboat Mama
(1969, dir. Bob Favorite)

 "Wanted: For the sensuous slave mutiny of Alligator Creek."

Aka Muddy Mama. Floridian regional filmmaker Robert "Bob" Favorite (died: 1978) went on to Indian Raid, Indian Made and the horror film The Brides Wore Blood (1972 / full movie).
The Muddy Mama of the title, "Morgana", is played by Morganna Roberts — aka "Morgana the Wild One" on exotic dance stages — who had her intermittent 15 minutes throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s not as a sleaze starlet but as the "Kissing Bandit", the buxom big-haired babe that used to run out onto baseball diamonds around the US to kiss this or that Major League player (pre-plasticized Pete Rose, for example) — when she expanded her range to basketball, she got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (of Airplane! [1980 / trailer]). Extremely curvy, she nevertheless hadn't yet gone quiet so silicone crazy when she made this movie.
Also on board Riverboat Mama (and Indian Raid, Indian Made), the slightly less well-endowed but better-looking Dawn Diano — "Miss Nude Galaxy" — as the brunette "captive".
The plot? Who knows: we couldn't find a review anywhere online. Film Advise, one of the few to bother to write anything, simply quotes the poster: "The waters of the muddy Mississippi run wild with savage pleasure and sadistic danger."
Morganna Show Her Boobs from Riverboat Mama:

Morganna the kissing bandit von Beezer61

Indian Raid, Indian Made
(1969, dir. Bob Favorite)
Another movie from Floridian regional filmmaker Robert "Bob" Favorite (died: 1978) which, like Riverboat Mama, features the bouncing charms of Morganna and Dawn "Miss Nude Galaxy" Diano (as well as those of the forgotten dancers Glory Bee and Tiffany Lace).
Lots of T&A and "hard" softcore sex in this "forgettable hillbilly softcore sex comedy", as eegah-3 (eegah@hotmail.com) of Minneapolis, MN, calls the movie. In his opinion, one should "Skip the first hour of this flick and go straight to this film's sole interest, an extended native dance performed by the one and only Morganna. This long, one-shot performance seems out of place in a film this amateurish. The rest of the film deals with a secret agent, horny hillbillies and an Indian woman these half-wits chase after."
At Dodjer, Lucy Pinman writes a bit more: "'Boy, this is weird!' exclaims Morganna ('The Wild One!') [...]! When it comes to weird, the gal knew whereof she spoke. This particular piece of weirdness [...] opens with the credits painted onto the shapely torso of a vixen sponging herself down in a shower. A skin flick that opens so aptly knows what it's about: smut jokes, jiggling ta-ta's, smiling beavers, and tons o' buns. When secret agent Harold (Chuck Davis) gets the call to infiltrate and end a moonshine operation at the Pleasant Point Resort, open season is declared on common sense and subtlety. A car trunk slams down on his hand; he gets trapped in a phone booth choking on the top secret missive he's instructed to eat; and a radio broadcast of a baseball game offers blow-by-blow commentary on the blowjob he receives in the front seat of his car. All this before Harold even arrives at the Pleasant Point Resort. Once there, he's engaged in one roll in the hay after another, by every chick in the flick. Indeed, the only thing agent Harold seems to be infiltrating is the abundant pudenda. But don't worry. Another agent is on the scene. Disguised as Little Dove, an Indian maiden, she convinces the two idiot brothers who operate the illegal still that they are the last of 'the Jerkaloopies.' 'We're Injuns!' they cry. 'We's real Jerkaloopies!' They sure are. The two 'Jerkaloopies' then attack their own lodge and tie up Harold and his women. But before any scalps are lifted, Morganna, who's a guest at the resort, comes to the rescue by performing 'The Devil Dance,' featuring the heaviest hooters this side of Hades. Then she takes her act on the road, driving off in her convertible with the two Jerkaloopies in the back seat shooting toy arrows at the camera."
3.07 NSFW Minutes of Pretty Hardcore Softcore "Indian" Skin:

