Today's iconography comes from the classic 1968 film PLANET OF THE APES. Chuck Heston, sans voice, had to find some way to communicate with his damn dirty ape captors. This hastily scrawled note was the result.
Horror scriptwriter Grafton Torn (how's that for a name?) wakes up from a coma with no idea of
what happened to him. In fact, there's a sizable chunk of time prior to the mysterious accident that is either fuzzy or missing all together. When he is released from the hospital, he retires to an unused country home owned by friend and colleague Deter McMannus (Mikhail Blokh) to recuperate.
It's a secluded home, but he's not all together alone. There are some nocturnal deer on the premises, Deter stops by for the occasional visit, and he's frequently accosted by a possessed doll and a disturbed man with a noose—these last two being previous subjects of his horror films. What's real, what's not, what happened to Grafton before, and what's happening to him now? Those are the questions that the film wants you to ask yourself.
I'll be honest: my first thoughts when starting this film were (a) this looks kind of cheap; and (b) some of these people aren't great actors. By the end of the film...well, it still looked cheap, and some of the people still weren't great actors, but I didn't really care anymore. This isn't a big budget Hollywood production, it's a low-budget horror movie, and it merely took a little while to grow accustomed to it. As for the acting, Bill Oberst Jr. does such a fantastic job of portraying the scarred and unsure Grafton Torn that he's more than capable of carrying the rest of the cast on his shoulders when needed. And Cindy Merrill, who plays Grafton's hypnotherapist Ally Morris, was the perfect distraction from any other shortcomings. This woman was born to be a Queen of the B's (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).
First-time director Gregory Blair (who also wrote the script) certainly keeps you guessing, and just when you think you know where it's going, he yanks the rug out from under you. For my tastes, the finale was a bit weak compared to some of the moments that came before it, but I had a surprisingly good time regardless; and the Psycho-esque epilogue was pretty damned perfect.
As for Blair, with a bigger budget (and Oberst by his side), he'd be able to craft an unforgettable picture.
|Japanese Theatrical Poster|
Teenager Kanou's life isn't exactly ideal. His father is unemployed and unable to land a new job, his mother is having an affair with another man, and Yumi, the girl he loves, is dating the school bully. He must have something going for him, though, because God appears to him alone to tell him about the impending end of the world. In fact, God wants his help putting a stop to it, by defeating "him" (presumably the antichrist).
Perhaps if God had chosen a more impressive form than a three-inch businessman, Kanou would have listened to his pleas for assistance. Instead, he decides to spend the last remaining days of existence living life however he wants to, no longer kowtowing to societal rules.
He formulates a three-step plan for enjoying his last days on Earth. Step one: Beat the school bully nearly to death with a baseball bat. Step two: Kidnap Yumi. Step three: Steal a car and run like hell.
As much as Kanou may believe that he loves Yumi, it is really only a demented brand of teen lust. He doesn't want to romance her and hold her hand as the world ends. He wants to lose his virginity before it occurs. Whether she gives it willingly, or whether he has to take it by force, he is determined to make that happen.
|Kanou & Yumi|
He chooses a bizarre time and place to make his move. After driving all day, they stop at a stranger's house and ask for a place to rest. The young blind woman, who is home alone, agrees. She serves them tea and then excuses herself to prepare dinner for her parents who will return home later. While their hostess is in the very next room, Kanou proceeds to rape Yumi. As a sign of his sexual inexperience, he attempts to warm her up by licking her armpit ("Salty!"
) and is unable to get the condom on—a small concession that he makes for her. At the behest of a ghostly voice on the radio, he opts to take a different route instead, using an entire bottle of mayonnaise—yes, mayonnaise
—as lubricant to sodomize her.
The entire scene is inappropriate, but never so much as when, at the end, Yumi finally escapes from Kanou's grasp and runs to the bathroom, offering the camera a nearly orgasmic smile as she empties her bowels. It's played for laughs more than for titillation, but it still left me cringing, as I'm not sure which is worse. Were these sexual antics not enough, Kanou then seduces the blind girl, and they all engage in a threesome that is, to say the least, highly unlikely.
Sometime later, Kanou and Yumi stop off at a beach that is completely devoid of other people. In a bid to escape, Yumi attacks him with the very same baseball bat that he previously used to attack her boyfriend, but Kanou takes the beating and simply will not go down. Utterly defeated, she wades into the ocean to drown herself before deciding that the water is too cold to be comfortable, and asks Kanou to help her back to shore. He does so, and as he dries her off and warms her up, she asks him to kiss her. This, once again, seems unlikely, but in this film unlikely is the flavor of the day.
Back on the road after their kiss, Kanou and Yumi are having a casual conversation, and as he pulls over for the night he turns to her and finds her dead. He is confused by this—she was, after all, talking to him only a moment before—but he doesn't seem particularly overwrought. He props her body up on a bus stop and moves on to greener pastures.
By the end of the film, Kanou has fallen in with a seriously strange party crowd of cosplayers and punk rockers, where he is allowed a platform to tell his message of the end times. It is then that the police finally catch up to him, at right around the same time that a religious zealot pulls a gun, declaring that he must kill Kanou. In the ensuing mayhem, one officer is wounded, the zealot, the leader of the cult-like party crowd, and another partygoer are all killed, and Kanou is shot through the hand.
Kanou is amazed to find that he doesn't feel any pain from his injury, though this matches up nicely with him not falling when assaulted by Yumi on the beach. He manages to escape, but the remaining police officer is close behind him.
The final confrontation takes place on the edge of a cliff, where the officer, exhausted from the chase, collapses to the ground and admits that he doesn't care if Kanou gets away. It has already been established throughout the film that he is just as dangerous and unstable as Kanou is, and in a movie full of unlikely scenarios, it's not all that surprising when he commits suicide, allowing Kanou to go free. Kanou takes this freedom and runs with it...right off the edge of the cliff. As he leaps into the abyss, the image freeze frames, and the credits begin to roll, leaving us to wonder what the hell we just witnessed.
This nihilistic comedy stems from Japanese director Eiji Uchida, and is based on a manga. I'm not familiar with the source material, so I cannot comment on it, but will state that this movie offers a bleak, bleak view of the world. It reminded me of nothing so much as the doomsday films of Gregg Araki. Like those films, I didn't find THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD particularly funny or particularly compelling, and yet I couldn't stop watching. I had no choice but to stick around to see what happened next, and though I probably won't revisit it anytime in the near future, I can't say that I was wholly displeased with the ride. It was interesting, to say the least, and definitely gave me something to chew on for a few days.
There are two primary schools of thought regarding this movie. The first is that God actually did appear to Kanou and attempted to recruit him into saving the world. The second, and most prevalent, is that the world is not ending at all, and Kanou is merely batshit crazy.
There is certainly reason to believe that Kanou is insane, aside from the whole talking-to-God angle. Confused about the sudden and unexplained death of Yumi? It's my theory that she really did drown herself, and the scene of Kanou rescuing her and cuddling with her afterwards was merely one of his many slips from reality. When he came back to the real world, he realized that he was traveling with (and thus talking with and even kissing) a corpse.
|Party Like A Rock Star|
However, I also believe it possible that the world was
ending and that God did speak to him. The gunshot wound to the hand that Kanou received closely resembled the stigmata, which could surely be a sign from God that the end was rapidly approaching. Perhaps Kanou, in committing his reckless crime spree, was somehow fulfilling God's wishes—mysterious ways, and all of that. God wanted the unnamed "him" dead, and in pretty rapid succession towards the end of the film, a handful of bodies did hit the floor.
The "him" in question could have been either of the police officers, the leader of the cosplay shindig, the dead partygoer, or possibly even Kanou himself—none of whose deaths would have occurred had Kanou not gone off the rails. My money, though, is on the zealot who attempted to kill him. It would only make sense for the anti-Christ to have some warped religious views, and to attempt to murder the person whom God had sent to stop him.
The movie never explicitly states what the truth is, but one thing is for certain. If these are the types of people that populate our planet, the world has either already ended, or it isn't worth saving.
And maybe that's the ultimate message.
The EPHEBIPHOBIA 'Zine is now available to download for absolutely free, simply by clicking HERE!
|Ephebiphobia: The Fear of Teenagers|
Included in this issue:
- The Beatniks, 1960
- Teenagers From Outer Space, 1959
- Village of the Giants, 1965
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Young One, 1957
- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Memo From Purgatory, 1964
- If...., 1968
- Rock 'N' Roll High School, 1979
- The Last Days of the World, 2011
Remember: This can be viewed as a .pdf file and treated as an e-zine, or it can be printed out and read as an honest-to-god 'zine. If you send me a photograph of you holding your physical copy of the 'zine, I'll give you a free plug on the blog and in the next issue!
JonnyxMetro [at] hotmail.com
This short documentary from filmmaker Carla Mackinon explores the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, where one awakens in bed, unable to move, and sometimes feels (or even sees) an alien presence among them. Although this is a real phenomenon, and the film explains it away using science, much of the brief (8 minute) running time is spent detailing the folkloric explanations--which proves much more interesting, anyway. Accompanied by a great deal of unsettling stop-motion animation, and offering up some genuinely creepy moments, every genre fan should set aside a few moments to give this amazing short a watch.
This classic headline comes from the 2011 film HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. The nameless hobo is tired of the crime that is overrunning his town, so he picks up a shotgun and starts blasting his way into a better future. Judging from the other headlines on display, he's got his work cut out for him.
Bart Hughes is one of many financial big shots that were all the focus of the 1980s, just this side shy of being a yuppie. He and his wife Meg are nearly done remodeling their townhouse, their young son Peter is happy and healthy, and Bart is practically a shoe-in for a big promotion, so all-in-all, life is pretty damn good. Meg and Peter go on vacation with her parents, but Bart has to stay behind for his job. What should have been a fairly relaxing bachelor respite proves to be anything but, beginning practically the moment his family walks out the door.
It all starts with a malfunctioning dishwasher that floods the kitchen. This is a situation that Bart is obviously ill-suited to deal with, as evidenced by the two tiny dish towels that he wields to cope with the gallons upon gallons of water. He quickly calls in Clete, a professional all-around handyman, who tells him that a rat has chewed through one of the dishwasher's tubes. Rather than immediately call in an exterminator to deal with the problem, he allows Clete to peer pressure him into dealing with it on his own, like a real man.
Bart lays down traps upon traps and poisons upon poisons, but this rat is always one step ahead of him. A full-fledged war is waged between man and rodent that threatens to drive Bart to the brink of madness and leave his home, if not his life, in shambles.
This is a man-versus-nature horror film of sorts, but it actually takes many of its cues from war films and home invasion flicks. Bart becomes a hardened veteran over the course of this movie’s running time, one who threatens to suffer a psychological break due to the horrors that he has seen. It is APOCALYPSE NOW dialed way down, or FUNNY GAMES sidestepped far to the left. It is not THE BIRDS, ARACHNOPHOBIA, or THE SWARM, as it does not operate on a level of nearly that magnitude.
Yes, it’s a fairly simple storyline, but that's actually one of the film's strengths. It doesn't get bogged down with complicated plotlines or too many characters. Sure, we have Bart's family, his secretary, assorted coworkers, and an army surplus dealer that all pass through, but they are all of little consequence to the story. The only human being aside from Bart who is of any real value is Clete, and the story would remain complete (albeit slightly less entertaining) even without him. Were you to cut out the extraneous material, and boil this down to its purest form, you would have a one-man, single-set stage play of the most ingenious design.
Bart's wife and son were scarcely seen in the film, save for the beginning, the ending, and a few rather
|The Big Book Of Rats|
pointless phone call interstitials that were there for no other reason than to prevent us from forgetting that those characters even existed. The sole purpose of Bart's family seemed to be to give him something to fight for, lest fighting for his property wasn't seen as enough in some people's eyes. They were pretty thin characterizations that didn't add much to the story or to the character of Bart, but they didn't take anything away from it, either.
Clete, as played by Louis Del Grande, was an unusual character, a blue collar philosopher somewhat obsessed with rats and the lore that surrounds them. He rather reminded me of some great hunter who had spent his life chasing a mythical beast, and was now passing his wisdom onto the next generation of hunters, as if the rat was a great white whale, he was Ahab, and Bart was Ahab, Jr. Surely it was no coincidence when Bart grabbed a copy of Moby Dick off the shelf to read. Indeed, many sources call this movie an "urban Moby Dick", which isn't that far off the mark.
Bart's secretary Lorrie adds very little to the proceedings, either, other than introducing an element of temptation. When the cat's away, the mice will play, so to speak. The two of them had a mildly flirtatious relationship from the start, but it culminates in a kiss that is rudely interrupted by the greasy little house guest, and it goes no further than that.
|Bart & The Bat From Hell|
By the end of the film, what had first seemed to be an idyllic life for Bart now seemed like an illusion. You grew to understand how much of his time was consumed by the remodeling project and his job, and how little of it was spent with his family. But in the wake of the rat invasion, both the career and the house that have dominated Bart's time for so long are virtually destroyed, and when his family returns, he has obviously never been so happy to see them. Any romantic notions of his secretary have been squashed, and they can begin to rebuild their lives from the ground up.
Meaning that the rat wasn't there to end Bart's life, no matter what the script may have you believe. Rather, it was there to save it.
Despite any of the minor complaints listed above, this is still a fantastic and relatively obscure gem, quite possibly the ultimate Man Vs. Rat movie (which is a dubious honor, to be sure). Bart's character arc even seems believable, which is quite an accomplishment, seeing as how he's fully decked out in battle gear and swinging a weaponized baseball bat for the final confrontation. Sometimes it is the little things in life that drive us mad.
|The Visitor by Chauncey G. Parker|
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN was based on the novel The Visitor by Chauncey G. Parker III, an English
professor with a long standing role in politics, having served as an advisor to U.N. representative Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban missile crisis. He wrote only one other novel, In Sheep's Clothing, of which very little information seems available.
It was adapted to the screen by scriptwriter Brian Taggert, who also wrote the made-for-TV CARRIE clone THE SPELL (1977), the Michael Ironside thriller VISITING HOURS (1982), POLTERGEIST III (1988, with Gary Sherman), and THE OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991).
