The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Humanoids from the Deep (dir by Barbara Peeters)


Some people really hate clowns.

Myself, I really hate ventriloquist’s dummies.

Seriously, those little wooden things totally freak me out.  You know how some of you feel about the painted smile on the clowns ‘face?  Well, that’s how I feel whenever I see the big eyes of a ventriloquist dummy or that mouth with the fake teeth.  And don’t even get me started on those tiny little legs that some of them have!  AGCK!

I mention this because there is a ventriloquist’s dummy in the 1980 film, Humanoids From The Deep.  There’s really no reason for it to be in the film but suddenly, out of nowhere, there it is.  It belongs to a teenager named Billy who, when we first see him, is relaxing in a tent on the beach, trying to get his girlfriend to undress for him and the dummy. Of course, they’re promptly interrupted by a seaweed-covered monster, who rips open the tent, kills Billy, and chases after his girlfriend.  The whole time, the dummy watches with a somewhat quizzical expression on his face.  It’s a strange scene.

Now, I’ve done some research and I’ve discovered that Billy was played by David Strassman, who was (and still is) a professional ventriloquist and his dummy was named …. I do not kid …. Chuck Wood.  So, the whole tent scene was kind of a celebrity cameo.  Roger Corman, who produced the film, said, “You know what?  This movie has blood, nudity, killer fish-men, and rampant misogyny but it’s still missing something!  How about that ventriloquist that I saw on the Tonight Show last night!?”

Anyway, Humanoids From The Deep is basically about what happens when you try to mutate salmon.  You end up with a bunch of pervy fish monsters swarming the beach and trying to make like human/fish babies.  You end up with a lot of dead teens and unplanned pregnancies.  You also end up with the local redneck fisherman (led by Vic Morrow) blaming the local Native Americans, accusing them of killing all of the dogs in town.  Jim Hill (Doug McClure) and his wife, Carol (Cindy Weintraub), try to keep the peace but their efforts are continually tripped up by the fact that almost everyone in town is an idiot.

For instance, despite the fact that there’s been a countless number of murders and rapes and that they’ve all been committed a group of monsters that nobody knows how to fight, the town still decides to hold their annual festival on the pier.  Of course, as soon as the obnoxious DJ starts broadcasting, the humanoids from the deep show up and basically, the entire festival goes to Hell.  And here’s the thing.  The film itself is ugly and mean-spirited and misogynistic but the attack on the festival is totally and completely brilliant.  I mean, it’s one of the greatest monster sieges of all time, largely because the monsters are apparently unstoppable and that humans are so obnoxious that you don’t mind seeing them all die.  I mean, if nothing else, the monster deserve some credit for taking out that DJ.

It all leads to a “surprise” ending, which isn’t particularly surprising but which is so batshit insane that it somehow seems appropriate.

Humanoids From The Deep is an incredibly icky movie, one that has some effective scare scenes but which is way too misogynistic to really be much fun.  (Roger Corman hired Barbara Peeters to direct the film but reportedly brought in a male director to film the movie’s more explicit scenes.)  Oh well.  At least the ventriloquist died.

A Movie A Day #316: 52 Pick-Up (1986, directed by John Frankenheimer)


Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is a businessman who has money, a beautiful wife named Barbara (Ann-Margaret), a sexy mistress named Cini (Kelly Preston), and a shitload of trouble.  He is approached by Alan Raimey (John Glover) and informed that there is a sex tape of him and his mistress.  Alan demands $105,000 to destroy the tape.  When Harry refuses to pay, Alan and his partners (Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor) show up with a new tape, this one framing Harry for the murder of Cini.  They also make a new demand: $105,000 a year or else they will release the tape.  Can Harry beat Alan at his own game without harming his wife’s political ambitions?

Based on a novel by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is one of the best films to ever come out of the Cannon Film Group.  Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other films (like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Black Sunday, and Ronin), 52 Pick-Up shows why Frankenheimer was considered to be one of the masters of the thriller genre.  52 Pick-Up is a stylish, fast-paced, and violent thriller.  John Glover is memorably sleazy as the repellent Alan and the often underrated Roy Scheider does an excellent job of portraying Harry as a man who starts out smugly complacent and then becomes increasingly desperate as the story play out.

One final note: This movie was actually Cannon’s second attempt to turn Elmore Leonard’s novel to the big screen.  The first attempt was The Ambassador, which ultimately had little to do with Leonard’s original story.  Avoid The Ambassador but see 52 Pick-Up.

A Movie A Day #281: The House Where Evil Dwells (1982, directed by Kevin Connor)


When writer Ted Fletcher (Edward Albert) moves his family into a house in Kyoto, Japan, he does not know that the house comes with a violent history.  140 years ago, the house was occupied by a samurai and his wife.  When the samurai discovered that his wife had taken a lover, he killed both them and himself.  The three spirits remain in the house, haunting Ted and his wife, Laura (Susan George).  When a possessed Laura starts an affair with Ted’s best friend (Doug McClure), will history repeat itself?

