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 a 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.
(AKA LAST HOUSE ON MASSACRE STREET)
(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!
2. DOCTOR OF DOOM
(AKA WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC APE)
(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.)
3. SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON
(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:
6. ERIK THE CONQUEROR
(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).
7. THE WHITE BUFFALO
(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)
10. HORROR OF SPIDER ISLAND
(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).
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