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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Empire of the Ants, 1977

From the video case: In this chiller based on H.G. Wells’ terrifying novel, Joan Collins is an aggressive land developer trying to turn a swampy island into an exclusive residential community. In the process, her builders rupture a can of atomic waste that has washed ashore. A colony of ants feasts on the substance, which causes them to grow into voracious monsters with heightened intelligence and cunning. The night of Marilyn’s gala opening arrives, and the ants are ready. With a vicious persistence, the monsters attack the guests, cutting off their only means of escape. Forced into the jungle, their only hope of survival is a risky, one-in-a-million chance that could destroy them all. (1977, color)

Mark says: Every now and then I watch a movie that is so bad that I actually feel embarrassed for the cast. Empire of the Ants is just such a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie has plenty of merit as a schlock great, and I enjoy it immensely. When you see Bert I. Gordon’s name (Earth vs The Spider, Tormented) attached to a film (in this case, producer and director) you know you are in store for a few good chuckles. But he really outdid himself with this monstrosity. The laughs come so fast and often that Henny Youngman would be envious.

Just when your sides are aching from laughter with the horrendous 1970s dialog, the “special” effects of the giant ants come on screen to finish you off. This movie shows no mercy. The characters are so unlikable that you’ll find yourself cheering whenever the creatures kill off another castaway. But this movie is fun. Terrible, terrible fun. Be sure to watch it with friends to share all the schlock goodness.

Look for Robert Lansing (4-D Man) in the role of Dan Stokely and Jacqueline Scott (Duel) as Margaret Ellis. Tom Fadden (1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) plays Sam Russell.

If you want to watch a genuinely good giant ant flick, let me recommend 1954’s Them!

Scene to watch for: Harry and Velma emerge from their shack haven to find themselves surrounded by giant schlock ants.

Line to listen for: “You’re so terrific in the sack that it almost justifies the extensive salary that I have to pay you.”

Bonus: Pamela Shoop, one of the stars, shares stories and photos from the filming of Empire of the Ants.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

The Day of the Triffids, 1963

From the video case: For reasons unexplained by science, hundreds of meteorites begin to fall to Earth and blind those who witness the phenomenon. The few who retain their sight are horrified to encounter dandelion-like fluff known as Triffids. These Triffids multiply and grow into man-eating plants that begin to march on civilization, destroying everyone in their path. Join four survivors of the terrifying onslaught of Triffids as they search for a means of destroying the menacing plants. (1963, color)

Mark says: Considering this film’s ridiculous premise, it’s surprisingly fun to watch. It is based on a novel by John Wyndham, whose book, The Midwich Cuckoos, was the basis for the sci-fi classic, Village of the Damned.

The Triffids themselves are not that impressive, and are hardly menacing. They uproot themselves and walk about in a fashion more apt to make you laugh than shudder. Though they have the ability to sting and gobble up humans, they move too slowly and look too silly to be truly sinister. Their only real threat seems to be in their numbers. These beasts multiply like weeds.

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Night of the Living Dead, 1968

From the DVD case: Inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, this grimly realistic 1968 shocker revolutionized the horror film, followed by two sequels (Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead) and many more imitations.

It begins as squabbling siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) visit their father’s grave outside Pittsburgh, a visit that becomes a nightmare when Johnny is killed by a walking corpse. Soon Barbra and the resourceful Ben (Duane Jones) are besieged along with a family in an isolated farmhouse, as each new victim rises again to pursue the others in its relentless quest for living flesh. (1968, b&w)

Mark says: Talk about recreating a genre, director George Romero really broke the mold with this film. After Night of the Living Dead it became blatantly obvious that directors did not need a large budget to set their audiences on edge; disturbing concepts, high tension, and social poignancy are more than enough.

Duane Jones is excellent in the role of Ben, our protagonist. It is often noted that portraying a black man as hero in a racially charged era was more than a little significant. Immediately social norms are challenged. What’s more noteworthy, though, is that Ben’s color is never mentioned in the film, even by the character (Harry Cooper) who seems he would be the obvious bigot. A wonderful touch, I think.

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Night Fright, 1967From the DVD case: When two young lovers are viciously attacked by a hideous monster, Police Sheriff Clint Crawford finds a rocket has mysteriously crashed. Soon, the sheriff realizes that there may be a connection, but it’s too late for Crawford’s partner who becomes yet another victim. It’s now human wit versus monster instincts as Sheriff Crawford devices a plan to [get] rid of the creature and save the town. (1967, color)

Mark says: Night Fright is almost as bad as the DVD blurb describing it.

If not for B-movie legend John Agar (Tarantula, Invisible Invaders) starring as Sheriff Clint Crawford, this movie would not be worth mentioning. However, as a fan of Mr. Agar’s work from the 1950s, it was somewhat entertaining for me to watch him do his stuff again in 1967. I can’t imagine this picture holding any interest for non-Agar fans, though.

Night Fright is almost completely devoid of action. We spend an incredible amount of time with the characters walking through the woods without much happening. The “hideous monster” is reminiscent of the laughable beast from Robot Monster, and we get very few clear shots of him. I predict that the hair-dos are the only things that will scare you in this movie.

Night Fright does have some unintentional amusing scenes, but not enough to make the film worthwhile. Non-Agar fans should stay far away, and even fans of the legend will most likely be disappointed.

Directed by James A. Sullivan.

Scene to watch for: Any scene where the characters aren’t strolling through the woods doing nothing is a welcome relief.

Line to listen for: “Look punk, don’t ever call me ‘fuzz.’ When you talk to me, call me sheriff. Now get out of here!”

Bonus: For some movie stills and a character analysis, click here.

Mark’s Rating: ! ½ out of 5.

IMDB Link

Raquel Welch in One Million Years BCFrom the DVD case: In this vivid view of prehistoric life, a man from the mean-spirited Rock People (John Richardson) is banished from his home, but soon finds himself living among the kind, gentle Shell People. There, he falls in love with one of their tribeswomen, played by bikini-clad Raquel Welch, in the role that made her a major star. The two decide to strike out on their own, living by their wits in a deadly land of treacherous beasts and unknown dangers – all leading to a thrilling climax by the edge of an angry volcano. With stunning primeval imagery created by pioneering special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, One Million Years B.C. is a true science fiction classic. (1966, color)

Mark says: I can’t watch One Million Years B.C. without reminiscing about the first time I saw it televised. I was a school boy and I watched it at my house while my friend, Tony, saw it at his. The next day we got together to discuss the merits of the movie. All I could talk about were the dinosaurs, but all Tony could talk about was Raquel Welch!

Stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen (It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) usually teamed with producer Charles M.Schneer, but here he freelances for Hammer Film Productions. The overall quality of the picture (story-wise) is inferior, but Harryhausen’s contributions hold up well.

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Christopher Lee is Dracula, Prince of Darkness, 1966From the video case: A young party traveling to the Carpathian Mountains receives a strange warning from Father Sandor, the Abbot of Kleinberg, telling them not to proceed with their plans. Despite his advice, the Kents continue but are prematurely abandoned in a forest by their coachman, who refuses to continue after dark. Finally, their luck is changing it seems, when another mysterious black coach appears and delivers them to an enormous, eerie castle where they are offered the hospitality of Count Dracula. (1966, color)

Mark says: The opening flashback scene in Dracula: Prince of Darkness establishes it as the official sequel to Hammer’s Horror of Dracula. Though two vampire pictures were produced in between the films (Brides of Dracula and Kiss of the Vampire), neither one featured Christopher Lee as the famous bloodsucking Count.

Reportedly, Christopher Lee (Horror Hotel, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors) was so appalled by the dialog, that he was allowed to play the character mute. To his credit, Lee’s silence is hardly noticeable as his presence is still very powerful, though much more limited than in the original feature.

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The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Don Knotts

From the video box: In one of his most popular films, Don Knotts stars as a newspaper typesetter whose dream of becoming a reporter materializes after he spends a night in a haunted house. (1966, color)

Mark says: Don Knotts may have been a one-trick-pony (all of his roles seem to be a theme on Barney Fife) but he crafted the twitchy-cowardly-lovable character so well that I would have been disappointed to see him play anything else.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is the first film Knotts starred in after his departure from The Andy Griffith Show. He plays Luther Heggs, a newspaper typesetter with aspirations of becoming a big-time investigative reporter. Unfortunately, Luther’s aspirations far surpass his talents. He seems doomed to take taunts from not only his co-worker, Reporter Ollie Weaver (Skip Homeier), but from the general populace at large.

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Island of Terror, 1966

From the video case: On a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, a new breed of terror is unleashed. In his quest to find a cure for cancer, a research scientist conducts an experiment involving mutated cells. But, this attempt to benefit humanity becomes a nightmare that threatens the entire human race.

The tranquil island is suddenly rocked by the mysterious death of a local farmer. When he is found in a cave, not a trace of bone is left in his body; he has been reduced to a horrible, shapeless mass. Enter eminent pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr. David West (Edward Judd), a brilliant bone specialist.

Working together in a desperate race against time, they must find a way to destroy the seemingly indestructible, ever-multiplying horde of bone-eating creatures before the mutant monsters kill everyone on the island and spread like a deadly plague across the entire planet. (1966, color)

Mark says: I credit Island of Terror for reigniting my interest in old sci-fi/horror movies. Several years ago I caught this movie on television. I remembered it from my youth and was enthralled to see it again through the eyes of an adult. As I was watching the movie, a friend dropped by and we finished watching it together. Afterwards, he suggested we rent a slew of old sci-fi/horror films and view them over the course of a few days. That’s exactly what we did, and I have been hooked ever since.

What really makes this film work is the dynamic between the two lead characters, Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Abominable Snowman) and Edward Judd (The Day the Earth Caught Fire). Both men play their roles (Dr. Stanley and Dr. West, respectively) without a trace of campiness. Edward Judd actually has more of the lead role, and gets the girl (Carole Gray), but it’s Peter Cushing who gets the better lines.

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Jacqueline Pearce is back from the dead in The Plague of Zombies, 1966

From the video case: A strange disease reaching epidemic proportions is invading the English countryside where Peter Thompson (Brook Williams) practices. In desperation, Thompson seeks the help of his mentor, Sir James Forbes (André Morell), who comes to his assistance in trying to make sense of the horrible plague. Amidst walking corpses, voodoo dolls, and empty graves, the two embark on on an investigation that uncovers a ghastly secret and leads them to the shocking truth. (1966, color)

Mark says: Like the zombies in the film, this movie can be a bit slow-paced. This languidness can usually be attributed to the building of suspense. However, the time spent on creating an atmosphere of apprehension seems somewhat misplaced. After all, we know coming in that zombies are the cause of the plague. This is predominantly a fine Hammer production, though, filmed on the same set as another Hammer film, The Reptile.

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Still from I Saw What You Did, 1965.

From the DVD case: When two teenagers make prank phone calls to strangers, they become the target for terror when they whisper, “I saw what you did” to a psychopath (John Ireland) who has just murdered his wife. I Saw What You Did features a cavalcade of Castle-style shocks, plus a gloriously over-the-top performance by Joan Crawford as the killer’s desperately amorous neighbor. (1965, b&w)

Mark says: I Saw What You Did is a cross between The Patty Duke Show and Hitchcock’s Psycho. Unfortunately, the emphasis rests primarily on the Patty Duke aspect of the story. Of course, when William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) is listed as producer and director, you know to expect a fair amount of kitsch.

The premise of the story, based on the novel Out of the Dark, by Ursula Curtiss, sounds intriguing enough: Three girls (two teenagers and a little sister), spend the night alone in a secluded country home. To relieve their boredom they make crank phone calls. One of their routine calls consists of whispering, “I know what you did, and I know who you are,” to the person on the other end of the line.

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