Wednesday, August 10, 2022

10 Weird/Cool Gems Streaming Free on Tubi (your cinema shelter from the late summer swelter)

Hey, come check out my contributing post for the amazing B&S Movies site: Ten from Tubi Week 12.

I've become a huge fan of Sam Panico and B&S, thanks to his encyclopedic yen for Mexican wrestling and 70s American TV disaster movies, two genres I've been exploring this summer, each a kind of cranial air conditioning, made extra cool by the infectious love apparent in B&S's concise reviews. He writes and posts about 20 new reviews a day! 

And we both love the Tubi. It's so free! And it's got everything from 60s German nudity-and-sex-free sexploitation to 50s Italian sword and sandal epics to 90s shark movies to 30s British comedy-thrillers, and so much in between. Sure, there are commercials--Tubi gotta earn a dollar---but they don't overdo it like regular TV or 'free with commercials' Amazon movies.

And since everything is unedited, the commercials can be hilarious reprieves from the intensity in that accidental surrealist collage kind of way--  like a smash-cut from Leatherface's slamming the metal door to his secret meat locker/kitchen to a sizzling, juicy stake platter now just 10.99 at Applebees. That's kind of a more obvious juxtaposition than most you'll get, but it's still eatin' good in the neighborhood. 

Anyway, you know from a Texas Chainsaw, and maybe even Hills Have Eyes. This list is far weirder but gentler. Less rapey and screamy, more wild and woolly. In a word, cooler.

In addition to the ten here, don't forget to check out the two other top ten Tubi lists I created. Besides the one living at B&S (Ten from Tubi Week 12) there's My TUBI Cue (Deadly Women Edition): 10 Weird Vintage Gems for the High and Inside

That's 30 in all. Title availability not withstanding. In the words of Mantan Moreland, they come and they go... they come and they go.

(1973) Dir. Jean-Marie Pélissié

A bit of a slow burner, on minimal sets, including one very strange and cool empty house (I get the impression the story was written around the house, which is all weird angles, twisty stairs, and spatial distortions), this starts with a happily engaged couple. David (Arthur Roberts) and Barbara (Robin Strasser), picnicking on a sprawling lawn, the music so treacly in that super-cliche'd 70s 'slow-mo run through the meadow' kinda way you may be tempted to give up right then, but don't be fooled. Within minutes the red flags start to unfurl: Barbara proudly announces she built the house and intends they shall live therein, and he clearly isn't that thrilled with all her plans, but as an ambitious employee of his fiancee's father (John Beal), he says nothing. A bit of a deranged, spoiled control freak who really wants her wedding to be fairy tale perfect, David meekly goes along with it all. But there's a reason, which Barbara finds out after walking in on him and his supposed-ex Ellen (Iva Jean Saraceni) having a snot half an hour after saying "I do."  

Naturally she lunges at him with a pair of scissors. 

You would think this would go in a lot of directions from there, but it doesn't. Where it goes is off the rails with bizarre dream sequences, weird phone calls terrorizing David and Ellen (who are now shacked up) and progressive gaslighting. The dad doesn't fire the merely-wounded David--after all he's still his son-in-law and doing great work. Barbara has disappeared after fleeing the wedding in a bloody wedding dress. Dad's not worried--she'll be back... some day real soon. 

It's all very well acted by these four leads, especially Beal and Strasser. The final act sees them both cut loose into wild emotional swings across the gamut; with each word they rattle off conjuring a complete change of reading and expression. It's so crazy I had to rewind several times to savor every tic. And as Helen, Saraceni has a bravura scene to herself--veering from terror to fury to anguish--when she's terrorized in their house after David has left for work. With just a few upstairs footsteps, and some props, and a phone call or two, Helen--and we--are basically driven off the deep end off fear. 

 But of course the real star is Strasser. Willful, spoiled, possibly schizophrenic but funny, creative, idealistic, naive and only roiling over the top when it's time to really pour it on. Never before has an unarmed, smiling woman in a wedding dress trying to get you into bed seemed so frightening. Watch it and realize the masculine unconscious is an empty crazy house run and designed by a woman (the anima) whom we barely know, but she haunts our dreams, and--if we don't respect her-- is apt to deliver nightmares from which we may never awaken! 

(1963) Dir. Rene Cardona, Sr.

If you're a stranger to the lucha libre movie world this a fine place to start. Las 'Luchadoras' are a tag team of statuesque wrestling women played by Mexican fantasy film fixture Lorena Velázquez (Ship of Monsters, Invasion of the Martian Women) and American ex-pat Elizabeth Campbell. They shall fight in the ring. They shall fight in the streets. They shall fight in masked criminal mastermind / mad scientist Dr. Doom's warehouse lair and secret laboratory. And then they shall fight in the ring again. Dr. Doom (no relation to the Fantastic Four version) is a villain straight out of the classic Hollywood serials, replete with half-dozen endlessly re-punchable henchmen and a monster made indestructible, thanks to body armor and a metal mask). The doctor keeps sending his armored monster and various henchmen out to :recruit" new female subjects off the streets, to use in his gorilla brain transplant experiments, but then he decides he needs 'stronger' women for the operation to work (the others die on the operating table). He happens to have heard of two of them... you guessed it! 

Amiable, capable, smart and not shy about mopping up the floor with a whole room full of out-of-their-depth (male) abductors, the Luchadoras don't need rescuing; they even come the rescue of their smitten male cop escorts more than once, and--to their credit--the men are not threatened by it! When all else fails, the scientist decides he has to create a super strong female wrestler (named 'Vendetta'!) and sends her into the ring against las Luchadoras. Doom himself shows up in his own badass mask as her manager. (top)

 Even if you don't go in for wrestling, it's a nice whirlwind of serial-style cliffhanger action, with a real reverence for strong female characters, a reverence lacking in America's film output at the time. (Russ Meyer was still doing nudie cuties in 1963 - Faster Pussycat was still two years away). 

The recent upgrade to HD makes it easy to finally stop wading through the murk of Something Weird's old DVD. And if you're aching for more, Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy is also in remastered HD on Tubi. If you're hooked after Doom and you want a kind of sequel, check out Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy and its sequel Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. All terrific, mindless comfort food for the soul and coolant for the troubled brow looking for some monster action to nod off to at four AM. 

Special Note: There are other luchador movies on Tubi, including The Panther Women, and a lot of color Santos movies, but they have much newer dubs that don't really work as well, in my opinion. You might be OK with them and can always do as I do--watch them late at night on mute, with subtitles on and the YouTube Spanish version synced up and playing in a different window. Either way, don't let the newer dubs dissuade you from the older dubs,  All of the movies mentioned in the above paragraph were dubbed into English back in the 1960s for K. Gordon Murray by a tight little Florida team who did dozens of them under the direction of Miguel San Fernando. YouTube is a real treasure trove for the older luchador stuff, especially subtitled Mexican language prints - visit my curated playlist: Mexico de Macabre.)

(R-rated version)
(2002) Dir. David Worth

Speaking of cranky opinions, I never liked the first two Shark Attack movies and find John Barrowman (Torchwood) egregiously smarmy. These two reasons kept me away from Shark Attack 3 (in which Barrowman stars) for years, despite all the (so-bad-it's) good things I heard about it. But then I learned he was openly gay-married, whiuch made him less offensive. Now he makes more sense, and I can finally enjoy Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, in which he stars as--you guessed it--a smarmy/cocky chief of security at a Cozumel resort destined to fight a large--presumed extinct--big ass shark. And this self-righteous SOB is gonna need all the help a sultry marine paleontologist (Jenny McShane) and her two person documentary crew can lend. Will the inevitable sparks fly between this oceanic white prick and this blue-haired blond-eyed hottie sent from her museum by her smitten male dope of a boss? And you better believe there'll be a corporate whistleblower (Roy Cutrona) fingering the shady outfit he used to work for. And how about an 80s-style yuppie CEO whose deepwater trench-adjacent electric cable starts leaking out into surrounding water, thus driving up the prehistoric big game, forced up by the constant static?

Sure it's as original as 'boy meets girl,' sure it's shoddily-constructed, weather-beaten at the seams, but that's why it's also perfect for a lazy summer afternoon when it's too hot to move more than ten feet from your air conditioner and you're in the mood to see some giant sharks eating yachts full of environmentally irresponsible capitalists while yachting in the beautiful waters off resort-studded Cozumel. And the effects are a cut above the usual Asylum junk. The CGI here is never noticeable. Several of the shots of the giant shark rising out of the water to devour whole boats are surprisingly good; I couldn't tell if they were using miniatures, or just really well-done analog overlays. And I like that it doesn't feel the need to overdo the capitalist evil 'keep a lid on it' schtick. This movie knows you can make even the greediest capitalists somewhat sympathetic and we'll still cheer with bloodthirsty joy when they, their wives, the mayor, and everyone on their swanky yacht, and the yacht itself, are devoured in big cathartic gulps. 

No such luck with Barrowman, but now that I know he's gay, it's OK if he stays in one piece. Also, he delivers a great WTF? proposition about 2/3 of the way in. You'll see what I mean, or hear what I mean, as long as you're watching the R-rated version and not the PG-13 one (both are on Tubi, so be careful).

(1971) Dir. William Grefe

"This looks like the spot, all right." A gun-toting guy in a cowboy hat and flannel shirt sneaks into a cardboard cavern-cum-witch doctor's tomb and beholds a sarcophagus with a lizard handle. The canned library music soars as he tries to open the lid. He can't. Then it opens without him. The mummy rises --it's a black guy in a fur hat! He kills him and takes the rolled up map the guy brought - it contains the opening credits! The canned suspense music shifts over to some scratchy tribal drumming and chanting (maybe lifted from the director's early-60s high-fidelity exotica collection?) The credits are written in blood! I'm hooked, in that gentle relaxing way I love. 1971 never felt so much like 1965. 

I only discovered William Grefe's canon recently, thanks to the Arrow exhausting retrospective. I may have been scared off in the past by faded color and unrestored cropped images, but now the colors glow and everything is ducky thanks to Arrow's good work. I still haven't been able to finish one all the way through, except Tartu, which I've already seen three times. Florida native Grefe knows how to deliver while entirely on location in the Everglades, and to convince his young cast to swim therein, and get eaten by a shark, bit up by gators and snakes, dance to their transistor radio's generic rock, make out (lots of boyfriends getting kind of pushy and hormonal). Never crossing over into crass, wading through the marshes, pulling a swamped fan boat, and screaming excessively, it all works. A concentrated time frame and linear plot helps: we're following a simple day in the life of an archeologist and his unwitting students on a field trip, who make the mistake of ignoring the native warnings about Tartu's grave. The natives believe Tartu, an ancient medicine man, can rise up to smite them in the form of a bull shark, a snake, an alligator, and, finally, a muscular young brave. Add a scene of being trapped in Tartu's spooky cave for awhile,  his mummified corpse rising up to the sound of the thumping tom-toms. and you have a recipe for 88 minutes of Floria supernatural delight, even if it's all (the tomb scenes aside) shot outside during the day in natural light and unconvincing day-for-night (I presume, since they carry around lit lanterns).  

Ironically, Grefe must have genuinely thought a shark attack couldn't happen in the fresh water of the Everglades, as he has the professor even announcing its impossibility to his students, and coming to believe in the curse because it couldn't happen otherwise. In point of fact--as any Shark Week fan can tell you-- bull sharks (the very shark in the Tartu stock footage) can live in fresh water, for days at a time if necessary. And they do swim up the Everglades, where food is more plentiful than the open ocean. And they can, and they have, attacked people in the Everglades! Yet this archeology professor doesn't know that, so concludes the supernatural is the only explanation! It may be the first (and last) time in any movie where a professor comes to believe in the supernatural truth via a misunderstanding of a natural event (rather than the reverse).

I like so much about this movie. I like the weird accent of the faux-semi (possibly real?) Native American or maybe Mexican guide. It's how I'd imagine someone with that accent would actually talk, i.e. like he's unconsciously trying to hide it rather than accentuate it the way a lesser actor would. I like Tartu lounging in his coffin listening to his scratchy old tribal drums LP (Can the onscreen characters hear the drums in the distance, or is it supposed to to be the score? We never know for sure, and I like that). I like the boa constrictor slithering around the skulls and around the campfire coffee pot. Like the film itself, that serpent knows where he wants to go, but at the same time it's in no hurry to either arrive there or explain why he's going there. It's the kind of film that just goes on. Then stops suddenly and the whole swamp goes silent. The guide notices and points out how the Everglades are normally shrill with insect buzzing, birdcalls, and splashing noises. But there's nary a sound in Tartu's neck of the 'glades. Eerie moments like that abound without the film ever being anything less than sublimely deadpan, gravely absurdist, and pleasantly warped. In gamely failing to bog down in pointless squabbling or sludgy sermons, it's easily best Everglades-shot movie about an amok undead Native American shapeshifter ever made, even with some T&A and rock and roll dancing on the hardwood hammock, if you know what I mean. 

(1958) Dir. Pietro Francisci

This is the one that started the peplum craze (it was a worldwide hit), beautifully lit by Mario Bava, well-fleshed out with mighty Steve Reeves as Herc and the lovely Sylvia Koscina with lovely legs in a short white tunic as Iole. Though it bogs itself down with lengthy flashbacks of courtly intrigue (we get a dream within a flashback in the very first reel) subjecting us to the loathsome antics of a sniveling prince, and a paranoid usurper king (Iole's father)--it's still a good, relaxing time at the movies. Soon the sniveler is dead and Herc is blamed. He's bummed to leave Iole but for us it's a welcome escape from the snaky politics and sweaty paranoia. He drops by the mystic Sybil and ask that his godly power removed (so he "can fight like other men"), is almost be killed by a thickly carpeted bull, then joins Jason (the rightful king) and Ulysses on an a quest to recover the golden fleece. They meet ape men, sirens, beautiful Amazons, an evil saboteur, and even a rather large dragon monster. It has a roar clearly 'borrowed' from Godzilla, and just shakes autumn leaves off its back (it was sleeping) before Jason offs it with a single spear throw, kind of a short fight, but it's still nice to have!

Throughout, Mario Bava's masterful colored lighting is beautiful--though it's not in HD or remastered anywhere (please Kino, please!) besides some color boosting. And there's a lyrical sequence where they're seduced and set to be destroyed a drugged wine-proffering cult of amazons, and then nearly drawn to the rocks by their siren song after sailing off. In short, this film has everything: dialogue rich with gods and destiny fulfillment, adventures, storms, fate, monsters, soothsayers, storms, babes, drugs, wine, bucolic frolics, lions, bulls, discuses, Bava's excellently sexy use of frame and color, and Hercules pulls down an entire temple.

And, by Zeus, is he ripped. And oily.

Note: Tubi has the immediate sequel, HERCULES UNCHAINED, which is even better than the first film in a lot of ways (including the dubbing), but the Tubi transfer's image is squished and cropped and a-no good. You can find it on Youtube, though, in a less squished but still kind of analog/fuzzy VHS transfer  and after you do, petition Kino and/or Arrow or Synapse or even Scorpion to goddamned release a cleaned up re-struck HD double feature of both. For all our sakes, so Bava's colors can shine once more. If you doubt how gorgeous it would look, all you have to do is take a peep at the next entry on our list of light summer fun:

(1962) Dir. Mario Bava

Hercules was such a worldwide hit that everyone went sword and sandal crazy. Mario Bava gave us the masterful Hercules in the Haunted World, and then this; a very Italian riff on the popular Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis 1958 film The Vikings. I'm sure it has that one has some fans today, but like most of Hollywood's output in that time, it's kind of burdened by the historic sweep and leisurely pace demanded by Cinemascope.  Bava's Erik, by contrast, surges with fleet-of-foot color-saturated brilliance, with Bava showing off his ability to create crowds from a handful of extras, naval skirmishes represented by some smoke and a blazing orange backdrop --and with the new HD remaster upgrade--it all works gorgeously, fast-paced and fun. Though not technically a horror movie, there are plenty of skulls and spiders, blazing fires, strange rites, tortures of the damned, forbidden love, beards, furs, axe throwing, horses, and bro codes. A pair of beautiful twins (Alice and Ellen Kessler) as temple virgins consecrated to Odin from birth, but in love anyway, one with Viking leader Cameron Mitchell, the other with his (unknown to each of them) younger brother, left abandoned after the Viking parlay party is massacred by an English usurper's treachery. Luckily he's found by the widowed queen (Francoise Christoph) during a walk on the beach mourning her husband after he's murdered by the evil traitor Sir Rutherford (Andrea Checchi) in the battle. Each grows up in a warring kingdom, leading to their inevitable clash, and of course there are recognizable birth marks revealed to each other in mid-skirmish. That's a given. And what a given!

Sure, it's a familiar story, even when it was used in The Vikings. But Bava bathes it all with succulent glowing orange and purples, torchlight, and colored gels making everything alive and alluring. And he's a master storyteller in film, with a gift for tracking shots, framing, pacing, lighting and composition, that elevate even the most familiar or cliche'd of stories to new heights. The HD remastered print on Tubi is so good you'll want to pause every shot and frame it. Study the camera movements the way you would study those of John Ford, examine its beauty, color, and composition from every facet. Bask in its pulp brilliance, even if you don't like Mitchell's godawful buzzcut orange hair (what is it with Italians and unconvincingly dyed red [over dark] hair?) and even if you don't like subtitles (It's in Italian, as I don't think it was ever exported here for some reason). 

(1977) Dir, Jay Lee Thompson

A long unavailable Dino di Laurentiis classic emerges in full HD restored beauty to make Bronson fans' hearts soar like hawk. Reasons, many: Wintry mountain beauty (Colorado standing in for the Black Hills of South Dakota) cools hot summer viewing. The Jaws-y great white buffalo is a very cool giant animatronic monster (rather than a real buffalo painted white). The mighty rumblings of great beast's hooves perfectly echo through John Barry's moody low-end score. 

Charles Bronson is an incognito Wild Bill Hickok in the late 1800s, wearing sunglasses even at twilight, never smiling except twice. Everywhere on his journey north to the Dakota gold rush, old enemies (Clint Walker is one!) are eager to kill him. So it's one of the elegiac westerns where the men who won the west now slink through town like anti-celebrities, inviting retribution for old killings of various people's friends or parents. Also, he has nightmares of a white buffalo charging him, so he partners up with crusty old buff skinner Jack Warden, and heads to where the "white spike" was last seen. 

But there's some other legendary figure hunting the white buffalo, and it's an incognito Crazy Horse (Will Sampson). He seeks vengeance after it trashes his camp and tramples his wife and child and half the tribe. Will the Bronson and Crazy Horse bond, despite layers of distrust? A whole chunk of the film becomes about their odd blossoming friendship.

The Richard Sale screenplay is full of strange mythopoetic dialogue that one wonders if anyone ever actually talked back then. Hickok greats Warden by saying "he's been known to puddle his britches at a Kayoia war whoop." Hickok says no to sex with old prostitute friend (Kim Novak!) because "sometime back, one of your scarlet sisters dosed me proper" (the first time I've ever heard anyone bow out of sex due to an STD in any movie - so props). Sex is "riding the high horse," or "flying the eagle,"  It's also the first time I heard the word "comity" used in a sentence. It's a great scene that reminds us that 1977 was still a time you could find mature adult-themed action/adventure movies, i.e. until that same year's Star Wars changed everything. It also reminds us Novak's stardom was well-earned, as she pares her performance down to Bronson's limited emotional range to create an actual connection. It seems like these two characters really do know each other from way back when things were wilder, and now both are as exhausted, but still occasionally dangerous, as wildness itself. 

It's refreshing, it's interesting, but doesn't quite work. To make such faux-antiquated folksy slang sound natural you either have to be from the west (i.e. Slim Pickens as a stagecoach driver, for whom slang"Blue whistler -- must a caught her right in the third eye," sounds right natural), or be coached by a director like John Huston, whose Moby Dick adaption, for example, masterfully brings in the poetry and dosed metaphysical anger of Melville's dialogue without ever seeming pretentious, strained, or losing its sense of adventure.

I don't mean that as a dis. The colorful language is part of the reason why I love this damn film. The other part, the white whale, I mean 'buff' is not a convincing buffalo at any time. It's just a big angry furry white steam engine; when it charges, it goes galloping forward as if on wheels on a hidden train track, its head bopping up and down mechanically, steam billowing from its nose like twin smokestacks. Personally, I think that's awesome, and Thompson knows just how to film the thing, i.e. in grand 'never show the whole monster' rule in horror filmmaking, in order to keep its mystique alive to the end. Only appearing at night in snowy scenes, like some ghost of the west, Thompson wisely shoots all its scenes on a big dark soundstage, with falling fake snow and swirling mist, out of which the beast comes a-charging out of the mist--at first just a thunderous roar of hoofs and a blur of kicked up snow far in the distance. The effect is to make the beast dreamlike, a bigger-than-life animatronic juggernaut that transcends the boundary between visions, nightmares, and reality. As a kid who loved big haunted house rides and Epcot Center dinosaurs, I'm a sucker for robot behemoths like this. And--if you were a kid in the 70s you may remember being excited for Di Laurentiis's 1976 King Kong--it was supposedly to be be a massive life-size giant ape robot. Instead, we got Rick Baker in a monkey suit. Was this buffalo his attempt at apology? If so, he is forgiven! Whether it's chasing Bronson around in the snow while Samson rides it, stabbing furiously into its back and neck; or its shoving its massive head smashing through a giant cave wall to get at them, this White Spike is a cool breath of rocky mountain Moby Dick meets snow Jaws air.

Samson and Bronson bond from 30 yards away by making crazy hand
gestures and shouting across the snowy hilltop

Of course, the harder you try to evoke a classic like Moby Dick, the farther you're liable to drift off to abstraction, especially if you mix up the hallucinatory adventure with too much of that 'sins of the past' setting sun, gettin' old, Kramer-style 'got m'hands bloody winning the west by and now I'm not allowed to enter Jericho'-style' dove-stroke revisionism. After we spend so much time rooting for this red man-white man friendship to blossom--with lots of pauses and slow... measured speaking... all half-shouted as they stand very far away, at first-- to the point it's almost a total bromance, we're left at the altar of nostril fuming indifference, our dicks hanging in the air with nowhere to go, so to speak, when they each reveal their true identities and realize all the grudges their people hold against each other. 

Well, at least we have our memories: the white spike's nostril smokestack charging; Samson's great deep voice, Bronson's disaffected cool and fringe leather jacket; the crazy faux-historic colloquial dialect; John Barry's moodily ominous score; snowy, vivid Black Hills (actually Colorado) scenery in some scenes, lovely stylized wintry night or early dawn/evening sound stages in others. The scene of it charging towards them through the snowy haze, the sun barely lighting the thick white cloud ceiling (wondrously created on the sound stage) to a dark milky gray, a few six-shot shoot-outs, ambushes, throwing an Irish drunk off a stagecoach for being rude to a prostitute. It's got a lot of great bits. If it ends in a shrug, and a bad vibe, sometimes that's how it was in the 70s western wilderness. It's a nice place to visit, and maybe get your hands bloody confronting the unnameable white beast that dwells in the heart of man, but then that 70s liberal guilt finds you, even there--in the snowy white heart of darkness - like a flare up of that scarlet sister's proper dose. 

(1973) Dir. John Landis

The opening blurb --an ad for the film you are about to see-- declares Schlock! the greatest film since 2001, and who are we to doubt it? John Landis, the director of Animal House and American Werewolf in London, had to start somewhere. Indeed, so did mankind itself. And here is the starting point for both: a smart and refreshingly deadpan 'spoof' of every movie e'er made that e'er had an ape in it (and even some that don't). With a great termite attention to momentum akin to Italian movies like those two-fisted Terence Stamp-Bud Spencer comedies of the same era, Schlock keeps itself in the groovy moment with a plot that makes reverent use of the entirety of classic creature features without ever mugging or clowning or showing disdain for its audience or inspirations.  

Landis himself (in an early Rick Baker-designed gorilla suit) plays the mighty 'Shlockthropus,' thawed out of his frozen tomb ala Trog or Return of the Ape Man, Schlock goes on a spree of random killing and grappling with the strange new world of 70s small town culture, as in his triple-digit massacre of everyone at the 'Canyon Valley Metaphysical Bowling Society's Annual Picnic'. Scenes like his bonding with a girl throwing bread to the ducks trade on our familiarity with the 1931 Frankenstein's "flower toss" scene, for just one example of the films referenced.

Despite the staggering toll in life, limb, and property wrought by the Schlockthropus--trash bags full of limbs, broken store windows--Landis' deadpan black humor never wavers, never making light of the carnage, but approaching it with the same dead-eyed square jawed scientific self-seriousness we see in countless 50s monster movies. No one plays it anything but straight and deadpan, that's why it works. The TV announcer on the scene of Schlock's opening massacre may initiate a contest to guess the total limb count, but he doesn't go 'whoa! whoa!' and surf on a banana peel. A blind girl in a wheelchair may force Schlock to keep retrieving a thrown stick, and maybe he can't figure out how to use a soda machine, but damnit, Schlock keeps his dignity. Under Landis' watch, even common 70s prank call parlance, like asking a hard-working scientist  about Prince Albert in a Can, is made funny again by being delivered so mercilessly serious. David Gibson's music score could have easily gone the dopey silent film comedy route (Boing!) we'd expect from someone like Les Baxter, but instead sits the inning out or plays the deadpan suspense card. As far as the score concerned, Schlock is as serious as Trog. Maybe even Trog-er.

A time capsule of old chestnuts (one character even says "I feel a lot more like I do now than I did when I got here" --my granny's frequent one martini-in catchphrase), a wealth of deep cut in-jokes for Landis' fellow classic monster lovers (Forrest Ackerman cameo!), there's an extended uber-meta theater scene wherein Schlock sees a movie called  Dinosaurus vs. the Blob which provides a smorgasbord of epiphany via clips from both. There's a touching moment when Schlock grasps the implications when he hears people talking about the doomed readjustment attempts of the thawed cave man in Dinosaurus. And there's a moment of post-meta sublimity as the theater audience watches The Blob's scene wherein the theater audience are watching Daughter of Horror. They run run out of the theater chased by the blob around the same time they start screaming and running out of the theater chased by Schlock --double meta double feature termite in-joke heaven! Sublime moments like that let you know 

See it alone or with anyone who remembers creature double features on local TV, and cry... cry for the ape person old enough to remember that simpler time, an ape person with no stake in the modern world, who has to die one day, sooner than later maybe even....  But til then, there's Tubi! 

(1932) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Long in the public domain but never available in a nice, non-blurry print, Tubi has the recent Kino upgrade and it looks great, the answer to the prayers of all this shamefully under-celebrated little film's long-suffering fans. It's early sound Hitchcock, very British, very Hitchcock in that deliciously sinister Lady Vanishes-style mystery/suspense./comedy vein. And--my favorite type of narrative setting/time frame--it occurs over a single night, mostly in a single old dark house (and then a speeding train), in almost real time. Detective (John Stuart) is the first to break in, followed by a weird looking scalawag (Lister M. Lion) who was coming down through the skylight; there's a body lying on the floor; an intrepid young girl (Ann Grey) looking for her father or something, and various shady types all convening in this shadowy hallways.  The sole lighting in this old abandoned very dark house comes through candles and flashlights, creating eerie expressionist shadows which give every frame a magical pulp magazine crispness that's super delicious for fans of old dark house mysteries (especially now in crisp HD). So if you like creaking floors, strange numerical codes, sinister shadows, railings people are tied to giving way. no one knowing who's really who, train vs. city bus races, a stolen piece of priceless jewelry for an early McGuffin, stylized fistfights, sneaking around atop and along freight train cars, bops on the head, gun owner reversals, and lots of sinister action, prepare to be delighted. Fun while never descending to slapstick or broad mugging (though Lion comes close few times), and with enough chills to keep things lively and suspenseful throughout. it is everything we love about Hitchcock and all in an hour runtime.  So turn that AC up and prepare for some endearingly unconvincing miniatures as events culminate in a big runaway train headed straight into the Channel. 

(If you want to keep the British 30s suspense-comedy vibe going after this, consider Bulldog Jack, also on Tubi)

(1960) Dir. Fritz Böttger

If there ever was a genuinely 'adult' version of this film it's likely been lost, but that's OK, no one comes to this movie for nudity, they come because, like me, they love spiders and women, and when you mix them together, viola! The perfect fusion of Mesa of Lost Women and Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, a real middle child, similar raunchy saxophone-led cop show garage jazz score and mix of great dialogue, cat fights, girl gang solidarity, and man-crushing. 

On their way to a gig in the Philippines, the plane carrying a load of exotic dancers and their manager (Alex 'The Awful Truth's gigolo music teacher' Alex D'Arcy!) goes down; they wind up on a remote island inhabited only by a shifty-eyed monster spider, and a dead scientist. The mostly-blonde women all a-flush Germanic sex appeal are all strong characters and though D'Arcy takes his shirt off a lot --it's hot in paradise (the alternate title)--he isn't pervy with the girls. That is, until he's bit by the giant spider and turns into some kind of monster crashing around the island, with bestial acts on his mind. Now the girls' gotta look after themselves, which they do with ease, after a few catfights, food rationing, trying to stay cool by sleeping on the veranda, swimming in the lagoon, taking off their clothes because of the heat, and generally creating a nice easy kind of tranquil paradise in the mind of any heat-wracked male viewer. 

Sometimes a film is the perfect choice not because of what it has but what it doesn't. Spider Island is never very suspenseful, but neither is it boring, campy, or shrill. And when two dudes finally show up on a raft to deliver the dead professor some crates of whiskey, they're not sleazy or square, or cocky. They're laid back and ok. In one fine scene they even fight over a girl's honor, and then--after trashing the cabin-- stop and look at each other and start laughing. That's the movie in a nutshell. People fight, people make up, and the final chase of the monster by torchlight is a great little climax. For an 'adults only' feature, Horror of Spider Island keeps itself fit for the whole family (at least in a 70s TV movie sense of the phrase). A male fantasy reverie it may be, but one that's never sleazy, winky, campy, corny or shitty. And most importantly, it's relaxing without being boring. Who, when it's 90 degrees out, would want anything more?  

2. PS - I recognize some of the Jungian archetypal stuff may be outdated in our LGBTQ era, but it's still a good analytical tool). 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022


NBC - May1.1977

It may be wrong but just wait until you see a handsome young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford playing a girl's school biology teacher having an affair with with Wheezy (Ann Dusenberry- above) a foxy female senior. Not only that, he previously had an affair with the headmistress, Louise (Joan Hackett). To his credit, Ford plays him not as a slimy creep, just a normal guy who/s both a good biology teacher whose eye for the ladies ("you're so foxy," he tells Wheezy. Ffoxy' was the ultimate compliment in the 70s) has complicated his life to the point he's planning on transferring to an all-boy's school at the end of the term. Standing at his chalk board, young and handsome in his professorial sport jacket, you may be reminded of a very similar scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which also had him chalking the board as young female students swooned behind "I love you" eyelids. But this Ford isn't playing a third world-looting "hero" who just awkwardly looks away. Instead, he's a looker in both sense of the word, a relatively nice easily led-astray man headed to a date with spontaneous human combustion. 

Largely forgotten today, in the 70s the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion used to be right up there with the Bermuda triangle, Bigfoot, pyramid power, demonic possession, telekinesis, and ESP. One of these girls or teachers has been starting fires all over the school with her unconscious mind (maybe she's not even aware she's doing it), or there's a free-floating demon lurking around and it likes to start random fires. Or--as Louise insists with increasing desperation--it's all just a series of coincidences. Enter a priest struggling with his faith sent by God to exorcise the firebug demon out of whomever has been... Possessed.

Welcome to the 70s TV movie, where gore was out while sex--even between students and teachers--was OK since censors kept you from actually seeing it, thus maintaining its innocence (1). You can't get much more 70s TV movie than Wheezy flirting with pre-Han Solo after school or riding her bike around the hallway with impunity since her mom is also a teacher, all without being a bitch, or overly nice, or a victim. She's just real, and trying to get out of a burning dorm room but the door is mysteriously locked. 

Of course there still has to be an Exorcis-m and that means a priest struggling with his faith, pea soup vomit, blackened teeth, demonic mocking laughter, and mothers at the ends of their emotional ropes. But the fire thing is unique, as is the female ensemble acting, which before it devolves into Exorcist territory, is downright Cukorian in its naturalistic rapport and clever, overlapping dialogue (was some of it improv'd?), evoking Stage Door and The Women only more naturalistic. Even the co-starring students (look fast for PJ Soles!) are believably wrought, never shrill or cliche'd even when the material around them begins to line up in the Exorcist clone zone. Hackett and her sister (and Wheezy's mom) and fellow teacher Charlotte Nevins especially share such lived-in rapport you wish they would just keep their scenes going and forget about the ex-priest angle. They and the girls all live in the dorms or nearby so there's plenty of time for padding around the darkened hallways on stocking feet, intimate whispering in empty classrooms, the cinematography a brilliant shade of Godfather gloomy... 

Ford's death plus the fires in the chapel that burned the popular girl, and the fires in various dorm rooms, add up to something the shellshocked Louise can no longer explain as coincidence. Enter James Farentino as a Jason Miller-y ex-priest / recovering alcoholic who's back from the grave to fight evil! (Farentino would have fought a new demon every week, if this was a hit and picked up as a series) and Eugene Roche as a Lee J. Cobby-detective lurking in the wings, still looking for a human culprit.

The men arrive and then what? The loads of fire effects seem to be enough until the Exorcist-ripping climax, so what else is on this movie's mind, besides casting a kind of gloom and doom over a bunch of women until a male authority figure comes to rescue them? 

Another notable thing about 70s TV movies: they were by and large, aimed at mature adults of both genders, so even horror movies found plenty of time for rocky marriages, dangerously attractive single men, ambivalence about child rearing, and nervous breakdowns, the kind of thing that don't exist on TV today, not even on Lifetime. Parents are now either saints, absentee, or abusers. Adult sexual relationships have devolved into foreplay-skipping smash cut rutting sessions followed by alienation (IFC, FX, AMC) dangerous obsession  (i.e. Lifetime) , or shameless 'feels'-mining (This is Us). Horror is dominated by frazzled cops or high school or college students, generally all falling into cliches. But in the 70s, especially in TV movies, relationships are mature without need to start shilling about their Emmy-worthiness to Variety. Maybe it's true that the constant lessening of censorship has fostered constant lessening of maturity and sophistication. Today a movie like The Possessed would ease up on the female bonding and crisis management, vilify Ford to the point of caricature, and pour on the blood, screaming, and CGI, all while Farentino mansplains and shouts and waves his cross vigorously. The Possessed by contrast, doesn't judge anyone; it's too busy fleshing out a bunch Bechdel-scoring female educators and well-meaning students doing lots of slow emotional base-touching via measured, unhurried scenes. Hackett especially gets whole chunks of the film to run the emotional gamut. In one memorable monologue she moves from denial to fear to reversion to childhood, to even hitting on Farentino, all perfectly modulated, dramatic without being (overly) soapy or theatrical.

Farentino meanwhile just stands there, blankly bearing witness to these monologuists like a standing shrink. His sad eyes and baleful stare indicate these girls better take evil seriously and believe everything he says, even if he hasn't said anything. Maybe he understands that the role of a patriarchal authority figure is often just to stand there and look like you know what you're doing, ideally without saying anything (since you don't) or doing much at all. In grand female demographic-courting fantasy, the women of The Possessed are here to talk and the men are here to patiently listen, without interrupting, and then do their damn job without mansplaining beyond the cryptic notion that "evil doesn't need a reason." I also like that he's a recovering drunk and confesses he was disciplined for "lusting" in the past. He's complicated, more by human weakness than spiritual doubt. It's not really enough, of course, to differentiate him from Father Karras and all the others, but it helps. 

Alas, aside from all that, The Possessed really has no idea what to do aside from the firestarting for its grand exorcising climax. Squaring off with the demon, poolside, while the gaggle of girls and teachers look on aghast, Farentino seems frozen in impassivity, giving the demon that same baleful stare with which he's been looking at everyone else. The demon just laughs, and makes mocking noises. Occasionally Farentino feebly waves a cross or the demon projectile vomits the traditional split pea soup in his face like an old clown siphon gag. But whole minutes, of just impassive staring on one end, and demonic laughing on the other, seem to tick by before the writers can think up a hasty resolution. (Spoiler alert only in the 70s could a big hug followed a jump in the pool defeat evil). 

It's worth noting the similarities between this and Satan's School for Girls (from over at ABC, four years earlier) are just as obvious as the similarities to The Exorcist. Possessed's all-girl school is in "Salem Oregon" while the Satan's is set in "The Salem Academy for Women." In each the headmistress cracks under the strain of all the deaths and 'accidents' and reverts to childhood.  I'm sure there's more. But what sets them apart is the level of patriarchal presence and 'this is serious' moodiness. The Possessed's students emote to beat the band, freaking out and melting down while the priest and the cop try to re-establish patriarchal hierarchy (their version of 'order) thus draining the school of all the vivacious life it had before the fires started. Satan's students and faculty don't mope or snivel and there's nary a parent, priest or a cop to be found (aside from a few early scenes). Satan's girls have no time for dour patriarchal officiating, faith-doubting, standing around, or melting down, they have a wine party to go to, thrown by a cool art teacher who says they should "condemn nothing; embrace everything." And they do. There's no hint of a Ford-style affair going on with Roy Thinnes' hip art teacher but there doesn't need to be. It wouldn't be condemned if it did, so it doesn't carry any emotional heft. He can throw a wine party for the students and faculty, and no one bats an eye.

That's why I love Satan's School for Girls, but I only like The Possessed you know, as a friend. The type of friend you like but whose dorm room but don't want to hang out with, not when there's a you-know-what down the hall. 

The clear winner is....



Call them derivative if you must, but remember the 70s was a time before VHS, Betamax, and even cable for most people, so all we had was network TV (the big three) + PBS, and then whatever fuzzy local channels we could tune in from the closest big city (for us, it was Philadelphia). Any big horror movie that caused a sensation was never going to come to our home screens, not until several years after its theatrical run concluded. And when it did come, it would be censored, edited for TV, the curse words bleeped out or replaced with less blasphemous explanations). So these TV movies were meant to satisfy our itch. We want to see The Exorcist, but we can't for years and then half the film will be missing, i.e. all the good parts. We want to see Jaws but its years away so we take anything remotely connected to the ocean we can get, like Day of the Dolphin, and so forth.  Sometimes, too, a TV horror film might be influenced by films from the distant past--films alive in pop culture thanks to their popularity on TV, like Dracula's Daughter, and The Wolf Man, and Cat People, especially if made by directors and writers in love with the genre, like Curtis Harrington, or Dan Dark Shadows Cutis.

Dir. Dan Curtis
ABC Sept. 16, 1977

Another cracked gem from Curtis! This is, as you might guess, about a woman with a red hourglass birthmark above her bikini line who kills men and drains their precious bodily fluids. The question is on everyone's mind when approaching a film like this is: just how spidery is she? Is she just a metaphorical black widow, ala that 1987 Deborah Winger movie, or is she actually a giant spider, like in the work of Louise Bourgeoise, or does she have a girl's head on a giant spider body, ala the end of the original The Fly, or is she the reverse, a normal girl with a spider mask on, like Susan Cabot in The Wasp Woman?

It could be any one of the four, or even them all, you have to se the whole movie to find out, and it's worth it!  Even with James Franciosa as a private detective.

See, Franciosa witnessed the fiancee of Donna Mills leave a bar with a strange female, and now her fiancee is dead, and gruff homicide detective Vic Morrow suspects her since her father died in a similar fashion. Franciosa quickly finds himself confronted with the supernatural, and an uncooperative trying to downplay it. Franciosa should really take notes since he seems to have trouble toning down his smarmy energy for TV.  Luckily he gets help on both fronts from Roz Kelly (i.e. Pinky Tuscadero!) as his New Yawk accent secretary who has to do most of his deducing, and she should be the star as she plays off and contextualizes Franciosa's downtown schtick.  She should be the star! Also, Patty Duke, who shows up as Mills' fraternal twin sister and when Duke is around you better stand back and let the woman work. Instead we get Franciosa bouncing through the usual parade of strange, familiar characters. There's Sid Caesar, Max "Wojo" Gail, Bryan O'Byrne, Hard Boiled Haggerty as a boxer (naturally the clue trail leads him to a boxing gym). Finally he winds up covered in tarantulas and dust until rescued by Jeff Corey as some kind of shaman, spooning out an old Native American legend that says a girl who survives the bite of a black widow spider, can turn into a spider every full moon to kill men and drain their blood--a Cat People + werewolf + vampire + spider fusion.  

Can the killer be her sister (Duke), the crazy mother (June Lockhart) they keep hidden away, or the sinister housekeeper (June Allyson) who eyes both girls with trepidation? OR -is there another Lockwood hidden in the attic? When Donna Mills rescues a tarantula and affectionately releases it on the beach, Franciosa suspects even she might be Valerie and not know it. (As Roz says, "you ever seen Three Faces of Eve?"),  Meanwhile, the killings continue, and the full moon has one more night.

Donna, Roz, June, June, and Patty Duke are all great, showing their master ham status. Really, I wish we spent more time with them (especially my favorite over-actress, Patty Duke) than following 'excited terrier who thinks he's a cool cat' Franciosa around the usual gumshoed track. 

No offense meant to Anthony Franciosa, by the way. When he's cast in a more ambiguous role, i.e. a in Dario Argento's Tenebre or The Long Hot Summer he's just right, and he proved he could even be the calm as he was in Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment, where the unbearable ham was Jim Hutton). But when he tries to cozy up to Mills, he has the suave subtlety of a greyhound bus. On the plus side, he also brings the NYC method to bear, shading in subtle changes of character as he goes from rationalist skepticism to credulity and belief in the supernatural, with in-between stages usually glossed right over by more traditionally trained hams. 

Love Franciosa or hate him, or just kind of tolerate him, Curse of the Black Widow is still worth checking out. The women are all very fetching in their wide leg pants' suits and turtleneck sport coat combinations (mid-70s autumnal, my favorite look/era/season). And Roz is believably downtown and hip in ways Franciosa only dreams of.  And there are other distinctly-70s motifs: as Andrew Pragasam points out how often Valerie's sexual come-ons are rebuffed by the men she pursues, antithetically reflecting the permissiveness of the era (men could actually say no to fooling around, a rarity in movies of today). 

I'm also happy to say that once she reveals herself in full, the "widow" does not disappoint. The climactic battle is longer and more vividly choreographed than usual for these entries (even if it ends the same way as 90% of TV monster movies) and the final shot of the coda brings it all back to our beloved Spider Baby. So if you love that movie, as well as Mesa of Lost Women, A Chine Odyssey Part 1, Kiss of the TarantulaSherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman, and Arañas infernales (and if you don't, you got an appalling lack of mental problems) get set for 100 minutes of spidery action (a two-hour time slot!) that no amount of method smarminess can't squash.

ABC - Nov. 24, 1970

Not to tie it all back to Satan's School for Girls, but the Spelling-Goldberg production team really knew how to deliver the kind of TV horror movie you want to see more than once, the kind that don't traumatize, depress, or bore one and then are over before they make a nuisance of themselves, Scary without being traumatic, sexy without being sexual, cozy without being sentimental, leisurely without being boring, the Spelling/Goldberg juggernaut knew how to draw in children as well as adults. The secret - no children and no buzzkills. In the 70s (i.e. pre-E.T.) appealing to kids didn't mean didn't talking down to them or pandering to their immaturity; it meant being adult but in a way kids could understand. Case in point is this early entry in the folk horror sub/genre that predates The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan's Claw and manages to fuse their future tropes to a Rosemary's Baby skeleton. Hope Lange stars as Maggie the modern era wife (she wants a baby) of a 'struggling' artist (he wants success) named Ben (Paul Burke). Their fortunes magically change after inheriting the old family farm, wherein Maggie starts to remember her past life in the 1690s (i.e witch trial era) when her soul last lived there. She has visions of being pressed under heavy stones by an angry pilgrim mob, but is she being tortured into naming names of her fellow coven members, or tortured by the coven for talking? The minute she walks in the door she somehow knows just where all the secret passages are, and wants to split back to Boston. And man, she sure should've.  

If this all makes you think of 1978's Dark Secret of Harvest Home, you're not far off, but this is 1/4 as long and goes farther, faster (the family in Harvest Home would still be deciding whether or not to leave the city by the time Maggie has already started wandering around the farm at night, investigating the sound of a girl crying, a sound that turns into mocking laughter as soon as she's far enough away from the house.

That it's past life folk horror is not to say Crowhaven is not also about a woman's paranoia in the age of gender norm upheaval, part of the grand scheme of the post-Rosemary's Baby / Stepford Wives (ie. Ira Levin-fueled) late-60s/ early-70s Yellow Wallpaper / Cracker Factory women's lib upheaval. Horror movies onscreen and in TV were rife with deranged old bats, schizophrenic housewives, and housewives who may hearing things or who may be legit menaced by supernatural forces. Middle-aged actresses spent the first 1/3 of their TV movie investigating strange noises and trying to convince the men around them they didn't imagine it. Rosemary had proved you could have both housewife frustration-borne paranoia and genuine occult happenings.  The issue of men thinking it's just "hysteria" and a "vivid imagination," was meant to rankle everyone watching, men, women, and children alike. We kids realized we too would go crazy if people continued to treat us like a child, even after grew up. The family was allowed to be repressive even if there was no abuse or dysfunction. Everything about the nuclear family seemed suspect. Even motherhood was addressed from a position of ambivalence (i.e. 'Is this even my child? Was it switched at the hospital?" or "was I impregnated by a demon or alien?"). a position that would begin to evaporate in the post-Exorcist era (when it changed to: 'this is my child and I have failed her, for cleaving too close to my career at the expense of devoting myself fully to my husband and daughter, and now he's left and she's dying and only the return of the patriarchy can save her!'), a notion that would grow and grow until it blossomed in the sanctified nuclear family of 80s Spielberg. 

This is 1970 so, though a childless couple might want a child, it may be only a case of the grass is greener on the other side. A truth driven home by Maggie's bad choices in getting one. Like Rosemary, Maggie really wants to have a baby, and even tried to adopt, but Ben doesn't make enough money with his 'art' to qualify them. Sigh. She wants a baby so bad she'd probably sign her name in any old book to get one.  Hmmm, enter a sweet-natured 10 year-old girl with long-blonde hair named Jennifer (Cindy Eilbacher) who Maggie and Ben promptly unofficially adopt after her guardian conveniently dies. 

Pre-Exorcist, religion and patriarchal authority didn't have a chance against the occult 70s. There were no doubt-wracked priests, patient cops, frazzled parents nor over-the-top demonic outbursts (the devil didn't need to act like a tantrum-throwing brat the way Pazuzu does; he ran the place). Look high and low in Crowhaven (and in most Spelling-Goldberg productions) and you won't see a single church or preacher (same goes for Rosemary's Baby). The occult carried currency in both the UK and US in ways forgotten (repressed!) by everyone except the Scarfolk Council.  The Catholic church would find a boom in attendance after The Exorcist, but in the early-70s, Satan ruled. "God is dead" announced Time Magazine in the hand of Roman Castavet. 

But look who's come over for a housewarming in Crowhaven! Cyril Delevanti--still around and kicking six years after dying of old age in Night of the Iguana--as the old neighbor with the backstory on all of them witches; Lloyd Bochner as a rich ex-boyfriend who offers Maggie a job; Milton Selzer as the doctor who can't see any biological reason why Maggie couldn't have a baby.  John Carradine (who else?) even shows up as the odd handyman who jogs Maggie's de ja vu when bringing up the same wooden door from the basement that her past life accusers piled the stones until she named names (like Elia Kazan!).  John Carradine was working in the 70s TV movie horror movie scene. He played all the roles Bela Lugosi was stuck playing after he got a bad rep, i.e. the butler, handyman, film producer, or shady caretaker. 

Meanwhile, their strange adopted child Jennifer is gradually getting spookier, especially when she climbs into Ben's bed due to supposedly being afraid of the bad storm that's conveniently stranded Maggie in town... at Lloyd Bochner's bachelor pad!  Jennifer tells Ben she loves him and Eiselbacher nails the creepy moment with a kind of obsessive weird but calm and very adult energy that manages to skirt pedophilia just because of Ben's obliviousness. A few weeks later (she never tells Ben she stayed at Lloyd's) and Maggie is pregnant. Everything's a trade off, and we only know what's coming if we've seen Written on the Wind. 

This is not one of those slow burns where half the movie is just 'maybe I'm paranoid or maybe someone's gaslighting me or maybe, just maybe, there really is such a thing as the supernatural'. Sure there is plenty of that--it wouldn't be a 70s TVM without it--but meanwhile plot points tick off and things happen and it all goes far and wide and deep and dark without ever being a bummer. Sure, Maggie's doctor and her husband think she's crazy--we expect that in 70s TV movies--but the big subtext isn't some feminist critique of rigid patriarchal dogma but whether or not we can condemn her for her less-than-courageous decision making along the way. Our conclusion -- we can't. With an ending straight out of left field but at the same time letter perfect, Crowhaven Farm stands tall in the 70s TV folk horror valley. At a lean 74 minutes there's no time to dally there and there's also no need to have things all 'work out' either. Patriarchy seldom survives a Spelling-Goldberg joint, or if it does it's as a defanged totem. Rosemary's Baby made it all right for a new kind of chthonic evil to win in the end, even on prime time, without causing bad vibes. And Crowhaven Farm's ending is one of that victory's short-lived benefits. Does loving this make us evil, or just 'balanced'? Judge ye not!!

NBC - April 28, 1977

I am sure I must have seen this in its original broadcast, or wanted to (maybe it ran against football, which my dad automatically pre-empted the evening roster for, to all our chagrin). Nothing great but a nice relaxing journey to take for fans of snowy Colorado peaks and bloody monster havoc (a snowy white bigfoot, though no one uses the Y-word) Since it's post-1975, there's no origin story about why the monster has picked this time and place for a killing spree (since Jaws didn't have one) or attempt to humanize him (like Bruce in Jaws, he's a mindless rampaging monster). 

However, just like every post-Exorcist demonic horror film had a a priest struggling with his faith, post-Jaws monster films had to have a mayor or lodge owner more worried about losing the tourist trade than their lives. In place of slimy Amity mayor Murray Hamilton, Snowbeast has Sylvia Sydney as the owner of the mountain ski resort, tish-toshing her concerned 'heard the howling / seen the tracks' manager grandson (Robert Logan). Sydney brings a warm smoker's warmth to the role that makes her decisions seem far less cardboard slimy than Hamilton's, and there's another woman in the cast as well! The still-foxy Yvette Mimieux shows up at the lodge with her downhill racing gold medalist (now unemployed) husband Bo Svenson, so he can hit old buddy Logan for a job (but will Logan hold a grudge since Bo stole Yvette from him?). Sheriff and gravelly macho man Clint Walker (where hath the Clint Walkers of the world gone?) rounds up the central cast in more or less the Robert Shaw role. After more slaughter piles up, Logan is determined than ever to close the beaches, I mean the slopes. But the beast needs to smash his hairy hand through a gym window and grab a girl's hair right in front of her Sylvia's glassy saucer eyes before she finally agrees there's a serious issue. Luckily that happens fast. 

You bet it's written by an auto-piloted Joe Psycho Stefano! 

The miracle of 70s TVMs like Snowbeast is that the pace is so relaxed that it all seems natural and friendly, even as it runs through its plot on double time so it can be all over in 75 minutes. There's no gore or nudity but no time to waste on dull filler, i.e. the hand through the window, in front of numerous witnesses, spares us at least three scenes of Sydney stubbornly refusing to admit there's an issue, and Clint trying to pin it all on a passing hobo or something. We also get to skip three scenes of romantic misunderstanding and jealousy when Bo walks into a diner right in time to see Logan and Mimieux in a friendly kiss (after agreeing to be friends). It's a trite coincidence all but inescapable in soapy films, but surprise! The two men make eye contact and Bo just gives him a faux-angry look. They're buddies and he's not the last bit genuinely suspicious, again helping 'X' out three pages of trite emotion so we can get to the good stuff. It's little things that, setting up a cliche only to then duck around it at the last minute, finding a shortcut to the next big mauling, leaving us feeling most relieved. 

The result, 74 minutes (most all TVMs were made to fit in a 90 minute time slot) of solid 70s TV monster movie, nothing special, but good just the same. If you can't have Christopher George as your sheriff, Clint Walker is your next best choice. That said, you might roll your eyes when Logan, Svenson, Walker and a still-foxy Mimieux all head out into the monster's turf (the 'aboard the Orca' section of the film, in Jaws-speak), set up a perimeter, standing guard all night around their truck, pump action shotguns at the ready, only to drop them and run into the mountains the moment they see the 'snowbeast' charging down hill towards them. They don't even squeeze off a single round! What's worse, they don't even comment on it amongst themselves once they stop their panicked bolting. I mean no one even mentions that they all had working guns and just dropped them at the first sign of the thing they came there to shoot.  It's a bizarre and unsatisfying moment. I mean, their fingers were literally on the triggers! Instead all three drop their rifles,  run up the snowy mountain, and left Clint Walker-- pinned under the truck-- to die.

It's pretty shady, or maybe bad writing, or they worried it would be anticlimactic to have the beast just get blasted to ribbons before the boat even has time to sink, to paraphrase Jaws terminology. 

Oh well, that was the 70s TVM too: actual human emotions and reactions. It all might strike us as odd today, when actual human emotions and reactions are artificially amplified or censored to appeal to splintered demographics. Like the difference between the original Night of the Living Dead--in all its crude improvisational glory--and something overly produced and artificial like the Resident Evil series. 

I guess, in the end that's why some of us keep coming back to these 70s monster TVMs. We can't get this level of maturity and easygoing open-hearted laid back realism in horror movies made today (or even the 80s for that matter) and we can't get action scenes where people are actually doing action, which means they shoot but can miss, they have guns but might run and drop them in a panic, they might panic in the face of danger, or avoid it altogether. It's like the difference between a guy playing acoustic guitar on the street, who occasionally drops a note or misses a lyric vs. a guy pressing a button on his Casio and playing a perfect, pre-recorded synth melody. Both have their place, but only one feels like home.

ABC - Feb. 2, 1974 

So many of these 70s TV movies have women in the main role that when a film is all men in the cast, it's quite a special event. Here an all-male construction crew are the only population of a small uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere, working on clearing some space for a hotel--you know, doing excavation with a massive crane, a portable generator and.... oh yeah, a bulldozer that makes the mistake of breaking open a large mysterious rock, possibly a meteor that came to earth millions of years ago. Hmmm, whatever was in that rock is represented by a ghostly glowing blue light-- has jumped ship, like an electrical spark that moves out of the rock and into the shovel. With its descriptive says-it-all title, you can imagine what happens next. Their entire camp gets bulldozed into a wasteland ---radio, food, weapons, sleeping bags, workers, booze (luckily not all of it)--

Hmmm - an all-male cast trapped in a remote place, with no means of egress or way to reach the outside world, up against a faceless alien--unearthed and awakened after perhaps millions of years--that can jump from one form to another? Was this an inspiration for Carpenter's The Thing? You would think it would be following the blueprint of Duel (which was a big ratings and critical hit) but instead it looks off to the classics in both directions, and--unusual for a 70s TV movie--keeps it lean, stripped-down, no flashbacks or crosscuts to worried wives at home or unscrupulous corporate types making angry phone calls back on the mainland and all that crap--just a cast of six tough dudes squaring off against a tough-ass bulldozer. 

The cast is full of great grizzled and/or familiar faces: James Wainwright, Carl Betz, Robert Ulrich, James A. Watson, Neville Eaten Alive Brand. TV Western mainstay Clint Walker (we could use a man like Clint on today's movie scene) is the taciturn ram-tough crew boss trying to keep the truth from his men, i.e. that an unknown force has possessed their bulldozer and keeps rolling over everything and everyone and killing nearly every human who tries to turn it off. Their numbers already small, dwindle.

Me, I missed it when it premiered in 1974 (as far as I know, I was only seven), but I do remember hearing about it in school, and everyone laughing thinking how easily we could outrun a bulldozer. Yeah but Killdozer has thought about that. so what if there's nowhere to run to, because you're stuck small island and wherever you are, it's gonna find you and flatten you. No hiding in the palm trees, it will just run over them, no hiding on a small hill, it can either climb up, slow and inexorable, or start leveling the hill. And the first thing that damned 'dozer does is run over most of your food and supplies and the radio so you can't call for help?  Then what? No more laughter. To escape Jaws all you had to do was get out of the water. to escape The Car, you can hide out on holy ground, but on a small sandy island, you don't have sustainable options. You have to sleep sometime, and god help you if you're pinned under something or make the mistake of trying to roll under the treads to escape. 

And if he lives, how is Clint going to explain all the property destruction and death to his bosses on the mainland? He's been already reprimanded once, for drinking. (He doesn't react kindly to a surviving whiskey bottle, but he doesn't pour it out either - if he did. we wouldn't be having this conversation). It's an interesting character trait. He has two things to worry about, and the feeling of woe as to how to explain all the destroyed and expensive construction equipment in a way that won't sound like boozy fantasy. He may never have to find out. 

Certainly we won't, at any rate. When the 74 minutes are up, we're whisked back to our own reality, ready for bed or a piss break. No pain, no gain, no fuss. Just man vs. amok machine, and--like a 70s John Henry, kicking its ass, then fade to black. Roll credits. 

1. i.e. 70s sex in TVMs vs. now, when any first kiss--even on TV shows--smash cuts instantly to joyless rutting and a demeaning climax, regardless of the genre. Thanks, HBO, for ruining sex for everyone except coked-up misogynists.
2. I believe the world can be interpreted any sort of way, and perception and belief create our world through consensual conscious projection. (which is why 'cabin fever' is so fascinating - without the consensus of a large group to keep reality 'normal,' the personal unconscious starts bending reality to suit itself. See Bathroom Pupils)
3. (i.e. the 'Crissy', Bruce's first victim in Jaws)
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