Friday, July 22, 2011

Beast Of Blood

BEAST OF BLOOD starts at the exact point MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND left off. A colorful action sequence at sea dispenses with MAD DOCTOR leading lady Angelique Pettyjohn (not seen here) and clears the way for lovely journalist Myra (Celeste Yarnall) and native girl Laida (Liza Belmonte) to make smoochies with John Ashley’s heroic Bill Foster. Also joining Ashley is Beverly Miller, who was Ashley’s producing partner, and Eddie Garcia, replacing Ronald Remy as the mad doctor Lorca. Miller’s acting as the captain of the ship returning Foster to Blood Island is terrible.

The third in the so-called “Blood Island Trilogy” is the best, even though it veers away from horror toward pulp adventure. Lorca, who survived the fire at the end of MAD DOCTOR, albeit with eyepatch and burned face, is now doing head transplants at his lab in the deep jungle. He keeps Don Ramon, the mutated monster that blew up Foster’s boat during the precredit sequence, alive and twitching on an operating table, while its head survives nearby (Lorca even talks to it!).

Eddie Romero, directing alone after sharing the chair with Gerardo de Leon on BRIDES OF BLOOD and MAD DOCTOR, maintains the gore and nudity and adds visual flair. Ashley was gaining more confidence in his chops as an action star as the Blood Island series wore on, perhaps because he was now getting involved in calling shots behind the camera. Like Pettyjohn in the previous film, Yarnall (THE VELVET VAMPIRE) really doesn’t have much to do except get kidnapped and pop her top. She’s in tune with the screenplay’s men’s adventure tone and certainly game.

Ashley never returned to Blood Island, but he did remain in the Philippines through most of the 1970s. THE WOMAN HUNT, SAVAGE SISTERS, and THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (a barely disguised takeoff of the Blood Island movies) were a few of the potboilers he was involved with as a star and producer. He eventually became a fulltime television producer, emerging from his performing retirement only occasionally to narrate the opening titles for Stephen J. Cannell’s THE A-TEAM and HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK series.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mad Doctor Of Blood Island

If you love naked Filipino women, inept makeup effects, and the wide sideburns of John Ashley, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND is for you. Produced in Manila as a loose follow-up to BRIDES OF BLOOD, the movie is probably best known for its pre-credit sequence that invites the kids in the audience to take the “Oath of the Green Blood.” Hemisphere Pictures had theaters pass out small packets of “green blood” for the kids to drink. Producer Sam Sherman, who wrote the opening just before leaving Hemisphere to start his own company, Independent-International, claims to have ingested one and become wildly ill.

BEACH BLANKET BINGO co-star Ashley plays Dr. Bill Foster, a U.S. government agent sent to Blood Island to investigate sightings of green-skinned villagers dripping green blood. Along for the ride is Sheila Willard (the immortal Angelique Pettyjohn), ostensibly visiting her alcoholic long-lost father, but in actuality there to scream, get kidnapped, and have sex with John Ashley. The role consists of little more than that.

Foster discovers natives are suffering from “chlorophyll poisoning,” which resident scientist Lorca (Ronald Remy) treats with a sedative, hot soup, and “no green vegetables, of course.” Assisted by Carlos (Eddie Garcia), whose mother remained on Blood Island after the death of his father, and scantily clad native girl Marla (Alicia Alonzo), Foster determines Lorca’s experiments in curing leukemia by injecting chlorophyll into his patients are actually turning them into hideous, green-blooded mutants.

One of many crudely filmed Philippines-based horror films starring Midwesterner Ashley, who would also produce many of them, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND is audacious, ridiculous entertainment. The direction by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero, who had already collaborated with Ashley on BRIDES OF BLOOD, involves unconvincing day-for-night photography and headache-inducing zooms when someone is being attacked by the monster (probably to disguise the silly makeup). This approach doesn’t really work, and neither does the romance between Carlos and Marla, even though Alonzo is an extremely sensual actress.

Thankfully, the sleaze factor is high. Before the credits roll, a naked girl runs through the jungle and is slaughtered by the zoom-hidden creature. The monster literally tears its victims apart, tossing around heads and limbs. The camera lingers on blood-drenched corpses with intestines hanging out. Ashley manages to hold on to his dignity by being likable and convincing in his weakly choreographed fight scenes, as well as a graphic sex scene with Pettyjohn, who later did adult films using the name Heaven St. John. Ashley returned for a direct Hemisphere sequel, BEAST OF BLOOD, which begins exactly where MAD DOCTOR left off.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brides Of Blood

