Thursday, June 14, 2012

Werewolf, The (1956)

Directed by:
Fred F. Sears

A Sam Katzman production, this was the first American werewolf movie in around a decade. Unlike the famous Universal Wolf Man series and its offshoots of the 30s and 40s, which relied on a supernatural curse to explain the werewolf, the mythos here have been updated to the atomic age. After some brief narration explaining lycanthropy to us mere mortals, a confused, distraught-looking man (Steven Ritch) wanders into a bar, orders a drink, warms himself by the fire and then leaves. One of the other patrons notices he has some money on him, so he follows him outside and tries to hassle him. Big mistake there, as he ends up dead after the altercation. An old woman who witnesses the crime screams, getting the attention of those in the bar. Some of the men decide to track down the killer through the snow. Strangely, what start as boot tracks abruptly turn into wolf tracks... except these wolf tracks appear to be bipedal. Yes, the small wintery town of Mountaincrest is now gonna have a werewolf to contend with. After a deputy (Harry Lauter) is bitten, Sheriff Jack Haynes (Don Megowan) decides to take precautions to prevent any more attacks: hunters are forbidden from hunting, a roadblock is set up to monitor who enters or exits town and bear traps with fresh meat are put out in strategic spots.

The killer shows up to a clinic run by Dr. Jonas Gilchrist (Ken Christy) and his assistant / niece Amy Standish (Joyce Holden). He confesses that he doesn't know his own name, doesn't know what he's even doing in Mountaincrest and may be responsible for the previous night's killing. When the doctor tries to give him a sedative, he freaks out and runs off. The man obviously has a reason to be distrustful of the medical community. As it turns out he was involved in a minor auto accident days earlier and was sent to Dr. Morgan Chambers (George Lynn) for help. Instead, he was used as an unwilling test subject in the doctor's radiation experiments, which have turned him into a beast. Dr. Chambers, along with his colleague Dr. Emery Forrest (S. John Launer), decide to head to Mountaincrest in an effort to destroy the monster they helped created (in order to cover their own tracks). We learn that the werewolf is a gentle, mild-mannered family man by the name of Duncan Marsh and that his wife Helen (Eleanore Tanin) is out searching for him. The Sheriff organizes a posse of hunters to track the beast down but Dr. Gilchrist and Amy implore him to capture the man instead of killing him since he seems mentally ill and suffers from amnesia.

Upon learning that the "monster" has a wife and child, the Sheriff has second thoughts about his original plan to shoot it on sight and he and the townsfolk concentrate their energies on capturing him instead. A bear trap eventually injures the were-man and he's reuinted with his family and placed in the security of the city jail until he can be transported to a major city for medical help. Dr. Chambers now has just one last chance to strike before he's exposed. He and his colleague use chloroform to knock out the deputy and break into Duncan's cell, with plans of shooting him dead. Instead, they're in for a surprise when they realize Duncan isn't sleeping and has already transformed. After making mince meat of the men responsible for his predicament, Duncan escapes into the snow, with the Sheriff and a posse of hunters hot on his trail. Only this time Sheriff Haynes doesn't have the luxury of a more docile approach.

The science behind the creation of the werewolf is weak, the ending feels a little rushed and some - though certainly not all - of the acting is a little on the wooden side (the cast is very earnest at least), but I still quite enjoyed this. It throws all common werewolf mythology right out the window: There's no transformation by full moon, no curse and no silver bullets, and the lyncanthrope here is as vulnerable as you and I to the elements, injury and death. Unlike older, similar films, this also utilizes very nice, real outdoor locations in the forest and around a lake, dam and a rock quarry. What it does maintain from the Universal films is the sense of tragedy. The movie exhibits a nice humanity when it comes to its creature and how those in the small town try to deal with this dangerous threat in the right way. Ritch does a terrific job in a sympathetic turn as the Wolf Man, and there are some other nice supporting performances, particularly by Tanin as his wife.

