Tag Archives: So bad it’s weird

258. BLOOD FREAK (1972)

“The World’s Only Turkey-Monster-Anti-Drug-Pro-Jesus-Gore Film!”–Blood Freak Special Edition DVD box cover

DIRECTED BY: Brad F. Grinter, Steve Hawkes

FEATURING: Steve Hawkes, Dana Sullivan, Heather Hughes, Brad F. Grinter

PLOT:  Herschell, a Vietnam vet biker, helps good Christian girl Angel fix a flat tire and then accompanies her to a drug party. Angel preaches to the sinning partiers and warns Herschel not to sample marijuana, but temptation of the flesh comes via Angel’s bikini clad sister, Ann. Once hooked on the wiles of the devil, Herschell gets a job at a turkey farm, transforms into a gobbling vampire, and goes on a rampage before finding out he has been hallucinating on pot, which leads him and the now “saved” bikini babe to Jesus.

Still from Blood Freak (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • Co-writer/producer/director and star Hawkes took the job to help pay medical bills he incurred as a result of skin grafts necessary to repair third degree burns he received doing a stunt while starring in a Spanish Tarzan film. He referred to Blood Freak as “a sad chapter in my life.” He later started a shelter for wild animals (before being shut down by Florida authorities for not complying with state regulations).
  • The cast consists mostly of acting students from Grinter’s class (yes, he actually was an acting teacher), including an amputee who came in handy as a victim who gets his leg cut off.
  • The original financier backed out of this labor-of-love-by-idiots (apparently, he saw some of the footage), leaving Steve Hawkes and Brad Grinter to finish Blood Freak out of their own pockets.
  • The film was originally rated “X” for violence.
  • Hawkes made a twenty-first century celluloid “comeback” in a pair of zombie movies that no one has seen.
  • Grinter’s only other film “of note” is Flesh Feast (1970), which inspired Veronica Lake to come out of retirement (!?!) to play an insane plastic surgeon whose patient is a zombified Adolf Hitler. Naturally, she comes to her senses and disposes of  the former dictator with chemically bred maggots. After getting saved, Grinter, like Hawkes, retired to a life of Christian anonymity in Florida, dying in 1993.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An Elvis imitator donning a papier-mâché turkey head and butchering rubberneckin’ potheads.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Chain-smoking anti-drug narrator; proselytizer in Daisy dukes; bad pot/experimental turkey interaction

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Just for starters, the opening narration, delivered by a pencil-mustachioed, gold-chain wearin’ co-director Grinter as he chain smokes: “We live in a world subject to constant change. Every second of every minute of every hour changes take place. These changes are perhaps invisible to us, because our level of awareness is limited. Take for example, how the things we do and say to the people we meet, all these things affect our lives, influence our destiny. And yet there seems to be some kind of fantastic order to the whole thing. We never know how or when we will meet a person who will become a catalyst. Or, who will lead us to one. What is a catalyst? Well, in this case, a catalyst is a person that will bring about changes. They could be good, or bad. But there will be changes. You can meet one almost anywhere, in your everyday life. In a supermarket, drugstore, anywhere. Even riding down the Florida Turnpike. A pretty girl with a problem. Who could resist? Certainly not Herschell.” Take that irresistible intro, add a “grass is bad, Jesus is good” message, and mix it with some gory mayhem perpetrated by a mass murdering turkey Nosferatu. Although, viewers may ask: Why a turkey? Do turkeys crave blood?


Original trailer for Blood Freak

COMMENTS:  The Christian scare film to end all Christian scare Continue reading 258. BLOOD FREAK (1972)

CAPSULE: CANDY (1968)

DIRECTED BY:  Christian Marquand

FEATURING: Ewa Aulin, John Astin, , , , , , Walter Matthau, Charles Aznavour

PLOT: A nubile girl separated from her father wanders the U.S. meeting a poet, gardener, general, doctor, guru, and more, learning that men only want one thing from her.

Still from Candy (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ah, the late 1960s all-star wacky counter-culture cash-in flop. I have a personal affection for this suspect subgenre, which includes Casino Royale and Myra Breckinridge among other campy disasters. The whole mini-movement was inspired equally by “Laugh-In,” screenwriters with LSD connections, and Hollywood execs’ hopes of wringing the spare cash that hadn’t been blown on grass from out of hippies’ pockets. Sadly, as the number of available remaining slots on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies grows ever smaller, we have to be ever more selective, and Candy has neither the balls-to-the-walls weirdness nor the cinematic competence to challenge for a spot among the very strangest films. Having the even more stunning and misconceived Skidoo on the List to represent this shaky subgenre takes some of the sting out of reluctantly passing on this wild and wooly folly, though.