(1969, dir. Kôji Wakamatsu)
Aka The Notorious Concubines, The Concubines, and King Ping Meh — Chinesischer Liebesreigen; based on the novel Chin Ping Mei by Shin-Chen Wang. Another Japanese pink movie released in and adapted for the US by Harry Novak; the US adaption was scripted by James E. McLarty, the scriptwriter behind Don Hendersons's fun sleazefests The Babysitter (1969 / trailer) and The Touch of Satan (1971 / trailer).
Director Kôji Wakamatsu (1 April 1936 — 17 October 2012) was/is considered one the great pink film directors, a man whose movies tilt into the realm of serious art film and a regular participant at film festivals around the world. As producer, he stood behind one of the most internationally successful pinku eiga ever made, Nagisa Ōshima's In the Realm of the Senses (1976 / trailer). Wakamatsu was killed by a cab in Tokyo on his way home from a film budget meeting.
Hong Kong Digital, which is of the opinion that "[Novak's] alterations have largely negated whatever merits the original version possessed", explains the plot at follows: "Director Koji Wakamatsu [...] occasionally worked on more mainstream projects like this Shochiku adaptation of the scandalous Chinese erotic novel Jin Ping Mei, the content of which is potent enough for the book to remain banned in China to this day. Pan Jin-lien (Tomoko Mayama [seen below]), the beautiful, scheming wife of rice seller Wu Ta (Hatsuo Yamatani), has an affair but is forgiven this transgression by her obsequious husband. The woman quickly gives in to temptation and poisons Ta, but fears what the man's brother, soldier Wu Sung (Shikokyu Takashima), might do upon returning to the region. Sure enough, upon seeing his brother's spirit tablet, Sung goes berserk, commits murder, and is sentenced to death. In the meantime, Jin-lien has become the fifth wife of decadent Hsi Men-ching (future director Juzo Itami) but is soon forgotten by the drinking, carousing nobleman. Jin-lien also has a hostile relationship with her fellow concubines and, when Men-ching marries a sixth time and fathers a son with his new bride, Jin-lien murders the baby. Men-ching drowns his sorrows in wine and sex but he has worse problems ahead: Wu Sung has escaped execution and is leading a group of murderous bandits into the territory."
DVD Verdict says "The Notorious Concubines is really two movies. The first film is a slow, arcane muddle about wives, warlords, and wanton lust. Nothing much happens, and scenes go on forever with no real point. The second film, starting about 50 minutes in, is a visionary and intriguing tale, half Fellini-esque characters and imagery, half psychotic Shogun warrior. The two never reconcile themselves, and this makes Concubines an overall unsatisfying movie." (Sounds like an art film to us.)
In LA, rufasff sums up the film thus: "Dark, cynical Japanese epic brought to U.S. in a dubbed version by shlockmeister Harry Novak. Still, this gory, sexy epic is made with style and interesting for to compare to Yojimbo (1961 / trailer) and other masterworks of the form."
Full NSFW Movie @ a NSFW Website:

Weekend Lovers
(1969, dir. Dwayne Avery)

Aka Porno Motel, includes a couple of crappy ballads sung by lead actor Vic Lance, who did the music for this and a number of other sexploiters. The script was later adapted by "Emil Ludwig" as a book for the adults-only publishing house Greenleaf Classics but, oddly enough, re-titled as Weekend Warriors
According to New York City's porn-loving lor, this "Soft-core story of a cad is almost a winner"; One Sheet Index gives the details: "Posing as a Navy Submariner, girl-hungry Scott Bennett (Lance) walks a California desert highway each weekend, conspicuously available to interested, attractive female drivers, who frequently check into his reserved motel room for fun and games. Then he meets cuddly, blonde Kerry Chandler (Chris Mathis); and though his kooky antics puzzle her, they share plenty of romance. ... [But] Kerry awakens to find herself alone, for 'Sin Bad' has changed to civvies at a nearby gas-station; his weekend fling concluded. Slowly realizing his love for her, he hurries back to tell her the truth . . . but too late.
"With Kerry gone, unhappy Scott is picked up by Ginger Bennett (Antoinette Maynard), his swingin' sister [...]. Ginger notices her brothers' loneliness and seductively coaxes computer-operator Phil Brooks (Bruce Douglas) to check Scott's compatibility with her college girlfriend. Back on the desert, Scott's trying to shake the blues. A motorcycling nymphomaniac rescues him from a burly truck-driver, then wears him to a frazzle under the Joshua trees.
"Meanwhile, Ginger's college chum shows up, and co-incidentally turns out to be Kerry Chandler. Shaken to realize Ginger's brother is the 'sailor' who jilted her on the desert, Kerry plans revenge. . . but softens when she discovers how much he's hung up on her. Nearly destroyed by the man-hungry nympho, Scott finally gets to the motel to call Ginger, but is shocked to see her car parked in front of "his" room. He gets another surprise when he finds Kerry waiting for him . . . but a very pleasant surprise, indeed..."  

