Archive for the Mad Doctors! Category

In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Posted in 1940s Films, 2013, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Classic Films, Mad Doctors!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Capposter

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.

Universal Studios was THE place to go for great horror movies in the early days of cinema.  From DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) to THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), Universal spent money on their horror films, creating atmospheric, beautifully made monster pictures that still hold up to viewings today.  In between their A-Pictures, however, they churned out lots of fun B-movies as well.  These movies didn’t have the best directors in the canon; nor did they employ the top box-office actors.  They utilized lots of money-saving stock footage and re-used sets from the big movies.  This doesn’t mean the films weren’t often very entertaining.  Many of them exude a certain second-tier charm that makes them more than bearable.  Often, they are as much fun as the big productions.  Some examples of these B’s were MAN MADE MONSTER (1941), NIGHT MONSTER (1942), and our feature presentation, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). 

While circus animals are being unloaded from a ship, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone, Doc Adams from GUNSMOKE, also in INVADERS FROM MARS – 1953) meets his fiancé and secretary, Beth (Evelyn Ankers from THE WOLF MAN, 1941 and THE PEARL OF DEATH, 1944), who is dressed in great clothes.  She kind of resembles Auntie Mame in every scene of this movie; the costumes are that fabulous!  After playing kissy-face, he tells her about all the big game he has brought back for his circus, including Cheela, a huge female gorilla (okay, a man in a pretty decent gorilla suit).  He introduces Beth to the gorilla as a crate holding a tiger bursts open and the wild beast escapes.  Fred grabs a chair and tames the snarling tiger (more on this footage later).  It’s actually a hell of an exciting opening! 

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Beth tells Fred all about her little sister, Dorothy (played by Martha Vickers as Martha MacVicar) —from THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)) —who has developed a glandular problem and was taken to the Crestview Sanatorium.  Dr. Sigmund Walters is a well-known doctor who specializes in the glandular issues between races.  The good doctor has changed several people who were deformed, making them normal by messing with their pituitary gland.  His nurse assistant helps him with his experiments with sex hormones, where he wants to take human hormones and transplant them into animal subjects. 

In his very first starring role, John Carradine (STAGECOACH, 1939 and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, 1968, and over three hundred other shows and films) plays Dr. Walters, a mad scientist (is there any other kind, especially with Carradine on hand?).  Walters is obsessed with glandular disorders and charming young women.  He joins Beth and Fred to have a look at the circus, where they are all waiting on famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty to answer them about his new act.  We get to see these beautiful animals, lions and tigers especially, caged, fed, and trained. 

Cheela, the gorilla (of my dreams —sorry, couldn’t resist) attacks one of the handlers.  Carradine is instantly smitten by the looks and talent of the gorilla.  He wants to buy her, but the circus says no.  So, he pays a thief to steal the animal.  “It’s a deal, mister.  You got yourself a monkey!”  Instead of paying the thief, Dr. Walters pushes the man into the cage, where Cheela kills him!

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

Once in the lab, Walters begins his nefarious experiments, and Dorothy is included in this mysterious research with Cheela.  Why does he want to turn a gorilla into a hot woman?  Who knows?  Maybe he can’t get a date any other way.  Dorothy starts to die on the operating table, but the gorilla changes through the magic of stop motion photography (like in THE WOLF MAN, 1941) into a sexy young woman, played by Acquanetta (who only had one name, much like Cher or Madonna and was known as the Venezuelan Volcano in press releases and also played in JUNGLE WOMAN, 1944 and DEAD MAN’S EYES, 1944).  Using his nurse’s glands, Walters finishes the experiment.  He saves Dorothy for future surgeries.  He renames the ape-woman Paula Dupree.  Acquanetta plays her as a mute, acting pretty much with only her eyebrows, although she looks stunning doing so.

Meanwhile, back at the circus, Fred gets to try out his new act, mixing lions and tigers in the same cage with himself.  Once again, the animal footage is terrific, exciting and scary and realistic.  The two big cats actually get into a fight, which was supposedly staged and filmed in a single take.  They really look like they’re tearing into each other.  This is not a film for PETA!

Walters brings Paula Dupree (aka Cheela) to the circus, where the animals go crazy, sensing her unnaturalness.  She steps into the lion cage, and the big cat is so afraid of her it backs away.  Fred believes she may be the best lion-tamer of all time.  He hires her, and she becomes a part of the act.  She also falls in love with Fred.  Rut-ro!

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

When Paula/Cheela sees Fred kissing Beth, she gets angry and starts to change back into a gorilla.  Her teeth grow to gigantic form, her skin turns darker, and hair begins sprouting all over her body, her brow becomes huge.  The transformation is primitive and crude, but it works in context.  It’s created by the great Jack P. Pierce, who also created all the classic make-ups for the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. 

She immediately goes after Beth in her home, determined to kill off her romantic competition, but she’s interrupted by a landlady.  The poor older woman is jumped and chewed to death.  Paula escapes, but Dr. Walters knows he needs to perform more operations to get her hormones back to normal.  Things aren’t looking good for Dorothy, who’s still at the sanatorium!

Will Dr. Walters get Paula’s glands back in order?  Will Fred be able to control all those big cats without the help of Paula, and with a big thunderstorm on the way?  Will Paula kill Beth and get the love of the man she adores?  How the hell does Beth afford those terrific glamorous outfits on a circus secretary’s salary? 

Tune in to find out, but it all ends in a spectacular circus finale with crazed big cats, a huge storm, and a lovelorn gorilla.  Watching the stunt footage, I can’t believe somebody didn’t get killed during the filming of these scenes. 

A credit at the beginning of the picture reads “We hereby make grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Clyde Beatty for his cooperation and inimitable talent in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this picture.”  In other words, thanks to Clyde (a world famous lion-tamer) for letting us borrow all your scenes from THE BIG CAGE (1933), a jungle adventure in which Beatty performed the thrilling lion-taming acts.  In fact, it’s rumored that Milburn Stone, a rather bland leading man, was only hired onto CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN because of his diminutive stature and resemblance to Clyde Beatty.

Other than Stone, however, the acting is quite good for this sort of picture.  Evelyn Keyes looks gorgeous in her beautiful outfits and is completely natural, even when spouting dubious dialogue.  Acquanetta is also unbelievably beautiful, and she does a good job, working the whole movie in short, sequined dresses and pantomiming everything she does.  She’s like an animal in a lot of ways, the way her eyes follow things, the way her lips curl when disappointed or angry, and the way she stomps more than walks.  Also impressive is John Carradine in a low-key role.  I love me some John Carradine, and in this film he could’ve turned into the later Carradine, mugging for the camera and camping it up as a mad doctor.  Instead, he reigns his performance inwards, and we can easily see how he could charm women.  He also exudes an innate intelligence.  The man was a terrific actor, and it’s too bad he was relegated to high-camp roles so often in his later years.  A lot of people should watch his earlier work to see how good he truly was. 

As noted before, the gowns in this movie are pretty spectacular for a B-picture.  This is due to Vera West’s costume design.  West was the gown designer behind most of the Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s, as well as THE GOOD FAIRY (1935), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), as well as ALL the major Universal horror films of the thirties and forties.  She designed the gowns for 342 movies, almost all at Universal. 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by stalwart Edward Dmytryk, who also helmed such classics as THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), CROSSFIRE (1947), BACK TO BATAAN (1945), and HITLER’S CHILDREN (1943).  The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Dmytryk started working at Universal as a messenger boy at the age of fifteen.  Later in life, he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC and Joseph McCarthy.  He refused to name names as communists, and he ended up in prison.  After a few months, he testified again, informing on several “communists.”  He always believed he had done the right thing, but he was never forgiven by the rest of Hollywood, and his career stalled out in the 1970s. 

Overall, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value.  This is a fun movie, and it moves amazingly swiftly.  That’s a lot of plot and action for 61 minutes!  The acting is generally very good, the make-up is cool, and the big cat action (thanks again Clyde) is truly jaw-dropping.

I give CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN three glands out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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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/New Filmmakers Edition: CELL COUNT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Body Horror, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Indie Horror, Mad Doctors!, Mutants!, New Filmmmakers, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.NEW FILMMAKERS EDITION
CELL COUNT (2012) Directed by TODD E. FREEMAN
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

cell_count

(THE SCENE: A lab, almost prison-like, with plain gray walls, and security doors and cameras all around.  Several “patients” sit around a table.  The security door buzzes open and MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES enter wearing lab coats.)

