And now for something completely different. This is the first of a collection of pieces to hopefully enlighten and inform the cinematically jaded and innately bored. An attempt to bring forth a group of celluloid oddities that not only have a common thread but are also so wildly conceived and contrived that no “Hollywood back pocket” film reviewer would dare touch them…ever.
It has been said before that I was born way late in the game. Probably 30 years late. I missed the race riots and the war protests. I was denied the opportunity to sport authentic platforms and bell bottoms while having my funky mind sucked by Dr. Funkenstein. I was totally left out of the experimental drug revolution and of course the all-American drive-in movie phenomenon was but a shell of its former self when I came along. Given that all of these things have been forever illusive to me, I’d even consider taking part in the bizarre suburban pastime of wife swapping; but alas, I digress.
In the future I promise to align the films with their commonalities, but for now let’s take a look at 3 of my favorites that are going to be indicative of this column and its direction. First up is the mighty “Blood Feast,” highly (and lowly) regarded as the very first splatter film. Clumsily pieced-together (a euphemism for directed) by former nudie-cutie mogul H.G. Lewis in 1963, “Blood Feast” became the seminal motion picture that launched a thousand lunches and sold a bazillion tickets. Its birth was really quite simple; showing bouncing titties on screen had become old hat so Lewis and his cohort, Dave F. Friedman, decided to unfurl a cavalcade of blood and grue rather than a parade of naked female anatomy – and it worked. It worked famously. Soon these two hacks were well on their way to becoming millionaires within the drive-in picture business. This was no small feat on their parts, either. Their films were inept and crude but they were revolutionary in the sense that they broke down barriers that had never existed. The trailers were fantastic as were the advertising campaigns. One such gimmick involved the giving out of air sickness bags to ticket buyers, “for our patrons with weak stomachs.” Creative differences eventually split the partnership in 1965; Lewis went on to subjugate his audiences with more gore than any one director ever had before (or possibly since) while Friedman found himself comfortably amongst the highest ranking of the would-be Russ Meyers.
Next up is Ted V. Mikels’ “Astro Zombies.” Now this is a glowing example of late night TV-viewing delirium. “Astro Zombies” was made in 1967 but plays like it was 1957, and no matter how many times I see it I find myself falling more and more in love with it. Mikels has said that he had the idea for the film in the ’50s but it took him until the late ’60s to garner the cash, thus explaining the time lapse; however, the unconventional premise is hardly saved by this rationalization. Dr. Demarco (John Carradine) has devised a plan to make solar powered zombies out of the dead so that they can take over the world and he can rule it. Foreign spies headed up by Satanna (Tura Satana) want his secret and will stop at nothing to get it. Handguns with silencers, Judo and lo-tech laboratory equipment abound, but the crescendo of this film is truly a sight to behold. We watch slack-jawed as a dying Astro Zombie stumbles through the darkness back to the good Doctor with a battery powered flashlight held onto his solar cells. “Astro Zombies” did very well for Mikels and his poster and publicity campaigns were ingenious, as well. Being no stranger to the notion of gadget advertising, Mikels handed out “Free Skulls” to be worn around the necks of his patrons, and from what I understand he handed out a lot of them.
Lastly is Al Adamson’s 1971 feature film “Blood of Ghastly Horror.” “Blood of Ghastly Horror” reigns supreme as the most convoluted piece of patchwork cinema to date. In fact, we can pretty much rest assured that no such thing will ever happen to us theatergoers again. Adamson’s movie was no less than 3 different films, cut, sliced and pasted together in an attempt at making a cohesive picture. Did it work? Hell no, it didn’t work, but in a disillusioning kind of way it is a wonderful hunk of genius. Its premise is part jewel heist, part Vietnam vet gone berserk, part mad scientist (again John Carradine) and finally, part voodoo. Plenty of gore and cleavage fill the screen, along with some zombies and the obligatory slip-shod lab for Carradine to lumber about in. Not surprisingly, the storyline is simply impossible to follow so a cohesive synopsis is beyond any abilities that I might have; but please know that “Blood of Ghastly Horror” flies the sordid drive-in movie banner possibly higher than any other slab of low budget horror moviemaking has. Adamson made many films of this type, but sadly died in a manner that could seemingly only be concocted in a mind such as his own. Poor Al was buried alive in his favorite bath tub under a mountain of concrete. Producer Sam Sherman claims that “Blood of Ghastly Horror” was a big hit in Pakistan.
So there you have it, a brief overview of my very favorite drive-in films of all time. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with John Carradine or cavernous cleavage. Zombies and gore are certainly pluses, as are psychedelic freak outs and hard-assed bikers. As you may well know these few ingredients make for a wealth of off-color or questionable cinema that can be explored, and believe me there is more. Tons more.
Writer Christopher Curry has spent 29 years relentlessly trolling the underbelly of Horror, Sci-Fi and Exploitation cinema. He was first hooked by a made-for-TV zombie picture entitled “The Dead Don’t Die” and his recollections of Reggie Nalder have yet to peacefully leave his psyche. There is seemingly no benchmark of quality for Curry as he will watch and write about any damned thing. Curry is also the author of “A Taste Of Blood: The Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis” and is presently hard at work on a book chronicling the films and career of Ted V. Mikels.