Short Takes

With my long discussions of films taking forever to research and write, I thought the site could use the equivalent of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film — one paragraph overviews of films. Eventually, I will put this in a database or at least subdivide it. For now, this will do.

The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Producers: Ronald S Dunas and Louis M Heyward
Director/Screenwriter: Robert Fuest
Screenwriters: William Goldstein and James Whiton

A brilliant scientist and organist Dr Phibes (Vincent Price) sets about killing everyone on the surgical team that “killed” his wife. The murders are wonderfully creative. Joseph Cotten plays the lead surgeon with his typical charisma. Virginia North plays Phibes silent helper. A funny revenge film. Opinion is divided, but I prefer the follow-up Dr Phibes Rises Again.

The film is copyrighted. It is commercially available in many forms included as a double feature with Rises Again. But I recommend getting Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection, which also includes: Tales of Terror, Twice Told Tales, Theater of Blood (one of my all time favorites), Madhouse, and Witchfinder General.

A*P*E (1976)

Producers: KM Yeung and Paul Leder
Director: Paul Leder
Screenwriters: Paul Leder & Reuben A Leder
Our Review: A*P*E: Meta-Film of a Fine Vintage

Before King Kong (1976) could even be released, Paul Leder had a parody released. What it lacks in thrills, it makes up for in charm and chutzpah. From the poster: “Defy the JAWS of a Giant Shark; demolish an Ocean Liner; vanquish Monster Reptile.” Got all the 1970s blockbusters? Well, in case you were confused, “Not to be confused with KING KONG.” (Which just so happens won’t be in theaters for a few months, so what do you say?) A wonderfully fun film — especially if you hate Dino DeLaurentis! (And who doesn’t?)

You can see this film for free on Archive.org, but under its re-released title, Attack Of The Giant Horny Gorilla. True psychotronistas may want to get the DVD or Blu-ray, which are in 3D and include commentary tracks by filmmaker Chris Alexander.

Alabama’s Ghost (1973)

Producer/Director/Screenwriter: Fredric Hobbs
Our Review: Alabama’s Ghost

Alabama happens upon the equipment of the vaudeville magician Carter the Great. So Alabama goes to Carter’s still-living wife and takes over Carter’s act. But it turns out that she is really a vampire. And there is a whole group of vampires (including Hitler’s favorite scientist) who are going to use Alabama to take over the world. Meanwhile, Alabama is being haunted by the ghost of Carter the Great. You’ve got to see this to believe it — psychotronic nirvana!

This film has never been released on DVD. It was once released on VHS, but as I write this, the only copy available is selling for almost $2,500. I lucked upon a bootleg some time ago, so look out for it. A bad copy has been on YouTube since Sep 2015. You never know if it will be taken down. I know there is some discussion of its inclusion on Archive.org if it can be shown to be in the public domain. (I’m pretty certain it is.) Then we just have to acquire a decent print.

Barracuda (1978)

Producer: Wayne Crawford
Director: Harry Kerwin
Screenwriters: Wayne Crawford and Harry Kerwin

This is an obvious Jaws rip-off. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact, the barracuda attacks are really effective. Whereas Jaws depended on the viewer mostly imagining the attacks, those in Barracuda are visceral. Otherwise, the plot is about the shady government doing shady things and the “deep state” being a rabbit hole of unknown depth. It’s quite a gripping little film, even if it tries to do too much. It would have been better to focus on the barracuda.

Barracuda features a number of notables from the independent film world. It stars Wayne Crawford, who also co-wrote, co-produced, and directed the underwater sequences of this film. He is probably best known as the co-writer and co-producer of Valley Girl. Although William Kerwin (2000 Maniacs) is listed low on the credits, he probably gets more screen time than Crawford. As usual, he’s great. Jason Evers, just as he did in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, plays an insane doctor. The film also features Cliff Emmich (Payday) and Roberta Leighton.

Barracuda is copyrighted although you can often find it around the internet. It is available as Drive-in Double Feature along with Island Fury (An unfinished Texas Chainsaw Massacre knock-off with new footage bookmarking it). The film has not been released in accordance with its quality.

The Bat (1959)

Producer: CJ Tevlin
Director/Screenwriter: Crane Wilbur (based on the play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood — based upon Rinehart’s novel The Circular Staircase)

Agnes Moorehead rents a house that contains a bunch of money. Vincent Price wants it. But more important, so does The Bat — a serial killer considerably less silly than Batman. This is mostly just a play on film. It’s a bit spooky but that’s it. Still, it’s well made. The plot is a bit too complex. And the ending is random. But it’s a fun one. Our Gang cutie Darla Hood has a supporting role. The original novel was shot two times before: The Circular Staircase (1915) and The Bat (1926). Not to be mistaken for The Spiral Staircase (1946).

It is in the public domain.

Blacula (1972)

Producer: Joseph T Naar
Director: William Crain
Screenwriter: Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig

I know what you think: a black Dracula. Yet it is so much different — more a metaphysical romance than a horror film. While Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song said “Fuck you!” to the white world, Blackula said, “We are noble; you are savages.” It’s a remarkable and compelling film. William Marshall in the title role is irresistible. Vonetta McGee adds an unusual strength to the “girl in peril” trope. The sweetest, most edifying horror film ever made.

Do yourself a favor and get the Blacula / Scream, Blacula, Scream Double Feature or even better the Blu-ray. The single Blackula contains less, costs more, and is in no way better.

Blood Feast (1963)

Producer: David F Friedman
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Screenwriter: Allison Louise Downe
Our Review: Blood Feast

Generally considered the first splatter film, it’s downright charming despite all the blood. There is virtually no onscreen violence. The gore is as good as anything today. Stand-out performances by William Kerwin as Detective Pete Thornton and Mal Arnold as Fuad Ramses. The combination of a campy production with realistic gore is irresistible. A must see!

Archive.org has a lovely copy available for free. This would seem to indicate it is in the public domain. However, according to my calculations, it should be copyrighted until 2019. Regardless, I recommend getting Something Weird’s Blood Trilogy Blu-Ray, which also includes Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red. Or you could get Arrow Video’s Blood Feast on Blu-Ray and DVD, which includes a nice print of Scum of the Earth!

A Boy and His Dog (1983)

Producer: Alvy Moore
Director/Screenwriter: LQ Jones (based on Harlan Ellison’s novel)

In the year 2024, a boy and his psychic dog wander around a desolate post-nuclear world. Apparently, humans have changed because men don’t bond with women; they just find them and rape them. But other than this, it’s a jaunty film. The dialog between boy and dog is wonderful. Thankfully, a different kind of woman shows up and things get weird. If you like black comedies, you should like this one.

The boy is played by a young Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame. It also stars Susanne Benton (That Cold Day in the Park), Jason Robards (Once Upon a Time in the West), and Tim McIntire (American Hot Wax) as the voice of Blood, the dog.

Archive.org has a very good print for free. There is a good DVD version with a director’s commentary. But you are better with the Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD version.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Producer: Rex Carlton
Director: Joseph Green
Screenwriters: Joseph Green based on a story by Rex Carlton and Joseph Green

This is a classic. Everyone knows the image of the decapitated head of Virginia Leith (On the Threshold of Space). After his fiancee (Leith) is decapitated in an auto accident, Dr Bill Cortner keeps the head alive while he searches for a proper body (at a strip club and a girlie photo shoot) to attach it to. Far from being grateful, his fiancee mocks and berates him for his efforts. A surprisingly effective outing on an Ed Wood budget!

