Jack-O (1995, directed by Steve Latshaw)

Back in frontier times, a warlock named Walter Machden (John Carradine) terrorized the citizens of the town of Oakmoor Crossing so they tracked him down and lynched him.  Before he was hung, Machden cursed the town.  A demon with a jack-o-lantern for a head terrorized the town until the Kelly Family defeated him and buried him underneath a cross.

Jump forward one hundred years.  It is Halloween night and some drunk teenagers knock over the cross.  Jack-O comes back to life and kills the teenagers.  Jack-O sets out to get revenge on the Kelly family but, for some reason, he decides to kill their neighbors, some more teenagers, and a TV cable guy before going after his targets.  It’s up to young Sean Kelly (Ryan Latshaw) to figure out how to defeat Jack-O for a second time.

The most interesting thing about Jack-O is that it features John Carradine, even though he died a full seven years before the movie was released.  That either means that Jack-O had an unusually long post-production period or the Carradine scenes were shot for another movie and were clumsily inserted into Jack-O.  Carradine was not the only deceased star to make an appearance in Jack-O.  Cameron Mitchell, who passed away in 1994, also makes an appearance as a horror movie host.  Because you can’t have a movie with Carradine and Cameron Mitchell without including Linnea Quigley, she appears as a babysitter who takes a lengthy shower.  Fortunately, Linnea Quigley is still with us.

Overall, Jack-O is regrettable.  The demon, with his Jack-O-Lantern head, is more likely to inspire laughs than screams and it never makes sense that Jack-O would take so much time to kill everyone except for the people that he is actually looking to kill.  The best death involves a toaster but Jack-O doesn’t do anything with the toaster.  Instead, someone just slips and sticks a utensil in the toaster, leading to a shocking death.  Combine the poor acting with the poor special effects with notably ragged editing that often makes it unclear how much time has passed between scenes and you have a Halloween film that is no holiday.

Horror On The Lens: Monstroid: It Came From The Lake (dir by Kenneth Hartford)


Today, we have a little indie film from 1980.  This film was released under several names, including Monster.  However, I prefer the title under which it has been included in several Mill Creek box sets: Monstroid: It Came From The Lake!

Monstroid tells the story of what happens when a monster emerges from a lake and starts killing people in Columbia.  Superstitious villagers blame a local woman whom they believe to be a witch.  Even though the town priest (and no horror fan should be surprised to discover that the priest is played by John Carradine) claims that he can exorcise the evil spirits that have possessed her, the villagers would rather burn her at the stake.  Meanwhile, the local Big Evil Corporation has sent in Travis (James Mitchum) to take care of the monster!

And what a monster!  Listen, there’s a lot of negative things that I could say about this low-budget film but the monster is simply adorable and must be seen by anyone who appreciates the rubber monsters that populated horror films in the days before CGI.

Plus, how can you resist a film that features not only Robert Mitchum’s son but John Carradine as well?

Enjoy Monstroid: It Came From The Lake!

Horror on the Lens: The Night Strangler (dir by Dan Curtis)

For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1973’s The Night Strangler.

This is the sequel to The Night Stalker and it features journalist Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in Seattle.  (After all the stuff that happened during the previous movie, Kolchak was kicked out of Las Vegas.)  When Kolchak investigates yet another series of murders, he discovers that paranormal murders don’t just occur in Las Vegas and aren’t just committed by vampires.

I actually prefer this movie to The Night Stalker.  The Night Strangler features a truly creepy villain, as well as a trip down to an “underground city.”  It’s full of ominous atmosphere and, as always, Darren McGavin is a lot of fun to watch in the role in Kolchak.


Frontier Marshal (1939, directed by Allan Dwan)

When Wyatt Earp (Randolph Scott) arrives in the town of Tombstone, he takes the law in his own hands by preventing a local outlaw named Indian Charlie (Charles Stevens) from destroying the saloon owned by Ben Carter (John Carradine).  For his trouble, Earp is beaten up by Carter’s men.  Earp, however, does get a  job as the town’s new marshal.

After some initial weariness, Wyatt befriends an alcoholic dentist and gunfighter named Doc Holliday (Cesar Romero).  While Earp keeps the peace in Tombstone, Doc is torn between two women, dancehall girl Jerry (Binnie Barnes) and his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Nancy Kelly).

With Carter and his man planning on robbing a payroll train and also kidnapping frontier performer, Eddie Foy (played by the real Foy’s son, Eddie Foy, Jr.), it is only a matter of time before Earp takes on Carter at the legendary O.K. Corral.