COMMENTS: Buck Henry, fresh off an Oscar for The Graduate, wrote Candy‘s script. Douglas Trumbull (the man responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s “cosmic gate” scenes) did the opening and closing effects. The Byrds, Steppenwolf and Dave Grusin appear on the impressive soundtrack. With that lineup of talent, along with a cast sporting multiple Oscar winners, it’s a shock how awful Candy can be at times. The blame can go to none other than director Christian Marquand (a successful French actor), whose second and final turn at the helm of a major motion picture was this financial shipwreck. Fortunately, at its best (er, worst), Candy is laughably awful, with enough “WTF?” moments (both intentional and unintentional) to keep your eyes glues to the tube.

The plot is a series of nearly-satirical vignettes in which a cross section of American manhood attempts to grope, seduce, and violate the naive Candy, who only wants to find her missing father. It is, as the kids today say, kind of rapey; but the menaces the nubile Ewa Auin faces are so silly and absurd that it’s hard to take offense. Candy appears confused rather than frightened by the men’s advances, and whenever someone does score, she enjoys it, in the free love spirit of the times. Her molesters are, in turn, a drunken poet (Burton, as a teen idol version of Dylan Thomas); a Mexican gardener (Ringo Starr, who makes look like a Guadalajara native by comparison); an air force commander (Walter Matthau); her father’s twin brother; two medical professionals (Coburn and Huston); an underground filmmaker; a hunchback (Azvanour); a self-appointed guru traveling the country in a big rig (Brando); and a mysterious cloaked figure. Among the male cast, opinions are divided on who comes off best and worst, but even if their performances are halfway decent (Coburn), the actor’s star is tarnished just by appearing in this mess.

If you’re looking for weird bits beyond the spectacle of big names embarrassing themselves, we only need to point to the opening and closing, which imply that Candy is some sort of star child sex messiah. Then there’s the scene in a glass-bottomed limousine, shot from below; a drunken Burton making love to a mannequin; a wall-scaling hunchback; and every moment of Brando’s politically incorrect brownface performance as an Indian guru who teaches Candy both levitation and the advanced spine-warping version of the Kama Sutra. Individually, some of the sequences work, but the movie never gets a comic rhythm going, and even the horrible acting rarely elicits a chuckle. It does, however, get weirder as it goes on, coming to resemble a softcore “Alice in Wonderland” more than it’s original inspiration, Voltaire’s “Candide.” It’s one of those fabulous extravagances that could only have emerged out from behind of a cloud of smoke in the psychedelic era.

The eclectic cast and crew of the film adaptation fits Candy’s curious history. It started life in 1958 as a satirical pornographic novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, which was originally banned but became a succès de scandale when it was republished in the 1960s. “Candy” helped launch Southern’s career: he went on to write or contribute to screenplays for Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, Easy Rider, and the adaptation of his own novel The Magic Christian. (Reportedly Southern was not a fan of this adaptation). Candy was remade twice in 1978 (without authorization, with just enough changes to avoid lawsuits), as dueling hardcore sex films: The Erotic Adventures of Candy and Pretty Peaches. Pretty Peaches, at least, was quite accomplished for an adult film, with bubbleheaded Desiree Cousteau arguably outperforming debuting Ewa Aulin, and has probably been seen far more often than this official studio-backed adaptation. Long neglected, in 2016 Kino Lorber re-released Candy on DVD and Blu-ray, with interviews with Buck Henry and film critic Kim Morgan (‘s wife) among the extras.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a trippy, candy colored comedy with sci-fi and fantastic overtones, complete with a mindblowing cosmic finale. There really hasn’t been another movie quite like it, and for those who can handle cinematic head trips laced with chuckles and gorgeous visuals, this Candy is dandy indeed.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “kengo,” who rhapsodized “Cheesy sleazy patchy fun, with a bit of hit and miss satire and no discernible plot, but it does have McPhisto! – Richard Burton at his best. Hollywood was good in the sixties.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DICKSHARK (2016)

The reviewer of this film has requested to remain anonymous.

DIRECTED BY: Bill Zebub

FEATURING: Erin Brown, Kayla Browne, Rachel Crow, Scarlett Storm, Bill Zebub

PLOT: A renegade scientist creates a substance that alters genes, hiding it in the innocuous form of a penis enhancing cream. A man applies the cream, transforming his penis into the head of a shark, his partner shoots off his penis, and the Dickshark escapes into the sewers to wreak havoc on countless female victims.