L.L. SOARES:  Welcome everyone to a special edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we bring you the latest installment in our “Up-and-Coming Filmmaker” series, where we review movies by new directors who are trying to make a name for themselves.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  So today we are reviewing CELL COUNT (2012) by writer/director Todd E. Freeman.

But let me say first, that our good friend, best-selling author Rick Hautala passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, and both out of respect for Rick and his family, and out of genuine grief, I’m not much in the mood for joking today.  I almost prefer a straight review.

LS: I agree that it was sad news, but knowing Rick, I don’t think he’d want us to tone down the column on his account.

MA:  True.  For me, it’s more that I’m not in a joking mood this weekend, but I don’t see why we couldn’t throw in a few jokes here and there, I guess.

Anyway, let’s get things started.  CELL COUNT  is—.

PATIENT #1:  Excuse me?  What are we doing here exactly?

LS:  You’re our audience.

PATIENT #1:  We didn’t sign up for this.  We’re supposed to be—.

(LS suddenly Tasers the guy, who falls to the floor, writhing in pain.)

LS:  You’re also the comic relief.  Anyone else have any questions?

(Other patients shake their heads.)

LS:  Good. Let’s continue.

MA:  So much for toning things down.

As I was saying, CELL COUNT is a science fiction horror movie about a group of people subjected to one very weird and unsettling medical experiment.

The film opens with Russell Carpenter (Robert McKeehen) comforting his dying wife Sadie (Haley Talbot) in a hospital.  It’s clear that these two are very much in love. Russell is informed by Dr. Victor Brandt (Christopher Toyne) that his wife is going to die in no uncertain terms, unless…and then he makes Russell an offer.  He tells Russell that he’s involved with a special study that is seeking test subjects like his wife in order to treat this deadly disease.  He tells Russell that he can guarantee his wife will be cured. But Russell will have to be part of the experiment as well if he wants to come with her.

I guess Russell never heard “if it sounds too good to be true, it really isn’t” because he agrees…

LS: Of course he agrees! He doesn’t want to lose his wife.

MA: … and he and Sadie find themselves inside a weird prison-like facility with other “patients.”  All of them have small incisions in their chests, where Dr. Brandt supposedly implanted the powerful viral cure into their bodies.  In addition to these patients, there are also two “special” patients housed in a secure part of the building—two convicted criminals who are highly dangerous.

Cell-Count-2012-Todd-Freeman-movie-3When the group begins to suffer from weird side effects, they begin to suspect that something is wrong, and they discover that Dr. Brandt’s vision of a cure isn’t quite what they expected.  They’ve been implanted with a strange worm-like creature that burrows out of their mouths at will, and does some other things as well, like one wrapping itself around its victim’s face, forming a mask that resembles an alien in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I actually thought the “mask face” thing looked pretty cool.

MA: I liked the idea of the “mask face” but I didn’t think it looked good.  It looked like Dumb Donald from FAT ALBERT.

So, it’s up to Russell and Sadie to lead their fellow patients out of Dr. Brandt’s high security lab, while trying to defeat the monstrous “cure” that they now have inside their bodies, a cure put there so it can literally eat the disease. The trouble is it devours other things as well.

(Patient #1 keels over onto the floor, and a large worm-like creature oozes out of his mouth.  LS Tasers the worm creature and then stabs it with a giant fork.  He carries it across the lab and deposits it into a huge pot.)

LS:  Gotta let this simmer.

PATIENT:  I’m cured!  I’m cured!  Thank you for curing me!

LS:  Keep your shirt on.  You’re not cured yet.

PATIENT: I’m not?

LS:  Not until after you’ve had my soup.

MA:  If you survive his soup, (Points to large pot on stove.) you’re cured.

PATIENT:  Couldn’t I just take a pill instead?

LS:  And skip my all-natural worm soup du jour?  No way, buddy.  Soup for everyone!

(There is a collective groan.)

MA: I hear it tastes like chicken.

Anyway, CELL COUNT succeeded in drawing me in initially.  I liked the opening scene where Russell comforts his wife, and then listens as Dr. Brandt entices him with his offer to cure her.  Anyone who’s had to deal with very sick loved ones can attest to the temptation of doing whatever it takes to cure that person, no matter how unconventional the method may seem.  So I bought this set-up.

LS: Yeah, I got hooked early on, too. While I don’t think they ever actually say it’s cancer during the course of the movie (they just say “the disease”), it seems pretty obvious that’s what is going on here. And it would make sense that people would do just about anything to avoid the inevitable.

