Horror On The Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir by Robert Gaffney)


Today’s horror on the lens is the 1965 film, Frankenstein Meets The Space Man.  This film features not only the debut of character actor James Karen but it also gave him a rare lead role.  You may not recognize the name but you’ll know James Karen as soon as you see him.  He’s probably best known, among horror fans, for his roles in Poltergiest and Return of the Living Dead.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!  Just try to get “That’s The Way It’s Got To Be” out of your head.

Enjoy!

Yuma (1971, directed by Ted Post)


At the start of this made-for-TV western, experienced lawman Dave Harmon (Clint Walker) has just been appointed the new marshal of Yuma.  He’s served as the marshal of several towns, all of which were near rowdy army bases.  He’s a laconic, no-nonsense lawman who is quick with a gun and smart enough to negotiate with the local Indian tribes.

As soon as Harmon rides into town, he comes across the King Brothers (Bruce Glover and Bing Russell) making trouble.  He kills one of the brothers in a saloon and then takes the other one to jail, where he’s mysteriously gunned down during a midnight jailbreak.  It turns out that there’s a third Harmon brother, cattle baron Arch King (Morgan Woodward), and he rides into town looking for revenge.  He gives Harmon a set amount of time to find and arrest his brother’s killer or Arch and his men are going to return to town and kill Harmon.

Fortunately, Harmon has a witness to the jailbreak murder.  Andres (Miguel Alejandro) is a young, Mexican orphan who sleeps at the jail.  He witnessed the murder but he only saw that the killer was wearing what appeared to be army boots.  Harmon’s investigation brings him into conflict with the local army base’s commandant (Peter Mark Richman) and also leads to the discovery of a plot to defraud the local Indians.

The main problem with Yuma is that it was clearly designed to be a pilot for a weekly television series and, as a result, it introduces a lot of characters who don’t get much to do.  There’s a lot of talk about how Harmon is searching for the men who earlier killed his family but that subplot is never resolved.  (If Yuma had been picked up as a weekly show, maybe it would have been.)  Yuma has to set up the premise for a potential show and tell a complete story in just 70 minutes.  That’s a lot to handle and Yuma ends up feeling rushed and incomplete.

As a B-western for undemanding fans of the genre, it’s acceptable.  Clint Walker was a convincing lawman and the film was directed by Ted Post, who knew how to stage a gunfight.  But it’s not really a western that you’re going to remember for long after you watch it.

Black Gunn (1972, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis)


A war has broken out in Los Angeles.

The Black Action Group (B.A.G.) has robbed a Mafia bookmaking operation.  The Mafia, led by used car dealer Russ Capelli (Martin Landau, in his slumming it years), is less concerned with the money as they are with the fact that one of the militants, a Vietnam vet named Scott Gunn (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.), has also stolen a set of ledgers that could reveal every detail of their organization.  Capelli sends the psychotic Ray Kriley (Bruce Glover, father of Crispin) on a mission to track down Scott and kill him.

What the Mafia didn’t count on is that Scott’s older brother, Gunn (Jim Brown), is the owner of Los Angeles’s hottest nightclub.  When Scott approaches his brother, Gun tells him that he doesn’t care about the B.A.G. or any of their politics.  Still, Gunn allows Scott to stash the ledgers at his club and to hide out at his place.  When Scott still ends up getting murdered by Kriley, Gunn sets out to get revenge.

For the most part, Black Gunn is a standard blaxploitation movie with all of the usual elements, a cool nightclub, the mob, black militants,an anti-drug scene and a speech about why it’s important to not sell out to the man, and a hero played by an actor who may not have been able to show much emotion but who still radiated coolness.  Not surprisingly, Jim Brown is the main attraction here and he delivers everything that his fans have come to expect from him.  Blaxploitation regulars Bernie Case and Brenda Sykes also appear in the film.  Casey plays the head of B.A.G. while Sykes is wasted in a one-note role as Gunn’s girlfriend.  Among the villains, it’s fun to watch the glamorous Luciana Paluzzi plays a gangster’s niece and Bruce Glover is just weird enough to make Kriley interesting.  Though Martin Landau would end his career with a deserved reputation for being one of America’s greatest character actors, he spent most of the 70s sleepwalking through roles in low-budget action and horror films and his performance in Black Gunn is no different.  Having Capelli be both a car salesman and a gangster is a nice touch but otherwise, he’s just not that interesting of a character and Landau is only present to get a paycheck.

Black Gunn has some slow spots but the final shoot-out between the militants and the gangsters is exciting and so brutal that it will be probably take even the most jaded blaxploitation fan by surprise.  Black Gunn is hardly a classic but, like its hero, it gets the job done.

Horror On The Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir by Robert Gaffney) (RIP, James Karen)


Today’s horror on the lens is dedicated to the memory of the great character actor James Karen.  Horror fans will remember him from Return of the Living Dead and Poltergeist.  He appeared in a countless number of films, usually playing men of authority.  1965’s Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster featured him in a rare starring role.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir


For today’s selection of horror on the lens, we offer up the odd 1965 horror/sci-fi/beach movie hybrid, Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster.  Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (played by character actor James Karen, who years later would appear in Return of the Living Dead), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #56: Walking Tall: Final Chapter (dir by Jack Starrett)


sq_final_chapter_walking_tallFor one last time, Buford Pusser is back!  The 1977 film Walking Tall: Final Chapter ends the story that was begun in Walking Tall and continued in Walking Tall Part II.  And it turns out that the final chapter is pretty much just like the previous two chapters.  In fact, I’m tempted to just tell you go reread my review of Walking Tall Part II because that review works just as well for most of the Final Chapter.

Final Chapter starts with footage from the first Walking Tall, with Bo Svenson awkwardly inserted in place of Joe Don Baker.  Once again, we watch as Elizabeth Hartman is shot in the back of the head and Svenson — in the role of Buford Pusser — is shot in the face.  Oh my God, we think, how many times can the exact same thing happen to the exact same character!?

Oh wait — it turns out that Buford is just remembering the death of his wife.  Buford is still haunted by that day and he’s still out for vengeance.  For the next hour or so, we follow Buford as he and his deputies blow up moonshiners across Tennessee.  After each arrest, an attorney shows up and yells at Buford for violating everyone’s civil rights.  In response, Buford smirks until the attorney gets so mad that he decides to run for sheriff himself.

Buford doesn’t give his opponent much of a chance.  As one of his deputies puts it, this guy is just a “bleeding heart liberal.”  (But if he’s so liberal, what’s he doing in Tennessee?  Off with you, sir — return to Vermont!)  Instead of campaigning, Buford spends his time hunting down more moonshiners.  When he discovers that one moonshiner is also an abusive father, he personally drives the man’s son down to the local orphanage.  Oddly enough, Buford does not offer to adopt the kid himself.

Anyway, to the shock of everyone, Buford is not reelected.  No longer sheriff, he struggles to find a full-time job and makes plans to run in the next election.  One of the moonshiners shows up and taunts Buford until Buford is forced to beat him up in the middle of the street.  The new sheriff show up and demands to know what happened.  None of the townspeople are willing to snitch on Buford.  Good for them!

After about an hour and a half of this, something interesting actually happens.  A film producer drives up to the Pusser Farm and tells Buford that he wants to make a movie out of his life.  “We’re going to tell the story exactly how it happened!” the producer assures him.  In the next scene, Buford is advising the director of Walking Tall on how to properly film a car chase.

And you know what?  These scenes of Buford watching his life story be filmed are actually rather charming.  For the only time in the series, Bo Svenson actually appears to be having fun in these scenes.  And, when Buford runs from a theater while watching the recreation of his wife’s murder, it’s actually a very effective moment.

Anyway, there’s not much running time left after all of that.  We see Buford sign a contract to play himself in the sequel and, by this point, we all know what happened afterward.  Buford was killed in a mysterious car accident.  But fear not!  The film opens with a heavenly choir and Svenson’s voice booming from the heavens so we all know that Buford Pusser is arresting moonshiners in Heaven.

And good for him!

Peace be with you, Buford Pusser.

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #51: Walking Tall Part 2 (dir by Earl Bellamy)


Film_Poster_for_Walking_Tall_Part_2The 1975 southern melodrama Walking Tall Part 2 opens with a voice over telling us that we’re about to see more of the true of story Sheriff Buford Pusser, the Tennessee lawman who carried a big stick, battled the Dixie Mafia, and whose wife was killed in an ambush.  Pusser, we learn, died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the release of the film Walking Tall.

Mere hours before he died, Pusser had signed a contract to play himself in Walking Tall Part 2.  As a result of Pusser’s car “accident,” the film’s producers were forced to cast an actor as the lawman.  Now, it would have made sense to, once again, give the role to Joe Don Baker.  After all, he played the role in Walking Tall and I imagine that to most audiences at that time, he was Buford Pusser.  However, for whatever reason, Baker was not given the role for a second time.  Instead, the role was given to Bo Svenson and, while Svenson does not necessarily do a bad job in the role, he’s still no Joe Don Baker.  The difference between Baker and Svenson is the difference between someone being a redneck and someone just pretending.

