Archive for the 50s Horror Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SHE DEVIL (1957)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2013, 50s Horror, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Femme Fatales, Insect Horror, Lost Films, Mad Doctors!, Mutants! with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SHE DEVIL (1957)

shedevilposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Kurt Neumann is the well-known director of one of the greatest mad scientist/monster movies of all time, THE FLY (1958).  We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all quoted the infamous “Help meeee!” line in a falsetto voice.  Neumann, however, was quite a prolific filmmaker, with many terrific little movies under his belt, including KRONOS (1957), CARNIVAL STORY (1954), ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950), and numerous Tarzan titles.  Yet, everyone remembers him for his creation of a bulbous, fly-headed human.  Far less known, is Kurt Neumann’s other insect/mad scientist horror movie, SHE DEVIL (1957), which he also wrote.  No, this isn’t the Rosanne atrocity, but a full-blooded, low-budget shocker that surely freaked out the drive-in crowds.

The film opens in glorious black and white – A Regal Film (a company that went bust just after the release of SHE DEVIL, which explains the obscurity of the title…also, the movie was shot in Cinemascope, and most theaters weren’t able to handle the technology).  We see a view through a microscope of an obviously hand-drawn fruitfly, which is what Dr. Scott (Jack Kelly of CULT OF THE COBRA, 1955 and FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956,) is looking at when he gets a visit from his colleague, Dr. Bach, played by stalwart character actor Albert Dekker (who was in THE KILLERS,1946, THE FURIES, 1950, EAST OF EDEN, 1955 and THE WILD BUNCH, 1969, but who is probably best known to genre fans for his portrayal of DR. CYCLOPS, 1940,).  They discuss Scott’s new research, in which he is using the invulnerability of the fruitfly, which can heal itself through adaptation to its environment.  Since fruitflies are the most adaptive of all insects and produce the most neutons (?), he creates a serum that has worked wonders on lab animals.  “These guinea pigs were tubercular, and the serum cured them in three days!”  His leopard turns from spotted to black after taking the drug, and it grows very aggressive (uh-oh!).  He needs a human test subject, but, darn it, nobody wants to volunteer to ingest the serum during their final days.

Enter gorgeous Kyra Zelas, a dying woman in the final stages of tuberculosis, played by the lovely Mari Blanchard (ABBOT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS, 1953 and DESTRY, 1954).  She has no relatives or friends or money, and no hope of surviving.  The perfect subject for Scott’s serum!  They inject her, and in just six hours, she is doing much better.  In another day, she is fully recovered and admiring herself in a mirror.  Her hair was never so lustrous!  Dr. Scott starts to fall for Kyra, even after he can barely get a needle through her newly-strengthened skin.  Luckily, it seems it has also given her a Max Factor makeover that is permanently beautifying her face.

Dr. Bach (Albert Dekker) operates on Kyra.

Dr. Bach (Albert Dekker) operates on Kyra.

Dr. Scott decides she should be kept under observation in case there are any side effects, so when she is released, she will be living with the good doctor so he can, ahem, keep an eye on her.  When she heads to his house, she informs the men that “From now on, I’m going to do only what I want…everything I want.  I’m going to get everything I can out of life.  Everything I always wanted.”  She starts by going to an expensive boutique where she observes a sugar daddy buying stuff for his woman and flashing a lot of cash around.  She grabs the money, bashes the man over the head with an ashtray, and heads for a dressing room.  By shaking her hair out, shampoo-commercial style, she changes from brunette to blond, a really cool special effect for the time.  After changing into another dress, she fools everyone, even the police, and uses the stolen money to buy a new wardrobe.

Dr. Scott is easily fooled by the beauty, but Dr. Bach sees her for the conniving little tramp she is.  He discovers she hasn’t dyed her hair blonde; she is mutating!  His warnings fall on deaf ears as Scott throws a sort of coming out party for her.  This is where she meets insanely wealthy no-goodnik Barton Kendell (John Archer of DESTINATION MOON, 1950 and BLUE HAWAII, 1961) and his shrewish wife Evelyn (Fay Baker of NOTORIOUS, 1946 and THE STAR, 1952).  “Now, Evelyn, you know we never quarrel till our third drink.”

