Friday, February 05, 2016

Night Of The Cobra Woman

Andrew Meyer is one of the rare New World Pictures directors who doesn’t have a dedicated cult attached to him.

After NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN, producer Roger Corman used Meyer one more time—to direct Lorne Greene in a few dull expository scenes in the Japanese import TIDAL WAVE—but his decision was probably based on price and proximity rather than talent. Meyer’s direction of NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN is poor, and so is the screenplay he wrote with electrician Kerry Magness.

To give Meyer some credit, he doesn’t waste any time getting to the exploitative stuff. Within a couple of minutes, Army nurse Lena (Marlene Clark) is bitten by a cobra and transformed into a snake woman while her colleague is being raped and murdered by a Japanese soldier (Vic Diaz). Thirty years later, UNICEF researcher Joanna (Joy Bang!), in Manila studying snake venom, and her boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett) discover Lena living in the jungle, known to the villagers as the “snake woman.”

Lena is able to stay young only by sleeping with young men and stealing their youth. She sheds her skin after her sexual encounters, which sounds disturbing and probably would be with a more creative director behind the camera. It’s weird that these guys have no qualms about having sex with a woman with scales all over her body. Anyway, Duff is also one of Lena’s conquests, so to keep him from turning into Wilford Brimley, Joanna must work against the clock to find an antidote.

Almost nothing about COBRA WOMAN works. One can sense the striking Clark (who also starred in BLACK MAMBA) trying to do something interesting with her role, but there’s little to her character on the page, and she’s often stuck in unconvincing snake makeup. Adding to the confusion is Lope, her mute, feeble-minded, buck-toothed assistant. Lope is also played by Vic Diaz, but Meyer doesn’t make it clear whether he’s supposed to be the same man who committed the rape in the opening reel.

Joy Bang, who specialized in rock chicks and hippies, is hardly believable as a scientist, and it’s doubly hard to believe either she or Clark could fall in love with a dunce like Garrett. Unlike Clark, Bang refused to do nudity, and since her performance is so wooden, I assume she was hired because she would let the director throw snakes on her. Meyer works up zero suspense, and the screenplay feels made up on the set as filming rolled along. It all ends on a Biblical allegory the movie hasn’t earned.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Demonoid

Has there ever been a really good movie about a disembodied hand killing people? THE CRAWLING HAND…THE HAND…DEMONOID…nope. This is, however, a pretty funny movie about a disembodied hand that kills people. It makes no sense, and the acting is sluggish, but earnest director Alfredo Zacarias (THE BEES) piles on the gore, sleaze, nudity, explosions, stunts, and car crashes that can make Mexican horror cinema such a joy.

Filmed in Guanajuato, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Oxnard (!), DEMONOID starts South of the Border where miner Mark Baines (Roy Jenson, somehow not cast as a heavy) is having trouble convincing his superstitious workers to go into a silver mine that housed a Satanic torture chamber 300 years earlier. Mark and his wife Jennifer (THE BROOD’s Samantha Eggar) find a hand-shaped box down there and bring it back to their hotel room, where it attacks a drunken Mark and possesses him.

After blowing up all the miners, Mark dashes to Las Vegas, where he runs off a spectacular winning streak at craps (due, apparently, to his spirited new hand) and is kidnapped by a gambler (Ted White, who played Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING) and his moll (former Russ Meyer model Haji), who threaten to slice off his hands unless he reveals his winning formula. Mark kills his attackers and immolates himself.

Meanwhile, Jennifer, in search of her mass-murderer husband (law enforcement officials apparently aren’t), travels to Los Angeles, where she believes Mark’s body is buried (why an unidentified corpse found near Las Vegas would be buried in L.A. is a point I didn’t quite understand). Father Cunningham (former Oscar nominee Stuart Whitman) isn’t convinced of her story of a Satanic hand that crawls, leaps through the air, crushes the faces of its victims with spectacular strength, and possesses their souls, not even after it appears Mark’s corpse (played by a much smaller actor than Roy Jenson) has leapt out of the ground, cut off its hand in the door of a police car, and possessed a cop who fights Cunningham in a boxing ring the next day.

From there, DEMONOID turns into “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” with the shriveled hand in place of the button. The cop (Lew Saunders) kidnaps Jennifer and takes her to a plastic surgeon, on whom he pulls his pistol and demands, “Either you cut off my hand, or I’ll kill you.” Using a ridiculously futuristic scalpel that “cauterizes while it cuts,” the doctor (Narciso Busquets) cuts off the possessed hand, which leaps to a nearby table, grabs the cop’s gun, and blasts the boobilicious nurse (Erika Carlsson) in the back before taking over the doctor. The now-possessed doctor kidnaps Jennifer and straps her to his table so he can take her hand, before the lurching Irish priest Cunningham somehow figures out where she is and rescues her. A T.J. HOOKER car chase culminates in a few crashes and the plastic surgeon letting a train run over his hand to amputate it.

The hand goes on to log even more travel time than the L.A. Lakers during the regular season, showing up at the most inopportune moments without competent explanation from director Zacarias or his co-writers David Fein (CHEERLEADER CAMP) and F. Amos Powell (CURSE OF THE STONE HAND). Adding to the general hilarity of the script and lackluster direction is the wildly overplayed score by Richard Gillis (augmented by library cues) and the somnambulant performance by Whitman, whose accent fluctuates from scene to scene (hell, line to line). He’s so bored (wouldn’t you be?), he handles a scene in which he burns his own hand off like he’s calmly spraying Off on a mosquito bite.

DEMONOID closes on an overwrought, downbeat manner that flies in the face of physics or logic, but it’s only 79 minutes long, and what better do you have to do? This is a terrible movie, but a compulsively watchable one that’s too crazy and dumb to be boring. A tacked-on prologue was filmed in Bronson Caverns. Sets, photography, stunts, and special effects — aside from the laughably phony rubber hands — are well done, so Zacarias wasn’t without talent. The director originally released DEMONOID himself under his American Panorama banner, which released the even more incredible RAW FORCE. Sure, it’s only two films, but not many studios can boast a 1.000 batting average.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fantastic Voyage

20th Century Fox’s colorful, entertaining science fiction movie won two deserved Academy Awards for its visual effects and set decoration/art direction and was nominated for three others (sound effects, editing, and cinematography).

FANTASTIC VOYAGE's high-concept plot, delivered by screenwriter Harry Kleiner (BULLITT) based on story elements by David Duncan (THE TIME MACHINE), Otto Klement, and Jerome Bixby (IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND EARTH), is clever, but also contains holes, inconsistencies, and downright illogic that can drive you crazy if you let them (Isaac Asimov corrected some of them in his 1966 novelization).

A defecting Soviet agent is attacked before he can tell the U.S. government his secrets. The only way to repair the blood clot in his brain is to miniaturize a submarine, inject it into his bloodstream, and allow a doctor to zap the clot with a laser from inside the brain. What could go wrong? Plenty, including a dastardly saboteur (who can it be?) and deadly antibodies that attach themselves to curvy Raquel Welch’s skintight wetsuit.

Aboard the Proteus are frogman and agent Grant (Stephen Boyd), surgeon Duval (Arthur Kennedy) and his assistant Cora Peterson (Welch), doctor Michaels (Donald Pleasence), and sub pilot Owens (William Redfield). Monitoring the crew from outside are Army men Carter (Edmond O’Brien) and Reid (Arthur O’Connell). Not only do they have to zip up the carotid artery, zap the clot, and get out of the man’s body, they have to do it in sixty minutes or else they’ll revert to their normal size and make a bloody mess.

As I mentioned, the writing is subpar with bland characters and dialogue. How much it matters in an adventure of this spectacle is up to you. Richard Fleischer’s (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) direction is calm and allows his effects guys to carry the burden, which they do with great skill. FANTASTIC VOYAGE was a hit (perhaps audiences were reminded of Fox’s earlier smash VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) and spawned a Gold Key comic book, a Saturday morning cartoon series, countless spoofs and parodies, and an unabashed direct-to-video ripoff, ANTIBODY starring Lance Henriksen and Robin Givens, in 2002.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

As if it weren’t embarrassing enough for Robert Shayne that he’s starring in such a dud as THE NEANDERTHAL MAN, his name is misspelled “Shane” in the main titles. Or maybe Shayne arranged it on purpose, so he could deny he was in this cheap, boring Jekyll/Hyde riff.

