Film Review: Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)

Also known as: The Spider, Earth Vs. The Giant Spider (Germany), Vengeance of the Black Spider (Italy)
Release Date: September, 1958
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: László Görög, George Worthing Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, Sally Fraser, June Jocelyn

Santa Rosa Productions, American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Well, speaking of spiders – are you sure rifles are just the thing? Insects have a pretty simple nervous system, sheriff. You could plug holes in one all day and never hit a vital spot. If you want to be on the safe side, call the pest control people in Springdale and have ’em send out all the DDT they can find.” – Mr. Kingman

As bad as Bert I. Gordon movies can be, they get a much worse wrap than they probably deserve. Reason being, they all have some sort of charm to them and even if they are a clinic on how not to make a film, they are still pretty entertaining for what they are.

Earth Vs. The Spider is no different.

This is not a good film. It’s riddled with bad effects, bad acting, bad direction and a bad script. But if you love giant insect, reptile, amphibian or atomic disaster movies from the early Cold War era, then you’ll probably enjoy this on some level.

The sets in this actually weren’t bad for the time. The stuff in the cave actually looks good, even if the giant spider’s web looks like rope netting from a playground. The setting within the spider’s lair does come off pretty well for a ’50s low budget sci-fi picture.

A problem with this film, which is a problem with all the films within this weird but popular subgenre, is that it’s predictable and there aren’t any real curveballs thrown. But no one watches these flicks for intelligent storytelling.

This was one of many Bert I. Gordon movies that was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, MST3K is how I originally learned of Gordon and came to have an appreciation for the poorer man’s Roger Corman.

I’d say that this is one of the better films in Gordon’s oeuvre. It might not seem like it has any merit at first glance but there is something about it that brings me back to it every now and again. But I also have a deep appreciation for old school schlock films.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other low budget, giant animal movies from the 1950s.

Film Review: The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

Also known as: The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru (review title), Sax Rohmer’s The Million Eyes of Su-Muru (UK long title), Sumuru (UK alternate title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1967
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Kevin Kavanagh
Based on: a story by Peter Welbeck, the Sumuru novels by Sax Rohmer
Music by: John Scott
Cast: George Nader, Frankie Avalon, Shirley Eaton, Wilfred Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski

Sumuru Films, American International Pictures, Warner-Pathe, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I have a million eyes… for I am Sumuru!” – Sumuru

This seems like it had the makings of something that could have, at the very least, been an enjoyable spy romp. It was anything but.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru is a pretty dreadful and boring movie. It was featured in the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local television in Minneapolis. But even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was really damn hard to sit through. There’s probably a reason why they didn’t resurrect this for the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

I mean, this is a film with Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski in it; two guys I never imagined would wind up in the same motion picture or even find themselves in the same room together.

This also stars George Nader, Wilfred Hyde-White and one of the most memorable Bond girls of all-time, Goldfinger‘s Shirley Eaton. You know, the girl that was actually turned to gold.

I’m just not sure what this film was going for, other than trying to tap into to ’60s movie spy craze that was created by the success of the James Bond franchise. This almost feels like poorly crafted parody that is devoid of any sort of intentional humor. There are things you can certainly laugh at but that was not the intent of the production.

But this isn’t so bad that it’s worth seeing because of its awfulness. It’s terribly slow, boring and tapped into my strongest primal instinct: hitting the fast forward button. But I stuck with it and fought this fight just for the sake of writing a review about this total mess of a movie.

I mean, I’m on a mission to review every single film ever featured on MST3K, so I couldn’t just skip over this. And still, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen on MST3K but it is way down in the murky bottom amongst some of the more abominable movies the show has made me aware of.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: really bad spy films from the ’60s that were poor attempts at cashing in on the James Bond craze.

Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Slaughter (1972)

Also known as: Massacre (France), Masacre (Mexico), Kill Julian Drake (working title)
Release Date: August 16th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Starrett
Written by: Mark Hanna, Don Williams
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Jim Brown, Stella Stevens, Rip Torn

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“You’re really far out, you know that? I mean we go out to that house and let them know we are lookin’ to get killed, and all of a sudden your sittin’ on top of the world like your King Shit! Man, you’re weird Slaughter, I mean goddammit, you’re just weird!” – Harry

Jim Brown is a badass and there is no question that the man could pretty much beat the crap out of anyone else in his presence. However, he never seemed to have the command of the screen in the same way that Fred Williamson, Issac Hayes, Jim Kelly, Rudy Ray Moore and Richard Roundtree had. He was sexy, had a certain panache and could carry his own but it had to be hard to compete with the more charismatic male stars who were also making their mark in the blaxploitation era. Regardless, Brown still has an acting career that has lasted longer than the others.

I think that the reason why is because what you see is what you get. I think Jim Brown just plays Jim Brown. Sure, from film to film he has a different occupation or a different purpose. At the core of all his characters though, is authentic Jim Brown.

I feel like Brown’s vehicles also weren’t as good as the other blaxploitation stars. In all honesty, this is probably his best film of that era and it isn’t very good. It’s also not bad but it’s pretty tame and just lacks the style and energy of the other films in the genre.

I do like that this primarily takes place in Mexico though. It isn’t a rehash of the American urban blaxploitation shtick and gives us something refreshing while keeping a familiar formula. Jim Brown plays an ex-Green Beret that has to avenge the murder of is parents. This takes him to Mexico where he must take on an Italian drug cartel and get to a final showdown with the great Rip Torn, who makes a solid heavy in this.

The finale of the film was pretty good but just about everything else is fairly mundane. One thing that was annoying about this movie is that it often times used these weird fish-eye effect action shots that felt like they were cut into the editing just sort of randomly. These shots looked bad and were a distraction to the flow of the action.

Slaughter just isn’t very exciting or engaging. You want to really like Jim Brown’s character but he just never seems to turn the volume up enough.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Jim Brown ’70s pictures: Slaughter’s Big Rip-OffBlack GunnI Escapred From Devil’s IslandThree the Hard Way, etc.