MA: I liked the acting performances, even if they weren’t as polished as you might find in a mainstream movie.  I enjoyed Robert McKeehen in the lead role as Russell Carpenter.  He made for a believable hero, and I bought that he’d go the extreme route to save his wife.  Admittedly, there were a few scenes where his performance was uneven—the scene where he first sees the worm thingie climb out of someone’s throat, for instance, his over the top reaction made me laugh out loud.  I don’t think that was the reaction he was looking for.

LS: Yeah, I agree there are a few missteps, but overall, McKeehan is really good here. He looked like an elongated, big-eyed Christoph Waltz to me at times.

MA: I also enjoyed Haley Talbot as his wife Sadie.

LS: Sadie was my favorite character. Once she gets “better” and has a major role in what’s going on, I found her strong and very likable. Despite “the disease,” I think she’s the strongest one in the movie. Kudos to Haley Talbot.

MA: I agree.  Christopher Toyne made for an effectively mysterious Dr. Victor Brandt, although at times, especially towards the end of the movie, he tends to overact.

LS: I actually thought was a little over-the-top from the first time we meet him. He’s effective here, but he does tend to ham it up. Which isn’t completely bad. He’s entertaining at least. He’s just not as believable as some of the other characters, and you distrust his motives right away.

MA: The supporting cast is actually very good.  Adrienne Vogel and John Breen stand out as fellow patients Mary Porter and Billy Mayor, and Ted Rooney’s performance as Abraham Walker, one of the “violent inmates,” who it turns out isn’t such a bad guy after all, is especially memorable.

LS: I liked Rooney a lot. Don’t forget Judd Eustice as  Timothy“Tiny Tim” Jacobs, He’s the other dangerous criminal who “agreed” to be part of the experiment, and he’s pretty creepy. He’s the closest thing the movie has to a human villain, except for maybe Dr. Brandt.

MA: Even one of the Baldwin brothers shows up, Daniel Baldwin, in what amounts to nothing more than a cameo, so I guess someone needed a paycheck!

LS: Yeah, what was up with that? I know he was hired to give the movie a little bit of star power, but his role actually made me laugh. He comes onscreen like he’s some heroic figure, but he’s actually kind of a dud.

MA: Again, the set-up to the story works.  I believed that these people would subject themselves to this kind of test treatment if they believed they would be cured.  The middle part of the movie, where you really weren’t certain as to what was going on, and who to trust or who to believe, reminded me a little bit of some those early episodes from the TV show LOST, where you weren’t sure what Benjamin Linus and his family of “Others” were up to.

LS: This movie looks great. But I had trouble understanding some of the motivations here. And the way the “facility” was set up—I know this abandoned prison must have seemed like an amazing location to set a film, and it is—but there were more than a few things that didn’t make sense to me.

For example, in one part, Billy takes Russell through the facility. You have to press your hand against a pad so that it can identify you and give you access to certain areas. They go to this locker room where Billy’s dog, The Kid, is. We hear Dr. Brandt tell them that they shouldn’t really be interacting with the animals that are part of the experiment, but then he pretty much says it doesn’t matter. Later, in another scene, Mary Porter brings the dog back to where the people are, and Dr. Brandt comes to visit. He doesn’t have any problem with them having the dog there. Then why make an issue of it initially?

MA:  Yeah, that didn’t make any sense to me either.

LS:  Also, characters are able to get into the section of the facility where the dangerous criminals are located. When they get to that area, a recorded voice tells them that this is a dangerous area, and they should turn back. Why not just have the door there coded so that it denies access? That didn’t make any sense to me.

MA:  Right.  I kept thinking there was a reason Dr. Brandt wanted his test subjects to interact with the dangerous criminals, but we’re never given that reason.  And then later the recorded voice does announce that it’s time to intermingle, and the dangerous prisoners are released, but for what reason is never explained.

LS:  There’s another scene where they “coax” one of the worm monsters out of someone, and instead of trying to pull it out when it makes an appearance, they simply take this as a sign that the person in question is beyond help. Why not just try to get it to come out again and grab it?

MA: And, when it gets to pay-off time, the film falters.  First off, visually, the special effects weren’t all that special.  I’ve seen worse, but the effects here weren’t good enough for me to buy into them.  And several key moments, which could have made for some very dark grisly scenes, were glossed over, as the camera would cut away at the last minute.  I expected that this was going to turn into a gruesome—or at the very least, intense—horror movie, but it never reaches that level.

LS: Well, this is a low-budget movie (although, once again, it looks great). So it makes sense that in certain scenes, the camera cuts away. They probably couldn’t afford to show everything they wanted to.

I didn’t think the effects were bad. For the most part, they worked for me. I really liked how Tiny Tim’s insides come out of his mouth and then cover his head for that “bag head” effect. That was pretty cool. The worm thingies weren’t perfect, but they looked good, too.

MA: At times, it seems to be striving for that WALKING DEAD feel—a story about a group of survivors against a deadly threat—and while the characters in this movie are somewhat interesting—enough so that in a better movie I’d follow their plight—the situations they find themselves in here never become so riveting that I was really into it.

For the most part, I liked the story, as written by writer/director Todd E. Freeman, but I certainly could have used more information.  I never really had a firm grasp on what the cure was or even what the disease was.  I understood the reactions of the victims, but I didn’t understand the motives of the guy causing all the trouble, Dr. Brandt, other than a generalized notion that he was seeking a “cure.”  While the patients seemed real, Dr. Brandt played like a mad scientist in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I wasn’t always clear why people did the things they did. Motivations seemed cloudy to me. It was almost like they did things to further the story, but they weren’t necessarily things that made sense.

I just thought that the script, also by director Todd Freeman, was the weakest aspect of the movie.

And yeah, Dr. Brandt does seem like your typical mad doctor. It would have been nice if he had more depth to him. Early on, he says that he was the first patient to be experimented on, when they first created the cure. That was a step into humanizing him more, but the script really doesn’t flesh him out much more than that.

MA: Behind the camera, director Freeman does an adequate job, but his effort needed to be stronger.  There are some cool scenes here, but at the end of the day, it’s simply not enough.  The film needed more of an edge.  Perhaps it was budget restrictions that caused those unfortunate cutaways and mediocre special effects.  If this was the case, then more creative direction should have been in order.  I just wasn’t feeling it at the end.

LS: I wasn’t completely sold on the ending, either. I wasn’t clear on why some of the characters did what they did.

MA: But I’ve seen much worse, and for the 90 minutes I spent watching CELL COUNT, I was entertained.

I give it two knives.

LS: I thought there were a lot of strong aspects about this movie. I liked Freeeman’s direction for the most part, the actors were mostly good, the effects decent (considering the budget constraints), and I just thought the movie looked slick and professional (the cinematography is by “The Brothers Freeman,” i.e., Todd and Jason Freeman). But the script was uneven. I give it two knives as well.

But I do see a lot of potential here, and I’d be interested in seeing what Freeman does next.

MA: Well, we’re done here. I guess it’s time we headed out.

(DR. BRANDT suddenly bursts into the room)

DR. BRANDT: No, you cannot leave. It is too dangerous. The “cure” has infected you.

LS: What are you talking about? We didn’t have any surgery to have the cure implanted in us.

DR. BRANDT: But you did eat the meatloaf in the cafeteria!

MA: Oh no. I thought that tasted funny.

DR. BRANDT: Yes, you must stay here in Quarantine now, until I am ready to extract the cure.

LS: Screw that (Tasers Dr. Brandt, who writhes on the floor)

MA: Nice job.

LS (to other patients): Let’s blow this joint. I hear Daniel Baldwin has a bus ready for our escape. If he can start it up!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives CELL COUNT ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives CELL COUNT ~two knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Has An Appointment with the DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2013, Action Movies, Apes!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Bizarro Movies, Campy Movies, Mad Doctors!, Mexican Wrestlers, Wrestlers with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963)

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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.

K. Gordon Murray strikes again!  The infamous importer of Mexican kiddie matinees has delivered another badly dubbed (at Soundlab!  In Coral Gables, Florida!) arrow to my heart with a film I love beyond any reasonable credulity.  It’s truly awful, but in all the right ways.  I should turn away in horror at this vivisection of artistic film, this shadow of celluloid, but I can’t take my eyes off the terrible thing.  It goes beyond bad cinema to become one of the most entertaining stinkers of all time.  Yes, I’m talking about that “gorgeous ladies of wrestling versus the mad scientist south of the border” opus, DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963), aka ROCK ‘N ROLL WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC APE, aka THE SEX MONSTER!

The amazing movie begins with a pre-credits attack on a woman by what looks like Captain Caveman, followed by two rather burly gals wrestling in a ring and stock footage of an enthralled, applauding audience.  Gloria Venus, the winner, has a moment with her sister, Alice.  Then we’re suddenly in a mad scientist’s laboratory, where an obviously mad scientist tries to perform a brain transplant on the girl who was kidnapped by the hirsute horror, whose name is Gomar.  The operation is a failure, because the brain they transplanted wasn’t strong enough.  The doc believes this is because they’ve only used women with low IQs, and they need to find an intellectual woman with a stronger brain.  The mad doctor keeps Gomar locked in a basement.  Gomar is a man with a transplanted gorilla’s brain, a perfect half man / half beast, his animal instincts dominating the human in their the symbiotic relationship.  Yes, one day, Gomar will turn into a real gorilla.

How lady wrestlers train.

How lady wrestlers train.

The next morning, the papers proclaim “Mad Scientist Strikes Again!”  Alice works in a scientific laboratory, with a Professor Ruiz who really, really likes her.  Two detectives are on the case of the Mad Scientist Murders, discovering the fourth female with her brain scooped out of her skull.  The short one  is intended to provide the dubious comic relief.  Really, the flick is funny enough without his shenanigans.

Next, we are in a room where two men wear strange white masks that resemble KKK hoods.  One of them, the mad scientist, instructs a room full of crooks to go with Gomar and his nifty new bullet-proof mask and shirt, and kidnap a smart woman….and it’s ALICE!  Sure enough, she’s easily hijacked, shoved in a cab, and Gomar has a long fight with patrolling officers before escaping.

Back in the lab, the masked surgeons operate on Alice and, even though she’s an intelligent woman, she also dies on the slab.  “Isn’t there any human being who can survive the shock?” the mad doctor asks.  His partner suggests an athlete, a powerful woman . . . like a lady wrestler?

The taller detective goes to the lady wrestler training gym.  He asks Gloria Venus (who is in training) to accompany him.

“It’s your sister,” he says.

“Is she sick?” she asks.

“She’s suffered a very bad accident.”

“Alice is hurt?”

“Would you accompany me?”

“To the doctor’s?”

“To identify her.”

“OH!”

Yes, the dialogue is certainly on par with that of Robert Altman.

Alice’s boss, the scientist (a scientist . . . hmm. . . ) mourns the girl, offering his services if the police need any help.  Gloria Venus is understandably upset, but the detective tells her, “You must trust in the local police.  Although, we haven’t got a single clue.”  Yeah, I’d trust them with that kind of confident revelation.

Back in the training gym, Gloria Venus gets a new partner, Golden Rubi, when a fight breaks out amongst the lady wrestlers.  Both women have that glamorous 1960s look, and they look nothing like any real female wrestlers.  Gloria Venus is a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor and Rubi resembles a ponytailed Marie Windsor.  They decide to shack up in an apartment together (now that’s more like the lady wrestler’s I’ve seen in the past) and they win their first tag team match together soon afterwards.  The detectives are in the audience to watch the match, falling for the two women in the process.  This match goes on for a good five minutes, and the choreography is pretty good, actually.  It ends happily, with dinner and dancing between the foursome!

And in this corner..Golden Rubi and Gloria Venus in DOCTOR OF DOOM.

And in this corner..Golden Rubi and Gloria Venus in DOCTOR OF DOOM.

Later that night, the girls awaken to discover several kidnappers climbing in their apartment window, and they proceed to beat the hell out of them!  This disappoints the hooded mad scientist.  The cops recommend they allow themselves to be kidnapped if these men try it again (What?  What?  What?).  The cops will follow them and arrest the bad guys.

Later, after the women work out, Gomar stalks the two girls in his bullet-proof duds, and he easily overcomes them and places them in the crooks’ car.  The detectives follow, but they set off ‘the danger signal’ at the lab.  They are assaulted by the criminals, but they fight back.  Gloria Venus awakens on the slab, and she gets Rubi and they join in the fighting.  They unmask one of the white hooded scientists and discover it is Boris, the assistant to Alice’s boss, the professor.  Boris demands police protection.  They want to know who the main mad doctor is.  He stand, says, “The mad doctor is… is… argh!”  He has a heart attack! During the autopsy, they find a needle in his skin covered in poison.  It was murder, and it was the killer was someone in the policeman’s office at the time!

The chief mad doctor (still at large and still disguised under a hood) orders his number one crook to find three or four other bad guys and kill those two detectives.  The guys give the wrestling gals watches that have transmitters and locators in them.  Within twenty four hours, the two detectives are kidnapped, and the girls are going to have to locate and rescue them!  Feminism thrives in low-budget Mexican horror films!

The boys are taken “to the death chamber,” locked in a room near Gomar.  Suddenly, the walls grow spikes and start contracting towards each other.  Soon, they’ll be speared and squished, but they turn on their transmitters, and the gals drive the streets of Mexico City until they find them at the same warehouse/laboratory where they were nearly brain-transplanted.  They break in and are immediately attacked by teams of bad guys in black, wearing black hoods.  Let the brawling begin!  They save the day just in time.

The detectives chase after the mad doctor while the girls attack his new assistant, splashing acid all over his hooded face and setting the place on fire.  They leave the mad doctor to burn to death (not very sportsmanlike, but, hey, he tried to take out their brains), but Gomar breaks loose and saves his creator from the inferno.

Later, the girls find out one of their fellow lady wrestlers has been missing for several days, taken by the professor, Alice’s boss, who is the remaining mad doctor.  Well, duh, who else could it have been?.  Sure enough, she’s been kidnapped by the crazed quack, and he has transplanted Gomar’s brain into the woman’s head.  “She’s alive!  She made it!”  He names her Vendetta, and he commands her to destroy Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi in the wrestling ring in front of thousands of spectators, wearing a nifty cape, Spandex leotards, and a cool lightning mask. Hahahahahahahahaha!

Who will win the match?  Will Alice’s death be avenged?  Well, this is a family film.  What do you think?

The movie is capably directed by that Mexican auteur Rene Cardona, who supplied the world with Taco-Trash flicks for decades.  He made such inspired exploitation films as SANTA CLAUS (1959), NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), the soccer players-turned-cannibal epic SURVIVE! (1976), and numerous Santo masked wrestler flicks.  Interestingly, his son Rene Cardona Jr. has continued the exploitation tradition, upholding his family name with such hits as GUYANA, CULT OF THE DAMNED (1979), TINTORERA: KILLER SHARK (1977), BEAKS:THE MOVIE (as opposed to BEAKS: THE STAGE MUSICAL? 1987), and the ultra-trashy CYCLONE (1978).  Ah, the grindhouse family tradition continues.  It almost brings a tear to one’s eyes.

Apeman Gomar models his new bullet-proof duds.

Apeman Gomar models his new bullet-proof duds.

The wrestling women are quite beautiful.  Gloria Venus is played by Lorena Velazquez, who is still working today in Mexican soap operas.  She’s much better than the material here, although the dubbing makes nearly everything she says amusing.  She can also be seen in PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS (1967), SANTO VS. THE ZOMBIES (1962), and the great SHIP OF MONSTERS (1960).   Golden Rubi is played by American Elizabeth Campbell, who co-starred with Velazquez in several Luchadoras (female wrestler) movies in Mexico before dropping out of sight and returning to America.

DOCTOR OF DOOM is an insane movie, full of campy dialogue and wrestling women thrashing the crap out of each other.  It has bumbling cops and robbers, brain transplants, pretty women in short nightgowns, great jazzy bongo-filled music, tacky comic relief, a finale atop a water tower with police shooting at Vendetta, and Gomar the ape-man.  Honestly, what else do you need in a cheap movie? A lot happens in only 80 minutes, so there’s never a boring second.

Plus, there’s a sequel, THE WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)!

I give DOCTOR OF DOOM three half-nelsons 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.

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Screaming Streaming! Presents: THE MANSTER (1959)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Deformed Freaks!, Evil Doctors!, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Scientific Experiments, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  THE MANSTER (1959)
By Michael Arruda

One of my favorite things about streaming video is the wide selection of older titles readily available.  I’m having fun catching up with movies I’ve never seen before and obscure oddball gems I haven’t seen in ages.

Today’s feature falls into the latter category, although I hesitate to call it a gem.  It isn’t.

It’s THE MANSTER (1959), a film that’s been on my mind since Craig Shaw Gardner mentioned it this past summer after reading my review of THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971).  He pointed out that along with TRANSPLANT and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) it made up the full complement of two-headed men monster movies.

I hadn’t seen THE MANSTER in years, so I was happy when it turned up on my streaming video menu.

THE MANSTER takes place in Japan and opens with a weird ape-like creature on the loose, the result of an experiment gone wrong by a certain Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). Suzuki promptly destroys his creature, but like all good mad scientists, vows to try again.

Enter American reporter Larry Stanford  (Peter Dyneley), about to conduct his final interview before returning home to the States to spend some much needed time with his wife Linda (Jane Hylton).  His last interview subject—unfortunately for him— is Dr. Suzuki.

Dr. Suzuki privately tells his female assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) that the reporter is perfect for their next experiment.  And so, while Larry is interviewing Suzuki about his work— some crazed notion about harnessing rays from outer space which, when aimed at animal life, cause changes in evolution, resulting in a new species of life— yeah, doc, whatever—Suzuki slips Larry a drug in his drink which knocks him out.

When Larry awakens, he has an aching shoulder, and soon things grow much worse.  His personality changes, he’s suddenly ignoring both his job and his wife, and he’s spending his evenings enjoying the Japanese night life, getting drunk and hooking up with other women.  And, oh that pain in his shoulder keeps getting worse!  It leads to the best image in the movie, when Larry looks at his shoulder and sees a monstrous eye sticking out of it gazing up at him.

“Someone’s watching me! I just know it!”

Eventually, Larry sprouts a new head (I guess this is that new species Suzuki was so excited about!) and soon afterwards Larry becomes a homicidal two-headed maniac, killing people left and right.  Ultimately, the head grows into an entire body and splits apart from Larry, making it easier for the police to chase the monster and leave Larry alone, conveniently enabling his wife to rescue him from all this madness.

The significance of THE MANSTER is that it featured a two-headed man monster long before its two-head cousins from the 1970s, THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971) and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972).  Other than this, the movie is just okay.

The acting is pretty good.  Peter Dyneley isn’t bad as American reporter Larry Stanford.  He has a “Lon Chaney Jr.” thing going, as there’s something about his look in this movie which reminds me of Chaney.   Dyneley plays Larry as more than just a wise-cracking American reporter.  He gives him a sincerity not often found in these roles.  Dyneley would go on to provide many of the voices for the popular 1960s TV show THUNDERBIRDS, which featured some pretty cool puppetry.

“So what do you think of this movie?”
“Be quiet, I’m sleeping.”

Dyneley’s real-life wife, Jane Hylton, appeared in many movies with him, and she’s on hand here as his wife Linda.  She’s pretty awful, unfortunately.

Tetsu Nakamura fares much better as Dr. Suzuki.  Nakamura makes for a very smooth mad scientist and gets to deliver lines Bela Lugosi would have been at home saying.  Nakamura appeared in a decent amount of Japanese monster movies, including THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and MOTHRA (1961).

Directors George P. Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane include the one memorable scene of the eye emerging from Larry’s shoulder, but other than this, there isn’t much to remember about THE MANSTER.

The two-headed “Manster” is pretty fake looking, but doesn’t look any worse than the 1970s incarnations.  Dr. Suzuki keeps mutants imprisoned in his lab, the results of previous experiments gone wrong.  These mutants are kinda creepy, but ultimately they’re a disappointment, as the make-up job on them is pretty bad.

Director Breakston also received story credit, and as monster stories go, it’s a pretty good one, but the screenplay by William J. Sheldon is not so good, as most of the dialogue in this one is plain awful.

I first saw THE MANSTER as a teenager on late night TV, and I remember liking it a lot.  I’d seen it a couple of times since, but not in a while.  Admittedly, the movie doesn’t hold up as well as I remember it.

Sure, the two main players, Dyneley and Nakamura, turn in professional performances and make their characters believable, but they’re surrounded by lesser performances.  The fright scenes are few and far between, and I guess that was my biggest disappointment seeing this movie again.  The Manster scenes really weren’t all that exciting, nor were they campy enough to make me laugh out loud.  And the murder scenes were rather lame as well.  I remember this one having more of an edge to it.

When you come right down to it, THE MANSTER is really just a mediocre B monster movie.  While it does contain a novel concept, really, at the end of the day, there’s nothing that makes it head and shoulders above the rest.

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© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda