Category Archives: Anniversaries

Review of Evil Spawn (1987) Blu-ray From Retromedia

Evil Spawn (1987)

In 2020, Retromedia put out the best release yet of Evil Spawn on Blu-ray. If you love the film, you’ll want to get it. If you don’t care for the film, you may still want to stick around because I have things to say.

Synopsis

Evil Spawn clocks in at just under 71 minutes. Despite that, it tells a relatively complex story. It centers around Lynn Roman (Bobbie Bresee) — an aging movie star for whom parts have dried up.

This is bad enough, but she also has a stalker fan who kills a scientist and befriends another to get a drug that returns youth to its users. It also turns them into horrible monsters, but no one said beauty was easy!

Lynn takes the drug but it doesn’t solve her problems. Instead, she runs around killing most of the people in her life. Given they are (1) her agent (Fox Harris); (2) her philandering boyfriend (John Terrence); and (3) his girlfriend, it isn’t too bad. But she also kills her devoted assistant, Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), although she is naked throughout.

Eventually, the police arrive and kill her. More or less the end.

The story is framed by her biographer (Drew Godderis) writing the story of her life. This is mostly just to allow a “shock” ending that is neither shocking nor particularly welcome. (Admittedly, I don’t like seeing writers die.)

Audio and Video

The film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. It’s fine — better than we could reasonably expect. There are no subtitles at all.

This release has a 2K video transfer from the original negatives, which are mostly 16 mm. The aspect ratio comes out to be roughly 1.6:1.

It looks good but there is one major problem. The right edge of the video is often distorted. Given the film was originally released on VHS at 4:3, I wonder why they didn’t cut it out. But it’s easy enough to ignore.

Extras

The film has a good selection of extras. It’s just too bad Fred Olen Ray didn’t include others who were involved. Clearly, he doesn’t get along with Bobbie Bresee but why not Kenneth J Hall or even Ted Newsom? Still, fans should be happy about what is here.

  • Behind the Scenes (2:27): video from later scenes from the film.
  • On Location Footage (33:44): video from the shoot by boom operator Ralph Langer. It includes scenes where Dawn Wildsmith’s character comes to Lynn Roman’s house. There is also a lot of Pamela Gilbert naked in the swimming pool with a smaller monster than ultimately appeared in the final cut.
  • John Carradine Outtakes (4:46): footage shot by Ray in 1986 that would eventually contribute to a few other films.
  • The Case of the Missing Monster (1:16): stills of the original monster (seen in On Location Footage).
  • Night Owl Theater (4:07): An introduction to the DVD release of Evil Spawn with Ray playing the part of a rich asshole — the kind of person who doesn’t watch his films. It’s his take on Joe Bob Briggs, who is no less fake.
  • Trailer (2:20): not really a trailer. More a selection of the most impressive moments in the film cut together.

Commentary Track

Fred Olen Ray provides perhaps the worst recorded commentary track I’ve ever heard. It sounds very much like he was watching the film on his computer and recording using his webcam.

But that alone speaks well of the commentary because he is most definitely watching the film, which is not always true. However, he doesn’t spend much time commenting on the action.

In fact, roughly half the track is general stuff about him. So if you are interested in how he got into the business, there’s lots to appreciate. For example, I learned that he worked a bit with Ed Wood in 1977.

Ray doesn’t have all that much to say about the filming of Evil Spawn. He admits that he wasn’t really around. At that point, he was directing million-dollar films and this was a $30,000 film.

Sadly, much of the commentary is about settling scores — especially with Frank and Bobbie Bresee. But he even goes after Gary J Levinson. Apparently, Levinson was convicted of distributing child pornography. That isn’t Ray’s problem with Levinson, however. Ray is angry because he implied that Ray didn’t have much talent in an interview decades ago.

Regardless, there is a lot of interesting information in the commentary. But we would have learned a lot more about this film is Kenneth J Hall had done the track instead.

The Alien Within

The high point of the extras is the inclusion of The Alien Within. This is an 85-minute feature. Ray hired Ted Newsom to create it using Evil Spawn. This is like what was done to The Madmen of Mandoras and Sam’s Song. But this is a much better effort.

