Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Programmed For Destruction

Phil Sherman is just about the least likely secret agents you ever read about. Pushing fifty, slightly paunchy, and the proprietor and sole employee of the Paris-based Trans-Eastern Supply Company, the ex-GI makes his living selling computers and their parts. In PEKING, book #1 of Don Smith's long-running Secret Mission series, a U.S. government representative named Shannon enlists Sherman to sell the Chinese government a supercomputer under the table. The scheme is that, hidden inside the computer, will be a bomb that will detonate inside a Chinese atomic plant.

Unfortunately, somewhere in shipment, the computer went on the fritz, and Sherman has to visit the plant in person to fix it. The last thing the Americans need is for the Chinese to go fishing around the electronics and find the explosives buried inside!

Published by Award Books in 1968, PEKING actually predates the men's adventure genre, more or less created with the publication of Pinnacle's first Executioner novel in 1969, and is more akin to Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm or Edward Aarons' Sam Durell novels. Smith is a lean storyteller like Aarons, but his main strength appears to be in establishing an exotic setting. His descriptions of the Iron Curtain read as though the author really spent a lot time either researching or visiting Red China.

PEKING is light on action, which is perhaps believable, considering the hero's inexperience in espionage. He does manage to hook up with a Chinese beauty, who helps him escape a nuclear blast at the risk of severe punishment from the government.

Smith wrote twenty more Secret Mission adventures over the next decade, and if PEKING is any indication of their quality, I'm inclined to give the rest a try.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Post #900

I have nothing special to say. Just acknowledging that this is the 900th post of Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, Volume 2.

I really should have had more to say.

How about this shot of my 25th high school class reunion last night? Presenting the Farmer City-Mansfield Blue Devils Class of 1984:

That is actually about half the class.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Random TV Title: Banyon

BANYON was a typically action-packed crime drama from television impresario Quinn Martin that starred Robert Forster (later an Oscar nominee for JACKIE BROWN) as a private eye in 1930s Los Angeles. It barely made it past the fall of 1972, but Forster told me he loved doing the show.

Q: I also want to ask you about BANYON. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about BANYON has fond memories of that show. Did you think that was going to be big?

A: I don’t know. I had no idea. All I know is I loved doing it.

Q: Joan Blondell was on that show.

A: Yes, indeed. She played the operator of a secretarial school, and she would give me a free secretary every week. So I always had a free, new secretary that I had to break in every week.

Q: But it only lasted, what, thirteen weeks?

A: Fifteen shows. Half a season. The guy who wrote and produced and created it, Ed Adamson, died while we were shooting our first order. The show just did not survive his death. Quinn Martin produced BANYON. He was the executive producer. He picked it up after it had been a pilot, but before it got its order. He was the one that got it its 15 episodes. Quinn Martin was a very good guy. He always overpaid his actors.

Q: I’ve heard that’s why he was always able to attract such extraordinary casts, including guest stars.

A: He always exceeded the going rate for guest actors. I don’t think he paid many actors scale. He bumped it up just a little.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Is Dead at 62

Farrah Fawcett’s very public battle with cancer ended today, when the actress died in California at the age of 62.

Actually, I never got used to calling her Farrah Fawcett. To me, she was always Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the name she used when she became an American icon as the most popular star of CHARLIE’S ANGELS in 1976. She was, of course, until 1983, married to Lee Majors, the star of another major ABC success, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, and did a handful of guest shots on her husband’s series.

When she left CHARLIE’S ANGELS after just a single season (though legal actions forced her to return for a few guest appearances), Farrah jumped to the big screen, Caruso-style. And, like David Caruso’s ill-fated effort at a film career, Farrah’s three pictures flopped big time. It wasn’t until her first Emmy nomination as the star of the downbeat made-for-TV movie THE BURNING BED in 1984 that people began to take her (somewhat) seriously as an actress.

I haven’t seen the first of those films, an allegedly breezy comic mystery with Jeff Bridges called SOMEBODY KILLED HER HUSBAND. But I have seen the follow-up, a similar film called SUNBURN, directed by Richard C. Sarafian (VANISHING POINT) and released in 1979.

Farrah and Charles Grodin (SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES) are an unlikely couple in this frothy adventure/comedy filmed in Acapulco. Insurance investigator Jake (Grodin) is sent to Mexico to investigate the death of a wealthy man with a $5 million life insurance policy. Teaming up with beautiful model Ellie (Fawcett-Majors)--undercover as Jake's wife--and grizzled ex-P.I. Marcus (Art Carney), Jake snoops into the lives of his rich neighbors, including philandering wife Joan Collins, and engages in a swashbuckling final-reel rescue.

SUNBURN’s story, co-written by TERMINATOR executive producer John Daly and actor James Booth (AVENGING FORCE), is a mess, bouncing from location to location with no sense of rhythm and introducing seemingly important characters only to drop them. However, Sarafian sets a breezy pace, and the actors look like they're having fun. They ought to--they're in Acapulco, for crying out loud!

The following year, the troubled SATURN 3 hit theater screens surrounded by buzz of Farrah’s first nude scene. As fleeting (and probably disappointing to the few teenage boys who saw it) as the shot of Farrah’s breasts is, it’s still one of the most notable elements of this dull, solidly British sci-fi movie.

Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Fawcett) are scientists working and living alone on Saturn 3, a lab located on Saturn's third moon, Titan. Their research ostensibly involves hydroponics and finding a solution to Earth's dwindling food supply, but all they really do is lounge around in their underwear and sometimes take showers.

Out of the blue, Captain James (Harvey Keitel, sporting a ponytail and a dubbed-in clipped English accent) pops in carrying a mysterious cylinder and claiming he's been sent by their employers to assist them in their work. He isn't really James though; his name is Benson, and for some reason that I never figured out, he killed the real James and took his place.

The cylinder contains a disassembled robot named Hector, which Benson puts together (how did he get all those pieces into that little-bitty cylinder?) and programs using his own brain and his own thoughts. Unfortunately, Benson is a psychopath, and, since he's attracted to Alex ("You have a beautiful body. May I use it?" he asks in one of screenwriter Martin Amis' more embarrassing moments), so is Hector, and soon both man and machine are competing for the right to "use" Alex's body, whether she likes it or not.

That really is about all there is to the plot, and it's a mystery why the film was made at all. Although the final third is nothing but a series of chases and gory confrontations, SATURN 3 is never exciting or suspenseful, and it's a real shame to see director Stanley Donen (Stanley Donen! My God, this is the guy who directed SINGIN IN THE RAIN, for Chrissakes!), Douglas and Keitel involved in such a tawdry enterprise.

Douglas is the only performer who shows any vitality (as well as his wrinkly ass); Keitel doesn't seem to be having any fun (although it's difficult to assess his performance fairly, given that his voice isn't heard at all), and Fawcett-Majors, despite her lead billing (over Kirk Douglas!), is never more than a black hole onscreen. In fact, her nipples display more pertness than her acting ever does, even in her most histrionic moment.

Thankfully, Farrah won’t be remembered for her brief stab at a silver screen career. Her legacy will be 29 episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS, a legendary wall poster (not the one seen above) that lined more bedroom walls during the 1970s than lead paint, and a long battle with cancer that played out before our eyes, probably more than we would have liked, including a ratings-grabbing NBC special that shocked and hopefully taught millions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hillbillys In A Haunted House

Believe it or not, this dreary 1967 musical/horror/comedy is a sequel to the Woolner Brothers’ THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS. It's hard to imagine adults queueing up to see it, no matter how fanatical they were about its cast of country music singers. The action and humor seems aimed at a much younger audience, but the film presumably copies the formula of 1966's LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS. HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE was the final feature for director Jean Yarbrough, whose 35-year career included RKO shorts and Abbott & Costello films, and the esteemed character actor Basil Rathbone.

Country singer Ferlin Husky returns from LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS as country singer Woody Wetherby, who’s traveling with cohorts Boots Malone (platinum blonde Joi Lansing) and Jeepers (Don Bowman) in a convertible with bull horns strapped to the hood to a jamboree in Nashville. A wicked thunderstorm strands them in a dilapidated old country home, which is purported by the locals to be haunted, but is actually the base of operations for a group of spies. The reluctant visitors encounter rattling chains, rotating portraits, and bats on strings. Wooooo, scary!

The concept is similar to a Bowery Boys programmer from two decades earlier, but the writing and performing are even worse (Bowman is especially clumsy as the unfunny “comic” relief). Grizzled old Lon Chaney Jr. steals a top-secret rocket formula by donning a white lab coat, walking boldly onto a missile base, and chatting up the janitor to gain access to a locked office. It’s kinda fun to see old pros Rathbone, Chaney, and John Carradine hamming it up (with George Barrows as Anatole, their pet ape) as the heavies. As pathetic as this film is, they do look as though they’re enjoying themselves. More than we are, I imagine.

Duke Yelton’s plot really exists only as an excuse to string together a bunch of country-western songs by Husky, Merle Haggard, Sonny James, and others. James literally wanders onto the set, sings two songs, and leaves. Haggard is seen singing on a television watched by an insomniac Jeepers. To be fair, some of the reverb-heavy songs, such as James’ “The Cat Came Back,” are pretty good and probably made Southern drive-in audiences happy.

Richard Webb (CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT) plays a good-guy agent. Jim Kent, Marcella Wright, Molly Bee, and Lansing also sing. The pneumatic Lansing, who replaced LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS’ Mamie Van Doren as Boots, was appearing on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES at the time. She sadly died of breast cancer in 1972 at age 43.

Hi Yoooooooo

Ed joins Johnny on the Big Talk Show in the Sky.

I certainly like to think Ed is sitting to Johnny's right someplace right now, enjoying some Scotches and laughing his ass off.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Cosmic Magnifying Glass

I'm more than a bit disappointed to note that I have finally finished Charter's entire series of TNT paperback novels. The fourth of the series, 1986's THE DEVIL'S CLAW, is just as screwy as the rest of the series. In my previous posts about Doug Masters' TNT books, I've tried to make the point that they are as far out as you can imagine, but I'm not sure it's possible to explain how absurd they really are. At least, I don't feel I can.

TNT's nemesis/benefactor, effete millionaire Arnold Benedict, kidnaps TNT's girlfriend to force the superpowered crimefighter to tackle a new mission. Someone has discovered an electronic method of affecting the weather, which results in skiers fried to death on a snowy mountain slope and a frolicking couple frozen in an icy Caribbean lagoon.

The culprit is a wealthy sheik with two unusual sets of henchmen: a group of hippies named after characters in Charles Schulz's PEANUTS strip and seven dwarfs led by a cat-eating killer named Puffy.

On his quest to invade the sheik's underground compound, TNT (Anthony Nicholas Twin, who gained super senses in a nuclear explosion, including superhuman powers of sexual gratification) is "forced" to have sex with seventy foxy virgin harem girls to (ahem) pump them for information.

It's that kind of book.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Family

Mark Hardin gets back to his original mission of smashing the Mafia in BLOODY BOSTON (Pinnacle, 1976), the 12th Penetrator adventure. It starts off in an intriguing tangent, but unfortunately doesn't really pay off as well as it should.

The Penetrator jets to Beantown at the behest of an old Vietnam buddy, Tony Rossi--a good guy, despite the fact that his father is the Don of Boston's notable crime family. Rossi was captured by headhunters three years earlier and held captive in their New Guinea village. He has finally escaped--broken and battered, mostly emotionally--and made it home, only to discover an impostor has taken his place. Tony's father is deathly ill, and his #2 man has taken over the Syndicate. I don't recall why the Mob needed a lookalike to pose as the assumed-dead Tony, but there you are.

Hardin looks forward to crushing the Boston mob, although he promises Tony he won't kill the elderly Don, who is also a captive, along with Tony's wife and son. The usual bloodbath ensues. However, the promising matchup of the Penetrator and Tony's double never happens. In fact, the character never even appears.

Chet Cunningham's novel moves at a nice clip, as usual, but BLOODY BOSTON is lacking both a powerful climax and the slight hint of the fantastic that often populates a Penetrator novel. What's here is nice, but I've been accustomed to expecting more from this series.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Escape From Galaxy 3

You might be amazed by 1981's ESCAPE FROM GALAXY 3, a spaghetti sci-fi movie that was marketed as a STARCRASH sequel in some countries. Some visual effect shots are obviously swiped from STARCRASH, and the heroine played by American actress Sherry Buchanan is named Belle Star (cousin of Caroline Munro’s Stella Star?). The plot is virtually the same too. Sexy Belle and curly-haired sidekick Lithin (Fausto DiBella) try to save Earth from destruction by rampaging space dictator Oraclon (Don Powell, who also composed the laughable disco score). Powell is one of the most ludicrous overlords in sci-fi history with his eye makeup, sparkling beard, and fuchsia cape and longjohns with lightning bolts down the leggings.

Belle and Lithin land on a technologically primitive Earth and take up with villagers who teach them about sex (apparently, the immortal space virgins never wondered where children come from). Their new sexual powers enable the confident couple to board Oraclon’s fist-shaped battle cruiser and gain their revenge for his destruction of their king (Chris Avram). The gorgeous Buchanan, a nice surrogate for Caroline Munro, provides soft-R nudity in director Bitto Albertini’s inane but never dull space opera with an absurd deux es machina ending that’s also similar to STARCRASH’s. Belle and Lithin carry laser weapons, but we also find out they can shoot ray beams from their hands!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bear Bondage

Bear Bondage
February 2, 1980
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Frank Lupo & Robert McCullough
Story: Richard Lindheim
Director: Bruce Kessler

"Bear Bondage" is the rare BJ AND THE BEAR episode to center around Bear. BJ (Greg Evigan) takes his little chimp pal to see veterinarians Nivens (Diana Muldaur) and Mason (Joseph Ruskin) with what he believes to be indigestion. When he returns the next day, the pretty nurse, Janet (Christina Hart), tells him that Bear died of salmonella during the night.

In actuality, Nivens and Mason stole Bear to sell to a laboratory to be experimented on. BJ and Janet stumble onto the vets' cruel plot and try to rescue Bear. Jon Cedar (THE MANITOU) and Bob Minor (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS) play the evil vets' callous thugs. Hart is well remembered by '70s drive-in fans for her skin-baring roles in cult classics like JOHNNY FIRECLOUD and THE STEWARDESSES.

Evigan is pretty good in his big dramatic scene when he learns of Bear's supposed death. On the other end of the spectrum is the silly sight of Minor wrestled to the ground and being strangled by an escaping Bear. The concept is ludicrous, particularly when we learn that, in addition to dogs, cats, and chimps, the baddies are also stockpiling a ram, a boa constrictor, and a tiger!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Breakfast With Tiffany

Chris Poggiali's Temple of Schlock prints a 1991 interview with B-picture blonde Tiffany Bolling. Bolling is quite candid about her experience making '70s favorites like BONNIE'S KIDS, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, and THE CANDY SNATCHERS. All except BONNIE'S KIDS are out on DVD (though Goodtimes' SPIDERS disc is full-frame and could stand an upgrade), so you can judge their merits for yourself.

Personally, I think THE CANDY SNATCHERS is an outstanding example of drive-in sleaze, while Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre owes a bit to the hugely underrated BONNIE'S KIDS, particularly the salt-and-pepper hitman team played by Alex Rocco and Tim Brown.

Assignment Suicide

ASSIGNMENT SUICIDE (Gold Medal, 1956) is Edward S. Aarons' third novel about CIA operative Sam Durell. And like the others in the series that I've read, it's a terrifically tense thriller that, according to Aarons expert Doug Bassett, sets the template for the rest of them.

"All sorts of typical "Assignment" motifs make their first appearance in SUICIDE.  We see a situation where a diverse group of people are thrown together and have to rely on each other to survive, a limited scope of action (despite the exotic locales, the meat of a Durell action sequence happens in a very restricted environment), a beautiful woman who improbably falls in love with Durell after first hating him, Durell engaging in the most straightforward sentimentality after declaring he's a hardass.  Et cetera," says Bassett. Surprisingly, Bassett doesn't consider SUICIDE to be among Aarons' best, but I think it's quite a crackling yarn. I ripped through it in about two hours and change while waiting to be called to sit on a jury.

Durell parachutes into Russia to prevent a mysterious rogue government official—known only as Comrade Z—from firing an ICBM at the United States. The good news is that he's able to hook up with a small group of underground Soviets who also want to prevent the missile launch. The bad news is that they disagree with Durell on how to do it. While the American's plan is to sneak into the U.S. embassy in Moscow and spread the word using the media, which will stop the plot, his underground contact—a beautiful blonde named Valya Hvalna—and her friends plan to assassinate Z just minutes before the projected May Day launch. Both sides want essentially the same result, but are willing to kill the other to protect their own methods.

A great combination of realistic action (no laser battles or megalomaniacal world conquerors here) and colorful writing that describes only as much as necessary to move the story along, ASSIGNMENT SUICIDE is a fun read that comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gibson & Lamas Meet The Monsters

You've been hearing about it for a few weeks now. But is it any good?

How could it be, really?

MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS became The Asylum’s best-known, if not exactly best, film to date, after its trailer made the Internet rounds as a viral video for all to mock.

Former teen pop star and Playboy model Debbie Gibson ("Lost in Your Eyes") gets top billing as a lisping marine biologist, the maverick kind who hijacks a mini-sub, so she can check out some whales. A giant octopus attacks a Japanese oil rig. A mega shark leaps a few miles into the sky to chomp a 747. Holy crap.

The odious Lorenzo Lamas (TV's RENEGADE) appears as a scowling military man with a ponytail who thinks the idea of a giant octopus is as ridiculous as we do. Perhaps the only aspect of the film sillier is an out-of-left-field broom-closet tryst between Debbie and Japanese scientist Vic Chao that gives them the big clue to defeat the monsters. Which they don’t really do, because The Asylum has to keep the ending open for a sequel. Maybe MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS VS BIG ASS FROG, I don’t know.

Stock footage swiped from The Asylum’s 30,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA results in cramped sets and continuity errors. All three submarines use the same set, and the quickie CGI effects are the pits. All actors are bad, but the inexperienced Gibson, surprisingly (and bully for her for not getting a nose job), comes off looking best. Producer David Michael Latt owns The Asylum and has also directed some of its pictures.c

50 Years Ago: George Reeves

Fifty years ago today, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN star George Reeves died as the result of a gunshot to the head. Was it suicide? Was it murder?

Click here to read my review of HOLLYWOODLAND, which starred Ben Affleck as Reeves.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random TV Title: Jack Of All Trades

Bar none, the best TV main title sequence of the 2000s, to date:

Joseph LoDuca was even nominated for an Emmy for composing the JACK OF ALL TRADES theme song. Produced in New Zealand by the same folks responsible for the syndicated hits HERCULES and XENA (including SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi and STAR TREK scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), JACK OF ALL TRADES was a half-hour show starring the great Bruce Campbell (now on BURN NOTICE) as Jack Stiles, an American secret agent stationed in the South Pacific in the early 1800s to keep an eye on Napoleon's quest for power.

Since the show was a swashbuckler, Jack masqueraded as a Zorro-type masked rogue named the Daring Dragoon. His reluctant partner was a sexy British agent, played by blond Angela Dotchin, but their relationship was more David-and-Maddie than Steed-and-Peel.

At just 30 minutes per episode, the pacing was slick, but the plots were too simple, and the generous humor was too juvenile, almost like a Matt Helm movie. JACK OF ALL TRADES was syndicated in the U.S. as part of an action hour with CLEOPATRA 2525. When Jack was canceled after its initial season of 22 shows, CLEOPATRA returned for a second year as a one-hour program. I didn't like CLEOPATRA 2525 either.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #22

Not a splash page at all, but actually the final page of Atlas/Seaboard's THE BRUTE #1, cover-dated February 1975. THE BRUTE was a shitty book that lasted a mere three issues (which actually made it quite successful by Atlas standards...).

The premise of THE BRUTE was an unabashed ripoff of Marvel's THE INCREDIBLE HULK. A neanderthal man unthaws from suspended animation in a Minnesota cave. Finding no dinosaurs to eat, he subsists on rats and bugs, until three little boys discover him while spelunking. Amazingly for a Comics Code book, the Brute kills (and, it's assumed, eats) two of the boys, leading the local police force to burst onto the scene, guns blazing, must to the consternation of a tree-hugging anthropologist who wants to study the beast.

But, whatever. The only reason I'm showing this page from THE BRUTE #1 is the cheeky gag penciller Mike Sekowsky added to the airplane. Giving it the ID number 5H17, which clearly looks like a non-Code-approved word at first glance...

Editor Jeff Rovin claims it was his way of sticking it to The Man. Inks by Pablo Marcos. Script by Michael Fleischer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mission: Impossible Vs. Cancer

Wow! What an amazing find.

This ten-minute short film, made using the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE cast and soundstages, was spearheaded by the American Cancer Society to remind people to get regular checkups to avoid colon and rectal cancer. I don't know who directed it, but it's filmed in the M:I style and uses stars Peter Graves, Greg Morris (with a mustache!), and Peter Lupus. You get an interesting look at Paramount Studios too.

It's structured oddly, blending clips from the show with the new footage, and guest stars Joseph Ruskin (who does nothing) and Stafford Repp (who references BATMAN) appear briefly. Repp never acted in a M:I episode, so it's not like he was just hanging around the set (as Ruskin, who appeared about once per season, may have been), so his bit here is enigmatic.

Barney Phillips does a good job as Graves' doctor, and the film nicely uses M:I's signature themes. It's funny to see Graves hectoring former bodybuilder Lupus about his health.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Man With A Knife

It's been more than a year since the last Hardman novel I read. Ralph Dennis' hardboiled tales of flabby ex-cop Jim Hardman and his hip, huge ex-NFL-player sidekick Hump Evans are decent fare lacking the sleaze and violence of other men's adventure series of the era. However, the Hardman books make up for it in humor and an interesting Culp-and-Cosby-like relationship between the leads.

Hardman #2, THE CHARLESTON KNIFE'S BACK IN TOWN (Popular Library, 1974), finds unofficial private dick Hardman hired by a sweet old lady to find her missing grandson. Both are pretty sure he was involved with an amateur heist that has both the Mafia and Hump, who was ripped off of $700, pissed off and out for blood. For granny's sake, Hardman hopes he finds the kid before the Charleston Knife, a hitman with a thing for blades, does.

Ralph Dennis was based in Atlanta, where he set the Hardman series. He appears to have been a respected, though obscure, writer of paperback originals, and many fans believe he never received his proper due. Based on the two Dennis novels I've read, I tend to agree. I was lukewarm on THE LAST OF THE ARMAGEDDON WARS, but CHARLESTON KNIFE is a good, brisk read with colorful characters. Before his 1988 death, Dennis was reportedly an alcoholic and working at an Atlanta used book store, where his co-workers seemed unaware of his past as an author. I won't wait nearly as long to read my next Hardman book as I did to read this one.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Demon Lover So Dire

Here's a good one to watch with your buddies and a few (dozen) High Lifes on a lazy Saturday night. Press "play," and let the yoks begin. It's amazing that 1977's THE DEMON LOVER even exists, much less played theatrically and on home video in the early days of the VHS boom. It's a regional horror flick with lots of bad dialogue and amateurish acting to laugh at.

A bunch of young assholes hang out and get drunk at the castle of Laval (narcissistic co-director/co-writer/co-producer Jerry Younkins). One of them is a short guy with a high voice named Charlie who dances hilariously. I think they're supposed to be high school kids (the constantly whining Charlie says something about having to be home by 10pm), but the cast members are a long way past their teens.

Laval, who has long curly strawberry-blond hair, a paunch, and a chiseled chin that puts Dudley Do-Right to shame, demands his guests participate in a black mass. They refuse and leave. He then conjures a silly-looking monster that stalks the rest of the cast and kills them, as a dumb detective (Tom Hutton in the worst performance as a cop since ASYLUM OF SATAN) follows the clues.

The acting is astonishingly bad—the cast includes THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE's Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, and Marvel Comics artist Val Mayerik ("Man-Thing")—which matches the screenplay, sets, and photography. Director/writer/producer Donald G. Jackson once implied that DEMON LOVER was intended as a parody of horror movies, but both the film itself and DEMON LOVER DIARY, which notoriously documented its making, belie that claim.

I don't know how Mayerik got involved (the characters are named after comic book artists and horror filmmakers), but he's easily the film's most attractive and accomplished performer, which is not as big a compliment as it sounds. The astonishing arrogance of director/star Younkins provides most of the unintentional humor, especially his big moment of practicing karate for several minutes for no reason except he thinks he looks badass (he doesn't).

Definitive proof that, at one time, there was an audience for any horror movie, THE DEMON LOVER managed to score some Midwestern drive-in dates and a home video release as THE DEVIL MASTER. Fiddle Faddle gets product placement, and the detective character shoots a female witness in the ass with a rubber band.

Outside of mocking it, the best reason to watch THE DEMON LOVER is to prepare yourself for DEMON LOVER DIARY, a none-too-flattering look at the film's making. Jeff Kreines is the cameraman who drove from New York to Jackson, Michigan to help his friend Jackson and Jackson's friend Younkins shoot THE DEMON LOVER. To chronicle the behind-the-scenes story, Krienes brought along his girlfriend Joel DeMott to make a 16mm documentary that captures the confusion and contention of amateur filmmaking. DIARY has not been officially released in any form since a few 1980 screenings, but is one of the most fascinating portraits of moviemaking I've ever seen.

Seeing the delusional Jackson and Younkins dispense their bullshit regarding the quality of their movie is DIARY's greatest entertainment. Touting their "masterpiece" as being "two-thirds action," for instance (it isn't), or bragging how they put two years into pre-production (DeMott's footage exposes the directors as completely disorganized and mostly clueless). Jackson and Younkins left their jobs at a speedometer cable factory to make THE DEMON LOVER using money Younkins received from an insurance settlement after he lost a finger in a (self-inflicted?) accident. For their climax, the baffled directors film at rock star Ted Nugent's house, where they get access to real guns and bullets for their action scene.

Surprisingly, Don Jackson went on to a long, if not particularly profitable, career as a schlock filmmaker with titles like HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and (the stunningly inept) ROLLER BLADE to his credit. DeMott's film certainly doesn't make low-budget filmmaking look glamorous or even particularly fun, as resentment and paranoia boil over into an ambiguous conclusion that suggests Jackson's mood toward the interlopers, whose intrusive filmmaking he wasn't high on anyway, may have turned violent.

DEMON LOVER DIARY is chaotic, crude, and consistently interesting—only two of which adjectives also apply to THE DEMON LOVER.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Random TV Title #1: Jonny Quest

Bar none, the coolest Saturday morning cartoon ever and the greatest cartoon main title sequence. Of course, JONNY QUEST was originally a prime-time adventure series, debuting on ABC in the fall of 1964. It ran a season in prime time, then for eternity on Saturday mornings, weekday afternoons, and even in late night on the Boomerang cable network.

Hanna-Barbera house composer Hoyt Curtin created the swinging theme to JONNY QUEST, which captures the John Barry vibe of the then-popular Sean Connery Bond films and takes it to someplace really special. Cut to Curtin's theme are really kickass action clips based on cartoonist Doug Wildey's designs, including scenes from a short JONNY QUEST tryout film that never aired.

I recently landed a pair of soundtrack CDs (unauthorized, I believe) of Curtin's JONNY QUEST underscore, which is far more sophisticated than other TV cartoon fare and would not have been out of place in an I SPY or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Neal Adams Draws Carradine

The Adams cover of DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #4, coverdated September 1974. Though Shang-Chi was the featured story inside this Marvel black-and-white comic, writer John Warner and artist Frank McLaughlin (creator of Charlton's Judomaster) created an illustrated text article about the KUNG FU TV series that justified the cool cover.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Carradine Around The Web

EDITED to add more links:

You can't be a fan of Crappy Movies and not love David Carradine, who was often the brightest spot in junk like FUTURE ZONE and KARATE COP, even if he just appeared for five minutes.

Here are just a few good Carradine tributes online tonight:
Chris Poggiali's Temple of Schlock
Screengrab in Exile (taking the place of the recently late and lamented Screengrab)
Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter
Rent some Carradine from Netflix, which has only a handful of his hundreds of screen roles
New York Times obit
Screenwriter T.L. Lankford shares a memory from ARMED RESPONSE (although his photo isn't working)
Tribute from the always hilarious (and mysterious) Vern
Wrong Side of the Art gives us a look at the incredible Frazetta-esque DEATHSPORT one-sheet.

Carradine's death is still being unofficially called a suicide. He had seven kids and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

R.I.P. David Carradine

The star of KUNG FU, KILL BILL, BOUND FOR GLORY, DEATH RACE 2000, the SHANE TV series, and a million other films and television shows, most of which were beneath his talents, is dead at age 72.

Here are a couple of old posts I wrote about more obscure Carradine features that probably few other bloggers will today:

Like his father, the distinguished character actor John Carradine, David was a highly eccentric, very talented, charismatic performer who often dwelled in lowly quickies and cheapies that hired him for a few days to add marquee value to them. And he usually did. Also, like his dad, David rarely (but sometimes) walked through a part.

Often volatile, always interesting.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Thousand Coffins Affair

Next to STAR TREK and probably BATMAN, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was likely the most successful television series of the 1960s in terms of merchandising. Lunch boxes, toys, model kits, you name it, some produced one with the U.N.C.L.E. logo on it. In addition to all of that, Ace Books published 23 original paperback adventures of U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo (played in the 1964-68 NBC series by Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Michael Avallone wrote the first U.N.C.L.E. novel, which was probably intended to be titled THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, but ended up on shelves as the more marketable but less creative THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Avallone follows the series' premise fairly well, although it was likely penned early in the show's run, maybe even before it ever aired. As in early episodes, Illya is merely a supporting player stuck in the laboratory, although he does get to join Solo for the action climax. It took a few episodes for the show's producers to catch up to the massive popularity of Illya and actor McCallum, primarily among young women.

Solo goes to Paris and Germany to investigate the strange death of an U.N.C.L.E. agent who was found dressed with his clothing backward. Somehow, the murder is tied into a THRUSH operation that uses ultrasonic sound waves to turn people into mush. Avallone's choice as villain is intriguing and certainly more daring than any seen on television. Golgotha is a hideously deformed madman dressed in a hooded cloak who leaves all he faces queasy at the sight of him. Since Avallone never wrote another U.N.C.L.E. novel, Golgotha probably never returned to battle Solo and Kuryakin, but he's effective in this adventure, which evokes the horror of Dachau death camps.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Maybe Doc Wertham Was Right

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Now playing: Lalo Schifrin - Prologue - The First Fight
via FoxyTunes

Director Don Edmonds Is Gone

Trash filmmaker Don Edmonds has passed away. Although most film fans who fondly remember Edmonds will first consider his sleazy ILSA pictures, I'm more partial to BARE KNUCKLES, his 1977 crime drama with a memorable Vic Caesar funk score.

Robert Viharo plays Zachary Kane, a monosyllabic bounty hunter with a mustache who's chasing a wealthy psycho (Michael Heit) who likes to wear a leather hood while stabbing beautiful women. Of course, it's all because of Heit's incestuous relationship with his promiscuous mother.

That's really all there is to BARE KNUCKLES as far as plot is concerned, but director Edmonds throws in so many chases, stunts, stalkings, and bloody punchouts that you certainly won't be bored. And then there's the scrumptious Sherry Jackson.

Formerly a child actress who appeared in Danny Thomas's MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY series and contributed a memorable guest turn on STAR TREK as a sexy android in blue-and-brown suspenders and jumpsuit, Jackson is sexy in a nothing role as a woman who inexplicably falls in love with Viharo's boorish, macho character at first sight. Edmonds, who also wrote and produced BARE KNUCKLES, scripted some of the stupidest dialogue--almost every conversation consists of terse non sequiturs passed back and forth between two characters--and most clich├ęd characters you've ever seen, which actually adds to the appeal of this action-packed picture.

Caesar's silly faux-funky score will probably make you laugh out loud, and if you love to see cars smash into empty cardboard boxes, unrelated scenes taking place in the same obviously and ineptly redressed locations, boom-mike reflections, and kung-fu battles between actors who obviously don't know the first thing about martial-arts, BARE KNUCKLES is definitely for you.

Appealing to urban audiences are co-stars Gloria Hendry (BLACK BELT JONES), who appears to have retired from features after this, and John Daniels (BLACK SHAMPOO), whose small bit as a black action hero seems to have been added in order to get playdates in inner cities. Production designer J. Michael Riva and cinematographer Dean Cundey went on to major studio fare like APOLLO 13, JURASSIC PARK, LETHAL WEAPON and CONGO.

In addition to the grimy ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS and ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS, which aren't really my bag, Edmonds worked for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. 1974's TENDER LOVING CARE is sort of a sequel to THE STUDENT NURSES and PRIVATE DUTY NURSES. It even has the same plot. Three sexy nurses move in together and experience unusual romantic entanglements. An orderly (Buck Flower) catches Leah Simon stealing morphine for her junkie doctor boyfriend and blackmails her for sex. Marilyn Joi gets involved with a washed-up boxer (John Daniels again), who considers becoming a pimp. Donna Desmond has a thing for a cute blond doctor, but takes up instead with a cocky dune-buggy driver named Reno (future DAYS OF OUR LIVES and THE HOGAN FAMILY star Josh Taylor, billed as “Tim Taylor”) who invites her to participate in a foursome.

Next to BARE KNUCKLES, TENDER LOVING CARE may be Edmonds' best directed film, as he demonstrates on a very tiny budget a fluid camera sense and a tight storytelling style that makes it one of the best of producer Corman’s “3 Girls” pictures.