A Movie A Day #286: The Tomb (1986, directed by Fred Olen Ray)

 Sybil Danning is top-billed in The Tomb but she only appears at the very start of the film.  She lands an airplane on a landing strip in the middle of the Egyptian desert and then gets into a gunfight with two archeologists who have robbed a tomb and are now trying to sell off the artifacts.  When one of the archeologists aims his handgun at the plane and pulls the trigger, the plane explodes.  Though Sybil survives the gun fight, that’s it for her in this movie.  Since whatever modern-day audience The Tomb may have is largely going to be made up of nostalgic Sybil Danning fanboys, most people will probably stop watching once it becomes obvious that she is never coming back.

The rest of the movie is about the archeologists selling off the artifacts to greedy collectors like Cameron Mitchell (who spend the entire movie sitting in his office).  This ticks off the ancient Egyptian princess, Nefratis (Michelle Bauer), and she sets off to kill all of the collectors, one-by-one.

Like The Awakening and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, The Tomb claims to be based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.   Actually, The Tomb is just an early Fred Olen Ray film, complete with Ray regulars like John Carradine, who gets even less screen time that Danning and Mitchell.  Like most early Ray films, it suffers due to a low budget but Ray’s enthusiastic, never-say-die spirit keeps things moving right along.  With most of the top-billed actors only appearing in a scene or two, the movie belongs to Bauer and she does the most that she can with her role, tearing apart hearts and swearing vengeance with real gusto.

One final note: during the opening credits, The Pharohs, a band that performed while wearing headresses and wrapped in banadages, performs Tutti Frutti.  That almost makes up for Sybil Danning only appearing in 3 minutes of the movie.


Horror on the Lens: Without Warning (dir by Greydon Clark)

For today’s horror on the Shattered Lens, we have 1980’s Without Warning.  

In this horror/sci-fi hybrid, humans are hunted by an alien hunter who uses a variety of weapons and … what was that?  No, we’re not watching Predator.  We’re watching Without Warning.  For the record, Without Warning and Predator may have almost exactly the same plot but Without Warning came out long before Predator.

(Interestingly enough, Kevin Peter Hall played the intergalactic hunter in both films.)

Anyway, Without Warning is probably the best film that Greydon Clark ever directed.  Some would say that’s not saying much but seriously, Without Warning is a surprisingly effective film.  It also has a large cast of guest stars, the majority of whom are killed off within minutes of their first appearance.  That alien takes no prisoners!  (I especially feel sorry for the cub scouts.)

Of course, the main characters are four teenagers.  One of them is played by David Caruso, which I have to admit amuses me to no end.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Terror Night, aka Bloody Movie (dir by Nick Marino)


Okay, so this is kind of a weird one.

The movie known as Bloody Movie was originally filmed in 1987, under the title Terror Night.  However, it was never released.  There are plenty of rumors about why it wasn’t released.  Some people say that it was because the film was produced with Mafia money.  Some people say it was because it used a lot of footage that was lifted from other movies and the producers apparently didn’t bother to clear the rights.  Of course, it’s also totally possible that the film wasn’t released because it wasn’t very good.  I mean, that does happen.

Regardless of why, the film apparently sat on the shelf for 20 years.  It was finally released by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia and retitled Bloody Movie.  That said, the DVD that I own (and watched for this review) was released by Legacy Entertainment and still had the Terror Night title.  The transfer on the Legacy DVD was notably bad.  From what I’ve been told, the Retromedia release looks a lot better.

Now, there’s a lot bad things that can be said about Terror Night.  It’s low-budget, which is one of those things that can be overcome by a clever director but, in this case, it just results in Terror Night looking cheap.  It’s poorly written, full of one-dimensional characters who were shallow even by the standards of a late 80s slasher.  This is also one of those movies where formerly respectable actors pop up for five minutes cameos.  Whenever one of those actors shows up, all the action stops so that they can earn their paycheck.  Aldo Ray is homeless and doomed.  Cameron Mitchell is a cynical cop and doomed.  Alan Hale, Jr. is an affable security guard and apparently not doomed.  There’s no real reason for any of them to be there but there they are!  There’s also a biker couple who show up for no particular reason, along with the typical collection of teenage victims.

