Evil Spawn (1987)

Evil Spawn (1987)‘Remember that scientist who went crazy a few days ago and then was crushed by a jeep?’

A fading Hollywood star finds leading roles harder to come by, and, in her desperation, resorts to an experimental anti-ageing treatment. Unfortunately, this has been derived from Venusian spores, and she transforms into an alien creature with a lust to kill…

Welcome to the world of Grade-Z movie mogul Fred Olen Ray. This micro-budgeted, uncredited remake of Roger Corman’s ‘The Wasp Woman’ (1959) may be credited to writer-director Kenneth J Hall, but it’s Ray who seems to have been the moving force behind the production. His name might not appear on the screen, but he produced the film and even directed a little of the finished product.

The film opens with a caption informing the audience that a probe has returned from Venus bringing alien spores and that the following story we’re about to see involves the misuse of these extra-terrestrial germs. We’re even shown a less than wonderful spacecraft model approaching Earth (probably sourced from one of Ray’s other productions). After the drawn-out opening credits that follow (never a good sign), a bearded man in a laboratory (Gary J Levinson) is attacked by a nasty orange glove puppet. He gets sick and lurches out to an alleyway where he interrupts a couple of bickering lovers and ends up caught between a jeep and a hard place.

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘I’m not sure this mud pack is working…’

This incident’s been arranged by Evelyn Avery (Dawn Wildsmith, billed here as Donna Shock), who works as the assistant to mad skin specialist Dr Zeitman (John Carradine). He’s too busy dying to know what she’s up to and hands over his great work to her before he finally expires. Wildsmith, who seems to have the same hairdresser as Elsa Lanchester’s ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, then takes the serum from Carradine’s research and offers it to over-the-hill film star, Lynne Roman (Bobby Bresee). She’s desperate to regain her youth so she can be cast in the prestigious lead of a new production by director Mark Randall (Mark Anthony). Bresee takes the injections, of course, and the inevitable transformations follow.

If the finished film has more than a touch of the ‘home movie’ vibe around it, then that’s for a good reason. Most of it was shot in Bresee’s real-life Beverley Hills house. Her character only leaves it twice; to go to a party with Anthony and to visit the office of her slimy agent Harry (Fox Harris). Of course, we don’t see her and Anthony at the party, or her travelling to the agent’s office (basically a desk he sits behind with a few posters on the wall from other Ray productions, including ‘The Tomb’ (1986) also with Carradine). At least Bresee didn’t have far to go after filming finished every night.

‘Damn, these aren’t my reading glasses!’

Carradine’s one scene in the picture was his conversation with Wildsmith (Mrs Fred Olen Ray, at the time). Ray directed it and made the dialogue as non-specific as possible so that he could insert the footage into subsequent movies, as and when required. He also supervised a different version of this film, hiring director Ted Newsom to add extra footage with actor Richard Harrison so that he could reissue it as ‘The Alien Within.’ Sadly, it doesn’t look as if Carradine had to do much research to get into character as the dying scientist. He seems to be having difficulty breathing and delivering his dialogue. This could have been great acting, of course, but, if so, it’s remarkably convincing.

If this all sounds like it makes for a terrible movie, then, yes, the film isn’t very good. However, surprisingly, there are a few compensations. To begin with, Bresee is quite good as the fading actress. Perhaps too good, if the intention was to present this as a comedy, which is possible given some of the corny dialogue and Wildsmith’s campy performance. The commentary on the problems of an actress ageing in Tinseltown is not exactly subtle, but it’s still valid. Bresee is betrayed by her agent, gets the brush off from director Anthony and finds that boyfriend, Brent (John Terrence) has traded her in for younger model, Tracy (Leslie Eve). Her only real friends are biographer, Ross (Drew Godderis) who can’t help with her career, and secretary Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), who is far too young and beautiful to be allowed to live!

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘If I write myself a few more lines, no-one will notice.’

Another plus is the full-sized creature FX designed by Ralph Miller III and executed by Hal Miles, Michael Deak and their crew. The monster doesn’t look great, and we never see the suit in motion, but, given the minimal resources that were probably available, it’s actually pretty good. Also, some of the gore FX, such as an arm being torn off, are even better. They look like they belong in a production of a far higher quality. There just isn’t enough of them. This becomes less of a surprise when we look at Miles and Deak’s subsequent credits.

Deak worked on entries in both the ‘Halloween’ series and the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise and many productions of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. He eventually graduated to the SFX crews of major studio tentpoles such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’ (2003) and ‘Hulk’ (2003) before supervising the FX on Michael Bay’s ‘The Island’ (2005). He also worked on the ‘Tranformers’ series and ‘TRON: Legacy’ (2010) before taking a decade-long break to return for ‘Bill & Ted: Face The Music’ (2020). Miles specialised in animatronics, and his later credits include James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ (1990), ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991), ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie’ (1995), among many others.

‘This sounds like something out of a bad science-fiction film,’ Bresee mutters at one point. Quite.

Pacto diabólic/Diabolical Pact (1969)

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)‘Will it be necessary to maintain a supply of potential victims?’

An ageing scientist searches for an elixir of youth so that he can carry on his scientific researches long into the future. His quest results in a formula derived from a substance found in the human eye, but his decision to experiment on himself has unfortunate consequences…

Late 1960s ‘South of the Border’ horror flick with horror icon John Carradine taking the lead. The direction is in the hands of experienced filmmaker Jaime Salvador, who had more than 30 years of work behind the megaphone. The fact that the results lack imagination, chills and quality are probably not that much of a surprise, but there’s also an absence of the more outlandish elements that make much of Mexican cult cinema of the period so enjoyable.

The film opens in the way that all movies, of whatever genre, should begin; with John Carradine seated behind a desk, introducing the film to the audience accompanied by a skull named Jack. It’s a brilliantly pointless prologue as it doesn’t inform the story in any way, or even serve to pad the running time for more than a minute. It does provide Carradine with an opportunity to play to the gallery a little, which, of course, makes it essential viewing for anyone with a love of cult cinema. From there, we meet the veteran star in his role as scientist Dr Halbeck, busy at the operating table with his young assistant, Alfonso (Andrés García).

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘Never fear, Yorick, we’re doing ‘Hamlet’ next week…’

What are they up to? Noting special; just extracting the eyes from a condemned woman (Silvia Villalobos) who is about to be executed. How Carradine has permission to do this, I don’t know, but it is nice to see García following correct surgical protocol by lighting up a cigarette the moment they finish. It’s also good to see the guillotine employed as the chosen tool of state justice. To be fair to the filmmakers, it’s never clearly established where and when the film is supposed to be taking place, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not during the French Revolution.

Carradine needs the eyes because they obtain a substance vital to his experiments into an elixir of youth. As he explains to Garcia, it’s essential to the advancement of science and the human race in general, that he carry on with his great works for as long as possible. However, the sudden return to the household of his pretty young ward Miss Dinora (Regina Torné) makes us suspect that his motives may not be entirely selfless, after all. The girl has been brought up in Carradine’s care after the death of her father, and he’s enrolled her at a local science college. She’s also engaged to the handsome García.

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘Perhaps it was time for another manicure…’

Then, in the space of a minute, director Salvador tips his hand and tells us exactly how the rest of his story is going to pan out. Firstly, we discover that Torné’s father was Carradiune’s old mate, Dr Jekyll! Then, Carradine tells his butler that a previously unmentioned nephew is coming to stay and ‘he’s to have full run of the house.’ Yes, it’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale all over again, with only a few and very minor, variations.

Exhibiting the usual sound sense of scientific procedure, Carradine experiments on himself and transforms into the young and handsome Frederick (Miguel Ángel Álvarez), allowing the veteran character actor to disappear from almost the entire rest of the film. Now, you might assume that Álvarez is merely a younger version of Carradine’s character, but that appears not to be the case at all. Instead, we allegedly have two separate personalities in the one body with Carradine able to berate his youthful incarnation via the somewhat ineffectual medium of the off-screen voiceover.

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

He always preferred an eyeball with his Martini…

There’s plenty for him to complain about too because Álvarez is driven to kill! Yes, after an hour of passion with a burlesque dancer, he starts to develop the old ‘hairy hands’! It is an original excuse not to hang around afterwards, I suppose, but he returns almost at once to harvest her eyes when he realises his transformation into a monster is out of control. How he gets her eyes home in a medically hygienic manner, I have no idea. I guess he just pops them into his pocket. And why is he turning into a monster, anyway? Was that possible side-effect listed in the accompanying documentation from the pharmacist? And did he contact his professional healthcare specialist to report it?

Carradine’s continued absence from proceedings begins to worry the rest of the cast (as well as the audience) and Torné is especially suspicious when she discovers that the old professor has rearranged his bookshelves! A sure sign of dastardly intent, if ever there was one. A quick trip to the attic turns up some of her father’s old papers and, all of a sudden, García has worked out exactly what’s going on. Without any basis for his conclusions whatsoever. But his immediate elevation to the status of ‘world’s greatest detective’ is short-lived as five minutes later he is completely clueless again. Not to worry, he’s arrived at the solution (again!) by the end of the following scene.

All this is news to Torné who blithely leaves a visiting friend alone in the professor’s library to go and fetch ‘a sample.’ Álvarez attacks and drugs the girl, removes her eyes, make his potion, drinks it and disposes of her body in the furnace. All in the time it takes Torné to get back! Smart work, that. Álvarez is on form later on, too, when the missing girl’s sister turns up to make enquiries. He offers her a lift to the local cop shop and on the way suavely declares that he’s going to kill her. Never mind the coachman!

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘If only I hadn’t put the last leg of that accumulator on the 3:30 at Market Rasen…’

If this all sounds ‘so bad it’s good’ then the film certainly does have some wonderful moments. Unfortunately, with Carradine MIA for long periods, it also drags a lot through most of its length. There are also some questionable aspects to the monster makeup, which becomes progressively more ugly and ridiculous as time passes. In certain scenes, Álvarez is undoubtedly performing in ‘blackface’, something that rings more than a few alarm bells in this more enlightened era. There’s also a constant hum and squeaks of electronic equipment in all the laboratory scenes, which quickly becomes quite aggravating. It’s also somewhat curious, considering that Carradine’s entire scientific apparatus is a table full of jars, beakers and test tubes.

The highlight of the entire picture is a brief scene just before the hour mark when Carradine momentarily regains control of his body. Waving his hairy hands about like a manic windmill, he delivers a subtle examination of a soul in torment through a combination of very silly faces and flinging pieces of half-chewed scenery into the back row of the auditorium. It’s a tour de force of ham, and over far too quickly. Much in the manner of the late Boris Karloff, Carradine signed on the dotted line for a bunch of low-budget, Mexican productions in the late 1960s, so perhaps his lack of screen time here meant that he was off shooting another project at the same time. Although it’s more likely he was putting in some work at a local bar or out at the track. By his own admission, he took a lot of work because he liked ‘liquor, women and playing the ponies.’

A little Carradine goes a long way, but unfortunately, there’s not quite enough to go around here.

Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965)

Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965)‘Well, Curtis is a freak, baby! Curtis a freak.’

Thieves fall out during a diamond heist of a private dealer. One of them is killed, and the loot ends up in the back of a pick-up truck of an innocent businessman. The criminals set out to recover the gems, but one of them is dangerously unhinged and has an unhealthy obsession with young women and murder…

Low-budget crime flick that was the first full directorial credit for the legendary Al Adamson, who is better known for notorious cinematic trainwrecks such as ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) and ‘Dracula vs Frankenstein’ (1971). Here, he examines the Underbelly of the LA underworld, focusing on a group of independent professionals, looking to pull that ill-fated ‘one last job’ that should make for a comfortable retirement from the business but always goes tragically wrong.

Criminal mastermind and all-round bad egg Vito (Lyle Felice) has come up with the perfect crime: knock over a private diamond merchant in a tower block opposite Jerry Lewis’ restaurant. He picks a crew of three to pull the caper: handsome Nicky (John Armond), the psychotic Joe (Roy Morton) and an unnamed associate apparently played by director Adamson himself. Waiting in the street in the getaway car is Felice’s moll, Vicky (Tanya Maree). The heist goes fine until the merchant’s secretary gets a hand free and manages to hit the alarm just before they can leave the building. Retreating upstairs, Adamson pitches the ice off the roof before Morton shoots him dead (because…why the hell not?) The jewels land in the back of a truck belonging to small businessman, Dave Clark (Kirk Duncan) who drives away oblivious before Maree can get across the street.

Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965)

Groovy!

Felice is seriously pissed about the way things have gone down when the remaining crooks turn up at his pad afterwards to give him the lowdown. Maree has got Duncan’s licence plate but, in the meantime, the innocent man’s young child (K K Riddle) has found the bag in the back of his truck and swiped a diamond necklace. Curiously enough, although the thieves help themselves to plenty of sparklers when they pull the job, from here on in everybody is only interested in that piece of ice, nothing else even gets a passing mention. Meanwhile, Duncan and pretty wife Linda (Tacey Robbins) give Riddle a little black doll as a present, and the girl loves it so much that she hides her booty inside. The doll also sings versions of old minstrel songs like ‘Camptown Races’ and ‘Old Folks at Home’ (more commonly known as ‘Swanee River’) in a strange high-pitched voice. It’s creepy enough to give Chucky from the ‘Child’s Play’ series a few sleepless nights.

From there, things develop in a way as painfully predictable as the dialogue. Felice sends Morton to locate Duncan and the loot, Duncan is kidnapped, but he can’t say anything because he doesn’t know anything, Morton kidnaps Robbins and Riddle, having no idea that the girl has the gems and Clark gets free thanks to the intervention of his brother (Joey Benson). Everything ends with a chase and a confrontation on the snowy slopes of the mountains in the Mammoth Lakes area of the Yosemite National Park. On the way, there’s an underdeveloped subplot about Maree and Armond planning to run away together, Morton kills a girl he picks up in a bar, and Robbins belts out a couple of songs in a club backed by a hot young combo The Vendells. This is all padding really (despite Robbins having an impressive set of pipes) because there isn’t enough of the main story to go around.

Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965)

‘Hi, I’m Christy, and I’m your friend till the end. Hidey-ho!’

But, despite the film’s obvious shortcomings, it does have some positive points. Adamson’s ace in the hole is Morton who gives quite a scary performance as the psychotic hoodlum. Ok, it’s hardly subtle, but it is convincing and goes a long way to make up for the lacklustre performances of the rest of the cast. There’s also some evidence of solid filmmaking technique, particularly in the climactic chase in the mountains (which was undoubtedly quite a challenge for a very low-budgeted production like this). The scene where Morton strangles the girl in the motel room is also surprisingly effective. Unfortunately, most of this good work is undone by the snail’s pace, the endless talk and the lack of any depth to the characters.

The most interesting aspect of the production, however, is what happened afterwards. Information is a little contradictory (to say the least), but it seems that Adamson was unable to secure a release for the original film as presented here under the title of ‘Echo of Terror’. So he shot new sequences with mad doctor John Carradine, revising the plot so that Morton’s character became a Vietnam vet whose murderous rampage is the result of an experimental, electronic implant. Some sources suggest that it still remained unreleased after this revision, others that it came out in 1967 under the title ‘The Fiend with the Electronic Brain’. I have even read that it this version that came out as ‘Psycho A Go-Go’ but Carradine is completely absent from this print.

Later on, Allied Artists approached producer Sam Sherman with a request for a horror movie to add to a TV package, so Adamson shot yet more new footage. This iteration put a zombie spin on the plot, and new scenes included ex-Disney juvenile Tommy Kirk as an investigating cop, Adamson’s wife Regina Carroll as a woman who believes in voodoo and Kent Taylor as her zombie investigating father. This cut was called ‘The Man with the Synthetic Brain.’ Probably. Then Adamson spiced it up some more by adding a little gore and sent it out to theatres as ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror’ (1972). Or that may have been the tile of the 1967 version. Who knows for sure? Told you the available information is contradictory!

Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965)

‘Excuse me? I was just looking for Mr Carradine?’

Although performing both sides of her ‘My LA’ single here, Robbins never went on to make a serious dent in the pop world. However, she did sing with Pérez Prado, who was the orchestra leader responsible for the Mambo craze in the 1950s. His big hits included ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ and ‘Mambo #5’ which became an international smash all over again for Lou Bega in 1999. Of the rest of the cast, only Duncan went on to any kind of acting career, his limited credits including an appearance in TV movie ‘The Clone Master’ (1978). Adamson went onto carve out a niche in the fringes of low-budget cinema, his threadbare productions earning him a place in the ‘Worst Director of All Time’ debate, which seems a little a little unfair when you view this film, but not if you watch some of his others!

There is a surprising success story behind the camera, though, one that comes with an Academy Award! Yes, director of photography William Zsigmond certainly paid his dues early on in his career, working with Adamson on multiple occasions and on vehicles for Arch Hall Jr such as ‘The Sadist’ (1963) and ‘The Nasty Rabbit’ (1964). A change of name to Vilmos and work on ‘Red Sky at Morning’ (1971) sent him flying into the big leagues and Robert Altman’s acclaimed ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’ (1971). From there, it was a short step to John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’ (1972), and working with a young Steven Spielberg; first on ‘The Sugarland Express’ (1974) and then ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) for which he took home the Oscar. Many other prestigious films followed such as ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978), ‘Blow Out’ (1981) for Brian de Palma, ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ (1987), ‘Maverick’ (1994) and several later projects with Woody Allen.

Inevitably, later versions of this film are more than a little confused, but the original exhibits an adequate competence, even if it’s firmly mired in its low-budget roots.

The Wizard of Mars/Horrors of the Red Planet (1965)

The Wizard of Mars (1965)‘The meters are having convulsions; nothing I do will correct it!’

The first manned expedition to orbit the planet Mars runs into trouble, and the crew are forced to land on the surface. With only limited supplies, a desperate fight for survival begins as they trek across the desolate terrain in search of the main stage of their crippled spacecraft…

When cult films fans gather to discuss the much-debated question of the worst film director of all time, the name of David L Hewitt is not often a part of that discussion. That might be because of the scarcity of his output; just seven features (three of which were forgettable biker flicks). Or it could be because he delivered one halfway decent picture: ‘Journey To The Center of Time’ (1967). Whatever the reason, he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Edward D Wood Jr, Larry Buchanan, Jerry Warren, Andy Milligan, or Al Adamson. But Hewitt does deserve some consideration. How can the man behind ‘Dr Terror’s Gallery of Horrors’ (1967), ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969) and ‘The Lucifer Complex’ (1978) be ignored? And his ride to the bottom started right here with his debut film, and it wasn’t very far to go afterwards.

Mars Probe 1 has reached the orbit of its destination, courtesy of a series of cardboard cut-outs moving across photographs of the starry sky. It’s all systems go for handsome Captain Steve (Roger Gentry), wacky co-pilot Charlie (Jerry Ranow), wise old Doc (Vic McGee) and ‘Woman who looks through the Camera Scope and pushes some buttons’, Dorothy (Eve Vernhardt). Remember her character’s name, by the way, because it’s important. Unfortunately, there’s no happy landing for our fantastic four as they get hit by poorly animated ‘space lightning’ as soon as they get too close to the red planet. The cabin begins to fill with smoke, a conflagration initially realised by what looks suspiciously like someone lying just below the camera line and puffing furiously on a cigarette.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘It’s alright! I brought my magic gun!’

Even activating ‘all operable rocket systems’ doesn’t work and Gentry is forced to jettison the craft’s main stage before they crash into the surface. It’s quite an impact too, judging by the speeding stock footage rushing by on the flight deck monitor. But, not to worry, in the next scene everyone is just standing around in their spacesuits, ready to disembark. I guess it looked a lot worse than it was. A serious conversation about their predicament follows. The food situation isn’t so bad. Vernhardt explains that ‘we have enough fortified liquid in our nutrient reserve to last us to two, maybe three weeks’. Considering the trip there took nine months, I’m not sure what they were expecting to eat on the way home, but I guess we’ll have to let that pass. Oxygen is a problem, though. They only have about 90 hours left in their suit tanks, but McGee suggests they may be able to supplement that with the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. So far, so good.

After this intensive session of repeating themselves and stating the bleeding obvious, they form a plan: find the main stage of their ship and call from help from there. How they are supposed to survive for another nine months until relief arrives…well, I’m sure they’ll think of something. Perhaps the main stage contains plenty of food and oxygen. Yes, that must be it. I guess it wasn’t damaged at all when it crashed into the Martian terrain. At several thousand miles an hour. And McGee’s idea about the Martian oxygen works out too! Later on, they just open their helmets and breathe normally.

Anyway, they set out on one of the nearby canals in a couple of rafts following the signal being transmitted by their lost craft. Why an expedition that never intended to land happens to have a couple of dinghies in storage is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they just packed a lot of equipment on the offchance? The existence of the canals was generally debunked years before, but the Martian surface wasn’t photographed until the same year Hewitt’s film came out, so I guess we’ll have to give him a pass on that. Just. After all, the waterways did appear in ‘Robinson Crusoe On Mars’ (1964) as well.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘Don’t call me a Flathead…’

Unfortunately, our heroes’ boat ride is spoilt by an out of control fog machine and an attack by some vaguely interested branches from some kind of half-awake aquatic plant monster. But they smash them with their oars, and Ranow’s shoots them with his rifle. It’s always good to see that someone has remembered to bring a firearm along on a space expedition. Especially one that never needs reloading. It’s also worth mentioning the soundtrack, a never ending accompaniment of strange electronic blips and squeaks. I guess it was supposed to be futuristic.

Let’s do some quick fast-forwarding through the rest of the so-called plot. Otherwise, this review will seem longer than the movie (if that’s possible). The crew float on an underground river through some caverns for five minutes. The crew wander through caves and see some lava (ten minutes). The crew wander about on the surface before finding the signal they were following is coming from an old space probe (five minutes). They sit around moping about it afterwards (seven minutes). Along the way, they stop now and then to state the bleeding obvious and moan a bit more. Conversational dialogue is supposed to provide insight into character and motivation; to give the audience a reason to care. Dialogue sample: Ranow: I wonder how far this goes. Gentry: I don’t know, we’ll soon find out.’ End of conversation.

Eventually, they discover a golden road in the sand, which has been almost completely buried for budgetary reasons. This leads to a fabulous, but deserted, city, where they don’t need to wear their spacesuits at all and meet the disembodied head of John Carradine! He appears superimposed on some photographs of galaxies and stars, and pontificates about evolution, time and other significant stuff. At one point he delivers a three and a half minute monologue in a single shot. McGee shines in this scene; simultaneously overacting and being incredibly wooden, which is quite an achievement.

So what’s it all about, Johnny? Well, the Martians stopped time by mistake, and are now trapped in the walls of their own city. They can never be released because that would involve replacing ‘the sphere within the mechanism’, a task apparently too complex for simple hoo-mans to understand. Of course, the crew go next door and find a globe sitting on a table and then locate the mechanism less than five minutes after that. It has a round hole in it.

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

‘I was in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ once, you know… and ‘Stagecoach’….

It’s difficult to convey in mere words the deadly monotony of the audience experience. Of course, some allowances can be made for the ultra-low budget and limited resources that Hewitt must have had at his disposal, but that doesn’t excuse the painfully thin script and lack of entertainment on offer. Dialogue scenes are slow and awkward, with some of the lines obviously just included to pad the running time. These conversations almost always take place in static settings as well. Perhaps Hewitt didn’t have the necessary expertise to film the cast moving and talking at the same time? The acting is also lifeless and bland, with Everhardt seemingly dubbed throughout and McGee a particular culprit. Carradine is good fun, of course, but there’s not all that much even he can do with a brief role where he appears as a floating head!

So why did I mention earlier on that Everhardt’s character name of Dorothy was significant? Well, Carradine is ‘The Wizard of Mars’, after all, and they do get to the ‘Emerald’ city along a ‘yellow brick road’. And I guess Everhardt’s three male companions could represent the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow, although I’ve no idea which is supposed to be which. The one Martian we do see was apparently modelled on one of the residents of Oz, though. Whether it was writer-director Hewitt’s initial intention to include more elements from L Frank Baum’s source material is unrecorded. If so, budgetary condierations likely precluded it, and the whole thing comes off as desperately half-assed.

Mars has been a cinematic graveyard for many filmmakers over the years, from Brian de Palma’s ‘Mission To Mars’ (2000) to Andrew Stanton’s mega-flop ‘John Carter’ (2012) and with many stops in between. Is Hewitt’s film the worst about the red planet ever made? Possibly, but there’s stiff competition for that dubious honour. Nicholas Webster’s ‘Mission Mars’ (1968) is truly excruciating, and be sure not to forget ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ (1964).

An intergalactic snoozeathon of truly epic proportions.

Autopsy of A Ghost/Autopsia de un Fantasma (1968)

Autopsy of a Ghost (1968)‘The meat taste like meat, and the hell ham taste like a bunch of devils!’

A lost soul trapped in the dungeon of his ancestral home is given a final chance at redemption by Satan. If he can persuade a woman to lay down her life for him, he will be allowed to ascend to heaven. The devil arranges for a mad scientist and his extended family to come and stay at the spooky old house, thereby providing some possible candidates…

Demented, anything goes, relentlessly juvenile comedy cocktail from south of the border, courtesy of director Ismael Rodríguez. It’s a frenetic, hyperactive mix of knockabout humour, slapstick gags and pure, uncut silliness that almost has to be seen to be believed. At times it seems to have been aimed at children, but at others has a more adult tone to its attempted laughs. What’s truly amazing about it is the presence of notable Hollywood names Basil Rathbone, John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell.

Rathbone is the spirit of Canuto Pérez, a suicide from 400 years earlier who hangs about in the basement dungeon of his old dark house, arguing with his own skeleton (heroically played by an unconvincing life-sized puppet). However, his centuries of anguish could soon be over. Satan (Carradine in a red bodysuit with horns and a spiked tail!) offers him a way out, and he’s arranged for crazy inventor Mitchell (who wear two pairs of spectacles at the same time) to rent the old pile and bring some eligible females along. These include his lovely daughter Galena (Amadee Chabot), who seems to have been shortchanged by the wardrobe department and wears a bikini throughout. Can Rathbone’s get one of the ladies to fall for him and make the ultimate sacrifice?

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

‘It’s still better than a real job.’

Mitchell also has his problems. His crackpot inventions aren’t making any money, and his large family have been evicted from their last home. He’s put his faith in new mechanical man Caruso, but when he’s activated all he can do is make fart noises! It’s because he’s the victim of an act of sabotage perpetrated by older robot Vitola (Famie Kaufman in a cardboard costume, ginger wig and short skirt).

And if there weren’t enough characters and plot already, Rodriguez chucks in the idiot son of Mitchell’s former business partner (whose brain is tilted sideways apparently), his annoying little brat of a son and various other stooges and hangers-on. To make things even more complicated, a gang of useless criminals have hidden half a million dollars in the property and want it back, but agent Jaime Blondo (Carlos Piñar) is hot on their trail.

So the scene is set for an endless series of misunderstandings, pratfalls, frantic running about, loud screaming and general pantomime. Rathbone attempts to seduce various women with little success, the matriarch of the criminal gang falls in love with his skeleton (yes, really!) and Carradine hangs around in the background smirking a lot and breaking the fourth wall by twirling his tail and literally winking at the audience. Director Rodríguez never pauses to take a breath, rushing from scene to scene with reckless abandon, sometimes even speeding up the footage so we can arrive even earlier. Sometimes it’s all quite baffling. But too often it’s just the comedic equivalent of nails down a chalkboard.

Autopsy of a Ghost (1968)

‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’

If you’ve read Rathbone’s autobiography ‘In and Out of Character’ (1962), you’re probably aware that he had no illusions about his immense talents as a thespian(!), and his place in the pantheon of great classical actors. However, you can’t deny his commitment to the cause here. He throws himself around the cheap sets with abandon, quotes a little Shakespeare and even does a few dance steps.

Rathbone was always the consummate professional in a film career that began in 1927, saw him Oscar-nominated twice, teach Errol Flynn how to fight with a sword and create the screen’s greatest Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, this was to be his last performance. He died of a cardiac arrest in a New York shortly afterwards. The film was shot in Mexico City, and Carradine always maintained that the altitude had been too much for Rathbone’s heart.

Curiously enough, the film seems to possess two endings. On this occasion, I was finally able to watch a print with English subtitles, but previously I’d seen one without a translation. That version had an ending featuring Carradine spinning around at high speed in a chair being splattered with faeces and an ‘A’ bomb explosion. This version did not. Perhaps I just dreamed it. Bad movies can do that to you.

An exhausting, knockabout farce with infantile humour that tries the patience from beginning to end.

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1966/1967/1972 etc.)

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)‘Patience, Akro, the replenishment of your potion is forthcoming.’   

A deformed man goes on a rampage in the city at night, killing a number of people including two policemen. The detective assigned to the case recalls a similar incident from a few years prior, when a brilliant scientist created a psychopathic zombie by experimenting on an injured Vietnam veteran.

Mad medico John Carradine just wouldn’t quit. Not content with creating ape women, Astro Zombies and bulletproof phantom dogs, he was at it again here, using a construction site hard hat and lots of curly cables to…um…do something or other sciency that…err…turns his patient into some kind of human fiend. But that’s all in the past, as retold in a lengthy flashback by ex-Disney child star Tommy Kirk (desperately trying to look like a cool cop, and failing spectacularly). According to him, this monster man was also part of a criminal gang, and we see them bungling a jewellery heist.

Before Kirk can finish the tale, however, he gets a visit from the fiend’s ex-wife (and the director’s actual spouse) Regina Carrol. As expected, she wants to talk about her nightmares of drums and strange voodoo rites. Rather than regard this as a spectacular waste of police time (as you might reasonably think), Kirk gets quite excited as her ex’s father (Kent Taylor) actually disappeared in Jamaica years before while studying telepathy and local supernatural stuff. Could he be behind the new wave of killings, or is new fiend Akro (Richard Smedley – think Michael Myers without the personality) simply acting alone? Carradine certainly doesn’t seem to be involved as he never leaves his lab, which actually looks more like someone’s bathroom than the room in the hospital it’s supposed to be. Probably because of the tiled walls and what looks like a large, blue shower curtain.

By this point, of course, any sneaking suspicions that the audience might have held that this is a few unfinished projects badly cobbled together into an incoherent mess have been confirmed about ten times over, although that assumption does turn out to be slightly inaccurate. But the flashbacks to the original case crop up almost randomly, and are so protracted that it’s often hard to follow the story (such as it is), and remember when the action we’re watching is supposed to be taking place.

Shot in ‘Chill-o-rama’ and ’Metrocolor’ (stop laughing at the back!) producer-director and co-writer Al Adamson’s film is actually a re-shot version of one of his much older efforts, a crime flick called ‘Psycho A Go-Go’ (1965). The hook of that project was that one of the criminal gang involved (Roy Morton – truly terrible) had an implant in his head which turned him into a soulless killer. Audiences weren’t impressed, but Adamson wouldn’t let it lie, adding new footage a year later (probably the sequences with Carradine) and putting it out as ‘Fiend with the Electronic Brain’. He was such a perfectionist, though, that he added more new scenes with Kirk, Carrol and Taylor in the early 1970s and gave it a brand new title: ‘The Man with the Synthetic Brain.’! It also hit theatres at different times as ‘The Fiend with the Atom Brain’, ‘The Man with the Atomic Brain’, ‘The Love Maniac'(!) and ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror‘, the title by which it’s more commonly known today.

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)

Motorhead’s new lineup were having problems with Lemmy again…

If all this tinkering seems like a bad thing, it’s probably a mercy in a way, because some of the original ‘crime’ footage is so boring that audiences probably suffered serious brain damage. Adamson’s shot framing is also truly eccentric, with some actors shot in such extreme close-up that we only see half their faces. Although this could be an aspect ratio issue with current prints, it only occurs in a couple of scenes. Elsewhere, the action scenes are poorly staged, and the murders unconvincing and crude.

Unbelievably, the director of photography was Vilmos Zsigmond (hiding under the name William) whose later career included such little known flicks as ‘Deliverance’ (1972), ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977), ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1979), ‘Blow Out’ (1981), ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ (1987), ‘Maverick’ (1994), some later projects for Woody Allen and many other famous titles. How did he go from lensing Adamson’s bargain basement atrocity ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) to working with Robert Altman on ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’ (1971) barely a year later, and then onto gigs with Spielberg, De Palma, Don Siegel, Michael Cimino and directorial projects by actors Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson is one of life’s great mysteries. But there’s little doubt it was well deserved after toiling in low budget hell on such films as this, ‘The Nasty Rabbit’ (1964), ‘Satan’s Sadists’ (1969) and ‘Hot Rod Action’ (1969). It’s a fair bet that he’s the only person involved with an Al Adamson movie that went on to win an Oscar.

Such a patchwork enterprise is bound to have its limitations, of course, but Adamson’s film manages to transcend them, becoming something so truly abysmal that it’s a classic of bad filmmaking. Watch it at your peril.

Whispering Ghosts (1942)

Whispering Ghosts (1942)‘If you went to a mind reader, he’d charge you half price.’

A popular radio star who solves real-life mysteries investigates the case of an old sea captain who was murdered on his grounded ship. Rumours of hidden treasure ensure that there are plenty of other parties interested in the case…

Milton Berle began his entertainment career with bit parts as a child actor before becoming a successful stage comedian. He began appearing in pictures again in the late 1930s, before being cast as the lead in a handful of ‘bottom of the bill’ programmers in the early years of the following decade. But the movies were a dead end and it was television that catapulted him to stardom in the late 1950s. Here he headlines what it essential a lightweight ‘old dark house’ mystery taking place on a derelict ship, and the setting is the only thing remotely original about the entire enterprise.

Berle is a smart-aleck radio star who ‘lifts the veil’ on notorious true-life crimes, although it’s never clarified whether he uses otherworldly means or more conventional methods. When he picks the old murder of a sea captain, he stirs up a whole hornet’s nest of trouble, especially when his first solution to the crime is easily disproved by the retired old policeman who originally headed up the investigation. Apparently, old Cap’n Wetherby was some kind of a pirate (in the early part of the 20th Century?!) so there’s the inevitable cache of hidden diamonds on his beached ship, and when Berle goes there in the dead of night to ‘solve’ the case again, you know he’s heading into trouble.

All the usual ‘murder mystery’ tropes of the period are present and correct. The ship’s already occupied by eccentric couple John Carradine and Renie Riano, a series of shifty characters keep turning up every few minutes, no-one can leave because of bad weather (a thick fog bank) and heroine Brenda Joyce is on hand as the heir to the pirate’s fortune. All the cast members lurk in the shadows acting as suspiciously as possible and Berle quips and smirks his way through the mechanical plot with a ready grin. It’s not the worst example of the genre that you’ll ever see, mainly because of a sprinkling of witty lines from scriptwriter Lou Breslow.

Whispering Ghosts (1942)

‘And that’s where Tarzan saved me from the Leopard Men…’

Its the cast of familiar faces in supporting roles that provides the main interest now. Carradine does an excellent frog impression (the highlight of the film), and Berle even refers to him as ‘Dracula’, which is remarkably prescient as the actor would appear as the vampire king for the first time in Universal’s ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944), and on more than one occasion in subsequent decades.

Edmund MacDonald appeared in Fritz Lang’s ‘Hangmen Also Die!’ (1943), ‘Black Friday’ (1940) with Karloff and Lugosi and in many other supporting roles in the 1940s. Abner Biberman was a regular Hollywood ‘heavy’ and Charles Halton carved out a long career as busybodies and minor officials, including turns in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ (1946), ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ (1942) and Hitchcock’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ (1940).

ln more featured roles are Brenda Joyce and Willie Best. Joyce was best known as Weismuller’s second ‘Jane’ in MGM’s ‘Tarzan’ series, but was more than capable of better performances when given stronger material. Sadly, this script just provides her with the generic ‘damsel in distress’ assignment that she must have found no challenge at all. She retired from the screen before the end of the decade after reprising her ‘Jane’ for new kid in the jungle, Lex Barker, in ‘Tarzan’s Magic Fountain’ (1949). Best was an African-American musician and songwriter who was typed in idiotic servant roles, reflecting the racism endemic in Hollywood at the time. Although this is not as demeaning as some of his appearances (‘The Monster and the Ape’ (1945) for instance), there’s still plenty of eye- rolling, shaking and cowardice on display, which grates badly on a modern audience.

A standard ‘B’ flick of the time. Oh, and there are no ghosts; fake, real, whispering or otherwise!

Doctor Dracula (1978)

Doctor Dracula (1978)‘A prescription of terror – blood donors wanted!’

The reincarnated spirit of Svengali occupies the body of an academic, writes a bestselling book about it, and becomes a celebrity. Some local Satanists try to grab a piece of the action while Dracula cruises the local bars for victims posing as a psychiatrist…

As is often the case in the world of low-budget cinema, the origins and circumstances surrounding this production are somewhat obscure. Apparently, it began life as ‘Lucifer’s Wives’ (1974), a low-budget film about devil worship, directed by Paul Aratow with technical advice from Anton LaVey. He was a well-known occultist, founder of the Church of Satan, and author of ‘The Satanic Bible.’ However, despite the existence of press and advertising material, it seems likely that the film was never completed. The footage was picked up by notorious exploitation director Al Adamson, who shot new scenes in 1978 with a fresh cast including old friend John Carradine. Brand new plot elements including Count Dracula and re-incarnation were also introduced, and the finished product finally saw the light of day in 1981.

Inevitably, the results are a little muddled. The film opens with a demonstration by Larry Hankin, who claims to be the reincarnation of Svengali. This involves hypnotising a room filled with people as he saws a woman in half. Already things seem to be a little confused. After all, wasn’t Svengali a fictional character, rather than a real person? And was he supposed to have a magic act? Never mind. After all, the suave psychiatrist in the crowd (played by Geoffrey Land) seems to be none other than Count Dracula and he was fictional too, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. Also presents are some satanists led by John Carradine (who compiled this guest list?!) and Regina Carroll who wants to find out the truth behind her mother’s murder (hint: there were two strange puncture marks in her neck). Oh, and Svengali’s publisher is another reincarnatee who needs to move on from his sick body. He rather likes the look of Jane Brunel-Cohen, but the man whose body Svengali is using rather likes her too…and so on. Confused yet?

Doctor Dracula (1978)

‘What do you mean I’m fictional?’

Unfortunately, if this all sounds like a recipe for a ‘so bad, it’s good’ experience, then think again. It’s just rather dull. Even throwing in some satanic rituals (presumably from ’Lucifer’s Wives’) fails to liven things up, and a family reunion between Carroll and the corpse of her dead mother also ignites few sparks. The acting is generally rather poor, the dialogue never gets beyond the usual claptrap, and the camerawork is lifeless and static.

Unusually for this kind of film, there is actually too much going on, rather than too little, and there seems to be no excuse for it, given that there seems to be limited footage from ‘Lucifer Wives’ to stitch into the narrative. Dropping either the Dracula or the Svengali angle and focusing on the one that remained would have helped, but there were probably circumstances that dictated the inclusion of both; availability of actors/money, etc.

Carradine gets more screen-time than in some of his appearances of the period, but doesn’t actually do very much, apart from pontificate at ritzy parties. Land’s Count is handsome but has zero charisma, and, although Hankin’s wide-eyed performance as the legendary mesmerist provides what little entertainment there is, it’s hardly award winning. He did go onto bits in some huge hits, though, most notably ‘Home Alone’ (1990), Billy Madison (1995), and ‘Pretty Woman’ (1990).

Adamson did a lot, lot worse than this; ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) and ‘Dracula Vs Frankenstein’ (1971), but rarely was he this dull. When Svengali tells Carroll to ‘Look into my eyes, you are getting very sleepy’ we know exactly what how she feels.

The Face of Marble (1946)

The_Face_of_Marble_(1946)‘There’s more to it than anyone knows…than anyone was given to know…’

A brilliant scientist tries to bring a sailor back from the dead using large charges of electricity and a special serum. The experiment is only a partial success, but the Professor should be more concerned with his young wife and his sinister housekeeper, who is practising voodoo rituals in the cellar…

John Carradine’s at it again! Not content with growing new human glands, putting brains into cavemen and creating Astro-Zombies, here he’s trying to raise the dead! Of course, it’s for the benefit of humanity, and, of course, it all goes dreadfully wrong. For a change, Carradine is actually a genial, well-intentioned medical man, just a little misguided. His over enthusiasm leads to him electrocuting a drowned sailor he drags off the beach, and then experimenting on his wife’s pet pooch, a rather fearsome hound named Brutus. The results are variable, with the sailor up and about for a minute before a second death, and the dog turning into a murdering killer that can walk through walls. You can’t help thinking that a little more research may be necessary.

To complicate matters, his young wife (Claudia Drake) has the hots for his lab assistant, played by Robert Shayne. But any hope she has of a romantic intrigue takes a back seat once Shayne’s fiancée (Maris Wrixon) arrives on the scene. Unfortunately, housekeeper Rosa Rey has Drake’s best interests at heart and is busy conducting strange magical rites that lead to tragic consequences for everyone. It’s the price you pay for meddling in things that man must leave alone, I guess.

The Face of Marble (1946)

Her new hairstylist had some strange ideas…

You don’t expect too much from a horror flick produced by Monogram Studios in the 1940s. They were always cut-price, bottom of the bill affairs that ran about an hour or so. A box-office ‘name’ who’d had minor success in major studio fright fest, or whose career was on the critical list, usually took the lead. Director William ‘One Shot’ Beaudine was in the chair for quite a few, and given that his nickname referred to a reluctance to do re-takes, the finished product was not usually of the greatest quality.

Carradine went on to a lengthy career in exploitation and horror cinema, and Shayne to play Inspector Henderson on TV’s ‘Superman’ with George Reeves. Wrixon was probably just relieved there were no more gorillas in her future, after her experiences on ‘The Ape’ (1940) with Boris Karloff, and the ridiculous ‘White Pongo’ (1945).

This is one of Monogram’s better efforts, despite the mismatched, awkward elements. Sure, the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and amounts to even less, but it’s good to see Carradine in a (somewhat) sympathetic role.

And who doesn’t enjoy watching a zombie dog that’s impervious to bullets?

Vampire Hookers (1978)

Vampire Hookers (1978)‘Warm Blood Isn’t All They Suck!’

Two sailors on shore leave are looking for a good time but their pathetic attempts at finding some fun come to nothing. Instead they end up tangling with a quartet of vampires who live in luxurious accommodations beneath the local boneyard. Three of them look pretty good, though, so the weekend isn’t a total washout.

Woeful, half-arsed ‘adult’ entertainment so poor that it took me a good half an hour to realise it was supposed to be a comedy. Given the date of production and subject matter, our star and lead vamp is almost inevitably John Carradine, a man who would appear in anything if the price was right (or if there was any price at all, probably). Here, he drinks a lot of bloody marys (with real blood, of course!) and quotes Walt Whitman a good deal. His three nubile ‘brides’ entice sailors back to the underground pad for dinner, forgetting to mention what’s on the menu.

Amongst the sailors at risk are two (very) ordinary seamen, played by Bruce Fairburn and Trey Wilson. Their comical exploits ‘on the town’ at the beginning of the film attempt to redefine the meaning of that adjective. And not in a good way. It’s only when we are treated to the continued flatulence of Carradine’s human servant that the laughs really kick in. If only he’d slipped on a banana skin as well! That would have been hilarious.

The film justifies it’s ’adult’ tag (and the wonderfully trashy title!) when Fairburn services all 3 female bloodsuckers at once in a tame orgy sequence with plenty of repeated shots. It’s stuck in the middle of the film in one 10-minute chunk, but must have looked good in the trailer. The girls go all girly over our hunky hero after that (forgetting to bite him), whilst Wilson tries to get the police to believe in these less than riveting developments. The running time is mercifully short, but matters still drag (literally at one point) and the storyline never develops beyond the original concept, which isn’t exactly a brain stretcher.

Vampire Hookers (1978)

Sometimes being a vampire could be a pain in the neck.

Director Cirio H Santiago has been championed as a guru of ’grindhouse’ by no less then Quentin Tarantino, but it’s hard to see what anyone could find absorbing in these flat and lifeless 82 minutes. Carradine is usually worth watching, of course, and he provides the only faint spark of energy in this tired and perfunctory production. He was actually born Richmond Reed Carradine and  it’s a mark of the level of imagination on display here that his character is named Richmond Reed.

The rest of the cast didn’t have to worry about the film appearing on their CV later on, as, predictably enough, none of them…oh, hang on! Second lead Trey Wilson went onto major supporting roles in Hollywood blockbuster comedies ‘Twins’ (1988), ‘Bull Durham’ (1988), ‘Married To The Mob’ (1988) and ‘Great Balls of Fire!’ (1989). Sadly, his success was brief; he died of a cerebral haemorrhage at just 40 years of age.

Exploitation films like this one don’t normally display a great deal of care and attention, but this is a pretty terrible example. See it if you must.