Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Portrait In Black" Or Killing Your Husband Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

The over-the-top poster for the over-the-top movie "Portrait in Black."

Welcome back, movie lovers.

Say, have you ever been in love?

Really in love?

You know, madly, passionately, truly, deeply in love?

The kind of love where you count the hours until your soul mate arrives. The kind of love that drives you to pillow-biting ecstasy every night. The kind of love that makes life worth living.

That kind of love.

Is this the look of love or... indigestion? Fun couple Shelia (Lana Turner) and David (Anthony Quinn) swoon into action.

Well, Shelia (Lana Turner) and David (Anthony Quinn) are in that kind of love. They can't be without each other. When they hug each other, they practically crush each others' spines. When they suck face, they nearly swallow each others' tongues. In fact, their love is so exhausting, the cuddlemates can only murmur "Shelia", "David", "Shelia", "David" when they come up for air.

Yes, Shelia and David are truly, madly, deeply, inseparably, totally in love.

So why don't they get hitched?

Because Shelia is already married-- to mean, miserly, terminally ailing shipping magnet Matthew Cabot (Lloyd Nolan), that's why.

Thus begins "Portrait in Black" (1960), a way, way, WAY over-the-top melodrama which proves that murdering your husband can be hazardous to your health.

As mentioned earlier, Matthew Cabot is mean, miserly and dying--but not fast enough. From the sick bed of his snazzy San Francisco mansion, Matthew barks orders to his shifty lawyer Howard (Richard Basehart), bosses around his loyal secretary (the cadaverous Virginia Grey) and bullies his trophy wife Shelia.

"It's too bad they don't have a drug for your illness," Matthew sneers to Shelia at one point. "Love deficiency."

Lana Turner acts and acts and ACTS as the duplicitous Shelia.

David Riviera (Quinn) is Matt's doctor, regularly injecting him with pain killers. However, because he's so in love with Shelia, the medic is going batty waiting for his patient to kick the bucket. So the adulterous cuddlemates begin to wonder if there isn't some way to speed up the process.

But wouldn't that be MURDER??

The Matt-Shelia-David love triangle, however, is only the first course in this Velveeta banquet.

The hyper-perky Sandra Dee is Cabot's daughter Cathy from his first marriage. She's secretly involved with ACME Tug Boat operator Blake (John Saxon)--who's late pa was the business rival Matthew hounded into an early grave.

Meanwhile, down stairs at the Cabot mansion, chauffeur Cob ("My Favorite Martian"s Ray Walston)
his nursing some serious gambling debts and persistent loan sharks. Then there is the all-knowing, long-time housekeeper Tanni (silent screen icon Anna May Wong), who acts like Mrs. Danvers and dresses like Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Housekeeper Tanni (Anna May Wong) and chauffeur Cob (Ray Walston) share a mutual loathing.

Anything else? Oh, yeah, a possible longshoreman's strike is looming and miserly Matt wants it stopped.

Then one dark and stormy night, David arrives at the Cabot home to inject an air bubble into his patient. With Matthew Cabot now a stiff, Shelia and David can finally be together.

Err, no. See, among the letters of condolence arriving en masse to the grieving widow is the following note: "Congratulations on the success of your murder." Somebody knows what Shelia and David did--but who?

At this juncture, "Portrait in Black" ratchets up the tension--and the sound track. First, shifty lawyer Howard proposes to Shelia--the day after her hubby's funeral, no less. Shelia throws him out. Next, Blake storms into Howard's office, madder than a hen with wet feathers, because the towing contract Matt promised him has been unfairly terminated. Then David starts cracking under the pressure of keeping his evil deed a secret; he even begins to see Matt's corpse on his operating table! Finally, Shelia, never in the same outfit twice, begins to fret that David is "pulling away" from her.

What more could possibly happen?


"First, do no harm": Anthony Quinn prepares a special dose for cuddlemate Shelia's ailing hubby.

Putting two and two together (and getting five) David becomes convinced that shifty lawyer Howard is the blackmailer. So Shelia lures him to the mansion, offers him a drink and later rebuffs him for getting fresh. This not only makes Howard mad, it allows him to realize that David and Shelia are an item. So Howard starts threatening Shelia...until David emerges from the shadows and plugs him full of lead.

In order to dispose of the body in Half Moon Bay, David insists that Shelia follow along in her car--except she can't drive! In fact, Shelia just got her Learner's Permit, an act that made hubby Matt hit the roof ("What? A car and driver aren't enough for you?!" he sneered.). Nevertheless, Shelia gets behind the wheel of a car, blinks back her tears and follows David down the wet, windy streets of San Francisco until David pushes Howard's car into the drink.

Whew! It's all over now, right?


A couple of days later, Shelia receives another note congratulating her on her second murder. It's this little missive that forces Shelia--dressed in a slinky black gown--to admit to David that--HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS--she sent the blackmail letters because she feared David might leave her!

Poor Quinn, realizing that he needlessly offed Howard, goes off the deep end--and how. Sweating bullets, rolling his eyes and yanking at his hair, David operatically wails about how he disobeyed the Hippocratic Oath and murdered two innocent, though unlikable, people. This display of over-the-top emoting is witnessed by a truly shocked Sandra Dee, who must have wondered how an actor like Anthony Quinn could allow himself to howl like a bull moose with a pine cone stuck up his...nose. You will, too, except Quinn's last scene is topped by his next scene: a desperate David chases Dee up the stairs, into her bedroom, out a window and onto a skinny ledge...where someone promptly goes splat.

