More 50s Cult, Camp, and Creepers
By Kristin Battestella
Sometimes we just can’t get enough good, so bad its good, and just plane bad horror, mystery, and science fiction fair from that loveable decade of the 1950s!
The Giant Gila Monster – It’s been ages since I’ve seen this 1959 hokey! Though everyone has probably scene clips from the fiery finale, I’d forgotten how much fun this mix of sock hop, classic tunes, cool cars, fifties nostalgia, and creature feature effects really is. The bemusing doom and gloom introduction and opening deaths are accented with some over the top scary music to match the silly premise, and the real lizard footage is downright charming! Sure, nothing is frightening because of the ridiculous production values, but the simple A to B to C execution proceeds at an entertaining little pace. And man, Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies) and his tow truck are always handy! This teen not only looks 35, but he helps strangers, loans books to the sheriff, and sings to crippled little girls. Of course, the Mexican portrayals are a bit offensive if brief, and though the supporting greasers are totally limp acting-wise, drunken DJ Ken Knox is on form corny at his protest over $2 for a tow. The fifties redneck colloquialisms might be tough for some young viewers to understand today. However, this is all just great for audiences looking for such dated vehicular vernacular- a mid-century Texas time capsule captured before the turbulent sixties began. Yes, it’s completely hokey, but it works, and works damn amusingly!
I Bury the Living – Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel) takes us down a different path with this morbid little 1958 creepy. From the opening organ and decrepit cemetery introduction to the deadly jinxes, fateful pushpins, and scary phone ringing, there’s great funerary behind the scenes macabre here. Sure, there’s some light, love, and bliss, but there’s a demented vibe wonderfully overshadowing the increasingly tormented Boone- who’s wonderful, too. Are our fates linked to a cemetery map marking our resting plots? Is cheating death-or causing it- as simple as that? The ticking clocks, headstone construction, and debates on who to pick next create a pleasing and thought provoking symbolism. Is it all just coincidence? Death by committee? Is it a crime to play Grim Reaper or is it just meant to be? Even if the premise isn’t necessarily unique and there’s a hint of obviousness, solid pace, sharp editing, freaky montages, and suspenseful zooms keep this 75 minutes edge of your seat entertaining.
(He and the Sheriff are bros, dig it?)
Macabre – Director William Castle (House on Haunted Hill) opens this titular 1959 tale with a fun warning on being uncontrollably frightened, and the ticking clock peril mounts further thanks to scary atmosphere, spooky fog, dug up cemeteries, and creepy coffins. The dialogue is typical, but fun- “Why should I get married? All men seem alike in the dark”- even if the acting leaves something to be desired. There are also a lot of folks talking instead of doing, creating a slow start to the mystery. The early what-you-don’t-see scary format isn’t fully refined, either, and the result simply isn’t as terrifying as the disclaimer suggests. However, there are shades of an early viral horror movie here-instead of watching a traumatizing video or going to a deadly website; a family gets a frightful phone call…on a landline. Dun Dun Dun! Fortunately, the light and shadow photography tricks add to the crimes, which are disturbing simply because a child is involved. Toss in a few nutty shockers with the director himself, and this is a fun little proto thriller mystery to solve.
(But it's such a cute not-even-really a gila monster!)
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues – Yes, the titular beasty from this 1955 proto-AIP science fiction feature looks completely hokey. It’s tough to tell who is who at the start, and slow talking scenes with poor acting and wooden romances damage the entertaining pace and humor from the action sequences. The weak, simplistic science is also laughable today, and they even pronounce it Mu-tant with a long A! Nighttime footage is tough to see, and the hour and twenty here seems too long. How many times can the same guy go diving for this monster? Fortunately, the drowning scenes and underwater photography look decent with good music and suspense pacing to match. One can enjoy both the period expectation and/or guffaw over the corny at the same time. This one feels good for a fun night in theme with other sea creature features, but perhaps it is just too flawed to completely enjoy on its own.
Attack of the Giant Leeches – Outside of ogling Yvette Vickers (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), nothing in this 1959 AIP hour is fundamentally clear. Dark underwater photography, like so many of these old shows, is nearly impossible to see- not that much of it is worthwhile anyway. When we do get to see the eponymous mutants, it’s a whole lot of meh, unfortunately. The opening screams and saucy might be fun, but this one is simply way too slow, far too dry, and just bad science fiction. Adding crazy rednecks with guns to the woeful monsters doesn’t help this nearly nonsensical mess. Random attempts at some early gruesome and a fun, but standard score can’t save much here. It seems to take forever to get to the big confrontation with the goofy leeches, but one can’t wait for this one to end.
Zombies of Mora Tau – Treasure, betrayal, diamonds, and zombies, oh my! This 1957 black and white hour plus is full of B players that put on just a bit too much amid plenty of horror clichés. A little old lady who knows the score, the screaming damsel dressed in white, erroneous “African voodoo mumbo jumbo.” There should be scaries and scandals ad nauseum with the whammy of possibilities, but no. I mean, a good candelabra- yes candelabra- or two could ward of the living dead, who knew? The zombies look exactly like everyone else- the audience can’t really get behind the heroes when one can’t tell them apart. And did I mention there’s hokey underwater action, too? Geesh, here’s proof that all old films are not classics.
(It's the mini banjo that really gets me!)