Off-Brand Spaghetti: MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (United Artists 1969)

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It’s hanging day at a remote Arizona prison outpost, and four men are scheduled to swing from the gallows. After they’re executed, the four pine boxes pop open, and outlaw Luke Santee and his gang commence firing, their six-guns blazing, as they try to free Luke’s baby brother. The escape attempt is an epic fail as ‘Killer’ Cain, a prisoner for 18 years now up for parole, stops the brother from leaving his cell and getting slaughtered, with Luke vowing revenge…

That opening scene, a violent, gory bloodbath, makes one think MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE is going to be a Sergio Leone-inspired American Spaghetti Western. It even stars a former TV Western hero named Clint – big Clint (CHEYENNE) Walker ! But the episodic nature of George Schenck’s script kills that idea, as the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Spaghetti or Traditional Western? Character study, comedy…

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Remembering Cheyenne: RIP Clint Walker

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At six-foot-six, Clint Walker certainly rode tall in the saddle. The actor, who died yesterday at age 90, was television’s first cowboy hero developed for the medium, and his popularity opened the floodgates for a slew of TV Westerns to follow. Walker also fared well on the big screen, and while not in the same stratosphere of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, his movie career deserves a second look.

As Cheyenne Bodie (1955-63)

Born in Illinois in 1927, the seventeen year old Norman Walker joined the Merchant Marines for a spell, then worked a series of blue-collar jobs before being discovered by talent agent Henry Willson, who got him a small part in the 1954 Bowery Boys comedy JUNGLE GENTS, playing an ersatz Tarzan. Bit parts followed, until his burly presence and rugged good looks landed him the lead in a new TV series called CHEYENNE. Cheyenne Bodie was television’s…

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Horror on the Lens: Scream of the Wolf (dir by Dan Curtis)

For today’s horror on the lens, how about a little werwolf action?

In the 1974 made-for-TV movie, Scream of the Wolf, Peter Graves is a writer who is asked to help solve a series of mysterious murders.  The fact that both human footprints and wolf tracks have been found at each murder scene has led some people to assume that the killer must be a werewolf!  Will Graves be able to prove them wrong or will it turn out that they are right?  Graves calls in a famous hunter (Clint Walker) to help track down the killer but it turns out that the hunter has secrets of his own.

I’m going to guess that, like Baffled!, Scream of the Wolf was a pilot disguised a movie.  I assume that the hope was that the movie would lead to a series where Peter Graves would solve a different paranormal mystery every week.

Well, that series never materialized by Scream of the Wolf is still an enjoyable film.  The screenplay was by none other than Richard Matheson while made-for-TV horror specialist Dan Curtis sat in the director’s chair.

In the end, Scream of the Wolf is only 72 minutes long and I know for a fact that you don’t have anything better to do right now.  I watched this movie two months ago with Patrick Smith and the Late Night Movie Gang and we had a blast.

Have fun!

A Movie A Day #56: The White Buffalo (1977, directed by J. Lee Thompson)

whitebuffalo1977The year is 1874 and James Otis (Charles Bronson) is traveling through the Dakota Territory.  Everywhere that James Otis goes, someone tries to shoot him.  This is because James Otis is actually the infamous Wild Bill Hickcock and everyone this side of Deadwood has a reason to want him dead.  Hickcock has returned to the territory because he is losing his eyesight and he fears that he may be dying.  Hickcock has been having nightmares about a giant albino buffalo and believes that it is his destiny to either kill it or be killed himself.

Meanwhile, a young indian chief (Will Sampson) is also seeking the White Buffalo.  The buffalo previously attacked his village and killed his son.  The chief must now get revenge or lose his power in the tribe.  He is now known as Worm.  Before the buffalo attack, his name was Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse eventually teams up with Hickcock and a one-eyed hunter named Charlie Zane (Jack Warden).  They work out an uneasy alliance but who, of the three, will finally get the chance to kill the buffalo?

When Dino De Laurentiis produced The White Buffalo, he was hoping to combine the popularity of Jaws with the star power of Charles Bronson.  It should have been a hit but instead, The White Buffalo was one of the many flops that temporarily killed the western as a commercial genre.  (Before there was Heaven’s Gate, there was The White Buffalo.)  The reason why is obvious: while audiences loved to watch Bronson shoot muggers in New York, they were less willing to sit through a pseudo-intellectual western version of Moby Dick that featured more conversation than gunplay.  The obviously fake buffalo did not help matters.

I still like The White Buffalo, though.  Because of the movie’s cheap sets, fake snow, and some inconsistent rear projection work, The White Buffalo is sometimes so surreal that it could pass for a Spaghetti Western.  (When I saw Bronson, Sampson, and Warden huddled in a cardboard cave while it fake snowed outside, I immediately thought of Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence.)  Charles Bronson, always an underrated actor, gave one of his best performances as the haunted Hickcock.  The White Buffalo was, up until his small role in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, the last time that Bronson would allow himself to appear as anyone other than Charles Bronson on-screen.

When watching The White Buffalo, keep an eye out for several Hollywood veterans in minor roles.  Kim Novak plays a prostitute.  Stuart Whitman is a thief.  Slim Pickens drives a stagecoach.  Clint Walker’s an outlaw and Ed Lauter plays the younger brother of Gen. Custer.  The town’s undertaker is John Carradine.  The cameos don’t add up too much but it’s still good to see everyone.

Horror On The Lens: Killdozer (dir by Jerry London)

killdozerA bunch of manly men are building an airstrip on an island off the coast of Africa.  Two of them come across an oddly glowing meteorite and they make the mistake of trying to move it with a bulldozer.  Needless to say, the bulldozer gets possessed by an alien presence and soon, the men are all being pursued by the … Killdozer!

My boyfriend and I recently sat down and watched this 1974 made-for-TV movie.  Jeff enjoyed it while I thought Killdozer was perhaps one of the silliest films I have ever seen in my life.  That’s not surprising, however.  Killdozer is a guy film all the way, celebrating both the destructive power of machinery and the ability of men to tame that power.

Killdozer may not be a great film but it’s a film that feels rather appropriate for October.

A Quickie Horror Review: Snowbeast (dir. by Herb Wallerstein)

Since I previously reviewed two classic horror films from Mario Bava, it now seems like the perfect time to watch a film from Herb Wallerstein, called Snowbeast.  Well, no, not really.  In fact, to be honest, Snowbeast seems to exist on a totally different planet from either Black Sabbath or Planet of the Vampires.  The two latter films are classics of cinema that should be seen by everyone, regardless of the season.  Snowbeast, on the other hand, is the epitome of the perfect movie to turn on for background noise.  Snowbeast is fun, unthreatening, likable, and ultimately rather forgettable.  But sometimes, especially when it comes to finding something safe but appropriate to watch during the Halloween season, that is exactly what’s needed.

Snowbeast was originally made in 1977 and wow, does it show.  According to Wikipedia (see, I do to research my claims occasionally), Snowbeast was originally a made-for-tv movie and it has retained a “cult following.”  Well, I don’t know if I quite see the film’s cult appeal though it’s certainly better than any 82-minute tv show has any right to be.  The film has also entered into the public domain, which, of course, means that it’s been released in a few thousand different Mill Creek box sets.  Last time I counted, I actually had four different box sets that featured Snowbeast.  So, if nothing else, I’ll always have Snowbeast.

(Incidentally, the version I watched came from the 50 Chilling Classics box set.  This is the same box set that featured Cathy’s Curse, The Alpha Incident, The Demons of Ludlow, and my beloved Drive-In Massacre.)

Snowbeast takes place at a ski resort.  An unseen monster is killing tourists.  The sheriff (Clint Walker) thinks the monster is a yeti.  Nobody believes him and the owner of the ski resort — Sylvia Sidney, who once starred in films directed by Josef Von Sternberg — is more interested in making money off of vacationers than in protecting the public safety.  Now, if this happened today, I’d imagine there would be an OccupySnowBeast demonstration or something.  However, since this film was made in the 70s, this instead just leads to Walker and Bo Svenson going off into the mountains to track down and kill the snowbeast.

Now, the plot of Snowbeast may sound a little familiar and that’s because it’s basically the exact same plot as Jaws except the water has been replaced with snow-capped mountains and the shark is now a Yeti.  But otherwise, it’s pretty much the exact same story, right down to the greedy businesspeople going, “Shut down the mountain!?  That’ll be bad for tourism!” and the film’s 3 heroes all giving each other knowing looks when the wrong bear is killed and paraded in front of the cheering townspeople.  (That said, I have to say that if you love spotting overreacting extras in crowd scenes, this is the film for you.)

So, Snowbeast doesn’t win any points for originality but I’m willing to cut it some slack.  Even though it’s a bit before my time, I’ll bet that Snowbeast wasn’t the only low-budget B-movie to rip off Jaws in the 70s and you don’t really watch a movie called Snowbeast for the plot anyway.  You watch a movie called Snowbeast because you’re looking for something silly that won’t require too much thought.  And that’s a perfect description of Snowbeast.  It’s a film that’s done well enough that you won’t hate yourself for watching but, at the same time, is so predictable that you can do about a hundred other things while it’s playing without running the risk of missing anything important.  It is literally a movie that you can start watching at any point after it’s started. 

Ironically enough, Snowbeast is actually more effective because it was made for television.  Yes, you don’t get the gore, sex, or profanity that you would typically expect from one of these films but it also means that you don’t get to see the killer Yeti except for one very brief shot.  Otherwise, the Snowbeast of the title is represented by point-of-view shots of the monster about to attack some unsuspecting skier.  As I’ve mentioned in other horror reviews, our imaginations will always come up with something scarier than even the most effective of special effects and Snowbeast‘s low budget origins force us to use our imagination more than the typical monster film would.  As well, the snowy setting is beautiful to look at and if you’re a fan of watching people ski (and ski and ski and ski) this is the film for you.  Seriously.