Sandra Dee seems genuinely puzzled by the goings-on in "Portrait in Black".

Can you guess who that someone might be? No? Then I'll give you a hint: it wasn't Sandra Dee.

And what is Shelia doing when all this is going on?

She's staring out a window, not a hair out of place, with the frozen expression people develop after standing in line at the DMV.

Poor gal.

I mean, she assisted in two murders. Her cuddlemate is dead. The next stop is jail. This just hasn't been her day, has it?

Until next time, movie lovers, remember: murder can be deadly...and not just to your inconvenient spouse. After this corker, poor "Sweater Girl" Lana Turner was stuck in lower and lower budgeted dramas until she was forced to take LSD in "The Big Cube".

Talk about a bad trip...until next time, Save The Movies!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Junk Cinema Says Goodbye To Richard "Jaws" Kiel

Richard Kiel in his break-out role as the lovesick caveman in "Eegah".

Hi keeba and hello, movie lovers.

As you know, Junk Cinema lost one of its most beloved members, Richard Kiel, this week.

Although Kiel is best known to the general public as the villain "Jaws" from the James Bond epics "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker", he was already well known to bad movie fanatics as the love struck caveman Eegah in the Arch Hall, Sr. mess-ter-piece "Eegah" from 1962.

Hall first met Kiel when he was a bouncer at a western bar. It was then that he concocted the story of local teen queen Roxie Miller (Marilyn Manning) stumbling on a forgotten cave dweller (Kiel) while tooling around in the Palm Springs Desert in her snazzy sports car. Hall played Roxie's father, "the noted" adventurer/writer Robert I. Miller, while her dune buggy driving, guitar strumming boyfriend Tommy was essayed by Arch Hall, Jr., the director's son.

Shot in record heat and hobbled by numerous technical difficulties (a member of the crew kept hitting "playback" instead of "record" during filming), "Eegah" nevertheless became a drive-in hit and launched Hall, Sr.'s mini-movie empire.

The best thing about "Eegah" is Kiel, who, at a reported 7 feet tall, was perfectly cast as the club-wielding cave man. Kiel would go onto other character roles, but it was his start in this Junk Cinema Jewel that made him immortal.

A new article on Troy Donahue is on it's way, but I could not let Richard Kiel's passing go unnoticed.

Goodbye, Mr. Kiel, thank you for everything!

Until next time, remember, save the movies!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...

The glitter! The glamour!The garbage! "Once Is Not Enough" has it all!

Hi keeba and hello, movie lovers. Fall is upon us and...what's that? You're feeling a bit down in the dumps? Is your boss a dink and your co-workers slackers? Has your spouse turned into a couch potato and your kids into crab apples? Has the impending marriage of George Clooney thrown you for a loop?

I feel your pain; I really do. More importantly, Junk Cinema feels your pain. Don't believe me? Well, then, let's revisit our semi-regular feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..." and spotlight a cinematic potboiler especially made to lift your troubled spirits.

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..."Once Is Not Enough"(1975)

Today's featured presentation comes from the fevered imagination of Jacqueline Susann--the last word in big haired, high society swill. "Once Is Not Enough" is the hilariously shoddy "coming of age" saga about a dimwitted ingenue (Deborah Raffin) who learns the painful facts of life from such veteran scenery chewers as Kirk Douglas, Brenda Vaccaro, David Janssen and the vinyl-skinned, perpetually tanned George Hamilton.

Our story begins by introducing us to January Wayne (Raffin). Her father Mike (the chin-jutting Kirk Douglas) is a producer who has always provided his princess with a luxurious lifestyle. However, dad's career has hit a slump and January has spent three years in a pricey Swiss rehabilitation clinic after a near-fatal motorcycle accident. The net result is that dad is broke. Rather than humble himself and work in television, dad up and marries filthy rich, high society iceberg Dee (Alexis Smith). January, naturally, is horrified and wails to dad, "But do you love her?"

"It's not hard to feel a little something for a woman with all that money," Douglas shrugs.

Guess that

Deborah Raffin (January) and dad Mike (Kirk Douglas) console each other about being in a Jacqueline Susann movie.

Although they have just met, the imperious Dee insists that January be taught "to want the right things." So she buys all her step-daughter's clothes, redecorates her bedroom and insists that she date Wall Street whiz David (George Hamilton)--Smith's cousin and "New York's biggest stud." When she's not bossing or baiting people, Dee is excusing herself to play backgammon "with her friend Joan." In reality, Smith is sneaking off to tryst with her secret gal pal Karla (Melina Mercouri), a reclusive ex-movie star with an accent thicker than waffle batter.

Deciding to strike out on her own, January gets a researcher job at Gloss magazine, who's editor-in-chief is her boarding school buddy Linda Riggs (the raspy voiced Brenda Vaccaro). Once a plain Jane, Linda explains how she went from frump to fab: "I had a nose job, my tits were lifted, my ass was flattened and my knees were straightened." However, not everything was subject to the surgeon's knife. "My navel, I'm proud to say in untouched," Linda declares. "It's perfect."