Two Thousand Weeks
(1969, dir. Tim Burstall [20 April 1927 — 19 April 2004])
According to TCM, Novak distributed this Australian movie in the US. One can only wonder how a sleaze merchant like him ended up with a "serious" flick like this one — though as we all know, it isn't the content that counts, it's the marketing. To simply quote the current entry at Wikipedia: "Tim Burstall was [...] best known for the motion picture Alvin Purple (1973). [A sex farce that enjoyed two lesser sequels.]
Trailers to Alvin Purple (1973) & Alvin Rides Again (1974):
"Burstall was a key figure in Australian postwar cinema and was instrumental in rebuilding the Australian film industry at a time when it had been effectively dead for years. [...] Burstall earned a place in Australian cinema history as the writer and director of the feature 2000 Weeks. Released in 1969, it was Australia's first locally-made feature film since Charles Chauvel's Jedda in 1955."
Trailer to Jedda (1955):
The plot, also thanks to Wikipedia: "Will (Mark McManus), a writer in his thirties, faces a crisis in his life when he has to choose between his wife (Eileen Chapman) and mistress (Jeanie Drynan). He is also on the fence about choices in his professional life, something that is accentuated when he meets a childhood friend who has become a successful TV producer in England. He calculates he has two thousand weeks left in his life to achieve success."
Soundtrack to 2000 Weeks:

Wanda, The Sadistic Hypnotist
 (1969, writ. & dir. Greg Corarito)

"What are you doing to me? Lady, you don't understand, I'm a Republican!"
Sylvester ("Dick Dangerfield")

We have our doubts that Harry Novak had his sticky fingers in the pie that is Wanda, The Sadistic Hypnotist, primarily because it is still available at Something Weird, but a number of online reviews and sources (including Funhouse) give credit to Novak, so here it is.
Woman in Prison Films describes the movie so: "Following his car crash, Wanda (Katharine Shubeck, above) and Greta (Janine Sweet) kidnap the semi-conscious Sylvester (Richard Compton as 'Dick Dangerfield') into their place. He is then tied up to a bed, hypnotized, whipped and raped by Wanda's women. Can an escaped mental patient break in and even the odds? This is a strange flick, but don't mistake it to be anything of actual quality. It's horribly directed with lots of over-the-top acting. The director has no idea how to keep a pace going or include anything resembling continuity. Fortunately, I'd have it no other way when dealing with this psychedelic nudie cutie. There's [sic] several sex scenes that go on for a bit too long, but the absurdity and the hilarious dialog make it completely worth watching for fans of this kind of crap. It's one of the most entertaining products I've seen from Something Weird in a long while, and you know that's saying a lot."
Groovy Soundtrack —
Al Quick & The Mechanics' Theme to Wanda, The Sadistic Hypnotist:

Neither Katharine Shubeck (below) nor Janine Sweet seem to have ever made another movie, but Richard Compton (2 March 1938 — 11 August 2007) went on to have a rather successful career as a TV director after he stopped acting in Z-films like this one. In-between the two stages of his career, he also directed a number of decent B-films of his own — among others, Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971 / shoot out) and Return to Macon County (1975 / first 15 minutes) — as well as the two depressing exploitation classics, Macon County Line (1974 / trailer) and Jackson County Jail (1976 / trailer).
Director Greg Corarito, on the other hand, never left the realm of Z-films and pretty much retired after the breast and rape-heavy sexploiter Delinquent Schoolgirls (1975), though he did raise his head in 1992 to suddenly release the forgotten (possibly lost) regional exploiter, The Bikini Keys.
Delinquent School Girls (1975):

Dracula (The Dirty Old Man)
(1969, writ. & dir. William Edwards)

As with Wanda, The Sadistic Hypnotist, we have our doubts that Harry Novak had his sticky fingers in the pie that is Dracula (The Dirty Old Man), primarily because it is still available at Something Weird, but a number of online reviews and sources (including Funhouse) give credit to Novak, so for the benefit of doubt here it is.
Dracula (The Dirty Old Man) is one of those types of movies that make you wonder what drugs people took in the days of our grandparents. Was this totally psychotronic flick ever a truly serious project, or was it always the inane joke it seems to be? We find it hard to believe that this movie ever got released anywhere, much less that it still survives today — but the world is a better place for it. (Not.)
Clip from Dracula (The Dirty Old Man):
Jerry Saravia writes: "Shot on the single half of a shoestring budget, this soft-core porn flick (pardon, I meant a skinflick) is so crummy and vile that not much enjoyment can be derived from it.
"Count Dracula (Vince Kelly) is named Count Alucard [...] and he lives in his coffin in a cave out in the desert with two torches on each side of the coffin. [...] The Count visits suburban homes, standing outside women's bedrooms, looking for nubile women who might look good naked. But he needs help and receives it from a local reporter (Billy Whitton) who looks like an insurance salesman. Good old Count changes him into a werewolf and calls him Irving Jackelmann. The Count sends Jackelmann off looking for women for the Count to sink his teeth into, specifically in the breast. The movie begins with the most absurd narration this side of the Ed Wood, Jr. fence, [...]. 
"None of the clearly post-dubbed lines of dialogue match anything the characters say (apparently the recorded sound was so horrendous, it needed to be redubbed). [...] The movie has several sex scenes and one with the Jackelmann that is so disturbing and drags on for far too long (let's say it is narcoleptic) that it uses humor to make us forget the vile act itself (it doesn't work). And watching Dracula lick his lips with eye-rolling delight becomes tedious."
Full movie, while it lasts:

The same year writer/director William Edwards regurgitated this film, he wrote and produced two other Z-budget flicks, Ride a Wild Stud (1969 / 10 minutes) and The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969 / stripper killed), both of which were directed by former Western and low budget director and scriptwriter Oliver Drake (28 May 1903 — 19 August 1991), who entered the industry during the silents.
Oliver Drake wrote the script —
Elmer Clifton's City of Missing Girls (1941):

Go here for Part VII: 1970.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Monster Club (Great Britain, 1980)

This portmanteau film — that's golden-snot vocabulary for anthology film — is the final feature film directorial effort by Roy Ward Baker (Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde [1971] and The Legend of Seven Golden Vampires [1974]) and, contrary to what many people believe, is not an Amicus Productions. The vignettes are based on the tales of the British horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes — as is the final Amicus anthology movie, From Beyond the Grave (1973 / trailer) — and John Carradine, the headlining star alongside Vincent Price, plays the author in, clearly, a fictionalized form.
An enjoyable if less than stellar effort, The Monster Club is a highly uneven ride that is at times entertaining and at times excruciating, almost never truly scary but often good for a laugh — as it was obviously intended to be — and enjoyable above all simply for the presence of the two headlining Old Masters, Carradine and Price, during the interlocking scenes. Neither seems to be trying to hard, but then they don't have too: they exude a relaxed and lightly wry presence achieved by years of experience and practice, and are a pleasure to watch and hear. They seem to be having fun, and it carries over to the viewer. 
Elsewhere, during the horror vignettes themselves, other favorite faces show up occasionally for the ride as well; Elke Sommers (Hotel der toten Gäste [1965] and Flashback – Mörderische Sommer [2000]), Donald Pleasance, Patrick Magee (Dementia 13 [1963 / trailer / full movie] and The Masque of the Red Death [1964]), and Stuart Whitman being the immediately recognizable ones for us here at A Wasted Life. This in turn also helps make the somewhat mundane and less than spectacular tales more palatable. Indeed, if the vignettes are examples of the horror that R. Chetwynd-Hayes wrote, the movie hardly inspires one to search out his work. Still, there are worse stories (and movies) out there... 
The wrap-around sequence concerns the elderly horror author Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) who is out and about one night enjoying the sight of his books in a bookstore window when Eramus (Vincent Price), a starving vampire fan, takes a lite lunch from him and then invites Chetwynd-Hayes to the titular Monster Club as a form of repayment and possible inspiration. (The idea of such clubs was used again later, of course, in both the TV series Buffy (1997-2003) and its spinoff Angel (1999-2004), not to mention the monster of all monster-club movies, From Dusk to Dawn [1996 / trailer].) The place is hilarious, intentionally of course, as the whole movie does not really try hard to be serious at all, but one must say that the monster masks look less burlesque or humorous than simply badly made and dirt cheap. But the dilettantish execution of the masks reflects the general mood of the film, as The Monster Club, which doesn't really have a nasty bone in its body, is definitely aimed more at pre-teens with an odd sense of humor than anything else.
Eramus sits down to his glass of blood, Chetwynd-Hayes to his tomato juice (so as to look less conspicuous), and we are treated to a rather long lecture on the family tree of monster interbreeding, the concept that is common to all three stories, which feature characters of different mixed blood. The first tale, "The Shadmock", is perhaps the ickiest one of them all, if only because it is so sad that a beauty like Angela (Barbara Kellerman of Satan's Slave [1976 / trailer]) meets the fate that she does, while her slimebag boyfriend (Simon Ward of Deadly Strangers [1975 / full movie], Dominique [1979 / trailer], Holocaust 2000 [1977 / a trailer] and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! [1969 / trailer]) only ends up insane. The "monster" of the segment, the "shadmock" Raven (James Laurenson of Assault [1971 / trailer]), looking much like a first cousin of the Addams Family, is more tragic than terrible, and in the longer run is perhaps in greater need of a good shrink than a girlfriend. (Some websites claim that Klaus KIinsky had been offered and turned down a role in The Monster Club; it is easy to imagine that this may have been the part.) 
