By Whitney Scott Bain
“THE CRAWLING HAND” 1963. Directed by Herb Strock.
An astronaut retuning from space is taken over by an alien entity and self-destructs his spacecraft with only his arm surviving through re-entry landing on a California beach. Soon, the arm goes on a killing spree mentally taking over a local teen that continues the heinous crimes. Its up to Sheriff Townsend (Alan Hale, Jr. from Gilligan’s Island fame.) and two scientists to stop the creature. Great pop music featuring the “Papa-Ooh-Mau-Mau” song (the “Bird Is the Word” by the “Trashmen.”), good effects on a budget, the world’s worst paramedics going to a home, loading up the possessed body on a gurney then searching the refrigerator for beer, flesh eating alley cats and a mean old man who hates kids dancing in his restaurant, but has a hot Swedish girlfriend. Go figure…
“CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER” 1962 Directed by Albert Zugsmith.
Opium, chopsticks and midgets what more could you ask for? A surreal film that has to be seen! Part horror, part Raymond Chandler, part adventure. Thomas De Quincy’s grandson, Gilbert De Quincy (Vincent Price in a superb role!) gets involved in big trouble in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880’s which in reality is the cleverly, re-dressed Allied Artists western back lot that was in Hollywood. De Quincy shares Confucius colloquialisms, breaks up a slave ring, fights creatures, gets involved in a Tong war, discovers secret passages and teams up with a wise-cracking midget while falling in love! Albert Glasser ‘s hypnotic, electronic score adds to the weirdness. No doubt John Carpenter saw this film as the template for his Big Trouble In Little China.
“MANGLED” 1976. Directed by Bill Meddler.
An ultra-rare, grindhouse movie from Cinerama Releasing that’s worth searching for, if you can find it. I saw this film during its original release at the now defunct Fox Venice Theater when it was a revival house. This theater was so bad with fights breaking out all the time between gang members that two armed security guards were hired to patrol the aisles! Vietnam vet Cassidy Wylder (Joe Marcus), now a big game hunter, goes after a man-eating, psycho bear that’s a killing machine. Mutilated corpses abound in the woods that lead him on a trail to this demented Smokey the Bear. Effects are great and the story is all over the map but, who cares? It’s entertaining! With bullets having no effect on the beast, Wylder decides its time to play dirty and straps on a flamethrower in the finale exploding Smokey into a crispy critter that in reality was the producer’s wife’s fur coat wrapped in explosives! Yowza! They don’t make them like this anymore!
“THE SLIME PEOPLE” 1963. Directed by and starring Robert Horton. Creatures from the sewers of Los Angeles lower the temperature to accommodate their needs encasing the city in a shroud of fog. Pilot Robert Hutton somehow penetrates the area only to find the city deserted except for a scientist, his two daughters and a Marine that ban together in order to defeat the slimy monsters that are pretty creepy looking. Filmed at the defunct KKTV Channel 11Studios in Hollywood on a rumored $50,000 budget it’s a “B” movie treat.
“HORROR HIGH” 1973. Directed by Larry N. Stouffer.
Teen Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Vernon Potts (Brilliantly portrayed by Pat Cardi.) a shy, high school science nerd who gets picked on and abused by his classmates, teachers and even the demented, cackling janitor who loves to give beatings, develops a serum that he tries on his guinea pig, the loveable Mr. Mumps, only to discover its terrifying results. Yet, there’s a ray of shining hope that one girl in the school likes him seeing him for who he is. Having had enough abuse, he’s forced to take the serum himself and becomes a Hyde-like creature taking revenge on his tormentors in some very vengeful ways as an inept police detective (Austin Stoker who was in John Carpenter’s “Assault On Precinct 13”.) tries to solve the murders. Shot on 16mm with a very low budget, the acting, cinematography and story are quite good along with the film’s 70’s guitar score. Horror High was one of the early and better entries into the horror explosion of the 70’s/80’s.
“STREET TRASH” Directed by James M. Munro.
A liquor store owner finds a case of “Tenafly Viper” in his cellar and decides to sell it for a dollar a bottle to the local homeless population causing anyone who drinks it to dissolve from the inside out. Morally wrong and offensive on so many levels, it’s as if National Lampoon magazine made a horror movie. It’s horror/comedy exploitation at its best with scenes of a cop beating a suspect then throwing up on him, one of the funniest animal reactions and a transient who dissolves on a filthy warehouse toilet while flushing himself down the drain. There is no political correctness in this film, nothing is sacred and Munro keeps the quick pacing of the story filled with snappy dialogue from the ensemble cast. Munro went on to become one of Hollywood’s most sought after Steadicam operators working on a selection of Jim Cameron films as well as Point Break.
“BODY MELT” 1993. Directed by Phillip Broady.
This Australian horror/comedy has it all. An experimental vitamin supplement called Vernuville is tested on the small, health conscious community of Pebbles Court with horrifying results with chemical imbalances in their bodies that cause people to explode or implode in some pretty gross scenes. Then there’s the two mentally deficient Australian hillbillies who have their own agenda as the film progresses. Filled with dark comedy and a twisted sense of humor, Body Melt pokes fun at itself regarding the health craze. FX are quite impressive and the cast were all professional actors from daytime soap operas on Australian television.
“CURTAINS” Directed by Richard Ciupka.
Six actresses that include Sondra Currie (Runaways band Cherrie Currie’s older sister.) are invited to the director’s (John Vernon stock company player in Clint Eastwood films and the dean in Animal House.) country home to audition for the part in a movie (sounds suspicious already!). Turns out he gave the role to an older actress (Samantha Eggar) who researched the part by checking into a mental institution where the director abandoned her there. Faster than you can say, “Chi-Chi-Chi-Cherry Bomb,” each of the ingénues are being stalked and killed by a maniac wearing a creepy hag mask. Lots of atmospheric creativity, unique plot twists, a Red Herring and there’s a few spooky, jump-out-of-your-seat shock sequences.
“ALIEN FACTOR” 1978. Directed by Don Dohler.
An alien spaceship crashes in the mountains near Baltimore where three intergalactic zoo animals escape reverting to their predatory behavior that include a Bigfoot wearing Gene Simmons’ Kiss boots, a cockroach-like creature and an invisible monster that finally materializes in an impressive stop-motion sequence. It’s up to Sheriff Cinder (Tom Griffith) and a mysterious stranger (Don Leifert) to stop the rampaging beasts. For a first time effort shot on 16mm, there’s something charming about this film despite its quirkiness and slow pacing. Dohler filmed a sequel 25 years later entitled: Alien Factor II: the Alien Rampage.
“BURN, WITCH, BURN” 1962. Directed by Sidney Hayers.
Based on the book “The Conjure Wife” by Fritz Leiber and screenplay by two of the greatest writers in film history, Charles Beaumont and Richard Mattheson this one of the best British occult/horror movies ever. Psychology teacher Professor Norman Taylor (a great performance by Peter Wyngarde) debunks the occult as hocus-pocus nonsense as he strangely begins his rise to success in the university. Unknown to him, his wife Tansy (another great performance by Janet Blair) is a practicing witch casting spells and helping his career. Once he finds out, skeptic that he is, he has her burn all the magic artifacts declaring it nothing but a silly ancient superstition and this is where the trouble begins as evil forces begin to hatch their plans against him. As Taylor tries to rationally explain the weird events that surround him, he soon becomes a believer, but is it too late? Superior in every aspect this is a movie not to be missed!