Greetings from Spider Island: Mill Creek’s ‘Chilling Classics’ 50-Movie Collection

Greetings from Spider Island

Mill Creek’s ‘Chilling Classics’ 50-Movie Collection
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Mill Creek Entertainment has been shamelessly sticking price tags on free-to-license movies since 2002. You might be able to find their signature “50-Movie Packs” next to the canned meats in your local Walmart. The prints found within are warped, third-generation VHS dubs with muffled audio (a high-pitched whine inexplicably accompanies entire scenes), frame jumps (entire lines of dialogue often disappear), and washed-out, distorted colors (sometimes faces are bright orange or pale green). Nevertheless, Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics collection offers fascinating, eclectic examples of forgotten cinema representing the stranger, seedier side of the silver screen.

While many of the movies amount to nothing more than heaps of garbage (they’re in the public domain for a reason), quite a few of them offer something in the way of history. The Bloody Brood and Bucket of Blood are examples of Beatnik culture exploited and examined on film, Medusa hails from a brief moment in which George Hamilton thought he could rival Warren Beatty’s New Hollywood star power, and I Eat Your Skin is a zombie movie released before George A. Romero revolutionized the genre in 1968.

The following are capsule reviews for each film in the order they appear on the collection (in case you want to follow along at home). The color of the author’s name denotes whether or not he recommends the selection (green is positive; red is negative). Links to the complete films, as well as trailers and other reviews, are below each entry. Enjoy, but emulate at your own risk.

In Memory of Cameron Mitchell
1918 – 1994
“I must admit that I rather enjoyed the laughter.”
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The Murder Mansion (1972, original title: La mansión de la niebla, aka: Maniac Mansion)

IMDbA couple lost in thick fog takes refuge in an old mansion next to a cemetery. Strange things start to happen.

Kevin – It’s best not to think of The Murder Mansion as a movie and instead as a buffet of Italian horror tropes. Sure, everything’s warmed-over and a little bland, but it does indeed have it all – fake fog, gory death scenes, twists on top of twists, superfluous eroticism, and some truly bizarre character behavior (the butler thinks it’s perfectly natural to take his revolver rat-hunting in the mansion’s basement). Combine this with a pair of genuinely likable lead characters and you have yourself a pretty enjoyable Euro-horror flick.

William – The first movie in the collection begins as a by-the-numbers riff on the Old Dark House formula but quickly evolves into an engrossing character study adorned with a spattering of Scooby-Dooesque mystery-solving. It demands your utmost attention, as it’s easy to get lost within its pace-spoiling maze of flashbacks, but the end result is worth the effort.

Fantastic Movie Musings & Ramblings Review  ♦  Director Francisco Lara Polop Biography
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Death Rage (1976, original title: Con la rabbia agli occhi)

IMDbA retired assassin decides to take one last job to avenge the murder of his brother. An eager would-be mobster helps him.

Kevin – The filmmakers behind Death Rage seemed to have been under the mistaken impression that Yul Brenner was some kind of super-cool sex symbol. My best guess as to the cause of this confusion would be that they based their casting on vague memories of The Magnificent Seven and hired Yul Brenner thinking that he was actually Steve McQueen. What a disappointing first day on set THAT would be. Casting problems continue with the unfortunate choice of Martin Balsam. Much like Joseph Cotton in The Hearse or Aldo Ray in Haunts (see below), here is a truly great actor working well past his prime in a role he clearly doesn’t care about. It’s disheartening, and it adds a melancholy layer to an already less-than-mediocre action flick. (Mill Creek is certainly playing fast and loose with the collection’s theme. I mean, rarely are any of these films “classics,” but “chilling” this is most definitely not.)

William – By 1976, Yul Brynner looked and acted like a giant thumb with a face painted on one side. In this movie, he stumbles around in a dangerously tight two-piece suit and macks on Barbara Bouchet, a talented actress given nothing to do but silently pout and remove her top three times (twice within inches of our hero’s sourpussed face). Take my word for it: Yul be sorry if you watch Death Rage. Yul be very sorry.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Medusa (1973)

IMDbIn Greece, a stewardess is murdered by a masked maniac. Suspicion falls on a drunken American playboy and a murderous gangster.

Kevin – Why is this movie called Medusa? Why is it told in flashback? Is that supposed to add some kind of significance to the plot? Why did they cast George Hamilton? Did they actually pay him money? Why isn’t Cameron Mitchell in every scene? If you can answer any of these questions I would be grateful. If not, that’s fine too, because I’m going to forget about this movie very soon.

William – As an earnest attempt at emulating a New Hollywood character drama, Medusa‘s failure lies within its complete lack of characters. The screenplay offers harebrained setpiece after harebrained setpiece, painting a story in brushstrokes so broad, it’s impossible to see the point of any of it. This is the only discernible reason I can find for the film’s title: The Medusa of Greek myth has sometimes been interpreted as a symbol of nihilism. If the universe is indeed meaningless, then this overlong, overacted, and overwritten movie might just be the most accurate depiction of modern life ever made. That doesn’t mean sitting through it is never less than relentlessly frustrating.

Complete Movie  ♦  Mill Creek Promotional Clip  ♦  “Memories of Cameron Mitchell” by Debbie Carlson
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I Eat Your Skin (1964, original title: Zombies)

IMDbA cancer researcher on a remote Caribbean island discovers that by treating the natives with snake venom he can turn them into bug-eyed zombies.

Kevin – The same kind of blatant sexism on display in Horrors of Spider Island (see below) is present here, only this time it’s combined with an equal portion of good old-fashioned racism. It’s embarrassing, but for the most part it’s too dated and silly to be truly offensive. I say “for the most part” because at the end of the film our (white) protagonists completely massacre the island’s indigenous population.

William – Filmed in 1964 and left on a shelf for six years, this casually sexist and pointedly racist serving of unfiltered dog vomit tells a half-assed story using a vague allegory for heroin in the Jazz Age to get away with covering black actors in heavy makeup (often enlarging their lips) and setting blonde white women up as damsels in distress, typifying a bigoted Caucasian phobia. This is one of those movies that manages to be less than worthless.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review
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Scream Bloody Murder (1973)

IMDbA disturbed boy kills his father with a farm tractor, mangling his arm in the process. The boy is taken to a mental hospital where he’s outfitted with a hook to replace his lost hand. He returns home to find his mother has remarried, which sets him off on a murderous rampage.

Kevin – In many respects, Scream Bloody Murder is a hit-or-miss affair that suffers from tone-deaf direction and cheesy dialogue. At the script’s core, however, lies a well-constructed story full of highly provocative thematic material. Yes, our lead character is essentially just a second-rate Norman Bates, but the screenwriter was original enough to put him and his psychosis among some new scenery that provides a fresh perspective and a few meaty thrills.

William – A proto-slasher movie that avoids the pitfalls that plagued later films if its ilk, offering an engaging battle of wills instead of the usual hacking ‘n’ slashing audiences would soon come to expect. Sure, there’s bloodletting galore, but it never feels cheap or rushed – the filmmakers instead use the premise to paint a picture of chaotic disruption within an ordered and organized society: Matthew’s victims aren’t murdered because they use drugs, have sex, or otherwise offend him – they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Scream Bloody Murder is surprisingly thoughtful, effectively chilling, and honestly just a really good, gory time.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  Allmovie Review
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Bell from Hell (1973, original title: La campana del infierno)

IMDbA young man is released from an asylum and returns home to exact revenge upon his aunt and her three daughters, who had him declared insane in order to steal his inheritance.

Kevin – This is the type of film that inspires film majors to use words like “meditation” and “tone poem”. I can’t say for sure that it’s deserving of such titles, but it’s certainly the most ambitious of Mill Creek’s offerings. Directors Claudio Guerin and Juan Antonio Bardem channel the greats of world cinema (Bergman’s harsh view of the human condition, Cocteau’s sculptural imagery, Bunuel’s disturbing surrealism) as they chart their protagonist’s sordid return home. Pretentious? Yes. But it’s nonetheless a cinematic treat for fans of the schlockier side of the art house.

William – Visually arresting, sonically gorgeous, and endlessly fascinating, this stark tone poem of violence, hatred, greed and punishment could easily rank among the best horror films of the 1970s. There are countless images that will always be swimming around in my head: John making a plaster cast of his face, straws sticking out of his nose; the impenetrable fog sitting beyond an open door; a girl shivering in a canoe pushed into open water. The sound mix is incredible, too – every noise is isolated, cracking the film wide-open and allowing every moment to breath, to feel like forever. Out of all the films included in this set, this is certainly the most accomplished.

Complete Movie  ♦  Cinema Strikes Back Review  ♦  Digital Retribution Review
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Metamorphosis (1990)

IMDbDr. Peter Houseman is a brilliant geneticist who is working on a serum which will stop human aging. When his university funding is threatened by his skeptical benefactors, the doctor takes a desperate measure to justify his work.

Kevin – Sure, it’s a dollar-aisle ripoff of ’80s sci-fi blockbusters like The Fly (1986) and Altered States (1980), but it doesn’t feel like a desperate-attempt-to-make-a-buck ripoff – it’s more of a “Hey, remember those movies? They were cool. Let’s make something like that.” Writer/director George Eastman may have appropriated similar material and adopted a similar style, but he still approaches it with a fresh eye and brings along a heaping scoop of his untamed Italian awesomeness … and also some misogyny. Italian porno directors tend to be into that kind of thing.

William – Peter Houseman drinks Coors Light on the basketball court. He murders chimpanzees in the university library. He refers to his superiors as “sons of bitches.” When he goes to work, he must be told that “experiments with human fetuses was not authorized.” He drives an Econoline. He’ll pay five dollars for warm beer and he’ll trip you if you use crutches. Peter Houseman isn’t afraid to punch a prostitute. “Can I sleep with you?” a woman’s child asks. “No, dear. Momma has work to do. That’s why Dr. Houseman came over,” she replies.

Mill Creek Promotional Clip  ♦  “Interactive” VHS Box  ♦  Director George Eastman Biography
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Naked Massacre (1976, original title: Die Hinrichtung)

IMDbA Vietnam vet terrorizes a house full of nurses.

Kevin – The exploitative title belies this film’s true nature. Watch it back-to-back with the likes of No Country for Old Men (2008) or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and you’ll inevitably find yourself pressing a cutthroat razor against your jugular while you silently weep and contemplate the unbearable nature of existence. Naked Massacre (directly inspired by the 1966 Richard Speck murders) is not cheap or manipulative; it’s honest and unfathomably grim. Such extreme nihilism can’t help but seem counterproductive, but this is inarguably a film made with admirable talent and powerful convictions. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone, but I can’t unwatch it and I can’t disagree with it. I can only try and reconcile the intense feelings of despair and helplessness that it conjured with my own more optimistic beliefs. If you need to be reminded of our world’s evils, this is perhaps the finest cinematic illustration that I know of.

William – “I hope you understand – I have to do this,” Cain tells his captives. And you believe him, as Naked Massacre (a more fitting title, Born for Hell, comes from the Canadian release) presents its onscreen horrors as undeniable truths. The film’s most telling moment arrives as one of the nurses tries to diagnose the killer’s behavior: “Maybe he hates us all – we’re women. Maybe he wants revenge … Some men test women … frustration, something in his childhood … his mother,” she says, sobbing, never once believing her own analysis because the truth is never so cut-and-dried. The film enters a visceral discussion about humanity’s fascination with bloodshed, both in its sly send-up of television news and its relentless scenes of horrific, disgusting violence towards women (scenes that serve to challenge instead of titillate). Love it or hate it, this is an uncompromising work of art and a bitter reminder that fate cannot be challenged and evil cannot be defined.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Haunts (1977)

IMDb: A seemingly innocent farm girl is convinced that her slovenly uncle is the man responsible for the bloody scissor-murders of several local girls.

Kevin – What a brilliantly sneaky film this is. At first it’s all too easy to just assume it’s another forgettable slasher film starring a couple of has-beens and a bunch of never-will-bes. You lower your expectations and let your guard down. Then you start to notice little irregularities. People aren’t acting the way they should. Our protagonist is middle-aged and yet everyone in town seems protective of her, almost as if she’s a child. The plot leads you to suspect one character after another until you find yourself in the same state of paranoia and self-doubt as our heroine. It’s a sophisticated thriller – not entirely unlike the works of Polanski or Aronofsky. The final few scenes (featuring Cameron Mitchell and Aldo Ray) are quiet, enthralling, and absolutely perfect.

William – Amidst all the erotic goat-milking and meat-slicing, this movie serves as a meditation on the ineffectiveness of religion in moments of crisis and the destruction often left in childhood’s wake. May Britt couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag and Aldo Ray is given nothing to do with his one-note character, but Cameron Mitchell comes through in the last act, delivering a surprisingly understated, pitch-perfect performance that allows forgiveness for the film’s genre indecisiveness.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review  ♦  Basement of Ghoulish Decadence Review
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Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (1961, original title: Lycanthropus)

IMDbAt a girl’s school, several students are murdered by a snarling, wolf-man-like creature. Suspicion falls upon a newly arrived teacher.

Kevin – Let me tell you what you’re looking for when you choose to watch a film with the words “werewolf” and “girls’ dormitory” in the title. You’re looking for exploitative thrills, bizarre happenings, and perhaps a few slices of innocent cheesecake. This film provides none of those things. It’s perfunctory from start to finish. Sure, Barbara Lass is super gorgeous, but she spends the majority of the film investigating the deaths of her classmates as if she were in an episode of Law & Order. WE SAW IT HAPPEN. WE KNOW IT WAS A WEREWOLF.

William – Paced like a funeral march and dubbed by a team of emotionless robots, this joyless, airless attempt at a monster feature looks like an experiment in visual whitewash. Sitting through it felt like I was getting my brain shampooed.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review
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The Driller Killer (1979)

IMDbAn artist takes to the streets of New York after dark and randomly kills derelicts with a power drill.

Kevin – “You don’t know nothing about painting. You know how to bitch, and how to eat, and how to bitch, and how to shit, and how to bitch, but you don’t know nothing about painting.” That’s just a taste of the dialogue uttered by the unbearable protagonist of The Driller Killer, a film that relishes in portraying the disgusting underbelly of the New York City art world. Ken Kelsch, the director of photography, provides a never-ending stream of grimy images that immerses you into an inferno of human filth. Social commentary is obviously the goal, but without any insightful ideas on the table or anyone to root for, it’s mostly a waste of time. The only response it provoked in me was the desire to take a shower.

William – This is art because at one point an image of Dick Tracy is intercut with an image of Jesus. Social commentary is at its most potent when it includes the word “faggy.” Explicit lesbian sex scenes are necessary to drive home important ideas about violence, the homeless and buffaloes. Sample dialogue: “We don’t have any drugs, we don’t have any money, we don’t have any dope.” Auteur!

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Not Coming to a Theater Near You Review  ♦  A.V. Club Review
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Horror Express (1972)

IMDbAn English anthropologist has discovered a frozen monster in the frozen wastes of Manchuria which he believes may be the Missing Link. He brings the creature back to Europe aboard a trans-Siberian express, but during the trip the monster thaws out and starts to butcher the passengers one by one.

Kevin – Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee have carried far worse films than this. Between the beloved cast, brisk plotting, and solid production values, Horror Express feels like an actual movie – a distinction held by a regrettably small number of Mill Creek’s offerings. Broadly speaking, it’s nothing to write home about, but it sets itself apart from hoi polloi (horror polloi?) with a number of minor but inspired stylistic touches – the glowing red eyes, the hectic editing during action sequences, the overbearing sound design, and the kickin’ end credits theme music.

William – A subtle, sly dig at Creationism, setting up a scientific theory as the bad guy by revealing our evolutionary Missing Link to be Satan himself. Pretty dry, even for British horror film standards, but a show-stopping performance from Telly Savalas and the reliable presence of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing manage to keep this one afloat.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Slant Magazine Review  ♦  Allmovie Review
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Snowbeast (1977)

IMDbA Colorado ski resort is besieged by a sub-human beast that commits brutal murders on the slopes.

Kevin – Snowbeast is a shallow Jaws-style creature feature that lacks Spielberg’s technical skill as well as any other form of overt competence. I didn’t hate it but I also was very drunk during the viewing and the moving pictures were the only distraction from the crushing depression.

William – Basically – no, exactly – Jaws on a ski resort, replacing the shark with Bigfoot and the boat with a camper trailer. The sheriff character is named “Paraday,” perhaps as a clever way of informing the audience that this is a parody of the Spielberg blockbuster, but there’s little to no evidence to support that theory as there are very few laughs and no attempts at formula subversion. It’s pleasantly inoffensive (probably because it was made for TV), but there’s no reason to sit through it, as it offers nothing in the way of originality and serves only to remind you of a much better film. Plus, it should have been called Thaws.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  Allmovie Review  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review
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Sisters of Death (1976)

IMDbDuring an all-girl secret society initiation, one of the new members is killed playing Russian Roulette. Many years later, the survivors are invited to a reunion at a lavish estate, which turns out to be owned by the crazed father of their deceased classmate.

Kevin – Whatever sins it might be guilty of, Sisters of Death boasts a pretty good setup for a horror-thriller (think And Then There Were None meets House on Sorority Row). The movie that follows is at least mildly entertaining. The filmmakers have their cake and eat it too by putting the bodacious bods of their female cast front and center, but only while looking through the POV of a few skeezy characters (this at least gives the appearance of political correctness). Despite all this, it ends on a low note with a twist ending that is shocking only in its laziness.

William – Dreadfully boring, painfully amateurish, and tragically humorless, this PG-rated padding-filled black hole of endless suffering could only entertain a masochist. The boom mic is the most magnetic personality among the cast, dropping in every once in a while as if to say, “I’m tired of this shit, too.”

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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War of the Robots (1978, original title: La guerra dei robot)

IMDbAn alien civilization facing eminent extinction kidnaps two famous genetic scientists from Earth. A troop of soldiers is dispatched to rescue the victims.

Kevin – If one were to write a book about the Star Wars ripoffs released in 1978, War of the Robots would be a footnote. This not only speaks to the abundance of such films but also to the forgettable nature of this one in particular. Science fiction is a genre with the potential to explore and illustrate the human condition while kindling the imagination. Removed from such purposes, there’s nothing left but tacky special effects and stupid costumes.

William – “Italian Star Wars ripoff” might sound promising, but La guerra dei robot is monumentally boring, featuring endless scenes of inane dialogue and incompetently photographed space battles. The filmmakers never attempt anything outside of their budget, so instead of being treated to laughably bad special effects, you’ll find yourself staring at interior shots of depressing spaceships until your brain melts all over your spinal column.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review
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Oasis of the Zombies (1981, original title: La tumba de los muertos vivientes, aka: The Treasure of the Living Dead)

IMDbAn expedition searching for treasure supposedly buried by the German army in the African desert during WW II comes up against an army of Nazi zombies guarding the fortune.

Kevin – Two young women travel alone through a sunbaked oasis. Casually, they join hands as they walk. Jésus Franco frames the shot to both emphasize this expository gesture and draw attention to our actresses’ posteriors. Say what you will about the subject matter, but Franco’s utility and concision is admirable. The film’s final setpiece – a handful of survivors fending off an onslaught of zombies – is a show-stopping display of abstract editing, grungy cinematography, and eerie sound design. Even those who are normally dismissive of Euro-schlock have to acknowledge the craft on display.

William – There’s something deeply beautiful about this movie that I can’t quite explain. Director Jesús Franco allows each image to breathe, be it a pair of barely-clothed behinds bouncing across a desert or a disfigured zombie slowly rising from a patch of watery weeds. Minutes pass without a word being said. The score consists of tuneless noodling on an electric keyboard. Mill Creek’s print looks like we’re watching the film through a screen door. Somehow, it all adds up to a thickly atmospheric, impossibly hypnotic work of staggering artistry that, if allowed, will take you to another world.

Theatrical Trailer  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review  ♦  Jesús Franco Interview  ♦  Jesús Franco Biography
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The Witches’ Mountain (1972, original title: El monte de las brujas)

IMDbA photojournalist traveling through the Pyrenees on assignment with a beautiful writer stays overnight at an ancient Spanish castle, only to discover that the adjoining mountain is occupied by a coven of witches.

Kevin – A mustachioed, medallion-wearing photographer deliberately pisses off his girlfriend, then picks up a ridiculously hot sunbather on his way out of town and goes on a vague assignment that involves the pair sleeping at increasingly creepy venues, including the house of an old woman who unabashedly roofies her guests. It’s all very boring, really.

William – Opens with a scene of rapidfire insanity, but quickly settles into long stretches of nothing – not the beautifully-photographed, hypnotic nothing of Oasis of the Zombies (see above), but instead an artless attempt to stretch a 15-minute story into an 80-minute one. You can recreate the film at home: Walk into a room and say, “I think I saw some witches.” Exit the room. Repeat.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review
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Land of the Minotaur (1976, original title: The Devil’s Men)

IMDbA satanic cult kidnaps three young people.

Kevin – With Land of the Minotaur, Kostas Karagiannis shows himself to be a director with something to prove. Sometimes he finds his mark, but most of the time his scenes dissolve into clumsily-edited barrages of images. The movie’s not without talent though: Peter Cushing gives a performance of brutal precision and tact, Brian Eno provides a score worthy of a much better film, and Donald Pleasence yet again proves that he can upstage almost anybody.

William – Worth mentioning only as a giant waste of talent: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, and superstar music producer Brian Eno make worthwhile efforts amidst a flatly directed, atrociously-edited snoozefest featuring a number of different ways to pronounce “Minotaur” and little else.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  Allmovie Review
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The Revenge of Doctor X (1970, original title: Body of the Prey, aka: Venus Flytrap)

IMDbA mad scientist uses thunder and lightning to turn carnivorous plants into man-eating creatures.

Kevin – James Craig, our leading man, supposedly got his start in the industry solely due to his resemblance to Clark Gable, who was serving in the US Army Air Force at the time. Based on the level of talent Craig displays in this film, I’d be inclined to believe that.

William – Bizarrely photographed, incompetently scripted, and featuring a bevy of topless Japanese women, The Revenge of Dr. X almost makes it on weirdness alone (it’s perhaps the only movie in which the course of human evolution is mapped by feeding dogs to a giant venus flytrap), but the engine begins to fail a full 30 minutes before it rolls to a stop. There are a number of delightful things going on here, but I can’t responsibly recommend this to anyone.

Complete Movie  ♦  Fantastic Movie Musings & Ramblings Review
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Nightmare in Wax (1969)

IMDbThe disfigured curator of a wax museum murders his enemies and uses their bodies as exhibits in his museum.

KevinNightmare in Wax is a witless revenge thriller that gets all gussied up with some wacky spook-house visuals. At the center of it all, however, lies the ever-reliable Cam Mitchell. You know an actor’s the real deal when he can wear an eyepatch and terrible pancake makeup and make it look completely natural.

William – By my count, I’ve seen five movies set primarily in wax museums. Nightmare in Wax  is neither at the top (Mystery at the Wax Museum) or bottom (Waxwork) of my list, but it’s definitely in a favorable spot due to Cameron Mitchell’s delightfully deranged performance and an occasionally intriguing plotline populated by fun, memorable characters. The climax is a wee bit disappointing, but any movie that features Cam Mitchell wearing an eyepatch is one you definitely need to watch.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download  ♦  Cameron Mitchell Biography
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A Passenger to Bali (1950)

IMDbCaptain English permits Mr. Walkes to board his ship bound for Bali, only to learn Walkes is unwelcome at virtually every port – forcing English to endure his increasingly unwelcome guest.

Kevin – Not a movie at all, but instead an authentic slice of genuine 1950s television programming. It’s dated beyond belief, so I did my best to get into character by donning a pinstriped shirt and tie and eating a Swanson TV dinner. It was all going swimmingly until I fell asleep and had a stress dream about Commies dropping the A-bomb. All in all it was an ill-advised outing.

William – At some point, Mill Creek ran out of real movies to include in this collection and slapped this episode of CBS’ Studio One onto disc 6. It’s surprisingly interesting in a few ways – both as an artifact and as unlikely entertainment. Lengthy advertisements for Westinghouse appliances (including a pretty nifty refrigerator) are tucked between segments and much of the acting is dated and off-putting, but the story’s premise is intriguing enough to warrant a viewing. Plus, it’s less than an hour long (much closer to the the ideal length for Mill Creek movies).

Complete Movie  ♦  Escape and Suspense! Review
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Devil Times Five (1974, original title: Peopletoys)

IMDbFive extremely disturbed, sociopathic children escape from their psychiatric transport and are taken in unwittingly by a group of adult villagers on winter vacation.

Kevin – Compared to other films in the killer children genre, Devil Times Five is particularly effective at exploring the absurdity and humor of the situation. The entirety of the second act is spent letting the titular murderers socialize with their would-be victims and the characters are all well-written enough for it to be time well spent. The kids make for surprisingly good villains because they’re not exactly portrayed as being evil; it’s more like they don’t fully understand what they’re doing. In that respect they’re reminiscent of the rednecks in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, only pint-sized and adorable.

William – Features some gaping plot holes (Were the children going on a field trip … during a blizzard?), but also offers an interesting, almost experimental study of protagonism, as it becomes harder and harder to pick sides as the film advances. Well-paced, never boring (excluding one lengthy, confusingly-edited murder scene), and charmingly pointless. A good Christmas movie, probably.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Funeral Home (1980, original title: Cries in the Night)

IMDbA young woman arrives at her grandmother’s house, a former funeral home, to help her turn the place into a bed-and-breakfast inn. Once the place opens, however, guests begin to mysteriously disappear.

Kevin – The director, William Fruet, is certainly not without vision and manages to make a respectable film; Funeral Home carries a consistent tone of mystery and suspense accompanied by plenty of memorable images. It’s only prevented from being a minor classic by a general sense of amateurishness (and Canadian-ness): The soundtrack has too much ambient noise, the actors try a bit too hard, and it all looks a little flat and undersaturated. None of these mistakes are particularly grievous, but taken together they constantly remind you that you’re watching an under-budgeted horror flick. This is true of many of the films on the pack, but Funeral Home is one of the few that has the talent and potential to actually have been improved by higher production values.

William – This surprisingly thoughtful slasher movie is a Canadian export, as evidenced by some of the performer’s peculiar accents, but its multilayered plot runs circles around those of its American counterparts, like the Friday the 13th or Halloween sequels. This one’s roots are planted firmly in Psycho, as it explores what family means to us both before and after it’s gone. The musical score is top-notch, the characters are well-conceived, and it steadily gains momentum as it gallops towards its obvious, but uniquely resonant, ending.

Complete Movie  ♦  Canuxploitation Review
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Lady Frankenstein (1971, original title: La figlia di Frankenstein)

IMDbWhen Dr. Frankenstein is killed by a monster he created, his daughter and lab assistant continue his experiments.

Kevin –  I imagine this film was made to fulfill a bet to see how many boobs you can pack into a Frankenstein movie. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, per se, it just means your appreciation of it will be limited by how desperate you are to see breasts and reanimated corpses at the same time. The first thirty minutes star Joseph Cotton, an actor whose non-Welles-related performances consist of him doing impersonations of various tree trunks, but once he’s out of the picture the plot picks up considerably. There are also some good unintentional laughs provided by the frequent intercutting between the monster’s awkwardly deranged, Johnny Knoxville-esque rampage and the exceedingly detached principle characters. It’s difficult to call, but I guess I’d recommend Lady Frankenstein – barely.

William – Have you ever wanted to go to bed with your family’s mentally-impaired groundskeeper? Lady Frankenstein does! She decides the most ethical thing to do is to place her boyfriend’s brain inside the skull of the groundskeeper and light him up with electricity. Is it murder if you only kill the MIND? The movie never tries to answer the question, but it does feature a lot of depressing nudity and the most shoddily-executed sudden-cut-to-black ending I’ve ever seen. There is no safe way to achieve the correct level of intoxication that enjoying this movie requires. You will never be drunk enough for Lady Frankenstein. (Mill Creek wisely placed Lady FrankensteinDevil Times Five and Funeral Home on the same disc to encourage a triple feature of films that feature mentally-handicapped handymen being seduced by older women.)

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, original title: Night of the Dark Full Moon)

IMDbA man inherits a mansion, which once was a mental home. He visits the property and begins to investigate past crimes.

Kevin – Not to be confused with the trashier and more infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night (the 1984 slasher movie featuring a killer Santa), Silent Night, Bloody Night is a example of a script being produced by a director whose technical grasp of the medium is far greater than the material deserves. A strange, unsettling business meeting, anonymous phone calls, an extended sequence in a mental hospital – the film’s core setpieces are all perfectly chilling in a (dare I say it?) elegant way.

William – The print offered here is in terrible condition, but that only improves upon the movie: an atmospheric, gorgeously-photographed, often hypnotic picture, surprisingly somber, with moments of visceral violence and long, fascinating detours into flashbacks and interludes that add up to a richly satisfying whole. Watch in a double feature with Black Christmas this holiday season. Just lock your doors first.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Allmovie Review
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Panic (1982, original title: Bakterion)

IMDbA scientist’s experiment with a deadly bacteria goes awry and leaves him horribly deformed. The monstrous man then runs amok within his city.

Kevin – This represents a low point for low-rent horror films. If you set out to do the exact same thing that every other low-budget monster movie does, but somehow manage to do everything worse, you’re left with a virtually unwatchable film. I like to imagine the editor slowly going through the footage, shaking his head while the light drains from his eyes.

William – Some floozy sells herself for an ice cream cone, but she gets killed before the transaction can be made! Oh, Panic! You and your “suspense” sequences that fail to elicit even a shrug and your endless scenes of elderly men smoking cigarettes and trying not to fall asleep! Optional drinking game: Take eight drinks every time you hate yourself for watching this. The drink of choice is bleach.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Messiah of Evil (1973)

IMDbA young woman goes searching for her missing artist father. Her journey takes her to a strange Californian seaside town governed by a mysterious undead cult.

Kevin – If anyone out there is wondering why we’d choose to sit through these DVD collections when the vast majority of the films included are utter dreck, movies like Messiah of Evil (as well as Naked Massacre, Metamorphosis, Bell from Hell, etc.) are the answer. It’s like finding a chest of gold buried in your local supermarket’s DVD bin (the one next to the 99 cent pregnancy tests and water guns). The credit for this grungy masterpiece rests squarely on the husband and wife team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the same pair that would shockingly go on to write/direct Howard the Duck thirteen years later.

William – This is like Night of the Living Dead‘s weird sister. Equal parts surreal and poetic, the plot slides forward using dream logic, featuring scene after scene of quiet, creepy-crawly weirdness including a sink full of insects and a group of townspeople eating raw meat at a supermarket deli. The primary setting is a giant room covered wall-to-wall in perspective-perplexing paintings, making the film feel even more ethereal. It’s hard to tell what it all adds up to, but it’s definitely a fascinating ride.

Complete Movie  ♦  Allmovie Review  ♦  BFI Review
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The Blancheville Monster (1963, original title: Horror)

IMDbThe beautiful young daughter of a crazed count fears that she will fall victim to the family curse and be sacrificed to fulfill an ancient family legend.

Kevin – Thanks to the likes of Paul Naschy and Barbara Steele, I have very little patience for lazily-paced gothic horror films. And The Blanchville Monster is about as monotonous as it gets. The atmosphere may be wonderfully thick but the plot is convenient to the point of novelty, and the movie suffers from an excess of musical stings. “Have you seen Joseph?” Dun Dun DUUUN!!!

William – Some grumpy mustachioed guy plays creepy songs on an organ while his sister walks around in her nightgown like an alcoholic. Eventually, there’s a twist ending that, among other things, may have influenced the Harry Potter series (a prophecy, a resurrection from the dead, people wearing silly robes). Takes an hour to get the plot moving, and by that time you’ll be in a coma.

Complete Movie  ♦  Internet Archive Download
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Cathy’s Curse (1977, original title: Cauchemares)

IMDbA young girl becomes possessed by the spirit of her dead aunt.

Kevin – A shitty kid gets herself some superpowers and then behaves in a predictably shitty fashion. It’s always refreshing when a screenwriter’s honest about that kind of thing. The movie’s sometimes creepy, sometimes crappy, but most importantly, it’s never a pain to watch. It definitely helps that the evil spirits possessing the kid have an obsession with the word “bitch.”

William – This kid is evil, see, so granny falls out of a second story window and grampa throws up on the lawn. It all plays out as if the original negatives were lost and the filmmakers had to cobble together a full-length movie with the outtakes. The film never approaches competence in any way, shape, or form, and it feels like it lasts for three hours. Mill Creek’s print looks like someone used it as toilet paper at one point. I wish they’d flushed.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review  ♦  Final Girl Review
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The Alpha Incident (1978)

IMDbA microorganism from Mars, brought to Earth by a space probe, terrorizes five people trapped in a railroad office.

KevinThe Alpha Incident is most likely the finest film that Bill Rebane ever directed. It follows a template that hundreds of other low-budget filmmakers have utilized: find a reason to isolate a small group of varied characters and let them talk it out for ninety minutes or so. Forcing characters with different personalities into the same room provides a natural source of conflict while the claustrophobic setting invariably ratchets up the tension. Only sheer incompetence could ruin a movie like this, and Bill thankfully manages to follow through.

William – Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane makes good use of a intruiging premise and delivers a solidly constructed potboiler, thanks in large part to his talented cast (George “Buck” Flower is the standout performer) and a screenplay full of incredible dialogue (“The only time I stay in one place this long is when I’m in bed with a chick … or I’m just sleepin’!”). I’ve watched this three times and I have no regrets.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review  ♦  Not Coming to a Theater Near You Review
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The Demons of Ludlow (1983)

IMDbA murderous demon lurks inside an antique piano in a picturesque coastal town.

Kevin – This is Rebane trying to direct an Italian gothic horror film set in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, successfully making such a film requires a much surer directorial hand than Rebane is capable of providing and what we’re left with is simultaneously incomprehensible and boring.

William – Rebane strikes again, only this time he meanders through a barely-there story about a haunted piano that’s about as exciting as beans for dinner. A few doors close on their own, a fire poker floats around, and a framed photograph falls off a wall … you know, creepy stuff. The most genuinely unsettling thing about Demons of Ludlow is the hair. Think about it – people in the ’80s walked around like that! Shamelessly! Gives ya chills.

Complete Movie  ♦  Final Girl Review  ♦  Not Coming to a Theater Near You Review
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The Cold (1984, original title: The Game)

IMDbThree bored millionaires gather nine people in an old mansion, and give them a proposition: if they can meet and conquer their biggest fears, they’ll get one million dollars in cash.

Kevin – Here is a mildly entertaining entry in the ever-popular so-bad-it’s-good genre, coming to you from embittered filmmaker and two-time Wisconsin gubernatorial hopeful, Bill Rebane. Like The Alpha Incident (see above), The Cold proposes a simple but intriguing premise, but this time the filmmaking is distractingly awful. Imagine your dad directing an exploitation film – it tries really hard to be trashy (lots of close-ups of cleavage) but it’s ultimately pretty mild and inoffensive. True masterpieces of schlock require certifiably insane directors. Ultimately, Mr. Rebane is just another average, tasteful fellow like the rest of us. His wackier films suffer as a result.

William – The last movie in the Bill Rebane tripleheader is a nonstop rollercoaster of awfulness, showcasing all of its director’s worst tendencies in spectacular fashion: The acting is atrocious, the screenplay is meaningless garbage, and the special effects budget is limited to using props from past Rebane movies. There are a lot of movies worse than this one (and even more better ones), but few of them are this much fun.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bill Rebane: A Retrospective  ♦  Bill Rebane Interview  ♦  Bill Rebane on Twitter!
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Hands of a Stranger (1962)

IMDbA concert pianist loses his hands in a car crash, but a surgeon gives him new ones. The experimental medical procedure goes awry when the new hands drive the pianist mad.

Kevin – On the surface, this appears to be a standard entry into the man-receives-transplant-from-mysterious-individual-then-gets-possessed-and-goes-on-killing-spree subgenre, but instead turns out to be a patient and thoughtful drama about art, science and how we are defined by our passions. It tactfully avoids many of the plot contrivances that could’ve cheapened the characters and happily dives into the meaty themes and emotional conflict provided by the film’s basic premise. This all makes it sound like a very good movie, but unfortunately … no. It’s not. The pacing is too slow, the acting is too wooden, and even among similar films of its time period, it’s distractingly dated.

William – A meditation on the definition of the soul and its connection to the outside world. Okay, okay, yes – this is trash filmmaking – but it brings up an important question: Can our self remain complete while our body is mangled, repaired, or replaced? Hands of a Stranger is paced rather poorly, what with its seemingly endless scenes of wooden philosophical dialogue, but it manages to conjure up countless ideas and emotions, all of which are echoed in its final scene – a repetition of cliché, certainly, but an effective one – reminding us of the frailty of the human body and its tenuous link to the fate of the human spirit.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Cinema Sentries Review
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The Hearse (1980)

IMDb: A recently-divorced young woman decides to spend the summer in the house her aunt left her when she died. As soon as she moves in, she is visited repeatedly by a old black hearse and its creepy driver. Is she going insane or is she truly being menaced?

Kevin – Basically, The Hearse is about a woman who moves into a small town populated exclusively by assholes. If this had been the extent of the movie’s plot it may have been quite a memorable outing (by Mill Creek standards), but it unfortunately turns out to be a pretty standard supernatural thriller. Imagine a Barbara Steele movie set in the rural south.

William – Some great acting and a few moments of smart cinematography will make you think this is a real movie, but it isn’t. The budget is stretched way too thin (the primary setting, supposedly abandoned for 37 years, is dust-free and freshly-painted) and the script is astoundingly lazy, especially in the latter half. The lost potential is what makes The Hearse feel worse than it actually is, as the cast is full of talent, both young (Christopher McDonald, Perry Lang) and old (Joseph Cotten), and the first 30 minutes successfully build suspense until an over-the-top dream sequence deflates any inkling of energy the film may have mustered. You’ll want this movie to be good, but it will undoubtedly disappoint you in the end. (Mill Creek’s film prints are usually bottom-dollar, but The Hearse is presented in letterbox format and looks downright lovely.)

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Roger Ebert Review  ♦  New York Times Review
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Man in the Attic (1953)

IMDbAfter an enigmatic, self-described pathologist rents the attic room of a Victorian house, his landlady begins to suspect her lodger is Jack the Ripper.

Kevin – “There are no criminals, only people who do what they must because they are who they are.” Man in the Attic is a meticulously-directed period piece featuring subtle character work and solid casting. It’s a shame, then, that somewhere along the line somebody got confused and thought they were making a whodunit, leading to an awkward state of being where we (the audience) don’t simply SUSPECT that Jack Palance’s character is the murderer – he practically wears a sign around his neck, and yet the film tries (halfheartedly) to cast some doubt on that fact. Jack Palance’s performance is the real centerpiece, though; he’s successful in creating a character that’s worthy of our undivided attention. Considering that Mr. Palance spent a good chunk of his career shamelessly hamming his way through terrible movies (e.g. Welcome to Blood City, Tango and Cash) it’s always refreshing to see him live up to his reputation.

William – Begins as yet another indictment of our morbid fascination with gruesome crimes, but becomes something much more: an attempt to characterize a monster and question the morality of punishment. Based on The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes, the film is basically revisionist history that asks a question that still resides in the back of our minds: Who was Jack the Ripper? The answer presented here may not be a satisfactory one, but it’s a start.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Allmovie Review
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The Demon (1981)

IMDbRandom people are terrorized by a masked murderer.

Kevin – Writer/director Percival Rubens tries to have his cake and eat it too by introducing his lead characters early in the film and slowly building suspense while simultaneously populating the plot with random scenes of murder in order to keep its gore-happy audience members from growing bored with his more tactful approach. In the final act, however, he doubles down for a high stakes finish that makes you forget how aimless the majority of the film is. Also, to say that Cameron Mitchell is shoehorned into the film is giving shoehorns too much credit. The film’s plot is pried apart to make room for his scenes, which mainly consist of him showing up at murder scenes and “acting” (in reality, he was probably just dangerously hungover). Not that it matters; Cameron Mitchell could videotape himself eating breakfast cereal and I’d still find it entertaining.

William – Common sense tells me that The Demon is barrel-scraping slasher trash. It’s certainly an incredibly ugly film. Half the scenes are too dark to decipher and the writer/director goes to ridiculous lengths to get his starlets to remove their tops. The plot is an absolute mess, featuring two stories that never meet in the middle and a few subplots that go nowhere. But there’s something unique about the way the story moves along, using abbreviated scenes that fill the spaces between plot and character, making these lives feel lived in. Our two protagonists sit in their darkened living room, meditating. A child discovers a skeleton in a tree. A grief-stricken father scours the city, looking for the thing that killed his daughter. A compelling performance from Cameron Mitchell and a genuinely suspenseful climax stand out amongst a fascinating mess of strangeness, cementing the film as more than just another slasher feature. Common sense be damned.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  New York Times Cameron Mitchell Obituary
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Shock (1946)

IMDbA psychologically distraught woman is committed to a private sanitarium by the man whom she witnessed commit a murder.

Kevin – A minor little old-fashioned thriller that’s just good enough to restore your faith in the forgotten byproducts of Hollywood’s golden age.  Vincent Price is as entertaining as ever and the film’s visuals are stylishly mundane in a way that only ’40s film noirs could be.

William – A quick and dirty little thriller boasting an unsettling premise: What if your doctor was a murderer and you were the only witness? Stalwarts Vincent Price and Lynn Bari give excellent performances, but Anabel Shaw, in her limited role as a victim of murderous malpractice, is magnetic. The setup is extremely contrived, but the characters and still-potent scares keep this one compelling throughout.

Complete Movie  ♦  Allmovie Review  ♦  New York Times Review
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Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

IMDbA young man is transformed into a hideous “moon beast” due to a meteor fragment lodged in his body.

Kevin – The most entertaining scene in this film includes one of the secondary characters slowly listing the ingredients of a stew he made. The filmmakers ape Spielberg’s formula for Jaws by concealing the monster for the first two-thirds of the film, but for a monster suit this bad it hardly seems worth it.

William – The first ten minutes of this one are pretty fun, what with “Moon rocks! Oh Wow!” and “Chicken … corn … green peppers … chili … onions,” but once shirtless pajama guy goes full Moon Beast, you had better get your jaw loose to prepare for some serious marathon yawning (or “marayawning”). The only worthwhile takeaway is the überlame “California la-AAAAY-daeeay!” song performed by a group of limp hippie leftovers.

Complete Movie  ♦  Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Episode  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review
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The Ghost (1963, original title: Lo spettro)

IMDbA woman and her lover murder her husband, a doctor. Soon after, however, strange things start happening, and they wonder if the dead doctor has returned to haunt them.

Kevin – A music-box plays a soft, familiar tune. A crippled husband sits in his wheelchair while his wife shaves him with a straight razor. He reminisces about how they met – how happy they once were. His wife’s hands slow to a stop. Sometimes all a movie needs is one perfect scene.

William – You got your big creepy portrait, your big creepy house, your mysterious locked safe, your premeditated murder, your stolen valuables, your basement mausoleum, your easily accessible bottle of poison, your sordid love affair, your suspicious housekeeper, your ho-hum return from the dead and your multiple twist endings. Yep, you’re ready to make a forgettable gothic horror movie starring Barbara Steele as … the only character she’s ever played (she’s not exactly “versatile”). You can tell this one apart from her other films because someone shoots a dog in it.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Barbara Steele: The Accidental Scream Queen
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Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

IMDbLegendary outlaw of the Old West Jesse James, on the run from Marshal MacPhee, hides out in the castle of Baron Frankenstein’s granddaughter Maria, who proceeds to transform Jesse’s slow-witted pal Hank into a bald zombie, which she names Igor.

Kevin – Three parts cliché and two parts fluff. Watching this made me wish I was a ten-year-old boy living in 1966; I could go to a weekend matinee of this film and have the time of my life. This sounds like a much better existence than being 24 years old and inexplicably watching this film in 2014. It’s a kid’s movie. Which in this case is a polite way of saying that it’s the opposite of entertainment for anyone who has pubic hair.

William – Boasting one of the greatest titles in the history of cinema and an absolutely bonkers premise, JJ Meets F’s D fails to even meet expectations halfway, settling for lazy, meandering storytelling that deflates any hope for a Manos-style trainwreck. The gorgeous Estelita Rodriguez (who sadly died shortly after completion of the film) carries tremendous screen presence, but you can only sit through so much bland stupidity until your eyes start to cross.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Director William Beaudine Biography
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Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon (1973, original title: The Mansion of Madness)

IMDbThe inmates of an insane asylum take over the institution, imprisoning the doctors and staff, and then put into play their own ideas of how the place should be run.

Kevin – Apparently crap filmmakers of all nationalities occasionally feel the need to make loose adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories. His universal popularity and public domain status means that his works will forever be pillaged by the lowest of the low in an attempt to add marketability to their dismal bargain-bin productions. Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon isn’t the worst offender, but it’s still not worth watching.

William – Supposedly an obscure example of cinematic surrealism, but in actuality an example of aimless nonsense, as director Juan López Moctezuma’s unfortunate penchant for slapstick comedy kills any atmospheric tension created in the film’s visually impressive first half. Claudio Brook’s lead performance (as the antagonistic Raoul Fragonard) is nothing more than flat, empty bombast complete with crazed laughter and silly costumes. Even Terry Gilliam would be embarrassed by this stuff.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Allmovie Review
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The Bloody Brood (1959)

IMDbTwo beatniks get their kicks by dealing drugs and violence.

Kevin – I LOVE Peter Falk. I’ve seen every episode of Columbo at least three times. I even managed to sit through Husbands in its entirety. Aside from his performance, though, The Bloody Brood is a less-than-average thriller. It’s one of many delinquent horror films of the ’50s, but compared to its contemporaries (namely Bucket of Blood, included in this collection), it’s simply stupid, fear-mongering trash.

William – As one of many Beatsploitation movies produced in the ’50s, The Bloody Brood sets itself apart by presenting its characters – with one important exception – as everyday, working-class people. Peter Falk’s Nico (the aforementioned important exception) isn’t a beatnik – he’s a drug dealer, a businessman. “Not everybody can appreciate an intellectual thrill like this,” he says, referring to murder. “We can give death real meaning. We can decide who dies and when.” Falk absolutely dominates the film, using assured restraint to illustrate Nico’s hidden motives and desires. The Bloody Brood is a dirt-cheap crime drama that manages to stay afloat thanks to its aversion to exaggerating the eccentricities of the beatnik lifestyle and its focus on Peter Falk’s standout performance.

Complete Movie  ♦  Canuxploitation Review
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The House of the Dead (1978, original title: Alien Zone)

IMDbAn anthology of four spooky stories told by a creepy mortician.

Kevin – Once you stop trying to figure out why this was originally titled Alien Zone (perhaps to capitalize on the success of Alien?), it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride. That’s the beauty of horror anthologies: breaking the movie up into multiple segments keeps the plot from dragging and makes it easier to gloss over the less-than-stellar bits. There’s something magical about the format: Even in the face of terrible writing and low production values, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts, and Alien Zone is no exception to that rule. None of these segments are extraordinary, but watching all of them in succession accompanied by a wraparound story makes it feel like an event. It doesn’t have the intense weirdness factor of something like Night Train to Terror or the genuine horror chops of Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt, but it’s still a lot of fun.

William – This homegrown horror picture hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma (where the skies are not cloudy ALL DAY – can you believe it?) modestly presents four “scary” stories in which ego, pride, vanity, or one of the other deadly sins leads to an untimely demise. A nasty schoolteacher is killed by a bunch of – surprise! – children, a nerd who films himself murdering blind dates is caught and – guess what? – photographed by the press, and a businessman with no compassion for the homeless is kidnapped and … given free wine? Far and away the most entertaining entry is a tale of competitive sleuthing (featuring the TWO BEST DETECTIVES EVER) that manages more laughs than the rest of the stories combined. This might be a dreadful movie, but I wanted it to last twice as long. Anthology movies are like that.

Complete Movie  ♦  1978 Advertisements and News Articles
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Slashed Dreams (1975, original title: Sunburst)

IMDbA couple on vacation in the woods is stalked by a pair of rapists.

Kevin – Did you know that violent gang-rape can be a positive life experience? Apparently that’s the core message of this über-’70s shit sandwich. Slashed Dreams manages to start out rather nicely, with lots of authentic ’70s atmosphere and plenty of discussions about searching for meaning in the age of Aquarius and such, but it soon dissolves into a Deliverance ripoff with the key difference being that instead of the victimized protagonist hunting down and murdering her rapists, she decides it’s all part of her journey of self-discovery. This isn’t to say that I think all movie victims need to turn to violent revenge, but disguising what’s essentially just extreme pragmatism as some kind of self-righteous hippie ideology is just dumb.

William – Here’s one from the deep ’70s, the scary ’70s, when everyone was real serious about where humanity’s “roots” come from, and sexual assault was something you were expected to recover from in about six hours. The soundtrack features five original songs with lyrics like “if life were a game, I’d be winn-iiiing!” and “I’ve learned to take the time to take the time I’ve got!” that are given precedence over plot or character because I guess someone spent a lot of money producing them and won’t admit they’re putrid garbage. About an hour into the film, two hillbilly Deliverance-type characters pop out of the woods and one says “I’d like to dive for her sponge,” and then we have to suffer through a rape scene, after which the victim is told that “maybe it’s fate – maybe you’ll find some truth in it” and “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” which should offend her beyond words, but I guess everybody had to suffer through gang-rape in the ’70s. It was like getting your first car.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review  ♦  The Life and Art of Vern Review
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A Bucket of Blood (1959)

IMDbA frustrated and talentless artist finds acclaim for a plaster-covered dead cat that is mistaken as a skillful statuette. Soon the desire for more praise leads to an increasingly deadly series of works.

Kevin – To watch A Bucket of Blood is to witness the peculiar genius of Roger Corman. His films were always low-budget, generally slapped together in a matter of days from whatever resources were at hand, and designed to be as marketable as possible. Despite this, Corman never seemed to prostitute himself. With The Wild Angels (1966), Corman made a trashy biker picture to sell to the midnight movie crowd and simultaneously delivered a devastating yet sympathetic critique of an ultra-rebellious counterculture. Here, Corman provides a similarly-layered beatsplotation film made to appeal to the same audience as The Bloody Brood (see above), but conceived with infinitely more intelligence and artistry.

William – Pales in comparison to Corman’s next film, The Little Shop of Horrors (shot on the same sets using a very similar script), but has a little more on its mind, making passing jabs at the working-class beatnik while exploring hero worship and the artist’s ego (as well as including a spot-on critique of folk music). The movie eventually becomes a sort of metacommentary, as Walter Paisely’s “sculptures” become a stand-in for the horror genre itself.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Allmovie Review  ♦  TCM Review
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Horrors of Spider Island (1960, original title: Ein Toter hing im Netz, aka: Body in the Web)

IMDbSurvivors of a plane crash on a remote island find their surroundings to be infested with spiders.

Kevin – How a director of a low-budget horror flick decides to film a plane crash is a telling piece of information. They obviously can’t afford to stage such an event, so that leaves two options: ingenuity or laziness. Fritz Bottger did not pick the former when it came time to shoot Horrors of Spider Island. Not that it’s all that important – the plane crash is simply a plot convenience used to assemble our cast of “beautiful dancers” on a tropical island to prepare for the “sensual” adventures that follow. Yes, this is a markedly sexist movie, but today it plays as satire, and given the audience it was made for, it shows an admirable amount of restraint and the aforementioned eroticism is surprisingly tasteful (an uncut version apparently exists somewhere, however).

William – This is exactly like Cast Away, only Wilson is a troupe of foxy female dancers. Mill Creek’s print looks like we’re watching it through medical gauze, which perhaps replicates the most appropriate viewing circumstances. The girls are beautiful, the giant spider is adorable, and Babs … she’s the love of my life.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Episode  ♦  Allmovie Review
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The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)

IMDbA documentary about the legendary creature.

Kevin – Can a movie be classified as a documentary if it willfully misleads and blatantly lies to its audience? If such a film is inexplicably enjoyable does that make it a good documentary? If Legend of Bigfoot were to be made today, it’d either end up as a dreadfully dull talking-head History Channel special featuring a bunch of “firsthand accounts” and a few toothless reenactments or a gimmicky found-footage horror film, á la Willow Creek (2013). Compared to those options, I’m glad this took the form that it did. It’s an utterly unique relic from a world that doesn’t exist anymore.

William – A man in a flannel shirt appears on screen, resting a hand upon his hip. “My name is Ivan Marx,” he says. “The film you are about to see is authentic.” For the next 70 minutes, we’re treated to a nature documentary narrated by a crazy person. We watch goats commit ritual suicide. We witness a heartbreaking moment between two lovestruck squirrels. We see someone in a monkey suit stumble down a hill. And all the while, Ivan is there, laboring over every word, detailing the most mundane events as if they were revelations, telling ridiculous lies that no one has ever believed. Halfway through the film, we are treated to a beautiful shot of snow-capped mountains looming over Bigfoot’s supposed habitat. “Where do I begin?” Ivan asks us. It was then that I realized how invested I was in this man’s story – how intrigued I was by the bullshit legends and “authentic” footage of a fictional creature. Legend of Bigfoot is one of the most unique pleasures I have ever experienced. It details the fictitious triumphs of an unreliable storyteller whose adventures have taken him beyond desperation, into a new and altogether different state of mind.

Complete Movie  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review  ♦  Original Ivan Marx Bigfoot Footage  ♦  “The Hoaxed Ivan Marx Footage”
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The Devil’s Hand (1961)

IMDbA man is haunted by visions of a beautiful woman. When he finally meets her, he winds up involved in a Satanic cult.

KevinThe Devil’s Hand takes takes an astoundingly simple premise (man gets sucked into Satanist cult) and then refuses to develop the plot any further than that, instead simply padding the film out to the requisite 90-minute running time. With a little dramatic flair and more emphasis on mood and atmosphere, director William J. Hole, Jr. (yes, his real name) could have made something interesting, but he instead directs it with all the passion and immediacy of an industrial film about how to fill potholes. It’s hard to imagine an audience in the ’60s being entertained by this, let alone one today.

William – Rick thinks the owner of the doll shop seems like a perfectly nice gay person until he catches him in his ceremonial devil robes. His cult boasts a real live black person playing the ceremonial bongos. Your cult isn’t legit unless you’ve got a black guy playing the drums (like in King of the Zombies, right?). Anyway, Rick’s fiancée gets voodoo-dolled by the nice gay person devil worshiper, and it’s pretty rough. I can imagine the story Rick tells today: “Oh yeah? I joined a cult for a babe once. Big mistake. Almost got sacrificed to Gamba the Great Devil-God by way of the Wheel of Death.” There’s also a great scene featuring the magic of scotch tape. I laughed a lot during this movie, and I’m appreciative of that.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Original Theme by Baker Knight  ♦  Allmovie Review
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I Bury the Living (1958)

IMDbThrough a series of macabre “coincidences,” the newly-elected director of a cemetery begins to believe that he can cause the deaths of living owners of burial plots by merely changing the push-pin color from white to black on a large wall map of the cemetery.

Kevin – It starts out all well and good but quickly bores us to tears before pushing itself far beyond the point where our disbelief can be suspended. That, and Theodore Bikel’s hammy performance is enough to spoil whatever merits this movie might have.

William – Like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone. A few imaginative shot compositions and subtle special effects manage to conjure up a creepy atmosphere, even though the ending twist is absolutely ridiculous. This one is still shown on TV, and for good reason – the dialogue is lively, the cast is talented, and the film has a pretty good sense of humor. Without that terrible ending, this could be one of the best horror films of the ’50s, easy.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Joe Dante on I Bury the Living  ♦  1000 Misspent Hours Review
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Drive-In Massacre (1977)

IMDbTwo police detectives try to catch a serial killer who is stalking a rural California drive-in theater, randomly killing people with a sword.

KevinDrive-In Massacre looks exactly like a 70’s exploitation film should. It’s grungy and grainy (a side effect of underexposing 16mm film) and the color pallet is wonderfully garish and oversaturated (due to improper color-timing). But besides its appearance, this doesn’t have a lot going for it. The acting and writing are too flat to get an audience emotionally or intellectually involved, and there’s nothing ridiculous enough on display to make it entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. Personally, I spent the majority of the running time thinking about how one of the actors bears a striking resemblance to Newt Gingrich. 2016, here we come!

William – If you’re someone who would watch a movie titled Drive-In Massacre, you’ll probably go into this one with pretty high expectations. Me, all I’ve ever wanted to see is my perfect idealization of the title and premise: horny teenagers getting sliced up by a samurai sword under a movie screen, severed limbs flying everywhere, a handful of obvious suspects, etc. But the real Drive-In Massacre will probably disappoint everyone who’d ever wanted to see it, even though it has a few memorable characters (Germy, Germy’s angry bald boss with the crazy suits, the guy who says “I just wanted to beat my meat”), instantly endearing grimy grindhouse gore, and charmingly atrocious sound editing, all presented in a familiar trash filmmaking point-and-shoot fashion. But the problem with Drive-In Massacre is that it’s really boring. Unbelievably boring. A pair of ugly detectives chase leads and interview suspects in scenes that seemingly last forever and are subsequently revealed to be irrelevant. The film often forgets what it set out to do – what it could have done so easily. The best copy of Drive-In Massacre is the one you keep in your own head.

Complete Movie  ♦  Theatrical Trailer  ♦  Bleeding Skull Review
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