The middle section, "The Vampires", introduced by an chuckle-inducing swipe at film producers, is perhaps the weakest if funniest of them all, and features both Donald Pleasance (Raw Meat [1972], Prince of Darkness [1987], The Mutations [1973]  and Django II  [1987]) as a vampire hunter, Eklund as a human vampire bride, and Richard Johnson (of Zombies II [1979 / trailer], The Haunting [1963 / trailer], Beyond the Door [1974 / trailer], The Comeback [1978 / trailer], The Great Alligator [1979 / German trailer], The Night Child [1975 / trailer] and much more) as the absentee vampire father; the first twist at the end is rather effective and funny, the second twist only gives the viewer the feeling that the filmmakers wanted their cake and to eat it, too. In other words, it is less funny than simply too much and actually damages an already too-humorous segment... Still, kids who like happy ending will like it. 
And then comes the final tale, "The Ghouls", featuring Patrick Magee as one of the bad ghouls and Stuart Whitman (of Eaten Alive [1977 / trailer], Night of the Lepus [1972 / trailer], Ruby [1977 / trailer], Devil's Hand [1981 / trailer], Horror Safari  [1982 / trailer], Welcome to Arrow Beach [1974 / trailer] and Deadly Intruder      [1988 / trailer]) as the director in search of a shooting location. If one overlooks the one blaring flaw of the story — the ghouls can't stand the cross yet have for years taken dinner from a graveyard full of cross tombstones* — it is perhaps the most successful of the lot: blackly humorous and extremely fatalistic, it is horrendous even as it tries not to be overly serious. It comes the closest, in our opinion, to the tales found in the classic EC comic books, which were, as everyone knows, the biggest influence on the British (if not most) anthology horror film as of the 1960s and 70s.
Two other highpoints of the movie include Price's closing monologue, a convincing argument that humans are far more the true monster on the world than all other monsters combined, and a funny striptease (done by an unknown Suzanna Willis) to some group called Night that we have often seen as a GIF but had never previously known whence it came. It gets a good laugh from those who don't know it — and almost as good of one from those who do. It is also the only music interlude that doesn't make the viewer cringe...
Stevie (Vann) Lange  of Night sings — The Stripper Scene:
Speaking of the music interludes: they are biggest flaw of the movie, and The Monster Club would well have been better served had they been dumped in favor of a forth episode. But they are there, and they are not good, almost as bad as those found in Night Train to Terror (1985), but instead of only one crappy new wave group (as in the legendary Night Train), in The Monster Club there are four or maybe more — we've tried desperately to forget — and they are not all new wave, old wave or of any wave at all. The oldest wave is of course The Pretty Things, who show up for a song and thus only reveal how deep of a commercial rut they were already in when the movie came out. The best number is of course that of the token female singer Stevie Lange, but as killer as her voice is, like all the songs in the movie, it's not like you will find yourself really wanting to hear it again. 
But good or bad, the crappy music is made worse by the fact that Roy Ward Baker, while a serviceable and experienced director more than capable of making a professional if almost generically-styled movie, obviously hadn't the foggiest clue of how to film music videos despite obviously trying to do so whenever the bands are on stage. He fails completely: never once looking to Russ Meyer or Eisenstein (MTV wasn't around for another year) for a clearer concept of montage and quick edit, or even trying to combine the song to the image or edit, he instead opts to do nothing special or, for one blue-faced guy (a laughably serious and miserable B. A. Robertson singing a generic-sounding 80s new wave turd entitled Sucker For Your Love), going crazy with the zoom — and, by doing so, managing to show the world, if only due to comparison, that Jess Franco as actually a master of the zoom. Major ouch. The songs and technique are a far cry from, say, the equally dated but nevertheless successful appearance of Bauhaus in The Hunger (1983 / trailer) singing Bela Lugosi Is Dead.
Opening titles to The HungerBela Lugosi Is Dead:
The Monster Club: fun enough but hardly earthshaking, its plus points outweigh its flaws, but on the whole it is not the best movie of the director or of any of the familiar faces found in it. Go in with low expectations, and you might enjoy it, but we for one can't help but wonder why it should enjoy some sort of cult popularity...
*Actually, there are really so many other small logical flaws in every narrative that one really has to decide to consciously ignore them or the entire movie will become somewhat of a drag.
B. A. Robertson singing Sucker For Your Love:
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