With dad essentially a kept man, her new step-mother a bit AC/DC and her boss a man-devouring hyena, January runs the risk of coming off a bit dull by comparison. Perish the thought, because Susann has provided our blinkered heroine with a few INTERNAL CONFLICTS to spice her up.

The first INTERNAL CONFLICT is that January is a bit too fond of daddy. When Kirk picks her up at the airport after her Swiss sojourn, Raffin squeals, "You're gorgeous!" Later she exclaims, "I hope nobody thinks we're father and daughter. I hope they think you're a dirty old man and I'm your broad!"

January's daddy fixation leads directly to INTERNAL CONFLICT number two: she's still a virgin and a bit picky about doing the deed.

"This isn't domestic champagne, is it?" George Hamilton (as "New York's biggest stud") prepares to put the moves on the hapless January.

Lucky for us, January's sexual initiation at the hands of Wall Street wolf David provides one of the flick's zanier highlights.

It goes like this: David invites January back to his swingin' bachelor pad. There is already a fire blazing, a round bed in clear view and Frank Sinatra crooning (hint, hint) "All the Way" on the stereo. Then David pours January a glass of champagne. "Oh-h-h Dom Perineum!" Raffin marvels. "That's for special occasions!"  Then Hamilton gathers January up in his arms and prepares to carry her off to the bedroom. He doesn't get very far. "Put me down," January commands. "I'd rather walk if you don't mind."

Judging from their sour faces on the taxi ride home, it appears things didn't go too well. Thus, January and David decide to be "just friends", which is probably for the best.

So, if "New York's biggest stud" can't float January's boat, is there ever going to be a man who can wrest Raffin's heart away from daddy?

 That's the cue for David "Harry-O" Janssen to roar on as the hard-drinking, barroom-brawling and very long winded novelist Tom Colt. He meets January outside a pub and slurs, "Pardon me, but I can't take my eyes off your ass." However, it's the man-hungry Linda who manages to get Tom over to her place. While Linda is off preparing for a night of pillow biting ecstasy with the famed novelist, Tom exits through a window and climbs up the fire escape to January's place. "Silicone tits and a computerized brain is not my idea of a sexy combination," Janssen explains between burps.

From this inauspicious beginning, Tom and January's romance blossoms. The happy couple ride bikes and visit the zoo and when Tom is hired to write the screenplay for one of his books, January joins him in LA. The only problem is that, well, Tom doesn't seem all that interested in, you know, S-E-X and Raffin starts to become, well, concerned.

"Yes, I'm drunk! Stinking drunk! And I like it!" David Janssen bellows like a bull moose in "Once Is Not Enough".

Again, lucky for us, January's eventual "curing" of Tom and Janssen's explanation as to "why I haven't made it in years" is another zany show-stopper.

See, a few years ago, Tom's biological clock started ticking. Having racked up three divorces, no adoption agency would (sensibly) give him a tot. So Tom started shopping around for a baby mama and finds one in the form of (the unseen) Nina Sue. The couple duly marry, but the pressure to conceive a baby right away starts to drain Tom...well, he finds he can' appears the great man of letters can't mate in captivity, so to speak. So Tom's best friend (an astronaut, mind you) suggests the couple under go artificial insemination. Tom agrees, reasoning, "Hell, if it works for sheep and cattle..."

The good news is that the artificial insemination cures the couple's childlessness. The bad news is that is only perpetuates Tom's...performance problems...because he's ashamed that his son was not created...from his own labors, as it were.

What does get Tom back in the game is January appearing in Janssen's shower. After this steamy interlude, the couple are inseparable--or so our heroine thinks.

"Excuse me, do you have any conditioner?" January and Tom prepare to soap each other up.

In rapid succession, Douglas and Smith die in a plane crash. After the funeral, January learns she was left $ 3 million dollars in her step-mother's will. Hoping Tom will comfort her in her grief, he dumps her instead. "You gave a middle aged guy his last pretense of being a stud," Janssen slurs in his farewell kiss-off. "For that I'll always be grateful."

Thus, "Once Is Not Enough" ends with poor January stumbling around the streets of New York alone, dazed and confused. If you have seen the other two flicks based on Susann's novels ("Valley Of The Dolls" and "The Love Machine"), then you know this is the way all these movies end. On the other hand, the novel Once Is Not Enough concludes with January attending a hippie orgy, dropping acid, seeing her father's ghost and stumbling out into the ocean (nude, of course) to "greet him"...and promptly drowning.

Now that's the way to end a lurid, soapy expose'! Don't you agree?

So you see, your life isn't so bad. Granted, you may be experiencing a rough patch now, but at least you're not an orphaned, semi-heiress who was cruelly dumped after curing her cuddlemate's impotence. Nor must you endure the fact that hack scribbler Jacqueline Susann based one of her tacky characters on you--like Barbara Hutton (Dee), Greta Garbo (Karla) and Norman Mailer (Tom) had to. Finally, I'll bet the last thing you'd say while sucking face with George Hamilton would be, "I didn't know men used hair spray!"

Until next time, cheer up and save the movies!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Roy Thinnes IS Johnny Paul In "Codename: Diamond Head"!


Roy Thinnes as Johnny Paul! France Nuyen as Tso-Tsing! And Zulu as Zulu in "Code Name: Diamond Head"!

Aloha, movie lovers! That's Hawaiian for "Hello"--and since the great state of Hawaii is the backdrop for today's Junk Cinema Jewel, it seemed appropriate to start things off with this traditional island greeting.

