Cult Cinema Book Review ‘2

Hello Friends!

I’m back again on YouTube reviewing some more books on Cult Cinema.

Books under discussion are:

Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island – John Lemay
To ‘B’ or Not to ‘B’: A Film Actor’s Odyssey – Robert Clarke with Tom Weaver
The Dr Phibes Companion – Justin Humphreys etc.

Please feel free to ‘Like, Share and Subscribe’ if you enjoy the video and I always welcome comments.

Captive Women/3000 A.D. (1952)

Captive Women (1952)‘You are the first of all Norm women to come to a Mutate husband of her own free will.’

More than a thousand years in the future, the atomic war has left the world in ruins. What remains of the population is divided into warring factions of Norms and Mutates; those who escaped the disfiguring effects of radioactivity, and those who have not.

Unusual, low-budget science-fiction from producer Albert Zugsmith (with a title by Howard Hughes!), which was the first film ever to depict a post-nuclear holocaust society. We’re over a thousand years into the future here, and all that remains after the bomb is a twisted New York skyline and scattered scraps of humanity living in the wreckage. Our virtuous heroes are the cave-dwelling ‘Norms’, untouched by the nuclear scourge and busy preparing for the wedding of the chief’s son, played by cult movie legend Robert Clarke.

Our hero’s bride-to-be is dark-eyed Gloria Saunders, who proves to be less than an ideal romantic choice. For a start, she happens to be the daughter of the high priest (not usually a good sign) and she’s carrying on behind the scenes with the ambitious Jason (Douglas Evans), who’s hungry to sit in the big chair currently occupied by Clarke’s father. Across the river (via a hidden tunnel) are the Mutates, led by Riddon (Ron Randell). They’re ugly and scarred and their main preoccupation seems to be kidnapping ‘Norm’ women in the hopes of birthing ‘clean’ children. On the bright side, they’ve kept their faith in God, while the Norms worship the devil! Also mixing things up are the nasty ‘Up River Men’ led by Stuart Randall.

The film opens with more than five minutes of ‘flashback’ stock footage, including planes, trains, the UN building and the inevitable mushroom cloud. Wonderfully self-important VoiceOver Man informs us that what we are about to see might really happen and he seems to be enjoying the possibility far too much. Given that the film only runs 64 minutes, it’s quite a chunk of the film’s total length. When the future finally arrives, it turns out to be a small, poorly-lit sound stage peopled by extras dressed in what appears to be left over costumes from a low budget production of Robin Hood! The dialogue is similarly old-fashioned and formal and most of the women have been relegated to cooking the grub and serving the ale. Weapons of choice are bows and arrows and quarterstaffs, and Clarke tops it all off with a nifty Errol Flynn moustache. His character is even called Rob!

Captive Women (1952)

‘Get Thee to Nottingham Castle, Robin!’

Up-River Randall and his goons conquer the Norm’s stronghold with the aid of the treacherous Evans and bad girl Saunders. Evans gets his predictable comeuppance, of course, while Saunders becomes Randall’s new woman and lords it over everyone including feisty heroine Margaret Field. But, not to worry! Robin and Little John (sorry, Clarke and his anonymous sidekick) team up with the Mutates to restore the balance of power. Because they might be ugly but their quite a nice bunch, despite forcing themselves on kidnapped women for the past few decades. It helps that their leader is the handsome Randell, who’s hardly scarred at all really. So he’s ok.

The script here is by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg and includes a surprising amount of Biblical references. We never see any evidence that the Norms are practising Satanists (no surprise, there!), and a less generous commentator than myself might think that’s just an excuse to give Randell the opportunity to pontificate about his faith in the Lord, although he is quickly interrupted by rabble-rouser William Schallert. However, later on, we get a direct parallel to Moses parting the Red Sea, which Clarke is happy to appropriate as a plan (thought he was supposed to be a Satanist?!) All this action moves along at quite a fair clip, but nothing that happens is remotely surprising.

Writer Pollexfen was used to plundering the classics, given his scripts for ‘The Son of Dr Jekyll’ (1951) and ‘The Daughter of Dr Jekyll’ (1957) and it’s pretty clear this one owes more than a slight debt to H G Wells’ ‘The Time Machine.’ Clarke went on to cult movie godhood with a CV that includes ‘The Man From Planet X’ (1951) (which also featured Field and Schallert), ‘The Astounding She Creature’ (1957), ‘Beyond The Time Barrier’ (1960), the title role of ‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1958) (which he also directed!) and a few projects with bad movie legend Jerry Warren, including ‘The Incredible Petrified World’ (1959) and the bat-shit crazy ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981). Randell appeared in slightly more legitimate productions such as musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953) (playing Cole Porter!), ‘The Story of Esther Costello’ (1957) and Christ biopic ‘King of Kings’ (1961).

Captive Women (1952)

‘You can get married so long as you don’t play that Bryan Adams song.’

But the real success stories lie elsewhere. Supporting actor Schallert went onto a screen career that lasted over 65 years, only ending with his death in 2016 at the age of 93. His credits include featured roles in ‘Gremlins’ (1984), ‘In The Heat of the Night’ (1967), ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ (1969), ‘Charley Varrick’ (1973), ‘Innerspace’ (1987), and TV appearances on ‘Roseanne’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘ER’, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and dozens of other hit shows. You may not know the name, but you’d certainly recognise the face.

Director Stuart Gilmore was three times Oscar nominated as an Editor, for his work on ‘The Alamo’ (1960), ‘Airport’ (1970) and ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1970). He also fulfilled the role on ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ (1941), ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’ (1959) and ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ (1967), among others.

This is a production with some points of interest, but not a great level of entertainment value. There are also some very mixed messages about the importance of physical appearance, although the film’s heart does seem to be in the right place. Unfortunately, its moral and physical conflicts result in highly predictable outcomes and the cheesier aspects rob the drama of any real punch.

Watch for curiosity value.

Frankenstein Island (1981)

Frankenstein_Island_(1981)‘Oh, disciple of the golden thread, the power ye seek shall be given! It shall be given! The power! The power! The power! The power!’

Four friends on a balloon trip are wrecked on a remote island, where the descendants of Frankenstein and Van Helsing are experimenting with… stuff.

Jerry Warren is one of the cult figures of bad cinema. His forte was to take foreign language films and combine them with new footage for American release. Occasionally, he actually created a new film of his own but they were almost always featured a healthy percentage of stock and library footage. By the early 1980s, Jerry’s career seemed to be over. He’d directed his last film a decade and a half earlier, the much ridiculed ‘The Wild Wild World of Batwoman’ (1966). But there was time for one last hurrah and what a sign-off it was: the (almost) legendary ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).

It’s an original Jerry screenplay too, taking elements from the Frankenstein mythos and a cave girl picture and blending them brilliantly with Jules Verne’s ‘Mysterious Island’. We begin in Verne’s territory with our potential castaways adrift in a balloon in the middle of a violent storm. Only we don’t actually see them in the balloon. Not quite. What we see instead is some library footage of several balloons in flight together with some explanatory conversations dubbed over the footage. And the sky looks kind of blue and clear rather than stormy. Oh, well.

Anyway, our heroes are washed up on a beach with a rubber dingy. There’s Robert Clarke (‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1959) himself!), three other blokes and a dog called Melvin. We never really find out anything about them apart from the fact that Clarke is supposed to be a top scientist (or something?) One of these twerps suggests finding some trees so they can build a raft, at the same time he is leaning against their dingy, which looks perfectly seaworthy. Melvin widdles on some seaweed, possibly providing some kind of subtext or maybe just comic relief. Moving into the interior, our heroes find a tribe of cave babes in leopard skin bikinis (actually descended from aliens) and some pirates. We know they are pirates because one of them has an eyepatch and cackles a lot. Cameron Mitchell is a mad castaway being used as a bloodbank by Sheila Van Helsing Frankenstein, played by Warren’s wife Katherine Victor in a silly blonde wig. Mentioning any other place by name results in a silly noise and a severe pain in the left forearm.

The stars of the re-booted 'MacMillan & Wife' weren't really hitting it off...

The stars of the re-booted ‘MacMillan & Wife’ weren’t really hitting it off…

Are you following it so far? Ok. Sheila is keeping her husband alive with Mitchell’s blood and a small pink box standing on one of its corners that spins around on a bench at high speed accompanied by another silly noise. This is so hubby can channel the spirit of her great grandfather, the original Dr Frankenstein. He’s played by John Carradine (superimposed on some of the action having been filmed at an entirely different time). Carradine rants endlessly apart the ‘power of the golden thread’ and resurrects his monster from a watery grave for the finale.

Sheila keeps a brain in a jar in her lab and has a goon squad of blokes in woolly hats, black sweaters and jam jar bottomed glasses. We don’t know who they are exactly but apparently they don’t have a bloodstream. Clarke wanders about a bit looking vaguely confused, Victor loses it as she has some kind of ‘a turn’ near the end and there’s a mass bundle, which was undoubtedly made up by the actors as they went along. The twist in the tale is also completely nonsensical.

Sometimes you come across a movie that simply defies analysis. ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981) is car crash cinema; a unique film experience so awful that it is beyond criticism.

Jerry, people may have said that you couldn’t direct traffic, let alone a film, and they’d be right. But you still did it 11 times anyway.

Sleep well, Jerry, my friend. I’ll have a pint for you tonight.

Buy ‘Frankenstein Island’ here if you dare!!

Terror of the Bloodhunters (1962)

‘See hypnotic love create shocking bestial desire!’Terror_of_the_Bloodhunters_(1962)

A subversive writer is sent to Devil’s Island, where he teams up with another convict and the commandant’s daughter in an effort to escape. Although they are initially successful, they wind up trekking through a jungle filled with native headhunters.

Jerry Warren is a legend of bad filmmaking. His films often featured lots of stock footage or were bastardised versions of Mexican horror movies, which he would dub into English and then add extra scenes that he shot with different actors. However, ‘Terror of the Bloodhunters’ (1962) is not like that. It’s almost all Jerry’s own work (apart from a teensy little bit of stock footage of course).

Our lead is Robert Clarke (‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1959)) who has been banged up for writing books about the ‘greater horizons of misunderstanding.’ His conversation with the penal colony commandant about his political beliefs is cheerfully vague but I suspect Clarke to be a dirty commie pinko. Anyway, Comrade Clarke chats up the commandant’s daughter and, with an expendable friend in tow, they’re off to headhunter country, where they are threatened by – wait for it! – some stock footage. The plot reminded me a lot of a rather good Boris Karloff vehicle called ‘Devil’s Island’ (1939) but that was a much, much better film than this.

I'm doing 'Hideous Sun Demon 2', how about you?

I’m doing ‘Hideous Sun Demon 2’, how about you?

Having said that, this is nowhere near Jerry at his worst (he didn’t have a ‘best’). What we get is simply a very dull, talky and boring plod. The dancing native girls do look more Asian than South American (wonder why?) and the headhunters chase our heroes but never actually share the frame with them. It’s poorly done but I’ve seen worse. And the camera actually moves around a little! There are sometimes as many as 3 edits in one scene! It’s all very extravagant for Jerry really. He probably had to have a lie down afterwards.

Buy ‘Terror of the Bloodhunters’ here!