Film #113: Monster A-go Go (1965)

monster a go go

Rating: 1.5/5
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5

“What you are about to see may not even be possible, within the narrow limits of human understanding.”

Widely considered to be one of the worst films of all time, Monster A-go Go owes much of its reputation to Mystery Science Theater 3000 – before it screened on the cult show, it hadn’t made much of an impact. It’s not mentioned in any of the Medved’s books, gets just a passing mention in Incredibly Strange Films, and in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon claims that “unless you lived in the South in the 60s, you probably… haven’t seen it.” Since its screening on MST3K, however, it is now firmly situated among the most notorious bad movies – I think at one point it occupied top spot on IMDb’s Bottom 100 (it’s currently number 80). It’s one of the most incoherent films I’ve ever seen – and that’s saying quite a bit. It’s only after multiple viewings that I’ve been able to work out some kind of narrative timeline, and even now I still get confused about who all the various characters are. What’s interesting, however, is how many myths and legends follow the film, as viewers try to justify, rationalise, and explain the baffling illogic and ineptitude evident on screen.

It is widely accepted as fact that director Bill Rebane began shooting a low-budget science fiction film called Terror at Half Day in 1961, but ran out of money and was forced to sell the unfinished movie to hack producer Herschell Gordon Lewis (best known for his exploitation pictures 2000 Maniacs and Wizard of Gore) who added in voice-over narration and a number of scenes, and released the movie four years later under a snappy new title designed to cash in on the “go-go” dance craze of the time. From here, the story varies, with the level of Lewis’ involvement remaining in dispute.

The film’s plot is, initially at least, fairly straightforward: a space capsule, has returned to Earth, but Frank Douglas, the astronaut on board, is nowhere to be found. The helicopter pilot who discovers the capsule has been horrifically killed, and there are unusual burns nearby, leading scientists and army personnel to believe that Frank has become radioactive somehow and is now roaming the countryside. Ruth, Frank’s girlfriend/ friend/ wife/ sibling (it’s never quite clear: she has a son and says that Frank has been “like a father” since the death of the boy’s real dad) is concerned, obviously, but disappears about thirty minutes into the film, along with most of the rest of the cast. A brief scene between two new characters explains (badly) that the case has been passed on to them, and the rest of the film follows the scientists and military men as they attempt to track and contain Frank, now a giant, radioactive monster (Seven-feet-six-inch Henry Hite plays Frank and, though he’s tall, he’s never an imposing presence, seeming more bumbling and awkward than intimidating).

While Wikipedia implies that Lewis is responsible for all the scenes involving the new cast, Rebane himself has said (in the film’s commentary) that 80-90% of the picture was already completed before he passed it over. According to Rebane, all Lewis did was add a few brief shots (various people listening to a radio announcement, the girls sunbathing in the park) and the voice-over, which sporadically interjects to offer mostly redundant observations and to destroy any possibility of surprise (it tells us of shocking deaths before they happen, explains major plot points a scene or two before the characters explain the same plot points and, most entertainingly, uses bombastic language to infuse the film with a sense of grandiose self-importance: “the line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically thin,” it tells us by way of conclusion). Despite denouncing the film as “shit”, Rebane accepts responsibility for the majority of its content. The unexpected change in cast was due to the many problems he had with the unions – indeed, it was union fees, he says, that resulted in him running out of money.

What the truth of the situation is, we might never know – though Rebane’s remarks at least come from an identifiable, reasonably reliable, informed source. Knowing this may explain some of the more confusing elements of the film, but it renders it no more coherent as a result. The changing cast is particularly discomforting – most bizarrely, one of the characters, Dr Logan, dies early on and is replaced by his brother, Dr Conrad Logan (who is also just referred to as Dr Logan), who (legend says) is the same actor, albeit older and with less hair. It’s true that the two bear more than a passing resemblance, but such is the film’s inadequacies that even this remains unverified.

It’s not just the cast that is confusing, however. The film’s narrative makes almost no sense, and it’s not clear whether this is the result of a shoddy screenplay or Lewis’ subsequent interference. Somewhere midway, there’s a pretty massive shift in narrative, relayed by voice-over, which reveals the monster’s whereabouts, but the time line is completely illogical. Scenes are thrown in – the dance sequence is a standard for low-budget, teen-aimed pictures of the time, at least, but a later sequence involving a flirty girl, a car that won’t start, and a travel-weary lorry driver seems to have no relation to anything else. Yet it’s the final scene that truly throws the entire film into disarray. With a bizarre plot twist (when I first watched the movie I was quite impressed, because it’s so unexpected, but I quickly realised that it’s unexpected because it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever), the film suddenly stops, leaving a million questions that are never answered: is the sound of the telephone ringing really a person off camera going “brrrp”? Where is Ruth’s front door? Are Conrad and Logan really the same actor? Why did no one think to edit out the dog barking the entire way through the smooching couple scene? Why does the voice-over claim a man was “mangled in a way no one had ever seen before” when there’s not a mark on him? Why does Ruth emphasise that she wants TWO olives in her cocktail? How is Logan allowed to stay on the case, when he’s so obviously incompetent, incapable, unreliable, and downright untrustworthy? And are we really expected to believe that any human could travel anywhere in that space capsule?!

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Cinema Lottery #13

cinema lottery 13

Belle; Devil’s Knot; Oculus

Belle
Release date: 13 June 2014
Rating: 3/5

Featuring a steady cast with some recognisable faces (Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson), Belle is a romanticised period drama with a message. Set in the late eighteenth century, it is based on a true story, that of Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a mixed race child taken in by the wealthy relatives of her father, despite her colour. Much is made of her struggles – treated like a lady but never quite accepted, she cannot dine with her family, nor is she expected to marry (for who would take on a wife with such a shameful past?) – but the film also makes it clear that everyone is bound by circumstance and hindered by their ancestry, whether trying to move up in social rank, or trying to maintain the ranking already achieved.

Belle‘s sincerity is clear from the outset, and it becomes rather overwrought. Visually, despite the splendour on show, it never rises above a well-crafted television period drama. Although it attempts to speak volumes about the slave trade and the inherent, endemic racism of the upper classes, it never really says anything particularly profound, while the characters lack depth. Indeed, the most interesting of the bunch is not Dido herself, nor the idealist son of a vicar proclaiming that all men should be equal, but Dido’s half-sister, a beautiful young lady who becomes even less desirable than Dido simply because she has no dowry. The biggest issue is that Belle attempts to be completely uncontroversial – it seems unlikely that Dido’s family would not have slaves of their own, given their social ranking, for example. Perfunctory, inoffensive but bland, the true story at the core of the film is undoubtedly fascinating, but its presentation here is far from compelling.

Devil’s Knot
Release date: 13 June 2014
Rating: 1/5

The case of the West Memphis Three is a hugely complex scandal sprawling over two decades; it’s a shameful case of sloppy police work and a terrible miscarriage of justice that has spawned several films (there’s another due later this year). This version is a docu-drama, by far the least authentic and least believable presentation of a true story. The story, for those who are unfamiliar, begins in 1993 in West Memphis. Three young boys go missing and, when they are found dead, naked and hog-tied, the police quickly move towards a satanic ritual killing. Three teenagers are convicted, despite it becoming increasingly obvious that they had nothing to do with it, and for the next eighteen years campaigners (including Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, Peter Jackson, and Johnny Depp) fought for their release. This film, based on a book of the same name, ignores all the post-trial controversy, choosing instead to focus on the trials themselves.

Oddly, there are loads of famous faces dotted throughout Devil’s Knot: Colin Firth is an American investigator, first shown buying a $20 000 antique table for no reason whatsoever except possibly to demonstrate that he is rich; he is entirely irrelevant to the story, but we keep returning to him for some unknown reason. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines) appears for a few scenes. Elias Koteas, Stephen Moyer, Kevin Durand – they’re all there, being obtrusively recognisable, all serving little or no purpose. Reese Witherspoon is Pam Hobbs, the mother of murdered Stevie, and she does an adequate job. In fact, they all do – the biggest problem is the screenplay, which says absolutely nothing about anything.

For those aware of the case, Devil’s Knot offers nothing new. For newcomers, it barely makes any sense. No one is obviously implicated, no new information is provided, no new theories are given, and the whole film is rendered even more pointless by the fact that it has been done before, as recently as two years ago, when West of Memphis was released. That film, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson, is fascinating and informative; this film touches on many, if not all of the details, but fails to find any nuance. Crucial facts are glossed over, others seem to be red herrings, others not mentioned at all. The fictional aspects make the whole thing suspiciously inauthentic, and the most interesting and important facts are only touched upon in the end credits, when it is too late to actually consider any of them. Devil’s Knot is dull, being mostly a courtroom drama, poorly executed, drags on interminably and is an entirely unrewarding, frustrating experience – if you’re interested in the case at all, just watch West of Memphis.

Oculus
Release date: 13 June 2014
Rating: 4/5

It may seem like a particularly high rating, but after the infuriating disappointment in the previous film, and in horror movies in general, Oculus came as a pleasant surprise. Jumping between past and present traumas, it follows a brother and sister attempting to finally destroy the object that caused them so much misery in their childhood – a grand, ostentatious antique mirror with a chequered past. Tim (Brendon Thwaites) has just been released from a mental institution, having finally being declared healthy. He is met by his sister Kaylie (current British sweetheart Karen Gillan) who, as it transpires, has been carefully planning on how to finally defeat this supernatural foe. Despite some hesitation, Tim is caught up in her schemes, which, on the surface, seem to be well-thought-out: she has video cameras set up, alarms that remind them to stay hydrated and fed, people phoning on the hour to check on them, a fail safe as a backup. But, this being a horror movie, it inevitably all starts falling apart.

While the film flits between the events that caused Tim to end up in the facility and the present day, it gradually reveals the whole story. That being said, much remains unsaid – the mirror’s origins, its source of evil, remains hidden, for example. Yet this is the siblings’ story, and in that respect it works well. There are some good jumps too, with a satisfyingly creepy atmosphere. It’s got a good, old-fashioned haunted house vibe, with little in the way of special effects and, crucially, it avoids the current trend in horror films and gets progressively more scary, rather than offering all its jumps at the beginning and then limping on to the end. Its conclusion is inevitable and, indeed, the film itself is not particularly original, but it’s effective nonetheless, leaving some unpleasant visuals (fingernails being ripped off and teeth being pulled out – two of my least favourite things) and a general sense of dread and unease to linger after you’ve left the cinema.

Film #98: Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

film 98 track of the moon beast

Rating: 2/5

“Moon rocks? Oh, wow!”

Currently taking 36th place in IMDb’s Bottom 100, Track of the Moon Beast owes much of its reputation to the folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000; it gets barely a mention in the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, listed as a “non star, ‘we can’t act’” movie. It’s true that the acting leaves much to be desired – the above quote is particularly flat in delivery – and the effects are shoddy, and the story is stupid, but in many ways it’s no better or worse than countless other movies of the time. Indeed, it’s pretty mundane, and there are few moments that really elevate it to anything particularly interesting; this demonstrates just one of the many difficulties in establishing why certain films have gained a reputation, while others have been long-since forgotten.

Chase Cordell is Paul, a mineralogist studying bones in the desert when he is hit in the head by a falling meteor, which causes him to transform into the dreaded moon beast of the title. This causes some concern from his girlfriend Kathy (Donna Leigh Drake – she’s responsible for the worst of the performances, and speaks the above quote) and Paul’s former teacher, Johnny Longbow (Gregorio Sala) who, for some reason, appears to be an expert in everything. It also results in Paul being topless or in his pyjamas for almost the entire movie, as he undergoes tests in hospital and suffers bouts of dizziness while human.

The acting is definitely the film’s weakest point, particularly from Drake. She is, admittedly, not supported by the screenplay – the film appears to take place over a few days, and Kathy and Paul are strangers at the beginning. Yet within mere hours, it appears, they are a long-established couple deeply in love; naturally, Kathy’s biggest concern is the effect this mutation will have on their relationship. Despite this, she seems to flirt uncontrollably with everyone around her – she stands too close, giggles and bats her eyes at inappropriate moments, and is generally completely unbelievable at every given opportunity. She represents the true emotional core of the movie (I suppose this is why her affections for Paul had to be so rapidly induced, so that he has someone other than his teacher to worry about his well-being) but she’s utterly vapid. The rest of the cast don’t fare much better; the best performances come from two flirty college students, who pop up every now and then but are ultimately irrelevant.

The film’s shot in colour, and the budget’s limitations are obvious throughout. The meteor, when it falls and hits Paul, is a quick flash of white across the screen – it clearly goes no where near the actor. The editing is sloppy and perfunctory, bringing a leaden pace to the movie, and the scenes are frequently poorly exposed and shoddily presented. Generally, it’s unremarkable and uninteresting, but the narrative is suitably stupid to add a further layer of badness to the whole production. There’s a strange combination of Native American folklore and science fiction – which at least explains why Johnny Longbow appears to be integral to the police’s investigations into the grisly murders that are taking place when the moon is full.

