Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Practice pages turn into graphic novels....



   Here's a couple of images. This tells you how out of hand this is getting. When I prepared this post some months ago, these images were being used in the same story. Now, they're from two different books! (The top image has even been altered since....)

   I should note, the stories aren't about nudists. The girl in the first image is in the privacy of her own home (or was, now she's in the privacy of her own hotel room!), the girl in the second is sunbathing. I've toyed with the idea of just doing a strip or book about a nudist character, but I can't bring myself to accept that there's nothing unhealthy about nudism. I'd hate to be seen as promoting something I don't believe in, and I can't say as nudism is something I support in the least. (At least not nudism camps. As you can see, nudism in privacy I have no problem at all promoting!)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Video Cheese: CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD (1964)

This piece is edited from a post that originally appeared at www.jabootu.net. It has been reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD (1964)
“A doctor reanimates the corpse of his mad scientist grandfather, THEN figures out it was a bad idea!”



   Even for the dedicated genre movie fan like myself, Jerry Warren movies are often a challenge to watch, and few of them warrant repeat viewings. His actual ‘movie’ movies are better than his imports, although I know I’m getting into a dangerous area if I note that his cheap yeti movie Man Beast wasn’t bad (though it probably remains his best work).

   Risking even more attack from my fellow B movie fans is that I admit to enjoying the tepid The Incredible Petrified World, if for no other reason than I dig the cast. I enjoyed Teenage Zombies because stuff was happening in that one. Frankenstein Island is just too goofy not to enjoy on some level!

   Beyond that, however, I find it hard to muster much praise for Jerry Warren. Except, maybe, to note that, like Sam Sherman, Warren must have known what he was doing. His patchwork anti-epics became drive-in standards and it seems obvious he made some profits (not that it would be hard to do, given how cheaply he made his films). Warren’s real movies were often murky and listless, but his imported movies are what he really remains known (and despised) for! 

   When it comes to imported Mexican horror films, Jerry Warren and K. Gordon Murray are the names that spring to mind. K. Gordon Murray scooped up seemingly hundreds of Mexican and German genre and kiddie films and released them to American theaters (to, it must be admitted, generally good box-office) and television. Murray’s films are noted for being directly translated from the original language scripts, resulting in some odd and often rushed spoken lines and songs.

   Warren, on the other hand, did everything he could to get around dubbing. He tended to rely on narration from one of his characters, often describing the very scenes we’re watching. If he couldn’t cut out a scene the plot required that featured characters having a conversation, he’d leave it in silent and have the narration tell us what the conversation was about!

   To fill in the screen time missing from the excised footage, Warren would shoot new scenes of characters reportedly related to the original film. If a monster was on the loose, a new segment could be worked in showing the police department talking over the case and filling us in on whatever happened off screen because Warren’s cuts to the original film removed something important. (Here, for example, a girl suddenly pops up and a half hour later we learn who she is when the American footage shows her friend coming to the police to report her missing.)

   These scenes are noted for their static camera angles and endless yakking from peripheral characters. I believe the liner notes for Invasion of the Animal People (the Something Weird Video release on double bill with the original Swedish version Terror in the Midnight Sun, which isn’t a bad little movie) described Warren’s films as being an alternation of scenes with people saying too little with scenes of people saying too much. That’s a pretty apt description of a Jerry Warren import, they change pace in such a way as to make them uncomfortable to watch.

   One can see what attracted Jerry to the source movie for Creature of the Walking Dead. It has a fairly simple and easy to follow plot. It features long periods without dialog. It has handsome production values for a Mexican movie, featuring some impressive sets, good monster make-up, and some unusually fluid camera work. (There are a few scenes that look SO polished as to make me think they were pulled from yet another movie, since we don’t see the faces of any cast members.) While repetitive, the music is also pretty impressive for something like this. 

   Who knows. Had Warren simply had the film dubbed and released as is, it might have been a pretty decent pic. Then again, there would have been plenty of goofy elements left over. We can’t blame all the film’s silliness on Warren, although he does his part!



   In short, a turn of the century scientist, Dr. Malthus, has developed a means of prolonging his own life and youth by means of blood transfusion experiments where he removes the blood of attractive women and pumps it into his own heart.

   The authorities finally catch him (apparently on tax evasion or something, since they never find his secret lab or the victims he is holding there!) and sentence him to hang. In the 20th Century, the monster’s grandson, another Dr. Malthus, inherits the old estate. In a nice touch, there have been legal disputes over the property to explain why no one has entered the structure since 1881.

   Younger Malthus finds the old lab and his grandpappy’s notebooks. Infected with scientific curiosity after reading these notes, he breaks into the local crypt and makes off with the mummified body of his ancestor and then brings him back to life using the transfusion machine.

   Too late, Younger Malthus sees the folly of his actions. Too bad for him that the Elder Malthus looks just like him and takes his place in society, even wooing Younger Malthus’ fiancee, Ruth! The only way to tell who is who, is that Elder Malthus has a scar on his neck from the hangman’s rope and must wear an ascot (a plot thread that really doesn’t go anywhere, at least in Warren’s version). Whenever the transfused blood begins to break down, Elder Malthus turns into a monster-y fellow and must find a new victim to lock in the dungeon where he is housing Younger Malthus. Eventually, Ruth finds herself Elder Malthus’ chosen victim…..


The Warren touch in action:
- Our lead actor has been renamed “Rock Madison.” This name was given to one of the minor actors in Man Beast, who was then given top billing! It has been suggested Warren came up with the name to cash in on the popularity of Rock Hudson and Guy Madison. Odd that he would only use the name twice, once in 1956 and again in 1964.

- Katherine Victor has been given a scene in some of the new footage. Here she plays a psychic who tries to help the police find the missing girls. (I think, since there’s another small part that could be her as well, and a really terrible actress plays Dr. Malthus’ secretary in an added clip. All three are brunettes who look slightly similar and it’s been a while since I’ve watched a Katherine Victor movie. Since she was married to Warren for a spell, it seems I heard, I assume she has the larger part here.) This subplot eats up some running time but adds nothing and goes nowhere.

- Visible jumps in the action due to removed dialog. In the flashback sequence, Dr. Malthus is about to give himself a transfusion when he hears a knock at the door. He leaves the room. Upstairs, he is hauled away by the police without incident. If you’ve watched enough movies you can tell they’ve snipped a bit where the authorities confront Malthus with the goods they have on him and he calmly admits to his sins. 

(The woman providing the transfusion, by the way, is left to die. Younger Malthus later finds her dried corpse on the operating table. More disturbing is that the dungeon contains the remains of three young women who starved to death in their cells!) 

   After bringing home Elder Malthus’ corpse, Younger Malthus suddenly has a young woman on the other table acting as blood donor. She pops up from nowhere, and only after the operation when the sheet covering her is removed do we learn that she is the maid. One assumes she is Dr. Malthus’ live-in maid, but then we learn in another added scene that she commutes to work from like a block away. All the abductions will take place within the same general area, so neither Malthus comes off as a criminal mastermind. The lab also mysteriously cleans itself once Younger Malthus decides to use it.

- Our first exposition scene features Bruno VeSota. The acting in this scene is pretty good, but we watch the camera hold position for the longest time as we watch him receive a massage which is limited to his left shoulder. Its the cinematic equivalent of a stare-down contest. By the way, Bruno doesn’t have his mustache in this one. He looks better with the lip cover, we discover.

- Almost every dubbed line is spoken when someone has their back turned or is off camera.

- Almost every synced line is spoken in blandly framed new footage.

- There are visible lines spoken in the original Mexican version that are seen here minus sound.

- There are dubbed-in lines over people who clearly aren’t speaking.

- There are a couple of scenes showing people engaged in conversations where its obvious what's going on, yet everything is filled in via narration. Said narration is often breathlessly rushed to match the beats where the same information would be if it were a normal dialog scene. The effect is so surreal it makes your head hurt. 

(By the way, the last few points should drive home the fact that when people say something about bad dubbing in an old Godzilla movie, they should more rightly be referencing a Jerry Warren import. Prior to the International prints that got released in the 70′s, most Godzilla movies enjoyed very slick professional dubbing, most often from Titra sound studios. They never would have let anything as sloppy as this get released. In fact,  before tiny studios took over, the American distributors dubbed over their own Jap imports because the international dubs were so bad. Let us be thankful that Warren was never the domestic distributor for a Godzilla movie! It would seem the Mexican stuff came cheaper.)

- A 70 minute movie feels like three hours. (And that right there sums up a Warren import better than anything else I could say.)






Thursday, February 14, 2013

Boxes for Castle films

   In the field of 8mm digest movie collecting, the best boxes belong to Castle Films, a home-market subsidiary of Universal. These were the days prior to VHS, so the best way to screen a movie in your own home was to buy digests, which condensed popular films into 8 to 20 minute reels. The most popular digests ran 200 feet, or about 8 minutes. These were cheaper than the more complete 400' reels, but still offered more material than the dinky 50' reels popular with children. Castle's first major science fiction releases (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and "WAR OF THE PLANETS" which was excerpts from THIS ISLAND EARTH) came minus the famous wonderful Castle box art, however. These box-tops were alternatives for the home-movie collector I created a few years back (I used to make and sell 8mm box art).




  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Crissy Carrots print sketches

  For an abandoned project. These images will now be used as pin-up pages in the comic itself. Crissy lost her own title, though, and will now be seen as a back-up strip.



Saturday, February 2, 2013

Video Cheese: PLAYGIRL KILLER (1966)



(This piece was originally seen at www.jabootu.net as part of a series called "Video Cheese." The piece is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg. Some of the text has been slightly edited.)



PLAYGIRL KILLER (1966)

The short version: "Psycho artist can't get his models to hold still, so he kills them."



The full story:

   During the first half of PLAYGIRL KILLER, the phrase “sensory overload” kept running through my brain. It seemed at times that the film had been made specifically for me! Beautiful print, gorgeous color. Low budget 60′s exploitation movie shot in Los Angeles. Packed to the brim with 60′s bikini babes. Guest star: Neil Sedaka, who provides a song during a pool-side party.

   I’m not sure I could have asked for more. I mean, there were so many shots of 60′s-type bikini bunnies that I didn’t dare leave my seat to get a much-desired drink for the first half hour! The second half shifted focus somewhat, though, so the finish wasn’t quite as spectacular as the start.

    I checked with the IMDB, and there seems to be some confusion. Firstly, they have it listed under a re-issue title, Portrait of Fear, and list the date as 1968. They also claim the film is Canadian. This puzzles me, because during my viewing I was convinced this was LA. The background scenery is all-too-familiar, and I think parts of the film were shot in Beverly Hills. One scene where our titular murderer is driving around at night sure appears to be the Sunset Strip. One clump of wooded hills I’m convinced was seen earlier in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, which I have no doubt AIP shot in California. I wouldn’t have thought I’d misidentify this setting after years of cinematic visits to California….



    Okay, I know some folk aren't fans of Mr. Neil Sedaka. No doubt his casting was more of a draw in '66 than it would seem today. I’ve always been a fan of Sedaka’s pop music, though. He's responsible for some of the great hits of the early to mid 60's. “Calender Girl”, “Stupid Cupid”, “Stairway to Heaven”, the list goes on and on.

   His successes were many, and he can claim a top seller by using the same song twice! “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was a chart-topper in the 60′s, and Sedaka would make the song an even bigger hit by slowing it down and making it a ballad in the mellow 70′s. I’m more a fan of his 60′s work, however, and he offers up a tune in fine voice. Unfortunately, he’s a pretty wooden actor, so he doesn’t stick around long.



    Our star is a goatee-d William Kerwin, a busy actor fairly early in his career. Most exploitation fans probably know him as “Thomas Wood.” That was the name he used most often when appearing in drive-in junk (why he’d use his real name here is a mystery), although he did a few early sexploitation vehicles as “Thomas Sweetwood.” I’m sure nobody made the connection. 

   Even in those films, though, he displays quite a lot of talent. In 1962's GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, he plays a night club comic who is best friends with the headlining crooner. The pair come to discover that they're dating a couple of nudists and the sparks fly until the girls talk them into visiting the camp and seeing the other side of things. Kerwin comes across very natural and amusing in a part that could have been just annoying in the hands of another actor, although in the final two reels I must admit I saw a lot more of Mr. Kerwin's natural state than I ever cared to.... (Interestingly, the film works pretty well as a comedy and a light drama. It's actually as a nudist film that it's least effective!)

   Back to our current subject. We get a quick pre-credit scene to establish the twisted nature of our main character, Bill. Bill is a painter, but is most often seen making quick rough sketches of his models. (Now, I’m not one of my own fans, but even I think I’m a better artist than Bill is. Seeing other characters look at his crude sketches and say “this is really good” doesn’t do much for my own self esteem as a cartoonist!)

    Bill and a model paddle out to a seemingly secluded dock where he starts his sketch. The model moves, Bill tells her to keep still, she laughs at him. The voices in his head go on about how “they always move” and Bill lets the girl have it with a spear gun. This is witnessed, though, and soon the police are chasing Bill through the woods.

    Bill finds himself a lot closer to civilization than he appeared to be before the credits began, and he quickly disappears into the concrete jungle. He returns to his shabby apartment, gathers up some things, and then takes it on the lam. We then transition to a new scene and meet some new characters. Bob (Sedaka) and Betty are having fun in the pool.



    The two are due to be married soon, but Betty’s older sister Arlene drops by to tempt Bob. This burns Betty and she drags Bob away from the pool, leaving vamp Arlene to giggle to herself before taking a dip in the pool. She then has a brief talk with her father, who is heading off to a safari in Africa.

    Arlene will close down the house for the winter, and she insists she can handle the job alone despite her father’s wish to leave the butler behind. She wins the argument, and will be left alone when the others take off.

    Pool party! You know the drill. Girls in bikinis shake their duffs and kick their legs at the camera. (I love the 60′s!) Bob steps up to perform a number himself (I wonder if Bob was intended to be a singer, or if they changed this when they discovered they could get Neil Sedaka for the part). Arlene then strips out of her dress and shakes around in a black bikini, impressing Bob no end. Her vamping of Bob makes Betty cry and run off.

   Later that night, Arlene is hot to trot, so she sneaks into Bob’s room and into his bed. They show her leaving the next morning, but nothing ever comes of this. Bob and Betty head off to get married, Dad and the butler to the airport. That seemingly major plot element introduced and then dropped like a hot potato, we move on.

    Arlene is having trouble getting a garage door to close. Seeing Bill walking by trying to hitch a ride, she asks for his help. In the proximity of something wearing pants, Arlene starts purring again. Her sex drive more powerful than her brain, she hires Bill to help her close down the house. Bill proves to be a good worker, but Arlene is a professional tease and she continually baits him. (This is like a feature version of a Hitchhiker episode!)

    During one of Bill’s breaks, Arlene asks him about his sketches. (Although he’s only been seen making rough pencil sketches, she quickly figures out that he’s actually a painter. I’m not sure how she made this leap, unless she was thinking back to his carrying case from earlier and knew what a painter’s grip would look like. And if that is the case, why would she just now put 2 and 2 together?)

    Arlene asks Bill why he paints, and we get Bill’s backstory. Years before, Bill was in a shipwreck. He heard some girls crying for help as they bobbed in the surf, but Bill was too scared to do anything. Ever since, he’s been haunted by a dream of girls in the water begging a woman with a crossbow to save them from a shadowy figure standing on a boat.



    Although the symbolism here seems painfully obvious, Bill’s doctors couldn’t figure it out, so they told Bill to try and paint the scene. He’s been trying to duplicate this scene ever since, but his models keep moving and breaking his creative flow. Muttering “they always move” to himself, Bill storms off. Arlene again shows how stupid she is by asking the painter who just chastised her for moving while trying to sketch her “who” always moves!

   Arlene again feels frisky before going to bed (which I think might be repeated footage from earlier, or at least a different take of the same action), and she decides to lure Bill out by taking a nude swim in the moonlight. She stays in the shadows the whole time, for those wondering, and indeed that tells you how mainstream the film is meant to be. It was 1966, and the plot easily could have been fodder for the kind of nudie horror flick that was in vogue at the time. Instead, we have a film likely hoping to be sold to television after it's theatrical run was over, which was probably a good decade or so.

    After her swim, Arlene takes a seemingly unmotivated stroll around the grounds, so turned on she’s practically on fire. Bill pops out from behind a tree and strangles her. Exit Arlene. 

   I was thinking Arlene would be the focus of our story, but I forgot that this was made after PSYCHO. Just as Janet Leigh’s character was just a set-up to get us to Anthony Perkin’s troubled misadventures, so too was Arlene just there to provide some exposition from our killer before he continues his spree. Bill moves into the house, and then begins lining up new victims.

    First is a pretty young woman answering an ad to be a companion for an invalid. Bill doesn’t even give her a chance to muff modelling for him, he drugs her and strangles her within a few minutes. Then he takes on the town and picks up a torch singer. He offers her $50 an hour to pose for him, which was a staggering amount of money in 1966. She quickly agrees and doesn’t stay long in this world. 

Turn back now should you not wish to learn the ending of the movie.



   Bill has some pretty good progress made on his painting. Turns out he solved his moving model dilemma by freezing them into position in the house’s huge meat locker! 

   One of Arlene’s friends drops by to visit. If anything, she’s even more oversexed than Arlene was! She vamps Bill, and asks to be his model. Bill is game, although I’m not sure at this point if he’s wanting to paint her or kill her. She opens the freezer door, though, and Bill lays her out. Rather than kill her, he ties her wrists and hangs her from the ceiling. Spent, he retires, leaving his guest gagged in the basement. The power goes out during the night.

    Bill wakes when a man from the power company knocks on the door to explain the power outage. Shocked to learn the power is out, Bill rushes down to the freezer. The power company man is puzzled by Bill’s behavior. He’s about to leave when he hears the bound girl moaning for help. He manages to get her loose while Bill is freaking out over his frozen models.

    With the power out, they’re beginning to thaw and lose their positions. Arlene has been posed with a bow and arrow. (And I can’t imagine how that works. The way this is set up, it appears Bill held Arlene’s hands in position waiting for them to freeze solid!) Now that the body is starting to thaw, the arrow is starting to pull free from Arlene’s fingers. Well, no need to drag this out. The arrow is released and Bill gets it through the neck.

    This final image (Bill’s shocked death expression) dissolves into a painting of same. Given Bill’s dead now, I don’t know who painted this. Weirdly, this has even been painted into the corner of Bill’s mural! Oh, so that’s it. The girls in the sea were seeking protection from Bill! Who would’a guessed?!

    As you can tell, not the best movie ever made. Still, irresistible in that low-budget, 60′s exploitation movie sort of way. Not really bad, but drawn out longer than the material would seem to be fit for.

    One problem is the lack of a hero character to oppose Bill and catch him in the end. The closest we get is the man from the power company, and he’s just some guy who wandered by at the right moment. Everyone we spend the bulk of our time with is either a psycho or a victim, or SHOULD be a victim. It almost seems ahead of it’s time, meant more for a 70′s aesthetic.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn it was the inspiration for DEATH PROOF. (Oh. In that light, I enjoy PLAYGIRL KILLER a lot less now……)