The TSL’s Horror Drive-In Grindhouse: Attack of the Eye Creatures (dir by Larry Buchanan)


1965’s Attack of the Eye Creatures is an odd little movie.

It starts, as so many bad sci-fi movies do, with Peter Graves narrating about how the government has been keeping an eye on a flying saucers that’s apparently been hovering over the Earth for quite some time.  However, a quick visit to Project Visitor reveals that the soldiers assigned to protect us are more interested in using their monitoring equipment to spy on teenagers making out in their cars!

Agck!

EWWWWWW!

Total invasion of privacy!

Of course, what’s particularly sad about the whole thing is that you know that’s totally what would happen in real life as well.  Give a group of people the power to spy on anyone in the world?  Of course they’re going to end up spying on people fooling around in cars!  That’s one reason why Earth is just as doomed today as it was in 1966.

Anyway, the flying saucer does eventually land.  Unfortunately, our government is too incompetent to do anything about it.  The aliens inside turn out to be …. well, not that impressive.  For one thing, they don’t speak.  There are none of the grandiose threats to conquer the world that we’ve come to expect from aliens.  At the same time, we also don’t have to hear about how the rest of the universe is disappointed in us for polluting our planet and blowing each other up so that’s a good thing.  So often, intergalactic visitors can be so judgmental!  Anyway, these aliens are lumpy and gray and they’ve got several eyes.  They don’t really look that impressive.  Seriously, check this jerk out:

As I said, the government turns out to be pretty useless when it comes to battling the aliens and the local police are skeptical that any intergalactic visitors would bother to land in their crappy little town.  Fortunately, as always happens whenever the controlling legal authorities fail to do their job, there are teenagers and they’re willing to do what needs to be done to protect the world!

Of course, if Stan (John Ashley) and Susan (Cynthia Hull) are going to rally the troops against the aliens, they’re going to have to borrow someone’s phone.  That’s going to mean convincing the local old man to let them use his phone.  The old man, who has had enough of those crazy kids with all their kissing and the jazzy lingo, is more interested in using his shotgun to keep people off his lawn.

Meanwhile, two drunks decide that they want to get in on all this alien business.  They both later die and no one in the movie seems to care.  That’s just the type of movie that this is….

….and if it sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen the 1957 drive-in classic, Invasion of the Saucer Men!  Basically, in the mid-60s, American International Pictures commissioned Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan to remake some of their most successful drive-in films.  Apparently, the plan was to sell them to television.  So, Buchanan took the script for Saucer Men, tossed in some scenes of the government spying on people (Buchanan was a noted conspiracy theorist who previously directed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald), and called his film Attack Of the Eye Creatures!

Yet, while Invasion of the Saucer Men was a genuinely clever sci-fi satire, Attack of the Eye Creatures is done in by Buchanan’s inability to keep his story moving at a steady pace and it doesn’t help that the iconic Saucer Men have been replaced by men who appear to be wearing trash bags.  Attack of the Eye Creatures is an unfortunate remake and one that should be viewed only after you’ve watched Invasion of the Saucer Men and maybe every other public domain sci-fi film that’s currently on YouTube.

Under the Sea: Goliath Awaits (1981, directed by Kevin Connor)


1939.  War is breaking out across Europe.  The British luxury liner Goliath is torpedoed by a German U-boat.  Presumed to be lost with the ship are a swashbuckling film star, Ronald Bentley (John Carradine), and U.S. Senator Oliver Barthowlemew (John McIntire), who may have been carrying a forged letter from Hitler to Roosevelt when the boat went down.

1981.  Oceanographer Peter Cabot (Mark Harmon, with a mustache) comes across the sunken wreck of the Goliath.  When he dives to check out his discovery, he is shocked to hear big band music coming from inside the ship.  He also thinks that he can hear someone tapping out an S.O.S. signal.  When he looks into a porthole, he is stunned to discover a beautiful young woman (Emma Samms) staring back at him.

Under the command of Admiral Sloan (Eddie Albert), who wants to retrieve the forged letter before it does any damage to the NATO alliance, Cabot and Command Jeff Selkirk (Robert Forster) are assigned to head an expedition to explore Goliath.  What they discover is that, for 40 years, the passengers and crew have survived within an air bubble.  Under the leadership of Captain John McKenzie (Christopher Lee), they have created a new, apparently perfect society within the sunken ship.  Cabot discovers that the woman that he saw was McKenzie’s daughter, Lea.

McKenzie is friendly to Cabot and his crew, explaining to them the scientific developments that have allowed the passengers and crew to not only survive but thrive underwater.  The only problems are a group of outcasts — the Bow People — who refuse to follow McKenzie’s orders and Palmer’s Disease, an infection that only seems to infect people who are no longer strong enough to perform the daily tasks necessary to keep McKenzie’s utopia functioning.   Even when people on the boat die, they continue to play their part by being cremated in Goliath’s engine room and helping to power the ship.