They don’t just sandwich the film inside a new frame. That would be difficult given that the story was already structured that way. But they make the film instead about a film producer who, like Lynn Roman, is using the drug.

Most of the rest of the film is seen through the perspective of PIs played by John Henry Richardson and Suzanne Ager. They are great together and I would definitely watch a film with those two characters.

Of course, there are fundamental problems with doing this to a film. The main one is that the resulting film is unfocused. As much as Richardson and Ager might be fun to watch, they aren’t even the main characters of the film. And most of the film is about Roman, even if the film is not structured to support that.

Additionally, the new material is clearly shot more quickly with less thought. So it just doesn’t look as good as the core material. I’m afraid that will always be the case in situations like this since they are, at base, a cash grab.

There are, however, a few things that the film fixes. The death of the stalker character makes a lot more sense. And the ending is better.

But we are still left with an over-long scattered film where all the best parts are taken from Evil Spawn.

Historical Context

I learned about a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Evil Spawn from Matty Budrewicz at The Schlock Pit. In the original review of the film in Psychotronic Video, Weldon (I assume) wrote:

Here’s the shoddier west coast version of almost the same story [The Rejuvenator], but with laughable special effects, lots of nudity, and a script obsessed with making cheap movies. Bobbie Bresse (MAUSOLEUM) is the faded blond star who injects a youth serum that backfires and turns her into an insect monster. John Carridine appears for a few minutes as the feeble Dr Zeitman who tells crazy, evil Donna Wildsmith (with really stiff hair) to “carry on with my plan.” Bresse has an eye-catching nude shower scene, then looks pretty funny when her teeth grow and her eyes turn red, and later when she has a rubber face. She dreams that she wins an Oscar (see Joe Spinnell interview). A poster for Fred Olen Ray’s The TOMB is on a wall. (Ray, uncredited, did rewrites and shot additional footage. Hall, the credited director, recently made GHOST WRITER with the Landers sisters.) Forry Ackerman, who helped make Bobbie Bresse a “cult figure” is seen cleaning a pool. Choice bad dialog is repeated over and over in the deranged actress’ mind. Despite everything, EVIL SPAWN is non-stop fun in a sort of desperate way. The best part for me was when a stunning Pamela Gilbert, as the monster woman’s secretary, goes for a nude swim. It’s that kind of movie.

Kenneth J Hall was not happy about this. And I can understand why. As unaffected as I am, I get annoyed about all the uncredited writers, directors, and so on that are thrown around. Film is almost always a collaborative effort. There are so many people who don’t get the credit they deserve.

At the same time, we get sloppy writing that gives big names more credit than they deserve. Would Weldon have undercut Hall in this way if some no-name had shot a few minutes of the film?

Hall Responds

So Hall wrote a letter, which appeared in Psychotronic Video #4:

I normally let these things slide, but the review of EVIL SPAWN (PV#2) marks the second time Fred Ray has been credited for writing or “fixing up” the film. The source of such misleading information can only be Fred himself. It baffles me why a man who’s done so many features wants to take a bow for my little picture, especially since he didn’t want his name on it to begin with. The truth is, Fred was the original producer/director on the project, first titled WASP. George Edwards wrote several unconnected scenes, which Fred shot in one day [seen in On Location Footage]. After that he lost interest in the film, much to the chagrin of Bobbie and Frank Bresse who co-financed it. Several months later, I was asked to finish it, writing a script around approximately five minutes of existing footage. I was also asked to incorporate one of Fred’s “generic” John Carradine scenes into the plot. These were scenes he’d hired the aging actor to do — presumably for one movie — which he’s subsequently spliced into several other films like THE DEMENTED DEATH FARM MASSACRE and STAR SLAMMER. I wrote and directed the rest of the film on a seven-day schedule for a budget of less than $30,000. Fred had little involvement during that time. He never read my script and rarely visited the set. After my cut was completed, he stepped in to supervise post-production, which was done very shoddily. There is a further history to EVIL SPAWN involving a number of lawsuits. Suffice it to say the behind the scenes story is more convoluted than the one on the screen, to this day, no one involved, including myself, has seen a profit from it.