Barton flirts shamelessly with Kyra, who encourages his attentions, but when Evelyn says she wants to leave the party, Kyra does her head-shake again, turning her blond hair brown (there’s a Crystal Gayle song in there somewhere.)  Then, she kills Evelyn in the garden by using her super-strength to strangle the older woman.  She’s spotted, but everyone is looking for a brunette, and she’s reverted back to blond again!

Scott and Bach decide to create an anti-serum in case Kyra gets out of hand.  They are too late, however, and she’s had a taste of freedom.  She allows the black leopard in the lab to claw her, and the bloody wound heals in seconds.  She can’t be injured, no matter how badly she is attacked.  They try to drug her, but she wakes up and threatens them before departing for richer shores.

She marries the smitten millionaire Barton Kendell, but she grows bored with him quickly and their marriage turns sour.  “Stop pawing me!” she cries out.  On a drive, she spins the car’s wheel, sending the car over the cliff with Barton and herself inside.  “Stop it, Kyra, you’ll kill us!”  “Not US, Bart.  Not US!” (The car crash footage is from a Robert Mitchum movie, ANGEL FACE, 1952).  At the bottom of the cliff, she emerges unscathed from the wreckage and walks back to Dr. Scott, who welcomes her with open arms, even though he knows how evil she is!

She devil Kyra meets the leopard.

Blonde she-devil Kyra meets the leopard.

Will Dr. Bach convince Scott of what a monster Kyra has become?  Will she succeed in taking out Bach and living with the man who loves her?  Can they operate on her to restore Kyra to normalcy (in other words, not a murderous, thieving witch with fabulous hair)?

SHE DEVIL is loaded with bitchy, fun dialogue (“I’m not creating a scene.  You are.”  “Oh yeah?  I’m not the one necking with this trollop!”  SLAP!  “You don’t want a divorce; you might actually have to marry one of your girls.”).  Sometimes, the script gets a bit too talky for its own good, but when the words coming out of the characters’ mouths are so tasty, who cares?  The crisp cinematography is by the great Karl Struss, who worked on SUNRISE (1927), Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940), and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932), before moving on to trashy greats like THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) and Neumann’s own THE FLY.  The acting is fine, if a bit over the top, with Mari Blanchard standing out as the murderous, monstrous, indestructible femme fatale.  She gyrates and whispers and is sex personified.  Plus, that hair trick is awfully cool.

On a side-note, co-star Albert Dekker, the star of so many terrific, Oscar-nominated films, is also the victim in one of Hollywood’s most notorious death scenes.  In May of 1968, he was discovered on his knees, dead in a bathtub with a noose around his neck, hand-cuffed, a ball gag in his mouth, blindfolded, with sexual words written on his body in lipstick!  The coroner declared the death was “accidental”, and he was cremated.  Today, he is remembered more for his sexually kinky death than his body of work, and that’s a sad thing.  We at Bill’s Bizarre Bijou loved the guy’s over the top performance in SHE DEVIL, as well as his nuanced portrayals in other, more mainstream films.

Kyra as a brunette.

Kyra as a brunette.

SHE DEVIL is a fun sci-fi/horror hybrid with an unforgettable female lead and more than a few memorable moments.  Plus, Olive Films has released a stunning Blu-Ray of the film which looks absolutely beautiful.

I give SHE DEVIL three fruitflies out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Cinema Knife Fight’s Monstrous Question: BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS WHO NEVER MADE IT

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Grindhouse, Hammer Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question of the Month, Movie History, Paul McMahon Columns, Universal Horror Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, William D. Carl, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Welcome to this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Today we’re asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters:  Who’s your favorite actor, or actress, in a horror/science fiction movie who didn’t make it big?

In other words, that person who never quite became a star, yet in this one movie or perhaps movies, you just loved him/her.  Name the actor, the movie, and what it was about his/her performance that you liked so much.  You can also comment on why you think this person never became a star.  Of course, in some cases, it’s obvious (the person died suddenly, for example).

So let’s get started.  William, let’s start with you.  Who’s the actor or actress you most wished had made it big?

WILLIAM D. CARL:  Thanks, Michael.  I’m going with Deborah Foreman, who burst onto the screen in the hot VALLEY GIRL in 1983, but she almost immediately gravitated toward the horror genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Cool.  Deborah Foreman was one of my picks too!

CARL:  Well, she was a terrific comedian, with a beautiful face and bod to match the bubbly personality; she nearly always played the perky girl next door type who got into some kind of trouble.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

In DESTROYER (1988), she faced a crazed Lyle Alzado in an abandoned prison where she was to play the lead in a women-in-prison film. In 1988, she played ‘the girlfriend’ in WAXWORK, facing off against vampires and her own sexual urges when confronted by De Sade!

L.L. SOARES:  My kind of woman!

CARL:  SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989) found her in another thankless girlfriend role, but she held her own against Bruce Campbell and David Carradine. Later that year she played, yes, another girlfriend in the comedy/horror film LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS. In my heart, however, the lovely Deborah Foreman will always be the twins Buffy and Muffy from 1986’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a fun slasher comedy that is buoyed by her dual performance to a point where it makes the movie’s ludicrous twists (almost) palatable.

Foreman had a real knack for comedy and scares, and she knew when to be the growling animalistic twin and when to be sweet and innocent, as she was in most of her roles. I think if someone would’ve let her play something other than the girlfriend, she could have really become a huge star in either comedy or horror. Somehow, she never made it. After a few TV episodes (hello MACGYVER!), she’s disappeared from the scene. Nowadays, she’s a graphic artist and she makes and designs custom furniture.

Sigh.

In my heart, she will always be the beautiful, but mussed Muffy, attacking the last guy alive with one wickedly huge knife. Deborah, we miss you!

MCMAHON:  We certainly do.

ARRUDA:  I miss the Lobster Man from Mars.  Whatever happened to him?

SOARES:  He’s selling fish and chips in New Bedford.

Anyway, my favorite actor who never made it big would have to be Seamus O’Brien, who played Master Sardu in the 1976 movie BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. He is brilliant in the film, and has been described as a kind of a “poor man’s Vincent Price.” But I thought he was so much more. By turns spooky and darkly funny, his performance is nothing short of inspired.

The late great Seamus O'Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

The late great Seamus O’Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Born in London in June of 1932, his short film career includes only one other movie credit: a small role in 1975’s THE HAPPY HOOKER, but he also was a stage actor, and was performing in an off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks” when he died.

And how did he die? He “was stabbed to death while trying to hold a burglar at his apartment on May 14, 1977,” thus ending a promising career in horror/exploitation cinema.

He was only 44 years old.

ARRUDA:  That’s sad.  Some of my picks had tragic ends as well, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  Paul, you want to weigh in?

MCMAHON:  Sure.

The one actress I’ve never been able to forget is Deborah Foreman, who William spoke about a couple of minutes ago.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL’S DAY.

As he said, Foreman played Muffy/ Buffy in the original APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember her having a screen presence that flipped from inviting to evil and back again. I always thought she deserved a more meaningful acting career than WAXWORK (1988) and LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

While we’re at it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Emily Perkins from STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990) and the GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY (2000 – 2004).

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

ARRUDA, SOARES, CARL:  Yo, Emily!

MCMAHON:  Where the heck did she go?

SOARES:  She ran off with the Lobster Man, and they had little Ginger Lobster babies.

ARRUDA:  Really?  I thought the Lobster Man from Mars had a thing for the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)?

SOARES:  That was just a fling.

ARRUDA:  Oh.  And here I was thinking Mars was just this ANGRY RED PLANET (1959).  Who knew there was so much lovin’ going on?

MCMAHON:  An actor that leaps to mind is Kevin J. O’Connor, who played Joey in DEEP RISING (1998) and Swann in LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). In both roles he disappeared into his character and commanded your attention whenever he was on screen. He works only sporadically now, and doesn’t usually get much to do. I’d love to see him find a role to carve himself into everyone’s memory.

Kevin J. O'Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Kevin J. O’Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

SOARES – Wait a minute here, what’s with all the choices? The question says “Who’s your favorite actor, or actress,” so I obviously assumed it meant one person.  No fair!

ARRUDA (dressed as the Joker): Wait til they get aload of me.

SOARES: Did you say something, Michael?

MCMAHON (ignoring them): Topmost, though, I have always been, and will probably always remain, stymied at the lack of respect for Jeffery DeMunn. DeMunn displayed a hell of a lot of talent as the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the underrated CITIZEN X (1995).

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

I saw the remake of THE BLOB (1988) afterwards, and DeMunn impressed me again, playing a Sheriff who genuinely cares for every member of his town. He was given a small role in THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), in which he had nothing to do.

