Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters, Week 2

12 a.m. – “Dark Intruder” – Horror/Suspense

the-night-walker-and-dark-intruder-horror-double-feature-dvd-624_500(1965, Turner Classic Movies/Universal) The limited-run revival of “The X-Files” this month coincides with the release of this hard-to-find supernatural thriller, which mined the paranormal investigation field long before the Chris Carter series or even Dan Curtis’ “The Night Stalker.” Leslie Nielsen stars as a dandyish occult expert in 19th century San Francisco called by the police to aid in the investigation of several grisly murders. The discovery of a misshapen idol at each of the crime scenes appears to connect the murders to ritual sacrifices necessary to bring an ancient, malevolent god back to Earth. Originally intended as the pilot for “Black Cloak,” an NBC series created by veteran TV writer Jack Laird (“Night Gallery”) for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions, the network allegedly deemed the final product too intense for broadcast and repackaged it as a theatrical release on a double bill with William Castle’s “I Saw What You Did.” “Dark Intruder” eventually enjoyed cult status through sporadic broadcasts on late night TV broadcasts, where bleary-eyed viewers were impressed with its mature approach to supernatural horror and some genuinely suspenseful set pieces. Lovecraft devotees have also noted numerous references to the Cthulhu Mythos weaved into Barre (“The Lodger”) Lyndon’s script (a detailed discussion of those elements can be found in this excellent article), but one doesn’t have to be familiar with the stories to appreciate this entertaining and effective blend of pulp horror tropes and modern crime thriller. The TCM DVD pairs “Dark Intruder” with another Castle picture, the equally hard-to-find “Night Walker” (1964) with Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, a script by Robert Bloch and a terrific score by Vic Mizzy.

1 a.m. – “Twice Told Tales” – Horror/Suspense

2912(1963, Kino Lorber) Vincent Price is top-billed in this anthology film from American International Pictures, which attempted to duplicate the box office windfall they had enjoyed from adapting Edgar Allan Poe with three stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As the informative commentary by Richard Harland Smith and Perry Martin notes, the script by veteran independent writer-producer Robert E. Kent (who previously collaborated with Price on the United Artists release “Diary of a Madman”) plays fast and loose with the source material: “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” with Price and Sebastian Cabot experimenting with a youth formula, and “The House of the Seven Gables,” with Price as a prodigal son who falls under his family’s curse, bear only passing resemblance to the original story and novel, respectively. But Kent’s take on that high school AP English class staple “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is faithful to the story, with Price as the scientist who imbues his daughter (Joyce Taylor) with a deadly and tragic secret. Director Sidney Salkow (who directed Price in “The Last Man on Earth” the following year) is no Roger Corman, whose ability to wring atmosphere and depth from miniscule budgets is sorely missed here, but Price fans that best enjoy their hero in period horror trappings will appreciate this modest effort. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer, as well as previews for AIP’s Poe anthology film, “Tales of Terror” (also with Price) and Mario Bava’s “Black Sabbath,” and a segment from “Trailers from Hell” on “Twice Told Tales” with commentary by director Mick Garris.

2:30 a.m. – “Queen of Blood” – Horror/Science Fiction

2911(1966, Kino Lorber) Constructed around special effects footage from a Soviet science fiction movie purchased by producer Roger Corman for American International Pictures, Curtis Harrington’s “Queen of Blood” not only eclipses its cobbled-together pedigree but also generate a few chills. Much has been made about the similarities between this picture and “Alien” – here, as in the Ridley Scott film, a crew of astronauts (led by John Saxon, and with Dennis Hopper and Judi Meredith from “Dark Intruder”) responds to a distress signal from an extraterrestrial ship stranded on Mars. The downed craft’s sole surviving passenger, a female alien (Florence Marley), makes quick work of the astronauts once aboard their ship, draining them of their blood and laying a brood of gelatinous eggs before the surviving members find her vulnerability. Budget issues leave a patina of pulp on the film, but Harrington does a fine job of integrating the rather fanciful Russian scenes; his efforts are well matched by impressive (by AIP standards) sets by future “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz and terrific, icy-colored lighting schemes by veteran cinematographer Vilis Lapenieck. Saxon and Hopper (playing a sort of Space Age take on his sensitive young sailor Harrington’s first feature, the unsettling “Night Tide”) give solid, all-pro performances, as does Basil Rathbone in an extended cameo as the space mission’s Earthbound commander (“Famous Monsters of Filmland” editor Forrest J. Ackerman as his assistant), but the most memorable turn comes from Marley, a Czech actress whose hungry smile and gaze transcends her rather silly hairdo and leotard. Harrington, whose circle of friends included Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, artist/occultist Marjorie Cameron and James Whale, directed some of the most eclectic horror and suspense films of the 1960s and ‘70s, including “Games,” with Simone Signoret; “What’s the Matter With Helen?” and “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” and “The Killing Kind” with John Savage. Kino’s Blu-ray includes a lengthy interview with Oscar-winning visual effects designer Robert Skotak, who discusses the film’s special effects and production design, as well as a brief conversation with Corman about how he acquired the footage from the Soviet picture.

4 a.m. – “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” – Horror/Science Fiction

product_images_modal_BTWDCover72dpi__7B19c68230-e529-4783-aabe-1a23fea8366c_7D(1962, Shout Factory) This lunatic low-budget nightmare was a staple of Saturday afternoon and late night creature feature TV broadcasts, where it bewildered generations of goggle-eyed kids (like me) with its overheated mix of mad scientist tropes, mile-wide misanthropic streak and shocking bursts of E.C. Comics-style gore. TV staple Jason Evers plays a surgeon whose maverick ideas on transplants come in handy when his fiancée (Virginia Leith) is decapitated in a traffic accident. Evers spirits her head away to his remote lab (in Tarrytown, New York), where he revives her brain; to Leith’s horror, she discovers that not only has she been reduced to a bandaged head in a lab tray, but also her husband-to-be is prowling burlesque houses (and city streets) in search of a new, more zaftig body for her. Sloppy, sleazy and almost willfully stupid from start to finish, “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” has enjoyed a cult following for a half-century for its barrage of bad taste imagery and ideas, which flash by viewers’ astonished eyes like narcotic hallucinations: Leith’s head, plotting revenge with the misshapen, gibbering “failed experiment” (sideshow performer and Diane Arbus subject Eddie Carmel) locked behind a closet door in Evers’ basement; Evers’ disfigured assistant, played by the awesomely hammy Leslie Daniel/Anthony La Penna, dragging the stump of his withered arm across the entire basement, up a flight of stairs and into another room, and leaving a huge snail trail of black, gloppy blood in his wake; and the nihilistic finale, a seismic eruption of flames and psychotic behavior broken only by Leith’s maniacal laughter and her final, chilling line of dialogue. Director/co-writer Joseph Green – a prolific New York exploitation distributor – stitches together these berserk moments with threads of inappropriate humor (is that Jerry Lewis imitator Sammy Petrillo? Yes, it is), production ineptitude and an overheated jazz-noir score by Abe “Available” Baker that renders the final result at once laughable and weirdly lovable, though as Stephen King once wrote, it’s the love you spare for a three-legged dog. For junk/trash/punk culture fans, it’s manna from heaven, and Shout Factory wraps the whole ugly affair in a deluxe Blu-ray topped by a restored widescreen presentation of the uncut, 83-minute version (some TV prints removed the gorier scenes), along with a spicier version of one scene taken from a European print. There’s also a curious commentary track by writers Steve Haberman, who seems to dislike the picture very much, and Tony Sasso, who perhaps loves it too much; their opposing takes probably won’t satisfy diehard fans or detractors. The very funny “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode devoted to the film – the first to feature Mike Nelson as host – is also included, along with the theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills.

6 a.m. – “Blood Rage” – Horror

61Hu9awie9L._SL1024_(1983, Arrow Video) This completely out-to-lunch slasher film opens with a grisly murder committed at a drive-in by deranged pre-teen Terry, who pins the killing on his more mild-mannered identical twin, Todd. Flash-forward a decade, and Todd (now played by Mark Soper) has escaped from the asylum, prompting Terry (also played by Soper), who has spent a less-than-idyllic childhood with his certifiable mother (Louise Lasser), to launch a spree of brutal murders in the hopes of again blackballing his brother. This complicates Terry’s burgeoning relationships with comely neighbor Andrea (Lisa Randall), his unrequited crush Karen (Julie Gordon) and about five other storylines, most of which end in absurd and grisly deaths for one or more people in Todd/Terry’s orbit. Lost in the stalk-and-slash boom of the 1980s, “Blood Rage” went unseen until 1987, when it was enjoyed a brief theatrical and cable run in a truncated version titled “Nightmare at Shadow Woods”; a bloodier edit, titled (appropriately enough) “Blood Rage,” developed its following among cult VHS fans. Arrow Video’s sprawling three-disc set compiles both versions with a third composited edit that stitches together footage from both of the other cuts. Devotees of the film will undoubtedly be pinching themselves over such an embarrassment of riches; for first-time viewers, the byzantine plot, goopy special effects (by Ed French) and the no-holds-barred performance by Lasser (who at one point, is glimpsed sitting splay-legged on a kitchen floor, wolfing down fistfuls of Thanksgiving leftovers) should confirm the picture’s status as one of the loopiest entries in the ‘80s splatter cycle. This is largely confirmed by interviews included on the set with Soper, Lasser (who discusses her collaborations with Woody Allen and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”), French, producer Marianne Kanter and Ted Raimi, who made his feature debut in a brief turn as a condom salesman (!), and a somewhat reluctant commentary track by director John Grissmer, who actually quit the film for a period before returning to complete it. Outtakes, alternate opening titles taken from a fuzzy VHS source, a visit to the Florida locations and a sizable gallery of behind-the-scenes photos round out this flabbergasting set. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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