RIP Sid Haig: A Career Retrospective


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Quick, name an actor who’s played villains opposite everyone from Batman to  James Bond, and Captain Kirk to TJ Hooker. Not to mention sharing screen time with stars like Ann-Margret, Lucille Ball, Lon Chaney Jr, Pam Grier, Nancy Kwan, Lee Marvin, and Anthony Quinn, and working with directors as diverse as Robert Aldrich, Jack Hill, Richard Fleischer, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, and Rob Zombie.  There’s only one, and his name was Sid Haig, one of the last links to Old Hollywood and an Exploitation Icon, who sadly passed away yesterday at age 80.

Young Sidney Moesian, born 7/17/39 in Fresno, was bitten by the show biz bug early, dancing onstage as a child and even scoring a regional rock hit with his teenage band The T-Birds:

Sid got his acting education paying his dues at the famed Pasadena Playhouse, alongside roommate Stuart Margolin (THE ROCKFORD FILES, DEATH WISH, etc). His…

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Farewell, Captain Spaulding


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News has reached us that character actor Sid Haig has passed away at age 80. I’ll have a full tribute/career retrospective on Sid later tonight or tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, enjoy this pictorial tribute to the late, great Sid Haig…

Spider Baby (1964; D: Jack Hill)

CC & Company (1970; D: Seymour Robbie)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971; D: Guy Hamilton)

Foxy Brown (1974; D: Jack Hill)

Jackie Brown (1997; D: Quentin Tarantino)

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All Star Exploitation: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (Australian 2010)


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Tonight we celebrate baseball with MLB’s 90th annual All-Star Game, and… what’s that you say, Dear Readers? You don’t LIKE baseball?!? (*sighs, shakes head, mutters “must be some kinda Commies”*) Luckily for you, I’ve got an alternative for your viewing pleasure this evening. It’s an All-Star salute to the halcyon days of low-budget Exploitation filmmaking in the Philippines that lasted roughly from 1959 (Gerry DeLeon’s TERROR IS A MAN, with Francis Lederer and Greta Thyssen) to the early 80’s and the advent both of VHS, which effectively ended the Drive-In/Grindhouse Era, and political upheaval caused in part by Fernando Marcos’s imposition of martial law on the island nation.

1971’s “Beast of the Yellow Night”

This Australian-made documentary by writer/director Mark Hartley covers the wild, wild world of making Exploitation movies in the jungle on a shoestring budget through judicious use of clips, trailers, and interviews with the people who made…

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Cleaning Out the DVR #16: Keep Calm and Watch Movies!


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All last week, I was laid up with sciatic nerve pain, which begins in the back and shoots down my left leg. Anyone who has suffered from this knows how  excruciating it can be! Thanks to inversion therapy, where I hang upside down three times a day on a table like one of Bela Lugosi’s pets in THE DEVIL BAT , I’m feeling much better, though not yet 100%.

Fortunately, I had a ton of movies to watch. My DVR was getting pretty full anyway, so I figured since I could barely move, I’d try to make a dent in the plethora of films I’ve recorded.., going all the way back to last April! However, since I decided to go back to work today, I realize I won’t have time to give them all the full review treatment… and so it’s time for the first Cleaning Out the DVR post…

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A Movie A Day #185: Emperor of the North Pole (1973, directed by Robert Aldrich)


Emperor of the North Pole is the story of depression-era hobos and one man who is determined to kill them.

The year is 1933 and Shack (Ernest Borgnine) is one of the toughest conductors around.  At a time when destitute and desperate men are riding the rails in search of work and food, Shack has declared that no one will ride his train for free.  When Shack is first introduced, the sadistic conductor is seen shoving a hobo off of his train and onto the tracks.  Shack smiles with satisfaction when the man is chopped in half under the train’s wheels.

A-No.1 (Lee Marvin) is a legend, the unofficial king of the hobos.  A grizzled veteran, A-No. 1 has been riding the rails for most of his life.  (The title comes from the hobo saying that great hobos, like A-No. 1, are like the Emperor of the North Pole, the ruler of a vast wasteland).  A-No. 1 is determined to do what no hobo has ever done, successfully hitch a ride on Shack’s train.  He even tags a water tower, announcing to everyone that he intends to take Shack’s train all the way to Portland.

If A-No. 1 did not have enough to worry about with Shack determined to get him, he is also being tailed by Cigaret (Keith Carradine), a young and cocky hobo who is determined to become as big a legend as A-No. 1.  Cigaret and A. No. 1 may work together but they never trust each other.

Like many of Robert Aldrich’s later films, Emperor of the North Pole is too long and the rambling narrative often promises more than it can deliver.  Like almost all movies that were released at the time, Emperor of North Pole attempts to turn its story into a contemporary allegory, with Shack standing in for the establishment, A-No. 1 representing the liberal anti-establishment, and, most problematically, Cigaret serving as a symbol for the callow counter culture, eager to take credit for A-No. 1’s accomplishments but not willing to put in any hard work himself.

As an allegory, Emperor of the North Pole is too heavy-handed but, as a gritty adventure film, it works wonderfully.  Lee Marvin is perfectly cast as the wise, no-nonsense A-No. 1.  This was the sixth film in which Marvin and Borgnine co-starred and the two old pros both go at each other with gusto.  Carradine does the best he can with an underwritten part but this is Borgnine and Marvin’s film all the way.  Marvin’s trademark underacting meshes perfectly with Borgnine’s trademark overacting, with the movie making perfect use of both men’s distinctive screen personas.  As staged by Aldrich, the final fight between Shack and A-No. 1 is a classic.

Even at a time when almost every anti-establishment film of the early 70s is being rediscovered, Emperor of the North Pole remains unjustly obscure.  When it was first released, it struggled at the box office.  Unsure of how to sell a movie about hobos and worrying that audiences were staying away because they thought it might be a Christmas film, 20th Century Fox pulled the movie from circulation and then rereleased it under a slightly altered name: Emperor of the North.  As far as titles go, Emperor of the North makes even less sense than Emperor of the North Pole.  Even with the title change, Emperor of the North Pole flopped at the box office but, fortunately for him, Aldrich was already working on what would become his biggest hit: The Longest Yard.

Keep an eye out for Lance Henriksen, in one of his earliest roles.  Supposedly, he plays a railroad worker.  If you spot him, let me know because I have watched Emperor of the North Pole three times and I still can’t find him.

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Galaxy of Terror (dir by Bruce D. Clark)


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Long before Event Horizon (but, perhaps more importantly, shortly after the original Alien), there was 1981’s Galaxy of Terror!

Produced by Roger Corman and featuring production design and second unit work from James Cameron, Galaxy of Terror tells the story of what happens when, in the future, the crew of the Quest are dispatched to a mysterious planet.  They’re on a rescue mission but what they don’t realize is that they’re heading into a trap!

The crew of the Quest is virtually a who’s who of cult actors.

The youngest member of the crew is Cos.  Cos is scared of everything and, from the minute you see him, you can tell that he’ll probably be the first to die.  Cos is played by Jack Blessing, who subsequently became a very in-demand voice over artist.  You may not recognize the name or the face but you’ve probably heard the voice.

Captain Trainor, who is still troubled by a disastrous mission in the past, is played by Grace Zabriskie, who is rumored to have inspired Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and who subsequently became a regular member of David Lynch’s stock company.

The fearsome Quuhod is played by one of the patron saints of exploitation filmmaking, the one and only SID HAIG!  Quuhod doesn’t say much but Sid Haig doesn’t have to say much to make an impression.

Technical officer Dameia is played by Taaffe O’Connell.  She suffers through the film’s most infamous and distasteful scenes, in which she’s assaulted by a gigantic space worm.  That scene was apparently insisted upon by Roger Corman and it’s not easy to watch.  At the same time, since the film takes place on a planet that is ruled by pure evil, the scene somehow works.  It’s that scene that tells you that Galaxy of Terror is not going to be your typical B-movie.  That is the scene that says, “This movie is going to give you nightmares!”

Ranger is played by Robert Englund!  That’s right — the original Freddy Krueger himself.  It’s interesting to see Englund in this role because Ranger is actually one of the only likable characters in the film.  It’s strange to see the future Freddy Krueger being menaced by the same type of threats that he unleashed on Elm Street.  But Englund does a good job in the role.  In fact, he does so well that you wonder what would have happened in his career if he hadn’t been forever typecast as the man of your nightmares.

The arrogant and cocky Baelon is played by future director, Zalman King.  It says something about King’s acting career that Galaxy of Terror is not the strangest film that he ever appeared in.

Burned-out Commander Ilvar is played by Bernard Behrens, who is one of those character actors who has a very familiar face.  If you watch any movie from the 80s or 90s that features a weary homicide detective or an unsympathetic bureaucrat, it’s entirely possible that he was played by Bernard Behrens.

Kore, the ship’s cook, is played by Ray Waltson, who is another one of those very familiar character actors.  Over the course of his long career, Waltson appeared in everything from The Apartment to The Sting to Fast Times At Ridgemont High to a countless number of TV shows and TV movies.  Waltson was usually cast in comedic roles so it’s interesting to see him here, playing a role that is very much not comedic.

Alluma, an empath, is played by Erin Moran, who was best known for playing Ron Howard’s bratty sister on the somewhat terrible (but apparently popular and deathless) sitcom, Happy Days.  Moran’s explosive death scene is another reason why Galaxy of Terror has a cult following.

And finally, the “star” of the film is Edward Albert, who plays Cabren.  To return to my earlier comparison to Event Horizon, Edward Albert has the Laurence Fishburne role.

Anyway, our crew is sent on a rescue mission but, when they crash land on the planet Morganthus, they find themselves outside of a desolate pyramid.  They make the mistake of exploring the pyramid and end up being confronted by their greatest fears.  (They also eventually discover that one of their crewmates is a traitor.)  It’s pretty much a typical sci-fi slasher film but it makes an impression because, thematically, it’s just so dark.  The fears that attack the crew members are so ruthless and brutal that they will take even the most jaded of horror fans by surprise.  Galaxy of Terror is relentless and merciless in its effort to scare the audience.

What especially distinguishes Galaxy of Terror is that, despite the obviously low budget, the entire film feels sickeningly real.  A lot of credit for that has to go to James Cameron, who creates a lived-in future that actually feels a lot more plausible than anything to be found in Avatar.

So, if you have the chance, turn off the lights, watch the film in the dark, and prepare for a perfect Halloween nightmare!

Rockin’ in the Film World #6: IT’S A BIKINI WORLD (Trans-American 1967)


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IT’S A BIKINI WORLD is one of the lowest of the low-budget “Beach Party” ripoffs you’ll ever see. Yet it has a certain charm to it, a likeable little “battle of the sexes” soufflé featuring some great 60’s rock acts and the undeniable appeal of beach bunny Deborah Walley.

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Beach stud Mike Samson goes gaga for knockout new redhead Delilah Dawes (Samson and Delilah, get it?). She thinks he’s an egotistical jerk and gives him the big freeze-out, telling him she prefers the “serious type”, so Mike dons a pair of thick glasses and some nerdy duds, passing himself off as intellectual brother “Herbert”. Herbert takes her to museums and zoos, while Mike competes with her in skateboarding and boat races run by local customizer Daddy, owner of hangout The Dungeon. Delilah discovers Mike’s scam, and they compete in a final Cross Country Race that consists of car racing, motorcycles…

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