Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Was A Long Shot

Besides the Executioner, the Destroyer is, I believe, the only men's adventure hero of the 1970s to still be regularly published today. Published in 1971, the first Destroyer novel by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, CREATED, THE DESTROYER, was actually written in 1963, but couldn't find a company that would buy it until Pinnacle needed something to capitalize on the revolutionary success of its Mack Bolan novels. I won't write much more about the authors or the characters, as Wikipedia does a thorough job of describing them here, and Murphy goes into detail about the series' genesis in this interview.

I'm surprised it has taken me this long to get around to reviewing a Destroyer novel. The first one that I read awhile back (#17, LAST WAR DANCE) didn't do anything for me, and I wasn't looking forward to tackling another. However, the Destroyer is obviously among the genre's most important and successful figures, so there was no way I could ignore him. And since I already own a handful of his adventures, it would have been even sillier for me to do so.

The Destroyer is Remo Williams, a former New Jersey cop and Vietnam vet who was framed for murder, convicted and executed. Except he didn't really die. He just went to work secretly for CURE, a government agency answerable only to the U.S. President, to undertake dangerous missions no regular law enforcement organization could touch. Trained extensively in martial arts, Remo is the world's deadliest assassin and travels the world with Chiun, his 80-year-old Sinanju master.

After a couple of false starts, Murphy and Sapir really started cooking with CHINESE PUZZLE, the third Destroyer book. Presumably, #6, DEATH THERAPY, finds the co-authors (both former newspaper journalists) at the peak of their abilities. The Destroyer series is known for its outlandish plots, and this 1972 book finds the United States government up for auction by a sinister organization that is somehow able to brainwash top officials into treasonous activities, such as dropping a nuclear bomb on St. Louis (it didn't explode) or plow a Naval destroyer into the Statue of Liberty. With the bidding starting at $1 billion in gold and every major country eager to get in on it, Remo and Chiun have little time to ferret out the ringleader and stop him or her for literally selling out the U.S.

The Destroyer series stands out from its men's adventure brethren by its decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to what is essentially silly material. Whereas the authors behind the adventures of the Death Merchant, Penetrator, Executioner, et al take their stories seriously, Murphy and Sapir use their plots as a clothesline on which to hang satirical barbs about politics and pop culture. Later books even took aim at other Pinnacle paperback heroes. Personally, I prefer the more straightforward series, as my enjoyment of them is partially derived from the idea of "how in the world could anyone take such crazy shit so seriously?" I did, however, have great fun with DEATH THERAPY, particularly Murphy and Sapir's cheeky attitude toward conventional action clichés and the banter between Remo and Chiun, who sometimes act more like an old married couple than a student and his teacher.

By the way, if the name "Remo Williams" sounds familiar, Orion produced a film titled REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, which saw a financially unsuccessful theatrical release in 1985. Fred Ward and Joel Grey as Remo and Chiun, respectively, were good casting choices, but the producers foolishly ignored virtually everything about the books that made millions of readers fall in love with them. I don't even recall if the word "Destroyer" is even used. I didn't think much of it when I saw it in '85 (I don't even know if I knew then that it was based on a series of novels), and later viewings on home video haven't improved it any. Later, Jeffrey Meek (RAVEN) and Roddy McDowall starred in a Destroyer TV pilot, but the series was never made.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time, Space, And Murder Are About To Collide

Directed by Louis Morneau, one of the better DTV filmmakers out there, 1997's RETROACTIVE is an imaginative time-travel rift that frustratingly veers wildly back and forth between clever and stupid. Of course, time-travel stories always run the risk of breaking its own rules in favor of moving the story along; even the best time-travel movies, such as THE TERMINATOR and BACK TO THE FUTURE, have niggling plot threads hanging loose at story’s end. However, those films are so witty, so entertaining that we’re willing to overlook their flaws. RETROACTIVE isn’t nearly as good, but its energetic action scenes and occasional flashes of brilliance make it worth watching, frustrations aside.

Karen (Aussie Kylie Travis, mostly hiding her accent), a police psychologist from Chicago, is stranded in the Texas desert after her car breaks down. She hitches a ride with Frank (James Belushi), a loudmouthed hood with Elvis sideburns, and his mousy wife Rayanne (Skinemax queen Shannon Whirry, making a strong case for respectability)—a decision Karen quickly regrets when Frank kills Rayanne and blows up a gas station. On the run for her life, Karen finds temporary refuge at a mysterious government installation, where scientist Brian (Frank Whaley) is alone putting the final touches on his time machine. She uses it to go back 20 minutes, hoping to prevent Frank’s temper outburst and its violent domino effect on everyone he meets.

There’s much more to the story than that—suffice to say that Karen’s attempt to retroactively patch things up goes awry—and most of the fun comes in anticipating the directions in which Karen manipulates the plot. The problem is that Morneau and his three screenwriters spent so much time dreaming up plot twists and chases that they’re ultimately wasted on a scenario that’s not really very riveting. In THE TERMINATOR, the hero goes back in time to prevent the destruction of humanity at the hands of evil robots. Here, Karen’s quest is to prevent an ignorant redneck with a gun from shooting a few people. The filmmakers are as sincere, I believe, as their heroine, but the stakes aren’t high enough to become fully invested in her plight.

Morneau and Belushi enjoyed themselves enough to reunite on another DTV action movie, MADE MEN, which is much better. Belushi is perfectly cast, but stuck with a character that isn’t too interesting. He seems to know it, and fills his performance with enough loutish bluster in an effort to create someone who isn’t on the page. Travis and Whaley are fine; I appreciated that Karen is smart enough to figure out what has happened to her long before characters in dumber movies would have. Sure, it’s hard to believe you’ve gone backwards in time, but when it quickly occurs to her there can be no other explanation, she takes advantage of her foreknowledge to prevent senseless deaths.

RETROACTIVE deserved a bigger audience than it received. Orion’s financial woes kept it out of theaters, and its unappealing box art probably turned away many VHS and DVD renters who may find its energetic stunts, striking photography, and entertaining story twists up their alley.

Why I Love Prison Break

Seriously, this is fantastic stuff. I have no idea whether the creators are fans of Republic serials, but PRISON BREAK plays just like one. You think LOST is a little bit far-out? My suspension of disbelief is stretched farther than Mr. Fantastic's left arm watching this season of PRISON BREAK.

Forgetting the crazy-quilt plot and boneheaded continuity errors (done intentionally, I'm sure, to move the plot from point W to point X, which is as convoluted as it has become), this week's episode had a dune buggy chase, Scofield (Wentworth Miller) running and jumping and fighting a day or two after major surgery to remove a brain tumor, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) finding sympathy for a dying mother, another great Linc Smash! moment, our unlikely comrades (which include a female assassin in black leather, a former Death Row convict, a corrupt Homeland Security agent, a junkie ex-FBI agent, and a mass-murdering child molester) dressed like a GQ cover, another character resurrected from the dead, a kidnapping to cover a simple conversation that could have been handled over the phone, a stunt-driving drug-addicted physician, the threat of mountain lions, a MacGyvered bomb, and terrible acting.

PRISON BREAK probably has the worst acting of any dramatic series on network TV right now. I give the wonderful William Fichtner a lot of credit for not pretending he's slumming. I can only assume he's having a good time. Maybe even as good a time as I have laughing hysterically at the show. I wouldn't be surprised at this point to see Tal Chatali pop up in the final chapter, er, episode to reveal the Scorpion's identity.

His Hands Were Hooks

Jack Lord would have been 88 today.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BJ’s Sweethearts

19 BJ's Sweethearts
December 1, 1979
Music: Stu Phillips
Writer: Michael Sloan
Director: Jeff Gold

Ah, the clip show, that tried-and-true last resort for budget-minded TV producers trying to shave a few bucks. I don't think shows do these anymore, but clip shows used to pop up at least once on nearly every series that lasted more than a couple of seasons. It seems surprising that BJ AND THE BEAR would do one on just its 19th episode, but executive producer Glen A. Larson sure knew how to count pennies.

Not only is "BJ's Sweethearts" a clip show, but it's also what was known as a bottle show, which meant that the whole episode was set and filmed on basically a single set, also as a cost-cutting measure. A clip show is just what it sounds like: an excuse to string together random clips from previous episodes to avoid shooting as much new film as possible. Usually, the clips are presented in the form of flashbacks, and that's how writer Michael Sloan and (I think) first-time director Jeff Gold do it here.

Vivacious Barbara Sue (Jo Ann Harris) returns from Odyssey of the Shady Truth to rescue BJ (Greg Evigan) when his semi slides off a wet Orly County back road on a rainy night. After nursing his head wound, she gets BJ to reminisce about all the ladies he's romanced during his truck-driving adventures, giving Sloan reasons to splice in kisses and action sequences from "Shine On," "Deadly Cargo," "The Murphy Contingent," "Cain's Cruiser," "Pogo Lil" and "Cain's Son-in-Law," in addition to "Odyssey of the Shady Truth."

Meanwhile, George Lazenby (playing a different character than in "A Coffin with a View") hangs around outside the house with some hunting buddies for 45 minutes before finally storming Barbara Sue's farmhouse in search of hidden money. I never did figure out why Lazenby thought there was money inside or why he needed all night to search the place when he already knew the money was hidden inside Barbara Sue's uncle's mattress. We never even find out if the money existed. I don't think Sloan knew, as long as he had a new fight scene to wrap up this cheapie.

It's unusual for me to stumble across a 1970s TV director I haven't heard of, but I don't know anything about Jeff Gold or other jobs he has had. My guess is that he was an editor or an assistant director who wanted to break into directing episodic television, and Sloan and Larson gave him a break. "BJ's Sweethearts" is a good show for a beginner, since it probably only shot for a couple of days on one set and a night on the backlot. It's not a stylish or imaginative episode, but neither are the concept or script.

Besides Jo Ann Harris, who is always wonderful, there's little reason for BJ fans to see this episode. However, if you're a first-timer, "BJ's Sweethearts" certainly gives you a good idea of what the show is all about. Brian Kerwin drops in from THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO for a tag cameo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spanish Eyes

The late Jon Messmann was a very busy writer during the 1940s–1980s, primarily of original paperback westerns and crime dramas. One source claims he also wrote comic books for Fawcett, which published the adventures of Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Bulletman and other fondly remembered superheroes. I've read a couple of his Revenger novels, and my impression is that he may have been too good for the men's adventure series. That isn't a putdown of the many talented writers who toiled in the pulp trade during the 1970s, but whereas many of them were obviously pounding out each novel in a matter of days, Messmann often reads as though he took extra time and care of his characters. Whether that actually was the case, I don't know, but Messmann's Revenger books are filled with flowery language that signals that either he was trying too hard for the genre or he was padding his page count.

In addition to the Revenger and a western character called the Trailsman, Messmann wrote six novels about Jefferson Boone. Once a diplomat for the State Department, Boone was inspired to right wrongs after the death of his father. As the Handyman, Boone is often called upon to chase international kidnappers and terrorists. In the sixth and final Handyman book, 1975's THE INHERITORS, Boone's government contact, Charley Hopkins, sends him to Spain to look into the death of an American diplomat who was murdered, just like his father was. There's no connection between the killings, but the Handyman is intrigued enough to go to Spain to investigate revolutionaries called the Inheritors who are plotting to overthrow Franco.

My first Handyman experience is a good, solid read with plenty of sex and action. Boone gets it on with a pair of Spanish spitfires, one the aristocratic daughter of his contact, Don Hernanez, and the first chapter finds him roaring through the Spanish countryside in a Ferrari blasting the crap out the gunmen setting booby traps for him.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #9

It looks as though Sal Trapani drew this splash for Dell Comics' GET SMART #1, June 1966, which means it went on sale just as the TV series was finishing its first season. Just 3 1/2 years later, Dell would reprint this story in GET SMART #8, the final issue. Trapani doesn't get the likenesses right, and somehow manages to make Barbara Feldon the second sexiest woman on the page.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heroes Beware

Warner Books' Ninja Master series is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine. Clearly created to take advantage of the shortlived ninja craze of the 1980s, which began with Cannon's hilarious ENTER THE NINJA and even permeated an episode of QUINCY, M.E., of all things, the Ninja Master books were mostly written by Ric Meyers, who did double duty for Warners by also penning some of their Dirty Harry novels. Warners tended to get cute with the names of their house authors with "Dane Hartman" writing the Dirty Harry books and Wade Barker (Warner Books) on the Ninja Masters.

Meyers' Ninja Master books, judging from the two I've read so far, are pure, nasty sleaze. The hero, an American ninja named Brett Wallace, is portrayed as a somewhat urbane individual who enjoys culture, fine dining and occasional boom-boom with his lady Rhea, who owns a San Francisco restaurant. But when he gets pissed off, which is often, Wallace turns into a killing machine, laying waste to a slew of baddies in a methodical, hand-on fashion that would make Mack Bolan green with envy. Meyers doesn't shy away from scenes of ugly, fantastic gore and sleaze, which is actually a good thing when tackling the subject of BORDERLAND OF HELL.

This 1982 Ninja Master entry sends Wallace and his karate-kicking buddy Jeff Archer to Mexico to rescue a young Chinese stewardess named Meiko, who has been kidnapped by the brutal General Estrada and put to work as a sex slave for him and his cigar-chomping pals to use at their whim. Meyers' uncomfortable use of titillation and humiliation in graphically describing Meiko's experiences, which include enduring a pubic shaving and forced lesbian lovemaking for the delight of Estrada's audience, has the effect of putting the reader in the place of the book's perverse villains. Whether Meyers enjoys abusing Meiko or putting his readers on the hot seat, I can't really say.

Periodic flashbacks to Brett's days in training with a wizened ninja named Yamaguchi serve as padding for this 175-page novel and are obviously swiped from David Carradine's KUNG FU TV series. Otherwise, BORDERLAND OF HELL really moves, exploding at just the right times in scenes of incredible violence. Sometimes, the action is motivated by nothing except pacing, as in the scene where Wallace and Jeff encounter a family of peasants being tormented by Estrada's thugs, motivating Brett to open a can of neck-ripping, bone-smashing whupass.

Grimy sex and sadistic violence—what more can you ask for? Brett doesn't cut anybody in half the way he did in MOUNTAIN OF FEAR, but fans of sleazy adventure novels shouldn't be disappointed.

William Shatner IS For The People

Forty years before winning an Emmy as colorful Denny Crane on the hit ABC series BOSTON LEGAL, William Shatner played another attorney on FOR THE PEOPLE in 1965. The CBS series (and production) was the brainchild of executive producer Herbert Brodkin, who had worked on many of the Golden Age of Television's most important programs. STUDIO ONE, PLAYHOUSE 90 and THE DEFENDERS are three of the highbrow dramas that Brodkin shepherded before the creation of FOR THE PEOPLE, which may have been loosely inspired by THE DEFENDERS.

THE DEFENDERS was a spinoff of "The Defender," a two-part 1957 STUDIO ONE that starred E.G. Marshall and Shatner as father-and-son attorneys defending accused murderer Steve McQueen in court. Marshall and a pre-BRADY BUNCH Robert Reed played Lawrence and Kenneth Preston in the CBS series, which ran 132 episodes and won many Emmys and other prestigious awards. What was important about THE DEFENDERS was its willingness to tackle important issues of the day, such as vigilantism, abortion, Red-baiting, capital punishment, religious freedom. You won't see networks today using series television to tackle big issues (outside of shows written by David E. Kelley, who lacks the sensitivity of a Brodkin or a Reginald Rose), but THE DEFENDERS proved it could be done with class, style and, most importantly, ratings success.

While THE DEFENDERS was heading into its fourth and final season, Brodkin began production on a new legal series, this one from the point of view of the prosecutors. Filmed on location in New York City, FOR THE PEOPLE centered around David Koster, an idealistic young assistant district attorney who also found himself torn by the day's current issues. For Koster, Brodkin called upon Shatner, a 33-year-old leading man with acting credits on prestigious television series like TWILIGHT ZONE, PLAYHOUSE 90, THE DEFENDERS and THE OUTER LIMITS, as well as a Broadway run in THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG and big-screen roles in JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG and Roger Corman's THE INTRUDER. In 1964, when production began on FOR THE PEOPLE, Shatner was a very big deal.

Surrounding Shatner were other talented performers of the period. The formerly blacklisted Howard da Silva signed on as Koster's boss, D.A. Anthony Celese. Oklahoma-born Lonny Chapman played Frank Malloy, Koster's investigator. And as Koster's wife Phyllis, Brodkin hired 23-year-old Jessica Walter, an ebon-haired beauty who, like Shatner, has continued to maintain a successful acting career forty years later, working steadily on series such as ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, for which she was nominated for her fourth Emmy. All four FOR THE PEOPLE actors were well known to Brodkin from guest shots on THE DEFENDERS.

From the two FOR THE PEOPLE episodes I was privileged to see, the series was filmed in a documentary style with bleak black-and-white photography, actual New York City locations, very little music (outside of its stately theme), and an insistence upon not having its stars be right all the time. In both shows, David Koster is shown to make mistakes that either did or could have immeasurable social costs.

"Guilt Shall Not Escape, Nor Innocence Suffer" (all titles are drawn from actual New York state law) is an interesting look at the justice system working for the convenience of the judges and attorneys, rather than the actual victims. Tony-winner Paul Hartman is very good as Sam Chapin, a vagrant who is arrested on a burglary charge. He freely admits to being drunk and beaning the arresting officer during a scuffle, but claims to be innocent of the breaking and entering. Koster, Celese and the presiding judge, in a hurry to get through the day's dockets as quickly and trouble-free as possible, just want Chapin to take a plea and serve his time, at least ten years in prison. Only Martin Jameson (Walter Moulder, an actor who doesn't appear to have worked much, but is quite good), Chapin's inexperienced legal-aid attorney, is willing to consider his client's cries of innocence.

Daniel Petrie, a fine director of dramatic television who found some later success in features (FORT APACHE, THE BRONX), methodically presents a good teleplay by Andy and David P. Lewis, who went on to write KLUTE and land an Oscar nomination. Petrie's use of a handheld camera on city streets adds to the "you are there" feeling of the show.

Even better is "Dangerous to the Public Peace and Safety," which showcases Tony Bill (still acting in TNT's LEVERAGE) as Buddy, an ingratiating young man with an active fantasy life and a yen for knifing pretty young girls to death. Bill is wonderful as the young psycho, refusing to overplay or go for cheap laughs like actors playing serial killers love to do (see recent episodes of LIFE, for instance). Charming and imminently sympathetic, Buddy meets young Teresa, played by Lesley Ann Warren, who had just a month earlier made her television splash as the title role in Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA.

Koster blames himself for Buddy's body count, because of his insistence upon sending the lad to jail for six months on an earlier offense, rather than the psychiatric stay for which Buddy's lawyer called. Would Buddy's five knifing victims still be alive if Koster had felt more sympathy for him? Intriguing question posited by writer Robert Thom, an Emmy winner for a DEFENDERS teleplay who ended up writing intelligent exploitation movies for Roger Corman in the 1970s. Director Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) appears to be aping Orson Welles in his creative use of camera placement in angles, sometimes shooting through books or a line of stacked chairs. David Doyle, another DEFENDERS vet who would find fame as Bosley on CHARLIE'S ANGELS, offers a nifty character turn as a bartender dating Buddy's ineffective mother (Sally Gracie).

FOR THE PEOPLE replaced MY LIVING DOLL and THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW on the CBS Sunday night schedule in January 1965. As with almost everything else CBS threw against BONANZA, it was slaughtered in the ratings and was cancelled after 13 episodes. However, TV history may have benefitted from the move. With FOR THE PEOPLE's cancellation, star Shatner was free to sign on to a new series debuting in the fall of 1966. STAR TREK became one of the most popular TV series in the world, and it's doubtful that Shatner, for all his talents, would still be on a hit series in 2008, if not for STAR TREK.

By the way, Shatner supported Walter the second time the stars acted together. He played a detective on an episode of her shortlived NBC series AMY PRENTISS, which, despite running just a season, earned her a Best Actress Emmy in 1975.

A Picture Worth More Than A Word

The Stop Button reviews one of the most criminally underrated films I've ever seen: DIGGSTOWN. I don't know if it was the title or the marketing (MGM put out a terrible one-sheet) or what, but DIGGSTOWN is a funny, exciting mixture of caper flick and sports movie. I think it may still be the best James Woods performance I've seen. Plus, Lou Gossett Jr., Bruce Dern, Oliver Platt, Randall Tex Muthafuckin Cobb, Heather Graham, even Commando Cody George Wallace is here.

I couldn't recommend DIGGSTOWN more highly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

You’ll Scream Till Dawn

For offbeat Christmas cheer, I wish I could recommend the 1980 horror flick TO ALL A GOODNIGHT, but I really can't. I love the title, but little else about this seasonal slasher directed by the star of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, David Hess, and written by Alex Rebar, the star of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN.

Some bitchy sorority sisters and their equally assholish boyfriends, spending the night together in the sorority house while the rest of the campus is home for Christmas break, are stalked and slashed by a killer in a Santa suit. Eventually, only the virgin (Jennifer Runyon!) and the nerd (Forrest Swanson) are left to unmask the murderer. Is it the crazy handyman? The canola-baking neighbor lady? The housemother? One of the students? The pilot of the private plane that brought the boys to campus played by porn legend Harry Reems?

FRIDAY THE 13TH was the obvious inspiration for this quickie shot around Loyola Marymount University in west L.A. I doubt even Runyon, who went on to become popular with young men who grew up in the '80s, based on her appearances in GHOSTBUSTERS, UP THE CREEK, and CHARLES IN CHARGE, remembers this one, and there's little reason to. Photography is dark, pacing is slack, the score is droning, the characters are obnoxious, and the final plot twist is ludicrous. Some of the bloody kills would be effective, if you could see them better.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bedeviled Angel

ROSETTI AND RYAN may be the most obscure television series I've ever written about. In fact, a big reason I'm writing about it at all is to be the only person in the history of the World Wide Web to do so. The next time anyone Googles "Rosetti and Ryan," this blog will come up. As if anyone would ever Google "Rosetti and Ryan"…

The pilot movie, MEN WHO LOVED WOMEN, aired on NBC in the spring of 1977. Tony Roberts, a light comic actor known for his two Tony nominations and for co-starring with Woody Allen in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM and ANNIE HALL, played Joseph Rosetti, and Squire Fridell, the ubiquitous pitchman for Toyota and other products in hundreds of TV commercials, played Frank Ryan. The two were Los Angeles attorneys who—duh—didn't play by the rules in their pursuit of justice for their clients. Rosetti was a well-dressed Italian-American who grew up in an affluent family; Ryan, an Irish-American ex-cop who put himself through law school at night. Both loved to woo the ladies, hence the title.

Propelled by Gordon Cotler and Don M. Mankiewicz's teleplay, which won an Edgar Award, beating out, among other films, Edward Anhalt's gritty CONTRACT ON CHERRY STREET, the pilot garnered ratings high enough to convince NBC to put ROSETTI AND RYAN on the 1977-78 fall schedules. It never saw 1978, getting cancelled in November after just six episodes.

"Bedeviled Angel," which I watched this evening, was the final episode of ROSETTI AND RYAN's shortlived run and the first I (or nearly anyone else) had seen in thirty years. What's most interesting about it is that it was written by Walter Wager, a popular author then best known for TELEFON, which was adapted as an espionage thriller starring Charles Bronson in 1977. His later adventure novel, 58 MINUTES, was bought by Fox and transformed into the hit film DIE HARD 2 in 1990 (curiously, the film was written by Steven de Souza, ROSETTI AND RYAN's story editor). Wager, whose earlier career included original novels based on I SPY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE under his "John Tiger" pseudonym, had been a writer for CBS Radio, but I'm unaware of any specific radio or television credits.

Wager's plot for "Bedeviled Angel" is convoluted and silly, and it isn't helped any by Joshua Shelley's slack direction. Shelley, primarily an actor who was blacklisted, doesn't shoot enough coverage, making his stagy blocking come across as stiff and unnatural in the master shots. Rosetti and Ryan are hired by a children's TV show host, Stanley Frogprince (Elliott Reid), to defend his headstrong daughter Angel (Glynnis O'Connor) on a routine traffic charge. O'Connor was a big deal in 1977, having co-starred in the highly rated TV-movie THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE and the popular weepie ODE TO BILLY JOE on the big screen. Thankfully, director Shelley puts her in a bikini in one scene, proving he wasn't a total klutz behind the camera.

Normally, Rosetti and Ryan would be too important for such a piddly case, but both were big Frogprince fans as kids (the show's goofy frog handshake is a running gag throughout the episode) and take the case out of hero worship. Of course, the case turns out to be a bigger hassle than expected, when Angel is arrested again on a counterfeiting charge. Larry Storch shows up in two scenes as Wager's deux es machina, a con man named Sam the Speller, who provides the lawyers with a convenient clue. Sam, who has the unusual habit of spelling out loud occasional words he uses in conversation ("Two o's, one e, one r."), is a good example of a character whose only purpose is to provide exposition, but is given an interesting trait to give his scenes more life.

Fridell, who today owns a California vineyard, has probably racked up more hours on television than the entire case of "Bedeviled Angel" combined. Not only did he shill for Toyota for many years, he also played Ronald McDonald in a ton of commercials. Roberts, of course, maintained a steady acting career on stage, on film, and in television; I saw him guest-starring on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT over the summer. The two stars shared some chemistry, but they weren't exactly Culp and Cosby. Perhaps a better director than Shelley could have provided them with an energy boost. Or better scripts, as Wager's is lacking in suspense; there's no sense that Angel or the show's stars are ever in danger.

Rosetti and Ryan's biggest foe turned out to be BARNABY JONES. After six episodes going head-to-head with CBS' audience-pleasing crime drama on Thursday nights, ROSETTI AND RYAN tried its last case before the Nielsens.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #8

Comic Media published comic books for just a couple of years during the 1950s. One of its shortlived titles was WEIRD TERROR, and the first 5-page story in issue #10 was "The Man-Ape," drawn by Don Heck. Heck later went to Marvel and was one of the company's busiest first-stringers, particularly on THE AVENGERS and the Iron Man stories in TALES OF SUSPENSE. This story appears to be one of the zillion tales told about a mad scientist who implants the brain of a human into the body of an ape.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Randomness du Jour

Posting may be sporadic until the new year, but here are some other links you may want to explore. Maybe you'll find a new blog or two to add to your daily reading.

A big thanks to Chris Poggiali for getting Temple of Schlock up and running. Much of it is reprintings from his old zine about cult movies, but I'm also enjoying the obscure old movie posters and pulp novels in his collection. HARRY AND THE BIKINI BANDITS, with a hero who looks just like William Smith, is a paperback I have to read.

If you're into old comics, Dial B for Blog is one of the best reads around (certainly in terms of its design). A new article appears about every week or so. Right now, learn the history of Tower Comics' legendary T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, co-created by the great Wally Wood.

My boy Richard Harland Smith recently visited Vasquez Rocks, one of Hollywood's most enduring movie and TV locations, and posted about it at Turner Classic Movie's Movie Morlocks blog. A photo he took there looks almost identical to one I took when I visited Vasquez Rocks in 2006. Now, we have to get RHS to see Bronson Canyon.

I've posted about Bookgasm before, but if you enjoy reading at all, you might want to check it out.

Moviezzz always has something going on about books or movies, particularly if they concern the 1980s. If you're a fan of actresses like Betsy Russell, Deborah Foreman, Lucinda Dickey, and Wendy Kilbourne (whom I loved on MIDNIGHT CALLER), find out what they're up to today.

I could definitely do more, but it's getting late. Also, see my list of featured blogs on the right sidebar for more interesting reads. Catch you soon.

P.S. I was thrilled to note that, in CHUCK's universe, DIE HARD doesn't exist. John McClane's squareoff against Hans Gruber and his terrorist band actually happened!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Shocker With A Hook That Sheer Horror Sharpens

Richard Neely's THE WALTER SYNDROME achieved a certain amount of acclaim after it was released in 1970, including a positive review in TIME. Much of the novel's notoriety was a result of its twist ending, which probably seemed quite audacious then. I guessed the twist correctly in Chapter 1, which says more about how often it has been ripped off (I'm looking at you, Chuck Palahniuk) than it does about the quality of Neely's writing, which is quite good.

Set in New York City in 1938, THE WALTER SYNDROME is told through first-person narration from three different viewpoints: Lambert Post, a mild-mannered classified-ad salesman for the New York Journal newspaper; the confident Charles Walter, Post's co-worker and only friend; and Maury Ryan, a hard-nosed Journal reporter investigating a sadistic serial murderer. A man calling himself The Executioner is butchering women and telephoning Ryan to brag about the killings. It's no mystery to us that Post and Walter are both involved, but Neely's taut storytelling and the fascinating insights into their minds are what propel THE WALTER SYNDROME through 200 pages you may not be able to easily put down.

It's difficult to say anything more about the plot and maybe I've already described too much. If you're interested in thrillers, you will most likely guess Neely's big gimmick as early as I did anyway, but don't let that stop you from continuing to the end. Neely shows a real gift in presenting period detail in a way that colors your imagination, but doesn't bog down in extraneous detail. He doesn't overload the reader with pop culture references the way a contemporary author might, though Neely was, of course, alive in 1938 and was writing from memory, rather than research or using old movies as his focal point.

The violence is surprisingly gruesome, but mostly takes place off-page, so it's more along the lines of CSI crime scene gore, rather than a slasher flick. Of the three major characters, Ryan is the least interesting, but isn't it usually the case with serial killer stories?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Buttercup, Birdie And Buried Bucks

O7 Buttercup, Birdie and Buried Bucks
November 27, 1979
Music: Jimmie Haskell
Writer: Robert K. Baublitz
Director: Daniel Haller

This isn't going to make Hal very happy, but "Buttercup, Birdie and Buried Bucks" is fairly lame, even by MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO standards. This is partially due to the inane teleplay by Robert Baublitz, who has no other IMDb credits, but also because of the broad playing of guest star Larry Storch, whose overall-wearing hillbilly character chows enough ham to make Corporal Agarn look like Bruce Willis.

A trio of crooks, led by Harvey "Why me all the time?" Lembeck, rob an armored truck of $200,000. Before they can split the loot, however, Lembeck stumbles into a booby trap on property belonging to the backwards-ass Beauregard family, and the youngest son Junior (Charles Bloom) makes off with the money. Junior, who feels inadequate because his father Pappy (Storch) mocks him for being a sensitive artist and doesn't let him go into town to raise hell with his older brothers Elmo (Dennis Fimple) and Mountain (Bruce M. Fischer), splurges on a new hat, which brings him to the attention of Sheriff Lobo (Akins).

Eventually, Lobo, Perkins (Mills Watson) and Birdie (Brian Kerwin) figure out that Junior has the money, but the kid won't talk, leading to a three-way treasure hunt among the cops, the crooks and the Beauregards. The first part of the title refers to the lone Beauregard sister, Buttercup (the way hot Pamela Jean Bryant, returning from "Dean Martin and the Moonshiners"), who has a hankering for Birdie, who stumbles upon her skinny-dipping in the family pond.

"Buttercup" is certainly a comedown from the "Finders Keepers" three-parter. It's difficult to criticize a SHERIFF LOBO episode for insulting the viewer's intelligence—I do have some perspective—but there is some lunkheaded plotting and characterization here. Aside from the slapsticky hillbillies led by Storch, Perkins performs some competent police work while undercover as a convict in Lobo's jail, and the plan to fake a breakout and follow Junior to the hidden money is foiled by Birdie. Seems as though it should have been the other way around.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kubek HOF-Bound

Congratulations to Tony Kubek, 2009's recipient of the annual Ford C. Frick Award, which is given to honor broadcasters for major contributions to the sport of baseball.

When I was a kid, the former New York Yankees shortstop was teamed with another former major leaguer, Joe Garagiola, to broadcast NBC's Saturday GAME OF THE WEEK. I admired Kubek then for his enthusiasm, candor, and baseball smarts. Later, Vin Scully joined the NBC team and was paired with Garagiola, while Kubek and new partner Bob Costas handled the week's backup game. One of those Kubek/Costas games was the legendary "Sandberg Game," in which Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs hit a home run to tie the game in the ninth inning and another home run to tie it again in the tenth inning in a remarkable 12-11 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

To this day, Kubek remains my favorite baseball color man, even though he hasn't worked a network game since 1989. At a time when network baseball telecasts have never been lousier (although we did get some good news today), it's worth remembering Kubek even more. Past winners of the Frick award include Scully, Garagiola, Mel Allen, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and Marty Brennaman.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Detours Can Be Deadly

As direct-to-DVD directors go, Louis Morneau is one of the better ones and is certainly more skilled than a lot of directors getting paid a lot of money to make big-budget studio films. One of hundreds of young filmmakers given a break by the legendary Roger Corman, Morneau moved up—slightly—from cheapies like CARNOSAUR 2 to slightly less cheap B-pictures like BATS and MADE MEN, which is a genuinely funny and well-made desert thriller.

Morneau now seems to be stuck in subpar sequels, following THE HITCHER 2 with a followup to a cracking good John Dahl thriller that wasn't exactly crying out "franchise." In JOY RIDE, two young men and a female friend are terrorized on the highway by a gravel-voiced trucker who calls himself "Rusty Nail." Well, Rusty Nail is back in JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEAD (!), but he's no longer played by the chilling Ted Levine (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), and the new young stars are nowhere near as charismatic as Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn and—yes—Paul Walker were in the original.

Four college-aged jackasses are stranded in the desert on a road trip to Las Vegas and trek on foot to the nearest house. Seeing no one around, they "borrow" the owner's muscle car, but leave a note with Melissa's (Nicki Aycox) phone number, promising to return the car the next day. It was their bad luck to pick on Rusty Nail (Mark Gibbon), who responds by kidnapping Melissa's fiancé Bobby (Nick Zano) and terrorizing Melissa, her sister Kayla (Laura Jordan) and Kayla's emo Internet hookup Nick (Kyle Schmid).

This is, frankly, a terrible script that requires its protagonists to act as stupidly as possible in order to drag the story out to 90 minutes. At any time, they could/should have called the cops, but they keep convincing each other with ridiculous arguments not to. The nadir is a depiction of some kind of bizarre redneck trucker cult, where shotgun-toting truck drivers hang out in a gravel pit jonesing for crystal meth and participating in drag races.

Aycox, who starred in the similar JEEPERS CREEPERS 2, is fine as the Final Girl, but her costars are crummy, and Gibbon is a far less threatening menace than Levine, even when Morneau steers the picture into torture porn territory.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Deadly Cult

I don't know why the hero of Zebra's Chameleon action series is called Chameleon. He isn't a master of disguise or a cat burglar or anything like that. He's really just Vance Garde, a very rich, very smart dude who avenged the overdose death of his sister in his first book by striking back against the Anaconda, the druglord at the top of the chain. He managed this by forming a secret division called VIBES within his corporation to fight crime. His sidekick and lover is Ballou Annis, who also happens to be an employee. Come on, Vance, you know what they say about the company ink.

In IN GARDE WE TRUST (I know), Garde goes into investigative mode again after Ballou gets a strange phone call from her younger brother Adrian, who demands that she turn over to him his substantial trust fund. Adrian has fallen under the control of a Vietnamese cult leader named Sol Luna, who operates from his secret base in Montana. Luna and his partners, including a rapist dentist, have taken over the minds of his followers using brainwashing radio waves emanating from their dental fillings (!) and plan to use the same technology to hypnotize the world during a national television broadcast. Garde not only goes up against Luna's braintrust, but also Handjob, the mysterious strongman henchman previously in the Anaconda's employ, and a freaking grizzly bear that chases him across a glacier.

It sounds pretty cool, but is not really that interesting. At 240 pages, IN GARDE WE TRUST is a seriously flabby book with bizarre sex scenes that go on well past being interesting. It's a running gag that Garde and Ballou are constantly being interrupted during sex, which leads to a ridiculous page-filler involving their belts being stuck together and another where they decide to do it during a raid on an enemy office.

Granted, writer Jerry LaPlante does create some imaginative setpieces, not just the previously noted bear chase, but also an odd cliffhanger in which an explosive chastity belt attached to Ballou is set to blow if Garde's private plane drops below 10,000 feet. Hmmm, so this is where SPEED came from.

28 Years

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #7

Okay, enough about obscure sexploitation movies that played 35 years ago in theaters that no longer exist. For now anyway. On to important stuff, like...

...the splash page to ADVENTURES ON THE PLANET OF THE APES #7, published by Marvel in August 1976. By writer Doug Moench and artist Alfredo Alcala, this page had originally been produced for Marvel's black-and-white PLANET OF THE APES magazine in 1975. After reprinting the b&w adaptation of the 1968 film in #1-6, AOTPOTA #7 began reprinting the adaptation of the first film sequel, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Alcala apparently was forbidden to use the likenesses of actors Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, and James Franciscus, so he did the best he could.

This splash is great, because it dramatically captures one of the most stunning denouements in cinema history.

Oh. SPOILER, I guess.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fanny Hill

EDIT: This post has been updated. Thanks to Chris Poggiali for helping to fill in some blanks.

Moviezzz asked about the previous post:

Although just which version of FANNY HILL was that in the ad?

In 1964, Russ Meyer made a film based on the book, that was also called FANNY HILL: MEMOIRS OF A WOMAN OF PLEASURE. In checking, in 1968 there was a Swedish version.

That's a good question, as it's possible the Meyer film would still have been playing drive-ins in 1970.

Actually, it now appears that the Russ Meyer film, which was also distributed by International Film Organization, played with Roger Corman's HOW TO MAKE IT. However, the FANNY HILL that played at the Varsity one month later, replacing TOPAZ, is definitely, judging from the following ad, the 1968 FANNY HILL directed by Swede Mac Ahlberg.

The following ad is from the February 17, 1970 issue of the Southern Illinoisan.

So now we know. Thanks, Moviezzz.

The Swedish FANNY HILL was distributed by Cinemation, and the damn thing played forever in Southern Illinois. It came back to the Campus in May with I, A LOVER. At the nearby Anna Drive-In, the X-rated FANNY HILL played in June with the PG-rated THE LEARNING TREE!

I'm skipping ahead a bit, but FANNY HILL played its third run at the Campus in December 1970 with the Swedish INGA for two months. Its fourth Campus showing was in June 1971 with the X-rated GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES FOR ADULTS. You'd think everyone in Southern Illinois had seen FANNY HILL by then. The INGA/FANNY HILL tandem returned to the Campus Drive-In in June 1972, where it replaced Curtis Hanson's SWEET KILL (aka THE AROUSERS) and THE GIRL CAN'T STOP, a b&w Greek film (and was itself replaced by an Al Adamson double feature of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS!).

For a few weeks in the summer of 1973, a third FANNY HILL movie, this one called THE YOUNG, EROTIC FANNY HILL, directed by Joe Sarno, played at the Roxy in the nearby small town of Coulterville, Illinois.

FANNY HILL--the 1968 film--and INGA eventually played the Marion Drive-In in June 1974. In August 1975, a "sequel," AROUND THE WORLD WITH FANNY HILL, which was also directed by Mac Ahlberg, played with THE CHEERLEADERS at the Marion Drive-In. I know I'm the only one still interested in this post, but in July 1976, both FANNY HILL and AROUND THE WORLD..., both being Ahlberg films, played together at the Marion. July 20, 1976 is the last date I can find for FANNY HILL playing in Southern Illinois--6 1/2 years after it opened on the bottom of a ticket with TARGET: HARRY. I wish I had owned the rights to it then.

By the way, the Russ Meyer version of FANNY HILL played in Southern Illinois as early as 1965, meaning the story played almost continuously down there for eleven years in four different films.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Target: Corman

I guess TARGET: HARRY isn't technically a "lost" film, but it may be the least-seen film ever directed by Roger Corman. His brother Gene Corman produced it in Monaco and Turkey in 1969, and it was reportedly intended as a TV-movie for ABC. What I had always heard is that ABC rejected it, and TARGET: HARRY sat on a dusty shelf for a decade before finally surfacing in movie houses in the late 1970s. That myth, I'm happy to bust.

It may be difficult to read, but the ad mat posted above is from the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, dated Friday, January 9, 1970. The title, HOW TO MAKE IT, and the tagline—"A Thousand and One Ways with Pussycats or Tigers As Long As They Have Two Legs"—are ridiculous and have nothing to do with the film. However, the cast, including Vic Morrow, Suzanne Pleshette and Cesar Romero, definitely identify HOW TO MAKE IT as Corman's TARGET: HARRY. It played at the Campus Theater on Old Route 13 in Carbondale, Illinois with a Swedish sex picture called FANNY HILL.

According to the Internet Movie Database, ABC Pictures International distributed it, but not until 1979. According to the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings database, HOW TO MAKE IT, received a GP rating in 1970, when it was released by International Film Organization. The only time I've seen the film, it was titled TARGET: HARRY, and featured awkward nude inserts. That's the ABC Pictures version that got an R rating from the MPAA in 1979.

Being as Roger Corman removed his name from HARRY, using "Henry Neill" as his directing credit, it may be safe to assume that HARRY under either name is not very good. I think it's worth the trouble for Corman completists, however, even though Bob Barbash's script doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and there's a lot of running, jumping and location-hopping to accompany a thin plot.

Morrow is Harry Black, a freelance pilot based in Monte Carlo who is hired to take Jason Carlyle (Stanley Holloway) to Istanbul.  Carlyle, who's carrying a set of stolen counterfeit plates, is murdered there, and suspicion falls upon Harry, whom thieves Rashi (Victor Buono) and Diane (Pleshette) suspect of stealing the plates for his own financial gain. 

Corman paces the 82-minute feature okay and usually manages to find a pretty place to put his camera, but TARGET: HARRY is basically an international riff on THE MALTESE FALCON and not one that adds anything to the characters or story.  Romero and Michael Ansara add some class, and Charlotte Rampling is lovely in an early role.  Even Corman himself provides a wordless cameo. 

I suspect, though, that TARGET: HARRY—or HOW TO MAKE IT—is one of those movies that's a lot more fun to read about and discover than to actually watch.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cooler Than Bond! Quicker Than Fly! Deadlier Than Shaft!

SUPERMANCHU is an extremely badass novel based on a Golden Harvest kung fu flick produced by Raymond Chow. The film played all over the United States in 1974, 1975 and 1976. It was a double feature with DUEL OF THE IRON FIST in Troy, New York; with SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON in San Antonio; with HARRY IN YOUR POCKET in Syracuse; with ENTER THE DRAGON in Logansport, Indiana; with THE OMEN in Long Beach, California in 1976; with DRAGON DIES HARD ("Bruce Lee's Final Performance!") and QUEEN BOXER in Lima, Ohio; with KUNG FU: THE INVISIBLE FIST, SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON and BLOOD ON THE SUN on an awesome "4 Kung Fu Hits" "All Color Program" in Albuquerque; with LUANA in San Leandro, California. If the film is anything like the novelization, I need to see it.

There is, of course, no character named "Supermanchu," and whether the leading man is actually "cooler than Bond, quicker than (Super)Fly, deadlier than Shaft," I'll leave that to you to decide. Screenwriter Hsiang Yang's plot is the same as just about every Hong Kong chopsocky flick: some bad dudes waste somebody's family, and said somebody spends the rest of the movie killing everyone involved.

Han Ching arrives home after years of study with his kung fu master, just in time to see his mother, father, and sister expire after an attack by town boss Lee Ta-yeh and his goons, including a flunky named Snakehead. The young and brash Han Ching eventually teams up with the cooler Chen Chun, who has his own reasons for wanting Lee Ta-yeh destroyed and even briefly goes undercover at the villain's casino/brothel to keep an eye on him.

Much fighting and shit-talking ensues with the biggest battles coming late, after Lee Ta-yeh hires a pair of Japanese badasses to protect him. This is after Chen Chun, who uses American silver dollars as weapons, and Han Ching have killed off most of his men.

Although SUPERMANCHU (Ballantine, 1974) was probably knocked off quickly, it doesn't read that way. Descriptions and characters are given some depth—certainly more than the plot, which is standard revenge melodrama. I was surprised to learn that author Sean Mei Sullivan is actually renowned fantasy and science fiction author Jerry Sohl, whose 2002 obituary gives you a brief overview of his career. Sohl was also a screenwriter of some acclaim with credits on TWILIGHT ZONE ("Living Doll") and STAR TREK (the great suspenser "The Corbomite Maneuver").

As a bonus, the SUPERMANCHU novelization kicks off with an introduction by Master Bong Soo Han (KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE), who also provides diagrams of various kung fu moves used in the book, such as Tiger Claw, Dragon Stance and Hammer Blow. The cover uses the same art as the U.S. film release by Capital Productions, Inc. and is quite effective.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #6

STAR HUNTERS was a cool but shortlived science fiction DC comic created by writer David Michelinie and the wonderful artist Don Newton. The saga of 22nd-century heroes who were recruited by a tyrannical Earth government and sent against their will on an outer space mission actually began in 1977's DC SUPER-STARS #16 as a tryout. It must have gone well, because the Star Hunters got their own book.

I believe Michelinie stayed with the Hunters during the book's entire run, but Newton left after the first issue, reportedly because he was displeased with inker Bob Layton's finishes. Layton and penciler Rich Buckler created this splash to STAR HUNTERS #5, dated June/July 1978. The book was canceled after #7 with the story arc left unfinished.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Bloody Cruise To Mexico

I don't know very much about Manor Books' Kill Squad series, except that there were at least four of them, it has nothing to do with Avon's Killsquad books, and it was likely inspired by THE MOD SQUAD. Instead of "one white, one black, one blonde," we have tight-lipped white Chet Tabor, big black Grant Lincoln and Latina Maria Alvarez, all members of the San Diego Police Department. Judging from the back cover, the Kill Squad (which is never called that in this book) is only assigned the toughest cases.

In VOYAGE OF DEATH, which was author Mark Cruz's second Kill Squad novel, the squad goes undercover on a cruise ship to find out who is smuggling drugs in from Mexico by hiding them inside a stolen life preserver and tossing it over the side to be collected later by the American importers. Tabor, who seems more occupied with chasing women than finding the smugglers, manages to do both when it appears the mousy librarian he picked up, Winifred Lundy, may be involved.

Very little backstory is revealed in VOYAGE OF DEATH, beyond that Tabor is kind of a dick and he and Alvarez have a casual sex thing going. Cruz' plotting and dialogue are along the lines of a typical TV-movie from the period, and it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine this book as a MOD SQUAD. The shortage of suspects makes the mystery element moot, but Cruz manages to pick up the excitement in his action sequences, which include a hanggliding gone awry and a shootout in a Mexican courtyard. Not a bad book at all, but nothing special either.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blood Freak

One thing about watching terrible movies is that, occasionally, you get to see something so bizarre, so amazing, so absurdly wonderful, that it's nigh impossible to describe. BLOOD FREAK, a no-budget wonder shot in Florida, is exactly that: a Christian anti-drug gore/monster movie that fails at every level, particularly technical.

Put together any list of the Top Ten Crappy Movies Ever, and BLOOD FREAK will undoubtedly be on it. The acting, music, sound, photography, dialogue and special effects are beyond awful, and its combination of Bible-thumping morality and bloody horror make for a fascinating experience. It opens with an on-screen narrator (co-director Brad Grinter, who resembles the greasiest pornographer you can imagine) seated in front of a tacky plywood wall, wearing a sleazy silk shirt and smoking a cigarette. In the best tradition of Ed Wood and Criswell, he spends about a minute spouting nonsense about "catalysts" and introducing us to Herschel (co-director Steve Hawkes), a muscular motorcycle-riding square with huge Elvis hair and sideburns. While riding along the interstate, Herschel picks up pretty Angel (Dana Cullivan), a born-again Christian who takes him back to the swanky pad she shares with her bad-girl sister Ann (Heather Hughes), who's having a pot party. When Herschel turns down Ann's offer of a toke, she calls him a "dumb bastard" and plots revenge by teaming up with a drug dealer named Guy and getting Herschel addicted to marijuana.

Angel and Ann's kind father agrees to let Herschel live with them and gives him a job at his turkey farm (where they sell turkey poop!). While doing chores around the pool, Herschel is seduced by Ann's bikini-clad body and, to prove that "I'm no coward", he takes a hit of her joint. He find that he likes pot--so much so that, a few scenes later, he's suffering from some serious DT's, spazzing and crawling all over the house until Guy can show up with a soothing joint to ease Herschel's grass jones.

Meanwhile, the turkey farm is some sort of front for scientific experiments, and the two doctors in charge ask Herschel if he'd like to earn some extra bread by eating the tainted turkey. He sits down with a knife and fork and polishes off the whole thing, which sends him into more spastic antics before transforming him into a horrifying half-man/half-turkey. Yes, it's true. Herschel still has his body, but he now sports the head of a giant turkey. He can no longer speak, just gobble, and when he shows up in his lover Ann's room, he writes her a note explaining who he is, while her only thoughts are about what their children might look like.

Not only has Herschel transformed into a gobbling turkey monster, but he also thirsts for human blood, which he gets by roaming around the swamps, killing people, turning them upside down, and jamming them in the jugular vein, catching their gushing blood in his hands and cupping it into his mouth. Lots of screaming, gore and, of course, gobbling populate this section of the movie, highlighted by Herschel sawing a dope dealer's leg off to drink the blood pouring out of it. The squeamish have no reason to look away, because how seriously can you take an actor in a plaster turkey head attempting to slurp blood through his beak while inane gobbling sounds dot the soundtrack?

Herschel is eventually redeemed through the power of Christ, and there's a strange mixed-message happy ending, as he ends up with pot-loving Ann, rather than Angel. The highlight is probably the final narration, in which the oily middle-aged sleazebag smokes and pontificates about polluting your body with foreign substances, just before breaking down in an (intentional?) smoker's coughing attack.

Considering that Hawkes and Grinter's previous filmmaking experience was in sex films, including one set in a nudist colony with many middle-aged men and women completely naked, I don't know how sincere they are with their Christian message. Perhaps they thought an anti-marijuana creed would be commercial fare in 1972 (I don't know why), but even if it was, the amount of misinformation about drugs presented in BLOOD FREAK would taint it as For Laughs Only. Even without a killer turkey-man.

Hawkes also played a Tarzan ripoff in several Spanish pictures. Serious burns he suffered on one of them are explained in BLOOD FEAST as wounds suffered by Herschel in Vietnam. Hawkes later ran a wild animal sanctuary in Florida, and made the national news in 2004 when one of his tigers escaped and was killed by police.