Considering some of the other horror movies around at the time, Track of the Moon Beast is disappointingly bloodless. When Paul does finally get out of his pyjamas to become the monster, the transformation is underwhelming and the creature itself an unimaginative lizard-man. Cordell has little opportunity to do much with the character, and his performance delivers even less – this being little more than a variation on the classic werewolf story, we should surely feel some sympathy for this unfortunate man, but it’s nigh on impossible. Even the ending is stupid: Paul, realising he’s going to implode at some point, decides to go and quietly remove himself from society and kill himself in the desert so no one else will be harmed. Yet Kathy works out his plan and inexplicably attempts to stop him (she doesn’t have a cure, so basically just stops him from heroically sacrificing himself for the greater good), thus forcing his dear friend Longbow to shoot him with… a longbow… Oh yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The biggest problem I’m having is that, mere days after I watched this, I’m struggling to remember anything about it. I remember it being silly, and reasonably entertaining, but why is causing issues. Does Track of the Moon Beast really deserve such a reputation that it is considered the 36th worst film of all time? Probably not – it sits fairly comfortably alongside the banal output of Al Adamson’s “blood” movies; the main difference is not aesthetic style or narrative content, but the success of MST3K in bringing Moon Beast more widespread attention.

Film #96: Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

film 96 not quite hollywood

Rating: 3.5/5

Mark Hartley’s documentary, a unashamed fanboy look at Ozploitation movies, is fast-paced and frantic, and it’s a lot of fun. As someone who enjoys a good exploitation movie (here I’m using the term to describe the lurid 1970’s movies, filled with sex, gore and fast cars, rather than the classical exploitation films like Reefer Madness or Maniac) but knows little about the output from down under (Braindead is probably the closest I’ve come), Not Quite Hollywood plays out like a “best of” – it’s the kind of movie you feel you should watch with a pen and paper, just so you can make note of all the films to find on DVD later. Luckily for us, I’m pretty sure we have The Howling III: The Marsupials as part of a cheap double feature, but there were plenty more mentioned that looked just as ridiculous, and just as entertaining.

Among the various talking heads, mainly industry people who speak with both fondness and enthusiasm for their past lives, Hartley’s biggest name (for non-Australian audiences, at least) is easily Quentin Tarantino. He’s not listed as “filmmaker” or “director” but as “fan”, and he plays his role to perfection. Whether you’re a fan of Tarantino himself or not will probably influence your reaction to his segments – he drops bits of his own knowledge in, but mostly he comes across as someone emphatically trying to prove that he’s part of the gang. As a “fan” the anecdotes he details are the least interesting – it’s far more fun (and informative) to hear the stories from the people actually involved in the movies – but he does at least provide some context, and a recognisable face.

It is the films themselves who are the stars of the documentary, however. Hartley breaks up his narrative with sections focusing on specific strands of Ozploitation – the nudie pictures, the gore films, the racing movies. The general attitude running throughout is most definitely one of appreciation, with a healthy dollop of nostalgia thrown in for good measure: these were low-budget movies, made at a time when the Australian film industry was still a fledgling trying to find its place in the world, and for every Picnic at Hanging Rock, there were fifteen Turkey Shoot‘s being made to muddy the waters. It was a time of limited regulations, when stunt men risked their lives on a daily basis and women stood full frontal on screen and, while the rose-tinted glasses are definitely on, it’s difficult to not be slightly shocked at the hazardous working conditions rife in the 1970s. Even those involved must be quite surprised at how few deaths there were, considering what was going on.

While the films themselves are undeniably fun, compiled together in rapidly edited “best of” montages, Not Quite Hollywood starts to outstay its welcome a little bit. Perhaps it’s the obvious fan-nature of the movie that starts to grate – it’s interesting and informative, but at times feels a bit directionless, throwing another sequence of explosions and screaming women in rather than going beyond the surface. Evidently, while Ozploitation is not well known, there were a huge amount of films to emerge at the time, and Hartley seems to be trying to fit them all in, without really going into much detail about any of them. It is a fast movie, and it’s easy to be distracted by yet another reel of spectacle but, without my pen and paper at hand, the countless movies I saw clips of – the films I wanted to hunt down and watch in their entirety – have all blurred together to make one giant, mostly naked, slightly seedy, bloody, violent, apocalyptic road movie that only exists in montage. In fact, perhaps watching compilation videos of all the best bits of these films is actually the best way to watch them – surely I’ll be disappointed now, if I watched them; surely they’d never live up to the breakneck speed and apparently constant insanity that Hartley suggests?

After Not Quite Hollywood, Hartley went on to shoot the superbly titled Machete Maidens Unleashed!, another documentary, with the same formula (talking head segments interspersed with numerous movie montages), this time focusing on the American exploitation films shot in the Philippines. This is an area I’m more familiar with – Roger Corman shot several films there, as did Al Adamson and Eddie Romero – and the documentary was more fun for me as a result. However, my knowledge of the “Blood” series (Brides of Blood, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, etc) means that I am all too aware of the fact that many of these movies are slow, shoddy, and dull – until the few moments of outlandish stupidity. Is Ozploitation the same? If it is, Not Quite Hollywood does a good job at hiding this fact. And maybe really all you can do is watch the movies themselves to find out – if you do, I’m sure Hartley would consider his job done.

Film #91: The Human Monster (1939)

film 91 the human monster

This review is my contribution to the Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin – be sure to check out the other entries!

Rating: 3/5

“You have been very foolish, Lou. You are blind, and you cannot speak. But you can hear – and that will never do!”

Warning: Spoilers!

Of all the movie villains – and there are many – Bela Lugosi remains one of the most prolific and iconic. Thanks to his distinctive accent, he was inevitably cast as the bad guy; there are only a handful of his Hollywood roles in which he gets to be the hero. While Dracula may be his most famous role – the role that propelled him to stardom, in a film that helped to establish Universal Studios as the place for horror – The Human Monster reveals him at his most villainous. There’s nothing redeemable about his character here: he’s motivated by sheer greed; exploits the less fortunate; and calmly, ruthlessly commits acts of murder for the most petty of reasons – money. Whereas Dracula was at least a tortured, tragic figure, Dr Orloff is a truly nasty piece of work – a horrible, cruel monster – and Lugosi excels in the role.

The Human Monster, also released as The Dark Eyes of London, is a particularly gloomy film – based on a novel by Edgar Wallace, it’s a detective-thriller that was rated “H for horrific” by the British Film Board (a far more promising and evocative rating than today’s boring 12A, 15, etc!) and, for a low budget, old, sometimes shoddy picture, it still deserves that classification. Released in the USA by Poverty Row studio Monogram, it signals the beginning of Lugosi’s career descent (ending in posthumously appearing in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space) but allows the character actor to flourish in a leading role at a time when the major studios were distancing themselves from him. Indeed, The Human Monster is just one of five films that Lugosi made in 1939, including the delightfully bonkers The Phantom Creeps and Son of Frankenstein, in which Lugosi steals the show in minor role Ygor.

The plot is a fairly convoluted one: Lugosi is Dr Orloff, an insurance salesman who, for about ten seconds, appears to be a kindly and charitable man. As well as fronting the money for people struggling to pay their insurance premiums, he is the most significant benefactor for Dearborn’s Home for the Destitute Blind, a place where homeless blind men can stay and develop skills that will enable them to live more productively. Yet Orloff’s not the good man he appears; the shelter helps him to cover up his horrible schemes. Despite his care, the number of men found drowned in the Thames, all of whom have received their life insurance from Orloff’s company, raise suspicions, and Scotland Yard’s finest, Larry Hoult (Hugh Williams) is soon on the case. He’s helped by his new comedy sidekick partner, a mysoginistic trigger-happy Chicago cop, and Diana (Greta Gynt), the daughter of one of the recently deceased who is determined to track down her father’s killer.

The crux of the film is that the blind men offer the perfect foil for Orloff’s evil deeds – he relies on their inability to see so that he can carry out his plans without any witnesses. The men, mostly elderly and particularly doddery, are a pathetic bunch – they shuffle around like zombies, live in austere conditions seemingly oblivious to everything going on around them. Despite never really being the film’s focus, they are explicitly presented as helpless and pitiable. It is Orloff’s interaction with these poor souls that really reveals him to be a horrific character: one man, Lou, who is already blind and mute, is subjected to the most horrendous cruelty after attempting to warn a man of Orloff’s plans. Poor Lou, bedridden and already robbed of two methods of communication, is calmly, unceremoniously deafened with some ominous machine, leaving him now mute, deaf and blind – trapped entirely in his own body until he is eventually put out of his misery some time later. It’s a brutal and particularly tasteless moment, and Lugosi doesn’t even flinch as he commits such terrible acts.

As with the majority (if not all) horror films of the time, eventually good prevails – there’s a pretty impressive twist that I won’t give away, but ultimately Orloff is defeated, meeting an end that so many of Lugosi’s villains meet, at the hands of his henchman. But this remains categorically Lugosi’s film: he gives it his all, as he always did, and matches his naturally theatrical charisma with a rarer brutality. Indeed, it’s his suave, debonair appearance and the twinkle in his eye that makes Orloff’s monstrousness that much more distressing. While he’s better known for other roles – and certainly, there are plenty of others that have rightly received more attention – The Human Monster is easily one of his most disturbing, brutal and downright sadistic films: as a Lugosi fan, there are few films of his that I don’t in some way root for him, no matter how evil he’s supposed to be, but in this, even I was cheering his eventual demise.

Film #79: Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)

film 79 blood of ghastly horror

Rating: 1.5/5

“You’ve turned loose a homicidal maniac with an artificial brain whose every action is completely unpredictable!”

If there is a film in our collection that has more titles, I can’t think of it. One of the most incoherent of cult director Al Adamson’s films, the superbly named Blood of Ghastly Horror (following on from the director’s other “Blood” films – Blood of Dracula’s Castle, Five Bloody Grave, Brain of Blood, Horror of the Blood Monsters) was initially released in 1964 as Echo of Terror, a serious crime drama. Unable to sell the film, Adamson changed the title to Psycho A Go-Go in 1965, capitalising on the “go-go” craze of the time (similar to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s decision to retitle Terror at Half Day as Monster A-go Go). Despite adding some musical numbers, Psycho A Go-Go‘s popularity quickly declined, along with the go-go fad. In 1967 John Carradine was enlisted for some new horror scenes; in 1971 even more new scenes were shot, attempting to bring a coherence to the random assortment of genres, plots, and dates. The film was, in this eight year period, also titled Two Tickets to Terror, The Man with the Synthetic Brain and, my personal favourite, Fiend with the Electronic Brain. Part crime drama, part zombie movie, part mad scientist film, part revenge epic, it’s utter gibberish with a distinctive Adamson flair for shoddy framing and lurid colours – I wrote thirteen pages of notes, almost all of which are plot, and can still barely establish a timeline.

The DVD version I watched, released in association with Troma (The Toxic Avenger, A Nymphoid Barbarian in a Dinosaur Hell) comes with a special introduction from Adamson’s long time associate, the film’s producer Sam Sherman. Sherman doesn’t try to conceal Blood of Ghastly Horror‘s hotchpotch nature, emphatically stating that they were only ever trying to make a profitable movie for a niche drive-in audience, which they generally succeeded in doing. He is happy to admit the film’s incoherence – speaking as only a producer might, David Konow’s excellent book Schlock-O-Rama: The Films of Al Adamson reports him saying “We ruined the original film that made sense and made a film that didn’t make sense! But you ought to be aware of one thing: the idea was to market a movie, play it and make some money.” And the reason for the film’s final, best known title? “It had blood, it was ghastly and it was horrible.”

Bear with me now, while I try to explain the plot as briefly as possible. The film opens with a zombie killing a bunch of people in an alleyway, then introduces Lieutenant Cross and his partner, who receive a severed head in a box with a message referring to a man called Corey. A poorly signposted flashback traces poor Joe Corey’s life of crime – a Vietnam vet turned diamond thief, whose fingerprints were found at the scene of a heist, despite him having died several years earlier.

Still with me? Okay – there’s a lot more. Another cop, Sgt Ward, locates Dr Vanard (Carradine), who signed Joe’s death certificate; later Bernard admits that he conducted experiments on Joe, saving his life but turning him psychotic in the process (we learn this through a flashback in a flashback). Meanwhile, Joe’s hunting for the diamonds, which have ended up in the hands of the Clark family. He kills some women, then turns up at Vanard’s lab, having inexplicably just remembered what was done to him. He kills Vanard, signalling the end of the first lengthy flashback.

Cross then gets a visit from Vanard’s daughter Susan (Adamson’s wife Regina Carroll), who says she was told to return by a disembodied voodoo zombie jungle voice, through telepathy. Coincidentally, Cross remembers that Joe’s father was researching voodoo telepathy in the Jamaican jungles! Yes, Elton Corey is planning his dastardly revenge for his son’s untimely death, and it involves Susan. At some point, everyone then ends up at Lake Tahoe, where Joe captures Mrs Clark and her daughter, who claim to know nothing about the diamonds. A lengthy woodland chase follows, with Joe pursuing Mrs Clark through the snow, resulting in a shock twist and Joe’s (second) death. The film finishes by returning from this flashback to “present day”, with Elton and his new zombie bride. All I was left wondering was, whose head was in the box at the very beginning?!

Blood of Ghastly Horror is easily one of the most narratively incoherent films I’ve seen; most of its plot is flashback, but they’re so long (as a result of the cut-and-paste nature of the movie) that it’s almost impossible to keep up – characters disappear then reappear ages later, time lines are jumbled and confused, and the attempts to combine all the elements result in an uncomfortably muddled narrative. Parts of the movie was evidently filmed without sound (the whole final chase, for example), and I’m sure astute viewers will recognise changing styles from the various filming schedules. While the musical numbers added for one of the film’s early incarnations is absent, the lab equipment features in other Adamson movies, becoming a sex machine in Horror of the Blood Monsters, and the action is poorly captured in “Chill-o-rama in Metrocolor,” whatever that is. However, Morton brings an impressively deranged quality to the role; a sinister sneer and manic expression reminiscent of a young Jack Nicholson, which works well. Carradine is underused and elderly but solid as always, and the (recycled) score – a jazzy cop-drama soundtrack – is simple but effective. That’s not to say it’s a good film – it isn’t. The action is sloppy, characters are repeatedly either shot in restrictive extreme close ups, or are inexplicably cut out of the frame. Adamson should be commended for having the audacity to attempt to sell this cop-heist-zombie-revenge-drama-horror-thriller, but inevitably it hasn’t worked. And seriously, whose head is in the box?!?

Films #75 & 76: The Mighty Gorga (1969) & One Million AC/DC (1969)

film 75 76 the mighty gorga one million acdc

Ratings: The Mighty Gorga, 1/5; One Million AC/DC, 1/5

“We’re still just a couple of outsiders in a green hell.”
“I’m off to see the lizard.”

A prehistoric double bill, both are utterly terrible films – The Mighty Gorga has, at least, an actual story. One Million AC/DC (which has nothing whatsoever to do with the rock band), written by Ed Wood using the pseudonym Akdon Telmig, which is one letter away from being Vodka Gimlet in reverse, is basically just a soft-core caveman porno. Both, however, feature quite possibly the greatest dinosaurs ever – and I say both, because it’s the same T-Rex in both movies. I had read about the special effects (ha!), but I can honestly say, no one had really convinced me that they would be as bad as they were. The fact that not one, but two filmmakers had the sheer audacity to include them in their movies is mind-boggling – trust me when I say that a four year old could have created the exact same scenes using their sandbox and some plastic toys.

First up, The Mighty Gorga. A fairly straight-forward, no budget exotic location/ giant ape movie, it stars Anthony Eisley (Dracula Vs Frankenstein) as Mark, a circus owner desperately trying to increase revenue. There’s a brief subplot introduced at the beginning of the movie, in which his brother (or someone) is sabotaging the business, but as soon as Mark arrives in the Congo (which looks suspiciously like a national park in California) any problems “back home” are quickly forgotten. He befriends a feisty female wild animal breeder whose father went missing trying to find a giant ape and, with native “Indian” George in tow, head into the wilderness to find either or both the monkey and the dad.

The film’s low budget is all too obvious, from the frequent day-night issues (just look at the sequence in which the bison’s pen is burned down) to the uninspiring, visibly un-exotic location, to the gorilla itself. Gorga, who apparently protects a local tribe’s village on an isolated plateau, is a man in a gorilla suit – not one of the many gorilla actors working at the time, but the director himself, David L Hewitt. The suit is truly dreadful; the ape’s eyes bulge with a permanently surprised expression (this comes in handy later on, when the beast is apparently completely dumbfounded by a bandage on his giant pinky). Even more bizarre, we never see below the gorilla’s torso – not even when he’s fighting the dinosaurs or leering over the village’s huts. Despite Gorga supposedly being a giant gorilla, somehow Hewitt succeeds in not even making it seem human sized – particularly when it fights the tiny plastic dinosaur, with its snapping mouth and bobbing movements, it is hard to accept that Gorga is anything other than an equally inanimate toy.

Much of the film is dedicated to Eisley and his female companion attempting to convince the audience that they are in peril. Their exploration, which, thanks to the terrible editing, seems like it takes about five minutes, is supposed to last for days. Their ascent of the cliff-face to the plateau above involves them walking slowly along a gentle path. Their beige jungle clothes never get even the slightest hint of dirt on them. Up on the plateau, they discover giant roses and a prehistoric nest with some peach-coloured eggs – Mark says they’re purple. They quickly find the missing father, and plan to escape from the tribe by fleeing down a secret volcanic tunnel that contains, as legend dictates, King Solomon’s treasure. Poor Solomon must have been a truly rubbish king, because the riches consist of a single chest with some Mardi Gras beads scattered around. Eventually the group leave the plateau, arriving out of Ro-Man’s cave in Bronson Canyon and staring upwards at the destruction they’ve left behind – we’re supposed to believe that stock footage lava has somehow destroyed everything, though no one seems even the slightest bit concerned by the whole situation.

There’s little to praise about The Mighty Gorga. Oddly, for a jungle movie, the only animals to feature are all clearly in captivity – the circus/zoo at the beginning provides the most animal spectacle, with the subsequent jungle visibly devoid of any animal life whatsoever. There are a few reasonably clever moments (or one, anyway) in the script, largely revolving around the assumptions of the “outsider” – Mark’s pained attempts to communicate with the black slave-native George (Lee Parrish), only to discover that the local only speaks English, is actually quite funny. I am struggling to think of any other genuinely “good” moments; luckily the bad ones provide more than enough entertainment for the right audience. I stared, open-mouthed at the “epic” fight between the dinosaur and Gorga – it truly is a thing to behold.

While I was certain that One Million AC/DC couldn’t possibly match The Mighty Gorga in terms of shoddy effects, it turned out I was wrong. The same, snapping-mouthed, bobbing dinosaur reappears here to eat a barbie doll! It fights another dinosaur! It peers over an embankment! It’s not in this movie enough. Poor Ed Wood, who was by this time not even on the fringes of Hollywood, had succumbed to alcohol, domestic violence, poverty and pornography – the later years of his life were dominated by shoddy sex stories. There’s little of his distinctive screenwriting style here, although there are hints – the fat man first seen at the beginning of the movie takes on a strange narrator-role, commenting on the events going on around him. Primarily, however, One Million AC/DC has little dialogue – maybe ten minutes in total, and all rather inane. The “plot” revolves around a cave full of orgy-loving, furry-bikini-clad neanderthals. Outside, a dinosaur tries to eat them if they leave. A gorilla kidnaps one of the cave girls, who spends the whole movie trying to escape his clutches (at the end they appear to be a happy couple). And that is it. Like Orgy of the Dead, also written by Ed Wood, the main aim of the movie is titillation. This is more hardcore than Orgy; luckily the virgin’s sacrifice at the beginning of the film remains the most explicit scene. The girls, all stick-thin with protruding rib cages, are pretty enough, but it’s all rather seedy and unpleasant, with rape implications frequent throughout. The actual sex consists of a lot of frenzied writhing and groaning, mainly from the women (although some of the men emit freakishly guttural, animalistic grunts to ensure the viewer cannot possibly find any of it even remotely erotic).

The constant sex is interspersed with shots bad movie fans will find suspiciously familiar. At least some of the footage is taken from One Million Years BC, and at least two different sequences reappear (again!) in Horror of the Blood Monsters. Not to mention the footage ripped from The Mighty Gorga, and the generic volcanic stock footage beneath the opening credits. As this is filmed in colour, the recycled shots have been tinted (like in Horror of the Blood Monsters) – here it’s so badly done that it’s difficult to even see what they’re trying to show.

About ten minutes into One Million AC/DC I was certain that, finally, Children of the Living Dead would no longer be the sole worst-reviewed movie of our collection. At least that movie was supremely entertaining: this is virtually unwatchable. Michael Adams described Ed Wood’s porno as “the tar pit of cinema,” and I was equally ready to dismiss it. Then, out of the blue, came the scene that elevated this dire caveman sexploitation picture to a glorious 1/5: a sing-along. Yes, as the tribe plan to destroy the dinosaur using a newfangled bow and arrow designed by a pervy cave painter, the chief and his woman pause in their sexcapades to sing a song straight to camera. It goes like this: (to the tune of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow) “The spear goes into the monster (x3), And the monster loses his mind.” Finally, something other than that darn dinosaur to stare open-mouthed at. It was a moment of sheer surrealism, completely unexpected, entirely out of place, and reassuringly bizarre, making up for the seventy-five minutes of dire copulation that went before it – but only barely.