Monday, January 30, 2012

ROBOT MONSTER, the commission!

From time to time I get a real blessing and receive a commission. Here's the latest.

Here's the first version with no background. I like how clean and neat it is....



And after a background was added per the customer's request...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

AVALON HIGH

   Friends, a couple of years ago I was burning whatever inflammable yet valueless material I could dig up. I happened across some less-than-perfect yearbooks from the late 70's/early 80's. Naturally, I went through first and collected whatever unspoiled reference pictures I could of cheerleaders and the like (these were college year books, for the record) before I burned them. I got hit with the idea of doing a female-oriented teen comedy comic of the Tippy Teen variety. I'd focus on 1960's high schoolers, and the series would be called Avalon High. I only got as far as these two character sheets. You can see I was experimenting with styles. I was never sure if I should try to develop Avalon High as a comic book or a cartoon series, since a peppy theme song popped into my head while I was sketching these. Well, maybe I can sell the idea to the Japanese....


 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

MOVIE NEWS: Obey the Lost Skeleton! Again!


   Great news, Skeleton fans! Larry Blamire is setting things in motion for the third chapter in the bony anti-hero's big screen adventures, THE LOST SKELETON WALKS AMONG US! The Lost Skeleton also walks IN us if this preview of Larry's poster art is any hint! Mr. Blamire posted this detail frame on Facebook, firing the imaginations of his fans with ideas of what Dr. Paul Armstrong and the gang are in for this time! How long until the film is in the can? (More importantly for those of us in rural locations, how long until it hits disk?) I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Oddball Film Report: FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965)


    The legend of Dr. Frankenstein has been one of the most enduring tales in the world's collective pop culture. It was a massive best-seller in print, a success on the stage, and was one of the earliest horror stories adapted to the screen. A year seldom goes by since Universal's definitive 1931 release that a new Frankenstein film doesn't get made or released. The Frankenstein Monster is as much a part of American halloween decoration as Santa Claus is to Christmas festivities. And like Santa Claus, Frankenstein and his monster get endlessly updated, altered, and tinkered with as each new story tries to be at least somewhat novel compared to the countless versions that came before.


   Picking a single candidate for Weirdest Frankenstein Film is just asking for trouble. Among others, some obvious candidates include JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, FRANKENSTEIN 1970, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, BLACKENSTEIN, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (in 3D yet!), FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, a version starring Mr. Magoo (!), and numerous 'adult' takes on the material. 

   Still, you could make a strong case for FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. After all, only the Japanese would depict the Frankenstein monster as a giant caveman that can grow back missing limbs and fights a fire-spitting dinosaur!




   The story goes that Toho Pictures in Japan was looking for another project for Godzilla to star in. They also wanted to do their own version of the Frankenstein characters. Reportedly, Toho planned to sequel their 1962 hit THE HUMAN VAPOR with a story in which the titular vapor-man goes to Dr. Frankenstein for help in reviving his dead lover! That same year, Toho had bought the story for "King Kong vs Frankenstein" from John Beck (who more or less stole the the idea from Willis O' Brien, who had been trying to get the picture made since the 30's). Thinking the project a good chance to bring Godzilla back, Toho substituted the Big Blue Dinosaur for the Frankenstein monster. Supposedly, it was dropping Frankenstein from one picture that made them eager to use the character in another film.


   Following the success of GODZILLA VS THE THING in 1964, plans were made to team Frankenstein's monster with Toho's top star. "Godzilla vs Frankenstein" was a bare-bones treatment that eventually evolved into our current subject. This time, though, on the way to the screen, Godzilla found himself replaced by a new monster! Assuming Toho had the same casting in mind, Godzilla still got a chance to work with American actor Nick (The Rebel) Adams in 1965's MONSTER ZERO (which, for some reason went unseen in the States until 1970, when it played double bill with THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS -another Toho production starring an American actor, Russ Tamblyn). The substitute monster, Baragon, meanwhile, became the workhorse of the effects department as the suit was durable enough to withstand constant use and redress for multiple television series. When the suit was called for use in another Godzilla movie in 1968, it had finally been beaten up enough to warrant construction of a whole new costume. Said costume, though, wasn't ready in time and Baragon had to be substituted with another beast (Gorosaurus from KING KONG ESCAPES, 1967). The new Baragon suit can only be briefly glimpsed in the final film, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.


   FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD is typical Toho of the period. Outlandish, breathlessly paced, yet fun and entertaining, the film remains much, much better than one would expect from any plot synopsis. The cast is packed with familiar faces, and the technical crew is mostly the same team that has been in place since GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. Akira Ifukube offers one of his most stirring scores, for example, although he actually starts us off with an impressively somber track as we open our story toward the end of Word War 2....


   For some reason, about the time of Germany's surrender, the Nazis had the still-beating heart of the Frankenstein monster turned over to the Japanese. The object eventually reached a medical center in Hiroshima. Either the trip took months, or we jump ahead at this point, because suddenly the Enola Gay is flying overhead and the city is quickly vaporized. (It might be worth noting, too, that the A-bomb being dropped didn't come as the surprise indicated here. The Allies gave much advanced notice in order to limit the number of lives lost in the attack, although there was just as much doubt from the Imperial Japanese that the bomb would actually BE dropped. The result was one of the most devastating attacks on an enemy in any war, and the event changed warfare itself. Another thing worth noting that is often overlooked, is that the A-bomb actually saved countless thousands of lives. The predicted outcome of an expected land assault would have spelled disaster for both sides. Weirdly, the ultimate outcome of the Hiroshima bombing was a positive one, as it brought about a swift end to the war and American occupation over the next decade shaped Japan into one of the most powerful economic entities in history. Lest I be unfairly attacked for this statement, that is in no way meant to diminish the horror of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. For the record, though, the aftermath of those bombings has been greatly exaggerated.)


