Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.1 “The Dead We Leave Behind” (dir by Paul Stanley)


During the month of October, we like to share classic episodes of horror-themed television.  That was easier to do when we first started doing our annual October horrorthon here at the Shattered Lens because every single episode of the original, black-and-white Twilight Zone was available on YouTube.  Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

However, there is some good news!  Twilight Zone may be gone but there are other horror shows on YouTube!  For instance, I’ve discovered that, in 1972, there was a horror anthology series that was originally called Ghost Story.  It was produced by William Castle and each episode featured a different guest star having to deal with the supernatural.

The show made its debut on September 15th, 1972.  In this episode, Sebastian Cabot (playing the role of the mysterious Winston Essex) introduces a story about the mortality and technology.  Jason Robards and Stella Stevens are a married couple who discover that their television cannot only predict the future but that also one of them is going to die!

Enjoy the first episode of Ghost Story!

The Terror Within II (1991, directed by Andrew Stevens)


Two years after ripping off Alien with The Terror Within, producer Roger Corman decided to rip it off a second time with The Terror Within II.  This time, star Andrew Stevens hopped into the director’s chair and, along with the sex-crazed monsters, a religious cult was also added.  A year after The Terror Within II was released, Alien 3 was released and it also featured a religious cult.  Was it a coincidence or was Roger Corman predicting the future?

Speaking of the future, The Terror Within II returns us to the crappy future that was predicted by the first film.  As the previous film’s only survivor, scientist Andrew Stevens is walking across Colorado to take a position at yet another lab.  Along the way, he meets a young woman named Ariel (Clare Hoak).  No sooner have they met than they’re doing their bit to repopulate the human race.  Meanwhile, a cult wants to kidnap Ariel and offer her up to the mutants.  (The mutants were called Gargoyles in the first film.  Now, they’re called Lusus.)

Meanwhile, at the other lab, the scientists, including Stella Stevens and R. Lee Ermey, are studying a mutated finger, which appears to be spontaneously regenerating into a Gargoyle or a Lusus or whatever its called now.  Does it occur to anyone at the lab that growing their own monster is a stupid idea?  No.  Humanity is doomed.

The Terror Within II was shot for even less money than the first film but it’s also a marked improvement.  That’s mostly due to Andrew Stevens being a far more competent filmmaker than the director who did the first film.  Stevens know how to shoot an action scene and, when the monsters inevitable do end up storming the lab, it’s more exciting in the second film than it was in the first.  Plus, whereas The Terror Within only had George Kennedy to lend it some class, The Terror Within II has both R. Lee Ermey and Stella Stevens!  It’s an improvement, all around.

Unfortunately, there was never a third film.  The Lusus probably would have won anyways.  There’s only so many underground labs that humanity can hide out in.

A Town Called Bastard (1971, directed by Robert Parrish)


A Town Called Bastard is a British-produced Western that was shot in Spain and which was obviously designed to capitalize on the popularity of the Spaghetti westerns of the two Sergios, Leone and Corbucci.  When the movie was released in the United States, the title was changed to A Town Called Hell because it was felt that Americans would find the word “bastard” to be too offensive.  I’m not sure how naming your town Hell is somehow an improvement on naming a town Bastard but apparently, that was the thinking.  Actually, the town is called Bastardo is both versions of the film so the American title makes less and less sense the more you think about it.

Of course, how you can expect a film to make sense when the opening scenes feature Martin Landau and the very British Robert Shaw as two Mexican revolutionaries who, in the year 1895, ride into the town town of Bastardo and murder almost everyone that they see.  Ten years later, Robert Shaw is still living in the town but he’s now a priest and he’s renounced his formerly evil ways.  The town itself is ruled by a ruthless outlaw played by Telly Savalas, who doesn’t bother to hide his New York accent despite playing a Mexican outlaw.

One day, a black carriage arrives in town.  Inside the carriage is a glass coffin and inside the coffin in Stella Stevens, who is very much alive.  Stevens’s husband was among those killed by Shaw and Landau back in the day and she offers gold to anyone who can avenge his death.  Savalas is interested in the gold but then his character literally disappears from the film.  Instead, Martin Landau rides back into town.  He’s now a colonel in the Mexican army and is searching for a fugitive.

A Town Called Bastard has potential but it’s done in by poor casting and Robert Parrish’s inconsistent direction.  The story is told so messily and the editing is so sloppy that it often feels like major scenes were left on the cutting room floor.  (Just try to figure out what’s going on with Telly Savalas’s character, for example.)  Stella Stevens has one or two good moments as the vengeful widow and her entrance into the town is one of the few interesting moments in the movie but both Savalas and Shaw overact in an attempt to hide just how miscast they are while Martin Landau’s main concern seems to be to get his paycheck and move on to the next movie.

In the end, A Town Called Bastard goes straight to Hell.

Recipe for Disaster: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (20th Century-Fox 1972)


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Although 1970’s AIRPORT is generally credited as the first “disaster movie”, it was 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE that made the biggest splash for the genre. Producer Irwin Allen loaded up his cast with five- count ’em!- Academy Award winners, including the previous year’s winner Gene Hackman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION ). The special effects laden extravaganza wound up nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2, and was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only THE GODFATHER!

And unlike many of the “disasters” that followed in its wake, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE holds up surprisingly well. The story serves as an instruction manual for all disaster movies to come. First, introduce your premise: The S.S. Poseidon is sailing on its final voyage, and Captain Leslie Nielsen is ordered by the new ownership to go full steam ahead, despite the ship no longer being in ship-shape. (You won’t be able to take…

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That’s Blaxploitation! 11: Jim Brown in SLAUGHTER (AIP 1972)


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Jim Brown  is one bad mother… no wait, that’s Richard Roundtree as Shaft! Jim Brown is one bad dude as SLAUGHTER, a 1972 Blaxploitation revenge yarn chock full of action. Brown’s imposing physical presence dominates the film, and he doesn’t have to do much in the acting department, ’cause Shakespeare this ain’t – it’s a balls to the wall, slam-bang flick courtesy of action specialist Jack Starrett (RUN ANGEL RUN, CLEOPATRA JONES , RACE WITH THE DEVIL) that doesn’t let up until the last second, resulting in one of the genre’s best.

Ex-Green Beret Slaughter (no first name given) is determined to get the bad guys who blew up his dad’s car, with dad in it! Seems dear ol’ dad was mob connected and knew too much. Slaughter’s reckless abandon in seeking revenge lands him in hot water with Treasury agents, and he’s “persuaded” to assist them in taking down…

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A Movie A Day #290: The Granny (1995, directed by Luca Bercovici)


Granny Gargoli (Stella Stevens) is an old, wealthy, and dying.  With the exception of her niece, Kelly (Shannon Whirry, wearing glasses so it’s clear that she is not a gold digger), Granny hates her entire family.  When they come by for Thanksgiving dinner and start arguing about who is going to inherit Granny’s money, Granny snaps at her oldest son, “You’re the load that I should’ve swallowed!”

Since Granny does not want anyone to inherit her money, she decides that the best course of action would be to never die.  She buys a magic elixir that will grant immortality to whoever drinks it.  The salesman (played by director Luca Bercovici) tells her that it is very important to keep the elixir out of direct sunlight.  Of course, that gets screwed up faster than a mogwai turning into a gremlin.  When her family poisons her, the corrupted elixir does not keep Granny from dying.  Instead, it allows Granny to return as a demon who hunts down her greedy relatives one at a time.  One son is castrated.  A daughter-in-law is attacked when her mink stole comes to life.  Even after being killed, the members of the family return as wisecracking members of the living dead.

A mix of comedy and horror, The Granny used to show up regularly on late night Cinemax.  It may not be scary (though the castration scene is the reason why I get nervous whenever I see scissors) but, with the exception of Kelly, everyone in the family is so hateful that it is still fun to watch all of the get what they deserve.  Stella Stevens and Shannon Whirry are the main reasons to watch The Granny.  Stella gets all the best lines while Shannon Whirry shows why those who grew up watching late night Cinema still debate which Shannon was the best, Whirry or Tweed?

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: Women of San Quentin (dir by William A. Graham)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She’s got over 170 films to watch before the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Who knows?  She recorded 1983’s Women of San Quentin off of Retroplex on January 25th.)

For some reason, back in January, I felt the need to record several prison movies off of cable.  I’m not sure where my mind was at that I would see a title like Women of San Quentin listed in the guide and think to myself, “That’s something I definitely need to record.”  Maybe I was thinking of pursuing a career as a prison guard.  That seems to be the easiest way to get a show on A&E nowadays.

Anyway, I imagine that anyone reading this review is looking that title and considering the VHS cover art and they’re probably assuming that Women of San Quentin is some sort of Cirio Santiago-directed women in prison film.  And then consider the film’s cast: Amy Steel is best known for Friday the 13th Part II and April Fool’s Day.  Stella Stevens is an exploitation film vet.  One of the prisoners is played by Rockne Tarkington, who starred in a handful of blaxploitation films.  William Sanderson, star of the infamous Fight For Your Life, has a small role.  Yaphet Kotto plays a prison guard here but he’s best known for playing the villain in Live and Let Die.  Gregg Henry plays a sociopath.  Hector Elizondo and Debbie Allen play sympathetic guards.  Even Ernie Hudson, a now-respectable actor with several less-than-savory films on his resume, shows up.  Finally, consider this: Women of San Quentin was written by Larry Cohen, the man who directed both Black Caesar and It’s Alive.

However, despite all of that, Women of San Quentin is not an exploitation film.  Instead, it’s a made-for-TV movie.  (Director William A. Graham has over a hundred TV shows and made-for-TV movies to his credit.)  It follows several storylines.  Lt. Janet Alexander (Stella Stevens) is the tough-but-fair captain who is in charge of one of San Quentin’s most intimidating cell blocks.  She’s great at her job and she has a vaguely romantic relationship with Hector Elizondo but she’s also tempted to find a new career.  Charles Wilson (Ernie Hudson) steps up to lead the prison’s black inmates after another activist is assassinated.  Meanwhile, the leader of the Mexican Mafia plots a prison riot and Yaphet Kotto and Debbie Allen use any means necessary to discover what’s going to happen.

And then there’s Liz Larson (Amy Steel), the newest prison guard who struggles to prove that she belongs in San Quentin.  Sexist colleagues play cruel pranks on her.  The prisoners shout at her whenever she walks past their cells.  When she has to use a gun to break up a fight, she hesitates just a second too long.  Will she be able to step up when real trouble breaks out?  Among horror fans, Amy Steel is remembered for “surviving” several slasher films.  (Her performance as Ginny in Friday the 13th Part 2 largely set the standard for which all final girls are judged.)  Steel does a pretty good job as Liz but, actually, the entire movie is well-acted.  The script is frequently rudimentary but the cast is full of unique talent and it’s always fun to watch so many good actors playing opposite each other.

I assume that the Women of San Quentin was meant to be a pilot for a TV show or something.  It just has that feel to it.  If just for the cast alone, I would recommend watching Women of San Quentin if you get a chance.  I’m as surprised as anyone but, after all, where else are going to get a chance to watch Hector Elizondo, Yaphet Kotto, Stella Stevens, and Amy Steel all hanging out in a bar together?  There are certain opportunities that you just don’t miss.

A Movie A Day #156: Slaughter (1972, directed by Jack Starrett)


The Mafia just pissed off the wrong ex-Green Beret.

After his father is blown up by a car bomb, Captain Slaughter (Jim Brown) single handily wipes out the Cleveland mob.  Only one gangster, Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), escapes to South America.  The Treasury Department (represented by Cameron Mitchell) sends Slaughter and two other agents (Don Gordon and Marlene Clark) after Hoffo.  Along with being a ruthless gangster, Hoffo is a viscous racist and is convinced that he will be able to easily take care of Slaughter.  Hoffo does not understand how much trouble he’s in.  No one stops Slaughter.

Produced by American International Pictures, Slaughter is one of the classic blaxploitation films. While it may not have the political subtext of some of the best blaxploitation films, Slaughter is a fast and mean action film, directed in a no nonsense manner by B-movie veteran Jack Starrett.  There is not a wasted moment to be found in Slaughter.  It starts and ends with cars exploding and, in between, it doesn’t even stop to catch its breath.

In the 1970s, Richard Roundtree was John Shaft, Ron O’Neal was Superfly, Jim Kelly was Black Belt Jones, Fred Williamson was Black Caesar, and Jim Brown was Slaughter.  Whatever skills Jim Brown lacked as an actor, he made up for with sheer presence.  He commanded the screen.  Whether he was playing football on television or beating down the Mafia in the movies, no one could stop Jim Brown.  Slaughter is Brown at his toughest.  Rip Torn is the perfect villain, screaming out racial slurs even when Slaughter has him trapped in an overturned car.   Jim Brown has said that, of all the films he has made, Slaughter is one of his three favorites.  (The other two were The Dirty Dozen and Mars Attacks!)

Slaughter‘s cool factor is increased by the presence of Stella Stevens, playing the role of Ann, Hoffo’s mistress.  It only takes one night with Slaughter for Ann to switch sides.  Nothing stops Slaughter.

A Movie A Day #75: Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976, directed by Lee Philips)


This made-for-TV sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens several years after the death of Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.  Etta Pace (Katharine Ross, reprising her role from the original film) is now a wanted woman.  Hiding out in Arizona, she does her best to keep a low profile.  But when Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Steve Forrest) comes to town and one of Etta’s friends (Michael Constantine) is arrested, Etta knows that she’s going to need help to survive.  Crossing the border into Mexico, she teams up with revolutionary Pancho Vila (Hector Elizondo).  In return for helping him get his hands on a shipment of guns, Vila agrees to protect Etta.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman was ABC’s second pilot for a possible television series about Etta Pace’s adventures at the turn of the century.  The first pilot starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Etta and directly dealt with Etta’s attempts to come to terms with the death of Butch and Sundance.  While Katharine Ross returned to the role for the second pilot, Wanted: The Sundance Woman does not actually have much of a connection to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  Katharine Ross could have just as easily been playing Etta Smith as Etta Pace.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman is held back by its origins as a TV movie and a rather silly romance between Etta and Pancho Vila.  Hector Elizondo is hardly convincing as a fiery revolutionary and Steve Forrest is reliably dull as Siringo.  It is not really surprising that this pilot didn’t lead to a weekly series.  On the positive side, the film does feature an exciting train robbery and Katharine Ross is just as good in this sequel as she was in the original.  Even though she was talented, beautiful, and had important roles in two of the most successful films of the 60s (The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Hollywood never seemed to know what do with Katharine Ross.  While she did have a starring role in The Stepford Wives, Katharine Ross spent most of the 70s appearing in stuff like The Swarm, They Only Kill Their Masters, and The Betsy.  It’s unfortunate that Hollywood apparently did not want Katharine Ross as much Pancho Vila wanted the Sundance Woman.

A Movie A Day #49: Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure (1995, directed by Jim Wynorski)


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After five years of kinky sex and murder, the Body Chemistry franchise ended with Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure.

Like the third film, Full Exposure was directed by Jim Wynorski and produced by Andrew Stevens.  Shannon Tweed stepped into the role of murderous Dr. Claire Archer, replacing Shari Shattuck.  Shannon Tweed was always one of the most talented of the actresses who regularly appeared on what was then nicknamed Skinemax.  It wasn’t just that Tweed always seemed to being give it her all in her films’ frequent sex scenes.  Tweed also had the look and style of an old-fashioned femme fatale.  It was easy to imagine her trading sultry quips with Alan Ladd or Tom Neal.  This made Tweed perfect for the role of Claire Archer and her performance was a noticeable improvement on Shari Shattuck’s.  It’s just too bad the rest of the film was such a snoozefest.

In Full Exposure, after getting away with three murders in the first two Body Chemistry films, Claire has finally been arrested.  She is on trial for killing Alan Clay (Andrew Stevens) at the end of the third film.  However, she has a hotshot lawyer named Simon Mitchell (Larry Poindexter) and she is soon up to her old tricks, having sex with Simon in his office, a parking garage, and an elevator.  Simon’s aide, Lane (Marta Martin), has come across proof of Claire’s crimes but Claire has a plan to take care of that.  She always does.

Full Exposure starts out as a typical Body Chemistry film, with neon-lit sex scenes, but it quickly get bogged down in lengthy courtroom sequences.  In the previous three films, Claire at least had some sort of motivation but here, it’s never clear why she would try to destroy her lawyer’s life during the trial instead of waiting until he had, at least, gotten her off the hook.  Tweed is a perfect Claire but the rest of the cast is just going through the motions.   Though Claire once again got away with murder, there were no more chapters to her story after this one.  The Body Chemistry franchise managed to do a lot with a very thin premise but Full Exposure shows, that by the fourth film, there was no where left to go.