It was helmed by director George P. Cosmatos, who worked with some vintage beauties in his day—Raquel Welch in THE BELOVED (1971), Sophia Loren in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976), and Claudia Cardinale in ESCAPE TO ATHENA (1979). He traded in the beauties for beefcake in the Sylvester Stallone action flicks RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985) and COBRA (1986), followed them up with the western TOMBSTONE (1993), and ended on a low note with Charlie Sheen in SHADOW CONSPIRACY (1997).
Shannon Tweed, who portrayed Meg Hughes, fits squarely into the director's wheelhouse of lovely ladies. She had appeared on the soap operas DAYS OF OUR LIVES and FALCON CREST, and the television movie DROP-OUT FATHER (1982), but this was her first theatrical role. She continued to guest star in countless TV shows and appear in B-movies and erotic thrillers, including CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), NIGHT EYES II (1991) and THREE (1993), and VICTIM OF DESIRE (1995)—though I like to think the highlight of her career was an appearance on HOMEBOYS FROM OUTER SPACE in 1997. A cursory glance at her IMDB page shows that she has played a doctor an inordinate amount of times—at least nine—and I'm willing to bet that most if not all of them were practitioners of erotic medicine.
Bart's secretary Lorrie was played by Jennifer Dale, who appeared in the penile dysfunction drama YOUR TICKET IS NO LONGER VALID (1981), played Jacqueline Kennedy in the mini-series HOOVERS VS. THE KENNEDYS: THE SECOND CIVIL WAR (1987), and starred in the serial killer thriller PAPERTRAIL (1998). She has a substantial amount of geek cred, as well, having appeared in episodes of the ROBOCOP television series (1994), TEKWAR (1995), and MUTANT X (2001), and supplying numerous voices for the animated X-MEN series (1992-1996) and the SILVER SURFER series (1998), as well as a pair of X-MEN video games.
The role of Bart was filled by Peter Weller, who is of course best known as ROBOCOP (1987), but also starred in THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984), and NAKED LUNCH (1991). He also had a stint on season 5 of 24 (2006), season 5 of DEXTER (2010), and season 7 of SONS OF ANARCHY (2013), and he voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the animated films BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 and PART 2 (2012, 2013). He teamed up again with director Cosmatos in the 1989 flick LEVIATHAN, but sadly the rat was not invited back.
The rat, who unfortunately was never given a name, may have gone on to bigger and better roles, but it is hard to tell in the world of animal actors. We'll just have to be content with the disgusting close-ups in this film of her greasy fur, soulless eyes and gnarled feet, and the absolutely terrifying scenes of her lunging out of the toilet and bursting out of a cake at a children's birthday party...and all of the interminable nightmares that such things doubtlessly bring.
NIGHTMARES is a 1983 anthology film that began life as a made-for-TV movie, but somewhere along the way, plans changed and it was released theatrically instead. It is comprised of four different segments, but for our purposes here, we are only concerned with the final segment, "Night of the Rat".
The Houston family has a problem. Housewife Claire has been hearing the tell-tale scuttling sounds of rats around the abode lately, and when she mentions calling in an exterminator, her curmudgeonly husband Steven vetoes the idea, insisting on going the alpha male route and capturing the critters himself. He returns home that evening with a few traps, which he places in the attic, and when the married couple's bedtime bickering is interrupted by the distinct snap-and-squeal of success, she forces Steven to get dressed and dispose of the dead rodent in the outside trash immediately.
Their problem is not over, though. The next morning, their young daughter Brooke is complaining that her pet cat Rosie has gone missing. At the same time, the kitchen sink is plugged up nearly beyond repair, and some deep plunging breaks loose a massive amount of rat hair from the pipes. Steven insists that it is nothing to worry about, but Claire is hesitant to believe him.
A brief expedition into the crawlspace beneath the house reveals to Claire what the viewing audience is already privy to: ol' Rosie is dead as can be, having been mauled by a preternaturally large rat creature with glowing red eyes and a heart of darkness. A short time later, she discovers that her daughter's bedroom has been completely ransacked (ratsacked?) by the creature, though, amusingly, the only thing left unscathed is a stuffed mouse, wearing a bonnet and sun dress, no less.
Finally, she calls an exterminator and the folksy old Mel Keefer (Albert Hague) arrives on scene to save the day. At least, that is, until Steven gets home and gives Keefer the boot. Worried for their safety, Keefer still calls back later with a warning. This is no ordinary rat that the Houstons are dealing with. This is Das Teufel Nagetier—the Devil Rodent—from European folklore, "huge malevolent rodents with unbelievable cunning and strength", which proves to be something of an understatement.
After this devil rodent knocks over a China cabinet, very nearly crushing Brooke, Steven decides that he has had enough, retrieves his rifle, and starts shooting up the house like a lunatic. Meanwhile, the rat has safely made its way to Brooke's room for a finale so ludicrous that it seems unreal.
We finally get a good look at this creature, and what a sight it is. The rat is roughly the size of the bed that it
|Big Ass Rat|
has cornered Brooke in, and the effect is achieved with some substandard green screen work that might have lived up to its potential if a little more care had gone into it. As it stands, the palate of the rat is much lighter than the rest of the scene and so it is blatantly obvious that it was added in later, without so much as an attempt at color correction. What's more, there is apparently a psychic bond between child and rat that had never been mentioned before, as Brooke insists that all the mama rat wants is her baby returned to her.
Steven rushes out to the trash can where the dead rat that he plucked from the trap in the attic mercifully remains, and brings it to the giant critter. After a few failed attempts at reviving it, she wails like Godzilla and leaps out the window, disappearing into the night.
"Where do you suppose she's going next?", Brooke asks, but the question remains unanswered...though I can't imagine it would be that difficult to track a rat the size of a hippopotamus, even if it is crafty enough to somehow fit into the walls of an average sized American home.
One of the most curious aspects of this segment to me is that it was a story about a giant killer rat, and yet tonally it hit all the points of a ghost story. An unwanted apparition (or, in this case, aberration) arrives and frightens the family with creepy sounds from an unseen source; lights flicker; furniture moves about seemingly of its own will; there are even instances of canned goods flying out of cupboards, the radio turning on and off by itself, and piano keys sounding from an empty room! Some of these can only be explained by the rat possessing telekinetic powers, which wouldn't be the least believable aspect of the story. I would call it Paranormal Rativity, but the mama critter seems unnaturally drawn to the adolescent daughter, so this may as well be POLTERGEIST with a rodent twist.
The Houstons are certainly not the Freelings, though. Steven is not kind and caring, Claire is not lounging seductively/innocently in her underwear, and they are not secretly smoking marijuana in the last vestiges of their carefree hippie youth. The Houstons are yuppies, and terribly unhappy ones at that. Their relationship was strained long before the rat arrived, and they both harbor strong resentment for each other. Steven is an overbearing jerk, almost consistently rude to his wife, who tells him that "You use a sledge hammer most of the time when just a word or two will do!" He gets off on playing the Big Strong Man and bringing home the bacon, and yet seems to resent Claire for not working—though that was undoubtedly his idea. When he tells her, "You know what your problem is?...it never occurs to you to do something yourself!", it is likely that he is not merely talking about catching rats.
Jeffrey Bloom and Christopher Crowe were both credited as writers of the film, though I'm unsure if they collaborated on each segment or if they divided up the work. Bloom also wrote and directed the other genre efforts BLOOD BEACH (1980) and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987), while Crowe scripted the Mark Wahlberg-Reese Witherspoon thriller FEAR (1996). Director Joseph Sargent also helmed THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), and the History Channel mini-series SALEM WITCH TRIALS (2002).
Richard Masur (Steven Houston) showed up in the wacky time travel adventure TIMERIDER: THE ADVENTURES OF LYLE SWANN (1982), John Carpenter's hit THE THING (1982), the possession horror film THE DEMON MURDER CASE (1983), the sci-fi favorite MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985), the voodoo cult thriller THE BELIEVERS (1987), and the Stephen King adaptation IT (1990).
As a young girl, Veronica Cartwright (Claire) appeared in an episode of ONE STEP BEYOND (1960), two episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1960, 1961), and one episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1962), as well as Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1963). Upon growing up, she appeared in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), ALIEN (1979), FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987), CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995), and the Mick Garris-Stephen King-Clive Barker mashup QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997).
Bridgette Andersen (Brooke) was a child model before becoming a promising young actress at age seven. She played the title character in the family comedy SAVANNAH SMILES (1982), portrayed a young Mae West in the biopic that shared her name (1982), and appeared in all six episodes of the short-lived sitcom GUN SHY (1983). She made appearances in a number of other TV shows, including FAMILY TIES (1982), FANTASY ISLAND (1983), and THE GOLDEN GIRLS (1986), but this was her only genre effort before succumbing to a heroin and alcohol overdose at age 21.
Although a decent enough time-killer, NIGHT OF THE RAT is not the best musophobia film in existence. It is not even the best musophobia film released in 1983—that would have to go to OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, with which the character dynamics in this movie share certain similarities. Both films feature upwardly mobile professionals whose drive for status and success is damaging their home life, and the dangerous rodent in their paths is not the cause of their troubles but only a stressor. If anything, their unwanted visitors are a manifestation of their problems, and by overcoming them, they are primed to right their wrongs and work toward establishing a happy home life. It would seem to me that both filmmakers were commenting on the shallowness of a selfish and material existence, which surely isn't an unusual message to convey, though it is unusual that both chose to do so using large rodents as their messenger. I suppose that the very nature of the characters required an urban or suburban setting, which cut down the options a bit—a lion invading the home would have seemed pretty bizarre (but don’t tell that to the director of 2010’s fantastic BURNING BRIGHT)—and of all the possible housebound pests, rats would be the most likely candidate. Killer bedbugs just don’t bring the same level of fear.
If the bedbugs were the size of the bed, though, that might be a different story.
The original TRILOGY OF TERROR was a 1975 ABC Movie of the Week from Dan Curtis, who I like to call the dark Aaron Spelling. It was comprised of three segments that were unrelated to each other aside from the fact that each was based on a short story by Richard Matheson, and each starred Karen Black.
In 1996, Curtis returned with this sequel. Once again, there were three segments, but they stemmed from different sources, and Karen Black had been replaced as the star by Lysette Anthony. For our purposes here, we are concerned only with the quirky but ultimately somehow satisfying first segment, “The Graveyard Rats”.
The aging millionaire Ansford (Matt Clark) learns that his younger wife Laura (Anthony) has been cheating on him, with her very own cousin Ben (Geraint Wyn Davies). After confronting her with videotaped evidence of her betrayal, Ansford offers her an ultimatum: stop the affair and play the adoring wife role, or be cut out from the will and suffer the embarrassment of the sex tape being leaked to all of the major media outlets (which, in those days, was not any sort of guarantee that you would get your own reality show).
Laura agrees to the old man's conditions, and then immediately sets out to cuckold him once again. Laura is a nubile young woman, and Ansford is bound to a wheelchair, so it is quite likely that their sex life is unsatisfactory if not nonexistent. It is understandable, if not forgivable, that she would look outside the marriage for fulfillment. It is not understandable, though, why she would choose her cousin for her bedmate.
Their blood relation added nothing to the plot and was only mentioned once—had that line been cut, nobody would have known—but the filmmakers opted to include it in the finished film, anyway. In the heyday of subversive cinema, incest was often used to increase the sleaze quotient in exploitation films, as sleaze was basically the yardstick by which they were judged. But this is a made-for-TV horror film from Dan Curtis, not some grainy-stock schlocker playing in grindhouses and drive-ins. It just seemed out of place. But I digress...
Ben has the bright idea of murdering Ansford, so that Laura can collect her inheritance and the two of them can live in sinful luxury the rest of their days. All it will take is a good scare, Ben assures her, and the old coot will drop dead of a heart attack.
Ben breaks into their house late at night, and immediately forgets the plan. Rather than frighten Ansford to death, he tosses him, wheelchair and all, down a flight of stairs. "Just like in the movie," he declares proudly, referring to the scene that always makes him giggle in his favorite film, the classic KISS OF DEATH (1947). The police apparently still believe it was an accident, though, as there is never even the slightest hint of suspicion.
A short time later, Ansford is six feet under, buried in the family plot despite the warnings of Stubbs (Geoffrey Lewis), the kooky caretaker, that that particular section of the cemetery is overrun with the biggest damned rats that you ever did see. They feed on the corpses unless you lay down the extra coinage for one of them fancy metal coffins—which is an expense that Laura is not willing to cover.
Laura and Ben receive quite the unwelcome surprise at the reading of the will, when they learn that all of Ansford's considerable cash had been transferred to a secure Swiss bank account prior to his death, and there is nothing left for them to squander. Unless they can get their hands on the access code, which, they learn, was hidden in a secret compartment in Ansford's pocket watch. The very watch that he was buried with.
They've already murdered a man, so what's a little grave robbery on top of things? When they show up with shovels in hand, Stubbs has nearly beaten them to the punch, looking for anything of value that might be pawned off for a quick buck. Stubbs is unceremoniously dispatched with a crowbar to the skull, and once they locate the watch on Ansford's body, Laura shoots Ben, deciding that cold hard cash beats incest any day of the week (can’t argue with that). But before she can get her mitts on the access codes, a horde of enormous rats grabs ahold of her husband's corpse and drags it through the intricate system of tunnels that they have dug beneath the cemetery's surface.
|The Graveyard Rats|
To call the rat effects special would be overstating it a bit. They look like cheesy animatronics and hand puppets, but budgetary restraints can often be overcome by having heart, and Dan Curtis has that in spades—look at the success of his DARK SHADOWS franchise. And no matter how cheap these rats look, they're still nowhere as bad as the MONSTERS episode entitled "Stressed Environment", which was meant to be included in this project, but was so absurd that I found there was nothing left to say. These puppet graveyard rats have glowing red eyes, and they are large, and they are in charge, and they have a definite taste for human flesh.
Most of us would hightail it in the other direction under these dire circumstances, but Laura's greed is such that she chases after them on hands and knees. A plucky one, to be sure, she somehow manages to fight off the mutant rodents long enough to procure the watch. As she attempts to return to safety above ground, the exit is blocked by the pack of rats, and so she has no choice but to venture deeper into the tunnels. What she thinks is another exit proves to be a death trap, as she emerges into an empty coffin that the rats have chewed a hole through. With no place else to go, she is flooded by the greasy critters and devoured alive. The camera pulls way back, and breaches the surface, where her screams of pain can still be heard.
