Cheezy Flicks // 2009 // 1600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 1st, 2009
12 Titles. 12 Trashy Treats. How Can You Say No?
These are the titles which try a film critic's mantle and deaden his soul. A dozen movies, many of them resurrected (or regurgitated) from the vaults of producers and rights holders who knew better than to release these turkeys to the regular viewing public. Instead, companies like Cheezy Flicks are created, named in ways to suggest fun and fancy freedom when, in truth, they are harboring cinematic time bombs just waiting to blast off in your brain pan and cause irreparable aesthetic damage. It takes a brave heart and an even braver behind to sit through these trash treats and live to tell the tale. So what about you, dear reader? Are you made of the right stuff? Do you have what it takes to challenge the high crimes and movie misdemeanors that await inside The Drive-In Cheezy Movie Collection and survive? Sink your teeth into the next 2000 words or so, and find out.
Covering every decade from the 50s to the 80s (when, apparently, the drive-in movie died and was resurrected as the direct-to-video dateless Saturday night special), there are a dozen different titles to tackle. Let's being the process by discussing the plots -- or lack thereof -- offered with each, beginning with:
Robot Monster (1953)
It's the end of the world as we know it, and the survivors must butt heads with an alien dressed in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet who uses a bubble machine to control the elements. No, seriously.
The Headless Ghost (1959)
Two American college students and their French gal pal get locked in a run down UK castle, only to meet up with a band of ghosts with one goal in mind -- help a disgruntled spook locate his missing head.
Horror Hotel (1960)
A young college girl travels to the New England town of Whitewood to study the origins of witchcraft. Before she knows it, she's the target of a coven of undead conjurers who want to use her as their ritualistic sacrifice. Figures.
Battle of the Worlds (1961)
A large asteroid is headed toward Earth, carrying an alien race inside, and it is up to Professor Benson and his crack crew of scientists to convince the planet that the threat is real.
Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)
A young MD returns to his backwoods British hometown to continue his experiments with bringing the dead back to life. Of course, he runs into a few legal limitations, but it's nothing a couple of doses of Curare can't cure.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
It's cowboys against crackpots as the title outlaw tries to escape justice by hiding out in a Wild West "castle" owned by the famed scientist's fetching offspring. Oh yeah, there's a monster too.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)
A hippy Nosferatu resurrects the fabled modern Prometheus and brings him to the last relative of the famed body snatching family, who just so happens to be running a carnival sideshow as a front for blood serum experiments. No, seriously.
Baron Blood (1972)
A young man hoping to locate his family lineage travels to Austria. There he visits an eerie castle and "accidently" releases the restless spirit of a warlock who was burned at the stake. All kinds of homicidal hijinx ensue.
Lisa and the Devil (1973)
A visiting tourists falls under the spell of a bald headed stranger. She winds up in the house of a highly eccentric family -- a clan that seems to be constantly visited by the resurrected spirit of the brood's dead patriarch.
Inn of the Damned (1975)
When travelers to a turn of the century Australian inn wind up missing, a local lawman decides to investigate. Of course, he ends up discovering something supernatural and quite sinister about these particular overnight accommodations.
Horror Planet (1981)
After investigating a series of tunnels on an alien world, one of the astronauts is "infected," and runs amuck. Eventually, another in the crew gets "pregnant" by a mysterious creature and goes on a blood-soaked killing spree.
Star Knight (1985)
When a fetching young princess is kidnapped by a mythic firebreathing dragon, it's up to a heroic knight to save the day. Did we mention that the craven creature is actually a mistaken alien spacecraft? No, seriously.
In this post-millennial, everyone's a movie expert pandemic, criticism is chaos. Everything's classic, everyone's a misunderstood genius, no previous oeuvre can be discounted for being the results of amateurish production values or subpar skill. In the mind of these messageboard Eberts, everything's been done before, simply repackaged to take advantage of a demographic unaware of a film or filmmaker's past proclivities or paltriness. The truth is, most of the offerings here were contemplated and created to do one thing -- swindle the passion pit populace out of a few isolated petting zone make-out dollars and then quietly disappear into the entertainment ether. Instead, geekdom has given rise to zombie like celluloid that never dies, but slowly rots whatever gray matter your socially stunted cranium has left.
Simply put, these are love 'em or hate 'em efforts, surreal cinematics that you'll either give in to or groan over. Instead of trying to provide a scholarly overview or some manner of joint justification, here are 12 mini-reviews (complete with scores). Take them as guidance or as a diversionary dare. Whatever the case, you have been warned, starting with one really rotten example of ineptitude as entertainment:
Robot Monster -- Score: 60
Damn, this is some dopey stuff. Kindergarteners with cameras couldn't come up with crap this incompetent. When people whizz all over poor Edward D. Wood Jr. as the worst director of all time, they clearly have not seen this waste of stock footage. Filmmaker Phil Tucker wouldn't know proficient filmmaking if it jumped up and bit him in the jubblies, and the storyline seems lifted from a nerd's rejected night terror. Yet the whole thing is so horrible, so lacking in anything remotely resembling cinematic accomplishment that we stare at it, gawker style, and watch as it crashes and burns -- and it does so, semi-spectacularly.