Frontier Marshal was only the second sound film to be made about Wyatt Earp’s time in Tombstone and it was the first to use Earp’s name.  (In the first film version of the story, also called Frontier Marshal, Earp’s name was changed to Michael Wyatt.)  This was because Wyatt’s widow was offended by some of the material that was included in the biography that served as the basis for Frontier Marshal and threatened to sue anyone who wanted to make a movie out of it.  In order to get her permission to make the film, 20th Century Fox agreed that no reference would be made to Wyatt’s marriage in the film.  Mrs. Earp ended up suing anyways.  20th Century Fox settled.

As for the film, it’s in no way historically accurate and it pales in comparison to My Darling Clementine, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, and the Star Trek episode where Kirk, Spock, and McCoy thought they were in the old west.  It is, however, better than The Gunfighters episode of Dr. Who.  Randolph Scott is convincing as an upright and law-abiding Wyatt Earp, quite a contrast to the real Wyatt.  The movie though is stolen by Cesar Romero, who plays Doc Holliday as being pathologically self-destructive.  Cesar Romero is not necessarily the first name that comes to mind when you think of a great western actor but he’s very convincing here.  John Carradine is a perfect villain and keep an eye out for Lon Chaney, Jr. as one of his henchmen.  Unfortunately, the final gunfight feels rushed and, for all the build up, it isn’t as exciting as it should be.  Frontier Marshal will mostly be of interest to those curious to see how Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were portrayed in films before they became a sacrosanct part of the mythology of the Old West.

Frontier Marshal was later remade, as My Darling Clementine, by John Ford.  Ward Bond, who played Morgan Earp in Ford’s film, plays the original town marshal in Frontier Marshal.  Charles Stevens, who plays Indian Charlie in Frontier Marshal, was often falsely described by the Hollywood publicity mill as being the real-life grandson of Geronimo.  He also appeared in My Darling Clementine, once again playing the role of Indian Charlie.  It was one of the nearly 200 films he made before he died in 1964.

The Gatling Gun (1971, directed by Robert Gordon)

In the post-civil war west, two Calvary troopers steal a Gatling Gun, the weapon that was invented to be such a powerful instrument of death that people would stop fighting wars just to avoid finding themselves in front of its barrel.  (It didn’t work out that way, of course.)  With the help of a pacifist reverend named Harper (John Carradine), they smuggle the gun into Apache territory.  Rev. Harper thinks that the gun is going to be destroyed and, thus, another instrument death will be eliminated. from the world  Instead, the greedy troopers are planning on selling the gun to Apache Chief Two Knife (Carlos Rivas).  Two Knife has promised a fortune’s worth of gold to anyone who can deliver to him the deadliest weapon in the west.

Before the gun can be exchanged, the reverend, his daughter, and the two deserters are intercepted by a group of Calvary troops led by Lt. Wayne Malcolm (Guy Stockwell).  One of the deserters is killed while the other, Pvt. Sneed (Robert Fuller) is captured.

However, Chief Two Knife still wants what he calls “the king gun.”  Malcolm and his troops find themselves pinned down by the Apaches.  Can Malcolm, with the help of a rancher (Phil Harris), a scout (Woody Strode), and a cook (Pat Buttram), keep both the gun and the all important firing pin from falling into the hands of Two Knife?

The Gatling Gun is a low-budget western that would probably be today forgotten except that it has fallen into the public domain and has been included in several DVD box sets.  It has the flat, generic look of a Western television show and Guy Stockwell’s stiff performance may be believable for a 19th century Calvary captain but it’s still doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.  The main problem is that the most exciting and interesting part of the story, the two deserters stealing the gun and tricking the Reverend into helping them, occurs off-screen and the movie instead begins with Malcolm capturing Sneed.

Western fans will mostly want to watch this one to see John Carradine and Woody Strode, two very different actors who were both favorites of John Ford’s and who appeared in several other, better westerns.  (Strode and Carradine had both previously appeared in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to name just one example.)  Carradine is typically theatrical, delivering his lines like the old Shakespearean that he was.  Strode, as usual, is stoic but his imposing screen presence makes him the most memorable of the film’s heroes.  Also keep an eye out for Patrick “son of John” Wayne, playing the rancher’s son.

Though The Gatling Gun has the look of a film that was shot on a studio backlot in Hollywood, it was actually filmed, on location, in New Mexico.  The state’s then-governor, David Cargo, has a small role as Corporal Benton and is listed in the credits as “Honorable Governor David Cargo.”  A look at his imdb page reveals that David Cargo appeared in four films while he was governor.  All of them were filmed in New Mexico so I guess casting the governor was a requirement for filming in that state.  When Cargo left office in 1971, his movie career ended.

