Archive for the ‘1960s films’ Tag

Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960)   Leave a comment

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Wow.  Where do I begin?

Peter and Sally Carter (Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford) return home from a reception given to welcome Peter as the new high school principal.  Their nine-year-old daughter, Jean tells them that earlier that day, she and her friend Lucille were at a neighbor’s home where they took off their clothes and danced naked for an old man in exchange for candy.  Let that sink in a minute.

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The innocent child thinks it was a game and isn’t terribly upset.  No one hurt or touched her.  Jean’s parents, of course, are livid and report the incident to the police.  The local sheriff tries to dismiss the charge as the ramblings of an imaginative child, but the Carters know their daughter and stick to their guns.

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Sally files a complaint with the local police.

The culprit, Clarence Olderberry, Sr. is the long-retired patriarch of the wealthiest family in town.  No one wants to ruffle their feathers since most of the folks in this small, Canadian town work in the Olderberry’s mill.  Olderberry, Jr. (Bill Nagy) tries to sweet talk the Carters at first.  When they make it clear that they still plan to press charges, he lets them know that his attorney will rip their little girl apart on the witness stand.  This is going to be ugly.  Despite that threat and the reaction of most of the people in town, the Carters insist on a trial.  All the while, Peter hears murmurs that Olderberry has done this before only to have it hushed up.

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Olderberry, Jr. threatens Peter.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you by telling you too much about the trial and aftermath.  I will say it’s riveting and realistic.  This is no sanitized Hollywood trial with a neat ending and it doesn’t end there.

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Jean takes the stand.

Horrifyingly true-to-life and scarier than any Hammer Gothic horror, NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER whacks you in the head with its frankness.  Writers John Hunter and Roger Garis keep it spare and sharp and director Cyril Frankel doesn’t waste a shot.  Unfortunately, the idea of a well-connected pedophile living next door comes off as a more genuine threat than a vampire in the village.  The acting, direction, and taut dialogue flow so naturally, it seems like someone recorded people talking and included it in the script.  Even the kids can act.

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I enjoyed this film in spite of its subject.  It’s real and well-made and I couldn’t look away.

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER might be a rough watch for a lot of people and understandably so.  My heart was in my throat half the time.  In the other half, I was yelling at characters on the screen urging them to hurry or shut up.  It has that kind of visceral impact.  When the film ended, I had to sit down and catch my breath.  Hammer makes a hell of a thriller.

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Seriously, he’ll make you shudder.

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These Are the Damned (1963)   2 comments

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Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) meets lovely Joan (Shirley Anne Field) on the street in a British seaside town and the two walk together toward a pub.  As soon as they leave the main drag, Simon gets jumped by a bunch of Teddy Boys led by Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed).  They beat him savagely and steal his wallet.  It’s clear Joan has acted as bait before, but she’s disturbed by King’s level of violence this time.

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“Look what you’ve done to his hat!!!”

What are Teddy Boys?  Teddy Boys are British teens who dressed in a modernized 1950s/60s version of the Edwardian style.  Some formed gangs and committed petty crimes and were a nuisance generally.

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“That outfit is hideous. You had to be stopped.”

Anyway, Joan sees the error of her ways and joins Simon on his boat.  Simon has a boat.  The two moor at a remote cabin atop a craggy mountain of rock.  The house happens to be the summer home of bohemian artist Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) who happens to be the longtime lover of Bernard (Alexander Knox).

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Freya being all arty and junk.

Bernard?  Bernard runs a top secret military base next door to his girlfriend’s place.  Yup.  There’s a lot of Freya wondering aloud about the purpose of the outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, but Bernard isn’t talking.  We get a vaguely sinister vibe from Bernard and his cohorts Captain Gregory (James Villiers) and Major Holland (Walter Gotell), but no real clue as to their mission until Bernard skypes with some kids in a classroom.

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“I hope you brought your number 2 pencils.”

After we meet the children, we’re left to divine who they are.  Is Bernard training them to be spies?  Are the kids aliens?  Read: THESE ARE THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  We’re not sure about them until Simon and Joan (remember them?) run into the kids’ hideout while escaping King and his cosh boy pals.  Then the whole part science fiction/part Cold War nightmare/part love story plot makes sense.  Well, sort of.

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“A Pakuni kid called Cha-Ka and Sleestaks? What kind of cave is this?”

Director, Joseph Losey doesn’t get too arty, but manages a few suspenseful scenes in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.  Based on the novel, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H.L. Lawrence, the film meanders a bit and is hampered by underdeveloped characters and a less than exciting script.  To be fair, screenwriter Evan Jones had to cram a lot into 87 minutes.  More creative editing might have helped.  There are a few scenes in the first half of the film which, if cut, would have given the plot and characters more time to gel in the second half.  If they had spread the ‘getting to know you’ part all through the film instead of the stock first half, biography, second half, action, the movie might hold more interest.

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“I thought you said there’d be water.”

Alexander Knox does a decent job playing the benevolent captor and Macdonald Carey and Sally Anne Field grow into a nice chemistry as the story progresses.

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“Our love transcends the 20 minutes we’ve known each other.”

Oliver Reed is suitably brutal as the disturbed gang leader.

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“When you’re a Jet…”

I liked watching this film because I wasn’t sure what would happen and the dark ending surprised me.  Hammer Studios made a number of non-Gothic horrors which I generally love.  This one tries to do too much and falls short.  THESE ARE THE DAMNED is watchable though and it’s always fun to see another dystopian Cold War film.

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One of these things is not like the others…

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)   Leave a comment

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British race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) and his new bride, Denise (Diane Cilento) get into a nasty car wreck on their honeymoon.  The accident leaves another driver dead and Alan with a severe head injury.  After months in the hospital, the couple finally head to the French seaside for their wedding trip.  It’s clear that Alan still needs time to recover since every once in a while, he goes into a trance and tries to strangle his wife.

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“If I can just get your neck size…”

What a bore.  Denise dotes on Alan and seems to have made the leap from wife to mother seamlessly.  Since she’s running out of scarves to hide the neck bruises, Denise seeks the help of a psychiatrist they happen to meet on their trip.  David Prade (Claude Dauphin) proposes a radical form of therapy to help Alan remember the accident and stop choking his wife all the time.

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“Just five minutes more.”

Since Alan is paranoid and his moods turn on a dime, Denise lies to him about meeting David to ask for medical advice.  Yup, that goes well.

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“Analyze me, will ya!!”

Will David cure Alan?  Will Alan kill Denise?  Will Denise stop saying Alan’s name all the damn time?  I’ll never tell.  I will say this is a neat little thriller with an unusual psychiatric bent.  Director, Val Guest keeps you guessing and the mood tense.  Parts of the film drag, but even the talky parts keep the plot moving forward.  The script, apart from Denise saying Alan’s name about 82 million times, flows naturally.  Cilento and Lewis are believable lovers and I found myself worried about them both.

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“The doctor said to wear that radio around your neck until you’re cured.”

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL is another fun Hammer thriller.  I’m a big fan of these films.  They’re racier and more violent than most American films of that era and they generally have a more mature attitude toward love and sex.  It makes for a more realistic film which, in turn, makes the scary parts scarier.  Scary is good.

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The Great Escape (1963)   2 comments

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Throw a bunch of American, British, and Commonwealth Air Force officers into a German prisoner of war camp and what do you get? You get hundreds of guys who want to get back to fighting and family and home. The Great Escape, based on the true story of a major British escape from a German prisoner of war camp serves as a kind of survey course on that escape. Yes, it’s a glossed-over version of events, but it’s such a terrific watch, you don’t really care.

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“Ya vas lyublyu.”

The all-star cast of American and British actors get a chance to fight the good fight while looking cool. Part World War II movie/part drama/part procedural, The Great Escape shows us the steps leading up to the break-out along with the escape itself and its aftermath.

