by Steve Habrat
When it comes to diving into the realm of B-movies/drive-in flicks from the 1950s and 60s, one expects to see some major turkeys. These films usually had titles that were infinitely more exciting than the actual film and their colorful posters promised terror beyond your wildest imagination as scientific abominations duked it out with each other or carried off some bikini clad bombshell into the unknown. Despite these enormous promises, all they ever delivered were bottom-of-the-barrel performances, chintzy make-up effects, no-budget special effects, cheesy monsters, and confused plots that failed to fully explain crucial elements of the story. Occasionally, one of these dreadful B-movie/drive-in flicks would be so bad that they’d actually be, well, semi-entertaining. One of these straight-to-double-bill features that manages to actually hold your attention is director Robert Gaffney’s 1965 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, a stock-footage heavy science-fiction/horror film that has everything from girls in skimpy bikinis to hulking extraterrestrials from outer space to an Atomic Age Frankenstein monster with a melting mug. It’s like something straight out of a forgotten comic book.
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster begins with an endangered alien race led by Princess Marcuzan (played by Marilyn Hanold) and her right-hand man Dr. Nadir (played by Lou Cutell) arriving in Earth’s atmosphere. The aliens, who are the sole survivors of an atomic war that took place on Mars, have arrived in an attempt to kidnap Earth women to breed with. The aliens instantly start monitoring and shooting down NASA space shuttles that they believe to be missiles being fired at their ship. Meanwhile, NASA is preparing to launch a brand new shuttle crewed by Colonel Frank Saunders (played by Robert Reilly), a charismatic android created by Dr. Adam Steele (played by James Karen) and Karen Grant (played by Nancy Marshall). Princess Marcuzan and Dr. Nadir proceed to attack the space shuttle operated by Frank, but they fail to kill him. Frank ejects at the last second and he lands in Puerto Rico with the aliens hot on his trail. After a face-to-face encounter with the aliens, Frank is horribly injured and his circuit board is badly damaged, causing him to turn into an unstoppable killing machine. With Frank’s killing spree distracting the army, the aliens begin snatching up as many women as they can get, but they inadvertently grab the U.S.’s attention after they abduct Karen.
While most of these science-fiction/drive-in releases waited until the final moments of the film to show off their monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster can’t wait to yank the sheet off its two main beasts. The bloodthirsty android Frank is all-American good looks until he is on the receiving end of an alien laser blast, which melts off part of his face to reveal a fried circuit board. He consistently turns his head to show off his grizzly wound, which is actually sort of creative if you’re willing to forgive the fact that it looks like a piece of rubber pasted to the side of his face. He’s given a bit more personality through his charred space suit and his confused shuffle. The other beast that Gaffney allows us to marvel at is Mull, a radioactive creature that is held captive aboard the alien ship. Mull is largely seen in extreme close ups, partially hidden behind bars as he swipes his massive claws at the camera. He is mostly concealed until the final ten minutes of the film, when Dr. Nadir and Princess Marcuzan unleash him to do battle with malfunctioning Frank. Their battle is brief, but it is thrilling in a kitschy way. The two monsters look like they’re locked in a bear hug but Gaffney fills the set with thick smoke and deafening growls that really set the mood for the brawl.
With so much emphasis placed on the cartoonish monsters, it is much easier to overlook the abysmally bad performances. Hanold is stiff and scripted as the evil Princess Marcuzan, the alien’s fearless leader who largely sits in a swivel chair and nods in approval at half-naked girls. Cutell is forced to wear some of the worst make-up effects you are ever likely to see but he doesn’t seem to be bothered, as his Dr. Nadir grins maniacally for the camera in extreme close ups. James Karen is given the heroic role as Dr. Adam Steele, who basically just rides a Vespa from place to place, looks worried, and reports to a bunch of lookalike army officials. Nancy Marshall barely registers as Dr. Steele’s pretty sidekick Karen, the only gal who seems to be afraid of the sinister aliens but she never challenges them. David Kerman is also present as General Bowers, but he blends in with all the other army officials. Reilly is the only one who does anything animated with his role as Frank, but his make-up does most of the work. Watching him wandering around the rocky landscape or trip and fall on the beach is vaguely sympathetic but with as many characters as this film has, it is difficult to really grow attached to him.
With such a busy plotline and a brief runtime, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster doesn’t have a wasted moment. A good majority of the film is comprised of stock footage of space shuttles taking off or soldiers pouring out of helicopters. Without this stock footage, Gaffney wouldn’t have been able to make the movie, as it makes up over half the picture. With the dueling plotlines and condensed runtime, Gaffney has a difficult time keeping both plotlines focused, leaving many questions unanswered. As far as the sets and props go, they all resemble something that you would have seen in an Ed Wood movie, but the swinging rock n’ roll soundtrack really keeps things moving along nicely. It should also be noted that despite the name “Frankenstein” appearing in the title, the film has little in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Overall, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is undoubtedly a slapdash effort, lacking any form of suspense, terror, coherency, or social or political commentary. However, the film does pack a number of unintentional laughs and a slew of performances that will have you blushing in embarrassment for the actor or actress. And if there are any other positives to be pointed out, the film has plenty of monster action to keep B-movie fans coming back for seconds and thirds.
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is available on DVD.
Bikini-clad babes! Astro-robots of death! Invaders from outer space! Hip-shaking rock n’ roll! It’s Trailer Tuesday at Anti-Film School and, boy, do I have a good one for you today. Check out the trailer for the 1965 sci-fi/horror film Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, directed by Robert Gaffney. And it’s all in Futurama!
by Steve Habrat
In 1963, American International Pictures ignited the beach party movie craze with the release of Beach Party, a surprise hit that inspired countless knockoffs from other studios. The beach party genre hit its peak in 1965 and found the genre daring to depart from the typical teenage fun in the sun. Filmmakers started blending the surf and sun with the musical genre, science fiction, and yes, even the horror genre. One of the most well-known beach party horror movies is director Jon Hall’s corny B-movie The Beach Girls and the Monster. Heavy with soap opera melodrama and light on legitimate scares, The Beach Girls and the Monster is basically The Creature from the Black Lagoon in Santa Monica with only a forth of the budget. More of a whodunit than a straight up monster movie, The Beach Girls and the Monster runs only about an hour long, but that is an hour too long. The film features one of the most glaringly fake monsters to ever terrorize the silver screen and it fills itself out with long stretches of surf stock footage, kids laughing, joking, and singing around a campfire, and plenty of hip shaking from bikini-clad babes from a local Hollywood night club. It is perhaps the weirdest summer cocktail of a movie you may ever sit through. Seriously.
After almost losing his life in a car accident, Richard Lindsay (played by Arnold Lessing) has given up a promising career in favor of a life of sand and surf. He spends his days hanging out at the beach with his girlfriend, Jane (played by Elaine DuPont), and his nights sitting by a bonfire and strumming his guitar for his free spirit friends. This behavior has greatly displeased his oceanographer father, Dr. Otto Lindsay (played by the film’s director, Jon Hall), who is busy dealing with his cheating young wife Vicki (played by Sue Casey). After one of Richard’s beach bunny friends is brutally murdered on the beach by a monstrous sea creature, the local authorities begin to suspect Richard’s handicapped friend Mark (played by Walker Edmiston), a sexually frustrated artist who was with Mark during the accident. But the kids who hang out on the beach are convinced that there is a sea creature lurking on the beach and any one of them could be the beast’s next victim.
Considering that The Beach Girls and the Monster is one of the most well known beach party horror mash ups out there, you’d think that there may be a bit of suspense lurking down around the beach. Sadly, the film lacks any sort of tension or spine-tingling moment that will have you yelling at the characters on your screen to turn around and behold the terror creeping up behind them. Nope, instead the monster, which is CLEARLY a person wearing a cheap rubber Halloween costume, awkwardly lumbers into the frame with its arms outstretched like a zombie and then wraps its claws around a bikini clad chick who wriggles around like a worm. These sequences are more effective at delivering laughs than they are at making you scream. The surprising aspect about these attacks is that the victim is usually left with bloody scratch marks across their face, neck, chest, etc. Besides for some blood and torn flesh, nothing else really stands out about any of the so-called scares. Plus, maybe someone should have told the director that it is pretty tough to freak the audience out when you have surf rock guitars strumming over the soundtrack. You half expect the monster to steal a surfboard and start hitting the waves before slashing someone to ribbons.
When you’re not yawning or chuckling over the monster, you’ll be astonished at the melodramatic acting that would have been more at home in a daytime soap opera than a horror movie. Lessing is all forced rebellion and cheesy sun baked cool as he dashes around the beach after babes or thrills over a film reel of surfer dudes catching waves. He shares a number of “serious” moments with Edmiston’s crippled Mark, who tries to convince Richard to restart his once promising career. The uptight and repressed Edmiston is a bit more convincing than Lessing, but you’d never guess in a million years that he is crippled. They have to continuously remind both the audience and Edmiston that he is crippled and that he should be walking with a limp. DuPont’s Jane basically blends in with the scenery, pretty eye candy for the male viewers and a sidekick when the big chase/investigation kicks in during the final ten minutes. Casey is sexy and commanding as the unfaithful Vicki, a seductive siren that makes dates right under her scowling husband’s nose. Hall is suspicious and testy as Richard’s disapproving father, Dr. Otto Lindsay, the man called in to take a look at the strange footprints found in the sand. Hall probably gives the best performance of the entire film, but you can tell he is really digging deep to keep things from totally sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
At barely over an hour, The Beach Girls and the Monster is desperate to fill itself out any way it can. There are drawn out sequences of girls doing the twist to surf rock blaring from their transistor radios. To make sure the gals put on a good show, Hall enlisted the help of “The Watusi Dancing Girls” from the local club Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard and they certainly put in 110% for the cameras. They almost wear the viewer out with all their shimmying and shaking. About the only thing that The Beach Girls and the Monster has going for it is the toe-tapping surf rock soundtrack that will have you dashing to your computer and searching high and low for a copy of it. The opening credits claim that Frank Sinatra Jr. provided the music, but he is only responsible for the film’s theme song. Still, it is some of the most fun beach music that you may ever have the pleasure of hearing. Overall, with plenty of skin, surf, sand, sun, rock n’ roll, sleaze, sex, monsters, and tongue in cheek violence at its core, you’d think that The Beach Girls and the Monster would be the perfect drive-in movie for a slow summer night. Instead, the party is busted by stiff dramatics, cheap production values, amateur performances, and more technical flubs than an Ed Wood movie. At least the go-go dancers showed up!
The Beach Girls and the Monster is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez introduced mainstream audiences to exploitation cinema or “grindhouse” cinema with their sleazy double-feature experiment Grindhouse. Their experiment failed to resonate with audiences, at least at first, but in the wake of Grindhouse, there was a growing interest in exploitation cinema from the mid 1960s until the mid 80s. Glorifying sex, violence, and depravity, “grindhouse” movies were “ground out” in dingy old movie palaces or rickety drive-in theaters while a wide range of colorful audience members smoked dope, pleasured themselves, mugged other audience members, heckled the screen, and relieved themselves in soda cups to avoid a trip to the creepy bathrooms. Ranging from spaghetti westerns to European zombie movies to cannibal films to blaxploitation flicks to all out pornography, exploitation had many forms and a good majority of them were absolutely awful. However, there were more than a few stand outs that managed to hold up over the years and earn respectable cult followings. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s ten best grindhouse films of all time. Take comfort in the fact that you can watch them in your own home, far away from the junkies of 42nd Street!
WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES
10.) I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Israeli director Meir Zarchi’s stunningly graphic rape/revenge flick has become one of the most infamous grindhouse films ever made. The film notoriously enraged critics upon its release and even caused Roger Ebert to write one of the most scathing film reviews of his career. I Spit on Your Grave is trashy, sleazy, mean, brutal, and harrowing, with plenty of sex and violence to fuel a dozen exploitation pictures. So what makes it so awesome? Folks, when this poor woman unleashes her fury, it will have you simultaneously cheering her on while covering your eyes and reaching for the barf bag. I Spit on Your Grave was remade in 2010, but the polished presentation and evidence of a studio budget failed to pack the punch of the gritty original.
9.) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one seriously scary movie. Believe me, folks. It may also make you want to take a shower, become a vegetarian, and never go anywhere near the Texas border. Wielding a nerve-frying sense of realism, this grim and grimy tale about a group of young friends who come face to face with a family of murderous cannibals led by Leatherface was inspired by the heinous crimes of real life serial killer Ed Gein and famously spooked the horror-hating critic Rex Reed. Surprisingly, Hooper adds little gore to the mayhem and instead relies on the thick Texas heat, dilapidated brans, abandoned meat packing factories, and rusty family-owned gas stations to keep us on our toes. Wait for the final fifteen minuets, with a gut-churning family dinner, star Marilyn Burns screaming herself horse, and Leatherface doing a dance of death in the middle of a highway.
8.) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Sexploitation king Russ Meyer’s snarling Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of the funkiest films you are ever likely to see. It has just about everything an exploitation fan could want: ass-kicking go-go dancers, drag races, fist fights, big breasts, sadistic backwoods males, and switchblades. It is like a living, berating cartoon that wouldn’t hesitate to rip your throat out. It is precisely this pulpy, comic book touch that makes Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! such an essential grindhouse thrill ride. The action is breakneck, the fights are bone-snapping, the races are smoking, and the go-go dances will have the male viewers hot under the collar. The middle section of the film begins to sag, that I will admit, but the curvy Varla and her no-nonsense attitude keeps the entertainment level as high as it will go.
7.) El Topo (1970)
The film that started the midnight movie craze, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo is a work that you can’t even begin to fully understand or truly put in words. It’s a spaghetti western that really isn’t a western at all. At times spiritual, at times existential, at times beautiful, but almost always brutal beyond belief, El Topo follows a lone gunslinger named El Topo (played by Jodorowsky) on his quest to confront a handful of cunning warriors lurking out in the desert. At the time of its release, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were very vocal about their love for El Topo, and over the years, it has caught the attention of David Lynch, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Marilyn Manson, and Bob Dylan. There is no doubt that El Topo will shock, swoon, and appall all who see it, sending the viewers away to discuss and debate the surreal string of images that Jodorowsky springs on them. You truly won’t believe your eyes.
6.) The Streetfighter (1974)
You can’t have a list of the best grindhouse films of all time without including this wickedly savage Sonny Chiba classic. The Streetfighter is a mess in the plot department, but you’re not here to for a mind bending story. No, you’re here to watch Sonny Chiba, who seriously makes the best facial expression ever while throwing down with a sea of bad guys, rip some guys balls off, rip another dude’s vocal cords out, and sock a guy in the gut so hard that he barfs (trust me, there is a hell of a lot more). It’s great and it is even better if you watch it with a group of friends that howl every time someone memorably bites the dust. The Streetfighter ended up being the first film ever to receive an “X” rating for violence and even by today’s standards, it would make most splatter directors blush. It stands proudly as one of the greatest kung-fu films ever made.
5.) Halloween (1978)
Believe it or not, John Carpenter’s icy tale of the Boogeyman in suburbia was indeed a grindhouse movie. Made by an independent studio and on a shoestring budget of $325,000, this terrifying slasher pic is widely considered to be the most successful independent feature of all time. Halloween is the ultimate example of less-is-more and it inspired a slew of holiday-themed slashers that emerged in the wake of its popularity. There is so much to love here, from the spine-tingling score to the seemingly supernatural Michael Meyers, and plenty to give the viewer nightmares for a week. Halloween was followed by a number of sequels, two of which are worth checking out, and a gritty, ultra-gory remake in 2007 by shock rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie. There have been countless imitators, but the original Halloween remains the scariest slasher film ever made.
4.) Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
One of the more extreme and sexually graphic films on this list, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, was one of the original women-in-prison grindhouse films. Directed by Don Edmonds and shot on the leftover sets of Hogan’s Heroes, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS has earned its reputation through its borderline pornographic sex scenes, prolonged sequences of torture, its surprisingly serious approach to the silly material, the grim ending, and Dyanne Thorne as the sadistic Ilsa. Seriously, wait until you get a load of Thorne’s Ilsa. If taken for what it is, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is pretty entertaining even if you’re constantly closing your eyes or watching with your jaw on the floor. In October, I actually had the pleasure of meeting Dyanne Thorne and she was a gigantic sweetheart even if she was dressed in her Nazi uniform. For those looking to cut their teeth on the savage stuff, make sure you get ahold of the blood-splattered Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. It is the real deal.
3.) Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974)
Would you believe that director Bo Arne Vibenius, the man behind Thriller: A Cruel Picture, once worked with Swedish art house director Ingmar Bergman? If you’ve seen Thriller: A Cruel Picture, you probably can’t. The ultimate rape/revenge film, Thriller would chew I Spit on Your Grave up and then spit it out, place a double barrel shotgun to its head, and then blow its brains clean out. The tagline warned viewers that Thriller was “the movie that has no limits of evil” and it really meant it. Following the beautiful young Frigga (played by bombshell Christina Lindberg), who is abducted and forced into a life of drug addiction and prostitution before she snaps and goes on a killing spree, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is about as rough and tough as a motion picture can be. Vibenius unleashes graphic sequences of sexual intercourse (complimented by a shrill static sound effect to make the viewer cringe) and slow-motion shots of Frigga’s tormentors tumbling through the air while gore spills from the bullet wounds. He also gouges the eye ball out of a real corpse. So, do you think you have the stones to go up against Thriller: A Cruel Picture?
2.) Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Ruggero Deodato’s “found footage” gross-out Cannibal Holocaust was so realistic, that when the film premiered in Milan, Deodato was arrested and charged with obscenity. Certainly not for everyone, Cannibal Holocaust has become the most controversial movie ever made and it lives up to its reputation. Featuring strings of unblinking violence with barely a cut to be found, real footage of animals being killed (this aspect of the film particularly disturbed me), and the most repulsive sex/rape scenes every filmed, Cannibal Holocaust is the film that goes all the way and doesn’t even consider looking back. Believe it or not, Cannibal Holocaust is a shocking reflection of the violence lurking in even the most “civilized” human beings, something you’d never expect from a film that seems content to wallow in depravity. The film sparked a number of copy cat cannibal films that emerged out of Italy throughout the 80s, but none could match what Deodato created. Deodato has since stated his regret in making the film, but Cannibal Holocaust has earned a fairly respectable cult following. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.
1.) Zombie (1979)
Legendary Italian horror director Lucio Fulci has been widely considered to be the “Godfather of Gore” and he certainly lives up to that reputation with Zombie. Released in 1979 and marketed as the sequel to George A. Romero’s zombie epic Dawn of the Dead (the films have no connection), Zombie is about as fun and icky as a zombie film can get. It is gratuitous with its blood and guts as well with its nudity (breasts are flashed for seemingly no reason at all). Zombie certainly lacks the sophistication of a Romero zombie film and absolutely no one expects it to make a profound statement about society, but it does get the zombie action right. Rotten corpses claw out of the grave, freshly infected shuffle through rickety tropical ghost towns looking for victims, a zombie battles a shark (yes, you read that correctly) and ghouls rally together at the climax to infiltrate a bordered up makeshift hospital. And boy, does it feature some nasty looking zombies. A midnight movie of the highest order, Zombie is balls to the wall insanity. Fun Fact: Zombie‘s trailer promised queasy viewers a barf bag with their ticket!
by Steve Habrat
The trashy 1965 Italian giallo/exploitation horror film Bloody Pit of Horror makes a lot of promises with its gruesome title but misses the secret ingredient for a lasting exploitation classic. You’d think that the film, directed by Massimo Pupillo, would posses at least one nasty scene of torture or bloodletting that would back up the misleading title stamped across it. Well folks, Bloody Pit of Horror has no bloody pit of horror to speak of and frankly, not much of the red stuff at all. In fact, Bloody Pit of Horror is an artless work that is eye grabbing with it’s gaudy set pieces but off putting due to its poor dubbing, cheesy acting, and yawn inducing torture sequences. Shaved down to a measly hour and fourteen-minute runtime, the film is brief but that doesn’t make it painless. I can’t honestly say that anything really picks up when the violence erupts but it does become an unintentionally hilarious film set to a wailing jazz score.
Bloody Pit of Horror picks up with a group of sexy models and a photography crew on the prowl for the perfect gothic location to carry out a photo shoot for the covers of some trash horror novels. They stumble upon the secluded gothic castle in the countryside that they believe to be abandoned, deeming it the perfect place to stage their morbid photo shoot. It turns out that the castle belongs to a former actor named Travis Anderson (Played by Mickey Hargitay) who demands that they leave the castle. Just as the group is leaving, Travis recognizes one of the girls, Edith (Played by Luisa Baratto), who happens to be an ex-girlfriend. Upon learning this, he decides to let the uninvited guests stay for one evening and do their work. As the group explores the sprawling castle, one of the male models in the group is gruesomely killed and it seems that the murder was caught on camera. The group slowly learns that the castle is the home of a vengeful spirit known as The Crimson Executioner, who is accidentally unleashed and posses Travis. Travis begins donning the costume of The Crimson Executioner, rounding up members of the group, and placing them in elaborate torture devises.
Bloody Pit of Horror is only notable due to the madcap performance from Hargitay, an ex-Mr. Universe bodybuilder, who is so over-the-top, you have to see it to believe it. It doesn’t start out this way, as Hargitay is fairly controlled in the opening half-hour. Half the time, Bloody Pit of Horror seems like just a vehicle to showcase Hargitay’s tanned physique and juxtaposing it with a handful of gorgeous women known as “The Cover Girls”. This makes Bloody Pit of Horror come off like some bizarre fetish picture rather than a serious horror film (the girls emit orgasmic like sounds as they are tortured, none of their shrieks echoing with terror), which it boldly tries to be. Don’t fret, it’s not scary in the slightest, mostly due to how poorly the film has aged. There are several long, drawn out sequences where Travis babbles on about the importance of his physique as he oils himself up and flexes his pectoral muscles, Mind you, he does this all while he is trying to be menacing and intimidating. I half expected him to pick up some weights and start working out! Go ahead, I’ll wait while you laugh.
There is one scene in Bloody Pit of Horror that is somewhat inspired and memorable. A scene involving one of the models strapped to a giant spider-web as a giant fake spider slowly bobs towards her. The fake spider has venom in its fangs and if it reaches her, the fang will prick her and kill her. The room is guarded with several bow-and arrows that are rigged to shoot anyone who dares venture into the room and tries to aid the poor gal. One of the men attempts to try to navigate the room without triggering the traps to save the shrieking girl from certain death. It’s the only truly tense and arty moment that Bloody Pit of Horror has to offer. The rest of the film just sits stationary while the actors spout off ridiculous dialogue (“Only a CREEP would live here!”) and director Pupillo devises ways to strip the entire female cast of their clothing. He does this by creating elaborate torture devises that slowly rip away bras and cut up the girl’s chests.
Bloody Pit of Horror is a very colorful film, featuring eye-popping reds and greens for the viewer to marvel at (one of the very few things to marvel at, might I add). The cinematography is pretty good for a Z-grade picture, but I wish that the people behind the camera would have taken a few risks and given their work some movement and personality. It’s hard to believe the film operates in the same giallo genre as the work of Dario Argento (a director who wouldn’t emerge of the filmmaking scene until 1970), who danced with the camera every chance he got. Many of the grind house films of the time carried titles that made a lot of promises but never truly delivered on those promises and Bloody Pit of Horror happens to be one of those movies. As far as titles go, Bloody Pit of Horror ranks as one of the best, featuring a title that is infinitely better than the movie itself (The film has carried several titles over the years including The Crimson Executioner, The Scarlet Executioner, and Some Virgins for the Hangman, to name a few). There is one thing going for Bloody Pit of Horror—it acts as a cure for insomnia!
Bloody Pit of Horror is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
When it comes to exploitation flicks and cult classics, I believe that none are more definitive than skin flick director Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. A shameless ode to drag racing, violence, sex, cleavage, ass-kicking, and, yep, you guessed it, go-go boots, this rip-roaring thriller is still just as hip and swingin’ as it was when it was released. When we consider the film now, the influence of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is everywhere and you may not even know it. Anyone who has ever seen Meyer’s romp can’t help but be reminded of it every time you see a dangerous female protagonist laying waste to some male tormentors. In many ways, maybe female action heroes should be worshiping at the altar of Faster, Pussycat! and have the iconic image of voluptuous Tura Satana’s Varla snapping a man’s arm tacked up in their bedroom. While it is hard to defend every single action of the women in Faster, Pussycat!, no one can deny that this isn’t a shriek of female liberation that came right on the brink of widespread female empowerment. These chicks shimmy to their own tune and man, if it isn’t a wicked and groovy ride.
A trio of curvy and snarling go-go dancers by the names of Varla (Played by Satana), Rosie (Played by Haji), and Billie (Played by Lori Williams) are roughing it out in the desert and hanging at a drag race track. While there, the innocent Linda (Played by Sue Bernard) rolls up with her speed hungry boyfriend (Played by Ray Barlow) and he makes the stupid mistake of challenging Varla to a race. “I never try anything! I just do it!”, she growls. After a close call on the tracks, Varla gets into an argument with speed demon and brawl suddenly erupts. During the fight, Varla ends up killing Linda’s boyfriend. The dancers decide to kidnap and drug Linda and flee the scene before anyone finds out. While on the run, they bump into a crippled old man (Played by Stuart Lancaster) and his muscular Vegetable son (Played by Dennis Busch). They soon discover that the old man is wealthy from a past accident and soon, the girls start plotting a way to make off with the Old Man’s money but as it turns out, the Old Man has disturbing plans of his own for the girls.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! begins with a quick cut sequence of Varla, Rosie, and Billie scantily clad and thrusting away to music while a horde of cantankerous, animal-like males hoot, holler, and chant away. Meyer’s rapid fire editing within this sequence mirrors a boiling point before the title blasts across the screen and we see the girls speeding their hot rods down open road. Have they hit a breaking point? Has the male lust run its course? We have no way of knowing if the girls violent tendencies have erupted before, but judging by Varla’s hold on the group and her skills with a blade, she hasn’t hesitated to pull a knife on a poor chum before. Welcome to the off-kilter world of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, where we have images thrown at us that look like they belong in a banned pulp comic book. It’s a world where the law is only mentioned and never seen, girls strut freely in low cut shirts that left me fearful that if one made a quick move, there would be a lot more exposed than what already is. For those who watch the movie for that, you will be sorely disappointed. Meyer has commentary on his mind and not simply putting nudie cuties on display.
The performances that compose Faster, Pussycat! achieve a cult status of their own to match the film’s. You don’t forget your trip through Hell with Varla, Rosie, and Billie. Whether you are hanging on their use of slang or their sudden bursts of bloody beat downs, the girls never loose their underlying cool. They have everything under control even if everything appears to be fishtailing. Varla looks like she stepped out of a pin-up photo and decided to don a threatening black outfit that mirrors her rebel personality. She barks her dialogue in the faces of men who believe that women shouldn’t be running with the male pack. Billie, the blonde bombshell of the group, isn’t so much violent as she is bursting with sexuality that just simply can’t be contained. While she is manipulating, I never feared that she would stick a put a razor to my throat. Then there is Rosie, who appears to be Varla’s lover and sidekick, one who would put the finishing blow to what Varla started. She seems reluctant to get blood on her hands, yet she goes along with everything Varla orders her to do. Together the girls work together to manipulate and dominate, especially strong when their solidarity is firmly in tact.
Then we have the men of Faster, Pussycat!, who are not presented in the best light. The Old Man has a dictatorial grip on his meat-head Vegetable son. The Vegetable does the bidding that the shotgun wielding Old Man cannot, a bidding that is mostly capture and then rape. The Old Man is appalled when he sees the girl’s outfits and vents his old fashioned conservative viewpoint when he says, “Women! They let ‘em vote, smoke, and drive—even put ‘em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president!” The Old Man represents what women ultimately lashed out and begged to be liberated from. The Old Man is purely the voice of oppression but the Vegetable represents the brute force holding the girls down. He is an empty headed police force for the Old Man, one that only begins to come around when coaxed or encouraged, but never willingly open minded. The Old Man also has another son, Kirk (Played by Paul Trinka), an intellectual who seems to level with all parties when they clash. He is the calm middle between the two towering, roaring forces.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! does have its weak spots. Even at eighty-three minutes, the middle beings killing time by doing doughnuts and just kicking up a bunch of dust. Writer Jack Moran and Meyer work double time to keep things nice and spicy with the animated dialogue and the cartoonish characters. It’s the cartoonish touch that makes Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! the classic that it manages to be today. One look at Varla, with her embellished curves, and you can’t help but think she looks like the work of a comic book artist with a fetish for big breasts. Yet the pulp charm also masks the satire on display, an artistic choice that may put serious viewers off. In the end, if you can’t hang with these chicks, you may as well get out of the hot rod that is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! before the ride hits white knuckle speeds. For audience members who like their films fast, sexy, and death defying, strap yourself in for one hell of an influential ride.
by Steve Habrat
Over the course of the next few days, I will be listing off the 25 films that have scared the hell out of me. This is not a definitive list of the scariest films ever made but rather recommendations of films that I think will spook you. Feel free to comment on this and let me know which films scare you. Let the terror begin!
25.) The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
In the opening moments of this silent film chiller, a man explores the underground tunnels of a Paris opera house. He is alone in the dark and armed with nothing but a lantern. The camera remains stationary in front of him so we only get to see his reactions. Keep in mind there is absolutely no sound. All of a sudden, he sees someone or something. Not anything or anyone he recognizes. We the audience are not permitted to catch a glimpse. Judging by his reaction, I do not think we want to. This is the magic of the crown jewel of the Universal Movie Monsters heap. We are not assisted by the luxury of sound effects. Our brain fills in the horrors for us and sometimes that can be the most effective way to send an icy chill down your spine. While many of you probably are familiar with Lon Chaney’s legendary hellish phantom and you do not even realize it, he plays the phantom like he may never have had the chance to star in anything ever again. And it also features a breathtaking sequence in color (gasp!). This is a truly unforgettable epic that mesmerizes and horrifies.
24.) The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Many have expressed their disapproval at this remake of the 1977 Wes Craven classic of the same title. But in a rare case, French director Alexandre Aja actually improves upon it. And it refuses to play nice. Vile, upsetting, disgusting and downright repulsive, it hits the ground running and barrels at you without slowing down. The opening sequence and credits are enough to give you nightmares for a week and all it consists of is a few scientists in HAZMAT suits testing radiation who meet a grisly end. This is followed closely by lots of stock footage of atomic bomb tests. Following a family who ends up getting trapped in the hills of New Mexico and who begin getting terrorized by colony of mutant miners who were subjected to radiation from bombs set of by the US government may not sound all the brutal, but trust me, do not enter lightly. It’s an unapologetic and unflinching little movie. About half way through the film explodes like a ticking time bomb and it’s incredible to me that this avoided an NC-17 rating. Oh, and I should tell you that the family has a newborn baby with them. And the mutants kidnap the child and plan on eating it. Start covering your eyes and chewing off your fingernails now. Not for the faint of heart.
23.) Inland Empire (2006)
What’s it about? I couldn’t tell you. What’s the underlying message? Beats me. What’s the point? The point is that it scares the living hell out of you and it’s impossible to know why. David Lynch’s three-hour grainy epic that appears to be about a remake of a film that was cursed blurs the lines of what is real and what is a nightmare. Half way through you will give up trying to follow it but you will not be able to avoid it’s icy glare. The trailer alone will have goose bumps running up and down your arms. What elevates it is Lynch’s use of surreal imagery. There truthfully should not be anything particularly scary about it, but there is. Through his use of close ups, every single character takes on the look of a deformed specter that is staring right into your soul. And wait for one particular image of a deformed face that, in my opinion, is one of the most disturbing images I have ever seen on film. I understand that the film may frustrate you on what is actually happening and what isn’t, but I can assure you that that is exactly what Lynch is going for. To drive you mad.
22.) The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Have you ever had someone tell you about his or her encounter with something paranormal? I would guess that while they are telling the story, your imagination was busy bringing their story to life. The story was creepy because you were not there but you believe this person is telling you the truth. Plus, your imagination has filled in what took place. Long after they have told you the story, it still plays in your brain like it was your own experience. That is kind of what The Mothman Prophecies is like. And it’s based on true events that happened in the late 60s. Through the strong performances by Richard Gere, Debra Messing, and Laura Linney, they make you feel every ounce of their confusion, frustration, horror, and weariness that is brought on from the events take place throughout the film. Centering on the sightings of an otherworldly winged creature with “two red eyes” in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the film has an unshakeable sense of doom woven throughout. We are constantly left with some strange account that leaves us gripping our seats or a notion that something truly horrifying is lurking just around the corner. Pay close attention to the details in this one. It’s what doesn’t jump right out at you that is actually the creepiest. The Mothman is everywhere even if we never really get a good glimpse. But it’s like your reaction to your friend’s paranormal experience, you do not know, but you can imagine.
21.) Repulsion (1965)
Going mad has never been this unsettling. Roman Polanski’s portrait of a young woman (played by the gorgeous Catherine Denuve) who is seemingly losing her mind after her mother goes away for a weekend is all the more surreal because we cannot pin point the reason why. She is so normal! Turning an apartment into a claustrophobic living nightmare, the film makes exceptional use of space. Polanski makes the audience actually feel the walls closing in. And when someone knocks on her door, talk about tense! What truly makes Repulsion work is that it is a patient horror film. One that is all the more unsettling because this could be happening a few doors down in your apartment complex or just a few houses down. And to such a lovely woman at that! It’s a shame that Polanski’s other horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, overshadows that gem. Through it’s gritty scope and enclosed spaces, after seeing it you may want to evaluate your own sanity, go stand in an open field for a couple of hours, and you’ll never want to eat vegetables again.
Drop by tomorrow for more of the films that have scared the shit out of me. You know you’re intrigued and the terror has hypnotized you. And feel free to let us know what horror films scare you. Also, if you have not voted in our tiebreaker poll yet, Click Here to do so.