Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I Was A Teenage Frankenstein

Just a few months after AIP had I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF in theaters, producer Herman Cohen (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM) pumped out this quick follow-up. I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN isn’t a sequel, even though Whit Bissell returns from TEENAGE WEREWOLF as another mad scientist.

Bissell is actually playing Dr. Frankenstein, and he’s continuing his ancestor’s experiments in creating life from dead organs and flesh. He’s incredibly lucky. A car accident kills two teens right outside his front door, and a few days later, an entire high school track team is killed in a plane crash. The head, Frankenstein just chops off a necking boy. The body parts he doesn’t use he dumps in the alligator pit beneath his suburban mansion. His needy fiance Phyllis Coates (SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN) eventually discovers the hunky young monster (ripped Gary Conway, later to star in BURKE’S LAW and LAND OF THE GIANTS) hidden in the laboratory.

Whereas Michael Landon’s teen werewolf was a strong character and protagonist, Conway’s Frankenstein monster is a wooden cipher buried beneath Phillip Scheer’s comical makeup. Bissell’s arrogant performance gives TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN most of its entertainment value, making the most of writers Cohen and Aben Kandel’s ripe dialogue (“You have a civil tongue in your head. I know you have, I sewed it back myself.”). Unlike TEENAGE WEREWOLF, this film is pure schlock (Bissell, playing a Brit, makes no effort at an accent).

Director Herbert L. Strock shot the film at Ziv Studios, where he also made television shows like SEA HUNT, SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, and HIGHWAY PATROL in a similarly perfunctory manner. As a cool gimmick, the climax of this black-and-white film was shot in Eastmancolor. Cohen continued the unofficial AIP series with HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, which also had a color climax.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I Was A Teenage Werewolf

AIP released this excellent teen horror movie done no favors by its ten-cent title. After leading man Michael Landon became a big star on BONANZA and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, he gently mocked I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF on talk shows, but he also wasn’t embarrassed by it, nor should he have been. He even parodied it on HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN.

Landon, then 20 years old and a Method actor (he learned to loosen up as Little Joe), is quite good in his first starring role as a troubled teen who gets into a lot of fights. Landon plays him as a pretty good kid, but with serious anger management issues. To hopefully cure him of his violent tendencies, sympathetic cop Barney Phillips (THE SAND PEBBLES) and Landon’s girlfriend Yvonne Lime (DRAGSTRIP RIOT) suggest he see a shrink. Unfortunately, said shrink is played by Whit Bissell (THE TIME MACHINE), a mad scientist who turns Landon into a werewolf. Landon wears the makeup in every scene and does all his stunts.

Film editor Gene Fowler Jr. made his directing debut and delivers plenty of verve and style for a picture allegedly shot in six days on an $80,000 budget (TEENAGE WEREWOLF probably grossed 100 times its budget). The screenplay by producer Herman Cohen (KONGA) and Aben Kandel (TROG) not only gives Landon a strong character to play, but also Lime as a good girl who genuinely cares for Landon and ace character actor Malcolm Atterbury (THE BIRDS) as Landon’s widowed father who tries to teach his son to control his temper.

While the film’s view of teenagers is strictly from the perspective of the middle-aged director and writers, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF is intelligent and suspenseful. It also led to AIP follow-ups, including HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and the inevitable I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, in which Bissell played basically the same character.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Iron Sky

Concepts don’t really come any higher than this. IRON SKY posits that the Nazis fled Earth near the end of World War II and set up a secret base on the dark side of the Moon. Seventy years later, this lunar “Fourth Reich,” led by Führer Korzfleisch (Udo Kier) and his SS sidekick Adler (Götz Otto), is planning an invasion of Earth, but is surprised when an American space capsule lands nearby. Adler kills one astronaut and takes prisoner the other: an African-American named James Washington (Christopher Kirby).

Unfortunately for the Nazis, they can’t get their giant warship Götterdämmerung to work properly, as their computer technology is still rooted in the 1940s. Discovering Washington’s smartphone, Adler brainwashes Washington, bleaches his hair and skin white (!) to pass for a proper Aryan, and takes a flying saucer to Earth in order to meet U.S. president Sarah Palin (Stephanie Paul) and get more computer phones.

Director Timo Vuorensola plays this for comedy — perhaps wise considering the absurd premise. More than broad comedy, much of the humor is in the form of sharp political satire that doesn’t treat the United States with kid gloves. It’s no surprise the corporations that control film distribution in the United States stayed far away from IRON SKY, which isn’t shy about equating Nazi theology and contemporary right-wing rhetoric, as personified by the American president (who, to be fair, isn’t specifically named Palin, but come on…) and her vulgar campaign manager (Peta Sergeant).

Shot in several different countries on a low budget, reportedly around $10 million, IRON SKY doesn’t have the visual effects money to match its imaginative production design, which includes a moonbase shaped like a giant swastika. The actors are unafraid to tackle the silly concept and sharp anti-American humor head-on with special props going to the very funny Kirby and to top-billed Julia Dietze, who is charming as a Nazi teacher who uses an edited ten-minute cut of Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR to indoctrinate the base’s children.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Next Of Kin

If you can buy Patrick Swayze (following ROAD HOUSE), Liam Neeson (TAKEN), and Bill Paxton (TWISTER) as brothers, then you’ll probably be down for the rest of this Chicago crime drama about Kentucky hillbilly justice. If you can buy Andreas Katsulas (THE FUGITIVE) and Ben Stiller (STARSKY AND HUTCH) as father and son, then you’re pretty easy to please. Helen Hunt (MAD ABOUT YOU) is also here as Swayze’s wife, plus Adam Baldwin (CHUCK) and Michael J. Pollard (TANGO & CASH the same year!), which makes NEXT OF KIN pretty fascinating at times.

As crime drama and action/adventure, NEXT OF KIN is solid but routine with some nice chases and gunfights courtesy of English director John Irvin, who made the mediocre RAW DEAL with Arnold Schwarzeneggar, the stolid yet spooky GHOST STORY, and THE DOGS OF WAR, a violent adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s novel. Michael Jenning’s screenplay examines the different justice systems in play in Chicago, which is presented as “civilization,” basically, and the back hills of Kentucky, where the Gates family makes its home.

Most of them, at least. Brother Truman Gates (Swayze) left home for the Windy City, where he became a police detective with a pretty, sophisticated wife (Hunt) who plays violin. Youngest brother Gerald (Paxton) finally follows in Truman’s footsteps, but his arrival in Chicago is met with violence in the form of gunman Joey Rossellini (Baldwin) of mobster John Isabella’s (Katsulas) crime family.

Truman, a good cop, is dedicated to finding the murderer, but oldest brother Briar (Neeson) wants more: vengeance. Which gives NEXT OF KIN several different layers to play: brother vs. brother, old-fashioned revenge vs. the letter of the law, fish out of water. Irvin puts together a pretty good chase atop an L train, and the climactic cemetery shootout is laid out with precision and some thrills. NEXT OF KIN was not a hit, earning half of what ROAD HOUSE did at the domestic box office, but Swayze’s next film, GHOST, was an Oscar-winning monster smash.