The film opens almost immediately where Walking Tall ended.  Terribly wounded in the ambush that took his wife’s life, Buford is in the hospital and his face is covered in bandages.  Townspeople gather outside both his room and his farm and they wonder whether he’ll run for reelection as sheriff.  Someone else mentions that Buford has had massive facial reconstructive surgery.

Finally, the bandages are removed and we discover that Buford has turned into Bo Svenson.  Now, Svenson and Baker do have enough facial similarities that you can force yourself to believe that surgery could lead to Baker having Svenson’s features.  I mean, this isn’t like Mark Ruffalo taking over the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton.  At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder how reconstructive surgery could have led to Buford Pusser becoming a blonde or, for that matter, apparently growing by 5 inches between Walking Tall and Walking Tall Part 2.

Anyway, Buford’s out of the hospital and, of course, he’s reelected as sheriff.  One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that everyone in the world totally loves Buford Pusser.  I lost track of how many characters specifically walked up to Buford to tell him that he was a great man and a great sheriff.  Nobody complains about Buford’s habit of ignoring civil liberties while enforcing the law.  Instead, everyone cheers for him.

(And, just in case the viewer is uncomfortable with the sight of the very white Buford taunting the mostly black moonshiners that he spends the film arresting, Buford’s black deputy constantly says stuff like, “Buford, you’re my kind of sheriff!”)

The only people who don’t like Buford are the local crime lords.  They still want Buford dead so they hire a race car driver (Richard Jaeckel) to kill him.  The race car driver’s girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) attempts to hit on Buford but Buford has no interest in her.  Buford’s about enforcing the law and avenging his wife…

Walking Tall Part 2 is a pretty standard film.  Whereas the original Walking Tall had a raw and unpredictable vibe to it, the sequel is predictable and boring.  On the plus side, the film was made on location in rural Tennesee and some of the countryside is nice to look at.

As for Buford Pusser, he died before Part Two was released but the character would return in Walking Tall — The Final Chapter.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #46: Walking Tall (dir by Phil Karlson)


Walking_Tall_(1973_film)About 50 minutes into the 1973 film Walking Tall (not to be confused with the 2005 version that starred Dwayne Johnson), there’s a scene in which newly elected sheriff Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) gives a speech to his deputies.  As the deputies stand at attention and as Pusser announces that he’s not going to tolerate any of his men taking bribes from the Dixie Mafia, the observant viewer will notice something out-of-place about the scene.

Hovering directly above Baker’s head is a big, black, almost phallic boom mic.  It stays up there throughout the entire scene, a sudden and unexpected reminder that — though the film opens with a message that we’re about to see the true story of “an American hero” and though it was filmed on location in rural Tennessee — Walking Tall is ultimately a movie.

And yet, somehow, that phallic boom mic feels oddly appropriate.  First off, Walking Tall is an almost deliberately messy film.  That boom mic tells us that Walking Tall was not a slick studio production.  Instead, much like Phil Karlson’s previous The Phenix City Story, it was a low-budget and violent film that was filmed on location in the south, miles away from the corrupting influence of mainstream, yankee-dominated Hollywood.  Secondly, the phallic implications of the boom mic erases any doubt that Walking Tall is a film about men doing manly things, like shooting each other and beating people up.  Buford does have a wife (Elizabeth Hartman) who begs him to avoid violence and set a good example of his children.  However, she eventually gets shot in the back of the head, which frees Buford up to kill.

As I said earlier, Walking Tall opens with a message telling us that we’re about to watch a true story.  Buford Pusser is a former football player and professional wrestler who, after retiring, returns to his hometown in Tennessee.  He quickly discovers that his town is controlled by criminals and moonshiners.  When he goes to a local bar called The Lucky Spot, he is unlucky enough to discover that the bar’s patrons cheat at cards.  Buford is nearly beaten to death and dumped on the side of the road.  As Buford begs for help, several motorists slow down to stare at him before then driving on.

Obviously, if anyone’s going to change this town, it’s going to have to be Buford Pusser.

Once he recovers from his beating, Buford makes himself a wooden club and then goes back to the Lucky Spot.  After beating everyone up with his club, Buford takes back the money that he lost while playing cards and $50.00 to cover his medical bills.  When Buford is put on trial for armed robbery, he takes the stand, rips off his shirt, and shows the jury his scars.  Buford is acquitted.