"Code Name: Diamond Head" (1977) is a secret agent/espionage/counter-intelligence thriller featuring a super hip international man of mystery locked in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a nefarious baddie intent on ruling the world, or at least bossing us around for a while.

This time, however, the fate of the free world does not rest on the sturdy shoulders of Sean Connery, James Coburn, Dean Martin or even Gordon Scott. No, this time around it's perm pioneer Roy Thinnes as Johnny Paul AKA "Diamond Head": a high livin' swinger/gambler who loves, loves, LOVES the ladies.

When our feature presentation begins, we find Johnny Paul in pants so tight we can tell what religion he is. He's hosting one of his legendary pool parties and gets supremely pissed when his grumpy old coot of a boss--who answers to the code name "Aunt Mary"--drags him off to save the world.

The major crisis in "Code Name: Diamond Head" is that super baddie Ian McShane (known as "Tree") is in town and up to no good. What "no good" entails, the government isn't too sure about. They just know he's already killed one agent and he's a master of disguise, so it's a safe bet he's not in Hawaii to work on his tan or peddle Amway products.

As it turns out, Tree wants to get his dirty mitts on a deadly nerve gas military scientists discovered by accident while extracting the toxins out of a sea snail dubbed "The Cloth of Gold." The scientists want to show this discovery to their C.O.s before they destroy every last bit of it. After all, the gas is very dangerous and they wouldn't want it to get into the wrong hands and, you know, stuff like that.

Secret agent. Ladies man. Gambler. Perm pioneer. Johnny Paul does it all in "Code Name: Diamond Head".

Tree conveniently kills and then impersonates a top-ranking colonel, all the better to help him nab the gas. Naturally, he plans on selling the stuff to the highest bidder and making himself very rich. Johnny Paul, of course, is the ONLY secret government agent who can stop Tree's evil plans. However, even crack government agents can't do everything themselves, so Johnny calls in some operatives. They turn out to be France Nuyen, who is under cover as the owner of the Dragon Lady night club, and Zulu, who plays the ukulele and sings in a Hawaiian pop band.

It's never clear why, of all the operatives on the government's payroll to choose from, Johnny Paul requested these two. Frankly, they aren't very good at their jobs. Early on, Zulu (who's character is also named Zulu) manages to lose the suspect he was suppose to be tailing. He also gets himself kidnapped. Consequently, Nuyen blows her cover while flirting with Tree--which nearly gets Johnny Paul killed. She gets kidnapped, too. Although, to be fair, Johnny louses things up when he doesn't give himself enough time to search the bad guys' room and must then hide on a window ledge until the coast is clear.

In quick order, Tree (and his minions) manage to steal the nerve gas and the directions to make the stuff. Then he kidnaps Nuyen, who was conveniently at home sunbathing in her bikini. After Johnny Paul rescues Zulu (don't ask), they hop on a boat and race out to catch Tree. Tree, meanwhile, has forced France to use her boat to ferry him out to meet his contact.

Our tale of high stakes espionage reaches it's nail-biting climax when Johnny Paul corners Tree with a flare gun. Even though Tree is holding a harpoon gun, he surrenders. When we next see Johnny Paul, he's over at France's house. The two agents are about to make whoopski when Zulu bursts in with a bunch of friends and everybody starts to party down. The end.

 If you are beginning to think that "Code Name: Diamond Head" resembles a low-budget TV pilot that (mercifully) never got picked up...BINGO! That's because "Code Name: Diamond Head" was a low-budget TV pilot that (mercifully) never got picked up. Never the less, it does have a certain lame-brained charm and some interesting features, which I will catalogue below:

It's Ian McShane and Ian McShane and Ian McShane as nasty double-agent (and master of disguise) "Tree". 
 1) "Johnny Paul" sounds like the name of a porn actor. It's not as obvious as "Johnny Wad" or "Dirk Diggler", but it's still pretty cheesy.
2) Roy Thinnes, as the star of our show, appears better suited for middle management  at an accounting firm than the high stakes world of international intrigue. He makes Tobie Flenderson on "The Office" look like Russell Crow in comparison.
3) Quinn Martin, who produced this flick, had a strange habit of casting actors in supporting roles who are stiffer than the only virgin at a prison rodeo.
4) Besides France Nuyen and Ian McShane, the other notable cast member in "Code Name: Diamond Head" was Eric Braeden. He's better known today as super tycoon "Victor Newman" on the long running soap opera "The Young and The Restless". Although he's supposed to be "a bad dude" from East Germany, Braeden's role in "Code Name: Diamond Head" requires him to do little more than strut around in a Safari suit like a swinger in a High Karate after shave commercial.
5) You can try, but you won't find a better house of 1970's horrors than "Code Name: Diamond Head". The flick is awash in polyester, Leisure suits, bell-bottoms, stack heels, feathered hair, gold chains, loud plaids, wide ties and gas guzzling cars. The only thing missing is someone calling someone else "a turkey", the greatest '70's insult.
6) Even though this flick was supposedly set in Hawaii, "Code Name: Diamond Head" was obviously shot on a sound stage in the states. Despite the abundance of shots of beaches, surfers, tourists and flowered leis, "Code Name: Diamond Head" is about as authentically Hawaiian as the Kon-Ti-Ki Lounge in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Thus, we come to the end of  another detailed post describing the valuable role Junk Cinema plays in protecting, promoting and high lighting rotten movies. Without Junk Cinema and dedicated bad movie fans, "Code Name: Diamond Head" would be gathering dust on a lonely shelf in some long-forgotten basement. Instead, because of the dedicated efforts of "MST3K" (where I first got wind of this flick) and blogs like this, "Code Name: Diamond Head" will be preserved for posterity.
Until next time, Aloha, and remember: save the movies!