Featuring Jason Evers (Barracuda) as Dr Bill Cortner. Anthony La Penna plays Cortner’s assistant. He was a very successful voice actor from the 1950s through the 1970s. He even voiced the English version of the priest in Rashomon. Adele Lamont plays the victim. Eddie Carmel (50,000 BC (Before Clothing)), “The Jewish Giant,” played the monster.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is in the public domain. Archive.org has a great copy of it. It is high definition and in the original aspect ration of 1.66:1 and original 82-minute length. Shout! Factory has an excellent Blu-ray version with a high-quality print and plenty of extras.

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

Producers: Jack Broder (Realart Pictures Inc) and Edward Leven
Director/Screenwriter: Curt Siodmak

Raymond Burr kills his boss in order to steal his wife. Unfortunately, a local witch puts a curse on him that causes him to become… Well, you know. Barbara Payton had a scandalous love life. Warner Bros apparently punished her by making her star in this B picture. Her career never recovered; she made 5 more films and quit. From there she fell into drugs and even got arrested for prostitution. She died at 39. And she does not look happy in the film. On the other hand, Lon Chaney Jr makes any film happier — he shines here. Siodmak was a major writer of the 20th century — especially in science fiction. He directed a handful of films — competently. This is an enjoyable, if bizarre, film.

It is in the public domain.

Castle of Blood (1964)

Producers: Franco Belotti & Walter Zarghetta
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Screenwriters: Giovanni Grimaldi and Sergio Corbucci — claims to be “From Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Dance Macabre'” but it doesn’t exist
Aditional titles: Danza Macabra

A fine little “haunted house” film where a writer, Alan Foster (Georges Rivière), makes a bet with Lord Blackwood that the writer will survive a night in the lord’s castle in Providence. There he meets a beautiful but dead Barbara Steele (The Pit and the Pendulum) and eventually what seems like the entire beau monde of the spirit world. But everything is not as it seems. Well, except that it’s a horror film and he loses his bet — in a most gruesome manner.

This film is not available on Archive.org but you can usually find it on YouTube or DailyMotion. You’re better of getting the anamorphic DVD that includes an extra 5 minutes that wasn’t suitable for fragile American eyes. But note, those 5 minutes are in French with English subtitles. (That bit of lunacy alone probably makes it worth getting!)

Chained for Life (1952)

Producer: George Moskov
Director: Harry L Fraser
Screenwriter: Nat Tanchuck

This is an odd one. Basically, it is a vehicle for Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins. The story isn’t much to speak of — a murder trial that answers the burning question, “What do you do if one conjoined twin murders someone?” Answer: nothing. But the Hilton’s are exceptional musicians and the film is padded with a number of great vaudeville acts.

The film is in the public domain although the print on Archive.org is not very good. You can often find better prints on YouTube and similar sites. There is a DVD version of it, but I haven’t seen it. I wouldn’t expect much.

The Choppers (1961)

Producer/Screenwriter: Arch Hall Sr
Director: Leigh Jason

An Early Arch Hall Sr (Eegah) film about a gang of car choppers. It works surprisingly well. It even has nice reversals for modern readers. The smartest character is the secretary, Liz (Marianne Gaba). A fair amount of the humor works. And there is no “good” kid who manages to escape accountability.

The film is in the public domain. Archive.org has an acceptable print. It is also available on DVD, but I can’t speak for the quality. I would assume the worst.

Christmas Evil (1980)

Producer: Burt Kleiner and Pete Kameron
Director/Screenwriter: Lewis Jackson
Other titles: You Better Watch Out

Fascinating story of a man obsessed with Christmas who decides to become Santa Claus. And to settle a few scores. See: Santa steal toys for good girls and boys! Watch: Santa cut a man’s throat with a Christmas star! Experience: Santa’s dexterity as he uses a toy soldier to gouge out an annoying man’s eye! Regardless what you are thinking, you’re wrong. You must experience this film! This was Lewis Jackson’s last film. I’d love to see more! Brandon Maggart puts in an energetic and strangely believable performance. It is supposedly John Waters favorite Christmas film, but he evidences very little knowledge of it on the commentary he does with Jackson. However, he did understand the importance of fetish to it — something that Jackson seemed quite ignorant to.

Film is under copyright and you should buy it because Lewis Jackson should be rewarded. Get the Vinegar Syndrome version.

Color Me Blood Red (1965)

Producer: David F Friedman
DirectorScreenwriter: Herschell Gordon Lewis

This is the third of the Friedman/Lewis “Blood Trilogy.” It tends be pushed to the side in discussions. Blood Feast was the first, Two Thousand Manics was the best, and Color Me Blood Red was also produced. I don’t see it that way. I think Color holds up the best. It’s the story of a painter who is criticized for his dull colors. He finds that blood provides the perfect red he’s been looking for. But after a while, he finds he needs more blood than he can provide, so… Critics stop complaining about his colors.

I recommend getting Something Weird’s Blood Trilogy Blu-Ray, which also includes Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs. It is usually roughly the price of any of the films singularly. Something Weird offers it as a single DVD, but as I write this, it is only 22¢ cheaper than the whole trilogy. If you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to buy a Blu-ray player?

Devil Doll (1964)

Producer/Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Screenwriters: Ronald Kinnoch (as George Barclay) and Charles F Vetter (as Lance Z Hargreaves) from a story by Frederick E Smith

This is a really good film with a great denouement. Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on it in one of their episodes and I quickly started thinking, “Would you guys shut up! I’m trying to watch a film here!” It’s that good: it overwhelms the incessant chatter of the folks on the show. So you really should check it out.

It features Bryant Haliday (Horror on Snape Island), William Sylvester (2001: A Space Odyssey), and Yvonne Romain.

The film is under copyright. You can usually find it online, however. If you want it on disc, it is available on DVD with a couple of minor extras.

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenwriter: Richard Matheson based on The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Other titles: The Devil’s Bride

A rather low-budget Hammer film that still manages to work via great acting and campy charm. For some reason that is never explained, Christopher Lee knows way too much about Satanism. This comes in handy when his young friend because involved with a bunch of Satanists. Watch for the totally absurd ending. Matheson can not have been happy with this script. And after he made such a fuss over The Last Man on Earth. Featuring Charles Gray (Diamonds Are Forever) and Leon Greene (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

This film is not in the public domain, but you can normally find it on YouTube or DailyMotion. It isn’t exactly a Hammer classic. There don’t seem to be any North American format DVD or Blu-ray releases. And even the other versions are expensive, even though they don’t seem to have any extras. Plus I can’t speak to their quality.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1988)

Producer/Director: SF Brownrigg
Screenwriter: Tim Pope
Other titles: The Forgotten

The other title is more appropriate, but I think this film got more distribution under Don’t Look in the Basement. A young nurse comes to a psychiatric hospital right after its head was accidentally killed by a patient. Things are not as they seem, however. And the ending is spectacular (and sad if you care to think about it).

It stars Rosie Holotik (Horror High) and William Bill McGhee (Curse of the Swamp Creature).

It appears to be in the public domain and is available on Archive in so-so condition. You can find it streaming various other places. It’s hard to know what to say about disc copies. I have a few and they are all bad. There is a Blu-ray version that also comes with Don’t Open the Door (1975). At least one reviewer says the copy is good. Be careful!

Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Producer: Louis M Heyward
Director: Robert Fuest
Screenwriters: Robert Fuest and Robert Blees

Freed up from the constraint previously applied of having to make sense, this film focuses on what we all love: the revenge murders. And it doesn’t disappoint. Some may like the original better. It is a more finely crafted screenplay. But ultimately, all that plot seems to get in the way of the good stuff. Valli Kemp takes over as Phibe’s assistant. Robert Quarry does a good job as Price’s foil.

The film is copyrighted. It is best found on Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection.

El Topo (1970)

Producer: [None listed]
Director/Screenwriter: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Our Review: El Topo

Widely considered the first “midnight movie,” this is a good example of how there is often little difference between art and psychotronic film. Basically, it’s just where they play. El Topo is a hippy western. It presents gun-fighting as philosophy. Plus there is a whole lot of blood! And deformities, incest, and bigots! Plus: El Topo is a total badass! It’s a wonderful film that you can totally over-think. But don’t over-think it. Just enjoy.

The film is in the public domain as Archive.org has a decent copy of it. I recommend getting it on disc. It’s a film that stands up to multiple viewings and the free copy isn’t great. It’s available on DVD with basically no extras. The Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Jodorowsky.

Enter the Devil (1972)

Producer: Michael F Cusack
Director: Frank Q Dobbs
Screenwriters: Frank Q Dobbs & David S Cass

In rural Texas, there is some odd religious group killing people. It is deliberately plotted, but you will stick around just to figure out what the hell is going on. (It has a great plot twist.) This is a little-seen gem — even for psychotronic fans. It features Joshua Bryant, Irene Kelly, and David S Cass.

The film is copyrighted. You can get it in excellent condition along with another Dobbs/Cass film The California Connection on Blu-ray. I can’t speak for the DVD.

Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

Producer: Hsiao Yin Shen (as Shen Hsiao-Yin)
Director: Yen-Ping Chu (as Chu Yen Ping)
Screenwriter: Hsin Wei

This bizarre action-comedy features a number of laugh-out-loud moments but its silliness is relentless. During World War II, some generals are kidnapped by the Japanese military. After deciding that various heroes will not do (including Rocky Balboa), they send in Yu Wang (Master of the Flying Guillotine) who assembles a team of misfits including Brigitte Lin (Police Story) and Jackie Chan (Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow). As usual for Word War II films, it includes a haunted house sequence with Chinese hopping vampires.

There is a free print of Fantasy Mission Force on Archive.org but it is cropped and of so-so quality (and I think it is copyrighted). No one has released this on disc with reasonable quality. But you can certainly get a better copy than the horrible ones online. Use your judgment.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Producer: Russ and Eve Meyer
Director: Russ Meyer
Screenwriter:Jack Moran (screenplay) and Russ Meyer (story)

This is Russ Meyer’s masterpiece. It manages to combine most of Meyer’s kinky obsessions with a great script and a beautifully rendered film. It tells the story of three chesty go-go dancers out looking to cause trouble and steal a bunch of cash. The beta woman is kind of sympathetic owing to her obvious lesbianism and attraction to the alpha woman (who knows and uses it against her). Lots of fighting, scheming, racing, and murdering. It’s a psychotronic essential. You can’t help but love it.

The film features Tura Satana (The Astro-Zombies), Haji (Motorpsycho!), and Lori Williams as the go-go dancers. Susan Bernard plays Linda, the “good girl.” She would go on to pose in Playboy where she is thought to be the first Jewish Playmate of the Month in December 1966. It also features Paul Trinka (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series) and Stuart Lancaster (Godmonster of Indian Flats).

The film is apparently in the public domain and Archive.org has a decent copy of it. It is currently only available in one expensive DVD with virtually no digital extras (it has a booklet and a couple of other things).

For Y’ur Height Only (1981)

Producer: Peter M Caballes
Director: Eddie Nicart
Screenwriter: Cora Caballes
Alternative titles: For Your Height Only

Martial arts expert and dwarf Weng Weng stars as Agent 00 in this Filipino James Bond knock-off or parody — depending upon how you look at it. This was the second Agent 00 film, the first being Agent 00 made 8 years earlier. The film is incredibly silly but the action sequences are well choreographed, featuring stunts particularly appropriate for a man less than 3 feet tall. If you like seeing men kicked in the groin, this is the film for you!

For Y’ur Height Only is copyrighted, but it isn’t hard to find cropped for TV versions online. It is available on DVD with Bruce Le’s (Not Bruce Lee’s) Challenge Of The Tiger in widescreen presentations of both films.

Galaxy of the Dinosaur (1992)

Producer: JR Bookwalter
Director: JR Bookwalter (as Lance Randas)
Screenwriters: Thomas Brown (story) and Jon Killough (screenplay)

This film started by getting the rights to the animated dinosaur footage from Planet of Dinosaurs (1977). Then a screenplay was made to integrate that footage into. The result is a silly, but shockingly compelling, little film. The cuts from the filmed animations to the low-quality video are jarring, but it’s part of the appeal of this film. And it has a great parody ending; it will make you see that this is how the original should have ended. Shot and edited for $2,500.

The film is copyrighted but it is available all over. I recommend getting Bad Movie Police: Crimewave! It includes 5 of the films that JR Bookwalter made for Cinema Home Video. They also include video skits about the Bad Movie Police arresting directors like Bookwalter. Personally, I find them far more embarrassing than any of the “bad movies.” But they don’t spoil the movies. All the films have commentary tracks with Bookwalter and others involved.

The Girl, the Body, and the Pill (1967)

Producer: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Screenwriter: Allison Louise Downe

A film of earnest teenage sex and hypocritical adult sex. Allison Louise Downe’s script is much more complicated than a usual Herschell Gordon Lewis film. And it includes some genuinely impressive bits. And ultimately, it is pretty sweet — offering lots of good family values. With Pamela Rhae as the sexy sex-ed teacher who appears to be younger than most of her students. She spends half the film in short-shorts. Also starring Bill Rogers (A Taste of Blood) and Ray Sager (The Wizard of Gore ). Watch out for cinematographer/cameraman Roy Collodi in the role of Pike and his final shots with an extreme widescreen lens that makes him look positively demented.

This film is really hard to find. It’s the only major Herschell Gordon Lewis film that hasn’t been released on DVD. Occasionally, you can find it used on VHS. I’ve never seen it online. But it’s worth searching out!

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Producer: George Weiss
Director/Screenwriter: Edward D Wood, Jr
Other titles: I Changed My Sex

This is Ed Wood’s masterpiece. But admittedly, it isn’t for everyone. It’s docutainment — not that much different than Orson Welles’ F for Fake. But it is also highly didactic — a Wood trademark. Regardless, it’s also wonderfully creative and surreal. When you consider how taboo transsexuality is today, the film is all the more impressive. Its anti-gay elements add to its poignancy by showing Wood’s own bigotry.

Most people have a problem with is its highly unusual structure. Glen or Glenda asks that you sit back and go with the film. If you do, you’ll be surprised just how engaging — even heartwarming — it is. It’s also notable for sexual rarities that Wood would explore in many of his later novels: fetish, bondage, and nonconsensual sex. It features standard Wood players Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, and Timothy Farrell. The title role is played by Wood himself under the name Daniel Davis.

It is in the public domain.

Godmonster of Indian Flats (1974)

Producer/Director/Screenwriter: Fredric Hobbs

There is a standard story here. Christopher Brooks (Alabama’s Ghost) comes to a Nevada town to buy the mining rights, but the crazy patrician mayor (Stuart Lancaster) won’t sell because he wants to keep the town as it was — up to keeping the town prostitute in business because her grandmother was years before. This would be more than enough for an enjoyable film. But there is also a mutant sheep monster. After Alabama’s Ghost this film leaves no doubt that there is no justice in Hollywood — otherwise, Brooks would be a star.

You can find this film on YouTube from time to time. Otherwise, Something Weird Video has released it on DVD and Blu-ray with some racy (softcore porn) shorts. The print is really good.

Grave of the Vampire (1974)

Producer: Daniel Cady
Director: John Hayes
Screenwriters: David Chase (screenplay) and John Hayes (treatment)

This is a curious vampire film. It is mainly about what happens when a vampire rapes a woman. Answer: she gives birth to an undead halfbreed boy that she has to feed with her own blood. I have no idea what happens after weening because the film jumps ahead two decades when the son, James Eastman, is an adult with a mission: to find and kill dad, thus avenging his recently dead mother. But it is more than a little weird. There is some voice over about how it was hard to find his father, but he has at last found him teaching night courses at college. Does he just kill his father? No! He waits around for his father to force him to fight. (It’s a bit like Hamlet.) Still, lots of interesting things happen.

It stars Kitty Vallacher as the most devoted mother ever. It also stars William Smith as the son and Michael Pataki as the father. Fun fact: the actor who plays the son was five years older than the actor who played the father.

There is a good copy of the film available for free on Archive.org. You can get it on DVD for about five bucks. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s fine though.

Horror High (1974)

Producer: Jamieson Film Company
Director: Larry N Stouffer
Screenwriter: JD Feigelson (as Jake Fowler)
Other titles: Twisted Brain

This is a brilliant lost gem. It puts anything that Herschell Gordon Lewis ever did to shame. Made on a budget of just $16,000, the producers wring every bit of value out of their money. Basically, it is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but set in a modern high school as a revenge tragedy. The script, editing, and direction are all very strong. What’s more, even the worst acting is competent. It stars Pat Cardi in his last acting role as nerd-turned-monster Vernon. In the female lead is Rosie Holotik (Don’t Look in the Basement). And playing a very Columbo-like detective is Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13).

Horror High is copyrighted but can usually be found on YouTube and similar sites. If you want it on DVD, you may already have it. It is on a lot of compilations. One example: Cult Terror Cinema.

Horrors of Spider Island (1965)

Producers: Gaston Hakim & Wolf C Hartwig
Director/Screenwriter: Fritz Böttger (as Jaime Nolan)
Other titles: Ein Toter hing im Netz (1960); It’s Hot in Paradise (1962); Hot in Paradise; Girls of Spider Island; and Spider’s Web
Our Review: Horrors of Spider Island and the Sex-Horror Genre

Is it a monster movie? Or is it a girlie movie? Well, it’s both! This German cheapie was cut as a girl-fight movie in 1962 as It’s Hot in Paradise and then again as a monster movie in 1965 as Horrors of Spider Island. It’s the second film that is better known, probably because it was used for Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable film. A dance troupe on its way to Singapore crash lands and only eight sexy women and their manager (Alexander D’Arcy) survives. But he turns into a monster soon and there is more than enough time for the women to get into fights in their pajamas. The film features Rainer Brandt and Barbara Valentin. Helga Franck would probably have gone on to a good career but fell from a window to her death at the age of 30.

The film is not copyrighted and a decent copy is available at Archive.org. Something Weird has released it on DVD. It comes with no features to speak of (at least ones related to the film). But the print is beautifully restored and presented in its original 1.85 : 1 aspect ratio.

All of the credit information is based on hearsay. The posters provide no details and the prints only list Jaime Nolan as the director.

I Am Omega (2007)

Producer: David Michael Latt
Director: Griff Furst
Screenwriter: Geoff Meed

Sure, The Asylum just wanted to beat Warner Bros to the punch with its Will Smith vehicle that is even further from Richard Matheson’s novel. But to me, that’s all the more reason to like it. The film is every bit as good as I Am Legend, with roughly a hundredth of the budget. But it’s more fun to watch Last Man on Earth. Otherwise, I’d watch any of the other three that were available. Mark Dacascos is appealing and Jennifer Lee Wiggins makes an excellent “woman in peril.”

Clearly, you are going to have to pay for this one — although you may already have through Netflix or Amazon Prime. You can get it on DVD or Blu-ray. I can’t say much about them as I don’t like the film enough to buy it. (So I watched it through Amazon Prime.)

In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Producer: Sandy King
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: Michael De Luca

The apocalypse is coming and HP Lovecraft sent it. The story follows John Trent (Sam Neill) who goes searching for a missing horror novelist only to become convinced that he is a character in one of the novels. This film is captivating from beginning to end. Julie Carmen (Gloria) is excellent as the editor who helps Trent in his search. This is probably Carpenter’s best film. It rewards multiple viewings.

The film is under copyright and well protected. Commercial copies look fine. The best release is the Shout! Factory Blu-ray.

Ishtar (1987)

Producer: Warren Beatty
Director/Screenwriter: Elaine May
Our Review: Ishtar Is a Funny Movie — Why Haven’t You Watched it?

Ishtar tells the story of two loser song-writers who band together to become the successes of their dreams. Eventually, their agent offers them a gig in Ishtar. Being broke, they jump at the idea. In Ishtar, they become pawns of both the CIA and the local revolutionaries. Much follows that really doesn’t matter.

It is sublimely silly. It’s strange watching it now how enjoyable it is given that at the time of its release, it was taken as given that Ishtar was a bad a film. Ultimately what sunk it was that the budget was $50 million — an unheard of price tag for a comedy. And film critics know about as much about art and entertainment as they do brain surgery.

Paul Williams created a half dozen parody songs the film. May’s screenplay is efficient and funny. The acting is exceptional. It’s sad that so many people didn’t get to see it because film critics don’t think comedies should be expensive. First thing we do: kill all critics.

The film is available as a Blu-ray — but with no extras. Generally, DVD copies are more expensive. The documentary Waiting for Ishtar is worth checking out. Ishtar is a genuinely great film and a wonderful subject with which to torture the millions of people who hate it despite never having bothered to watch it.

Jail Bait (1954)

Producer/Director: Edward D Wood, Jr
Screenwriters: Alex Gordon and Edward D Wood, Jr
Other titles: Hidden Face

Son of a famous surgeon rebels by leading a life of crime. He gets in big trouble. He dies, but otherwise, it all works out. It stars familiar Ed Wood people like Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, and Timothy Farrell as the heavy. This was silent film star Herbert Rawlinson’s last film and future cinematic Hercules Steve Reeves’ first feature film. Word is, Wood shot 17 takes of Reeves trying to shave. I don’t know if that is true, but years later, Reeves said that Wood was a very kind director. This is the film to show anyone claiming Wood was a bad director. It’s a competent and enjoyable B feature.

It is in the public domain.

The Killer (1989)

Producer: Tsui Hark
Director/Screenwriter: John Woo
Other titles: ????

This is probably John Woo’s greatest film. An assassin accidentally blinds a beautiful nightclub singer. He falls in love with her and takes a job to get the money to pay for her needed surgery. There is also a cop who is on the trail of the assassin. This results in a hilarious scene where the two men are fighting at her apartment while trying to avoid her knowing — a scene that is lovingly ripped off at the beginning of Kill Bill: Volume 1. Otherwise, it’s a great example of Woo’s skill as an action director. Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee are in fine form. Sally Yeh is featured in pretty much her last film role.

There are two notable releases of the film. The first is by Criterion Collection. It has the advantage of being based on the original Chinese print. It also has a commentary track by John Woo. But his English is so bad that there is little content to it. Woo repeats himself endlessly, but it does have a few interesting bits. Its primary problem is that it is out of print and normally sells for upwards of twice its original price of $39.95. A more recent release by Dragon Dynasty is a better choice. You can get it for less than $10 for a Blu-ray and DVD combo. It doesn’t have a commentary track, but it does have good deleted scenes. The copy is based on the American release, however — and is not of the highest quality. It includes an optional English-dubbed audio track.

King Kung Fu (1976)

Producers: Bob Walterscheid
Director: Lance Hayes
Screensriters: Lance & Pat Hayes (Pat mention on poster, not credits later added)

A very silly parody of King Kong and the Kung Fu television series. Even without the over-the-top direction, it would be a funny movie. It has an excellent script. The whole thing came out of Wichita State University and is professionally, if idiosyncratically, produced. It features the first film appearance of porn actor Lois Ayres while still a young teen. There are also a number of people who went on to have Wichita area film careers.

The film is under copyright. Unfortunately, the only DVD release I know of it is a DVD-R. Still, it is of sufficient quality, even if it is so badly cropped that some jokes are missing. (OLD HAGS stands for “Outraged Ladies Dedicated to Hiding Animals’ Great Shame.”) It’s definitely worth ten bucks. And it’s the kind of film you will want to share!

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Producer: Robert L Lippert
Director: Sidney Salkow
Screenwriters: Richard Matheson and William F Leicester
Other titles: L’ultimo Uomo Della Terra
Our Review: The Last Man on Earth

This is the first and best screen version of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. The world has turned into vampires and Vincent Price is the only one left alive. So he spends his life trying to wipe them out. This film was highly influential on Night of the Living Dead. It gave me nightmares for years when I was a kid.

The film is in the public domain and Archive.org has an excellent copy of it. Beware: most DVD copies are dreadful. I recommend House on Haunted Hill w/ Bonus Last Man on Earth Disc IN COLOR. The color on Last isn’t very good, but the original is the best copy I’ve ever seen.

The Long Hair of Death (1964)

Producer: F Testa Gay
Director: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony Dawson)
Screenwriter: story: Ernesto Gastaldi (as Julian Berry); screenplay: Tonino Valerii (as Robert Bohr)
Other titles: I Lunghi Capelli Della Morte

The Long Hair of Death is a Spaghetti Gothic Horror film: Barbara Steele (Castle of Blood — same director) along with a bunch of Italians. It is set in the late 15th century. Steele plays a woman wrongly convicted of murder and burned alive. When her surviving daughter is forced to marry the real murderer she rises from the grave to stop it and take vengeance. It is a surprisingly cool film.

The film also features Halina Zalewska (Giant of the Evil Island), George Ardisson (Hercules in the Haunted World), Umberto Raho (Last Man on Earth), and Giuliano Raffaelli (Fistful of Diamonds).

It is available from free on Archive.org and other places. All the copies I’ve seen have been bad, but it doesn’t hurt that much because it does add to the gothic feel of the film. Still, if you want to see it right, you should pony up a few bucks for the Raro Video Blu-ray, which is excellent and includes a few good extras.

Madhouse (1974)

Producers: Milton Subotsky & Max Rosenberg (Amicus Productions)
Director: Jim Clark
Screenwriters: Greg Morrison and en Levison (based on th novel Devilday by Angus Hall)

Vincent Price plays an actor famous for this “Dr Death” movies. After the release the fifth film, he announced his wedding engagement. But later that night, a man dressed as Dr Death decapitates his fiance, sending poor Price to the loony bin. Years later, released, Priced is hired to reprise the role of Dr Death for a BBC television series. And Dr Death starts killing people again. The plot isn’t hard to guess. And the denouement makes roughly as much sense as that time I killed my wife because she sang out of key in the shower.

Still, it’s a lot of fun. Horror heavyweights Peter Cushing (the Christopher Lee of Frankenstein and, yes, Star Wars) and Robert Quarry (Dr Phibes Rises Again). Ellis Dale and Catherine Willmer do a wonderful job playing the kind of caring parents we all wish we had. This film makes a great double feature with Theatre of Blood.

Madhouse is available as a single DVD with a commentary track by Film Historian David Del Valle. (Also available in multi-format and Blu-ray.) You can also get it paired with Theatre of Blood.

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

Producers/Screenwriters: Aubrey Wisberg & Jack Pollexfen
Director: Ewald André Dupont

Fairly standard but well-made 1950s B mad scientist film. Directed by German expressionist director. Well lit with well-framed shots. Good acting. Some rather unfortunate special make-up effects — although they do give the film a certain charm.

This film should be in the public domain. But somehow Paramount managed to renew its copyright. So you will have to buy it — generally on a collection.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Producers: Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford
Director/Screenwriter: Thom Eberhardt

Thom Eberhardt is more of a comedy writer and director and this works wonderfully in this campy gem. A comet passes by the Earth and turns all those outside into zombies. The plot circles around two sisters, one of whom — Reggie, played by Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter) — is every 1980s nerd boy’s fantasy. It’s funny, sweet, and surprisingly scary at times.

Also stars: Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran (Star Trek: Voyager), and Mary Woronov (Silent Night, Bloody Night).

Night of the Comet is under copyright. It can be found on sites like DailyMotion as well as on Netflix and Amazon Prime. There is an excellent Blu-ray/DVD version with lots of extras including three commentary tracks.

Night of the Ghouls (1959)

Producer/Director/Writer: Ed Wood
Alternate titles: Revenge of the Dead

This is a surprisingly effective film that combines the crime and horror genres. A con artist medium bilks customers and convinces the locals that his house is haunted. But it turns out it really is! It’s a sequel to Bride of the Monster — and much better. Well worth a look!

Night of the Ghouls features Kenne Duncan (The Astounding She-Monster) as Dr Acula — get it?! Also: Valda Hansen, Johnny Carpenter (Outlaw Treasure), and Wood regulars Paul Marco, Tor Johnson, Duke Moore, and Criswell.

There is some question about the copyright status of Night of the Ghouls. But there shouldn’t be because of a number of issues, not the least of which is that the film was distributed in 1960 — admittedly in a minor way. There is a good print with Spanish subtitles on Archive.org. Wade Williams claims to hold the copyright on the film as he has released a good, but overpriced, DVD with no extras to speak of.

The Omega Man (1971)

Producer: Walter Seltzer
Director: Boris Sagal
Screenwriters: John William Corrington & Joyce H Corrington (because of some bad typesetting, the first writer is often listed as “John William”; novel: Richard Matheson)

If you are looking for I Am Legend, you will not find it here. A couple of soap opera writers took Matheson’s idea and ran with it. And it’s a damned fun film! It’s more or less Charlton Heston vs The Family — this was made at peak Manson-mania. But if you like violence, spectacle, and Rosalind Cash, you can’t go wrong. And who among us has not wanted to shoot up Los Angeles with a machine gun? Anthony Zerbe is great as the main bad guy.

Shockingly, a very nice widescreen print is available for free on Archive.org. For less than $15, you can get it on both DVD and Blu-ray. There aren’t much in terms of features, but more than we psychotronic fans have come to expect.

Our Man in Jamaica (1965)

Producer: Ernst Ritter von Theumer and Antonio del Amo
Director: Ernst Ritter von Theumer (as as Richard Jackson)
Screenwriters: Kurt Vogelmann & Antonio del Amo
Other titles: Operation Jamaica, A 001, Operazione Giamaica

Agent 009 has disappeared in Jamaica and Agent 001 is sent to find him. This Spaghetti Spy film is a clear rip-off of Dr No. What’s surprising, however, is that I like it more. Despite Sean Connery’s incessant grinning at the camera, the early Bond pictures don’t have much of a sense of humor to them. That generally isn’t true of the knock-offs, which are quite aware of how silly they are. That’s true here from the first frame where Agent 001 wakes up with a massive hangover.

Other than some questionable day-for-night, this is a well-rendered film. It features some balletic fight scenes and impressive stunt work by Brad Harris (Goliath Against the Giants). The cast spans Italy, America, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and Spain. Featuring Larry Pennell (Bubba Ho-Tep), Margitta Scherr, Wolfgang Kieling (Torn Curtain), and Barbara Valentin (Horrors of Spider Island).

Note: the trailer refers to “Secret Agent Gary” even though there is no such character. It also makes reference to the Dominican Civil War, which happened right before the film was released. There is no mention of it in the film as I recall.

Our Man in Jamaica is copyrighted. However, it is only available on VHS. This is especially a shame given that it is shot in 2.35:1. I’ve only seen it in 4:3 and I can hardly imagine how good it would have looked on the big screen. You can find copies prepared for television floating about.

Poltergeist (1982)

Producers: Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall
Director: Tobe Hooper
Screenwriters: Steven Spielberg and Michael Grais & Mark Victor

A little girl communicates with dead people via a television. Eventually, she is kidnapped to the other side. Luckily, Zelda Rubinstein comes to the rescue. A very good horror fill with lots of clever social critique. It’s not one of my favorite Tobe Hooper films but it is good. Did Steven Spielberg direct this? It’s too filled with Hooper’s obsessions and sensibilities. Like Spielberg would ever put in daddy reading Reagan: The Man the President. But you don’t have to get Hooper’s little jabs at society to enjoy this well-made little horror film. Starring JoBeth Williams and man who the government never helped out when he was on food stamps and welfare, Craig T Nelson. Also starring the psychotronic hero James Karen.

It is copyrighted. I have it on an old DVD and it’s okay. The video quality could be better. I would assume the 2008 Blu-ray is better.

Poltergeist (2015)

Producers: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Roy Lee
Director: Gil Kenan
Screenwriters: David Lindsay-Abaire

Don’t listen to the haters; this is a good film. The problem is that it isn’t nearly as good as the original and isn’t as good as most of the films listed here. But I wouldn’t avoid it. Just the same, don’t seek it out. All the interesting subtext of the original is gone. And a week after watching it, you will probably remember the original better. Starring Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris.

It is copyrighted. The DVD looks great. There is also a Blu-ray but really, why?

The Psychotronic Man (1980)

Producer: Peter Spelson
Director: Jack M Sell
Screenwriters: Peter Spelson & Jack M Sell
Our Review: The Film That Named a Genre

This is an underrated gem. It shows the dark side of having superpowers. And producer/co-writer Peter Spelson in the title role has a fragility that is really compelling. The film is edited at a slow burn, so give it time. At first, it’s just the story of a drunk. But you don’t have too long for some cool stuff. See the film that named a genre!

The Psychotronic Man is copyrighted. But you can find it everywhere. It’s usually on YouTube. And most streaming services offer it. You can also get a reasonable print on DVD. The problem with all of these copies is that they have a 4:3 aspect ration, whereas the actual film was 2.35:1. The release cut was also 10 minutes longer. Both these cuts were doubtless made for TV. I’d really like to see the film in its original form one day.

The Raven (1963)

Producer/Director: Roger Corman
Screenwriter: Richard Matheson
Our Review: Roger Corman Poe Cycle

The Raven is one of my favorite horror comedies. It has nothing to do with the poem, of course. But it’s hard not to have fun hanging out for an hour and a half with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein). It isn’t quite up to the best of the other Poe Cycle films (eg, The Masque of the Red Death), but it’s still good. Jack Nicholson plays Lorre’s son. (Sure. Why not?)

This film is in the public domain and Archive.org has a fabulous copy. I can’t recommend any discs. There is a Blu-ray that looks good, but it has Region B/2 encoding. The Vincent Price Collection 2 is probably worth checking out.

Scum of the Earth! (1963)

Producer: David F Friedman
Director/Screenwriter: Herschell Gordon Lewis

This is the film shot just days after Blood Feast. It’s an underappreciated gem. The story revolves around a pornography ring and traps young women and even a photographer into doing work they wouldn’t normally. As Samuel L Jackson would say, they are the weak. Much of the film is hard to watch with off-camera rape and murder. But it builds to a heartwarming ending where even the weak find redemption. Generally considered the first Roughie.

Mal Arnold, who played a 60 year-old just the week before, plays a teenager here. William Kerwin is his usual fabulous self as Harmon the blackmailed photographer, and Lewis’ wife, Allison Louise Downe, plays the principal female (she’s not as good an actor as she is a writer).

If Blood Feast is in the public domain, then certainly Scum of the Earth! is. Regardless, no one has uploaded it to Archive.org. You can usually find it on YouTube or DailyMotion. The only version of this film by itself is a DVD-R — not recommended. It is usually paired with other films: Blood Feast, The Defilers, and Night Tide.

Shock Corridor (1963)

Producer/Director/Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller

I’m a big fan of Samuel Fuller. He was perhaps the best independent filmmaker from the 1960s into the 1980s. He is best known for this film, however. It’s about a reporter who gets committed to a mental hospital in order to solve a murder that has taken place there. In the process, he meets a number of colorful inmates. It features Fuller’s usual humanitarian take on the subject. But mostly, it is simply great filmmaking.

Featuring Peter Breck (The Crawling Hand), Constance Towers (The Naked Kiss), Gene Evans (The Steel Helmet), James Best (The Killer Shrews), and Hari Rhodes (Detroit 9000).

Shock Corridor does not appear to be in the public domain. However, any psychotronic fan should really own it. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD versions are excellent. But they are a tad weak on extras.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Producer: Jeffrey Konvitz and Ami Artzi
Director: Theodore Gershuny
Screenwriters: Theodore Gershuny and Jeffrey Konvitz & Ira Teller
Other titles: Night of the Full Dark Moon; Death House

This is one of the first films that Lloyd Kaufman had anything to do with. Given that he is (1) the biggest son of a bitch in the low budget industry and (2) most praised for having no managerial involvement with Zombiegeddon, you can make up your own mind as to how this affects your view of Silent Night, Bloody Night. Overall, this is a pretty engaging slasher film. And I’m not just saying that because Patrick O’Neal gets hacked to death at the 29-minute mark even though he is supposedly the star. But if you doubt me, I recommend you skip to the 29-minute mark and then I dare you to tell me that isn’t a damned cool double-murder.

The male star of the film is James Patterson (In the Heat of the Night). He went from Tony-award-winning actor, to Silent Night, Bloody Night star, to death by cancer at only 40. Actors: beware your choices! (That’s wrong of me. His death was tragic.) Other notables: John Carradine, Walter Abel (First Offenders), Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul), and other Andy Warhol “Superstars.”

The film is in the public domain with a decent print available on Archive.org. If you want it on DVD, you should get the Film Chest restored version, which, while a bit pricey, is excellent.

Son of Kong (1933)

Producer/Director: Ernest B Schoedsack
Screenwriter: Ruth Rose

This is a silly film. But it does answer a big question that remains at the end of King Kong: is anyone going to hold Carl Denham responsible for the mess he’s created? And the answer is: yes! Son of Kong starts with him hiding out from people who want to sue him. And when he learns that he will be indicted the next day, he and the captain from the first film head out to sea. Unfortunately, they just can’t resist Skull Island. It’s all played for laughs — kind of like Beethoven but with a giant gorilla. And it’s also filled with huge amounts of 1933-era racism!

The film also has an economic-political bent. Right before arriving at Skull Island, the crew mutiny. They get rid of the officers and create a worker-run ship. It’s probably most remarkable in that the film doesn’t make the crew look bad. There’s really no judgment one way or the other.

The film features a number of actors from King Kong such as Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher, and Victor Wong. Also of note is Helen Mack, who had a remarkable career spanning silent films, radio, and into television. She is mostly known as a writer.

The film is in the public domain and there is an excellent copy on Archive.org. You can get it on disc with King Kong. Otherwise, I’m not sure it is worth having on disc.

Spider Baby (1967)

Producer: Paul Monka & Gil Lasky
Director/Screenwriter: Jack Hill
Other titles: The Maddest Story Ever Told

This is Jack Hill’s masterpiece — which is saying something. A horror comedy that is consistently funny, it tells the story of three children (Sid Haig, Jill Banner, and Beverly Washburn) who have a unique disease that causes them to regress as they age. They partake in cannibalism, murder, and general oddness. Cared for by their chauffeur (Lon Chaney Jr) after the death of their father, the rest of the family have come to take them away. And that won’t do! Ultimately, this is one of the sweetest films you’ll ever see. It is also deeply disturbing.

It also features Carol Ohmart (House on Haunted Hill) and Mantan Moreland (the Sidney Toler Charlie Chan films). Jill Banner died in a car crash when she was only 35. Marlon Brando apparently said that she was the love of his life. They were a couple when she died.

The film is in the public domain and there is an excellent print on Archive.org. The older DVDs don’t have video quality notably better than the Archive.org copy. But the director’s cut has a lot of notable extras. You are better off with the Arrow Video Blu-ray/DVD version, which has a bunch of extras. I assume it has an excellent quality transfer (given that it was released 3 years after the Academy Film Archive created a number of high-quality prints).

Stereo (1969)

Producer/Director/Writer: David Cronenberg

This was David Cronenberg’s first feature film: a 60-minute black-and-white MOS with voice over. It claims to be an educational film about people who are turned into psychics. They are encouraged to experiment sexually to increase their psychic powers. It’s sort of the ur-Scanners and definitely foreshadows most of Cronenberg’s career. It’s gorgeous to look at and disturbing to watch. You know: a David Cronenberg film!

Stereo features a number of actors who you might know from later Cronenberg films. The main one is Jack Messinger. But the acting is really not the point of the film.

The film is copyrighted although you can often find it online. But the good news is that you may already own it. For example, it is on the Criterion Collect Scanners — which you really should own! The Blue Underground release of Fast Company includes Stereo and Crimes of the Future. You could also get David Cronenberg’s Early Works, which includes those two along with his first two short films Transfer and From the Drain.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Producer: Melvin Van Peebles & Jerry Gross
Director/Screenwriter: Melvin Van Peebles

“Rated X by an all-white jury.” Also, well, there are still parts of this film that might make you uncomfortable. But this is an incredible film. It’s a simple “man on the run” story. But it is filled with so much grit and directorial brilliance that it is hard not to love. If you’re white, check your privilege and don’t pretend you know anything after watching it. It’s a fun film that tips many of the tropes of this genre on their heads. Watch Melvin Van Peebles eat a live lizard!

Film is under copyright and well protected. Generally, the commercial releases are of mediocre quality. Thankfully, the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray is available. It’s wonderful. There is also a combo package with Blu-ray and DVD. The two are usually the same price, so why not? Don’t mistakenly purchase the DVD-only version; it isn’t from Vinegar Syndrome. As I write this, both the Blu-ray and combo packages are less expensive. Don’t get tricked into buying a lesser copy for more!

Theatre of Blood (1973)

Producers: Gustave Berne & Sam Jaffe and John Kohn & Stanley Mann
Director: Douglas Hickox
Screenwriters: Anthony Greville-Bell (based on idea by Mann and Kohn)
Other titles: Theater of Blood

Revenge doesn’t get any better. Vincent Price plays a “vigorous” Shakespearean actor who kills all his critics using scenes from the plays. Price delights in the many parts he gets to play. Diana Rigg plays his devoted daughter. The cast is filled out with many of the shining lights of British character actors. Of particular note is Coral Browne who gets a wonderfully grisly death. Robert Morley wins the prize for the most disgusting death. I don’t see how this film can be better. I watch it at least once a month to cheer myself up. (No living writer doesn’t occasionally need to watch a bunch of critics murdered!)

Theatre of Blood is copyrighted. The commercial copies have always been of good quality. Recently, Arrow Video put out a 1080p Blu-ray that features a commentary by the cast of The League of Gentlemen. Truthfully, this film deserves a proper academic commentary with all the literary allusions and details about the actors. But this is the best treatment the film has yet received. There is a very cheap DVD, although I haven’t checked it. The ultimate way to get it, I still think, is the MGM Midnight Movies double feature of Theatre of Blood & Madhouse.

The Thing (1982)

Producers: David Foster & Lawrence Turman
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: Bill Lancaster based on the novel Who Goes There? by John W Campbell Jr

This is one of John Carpenter’s best films. It has a great, engaging story, wonderful special effects by Rob Bottin and his crew, a great cast, and a fantastic ending. More or less a remake of the excellent The Thing from Another World (1951), it tells the story of a group working in Antarctica that is invaded by a malignant space alien that can take any form it wants. Things get paranoid fast.

The cast is fantastic: Kurt Russell (Escape From New York), Keith David (Platoon), David Clennon (Matinee), Thomas Waites (…And Justice for All), and many more.

The film is not, of course, in the public domain. And you aren’t likely to find it on a video site. It is, however, on a number of compilation DVDs including John Carpenter: Master of Fear 4 Film Collection, which includes Prince of Darkness but sadly not In the Mouth of Madness. (Because why would anyone want the Apocalypse Trilogy in a single package?) There are, unsurprisingly, no DVD extras on this. The Blu-ray Edition and the DVD Collector’s Edition have many features and look great. The Blu-ray is better, however.

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Producers: Howard Hawks
Director: Christian Nyby
Screenwriter: Charles Lederer based on the novel Who Goes There? by John W Campbell Jr

The army go to check out a flying saucer that landed in northern Alaska. Once there, they find a plant-based created with ill-intent that can take on any shape. It’s not as exciting as the 1982 The Thing. And it is saturated with that 1950s can-do Yankee spirit. And instead of the ambiguous ending of the novel, it ends with a typical veiled anti-communist message. Even still, it’s quite an engaging film. It features James Arness (Gunsmoke) and a number of other good television actors.

There is a great print of the original (long) cut on Archive.org. A colorized version around, but it’s the typical “everything is pastels” type and the film is really better in black and white. There are DVD and Blu-ray versions, but I don’t see too much reason to buy them given the Archive.org copy is so good. But I haven’t seen them, and if you have a high-def television, you may want to check out the Blu-ray version. Neither copy offers much in the way of extras.

This Island Earth (1955)

Producer: William Alland
Director: Joseph Newman
Screenwriters: Franklin Coen and Edward G O’Callaghan (based on the novel by Raymond F Jones)

One of the most thoughtful science fiction films of the 1950s, This Island Earth provides an intelligent script, good acting, and state-of-the-art special effects. Not really psychotronic at the time, it definitely is now.

It is in the public domain with a good copy at Archive.org. For fans, there is a DVD.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (2010)

Creators: Anthony Leo, Charles Picco, & Craig David Wallace
Producers: too many
Directors: various, especially James Genn, James Dunnison, and Craig David Wallace
Screenwriters: various, especially Craig David Wallace and Charles Picco
Our review Evil Comes From Canada

“Kicking evil in the nuts — with very mixed results.” This is a hilarious television show (26 episodes) and a final animated film that pulls it all together. Almost every episode is the same: a student has a problem, the Book of Pure Evil appears and solves their problem like the monkey’s paw. The four principal characters act kind of like The Three Investigators who track down the Satanists who run the town. Each episode ends with gallons of blood spilled. It’s very funny. Chris Leavins plays the creepy but fragile guidance counselor and Jason Mewes (Jay of the Kevin Smith films) plays the stoner janitor with a deep secret. This is pure fun. Great party entertainment.

You can find free episodes here and there like on DailyMotion. Or you can rent the final film on Amazon. You can rent episodes (season 1 and season 2) on Amazon. They are also available on DVD: season 1 and season 2. The final film (The End of the End) is sadly only available as a Blu-ray at roughly $35. It has nice extras, but it is deceptive. Everything in on the Blu-ray. Then there is a DVD version of the film. And then there is a CD of music. I’m glad to have it, but I felt decived — especially since the film was financed through GoFundMe. Someday, I assume they will put out a box set. As it is now, the whole show will cost about $55.

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Producer/Director: Dan Curtis
Screenwriters: Richard Matheson and William F Nolan

Karen Black stars in filmed versions of three Richard Matheson short stories — two written by William F Nolan. If this isn’t enough of a horror orgasm for you, they were all produced and directed by Dan “Dark Shadows” Curtis. And it does not disappoint. Each one is a winner with a nice twist. And Black is superb. The last one is what everyone remembers: about an African warrior doll that comes to life, based extremely closely on the story “Prey.” When I watched it at 11-years-old, I was so terrified, I didn’t even notice the revenge joke. If you haven’t seen it, you must; if you have, you should watch it again.

It is available for free in an acceptable print on Archive.org. For psychotronistas, I recommend getting the Special Edition on DVD or Blu-ray. They come with a great transfer and lots of great extras.

Turbo Kid (2015)

Producers: Anne-Marie Gélinas & Ant Timpson & Benoit Beaulieu & Tim Riley
Directors/Screenwriters: Anouk Whissell & François Simard & Yoann-Karl Whissell
Our Review: Turbo Kid: Gory Post-Apocalyptic Nostalgia

“Mad Max on a BMX!” A post-apocalyptic action-comedy centering around a teen (Munro Chambers) who scavenges for water, food, and cool gadgets from the 1980s before life went to hell. He is joined by Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) and Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), an arm-wrestling cowboy Kiwi. They join forces to defeat Michael Ironside, who is particularly badass in this film. It’s a lot like eating a whole quart of Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche — yes, it isn’t exactly edifying but it’s so good! If you must hide away while watching it, we understand.

Turbo Kid seem always to be available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, so check there. There is a 3-disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition for those who really like it. It is available on DVD. Be careful about region. Currently, the NTSC version is very expensive.

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Producer: David F Friedman
Director/Screenwriter: Herschell Gordon Lewis

After the success of Blood Feast, Friedman and Lewis decided to do it again — but well. In some ways, they improved it and in other ways, they hurt it. The film is notable for starting the “Yankees trapped by Southern psychopaths” subgenre of horror. And the story is good with fine acting and much production value. Where the film falls down is in the gore department. There’s very little of it and what is there doesn’t compare to Blood Feast. But don’t let that dissuade you from this fine film.

The combination of friendly southern hospitality with homicidal intent will keep you glued to the screen. Connie Mason is much better in this film than in Blood Feast — perhaps owing to maturity or help by her co-star and husband William Kerwin. Jeffrey Allen as the mayor is wonderful. The original title of the film was “10,000 Maniacs,” but they didn’t have enough extras. Regardless, the band took its name from this film (Natalie Merchant is reportedly a big movie fan).

Two Thousand Maniacs! was copyrighted after a law change and will likely be “protected” for long after I’m dead. I recommend getting Something Weird’s Blood Trilogy Blu-Ray, which also includes Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red. You could also get Something Weird’s DVD, but the Arrow Video Blu-ray is better (though more expensive).

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

Producer: Charles S Swartz
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Screenwriters: Maurice Jules and Stephanie Rothman & Charles S Swartz

This is one of Stephanie Rothman’s greatest films — produced and co-written with her husband, Charles Swartz. Rothman was one of the few female exploitation filmmakers in the 1960s. Sadly, Hollywood never took her seriously. She tried to break into TV directing but there were no offers, even though her work is great.

The Velvet Vampire was on the cutting edge of the “lesbian vampire” films, even though it would be more accurate to call this a “bisexual vampire” film. It’s visually stunning even though, if you look hard, you can see how this film was made on a budget. It starts with a wonderful scene of an attempted rape of the title character. You can imagine what happens. But it is impressive throughout. Starring Celeste Yarnall (Beast of Blood) in the title role plus Michael Blodgett (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and Sherry E DeBoer (as Sherry Miles).

This film is not in the public domain. You can find it around, though. But you are best to buy the Vampires, Mummies and Monsters Collection — Roger Corman Cult Classics. The individual DVDs of The Velvet Vampire are not good. This one comes with an okay commentary with Celeste Yarnall. And you get Lady Frankenstein (1971), Time Walker (1982), and Grotesque (1988).

Videodrome (1983)

Producer: Claude Héroux
Director/Screenwriter: David Cronenberg

James Woods is the executive of a small UHF station who is looking for the next new thing. He finds it in Videodrome — a video series that consists of nothing but torture porn. He soon learns that his contact with it is killing him and allowing others to control (program) him. This is probably Cronenberg’s masterpiece. It’s a surreal journey into madness or things to come. Or maybe just Facebook.

It is best to get the Criterion Collection version on DVD or Blu-ray. Earlier releases did not use the full-length of widescreen televisions.

The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

Producer: Nina Schulman
Director/Screenwriter: Milton Moses Ginsberg

Dean Stockwell is the US president’s assistant press secretary. He is bitten by a werewolf while still working in Hungary. While at the White House, people start dying and no one will believe that it is him. This film is a hilarious takedown of the Nixon White House. But even without knowing that, the film is quite funny. It’s never particularly scary, however. It features notable actors like Thayer David (Dark Shadows), Clifton James (Live and Let Die), Biff McGuire (Serpico), and especially Michael Dunn (The Wild Wild West).

This film is in the public domain. Unfortunately, these copies are terrible. What’s more, many commercial DVDs of the film are nothing more than public domain copies. Beware! (I’ll try to locate a copy I feel is worth recommending.) Check YouTube. As I write this, there is an acceptable copy there. I have yet to see a copy that wasn’t cropped to 4:3.

Willard (1973)

Producer: Mort Briskin
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenwriter: Gilbert Ralston based on Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks.

Willard is a wonderful film, even if I don’t like the ending. You probably know it — it was a big hit. Willard is a social outcast so he makes friends with rats — especially two: Socrates and Ben. But Willard goes a little crazy after his mother dies. This leads up to the most spectacular moment where he confronts his awful boss and has his rat friends kill him. Unfortunately, Willard turns on the rats — killing the rest that are at home. But Ben knows and so you know what happens next.

The film featured some great actors. Ernest Borgnine as the horrible boss. Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein) as Willard’s mother. And Bruce Davison as Willard.

The film is not in the public domain, but you can normally find it on YouTube or DailyMotion. But you owe it to yourself to get the Shout! Factory Blu-ray/DVD edition which has a very good print along with a great transfer and a commentary with Bruce Davison.

Without a Clue (1988)

Producer: Jamieson Film Company
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Screenwriters: Gary Murphy & Larry Strawther

This is a standard, moderate budget film starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. So why is it here? Because of the reviews. The critics saw that this was written by a couple of TV comedy writers and they came in eager to hate it. It produced exactly the kind of reverse-engineered reviews that I hate. If you decide to hate Citizen Kane (or just its director), you can — just ask Pauline Kael. So I’m naturally protective of such films.

It’s a reverse Sherlock Holmes story. And it’s silly as can be. It’s a great kids film. That may explain why I still watch it. And it is a constant reminder that if critics hate something it can’t be all bad. Also starring: Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood), Lysette Anthony (Krull), Nigel Davenport (Phase IV), Paul Freeman (Hot Fuzz), and Peter Cook (Bedazzled).

Without a Clue is a studio film, so it will be under copyright, well, as long as I’m alive. It is so dismissed that you can find on YouTube and similar sites. If you want to buy it, you can get it on DVD along with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) for very little money. There is also a wide-screen Blu-ray/DVD. Watch out for other versions because pan and scan is common.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *