Sunday, May 20, 2018

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell, 1948)

Junior architect George Bennett (William Thomason) and his wife Cathy (Dorothy Duke) have been married for a year, and spend much of their free time with their friends at wild parties and baby showers. George becomes jealous after his Lothario lawyer friend Frank Grover (John Michael) escorts Cathy home. Frank plants a passionate kiss on Cathy, but she turns him down flat. After a party at their house that gets out of control, George and Cathy decide that having a baby would help their failing relationship. Wondering why they haven't conceived in the past year, they go to a gynecologist, Dr. Wright (Glen or Glenda's Timothy Farrell), seeking answers. Wright offers them both heartbreaking news and a scientific solution.

This film was made only 64 years after artificial insemination was first attempted. Of course, in vitro fertilization is just as much a well-known fact of life now as surrogacy. The concept, however, is not brought up until about 15 minutes are left in the film. Before that, we see George and Cathy dealing with their irresponsible, sex-crazed friends and talking about starting a family. The film was probably intended as exploitation, as shown by the poster above, but it's not very provocative. The raunchiest scene we get is the party at the Bennetts' house where a stripper and a male partygoer do a striptease for the audience, after which the stripper gets into a catfight with a colleague also in attendance. There is implied female upper body nudity during Cathy's gynecological exam, but we never get a good look at her breasts. This film was produced by George Weiss, who also financed Glen or Glenda, but it never shatters as many taboos or reaches the levels of weirdness of that underappreciated, forward-thinking, and deeply personal Ed Wood classic.

The acting is, with very few exceptions, pretty wooden. William Thomason and Dorothy Duke deliver their lines flatly, without much genuine emotion. Timothy Farrell, who played a doctor in Glen or Glenda, is his usual stiff self as Dr. Wright. Interestingly, Farrell apparently played the same character in another 1948 film by W. Merle Connell, Hometown Girl. This wasn't Farrell's only recurring role: he also played oily gangster Umberto Scalli in not only Connell's The Devil's Sleep, but also Racket Girls and Dance Hall Racket, the latter of which was written by and starred Lenny Bruce! Those who have seen Racket Girls will recognize some of the music in Test Tube Babies. By the way, Dr. Wright is not only a smoker, but actually asks George to go buy him some cigarettes during the delivery of Cathy's baby. Overall, this was a disappointment for Yrs. Truly, who was hoping for something a bit more over the top, or that at least spent a little more time on the titular subject. Those wishing to judge for themselves, however, can check it out on Amazon Prime.

The Demons of Ludlow (Bill Rebane, 1983)

Ludlow, an unincorporated New England town with a population of 47, is celebrating its bicentennial. Mayor Sam Donaldson (no relation, played by C. Dave Davis) unveils a piano, a behest from the deceased Ephraim Ludlow III, the great-grandson of the town's founder. When the piano is first played, a young couple are killed by a demon. Intrepid reporter Debra Hall (Stephanie Cushna), who was born in Ludlow but whose parents left the town when she was nine, tells her photographer Winifred (James R. Robinson) she has discovered the piano was in Ludlow once before, and soon after the church burned down. Donaldson tells the Reverend Chris (Paul von Hausen) not to bring up what happened before, and tells him several people are leaving town. It is revealed the town is cursed, and every time the piano is played, someone dies in a horrific manner.

The Demons of Ludlow is the third Bill Rebane film I've seen, but the first I've seen without the expert riffing of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. Monster A Go-Go, finished by none other than Herschell Gordon Lewis after Wisconsonites Rebane ran out of money for filming, was declared by the Best Brains to be officially the worst movie they ever riffed, and if it isn't it's certainly up there (or down there), and sports one of the most infuriating non-endings in film history. The Giant Spider Invasion is a little better, but not by much, with some of the most unappealing cheeseheads ever caught on film and truly abysmal jokes by Alan Hale, Jr., the very first line out of whose mouth is, "Hi, little buddy!" Perhaps I'm grading on a curve, but The Demons of Ludlow is without a doubt the best of the three Rebane flix I have viewed to date. It has some genuinely creepy moments, and some decent acting, with Paul von Hausen as the Reverend being a particular standout. There's a disturbing scene where the mentally ill Emily (Patricia J. Statz), who talks to her dolls (including Smurfette!) as if they were alive, comes across a group of 18th century aristocrats who are having a frenzied feast. The aristos attack and kill her, ripping her top off in the process.