Whether through incompetence, laziness, or just plain penuriousness, the special effects are among the worst I’ve seen in a ‘50s movie. Harry Thomas (FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER) is credited with the makeup, which mostly consists of an unconvincing rubber mask stuck in a silly expression with goo-goo eyes. One scene in which the transformation of a mute woman (the striking Tandra Quinn, also in MESA OF LOST WOMEN) is revealed in a set of photographs loses whatever meek impact the filmmakers were striving for when you realize the prop department doctored the photos instead of putting makeup on Quinn.

Shayne, likable and authoritative as Metropolis police inspector Henderson on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, is hammy and klutzy as a petulant, angry, vainglorious mad scientist who speaks in ten-cent words named Cliff Groves. He’s a laughing stock down at the scientists’ nerd gatherings because he believes cavemen were just as intelligent as modern man. To prove his theory, he injects himself with a serum that transforms him into the title character. He climbs out the window (it’s unlikely Shayne wore the immobile mask, though the makeup he wears during the transformation looks not half-bad) and kills (and possibly rapes).

Meanwhile, zoologist Ross Harkness (Richard Crane, later in THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) is summoned to investigate sightings of a giant sabretooth tiger (played by both a regular tiger on a visible chain and a stuffed tiger with tusks). Joyce Terry (THE BEATNIKS) plays Groves’ daughter, Doris Merrick (UNTAMED WOMEN) is Groves’ fiancĂ© (somehow he has one), and Beverly Garland (IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) is charming, especially in a gratuitous swimsuit modeling scene, as a Groves victim. Future LASSIE owner Robert Bray gets killed too.

Producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen (THE MAN FROM PLANET X) also take the blame for the absurd screenplay, which pumps Shayne full of so much ponderous dialogue that not even a better actor giving a good performance could do much with it. By the way, director E.A. Dupont made his first film in 1918, and his handling of THE NEANDERTHAL reflects the style of someone decades out of date. He had only a couple more films and some TV episodes left in him, and he died in 1956 at the age of 64.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Bounty Hunter (1990)

THE EXTERMINATOR made TV actor Robert Ginty (BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP) a bankable star in low-budget exploitation movies. After a decade of seeing his photo on video boxes lining rental shelves, he decided he wanted to direct drive-in pictures too. His first shot behind the camera was Action International’s THE BOUNTY HUNTER, which he mostly lensed in Sand Springs, Oklahoma with EXTERMINATOR cinematographer Robert Baldwin. One location was William R. Pogue Municipal Airport, which was named after NASA’s first Native American astronaut.

Ginty takes a writing credit and top billing as Duke Evans, a tight-lipped bounty hunter who arrives in a small Southwestern town to look into the death of his ‘Nam buddy Tom Foot, a Native American who was allegedly shot in self-defense by cops while in custody. In a bit of lazy but effective casting, Bo Hopkins (THE WILD BUNCH) co-stars as corrupt, slow-talking redneck sheriff Bennett, who threatens Duke and advises him not to stick his nose into town business. Looks like ol’ Bennett is in bed with the oil companies, who want to kick the Indians off the reservation so they can take the oil buried there.

Ginty’s directing debut isn’t really very good. His inexperience shows at time, such as an opening bar fight that suffers from a lack of coverage. The sound and music score are rough, and the script by Ginty and Thomas Baldwin (FUTURE FORCE) features a simplistic bad-white-men-vs-good-red-men message and clunky pacing. Hopkins is watchable, of course, even when exerting the least possible effort—much more so than Ginty, whose tough guy is more of a dead fish (and I’m pretty sure Bo is going off-script on occasion, as his dialogue is usually livelier than everyone else’s). Native American actress Loeta Waterdown, playing Tom Foot’s schoolteacher sister, doesn’t seem to have acted again and was probably a local. Noted character actor Rex Linn, a regular on CSI: MIAMI, plays a policeman.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Space Master X-7

The title and marketing campaign for SPACE MASTER X-7 is quite a bait and switch. What seems to be a science fiction movie about space travel going in turns out to be an Earthbound find-the-virus thriller like PANIC IN THE STREETS. Shot in eight days for about $90,000, SPACE MASTER X-7 was filmed on various locations around Los Angeles, lending it a realistic documentary feel. Rarely seen since its 1958 theatrical release on a double bill with THE FLY, the film is probably best known today for its rare non-Stooges supporting performance by Moe Howard, a good friend of director Edward Bernds (QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE), who had helmed several Three Stooges shorts.

Along with Howard came his son-in-law Norman Maurer, a comic book writer and artist who created 3-D comics with Joe Kubert (TOR), and Larry Fine’s son-in-law Don Lamond, seen briefly in the film selling cars in a commercial. Maurer’s job — or one of his jobs as associate producer — was to create the film’s principal special effect: a space fungus known euphemistically as “blood rust.”

Back to that bait and switch I mentioned. There is no such thing as “Space Master X-7” in the film. A satellite returns from outer space with a canister, which scientist Charles Pommer (Paul Frees) takes to his home. The blood rust fungus escapes from the canister and overwhelms Pommer and his house, which security man John Hand (cowboy star Bill Williams) and Joe Ratigan (Robert Ellis) burn to the ground.

They assume the blaze consumed all the fungus, until they discover Pommer had a visitor: Laura Greeling (Lyn Thomas), who is on her way to Hawaii and comes to believe she’s on the hook for her murder. Hand and the cops are looking for her, but for her own good in fear she may also be infected with the blood rust and may be carrying it to anyone she meets. None of the film is set in outer space, but the effective ending is set aboard an airplane covered in blood rust.

Besides the dumb plotting to make Laura think she’s a murder suspect, SPACE MASTER X-7 is an intelligent thriller, if not always an exciting one. It was written by George Worthing Yates (IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA) and Daniel Mainwaring (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and given a polish by Bernds to meet his budget. Scenes of men in fireproof suits spraying a train Laura was traveling in with fire, then spraying themselves to kill the fungus, are believable and interesting.

The special effects fare less well. The blood rust (the film is photographed in black-and-white) is merely thin foam rubber with compressed air blown into it to make it pulsate, and a shot of a miniature Jeep burning is one of the least convincing models ever filmed. The acting is appropriately straightforward for the documentary style Bernds is going for — a DRAGNET influence — and Howard is good in a dramatic role as a cab driver involved in the chase.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Death Wish II

One of the grimiest, most explicit, and most distasteful films of Charles Bronson’s career, DEATH WISH II faced the MPAA ratings board’s scissors before receiving an R rating instead of an X. Even then, the rape scenes directed by Michael Winner, who guided the original DEATH WISH to major box office in 1974, are ugly and hard to watch.

Of course, rape is an unpleasant experience and should be difficult to watch, but Winner’s handling of the sexual violence shows more degradation than necessary to adequately make the point and falls firmly into exploitation territory. It was even too much for the crew — cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth (THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and his team packed up and went home during the shooting of the rapes (CAMELOT’s Richard Kline came aboard as Del Ruth’s replacement for the rest of the production).

Of course, DEATH WISH II was produced by Cannon’s Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose intentions usually leaned toward exploitation rather than the serious thought-provoking drama of DEATH WISH. It would be difficult to argue Golan, Globus, and Winner were wrong, as DEATH WISH II went on to become one of Bronson’s biggest hits of the 1980s, particularly internationally. Released by Filmways in the United States, the sequel opened at number one and eventually earned $16 million at the box office and millions more in overseas theaters and on home video and pay cable. There was no doubt Golan and Globus would commission another sequel.

DEATH WISH II takes place four years after vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson, who received $1.5 million for the role) laid waste to plenty of street scum in New York City. Now in Los Angeles with his daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood), still catatonic from her rape in New York, Kersey has resumed his career as an architect and is in love with Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland, natch), a reporter (Bronson slips and calls her “Jill” once). But his happiness is shortlived when five punks break into his home, rape and murder his maid (Silvana Gallardo), and kidnap and rape Carol, who is gruesomely killed trying to escape (another example of Winner overkill, no pun intended). Out come Kersey’s twin .22 automatic pistols for another round of punk-hunting, this time on the streets of L.A.

The cops, including investigating detective Mankiewicz (Ben Frank), know about Kersey’s past and begin to suspect him when local lowlives end up dead. So does New York detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia, returning from DEATH WISH), whose bosses send him to L.A. in fear it’ll be discovered that they had Kersey in custody and let him go four years earlier. J.D. Cannon (MCCLOUD) plays the New York district attorney, and Tony Franciosa (ACROSS 110TH STREET) plays the L.A. police commissioner — both men interested in covering up Kersey’s vigilantism.