Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Christopher Mills ""

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Christopher Mills

Christopher Mills is a professional writer of comic books and short fiction in a variety of genres, as well as a former DVD reviewer for several pop culture websites, including his own (now-idle) DVD Late Show ( His taste in entertainment clearly peaked when he was about 15, which certainly explains his embarrassing obsession with James Bond, hardboiled crime fiction, comics, paperback pulps, space opera, Universal/Hammer/Toho Monsters, sword & sorcery sagas, old genre TV shows and vintage B-movies.
A few months ago, I saw an ad for Scorpion’s Blu-ray release of this Corman/New World Hicksploitation drive-in gem featuring John Saxon and Claudia Jennings and, being a fan of rural car chase flicks, decided to give it a try. Turns out, it’s less of a car chase (although there are some great ones) movie and more of a character piece, with great performances from its female stars and a sleazy turn by William Conrad as the heavy. When an old moonshiner is murdered, his three sexy daughters inherit his secret stash of bootleg booze and attempt to corner the local market. The youngest daughter is played by a post-Brady Bunch Maureen McCormick and Candace Rialson of Hollywood Boulevard and Chatterbox fame has a small, but delightful cameo.

This late Republic Pictures “serial,” was originally conceived as a television spin-off from their 1952 chapterplay, Radar Men From The Moon, with square-jawed Judd Holdren assuming the role of rocket jockey Commando Cody. Thus, Republic was able to recycle the familiar flying suit and helmet, lots of stock footage, and plenty of (still-impressive) miniature work from brothers Howard and Theodore Lydecker. As it was intended for TV, each 30 minute episode stands alone, without the traditional cliffhangers expected of theatrical serials, as Cody and his sidekicks repeatedly battle an alien warmonger known as The Ruler and his Earthling henchmen(led by Lyle Talbot), foiling his efforts to conquer and/or destroy the world. Cody’s sidekick is plated by William Schallert for the first few episodes, before being replaced by Rocky Jones star Richard Crane. Aline Towne makes coffee and offers distaff support. It’s great, juvenile fun and the recent Blu-ray edition from Olive Films is outstanding.
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SCARED TO DEATH (1980; William Malone)
I’ve actually owned a copy of this on VHS for years, but the video was so dark and murky that I never got past the first five minutes or so. But this year, I got a hold of the Retromedia DVD and watched the whole film for the first time. This debut effort by director William Malone (House On Haunted Hill 1999), while certainly crude (reportedly shot for a meager $74K), is quite entertaining, mixing 50s sci-fi monster mayhem with an 80s slasher vibe, and is most memorable for its man-in-suit monster creation, the Syngenor (Synthetic Genetic Organism). I’m a sucker for cool monster suits, and this creature even got its own pseudo sequel a decade later in George Elanjian Jr.’s eponymous Syngenor.
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TURKEY SHOOT (a/k/a Escape 2000; 1982; Brian Trenchard-Smith)
I’ve wanted to see this Ozploitation riff on The Most Dangerous Game for years, and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite having his budget slashed mid-production, Trenchard-Smith still manages to craft an entertaining pseudo-futuristic actioner, replete with black humor and bizarre, left-field touches (like an inexplicable “beastman’ creature). The leaders of an unnamed totalitarian state imprison social and political dissidents (called “deviants”) in concentration camps. One of these camps, run by a commandant named Thatcher (Michael Craig), holds periodic man hunts, offering prisoners their freedom if they survive. The Stunt Man’s Steve Railsback and Romeo & Juliet’s lovely Olivia Hussey are two such prisoners, and their desperate bid for freedom is punctuated by some impressive stunts and explosive – if small-scale – set-pieces. As always, Railsback is a joy to watch, and Trenchard-Smith keeps everything moving at a brisk pace.
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VOODOO MAN (1944; William Beaudine)
The last of Bela Lugosi’s notorious “Monogram Nine,” Voodoo Manis an oddly entertaining programmer with a strange, somewhat eerie,dream-like quality. Lugosi portrays kindly country doctor Richard Marlowe, who, with his ally, gas station operator Nicholas (George Zucco), runs an elaborate roadside kidnapping operation. This is in order to secure young women motorists for Marlowe’s “voodoo” rituals, in which he attempts to siphon off the girls’ life energy and revive his dead wife. It’s all ridiculous, of course, and the 62 minutes can occasionally drag, but it’s also surprisingly compelling, especially if viewed post-midnight. Produced by the notorious Sam Katzman, and shot in just 7 days by William “One Shot” Beaudine, the film also features the always-eccentric John Carradine in a supporting henchman role. Despite its reported public domain status, this one eluded me for decades until its stunning Olive Films Blu-ray release in January.
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