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SLICES OF SICKNESS


SLICES OF SICKNESS
by Dr. Abner Mality


I finally did it. I finally broke down and got one of those 100 horror movie DVD sets that I've seen clogging up the bargain aisles for years now. I know the quality on these things runs from abysmal to shitty and there are no extras to speak of (you can forget about subtitles or chapter titles) but how long can a lover of cheap and obscure fright flicks resist temptation? Now a lot of the movies on the Mill Creek collection I got are the usual public domain titles you can find for three bucks at Big Lots or Deals, but this time, I found a lot of obscure and long-sought titles amidst the usual stuff like "The Devil Bat" . "The Wasp Woman" and "The Beast From Haunted Cave". What ultimately made me cave in by the thing was one title: "Night of the Blood Beast"!

I'd been looking for this super-obscure Roger Corman cheapie since I read an article on it in a late 70's edition of "Famous Monsters of Filmland". Well, here it was, nestled between "Night Fright" and "Night Tide" in Mill Creek's horror pack. SOLD! In addition, I saw some long lost friends like "Crypt of the Living Dead" (which I had seen years ago late at night when I was sick and unable to sleep), "The Bowery At Midnight", and "Snowbeast". Plus more obscurities such as "Voodoo Black Exorcist", the cult favorite "Spare Parts", and "The Amazing Transparent Man" and a bunch of antique old thrillers starring the legendary English boogie-man Tod Slaughter. For 40 bucks, this was a good value even for a fiendish cheapskate such as myself.

Lots to pore over and ruminate upon amidst the 100 flicks. This time around, I will focus on three particular favorites of mine that I watched first: the aforementioned "Night of the Blood Beast", the eerie vampire thriller "Crypt of the Living Dead" and the entertaining German "krimi" "The Phantom of Soho". Later, we might be taking a look at some other movies from the box, but for now, let's dive into the current trio of terror....


NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958)


Space exploration sure ain't what it used to be. Who gets worked up about a spacewalk or shuttle flight now? Nobody's stepped on the moon for decades, so most people alive today have no idea of the excitement or worldwide anticipation that accompanied the first landings on the Moon or even the early attempts at orbiting the Earth.

When Man was taking those tentative early steps into space, fear of the unknown ran rampant. What exactly could be waiting for us OUT THERE??? In almost every case, SF movies of the 50's and early 60's answered....nothing good. Evil aliens, man-eating monsters, cosmic disasters and hideous diseases awaited those foolish enough to leave the comforting embrace of Mother Earth in these classic old flicks. Recall movies such as "The Creeping Unknown", "The First Man Into Space" and "It! The Terror From Beyond Space".

"Night of the Blood Beast" takes these fears to another level. 21 years before a hungry "Alien" burst from an astronaut's chest, this movie dealt with alien embryos placed inside a human host. A peculiar mixture of "Outer Limits" style intelligence with outrageous B-movie schlock, "Night of the Blood Beast" wound up as completely entertaining and far better acted and scripted than I would have guessed. But then again, most of the people reviewing and commenting on these types of films have no sense of historical perspective or the ability to look at anything more than a few years old with something besides contempt.

The movie opens as pilot John Corcoran is attempting to pass through Earth's atmosphere into outer space in his one-man rocket. Corcoran insists on pushing the craft past its limits and turbulence starts to tear the small vessel apart. Desperately trying to get the ship back into the atmosphere, Corcoran thinks he sees something strange. But then consciousness is lost and the ship returns to Earth in a fiery crash.

That brings Corcoran's fellow space scientists out to investigate the wreck and see if he could have possibly survived. Basically, these folks pile into what looks like a flatbed pickup truck and take off into the hills to find the ship...NASA must have been experiencing pretty bad budget cuts at the time. Either that, or Corman was short on cash again.

Amongst the investigators is Corcoran's fiancee, Dr. Julie Benson. The ship is found and Corcoran's body is amazingly intact when it should have been crushed to pulp. However, the brave astronaut is still dead...but with his body still warm and pliable, as if it had passed away minutes ago instead of hours. Dr. Wyman, the head scientist, orders Corcoran's body unceremoniously dumped in the back of the truck and taken back to the isolated control base where it will be examined. Unknown to any of the investigators present, SOMETHING dark oozes off the wrecked ship.

Wyman and the other scientists are baffled by the condition of Corcoran's body. Not only that, but radio contact is lost with the outside world and the base is subject to periodic blackouts. Julie finds that John's blood is infested with some bizarre unknown organism that is extremely active. While investigating a noise outside, Dave is attacked by something big and bulky "like a bear" that manages to escape.

Speculation begins that something alien has come down from space with John Corcoran, speculation that the level-headed Dr. Wyman does his best to quell. The team is stuck with a mysterious dead body in a minimally functional lab, miles from nowhere, with something large prowling outside.

And then John Corcoran suddenly returns to life...

As obviously cheap and bare bones as this movie is, it's fully of eerie atmosphere, aided by a theremin-and-organ score that is both corny and creepy. When the "dead" Corcoran returns to life, pushing against a glass window with a gasp and a wide-eyed stare, it just might make you jump. The alien finally does reveal itself...a kind of clunky man-in-a-suit creation that nevertheless is no worse than most "Outer Limits" monsters...and it takes a bloody and extreme method in order to communicate with the humans. Manly astronauts-in-training Steve and Dave want to kill the strange being, but Corcoran pleads for understanding, saying there is little evidence the creature is malevolent...other than the decapitated body hanging like a slab of meat from the roof!

Corcoran is wonderfully played by Michael Emmett, an actor who appeared as the unlucky "Cal" in director Bernard Kowalski's notorious "Attack of the Giant Leeches". In that movie, Emmet played a sleazy hillbilly Romeo. In "Night of the Blood Beast", also directed by Kowalski, he is articulate but unearthly as the astronaut used as a catspaw by the alien. During the movie's most memorable scene, he is examined by a fluorescent X-ray...and his body is found to contain six alien embryos. Corcoran is being used as a breeding ground for extraterrestrials! This was a pretty extreme concept at the time. Instead of being repulsed by the invasion, Corcoran responds with almost motherly concern towards the unborn creatures, as well as the alien monster...the mother?

The rest of the cast is OK. Reliable Ed Nelson plays tough guy Dave and Tyler McVey is excellent as the level-headed Dr. Wyman. Angela Greene plays Julie in time-honored 50's scientist babe tradition, but it's Georgianna Carter who fascinates me as Donna Bixby. Her performance is mediocre, but Carter is a very attractive woman who seems about 15 years ahead of her time stylistically, looking more like a surfer girl from the early 70's. Very easy on the eyes.

As preposterous as the movie is, there is a lot of intelligent dialogue about man's reaction to a strange alien culture. Even at the movie's end, we still wonder if the humans were in the right. Corcoran passionately argues for tolerance of the alien being. As does the alien itself, who speaks rationally and calmly when it finally finds it voice (which it does by violent and bloody means). This sort of moral ambiguity was pretty rare in super-cheap monster flicks.

With more time and a bigger budget, "Night of the Blood Beast" could have been a true classic. As it is, it's an interesting merger of intelligent SF and cheap schlockiness that is more entertaining in its barely more than an hour running time than "Matrix 3" was with ten million times the budget.

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CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973)

For the Good Doctor, there's no bigger turn-on than the female vampire. There's something about fanged, chalky chicks that just gets my mojo going. I've been in love with undead women as far back as I can remember and like most comic-reading kids of the 70's, I had a huge crush on VAMPIRELLA! A lot of boys became men sneaking a look at the bikini-wearing bloodsucker and I was one...

Probably the all-time sexiest vampire was blond Yutte Stensgaard from the classic Hammer flick "Lust For a Vampire". The image of the fanged, bare-breasted and blood-covered beauty glowering over the corpse of an unlucky(?) male victim is iconic! I don't think anybody will beat Yutte, but in my mind, one of the all-time great vampire chicks was Hannah, the 700 year old queen of the undead who was the star of the obscure 1973 spook show "Crypt of the Undead".

This movie gets a rough going over from most critics and God knows it's anything but perfect, but I really dig the movie and for more reasons than just the fact that Hannah is hot and evil. It was part of a notorious drive-in triple feature where it was paired with "Fangs of the Living Dead" and "Horror of the Living Dead" to create one of those "we dare you to watch all 3!" horn-honking classics.

The movie is played completely straight and has a very somber and eerie feel to it. The location filming on a desolate island off the coast of Turkey and the minimalist, disquieting soundtrack by Phillip Lambro combine to give the film a truly chilling atmosphere. Although not up to the standards of a Hammer or Amicus production, the film is clearly aiming for something a bit higher than the gut-ripping grindhouse sleaze of the typical 70's drive-in flick.

The film was directed by Ray Danton, a former actor who had his hand in a lot of low-budget movies through the years, and featured a pretty good cast for a B-movie. The hero was Andrew Prine (the poor man's Bruce Dern), who probably found this role a bit of a relief after playing "Simon, King of the Witches" and the woman-hating looney from "Barn of the Naked Dead". Also starring was veteran Mark Damon, star of such films as "The Fall of the House of Usher", "Naked You Die" and "The Devil's Wedding Night" who later became a succesful producer; and Patty Shepherd, attractive star of many Euro-horror hits including some of Paul Naschy's "Waldemar Daninsky" flicks. The pedigree was actually above average for an early 70's low budget horror movie.

The film begins in eerie style as a middle-aged man makes his way by torchlight to an ancient tomb. He is being followed by the ragged figure of what seems to be a caveman, who later leaps out at him and causes him to fall into a pit. This "wild man", who is hideously scarred on one side of his face, appears intermittently throughout the film and we never learn exactly who or what he is. The explorer finds himself in front of a magnificent sepulcher: the final resting place of Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. This Gothic set looks splendidly authentic and is absolutely convincing. He reads a carved inscription in Latin: "For the peace of the dead and the sake of the living, let no one disturb this tomb."

As the man reads the inscription, he is viciously attacked from beind and strangled by a robed intruder. With the help of the wild man, the body is placed under the massive weight of the upraised tomb. The legs are then knocked off the sepulcher leading to him being crushed in a pretty jolting scene!

It turns out the unfortunate fellow was the father of Chris Bolton(Andrew Prine) and a well-known archaeologist who investigating the location of Hannah's tomb. Well, he wanted it and he got it! Naturally Chris comes to our lonely and forbidding island to investigate the old man's peculiar demise. He soon encounters a wall of silence from the grim and swarthy natives, who all look like short-order cooks from every "family" restaurant you've ever been at. Which makes sense, because these guys are all Turkish.

Chris makes contact with Dad's young assistant Peter, who is about the only friendly face on the album. Chris wants to lift the crushing sepulchre off his father's body to give him a decent burial. The natives want nothing to do with it, particularly old blind Abdul, who when he isn't playing mournful dirges on his accordion is constantly warning about the dangers of disturbing Hannah's tomb. Peter's pretty sister Mary is trying to teach something besides how to gut a fish to the island's impoverished kids and seems rather cold to Chris.

Peter reveals the back story behind Hannah. It seems she was the beautiful young consort of King Phillip and accompanied him to the Crusades. Somewhere along the way, Hannah contracted a "strange illness". She was left on the island with her entourage while Phillip went to kill Muslims. But when he returned, he found the entire island consumed by vampirism, with beautiful Hannah running it all as Queen. The holy warriors managed to kill all of the vampires except Hannah, whom Phillip could not bear to destroy. Instead, he entombed her in a magnificent sepulcher...the same one where Prof. Bolton was crushed to death.


To retrieve his father's body, the sepulcher most be opened...over the objections of Abdul and the natives. Afer much cajoling from Peter and Chris, the massive sepulcher is lifted, freeing the body...and allowing Chris a stunning glimpse at the "corpse" of Hannah, Queen of the Vampires, which looks as fresh as the day she was buried. And now it's time to mention that Teresa Gimpera, who plays Hannah, is not only smoking hot as the undead princess, but also completely conveys an eerie coldness and inhuman patience without speaking a word. The image of the wide eyed Hannah slightly opening her mouth and licking her lips while still in the tomb is both erotic and creepy.

I won't spoil the rest of the movie, but I'm sure you can guess that Hannah is soon up to her old tricks on the nameless island. She can take the form of both wolf and a cloud of mist and uses these to slowly regain her strength. The disfigured wildman seems to be her willing servant...we never do learn who he is, but we get a pretty good look at the ruined side of his face and it ain't pretty. And he's not the only help that Hannah has.

The climax of the movie is pretty exciting all the way around and unfolds on multiple fronts. I found one scene to particularly moving and creepy at the same time. Hannah, her body horriby burned by flames, attacks the villagers screaming literally like a cat out of hell...but then she seems to realize just how terribly she's been burned and starts to sob pitifully. It's the sobbing of a creature that is hopelessly out of its time and facing total destruction. It creates a moment of startling sympathy for a being previously portrayed like a heartless demon.

Also, don't miss the very end of the movie and the disturbing images that play behind the credits. No 70's horror movie could ever end on an upbeat note, so Ray Danton snuck these scenes in to remind us that evil always triumphs in the end.

I think "Crypt of the Living Dead" is actually a pretty smart and effective B-movie that owes a lot to the classic vampire flicks of old. All the mythology of garlic, stakes and crosses is there, but expressed in a different setting. The movie blows it early in revealing a villain way too soon, but there is something so funereal and bleak about the movie that it just lulls you in. A good horror movie is all about atmosphere and if that's what you're looking for, "Crypt" delivers in spades!

However, in contradiction to my usual belief, you should definitely check out the color version as opposed to the grainy B & W murkfest which Mill Creek provides for this box set.

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"THE PHANTOM OF SOHO" (1964)

The name of Edgar Wallace is little known today, but in the 20's and 30's, he was one of the most popular writers of lurid pulp mysteries in the world. Wallace churned out dozens, if not hundreds, of police whodunnits featuring masked killers, diabolical masterminds and shady ladies. An entire article, if not a book, could be written about Wallace's mysteries, which have all but faded into the background today.

Somehow, Wallace inspired film-makers in West Germany of the 60's to adapt many of his films, "The Phantom of Soho" being one. The Wallace movies fit right in with the German "krimis", or police mysteries. I haven't seen too many of these films, but I was aware of "The Phantom of Soho" based on one truly striking photo I had seen in Dennis Gifford's old horror movie book of the 70's: a skull-faced killer, knife upraised to strike, cloaked in black. I always remembered that picture and I always kept an eye out for "The Phantom of Soho". Finally, in 2008, I saw it as part of Mill Creek's 100 horror movie box set and that brings us to where we are now.


The skull-faced slasher doesn't show up until the very end of the movie, which is somewhat disappointing, but otherwise, "The Phantom of Soho" dishes up enough murders, sleaze and intrigue to keep you interested. This is better described as a dark police procedural that unfolds as a whodunnit.

The film wastes little time getting started, as a portly, bowler-hatted "official-looking" type is knifed to death after leaving the sleazy Sansibar in London's shady Soho district. All we see of the killer are gloved hands and the knife, but from the look on the victim's face, we know the perpetrator must be ghastly indeed. A note and a small trinket are left on the body

The victim was indeed a low-level diplomat, so Scotland Yard is soon on the case. The redoutable Inspector Hugh Patton is assigned to solve the murder and is given the rather eccentric Sgt. Hallam as an assistant. Dieter Borsche is excellent as Patton and reminds me a lot of the Inspector Morse character that used to pop up on PBS.

Patton and Hallam know the solution lies in the Sansibar, where many of the rich and powerful go to indulge their decadent impulses with safety. Their attention is drawn to the knife-throwing Yussuf, but when they question him, the lights go out and Yussuf himself is suddenly struck down by a knife. Patton spots a man with a large birthmark lurking nearby, but the figure eludes him.

The Sansibar is run by the wheelchair-bound Joanna Filiati, who is obviously running the bar as a front for prostitution. Filiati, accompanied by Dr. Dalmar, is interested only in protecting her business and offers no help to the police.

The murders continues, each done by knife and each one with a note or money left on the corpse. The killer has now gotten a nickname, "The Phantom of Soho", and a scandal is starting to break out. Patton is under pressure from superiors to drop certain lines of inquiry, but the methodical Inspector continues to try and dig up connections between the murder victims. Who is the man with the birthmark? What does the menacing sailor Captain Muggins, believed dead in a shipwreck, have to do with it? How is the beautiful cocktail waitress and dancer Corinne connected with it all? What are Filiati and Dalmar hiding? And most importantly, who is The Phantom of Soho?

It all makes for a neat and entertaining little mystery. No, it's not a rival to "Ten Little Indians" or "Murder On the Orient Express", but it keeps your interest throughout. The dubbing on the film is excellent and only somebody who is really nitpicky would harp on that aspect of it. The murders are frequent, but fairly bloodless...if this was done today, it would be a gorefest with viscera flying all over the place.

One of the best things about the movie is the feeling of genuine tawdriness and decadence that clings to it. There's only one brief shot of an exposed breast and the film would likely be rated PG-13 today, but the scenes in Soho do have a sleazy feeling to them. The Sansibar is beautifully realized...a dive where everybody has something to hide and where even the respected can indulge themselves without fear. It's hard to explain the atmosphere, but it's definitely there.

I was able to suss out who the Phantom was before the final tense denouement, but was still not sure of the character's motivations. So many eccentric characters and surprises are tossed at the viewer, there's always something to keep the mind working. Some characters are not at all what they appear to be and even The Phantom winds up being sympathetic. Although I certainly wish we had seen more of that scary skull-face during the movie!

"The Phantom of Soho" is a very modest little film and if you go into it knowing that, you may enjoy it all the more. It is definitely better than most of the other Wallace-inspired "krimis".

That concludes our first journey through the depths of the Mill Creek box set. Stay tuned, I'll be looking at more films from this treasure trove later!!!