But yet, there are moments when Terror Night goes from being bland to being almost transcendently odd..  There are moments of comedy mixed in with some surprisingly mean-spirited death scenes.  Necks are snapped.  Heads are chopped off.  Bodies are split in half.  It all gets rather messy and the presence of all those old time actors makes the sudden gore scenes feel all the more strange.

However, the main thing that distinguishes Terror Night from the other slashers of the era is the identity of the killer.  (And, before anyone yells at me, this is not a spoiler.  There is never any mystery about who the killer is.)  Lance Hayward is not a zombie like Jason Voorhees or a silent symbol of evil like Michael Myers.  He’s not seeking vengeance for some crime in the past.  Instead, he’s a former silent screen star.  (It seems like Hayward would have been close to 90 years old at the time of Terror Night.  He’s still surprisingly spry.)  Hayward commits his murders while wearing costumes from his old movies.  Adding to the strangeness of the whole scenario is that actual silent footage is spliced into the murder scenes.  Most of the footage comes from movies like The Thief of Baghdad, The Black Pirate, and the Gaucho.  You have to wonder if Douglas Fairbanks cheated the director’s father or something.

(Since Hayward spends most of the movie in costume, I’m assuming that he was mostly played by stuntmen.  When Hayward actually shows his face, he’s played by one-time Oscar nominee, John Ireland.  At the height of his career, Ireland co-starred in films like All The King’s Men.)

As to why a silent scream star would be murdering teenagers … well, your guess is as good as mine.  It’s a strange film, a mix of gore and nostalgia.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but I still always appreciate anything this strange.

A Movie A Day #156: Slaughter (1972, directed by Jack Starrett)

The Mafia just pissed off the wrong ex-Green Beret.

After his father is blown up by a car bomb, Captain Slaughter (Jim Brown) single handily wipes out the Cleveland mob.  Only one gangster, Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), escapes to South America.  The Treasury Department (represented by Cameron Mitchell) sends Slaughter and two other agents (Don Gordon and Marlene Clark) after Hoffo.  Along with being a ruthless gangster, Hoffo is a viscous racist and is convinced that he will be able to easily take care of Slaughter.  Hoffo does not understand how much trouble he’s in.  No one stops Slaughter.

Produced by American International Pictures, Slaughter is one of the classic blaxploitation films. While it may not have the political subtext of some of the best blaxploitation films, Slaughter is a fast and mean action film, directed in a no nonsense manner by B-movie veteran Jack Starrett.  There is not a wasted moment to be found in Slaughter.  It starts and ends with cars exploding and, in between, it doesn’t even stop to catch its breath.

In the 1970s, Richard Roundtree was John Shaft, Ron O’Neal was Superfly, Jim Kelly was Black Belt Jones, Fred Williamson was Black Caesar, and Jim Brown was Slaughter.  Whatever skills Jim Brown lacked as an actor, he made up for with sheer presence.  He commanded the screen.  Whether he was playing football on television or beating down the Mafia in the movies, no one could stop Jim Brown.  Slaughter is Brown at his toughest.  Rip Torn is the perfect villain, screaming out racial slurs even when Slaughter has him trapped in an overturned car.   Jim Brown has said that, of all the films he has made, Slaughter is one of his three favorites.  (The other two were The Dirty Dozen and Mars Attacks!)

Slaughter‘s cool factor is increased by the presence of Stella Stevens, playing the role of Ann, Hoffo’s mistress.  It only takes one night with Slaughter for Ann to switch sides.  Nothing stops Slaughter.

The Fabulous Forties #22: Adventures of Gallant Bess (dir by Lew Landers)


For nearly a month now, I’ve been making my way through the 50 films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  Like most Mill Creek box sets, the Fabulous Forties is full of public domain films.  Some of them are surprisingly good and some of them are surprisingly bad.  And then there are others that are somewhere right in the middle of bad and good.  These are films that may not be great works of cinematic art but, at the very least, they serve as a time capsule of the period in which they were made.

