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.

MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1952) AND THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966)

I think “jaw-dropping” is the only apt description for movies like and Herbert Tevos’ Mesa of Lost Women (1952) or ‘s The Wild World of Batwoman (1966): categories like camp, cult, et. al. simply cannot do them justice. 366 readers are, of course, familiar with Ormond and Warren as two z-grade (cough) filmmakers; that category fits for virtually everything the two produced.

While Mesa of Lost Women may lack the feverish WTF element of Ormond’s later , it is, as per the norm with this filmmaker, mind-numbingly godawful. How godawful is it? It’s so godawful that the first time I saw it, I immediately wondered whether those endlessly annoying Medved boys ever saw it. How could little Ed‘s sweet little opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space, even compete with Ormond’s Mesa for title of worst film of all time? Of course, as the Medveds fancy themselves Christian critics, they might have been biased in not granting the title of “worst director of all time” to fellow fanatic Ormond; giving that award to our favorite transvestite director, to be frank, turned out to be an unintentional blessing for St. Edward D. Wood, Jr. (and to us).

Still, every weird movie lover owes it to himself or herself to see these masterstrokes of trash. While only Mesa is considered  “horror” per se, both are possessed with the zany queerness of the season and should perfectly serve any Halloween gathering.

Still from Mesa of Lost Women (1966)Mesa of Lost Women stars , somewhere between the golden locks of ‘s Kid and the chrome dome of Uncle Fester. Herbert Tevos’ script is narrated by , and the opening is priceless: “Strange is the monstrous assurance of this race of puny bipeds with overblown egos; the creature who calls himself ‘Man.’ He believes he owns the earth and every living thing on it exists only for his benefit. Yet, how foolish he is. In the continuing war for survival between man and the hexapods, only an utter fool would bet against the insect.” Talbot’s narration is utterly pointless, except for that fact that occasionally, and weirdly, he seems to be speaking directly to the actors—who then strain to hear what he is saying.

There is no actual mesa of lost women, only Tarantella (Tandra Quinn) and Coogan as stock mad scientist Dr. Aranya (that’s Spanish for spider, someone tells us) seeking to create a “super female spider with a thinking and reasoning brain; a creature that may someday control the world—subject to my will.” Yes, Dr. Aranya is creating spider women, spider dwarves, and spider puppets. Naturally, Bland Hero objects (“It’s monstrous!”) Apparently, the production ran out Continue reading MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1952) AND THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966)

BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE, PART TWO (1942-1944)

Read the introduction to the Monogram Nine.

Bowery at Midnight (1942), directed by , is a surprisingly dour crime melodrama, with a dash of horror (no doubt mandated by ‘s casting). It borrows heavily from another Lugosi vehicle, Dark Eyes of London (1939), although the earlier movie was from an Edgar Wallace story. Bowery At Midnight is comparatively muddled. As in Dark Eyes, Lugosi again sort of plays dual roles, and does some actual acting. The explanation of why his professor character needs a second identity (he uses a soup kitchen as a front to recruit gang members) is nonsensical, however, as is his need to keep zombies in the basement (?!?) Despite its muddled narrative, this, along with Black Dragons, may be the strangest of the Monogram Nine. It has pacing issues, but Lugosi’s performance and the ending, which is still jolting even today, almost make up for the film’s numerous flaws. It has quite a cult reputation, which is perhaps why fans have a trio of options to purchase superior editions from Roan, Troma, or the Retromedia Blu-Ray edition.

Still from The Ape Man (1943)Those who think Bela Lugosi reached the nadir of dignity working with may want to check him out with glued-on whiskers, hunched over, grunting like a monkey, and scratching his arm pit in 1943’s The Ape Man. It’s directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine who got his name because—you guessed it—he almost never did a second take. The plot rips off an earlier Monogram property, 1940’s The Ape (with ). That one at least had a decent central performance, despite its ludicrous plot. Ape Man, however, may be Lugosi’s most humiliating hour, with the actor looking more like an Amish preacher than an ape man, whining about his condition as he scrunches in a corner, needing spinal fluid. It’s poorly lit and, despite its obvious intent to be a parody, its dreadfully dull. It’s so bad that the white-bread heroes ( and Louise Curry) are actually a relief from the tedium. If they, and the film’s strained humor, are enough to interest you, it’s in the public domain, so there’s YouTube or some inexpensive DVD editions (none of which are remastered).

Ghosts on the Loose (1943, directed by Beaudine) is Lugosi’s second—and thankfully final—team-up with the Bowery Boys. As in The Ape Man, the film is poorly lit. Beaudine seems to have stuck the camera in the middle of room, yelled “action,” and left for lunch. The (very) minimal charm and energy of Spooks Run Wild is completely absent here, and Lugosi has nothing to do. He was lucky. Ava Gardner (of all people) embarrasses herself far more in this utterly dismal excrement. This is easily the worst of the lot, something even the most forgiving defenders of the Monogram Nine unanimously agree on. The Roan Group did what they could with the DVD.

By contrast, Voodoo Man (1944, again directed by Beaudine) is a hoot, with a trio of horror stars in Lugosi, George Zucco, and . Girls are disappearing from Zucco’s gas station. Yes, you read that right. Carradine is the imbecile abductor working for Dr. Lugosi, whose wife has been a zombie for 22 years. His scientific skills having failed him, Lugosi becomes a Voodoo Man, abducting pretty girls in an effort to transfer their souls into his wife. Darn it, none of the girls have worked so far. Yes, its a ludicrous reworking of The Corpse Vanishes, only this time we have a horror writer (Todd Andrews) whose bride-to-be gets abducted. A clearly stoned Carradine beats a drum, Lugosi and Zucco sport wacky robes, and Andrews wonders if the shenanigans would make a good movie starring Bela Lugosi. Its tongue firmly in cheek, Voodoo Man sizzles in its ridiculousness. Lugosi is good here, leading a colorful cast who seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s contagious. We should be grateful to Olive Films for not subscribing to the film’s reputation as bad cinema, because they remaster it like it’s a neglected masterpiece. This is my personal favorite of the Nine.

Return of the Ape Man (1944, directed by ) is not a sequel to The Ape Man. According to the credits, it also stars Lugosi, Zucco, and Carradine, but Zucco became ill and was replaced by Frank Moran. Lugosi and Carradine thaw out a Neanderthal  man and want to give him a brain transplant. Lugosi intends to use a wino, but things do not go right, and Carradine is toast. The result is a murdering caveman who plays the piano. Oh, and he hates blow torches, too. Lugosi echoes the film in being goofy and entertaining as hell. Some, probably people who used to pull the wings off butterflies, cite this as the worst of the Nine. Ignore them. Olive films did. My advice: buy the Blu-Ray of this and Voodoo Man and throw one hell of a bad movie party.

BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE, PART ONE (1941-1942)

Professionally and personally, ’s best decade was the 1930s, but even that was a Grand Guignol roller coaster. Shortly after his star-making turn in ‘s Dracula (1931), Lugosi, known for throwing lavish parties for his Hungarian cronies, filed for bankruptcy. Paradoxically given his financial difficulties, he simultaneously became a prima donna, and was subsequently fired from Frankenstein (1931), which would have secured his inheritance the horror crown of the late . Instead, the role of Frankenstein’s Monster went to . Lugosi was denied a contract with Universal and forced to freelance during the heyday of the studio system. With that, and his personal life in shambles (wife #3 left him, and four years later he married wife #4 and abused her too until she left him as well), Lugosi zig-zagged between big budget productions and slumming in Poverty Row productions.

The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934) was one of the first of those Z-Grade chillers. It was made for Monogram studios, directed by William Nigh, and produced by George Yohalem. It has a wretched reputation as embarrassingly racist, cheap pulp, with Lugosi as a Chinese villain with a Hungarian accent. Clocking in at barely an hour, it still manages to be poorly paced, with long stretches of dullness. It’s halfway over before Lugosi even dons the menacing Fu Manchu attitude and silk robe, torturing the hell out of the white heroes, including the obnoxious wisecracking . Although we desperately hope that Lugosi will get to slaughter Ford, it’s the 1930s, and we’re going to be disappointed. Still, Lugosi delivers in a hammily animated performance and Lotus Long, in a criminally small role, almost steals every scene she’s in. It’s been remastered for DVD by the esteemed Roan Group and released on Blu-ray by Retromedia. The Mysterious Mr. Wong reportedly made a good profit for the studio; enough for Monogram producer Sam Katzman to remember, and offer a nine-picture deal to a down-on-his luck Lugosi in 1941.

Still from The Invisible Ghost (1941)
The Invisible Ghost (1941)

“The Monogram Nine,” as the series has come to be known, is the stuff of infamy. They are perhaps “topped” only by Lugosi’s later work with —although we could argue that the Monogram opuses are still better than Lugosi’s entire1950s output. Alas, as dreadful as they all are, none of the Nine approach the zany nadir of the Wood trilogy. Even bad movie lovers, coming to these movies for the first time, may be disappointed after sampling such delightful morsels as Glen or Glenda (1953). With one very slight exception, the direction in all of the Continue reading BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE, PART ONE (1941-1942)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

Brian Henson has daddy issues, continues to commit career suicide, and The Happytime Murders may be the worst movie of the decade. For those in a hurry, you can go now. I wouldn’t blame you one damned but if you did. For the rest of my fellow masochists, I’ll elaborate, and make it mercifully briefer than this movie’s torturous 90 minute running time.

Still from The Happytime Murders (2018)The first time I read about The Happytime Murders, the description was a single sentence that went something like: “A movie about a serial killer who preys on Muppets.” My initial thought was, that premise is so weird, how can it go wrong?

Oh, it went wrong. Apparently Brian Henson feels that he doesn’t measure up to daddy, so much so that he’s gone the distance to butcher his pop’s legacy and intentionally produce something so wretched as to provoke Jim’s ghost. I hope it worked, because nothing else did in this mess, which is essentially the Muppets go Porkys with a few murders and fish-out-of-water Melissa thrown in. At least Porkys had a few (very) strained laughs, and Melissa’s previous “blockbuster,” the Back to School ripoff terribly directed by hubby is, comparatively, an endurable fun fest. Meet the Feebles (1989) this is not. Congrats should possibly go to Ben now that Henson has now replaced you as your wife’s worst director. However, since Ben is this film’s producer….

Henson has no idea what to do with his premise, and resorts to gags like Muppet sperm (silly string) and S&M puppet porn parlors. McCarthy is not only back to fat jokes, but after a confused Muppet offers her oral sex, she quips “I wish I had a d**k for you to suck.” Yuk. Yuk.

But see, she’s kind of a Muppet herself because, after being wounded in a sort of backstory shootout, it turns out she received a liver transplant from a dead Muppet, and the reason for that revelation? If you find out, don’t bother to share.

There’s a paper-thin satire on film noir detectives and a half-assed, insincere allegory of puppets as abused and oppressed minorities; which is blatantly condescending, as is the endless barrage of caricatures and stereotypes.

McCarthy is essentially rehashing her crude cop from Paul Feig’s The Heat (2013) and doing it much more poorly here. She clearly cannot distinguish between a good script and a bad script, and since audiences seem to tend to think that the actors just make up movies as they go along, McCarthy will take the lion’s share of the blame. Henson, who clearly was planning this as the initial entry in a new franchise, forgot the old adage about first impressions. With both critics and audiences in rare agreement, The Happytime Murders tanked on its opening weekend. It deserved to. The credit bloopers suggest the cast and crew had a blast making it. That fun is not at all in the movie, and everyone involved knew it.

Hands down, 2018 is the worst summer of movies I can recall.

REPRINT: SHANTY TRAMP (1967)

Alfred Eaker has the week off. Here’s a reprint of a classic column, first published on Jun 14, 2012.

Elmer Gantry (1960) with a dose of The Intruder (1962) on a 75 cent budget.”

There is the one-sentence synopsis for Shanty Tramp (1967), written and directed by Joseph P. Mawra. Mawra was a lesser-known director of numerous grindhouse films (such as 1964-1965’s Olga trilogy, produced by Glen or Glenda‘s George Weiss). Movies from this sadosexual school of filmmaking were often referred to as “roughies,” and here the lighting alone justifies that moniker.

After watching Shanty Tramp, you’ll never think of the song “When the Saints Go Marching In” quite the same way. The film opens with a worm’s eye-view of the Shanty Tramp herself (Lee Holland, in her only film role), barely squeezed into a tight white dress and pumps from hell as she shakes, jiggles, and marches her tramp way into a tent revival, choreographed to a gospel tune.

The little succubus-Eve is bound and determined to distract Preacher Man and every other male with red blood, which includes Daniel, a young African American male whose Ma warns him about the wiles of evil Shanty Tramps.

There’s a gleam in Shanty Tramp’s eyes when she spies the tithing basket. There’s a gleam in Preacher Man’s eyes when he spies Shanty Tramp’s popping cleavage. They promise to rendezvous later for a “spiritual lesson,” but Shanty Tramps get easily distracted.

The local rock-n-roll bar is man meat magnet for our heroine. Shanty Tramp grinds. Shanty Tramp flirts. Shanty Tramp gets fought over and the winner is… Savage, the leader of a biker gang! “Come on big man! You promised me a fin! I wanna see it!” She tells Savage. “Shut up and put out, babe!” Put out she does, and darn it, Savage actually lives up to his name and frolics rough.

Meanwhile Daniel’s Ma is still warning her son: “Tain’t good for black folk to be out at night! You get that Shanty Tramp outta your mind! ” “Oh come on Ma!” “Them whites in this town, they’re the same ones who strung up your Pa!”

Still from Shanty Tramp (1967)Daniel’s not listening. He’s hearing the call of that succubus Shanty Tramp. The wise words of Ma can only fall on deaf ears when Shanty Tramp does her mating call. Daniel’s just in time to hear Savage yodel, “You teasing’ little bitch!” Poor Shanty Tramp has lost her top. It’s the exploitation version of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) with Daniel and Savage substituting for and , They crash into a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Daniel proves the better man and our heroine rewards him with some interracial action. Unfortunately, Shanty’s drunken Pa stumbles in to see Shanty and Daniel sharing a sweaty cigarette.

The redneck villagers, torch in hands, are in full pursuit of the black monster while his Ma has to pay the ultimate sacrifice for her little Cain. Shanty’s Pa gets sober enough to realize his little girl was engaging in consensual interracial sex. Pa grabs the old testament whip and … off with her top again!

Thrown in patricide, exploding cars, racial revenge, and bed-hopping that goes full circle back to Preacher Man, who don’t mind sloppy seconds so long as he gets to save a soul from the Devil’s lair. The sacrifices poor Preacher Man has to make doin’ the Lawd’s work!

Enjoy it with friends, but after shuffling your guests out the door, a tub full of Calgon is strongly advised to take you away from all that Shanty Tramp residue.

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE MEG (2018)

Every year that 366 Weird movie readers have been sending  me to the Summer blockbusters, I’ve managed to actually see one good or at least remotely passable movie picked from the poll. Not so in 2018. All three picks, including this week’s, The Meg, scraped the barrel’s bottom.  366 readers found the summer goldmine of  blockbuster feces, but didn’t even bother to spot me for a pack of peanut butter M&Ms to alleviate their sadism in sending me to both Slender Man and The Meg in one weekend. As this may be (or not) our last Summer Blockbuster together, I’ll thank you for not sending me out with a bang, but rather feeling like barely getting through a trilogy of embarrassments. Actually, neither movie was as fun as a Wood opus. If only he were still around to inject some inspired lunacy. That’s the problem with The Meg; it neither realizes its dumbness, nor is it dumb enough. It’s not hard to imagine the boardroom scenario: “We’re going to do a shark movie. Jaws made a ton of money.”

“The last few Jaws movies were flops.”

“Yeah, so we’re going to change the name to The Meg.”

“‘The Meg’?”

“Yeah, like the Megalodon. So, see instead of it being a 25 foot great white, it’ll be a 75 foot prehistoric shark.”

“So, kind of like Jurassic Park meets Jaws?”

“Exactly. We throw in a good looking cast and we’ll make a killing.”

And it is making a killing, because as long as something is marketed right, Americans will consume anything that is fed to them. In his TV and film career, spanning 25 years,  director John Turteltaub has been consistent in never once having an original thought or producing an original work. In short, he’s a hack, and if he has anything resembling a style, it is his derivativeness.

In a recent interview with Collider, Turteltaub defends his excrement with “I didn’t set out to win any awards,” which is the paint-by-numbers auto-response for something embarrassingly bad. Although he did admit that he wanted it to be “R” rated (it might have helped) and hinted at a lot of studio interference, he also had the chutzpah to claim he didn’t pander to audiences, before then talking about the ways in which he did pander to audiences. I wouldn’t doubt studio interference, but I doubt it would have been much better had the studio left him alone to craft his masterpiece.

Usually, the legitimate complaint about Jaws ripoffs is that they take Stephen Spielberg’s reworking of Melville about three men, one of whom is an Ahab-like character, facing a community terror, and turn it into a slasher film focused on a shark who is a replacement for Michael Meyers. Still, with as little as Turteltaub had to work with from the screenplay (Jan and Eric Hoeber and Dean Georgaris adapting the “reportedly” superior novel by Steve Alten), it might have been smarter to focus more on the beast. Instead, he makes the movie a star vehicle for stud muffin Jason Statham as Jonas (you know; the Bible guy in the belly of the whale). While Statham is no Robert Shaw, he does have adolescent charisma that would do, if only the movie supplied him plenty of shark ass to kick.

There’s an early nod to submarine-in-peril melodramas (e.g. Gray Lady Down) that requires an expert rescuer. Of course that would be Jonas, but he has a haunted past. The portrayal of inner torment, however, is a mere sketch that can’t offer the pathos of a U.S.S Indianapolis experience or anything in the way of Old Testament lessons. Then, the movie makes a fatal mistake. It spends the next half on… nothing.  Instead of offering anything in the way of characters, there’s a lot of techno mumbo jumbo, mixed with occasionally cheesy dialogue, including about a half minute of a half-baked sermon about the immorality of hunting whales, etc.

Cliched archetypes abound; the shady billionaire financier, the joker sidekick, and a potential romance with a marine biologist (Bingbing Li) who, despite being smart-as-a-whip, needs rescued a lot by he-man Jonas.

Still from The MEG (2018)Then, there’s the shark, which is a complete CGI failure. Spielberg’s mechanical shark Bruce, for all its off-screen malfunctioning, felt threatening. That is not the case with the Meg, which looks like a souped-up version of “Jabberjaw.”  She whizzes by, and we never actually sense her there.

The late-in-the-film big set piece is a blatant ripoff of the beach scene in Jaws. For a moment, it looks like it’s either going to full-out one-up the original source, with an ocean-full of primary colored balloons and lifejackets and a poor tyke about to prove that the world is one big restaurant; either that, or U.S.S Indianapolis-meets- Godzilla. But, it’s too late in the game, and the movie chickens out of going either direction. The scene, like the film itself, evaporates.

I vividly remember seeing Jaws on its opening weekend in 1975. Dad took us to see it, and the theater employees were busy cleaning up from the previous audience where someone had vomited. Everything in Jaws—from the two guys on the pier complaining about a wife’s roast, to Scheider’s improvised sweaty line, the interplay between Dreyfuss and Shaw (most people don’t get the beer can image today since beer cans in 1975 were made of a harder aluminum, not tin)—all of it seemed intimate, which heightened the horror.

Comparatively, The Meg is an a adolescent cartoon, and not even a fun one at that.

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: SLENDER MAN (2018)

Slender Man (2018) is a movie that shouldn’t be watched alone. Not because it’s scary, but rather, if one has to suffer through a movie this wretched, you might as well have someone to suffer through it with.

I am tempted to leave this review at that and call it a day because it rather sums it up. However, since 366 Weird Movie readers inexplicably voted for this dung heap more than any other movie in the 2018 summer blockbuster poll, I might as well give your money’s worth and count it as my penance for all the readers that I’ve pissed off over the last nine years.

I do recall some reader was shocked that I had never heard of the Slender Man. A co-worker (a clown actor—I mean, he literally plays a clown) who saw it before me texted that the movie was “ratchet,” but it was worth seeing because the girl was “thicc.” I thought I had detected a couple of typos. After he texted back ROTFL, I deduced I had better Google a millennial translator. Job done, I texted him back that this is why I sometimes feel, if you’re under 40, I’m probably going to hate you. (Not really, of course. Overall, I think millennials are a better lot than my baggage-saturated generation.)

Back to the movie, if we must.

Humphrey Bogart once complained that Hollywood intentionally putting out bad movies was like Ford intentionally putting out bad cars. Sylvain White’s Slender Man is such a case. It’s lazy filmmaking at its worst. This is White’s fourth American film, and although he is mostly known through television work, he has the distinction of helming a string of American feature film flops. One would think that would deter producers. Not at all, especially when their sole concern is to cash in on an internet-based urban legend, a lot of yawn-inducing fan fiction, and a 2014 fan stabbing, which was detailed in the 2016 documentary Beware the Slender Man (that received mixed reviews). White, who has made his reputation mostly for small screen work and the 2013 French thriller Mark of Angels had to have known David Birke’s script was a derivative waste. This is not going to help his resume.

Even producers were aware this is a rotten egg, extending their review blackout date by 24 hours.

Still from Slender Man (2018)The film had potential; all of which was flippantly squandered. When our 7-foot tall haunted house actor took the guise of Slender Man to pass out fliers last season, throngs of people freaked out, and it made the news. The actor didn’t actually do anything. He just walked around in the mask and suit. The scare factor lies in people’s perception from the social media history. The film unwisely focuses too much on the character, bringing him to life through a scenario we’ve seen countless times before: a group of vapid teens, hearing about the legend, Google “Slender Man” (no, I’m not kidding) and close their eyes, ding go the church bells, and lo and behold, he is summoned forth through what looks 10th generation Photoshop FX ripped off from The Ring . Of course, the teens fill every stereotypical prototype and can’t die soon enough. One of the brood gets kidnapped by Slender Man and what follows is a brief detective subplot that has all the horror of Snoopy playing Sherlock Holmes.

Slender Man apparently likes modern technology because he somehow makes cellphones squeak, messes with the kids’ jams, and even sends really wacky (and badly edited) video footage to potential victims. The hair on the nape of my neck was standing on end. Actually, it was the cinema air conditioner (we are in our third week of a 100 degree weather). How does Slender Man do all this? Why does he do all this? These are questions that the world may never know.

And of course, just when you run and turn the corner, bam! Slender Man is there! But, even the jump scares are few and far between. At least Freddy had that in his worst outings. Slender Man commits not one, but two cardinal genre sins: it’s a scary movie  that’s not scary, and it’s a total bore to boot. As for the “thicc” chick (how do you pronounce that? Does it rhyme?), I have no idea which “chick,” the clown actor was referring to but, maybe that’s because I’m in my mid fifties.

“Slender Man is so bad…”

“How bad is he?”

Slender Man is so bad, that fanboys aren’t even claiming there’s a critical conspiracy to make fun of the character.

Slender Man is so bad, that for once audiences and critics actually agree.

Slender Man is so bad, that I actually saw four patrons (there weren’t many to begin with) walk out within a half hour.

Slender Man is so bad, that our House of Shadows actor, who’s been playing Slender Man for three years, had plans to use the occasion of the film’s opening weekend to dress again as the character and pass out fliers.

Then, he saw the movie …

…and promptly canceled his plans.

If readers overwhelmingly picked this movie because they thought it was going to be “cool” (or insert whatever millennial slang one uses), you utterly failed.

However, if readers picked Slender Man as a sadistic revenge upon me, you have triumphed.