Friday, August 8, 2014

"Monster A Go-Go" Is One Go-Go Gone Flick

Go-go dancers and space aliens: Two great tastes that go great together!
"What you are about to see may not even be possible within the narrow limits of the human mind..."
Boy, they ain't kiddin'!
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you "Monster A Go-Go", a movie begun in 1961 by Bill Rebane (of "The Giant Spider Invasion" fame) and shelved when the money ran out. Later, the unfinished footage was scooped up by Herschel Gordon Lewis (director of the beloved classic "The Corpse Grinders"), padded with scenes shot with an entirely different cast, released in 1965 on a double bill with "Moonshine Mountain", given a new name ("Terror at Half Day" was the original moniker) and advertised with the screaming tag-line, "The picture that comes complete with a 10-foot tall monster to give you the wim-wams!!"
How do you do justice to such a film?
I not sure, but I'll do my best...
Our feature presentation begins with strange satellites hovering in the sky. Naturally, NASA sends a space capsule to investigate. The astronaut in charge of the mission is one Frank Douglas. For some inexplicable reason, NASA loses contact with Frank and his capsule crashes to earth. The good news is that the capsule appears to be OK. The bad news is that astronaut Frank Douglas is nowhere to be found.
Then there is some really bad news: the helicopter pilot who landed at the crash site before the NASA mucky-mucks is dead. But not your garden variety dead. When the NASA folks find him, the pilot is "horribly mangled in a way the men had never seen before." Oh, yes, and all the pilot's blood was gone, which may account for the stiff having "withered up like a prune" and then "shrunk".

Not a lot of leg room: Frank Douglas's space capsule appears to have been designed for Smurfs.

"Monster A Go-Go" then switches to the suburban home of Ruth. She's the widow of  another astronaut and has become very close to Frank over the years. How "close" are Frank and Ruth? Well, Frank appears to be single and Ruth is a widow and both are consenting adults, so whatever Frank and Ruth get up to in the privacy of their own homes is really nobody's business. That's how "close" they are.
Anyway, a lady scientist  and Col. Steve Connors from NASA visit Ruth and tell her the awful news about Frank. She completely falls to pieces. When Ruth's son Billy (or Jimmy) comes home and asks, "What's wrong with mommy?" Col. Steve doesn't reply "It's a long list, kid" or "Mommy's upset because she just lost her meal ticket", but instead tells Jimmy (or Billy) that they will be getting an ice cream soda later. The tween realizes this is so totally bogus and runs off.
Next we cut to a laboratory where scientists dicker over Frank being AWOL and wonder about those weird burns surrounding the space capsule. One egg-head believes they are a fraternity prank. With the investigation clearly going nowhere, NASA sends even more big wigs to town to help move things along.
So far, the proceedings in "Monster A Go-Go" have been pretty grim. Therefore, the director (who knows which one) cuts to a swingin' twist party at somebody's house. One gal in particular is twisting up a storm, which upsets her rather sullen boyfriend. After he downs a few shots, the sullen boyfriend yanks his cuddlemate off the dance floor and into his car. They drive for a bit, park and then begin making out.
At this juncture, an unidentified narrator pops in to discuss how many "what if's" there are in life. It would be easier to take the narrator's philosophical musings seriously if they weren't paired with footage of a college couple getting all kissy-face. Anyway, this existential interlude abruptly ends when a thing/force/monster shows up and kills the sullen boyfriend. The girl screams and then faints.
"And how am I suppose to get back to the dorm before curfew now?!" A co-ed reacts to the murder of her boyfriend by an unseen monster/alien/thing.
In case you're wondering, yes, astronaut Frank Douglas is still missing.
Back to the action.
Scientist Dr. Chris Manning decides to tramp out into the area where Frank's capsule crashed. A brave man, Dr. Manning is armed with only a blow-dryer as he stumbles among the thickets and brambles that blanket the crash site. Then the narrator pops back into the picture and declares that Dr. Manning is about to come face-to-face with something SO INCREDIBLE, SO MIND BLOWING, SO ASTOUNDING that it will change his life FOREVER...except the poor sap will be deader than a door-nail any second now, and thus unable to share his findings with an eager public.
What happened? Well, a 10-foot tall chap with a face like a wood duck and a bad case of acne strangles Dr. Manning with his enormous hands. This, I believe, is the monster meant give us "the wim-wams."
Now "Monster A Go-Go" really gets cooking.
Once more we are transported back to the lab, where the scientists and NASA folks endlessly talk and prattle about the missing Frank Douglas and the strange deaths that are popping up all over town. Because Dr. Chris Manning is dead, his cousin, who is also a scientist, has taken over his role in the investigation. For quite a while now Dr. Manning #2 has been acting a little cagey and for some reason keeps disappearing into the laboratory's basement after hours armed with a long, thin hypodermic needle. Hmmm, sounds fishy. What could he be doing? Shooting up? Giving himself Botox injections? Running his own "Dr. Feel Good" practice on the side?
None of the above; after all, Botox wouldn't be invented for years. Turns out Dr. Manning #2--off screen, mind you-- discovered the wim-wam producing monster and hustled him to the lab basement WITHOUT TELLING ANYBODY. What's more, the good doc had been giving the alien monster anti-radiation shots in hopes of "helping" the guy, ALSO WITHOUT TELLING ANYBODY. The shots seemed to be working, and the alien's skin was clearing up, so Dr. Manning #2 thought everything was A-OK. Then one day, the monster broke out of the basement, trashed the lab and headed off for parts unknown. This finally convinced Dr. Manning #2 to spill his guts to NASA.
Oh, and another tidbit: not only is the monster a murderer, he's also RADIOACTIVE and coming into contact with the gent--like the sun bathing housewives the monster snuck up on--can be fatal.

