Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.5 “Night of the Kill” (dir by John Newland)


When young Davey Morris tells his parents that he’s been hanging out with a friendly Bigfoot-type creature, all of the adults in town react in the worst way possible.

This episode, from the second season of One Step Beyond, was one of the first to deal with the legend of Bigfoot.  Needless to say, it’s the adults who turn out to be the true monsters in this scenario.

This episode originally aired on October 20th, 1959.

 

30 Days of Noir #28: Time Table (dir by Mark Stevens)


Like many good crime films, this 1956 film noir opens on a train.

A passenger has suddenly been taken ill and his wife, Linda (Felecia Farr), wants to know if there’s  a doctor on board!  Fortunately, there is!  Dr. Paul Bucker (Wesley Addy) just happens to be on the train and it only takes him a few minutes to figure out that the man is suffering from polio.  Paul arranges for the train to make an unscheduled stop in the next town so that the man can be taken to the hospital.  Paul also asks to be allowed to go to the baggage car, so that he can retrieve his doctor’s bag.  Of course, he can!  Who is going to say no to doctor, especially in a situation this serious?

Paul goes back to the baggage area to claim his little black bag and that’s when something unexpected happens.  He opens up his bag and pulls out a gun.  It turns out that Paul is not only a doctor but he’s a thief as well.  After tying up everyone in the car and knocking them out with a sleeping drug, Paul proceeds to blow open a safe and steal all the money within.

When the train makes it unscheduled stop, Paul, the man, and Linda (who is actually Paul’s wife), disembark.  They get into an ambulance driven by the shady Frankie Page (Jack Klugman) and they head off.  It’s only after Paul’s escaped that the robbery is discovered.

With authorities baffled by the crime, insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) is assigned to investigate the robbery with railroad policeman, Joe Armstrong (King Calder).  Despite the fact that Charlie has been promising to take a vacation with his wife (Marianne Stewart), Charlie takes the case.  Everyone knows that Charlie is one of the best in the business.  If anyone’s going to catch these criminals, it’s going to be Charlie!

Of course, Charlie has another reason for taking the case.  It turns out that Charlie’s the one who masterminded the entire robbery!  He’s the one who first met Paul while the alcoholic doctor was attempting to file a false claim.  It also turns out that Charlie has been having an affair with Linda and that Charlie’s planning on running off with her as soon as they take care of Paul.

Mark Stevens both directed and starred in Time Table and the end result is a well-made and genuinely exciting film noir, one that features all of the hard-boiled dialogue, shadowy interiors, and twisty complications that one could hope for from a good heist film.  Stevens not only keeps the action moving at a steady pace but he also keeps you guessing about whether our band of criminals are going to make it to Mexico or if they’re going to all fall victim to one betrayal too many.  The film is full of nice character turns, though the strongest performance comes from Wesley Addy, who brings a wounded dignity to his duplicitous character.

For fans of film noir, this is definitely one to watch.

Horror On TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.13 “Primal Scream” (dir by Robert Scheerer)


Tonight on Kolchak….

What happens when an oil company discovers new, undefined organic matter in the arctic circle?

Well, first off, they mishandle it and it ends up turning into a prehistoric, killer ape-man.

Secondly, it’s time for a corporate cover-up!

Fortunately, the world’s greatest (if unluckiest) journalist, Carl Kolchak, is on the case!

Anyway, this is an okay episode of Kolchak.  If I don’t seem as enthused about it as I’ve been about some of the previous episodes, it’s because a killer, prehistoric ape-man just isn’t as much fun as a Cajun demon or a killer robot.  Still, this episode has a nicely done, underground tunnel-set climax.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong with an underground tunnel.

This episode originally aired on January 17th, 1975.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #243: The Joe Louis Story (1953, directed by Robert Gordon)


Joe Louis, also known as the Brown Bomber, is generally agreed to have been one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.  Despite the barriers put up by both poverty and racism, Louis held the world heavyweight championship from 1937 to 1949 and successfully defended his title in 26 fights (ranking him second to only Julio Cesar Chavez, who had 27 title defenses).  In 1938, he defeated German Max Schmelling, disproving Nazi claims that a black man could not defeat an Aryan and making Louis, along with Jesse Owens, one of the first African-American athletes to achieve nationwide hero status in America.