Still from Dickshark (2016)

WHY IT WONT MAKE THE LIST: Although the subject matter is quite surreal, the dialogue and acting style (although often absurd) halfheartedly attempt realism. The incoherent narrative is less by design than by poor execution.

COMMENTS: Dickshark is what might emerge from ’s production house if Smith really stopped caring about production quality or coherence in his work. Director Bill Zebub is also from New Jersey and shares Smith’s earthy humor, emphasis on dialogue and a love of titillation and risqué subject matter.

You know what you’ve signed up for with Dickshark from the title and trailer. This is an exploitation picture, there’s going to be a shark, it’s going to be shaped like a dick, and its going to attack a lot of women. What you probably didn’t expect are the endless, at first mildly amusing scenes of director Bill Zebub (as the scientist, Dick) delivering half-exposition/half-nonsense monologues as he massages the breasts of semi-naked women “for science” until Dickshark comes to the rescue by clumsily “raping” the women (i.e., someone off camera throws a prosthetic shark at the actress’ groin). Zebub makes no attempt at disguising this personal porno fantasy, filling every rape scene with slow motion footage of undulating female buttocks and even a mock confession: “I’m not an aging movie director who only cops a feel by paying models to be in his movies, and who writes parts for himself that have him making out and groping them.” Really, that’s about all this film amounts to, and while at first this nonchalance and irreverence are kind of fun, it wears thin after the first hour.

What other attempts at plotting remain are tedious interludes, usually two-shots with a rival scientist intent on stealing Dick’s genetic secrets, which stretch on forever and contain lingering close-ups while the off-screen actors talk. The production values and editing reminds one of Manos: The Hands of Fate, but with more vaginas.

The acting quality is slightly above the average pornographic film, with Erin Brown faring the best of the women with her earthy, laconic humor. Zebub’s acting style is best defined as a composite of Alan Moore’s haircut and a working class Woody Allen with the spasmodic gesticulations of ’s character in Apocalypse Now.

Towards the end of the film there emerges a kind of commentary on the nihilism of modern existence: in a confession to the camera, the rival scientist chooses to end his life while bemoaning his small penis. It comes across as a kind of apology for how scattered and half-hearted the film has been, but if all we as audience members are to take away from Dickshark is that life is pointless and must be filled with nudity, shark ejaculate and directors frotting on their actresses, then thank Christ we only paid five dollars video on demand for the privilege.

What I personally took away from the film is how fascinating an undulating vagina looks in extreme close up and slow motion. Not even in Antichrist could compete with the sheer weight and focus Zebub gives to the female sex in Dickshark. The film really deserves the IMAX treatment, and preferably with raincoats offered to prospective male viewers.

The three hour first assembly—which I confess I couldn’t brave—can be found on Vimeo on Demand here:

The two hours and eight minute cut (which still taxed my patience) can also be found on Vimeo on Demand (under the alias Frankenshark):

The DVD runs an advertised 150 minutes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like the demented love child of Tinto Brass and Troma for which we never asked.”–Randall Lotowycz, The Ink & Code (DVD)

SECOND OPINION: NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

We originally ruled Nothing but Trouble off consideration for the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, but Bryan Pike offers another opinion.

DIRECTED BY: Dan Aykroyd

FEATURING: Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy

PLOT: Financial publisher Chris Thorne (Chase) meets lawyer Diane Lightson (Moore) and agrees to escort her to Atlantic City.  Along the way, Thorne makes a scenic detour to the decrepit mining town of Valkenvania, and failing to comply with a stop sign is pursued by local cop Dennis Valkenheiser (Candy) who then takes them before his 106-year-old grandfather, Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd).

Still from Nothing But Trouble (1991)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: While the film is equally bizarre in both conception and execution, the most baffling aspect is how writer-director-producer-star Aykroyd thought there would be an audience for this relentlessly grotesque, misfiring comic take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Haunted Mansion. The film is abundant with carnival-ride execution devices, adult-sized mutant babies, cleft palates, and sexually unsettling geriatric imagery. Although it has the typical story structure of an SNL alumni comedy a la Spies like Us, the imagery is truly macabre and surreal, and the tone so haphazardly uneven it’s like the film is nestled atop one of the Judge’s ball pits.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Aykroyd’s penis nose as hallucinated (?) by Chase during the revolting dinner scene.

COMMENTS: “The cat’s eyes’ll spin!” bellows the Judge from behind his clunkily automated courtroom as the bewildered captives look on. Their disconcerted reactions arguably reflect the response of viewers who happen upon this strange, forgotten oddity from the early nineties. Not gory enough to be a horror film and not eliciting sufficient laughs to be considered a comedy, this mawkishly executed film simply leaves one giggling nervously and asking, why?

Aykroyd’s creation in the arthritic, mummified, pontificating Judge Alvin is equivalent to giving the least appealing character of the Austin Powers franchise, Fat Bastard, his own film. Chevy Chase sleepwalks through his performance as snarky Thorne, and Demi Moore looks confused as to what she’s doing in the film at all. John Candy fares better as the put upon Cop, but his transvestite turn as the Officer’s sister is easy pantomime dame humor at its worst. The inexplicable presence of hip-hop group Digital Underground in Judge Alvin’s court, with a young Tupac Shakur in tow, seems intended to bring in the “young” audience by creating a signature tie-in hit tune like the titular song of Ghostbusters. I’m afraid the device wasn’t successful, neither in the film nor in real life; Nothing But Trouble had a $40 Million budget and made around $8 Million at the box office.

Once the movie reaches the Judge’s home any plotting or story gets thrown out the window in favor of a series of amusement ride set pieces: “The Bone Stripper” roller coaster which the Judge employs for execution, rooms which trap occupants inside, and even a moving Hallway that nearly crushes Chase and Moore. For all of these elaborate devices, including a slide that leads Chase into a pit of human bones, nothing significant happens in the middle of the film, leading to a sense of inertia and pointlessness about the whole proceeding. The human sized mutant babies (one of whom is also played by Aykroyd) disturb. They are filthy, ghoulish infants, attempting “cute” jokes which fall flat and playing cards with Moore, evidently to give her something to do at that point in the film.

By the time the climax rolls round and the cartoonish ending sends Chase through a wall leaving his outline behind, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit with an hour and a half of ugliness with no jokes to temper the horror. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it remains Aykroyd’s sole directorial outing and a truly weird piece of mainstream cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to.”–Nathan Rabin, Onion A.V. Club

CAPSULE: GURU THE MAD MONK (1970)

DIRECTED BY: Andy Milligan

FEATURING: Neil Flanagan, Paul Lieber, Judith Israel, Jaqueline Webb

PLOT: A prison colony priest abuses his power and threatens the love of a young couple.

Still from Guru the Mad Monk (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No comprehensive survey of weird movies would be complete without a passing mention of Andy Milligan, but no such list would be credible if they honored Andy with more than a footnote.

COMMENTS: Michael J. Weldon once said, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there’s no help for you.” I’m not sure Andy Milligan movies have fans, any more than car crashes do. There are only helpless, stunned onlookers.

That said, Guru the Mad Monk is considered one of the trash auteur’s best efforts. It’s helped along by a brisk run time (under an hour, with no fluff) and a berserk plot that incorporates grave robbing, blackmail, torture, a schizophrenic priest with a bowl haircut, a hunchback, and a vampire. At the same time, it has legitimate ambitions towards being a historical Gothic horror indicting hypocrisy in the clergy—although the presence of a vampire kind of undercuts that serious intent. Neil Flanagan, as the corrupt Guru (Guru??), is about as fine an actor as you’ll find in a Milligan movie. He’s got crazy eyes and Shakespearean diction: he slaps his lackey for saying he doesn’t believe in God, tenderly insults his own hunchback, and argues with the demonic spirit possessing him while looking into a mirror and clutching a bouquet of posies. He is one of those competent actors you are sometimes lucky to find reciting ridiculous dialogue while drawing a paycheck in crappy films. (Flanagan later landed guest spots on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Jeffersons”). It’s no master class in acting, but with a less confidently hammy villain, this cheapie would be absolute torture.

Speaking of torture, the horrifically poor gore effects are one of the trashy pleasures on display here. As a priest/inquisitor, Guru’s duties include branding reprobates and overseeing the lopping off of hands and the placing nails in eyeballs. If push comes to shove, he’s not above crucifying a henchman. Perhaps sensing this—not to mention the fact that Guru is publicly consorting with a vampire mistress—-the Catholic Church understandably wants to install a less mad monk in the position.  All of this is shot, not on location in the Greek isles, but in a church in Manhattan (traffic noise sometimes intrudes on the scene, and at one point a motorbike is visible in the background). It’s all quite terrible, but rather amazing at the same time. It never lets up long enough to get dull (thus avoiding the beware rating that it might earn if judged solely on its technical merits). In a different time, this thing—essential a home movie with community theater production values—played in actual movie houses!