After more than a decade of slogging through episodic television and second leads in schlock Hollywood movies, John Ashley, a deep-voiced actor with handsome looks and some charisma, headed to the Philippines to star in this lurid horror movie for Hemisphere Pictures. He ended up staying there for several years, starring in several more drive-in movies and eventually producing them too. When Ashley finally ditched his acting career in the late 1970s, he continued as a prolific producer of television series, including THE A-TEAM and WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

BRIDES OF BLOOD moves much too slowly, but is just weird enough to be worth a glance. Ashley stars as Peace Corps volunteer (and crack shot!) Jim Farrell, who arrives on Blood Island, located in the South Pacific, via ship, along with impotent scientist Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, TV’s Boston Blackie) and his nympho wife Carla (Beverly Hills, a notable Hollywood stripper who once dated Mickey Cohen), who despise one another. Henderson is there to investigate the effects of radiation from the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in the 1940s. What he finds are man-eating trees, a killer butterfly, mutated crabs, and a frightening man-sized creature the natives call “The Evil One.”

It’s doubtful 1968 drive-in audiences, who were used to monster movies being mere kiddie fare, were prepared for the excesses of BRIDES OF BLOOD. The natives placate the Evil One by tying up young virgins, stripping them, and offering them as sacrifice to be slaughtered and ripped to shreds. Created on the cusp of the MPAA ratings system, BRIDES OF BLOOD punctuates the terror with gore and nudity on top of the sexuality of Hills (née Beverly Montgomery or Beverly Powers, her married name), who is perpetually horny, roams at night in daring black lingerie, and is ultimately punished for it. No doubt the kids ate it up.

The silly makeup effects and colorful photography seem more apropos of a movie aimed at children, rather than this steamy jungle melodrama. The Evil One has often been described as looking like the Michelin Man, which is not an unfair comparison. Some parts are genuinely creepy, as when a carnivorous tree gets hold of a child with its tentacles. An attempt is made to humanize the Hendersons’ fractured marriage, which is also a storyline more appropriate for adults.

Mario Montenegro plays the island’s wealthy overseer, Esteban Powers, who lives with his mountainous manservant Goro and a posse of midgets, and the attractive Eva Darren is Alma, Farrell’s love interest who’s due to become an Evil One sacrifice. Hemisphere released BRIDES OF BLOOD in the U.S. on a double bill with BLOOD FIEND, a British horror film starring Christopher Lee, and gave away toy wedding rings to girls in the audience—another indication that studio head Kane Lynn didn’t know who this picture was for. Two more Blood Island features—both starring Ashley—soon followed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

And The Children Shall Lead

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 60 of 80
October 11, 1968
Writer: Edward J. Lakso
Director: Marvin Chomsky

Unquestionably one of STAR TREK’s worst episodes, “And the Children Shall Lead” guest-stars hotshot defense attorney Melvin Belli, of all people, as an ethereal alien named Gorgan. He uses his mental powers to brainwash the children of the Federation outpost Triacus into killing their parents (!) and then hijacking the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The episode’s main failing is that it is just damn boring. William Shatner hams it up a bit in places, as he was wont to do during the third season. In this case, his performance at least spices up the proceedings a little bit. But not much, as this episode is just difficult to sit through. The constant cutaways to one of the children pumping his or her fist (always accompanied by the same DUM! DUM! music sting) are monotonous, there doesn't seem to be any lesson learned in the end, and the finale in which the children suddenly snap out of their brainwashing by watching home movies is anticlimactic to say the least.

It is perhaps unfair to criticize Belli as an actor, since he isn't one and (it appears) didn't try to be. His scenes were probably all shot in one day, alone, in front of a blue screen with a script girl reading the lines of the actors he was supposed to be reacting to. Not that this gives Belli complete immunity. As one of America’s most successful trial lawyers, he knew something about theater, acting, voice, etc. In this episode, he shows all the range of a high school drama student on downers. He defended the Rolling Stones after the debacle at Altamont, and appears in the Maysles' GIMME SHELTER documentary. I don’t know how he ended up on STAR TREK; maybe he was a friend of producer Fred Freiberger's. It would be interesting to know if STAR TREK’s ratings received a bump because of Belli’s appearance in this particular episode. Sadly, this kind of stunt casting (which is almost never successful on a creative level) continues today.

Writer Edward J. Lakso was a TV hack who managed to write for a number of dramatic series, such as THE BIG VALLEY, MANNIX, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, STARSKY AND HUTCH, PLANET OF THE APES, HART TO HART, etc. I don't remember ever seeing anything worthwhile that he wrote, and some of his CHARLIE’S ANGELS teleplays are quite awful. It seems anyone who owned a typewriter got a third-season script assignment, to the exclusion of the established science fiction authors, such as Jerry Sohl, Theodore Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, who wrote during the first two seasons. Lakso shows absolutely no flair (in this episode at least) for plot, structure, irony, dialogue, or, for that matter, drama. He also directed a handful of films during the 1970s, including a Richard Petty biography starring #43 as himself (!), but they’re obscurities today.

On the other hand, Marvin Chomsky, who also made “All Our Yesterdays,” was a terrific director. His credits include ROOTS, HOLOCAUST, INSIDE THE THIRD REICH, BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB, and lots of episodic television. Lakso's script is so bad and Belli so miscast that David Lean couldn't have turned this episode into a silk purse, so I'm inclined to give Chomsky the benefit of
the doubt here. Sometimes credited as Marvin J. Chomsky, he won four Emmy Awards.

Pamelyn Ferdin was an excellent child actress who went on to roles as Tony Randall's daughter on THE ODD COUPLE and as a space cadet (literally) on the Saturday morning series SPACE ACADEMY. One of her SPACE ACADEMY costars was Brian Tochi, who also played one of the children in this episode.

How does Kirk know the alien's name is Gorgan? I didn't hear anybody mention it. I'm not even sure the children were aware of his name, since they always referred to him as an angel. It could be that Gorgan is actually the name of the alien's race, but no one told Kirk that either. I refuse to believe that the transporter lacks even the most elementary fail-safe system to ensure that people are not just beamed into space. Doesn't it make sense that the transporter would check to make sure the beaming coordinates are at least within transporting range before beaming takes place? And what about the poor bastards stranded on the planet? During the tag, Kirk tells Sulu to set course for a starbase. Maybe some of Gorgan's brainwashing was still in place.

The parade of daggers and swords that Sulu (George Takei) was so petrified of wouldn't even scare a child.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Terror Stalked The Night

I don't think anyone has ever figured out who author Edson T. Hamill was, whether he was even a real person or a house name, but I'm sure he isn't the same person who wrote Leisure Books' earlier Ryker novels. For one thing, THE SADIST is much better written than the earlier Ryker books, most of which were penned by future best-selling novelist Nelson DeMille.

For that matter, THE SADIST is better written than the previous Hamill novel, THE CHILD KILLER, which may be the nastiest, sleaziest novel I've ever read. It's also dull and blunt, which THE SADIST definitely is not. For one thing, THE SADIST takes the time to flesh out the personality of its antagonist, a hitman named Mike Marlin.

The biggest update to the Ryker series is that its hero is no longer an asshole. Previous installments made its protagonist, tough New York detective Ryker, a grim badass who made Dirty Harry look like Jm. J. Bullock. Preferring to murder suspects rather than apprehend them, Ryker was also humorless and didn't give much of a damn whether innocent bystanders got hurt or not. The Ryker of THE SADIST is a more conventional cop who quips with his fellow cops--hell, just getting along with them is a step up for the character--and shows signs of empathy with victims.

The plot puts Ryker and his partner on the trail of Marlin, a successful hitman for more than twenty years who specializes in offing wives. He's smart enough to stay clear of the law during his whole career, but it's pretty hard to keep a step ahead of the determined Ryker.

The massive change in Ryker's behavior leads me to conclude the Edson T. Hamill of THE SADIST is not the same Hamill of THE CHILD KILLER.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Random TV Title: Mission: Impossible

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE may have opened with more different main title sequences than any other dramatic series in television history. Because the show's editors teased what was to come in the next hour by cutting clips into the opening, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE technically aired 171 different main titles--one for each episode.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is most likely the most cleverly written drama in American television history. Each episode was a tightly constructed caper or con featuring government agents with the Impossible Missions Force attempting to overthrow, capture, trick, rob, fool, or even force to be killed a series of foreign spies and dictators (in later episodes, the IMF concentrated on the Mafia and other American criminals). Far wittier and more complex than the Tom Cruise movies that tarnish the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE name, the 1966-73 television series created by Bruce Geller could never be accomplished in today's TV environment, because it requires too much intelligence on behalf of both its makers and the audience to create.

Even if you've never seen the show, you probably know its theme, one of the best pieces of music ever created for television. Composed by jazz musician Lalo Schifrin, who also scored DIRTY HARRY and ENTER THE DRAGON and wrote the MANNIX theme, in 5/4 time, the theme was often woven into the episodic scores.

Here's a title sequence from the fifth-season episode "Flight." You'll note original stars Steven Hill (who was forced out after the first season) and marrieds Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (who left after the third) have been replaced by Leonard Nimoy (who was just coming off STAR TREK), Lesley Ann Warren, and, of all people, Sam Elliott (!), who was basically alternating episodes with original co-star Peter Lupus at this point (fans loved Loop and hated Elliott, and Peter eventually won back his job fulltime).

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Random Comic Book Splash Page: USA Comics #3

Captain Terror battles the Fifth Column in this splash page from the cover story in USA COMICS #3, which hit newsstands in the summer of 1941. It was published by Timely Comics, edited by the legendary Joe Simon, drawn by Mike Suchorsky, and quite possibly written by Stan Lee.

Captain Terror has no superpowers, but is good at busting the heads of traitorous gypsies, as seen here in "The Magic Crystal of Death." Captain Terror appeared only in three issues of USA Comics. After 54 years, writer Mark Gruenwald brought him back as an old man to attend a Golden Age Superheroes reunion in CAPTAIN AMERICA #442.

Friday, July 01, 2011

All Our Yesterdays

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 79 of 80
March 14, 1969
Writer: Jean Lisette Aroeste
Director: Marvin Chomsky

One of STAR TREK’s best love stories, “All Our Yesterdays” strands Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the past of the planet Sarpeidon. Kirk ends up in a time period resembling 17th century England, while Spock and McCoy plunge into Sarpeidon’s Ice Age. They meet a beautiful exile, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley), with whom Spock falls in love.

I wish Kirk's story had been more fleshed out and given more suspense, but this episode really belongs to Nimoy. Chomsky does generate plenty of suspense near the end as time ticks away waiting for Spock and McCoy to return before the Sarpeidon of the 23rd century goes kablooie in a supernova.

Hartley gained great fame in the late 1970s for a series of amusing Polaroid commercials she did with James Garner (THE ROCKFORD FILES). The two stars had such good chemistry that many viewers believed they were married in real life. Those commercials likely did more for her career than the dozens of parts she had played in TV and movies prior to that. Hartley had a rough life; according to her autobiography and other interviews, she suffered from abuse, alcoholism, and low self-esteem. When she was interviewed during “All Our Yesterday”’s initial airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, she seemed quite self-effacing about her physical appearance in the show, even though (like Maureen O'Sullivan many years before) she’s extremely sexy in her "Jane"-type leather bikini. She wore a similar costume in Gene Roddenberry's GENESIS II TV pilot, in which she had two (!) navels, a few years later. Hartley seems to be a wonderful person, has a great sense of humor, and has continued to work often. She's also one of the few actresses (Lindsay Wagner and Gillian Anderson may be the only others) to win an Emmy for her role in a science fiction series; she was awarded for her role as Bill Bixby's wife in a two-part guest shot on THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

Ian Wolfe, who plays the cranky librarian who sends the Enterprise crew into the past, was very funny as the smartass butler of Mrs. Carlson in a semi-regular gig on WKRP IN CINCINNATI.

Jean Lisette Aroeste wrote only two television scripts—both for STAR TREK. Before “All Our Yesterdays,” which was originally titled “A Handful of Dust,” she penned “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” Just 36 years old at the time her second TREK aired, Aroeste was a librarian at Harvard, UCLA, and Princeton.

George Duning is credited with the episode’s score, which appears to be stock cues composed separately by Duning and Fred Steiner.

Trek To The Past

Back in the day, boys and girls, there were such things as newsgroups. I don’t know if they still exist, because they were soon supplanted by web forums and blogs on nearly any subject you can imagine. Back in the late 1990s, when I was working late hours as a radio broadcaster, I had plenty of free time to kill when all my friends were either at work or asleep. I discovered a newsgroup called, where I encountered many other STAR TREK fans like myself. This happened around the same time the Sci-Fi Channel began airing the original episodes, which had been remastered and augmented with new wraparound segments containing interviews with cast and crew members. William Shatner hosted the episodes, which were seen in 90-minute primetime slots.

I got to watching the Sci-Fi Channel telecasts every night and then going on to see what everyone else was saying. Soon I was writing—not reviews, really—but just general observations about the episodes. I didn’t write about all of them, just occasionally.

Recently, I found them archived somewhere online and decided somebody may find some value in them. I’ve decided to repurpose them as blog posts, which will occur here on an occasional basis. These posts were originally written around 1999. I have augmented them somewhat to provide brief plot synopses, writer and director credits, etc. Since they were originally written in a less structured manner and sometimes as replies to earlier newsgroup posts, I have edited them a bit to make them flow better. Some information has come from sources other than me, including William “Mr. K” Kenlon, but these posts are pretty much original material written by me.

So, enjoy reading what I wrote about STAR TREK more than a decade ago. Your comments are, as always, highly welcome. I will reproduce the posts in alphabetical order. Not every episode will be covered.