Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “schlock” as something “of low quality or value,” so perhaps that is not quite the correct word to use in the title of today’s Shocktober column (or perhaps, for this day only, we should call it the “Schlocktober” column?). For while it is true that all six of the films discussed below are assuredly of low quality, that hardly means that they are of little value. Indeed, for all those cinema buffs out there who have learned to cherish and esteem the films that are “so bad, they’re good,” the half dozen items spotlighted below just might prove of inestimable value, despite the cheapness of their productions. And need I even add that all six of these might make for perfect viewing one night this Shocktober season?
According to the IMDb, William “One Shot” Beaudine directed no less than 298 films before his death in 1970. In 1966, he brought all his 50-some-odd years of experience in the industry to bear on his final film, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, and the result is one of the more unusual movie concoctions you will ever see. As the title suggests, this film conflates the Western and horror genres, although not so stupidly as 1957’s Teenage Monster. Here, James and his beefcake sidekick, on the lam after a botched holdup, knock on the wrong doctor’s door seeking medical assistance. Maria Frankenstein, the granddaughter (not daughter) of the original, and a real chip(py) off the old block, almost leaps for joy when she sees Jesse’s hunky pal, and wastes little time transforming him into “Igor,” a lumbering automaton with a synthetic brain… Truth to tell, this film isn’t nearly as awful as I had anticipated, and certainly exceeded my minimal expectations. Yes, it is a B Western at best, crossed with the usual Frankensteinian hijinks, but is quite entertaining for what it is, and moves along briskly. The film features some passable acting (I’ve seen much worse), some amusing lines, Injun attacks, shootouts, and all the cool-looking lab gizmos we’ve come to expect from a Franky picture. On the DVD that I just viewed, one of the extras is a running commentary track by Joe Bob Briggs, and it is both highly informative and extremely funny; better than anything one could hope to hear on MST3K. The man is a real treasure for the “psychotronic” film fanatic, and makes this DVD something truly special.
I Drink Your Blood, directed by David Durston, is a film that I’d been wanting to see for a very long time, and really, by now, what horror-film fan worth his Judith O’Dea Fan Club membership card has not heard of the movie in which a band of hippies doses Grandpa with LSD, and grandson Petey gives them rabies-infected meat pies in revenge? Only these aren’t your typical peace, love and groovy-button type of hippies, but rather Satan-worshiping, sadistic thugs, whose violent tendencies only get worse when they start to foam at the mouth… A film that is consistently suspenseful and that keeps the viewer riveted, this is actually a very well-done horror shlocker. The use of bizarro freakout music really helps to punch across the frequent scenes of carnage, and the picture grows increasingly wild as it proceeds. In one scene, a rabid hippy girl practices “free love” with a construction crew, infecting the entire bunch with the disease; a sadly resonant scene in today’s AIDS reality. This film’s debt to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, made two years earlier, becomes fairly obvious in the final third, when some defenders cower in a cellar to escape the crazed mob. And speaking of debts, could David Cronenberg have borrowed from this picture, when he was busy putting together 1977’s Rabid? In any event, I Drink Your Blood, while never overly gross, is surely not a movie for the faint of heart. It’s no Old Yeller (1957), that’s for sure! And wait till you see all the extras on this deluxe DVD. Fifty chapters for an 80-minute movie! Now that IS crazy!
Pop quiz: Which film from 1964, after a brief sequence set in the tropics and some jazzy opening credits, segues into a bird’s-eye view of the pool area at the Hotel Fontainebleau, and our handsome leading man cavorting with some bikinied babes? If your answer is Goldfinger, well, a gold star for you, I suppose, but the film I was actually referring to here in an infinitely lesser affair, Del Tenney’s I Eat Your Skin. As revealed in my bible, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, this picture actually first saw the light of day in 1971, after going unreleased for seven years. Apparently, producer Jerry Gross needed a film to pair with his rabid-hippies classic I Drink Your Blood, and so purchased Tenney’s picture (which had previously been titled Voodoo Blood Bath, more appropriately) and gave it a complementary moniker. Then came the poster for the double feature with the legendary caption “2 great blood-horrors to rip out your guts”! Anyway, as has been noted elsewhere, there is no eating of skin in the Tenney film whatsoever. In it, hunky-dude playboy/writer Tom Harris (played with granite-jawed machismo by William Joyce, a poor man’s Sterling Hayden) is given the assignment of going to Voodoo Island in the Caribbean to do research for his next novel, and so hightails it there with his drunken agent and the agent’s kooky broad of a wife. And what do they find on the island? A madman attempting to take over the world, a scientist seeking a cure for cancer by utilizing radioactive cobra venom (!), a beautiful blond hottie for Harris to seduce and conquer, a voodoo-practicing tribe, and oh … an army of rather nasty zombies! These zombies, it should be mentioned here, are not of the George A. Romero variety; indeed, these fast-moving creatures, with horribly scabrous skin and eyes like sunny-side up eggs, would rather lop off your head with a machete than take a bite out of it. Still, they are a memorably frightening-looking bunch. Tenney’s film, cheaply made as it is and shot, for the most part, in Coral Gables, FL, exudes a pulpy, Saturday matinée charm that this viewer finds kind of irresistible. The picture has any number of striking images (I love the shot of the zombie advancing toward the camera with a crate marked “Explosives”) and a fairly suspenseful windup, one whose debt to another Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No, seems fairly apparent. Tenney, who not only directed this picture but also wrote and produced it, is now a very solid three for three with me; his Horror of Party Beach (also from 1964) and Curse of the Living Corpse (1963) were both also loads of fun. I don’t wish to make too strong a case for I Eat Your Skin – the film is undeniably cinematic junk food, and as far from “art” as can be imagined – but offhand, I cannot think of a picture that would be better to watch with your favorite 12-year-old nephew. And surprise of surprises: The DVD that I recently watched, from the usually undependable folks at Alpha Video, actually looks pretty decent!
Well, I suppose that one CAN contract worse things from birds than the avian flu! For example, look at what happens to poor Herschell, a musclebound Vietnam vet, in the 1972 film Blood Freak. When we first meet him, Herschell is hooked on painkillers and soon – shades of Reefer Madness (1936) – becomes PHYSICALLY addicted to some kind of superpot (patent BS, to be sure). After volunteering to eat some chemically laced turkey at his new poultry farm gig, he himself grows a giant turkey head and starts to maniacally slay young drug dabblers about town! Like his namesake, director Herschell Gordon Lewis, he indulges in some pretty gory killings, including slicing the leg off of one drug pusher with a power saw. Anyway, to call this film a giant turkey would be too obvious … and far too generous. In truth, Blood Freak has to be one of the Top 10 Worst Films I have ever seen. It is horribly lit (whole segments transpire in near total darkness), acted, edited and directed, and with problematic sound, to boot. The “good” characters are annoying and the “bad” ones are obnoxious; actually, the only character I felt anything for was the real-life turkey who gets his head chopped off in one scene! What little pacing and suspense there are is periodically broken by the director, Brad Grinter, lecturing to us from behind a desk, a la Criswell, about the evils of dope and the implacability of fate or some such drivel; a message that might carry more weight if his film didn’t practically demand pot smoking on the part of the viewer just to get through it! Anyway, in the pantheon of bad bird movies, this one makes The Giant Claw (1957) seem like high art.
I swear, it’s getting to the point where if I see that one of the DVDs I’ve rented or bought is from the company known as Alpha Video, I’m tempted to return it unwatched. Lousy 16mm print sources, fuzzy images and very problematic sound have been the hallmarks of just about every DVD I’ve seen from this outfit. Case in point: The Werewolf of Washington, a strange political satire/horror hybrid that fails dismally on both fronts and is rendered almost unwatchable by Alpha Video’s crummy-looking DVD. In this one, Dean Stockwell goes to Budapest as a reporter, is bitten by a werewolf, and later becomes the assistant press secretary to the American president. Only prob: He’s now a werewolf himself! Unfortunately, this cool-sounding plot is undone by a ridiculous script, lame acting (Stockwell excepted; he’s excellent) and extremely poor editing/continuity. The sound, lighting and sets are all fairly amateurish, and Milton Moses Ginsberg’s direction alternates between flashy (wait’ll you see that shot taken from below water level in a toilet!) to downright inept. The initial appearance of the werewolf is ludicrous and bound to inspire more laffs than shudders, although it must be conceded that later transformations are handled well and that the monster does look pretty scary (although Stockwell’s effete drug dealer in 1986’s Blue Velvet was even scarier). But Stockwell turns into the monster five nights in a row in this picture; do we EVER get full moons five nights in a row?!?!?!?! Anyway, the film does boast two neat scenes – an attack on a woman in a tipped-over phone booth and a transformation aboard the Prez’ helicopter – and I suppose does demonstrate that we COULD be stuck with worse monsters in D.C. than some of the ones we have had in the past. Hard to believe, I know!
A different set of critical criteria must be used when discussing a movie like 2003’s Monsturd, as opposed to, say, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or Wild Strawberries (1957). Rather than seeking out subtle religious symbolism, impeccable acting, complex mise en scene or probing examinations of man’s place in the universe, the issue boils down to one all-important question: Is the movie fun? Happily, in the case of Monsturd, the answer is a decided yes. In it, the viewer meets escaped serial killer Jack Schmitt, who falls into a mess of experimental waste dumped down the sewer by the evil corporation Dutech and transforms into an 8′-high, lumbering (and to quote what is perhaps the picture’s most amusing line) “fecal humanoid.” And this sentient dejecta’s propensity to attack the citizens of Butte County, CA through their toilets becomes even more problematic with the arrival of the area’s annual chili cookoff! Anyway, this film (if one can even call it a film, having been shot straight to video), directed by Dan West and Rick Popko, features higher production values than you might be expecting, and indeed looks a lot better than it deserves. Some of the gross-out scenes are fairly effective, and you will probably not feel like scarfing down chocolate pudding for many days after watching them. Naturally, the picture sports much in the way of toilet humor, some of it lame, much of it pretty funny (such as the sight of our heroes gearing up to do battle with the Monsturd by donning diaper helmets and priming their Super Soakers with anti-diarrhea medication … law and ordure!). The acting is so very amateurish that it is quite a hoot; too bad they couldn’t get actresses Alison Doody and Merrin Dungey to star in this thing … and Italian filmmaker Pupi Avati to direct, for that matter! So yes, on the criterion of fun, Monsturd does satisfy. And for those who are interested, I’ve got the perfect title for a possible sequel. Are you ready? Humanure!
Anyway, folks, there you have it … six schlocky classicks that might make for perfect viewing on a gloomy October night. And I hope that I have not lost all my credibility with you as a result of today’s Schlocktober column!