Film Review: Not Of This Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Originally released in 1957, Roger Corman’s Not Of This Earth is about a man named Mr. Johnson (played, in a nicely creepy performance, by Paul Birch).

At first glance, Mr. Johnson may look like your typical dark-suited, 1950s businessman but, on closer examination, there’s definitely something off about him.  Why does he always wear those dark sunglasses?  Why is he so sensitive to loud noise?  Why does he move stiffly, as if he’s still getting used to his ody?  And when he speaks, why is his tone always so formal and correct?  Never trust anyone who doesn’t use a contraction or two.  Why is it that Mr. Johnson seems to spend all of his time in his mansion, only venturing outside so that he can visit the local blood banks?

Could it be that Mr. Johnson is …. not of this earth!?

Well, yes, of coursem he’s an alien.  I mean, it says so right in the title of the movie!  It turns out that Mr. Johnson comes from a planet called Davanna.  The inhabitants of Davanna are dying of a mysterious blood disease so he’s been sent to Earth so that he can run tests on human blood.  Needless to say, Mr. Johnson is under constant pressure from his bosses back home.  They expect Johnson to find a cure but there’s only one problem.  Human blood is sometimes hard to come by.

Oh sure.  Johnson can always go to the local doctor (William Roerick) and get a transfusion.  But, unfortunately, Johnson is often forced to deal with his need for blood by murdering anyone who happens to be near the house, whether it be a teenager or a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Like a vampire, Johnson drains them of their blood before retreating to the safety of his mansion.

Paul Birch gives a wonderfully odd performance in the role of Mr. Johnson, playing him in such a way that suggests that Mr. Johnson is still not quite comfortable with his human disguise.  When he starts speaking with his stilted and awkward syntax, he’s like a man who has just learned how to speak another language.  On the one hand, it’s tempting to feel sorry for Mr. Johnson because he’s desperately trying to save his people.  On the other hand, he does end up killing a lot of people.

Beverly Garland and Morgan Jones play Nadine and Harry, a nurse and a policeman who stumble across the truth of Mr. Johnson’s origins.  Beverly Garland was one of those confident, no-one-is-going-to-conquer-my-planet actresses who could elevate any film by her presence alone and, as this film shows, if you’re trying to stop the aliens from stealing all of Earth’s blood, Beverly Garland was someone who you would want on your side.

With the exception of a scene featuring Dick Miller as a slick salesman, director Roger Corman plays the material straight and the end result is a quickly paced and, at times, genuinely creepy little sci-fi/horror hybrid.  Corman makes good use of his low-budget and even the film’s cheap look ultimately works to its advantage.  The stark black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the harshness of Mr. Johnson’s mission.  This an effective and enjoyable B-movie.

Finally, since this is a Roger Corman production, be sure to look for all of the usual suspects.  As mentioned above, Dick Miller plays a salesman.  (Before becoming an actor, Miller actually did work as a door-to-door salesman and he ad libbed the majority of his dialogue.)  Jonathan Haze appears as one of Mr. Johnson’s servants.  And, of course, the film was written by Corman’s longtime collaborator, Charles B. Griffith.  Three years after making Not Of This Earth, Corman, Haze, Miller, and Griffith would collaborate on the somewhat more light-hearted Little Shop of Horrors.

B-Girls and B-Movies: CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1957)


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CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is just a routine ‘B’ crime drama, one of many churned out in the 50’s. Yet the performances of stars Brian Keith Beverly Garland , and an above-average supporting cast helped elevate the by-the-numbers material into something watchable. It’s those Familiar Faces we all know and love from countless movies that made CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL work for me.

The story revolves around racketeers muscling in on the Worker’s National Union so they can bring their “numbers rackets and ‘B’ girls” to the city. Politically ambitious State’s Attorney Jim Fremont is dead set on busting them up, and when the union’s treasurer is murdered, the finger of suspicion is pointed at honest Union President Artie Blane. Blane’s been framed by his rival, VP Ken Harrison, who takes his orders from “disbarred attorney” Alan Dixon, “one of the masterminds of the old Capone gang”. Blane is brought to trial and, thanks to some chicanery by an “old derelict” with the…

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A Movie A Day #64: Gunslinger (1956, directed by Roger Corman)


gunslinger_posterWelcome to Oracle, Texas.  It’s a dusty little town in the old west.  Marshal Scott Hood (William Schallert) may uphold the law but everyone knows that the town is actually run by Erica (Allison Hayes), the owner of the local saloon.  Erica knows that a railroad may be coming to town so she comes up with a plan to buy all the land around Oracle.  She sends her lackey, Jake (Jonathan Haze), to each landowner.  Jake buys the land then murders the landowner so that he can get the money back.

When Scott is gunned down by two outlaws, his widow, Rose (Beverly Garland), takes over as temporary marshal.  Rose has two weeks until the new marshal arrives but that is just enough time for nearly everyone in town to get killed.  It starts when Rose orders Erica to close her saloon at three in the morning.  Erica loses the epic catfight that follows so she hires her former lover, Cane Miro (John Ireland), to come to town and kill Rose.  Cane is more interested in killing the town’s mayor (Martin Kingsley), a former Confederate who abandoned Cane and his brothers to Union forces during the Civil War.  Even more complications arise when Cane and Rose fall in love.

Roger Corman has described Gunslinger as being his most miserable experience as a director.  He filmed it in six days and it rained for five of them, causing cameras and lights to sink into the mud.  Both Allison Hayes and Beverly Garland were injured during filming, with Hayes breaking her arm after falling off a horse and Garland spraining her ankle while running down the stairs of the saloon.  During the filming of an outdoor love scene, both Ireland and Garland were attacked by fire ants.

Gunslinger is usually savaged by reviewers and it was featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But how can any film be that bad if it features an epic cat fight between Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes?  Gunslinger is proof that Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes were actress who could make something entertaining out of even the least inspiring material. Garland gives a serious, heartfelt performance while Hayes goes all out as evil Erica.  Years before he played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jonathan Haze is intensely weird as Jake. As with many Corman films, part of the fun is watching for members of the Corman stock company, like Dick Miller and Bruno VeSota, in small roles.   Gunslinger may not be a classic but I like it.

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Halloween Havoc!: THE NEANDERTHAL MAN (United Artists 1953)


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I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. All the Universal classics, Hammer horrors, big budget, low budget, no-budget, you name it. THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is without a doubt one of the worst I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just so-bad-it’s-bad.

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This totally unlikeable turkey involves a mad scientist whose experiments in evolution lead him to create a serum that devolves species. After success with turning a cat into a saber-toothed tiger (via stock footage and some really bad fake tusks), Professor Groves injects himself with the stuff and becomes Neanderthal Man. The prof goes on a pretty tame killing spree before getting his inevitable comeuppance. In a part that begs for John Carradine (or better yet, Bela Lugosi!), we get Robert Shayne of TV’s THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN  fame. The erstwhile Inspector Henderson is all over the place, overacting in some spots, underacting in others. Whereas a…

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The Fabulous Forties #12: D.O.A. (dir by Rudolph Mate)


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The 12th film contained in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set is the classic film noir D.O.A.  Before I get into reviewing this film, there’s an oddity that I feel the need to point out.  According to the back of the Fabulous Forties box, D.O.A. was released in 1949.  However, according to Wikipedia, imdb, and almost every other source out there, D.O.A. was released in 1950.  In short, it’s debatable whether or not D.O.A. actually belongs in the Fabulous Forties box set but it really doesn’t matter.  D.O.A. is a classic and, along with Night of the Living Dead, it is undoubtedly one of the best B-movies to ever slip into the public domain.

D.O.A. opens with a lengthy tracking shot, following a man named Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) as he walks through the hallways of a San Francisco police station.  Frank walks with a slow, halting movement and it’s obvious that he is not a healthy man.  When he finally steps into a detective’s office, Frank announces that he’s come to the station to report a murder — his own.

Frank is a small-town accountant who came to San Francisco for a vacation.  After a long night of drinking, Frank woke up feeling ill.  When he went to a doctor, he was informed of two things.  Number one, he was in overall good health.  Number two, he only had a few days to live.  Sometime during the previous night, Frank was poisoned with a “luminous toxin.”  There was no antidote.

The rest of the film follows Frank as he attempts to figure out who poisoned him and why.  It’s an intriguing mystery and I’m not going to ruin it by going into too many details.  Over the course of his investigation, the increasingly desperate Frank comes across a gangster named Majak (Luther Adler).  This leads to a lengthy scene in which Majak’s psychotic henchman, Chester (Neville Brand), repeatedly punches Frank in the stomach.  It’s a scene that, even in our far more desensitized times, made me cringe.  I can only imagine how audiences in 1950 reacted.

(There’s also a shoot-out at a drug store that can stand alongside almost any modern-day action sequence.  Regardless of whether the film was made in 1949 or 1950, it still feels like a movie that could have just as easily been made in 2016.)

But really, the mystery is secondary.  Instead, D.O.A. is truly about Frank and how he deals with the knowledge that he is going to die.  Before being poisoned, Frank is the epitome of complacent, middle-class suburbia.  He’s engaged to Paula (Pamela Britton) but he’s in no hurry to marry her.  He’s got all the time in the world.  When Frank goes to San Francisco, he epitomizes the bourgeoisie on vacation.  He goes to the 1940s equivalent of a hipster nightclub, not because he’s actually interested in what the scene is all about but because he’s a tourist looking for a story to tell the folks back home.  When he checks into his hotel, he leers at every passing woman with a casual sexism that would not be out-of-place on an old episode of Mad Men.  Frank is floating through life, confident in his own complacency.

It’s only after he’s poisoned that Frank actually starts to live.  He goes from being passive to being aggressive.  Knowing that he’s going to die, he no longer has anything to lose.  Only with death approaching does Frank actually start to live.  Frank’s realization that he waited to long to live makes his final line all the more poignant.

D.O.A. is a classic!  Watch it below, you won’t be sorry!

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.13 — “The Four of Us Are Dying”


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In this episode of the Twilight Zone, a con man (Harry Townes) has the ability to change his face to make himself appear like anyone he wants to be. Needless to say, this ability doesn’t quite work out as well for him as he might have hoped.

This episode originally aired on January 1st, 1960.

(If the video is not showing up below — some browsers apparently have problems showing embedded videos from Hulu — you can watch the episode at http://www.hulu.com/watch/440771.)

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #29: Pretty Poison (dir by Noel Black)


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“I don’t care if critics like it; I hated it.  I can’t like or be objective about films I had a terrible time doing.”

— Tuesday Weld on Pretty Poison (1968)

It’s actually rather depressing to read that Tuesday Weld hates Pretty Poison because it really is an underrated gem, a nifty little thriller that acts as sly satire on youth, conformity, and small town life.  The main reason that the film works is because of the performances delivered by both Weld and her co-star, Anthony Perkins.

But then again, when we the viewers think back on a movie, we remember what we saw as a member of the audience and sometimes, we forget that just because a film is fun to watch, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was enjoyable to make.  When actors and other technicians think back on a film they were involved with, they remember the experience of actually making it.  Reportedly, Weld did not get along with the director of Pretty Poison and couldn’t wait to get away from him.

Interestingly enough, in Pretty Poison, Tuesday Weld plays a teenage girl who doesn’t get along with her mother and who can’t wait to get away from her.  Perhaps being miserable while making Pretty Poison helped Weld to bring a miserable character to life.

Pretty Poison opens with a nervous-looking man named Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) watching a group of high school cheerleaders practicing on a field.  His attention is focused on one cheerleader in particular, the blonde Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld).  Even before the opening credits have ended, the film has established a familiar dynamic.  Sue Ann is the fresh-faced example of small town American innocence.  Dennis is the type of creepy older guy that every girl has had to deal with at some point in her life.  (When I was in high school, there were always guys like Dennis hanging out around the mall.  When I was in college, the Dennis Pitts of the world were the guy who still hung out around the dorms even though they hadn’t been a student in a decade.)

Having established this dynamic early on, Pretty Poison spends the rest of its running time turning that dynamic upside down.

Dennis has recently been released from a mental hospital.  Under the watchful eye of his parole officer (John Randolph), Dennis gets a mind-numbingly dull job at a local mill and tries to live a normal life.  When Dennis finally does get a chance to talk to Sue Anne, he lies to her and tells her that he’s a secret agent and that he’s in town on a mission.  Sue Anne responds to Dennis’s awkward flirting and soon, she’s accompanying him on his “missions.”  During one such mission near the mill, they’re spotted by a security guard.  Sue Anne responds by enthusiastically murdering him.

Yes, the cheerleader’s a sociopath.

Sue Anne’s tyrannical mother (Beverly Garland) does not approve of her relationship with Dennis.  Sue Anne wants her mother out of the way and she expects her secret agent boyfriend to help her out…

Pretty Poison is a sharp mix of dark comedy and heightened drama, one that gets progressively darker as it progresses.  From the minute the film first shows Sue Anne intensely practicing on that field while Dennis watches her, it’s pretty obvious that the film was meant to be an allegory for American society in 1968.  Sue Anne is the perfect, all-American cheerleader who kills people because she can.  Dennis is the neurotic outsider who knows that he’ll never be able to get anyone to believe the truth.

And it all works, largely because both Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld are so well-cast.  It is, of course, impossible to watch Perkins without first thinking about Psycho but he actually manages to make Dennis into a very different character from Norman Bates.  If Norman was a psycho who, at first sight, looked like an innocent, Dennis is an innocent who, at first sight, looks like a psycho.  Tuesday Weld, meanwhile, turns Sue Anne into a disturbingly plausible killer, the type who, within minutes, can alternate between moodiness and giddiness, all the while squealing with orgasmic joy while bashing in someone’s head.

Tuesday Weld may hate Pretty Poison but it’s still a pretty good movie.