The 22nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set, 1948’s Adventures of Gallant Bess, is just such a film.  Obviously made to appeal to family audiences, Adventures of Gallant Bess tells a fairly predictable story.  Cowboy Ted Daniels (a youngish Cameron Mitchell) captures a wild mustang named Bess.  Ted and Bess soon become inseparable but, during a visit to the local town, Bess gets riled up and destroys a few cars.  Ted is told that he has to pay for the cars but he doesn’t have any money.  So, he enters the local rodeo.

However, the rodeo is operated by the evil Bud Millerick (James Millican) and Bud wants Bess for his own.  So, he arranges for Ted’s leg to be broken by a bull.  Injured and unable to work, Ted is forced to sell his beloved Bess to Bud.  Once Ted recovers, he discovers that Bud is abusing Bess and forcing her to perform in a demeaning rodeo show.  What’s a cowboy to do but steal back his horse?

You can probably guess everything that happens in Adventures of Gallant Bess just from reading the plot description but it’s still a pretty likable film.  Bess is a wonderful horse and there’s something oddly endearing about the obviously cheap sets and the often melodramatic performances.  Cameron Mitchell, of course, is best known for appearing in films like Blood and Black Lace, The Toolbox Murders, The Demon, The Swarm, and Space Mutiny, so it’s definitely interesting to see him playing a simple and honest cowboy here.

(It’s actually difficult to recognize Mitchell until he smiles.  Once you see that smirk, you know exactly who is playing Ted Daniels.)

Adventures of Gallant Bess was filmed in color, which was a big deal in 1948.  Seen today, it is so saturated with color (and so obviously filmed on sound stages) that the movie actually looks like a live action cartoon.  Seen today, it’s perhaps a little too easy to be dismissive of this old-fashioned film but I imagine that, in the 40s, it was quite a fun movie to watch.

And you can watch it below!

Now Showing On The Shattered Lens: Flight to Mars (dir by Lesley Selander)


Are you lucky enough to have an extra 70 minutes free today?  Why not spend them watching an entertaining little B-movie called Flight to Mars?

First released in 1951, Flight to Mars is reportedly the first American film to ever be made about traveling to the red planet.  At the start of the film, a rather phallic spaceship is launched into space.  Aboard the ship are cynical reporter Steve (Cameron Mitchell), brilliant scientist Jim (Arthur Franz), token female scientist Carol (Virginia Huston), and a few other scientists who all kind of blend together.  Steve is attracted to Carol but Carol is more interested in Jim.  However, Jim isn’t interested in anything other than his work.  When the spaceship does reach Mars, it turns out that Mars is a lot like Earth and the Martians are a lot like us.  The main difference between humans and Martians appears to be that Martian women wear miniskirts.  Among those Martian women is Alita (Marguerite Chapman), who falls in love with Jim.  The rest of Mars, however, is not quite as infatuated with their intergalactic visitors…

Flight to Mars is definitely a product of its time.  This is one of those films where the men are all blatantly sexist and the women are usually just happy to be noticed.  Carol, for instance, is overjoyed to discover that they have kitchens on Mars and, while the men spend all of their time making plans, Carol usually just stands in the background, eating Martian snacks and pining for Jim.  Of course, Jim only has eyes for Alita, who, upon meeting the virile males of Earth, has absolutely no problem betraying her entire planet.  Beyond the sexist attitudes, Flight to Mars is also distinguished by presenting space travel as being the equivalent of a long flight on a small airplane.  This is definitely a low-budget B-movie that has absolutely no relation to science fact (or, for that matter, any other type of fact).

And, to be honest, that’s why I like the film.  It truly is such a time capsule that just watching it will make you wonder if Eisenhower is still in the White House.  I’ve always felt that the best way to learn about history is to experience it personally and one of the best ways to do that is to watch a movie that could only have been made during a certain period of time.  And trust me, Flight to Mars is pure 1951.  As for the film’s low budget — well, this film proves that you don’t need CGI to create an alien world.  Sometimes, cardboard and colorful costumes work just as well.  And, as for the film’s science — well, facts are boring.  That’s one reason why good people have often turned to science fiction.

So, if you’ve got 70 minutes to kill, why not experience Flight to Mars?


