Entries from March 2024 ↓





Chilling Classics Cthursday: TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST (1976)

When Track of the Moon Beast's number came up for this week's Chilling Classics, I was surprised by how immediately gotdang pumped I was to watch it again for the first time in about 15 years. It's a terrible movie as far as, you know, movies go, but I don't care. I saw it at some point during my youth--it must have been on Creature Double Feature or something--and it deeply terrified me. I can't imagine it ever terrified anyone else, particularly anyone over the age of "child." But as a result, it's one of...well, I don't want to say it's one of my "favorite" movies, because that doesn't quite feel right. It's more accurate to say simply that it's one of my movies. Corny to say, maybe, but I'll say it: it's special to me, this tale of a dude who got hit in the head with a piece of the moon and subsequently turned into a lizard monster on occasion.

(Say what you will about Track of the Moon Beast, but the poster is lit!)

(Also, I'm not sure if it strictly qualifies as "a poster" because it never got a theatrical release. That's how bad it is! It was shot in 1972 but no one picked it up for distribution; it finally started playing on The Tee Vee in 1976 and has been somewhat ubiquitous ever since.)

Whenever I ask for your favorite horror movies for SHOCKtober, there are a few entries that may seem a bit out of left field. Usually, those are the movies that imprinted upon someone in some major way. Perhaps it was the circumstances it was seen a particular time: a bonding experience with mom or dad, a too-much-sugar sleepover, a first date. More often, it has to do with the film, no matter how cheesy or Z-grade, scaring one silly. We can all talk about how The Exorcist or Jaws or Halloween or Some Other Masterpiece kept us awake at night. But what of the Messterpieces that did the same? 

I think it's cool as heck that at for at least one person, this movie--this two-point-something on imdb, mercilessly roasted on MST3K movie--achieved its intended effect. It hit the right notes, and it worked

Watching it now, I go full gramma-in-a-rocking-chair-on-the-porch, shaking my head fondly and wistfully as I remember all Pepperidge Farms-style. Dare I say, though, it still has some value?...maybe?...as a curio. 

The 1970s saw a lot of films on the earnest end of redspolitation, and Track of the Moon Beast certainly counts among their number. No longer portrayed solely as the savages of 1950s westerns, indigenous characters now served to be wise and noble stewards of the land (crying over pollution in PSAs, for example) or wise and noble advisors to white men who are trying to figure stuff out. It's Frank Redbear teaching our caucasian hero about moldy corn in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. And it's Johnny Longbow helping the police solve some murders in Track of the Moon Beast by showing them "400 year old" "paintings" of an "Indian legend" where someone also turned into a lizard monster. That's right, it's a 400-year-old painting, and definitely not a quick pencil sketch someone did on a pad they bought at CVS!

It's amusing (?) to watch all the ways Track of the Moon Beast does so wrong by Native Americans by trying to do right. Like our heroine Cathy, who heads to a Reservation to take photos of religious artifacts, only to then take one of the artifacts to use in a practical joke. It's all a bit like that frogurt bit from Treehouse of Horror on The Simpsons, you know?

Also I don't know how many indigenous religious artifacts are made out of tin, but I am not an expert so this could totally look like the real deal!!!! Just like the painting.

Also curious: this movie was co-written by Bill Finger, the man who co-created Batman. If you squint, you can see some shared DNA between Track of the Moon Beast and the formative comics and comic characters of yore. "A guy gets hit in the head with a moon rock ("Moon rock, oh wow" -- Cathy) and transforms into a lizard monster" is a premise that easily could have earned a 24-issue run at DC or Marvel in the 70s under the title Moon Beast. (I mean, Moon Knight's first appearance was in an issue of Werewolf by Night in the 70s, it's really not far-fetched at all.) 

The big show-stopper of the film, undoubtedly, is Albuquerque's own Frank Larrabee performing "California Lady" at a Ramada Inn. I love that it was a Ramada Inn. I love that Larrabee was actually performing there and they just...threw it in the movie. And you know what? Justice for Frank Larrabee! "California Lady" sounds like some discount Don McLean and it would absolutely be right at home on the 1972-1973 CD from Time-Life's Singers and Songwriters series. Sadly for Mr Larrabee, the 70s were chock full of sensitive men playing the acoustic guitar sensitively and singing sensitive songs and he never popped off beyond a 6-song EP. But "California Lady" is really theee thing that people take away from Track of the Moon Beast, which is more than Don McLean could ever boast.

Of course, I take away much more than that from it, despite the fact that it boasts some of the most wooden acting you will ever see, dialogue spoken at what feels like 75% speed, and a climactic "explosion" that looks like this:

I've written (and drawn) more about the movie a couple of times, both here and beyond, and who knows, maybe I'll write about it again in another 10 years. At the least I'm sure I'll give it another watch because although it may be terrible, it is mine, and that's rarer than a moon rock.

Moon rock, oh wow!



Chilling Classics Cthursday: MEDUSA (1973)

Okay, let's get this out of the way right up front: save for the sculpture in the opening title sequence, there is nary a gorgon in sight in the 1973 film Medusa. Not a single snake-coiffed queen to be found! One could certainly call this false advertising and file a law suit, although it's possible that an adept defense lawyer could argue that the film itself is a Medusa, seeing as how it has the ability to turn viewers to stone using the power of absolute fucking boredom.

So if we don't get a proper Medusa in Medusa, what do we get? Well, we get Ritz Cracker pitchman/ anthropomorphized ascot George Hamilton, the actor known more for his perpetual suntan (and his friendship with Imelda Marcos) than for his acting. To be honest, I don't think about George Hamilton very often. Hardly at all, you could say. But when I do think about George Hamilton, I picture him on the cover of People Magazine. I don't know if he was ever actually on the cover of People Magazine--surely he was at some point--but it feels like the place he fits best.

Medusa begins as the dead bodies of a man and a woman are found clutching hands on a bed in a boat that's adrift at sea. The man is Jeffrey (Hamilton), an American playboy who'd been galavanting around Greece. The woman is his sister Sarah (Luciana Paluzzi), who was newly married. "Clutching hands on a bed?" you say. Yes, Jeffrey and Sarah are close. So close and weird, in fact, you will often wonder if they are in love and/or "doing" "it." But it's never really addressed in blatant terms, so I guess it's up to you, the viewer, to decide the true nature of their relationship. How exciting!

Anyway, Jeffrey tells us in a voiceover that he's chilling in limbo, waiting to be reincarnated (I am not kidding), and he will tell us the tale of how he done got dead while he waits.

Jeffrey must be a shit storyteller, because Medusa immediately descends into an incoherent mess of a...well, it's less of a movie than it is a series of scenes that often have no relation to one another, make little sense, and might even have you cursing the day you ever heard the name "Mill Creek Entertainment."

As best as I can gather, Jeffrey needs money to continue his playboy ways. He owes money to a gangster named Angelo (Cameron Mitchell, 50-Pack King and the ONE bright spot in this movie), who also owes money to someone. To get the money, they are searching for a will that someone has absconded with. Also, Jeffrey might be a homicidal killer? This shit is all over the place and going nowhere, I am telling you!

The buzz that Hamilton garnered early on in his career had fizzled by the early 70s, so he turned to producing dreck like Medusa to give himself some starring vehicles. It's fun, admittedly, to keep this in mind should you decide to give this movie a go (please do not give this movie a go), not only because it's just plain terrible, but because you can feel how wonderful Hamilton thinks it all is. He is the very picture of pleased with himself throughout, overacting and treating subjecting us to impressions of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and other actors that you'd rather be watching. He relentlessly mugs for the camera, to the point where it's surprising he never actually says "Ain't I a handsome stinker?" and there's no little ding! sound gleaming off of his impossibly white teeth. There are also some scenes featuring his then-wife (and current political pest) Alana Stewart, which seem to be included solely to give them a chance to work and flirt with each other.

Make no mistake, Cameron Mitchell overacts even more throughout Medusa, but--bless him forever--it's in a way that serves...well, if not the movie itself, then surely us viewers. He interacts with other characters mostly through bizarre monologues delivered in strange situations. Don't try to get a handle on crime boss Angelo, he is unknowable and unexplainable! Just enjoy scenes that find him, say, all lathered up and enjoying a Turkish bathhouse, or delivering lines like these:
Old man Hendell's in pain, see? So they spaced him out on morphine, see? So how's he of sound mind, see? How can he write a will, baby, how?

Seeing all those sentences end with "see?" might cause you to think he is talking like a James Cagney-style 1930s gangster, but he is not. He is talking like a 1970s Cameron Mitchell. I love him, and without his presence I actually may have turned Medusa off. I found it to be that much of a slog. Consider this a warning to you, see? Use your time wisely, baby, wisely!

I really do love Angelo though

I will admit, I was a bit jazzed during the opening credits, what, with its NYC coffee cup font, Greek folk song, and promise of a Medusa. Director Gordon Hessler is the man behind some lesser-but-fun Cushing, Price, and Lee joints from AIP (Scream and Scream Again, The Oblong Box), the Bette Davis made-for-TV flick Scream, Pretty Peggy, and the curio/masterpiece KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Cameron Mitchell was just gonna be the icing on the cake!

But it became quickly apparent that Mitchell was not only the icing, he was the whole entire cake--that there would be nothing else in this movie that remotely approached the entertainment value of any of the other Kessler films I just mentioned. And it didn't take long to realize its most grievous sin, that there was to be no Medusa in Medusa

I realize that it's generally unfair to lay the blame for a disastrous movie on only one person, as there are a shitton of contributing factors and moving parts that can break down at any point between "idea" and "big screen." But I don't care! I'm laying it all on George Hamilton's perfectly tanned, egotistic shoulders. Opa!




Who goes there

Chilling Classics Cthursday: I BURY THE LIVING (1958)

Here we are, ten weeks into this Chilling Classics thang and I have to say, it's been a worthy endeavor so far. In a box crammed full of 50 movies there has to be some gems, right? It's just statistics! And it's been proven a few times over already, by the forever esteemèd Cathy's Curse, by another movie whose number will be chosen by RNGesus at some point, and by today's lit and legit treasure of a film, I Bury the Living.

If you don't believe me, well, surely you believe one Mr. Stephen King, who hailed I Bury the Living in Danse Macabre, his 1981 foray into the realm of non-fiction. Reading about horror movies--or really, reading about movies in general--has always been as vital to me as the movies themselves, and I ate Danse Macabre the fuck up in my (obligatory) read-all-the-Stephen King teen years. So it's sure nice to check off another one of the works first plopped onto my radar in that book once upon a time. 

"Heart disease is the country's number one killer!"
"Maybe not in Milford..."

Robert Kraft (Richard Boone), the perfectly average and mild-mannered President of Kraft Department Stores, is the newly-appointed chairman of Immortal Hills Cemetery. It's a year-long post, something to do with business and committees and community outreach and you know how it goes for tycoon types. Cemetery caretaker/handyman Andy McKee (Theodore Bikel, who made appearances on Columbo, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Murder She Wrote, and Arthur Hailey's Hotel, so you know I'm in love) shows Kraft a large map of the grounds; a white pin in a plot's location means the plot has been purchased, while a black pin means the plot is filled...with a dead body! (Because that is how cemeteries work.)

Kraft accidentally sticks a black pin on a newly-purchased plot and a few hours later, the purchasers are dead. As he's always been prone to deja vu and manifesting his daydreams (like some early proponent of The Secret or something), he wonders if there might be a connection: can he kill people with the power of the black pins?

After a few more tests, a few more pins, and a few more deaths, it would seem that yes, Robert Kraft is making this happen. While you might expect that he would then, I don't know, eliminate his department store rivals and enemies or something, he just gets bummed out about this terrible power. His guilt is actually rather refreshing! Kraft locks himself away in the map room, wallowing in misery and getting all dirty and disheveled as he tries to grapple with the fact that he's essentially become a murderer, wondering: "Does a man die on his own time, or on the map's?"

I Bury the Living plays out like a really terrific Twilight Zone episode or something penned by Richard Matheson...and then it fumbles at the goal line, drops the ball, and does some...other...sports analogy in its closing minutes that may have you blurting out an "aw man!" or some such. If you don't believe me, well, even Stephen King has talked shit about the ending of this movie. Now I am not sure why I feel the need to back up my opinions with Stephen King's opinions today. I guess she moves in mysterious ways.

But you know what? It doesn't matter that the ending craps the bed, because the rest of I Bury the Living is so damn good. Director Albert Band--yes, the father of Charles Band! And the director of oh, what? Just a little something called Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (aka Dracula's Dog)--makes the absolute most of the limited sets, using special effects and unique shot set-ups to make this movie more stylish and original than a B-movie from 1958 has any right to be. In a word, I Bury the Living looks cool as hell. I'll say it again for the people at the back: this is a total gem of a movie. All hail the 50-pack! All hail Danse Macabre! All hail the map!


As you may know by now, each week's Chilling Classic is chosen by a random number generator, lest I forever flip back and forth through all 12 discs trying to figure out which movie I'm in the mood for. It's best to put my faith, as always, into RNGesus's hands. And so it was Mill Creek's will that I sat down with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966), which is really the only way I ever would have sat down with it. The title alone screams "not my bag," and I will admit to a heavy sigh as I pressed play. It was a "lie back and think of England Chilling Classics Cthursday" scenario! Now, on the other side of having done my duty (or at least half of my duty: I still have a lot of post to write), I can say with a bold confidence that I have, in fact, seen Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

As is the case with the seminal 1985 film The Nail Gun Massacre, the title Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter tells you all you need to know. Famous outlaw Jesse James does indeed meet Frankenstein's daughter! Truth in advertising. A blessing in this chatbot-riddled world, amirite? Love it.

Dr. Maria Frankenstein  (Narda Onyx) and her assistant Rudolph have immigrated to the American southwest from Vienna. The desert lightning storms are great for their evil experiments, experiments that began attracting the attention of authorities in Europe. Now, tucked far away in a matte painting an abandoned mission, they prey on the local Mexican population; When young men die in the lab, they quickly dispose of the bodies, telling grieving families that it had to be done for fear of spreading a contagious disease.

Maria is a mad scientist who takes after her grandfather Victor, wanting to create a living automaton that will do her bidding. She makes it clear that her father was a wuss who--much like Rudolph--didn't have the stomach to do what it takes to get this unethical shit done. So she keeps bringing up her grandfather, which might make you wonder for a second why they didn't call this Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Granddaughter. But that's a more awkward title, no? Maybe someday future nerds will argue over this in some even lame-er parallel to the "it's actually Frankenstein's monster" arguments. Yes, she is still a Frankenstein's daughter, but that Frankenstein isn't the Frankenstein you're thinking of. The point is...WHO CARES, I guess. Especially when we have more important things to talk about, like the way her lab coat is more of an overcoat!

Meanwhile, Jesse James and his "friend" (I put those quotes there to fuel your imagination), the hulking lummox Hank, decide to rob a stagecoach with Butch Cassidy Curry and the Wild Bunch. But Curry's brother rats out the gang to the Marshall, who is played by STOP THE PRESSES none other than Jim Davis--no, not the inventor of Garfield Jim Davis. (Although how cool would that be?) I'm talking about the Jim Davis who portrayed none other than Jock Ewing on a little something called television's Dallas! Reader, I fell out of my chair, puked in my pants with excitement, and started spinning around in a circle going WOOB WOOB WOOB like whichever Three Stooge does that. I will never doubt the powers of the almighty RNGesus ever again!

Thanks to the ol' double cross, there's a shootout during the stagecoach robbery, and Hank takes a bullet for Jesse, as friends do.

As they're wanted by the law, they can't go to just any old doctor. The pair stumble across the Lopez family, who have left town after their son died at the hands of Dr. Frankenstein. The daughter, Juanita, reluctantly directs Jesse and Hank to Castle Mission Frankenstein. On the way, they are attacked by a single "savage injun," complete with headband and buckskin outfit; Jesse saves Juanita, which means they are now in love. (Sorry, Hank.)

Maria is excited by Hank's physique, as unlike the "ignorant" and puny locals he is sufficiently strapping enough to handle the brain transplant. There are no racial implications to any of this at all!!!

The mad doctor activates the artificial brain that she will put inside Hank's head (which gives it...a heart beat? I guess the science checks out), puts on her mad doctor helmet, gets the machines where the blue lightning spark goes "bzzzzrt bzzzzrt" as it travels up between two filaments (you know what I'm talking about), and the next thing you know, Hank is reanimated.  He is now christened "Igor," and Maria can command him around.

It all makes sense if you think about it.

Oh, speaking of other things that make sense, Maria is also in love with Jesse James. He spurns her advances (he's loyal to Juanita, whom he has known for fifteen minutes longer), so Maria wants Juanita dead. Hell hath no fury like a Frankenstein scorned!

The only reason any of this matters is because the Marshall eventually shows up, and I can pretend that the Marshall is actually Jock Ewing. So it's Jock Ewing facing off against Dr. Maria Frankenstein, which will color my viewing of every episode of Dallas forevermore. In fact, I think this makes Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter an official prequel to Dallas, which is all any of us could ever want from life.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was...not as bad as I thought it was going to be. And I'm not even saying that because of the surprise Jock Ewing! It's a goofy-yet-solid, delightfully dumb lite horror-oater. Narda Onyx leans into her role as Maria, arching her eyebrows and managing to wear that helmet with a straight face. John Lupton makes for a dull-as-dishwater Jesse James, but it's not entirely his fault. The film portrays James as a Robin Hood-type, making it a point that "he's not the type to hurt women" while stressing the tragic love story between the heading-for-the-gallows outlaw and the headstrong Juanita.

Yeah, it drags in the middle. William Beaudine's direction is very workmanlike, mostly wide shots of folks standing or sitting around talking. This is par for the course for Beaudine, the insanely prolific director who began making Poverty Row pictures in 1915 and ended with drive-in fare like today's movie and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula half a century later. If you wanted a movie made in a week on the cheap, you called "one shot" Beaudine, who shot only what he needed and often edited in-camera. Little fuss, little muss, hundreds of movies and television episodes. But no Dallas! Except, of course, this prequel. Later this week I will be starting a change dot org petition to have the film officially renamed Jock Ewing Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. I hope you'll sign it and forward it to your friends.