Everything seems perfect until Cabot announces that he has come to rescue the survivors of the Goliath.  Even though Goliath is starting to decay and will soon no longer be safe, McKenzie is not ready to give up the perfect society that he’s created.  McKenzie sets out to prevent anyone from escaping the Goliath.

Goliath Awaits is a massive, 3-hour production that was made for television and originally aired over two nights.  (The entire 200-minute production has been uploaded to YouTube.  Avoid the heavily edited, 91-minute version that was released on VHS in the 90s.)  It’s surprisingly good for a made-for-TV movie.  Because a large portion of the film was shot on the RMS Queen Mary, a retired cruise ship that was moored in Long Beach, California, Goliath looks luxurious enough that you understand why some of the passengers might want to stay there instead of returning to the surface.  Beyond that, Goliath Awaits takes the time to fully explore the society that McKenzie has created and what it’s like to live on the ship.  McKenzie may not be as benevolent as he first appears to be but neither is he a one-dimensional villain.

Mark Harmon is a dull lead but Robert Forster is just as cool as always and Christopher Lee is perfect for the role of misguided Capt. McKenzie.  The movie is really stolen by Frank Gorshin, who is coldly sinister as Dan Wesker, the Goliath’s head of security.  McKenzie may by Goliath’s leader but Wesker is the one who does the dirty work necessary to keep the society running.

Goliath Awaits also features several character actors in small roles, with John Carradine, Duncan Regehr, Jean Marsh, John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Alex Cord, Emma Samms, and John Ratzenberger all getting to make a good impression.  (Ignore, if you can, a very young Kirk Cameron as one of the children born on the Goliath.)

Goliath Awaits is far better than your average made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  With any luck, it will someday get the home video release that it deserves.

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (Universal 1942)


cracked rear viewer

Universal followed up THE MUMMY’S HAND with 1942’s THE MUMMY’S TOMB, casting their new horror sensation Lon Chaney Jr. in the role of the undead Kharis. But it didn’t really matter who was under all those bandages, Karloff , Chaney, Tom Tyler, or Lou Costello (okay, maybe not Costello), the part is just a non-entity used to further the plot along, and the new film was almost completely scuttled by a bad performance from Turhan Bey as the latest High Priest of Karnak, Mehemet Bey.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB kicks off with Dick Foran under Jack Pierce’s old age makeup relating the tale of finding Princess Ananka’s tomb thirty years ago to his son John (John Hubbard), John’s fiancé Isobel (Elyse Knox, mother of NCIS star Mark Harmon), and sister Aunt Jane (Mary Gordon ). Or rather, stock footage from the previous film tells the tale, which takes up about 15…

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Italian Horror Showcase: Torso (dir by Sergio Martino)


Oh my God, this film freaks me out!

Listen, I’ve watched a lot of Italian horror films.  I know how violent they can be.  I know how gory they can be.  I know how sordid they can be.  I know how disturbing they can be.  It’s not like I sat down and watched Torso with virgin eyes.  But with all that in mind, Sergio Martino’s 1973 giallo still totally freaks me out!

Why does it freak me out?

Well, it’s going to be hard to really explain it without spoiling the movie’s biggest twist.  It occurs about halfway through the film and it totally took me by surprise when it happened.  Suddenly, Torso went from being just another film about a seemingly unstoppable murderer to becoming a tension-filled game of cat and mouse.  So, I’m going to discuss the movie but I’m going to give a spoiler alert before I talk about the twist and, if you’ve never seen Torso before, you should stop reading and you should discover what happens for yourself.

Torso takes place in Perugia, Italy.  During the day, it’s a beautiful city that’s surrounded by a beautiful countryside.  The nearby University of Perguia seemse to be exclusively populated by beautiful students, including American exchange student Jane (Suzy Kendall) and her best friend, the wealthy Daniela (Tina Aumont), and beautiful instructors, like the rather opinionated Art History teacher, Franz (John Richardson).

But at night, Perugia changes.  The countryside around the university becomes considerably less beautiful.  A masked killer stalks through the fog-covered woods, carrying with him a knife and an endless supply of red scarves.  He kills anyone that he comes across in the wilderness, including one of Jane and Daniela’s friends!

With everyone panicking about the serial killer in their midst, the ineffectual police investigate the usual sordid collection of suspects but with little success.  Daniela, meanwhile, thinks that she may have seen the killer and, for her own safety, she, Jane, and their friends all go to her family’s villa for the holiday weekend.

And then….

(SPOILER ALERT)

(SPOILER ALERT)

(SPOILER ALERT)

Jane breaks her ankle and is given a sedative by the local doctor.  This knocks Jane out for the night and when she finally wakes up, she discovers that all of her friends have been murdered and the killer is still in the villa!  Fortunately, he doesn’t realize that Jane’s in the villa as well.  Unfortunately, he’s also locked all the doors and the windows, so that he can have the privacy necessary to dispose of the bodies.  For the rest of the film, Jane has to try to get someone to notice that she’s trapped in the villa without drawing the attention of the killer.  Needless to say, this proves even more difficult than it sounds.

