Wednesday, April 27, 2016

EATEN ALIVE ! 1976

Good time 'ol sweaty bayou horror from Tobe Hooper featuring a mumbling & 
psychotic Neville Brand along with a giant man eating croc and Roberta Collins !!

*After a bit of a break (spent mostly sitting around watching movies !), I'll be back to regular posting here and reading my fellow bloggers posts. Thanks to everyone for sticking around and a thanks & welcome to my new followers !*


"Meet the maniac and his friend...Together they make they make
 the greatest duo in the history of mass slaughter...."


"You Check In Alive...But Check Out Dead !"





     Tobe Hooper's followup to his 1974 masterpiece THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE touches on the same basic theme (a group of folks stumbling into a claustrophobic isolated location with dire results - a theme Hooper would again explore in 1981's THE FUNHOUSE.), along with the presence of SAW's final girl Marilyn Burns (who once again is put through hell here) and takes the very black comedy that lurked beneath CHAINSAW even more to the forefront. With much of the same feel and atmosphere of CHAINSAW (although here amping up the blood & nudity quota) EATEN ALIVE while not the straight up drive horror classic of it's predecessor still has much to recommend it. There's an interesting cast comprised of former Hollywood A -listers looking to make the monthly mortgage payment, a couple of familiar and attractive 70's drive-in faces, some nice 70's horror non-pc content as both a cute pet dog (named Snoopy !) and a precocious little crippled girl are set up as either real or potential victims -  and best of all a totally deranged performance by craggy faced character actor Neville Brand.
    Brand plays Judd a mumbling and most likely psychotic proprietor of the Starlight Hotel, a ramshackle clapboard establishment nestled over a dank bayou swamp, which is home to a large African crocodile to whom he feeds (sometimes mistakenly - other times on purpose) a seemingly non-stop smorgasbord of victims. We're never given any pretext to how long this has been going or to what Judd's purpose is in doing it. By the looks of various bric-brac (both male & female oriented - including a creepy mannequin) scattered about his hovel there's clues that its been going on a while and while it's never specifically addressed there's allusions to Judd's wartime service and impotency (perhaps the two are linked ?) as to his motives.


  

     The film opens with runaway and newbie prostitute Clara (the very wonderful Roberta Collins from THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, DEATH RACE 2000 and THE ROOMMATES) who after refusing to indulge in customer Buck's (a pre Freddy Krueger Robert Englund) requests is thrown out of the "home" by "Madame" Miss Hattie (an almost unrecognizable Carolyn Jones from THE ADDAMS FAMILY under a ton of grey greasepaint). Trudging down the road she checks into Judd's hotel for the night and with the expected result being an encounter with the croc (and the homicidal Judd).
      Soon more potential croc and/or Judd fodder (seems Judd is pretty handy with a sickle) shows up in the form of Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter Libby (the very beautiful Crystin Sinclaire  aka Lynda/Linda Gold from CAGED HEAT, RUBY and HUSTLER SQUAD) who are the father and sister of runaway (and ex- prostitute and now croc lunch meat Roberta Collins) and are in the process of trying to locate her. Also arriving is a dysfunctional family consisting of creepy father William Finley (SISTERS and PHANTOM OF PARADISE) and mother Marilyn Burns (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HELTER SKELTER - here sporting a black perm wig) and their spunky kid played by Kyle Richards (HALLOWEEN). Stuart Whitman from DEMONOID : MESSENGER OF DEATH and GUYANA :CULT OF THE DAMNED (and who was just beginning to be quite a fixture in 70's low budget exploitation) is the somewhat dim bulb local sheriff.
      The presence of a huge Nile crocodile loose in swamps of the U.S. is explained by Judd having a mangy "zoo" as a tourist attraction on the porch of his hotel (early in the film there's a grim scene as we see a small monkey knell over and die with the small girl discovering the body) with the croc being brought back from Africa by a friend and subsequently let loose. Most everybody will quickly surmise how the thing plays out and the plot seems simply there to set up various victims as they rather randomly show up at the hotel (the basic story is straight out of a 1950's EC horror comic).




