The Ape Man (1943)

The Ape Man One Sheet

One Sheet Poster

Bela Lugosi plays Dr. James Brewster, a scientist who has inadvertently turned himself into the titular character, in this bizarre thriller from Monogram.  When the film starts, Dr. Brewster is already an ape man, which to me seems like the screenwriter missed about half the fun.  Apparently, he’s gone and injected himself with some ape spinal fluid (and, really, what’s the deal with apes and spinal fluid?  First Karloff in the previous entry, now Lugosi in this one…and why was spinal fluid such a hot topic in the early ‘40s anyway?  And why does it seem to be so inextricably linked with apes?), and now he needs human spinal fluid to inject to get rid of the AMS (ape man syndrome) that he’s come down with.

His best friend, Dr. Randall (played by Henry Hall, who was in The Ape, our previous entry, as the sheriff) has planted the story that he’s disappeared in order to keep the press from finding out that Brewster has now gone simian.  When he meets Brewster’s ghost-hunting sister after her ship arrives and spirits (hehe) her back to the ape man’s house, it arouses the suspicions of Jeff Carter, a newspaper guy.  He teams up with a new female photographer for his paper, Billie Mason, and they go to do a story on the sister, Agatha, while keeping an eye out to see if they can figure out what’s happened to Dr. Brewster.

Meanwhile, after moping, pouting, and complaining about being a half-ape and beating the gorilla he keeps in his laboratory with a whip handle for no good reason, Dr. Brewster asks Dr. Randall to acquire some spinal fluid for him.  Balking at the idea of killing someone, Dr. Randall essentially tells Dr. Brewster to do it himself.  So he does, taking the suddenly conveniently-friendly ape along with him.

Plot complications ensue, as they are wont to do, and in the end, the gorilla decides that, you know, actually, he doesn’t like Dr. Brewster after all, and he goes amuck.  Luckily, the photographer and reporter get out safely.

There’s a lot to mention about this film, because it’s just so, so strange.  First and foremost, there’s a guy who acts as an ersatz Greek chorus, giving characters hints as to what to do next to keep the plot moving.  He sees Jeff Carter at the docks while he’s waiting for someone else to arrive and tells him that Agatha Brewster is on that ship and that it’s “a great story—a pip!”  He sees Dr. Randall and asks if he’s there to pick up Agatha.  Later, he’s seen standing outside the Brewster house, peering through windows.  He shows up again at the end of the film, and when Jeff Carter asks him who he is, he says, “Me? Oh, I’m the author of the story.  Screwy idea, wasn’t it?”

I’m sorry, but what kind of weirdo meta crap is that?!  I can’t decide whether the screenwriter (the actual one, Barney Sarecky) was unduly influenced by the wiseacre persona of Bugs Bunny, who was the animated embodiment of the country’s wartime sass, or if he just hated the audience so much that it was a big middle finger to anybody watching.  Whatever the case, it’s a perplexing narrative device.

Louise Curry, who plays photographer Billie Mason, doesn’t seem to be having a very good time being in the film.  She’s usually seen scowling and/or barking her lines, and there’s no chemistry at all between her and the guy who plays Jeff Carter, Wallace Ford.  At one point, he hits her with the film’s best line: “Cocky little wench, aren’t you?”

The director of The Ape Man, William Beaudine, was one of the most (if not THE most) prolific directors in Hollywood in a career that spanned over fifty years.  During that time, he made hundreds of films; he made eighty in the 1940s alone.  Most of his post-silent films were made for the Poverty Row studios–the studios such as Monogram, PRC, and Republic which cranked out low-budget fare.  He’s responsible for a dozen or so Psychotronic films, so his name should come up again pretty soon here on the blog.

Star Bela Lugosi was also relegated to Poverty Row during most of the 1940s.  Sure, he still made the occasional film at Universal or Columbia, but those were just that—occasional.  He worked steadily at Monogram on a series of films produced by Sam Katzman which are now referred to as the “Monogram Nine.”  I plan to get to all of them here on the blog eventually.  Katzman later went on to more mainstream success with the Jungle Jim films (featuring Johnny Weissmuller) and a series of low-budget horror films at Columbia, then he made a few Elvis movies in the ‘60s before retiring.  In fact, Sam Katzman produced a film we discussed several entries back—Angel, Angel, Down We Go.

Another thing of note: Minerva Urecal, as Dr. Brewster’s sister Agatha, looks as if she could actually be related to Bela Lugosi.  I love this shot in the film that shows their resemblance:

Bela and Minerva

Here’s a question that I can’t answer: why did mad scientists in the mid-twentieth century always have gorillas in cages in their labs?  The upkeep of a gorilla has GOT to be a financial strain, especially when it’s compared to having a couple of white mice or some guinea pigs around.  Plus, the stench in the lab from gorilla funk was bound to be eye-watering.  Of course, in this movie’s case, if Dr. Brewster had injected himself with, say, white mouse spinal fluid, it would have been called The Rodent Man…which, now that I think about it, might have made for a more interesting movie.

I feel like there’s much, much more to say about The Ape Man, but I’ve gone long as it is, so I’ll wrap it up.  One last note, though: there’s a primitive version of the Ring™ doorbell on display at Dr. Brewster’s house; he can see who’s at the door via his “televisor.”  Maybe this film was ahead of its time after all; has anybody noticed an uptick in spinal fluid research lately?

Here’s a reissue trailer for The Ape Man from YouTube that contains far fewer spoilers than I just threw out:

As The Ape Man is in the public domain (as was The Ape in our previous entry), there is no end to the options that you have for watching it online.  However, because it IS in the public domain, the quality of the copies of the film that are available vary wildly.  Here’s one of the better-looking copies of the film from YouTube—have at it!

Up next:  No other woman looked like her, felt like her, loved like her!

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The Ape (1940)

 The Ape 1940 One Sheet

One Sheet Poster

Boris Karloff stars as Dr. Adrian, the most notorious resident of Red Creek.  Once, he had been the town’s respected doctor, but then the paralysis epidemic came through ten years ago and killed his wife and daughter.  Ever since then, he’s been looking for a cure for paralysis, and he’s lost a lot of patients to experimentation gone wrong.  Because of this, he’s become an outcast, and kids now throw rocks at his house when they pass it.

However, he’s made some progress in those ten years, and he’s itching to try out a new spinal fluid serum that’s worked on the guinea pigs and dogs that he’s tried it out on.  He really, really wants to save his young neighbor Frances Clifford, whom he has come to view as a surrogate daughter, from life in a wheelchair, as she was also a victim of the paralysis epidemic…but he needs human spinal fluid in order to make his serum.

Luckily, a string of unlikely occurrences takes place which finally gives him the human spinal fluid that he needs.  The circus is in town, and because the star gorilla’s keeper is so mean to him, the gorilla kills the keeper (setting the circus on fire in the process) and escapes.  With Dr. Adrian being the closest doctor, the mauled keeper is taken to him.  While evaluating his new patient, Dr. Adrian realizes that he could extract the dying man’s spinal fluid, put it into his serum, and inject it into Frances’s spine to cure her.  And so he does.

The serum works, restoring some feeling to Frances’s legs, but she needs more serum because she still can’t walk.  Elated that it’s beginning to work, Dr. Adrian goes home and, while explaining to his mute housemaid that his serum works, accidentally knocks the serum onto the floor, shattering the vial and wasting the cure. Meanwhile, the sheriff and his posse are roaming the area, looking for the escaped ape.  The ape, trying to stay ahead of his pursuers, ends up outside Dr. Adrian’s house.  Looking in the Doc’s laboratory window, he sees his former trainer’s coat, left after he was brought to the house.  This sends the ape into a massive rage, and he comes through the window to attack the coat, because…ape logic.  When Dr. Adrian enters the lab, the gorilla sees him and attacks him.  Dr. Adrian is able to reach a knife in time and kill the ape.  Then he gets an idea.

By the next evening, the ape is on the prowl again.  He kills the philandering scuzzbag of a town banker, so the sheriff steps up the efforts of the posse to find it and kill it.  The next day, Dr. Adrian shows up to give Frances another injection of his serum, and she’s able to move one of her legs just a little.  Dr. Adrian knows that he’s close to curing her, but he needs one more sample of spinal fluid to completely fix her up.  In the meantime, the town coroner has called in another doctor to discuss the puncture marks found on the spines of the two dead men.  This doctor, Dr. McNulty, goes to visit Dr. Adrian to ask if he knows anything about the puncture wounds.  Dr. Adrian feigns ignorance, but when Dr. McNulty fingers him as the same Dr. Adrian who was thrown out of the Robinson Foundation twenty-five years previously for attempting “daring, unorthodox experiments with spinal fluid” and threatens to turn him in for malfeasance, Dr. Adrian confesses that he’s been working on a paralysis cure, and he used the spinal fluid from the two men in a serum that’s showing promise.  He then takes Dr. McNulty to see Frances and convinces him that a cure is right around the corner.  Satisfied that Dr. Adrian is on the level, Dr. McNulty leaves to get him reinstated into the Robinson Foundation.

That night, the ape prowls again, but he’s spotted by the same group of kids that were seen throwing rocks at his house earlier, and one of them shoots him with a .22 rifle.  Undeterred, and only slightly wounded, the ape goes back out and, right when’s he about to kill one of the posse that’s looking for him, he’s stabbed.  Mortally wounded, he heads for Dr. Adrian’s house and collapses on the front porch.  Frances sees the ape heading to the doctor’s house and rolls herself across the street to warn him.  Catching up to the ape, the sheriff goes to see if it’s dead, and discovers that the ape on the porch is actually Dr. Adrian wearing the escaped ape’s skin.  Frances sees that the ape is Dr. Adrian, and she gets up from her chair to go to him.  He encourages her to come to him, and when she walks toward him, he says to her “See?” and dies a happy man.

The Ape was the last of six pictures Boris Karloff made for Monogram during the years 1938-1940.  It’s quite similar to the “mad doctor” films that Karloff was making at Columbia during the same time period, and he seems fully invested in the role, even with the step-down in prestige.  The supporting cast is quite good as well, and the film gives off a real small-town vibe.  At sixty-two minutes, it moves pretty quickly, which was probably necessary to keep the plot holes from showing.  While it makes a certain amount of face-value sense, Dr. Adrian’s plan to wear the dead ape’s skin is just loopy.  Sure, it gives him a cover for killing random people, but it also sets a gigantic target on his back, as pretty much every able-bodied man in town is out looking to kill the ape.  So when offered the choice between killing people in his leisure clothes and making the deaths look the ape did them OR killing people while wearing the ape’s bloody and probably completely smelly carcass and thusly drawing dangerous attention to himself, Dr. Adrian chooses the latter.  He may be a spinal fluid serum genius, but he’s not the sharpest scalpel in the tray when it comes to self-preservation.

If you’re in the mood for a pretty good poverty row quickie featuring a mad doctor who needs spinal fluid, a killer ape, and one of the giants of the horror film as its star, The Ape should fit the bill nicely.  If you’re in the mood for a pretty bad poverty row quickie featuring a mad doctor who needs spinal fluid, a killer ape, and one of the giants of the horror film as its star, check out our next discussion.

To whet your appetite for The Ape, here’s the trailer from YouTube:

And since The Ape is in the public domain, there are zillions of copies of the full movie all over the Internet.  Here’s one of the better-looking ones, taken from the British release of the film, again from YouTube:

Up next: Bela Lugosi goes ape, man!

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A*P*E (1976)

Anniversary One Sheet

One Sheet Poster

“Not to be confused with King Kong” trumpeted the ads, but you and I know that’s EXACTLY what the purveyors of this threadbare film hoped would happen.  Even though it was a Kong ripoff that cost about a thousand times less than Dino De Laurentiis’s remake (and, no, that’s NOT an exaggeration: $24 million vs. somewhere around $25,000), it actually beat that film into theaters by a good month or so and so was able to capitalize on the growing giant ape mania. Well, it was able to capitalize on it until word got out utterly incompetent it was.

In it, movie star Marilyn Baker has come to South Korea to make her new film, and her once and future beau Tom Rose just happens to be in the country as well.  As luck would have it, a thirty-six-foot ape being transported in the cargo bay of a ship escapes when the ship blows up, fights a shark, wades to shore, and starts smashing up stuff…because that’s what giant monsters do.  I’m willing to bet that if a giant koala had escaped the ship and made it to land, it would also smash up stuff.  But I digress.

When not smashing stuff up, the giant ape (hereby referred to as APE because I refuse to type those asterisks every time I refer to him) mostly just stands around and waits for people to notice him.  A farmer out plowing his field sees giant footprints and, wondering where they came from, scans the area.  It’s only THEN that he notices the giant ape that’s standing less than a hundred yards away.  Likewise, a group of kids breaks into a playground/amusement park, and somehow none of the children notice a giant ape standing right next to the slide.  Eventually, one of the kids turns and happens to see APE and (understandably) freaks out.  But wouldn’t at least one of the kids have noticed a giant hairy beast standing nearby the moment that they entered the area?  Maybe everyone in South Korea in the ’70s had some sort of tunnel vision.

APE discovers Marilyn Baker while she’s filming her movie and becomes instantly smitten with her, picking her up and taking her to the mountains.  She screams for a while, then suddenly has a change of heart and asks him to “be gentle, big guy”…before starting to scream again.  She’s able to escape, so APE goes looking for her and finds her in Seoul.  He kidnaps her again, and the military eventually takes him out.  Fini.

Yeah, this is pretty much a direct rip-off of King Kong, but it turns out to be more of a rip-off of the then-upcoming remake than the classic original film.  Each of the two films has a scene where a giant ape fights a giant snake, which seems a bit more than coincidental.  It’s a fairly memorable scene in King Kong; in A*P*E, the giant monkey just picks up the snake and throws it to the ground, where it slithers off unfazed.

A*P*E stars Joanna DeVarona as Marilyn, but you probably know her better as Joanna Kerns, which is the name she started using right after making A*P*E.  I can’t blame her; I’d probably want to distance myself from this movie if I’d been in it as well.  DeVarona/Kerns is probably most famous for playing Maggie Seaver, the mom on the long-running sitcom Growing Pains.  Rod Arrants, best-remembered for being on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow (when he’s remembered at all) plays Tom Rose, and Alex Nichols, of The Screaming Skull fame, plays an army general who likes to cuss and rarely leaves his office.  There are also a lot of South Korean non-actors who run up and down the streets of Seoul pretending to be fleeing APE, but as many of them are laughing and smiling, it’s hard to take their imminent danger seriously.

A*P*E was originally released in 3D, which I see as a valid excuse for sitting through it.  To be fair, the 3D is often excellent, with a lot of things being thrown right into the camera.  There’s some amazing depth in several shots; the most incredible one has the camera at ground level, giving the impression that the ground starts right below the viewer’s chin and stretches ahead forever.  There’s also a scene where APE stumbles upon the filming of a martial arts film, and flaming arrows are shot directly into the viewer’s face.  During the climactic “battle” between the Army and APE, rifle barrels are stuck way out of frame, looking as if they’re only inches away from the viewer’s nose.  As a 3D extravaganza, A*P*E actually delivers the goods.

But, as a film, A*P*E fails miserably, which makes it all the more fun to watch.  Here’re some of the things to watch for:

  • The repeated use of one sound effect for when APE crushes stuff, which gets pretty surreal after a while
  • The tiny mechanical cow that APE steps over
  • APE’s dancing after grounding the miniature hang glider prop
  • APE wrestling with a dead shark
  • APE giving the camera (and the audience as well, one supposes) the finger
  • The endless marionette show that seems to be the highlight of the kids that are watching it’s lives
  • The massive “boulders” that shed Styrofoam particles as they roll downhill
  • APE vomiting a torrent of blood after he’s been shot

Is A*P*E a good film?  No, it’s not—not by anybody’s standards or lack thereof.  But A*P*E is an astoundingly entertaining film if watched with the right mindset (and doubly-so in 3D).  If you’re not sure if A*P*E’s quite your cup of tea, here’s the trailer to help convince you to see it, courtesy of YouTube:

If you want to see the entire film (and I suggest that you do), the best way to do it is to buy the KL Studio Classics Blu-ray and watch it in 3D.  However, since most people don’t have a 3D setup at home, you may have to content yourself with watching A*P*E in regular ol’ 2D.  Again, the best way to see it is via the KL Studio Classics release, but if you can’t wait, here’s the whole film from YouTube:

Up next: Boris Karloff gets up to some monkey business!

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The Cannibal Man (1974)

13_floor one sheet

One Sheet Poster

(Originally released in the U.S. as The Apartment on the 13th Floor)

Marcos works at a food-processing plant in Spain.  Specifically, he works in the slaughterhouse where cattle are killed to provide the meat for Flory Soups.  He lives with his brother in a house located near some new, high-rise apartments, and they frequent a local pub where the waitress always hits on him.  He’s engaged, and one night when he and his girlfriend are on a date, they take a taxi.  Being young lovers, they engage in a little PDA in the backseat of the cab, which enrages the cab driver so much that he stops and puts them out.  When the cabbie demands payment for the aborted trip, Marcos refuses, and they get into a fight.  Marcos picks up a rock and clubs the cabbie in the head with it, killing him.  His girlfriend wants to go straight to the police, but Marcos says that no one saw them get into or out of the cab, so reporting that they were involved with his death would only mess up their future together.

She agrees to keep quiet about it, but when news of the cabbie’s death shows up in the newspaper the next day, she decides that she must go to the police.  She and Marcos get into an argument about it at his house, and he strangles her to death.  Luckily, his brother is out of town, so he’s able to hide her body under his bed, at least for the time being.  When the brother returns, Marcos confesses to him that he’s killed his girlfriend, and he asks for his help in getting rid of the body.  The brother refuses, saying that the police must be notified, so Marcos clubs him over the head with a big wrench and kills him.  Of course, the brother’s fiancée comes looking for him….

While all this killing is going on, Marcos is befriended by Nestor, a guy who lives in the nearby high-rise.  Nestor says that it’s odd that they see each other in passing nearly every day but don’t know each other.  They start hanging out, and their friendship develops, even while Marcos’s string of murders continues.

The Cannibal Man was made in Spain in the early 1970s, so I’m assuming that there’s a lot of political subtext in the film that I’m not savvy enough to pick up on.  I was, however, able to pick up on the homoerotic nature of the friendship between Marcos and Nestor; the only time that we really sense that Marcos is relaxed is when he’s with Nestor.  It’s no coincidence that The Cannibal Man’s director, Eloy de la Iglesia, was gay, or that his films most often dealt with people on the fringes of Spanish society.

Of course, with a title like The Cannibal Man, you’re probably expecting something along the lines of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but the film actually touches on cannibalism only once, and even then it’s barely a touch.  There is, however, a pretty good amount of blood on display, and a couple of the killings are somewhat gruesome.  Luckily, it doesn’t go as far as today’s gore films do, so if you’re squeamish, you won’t have to close your eyes for long during the film.  I must warn you, however, that the film opens with footage from inside the slaughterhouse where Marcos works, and the shots of cattle being killed and processed are graphic and awful.  However, these scenes fit in with director de la Iglesia’s philosophy of showing the world honestly in his films.

The Cannibal Man was originally released in Spain as La Semana del Asesino, or The Week of the Killer, which makes much more sense than The Cannibal Man, as it was known in most parts of the world, and The Apartment on the 13th Floor, which is the title that it was released under in the US and Italy.  The film was released by AIP here in the States, and then later re-released by Hallmark, which is the branch of the company that AIP used to send out some of its more disreputable pick-ups.  I don’t think that the film was given a very wide release here in the States, as one sheet posters for it are rarer than hens’ teeth (taking into account the number of chickens in the US at any given point), and I’ve only ever seen one newspaper ad for it, in which it was paired with Slaughter, starring Jim Brown.  I doubt that anyone will find The Cannibal Man to be a good time, but it is worth seeing.  One viewing will probably be enough to last a lifetime for most people.

For those of you who are curious, here’s the international trailer for The Cannibal Man from YouTube (but, if you plan to watch the entire film, you might want to avoid the trailer, as it has some major spoilers in it):

Unfortunately, I can’t find a totally free version online anywhere, but if you’ve got Amazon Prime, you can check out The Cannibal Man here:

Up next: Ten tons of animal fury leaps from the screen!

The Cannibal Man (originally released in the U.S.
as The Apartment on the 13th Floor) is an American International Pictures (AIP) release.

Number of AIP films reviewed so far: 11

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Apache Woman (1955)

 Apache Woman one sheet

One Sheet Poster

Today’s film marks a momentous occasion for this blog—it’s both the first western that pops up in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, and the first film directed by Roger Corman to show up.  In fact, Apache Woman was only Roger Corman’s second film as a director, and that it doesn’t stink to high heaven is a testament to his talent.  If you’re a constant reader of this blog (and I’d like to thank both of you, I really would), you should already know who Roger Corman is, but if you’re not up to speed, here’s the ultra-quick skinny.

Roger Corman got his start making low-budget, black-and-white features in the 1950s.  He was closely associated with American International Pictures until the end of the ‘60s, when he decided to form his own distribution company.  He gave up directing in 1971 to found and head up New World Pictures, which ended up being AIP’s main rival in the 1970s.  When the drive-in market dried up in the early ‘80s, he sold New World (but kept the ownership of all of the films that he’d produced there) and founded a new company, New Horizons/Concorde.  He directed his last film in 1990 (which was actually the first film he’d directed in almost twenty years) and has spent his time since being a talking head in a ton of documentaries and making cameos in the movies of his protégés.

This “protégé” business is really why Roger Corman will be remembered in film history.  Although he directed some near-classics, like his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price, his real claim to fame was the sheer number of big-time Hollywood talent that he discovered and allowed to make films with and for him.  The list is practically endless, but a few of the people that he gave leg-ups to are Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Johnathan Demme, James Cameron, Robert Towne, and Martin Scorsese.  He also championed the work of world masters of cinema, releasing through New World films from Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini, and Kurosawa (among many others), and winning several “Best Foreign Film” Oscars in the process.

As you should be able to tell, Roger Corman is a big deal.  But Apache Woman happened very early in his career, before any of the stuff he’s mostly remembered for happened.  He was still learning the ropes.

Apache Woman tells the story of half-Apache, half-white woman Anne LeBeau (Joan Taylor) who lives with her brother Armand somewhere between an Apache reservation and a small town.  There have been several murderous attacks on wagons and individuals on the roads that lead into and out of town, and clues at the scenes show that Apaches are involved.  This has, understandably, gotten the town’s citizenry riled up—so riled up, in fact, that they’re talking of making a raid on the Apache reservation and slaughtering the tribe.  Because of this unrest, government man Rex Moffett (Lloyd Bridges) is sent in to try to restore peace and figure out who’s behind the attacks.  Of course, he eventually figures out who’s doing the attacks AND falls in love with Anne along the way.  Win/win for Rex!

