Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Hubrisween 2020 :: H is for House on Bare Mountain (1962)

Now, I know I usually begin one of these things with a plot description of whatever film we’re covering, but to do that for this one would be admitting that House on Bare Mountain (1962) had a plot to begin with. And to do so would prove the Supreme Being of your choice as fallible -- thus starting a chain reaction that would null and void the entire universe. And who wants to be responsible for that? Not me. Hell, no … Okay. Okay. Fine.

Our theoretical plot, I think -- and stress on the think, revolves around Granny Goody and her school for wayward young girls. Now, this character is played by the film’s notorious producer, Bob Cresse; and Cresse's take on Granny Goody is a flattering carbon-copy of comedian Jonathan Winter's Granny Fricker character in the same way Sammy Petrillo was flattering Jerry Lewis in William “One Shot” Beaudine’s Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952).

Anyway, Granny's curriculum for her busty young girls mostly consists of spending ah-lot of time in the shower, getting ready for bed, lounging around the pool, or exercising around the grounds of her mansion. Of course, everyone -- except for Granny, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is topless and sometimes bottomless; but only from the rear. As to why that is, well, we’ll be addressing that in a sec after the film proper begins with Granny locked up in the clink.

Why? Well, as a side operation from fleecing unwitting parents into enrolling their daughters, the old bat sells liquor made by an illegal still out of her basement that's run by her pet werewolf, Krakow (Engesser). Relating her tale of woe to the audience, seems Granny was suspicious that a spy was in their midst, and then spends most of the movie via flashback trying to ferret out the mole -- and you won't believe where she all looks. Let's just say, Every “nook” and “cranny” is checked and rechecked, and then remind you what we’re watching and leave it to your imagination from there...

As the silent pictures gave way to sound, the powers that be in Hollywood, taking heat over a perceived increase in lewd and blasphemous content, and rocked by several glaring scandals -- most notably the Fatty Arbuckle rape case and the still unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor, adopted a set of directives called The Motion Picture Production Code. The hope being this action would head off any government mandated or enforced censorship that would hopefully prove to Congress and the viewing public that the studios were more than capable of cleaning up their act on their own.

Now, this was mostly due to a 1915 Supreme Court decision in The Mutual Film Corp. vs. Industrial Commission of Ohio, a State-sponsored censorship board, which basically said the First Amendment protections of Free Speech did not extend to motion pictures because, according to Justice Joseph McKenna, they were a for-profit public gathering like circuses or other sideshow institutions. McKenna also explicitly stated films could not be granted constitutional protections due to the dangers of the “enormous inherent attraction of the medium held by the public,” and therefore, how it could be used for evil or manipulative purposes on the masses. Thus, it was either a self-imposed Production Code or a National Censorship Board dictating what the studios did.

Officially adopted in 1930 under the leadership of former Postmaster General, William H. Hays, the Production Code really didn’t go into effect until 1934 when Hays appointed Joseph Breen as his lead watchdog and enforcer, who immediately started to crackdown on things. Often referred to as the Hays Code or the Breen Code, these standards and practices meant, among other things, a motion picture could not, under any circumstances, portray the use of recreational drug use, including the consumption of alcohol, or anything considered “perverse” like “homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases,” and nudity and overt portrayals or references to sexual behavior -- even between consenting adults, could not be shown.

Thus and so, a draconian Breen stifled the movie industry for nearly a decade; but after the end of World War II the Production Code was starting to show a few cracks, and was successfully and openly defied by Otto Preminger and United Artists with The Moon is Blue (1953). And as things started to leak through, enter a whole new group of exploitation filmmakers, who were doing their damndest to get a naked body on the big screen and off the Stag Reels relegated to your local Elk’s Club basement.

Pioneered with the likes of Kroger Babb's Mom and Dad (1945), you could do an end-run around Breen, the Code, and any local censorship boards if you disguised your sexually explicit film as a documentary -- Wild Women / Bowanga! Bowanga! (1951), or educational or a treatise on the miracle of modern medicine -- Test Tube Babies (1948). And if all that failed, the distributors resorted to the old "Square-Up Reel,” where exhibitors were often given two different copies of the film -- one a cleaner version used to get past those local censors, and then show the other unfiltered one, complete, once they got the OK. And if the theater owner smelled-out the cops or a sting, the tamer version was shown until the authorities cleared out, and then the Square-Up Reel would be tacked on at the end to show what everyone had missed.

This opened the door for the Burlesque Movies, which were nothing more than static re-creations of an old vaudeville show, where comedians and strippers would bump and grind their way through the likes of Paris After Midnight (1951) or Teaserama (1954). These, in turn, opened the door for the Nature Films and Nudist Camp Pictures -- and one film in particular: Max Nosseck’s Garden of Eden (1954). For it was with this film, where a stranded motorist finds safe refuge at a nudist camp, after another long and lengthy court battle in the State of New York, a ruling was handed down that stated, "Nudity, on it's own, had no erotic content, and therefore was not obscene."

And while this ruling didn’t completely break the Production Code’s back, it did turn those cracks in its foundation into a full-blown breach when this decision held up on appeal. For what followed next, starting with Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), was a new type of film that combined the corniness of the Burlesque Shows with the not-quite full-frontal of the Nudist Camp pictures -- and thus, the Nudie-Cuties were born. As to what those were, well, as noted exploitation filmmaker Frank Henenlotter -- Basket Case (1982), Frankenhooker (1990), so eloquently put it, “Coming out of an era when almost anything sexual could be considered obscene it was the logical outgrowth of both the Burlesque film and the Nudist Camp movies of the 1950s. The result was a sex film without any sex. They were called Nudie-Cuties and they were undoubtedly the stupidest films on the face of the Earth."

Voyeurism was still the name of the game: lot's of looking, but no touching -- from the audience, or the characters on screen; just a parade of beauties and a lot of teasing, teasing, and more teasing, punctuated by a whole lot of comedy corn, straight off the cob; that's a Nudie-Cutie in a kernelled nutshell alright. 

And when this cycle began to peter out, oddly enough, monsters started showing up, giving the genre one last hurrah with the likes of Peter Perry’s Kiss me Quick (1964), Stephen Apostolof’s Orgy of the Dead (1965), and Lee Frost’s House on Bare Mountain, before the real monsters and psychos started showing up.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit as we barrel toward the climax with the lead-up to Granny Goody’s annual Halloween Jamboree, where we get an extended sequence of all her topless borders *ahem* “bouncing up and down the steps” to call their dates, reminding each to sneak a bottle of booze into the dance.

This they all do, and after the punch is spiked to around 190-proof, the mole reveals herself, calls in the cops, who then raid the place. Much shenanigans ensue. And as the party degenerates into a drunken dance orgy, complete with Frankenstein's Monster doing the Nudie-Watusi, well, that’s about it -- except for the twist ending. 

Turns out old Granny got all those cops drunk, too, and now keeps them imprisoned in her basement, forcing them to work the still. See, she was never in the clink. They were. And with that final punchline, we cut to...

In the relatively tight circle of early sexploitation film pioneers, the only person disliked or more reviled by his peers than Alan Shackelton was probably Bob Cresse. Dave Friedman -- Scum of the Earth (1963), The Defilers (1965), a long time collaborator of Cresse’s, always referred to him as "a closet Nazi." And producer Harry Novak -- The Pigkeeper's Daughter (1972), A Scream in the Streets (1973), another associate, threatened to throw him through a plate-glass window if Cresse ever tried his strong-arm tactics on him again; and for the record, those tactics usually included a loaded .38 and two beefy bodyguards for persuasion and bill-collecting.

Cresse had started out as a messenger for MGM, but felt there was more money to be made working independently -- especially concerning subjects the big studios weren't allowed to do. Striking out on his own, he founded Olympic International Pictures, whose simple motto was "Art for the Sake of Money." Getting his feet wet writing and producing Once Upon a Knight (1961) -- a tale of an insurance investigator who's allergic to naked women, Cresse then got involved with House on Bare Mountain by bailing out fellow producer Wes Bishop, who ran out of money only one day into production.

Hooking up with another long time collaborator, director Lee Frost, Cresse inserted himself into the picture as the star, ad-libbing the whole thing and only shot one more day of footage, and then spliced everything together. This ad-hoc style of filmmaking shows pretty badly during the film's brief running time -- it barely breaks an hour. There just ain't a whole lot there, and what is there borders on tedious; and the thing never quite gels and lacks the overall delirium of the far superior Monster-Cutie, Novak's Kiss Me Quick.

Now, despite those earlier court rulings, some local censorship boards were still throwing their weight around. And as the legend goes, when House on Bare Mountain premiered in Boston, the current Chief of Police, claiming to have seen a little bit of snatch during the screening, raided the theater and shut the movie down. Demolishing the projector, he arrested the owner and burned the negative on the sidewalk for the gathered press outside (-- turns out he was up for re-election at the time). Cresse counter-sued for destruction of property, and since the evidence was destroyed, having gone up in smoke, giving the cops no case, he won a settlement.

