Film Review: Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

Also known as: Terror In the Night (re-release title)
Release Date: 1964
Directed by: Ben Parker
Written by: Clark Davis
Music by: Danny Dean
Cast: Bill Bloom, John Ensign, Jo Canterbury, John Humphreys

Ajay Film Company, American Diversified Services, Original Six, 61 Minutes

Review:

“And he didn’t steal no bike either! I did!” – Mikey Walton

Mystery Science Theater 3000 never ran short of juvenile delinquent movies from the ’50s and ’60s and this picture is just one more to add to the list.

While this is a terrible movie, it’s kind of interesting in that this one is a proto-slasher film. There isn’t any actual slashing but there is a serial killer that is targeting teens and strangling them to death. I guess you could also consider this an American giallo, although it’s devoid of a vibrant color palette and anything resembling actual style.

This only clocks in at 61 minutes but it is still a slog to get through. It lacks excitement is littered with bad acting, questionable directing decisions and it’s a “how to” on how not to light a film.

It has an interesting enough plot though, as it’s about a delinquent kid suspected of the murders, who is actually innocent, but has no alibis to deflect suspicion.

In the end, the killer isn’t even a juvenile delinquent so maybe by 1964, these films were making some social progress and didn’t blame everything on angst-y teens in car/biker culture.

Despite all its flaws, it does have one thing working for it and that’s the light rockabilly score by Danny Dean, who is probably most known for fronting the rockabilly band Danny Dean and The Homewreckers. While that band wasn’t massively successful, Dean was a pretty talented musician for his scene and his contribution in this film, at the very least, gives it a feeling of authenticity.

Sadly, the film itself doesn’t do much to capitalize off of the tunes and mostly cancels out Dean’s work, as everything else is so lackluster that it drowns out the positives.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile delinquent movies that made it on to MST3K.

Film Review: Operation Double 007 (1967)

Also known as: O.K. Connery (original title), Operation Kid Brother (US), Kid Brother (US informal title), Divided Evil (alternative title), Secret Agent 00 (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
Written by: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Agata Flori, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Yachuco Yama

Produzione D.S. (Dario Sabatello), 104 Minutes

Review:

“It’s going to blow up soon. Maybe even tomorrow. With you on board.” – Dr. Neil Connery, “You read too many novels by Fleming.” – Maya

As I’m getting close to finishing my quest of reviewing all the movies showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I saved one of the best pictures for last. That was partially by design, as I remembered seeing this years ago, was somewhat captivated by it and wanted to save something I liked (or was at least interested in) for the tail end of my long journey.

Since the Italians don’t give a crap about copyright law and make unofficial sequels to anything that made more than five lira at the box office, this film “borrows” pretty heavily from the James Bond franchise, which was super popular at the time.

While this film is parody and not a “sequel” it features some of the iconic actors from the early Bond films: Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo, the main antagonist from Thunderball). Even nuttier than that, it features Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, as the super spy hero.

It’s alluded to that he is the younger brother of the more famous spy but the similarities between the two men end there, as Neil doesn’t look the part nearly as well as Sean does and he kind of stumbles through the film without the confidence and panache of any of the actors that played legitimate James Bonds.

In fact, the younger Connery is completely overshadowed by the other actors on the screen, especially the ones that were in actual Bond movies. Celi steals the scenes he’s in and it’s cool seeing Lee and Maxwell here too but none of them can make this a salvageable picture.

The only real high point, apart from how bizarre this is, are the dozens of hot Italian women thrown onscreen simply because this is Italian schlock that is ripping off a franchise that puts a high emphasis on the tried and true ideology that sex sells. You should certainly be pleased with the amount of eye candy here and even if no one is really acting like they care, most of the women heavy scenes are playful, fun and lighthearted.

Comparing this to the typical films that were riffed on MST3K, this is actually one of the better ones even though it’s still a bit shit. It’s that good kind of shit though, especially for fans of the early years of the James Bond franchise.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy parody films.

Film Review: 12 to the Moon (1960)

Also known as: Twelve to the Moon (alternative spelling)
Release Date: June, 1960
Directed by: David Bradley
Written by: Fred Gebhardt, DeWitt Bodeen
Music by: Michael Andersen
Cast: Ken Clark, Michi Kobi, Tom Conway, Anna-Lisa

Luna Productions Inc., Columbia Pictures, 74 Minutes

Review:

“I should have known, what… what a stupid unthinking fool. I deserve this.” – Dr. Feodor Orloff

12 to the Moon is a pretty dreadful and boring sci-fi picture from an era where most sci-fi pictures were pretty terrible. It’s actually hard to believe that 2001: A Space Odyssey came out just eight years after this.

