Friday, August 31, 2018

Announcements :: We're Headin' Up, and Movin' Out.

Well, it's that time of year again, Boils and Ghouls, as the Annual September Sabbatical has once more sprung as we leave the Satan's Halitosis of Summer behind and barrel toward the cooler environs of Fall, which means I will once more be unplugging the old keyboard to let my typing knuckles scab over for a whole calendar month -- and then panic and scramble as we will return with Round 6 of Hubrisween, meaning 26 more films, 26 more reviews, in 26 days due in October. 


Until then, I will be hanging out with Gil and Rowdy and the boys. In the meantime, stay cool, and keep movin', movin', movin'...

Video courtesy of  TheVintageTVArchive.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon :: Crazy or Not Crazy? That is the Question in Ted Post's Made for TV Movie, Night Slaves (1970)

Our film opens with a man in crisis preamble: He's just quit his job as a corporate attorney; his marriage is currently breaking up on the rocks of ennui and the resulting infidelity (-- the wife is having an affair with his ex-business partner); and his brakes have just failed, resulting in a catastrophic car accident, whose sustained injuries require part of his fractured skull to be replaced with a steel plate.

While he recovers, the wife, in a noble but perhaps misguided gesture of loyalty and doing the right thing, postpones the inevitable break up, not wanting to pile on any more misery until the husband is solidly back on his feet. Thus, our film proper picks up several months later, with our fraying couple out on the road, looking for a quiet spot to recuperate as per doctor's orders. Finding what appears to be the ideal town, everything is so laid back most of the locals appear to be asleep on their feet. (Odd, since it's well past noon.) Here, our cast is thickened up a bit with the introduction of Henshaw, the town sheriff (Nielsen), Beany, the town idiot (Prine), Fletcher, the restauranteur (Kellogg), and Mrs. Crawford, the dowdy owner of the local B 'n' B (Vincent). It almost seems too bucolic to be true, but things take a sinister turn when our couple crawls into bed for the night.

Waking up with a start from an obviously reoccurring nightmare about the accident, our haunted hero, Clay Howard (Franciscus), is drawn to the window by some activity outside. Seems the whole town has turned out, like ants fleeing a colony, silently loading-up onto the back of several trucks. Puzzled by this, he turns to alert the wife, Marjorie (Grant) only to discover she's not in bed -- or even in the room. He then spots her outside, waiting to get onto one of those trucks! Taking to the streets, he tries to stop her but the other somnambulant townsfolk prevent this, knocking him aside.

Once the trucks leave, the distraught Clay does a quick search around town, looking for help but finding everyone gone -- save for one girl, who giggles constantly at his plight and escalating agitation. Luring him back to his room, this tormentor disappears and the overwhelmed man collapses on the bed and passes out. Come the dawn, Clay wakes up with his wife sleeping soundly beside him. Worse yet, when he reveals what he saw the night before, Marjorie has no recollection of any of this -- nor will any of the other townsfolk. Told to write it off as just another in a long line of bad dream, despite the mounting circumstantial evidence backing him up, Clay begins to question his sanity in the face of all this denial -- until night falls and, crazy or not, this mass exodus happens again...

Jerry Sohl was a passable science fiction novelist (The Transcendent Man, The Odious Ones), who transitioned to a middling Hollywood screen-writer, staying in the same genre, by penning scripts for The Outer Limits (Counterweight, The Invisible Enemy), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Dead Weight, A Secret Life), and, most notably, Star Trek (Whom Gods Destroy, This Side of Paradise, The Corbomite Maneuver). He also served as a ghost-writer for Charles Beaumont on a trio of Twilight Zone episodes (Queen of the Nile, Living Doll and The New Exhibit). In between all of that, Sohl published another novel in 1965, Night Slaves.

The tele-film based on the book doesn't stray too far off its source, with the Howards still being on the outs. Marjorie Howard is in love with another man but stays with her husband as a sense of duty while he recovers from that auto accident, which killed the other driver and his passenger. And thus, both physically and emotionally, Clay Howard (Franciscus) is, forgive me, a bit of a wreck. And things only get worse when the couple's getaway vacation is crudely interrupted by some preternatural malfeasance.

Five years after it's publication, producer Everett Chambers tagged Night Slaves for adaptation as a Made for TV Movie. I've touched on the history of this genre before but, for those of you just tuning in, the MFTV Movie really cemented itself when Barry Diller set up a specific time slot for them as part of the ABC network's The Movie of the Week in the fall of 1969; and Night Slaves (1970) would be part of the second wave of productions to find their way into living rooms. Fellow Outer Limits scribe Robert Specht co-wrote the screenplay with Chambers, which, again, stays fairly faithful to the novel with one notable exception that we won't spoil -- yet.

To translate that script to screen, Chambers brought in veteran TV director, Ted Post. Starting with Armstrong Circle Theater back in 1952, Post was fairly prolific on the small screen over the next three decades, sliding from genre to genre with ease, but was also no stranger to motion pictures. He directed Clint Eastwood in Hang 'Em High (1968), and would do so again in Magnum Force (1970). And Post had just wrapped Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), which also starred Franciscus, before tackling Night Slaves. And like it's source novel, this tele-film uses sci-fi trappings as a framing device to show the death throes of a marriage and one man's existential mid-life crisis and mental breakdown prodded along by extraterrestrial forces.

Yeah, after the second morning produces the same vehement denials, and then a third, Night Slaves quickly ventures into It Came from Outer Space (1953) territory when Clay finally wises up and plays along the next night, obediently following the others onto the trucks, which take them to a nearby factory where they all unload and set to work on ... something. Poking around further, Clay finally gets to the bottom of it all. Seems a gaggle of shipwrecked E.T.'s are using the people -- as benevolently brain-washed as extra-terrestrially possible -- as forced labor to repair their ship.

Turns out Clay was immune to their 'psycho-kinetic' brainwaves due to that steel plate in his head. But now that he knows the truth, it does little to add credibility to his story. Branded a kook by the locals, the film tries to muddy these familiar plot contrivances by throwing in a couple of missing people, namely Fletcher's wife and daughter. And when the former turns up dead along the road and the other turns out to be the giggling girl, who only Clay has seen these past three nights, everyone soon suspects him of a double-homicide.

And if all of that weren't dire enough, things get even a bit more twisted when Clay and the girl (Sterling) fall head over hills in love with each other in perhaps the fastest and stoopidest whirlwind romance ever committed to film. See, the girl has been possessed by a lowly alien technician named Naillil, and they're both ready to tune in and drop out of the rat race and decide to do so together. Alas, insta-soul mates or not, their inter-stellar romance is strictly verboten (-- it'll never work, says I. He's carbon based, she's a non-corporeal blob of neurons). And so, commander Noel (Prine again) orders Clay be placed in 'protective custody' until the repairs are completed in two more days. Will t'woo wuv win out in the end? Or will a daytime lynch mob derail this romance permanently?

Well, the answer to both questions is yes. Well, sort of. But not really. See, as we barrel toward the climax, Night Slaves the TV film finally ditches Night Slaves the novel. In Sohl's version, Clay Howard truly was insane, and this whole scenario was a paranoid delusion -- all part of his cognitive breakdown over the guilt of killing the other two motorists; a father and his daughter. And in this delusion, he concocts this plight where he decides to run away with Naillil to outer space. To accomplish this, he commits suicide by slitting his wrists. Again, this was all in his head and he died for nothing.

A lot of the same elements that proved Clay's insanity leaked into the movie. Naillil and Noel are Lillian and Leon spelled backwards, the names of the other victims in the accident. And so, in a sense, novel Clay has fallen in love with the woman he killed to compensate for his guilt, which leads to his self-destruction. I find this weird and a little disconcerting. And when one considers a lot of the other cynical, downbeat, and straight-up mind-f@ck endings the 1970s spawned on the boob-tube -- Satan's Triangle (1975) and A Cold Night's Death (1973) immediately spring to mind, they really could've had another bona fide head-walloper here. But, no. We get a happy ending. Sort of. But not really. Sensing a pattern here...

Anyhoo, Clay is saved firstly when that lynch mob waits too long as night falls and they are diverted back to the factory. (To wrap up these loose ends, turns out that woman died of a heart attack while in transport and fell of the truck, which, of course, no one remembers.) Left alone in the jail, Naillil lets him out and tells Clay to meet her in the meadow where the ship will launch the next morning. But Clay thinks they should skip trying to smuggle him on board and just jump in his car and skedaddle. This they try, but the zombified town folk swarm the car, blocking their escape. (The film's most effective scene.) 

Come the dawn, Clay smiles and nods and gives everyone the answers they want to hear until he's released from jail. Then, he quickly ditches the wife and leads a merry chase to that meadow, where he is reunited with his alien lover. They run off into the weeds together. When the sheriff and Marjorie arrive, they find them sprawled on the ground. Clay is dead -- well, not dead but 'psycho-kinetically' extracted to join Naillil on the ship (-- you'd think that steel plate would have prevented this, too, but, eh, forget it, the movie's almost over), but the girl, Annie Fletcher, is still alive but remembers nothing, leaving those our protagonist left behind to contemplate on what really happened and whether he was crazy or not.

Despite these changes, Sohl was apparently happy with the adaptation. To me, as crazy as I made it out to be, Night Slaves is a little too tepid and way too repetitive in its plot structure to be truly effective. (I was totally with it until it got to the insipid romantic subplot.) It also lacks the true whackadoodlery of George McCowan's The Love War (1970) -- a wild and wacky tale of feuding alien races fighting a clandestine war on earth in the form of Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson, which debuted the same year, and not played straight enough to reach the supernatural contemporaneity alchemy of John Llewellyn Moxey's The Night Stalker (1972) -- where a vampire stalks the streets of Las Vegas. Post does a workmanlike job behind the camera, but aside from that final attack on the car nothing else really sticks out. We've all seen him be better than this. And weirder. (Go see The Baby. Now!) The incidental music is credited to Bernardo Segall, but one could easily mistake it's hiccuping, clavichord heavy muzak for something Vic Mizzy would cook up. Whoever wrote it, it doesn't really fit the surroundings all that well.

Overcompensating for these deficiencies and lack of deliriousness, we have James Franciscus and the lovely Lee Grant adding a lot of gravitas to the proceedings -- and more than it probably deserved. The film just smolders when these two share the screen. Not with hate, but a sense of familiar contempt two people with nothing left to give or say to each other accrue until it finally boils over. The film works so well when these two shred what's left of their marriage, burn the remnants, and salt the ashes. Kudos to Grant especially; it was a genuine pleasure to watch her on such a slow burn, here, when everything else I've seen her in can be easily identified by the teeth marks she left in the majority of the scenery in Airport '77 (1977) and The Swarm (1978). My Bro'Crush on Franciscus has already been well documented, and, omigod, Tisha Sterling is so adorable I can't even even.

Night Slaves debuted on September 29, 1970. I fist saw it many moons ago on TBS, back when the SuperStations didn't suck. It's good, but not THAT good. It's weird, but not quite weird enough. Is it worth seeing? It barely breaks an hour and there are worse things you could waste an hour on. And despite it's short-comings, Night Slaves definitely proves, once again, that the 1970s truly were a glorious time for network TV. An era of Made for TV movies, with amazing casts plugged into plots you wouldn't believe even if I drew you a picture, that we will sadly never see again.

This post was a last second substitution for Reelweegiemidget Reviews and Angleman's Place The Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon. The plan was to get a new review of When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder (1979) posted but that fell apart due to circumstances beyond my control with an untimely death in the family. And so, with the host's blessings, I decided to still participate and sub in this rehashed review. Apologies, Boils and Ghouls. Now please follow the linkage and get to reading all the other great reviews, please and thank you.

Night Slaves (1970) Bing Crosby Productions :: American Broadcasting Company (ABC) / P: Everett Chambers / D: Ted Post / W: Everett Chambers, Robert Specht, Jerry Sohl (novel) / C: Robert B. Hauser / E: Michael Kahn / M: Bernardo Segall / S: James Franciscus, Lee Grant, Andrew Prine, Tisha Sterling, Leslie Nielsen, John Kellogg, Virginia Vincent

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tales of the AMC Stadium Seven, and the Afternoon Matinee That Almost Wasn't.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, ladies and gents, boils and ghouls, and movie freaks of all ages, gather around and listen to my latest tale of chaos and calamity concerning the Three Ring Circus that is the AMC Stadium Seven, my disaster prone hometown movie theater.

There I was, itching to catch a matinee of Mission Impossible: Fall Out (2018) and, by some miracle, I had awoken from the Odinsleep in time to feed, med-up, and clean-up to catch the 1:10 matinee before reporting for my four to midnight shift at the paper. Arriving at the mall at 1pm on the dot, I get in line for a ticket. About five people deep. Plenty of time, right? Well, Bert the Turtle was taking tickets -- and if you frequent the Stadium Seven, you know EXACTLY who I’m talking about. And when I finally get to the front, some older lady and her gaggle of grandkids decides to cut right in front of me and waves her phone at Bert. Who summarily ignores me to deal with her and her brood and her phone. I’m guessing she bought tickets online, which, apparently, gave her carte blanche to move to the front of the line. (And the next time some old coot tells you millennials are entitled brats…) Whatever. Thankfully, there were no glitches, she got her tickets for Christopher Robin (2018) and moved on. Then, I got my ticket and Bert says my movie will be playing in Theater #7. Still with me? Great. Because this is when things get a little nuts.

And so, I enter the maze and head for Theater #7. But hanging above the door of the theater is an illuminated placard for The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018), and right next door, above the entrance of Theater #6, is a placard for Fallout. Thinking the wily Bert was trying to trick me, I check my ticket stub, which, indeed, says Theater #7. The door of which is open, with five minutes to showtime, but the theater is already pitch black. (Further deduction deduces that with this being the first screening of the day, no one had bothered to turn the lights on in ANY theater. No safety lights. Nada.) So, a little confused, I head into the dark and empty theater except for two gals sitting way up in the corner, sitting in the warm glow of Maria Menounos shilling for something. What I don’t see are the four to five gents who were in line in front of me, who all bought tickets to see the same movie I was.

And so, I decide to duck back out and check with Bert at the ticket line to make sure I’ve got the right theater. He’s swamped. So never mind on that. Thus, I return to Theater #7, still empty except for the two gals. Begging pardon first, I ask if they’re here to see Mission Impossible. Nope; they’re here to see The Spy Who Dumped Me. One snootily telling me there’s a sign above the door, duh-doi. And what was I, stupid? To which I replied I saw that but my ticket says Theater #7 and the idiot at the box office told me my movie was in Theater #7. So, forgive me if I think my movie will be playing in Theater #7. Then again, this is the AMC Stadium Seven we’re dealing with.

OK, then, so, I abandon Theater #7 and enter Theater #6, which, if you remember, says it's showing my movie, which is also dark, the previews are playing, and I spot two of the guys who also bought tix for Fallout. And so, I take a seat but grow instantly wary due to the animated and juvenile trailers we are being shown. And when they finally wrap up, sure enough, when the movie proper spooled up, I was greeted with the opening scene of the latest Hotel Transylvania movie.

OFFS, said I, and vacated the theater -- along with everyone else who was in there, mind you. And as we reach the lobby, I got to witness a mass exodus from every single theater, all seven, just as one of the assistant managers pops out an employee’s only door, eyes wide as she takes in this nonplussed crowd of instant cinema refugees, and gets an earful from a father and his trailing kinder, who was very upset by the adult R-rated red-band trailers his kids just watched, thinking they were about to see Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018) only he wound up in the theater which, by process of elimination, was actually showing The Spy Who Dumped Me -- which, I will point out, was NOT showing in Theater #7. The signage was wrong on every theater. No one trusted their tickets, or Bert. Obviously, they’d all been here before, explaining why, oh yeah, we were all in the wrong theater.

And so, cackling all the way, I return to Theater #7 along with everyone else who was in Theater #6. Inside, I see those two gals are long gone and take a seat just as the trailers end and the commercial for the snack bar shows up, signaling the movie is about to start. Then, that assistant manager walks in and shouts, asking if we were all in here to see Mission Impossible. And from the darkness, she got her answer: “I sure as hell hope so!?!"

Yeah. That was me. And the moral of this story kids, as the movie ended, which was pretty great, and vacated the auditorium, I stopped to check the sign over the door of Theater #7 one last time, which now read: Now showing Hotel Transylvania 3. Sorry I ever doubted you, Bert. The Stadium Seven, folks. Give it up for the Stadium Seven. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

IT Came From Debuke :: Lost and Found: The True Hollywood Story of Silver Screen Cinema Pictures International (2017)

A highly amusing look at a faux mini-movie mogul in the Al Adamson vein, Lost and Found: The True Hollywood Story of Silver Screen Cinema Pictures International (2017) is a mockumentary framed around the notion that this schlock auteurs' entire catalog of films were consumed in a warehouse fire, and so, were considered to be lost forever. (And whether this fire was an accident or arson is up the viewer.)

Thus, the only evidence of their existence is about a half-dozen recently unearthed trailers for knock-off films like Alien Acid Beach Party, Big Guns, Hell Camino, and Black Thunder -- all based on whatever genre was popular in exploitation at the time of production as this career retrospective for 'Morris Carlisle' plays out from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. And all films are worse than terrible.

A lot of familiar faces in the online B-Movie scene add their two cents in the doc, propping up Carlisle and his films with a hodge-podge of other real life notorious films, filmmakers, and production stories. And much to my surprise, even I got involved a little bit in the production, albeit indirectly, as several ads I posted over at the Morgue showed up in the film, slightly tweaked, to show the SSCPI product playing at the Conestoga 4 and the old Island Twin Drive-In. 

For the record, fake ad first. Real ad second. 

No credit, though. Alas! Anyway. The whole thing is delightfully goofy. And if you're a fan of this kind of stuff, you will probably enjoy it, too. And between you and me, I would love to see the trailer for Hell Camino expanded into a feature film.

Lost and Found: The True Hollywood Story of Silver Screen Cinema Pictures International (2017) Fifth Column Films / P: Jason Bailey, Jeremy Biltz, Mike Hull / D: Jason Bailey, Mike Hull / W: Jason Bailey / C: Mike Hull / E: Mike Hull / M: Michael Carmody / S: Jason Bailey, Michael Gingold, Grady Hendrix, Glenn Kenny, Chris Poggiali
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