The Headless Ghost -- Score: 65
About as bad as Robot Monster, and the makers clearly know it. No one takes things seriously here -- not the actors playing US exchange students, not the English thespians reduced to doing their worst friendly ghost routine. This is the kind of film that pads its already short 60 minute running time with a 15 minute medieval dance sequence -- and by the end we're still praying for it to hurry up and end. Another critic referred to one of the characters as a retarded Regis Philbin circa 1959. He couldn't have been more right -- about the performance and the film containing it.
Horror Hotel -- Score: 78
Ok -- this film already earns some brownie points for featuring a sharp and sinister Christopher Lee, and John Llewellyn Moxey would go on to direct some decent UK horror fare, including Circus of Fear (though he would be better known for helming the original Night Stalker film which introduced the world to Carl Kolchak). Still, there is something slightly underwhelming about this movie, the first feature for Hammer rival Amicus. The script is very good, and the acting is up to snuff. Maybe it's the familiarity of the material. After all, you go to New England to study witches -- what did you expect to find, members of the John Birch Society? A clear case of good, but should have been better.
Battle of the Worlds -- Score: 80
The science sucks. The visual effects could have come from any number of Revell model kits. The mixed Italian/English cast is enough to give lovers of dub a headache. But there is one reason that Battle of the World's succeeds and that's the arch, over the top Method performance of the late, great Claude Rains. He is so invested in this hackneyed material, so dedicated to delivering his gobbledygook tech speak dialogue in perfectly modulated tones that you just can't help but love him. He's terrific, so totally believing every poorly written sentiment coming out of his mouth that the rest of the movie is immaterial. He's the one and only star and we couldn't be happier.
Doctor Blood's Coffin -- Score: 78
Though his performance could be best described as a combination of testosterone and wood, Kieron Moore's beefcake turn as the title character (yes, the man's last name is actually Blood) is the best thing about this mild mannered UK fright flick. Granted, there is more gore than one would expect from a 1961 effort and the theme of grave-robbing and corpse desecration must have driven the local censorship boards batty! But once you get past the open heart surgery and random arterial spray, there's not much left except talking, talking, and more talking. You'd think with a last name like Blood, Pete and his pop would be the first suspects in a recent string of disappearances. Apparently, the English don't judge a killer by their cover.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter -- Score: 75
William Beaudine was a filmmaker who never quite understood the concept of spreading oneself too thin. He made hundreds of movies stretching all the way back to the silent era. He was also responsible for thousands of hours of television. But just like the old cliché, magnitude did not always mean eminence. With Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter it's clear that his well of imagination was pumping thick and brackish. Still, this movie manages the near impossible. It uses inept amateurishness to both compel and repel you. It's not a fun experience, but it will entertain you nonetheless.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein -- Score: 60
Here are four words every film fan dreads seeing -- "Directed by Al Adamson." Ugh! From Psycho a Go-Go to Blazing Stewardesses, this son of Hollywood journeyman Victor Adamson is beloved by fans of fetid schlock. But for the most part, his movies are awful, and D vs. F is no different. Sure, J. Carrol Naish is a hoot, chewing up the scenery via indecipherable dunderheaded dialogue, and Regina Carrol's turn as Las Vegas star Judith Fontaine (complete with musical number) is remarkably blank, but there's not much else here. The storyline is scattered, the acting wooden, and just when you think it's about to end, Adamson pulls a switcheroo and keeps things going for another 20 minutes. Argh!
Baron Blood -- Score: 80
For many, Mario Bava is instrumental in developing Italian horror into something both beautiful and brutal, paving the way for such protégés as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. This is a perfect example of his seminal style -- lots of visual panache and set piece spectacle meshed with narrative incoherence and a real lack of logic. Still, we buy it because it's being delivered in such a delicious, decadent way. Elke Sommer is on hand to provide a little "who cares" 70s eye candy, and Joseph Cotton ups the shoulder shrug factor. As an evocative near work of cinematic art, Baron Blood is thoroughly watchable. What's clear, however, is that this is one mentor who would soon be surpassed by his students in record time.
Lisa and the Devil -- Score: 70
Again, there is something to be said for this late period Mario Bava bedevilment, and it's not all that good. Sure, there are some amazing sets here to obsess over, and a couple of decent performances delivered by Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, and Suspiria's Alida Valli (as a crazed countess). But for a movie originally titled House of Exorcism, there are little Satanic shenanigans to be found. There's lots of talking, and a mustached lothario keeps showing up to give Ms. Sommer's the heebie jeebies, but until the last half hour, nothing much happens. By the time Master Bava breaks out the blood splatter, it's too little too late. This is a lush film to look at. It's a mediocre bit of macabre to endure.
