Friday, March 2, 2018


"300,000 Volts Of Horror!!"

     After his leading "monster" roles in Universal's second horror wave of the 1940's Lon Chaney Jr. become a reliable and solid character actor in such films as HIGH NOON (1952) & BIG HOUSE USA (1955), but by the turn of the mid-fifties Lon Chaney Jr. found himself increasingly cast in low budget horror/exploitation movies and TV. Released in 1956 this was produced by C.G. K productions and distributed by low budget specialist Allied Artist who put it on a double bill with WORLD WITHOUT END. Without an undeniable atmosphere of low rent seediness about it the film seems to take place entirely in burlesque houses & dingy police offices. A PD staple on those horror DVD bargain packs it seemed to run almost every other week on Sat. afternoon TV during the late 6o & 70's.
     Centered around a lumbering silent performance by Chaney and low rent B&W cheesecake with most scenes having bottle of rotgut liquor within easy reach almost like product placement. It was directed by Jack Pollenfax (who as writer cranked out bunches stuff like this during the 50's) it has elements of Chaney's horror debut in 1941's Universal "B" programmer MAN MADE MONSTER also invokes some film noir atmosphere particularly with its onscreen narration. Filmed in and around the Bunker Hill section pf Los Angeles it contains some fascinating glimpses of classic L.A. scenery including the Bradbury Building (later used in BLADE RUNNER) and the original Angels Flight railway.

      Charles "Butcher" Benton (Chaney) is scheduled for execution for his part in an armored car robbery that resulted in the death of two guards and the theft (and disappearance) of $600,000. Having been double crossed by his accomplices he comes to realize that his crooked lawyer Paul Loew (Ross Elliott from TARANTULA and scads of Republic Serials) is also in on the scam. Led off to his execution he vows vengeance and via devious means his body handily falls into the clutches of semi-mad scientist Prof. Bradshaw (Robert Shane THE GIANT CLAW) ably assisted by his unarmed henchman played by Joe Flynn (McHALE'S NAVY).
     The professor is doing cancer research in which massive voltage is sent throw a body destroying cancer cells. Experimenting on The Butcher he ends reviving him and makes his body impervious to harm which is shown by a hypodermic needle bending when stuck in him (and as we shall later see even bullets and a bazooka!). Throttling the professor and his assistant the silent Butcher (seems his vocal chords were burned in the experiment) Chaney lumbers off to exact his vengeance on his cohorts (who have wonderful names such as "Sqeamy").
      Police Lt. Dick Chasen (busy character actor Max Showalter THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD) has been on the case of the original armored car robbery begins to suspect something sinister is afoot after a string of murders on the "road leading to Los Angeles" are committed by a man "who appears to be dead"(!) and is impervious to bullets. Chasen begins to believe that a resurrected "Butcher" is to blame and begins tracking down his associates including his girlfriend/stripper Eva Martin (Marion Carr KISS ME DEADLY) and begins to romance her (including taking her to for drive-in hamburgers after her shift at the burlesque house). The Butcher proceeds through his list of back stabbers while the police try to figure out how to deal with an indestructible Chaney with frequent stops to Eva's place of employment.

    Filmed on what seems to be a couple of sets with the rest of the other action taking place outdoors the entire film has a seediness about it with the frequent close-ups of Chaney's bleary eyeballs adding to bourbon fumes atmosphere. With the script induced convenience of no speech for Chaney's character he silently lumbers about reminiscent of his portrayals of the Frankenstein monster. Max Showalter (who sometimes acted under the name Casey Adams) appeared in 100's of TV show & movies always playing (whether intentional or not) characters that came across as slightly goofy but with an underlying creepy vibe. Check him out as Jean Peter's husband in Marilyn Monroe's NIAGARA.
    The film's climax includes some great model work (including a huge industrial crane) that probably impressed the producers so much that they use a shot of it under the opening credits. Showalter also provides on screen narration that adds to the film noir feeling with screaming newspaper headlines inserted in emphasis the plot.
     The films PD status has long made it a bargain option in DVD horror packs with the Retromedia DVD being the best current option (although kind of hard to find these days), but with Warner now controlling the Allied Artist catalog perhaps we can see a nice legit DVD at some point.

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