   Jump ahead to 1965. The city now houses a center devoted to radiological research. The chief of staff of this institute is Dr. James Bowen (Nick Adams). Bowen and scientist lady-friend Sueko (the delectable Kumi Mizuno) discover a wild boy running around the city and eating small animals. One older character makes note of the fact that there were children like this after the War, who would eat anything they could get their hands on. The basic premise here is one which is the subject of much debate, and there is little evidence to support either theory. This child is our new incarnation of the Frankenstein monster.


   Now, where did this boy come from? There are two schools of thought on this, and neither explanation is specifically mentioned in the movie. Either the heart of Frankenstein regenerated into a new creature, or the wild boy found and ate Frankenstein's heart and the organ took over the entire body. Either possibility opens the doors to numerous questions. Let's say we go with the "wild boy eating the heart" idea. Okay, how was the heart not vaporized in the blast? How did the boy find it before the authorities? It would seem eating the heart counteracted the radioactivity the boy's body was subjected to, but where has he been in the 20 years since the end of the War? Why has he not aged in that time? Why would the full mutation wait until 20 years to begin?


   Onto the other theory which I support, though not without reservations. We are told that the heart requires a steady supply of protein to keep it beating. Say it did survive the bomb, and the fallout caused the object to grow into a new being. What was the heart converting into the mass required to make a whole body? How was it able to do this without protein? Why did this process take 20 years? Where was this organism hiding for two decades before it emerged a ravenous child with a taste for small animals? Let's say the bomb triggered the heart to go into a state of suspended animation until far more recently, what sudden rush of protein caused the quick growth? Where has the heart been all this time?


   And let us step back and examine the simple thesis here. Dr. Frankenstein sewed together parts of dead bodies and charged the new body with electricity. This resulted in a monster that we are told could re-grow severed limbs! "Frankenstein was actually killed many times over" we are told, "but the creature always returned to life!" First, how did the monster become reduced to a living heart? How does a human heart super-charged with electricity make for a creature that can regenerate itself like a starfish? And then how does exposure to the A-bomb cause the same creature to increase in overall size?


   At any rate, Bowen and his staff capture the child and take him to the center for study. Now getting a steady diet of food, the boy begins to grow into a man, and beyond! In short order, Frankenstein grows into a 20 foot giant who must be kept caged in the institute's basement. At his continuing pace, however, no cage will be able to hold him and plans are made to move him to a sanctuary for further study. Bowen's right hand man, Dr. Kowaji (Tadao Takashima), meanwhile, has traveled to Germany to speak with an old scientist who has an idea as to the boy's origin (we opened the movie seeing this same scientist being forced to turn over Frankenstein's heart to the Nazis).


   The scientist tells Kowaji that the only way to know if the boy is really "Frankenstein" is to cut off his arms or legs. If they grow back, its Frankenstein! [Was this regeneration subplot cooked up to justify why the Monster was always escaping death in his many movie appearances? It was an odd choice, given that the monster always survives intact. For instance, the Monster falls into a sulfur pit at the end of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. When we meet up with him again in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Ygor finds the Monster in the dried up beds, exposed by an earthquake. In HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster wanders into quicksand, and emerges from the mud in HOUSE OF DRACULA, each time intact! (Although the location of his demise/discovery often fails to match up, as was also a habit with Kharis the Mummy.) In fact, I can't recall that the Monster was ever dismembered prior to 1970's DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, so I'm not sure where the writers got this idea. The Monster was always indestructible, but he never lost any limbs.]


   Kowaji becomes obsessed with the Frankenstein idea and plans to amputate one of Frankenstein's limbs, much to the displeasure of Sueko, who has developed a bond of sympathy with the giant. Kowaji readies his experiment after hours, but is interrupted by a newsreel crew come to film Frankenstein. Kowaji objects when the stage lights make Frankenstein outraged, but you know reporters and caged/chained monsters! Frankenstein escapes, and destroys a couple of squad cars in the process.


   Frankenstein manages to melt into the wilderness and avoid recapture. Meanwhile, a giant dinosaur that burrows through the earth has appeared, and it has quite the appetite! With the body-count rising, the military is convinced Frankenstein is doing all the eating. Bowen and his crew know better, though Frankenstein does require untold amounts of protein, so things aren't looking good for our heroes! (In a side-plot, Frankenstein lost one of his hands in the escape by yanking the shackle off his wrist, which was already too small for him. The hand is later discovered and kept alive in a protein solution, until it escapes and dies. Kowaji wants to reclaim Frankenstein even more after the loss of this specimen, while Bowen and Sueko are trying to make a way for Frankenstein to live alone in the mountains.)




   I won't go into any more plot detail than that, except to say you can expect what may be Toho's most savage and exciting monster duel!


   Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno remain one of the most popular romantic leading couples in all of Toho's stable. The pair are also seen in MONSTER ZERO, and the sadly obscure spy film THE KILLING BOTTLE (which, word has it, was dubbed for US release TWICE but never made it into theaters). Adams, known for self-destructive behavior (though blessed with a charm and likability few actors can claim), fell for Mizuno and tried to start an affair with her. Mizuno said "no" but Adams ruined his own marriage to actress Carol Nugent. He later died of a drug overdose in 1968, but the incident is the cause of much controversy. Many believe he was murdered, others believe it was suicide, while still others believe it to have been a tragic accident. He remains best known for playing Johnny Yuma on the teleseries The Rebel.