Scenes that I Love: Tor Johnson In The Unearthly

We continue to honor the memory of Tor Johnson with today’s scene of the day.

Even though Tor Johnson is playing a character named Lobo, today’s scene that I love isn’t from Ed Wood’s 1955 film, Bride of the Monster. Instead, it’s from 1957’s The Unearthly. In this film, Lobo is now John Carradine’s servant. (Lobo made quite a career out of working for mad scientists.) The Unearthly was directed by Boris Peftroff, a friend of Wood’s, so it’s not improbable that this film’s Lobo was meant to be the same Lobo as the one who appeared in Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Anyway, in this scene, Tor does his usual Lobo stuff while John Carradine plays the piano. “Time for go to bed,” Lobo says at one point, a much-mocked line but one that is delivered with a bit of gentleness by Tor Johnson. My point is that Tor did the best that he could and bless him for it.

Red Zone Cuba (1966, directed by Coleman Francis)

An escaped convict named Griffin (Coleman Francis) meets up with two other men (Anthony Cardoza and Harold Samuels) and, for some reason, all three of the fly down to Cuba where they join up with the mercenaries who are planning on overthrowing Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion.  That doesn’t work out so, after escaping from a Cuban POW camp, they decide to fly back to America so that they can rob a mine.  Along the way, they shoot several people and they run into John Carradine who gives them a ride on a train and also sings the film’s theme song, Night Train to Mondo Fine.  “He ran all the way to Hell,” Carradine says about Griffin, even though Griffin spends most of the film either flying or moving at an ambling gait.

Red Zone Cuba is best known for being one of three Coleman Francis films to be showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Watching this film with Mike and the Bots commenting on the action is a lot of fun.  Trying to watch it without Mike the and the Bots is a different experience all together.  I always assumed that the plot seemed incoherent because I was distracted by Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow talking through the film but it turns out that the plot is incoherent regardless of how you watch the film.  Coleman Francis tried to make a tough and gritty desert noir but the only part he got right was the desert.  There’s a lot of desert in this movie.

Red Zone Cuba is a painfully slow movie but at least John Carradine’s in it for a few minutes.  A reporter shows up to interview him about the three men who rode his train all the way to Hell and Carradine answers his questions with the type of grim determination that briefly fools you into thinking Red Zone Cuba is going to be better than its reputation.  Carradine exits the film quickly, though.  He got his paycheck and then headed off to his next role, leaving Coleman Francis to carry the weight of the film.

Red Zone Cuba is a slow mess of a film that’s not even entertainingly bad but I do have to wonder: was this the first narrative film to use the Bay of Pigs as a plot point?  Hats off to Coleman Francis if it was.


Film Review: The Ten Commandments (dir by Cecil B. DeMille)

Though you may not know it if you’ve only seen the film during one of its annual showings on television, the 1956 religious epic, The Ten Commandments, originally opened with director Cecil B. DeMille standing on a stage.  Speaking directly to the audience, DeMille explains that, though the film they’re about to see me take some dramatic license with the story of Moses, it still based on not just the Bible but also the accounts of Philo, Josephus and Eusebius.  He also tells us that The Ten Commandments is more than just an adaptation of the Book of Exodus.  Instead, it’s a film about every man’s desire to be free.

Demille concludes with: “The story will take 3 hours and 29 minutes to unfold.  There will be an intermission. Thank you for your attention.”

To be honest, it’s kind of a sweet moment.  Cecil B. DeMille is a name that is so associated with (occasionally overblown) epic filmmaking that it’s easy to forget that DeMille was one of the most important names in the artistic development of American cinema.  He was there from the beginning and, unlike a lot of other filmmakers, he was equally successful in both the silent and the sound era.  Say what you will about his films, DeMille was a showman and he handles the introduction like a pro.  At the same time, there’s a real sincerity to DeMille’s tone.  After you listen to him, you’d almost feel guilty if you didn’t sit through all 3 hours and 29 minutes of his film.

