Friday, October 2, 2015

35 viewing ideas for halloween this year...

   Comes that time of year again where I offer some potentially less obvious cinematic fare for the month of October, and specifically the night of the 31st. I don't think I have any repeats from the last two years' combined lists (sporting over 100 total titles), but forgive me if I do. The main idea here is to present some less obvious choices, as the standard run of Universal and Hammer Frankenstein and Dracula movies should be taken as a given. Anyway, onto this year's list, in no particular order...

1 - THE INVADERS (teleseries) This legendary Quinn Martin show from the 60's followed the adventures of architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) as he travelled the country trying to find evidence of what he already knows to be fact: that creatures from another planet have landed on Earth and are silently taking over! Familiar theme done exceptionally well here -in COLOR!- in a series that lasted two seasons. Grab a handful of episodes and sit back. Similar series was proposed a couple of decades later, resulting in the unsold pilot film THE ALIENS ARE COMING!, also a fitting choice.
"David Vincent has seen them..."

2 - THE RAVEN One of a series of films starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, with a title borrowed from Poe. This features Bela as a plastic surgeon who disfigures outlaw Boris, and then pays for it. Good stuff. Other good features of a similar note include THE BLACK CAT, and THE INVISIBLE RAY.
Boris and Bela, together again

3 - THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE Seemingly well-adjusted Beverly Garland has actually repressed a living nightmare involving the disappearance of her husband. Under hypnosis, she relates the story of how she traced him to a secluded clinic in the Everglades... Dandy 50's scares in the magic of CinemaScope!
Have you ever seen a nightmare, crawling?!!

4 - SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN The pilot for the beloved George Reeves teleseries of the 1950's was this feature film released theatrically (it was later broken down into a two-parter to round out the show's first season). The result is a typical 50's B science fiction picture that just happens to have Superman in it. Clark Kent and Lois Lane are sent to look into a drilling operation which has gone deeper than any previous well. Unbeknownst to the local townsfolk, some strange little creatures are climbing out of the well at night... Superman basically acts as a peace-keeper here, trying to prevent the fear-frenzied townsfolk from killing the Mole Men and also trying to prevent the poisonous aliens from killing the local citizenry. 
America's favorite Superman

5 - THE X FROM OUTER SPACE Bizarre (even by it's own domestic standards) Japanese science fiction epic details how, in the near future, a Mars expedition is prevented by the actions of a weirdly organic-looking flying saucer. The Earth ship finds itself covered in tiny glowing spores and is turned back. Collecting one of the spores, the sample is taken back to Japan. There, it quickly balloons into a giant dinosaur-like fungus monster. Once a TV staple thanks to AIP-TV, and later a video rental favorite, the AIP dub is sadly becoming quite obscure. Weird film manages to capture the feel of an Italian space opera, and is probably the closest thing to an Italian Godzilla movie we'll ever see. Harmless fun of the big rubber monster variety.
"The monster Guilala..."

6 - THE BRAIN EATERS Small town is shocked to discover a woodland clearing suddenly sporting what looks like a massive drill head sticking up out of the ground. Cheap AIP release has some nicely moody photography and spooky locations. Fine 50's fare.
The world would be a much less happy place without these old AIPs...

7 - THE ASTRO ZOMBIES Ted Mikels' most famous film is offbeat blending of science fiction, horror, and espionage. US authorities and enemy agents alike are trying to hunt down the elusive Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine!), while the mad scientist is trying to perfect his Astro-Man synthetic astronaut. Unfortunately, his earlier experiment is running around loose and brutally beating women to death. Last film to star Wendell Corey. Co-produced by Wayne Rogers. Technically crude, over-long, and downright crazy, the film became a drive-in staple for several years. Once made the rounds on VHS under the mystifying title of "Space Vampires" and trimmed by a few minutes. The cut version actually had a much better flow. Despite it's problems, the film has a certain charm the drive-in buff will get a kick out of.
Any time John Carradine has a chance to spout scientific jargon, it's a good day!

8 - GORILLA AT LARGE Originally in 3D, colorful murder mystery explores a series of suspects working the carnival sideshow. The main suspect is the gorilla used in an acrobatic act. Simply amazing cast includes Lee J. Cobb, Anne Bancroft, Raymond Burr, Cameron Mitchell, and Lee Marvin!
"Watch out! There's a Gorilla At Large!"

9 - I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE The beautiful Gloria Talbott marries a man switched the previous night with an alien-infested duplicate. One of the finest 50's science fiction films. An essential. 
"What kind of children?"

10 - QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE Although it hasn't a great reputation, this 1958 CinemaScope feature is such a wonderful visual candy dish that it's hard to take issue with it unless you're just a joyless shell. In the future 80's, strange goings on in space eventually lead to a manned rocket crashing on Venus, which turns out to be populated by 50's glamor girls! Largely made up of left-overs from FORBIDDEN PLANET and WORLD WITHOUT END, the cast boasts a number of familiar faces. The casting is mostly remembered, however, in the female lead being none other than Zsa Zsa Gabor, the world's top glamor girl of the 50's (despite the era offering some pretty stiff competition for the title). Pure pulp adventure stuff, with an eye for color. Just delightful stuff!
Despite what you'd expect, Zsa Zsa isn't the titular Queen!

11 - DESTINATION INNER SPACE 1966 feature is, in concept, more or less THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD relocated to an undersea laboratory. It's great fun, though, with one of the coolest fish-man monsters to ever grace the screen. In short, the Navy has an underwater facility which has been spoting an underwater flying saucer! (I guess you'd call it a floating saucer...) When the craft touches down on the sea floor, it releases a large capsule. Before long, this capsule has been taken into the lab, and then.... Sadly, the only version commercially available at the moment suffers for a poor transfer (looking like a dupe from a dupe of an old video release). It says something to the credit of the film that it can rise above such a poor showing!
That's just beautiful...

12 - UFO (teleseries) Now it's time to party! Gerry Anderson's first live-action teleseries stars Ed Bishop as the leader of a secret organization known as S.H.A.D.O., the job of which is to protect Earth and it's unknowing inhabitants from organ-harvesting invaders from a distant planet. If any one TV show seems to've been ripped from my own psyche, it's this one. 60's future-glamor and science fiction hardware mix with espionage and space travel, all set to the music of Barry Gray. If you don't have anything to watch for halloween, just grab a few episodes of this classic and enjoy!
"This is moon base..."

13 - THE CREEPING UNKNOWN A British teleserial called "The Quatermass Xperiment" proved popular enough to be turned into a feature film of the same name. It reached America as THE CREEPING UNKNOWN. This was the first of a pair of 50's films in which Brian Donlevy played the scientific genius Professor Quatermass, a man who dedicated his considerable genius to pushing man into space. When one of his experimental rockets returns to earth with only one member of the crew in evidence, Quatermass and his team set about unravelling the mystery. Meanwhile, the lone survivor begins going through some physical changes... Fine British science fiction has all of the genre's pluses, not the least of which is the low-key earnestness familiar to British films about the fantastic. The sequel, ENEMY FROM SPACE, is another fine choice. Followed over a decade later by a third Quatermass film, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, minus Donlevy.
"I'm going to start again."

14 - X THE UNKNOWN No doubt considered an unofficial Quatermass film by many, this somber suspenser follows the series of events following the sudden appearance of a tremendous trench near an Army outpost. Best gone into with as little preview as possible. Enjoy.

15 - STAR PILOT This colorful Italian space opera was filmed in the 60's, but somehow failed to make it over to the States at the time. Following the success of STAR WARS in the late 70's, an American distributor finally scooped it up and released it to space-hungry drive-in crowds. It later made the rounds on video, where it was saddled with the video replacement title 2 + 5 = MISSION HYDRA. The original version has finally made it to disk via some multi-movie sets, but the title is listed in the plural (which actually makes more sense). A scientist, his foxy daughter, and some workmen uncover a buried alien spacecraft, out of which emerges a sexy female scientist commander and her crew of robots. During all this, Oriental spies are also afoot, and they end up destroying the robot crew of the spaceship. Undermanned, the alien ship requires the services of the assembled humans. That's just the first half. The second half finds our party darting about through the weirdness of outer space! Probably my all-time favorite Italian space opera.
The 60's just keep getting cooler...

16 - EYES BEHIND THE STARS Fairly minor film, but good atmosphere. After a photographer and his model accidentally photograph some Martians, the invaders AND the authorities come looking for the negatives. That's never a good thing in one of these pictures... Martin Balsam stars, although he apparently wasn't available to dub his own voice for several of these imports during the period!
The exact sort of film that eventually led to The X Files

17 - THE CRAWLING EYE Another British teleserial translated to the big screen, this time with American star Forrest Tucker. There's a radioactive cloud that's taken a permanent seat atop one of the Trollenberg mountains. The build-up is great, and the finally-revealed monsters are the stuff of nightmares! (They're also disturbingly life-like...) 
"A radioactive freak of nature?"

18 - THE CRAWLING HAND Minor American B picture has a pretty impressive cast and irresistible concept that made it a drive-in hit. An astronaut goes homicidally mad after picking up an alien fungus. In a moment of sobriety, he aborts his mission to return to Earth. His craft self-destructs in the atmosphere, but amid the debris to make it into the sea is a good chunk of the man's arm. A high schooler discovers the arm on the beach and takes it home with him, after which the arm begins to move about on it's own... Also, the fungus begins to infect our hero... Not a perfect movie, of course, but a sterling example of early 60's drive-in fare.

19 - THE KILLER SHREWS Professionally-made regional production has people trapped on a tiny island upon which has been unleashed a failed science experiment: ravenous giant shrews. James Best is the hero, Ken Curtis is the heavy. Much complaining has been levelled at the film for it's use of dogs to play the mutated shrews (intercut with a full-size puppet head), which I have never understood. The way some people harp on it, you'd think they expected the production crew to use cows or something. Even so, we're talking about a nice, tight little film about people trapped inside a house by killer animals. It's a concept that sells itself! Odd footnote, the film got a sequel (!) only a couple of years back. It was one of the last things James Best did on this Earth.
"Then came reports of a new shrew, the giant, killer shrew..."

20 - THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE Delightful Disney feature embraces the studio's trademark impressive special effects and a star-studded cast in fun tale of a talking feline from another world stranded on Earth. Our furry hero, Jake, gets help from a theoretical scientist when his ship is discovered and taken for research by the Army. Cast of endless familiar faces includes the likes of Roddy McDowall, Jesse White, Hans Conreid, and Alan Young. Features both C.O.'s from M*A*S*H, and our human hero is F-Troop's Ken Berry. Sandy Duncan plays the girl. Charming stuff, perfect for family viewing.
"It IS a pussycat!"

21 - INVASION USA Not to be confused with the 80's Chuck Norris action vehicle of the same name. This 1952 feature concerns the events that transpire when the Reds launch a full-scale invasion into the unprepared U.S. Genuinely frightening, and increasingly relevant in an out-of-control world. Great cast, sharp dialog throughout. A real unsung gem. Suffers a bit in budgetary limitations, though, as the film tries to tell a million dollar idea on a budget of $127,000 (although the film was still a box office hit). Interesting trivia note in that among the cast can be found both Phyllis Coates and Noel Neil, the Lois Lanes of The Adventures of Superman. Kinda sorta remade in the 80's as RED DAWN, which itself was recently remade.
"War or no war, people still have to eat and drink... and make love."

22 - RE-ANIMATOR Actor Jeffrey Combs was well on his way to becoming the next Vincent Price after his appearance in this colorful Lovecraft adaptation, but unfortunately production practices had changed since the 60's and there wasn't a flood of similar projects for him to star in. Combs plays young medical student Herbert West, driven genius with a serum which re-animates dead tissue. Gory (extremely gory, although it comes across as organic to the film), but interesting throwback to the mad scientist pictures of the 60's. Great use of color. Keep the kids away, though.... Followed by a couple of less impressive sequels, also starring Combs.
"Go get a job in a sideshow."

23 - THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA Few period parodies really take off and assume the cult status of Larry Blamire's loving tribute to Z-grade quickies of the late 50's. His efforts were rewarded with a limited theatrical run and popularity which eventually demanded from him a sequel (unfortunately, funding failed for a proposed third entry). The titular skeleton resides in a remote cave and plans world domination. To accomplish this, he needs a rare element known as Atmospherium. Meanwhile, rock-jawed scientist Paul Armstrong and his lovely wife Betty come to the area to search for the same element. Also, some space travellers have crash landed in the area and require atmospherium to repair their ship. Plus, their pet mutant has escaped and is mutilating the locals. Blamire's tongue-twisting intentionally-bad dialog grows increasingly comical as the film progresses, while observing all of the cherished cliches we know and love. Great fun, though it can be an acquired taste for the uninitiated. Good one to watch with a group.
"I sleep now."

24 - CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER Archaeologists discover a hidden temple deep within a South American cave, and with it the titular flesh-eating monstrosity. A hunk of the murderous mass is taken back to civilization, just as it's learned what cosmic forces activate the oozing terror... Surprisingly gory for it's day, but it hits all the right marks for halloween. On the whole, the effects are pretty great, although some toy tanks featured during the climax are rather crude. 
Worth a look, trust me.

25 - SLITHER Big budget tribute to the horror movies of the 80's was sold as a comedy, which may partly explain it's lackluster boxoffice performance. Parasite is carried to Earth via meteorite, which lands in a small town. A man is infected and starts mutating into a monster capable of producing more parasites. One you don't want the kids to see, but a pretty good throwback to the days of drive-in thrills and terror.
Owes to such grim gems as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THEY CAME FROM WITHIN

26 - MESA OF LOST WOMEN Cheapo quickie features the most annoying one-instrument score since THE THIRD MAN, but like the Wells classic also sports some pretty moody photography (not in the same league, of course). The bulk of our story involves a plane crashing on a remote plateau where a mad scientist is conducting experiments with giant spiders. Lots of night scenes in sound-stage jungles and some truly creepy -though stiff- giant spiders put this one on the list. Don't expect a very good movie, though!
"That's 'spider' in Spanish!"

27 - BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER Robert Clarke is a test pilot who finds his aircraft has overshot the field by some decades in nifty thriller that could easily've been packaged as a Twilight Zone feature film.
Really, my highest recommendations!

28 - RED NIGHTMARE Half hour civil defense short from the early 60's is basically a Twilight Zone episode with Jack Webb filling in for Rod Serling. A typically complacent American goes to bed and his dream deposits him into a version of his home town now under control by the Soviets. Produced by Jack Warner, it features actual production values and a cast of familiar faces like Jack Kelly, Mike Road, and Andrew Duggan. 
"...a typical American town...."

29 - THE RETURN OF DR. X Mostly considered a trivia curiosity for the fact that it's the only B horror film to star none other than Humphrey Bogart! Bogie is a mysterious research scientist with blood on his mind. No classic, but a solid little B. Would probably be forgotten if not for it's casting, however. From the title, you might be thinking this a sequel to DR. X, but it ain't.
Next week, James Cagney plays the sinister owner of a wax museum...

30 - VALLEY OF THE ZOMBIES Obscure, but quite good poverty row horror thriller from the 40's. One of the best to not come from Universal, in fact. The rules of life and death don't seem to matter in this mystery classic.
One you might not even've heard of...

31 - THE H MAN Although internationally known for their giant monster movies (and period epics, if you're a long-hair), the Japanese may've produced more crime dramas than anything else. They were so popular with domestic audiences that the format occasionally splashed over onto Toho's horror output. Detectives would tangle with terror in films like THE HUMAN VAPOR, THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN, and DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER. It really started with THE H MAN, however. Gangsters find themselves plagued by radioactive blobs which dissolve human beings on contact. Out of circulation for some years, it's happily been given a widescreen DVD release by Columbia (and later Mill Creek).

32 - THE RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS Third film to star Gamera the flying turtle, the only Japanese giant to seriously (though distantly) challenge Godzilla. In this adventure, Gamera must battle a blood-drinking giant subterranean pterodactyl released in a recent volcanic upheaval. It's with this entry that Gamera finally assumes the role of hero. One of the best non-Godzilla Japanese giant monster movies. 
Enjoy it, folks, for the series takes a sharp turn into kiddie fare with the next entry.

33 - ATTACK OF THE SUPERMONSTERS Watching this one is downright disorienting. Basically, it's the first four episodes of an obscure Japanese television series, packaged by our old friend Sandy Frank into a truly bizarre feature film. The human characters are (very crude) cartoon animation, the backgrounds are real miniature (and sometimes full-size) background plates, and the monsters are rubber suits and puppets. These elements are mixed together into a visual stew that can take a while to get used to. The plot concerns the typical super-scientific paramilitary organization and their battles against super-intelligent talking dinosaurs living at the center of the Earth. Seriously, that's what it's about. The main heavy is a tyrannosaurus played by the same suit seen in THE LAST DINOSAUR with Richard Boone. Wacky, weird, and way, way, waaaaay out. 
Weirdest movie ever made? Could easily compete for the title!

34 - MISSILE TO THE MOON 1958 feature is a remake of 1953's CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON, and concerns a manned flight to a moon inhabited by pretty females, man-like rock creatures, and giant spiders. Opening reel is the worst, showcasing some of the most patently fake sets you'll ever see. Things pick up aesthetically after blast-off, though. For all it's budgetary limitations, the film is actually quite solid. A real stand-out performance from Gary Clarke. You could do much, much worse.
I'd really like to know whatever happened to all these giant spider puppets!

35 - THE TERRORNAUTS Another British film, this one goes for high imagination. Astronomers pick up and try to answer a signal from outer space, after which a spaceship comes and plucks their whole house out of the ground! And that's just where things take off...
You'd really think this one would be better known...