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.

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A Movie A Day #64: Gunslinger (1956, directed by Roger Corman)


gunslinger_posterWelcome to Oracle, Texas.  It’s a dusty little town in the old west.  Marshal Scott Hood (William Schallert) may uphold the law but everyone knows that the town is actually run by Erica (Allison Hayes), the owner of the local saloon.  Erica knows that a railroad may be coming to town so she comes up with a plan to buy all the land around Oracle.  She sends her lackey, Jake (Jonathan Haze), to each landowner.  Jake buys the land then murders the landowner so that he can get the money back.

When Scott is gunned down by two outlaws, his widow, Rose (Beverly Garland), takes over as temporary marshal.  Rose has two weeks until the new marshal arrives but that is just enough time for nearly everyone in town to get killed.  It starts when Rose orders Erica to close her saloon at three in the morning.  Erica loses the epic catfight that follows so she hires her former lover, Cane Miro (John Ireland), to come to town and kill Rose.  Cane is more interested in killing the town’s mayor (Martin Kingsley), a former Confederate who abandoned Cane and his brothers to Union forces during the Civil War.  Even more complications arise when Cane and Rose fall in love.

Roger Corman has described Gunslinger as being his most miserable experience as a director.  He filmed it in six days and it rained for five of them, causing cameras and lights to sink into the mud.  Both Allison Hayes and Beverly Garland were injured during filming, with Hayes breaking her arm after falling off a horse and Garland spraining her ankle while running down the stairs of the saloon.  During the filming of an outdoor love scene, both Ireland and Garland were attacked by fire ants.

Gunslinger is usually savaged by reviewers and it was featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But how can any film be that bad if it features an epic cat fight between Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes?  Gunslinger is proof that Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes were actress who could make something entertaining out of even the least inspiring material. Garland gives a serious, heartfelt performance while Hayes goes all out as evil Erica.  Years before he played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jonathan Haze is intensely weird as Jake. As with many Corman films, part of the fun is watching for members of the Corman stock company, like Dick Miller and Bruno VeSota, in small roles.   Gunslinger may not be a classic but I like it.

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A Movie A Day #22: Messenger of Death (1988, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


messenger_of_deathIn rural Colorado, the three wives and all the children of Orville Beecham (Charlie Dierkop) have been murdered.  Veteran journalist Garret Smith (Charles Bronson) discovers that Orville is the son of an excommunicated Mormon fundamentalist named Willis Beecham (Jeff Corey).  Willis, who lives on a heavily armed compound, practices polygamy and wants nothing to do with the outside world.  However, Willis’s brother, Zenas (John Ireland), long ago split with Willis and set up a compound of his own.  At first, Garret suspects that Orville’s family was killed by Zenas.  As Zenas and Willis go to war, Garret discovers that there’s actually a bigger conspiracy at work, one dealing with corporate greed and water rights.  (Forget it, Bronson, it’s Chinatown.)

Messenger of Death was the 2nd to last film that veteran tough guy Charles Bronson made for Cannon Films.  Especially when compared to the other films that he made for Cannon (10 To Midnight, Kinjite, Murphy’s Law, three Death Wish sequels), Messenger of Death features Bronson in a surprisingly cerebral role.  While there is violence, very little of it is actually the result of anything that Bronson does.  For once, Charles Bronson isn’t running around with a gun and blowing away bad guys. If Death Wish‘s Paul Kersey ever did start blowing away muggers in Colorado, Garret would probably be the first to condemn him in a carefully written editorial.  The only time he fights is in self-defense and even then, it’s hand-to-hand combat.  Instead, he spends most of the film doing research and asking questions.  As a result, Messenger of Death is never as much fun as the other films that Bronson made for Cannon but it’s still interesting to see him playing a regular guy.

The Good, The Bad, and The Forgettable: Hate For Hate (1967, directed by Domenico Paolella)


hateforhate2James Cooper (John Ireland) is a non-violent bank robber in the old west.  He wants to hold up one last bank and then retire to his farm with his wife (Gloria Milland) and daughter (Nadia Marconi).  However, he is double-crossed by his partner, Moxon (Mirko Ellis), who kills everyone who works at the bank and tries to steal the money for himself.  After Cooper throws Moxon over the side of a cliff and hides the loot, he is approached by Miguel (Antonio Sabato, Sr.), a young artist who had just deposited his money moments before the bank was robbed.  Miguel explains that he’s been saving up for a future exhibition in New York and he convinces Cooper to give him back his money.

Cooper is soon arrested and, because he was seen talking to the robber, Miguel is accused of being his accomplice.  In jail, Miguel helps Cooper to fight off the other inmates.  When it becomes obvious that Miguel was innocent, he is released.  He promises Cooper that he will check in on Cooper’s family.

Years later, dying of malaria, Cooper escapes from prison and discovers that his family is missing and Miguel seems to be working for Moxon, who survived going over the side of that cliff and is still looking for the loot.

Co-written by Bruno Corbucci (the brother of Django director Sergio Corbucci), Hate For Hate is a by-the-numbers spaghetti western that does not ever match the grandeur of the work of Sergios Leone or Corbucci.  It had a troubled production, with the original director being replaced by a former assistant to Pasolini and the film’s tone changes halfway through, going from being a light-hearted adventure to being a grim and fatalistic story of a dying man seeking revenge.  There are a few good scenes, like when Miguel holds off a group of outlaws by fooling them into believing that he has an army with him.  For spaghetti western fans, the most interesting thing about Hate For Hate is that it was the first excursion into the genre for both John Ireland and Antonio Sabato.

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A Fast Look at THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (AIP 1955)


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I’ve never seen any of those FAST AND FURIOUS movies with Paul Weller, Vin Diesel, and The Rock (yeah I know, Dwayne Johnson, but he’ll always be The Rock to me). Nope, not even one. I just never had much interest in them. I’d heard of the 1955 THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, an early Roger Corman production, but never watched it either, until now. Seems I wasn’t missing anything.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is Corman’s second film as producer, and first release for American International Pictures, under the moniker American Releasing Corporation. It’s an inauspicious debut for the company, to put it mildly. The story concerns escaped con Frank Webster, who kidnaps sports car racer Connie Adair and her white Jaguar (which is a nice car, by the way). They bicker with some tough-talking dialogue, as Frank plans on crossing the border to Mexico by driving the Jag in a…

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Embracing the Melodrama #10: All The King’s Men (dir by Robert Rossen)


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“The people are my study.” — Governor Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) in All The King’s Men (1949).

We close today’s embrace of melodrama by taking a look at one of the best political films ever made, the 1949 best picture winner All The King’s Men.

All the King’s Men tells the story of a demagogue named Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford, who deservedly won an Oscar for his powerful and intimidating performance here).  When we first meet Willie, he’s a poor farmer and political activist whose attempts to run for a minor office in an unnamed southern state are defeated by the state’s corrupt political machine.  Instead of being intimidated, Willie is instead inspired to go to law school and become a lawyer who fights for the people.  When an elementary school fire escape collapses and kills several children, Willie sues the construction company that built the school.

This also brings Willie to the attention of cynical political operative Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge, who also won a very deserved Oscar for her performance).  Sadie works for the state’s governor, who happens to be locked in a tight election campaign with a political reformer.  Sadie is dispatched to convince Willie to run for governor, with the idea being that Willie will take votes away from the reform candidate and therefore allow the governor to be reelected.

Everyone originally assumes that Willie is just a hick who will be easily manipulated.  And, at first, Willie proves to be an uninspiring campaigner.  It is only after he over hears his aide Jack Burden (John Ireland) talking to Sadie that Willie realizes that he’s being set up.  Willie responds by going to a country fair, dramatically ripping up his prepared speech, and then launching into a spell-binding speech in which he tells the people at the fair that, since they’re all hicks, they’ll only have power once they elect another hick to the governor’s office.  Newly energized and angry, Willie is nearly elected governor.

Four years later, Willie is back and he’s running for governor again.  He’s still giving loud populist speeches but, as Burden notes in his voice over narration, the difference is that Willie is now the establishment candidate.  He may be giving speeches promising hope and chance and attacking the rich but Willie will still take their money and watch out for their interests if that’s what he has to do to get elected.  (Sound like any Presidents that we might know?)

Once Willie is elected governor, he runs his state like a dictator, engaging in blackmail, demagoguery, and maybe even murder to get everything he wants.  He may still claim to be a hick but, as both Burden and Sadie realize, Willie has become exactly what he originally claimed to be against.  However, after Willie’s son (John Derek) kills a girl in a drunk driving accident and Burden discovers that the woman he loves has become Willie’s mistress, it starts to become apparent that Willie’s corruption has created a world that is spinning even out of Willie’s control.

All The King’s Men may be a political film but it feels more like a gangster film, with Willie Stark coming across less as a politician and more like a crime lord.  Director Robert Rossen directs in a style that owes a lot to film noir and the entire film is full of shadowy figures and secret plotting.  Though the film starts out on almost a comical note, with a lot of emphasis being put on Willie Stark’s simple ways, it eventually reveals itself to be a truly disturbing portrait of what happens when one man is overwhelmed by his lust of power.  Rossen is aided by a uniformly excellent cast.  While I already specifically mentioned Crawford and McCambridge, it would be very wrong to review All The King’s Men without mentioning an actor named Walter Burke.  Burke played Willie’s bodyguard.  He said, at most, maybe 3 sentences over the course of the entire film but Burke had such a memorable and intimidating presence that his unsmiling face is one of the defining images of the film.

The short, scary man smoking the cigarette?  That's Walter Burke.

The short, scary man smoking the cigarette? That’s Walter Burke.

Finally, not surprisingly, All the King’s Men remains just as relevant today as when it was first released.  We love our demagogues in America, especially when they pretend to be “just like us.”  (And if anyone doubts that, I suggest they spend a few minutes listening to all of the potential Presidential contenders bragging about how they’ve been dead broke, how they’re known as Average Joe, and how much they hate the very political system that they continue to perpetrate.)   We love to condemn our Willie Starks but, at the same time, we also love to keep electing them.

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