"Does this Haz-Mat suit make my hinder look big?" The brave men of "Monster A Go-Go" prepare to confront their nemesis.
With the realization that a radioactive monster is out prowling around unsupervised finally causes the scientists/ NASA guys to get their rears in gear and capture the guy. With the aid of the police, the fire department, the National Guard, the Emergency Response Team and who-knows-what-else, Dr. Manning #2 and Col. Steve Connors don safety suits and track the monster to a long-abandoned, boarded-up sewer drain. Slowly but surely, the men (using a Geiger counter because, remember, the monster is radioactive) descend into the darkness below, following the monster's trail, coming ever closer until...THEY REACH A DEAD END. Then the narrator informs us, "But there was no Monster!"
Where did he go?
It doesn't matter. There was no monster.
But what about the murders of the pilot and the sullen boyfriend and Dr. Manning #1?
Terrible tragedies, but there was no monster.
And the housewives? Who scared them? Wasn't that a monster?
No, remember, there was no monster!
If there was no monster, what did Dr. Manning#2 drag down to the lab basement and give all those shots to?
Please repeat after me: THERE WAS NO MONSTER!
OK,OK, so what happened to astronaut Frank Douglas?
Oh, that, well, good news! While Dr. Manning #2 and Col. Connors were tracking a monster that never existed in the first place, a messenger arrived with a cable announcing Frank Douglas was found, "of normal size", floating around in the ocean. Case closed.
When a movie pulls a stunt like "Monster A Go-Go" does, it's only natural to feel cheated, lied to, frustrated, mad and seriously pissed-off. I feel your pain, movie lovers, because I experienced it all myself.
However, what I believe happened to "Monster A Go-Go" was this: Herschel Gordon Lewis had two separate reels of film. Each was equally shoddy. He tried to blend the reels together into one coherent movie, but realized he could not. So he tacked on a cop-out ending and called it a day.
If that theory doesn't satisfy you, consider this one:
If two bad movies got together and had a baby, it would grow up to be "Monster A Go-Go".
Until next time, save the movies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lee Van Cleef Is "The Master" Of His Domain


Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten draw swords in a TV Guide ad for their series "The Master".
Before she was the ex-Mrs. Ashton Kutcher, before she was the ex-Mrs. Bruce Willis, before she was a member of "The Brat Pack", before she joined the cast of "General Hospital", before she appeared in such films as "Ghost", "Indecent Proposal", "St. Elmo's Fire", "The Scarlett Letter" and "Striptease", Demi Moore honed her craft (if not her acting) in delightfully dunder-headed TV shows like "The Master" (also known as "The Master Ninja").
Broadcast on NBC for 13 episodes in 1984, "The Master" starred one Timothy Van Patten (formerly of "The White Shadow") as Max Keller, a curly-headed slacker who roams the countryside in a custom van with no visible means of support. His best buddy--and moral, intellectual and acting superior--is Henry, a hamster (or gerbil). Henry rides in a state-of-the-art mounted cage and easily out acts Van Patten every chance he gets.
An even bigger draw than Henry is the ferret-featured, epic sneerer Lee Van Cleef, star of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and countless other Spaghetti Westerns. He plays John Peter McCallister, "the first Occidental ever to become a ninja master."  McCallister is pretty content being a ninja until he learns "he has a daughter he never knew he had." So he makes tracks to the US of A to find her, which upsets his fellow ninjas. I guess ninja's don't have a family leave policy.

 Henry the Hamster (or Gerbil) chews plenty of scenery (and carrots) in his break-out role in "The Master".

Where does Demi Moore figure in? Well, she plays Holly Trumbell. Max meets her when she flags him down in order to escape a nasty sheriff (Bill McKinny). See, Holly and her dad Claude Akins (the cast list priceless, am I right?) are being squeezed by an evil developer (Clu Gulgar), who wants to pave over their historic airport and put up a shopping mall.

Max and McCallister, meanwhile, meet in the local dive bar. It's there that corrupt sheriff McKinny has the nerve to paw through the aging Master's suitcase. This ticks Lee off sooooo much that his body double proceeds to demolish the bar. In the ensuing mayhem, Max and the Master escape together and find refuge at the Trumble Airport.

Still with me? Good. Max is soooo impressed that John is a ninja that he offers to help the old pepper find his daughter in return for ninja lessons. Van Cleef at first demurs, insisting that Max lacks the "internal discipline" (not to mention the smarts) to become a ninja. He later relents because the story-line demands it.

There are two sub-plots running through "The Master" like an open sewer: locating McCallister's long lost daughter is one. The other involves disgruntled ninja Okasa (Sho Koshgi), who wants to off the Master. Okasa is sooo determined to do Van Cleef in, that he dodges his every step, even donning elaborate disguises to nail him. He comes fairly close, but Lee always manages to escape in the nick of time.

While Max, the Master and Henry travel over hill and dale trying to locate Van Cleef's daughter, they stop along the way to help people with their personal problems. Besides Demi and Claude Akins, our heroes also help a dance club owner fight a Japanese mob take-over (and assist his daughter with her physical therapy), as well as inspire the workers of a local cannery to establish a union.

Even an attempted "arty shot" can't hide Demi Moore's less-than-adoring attitude about on-screen cuddlemate Max.
However, my favorite episode of "The Master" involved Max and John saving the bacon of a senator's dim-wit daughter.
The duo first come to her aid when her spiffy red sports car experiences brake failure. Max, who happens to be hang gliding at the exact spot where this gal's brakes give out, swoops down and has her grab onto his...uh...wires or something. While Cindy (as I call her, I couldn't find her name in the cast list) hangs on for dear life, Max whizzes over to where the Master is standing. On Max's command, Cindy then flings herself into John's waiting arms. This stunt is suppose to be nail-biting and show what great shape the Master is in. In reality, it looks as if an intern tossed a 50 pound bag of wet cement at the unsuspecting Van Cleef's bread-basket.
To thank the fellas for saving her life, Cindy invites them to her father's snooty garden party. This black-tie gathering is interrupted when terrorists (disguised as waiters) turn over the buffet table and take hostages, one of them being Cindy. The hostages are then hustled over to an impenetrable fortress to rot. Actually, the impenetrable fortress is not really that impenetrable: guest-star George Lazenby (James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") manages to climb over the property's fence and snap pictures of the impenetrable show how impenetrable it is. Meanwhile, John and Max have been taken to police HQ. The police are at a loss as to how to save the hostages until one of them recognizes John is a ninja master and the only one who can climb up the fortress's high walls and save the day.
Besides the pedestrian writing, ham-bone acting, predictable slo-mo car crashes and cheesy special effects, "The Master" is also a hilarious showcase for the dubious talents of one Timothy Van Patten.
Simply put, Van Patten has the worst diction imaginable; he makes Elmer Fudd sound like Richard Burton. Often times you just can't understand him, making "The Master" the first English-language TV series that needed subtitles... for its star.
As for Demi, her role in "The Master' required her to do little more than pout and pucker-up with Van Patten. She would later perform this skill with Robert Redford, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas. While Moore's future leading men were considerably more "A-list" than Timothy Van Patten, her acting never strayed far from her "Master" beginnings.

 Timothy Van Patten polishes his rodent impression. A real rodent would later upstage him in  this department, too.
So what does this all add up to?
1) Timothy Van Patten was the Elmer Fudd of his generation.
2) Lee Van Cleef can still out-sneer anyone.
3) Demi Moore has given the same acting performance over and over again.
4) "The Master" was a lot like "BJ and the Bear", except the chimp was replaced by a hamster/gerbil. And Claude Akins showed up, but not as Sheriff Lobo. And the lady truckers were replaced by ladies-in-distress. And there is a ninja.
5) Small towns in America are regularly threatened by evil capitalist pigs, corrupt sheriff departments and union busting thugs.
6) Nowhere else but in the universe of Junk Cinema will you find a mush-mouthed jerk driving around with a Spaghetti Western icon who ends up tangling with an ex-James Bond, Monte Markum, Ed "Kookie" Byrnes and the future ex-wife of both Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis.
Now that's entertainment!


Friday, August 1, 2014

Killer Tomates! Wild Strawberries! Giant Grasshoppers! It's "The Beginning Of The End"!


 Size does matter in Bert I. Gordon's grasshopper epic "The Beginning of the End".

Say, movie lovers, I have a question for you: How do you feel about genetically modified food? You know, food grown from seeds that scientists have dickered around with in the lab?
Some folks see GMF as a clever way to feed the world. Others fear unforeseen side effects.
Me? I tend to side with those who urge caution. Why? Is it because I am a vegan? A back to nature type? A foodie?
None of thee above. It's because I am a Junk Cinema lover--and I have seen Bert I. Gordon's "The Beginning of the End", which dared to show way back in 1957 that GMF was a VERY BAD IDEA.
It all begins innocently enough. A teenage couple in lover's lane are happily making out in a spiffy convertible. They come up for air and the girl suddenly screams. A few seconds later, a pair of cops out on patrol find their car twisted into a heap and the teenagers are nowhere to be found.
After that shocking discovery comes another even more shocking discovery: The entire town of Ludlow, Illinois (pop. 150) is destroyed! Ruined! There is not a single soul left!

 "Hey, Mare! Get Lou Grant on the line!" Hot-shot reporter Audrey Ames works her beat.
Next we are introduced to spunky girl reporter/photographer Audrey Ames (Peggy Castle), who works for "National Wire Service." She's en route to another assignment when she comes upon a detour. What gives? When the military won't let her through, Audrey smells a cover-up.
Turns out the town of Ludlow (pop.150) has been destroyed and there are no survivors. But you already knew that, right? Well, Audrey doesn't buy it, telling the C.O. in charge, "A town of 150 people just doesn't vanish!"
Because all spunky girl reporter/photographers are, well, spunky, Audrey decides to do some investigating on her own. Her nose for news leads her to a pre-"Mission: Impossible" Peter Graves, who plays Ed Wainwright, a scientist for the Department of Agriculture. Ed is using atomic energy to grow fruits and veggies. Huge fruits and veggies. I mean, his apples are the size of a Dodge Dart.
Hmm. Could there be a connection this atomic powered produce and the events at Ludlow?
Audrey, Ed and his loyal assistant Frank (who lost his hearing in a radiation accident) travel the back roads to Ludlow. Poking around, the trio discovers the grass has been chewed to bits. Then they hear a strange clicking sound. Suddenly a grasshopper the size of a skyscraper hops on screen and eats Frank! Audrey and Ed drive off in horror.

"Peek-A-Boo! I see you!" Ill-fated Frank has a close encounter with a giant grasshopper.
At military HQ, Peter and Peggy try to convince pug-faced Col. Sturgeon (Thomas B. Henry) that danger is imminent. In vain. The military brass doesn't buy the idea of king sized grasshoppers turning the great state of Illinois into their personal salad bar of doom. But after Graves accompanies a platoon on maneuvers, opinions quickly change. Despite tons of guns and ammo, the gigantic grasshoppers devour half the company. Suddenly death by grasshoppers is a very real possibility.
How did this happen? Well, it turns out some grasshoppers got into Ed's super atomic plant food. They then hippity-hopped over to a grain silo, where the bugs chowed down with abandon. The more they ate, the bigger the bugs got until they burst out of the silo. Now the size of freight trains, the grasshoppers proceed to munch the hapless citizens of Ludlow into oblivion. Oh, the humanity!
With the fate of the entire human race at stake, what's to be done? The military, naturally, wants to go in with guns a-blazin'. Failing that, they want to bring in the nukes. Nukes! Ed, on the other hand, argues for a more scientific approach. Audrey, never in the same outfit twice, stands by Ed. She does that for the rest of the flick. Literally. She never moves.
As the clock ticks away and all of Chicago hangs in the balance, Ed finally comes up with a solution: he makes a recording of the grasshoppers mating call (I bet you didn't know that the bigger the bug, the hornier they are. Well, it's true.). With this siren song playing, the grasshoppers are then lured into Lake Michigan, where they quickly drown. The world safe at last, everybody breathes a sigh of relief...oh, what's this? Ed isn't so sure the danger has passed? Could other insects have eaten the super duper plant food? Could other insects and bugs and stuff be growing at a super sized rate as we speak?
On that cheerful note, "The Beginning of the End" concludes its broadcast day. Good luck and God bless.
Now, experienced Junk Cinema lovers will note that the fate of the gigantic grasshoppers in this flick mirrors the fate of the killer bees in Irwin Allen's notorious "The Swarm" (1978). In that flick, bee expert Michael Caine (!) lures the nasty little buzzers into the Gulf of Mexico with the sound of the Queen Bee's mating call (you knew bees were total sex maniacs, right? Well, they are.). After the bees dived in head first into the drink, the scientists then poured OIL on them and SET THE GULF ON FIRE! Green Peace must have had a fit.


 "This is a bug hunt, man! A bug hunt!" The military goes great guns after the grasshoppers.
I also feel it is my duty to ask if drowning gigantic grasshoppers who gulped down some atomic plant food (and their killer bee buddies) is really such a good idea. I mean, wouldn't the bugs pollute the water? And wouldn't setting fire to the Gulf of Mexico be a bit, oh, dangerous environmentally? I'm just asking, mind you; I don't have a better solution. I was just, well, concerned.
Moving right along, Bert I. Gordon wasn't the only one warning folks about the dangers of rouge bugs and evil plants. If you happened to watch "Lost in Space" way back when, you would know that "Space Family Robinson" encountered no less than three episodes about evil plants: "Attack of the Monster Plants", "The Space Croppers" (which featured Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge, no less) and "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" where the whole family was turned into plant people. Meanwhile, over on the set of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", a mad scientist forced his twin to make evil plants and vicious sea weed during the "Plant Man" episode in 1967.
Film-maker Bert I. Gordon became known as "Mr. B.I.G." because of A) his initials and B) his fondness for super-sized subject matter. Bet I. has dealt with giant people ("The Amazing Colossal Man" and its sequel "War of the Colossal Beast"), giant rats ("Food of the Gods"), and giant ants in "Empire of the Ants"--which starred a pre-"Dynasty" Joan Collins battling cheap special effects with only one costume change. In this dilly, the ants grow to the size of Buicks after sampling a bit too much of the illegally dumped toxic waste some corporate baddies dumped in the sea. After they mutate, the ants take over a tiny town and enslave the human residents. In her autobiography, Joan admitted she did "Empire of the Ants" because her family needed the money; shortly after film wrapped, poor Joan went on unemployment.
This just proves my point that Junk Cinema is not merely entertaining; it's also educational. After watching "The Beginning of the End", who would believe that GMF is a good idea? The message of the film is loud and clear: Don't fool with Mother Nature! Use natural fertilizer! Grow your own produce! And keep nuclear by-products away from the bugs, for heaven's sake!
Until next time, save the movies!