   A "sequel" of sorts was produced, and released state-side as THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (where any connection to "Frankenstein" was dropped). Kumi Mizuno was back, although the American actor enlisted for this epic was former child star Russ Tamblyn, playing Dr. Paul Stewart. In that film, the scientists in question had a baby "gargantua" in captivity for a short time, which later escaped. When a voracious flesh-eating giant  appears, the authorities believe it to be the same creature Stewart's team had examined, while Stewart and his friends fight to prove that their Gargantua isn't responsible. The Gargantuas also regenerate lost flesh (although the cells of these creatures never die, meaning that any sizable chunk of them can grow into a whole new monster, just like REPTILICUS). Thematically, a very similar picture.


   FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, meanwhile, remains a curious picture. Very good, but very strange, the film didn't spawn a series of Japanese Frankenstein films (although more or less every Toho film that got released in Germany had the title changed to reference Frankenstein! GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER for example, saw German release as FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM THE SEA!). Given Frankenstein's ability to survive anything, and a character noting we are sure to hear from the giant again some day, it seems weird that a more official follow-ups didn't occur.

   I should, of course, mention that the film once ended with Frankenstein doing battle with a giant octopus! Perhaps realizing how bizarre this element seemed (even for THIS movie), the entire segment was dropped prior to release. The footage was restored to the Japanese print for a 1980's Japanese laserdisc release. It has since become standard to include this version in Japanese studies. The AIP release, meanwhile, despite being a staple on American television in the 70's, 80's, and early 90's, has become rather hard to obtain. I find this situation irksome, and await remedy.

   The only official release on the young medium of DVD largely uses footage from the Japanese print with the US dub laid over it. This results in some missing footage, as Toho actually filmed some scenes differently for the US release! (The scenes are included in cropped format as extras, a very disappointing release.) ----For GODZILLA VS THE THING, by the way, American audiences actually got an entire scene featuring The Big Blue Dinosaur that wasn't included in the Japanese version! 

    In the end, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD does a really good job of holding the viewer despite some wildly wacky plot threads. Let's be extremely generous and say that the Frankenstein monster can grow into a giant cave-man. Okay, but really, a dinosaur?


   You've gotta love this movie.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Welcome to My World!

A world of colorful adventure and beautiful girls! I ran across these images and felt the need to share. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!






Thanks to Mr. Ken Begg for alerting me to this one!

The Preymates

The idea was to do a series of Dan DeCarlo style horror-themed pinup cartoons. Jeff Austin and I have thus far completed these examples: 


(The crude title on the book was my doing.)




Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Revenge of Ro-Man!

   I wake up one morning and an idea hits me of remaking ROBOT MONSTER as a good movie! I got to thinking about it, and there could be a fun project in there somewhere....


    Let's go all-out. Color, scope, 3D. A sequel set around 1963. Johnny, the lad from the first film, is now a young man with a loving wife. He is starting to have recurring nightmares, the same "Ro-Man" nightmare he experienced as a child. The dream is reoccurring with such frequency that John is starting to wonder about his mind. Moreover, details of the dream include national security, as John has a job at a missile base where the top secret "space platform"is being constructed. 

   Once in orbit, the platform will act as an early warning device for atomic attack from other nations, as well as any incoming threats from space. John has been having this dream since childhood, long before he became involved with the actual platform (which was destroyed by Ro-Man in the dream). The base psychiatrist finds nothing mentally wrong with John, although his superiors are amazed to find that the dream contains information John couldn't know.


   Meanwhile, an object falls in the hills, and a survey team is sent to investigate. To their shock, they do not find a crater, but find a cave (the familiar Bronson Canyon locale of the first film, and hundreds of others). Moreover, their communication equipment isn't working due to peculiar bubble-like objects that are issuing from the cave. The men investigate, but are attacked and killed by Ro-Man, who has set up shop in the cave!


   John's wife Pamela tries to make him relax, and see if he can't learn something from his dream. Maybe he's been missing something in the dream which is the key to ending it. John dreams again, but the visions are different, and include the violent demise of the survey team. Ro-Man even speaks to John in his dream, explaining that they share a psychic link. Ro-Man is here to start invasion proceedings which will ultimately make it possible for his race to capture earth women to act as breeding stock! Step one involves capturing some sample earth-women and making it possible for the first invasion ships to arrive before the platform can be completed. John awakes, but believes his visions to still be fantasy.


   The radar station which tracked Ro-Man's landing dispatches another team to find the survey team. Finding nothing, they make a check of local bases. In the infirmary, John (leaving the doctor's office) is asked if he has seen the men being sought. Shown a picture, and knowing the faces from his nightmare, John isn't sure how to respond. 

   Ro-Man, meanwhile, is abducting women from the Beverly Hills area. Among the women to go missing is an actress. Another nightmare shows John the women being held prisoner in Ro-Man's cave. He later sees the paper and recognizes the actress from his dream. This doesn't convince Pam that anything is afoot, as John could have seen the woman's face in magazines, movies, or television. When John looks deeper into the paper and also recognizes the other missing women, Pam starts to think there might be something larger happening.


   Knowing he must do something, but unsure what he could do, John and Pam go over the details of the new dreams to find a clue. If he could destroy the radar/communications shield (the bubble-machine), the authorities would know of Ro-Man's location and move in. John, knowing the location, heads out with an explosive device. Pam doesn't like it, but John makes her promise to stay put because he knows how powerful Ro-Man is and he doesn't want her hurt. Reluctantly, she agrees. Still nervous about John's plan, Pam goes to John's superiors and tells them to follow him out to the cave (telling them that John has suffered a breakdown, knowing they'll know otherwise when they see Ro-Man). The brass have no reason to doubt Pam's concern for her missing husband and a jeep is sent to find him.


   John finds the cave and heads in. Back at the base, Pam is getting antsy and realizes John might need more help than the two men already sent. She steps out "for air" and eyes the main gate. In a desperate move, Pam steals the General's car and crashes the gate, thus forcing the MPs to give chase. The jeep arrives at the cave but the men see nothing (John parked away from the cave and camouflaged it from Ro-Man), and they find their radios don't work. Ro-Man attacks and kills them before sensing John's presence and following him into the cave.


   John has found the women and set them free, and they stick close to him as he finds the bubble machine and sets the explosive in place. The women find their way blocked from escape when Ro-Man appears and attacks. John opens fire, and Ro-Man responds with his Calcinator Beam, which in reality doesn't kill humans, but does confuse and irritate them. Not wanting to fire for fear he'll hit one of the girls in the confusion, John rushes Ro-Man, and manages to hurt Ro-Man when they smash into a stand of equipment.


   The women manage to escape and pour out of the cave as the authorities show up. Ro-Man regains his feet and sees John unconscious from the battle before turning to reclaim the escaped women. The soldiers are trying to understand what the women are saying, but can't really follow until Ro-Man emerges from the cave and starts to attack. Bullets have no effect on him. John comes to during all this and rushes out behind Ro-Man, who tosses around soldiers like dolls.


   John finds Pam, now being targeted by Ro-Man, and moves to shield her from harm. The bomb goes off and Ro-Man runs back to the cave. Grenades are thrown, causing the cave to cave in just as the monster reaches the opening. After a ton of rubble falls and obscures the scene, John no longer feels the connection to Ro-Man.  The nightmare over, John and Pam embrace.

   An added plus, since the original film was scored by none other than Elmer Bernstein (!), there are some rich stock musical cues that can be worked into the soundtrack. 

   The only problem is, how would you advertise it? Anyone familiar with the original film would be expecting a spoof of some sort (and the flick was so wacky, who wouldn't expect a follow-up to be comical?), while audiences not familiar with the first film would have no frame of reference. You advertise the follow-up as a comedy and people would be expecting something other than what they'd pay their hard-earned money to see. Advertise it as a straight science fiction piece and you'd be laughed off the screen before the trailer has time to unspool! 

 

Watch the Birdie!

(Sorry about the rough nature of this scan, it can't really be helped with this machine I'm using.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oddball Film Report: INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962)


   Boy, what a misfire.


   INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES began as a sort of inside joke about American International Pictures and the people who worked at the studio. The film was envisioned as a satiric play on the studio's bread-and-butter drive-in monster pictures, and a treatment was written as "The Monsters of Nicholson Mesa." Nicholson, of course, was in reference to James H. Nicholson, who co-founded AIP with Samuel Z. Arkoff. I once read a Filmfax interview with Johnathan Haze (who scripted the film to star himself and AIP regular Dick Miller as the hapless G.I.'s who meet the monsters) where the troubled pre-production history was discussed, although the years have faded the details in my memory. One thing is for sure, the final film should have been a lot more amusing than it is.


   Take another look at that poster. Nothing to imply audiences were marching into a comedy (on double bill with THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, no less!), or anything different from AIP's popular space operas being cranked out during the period. Strike one against INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES  is the bait-and-switch nature of the ad campaign. Strike two being that the comedy isn't very funny.


   That part has always sort of bugged me, since the stuff going on here SHOULD be funny. The military big brass all having decoder rings from a space club, and club membership is shared with a tribe of Indians who stumble through these shenanigans. One character, a vague Leo Gorcey-type occasionally breaks into celebrity impressions. Army guys finding beautiful seven-foot amazons from another planet who grow vegetable-based foot soldiers. The Army's most incompetent two men thwarting hostile invasion plans, and the space-babes being forced to marry them and stay on earth. All that should be pretty amusing. I can see myself writing that script.


   The trouble is, everything seems so labored and stretched out. It's like they were working from a script for a half-hour television comedy and had to stretch it to fill a feature-length running time. Also hindering things is that while Haze and Miller would have been amusing as a comedy team, we're served up Robert Ball and Frankie Ray, who aren't the greatest comedians to ever grace the screen (though in fairness, nor are they the worst). Ball seems to've spent his entire career doing guest bit parts on nearly every major teleseries of the 60's and 70's. He can also be seen in the earlier THE BRAIN EATERS. Ray did even less. In fact, most of the familiar faces we'd expect to see in an AIP film are absent from this exercise. That doesn't help warm us to the project either.






   In short, the plot is as follows: An underground atomic test has caused a crater to form which reveals a cave the brass wants explored. A squad is assembled that includes the camp's two daydreaming losers, Privates Penn and Philbrick. Penn and Philbrick get separated from their unit while exploring the cave and stumble onto the field HQ of an invasion force from another planet, manned by two comely seven-foot-tall babes in spacey bathing suits. The invaders are growing "veggi-men" to aid them in their conquest of Bronson Canyon. Our heroes escape and try to find help, but find themselves back with the space-gals. They manage to sabotage the operation, and strand the two women on earth. The women have no choice but marry the two men and make them the luckiest guys in the Army. Happily, the running time is kept to 70 minutes. Weirdly, even that amount of time seems labored when it should be fun.


   I don't wish to imply that the film is a total waste of time or anything. Should you be extremely forgiving, there are some amusing moments here and there. There is also some novelty in the film being played for laughs when most genre fare of contemporary vintage was done straight. [There were some comedic Mexican movies of a similar vein to our current subject, -space-babes, monsters, and all- but none of them ever made it across the border for some reason.] Even INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, one of the first science fiction/horror/comedies not built around an existing comedy star or team, had its moments of genuine suspense. Then again, that may be part of the problem. Conceivably, the film would have played better if the monster stuff was played for menace. While the Veggi-men are indeed powerful, they look like exactly what they are: men wearing tights and burlap sacks with plastic vegetables attached. Larry Blamire's Mutant from THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA seems to be inspired mostly by these lacking specimens.






   Timing is everything in comedy. The material here might have worked with tighter editing and a quicker pace. The flick could certainly benefit from the sort of madcap frenzy that one finds among the works of The Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers. It certainly SHOULD be funny, but that's one of the worst things you can say about a comedy. The film is sort of interesting as a failed experiment. At least the film isn't a total loss for fans of cheesecake, as the leggy star-women spend a lot of time on screen. (Granted, it seems like an eternity before they show up!)


Monday, January 9, 2012

An Auction For Our Fighting Men

   Gang, I have had the honor of donating my pencil to an auction to help raise money for our veterans. I drew a picture of Miss Gina Elise of Pin-Ups For Vets.

   Here is the piece auctioned off:

    And here is the photo that inspired me (obviously, I like IT better than my version!):


    I am pleased to announce that we raised $200 for Gina's Veterans project! And I look forward to doing this kind of thing again!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jeff Austin on Inks!

   I have a nice back-log of images inked by Jeff Austin, considered by many to be the greatest inker in the game. I'm in no position to dispute that, just look at what he's done with my pencil scratches......


Cover image for Dan Burke.

For Dan Burke.

Betsy the Bookwriter, for Jim Main.

For AC Comics, from Femforce 155.

New character, Sadie Six-Shot,
for Jim Main.


Jeff can color too!

Cover for Jim Main, SHEESH!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Oddball Film Report: BIGFOOT (1969/72)



    Back in November, I celebrated my birthday (I have walked this earth a scant 30 years so far) by watching what has to be my favorite guilty pleasure, an obscure drive-in flick known as BIGFOOT. I'm not sure why, exactly, this film has such a grip on my heart. It's charming, entertaining if you're game, but there's no one on this planet (not even me) who will call it a "good" movie. So let me state right up front, while I may discuss some of the better elements on display here (like some nicely scripted moments or the odd nice camera move), BIGFOOT is, in nearly every technical manner possible, a very bad movie. The sets, for example, must be seen to be believed. The best of them looks like the most artificial set ever constructed for I Dream of Jeannie. Yet, the exterior shots feature some incredible scenery and expert use of existing locations (much of the wilderness exteriors claimed to have been filmed in locations where actual Bigfoot sightings took place). The editing, lighting, much of the acting, etc. ranges from terrible to uninspired. And yet, I love this movie. If for no other reason, maybe it's because BIGFOOT isn't nasty and cynical like much of the fare shot on a shoestring in 1969. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might think it had been shot in 1965 or 66 instead.


   First thing's first, a little back-story on the subject of today's feature. "Bigfoot" was invented in 1958 (59?), when the name was given to a "creature" which left huge footprints outside a logging camp in or near Washington state. The tracks have since been exposed to be the work of a practical joker. 

   Earlier in the decade, much hoopla had been made in the States of a discovery in the Himalayan mountains of large footprints. The locals claimed the prints belonged to the 'Yeti' of legend, a sort of furry man-like ape that occasionally wandered near civilization and abducted human women. The press sensationalized the find and dubbed the unseen creature "The Abominable Snowman."  At once, the movies tried to cash in and we saw the likes of THE SNOW CREATURE, MAN-BEAST, HALF HUMAN, and Hammer's THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYANS on theater screens throughout the 1950's. The 'Yeti' tracks were eventually determined to be those of a bear.

   In 1967 or 68, a hunter/documentary film-maker named Patterson and his friend managed to get a shot of a simian biped walking across an isolated bit of wilderness ('ironically', while scouting locations for a documentary he was preparing about the monster). Anyone with eyes could tell the beast captured on film was a guy walking along in a (shockingly ratty) ape suit that had been constructed for the occasion. Not long after, a man named Ivan Marx would make a career (and a feature film titled THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT) of shooting badly-made ape suits and claiming the footage to be of actual monsters.


   Bigfoot first became a movie star around 1963, when an amateur film (about teenagers unearthing a clay mummy that turns out to be a bloodthirsty missing link) was shot, called CURSE OF BIGFOOT. Now, I can't confirm that the film was actually put into release after it was shot, but a 30-minute chunk of footage (actually about Bigfoot) was tacked on and the film became a staple on late-night television in 1976. The "CURSE" title has been attributed to the '76 version of the film. I'm not sold on that, however. The popularly-claimed title of the '63 version is said to be "Teenagers vs The Thing." That title just doesn't have the right sound for the era. (It sounds like the sort of cheesy title that would have been added to an 80's video release, and there just happens to have been an 80's video release of the original hour-long version under that title....) I suspect the CURSE OF BIGFOOT title was dreamed up in the 60's along with the movie. Despite the film being more of a mummy movie than anything else, "Bigfoot" was recent news and had the public attention. It would make perfect sense to work the name into the title of a new horror picture. (I'm quite fond of this 60's version of the film, despite it's many flaws.)


   Though Bigfoot would become a minor movie star in the 1970's through films like CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE, SASQUATCH : THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT, THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT, and numerous other films, often of VERY poor quality (making the odd gem like CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE the black sheep of the genre), the first real Bigfoot movie was today's subject. That distinction would be robbed from the film, however, as it was held back from release until 1972 (the year of death for our leading lady, the beauteous Joi Lansing, sadly and darkly ironically from breast cancer). 

   1972 was a good year for Bigfoot, seeing also the release of the genuine hit THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, a fake documentary* filmed by Charles B. Pierce of Arkansas. Pierce also helmed, among other films, the classic THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, and wasn't amused when his Bigfoot movie was sequelled by another production company. Decades later, Pierce would produce an official (if lame) sequel to his earlier masterpiece.


   (*The fake documentary was an economical way to make Bigfoot movies, and multiple films were done this way. Few were as outright fraudulent as Ivan Marx's THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT, which claims to show actual Bigfoot creatures. The best I've seen has to be SASQUATCH, THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT [not to be confused with the Marx film], which shows the fictional journey of an expedition searching the Canadian wilderness for the elusive monster. Breathtaking scenery is on display, as well as a better-than-expected script, decent acting, and sharp editing in what feels like a cross between a Mutual of Omaha special, a Dinsey nature film, and a horror-themed adventure flick. Not bad.)




Yes, if nothing else, the film has nice 
color.







   Not much is known about BIGFOOT in terms of production history, because no one ever seems to've asked. The film is so obscure, in fact, that about the only way to see the film is to track down the VHS release, which is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. The film screams out for a widescreen release, though that seems unlikely in the extreme. I have hopes, though, that Wade Williams or Image will dig up a pristine print and offer a nice letterboxed DVD one of these days (which, though unlikely, is possible, since I finally got those widescreen releases of DINOSAURUS!, BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH, and THE GREEN SLIME that I'd waited so long for). 

   Given the general mood of the movie, it seems the film was cobbled together for chump change for an excuse to have a bunch of friends work together. There's a real feeling of fun here, and everyone seems to be taking the chance to camp it up and just have a good time. There are also scenes that seem to have been ad-libbed. The credit list is a veritable who's who of talent made up of fading stars, rising talent, and regulars toiling in the field of low-budget genre fare in the late 60's. The list is simply incredible. The seasoned movie nut will be in awe at the parade of familiar faces and the recognizable names in the production credits. The cast offers up John Carradine, Joi Lansing, Ken Maynard, John Mitchum, Christopher Mitchum, Judy Jordan, James Craig, Lindsay Crosby, Dorothy Keller, Doodles Weaver, Nobel 'Kid' Chissel, Nick Raymond, Sonny West, Ray Cantrell, Lois Red Elk, Jennifer Bishop, Haji, Eric Tomlin, seldom has a list of names presented such an across the board selection! (Making one wonder, where in the world is Gary Kent?) 

   Behind the camera can be found such familiar (to fans of exploitation pictures, at least) names as Anthony Cardoza (producer and bit part actor), James Gordon White (screenplay), Richard Podolor (score, though he remains better known for his pop tunes), Hugo Grimaldi (who acted as editor here), Bud Hoffman (co-editor), John Elliott (make-up, his first film work!), Louis Lane (also on make-up), Arthur Gilbert (unit manager), Christopher Mitchum pulls double duty as an assistant director, Harry Woolman (effects), and so on.  Most interesting may be this: Merci Montello, the really cute naked chick from SPACE-THING! and a hand full of other films, the December 1972 centerfold Playmate (as Mercy Rooney), and an early model for Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, provided the Bigfoot costumes! What a business!


   Much of the rest of the cast and crew also worked on the better-than-average biker film THE HELLCATS, and/or the Coleman Francis disaster THE SKYDIVERS, and little else.


   The story is pretty simple, played a bit as a rural take on KING KONG. Bigfoot itself is even referred to as "the eight wonder of the world" in dialog and in a special credit for monster-portrayer James Stellar! We're served up a number of characters, and the focus shifts between them (in truth, the script isn't much of a problem. While there are some problems in story-structure, the character development isn't bad at all. With a bit bigger budget -and a shooting-style that opted for doing more than one take of everything- the film might have been pretty decent, but probably even more obscure than it already is). Mostly, we'll focus on Jasper B. Hawks and his long-suffering partner Elmer Briggs. Hawks owns and operates one of the last traveling stores out of his beat-up old station wagon, but he's always got his eye out for another attraction that can get him back into an arena where he can display his showmanship. Elmer is also a former carny so he sticks by Hawks as he wanders about the Nation, even if he'll complain about it the whole way.


   Again, the character development is pretty good, and since this pair is being played by John Carradine (as Hawks) and John Mitchum, you can't fault the casting. The weird thing, though, is how stiff everyone seems. If anything, the lesser actors come off more natural than the big stars here. Take Joi Lansing, for example, who has proven she can act (and sing and dance and do comedy) on many other projects (including a regular part on The Beverly Hillbillies). Here, she's so awkward, you'd think they just cast a model who had never been near a movie camera before (even odder is her sloppily applied pancake make-up that's all too obvious in close-ups). 

   Even former cowboy star Ken Maynard (his first film since 1944, I believe) seems to be just saying his lines rather than acting. The major exception here is John Carradine, who still manages to deliver a typically flawless performance (even if he takes the chance to camp things up a bit more than usual). I'd guess the whole thing was shot in single takes and without rehearsals, showing again just how much of a talent Carradine was (sad, that he would continually allow himself to be cast in downright garbage like 1973's SUPERCHICK. BIGFOOT was, even more sadly, probably the last really good lead part the man ever had).


   There are some bikers passing through town as well, when Rick and his gal Chris break off from their group to frolic in the woods (and Judy Jordan will do us the favor of spending almost the entire film clad only in a tiny green bikini). While Rick is checking his bike, Chris stumbles onto a weird graveyard. This is the burial site for Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) and Rick uncovers a particularly phony rubber ape mask. Hilariously, we cut to a living Bigfoot as it spies on them and we learn the dead Bigfoot is far more life-like! Rick is knocked out and Chris carried into the woods.


   Our film actually opened with Joi Lansing (supposedly playing a character named Joi Landis, but her character's name never comes up) driving onto a tarmac and climbing into one of the planes. She takes off (and her plane changes into a completely different make), filmed in such a way as to never let us forget that she's sitting in a stationary plane. Engine trouble occurs and she's forced to bail out as the plane crashes to earth well out of camera range (although a piece of stock footage from the planes POV showing the ground rush up while spinning out of control isn't a bad trick). Having landed safely (and instantly!), Joi strips out of her blue jumpsuit to show a peach-colored go-go dress (?) on underneath. Kept mostly off screen, one of the ratty-looking Bigfoot monsters attacks.


Joi Lansing ends her career on a 
high note.




   Joi and Chris will talk things over when we rejoin them in the Bigfoot camp, where both girls are tied to stakes. (It's never stated, but Joi seems to be a scientist of sorts -one of the prettiest ever seen!) Joi figures the sasquatch have been abducting women to act as breeding stock, as their race (which can mark graves but not talk or write) is dying out. Joi hasn't been touched since they brought her in, and she has the feeling they're saving her for something special. So Joi is our Ann Darrow stand-in, as Jasper will be our Carl Denham analog.


   Rick comes to and makes his way back to town. He tries to get the Police to help him track down Chris, but without success. Jasper and Elmer overhear this, though, and offer their services to find the monster (and the girl, too, if possible). The men are eventually captured as well, but nothing can remove the dollar signs dancing in front of Jasper's eyes. Rick's gang comes back into town to find him, and team up with a local named Hardrock (I assume his poker buddies are Koko and Joe) to rescue the men from the Bigfoot camp (which is suddenly much easier to find).


   Joi has been dragged off by the sasquatch and tied to a pair of trees (its here we fully enter KING KONG territory) as the even larger "Bigfoot" himself approaches (and boy is Bigfoot a mess, complete with obvious gloves and fur that looks like a bath-mat). 

   Back at the sasquatch lair, everybody else has been set free and the gang starts to head out. Jasper still wants to go after Bigfoot. Hardrock, his arm torn off in a previous encounter with the monster, is game to help Jasper if it'll settle and old score. (How is it Hardrock, a known local, can have his arm ripped off and the townsfolk not know about the monster? I guess Hardrock is supposed to be too colorful for folk to really take seriously, cheating at cards and living in a shack in the woods with his squaw wife, but you'd think people might have listened to his account of the monster when he stumbled into town with only one arm! Even if this happened 50 years ago, it must have been news at the time!) The kids aren't hep to go tracking down the big monster, until Jasper mentions money to those who'll help. Rick and Chris, having had their fill of the sasquatch decline and head back to town (why Chris isn't begging the others to go help Joi is a mystery, unless she feels threatened by the platinum blonde beauty with the amazing legs. Still, you'd think she'd say something).


   Elmer has had his fill too, taking the chance to part company with Jasper. The others head off to find Bigfoot. Meanwhile, Joi is still tied to the trees as Bigfoot shambles closer. As Kong fought off a dinosaur that was trying to eat Ann, Bigfoot must wrestle with a bear that pops up to menace Joi. She manages to escape in the scuffle (which ends complete with Bigfoot beating his chest in about the most naked copy of Kong imaginable) and Bigfoot gives chase across some remarkable scenery. Joi's spectacular gams are highlighted as she runs barefoot across the wilderness. She was certainly a game trooper. 

   In this sequence, a simple, yet effective camera trick fosters the illusion that Bigfoot is actually about twice the size of his quarry (just about the only effective visual bit the film offers that doesn't involve the leading ladies themselves). Joi runs through the scene and darts off toward the horizon a few seconds before Bigfoot can enter the shot, thus keeping the illusion of size. Another trick is to film Joi's legs as she runs along, and then mirroring the action with Bigfoot, only with the camera pulled closer. It's simple, but it works. If only the rest of the movie followed suit.


   Eventually, Bigfoot grabs Joi and carries her to his cave where the others arrive before she can come to harm. Putting his captive down (and flashing her undies in the process), Bigfoot is assaulted with small arms fire despite Jasper's screams that he wants the beast taken alive. Bigfoot flees into his cave, one guy tosses some dynamite, and the horror is over. Jasper is left right back where he started. Hardock and his pal congratulate themselves on killing the monster, only to be rebuked by Jasper as he intones Carl Denham's infamous last line from KING KONG, only as might be read by Buddy Ebsen. "Was beauty did 'im in!" (And no, that really doesn't apply in this situation. It's not like Bigfoot had a chance to escape that he forsook because he was captivated by his beauteous captive.)


   As the others clear out, Joi wanders over to the sulking Jasper and wonders if its really all over. Jasper notices the aesthetic values of his new friend and begins making plans to showcase Joi in a road show where she'll tell her story of being a Bigfoot captive to spellbound audiences. This bit always brings a smile to my face, despite the fact that it runs counter to what has been established. Previously, Joi was a scientist/aviator (although we're never told what she actually does, so I assume the plane trip was for fun rather than business) with her brains in place. Now, she's an awed child who has fallen under the spell of Jasper's dreams of fame and fortune. Also, we finish with the pair walking away from the caved-in lair of King Bigfoot. You'd think a sharp trigger like Jasper B. Hawks would make sure to mark the area and return for the body, as well as the body (bodies, really) from the sasquatch graveyard. When all is said and done, Jasper actually has quite an attraction on his hands (and it's not like he'd be unhappy settling for a dead Bigfoot rather than a live one, as he'd earlier tried to make off with one of the sasquatch children when the larger ones got away).


    Also, you'd think Joi might be a little upset that nobody came to rescue her until after Jasper mentioned paying for help in getting his attraction.


   Some interesting things about BIGFOOT include the detail of the apes giving off a musky oder, as has been recorded in the modern myth, as well as the sasquatch being able to hide in the brush no matter how close you might be. (Bigfoot himself makes a bit of a racket, though.) One detail that shatters the senses, but is barely explored, is that "they bury they own dead!" This implies a structured society of quasi-humans instead of a lost breed of ape. Joi notes that the species is starting to die off, thus requiring breeding stock from the human race (and this has happened for a while now according to the dialog from the townsfolk). One also notes that Jasper and the others see a sasquatch only from a distance, and this leads to an ambush. The creatures are fairly intelligent, although their society has always been primitive. They've developed symbols, but not an alphabet, and they do their fallen kin the honor of a burial (even if they only cover them in about an inch of dirt). They don't do much with this, but they raise some interesting ideas.

   Still, they never look like anything other than guys running around in ill-fitting gorilla suits. One creature we see in close-up features bulging, blood-shot eyes with exposed veins running over his rubbery face. The child sasquatch is also afforded a close-up, much to the effect's detriment, as it looks like a kid with his face painted for halloween (and the rest of his costume consists of a huge wig of long frizzy hair and a baggy fur body suit). This creature is supposed to be a human/sasquatch hybrid. In the end, the monsters here make you appreciate how effective those giant cavemen were in the "Galileo 7" episode of Star Trek


   As noted, the sets here tend to be depressingly bad. Even the sets used to portray the interiors of Bennett's Store or the Police department's main office look less like real locations than they do the studio sets you might see on The Red Skelton Show or The Jack Benny Program over a decade earlier. The sets for various exteriors are even worse. Early on, Elmer goes to scoop a pail of water from a stream near the road, and it looks less realistic than the time Jeannie created a babbling brook in Tony's living room. You can actually see the walls of the set! (Also fun is the fact that after making the first couple of Bigfoot footprints, they seem to have accidentally broken one of the feet, as all the following prints are the same -I think right- footprint laid out in a normal, alternating pattern!)


   The set for the outside of Hardrock's cabin is probably the best, although you don't have to study it very hard to know its a fake. The worst is probably a set meant to depict a forest ranger station interior with a view to the outside (this for a gag where a ranger talks on the telephone to note they've never seen any such creature wandering around, as one slinks by the window behind him). As noted before, all this is countered by some breathtaking natural location work! I've seen few films this schizophrenic!

   One thing I'm real keen on here is the music, although I'm not sure why. While it sounds like library music, I'd actually lay you odds it was recorded for this film in particular. The score isn't really all that memorable, being fairly generic in about the lightest possible way. It sounds like a cross between the opening theme of a late-60's Sunday morning religious program on your local UHF TV station and the hunting show that would come on in the afternoon on the same channel. Yet, the music isn't terrible or anything. The 'adventure' theme here sounds like a cue you'd here on Land of the Lost, provided it were used for a comical scene where Holly was teaching Dopey how to pull a plow. The title theme tries for a somber, mysterious tone, yet always seems a note away from erupting into a song for that night's barn dance. Really weird stuff. Not bad, though, to my ears. I'll be humming the theme for a few days after I've watched the movie.

   Ultimately, when discussing BIGFOOT, words can't describe it. That makes my job here a bit more difficult than it needs to be. Terrible production, but I love it just the same. Maybe it's the setting, maybe the stars, maybe I just have a soft spot for Bigfoot movies and this is the only one to really capture the flavor of the areas where these stories emerge from. I just don't know. Maybe its that opening moment where we see Jasper and Elmer driving along in the woods and there's a bouncy tune on the radio, and Elmer is bobbing his head back and forth to the music and drawing a look of pity from Jasper. This embarrasses Elmer into stopping. Then we cut back a few seconds later and both men are bobbing their heads to the music.

    In the end, I think I've always been taken with the film by the reaction I had during my first viewing. It wasn't what I expected at all, but it was charming. Nothing nihilistic here. No comments about society. Just the story of a man trying to capture a monster by one of the back roads of our country. It's cute, for a monster movie, and we could all use a dash of cute from time to time (said the man whose job it is to draw cheesecake cartoons, and thus should be water-logged on cute). 

   I can only pray Image Entertainment releases a nice, widescreen version before my next birthday.


Joi, Jasper, and Hardrock.