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 My summer film project: 50 Chilling Classics
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 11/06/2009 :  00:31:26  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hello, all.

I've assigned myself rather a daunting, film-related project for Summer 2009. I purchased 50 Chilling Classics, one of those cheap (mine was $8) DVD sets which contain 50 mostly obscure films crammed onto 12 discs, and I've committed to watching every last one of them.

Where to start with a thing like this? I could watch the movies in the order they happen to be included in the set, starting with Disc 1, Side A. Or I could watch the movies in alphabetical or chronological order. But none of those suited me. Instead, I decided to let the IMDb be my guide. I'll be watching these in the order of their IMDb rating, starting with the lowest and ending with the highest. (In the event of a tie, I went with number of votes.) I call this project:

THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER


The thinking is: each movie will be (theoretically) better than the one before it, and I'll get the worst over with right at the beginning. I started the project off last night with the two lowest-rated films, the only films ranked lower than a 2.0:

1. Track of the Moon Beast
2. The Demons of Ludlow

Neither one was unwatchable, thankfully. Track is familiar to MST3K viewers and tells the story of a very unlucky man who gets a piece of falling space rock lodged in his head and becomes a kind of rampaging were-lizard whenever the moon appears. It's a fairly silly 1970s-style variation on a 1950s-type monster movie, only with a distinct Southwestern feel. I had forgotten how grim and self-serious the picture becomes in its second half... and how precious little screentime the monster gets. Largely painless. If this is the worst (and it rates a miserable 1.6 at IMDb) I'm home free.

Demons of Ludlow (rated a comparatively healthy 1.9), meanwhile, comes from the infamous Wisconsin auteur Bill Rebane and initially bears a marked resemblance to his earlier, bigger-budgeted Giant Spider Invasion. As it develops, however, this tale of a cursed small town called Ludlow becomes more ludicrous and less coherent, with much of the plot hinging on a ghostly white piano which drips blood. This film plays like the work of a real whackjob, but amazingly Rebane does sort of succeed in creating an ominous atmosphere, and brief moments of the film are genuinely creepy. Despite its cheapness and silliness, the film does seem to have a mysterious mojo, and Ludlow emerges as a genuinely rotten place to be.

Next stop: Oasis of the Zombies -- the first film in the project to break the 2.0 mark.

Depending on the interest level of Fourumers, I'd be happy to post occasional updates on this project. Either way, though, I've got my work cut out for me.

Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 11/06/2009 :  02:19:11  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
UPDATE (whether you wanted one or not): I just got through watching the next film in the project...

3. Oasis of the Zombies

The title, at least, is accurate. There is an oasis, and it does seem to have a zombie problem. Otherwise, this poorly-dubbed Jesus Franco flick represents a marked step down from the previous two in terms of cinematography, acting, and overall interest level. The film concerns a group of young college students who go looking for buried WWII treasure in the African desert, only to encounter the walking dead.

By the way, when did the standard template for horror films become: a group of (supposedly) attractive teenagers or twentysomethings head out on some kind of road trip or expedition and run into monsters/killers/whatever? Did this tradition start with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? It certainly remains the template for a great many horror movies, even today.
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demon18c 
"Cinemaniac"

United Kingdom

Posted - 11/06/2009 :  02:52:31  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
It's a great idea - and I'm looking forward to hearing more updates. I suspect it's going to get a whole lot more painful - I suspect getting out of the 1s, 2s and 3s of IMDB you move out of the realm of the inept and the comical into the realm of the mundane and derivative.
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lemmycaution 
"Long mired in film"

Canada

Posted - 11/06/2009 :  03:01:00  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Well, I would have chosen watching in chrono order 'cause then you might be able to see influences.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 12/06/2009 :  03:21:35  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by lemmycaution

Well, I would have chosen watching in chrono order 'cause then you might be able to see influences.



