All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie. He writes the column "Alfred Eaker's Fringe Cinema" for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

LON CHANEY, JR.

Why no one has ever produced a cinematic biopic treatment of the Chaney boys (Lon Sr. and Lon Jr.) is baffling. Bela Lugosi was given quite a spotlight in Ed Wood (1994), and Boris Karloff was a supporting character in Gods and Monsters (1998). Off-screen, Karloff might have made for a nice neighbor, but being the workaholic he was, his biography is dull going. Of course, Lugosi had elements of drug addiction, pathos, and parody late in life working for him. While the Chaneys lacked the European mystery of Karloff and Lugosi, there’s an aptness in these American-bred father and son icons because, as the past year has revealed, Europe has doodly-squat on ‘Murica when it comes to the banality of authentic horror.

From the slivers of information that we have received over the years through peer recollections and various articles, the Chaneys would make for one helluva psycho drama, preferably directed by someone with the sensibilities of a . No definitive biography has been written about either, and cinematically there’s only a ludicrously whitewashed biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) starring James Cagney as daddy Chaney. Part of the reason for lack of a substantial biography could be the almost obsessive protectiveness of the Chaney estate, who seem to have made things consistently difficult for potential biographers. However, it is also telling that the estate has, as far I know, never disputed the more colorful biographical tidbits that have been given about their silver screen patriarchs.

Lon CHaney Jr. news clippingThere must have been something of the masochist in the elder Chaney, who went though much self-inflicted suffering for his art, including looping wires around his eye sockets and wearing false teeth so tight that shots had to be completed quickly before he started bleeding. For Quasimodo, he wore a back prosthetic so heavy that (coupled with instructions to an extra to not spare the whip in the famous beating scene) it sent Lon Sr. to the hospital for an extended stay. Apparently, he was also quite a sadist, and would lock Creighton (Lon Jr.’s birth name) in a closet after razor strap beatings for punishment. (Senior was also psychologically abusive, as when he told Junior that mommy was dead, when in fact she was quite alive).

Such heredity and abuse certainly was instrumental in composing Lon Chaney Jr. as something of a real life lycanthrope with horrific daddy issues. In assessing Jr. as a pale copy of his father, the popular and critical consensus is spot on (for once). In addition to obsessively (and vainly) trying to outdo daddy, Jr. was also a raging alcoholic, had drug problems, and was prone to a violent temper; which, according Continue reading LON CHANEY, JR.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

Previous installments of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide : Season, 1, Part ISeason 1, Part II – Season 2 Seasons 3 & 4

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Peril in Paris (dir. George Blair) is an ignominious opener for the fifth season. Diamond thieves have plundered the City of Love in an episode which could have used Grace Kelly.

Tin Hero (dir. Blair) is a slow news day, but Daily Planet subscribers aren’t the only ones suffering from boredom.

The Town That Wasn’t (dir. Blair): Gangsters use a mobile town to catch unsuspecting motorists in speed traps. Crimes are perpetrated and the law is evaded until Superman sets things right.

Tomb of Zaharan (dir. Blair) is awfully dull going for an episode dealing with reincarnation and Egyptian queens. At least Perry White gets some enjoyment in seeing his ace reporters stripped down and humiliated.

The Man Who Made Dreams Come True (dir. Blair): Who would ever guess that superstition could be a channel to the monarchy? Lois gets gagged tied yet again, and manages to render that fetish dull.

Disappearing Lois (dir. Harry W. Gerstad): Lois goes undercover to oust Lefty the gangster in a fun episode. Spanish Fly meets French Maid.

Money to Burn (dir. Gerstad): Arsonists burn the Daily Planet. Perry White waxes suspicious before being abducted. A Super fireman comes to the rescue.  Superman with a fire hose… Ding! Turn the page! Can’t wait for the action figure set. Cool stuff.

Close Shave (dir. Gerstad): Crooked barbers. Lois gagged and tied. What more can you ask for?

The Phony Alibi (dir. Blair): Professor Pepperwinkle has invented another useless device straight out of Dr. Seuss. This one teleports people through telephone lines. Lois shows off her “come hither” pearl necklace.

The Prince Albert Coat (dir. Gerstad): Life savings accidentally given away in a coat pocket… stop the presses, this is a story! Actually, all turns out well, and we’re relieved.

The Stolen Elephant (dir. Gerstad): Poor Jimmy thinks he didn’t get anything for his birthday, but lo and behold, Mom placed an elephant in his shed. Sad to say, but bad kidnappers want the elephant too. Nail-biting suspense.

Still from "Mr. Zero" from "the Adventures of Superman"Mr. Zero (dir. Gerstad) is the nadir of the entire series, and quite possibly the most execrable thirty minutes to ever disgrace the idiot box. It’s a cardboard takeoff of a comic villain and a pain-inducing endurance test. If it borders on masochism for its viewers, one can only Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 3-4 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

Previous installments of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide : Season, 1, Part ISeason 1, Part II – Season 2.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Under Kellogg’s sponsorship, the second season of “The Adventures of Superman” had already began steering away from an adult audience. By the third season, the show was aimed almost solely at the pubescent. It was also shot in color, which made it an expensive production, with less money allocated for actors or professional writers. Oddly, it was only aired in black and white, not having its color premier for another decade. In this, Kellogg’s was ahead of its time, realizing that color, being inevitable, would assure the series a long run in syndication.

The third season is an entirely different series than the first two and, with few exceptions, it’s a dreadful affair. The series’ decline continued until its final, sixth season. Although officially cancelled, “The Adventures of Superman” had been picked up for a seventh season with star coming in as director (he helmed three episodes late in season six) and, reportedly, more money was going to be spent on better scripts. However, Reeves’ premature death put an end to a series which began high and should have bowed out on a better note. Alas, like its star, it was not afforded a happy ending.

The cast still has charisma, but even they can’t save the worst episodes, many of which are excruciating and virtually unwatchable. Still, “The Adventures of Superman (along with I Love Lucy) was the longest running series of the fifties, and maintained its popularity for another three decades in syndication. This is remarkable given that its lead, who presented a Super Boy Scout image, had in fact been outed as quite the colorful character, engaged in a sordid affair when he was found dead, allegedly by his own hand.

Still from "Through the Time Barrier" from "Adventures of Superman"The third season opens with the godawful “Through the Time Barrier” (dir. Harry Gerstad). The “Daily Planet” staff (all four of them) are teleported to the Stone Age by Professor Twiddle (Sterling Holloway, in his last series appearance). The look on Reeves’ face speaks volumes.

“The Talking Clue” (dir. Gerstad) is marginally better. It’s about a bank robber named Muscles McGurk, and focuses primarily on Inspector Henderson. Robert Shayne enjoys the spotlight, and our enjoyment comes primarily from his.

“The Lucky Cat” (dir. Gerstad) is an engaging, silly story about an Anti-Superstition Society, with Jimmy (naturally) falling for all the Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 3-4 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 2 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

Part I of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide is here. Part II is here.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Five Minutes to Doom” (dir. Tommy Carr) is the introductory episode of season two of “The Adventures of Superman.” Already, it is a slicker product than the previous season and, as expected, there are gains and losses. It has lost none of its grit, even with a new, bourgeoisie Lois Lane.

“Five Minutes to Doom” is a noir cliffhanger with Clark Kent using his abilities as a human lie detector test (gauging the heartbeat of a convicted killer) to determine the man’s sincerity. Someone doesn’t want Kent and gal pal Lois Lane uncovering the truth behind a corrupt contract deal, and attempts to assassinate the cub reporters. Lane condescendingly praises Kent for his out-of-character bravery.

Reportedly, director Carr was hard on Noel Neill, the new Lois Lane, whom he found lacking compared to the much missed . defended Neill, and while that’s an admirable example of cast camaraderie, it’s difficult not to sympathize with Carr’s point of view. Neill claimed that she was merely playing herself, but that may be part of the problem with her portrayal of Lane, who often comes across as a Sarah Palin-styled Avon lady huffing and puffing her way through the newsroom, chastising Kent for not being man enough even though we never see his alleged cowardice. Occasionally offsetting this unattractive trait is a winning perky quality, which renders Neill’s Lane consistently uneven.

Surviving the elements, Superman saves the day at the last moment by breaking through a prison wall to halt an electric chair execution. Stylish and moving like quicksilver, this is a helluva opening to a legendary season, despite a fidgety debut from Neill.

“The Big Squeeze” (dir. Carr) is noir for the 1950s family. Dan Grayson has received a Citizen of the Year award from the Daily Planet. Alas, Dan has a past that comes to put the “big squeeze” on him. Kent is obsessively driven to right wrongs and find/allow redemption. (Obsession and redemption are key dual themes in season two).

Still from "The Man Who Could Read Minds" from "The Adventures of Superman"“The Man Who Could Read Minds” (dir. Carr): Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lane attend a nightclub act that features a phony mind-reading swami. It leads them to a phantom burglar. The writing is straight out of the 1940s radio drama program tradition. It’s a well-paced, well-acted, and a stylishly suspenseful entry. Reeves steps Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 2 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART TWO)

Part two in a series. Part one of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide is here.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

“Rescue” is a season one episode in which narrative purpose overrides attachment to character history or bullet points. Prospector Pop has been working his coal mine for a decade, despite warnings that it’s a death trap. Refusing to heed the warnings, Pop gets trapped after a cave-in. Enter Lois Lane, who discovers Pop’s predicament and attempts a rescue. Naturally, being Lois Lane, she too refuses to heed the warnings and attempts a lone wolf rescue, getting stuck herself. A series of near-misses follows in which Kent barely misses hearing news of the mine avalanche. Naturally, Kent being Superman, he would have super hearing. But not if it gets in the way of the plot. Thus, Kent, revving his faulty engine, fails to hear the radio broadcast of Lane’s current troubles.

Kent finally gets wind of the explosion which now seems to have sealed the fate of Pop and Lane. Naturally, our favorite boy scout saves the day, which inspires Lane to quip, “Clark, Superman finally took me out.” “Rescue” is a welcome change of pace, well-directed by Timothy Carr, and crams a lot of plot into twenty minutes.

Carr returns to helmThe Secret of Superman.” Jimmy Olsen’s mom calls Kent in the early A.M., worrying that little Jimmy has not come home. This looks like a job for… Clark Kent, who finds Olsen in a trance-like state at the Daily Planet office after hours. A file is missing, but not just any file! It is the file on Superman! As Kent suspects, dastardly gangster types are trying to find out the secret identity of the Man of Steel.

Next up is Perry White, who gets slipped a mickey in his coffee. White doesn’t know Superman’s identity either, and proves to be of little use to the bad fellas. Inspector Henderson, being the Sherlock he is, finds that both Olson and White were under the influence of sodium amathol and orders round-the-clock police protection for the Daily Planet staff.  A little gunplay follows, but we’re still no closer to wrapping up this episode.

Kent, pretending to be fired in an attempt to smoke out the gangsters, drinks from the same cup as White. Of course, Kent fakes a stupor but Lane is more susceptible and is asked the question:  “Could Superman have the ultimate disguise? Could he be … a woman?” “Superman—a woman? Nah, but Clark…. well, maybe,” the drugged Lane suggests. Performed with commendable straight faces, the cast deserves credit for convincingly guiding us through 50s naiveté. The world’s greatest mystery gets solved: Kent is Superman behind those horn rims. The henchman who figures it out gets wasted, however, and Lane conveniently forgets her drugged-induced sleuth work. Kent sighs in relief. No wonder he’s so charmingly smug.

Still from "No Holds Barred" from "The Adventures of Superman" The Lee Sholem-directed “No Holds Barred” has been a stapled fan favorite. Wrestler “Bad Luck Brannigan” has sent several opponents to the hospital after using the “paralyzer” move on them. With super-hearing now intact, Kent becomes privy to ringside conspiracies and locker room Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART TWO)

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART ONE)

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Today, few seem to pay mind to the artists, writers or creators of comic book characters. When Denny Stephens and I walked into Denny White’s comic book shop as Indiana adolescents, we immediately knew—without looking at the credits—if a book was penciled by Jack Kirby, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko,  Mike Ploog, Curt Swan or Wayne Boring. In their place now, a bland homogeneity permeates both the world of comics and the shops which market them. One book looks the same as the next, blending without seams, shorn of rough edges, entry points, atmosphere, originality, color, or inherent personality. One could say the same regarding the recent spate of films based on DC characters (not so with their television work, including animation where they rule their Marvel rivals. On the big screen, Marvel does it better). While the 1950s Television Superman was nowhere near as imaginative as stories being cranked out by Otto Binder in Superman Magazines (TV didn’t have the budget or, still in its infancy, the know how) the first season of The Adventures of Superman is something of a silver age within itself.

, , Jack Larson, John Hamilton, Robert Shane, Tommy Carr and each put an stamp on the characters and episodes, a personalized milieu and individuality that today is alien to an audience whose primary concern towards character tends to Biblical fidelity and adulation.

For many, George Reeves remains the quintessential portrayal of Clark Kent and his alter ego, Superman. It’s not out of nostalgia, or because he was the first actor to portray the pulp character. In fact, he wasn’t the first at all. That honor belongs to Kirk Alyn who starred in the serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Alyn, who interpreted Kent as a kind of bumbling Jimmy Stewart character, simply doesn’t inspire. That lack of inspiration isn’t just limited by the serial’s quality: certainly, many of the later television and big screen incarnations were equally poor in their writing and execution. Rather, it’s due to Alyn’s Kent, who set the blueprint for the later Christopher Reeve performance. Kent really isn’t Kent. He’s Superman, and the newspaper paper reporter is just a façade.

Adventures of Superman (TV Series, 1952-2958) It’s hardly a secret that George Reeves had no love for playing a role that later actors would kill for. For Reeves, this was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not only was he playing a little boy’s pulp comic book character who wore underwear outside of his pants, but he had been reduced to television. Like many actors of his time, including Alyn, who had refused to repeat the role for TV, Reeves was suspicious of the new medium. It was called small screen for a reason, Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART ONE)

ARIA (1987)

It’s no  revelation to say that supporters and patrons of the arts mantle an attitude of progressiveness and promote themselves as such. For the most part, in the contemporary West at least, that’s a fallacy. A spirit of ultra-conservatism has hijacked virtually every art form. One finds it even in the least expected places. Impressionism can be found in bland texture-less prints  at Corproate Christendom’s Hobby Lobby, who even have their own dead hypocritical hack pseudo-impressionist: Thomas Kinkade. Abstract expressionism has gone the way of J.C. Penny office decor. Surrealism has been relegated to melting-clock stickers on the folders of angsty teenaged boys. Horror and sci-fi film aficionados subscribe to formula expectations, often reacting with hostility to anything that contains an ounce of originality, style, or challenge (i.e. A.I., Prometheus, The Babadook, The Witch). With damned few exceptions, rock and roll is dead, as is jazz, which has been sabotaged by the self-appointed tradition preservationists (i.e. Wynton Marsalis) and devolved into the oxymoronic smooth jazz (Kenny G). Nowhere is orthodox contagion more in evidence than in that Queen Mother of all art forms: Opera. American opera fans are about the only demographic that can actually render comic book fanboys a comparatively innovative lot. Who would have thunk it?

Yet, the tradition of opera, ballet, art music hardly paved the way for such conservativism. As both conductor and opera director, Richard Wagner found no one’s music or ideas sacred, not even his own, and complained that younger conductors were playing his music too reverentially. Gustav Mahler took an equally innovative approach to stage direction. His own body of work took the art form (the symphony) into an astoundingly elastic direction, even influencing the Second Vienesse School (which makes the sanctification of both his and their music rather baffling).

When that uncouth Leopold Stokowski and  teamed up for Fantasia (1940) and dared to suggest that art music could be both dangerous and kitsch fodder for transcription and animation, the purists were outraged. The outcome was an unparalleled flop for Disney; it took decades to recoup his investment and earn critical reevaluation (Stoki, par for the course, weathered everything). Financiers took note, and nothing on this scale was really attempted again until Continue reading ARIA (1987)

1966 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARE CASTLE AND THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z

Coming soon…

“Thunderbird International Pictures Presents The Death Curse of Tartu, a legend black with evil and red with the blood of innocent youth!!! Photographed in the forbidding depths of the Florida Everglades, this is the incredible story of an archeological excursion, planned as an educational attraction and ending as a blood-spattered nightmare!!! Cold and slimy creatures without mercy hunt and kill, controlled by the soul of a rotting corpse. They danced over the grave of Tartu who was restless in his coffin and made passionate love on his burial ground until … they faced the terrible reality of The Death Curse of Tartu! Was it really a killer shark in the swamp waters? Or  was it… Tartu, who had sworn vengeance on all who disturbed his grave?  See the bloody massacre of terrified youngsters as Tartu, the witch doctor, returns to wreak vengeance. See The Death Curse of Tartu, coming soon to this theater.”

And…

“Famous characters of the fairy tale world together for the first time. It’s all new when K. Gordon Murray presents Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters. See the Wicked Witch and all her bad guys. Bad guys? Mr. Hurricane! The Robot! Carrot Head and the Siamese Twins: two-in one. Frankensteen. A giant spectacle in color with a story that children and grownups will never forget.  Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters! 

Our Feature Presentation!

Nightmare Castle (directed by Mario Caiano) rarely makes best-of films lists, with even the star herself seemingly holding it in low esteem. Although a pastiche of Steele’s earlier work, Nightmare Castle is entertainingly tailored to the actress’ idiosyncratic screen persona and remains one of the better-filmed opuses in her oeuvre. As in ‘s Black Sunday (1960), Steele is cast in dual roles, one of which is a revenge-seeking disfigured ghost (hence its alternative title, The Faceless Monster).

Still from Nightmare Castle (1966)Its virtues are hardly found in the narrative about a sadistic husband (Paul Muller) who tortures and kills his unfaithful wife (Steele) along with her lover (Rik Battaglia), then marries her mentally unstable sister to get the inheritance. Exquisite cinematography (Enzo Borboni), a top-rate dissonant score (Ennio Morricone), Steele at her her most beguiling, and Caiano’s attention to detail renders the plot secondary. Almost surrealistic in parts (one scene clearly was a major influence on 1998’s Ringu), Nightmare Castle is shockingly sadistic and misogynistic (Battaglia loses an eye in an unsettling torture scene, and Steele gets acid to the face, followed by an  S &M electrocution). It’s also visually and musically memorable, and yet another director with a Steele fetish allows the star to sear. Unfortunately, the dubbing is poor, but the valuable Blu-ray from Severin Films is a considerable improvement over previous releases. Among its extra features are complete versions of the Steele-starring films Castle of Blood (1964) and Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965).

Good evening. It’s intermission time.

“Flavos: the delicious, oriental treat that’s out of this world for taste-tempting goodness. Light and delicious, full of tender, juicy fresh shrimp meat. America’s favorite shrimp roll. You’ll say they’re shrimply delicious.”

“Free for our patrons… Men, women, boys, girls…through the cooperation of Leading Business Places …You may now have free admission to this theater. Ask for DividenTickets  when you shop at Nelson’s Liquor Mart. Hywy 51 North of Bridge. Tomahawk’s Largest & Finest.”

“See you in CHURCH Sunday! When you attend church, it’s not an ordinary act. It is something worthwhile. When you attend church, you come to GOD’S house to adore, worship and praise. See you in CHURCH Sunday!”

“It’s Showtime.”

1966 may very well be among the most shocking years in the entirety of cinema. It’s the year that actually made a relatively good film with The Diabolical Dr. Z (so maybe there’s hope for yet). Perhaps Alejandro Ulloa’s lensing inspired Franco to move beyond his typical laziness. The titlur mad doctor (Antonio Jimenez) actually gets bumped off early in the film, leaving his daughter (Mabel Karr) to take up a doctoral course in revenge. She gets a bit of help from Miss Death (Estella Blain) at the local jazz club, which naturally means a typical Franco jazz score (by Daniel White, who makes a cameo, along with Franco himself). There is one theory that Franco merely made films to show off his love of jazz, and in many cases that may be factual, but here it’s icing on a cake with macabre set pieces (including an arachnid stage show), kinky mannequins, a doomed sexpot hitchhiker, a hillside strangler, and an off-the-charts fisticuffs finale in a decadent castle. What more could you ask of the prolific hack? He deserves a break today with The Diabolical Dr. Z.

“Please remember to replace the speaker and heater when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the (currently out-of-print) double-feature DVD from Sinister Cinema.

1963 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GHOST AND DEAD EYES OF LONDON

Coming Soon…

“From caves and sewers come The Slime People! They kill, kill, kill! There’s no escape from The Slime People! Nothing can stop the horror of The Slime People! For a new adventure in terror, live through the wild blood bath of The Slime People!”

And Now, Our Feature Presentation!

The Ghost (directed by Riccardo Frida) stars in another homicidal adulteress role. Hyped (misleadingly) as a sequel to Frida and Steele’s successful The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Ghost, is woefully predictable and is not this director’s best work. However,  Steele is nearly at her best, and puts to rest any questions regarding her status as a genre cult icon.

Terminally ill invalid doc John Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is obsessed with seances, while his wife Margaret (Steele) carryies on a torrid affair with her husband’s physician Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin). John has a loyal governess in Catherine (reliable character actress Harriet Medin; a regular and memorable as the POTUS in Death Race 2000) who suspects that her mistress is up to no good. Impatient for John’s natural demise, Margaret plots with Charles to whip up a batch of poison. The dirty deed carried out, the philandering couple don’t count on a hitch in the will and an avenging ghost before their inevitable comeuppance.

Poster for The Ghost (1963)Frida’s ho-hum scripting plods, but The Ghost is salvaged by Steele’s malevolent magnetism (Raffaele Masciocchi’s camera swoons over her). Flavorfully-filmed, unnerving vignettes include an animated wheelchair descending the stairs (prefiguring The Changeling), a nightie-clad Steele wielding a razor, a scheming feline Medin ascending the stairs, flaming annihilation, and a magical finale with betrayals galore. The Ghost is probably the only film in history that has you rooting for a murderess in a fur coat.

Intermission…

“Take a break. Add to your enjoyment of the show with the taste-tempting array of special treats available to you at the refreshment stand. Everything to temp your palate… And everything is fresh… and of finest quality. Pep Up! Fresh Up!  at our refreshment stand!”

“Let the light of faith shine upon you and your love ones. This week and every week … worship together in the church of your choice. ”

“If you should accidentally tear speakers off… turn it in at refreshment building, box office or to any attendant. ”

“Is everybody happy? Then let’s go… it’s showtime!”

It’s Showtime!

Dead Eyes of London (directed by Alfred Vohrer ) is a smartly paced gem in the German “Krimi” genre. Based on the Edgar Wallace novel, it’s a notably superior remake of 1939’s The Dark Eyes of London (directed by Wallace Summers, which in itself is a slightly underrated opus in the canon, although hindered by ill-fitting comedy relief). This Vohrer remake improves on the simplified original with an aptly complex script by Egon Eis. Vohrer, who practically made a career of cinematic Wallace adaptations, has an affection for the material which is contagious.

Still from The Dead Eyes of London (1963)Hairy, blind, -like brute (Ady Berber) dispatches victims galore, frequently in the London fog, choreographed effectively to the famous first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Inspector Holt (krimi favorite Joachim Fuchsberger) finds the victims in the Thames. They all have braille writing on their persons and, it turns out, sizable insurance policies.

Heinz Funk’s idiosyncratic score aptly echoes a cast of equally idiosyncratic characters, including Eddi Arent as a knitting Scotland Yard sergeant, and so-slimy-he-leaves-a-trail (and also wears-his-sunglasses-at-night) . It’s outlandishly violent and spiked with queer humor (a mouthy water-pick view, a killer boob tube, a voyeuristic crucifix, a blowtorch-wielding priest, and a skull with smokey treat treasures). Vohrer makes memorable use of stylish sets and costume design, enhanced by Karl Lob’s crepuscular lensing. It’s probably a notch shy of being a contender for the List, but it’s highly recommended for the locals.

“Please remember to place the speaker on the post when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature DVD available from Sinister Cinema.

1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

Coming Soon…

“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

And…

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror. ‘s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

It’s Showtime!

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Still from The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

Intermission…

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off!  Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

It’s showtime!

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by ) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema.