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: 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: The Creeping Terror (1964)

Also known as: The Crawling Monster (working title)
Release Date: 1964
Directed by: Vic Savage (as A. J. Nelson)
Written by: Robert Silliphant
Music by: Frederick Kopp
Cast: Vic Savage, Shannon O’Neil, William Thourlby, John Caresio, Larry Burrell (narrator)

Metropolitan International Pictures, Crown International Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“That afternoon, in Mungreeve Park, a group of neighbors got together for a hoot-e-nanny.” – Narrator

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has shown a lot of schlock-y monster movies in its 200-plus episode run. I have to say, though, this one might be the absolute worst of the lot.

This movie features a monster that is basically a giant rubber slug that looks like it’s got giant noodles dangling off of it. It’s terrible, uninspiring and is just a ripoff of The Blob without the imagination or any real attempt at trying to create actual dread in the audience.

The biggest sequence in the film is just cuts back and forth of teens go-go dancing and the creature crawling extremely slow through the dirt and shrubs. Eventually it gets to the dance to chow down on teens but the fact that it can even catch a person is an amazing feat, truly.

I guess the monsters, as there are actually two, are some organic space probes sent to Earth to eat and digest humans for analysis. So somehow destroying some super computer at the end somehow halts a potential invasion. This movie was a mess and mostly just a confusing bore that felt like it was written by a couple of burnouts after smoking all the pot in town over the course of a 24 hour Roger Corman movie bender.

Unlike Corman, however, this film had no charm and it’s monster looked like a shredded semi tire from the highway, tied to puppet strings that some drunkard was shaking above the shot. At least Corman gave us hokey monsters we could love.

This is literal cinematic poop. But it’s still a watchable film if seen with the aid of Mike Nelson and The ‘Bots.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other monster schlock of the ’50s and ’60s, especially the monster movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: The Starfighters (1964)

Release Date: March 25th, 1964
Directed by: Will Zens
Written by: Will Zens
Music by: Stephen Paul
Cast: Robert Dornan, Richard Jordahl, Richard Masters

Will Zens Productions, Robert Patrick Productions, Riviera Productions, Pride Releasing Organization, 78 Minutes, 84 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Listen, I just got back from the Victorville Chamber of Commerce meeting, where I gave them my anti-communist speech… and I’m still fighting mad!” – Colonel Hunt

The Starfighters is considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Luckily, the only version of it that I have seen is the one that features riffing from the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can’t imagine watching this without the added hilarity.

The problem with this film is that it seems like it was a propaganda recruiting movie made by the United States Air Force and then passed off as a legit picture. As far as I know, it wasn’t made by the USAF but I think that the only place that the movie might have been accepted was on Air Force bases in the mid-’60s.

That being said, this did not get a first run theatrical release because of its awfulness. It did make the drive-in circuit and probably got thrown into some budget theaters but this was really a lost film before it even saw the light of day.

I think that it is only remembered because it was lampooned on MST3K. And while a few hundred films can say the same thing, this picture did provide us with one of the best MST3K episodes of all-time, simply because a lot of the jokes became long running gags that were used in future episodes.

As far as the film itself goes, this is a boring dud full of wooden acting, wooden dialogue and what I can only assume was a director asleep at the wheel.

The story is about some pilots being trained on how to fly the high tech, futuristic Lockeed F-104 Starfighter jet. However, the movie puts more emphasis on mid-air refueling than it does on seeing the jets do anything remotely cool.

However, when we do see cool stuff, it’s pretty much stock footage material. But that’s actually the only neat thing about this movie.

A lot of this military footage is cool to see, especially years later, as the technology featured is outdated by half a century. I guess you’ll probably only find this interesting if you have a love of documentary style historical military movies. Seeing the refueling stuff was kind of fascinating but obviously, it doesn’t salvage the picture in any way.

I guess the weirdest thing about this film is the score. During the refueling scenes we are treated to very out of place, upbeat jazz music. It’s pretty strange but reference to it on MST3K led to one of the best in-jokes in the Mike Nelson era of the show.

This film is a total crapfest. I can’t recommend it but if you feel like you need to check it out, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other MST3K fodder from the early Mike Nelson era.

Film Review: Kitten With a Whip (1964)

Release Date: November 4th, 1964 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Douglas Heyes
Written by: Douglas Heyes, Whit Masterson
Music by: William Loose, Henry Mancini, Carl W. Stalling
Cast: Ann-Margret, John Forsythe, Ann Doran

Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Why, David, I thought I’d never find you in ladies’ underwear.” – Saleslady

Kitten With a Whip was a movie made to bank off of the popularity of rising star Ann-Margret. However, it’s a pretty terrible film that feels like it was rushed out to strike while the iron was hot. Luckily for Ann-Margret, her career had some staying power, she wasn’t a flash in the pan and she’d go on to be in much better films.

As bad as this was though, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it got riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Plus, it fits nicely with a lot of the other B-movie teen and beatnik flicks that they played a lot.

The story is about a politician (John Forsythe), whose wife is out of town. One night he comes home to discover Ann-Margret’s Jody hiding out. Jody gives some sob story and convinces the sad sap to help her out.

Soon after, juvenile delinquents show up and make his life a living hell, as his nice house becomes a beatnik party bunker. The politician is afraid of scandal, so he puts up with it. Also, at one point, Jody tells him that she’ll accuse him of rape if he gets the cops. Eventually, the beatnik punks get violent and the politician and Jody flee to Mexico with the delinquents on their tail.

Honestly, the plot is a bit nuts but it does tap into some film-noir tropes while clearly trying to be more like the youth movies of the day.

This isn’t particularly well made, despite having good stars and being made by Universal.

Ultimately, this did showcase Ann-Marget’s dramatic side where her previous films were musicals. So in some way, I’m sure this helped her career more than it hurt it.

This is pretty forgettable though.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other Ann-Margret movies or other beatnik films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Release Date: June 24th, 1964 (London & Los Angeles premieres)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell
Based on: The Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: David Lee
Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, Robert Brown

American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existance. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.” – Prospero

While I can’t talk highly enough about all of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman and Vincent Price, I really can’t talk highly enough about The Masque of the Red Death, which is one of the best of the lot, as well as the most aesthetically pleasing.

Other than a couple quick scenes, the entirety of this picture takes place within the castle walls of the Satan worshiping Prince Prospero. He has entombed his party guests and a few villagers he spared within the structure in an effort to wait out the “Red Death” outside the castle gates.

While trying to avoid the plague, Prospero tries to influence the young girl he feels he saved from death. He shows her his secrets and opens up about his allegiance to the Devil himself. All the while, the reach of the Red Death works its way into the castle to deliver Prospero’s inevitable and unavoidable fate.

There is also a neat side story that was based on Poe’s Hop-Frog. I liked this mini story within the larger story and how it was all tied together.

I also like that this film re-teamed Price with Hazel Court and also threw in Patrick Magee, Robert Brown and Nigel Green. Now it’s not a star studded cast like what Corman delivered in The Raven, a year earlier, but it is a good ensemble of character actors and ’60s horror icons.

This is a pretty imaginative film that is visually stunning and alluring. The big climax is superb, especially for those who are a fan of Corman’s style when it’s rarely at its artistic apex.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations.

Film Review: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Also known as: Chikyû saidai no kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth (Japan), Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah (Worldwide English title), Godzilla vs. Ghidorah (Finland), Frankensteins Monster im Kampf gegen Ghidorah (Germany)
Release Date: December 20th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yuriko Hoshi, Akiko Wakabayashi, The Peanuts, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Susumu Kurobe, Haruo Nakajima, Shoichi Hirose

Toho Co. Ltd., 92 Minutes

Review:

“Yes, it is possible for someone to be saved from an exploding aircraft. If we understand the curvature of space, we know that the continuum surrounding any spherical body such as our world is composed of different dimensions. The force of the explosion created a gap between these dimensions, and fortunately for her, she fell into it.” – Alien Expert

I’ve put off reviewing this film in the Godzilla franchise for awhile. The main reason, is that I wanted to save it for the week that the new American Godzilla movie was coming out, as that one features the same four monsters featured in this film. So if the new American film is remaking anything, it is closest to remaking this film.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster isn’t just one of my favorite Godzilla movies, it is one of my favorite monster movies… ever.

King Ghidorah is, hands down, one of the coolest and most iconic monsters ever created. While he might not be as popular as Godzilla or Mothra, he is most definitely the best villain in Godzilla lore and the true king of Toho’s baddies. He’s also much better than any of the evil kaiju creatures from any other Japanese series whether it be GameraUltraman or anything else. Personally, Gigan is my favorite but I can’t deny the greatness and dominance of Ghidorah.

What’s also really interesting about this film is that it is where Godzilla really becomes a good guy and a protector of Japan and Earth from worse monsters. He teams up with Mothra, after the two of them fought in Godzilla Vs. The Thing and he also encounters Rodan for the first time, which starts off as a big fight but eventually ends with the two of them becoming strong allies.

Ghidorah has three heads, so I guess it makes sense needing three good monsters to fight him. Also, it sort of helps to build up the mystique of the new villain. For the first time ever, Godzilla alone can’t take on another monster. Granted, Godzilla, over time, would evolve to be far more powerful than the standard Ghidorah.

The story of this one is also interesting in that it introduces a monster threat from outer space, as well as bringing in alien races and a new sort of dynamic to the Godzilla franchise, which changes all the movies going forward.

Additionally, this movie was helmed by the A-team of Toho tokusatsu: director Ishirō Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. It also features the top Toho actors, the real core of the studio’s talent at the time: Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara, Takashi Shimura, Akiko Wakabayashi and Akihiko Hirata.

While I like the original Godzilla and King Kong Vs. Godzilla more than this, this chapter in the franchise is almost a perfect storm where everything just sort of went right. It ups the ante in new ways, is a hell of a lot of fun and it’s the one film that really sells you on how menacing and dangerous King Ghidorah is.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.