Film Review: Last Woman On Earth (dir by Roger Corman)

The title character of the 1960 Roger Corman film, Last Woman On Earth, is Evelyn Gern (Besty Jones-Moreland).  When a vaguely defined apocalypse occurred and apparently wiped out almost every living person on the planet, Evelyn was on vacation in Puerto Rico and scuba diving.  Because she had her own oxygen tank, she was able to survive while everyone on the surface was asphyxiated by a sudden change in the atmosphere.  (Or something like that.  To be honest, I never quite understood what the apocalypse was about or if it had occurred worldwide or just in Puerto Rico.)

Evelyn may potentially be the last woman on Earth but, unfortunately for her, there’s at least two men left.  There’s her husband, Harold (Antony Carbone).  Harold is a brutish businessman who, before the world ended, was constantly under the threat of indictment.  And then there’s Martin (Robert Towne, who also wrote the script), who is Harold’s attorney.  With the world apparently ending, Harold decides that he’s in charge while Martin decides that he’s in love with Evelyn.  Evelyn, for her part, ends up spending a lot of time praying in the local church.  At the end of 71 minutes, someone is dead and the survivors are left to consider an uncertain future.  It’s not a particularly happy film, though, at the same time, it’s not really well-made enough to be that depressing.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that this film opens with everyone watching a cock fight because, despite its title, Last Woman On Earth is all about the extremes to which men will go to assert their authority.  There’s absolutely no reason for Harold and Martin to end up trying to kill each other, beyond the fact that they both want to be in charge and they both want the same woman.  Honestly, though, if you’re one of the last three people on Earth, I would think that you might be inspired to rethink certain traditional and patriarchal concepts.  That, of course, doesn’t happen in Last Woman On Earth.  It’s hard not to be disappointed with the fact that, even with society no longer existing, Evelyn’s reaction to most conflict is to retreat to the background and let the man fight it out among themselves.  I mean, we expect no better from Harold and Martin but Evelyn’s passivity in the face of everything gets rather frustrating very quickly.

Of course, it could be argued that I may be expecting too much from a film that was shot over a week and only made because Corman happened to be shooting another movie in Puerto Rico at the time.  Corman rarely went on location so, when he went down to Puerto Rico to do Creature of the Haunted Sea, he decided to get the most out of the location as he could by shooting a second film.  Screenwriter Robert Towne was cast as Martin because he was already getting paid to write the script while the film was being shot.  By casting Towne, Corman saved money that would have otherwise been spent on a professional actor.  Towne, who is credited as Edward Wain, ends up giving a rather bizarre performance, alternating between stiff underacting and eye-bulging overacting.  You kind of find yourself regretting that apparently it was decided that it would have been too expensive to fly Dick Miller or Peter Graves down to Puerto Rico.

The film doesn’t add up too much, beyond serving as a document of an era’s paranoia about the impending end of the world.  (Two years after the release of this film, the Cuban Missile Crisis would bring the world to the brink of a real-life apocalypse.)  Corman does manage to get a few haunting shots of the deserted streets of San Juan, though one gets the feeling that this would more due to luck than any specific intention on his part.  Last Woman On Earth was released on a double bill with Little Shop of Horrors and, when seen today, it really can’t start to compete with Seymour and his talking plant.

Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Dark Angel (dir by Paul Shapiro)

When we last saw Heaven Casteel (Annalise Basso), she was boarding a bus so that she could leave the backwoods of West Virginia and hopefully live with her mother’s wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dark Angel picks up where Heaven left off, with Heaven arriving at stately and creepy Farthinggale Manor and discovering that the rich are just as fucked up as the poor.  She’s greeted by her stepgrandfather, Tony Tatterton (Jason Priestly), who tries to come across as being friendly but quickly reveals himself to be cold and manipulative.  She also meets her grandmother, Jillian (Kelly Rutherford).  Jillian always has a drink in her hand and worries that Heaven will leave “hill grime” around the house.  Jillian doesn’t want Heaven to stay at the house for too long but Tony manages to change her mind.  Tony tells Heaven that, in order to thank him for his generosity, she’ll basically have to do everything that he says.

For instance, Tony tells Heaven that she is, under no circumstances, to enter the estate’s hedge maze.  (Rich people always have a hedge maze.)  So, of course, Heaven does just that.  She gets lost but eventually, she comes across a small house sitting in the middle of the maze.  Inside the house, a handsome man (played by Jason Cermak) carefully crafts a doll’s face.’

“Excuse me, sir,” Heaven says, “I got lost in your hedge maze!”

“You must be Heaven,” the man replies.

The man it turns out is Troy Tatterton, Tony’s younger brother.  Troy suffers from depression and he’s been exiled to the maze because Jillian can’t stand the sound of dolls be made.  Troy and Heaven soon find themselves falling in love, despite Tony’s demand that Heaven stay out of the maze.

Tony also demands that Heaven stop writing to her family but, of course, Heaven continues to try to reach out to them.  Her siblings aren’t doing quite as well as Heaven.  For instance, one sister is living in a trailer.  Her brother is working at a circus.  And her two youngest siblings are living in Washington, D.C, where they’re undoubtedly surrounded by politicians and interns.  AGCK!  It’s a fate worse than spending the rest of your life brewing moonshine in the hills.

And, while dealing with all of this, Heaven is also trying to graduate from high school and hopefully get into an Ivy League college!  She wants to study literature.  At one point, she explains that her favorite writer is Shakespeare but that she also really loves Fitzgerald.  She says that Fitzgerland “saved the best for last,” with Tender Is The Night.  It was at this point that I yelled, “HIS LAST NOVEL WAS THE LAST TYCOON!” and threw a shoe at the TV. 

Complicating matters even further is the fact that her old backwoods boyfriend, Logan (James Rittinger), is attending college in Boston.  Logan says that he doesn’t want anything to do with Heaven because he’s still angry over everything that happened during the previous movie but it’s pretty obvious that he’s still in love with her.

And then….

Well, listen — a lot happens in Dark Angel.  As opposed to Heaven, Dark Angel is full of twists and turns.  Everyone’s got a deep, dark secret and, at time, it gets a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of it all.  Then again, that’s what makes a film like this fun.  It’s just so over-the-top and implausible that you really can’t help but enjoy watching it all play out.  Every few minutes, someone else is popping up and either taunting Heaven for being from the hills or revealing that they’re actually one of her relatives.  Seriously, this is one messed up family.  The good thing is that Dark Angel seems to be aware of how silly all of the melodrama occasionally is.  The other good thing about Dark Angel is that it mostly involves rich people instead of poor people, which means that, as opposed to the first film, everyone gets to wear nice clothes.

Annalise Basso again makes all of us redheads proud in the role of Heaven but the film is really stolen by Jason Priestley, who appears to be having the time of his life playing the ambiguously evil Tony.  Kelly Rutherford is a bit underused as Jillian but she does get one good scene towards the end of the film and she makes for a stylish drunk.

The sequel to Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts, will air on Lifetime later tonight and hopefully, I’ll have a review of it up on Sunday.  And if I don’t, I guess you’ll just have to spank me like a character in a V.C. Andrews novel….

Double Your Fun With Wheeler & Woolsey: HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE (RKO 1930) & COCKEYED CAVALIERS (RKO 1934)

cracked rear viewer

Welcome back to the wacky world of Wheeler & Woosley! Bert and Bob’s quick quips and silly sight gags kept filmgoers laughing through the pain of the Depression Era, and continue to delight audiences who discover their peculiar type of zaniness. So tonight, let’s take a trip back in time with a double shot of W&W comedies guaranteed to keep you in stitches!

1930’s HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE was their 4th film together, and the first exclusively tailored for their comic talents. In this WWI service comedy, Bert and Bob are a pair of AWOL soldiers on the loose in Paris, chasing girls while in turn being chased by a couple of mean-mugged MP’s (Eddie DeLange, John Rutherford). Bert winds up falling for Dorothy Lee (who appeared in most of their films, almost as a third member of the team), the youngest daughter of cranky Col. Marshall (cranky George MacFarlane)…

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Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Heaven (dir by Paul Shapiro)

So, let’s say that you’re an alcoholic, backwoods hillbilly living in West Virginia.  Everyone in town hates you and your family because, years ago, your father sold a bad batch of moonshine to the mayor’s son.  You’ve got more children than you know what to do with and your wife has just run out on you because she’s blames you for losing her latest baby.  You ain’t got no money and you don’t understand that ain’t no word used by proper folks.  What do you do to make ends meet?

Well, if you’re Luke Casteel (Chris William Martin), you sell your children.  You sell the twins to a couple who can’t have children.  You sell your son to a farmer in Virginia.  You sell one of your daughters to the pervy local priest.  And you keep your oldest daughter, Heaven (Annalise Basso), so that she can clean the house and do the laundry.

Of course, Heaven’s not very happy about this arrangement.  She’s way smarter than the average Casteel and she’s got a crush on a boy at school named Logan Stonewall (James Rittinger).  Everyone keeps telling Logan to stay away from the Casteels and it’s certainly not going to help the family’s reputation once it gets out that Luke’s been selling off his children.

