Wednesday, April 16, 2014

THE SATAN BUG 1965




    After the huge success of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE director John Sturgis scaled back things a bit with this taut little 1965 thriller that combines some genuinely nail biting moments combined a tight literate taut script, an eerie desolate desert setting and the always welcome presence of Anne Francis (in between T.V. series BURKES LAW and HONEY WEST). Based very loosely on the same titled novel by Alistair Mclean (written under the pseudonym Ian Stuart) and with a script by James Clavell, the movie plays into the still new (and frightening) idea at the time of germ warfare as a world ending scenario (in addition to the omnipresent nuclear threat) and also plays into the “science run amok” fears and looks ahead a bit to THE ANDRNOMA STRAIN.




    Starring veteran TV actor George Maharis (THE NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66) as Lee Barrett, a somewhat loose cannon ex-government agent who re-recruited to track down the theft of some “end of the world apocalyptic “ virus (known as “The Satan Bug”) from a secretive government laboratory . Along with Maharis the movie is filled with familiar TV faces (including Ed Asner with hair and Frank Sutton from GOMER PYLE as henchman). Dana Andrews (here to give some old Hollywood cred) makes a token appearance as a somewhat grouchy military and/or government official who’s there to bark out orders to everybody. Anne Francis plays his daughter and although her purpose or function in the plot is never really explained, she does bring a very nominal love interest (there’s hints that they were involved before) to Maharis’s character and besides a brief scene in a nightclub she’s the only female visible in the movie (and hey, I’m not going to complain about her hanging around).




    Although on the surface what seems to be a very simple plot (opening with a classic “locked door” mystery) actually bears close watching as the dialogue heavy story takes some close concentration to keep the various characters straight as some are quickly introduced and then disappear or are killed. Although thankfully devoid of any muddling sub-plots (although Maharis’s characters ant-war motives are mentioned) with the as mentioned the love story kept mostly in the background, the plot does get confusing at some points as there’s lots of driving around to various houses & locations with very little explanation to the reasons that brought the characters there. Due to time restraints some stuff is left unexplained or glossed over and along the way you come to the realization that Anne Francis’s character was just added to get a woman into the story. Except for a brief time in Los Angeles the entire film takes place in and around Palm Springs with Roberts Surtees’s beautiful widescreen photography making its eerie desert locations seem almost alien (I love desert based movies).




     The Palm Springs locations also mean a boon to fans of mid century architecture as we move from one flat roofed/ glass paneled marvel to another (including a really cool mobile home). The secret military laboratory (ominously referred to as "Station 3") where the virus are devolved is a beautifully designed set with weird colored lighting and hissing sliding doors, which juxtaposes nicely with a later nightime scene in an abandoned desert gas station. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score that adds to the films eeriness and tension.




      Maharis had a really big career in television that unfortunately never really translated to the movie screen. THE SATAN BUG is probably his best movie and although I love the NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66 there’s something just sort of flat about his performance and his scenes with Francis lack any spark at all. Balancing things out however is an excellent performance by Richard Basehart as the mentally unbalanced protagonist. Best known to most people as Comdr. Nelson (who was forever getting his mind taken over) from T.V.’s VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, Basehart was a fine actor with a rich commanding voice who had appeared early in his career in the some very excellent film noir’s in including HE WALKED BY NIGHT (well worth checking out), TENSION and THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL . Plus as mentioned there a wealth of familiar faces here including John Anderson, Simon Oakland, Richard Bull and in a small role STAR TREK’s James Doohan.
      Unfortunately THE SATAN BUG has been rather ill served on home video with the current Warner Archives DVDr being a direct copy of the old laser disc transfer (blown up to 16:9) that suffers from softness and some weird digital hic-ups.







Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Oak Drive-In Is On Facebook

Part 2 (or Let's Try This Again....)

    Months ago I started up a Facebook page for this blog and very quickly ran into a giant cluster-f*** with Facebook, the end result being the page locked. After much frustration I just gave up and deleted my original blog post concerning its start up.
   Now things seem to have sorted themselves out and we're going to try this again. It'll be new post updates along with pictures, film stuff, relevant news and stuff I'm watching. Please stop by when you get a chance. Thanks !







Friday, April 11, 2014

THE DUNWICH HORROR 1970

Really Zonked Out & Creepy Wizard Dean Stockwell is Conjuring up a Bunch of LSD Inspired Lovecraftian Evilness by Way of a Virginal Sandra (Gidget) Dee & a Big Slithering Yog Sothoth !


H.P. Lovecraft Movie Night # 1 !




     H.P. Lovecraft has never faired too well as far as faithful movie adoptions are concerned. His sometimes dense (and occasionally overwrought) narrative style doesn’t translate well to cinema and his descriptions of vast cyclopean lost ruins and huge multi-tentacled beings from another dimension are always going to be a challenge to visually adopt. Stuart Gordon’s highly entertaining screen versions of RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND & DAGON took just the basic premise of the Lovecraft stories and catapulted them into updated territories beyond even ol’ H.P.’s imagination. DAGON although perhaps being the least known of the trio has the best Lovecraft vibe running thru it with probably the most faithful re-imaging of the Lovecraft “old ones” mythos and is based upon The Shadow over Innsmouth. Plus the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has released a couple of excellent b&w feature adaptations of THE CALL OF CTHULHU and THE WHISPER IN THE DARKNESS.




    A.I.P’s 1970 version of THE DUNWICH HORROR was probably less envisioned as a Lovecraft vehicle but more as a way to cash in on Hollywood’s popular post ROSEMARY’S BABY craze for all things satanic. The company did do Lovecraft earlier with DUNWICH’s director Daniel Haller tackling DIE MONSTER DIE (based upon The Colour out of Space) and in 1963 there was Roger Corman’s excellent & atmospheric THE HAUNTED PALACE. Although titled after an Edgar Allan Poe poem (and marketed as such - complete with a Vincent Price Poe recital over the opening credits), PALACE is based upon Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and is also notable for being one of Lon Chaney Jr.’s last good roles and the very beautiful Debra Paget’s last role before retiring.




    Originally envisioned by A.I.P in the early 60’s as vehicle for director Mario Bava starring Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee (which is pretty exciting to wonder about), Haller’s 1970 take on THE DUNWICH HORROR has always gotten a somewhat ill-deserved bad rap. Starring a seemingly perpetually stoned Dean Stockwell and a wooden post -Gidget Sandra Dee (looking to kick start her career), it’s sometimes uneasy collision of gothic ambiance combined with psychedelic trapping & clothes (you could almost land a jet on one of Stockwell’s ties) have all been a source of ridicule. It does however keep the basic core of one of Lovecraft’s best stories intact and in spite of its budget restraints has some excellent set pieces, along with a wonderful alternately trippy & creepy score by Les Baxter and is helped immensely by the presence of character actors Ed Begley (in his last role) and Sam Jaffe (who as here seems to be channeling Dr. Zorba from BEN CASEY into the elder Wizard Whateley role).




    Stockwell plays Wilbur Whatley who ventures from the family ancestral home in Dunwich to hopefully study The Necronomicon, a text of ancient and evil ritual practices for which he hopes to use to conjure all sorts of Yog Sothoth madness & mayhem. At Miskatonic University in Arkham (where else!) he finds the book is kept under lock & key and he persuades the seemingly already possessed Nancy (Sandra Dee) to allow him to look at the book whereupon visiting professor Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Bagley) gets mightily upset at this (and even more upset when realizes Wilbur is descended from an infamous wizard who was lynched in the town square of Dunwich).



    Upon conveniently missing the last bus back to Dunwich Wilbur talks Nancy into giving him a ride back to Dunwich where they find surly residents aplenty and the Whatley house which looks to be a combination of The Addams Family & a hippie crash pad with Sam Jaffe as Wilbur’s grandfather wondering around with a large wizard-type staff warning of impending doom. Sabotaging her car and slipping her some potion induced tea Wilbur keeps Nancy in a sort of drugged up haze as she has dreams of wildly painted hippie orgies complete with distorted fish eye lens shots and pulsating colors. An increasingly wild eyed & spaced out Wilbur seems to have plans on using Nancy for a mother and/or sex partner (maybe sacrifice ??) to allow the “old ones” to enter our dimension and for her to give birth to Wilbur's offspring (which ties into the popular at the time ROSEMARY'S BABY scenario and hints at the open ending here).
     Dr. Armitage and a friend of Nancy’s show up looking for her which in turns leads to Armitage teaming up with local Dr. Cory (the always fun & scenery chewing Lloyd Bochner) whereupon we get the back story on the Whateleys including Wilbur’s insane mother and his evil “twin” which is kept up in the attic and eventually turned loose on the countryside. Plus there’s an early appearance by future ROCKY and GODFATHER alumnus Talia Shire.



    Haller, who had served as art director on many of the Corman Poe movies, certainly knew how to stretch a buck and is spite of its budget limitations THE DUNWICH HORROR is a handsomely mounted production with some wonderful set design and a pretty nifty matte painting of the devil’s hop yard and altar. One big drawback is the filming locations around Mendocino CA. filling in for Lovecraft’s (and supposedly the movie's) haunted Mass. settings. The bright sunlight, green grass and sun drenched rocky beaches pretty much scream California and the town filling in for Dunwich with its neat rows of brightly painted touristy gift shops & art galleries looks about as menacing as Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.




    There’s been much speculation concerning Dee’s participation in her kinda/sorta look real carefully and you might see something nude scenes as her face is not in view thru much of them (and its filmed thru a gauze filter) and although she had hoped to use this as a springboard for more adult roles (and on which it failed) she always maintained that it was a body double. None the less it’s still rather startling to see Gidget being laid upon an altar while being groped by devil worshipping hippies and having her thigh & breasts fondled by a demented looking Dean Stockwell. The MGM DVD restored the fleeting nudity here and present earlier during the monsters attack on the Nancy’s friend.
    Anyone who’s ever read Lovecraft’s description of Wilbur’s twin would realize the impossibility of bringing it to life in a pre -CGI production (in addition a low budget one such as this) so Haller keeps it to some quickly glimpsed widely flaying ribbon-like tentacles and pulsating lights – with a howling wind heralding its arrival in the out of doors. Even with its early 70’s psychedelic ambiance the film does keep in the spirit of Lovecraft with the opening scene showing the birth of the twins presided over by albino witches being straight out of the book. A tripping & evil Dean Stockwell, an (almost) nude Gidget and Yog Sothoth – I’m there!!








Tuesday, April 8, 2014

FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD 1966

   

    In celebration of Legendary Pictures May 16 release of GODZILLA Brian over at Cool Ass Cinema is doing a two month Japanese sci-fi/giant monster blogging extravagance. As he was kind enough to allow me to participate and thanks to endless showings on the 4:30 PM Afternoon Movie back in Detroit (along with Famous Monsters of Filmland), here's my favorite Japanese big stompin' monster movie.






       It seems only fitting that one of the crazier & demented Japanese Monster movies ever would have one of the more likewise developmental histories attached to it. Original KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien in the early 1960’s had attempted to revive his creature in a third Kong movie entitled KING KONG VS. PROMETHUS in which a huge patchwork creature made from animal parts battled the giant ape. O’Brien however was unable to secure any backing for the project and sold the story to independent producer John Beck who then sold it to Toho where it mutated into 1962’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho however was interested in the idea of a giant Frankenstein like monster as they were looking at expanding their various monsters world (as in the Kong feature) and attempted several story concepts featuring the classic (albeit giant) monster, the first of which was a sequel to 1960’s THE HUMAN VAPOR and later attempted team-ups with Mothra and even a Godzilla vs. Frankenstein. The Godzilla concept was considered too outlandish and the project was shelved (which makes you wonder just what it was as the FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD concept was obviously considered not too outlandish).




      In 1965 American producer Harry Saperstein approached Toho studies with the idea of a joint production to co-star an established American actor in order to make the marketing of the movie in the United States easier. A Frankenstein script had finally been approved by the Toho executives and this was the project selected by Toho and Saperstein upon which to proceed, with Ishiro Honda directing. Alternately titled FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE GIANT DEVIL FISH (in reference to a giant octopus that in itself would have a complicated production history within the movie) and FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE SUBTERRANEAN MONSTER BARAGON. BARAGON was eventually settled on for the Japanese release while in the U.S. It was titled FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD where it was ultimately distributed by A.I.P.




    Saperstein hired actor Nick Adams represent the American half of the project. Famous for appearing in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and the T.V. series THE REBEL, Adams never quite broke into major star status. A tireless self-promoter he used his friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley to try and further his career and in 1963 he had been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in TWILIGHT OF HONOR. Shamelessly hyping himself for the award Adams lost and by 1965 his career was on the down slide. FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD would be the first of three movies Adams would make in Japan followed by INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER (MONSTER ZERO) and the largely unseen outside of Japan THE KILLING BOTTLE. He would also appear in DIE MONSTER DIE for A.I.P. in 1965.



     Co- starring with Adams in FRANKENSTEIN as his fellow scientists is Tado Takasfima (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and ATRAGON) and the very pretty Kumi Mizuno (MANTANGO and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS). One of the most beautiful women to appear in Japanese fantastic cinema Mizuno would also co-star with Adams in 1966’s INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER and the two of them would have a brief affair which would lead to Adams separation from his wife. Adams would die from a prescription overdose in 1968. By all accounts he was well liked by his Japanese co-stars and crew as he acted professionally taking his role seriously and later would speak highly of his time in Japan.
    Opening with a prologue during the final days of WWII Nazi Germany in which a German Naval Officer shows up at the laboratory of  a Nazi scientist and with a battle raging outside confiscates a large trunk filled with mad scientist looking apparatus which contains the still beating heart of the Frankenstein monster. Transferring the trunk to a submarine, it’s then sent for safe keeping to Japan where unfortunately it ends up at a military hospital in the city of Hiroshima – and where it’s caught in the subsequent atomic bomb explosion.
    Flash forward 15 years where American Dr. James Bowen (Adams), along with his Japanese colleagues Dr.’s Kawaji (Takastima) and Togami (Mizuno) are studying the effects and hopeful cure of radiation poisoning among the victims of the bombing when reports of a feral boy killing small animals to eat begin to appear. After capturing him the doctors realize he’s ingested a large dose of radiation (and lived) and is growing at a tremendous rate. In addition he begins to take on facial characteristics of a well known monster and obviously doesn’t like rock & roll as he goes all Keith Moon on a television set blasting out a Japanese version of American Bandstand by flinging it out a window.




    With only the pretty Dr. Togami (naturally) able to control the wild (and rapidly growing) little Frankenstein , its discovered that he’s tied together with reports of a small boy who was seen playing among the ruins of the hospital in the days following the bomb blast. Although it’s hinted at that perhaps a boy ate the heart, it’s never really made clear weather this was the case or the heart mutated and grew into the boy/ monster. The ever growing Frankenstein kid is soon confined to a large cage and thanks to some pesky reporters and their bright lights he becomes enraged and breaks free – but not before leaving his severed hand behind which continues to grow and in addition he grows a new appendage in its place (rather rapidly it would seem).
    After a heartfelt stop at Dr. Togami’s apt. to gaze in at her thru the window the by now gigantic mutated Frankenstein monster begins rampaging thru the countryside while at the same time an underground burrowing lizard monster referred to as Baragon begins tearing up the local farms (and dance parties – seems he doesn’t care much for Rock n’ Roll too). This destruction is initially blamed on “Frankenstein” which leads to the final spectacular mega stompfest (complete with forest fire & earthquake) between the two creatures.




    The special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya are excellent with the somewhat unusual wooded setting having some beautifully constructed scale trees and forests, along with a magnificent 12’ scale model of a ferry (which is only used in one shot). The only real letdown is Baragon who with his large rolling eyes and giant flapping wing-like ears looks like a reject from ULTRAMAN and as he is a four legged beast he unfortunately sharers the same fate as Toho’s other four legged critters, it looks like exactly what it is – a man crawling around on his hands and knees.
    Producer Harry Saperstein had asked to Toho to include a finale consisting of Frankenstein fighting a “WTF did this come from (!?)” giant octopus as he was impressed by the octopus scene in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho duly filmed the sequence but it was cut by the distributor A.I.P, who preferred the original ending and the octopus did make an appearance in 1966’s pseudo sequel THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. This must have caused great confusion to Famous Monsters readers (myself included) as a still from the octopus sequence was featured prominently in the magazine, but was nowhere to be seen in the movie. GARGANTUAS featured two larger "more monster-like" (and hairy) beasts, along with a returning Kumi Miznuo and a surly and disinterested Russ Tamblyn as the token American scientist.