I considered that route, but it felt a bit too clinical. With this project, I wanted to mix the movies up a little more and maybe get some jarring contrasts along the way -- sort of a cinematic equivalent of an iPod. If you put them in chronological order, the flicks might get kind of same-y, and the project could turn monotonous quickly. This way, I have films from different eras thrown together into one massive playlist, grouped only by their respective popularity and acclaim. In a larger sense, this project will be an informal test of the IMDb's ratings. (Are the 4's really "better" than the 2's?)

In any event, it's off to another flick:

4. Drive-In Massacre

Rated 2.0, Massacre is one of those see-it-to-believe-it monstrosities that bad movie lovers cherish and which most filmgoers and critics will (rightly) dismiss out of hand. Technically incompetent and weirdly written and acted, this film has a fever dream quality. As the title suggests, it concerns a series of slayings at a drive-in movie theater, but that skeletal plot outline barely hints at the film's oddness. Most of the film's screentime, for instance, is spent with the two bumbling detectives working on the case, and they're played by burly, middle-aged character actors who look enough alike to be twins. The cast is rounded out by a collection of low-lifes and weirdos, chief among whom is the drive-in's surly manager, who talks like Morton Downey, Jr. and looks like Anton LaVey. This is a lousy film but strangely compelling nevertheless.

Our next stop: another 2.0-er, Horrors of Spider Island. This is another film I remember from MST3K and which I'm kind of dreading...


Edited by - Joe Blevins on 12/06/2009 03:30:49
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 13/06/2009 :  19:15:10  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by demonic

It's a great idea - and I'm looking forward to hearing more updates. I suspect it's going to get a whole lot more painful - I suspect getting out of the 1s, 2s and 3s of IMDB you move out of the realm of the inept and the comical into the realm of the mundane and derivative.



That may well prove true. For now, though, the movies are still entertainingly nutty. I've added four more flicks to the "done" pile, and I want to write a little about them before they've vanished from my memory.

All of the following are still in the low-to-mid "2" range.

5. Horrors of Spider Island
6. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
7. The War of the Robots
8. Snake People

Spider Island was much as I remembered it from MST3K: a bowdlerized "clean" version of a German nudie-cutie about a planeload of dancers who get stranded on a spider-infested island. Much of it plays like 1960s male wish fulfillment: lots of sleazy saxophone music as the scantily-clad ladies lounge around and get into occasional catfights. The poor dubbing lends some comedy appeal, particularly in the case of one of the young ladies who "speaks" with a VERY unconvincing "Southern" accent. Largely a snoozer. (Here's a short playlet I once wrote about Spider Island.)

Jesse James Meets... had some novelty appeal going for it, being not only a Western/Horror hybrid but also the first Frankenstein picture of this project. Compared to some of the films I've been watching recently, I can say that at least this picture is in focus and properly lit and framed, placing it miles ahead of stuff like Oasis of the Zombies on a technical level. The title and premise, of course, are intentionally outlandish. The picture itself is kind of flat and talky with some stiff acting. Not a total ripoff, though. Universal mainstay Nestor Paiva makes an all-too-brief apppearance.

But at last this project has unveiled some true hidden gems! I loved the heck out of War of the Robots and Snake People. These films alone are worth the $8 I spent on the set.

War is not a horror film in any way. Its title and release year (1978) tell the tale: this is a cheapie Star Wars wannabe, pure late 1970s science-fiction right down to the unisex jumpsuits. There's so much to love here: a pulsing Moog synthesizer score, armies of "robots" who look just like Martin Short's Jackie Rogers, Jr. character, and lots of sequences of model spaceships blasting each other with lasers. This is a film I may well revisit after the project ends, if only to figure out what the heck was supposed to be happening in it.

Snake People, meanwhile, is a full-on voodoo zombie picture with lots of atmosphere and a real, honest-to-goodness star, MR. BORIS KARLOFF, who is treated reverently in the movie's charming title sequence. The plot of this one kind of eluded me, but Karloff's character seemed to be a plantation owner using voodoo to keep the natives of a remote island under his sway. This movie has it all: sexy dancing girls, voodoo rituals, walking sticks with skulls at the end of them, snakes aplenty, an evil midget henchman, and sweaty guys who wear white "tropical" suits and sip strong drinks while sitting in oversized wicker chairs and discussing the plot. This one was a lot of fun.

Hopefully, the fun will continue with the next flicks on the roster: I Eat Your Skin and Memorial Valley Massacre.

P.S. I once wrote a playlet about Film #1, Track of the Moon Beast, too. Here it is if you're interested.

Edited by - Joe Blevins on 13/06/2009 19:18:07
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 13/06/2009 :  22:29:02  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Life's funny sometimes. I've gone my whole life without seeing any "voodoo zombie" pictures, and now I've seen two in a row. First Snake People and now...

9. I Eat Your Skin

Some of the same elements from Snake People are here: the snakes, the drums, the dancing. Heck, even the same oversized wicker furniture! Otherwise, this 1964 flick is a real artifact, one for the time capsule. The movie's hero, a womanizing "adventure" novelist, is the ideal of early-Sixties macho manliness -- a suave yet rugged, take-charge guy with one hand around an adoring blonde and the other holding either a cocktail or a pistol. He's smooth with the ladies and handy with his fists. I'm reminded of Cold War era James Bond, musty Playboy back issues, and vintage whiskey and cigarette ads clipped from lurid "men's magazines." (The movie's title could be a headline from one of those magazines, though no actual skin eating -- or any hint of cannibalism -- takes place in the movie itself.) The first and last times we see our hero, he's lounging poolside at the Fontainebleau, reciting from his novels to a bevy of adoring cuties. How much more "early 1960s" can you get? Little does this guy know that Beatlemania will soon make him obsolete.

A few caveats about the flick: there's some serious racism here, what with the monstrous dark-skinned natives constantly threatening the movie's "blonde virgin" heroine. The film's dialogue contains some untranslated Spanish, which may make a few plot points less-than-clear for some viewers. And, finally, as "voodoo zombie" flicks go, I Eat Your Skin is no Snake People, despite its slightly higher IMDB rating.

P.S. - Despite my ignorance of voodoo zombies, I once had to write a short story about just that topic as part of a month-long writing project. Here's how it turned out.




Edited by - Joe Blevins on 14/06/2009 04:42:55
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 14/06/2009 :  18:56:23  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
We've clearly entered the "oh, dear Lord" stage of the project:

10. Memorial Valley Massacre
11. The Cold

These are two 1980s horror flicks, rated 2.7 and 2.8 respectively, and by and large these were films I actively hated.

The holiday-themed Memorial Valley is a failed attempt to give Memorial Day Weekend its own Halloween or April Fools Day. The gist of it is that a young man who has reverted to a caveman-like feral state is upset by the encroachment of campers to his once-unspoiled valley, so he starts murdering the tacky tourists one by one... or in small groups. I don't dig movies about cavemen, whether they're actually set in prehistoric times or whether they're about cavemen living in our times. I can't enjoy the flick if I know I'm going to have to spend an hour and a half looking at a character with a dirty face, jagged teeth, matted hair, and a loincloth made of animal skins. I consistently say "no, thanks" to caveman movies, and it doesn't help that this one is filled with broadly-drawn 1980s stereotype characters (bikers, metalheads, overweight suburbanites). For me, this movie loses whatever credibility it had when Nature Boy gives up on his homemade, eco-friendly weapons and just starts attacking people with a bulldozer. Boo!

And this brings us to The Cold, also known as The Game (a much more accurate title). After Demons of Ludlow, I wasn't exactly jonesing for another Bill Rebane movie, but that's what I got. This one's about three eccentric millionaires who lure a group of losers to an isolated hotel (again in Wisconsin) to play an elaborate game. Hunting them for sport? Nope. The millionaires are going to try to scare the contestants into leaving the game, and the one who lasts the longest wins a million bucks. The forced jollity of the millionaires -- often underscored by the same 20 seconds of endlessly looped ragtime piano -- becomes grating very quickly. The contestants, too, are lumpy morons who squabble amongst themselves. The movie's one semi-highlight occurs when one of the characters pauses to watch Rebane's own Giant Spider Invasion on television. Not that this is such a great scene, mind you, but it gives you an idea of the director's ego. Or maybe not: the television announcer misidentifies the film as "The Great Spider Invasion."

These films were a chore, I must admit, but I'm looking forward to the next film on the roster -- The Revenge of Dr. X -- because it was supposedly cowritten by Edward D. Wood, Jr. That's what happens when you watch Bill Rebane movies; you start looking forward to Ed Wood movies.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 15/06/2009 :  02:46:38  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
And just like that, my faith in the project has been restored! Thanks to the next film:

12. Revenge of Dr. X

This was the one supposedly scripted by Ed Wood, and it seems plausible that this is his work. For one thing, there's no one called "Dr. X" in this movie, and nobody gets "revenge" on anyone. Instead, a grouchy NASA scientist needs a vacation, so he decides to spend it on a mountaintop in Japan where he performs bizarre botany experiments involving the crossbreeding of carnivorous plants. The result of his work is a lumbering, flesh-devouring plant monster who goes on the prerequisite rampage. Pretty much a Frankenstein ripoff, complete with a "creation" scene, a hunchbacked assistant, and villagers weilding torches. When the movie takes a brief detour into sexploitation territory, it does so the Ed Wood way: randomly and with a certain naivete. Here, the mad doctor's plant-finding research is aided by topless scuba-diving nymphs, though nothing remotely sexual occurs. The plant monster itself is quite a creation, a whimsical-looking thing who would not be out of place in a Sid & Marty Krofft TV show.

SIDE NOTE: I'm twelve films into this project, and I've realized that booze plays a big part in low-budget horror films. The characters in these movies are always guzzling down alcohol. Liquor is to those movies what cigarettes are to film noir. We'll see if that trend continues with the next flick: Medusa with George Hamilton.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 16/06/2009 :  03:51:07  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
And the project keeps rolling along with the last of the "2"-rated films:

13. Medusa
14. The Witches Mountain

Both rated 2.9, these disappointing flicks have little to recommend other than a certain international flavor.

Medusa is not a horror film per se -- although it does feature some murders -- and has no apparent relation to the Gorgon of mythology. It's basically a crime/mob film set and filmed in Greece. George Hamilton, who also produced, stars as an out-of-control playboy with an insatiable appetite for gambling and women. He owes a lot of money to the mob, which is a problem because he's just been cut out of his father's will. The "drinking" motif definitely continues with this one. In George's first big scene, he crashes his sister's engagement party by drunkenly driving his sports car up some stairs, then staggering around dressed as Elvis and crooning "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." Oh, did I mention that he and his sister have an incestuous relationship? Well, they do... sort of. I'm sure there's some thematic reason for calling this film Medusa, but I didn't catch it. This movie was oddly excruciating, even though it was not outstandingly bad on a technical level and even featured some passable acting.

The Witches Mountain -- not part of the Disney Witch Mountain franchise -- is a very vague Spanish film about a photographer who travels up into the mountains on an assignment, only to find himself being harrassed by a coven of witches. The main point of interest here is the leading man's moustache, easily the thickest, darkest moustache I have ever seen. One moustache to rule them all! The moustache gets more screentime, I think, than the photographer's latest girlfriend, who kind of looks like the Spanish equivalent of Karen Allen. Nothing much of interest happens here, though the witches do (eventually) stage a song and dance number.

Next time: we charge boldly into the "3"s with a film called Panic. Be there!

P.S. - If you've actually seen any of these flicks and want to chime in, please do.
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demon18c 
"Cinemaniac"

United Kingdom

Posted - 16/06/2009 :  13:06:55  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I've never even heard of any them... it's opening up a whole new world for me Joe. My favourite title so far is definitely "I Eat Your Skin". That's hilarious. I still think it's going to get a whole lot more painful.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 16/06/2009 :  18:30:47  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by demonic

I've never even heard of any them... it's opening up a whole new world for me Joe. My favourite title so far is definitely "I Eat Your Skin". That's hilarious. I still think it's going to get a whole lot more painful.



Well, movies #10, 11, 13, and 14 have been pretty torturous, so you might be right. And TWO of those have featured Cameron Mitchell (Memorial Valley Massacre and Medusa). Nothing against this guy as an actor, but when you see his name in the opening credits, the movie is almost assuredly going to be terrible. He's the opposite of a good luck charm for movies.

As for I Eat Your Skin, I'd only heard it as part of the punchline of a joke told by Joe Bob Briggs back when he did his Monstervision show on TNT back in the Nineties. I'm paraphrasing badly here, but it went something like: "Do you remember that great old Catholic double feature? I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin!"

P.S. - I've enjoyed this project so much, though, that when it's done I'm halfway tempted to continue with an 8-pack of "drive-in" flicks from Crown International Pictures. I got that a while ago and never really watched it.
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Larry 
"Larry's time / sat merrily"

Posted - 16/06/2009 :  19:19:01  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

Sadly, I've seen almost all of these films... and, mostly at the cinema (drive-in theaters, actually). I'm thoroughly enjoying your commentary. Keep it up.
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Joe Blevins 
"Don't I look handsome?"

Posted - 17/06/2009 :  03:16:19  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Larry


Sadly, I've seen almost all of these films... and, mostly at the cinema (drive-in theaters, actually). I'm thoroughly enjoying your commentary. Keep it up.



Thanks so much for saying so. The project continues unabated with the first 3.0-rated film:

15. Panic

This plays like a cross between Albert Camus' The Plague and every lame monster movie you've ever seen in your life. Basically, there's some kind of toxic screw-up at a lab somewhere in England, and the result is precisely one (1) rampaging monster. But there's talk of a virus, so the snippy government officials decide to quarantine the whole town and destroy everyone and everything in it. You know, just to be on the safe side. For the most part, this is a compendium of horror movie cliches, many of which have already surfaced several times in this project. A lovey-dovey couple is attacked in a car while making out; a woman is attacked in the shower (Hitchcock has a lot to answer for!); moviegoers are attacked in a theater (a la The Blob); there are menacing POV shots galore; a man tells a woman to "wait in the car" while he goes exploring (leading to the inevitable "I thought I told you to wait in the car!" scene); police find a mutilated body and speculate what kind of creature could have done such a thing. You know the drill. The finale is memorably crappy, featuring, hands down, the worst use of a Red Digital Readout I have ever seen in a motion picture. The end credits bring back some of the charm, though, as they mysteriously occupy only the top half of the screen (the bottom is blank) and identify the boom operator as "mike man." Oh, and there's a Criswell-type warning at the very end! Wait for it!

This was another loser. Hopefully, the next film (Slashed Dreams) will turn the tide.
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thefoxboy 
"Four your eyes only."

Eastern Suburbs, Melbourne, Australia

Posted - 17/06/2009 :  05:36:59  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Really enjoying this thread Joe.

Not sure when you will get to Driller Killer, but it's poo! :)

Don't know why Monsturd isn't on there.

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Sean 
"Necrosphenisciform anthropophagist."

New Zealand

Posted - 17/06/2009 :  06:38:45  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I'm intrigued by this project, and for $8 for 50 movies you can't go wrong. I recall one of the makers of Monsturd saying that if you only had a few thousand dollars to make a movie then you may as well make a horror; a B-grade horror is likely to be a lot more watchable than a B-grade drama / action / comedy etc.

I'm sorely tempted to do this myself (with that same collection) and watch them on my "didn't get anything from netflix today" nights. I'd also use the same IMDb-score viewing order. I checked out the list of movies in that set and was shocked to see I've only seen one of them.
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