The Joe Louis Story, which was made and released shortly after Louis lost his final fight to Rocky Marciano and announced his retirement from boxing, tells an effective but sanitized version of Louis’s life story.  Made on an obviously low budget, The Joe Louis Story hits all the highlights — Joe’s relationship with trainer Jack Blackburn (James Edwards), Joe’s marriage to Marva Trotter (Hilda Simms), Joe’s two fights against Max Schmelling, and Joe’s time in the army — while ignoring most of the lowlights.  No mention is made of Joe’s financial troubles, Joe’s initial struggle to even get a match against the white heavyweights of the day, or the infidelity that led to Joe and Marva’s divorce.  The Joe Louis Story does briefly touch on racism when Joe is told that, as a black man, he already has a strike against him as far as the boxing establishment is concerned.

The best thing about The Joe Louis Story is that it features footage from Louis’s actual fights. Coley Wallace, the boxer who was hired to play the title role, bore a remarkable resemblance to Joe and the footage of the real Joe Louis boxing is easily mixed in with scene of Wallace as Joe.  Wallace was not much of an actor but, as a real-life boxer, he still brought enough authenticity to the role that his casting works.

One final note: In real life, Joe Louis ended his career after a brutal loss to Rocky Marciano.  Before turning pro, Marciano lost four fights as an amueter.  One of those losses came in 1948 when Marciano was defeated in the final round of the New York Golden Gloves tournament.  The fighter who defeated Rocky Marciano?  Coley Wallace.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Deathdream (dir by Bob Clark)


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The 1974 film Deathdream opens with American soldier Andy Brooks (played by Richard Backus) on patrol in Vietnam. When he’s suddenly shot by an unseen sniper, he hears his mother’s voice calling out to him, telling him that he promised to come home. With the voice filling his head, Andy closes his eyes.

Sometime later, back in America, Andy’s family has been informed that Andy was killed in action. His father (John Marley, who you might recognize as the man who played Jack Woltz in The Godfather) and his younger sister (Anya Ormsby) have managed to accept the fact that Andy is dead but his mother (Lynn Carlin) remains in denial. Oddly enough, his mother is apparently proven to be correct in her doubts when Andy suddenly shows up at the front door.

The family (and, eventually, the entire community) welcomes Andy home but it quickly becomes apparent that Andy has returned as a far different person than when he left. Now pasty and emotionless, Andy spends most of his day sitting around listlessly. It’s only at night that Andy seems to have any energy and he spends those hours wandering around town and hanging out in the local cemetery.

It quickly becomes apparent to his father that Andy is no longer quite human. However, his devoted mother continues to insist that nothing is wrong with Andy and, once it becomes apparent just what exactly Andy is doing in order to survive, she becomes just as fanatical about protecting him as his father is about destroying him.

Not surprisingly, Deathdream is more than just a zombie film.  When Andy suddenly shows up on his family’s doorstep, he’s more than just a decaying monster.  He’s also a metaphor for the unease that viewers in the 70s would have felt about the state of American society.  (Of course, in many ways, contemporary viewers share that same unease.)  Andy goes off to war and it literally robs him of his humanity.  I would also argue that, in its way, Deathdream serves as a satire of the type of complacent society that sends young people off to fight for their lives and then expects them to come back exactly the same as they were before they left.  No matter how strange Andy’s behavior becomes, the people around him are willing to either ignore it or make excuses for it.  Andy’s mother emerges as a stand-in for everyone who willfully refuses to acknowledge the human consequences of war.

Deathdream is one of those wonderful horror films that deserves to be better known than it is. Deathdream was an early credit for the legendary effects artist Tom Savini and, while the film itself is not especially gory, Savini’s work can definitely be seen in the scenes where Backus’s body slowly decays. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby and director Bob Clark (who later went on to direct the far different A Christmas Story) perfectly creates and maintains a deceptively low-key atmosphere of perpetual unease while the cast elevates the entire film. Backus makes for an all-too plausible ghoul and Marley is great as a man struggling to understand what his son has become. The film is totally stolen, however, by Lynn Carlin who is both poignant and frightening as Andy’s devoted mother.

If you haven’t discovered Deathdream yet, this Halloween is the perfect season to do so.

Horror Film Review: The Car (dir by Elliot Silverstein)


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“THE CAR IS IN THE GARAGE” 

— Captain Wade Parent (James Brolin) in The Car (1977)

Yes, that’s right!  The car is in the garage and it’s hunting for blood!

The Car is a pretty stupid movie that doesn’t really work but at least it’s enjoyably stupid.  From the minute I started watching this movie, I knew that the only way I could recommend it would be if James Brolin shouted, “The car is in the garage!” at some point.  When he did, I had to cheer a little.  I love being able to recommend a movie.

The Car takes place in the small desert town of Santa Ynez.  Nothing much ever seems to happen in Santa Ynez, which perhaps explains why the police force is so large.  (Why wouldn’t you want to be a police officer in a town with no crime?  It wouldn’t be a very demanding job.)  Sheriff Everett Peck (John Marley) keeps the peace and sends his time talking about how much he hates bullies.  Wade Parent (James Brolin) is his second-in-command and has a 70s pornstache.  Wade’s best friend is Deputy Luke Johnson (Ronny Cox), a recovering alcoholic with impressive sideburns.  And then there’s a few dozen other cops.  Seriously, this tiny town has a HUGE police force.

One day, however, the police finally get something to do.  A black Lincoln Continental has suddenly appeared, stalking the roads around the town.  It doesn’t have a licence plate and the windows are tinted a dark red so it’s impossible to see who — if anyone — is driving.  Stranger still, the car’s doors have no handles.  When the car does show up, it seems to appear out of nowhere and once it’s run someone over, it seems to vanish just as quickly.

When the car first appears, it runs down two cyclists.  A few hours later, it kills an obnoxious hippie hitchhiker (John Rubinstein).  The only witness was alcoholic wife beater Amos Clements (R.G. Armstrong).  When Amos goes to the police, the car tries to run him over as well but instead, it ends up killing Sheriff Peck.

Now, Wade is in charge and he has to do something about the car.  Unfortunately, Wade’s girlfriend, Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), made the mistake of screaming insults at the car when the car attempted to run down the school marching band.  Now, the car is stalking her.  Meanwhile, Luke is convinced that the car is being driven by none other than devil.  Wade says that’s impossible.  Luke points out that the car refuses to drive through consecrated ground.

And eventually, the car does show up in the garage…

The Car is one of the stupider of the many Jaws ripoffs that I’ve seen.  You’ll be rooting for the car through the entire film, which is good since the car kills nearly everyone in Santa Ynez.  (If any of them were likable, The Car wouldn’t as much fun to watch.)  It’s dumb but the film does have an appropriately silly ending and James Brolin does get to yell, “The car is in the garage!”

So, there is that.

Film Review: The Greatest (1977, dir by Tom Gries and Monte Hellman)


the_greatest_1977_portrait_w858The Greatest opens with 18 year-old Cassius Clay (played by Chip McAllister as a teenager and, as an adult, by Muhammad Ali himself) winning the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.  Returning home to Kentucky, Clay discovers that not even a gold medal can protect him from racism.  Angered after a restaurant refuses to serve him and his friend, Clay throws his gold medal into the Ohio River.  Under the training of Angelo Dundee (Ernest Borgnine), Clay turns pro and defeats Sonny Liston (Roger E. Mosley) for the heavyweight championship.  Inspired by Malcolm X (James Earl Jones), Clay also joins the Nation of Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali.  As heavyweight champion, Ali battles not only his opponents in the ring but racism outside of it.  The Greatest follows Ali as he loses his title for refusing to be drafted and concludes with the famous Rumble in the Jungle, where Ali won the title back from George Foreman.

Sadly, Muhammad Ali has never been the subject of a truly great feature film.  Even Michael Mann’s Ali failed to really capture the mystique that made Ali into such an iconic figure.  The Greatest is interesting because Ali plays himself.  Unfortunately, The Greatest proves that Ali may have been a great showman but he was not a natural actor.  You only have to watch the scene where Ali tries to hold his own with Robert Duvall to see just how stiff an actor Muhammad Ali really was.  Ali’s best scenes are the ones where he is trash talking his opponents or training.  The film opens with Ali jogging while George Benson sings The Greatest Love Of All, a scene that is made all the more poignant when you compare the athletic and confident Muhammad Ali of 1977 with the frail, Parkinson’s stricken Ali of today.

29Muhammad-Ali-1Instead of recreating any of Ali’s legendary fights, The Greatest instead uses actual footage of the matches.  The real life footage is the best part of the film.  After all these years, Ali’s fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman remain exciting to watch.  Otherwise, The Greatest is too episodic and low budget to do justice to Muhammad Ali’s story.

If you want to see a truly great film about Ali and his legacy, watch the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings, 2009’s Facing Ali or 2013’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali.  Ali is such an iconic figure that it may be impossible for any feature film to properly do justice to his life and legacy.  These three documentaries come close.

(Director Tom Gries died during the filming of The Greatest.  The movie was completed by Monte Hellman.)