Over his wife’s objections, Buford decides to run for sheriff.  The old sheriff, not appreciating the competition, attempts to assassinate Buford but, instead, ends up dying himself.  Buford is charged with murder.  Buford is acquitted.  Buford is elected sheriff.  Buford sets out to clean up his little section of Tennessee.  Violence follows…

On the one hand, it’s easy to be snarky about a film like Walking Tall.  This is one of those films that operates on a strictly black-and-white world view.  Anyone who supports Buford is good.  Anyone who opposes Buford is totally evil.  Buford is a redneck saint.  It’s a film fueled by testosterone and it’s not at all subtle…

But dangit, I liked Walking Tall.  It’s a bit like a right-wing version of Billy Jack, in that it’s so sincere that you can forgive the film’s technical faults and frequent lapses in logic.  Walking Tall was filmed on location in Tennessee and director Phil Karlson makes good use of the rural locations.  And, most importantly, Joe Don Baker was the perfect actor to play Buford Pusser.  As played by Baker, Pusser is something of renaissance redneck.  He’s a smart family man who knows how to kick ass and how to make his own weapons.  What more could you ask for out of a small town sheriff?

In real life, Buford Pusser died in a mysterious car accident shortly after the release of Walking Tall.  Cinematically, the character of Buford Pusser went on to star in two more films.

Horror on the Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir by Robert Gaffney)


Frankenstein_Meets_the_Space_Monster

For today’s selection of horror on the lens, we offer up the odd 1965 horror/sci-fi/beach movie hybrid, Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster.  Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (played by character actor James Karen, who years later would appear in Return of the Living Dead), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!

Enjoy!

James Bond Review: Diamonds Are Forever (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


I think it’s a well-known fact that the Austin Powers series was spoofing the spy film of the 60’s and 70’s with it’s main target for laughs being the iconic James Bond character and his international adventures of action and intrigue. The James Bond films with each successive entry became more and more fantastic as the megalomania of each new villain became more and more cartoonish and over-the-top and the gadgets themselves started entering the realm of science-fiction (for that time and era, at least) and back-of-the-comic-book ingenuity. I think the tipping point for the series that took James Bond from action thriller to spoofing it’s own past was with Sean Connery’s last official film as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever.

To say that Sean Connery was truly getting tired and bored with playing the character James Bond on the big screen would be an understatement. His previous Bond entry with You Only Live Twice showed him pretty much disinterested with the role and one would almost think he was phoning in his performance. After that film Connery had announced his retirement from playing Bond, but after George Lazenby also retired from the role after just one film Connery was soon back for one more ride on the James Bond train.

Diamonds Are Forever once again pits James Bond against his arch-nemesis, the leader of SPECTRE and feline connoisseur, Ernst Blofeld. This time around the role of Blofeld was played by the actor Charles Gray and the film does a good job in explaining why the character has been played by so many different actors in each entry he appeared in. It is in this early sequence in the film that we begin to see that this latest James Bond entry had jumped the shark when it came to trying to keep things even remotely believable. It’s the film’s biggest flaw an, at the same time, what made it such an interesting, fun ride.

Even the plot of the film owes more to the spoofs of the Blofeld character by way of the Austin Powers films as Bond must try to stop SPECTRE from using smuggled South African diamonds from being used to create  weaponized satellite with a massive “laser” that SPECTRE will use to destroy the nuclear arsenal of every superpower then auction off the rights to be the only nuclear power to the highest bidding country. It’s pretty much the the basic foundation of what would be the plot for the first Austin Powers, but with this film filmmaker Guy Hamilton still tried to treat the script as something that was of the serious Bond when it was more 60’s camp through and through.

Diamonds Are Forever may be the weakest of all the Connery Bond films, but it’s groovy sensibilities that celebrated the 60’s (despite the film having been made in 1971) psychedelic, swinging lifestyle poked fun at Bond’s predilection as a suave and charismatic womanizer that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 60’s love-in. Even the action sequences was something that looked more humorous than thrilling whether it was Bond escaping SPECTRE henchmen on a moon buggy to the inept duo assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd looked more at home in an action comedy than a series that was known for serious action.

I would be remiss to not mention that this was the only time the Bond series had a redhead as a Bond Girl in the vivacious form of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. I would also like to think that the other Bond Girl in the film, played by Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s younger sister), was also a redhead but I’m not entirely sure since most audiences probably didn’t pay too close attention to Plenty O’Toole’s hair color. Either way this would be the only Bond film that would cast what fellow writer Lisa Marie calls the 2%.

Diamonds Are Forever might not have been the sort of return Sean Connery envisioned for himself when he agreed to return as James Bond after taking a film off, but then again this wouldn’t be the first time he would retire from the role only to come back again. Yet, despite all it’s flaws (there were many of them) the film does entertain though probably not in the way it’s filmmakers hoped it would. I do believe that it was this film that finally brought in Roger Moore as the next Bond, but also convinced the film’s producers to tailor the Bond films using some of the humorous aspect of Diamonds Are Forever but tempered to accompany the action in the story.

James Bond will soon return in Live And Let Die….