Saturday, December 31, 2011

James Best does KILLER SHREWS sequel!


   By chance, I turn on the radio and I hear talk show host Rusty Humphreys about to interview James Best (who, for good or ill, remains best known these days from his Dukes of Hazzard years). One of the first things Best mentioned is a recently-shot sequel to his 1959 Drive-in classic THE KILLER SHREWS!


   THE KILLER SHREWS tells the story of a small group of people who become stranded on an island during a fierce storm and must remain in the sole house on the island. The scientific team on the island has been experimenting with growth hormones and have created a pack of dog-sized shrews which have escaped. Shrews are deceptively vicious little rat-like creatures that must consume something like three times their body weight each day or starve to death. With every other animal on the island having been eaten, the shrews turn their attention on the humans. Our heroes try desperately to survive and keep the shrews out, as the monsters try desperately to get inside and eat the only flesh left on the island.


   With its moody natural locations, an aura of cold isolation, and growing sense of terror, THE KILLER SHREWS is classic drama. Similar set-ups have fuelled countless films ranging from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. THE KILLER SHREWS is a nice example of high drama on a limited budget, and was a box-office hit as it toured the country on double bill with THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. Whatever strengths THE KILLER SHREWS brings to the table, though, have been largely ignored over the last 60 years.


   Constant gripe is lobbed at the film for its use of dogs wearing shaggy fur and make-up as the mutated shrews (with a hand puppet shrew head used for close-ups). (Decades later, dogs would again be dressed as rats for THE DEADLY EYES, only that film used squat dachshunds rather than the grayhounds seen here.) The way people harp on that, you'd think they expected to see cows dressed as shrews instead, and felt cheated by the dogs. The choice always seemed logical to me, since the shrews are mutants, and are now forced to hunt in packs.


   James Best plays the hero, Thorn Sherman, a rugged sailor who delivers supplies to the island and uses his wits to survive. Best plays Sherman again for the sequel. Best didn't have much good to say about the 50's film, however, and he even made mention of the film as a spoof of sorts. Possibly, he confused his words, since the sequel is going to be a comedy (or he's trying to cover himself and give his earlier film an excuse not to live up to expectations?). At any rate, a sequel has been filmed, and it does star James Best! Comedy or no, it sounds like fun!

   The title? THE RETURN OF THE KILLER SHREWS. Sadly, they've opted for cartoon shrews instead of more dogs (what gives?). On a promising note, the IMDB lists it as a horror film rather than a comedy! And a friend tells me the trailer plays more to scary than funny, so hopes up. One the other hand, the shrews ARE cartoons and it looks like it'll be yet another 'found video footage' movie. Low expectations. Could still turn out to be fun, though, we'll see.


   I think its about time I dug my tape out and gave THE KILLER SHREWS another viewing....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Rock Baker Christmas Special

   Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our Christmas special! We've got some nice guests coming up, I hope you enjoy the show!

(PLACE COMMERCIAL HERE)

   First up, a little Christmas present for the gang from Bantam Street. It's Christmas, Larry Blamire style!


    Up next, we have a present for Ken Begg and the Jabootu gang....




   Be sure to visit www.jabootu.net 

(PLACE COMMERCIAL HERE)

    And now, through special arrangement with Main Enterprises, we present this lovely Christmas scene with Betsy the Bookwriter! Inks courtesy of Mr. Jeff Austin!




    Mr. Austin returns with this DeCarlo-inspired piece...




   Jeff Austin out-does himself now, providing both inks and color for this back cover for Jim Main....



(PLACE COMMERCIAL HERE)

    And here, ladies and gentlemen, my present for you all this year....




    I'd like to thank my guests and our sponsor, and I hope to see you all here again next year.

 Merry Christmas, Gang! Everybody have a great New Year! Good night and God bless!

Inks by Jeff Austin.

   This has been presented by the American Tobacco Company, the nation's leading manufacturer of cigarettes. Jack Benny will be back in two weeks! Be sure to tune in next week for Ann Southern in PRIVATE SECRETARY! Coming up next on most of these stations: Ed Sullivan on TOAST OF THE TOWN, followed by THE NAME'S THE SAME in most localities. This is Don Wilson speaking for CBS, saying, Be Happy, Go Lucky! Goodnight, and Merry Christmas!


  In all honesty, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I'd like to thank all those who put up with me over the last year, and my sincere wishes that they all have a great new year. God bless and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oddball Film Report: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)


   Santa Claus is a bit of an oddball character. He lives at the North Pole (probably to avoid paying his income taxes), has flying reindeer, elves, and makes a yearly journey across the globe to hand out presents to children, delivering them by crawling down the chimney (billions of such structures in a single night). So any three-dimensional media adaptation of the character is going to be a bit strange when compared to the more run of the mill fare like westerns and police dramas. Being a seasonal figure, Santa is also subject to constant revision and updates as new movies or shows are prepared about him on an annual basis.


   For me, Mickey Rooney is Santa Claus, as the former Andy Hardy was perfectly cast to voice the Jolly One in at least two of the charming Rankin/Bass Christmas specials featuring all those stop-motion puppets. 1970's SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN relates Santa's origin, and how he befriended a lost penguin and set the evil Winter Warlock on the road to being the gentle old man Winter (it was he, we learn, who made the flying reindeer with some magic feed corn so Santa and his gang could break out of jail!). As told by Fred Astaire, the film remains one of the most endearing of the Rankin/Bass specials. Rooney returned for 1974's THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS, detailing how Old Saint Nick decided to take a year off, and Mrs. Claus had to scare up some Christmas cheer by making an arrangement with Mother Nature!


   In 1987, Santa had to retire because his magic was running out, so he went to Florida to hire his replacement with the help of Jim Varney's infamous TV pitch-man turned movie star in ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS. Together, Santa and your old buddy Ernest P. Worrell managed to pass the Christmas torch to a new Mr. Claus, and turn a teen runaway onto the right path in their spare time.  Although many would argue in favor of ERNEST GOES TO JAIL, I'd actually swing my support for this Christmas episode as being the best film of the Ernest series (which is pretty impressive as it's only the second Ernest movie and it followed the largely lackluster ERNEST GOES TO CAMP). I wouldn't let the season go by without giving it a viewing.


   Undoubtedly the weirdest Santa Claus movie has to be the 1959 Mexican epic SANTA CLAUS. I'd review this wacky adventure of Santa Claus fighting the demon Pitch for the souls of Mexican children during the yuletide, but I couldn't possibly do a better job than Mr. Ken Begg of www.jabootu.net. Check out the review here: http://www.jabootu.com/acolytes/brandiweed/santa.htm (not sure why the link isn't working, but you can copy and paste it into the search bar), but be sure you're not drinking when you read it. I depart from Mr. Begg in assessing SANTA CLAUS as a "bad" movie, however. I actually thought the film pretty good (not great or anything, but pretty good), just bizarre! The Mexicans made the most psychotically weird kiddie flicks on the planet, SANTA CLAUS being a prime example (or you could try LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, or PUSS N BOOTS if you don't mind nightmares). But in the end, it's not really a bad film. It certainly carries it's own berserk charm.


   The most famous oddball Santa flick has to be our current subject, if only because the title is so quotable (and the trivia factoid that Pia Zadora first appeared in this film as a little girl, years before she was unleashed on the world as "a new Bardot" in the monstrous turkey BUTTERFLY).


   SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS is a film that, despite all its goofy cheapness, remains an fun little kiddie flick. Shot in New York and using sets worthy of a slightly-better-than-average grade school play, the film exudes a charm worthy of it's main character. Who knows, with a larger budget and familiar actors (say, Vincent Price as the heavy? James Cagney as Santa?), the film might be held in much better regard today. Or maybe not, since we're still talking about a film depicting a Martian plot to kidnap Santa Claus.


    Despite what you might think, the film is a straight (if dirt cheap) science fiction epic. The question posed to writer must have been an earnest "what would it be like if Martians kidnapped Santa Claus?" I think that's one reason I enjoy the film so much, is that I admire the fact they didn't just play it as a comedy (although one wonders what Bob Hope or Jack Benny would have done with the material). The children's world of the 50's and early 60's can possibly be best summed up by two matinee flicks from 1964, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS and PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE. Both are straight science fiction pieces (Pinocchio's adventure even playing up the realism of it's science regarding space travel) about storybook characters going to Mars.


Santa makes fun of Martian
food pills, but Kimar, leader 
of Mars, doesn't get the
joke





   Our story begins on Mars. The children of that planet have become listless and/or downright rebellious (for a controlled society like Mars, anyway). Their only interest is in watching "those silly earth programs" and conditions are getting worse. Kimar, the leader of Mars, gathers his council and seeks advice from the ancient wise man Chochem. "Chochem is over 800 years old. You can't dismiss the wisdom of centuries." "I can!" blurts Voldar, who will oppose Kimar at nearly every move. Voldar's main concern being that Mars has lost its combative edge, and that the actions taken by Kimar as the film progresses will only lead to the further collapse of Martian greatness in the galaxy.


   Chochem indeed knows what the problem is. The children of Mars are not children anymore. From the moment they are born, devices are attached to their brains and they are fed information in a constant stream. "And by the time they can walk," Chochem warbles, "they are adults!" In terms of the rebellion against this scientific programming, Chochem also notes, "I've seen this coming for centuries!"  The answer is to again make it possible for the children to have actual childhoods full of play and laughter and wonder.  When Kimar asks what can be done to save the children of Mars, Chochem notes the time of year. On Earth, it is early December, the time of "the Christmas" will soon be upon the Green Planet. "That explains it" Chochem notes, as apparently the spirit of Christmas is so powerful that it can be sensed by the children of alien worlds.


   For the children of Earth, Christmas has the added bonus of Santa's yearly visit. As the spokesman for the Christmas spirit (odd, that Chochem the Wise never mentions God or Jesus or Mary), only Santa Claus can get the Martian children out of their funk. Having said his piece, Chochem makes his exit (via a blast of smoke and a film splice). Kimar takes Chochem at his words. "Earth has had Santa Claus long enough!" An expedition leaves for earth. Voldar, for his part, is less than thrilled with the notion of kids running underfoot and being noisy.


   As previously established via a special broadcast from Santa's workshop at the north pole (on station KID TV, whose remote reporter Andy Henderson is a pretty authentic example of the sort of reporter who does his job but pads his remotes with jokes that nobody else is laughing at), is Mr. Claus himself. He and his elves are working day and night to be ready for Christmas, which always sneaks up on you no matter how well you prepare for it. In this version of the story, Santa's workshop doesn't appear to be any larger than a small house, and he only employs a small handful of elves ("Winky is in charge of our space department" Santa tells Andy as the pair examine a toy rocket* that "runs on real rocket fuel!"). Santa Claus works away, unaware that strange forces from across the gulf of space are moving against him.....


    (* Just as in pretty much every movie about Santa Claus, the elves are seen building a number of wooden trains and such, as would have been popular items around 1900. Winky's table houses the plastic rocket Santa picks up, as well as a doll that Winky made depicting "his idea of a Martian" which is 100% accurate to Kimar -said doll looks like a Mego action figure from the 70's. Otherwise, though, there are none of the sort of toys I'd think kids from 1964 would actually be expecting. We later see some wind-up tin toys, but I'd think the big season for those would be a decade earlier. Where are all the Barbie dolls and Marx Army Men? The dinosaurs? The Mickey Mouse collectibles? Did a lot of kids in 1964 dream about a wooden train when Lionel had accurate streamliners and the like, including massive sets featuring military cargo trains with launching rockets, ICBMs, space probes, and aircraft?) 


   As Kimar and his crew (the council of Mars itself! If this expedition crashes, Mars is out its entire political structure) reach earth and find our world typically "primitive" as they spy New York City on the viewscreen. (Across this universe, few things let aliens know how infantile out culture is as quickly as the sight of above-ground buildings -see also PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES.) Voldar notes how easy it would be to conquer the earth, claiming that "one blast from our Q-Ray" would level the city. Kimar insists conquest is not their goal, he intends to slip in and grab Santa Claus and get out before anybody knows what has happened. Using the cameras to search for Santa Claus (and Voldar notes how impossible the task of finding one man among billions would be), the Martians spot multiple Salvation Army Santas. "Why, there are hundreds of Santa Clauses down there" Kimar gasps, "and with so many, the earth people won't miss one."


   About this time, SAC radar has spotted the Martian craft and defenses are made ready. Pilots scramble and missiles are moved into position, because it allows for some really cool stock footage from the Air Force! (This same bit was used to more comedic effect in ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS, as Ernest took up Santa's sleigh found himself nearing Cape Canaveral airspace!) We'll cut back to footage like this a few times as a news broadcaster details our side of the invasion. Some might find mid-air refueling footage a tad boring, but it hit pretty close to home, even for the kiddies, so soon after the missile crisis. Myself, I just find 20th century aircraft to be a fascinating subject, so I'm happy as a clam.


   Aware that we've finally spotted them on radar ("it took them long enough" Voldar sneers, but he sneers everything he says, so I don't take it too personally), Kimar orders the radar shield activated. There's something wrong with radar box, though, when comic relief Martian Droppo (something like Kimar's butler, as established earlier) is found sleeping inside. Droppo explains that he came to the launch pad to say goodbye, then stowed away because he'd never been to earth before. "We may leave you there in place of Santa Claus!" Kimar threatens before sending Droppo below decks. The "slight case of Droppo" that was screwing with the radar shield also sends the ship off course when Droppo accidentally grabs the landing gear controls on his way out of the bridge. They must land to make repairs.


   Two typical earth-children, Billy and Betty Foster, are listening to the UFO reports on a transistor radio. Betty asks a trying-to-nap Billy about Martians before Kimar and his men walk up behind the two tykes. Kimar insists he means them no harm before asking about Santa Claus. Billy explains that the city-sighted Santa's are only helpers of the "real" Santa, who lives at the north pole. With the information they need gathered, the Martians ready to depart. Voldar grabs for the kids, much to Kimar's dislike. Voldar (wasn't that they guy from The Space Giants? Oh, no, I guess that was Goldar) explains his actions as a means to guard against any discovery of their mission (lest the Foster children contact the authorities). Faced with this reality (and what Kimar's planning to do with Santa would indeed be an act of war), he allows Billy and Betty to be taken hostage. Then it's off to the north pole!


   Droppo becomes the keeper for the children. Being the most childlike of Martians, excluding the bully Voldar, they probably felt Droppo could handle the job. I have my doubts, though, that anyone expected Droppo to give the kids a tour of the control deck. This allows Billy to sabotage the radar screen and escape with Betty to warn Santa Claus after the Martians touch down near the workshop.


   Kimar activates a lame robot called Torg to help capture Santa. When I say lame, I mean Torg has to be the cheapest robot costume ever filmed that wasn't supposed to be a kid's halloween costume. The arms are dryer hoses, the body is obviously made from a cardboard box, and the head looks as if it were manufactured from a paint can. However, it must be noted that Torg's eyes are really cool. They look like amber glass lenses that go all the way back into Torg's head, creating a very neat light shift as he turns his head. That's probably the only time you'll hear someone say something nice about Torg, by the way.


   Meanwhile Voldar discovers the kids have taken it on the lam. Before they can capture our man Santa, the Martians must first track down the kids so they can't warn the Claus ahead of time. After the kids evade a polar bear (the worst bear suit in movie history? It looks like a guy pulled the stuffing out of plush toy and crawled inside. It's easily the most embarrassing element on display here, which is a pretty impressive achievement when you take into account that the Martian helmets include attachments made of upside-down pilots' goggles, and even more obviously, flex-hoses for gas furnaces!), Torg finds the kids and grabs them. Voldar orders Torg to kill the children, but Torg won't comply. Kimar, worried about Voldar's behavior, has set Torg's controls to obey only his own voice. Kimar insists there be no violence, prompting another tantrum from Voldar ("What ever happened to the great warriors of Mars? Mars used to be the Planet of War!") The children reclaimed, Kimar orders the siege of Santa's workshop!


   Torg is sent in first, smashing down the door to the workshop as Santa and the elves turn to see the invader, which Santa assumes to be a toy. ("You're the biggest toy I've ever seen!") Torg becomes a toy upon exposure to Santa Claus, and the robot is no longer under the control of Kimar. I'm not sure how this all works, but it forces the Martians to handle the abduction personally.


   Voldar's earlier proclamation that Martians are fierce warriors is soon demonstrated, as they'd HAVE to be great warriors to keep their enemies from laughing at them, since they're carrying Marx air-pump guns. I'm not sure what the names of these devices were, but they were spacey-looking black plastic numbers that you'd cock by slapping a lever up and down, and then you'd get a 'thump' sound when you pulled the trigger. (There is a credit in the titles to Louis Marx and Co. for 'special toys' but seeing them used as the awesome weapons of the Martian invaders is more than a little rich.) Making the problem worse is that nobody thought to dub in a more menacing sound as these guns release their invisible paralysis rays, so it sounds like a pop-gun being used to freeze people.


   This attack must be after hours, as all but two elves have gone home for the night. Winky is on hand, though, and he identifies the culprits as Martians before he and his coworker get shot. Santa is saddened by this, until Kimar explains that the effects of the ray are only temporary. "Oh," Santa regains his jolly tone, "why didn't you say so?" About here, Mrs. Claus barges in and starts chewing everybody out for standing around while there's work to be done. Mrs. Claus, as established earlier when Santa was being interviewed by Andy, is a bit of a loud-mouth who never shuts up. This annoys the Martians as much as anybody else so they zap Mrs. C.


   With everyone else frozen in place, Santa has little choice but go with the Martains. Kimar orders Torg to grab Santa, but the robot is but a toy (still not sure what that means) and no longer responds to orders. Kimar must leave Torg behind.*


  (* Now, remember earlier when Voldar convinced Kimar that they had to be covert and take the Foster children with, lest the authorities know who had taken Santa Claus? Here, not only do they leave witnesses behind (once that paralysis ray wears off, anyway), but Torg as well. Torg is a piece of alien machinery, and could be reverse engineered and.... Then again, I doubt earth presents much of a threat if we have a bunch of Torgs running around, despite the robot's function as a soldier unit. Unless we send armies of robots to Mars twenty years later, there isn't much to worry about. And if we do send ships loaded with killer robots to another planet decades down the road, surely the Martians would have much newer and more powerful models to outclass our robots. So I guess there's minimal threat in leaving Torg behind, but it's awful sloppy. Shouldn't Kimar have some means of vaporizing Torg, just in case he gets lost in the field? A self-destruct button or something?)
 
   As the Martians rush back to Mars, with the Foster kids and Santa Claus in the brig (and why not leave the kids at Santa's workshop with Mrs. C and Winky? Is Kimar worried the kids will be able to tell the military important technical information about their ship?), the world reaction is reported on the news. "Mrs. Claus has positively identified the kidnappers as Martians..." the newscaster reads with all the urgency and gravity of the recent missile crisis. (Actually, I think it was Winky who spelled this out, as Mrs. Claus was too busy jabbering to even notice that she had visitors from out of town, unless she was still aware of what was going on around her when frozen -when Santa noted that he'd never seen her "so silent, for so long.")


   "The lights in the United Nations building will burn until dawn..." we're told, as the world's leaders have come together in unprecedented unanimity to find a way to get Santa back. The Air Force has rushed their Star-Shot program into the final phase, ignoring the required six months testing and training for the men, who are itching to blast off and reclaim Santa Claus from the invaders. This part is explained to us by leading rocket expert Warner Von Breen, in charge of the Star-Shot project. This gag, a play on real-life rocket expert Warner Von Braun (who helped develop the V2 during World War 2 and was placed in charge of Air Force rocket development after the war), might be lost on younger viewers today but in 1964 the gag would have made perfect sense to the space-obsessed youngsters in the audience. (Mr. Von Braun can even be seen on Dinsey's science specials for TV, which would have been repeated often in the heyday of the Space Race.)


   "Kimar," second-in-command Rignar reports, "that blip on the radar screen isn't a small asteroid. It's a ship, and it's gaining on us!" Kimar is awed, wondering if the earth men have some kind of device that can penetrate their radar sheild. Discovering Billy's sabotage, Voldar is angered even more that Kimar won't listen to him. "They have a secret weapon," Voldar continues to sneer, "and his name is Billy Foster!" Voldar leaves the bridge, implying fully that he intends harm to the captives, but Kimar fails to act on this. Looking at the radar box, Kimar is impressed with the lad's ingenuity.


   In the brig, Santa tries to cheer up the kids with a story about his climbing down a huge chimney in a heavy fog, only to find himself in a smokestack on the Queen Elizabeth, but the kids are still in a funk. Droppo drops by with dinner (food pills, because they're from Mars and are all futuristic and such, you know), be even he can't snap the kids out of their mood, despite Santa's prediction to the contrary. The kids perk up, oddly enough, when Voldar offers to take the earth trio on a tour of the ship (maybe Martian policy dictates the showing off of one's vehicle to POWs?). Though the kids don't trust Voldar ("the mean one" they call him at one point. "He's not like Kimar and the others"), Santa is game and the tour is on.


   The tour ends up in the airlock, where Billy provides a little exposition on how an airlock works (for the benefit of the one or two space-happy little kids in the audience who might not already know how an airlock works). Voldar is impressed ("Smart lad!") and Betty explains that Billy plans to be a spaceman when he grows up. Voldar, near the door, and with all the subtly of Snidely Whiplash, replies to Betty "Maybe sooner than that!" Before you can say "Martian" Voldar is out the door and in the bridge with the airlock controls.* The air going fast, our heroes look for a way to escape. Santa asks Billy where the air duct leads, a port which looks like it could be plugged with an orange.




(* Really, shouldn't there be back-up/manual controls in the airlock chamber itself? Then again, that didn't work out very well in THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE.....)