A Grindhouse Quickie with Lisa Marie: The Demon (dir. by Percival Rubens)

Last summer, I decided to watch and review all 50 of the films to be found in Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics box set.  Mill Creek, of course, is a company that’s best known for releasing box sets that seem to primarily feature low-budget films that, for whatever reason, have now found themselves in the public domain.  If you’re a fan of old school B-movies in general, then you probably know just how fun it can be to read the back of a Mill Creek boxset and discover what obscure films are waiting inside.  The thing that I especially love about Mill Creek is the fact that — in the best grindhouse tradition — they describe every film that they distribute (whether it’s George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or something like Las Vegas Bloodbath) as being a “classic.”

So, anyway, I started to watch and review the films in the Chilling Classics box set but, as 2011 drew to a close, things got rather hectic and busy here at the TSL Bunker.  In between covering the Oscar season and keeping the world supplied with weekly trailer posts, I had to set aside my plans to review the entire boxset for another day. 

Well, I’m happy to say that day is here!  Last night, I dug out the old Chilling Classics box set and I watched a South African slasher film from 1981, The Demon.

The Demon actually tells two separate but connected stories.  In the first story, a teenage girl is kidnapped from her bedroom by a masked killer.  Her distraught family calls in a tormented psychic who quickly proves himself to so superfluous and useless that you’d forget all about him except he’s played by the late Cameron Mitchell. 

If you’re a fan of old school grindhouse and exploitation films then you’ve undoubtedly seen a handful of films featuring Mr. Mitchell.  A former “legitimate” actor who, early on in his career, appeared in things like Death of a Salesman, Mitchell eventually became better known for appearing in low-budget exploitation films.  Mitchell could always be counted on to shamelessly overemote and, regardless of the film he was appearing in, he was always a lot of fun to watch.  If nothing else, Mitchell always seemed to be rather amused by the films he found himself in.  It’s a shame that Cameron Mitchell died before Quentin Tarantino could engineer a comeback for him. 

In The Demon, Cameron Mitchell spends most of his limited screen time standing on a rocky cliff while staring down at the ocean below and having psychic visions that don’t really seem to have much to do with anything else happening in the film.  Actually, visions is the wrong word.  As Mitchell says, “Sometimes…I get these feelings.  Vibes, as the kids would say.”

And the kids are in a lot of trouble because our nameless killer has moved on to the city where he spends his time hanging around outside of a place called Boobs Disco and stalking two teachers named Mary (Jennifer Holmes) and Jo (Zoli Markey).  This is the film’s second storyline and it mostly consists of Mary spotting the killer out of the corner of her eye and Jo pursuing a relationship with the most boring man on the planet.

Like quite a few films that seem to pop up in various Mill Creek box sets, The Demon is technically a pretty bad film but, once you accept that fact, it’s also an occasionally entertaining mess that delivers a handful of effectively creepy moment.

The scenes featuring Cameron Mitchell are entertaining for exactly the reason that you think they are.  These scenes are such obvious filler and were so obviously added as an excuse to get a “name” actor to join the cast that it’s impossible not to admire the nerve of the filmmakers.  They weren’t going to let a silly thing like narrative cohesion get in the way of producing a 90 minute film.  Playing the world’s worst psychic, Cameron Mitchell delivers his lines with such a truly unfocused intensity that I actually spent the first half of the movie convinced that he was the murderer.  The final fate of Mitchell’s character is truly shocking (if just because it kind of comes out of nowhere) and Mitchell plays his final scene as if he’s starring in a dinner theater production of some lost Shakespearean play.

If the scenes featuring Mitchell are mostly entertaining for being so bad, the scenes in which the nameless killer stalks Mary and Jo are actually pretty well done and the final confrontation between the final girl and the killer is handled surprisingly well (though I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the fact that the film contrives to have the final girl fight for her life while topless).  The killer’s lack of personality makes him all the more intimidating and both Jennifer Holmes and Zoli Markey are likable and believable in the roles of Mary and Jo.  If nothing else, The Demon proves that even a really poorly produced horror film can be partially redeemed (if not saved) by a likable cast of potential victims.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, The Demon — like many forgotten exploitation flicks — serves as a valuable time capsule of the society that produced it.  To offer up just one example: