Oct 12, 2012

Curse of the Living Corpse (1964)

Writer / Producer / Director: Del Tenney
Music: Bill Holcomb
Cinematography: Richard Hilliard
Iselin-Tenney Productions; 83 min; B&W

Helen Warren (Abigail Sinclair), Roy Scheider (Philip Sinclair), Margot Hartman (Vivian Sinclair), Robert Mill (Bruce Sinclair), Hugh Franklin (James Benson), Linda Donovan (Letty Crews), Dino Narizzano (Robert Harrington), Candace Hilligoss (Deborah Benson), J. Frank Lucas (Seth Lucas)

One of the greatest double-bills in drive-in history is the pairing of two horror films by Connecticut-based auteur Del Tenney: Horror of Party Beach and Curse of the Living Corpse. Although independently produced, these movies were picked up as a double bill for distribution by Twentieth Century Fox for a successful run in drive-ins. Horror of Party Beach is the most famous of the two; a goofy outing about radioactive monsters terrorizing a seaside community. Both films are well-produced despite their meagre budgets and nicely shot by Richard Hillard: each fine examples of regional filmmaking, that transcend the accepted truth of such movies' poor quality.

Oct 11, 2012

Ghosts That Still Walk (1977)

Writer-Director: James Flocker
Producer: Lynn S. Raynor
Music: Hod David Shcudson, Ron Stein
Cinematography: Holger Kasper
Gold Key Entertainment; 96 min; color

Ann Nelson (Alice Douglas), Matt Boston (Mark Douglas), Caroline Howe (Ruth Douglas), Jerry Jensen (Henry Douglas), Rita Crafts (Dr. Sills)

Sometimes the most obscure artifacts of pop culture get lodged in our collective subconscious. In the days before infomercials, this unassuming film made an impression upon UHF-surfing night owls, if for at least one image.  After six decades of fantasy cinema featuring humans besieged by numerous ghouls and goblins, Ghosts That Still Walk offers the intriguing premise of an elderly RV-ing couple being pursued by boulders! This sequence is surely reason enough to warrant a watch. However, as in the case of most films released by Gold Key Entertainment, this movie is better to have seen than to sit through.

In the late 1970s through to the early 1980s, this fledgling company must have had a singular mandate to sell the most lethargic micro-budgeted science fiction or horror films to TV stations as late-night filler. Films like The Lucifer Complex, Captive, or Target Earth?, produced in the waning days of the public's fascination with paranormal, provided sleep aid to unsuspecting insomniacs. However, despite that many of these movies are a chore to sit through, they do leave a strange impression afterwards: much the same as after having had a long gruelling road trip through unknown territory. One's taxed stamina is the price paid for discovering something unusual.

Oct 10, 2012

Turhan Bey (1922 - 2012)

ABOVE: Turhan Bey (right) in The Amazing Mr. X

Actor Turhan Bey, a matinee idol in cinema's golden age, has passed away on September 30, a few months after his ninetieth birthday. His exotic good looks caused him to be dubbed "The Turkish Delight" in fan magazines.

Happy Ed Wood Day!

Today would be the eighty-eighth birthday of visionary writer-director Edward D. Wood Jr., who eked out a living on the margins of Hollywood, cranking out a signature filmography of financially challenged works featuring faded matinee idols, dime store props, a "golly gee whiz" demeanour, and a subtly subversive text that upturned the conventions of 1950s white-picket-fence Americana.

The Medveds' book, The Golden Turkey Awards, gave Mr. Wood the dubious honour of "The Worst Director of All Time". However, no body of work that is this entertaining can be the worst of all time. What he lacked in talent, he made up for with enthusiasm, and carved out an instantly recognizable body of work. In this regard, he succeeded beyond most other Hollywood players, who willingly became nameless slaves on the assembly line. Ironically, although Edward D. Wood would dearly loved to have made big studio pictures, it was his confinement to Grade-Z movies that gave him his artistic freedom. No one would notice or care about his subversive ideas:  Glen or Glenda (in which he also played the lead role) is a plea for tolerance; Bride of the Monster a sly commentary on the atomic age; and his signature film Plan 9 from Outer Space remains a Brechtian masterpiece that forces one to deconstruct the artifice in the art of cinema.

