Tag Archives: Cameron Mitchell

TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973) & FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987)

‘ Tales That Witness Madness, made for World Film Services in 1973, is clearly patterned after the Amicus horror anthologies. Of course, what better way to emulate the competition than to acquire the man who directed nearly half of the Amicus franchise, along with several of that studio’s top draw actors?

The setup is simple and familiar enough: is the resident psychiatrist of an asylum, giving friend Jack Hawkins (in his final film) a tour of the grounds. Along the way, he tells the stories of four inmates.

In “Mr. Tiger,” Russell Lewis’ imaginary feline pet beast takes a sour view of his master’s verbally abusive parents. Just how imaginary the tiger is questioned after some clawing on the door and blood splattering on Oedipal walls.

A time traveling bicycle is at the malevolent heart of “Penny Farthing.” It stars Peter McEnery as an antique shop owner and Suzy Kendall as his wife. Soon, they discover the bike is literally antique and … we’re so sorry, Uncle Albert.

Still from "Mel" from Tales That Witness Madness (1973)“Mel” stretches credibility when Michael Jayston is more interested in an oddly shaped tree than he is in oversexed wife Joan Collins in something pink from Frederick’s of Hollywood. It’s the most remembered segment for a reason—it’s a camp hoot, with Collins channeling her inner jealous diva. The tree tries to upstage the human competition, which is not an easy task against Joan in a flimsy nightie, wielding an axe.

Rita Hayworth was originally cast in the final segment, “Luau,” but bowed out, citing health reasons. replaces her and gives a pallid performance as another jealous diva who happens to be a cannibalistic mother. Although not as well known or as assured as the best Amicus entries,Tales is still an enjoyable example of the genre that confirms Francis as an underrated director.

Most horror anthologies succumb to moralizing. One that avoids that route altogether and revels in its gore and perversity is the underrated From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), Jeff Burr’s first solo feature film. It’s an impressive debut that unfortunately did not lead to bigger and better projects for the director. co-stars with Martine Beswicke, , Rosalind Cash, Terry Kiser, Clu Gulager and the always underrated misfit . Price gives a solid performance in the wraparound as a Tennessee librarian whose knowledge of local history is put to use as he relays four tales to reporter Tyrell, who just came back from the execution of the librarian’s serial killer niece. The cast is uniformly good, especially Gulager who gives a hell of a performance in the first segment as an aging, pathetic grocery clerk whose relationship with his ailing sister (Gulager’s real-life wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery) is clearly incestuous. However, an unrequited love for his boss (Megan McFarland) quickly turns things uncomfortably south, with necrophilia thrown into the sororicidal brew.

White trash thug Terry Kiser is nursed back from the dead by kindly bayou voodoo practitioner Harry Caesar. When Kiser has the chutzpah to bite the hand that feeds him, a horrific fate awaits in this unfathomably grim narrative of dread.

Didi Lanier falls in love with carnival glass eater Ron Brooks, who is trepidatious about running away with her, fearing retaliation from the show’s owner/snakewoman (a delirious Rosalind Cash in her final film appearance). The intestinal finale of imploding razor blades and paper clips is gruesome enough to warrant a shower after. This is also the final film for dwarf Angelo Rossitto, who had most famously starred in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932).

Cameron Mitchell, once a reliable character actor, emerged from a decade-long slump of in this unsettling Gothic Civil War tale that goes to the “you’re not going there” place. Knowing the war is over, Mitchell and his rogue Union squad take the attitude that it isn’t, but fatefully encounter a band of confederate children. Damien, the Children of the Corn and the killer tykes from that Village of the Damned have nothing on these southern juveniles who reinvent pin-the-tail-on-the donkey and don’t bat an eye at removing one adult limb at a time. Hoping to escape, Mitchell goes pedophile, locking lips with a pubescent and facing a visceral climax.

Still fro,m From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)Reportedly, Price had misgivings about the script and was unhappy with the final edit, feeling it too too extreme and devoid of the sense of nostalgia that drives his screen persona. His is a supporting role, no doubt due in part to his (clearly) failing health. Burr, co-writing with Mike Malone, Darin Scott, and Courtney Joyner, fires on all cylinders, without a weak link, and despite a relatively low budget. Obscure enough to rarely be listed, it’s more refreshingly original than the more familiar fare. Burr considers it as his only authentic film, having since been consigned to commission work.

RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1966) BLU-RAY CRITERION

‘s two 1966 Westerns, The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind, have finally received due recognition in a Criterion edition. For years, Hellman’s “existentialist” Westerns (as they are often termed) have languished in execrable transfers on Z-grade DVD labels. Even these have usually been out of print, and only available at mortgage payment-level prices.

Both were produced by  (uncredited), , and Hellman, with Hellman directing both simultaneously. The Shooting was written by Carole Eastman, Ride In The Whirlwind by Nicholson. The writing proves to make the difference; Nicholson lacks Eastman’s sense of pacing and aptitude for coherent nonsense. Still, each film is sharply focused and securely grounded among films for the bourgeoisie to walk out on (a quick glance at the deluge of prosaic comments from banal IMDB users serves as a verification of Hellman’s provocative reputation).

Ride In The Whirlwind opens as a traditional Western, with a stagecoach robbery. Tradition soon gets thrown out with yesterday’s bathwater. The robbery goes askew, as do concepts of righteousness, virtue, honor, and frontier justice. The ensuing shootout between rival gangs lays waste to our inherent ideologies of heroes and villains.

Still from Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)Nicholson is shockingly subdued and vulnerable. Even better is , an overly familiar character actor villain, in his best celluloid role. Despite very good performances, Ride In The Whirlwind lacks  and Millie Perkins, who gave The Shooting its essential grounding.

Hellman is a Western grim reaper, as vital and original as Sam Peckinpah as a harbinger of the genre’s death. Comparatively, Clint Eastwood and his celebrated deconstructionist Unforgiven (1992) are obvious and unsatisfactory.

The films premiered together at Cannes and were enthusiastically advocated by  and other notable French critics. Alas, it was to little avail. Hellman’s twin opuses received scant attention in the States and only belatedly earned cult reputations.

The Shooting was previously reviewed here. Ride In The Whirlwind has received considerably less attention, but Criterion astutely treats the two films as inseparable. True to form, Criterion provides a definitive edition. Both films finally receive spotless, lush transfers. Among the plethora of extras are interviews with Corman, Perkins, Harry Dean Stanton, and Will Hutchins, an outstanding homage to Oates (written by critic Kim Morgan), critic Michael Atkinson’s equally excellent essay, and several commentaries by Hellman accompanied by film historians Bill Krohn and Black Lucas.

165. NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)

“When we were approached to do this commentary and you were asking me if I’d seen Night Train to Terror I was thinking back. I’d seen it about ten years ago and I thought, ‘yeah, I remember the wraparound with the New Wave band and I remember the stop-motion insect that’s in the second part coming up,’ and that’s all I could remember. Everything else was it was a bit weird and strange and I didn’t find it all that entertaining. But, I have to say I’ve changed my opinion, I’m a lover of Night Train to Terror.”–horror writer Justin Kerswell, on the Night Train to Terror commentary track

DIRECTED BY: Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, John Carr, Phillip Marshank, Tom McGowan, Gregg C. Tallas

FEATURING: Ferdy Mayne (credited as “Himself”), Tony Giorgio (credited as “Lu Sifer”), Gabriel Whitehouse, , ,

PLOT: God and Satan are riding on a train at midnight. Looking out the window, they watch three stories, and debate the eternal fate of the protagonists. All the while, a teen pop/rock band is acting out a music video in a nearby compartment.

Still from Night Train to Terror (1985)

BACKGROUND:

  • The first segment of this anthology film (“The Case of Harry Billings”) was an unfinished movie shot by John Carr. It was later released, without the director’s knowledge or input, as a feature titled Scream Your Head Off. In 1992 Carr shot additional footage and released his own completed version of the movie (now with Francine York as Marilyn Monroe!) titled Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars.
  • Night Train to Terror‘s second segment is edited down from the 1984 feature The Dark Side to Love [AKA Death Wish Club; AKA Gretta; AKA Carnival of Fools] (also directed by John Carr), which is available in its uncut form on the Vinegar Syndrome DVD as an extra.
  • The third tale is a compressed version of the 1980 horror Cataclysm (co-directed by Phillip Marshank, Tom McGowan, and Gregg C. Tallas).
  • According to Night Train producer/director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, none of the films used here had found distributors at that time, and some additional scenes were shot for each sequence using stand-ins. The stop motion animation sequences in the second and third segments were also added specifically for Night Train to Terror.
  • Phillip Yordan, who is credited for the screenplay to Johnny Guitar (1954), wrote Night Train (and also wrote each of the three movies edited into this anthology). Yordan was a three-time Academy Award nominee who received a 1954 Best Writing nod for Broken Lance. However, Yordan also worked as a front for blacklisted writers during the McCarthy era, so it is possible that he did not actually write all of the screenplays with which he is credited in the 1950s. His son Byron lip-syncs and breakdances in Night Train to Terror.
  • Some older reviews describe the first and third segments as switched from the order they appear on the DVD/Blu-ray; presumably this is the order the stories were shown on VHS.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie that’s caked in blood and gore, surprisingly enough the most memorable image is of the wholesome lip-syncing teenage band dressed like extras from Flashdance, hopping around, pretending to play instruments, and breakdancing in a train compartment that looks like a suburban living room, while the impassive conductor silently makes his rounds. Of course, in this case the indelible image is inextricably linked to the indelible sound, as the hormonal minstrels belt out their catchy-but-mocking hook: “Everybody’s got something to do—everybody but you.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Inspired by the box-office success of horror anthology movies like Creepshow (1982) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Night Train to Terror tries to hop a ride on the omnibus gravy train. Rather than shoot new stories specifically for this movie, however, the producers decided to save time and money by cutting unreleased full-length features they already owned the rights to into twenty-five minute segments. Needless to say, the results of this hacksaw editing, which consistently sacrifices narrative for nudity and gore scenes, are incoherent. The expository sequences with a hammy God (“I shed my mercy on them, as I do the gentle rain”) and hammier Satan (“there is no evil so vile which man will plunge himself into”) on a cosmic train judging the characters adds an additional layer of bizarreness. But, it’s the upbeat teen New Wave band shooting a music video in the next train compartment that sends the movie off the tracks and plunging into a void of pure weirdness.


Blu-ray trailer for Night Train to Terror

COMMENTS: “I can laugh and cry at the same time,” explains God. He may have learned that trick by watching Night Train to Terror. If you mix Continue reading 165. NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)

CAPSULE: THE SILENT SCREAM [AKA SILENT SCREAM] (1980)

DIRECTED BY: Denny Harris

FEATURING, Rebecca Balding, , Yvonne De Carlo, Brad Reardon, Avery Schreiber

PLOT: College students rent rooms in a mysterious mansion by the beach only to find that the landlords are a tad invasive.

Still from Silent Sc4ream (1980)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Silent Scream is not a particularly weird movie.  Instead, it is a  dated relic of the “Unusual ’80’s” horror movie phenomenon.  The 1980’s produced a glut of highly conventional, large-draw slasher flicks such as Friday The 13th and the Halloween sequels.  The decade also produced a couple of dozen unusual and distinctive efforts such as Fade To Black, My Bloody Valentine, Grandma’s House, and Motel Hell.  Odd films like these dwell on a darker, more rarefied level, one that hasn’t been visited much in the intervening years.  Newly released on DVD after 29 years, The Silent Scream is a noteworthy entry in this later category of period horror.  Until last year it had been lost in the mysterious, silvery mists of screen-scream antiquity.

COMMENTS:  Barbara Steele stars as the villain in this dated ’80’s American-made shocker.  Good character development, strong performances, and relatively little gore distinguish this effort from the usual slasher fare.

Here’s the setup: Cute and saucy Scotty Parker (Balding) transferred to her university a couple of weeks late and missed out on the fun of bunking with a bunch of freaks she doesn’t know in the dorms.  Challenged to find accommodations, she gravitates toward the old Engels house, a foreboding, sea-side edifice.

The creepy Engels place is run—on behalf of his very reclusive MOTHER! (De Carlo)—by a wrapped-awfully-tight, real-life Milhouse Van Houten character named Brad (Reardon).  Brad harbors a wide variety of deeply seated personal issues.  (Hey, who’s that looking through my air vent?)  Three more hormonally bloated students sign rental agreements and the school year is off to a beer and bodily fluid saturated start.  For most of them, that is.  The fratboy/ Continue reading CAPSULE: THE SILENT SCREAM [AKA SILENT SCREAM] (1980)