Saturday, April 28, 2007

Valley of the Lost Dollar Store Cinema!

Billionaire oil tycoon and big-game hunter Richard Boone announces the discovery of a lost world hidden inside the warm pocket of a dormant volcano at the north pole and upon arriving, Boone and his team find that the hidden world is populated with both prehistoric humans and dinosaurs. Although the humans give the explorers a fair bit of trouble, the real danger is the guy in the rubber tyrannosaurus rex suit intent on making lunch out of the Great White Hunter and his crew. I remember watching this made-for-TV movie as a youth with awe and excitement, but as an older, jaded viewer, I can't help but wonder who the audience of this movie was intended to be. The storyline tried to be as "grown up" as possible but the special effects were something akin to an episode of Stingray or Thunderbirds. In an attempt at irony, the movie's title refers more to Boone's character, Maston Thrust, than the guy in the rubber suit because the guy in the rubber suit isn't actually the last dinosaur. Triceratops and pterodactyl run amok in the lush, tropical caldera at the frozen top of the earth. Thrust is meant to be portrayed as a womanizing, hunting type of man's man, but he looks and acts more like an overworked garbage man on his lunch break.

I'm fairly certain Richard Boone was probably drunk through most of the shooting of this movie, doubtlessly due to the sorry state of his career at the time, playing a two-dimensional character in a movie one could hperbolically refer to as Jaws with a dinosaur. The guy was Paladin, for cryin' out loud!

Rankin & Bass, those animation geniuses who brought us all those classic Christmas specials and the made-for-TV animated adaptation of The Hobbit, were the producers of The Last Dinosaur, which explains Boone's involvement in the movie. Boone's unmistakable voice brought The Hobbit's legendary dragon Smaug to life. Along with some equally bad acting on the part of Joan Van Ark, a gutsy photojournalist Boone refers to as "Crazy Lady," are some pretty amusing slow-motion shots that, although meant for impact, fall short of being Sam Peckenpah-esque.

Since acquiring this jewel on DVD, complete with hard-coded Japanese subtitles, I've probably watched it about a dozen times. The Last Dinosaur, as bad as it is, takes me back to my childhood every time and I can't help but wonder why no one ever remade it. With today's CGI effects, it could perhaps even rival Jurassic Park. Aw, who am I kiddin'. It's terrible. Even my kids won't watch it!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nightmare at Dollar Store Cinema!

Harold Gern (Antony Carbone), a successful businessman of questionable merit from New York is spending a holiday in Puerto Rico with his trophy wife Evelyn (Betsy Jones Moreland). They are joined by Gern's lawyer pal Martin Joyce (Robert Towne, who was also the film's writer). Gern invites Martin along on a scuba diving trip with him and his wife. When they resurface the trio discovers they are unable to breathe without using their oxygen tanks. They climb back into their boat and find Manuel, their servant, dead on board from asphyxiation (This is the poor bastard's only scene in the film, I might add). Unable to start the engine, they row ashore. With 40 minutes worth of oxygen left they enter the jungle, where, due to the plants giving off oxygen, they can soon breathe normally again (and light up cigarettes to calm down their nerves). It gradually dawns on them that they might be the only survivors in the area, maybe even the world. Very soon the trio can no longer cope with the developing love triangle and you can pretty much guess how it ends. Or can you?

What separates this 1960 Roger Corman gem apart from almost any "end of the world" film I've ever seen is the dialogue. It's razor sharp, although some of it poorly delivered. Martin delivers probably the best lines when he's paired off with Evelyn, but I suppose if I were writing a movie for myself, that's how I'd do it too. Moreland's performance is probably the best of the three and she ain't hard to look at either. One other notable difference between this film and others of its ilk is the fact that the trio continue to dress in that snappy, sharp as a tack 1960s style, right down to ties and necklaces.

Like I said, this movie doesn't end like you think it will, but don't look for mutants or gangs of vampire bikers in this one. This one's a philosophical drama, or at least it tries to be. If you've got 75 minutes to kill, make yourself a martini, put on some Brubeck and enjoy The Last Woman on Earth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It Came from the Dollar Store Cinema!

I have to bend the rules a bit in order to post this one but as Batman once told Superman when the Man of Steel questioned the Dark Knight's methods of crime fighting, "My ends justify my means." For my birthday, someone gave me a burned copy of the 1972 made-for-TV classic b-movie "Gargoyles" after hearing me go on and on about how it's one of my favorite movies of all time. In spite of my love for the flick, with a price tag of upwards of $40, I was willing to wait for the price to go down a bit before buying it. This is Dollar Store Cinema after all and "cheapness" is what it's all about (Thank you Frank Zappa). While I don't completely condone the burning of DVDs for profit, I also can't totally condemn it. After all, dollar stores are ripe with DVDs produced by shadowy companies out to make a buck whom I'm sure don't always own the copyrights to the movies they crap out onto disks. If they did, they'd probably be able to charge more than a buck for 'em. But, I digress.

Anthropologist/paleontologist (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter (Jennifer Salt), while travelling through the southwestern US, stumble upon a colony of living, breathing gargoyles who in the end only want to be left alone. It seems the addle-minded Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss), curator of a roadside "museum," unearthed the skeletal remains of a gargoyle that the gargoyle colony desperately want back. When the gargoyles attempt to retrieve the skeleton, poor Uncle Willie meets a terrible end and Wilde and Salt barely escape with their lives, taking with them the skull of the gargoyle for further study. Once they do however, they, as well as the little desert town, are besieged by a colony of gargoyles lead by Mr. Bernie "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" Casey, whose garish makeup does little in the way of hiding his identity.

With a creepy soundtrack, lots of slow-motion scenes and some pretty cool makeup by Stan Winston, Gargoyles scared the crap out of this impressionable then five-year-old. Watching this movie as an adult, however, is a totally different experience. Cliches and weird characters abound, including Uncle Willie, a young Scott Glenn as the leader of a gang of "dirt riders" as Salt calls them and an over-sexed alcoholic motel owner masterfully played by the late Grayson Hall. If you enjoy b-movies, this one has it all!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Dollar Store Cinema Returns! Sort of...

It's a little known fact that so-called dollar stores are a great place to scout out cheap movies on DVD. We have about a half dozen such stores in my little hometown here and, every chance I get, I scour them for DVDs. My philososphy is simple: if you pay a buck for a movie and it turns out to be crap, you're only out a buck.

In the past, I've managed to find quite a few good movies this way, Kansas City Confidential, Deep Red and Legend of the Eight Samurai are among the good ones. Horrors of Spider Island, however, wasn't. It was, though, worth watching for its pure absurdity and it gave me the idea for a (hopefully) regular segment. I'm calling it "Dollar Store Cinema" and it will feature movies I've found that are so bad I couldn't look away.

A team of girls find themselves caught in a deadly web when they are shipwrecked on a remote South Seas island. The lush, tropical isle seems an ideal place to await their rescue, but hidden in the jungle are giant poisonous spiders. A venomous bite transforms the girls' escort into a disfigured beast, half-man and half-insect. Consumed with lust and craving blood, the monster hunts down the defenseless girls and slaughters them one by one.

At least that's what the box says. What you get are cat fights, cheap special effects, horny broads and bad acting. It's just THAT good. I've actually watched it about a half dozen times and what cracks me up most is, through all the horror going on around them, all these girls want to do is party. Keep in mind this movie was made in the early sixties and when it hit the American shores, it was probably nothing short of shocking for its brazen sexual content, which by today's standards falls short of a Disney movie. I highly recommend this movie on that merit alone.
Next time...Bloody Pit of Horror!

Here's the thing about October. I watch a lot of monster movies in October. When else can you get away with it, right? Luckily, dollar stores realize this so there's no short supply of crappy monster movies to be found. I call them "monster movies" instead of "horror movies" because, well, they're just not scary, which would imply horror. At least to me.

Today, I picked up a copy of Atom Age Vampire, which is actually almost too good for my "Dollar Store Cinema" review, but more on it later. Instead, as promised, I give you...Bloody Pit of Horror!

A group of photographers and models arrive at an Italian castle owned by a deranged ex-actor who is the reincarnation of the notorious medieval torturer, the Crimson Executioner. When he discovers that his ex-girlfriend is among the group, the enraged madman subjects them to his dungeon of torture. With scantly clad victims pleading for mercy as they face unendurable tortures, Bloody Pit of Horrors is a titillating over-the-top European horror epic.

The box had me at "titillating." This movie delivers, too, folks and "over-the-top" is putting it lightly. A bevvy of barely-dressed Italian beauties is chased around the creepy, old castle by one mantastic Mickey Hargitay, father (with a little help from Jane Mansfield) of the lovely and talented Marishka Hargitay, whom some of you may recall from previous blogs, is one of the few reasons TV was invented. But I digress.

Bloody Pit of Horror's seemingly inexhaustible supply of screaming cheesecake is only matched by an almost laughable, if not downright disturbing amount of mancake supplied by Hargitay. Perhaps that is the true horror within this bloody pit. It's a "b" movie in its purest form and must be seen to be believed. It might sound like I'm putting this movie down, I'm really not. If you can find it, buy it, but don't pay more than a buck for it and you won't be disappointed.
Next time, as promised, Atom Age Vampire! God bless the Italians...

For those of you wondering, yes, I'm still diligently working on various comic book projects. At this writng, I'm a mere three pages from finishing the pencil work on Salem, AZ#1. Rest assured, there will be plenty on display here very soon. But, in the meantime, I'm watching more bad horror movies than I should admit to.

This time I give you a "Dollar Store Cinema Double Feature," featuring Atom Age Vampire and Dr. Jekyll vs the Werewolf (yeah, you read that right).

Atom Age Vampire is almost too good for this segment and is only a "b" movie as a matter of circumstance.

After the beautiful dancer Janette (played with sultry glamour by Susanna Loret) is dumped by her boyfriend, she, in a fit of restless despair, suffers a horrible car accident, hideously scarring her once beautiful face. Lying in a hospital bed, suffering from the blackest depression, Jeanette is given a glimpse of hope from Monique, a beautiful, mysterious assistant to the sinister Professor Levin. Desperate to repair her mutilated face, Jeanette finds herself the latest experiment of the bizarre doctor, and an accomplice to a series of savage murders committed to maintain the effects of her restored beauty.

There are a few aspects of this film that the box doesn't cover. One of which is more of a misnomer. Jeanette doesn't exactly volunteer for the experiment and there's more to the mad doctor than meets the eye. All things considered, this was a pretty damn cool movie. Find it, buy it, even if it costs you $1.99, which is actually what I paid for it.
I tried to google a decent picture of Susanne Loret, but this is the best I could do.
And that brings us to Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf, not exactly one of Italy's finest exports.

Tired of turning into a wolf, a man seeks a cure from Dr. Jekyll's grandson. RUNTIME: 76 MINUTES.

That's pretty much all the box says. Sounds like a pretty cool plot, right? I don't think the guy that wrote the little synopsis actually watched the movie and I can't say as I blame him. Now, I'll admit I watched this movie over a quart of Miller High-Life, but I don't think that had anything to do with how bad it was. 76 minutes never seemed so long. It reminded me of an Igmar Bergman movie, just not shot as well.
The movie's only saving grace was one Shirley Corrigan (below), which made it a buck well spent.
Next time, a bit of a departure as Dollar Store Cinema brings you Moon of the Wolf, starring the fugitive himself David Janssen (much to his shame, I'm sure).

A young girl is mysteriously found dead in her Louisiana hometown and Sheriff Whitacker (David Janssen) tries to crack the case. Tensions build as more and more suspects come into play. The people of the town believe a pack of wild dogs are to blame for the girls' death, but are they more than just wild dogs? The film's ending is quite unusual.

At least that's what the back of the box claims and if that final boast is true, I couldn't tell you. I fell asleep every time I tried watching it. People in Louisiana have a different definition of "tension" as this 1972 made-for-TV masterpiece was as tense as an episode of the Cajun Chef. Forty-five minutes into this sleeper, character actor extraordinaire Geoffrey Lewis is chased around a jail cell by a menacing shadow and is ultimately killed, subsequently killing any interest in the movie for me. To her credit and possible dismay, Leslie H. Whitten wrote the book this fine film was based on.

Because I can't fairly critique "Moon of the Wolf," having slept through it's "unusual ending," I figure I'd take this opportunity to review a movie I actually managed to stay awake through. "Five Minutes to Live," stars Johnny Cash and, oh hell, who cares beyond that right? In his 1956 debute, Cash stars in this tale of a kidnapper who takes a housewife hostage and demands a ransom from her wealthy husband
. This movie actually delivers plot twists up the wazoo, a little singing on Cash's part, and an opening scene that has the future Man In Black behind the muzzle of a blazing Tommy Gun. Want more? How about Vic Tayback for starters?

I can't say anything too bad about this movie.
This one delivers, folks. I read a couple of not-so-forgiving website reviews lambasting it for not having a single original idea, but let's face it, it's a friggin' vampire movie. Even back in 1968, there was nothing new under the sun in vampire movies, pun intended."Long life!" toast Italian hotties Diana Lorys (left) & Anita Eckberg as foreshadowing for things to come. At first, Eckberg orders a whiskey but, upon discovering they haven't any, settles for beer. What a woman!
The plot goes something like this...

Sylvia (Eckberg) inherits her family's ancestral home in a remote Italian village. When she arrives to inspect it, she finds it to be full of a handful of Amazon-like vampires, her creepy, metrosexual uncle, who doesn't appear to be any older than she is and one big peeping tom. Sylvia's husband and his friend, whose name isn't really important, attempt to rescue her. There's blood sucking, a little S&M and some humor here and there.
In an unfortunate, libido-driven misunderstanding on Sylvia's husband's best friend's part (see, told you his name wasn't important), when one of the vamps asks him if his blood is hot, he replies, "Hey, I'm Italian!"
Maybe Fangs of the Living Dead wasn't the most original vampire movie ever made, but it certainly wasn't the worst. A buck's a buck, right?

That's right, astute boppers, this was the blogger's equivilent of "rerun season," but have no fear, Dollar Store Cinema will return soon with "all new" entries of movies you'll probably not want to see.