Ray Responds

I think that response speaks to a badly managed production where different principals had very different ideas about what was being done. Regardless, Ray wasn’t going to let this sit. He responded in the following issue:

EVIL SPAWN, as Ken Hall tried desperately to state, is all his. He wrote most of it and directed most of it and it certainly bears his unmistakable “style.” Outside of hiring Ken as my employee and placing a certain amount of faith in him as a first-time director, I had little to do with the film and have never implied differently. I wish Ken would stop trying to drag me into this loser. If he’s unhappy about the fact that he hasn’t made any money, how do you think those of us who LOST money on him feel? With the paltry budget he delineated it seems impossible that any picture could lose money, but his did. Thanks a lot, Ken.

That’s harsh! It’s also, well, false. As Ray discusses in the commentary, the film lost money because of all the problems between Ray and the Bresees. Thankfully, his anger at Hall seems to have dissipated. I certainly understand how disagreements can go.

Should We Believe Fred Olen Ray?

But it’s a bit hard to believe that Fred Olen Ray is quite as blameless as he claims. As I’ve noted in the past: making films is hard; it is a profession that most rewards the ruthless.

And there is something that he said in the commentary that bothers me. “Now they were supposed to have paid all the participants — Ken Hall, anybody who had a share in the film — The Bresees were to have paid them from the money they had received [from foreign distribution].”

Is he saying he never paid anyone? What it sounds like to me is that with Ray and the Bresees fighting, the contracts were effectively destroyed and they were the only parties who made any money. And that’s messed up.

Buy Evil Spaw

But regardless of all the behind-the-scenes nonsense, I recommend buying the Evil Spawn Blu-ray. It really is a good film with worthwhile extras.


Evil Spawn artwork cropped from Amazon under Fair Use.

Hohoho! Watch “Christmas Evil”!

Christmas Evil

Without a doubt, my favorite Christmas film is Christmas Evil, Lewis Jackson’s brilliant slasher film about a man who was scarred as a child when he learned that Santa was dad and saw him getting it on with mom in ways never alluded to in “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus.”

Lewis’ preferred title for the film is “You Better Watch Out.” But since Better Watch Out (2016), I just can’t use it because I just don’t like that film (even though I completely admit that it’s really well made).

Christmas Evil is based on old folklore about Santa Claus that sees him as a distinctly mixed-blessing. Yeah, he’s great to good little girls and boys. And there’s a wonderful scene in this film that features it. But if you are bad, get ready to wet your pants!

And more important: if you guilt Santa into working your shift so you can be with your wife and kids, and then you go out drinking with your friends, then you had better watch out! Santa’s going to give presents to your kids and then slit your throat with a Christmas tree star.

Buy the Blu-ray

Lewis Jackson hasn’t done much when it comes to feature films. I assume he’s spent the past many decades working in the trenches of industrial films. (And if you are reading this, Mr Jackson, please get in touch. I’d like to interview you for an article I’m writing about how filmmakers such as yourself manage to make their art and still make a living!) So you really out to send a buck his way by purchasing this film on disc. Then you can watch it the way it is meant to be seen every Christmas!

Video and Audio

Vinegar Syndrome released a fabulous Blu-ray/DVD combo. It’s a 4K print. It looks great! The film was shot and lit by veteran Ricardo Aronovich. It’s got far more nuance than one normally sees.

The audio is only provided in mono but it sounds good. Sadly, there are no subtitles.

Commentaries

There are three audio commentaries available. I’ve become increasingly critical of commentaries so forgive me for my negativity:

  • Lewis Jackson: this commentary is fantastic. It’s everything that you would want. Jackson provides extensive information about the film including his intentions. You should check this out if you want to know more about the film.
  • Lewis Jackson & Brandon Maggart: Maggart is fantastic as the lead in this film. But he doesn’t really understand the film and generally seems embarrassed by it. It appears to be from an earlier Troma release. I’d skip this one.
  • Lewis Jackson & John Waters: There are moments of worth here, in particular Waters’ discussion of the fetish elements in the film. But I found the commentary annoying because I’ve seen this film a lot and I was shocked that for all Waters’ talk, he clearly had never watched the film closely.

