Frankenstein Island (1981)

Frankenstein Island (1981) VHS cover

director Jerry Warren
viewed: 02/14/2018

Jerry Warren may be the worst auteur in the American horror canon. Okay, Ed Wood, Jr. is the worst, but the reason that Warren should be considered is because, overall, his movies are typically intensely boring on top of being bad. Wood transcends into levels of joyous inanity. From what I’d seen thusfar of Warren, he could even make Batwomen boring.

Warren made most of his movies from 1956-1966 before suddenly stopping. And just as seemingly suddenly, in 1981, he reappeared with Frankenstein Island, which I would suggest is his Crapsterpiece.

There’s like 3 or 4 movies-worth of nonsense packed in here. And somehow, in Frankenstein Island he makes his bad movie entertaining with incessant weirdness.

Balloonists crash on this island, inhabited by animal print bikini-clad ladies (who turn out to be descendants of extraterrestrials.) There is also Sheila Frankenstein (Warren stalwart Katherine Victor), who is keeping her 200 year old husband, Dr. Von Helsing alive with blood from Cameron Mitchell, while a bunch of bloodless henchmen wander about. And the visage of John Carradine occasionally looms into view.

Warren employs props, such as actual plastic vampire teeth and a plastic novelty devil’s pitchfork.

The ending is the icing on the cake, a bizarre unsettled moment that makes absolutely no narrative sense at all. Now, this is the kind of bad movie that moves into the sublime, strange and comic, and for once…entertaining.



The Final Terror (1983)

The Final Terror (1983) movie poster

director Andrew Davis
viewed: 02/12/2018

Yeah, Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano, Akosua Busia, and Adrian Zmed are notable names in The Final Terror, but my first person of note was, “Hey, that’s the dad from the Twisted Sister video!” And sure enough Mark Metcalf it is. And though he’s had quite the career and been in lots of other stuff, I find him most recognizable from “We’re Not Going to Take It”.

Director Andrew Davis seemed maybe less intent on a slasher film and maybe more on a thriller. Because, though there are lots of elements of the former, the film plays out a lot more like the latter. And considering the career that Davis went on to, like The Fugitive (1993), this doesn’t seem too surprising. In fact, it kind of makes sense.

I guess I had the benefit of encountering the cleaned-up version of this film, because I wasn’t aware of muddy night shots but was rather impressed with the camerawork and cinematography. Davis really got the most out of the redwoods setting of this backwoods horrorshow. And he also got the benefit of some fine casting. I actually thought John Friedrich, who apparently quit acting after this film, was good too.

Blood Beach (1981)

Blood Beach (1981) movie poster

director Jeffrey Bloom
viewed: 02/11/2018

That poster. That tagline. Blood Beach promises so much.

Sadly, Blood Beach does not deliver on those promises too well. What it lacks in deliverables (i.e., monsters, gore, thrills…), it lacks in general.

Shot around Santa Monica and Venice Beach, the film coyly is set in generic Beach Town, California, where the beaches are so bitchin’ that people getting sucked under the sand right next to you isn’t enough to scare off the youth.

So, it’s a (very) modest horror thriller, featuring an artichoke monster that is only seen ever so briefly toward the end. The monster is so open-ended that it’s been compared to a Venus flytrap or a worm, despite it’s hunting strategy is that of an ant lion.

Still the poster rocks. Good marketing job, guys!

One Million B.C. (1940)

One Million B.C. (1940) movie poster

directors  Hal Roach, Hal Roach, Jr.
viewed: 02/11/2018

One Million B.C. is the very first Caveman feature film, a subgenre depicting prehistoric peoples and their adventures. It’s as corny as all-get-out and clearly absurd in ways as well.

It earned an Oscar for its special effects, which include such things as fur covered elephants as Woolly Mammoths, pigs dressed as Triceratops, alligators with fins glued to them and an armadillo with glued on horns. All of which is amazingly ridiculous. There is also a guy in a T. Rex outfit. But to be honest, the visual effects such as forced perspective and other techniques that make little things look big compared with the cavefolks, well, they are pretty impressive.

Less impressive is what can only be guessed at as animal abuse. One monitor lizard fights to the death with a finned gator, lays dying as blood pulses from its neck wound. I didn’t overly scrutinize the film, but I’d be willing to guess that more reptiles were endangered, harmed, or even killed for dramatic effects of fire and volcanoes and earthquakes.

Victor Mature is the lead caveman (TCM’s brief description of the film: “An exiled caveman finds love when he joins another tribe.”) who winds up exiled by Lon Chaney, Jr., the head of the rock clan and falls in with the lovely Carole Landis and the shell clan. What’s interesting here is that the shell clan seem vaguely more evolved than the rock clan in their more communistic sharing of food and materials. The rock clan is more grabby-grabby and the strong take from the weak in a (social?) Darwinism of sorts. I know some writers did actually try to leak in Communist themes in some films. Is this the case here?

One Million B.C. was directed by Hal Roach and his son, Hal Roach, Jr. and it seems as well with the dialogue limited to gestures and few “words” that the old Silent Film aesthetics and acting paid off for this picture.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

director Todd Haynes
viewed: 02/10/2018

Utterly brilliant.

AM radio in the 1970s, the Carpenters were ubiquitous. A constant of my childhood music awareness.

I remember Karen Carpenter’s death. I had never heard of anorexia nervosa, probably a lot of the world had not heard of it til then. As ubiquitous as it is in the world.

Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is transcendent. And the legacy of this film, its legal limbo that presses it into its weird cult existence is somehow also poetical, and yet still redeeming, as it exists and is and can be found, seen, and experienced.

The Video Dead (1987)

The Video Dead (1987) movie poster

director  Robert Scott
viewed: 02/10/2018

I quite enjoyed this.

Low-budget and direct-to-video in its day, The Video Dead today is a groovy and different slant on the zombie movie. These zombies come from an old television set, accidentally delivered to a home in good old Somewhere, USA. These zombies aren’t typical by general zombie movie standards and the television and the backstory of how this whole thing came into being,…well, it’s just as well that there is no explanation. It’s better that way.

It’s sort of the lack of explanation that winds up being evocative. Like the “Garbageman” and the sexy zombie girl he kills. I mean, how do you introduce the “Garbageman” and then never see him again? Where some might see plot holes, I felt intrigued by what wasn’t there.

The make-up and design of the creatures is really pretty awesome for such a low-budget affair. And I also liked how the dead have personalities, curiosity, and even senses of humor rather than just some endless longing for brains.

Fun stuff.

Flesh and Bullets (1985)

Flesh and Bullets (1985) movie poster

director Carlos Tobalina
viewed: 02/09/2018

How do you like your male machismo and misogyny? With a side of homophobia? Well, then, Flesh and Bullets may be just your cup of tea.

Carlos Tobalina’s one non-porn film isn’t drenched in deplorable traits, but it’s certainly seasoned with them. Two guys who hate their ex-wives meet up in a bar and decide to do that Strangers on a Train thing of killing off each other’s ex-spouse so they can get away with murder. Only in the end, they end up falling for each other’s ex and one of the most unlikely of movies comes to a close.

The homophobia is much weirder. What with one of the dudes recalling killing to gay wrestlers that raped him. And the final moment of the film, which made me laugh out loud, when the dudes embrace at becoming like family with adoptive children, a stranger on the street pipes in “Fags!”

Flesh and Bullets is indeed bizarre with its genuine slumming celebrity cameos in blink-or-you’ll-miss-it asides.

I thought it was weird that it culminated at Los Angeles’s Mayan Theater, but I guess that Tobalina owned it at the time.

Nightmares (1980)

Nightmares (1980) print ad

director John D. Lamond
viewed: 02/08/2018

It can be hard to get your Nightmares straight. Such a generic title has fallen on many a movie. This Nightmares is from 1980 Australia, a slasher-cum-giallo featuring a killer with a penchant for shards of glass.

Like a more classic slasher, killer Cathy (Jenny Neumann), punishes fornicators. Her Freudian moment came early at life (and early in the film), catching her mum being sexually active and then causing the car crash that killed her.  Sex and death, sex and death, sex and death.

It’s decent stuff, if also rather unremarkable. This Nightmares may continue to get mixed up with other Nightmares…for me anyways.

On the Bowery (1956)

On the Bowery (1956) poster

director Lionel Rogosin
viewed: 02/07/2018

On the Bowery is a remarkable document. “Documentary” it is not, though its documentary elements are what make it so compelling and fascinating.

Even as it was being made, New York City’s Bowery was changing. The Third Avenue El looms above the Bowery in the film, but was actually torn down not long after the film was shot. The faces of the men in the film, too, are glimpses in time. Skid Row is Skid Row in any city and on any street at any place and time, but this is NYC 1950’s, and these haggard drunks are largely of European descent.

Alcohol was the primary vice. Today it’s probably a proliferated array of vices.

Director Lionel Rogosin spent time with these men before deciding to hire some of them to craft into a narrative. The drama gives shape to the work, but it’s the the men and the milieu that are so affecting.

I swear I’ve seen some shorter subject documentaries that were filmed perhaps around the same time. But it’s quite fascinating to peer into a world that is lost to time, at men who would otherwise be lost as well.

A Night to Dismember (1983)

A Night to Dismember (1983) title

director Doris Wishman
viewed: 02/05/2018

I don’t know how this movie was put together but A Night to Dismember is absolutely the ultimate outsider art cinematic masterpiece.

Doris Wishman already had two decades of Exploitation filmmaking under her belt, but maybe her style was always some form of Naïvist art. Taking her post-sync audio aesthetic into the 1980’s is as bold a move as I can imagine. Were any other movies made in the 1980’s with non-sync sound?

Whatever the intent, whatever the story behind it, A Night to Dismember is a surreal experience, a cinematic psychotic break, in which the lulling narration is almost as disjointed as the images.