Torso is often dismissed as being a lesser giallo, particularly when it’s compared to some of Sergio Martino’s later contributions to the gnre.  While Torso might not feature as complex a plot as some of Martino’s other films (and you’ll probably guess the killer’s identity long before the film reveals it), it does feature a second act that is so nerve-wracking and suspenseful that I barely breathed while watching it.  Visually, Martino does an excellent job of contrasting the beauty of the outside world with the horrors inside the villa and both Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont give good and sympathetic performances in the lead roles.

Torso totally gave me nightmares but I’d watch it again.

Horror Film Review: The Curse of the Werewolf (dir by Terence Fisher)


The 1961 Hammer film, The Curse of the Werewolf, is a good example of a film that could succeed on casting alone.

As you can probably guess from the title, this film is about a werewolf.  And there was never an actor more perfect for the role of a werewolf than Oliver Reed.  Set aside Reed’s legendary reputation for wild off-set behavior.  Set aside the fact that Reed specialized in playing men who often seemed to have a beast lurking deep within them, a beast that was constantly bursting out.  With his handsome but scarred face and his burly physique, Oliver Reed looked like a wolf.  If I had to sit down and paint a picture of how I visualized a man who transformed into a beast, the picture would probably end up looking like Oliver Reed.

In fact, Reed is so perfectly cast in this film that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he doesn’t even show up until the last quarter or so of the film.  Clocking in at a relatively leisurely-paced 91 minutes, The Curse of the Werewolf plays out more like an extremely grim fairy tale than a traditional horror film.

It begins in 18th century Spain, with a beggar stumbling across the wedding of a cruel nobleman.  When the beggar asks for food, he’s mocked.  He’s cruelly forced to beg and then, for his trouble, he’s thrown into jail.  Isolated from the world, the beggar’s only human contact comes from his kindly jailer and the jailer’s mute daughter.  When the nobleman tries to force himself on the daughter, he’s rejected.  As a result, he throws the jailer’s daughter into the cell with the now animalistic beggar.  When she’s eventually released, she promptly murders the nobleman but she’s now pregnant with the beggar’s child.

That child is named Leon Corledo and eventually, he’ll become Oliver Reed.  But first, we watch as he grows up, the adopted son of the kindly Don Alfredo (Clifford Evans).  Alfredo’s housekeeper considers Leon to be cursed because he was born on Christmas Day and his mother died in childbirth.  Alfredo may dismiss that as a silly superstition but, as Leon grows up, strange things do happen.  Goats are murdered and, even though a dog is blamed, we know that it has something to do with Leon.

Yes, Leon is a werewolf but interestingly enough, it’s not the full moon that transforms Leon into a beast.  Instead, it’s stress and depression.  When Leon grows up and goes to work in vineyard, he’s fine until he realizes that he’ll probably never be a rich man like his boss and he’ll never have enough money to marry Christina (Catherine Feller).  That’s when he loses control and transformed.

The Curse of the Werewolf is a dark and moody film, directed in an appropriately atmospheric fashion by Terence Fisher.  Leon is one of the more tragic Hammer monsters, having been born with an affliction that he can’t control and which no one else is capable of understanding.  Oliver Reed gives a wonderful performance, revealing the tortured soul that lurks underneath the fearful exterior.  This Hammer film may not be as well-known as the Dracula or Frankenstein films but it’s definitely one that deserves to be seen.

Horror on the Lens: Killers From Space (dir by W. Lee Wilder)


Today’s horror on the lens is Killers From Space, a 1954 film about …. well, killers from space!

Like a lot of 1950s sci-fi films, this one features Peter Graves as a properly grave-voiced scientist.  It’s about some googly-eyed aliens who abduct people and force them to reveal America’s nuclear secrets!  This low-budget, independent film has quite a pedigree.  It was directed by Billy Wilder’s brother and written by his nephew, Myles.

Enjoy!

Halloween Havoc!: INVISIBLE AGENT (Universal 1942)


cracked rear viewer

INVISIBLE AGENT could very well have been subtitled “The Invisible Man vs The Nazis”! This is the only Universal Horror that addresses the topic of the war in Europe (despite the fact most of them take place in Europe!), and though there aren’t many scares going on, Curt Siodmak’s sci-fi flavored screenplay, John P. Fulton’s fantastic special effects, and a cast featuring Peter Lorre in his only Universal Horror appearance make this one of the most enjoyable movies of the whole bunch!

Frank Griffin, grandson of the original Invisible Man, is living in London under the assumed name Frank Raymond and running a small printing shop. A gang of Axis creeps led by Gestapo spymaster Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito pay him a call, demanding his grandfather’s secret of invisibility, which of course they want to use for their own nefarious purposes. Frank manages to escape their clutches, and goes…

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