     The inside studio shooting locations add a cramped claustrophobic atmosphere (along with swirling fog and the constant buzz of insects) which actually helps immensely and Hooper along with cinematographer Robert Caramico (LEMORA : A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL) uses the opportunity to create some dreamlike lighting effects including a hellish red tint that looms over some sequences. Hooper also seems to revel in the grungier aspects of the movie as one the first shots we see is a close-up of Robert Englund's blue jeans crotch followed by Roberta Collin's breasts. As mentioned  the sequence with the small girl being pursued under the hotel all the while being menaced by rats, Judd and the croc is a highlight (along with the fate of her small dog !). Much like the shark in JAWS, the huge rubber mechanical crocodile caused many problems during shooting and ended being mostly seen gliding through the water or quickly glimpsed as it shoots out of the water to grab the wildly flailing victims.
     The film would go out under various titles including DEATH TRAP, HORROR HOTEL and STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER. The production was somewhat troubled as Hooper squabbled with the producers on the tone of the climax with a result being cinematographer Caramico shot some footage that was later added to the film. The entire cast is quite good with Whitman and Ferrer both lending a some old time Hollywood gravitas to the proceedings and Brand (a highly decorated WWII vet) is a hoot here - alternately scary and darkly humorous as he mumbles and paces about, all the while puttering around the dilapidated hotel.




      Roberta Collins was always a welcome addition to 70's drive-in cinema and makes the most of her small (but important) role in the film's opening sequences. She appeared in numerous films including the classics THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, CAGED HEAT, THE ROOMMATES,  DEATH RACE 2000 and the interesting THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (just released by Arrow as part of their American Horror Project box set), roller skated along side Claudia Jennings in UNHOLY ROLLERS, showed up in Gordon Park's THREE THE HARD WAY (playing Jim Brown's gal friday !) and the criminally under seen SPEED TRAP (which really cries out for a DVD release). She sadly passed away in 2008.
      Slender, willowy blond Crystin Sinclaire (who supplies some requisite nudity here) appeared with Roberta in Jonathan Demme's CAGED HEAT along with the Filipino female style DIRTY DOZEN inspired THE HUSTLER SQUAD (aka THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN) and DIRTY O'NEILL. Like many a 70's drive-in/TV actress she faded from view as the 80's dawned.
       EATEN ALIVE is based upon the real life Joe Ball, the so called "Butcher of Elmendrof ", who lived in Texas during the 1930's and had several wives and/or girlfriends disappear while working as waitresses at his roadhouse (which happened to have a live alligator pit out back !!).








ALL ABOVE SCREEN CAPS ARE TAKEN FROM THE ARROW Blu-Ray






   Roberta Collins  Nov. 17 1944 -  Aug. 16 2008
            

Sunday, January 31, 2016

THE CYCLOPS 1957

Blogathon



"It Was A Monster - Yet It was a Man !"
"You'll Hardly Believe What Your Eyes See !"




    Although Allied Artists produced and/or distributed many first rate crime, western, noir & drama films they also seemed to had an affinity for low budget horror films including the entertainingly ludicrous Karloff vehicle FRANKENSTEIN 1970, the lurid THE HYPNOTIC EYE and the classic "walking tree of terror" FROM HELL IT CAME along with this 1957 effort from Bert I. "Mr. B.I.G." Gordon. One of Gordon's earlier efforts THE CYCLOPS is also one of his more impoverished and woefully cheap films (which is really saying something), but like all of Bert's films it still a wonderfully entertaining little piece of low budget sci-fi/horror. It's helped immensely by the presence of Gloria Talbot,  which along with this and I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, THE LEECH WOMAN and Edgar G. Ulmer's interesting DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL (which played on dbl. bills with THE CYCLOPS) found a niche in films such as this and always could be counted on to give a performance that was often more then the material warranted.
    Talbot plays Susan Winter who gathers together a disparate group of four men in order to search for her missing fiance who disappeared in a remote valley in northern Mexico while exploring for uranium several years before. Along for the ride are Roger Craig (WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS) as Russ Bradford who was a friend of Talbot's fiance and has ulterior motives for the trip as he wants to prove the fiance dead in order to marry Talbot. He also serves as the film's nominal hero and scientist whose there to explain the strange goings on with writer Bert I. Gordon's typical head scratching "scientific" explanations (we can tell Russ is a scientist as his first introduced wearing Clark Kent-like glasses and continually puffs away thoughtfully on his pipe).
    Plus there's, a scenery chewing Lon Chaney Jr. as prospector Martin "Marty" Melville who hopes to find a rich uranium strike and Lee Brand, a pilot with a shady reputation who will fly them to the mysterious valley (who talks constantly about himself in the third person) and is played by Tom Drake (who showed up on practically every TV show in the 60's and 70's).




