Facts of the Case
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
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,
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)
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
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)
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)
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:
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.
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
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
Star Knight—Score: 65
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