Tag Archives: Joan Crawford

1970 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: EQUINOX, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, AND TROG

The 1970s were probably the most prolific decade in production of exploitation and horror films. The decade started off with Gordon Hessler’s mediocre Cry of the Banshee, co-starring and Diana Rigg. Daniel Haller’s adaptation of The Dunwich Horror was also surprisingly uneven, despite its well-received source material. Hammer Studios was still in full throttle, although its output increasingly met with mixed reviews and decreasing box office. Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula was considered by many to be the last decent Hammer take on the infamous Count. Roy Ward Baker’s The Scars of Dracula was universally panned by critics. Scars‘ star then made a stab at the character for a different studio in ‘s[1] Count Dracula, which co-starred and Herbert Lom. Noticeably shot on a lower budget, Franco’s Dracula was deemed a faithful adaptation of the novel, but a noble misfire. Franco and Lee also teamed up for The Bloody Judge, which was a second-rate rehash of ‘ final film, Witchfinder General.

Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil, starring Herbert Lom and , was another offshoot of the late Mr. Reeves’ swan song, with the addition of graphic torture, and it’s reputation as one of the most revolting grindhouse films ever made still holds strong nearly a half century later. Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw was the third Witchfinder General copycat in one year. It disappeared quickly (rightfully so). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the camp-fest fundamentalist Christian exploitation Cross and the Switchblade, which aptly cast the whitest white man who ever lived—Pat Boone—as Hoosier Pentecostal preacher David Wilkerson, going to the ghetto to convert gang member Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada). It was such a hit with the fundie circuit that they even produced a cross-promotional comic book that was littered throughout church pews to take home and keep “if you got saved.”

The primary influence on Sam Raimi ‘s The Evil Dead (1981), the microbudget horror Equinox has a substantial cult following, enough to receive the Criterion Collection treatment. Equinox is a holy grail for lovers of  backyard filmmaking, and is almost as famous for its making of narrative. The story began with three teenagers, David Allen, Dennis Muren, and Mark McGee, who got together and made a monster movie. Discovering the likes of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen through the pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s influential “Famous Monsters Of Filmland,” aspiring stop-animation animator Allen placed a personal ad in a 1962 issue of FM, inviting lovers of King Kong to correspond. Muren, whose monster memorabilia collection had been featured in an earlier article of the magazine, was the first to respond, followed by McGee. Shortly after that initial introduction, the three were meeting regularly for screenings and discussions of creature features and experimenting with 16 MM shorts. In 1965 Muren received money from his grandfather to make Equinox.

Still from Equinox (1970)Influenced primarily by ’s Curse of the Demon (1957), the film also pays homage to Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Robert Gordon’s It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), and Don Chaffey’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963). The cast includes Muren’s grandfather as a hermit Continue reading 1970 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: EQUINOX, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, AND TROG

  1. Having directed nearly two hundred films before his death in 2013, Franco is one of the most prolific directors in cinema history. He’s also unique in—by his own admission—never having made a good film. []

1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

1964 was nearly as productive a year for the cinematic horror genre as 1963 was. Coming from the barrel bottom was Jerry Warren’s improvement on 1960’s La Casa del Terror, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, starring (sort of) and Yerye Beirut (who later co-starred with in a string of Mexican films co-produced by ). Chaney was probably less embarrassed (although doubtfully any less sober) working for Hammer director Don Sharp in the relatively well-received Witchcraft. Fellow Hammer veterans Freddie Francis and collaborated on the actor’s only non- directed Frankenstein opus, The Evil of Frankenstein, which initially received poor reviews, but has since been reassessed in a more positive light (in some quarters). Without a star actor (or competent director) Hammer’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (dirMichael Carreras ) was as limp as its title character. However, the dynamic trio of Cushing, , and did their best work (despite a silly-looking title creature), as usual, for Fisher in The Gorgon. Lee didn’t fair as winningly in the Warren Kiefer/Luciano Ricci co-directed Castle of the Living Dead, despite having closing scenes directed by an uncredited . Lee downsized from a castle to a mere crypt in Crypt of the Vampire (directed by Camilio Mastrocinque), which was as pedestrian as its title, despite undeniable atmosphere. The icon of Italian Gothic cinema, (the last-living of the classic horror stars), was also at home in a castle setting in Castle of Blood (co-directed by and Sergio Corbucci) and teamed again with Magheriti for The Long Hair of Death (which we will be covering soon in a Steele triple feature). The final two Poe films from and , Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia, were among their best received, although the latter features yet another ingratiatingly whiny, flowery performance from its star. Rounding out a busy year, Price starred in The Last Man on Earth (co-directed by Ubaldo Ramona and Sidney Salkow), the first of several big screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”—none of which, astoundingly, could get it right. Predictably, Blood and Black Lace became yet another cult film from , but even he could not compete with the legendary Kwaidan (directed by Masaki Kobayashi), which puts most Western horror anthologies to shame. Down several notches from those is the work of Del Tenney, who has an inexplicable cult reputation—but as 1964’s The Horrors of Party Beach proves, that status is undeserved for such a dullard (1971’s I Eat Your Skin would further confirm).

Still from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1964)Spiraling downward, ever downward, we come to ‘s biggest budgeted film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which is more famous for its title than for the film Continue reading 1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP (1926)

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926), directed by Harry Edwards, was slapstick comedian ‘s first feature for First National. The star was at the height of his meteoric rise and, unknown to him, was a mere year away from his sudden fall. Tramp, Tramp, Tramp is probably the least of Langdon’s silent features, but its merits are considerable.

A dastardly Snidely Whiplash-type landlord has given Harry’s wheelchair bound pappy three months to come up with the rent: ” Son, I hadn’t told you—we don’t own this place—we’ll be put out soon.”

“Does that mean I don’t get my new bicycle?”

Harry can’t keep his mind off Betty, the Burton Shoes billboard girl (). “Stop dreaming of that girl. The money must be raised in three months—it’s up to you.”

“I’ll get the money in three months if it takes me a year.”

Oh, but wait, which way to go? Primrose Street or the Easiest Way? Which way indeed? Hmmm. Harry ponders, makes a step, steps back, ponders some more. It’s the type of scene that will inspire love of Langdon or pure hate. I opt for the former. As for the Landon haters, unenlightened to the Tao of Langdon—they serve as proof that uninformed opinions simply do not count.

Still from Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926)Harry gets and loses a job working for a celebrity cross-country walker. Lo and behold, Burton Shoes is currently sponsoring a cross-country race. If Harry met Betty becomes when Harry met Betty. Hmmm. Billboard girl picture of girl looks like girl on bench. Oh my, let me look see under your hat, Betty. Oh my. Oh my. Same girl. Oh my.

Langdon was, and remains, an acquired taste. The subtextual idea of a Pee Wee Herman/Stan Laurel hybrid lusting after the future Mommie Dearest is the equivalent of nails meet chalkboard for suburbanites, soccer moms, and Curly Howard fans: reason enough for kudos.

Harry enters the race, hoping for the $25,000 grand prize, and putting Ma’s wedding ring on Betty’s finger. His trusty scissors come in handy: Harry’s hotel room is plastered with cutouts of billboard Betty. Harry sleeps with a billboard Betty, much to the chagrin of his competitor, his former boss.

Naturally, there’s trouble along the way, including a few days hard labor for poaching blueberries.

While influences of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton abound in some of the set-piece vignettes, most importantly Langdon perfects his set-apart persona. Langdon’s wide-eyed innocence, sleepy smile, and surreal pathos probably had a longer lasting latent influence than most of the silent clowns. Stan Laurel, Jacques Tati, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and Paul Ruebens are among those indebted to Langdon’s screen persona.

