Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Memoriam :: To the Guy Who Put the Horror in Party Beach...

One of the patron saints of gonzoidal independent, regional movie-making, alas, I'm sorry to report that Delbert "Del" Tenney passed away last week. Tenney's filmmaking career began in front of the camera as an extra in Stalag 17 and The Wild One before a move back east found him shifting behind the camera, where he churned out the totally under-appreciated thriller, Violent Midnight, before teaming up with Alan V. Iselin for his most famous double-feature, with those bratwurst bogarting, cross-eyed, pigeon-toed and knock-kneed fish critters running amok in The Horror of Party Beach and his Roger Corman Poe-cycle inspired The Curse of the Living Corpse. All three of which more than make up for his one colossal misfire, Voodoo Bloodbath a/k/a I Eat Your Skin

Alas, after that short spurt from 1963-1964, Tenney took what profits he made off of those features and put them into real estate, content to let his film career end there until briefly resurfacing for another Poe tribute, Descendant, back in 2003, which wasn't half bad, making one wonder what else could have happened in the intervening four decades. I for one felt he should have made more, but I'm eternally thankful for what we got.

Del Tenney

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

YouTube Finds :: D'AAAAAAAWWWWW! Boils and Ghouls, I Give You Breviceps Macrops!

Video courtesy of Dean Boshoff.

This Little Guy is the Friend of all Children. This Little Guy deserves his own Swhy-Fwhy Original. Not as the menace, though. Nay. This Little Guy will be the SALVATION OF US ALL!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ATTENTION EARTH PEOPLE! Unidentified Flying Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear! :: A 20 Vid-Cap Look at Fred Sears' Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

What makes you think you can conquer us without a fight?!
 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

After years of observation a race of belligerent aliens announce their hostile intentions of conquest with a show of power by obliterating the military base from which a series of orbiting satellite rockets were launched. (An opening salvo that eerily reflected Pearl Harbor in that an ultimatum was sent but went untranslated until after the attack itself.) Assuming the sturm and drang of their advanced brain-sucking technology and destructive weaponry will result in a quick capitulation, these invaders soon get a harsh lesson on the inherent folly of assumptions as the human race gives them the finger and then gears up for a counter-attack with the fate of the Earth in the balance.


On June 24, 1947, when aviator Kenneth Arnold spotted nine glowing disc-like craft streaking past Mt. Rainier at unheard of speeds, his report on these unidentified flying objects triggered a nationwide surge of similar "flying saucer" sightings and stoked the fires of speculation on their origin. One month later, in Roswell, New Mexico, initial reports of an actual crashed UFO stirred-up this growing controversy even more, though this "proof" was quickly refuted as a case of mistaken identity by the Powers that Be. Then, in January, 1948, things turned a little more sinister with a report that a UFO had shot down a pursuing P-51 Mustang near Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Now, whether the plane piloted by Captain Thomas Mantell was shot down or crashed after running out of fuel is still hotly contested to this day. What isn't is the overall keen of the public's reaction to these sightings after this particular incident. Once written off as fantastical tales of crackpots and publicity seekers, people demanded answers as to what these things were, where they came from, and, most importantly, what were their intentions? Were they Russian? Was this some kind of Nazi Doomsday weapon? Or something worse? And then, as the sightings and reports continued to pile up, the shit really hit the fan in 1952, when over the last week of July, several UFO's kept buzzing the nation's capitol and outrunning any and all pursuit planes, who, apparently, had Presidential authority to shoot them down if they refused to land as ordered.

Looking for answers, in the January, 1950, issue of True magazine, Donald Keyhoe, a retired Marine naval aviator and an ardent UFOlogist, wrote his treatise, Flying Saucers Are Real, where he postulated on the extra-terrestrial origin of these phenomenon and the government's ill-advised attempts to deny and cover this fact up. This article proved so popular the author expanded it into book which sold over a half-million copies. Keyhoe followed this up with another best-seller, Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), that detailed several of the encounters already mentioned and blew the lid off the alleged Roswell cover-up. And while Keyhoe felt these visitors intentions weren't hostile, just rubber-necking, basically, film producer Charles H. Schneer had other ideas and felt it was high time to cash in, cinematically speaking.

Teaming up with his new partner, Ray Harryhausen, it didn't take Schneer long to convince Sam Katzman, his boss at Columbia, who easily remembered the profits the duo had made for him via It Came from Beneath the Sea a year prior, that the world needed another alien invasion flick. (George Pal's Tripod-turned-Flying Saucer War of the Worlds came out in 1953 and Winston Jones' docudrama, Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers, beat Schneer's film into theaters by a couple of months back in 1956.) Securing the rights to Keyhoe's book, Schneer and three other writers, including Curt Siodmak (The Wolfman, The Magnetic Monster), George Worthing Yates (THEM!, The Amazing Colossal Man), and Bernard Gordon (Day of the Triffids), who, being black-listed at the time, contributed under the pseudonym, Raymond Marcus, hammered out a script based on Keyhoe's reports that would ultimately climax with a rousing battle over Washington D.C., where his F/X team would leave no recognizable monument unmolested as, once more, good old American ingenuity overcomes any seemingly insurmountable obstacle. That's right, eat sonic-death, ya alien bastards!

Okay, now, even though former actor Fred Sears already had nearly two-dozen B-movies notched on his director's chair, most of them were westerns. Earth vs the Flying Saucers was his first F/X-driven picture and his unsure hand shows badly in a couple of spots, especially in the all-too noticeable rear-projection scenes -- and the clumsy editing on some of the inserts and reaction shots during the final battle are even worse. However, these same folks also spliced in a lot of stock military and rocket footage with such great care and attention to detail that it makes those lazy second-unit inserts all the more frustrating. On the plus side, Hugh Marlowe is fine as the can-do square-jaw, ably supported by Joan Taylor, Morris Ankrum, Thomas Henry Browne, an over-modulated Paul Frees, and fast-shooting Donald Curtis. One cannot discount Mischa Bakaleinikoff's rousing score, either, that really sets the tone and hammers the action home. And, of course, being what brought us here in the first place, Harryhausen once more delivers the goods with a lot of wanton destruction and cosmic whiz-bangery.

Now, I think Jason and the Argonauts is Harryhausen's best film but The Valley of Gwangi is my favorite. And oddly enough, Earth vs the Flying Saucers ranks third on both mental lists. But not Harryhausen's, who ranks the film as his least favorite experience and end result. It's easy to see why at first glance, what with the main attraction, those flying saucers, being fairly impersonal and sterile. (And I'm sure fairly tedious and monotonous to animate.) But one wonders if his attitude would be slightly different if he'd been allowed to animate the aliens, too, as originally intended before budget concerns nixed it. One of Harryhausen's greatest gifts has always been a knack for breathing life into his stop-motion creations -- and not only that, but bestowing a strong sense of personality in each and every one. Clay Campbell's armored alien suits are a little stiff, sure, but ultimately serviceable as a Plan B. And while the saucers these arthritic-jointed pilots piloted could easily have been a series of simple models with sparklers shoved up their tailpipes or stagnant flying hubcaps like the one in The Day the Earth Stood Still, one can and should appreciate the extra-effort in bringing the ones in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to life. I love the rotation, and the thought that went into the kinetics of it, with the sense that this is how the machines generated there magnetic, gravity-defying fields. And the glorious, ear-splitting and spine-cracking whine they make, pilfered from some ringing pipes buried deep in a waste-water treatment plant (-- which also served as mission control for Project Sky-Hook), tweaked and amplified to such menacing proportions. I mean, damn. Wow. Don't tell me those things don't have any personality. In fact, aside from Medusa in Clash of the Titans and the Children of the Hydra in Jason and the Argonauts, I'm hard pressed to name a more menacing presence in Harryhausen's entire oeuvre.

Other Points of Interest:

Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956) Clover Productions :: Columbia Pictures / EP: Sam Katzman / P: Charles H. Schneer / D: Fred F. Sears / W: Curt Siodmak, George Worthing Yates, Bernard Gordon, Donald E. Keyhoe (novel) / C: Fred Jackman Jr. / E: Danny B. Landres / M: Mischa Bakaleinikoff / S: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum, John Zaremba, Thomas Browne Henry

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recommendations :: What I've Been Streaming, And So Can You -- Very Soon, I Hope!

When word broke a few weeks ago that the Warner Archives was field-testing a streaming service for their film catalog, I immediately found the website in question, opened my wallet, removed what few bills of currency found therein and threw them at my computer monitor. I then went and found an envelope filled with some leftover Christmas cash ear-marked for a later trip and threw all of it at the monitor, too. Of course this didn't really work. (Dammit.) Seems an invite was needed to log into the site proper and actually use it. Undaunted, I registered-up for e-mail notifications of any further developments with the site, content and eager to (im)patiently wait and sign up when (and hopefully not if) the Archive went live -- if the price was right or relatively equivalent to what Netflix or Hulu charge a month. Anyways, imagine my surprise last weekend when I received the email pictured above? Woo! to the ever-lovin' Hoo! And ever since, I've been trying to carve out enough time to watch as many of these rarities and out of print items as humanly possible. Most were first time screenings, others I hadn't visited for way, way too long. So far, I've managed to get through these...