The end was soon nigh for the Nudie-Cuties, though, and the giddy colors and jiggling scenery were replaced with the darker, grittier, and nastier Roughies as all that teasing gave way to sex with an unhealthy dose of violence. And as the characters started fondling each other, and more, they usually just wound up beating the crap out of each other; evidenced in the bondage and sadism of George Weiss' Olga movies -- White Slaves of Chinatown (1964), Olga's House of Shame (1964); Michael and Roberta Findley's sleaze and necrophilia -- The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), The Kiss of Her Flesh (1968), and if you thought the lobster claw assault in that was bad, check out the corncob scene in The Ultimate Degenerate (1969). Gah! And then all of this nonsense culminated with the all-out gorenogrpahy of Hershell Gordon Lewis -- Blood Feast (1963), 2000 Maniacs (1964), which officially put an end to, and I quote, one of the dumbest genres of all time.

I'll admit there is something refreshing about watching these old Nudie films, and that's the -- for lack of a better word, naturalness of the eye-candy on display. No silicone injections or over-fixed grotesqueries, and no waifish, heroin chic. These ladies are what they are, tan lines and all; cute, solid, and comfortable. 

It should also be pointed out that all the monster make-ups were provided by Ed Wood regular, Harry Thomas, and they’re just as shoddy as his work in Killer’s from Space (1954), From Hell it Came (1957), and Frankenstein's Daughter (1958).

As for director Lee Frost, well, this was his first effort and I can definitely say that he did get better. Frost was a long-time two-punch combo with Wes Bishop. And together, they co-wrote, co-produced, and co-directed almost all the films for Cresse and Olympic International. They did manage to pry themselves away and went legit, sort of, working for American International on a couple of features -- Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), The Thing With Two Heads (1972), and then formed Saber Productions, which begat Policewomen (1974), The Black Gestapo (1975), and probably their most successful feature, Race with the Devil (1975), which was a troubled co-production with 20th Century Fox, and starred Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as a couple of tourists in an RV taking on Satanists down in Texas. At some point, Frost was fired off the picture and replaced by Jack Starrett.

Cresse, meanwhile, went with the flow, churning out the wonderfully sleazy Mondo Bizzarro (1966), The Animal (1968), and the truly nasty western, Hot Spur (1968), where a fired cowhand kidnaps and tortures the boss's wife; followed by The Scavengers (1969), his take on Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) -- only in Cresse’s film, the rapes are shown in slow-motion; and Cresse was also responsible for the very first, and some think the worst, of the Nazi-Sexploitation Sickies, Love Camp 7 (1969), where he had a little too much fun playing the Commandant -- if you know what I mean. And sadly, I think you do.

I think about the one and only positive thing you can say about Cresse is that he always delivered what his titles and promotional materials promised in his pictures. Because by most accounts, he was just as big of a misogynistic misanthrope in real life as he was on film. As an example: it's my understanding he had a two-way mirror in his office that gave him a full view of the ladies restroom -- that lets you see what, exactly? Which makes what happened to him next even more bizarre.

While taking his dog for a walk along the fabled Sunset Strip, down an alley, Cresse heard a woman crying for help. He investigated and found two men, who appeared to be assaulting her. Pulling out his trusty .38, when Cresse told them to back off, one of the men pulled out his own gun, shot Cresse in the stomach, then shot and killed his dog for good measure, and then informed Cresse they were police officers making an arrest. And while recuperating from these injuries, Cresse bled his accounts dry with medical bills. Broke, he dissolved his company and bowed out of the production business, taking a few bit parts here and there, and at one point wound-up skipping the country to get away from his creditors. He eventually did come back and died of a heart attack in 1998, ending one of the strangest runs in exploitation filmdom.

Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's EIGHT films down with 18 yet to go. Up next, A Love Story that's Out of This World -- OR IS IT?!? Dahn! Dahn! Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn!!!

House on Bare Mountain (1962) B and M Productions :: Olympic International Films / P: Bob Cresse, Wes Bishop / AP: Tommy L. McFadden / D: Lee Frost / W: Denver Scott / C: Gregory Sandor / E: Gary Lindsay / M: Pierre Martel / S: Bob Cresse, Laine Carlin, Leticia Cooper, Laura Eden, Ann Perry

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