Clip from Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926)

TOD BROWNING’S THE UNKNOWN (1927)

The Unknown (1927) is one of the final masterpieces of the silent film era.  Suspend disbelief and step into the carnival of the absurd.  The Unknown is the ebony carousel of the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney oeuvre, the one film in which the artists’ obsessions perfectly crystallized.  This is a film uniquely of its creators’ time, place and psychosis and, therefore, it is an entirely idiosyncratic work of art, which has never been remotely mimicked, nor could it be.  That it was made at MGM borders on the miraculous, or the delightfully ridiculous, but then this was an era of exploratory boundaries, even at the big studios (again, the risk-taking Irving Thalberg produced).

“There is a story they tell in old Madrid.  The story, they say is true.”  So opens the tale of “Alonzo, the Armless.”  Browning spins his yarn like a seasoned barker at the Big Top of a gypsy circus where “the Sensation of Sensations! The Wonder of Wonders!,” Alonzo (Lon Chaney), the Armless, throws knives, with his feet, at the object of his secret affection, Nanon (an 18 year old Joan Crawford).

Illusions abound.  Alonzo  is actually a double-thumbed killer on the lam.  With the aid of a straight jacket and midget assistant Cojo (John George, who worked with Browning in Outside the Law [1920]), Alonzo feigns his handicap and performs the facade of one mutilated.

In addition evading the law and securing employment, Alonzo’s act of the armless wonder benefits him greatly.  Nanon has a hysterical, obsessive repulsion to the very touch of a man’s arms.   She calls on the Almighty to take away the accursed hands of all men.  Nanon vents histrionic, sexual anxiety to Alonzo every time Malabar the Mighty (Norman Kerry) puts his vile hands upon her.  Alonzo, ever the performer, simulates expressed sympathy, although his affection for Nanon is the one thing about Alonzo that is genuine.

Still from The Unknown (1927)Alonzo, secretly venting enmity, advises Malabar on how to win Nanon.  It is, of course, intentional ill-advice which will eventually karmically rebound and become genuine ill-advice for Alonzo. Malabar’s arms are muscled and strong, compared to Alonzo’s armless torso, or compared to Alonzo’s deformed, hidden double thumb—the very same double thumb which he used to strangle the ringmaster of Browning’s perverse milieu: Nanon’s sadistic Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S THE UNKNOWN (1927)

GUEST REVIEW: JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)

Guest review by Kevyn Knox of The Cinematheque

Directed by Nicholas Ray

“There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema.  And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Johnny Guitar is one of those films one must not take too seriously.  Now don’t get me wrong, the film is indeed a great work of cinematic art (possibly director Nick Ray’s best work) and its classically gorgeous look and progressive visual style make it a wonder to behold, but its over-the-top giddiness and the way it verges on camp (especially in the dialogue and performances) make the film something altogether different.  Something almost dreamlike—almost as if you are not watching a movie so much as hallucinating what you might think a movie could or should be.

Johnny Guitar, the film that Truffaut once called “Hallucinatory Cinema,”  is almost magical in its approach to what film is and still should be.  This strange characteristic turns this redefined western into almost an experimental work of art.  Something that defines not what the western genre is, nor even what it could be, but what it might be if torn asunder and flipped onto its proverbial backside.  Something one could see Quentin Tarantino attempting today, but made instead back in the mid-fifties when life was staid and suburban and everyone was just crazy about Ike.
Still from Johnny Guitar (1954)
Derek Malcolm of The Guardian said of the film, “This baroque and deliriously stylised Western, along with Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious and Raoul Walsh’s Pursued, proves it is possible to lift the genre into the realms of Freudian analysis, political polemic and even Greek tragedy.”  Amen brother.

Other westerns of the time delve deeper than the typical genre-specific Hop-a-long Cassidy territory of the earlier mode—The Searchers is a Freudian masterpiece for sure and the films of Anthony Mann (and to a lesser degree Budd Boetticher) have stretched the ideas of right and wrong to Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)