Other Stuff

  • Trailer: This is enjoyable but it would be terrible for getting people to see the film.
  • Interviews
    • Lewis Jackson: 7-minute interview that doesn’t add anything to the commentary, but is nice to see what he looks like.
    • Brandon Maggart: 7-minute interview of silliness worth checking out if you don’t listen to the commentary with him. He makes some good points, actually.
  • Auditions: 26-minutes of auditions from Richard Bright, Carla Borelli, Larry Pine, JoBeth Williams, Brandon Maggart, Pat Hodges, Michael Beck, Lindsay Crouse, Jeffrey DeMunn, George Dzundza, David Rasche, and Ellen McElduff. This is worth the whole price!
  • Deleted scenes: 7-minutes of excellent scenes. But they aren’t necessary. They make explicit what is clear in the film as released.
  • Comment cards: 26 cards from people who screened the film. They show how worthless such things are. But they are funny!
  • Storyboards: 4-minutes of storyboards and script. It’s interesting. My main takeaway from such things is always just that storyboard artists are really amazing.

Watch It Now

The main reason I run this site is that I admire artists who manage to finish works of art. So I hope that you will buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo. And after you’ve watched it a dozen times and thoroughly ingested it, I hope you will show it to your friends and family members.

But barring that, Archive.org has a really good print of it. So you absolutely have no reason not to watch it. It isn’t even a scary film. Everyone gets what they deserve, which is my favorite kind of horror film!

I’m sure that Lewis Jackson would really appreciate you buying his film. But he strikes me as the kind of guy who would be grateful if you just watched it. Because the truth is, not nearly enough people have.

This is my favorite Christmas film. I’ve watched it at least 30 times, usually not on Christmas. But Christmas does not go by without my watching it!

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Image from Blu-ray/DVD combo release via Amazon under Fair Use.

The Curious Creation of Monster a Go-Go (1965)

Monster a Go-Go

Most people should try to leave this mortal coil without ever seeing Monster a Go-Go. It’s a mess that is hard to follow and offers few interesting moments. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie and it is for this reason that it’s interesting.

Production History

In the early 1960s, Bill Rebane was making a film called “Terror at Half Day.” He ran out of money but by June of 1963, he was back in production. The 3 June 1963 issue of BoxOffice states:

Producer-director Bill Rebane, with a revised script, is trying to get police cooperation from superintendent OW Wilson in shooting Loop scenes for his [science] fiction movie, “Terror at Half Day.” Hollywood producer [Dok] Stanford is Rebane’s new partner.

It isn’t clear who “Dok Stanford” is. We do know that Herschell Gordon Lewis came to the project around this time and co-produced it under the name Sheldon Seymour. He is also credited with “additional dialog.”

If we are to believe the lore about the film, Lewis purchased the unfinished film, added some material, and then released it so it could show as a double-feature with Moonshine Mountain.

Rebane, in the commentary on the Synergy Entertainment DVD, claims that he shot all the film. It’s possible but the extra material looks more like Lewis. But it doesn’t matter. One thing is clear: much less time was taken to shoot those scenes.

Separating Rebane and Lewis

We can distinguish between the two parts of the film because the first have features actor Peter M Thompson. He is gone in the new footage, which features the character’s brother.

According to some, when it came time for the new scenes, Thompson had gone bald and so plays his brother. I’m not convinced this is the case. But it is reasonable to assume that the scenes that involve that character (and ones associated with them) were from the later shoots.

This material takes up roughly 23 minutes of screen time:

  • 24:00 – 41:20: We get a bunch of backstory about how Frank Douglas was given some experimental drug. Then he’s been captured and is under observation. Then he escapes and steals the antidote.
  • 42:40 – 45:40: They find where Douglas is.
  • 46:55 – 47:30: They learn of another encounter with Douglas and that he seems to be unstoppable.
  • 50:50 – 51:30: They discuss informing the public about the monster.
  • 54:05 – 55:10: Final strategy discussion.

This material is the best lit of the film but also the most boring. I’m going to assume this is the Lewis material, but it could be the other way around.

Also, the information from BoxOffice indicates that Rebane was getting “police cooperation,” which indicates that he was probably shooting the nighttime city scenes.

This makes me think that Rebane did shoot those scenes and that it was only later that Lewis bought the footage and shot the 23 minutes above.

Who Cares?

Overall, it’s hard to say for certain. And I’ve already put far too much work into a film that really isn’t worth the effort. Both Rebane and Lewis did far greater work elsewhere.

Monster a Go-Go is the darkest side of exploitation filmmaking. The final film does have a couple of moments that are admirable. And Henry Hite as the monster is great. But despite an excessive amount of exposition, the story makes no sense.

It does show the business side of exploitation filmmaking. It’s probably a good story for budding filmmakers. Because the truth is that filmmaking is still just a business. And the sad thing is that there is even less demand now for independent films despite the fact that they are better than ever.


Image cropped from the movie poster via IMDb under Fair Use.

The Films of Slumberjack Entertainment

Slumberjack Entertainment

A friend of mine sent me a poster for what turned out to be a fun comedy-horror short called The Quacky Slasher. And any time I find something interesting I set about finding what else the filmmakers had done. That introduced me to the films of Slumberjack Entertainment.

There are two people listed as forming the core of Slumberjack Entertainment. First is Peter Mckeirnon, who has written and directed everything they’ve released. (He’s also written 3 horror novels.) With him is producer Rod Hay. Andrew Butterworth and Kate Dailey are also involved.

As is typical of low-budget producers, there are a lot of the same people working in front of and behind the camera on various projects. Of particular note is actor Neil Gallagher.

swings & roundabouts (2017)

Their first film is roughly 7 minutes without credits. It is shot MOS, as with pretty much all of their work. But in this case there is only voice-over. It features a man (played by John Williams with Ian Finney doing his voice) who sits in a park and talks about his youth being bullied.

It establishes a few things that are true for all their films. First, it features beautiful, carefully crafted shots. Second, it exhibits a darkly comic sense of humor. And third, the make-up effects are both realistic and attractive.

The Quacky Slasher (2017)

Despite the name, The Quacky Slasher is very simple in terms of plot: an insane man escapes from the mental hospital and becomes a vigilante wearing a duck mask. There is a backstory that I will leave to the film to explain.

Neil Gallagher as Mother - The Quacky Slasher
Neil Gallagher as the mother in The Quacky Slasher

The dialog is sharp and it features some excellent visual comedy. One part that I appreciated was that the cops here are pretty much identical to the ones in Blood Feast. They have no idea how to stop the killer unless the information is brought to them. I doubt this is an explicit allusion (Who knows Blood Feast like I do?!) but it’s a common thing in horror films — most likely because no one is that interested in police procedure.

The Quacky Slasher features Neil Gallagher in three substantial roles. I was especially taken with him as the slasher’s mother, which he plays with justified gusto wearing fake teeth that only Wallace could love.

The film is available to watch for free. If you have Amazon Prime, you should watch it there, since they probably make more money that way. If not, it is also available on YouTube. (It can’t be embedded because it is age restricted for reasons that are unclear to me.)

Dead Town (2016-2018)

Dead Town is a series of short films (named after lines in Talking Heads songs) that follows two brothers and a friend as they look for one’s daughter during a zombie apocalypse. The principals are Neil Gallagher (again), Michael Hagen, and Karl Davies. John Williams has a big part in the last two episodes.

This series has a very Quentin Tarantino feel to it. Basically, it’s just zombie-fighting scenes combined with the characters discussing various bits of nonsense. But it’s far more casual than anything Tarantino ever did.

All together (without credits), it clocks in at roughly 75 minutes. So it’s a feature length, but there isn’t much structure. If they wanted to, they could certainly create a B story about the daughter and wrap it all up. But it would take away some of the charm.

The first 3 episodes feature excellent effects by Andrew Savage. Later, Paul Fay puts together a dynamite dead zombie. It’s a thing to behold. It’s at 12:30 in the fourth episode if you only want to see it. It also includes some maggots, which I, as a huge Lucio Fulci fan, very much appreciated.

The Dog Walker (2018)

Their next release was a 4-minute short. It stars Gallagher and has just one idea. It isn’t especially surprising, but it’s well-done.

Other Stuff

There is also a 7-minute short starring Ian Finney called The House That Henry Built. It is not available anywhere that I know of.

There is other stuff of note on their YouTube channel. Two remind me of the short films of Michael Kallio. The first is Playtime With BUTTONS, which tells as full a story in 15 seconds as many features do.

The second is The Slip, which features Rod Hay:

There’s also a 7-minute comedy DEGSY starring Gallagher and Lisa Bazley. It’s actually kind of heartbreaking.

The Future

According to their YouTube channel, they have a feature film in development. But the only mention of a feature is a segment in an anthology film called “The Micro Killers.”

On their website, they say their segment is “The Fisherman.” But on their YouTube channel, they provide a preview for a segment called “Sins of the Father.”

It doesn’t really matter. They continue to produce films and it will be interesting to see what they do!


Slumberjack Entertainment logo taken from their website under Fair Use. Image of Neil Gallagher cropped from The Quacky Slasher under Fair Use.

RIP Bruce J Mitchell (AKA Zap Rowsdower)

The Final Sacrifice

Psychotronic fans know Bruce J Mitchell from an excellent micro-budget film by Tjardus Greidanus, The Final Sacrifice (AKA Quest for the Lost City). The film has only been released on VHS. Most people know it because it was used in the 9th season of the decidedly mixed-blessing of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Mitchell plays Zap Rowsdower — a drifter who is running from his past. And in a film with pretty decent (often good) acting, Mitchell stands out. There is great depth to his performance. But most important, he’s just remarkably real on the screen. And I know that this doesn’t sound like much but it is incredibly hard to do.

Sadly, I have never seen the film as it should be. Greidanus has gone on to a successful career — mostly in documentary film. I suspect like most low-budget filmmakers, he’d like to forget The Final Sacrifice.

Mitchell Is Known for a Cult Classic

And I’ve gotten the impression that Mitchell might have been a little embarrassed by it. On the DVD release of the MST3K episode, there is a nine and a half minute interview. At the end of it, he gave this answer:

Everybody was pretty green when they worked on this film. It was like the old saying, “Let’s get a barn and get a dance going and we’ll raise money and everyone’s gonna be happy.”

And this is one of those films. Everybody just got together — worked together. We learnt as we were going along.

And, as an actor, you don’t turn down a role. You just don’t. Something’s offered to you, you go for it and make the best of it. Would I do it again? Most definitely. Will it ever happen again? I don’t think so — at least not for me. It was just a special project.

Reading Between the Lines

The questions are not in the interview, so I don’t know what was asked. But I suspect it was something like, “How did you feel about being in such a bad film?”

Mitchell’s response is excellent. He never has anything but nice things to say about the people who made the film with him. In fact, he described Greidanus as “smart” and “talented.” And any shame he felt was manifested in a wry smile.

But when I saw that, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him that everyone involved in that film should be extremely proud. It’s a great film — interesting from beginning to end.

Bruce J Mitchell

According to the MST3K Fandom site, it was made for less than $2,000. Think about that next time you see the chases and other high-production value shots that don’t normally end up in micro-budget films.

But the high point of it all is Bruce J Mitchell. And the fact that he was never in another film is indicative of the networked way that even the independent micro-budget world is. If others had known about him, I’m sure he would have been in demand.

“The Long Years”

Mitchell’s only other credit on IMDb is on “The Long Years” episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater. It’s a different (Better!) take on The Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.”

The main thing he gets to do is provide some exposition. But he does it shockingly well. It shows that under different circumstances, he could have been a very successful character actor in film.

A Life Well-Lived

Instead, he seems to have worked a lot in local theater. In fact, he even performed in Ireland! And he had bands when he was younger that cut some albums.

People like Mitchell are heroes. They create art for the love of it. The fact that he was incredibly talented only adds to this.

His day job through most of his life was as a licenced practical nurse, which is also cool. He was born 4 Feb 1945 and died 28 Apr 2018 at the age of 73. I’m sure he’s missed by his loved ones, but he’s also missed by film lovers like me who never knew him.


Image of Bruce J Mitchell taken from interview on MST3K “The Final Sacrifice” DVD under Fair Use. The Final Sacrifice poster image taken under Fair use

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project

On this day, 30 July, in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released to the world. It is one of the greatest horror films ever made.

I realize that many people will disagree with me. And those people are wrong. I suspect that when the film was released, those people were part of the overwhelming number of viewers who quite liked it.

But something happened. And I watched that something. It’s summed up by a joke I remember a late-night comedian making. It went something like this, “A new extended cut of The Blair Witch Project has been released with an additional 5 minutes where nothing happens.”

Get it? It’s funny because nothing happens in the film! Except, of course, that lots happens in the film.

Highly Effective Horror

I still remember the visceral terror of the scene where they come out of their tent to piles of rocks around them. It’s true that nothing on screen happened. But it tells a story of this malevolent force that is constantly around them but never seen.

That’s also true of the stick figures scene:

I’ve watched the film again recently just to see if it really is as good as I remember. And even if you ignore all the horror elements of it, it’s still a fascinating look at three young people losing their minds.

Changing Opinions

It would be fascinating to look at the ratings of The Blair Witch Project over time. I think you would find that they go ever downward. That really should happen to all films because over time they lose their context and people can’t see what made them interesting.

Now with so many “found footage” films around, there’s a tendency to blame The Blair Witch Project. I think that’s a shame. For one thing, I rather like the found footage genre.

Like any genre, there are good ones and bad ones. But at their best, they can be very immediate. (Check out Ouija Blood Ritual.) See what Bomberguy and Strucci have to say about The power of VHS.

And for films with a limited budget, “found footage” can be a useful conceit. And I think that also has something to do with the push-back against the genre: big budgets don’t especially help.

Watch This Film

Regardless, if you haven’t seen it for a while, I recommend revisiting The Blair Witch Project with an open mind. You also might check out Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It was savaged by the film critics but that was clearly just payback for the positive reviews of the first film.


The Blair Witch Project via Amazon under Fair Use.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

On this day, 28 July, in 1974, Gone in 60 Seconds was put into wide release in the US. Most people know the remake starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. But this is the one to watch.

As a point of comparison, the remake cost roughly 200 times as much to make in real dollars. It highlights something that has been much on my mind these last few years: psychotronic film has gone mainstream.

Or has it? Because when films like Gone in 60 Seconds or Parts: The Clonus Horror are remade, they lose their individuality. They become just another blockbuster. That doesn’t make them bad. But it does mean that there is a certain sameness to them that is the result of getting the full blockbuster treatment.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 Seconds was created by HB Halicki. He was the son of a towing company family who started his own in southern California. He did some work in and around the independent film scene before he decided to make the film.

With the exception of editor Warner E Leighton, Halicki relied primarily on an inexperienced crew. And yet, the results are exceptional. People mostly talk about the 40-minute car chase that ends the film. But I’m more impressed with the first hour.

One exceptional aspect of the film is all the inside information that it provides — from car theft to police work to the insurance industry. It all comes off like a really exciting documentary.

It’s also beautifully shot. When I first saw it, I figured that Halicki must have hired an experienced camera operator and cinematographer. But no.

Another aspect of it is the dense sound editing. You can’t possibly catch it all on one viewing. It’s as exciting as the action on the screen.

Overall, it’s just a wonderful story that has you hooked from the start. I imagine that Halicki was a great raconteur. There isn’t a lot to the story of Gone in 60 Seconds, but the telling is great.

The film was a big hit at the time. But since then, it’s been neglected and dismissed as just a car-chase film. There is so much more here and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself.

Later HB Halicki

Halicki went on to create a few more films that were similar in nature and usually in plot. But during a stunt for Gone in 60 Seconds 2, he was killed at the age of 48.

You can get Gone in 60 Seconds on DVD but the Blu-ray and combo DVD/Blu-ray are both cheaper. The single Blu-ray comes with some interviews. The combo comes with more including a commentary with cinematographer Jack Vacek and editor Leighton. The film is also on Amazon Prime.


Gone in 60 Seconds cover image via Amazon under Fair Use.

Keenan Wynn

Keenan Wynn

Today, 26 July, is Keenan Wynn’s birthday. He was born in 1916 and died just over 70 years later. He continues to be one of my favorite character actors.

His father, Ed Wynn, was arguably more famous: a vaudeville comedian who then became very popular in radio and films. If you watch old comedies, you know him. If nothing else, you probably know him from the second episode of The Twilight Zone, “One for the Angels.”

Keenan’s full name was Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn—you can see why he shortened it.

Personal Life

Because of his father’s fame, Wynn did not live the most exciting of lives. There are no great stories of his rise to fame. He got work. He was good so he continued to get work.

