Monday, May 18, 2009

The Crawling Hand (1963) and The Slime People(1964): A Grindhouse B&W Double Bill

Some things were just made for the Dive In circuit and a lot were recycled on that circuit up until ten years after their initial release. I caught these two as they were running in a local grindhouse around 1968.

The Crawling Hand Directed by Herbert L Strock( I was a Teenage Frankenstein, Gog, Blood of Dracula) Starring Peter Breck, Kent Taylor, Alan Hale, and Alison Hayes. Breck & Taylor are scientists and we see a sweaty, black rings around the eyes astronaut begging them to blow up his ship before he returns to earth. They blow him up after realizing that he is alive with no oxygen.

A couple of teens on the beach (Rod Lauren & Stirry Steffan) find the dismembered arm of the astronaut. Rod wraps it in a blanket and takes it home. Funny moment, Stirry was changing into her swimsuit and the projectionist decided to “censor” the scene by putting his finger over the projector lens. More than half the audience was made up of 12 to 16 year old kids who nearly rioted after this stunt.

The hand comes back to life and strangles Rod’s landlady. It also tries to strangle Rod. Rod morphs into a black eyed killer who tries to strangle the owner of the local malt shop. During that struggle, the juke box turns on and we get Papa O Mau Mau by the Rivingtons. The police (Alan Hale) are closing in. In the climatic battle, in a junkyard, Rod slices up the renegade appendage with a broken bottle and the rest is eaten by cats, no I’m fuckin’ serious. The remains are placed in a sealed box and Rod returns to normal. When two guys, who are supposed to dispose of the box, open it, the hand is gone and the inevitable sequel never came.

Interestingly all three leads starred or would be starring in TV series. Kent Taylor was Boston Blackie in the 50’s series. He did a lot more low budget horror, Brain of Blood, Brides of Blood, Phantom for 10,000 Leagues, before his death in 1987. Alan Hale went on to be the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, then played a Sheriff in another B horror flick, The Giant spider Invasion before his death in 1990. Peter Breck went on to star on The Big Valley as Nick Barkly. Rod Lauren was in Terrified and The Black Zoo. He also guest starred in a few TV series. He died in 2007. Look for Alison ( Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) in a small role.

The Slime People 1964 Directed by & staring Robert Hutton, also starring Les Tremayne. Los Angeles is under attack by giant, rotting vegtables. Ok, they are not as bad as the critics make them out to be. Actually the creatures are pretty cool and are defeated by this cast of seven or so. I think it was in Les Tremayne’s contract to appear in just about every late 50’s and early 60’s creature fests.

The Slime People have surrounded the city with fog that solidifies into a wall. The kill everybody. We get lots of stock footage of demolished building to achieve this end. Seems our atomic tests have pissed off these creatures and they are about to let us know it. Being that they can’t breath our air( like we can?) the have some machine making oxygen or whatever for them. Machine is destroyed, creatures drop dead, and the world is safe again.

Funny thing is that both films have only one kill in each of them. The landlady in the Crawling Hand & a wino is killed in an empty movie theater in the Slime People. Real low budget, but two of my all time favorite from my early grindhouse days.
42nd Street Pete

The Frozen Dead and It!: World Premiere in Beautiful Downtown Newark

Wow, it was 1967 and a bunch of us got the balls to go into wonderful post riot torn Newark , N.J. to see a world premier of two not so classic horror films. Both directed by Herbert J Leder, they were released by Warner Brothers/Seven Arts. Both had one name, Dana Andrews and Roddy McDowell. The theater was the Bradford.

Frozen Dead was in black & white, though there are reports of it being filmed in color. Dr Norberg is a Nazi scientist living in the English countryside. He has about 1500 elite Nazi soldiers frozen. His job, thaw them out so they can finish WWII. Problem is their brains are damaged when they are thawed out, making them violent psychopaths.

The doctor’s niece, Jean, and her friend Elsa visit the castle. After the Doc messes up another experiment, he decides he needs a live brain to experiment on. His assistant drugs Elsa and lets one of the more violent Nazi zombies kill her. The keep her head alive, just like the girl in the Brain that Wouldn’t Die, in a cabinet.

Elsa’s head has telepathic powers. She communicates with Jean , who she scares the shit out of. An American scientist, Ted Roberts arrives and says he saw a girl matching Elsa’s description leaving on a train. Actually it was a girl wearing Elsa’s clothing. Ted is impressed when he see Elsa’s severed head. Jean is learning too much as her father is one of the frozen krauts. They decide to kill her, but Elsa warns her. After discovering that her uncle is a Nazi, she is taken into a room with a bunch of severed arms mounted on the wall. Elsa gains control of the arms and they strangle the doctor and his sadistic assistant. Elsa’s head pathetically moans “bury me over and over again at the films end. At this point we all wanted to see this film buried as well.

It! Was in color and featured Roddy McDowell channeling Anthony Perkins. Roddy is the assistant curator of a museum. Roddy and the head curator go to a warehouse that had burned down and find the original Golem. When the curator uses the Golem as an umbrella stand, he gets his head crushed. A worker, who strikes a match on the statue, has it fall on him and crush him to death.

Roddy, who lives in a flat with his dead mother, figures the head curator job will be his. He also realizes that, as the legend states, that once revived in the 20th century, the Golem can’t be stopped. Roddy uses the Golem to dispose of his enemies. He also has a crush on the former curator’s daughter, Ellen. Roddy not only uses the Golem to kill his enemies, he boasts to Ellen that It will do anything it asks, so he has It destroy the London Bridge.

Roddy, who is getting crazier by the minute, tries to destry the creature that he caused to become indestructible. He gets thrown in an asylum, but the Golem gets him out and takes Roddy, Ellen and the dead mother to a country estate. After freeing Ellen , they drop a small nuke on Roddy’s place. After the mushroom cloud subsides, we see the Golem wadding into the ocean to await the sequel. He is still waiting.

Not really a bad double bill, but the ghetto audience verbally ripped the two pictures to shreds. That’s why I loved going to a grindhouse like this where the patrons became part of the show.
42nd Street Pete

Grindhouse 1967 Style: Death Curse of Tartu & Sting of Death

I was like 14 years old and this double bill was playing at The Paramount in wonderful Newark, NJ. I was out and out forbidden to go because of the racial tension in the area following the riots a couple of years prior. Sounded like a great show, but I never saw it until Tartu wound up on broadcast TV, heavily edited. Sting of Death never saw a TV release or a VHS release. I remember seeing Tartu in a big box at one point.

Anyway the good folks at SWV released this double feture as it was originally shown. Released by Thunderbird International, I wonder if the same company put out that cheap wine, directed by William Grefe, who went on to do the Hooked Generation, Stanley and Mako Jaws of Death. He also did the second unit direction for the shark scene in Live and Let Die.

Death Curse of Tartu involves some anthropology students who desecrate an Seminole witch doctor’s grave. Tartu came shape shift into a snake, a shark, an alligator ect. That’s how he picks off the students, one by one. The effects, for the time, are pretty good and the mummified version of Tartu could have been nightmare material for a 14 year old. The climatic showdown between Tartu and the last two survivors ends with a muscular warrior Tartu being tossed into some quicksand, then morphing back to the mummified Tartu as he sinks out of sight.

Death Curse of Tartu was filmed in the Everglades. The wind is constantly blowing and the music is very familiar to me as it was used in countless old serials and shows that ran on TV when I was a kid. Sting of Death takes us to a mad scientist’s under water lab where he has managed to transform himself into a humaniod half man, half jellyfish. He looks like he has a big trashbag for a head and the “tentacles” looks like the hoses from a swimming pool. As crazy as this might sound, the underwater stuff is beautifully shot in contrast to the weird plot and crappy acting. 60’s singer, Neil Sedaka may have embarrassed himself into early retirement with the "Jellyfish" song. In fact, Neil is billed as “special Guest Singing Star”, something I’m sure he leaves off his resume. Both films are a great combination of 50’s monster films and mid 60’s cheezy gore.
42nd Street pete

Legend of Nigger Charley and Hannie Caulder: A Paramount Double Bill For the Grindhouse

1972 was the beginning of the “blaxploitation” craze. Fred Williamson was being pushed as a big star, so he was put in this movie, which barely got print ads because of it’s title as newspaper were loathe to use the word “nigger” in an ad. The changed it to The Legend of Black Charley or Black Charley’s Revenge. Strange thing was that the drive in that I saw it at put Hannie Caulder, a year old film that tanked, on top of the bill.

Several organizations, including the NAACP, called the film racist and repellant. Hey, it’s grindhouse. Fred plays the titular character with a vengeance. As Charley he is beaten by his sadistic master, than escapes. He goes west and becomes an outlaw and gunfighter. He is feared and despised by the white man and he kills a shitload of them. He actually becomes as dangerous and psychotic as his tormentors. He guns down all the racist white folk in his path, then gets revenge on his former owner. I was actually glad that I saw this in a drive in as I’m sure this film would rile up an inner city audience.

Hannie Caulder was a vehicle for Raquel Welch dreamed up by her then husband, Patrick Curtis. Three inept outlaws, The Clemens Brothers wind up at her ranch after a botched robbery. They kill her husband, rape Hannie, then leave her for dead. She hooks up with a bounty hunter, Thomas Luther Price( Robert Culp) who teaches her to shoot. Then she goes out for revenge on the Clemens brothers.

The brothers are played by three of the best character actors who ever lived, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin. They act like a dirty, psychotic version of the Three Stooges. The banter between them is priceless. All three actors had a flair for comedy, especially Jack Elam. Director, Burt Kennedy was the first to tap into Jack Elam’s talent and cast him in the two James Garner comedy westerns, Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter. It is worth noting that John Wayne refused to work with Elam after he stole the show from Wayne in Rio Lobo.

Hannie Caulder also starred Christopher Lee as a gunsmith living in Mexico. Of the two films, I liked Hannie Caulder more because of the cast. Both films were released by Paramount. Hannie Caulder had a VHS release, but so far no DVD release. Legend of Nigger Charley and it’s sequel, The Soul of Nigger Charley never saw the light of home video. Because of the word “nigger” in the titles, they may never be seen again.
42nd Street Pete