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Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)
"Zombies don't smoke...They're afraid of fire!"
Adventurers tangle with zombies who can walk underwater. (Did George Romero ever catch this?)
The fifties were a fallow decade for the walking dead. Scary zombies may have roamed INVISIBLE INVADERS and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, but they were sci-fi generated. (PLAN 9, anyone?) MORA TAU more or less sticks to the hoodoo playbook, but its finale is unforgivably weak, and the underwater scenes, which should have been a highlight, are blatantly bogus. If the story were rewritten on land, it would have spared lots of trouble and unintended laughter.
On the plus side, quickie director Ed Cahn always aced day-for-night shots, and nearly all of the action here occurs in darkness. The film is free of stock wildlife footage and white dudes dressed as natives. The cast seems to appreciate scripter Bernard Gordon's snappy dialogue. Cult actress Allison Hayes pulls double duty as a shrewish moll and a zombie. Can't act worth stale jujubes, but still a treat to watch. There's also plenty of gaffe guffaws, my favorite being the portly zomb who "chases" victims down a staircase as he clutches the railing.
The Weirdo (1989)
A mildly autistic, shed-dwelling loner improbably acquires an equally troubled girlfriend as he smotes his tormentors.
During his grindhouse heyday, Andy Milligan could excrete exploitation fare even faster and cheaper than Roger Corman. Unlike Corman, who (at least for awhile) aspired to better work, Milligan was content to line his pockets while expressing contempt for mankind. While predictably dour, THE WEIRDO features two prominent peculiarities.
Milligan films are littered with losers, cluelessly trying to claw their way out of hopeless situations. Though retarded, The Weirdo may be Milligan's only character cognizant that he's doomed, doomed, doomed from the getgo. Then, there's the slapping. Punks slap the weirdo. His girlfriend slaps the weirdo. His mother slaps the weirdo. A preacher's wife slaps the weirdo. The weirdo slaps his girlfriend. A caregiver slaps the weirdo. You'll swear that Moe Howard was the technical adviser.
The lumpy script bunches up all the killings at the end. Passive characters abruptly turn hostile to warrant a higher body count.
The psycho attack scenes are borderline competent, and for a flick with subterranean production values, the blood and flesh wounds look surprisingly good.
The inclusion of a cursing cleric was a cool touch, but this sad little film should only appeal to those bitten by the Milligan bug...you poor devils.
House of the Black Death (1965)
The devil made them do it
Relatives returning to their ancestral home tangle with warlocks and a family curse.
If this was based on an actual novel, as the credits claim, it has to be filmdom's sorriest screen adaptation. (Then again, the book angle could have been fabricated by crudmeister Jerry Warren, whose cinematic transgressions include bogus credits.) Like MONSTER A GO GO ('65), this plays like an unfinished film. You pity old hands Tom Drake and Andrea King, clueless that they'll "star" in what amounts to a series of barely connected scenes.
On the other hand, Lon Chaney and John Carradine probably knew exactly what type of muck they were standing in. Carradine hams his role of family patriarch so badly, Hormel could sue for product defamation. Chaney, possibly hired because the plot includes a werewolf, plays a horned satanist who limps with an (unseen) cloven hoof...or did he just drop a hooch bottle on his foot? Familiar TV face Jerome Thor is screendom's most pitiful lycanthrope, though he gives it what I guess is his best shot.
Master film mangler Jerry Warren attempted to finish the film by randomly inserting new scenes that add nothing but running time. Sparse music cues contribute to the lethargy.
Red Lights Ahead (1936)
tepid slice of life
This slight comedy looks at the Wallace household, weakly governed by a genial old fool (Roger Imhof) who takes pride in serving as his fraternal lodge doorman. His many offspring are a mildly eccentric, self-absorbed lot. The script dwells on their trivial tribulations (and chucks in some unexpected digs at spiritualism.) Just as one gets comfortable with the characters, the writers inject the creaky cliché of having the clan falsely believe they've come into a fortune. Non-hilarity ensues, and the preposterous denouement sours whatever goodwill the actors have generated.
RED LIGHTS is not unwatchable, but I question if even the cast's descendants would sit thru it twice.
Wedlock Deadlock (1947)
Curly-Joe lines his nyucks in a row
Don't dis Joe Derita, final successor to Stooge Jerome "Curly" Howard. It's true that no replacement could best a comic genius like Curly, but those belittlers of brother Shemp and the Joes should consider this: If Curly had survived the booze and strokes, would you really want to see a middle-aged man playing an overgrown, psychopathic child? The results would likely be more horrifying than humorous.
Unlike Joe Besser, who foolishly tried to upstage Larry and Moe, Derita was a team player who helped keep Moe's mayhem machine cranking for another decade to the delight of countless kiddies. Unfortunately, Joe's "character," a meek bumbler, requires strong material. Excluding WEDLOCK DEADLOCK, his comedy shorts are flatter than day-old Panther beer. One wonders what possessed old man Cohn to authorize the series.
You could substitute a dummy for a Stooge in SLAPPILY MARRIED, as Joe is pummeled with dishes, manhandled by comic tough Dick Wessel, and vexed by a cavalcade of slapstick clichés, minus the laughs. In the painfully bad follow-up, GOOD BAD EGG, Joe's inventions are sabotaged by his insufferable stepson. I think Shemp could have salvaged these, but why bother? It appears that everyone involved knew the scripts were putrid. JITTER BUGHOUSE, the last series entry, is livelier, but mostly serves as a showcase for the Novelites, a crude musical comedy act. Joe, playing their manager, addresses the camera when introducing their odious numbers.
That leaves the high-flying WEDLOCK DEADLOCK, wherein the gags are plentiful and the cast is game. When his honeymoon nest is invaded by boorish in-laws, Joe drives them off by inviting friends to pose as his relatives...who happen to be homicidal lunatics! Joe provides some funny asides - his "character" has a habit of talking to himself - and absurd, Stoogeworthy touches abound. (After devouring Joe's wedding cake, a gluttonous uncle gnaws on the bridal figurines!) WEDLOCK DEADLOCK may not change one's opinion of Joe Derita, but it's still a solid comedy equal to most Stooge efforts of the period.
The Tormentors (1971)
A chore to endure
Plot: To avenge his fiancé's death, an insurance salesman (!) infiltrates a Nazi bike gang. Stuff happens. You won't care.
This isn't much of a biker flick. Then again, it's not much of anything. You know you're in for a rough time from scene one, wherein Nazis rob a bank (offscreen, of course) and roar off at speeds of, oh, 25 mph, politely stopping at intersections. The whole film plays like it was shot in slow motion, though no such optic tricks were used. The fanciest they get is a badly-executed oil wipe. When the script calls for fistcuffs, actors are left to fend for themselves, though the camera points at the floor during one dust-up, sparing you more miss-by-miles punches.
James Craig is top-billed, though he couldn't have spent a full day on the shoot...I guess John Carradine was busy that morning. As a covert party bigshot (who doubles as a farm equipment salesman!), Craig harangues the camp leader for not reaching his revenue goals. Nice touch, really. I find biker and modern Nazi films irksome for not revealing how such outfits fund their lifestyle. (Do they rob more banks? Hold bake sales??) A timekill subplot involves the Messiah, preacher to hippies who add to film genre confusion by dressing in biker-like garb. (The Messiah looks properly beatific, but his dubbed-in sermons are Mansonesque.) SS stooges whack the Messiah, proving that you can't outrun Nazis while wearing robes and sandals. The murder and flower punks aren't mentioned again, making this look even more like a stitched-together Al Adamson atrocity.
Director David ("Continuity?...What's that?") Hewitt's sci-fi efforts, THE WIZARD OF MARS and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME, were equally silly and stilted, but they appeared to have good intentions. This dog can't even succeed at being sleazy, and is no fun at all.
Ineptitude extends to the DVD (Echo Bridge, 2001), which illustrates a bio of Anthony Eisley with stills of talentless lead William Dooley.
Fear Chamber (1968)
Big wheel of fun cheese
With its rep as one of Karloff's worst, I expected something drab and stilted (like CAULDRON OF BLOOD, '67) so was surprised to find this quite colorful, albeit in a tacky way. While it lacks subtlety (and often coherence), the film delivers sufficient sleaze to please prurient drive-in dwellers.
The haphazard script provides much to mock. Spellunking scientists discover and attempt to communicate with a tentacled, "intelligent" rock. That's all of the plot you need...it's raw gibberish. Amoral researchers stop just short of human sacrifice in their experiments, and place blind faith in primitive, printout-spitting computers. Rants from Roland, the diamond-obsessed comic relief, beg for MST3K skewering, and Karloff's scientific theories are the daffiest heard since mad docs roamed the Monogram lot.
Most commenters cluck about "Poor Boris." Granted, he isn't tossed one morsel of decent dialogue, but he just phones his part in. (The young leads, on the other hand, are quite likable, even though their characters are not.) Upon his passing, rummagers of Karloff's effects discovered that his check for this flick was uncashed...perhaps he expected it to bounce.
Occhi dalle stelle (1978)
Brainless behind the eyes
In this paranoia-driven potboiler, our reporter hero battles hindersome authorities, duplicitous co-workers, renegade UFO debunkers, and silent, skulking aliens. (Though capable of mind control and zapping objects from afar, it takes three of them to operate a control panel of about two dozen buttons.) The script clomps from event to event,leaving puzzlers aplenty. Why did the aliens blind the dog? Why do they fry the soldiers with radiation when they're only patrolling an empty landing site? And what space dudes worth their moon cheese abduct the ugly photographer first instead of his model? Inquiring minds want to know! Writer-director Mario Gariazzo apparently researched his subject by skimming a stack of UFO-themed tabloids as he took in a Sunn Classics double feature. (The closing screen crawl boasts that it's based on actual events...just like "Plan 9!") Some may feel burned by the abrupt finale, but it should still appeal to conspiracy cranks.
Needs roadside assistance
Did JOYRIDE ('01) leave you primed for another psycho trucker flick? Try elsewhere. Loco long-hauler Meat Loaf shang-hai's girlfriend of wimpy Lochlyn Munro, whose recovery plan consists of shrieking her name as he tails Mr Loaf in his battered flivver. There hasn't been such a mismatch since Arch Hall Jr battled EEGAH ('62). Most of the slo-mo chase takes place on back roads (saves on shooting permits, I guess) where motels and fillin' stations exist in uninhabited areas (saves on extras!).
For a film helmed by a former stunt and second-unit guy, this is mighty thin on thrills. The plot lacks one credible moment, and aside from some well-placed quips likely ad-libbed by Mr Loaf, the dialogue is insultingly bad. On the plus side, I dug the screwy camera angles, and the gear-grinding soundtrack sports some cool tunes. Bonus: Kristin Davis spends mucho time shirtless, and reduces Meat Loaf to hamburger.
Ski Troop Attack (1960)
Great scenery and decent premise undone by cheapness
In a snowy German forest, stranded GI's observe stock WWII footage and evade the enemy. Aside from some testy exchanges with a frosty fraulein, the stick-figure characters bark war-comic banalities (though the script's feverish dialogue and structure might have made a swell comic!). The troop's captain is constantly baited by his smug, war-happy sargeant. One assumes a showdown will ensue, but the budget must not have allowed for even modestly choreographed fistcuffs. The equally anticlimactic finale has the soldiers destroying a bridge that's "an impossible target from the air." (??!) Bereft of stuntwork or even a passable master shot, the lucky viewer is left with a jumble of grimacing-face close-ups and mismatched model train footage that even Al Adamson would disown. Roger Corman always blames this dog's shortcomings on production snafus...yet a rookie director employed most of the same cast,crew, and locations for BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (shot back-to-back with SKI TROOP), and that schlocker turned out OK. Corman's apparent strategy was to grab as much footage in as little time possible and hope to cobble together something watchable in post. As a result, many scenes look interchangeable, and there's little dramatic flow. You can make a good cheap war flick with a tiny cast (BATTLE OF BLOOD ISLAND, '60) and scant action (UNDER FIRE, '57), but this sucker should be avoided like a cloud of mustard gas.
Midnight Manhunt (1945)
Hunt for another film
Odd, isn't it, how you'll rent or buy a minor title on DVD that you'd likely ignore if it appeared on, say, TCM? This obscurity at least looks promising: the cover's enticing - a hallmark of Alpha Video - and the cast features long-time low-rent bad guy George Zucco, Bowery "Boy" Leo Gorcey, and Ann Savage, the memorable harpy in the cult fave DETOUR ('45). The slight plot takes place at a decrepit horror museum - characters pass thru a wobbly turnstile constructed by shop class dropouts- and involves a corpse that assorted characters constantly move or misplace for silly reasons. For odious comic relief, they're dogged by a dimbulb detective who makes Inspector Clouseau look like Sherlock Holmes. For a bare bones production, the players work hard. Zucco has never been slimier, and master language mangler Gorcey is good for some weak chuckles. The script, however, ain't exactly THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY ('55). With sharper dialogue, this might have made a decent farcial stage play, but the characters' casual attitude about handling the corpse is more distasteful than amusing.
Not Like Us (1995)
I give it three (severed) thumbs
An alien and (sexy) sis conduct surgical experiments on hinterland hayseeds. (Question: Why decimate Yokelville when one could operate in, say, LA, where no one would miss a few dozen bums and crackwhores?) A major annoyance: the video box promises horror and suspense, but the product is utterly unserious. While its shortcomings are many, it does have small virtues, as it attempts to mirror 50's creature features, and has that seat-of-the-pants feel of early New World output. Tyler Bates' score cleverly echoes those bombastic Ronald Stein and Albert Glasser soundtracks of the fifties, and the alien surgical tools lovingly replicate Paul Blaisdell"s otherworldly props in INVASION OF THE SAUCERMEN and NOT OF THIS EARTH, which this film's plot resembles. FX, make-up, and acting are passable, and Rainer Grant is terrific fun as the space vixen.
Spins its wheels
This oddity contains Bunuel-like touches, but doesn't sustain one's interest. A 10 year old roams a bizarro America in a stolen Mustang, while the usual cult movie suspects (Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, Susie Tyrell) commit malicious acts in the name of comedy. Like his AFTER HOURS and VAMPIRE'S KISS, the screenwriter delights in making you squirm. I remained unaffected, due to the broad acting. You know you're in for it when Meat Loaf and Flea give the most appealing perfs. (And what did this kid's screen test look like? He's insufferable.) Recommended to the dozen or so fans of SONNY BOY ('87).
Cheap thrills, eh?
A hardluck hustler attempts to run after-hours party joints while dodging dirtbag cops, shyster landlords, and assorted lowlifes. Many films try to disguise the fact they were lensed in Canada. This one rubs your face in Toronto grit. Hardly perfect - the romantic subplot feels like padding - but the results are quirky and colorful. Distribution may have been limited by its casual attitude towards recreational drugs. I was reminded of DRUGSTORE COWBOY ('89), but this one has less repetition and more humor. If TRAINSPOTTING gave you a buzz, try some of this.
The Projectionist (1970)
Half-cocked headtrip wih an early 70's vibe
When not goofing off, the titular yutz daydreams of being a silent film superhero. Parts of the score are cribbed from old serials, and scenes are lifted from features of the 20's thru 50's. One wonders how John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart would react to seeing their work intermingled with clips of war atrocities and grindhouse dancers. Chuck McCann's character is immensely likeable when he dwells in the present, but his superhero mugs like the class clown you always despised. Released on VHS in 1986 to capitalize on Rodney Dangerfield's (straight) supporting role.
Silent Madness (1984)
Q: What sort of slasher flick would the director credited with the infamous SNUFF make?
A: One that gets everything wrong. Not really inept, but it plays like someone set out to make a genre film wihtout bothering to scope the market. The killer (played by a stuntman with creepy conviction) is revealed in reel one. He's pursued not by doctors or lawmen but malevolent psycho ward attendants who meet comic deaths. His chief prey ia a thirtysomething gal who's chased thru a sorority basement the size of an airport. Most closely resembles the sick Canadian VISITING HOURS, and includes death by drillpress!