One interesting thing about Wynn is that his first wife, Evie Wynn Johnson, left him for Van Johnson. Kind of. It appears their relationship was crumbling, so the studio got her to marry Johnson to put an end to rumors that Johnson was gay.

Of course, Johnson was gay, although they did manage a child (but who knows). You see how it is with Keenan Wynn? There was always a lot more around Wynn’s life than in it.

Professional Life

Wynn started on Broadway where he worked from the mid-1930s through the beginning of the 1940s. Then he worked in films, doing bit parts into the mid-1950s. From that point on, he did mostly television, but still a fair amount of feature film work.

Most notably, he played the simple-minded Colonel Bat Guano in Dr Strangelove. He was also in a number of those Disney live-action films that I loved as a kid. In the end, IMDb list 374 total credits (that includes 25 episodes of Troubleshooters, 9 episodes of Dallas, and 22 episodes of Call to Glory).

Wynn also starred in a lot of exploitation films later in his career. I want to highlight one of those films here: Parts: The Clonus Horror. It’s one of those films I discovered via MST3K and got annoyed because they wouldn’t shut up.

In 2005, it was effectively remade as The Island. I liked that film although it’s over-long because of endless Michael Bay action sequences. The producers of Parts sued DreamWorks, who settled out of court. The truth is, The Island is just a less-believable version of the film.

Other Keenan Wynn


Image is in the public domain.

Anniversary Post: They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants

On this day, 9 June, in 1971, They Might Be Giants was released. It’s one of my all-time favorite films. But I must admit that the first time I saw it I was bewildered by it. I just didn’t grok it. I guess I was just too young and too sane.

Or maybe it is that the film is all about the nature of reality — something I didn’t connect with much when I was young. Now it’s the main thing I think about. In the film, George C Scott plays Justin Playfair, a retired judge who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. Or is he Sherlock Holmes? I’d say that you are more likely to enjoy the film if you go along with it.

But the main thing in They Might Be Giants is that it is filled with colorful characters played by colorful character actors like Al Lewis (The Munsters), Rue McClanahan (The Golden Girls), Oliver Clark (A Star Is Born), and Jack Gilford (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

How to Watch They Might Be Giants

I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t. Below, I’ll embed a great print (while it lasts). But you can get it on Blu-ray with a director commentary, a featurette, and the extra scene in the grocery store (sadly not integrated with the film as it has been in other releases).

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of its release. We will have to do something for it. It is a spectacular film!

See our article on the film.


The Might Be Giants DVD case via Wikipedia under Fair use.

Anniversary Post: Invaders From Mars

Invaders From Mars

Things just turned out this way: another Tobe Hooper film was released. This time it is Invaders From Mars on 6 June 1986. I enjoy it a lot but it isn’t one of my favorites.

So why am I talking about it today? Because critics have hated it and continue to do so.

Let me take a review from Time Out that is actually better than most. It says:

“The effects are magnificent, but whereas the original worked by building up an increasingly black mood, this version relies almost entirely on the special effects; and such limited brooding tension as it has is gratuitously undermined by a string of sequences played purely for laughs.”

So this version of the film works almost entirely by using special effects? I don’t agree with that at all. But if that were the case, why is it a bad thing? Why is building up a black mood the correct way to go? Should this version of the film do that too? I know what the critic would have said if the film had done that, “This version just repeats what was done better in 1953”!

Then we learn that the limited brooding tension that the film managed was destroyed by its comedic elements. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the filmmakers hadn’t actually been going for the “black mood” of the original.

“Not What I Wanted to See!”

This has got to be the single most annoying film criticism: “This film was not at all what I wanted to see!” Feature films generally take years to make. There’s a really good chance that what is up on the screen is what the filmmakers wanted.

I understand: sometimes you just don’t like a film. You wish it had gone in another direction. But I fail to see how this is a criticism of the film. It’s like complaining that you didn’t like Eaten Alive because you were really more in a comedy mood.

Even if you think a film critic is just an ombudsman, how is that helpful? The Time Out review ends, “Fun, but very silly.” Okay. That would have made a better complete review. It would have warned potential viewers that this film with its obviously cheeky 1950s science fiction film title will not be like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Good, I guess…


Invaders From Mars poster via Wikipedia under Fair use.