To be fair, this came out in a time when this genre still didn’t have respect and the vast majority of these pictures were made by cheap studios without a lot of money to help make these film’s better.

Now Columbia Pictures isn’t small but this was obviously made to be thrown on B-movie double bills to attract the youth of the day and drive-in theater crowds that just wanted to make out and eat popcorn. I don’t recommend trying those two things simultaneously, for the record.

This would probably be a long forgotten dud had it not been featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Because of that, it will always have some sort of relevance, as long as MST3K fans are still alive and still going back to watch old homemade video tapes of the episode. Honestly, you can find most of the episodes on YouTube; so you don’t need to dust off the VCR or your VHS library.

At first glance, this is a movie about the space race, as it focuses on a team of twelve scientists who go to the moon to claim it as international territory before those Soviet Reds gets there and claim it for themselves. They even bring a couple of cats with them.

Anyway, this evolves into a movie where the environment is out to kill these scientists at every turn and the scientists even display a level of stupidity that can only be matched by the scientists in 2012’s Prometheus. One idiot discovers some bubbling liquid and excitedly runs over to put his hand in it, burning himself. Somewhere in the galaxy, Picard is facepalming hard.

There are alien hieroglyphics, plots about freezing America, French communists, Nazis being forgiven for horrible crimes, more alien shit and a bunch of clunky sets, bad actors and production crew members that were seemingly asleep at the wheel.

As bad as this is though, I don’t hate it. I can’t recommend it but if you want to subject yourself to this picture, at least watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other schlock-y outer space movies that were on MST3K.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

Film Review: The Green Slime (1968)

Also known as: Ganmā Daisan Gō: Uchū Daisakusen (original Japanese title), After the Destruction of Space Station Gamma: Big Military Operation, Battle Beyond the Stars, Death and the Green Slime, Gamma #3 Big Military Space Operation, The Battle of Space Station Gamma (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 6th, 1968 (Trieste Sci-Fi Film Festival – Italy)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: William Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair, Ivan Reiner
Music by: Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi

Lun Film, Ram Films Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Toei, 90 Minutes, 77 Minutes (laserdisc edit)

Review:

“Jack, do you realize that this is the first time that anything living has been found in space? Do you know how terribly important that is?” – Lisa Benson

The Green Slime is a really interesting movie for a multitude of reasons.

To start, it was the first film ever featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before the show was on national cable television and it was just a little show from a local Minneapolis TV station. And, honestly, it is much better than the standard level of schlock that MST3K features.

Additionally, the movie is a co-production between America’s MGM studios and Japan’s Toei studios, a production company primarily known for tokusatsu (Japanese sci-fi). Around the same time, Toei gave us Yongary, Monster From the Deep, Invasion of the Neptune Men and The Magic Serpent. They would also go on to create Super Sentai (a.k.a. Power Rangers), Kamen Rider, VR Troopers, Beetleborgs, as well as developing a major animation studio: Toei Animation.

On top of that, the production was made in Japan and in the Japanese tokusatsu style but it featured a cast of western and Italian actors. The most notable star is probably Luciana Paluzzi, who some might recognize from her role as Fiona Volpe (a.k.a. Number Ten), a member of the villainous SPECTRE in the classic James Bond picture Thunderball.

Now this movie looks just like you would expect, if you’ve watched ’60s tokusatsu films. While Toei wasn’t quite on the level of Toho, the studio behind Godzilla, the miniatures in this film are pretty decent and the sets work really well for what this is. In fact, this is one of the best looking and impressive productions that Toei had done up to this point. MGM co-financing the project may have a lot to do with that though.

The alien creatures are also pretty cool and while they look like normal tokusatsu-type monsters, they seem a little more refined and built with a greater emphasis on detail. They’re not fantastic alien creatures but they’re still damn cool and were effective as the threat in this picture.

I’m not sure why this has a 4.8 on IMDb but most people don’t enjoy the finer things in life like the tokusatsu aesthetic.

Out of all the movies that have been riffed on MST3KThe Green Slime is one of the best and shouldn’t be viewed as a film that belongs to be in the same company as something like Red Zone Cuba.

In fact, I’d say that this was around the same level as This Island Earth.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other tokusatsu movies that featured western actors, as well as ’60s non-kaiju tokusatsu in general.

Film Review: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Also known as: Centennial (fake working title), 2000 Maniacs (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 20th, 1964
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Music by: Larry Wellington
Cast: William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Jeffrey Allen

Jacqueline Kay, Friedman-Lewis Productions, Box Office Spectaculars, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Has it occurred to you that nobody has told us what this centennial is all about? Now, this is 1965, and a hundred years ago it was 1865, right? So, what happened in 1865?” – Tom White, “It was the ending of Civil War. The war between states!” – Terry Adams, “Well then you tell me why would a southern town want northerners as guests of honor at the centennial. It must has something to do with what happened a hundred years ago. So, something is very wrong with this town.” – Tom White

A year before this film, Herschell Gordon Lewis disgusted audiences with his debut film Blood Feast. That picture was a gore spectacle that paved the way for future gore cinema. It’s become legendary and survived the test of time because of how shocking it was in 1963. But it helped champion in an era of exploitation and grindhouse films that populated seedy theaters and drive-ins for a good decade and a half.

That being said, Blood Feast is a terrible, terrible film. It’s not really good on any level except in how it disgusted people and opened the floodgates for other penniless filmmakers to start pumping out their gore-littered schlock.

But I can’t quite call Herschell Gordon Lewis a bad filmmaker, as the man somehow took his terrible, basic formula, refined it, actually put together an interesting plot and then gave us this film just eight months later.

Two Thousand Maniacs! is not a good motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is at least a compelling one that is so bizarre you kind of want to know how the hell this insanity is happening.

The plot focuses on a small town in the middle of Nowheresville, Georgia. The residents of this town are putting up detour signs on the highway to lure in some outsiders. Once they arrive in the town, confused, the outsiders learn that the town is celebrating its Centennial. They feel like things are a bit off but since they’re being treated like prized guests, they soak it up.

However, each person is then killed in extremely violent ways. Two of them do survive and escape in the end but then we learn the batshit crazy truth: the town was a ghost town that was destroyed in the Civil War exactly one hundred years earlier. The town came back to life to get revenge on a half dozen Yankees because why the hell not.

This of course raises a lot of questions like how did these people know how to use telephones, cars and other technology that didn’t exist in their time? Why were they dressed in the finest Southern fashion of the 1960s and not the 1860s? Well, the whole movie is full of things that make you go “huh?” once you know what the big reveal is.

Still, suspending a lot of disbelief, the film works in a lot of ways regardless of all the nonsensical shit, the shoddy direction and the atrocious acting.

I’d be lying if I said that this didn’t lure me in, peak my interest and keep me glued to the screen.

While this has been remade, I’m assuming that one isn’t very good, this is the sort of film that should be remade with a competent director and a script writer that can actually work out some of the kinks and issues this original movie had. I think the concept is neat and that it could be improved upon, which is usually the only way I’ll support the idea of a remake or a reboot.

While several of the gore scenes are over the top and gratuitous, I’d say that this is actually less gory than Blood Feast. The camera cuts away a lot and some of the violence is implied with a finishing shot of a dead body covered in blood and meat. A lot of the shots during these scenes are of the reactions of the townsfolk who are getting off on the carnage.

Ultimately, this is not a good movie. But for gore pictures, it is one of the better ones and it at least has a story that works for what this is.

I’m not sure if Herschell Gordon Lewis actually displayed some directing talent or if he just kind of got lucky. Gorehounds will of course claim that the guy was a genius but I think that he was just a schlockmeister that developed his own unique style.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Herschell Gordon Lewis’ other films.

Film Review: Tormented (1960)

Also known as: Eye of the Dead (TV title)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1960
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bert I. Gordon, George Worthington Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser, Calvin Jackson
Cast: Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Joe Turkel

Cheviot Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!” – Vi Mason

How many Bert I. Gordon movies were riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000? I’ve already watched and reviewed a half dozen yet here’s one more.

This one is kind of cool. Well, I guess most of his movies are cool but this one has a bit of an extra edge, simply because I love the scenes with the disembodied head yelling at her killer.

Tormented is a ghost story and one of revenge but that’s not to say that the ghost is an innocent victim, as the film starts with her trying to blackmail her ex-lover before he is set to marry another woman. Now the blackmailer falls off of a lighthouse and while there is a chance for the blackmailed ex to save her, he doesn’t and the woman falls to her death, only to haunt him for the rest of the film.

As the plot develops and time rolls on, the man does turn out to be evil and so, I guess you’re rooting for the ghost, even though she’s a shitty person too. But this is a Bert I. Gordon movie, which means you’re supposed to turn off your brain and just let this thing roll on and try to entertain you.

And it is entertaining, even if it is a bad movie and pretty drab at points.

There’s nothing special here but for fans of special effects, especially early, primitive effects that have a certain level of cheesiness to them, Tormented is worth checking out.

This is a mostly decent, late night C-movie that no one should expect to be good but some should still find palatable enough to watch in the dark with some lukewarm beer and room temperature pizza left over from dinner.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Bert I. Gordon movies featured on MST3K.