Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Black Sleep (1956)

Poster for The Black Sleep (1956)The Black Sleep (1956) by #ReginaldLeBorg

w/ #BasilRathbone #AkimTamiroff #LonChaneyJr #JohnCarradine #BelaLugosi
Also featuring #TorJohnson!

“Out of the evil brain of a twisted scientist comes a fantastic robot army – crushing all barriers…feeding on beauty – lusting to claw the world apart!

“The Terror Drug That Wakes the Dead!”

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I’m not sure how I’d never seen The Black Sleep (1956) before last week. It’s got an amazing cast of horror heavyweights, including Bela Lugosi in his last completed performance. Yes, he appears in Ed Wood’s Trashterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), but as well all know, his part was finished by Ed’s wife’s chiropractor(?!) after Lugosi died. 

Aside from the steller cast, The Black Sleep has a plot that I find immediately endearing. Put simply, it’s about a mad doctor who performs brain surgery on a variety of people in an attempt to find a cure for his wife, who is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. In doing so, he creates a bunch of monsters, many of whom he keeps locked up in the basement.

I’ve always had a thing for brain transplant movies, and while this one isn’t quite that, it appeals to me in the same way. It also feels related to movies like Eyes Without a Face (1960) and Faceless (1987), which are about a mad doctor (or scientist) attempting to restore his wife’s (or daughter’s) beauty at the expense of other innocent victims.

I was surprised to learn that many critics did not like The Black Sleep. I thought it was a whole lot of fun. And it’s developed a substantial following of devoted admirers over the years. Basil Rathbone is outstanding as the mad doctor. He takes the role very seriously, and never plays it for over-the-top laughs (which others might have). He makes Sir Joel Cadman seem very believable. 

The Black Sleep (1956) is, in my opinion, an unfairly overlooked masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. I’m not sure how I missed it for all these years, but I will most definitely be watching it again on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)

Poster for Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) by #AlAdamson

w/#JohnCarradine #PaulaRaymond #AlexanderDArcy #RobertDix

“HORROR BEYOND BELIEF LIES WAITING FOR ALL WHO DARE ENTER THE VAMPIRE’S DUNGEON!”

“…YOU’LL NEVER GET OUT!”

#Horror
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

By now it should be fairly obvious that I’m a fan of Al Adamson. As one of my Twitter buddies once said, “You’re either a fan, or you’re not.” And I think it’s fair to say that there are plenty of people in this world who are not. They may want to avoid Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) like the plague. Even I, as a fan of Al Adamson, have my doubts about whether this one is all that great. Al intended it to be a comedy, and as people like L.A. Morse have observed, (and I paraphrase greatly here):

“Bad movies can be hilarious and fun – but bad comedies are just bad.”

Indeed. If a comedy is funny, how can it be bad? So the term “bad comedy”, pretty much implies unfunny movie. “Bad horror film,” on the other hand, can mean get ready to laugh your ass off. At least that’s what it seemed to mean to my friends and me when we were teenagers. As an adult, I seem to have developed a way of enjoying bad movies without laughing –  but that’s another story…

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched Blood of Dracula’s Castle at least four times in my life. LIke all of Al Adamson’s work, it has it’s rewards. I just don’t think it’s his best work. 

One of the things that always surprises me about Blood of Dracula’s Castle, is the fact that John Carradine is in it but he doesn’t play Dracula. You’d think I’d remember that after seeing the film multiple times, but John Carradine is such a natural choice to play Dracula  – in fact, he did that twice before this (House of Dracula (1945), and House of Frankenstein (1944)) – that I always just assume that he did it for Al Adamson, too. But alas, no…

Alexander D’Arcy plays the famous vampire in this movie, and he’s kind of a charming, likeable version of the count. His wife, the Countess, is played by Paula Raymond, who has about 90 credits as an actress – including appearances on many famous TV shows. Carradine plays George, their Butler.

Blood of Dracula’s Castle is a pretty silly movie. It’s not much of a comedy, although it does provide a few laughs here and there (I’m not sure how intentional they were). It features attractive women chained to the wall in the dungeon, but it manages to be fairly light on the sleaze. It’s also pretty tame in the violence department. In spite of this, there was an alternate TV version of the movie created with new footage directed by . Not sure why they couldn’t just air the original version. It may simply be that they needed to stretch out the running time a bit. There’s really nothing too offensive in it (which may be one reason that it’s less fun that many of Al’s other movies).

Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) is most definitely #NotQuiteClassicCinema. If I’d seen it as a kid, on Not Quite Classic Theatre, I’m sure I would have thought it was the worst movie I’d ever seen. Many of the films they showed back then were really quite good. This one is not. But still, there’s a certain charm to it. And I’d like to think that it would have inspired me, the way so many of those movies did back then, by making me think “Hey, I could do better than this…”. Perhaps I would have scribbled down a bunch of ideas for my own weird, modern day Dracula story. Who knows?

As it is, it’s always seemed like a perfect second or third feature in an all night bad movie marathon. It’s unlikely to be the highlight of the night, but it just might provide some welcome relief between the edgier, more intense entries in your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Five Bloody Graves (1969)

Poster for Five Bloody Graves (1969)Five Bloody Graves (1969) by #AlAdamson

w/ #RobertDix #ScottBrady #JimDavis #JohnCarradine #PaulaRaymond

“Lust-Mad Men and Lawless Women in a Vicious and Sensuous Orgy of Slaughter!”

“SEE: MEN FIENDISHLY TORTURED!”

“Inhuman” “Brutal” “Shocking”

#Western
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

While discussing Half Way to Hell (1960) a while back, I was already thinking about checking out this movie, Five Bloody Graves (1969). I’ve been a fan of Al Adamson for a long time, and I have quite a few of his movies in my collection – well, now I have almost everything, thanks to The Masterpiece Collection put out by Severin. But prior to that, I had collected quite a few VHS tapes and DVDs. Five Bloody Graves was not one of them. In fact, I had never seen it. 

I first heard of Five Bloody Graves when I read an article about Al Adamson’s murder in my local newspaper. I was shocked – first of all, that Al Adamson was murdered, but more so by the fact that they were talking about him in my local mainstream newspaper. I never would have seen that coming.

In that, admittedly brief, article about Al Adamson, they referred to him as a movie director who had made movies with titles like –

And then they listed a few particularly nasty sounding horror titles. I think they were trying to draw a connection between his brutal murder, and the types of movies he made. I knew all of the titles, except one: Five Bloody Graves.

I was instantly intrigued. Five Bloody Graves sounded like my kind of movie. I had no idea what it was about, but I assumed that it must be a kick-ass horror film, done only as Al Adamson could do it. I was a little surprised when I found out that it was actually a Western. I don’t want to say I was disappointed, because I had also been a fan of Westerns since I was a kid. But I couldn’t quite imagine Al Adamson making Westerns. On the other hand, I would watch anything with Al Adamson’s name on it, so this was a definite must see.

As the years passed by, I never managed to get my hands on a copy of Five Bloody Graves. I’m not sure if it was hard to come by, or if I just wasn’t looking in the right places. Needless to say, I was very pleased when I realized that I would finally be acquiring it as part of the The Masterpiece Collection

I now know that Al Adamson kind of got his start in Westerns – the first film he directed (or at least co-directed) being Half Way to Hell (1960), which I quite enjoyed. And this is what made me all the more excited to FINALLY get to see Five Bloody Graves. So, last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn I decided to do it.

Let me just say that within the first five minutes I knew that I was having a good time. I suppose a part of me had been worried that it was going to be just another forgettable B-Western (and I’ve watched far too many of those in my life). As I may have mentioned in the other post, a lot of B Westerns can be quite tedious. I don’t know why. I find them harder to take than, say, really cheap slasher films. Or really cheap horror films of any kind. So, I tend to get a bit apprehensive whenever I’m about to watch a really cheap B Western. But Five Bloody Graves put me at ease within minutes (or maybe even seconds). It may be a cheap ass B Western – but it’s an Al Adamson movie! I should have realized he could never let me down.

I won’t bother describing the plot – or really anything about Five Bloody Graves. If you’re a fan of Al Adamson, you’ll know what to expect. If you’re not, you may want to steer clear. I say “may”, because maybe you’re just a fan who hasn’t happened yet. Maybe Five Bloody Graves is the movie that could turn you into a dedicated Al Adamson admirer. In all honesty, I would say you’re probably more likely to be recruited by something like Satan’s Sadists (1969) or maybe Girls For Rent (1974), but who knows?

Five Bloody Graves (1969), like all Al Adamson movies, is undeniably #NotQuiteClassicCinema of a a very special kind (at least to me). It may not be my favourite of his movies (at least not yet), but I’m glad to have finally seen it – and I will definitely be watching it again (assuming that I don’t suddenly first meet an unexpected end like Al Adamson did) on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971)

Poster for Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971)Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971)
by #AlAdamson

w/ #JohnCarradine #KentTaylor #TommyKirk #ReginaCarrol

A mad doctor creates a fiend with an electronic brain.

“Human Zombies Rise From Their Coffins As Living Corpses”

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

What can I say about Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971)? It’s the third (or is it the fourth?) version of Al Adamson’s first feature film (not counting the movie he co-directed with his father).

According to Sam Sherman, it started life as something called Echo of Terror, which was a pretty good low budget crime film. Unfortunately, Al Adamson couldn’t find any distributor willing to take it. So, he added in some music and go-go dancing and changed the name to Psycho a Go Go (1965), which did find some limited distribution.

This is the first version of the movie that I ever saw – and I liked it. I wrote about it on a previous Friday:

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Psycho a Go Go (1965)

Still, it wasn’t a huge success. So, Adamson (and Sherman) got the idea to add some more footage into the movie and make it more of a horror film. They also hired famous actor John Carradine to appear in it. This would make the movie more marketable. They managed to sell it to television, where Sherman claims it played quite a bit in syndication. This version of the movie was called The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967) and I wrote about it on another Friday:

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967)

Still not satisfied, Adamson and Sherman added even more horror footage to the movie – this time featuring zombies of a sort – plus some new scenes with character actors Tommy Kirk and Kent Taylor. And some scenes featuring Adamson’s wife, Regina Carrol. I believe that they were going for the drive-in market with this one, and they pretty much got it. Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971) played top and bottom halves of drive-in bills for years. 

Sherman admits that the best version of the movie is probably the original version that never saw the light of day. It just wasn’t marketable, and at the end of the day, this was a business. So, even though he had to compromise his artistic vision, Al Adamson was okay with “ruining” his movie to create these other films.

Ruining is my word, but Sherman has used it in the past to describe what he did to other movies by adding new footage, so I don’t think he would mind me using it here.

Basically, I think I agree with Sherman. Psycho a Go Go (1965) is my favourite version of this film. I can enjoy the added scenes with Carradine, and I’m always glad to see Regina Carrol, but basically the movie worked best as a low budget crime film. The added horror stuff is fine, but it doesn’t really belong. 

Of course, I haven’t seen the Echo of Terror version, which may have been the very first version (if it in fact exists). But I actually LIKE the songs performed by Tacey Robbins – and the go go dancing – so I think I’m going to assume that Psycho a Go Go is the most satisfying version of the movie. 

Still, Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971) is about as #NotQuiteClassicCinema as any movie can be. It was made for drive-ins, and it certainly deserves a chance to  improve – or ruin – your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Poster for Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) by #TheodoreGershuny

w/#PatrickONeal #MaryWoronov #JohnCarradine

A man inherits an old mansion which once was a mental home and is soon stalked by an ax murderer.

“The mansion… the madness… the maniac… no escape.”

#Xmas #Horror
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I used to walk over to Jumbo Video with my friends (or sometimes alone) in the middle of the night. It was the first video store we had that was open 24 hours – and that seemed unreasonably cool to us. Sometimes you’d go to a late movie and then walk home and you’d realize that you were in the mood to watch two more movies and order pizza – but it was already after midnight! In the old days you’d be stuck watching whatever was on TV or – if you were lucky enough to have any – whatever VHS tapes you had in your collection. But truth be told, we didn’t really have collections yet.

VHS and Beta tapes were super expensive to buy – when they were available at all – and previously viewed movies hadn’t really been invented yet.

So, we rented movies whenever we could.

As I may have mentioned before, Jumbo Video had a horror castle – which was a room full of more horror films than anyone ever knew existed – and we always spent a lot of time wandering around inside of it. If we had rented a movie every day it would have still taken us years to see all of these obscure gems. And there were new ones being added all the time. Put simply, this castle was a horror junkie’s paradise.

VHS box for Christmas Evil (1980)I remember a little mini section of Christmas horror films on one of the shelves. This was before I had seen any of them, and my friends and I wold look at the boxes and laugh. Yes, we would laugh at the idea of Christmas being the subject of a scary movie. Halloween made sense to us. Friday the 13th made sense to us. Even Prom Night made sense, as we were all a little bit afraid of school dances. But titles like Christmas Evil (1980), Black Christmas (1974), and Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) just seemed a little silly to us.

We knew about Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), and how it had been pulled from the theatres due to some moral outrage – but we had not seen the movie yet. We could, however, see its influence as there were similar titles on the shelf, like Silent Night, Evil Night (which it turns out was a retitling of Black Christmas), and Silent Night, Bloody Night – which it turns out was made twelve years before the notorious Santa Claus slasher film.

VHS box for Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)I eventually saw Silent Night, Deadly Night and I liked it. Then I saw Black Christmas (1974) and loved it. After that I watched every Christmas related horror film that I could get my hands on. This led me to eventually, pick up an old beat up VHS copy of Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) and I thought it was pretty good. It had Mary Woronov in it, who I knew from Eating Raoul (1982) and a few other films.

Honestly, I think I found Silent Night, Bloody Night a tad confusing the first time I saw it. It probably didn’t help that it was a bad film print which had been cropped and transferred to a cheapo VHS tape (which had likely been somewhat abused before I bought it). The image was dark and fuzzy, and the sound was slightly muffled. Still, there was something I liked about the movie, so I kept it in my collection.

It grew on me over the years, as I watched it a few more times. Then I picked up a nice widescreen DVD that was almost in good shape – and it was like a whole new movie to me. I felt like I appreciated it more than I ever had before. Maybe I had simply finally seen it enough times, or maybe that widescreen image made all the difference. Whatever the case, I can now honestly say that I love this movie. And watching it last friday – on Christmas Eve – really confirmed that for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Black Christmas (1974) is still the greatest Xmas horror film of all time, in my opinion. And Christmas Evil (1980) is also very special to me – but that’s another story.

Silent Night, Bloody Night actually has some things in common with Black Christmas (1974). It’s kind of a proto-slasher film. I have to wonder if the filmmakers were influenced by some of the great giallos that had come before it. It has a great location/setting (the mansion that used to be a mental institution). It has some really great horror atmosphere, as only the movies of the early 1970s seem to have. It has suspense, and a sense of dread. And it has John Carradine instead of John Saxon – both genre legends whose films run the gamut from masterpieces to trash. 

Other interesting facts:

Mary Woronov was one of Andy Warhol’s superstars – and there are at least two others in Silent Night, Bloody Night: Ondine & Candy Darling. Woronov was also apparently married to the director, Theodore Gershuny, at one time. 

Lloyd Kaufman, legendary filmmaker and co-founder of Troma, was an associate producer of Silent Night, Bloody Night – or Ass Prod as I once called him on Twitter, to which he responded: “yes I was “ass producer!”… I still an “Ass Producer” check out @Return2NukeEm vol1″ – but I digress.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that could bring the merry good times to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – particularly one that falls on or around Xmas Eve. I know that I will continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Astro-Zombies (1968)

poster for The Astro-Zombies (1968)#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn…………………  .. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. …..  The Astro-Zombies (1968) by #TedVMikels

w/ #WendellCorey #JohnCarradine #TomPace  #JoanPatrick #TuraSatana

“SEE Astro Space Lab”
“SEE Brutal Mutants Menace Beautiful Girls”
“SEE Crazed Corpse Stealers”
“SEE Berserk Human Transplants”

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema

As I may have mentioned in a previous post about The Doll Squad (1973):

I first read about filmmaker Ted V. Mikels in a book called Incredibly Strange Films, published by RE/Search in 1986. I was writing a major paper for a film studies class and had chosen to do a semiotic analysis of Women In Prison films. A fellow student told me that there was a chapter on those movies in Incredibly Strange Films, so I went out and bought a copy at one of the better bookstores in town. There wasn’t a ton of information on Women In Prison films, but the book was fascinating and I read it from cover to cover.

There was a chapter about Ted V. Mikels, and he seemed like a fascinating guy. One of the films that appeared to be a centrepiece (or a cornerstone?) of his filmography was The Astro-Zombies (1968). In my quest to see all of the movies that the book talked about (including all of Ted V. Mikels films), The Astro-Zombies was one of the first that I was able to get a hold of at my favourite video store. I remember watching it, and thinking that it was one of the cheapest looking sci-fi horror films that I had ever seen.

Of course, I had seen The Creeping Terror (1964) as a child, so nothing could ever really equal THAT, but that’s another story…

I think I may have been slightly disappointed in The Astro-Zombies the first time that I watched it. The poster, and the pictures, had made it look like a crazy, over-the-top sci-fi horror experience – and I was pretty excited to find a copy on VHS. I also knew that Tura Satana was in it – and she was practically a legend for starring in  Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) (a film, that I might add, I had not seen yet either, and was very desperately wanting to, because Russ Meyer was another filmmaker featured in Incredibly Strange Films,). In short, I think my expectations might have been running a little high when I popped The Astro-Zombies into the VCR.

Those ancient B-movie nights are all a little bit hazy to me now, but I think I felt that the film suffered from a bit of a split personality. One the one hand, it had some pretty entertaining horror action: crazy, weird outer-space-man zombies that attacked and killed beautiful women for no apparent reason. On the other hand, it had some pretty long, dull scenes of pseudo-science, and jargon-laden dialogue meant to explain what the hell was going on (I think). Or maybe it was that it seemed like a 1960s soap opera of espionage-related weirdness, crossed with some horror sci-fi action – I can’t really remember. It felt a bit like two different movies fused together, and I wasn’t sure what I thought about it.

I do recall thinking that Tura Satana was superb as one of the villains, but that perhaps there wasn’t enough of her in this film. And as much as I could appreciate the legendary horror star John Carradine, there was too much of him doing science, and not enough of Tura Satana slapping people around. Still, she was worth the price of the rental alone.

Tura Satana featured on a lobby card for The Astro Zombies (1968)

Of course, as the years have gone by, and I have learned to appreciate stranger and stranger films, I can now look at a movie like The Astro-Zombies with completely different eyes. As I may have said, when discussing another Ted V. Mikels film called Mission Killfast: I have a very high tolerance – and in fact an appreciation – for movies that most people would dismiss as “bad”. I also see low budget independent films differently now, having been involved in the making of several of them over the years. The simple act of getting a film done and released is something that I now see as admirable in it’s own way. And if the film is watchable – or even pretty good – then it’s even more laudable. 

Having said that, I happen to like Ted V. Mikels’ style of cinematic schlock, and I admire his ability to get things done. And I think he, himself, is a fascinating character and I love to listen to him talk about his movies (but perhaps I’m getting a bit off track). All of this is my way of leading up to saying that I enjoyed The Astro-Zombies much more last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn than I did all those years ago. Having seen a few movies that were originally two (or more) different films fused together, I can now say that The Astro-Zombies is much more coherent than that. And I actually enjoyed the long scenes of scientific nonsense, and the espionage story (which involves Tura Santana). It all worked for me in ways that my younger self might have never imagined. 

And, of course, it’s never looked and sounded better than it does on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, so that’s something to celebrate.

One weird fact to make note of: the film was co-written and executive-produced by Wayne Rogers, who most of us remember as Capt. ‘Trapper John’ McIntyre on M*A*S*H (1972-1975). Sadly, he does not play a role in this movie.

The Astro-Zombies (1968) is truly a classic of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. It may not be for everyone, but if you know what Ted V. Mikels’ films are like, then you already have a pretty good idea of whether nor not this film is for you. I will certainly look forward to enjoying it again on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967)

Vide box for The Fiend with the Electronic Brain AKA The Man with the Synthetic Brain (1967)#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

The Fiend with the Electronic Brain
AKA
The Man with the Synthetic Brain (1967)
by #AlAdamson

w/ #JohnCarradine #RoyMorton #TaceyRobbins

An injured Vietnam veteran becomes violently insane when a mad scientist experiments on his brain.

#Horror #SciFi

#NotQuiteClassicCinema

Not too long ago I reviewed an Al Adamson movie called Psycho a Go Go (1965). As I said then:

One of the things that Al Adamson is known for, is using footage from old movies to create new movies. Or adding new footage to old movies, retitling them, and releasing them as new movies.

Psycho a Go Go was Al’s first feature film, and the original version of… well, let’s call it Psycho a Go Go. In 1969 (or was it 1967?), Al re-edited it and added some new footage of legendary actor John Carradine, playing a mad scientist. The “new” movie was released as The Fiend with the Electronic Brain.

Still not satisfied (or perhaps just seeing another opportunity) Al added some more material, featuring other actors – including his future wife Regina Carrol. He called this “new” movie Blood of Ghastly Horror. If that wasn’t enough, there was also a TV version created in 1972 called The Man With the Synthetic Brain.

There seems to be a lot of discrepancy and differing opinions as to the dates of some of these versions of Psycho a Go Go. Severin’s big box set of Al Adamson movies has The Fiend with the Electronic Brain. listed as 1964 – the same year they list Psycho a Go Go. The IMDb claims Psycho a Go Go is from 1965. The IMDb doesn’t even list The Fiend with the Electronic Brain as a separate movie. They simply send you to the page for Blood of Ghastly Horror (which they say is from 1967). Severin lists Blood of Ghastly Horror as from 1971. 

Severin also includes, as an extra on their Blu-ray, the alternate title sequence for The Fiend with the Electronic Brain, which uses the title The Man With the Synthetic Brain. They also include the trailer. 

Confession: I had never seen The Fiend with the Electronic Brain before last Friday. When I tweeted about the movie (right before I watched it) I took some images from the trailer, which I logically assumed were images from the actual movie. They were not.

I am guessing that they are actually from a later cut of the movie (that uses the title The Man With the Synthetic Brain. But I can’t really say for sure. You can see those images in my tweet, below.

In reality, The Fiend with the Electronic Brain is pretty much the same movie as Psycho a Go Go, but with the added footage of John Carradine. He talks about the character of Joe Cory, played by Roy Morton, being a Vietnam veteran – and how he experimented on Joe (to save his life) but may have made him violently insane. Oops.

I had been looking forward to seeing the more zombie-like monster version of Joe, which I thought that I was seeing in the trailer. Sadly, he was not in this movie. Perhaps I can look forward to that in the next version of this epic, Blood of Ghastly Horror. Only time will tell.

Is The Fiend with the Electronic Brain an improvement over Psycho a Go Go? Probably not. If you’re a big John Carradine fan you might think so, as any John Carradine is better than no John Carradine. It’s perhaps slightly crazier than the original movie, but I’ve always liked Psycho a Go Go as it was (and thought that it was plenty crazy in it’s own way). Still, I enjoyed this “new” version – and I think it’s a fascinating artifact for any fan of Al Adamson. I’ve always wondered about his penchant for reusing his old work, and now I can see one of the many stages of this strange film’s development.

Whatever you call it, The Fiend with the Electronic Brain is undoubtedly #NotQuiteClassicCinema. For fans of Al, it’s almost certainly a must see. And as I said the last time:

There are few sure things in this life, but I would say that any movie with Al Adamson’s name on it is going to enliven any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Evils of the Night (1985)

I have a few friends who share my taste in movies. And every once in a while I get together with one of them and watch a movie. Or two. Or three or four. I have an annual all day movie marathon with my friend Brian every December. Because of his crazy work schedule, it is often our only chance to do something like that. I have another friend with whom I used to watch movies more often. Two, or three, or maybe four times a year we would get together and have a “bad movie night.”

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but just in case someone reads this someday and gets all bent out of shape… We call it a “bad movie night” but this doesn’t mean that all of the movies we watch are “bad”. We usually watch movies that we’ve never seen before, so we can’t be sure where they will fall on the spectrum of Truly Bad to So Bad It’s Good to Actually Quite Good (and everything in between).

My friend took a job way up north for a few years, which meant that we would not be able to see each other as often. As a result, whenever he was in town (which was often unexpected, and for work purposes), he would call me up and say something like “hey, I’m in town tonight – let’s watch some movies.” And because this might be our only chance for months, I would cancel all other plans and host a bad movie night.

The funny thing is, he started to call me more and more often. “Hey, I’m back in town… Could be the last time this year… ” So, I continued to drop everything and invite him over the watch movies. At one point, he called me three weeks in a row.

“You’re back again?”

“Yeah, work is crazy.”

This was getting ridiculous. I was now seeing my friend more often than when he lived in the city. And more than than my OTHER friends who lived in the city. I enjoyed watching movies with him, but how could I justify cancelling all other plans whenever he called?

The punch line of the story is that he moved back to the city and now I don’t see him as often.

But back in the heady days of frequent bad movie nights, my friend picked up a VHS tape from a Movie Village shelf and said “What about this one?”

I looked at the cover art for Evils Of The Night (1985) for the first time. It looked like a typical slasher film to me. And I love slasher films, so I was pretty much sold without knowing anything else.

“I could use a John Carradine fix,” my friend said.

“Huh?” I was still mesmerized by the thoughts of typical slasher movie action, and didn’t know what my friend was talking about.

“John Carradine is in this movie, and I could use a John Carradine fix,” he explained.

“Oh…”

John Carradine was in this movie? I took a closer look at the box and saw names like John Carradine, Julie Newmar, Neville Brand, Tina Louise and Aldo Ray. This wasn’t like the cast of any slasher movie I’d ever seen.

Aldo Ray? I think the first time I saw that name was on the front of a VHS box I rented called Dark Sanity (1982). Notice it is the exciting “pre-cinema” release of the movie. This was before “direct-to-video” was a thing, so I guess they were trying to find a way to make “too-crappy-for cinemas” sound good. The first name listed was Aldo Ray, and because the box featured a woman (and talked about a woman on the back), I actually wondered if the lead actress was Aldo Ray. I should have known better, because I was aware of Canadian rocker Aldo Nova (and I loved his song “Fantasy”). Perhaps I thought the name Aldo was a bit like Jamie, or Kim, and could be either male or female. 

I eventually figured out that Aldo Ray had to be the older man in the movie, and I asked my Dad if he knew who Aldo Ray was.

“He was a Hollywood star very briefly,” my Dad told me. “I think he had a drinking problem and faded away pretty quickly.”

I’m not sure how accurate my Dad’s summation was, but it certainly could fit the career path of several Hollywood actors. I started to notice Aldo Ray’s name popping up on a lot of low budget 1970s and ’80s movies, like Hollywood Cop (1987) and Haunts (1976). Oddly enough, I thought Haunts might be the same movie as Dark Sanity for a few years. I had already accidentally seen Dark Sanity twice, because I rented it under the title Straight Jacket, so when I saw the box for Haunts with a woman and Aldo Ray’s name on the cover, I got suspicious. It is, of course, a completely different movie, but it took me years to find out.

I eventually saw Aldo Ray in some major Hollywood classics like Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and Pat and Mike (1952), and it was hard to accept that this was same guy who I got to know in Not Quite Classics such as The Centerfold Girls (1974). Interestingly, both of those 1950s films feature Charles Bronson in a supporting role. He was beginning his slow journey to superstardom while Ray was, perhaps, beginning a long descent that would lead him to…

Evils Of The Night (1985), which is not a typical slasher film as I had originally thought. It’s more of a weird SciFi vampire movie, which could also qualify as a sexploitation film in some ways. There is a lot of (high quality) nudity in the film, as well as some pretty explicit sex scenes (featuring actual adult film stars like Amber Lynn and Crystal Breeze). The old Hollywood stars, like Julie Newmar (most famous as The Catwoman on the original Batman TV series) and John Carradine, play aliens who are experimenting on human teenagers. Aldo Ray and Neville Brand (known to horror fans for unforgettable his turn as Judd in Eaten Alive (1976), but also in classics like D.O.A. (1949) and Stalag 17 (1953)) are the human gas station attendants who help procure victims for the aliens. 

In case you haven’t figured it out, Evils Of The Night is a very strange little movie. But it is strangely entertaining, and, as my friend summed it up at a “bad movie night” all those years ago, it really delivers the goods. If you have a taste for #NotQuiteClassicCinema that’s high on sleaze and low on sensibility, then look no further for a perfect addition to your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Bees (1978)

Watching Not Quite Classic Theatre back in the 1980s, I saw a lot of movies about bugs. They were usually giant bugs, like in Tarantula (1955) or The Deadly Mantis (1957). I also saw quite a few made for TV movies, especially horror films, as I was always scouring the local newspapers’s TV Scene looking for anything that looked like it might be scary. I remember watching Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977), Ants! (1977), and possibly The Savage Bees (1976) or its sequel Terror Out of the Sky (1978). My memory is a bit hazy on the details, but I’m sure I saw at least one movie about killer bees. 

I also remember hearing about The Swarm (1978), but the word on the street was that it was possibly the worst movie ever made. I did not see it until many years later, when I was well into adulthood – and I did not think it was the worst movie ever made, but that’s another story.

I did not see The Bees (1978) as a child, either. In fact, I had never even heard of it until relatively recently, but it conjured up memories of the various giant and killer bug movies of my past. I knew I had to see it, and last Friday I finally did.

The first thing most people notice about The Bees is that it stars John Saxon and John Carradine – both genre legends. I’m always happy to see those guys, even though their presence is not a guarantee of cinematic excellence. Saxon has appeared in almost 200 movies (so far), and Carradine a whopping 352! With numbers like that, they can’t all be classics – or Not Quite Classics for that matter. The third star of The Bees is Angel Tompkins, who plays Carradine’s niece and Saxon’s love interest. I remember her from such films as Murphy’s Law (1986), The Naked Cage (1986) and Relentless (1989) – not to mention appearances on TV shows like Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider, and Simon & Simon. All in all, a pretty amazing cast for a low budget killer bee movie.

Someone asked me if The Bees is better than The Swarm. The short answer is, I really can’t answer that because it’s been way too long since I watched The Swarm. My response was a question: Would you define better as actually a better made movie? Or better, as in more campy fun (so worse, in a way)?

I have to think that The Swarm is a better made movie (in spite of its reputation for being horrendously bad). It has a much larger budget, a longer running time, and an even more star studded cast. The Bees, on the other hand, is the epitome of low budget campy fun. It rates a 3.7 on the IMDb, while The Swarm manages a 4.5 – hardly a definitive difference, but a possible indicator nonetheless. I think that what this is telling me, is that I really need to watch The Swarm again.

Regardless of which 1978 killer bee movie is the best/worst, I found The Bees to be a wonderfully entertaining throwback to the giant bug movies of my childhood (albeit with clouds of much more normal sized bugs). I could describe some of the jaw dropping moments of insanity, but why would I want to take the delightful surprises away from other fans of #NotQuiteClassicCinema? If you think this movie is up your alley you’re probably right. Check it out and experience the madness for yourself.

I will certainly be revisiting The Bees on some dark and stormy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn of the future. But perhaps not before I revisit The Swarm and can make a proper comparison. Incidentally, Warner Bothers apparently paid New World Pictures to delay the release of The Bees so that it would not conflict with the release of The Swarm. I guess this makes them the cinematic equivalent of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who had an agreement to never release their singles at the same time.

If that doesn’t convince you to see The Bees then nothing will!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Hex (1973)

I rented Hex (1973) on VHS many years ago. My memory of that first viewing is a little hazy, except for the fact that I thought the movie was strange – and not at all what I was expecting. It was supposed to be a biker film of sorts; a biker horror film, in fact (or is the correct term, horror biker film?) I suppose I had visions of something more like Psychomania (also released in 1973, oddly enough), but Hex is nothing like that.

Some VHS tapes called the movie The Shrieking, which is an intriguing title but not as clear to me as Hex. I picked up a bargain bin DVD version on my travels last November which re-brands the movie Charms (which sort of makes it sound like a feel-good comedy, or a breakfast cereal). Not sure why they didn’t just stick with Hex, unless they’re trying to convince people that it’s a different movie. “No, this isn’t that weird biker horror movie Hex that you saw before, this is a charming and delicious horror biker film. Buy it!”

Hex isn’t really a biker film in the true sense of the genre. It’s set in post World War I Nebraska, during the dying days of the wild west era – which kind of makes it a Western. I actually have a theory that all biker movies are Westerns, with motorcycles taking the place of horses, but that’s another story.

Most Westerns are set between 1865 (the end of the civil war) and the late 1890s. There are a few that take place during the civil war, and some even before that. I also believe that the period can extend up to (and include) World War I (and that it was the war that ushered in the next era of North American history). So the two wars are kind of like the book-ends of the Western genre proper. Of course there are also plenty of modern Westerns like Lonely Are the Brave (1962) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) which are set in their respective times of production, but basically Westerns are period pieces, and Hex is most certainly that.

According to the IMDb, John Carradine – who was in classic Westerns like Stagecoach (1939) and Jesse James (1939) – played a character called “Old Gunfighter” in Hex, but his part is not included in any of the surviving prints of the film (thus far). It is considered a lost performance. For people like me, who are fans of horror films, other genre films and so called psychotronic movies, John Carradine is an icon and a legend, and his lost performance would be reason enough to hope for a restored, remastered and complete version of Hex making it onto Blu-ray and DVD at some point in the future. 

Incidentally, John Carradine’s son Keith Carradine stars in Hex as the leader of the bike gang. It was apparently his first starring role, shot in 1971.

Hex boasts an amazing cast of recognizable faces, including Cristina Raines, Scott Glenn, Hilarie Thompson, Robert Walker Jr., Gary Busey, and Dan Haggerty. Cristina Raines is perhaps best known (at least to me) for starring in one of my personal favourites, The Sentinel (1977), another supernatural horror film. In The Sentinel, directed by MIchael Winner, Raines is drawn into the supernatural horror when she moves into an old building. In Hex, Raines and her sister bring the supernatural horror down on the bikers when they temporarily move onto her family farm and run afoul of the two young women. 

Incidentally, Cristina Raines also appears in another Michael Winner film (and personal favourite of mine) The Stone Killer (1973), but the IMDb incorrectly credits Christa Raines (at least at the time of this writing).

Apparently Cristina Raines and Keith Carradine became romantically involved during the making of Hex in 1971, and were together until 1979. They were both also in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) and Ridley Scott’s first feature The Duellists (1977).

When I first saw Hex all those years ago, I dismissed it as a weird movie. Now, I embrace it as a weird movie. Weird is good. Weird is what makes it worth watching. It is unlike any other Western, or Biker Film, or Horror FIlm that I have ever seen. That’s not to say that it is unrecognizable, or impenetrable. It’s easy to follow, for the most part, and logical in its own way. Some aspects may be problematic for some viewers, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but I found myself charmed – hey, maybe that title makes sense after all!

Hex AKA The Shrieking AKA Charms (1973) is a unique, but entertaining example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema and it makes for a fascinating #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.