Guru the Mad Monk is available on DVD by itself, in a triple feature of Milligan movies alongside The Ghastly Ones and The Body Beneath, or as part of the “Pure Terror” 50-film set from Mill creek.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…beneath the tangly plot veneer, this is just a delightfully deranged exploitation movie…  If you’re looking for an entry point into the wild, weird world of Milligan, this is as good as any.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)

CAPSULE: TROLL (1986) & TROLL 2 (1990)

Troll (1986)

DIRECTED BY:  John Carl Buechler

FEATURING:  Noah Hathaway, June Lockhart, Micheal Moriarity, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

PLOT:  Trolls invade the human realm and turn people into food (and baby trolls).

Still from Troll (1986)

Troll 2 (1990)

DIRECTED BY:  Claudio Fragasso

FEATURING:  Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Robert Ormsby, Deborah Reed

PLOT: A family vacations in a town full of humans disguised as “trolls.”

Still from Troll 2 (1990)

WHY NEITHER MOVIE SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The roots of these strange fantasy worlds don’t dig deep enough to be seriously affecting. The corniness is shallow, and the oddness feels contrived, lazy even.

COMMENTS: Picture a grandfather named Seth.  He confers with others, predominantly family members, emphasizing the existence of goblins. He says they are evil, impudent creatures that revel in torment, then proclaims that goblin blood is green, the color of sap. Somewhere in this parallel universe organic tentacles erupt from the ground and unsightly trolls sprout from organic pods. Multi-hued backdrops dribble with green, mossy earth while peculiar teenage characters experience transcendentally vacant confrontations. In this world, at least one pre-pubescent teen chokes on popcorn during a hot fantasy while trolls hide in his closet. All of these happenings are punctuated by strange flashes of slimy gore in the world of Troll and its sequel, Troll 2.

Eons of insomnia can be obtained attempting to decipher the enigmatic qualitative properties of Troll and Troll 2. Most of what’s on screen in both films seems like a vague attempt to conjure horror and suspense, but it’s all blatantly artificial. Chains of inconsequential science fiction and fantasy ideas are glued together with sticky green goblin slime. It’s assumed that some ironic entertainment value can be siphoned from the bizarre haphazardness, but the darker elements (e.g. the exploding heads in Troll, people being turned into plants and then masticated in Troll 2) indicate a tone of cynicism surrounding the offbeat exchanges. Thus, despite their puppet and slime fetishes, these movies are not really suitable for kids to enjoy. On the contrary, it would be quite unfortunate for an unsuspecting child to see either one of the Troll movies. With little understanding of life, witnessing the queer squabbles, blundering cheeseball romances, and mini-monsters coveting veggie-morphed organs could cause permanent psychological impairment. (It would also be not be constructive for a youngster to watch Troll 2 and get the idea that it’s OK to urinate on the family dinner table).

Examining Troll and Troll 2 as horror appropriation pieces with villains that contort traditional fantasy creatures, the streamlined awkwardness is overwhelmingly grotesque. Loopy symphonies are performed by homicidal puppets with a skew-whiff gawkiness. Unlike other weirdo B-movie monster flicks of the late Eighties, like Bad Taste or Society, the narrative enjoyment never approaches transcendence, nor does it dally with the chaotic fun of cornball monster movies of its time (such as Critters). Rather, the fun gets lost in boredom and confusion while the camera moves from one set piece to the next, while side characters explode with green slime that was most likely borrowed from Nickelodeon Studios before they went prime time. It’s not difficult to imagine both films as extended, graphic episodes of the 90s children’s TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” While the woozy plots focus on property conflicts between parallel dimensions, the camera gives a smidgen of solace in its visual homogeneity with its whorls of evanescent greens and browns. The most enduring aspects of the Troll universe come from its vivid color palette and imaginative set pieces.

The goblins (not trolls) of Troll 2 exist within the same logic-deprived chaos as the first film. They kill for pleasure perhaps, but more for the warm green globs of organic flesh that fill their bellies. Issuing the same gruff, nasally bark while performing all tasks, the “trolls” have the power to turn people into plants and the strength to bend steel barrel shotguns, the shells of which they are immune to. The accord between the troll and human world is like a massive, perverted phase shift. Somehow, none of this brain candy prevents the viewing of Troll and Troll 2 from being a generally dull experience.

The repetitive musical score coupled with the amateur acting will, at its best and most cheesy moments, bring to mind the lack of awareness of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but the strength of Troll  and its sequel as amusing cult films lie more in the lurid sci-fi and fantasy aspects of their productions. In Troll‘s first troll attack, a partier gets zapped into a lush array of green foliage, with a splatter effect that uses green slime in place of blood. Scenes like this are interspersed with arbitrary, half-baked filler dialogue, which can be mind-numbingly dull. In the first film, relief is found with the introduction of an anachronistically-dressed diva with a talking head for a desk lamp. Her role leads to surreal insanity. Another amusing scene in Troll involves a character named Harry Potter Sr. (no kidding) rocking out in his living room, with dance moves that may have inspired those in Dogtooth.

The total freedom of expression on display is liberating.  At a glance, both Troll and Troll 2 can resemble grisly Muppets’ films or B-movie cousins of Labyrinth, but the scene in Troll where baby goblins emerge from animatronic green monsters best describes what the vibe is like throughout both films. Slimy, graphic, and morosely odd, Troll and Troll 2 possess enough surface qualities to be labeled as terribly bizarre, but there’s not enough magic, passion, or unusual ideas behind the bad acting and green slime to rise above the multitude of B-movies that aspire to be on The List.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a predictable, dim-witted premise executed for the most part with surprising style.“–Variety on Troll (contemporaneous)

the kind of cinematic experience that must be experienced firsthand. No description of it can quite contain its misguided ludicrousness or the way its infinite and varied sins against the traits of good cinema combine to produce one of the most uproarious unintentional comedies ever made.”–James Kendrick, Q Network (DVD)

223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

“A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!”–original poster tagline for Manos, the Hands of Fate

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Harold P. Warren, John Reynolds, Tom Neyman, Diane Mahree

PLOT: After making a wrong turn on a family vacation, Mike and Maggie and their daughter Debbie find themselves lost in the Texas desert. As night falls they discover a lodge and its mysterious caretaker Torgo, who reluctantly agrees to let the family stay the night. As the night wears on the Master and his wives awake, while Torgo develops an obsession with Maggie.

Still from Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, had a yen to become an actor, and met and befriended screenwriter Stirling Silliphant when the latter was in El Paso scouting locations for the television series “Route 66.” Warren made a bet with Silliphant that he could make his own horror movie. He scribbled out the initial outline to Manos on a napkin at a coffee shop.
  • Manos was filmed with a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only shoot 32 seconds of footage at a time. There was no live sound and all dialogue was later dubbed in by the principal male actors (Warren, Reynolds and Neyman) and one uncredited actress voicing all the female roles.
  • John Reynolds, who played Torgo, was a heavy drug user who was often high on LSD on set. He committed suicide months after shooting concluded, before Manos‘ debut.
  • Manos had been completely resigned to the grindhouse dustbin, almost never screened on television, only gaining notoriety after being featured on the bad movie-mocking cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993. (Manos became one of the show’s most popular episodes).
  • For most of its history Manos was available only in scratchy second generation prints with visible defects; many fans believe that the murky visuals add to the film’s outsider appeal. In 2001, cameraman Benjamin Solovey found a pristine work print of the movie  and crowdfunded a digital restoration of the movie, which he released on Blu-ray (via Synapse films).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a brief moment when all of Manos‘ bizarre characters share the frame at the same time. Arms outstretched, as always, to display the scarlet fingers lining the inside of his coal-black cloak, the Master points to a shivering Torgo, while two of his nightgown-clad wives pirouette towards him and drag him onto the stone altar, his massive knees pointing towards the nighttime sky. In her review of the film’s opening night, the local El Paso film critic refers to this as the scene where Torgo is “massaged to death.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Torgo’s knees; wives’ nightgown brawl; who the heck is ‘Manos’?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like most misguided amateur efforts, Manos notches a weird points from anti-naturalistic acting, incoherent editing, strange dubbing, and negligent continuity.  In the case of Hal Warren’s sole feature, the staggering ineptitude magnifies the movie’s strange little bumps until they become looming mountains; the story takes place in some uncanny west Texas wasteland that’s similar to our own world, but permeated by a dreamlike offness.


