by Steve Habrat
In the 1950s, moviegoers looking for a terrifying thrill were treated to some real flimsy basement efforts. There were science fiction films made with almost no money whatsoever, monster movies that featured atomic creatures with visible zippers up their side stalking a shrieking teenage girl, and then there were Ed Wood horror movies, which occupy a league of their own in the land of cringe-worthy B-movies. Wood is largely remembered for being one of the most incompetent directors of all time and the man who gave the world Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film that is widely considered the worst film ever made. Looking back on Plan 9 from Outer Space, we can now smile and acknowledge that this was a film made by a man who was determined to show the world his vision, even if they laughed it right off the screen. While casual horror fans may know Wood simply for Plan 9 from Outer Space, if you dig deeper into his catalogue of work, you will find another hidden gem in the form of 1955’s Bride of the Monster, an equally goofy, flawed, and downright hilarious attempt at being scary. Featuring lots of gothic castles, humid swamps, lightning flashes, giant rubber squids, and Bela Lugosi’s final speaking performance, Bride of the Monster manages to overcome the endless amount of flubs that comprise it and becomes a true labor of love that you just can’t resist, even if you desperately want to.
Bride of the Monster begins with two men, Jake (played by John Warren) and Mac (played by Bud Osborne), out in Lake Marsh when a nasty storm hits. Desperate to find shelter, the two men make their way to an old abandoned mansion that is rumored to house a monster. As they get closer to the mansion, Jake and Mac realize that the mansion may not be abandoned at all. As the men attempt to enter the mansion, they come face to face with Dr. Eric Vornoff (played by Bela Lugosi), who tells them to leave the property at once. When they protest, Dr. Vornoff’s mute assistant, Lobo (played by Tor Johnson), shows up and scares them away. In all the confusion, Mac falls into Lake Marsh and is attacked by a giant octopus and Jake is captured by Lobo and taken back to the old mansion where Dr. Vornoff begins performing a grotesque experiment on the terrified man. A few days later, police captain Robbins (played by Harvey B. Dunn) meets with Lt. Dick Craig (played by Tony McCoy) about the growing number of disappears in the swamp. Craig and Robbins decide to meet with Professor Strowski (played by George Becwar), who speaks of the Loch Ness Monster and claims to want to help with the situation. Meanwhile, feisty newspaper reporter Janet Lawton (played by Loretta King) grows tired of the slow response of the police and decides that she is going to do a little investigating of her own. It doesn’t take long for her to bump into Dr. Vornoff and Lobo, who slowly reveal their plan for world domination.
In true 50s fashion, Bride of the Monster is brimming with atomic paranoia, a staple of most horror and science fiction films of that period. Wood fills his picture with talk of an army of radioactive supermen, atomic bombs affecting the weather, and adds some out-of-place stock footage of mushroom clouds rolling into the atmosphere. One of these mushroom clouds can be found near the end, when one character shoots one of Vornoff’s attacking creatures. Conveniently, none of the characters are turned to ash even though they are extremely close to the blast. Wood clumsily attempts to send chills by using the fears of the day, but where he really excels is in the atmosphere, especially around Vornoff’s mansion. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to realize that he has outstanding stuff. The exterior shots outside the home are eerie and there are a few moments out in the swamp that show promise, but you have to wonder if the atrocious camera work wasn’t inadvertently lending a hand in creating a moody landscape for Wood’s mayhem. Though it’s hard to tell, the looming mansion appears to have a gothic touch and the looping lightning strikes call to mind Universal’s early films. Even his giant octopus is chilling in small doses, but naturally, Wood overdoes it and holds the shots for way too long, revealing the fact that it is just a giant rubber prop.
Surprisingly, Bride of the Monster features some above average performances, a shocker considering that this is Ed Wood we’re talking about. The standout is Bela Lugosi, who really lays his Lugosi-ness on thick here as Dr. Eric Vornoff. In his last starring role before his death, Lugosi whips out all his old Dracula tricks and puts them on full blast. He contorts his fingers into hypnotic claws and he bulges his eyes for Wood in extreme close-ups. He savors every single cheesy line of dialogue that Wood hands him and in one of the film’s shining moments, appears to almost forget the name of his character. Tor Johnson is a perfect fit for the lumber beefcake Lobo, the mute muscle that brings Vornoff his test subjects. This is a far better role for the Swedish wrestler than the police inspector one that he was given in Plan 9 from Outer Space. McCoy seems like the routine good old boy as Craig, an average guy out to protect his ladylove from the comic book evil that lurks out in the swamp. Early on, King is a ball of energy as the determined newspaper reporter Janet, but by the end, she is stuck on an operating table and struggling to look scared. Dunn largely remains behind a desk with a bird on his shoulder as the dry police captain and Becwar is forgettable as the suspicious Professor Strowski, who has a plan all his own.
Just like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster is chock full of hilarious one-liners that are meant to be taken seriously and mistakes that you just can’t turn a blind eye to. The film is flatly shot, a stationary camera positioned to pick up the entire set as the actors fumble around in poor lightning. The sets that Wood has here are infinitely more convincing than anything you will see in Plan 9 from Outer Space (absolutely NOTHING beats that airplane cockpit and the cardboard graveyard in Plan 9 from Outer Space), but they are by no means perfect. It is also clear that Wood was settling on the first take of each scene, as characters stumble through certain lines of dialogue and at times, almost seem to be chuckling to themselves over the poor writing. One could almost fill a book with the amount of clunky lines of dialogue that the characters fire off (“There is always something suspicious going on in a swamp!”). But it really boils down to the amount of passion that Wood puts into his vision. He is pouring his blood, sweat, and tears into the project and simply relishing the fact that he has a camera in his hand. Overall, Bride of the Monster never hits the lows that Plan 9 from Outer Space does (I say that in the most lovingly way possible), but this is still an amateurish and confused effort from a man who simply wasn’t born to make movies. Yet it is ultimately Wood’s belief in his own imagination, his off-screen enthusiasm, and Lugosi’s final bow that makes Bride of the Monster truly something special and permits it to be a seriously entertaining hour and ten minute ride.
Bride of the Monster is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In 1956, cheeseball writer/producer/director Edward D. Wood Jr. began work on a small science fiction horror film that would become famous among horror fans and cinema buffs for being absolutely terrible. That film would be Plan 9 from Outer Space, which would go on to be released in 1959 and become the most famous film of Wood’s outlandish career. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a glob of bumbling acting, some of the worst dialogue your ears may ever hear, felt costumes that look like they were made in a twelve-year-old boy’s garage, generous amounts of stock footage, flying saucers made of spray painted plates, and sets made from construction paper, glitter, and super glue. It’s hilariously awful. It’s also probably one of the most enthusiastically made motion pictures you may ever see. Plan 9 from Outer Space is the work of a goofball, that I will not deny, yet there is something to be said about this sloppy B-movie that burst forth from the Atomic Age. It’s not particularly smart or skilled and it is made by a bunch of amateurs, but Plan 9 from Outer Space actually works in a so-bad-it’s-sort-of-good kind of way. It also works its way into your heart because Wood stands tall by his picture from beginning to end, telling this absurd story about saucer men, UFOs, and the living dead without ever cracking a smile, even if we are in tears the entire time. You really have to hand it to this guy. Plus, to be honest, he does deliver a resurrection scene that is just way too cool to be in a movie like this.
Plan 9 from Outer Space begins with an unnamed old man (played by Bela Lugosi) grieving the death of his wife (played by Vampira). After the funeral, two gravediggers begin working on filling in the woman’s grave but are spooked after they hear several strange noises. Just as they are about to flee the graveyard, the gravediggers are attacked and killed by the resurrected corpse of the woman. A few days after the attack, the grief-stricken old man is killed in a freak automobile accident. While burying the old man, the mourners stumble upon the bodies of the two gravediggers. A team of police officers led by Inspector Dan Clay (played by Tor Johnson) show up at the graveyard to investigate the bodies, but soon after their arrival, Inspector Clay is attacked and killed by the resurrected woman. Meanwhile, airplane pilot Jeff Trent (played by Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot are in midflight when they suddenly spot what they believe is a flying saucer. The two men report their sightings but the government swears them to secrecy. One evening while sitting on their back porch, Jeff breaks down and tells his wife, Paula (played by Mona McKinnon), what he witnessed in the skies, but his story is interrupted by strange lights and a strong wind that knocks them both to the ground. As the days pass, more and more reports come in about strange sightings in the sky and eerie activity in the local graveyard, which forces the government to begin an investigation. As the investigation deepens, the government realizes that the events in the cemetery and the UFO sightings may be linked.
Honestly, it is extremely difficult to try to summarize Plan 9 from Outer Space for someone. The plot is extremely convoluted and disjointed to the point where it isn’t even worth trying to really pay much attention to it. Basically, aliens are raising the dead to get the attention of the humans so that the aliens can warn the humans not to develop a weapon that would destroy the entire universe (go ahead, you can giggle). Plot aside, the real reason to watch Plan 9 from Outer Space is to catch all the goofs that Wood makes along the way. Every shot in the entire film is static, with actors shuffling and bumping their way through cramped sets that look like they were filmed in someone’s basement. To make the film seem bigger, Wood cuts the wooden scenes he filmed with about twenty minutes of stock footage of soldiers firing rockets, airplanes flying through the air, traffic in Los Angeles, and unused footage of star Bela Lugosi, who had passed before Wood decided to make Plan 9 from Outer Space. Then we have Wood’s makeshift graveyard, complete with crumbling cardboard headstones and black tarps doubling for crusty ground. He pumps in some fog, drops a black backdrop down, and single handed manages to construct a few semi-atmospheric shots of Johnson, Vampira, and Tom Mason, a chiropractor who stands in for Lugosi with a Dracula cape over his face, wandering around looking for victims. The graveyard scenes really make this movie, but that isn’t saying much.
When you’re not cringing over the DIY set design, you’ll be doubled over laughing at some of the absolute worst acting you will ever see. If the acting isn’t getting you (believe me, folks, it will), wait until you hear some of the dialogue that Wood hands them. The stock footage of Lugosi is pretty breathtaking, that I must admit, and Vampira is campy fun as she shuffles stiffly around the graveyard with wild eyes and outstretched arms, but nearly everyone else is absolutely horrible. Walcott is trying so hard to be believable as the brave hero who stands up to the martians, but you will just laugh him off rather than root for him. Tor Johnson, a former Swedish wrestler, is asked to play the no-nonsense Inspector Clay and he fails miserably. You won’t be surprised that he excels at playing a mouth-breath ghoul though. McKinnon is simply asked to shriek in horror at Mason, who only reveals his eyes to his victims. Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee shows up as Eros and Tanna, the two aliens who shout classic lines of dialogue like “you see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” Also on board here is Criswell, the narrator who first tells us that the events we are about to see are set in the future and then completely contradicts himself by saying that this story took place in the past. Riiiiiight…
Even at a brief seventy-nine minutes, you could honestly fill a book with everything that is wrong with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Nearly every single scene has some sort of flub, yet that is precisely why the film is so much fun. You’re watching it to make fun of it and laugh your head off right in its face. Given that the film was created out of the radioactive paranoia of nuclear war, Wood certainly doesn’t shy away from slipping in a few comments of his own about the bomb, even if they do get tangled up in a unintentionally hilarious showdown between aliens and humans. They don’t particularly stand out from the countless other Cold War science fiction drive-in movies but they certainly are here, if you can believe it. The film is also worth checking out for Tor Johnson’s resurrection sequence, which is dramatically lit and, shockingly, shot with some sort of artistic vision. It is a brief moment of brilliance and it certainly is cool. Overall, if you’re even slightly interested in science fiction and horror, then Plan 9 from Outer Space is certainly worth checking out on a hot summer night with a cold beer in your hand. It may be the furthest thing from high art, but this is the work of a determined man who completely believed in his own ridiculous vision. Our hats are off to you, Wood.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you happen to be a horror nostalgia nut and are looking to relive the glory days of the genre, you most certainly have heard of or seen Fred Dekker’s 1986 nod to 50s science fiction, zombie flicks, and B-movies Night of the Creeps. Basically a Heinz 57 mash-up of everything including zombies, the slasher genre, the hardboiled detective, 50s alien flicks, and Ed Wood’s schlocky classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Creeps is a fairly satisfying, if a bit flawed, tribute to the horror genre. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves (the characters are all named after legendary horror directors), if you’re a diehard fan of horror (or 80s movies), you’re going to find plenty to chuckle over for 90 minutes. Night of the Creeps puts quite a bit of emphasis on its zombie angle and Dekker knows how to deliver the zombie action, but in places, the film appears to be juggling too many references and some fall flat. Still, Night of the Creeps stands as one of the stronger efforts in the zombie genre, and it also gets by on its nifty black and white opening sequences and some truly memorable performances from Steve Marshall as the handicapped J.C. and Tom Atkins as the heartbroken detective Ray Cameron who shouts “Thrill me” when he arrives at a crime scene.
Night of the Creeps begins in 1959, with a deadly alien experiment accidentally being unleashed from a UFO and crashing to earth. Meanwhile, a young college man picks up his date and the two head to a local make out spot to gaze at the stars despite warnings of an escaped homicidal maniac roaming the woods. As the two stare off into space, they spot an unusually bright shooting star that crashes into the woods. The young man dashes into the woods to investigate and leaves his date alone in the car. Naturally, the homicidal maniac stumbles upon the girl and hacks her up with an axe and the boy is exposed to strange alien-like slugs that attack him. 28 years later, nerdy college students Chris Romero (Played by Jason Lively) and James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Played by Steve Marshall) are prowling Corman University’s campus searching for girls. Chris sets his sights on cool girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Played by Jill Whitlow), a sorority sister who seems to only be interested in fraternity guys. To impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. decide to join a fraternity. As part of their pledge, Chris and J.C. are forced to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and leave it on the steps of Cynthia’s sorority house. While snooping around the medical center, Chris and J.C. stumble upon a mysterious cadaver that has been frozen and sealed off in a top-secret room. Chris and J.C. attempt to steal the body but they are scared off when the cadaver wakes up and tries to grab them. As Chris and J.C. rethink how to impress Cynthia, the mysterious cadaver begins prowling the campus and unleashing the alien worms, which infect the students and turn them into zombies. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Played by Tom Atkins) investigates gruesome deaths around the campus, slowly realizing that he may be battling the walking dead.
As a tip of the hat to horror subgenres, Night of the Creeps is pretty solid but some of the tributes don’t gel like they should. The film attempts to work in a slasher angle that seems glaringly out of place and it is sort of left dangling at the end. However, when Dekker remains in the science fiction/zombie realm, the film is really a lot of fun. Being mostly a zombie movie, you naturally expect the violence to be cranked up to eleven but Night of the Creeps never gets too out of hand with its carnage. The zombies have some nasty wounds and there are a few glimpses of dead bodies with their heads split open, but Dekker never embraces Romero or Fulci levels of zombie violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that Dekker is soft on the viewer and doesn’t deliver the zombie mayhem. There is a fun little siege on a sorority house that finds Atkins storming in and announcing, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” It is morbid little gems of dialogue like this that really make up for the lack of gut munching and blood slurping. The lack of overly elaborate special effects has helped Night of the Creeps age a bit more gracefully than some 80s horror movies but the film does shoot itself in the foot when it tosses in a few zombie pets. Sure, the viewer is supposed to take them with a wink and a big slice of cheese, but they certainly are not convincing. At least Dekker uses a zombified kitty to pay respect to Lucio Fulci’s blood-soaked classic Zombie.
As far as the acting goes, Night of the Creeps turns out to be a mixed body bag. Atkins does most of the heavy lifting as the massively entertaining Ray Cameron but his character does suffer a bit because he is linked to the slasher side story. It adds depth to his character and it allows him to connect with Lively’s Chris, but it still seemed unnecessary. Marshall is also a stand out of the sarcastic J.C., the handicapped best bud who does everything in his power to get his best buddy laid. He gets in a number of good jabs at the obnoxious fraternity brothers that torment them. Lively tries his best to hang with Marshall but his Chris is lacking the feisty personality that J.C. possesses. Still, he gets by and we do sort of root for him to pull the girl. Perhaps the worst of the main players is Whitlow’s Cynthia, a pretty girl who just can’t seem to stop flirting with beer chugging goofballs and flashing her boobs. Her character seemed a bit too whiny at times and there simply for eye candy, but she does step up in the final stretch of the film. I suppose a flamethrower can make anyone look cool. Alan Kayser also shows up as the ultimate bully douche bag, Brad, who enjoys tormenting poor Chris and J.C. He shines as the dimwitted oaf and he is even better as a cloudy-eyed zombie who shows up at Cynthia’s door.
While Night of the Creeps is never very scary, the movie does have more than enough raunchy teen comedy to go around. The exchanges between Chris and J.C. are pretty great and Atkins is hilariously over the top as the hardboiled detective. There are a few tense moments here and there, especially when Chris and Cynthia get trapped in a garden shed as zombies attempt to get in from every side. Fans of 50s science fiction will also be giddy during the marvelous black and white opening sequence. Every horror fan will also have a blast with the names of the characters and spotting references to their favorite classic horror film. Make sure you stay alert for references to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), James Cameron (Aliens), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), David Cronenberg (The Fly), and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2). Overall, Night of the Creeps is more of a big college party than an all out horror fest and there are plenty of surprises to keep you hooked, but some shaky acting and clunky tributes prevent the film from reaching a classic status. It doesn’t matter though, because you’ll keep coming back and screaming “thrill me” right along with Atkins.
Night of the Creeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
I wanted to let you all know that this week will be dedicated to the work of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in honor of their latest film Dark Shadows hitting theaters Friday. They always think up some crazy memorable characters that audiences fall in love with and I’m sure that Dark Shadows will make us all want to see more of vampire Barnabas Collins. You can expect reviews for Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleep Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland. So, who’s ready to get dark and gothic?!
Also, I wanted to take a moment to apologize for the glitch in The Avengers coverage. I posted a few set photos from when I took a trip to the Cleveland set last August but apparently they did not upload to the site. In addition, I figured that I would have been able to cover the crowds waiting to see the movie but I was seated at 9:30 and never had a chance to mingle with any of the diehard fans patiently waiting outside. So, I do apologize and I’ll see what I can do next time.
I hope you all enjoy Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Week!
-Theater Management (Steve)