Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #18: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (dir by Roger Corman)


On February 14th, 1929, seven men were murdered in a garage in Chicago, Illinois.  Five of the seven men were known to be associates of gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  The other two men were considered to be innocent bystanders, a mechanic and a dry cleaner who just happened to enjoy hanging out with gangsters.  Though no one was ever convicted of the crime, it was well-known that the murders were carried out on the orders of Al Capone.

In many ways, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a turning point in America’s relationship with organized crime.  Before the massacre, Capone had become a bit of a folk hero.  He knew how to talk to the press and he was viewed as merely breaking a law (in this case, prohibition) that most people opposed in the first place.  However, after the murders, public opinion soured on Capone.

Some of it was the brutality of the crime.  It’s been said that over five hundred bullets were fired in that garage, all to kill seven defenseless men who were lined up against a wall.  Grisly pictures of the victims were released to the press.  Perhaps if the seven men had been carrying weapons and had been involved in a shootout with their murderers, the public’s reaction would have been different.  But this was a cold-blooded execution.

Personally, I think the fact that the killers disguised themselves as cops also played a role in the public’s outrage.  It was a very calculated move on the part of the killers and it highlighted just how much planning went into the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  As well, it undoubtedly made people paranoid.  If a bunch of killer could dress up like cops, who knew who else they could dress up as?

Finally, I think that Capone’s biggest mistake was carrying out the crime on Valentine’s Day.  You don’t murder people on a holiday.  Anyone should know that.  If Capone had waited until February 20th, he probably could have gotten away with it.

The 1967 film, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, details the rivalry between Capone and Moran, starting with them fighting for control over the Chicago rackets and ending with the title event.  Moran is played by Ralph Meeker while Jason Robards plays Capone.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  Perennial WASP Jason Robards as Al Capone?  That may sound like odd casting and, let’s just be honest here, it is.  However, it actually kind of works.  Robards may not be convincingly Italian but he is convincingly ruthless.  Add to that, one of the major subplots of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is that, even as the head of the Chicago Outfit, Capone still feels like an outsider in the world of organized crime because, while he is Italian, he isn’t Sicilian.  Capone feels as if Lucky Luciano and all of the major New York crime bosses look down on him and one reason why he’s so ruthless about taking over Chicago is that wants to show Luciano that he can be just as effective a crime lord as any Sicilian.  Capone feeling out of place in the Mafia is reflected by Robards initially seeming to be out of place in a gangster film.  By the end of the movie, of course, Capone has proven himself and so has Jason Robards.

Robards isn’t the only familiar face to be found in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though this film was released by 20th Century Fox, it was directed by Roger Corman and Corman fills the production with members of his stock company.  Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and Jack Nicholson all have small roles as gunmen.  Bruce Dern plays the unlucky mechanic who enjoys hanging out with gangsters.  Buck Taylor, Leo Gordon, and Joe Turkel all have small roles.  John Agar plays Dion O’Bannon and is gunned down in his flower store.  Though not members of the Corman stock company, George Segal and David Canary plays brothers who work for Moran.  There’s a lot of characters wandering through this film but Corman makes sure that everyone gets a chance to make an impression.

It’s a good gangster film.  Though he was working with a larger budget than usual, Corman still brought his exploitation film aesthetic to the material and the end result is a violent, melodramatic gangster film that looks really impressive.  The film’s recreation of 1920s Chicago is a visual delight and looking at the well-dressed and stylish gangsters walking and driving down the vibrant city streets, you can understand why organized crime would have such a draw for some people.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is a classic gangster film and a classic Corman film.  It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.

 

Birds of Prey (1973, directed by William A. Graham)


When three disgruntled Vietnam vets rob Zion’s Bank in downtown Salt Lake City and take a bank teller (Elayne Heilveil) hostage, they’re spotted by traffic reporter Harry Walker (David Janssen).  A World War II vet who is going through a mid-life crisis and who feels unappreciated by the country that he risked his life to defend, Harry chases after the robbers in his helicopter.  With Harry’s help, the police corner the robbers on the roof of a parking garage.

That’s when they discover that the robbers have a helicopter of their own!  After abandoning their car, the robbers and their hostage take off in their helicopter, heading into the Oquirrh Mountains.  Though he’s running low on fuel and has been ordered to back off by Police Captain Jim McAndrew (Ralph Meeker), Harry continues to pursue the other helicopter into the wilderness.

A made-for-TV movie from 1973, Birds of Prey is a chase movie, with the usual cars replaced by helicopters.  What makes this movie so exciting is that it was directed in the days before CGI so, when you watch the two helicopters dangerously pursuing each other over Salt Lake City and taking daredevil risk over the mountains of Utah, you’re watching the real thing.  David Janssen was a trained pilot who actually was flying the helicopter and doing his own stunts for the majority of the film.  When the two helicopters nearly collide, you’re aware that you’re seeing a real near-miss, one that could have gone tragically wrong if not for the talents of the men piloting those helicopters.

Despite all of the action in the air, the film does occasionally touch ground.  Harry and McAndrew talk about why some vets can move on and others can’t.  Harry briefly lands on the freeway and gets some help from a passing motorist.  Finally, Harry gets to know the kidnapped teller, who has never been outside of Salt Lake City and who shares Harry’s love of old movies.  David Janssen was the go-to guy for gruff and grizzled heroes in 1970s made-for-TV movies and he’s pretty good as Harry.  But the real stars of the film are the helicopters and the still-impressive aerial footage of them chasing each other above Utah.

Unfortunately, I have never seen a good print of Birds of Prey.  Even the version on Amazon Prime is grainy, scratchy, and sometimes washed-out.  (It also features a promo for a television station in Phoenix, suggesting that it was transferred straight from a VHS tape.)  I hope that, at some point in the near future, someone will restore this minor chase classic.

The First Police Story: Slow Boy (1973, directed by William A. Graham)


Long before The Wire, Homicide, Chicago PD, NYPD Blue, or even Hill Street Blues, there was Police Story.

Co-created by cop-turned-writer Joseph Wambaugh, Police Story aired on NBC from 1973 to 1978.  It was an anthology series, with each episode following a different member of the LAPD as they deal with crime and social issues in Los Angeles.  For its time, it was ground-breaking in its realistic approach to the life and work of the police.  Interestingly, the show wasn’t always blindly pro-cop.  Often the cops featured were deeply flawed and the war on crime was frequently portrayed to be unwinnable.  Over the course of its run, Police Story was a regular Emmy nominee and won the award for Best Drama Series in 1976.

Police Story started, in 1973, with a two-hour TV movie.  At the time it aired, the pilot was called Stakeout but it has since aired in syndication under the title Slow Boy.  Vic Morrow stars as Sgt. Joe LaFrieda, a plainclothes detective who can’t keep his marriage together but who can take criminals off the street.  LaFrieda is the second-in-command of a special squad of detectives who specialize in watching and taking down high-profile criminals.  Their methods frequently come close to entrapment but they usually work.  Their current target is Slow Boy (Chuck Conners), the son of a mafia chieftain, who enjoys robbing stores.  When LaFrieda’s first attempt to put Slow Boy in jail is thwarted by a liberal judge and departmental bureaucracy, he and the squad come up with a second, less-than-legal plan to take Slow Boy down.

Considering the involvement of Joseph Wambaugh, it’s no surprise that plot is secondary to exploring the day-to-day lives of the blue-collar cops trying to take Slow Boy down.  The heart of the movie is in the scenes of the cops shooting the breeze and trying to keep each other amused during length shakeouts.  Their humor is often grim and the fascinating dialogue is cynical, dark, and, even by today’s standards, surprisingly raw.  One of the detectives (played by Harry Guardino, who specialized in loud-mouth city cops) is an unapologetic racist.  Though he gets a comeuppance of sorts, the way the film and the rest of his squad handle his racism will undoubtedly make modern audiences uncomfortable, even if it is authentic to the era in which Slow Boy was made.

The underrated Vic Morrow gives one of his best performances as the tough but sympathetic LaFrieda, who is bad at everything but his job.  He is ably supported by a host of familiar character actors.  Ed Asner plays LaFrieda’s reactionary lieutenant while Sandy Baron is great in the role of an informant.  Diane Baker was also perfectly cast as LaFrieda’s potential girlfriend.  (She first meets the detective while Slow Boy is holding a gun to her head.)  Finally, Chuck Conner is as intimidating as always as the sadistic Slow Boy.

Slow Boy is a tough and uncompromising police procedural and it provided a great start for Police Story.  Reruns of Police Story currently air on H&I on Sunday morning.

Horror on the Lens: The Night Stalker (dir by John Llewelyn Moxey)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!  (We’ll get to the tricks later…)

Long before he achieved holiday immortality by playing the father in A Christmas Story, Darren McGavin played journalist Carl Kolchak in the 1972 made-for-TV movie, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas, all of which involve victims being drained of their blood.  Kolchak thinks that the murderer might be a vampire.  Everyone else thinks that he’s crazy.

When this movie first aired, it was the highest rated made-for-TV movie of all time.  Eventually, it led to a weekly TV series in which Kolchak investigated various paranormal happenings.  Though the TV series did not last long, it’s still regularly cited as one of the most influential shows ever made.

Anyway, The Night Stalker is an effective little vampire movie and Darren McGavin gives a great performance as Carl Kolchak.

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: Without Warning (dir by Greydon Clark)


For today’s horror on the Shattered Lens, we have 1980’s Without Warning.  

In this horror/sci-fi hybrid, humans are hunted by an alien hunter who uses a variety of weapons and … what was that?  No, we’re not watching Predator.  We’re watching Without Warning.  For the record, Without Warning and Predator may have almost exactly the same plot but Without Warning came out long before Predator.

(Interestingly enough, Kevin Peter Hall played the intergalactic hunter in both films.)

Anyway, Without Warning is probably the best film that Greydon Clark ever directed.  Some would say that’s not saying much but seriously, Without Warning is a surprisingly effective film.  It also has a large cast of guest stars, the majority of whom are killed off within minutes of their first appearance.  That alien takes no prisoners!  (I especially feel sorry for the cub scouts.)

Of course, the main characters are four teenagers.  One of them is played by David Caruso, which I have to admit amuses me to no end.

Enjoy!

Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Rocky Mountain High: THE NAKED SPUR (MGM 1953)


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(By sheer coincidence, this post coincides with the birthday of character actor Millard Mitchell (1903-1953), who plays Tate in the film. Happy birthday, Millard! This one’s for you!)  

James Stewart and Anthony Mann  moved from Universal-International to MGM, and from black & white to Technicolor, for THE NAKED SPUR, the third of their quintet of Westerns together. The ensemble cast of five superb actors all get a chance to shine, collectively and individually, creating fully fleshed out characters against the natural beauty of the Colorado backdrop.

Bitter Howard Kemp, whose wife sold their ranch and ran off while he was serving in the war, is hunting down killer Ben Vandergroat for the $5,000 bounty in hopes of rebuilding his life. Along the trail he meets old prospector Jesse Tate and recently discharged (dishonorably) Lt. Roy Anderson. The trio manages to capture Vandergroat, but he’s not alone… he’s accompanied by pretty wildcat Lina…

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Roger Corman’s Bloody Valentine: THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (20th Century-Fox 1967)


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Low budget auteur Roger Corman had visited the gangster genre twice before, with 1958’s MACHINE GUN KELLY (featuring Charles Bronson in the title role) and I, MOBSTER (starring noir vet Steve Cochran ). Nine years later,  Corman produced and directed THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, with major studio backing, star power, and a million dollar budget. It’s still a Roger Corman film though, which means it’s a helluva lot of fun!

We’re in 1929 Chicago (as narrator Paul Frees tells us), a time of lawlessness, bootlegging, and mob killings on a daily basis. Two rival factions are battling to control the Windy City: the Southside gang led by ‘Scarface’ Al Capone (Jason Robards) and his Northside enemy ‘Bugs’ Moran ( Ralph Meeker ). Moran sends his top hood Peter Gusenberg (George Segal) to muscle in on Capone’s rackets, but when Big Al’s mentor Patsy is gunned down by Moran’s assassins, the crime boss goes…

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Hammer Time!: KISS ME DEADLY (United Artists 1955)


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Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels have long been one of my favorite Guilty Pleasures. Spillane’s books were the literary equivalent of knocking back shots of Jack Daniels with no chaser. The misanthropic Mike Hammer’s Sex & Violence filled adventures are rapid paced, testosterone fueled trips through a definitely un-PC world where men are men, women are sex objects, and blood and bullets flow freely through a dark, corrupt post-war world.  Spillane turned the conventional detective yarn on its ear and, though critics hated his simplistic writing, the public ate up his books by the millions.

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The film version of Spillane’s KISS ME DEADLY turns film noir on its ear from its opening shot of Christine Bailey (a young Cloris Leachman) running down a lonely highway, almost getting run over by Mike Hammer. The PI picks her up and the opening credits roll backwards to the strains of Nat King Cole crooning “Rather Have The Blues”. This beginning set-up lets…

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