     After being forced to evade the Mexican authorities who will not give them permission to venture into the valley, the group makes a rough landing in the valley as a suddenly crazy Marty (a personality trait he lapses into about every 15 minutes or so here) grabs the controls of the plane and knocks out the pilot. Upon landing Marty immediately finds his uranium and pleads with the group to head back immediately.
    Susan however preservers and presses on with Russ where they begin to see giant animals such as a lizard, a hawk and most bizarrely a groundhog (which is eaten by the hawk !). These are all rendered with Bert's usual somewhat iffy rear projection process whereupon footage of actual animals is superimposed on the screen with the actors all standing on one side of the screen vaguely gesturing and interacting with the creatures on the opposite side of the screen. Russ summarizes that the radiation present in the valley is causing the growth and that they'll soon be mutating.
      The group soon discover a giant roaming the area with a huge lump of flesh over one eye, a snaggle tooth grimace (along with a loin cloth) and appears to be a distant cousin of the creature in Bert's WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST. Some wreckage from a plane and bits of clothing from Susan's fiance are also found and after venturing into Bronson Caverns they're trapped by the "Cyclops" as he rolls a huge boulder in front of the entrance and then spends some time snarling and grunting at them. Susan seems to have some sort of connection to the giant as Russ ventures the theory that she is recognized by him. and it soon becomes exceedingly obvious to everyone except for Susan and her intrepid group who the giant really is.




     Clocking in at 67 minutes, like most of Gordon's output there's fascinatingly weird curiosity in viewing THE CYCLOPS with its endearingly inept special effects as the rear projected images often having that low budget patented partially invisible look to them and the stilted and often time unintentionally hilarious dialogue. The sequence where the group sneaks past the stiff as a board sleeping cyclops is worth the price of admission in itself and there's an entertainingly daffy scene with the cyclops attempting to wrestle with an obviously drugged & lackadaisical snake.
     Talbot's Susan shows the most backbone of all the characters and in a bit of a change is the one who's constantly pushing and prodding along the somewhat ineffectual males, although the climax finds Russ going to full hero mode (along with channeling a bit of Odysseus from Homer's The Odyssey) and the somewhat shifty Lee rises to occasion while constantly reminding everyone he's part Cherokee.
     Gloria Talbot had a couple big roles in major pictures such as Douglas Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (in which she's quite good in a small, but important role) and Michael Curtiz's WE'RE NO ANGELS, but seemed to settle into roles in TV and low budget westerns and horror and always seemed to gamely try her best no matter what the film (as here). She gives a great little performance as the unknowing wife in I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE from 1958.
     Sporting the classic pencil thin mustache and a shock of brylcreem laden hair, Roger Craig is OK as the co-male lead and a somewhat stocky hero who in addition makes his feelings toward Talbot's character obvious from the get-go (which doesn't seem to bother her too much). His best role was probably in Fritz Lang's newspaper crime drama WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS where carried with on with Rhonda Fleming behind hubby Vincent Price's back.