As with The Giant Spider Invasion, this film is something of a family affair, with Rebane's wife Barbara acting as executive producer and first assistant director. Alan Rebane (whose relationship to Bill I'm unsure of) serves as second assistant director and gaffer. Amazingly, Cheri Caffaro, the star of the Ginger series of softcore private eye films, was associate producer! She also apparently filled the same duties two years earlier on Rebane's film Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake. Those who only know Rebane from MST3K would do well to check this film out, as it shows that ol' Bill (who once ran for governor of Wisconsin, incidentally) had genuine potential as a filmmaker.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Blood (Andy Milligan, 1973)

Dr. Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt) and his wife Regina (Hope Stansbury), fresh from Budapest, move into a house in 19th century America along with their servants - legless Orlando (Prizzi's Honor's Michael Fischetti), addled Carlotta (Pichulina Hempi), and Carrie (Patti Gaul), who is beginning to experience leg problems similar to those that afflicted Orlando before he lost his own. Regina needs blood to survive, so Lawrence and the servants give her injections of extract from blood-drinking plants they grow. Regina believes her husband and Carrie are having an affair, though Carrie is actually in love with Orlando. Meanwhile, Lawrence discovers his late father's lawyer Carl Root (John Wallowitch) is swindling him out of his inheritance, and tries to get what's rightfully his with the help of Root's pretty secretary Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams), with whom he forms a strong attraction. As it turns out, Lawrence and Regina both have dark secrets, and infamous fathers...

Blood is the fourth Andy Milligan film I've watched, and the second I've reviewed here, and in many ways it's typical Milligan, which is all for the better as far as I'm concerned. Andy's penchant for melodrama is on full display here, with many of the actors chewing the scenery and reading truly overwrought lines. When Lawrence and Regina are in bed, Regina goes from telling her husband she loves him to saying just the opposite when he refuses to make love to her. When she tells him to go to Hell, he replies, "We're already there!" The blood-eating plants are an odd touch, and it's never explained exactly why just injecting the blood itself into Regina's veins wouldn't do the job as well. Carlotta's brother Johnny (David Bevans, whose character is miscredited as "Jimmy") has a very anachronistic haircut. Milligan's house on northern Staten Island, used as the Orlofski house, is too nice to be truly eerie. Eve Crosby turns in a memorable performance as Petra, a strange-looking, thick-accented gypsy woman with a connection to Lawrence's father. John Wallowitch sports bluish hair, probably as the result of a bad dye job. Milligan's affinity for classic literature and film is shown by the revelations about the identities of the Orlofskis' respective fathers, although considering Lawrence's father originally appeared in a film made in 1941 and set in the present day, one has to wonder how he can be dead a few years after 1875. Even so, this is Milligan at his finest, and well worth your time.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots (Los autómatas de la muerte; Federico Curiel 1962) and Love After Death (Glauco Del Mar, 1968)

Now that I'm set up with my new apartment and the internet, I am proud to present Diary of a Madman's very first double feature review! ("Science fiction, double feature..." to quote the immortal Richard O'Brien in one of my all-time favorite films, the ultimate midnight movie). Both films were made in Spanish-speaking countries in the 1960s, and both are in black and white, but there the similarity ends.

The evil Dr. Caronte is supposedly dead after his battle with the masked crimefighter Neutron, but in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Caronte is alive and well, and is using the brains of three scientists whose bodies he stole from the grave, an army of hideous blood-drinking robots, and his little person henchman Nick in order to acquire the formula for a neutron bomb. Neutron must save the day once more. But who is Neutron? Three friends are potential candidates, all of whom are in a love triangle with lovely nightclub chanteuse Nora, the daughter of Professor Walker (The Mansion of Madness' Claudio Brook).

I love luchadore films. El Santo, Blue Demon, and their ilk push my buttons in the best ways. I don't care for American wrestling, but I dig the hell out of their Mexican counterparts. Neutron isn't a luchadore in the sense that he's a professional fighter, but with his black full-face mask with three lightning bolts on it, muscular physique, shirtlessness, fighting ability, and refusal to take off his mask, he fulfills every other aspect one associates with them. (However, he does not wear the cape seen on the film's poster). This was the second in a series of five Neutron films, with 1960's Neutron, the Man in the Black Mask representing the first battle between Neutron and Dr. Caronte. I've not seen the other films in the series, but this one was a lot of fun. The death robots are basically zombies, albeit blood-drinking rather than the flesh-eating type later created by George Romero and much imitated subsequently. There's an interesting scene where one of the robots literally loses his head. Both Neutron and the bandage-masked Dr. Caronte look cool, and Nick is a memorable character whose disability isn't exploited overmuch, even if the dwarf henchman is a genre standby. Claudio Brook is excellent as always,

The fact that Neutron's identity is never revealed (IMDB doesn't even list who plays him, or Dr. Caronte) is heavily played up, and the film never actually resolves which of Nora's three suitors is the masked man. Nora delivers a couple songs in Spanish, as do a male trio. The dubbing is pretty good for a Mexican film from the '60s, and there are some good lines, even if a policeman saying one of the robots "Looks like my mother-in-law!" made me roll my eyes. Neutron also appears to have pioneered the art of disappearing when the police aren't looking later pioneered by Batman. I cannot wait to see more of Neutron's adventures. Those of you with Amazon Prime memberships, give this film a look.

Mr. Montel (Guillermo de Cordóva) is prone to cataleptic fits, and during one of those episodes his beautiful blonde wife Sofia (Carmin O'Neal) and his friend Dr. Anderson (Roberto Maurano) claim he's dead and have him buried. Clawing his way out of the grave, Montel, who according to Sofia was impotent before, becomes a sex-crazed maniac, pursuing every woman he can find, sometimes with their consent, sometimes not. Meanwhile, Sofia and Dr. Anderson are having an affair, though the doc doesn't know Sofia is also screwing his crony Arturo (Angel Mario Ramirez). Discovering the plot that resulted in his burial, Montel vows revenge on his wife and the doctor.

Love After Death (or Unsatisfied Love as the print on my Something Weird Triple Feature DVD, which also includes The Atomic Brain and The Incredible Petrified World, is titled) is the second Argentinean sexploitation/horror hybrid I've seen, the first being another Something Weird release, The Curious Dr. Humpp. Neither are particularly good films, but of the two, this is probably the better. There's not much of a plot, and not a lot of dialogue either, with all of Montel's lines being delivered in voiceover as his inner monologue; it seems that he was unable to speak once he got out of his cataleptic state. What the film does have is its share of beautiful unclad women. While there's no male full frontal nudity, and the film never goes straight hardcore, we do come close to seeing genitalia at times. The film also touches on non-heteronormative sexual relations. An old woman who witnesses one of Montel's rapes says of his blonde victim, "If I was only ten years younger." Montel pursues a dancer he finds in a tryst with a woman, with said dancer turning out to be a male transvestite. There's also a lesbian couple. It's not a particularly progressive film in its sexual attitudes, but still worthy of note.

The horror elements are not very prominent, although there are some decent bloody FX when Montel gets his revenge. There's a surprise ending that, while I get what they were going for, still seems a bit bizarre. Montel's "castle" is clearly nothing of the sort. The best part is the opening where Montel is horrified that he can't tell his mourners he's not dead, followed by him busting out of his grave. It's too bad the rest of the movie couldn't be quite that strong.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (George Barry, 1977)

An Artist (played by Dave Marsh, voiced by Patrick Spence-Thomas, and based on his artwork, meant to be Aubrey Beardsley), is trapped behind his own painting in a cellar where also dwells a bed in which a couple have sex. The bed actually eats them, along with their meal of a bucket of chicken, two apples, and a bottle of wine. Later, Diane (Demene Hall), her friend Sharon (Rosa Luxemburg), and her coworker Suzan (Julie Ritter) come to stay for a while. The bed eats Suzan, stripping her to the bone, as well as two gangsters using the house as a hideout. The Artist reveals that the house has been eating people for decades, as well as its origins: a demon fell in love with a mortal woman, and assumed mortal form. To seduce his object of desire he created the bed, but she died during their lovemaking, and her bloody tears cursed the bed, making it alive and ever hungry. Will Diane and Sharon be the bed's next meals before Sharon's brother (Rusty Russ), looking for his wayward sister, can find them?

Without a doubt, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is the best movie you will ever see about a man-eating bed. I'm only half-joking, as I found this film delightfully bizarre. Director George Barry reportedly based it on a dream he once had, which explains the rather surreal tone of the film. It's a damn shame he never made another film, because this is a masterpiece of the oddball. Filming at the Gar Wood Mansion on Keel Wood in Detroit began in 1972, and the answer print was struck in 1977, but the film was not released except in bootlegs until Barry learned of the film's cult following via the Internet and gave it an official DVD release in 2003. Comedian Patton Oswalt incorporated a bit about the film into his stand-up film Werewolves and Lollipops. The bed's bubbling innards are shown many times, and it bleeds whenever Sharon is nearby. The inclusion of Aubrey Beardsley of all people only adds to the surrealism.

The history of the bed is pretty hilarious, with a Reverend who seems more confused then horrified about the bed eating him (and who can blame him, really?) and an old woman reading a porno mag whose cover promises "ORAL LESBIANS!!!" There's some female nudity, but none of it is erotically-filmed, particularly as two of the three women who get nekkid also get eaten. The acting, music, and gore fx are adequate (Rusty Russ has a surprisingly calm reaction to having his hands stripped to the bone), but it's the tone of this film and its nonsensical script that make it so much fun to watch. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a trash-film lover's delight, and I will certainly watch it again one of these days! For those of you with an Amazon account who want to see it for the first time, just click this here link.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

Victor Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) leaves his fiancee Elizabeth (Mary Fuller, star of the first film serial, What Happened to Mary) to attend college, where he experiments in bringing the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the product of his research proves to be a gruesome monster (Charles Ogle), who he rejects. On Victor and Elizabeth's wedding night, the monster makes his untimely return, seeking revenge...

This will probably be the shortest review I've done to date, partly because it's the first that's of a short film. Produced by Edison Studios, this was the first of hundreds of adaptations of Mary Shelley's iconic novel, but it's not a very faithful adaptation. Victor creates his monster through what looks like alchemy rather than true science, and flesh seems to just appear on the skeleton of the soon-to-be monster (who doesn't look nearly as cool as the image above seems to imply). Whereas the Monster of Shelley's novel murders everybody Victor loves (his younger brother, his father, and his best friend), culminating with the death of Elizabeth on their wedding night, and Victor then pursues his creation around the globe, dying the process, here Frankenstein chases the monster away before he can kill Elizabeth. The Monster then just...looks into a mirror and disappears, though his reflection lingers a bit longer, and Victor and Elizabeth get to live happily ever after. Considering how the book makes such a point of Victor being the true monster for rejecting his creation and denying it any kind of compassion whatsoever, this will probably piss off fans of the original tale. It did me. The Monster itself has none of the pathos of Shelley's (or rather Victor's creation), so amazingly captured by Rory Kinnear in the late lamented television series Penny Dreadful.

This film was considered lost for several decades, but a fan bought a copy in the '70s, and released it on DVD in the early 2000s. A restored version came out in 2010. I don't know if the restored version is the one I watched on Amazon Prime, but if so, holy shit they didn't do a very good job. Having seen the restored Metropolis on the big screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center, which added to my existing love for that film a thousandfold, the picture quality on this print is just pitiful. I've seen plenty of Frankenstein movies. I love James Whale's, of course, even though it's even less faithful to the novel than this is. Young Frankenstein is without a doubt Mel Brooks' masterpiece. And I've also seen a lot of trashy or weird takes on the legend, such as William A. Levey's Blackenstein, Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein, Dick Randall's Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and Jerry Warren's Frankenstein Island. This film is nowhere near the excellency of the former two films, nor the curiosity value of the latter four. It just kinda is, and I wanted more from the first film version of one of the most adapted books of all time. On the other hand, at least Edison didn't rip off Nikola Tesla or electrocute an elephant in the course of making it, so credit where it's due.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Immoral Mr. Teas (Russ Meyer, 1959)

A few "typical" days in the life of Willie Teas, a dental appliance salesman who finds himself constantly coming in contact with beautiful well-endowed women, about whom he often fantasizes.

I've always loved Russ Meyer's films, but even I admit some are simply better than others. Lorna didn't do much for me. The Immoral Mr. Teas is an example of what are known as "nudie cutie" films, and is therefore heavy on female skin (though never viewed fully frontal, even when the women are completely nude), but virtually free of plot. As a result, I couldn't warm to it the way I do Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! or my personal favorite, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Mr. Teas, played by Bill Teas (who served as a combat photographer in the Pacific during WWII, where he served in the same unit as Russ, becoming good friends in the process), sees a lot more boobs in the course of his day-to-day life then you would think a seller of truly scary-looking dental equipment who looks kinda like Paul Bartel with more hair and Carl Kolchak's hat would see. The straw hat isn't his only questionable fashion choice: his work outfit consists of a pink jumpsuit, and his beachwear is trunks with a drawstring and two back pockets(?). I'm tempted to say Teas is a nudie cutie take on Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, but I haven't seen any of Tati's Hulot films, so my gut instinct may very well be wrong.

Of course, Russ doesn't skip on the pulchritudinous pneumatic females. One dentist's nurse shows considerably more decolletage than most women I've seen in non-sexploitation movies and TV made in 1959, while also going braless. Interestingly, though Teas peeps at and fantasizes about many of the women he meets, none of those dreams involve him actually, y'know, having sex with them. This may explain why he is seen crossing "Cantlay Street" more than once during the course of the film. Also, his jumpsuit is blue rather than pink in said fantasies. Maybe he feels self-conscious about wearing a color perceived by many as effeminate? Russ himself makes a cameo as an audience member at a burlesque show. Famous British sex symbol June Wilkinson's bare breasts can be seen through a window. The film has no dialogue whatsoever, but plenty of "funny" narration written by Edward J. Lakso (who, in addition to also providing the film's music., wrote for a lot of well-known TV series in the '60s and '80s) and spoken by G. Ferrus. Perhaps the most inexplicable line is the claim, made while Teas fantasizes about three of the ladies he's met frolicking nude as he watches from a distance, that rubber was invented in 1873. Rubber is found in nature, and according to Wikipedia Charles Goodyear patented vulcanized rubber in 1844, so not sure what the hell Mr. Ferrus is talking about there.

If you enjoy beautiful women showing what their mama gave them, this film delivers. But if you're looking for Russ at the top of his game, this is probably not the way to go.