It is a pretty stellar image, and it composes a triple-whammy in that she was forced to crawl through
claustrophobic tunnels, she was buried alive, and she was devoured by rats. It’s a true ‘phobics nightmare.
Being the imaginative viewer that I am, what plagues me the most about this segment is what the crime scene would look like to the first responders. That's where TRILOGY OF TERROR III should pick up, if ever there is one made. You've got the caretaker with his head bashed in, the bullet-riddled corpse of another man, an unearthed grave, an empty coffin, a tunnel leading into the earth, and a missing woman. I can only assume that the first policeman to arrive would realize that it was a hopeless case, roll the two corpses into the empty grave, cover them in soil and simply walk away.
At least, that's how I would have handled things.
THE GRAVEYARD RATS is based on a short story of the same name by "weird fiction" author Henry Kuttner. It was the first of his short stories to be sold, and appeared in the March 1936 issue of pulp magazine WEIRD TALES. Kuttner was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, and contributed stories to Lovecraft's "open universe" of the Cthulhu Mythos. Though this story isn't directly related to the mythos, Lovecraft's influence is undeniable—from the subtle references to odd architectural geometry ("Dark gabled houses still leaned perilously toward each other over narrow cobbled streets...") to mentions of a deeper lore of which the tale only scratches the surface ("The myth of the Pied Piper is a fable that hides a blasphemous horror, and the black pits of Avernus have brought forth hell-spawned monstrosities that never venture into the light of day."), Lovecraft is certainly the devil in the details of this story.
The story itself is a short one, and there are no murderous lover characters, as there were in the filmed
|Weird Tales, March 1936|
version. The only character here is the cemetery caretaker, though his name is Masson and not Stubbs. Masson moonlights as a grave robber, just as Stubbs did, though his exploits are much more explicit in the story. Not only does he pilfer the jewels and trinkets that the dead are buried with, but he also removes the gold fillings from their teeth, an act which occasionally requires a bit of bodily mutilation.
Masson has been eyeing a fresh grave for a few days now, having caught a glimpse of the cuff links and pearl stickpin that the man was wearing upon interment. Finally able to make his move now that grieving family members have taken a respite from visitation, he is shocked and appalled to find that the large rats, which have thwarted his thefts in the past, have narrowly beaten him to his prey. As he throws open the coffin lid, the corpse is already being dragged into one of the endless tunnels that the rodents have dug for themselves.
Just as with Laura, Masson so desperately wants his payday that he pursues the critters into the hollows beneath the Earth. It is a testament to Kuttner's writing that his story more successfully conveys the claustrophobic feeling inherent in this setting than the filmmakers were able to when it unfolded on-screen. He is able to capture the terror of the situation with a few sparse words better than they were able to with reels of colorful celluloid.
Masson meets much the same fate as Laura, right down to being pinned down in an empty coffin. In the end, though, Kuttner's short story is heads and tails above the NIGHTMARES adaptation, and only serves to make it appear even weaker than it would otherwise.
It should be noted that Lovecraft had published two stories of a relatively similar vein in the same magazine more than a decade prior. The Hound (February 1924) was a delightfully baroque short story of grave robbers who get their just desserts from a spectral sort of hell-hound; and The Rats in the Walls (March 1924) is only partly self-explanatory, as it is also a tale of cannibalism and inherited madness.
More interesting, though, is that another contemporary and Cthulhu Mythos contributor, Robert E. Howard, also published a short story entitled The Graveyard Rats only a month earlier than Kuttner, appearing in the February 1936 issue of THRILLING MYSTERY, involving a whole slew of the pervasive rodents coming between two sides of a longstanding family feud. Howard's creation of Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane get most of the attention these days, though there is a special and well-deserved reverence for his short story Pigeons From Hell, to which his own Graveyard Rats is something of a kissing cousin.
Oh...bad choice of words.
Poor put-upon Willard. He wants nothing more than to find a friend in this unfair life, but he just keeps getting dumped on. His boss is too demanding, his invalid mother is overbearing, and the rest of the world just doesn't get him. He's so lonely that it's understandable he would seek companionship wherever he could find it. Most people would buy a dog, but Willard? He adopts a rat.
Well, multiple rats, really. They start off as a handful that he finds in the unkempt backyard, but they multiply quicker than Disney Dalmatians. Before you know it, there are hundreds of them rifling about in the yard, in the cellar, and even in Willard's bedroom. Out of all these squeaky bastards, only two of them really stand out. A stark white one amongst all the grey furs that Willard names Socrates, and a big black one that he calls Ben.
Socrates, so named because Willard believes he possesses heightened intelligence, is obviously Willard's favorite. Ben, though, appears to be the leader of this rat army, and weasels his way into Willard's routine as well. They sleep in his room, he teaches them tricks, and he even brings them to work some days, stashing them in a storage room where only he goes. Until the day that someone else does go in, that is, and sees them scampering about. This discovery leads to the bludgeoning death of Socrates at the hands of Willard's boss Mr. Martin, a rodent tragedy the likes of which have never been seen on the big screen. Willard keeps mum throughout, though, as the rats are supposed to be his little secret. Afterwards, he is visibly distraught, mourning the loss of the best friend he ever had.
Things continue to pile up on Willard, as his mother dies shortly afterwards. He wasn't even there to say
|Willard & Socrates|
goodbye, as he was off running errands for Mr. Martin and couldn't be reached. Already dangerously alone in this world, her death leaves him with virtually nobody, and if he previously had a screw loose, he is now about to come completely unhinged.
There are, perhaps, a lot of people who have done Willard wrong over the years, but none so frequently or with such relish as Mr. Martin. Even before the movie begins, he has somehow wrestled control of the company away from Willard's family—a company that Willard's deceased father started. It seems implied to me that his taking over the company lead, directly or otherwise, to the death of Willard's father, the frailty of his mother, and her demanding ways. This, coupled with the deaths of his friend and his mother, and the fact that Martin fires Willard in a scheme to force him to sell the house so that Martin can construct apartments on the lot, makes him the ideal target for Willard's revenge. Martin may take the brunt of the attack, but really, this is Willard's strike against humanity in general.
Willard and his rats arrive at the office late at night, where Martin is working alone. There is the expected shouting match and blame game before the scene that we have all been waiting for. Willard utters the simple command of "Tear him up!", and just like that, what had up until now been merely a quirky character drama suddenly shifts into a horror film.
The rats swarm on Martin and begin to gnaw his flesh until, in a panic, he crashes through a window and falls to his death on the street below. The horror of what he's done must have hit Willard like a ton of bricks, because immediately afterwards, he tells Ben goodbye and gives his army the kiss-off. As soon as he returns home, he gathers up whatever rodents remain into cages and unceremoniously drowns them.
This does not sit well with Ben, who pops up as Willard entertains Joan, the pretty young assistant from his office and the closest thing that he has to a real friend, at his home. Rats may look ugly pretty easily, but I have to imagine it is slightly more difficult to make one appear menacing. That effect is certainly achieved here, though, as Ben looks like a rodent Hellbent on revenge. After ushering his colleague from the house, Willard and Ben face off, leading to Willard's ultimate demise at the hands (paws?) of the army that he once commanded. The sound of hundreds of tiny, chattering teeth ripping through human flesh is not one that you will likely soon forget. And that is where the movie ends, but not the story, as the sequel BEN will pick things up the following year.
As for Willard and his relationship with the rats, I think it is safe to say that Socrates was his only real friend amongst them. The others he seemed to view first as a means of entertainment and then as tools for revenge. Had Socrates not been killed, he never would have drowned some of the rats and cast out the others, simply because that's not how you treat your friend's family. With Socrates gone, though, and the others having outlived their usefulness, Willard was no longer bound by obligation to care for them. He ordered them to leave, and those who stayed behind were gathered up and executed for their loyalty.
His relationship with Ben was sketchy at best. Ben desired Willard's attention and wanted to be in the inner-circle with Socrates, possibly out of jealousy. He was King Rat, after all. Why should his brainy sidekick receive access that he himself was denied? Ben was not very good at following Willard's orders either, because leaders lead for a reason, and that is why Willard never placed him in the same class as he did Socrates. Socrates offered Willard companionship, but he also offered subjugation. Willard had never been in control of anything in his entire life, and his command of the rats made him feel as if he were not the insignificant creature that the rest of the world insisted he was.
So if Ben was able to resist this mysterious command over the rodent population that Willard had, and furthermore override that command in his lesser minions, why did he put up with Willard's nonsense for so long? I can only assume that it was a means of survival. Willard fed them, gave them shelter, and hid them from the rest of the world. After the death of Socrates (which Ben blamed Willard for), Ben is likely ready to cut ties with Willard once and for all, but he sticks around long enough to get revenge on the murderous Martin. Even if the rats were not dismissed by Willard immediately after Martin's death, I believe that Ben would still have lead them away. It was only because Willard then turned on them, drowning them in their cages, that Ben lead the attack against him. Willard's death was something that he brought on himself, the result of believing that he was the undisputed king of a kingdom that had, up until now, been only humoring him.
One can't watch a film such as WILLARD without catching allusions to the old story of the Pied Piper, and why shouldn't that be so? If comic books are, as has been speculated endlessly, the equivalent of modern mythology, then horror movies are today's fairy tales. The moral of that original story is to not go back on your word, and the moral of WILLARD is related, but not quite the same—you need to treat people with respect, because a person can only turn the other cheek so many times. Because of Western audience's need to see villains get their comeuppance (though I view Willard as more of an antihero than a clear cut villain), there is a secondary moral that comes along with Willard's death, one that speaks of the dangers of revenge. Such an endeavor rarely ends well in cinema, and Willard, in essence devoured by his own hatred, is no exception.
WILLARD is occasionally slow-moving, but it is played intelligently and concentrates more on characterization and story than it does on gore. Willard grows from a sad recluse to a more confident man by the film's end. Had he found a less-lethal way to go about this evolution, we would not have to worry about his future as the closing credits begin to roll, but as he sought vengeance as a means for personal growth, he no longer has a future at all.
WILLARD was based on the 1969 novel Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, which follows the same
|Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert|
basic storyline, though the main character, who is never named, narrates the tale through journal entries. Although Willard is never once shown journaling in this film, the sequel does makes mention of police finding his journals. The script was adapted by Gilbert Ralston, a television writer who is sometimes confused with author Stephen Gilbert because of their names and the fact that they were both born in the same year. Director Daniel Mann had previously directed OUR MAN FLINT (1966), and would return to working with violent animals in the boxing kangaroo comedy MATILDA from 1978.
Bruce Davison portrayed Willard, only the fourth credit in an expansive filmography that ranges from playing Dean Torrence in the Jan & Dean biopic DEAD MAN'S CURVE (1978); taking over for John Lithgow's character in the HARRY AND THE HENDERSON television series (1991-1993); Senator Kelly in the first two X-MEN movies (2000, 2003); and appearances on TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, AMAZING STORIES, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and even SEINFELD.
Willard’s mother Henrietta was played by the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester. She had a few other genre films on her résumé, including Robert Siodmak's SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) and TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973), but was just as at home in more family-friendly fare such as MARY POPPINS (1964). She had previously shared screentime with cats (THAT DARN CAT, 1965) and raccoons (RASCAL, 1969), so rats were the logical next step.
Willard's possible-love interest and only real human friend, Joan, was played by Sondra Locke, who has relatively few credits to her name with just about 30 appearances on television and movies. Interestingly, though, in 1986 she directed and starred in a movie called RAT-BOY, a drama about a human-rat hybrid which sounds right up my alley.
|From The Village Voice, 07.01.71|
And finally, Willard's boss Mr. Martin was played by Ernest Borgnine, who had been appearing onscreen since 1951, playing the heavy in countless Westerns and crime films, to say nothing of his impressive run as the lead on McHALE'S NAVY (1962-1966). His other genre credits include THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975), the post-apocalyptic RAVAGERS (1979), and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).
When BEN premiered the following year, there were not a lot of returning faces. Gilbert Ralston did supply the sequel's script, but director Mann opted instead to reteam with Borgnine for the Western THE REVENGERS. Of all the primary characters in WILLARD, only Joan had survived, and although I would have liked to see her story continue, it wasn't meant to be. When everyone around her started dropping like flies, she probably booked it to the next town. I can't say that I blame her. This would be enough to bring about a case of late-onset musophobia in just about anyone.
Okay, so it doesn't exactly have an original title, but at least you know precisely what you're in for.
The only way that it could be more truthful is if it was called CAMCORDER ALIEN ABDUCTION. Because yes, it's a found footage film.
A family goes camping in the Brown Mountain region of North Carolina, where they experience the (very real) phenomenon of the Brown Mountain Lights...which of course turn out to be alien spacecraft. They run, try to hide, get abducted one-by-one; it's a slasher film without the slashing, basically.
Riley is the young son who does most of the recordings on his camera. He's got autism, and looking at life through the camera lens helps him to cope with everything, no matter how mundane. I'm not sure if this is medically accurate, so to speak, but it sounds legit, and at least the filmmakers bothered to come up with a reason why someone would continue to film while the shit is hitting the fan all around them.
There were a few genuinely creepy moments, such as the scene in the tunnel full of mysteriously abandoned cars; and we caught only fleeting glimpses of the aliens, but it was enough to make my hair stand on end. Tack on a couple of jump scares and an amusing backwoods survivalist-type, and it kept me moderately-entertained for the 85 minutes that it graced my TV screen.
The complaints that it didn't bring anything new to the table are accurate. It sticks strictly to the standard tropes and characteristics, never meandering too far from the beaten path. A little additional creativity would have bumped this up a hair beyond "decent", but still, decent ain't terrible, and there are a lot of terrible found footage films. You can put that on your video box.
If you're still of an open mind when it comes to found footage films, and you're looking for a little something familiar, you'll likely find a modicum of enjoyment here. If you hate found footage, this certainly isn't going to change your mind—and furthermore, there's a fairly simple solution: JUST STOP WATCHING FOUND FOOTAGE FILMS. Seeing the phrase "This movie sucks, like every other found footage film!"
in your assessment doesn't instill much confidence in your objectivity.
This sequel to WILLARD (1971) pretty much picks up exactly where its predecessor left off. In fact, the opening scenes to BEN are the closing scenes from WILLARD, following which we cut to the crowd gathering outside of Willard's house in the aftermath of the rat attack that left him dead.
Among the curious spectators are Danny Garrison, his older sister Eve, and their mother Beth. They gawk and gape for a bit before Danny is ushered home for his own safety, as he was born with a heart defect and too much excitement can kill him.
Beth, understandably, dotes on her son and he leads a pretty sheltered life. He plays quietly by himself, and has taken to some mostly sedentary activities—such as model train conducting and marionette puppetry. He doesn't leave the house much, and doesn't have any real friends to speak of. Until he meets Ben, that is.
Ben and Danny hit it off like Mowgli and Baloo, but with less singing and dancing. Not that much less, to be honest, as there is still an unusual amount of musical numbers here. Ben never participates, though. He is always the straight man in this strange, almost uncomfortable, genre outing.
The scenes of Danny and his family are occasionally interrupted for scenes of rodent destruction at various locales around town. Some people inevitably end up dead in these assaults, but that is never the reason behind them. Danny knows that Ben and his enormous family simply need to eat, and occasionally humans just happen to get in between them and their food source. How does Danny know this? Because Ben tells him.
That's right, as Ben's new best friend, Danny is privy to all kinds of rat secrets, including where their lair is hidden deep underground. This is a secret that city officials would love to have, but until they can learn it, they are stuck going door to door and boobytrapping neighborhood homes to try to catch the little buggers. Luckily Danny is there to teach Ben what a trap is, and how to avoid one. In exchange, Ben protects Danny from the local bully by leading an assault against the kid's shins.
Things build slowly (and rather jerkily) to a full-on war against the rats in the city's sewers, with the rodents
bearing their teeth and the humans wielding firearms and flamethrowers (the sound of hundreds of squealing rats being burned alive is really rather haunting). The battle rages on until the humans are victorious and the smell of burned rat hair lingers heavy over the town.
Danny is left friendless and heartbroken...but not for long. As he mourns the loss in his bedroom, a battered-but-alive Ben inches his way in. Danny promises to nurse him back to health, and once again, all is right with the world.
|"The Two Of Us Need Look No More..."|
This strange and awkward sequel could very well have been the start of a new franchise covering the exploits of its animal star, following in the paw prints of canine fare like Lassie and Benji. Thankfully it stopped here, though, as Ben really doesn't have as much personality as his poochie counterparts, and another movie likely would have removed whatever bite the little critter had left.
In WILLARD, basically everyone involved could be viewed as a villain if thought of in the proper context. The world was villainous because it mistreated Willard. Willard was villainous because he sought revenge (no matter how hard we try to justify his actions, they still cannot be placed in a strictly heroic light). The rats were villains because they were the actual purveyors of violence.
It goes both ways, of course. The world wasn't really being villainous, some people are just kind of assholes, and dealing with that is a part of life. Willard, as mentioned in his own review, was more of an antihero than a true villain. And the rats were only following commands, basically living weapons being wielded by a man with a grudge. It's all a matter of perspective regarding whose side you were on.
In BEN, there isn't really that moral grey area for you to wade through. Simply put, there are no villains here. Danny is far too innocent to even fall into the antihero category and doesn't do nearly enough to be a hero. The police are merely doing their job, trying to protect the public at large from a serious threat. And Ben and his minions are merely doing their job—being rats and doing decidedly rat-like things, which is hardly something that we can fault them for. On a strictly human level, you may want to root against them after just a quick read of the synopsis, but after seeing their relationship with Danny, that's a very difficult thing to do. You may want to root against the officials, but if your city was being besieged by rats, wouldn't you want them to step in? So instead, you watch it all unfold onscreen, rooting for nobody in particular.
In a film that doesn't really have an antagonist, Danny remains our protagonist-by-proxy. Was it by chance that Ben found him, or was it by design? Danny could certainly be seen as a younger version of Ben's former "master", as he is just as strange, sad, and lonely as Willard was. Danny, though, never thought of the rats as anything but friends, and he never sought to control them. He only wanted to protect them. We have no way of knowing if Willard would have behaved the same way at Danny's age, or more importantly, if Danny will behave the same way at Willard's age. We can only imagine how things might have unfolded for Danny and Ben in a third entry that was never made.
Based on the aforementioned song and dance numbers, and Danny's proclivities for puppetry, my guess is that they would have ended up in show business together. I imagine something along the lines of MAGIC (1978), but infinitely sadder and with more of a chance of plague.
At one point, in an effort to entertain Ben, Danny plays an astoundingly terrible song on the harmonica, spasmodically dancing around the room until his heart threatens to give out. On more than one occasion, he makes his marionettes dance while singing "Start the Day", a performance which seems to entertain him to no end (but reminds me of some of the more unsettling moments from 1929’s THE GREAT GABBO). And yet another time, Danny sits down at the piano and plinks out an ode to his buddy named "Ben's Song," which he delivers in a stilted monotone like bad spoken word poetry. This all adds an uncanny air to the movie that is difficult to work around.
Director Phil Karlson had previously been responsible for adaptations of The Shadow (BEHIND THE MASK; THE MISSING LADY, both 1946); Charlie Chan capers (THE SHANGHAI COBRA, 1945; DARK ALIBI, 1946); crime dramas (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, 1952; THE PHENIX CITY STORY, 1955); westerns (GUNMAN'S WALK, 1958; A TIME FOR KILLING, 1967); war pictures (HELL TO ETERNITY, 1960; HORNETS' NEST, 1970); and teenage fare (Elvis in KID GALAHAD, 1962; Fabian in RIDE THE WILD SURF, 1964); so a horror film was just about overdue. He followed BEN up with what would turn out to be his penultimate—and most famous— picture, 1973's WALKING TALL with Joe Don Baker.
Danny's mother Beth was played by Rosemary Murphy, who had won a daytime Emmy for her performance as the president's mother in ELEANOR AND FRANKLIN (1976), and was nominated again for the same role in ELEANOR AND FRANKLIN: THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS (1977). She appeared in the acclaimed film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), and showed up in TV shows such as ONE STEP BEYOND, THRILLER, NAKED CITY, THE FUGITIVE, and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. Genre fans may remember her for her portrayal of Karen Wagner in Oliver Stone’s THE HAND (1981).
Eve was played by Meredith Baxter, who had only four television credits and an appearance in the women's lib comedy STAND UP AND BE COUNTED (1972) under her belt when she took the role. She went on to star in a significant number of made-for-TV movies, some of which may be of particular interest to genre fans: the Robert Bloch scripted THE CAT CREATURE (1973); the sci-fi tinged possession flick THE INVASION OF CAROL ENDERS (1973); and THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (1975), which dramatized the effect that Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast had on the country. She also appeared in ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), but will forever be remembered as Elyse Keaton from seminal sitcom FAMILY TIES (1982-1989).
Young Danny was played by Lee Montgomery, who got his start in the 1971 Disney film THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK. He quickly traded in the wholesome world of Disney for the more sinful likes of BEN; the incestuous THE BEAST IS LOOSE (1974), co-written by Frank De Felitta (which explains a lot); and BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1977), both from Dan Curtis. In 1985, he appeared alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty in GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN.
Both "Start the Day" and "Ben's Song" were written by lyricist Don Black, who also wrote the lyrics to "Born
Free" and four different James Bond themes (not to mention songs for a hundred or so other projects). In a bit of pop culture absurdity, Michael Jackson performed "Ben's Song" over the closing credits, which became a #1 hit under the simplified title of "Ben". It catapulted him into stardom as a solo act, free from the other members of the Jackson 5. The song was doubtlessly more popular than the movie it spawned from, and many people mooned over the saccharine representation of friendship that it offered without ever realizing that it was actually a love song to a telepathic rat. I wouldn't go so far as to say that MJ owes it all to this movie, but one does have to wonder if Donny Osmond would be known as the King Of Pop, had he been available to record the song, as was initially planned.
Rusty Connors has been rotting in a jail cell with his bunkmate Mike Krauss for a good couple of years now. With nothing but chatter to keep them entertained, Rusty has heard a great deal about Mike's life on the outside, such as his drop dead gorgeous wife Helen, who has been patiently waiting for his return. Rusty has also learned about the supposed crime that landed Mike in the clink: a payroll heist, from which the stolen money was never recovered, and the subsequent murder of his best friend and partner-in-crime Pete Taylor, whose body was never found. (It almost makes you wonder how they know that a crime had even been committed.) Mike, though, has always claimed that he was innocent. Not that such a declaration is any surprise. Aren't most men in prison "innocent"?
Mike is stricken with pneumonia, and as he lies on his deathbed, Rusty is at his side, prodding him for information on the whereabouts of the missing money. All that Rusty manages to get out of him before he dies is that the money—a cool $56,000—is with Pete Taylor...which doesn't tell us much. That's like saying that the lost batteries are with the lost remote control.
It's not much longer before Rusty is out on parole, and he heads back to Mike's hometown, thinking that he can sniff out the lost cash. His first stop is a local greasy spoon, where Helen is said to be waitressing these days. If anybody would have a clue as to the money's whereabouts, it would be that sexed-up bombshell that Mike wouldn't stop yapping about.
He finds Helen serving hash and coffee to the blue collar crowd, but she's nothing at all like Mike described
her. She's rather frumpy-looking with her greasy hair and her spectacles, and a bit meatier than Mike had let on. Glorifying what's waiting for them outside is probably commonplace for an inmate, so this in itself isn't reason for immediate concern, and Rusty isn't about to let it get in the way of his plan. He quickly seduces her and pulls her into the scheme to find the cash. With his criminal instincts and her intimate knowledge of Mike's routine, it should prove quite easy for them to puzzle out the location like a pair of low-rent Sherlocks.
After Helen reveals some previously unknown details about the day of the crime—Mike came home muddy and bloody, mumbling about rats—they reach the revelation that Pete's corpse (and thus the money) must be stashed at an empty boathouse by the lake where Pete and Mike used to fish. A cursory glimpse offers no evidence of theft or foul play, but there is plenty of evidence of furry rodents lurking somewhere off camera. With the presence of the rats, Rusty is positive that they have the right place, and he discovers that the ceiling above them is quite a bit lower than it should be based on the height of the roof outside. After tearing a hole in the ceiling with a boat hook, Rusty peeks his head into the crawlspace to discover a lockbox full of loot...and the stark skeleton of Pete Taylor, picked clean by the very rats that are now staring Rusty in the face. He collects the box and retreats to safety, preparing to brain Helen with a rock and make a clean getaway. But Helen beats him to the punch, making use of the boat hook once again.
Rusty comes to and finds himself tied up. Like a Bond villain, Helen explains everything that has lead up to this point, which is something of a convoluted story that I will try to simplify here: Helen, quite the looker a few short years ago, was having an affair with Mike's best friend Pete. When Pete admitted to Helen that he was going to be stealing the payroll from work, she saw an opportunity to get her hands on the loot. She came clean to Mike about the affair on the day of the robbery, and staged a lethal confrontation between the two when she knew that Pete would have the money. She assumed that Mike would murder Pete, find the money, and then bring it home to her, but she was only half right. After Mike was arrested, she hoped that it was only a matter of time before she stumbled across the money. She began to let her physical appearance go as a means of camouflage, figuring that it would be easier for a humdrum-looking woman to disappear without being noticed than a goddess. Then along came Rusty with his own dreams of finding the cash, and he played right into her hand.
Rusty, angered at being double-crossed before he could double-cross her, begins insulting Helen with a string of jabs at her appearance, playing her still-existing vanity against her. She grows angry enough to approach him and he lashes out at her, kicking her squarely in the ample bottom and causing her to fall atop the boat hook, which fatally impales her.
All that is left is for Rusty to free himself from his binds and escape with the cash.
And that's when the rats come after him.
There is genuinely nobody to root for here, nor are there any sympathetic characters. Absolutely everybody is guilty of something, to some degree, and the fact that they all wind up dead does not sadden the viewer in the least. This is a grim and uncompromising episode, where everyone gets their comeuppance and nobody walks away free.
|Helen & Rusty|
Rusty was a devious little bastard, that much is certain. It's unclear whether he ever felt any true feelings of friendship for Mike or if it was all a ruse, but if they did exist, they were still overpowered by his greed and baser instincts. As soon as he got out of the joint, Rusty rushed right out and banged his supposed buddy's wife...an act that probably displeased him almost as much as it would have displeased Mike. He used her, abused her, and then fully intended to toss her away. What struck me most interesting is that he really did outsmart the police, finding the missing body and money in a very short period of time after they had failed to do so in more than two years. If not for his more blatant crimes, Rusty easily could have been a private eye of the era, and it made me realize how close in nature the villain and the hero can be in these old crime shows. If it's hardboiled enough, the only difference is that one of them has an office door.
Too bad for Rusty that he wasn't as shrewd as he believed he was, otherwise he might have known that Helen had the same basic plan as he did. If Rusty was a bastard, then she was a stone cold bitch, manipulating men like chess pieces and using her vagina as a mind control device long before this episode even began. By the time that Rusty met her, she was already wearing her own body like a disguise, but beneath those few extra pounds, unnecessary spectacles, and that mousy hair, she was still a femme fatale like any other. Her physical appearance may have subverted the trope, but her true colors still shined through.
When the rats first make their presence known, they are off camera but still exude a definite menace. The very thought of them was enough to send chills up Rusty's spine, as he had already professed to having a phobia of them, but the fact that they could not be seen probably made it even worse. The squeaking and pattering about could have been the product of dozens of rats, possibly hundreds of them.
Of course, when Rusty does peer into the secret crawlspace above the ceiling, the reality is nowhere near as terrifying to the viewer as the fantasy that we had conjured up in our mind. Instead of hundreds of rats, we only get five or six of them—though they are, evidently, a flesh-hungry lot. And yet to Rusty, who suffers from musophobia, five is just as bad as five hundred and his slow and unsteady movements showed to us how close he was to freezing up in terror altogether.
