Sunday, May 25, 2014

YouTube Finds :: Vintage Radio :: When There's No More Room In Hell, the Dead will Go to Peoria.

Fell down an apocalyptic YouTube hole last night and stumbled upon this, The Peoria Plague, a War of the Worlds-esque radio dramatization of a zombie outbreak broadcast by WUHN, Peoria, back in 1972. Like it's Orson Wellesian inspiration, the story unfolds via news reports as things quickly escalate from bad to worse to catastrophic. The audio is a bit shaky in spots (I fear we're in a dub of a dub of a dub territory), but the whole thing is really well executed and fairly brutal and gruesome with, I assume, actual station personnel playing themselves. (My favorite bit is a live report from a besieged hospital, where what we hear in the background may be sirens or may be people screaming and dying as they're beaten to death and consumed. Also, the Montovani muzak breaks at the beginning are hilarious.)

With several references to Trick-or-Treating and children in costume (most of whom die rather horribly), it makes one wonder if this was a special Halloween program. I also wonder if any citizens fell for it? Sadly, I wish I could tell you more, but any info on the actual broadcast has proved stubbornly elusive as I spelunk into the Google. Regardless, The Peoria Plague is a fascinating relic of vintage radio and an absolute delight. Give it a spin, Boils and Ghouls. I guarantee you're gonna love it 

 Video courtesy of

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Zeig Heil! *thhbtth* Heil! *thhbtth* Right in Der Führer’s Pickle Jar :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to the Patchwork Stoopidity of (Who The Hell Knows') They Saved Hitler's Brain!

Our grainy film begins with a sweaty Professor Bernard nervously taking a phone call while stuffing documents into his briefcase. Assuring the party on the other end that he has it, well, whatever the hell this "it" is presumably leaves the office with him. Outside, waiting and watching, are two gentlemen who resemble the Blues Brothers -- so we’ll be referring to them as Jake and Elwood. Anyhoo, Jake answers a payphone and assures a Mr. VanPelt that everything’s being taken care of. Then, when Bernard gets into his car and cranks the ignition, his car explodes, giving Jake a reason to smile sinisterly as Elwood drives them away.

Meanwhile, at CID headquarters (Central Intelligence Division -- soon revealed to be populated by a bunch of Completely Incompetent Dunderheads), VanPelt (who looks a lot like Hugh Marlowe doing the producer a huge favor) meets with special agent Vic Gilbert. Seems the late Professor Bernard had found the antidote to the deadly Nerve Gas-G but all his knowledge and notes went up with him in the explosion. However, Gilbert reveals it was another scientist, a Professor Coleman, who was really responsible for finding the antidote. This news concerns the treacherous Van Pelt, who then sends Vic on a wild goose-chase to find out more info on the late Bernard while he takes care of this Coleman personally -- he typed ominously...

Assigned a new partner, Gilbert meets up with Toni Gordon at his swanky apartment, where they argue about his piggish attitude on her gender and male chauvinism in general until they finally settle down to business and start going over the files, which reveal Bernard spent some time on the Caribbean island of Mandoras -- where it's rumored a bunch of relocated Nazis are plotting the rise of the Fourth Reich. Not buying it, and thinking their current assignment is a colossal waste of time, Gordon thinks they really should be concentrating on Coleman instead. But Gilbert says they need to stick with the plan, and that VanPelt is handling Coleman.

Meanwhile, Coleman (Holland), is showing a film of the G-Gas' effectiveness as it kills an elephant almost instantaneously to a bunch of Pentagon brass, including his son-in-law, another CID agent, Phil Day (Stocker). Coleman explains the gas is basically DDT for humans, and that every nation has it -- but only we have the cure: Formula-D. (U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!) Much techno-babble follows as he explains the chemical components of the antidote, which "has almost positive results." (... Wait. What? 'Almost positive results?' Well, that’s reassuring.) And while he blathers, outside in the hall, Camino Padua (Rivas) tries to get past the guard. He desperately wants to talk to Coleman, but is frightened off by Frank Dvorak (Reed), Coleman’s assistant -- who, if it wasn't obvious enough, just oozes the bad guy vibe.

After the demonstration concludes, Coleman receives a threatening phone call informing his daughter, Suzanne, has been kidnapped. Ordered to come to her apartment he finds Suzie’s boyfriend, David (Peters), alone and all roughed up. They leave to find a working phone but are quickly hijacked by Jake and Elwood. (Sort of. I’ll explain it all in a second.) Luckily, agent Gordon-- who decided to interview Coleman anyway -- witnesses this abduction. (Sort of. But not really.) Camino sees it, too. (No. Really.) Tailing the Bluesmobile to an old house, Gordon sneaks in for a closer look. Alas, she must have flunked stealth and subterfuge at the CID Academy, because they can't help but hear her. Managing to escape and make it to a phone booth, Gordon calls Gilbert and manages to relay where Coleman is being stashed before Jake guns her down.

Thus, Gilbert arrives on scene too late because Coleman is already gone. Then, VanPelt arrives shortly after him, reveals his treachery, and shoots Gilbert. But as the agent reacts to a phantom bullet, it's VanPelt who falls -- shot by Gordon (who wasn’t quite dead, I guess). Told to run away with his partner's dying breath, Gilbert manages to get himself shot as he escapes out the back. He still manages to get into his car and speeds away, but the wound is too grave, and Gilbert passes out, wrecks his car, and dies in the resulting explosion -- and a very familiar crash and explosion if you've seen Thunder Road. (Come to think of it, I think that earlier car detonation which killed Bernard was also pilfered from that flick.)

Elsewhere, agent Day returns home to his wife, Kathy (Caire), who is Coleman's other daughter (-- who bears a more than striking resemblance with Donna Reed). As they leave for a night on the town, Camino hi-jacks them at gunpoint. Hustling them into their car, he makes Phil drive, allowing the reluctant kidnapper to concentrate. He swears he means them no real harm, that he is from Mandoras, and how Kathy’s father and sister have been taken there against their will. But before he can get into the details, they come to stoplight and the Bluesmobile pulls up beside them. (Sort of.) Then, when Jake shoots Camino, the lack of a silencer leads to this funny exchange of dialogue from the unobservant Phil and Kathy:

"Oh, Phil, something's happened pull over."

"What happened?"

"I don't know."

"He’s been shot." 

He's dead. Murdered. And someone's responsible. 
(*pffffttttt* Hot-shot CID agent, my ass.)

Before Camino dies, however, he shows them a coded matchbook signal for 'friend' in Mandoras. Then, acting as nonchalantly as you can with a dead body, they prop Camino up in a phone booth with them as Phil calls Coleman’s office, where Dvorak ominously ignores the phone. (Camino’s body is discovered later in another unintentionally funny scene.) Thus, with no other leads on the missing persons, it’s off to the tropical paradise of Mandoras; the land of surf, sun, and Red Herrings. (Fascist Herrings?) 

Escorted to their hotel by the chief of police (Paiva -- yet another fan favorite here at the old Brewery), after checking in, they are visited by a man who bumped into them at the airport. This stranger (Rivas again) tells Phil to check his pocket, where he finds a friendly matchbook that was slipped to him at the terminal. Introducing himself as Teo Padua, Camino's younger brother, he informs them Suzie is okay and on the loose somewhere in the city, but the Nazis are holding Coleman captive. Teo then leads us into a bizarre flashback sequence chock full of stock war footage:

Seems his late brother was a scientist working in Germany during World War II. And along with some other scientists and surgeons, he was forced by Hitler to find a way to make him immortal. But the best they could come up with was to lop his head off, put in a jar, and hook it up to a machine, keeping the dictator alive indefinitely. To keep it a secret, the SS kill all the men who performed this quackery -- sorry, surgery, but Camino, somehow, managed to survive to tell the tale. After that massive plot dump -- and be careful not to step in it, Teo must leave, but he warns the Days to be extremely cautious -- and to watch out for Vasquez, the assassin.

Eyes wide open, the couple head for the Las Dos Palabras Bar-n-Gill; home of the Mandoran resistance. Inside, they find Suzanne (Lynn) wailing away with the local mariachis. Reunited with her sister, she reveals, in jive, man, what happened to her, punctuating every sentence with the word "craziest." Then the spotlight falls on a cut-rate Carmen Miranda clone; and as she begins to dance, much to the gawking agent Day’s delight, she jiggles and wiggles and warbles as all the Red Herrings gather in the bar -- Nestor, Teo and Vasquez. Suddenly, the lights go off, a shot rings out, and when the lights come back on, Vasquez is dead, Kathy and Suzie are gone, and Phil is arrested.

Ah, but Day really isn’t under arrest; it was just a ruse by Nestor to get him out of town and to the Presidential Palace. Inside, they find the girls in the company of El Presidente Padua (Regas -- and yes, he’s Camino and Teo’s dad). Desperately wanting the Nazis out of Mandoras, Padua is powerless to stop them and must do there bidding. And so, the prisoners are taken downstairs and reunited with Coleman. Here, we also find out that Dvorak is, indeed, a Nazi sympathizer -- and so is Suzie’s boyfriend, David.

Herding them into the main hall, the captives are shown the Führer’s pickled puss -- alive and well and twitching, on display in front of an ass-backward swastika. With that out of the way, the prisoners are returned to their cells, where Frank reveals since Coleman has given them Antidote-D, they intend to use the G-Gas to take over the world. And it all begins tonight when the Nazis meet a plane carrying the deadly toxin!

Mustering up their assault force (-- there appears to be about six of them), the Nazis plop the Führer into his traveling case and head for the landing strip. And since these idiots have revealed their master plan, it’s time for Teo and Nestor to spring their trap and free our heroes. Then, rounding up a few more rebels, they head for the rendezvous point just as the plane lands and out pops Jake and Elwood (-- sort of). And then a fight breaks out between the two factions, with the Mandorans quickly taking the upper hand by destroying the plane and the G-Gas with grenades. (Although the shoddy editing makes it look like they’re throwing the pins instead of the grenades and are blowing themselves up.) 

Soon enough, the Nazis are routed and Hitler’s evil noggin goes up in flames, rather gruesomely, after his car is bombed. Thus and so, with the Nazi threat neutralized, our American friends can return home; only they can’t find Teo or Suzie -- until she calls and informs them they ran off and got married before the end credits roll. 

One of B-Moviedom's greatest mysteries is the exact extenuating circumstances that led Crown International Pictures to take an already fairly insane psycho-noir flick like Madmen of Mandoras and pad it out with some clumsy and highly anachronistic footage spliced in with all the skill of Jerry Warren, turning it into the much more recognizable -- but still extremely stoopid, They Saved Hitler's Brain.

Well, that's not entirely true. We do know why they did it; to extend the original film's running time so it could be packaged for television, making it kind of an ersatz Made for TV movie, where we're supposed to buy these people... 

And these The Mod Squad rejects... 

And this little guy... 

...Were all part of the same movie. E'yup. Basically, we have two films clumsily Scotch-taped together. And to keep your scorecards straight, agent Day, Coleman, Kathy, Suzie, the Mandorans, Hitler's dismember head (special shout out to Bill Freed for pulling that off), and all of the Nazis are part of Madmen of Mandoras. And VanPelt, agents Gilbert and Gordon, and Jake and Elwood were all part of the new stuff shot later. Thus, we have the 'why' for They Saved Hitler's Brain, leaving us to flounder and flail as we ponder on the 'who, what, where,' and 'when.'

Neither half comes even close to matching up. The film stock, the clothes, and the hairstyles are all way, way, WAY off in the additional footage, resulting in a fairly hilarious square peg pounded mercilessly into a very round hole for some ninety minutes. The most hilarious misstep, however, is the additional soundtrack, which sounded like it was stolen from a vintage porn loop. I half expected agents Vic and Toni to start stripping and head into the bedroom when they first met. Luckily, except for a brief cameo by Jake and Elwood at the airstrip during the climax, most of the idiotic inserts and erroneous edits are all done about twenty minutes in. So, basically, once all the new people have died, we're back to the original. Hooray! Which also means we have to now watch the original. Boo!

Now, I’d love to tell you who directed, wrote, or played these riveting roles, but, again, they appear to be lost in some cinematic oblivion -- or, more than likely, a self-imposed witless protection program. Lately, the going theory on those responsible for the additional footage is a group of UCLA film students, looking for an industry in. As to when, well, I've heard anywhere between 1968 through 1976. And where is anywhere between Los Angeles and the Philippines. What I can tell you for sure is that the same group did the same kind of clumsy inserts for another film, Carnival of Crime.

I guess if it's any consolation, if you've seen They Save Hitler's Brain means you don't have to see Madmen of Mandoras, which comes off as Poverty Row version of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller mixed with an Allied Artist sleaze-noir of that era with a free-floating Hitler head as a cherry on top. Sounds like a fantastic recipe for a true gonzoidal classic. Well, you'd think so. But the two-punch combo of They Saved Hitler's Brain and Madmen of Mandoras reminds me of the time I accidentally made a pot of macaroni 'n' cheese with some milk that had gone bad without realizing it, meaning the end result sure looked good but, man, did it taste like shit.

They Saved Hitler's Brain (????) / The Madmen of Mandoras (1963) Paragon Films Inc. :: Sans-S / EP: Anthony Sanucci / P: Carl Edwards / D: David Bradley / W: Steve Bennett, Peter Miles / C: Stanley Cortez / E: Alan C. Marks / M: Peter Zinner / S: Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, John Holland, Marshall Reed, Scott Peters, Dani Lynn, Nestor Paiva, Bill Freed

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Recommendations :: What You Should or Shouldn't Be Watching. Choose, but Choose Wisely.

Well, with it's heart in the right place and a foot squarely in its own mouth, Gila! (2012), Jim Wynorski's remake of The Giant Gila Monster, boldly goes exactly where you think it will go and, you know what? I'm totally cool with it. The F/X are endearingly wonky, we actually get to see the monster eat people this round, and the attempts at a period piece are totally half-assed. Again, didn't care. And just when you think they forgot to make Chase sing the Mushroom Song, they don't. I had a grand time with it but, as always, your mileage with this frommage homage will vary.

Perhaps the closest we may ever get to a Wes Anderson horror movie, the end result of A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012), a tale of a writer (Simon Pegg) so sick of writing a series of children's books he goes cold turkey with a new project on Victorian serial killers, is a mixed bag of mounting paranoia, tension, sight gags and pratfalls as the author faces down his own personal demons. Is it real? Is it a delusion? Will our hero decipher it all before it's too late? Will you care? Well, that depends on your tolerance of such things. Pegg acquits himself rather well in service to a script that is somewhere between admirably ambitious and catastrophically convoluted. From a production design it's mesmerizing, from a story standpoint, however, it's kind of a mess. So, lets call this one an interesting misfire that's well worth a watch.

Finally got around to watching The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and, well, contrary to what I'd heard, it wasn't THAT terrible. I will echo a sentiment that an origin reboot so soon after the Raimi trilogy was totally unnecessary -- Gwen Stacey could just have easily been introduced without having to start all over again (however, without it we would've been shafted out of a great Uncle Ben), and taking the franchise in a Twilighty direction is a huge misstep. Andrew Garfield makes a fine Peter Parker (an odd skater-punk/emo/hoodieholligan/ nerd) but his Spidey-schtick could use a little work along with the chemistry between he and Emma Stone that was trying so darned hard to spark but never quite ignited. (For that, I mostly blame some clunky dialogue that no one could make work.) Sheen and Fields were great, especially Sheen, and Leary did pretty good with a fairly token role. And though the Lizard could have gone through about three more punch-ups, design wise, beyond that, the F/X were a lot better than anticipated (from what I saw in the trailers), the story actually made sense, and, in the end, I actually cared what happened to these people. Color me pleasantly surprised in an expecting a train-wreck but wound up with locked bumpers after a slight fender bender.

Immediately tagged as The Endless Bummer upon its release and suffering from this stigma ever since, John Milius' tale of the effects of aging and entropy on the lives and friendship of a trio of surfers cemented in youth through the turbulent 1960s, to me, feels a lot more honest and earnest -- and definitely less romanticized, than it's contemporary, American Graffiti. A semi-autobiographical tale, one could argue that the three main characters in Big Wednesday (1978) -- Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey -- serve as a triptych for Milius (a man out of time, a strong sense of duty, and a self-destructive insufferable ass). The story focuses on Vincent, a local surf legend, who remains the same as everything else changes or moves on around him for better or for worse. (One of the more pleasant surprises in the film is the end-result of him knocking up the local beach-bunny. Usually, this ends in ruination, but here, it not only succeeds but their relationship thrives.) In the end, however, the one and only universal constant in all of their lives is the surf, which never changes. And it is this link, no matter how far they drift apart, that will bind this friendship forever.

Well, that was a helluva thing. An inexplicably effective first-person shooter / found footage / torture porn / World War II period piece, Frankenstein's Army (2013) regrets nothing while it does a naked cannonball into the splatter-punk pool. The plot about a Russian patrol being lured into a trap to capture the Mad Baron is fairly irrelevant because once the дерьмо hits the вентилятор, they're nothing but fodder for the F/X to buzzsaw thru, which are both top-notch and kinda overwhelming as things pile up in the third act. And it nearly lost me, but the ending and final coda had me giggling like an idiot. The steampunk inspired production design and phantasmagorical creature creations it wrought are worth the watch alone. (The only beef I had with the movie is don't tease me with 'The Sherman Tank that Walks on Two Legs' and then don't do anything with it.) Decadently gross and gooey, violent, surreal, and definitely not for the squeamish, but for those inclined to such things the film is absolutely ah-mazing.

In Fast Break (1979), Gabe Kaplan trades in one batch of Sweat Hogs for another when a Jewish delicatessen owner lands his dream job as a collegiate basketball coach. The catch, the job is located in the deserts of Nevada, and to keep this job at Podunk U, the new coach must beat the big instate rival. To accomplish this, he recruits four ringers from his native New York to come with him. (The fifth starter turns out to be Reb Brown.) I'll admit I don't find Kaplan all that funny and yet I am completely flummoxed over my fascination with him, which brought me here in the first place. The only twist on this underdog tale is one of the ringers is a girl disguised as a boy, which leads to a fascinating love/hate romance with a fellow player. There's another subplot with Kaplan's wife? Girlfriend? refusing to go with them. Beyond that, no real surprises or nothing you haven't seen before, but, eh, it's entertaining enough.

Jonathan Demme gets his Robert Altman on something fierce in this slice of life look at a Nebraska town and its denizens connected by a web of CB radios. All of the overlapping vignettes in Citizen's Band (1977) are fascinating but the main focus is on Spider (Paul Le Mat), a self-appointed CB vigilante who works to get those who abuse and clog up the airwaves with useless chatter (be it religion, racists screeds, or wireless sex) that gets bogged down in some rote family problems. Meanwhile, a supporting thread with a trucker (Charles Napier), his two wives, and his mistress all converging on the same town is a hoot and half. All of that and an outstanding cast leads to high marks all around, Good Buddies. 10-4.

Okay, The Vulture (1966) is kind of a goofy but fairly worthless Edgar Wallace knock-off that's still worth the watch for, perhaps, the greatest monster origin explanation ever when Broderick Crawford (subbing in for the audience) keeps asking the hero to explain each step of the atomic process that bred the mutant half man half vulture over and over again until he finally gets the gist of it and declares it all a bunch of horseshit.

And then there's Phobia (1980), where we got John Huston slumming through a fairly turgid whodunit about a psychiatrist and his radical (meaning patently ridiculous) 'implosion therapy', whose patients start dying off via what they fear the most. What's most fascinating are the therapy sessions themselves, which consists of hands on or A/V immersion for each patient's phobia, which run the gambit of heights, to snakes, to gang rape, which basically means traumatizing the hell out of them in hope that this will somehow snap the stricken out of it. Some novelty interest on the casting with Paul Michael "Starsky" Glaser as the head quack and John "Baltar" Colicos as the lead detective. Beyond that, not a whole there to recommend.

I walked into Rituals (1977) expecting one thing and got something completely different when five doctors go on a hunting trip deep in the Canadian wilderness. Days from anywhere, they draw the wrath of someone lurking in the woods, who picks them off at leisure while these civilized men slowly devolve in front of our eyes into something that just might be able to survive these attacks as they're run ragged and survival instincts kick in. (I know I'll never look at Hal Holbrook the same way again.) Released in the States as The Creeper, I'm hesitant to call this a Deliverance knock-off because I don't want to poison the well, but, it is what it is. It's also really, really quite good and very disturbing on a primal level as far as these Canuxploitation cash-ins go. The only complaint I have is the killer's motivations seem a little too specific, meaning if these men had been anything but doctors this all might not have happened. Maybe. I don't know. Just watch it. Trust me.

After the highly successful Made for TV combo of The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson teamed up again for another modern monster tale, this time focusing on the probability that a werewolf is buzz-sawing through the locals of a small California town in Scream of the Wolf (1974). Peter Graves plays a writer who, as the bodies and the baffling evidence keep piling up around him, suspects his old hunting buddy (and Count Zaroff and Nietzsche enthusiast), Clint Walker, might be the culprit. Graves pales when stacked up against Darren McGavin, but Walker is kinda amazing as the dead-eyed sociopath who feels mankind has been down out of the trees for too long. So, yeah, this is less about the supernatural and more of social commentary, resulting in a set-up that is a ton of fun but whose Scooby Doo resolution kinda fizzles and splutters. And when you couple this with those earlier collaborations mentioned, only makes this one an even bigger disappointment.

What we gots here is a Korean thriller about a disc jockey's last night on the air being terrorized by her #1 fan cum serial killer, who holds her two children and her sister as hostage to force her to comply with his very specific on-air requests. Yeah, Midnight FM (2010) is one of those movies. And though it holds few surprises, it held my interest through it's mounting implausibility (and struggling to keep up with the subtitles) and had me rooting for our heroine and one of her daughters, who did most of the legwork to derail this highly baroque scheme. The film kinda takes a drastic left turn about halfway through from mounting terror to police procedural to an all out chase movie, but I appreciated how the DJ used another obsessed fan to counter some of the psycho's very precise demands. Demands that require compliance to the letter or another toe comes off one of the hostages -- or worse. Also morbidly fascinated by the station format, which allows our heroine to espouse film-based philosophy in-between selections from soundtracks. Anyhoo, I dug it.

"Lestrade will have his three buckets of ash, but we will keep the name." -- thus, Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) wraps up the Jack the Ripper case in A Study in Terror (1965), another take on the English super-sleuth ferreting out the world's most notorious serial killer. Kinda sobering that the plot machination for both A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree, which basically boils down to carpet bombing White Chapel in the hope of knocking off the right prostitute some Upper Class Twit of the Year dipped his wick into to save the family name, feels so sadly plausible.

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