Tuesday, April 28, 2020




At this late date it’s hard to say how versed Bill Ballinger, the screenwriter of THE STRANGLER, was in the still-ongoing case of the Boston Strangler. Though an early specialist—what we now call a “profiler”—theorized that the erratic serial killer might have mother issues, I don’t have any idea if that theory was available to Ballinger. For all I know, the writer may have chosen to model the fictional character of Leo Kroll less on theories about Boston’s serial murderer and more upon the template of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, who in turn had been partially patterned after Ed Gein.

In PSYCHO, the audience never knows anything more about Norman’s mother than what Norman relates. THE STRANGLER is more explicit: the script and direction efficiently lay out exactly how badly Kroll (Victor Buono) had been dominated by his invalid mother (Ellen Corby). Her ongoing illnesses made it impossible for Kroll to sustain enough capital to go to medical school, and so Kroll holds down a menial job as a chemical researcher. In order to more surely bind her son to her, the demanding Mrs. Kroll has repeatedly disparaged her obese son’s appearance, implying that no woman could ever want him—and though she claims to love him, there’s no sense that she has ever tried to offer her son sensuous inducements to remain tied to her apron strings, as one sees in certain iterations of Norman’s mother. Kroll becomes a serial murderer of women for the same basic reason as Norman does: frustrated sexuality. But whereas Norman assumes his mother’s persona in an attempt to convince himself that she’s jealous of Norman’s attentions, Kroll has no illusions of becoming someone else. He can’t quite assert himself into strangling his mother, but he can murder various nurses in the city of his residence, as images of the manipulative crone. But he evidently also sees his victims as emblems of feminine allure, for before committing murder he patronizes a shooting gallery and always wins a cute little doll for a prize. The script is a little vague on what he does with the dolls—he only leaves one at the scene of a strangling, thus giving the local cops a clue to his true nature. At the same time that he’s killing so promiscuously, though, he has one ideal real-
world woman he wants to court, Tally, the young girl who manages the shooting gallery.

Ballinger’s script devotes scant development to Tally, to Kroll’s other victims, or to the cops who eventually track Kroll down. Te anatomy of this particular psycho is the film’s only selling point. Unlike a handful of other films based on the Boston Strangler, this one creates an uncanny sense of the fearsome killer, rather than reducing him to a predictable psychological “type.” Kroll’s doll-fetish is the only aspect of his killings that gives them the vibe of the uncanny “bizarre crime,” but Ballinger skillfully relates the doll-motif to the killer’s unrealistic idealization of women. The film’s only real surprise comes at the end, for though it sets up the viewer to believe that the innocent Tally will be spared. The cops, having ferreted out Kroll, want Tally to be a stalking-horse, assuring her of their protection. Tally refuses, forcing the cops to surveil her from a distance—which makes it possible for Kroll to break in and strangle her before the cops can burst in and shoot him down for a somewhat satisfying resolution.

Oddly, in real life Albert de Salvo was jailed the same year that THE STRANGLER saw release, and though he went to prison the law did not in his lifetime validate his identity as the Boston Strangler.

DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE was released one year after the mammoth success of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, but HOUSE doesn’t resemble the majority of so-called slashers. It also declines to create any mystery about the identity of the psycho-killer, and in this resembles not PSYCHO but one of its same-year competitors, Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM. However, Donnie Kohler of HOUSE is one of the most depressingly downscale psychos in American film.

Like Norman Bates and Leo Kroll, Kohler is unable to forget his early abuse, recapitulating it in his profession as a worker in a waste-disposal plant. In his childhood his termagant mother—whose husband apparently left her—picked up the habit of punishing young Donny’s sins by holding his arms over a stove-fire. There’s not much detail on the mother, but the broad implication is that she took out her anger toward her absent husband on her child, not unlike the mother of Stephen King’s Carrie White.

Unlike Carrie, apparently Donnie manages to conceal his psychosis from the waking world and gives the impression of being a functioning adult—aside from one incident at his workplace, where he watches in fascination when another worker’s body catches on fire. This apparently tips Donnie over the edge, for in a scattershot manner he begins looking for women to kill. Like Leo Kroll, Donnie’s not any sort of charmer, so he has to rely on trickery and brute abduction, as he decides to exorcise his sexual feelings by setting women on fire—clearly an act of revenge against his deceased mother.

The film recounts Donnie’s crimes in a documentary-like manner, showing the big city as a place of low-income grit and grime. Like the psycho in PEEPING TOM, Donnie retains some awareness of his hideous acts, and even attempts to confess to a Catholic priest (possibly a symbol of the absent father). This aspect of the killer’s personality keeps his world within the context of the drama, in contrast to PSYCHO’s universe of irredeemable irony. There are no clever cops tracking down the killer this time: Donnie accidentally exposes himself and brings about his own doom.

The “delirious dreams” trope appears at the film’s end, when Donnie hallucinates that some of the dead people in his life resurrect themselves to haunt him prior to his death. The film’s darkest touch appears in a coda, showing another little boy becoming warped into psychosis by a heavy-handed mother—and thus suggesting that the horrors of this house will go on, world without end.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor,* (2) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

Often movies that are filmed back-to-back with overlapping stars and crews don’t turn out that well. However, these two Chinese fantasy-films-- centering upon the appeal of a pair of pop-singers known as “the Twins”—don’t entirely conform to that generalization.

The first of the two films, in keeping with its two young (non-related) stars, was titled THE TWINS EFFECT, but for the American market this film was cut, rearranged, and retitled THE VAMPIRE EFFECT. I’ve only seen the reworked version, but thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I feel secure about stating that the original was just another routine vampire-and-kuug-fu smorgasbord, just like the recut version.

There’s no doubt that stars Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi are charismatic performers, even though all of their kung-fu is probably indebted to wirework and skilled sttuntpersons. It may not be a surprise that director Donnie Yen and his writers turn in a derivative, barely warmed concoction of vampire-hunting clichés. But since Yen is well-known for his expertise in action-flicks, it’s surprising that the film doesn’t even work well on the kinetic level.

Though the modern world is being secretly menaced by covert clutches of vampires, there’s an equally hidden organization, the Anti-Vampire Federation, that seeks to expunge the bloodsuckers. Thus, when a particular Chinese metropolis is visited by a gang of Euro-vamps, there’s a small group of vamp-killers ready to meet them. One hunter, Lila, is killed in the resulting battle, leaving only two: a guy improbably named Reeve and his sister Helen. Because they’re “short a man,” the Federation sends an extra fighter, a young woman named Gypsy, and though Helen and Gypsy don’t seem to like each other for unstated reasons, the trio seeks to destroy the visiting monsters.

However, the Euro-vamps have come to China in pursuit of a royal refugee, Kazaf, whose blood they want to consume for some big magic ritual. Helen cute-meets Kazaf and a lot of time is consumed with their banal romantic encounters. There’s also the muted suggestion that Reeve and Gypsy may have hooked up, though the script is barely interested in their characters. There’s a toss-off explanation as to how these noble vampire hunters can best super-strong vampires, for the former all imbibe a serum that gives them temporary vampire-like strength. However, the fights look they’re nothin’ but your basic wire-fu.

In a curious development (SPOILER ALERT), Reeve is turned by the vamps and menaces both his girlfriend and his sister. It falls to Helen to extinguish her brother. Yet it all works out very economically, for after Reeve and the other vampires are all dead, the good vamp Kazaf takes Reeve’s place in the group. I found myself wondering if the story might have started out like a brother-incest fantasy that got rewritten for mainstream appeal. But such a reading might be giving this dull chopsocky more credit than it deserves. Particuarly onerous are a couple of allegedly funny cameos by Jackie Chan, wherein he does no stunts but fails to deliver on the humor as well.

A lot of Chinese period-fantasies tend toward being both scattershot in narrative and overburdened with too many ancillary characters. But even though TWINS EFFECT 2 shares many of the stars of the earlier film, this not only avoids the pitfalls of the genre but delivers on all the required elements—romance, humor, action, sense of wonder. Maybe the direction of Corey Yuan made a crucial difference, since even Jackie Chan’s cameo works out pretty well. (He plays a temple-guardian, and for once, plays the part straight, sans his usual schtick.)

In a vaguely medieval fantasy-kingdom, evil Queen Ya Ge has ruled that all men must become the slaves of women, which order the queen enforces with an army of Amazon warriors. In the past, Ya Ge was in love with a young man, but her twin sister Ya Ting pretended to be Ya Ge so that the giiy slept with her instead. Ya Ting’s motive is never really explained very well, but patently the backstory merely serves to explain the role-reversal fantasy. However, Ya Ge is aware that at some point in the past a prophecy appeared on a stone plaque, foretelling that the realm’s future king. “Star of Rex,” would soon overthrow the queen’s regime by claiming the magical sword, perversely named “Excalibur.” The plaque was in the queen’s possession, but it’s been stolen by a rebel group headed up by a fighter with the even more oddball name of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

It would seem that the queen’s a lot older than she looks, since the film’s four protagonists seem to have grown to maturity under the queen’s Amazonian dictates. Spring (Charlene Choi) is a young woman who sells male slaves (mockingly called “Dumbbells”) in the local market. She crosses paths, and has a fight with, Blue Bird (Gillian Chung), but the two make common cause when they decide to go looking for the missing plaque. Spring thinks it’s a map to treasure, but Blue Bird, secretly a spy for the queen, wants to regain the artifact to keep others from learning the prophecy.

In the course of their adventures, the “twins” also forge bonds with two itinerant performers, Blockhead and Charcoal Head, respectively played by Bolin Chen and Jaycee (“son of Jackie”) Chan. Despite the law that puts the ladies in the drivers’ seat, love, the great equalizer, blooms, with the taciturn Blue Bird grooving on Charcoal Head while the more light-hearted Spring favors Blockhead. To be sure, the two guys aren’t as physically impressive as the women, who are both superb fighters with or without weapons, so the guys have to resort to being charming rather than assertive. A further complication ensues when the quarter follow their map to the supposed treasure-room, and eventually discover that the lowly-born Charcoal Head is the “Star of Rex,” destined to defeat Ya Ge.

There’s a great deal of comedy in the film, often playing off the dominant traits of the two fighting females—light-hearted Spring goes into a couple of screaming-fits, while straight-laced Blue Bird must in one scene force herself to smile, resulting in a rictus-like expression worthy of Christina Ricci. However, the adventure-elements take precedence, in that Charcoal Head must step up to defeat Ya Ge’s evil plan to magically transform all men in the realm into women. (And yes, there’s some obvious comedy associated with the villain’s big scheme, but it doesn’t efface the more pertinent need to correct the unjust imbalance of the evil queen’s society.) In fact, without revealing the ending, I’ll note that the queen’s fate also involves bringing her character full circle, so that even her frustrated romantic arc is given a pleasing denouement.

TWINS EFFECT 2 was the debut film for Jackie Chan’s son, and he’s okay in the role, if not any better than any number of similarly skilled actors. Nonetheless, Choi and Chung are the film’s selling-points, and this time they play off one another’s established characters with considerable charm and vigor.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Despite the risible title, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF may well be the most interesting werewolf-film of the fifties. Though THE WOLF MAN toyed with the notion that Larry Talbot’s curse might’ve been no more than a psychological delusion, TEENAGE shows psychology as the means of unleashing, rather than banishing, the beast within.

The “Ralph Thornton” who supposedly authored the script was just a pen-name for long-time screenwriter Abel Kandel (whose Rumanian extraction has some impact on the storyline) and the film’s producer Herman Cohen. In contrast to THE WEREWOLF, Columbia’s slightly earlier wolf-man outing, this teenaged were-beast plays it both ways, alluding to both science and folklore. Said teenager is Tony (Michael Landon), who from the beginning seems afflicted with bouts of irrational rage. Late in the film, Tony’s mild-mannered father suggests that the youth has suffered from growing up without the feminine influence of his mother, who died years ago. Yet the true culprit seems to be that old devil testosterone. Tony feels constantly challenged not only by his peers in high school, but most of the representatives of authority, be it his father, the trepidatious parents of Tony’s steady girlfriend, or an understanding cop who warns Tony to mend his ways before he ends up in stir.

Ironically, it’s the nice-guy cop who recommends that Tony consult a local headshrinker, one Doctor Brandon (Whit Bissell). Brandon is vaguely connected to the town’s local Air Force base, which has no real relevance to the narrative except that it makes the doc sound more like a hardcore researcher and less like the sort of Park Avenue alienist whose fees would be outside a teenager’s means. Tony has zero desire to have his head shrunk, but finally admits he has a problem when, during one of his attacks on a peer, he accidentally swats his faithful girlfriend. Tony thus volunteers for the psychologist’s examinations, gaining a certain amount of sympathy from the viewer despite his aggressiveness.

Unfortunately for Tony, Brandon is one of a long line of mad scientists, and even has a lab assistant who warns him about overreach while doing nothing to stop the mad science. Whereas some forties types wanted to create supermen in order to avert war, like George Zucco in THE MAD MONSTER, Brandon is antsy about a world where nuclear power could obliterate all life. His rather incoherent solution to this is to use drugs and hypnosis to regress humanity to the status of their primitive forbears, though he seems to have no idea as to how this would play out on a world scale. In truth, when he says late in the film that he wants to behold “the secrets of creation,” he’s probably being truer to the motives of his Frankensteinian predecessors.

In any case, Brandon recognizes that Tony’s perpetual anger marks him as a perfect subject. Though Brandon does not mention the idea of a genetic throwback, possibly there’s some notion that Tony symbolizes caveman existence, when all nature was “red in tooth and claw.” The script doesn’t explain what this has to do with werewolf lore, though Brandon seems to make one lore-allusion by claiming that Tony has a “telltale mark” on his body. The hypno-treatment seemingly regresses Tony to the days of his ancestors, after which he starts morphing into a big-fanged wolf-man at night. It may be significant that his only two victims are not authority-figures, but his high-school peers, though in the end the Teenage Werewolf finally does manage to wreak vengeance on Brandon and his assistant, who are after all representatives of “bad authority.”

Gene Fowler Jr. keeps the tension up despite the many talking-heads scenes, though some of the credit for viewer-interest must go to Landon’s nuanced portrayal of Tony. While gypsy soothsayers would have been out of place in Midtown U.S.A., Kandel provides a back-door version of the superstitious peasant by having a police janitor relate the history of “Carpathian” werewolves. The script may have meant to suggest that such legends were also the result of primitive regressions, but if so the idea is not exploited.

The same basic concept does, however, appear in the writing-duo’s follow-up, BLOOD OF DRACULA, this time lensed by the (less-talented) Herbert L. Strock. In some ways BLOOD shows greater potential than TEENAGE, but turns out to be a case of too many concepts spoiling the broth.

Teenaged Nancy Perkins (Sandra Harrison) is supplied with a much more resonant motive for rage than testy Tony. At the film’s opening, her father and stepmother-- who have gotten married within six weeks of the passing of Nancy’s mother—drop Nancy off at a girls’ boarding school. Later in the film, the headmistress opines that most parents use the school as a means to abrogate the responsibility of parenting, but the Perkinses never come back into the film to reap any penalty for their immoral actions (which may well include Mr. Perkins messing around on his late wife prior to her death). Headmistress Thorndyke supplies the voice of benign authority and genuinely seeks to welcome Nancy to her new routine, stressing that the institution is not a correctional prison, but a ladies’ preparatory school

Like Tony, Nancy has a series of fractious encounters with her peers, a pack of semi-mean girls who style themselves “the Birds of Paradise” (presumably a reference to their feminine charms). Refreshingly, the young ladies who invade Nancy’s room and paw through her belongings are just as obnoxious as any masculine intruders, though none of them are anything more than spoiled brats. These half-dozen chicklets seem to be the only other occupants of the school, which is presumably why Mrs. Thorndyke asks their leader Myra to play nursemaid to the new girl. The Birds don’t seem to have a consistent attitude toward Nancy, bullying her once or twice but still allowing her to come to their parties, replete with boys who sneak onto the grounds. For her part, Nancy stands up for herself, but any rage she feels is tamped down by the fact that she has nowhere else to go.

Unfortunately, there’s a malign authority on the grounds, and she even has a name similar to that of the psychologist in TEENAGE WEREWOLF. Girl-gang leader Myra more or less steers the school’s chemistry teacher Miss Branding toward Nancy, though no malice seems involved. Myra’s relationship to Branding is never defined beyond the fact that the younger woman listens attentively when the older one gripes about how male scientists have failed to recognize her genius. Like Brandon before her, this mad experimenter also has a mad-on against the nuclear society. But instead of advocating total regression, Branding wants to unleash some sort of magical power that dwells within human beings, one that can dwarf nuclear power. To this end, Branding uses a possibly magical amulet to hypnotize Nancy, and then, like Brandon before her, just turns her victim loose on society to see what happens. (Maybe there’s a good reason no one respected her methodology…)

Again, East European folklore-motifs are worked in minimally: the amulet is supposed to be Carpathian, and after Nancy starts murdering her peers, one of the coroners mentions that he once knew a Carpathian who related a lot of vampire lore. Nancy-- who during the night transforms into a mod-looking teenaged vampiress—does at least kill off one of the girls who tormented her, but her rage is not as pure as that of Tony the Werewolf. Like him, though, she does have guilty memories of her other self’s carnage, and has to restrain herself from more violence when her boyfriend becomes amorous. And BLOOD’s conclusion is pretty much the same as the earlier film: the victim turns on the evil scientist and they both die.

Though TEENAGE WEREWOLF is indubitably the better film, BLOOD OF DRACULA shows greater potential. One or two critics have argued for a lesbian subtext, though I think the evidence is spotty at best. A more ambitious script might have built up Branding’s supposed marginalization for being a woman, or, alternately, given Branding some resemblance to Nancy’s real enemy, the conniving stepmother. But then, a good script needs good acting, and none of the thespians here turn in more than adequate performances.


PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *uncanny*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

While I’m judging these two Italian horror-flicks by their 1960s dubbed versions, this time I believe that the creativity behind both was of such a pedestrian nature that the dubbings were unlikely to have done much damage.

Piero Regnoli’s THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE came out in the same year as Polselli’s THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA, but PLAYGIRLS doesn’t even come up to the modest entertainment-level of the latter film. One might’ve thought that Regnoli—whose wriring-credits outnumber his dozen-or-so directorial efforts by a factor of ten—might’ve scored better with his vampire outing, since he contributed script-work to Italy’s breakthrough horror-film, the 1956 I VAMPIRI. But though both of the 1960 films involve a group of showgirls stopping at a vampire’s castle, and though both are mostly vapid sexploitation, PLAYGIRLS doesn’t have much fun with the concept.

Walter Brandi is the headliner here, playing Count Kernassy, the lord of the castle. He particularly takes a shine to a dancer named Vera, and she reciprocates his interest, but his interest may originate in Vera’s resemblance to a dead woman, seen in a wall-portrait. The big reveal is that Kernassy’s not the vampire, but his lookalike brother is, and he wants to chow down on Vera because of her resemblance to his late wife. PLAYGIRLS’ main distinction is that there’s a romantic vibe between Vera and Kernassy, and so for a time it looks as though Regnoli might’ve have been referencing a passage in Stoker’s DRACULA, wherein it’s implied that the Count pursues Mina because of a resemblance to an earlier love. But this trope would not be fully exploited until the debut of Barnabas Collins in DARK SHADOWS.

Since the brothers look the same age one must assume they’re contemporaries, though it’s never clear as to what sort of curse befell the vampire-twin. Thus, when PLAYGIRLS concludes with the vampire dissolving in the rays of sunlight, apparently it’s not because he’s super-old, which is always the rationale for dissolution in the Stoker ur-text.

Mild entertainment though PLAYGIRLS may be, it’s gold next to Dino Tavelli’s leaden THE EMBALMER. A maniac preys on Venetian women by emerging from the canals in frogman-gear, abducting his targets and transporting them underwater, to an underground catacombs. He then doffs his scuba outfit, dons a monk’s robe and a skull mask, and devotes himself to embalming his victims and gloating over an art-gallery of preserved corpses.

Tavelli often seems more interested in grabbing colorful shots of Venice than in fleshing out either the fiend or the Venetian cop who eventually brings him down. Having watched these two sixties thrillers, though, makes me aware that most European thrillers portray women as completely vulnerable to male attack, unable to mount the slightest defense. American stalker-films took a lot of heat for their supposed hatred of women, but characters like Laurie Strode or numerous other “final girls” seems completely beyond the scope of earlier European filmmakers.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Edward L. Cahn didn’t direct many comedies, and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN doesn’t suggest any great untapped potential in that department. Still, compared with some of his lesser efforts, SAUCER MEN makes a fun change of pace.

Irwin Yeaworth’s BLOB gets a lot of credit for showing its teen characters to be more hip to an alien menace than the stodgy adults, but SAUCER MEN got there first. Indeed, the first few lines of the script establish a common complaint of teens everywhere: that of living in a small town where there’s nothing to do. (The narrator calls it “Hicktown,” daring the viewer to believe it or not.) The covert implication is that there is just one thing even “clean teens” can do to alleviate the boredom: parking and making out in the countryside.

Supposedly many “real” extraterrestrials come hunting for humans in country towns, and the Saucer Men are no exception. Indeed, though the film is silly, these big-headed, bug-eyed dwarfs remain one of the iconic space-horrors of the fifties. Like a lot of recorded “fourth-kind encounters,” these aliens don’t seem to have any real purpose in coming to Earth except to mess around with humans. One clean teen, while driving his best girl around, hits a BEM with his car, and then he can’t convince the cops that he hit an inhuman monster—possibly because there just happens to be a bonafide human corpse in the area. The condescending attitude of the cops toward the young people is admirably captured here, as is the growing frustration of the teens. It doesn’t help that the E-Ts come equipped with a perfect way to make teens look bad to adults: hypodermic-fingers with which they can inject their clean-living patsies with alcohol.

Though Frank Gorshin is the only performer in the film who went on to greater renown, all of the actors, famous or not, seem to be having a great time with the material. No doubt teen-viewers of the fifties particularly liked the big finish, where the teens manage to vanquish the monsters with their car-headlights. As a side-dish, there’s a fight between a BEM and a bull that might’ve made Doctor Wertham’s naughty list of “injury-to-the-eye” offenses, had he extended the list to the cinema.    

Sunday, April 19, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1) *drama,* (2) *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

Here are three films with peculiar takes on vampire tropes of one kind of another, two from Spain and one from Brazil.

THE SAGA OF DRACULA is a strangely oblique take on the Dracula mythos, directed by Leon Klimovsky, best known for his work on Paul Naschy’s films. SAGA’s script seems to proceed from the idea Stoker presents in his novel, showing the king-vampire ruling over a dessicated kingdom in Transylvania. In this movie, Transylvania is ruled by a noble family, the Draculas, who are descended by the medieval lord Vlad Tepes, but though these nobles are also vampires they’ve managed to conceal the fact from the ignorant peasants. The Draculas haven’t had much luck breeding a new line, but some time in the past, some offspring left the old country, and now Berta, granddaughter of the Dracula line, returns to become acquainted with her ancestors. Moreover, she’s pregnant by her human husband Hans, and though she doesn’t know it, the child in her womb has a dominant vampire nature.

The script’s salient problem is that the setup creates no actual tension. Klimovsky and company could’ve done a story in which the vampires wanted to steal the child once he was born, so that he would be able to take over the family in maturity. But it’s not clear what the Draculas want to do at any given time. At one point the current lord’s wife seduces and sleeps with Hans, but is she trying to conceive? The script leaves the viewer guessing as to the vampires’ motivations for the whole film, and Berta and Hans remain largely clueless. It may be that the script was merely an excuse for a lot of repetitive Gothic imagery, because the raconteurs thought that was all the audience wanted.

As noted, prior to SAGA Klimovsky directed three Paul Naschy films, the best of which was 1971’s WEREWOLF VS, THE VAMPIRE WOMEN. In that film, the director’s talent for staging vivid scenarios combined well with Naschy’s pathetic concept of the doomed werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. Unfortuunately, Carlos Aured’s CURSE OF THE DEVIL fails to achieve even strong visceral appeal.

The film presents a quasi-origin for Naschy’s Waldemar somewhat reminiscent of Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY—though there’s no such thing as “canon” in Naschy’s werewolf-films. Every film essentially starts from square one, and only acknowledges events in other films in capricious manner. For instance, CURSE mentions the notion that present-day Waldemar may’ve picked up a curse or two from his Tibetan travels in WEREWOLF AND THE YETI. But there’s really no need for this reference, because the prelude-story is supposed to establish how a medieval witch is the main source of the malady.

In a late medieval era, Waldemar’s ancestor destroys a witch-cult, and its leader, Elizabeth Bathory, curses all of the witchfinder’s descendants. Some readers may have false hopes that this Bathory—an alleged practitioner of mundane vampirism, e.g. bathing in peasant-blood for immortality-- will show up as an opponent for modern-day Waldemar, given the significance of the name. But Elizabeth’s never seen again, and indeed, her curse seems to have less effect on Waldemar than the fact that he pisses off some gypsies by accidentally shooting one of them. Thus the script gives the viewer one real cause for the curse and two lesser causes, which certainly smacks of over-determination.

The Naschy films are known for a lot of vivid sex and violence, but the violence is minor, and the sex is fairly tepid. As always, bulky Waldemar attracts a lot of hot babes without really trying, not least the sister of his fiancée. She finds out the hard way that it’s not nice to steal your sister’s things, since she beds Waldemar just before one of his transformations.

I mention this one bit of grue as the only scene that stood out for me. Most Naschy films don’t disappoint in giving the viewer a violent end for the monster, but this one just pointlessly winds down with no big finish.

Both of these films have a little advantage in that their makers are somewhat familiar to the dedicated fan. However, though neither the director nor the actors of THE SEVEN VAMPIRES are names to conjure with, this comedy-horror flick is a more pleasing concoction.

A biologist named Fred imports a rare African meat-eating plant to Brazil for further study. Unfortunately, once it reaches maturity, the plant chows down on him, and takes a bite of his girlfriend Maria. For once, the plant’s predations are disclosed to the public, and all of her friends commissseerate with Maria for her loss. However, Maria gets the idea to put on a vampire dance-performance at the club she just happens to own (consisting of seven sexy babes in vampire regalia, hence the title). Is there a connection between Maria’s weird behavior and the serial killings of women by someone who drains their corpses of blood?

None of the humor, mostly centering around dumb cop-investigators, travels very well, any more than the humor surrounding a magician’s act by one “Fu Manchu.” But the film presents a lot of decent sexploitation on its way to the “big solution” of the alleged mystery—which I admit I didn’t see coming, though I can’t say I cared about the solution either.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Though in 1956 Edward L. Cahn directed one of the better B-monster-flicks of the decade in THE SHE CREATURE, his execution of VOODOO WOMAN the next year makes it seem likely that Lou Rusoff’s script did all the heavy lifting. This time, the writing-team of Russell Bender and V.I. Voss whipped out a knock-off of SHE CREATURE, even to the extent of re-using two of the earlier film's main actors, and Cahn did nothing more than crank the camera and cash his check.

Marla English, the former She Creature, plays the titular “Voodoo Woman,” though she starts out as Marilyn, a hard broad from the States. She and her equally crooked boyfriend somehow wind up in Africa, and like hundreds of scheming white people before them, they’re on the hunt for tribal gold. However, the primitive African tribe just happens to have its own resident mad scientist. In SHE CREATURE, Chester Morris played the over-reaching researcher, while Tom Conway essayed a support-role. This time out, Conway gets the dubious privilege of playing the guy who brings out the monster in the maiden. However, whereas Morris’ Doctor Lombardi justified his project in terms of evolution and reincarnation, Conway’s Doctor Gerald quests after his “voodoo woman” because—well, the script says that’s what he does.

For a production like this, no experienced viewer really expects the script to be accurate about voodoo, which only has very indirect roots in African religious practices. But one would think that even hacks trying to invoke “voodoo” for its buzzword value would come up with some supernatural menace that aligned with popular conceptions of the religion, even transplanted to Africa. Bender and Voss simply conjure up a tribe who happen to have some ritual that creates an invulnerable monster-woman, whose presence is somehow linked to a smoking hole in the ground. There’s no telling what Gerald thinks he’s going to do with this superwoman once he gets her, but he soon finds that the native women just don’t suit his vague purposes. He doesn’t seem to consider his wife as a possible subject, though there’s no love lost between them any more. Instead, when the two thieves show up, dragging along a local guide (Mike Connors) with them, Gerald decides that he’ll use Marilyn’s lust for gold to tempt her into becoming his experimental subject. She consents, and becomes a big black monster who eventually destroys the hubristic heel just as the She Creature killed her evil master. With the bad people out of the way, Gerald’s wife gets a chance at new romance with Connors’ noble guide.

The talky script insures that there’s nearly no action to get in the way, and though Conway and Connors submit decent performances of their crappy characters, the movie’s only saving grace is English’s portrait of hard-bitten dame Marilyn.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I’m not sure there are enough “space-prison” movies out there to constitute a subgenre, but I tend to think that LOCKOUT is probably at the top of that small heap. TIMELOCK, while mindlessly diverting, might be possibly rank somewhere in the middle.

Far in some standard galactic-empire future, Jessie Teegs (Maryam d’Abo) pilots a cargo ship, and one of her tasks is to transport prisoners to the various satellite-jails, the worst of which is the automated facility Alpha Four. Among the all-male jailbait in the cargo hold are many mean muthas, the worst of which is kickboxing mastermind McMasters (Jeff Speakman)—and one "weak sister." Riley (Arye Gross) is a petty thief mistakenly assigned to the maximum security lockup—and since he has little in common with the (somewhat homoerotic) bad boys, the thief ends up being the only ally of the righteous lady pilot. The jailbirds break free and try to take possession of Teegs’ ship, but she absconds with a data card they need to fly the ship.

There’s no plot to speak of, just a lot of running around and intermittent fighting, until the mean boys are eventually defeated. Both the action-scenes and the badinage between Riley and Teegs are tolerable but unexceptional, and TIMELOCK’s sole sociological point of interest is that it also belongs to a slightly larger heap of films featuring a “tough girl-weak guy” teamup.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Shaw Brothers’ LADY HERMIT is a well-photographed “female diva” chopsocky, offering viewers two divas for the price of one. Cheng Pei Pei, famous for having starred in COME DRINK WITH ME, the first “diva-film” of the classic era, plays Yushuan, the “mentor figure” to younger diva Cuiping (Shi Szu), though the latter was only eight years junior to Cheng.

HERMIT also feels a bit like the kung fu version of a superhero story. Aspiring heroine Cuiping comes to town looking for the legendary Lady Hermit, famed for running around in a veiled outfit as she uses her sword-skills against evil, though the veiled heroine has been absent for three years. Cuiping doesn’t know that the Hermit suffered an enduring injury at the hands of her enemy Black Demon. Because of that injury, the heroine’s been forced to take a mundane job while healing, and in that status Yushuan meets her would-be student..

While Yushuan is under cover, Black Demon’s thugs run a protection racket, pretending to be ghosts who will murder people who don’t buy Taoist charms at a high price. Cuiping fights some of the thugs, forcing Yushuan to come out of hiding and to reassume her superheroic role. In the process, Cuiping learns Yushuan’s identity, and eventually persuades her senior to be her “sifu.” Unfortunately, during their residence in the same town, the two women fall in love with the same man, Changsun (Lo Lieh), which makes for trouble between student and teacher. However, all three fighters join together to oppose Black Demon, who, in addition to a wealth of henchmen, possesses claw-like fingers (possibly artificial) and still knows the same “special move” that injured Yushuan earlier.

This is a classy kung-fu production, lacking the overheated absurdities often associated with the genre. That said, its psychological motifs and its fight-scenes rate as no more than fair at best.

GHOULIES (1984), THE GRANNY (1995)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor,* (2) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1) *drama,* (2) *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological, metaphysical*

Because the first GHOULIES and the first GREMLINS were in production at the same time, no outsider can be certain as to whether director/co-writer Luca Bercovici’s low-budget horror-film was meant to bite the style of the big Warner Brothers production. Warners lost a court case against the GHOULIES franchise, paving the way for three more low-budget entries in the series. Nevertheless, while it’s possible that Bercovici may have utlitized diminutive demons because he was aware of the GREMLINS project, the plot of the initial GHOULIES outing resembles the Warners project far less than the plot of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”

In point of fact, none of the gross little creatures in the first film—either the actual fetal-looking monsters called “Ghoulies,” or a pair of benign magical dwarves—are the center of the story’s action. That center is none other than sorcerer Malcolm Graves, first seen about twenty years before the main action of the narrative. Graves intends to make a ritual sacrifice of his infant son Jonathan to gain Satanic power. The boy’s mother sabotages the ritual, so that Malcolm can’t kill Jonathan as planned. However, the far-sighted sorcerer has a henchman spirit the child away. Jonathan is raised to manhood without knowing anything about his true parentage, and apparently Malcolm passes away naturally before he has the chance to perform the sacrificial ritual again. However, Malcolm’s death sets plot-wheels in motion. The grown Jonathan and his girlfriend Rebecca are informed that Jonathan has received the bequest of Malcolm’s mansion, so the two of them take possession with an eye toward leaning more about Jonathan’s heritage.

Unsurprisingly, Malcolm’s spirit is still hanging about, and over time he usurps Jonathan’s personality, causing the young man to dabble in the occult. To make matters worse, the two young people hold a party for their friends at the mansion, which results in many young people meeting unremarkable deaths at the hands of the Ghoulies or other demons—all so that Malcolm can take permanent possession of his son’s body (and maybe his girlfriend too). The story culminates in a magical battle between father and son, but though Malcolm is defeated, he, not the Ghoulies, provides the narrative’s motive force—whereas the focal characters of the sequels—none directed by Bercovicci—are more about the Ghoulies themselves.

GHOULIES will probably be the directorial work for which Bercovici will best be remembered, but his actual best work came almost ten years later-- and ironically, in THE GRANNY, the writer-director really does lift a page from the GREMLINS idea.

In yet another short prologue, a young woman, apparently demon-possessed, first tantalizes and then kills her own father. A stranger with the “spell-it-backward” name of “Namon Ami” shows up, and claims that the girl’s not possessed; she just made improper use of the curative potion he gave her. He exposed her to sunlight and she dissolves like a vampire.

Cut to modern times, and the mansion of Anastacia “Granny” Gargoli (Stella Stevens), who sits around moaning about her age and her lost beauty. Her constant companion is Kelly, the illegitimate daughter of one of Granny’s rotten grown children. Kelly, despite being played by knockout Shannon Whirry, is a shy and retiring type, the better to contrast her with the lousy relatives. All of them seem like refugees from an Andy Milligan film festival—two brothers who want to see Granny die to inherit her wealth (and who plot to poison her), a niece who makes up to her uncle, and a nephew who challenges Granny to a wrestling-match.

But before the nasty brothers can commit matricide, Namon Ami shows up. He gives Granny his special potion, giving her explicit instructions about how NOT to take it. Of course Granny ignores the injunctions and does what she pleases. As a result Granny dies and comes back as a sort of zombie-witch, dealing out comical deaths to her rotten offspring, replete with many Freddy Kruger-isms.

In contrast to the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, THE GRANNY is about nothing except horrific gags, so in essence this is a more explicit comedy-horror than GHOULIES. Stella Stevens, never known as a subtle performer, apparently has a high old time wreaking havoc with one-liners, and the deaths have a perverse edge that puts them above run-of-the-mill films of this type. For her part Kelly has to abandon her shyness just to survive, and proves to be, rather improbably, a tough-ass fighter, taking on both the nasty niece and her grotesque grandmother.

There’s a suggestion of a sequel, but it’s just as well that THE GRANNY never spawned a franchise. It’s definitely one of a kind.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological, metaphysical*

Though the plot of MEDUSA TOUCH reads like an imitation of Stephen King’s CARRIE, the source-novel by Peter Van Greenaway was published a year before King’s novel. The success of CARRIE’s film-adaptation still may have paved the way for the cinematic translation of the Greenaway work.

MEDUSA, directed by Jack Gold, has a classy look to it, not unlike other upscale horrors of the seventies, such as THE OMEN. Misanthropic Mister Morlar (Richard Burton) is nearly bludgeoned to death by an unknown assailant, so Detective Brunel, a French cop visiting in London, gets on the case. As he does, Brunel begins to cull evidence to suggest that Morlar hacked off a lot of people because he brought about calamities to those that knew him. It’s eventually revealed that Morlar possesses incredible telekinetic abilities, and that he’s been using those talents subconsciously for years, bringing about disasters, apparently out of a subconscious God-complex.

Brunel’s methodical realization of the horrific truth is well-handled, and Lino Ventura’s portrait of the world-weary cop is far more compelling than Richard Burton’s standard “booming-voice” incarnation of the malevolent misanthrope. The down side is that Morlar has no real psychology to speak of; he’s just mad as hell at the world for overly vague reasons (aside from having had a termagant mother). The “Medusa” metaphor has no real application, and actually would have worked a lot better for Stephen King’s titular telekinetic, who, unlike Morlar, has serious body-shame issues. Given the god-like proclamations of Burton’s character, maybe THE ZEUS TOUCH would have been more appropriate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Though there are a lot of bad Hong Kong chopsocky films from the seventies and eighties, most of them are bad in an unambitious way. MASK OF VENGEANCE has one minor virtue: its badness results from an embarrassment of absurdities.

I’m sure no one, either in China or any other country, would have remembered this oddity long after its release. As of this writing it has just one independent blog-review and three short comments on IMDB, one of which compares MASK’s director Hsueh Li Pao to Edward Wood Jr. I’ve no idea if the film ever enjoyed video release, though only rather recently did it show up on Amazon Streaming, meaning that, in theory, a whole new audience could discover the film as occurred with the oeuvre of Ed Wood. That said, it’s not very likely that will happen, because most “good bad films” appeal to their audience by advertising the movies’ alleged pleasures with simple, straightforward plotlines.

No one would ever call MASK OF VENGEANCE straightforward. In its opening scenes it looks like it may be some sort of “martial tournament” flick, though oddly the tournament is devoted only to knife-fighting, which I strongly suspect is not a real thing. The master of the revels is a masked man who admits to the hero that he arranged the games in order to lure an old enemy, an expert knife-fighter, out of hiding. In addition, the masked man presides over what looks like a cult of masked knife-fighters, though there’s never any explanation of the cult’s purpose. The hero—named Tian in the opening scenes, though I believe he assumes two other names later—is searching for his lost father, and for some obscure reason elects to help the weird masked guy find his enemy.

The opening scenes are no better or worse than any other chopsocky of the period, though there’s a Wood-like touch in that Tian proves his martial skills by shattering the swords of the masked fighters with his tiny jade knife (never seen again in the rest of the film). But once Tian starts nosing around, dozens of barely explained characters cross his path, including a swordswoman (played by Shih Szu, famed for her appearance in LEGEND OF THE SEVFEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES) and some strange woman who claims she’s Tian’s wife (I think this is Nora Miao, once wife to Bruce Lee). I quickly lost track of the plot amidst all the confusing introductions, though there is one hilarious moment—which I for one would not blame on the English translators—in which Tian tries to identity himself to his father by pointing out a distinguishing mole. I believe the line was, “Look at my mole, Dad! Look at my mole!”

Toward the end Tian and all of his allies—which may include a father, mother, and sister he never knew—return to fight the masked guy in his cult-temple. Though it’s not exceptional fight-choreography, the villain distinguishes himself by fighting the good guys with primitive grenades and a metal glove with a spike-attachment. MASK might be most entertaining, even for dedicated badfilm lovers, if they just watched the opening and closing sequences, and took my word for it about the “mole” line.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociologicaL*

I yield to no one in my scorn of nearly all of the sequels of the original HALLOWEEN. (I have not seen both of Rob Zombie’s non-canonical adaptations, so I exclude them from consideration.) Whereas one can find interesting motifs in the sagas of Jason and Freddy as those franchise-fiends passed from creator to creator, all of the HALLOWEEN sequels, even those with John Carpenter’s input, went down, down, down, into a burning ring of tedium. 

Yet, dismal as most of these sequels are, they have one saving grace: they aren’t presumptuous. They give crappy pulp horror movies to people who want crappy horror movies, and what you see is what you get.

David Gordon Green’s 2018 reboot of the franchise manages to be both presumptuous and tedious at the same time. Unlike the Zombie films, this one doesn’t remake the Carpenter film, but uses that movie as a jumping-off point for a fresh continuity. Here, Michael Myers is captured shortly after his relatively brief murder-spree in the first film, and he remains incarcerated in an asylum for the next forty years. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the only person to survive Michael's original rampage, and though in the new continuity she’s no longer his sister, she’s lived the life of a gun-hoarding survivalist for all those years, because she feels the conviction that someday, Michael will come looking for her. That conviction has cost her, for her adult daughter Karen does not share Laurie’s sense of destined confrontation. Both she and her husband have distanced themselves from the mordant old lady, though Laurie’s teenaged granddaughter Allyson still reveres her “crazy grandma.” It doesn’t take a crystal ball to guess that on the fortieth anniversary of Michael’s murders, he will escape the asylum and go looking for Strodes.

When I heard some of the pre-movie hype for this project in 2018, I was wary that actress Curtis and others were redefining the HALLOWEEN franchise as an analogue to feminine trauma in response to violence. After watching the film, I was at least relieved that the film was not framed as a #MeToo fable like CAPTAIN MARVEL. Michael may not be an incarnation of Satanic evil, as Carpenter’s original film suggests, but at least he doesn’t suffer the fate of being dumbed down into a representation of the patriarchy. Indeed, though “the Shape” doesn’t connote anythinig beyond “nasty serial killer,” at least in this iteration he looks physically imposing.

Yet earlier franchise-films were at least good dumb entertainment even without a well-conceived monster, as seen in HALLOWEEN 2. What sinks this film (which director Green co-wrote with two collaborators) is that Green signals every aspect of the story with a total lack of subtlety. He opens the film at Michael’s asylum with a couple of podcast-journalists trying to provoke a reaction out of the uncommunicative killer by showing him his mask. How a reporter would have acquired such an item, or why the presiding pyscholoist would allow such dramatics, are questions Green does not bother to anticipate. He’s no better with regard to the motives of Laurie Strode. There’s some bland bullshit about how traumas make their citicms want to fixate on their tragedies. But it’s all just an excuse to turn Laurie into Sarah Connor, tricked out with lots of firepower and a fiery trap designed to execute her nemesis. (Presumably this version of Michael, who just barely qualifies as marvelous by virtue of surviving an automobile run-down without consequence, will get his abilities upgraded when the franchise re-animates him.)

Like the characters, the stalking-scenes are competent but unexceptional. Sadly, this dull exercise in psuedo-relevance made money at the box office, so there will probably be more of these “Mickey Myers” entries. It’s a shame that the script was too weak to give Jamie Lee Curtis anything to do but grit her teeth and fire off various guns. I for one prefer to remember the series ending with her comeback in HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, which is the true Laurie Strode in my eyes.

DRACULA (1973)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

Because Bram Stoker spent years working for a theatrical company, a few critics have wondered if he may have structured his most famous novel so that it could be easily adapted to stage. Stoker himself never authored a play of DRACULA, but the book became a very successful play in other hands, not least because the character of the “king-vampire” allows for a featured actor to really storm some barns. That said, both the novel and most of the adaptations for stage and screen have still devoted considerable attention to all of the equally strong supporting characters. Not all of the novel’s characters make the transition to other media—Quincy Morris is a frequent casualty—but there’s at least some attention to exploring the mentalities of the support-cast.

Dan Curtis’s 1973 DRACULA was given the full title “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in its TV release, in order to imply a greater fidelity to the source material than previous adaptations. Of course the Curtis production did not appreciably follow the novel any more closely than either of the best-known cinema-versions, the 1931 Lugosi vehicle and the 1958 Chris Lee work, nor should anyone expect total faithfulness in a ninety-minute version of a sprawling novel. Both the 1931 and 1958 films change a lot too, but one thing they do quite well is to provide a good balance between the supporting characters and the story’s monstrous star.

Not so the Curtis DRACULA. Jack Palance gives a memorable, intense performance as the vampire count, but all of the other characters are seriously underwritten, as if the director was so awestruck by the wonderfulness of Palance that he instructed all the other actors to mute their performances.

Of necessity Jonathan Harker gets a little more attention than the other support characters, since the Curtis film spends roughly the first half-hour on the usual encounter of count and solicitor in Dracula’s castle. But after Harker’s served the purposes of the vampire (and the script), the count lets his wives have him (a twist mirrored in the Coppola version), and so Harker more or less becomes the TV-film’s “Renfield.” However, he’s a Renfield that does nothing interesting and gets dispatched at the end with no real emotion. Because Harker gets reduced in importance, so does his fiancée Mina, and though as in the novel the vampire-hunters use her connection to Dracula to track the count, Mina herself comes off as little more than a puppet for either side to use. With Harker’s dimunition, Arthur Holmwood assumes greater importance as the “earnest young man” type, but neither he nor his wife Lucy has any dimension. She no longer flirts with other men, since Arthur’s the only one in her life, but she’s almost indistinguishable from Mina except in order of vampirization. Worst of all, the film doesn’t even allow its Van Helsing the chance to chew the scenery with his weighty revelations about nosferatu—meaning that the story lacks one of its most mythic aspects: the assertion of the reality of things from beyond the grave.

Palance, as said before, makes a better than average Dracula, convincing in both the erotic scenes with his victims and in the film’s climactic fight-scene. The end-battle is certainly not as impressive as the climax of the novel, or the very different confrontation at the end of Terence Fisher’s work. But it does have enough back-and-forth energy that the Curtis film qualifies as one of the more combative Draculas.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*

Though I have an abiding appreciation for the sheer wackiness of the POWER RANGERS franchise, I doubt that I’ll devote a lot more time to reviewing its many offshoots. Still, I got a few cheap thrills out of the MYSTIC FORCE incarnation, and so I took a chance on DINO THUNDER as well.

By sheer chance, I happened to choose one of the few serials that attempts a sort of rough “continuity” between the various Americanized adaptations, even if the original Japanese “Super Sentai” shows may not have had any such linkages. One epidose even provides a chronology between the various shows that had aired up to that time, and there’s a crossover with the characters from an earlier (and much duller) show, POWER RANGERS NINJA STORM. But DINO’s main accomplishment is to bring back the character Tommy Oliver from the original show, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.

On that program, Tommy was something of a “bad boy” who provided contrast to the regular “clean teen” heroes. Since the actor playing Tommy was in 2004 almost twenty years older, this time Tommy appears as a member of the establishment, a science teacher who still has a penchant for tecruiting promising Rangers. He starts out with only three this time, two guys and a girl, who at first seem to have a little of the “Breakfast Club” rebel-vibe of the American POWER RANGERS from 2018. However, once the trio is called upon to defend Earth from the incurions of Mesogog—a humanoid with a dinosaur-head—the teens all get respectable jobs in a cyber-café whenever they’re not busy fighting Mesogog’s varios monster pawns.

As if anticipating the villain’s theme, Doctor Oliver’s specialty is paleontology, and all of the Rangers get various tinker-toy weapons somehow related to tyrannosaurs and pterodactyls and whatnot. The fight-choreography is adequate, but the main attraction remains the goofball monsters. Indeed, one of the standout episodes of DINO shows the three heroes watching on DVD an original (albeit dubbed) episode of the very “Super Sentai” show which provided much of DINO’s Ranger-footage. DINO’s scripts are also leavened with some decent original humor not dependent of nutty men-in-costumes. The show’s primary comedy relief, an ambitious girl reporter, loses her youth to one of the monsters. As if knowing that this condition will be reversible, she whines, “It’s not bad enough to be a woman in this business; now I have to deal with ageism!”

I don’t know how closely the English-language scripts mirror those of the Japanese show, but someone evidently decided to follow the template of MIGHTY MORPHIN, since DINO also has a “bad boy” who starts out opposing the good Rangers but ends up becoming their ally as “the White Ranger.” In addition, though in most of these serials the older mentor-figure leaves the fighting to the teens, Tommy, now “the Black Ranger,” battles alongside his students. Usually the acting on RANGERS shows is no better than it has to be. However, Jason David Frank brings a lot more dynamism to his scholastic butt-kicker than one usually expects, and so Frank pretty much blows the younger actors out of the water whenever he shares the screen with them. Since there are some episodes in which Tommy goes missing for awhile, and others in which he can’t get out of his black armor, obviously Frank wasn’t available for the whole series. Happily, he does come back for the wrap-up.

I give this show’s mythicity a higher average rating of “fair.” The show’s use of dinosaur-lore doesn’t register very strongly, but in the psychological department, it does sustain an intermittent “Jekyll-Hyde” theme, since, in addition to the two “bad-boys-turned-good,” Mesogog just happens to be a scientist who shares his body with a dino-creature.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*


Though it’s now possible to locate unedited copies of Alexander Kazantsev’s 1962 PLANET OF STORMS, most viewers, including me, are likely to settle for watching Roger Corman’s 1965 Americanization of the Russian movie, VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET. Though Corman re-used footage from the Russian movie in one other film, PREHISTORIC seems to capture the essence of the original adequately. Obviously, Corman’s director Curtis Harrington cut out references to Soviet ideology—for instance, one of the astronautswas originally an American defector—and the director also worked in new scenes of American actors Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue for box office appeal. But the 1962 film seems less concerned with ideology than with Kazantsev’s take on the “first contact” type of SF-tale.

Indeed, Corman’s re-titling proves apt. Some online reviews compare PREHISTORIC to 1956’s THE ANGRY RED PLANET. Both movies follow a contingent of astronauts in a SF-future where humanity is just beginning to explore other planets in the solar system. In both films, the astronauts are surveiled by intelligent inhabitants that never make direct contact with the Earthmen. However, RED PLANET makes a modest attempt to suggest the alien nature of the explored planet, Mars, while PREHISTORIC is more concerned with showing the world of Venus recapitulate an otherworldly version of Earth-evolution. In this PREHISTORIC has more resemblance to some of the 1950s films using the same trope, such as the thoroughly mediocre KING DINOSAUR.

Kazantsev probably didn’t have a lot more money to work with than most of the American low-budget efforts, but his filming of the astronauts stolidly plumbing the mysteries of Venus proves fairly evocative. PREHISTORIC doesn’t follow the template of American “swampy Venus” stories; most of the terrain is craggy, barren land interrupted by occasional trees. Two of the local fauna include alien versions of a brontosaurus and a pterodactyl, and the astronauts encounter reptilian humanoids, though these appear to be savages with no intelligence. When the astronauts find evidence of intelligent life, there’s a little speculation about whether the reptile-people are responsible, but the idea isn’t seriously entertained.

The only other environmental milieu is an inland sea, wherein the astronauts—whose suits work equally well underwater as on the planet’s surface—find a submerged temple with statuary. One statue suggests that the temple’s makers worshiped a pterodactyl-god, which idea gets recycled in Corman’s other cut-and-paste job, VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN. The longer the astronauts stay, the more the sense that intelligent denizens are still around, though they choose not to reveal themselves. One explorer keeps hearing a feminine siren-call, and his comrades tell him he’s been reading too many comics (one of the few overt Americanisms injected in translation.) The astronauts theorize that on Venus intelligent life may have started in the ocean, only to migrate to land, which loosely recapitulates one of the less popular evolutionary theories of the 20th century.

Though there are some plodding sequences, and no real characterization to speak of, Kazantsev’s narrative maintains some suspense thanks to the presence of Robot John, an automaton who might have been Russia’s answer to Robby the Robot. John’s presence contributes to the film’s most bracing sequence. When two explorers are menaced by lava-flow from an erupting volcano—which, incidentally, seems to block the Earthmen from contact with a hypothesized alien city—the astronauts hitch a ride on the shoulders of Robot John. However, Kazantsev decided that John’s creator gave the robot his own self-preservation program—possibly in an explicit rejection of Isaac Asimov’s “laws of robotics”—and John almost dumps his passengers (one of them his creator) into the lava before the men deactivate him.

Kazantsev adapted PLANET OF STORMS from his own novel, so it may be that the rocky Venus-terrain may mirror the imagery of the book, rather than being totally the result of directorial expedience. In a few scenes Kazantsev’s Venus bears a nodding resemblance to Gustav Dore’s illustrations of the rough ramparts of Hell. But the main object seems to be, as noted, to allow the viewer to enjoy looking in on the evolutionary process, albeit in extraterrestrial guise.