   In the bridge, Kimar enters just as Voldar has opened the airlock doors. Voldar claims to have killed Santa Claus and Kimar engages him in a very awkwardly staged fight scene (although slightly increasing the speed of the film might have made the fight play much smoother and help camoflage the pulled punches and karate chops). Just as Kimar is about choke Voldar to death, Santa and the kids enter the bridge. "Merry Christmas!" The Martians are confused, and Kimar asks how they escaped. Santa explains that they used the air duct. The small size of the duct prompts further confusion from Kimar, who asks how escape was possible. "You're talking to Santa Claus, Son!" The Jolly One explains that he doesn't want to give away his secrets (thus glossing over one of the biggest "how does he do" questions in the Santa Claus mythos -another thing brought up but unanswered when Santa met Mr. Worrell, although your old buddy Ernest had his theories on the matter). Voldar faints as the others enjoy a hearty laugh. "Poor man," Santa notes, "he looks like he's seen a ghost!" And there was much laughing.


   When the ship arrives on Mars, it is discovered that Voldar has escaped and taken refuge in the tunnels under the infamous canals of the Red Planet. Santa is introduced to Kimar's children Bomar and Girmar, and he instantly snaps the kids out of their scientifically induced trances. Kimar and his wife Momar are thrilled, and plans are made to build Santa the greatest toy factory of all time. Santa is set to get to work (which makes sense after he's helped Bomar and Girmar, as Santa's calling is to bring happiness to children, no matter what planet he's on) in hopes to have things ready in time for him to return to Earth before Christmas. Then Kimar breaks the news to the Right Jolly Old Elf, he's not there to be an advisor. He belongs to Mars now. Meanwhile, the renegade Voldar plans revenge on Santa Claus.....


   For the benefit of anyone who might want to see the film for themselves, I'll leave off there.


   One thing that strikes me is that the writer may have created a more complex Martian society than he'd planned (or so I'd think, as I doubt anyone besides myself has put so much thought into the following). Chiefly, the names of the first family of Mars were simple combinations of words that stink of laziness, Kimar (KIng of MARs), Momar (MOther MARtian), Bomar (BOy of MARs), and Girmar (GIRl of MARs). But this actually makes sense for a computer-like society like the one shown here, where everyone wears numbers along with their names (Momar, for example, wears a tag on her chest reading M-02 -although the numbering on their costumes seems to correspond with how important each player is to the script, with Kimar numbered 01, Momar 02, and on down the line). Assuming the family names of Mars are the latter half of the given name (Mar, Dar, Chem, Po, Nas, Mas, etc) and the first half of each name connects to a person's position in society, you begin to see a pattern. Kimar is so named because he's the King of Mars, signifying his authority by being the only one who wears a cape. 'Mar' may be his family name due to his being from a lineage that built the current order for Mars. His name was likely Bomar as a child, then he became a man named Mamar, until he took Momar as his wife (we have no clue what her maiden name was).


   Let's say the couple at that point was named Humar and Wimar ('husband' and 'wife', or maybe Brimar for 'bride'). Upon having children, their names would be changed to Famar (father) and Momar (mother). Granted, I have no idea at what point Kimar took authority and had to change his name again, but he seems youngish. But what then could be the meaning of names like Rignas, Voldar, Chochem, Lomas, and Shim?


   Another clue we're given to the development of their society is that Chochem is the only one we see without a helmet, meaning the cranial attachments were developed within the last 800 years, and that they were voluntary at one time. These devices, in fact, might be a major reason Chochem lives off by himself in Thunder Forrest. Then again, I seem to be putting WAY too much thought into a kiddie flick about Santa Claus being taken to Mars.



   John Call as Santa Claus comes off best, managing to display pretty much the exact persona you'd expect Santa Claus to have. He's good natured, never has anything bad to say about others no matter how bad they treat him, and jumps at the chance to make others happy. He's perfectly cast, even getting a special "and John Call as Santa Claus" credit, although he was known mostly from the stage. He popped up in several movies over the years, often in tiny, un-billed parts.


   Leonard Hicks, playing Kimar, comes off pretty good, having exactly the sort of grounded, serious tone needed to hold the wacky material together. Not that he gives the most natural performance, but he reads his lines with enough conviction that you buy him as leader of the Martians. Overacting Vincent Beck (Voldar) would go onto a fruitful career in television, getting guest spots on more or less every major show from Bonanza to Mannix (he was one of the Russian cosmonauts -Igor- who landed on Gilligan's Island in the second season, for example).  Bill McCutcheon is more irritating than lovable as Droppo, our official comic relief, but he's not terrible or anything. I'm sure the kids found him lovable, but adult eyes just see a guy trying to be Bobby Van, and failing. You could easily picture him as a regular on a local kiddie show, though, and probably would have made a decent Bozo (actually, he'd make a perfect Oliver O. Oliver).


    Pia Zadora plays Girmar, for those curious. She would go on to a fairly fruitful career, but she's never had much respect tossed her way. She offended a lot of people when she bought the Pickfair mansion in the late 80's and then destroyed it. It must be said, though, Miss Zadora boasts more talent than her reputation would suggest.


  Most everyone here was from the stage, and their acting reflects that. They haven't yet figured out the subtleties of acting for the camera, but they can speak their lines clearly. They win a certain amount of grace from the fact that they're making a kiddie flick, and you certainly can't nitpick some folks who got together to make a movie that would entertain the children. Underfunded as the production looks, you can tell they still tried pretty hard to keep the kids entertained.


   Still, that polar bear and the Torg costume are kinda painful to watch no matter how limited the budget may be. And check out the supply closet we see on Mars, which contains, among other things, a water ski!


  Oh, there's also Milton Delugg's catchy title tune "Hooray for Santa Claus!" which has been the subject of much hatred in the internet age. I don't know, I actually found it a not bad pop song composed for a kiddie flick. (Oh, it's no Ballad of Davy Crockett, but I don't think anyone expects it to be either.) To each their own, as they say.


   Having fallen into the public domain, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS has been released by multiple independent labels. Here's a link (again requiring copy and paste, sorry) to the version sold by Something Weird Video:  http://www.somethingweird.com/cart.php?target=product&product_id=29016&substring=santa+claus+conquers             




Bomar, Santa, Billy, Girmar, 
and Betty

   Merry Christmas, Everybody!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Neat Link

http://doowackadoodles.blogspot.com/2011/11/many-pin-ups-of-animala-from-rock-baker.html

Here, my Animala pieces are reproduced on the fantastic blog of Belle Dee. This is part of a special tribute to THE LOST SKELETON OF CADARVA, with art by multiple artists. I can't tell you how proud I am to have been part of the celebration!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Man Has To Dream, Doesn't He?

   There are certain things men expect from the opposite sex. Certain men expect certain things, be they intelligence, innocence, loyalty, or what have you. In each male brain is also the image of an ideal woman, the girl we subconsciously, or consciously, keep our eyes peeled for as the ultimate expression of pulchritude. That one perfect female meant to be our mate for life. More and more, I'm finding my ideal is a girl who looks like she just stepped out of 1961. Unrealistic? Well, that's what makes finding the perfect mate a miracle! (And considering I, myself, already look like a citizen of the early 60's, it's not like I'm advertising for something different than that anyway.)




Monday, October 10, 2011

Oddball Film Report: THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966)



   The fad for beach-themed teen comedies following the success of 1963's BEACH PARTY was intense, but short lived. While American International Pictures was making a fortune on the 'Beach' series, it was also quite evident that these good natured cornball musicals wouldn't continue to bring in the kind of money they were making in an era of increasing cynicism and rougher drive-in fare. The same year that Nancy Sinatra made today's subject, she also made THE WILD ANGELS for the same studio, and it was the biker flick that made the most money. Overnight, THE WILD ANGELS did to AIP and the teen exploitation market what BEACH PARTY had done earlier. The Beach films quickly fell out of date, yet for many, those films defined the 1960's with their innocence and sheer fun. A stray Beach movie would occasionally pop up again before the decade finally gasped its last. There were plenty of Beach movies to pick from, made by various studios (BEACH BALL, IT'S A BIKINI WORLD, THE FAT SPY, my personal favorite probably being THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH), though the AIP films remained the yardstick by which the others were measured.

   AIP was really coming into its own by 1963. No more black and white quickie double features. The studio had entered the big time with its color Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allen Poe films. That slate of films would help define the studio as much as their playful teen Beach movies (both were spoofed in AIP's comical spy epic DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE). With these horror films, AIP developed a reputation for lavish spectacle and major stars (even if they tended to be, with all due respect, a tad past their prime, or on their way up to bigger and better things). Yes, by the mid 1960's, AIP had become one of the majors. While still thrifty in the extreme, AIP was spending a fair chunk of change to make their movies more lavish. Just look at the cast for BEACH PARTY: Bob Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, etc. The following films in the series would include such noted performers as Mickey Rooney, Paul Lynde, Keenen Wynn, Donna Loren, Buster Keaton, Jesse White, Don Rickles, Peter Lorre, Brain Donlevy, Earl Wilson, Buddy Hackett, Linda Evans, and more!

   While always considered cartoonish camp, the films still have a very earnest appeal. While continually badmouthed by critics, the fact remains that people love the Beach movies. Calling Avalon and Funicello America's sweetheart couple of the 60's isn't much of an exaggeration. The bulk of the Beach movies would follow their "teenage" romance through various trials and tribulations, often in the form of some groovy chick who set her sights on Frankie at about the same time that he and Annette had had a tiff, or vise versa. (Aside from returning characters, the films really had little connection to each other, for the most part.)

   By 1966, though, the relationship of Frankie and DeeDee (Avalon and Funicello) had been milked for about all it was going to give. Not that there hadn't been some experimentation within the series. The first three films in the cycle (BEACH PARTY, MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, and BIKINI BEACH) form a nice trilogy that connect to each other quite nicely, in theme and in continuity. The remaining films in the series would continue to recall these films, forming a loose connection. The fourth film of the set, PAJAMA PARTY, took things in a new direction. Rather than focus on Frankie and Annette, we meet a whole new cast of characters. Funicello now plays Connie, and her steady is Big Lunk (Jody McCrea, "Deadhead" of the other films) until she meets George, a Martian played by Tommy Kirk. While one of the best films in the series, audiences must not have been too thrilled with this new direction, for the very next film, BEACH BLANKET BINGO returns things to normal with Frankie and DeeDee and the gang. BEACH BLANKET BINGO is the one everybody remembers, the one with the mermaid that falls in love with Jody McCrea, and is in many ways the ultimate Beach Party movie. (Interestingly, THE FAT SPY, made the same year, also features a subplot involving that film's Jody McCrea analog -played by singer Johnny Tillotson- falling in love with a mermaid. I'd be interested to see which script was written first.)

   Somewhere along the line, money concerns or contract disputes lead to trouble (as the story goes), forcing Avalon and Annette to seek greener pastures. And it seems they took most everybody else important to the series with them. Most of the familiar faces of the previous films are absent from GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, although we're still served up a fine cast. Despite a nice effort, the film ultimately suffers from a lack of Avalon, Funicello, McCrea, Donna Loren, or John Ashley. Also missing is series director William Asher, replaced by Don Weis, the director of the earlier PAJAMA PARTY. It seems that, if Asher had his stock characters, Weis had his too. The characters here are either returning from PAJAMA PARTY, or bear a strong resemblance to them. Thus, a little recap of PAJAMA PARTY is called for.

   As mentioned earlier, Connie was dating Big Lunk, the numskull nephew of Aunt Wendy (Elsa Lanchester!). Big Lunk had the previous year dated Vickie (singing sensation Donna Loren, who played 'Donna' in the other films, where she didn't do a lot of acting but would belt out some incredible tunes). Wendy had a fortune hidden somewhere in her house, and it was being sought by notorious conman J. Sinister Hunk (Jesse White) -subtlety was out of the question, obviously- and his cronies that included Chief Rotten Eagle (Buster Keaton!) and a Swede bombshell named Bobbi (Bobbi Shaw, who will probably be forever remembered as the blonde in the fur-lined bikini who could only enthusiastically exclaim "Yah! Yah!").

   Weirdly, Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang, the Rats, are in both continuities. Even stranger is that the Rats and Mice are the only characters in the series to have a continuity that remains the same in all the films! Through Von Zipper and his gang, mention of the earlier trilogy is carried over into PAJAMA PARTY. Likewise, they carry references from PAJAMA PARTY back into the regular continuity! (For instance, at one point in GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, Von Zipper is asked if he plans to give another character "the Finger." This is a running gag going all the way back to BEACH PARTY, where a professor played by Bob Cummings demonstrates Himalayan Time Suspension by pressing his finger against Von Zipper's temple. This would freeze Von Zipper like a statue. Forever afterwards, Von Zipper would threaten to place people into "Himalayan Suspenders" if they crossed him. Unfortunately for him, Von Zipper would often inadvertently demonstrate on himself and be out of action for a while. The various ways Von Zipper would give himself "the Finger" became a running gag of the series.)

   Here, we have eccentric Aunt Millie (Patsy Kelly) and her numskull nephew GooGoo (Aron Kincaid), who is dating another Vickie (Nancy Sinatra!). J. Sinister Hulk is back (still played by Jesse White) as is Cheif Chicken Feather (the name exposed to be the true moniker of Cheif Rotten Eagle in the earlier film), no longer played by Buster Keaton, but by Benny Rubin. You undoubtedly remember Rubin from his patented Chinaman routine which he did on nearly every sitcom and variety series of the early 60's (he's the owner of the Chinese laundry who gives Herman Munster a job, for instance). Bobbi Shaw is also back (yay!) only this time they've decided to let her speak fluent English. This obviously isn't the same character as before (who had fallen in love with Big Lunk), as she's now Princess, a ruthless cutthroat dressed as a harem girl, and owner of a huge gorilla named Monstro (George Barrows!). She and Chicken Feather apparently work in a traveling carnival these days. The most glaring change is the replacing of series leads Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello with Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley. The pair had earlier played the leads in an Allied Artists' attempt to copy the beach films, IT'S A BIKINI WORLD. Both were vets of the series (Kirk in PAJAMA PARTY, Walley in BEACH BLANKET BINGO), and both are fine here. You can just tell the parts were written for Avalon and Funicello, though, and you keep imagining the earlier actors in the parts.

   We open with a send up of the popular Poe films AIP was famous for (the studio was never slow to poke fun at itself) with a spooky title sequence seen over a field of shifting fog before we open on a cloaked figure walking through a foggy cemetery during an electrical storm. The figure enters the crypt and reveals itself to be a beautiful platinum blonde (Susan Hart! Another carry over from PAJAMA PARTY), a ghost of a circus performer who had died in an accident 30 years earlier. She was an acrobat, famous as The Girl in the Invisible Bikini*, and died in a fall during her performance. This is Ceciley, and she's come to call on the recently deceased Hiram Stokley (Boris Karloff!). Hiram is a bit disappointed to find he's no longer among the living, but Ceciley tells him he still has a shot at the pearly gates if he can arrange a good deed within a set number of hours.

   (*From what we learn here, Ceciley died in 1936, already famous as "the Girl in the Invisible Bikini." It probably seems silly to raise issue here, but the term "bikini" didn't enter the lexicon until 1946, when a new, skimpier cut of two-piece bathing suit was named after the atomic bomb test on the Bikini atoll. So, this makes no sense, given there's no indication that all this is supposed to be happening 30 years into the future.)

   Hiram can't leave the crypt, so Ceciley will have to do the field work. The two will keep in touch with a crystal ball. Hiram's good deed will be to make sure his fortune goes to his rightful heirs (children of fellow carnies that Stokely had bilked out of their fortunes) and not his crooked attorney, Reginald Ripper (Basil Raithbone!). Ripper has contracted Hulk and his associates to bump off the other heirs, which include Aunt Millie, Chuck Phillips (Kirk), and.... That's funny, I can't remember the name of Deborah Walley's character! And I've seen this flick several times!

   Anyway, the parties start arriving and Millie suggests a seance (wouldn't want to skip a haunted house cliche, would we?). During this, Hulk fakes a few scares, including a knife that shoots into the back of Walley's chair. Ceciley watches all this from the chandelier, which breaks under her weight and crashes to the table. This thoroughly convinces Walley to leave, until Kirk reminds her that she'll be forfitting her share of the money. About then, GooGoo arrives with a literal busload of teenagers who quickly set up out by the pool and shimmy and twist as Nancy Sinatra offers a tune titled "Geronimo!" (Interestingly, the 1959 film GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW, which could be considered a sort of dry run for the Beach formula, also features a song titled "Geronimo!" Both films have been packaged on a double feature DVD my Metro Goldwyn Mayor.)

   With all the noise, Millie states there's no use in further trying to communicate with the departed Hiram Stokely. The will to be read at midnight, Ripper sets in motion another scheme to cut down on the number of potential heirs by sicking his daughter Sinestra (Quinn O' Hara!) on GooGoo. O' Hara quite nearly steals the whole show as the seductive, and quite murderous, femme fatal of the piece. Meanwhile, Von Zipper and his gang* have spotted Princess and Chicken Feather driving out to the Stokley place. Upon seeing her, Von Zipper falls in love with Princess and follows her to the mansion. There, the gang sees Princess and the other villains pass through a secret passage in the garden wall. The film's best laugh probably comes from Von Zipper eyeing Ripper and noting "that one guy looks like Sherlock Holmes."

   (* Eric Von Zipper goes through an interesting evolution over the series. The first couple of times we see him, he's a rotten thug and proud of it. By the time we get to BEACH BLANKET BINGO, however, Von Zipper sees himself as a social crusader, and believes that "them beach bums" are the true stain on society. This idea emerges in Von Zipper's second appearance in BIKINI BEACH (the character is absent from MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, making it the odd duck of the series -although it is one of the best entries, despite that fact), but by BEACH BLANKET BINGO the character sees himself as heroic. He starts the song "Follow Your Leader" with the line "If there's a battle to fought, then to the battle go we ought!" By this film, there's still some talk of him as being rotten when we're introduced to the gang "bustin' up billboards" out in the countryside. Despite this vandalous "game" however, Von Zipper notes how safe it is. He also attempts to save what he thinks is a girl in trouble twice. First, he attempts to save Princess from drowning, although he can't swim and she ends up saving him. Later, he sees a mechanical depiction of a girl being tortured and he steps in to save her. By now, he's more of a Lou Costello-type. He's just a kid who doesn't know he isn't smart.)

   After Sinestra tries to kill GooGoo a couple more times (but fails due to Ceciley's intervention and Sinestra's own nearsightedness) midnight arrives and its time to read the will. To let you know how much times have changes, Stokley's fortune is $1 Million, not including the house and grounds. Now, its true that a million bucks was some major wampum in 1966. In an era where a film like this would cost upwards of $70 million, though, this bit has lost a lot of its punch. At any rate, the money is hidden somewhere on the grounds. Von Zipper overhears Princess and the other killers discussing how they will steal all the money for themselves. This cools Von Zipper's affections for Princess, and he decides the thing to do is to find the money first and keep it, that'll show those crooks. Hulk and his crew try to scare the others out by dressing as monsters (including a costume renovated from THE EYE CREATURES), while Monstro breaks loose during the storm and roams the halls of the house. Monstro makes off with Walley, the others give chase, and everyone converges in Hiram Stokley's basement mechanized chamber of horrors (doesn't every carny have one?), complete with working buzzsaw!

   While THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI is certainly entertaining (I wouldn't let October go by without a viewing), it also remains true that this is the low point of the Beach series. This, as noted, is due almost entirely to the lack of the regular players. Things tend to pick up when Von Zipper is on the screen, but its due to his presence that the film really fails to stand on its own. Rather than a playful spoof of AIP's Poe series, the film feels like a tacked on entry to a series that can't really accept it into the fold. Terrific fun, yes, but it almost feels forced at times.

   Frankie and Annette would return to the genre with BACK TO THE BEACH, which tried to bring the formula into the 80's. The lack of further sequels would seem to indicate the time hadn't come. (Some have speculated though, that Disney's "High School Musical" franchise is the modern equivalent, and the Mouse seems to be cleaning up with those, last I heard.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

HORROR!!!

   While the old Warren adult-themed horror comics don't do much for me, I must admit some of the funnest work I've done involved drawing Warren-style, adult-themed horror stories for BLOKE'S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR. I think the excuse to cut loose and draw some period cheesecake mixed with some old-fashioned horror plots has made the assignments incredible fun. Here are a few pages of art I drew pencils for.

   "Love Hurts" was inked and toned by Mr. Jeff Austin. It was a voodoo tale written by Mr. Jason Crawley. Once again, we learn cheating on your spouse is very, very bad.



    In the upcoming issue 3, I return with "Green Fingers." The inking duties have been taken over by Mr. Mike Hoffman, giving this story even more the style of a 70's Warren. Here's a tiny little preview. Neglecting one's spouse isn't much better than cheating on them......


These images have been reproduced through the permission of Mr. Jason Crawley. To see the full "Love Hurts" check out issue no.1 of BLOKE'S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR (which is probably the slickest title I've had the good blessing to appear in). "Green Fingers" will be seen in issue no. 3, release date pending. You can buy issue no. 1 here: http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5622

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oddball Film Report: BUMMER! (1973)

Look at that tagline. Was this flick aimed
at rapists?


   This is one report that won't take up too much space.

   Calling your movie "Bummer!" would seem to be a bad omen, wouldn't it? Hollywood is notorious for its superstitions, like never having a question mark in the title (thus, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was a statement rather than a question). I guess those superstitions never crossed over into predictive titles like "Bomb" or "Drag." The most obvious thing about the title BUMMER! is that it leaves the door open for the predictable assessment "BUMMER! is a bummer!" Granted, there's nothing in the movie to counter the chosen title. I wound up with a copy because I wanted to see JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, and Something Weird Video had included BUMMER! as the co-feature (presumably because there was no other way to pawn it off on even their eclectic customer base).

   It's a good thing I enjoyed JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, because BUMMER! is exactly the sort of meandering, plotless (until the last two reels, which pick up considerably) 'hippie' flick one usually avoids. BUMMER! was one of David Friedman's 'legit' pictures made for the mass market, and thus only made for an R rating. Of Friedman's other 'mainstream' movies that I've seen (TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, SHE FREAK), I've been fairly impressed. Even the 'dirty' movie of his that I saw (SPACE-THING!) had enough clever or dumb bits to be entertaining. BUMMER! had me wishing it were one of Friedman's sex films, since at least something interesting would be going on (actually, the film features quite a bit of nudity, but I had forgotten most of this until I went back and watched the trailer again).

   BUMMER! is what I guess you could call a "slice of life" epic about the lives of the members of a struggling band imaginatively named "The Group" and their three groupie chicks. No one here is really likable, but some of the characters are slightly less unlikable than the others. The designated loser of the bunch is the obese Butz, who can't get a girl, even a groupie, because he's a perverted jerk of a fat slob. He's also holding back The Group, but the others can't leave him because he owns a van. (It's That 70's Show, only it makes you want to kill yourself!) Mostly, we'll spend an hour watching these people interact, and steadily grow to hate them.

   Within the final stretch, we actually move into a real plot! This involves Butz trying to rape one of the groupies and killing her in the process, after which the entire gang is pulled over and arrested because Butz has a warrant on him for an earlier rape charge involving a groupie. At the station, it becomes clear this will end only in bloodshed and gunfire. This last bit isn't bad, technically speaking, but getting there is a chore. (And for the sake of anyone who might want to track down a copy of the film, it would be remiss of me to blow anything else.) The music isn't even much of a draw, but I admit this isn't my kind of music, so others might enjoy it more than I. Maybe you will enjoy "A far-out trip through a hard rock tunnel" more than I did. Being fluent in 70's slang will help you. Seeing this flick, I discovered that it really is a different language, and fortunately (?) I could rap this jive lingo, Turkey! (Not that I ever would speak that way in public, but I've seen enough films from the era to dig what these cats are talkin' 'bout.

   Happily, JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (a sort of BILLY JACK with more substance and less hippie preachifying) proved to have a lot more meat to it than I expected. But, it was BUMMER!'s one-sheet that I found, so it became the subject of this report.

   As is the custom with Something Weird Video, the DVD is packed with goodies. In this instance, though, there's not a lot of fun in the supplements. Firstly, there are the trailers for the two main features. BUMMER!'s trailer gives the impression that the film has a lot more plot/sex/action than it actually serves up. The trailer for JOHNNY FIRECLOUD on the other hand, may be Friedman's best work of all time (he wrote the trailers for most or all of his releases). Not only does the film have some impressive visuals and production values, and a top notch cast including Ralph Meeker, Frank DeKova, and David Canary, but the trailer announcer offers some of the best taglines I've ever heard ("It was now! Redskins no longer bit the dust, they just ate dirt!" "They pushed and shoved, squeezed and leaned, and leaned harder, until they bought themselves an all-American one-man Indian massacre!" "JOHNNY FIRECLOUD! A HATE story!"). That right there was worth the price of the disk. The other trailers here are for assorted 70's films that don't seem to fit into regular genres, including some 'wacky' looking comedies and a skin flick being pushed as an actual dramatic feature. It has to be the only SWV disc I've ever bought with trailers that I don't intend to watch again. Ever.

   The other extras are more interesting. Best is a neat little short about blind bidding, the practice of selling films to theater owners before they can see what kind of films they're buying. Then there's a girlie loop (from the 40s, maybe?) showing a striptease by a gal dressed as an Indian. Since BUMMER! features a detour to a strip club, this short manages to play into the themes of both films.

   The other thing on the disc is a commentary track over JOHNNY FIRECLOUD with David F. Friedman himself. Unfortunately, he doesn't spend a lot of time actually talking about what may be the best film his name was ever attached to. (Per usual, though, the late Mr. Friedman offers a colorful and entertaining commentary as he discusses various stages of his career in the exploitation/sexploitation industries.) Sadly, he doesn't perform similar duties for BUMMER!, which could have used a nice distracting commentary track.


   Those interested can purchase the double feature DVD direct from Something Weird Video here: http://www.somethingweird.com/cart.php?target=product&product_id=19123&substring=johnny+firecloud

Godzilla, chick magnet!

   My brother ran across these shots on the internet, and they brought a smile to my face. Any day you can combine giant monsters and beautiful women, life is good. I thought I'd share.



Godzilla and his first leading lady, Momoko Kochi,
got along much better off screen, as you can see in
this behind the scenes shot from GODZILLA, KING
OF THE MONSTERS

Godzilla's singing career never went very far, despite
his putting together this musical comedy act with his
co-stars from GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS,
Momoko Kochi and Akira Takarada

Actress Yukiko Kobayashi didn't have a very
long career in films, but she quickly caught the
eye of Japan's biggest movie star. Here they are
together on the set of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS

What I assume is a press party for 1968's DESTROY ALL
MONSTERS, to show off some of the spiffy new monster
suits built for the picture. But really, who was looking at the
monsters? Oh, I guess the girls might have been.

Baragon and pals from the same photoshoot

Thursday, October 6, 2011

EV

    Very early in my career as a pencil jockey, I tried to sell a newspaper strip to King Features. EV was the only strip to get as far as submission, although I developed a couple of others. As you can see, my work on this project was very crude (and obviously I didn't sell this or any other strip). I didn't yet have a handle on the human form, it was my first attempt at inking (on the wrong kind of paper, which is why the images are weirdly textured in spots), and I was never meant to be a letterer. But for the sake of entertainment, I thought you might like to see this early work of mine (actually, I think it was only about five or six years ago. I really haven't been at this very long, but even I can see quite a bit of improvement over these few years).







   I've thought about resurrecting the EV character, possibly for a regular comic book. Or maybe I should get a real inker and redraw the whole thing and make another try at landing a newspaper strip, since it looks like the newspaper industry might recover before the comic book industry does.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oddball Film Report: THE SIDEHACKERS (1969)



Despite what you see on the one sheet,
I don't recall a chick wearing a red bikini
anywhere in the picture.

   So I guess the logical first question one has going into THE SIDEHACKERS is: what in the world is sidehacking? I'm not sure how popular the sport ever became, but the film credits technical information to a legitimate sidehacking club. As explained in the movie, a sidehack is a narrow, wheeled platform bolted onto the side of a motorbike (like an open sidecar). Two man teams then race over an obstacle coarse, with one man driving the bike, and the other standing on the sidehack and shifting his weight back and forth to keep the bike level on hard turns. Doesn't sound very practical to me, nor does it look very practical in action. Aside from today's feature, I don't recall ever seeing another sidehack.

   It would seem the producers understood that sidehacking is hardly involved enough to sustain a feature film, so the sport pretty much vanishes from the film after the first 20 or so minutes. The rest of the film plays out like a mock THE BORN LOSERS. Things open like a documentary about sidehacking, though, and one doesn't really expect the direction the film takes at the mid-point. The opening is pretty cool too, showing close-ups of the men making ready their bikes as framed through a small rectangle in the center of the screen. When the credits pick up as the race begins (the camera tracking a bike moving toward the audience), the screen suddenly opens up as the frame pulls back to full FANTASCOPE proportions. This must have looked simply stunning on theater screens. Sadly, this print of the film (from Mill Creek's "Savage Cinema" collection) is cropped to regular aspect ratio. This becomes increasingly annoying as it's rather obvious that the blocking and cinematography have been formulated to take full advantage of the wide-screen format. If there's a scope version of this movie floating around out there, do let me know.

   The plot here is pretty simple (a common trait with "biker" flicks). Rommel is a sidehacker who is about to marry the girl of his dreams (and I can't remember her name for some reason, so I'll call her Peggy), and he's half owner-operator of a motorcycle repair shop (I can't remember his best friend's name either, so I'll call him Andy). One day, the leader of a group of exposition riders drops off his bike. This is the psychopathic J.C. Included in the group is his girl Paisley (see, I remember the weird names), who takes an instant shine to Rommel. J.C. notices the sidehack on Rommel's bike and asks about it. Rommel invites J.C. and his gang out to the track to see how it works.

   J.C. is quite a bit more impressed with sidehacking than you'd expect and he talks Rommel into teaching him how to sidehack. J.C. invites Rommel and Peggy to go on the road and do some sidehacking for county fairs. J.C. is a psycho, though, and its starting to show through now that he's got a few drinks in him, so Rommel turns him down. Paisley later makes an advance on Rommel, who refuses her (he's got Peggy and everything, remember? They started the film with a downright farcical 'frolic in the meadows' montage). Upset at being turned down, and knowing that J.C. will slaughter anyone else who touches his girl, Paisley claims Rommel raped her. J.C. then breaks in on Rommel and Peggy. Cut to later and Rommel wakes to find Peggy has been murdered and hung from the rafters of his cabin. Rommel spends the second half of the movie getting together some muscle so he can track J.C. down and go all Billy Jack on him (Rommel even starts wearing denim jeans and jacket over a dark shirt!).

   Rather famously, THE SIDEHACKERS is the film that changed the selection process for choosing movies to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. At the time, one of the crew would watch about 15 minutes of a film and put it on the pile if it looked promising. They started watching this film, and were shocked to find a rather violent rape scene half way through. Ever since, SOP involved watching an ENTIRE movie before picking it. And indeed, the rape scene is pretty shocking. The way the film cuts from J.C. breaking in, to a badly beaten Rommel waking up the next day and finding Peggy strung up, I started to wonder if the scene had been removed from this print. No, it wasn't.

   The sequence is actually quite effective. Rommel runs to Andy's house, and Andy tries to administer aid to his friend. Rommel hears Andy's kids playing and sees the little boy and girl innocently roughhousing in the floor, the boy pinning down the girl. This triggers flashbacks to Rommel being forced to watch as Peggy was gang-raped and killed. The scene is horrific and staggeringly realistic, and its being counterpointed by the similar but wholesome actions of the children is actually quite effective. The scene is repulsive and uncomfortable, yet it works perfectly within the context of the story. The increasingly quick cuts between the attack and Rommel's pained expression before he screams and runs out of the house is an amazing trick of editing. The bulk of the film fails to match the intensity of this sequence, both artistically and emotionally, but the scene alone leaves quite an impact. (Something one might not expect is that the sequence features no nudity. In fact, the only exposed flesh in the whole film is a quick shot of Peggy's duff as Rommel grabs at her hanging body and the remains of her skirt shift to the side. Well, there is a conversation taking place in front of a wall plastered with photos pulled out of various 60's girlie mags.)

   In the end, a better than average biker movie, mostly because it has a plot and there isn't much biking involved. Truly a product of its time, the late 60's, as it features a fairly workable storyline and decent production values countered by plenty of harsh language and frank discussion of intimate matters. Not great, but not bad either.

Why, yes, I have drawn Jessica Rabbit






As Catwoman, 40's style


Sunday, October 2, 2011

RETURN TO THE LAND OF THE LOST

Today's subject: Movies I'd Like to Make - Return to the Land of the Lost.

    Many a viewer felt the Will Farrell comedy based on the classic 70's Saturday morning adventure series Land of the Lost was designed to offend those who loved the show, seen as ripping the throat out of their childhoods. Because of the title, its pretty difficult to look beyond the "screwing with a beloved classic" and taking the film on its own terms. Honestly, I don't know what Sid and Marty were thinking, as LAND OF THE LOST could have been one of the greatest science fiction adventure movies of all time. Having recently gone through the entire series, I have decided one of the Movies I'd Like to Make when I get the chance will be RETURN TO THE LAND OF THE LOST.

The plot:

     Two couples are out yachting. Mark Randall and his wife, Joan, and Cliff Hart and his wife, Sylvia. Mark and Cliff have just gone in together to buy the yacht currently being sailed, and girls are enjoying the voyage. Having lashed down the sail for the night, the men decide to play a little poker before turning in. The girls go topside to enjoy the sunset, but report that a strange fog is moving in. Mark and Cliff reach the deck and see a dense cloud moving across the surface of the water. "Doesn't look like any fog I've ever seen, looks more like a smoke screen." The fog drifts toward them. A waterfall is heard. The girls suddenly get dizzy and faint. The men shortly get dizzy too, lasting a little longer because they came on deck after the women. Cliff drops to the deck as Mark reaches for the flare gun. He tries to aim it, but falls to the deck before he can take any action.

   They are sucked into the Land of the Lost, which is this time built like the strange wonderland seen on the teleseries.

   The crew awakes in the swamp. They have no idea where they are or how they got there, but they're seeing living dinosaurs on the shore. LuLu, the two-headed sea serpent from the third season appears and attacks the boat. The men manage to fight it back long enough for Sylvia to turn the boat toward shore and beach the craft. Grabbing all the supplies they can think of, they leave the boat before LuLu can attack again. They must find shelter that can easily be defended. They are chased through the jungle by Grumpy, and the gang takes refuge in an open pylon. There, they discover Enik (and fortunately he speaks quickly enough that they don't shoot him), who gives them a little exposition ("You are not the first humans to enter the Land of the Lost, nor, I fear, will you be the last.") before taking them to the temple used as base camp in the third season of the show. Joan is confused, having heard the phrase "land of the lost" sometime in her childhood.



   In the ruins, Enik presents a large collection of notes prepared by the Marshalls before they left the Land of the Lost, a collection of notes prepared to bring the next stranded party up to speed. The Marshalls had been in the Land of the Lost five years before the "Pylon Express" took them home (at one point, Rick Marshall had found a way back into the express and eventually met up with Uncle Jack and the kids before the group managed to go home when the moons were in the right order once again. Since no one would believe him on the outside, thinking Rick had broken down after the kids were lost on the river, he had to read up on dimensional anomalies and find a way back himself, keeping the pylon express in mind the whole time). The notes lay out everything the Marshalls were able to learn about the Land of the Lost and the creatures that inhabit it, as well as a diorama of the explored areas to show how the land is formed.

   Once returned to the real world, Holly Marshall became a successful writer of children's books all about the Land of the Lost, which is why Joan remembers a few things, including Enik. Enik failed to return to his time on the express due to an anomaly he couldn't solve in time, but he may have found a way of forcing the express open sooner than due if he can find the proper sequence of crystals. On his own time board in his cave, Enik has reasoned the opening on the express into his time is blocked by a cataclysm, the one which possibly created the Land of the Lost. With the proper crystals, Enik may be able to control the passage of time and dimensional flux and return to his world early enough to prevent the disaster. He can also return his new friends to their proper time and close all the openings to the Land of the Lost.



   Cliff's radium dial watch turns out to be the missing component in Enik's locator, and Enik discovers the locations of the assorted crystals needed to operate the flux controller. The party then splits up and searches the indicated areas of the Land of the Lost, looking for the crystals (including the snowy lair of the yeti creature and that dark foggy area where Marvin Milner's ship was destroyed). Chaka, who has taken a vow to help all humans, also joins up (Jack had helped Chaka build a bridge across the ravine that cut him off from the other Pakuni). Meanwhile, the Sleestack learn of Enik's plan and try to prevent it, knowing that they would cease to exist if Enik's plan works.



   Toss in the desired amount of stop-motion dinosaur action and you're good to go. And yes, since they were on a sailing vessel, Joan and Sylvia spend the entire film in their bikinis. Its the film that's fun for everyone! Now, where can I get my hands on about 17 million dollars.......