Inn of the Damned -- Score: 74
As curiosities go, this Australian horror western (?) from the early 70s definitely deserves some attention. Of course, because of its genre jumping tactics, the movie tries for too many things and barely manages many of them. The action is decent, but then disappears. The fright is also managed well -- that is, when it isn't given over to some forced funny business. There's even ample nudity to keep the pubescent demo good and "attentive." But at nearly two hours, we have an endurance test disguised as an epic. You can literally see the material that could have been edited out to make this experience more lean and mean. Instead, it's a bloated if worthwhile look at another culture's concept of creepshow.
Horror Planet -- Score: 76
It's a motion picture maxim that genre titles tend to cannibalize each other. How else would you explain this crazed combination of Alien, Friday the 13th, and about 15 other sci-fi/slasher efforts? While British glamour gal Judy Gleeson gives a wonderfully menacing performance as the insane murderess heavy with Inseminoid spawn (the film's original title, by the way), the rest of the cast is almost nonexistent. Even Stephanie Beacham and Victoria Tennant are as blank as extraterrestrial air biscuits. Indeed, without the gore and the grotty set design (space has never looked so filthy) you'd have another dull retro Ridley Scott rip-off. If you don't mind the copycat and mouse, you might actually enjoy the various levels of ludicrousness.
Star Knight -- Score: 65
To revert to an old joke, nothing says cinema like star power, and Harvey Keitel's performance in this combination period piece/debt payoff is nothing like cinema. Imagine the man's Bronx honk circa The Last Temptation of Christ, toss in some Renaissance Fair revivalism, and add a few high tech elements like synthesizers and laser lights and you've got one brain buster of a bad movie. Clearly a tax dodge for everyone involved, the paycheck cashing doesn't stop with the artist formerly known as Taxi Driver's Sport. Klaus Kinski is here as well, as is Fernando Rey and a whole boatload of no-name Spanish talent. This is the true definition of Euro-trash, a film so flawed in its approach to subject matter that is must be the result of a fever dream or a lost bet.
From a tech spec standpoint, purists need to pass on this lumbering DVD box set ASAP. The manner in which these movies are presented will stir their reference quality only sensibilities into fits of cellu-roid rage. What we have here, for the most part, are poorly transferred full screen images, 1.33:1 occasionally giving way to lax non-anamorphic letterboxing. The films before 1971 are all 4x3. Anything afterward is sometimes poorly framed or incorrectly cropped. Indeed, to complain that crappy films have been given an equally fecal festooning is like arguing over why stupid people are dumb. Sound-wise, it's straight Dolby Digital Stereo as Mono, baby. No special immersive mixes. No channel challenging choices. Foreign films are dubbed (no native soundtrack choices) and there are definitely no subtitles to clarify the tinny, occasionally difficult to decipher dialogue. As for extras, Cheezy Flicks tosses a few badly deteriorated drive-in snack bar come-ons and a collection of trailers. That's it. The old school ads are funny, if frequently unwatchable. The trailers tend to give away many of the movies main plot points, so spoiler-haters beware.
Picking on poorly transferred schlock from the last 50 years is a lot like shooting blind fish in a barrel full of sulfuric acid. The argument is moot before you even find the tripwire trigger. If you complain about the lack of artistry and basic motor skills present, you're either a stuck up old coot or a snooty film snob. One the other hand, if you stick your critical neck out and actually champion these creatively suspect examples of b-movie money printing, then you're either the coolest of cool cats or the craziest of bughouse buffoons. If there's a winning movie move here, it's almost impossible to see. So take the aforementioned epistle for what it is -- a brief rundown, a consumer report, an attempted bit of literary wit, a cautionary caveat. Whatever you want in the way of goofball entertainment and filmmaking mediocrity, you are bound to find it here. Some might argue that it's a blessing that such long lost examples of cinema's scattered history are available for appreciation/ridicule. Others will be more realistic -- The Drive-In Cheezy Movie Collection is one of the Four Horsemen of the Home Video Apocalypse. So sit back and enjoy the upcoming artist Armageddon! It's not going to be pretty.
Guilty, if only for the smallest of cinematic crimes. These films are supposed to be bad, and they don't disappoint. So in some ways, they are Not Guilty of being guilty, since they live up to their already established rotten reputation. Confusing, right?
Review content copyright © 2009 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cheezy Flicks
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1600 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Drive-In Intermission Shorts
* IMDb: Robot Monster
* IMDb: The Headless Ghost
* IMDb: Horror Hotel
* IMDb: Battle of the Worlds
* IMDb: Dr. Blood's Coffin
* IMDb: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
* IMDb: Dracula vs. Frankenstein
* IMDb: Baron Blood
* IMDb: Lisa and the Devil
* IMDb: Inn of the Damned
* IMDb: Horror Planet
* IMDb: Star Knight