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Left: Richard Attenborough as Big X outlines his escape plan.
Right: the real Big X, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, Royal Air Force

We watch as the men survey the camp, dig the tunnels, and gather tools, clothes, and identity papers for their time on the lam. Big X (Richard Attenborough), the leader of the escape committee, assigns James Garner to scrounge materials. He has Steve McQueen go over the wall and get caught purposely so he can map the countryside. He gets engineers and manufacturers David McCallum and James Coburn to design the tunnels and pumps to keep the men safe while digging.

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“Enough hot air for you, Roger.”

He asks Donald Pleasence (a P.O.W. in Germany during the war), and his crew to forge permits and train tickets.

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Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence) uses art class as a cover for his forgers.

He puts Charles Bronson and John Leyton in charge of the tunnels and has Gordon Jackson drill the men on procedure and the German language so they don’t get tripped up by the locals. It’s a fascinating process that allows us to meet each character and get to know him. Director, John Sturges captures the many moods of these men. The funny ruses the men arrange to fool their captors along with their anxiety about being locked up all come across well.

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“You’re twenty feet short.”

Sturges is not a flamboyant or arty director, but he is able to move from a moonshine-fueled July 4th celebration to a poignant act of desperation seamlessly. The classic Elmer Bernstein score doesn’t hurt. Like John Williams, Bernstein can express lightness and frivolity, tense action, and heartbreaking sadness all within the same musical passage.

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From high to low in moments.

Paul Brickhill, an Australian prisoner at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, now part of Poland, where the real escape took place, wrote the book based on his own experience.

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Australian author and fighter pilot, Paul Brickhill

The screenplay by W.R. Burnett and James Clavell, also a P.O.W. in WWII, is economical and sharp. We like these men.  We’re elated when it looks like some will make it, and heartbroken when we realize many won’t. It’s an entertaining film with heart. Oh yes, Steve McQueen jumps a motorcycle over a barbed-wire fence.

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You wish you were this cool.

In the film, Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald), the Senior British Officer, listens to the Kommandant (Hannes Messemer, a German P.O.W. in a Russian camp in WWII), as he warns the SBO about attempting to escape. He replies, “Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

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“Englander?”

According to Paul Brickhill, five million Germans spent time (often weeks) looking for the seventy-six escaped prisoners. They eventually recaptured seventy-three. Of those, the Gestapo executed fifty. While the number of Germans searching for the men may be an exaggeration, that’s still a whole lot of troops NOT out bombing London. Take that, Hitler!

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Harry, the tunnel 76 men used to escape Stalag Luft III.

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Dedicated to the fifty.

After the war, the Royal Air Force Police investigative branch launched an investigation into the execution of the fifty escaped officers.  As a result, the allies hanged or imprisoned many of those responsible for the murders.

The Skull (1965)   2 comments

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Do you collect things? Stamps? Godzilla figurines? Commemorative spoons? In The Skull, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) collect all things Satan. They scour auction houses in search of devilish statues and books about torture for their macabre collections. They even buy hot tchotchkes from shady evil-stuff-seller, Marco (Patrick Wymark). Marco stocks an unusual variety of bizarre items, including a book he sells to Maitland. It’s a rare book. Well, one hopes it’s rare since it’s the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade covered in human skin. Nummy. Anyway, Maitland jumps at the chance to drop major ducats on the tome, which gives you some idea about his level of dedication to his hobby.

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I’ll wait for the paperback.

The next night, Maitland lounges in his well-appointed study reading his skin book when Marco arrives with a new demonic accessory to clutter his bookshelves. Marco brings Maitland a skull. This is no ordinary, dime-store skull, mind you. This skull has provenance. Well, Marco says it has anyway. This skull is the bony part of the head of the Marquis de Sade! Why Marco didn’t sell the skin diary/skull as a set will forever remain a mystery. The two men haggle over skull prices, as one does, but Maitland won’t bite. Maitland mentions the exchange to his friend, Sir Matthew, who warns him not to buy it by saying, “All I can say is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Words to live by, Matthew. Words to live by.

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“That skull’s evil, right devil statue?”

Unfortunately, Maitland doesn’t listen to his friend and drops by Marco’s place to buy the skull. Marco is indisposed, being dead and all, so Maitland grabs his souvenir and hits the road. Back home in his library, Maitland relaxes after a hard day’s looting. He spends a lovely evening surrounded by statues of Beelzebub reading about sadism from a book made of skin.

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Cozy.

Almost immediately, weird stuff happens. The normally peaceful Maitland begins to feel a strange, homicidal urge.
Is it coincidence? Is it the skull? Is he not getting enough fruit? Only the skull knows for sure.

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“Honey? You up?”

The Skull is an absolute blast. The stellar cast of Amicus/Hammer regulars, including Patrick Magee, Michael Gough, and Jill Bennett, add to the general atmosphere of British horror wonderfulness. We even get a little George Coulouris for good measure.

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“You didn’t see my lips move, didja?”

Robert Bloch (Psycho) wrote the story, aptly named “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”.  Milton Subotsky, half of the Amicus production team of Rosenberg/Subotsky wrote the screenplay and the script moves right along. Director, Freddie Francis, a veteran of Amicus films, knows how to pack a lot into 83 minutes. They also pack some cool special effects into The Skull. Ted Samuels, who created the special effects for a number of Amicus features including Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The Psychopath outdid himself here. The skull, you see, flies. When provoked, it floats gracefully toward the camera. It’s not a choppy, Tingleresque motion, rather a majestic glide. The skull also lights up. It even manages to look evil. I stopped the DVD three times to watch a lit skull soar across a gentleman’s study. Seriously, you need to see this. If I haven’t convinced you yet, think about this. One scene in The Skull shows Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing playing pool…in tuxes.  ‘Nuff said.

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Hiya!

Note to self: Check into the possibility of manufacturing skull nightlights. You know, for kids.

 

 

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)   6 comments

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Ahhh Amicus. I love your sordid little anthology films. Just seeing the names Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, and Freddie Francis makes me smile. The funny little touches, the simple linking story, and the superb casts combine to entertain me more than any other horror films of the period. Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I love these stories.

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“Read ’em and weep, gentlemen!”

In Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, six men meet in a train car. One of them, Dr. W.R. Schreck (Peter Cushing) has a set of tarot cards and claims he can tell the future of anyone who taps his deck three times. Schreck, which in German means terror, reads three cards for each man to tell his fortune, a fourth to determine his fate, then a fifth, which will divine whether or not the man can alter his future.

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“Tarot this, Dr. T!”

In the first story, “Werewolf”, architect, Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to a remote island in Scotland to renovate his old house. While exploring the basement, Dawson finds a coffin full of Count Cosmo Valdemar. One of Dawson’s ancestors killed Valdemar hundreds of years ago and the Count holds grudges…even after he’s dead. Apparently, Valdemar is coming back to life as a werewolf. Dawson knows his stuff so he melts down a silver cross to make anti-werewolf bullets.  Things don’t go as planned.

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“I’ll make a mint with this on Antiques Roadshow.”

“Creeping Vine” tells the story of a robot that eats children. Actually, it tells the story of a creeping vine. I can’t put anything past you. This is no ordinary ivy plant. This vine is a killer. Even the marvelous Bernard Lee can’t stop it. All I can say is the British are too polite. A little well-place poison or a flamethrower would do wonders. This part has a cool ending.

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“Enough with the Miracle Grow already!”

“Voodoo” involves a trumpet player in a jazz quintet, Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) who hears a cool tune while visiting the West Indies. He decides to steal the song and call it his own. The people who actually wrote the song don’t like it.

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“A little auto-tune and this’ll be huge!”

Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), who isn’t buying any of Dr. Terror’s tarot tales, stars in “The Disembodied Hand”.  In this segment, Lee plays a nasty art critic who insults the artwork of Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor makes a fool of Marsh and then taunts him relentlessly. Marsh has no sense of humor so he runs Landor over with his car. Hands go missing and soon Marsh is getting an unexpected back rub while driving. This almost never ends well.

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Digits roasting on an open fire…

The last story, “Vampire”, stars Donald Sutherland as Dr. Bob Carroll. Dr. Carroll moves back to his New England hometown with his new wife, Nicole (Jennifer Jayne) to start a practice there. A series of mysterious illnesses and deaths convince Carroll to look for a vampire. After consulting with the other town doctor, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), the men decide to take action. I love the twisty ending to this tale.

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“I don’t think we covered this in medical school.”

As in most of the Amicus portmanteau films, we switch back to the linking story between segments and at the end. The template, laid out in Dead of Night (1945) works a treat. This was the first of the Amicus anthologies and it’s fun. The pace drags in parts, but the last two segments and the linking parts make up for it. Also, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing!

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“Yes, it’s us.”

 

haunty

 

 

 

Monster-a Go Go (1965)   3 comments

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A rocket crash lands on Earth and a helicopter flies out to check for survivors. When the brass arrive, they find the burned, too-small-to-hold-a-human rocket with no astronaut in sight and a dead helicopter pilot. Oh well. They go back to the lab so they can stand around awkwardly and a narrator says things. That’s pretty much Act One.

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“Hey Hank, is this what you were looking for?”

Later, a bunch of forty-something college students dance at a boring party. That’s the a-go-go part. A couple leave the party to go neck and a creature with a pituitary problem and a bad oatmeal masque attack them. The narrator says more things. That’s the monster part.

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“Do my pores look smaller to you?”

Now, we’re in a lab manned by quasi-Annette Funicello and an accountant wearing Groucho glasses. They discuss radioactivity and office politics. After Annette leaves, Groucho does sneaky stuff with the antidote she just made and the narrator tells us this scientist is hiding the monster. Groucho goes out for a sandwich and when he comes back, he finds the lab has been destroyed. The narrator lets us know this is the monster’s doing and soon Groucho is getting a good talking to by his boss, Colonel Somebody. He meant well though so they kiss and make up. The monster runs amok again and I lose the will to live. That’s Act Two, I guess.

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You could cut the tension with a knife.

Stuff and things and running. Anyway, they corner the creature in a sewer. Do sewers have corners? They’re just about to grab him when…absolutely nothing happens. You’re not surprised because the film has established that pattern already. The End.

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“Lady, I’m tellin’ ya. This is the only way out of the movie.”

What can I say about Monster-a Go Go? Hmm…Herschell Gordon Lewis didn’t want credit for it. A military guy in one scene has no insignia. Budget issues? Another high-level conference scene looks like it’s taking place in a laundromat. Good call, @FanForumsTV ! Oh, the music! The music sounds like it’s being performed, on found instruments, by Yoko Ono’s less talented cousin. In one scene, you can hear someone making a ring sound with his mouth before the guy picks up the phone. I’m not kidding. Actors stand around awkwardly waiting for each other to talk and I swear one guy’s cue cards were on the floor. No one in the film can act and the plot doesn’t move forward…or sideways…or even backwards. It just lies there like a slug waiting to be salted. If it weren’t for Captain Exposition (the narrator) you’d never know what anyone was doing or why. Actually, you still don’t, but at least he doesn’t mumble like the rest of the cast who sound like they’re talking into a tin pail full of mashed potatoes. At least the cinematography holds up. Just kidding.

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“Why did I order clams in Omaha?”

Bill Rebane directed this muck and The Giant Spider Invasion. Yep. Monster-a Go Go came out a year after The Creeping Terror which set the bar so low you’d think it would take the trophy for crappy, poorly-acted films with too much narration, but no. Monster-a Go Go wins. Painful.

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“I’m outa here.”

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