    After appearing in some excellent small character roles in movies such I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES, HIGH NOON and SPRINGFIELD RIFLE, Lon Chaney Jr. was already well into his decent into lower and lower budgeted films. Although he would have a nice little role in 1958's THE DEFIANT ONES and  later appear Jack Hill's excellent cult classic SPIDER BABY and Roger Corman's THE HAUNTED PALACE, Chaney would sadly watch his career spiral downward in the coming decades before his death in 1973. Only 49 at the time of filming THE CYCLOPS he looks at least 20 years older here and as the treasure hunting "Marty" he's alternately sullen/sweaty or chewing the scenery with abandon. The actor playing the title character has been referred to as an un-billed stunt man, while some sources claim it was Dean Parkin from WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST.
     Warner Archive has released THE CYCLOPS in a nice anamorphic 1.78 transfer. The initial release mistakenly was cut as it was minus a bit of bloody cyclops eye spearing but Warner quickly issued a new version.
      A big thanks to my very good friend Toby over at 50 Westerns From The 50's  for putting this blogathon together.












   

Thursday, January 28, 2016

FASTER, PUSSYCAT ! KILL ! KILL ! 1965 On Blu-Ray






"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence..."



    With an under the radar type of release Russ Meyer's ode to violence and ass kicking well endowed women quietly appeared on blu-ray late last year for it's 50th anniversary. Only available directly through RM Films International or at Diabolik DVD and rather proudly priced at $39.95, it contains a beautiful 1.78 anamorphic presentation with lots of nice film grain present. Containing no extras (not even a menu - the disc just starts automatically when placed in your player) the image quality is a quantum upgrade over the old full frame master that dated back to the dawn of home video along with the original mono soundtrack getting a nice kick.
    Although it doesn't contain the audio commentary that was present on the old laser disc and DVD, its really not a huge loss as Meyer's dry play by play description of unfolding scenes was a bit tedious - which was really a shame as you have to believe that if anyone had about a million stories, it was Russ Meyer. (not to mention one could only wonder what a commentary would have been like from the three "pussycats" !).




    Produced for approximately $45,000 FASTER PUSSYCAT ! KILL ! KILL ! is a dizzily hallucinatory viewing experience as from the rapid fire editing opening sequence with Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams wildly go go dancing while the immortal title track by the Bostweeds blares from a jukebox it never lets for the next amyl nitrate fueled 83 minutes. Although made 50 years ago, with its desolate desert setting and except for the vintage cars a lack of any references to a point in time, it could just have easily been made 50 days ago.
    Varia (Tura Satana - whose bio reads just like a Russ Meyer movie), Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Lori Williams) are unforgettable as a trio of desert racing go go dancers who end up kidnapping a young bikini wearing (and future Playboy Playmate) Sue Bernard after killing her nerdy boyfriend. Taking refuge in a desolate ranch owned a wheelchair bound reprobate played by future Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster along with his two sons, one being a hulking giant with the mind of a child and the other being a nebbish Paul Trinka (from TV's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) all of which sets in motion an ever escalating road trip to hell.




    Although this was Meyer's first "real" movie all his trademarks are there including spineless ineffectual men who dominated by string willed and big bosomed females along with his excellent eye for composition and camerawork (the blu is a wonderful reminder to how absolutely gorgeous his films really look). Although scored with mostly library cues along with beatnik type jazz and bump 'n' grind type R&B by Bert Shefer & Paul Sawtell, Meyer and screenwriter Jack Moran's bile laced dialogue spill from the actors mouths like beat poetry and create an almost musical cadence to the film.
     Often labeled as camp FASTER PUSSYCAT ! KILL ! KILL ! is a fascinating piece of cinema and considering the time frame it was released is a truly audacious piece of film making (which can be said for most of Meyer's output). Can you imagine what is was like to walk into a cinema or drive-in in 1965 and watch this unfold before your eyes ??
    Sadly Meyer passed away in 2004, followed by Pussycats Tara Satana in 2011 and Haji in 2013, which leaves Lori Williams as the last of the greatest female trio in exploitation movie history. Their screen credits might not be extensive, but man did they make an impact.






All the above screen grabs are from the RM Films International Blu-ray