Schlock Behind the Stars: Mill Creek’s ‘Sci-Fi Invasion’ 50-Movie Collection
Schlock Behind the Stars
Mill Creek’s ‘Sci-Fi Invasion’ 50-Movie Collection
Mill Creek Entertainment makes a living by dumping non-copyrighted (or cheap-to-license) genre films in bargain-priced DVD packs compiled almost entirely of VHS dubs featuring all the blips, blurs and distortions of analog recording, as well as clipped 4:3 aspect ratios. Because of their limited scope, Mill Creek collections are randomly assorted heaps of cinematic outliers too weird for public consumption. Sci Fi Invasion predictably includes dozens of extra-terrestrial tales, but it also sheds light on stories of dog reanimation, irradiated con men, a topless kung-fu ghost, feminist civilizations of the future, a two-headed international journalist-cum-ubermasculine death machine, gay Darth Vader, and at least three different Terminators.
The vast majority of these movies are terrible. We get that. But when hopping Chinese vampires do battle with a man wearing mismatched sports equipment, criticism becomes meaningless. When a cyborg named Paco Queruak enters himself into an arm-wrestling tournament, you’ve entered a different universe where everything, no matter how wrongheaded or bizarre, is possible. Synths wheeze. Stuff explodes. Everyone is dubbed. It’s easy to fall asleep. In R.O.T.O.R., an enormous, musclebound woman named Dr. Steele states the following: “You will have to allow yourself to fail. Use your failure against him. Your failure is his failure; your weakness is his weakness. Then, only then, can you do something.” This perfectly encapsulates the Mill Creek experience.
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.
– Kevin Burns & William Tuttle, March 2015 – January 2016.
Brain Twisters (1991)
IMDb: A software company uses pixels to turn college kids into murderers.
Kevin – Before we start, I’d like to give full credit to Crown International Pictures for taking good care of their film prints. Brain Twisters is the first of several CIP films to appear on this pack (The Crater Lake Monster and Galaxina are two others) and all of them (except Horror High for some inexplicable reason) look as crisp and clean as the day they were first shot. This stands in stark contrast to many of the other selections, which look and sound as if they were ripped from video rentals. Alas, Crown International cannot be lauded for producing or distributing good movies. Brain Twisters is a flaccid and inscrutable techno-thriller wherein any provocative material is immediately rendered null and void by the comatose performances and spacious pacing.
William – Leading off for Mill Creek is Brain Twisters, earning its position in the lineup with a crisp letterboxed appearance that just screams “REAL MOVIE,” but most viewers will spot the difference as soon as the Casio for Beginners music starts up and writer/director Jerry Sangiuliano (working with a budget of five bottle caps and a button) instructs his actors to appear as somnambulant as possible while reciting hi-larious dialogue like “He’s got a lot of brains, that’s for sure. A whole roomful!” There’s a good ’80s sci-fi thriller in here somewhere, but there’s also a detective who asks a young woman if she’s “fresh clam” or “virgin olive.” Lol forever.
The Head (1959; original title: Die Nackte und der Satan)
IMDb: A scientist’s crazed assistant forces a severed head to help him give his hunchbacked assistant nurse a new body.
Kevin – If you’ve seen Joseph Green’s 1962 schlock classic The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, you’re familiar with The Head‘s basic premise, but where that film takes a cheeky approach to the material (catfight, anyone?), this film plays it straight and is quite boring as a result. There are some riveting moments between the dastardly Dr. Ood (played with sinister zeal by Horst Frank) and his pitiful disembodied creation, but the majority of the film is spent detailing nebulous events involving characters too lacking in charm or wit to endear themselves to the audience.
William – Germany is full of beautiful hunchbacked women. They wander the streets after dark, gripping the stone walls of buildings and lamenting their twisted spine. “My body is not beautiful,” they moan, “It is not beautiful because I am hunchbacked.” Germany is also full of the disembodied heads of respected scientists. University science buildings are filled to the brim with these horrible talking scientist heads. “Let the janitor deal with them,” the dean says, “I am tired of all these disembodied scientist heads.”
Die Nackte und der Satan is a documentary picture that disappoints because it only contains one hunchbacked woman and one disembodied scientist head when we know very well that there are dozens and dozens of these things in Germany and we want to see all of them. The hunchbacked woman does not even kiss the disembodied scientist head.
The Day Time Ended (1979)
IMDb: Aliens visit the solar-powered house of a middle-class family and create a time warp that transports it back to prehistoric times.
Kevin – At the heart of The Day Time Ended is a luminously hopeful work of epic science fiction, a portrayal of simple people encountering something far outside their control or understanding, something that will not only change their lives but also alter the fate of the entire human race. This story is obscured, however, by endless scenes of our protagonists barricading themselves in bedrooms as their farmhouse is besieged by claymation dinosaurs. We have to wait until the film reaches its final act until anything awe-inspiring happens, and then it’s over far too quickly. As a result, the portentous dialogue that opens and closes the film feels unearned and assumes facts not entered into evidence. Had John “Bud” Cardos wanted to make a Close Encounters-style sci-fi epic, he should have just done that instead of settling for a PG-rated Night of the Living Dead Space Creatures.
William – There’s almost nothing better than Dallas actor Jim Davis saying “time-space warp” while standing in the middle of a barn. Sure, you have to spend 40 minutes spending time with his insufferable movie family (his leathery wife tells him she’s “turned on” at one point, which is definitely unnecessary) and waiting for the plot to kick in (Jim Davis grills burgers, the little girl gets a new pony, a few lights turn on and off, Chris Mitchum drinks a sip of beer and sets the can aside), but patience will reward you with the following: Tiny space weapons built from old Dustbusters, terribly unconvincing stop-motion animation, five solid minutes of visual psychedelia, at least three totally awesome matte paintings, and Dallas actor Jim Davis saying “time-space warp” while standing in the middle of a barn. There’s almost nothing better.
Eyes Behind the Stars (1978; original title: Occhi dalle stelle)
IMDb: A photographer inadvertently captures an extraterrestrial image.
Kevin – Eyes Behind the Stars understands the terrifying magic that fuels the public’s obsession with extraterrestrials. This doesn’t make it a great film. Too much time is spent with government cover-ups and generic men-in-black types talking tough to our protagonists. The key scenes though, those directly involving the aliens, are creepy and awe-inspiring.
William – As a teenager, I was fascinated by flying saucers. The best place to get my UFO fix was the city library, where tucked into the furthest corner sat trashy paperbacks detailing alien abductions and crop circles accompanied by childlike sketches of alien creatures and grainy photographs of far-away dinner plates spinning over empty fields. The incidents described alternated between unremarkable and wildly improbable (either someone’s car mysteriously stops running or a child witnesses a dozen otherworldly creatures sporting yellow jumpsuits), but to me they were all part of a larger truth the government didn’t want us to know about. Reading these books felt like espionage – I was learning something someone didn’t want me to know.
Eyes Behind the Stars taps into that vein. What begins as a riff on Blow-Up turns into a fevered quest for the truth, complete with paranoia, double-crossings and government spies lurking just out of frame. If you can get past the slow pacing and sleepy performances, you might find yourself in the same state of paranoia as our protagonists, holding fast to a tiny roll of photo negatives, waiting with baited breath for the saucers to arrive.
Hands of Steel (1986; original title: Vendetta dal futuro)
IMDb: A cyborg named Paco Queruak is programmed to kill a scientist who holds the fate of mankind in his hands.
Kevin – If you’ve read our feature on Mill Creek’s Pure Terror collection (all four of you) and you haven’t already watched Hands of Steel, you obviously aren’t going to any time soon. But you should. You really REALLY should. Simply put, it is the most charming Terminator rip-off that ever will exist.
William – Don’t dive into this expecting to be greeted with another Miami Connection or Troll 2. Don’t expect a well-produced, competently directed masterpiece, either. Hands of Steel is inexplicable, magical – it possesses an ephemeral quality that can only be described as “what one feels when one watches Hands of Steel.” If you believe in the power of film, this – yes, this – is the absolute exact movie you should plan on seeing next.
War of the Robots (1978, original title: La guerra dei robot)
IMDb: An alien civilization facing eminent extinction kidnaps two famous genetic scientists from Earth. A troop of soldiers is dispatched to rescue the victims.