When I was growing up, The House Where Evil Dwells used to frequently show up on television.  When you are a kid, anything that combines ghosts, sex, and samurai swords is automatically the coolest thing that you have ever seen so I used to really like The House Where Evil Dwells.  A few weeks ago, I rewatched it for the first time in years and I was shocked by how boring the movie actually is.  There are a few well-composed scenes with the ghosts silently watching the Fletcher family and Susan George does the best she can do with what she is given but has there ever been any two actors as wooden as Edward Albert and Doug McClure?  Any film about passion and anger is doomed to fail when it stars two actors who cannot show emotion.  This is one haunted house movie that will make you want to hang out with the ghosts because the living are just too boring.

 

A Movie A Day #143: The Bull of the West (1972, directed by Jerry Hopper and Paul Stanley)


Welcome to the American frontier.  The time is the 1880s and men and women everywhere are heading out west in search of their fortune.  While stowing away on a train, veteran cowboy Johnny Wade (Brian Keith) meets the naive Steve Hill (Gary Clarke) and becomes a mentor to the younger man.  Johnny teaches Steve how to shoot a gun and, when they get off the train at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, they get jobs working on the ranch of Georgia Price (Geraldine Brooks).  When Georgia and Johnny plot to overgraze the land, Steve must decide whether he’s with them or with a rival rancher, Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb).

At the same time, Ben Justin (Charles Bronson) has arrived in town with his son, Will (Robert Random), and his new wife (Lois Nettleton).  Ben is determined to start his own ranch but, because of his taciturn and stubborn personality, he alienates the Cattleman’s Association, which led by Judge Garth and Bear Suchette (George Kennedy).  Will wants to help his father but Ben keeps pushing him away.  It’s up to Judge Garth’s foreman, the Virginian (James Drury), to bring the family together.

Just like The Meanest Men In The West, The Bull of the West was created by editing together footage from two unrelated episodes of The Virginian.  It works better for the Bull of the West because the two episodes had similar themes and the footage mixes together less awkwardly than it did in The Meanest Men In The West.  But Bull of the West is still just a TV show edited into a movie.  The main reason to see it is because of all the familiar western faces in the cast.  Along with Bronson, Keith, Cobb, and Kennedy, keep an eye out for Ben Johnson, DeForest Kelley, and Clu Gulager.

A Movie A Day #142: The Meanest Men In The West (1978, directed by Sam Fuller and Charles S. Dubin)


The Meanest Men In The West may “star” Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin and Sam Fuller may be credited as being one of the film’s two directors but don’t make the same mistake that I made.  Don’t get too excited.

There was once a TV western called The Virginian.  Starring James Drury as a ranch foreman, The Virginian ran for nine seasons on NBC.  A 1962 episode, which was written and directed by Sam Fuller, featured Lee Marvin as a sadistic outlaw who kidnapped The Virginian’s employer, a judge played by Lee J. Cobb.  Five years later, another episode features Charles Bronson as a less sadistic outlaw who kidnapped the Judge’s daughter.

The Meanest Men In The West mixes scenes from those two episode with western stock footage, a bank robbery that originally appeared in The Return of Frank James, an intrusive voice-over, and an almost incoherent prologue, all in order to tell an entirely new story.  Now, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin are brothers and rivals.  After Marvin snitches on Bronson’s plan to rob a bank, Bronson blames his former friend, The Virginian.  In order to get the Virginian to come to his hideout, Bronson kidnaps Cobb’s daughter.  The Virginian manages to convince Bronson that he didn’t betray him, just to arrive back at the ranch and discover that Cobb has been kidnapped.  Meanwhile, Bronson and his gang set off after Marvin and his gang.  It ends with Charles Bronson, in 1967, shooting at Lee Marvin, who is still in 1962.

The Meanest Men In The West is so clumsily edited that the same shot of Charles Bronson holding a gun is spliced into a dozen different scenes.  Filmed on different film stocks, the Bronson scenes and the Marvin scenes look nothing alike and, since the two episodes were filmed five years apart, James Drury literally ages backwards over the course of the film.

The Meanest Men In The West is for Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin completists only.  I think Bronson and Marvin are two of the coolest individuals who ever existed and even I had a hard time making it through this one.  If you do watch it, keep an eye out for a young Charles Grodin, thoroughly miscast as a tough outlaw.

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.3 “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”


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On tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone, Al Denton (Dan Duryea) used to be a notorious old west gunfighter. Now, haunted as the result of killing a teenage boy, Mr. Denton is just the town drunk. However, a salesman subtly named Henry J. Fate (Malcolm Atterbury) comes into town and gives Denton the chance to once again be great. Of course, it all comes with a price and a lesson.


Originally aired on October 16th, 1959, Mr. Denton on Doomsday is one of the earlier episodes of The Twilight Zone. Today, it’s perhaps most interesting for its message of anti-violence. Myself,I just like it because I went to college in Denton, Texas.