Lately, he seems to have found favor with Frank Darabount, landing roles in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999) THE MIST (2007), and most recently as Dale on THE WALKING DEAD, but I think the guy deserves a lot more. He’s a top-tier talent who’s been overlooked far too long.

And a bonus…

SOARES: Another one? WTF?

MCMAHON: Brian Yuzna’s first film SOCIETY (1989) featured some of the wildest, most outrageous make-up designs I’ve ever seen. The job was credited to “Screaming Mad George.” His real name is Joji Tani, and while he worked off and on for a while after that, his trail evaporates after 2005.

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Where the heck did he go?

SOARES: To be honest, he’s not an actor, so he really doesn’t count as an answer to this question, but I still have to agree with you. I’m a huge fan of SOCIETY, a completely underrated movie. And I used to look forward to seeing “Screaming Mad George’s” name in movie credits. He was terrific at making cool effects, and for awhile, you’d see his name everywhere. He was even in the creature effects crew of the original PREDATOR (1987). Where did he go?

ARRUDA:  That’s a good question.  A lot of folks just disappear from the scene.  Often they simply leave the business and continue on with their lives in other careers.

I’ve got a bunch of choices today.  Most of them are well-known, I think, but not as leading actors.

SOARES: A bunch??

ARRUDA: Robert Armstrong, for example, in KING KONG (1933) is quite famous among movie buffs for his role as Carl Denham, and while Armstrong was in fact a very successful character actor, appearing in over 160 movies, he never really made the jump to leading man.  He’s great as Denham in KING KONG, and I’ve always wished he’d played the lead in more movies.

Robert_Armstrong

From the Universal movies, I’m going with Dwight Frye.  Sure, Frye is known today for his scene stealing performances as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and you can find him in bit parts in other Universal monster movies, but that’s it.

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Watch him as Renfield in DRACULA and you can’t help but wish he’d gone on to bigger and better things.

He died young, just 44, of a heart attack, in 1943.

SOARES: Dwight Frye was terrific! Also check him out as Herman Glieb in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), another memorable role. He also had a small role, as Wilmer Cook, in THE MALTESE FALCON (1931). He really deserved to become a leading man/villain in horror flicks. He’s better than Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, who got their shots as leads!

ARRUDA: And speaking of DRACULA, I’d also go with Helen Chandler in DRACULA (1931).  She’s often and obviously overlooked in this movie because of the presence of Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but she makes a terrific and feisty Mina.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931's DRACULA.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931’s DRACULA.

After a successful stage career, she never quite made it in the movies.  She lived a tragic life, struggling with alcohol and sleeping pill dependency, becoming disfigured in a fire, and eventually living out her days in a sanitarium.

From Hammer Films, I’ve always liked Francis Matthews, who appeared as Peter Cushing’s young assistant Hans in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), and as heroic Charles Kent in the second Christopher Lee Dracula movie, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He’s been described as an “ineffective” leading man, but I’ve always found his performances topnotch.  Sure, he sounds just like Cary Grant, but so what?  I would have liked to have seen him hit it big.

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Then there’s Andrew Keir, who appeared with Matthews in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, as Father Sandor.  Keir was a very successful character actor, but as Father Sandor, the lead hero in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, he dominates his scenes, as he would again in arguably his most famous role as Professor Quatermass in FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  But he never reached the level of a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee in these movies, but based on his performances, he certainly could have.

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Into the 1970s, I’d go with Jason Miller from THE EXORCIST (1973).  He’s great as young Father Karras.  I would have loved to have seen him act in many more movies, but he kept himself busy as a successful playwright.  He died in 2001.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

SOARES:  I agree about Jason Miller, too. But I’ve got a problem. Bill Carl and I totally followed the rules and chose one person. I thought Paul was bad, but you’re listing so many people it sounds like you’re writing a book on the subject. What’s going on here?

ARRUDA: Where have you been?  We always get carried away with these things.  This is nothing new.  Why haven’t you been paying attention?  Have you been busy writing novels or something?

SOARES:  Yes.

ARRUDA:  There you go.

And from today, I’d go with Idris Elba.  He’s starred in a bunch of movies, including PROMETHEUS (2012) and THOR (2011), but mostly in supporting roles, which is too bad because he’s great in every movie I see him in.  He’s busily acting today, so there’s still time for him to make it big.  This guy needs to make it as a lead actor, and I’m hoping he does.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

SOARES: Another one! But I have to agree about Elba, he’s great in everything he does. He is more appreciated in his native England, by the way, where he plays the lead in the compelling TV series LUTHER (worth checking out on BBC America). In America, he was pretty memorable as Russell “Stringer” Bell on the HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2004), but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was even turned down for the lead role in the recent movie ALEX CROSS, so that the role could go to “bigger name” Tyler Perry, who was awful!

ARRUDA: And that’s all we’ve got.

SOARES: Finally! I thought you were doing your dissertation or something!

ARRUDA:  Now that you mention it, it would be a fun idea for a book.

SOARES:  So, until next time, remember that there’s always something new here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Tell all your movie-loving friends to check out the site!

ARRUDA:  That’s right.  Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Good night, everybody.

—END—

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Mexican Horror, Monsters, Sea Creatures, Swamp Movies with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

We go south of the border this week for our swamp picture to complete my trilogy of swampy summer goodness. And oh boy, is this a weird one. THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS – 1957 (the final plurality of the monster(s) is almost covered up by the right edge of the screen, but everything I can find on this lost treasure is the singular SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER), is a Mexican import from kiddie matinee guru K. Gordon Murray, who bought these things on the cheap and dubbed them on the cheaper. Murray specialized in Mexican horror movies and oddities, unleashing brain-numbing madness onto the innocent minds of Eisenhower Saturday matinee movie-goers. He brought us such wonders as THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1958), SCANDAL IN FAIRYLAND (1957), and, of course, the unbelievable SANTA CLAUS (1959) where little children team up with Santa to kill Satan and his demons!  Oh the Christmas joy!  Well, Murray also dubbed and distributed THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER aka THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS aka THE SWAMP OF LOST SOULS.

The credits, scrolled over a picture of skulls and ghosts, proudly announce that the film stars Gaston Santos and his horse ‘Moonlight’. In real life, Gaston Santos was a renowned bullfighter, who often challenged his bulls on horseback. He was also a hack actor in several Mexican cheapies such as THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959) and THE LIVING COFFIN (1959). When you’re shown up by your own second billed horse, you know you just aren’t made for the movies.

The story starts with a funeral, in which a coffin is rowed across a lake (or maybe the swamp?) to a shore riddled with weeping women in black (actually a very striking image). The widow, Maria, demands a glimpse of her dead husband, and the coffin lid is raised, even though the men rowing the boat inform her he was “killed by the beast.”  Then, one of them turns around and says he may have died from some disease. Still, the widow accompanies the men across the lake, riding atop the coffin, to bury her late hubby. Her son arrives, a dashing young man on horseback, who also demands to see the corpse. When the casket is opened, the body has disappeared. Cue many furious signs of the crosses and ‘Santa Marias!’

That evening, a very sad, grade-Z CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON knock-off stalks the  grounds of Maria’s mansion. This monster is hilarious, with an oversized fish head, nearly invisible scuba gear on its back, and googly eyes. This ‘lost monster’ should’ve stayed lost; it’s really that pathetic.

Move over all you other sea monsters! The Lost Monster is in town!

The pallbearers (rowboat bearers?) are plotting something, even as Maria’s niece, the manly Julieta, tries to comfort her with their faithful servant Carmela. The dashing nephew makes a dash for the next ranch, where Gaston Santos, rancher and private detective (!) is amusing everyone with Moonlight, his amazing dancing horse. Yes, the horse does actually dance, and it’s cute, but only until the nephew drops dead at his feet, muttering something about cholera and a monster that attacked him. Well, Gaston just has to see what this is all about, so he rides along with his comedy-relief side-kick Squirrel Eyes, who’s like a Mexican Pinky Lee, lisping and singing like Al Jolson. Squirrel Eyes is attacked by the monster after he falls into the swamp because he stood up in a canoe. The whole time we are underwater with the creature, we can still hear the birds in the trees above Squirrel Eyes, who escapes the creature, who, for an aquatic beast, isn’t very fast in the water. Must be all that bulky scuba equipment strapped to its back or the baggy orange rubber costume. Squirrel Eyes must be truly terrified, because he keeps calling the monster a ‘Martian.’  Someone takes a pot shot at Squirrel Eyes but hits Gaston, who takes off after the villain in the slowest chase scene ever.

The manly Julieta is sweet on Gaston Santos!

Gaston goes to the doctor and gets bandaged up, and we see he’s certainly a strapping young man!  He’s very muscular and handsome for the time. Anyway, he goes on to Maria’s mansion, where he starts investigating the mystery of the disappearing corpse and the gruesome gill man. Little does he know, the doctor who bandaged him has a wireless Morse Code set in his desk and he alerts someone…to something.

Several gauchos have fun throwing stuff at a wall, but their boss tells them no more games. Gaston gets into a bar brawl in town, but after he whips everyone’s butts, the boss of the ranch at the mansion arrives to take him to the widow’s house. He impresses Julieta with his suave dancing horse skills, and the girl smiles at him, exhibiting no sexual chemistry whatsoever. The actress who plays Julieta is a strange-looking woman with the face of Michael Jackson in his whitest years and a Loretta Young wig. It turns out her uncle had an insurance policy that benefits his brother, not the widow. And the bank may take her house soon!

Squirrel Eyes goes fishing and catches the body of the gravedigger. “Aye Chihuahua!”   Carmela finds out the widow Maria has second sight, and she sees that someone is going to try and kill her. She also has another secret—she’s gone blind, and she’s been fooling the villagers for months. Now, she can’t see anything, but she feels better with a gun in her hand. I’m pretty sure everyone else in the house isn’t quite so comfortable having a blind old lady with a revolver bumping into walls and shooting whenever she hears someone getting close!

The creature stalks up on the two lovebird wannabes and the monster fires a spear gun at them!  Monsters have lousy aim, however, as it misses them completely and nearly wings Squirrel Eyes (oh please let him die, please!). There’s a bit of a chase, and Gaston strips down to a red Speedo, dives into the water, and wrestles with the rubbery critter for several minutes while his obviously rubber knife wobbles and wiggles in the water. A fiesta takes place nearby…complete with a whole slew of dancing horses and firecrackers. The monster gets away, but it uses the Morse Code machine to send a message. To whom?  Some fan mail from some flounders?

Obviously, this monster is no monster!  But who is it?  Will Maria be ruined by the insurance scheme?  Will Gaston solve the mystery of the disappearing body?  Will we ever discover why he’s wearing red Speedo swim trunks under his white cowboy outfit?  Will Moonlight ever get a dancing partner?  After a weird comedic Keystone Kops-style fight with clumsily staged slapstick and another fight between the creature and Gaston (who beats the crap out of the poor beastie with a two by four), we discover all the answers.

Gaston beats the crap out of the “Monster.”

And by the way, there’s only one monster, so why is this THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS?  And the single monster was never even lost!  This is what happens when the smartest character in the movie is the horse.

THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS is a really bad movie, but somehow, the cinematography is quite good in many scenes, evoking shadowy sets and eerie swamp sets. Someone behind the camera had some talent – cinematographer Raul Martinez Solares, who also shot NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), THE RIVER AND DEATH (1955), and numerous Mexican Lucha films starring Santo. It’s too bad it didn’t trickle down to the screenwriter, the actors, the dubbing specialists, or the director. Still, this is the kind of bad movie that’s a lot of fun, despite its lousiness. Where else are you going to get cowboys, Mexican Catholic funerals, a zipper-backed monster, fiestas, scary heroines that resemble drag queens, dancing horses, handsome, hunky heroes in Speedos, hilarious Mexican stereotypes, insurance scams, an ending right out of Scooby Doo, and more people conversing in Morse Code than two dozen boy scout troops?  With some buddies and a few dozen margaritas, this becomes a real treat for fright fans.

I give THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS two and a half ‘Aye Chihuahuas!’ out of four.

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

FIDO (2006)

Posted in 2012, 50s Horror, Cult Movies, Indie Horror, Innovative Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by knifefighter

FIDO (2006)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Ah, the Fifties, a psychologically fascinating time. WWII is over and there is money and happiness to go around. In FIDO, WWII has been replaced by “The Z War,” but the result is the same. After almost a decade of living with their consciousness stuffed full of worry and death and horror, the American people focus on happy thoughts and hide away anything that makes them uncomfortable. Life is about presentation. How you look to your neighbors means absolutely everything.

FIDO opens with a very Fifties-looking Public Service Announcement (PSA) detailing the meteor that re-animated all the Earth’s corpses and spurred the Zombie War. We learn about Dr. Reinhold Geiger, who discovered that if you destroyed the brain, you destroyed the zombie. Dr. Geiger then invented a suppression collar that would stifle a zombie’s urge to eat living flesh. This miraculous invention, now manufactured and maintained through the wonders of Zomcon, ensured that every family in America could have their own zombie to handle household chores. Now everyone can be a productive member of society, even after they’re dead.

As the PSA finishes, a very Fifties-looking schoolteacher steps into the shot smiling beatifically. Her class beams at her while she introduces the new head of Zomcon security, Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerney, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005 and THE A-TEAM, 2010). He gives an exhilarating but condescending speech about the importance of Zomcon. His visit is marred by Timmy (K’Sun Ray, in his first major role) the only distrustful-looking kid in the class, who asks questions that beg answers beyond the pretty rhetoric designed to numb society into obedience.

When Timmy returns home, he discovers his Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX movies and 2007’s DISTURBIA) has gotten them a zombie. When Timmy’s Dad (Dylan Baker, HIDE AND SEEK, 2005 and TRICK ‘R TREAT, 2007) comes home, we learn that he is terrified of zombies and is mortified that his wife would so blatantly defy his wishes. Dad is working like crazy to earn enough money to pay the exorbitant price of a decapitation and funeral for each member of his family. Mom has to agree to keep the zombie chained up in the backyard when it’s not doing chores before Dad agrees to keep it for a trial period.

Timmy names the zombie Fido (Billy Connolly, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, 1999 and the upcoming HOBBIT movies, 2012 & 2013), and takes him to the park to play. Fido’s collar breaks and he kills their neighbor Mrs. Henderson. The collar kicks back in, revealing an intermittent short, but the damage is done. Timmy is well-versed in making things look “perfect” when bad things happen, so he buries Mrs. Henderson in the park and brings Fido home to clean him up.

Of course, Mrs. Henderson doesn’t stay dead, and soon there is a full-on zombie incident in town. Timmy continues to hide the truth while Mr. Bottoms and his Zomcon Security Force work to contain the outbreak. This is complicated by the fact that Mr. Bottoms has moved his family into the house next door, and Timmy’s Mom is getting friendly with Mrs. Bottoms, the way a good neighbor should.

The first kudos for this film go to the writing. Setting the story during this time period was a brilliant decision. In a world where even rotting corpses shambling around in broad daylight can be made to “look” normal, it spotlights the differences between how things are made to look and how things actually are. Some of the more horrific moments come from the living people refusing to deal with problems and inconveniences. When Timmy comes home with a torn shirt, Mom tells him: “Clean up, put on a new shirt, and we won’t even have to talk about those bullies.”  When she finds him bouncing a ball against the house, she says: “Please don’t play baseball by yourself. It makes you look lonely.” When the zombie knocks over a shelf in the garage, she worries that Dad will send the zombie away. “Then people are gonna say that the Robinsons are strange, and they’ll be right!”

Mrs. Robinson dances with their zombie “… it’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair.”

The performances are all top shelf. K’Sun Ray does a convincing job making you believe he’s the only person in town who’s in tune with how things actually work. Carrie-Anne Moss is excellent in her role, always trying to forge familial happiness in situations where everything is out of balance. You even feel sorry for Dylan Baker’s character as he struggles to maintain his role as the head of the household, while it seems that Fido is slowly usurping his place.

Casting Billy Connelly as Fido was also an excellent choice. Everyone else in the film bears the look of the fifties. None of them would seem out of place in the old TV show LASSIE (which gets lampooned in one hysterical scene– the boy’s name is Timmy, after all), or in any of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Connelly doesn’t fit that mold in any sense, and every time he is on screen it heightens the feeling that something is out of place.

For some reason, FIDO didn’t catch on like it deserved to. Maybe because it was a period piece, maybe because it came during a flurry of zombie comedies trying to make a buck in the wake of 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It wasn’t terribly well distributed, either. I can remember hitting both Hollywood Video and Blockbuster on release day and finding it unavailable.

Period piece or not, FIDO deserves another chance to catch the public’s attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out soon. After all, what are your neighbors going to say when they find out you haven’t seen it?

This one is a solid four stars, with a single time out.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon