Monday, March 02, 2015

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Souvenir Pressbook (1979)

Scans from the original STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE souvenir program I bought at Market Place Cinema in Champaign, Illinois in 1979. It's falling apart after all these years.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Avalanche Express

Lee Marvin (POINT BLANK) and Robert Shaw (JAWS) in his final film lead an all-star cast in this international thriller for 20th Century Fox. CIA spooks Marvin, Linda Evans (DYNASTY), Mike Connors (MANNIX), and — hilariously — New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath (THE WAVERLY WONDERS) are assigned to escort defecting Soviet spy Shaw on the Atlantic Express from Milan to Rotterdam.

Taking an enemy agent on a slow train ride across Europe sounds like a dumb idea, but Marvin’s plan also includes using Shaw as bait to find out who the mole on the train is. Like too many espionage movies, the story is both impenetrable and silly, though this may be attributed to the change in directors. Both director Mark Robson (EARTHQUAKE) and Shaw died during production of AVALANCHE EXPRESS. Monte Hellman (TWO-LANE BLACKTOP) was recruited to direct reshoots and supervise the editing, and Gene Corman (I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL’S ISLAND) took over Robson’s producing duties. Shaw’s entire performance was dubbed by a different actor.

John Dykstra created some of the visual effects under Hellman’s watchful eye, and the train miniatures are quite good, even though there’s no mistaking them for a real train. According to Hellman’s biography written by Brad Stevens, all of the special effects footage by Dykstra and Bruce Logan was directed by Hellman, though some, such as the avalanche sequence, was intercut with shots made by Robson. Adapted by Abraham Polonsky (TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE) from a Colin Forbes novel, AVALANCHE EXPRESS plays like a cheapjack version of THE CASSANDRA CROSSING with a slumming cast flailing to make sense of it all.

Look, anything with a cast like this is worth checking out — hell, it’s about time Joe Namath worked with Maximilian Schell (cast here as the Soviet killer in a ridiculous disguise). But even if the script had been more interesting, the choppy production and distracting dub job on Shaw (by Robert Rietty, who matches Shaw’s lip movements, but doesn’t sound anything like him) prevent the film from being successful. The action setpieces, when they occur, are good, particularly the big avalanche that not only threatens the train, but also allowed Fox to market the movie as a disaster flick. Gene Corman’s brother Roger produced AVALANCHE a year earlier, but Gene’s special effects are better.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hustler Squad

Does 1976's HUSTLER SQUAD match up to its incredible poster? Could any film?

Filipino actors posing as Japanese and a lack of period detail add to the hilarity of this silly action flick set in World War II. Basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with chicks (and only four of them to fit Crown International’s budget), HUSTLER SQUAD grasps its pervy premise with both hands and commits halfway, ignoring the sensual aspects. It’s set in Australia, but obviously filmed in the Philippine Islands, and the clothing, hairstyles, and language is strictly Seventies. Still, HUSTLER SQUAD is an entertaining drive-in picture that serves up plenty of pulpy action.

The Allied have sixty days to plan a stealth attack on an envoy of Japanese officers holding a strategic meeting at a whorehouse. Major Stonewell (John Ericson, best known as Honey West’s sidekick), who doesn’t really seem like an out-of-the-box thinker, recruits four women with little to lose, trains them to kill, and sends them into the brothel disguised as prostitutes. On the squad: salty hooker Cindy (Crystin Sinclaire in the Roberta Collins role), convicted killer Rose (Nory Wright), rape victim Sonya (Liza Lorena), and terminally ill nurse Anna (Johanna Raunio), in addition to Lieutenant West (Karen Ericson, billed in earlier productions as Karen Huston) and Paco (Ramon Ravilla), the lone survivor of the initial assault on the island containing the brothel.

Perhaps director Cesar Gallardo’s heart wasn’t in it, because even though the women spend most of their downtime bitching about needing to get laid, HUSTLER SQUAD is remarkably sexless. The director occasionally pops for a topless scene, but he emphasizes the men’s adventure aspect of the plot, putting the girls through extensive training and bookending the film with extended rat-a-tat shootouts against Japanese ground forces. A Japanese admiral is portrayed with intelligence and sensitivity, adding a dose of complexity to what is otherwise a simple actioner.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Missile To The Moon

In 1958, Hawaiian-born Richard Cunha made a quartet of science-fiction films that are legend among fans of bad movies. Cunha's filmography is strange, starting with these four films in the same year and ending with just two more credits spread across the early 1960's.

But with Cunha, quality--as in "lack of"--definitely wins out over quantity, as GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN, SHE DEMONS, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and MISSILE TO THE MOON have won legions of devoted fans, despite--or, I should say, because of--their incompetence.

Check out this plot for MISSILE TO THE MOON, as concocted by screenwriters H.E. Barrie and Vincent Forte. Middle-aged scientist Dirk (Michael Whalen) is pissed off when the government steps in to confiscate the rocketship he constructed with his partner Steve Dayton (Richard Travis), who seems content to slurp up bourbon with his fiancé June (Cathy Downs).

Determined not to allow his baby fall into the hands of the military, Dirk steps into the rocket, which is parked in his backyard, and discovers a pair of juvenile delinquents hiding out in it. Lon (Gary Clarke) and Gary (Tommy Cook) are prison escapees who go on the lam inside the ship, because Lon had read about it in the newspaper, and, hey, who the hell would look for escaped cons inside a nearby rocketship?

Dirk forces the pair to help him fly his ship, which also includes among its crew Steve and June, who become reluctant stowaways. Needless to say, the inside of this ship looks like it wouldn't drive a go-cart, much less a space vessel traveling to the moon. A stupid accident inside an asteroid belt kills Dirk, but the remaining foursome lands safely on the moon's surface, where they encounter large rock creatures that appear to be made from rubber and chase the landing party at an approximate speed of .15 miles per hour.

They hide inside a cave, where Steve discovers the atmosphere is breathable (!), so the party ditches their spacesuits, just in time to be captured by a society of sexy space honeys in skintight clothing. Most of them, especially the youngest and hottest, have never seen a man before, which raises the libidos of young Gary and Lon.

Meanwhile, the ladies' leader, the Leto (K.T. Stevens), wants to steal the rocket and bring all of the women to Earth. Her conniving assistant, Alpha (Nina Bara), wants to whack the Leto and become the new moon boss. She also wants a piece of the Stevester, which makes June so jealous that she accidentally gives up a vital piece of secret information in her green rage. Women.

MISSILE TO THE MOON is only about 75 minutes long, but still manages to include a pointless if sexy dance number, a giant spider called the Dark Creature that attacks June, a cache of priceless diamonds, a sizzling race across a fatally hot moon desert (!), another encounter with the "ooooo...scary" rock men, and a misogynist final scene. The special effects are particularly pathetic. In fact, the rocket landing on the moon's surface is depicted by running its takeoff from Earth in reverse. The problem with that is that the launching pad is plainly visible on a lunar surface where one shouldn't be. The sets are beyond cheap, the dialogue is ripe, the performances are undistinguished, and the credits proudly proclaim the presence of (alleged) international beauty contest winners, including Miss Illinois (yay), as Moon Girls.

The credits also hide the appearance of actress Leslie Parrish, who appeared in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and many other films and TV shows after MISSILE TO THE MOON. Parrish is billed using her real name of Marjorie Helen, just before she changed it to play the pivotal role of Daisy Mae in LI'L ABNER. Sci-fi fans will remember her as dishy Carolyn Palamas, the Enterprise lieutenant who fell in love with Greek god Apollo in the STAR TREK episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Horror Of Party Beach

It came billed as “The First Monster Horror Musical,” and it damn well might be. It’s got boys and girls in swimsuits frugging on a beach while a band of nerdy-looking white dudes in striped shirts play three-chord rock-’n’-roll. It also has an infestation of man-sized “sea zombies” that creep out of the ocean to munch on nubile female flesh. Add some bikers, a fistfight, wretched one-liners, and a romantic triangle, and you have THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, which remains, fifty years later, a unique cult oddity.

Dull Hank (John Scott) fights with his alcoholic girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke) on their way to a beach party. “You ain’t seen livin’ ‘til you’ve seen Tina swing,” she says, as she leaps into the fray and shakes her moneymaker at leather-jacketed tough Mike (Agustin Mayor), who fights with Hank over the cheap little tease.

Meanwhile, some boaters dump into the ocean a barrel of radioactive waste, which pops open upon hitting the bottom and soaks a skull buried there. Via clumsy time-lapse photography, the skull transforms into…well, it’s hard to describe. Something like a slimy green sea monster with bulbous eyes and a dozen frankfurters sticking out of its throat. Whatever it is, it’s ahead of its time, because fifteen years before slasher movies established the rules for screen killing, the monster attacks the slutty girl first, ripping Tina to a bloody shred.

Director Del Tenney (I EAT YOUR SKIN) mixes lowbrow humor with the shocks, contributing groaners such as two boys watching a girl in a bikini shaking her pert ass, and one of them saying to the other, “That reminds me.  Did anyone bring hot dog buns?” That night, the monsters attack a slumber party where 22 girls wear nighties and have a pillow fight. Best. Movie. Ever. Unfortunately for them, my dream bash turns into a hootenanny, which causes the monsters to slaughter all the girls. Lesson #1:  sea zombies hate folk music.

With the local police befuddled (“You think it might be a wild shark?"), Dr. Gavin (Allan Laurel), who pushes his daughter Elaine (Alice Lyon) to pursue Hank now that his girlfriend is out of the picture (dead), works to discover a method of destroying the monster horde. The Gavins’ superstitious black maid Eulabelle (Eulabelle Moore) even gets into the matchmaking act, scolding Elaine for lying around the house moping the day after 22 of her friends were murdered and pushing her to get out of the house to have some fun.

With the Del-Aires thumping their Fender Jaguars and the ridiculous-looking “sea zombies” stalking the Eastern seaboard, THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH remains a memorable movie, spawning an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 and a 1964 Warren comic book assembled by Russ Jones and comics legend Wally Wood.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Alley Cat

Los Angeles has a lot of rapists and a stunningly inept justice system. That was my takeaway from this low-budget exploitation item that weaves elements from DEATH WISH and VIGILANTE into the shapely form of star Karin Mani.

A troubled production that saw three different directors putting their hands into it (the “Edward Victor” directing credit is a pseudonym for Filipino filmmaker Ed Palmos, RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE co-star Al Valletta, and ALLEY CAT producer Victor Ordonez), the Film Ventures International release offers enough skin, fighting, and silly dialogue to leave drive-in audiences in joy.

Actors blow lines and look into the camera, plot points are forgotten, and coincidences substitute for drama. I wouldn’t want ALLEY CAT any different. Trouble seems to find poor Billie Clark (Mani) everywhere. First, she puts a beatdown on two dirtbags stealing the tires off her car parked in her driveway. They whine to their boss Phil (Michael Wayne, not the son of The Duke) about getting their butts kicked by a girl, so the three of them assault Billie’s grandparents outside a grocery store.

With her grandmother in the hospital, Billie goes jogging and stumbles upon those same two dirtbags raping a woman. She kicks their asses again, but her cop boyfriend’s corrupt partner tosses Billie in jail for trespassing and carrying a concealed weapon. She gets out of the clink, goes jogging again, and gets accosted by another rapist. She beats his ass too. When a corrupt judge sentences Billie for contempt when he sets the rapists free, she is molested by her cellmate (spoiler: she beats her up).

If you think there’s no way Billie can get attacked by more rapists in the park, you aren’t giving writer Robert Waters enough credit. At least Billie is having tons of sex with Johnny (Robert Torti), the afore-mentioned ineffectual cop boyfriend, in between beating up bad guys and training for her black belt. Mani had a shortlived career in pictures (she had a decent supporting role in AVENGING ANGEL) before marrying a producer of rock videos and giving up the biz. She’s not great at either acting or fighting, but she’s good enough. It’s also a novelty to see an Asian woman beating up white guys in an American production.