Sadly, the last two decades of Wood's life would be spent with further marginalization, writing porn novels and sex films. He died at the age of 54, penniless, forgotten and victimized by alcoholism. Only a few years later, the memory of Edward D. Wood Jr. was resurrected, as new generations discovered his work.  His emergence into our public conscious via numerous revivals of his most beloved films, culminated into a Hollywood biopic, made with the Hollywood gloss and production values that evaded all of Wood's filmmaking career. Although a box office disappointment, Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood however won glowing reviews. One of the least enthusiastic notices came from Globe and Mail critic Rick Groen, whose piece did however illuminate one interesting point. He opines that if Wood was still alive, he would probably be directing Halloween 9, while his idol Orson Welles (the actor-writer-director triple threat Wood admired and emulated) would still be trying to get financing. Everyone loves a comeback story, tangible or otherwise.

While perhaps 1994 was the apex of Ed Wood Mania, this serendipitous auteur has still not left our psyche. It is not for nothing that a legally recognized religion has been been named after him. Edward D. Wood indeed made a tremendous sacrifice and endured hardships to realize his unique visions for an uncaring public. However, his spirit has been resurrected so that the masses can continue to learn from him. The work of Edward D. Wood Jr. is a lesson to us all: pursue your dreams no matter how big the obstacles; let us be accepting of those different from ourselves; time reveals the true worth of everything.

Oct 5, 2012

Jack's Wife (1972)

Writer-Director: George A. Romero
Producer: Nancy Romero
Music: Steve Gorn
Cinematographer-Editor: George A. Romero
Latent Image; 104 min; color

Jan White (Joan Mitchell), Ray Laine (Gregg Williamson), Ann Muffly (Shirley Randolph), Joedda McClain (Nikki Mitchell), Bill Thunhurst (Jack Mitchell), Neil Fisher (Dr. Miller), Esther Lapidus (Sylvia)

George Romero followed up his breakthough picture, Night of the Living Dead, with a trio of interesting pictures that were largely overlooked due to poor distribution.  Of these, The Crazies had gradually found an audience over the years (thus prompting a remake). There's Always Vanilla, was Romero's first film after his classic zombie movie, and a rare non-horror effort-- a counterculture comedy which played a week and disappeared.  His subsequent picture, Jack's Wife, brought Romero (obliquely) back into the horror genre. Jack Harris picked the movie up, retitled it with the unfortunate title, Hungry Wives (misleading one to think it was a softcore porn), and did no business.  This film was again re-titled for re-release in 1982, with its most colloquial name, Season of the Witch. People had mistakenly thought that it was newer than Dawn of the Dead (1979), or confused it with Halloween III: The Season of the Witch, that was playing in theaters around the same time.

Oct 1, 2012

Sugar Hill (1974)

Director: Paul Maslansky
Writer: Tim Kelly
Producer: Elliott Schick
Music: Dino Fekaris, Nick Zesses
Cinematography: Robert Jessup
American-International Pictures; 83 min; color

Marki Bey (Diana "Sugar" Hill), Robert Quarry (Morgan), Don Pedro Colley (Baron Samedi), Richard Lawson (Valentine), Zara Cully (Mama Maitresse), Charles Robinson (Fabulous)

When Diana “Sugar” Hill’s boyfriend is murdered by racketeers who want to move in on his club, she seeks the help of her aunt, a voodoo priestess (played by Zara Cully- TV’s Mother Jefferson!) to raise the dead, and have the zombies carry out her bidding. Sugar Hill is among the horror-themed Blaxploitation pictures of the 1970s (a la Blacula; Blackenstein; Abby), and as far as occult-themed revenge films of the era go, it is more creepier than, say, Jennifer: The Snake Goddess (to name another movie that features a heroine reaching into her heritage to wreak vengeance), but perhaps has less conviction in the performance.