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.
by Steve Habrat
Today’s audiences look back at most of the drive-in science fiction films of the 1950s with mean-spirited chortles and dismissive responses. A good majority of the negativity is aimed at the giant creature films that played mostly to an audience of teenagers who were too busy necking in the backseat of their father’s car to even care what was happening on the screen. While many of these films are deserving of a bit more praise than they receive (Godzilla, Tarantula, Them!, The Blob), there are still those B-movies that deserve the giggles that erupt at the mere mention of their title. One of those films would be the ultra-cheap and ultra-campy 1958 effort Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, a cult film that is so unbelievably bad, it’s actual sort of entertaining…if you’re inebriated to the point of being blacked out. Directed by the indifferent Nathan Juran for a measly $88,000 dollars, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is comprised of some of the worst special effects you may ever see (yes, even worse than something you might have seen in an Ed Wood movie), tongue-in-cheek performances, and a warning to every male viewer that there is nothing more terrifying than a woman scorned. It is a genre film so laughable, not even a die-hard fan could show it any affection.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman introduces us to the extremely wealthy, stunningly beautiful, but severely troubled Nancy Archer (played by Allison Hayes), who is just coming off a recent stay in a sanitarium and is battling a drinking problem. To make things worse on poor Nancy, who is also the butt of every joke told by the locals, her husband, Harry (played by William Hudson), is a drunken philanderer constantly hatching schemes with his side girlfriend, Honey Parker (played by Yvette Vickers), to milk Nancy of her millions. Late one night, Nancy is driving home through the desert when a strange orb of light suddenly appears in the middle of the highway. Nancy proceeds to investigate the ball of light and she discovers that it is actually a flying saucer. Suddenly, a giant alien emerges from the craft and reaches for Nancy, terrifying the poor girl almost to death. Nancy reports the sightings to skeptical Sheriff Dubbit (played by George Douglas) and his dimwitted Deputy, Charlie (played by Frank Chase), but everyone just waves the poor girl off. Spotting an opportunity to get rid of Nancy for good, Harry pretends to believe Nancy’s story, so he drives her out into the desert to help her look for the spaceship. To both Nancy and Harry’s surprise, they end up finding the ship and the alien, who emerges and tries to attack. The terrified Harry flees the scene, leaving Nancy stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Nancy manages to find her way home, but after a few days in a coma, she awakens to find that she has grown into a giant.
At a scant sixty-six minutes, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman seems to drag on forever. The film’s poster advertises a giant Nancy terrorizing a freeway overpass and snatching up terrified citizens but nothing like this ever occurs in the actual film. The action finally kicks in during the final fifteen minutes of the film and the special effects that accompany this action are just about as amateur as they come. We are treated to a looped shot of Nancy strolling from the left side of the screen to the right side, all while the landscape bleeds through her faintly transparent image. It is extremely clear that the filmmakers just layered a shot of Nancy and a landscape shot to give the illusion of a giant woman stomping around this small town. To make things worse, when Nancy reaches for someone or something, a giant papier-mache hand dips into the screen and shakes to fool the viewer into thinking the fingers are moving around. It is absolutely hilarious. While the action provides plenty of laughs, the bulk of the film finds the two uninteresting main characters trapped in a severely dysfunctional marriage. It is clear that Juran is attempting to make Nancy’s transformation all the more powerful and significant, but it is so tongue-in-cheek that it never hits with the force it intended to.
To make things worse for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the cast of the film seems completely confused as to what the tone of the film actually is. Some of them play things completely straight while others seem like they are ready to burst out laughing at all the absurdity. Hayes goes full hysterical as Nancy, an emotional wreck that is pushed over the edge when no one will believe her saucer man story. Hudson doesn’t seem to know if he should fully embrace darkness or if he should just laugh as Nancy’s unfaithful husband. Douglas falls on the serious side as Sheriff Dubbit, who spends most of his time just looking confused or aiming a shotgun off screen. Chase is full on cheese as the corrupt Deputy who has a hard time refusing a bribe from the oily Harry. Vickers seems eager to prove her acting chops as the bombshell Honey, but she seems like she is ready to crack up with Hudson. We also can’t forget Ken Terrell as Nancy’s loyal butler, Jess, who is said to have been in her family for years but doesn’t look a day over forty. Otto Waldis also hams it up as Dr. Heinrich Von Loeb, a specialist called in to treat Nancy’s mind-boggling condition. Waldis spends most of his scenes stammering through a thick German accent and just shaking his head in astonishment.
As if confused performances, poor pacing, and bottom-of-the-barrel special effects weren’t enough to topple Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the script itself completely levels the entire project. It is absolutely loaded with one idiotic moment after another. How exactly does a fifty-foot Nancy fit into her bedroom and more importantly, when did she have time to stop and make an outfit for herself? And how is Nancy so completely clueless to the fact that her husband is a giant scumbag? Oh, and what is the deal with the giant bald alien always reaching for someone? And how does a GIANT ALIEN manage to walk around in that tiny space ship?! Don’t trouble yourself with any of these questions; you’ll never get an answer. All you can do is laugh. Overall, while there is some thought put into the script, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman never shows a hint of the depth that some of the Atomic Age science fiction films possessed. It seems to be suffering from a severe identity crisis, wondering if it should just fully embrace its own absurdity or if it should remain straight-faced until the very last shot. This is a midnight cult classic that just doesn’t deliver the nacho-cheese fun that it should.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Ever since I first laid eyes on the trailer for Panos Cosmatos’ science fiction head-trip Beyond the Black Rainbow, I was just dying to see it. Well, my friends, that day finally arrived and I have to tell you, if you consider yourself a fan of cult cinema and midnight movies, this is a film you have to see. It will be a dream come true. Heavily indebted to early David Cronenberg films, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch’s surreal horror, and blippy John Carpenter scores, Beyond of the Black Rainbow is a film that takes control of your senses and refuses to let them go. While you can’t even begin to pretend to know what the film is about, Beyond the Black Rainbow is something else to look at, a film that fills you with terror one minute and then guides you into ethereal tranquility the next, all in the matter of five minutes. Composed of haunted performances that look like holograms from Mars, a nerve frying analogue synth score, and quasi-futuristic visuals drenched in a neon glow, Cosmatos spews out a maddening and frightening nightmare that Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey may have if he dared to dream at all. I just warn those who are willing to approach the film, do so with an open mind and remember that none of this will truly add up in the end.
Set in an alternate 1983, there exists the Arboria Institute, a psychiatric complex that promises to fill its clients with pure happiness. This futuristic complex is run by Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Played by Scott Hylands), a guru-esque figure that appears in a promotional video at the start of the film. It is here at the Arboria Institute that the orphaned Elena (Played by Eva Allan) has been imprisoned and heavily sedated by the perverted Dr. Barry Niles (Played by Michael Rogers), who seems to get sick enjoyment out of tormenting the young girl. As Barry begins to loose his grip on his sanity, Elena, who seems to posses certain mental powers, decides to try to escape the confines of her neon prison. As she wanders the seemingly deserted hallways of Arboria, she stumbles across a bizarre, bloodthirsty mutant and wandering alien-like Sentionauts. Soon, the deranged Barry learns of Elena’s escape and he sets out after his prized patient, willing to do anything to get her back.
While many may be turned off by the agonizingly slow pace of Beyond the Black Rainbow, those who have found enjoyment in Canadian body horror auteur David Cronenberg’s early work (Rabid, The Brood, Videodrome, and even Scanners) will be hooked right from the beginning. There are hints of Kubrick everywhere, from the visual symmetry of the futuristic architecture of Arboria to the unnerving score that could be a mash up of John Carpenter’s score from The Fog and the famous jingle from A Clockwork Orange. Cosmatos transitions from scene to scene in slow fade-outs and fade-ins, at times seeming almost abstractly poetic and lyrical but always smacking us with splashes of bright red, orange, and white. There were moments where I felt the film was intentionally trying to alienate itself from me, which in turn drew me even more to it, almost like a moth to blinding light. At times I would be hit with a wave of severe boredom to be suddenly steamrolled by a wave of traumatic terror and panic, yet I always felt paranoid right from the beginning. I felt like I was being forced to sit patiently until something really awful happened and soon enough, it does. Trust me, you won’t be ready for it but yet the awful events that play out do nothing to give us closure, meaning, or simple elucidation. Before the film slips into slasher mode at the end, Cosmatos confirms my paranoid shakes at the beginning with the face of Ronald Reagan taking to the television to warn of looming nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union, adding a backdrop of apocalyptic doom to the throbbing digital chill.
While the visuals take center stage in Beyond the Black Rainbow, there has been quite a bit made over the performances from the leads. The performances are incredibly contemplative and muted, especially Eva Allan as Elena. While Elena is mostly seen and only heard once, she gives a remarkable performance that marinates in emotion right before our eyes. When she wanders the landscape outside the Arboria Institute, Elena is so fragile and lost, she almost resembles a fallen angel that is trying to find her way in an alien world. She is the soothing calm of Beyond the Black Rainbow while Rogers, who looks a bit like Christian Bale, is the creeping wickedness in a bad wig. He is absolutely terrifying as Barry, a character that I just wanted to be away from with at least a hundred miles between us. The end of the film has him wandering about in a trance-like state with a hellish dagger that looks like a fang snatched from the Devil himself. While we know he has a screw loose when we first see him, the screw completely falls out when he suffers a trippy flashback to 1966 and hangs with his mentor, Dr. Arboria. Hylands is marvelous as the doped up guru who is rotting away in front of a giant television screen that is filled with serene images. There is also Marilyn Norry as Rosemary Nyle, Barry’s wife who always seems to be trying to shake herself out of a prescription med coma and Rondel Reynoldson as Margo, an Arboria Institute employee who seems to be completely oblivious to what is going on in the halls of Arboria.
While the film never made a lick of sense, I still can’t seem to shake Beyond the Black Rainbow from my mind. The film feels so much like a dream that you almost question whether you have actually seen it or if it was something you imaged. Funny enough, Cosmatos has said that the film stemmed from his childhood, when he would wander a local video store and study the covers of horror films. He was never allowed to see these horror films but he would imagine what they were like when he would go home. I could only imagine the warped film he would make if he had seen them. I can promise you that Beyond the Black Rainbow will terrify you, especially if you watch it in the dead of night with the volume cranked up to the max. For me, Beyond the Black Rainbow just missed unhinged genius by the abrupt ending that seems almost like a sick joke (maybe it was meant to be a sick joke). I will honestly say that the ten minute black and white flashback sequence scared the living hell out of me and I watched this sucker in broad daylight. Another touch I really liked where the scratches that can be found on the Blu-ray picture. They may have not been intentional but they definitely add to the abstract retro terror, making the film seem like an undiscovered relic from 1983. While it may not be everyone’s mind trip, Beyond the Black Rainbow certain makes an impression on those who choose to experience it. If you find yourself in the target audience, I highly recommend it. Just be warned, you are in for one hell of a freak-out that you won’t soon forget.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In the stretch of films that John Carpenter made from 1978 to 1982, Escape From New York may be my least favorite of the films that also included Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing. It is these four films that are perhaps the most prolific films of his career (I should also throw in Assault of Precinct 13 and Big Trouble in Little China) and all have their own respectable cult following. Escape From New York is probably his most eccentric film in this stretch, one that broke the horror mold that he was falling into. Escape From New York ventures into science fiction and action territory (Carpenter explored science fiction with his debut film Dark Star in 1974) and the result is a fairly mixed bag of masculine 80’s clichés, inconsistent action sequences, and sputtering suspense. Still, I am willing to forgive in most of these areas but the one that really hurts is the lack of a suspenseful atmosphere that I feel Carpenter did so well. He would return to form, thankfully, in with his 1982 science-fiction chiller The Thing. There would be some magic found in Escape From New York, this first pairing of Carpenter and Kurt Russell, a match made in badass heaven.
Escape From New York invites us into a dystopian world where, in 1988, crime rose 400%, causing the U.S. government to construct a giant wall surrounding New York City that turns the greatest city in the world into a sprawling maximum-security prison. The year is 1997 and Air Force One has crashed into the dangerous streets of the prison, streets that are crawling with psychos and criminals. The President (Played by Donald Pleasance) was on his way to a three-way summit meeting between the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union for a discussion on nuclear fusion, a meeting he is desperately needed at. Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Played by Lee Van Cleef) enlists the help of scowling ex-soldier turned criminal Snake Plissken (Played by Kurt Russell), who is facing a life sentence behind the city walls. Hauk tells Plissken that if he retrieves the President in twenty-four hours, he will pardon Plissken of his sentence. Plissken reluctantly agrees and travels into the grungy wasteland where he finds himself facing a relentless army of bloodthirsty criminals who all want him dead. Along the way, he runs into some old acquaintances and faces off against the sinister Duke (Played by Isaac Hayes), who plans to use the President as his key to freedom.
It’s almost impossible not to read Escape From New York as a faint satire of the crime that ran rampant in New York City in the 1970’s into the 1980’s. The 1980’s and early 1990’s saw some of the worst of the crime. Escape From New York saw itself released in 1981, right in the midst of the flurry of crime and right at the start of the Regan Presidency. Escape From New York has a heavy military and police presence within the film, masked soldiers prowling the tops of the prison and helicopters swooping in to shoot and kill any prisoner that looks like they are attempting an escape. When the film is mirroring the uncontrollable crime of New York City and Regan’s focus on military expansion, Escape From New York is witty, cynical and, yes, tense in some respects. You do feel uneasy because you don’t really know the terrors that lie beyond those walls and there is the paranoia of war right around the corner. Even the early scenes, where Carpenter keeps many of the psychos in the shadows are a bit unsettling, but then he turns the lights on and allows the sun to come up to chase all those demons out of the shadows and into the sewers.
Escape From New York does do a good job at creating a dystopian world that is admirable in the attention to detail. While watching it, I could completely see this grungy vision of New York City being completely plausible for the time in which it was released. Plissken is warned not to venture into the subways or into certain parts of the city by its wary prisoners, the one’s with hints of good within them. Shadowy silhouettes scamper through the streets, evocative of homeless street dwellers calling the grime caked darkness home. The effects are also quite impressive, especially when you keep in mind that the film was made for a whopping six million, which by today’s standards wouldn’t get you far at all. At times, it is a bit obvious that Carpenter is filming miniatures and a sequence involving a glider tumbling down the side of the World Trade Center looks a bit dated, but outside of that, the film has aged very well.
Escape From New York would not be the classic that it is considered if it didn’t have Kurt Russell in the lead as Snake Plissken. Plissken is almost always as cool as a cucumber, his voice just above a whisper as he tiptoes around the littered streets with an intimidating machine gun. Plissken practically becomes the definition of the strong silent type, even when he is thrown in a wrestling ring with a gigantic brawler who is looking to pull Plissken’s head from his body. It was this film that revealed the peanut butter and jelly pairing of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, Carpenter dreaming up perfect one-liners for Russell to mumble before he aims a gun or throws a punch. The writing would really take shape in The Thing, the film that contains one of Russell’s greatest one-liners, but Russell sure gets to have some pokerfaced fun here (Hauk: “Plissken? Plissken, what are you doing?” Snake: “Playing with myself! I’m going in!”). Escape From New York also features a few other Carpenter alums, Pleasance as the half-hearted President and Adrienne Barbeau as the curvy and dangerous Maggie. Harry Dean Stanton, who would go on to appear in Carpenter’s 1983 film Christine, has some fun as the shifty Brain, who betrayed Plissken in the past.
Escape From New York leaves the viewer wanting more and not particularly in a good way. I wanted more development of Isaac Hayes’ Duke, a villain we mostly only hear about and when we see him, he never really strikes fear into our hearts. Lee Van Cleef’s Hauk just jogs around from behind computer screens to a helicopter and back again. Stanton and Barbeau both seem to be having some fun in Carpenter’s wasteland, Barbeau overjoyed to be reunited wit her The Fog director, but their characters aren’t really elaborated on, only there to keep Plissken on his toes. Escape From New York belongs to Russell and he is the one who will lure you back behind the walls of the New York City maximum-security prison for repeat viewers. The film is also notable for its satire and political commentary, touches that elevate the film above a mindless science fiction/action throwaway. I would have liked the story to develop a little more, for Plissken to explore a little more of New York City and bump in to a few more baddies. Yet there is enough bloody action to keep us occupied in our visit to this nightmare world and, for those who have never seen it, it is worth seeking the film out to be introduced to the man that is Snake Plissken. I guess that is enough for me to recommend the Escape From New York. If only it had that signature tense Carpenter atmosphere but I guess a guy can dream, right?
Escape From New York is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
It is a damn shame that the double feature ode to exploitation trash of years past Grindhouse flopped at the box office. It is an even bigger shame that most audience members didn’t even try to comprehend what it was that directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were trying to sell to the audience. The flop turned Grindhouse into a cult classic that, in a way, I’m glad avoided the mainstream and has basically been forgotten by most average moviegoers. More fun for fans of cult cinema. Grindhouse is one of the coolest movies of recent memory, a slaphappy revelry filled with blood, guts, zombies, fast cars, hot chicks, nudity, fake trailers, werewolves, Thanksgiving killers, machete wielding Federales, and more. Can you really argue with any of that? I didn’t think so. The way I see it, Rodriguez and Tarantino came up with an incredibly original idea, harkening back to the grimy double features of the 70’s and 80’s, and in the process, they tried to make going to the movies an event again. How people missed the point of having a little fun at the movies is truly beyond me.
The first half of this bonanza belongs to Robert Rodriguez and his gooey zombie flick Planet Terror. After an opening Go-Go dance from Cherry Darling (Played by Rose McGowan), the rural Texas town that she calls home suddenly is overrun with a nasty virus that turns the citizens from normal people into “sickos”, who crave human flesh. Teaming up with her ex-boyfriend El Wray (Played by Freddy Rodriguez), the syringe shooting Dr. Dakota Block (Played by Marley Shelton), and a slew of others, the group attempts to escape the deadly outbreak but they end up stumbling upon more than safety from the “sickos”. The second half of Grindhouse belongs to Quentin Tarantino and his car chase film Death Proof, which follows a group of hip gals who are involved in the making of a movie. They soon find themselves being tormented by a deranged stunt car driver named Stuntman Mike (Played by Kurt Russell), who enjoys killing young girls with his “death proof” muscle car. Stuntman Mike meets his match when some of the girls begin to fight back against him, turning the tables on the maniac and forcing him into a fight for his own life.
Being a double feature, no portion of Grindhouse is ever a drag but the case could be made that Tarantino’s Death Proof slams on the breaks of this speed demon. The madness hits white-knuckle territory in Planet Terror, which goes for the throat right from the very beginning. It easily outshines Death Proof and is entertaining from the opening Go-Go dance right down to the melting penises at the climax. That does not mean that I dislike Death Proof. Oh no, I absolutely love Death Proof but I feel like it should have been the first film shown and followed up by Planet Terror, which cranks things up to the max. To be honest, I hate separating the two films but it is almost impossible to evaluate Grindhouse without evaluating the films as separate pieces. I do, however, view the entire film, complete with fake trailers, to be one whole movie. It drives me crazy that the films were split up upon their initial release to DVD. I don’t think they hold up well on their own and they desperately need each other for support.
Rodriguez and Tarantino go to great lengths to replicate a night in an old movie palace on 42nd Street. They both digitally went in and scratched the prints up, making them look like two films from the 70’s that were discovered in a filthy theater basement. Rodriguez throws in a gag with a missing reel, creating a massive jump in his film that is added at just the right time. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror brings to mind the Italian zombie films that were favorites among grind house theaters in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He has continuously said that he found inspiration in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and he throws in a nasty little nod to the film at the end. He also throws in nods to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Hell of the Living Dead, and more, none being left out of all the excitement. He also creates a new cult legend with Cherry, who ends up having one of her legs replaced with a machine gun. It is a nifty nod to Evil Dead’s Ash, who is also forced to replace a severed limb with a deadly weapon.
In Death Proof, things are a little more polished and clean, a bit strange when it set against the crude Planet Terror. Packing very few scratches but having chuckle worthy skips in the film; Death Proof is more of a slow build experience. It’s pure Tarantino, featuring tons of drawn out conversations while the camera circles the actors and actresses like a shark. Death Proof ends up a battlefield for Russell and costar Zoe Bell, who plays stunt girl Zoe. Bell, who was a stunt double for Uma Thruman in Kill Bill, shows off her acting skills and ends up almost stealing the show from Russell, who gets to radiate bad boy charisma every time that camera is turned on him. When Tarantino waves the checkered flags and begins the rough car chases, he proves himself to be a master when it comes to adrenaline pumping action sequences. Death Proof ends up borrowing from such films as Vanishing Point, the slasher genre, and is vaguely evocative of Faster, Pussycat… Kill! Kill! and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, allowing the film to morph into an exotic beast all its own.
Grindhouse would not be complete without the four spectacular fake trailers that have been tacked on and they end up surpassing the greatness of the two films. Tarantino and Rodriguez invited fellow exploitation enthusiasts Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and Eli Roth (Hostel) to cook up some fake trailers and the results are sheer bliss for horror and exploitation fans. When I initially saw the film, my favorite was easily Roth’s Thanksgiving, which almost pushed the film into an NC-17 rating and it’s not hard to see why. It is so depraved and outrageous, it left me crossing my fingers that they would make it into an actual movie. In the multiple times that I have seen the film since seeing it at the local theater, I have grown like Wright’s Don’t the best. It is hectically comical and bizarre, actually turning out to be pretty frightening despite how weird it is. Zombie leaves his mark with the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Werewolf Women of the S.S., a nod to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. Zombie’s trailer does pack one hell of a big surprise so do not even think about underestimating it. Rodriguez also contributes to the madness with Machete, which opens Grindhouse with a bloody bang, letting us know that Machete “gets the women and kills the bad guys”. Keep your eyes peeled for an awesome cameo from Cheech Marin.
Grindhouse is without question one of my favorite movies of all time. It is the embodiment of why I go to the movies and why I dedicate myself to them. It was nonstop entertainment and lunacy for three fucking hours! I smiled the entire time and happily went back to the theater for seconds and heavily considered thirds. It is a shame the film flopped at the box office, poorly timed with its release (Easter weekend) and languidly marketed, many scratching their heads over the trailer. It didn’t reach a wide audience because mainstream viewers were not in on the joke, missing the point that it was a double feature and the film was purposely bad. As a whole, Grindhouse has a spark that cannot be duplicated and in its wake, there have been a lot of imitators and a minor spike in interest in cult classics and exploitation sleaze. With the spike in interest, it is hard to say that Grindhouse was a dud and hasn’t lived on past its release, rallying new fans everyday to the wonderful trash cinema of past years. The beauty doesn’t stop there, as Grindhouse can also serve as a learning tool, one that introduces viewers to a specific era in cinema and sheds light on an era that was largely forgotten when the movie palaces closed their doors and the drive-ins disappeared. Despite all the intentional mistakes and low budget cheese, Grindhouse is a rare modern film that is perfect, making it a must-see cult-classic.
Grindhouse is available of Blu-ray.
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
What do you get when you throw LSD dropping devil worshippers, shotgun packing children and old men, rabid dogs, zombies, and heaping piles of severed limbs into a blender? You get the trashy I Drink Your Blood, a grind house picture with an ADD plot and bug eyed acting. This everything-and-the-kitchen-sink film is a fun flick to watch when you and your friends are looking for a good film to laugh at between sips of beer. Hell, getting a nice buzz may actually enhance the quality of I Drink Your Blood, a film that would be right at home on a double bill with Sugar Hill or Rabid. Made in 1970, the film follows the perspiring, claustrophobic, and granular aesthetic that was heavily popular during this specific era. At times it is reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre even though this came out way before Tobe Hooper’s nightmare was unleashed. And yet even though the film is absolutely awful, if you are like me and adore this strain of cinema, you will find yourself admitting that I Drink Your Blood is so bad it is almost, well, good!
A group of wacky Satanist hippies lead by the bloodthirsty Horace Bones (Played by Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) roll into what appears to be a fairly conservative and largely abandoned small town. After the gang captures a local girl Sylvia (Played by Iris Brooks), who was watching the group perform a satanic ritual in the woods, they proceed to rape the poor girl. The next day, Sylvia stumbles from the woods, bloodied and rough up. She is discovered by Mildred (Played by Elizabeth Marner-Brooks), a woman who runs a local meat pie bakery, and Sylvia’s younger brother Pete (Played by Riley Mills). Mildred and Pete take Sylvia home to her grandfather Banner (Played by Richard Bowler), who swears he will get revenge on the group for what they have done to his granddaughter. Armed with a double barrel shotgun, he goes out to find the group, who has taken up shelter in an abandoned and supposedly haunted house. The group soon discovers Banner sneaking up on them and consequently he is the beaten, tortured, and force-fed LSD. Pete follows his grandfather to the house where he tries to rescue his grandfather and the two barely escape. While Banner recovers, Pete takes his grandfather’s shotgun and kills a rabid dog, taking its blood with a syringe and proceeds to inject it into a batch of meat pies. Pete then offers the meat pies to the hippies and soon after eating them, members of the group begin changing into rabid, infected psychos who just want to dismember anyone in their path.
Vaguely evocative of the Manson Family and part cautionary tale about the side effects of LSD, I Drink Your Blood is a repulsive gross out film with very little aptitude. It is never insinuating, as at one particular moment, the young and naïve Pete asks about LSD and a whole background is given on the drug. It doesn’t help that it packs the most outrageous plotline ever conceived. Yet it achieves cult status much like films like Burial Grounds, Zombie, Cannibal Holocaust, and I Spit on Your Grave. It has to be seen to be believed. That is if you can stomach it. Filled with pointless sex scenes (The film stops part way through to deliver for the nudity craving viewers) and graphic gore (In one scene, a leg is hacked off and it is a bit too real), it is no wonder this film was slapped with an X rating upon its release.
I Drink Your Blood is a film of memorable scenes rather than a substantial work of art. You will never forget a hoard of construction workers flailing through a field looking for someone to hack up. How about the moment with cult movie starlet Lyn Lowry (Of The Crazies fame) sawing off someone’s hand and carrying it around and examining it? How about the pregnant Satanist stabbing her own bulging, pregnant stomach? Or a mouth foaming psycho carrying a severed head around showing it to terrified citizens? Pretty sick stuff, huh? There are moments that have been influential (I’m fairly certain that Rob Zombie was inspired by the final firefight and added a nod to it in The Devil’s Rejects. He also samples a bit of the synthy score in his song “Feel So Numb”) and some that are harrowing (The final shot of the film sticks with you).
Unable to evaluate the film on intellectual terms (The film sparks no intellectual thought at all), I Drink Your Blood knows its target audience and everyone else can go to Hell. It is a sour concoction that manages to offend in almost every way imaginable and I’m convinced that is the only reason it was made. If you are deeply disturbed by animal cruelty, I’d stay far away from this (And Cannibal Holocaust). I found myself chuckling at some of the lunacy but I suppose I take these films on their own turf and the more extreme they are, the more the burrow their way into the soft spot I have for them. Yet I would never consider I Drink Your Blood a good film or recommend it to anyone looking for a movie to watch on a Friday night. The craftsmanship is amateur, the score is repetitive, and the acting cartoonish, I Drink Your Blood is for fans of this genre only and especially ones who understand how to approach this material. If your mission is to seek out the most extreme forms of cinema and try to see as many of these films as you can, I Drink Your Blood will rank among some of the most twisted you will see. If there was ever a film that leaves the viewer thinking they need a shower, I Drink Your Blood is the one.