Clip from Manos: the Hands of Fate

COMMENTS: Manos: the Hands of Fate demonstrates an important Continue reading 223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

CAPSULE: THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Lee Frost

FEATURING: , Rosey Grier, Don Marshall

PLOT:  An elderly, racist, but brilliant doctor on the brink of death figures out a way to keep himself alive through the world’s first head transplant; however, he did not expect to wake up from surgery attached to the body of an African American convict!

Still from The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite the brazenly irrational subject matter, The Thing With Two Heads wears its heart on its sleeve and actually feels rather grounded, even with a two-headed monster on screen for most of the running time. Wacky, sure. Weird? Maybe not.

COMMENTS: Any film fan would be forgiven for being simultaneously amused and repulsed by the title and the concept of The Thing With Two Heads. It sounds ridiculous, and it very much is ridiculous: a low-budget foray into pseudo-science that contains all the hallmarks of classic exploitation fare, unfortunately including the dire production values and clunky, distracting dialogue.

That being said, at times the film is genuinely fun, no more so than during its opening portion in which we follow the adventures of a two-headed gorilla, surgically created by Maxwell Kirshner (played by Oscar-winner Ray Milland—the casting may very well be the weirdest thing about the film). Watching a gorilla tear through a lovely upper class neighborhood before ripping up a mom and pop convenience store just to get his hands on some bananas would be a highlight in any film. Strangely, even though the film looks absolutely terrible (think Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song), the effects with the gorilla suit, and those during the head transplant scene, are surprisingly potent, gruesome enough to make you squirm as the direction refuses to cut away, undeterred by the budget constraints that the rest of the film suffers from.

The Thing With Two Heads is certainly a change from the norm, but once it gets rolling, seeing a mixed-race two-headed creature talking about social prejudice begins to seem standard fare. In fact, the film plays everything so straight that it is difficult to tell whether you are watching an unintentional comedy that has missed its target as a serious social statement or a satire that isn’t particularly funny. Either way, the absurdity outweighs any message contained within the film, which seems more concerned with a 30 minute dirt bike escape than anything else; and, lets face it, Mad Max this is not. By the time the final tonal misstep arrives in a film full of inconsistencies it is difficult to tell whether you have had a good time or not; but, obviously, The Thing With Two Heads isn’t forgettable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Greer is] willing to do anything to get another chance at life, so he volunteers for a weird medical experiment…. The most incredible thing in ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ is not the head transplant, however, but what happens next. Within hours after Milland’s head has been screwed on, the two-headed escapee is on a motorcycle and being chased by no less than 14 police cars. Every one of them is destroyed during the chase, a process that takes so long that seven, or even five, squad cars might have been enough.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)

“Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!”

Cinematic horror had come a long way since its primitive infancy as part of the 1920s German Expressionist movement. The 1930s Gothic comedies of , the art deco perversity of , ‘s outsiders, and the 1940s literary subtleties of represented the genre in its adolescence. Of course, we are assured that each preceding generation, especially its artists, are comparatively naive—akin to cave painters. So, it should be no surprise that the genre evolved, by leaps and bounds, beginning in the modern era of the 1950s, which brought us the atomic Deadly Mantis in 1958 and topped that within a mere fifteen years: killer bunnies, in a certified classic with “Star Trek”‘s Dr. McCoy starring in his version of the “Wrath of Donnie Darko.” Yes, it’s Night of the Lepus.

This opus of oversized, rabid jackrabbits is such an abomination that star DeForest Kelley (whose career began with 1947’s suspenseful noir Fear In the Night) never made another film outside of the Star Trek franchise. This was at least a guarantee of superior mediocrity. Actually,  despite glued-on porn mustache accompanied by lamb chop sideburns and his polyester suit decorated with a necktie that threatens to swallow him whole long before the Jurassic hares escape the garden, Kelley embarrasses himself the least. Faring worse are former heroine Janet Leigh, “B” western star , Paul Fix, and Stuart Whitman. MGM (!?!) apparently never read the script, and later placed the entire blame on Director William F. Claxton, a veteran of anonymous westerns and television episodes (including the immortal “Love, American Style”). Unsurprisingly, Claxton never made another theatrical film after this ( the same fate met first and last time screenwriter Don Holliday).

Still from Night of the Lepus (1972)As mind-numbing and unfathomable as it may seem, Claxton and the cast and crew play it straight, despite Saber-toothed domestic bunnies, grown men dressed as a Jason Vorhees version of a Chuck Jones toon, and lotza red corn syrup. Predictably, the four legged critters are the only ones who seem to get it, being clearly annoyed by the FX hacks squirting dyed molasses into their eyes.

There is a degree of charm to be found in something so ludicrous being made by such a large, clueless team. Unfortunately, there is no Vincent Price as Irontail to save it from being a crashing bore. The plot is based on the standard Hollywood idea of atomic mutation. A pair of scientists (Whitman and a bell-bottomed Leigh) are solicited by Calhoun. Apparently,  Roger and Jessica Rabbit have been working overtime between the lettuce leafs. Calhoun is sick and tired “of them critters raiding my carrot patch.” Instead of calling Elmer Fudd, the scientists, with help from “Bones,” experiment with harmones! Their daughter (a good argument for birth control) releases the herd of photographically blown-up hares running in slow mo and…Strange things begin to happen at the Arizona Ranch indeed when “COTTONTAIL CANNIBALS” go a-stampeding. Outlining the plot further would only waste precious time.

It is not the yawn-inducing, pedestrian story, but rather the astoundingly slipshod execution (including woefully amateurish editing by John McSweeney) that makes it a movie that can only go well with store bought cardboard pizza. If only this film could have had a director and studio with a taste for rabbit pellets. One can only image what Ed Wood, , or could have done with this. Even more unforgivable than the film itself is the “special edition” DVD, which excised a classic scene of a victim engaged in a bit of sumo wrestling with an extra dressed in Ralphie’s Christmas suit.

The quoted dialogue in the opening above is delivered by a deputy sheriff to a crowd at the drive-in cinema watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon. No one is surprised.

The only authentic surprise is the amount of gore: multifarious scenes of severed limbs doused in gallons of tinted Aunt Jemima and extreme close ups of old Peter Cottontail munching away (but it ain’t marshmallow stuck in his teeth).

Actually, Night of the Lepus is probably better suited for Easter than Halloween viewing. It could potentially enliven that hopelessly dull holiday far more than any of those sanctimonious Bible pics always being shown while all the rugrats are out looking for eggs (after the obligatory once-a-year church service). Predictably, Lepus wound up as a so-bad-it’s-good list perennial. While I could think of far better candidates (like any of the Friday the 13th movies), it at least established a slightly hipper tradition.

AL ADAMSON’S DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)

The son of “Z” grade western director Victor Adamson, exploitation horror director Al Adamson came by his credentials honestly. Tragically, Adamson also unintentionally secured his own cult status, in a lurid example of life imitating art, when he was brutally murdered by a contractor. Several weeks later, the director’s body was discovered buried under freshly laid cement and bathroom tile. It could have been a scene culled from one of Adamson’s movies, and has the makings of a cult film in itself.

Like his father, Al Adamson was a hack, and never put on the pretense of being anything more than that. His formula for low-grade trash was female udders and genre actors well past their tether. Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol, his version of Chesty Morgan, usually supplied the udders. Similar to the partnerships between and or and , Adamson had aged horror icon for two films: The Female Bunch (1971, part of which was shot on Charles Manson’s Spahn Ranch) and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). Both films were actually a smorgasbord of faded  “B” celebrities. In Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Adamson also cast J. Carrol Naish, who had once co-starred opposite Chaney in the Universal monster mash House Of Frankenstein (1944). Vs. turned out to be the last film for both actors, and neither were more frightening than they were here, albeit not intentionally. Chaney does yet another mute Lenny variation (he barely rasped his few lines in The Female Bunch as Adamson filmed the actor happily downing vodka). Bloated, splotchy, yellowed with jaundice, and dying of throat cancer (like his father), Chaney was too ill to speak by the time of Dracula vs. Frankenstein. In contrast, Naish is wheelchair-bound and frighteningly emaciated. Two-foot dwarf Angelo Rossitto (from Freaks), Russ Tamblyn (from West Side Story) Jim Davis (best known for his later role as Jock Ewing in the ‘Dallas’ TV series) and “Famous Monsters Of Filmland” founder Forrest J. Ackerman makeup the remaining cast of debatably familiar faces.

Still from Dracula vs. Frankestein (1971)However, it is newcomer Zandor Vorkov as a Dracula-with-an-afro that one remembers the most. He has been called the “worst Dracula in cinema,” and considering the competition, that is quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, Vorkov only made one other film, also in 1971, also for Adamson: Brain Of Blood, another “all-star extravaganza” that cast the actor as “Mohammed,” opposite Rossito and The Incredible Shrinking Man‘s Grant Williams. Although Vorkov is still living, he reportedly went into seclusion, founded a religious Continue reading AL ADAMSON’S DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)