Given Rusty's aversion to rats, it is only fitting that his death should be delivered by their tiny paws and gnashing teeth. Helen may not have met her doom via the rodents, but poetic justice was still had. She had planned to utilize the stolen money to help restore her to the beauty that she had once been, but when she died, she died as the portly slob that she had since become.
This very solid entry of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR was the third episode of season three of the series, originally airing on October 19, 1964. It was based on a short story by author Robert Bloch, which should come as no surprise, as the mixture of real world crime and psychological terror was old hat for the Psycho scribe. The only way that this could have been better is if it was scripted by Bloch himself—the man was no stranger to scriptwriting or adapting his own work—but he must have been busy that week. The duties instead fell to Alfred Hayes, who did an admirable job of capturing Bloch's essence. Hayes had previously written the scripts for the Fritz Lang noirs CLASH BY NIGHT (1952) and HUMAN DESIRE (1954), as well as assorted westerns. He was also a novelist—his novel The Girl on the Via Flaminia was adapted as the 1953 film ACT OF LOVE—as well as a poet. His poem "I Dreamt I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" was turned into a song that has been performed by many musicians, most notably Joan Baez at Woodstock. Hitch must have been a fan of the man's work, as he tapped him to write a total of seven episodes of the series.
Directorial duties went to Bernard Girard, who was no stranger to Hitchcock's television programs himself, having directed four episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and eight episodes of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. He also put in work on other series, including BAT MASTERSON, WAGON TRAIN and THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but he never managed to craft himself a very distinguished career.
Helen was played by Ann Sothern, who hit it big with her portrayal of the burlesque dancer Maisie Ravier in a series of films for MGM. She starred in two television sitcoms—PRIVATE SECRETARY and the eponymous THE ANN SOTHERN SHOW—and provided the voice of the title character in the infamous MY MOTHER THE CAR. Her final film was the dramatic THE WHALES OF AUGUST (1987), starring alongside other aging luminaries as Lillian Gish, Bette Davis and Vincent Price. Genre fans may be interested in her hangover/murder mystery THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953) directed by Fritz Lang, the home invasion themed LADY IN A CAGE (1964), the sex-and-violence thriller THE KILLING KIND (1973), and the Native American mythos horror THE MANITOU (1978).
Rusty Connors was played by John Cassavetes, who worked frequently within the Hollywood studio system but was also an early component of independent filmmaking. He started his indie career with the improvised jazz and Beatnik-influenced SHADOWS (1959) and followed it up with FACES (1968), A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974), THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976), and OPENING NIGHT (1977)—all five of which have been collected into a Criterion box set. Horror fans will doubtlessly remember him for his turns in ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE FURY (1978), but his work on this episode should not be easily dismissed, either.
|DVD Cover Image|
BEASTS was a six-episode British miniseries of sorts that aired on ITV in 1976. None of the episodes were related except in theme, each of them a horror story revolving around a different beast (mostly animal, but in one case man). All six episodes were written by Nigel Kneale, who was probably best known for the various Quartermass television series: THE QUARTERMASS EXPERIMENT (1953), QUARTERMASS II (1955), and QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT (1958-1959). The year prior to BEASTS, he had also written the highly regarded TV movie THE STONE TAPE.
DURING BARTY'S PARTY was the second episode of the series, and originally aired on October 23, 1976.
Businessman Roger Truscott (Anthony Bate) arrives home after a hard day of work to find that the stresses of the day are just beginning. His wife Angie (Elizabeth Sellars) has bolted all the doors, cranked up the rock 'n' roll, and is in an absolute tizzy about something—even she isn't sure why.
After patiently dealing with Angie's irrational behavior (and surely not for the first time), Roger is informed that there is a rat in the house. She hasn't seen it, but she damn sure heard it, and she put on the music to drown it out. This is, surely, a simple problem with a simple solution, but things grow increasingly complicated at an alarming rate.
Radio news reports indicate that massive rat migrations have been sighted across the countryside, and they
warn citizens to stay out of their way. Immediately Angie wants to flee, but Roger insists on sticking it out and fighting the good fight, like a real bloke. They are, after all, only rats. But you can't fight what you can't see, and these rodents are locked in beneath the floorboards—though from the scurrying and the gnawing, it would seem that they are desperate to break through.
As Angie and Roger huddle around the radio (apparently they are too uppercrust for a TV set), new details keep coming in. Apparently, these are not your average everyday rats. They are being dubbed "Super-Rats" by the media, and they are immune to traditional poisons. Angie calls into the radio station like a late night conspiracy nut with a theory all her own: these rats are also highly intelligent, well organized, and have a propensity for violence.
When the terror becomes too much for them to take, and Roger finally agrees to run, it is too late. Their screams act as the closing soundtrack to this episode.
From the title of this episode, I was expecting there to be a rat attack at a child's birthday party, anticipating a greasy rodent leaping out of a cake while little Barty blows out the candles, sending youngsters and their parents into mass hysterics. The reality turned out to be the exact opposite of that, as Angie and Roger are an older couple and the only two people ever seen on camera—this is, essentially, a two-man play that aired on television. Barty's Party is actually the name of the radio program that they are listening to, and all of the events unfold during that show.
|Listening To Barty's Party|
The fact that all of the events happening in the outside world were relayed via the radio conjured up parallels to the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio program. I can't say for sure if this was by design or not, but it was an effective way to demonstrate the macrocosm of the situation while still remaining focused on the microcosm of the Truscott household.
War of the Worlds famously caused panic among some listeners upon first being broadcast, who believed that the alien invasion being reported upon was real. Here, there is a brief moment where it appears possible that the entire thing is a hoax, as well—that Angie is overreacting to a simple rat problem and Roger has been blindly drawn into her panic. When the Truscotts hear their neighbors pull up on the street outside, and they exit their vehicle laughing and jovial, all of the rat sounds suddenly cease, as if they were never there at all. There is a very short period of time where relief seeps in—there's no rat invasion, it's just one of Barty's infamous jokes!—before we realize that the rats have only temporarily abandoned their pursuit of the Truscotts and have turned their sights on the more easily-accessible neighbors. The invasion is very real, and when the rats return to the house, they do so with a vengeance.
Almost right off the bat, I knew that this was going to be an understated affair. Things may have started with some rousing rock music, but it quickly hit the brakes and coasted for a bit. It looked and felt like a soap opera, with just the two leads engaging in some dramatic patter without a lot of dynamic camerawork or action of any sort. From their dialog, though, we pick up on subtle clues that Angie is not quite emotionally sound, and she has a tendency to obsess and panic at the drop of a hat—she may even be recovering from a mental breakdown. Roger deals with her issues as patiently as he can, but it obviously causes a great deal of stress on the marriage. There is no shortage of tension bubbling just beneath the surface.
In the Truscott marriage, Roger is the rock. He has to be, as Angie flaps wildly in the breeze and desperately needs an anchor. Having dealt with her paranoid whims and fancies so often, it's not surprising that he at first believes her to be overreacting. Wanting to be a supporting husband, maybe it's not even so surprising when he finally does start to believe her. What is surprising, though, is that when the rat shit hits the proverbial fan, he is the one that breaks down into an immobile lump of jelly while she finds the strength to lead and persevere. Her experiences with mental illness must have prepared her for this one moment in time when the real world goes mad.
Just like any good slow burner, things pick up in a steady manner, and the underlying tension of their
|Looking For Help|
relationship solidifies into a palpable tension suitable to the situation. This is due not only to the solid performances from our leads, but also the genius sound design that is at play here—what starts off as the barely perceptible sounds of a rodent in the house is slowly ratcheted up in volume and intensity to the point where, by the episode's end, it is virtually overwhelming. You can barely hear what the actors are saying, much less hear yourself think. This aural expansion has happened so gradually and expertly that you don't even realize what has happened until it suddenly stops, and your nerves are left utterly raw and exposed in the unexpected silence. What is truly amazing is that this boundless fear and apprehension is brought about solely through audio means—looking back after the episode, you come to the shocking realization that the filmmakers never actually showed you a rat.
Not even once.
It's a rare beast that can pull that off.
Health inspector Kelly Leonard orders a massive quantity of steroid-infused grain to be destroyed after she discovers that it is infested with rats. Perhaps her investigation should have dug a little deeper, because the rats that have been living in and feeding on this grain have grown substantially, and when it is set aflame, they are forced to find a new home in the city.
Apparently city food doesn't offer all the vitamins and nutrients that they require, because they quickly turn their sights on humans, cutting a bloody swathe through the population...or at least a very distinct subsection of the population. It seems that nearly everybody who is being attacked is, in some way, connected to college professor and basketball coach Paul Harris. (No, there's not any sort of reason behind the rats targeting only the professor, his students, and his associates—it is merely a convenience of plot.)
There are two truly shocking moments in this movie, and the very first rat attack is one of them. They begin their assault against the human race in a manner that is not seen very often in these films: that is, the murder of a child—the baby sister of one of the professor's students. Although the actual attack is kept off-camera, we do see the prelude (the rats surrounding the toddler's high chair and working together to tip it over) and the aftermath (a puddle of blood and a crimson trail left behind as they dragged the child away). Killing children has long been the ultimate taboo in horror flicks so it is always rather shocking to see, but it is made more so here by the sheer casualness with which it was thrown out, never to be mentioned again.
After a later attack, in which another of his students is bitten (but survives), Paul and Kelly meet for the first
|These Rats Are Hungry|
time at the hospital. Being either a progressive woman or a promiscuous one, she gets his number, calls him for a date, goes out to dinner with him, and then promptly has sex with him. Not that anybody can blame her. Paul is painted in quite the flattering light: he's a professor, so he's intelligent; he's a basketball coach, so he's manly; he's a single father, so he's sensitive; and when a very attractive young student throws herself at him, he resists, so he's morally upstanding. All in all, he's quite the catch, and besides, rushing them into a serious relationship makes the chemistry of their team-up to stop the rat infestation better serve the plot and increases the stakes without having to worry about any of that pesky story development.
The pair of would-be exterminators meet up with one of Paul's friends who, as luck would have it, just so happens to be an expert on the subject of rats. After hearing what few facts they have on the subject, he quickly declares them a new breed of Super-Rat, sight unseen, and offers up some advice on how to properly eradicate them—but before they do, the rats command one more massive siege against humanity, this time in a movie theater scene full of panic and sheer grimy goodness that is one of the highlights of the film.
The final confrontation between man and rodent takes place beneath the city during the dedication to a new subway tunnel that Paul's son is attending with Kelly. The fight involves improvised flamethrowers, conjuring up memories of the finale in BEN (1972), and Paul declares that all of the rats are dead, as there is no way that any of them could have survived the fire. Paul, Kelly and the boy hop aboard an empty subway train and ride off into the distance, victorious.
Except…remember when I said that there were two shocking moments in this movie? The second one comes at the true ending of the film, as the train pulls into the next stop and the boarding passengers are met with the grisly remains of Kelly, Paul and his young son.
It seems a few rats may have survived the firestorm after all.
This movie gets a bad rap, but in truth, it's enjoyable in a chaotic sort of way. There are very few genuine masterpieces in the Nature Strikes Back category, but this fits nicely alongside the goofy also-rans, like SLUGS (1987), FROGS (1972), and SQUIRM (1976). They can't all have the benefit of being directed by Hitchcock or Spielberg, but at least this one offers up a few surprises along the way, even if the rest of it is rather formulaic and far too reliant on coincidence. You can't come into it expecting any sort of subtext, or you will be sorely disappointed. This is Rats Eating People 101, which, coincidentally, is probably the name of the professor's course.
I knew that I had to see this film as soon as I learned that they used dachshunds in costumes to play the giant rats. This was a variation on a not-so-special effect used in the Ray Kellogg cheeser THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), so I was expecting visuals along the same lines. While not perfect, the effect is much better than I would have imagined, and likely wouldn't earn as much ridicule as it does if the fact that they were dogs in disguise wasn't so well known. The dogs couldn't see through the masks they wore, and had to maneuver with their sense of smell and hearing—meaning a lot of doggy treats and noisemakers were used to make them hit their marks successfully. Reports around the Internet state that the dogs were treated very well on the set, but these are refuted by rumors that one of them died during filming, likely having suffocated under the weight of the rat suit.
DEADLY EYES was scripted by Charles H. Eglee who had gotten his start as co-writer of PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING the previous year. He went on to write for such seminal TV shows as MOONLIGHTING, THE SHIELD, DEXTER, and THE WALKING DEAD.
Director Robert Clouse is best known for having directed Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and having cobbled together the film GAME OF DEATH (1978) following Lee's death, utilizing unused footage and lookalikes (this is the film playing in the theater during the epic rat attack). He also directed the blaxploitation film BLACK BELT JONES (1974) starring Jim Kelly, former athlete and first African American martial arts film star; the action film GOLDEN NEEDLES (also 1974) with Joe Don Baker; the post-apocalyptic Yul Brynner flick THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975); the Robert Mitchum vehicle THE AMSTERDAM KILL (1977); and Jackie Chan’s American debut, THE BIG BRAWL (1980). DEADLY EYES was not his first killer animal flick, as he had cut his teeth on the deadly dog movie THE PACK (1977), itself based on a novel by David Fisher.
Lisa Langlois played the seductive cheerleader Trudy, who had set her sights on Paul Harris. After coming in second in the 1974 Miss Teen Canada pageant, Langlois turned to acting, appearing in the mystery thriller BLOOD RELATIVES (1978) alongside Donald Sutherland; the John Huston-directed PHOBIA (1980); and cult classics HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and CLASS OF 1984 (1982). After dealing with the rats, you would think that she would be done with nature, but she returned to face off against killer cockroaches in THE NEST (1988).
Sara Botsford filled the role of health inspector heroine Kelly Leonard, and had appeared in the lethal telephone thriller MURDER BY PHONE (1982) and the crime drama STILL OF THE NIGHT the same year. In 1989, she appeared with Kevin Costner in THE GUNRUNNER, and with historical graboids in the prequel TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS in 2004. She has had a number of guest appearances on television shows but is most well-known for the Canadian series E.N.G. (1989-1994), where she portrayed news program producer Anne Hildebrandt.
Our professor Paul Harris was portrayed by Sam Groom, who had brief stints on the series THE TIME TUNNEL (1966) and the interdimensional OTHERWORLD (1985), and appeared in the intriguing TV movies BEYOND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (1975) with Fred MacMurray and Dana Plato, and the time travel/outbreak/Chicago fire mashup TIME TRAVELERS (1976).
And last but not least, Scatman Cruthers had a small role as George Foskins, the health inspector field agent who was destined to be rat chow. Most people know Cruthers as the equally-doomed caretaker in THE SHINING (1980), but he appeared in a plethora of other films including: a small part in LADY IN A CAGE (1964) with Ann Sothern, who was also devoured by rats in the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode WATER'S EDGE; Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA (1970); the Warren Oates detective drama CHANDLER (1971); the campy comedy LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT (1975); the famous ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975); the epic miniseries ROOTS (1977); a lengthy run on sitcom CHICO AND THE MAN (1974-1978); and the Scott Baio and Willie Aames sci-fi sex comedy ZAPPED (1982). He appeared in a number of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, like DETROIT 9000 (1973), SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF (1973), TRUCK TURNER (1974), and FRIDAY FOSTER (1975), and he teamed up with director Clouse again for the previously mentioned 1974 flick BLACK BELT JONES. He lent his voice to multiple animated projects, including THE TRANSFORMERS (1984-1986), where he portrayed the Autobot Jazz. Despite his impressive filmography, he had started out in music—hence his moniker Scatman—and used to play drums with the legendary Slim Gaillard.
|The Rats, by James Herbert|
DEADLY EYES was loosely based on the 1974 James Herbert novel The Rats. It was Herbert's first novel, and although it was thrashed by the critics for its graphic depictions of death and dismemberment, it sold quite well. Herbert followed it up with two sequels, Lair and Domain, neither of which have been adapted to the screen. He was said to be quite displeased with what the filmmakers had done to his story. I am unsure how he felt about the 1985 video game adaptation of his novel that was available on the Commodore 64, but I like to think that he was suitably impressed.
To be fair, it’s not that DEADLY EYES was all that unfaithful to its source material. It’s just that Herbert’s novel had so many different layers to it that the movie was basically an adaptation of only the outermost layer. There was no Kelly Leonard character, and our hero’s romantic interest was his already-existing girlfriend, but there was a George Foskins. In fact, Foskins was a much more important, though much less sympathetic, character in the book. The attack on the baby was present, as was the brutal theater scene, and the subway attack—though it appeared only halfway through the novel and was so epic in scope of violence and terror that it blew away anything that was shown on screen. Missing from the movie, though, is an utterly insane attack at a zoo, which probably would have blown far too much of the film’s budget.
So, yes, both book and movie are about a legion of killer rats, but what the movie left out was the fact that the rats carried a virus, so that even if you were to survive the rat attack, you were still as good as dead because you had been infected. The infestation wasn’t wiped out with a little fire, but rather a different virus was introduced into the rat population by sacrificing infected puppies to their hungry hordes. It worked temporarily, but the rats soon grew impervious to the virus, and the entire city had to be evacuated. It is a much, much bigger story on the written page, and one that is recommended to those who weren’t turned off by the sillier aspects of the film.
"Once upon a time, there was a girl and her rats. The rats were the girl's only friends. They spent every moment together. Until one day, when the girl met a boy. The boy and the rats immediately hated each other. They all yearned for the girl's attention. Soon enough, the girl began to favor the boy. The rats were not pleased. They demanded revenge!"--Official Synopsis
This 2003 short film, clocking in at about 10 minutes, was shot in B&W on 8mm. It's a silent film, complete with old fashioned intertitles, and the actors over-emote as was the norm in the old days of cinema. Despite their best efforts, it doesn't look like an old silent film and it doesn't feel like an old silent film. It just feels like a modern film failing in its attempt to appear vintage.
I didn't find it expertly done or all that enthralling. However, it is worth a watch if for no other reason than to see how genius these rats are when it comes to homicide. They don't scratch and gnaw their prey to death...they murder them in very human ways. These boys make Pinky and the Brain look like complete dolts (even more so than Pinky did all by himself).
to view the film's official homepage--if nothing else, the movie's logo is pretty damn awesome.
eRATicate from Ross Williams on Vimeo.
The MUSOPHOBIA 'zine is now available to download for absolutely free, simply by clicking HERE!
|Musophobia: The Fear of Rats and Mice|
Included in this issue:
- Of Unknown Origin, 1983
- Nightmares: Night of the Rat, 1983
- Trilogy of Terror II: The Graveyard Rats, 1996
- Willard, 1971
- Ben, 1972
- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Water's Edge, 1964
- Beasts: During Barty's Party, 1976
- Deadly Eyes, 1982 (+Bonus interview with film extra George "Stompy" Hollo)
Remember: This can be viewed as a .pdf file and treated as an e-zine, or it can be printed out and read as an honest-to-god 'zine. If you send me a photograph of you holding your physical copy of the 'zine, I'll give you a free plug on the blog and in the next issue!
JonnyxMetro [at] hotmail.com
Young surfer chick Bunny, who seems slightly preoccupied with feeding sand to her hunky beau, wanders off from the pack and is attacked by a silly looking monster that murders her and then apparently returns to the sea. The next morning, the newspapers carry headlines like SURF BEAUTY CLAWED TO DEATH
, and IS SURF KILLER MANIAC OR MONSTER?
The sheriff isn't too sure, either, so he visits famed oceanographer Otto Lindsay, who posits that it may be the work of a mutated South American Fantigua fish...or one of those no good surfer kids, who he sees as a bunch of loafers and tramps, capable of anything including murder. So basically Dr. Lindsay doesn't know anything more than the yellow journalists over at the Hollywood Star Gazette.
It's interesting, though, that Otto's son Richard is one of those loafers, and Richard is dating Jane, one of those tramps. The deceased Bunny was a member of their little beach clique, and yet nobody really seems all that fazed by her death. Sure, Jane is initially hesitant to return to the shoreline and instead they lounge around the pool, but in no time at all, they are storming the sand once again. They had to, right? This is a beach movie after all—though you would hardly know it save for a few choice scenes and some protracted surf footage shown on a film projector.
The youngsters ignore all the warnings of danger and not only do they return to the beach, they do so at night for a party around the bonfire that really solidifies this movie's schizophrenic nature. For a brief period of time, gone is any hint that this was even attempting to be a horror film, and suddenly it's a zany teen comedy in the same vein as Frankie and Annette. There's surf music and Watusi dancing (courtesy of the Watusi Dancing Girls on loan from Hollywood's Whisky a Go Go, according to the original theatrical trailer), and a few instances of almost surreal humor that seemed out of place even here: a young man runs a giant comb through his Beatles haircut while wearing a sign that reads "I USE THAT GREASY KID STUFF"
strung around his neck; and a bearded man with a lion hand puppet performs an impromptu skit with Jane, who speaks in a bizarre baby voice—the beard is obviously fake, and used only to disguise the fact that he is the same actor that portrays another, more integral, character . They even perform a song together—"There's A Monster In The Surf"— with all of the others joining in, which was fun in a Sid and Marty Krofft sort of way. Richard doesn't fare nearly as well when he whips out his acoustic guitar and begins crooning "More Than Wanting You", and although all the kids seem to be digging it, I'm fairly certain that it isn't at all like the music that real beach kids of the era would have grooved to.
A few more bodies pile up in much the same manner as the first, culminating in the grand reveal that the monster isn't really a monster at all. Just like in any given Scooby Doo episode, the mask comes off to reveal...Dr. Otto Lindsay. There is a truly outrageous, and lengthy, car chase that could have been exciting if not for the poor use of rear projection effects, ending in Otto's vehicle barreling off the side of a cliff and bursting into flames, effectively ending the strange menace that was the Monster in the Surf. (Even the not-so-astute viewer will notice that Otto's car suddenly changes make and model as it flies off the cliff, as the filmmakers make use of some trusty stock footage without care of continuity).
All in all, this is a rather bland and mediocre effort, but still deserves some attention for the complexities of the relationships at play here. More time was dedicated to the soapy melodramatics of the Lindsay family than to the beach or horror aspects of the film, so it only seems fair to explore that side of the coin as well.
Richard must have been a pretty good student, because at some point he had followed in his father's footsteps and begun a promising career in oceanography—which would make me think that he is quite a bit older than the kids he's running around with, but since none of them are portrayed by actual teenagers, it really makes it difficult to tell. But one day Richard was driving his friend Mark somewhere and they got into a car accident, and though they both survived, Mark is stuck with a limp for the rest of his life. Richard feels eternally guilty about this, but it also made him realize how short life really is, and opted to take some time off from science to do a little soul searching. He apparently stopped searching once he got to the beach right outside his front door, because he fell in with this bunch of surfers (who rarely, if ever, actually surf), and began courting the comely Jane.
It's impossible to say what Mark was like before the accident, but I have to imagine that he was somewhat more normal than he was afterwards. He is obviously quite a bit older than Richard, and their friendship is never explained, but we have no choice but to believe it. He's a talented sculptor, but he's also something of a creep. There's one scene where he leers longingly at a group of bikini-clad dancers from behind a rock, almost exactly as the monster had been doing a few scenes prior. If this was an attempt at trying to trick the audience into believing that he and the monster were one and the same, it wasn't a very good one. He also lives with Mark and his family, which seems a bit odd. He's a full grown man that should be able to support himself on his own, limp be damned, but it wouldn't be outside of his character to manipulate Richard's guilt into offering him free room and board, so that he could concentrate on his art...and the female form.
Richard's stepmother Vicky is younger than her new husband, but she's no longer the spring chicken she once was. She's a fading beauty with a few good years left, and she's damn sure going to make use of her body while she's still got it. She's cold, cruel and seductive, using sex as a weapon and hitting on every man around—except her husband. She flirts with her stepson Richard, but he can't stand the woman and brushes her off. She flirts with Mark, who is rather obsessed with her, but as soon as he makes a move, she shoots him down in the cruelest way possible:"Do you think I'd make love to a cripple!?"
And then there's Otto Lindsay himself, whose high hopes for his son have been completely squashed. He blames the beach crowd for Richard having given up on oceanography (although even the local sheriff assures him that they're a good bunch of kids) which is presumably why he turned to murdering them—though why he would choose to do so in such an attention-seeking way is beyond me. At one point, Otto (as the monster) attacks Vicky, after she blatantly cheats on him with another man and comes home late at night, obviously drunk and well-ridden. His putting on the monster mask and lashing out could conceivably have been caused by jealousy in all instances. It is also likely that, as a man of science, he likes order and control, but after coming to the realization that he actually can't control anything, he decided to take out the agents of chaos that had invaded his life.
When you're releasing a movie that has 'monster' right in the title, you've really got to bring the goods. The good
that it's amazing, or so bad
that it's amazing. I'll give you one guess which category this one falls under. The monster is obviously a man in a rubber suit (which is, for the first time, actually quite fitting), draped with sea weed and wearing what appears to be a bootleg CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON Halloween mask. We're lead to believe that it's supposed to be a sea monster, and yet we never actually see him in the water. He spends most of his time hanging out on rocks, until going in for the kill with his arms outstretched like a zombie cliché.
monster either needs to be so
Producer Ed Janis hadn't done any real producing since his 1958 cartoon series about a mystery-solving boy and his teddy bear, THE ADVENTURES OF SPUNKY AND TADPOLE, had gone off the air. I'm not sure why he decided to get back into the game with this film, but I'm glad that he did. He followed it up with the western-horror hybrid A MAN FOR HANGING (1973).
Ed Janis's wife Joan Gardner wrote the script for this film, though she was primarily a voice actor for animation. She had worked with her husband on SPUNKY AND TADPOLE (voicing Spunky himself) and can also be heard in THE FAMOUS ADVENTURES OF MR. MAGOO (1964-1965), SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN (1970), HERE COMES PETER COTTONTAIL (1971), VALLEY OF THE DINOSAURS (1974), and others.
Janis and Gardner made this movie a real family affair, so to speak. Jon Hall must have been at least acquaintances with the married couple when he was offered the role of Otto Lindsay, and Sue Casey speculates that he got the job as director to boot in exchange for use of his collection of stock footage. Casey had gone to high school with Gardner, and after a chance run-in with each other during casting, Gardner offered her the role of Vicky Lindsay. Walker Edmiston, who played Mark, was friends with the couple—probably from his time working on the Bob Clampett-created children's puppet show TIME FOR BEANY (1949-1954) with Gardner. (On an unrelated but interesting side note, the two main characters of the series were later reused for the famous animated series BEANY AND CECIL in its various incarnations). Edmiston, in turn, suggested Elaine DuPont for the role of Jane, with whom he had worked on his own
puppet series THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW. Of all the primary cast, seemingly only Arnold Lessing landed the role based solely on his merits, stating that Janis saw him perform in the play TAKE HER, SHE'S MINE and offered him the role of Richard Lindsay without so much as an audition.
As an actor, Jon Hall's first real success came in the 1937 film THE HURRICANE, and he had leading roles in two of Universal's Invisible Man sequels: INVISIBLE AGENT (1942) and THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE (1944). He also appeared in numerous adventure films for the same studio. He had a 52 episode run as the titular Dr. Tom "Ramar" Reynolds in the television series RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE (1952-1954). Aside from an uncredited directorial role on THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (1966), this was the only movie he ever helmed, and was the last one that he would appear in. After a lengthy stint of suffering through the effects of terminal cancer, Hall committed suicide in 1979, at age 86.
After nearly 20 years of extra work and small parts in films like THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1947), ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), and REAR WINDOW (1954), Sue Casey was probably thrilled to finally land a larger role as Vicky Lindsay. She was probably less than thrilled, though, that the role was in THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER. She did manage to earn a few more roles from her performance here, but you can't exactly call them fine cinema—she was a leading lady in SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), which, to give you an idea of the type of picture it is, advertised itself as a "southern style country-lovin' song-filled swamp romp"
, and was later released to home video by the fabulous folks at Something Weird; and she appeared in the teenager comedy CATALINA CAPER (1967), opposite former Disney star Tommy Kirk. That same year, she showed up in the big budget musical CAMELOT, which she followed with the infamous Clint Eastwood musical PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969), the made-for-TV thriller TERROR IN THE SKY with Leif Erickson and Roddy McDowall; the Barbara Streisand comedy THE MAIN EVENT (1979); the Clint Howard horror film EVILSPEAK (1981); horror comedy HYSTERICAL (1983); the stalker drama TILL THE END OF THE NIGHT (1995) with Scott Valentine; and multiple Oscar-winning critical darling AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)—though most of her scene was cut. These days, she acts intermittently, but has found much more success in real estate.
Walker Edmiston didn't only bring Elaine DuPont with him from THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW. He also brought the hand puppet Kingsley the Lion (Ravenswood the Buzzard was sadly not present at the film shoot). It was him hidden under the crazy beard on the beach, and the trio performed the previously mentioned song together, earning Kingsley an honest-to-God screen credit, and, yes, even an IMDB page. As an actor, Edmiston appeared in small and uncredited roles in numerous TV shows and films, but he had infinitely more success as a voice over artist. He supplied the voice of Scuttlebutt the Duck in the wacky Mickey Rooney-Buddy Hackett comedy EVERYTHING'S DUCKY (1961); and traded in a wholesome duck movie for a sinful one, supplying numerous voices for the X-rated cartoon DOWN AND DIRTY DUCK (1974); he played the voice of God in Dudley Moore's WHOLLY MOSES! (1980); and voiced various characters in SPIDER-MAN and THE SMURFS (both 1981), ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS (1983-1984), and THE TRANSFORMERS (1984). He received an awful lot of work from Syd and Marty Kroft, with H.R. PUFNSTUF (1969-1970), THE BUGALOOS (1970-1971), LIDSVILLE (1971), SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS (1973), and LAND OF THE LOST (1974) all appearing on his résumé. Reportedly, the Monster in the Surf costume was rented from the renowned Western Costume Company in Hollywood, but when the head was nowhere to be found, Edmiston was tasked with crafting the distinctive mask himself. He also sculpted the actual artwork seen in the film, so his talents went far beyond the screen.
Elaine DuPont had a number of uncredited, minor roles in youth movies such as ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (1956), DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK (1956), JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957), and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) before landing a larger part in the Lou Rusoff-scripted GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959). Her next, and final, feature film was THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER—truly a high point to go out on.
|Arnold Lessing On Guitar|
Arnold Lessing played our hero Richard Lindsay, and this was frankly the biggest role of his acting career. He had small and uncredited parts in GUNSMOKE and THE VIRGINIAN (both 1962); THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR (1965); the movie THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH (1965), featuring The Beach Boys and the lovely Lori Saunders; STAR TREK (1967); I SPY (1966, 1968); THE FBI (1971); and, well...that's it, except for this film. He was, apparently, quite gifted at playing guitar in the flamenco style and taught guitar at Santa Monica college from the early 1970s until fairly recently, when he retired.
Speaking of music, this movie does have some degree of fame amongst a certain class of surf music aficionados, and the soundtrack was praised in the book Pop Surf Culture
by authors Brian Chidester and Dominic Priore. However, there does seem to be a bit of confusion about just who the folk behind the music actually are.
Here's what we do
know: Press material implied that Frank Sinatra, Jr. contributed a number of tunes to the soundtrack, but only the opening track ("Dance Baby Dance") was actually his, and even then, the writing credit is shared with Joan Gardner. "More Than Wanting You" was written and performed by actor Arnold Lessing (the random zooms into his hands strumming the acoustic guitar, plus other actor accounts and his career as a music instructor, prove this much). And "There's a Monster in the Surf" was definitely written and performed by Walker Edmiston and Elaine DuPont—though both admit that the whole production was thrown together mere moments before the camera began to roll.
Things become a bit murkier, though, when it comes to the instrumental tracks (surf and otherwise) that can be heard throughout the rest of the film. Aside from Frank Sinatra, Jr. being credited as "composer", and Chuck Sagle as "composer" and "music arranger", the actual performers have long been a B-movie mystery. On the film's IMDB page, and elsewhere on the Internet, a commenter going by Rivercraftjim (real name Jim Denney) claims that he and his high school garage band the Illusions were the ones laying down the tracks (many of them improvised as they watched key scenes unfold onscreen), and because of the details in his account, I am inclined to believe him.
However, some sources state that the music was provided by at least a few members of The Hustlers, who had found a bit of success on Downey Records with the singles "Kopout", "Inertia", and "Wailin' Out". Finding solid information about either of these bands proved nearly impossible, and I was initially able to uncover the names of only two members of the Hustlers—Grant Baker and Paul Askier. Searching the Internet for Grant Baker of the Hustlers turned up a lot of false positives, as the Hustlers played surf music and there is a professional surfer also
named Grant Baker. A search for Paul Askier turned up a lot of groan-worthy results of people named Paul who like to ski. Eventually I was able to compose, piecemeal, a shaky lineup of the other band members—Patrick Wilford, Terry Goodrich, Steve Rodriguez, and Bill Ctibor—though even this revelation turned up very little in the way of useful information. However I did
eventually find a few comments scattered across the Internet from a Paul Askier who talked about his time in Downey's the Hustlers—but, there was never any mention of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER.
Jim Denney's comments at the IMDB made mention of an unknown studio musician playing along with the Illusions, so it is feasible that the studio musician was also a member of the Hustlers. However, this seems unlikely when you consider that Chuck Sagle was connected to Capitol Records and the Hustlers were signed to Downey at the time that the movie was being made.
I have attempted to contact both Jim Denney and Paul Askier asking for their input—hell, I even tweeted Nancy Sinatra, the closest that I could get to Frank Jr!—but have not heard back from any of them. For the time being, a definitive answer is not forthcoming...but I do have a theory.
Part of the reason that finding information about both the Illusions and the Hustlers proved so difficult is that there were other regional bands from the same era going by the same, or similar, names. It is my hunch that the Illusions did indeed provide the music for THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER, and that the sources that claim it was the Hustlers are mistaken.
In Don Glut's book I Was a Teenage Movie Maker
, he discusses how a band that he was in, also
called the Hustlers, was asked to provide a surf-type soundtrack for a film called “5, 4, 3”, within which was a segment entitled "Orgy Beach Party"—a spoof on teenager beach movies that also
featured a Black Lagoon-type monster. All of this happened in 1965, the very same year that THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER was released, and both
were filmed less than two hours away from each other in California. “5, 4, 3” was never completed, however even if no other source of information existed, it's easy to see how a researcher could make such a mistake simply from glancing through Glut's book.
However, if anyone has any more substantial information, I would be much obliged if they were to send it my way.
I can’t be the only one who cares…can I?
Some unscrupulous fellows ditch a barrel of radioactive waste into the ocean, and literally the secondit strikes the bottom, it begins to leak its contents. The waste drifts over to a mysterious human skull forgotten on the ocean floor, and the skull begins to regenerate flesh—once again, immediately. No time to waste here, folks! The regeneration process is a painstakingly slow one, though, and looks like a scene from some French surrealist film.
What eventually emerges is a humanoid monster derived of mutant water plants and decomposed human tissue (or something like that), and where there's one, there's another...and another...and another...
They proceed to attack a bevy of pretty young ladies and terrorize the town. The police are baffled, and they recruit civilian scientist Dr. Gavin to assist in the investigation, who in turn recruits his comely young daughter Elaine, and his assistant Hank—whose girlfriend Tina was the first victims of these spongy slimeballs.
Their investigation leads them a whole lot of nowhere until one of these monsters, enraged that his prey escaped him, punches through a storefront window, severing his arm at the elbow. When the arm is found and taken back to Dr. Gavin's lab for analysis, he determines that the monsters are giant protozoa, and that they must consume human blood to survive. The team accidentally stumbles upon the monsters' weakness when Dr. Gavin's superstitious maid Eulabelle clumsily knocks a beaker of sodium over onto the appendage, and it goes up in smoke.
Knowing how to defeat them is one thing, but knowing where to find them is another. Luckily another breakthrough comes with the discovery that the beasts emanate radioactivity, and thus a good old fashioned Geiger counter hunt leads Elaine right into their stomping grounds. The damsel in distress is saved at the last second by the timely intervention of her father, Hank, and a plethora of sodium bombs in a scene that reminded me more of a snowball fight than anything else.
When we are introduced to Tina and Hank at the onset of the film, it's obvious that their relationship is already in turmoil. It's likely that when they first began seeing each other, they were both wild and reckless kids, but in the years since, Hank has grown up considerably. Tina is still the same volatile brat that she always was, though, cruising through life in search of kicks. They have an argument on the way to the beach ("Life isn't just all fun and games"
, he tells her, likely something that she has heard enough at home), and when a group of bikers crash the beach party, she openly flirts with their leader and leads him to the "dance floor", just to make Hank jealous.
It apparently works, and despite my urging of him to "Just let the bitch go!", he and the biker get into a ridiculous fist fight whose choreography seems ripped from the pages of an X-Men comic book. The bikers use one of their members as a human battering ram, and in retaliation, the beach kids throw one of their own at the leather-clad baddies (prompting the timeless MST3K jibe "Here, let me throw a gay man at you!"
). When the fight has breached the absurdity threshold, it suddenly stops, Hank and the gang leader shake hands, and the bikers walk away, never to be seen again. Their presence makes no impact whatsoever on any of the rest of the film, and they seem shoehorned in here just because Eric Von Zipper and the rest of the Ratz were not available.
It's shortly after the fight that Tina swims out to an outcropping of rocks and is murdered by one of the monsters. Considering that he had just partaken in an epic beach brawl for Tina's hand, he doesn't seem all that distraught after her death. There's talk of a funeral, though we never get to see it, and even if he wept off camera, he's still pretty quick to hook up with the boss's daughter, now that he's a free man. No worries, he and Elaine make a much better couple, anyway.
What is rather disappointing is the racial stereotyping in the character of Eulabelle. It's not so much that she's cast in the subservient position of a housekeeper, or that she's incredibly superstitious (she is beyond convinced that this is the work of voodoo), or that she's terrified of everything, or that she speaks in that stereotyped rural black patois. It's that all
of these things are combined together into one potentially-offensive mass, like the roles of Mantan Moreland some 20 years prior. But, like the great Mantan Moreland, she does her best with the material offered to her and rises above it with an always-amusing performance. It may be of some comfort that she was the only person who acted rationally in the entire cast—in the world of a horror film, it is
rational to believe that there isn't a rational explanation, and it is
rational to be afraid of monsters.
The monsters themselves were designed by theater set designer Bob Verbekmoes, and look like what you would expect from somebody low on budget but high on heart: they appear vaguely aquatic with three fins framing their heads, and have large protruding eyes. There were actually two different monster designs, one slightly less defined than the other. The more famous design threatens you not with sharpened fangs, but rather with blunt and wobbly toothy appendages that are frequently cited as being hot dogs or sausages. It was an interesting, but ultimately silly, choice, and they look only slightly more menacing than something you might meet on Sesame Street. Still, they manage to do a good deal of bloodletting, even if it was in black-and-white (which never would have flown if this were a genuine beach movie).
As is to be expected, there are plenty of characters who are introduced just so that they can be killed off. You have to have a decent body count in these movies, but you don't want to upset the audience by killing one of the leads, so instead, we get a parade of paper thin extras. One example of this: three brassy big city broads are driving through town, and although they have heard about the rash of attacks and have the good sense to not stick around any longer than they need to, they do have to stop at a gas station to fuel up. So brazen are these women that when the driver tells the attendant (played by filmmaker Del Tenney) "Fill me up, huh?"
, you get the distinct impression that she is not just talking about her fuel tank. On the way out of town, they get a flat tire and are quickly eliminated by the monsters.
The greatest slaughter scene, though, takes place at a slumber party. While the buxom young ladies engage in pillow fights and other sexy things that men envision women do when they're alone, the creatures burst through multiple doors, a coordinated attack that shows they are not mindless beasts, but capable of planning and forethought. Unfortunately, these characteristics are not fully exploited later, though that would have brought an interesting twist to the proceedings.
I had already seen the similarly-themed THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER, whose mix of teen beach antics and monster mayhem was not quite what it could have been, when I read elsewhere that THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH was likely closer to what I was looking for. I went in with high hopes and fingers crossed, praying for a Frankie and Annette Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon
vibe. This was, perhaps, a step closer in that direction...but still a far cry.
Even when Frankie and Annette were at a soda shop or a friend's house or any other location, it still felt like a beach movie. THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, unfortunately, only feels like a beach movie when they're (surprise, surprise) on the beach. The rest of the time it feels like some bizarre police procedural as drummed up by Ed Wood—not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
The beach scenes are pretty dead on, honestly, and a lot of goofy fun. As the Del-Aires play such tunes as the timeless "Zombie Stomp", classic cuties in retro bikinis shake their impressive derrières for the zoom lens, while beefcakes whose briefs are even briefer than those of their female companions strut around like peacocks. There are cutaways to random bits of pop-in humor ("Do you believe kissing is unhealthy?", "I don't know, I've never been...", "You've never been kissed!?", "No, I've never been sick!"
), and then a little more music and a little more dancing.
|The Del-Aires: Zombie Stomp|
The Del-Aires were a real garage band from Paterson, NJ, who were performing in area clubs when the filmmakers were in search of a group that could supply groovy energetic music for very little pay. The band had already recorded the single "So Far So Long/Someplace" for the small label Block Records (named for music manager/Block Linoleum owner Archie Block), but quickly signed on to the film for increased exposure. They performed six songs in the film—three of their own ("Drag", "Just Wigglin''N' Wobblin'", and "Elaine") and three written by the film's musical department of Wilford L. Holcombe and Zebedy Colt ("Joy Ride", "The Zombie Stomp", and "You Are Not A Summer Love").
After filming, the Del-Aires left Block Records and signed with Coral, a subsidiary of Decca, where they released a small handful of 45 singles—though “The Zombie Stomp” was not among them. They broke up in 1964, citing in-fighting and changing musical interests as the cause, without ever achieving national fame. In 2012, boutique label Norton released the LP Zombie Stomp
, featuring the band's singles, B-sides, demos and live recordings. The title track, which had previously never been released, is unfortunately pulled directly from the film—meaning sound effects and background chatter can still be heard, though creative editing has eliminated the interrupting dialogue.
There are a number of collectors who insist that "Zombie Stomp" by the Del-Aires was
indeed released on 45 back in the 1960s, and yet nobody has managed to find a copy. The reason for this confusion likely stems from the fact that another
song titled "Zombie Stomp" was released on 45 in 1964, the instrumental version of which was used in another
horror-beach-musical hybrid film from Ray Dennis Steckler called THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, which was also released the same year.
It's too bad that the Del-Aire's song wasn't
released on 45, as that seems like the natural promotional
|The Fumetti Of Party Beach|
choice. The filmmakers went with something a little more off kilter, instead. Teaming up with Warren Publications, they released a fumetti adaptation—a comic book-like magazine with stills from the film and cartoon word balloons. A few of the images have been noticeably tampered with, though, as the sausage-mouth monsters are now sporting a full set of fangs. The issue started out with a 35¢ price tag, but a high grade copy these days can run you just under a hundred bucks.
This is frequently thought of as Del Tenney's film—he did, after all, produce and direct it, as well as contribute a good deal to the script with his wife…though, both their screenwriting is uncredited. However the whole thing was the idea of his co-producer, Alan Iselin. Iselin's family owned more than a dozen drive-ins in the Albany area, and he wanted to get into the movie business because he believed he knew what kind of pictures drew crowds. As double-features were the standard at the time, Iselin put up half of the hundred thousand dollar budget and came up with two titles that he knew would sell tickets: THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE and INVASION OF THE ZOMBIES (this film's original title). It was up to Tenney to put up the other half of the money, and figure out how to turn those titles into full-length films, which he did in record time. They were shot back-to-back in Stamford, Connecticut at the Gotzun Borglum studios, then owned by Tenney's father-in-law—Borglum being the artist famous for sculpting the heads of Mount Rushmore. Once completed, Tenney secured distribution for both films from Twentieth Century Fox, and the double-feature premiered in June 1964, doing twice the business of the big-budget double-feature that played on the other screen. By no means a blockbuster, it was still quite a success.
Part of that success may have had something to do with the marketing gimmick they used, stolen right from the playbook of ballyhoo maestro William Castle. Because the likelihood that an audience member might die of fright while watching the double feature was supposedly so great, patrons of certain theaters had to sign a "fright release" that would absolve the theater of all responsibility when they purchased their tickets. If only advertising executives today were so creative.
The original theatrical trailer makes mention of this gimmick, and it also claims that THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH was "The First Horror Monster Musical"...though the aforementioned THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES actually beat it to the theaters by a few months. Poor Tenney was just one step behind Steckler the entire way.
|From The Reading Eagle, 04.22.1964|
Del Tenney had previously produced the horror film VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (1963), and followed up his famous double-feature with I EAT YOUR SKIN (1964), which he wrote, produced, and directed. I EAT YOUR SKIN sat on a shelf, unreleased, for six years until Jerry Gross picked it up for an even more infamous double-feature when it was released with I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970). He helped to produce the drug trade drama POPPIES ARE ALSO FLOWERS (1966), and then left moviemaking behind for theater work and a career in real estate. Many years later, he returned to film when he formed Del Mar Productions with his wife Margot Hartman and their associate Kermit Christman. Together they produced the William Katt drama CLEAN AND NARROW (1999); the Joey Lawrence horror film DO YOU WANNA KNOW A SECRET? (2001); and the thriller DESCENDANT (2003), also featuring William Katt. Tenney passed away in 2013 at the age of 82. Although his later films never garnered a lot of attention, his earlier works earn him an eternal spot in the annals of drive-in cinema.
Tenney's partner on this film, Alan Iselin, only managed to produce two more features, the titles of which should tell you all you need to know—FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) and COME SPY WITH ME (1967).
Screenwriter Richard Hilliard had only a brief career, as well. On various sides of the business, he worked on the low-budget exploitation film THE LONELY SEX (1959); the falling-for-a-stripper drama WILD IS MY LOVE (1963); Tenney's VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (1963); THE PLAYGROUND (1965); I, MARQUIS DE SADE (1967); and THE SECRET FILES OF DETECTIVE X (1968).
As for the cast, they appeared in few, if any, other films. It should be noted, though, that the motorcycle gang at the beginning of the film was played by real members of the Charter Oak MC. Though there was a motorcycle accident that delayed shooting for a few weeks, and the club later spent a night with a nervous Tenney, watching their footage over and over again, at least the film shoot didn't turn into an Altamont situation.
Alice Lyon (Elaine) found some degree of fame, I'm sure, when she married into (sort of) the closest thing that America had to royalty—the Kennedy's Camelot. She and Hugh D. Auchincloss III, Jackie Kennedy's stepbrother, were wed in 1958, but she divorced him four years later on grounds of "mental cruelty". Her father was a U.S. Ambassador, and according to the New York Times notice published after her death in 2003, she had worked for the CIA. It appears that THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH may have been the least-interesting thing to happen in her life.
Back in 2010, William Katt was developing a remake of the movie that would play up the inherent environmental angle more so than the original did. Screenwriter Mark Litton was said to have been composing a draft of the script, and they were hoping to begin filming in 2011. The remake has yet to appear, and the project appears to be dead in the water.
The horror anthology film CREEPSHOW was released in 1982, written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero, with special makeup effects by Tom Savini. With a hard-hitting crew like that, it's no surprise that it quickly became a fan favorite, and CREEPSHOW 2 entered the scene in 1987.
Responsibilities were shifted for this sequel, though. King was responsible for the stories that the segments were based on, but King himself did not write the script. Instead, Romero took on the position of screenwriter and passed directorial duties onto Michael Gornick, who was the cinematographer the first time around. Savini plays "the Creep" in the prologue scene (though, interestingly, he doesn't supply the voice of the same character in the animated bumper sequences), and the special effects were provided by Ed French and Greg Nicotero. It seems as if everyone took a sidestep for this production, which may not have benefited the film as a whole, but at least it works quite well for the second segment, THE RAFT, which is the only one that is important for our purposes here. Moreover, it is the one that most people fondly remember, like the Zuni fetish doll episode of Dan Curtis's TRILOGY OF TERROR.
Four teenagers—Deke, Randy, Laverne and Rachel—are hoping to spend a nice afternoon out at the lake. There's a wooden raft out in the center of the water that they can swim out to, and soak up some rays, listen to some tunes, and smoke a little reefer. Just your typical movieland teenage shenanigans.
Not so typical, though, is the inky blob that is floating on the surface of the water, and seems to be making its way towards them. Randy is the first to notice it, and the first to recognize it as a threat—look at the way it rolled over those ducks, almost as if it was eating them!
—and so right away we've got him pegged as the hero of the group.
The others don't pay much attention to his warnings, and Rachel, in a nearly trance-like state, reaches over the edge of the raft to caress the slimy thing. It burbles up out of the water, attaching itself to her, and pulls her into the drink. The others watch in horror as she struggles futilely against the gooey mass which covers and consumes her, all while she screams "It hurts! It hurts!"
Now fully convinced that they are dealing with a monster straight out of a 1950s sci-fi flick, they realize that they are trapped on the raft, as swimming back to shore would mean almost certain death. It becomes a contest of wills between the blob and the humans to see who can wait it out the longest. The blob has nowhere else to be, but the humans should be safe as long as they stay on the raft.
When it comes to villains in horror films, the term "should be safe"
breeds new innovations. The blob eventually tires of waiting for his next meal to cannonball into the muck and so it slides beneath the raft. It reaches through the cracks between the wooden slats and wraps its tentacles around Deke's ankle, then proceeds to pull him down with such ferocity that the boards break beneath him. In a rather brutal scene, Deke is pulled slowly and sloppily through the hole and into what passes as the gaping maw of the creature.
Due to the construct of this particular raft, the hole that Deke was pulled through does not jeopardize its structural integrity. Randy tells the now-shellshocked Laverne that they should be safe if they stand squarely on the slats and avoid the cracks. As the blob emerges from beneath the raft, Randy and Laverne take turns keeping watch. Night begins to fall and they hold each other in their arms to keep warm until morning.
It comes across as a rather sweet scene, which only serves to increase the sourness of what comes next. With Laverne sleeping soundly, Randy's true nature comes out. Living by the mantra that there's never a bad time to commit sexual assault, he begins to caress and molest her sleeping body. When she starts to stir, he quickly lays her down on the raft...at which point the blob, having covertly returned to its spot beneath the raft, reaches up through the slats and grabs ahold of her. Only then does she fully awaken.
Once Laverne is in the blob's grasp, Randy sees his last chance at salvation. He jumps into the water and swims wildly for shore with the blob in pursuit. Miraculously, he makes it to safety but rather than continue running, he turns to gloat and taunt the blob. "I beat you!"
he shouts, but the blob still has at least one trick up his sleeve. It rises up in a massive black tidal wave to consume him—which is not only a hell of a good jump ending, but also just desserts.
The blob itself looks something like a floating trash bag slathered in petroleum jelly, but the camera doesn't linger on it long enough to make it laughable. The rest of the special effects are rather good, full of gooey red grue and slimy blob bits. This gory stuff was the lifeblood of the 1980s horror movie, and it looks better here than in many of its contemporaries. This, coupled with the quick pace, explains why the segment is so sealed into the subconscious of many genre fans.
As this is something of a nostalgic favorite for many people, there are a good number of conversations about it to be found online. There are two hot topics that seem to pop up time and again. The first one is, if the blob could leap out of the water like it did at the end, why didn't it do that earlier when the kids were trapped on the raft? There are a number of theories floating around about that, the most prominent being that either the blob was not strong enough to do so until after consuming three square meals; or that the blob is bound by the same gravitational laws as we are, and it had nothing to "push off" from until it was closer to the shore, where it could reach the bottom. Both, of course, make sense, but we'll never know the real answer. It is as obscure as the monster's origin.
The other topic that is frequently debated is whether or not Randy intentionally sacrificed Laverne, or if it was an accident that he merely took advantage of. The look of shock on his face when Laverne is attacked seems to imply that it wasn't planned, but rather he had merely lost track of the blob's location while he was busy gearing up to rape Sleeping Beauty. I do believe that people would actually sympathize with him had he skipped the sexual assault and simply tossed her overboard. At least then it could have been written off as a survival mechanism. Nobody knows how they would react in a situation like that, but I'm pretty sure most people know damn well they wouldn't react the way that Randy did.
Although this was made in the 1980s, it has an indescribable classical feel to it—but with a definite 80s vibe. It's so simple and familiar that it almost feels like a remake of an old black-and-white creature feature. THE RAFT really does play as an abbreviated version of your classic monster movie. There is no filler and no wasted time giving backstory of any of the characters. In fact, there isn't the slightest clue given as to where this monster came from. That makes it all the more mysterious and all the more frightening, as we are just as much in the dark as the victims are. The fact that the blob lives in the water, as well as the fact that the teens discuss its similarities to an oil slick, make THE RAFT seem like an ecologically-oriented horror film, though that isn't necessarily the case. We have no reason to believe that the water is polluted—it's just as likely that the blob fell from outer space as it is that he's a product of man's carelessness towards Mother Nature. Some horror stories give too much away, feeling the need to explain everything in real world terms. This short does not give into that temptation, knowing that sometimes, ambiguity is a strength. The monster here has no origin, it simply is. And as viewers, we have to accept that.
Unfortunately, that also means that we have to accept the human characters as they are, as well. From the moment this entry opens on a muscle car barreling recklessly down the road, and you hear that first line of dialogue—"I feel the need...the need for weed!"
—you know that the young people in this story are ones that your parents don't want you to be associated with. As the minutes wear on, and you hear the inanities that they consistently sputter (almost as if they are afraid of the minutest of silences), you realize that you wouldn't want to associate with them, either. In most horror films, nearly everyone under a certain age is depicted as, for lack of a better term, annoying and tittering jackasses. It's a shame that this one caters to that same perception. Had there been better characterizations here, THE RAFT could've been a true classic of the genre.
I'm hoping that someday this will be made into a full-length picture, where tensions will have time to blossom and the minor mistakes can be corrected. Make it one part OPEN WATER, one part THE BLOB, and one part CABIN FEVER and I'm fairly certain that it would be an instant hit—Deke's speedo can be recast, however. But until that day, I'll have to be content with rewatching this entry...even if I do decide to skip the rest of the movie.
THE RAFT was based on a short story by Stephen King, originally printed in booklet form and included with a 1982 issue of nudie magazine Gallery. It was later reprinted in the Twilight Zonemagazine—owned by the same publisher as Gallery—in 1983, and was included in King's 1985 short story collection Skeleton Crew. In King's notes at the end of this collection, he explains how an earlier version of the story entitled "The Float" was accepted by skin mag Adam, and though payment was received in 1970, indicating publication, he has never been able to unearth a copy...nor have collectors of King's work.
The short story version of “The Raft” is very close to the adaptation, though the former does offer up more insight into the characters. Of notable changes in plot, only a few exist: it is much more obvious that the blob is able to mesmerize its victims by the colors swirling on its black skin, which would explain why Rachel would stare at it so intently; furthermore, Randy is not cast as a sexual predator in the story, and although he and Laverne do engage in full (and unlikely) intercourse, it is strictly consensual; and finally, as jump scares do not work nearly as well on the page as they do onscreen, King went with a more low-key, but ultimately haunting, ending.
The small cast is comprised basically of also-rans, whose dreams of Hollywood stardom never fully panned
|From Deseret News 05.29.87|
out. Deke was played by Paul Satterfield, who is best known for his work on the soap operas ONE LIFE TO LIVE and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. His buddy Randy was played by Daniel Beer, who can also be found in POINT BREAK (1991). Actress Jeremy Green played Laverne, and although she was a natural beauty with talent, she appeared in only one other film: the soccer drama HOTSHOT (1987). She also showed up in a single episode of MY LIFE AND TIMES (1991), as well as a Doublemint gum commercial with her twin sister, but has since faded into obscurity. And finally, Rachel was played by Page Hannah, who had small parts in SHAG (1989) and GREMLINS 2 (1990), and made appearances on MONSTERS (1988) and FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES (1989), but is probably most remembered for her stint on the FAME television series (1986).
As solid of an entry as this was, you would think that it would have launched at least one major career, but that was obviously not the case.
Blob or not, sometimes it's hard to just get off the Raft.