Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vintage Review Spotlight :: James Landis' The Sadist (1963)

I freely admit as a Nebraskan, we as a State, an entire entity, have an inferiority complex. We hayseeds and shit-kickers have a chip on our shoulder the size of Lake McConaughy (-- buy a map and look it up!) and rabidly defend our place in the Union by hoping our lack of uniqueness somehow makes us unique. What else do we have to be proud of? Our biggest claim to fame is having one of the dullest stretches of any Interstate; Johnny Carson, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, and a lot of other famous people were born here (-- but I point out they all left); and the schizophrenic weather, with all four seasons known to occur within the span of a few minutes, aren't really tourist attractions, either.

And then there's that whole Charlie Starkweather thing. E'yup, we had the Nation's first fugitive spree killer. Yay us. For those few who are unfamiliar with this yahoo, back in 1958, nineteen year-old Starkweather and Caril Fugate, his fourteen year-old girlfriend, terrorized the heartland as they blazed a trail through five States, leaving another trail of dead bodies behind them -- eleven people all together, including Fugate's parents and baby sister, whom Chuckles beat to death -- before finally being caught. My mother, who was twelve years old when these two were running amok, honestly doesn't like talking about it all that much; it scared her pretty good. What little she recollected was that the deadly couple were [allegedly] spotted in the nearby town of Hastings at one point -- as I'm sure they were [allegedly spotted] in every town at the time, and how her folks kept both doors locked and a shotgun, also locked and loaded, stationed by each. Everyone was scared, for this was a whole different kind of gun nut than, say, outlaw bandits like Bonnie and Clyde, or John Dillinger, who came before them.

After they were finally caught, Fugate turned against her boyfriend, claiming to be a hostage the whole time, but nobody bought her story. For their crimes, Starkweather got the electric chair, Fugate got a life sentence, and teenage delinquency had taken a new, and dangerously lethal turn. And advocates against things like rock and roll music, violence in the media, and the decline of moral values had a new poster couple to vilify as a new phrase entered our pop-culture lexicon: the thrill-killer.

Over the subsequent years, Starkweather and Fugate's homicidal relationship served as the basis for several films, most notably Terrence Mallick's Badlands, and its influence spawned a whole genre in the 1990's about trailer-trash with guns with films like Kalifornia and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Crackers -- erk, I mean, Natural Born Killers. Still, Badlands debuted almost fifteen years after Charlie got the chair. Seems mainstream Hollywood was reluctant to tackle the sore subject of this new breed of mass murderer; and while they wouldn't touch the likes of Starkweather, Richard Speck or Charles Whitman with a ten-foot pole, many a smaller, independent production companies were, forgive me, quicker on the trigger. And one of the first fledgling adaptations came out in 1963 by the anti-dynamic duo of Arch Hall Sr. and Arch Hall Jr. And judging by what they'd done before, cinematically speaking, you never would have guessed they'd have this good a movie in them. Coming on the heels of EEGAH!, their giant caveman on the loose epic, came this criminally underrated gem of a film: an honest study in unbridled brutality and mounting terror called The Sadist...

The Sadist (1963) Fairway International Pictures / P: L. Steven Snyder / D: James Landis / W: James Landis / C: Vilmos Zsigmond / E: Anthony M. Lanza / S: Arch Hall Jr., Marilyn Manning, Helen Hovey, Richard Alden, Don Russell

Friday, June 24, 2011

Vintage Tuneage :: Impromptu Karaoke at the Super 8.

Finally caught a matinee of SUPER 8 yesterday. Fantastic flick and a lot of fun. As others have stated before, and I'll concur, it most definitely is J.J. Abrams' giant love letter to Steven Spielberg (-- Spielberg of the 1970's, we must sadly quantify), that is almost pitch perfect; perhaps too pitch-perfect in spots, but now I'm just picking nits as the pros easily outweigh the cons, here. Anyways, the main reason for this post is for what happened after the film ended, when the Easter Egg wrapped up, and the final credits rolled proper, where I, high as a kite on what I had just witnessed, and a gal I've never met before, similarly addled, held an impromptu karaoke duet in the emptying theater, breaking off a piece of The Knack; a tune that epitomizes Abrams' uncanny efforts to capture that weird transition period between the 1970's and the 1980's, where, for once, reality did not bite.

Video courtesy of .

The Knack:
Prescott Niles (Bass), Bruce Gary (Drums),
Doug Fieger (Singer, Guitarist), Berton Averre (Lead Guitarist)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trailer Park :: Getting a Bad Case of the Drizzles Courtesy of Percy Rodriquez.

As a child of the 1970's, nothing sent me scrambling away from the TV faster than a commercial break featuring the dulcet, yet menacing tones of Percy Rodriquez as he made a pitch for the latest fright flick that was coming to a theater near me. You may not know the name, but you definitely know the voice. Trust me, and have a listen...

Told ya.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blogathon :: Roger and Me and the Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961).

Our film opens in the midst of the Cuban revolution (as interpreted by artist Paul Julian in another nifty opening animated credit sequence). And with the fall of Batista imminent, several of his Generals abscond with a good chunk of the national treasury and arrange to sneak both it and them out of the country with the help of that American expatriate, gambler, and all around no-goodnik, Renzo Capetto (Carbone, looking like he just wandered off the set of a third-rate botchilized dinner theater production of To Have and To Have Not). Also along for this ride is Capetto's deviously deadly mol, Mary-Belle Monahan (Jones-Moreland), and the motley crew of his cabin-cruiser / Tardis (-- judging by how much room there is inside that thing); a trio of boobs that probably wouldn't pass muster on the S.S. Minnow, starting with Monahan's idiot younger brother, Happy Jack (Bean -- in a role originally intended for Corman); followed by the idiot first mate, Pete Peterson (Dickerson), who, after a bout of severe head traumas, mostly communicates with wild animal calls; and rounding things out is another idiot by the name of Sparks Moran (Towne -- another Corman protege who would go on to write Chinatown and The Last Detail), who just happens to be an undercover government spook sent to keep tabs on Capetto, and who has a knack for making communication devices out of kitchen condiments -- that Peterson keeps eating.

Anyways, after they set sail, having lost his gambling interest to Fidel and the Fuller-Brush Beard Brigade, Capetto aims to even out those losses by stealing the treasure out from under his charter. To do this, he must first thin out the dozen or so Cubans on board. And to do this without raising suspicions, Capetto comes up with a hair-brained scheme to concoct a monster, based on the Hemingway legend (-- Wait. The Old Man and the Sea Monster? Yeah, well, just roll with him...), to take the blame for the impending fatalities. Thus, with the help of a sharpened hand rake and a handy plunger, Capetto's plan commences without a hitch -- that is, until a real monster shows up and starts clandestinely munching on his passengers, too...

As with most of Roger Corman's early productions the story of making the film is usually a lot more entertaining than the finished product. Creature from the Haunted Sea, though a whole six-pack of irrerevant stoopidity all on its own, is no different. This time, seems that back in 1960 old Roger got wind that there were certain tax incentives to be fleeced if he filmed his latest opus in Puerto Rico. Already headed there on someone else's dime to produce and shoot Battle on Blood Island, as was his modus operandi, Corman planned to film a second feature for his and brother Gene's fledgling Filmgroup enterprise by, one, using the same crew, and two, cutting every corner he could, logistically speaking -- especially in the room and board department for the cross-pollinated cast and crew, packing them all into one bungalow with a malfunctioning toilet and no food since all the refrigerators were stuffed with film-stock to protect it from the heat and humidity, and three, by bilking some extra money from another one of his productions back in the States (The Wild Ride). The end result of these efforts was The Last Woman on Earth, another gonzoidal epic that merits its own write-up that I'll get to someday, honest. Anyhoo, when the two week shoot for that film was wrapping up, Corman realized that he would have a few extra rolls of frozen film leftover and enough money for about five more days of shooting. Plenty of both to get a third feature in the can.

A quick call to Chuck Griffith got the ball rolling, who was told to basically cannibalize his script for Naked Paradise, already re-used once before in South Dakota with Beast from the Haunted Cave. Always one to recycle anything and everything, Corman trotted out the same heist-gone-wrong plot again, only this time, fresh off the critical success of the minimalist absurdity of Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors, he wanted this third feature to be another outright comedy.

Remember, before films like Creature from the Haunted Sea, Corman had always balked at doing a comedy because, by his own admission, his skills weren't good enough and he didn't have the time or money to experiment so he had always stuck with a known commodity: action and Sci-Fi. According to others, however, the analytical and technical director was balking because he was kinda dense as to what was funny and what wasn't. Still, some comedic elements were starting to sneak in, via long time collaborator Griffith, with the likes of Not of this Earth; and, finally, with Bucket of Blood, another five-day, $35,000 wonder, Griffith convinced Corman that he didn't have anything to lose. And so, Corman took the plunge, once Griffith explained to his clueless director on how to pull it off by, basically, taking his absurd scripts and playing them straight.

And that trick worked pretty well for our featured feature. Here, Corman put his faith in the hands of a game cast and just let the camera roll. The result was a weird and wonky goof of a film. Granted, not all of the ensuing bedlam works, but there are enough bits of business, I think, to sustain this thing to the bitter end. I especially liked the running gag with the toilet plunger, and how Moran's attempts to woo Mary-Belle away from Capetto usually winds up in some form of grievous bodily harm as she beats the crap out of him. And, if nothing else, there's always that goofy-assed monster to gawk at.

Stuck in Puerto Rico, and unwilling to import anyone else, Corman turned to his jack-of-all-trades, Beach Dickerson, to create his monster for the princely sum of $150. Using a stack of helmets from that war movie, some chicken-wire, and a ton of Brillo pads for the misshapen head, the body consisted of a lacquered wet-suit covered in strips of oil-cloth and more shredded sponges, for that briney-deep sensation, while the feet appear to be nothing more than an off the rack set of scuba-flippers. The beast's deadly teeth and claws were nothing more than carved balsa-wood and stripped pipe-cleaners. And those great-googly-moogly eyes were combination of tennis and ping-pong balls. To bring the gangly critter to life, I believe Dickerson split time with co-star Robert Bean for that dubious honor. And for once, and somewhat fittingly, their creation was destined to have the last laugh on everybody.

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"We have always killed off our monsters with fire, electricity, floods, whatever ... The final shot in this picture is the monster sitting on the chest of gold at the bottom of the ocean floor. The skeletons of all the people in the picture are scattered around him and he's picking his teeth. That's it. The monster wins."
--Roger Corman
How I Made a Hundred Movies in
Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime
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Again, the movie itself is only half the story, for even after filming was completed Corman's tropical misadventures were far from over. Seems veteran cinematographer Jack Marquette (Attack of the 50ft Woman and The Brain from the Planet Arous) refused to stay in Corman's impromptu barracks and opted, instead, for the local Hilton, where he would invite other cast and crew members to eat and charged it all to his producer. Well, according to Marquette, and corroborated by Jones-Moreland, when the shooting wrapped it appeared Corman was ready to sneak out of the country and skip out on the bills; basically stranding the rest of the cast and crew, who weren't paid yet, leaving them with no means to get home. Not one to be tinkered with, Marquette seized and hid several rolls of film for all three pictures and did not return them until all the bills were paid and all the cast and crew's checks cleared.

The above tale is hardly an isolated incident. And even though I like his movies, a lot, and his frugal reputation and uncanny knack for finding worthwhile talent and giving them a chance is well earned, from everything I've ever seen and read about the guy, I've always felt that Roger Corman, personally, was kind of a turd. A somewhat endearing turd, sure, but a turd nonetheless. And I'm always baffled how this cinematic grifter was able to con the same people, who should have known better, into not only working for him, but bending over backwards to help him get the film in the can again and again and again. "Cheap and generous, an artist and a chisler..." perhaps our featured heroine sums up the dichotomy that is Roger Corman best:
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Roger Corman could charm snakes off bird eggs. He could charm anybody into doing anything on the planet ... He has a gift for making you feel like you're part of something important. Albeit it's not important and you're not a part of it [but] he makes you feel like it is and you are ... You can't not like Roger ... He's a monster, but he's a man with great drive and tremendous energy ... He discovered people, he employed people, he used people. Yeah -- he used people ... You have to be lured by the wonderful, wonderful smile and that ability to make you feel important. Anybody, anywhere has got to respond to that ... you have to respond to that feeling that he's taking you in and you're part of the family and your input is important. He just generates that, and I don't even think he works at it. I think it just happens.

-- Betsy Jones-Moreland
Double Feature Creature Attack

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Looks like our loveable monster always wins in the end.

This post is part of the Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear's Roger Corman Blogathon. Huge thanks to Nathaniel Hood for ram-rodding this shindig and for throwing out such a wide net for contributors. Now click on that there link and check out all the other entries, please, and thank you.

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) The Filmgroup / P: Roger Corman / AP: Charles Hannawalt / D: Roger Corman / W: Charles B. Griffith / C: Jack Marquette / E: Angela Scellars / S: Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Robert Towne, Beach Dickerson, Robert Bean

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Netfilx'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que : Ralph Nelson's Soldier Blue (1970)

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ 

"Gotta prayer, Soldier Blue? A nice poem? 
Say something pretty..."
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When an Army payroll caravan is ambushed by a group of hostile Cheyenne Indians and wiped out, the only survivors, a young cavalry private (Strauss) and a recently liberated captive (Bergen), must make their way through hostile terrain to the fort by avoiding the hostiles and conquering the lingering hostility between them without being killed or killing each other. And as our oil-and-water couple draw closer to their goal, and are drawn closer together, outside forces threaten to tear them apart as the film comes full circle and culminates in another, senseless tragedy.

Director Ralph Nelson made his bones on the small screen during the high-pressure stakes of live broadcasting, with lofty credits that include episodes of The Dupont Show of the Month, Climax!, and Playhouse 90; the latter of which earned him a much deserved Emmy when he collaborated with Rod Serling for Requiem for a Heavyweight. Nelson then made the jump to the big screen when producer David Susskind tabbed him for Columbia Pictures' theatrical adaptation of the same screenplay. More films followed, and, like his former TV partner, Nelson gravitated toward projects that threw a glaring spotlight on society's ills. Nelson, himself, financed Lillies of the Field (1963), an earnest but fluffy film, which won Sidney Poitier an Academy Award, that might leave folks scratching their heads over what all the hub-bub was about when it was first released is, I think, a not so sweet and fluffy indictment on the state of racial relations in this country circa 1963.

Sticking with the theme, Nelson teamed up with Poitier again for the criminally under-appreciated oater, Duel at Diablo (1966), where the color lines are blurred even further with the story of a white woman (Bibbi Anderson), who spent several years as an Apache captive, who is ostracized upon her liberation as defiled goods -- better dead than red, if you catch my drift -- and who is also equally shunned by her former captors when she tries to return and reunite with her half-breed baby. ...tick...tick...tick (1970), meanwhile, is a high-tension timebomb ready to blow when a newly elected black sheriff (Jim Brown) takes office in a racially divided southern town, with the mayor (Fredric March), the deposed sheriff (George Kennedy), and the KKK questioning and countering his every move.

Soldier Blue is more of the same, where, once again, Nelson makes the audience look in the mirror to face man's inhumanity toward his fellow man based solely on the 3-Cs: color, culture and Creed. Based on Theodore V. Olsen's novel, Arrow in the Sun, Soldier Blue is less of a revisionist western and more of an allegorical and timely tale on the horrors of the Vietnam War. By the time of the film's production the truth was finally filtering out about the events surrounding the notorious Mỹ Lai Massacre in 1968, where a company of U.S. soldiers wiped out a village of Vietnamese civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly without just cause. As the cover-up was torn apart and details of the brutality that took place that day leaked out, with horrid tales of rape, torture, and mutilation, this travesty proved eerily familiar to a similar blot on the American military record books that happened nearly a century before, where a detachment of militia wiped out a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in the same fashion near Sand Creek, Colorado; which, by the way, is the major incident on which Olsen's novel is based. Coincidence? I think not

Gender roles also take a thorough throttling with our frontier odd couple. Here, sticking with the Vietnam allegory, Bergen's foul-mouthed Cresta Lee comes off as a proto-Murphy Brown. Radicalized, she has tuned in, dropped out, and returned to nature, an ersatz Cheyenne Jane in buckskins; and it's her skills, instincts and intuition that keeps them both alive. I do find it interesting that it's never made clear how she came to be liberated in the first place. Was she rescued? From what little info we do get we glean that she left the tribe voluntarily because even though she may look like an Indian, talk like an Indian and act like an Indian, she wasn't. However, it quickly becomes clear as she slowly strips off her new dress and accoutrements as to where she really belongs, metaphorically speaking. Strauss' Honus, on the other hand, is very prudish, effeminate, quick to tears, and clings to archaic notions of civility and religion that are both painful to watch and painfully stripped away at every turn. And it's these very notions that tend to get our couple into trouble. Of course, then, they're destined to fall in love, as Honus finally sees the light. And, like in most of these allegorical tales, it only took the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people to get that point across.

Though preoccupied by its message and book-ended by two graphic massacres, Soldier Blue does have its moments of levity and humor. I especially love the moment when Honus is more interested in covering Cresta's exposed derriere than chewing through the ropes binding her hands after they're captured by the gun-runner. There's more, but, sadly, not enough to balance out the scenes where Nelson beats the audience around the head and neck with the Mighty Clown Hammer of Morality. Thus, by the time we reach the bloody conclusion at Sand Creek, with the raping and the pillaging and the dismemberment, I fear the audience might not be listening anymore. For in the end, Nelson might have been aiming for our hearts and minds, but, instead, hit bulls-eye on our collective upset stomach. 

Soldier Blue (1970) Katzka-Loeb-AVCO-Embassy / EP: Joseph E. Levine / P: Gabriel Katzka, Harold Loeb / AP: William S. Gilmore / D: Ralph Nelson / W: John Gay / C: Robert B. Hauser / E: Alex Beaton / S: Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, John Anderson

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie Poster Spotlight :: Foreign Jobs : Bustin' Photos with the 8th Wonder of the World!

Here's a beautiful set of Italian Photobustas
for a 1942 release of King Kong:

Other Points of Interest:

A full review of King Kong at 3B Theater.

The 1933 Poster Campaign at The Archive.

The original Newspaper ads at Scenes from the Morgue.

King Kong (1933) RKO Radio Pictures / D: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack / W: James Creelman, Ruth Rose / P: David O. Selznick, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack / S: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
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