Luke has always resented Heaven, mostly because she’s the daughter of Angel, the only woman that Luke ever truly loved.  Angel was from a rich family in Boston but they disowned her when she married Luke.  Unfortunately, Angel then died giving birth to Heaven.  If that’s not bad enough, Heaven has now grown up to look exactly like her mother which leads to Luke getting drunk and trying to climb into bed with her….


Realizing that Heaven won’t be safe as long as she’s living with him, Luke decides to quit drinking and get his shit together.  JUST KIDDING!  Instead, he decides to sell her too.  He sells her to Kitty (Julie Benz) and Cal (Chris McNally).  Kitty is emotionally unpredictable and alternates between being extremely supportive and extremely cruel.  (She’s also obsessed with keeping her house spotless and really who can blame her?  A house should be clean because you never know who might come by.)  Cal is a sexually frustrated writer who smiles every time that he’s alone with Heaven.

Can you guess what happens?

Heaven is based on a book by V.C. Andrews, the first part of the five-volume Casteel Saga.  A few years ago, Lifetime had a lot of success when they adapted Flowers In the Attic and its sequels so it only makes sense that they would eventually bring the Casteel Saga to screen.  Heaven has everything that you would expect from both V.C. Andrews and Lifetime — melodrama, over the top dialogue, sex, dysfunctional families, and one victimized girl searching for her destiny.

At first, when I started watching Heaven, the film itself seemed to a bit silly.  I mean, I took one look at Casteels mountain shack and I started laughing because it was seriously the nicest shack that I’ve ever seen in my life.  (On Lifetime, even poor hillbillies live in a big house.)  It was also hard not to be amused about how, every few minutes, some primly-dressed townsperson would pop up and say something like, “Logan Stonewall!  You get away from those Casteels!”  As the film went on, though, it became obvious that the film itself had a very self-aware sensibility.  It understood that it was an over-the-top, frequently ludicrous melodrama so, instead of trying to trick us into believing it to be anything else, it instead embraced the melodramatic label and everything that it implied.  This is not a film that’s mean to be taken seriously.  Instead, for the first hour or so, it’s a bit of a self-aware parody.  It’s like Winter’s Bone directed by Paul Feig.

The second half of the film, which finds Heaven living with Kitty and Cal, has a bit more of an edge to it, largely due to Julie Benz’s wonderfully unhinged performance as Kitty.  Benz brings a jolt of real menace to both the role and the film itself.  That’s a good thing because winking at the audience and letting them know that you’re in on the joke can only take you so far.  Julie Benz shows up and basically announces, “Yes, this may be an overheated adaptation of a V.C. Andrews novel but don’t even think about letting your guard down!”

All in all, it makes for an entertaining Lifetime film.  While it may not be a powerful as Flowers in the Attic, it still holds your attention and Annalise Basso gives a good and sympathetic performance as Heaven.  Myself, I related to Heaven because we both have red hair.  Seriously, it’s not always being a redhead.

Heaven was followed by Dark Angel, which I’ll be reviewing later today.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/04/2019 – 08/10/2019, Julia Gfrorer

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Densely atmospheric, detailed yet scratchy, erotically charged, Gothic in the truest sense of the word, and falling along a stylistic continuum somewhere between Edgar Allen Poe and Dame Darcy, cartoonist Julia Gfrorer (perhaps best known for her Fantagraphics-published Laid Waste and Black Is The Color) is a true autuer, someone whose vision, and well as its means of expression, are entirely and uniquely her own — even, perhaps paradoxically, when she’s not working alone, as is the case with her occasional collaborations with writer Sean T. Collins. For purposes of this week’s Round-Up, though, we’ll be concentrating on some examples of her solo work, specifically four extraordinary minis she self-published under her Thuban Press imprint —

I can sum up To Dark To See best, I think, with the words “haunting as fuck” because, whaddya know, it’s about fucking and haunting. And mistrust. And psychologically abusive relationships. And…

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Music Video Of The Day: Dreamworld by Midnight Oil (1987, directed by ????)

One of the most popular bands to ever come out of Australia, Midnight Oil is known for their energetic protest songs.  In Dreamworld, which was the last single to be released off of Diesel and Dust, Midnight Oil protested what they viewed as being the destruction of Queensland’s heritage under Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Belke-Petersen, who served as premier from 1968 to 1987, remains a controversial figure in the history of Australia.  He was viewed by many as being a corrupt authoritarian who held onto power by disenfranchising urban voters.  At the same time, during the time that Belke-Petersen was premier, Queensland underwent significant economic development.

Unfortunately, much of that development involved demolishing many of Queensland’s best-known historical locales.  Among those was the Cloudland Dance Hall, which had previously hosted Buddy Holly in 1985 and, years later, Midnight Oil themselves.  The song, itself, was named after Queensland’s Dreamworld theme park, which can be spotted briefly in the song’s music video.