The film is competently made, and while it may not be the most exciting film you’ll ever see, it’s enjoyable, with mostly good performances.  You can tell that it was made on the cheap and that attention to period detail wasn’t really the film’s strong suit, but I’m sure that drive-in audiences of the time weren’t terribly concerned that the zipper that’s on the back of the pants that Joan Taylor wears during the film’s opening knife fight hadn’t been invented yet.  (At least, I don’t think that it’d been invented yet; it’s hard to get a read on exactly in which year the film is supposed to take place.)  Be on the lookout for the guy playing a tin whistle of some sort; it’s been rather ludicrously dubbed with a flute, as if no one was going to notice THAT.  If you’re a Dick Miller fan (and, really, who isn’t?), look for him as a cowboy in the film’s opening scenes, and then later as an Apache named Tall Tree.  Roger Corman was all about cost-cutting.

Here’s the man himself, talking about and over the original trailer for Apache Woman:

And here’s the full-length feature, albeit in black and white.  When the film came out on VHS in the early ‘90s, a black-and-white print was used.  I don’t know if that’s all that Columbia/Tri-Star could get their hands on for the tape release, or if the color elements were in bad shape and couldn’t be used, or what the deal was.  You can tell that this YouTube upload was created from a VHS tape master, as there as several instances of tape damage on view.  Still, it’s quite watchable:

There’s also a “color” version of Apache Woman on YouTube, although I’d avoid it if I were you, as it’s a rather poorly-colorized version of the black-and-white VHS copy of the film.  However, because this is the sort of guy that I am, I’ve dug deep into the bowels of the Internet (as unappetizing as that sounds) to find you a source wherein you can watch the film in its original color version!  Please note that I’m not responsible if some sort of heinous malware attaches itself to your computer because you visited this site; I only know that I downloaded and watched the movie from here, and my computer made it through it without succumbing to a deadly virus.  It should be noted that this copy of the film seems to have been taken from a British broadcast; therefore, it’s got the dreaded PAL speed-up, which means that it runs about four percent faster than it should.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click on the words “the dreaded PAL speed-up” in the previous sentence for an explanation; if you DO know what I’m talking about, I figured that I’d best point that out, in case anybody starts comparing running times and/or complaining that the entire cast sounds as if they’ve been huffing helium.  Here’s the link:

Up next: Flory Soups have the flavor of good, rich meat!

Apache Woman is an American International Pictures (AIP) release.

Number of AIP films reviewed so far: 10


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The Anniversary (1968)

Anniversary One Sheet

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Bette Davis wears an eye patch and chews the scenery…and that should be all the info you need to help you decide whether you want to see The Anniversary or not.  But, for those few of you who need to know a little about the plot before you make up your mind, keep reading.

Every year on her wedding anniversary, Mrs. Taggart (Bette Davis) expects her sons to show up and help her celebrate, and this year is no exception.  All three of them work for her in the family construction business, which she took over after her husband, their father, died an unspecified amount of years back.  So they show up to help her celebrate—some bearing others along with them; all bearing gifts and grudges.

The oldest son, Henry, is unmarried and still lives at home with his mother.  He’s obedient to a fault, but he’s far from a perfect son.  The middle son, Terry, is married to Karen, and they bring their five children with them to the anniversary party.  Terry and his mother’s relationship is strained (to put it mildly), and before the night is over we’ll find out why.  And then there’s the youngest son, Tom, who’s at the anniversary party with his new fiancée Shirley, whom Mrs. Taggart hasn’t yet met.  Once everyone has gathered downstairs at the house, Mrs. Taggart comes down to start the celebration, and it’s one that none of them will forget for a very long time.

From the moment that Bette Davis first appears on screen, coming down the staircase wearing a red dress, pearls, and a matching red eyepatch, it’s obvious that the movie’s going to belong entirely to her.  She practically frolics down the stairs (even stopping at one point to do a few dance steps), obviously relishing the attention she’s getting from her family and playing the belle of the ball…until she trips on one of the last steps and lets out a “Bloody hell!” under her breath.  It was at this point, not even ten minutes into the film, that I realized that I was going to enjoy this movie very much.  Here’s a clip of her entrance from YouTube:

(There are other clips available on YouTube besides the one above, but if you’re interested in watching the film at all, I urge you to avoid the clips.  They give away too many of the film’s best lines and moments.)

Davis spends the rest of the film insulting everyone in the house and taking great enjoyment out of psychologically dismantling each of them.  They, in turn, try to get in their digs at her, but she always finds a way to one-up them.  It’s great fun, with some laugh-out loud moments, along with some truly cringe-inducing moments as well.

The Anniversary was based—pretty obviously—on a stage play that had been popular in London.  It’s fairly easy to spot the skeleton of the play in there, as it’s a film that’s almost entirely dialogue-driven and takes place primarily on one set.  I learned from the DVD’s commentary track that Greer Garson had been considered for the lead, but she turned it down, saying that it would tarnish her image.  Oddly enough, the film was a Hammer production—not the first studio that most people think of when discussing comedies.  Be that as it may, The Anniversary’s writer and producer, Jimmy Sangster, was responsible for writing most of Hammer’s early horror hits, such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, and The Brides of Dracula.

Sangster says on the DVD’s commentary track that, while Bette Davis was a consummate professional, she also tended to monopolize all of his time as producer of the film.  She had apparently also done this on a previous film on which they’d worked, The Nanny.  He seems to hint that Davis exhibited this behavior out of loneliness, which is pretty sad when you stop to think about it. Sangster’s wife, knowing how much of a bother Davis had been on The Nanny, actually left town the day that shooting started, and didn’t return until shooting was finished!

Good luck to you if you want to find a copy of The Anniversary on DVD or Blu-ray; it seems to be out of print, at least in the U.S.  I can’t find the full movie anywhere on the Web, either, but at least here’s the trailer, courtesy of YouTube:

I wholeheartedly recommend The Anniversary for those who like their comedies on the mean-spirited side.  I mean, how can you actively dislike a movie where Bette Davis’s character tells her own son, “I promise you, I’ll have your skin for rags, and wipe the faces of your children with them!”

Up next: Call her half-breed…and all hell breaks loose!

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The Animal World (1956)

Animal World One Sheet

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Walt Disney began a series of documentaries that came to be known as the True-Life Adventures in the late 1940s, starting with two-reel Technicolor shorts such as “Seal Island” and “Nature’s Half Acre.” They proved to be quite popular with moviegoers and with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (winning five Oscars), so much so that ***CONJECTURE ALERT*** it’s probable that Irwin Allen, nascent producer, decided to try to cash in with his own Technicolor documentaries about animals, but he’d do Walt Disney one better—he’d make features. But just to hedge his bets and make sure that he was taken seriously, he bought the rights to Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, a popular novel that had been serialized in The New Yorker magazine. He then gathered footage from all over the place, watched it all, sequenced it, wrote narration for it, and pulled it into a feature. The Sea Around Us ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 1952. Due to its success, ***CONJECTURE ALERT*** Walt Disney decided to start making feature-length True-Life Adventures himself, starting with The Living Desert (which won the Best Documentary Oscar in 1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (which won the same award in 1954).

Since the whole “nature documentary” thing had worked out for him and was working out for Disney, Irwin Allen decided to do a follow-up film, The Animal World. In it, Allen tries to cram pretty much the entirety of the history of life on our planet into an 82-minute run time. He found footage of one-celled animals, and fish, and lions and tigers and bears oh my, but one thing that he (or anyone else on Earth, for that matter) could not obtain was actual footage of live dinosaurs. So, Allen turned to Willis O’Brien, who had brought King Kong to life over two decades earlier, and his young protégé Ray Harryhausen, who went on to make such fantasy classics as Jason and the Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Together they crafted several minutes of dinosaur footage, which was the first color stop-motion animation done for a feature film, from what I can gather. The footage consists mostly of dinosaurs eating leaves, dinosaurs fighting, and dinosaurs eating leaves, then fighting (and losing, mostly, to the meat-eating dinosaurs—vegetarians, take note!).

The Animal World pretty much takes one of two tacks in presenting various animals: it either shows two or more species of animals in some sort of struggle (octopus vs. moray eel, both of whom are run off by a school of fish; ants vs. termites—draw; ferret vs. cobra—match undecided; Ice Age vs. walruses—walruses win; T-rex vs. triceratops vs. volcano—molten lava wins), or it focuses on one type of animal and tells how unusual and/or deadly and/or cute it is. (For the record, baby starfish are super-cute, but you probably wouldn’t want to get a couple dozen of them in your bathing suit—just saying.) Remarkably, the film stays away from showing any real harm coming to any of the animals (with the notable, unfortunate exceptions of showing a whale hunt and a bullfight), unlike most of the National Geographic specials that followed in its wake. I’ve read that Irwin Allen took pains to excise a lot of violence from the footage so that it wouldn’t upset the kids that would undoubtedly be in the audience. Allen even apparently found the dinosaur footage to be too gory, so he cut down on the amount of footage showing those rubber-and-metal puppets leaking red paint.

Also, it’s taken me over seven years, but I’ve finally figured out why Michael Weldon included Americathon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. If you’ll recall from that film’s discussion (and you DO recall that discussion, don’t you?), I wondered whether its inclusion might have been due to John Carradine having shot scenes for the film that were later dropped from the final cut. Well, after watching The Animal World, I have pretty conclusive evidence as to why Americathon is in the book—it features a few seconds of some of the dinosaur footage from The Animal World. Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen—not John Carradine—are why it’s in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia. Just call me Sherlock.

Although the film would probably be completely forgotten today if it weren’t for the dinosaur footage (in contrast to its current state of being almost-completely forgotten), it’s a painless way to spend 82 minutes. It’s fast-moving and never boring…but then again, it covers millions of years in under an hour and a half. You can even watch it with the kids—just send them to the kitchen to fetch more snacks during the whale-hunting and bullfighting segments.

Alas and alack, after several entries with loads of links, I can’t find much of anything online for The Animal World. There are some poor-quality videos on YouTube (such as this one) featuring scenes from the film being recorded while it’s playing on a TV, but there’s no full feature or trailer, as far as I can tell. If you’re jonesing to see it, you may just have to do like I did and buy it from the Warner Archive.

Up next: Mum’s the word for depravity!

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The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Angry Red Planet One Sheet

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The first Earth spaceship to Mars carries a four-person crew: the captain (Gerald Mohr), a woman scientist (Nora Hayden), an older male scientist (Les Tremayne), and a radar expert-cum-nascent comedian (Jack Kruschen).  It takes the rocket and its crew almost two months to get to Mars, and when they get there, they discover that all is quiet.  It’s too quiet, in fact, and they begin to suspect that something’s amiss.  But they’re there to do a job, so they head out to see what Mars has to offer them.  They run into a giant carnivorous plant, a weird giant bat-rat-spider-crab, and a ginormous amoeba-like animal during their exploration of the planet.  They also discover a Martian city with super-tall buildings on the shores of a lake of oil, and they’re spied-on surreptitiously by a three-eyed Martian.  The crew end up making exactly two trips outside of the spaceship before they decide to hightail it back to Earth.

As you maybe can tell from that synopsis, there’s no “Screen story by William Shakespeare” credit to be found here.  The writing is clunky at best, but I found the film to have a few choice quotes.  The first seems to be common-sense advice for space travel: “No use getting the viewplates scratched up by meteor dust.” That note should be in every space exploration guidebook from here on out.   The second is so obvious that it made me laugh: “When I call you by name, you’ll know it.”  Well, duh.  And the third is a non-sequitur of the highest order—Jack Kruschen’s character, who apparently has a thing for guns, says this of his sonic freeze ray: “I think I’ll call you Cleopatra, ‘cause you’re such a cool doll.”  ‘Splain THAT one to me, Lucy. In fact, just for fun, count the number of times that Kruschen kisses his weapons.  It’s an unhealthy fixation, I tell ya.

The Angry Red Planet probably wouldn’t be much remembered at all today if it weren’t for its gimmick: Cinemagic (and, okay, the bat-rat-spider-crab which, while goofy, still tends to be memorable).  What Cinemagic actually was wasn’t mentioned in any of the advertising materials for the film; what it turned out to be was sort of a precursor to solarization which made the scenes that take place on the surface of Mars all look kind of freaky (and red).  It’s an interesting effect, and it probably was unfamiliar to audiences at the time that the film was released.  Alas, a somewhat-cool gimmick isn’t enough to lift this film to “classic” status.  It is entertaining in fits and starts, however, and I guess that’s all that you can really ask of a sixty-year-old film.

The cast doesn’t have any real standouts, although Jack Kruschen (who we’ve already seen in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and who was in The War of the Worlds in 1953 alongside Les Tremayne) was nominated for an Oscar for his role in 1960’s The Apartment.  Speaking of Les Tremayne, he made a good many Psychotronic movies, including the aforementioned classic version of The War of the Worlds from 1953 and the decidedly non-classic The Slime People ten years later.  Leading man Gerald Mohr looks a lot like Humphrey Bogart, and leading lady Nora Hayden appears to have been hired because she had red hair.

The special effects are quite variable.  Because the miracle of Cinemagic tends to wash large swatches of detail out of the image, the producers were able to skimp on some of the visuals and pretty much get away with it relatively unscathed.  For instance, look closely at the flowers that the crew finds on their first trip outside the spaceship.  They’re drawings.  Not paintings, even…just drawings.  Ditto the Martian city.  And you don’t even have to be looking for the strings that operate the bat-rat-spider-crab marionette; while the low-res splendor of Cinemagic hides them most of the time, they’re patently obvious in a couple of shots.  But it really doesn’t matter, because the effect of Cinemagic’s solarization is so funky.  While the giant amoeba is laughable when seen in its entirety, it’s fairly memorable when glimpsed from within the spaceship as it tries to devour it…even it if does just look like so much lime and cherry Jell-O ™.  The bat-rat-spider-crab has a couple of great close-ups, with drool running out of its hairy maw, and the effects showing the death of one of the crew members are imaginative, if ultimately pretty cheap.

The Angry Red Planet is a relic of its time, but it’s not awful in the way that many science fiction films of the late 1950s are.  It does have the distinction of being one of the few films that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have a title sequence at the start of the film.  After the AIP logo, the story starts, and the title doesn’t appear onscreen until the film proper is over, roughly eighty minutes later.  I’ll admit that I found this a bit distracting, as I kept wondering when the front credits were going to show up, especially since the first fifteen minutes or so of the film are so dull.  After a while, once the story kicked in, I gave up looking for them and just went with it.

Here’s the trailer from YouTube—note that Cinemagic is mentioned several times without any accompanying explanation of exactly what it is:

And, once again, whilst YouTube lets us down, Film Gorillas and DailyMotion save the day!  Here’s the full feature; the usual admonitions about watching it in a timely manner apply.  While the picture seems to have been stretched slightly, it’s free–whaddaya want for nothing?

Up next: A film 2 billion years in the making!

The Angry Red Planet is an American International Pictures (AIP) release.

Number of AIP films reviewed so far: 9

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The Angry Breed (1968)

Angels' Wild Women Poster

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Johnny Taylor happens upon a group of Nazi-lite bikers attempting to rape a girl on a secluded beach, so he saves her.  He just so happens to also be carrying a script with him, a script that one of Hollywood’s most bankable writers had written for him for saving his life in Vietnam, and which he will only sell if he’s also given the leading role in the film.  It also just so happens that the girl he saved on the beach is the 17-year-old daughter of the head of a Hollywood studio.  So, Diane, the daughter, lobbies Dad Vance Patton to make the picture with Johnny attached as the star.

Dad, meanwhile, plots with Johnny’s agent to somehow get him thrown off the picture and replaced with Deek, another of Johnny’s agent’s clients, who just happens to be one of the bikers who tried to rape Diane on the beach.  Thrown in with all of this is Diane’s alcoholic mother, a Halloween party, LSD, and a faulty cable car that moves people from Diane’s house to the beach below.  Oh, there’s also 18-year-old deaf-mute “refugee” Jade that Vance found in Hong Kong and brought back to Los Angeles as his mistress.

Anyway, after a suitable running time has been reached, the biker gang, led by Deek, invades the Patton household to kill Johnny and do dastardly things to Diane, and a free-for-all breaks out…which leads to one of the stupidest happy endings in all of ‘60s cinema.

The Angry Breed is not a good movie.  Leonard Maltin, in his Movie Guide, called it “[t]welfth-rate in all departments.”  I’m not too sure that it’s even that good.  It is, however, so gloriously trashy that I ended up watching it twice before writing this post.

The cast is wonderfully eclectic.  Top-billed Jan Sterling, who made her fair share of Psychotronic movies (such as Caged! and High School Confidential) pretty much spends her screen time drinking and crying a lot.  James MacArthur, adopted son of actress Helen Hayes and next seen for a decade or so as Danno on Hawaii Five-O, plays Deek and gets a rare chance to be a villain.  William Windham engages in a bit of scenery-chewing as Vance, and he seems to be having a grand old time doing it.  Jan Murray, who plays Johnny’s agent, is best remembered as a stand-up comic, but he also acted, as he somewhat proved here.  Lori Martin, best known for playing Gregory Peck’s daughter in the original Cape Fear, plays Diane as the poster girl for petulance.  And Karen Malouf, in her only credited role, plays Jade, which is all well and good…except that the character is obviously supposed to be an Asian girl, and Malouf is, well, NOT an Asian girl.  That character caused me a lot of cognitive dissonance.

And then there’s Murray MacLeod, who stars as Johnny.  I don’t know…maybe it was because the copy of the film that I saw was of such poor quality, or maybe it’s because he really does look like him, but Murray MacLeod reminded me so much of Chandler Bing, the character played by Matthew Perry on the sitcom Friends, that it became rather disconcerting.  After many of his lines, I found myself finishing them with Chandler-speak, as in, “Could you WEAR anything less appropriate?”

One thing’s for sure: this film has perhaps the worst music editing of any film that I’ve ever seen.  Just watch the opening five minutes and count how many times the music abruptly shifts between cues.  It’s like the music was edited with a chisel.  And speaking of music, at one point in the film Johnny and Diane go to a club to meet Johnny’s agent, and there’s a band playing.  Look fast for the quick cut of the band’s drummer.  He looks quite a bit like Bun E. Carlos, years before Cheap Trick.  It’s not actually him, but, still, it’s a little disconcerting.  Later in the film, at the Halloween party, there’s another band playing, and the lead singer is shown singing into a microphone several times, but the song’s an instrumental.  And is it just me, or does James MacArthur, during the Halloween party, behave like a villain from the Batman TV series that was just ending its run when this was shooting?  That’s the impression that I got, anyway.

And one more music note:  Here’s the main theme song, performed by Davie Allan and the Arrows, from YouTube:

The Angry Breed isn’t really a biker film, although it does contain bikers.  It’s more of a Hollywood story than anything, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it.  You may want to invite a few friends over for this one; making snide comments back to a movie is so much more fun when shared!  It’s a shame that this film hasn’t ever been officially released on home video, so if you want to own it, you’ll have to find a gray market copy somewhere.

Or…you can watch it right here, since it’s been uploaded to DailyMotion by someone (or some several someones) going by the name of Film Gorillas!  It’s been up for five years, so it’s likely to stay up a while longer, but you might want to watch it now.  Just in case.

Up next: Spectacular adventure beyond time and space!

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Angels’ Wild Women (1972)

Angels' Wild Women Poster

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By 1972, it seemed that biker flick mania had pretty much run its course.  After six years of outlaw motorcycle gangs tearing across drive-in screens from coast to coast, the market dried up practically overnight.  Biker films had finally run out of gas.  Unfortunately for Sam Sherman, head of Independent International Pictures (purveyors of quintessential drive-in fare such as Satan’s Sadists, Blood of Ghastly Horror, and the immortal Dracula vs. Frankenstein), he and director Al Adamson had shot a biker film called Screaming Angels that they were hoping to release, but with the biker craze over, the film’s prospects for making any money looked dim.  And then Sam saw The Big Doll House, one of Roger Corman’s first Filipino “women in prison” films, and realized that, with some reshoots, he and Al could change the focus of the film from the scuzzy male bikers to their more attractive cycle mamas…and thus Angels’ Wild Women was born.

The plot, as much as it has one, has to do with all of the male bikers in a motorcycle club going on a run and leaving the women behind.  So the women get on their bikes and go to visit a friend at a commune (and, yes, just like in Angel Unchained, the characters all pronounce the word “commune” as if it were a verb), where they get into trouble and are held captive.  Along the way they beat up some guys and seduce a farmer.  In the end, one of the women finds the guy members of the club and gets them to go back to the commune and fight the women’s captors, two of whom end up dying in a fiery car crash.

Even though the film is just barely a biker flick, as the motorcycles are secondary to beer drinking and fighting, it still has enough exploitable elements to have kept it unspooling at drive-ins for years as support for newer pictures.  There’s some mild violence, a suggested rape, one early, surprising instance of one of the more colorful swear words, several bare breasts, and one human sacrifice by the members of the commune.  The film was partially shot at the Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson and his “family” lived when they committed the Tate / LaBianca murders in 1969, and Al Adamson made sure that he showed the “Spahn Movie Ranch” sign at every opportunity.  The director’s wife, Regina Carrol, wears a pair of the tiniest boy shorts that I’ve ever seen and some badly-applied white lipstick.  She also uses a whip in one scene, although it’s never seen again.  Not that it matters, but by my count, six of the film’s stars had appeared in Al Adamson’s previous film, Brain of Blood.  Al seemed to like having a repertory company of actors that he could use, picture after picture.   Unfortunately, neither Regina nor Al is still with us; Regina died of cancer in 1992, and Al met his untimely demise three years later.

The film’s soundtrack is a huge disappointment, as most of the music seems to be made up of library tracks.  As far as I can ascertain, there was no soundtrack album released…which is just as well, considering how generic the film’s music is.  However, I found a radio spot for the movie on YouTube.  Check this out:

And here’s the theatrical trailer, again courtesy of YouTube:

If the trailer intrigues you, you should make an effort to track down the film.  It’s a bit tougher to find these days than it used to be, but you can still pick up a DVD of it for a good price, and at the time that I’m writing this, it’s available on PopcornFlix for free.  It’s not going to change your life in any appreciable way, but, try as I might, I find it hard to completely dislike any Al Adamson flick, and you might feel that way, too.

Up next: Doomsville!

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