That sincerity extends throughout the entire film.  Yes, The Ten Commandments is a big, long epic and some members of its all-star cast are more convincing in their roles than others.  And yes, the film can seem a bit campy to modern viewers.  (In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it seemed a bit campy to viewers in 1956 as well.)  Yes, The Ten Commandments does feature Anne Baxter saying, “Oh Moses!  You sweet adorable fool!”  But it doesn’t matter.  Even the most ludicrous of dialogue just seem right.  The film is just so sincere that it’s difficult not to enjoy it.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses is described as having a speech impediment and even tries to use it as an excuse to get out of going to Egypt.  That’s actually one of the reasons why Moses brought Aaron with him to Egypt, so that Aaron could speak for him.  In the movie, Moses is played by Charlton Heston, who comes across as if he’s never felt a moment of insecurity over the course of his entire life.  But no matter.  Heston may not by the Moses of Exodus but he’s the perfect Moses for the DeMille version.  When Heston says that Egypt will be visited by plagues until his adopted brother Ramses (Yul Brynner) agrees to allow the Jews to leave Egypt, you believe every word.  (Aaron, incidentally, is played by the legendary John Carradine.  He doesn’t get too much other than respectfully stand a few feet behind Charlton Heston but still: John Carradine!)

And really, anyone who dismisses The Ten Commandments out-of-hand should go back and, at the very least, watch the scene where the Angel of Death descends upon Egypt.  The scene where Moses and his family shelter in place while the screams of distraught mothers echo throughout the city is chilling.  Ramses may spend most of the film as a petulant villain but you almost feel sorry for him when you see him mourning over his dead son.  When he sets off after Moses, it’s not just because he’s doing what villains do.  He’s seeking vengeance for the loss of his first born.  For that brief moment, Ramses goes form being a melodramatic bad guy to being someone with whom the viewer can empathize.  Brynner, with his burning intensity, gives a great performance as Ramses.

As I said before, this film has what, in 1956, would have been considered an all-star cast.  Watching the names as they show up during the opening credits — Cedrick Hardwicke!  Yvonne DeCarlo!  Woody Strode!  Debra Paget! — is like stepping into a TCM fever dream.  Some of the performers give better performance than others.  And yet, even the worst performer feels as if they just naturally belong in the world that DeMille has created.  John Derek may seem rather smarmy as Joshua but his callowness provides a good contrast to the upright sincerity of Heston’s performance as Moses.  Edward G. Robinson’s cries of, “Where is your God now!?” may have provided endless fodder for impersonators but just try to imagine the film without him.  Even Vincent Price is in this thing!  He doesn’t have his famous mustache but, as soon as you hear his voice and see that famous glare, you know that it’s him.

Of course, when you’re growing up and The Ten Commandments is on TV every year, you mostly just want to see the scene where Moses parts the Red Sea.  The Ten Commandments was nominated for seven Oscars but it only won one, for its special effects.  (The prize for Best Picture went to another epic, Around The World In 80 Days.)  Today, the film’s special effects may no longer amaze viewers but there’s still something rather charming about the Red Sea parting and then crashing in on the Egyptian army.  The scene where the Earth opens up and swallows those who worshiped the Golden Calf remains impressive, if just because all of the extras really look terrified that they might die.  And while the Pillar of Fire may look a bit cartoonish to modern eyes, that’s a huge part of the film’s appeal.

The Ten Commandments is a big, long, sometimes silly, sometimes effective, and always entertaining epic.  It’s a grand spectacle and one that I usually watch every year when it shows up on television.  I missed this year’s showing but, fortunately, I own it on DVD.  It’s a sincere epic and a difficult one not to like.


Horror on the Lens: Crowhaven Farm (dir by John McGreevey)

Sure, inheriting an old New England farm might sound like a fun idea but what are you going to do if it turns out that the farm is haunted by the spirits of a coven of witches?

That’s the question that Hope Lange and Paul Burke have to find an answer for in this enjoyably spooky 1970 made-for-TV horror film!  Lange and Burke both give good performances, generating a lot of sympathy for their unhappily married couple while director John McGreevey does a commendable job of creating and maintaining a nicely ominous atmosphere.

And, of course, John Carradine’s in it!  It’s simply not a rural horror film from the 70s without John Carradine!


Man of the People: John Ford’s THE LAST HURRAH (Columbia 1958)

cracked rear viewer

This post has been preempted as many times as tonight’s State of the Union Address! 

John Ford’s penchant for nostalgic looks back at “the good old days” resulted in some of his finest works. The sentimental Irishman created some beautiful tone poems in his 1930’s films with Will Rogers, and movies like HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE QUIET MAN convey Ford’s sense of loss and wistful longing for simpler times. The director’s THE LAST HURRAH continues this theme in a character study about an Irish-American politician’s final run for mayor, running headfirst into a new era of politics dominated by television coverage and media hype instead of old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground handshaking and baby-kissing. It’s not only a good film, but a movie buff’s Nirvana, featuring some great older stars and character actors out for their own Last Hurrah with the Old Master.

Based on Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel, the…

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