"Whaddaya got?"
"Chili with beans."
"And if I don't like that?"
"Chili without beans."

Stanwyck and Blondell in a William Wellman pre-code. Need I say more? Fine, Clark Gable's the villain. You're welcome.

And lo, there came a Wilhelm, and he did scream, and it was good. But this film has a lot more to offer than that dubious claim to fame, including my favorite use of 3-D ever, when Frank Lovejoy horks several volleys of tobacco juice into the camera to fend of a rattlesnake.

A little stodgier than I remembered, but still a demented good time. And honestly, Lugosi and Borland are little more than window-dressing as the film belongs to Lionel Barrymore.

John Wayne and Dr. Van Helsing? In the same movie? We can have such things? Okay, okay, sure, they're only it for like 12 seconds, but Stanwyck plays such a magnificent, gloriously evil back-stabbing bitch that one can overlook the adapted screenplay nod to Freidrich Nietzsche. 

I don't think anything is more hysterical than watching a monkey constantly and consistently outwit a Nazi. And the final coda, where Cheetah takes over the radio and the Germans on the other end think he's Hitler is worth the price of a spin alone.

Yellow Peril, mind-control, death-traps, human sacrifices and a big-honking death-ray. Holy shit. Now THAT's a climax. Wow. 

So much more to watch, so little time. Also, something else happened this month, too. I called DirectTV and cancelled my service. It all boiled down to not being able to justify the amount of the bill for the one (1) and only channel I watched. And though I shall miss TCM immensely, between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and now the Warner Archive (and I have a feeling more studios will be following suit real soon), I can mix and match and make my own SuperStation with old movies and reruns on my terms with no damned infomercials. I thought it would be harder to make that call, but, nope, it was relatively easy. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some more movies to watch.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: SPOILERS AHOY! :: Gonna Let You in On a Little Secret About Pascal Laugier's The Tall Man (2012)

When the children of a backwater burgh named Cold Rock start disappearing without a trace, as the police investigation goes nowhere fast (and then drags on indefinitely), the locals begin to mythologize the sightings of a mysterious Tall Man, dressed in black, who is seen in fleetingly brief glimpses before each abduction. Times are tough enough in Cold Rock, what with the mine closed, folks out of work, and now, between swigs of beer and statutory raping, these poor and destitute bastards face the loss of their loved ones (-- or judging by the film's keen, part of their welfare stipends) with no answers as to who, what, where, when and why. The film proper picks up when the son of a crusading nurse at the local health clinic (Biel) is the next to disappear; only this time she seemingly catches the Tall Man in the act, gives chase, and desperately tries to get her boy back with much ferocity, sustained grievous bodily harm, and conspiracy unraveling. Seemingly? Conspiracy, you say? Ah, yes, things aren't exactly what they seem to be as we find out what's really been happening to the children of Cold Rock -- and who's really and truly responsible for all of this malfeasance.

Okay, folks, gonna break one of my cardinal reviewing vows, here. For anyone considering watching The Tall Man read these next few sentences very carefully: Jessica Biel's character is really the bad guy, her husband isn't dead and in on it all (our Tall Man, ladies and gents), and so the missing children aren't the victims of some hideous molester, cult, or ancient demon from the woods. Nope. They've been kidnapped from these unworthy hayseeds, crackers, and rednecks and taken to the big city to be adopted by some worthy rich and cultured folks -- not for money, nay, that would be an insult, but for the "greater good." Of course, then, the movie paints these kidnappers as crusading heroes, doing it for the children, because, and I quote "the system is broken", making a noble sacrifice when their own system of systematic abductions and relocation finally implodes and 1/2 the team is sent to prison as a faux serial killer, telling the now completely devastated parents their children are dead, fracturing and punishing them even further, including the real mother of the boy we thought was Biel's, who tried and failed to get him back (constituting a good chunk of the movie) thanks to our "hero". There, I spoiled it all and now you don't have to sit through this thoroughly misguided and mawkishly self-righteous piece of -- dammit. I can't do it. (Just because you don't like something doesn't make it a piece of shit. It just means you didn't like it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)

Director Pascal Laugier has been tagged as a provocateur and judging by my reaction to The Tall Man, sure, why not. Why take a side on an issue when I can play both sides against one another and piss everyone off instead? I mean, If I went to the grocery store, dropped trou', took a dump into my hand, and showed the end-result of all the food they're gonna buy to passing customers that'd make me a provocateur, too, right? What?! It was for the greater good. Feh. And what's really frustrating about The Tall Man is that for the first hour or so I was really digging the hell out of it, had no idea where it was going or how it would end, and was ready to call it a surprising and unsuspected gem, with a good twist, set up beautifully, and didn't cheat, that was striving and succeeding at being different by knocking normal expectations right on its ass. The film is technically sound, and quite brilliant in a few spots. Biel is really, really good in this, too. As is McHattie, who plays the hapless Fed duped by her duplicity. Dammit. I was ready to light a candle and shine the light. But then the last half hour turned it into a big steaming pile of (yes) shit with the revelation of the Underground Cracker Railroad, the critical misfire of making a martyr out of our now silent child abductor (-- and I hope there's a deleted scene on the DVD where her fellow inmates beat the crap out of her sanctimonious "baby-killing" ass), and the excessive use of the giant Clown Hammer of Morality in the final "three mothers" speech, which tried so hard to pound some profundity into our heads but failed most epically to justify anything and raised a few knots of ire instead.

And as the end credits rolled, and I resisted flinging the remote at the TV screen, the one thought that kept bouncing around amongst all the crap I had just witnessed was a notion that perhaps instead of kidnapping -- oop, nope, sorry, liberating trailer trash offspring, or even inner-city slum kids (as all the victims here are relatively clean, healthy and awfully, awfully white), our turgid kidnapping team of assholes would do an even more greater good by kidnapping and relocating the Joan Bennet Ramseys, Dylan Klebolds, Eric Harrises, Jordan Vandersloots and Adam Lanzas of the world. What say you, Mr. Laugier? Provocative enough?

The Tall Man (2012) Cold Rock Productions BC :: Forecast Pictures :: Iron Ocean Films :: Minds Eye Entertainment :: Radar Films :: SND / Image Entertainment / P: A lot of people / D: Pascal Laugier / W: Pascal Laugier / C: Kamal Derkaoui / E: Sébastien Prangère / M: Todd Bryanton / S: Jessica Biel, Stephen McHattie Jodelle Ferland, William B. Davis, Samantha Ferris, Colleen Wheeler

Friday, February 15, 2013

Vintage Tuneage :: All Hail the Agar!!!

Video courtesy of Dr. Gangrene.

The Dead Elvi:

Kevin Clement, Chris Palmerini, John Kullberg, 
Tom Seesselberg and Steve Geller
(Photo courtesy of Judy Hennessey.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Glenda Farrell Project :: Take 3 :: Glenda Gets a New Kitten (1933)

 Original Caption:

"A Trio of Leopard Corsages: Mrs. Alexander Leftwich, Glenda Farrell, Patricia Ellis (daughter of Mrs. Leftwich) pose with three pets on the Warner lot. Maybe the leopards will grow into three nice coats some day?"

  Original Caption:

"Some Baby: Glenda Farrell has adopted a baby leopard which accompanies her to the Warner Studio every day where she is filming The Mayor of Hell."

Okay, a couple of things. First, aside from establishing that they were taken in 1933, despite some feverish digging and smiting the Google most verily, I have been unable to unearth the exact circumstances that led to these publicity shots (-- but I hope the comment about the fur coats was way, way off base, I mean, *sheesh*). Second, these photos are so freakin' adorable I can't even even. And lastly, though neither Farrell or Ellis are listed in the credits for The Mayor of Hell, that doesn't mean they weren't in it somewhere. I haven't seen the film so I cannot confirm any kind of cameo or background appearance in this Cagney hard-boiler, but I do know the Warner brass worked the hell out of their stable of actors -- or, it could just be some cooked-up Studio B.S. period. If anyone knows for sure, drop us a message in the comments section. Thanks!

Update: (Information courtesy of Samuel Wilson / Mondo 70: Wild World of Cinema): Looks like we can date those photos more precisely. Film Daily for Jan. 27 1933 lists Farrell as Cagney's co-star for Mayor of Hell. Two weeks later, the Feb. 10 issue names Madge Evans as the co-star. Glenda may have been promoted out of her role, since the same issue reports that she had just signed a long-term contract that meant getting the lead in her next picture.

"Not many actors could talk. So they shoved the ones that came from Broadway into everything. It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, 'What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing -- this one or that one? All I shouted for was a day off. We got it. Sunday. But I had to stay in bed that one day to get ready for the next six days of shooting."

-- Glenda Farrell xxxxx 

One of the things I am most thankful for from 2012 is getting a crash course on the life and times and film career of Glenda Farrell. And the more I dig, the more I love. And so, to share that love, we're kicking off The Glenda Farrell Project for 2013 and beyond, as I will do everything in my power to share my Glenda love in the usual, obsessive compulsive fashion in all matters and means and ways. Stay tuned! Lots more to come.
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