Kevin – Large portions of the cast have Prince Valiant haircuts. This is the only movie that I know of to imply that this will be the dominant hairstyle of the future. Other than that, there’s little to separate this film the scores of other Star Wars rip-offs of the late ’70s and early ’80s other than a truly horrific “Texan” accent, a “score” that is little more than an electronic click track, and blatantly half-assed “special” “effects.”
William – A long, long time ago, a certain low-budget science fiction movie made hundreds of millions of dollars and became every fifth-grader’s favorite thing (second to pet rocks, Happy Days and Captain & Tenille), effectively creating a new generation of neckbearded manchildren overnight.
A few moments later, everyone and their mother had completed their very own version of the film, complete with talking robots, laser swords, and a mysterious energy that binds the entire universe. Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash, from 1978, is one of the most egregious offenders (it even served as the genesis for other Italian rip-offs like Escape from Galaxy 3, seen below). Battle Beyond the Stars (1978) starred John Saxon and John-Boy Walton, Message from Space (1978) came imported from Japan, and The Black Hole (1979) served as Disney’s oddly dark and moody response. Many of these movies have become campy cult classics just as celebrated (in small circles) as George Lucas’ original. In a way, they’re more closely intertwined with the original trilogy’s mythos than the prequels are.
And then there’s War of the Robots, a movie barely anyone remembers and nobody likes. 99 minutes of cheap sets, cheaper costumes, insufferable characters and incomprehensible laser shows. Let’s allow it to disappear into the past, shall we?
984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)
IMDb: A corporate executive is taken prisoner by an underground organization known as The Movement.
Kevin – 984 … like 1984? I’m not sure why they didn’t go ahead and give it an even more obvious title like 1985 or That Dystopian Book You Read in High School (Not Brave New World). Those titles would be more in line with the level of derivative hackiness that this screenplay represents. Judged purely on it’s own merits, it’s the story of a non-person adrift in a sea of vagueries. The evil political regime is known simply as “The Movement” (a great name for techno band), their policies and practices as undefined as the motivations and infractions of our “hero,” the titular Prisoner 984. It’s a seventy-six minute allegory without a subject, an insipid quest for profundity that symbolizes nothing.
(Director Tibor Takacs is also the man behind the pilot for Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Melissa Joan Hart’s infamous Kickstarter campaign. Now this useless fact can take up space in your brain just as it has mine.)
William – “Sometime in the future, a maximum security prison stands somewhere in North America.” If a computer program could shit out dystopian fiction, its first masterwork would be 984: Prisoner of the Future, which actual prisoners of the future would be forced to watch ad nauseum until King Robo-Hitler 2000 decides to switch back to tooth extraction and foot boiling. I’m not sure if watching an eighth-generation copy of a made-for-Canadian-TV movie on a Mill Creek collection automatically lands you in a state home for the befuddled, but I wouldn’t risk it.
Top Line (1988; also known as Alien Terminator)
IMDb: An author discovers a UFO in the Columbian jungle.
Kevin – Top Line really shouldn’t work. In 1988, Franco Nero was over the hill and a bit paunchy. The filmmakers had nowhere near enough money to translate such an ambitious story to the screen. The screenplay is deliriously haphazard. Yet when it wants to be endearing, it is. When it wants to be exciting, it is. When it wants to be surprising, holy balls is it ever. The final fifteen minutes would make anything worthwhile.
William – B-movies are special because they’re not afraid to throw in the kitchen sink. Top Line might look like an Indiana Jones ripoff at first glance, but it soon becomes its own brand of strange when it throws in elements of The Terminator, planting its feet in crazy territory and never looking back. What makes this transition even stranger is director Nello Rossati’s sure-handedness. The movie is sleek, smooth and sometimes visually striking. It’s Rossati’s technical know-how and his impressive cast of engaging actors playing interesting characters that makes the mind-meltingly strange final reel feel so utterly unique. This “Will this work? Let’s try it!” attitude is rarely found outside of these derivative low-budget efforts, when there were no producers breathing down your neck or focus groups expressing outsider opinions, when the possibilities were as vast as the imagination … and a few thousand dollars.
Night Fright (1967)
IMDb: A government space experiment goes horribly wrong, creating a monster that terrorizes a rural community.
Kevin – Trying to condense everything great about Fright Night into a capsule review is no easy task. Perhaps it’s enough to say that it represents a singular vision flawlessly brought to life by its director. Each character, whether its William Ragsdale’s plucky, naive protagonist or Chris Sarandon’s smooth-talking vampire next door, inhabits the screen with complete sincerity and no small amount of nostalgia and charm. Fright Night is a minor classic of ’80s cinema and a love-letter to the horror genre, of which it is a shining example.
William – Once upon a time, an aging bachelor drove to a drive-in showing of Night Fright. He peered through thick glasses at the damaged film print, cursed his bug-smeared windshield and chain-smoked his way through a pack of Lucky Strikes as images formed and dissipated onscreen. He recognized John Agar from Sands of Iwo Jima, a picture he took his father to see a decade ago, but he couldn’t place the rest of the cast. The story didn’t interest him (“Serves ‘im right,” he mutters to himself as the titular monster devours a teenager) and the pacing was too slow to hold his interest.
He looked around at the other cars in the lot. There weren’t many. A convertible with its top down sat three spots over, its young inhabitants jabbering loud enough for him to hear. He watched as a flask was passed between two pickup trucks. A station wagon in front of him rocked side-to-side, the light from the screen casting silhouettes through its back window.
But he couldn’t ogle his neighbors forever. He had paid for the movie. So he sat in silence, hating every second of it.
Thankfully, we don’t have to watch Night Fright anymore. Not now. Not ever. Not like those poor suckers sweating through their shirts on a hot summer night in 1967, hating themselves for their irreversible decision, hating the filmmakers for their unforgivable product, and hating the world for its infinite trespasses against their general well-being.
IMDb: In the near future, a bounty hunter kidnaps a murderer out of the hands of two police officers, planning to collect the bounty himself.
Kevin – It’s unsurprising that Slipstream has been completely forgotten despite featuring a talented, recognizable cast (Mark Hamill, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham all make appearances). You could easily blame its comically overstuffed plot (featuring no shortage of ideas, but nowhere near enough focus or depth) or the fact that none of the characters grow to become more than the stale tropes that inspired them (the messianic figure™, the rogue with the heart of gold™, the reluctant love interest™, the black-clad gunman™). I’d say that the film could have been improved by adding another half-hour to the running time in order to flesh out its world and characters, but it already meanders at a dangerously slow pace. Despite these fundamental problems, however, Slipstream is modestly entertaining, occasionally intriguing, and certainly not lacking in potential.
William – In the late ’80s, producer Gary Kurtz was looking to save himself from bankruptcy in the midst of a messy divorce that cost him most of his profits from The Dark Crystal and The Empire Strikes Back. Before production began, Slipstream must have seemed like a safe wager. Anyone who had gone to the cinema within the past ten years would feel comfortable within its narrative, which uses science fiction as a springboard for discussions of history, religion and the human spirit.
Nevertheless, the film was a flop. It failed to get released in the United States and met lukewarm reception overseas.
The fault lies within its unfocused narrative. There’s no urgency to the story it tells or the way it drowsily shifts from point A to point B. There’s no personality here, no drive. Slipstream wasn’t made to communicate with its audience – it was made to fill seats and save its producer’s career.
Being trapped within a medium doesn’t need to be restrictive; we use these mediums because they’ve been proven to work. Creativity isn’t about the form it takes; communication within any medium requires having an idea first and finding an audience later.
Extra Terrestrial Visitors (1983; original title: Los nuevos extraterrestres)
IMDb: A young boy discovers a lovable alien.
Kevin – Yes, “a young boy discovers a lovable alien” that has the power to brutally murder people and does so frequently over the course of the film. Had it just been about a group of young people being murdered in the woods (events that make up the first act of the film) it would have been comforting, predictable trash but no, someone had to try to give this movie a heart, so we have to watch some jerk-ass kid hide a dwarf in a bear costume from his mother.
(“Time to help your uncle in the cellar!” Kids, if you ever hear this sentence, run.)
William – “Tonally dissonant” would be an adequate description of this Spanish E.T./Alien ripoff that features an original surf rock number, two cabins full of corpses, and a peanut-eating alien named “Trumpy,” but if you ask me, its reputation as one of the worst movies of all time (it currently sits at #35 on IMDb’s Bottom 100) is completely and totally undeserved. There’s just so much here to enjoy, good and bad, like the “subtle” Americanized set-dressing (portraits of Ronald Reagan and George Washington, an American flag sitting on a living room end table), a child dubbed by a man doing a falsetto, the unexpectedly beautiful music score and the endlessly intriguing, never boring, absolutely bonkers narrative. Extra Terrestrial Visitors may have failed to achieve cultural assimilation, but it remains a singularly strange relic from the VHS era.
Star Knight (1985; original title: El caballero del dragón)
IMDb: A princess is abducted by an alien spacecraft and it’s up to a young knight to save her.
Kevin – Ah, the good old days when entire films could be produced under the delicate spell of cocaine, and directors were able to cast diagnosed psychopaths like Klaus Kinski without being bankrupted by production insurance premiums. Star Knight fearlessly blends slick sci-fi elements with a sword and sorcery epic so hopelessly clunky it makes Slipstream (see above) look lean and utilitarian by comparison. The film might have worked if it weren’t for the incessant misguided attempts at humor and satire that are only matched in awkwardness by Harvey Keital’s failed stab at an Elizabethan accent. Bad sci-fi can be worthwhile, but there’s nothing worse than a bad comedy: What might have been original, mysterious or even majestic becomes insipid, bizarre and completely forgettable.
William – In an era of precisely-calculated decision-making and cultural sterility, Star Knight, like its titular character, looks like it came from another planet. Harvey Keitel is cast (despite his inescapable Brooklyn accent) as a bumbling knight named Klever. A princess shares a meet-cute with an extra-terrestrial whose only way of communicating is through smoldering stares and Casio chords. This movie’s target audience was teens looking for a place to dry hump without fear of discovery. Either every creative decision was handed to a pair of dice and a magic 8-ball, or someone allowed the pych ward to serve as executive producers. But think of it this way: If there’s a place in this world for something as awfully misguided as Star Knight, there must be a place saved for us, too.
Invaders from Space (1965)
IMDb: Salamander men from the planet Kulimon in the Moffit Galaxy plan on taking over Earth by unleashing a lethal plague on mankind. It’s up to valiant superhero Starman from the Emerald Planet to save the human race before it’s too late.
Kevin – Drop some acid and watch this. I dare you.
William – Borrowing liberally from Superman (super-powered alien finds himself responsible for earth’s safety), but retaining a distinctively Japanese flavor (tutu-sporting lizard people performing extended dance sequences), Super Giant was Japan’s first celluloid hero, appearing in nine films between 1957 and 1959 which were later edited into four longer features for American audiences, the second of which being Invaders from Space. While the final film, Evil Brain from Outer Space (see below), shows signs of barrel-scraping, Invaders is an inspired mess of incoherent plotting and brilliantly trippy visuals complemented by a few sequences of unfiltered nightmare fuel (a wide-eyed killer nurse, a noseless, fedora-sporting version of Batman’s Joker), all of which add up to something utterly unique and absolutely Japanese.
The Alien Factor (1978)
IMDb: A spaceship containing specimens for an intergalactic zoo crashes on Earth near a small backwoods community.
Kevin – Don Dohler’s first film is paradoxically his least amateurish. The rest of his filmography is a descent into incompetent madness culminating in the delightfully unhinged Galaxy Invader. In 1978, his spirit was unbroken and his ambition as pure as the driven snow, a fact which makes this specific failure more heartbreaking than hilarious. Whether his subsequent repeated use of The Alien Factor‘s exact same premise in his following films was an attempt to perfect his artistic vision or merely the product of a compulsive disorder is unclear. In either case, Galaxy Invader is a so-bad-it’s-good classic. The Alien Factor is not.
William – Have you ever found yourself wondering whether or not you’re watching a Don Dohler movie? I know I have. Here’s a quick guide for use in solving this recurring problem:
First, are any of these elements present?
- Rubber monster suits?
- A cast composed of non-actors?
- Cheap, out-of-date special effects?
Now, can you spot any of the following?
- Maryland license plates?
- A white house used as a hospital setting?
- A hole-in-the-wall bar filled with homely backwoods yokels?
Finally: Does the film’s plot involve an extra-terrestrial crash-landing in the middle of a forest, eventually running into a group of gun-toting hillbillies and/or local law enforcement?
If you answered YES to more than half of the above questions, congratulations! You’re enjoying the work of Don Dohler. For further assistance, call your parents and weep into the receiver.
Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star (1986)
IMDb: Three aliens from distant planet Taros land on Earth and are befriended by a Wyoming rancher’s son.
Kevin – Directors of James Bond movies rarely have prolific or memorable careers outside of the franchise. With Hyper Sapien, Peter Hunt (of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) has made a competent film whose only ambition is to be gentle and sweet with little in the way of plot or ideas to get in the way of those goals. I’m not sure if small children would be bored by it, but I definitely was. The most memorable aspect of the movie is the bittersweet fact that it contains Keenan Wynn’s final performance, which isn’t nearly enough to make this slog worthwhile.
William – It took me three attempts to get through this one. As far as I can remember, a couple of space children escape from their space parents (during a routine trip to Earth, of course) and wander around the woods for a few hours before encountering a teenager named Dirt who takes them to the state fair. There’s a mildly frightening animatronic creature named “Ditto” or “Dilly” or “Ass” that drinks gasoline and cheats at cards. Eventually something happens, and then it’s over. The title alone is fair warning.
Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981; original title: Giochi erotici nella terza galassia)
IMDb: The crew of a spaceship confronts an evil galactic ruler out to rule the universe.
Kevin – I lack an encyclopedic knowledge of the ’80s softcore porn scene, but I have to imagine that Escape from Galaxy 3 represents a remarkably wholesome take on the genre. The unbearably cheesy special effects adds a naïve cuteness to the film, as does the glittery bearded disco queen portraying our chief villain. In an odd and unexpected way, this perfectly suits a story of two immortal beings discovering their emotions (and yes, their sexuality) on the alien planet of Earth.
William – This is known as Starcrash II in Italy (mostly because it recycles that movie’s special effects and beyond-awesome Evil Hand Spacecraft™), but its original title translates to Erotic Games in the Third Galaxy, probably because the movie described is basically softcore porn for kids. Because Italy.
20 minutes of Escape from Galaxy 3 is silly costumes and technobabble (“Prepare the uranium vapour-rockets!”; “Use a mega-metric tele-probe and scan the whole eastern galaxy! – including the equidistant cartic-tangents!”) featuring the most flamboyantly gay Darth Vader mankind has ever witnessed. The rest is star Sherry Buchanon bathing under waterfalls, teaching Fausti De Bella how to do the nasty, and doing said nasty with a villageful of post-apocalyptic earthdwellers. It’s a thoroughly charming Star Wars ripoff with Eurobreasts and group sex that manages to maintain its innocence throughout. I’d show it to your kids. In fact, I already have. Your children are weird now.
Welcome to Blood City (1977)
IMDb: A group of amnesiacs find themselves as slaves in what looks like a Wild West town.
Kevin – Jack Palance has to be one of the most baffling actors in all of cinema history. I’ve seen him give good performances in good movies (City Slickers), good performances in bad movies (Man in the Attic), bad performances in good movies (Batman), and bad performances in bad movies (this and so many others). Aside from Palance’s presence, the movie makes numerous cardinal sins: The film’s major twist is revealed after about 15 minutes or so, completely deflating its eventual “reveal,” the whole affair looks like ass, and Samantha’s Eggar’s character is flat and unlikable. If this movie can make an actress as lovely as her seem humdrum, old Jack never stood a chance.
William – I can’t discuss this one without mentioning Mill Creek’s wonderfully unique print, which is either the worst pan-and-scan I’ve ever seen or a misguided attempt to cut a logo off the top or bottom of the screen, effectively making Welcome to Blood City mostly unwatchable. This isn’t exactly a tragedy, as the production blew most of its budget on rotgut to ply Jack Palance out of his trailer and did little of interest with the rest. It’s Westworld meets, uh … Westworld with flatly-written characters and an incomprehensible ending. Call it a rip-off, call it influential (some say it inspired The Matrix, I say it inspired Keir Dullea to change agents), but at least you can’t call it Nancy. Because it’s called Welcome to Blood City.
‘It’s Alive!’ (1969)
IMDb: A farmer kidnaps three people to feed to a prehistoric monster.
Kevin – So there’s this crazy redneck who feeds strangers to a prehistoric monster he keeps in a cave near his house. Except he doesn’t really seem that crazy. This guy looks like someone you’d buy a used car from. It’s a major miscalculation on behalf of director Larry Buchanan, as is making our heroine’s husband so comedically priggish that his death horrifies no one, not even his wife. This is also further proof that nothing worthwhile has ever ended with a “The End?” title-card.
William – “There is a legend in these hills that when it rains and the sun shines at the same time, the devil is kissing his wife.” I was certain director Larry Buchanon made this one up, but according to Wikipedia, it’s a Tennessee variant of a popular piece of southern American folklore that finds the devil beating his wife during a sunshower, which is less P.C. but makes more sense – Satan is angry that God made such a beautiful day, so he’s beating his wife (even Satan has to settle down eventually), who is in turn crying, hence the sunny day precipitation. Hey! We learned a new phrase to throw around in mixed company! Thanks, “It’s Alive!”
Future Hunters (1986)
IMDb: Two young people are enlisted by a time-traveler to stop an evil regime.
Kevin – The Holocaust. Time travel. Christ’s crucifixion. The power of creation. Nuclear wastelands. Warlord czars. These are the keynotes of a dizzying voice-over narration that opens Future Hunters. The following feature provides the illusion of channel-surfing through 1980s cable television; such is the epic pastiche of mid-budget action movie tropes it presents.
William – If this ever made it to your local video store, it was shelved under “Little People/Amazon Women/Kung Fu/Time Travel/Nazis?” and was rented exclusively to the very confused. But for a fistful of sweaty allowance money, a bright kid could get Mad Max, Temple of Doom, and Return of the Jedi all in one clamshell box. It wasn’t anyone’s favorite tape (that spot was reserved for Krull and Teen Wolf), but Future Hunters could adequately headline any pizza-and-juicebox movie night and score big points for weekend dads (blood! bare breasts!). I know it’s the future now and we can watch anything we want, but Future Hunters still deserves its last meal, complete with every trash food genre: one large pepperoni pizza (extra pepperoni), one box low mein, three McDLTs and an Ecto-Cooler, lukewarm.
The Creeping Terror (1964)
IMDb: A newlywed sheriff tries to stop a shambling monster that has emerged from a spaceship to eat people.
Kevin – The Creeping Terror belongs to a thankfully brief lineage of horror films (including The Beast of Yucca Flats and Manos: The Hands of Fate) that were shot without sound and then crudely dubbed in post-production, resulting in inevitable trainwrecks. This one endlessly alternates between sequences of the farcical monster devouring townsfolk and scenes of the police/military discussing what to do about it. While the first half at least does us the courtesy of providing each character with their own voice, the film’s final reels are dominated by a narrator who deems it best to paraphrase entire conversations. Only the fact that it was technically produced for television prevents it appearing on IMDB’s Bottom 100.
William – On my list of “Things I Don’t Want to Be Caught Watching,” The Creeping Terror is placed below Touched by an Angel and above kitten snuff videos. Sitting through 20 minutes of this feels like an accomplishment. Sure, your mouth is dry and your hands are shaking, but there’s only 55 minutes left and you’re pretty sure you’ve already been permanently damaged. The Creeping Terror assaults you with a carpet monster (funny the first time, and then impossibly tragic), constant droning narration (performed by someone on suicide watch), and a cast of non-actors dubbed over by three people in the basement of a Radio Shack. This is why people drink.
Trapped by Television (1936)
IMDb: An inventor looking for backing for his television invention gets involved with a crooked businessman.
Kevin – Generally speaking, I don’t go for ’30s b-movies (see my reviews for Life Returns, seen below, or Green Eyes) but Trapped by Television is bonafide old-timey entertainment, by gum! This comes from the good ol’ days when inventing a new television set qualified as an impossible act of science fiction. What makes it all worthwhile (or at least watchable) are our lead actors: Nat Pendleton is a hilarious grab-bag of vintage cliches, Lyle Talbot is a lovable doof, and Mary Astor is charming as all hell.
William – Perhaps the most dated film in existence. It can’t possibly be a science fiction movie; in 1936, the television had already been invented and live broadcasting would be perfected three years later. Nevertheless, this looks like Casablanca next to The Creeping Terror (see above) and Rocket Attack U.S.A. (see below), what with its linear plot structure, recognizable climax and distinct protagonists. You’ve truly been to some dark places when a substandard potboiler makes you believe in hope again, but that’s where we are.
Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961)
IMDb: An American spy is sent to Moscow to determine just how far along the Soviet missile program is.
Kevin – This is a hopelessly half-assed piece of fear-mongering propaganda disguised as a feature film. About 40 percent of the running time is composed of stock footage and the original material was shot in someone’s dad’s house. Rocket Attack U.S.A. covers much of the same ground as the infinitely more entertaining Invasion U.S.A. did nine years earlier, the major difference being that the earlier film had an actual plot and used WWII combat footage instead of endless static shots of people standing around in missile factories. The only upside to this movie is that everyone dies at the end.
William – The CIA sends a wisecracking horndog to Moscow, who, upon arrival, enjoys a lengthy bellydancing routine before hiding in a closet to listen to his new love interest make naughty with the Russian Minister of Defense multiple times. 50 minutes into the movie, our protagonists are gunned down and we’re introduced to a handful of Everyday American Citizens, who die horribly when the Russians bomb New York City. Along the way, we’re treated to dry, non-stop narration (which bafflingly takes the place of subtitles), a few pinstriped office shirts, and approximately three hours of stock footage. It’s better than The Creeping Terror (see above), but so is heart disease.
IMDb: The leader of an all-female warrior tribe seeks revenge when her family is slain.
Kevin – What could be more fun than a man-hating Amazon woman’s quest for a baby-daddy? Seriously, if you know, please write to this address:
The Frickin President
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
In some respects, Hundra follows in the footsteps of Slumber Party Massacre, providing a smart, satirical, feminist take on an established genre without being preachy or exploitative. Despite the omnipresent threats of rape, bestiality and misogynistic violence, director Matt Cimber manages to maintain a light and breezy comic book tone throughout thanks in no small part to Laurene Landon’s fierce yet good-natured performance and Ennio Morricone’s effective (if sometimes repetitive) score. Hundra is an ass-kicking classic that deserves to kick your ass as well as all your friends’ collective asses.
William – HUNDRA!! won’t allow any man to penetrate her! HUNDRRAAAA!!! only takes off her furs for sensual horseback riding! HUNDRRAAAAAA!!!! makes sexist comments about her dog! HUN-DRA! HUN-DRA!!!!! HUN-DRAAA!!!!!!!!
Feminism has never been as bald-faced and bloody as this Conan rip-off about a man-hating throat-cutting revenge-taking superwoman whose ultimate goal is to withstand heterosexual sex long enough to produce a daughter to extend her lineage. In short: I wish I had grown up with this movie. In shorter: HUNDRRAAAA!!!
Mission Stardust (1967; original title: …4 …3 …2 …1 …morte)
IMDb: A team of astronauts is sent to the moon to rescue an alien.
Kevin – Okay, so Mission Stardust isn’t perfect. Its wandering, stammering and ultimately needless plot resists even the vaguest of synopses. But thankfully, the movie is colorful and fast paced, with plenty of adorable vintage special effects to admire. It’s a solid example of old-fashioned campy sci-fi.
William – *~* MISSION STARDUST *~*
Welcome to MISSION STARDUST. Would you like to START a new game or OPEN a saved game?
You are aboard an Arkonite ship. A beautiful alien woman named THORA stands before you.
>talk to thora
“My companion, Crest, has developed space cancer. Can you help us?”
>talk to thora about sex
“We are a dying civilization looking to mate with a younger, more robust race.”
“Ha-ha! Your race is far inferior to ours. The difference between us is similar to the difference between yourself and an ape.”
>use male hubris
You grab Thora’s arm. The THEME SONG begins playing.
Congratulations! You have saved the Arkonite race with your seed. Would you like to PLAY AGAIN?
The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
IMDb: A crazed scientist invents an invisibility formula.
Kevin – There’s only so many times you can watch The Amazing Transparent Man, but Mill Creek seems to shove this onto every pack they distribute. Yes, it’s a unique synthesis of the Universal monster pictures of the ’30s, film noir of the ’40s and sci-fi matinees of the ’50s. Sure, it’s worth watching once. Three times though? Meh.
William – The Amazing Transparent Man reaffirms my love for Mill Creek every time I watch it. It’s not a great movie by any means (it can’t even touch the best ones in this collection), but its mix of film noir characters, goofy sci-fi nonsense and a touch of Red Scare propaganda creates a singularly off-kilter, immensely likable movie featuring Edward G. Ulmer’s knack for shot compositions, a great lead performance from Douglas Kennedy and a runtime of only 57 minutes. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like I’ve just had a steaming cup of hot cocoa or contracted VD. The good VD.
The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
IMDb: A mute alien with the appearance of a black human is chased by extraterrestrial bounty hunters through the streets of Harlem.
Kevin – By making the film’s protagonist an alien with the appearance of a black man, writer/director John Sayles has us looking at our own society from a different pair of eyes and draws attention to the unavoidable racial elements of our world. In the hands of a lesser director, this picture would have been unbearably didactic but Sayles uses a light touch throughout and Joe Morton’s lead performance is, to put it simply, perfect.
William – I’ve come to understand that social commentary within narrative fiction really bothers people, even when it’s as deftly handled as it is in Brother from Another Planet. They complain that it’s too preachy or too heavy-handed or, better yet, they dislike it because they already recognize every social problem and don’t need your help, thankyouverymuch. Brother from Another Planet reminds me of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone because it explores a social problem (in this case, race relations in America) by looking at the subject through a different lens (in this case, a mute E.T. with the appearance of a black man). There are no grand, sweeping statements to be found here – no climactic monologues or fist-clenched tirades (the protagonist can’t speak, after all) – only a series of simple vignettes about modern communication and the things we miss when we can’t see outside ourselves. This is a beautiful movie filled with heart and humor and tenderness … and it is definitely very out-of-place in this collection.
Battle Beyond the Sun (1959; original title: Nebo zovyot)
IMDb: Two countries race to have the first successful landing on Mars.
Kevin – Who’d’a thunk stealing a Soviet film and radically re-dubbing/re-editing/re-scoring it for American audiences wouldn’t guarantee you a great movie? While it’s not entirely incoherent, what can be understood certainly doesn’t resemble entertainment; it somehow manages to make the exploration of space seem mundane. It’s only notable these days for technically being Francis Ford Coppola’s first directing credit.
William – This one opens with three minutes of inane, meaningless narration and it doesn’t get better from there. Roger Corman took Nebo Zovyot, a Russian picture about a manned mission to Mars, and reduced it to a pile of nonsensical garbage, complete with inserted footage of two space monsters that look like genitals because LOL VAGINAMONSTER NARM NARM. The original film probably isn’t spectacular (although the special effects are pretty impressive), but it’s probably a masterpiece compared to whatever this is.
Primal Impulse (1975; original title: Le Orme; also known as: Footprints on the Moon)
IMDb: A woman is tormented by strange dreams of astronauts on the moon.
Kevin – After the first 30 seconds of Primal Impulse I was a hundred percent sure I was watching a 2001 rip-off. It only took the next 30 seconds to realize just how wrong I was. Primal Impulse is a meandering but masterful tale of regret and paranoia told by way of a lingering nightmare. Vittorio Storaro’s amazing cinematography is just icing on the cake. Here he is at the peak of his career, between photographing Last Tango in Paris for Bertolucci and Apocalypse Now for Coppola.
William – The fact that there are three Hangover movies means that the moviegoing public is pretty comfortable with the amnesia plot. You know the one: Protagonist forgets something; protagonist is confronted with problem pertaining to said something; protagonist must remember what was forgotten to solve problem. The difference between Primal Impulse and, say, Memento is that the former only uses amnesia as a jumping-off point, finding much more interesting topics to explore as the film progresses. Not only does our protagonist forget three days’ time, but she also discovers a different personality within herself (illustrated beautifully with warm yellow tones) somehow linked with an unsolved mystery from her childhood. The movie’s greatest strength is its utterly unique science-fiction passages (starring Klaus Kinski in about 60 seconds of screen time), which catapult the film from giallo to something else entirely – an unlikely mixture of genres that results in a fascinating, criminally underseen thriller.
Morons from Outer Space (1985)
IMDb: A dim-witted group of aliens crash-lands on Earth.
Kevin – The ’80s was a magical decade for comedy films in the United States. Directors like John Hughes, Harold Ramis and John Landis were teaming up with comedic actors whose talents were then at their peak (Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray and Steve Martin, to name a few) and together they created some of the most genuinely hilarious films since the genre belonged to Cary Grant and Howard Hawkes. But in Britain, things were a bit different. I have to assume there was an unwritten rule requiring your movie to suck if it didn’t involve at least one member of Monty Python. Morons from Outer Space is no exception to that rule. I laughed out loud exactly once, 62 minutes into a 90 minute film.
William – I’ll say this much: The title accurately describes the contents of the movie. It’s just too bad this is the only joke the movie has up its sleeve. Oh, there are a few limp spoofs of Close Encounters and Star Wars, but the rest of the running time is devoted solely to determine if these four titular morons are indeed stupid, and if so, what is the degree of said stupidity? One of them believes garbage cans are Earth’s overlords, another drinks to excess (read: stupidity?), and another apparently went to college for “coloring.” To be fair, there are two or three good jokes here, but none of them are amusing enough to justify this movie’s existence.
IMDb: After murdering two lovers, an alien assumes the identity of the recently dispatched young man.
Kevin – I don’t know much, but I do know this: You have never seen a movie like Prey before.
Take Predator and replace the titular alien with a shapeshifting Ashton Kutcher lookalike who decides to spend quality time with a young lesbian couple sequestered in a beautiful estate somewhere in England. Prey channels its weirdness into genuine unpredictability and is absolutely spellbinding throughout.
William – The selling point here is an intelligently-realized portrait of a rocky lesbian relationship written and performed with more subtlety and tact than most movie romances dare to even approach. Okay, so one of the girls is definitely insane and enjoys handling a gigantic switchblade (phallic symbolism!), but the first few scenes between actresses Sally Faulkner and Glory Annen are as beautiful as no-budget sci-fi gets. The eventual intrusion by a killer E.T. named Anders Anderson feels like a transplant from another movie, but his presence brings unpredictability, as the two girls use him to incite jealousy in one another, culminating in an intensely weird dinner sequence in which all three characters don dresses and down bottle after bottle of champagne.
It’s easy to see how Prey ended up on a Mill Creek DVD collection, but it certainly feels out-of-step with its peers. Even its gratuitous sex scenes feel more like character development than cheap exhibitionism, as the passion the girls share ebbs, flows and erupts throughout the course of the movie, sometimes violently, sometimes tenderly, and always believably. A good story makes us wonder about its characters’ pasts and imagine their possible futures. This is definitely one of those.
Future Women (1969; original title: Die sieben Männer der Sumuru)
IMDb: Sumuru, the beautiful leader of the all-female kingdom of Femina, plans to use her women to take over the world.
Kevin – Jesus Franco is credited with directing seven films in 1969, so it’s understandable that this one is stupefyingly dull. But if you can make it through the vacuous first act, you’ll be treated to an alluring performance from sex-kitten turned dominatrix Shirley Eaton and production design dripping with the style of the swinging sixties. Does this make it worth your time? Absolutely not.
William – 99 percent of Jesus Franco’s movies are absurdly terrible and/or full of Naked Lady Boobs, and Future Women (aka The Girl from Rio, aka Rio 70, aka Mothers of America aka Yet Another Unnecessary Jesus Franco Movie) is no different. In what has to be some next-level social commentary, two or three dozen women with bare midriffs march around in combat boots and use the deadly art of seduction to take over the world.
While Franco’s detached visual style sometimes works (as seen in Oasis of the Zombies, which we encountered last time around), here it’s a product of indifference. Jess Franco didn’t care about this movie. The producers didn’t care about this movie. The actresses wanted to quickly finish filming and put their clothes back on. A horny 8th-grader wouldn’t sit through scene after scene of Future Women‘s contrived bullshit just to see some poorly-lit nipples, and neither should you.
Star Pilot (1966; original title: 2+5: Missione Hydra)
IMDb: Aliens crash-land on the island of Sardinia and take a group of earthlings hostage.
Kevin – Like most entertainment exported out of Italy in the 1960s, the principal character motivation here is the male need for coitus. See, there’s this alien chick stranded on earth, and she’s like … REALLY hot. There’s also this Italian chick, who also happens to be like … REALLY hot. The human dudes want to bang the alien and the alien dudes want to bang the human (especially when she’s wearing her fishnet catsuit “uniform”). What’s unexpected is how lethargic and indifferent the whole thing is. It’s almost worth it for the brief scene in which our heroes ray-gun dozens of extras wearing gorilla suits that subsequently burst into flame, though, and also for this classic line of dialogue: “We are oriental, not Chinese.”
William – Skunk pants and Einstein’s theory of relativity await you, dear reader, in the wild and woolly world of STAR PILOT, starring one bright crimson wig and two pink feather nipple-concealers! Gasp in horror as our heroes are encountered by a HOT SPACE BABE and a HOT SPACE HUNK. Shiver with excitement as our heroes eat SPACE PILLS around the SPACE DINNER TABLE. Clap your hands in ecstacy as you witness LENGTHY sequences of SLOW-MOTION SPACEWALKING. Fall asleep during ENDLESS SCENES of EXPOSITION. Wake up with a HANGOVER the next day, wondering what possessed you to DRINK SO MUCH ALCOHOL.
IMDb: A retired secret agent is called up to stop a murderous robot.
Kevin – Robert Conrad was sexy as a middle aged man and he damn well knew it. Here, he strokes his ego by striking stoic poses by firelight while referencing the bad old days when he was the best mercenary on the block. To see this concept acted out with greater conviction and a higher budget, watch the Burt Reynolds “classic” Malone, but if you’re dead set on watching a made-for-TV Terminator rip-off, Assassin is about as good as it’s gonna get. If nothing else, it gets bonus points for casting Jonathan Banks. Years before his stint on Breaking Bad, he was doing brilliant but thankless work portraying cold-blooded thugs in a number of films, including Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. He’s as good here as he is in any other.
William – A TV movie is a TV movie is a TV movie. “But William,” you protest, “what about Sybil and Duel and Brian’s Song and A Christmas Carol?” Yes, fine, good. But those are extreme anomalies. TV movies are scripted within rigid parameters (which allow them to fit inside two-hour time slots), granted minuscule budgets, and often star crusty has-beens (Robert Conrad and Robert Webber, anyone?) in place of marquee headliners. The ABC Movie of the Week gave the cash-strapped middle class a cheap alternative to shelling out 10 bucks for popcorn, soda and The Towering Inferno.
Assassin was The Terminator for families without VHS players, only with that guy in Last Crusade who gives Indiana Jones his fedora in place of Arnold Schwarzenegger and middle-aged men arguing about nonsense in place of Linda Hamilton diving out of the way of shotgun blasts. It’s interesting and moderately exciting for half the running time, as Conrad and Karen Austin run around California in search of clues pertaining to the destruction of the titular robotic killer, but there are only so many times you can return to the shallow well of television-friendly cyborg sex jokes. With TV movies, you pay for what you get.
Fugitive Alien (1987)
IMDb: An alien is pursued as a traitor by his own race because he refuses to kill humans.
Kevin – For a “movie” (actually several episodes of a Japanese TV show spliced together) that’s this frantically paced, the plot is hopelessly inefficient. We’re introduced to the crew of our space craft about a dozen times over the course of the first 40 minutes of the run time. That being said, it’s all very cute and there are plenty of wacky mistranslations to laugh at. Bonus points for anyone who sings the MST3k classic “He Tried to Kill Me with a Forklift” at the appropriate time.
William – Sandy Frank bought the distribution rights to a Japanese television show, hacked at it with a machete, added goofy narration, and released it in two parts (for some reason, Mill Creek couldn’t be bothered to slap Star Force: Fugitive Alien II on this collection). Like his other Japanese-television-show-edited-into-one-feature classic Time of the Apes (which I either watched or had a series of nightmares about), Fugitive Alien makes very little sense. Entire scenes are excised, leaving us wondering why someone is suddenly wearing a tourniquet on their arm or how exactly our heroes escaped from a heavily-guarded prison. The fact that Japanese culture is very far removed from my own doesn’t help matters, either (Is there a reason the “Wolf Raiders” wear curly blonde wigs under their helmets? Is that a Japanese thing?). If you don’t find enjoyment in the half-assed attempt to Americanize everything (characters are named Rocky, Dan and – my favorite – Captain Joe), you’ll at least be amused by Tatsuma Azuma’s energetic lead performance as Ken, whose name is uttered no less than 79 times throughout the film. Someone else do a Ken count and we can compare notes.
Beyond the Moon (1956)
IMDb: Two space adventurers are captured by aliens and brainwashed.
Kevin – Does anyone still watch ’50s sci-fi serials? Nope? That’s what I thought. That’s how it should be.
William – Rocky Jones, Space Ranger faded into obscurity far before my time, but Mill Creek had no qualms about making ten cents by scooping up his remains. If you weren’t around in the 1950s, you’ve probably never seen a TV space opera, so here’s a quick overview: A lot of silly nonsense talk about space, some really lame special effects that are repeated dozens of times, out-of-nowhere sexism, and a sidekick that says “gallopin’ galaxies.”
The Crater Lake Monster (1977)
IMDb: A meteor crashes into Oregon’s Crater Lake, unearthing a dinosaur egg.
Kevin – “Moonlight on a gorgeous lake. No manufactured illusions here.” “Yes, it is beautiful. Look at all the stars.”
This exchange takes place in BROAD FUCKING DAYLIGHT. Were they going to add a day-for-night effect? If so, why the hell did they even keep those lines? I’d talk about the film as a whole but I can’t. I just can’t. This all sucks. Everything sucks.
William – There are a million reviews for this movie online, and most of them are vaguely positive (“A forgotten drive in classic!”; “A lost gem of cinematic garbage!”; “Actually pretty watchable!”). Now, I like a good bad movie. Above, you’ll see me recommend Extra Terrestrial Visitors, Escape from Galaxy 3, and Future Hunters exactly because they’re bad.
But The Crater Lake Monster just sucks. There are a few good things here – startlingly beautiful nature photography; a few valiant attempts at humor that almost land – but there are a million bad things, and none of them are entertaining or interesting in the least. I’m not trying to be a spoilsport, I’m just letting you know that this movie is a miserable piece of shit that nobody should ever have to sit through. That’s all.
The Raiders of Atlantis (1983; original title: I predatori di Atlantide)
IMDb: A team of scientists unearth an ancient Atlantean relic from the ocean floor.
Kevin – Experiencing The Raiders of Atlantis is enough for anyone, regardless of gender, to reclaim their masculinity. Within this film’s 90 minutes are all the best elements from Mad Max, Raiders of the Lost Ark (hence the title), Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Dawn of the Dead, First Blood, and 48 Hrs. It should be an incomprehensible mess on all counts, but if there’s one thing that films like Hands of Steel (see above) and Metamorphosis have taught us, it’s that schlock Italian directors are experts at shamelessly stealing ideas without being insulting or hackneyed. The mélange of so many different influences gels better than it has any right to, and the endless drone of machine gun fire is enough to drown out the voices of misguided naysayers.
William – Raiders of Atlantis (along with Top Line and Future Hunters – see above) belongs to a subgenre of films that recklessly mix archaeology with motorcycle culture by aping both Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Road Warrior, resulting in half-cocked, chomping mad movies pumped full of blood, bullets and explosions. This one, directed by Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame, might be the bloodiest of them all, with a bad-guy body count of well over 50 and a handful of worthless characters who provide juicy cannon fodder for marauding gangs of mohawked punks, but its most valuable resource is the buddy-cop comedy at its core, with actors Christopher Connelly and Tony King trading wisecracks as the world falls apart around them. This isn’t as intriguingly weird as Top Line or as entertainingly scatterbrained as Future Hunters, but it scores mega points for efficiency and craftsmanship. Simply put: If schlock is your bag, Raiders of Atlantis should be in your VCR right now.
Robo Vampire (1988)
IMDb: A deceased narcotics agent is given new life as a robot and sent on a mission to rescue a beautiful undercover agent who has been captured by an evil drug warlord and his inhuman creation.
Kevin – Well, this is it. This is the weirdest, most divinely abnormal cinematic insanity that the world can throw at you. Is it a $2 Robocop rip-off? Yes. Does it feature hopping Chinese vampires? Yes. Is there a topless Kung-Fu ghost that wants to bump uglies with her undead half-cow ex-husband? Yes. Is it a Missing in Action-style military thriller with tam o’shanter-wearing Thai villains? Yup, it’s that too. This movie is best left unexplained and unquantified. Watch it if you ever feel uncomfortably lucid.
William – Once my brain accepted the task, I could safely watch without biting through my tongue. Definitely recommended for grandma’s birthday party or displayed on a tablet strapped to your naked chest as you take hostages inside a Dunkin’ Donuts, screaming at the top of your lungs for the voices to stop stop stop STOP
Horror High (1974)
IMDb: In a fit of rage, Vernon Potts goes on a killing spree, eliminating all of those who ever picked on him.
Kevin – Vernon, why does your school have a giant barrel full of undiluted acid just laying around for anyone to use? Why do they employ a homeless psychopath as a janitor? Why is the average age of your school’s student body 35? Why does a funkadelic score play every time your police detective appears onscreen? Is it because he’s black? Is that racist? If you knowingly take a Mr. Hyde potion that turns you into a murderer, doesn’t that make you unsympathetic? Why would you do that, Vernon?
William – Whether you’re telling a joke or a scary story, it’s best to keep certain key elements from your audience until the right time arrives. This maintains intrigue and makes certain everyone sticks around for the ending. I know its unfair to criticize a slasher movie for poor storytelling, but Horror High takes incompetency to incredible new heights, as potentially interesting plot twists are agonizingly telegraphed minutes before they occur. It’s like sitting down to do a puzzle and finding that the pieces are already glued in place inside the damn box.
IMDb: An interstellar police ship is sent to recover a mysterious crystal.
Kevin – I have watched a lot of stoner movies while sober, but I’ve never felt like I was missing out on much. Until now. Galaxina is VERY similar to John Carpenter’s sci-fi “classic” Dark Star, only it was made by people who were too high to give a shit about anyone that didn’t currently have a joint in their hand. We make a lot of jokes about filmmakers being under the influence of mind-altering substances while making these movies. It’s not a joke this time. This was a movie made by stoners, for stoners. Its level of success is directly proportional to how baked you are.
William – This movie is roundly dismissed by most critics who stoop low enough to discuss it, but it’s definitely not without its odd, boozy charms. With spaceship sets that look like the back of a plush-carpeted van and a cast that belongs in a frat house sex picture, it can’t be said that Galaxina isn’t a unique presence among other films of its ilk, as, unlike Spaceballs or even Morons from Outer Space (see above), it doesn’t appear to be interested in delivering jokes with any kind of efficiency. Instead, writer-director William Sachs simply lounges around with his cast as they discuss sex, alcohol and the loneliness of being space cops. This sounds excruciating, but watched in the right state of mind (an altered one), Galaxina can be incredibly endearing. A waste of time, maybe, but not an unpleasant one.
Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
IMDb: An astronaut’s dead body is seeded with rapidly gestating aliens.
Kevin – Any true schlock aficionado has a healthy level of respect for Roger Corman. He, like no other producer or filmmaker before or since, managed to effectively fuse the artistic and commercial halves of the medium. While artists like Orson Welles constantly struggled against the system, often running out of money and leaving projects unfinished, Corman thrived, churning out endless pictures that were almost literally a dime a dozen. Some were masterpieces in the truest sense of the word. Night of the Blood Beast is not one of those, but it’s far from being a misfire. The dark corridors of the laboratory sets (expertly lit by John M. Nickolaus Jr.) recall John Hawkes’s The Thing from Another World, and the plot shares Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ Cold War paranoia. The fact that our villain resembles a high school mascot draped in paper maché is of little consequence and adds to the wonderfully campy b-movie ambiance.
William – This isn’t one of AIP’s finest hours, but it’s an intriguing little thriller that foreshadows Ridley Scott’s Alien with perhaps the first film appearance of parasitic alien creatures, which have since become commonplace in science fiction. This being a Roger Corman production, there were only eight dollars available to create the monster suit and stage the fiery climax, both of which are devastatingly disappointing. Instead, it’s the film’s second act, rife with claustrophobia and cringe-worthy body terror, that elevates the movie above other similar AIP efforts. We’ve watched this one before and perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I enjoyed watching it again.
The Manster (1959)
IMDb: A serum gradually transforms a journalist into a hideous two-headed monster.
Kevin – By FAR the best thing about The Manster is its title. The idea of a movie monster that’s basically a personification of hyper-masculine, alpha-male characteristics is certainly a clever idea but it doesn’t deliver in any kind of satisfying way. To see that idea explored more successfully (although perhaps accidentally) watch George Eastman’s Metamorphosis.
William – The first five minutes set the tone: Beautiful women bathing in a cloudy pool, a grotesque shadow cast against a wall, and the title – The Manster – framed by blood thrown against a Japanese shoji screen. The otherworldly setting informs the theme: An exploration of masculinity, be it intellectual (man playing God) or physical (a married man craving new sexual partners), and a discussion of humanity, i.e. the differences between man, animal and monster. The most sympathetic character is Tara, a Japanese-American woman representing that which men use, abuse and misunderstand. This was originally released in a double feature with Eyes Without a Face, and it travels on the same frequency but asks a different question: What do we become when we are defined by base human nature?
This is also a goofy ’50s monster movie with a hilarious title and campy special effects. It works either way.
Evil Brain from Outer Space (1965)
IMDb: A monstrous evil brain from outer space unleashes hideous monsters on Earth that spread deadly diseases.
Kevin – It’s hard to imagine that this and Invaders from Space belong to the same series. Either they constructed this out of what was left on the cutting room floor once Invaders was finished, or the production staff slipped into a deep depression. I once accidentally called this Evil Brian from Outer Space. I wish we had watched that movie instead.
William – Mill Creek likes to slap this one on different sets because the title is so ridiculous. There is indeed an evil brain from outer space in this movie, but it spends a lot of time in a briefcase for some reason. Much more repetitive than Invaders from Space (see above), and not nearly as weird.
The Bat (1959)
IMDb: A crazed killer known as “The Bat” is on the loose in a mansion full of people.
Kevin – There’s not a lot to say about The Bat. It’s a black and white movie starring Vincent Price. It has a plot. Things happen. In no way is it a science fiction film. Maybe the folks at Mill Creek didn’t watch this one. Follow their example.
William – A lot of talking and tea-drinking, a few crotchety old ladies getting spooked by a rubber bat, Vincent Price looking real suspicious, high-waisted ’50s slacks, etc. etc. etc. Halfway through, I realized I had seen this one before. As I dozed off around the 70 minute mark, I remembered that I had dozed off last time as well. It’s like poetry; it rhymes.
Life Returns (1935)
IMDb: A doctor who has spent his career working on ways to revive the dead sees his chance to prove his theory by performing his procedures on a recently deceased dog.
Kevin – Legend has it that the audience at the 1895 screening of the Lumiére brother’s film, Train Pulling into a Station, so misunderstood what they were watching that they panicked and fled the theatre, believing they were about to be run over by a real train. In its own way, Life Returns hoped to tap into that same naiveté still present in movie-going audiences of the 1930s. It’s a “dramatic reenactment” of the events leading up to “authentic footage” of a doctor reanimating a dead dog. Of course, this ruse is completely ineffective today, making the whole affair uncomfortably bizarre. This isn’t worth watching unless you’re into curios from the 1930’s.
William – In 1934, Dr. Robert E. Cornish brought a deceased dog back to life. The experiment was filmed for posterity and this footage was sold to Eugene Frenke (a Russian-born producer whose only previous credit was a German production of The Brothers Karamazov), who convinced Universal Pictures to back a new picture that would feature the actual Cornish experiment during its climax. The finished product was promptly banned by the British Board of Film Censors and failed to see release anywhere until 1938, after Universal sold the rights to Grand National Pictures, a company that dealt exclusively with Poverty Row pictures.
After being treated to a miserable story about the homeless child of a failed scientist, Life Returns‘ viewers suddenly find themselves watching footage of medical students blowing oxygen into a dead dog, which, in reality, had been asphyxiated by Dr. Cornish himself with ether and nitrogen. It died eight painful hours later. Ta-da!
Universal obviously didn’t know exactly what they were getting themselves into, and they correctly estimated that general audiences wouldn’t know what to make of Life Returns, an incredibly awkward mix of Depression melodrama, science fiction, and historical documentary footage that remains as both a tiny footnote in Universal’s horror catalogue and one of the most bizarre movies ever made. If you think you can stomach sitting through 40 minutes of weepy ’30s cheese and cute pet tricks before being witnessing a crackpot scientist fail to bring a dog he murdered back from the dead, by all means seek this puppy out.
The Giant of Metropolis (1961; original title: Il gigante di Metropolis)
IMDb: A muscleman travels to the sinful capital of Atlantis to rebuke its godlessness and becomes involved in the battle against its evil lord, Yoh-tar.
Kevin – Like The Thirsty Dead before it, this counts as a message film by Mill Creek standards. And just like The Thirsty Dead, it drowns in its own silliness long before it makes its point, which is fine, because its point is that science is awful and incurs God’s wrath. Aside from that, it’s a generic sword-and-sandals epic with some sci-fi elements added for … zest?
William – Accompanied by music, featuring men and women reciting lines of dialogue within scenes that supposedly explore a theme or tell a story. This movie relived its 90 minutes in front of my eyes, but made so little an impression that I’ve already forgotten all of it. My notes read: “God vs. Science? This is maybe the worst.” Take from that what you may.
IMDb: A prototype robot intended for crime prevention escapes from the development lab and goes on a killing spree.
Kevin – I think it’s safe to say that R.O.T.O.R.‘s director, Cullen Blaine, had never seen a film before making this one and had to rely solely on vague descriptions given to him by deaf/blind theatergoers. Taking that into account, R.O.T.O.R. is a laudable if misguided effort.
William – Dr. Coldyron is a Renaissance man in the purest sense. In this movie, he both single-handedly thwarts an attempted robbery and describes his Thursday thusly: “The buttery morning sunlight painted a golden glow through the ranch house windows.” He knows his way around a woman and around the kitchen. “You fire me,” he threatens, “and I’ll make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin, brother.” Pure poetry.
R.O.T.O.R. is both his creation and ultimate adversary, a being of hardened steel and an even harder mustache, whose Prime Directive is “Judge and Execute.” It does not know his way around a woman, and it does not understand the concept of food. It does not speak in beautiful riddles. As Coldyron explains: “It’s like a chainsaw set on frappé.”
“Amateurish” doesn’t begin to describe R.O.T.O.R. Establishing shots follow establishing shots. Day abruptly turns to night. Lines of dialogue blatantly contradict or ignore each other within the same scene. Bizarre, inexplicable moments pile on top of each other until the film reaches a fever pitch of awfulness.
But at the heart of the movie are two clichés warped into unrecognizable extremes: Coldyron’s cool meter is turned up so high, no one bats an eye when he quotes Milton; R.O.T.O.R.’s nonsense Prime Directive reveals countless engineering faults, but his internal computer is so advanced, he can watch replays of past events he wasn’t around to witness. There are good movies and there are bad movies. Far beyond the reaches of either lies R.O.T.O.R.
Death Machines (1976)
IMDb: Three martial arts fighters are injected with a serum that turns them into zombie-like assassins.
Kevin – A perpetually drunk Japanese woman uses “chemicals” to turn three racially-diverse bad guys (including real-life karate champ Ron Marchini, who could generously be described as a non-actor), into mindless killers. 90 minutes of unfocused plot development follows. There’s a massive karate school fistfight, a variety of assassinations, and at one point I think Ron Marchini becomes Jesus. It’s not boring.
(The theme song for this movie is used on the Sci-Fi Invasion DVD menu. It sounds like a child was turned loose on a vintage synthesizer … and it’s awesome.)
William – Death Machines marks actress Mari Honjo’s second and final film appearance, 10 years after Se naghola dar Japon, a 1966 Iranian comedy short that can be found on YouTube. I don’t have the patience to sift through all 22 minutes of the latter in an attempt to spot her, but the former thankfully gives us all the Mari Honjo we could ever ask for. Here, Honjo’s tiny, heart-shaped face peers out under an enormous pile of black hair, curled in a way that must have required a few dozen bottles of hair stickem and constant vigilance. Her wardrobe accentuates her waiflike physique, turning her image into that of a human lollipop. Her lines are repeated phonetically, slurred and clipped in a manner so distracting, the entire movie derails every time she’s onscreen. How Honjo’s career took her from Iran to the U.S. remains a mystery, but in the 1980s, she reportedly owned and operated a men’s clothing store in Beverly Hills, and has recently been spotted headlining a 2002 fashion show in Hawaii.
This movie bored me – no characters, no discernible plot structure – but Mari Honjo made quite an impression. It takes a special talent to perform as terribly as she does here.
Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1990)
IMDb: An alien arrives on Earth to apprehend a renegade of his own race who impregnates a woman with a potentially destructive mutant embryo.
Kevin – Jessie Ventura is not a substitute for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is not an opinion. It is a veritable fact that should be burned into the brain of any individual wishing to make a Terminator rip-off starring Jesse Ventura. Here, “The Body” is tasked with replicating Arnold’s inimitable (if inexplicable) charisma, and the resulting performance is a mess of robotic speech, childlike naiveté, and misjudged sexual chemistry. Far more interesting is the film’s antagonist, portrayed by Sven Ole-Thornsen. He fills scenes with blunt, menacing creepiness, best presented in the film’s opening sequence when he, with complete conviction, utters the line “Are you a birthing member of the human race?”. Oddly enough, he’s also responsible for delivering most of the film’s successful moments of intentional comic relief.
William – When a rogue space cop impregnates a young woman (after dispatching her boyfriend), it’s up to Jesse Ventura to stop the alien spawn from destroying the universe. Or something. Whatever. What’s important are the genuinely touching scenes between single mother Sonia and her five-year-old child and the ridiculously cute romantic subplot between herself and Abraxas. I’m not delusional; I’m aware of how terrible this movie is, but within its wobbly narrative I found characters I could invest in, root for, and even admire. This is a story about the heroism of the single mother, the importance of a caring father, and the way our love for each other defines who we are. This movie’s heart is in the right place. Sometimes that’s enough.
The Wasp Woman (1959)
IMDb: A cosmetics queen uses jelly taken from wasps to develop a youth formula.
Kevin – Mad scientist is one of the most popular vocations in the land of Mill Creek, but entomology is rarely their field of choice. An early monologue in The Wasp Woman shows why: “I try to take my inspiration from the BEES . . . Always busy, busy, busy,” our resident crackpot says casually yet with complete sincerity as he shuffles around his honey farm. You see, entomologists aren’t threatening. They’re just kind of odd. They’re that kid you knew in grade-school who’d blow his nose and then stare at the tissue a little longer than normal.
William – After 10 solid minutes of wandering around a honey farm, we’re treated to 40 minutes of set-up, followed by 20 minutes of embarrassing make-up effects and the least convincing city skyline matte painting I’ve ever seen. This is a Roger Corman quickie, typical of others released around the same time, only a little more polished than, say, She Gods of Shark Reef or Creature from the Haunted Sea.
The Wasp Woman is a predictable, anticlimactic way to end our third foray into Mill Creek’s endless vault of schlock, but it definitely feels like it’s time to say goodbye. Goodbye, Star Wars rip-offs. Goodbye, dystopian allegorical nonsense. Goodbye, Trumpy and Skunk Pants and Starman and R.O.T.O.R. … I know we’ll meet again some sunny day, deep in the bowels of the darkest hell.