Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

‘We want live bodies for the Prince of Darkness, not shredded corpses.’

Four cheerleaders and their coach are on their way to a big high school game when their van breaks down. They accept a ride from the school janitor, but little do they know that he is a practising Satanist and responsible for their predicament in the first place…

Mismatched mash-up of high school comedy hi-jinks and devil worship from co-writer and director Greydon Clark. Some veteran Hollywood names stop by to help out and pick up a paycheque, while some fresh-faced young hopefuls take their first – and in most cases, last – steps towards stardom.

Sweet-tempered, naive cheerleading coach Ms Johnson (Jacqulin Cole) has her hands full with her squad of pom-pom pushers. They may only be a quartet, but Patti (Kelly Sherman), Chris (Hilary Horan), Debbie (Alisa Powell) and Sharon (Sherry Marks) like nothing better than to hang out with the local jocks and play pranks on a rival high school gang.

Hilarity ensues when the guys swap the signs on the playing field locker rooms and a touring dean and his wife walk in on our heroines in the shower! More tiresome PG shenanigans follow, including a fight with water balloons and the field covered in toilet rolls, all accompanied by a constant barrage of lightweight, funky workout music.

But, never fear; all is not what it seems. Bad-tempered, peeping tom janitor Billy (Jack Kruschen) is actually a card-carrying Satanist and member of a local cult. What’s more, he might be a bumbling figure of fun on campus, but he seems to have supernatural powers. Enough to make the girls’ van break down on the way to the big game, at least. Just happening by, of course, Kruschen gives them a lift, but their final destination turns out to be a Satanic altar in the middle of the woods, rather than the neighbouring town’s sporting facilities. Kruschen intends to have his way with the blonde Sherman before sacrificing her to his dark master, but things go south when he collapses amidst an onslaught of cheap camera FX.

Not sure exactly what happened, the women take off in Kruschen’s van and find old John Carradine picking up trash by the side of the highway. He sends them off to take refuge with local sheriff John Ireland and his wife, Yvonne de Carlo. Unsurprisingly, they turn out to be the leaders of the local devil cult, which includes everyone living roundabout, even a monk, played by Sydney’ son of Charlie’ Chaplin. Lucky then that Sharman turns out to be more powerful than the lot of them put together, although it’s never clear if she is a witch or possessed by the evil one himself. Whichever it is, we get a brilliantly ridiculous closing scene where Sharman delivers the best line in the picture with impeccable comic timing.

The real issue with the finished film is its wildly inconsistent tone. At times, it seems to be simply a lightweight comedy vehicle. It certainly starts that way; our pretty high school heroines thrown into a series of vaguely risque situations on campus, accompanied by well-signposted gags. There’s the inevitable mild nudity and sex thrown in for the trailer, and it’s all highly formulaic and predictable.

Then we get the Satanism. Clark’s script, co-written with Alvin L Fast, does poke similar fun at Ireland and his vaguely incompetent crew. This could have worked if the humour had been a little darker, but it’s about as far from black comedy as you can get. The other problem is that all this Satanism stuff is very real, and those sequences play entirely straight. There’s even a scene where Sherriff Ireland rapes coach Cole. We don’t see anything, of course, and, strangely enough, it is important to the plot, but it sits very uneasily with the movie’s earlier scenes.

On the other hand, it is surprisingly well made; the climactic horror scenes mainly well shot, making the audience wish that Clark had decided to cut the comedy and make a serious horror film. There’s also the pleasure of seeing some old Hollywood stalwarts on the screen again, particularly Carradine, who has a definite twinkle in his eye throughout his brief appearance. However, the no-name youngsters are not so successful, and only Sharman went onto a significant acting career. She played guest slots on hit network TV shows such as ‘Hawaii Five’O’, ‘Barnaby Jones’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ before grabbing a supporting role in hit cop comedy ’48 Hrs.’ (1982). Later on, she was a regular on the soap opera ‘Santa Barbara’ for three years.

Clark began his career as a screen actor in David L Hewitt’s infamous ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969), and he also appeared in films for exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson. He was quick to move behind the camera, though, directing ‘Mothers, Fathers and Lovers’ (1971), a film in which he acted alongside Cole, to whom he was married for many years. Hopping onto the science-fiction bandwagon in the late 1970s, he delivered probably his best film; ‘Without Warning’ (1980), which starred Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Cameron Mitchell and a pre-stardom David Caruso in a small role. The story of an alien on Earth for a hunting trip bears more than a slight resemblance to ‘Predator’ (1987), and giant actor Kevin Peter Hall plays the extraterrestrial in both films. Clark followed that with shabby ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) rip-off ‘The Return’ (1980) with Landau, Cybill Shepherd and Raymond Burr, and he managed to continue to attract minor Hollywood’ names’ to subsequent projects. However, these films are poorly regarded.

If you can stick through the dreary first act, this horror-comedy has some fun moments, but the clash of tones is likely to promote general dissatisfaction.

Hell’s Bloody Devils/Smashing the Crime Syndicate (1970)

‘What’s a groovy chick like you doing in the spy racket?’

A mob enforcer is sent across the country to link up with a neo-Nazi group offering to supply substantial sums in near-perfect counterfeit currency. Meanwhile, the federal authorities are on the case, targeting the German nobleman they believe to be the leader of the right-wing group…

This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Mark Adams, playing Federal Agent John Gabriel, placed undercover with the mob. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to swan around the glamorous capitals of Europe or play with any high-end gadgets because he’s appearing in a film from notorious low budget producer-director Al Adamson.

The federal authorities are concerned with an influx of counterfeit 20 dollar bills they believe to be the work of radicals attempting to fund a new Nazi movement back home. Agent Gabriel has already infiltrated the syndicate, and it’s the perfect coincidence when crime lord Joe (Keith Andes) sends him west to negotiate the wholesale purchase of the fake currency on offer. Although he’s tasked with breaking up the gang, his main objective is finding the original plates, which are believed to have originated in World War Two.

His mission is complicated by a whole array of local characters who may or may not be involved. There’s a local biker gang, the Hessians, the mysterious Count Otto Von Delberg (Kent Taylor), his girl Friday, Carol Bechtal (Vicki Volante) and rookie agent Jill Harmon (Emily Banks). He also begins an affair with dress shop owner Leni (Jacklyn O’Donnell), which seems to put them both in danger. Gabriel has to dodge the usual mixture of faceless assassins in sunglasses and suits while dealing with betrayal, double-cross, gunplay and conflicting loyalties before the final fadeout.

The main issue with Adamson’s film is the somewhat convoluted storyline. Characters are introduced without explanation, some have identities that are never clearly established, and others fulfil no function in the plot. The most obvious example is the biker gang, who are allegedly agents of the villainous Taylor. The film opens with them stopping a car on the highway and severely beating the two occupants. A piece of voiceover dialogue identifies them as ‘Commies’, and the Russians do get another namecheck later on in the film, but it’s their only (apparent) appearance. Also, the gang (or at least some of them) interact with only one other character in the film, Volante, who acts as their go-between with Taylor. This is because the biker footage was added later on to try and sell the movie, which initially failed to secure distribution. It also allowed the marketing department to put bikes on the poster and give it the tagline ‘They’re madmen on motorcycles!’

If this all sounds like a recipe for complete incoherence, that’s not the case. For once, Adamson papers over the cracks and inconsistencies pretty well, although there are more than a few moments when the scrappy, disjointed structure is rather obvious. There’s also a fantastic car chase where the protagonists stop at red lights and a cheap pen that doubles as a grenade/time bomb. There’s also a great scene when Adams takes O’Donell out on a (cheap) date to the local KFC only to have their romantic tryst interrupted by the real-life Colonel Sanders, who wants to check if they’re enjoying their delicious chicken meal.

We also get some Hollywood stars on their way down. As well as Taylor, Adams’ boss is played by one-time Oscar recipient Broderick Crawford! Despite first billing, he never leaves his office and has a total screentime of not more than five minutes. However, deputy Scott Brady does get in on the action at the end, even if he doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue, and that’s future cult film director Greydon Clark as a fellow agent. And, of course, here’s John Carradine popping up for his one-scene ‘paycheque cameo’ as a Pet Shop Owner offering twin blondes some salient advice about lovebirds with relationship issues. Fans of the original ‘Star Trek’ TV show will recognise Alyce and Rhae Andrece from their appearance in Season 2 episode ‘I, Mudd’.

Adamson was a prolific filmmaker from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s who favoured many of the usual exploitation genres. He tackled horror on several occasions, with cut-price flicks like ‘Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) and memorably awful patchwork outings ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror (1967) and ‘Dracula vs. Frankenstein’ (1971). He also delivered the monumentally appalling interplanetary adventure ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970). However, in the interests of balance, Western ‘Five Bloody Graves’ (1969) and actioner ‘The Death Dimension’ (1978) are pretty watchable. Sadly, his life came to an end in August 1995 when he was murdered by a man he had hired to work on his house.

Although he can’t compete with Carradine (who could?!), Brady still has an enviable list of cult film credits to his name. Starting his career in undistinguished low-budget Noirs, a role for director Nicolas Ray in his dark fable ‘Johnny Guitar’ (1954) saw him typed in Westerns until the 1960s. Work on the range began drying up, and he diversified into science fiction b-pictures such as ‘Destination Inner Space’ (1966), ‘Castle of Evil’ (1966) and David L Hewitt’s intermittently interesting ‘Journey To The Centre of Time’ (1967). The association with Hewitt continued with an embarrassing encounter with ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969), although minor roles in more legitimate pictures came along occasionally, such as the astronaut drama ‘Marooned’ (1969). A lot of television followed throughout the 1970s before he capped his career as Sheriff Frank in ‘Gremlins’ (1984).

Underwhelming, low budget mash-up of crime and spy thriller from the notorious Adamson. Choppy and disjointed but just about coherent by the time the credits roll.

Missile X – The Neutron Bomb Incident/Teheran Incident/Cruise Missile (1979)

The years you spent at the embassy in America must have eroded your brain.’

A Russian missile test is disrupted by armed men, who massacre everyone and steal the weapon. In Teheran, an American agent is killed, and his replacement suspects that the death is linked to the peace conference about to take place nearby. Then his Russian counterpart reveals that he has trailed the stolen missile to the city. The two agents combine their forces to find the warhead…

Drab and lifeless multi-national spy shenanigans with listless direction, a dreary script and an over the hill cast wearily going through the motions. A West German-Italian-Spanish-American and Iranian co-production, primarily filmed in the latter country when it was on the brink of a real-life revolution. A fact that is immeasurably more interesting than anything that ended up on the screen for the paying audience.

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American veteran Peter Graves as Alec Franklin, flying into Teheran to investigate the death of a colleague. Not only are the circumstances decidedly fishy, but there’s also a high-level world peace conference taking place less than 100 miles away. In the best tradition of Eurospy adventures of the long-gone 1960s, it’s a solo gig because why send in a crack team to deal with a potential threat to world security when you can entrust it to one guy in his early fifties with just a handgun for company? Yes, this is pretty much a gadget-free zone.

It’s not long before Graves hooks up with his Russian counterpart and old friend, Konstantine Senyonov (Michael Dante), who is looking for a cruise missile recently heisted from a test site near the Caspian Sea. As per usual in these kinds of doings, the main villain needlessly reveals himself by telling his minions to knock off Graves, but, of course, it doesn’t go well. His ruthless killers are entirely unprepared for our hero’s fighting moves which are about as slow, clumsy and awkward as his age might suggest. Cleaning up afterwards, Graves finds a poker chip from a casino owned by the Baron de Marchand (Curd Jurgens, fresh from his underwater lair in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)) and decides to check it out.

Rather than play the tables, Graves gets chatted up by Jurgens’ flirtatious girlfriend, Nina (Carmen Cervera) and also zeroes in on the establishment’s manager, Stetson (Robert Avard Miller), who seems to be on the outs with his boss. Meanwhile, in his backroom laboratory/secret headquarters, Jurgens has stashed both the missile and renegade Russian rocket man, Professor Nikolaeff (John Carradine, waiting patiently for his paycheck). Dante has brought comrade Galina (Karin Schubert) to deal with the missile once they find it, but the clock is ticking because Carradine needs less than 48 hours to get the warhead into position.

It’s hard to know where to start with a film that has so many issues. The setup isn’t without some potential, but the story develops into a tired old rigmarole of intrigue and half-baked action that has rarely been regurgitated with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm. One of the major problems is the casting of our leading man. Yes, Graves had led the IMF through more than 100 successful assignments on the original ‘Mission: Impossible’ TV show, but he looks far too old for this kind of role here. Roger Moore was a similar age when he finished playing Bond, but he was far better preserved than Graves, who looks almost a decade older than his actual age. This is a problem in the action scenes (such as they are) and in the bedroom when he spends some quality time with Cervera. There was less than 20 years between them in reality, but the age difference looks to be so much more.

There are much bigger problems, though. Director Leslie H Martinson was a veteran filmmaker who had racked up a long list of extensive television credits on many primetime series, often orientated towards action, including nine episodes of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in the early 1970s. He’d also helmed the occasional film, such as ‘PT 109’ (1963) and the movie version of ‘Batman’ (1966) from the Adam West TV show. He was an experienced director. However, almost every scene here is so devoid of pace, creativity and energy that it’s almost like watching scenes being acted out in early rehearsal rather than a finished film. Similarly, the flat editing leaves the gun battles and fight scenes dead on arrival, and the poor dubbing of the robotic supporting cast is almost comically wooden. Finally, Alberto Baldan Bembo’s score is so poorly integrated with what’s shown on the screen that it seems likely that it was written for another project entirely.

However, there may be some mitigating circumstances. The film reached West German screens in February of 1979 but wasn’t released stateside until December. This version credits legendary low-budget filmmaker Ted V Mikels as the ‘US producer’, and he also gets a story ‘adaptation’ credit. He’s probably most familiar to cult movie enthusiasts as the creator of ‘The Astro-Zombies’ series and other films such as ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) and ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils’ (1973). It’s impossible to know what post-production tweaks he may have made to the film, but it might explain some of its technical deficiencies.

A series of crippling strikes and protests paralyzed Iran for a few months before the Shah’s retreat into exile in January 1979 and the revolutionary fighting that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. There is no evidence of that kind of disruption in the finished film, so it’s likely that it was shot in the earlier part of 1978. We do hear a repeated radio broadcast – in English – concerning the Ayatollah’s activities in Paris, and there’s also a line of dialogue that mentions him by name. However, it is delivered by an actor with his back to the camera, and there’s an immediate cut away afterwards. Given that the Ayatollah didn’t move to Paris until November 1978, it’s likely that all these references were added in post-production. Perhaps they were part of Mikels’ ‘adaptation’ for the US market as he tried to give the film some air of topicality.

Graves wasn’t finished with the spy game, of course, returning as Jim Phelps to head up the small screen revival of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in 1988. He also turned down an appearance in the big-screen reboot with Tom Cruise when he discovered that Phelps would be revealed as a traitor. Sadly, Jurgens died in January 1982 from a heart attack and looks distinctly unwell here. He’s very red-faced at times, hobbles about on a stick, and some of his dialogue is a little hard to understand.

Carradine was on a bad movie roll, his previous big-screen excursions being ‘Doctor Dracula’ (1978), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978) and ‘The Bees’ (1978), producer Roger Corman’s execrable cash-in on ‘The Swarm’ (1978). Some better projects followed in the early 1980’s such as ‘The Monster Club’ (1980) and ‘The House of Long Shadows’ (1983), but there was still time to fit in Jerry Warren’s hilariously atrocious ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).

An almost impossibly dull plod through over familiar territory, delivered by all concerned as if they already had one foot on the aeroplane home. Simply dreadful.

The Sentinel (1977)

‘Believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night for a cat.’

A successful young fashion model with a troubled past takes a new apartment to get some perspective on a possible future with her long-term boyfriend. It’s not long, however, before she’s disturbed by strange noises in the night, weird dreams and the attentions of her new neighbours, who exhibit some decidedly odd behaviour…

Satan was big box office in Hollywood in the 1970s, particularly when his activities were transposed to a modern, urban setting. The trend had begun with Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) and continued primarily through movies made for television in the early 1970s. Then came the box-office juggernaut that was ‘The Exorcist’ (1973). Three years later, ‘The Omen’ (1976) was another smash and this dance with the devil from British director Michael Winner’s followed hard on its heels.

Young and beautiful Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is the cover girl of her day, appearing in exclusive photoshoots from top fashion magazines and gracing prime time TV in shampoo commercials. On the surface, she’s living the American Dream, but a dark past contains a suicide attempt after breaking in on her elderly father cavorting with some naked prostitutes. Long term live-in boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon) wants marriage, but Raines needs some space to think things over. So she rents a big apartment in an exclusive building downtown and moves in. It looks like a steal, but when you’ve got a blind priest John Carradine staring out of the window of the flat on the top floor, it’s best to think twice before signing the lease agreement.

Things start going bump in the night pretty quickly, and that’s not all. Her neighbours are a rum bunch, to be sure. There’s the campy Burgess Meredith, who carries his cat around, and lesbian ballet fans Sylvia Miles and the wordless Beverley D’Angelo, who starts to masturbate in front of Raines as soon as Miles is out of the room. Later on, Meredith holds a birthday shindig for his cat, and Raines gets to meet some more of the residents, who act weird and start turning up in her dreams. When she complains to the local house agent about everything, she’s told that the building’s only other resident is Carradine. When she examines the other apartments with Sarandon, they are deserted and covered in dust.

Based on a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, this occult mystery struggles to find a consistent tone and engage the audience. The story is very much a slow burn, without a great deal of action or incident, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in Winner’s hands, the absence of tension and atmosphere is a serious problem. Raines and Sarandon have little chemistry together, and neither exhibits enough presence to overcome their underwritten characters. The script is credited as a collaboration between Konviotz and Winner, although Konvitz was unhappy with Winner’s involvement from the start and is not a fan of the finished film. It’s not hard to see why.

The main issue is Winner’s apparent determination to ‘gross out’ the audience. There is a memorable scene where Raines slices up what seems to be her dead father’s living corpse. It is quite shocking but comes so far out of left field and is so over the top that it’s borderline hilarious, which is obviously not the effect the director intended. However, it is worth pointing out that the film is over 40 years old. The contemporary audience was probably far more unfamiliar with such moments of sudden shock and gore than viewers today. Instead of carrying on along that line, however, the tale then seems to morph into a conspiracy thriller as Sarandon breaks into the offices of the local Catholic diocese, suspicious of their involvement with the building and a mysterious priest played by Arthur Kennedy. Then it’s on to the climax and the solution to the mystery, which is where things get very divisive.

In essence, the climax is just two of the characters shouting at each other in an attic, which is not very cinematic. Winner chose to deal with this problem by showing an army of demons rising from hell to surround the protagonists. Rather than employ practical makeup effects, the director decided to use real-life people with significant physical deformities. There was a precedent for this approach, of course, the most obvious example being Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ (1932). Jack Cardiff had also employed it for his dreadful mash-up of horror and science-fiction ‘The Mutations’ (1974). However, the crucial difference between the 1932 film and its 1970s counterparts is that Browning portrayed his unusual cast as human beings, giving them dialogue and characters. They were the centre of the drama. Winner in particular merely uses them as window dressing, inviting the audience to gawk at them and be horrified, much in the way of carnival sideshows of a bygone age. Yes, I’m sure everyone was paid for their participation and took part through choice, but it still leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Elsewhere, it’s an unusual case of ‘spot the famous face’ as the cast is stocked with stars of yesteryear and some whose day was yet to come. Apart from veterans Kennedy, Carradine and Miles, we get Ava Gardner renting out apartment space in New York, Jose Ferrer with a walk-on as one of Kennedy’s ecclesiastical colleagues and Martin Balsam in a pointless scene as an absent-minded academic. As well as D’Angelo, we get future stars Jeff Goldblum as a fashion photographer and Tom Berenger doing a bit of flat hunting and billed as ‘Man at the end.’ There’s also a combination of the two eras with veteran cop Eli Wallach partnered with a young Christopher Walken. The older detective is convinced that Sarandon had his wife pushed from a bridge, a potentially interesting subplot that is never really developed. Finally, there’s a curious ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ cameo from Richard Dreyfuss hanging out on a street corner, probably waiting for his next call from Steven Spielberg.

Winner is poorly regarded as a filmmaker in his homeland of the United Kingdom. This critical and popular backlash was rooted in the seemingly endless run of sequels to his original hit ‘Death Wish’ (1974), although, of course, such a practice would not raise much of an eyebrow in these more franchise-friendly times. Later on, however, when the film offers began to dry up, he re-invented himself as a food critic, parlaying that into a career as a television personality. Unfortunately, his personal charms failed to win over the public, who disliked him thoroughly, something probably accentuated by his frequent appearances in tv commercials for an insurance company.

The director died in 2013, and his name has come up during recent revelations about the mistreatment of women in the film industry. By all accounts, Raines, in particular, clashed with him frequently during the production, as did several other cast and crew members. In addition, Konvitz has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with Winner and the whole experience of making the film.

All of which commentary tends to colour opinion on the man’s films, but it does have to be acknowledged when in possession of a decent script; he could deliver an acceptable end product. However, those examples tend to reside in the earlier part of his career when perhaps he possessed less creative control over the process.

An acceptable 1970s horror experience if you can disregard its flaws.

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)


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.