The Werewolf didn't make much of a dent back in its day when it was released on the bottom half of a double bill with the director's EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and was unreleased on a home viewing format for nearly 50 years. Sony finally released it in 2007 as part of the Sam Katzman Collection, which also included the abovementioned Flying Saucers and THE GIANT CLAW (1957) as well as the inferior ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957).

Abomination, The (1986)

Directed by:
"Max Raven" (Bret McCormick)

Over five thousand years ago, the prophet Daniel foretold the coming of The Abomination that makes all things desolate. Then Saint John again warned of its coming in the Book of Revelation. Or as one character here puts it, The Abomination is simply "a hideous demon from hell!" But The Abomination is much more than just a demon. It's also a fitting description of the God awful acting, sound recording and grainy Super 8 photography in this very low-budget film. It appears that this was actually shot without sound; it's partially narrated and any dialogue exchanges (note the many back-of-the-head shots) have been dubbed in later by a cast of voice actors who are about as bad as they come. However, if you're willing to overlook that or it doesn't even matter to you in the first place, there's actually some stuff to to enjoy in here: Regional charm (it was shot in Texas), a somewhat original premise and, best of all, very fun special effects and bucket loads of blood and gore. Strangely, and rather unwisely, director "Max Raven" (Bret McCormick) decided to start things out with a four-minute-long nightmare sequence which actually spoils many of the film's later gore scenes. The film would have played better without it.

The Abomination is narrated by Cody Lee (Scott Davis), a young man suffering from horrific nightmares, who recounts his bizarre story of demon possession and murder to a doctor. It all begins with Cody's sad, brainwashed mother Sarah (Jude Johnson). Sickened with lung cancer, Sarah sits in front of the TV all day and night listening to phony televangelist Brother Fogg (Rex Morton) begging for 20 dollar "love gifts" and such. Fogg asks everyone with cancer in the audience to place their hands on top of their TV set so he can heal them. Sarah does so and ends up coughing up a bloody tumor "big enough to choke a horse!" onto the kitchen floor. She tosses it in the litter bin and goes to bed. Cody returns home and the tumor climbs out of the trash, into his bed and into his mouth. From there on out, Sarah gets healthier and Cody gets sicker. He starts coughing up blood, feels like something's swimming around in his stomach and is put on bed rest by the family doctor. Finally, Cody coughs up a bloody, pulsating mass and hides it under his bed.

Cured of his cough, but now under the possession of the creature, Cody goes on a killing spree to get "food" for the demon. He cuts a female friend's throat and gives the body to the creature, causing it to grow from about the size of a baseball to a large, tentacle-sporting, fanged red blob that barely fits under the kitchen counters. Immediately afterward, he coughs up another small tumor which also must be fed. A friend stops by long enough to get hacked in the head with a shovel to provide more grub. Sarah goes to Brother Fogg for help and he agrees to stop by to perform an exorcism. Before that can take place, Cody serves his mama up to the beast, which bites off her hand and then eats her whole. He then takes his pet cat and a new, third tumor he's just yakked up to Fogg's office and hides the tumor in his toilet. The filmmakers felt it necessary to actually put the cat into the toilet, have the actor hold it down in the water and then close the lid on the poor scared puss. Hopefully they rewarded it with a nice chicken dinner afterwards for its contributions.

After Brother Fogg is eaten alive while taking a dump, Cody has yet another member of his ever-growing "new family" to feed. He pops in to the garage where he works as a mechanic and tricks his asshole boss into reaching into a cooler with one of the little critters inside. After it chomps off his hand, Cody whacks him with a machete and then cuts off the top of his head with a chainsaw so that his brains fall out. A scene of Cody attacking a woman in the cemetery, slitting her neck and then going to a carwash, which we'd already seen at the beginning of the film, is again repeated in its entirety. (Along with the 'best of' gore montage at the beginning, I'd have edited this down some). Finally, Cody's girlfriend Kelly (played by Blue Thompson, the director's wife) shows up at the home to see what's become of her missing man and gets more than she bargained for.

Considering the filmmakers backed themselves into a corner with all the weirdness, the ending seems like a lazy cop out to me personally, but never mind that. Just sit back and enjoy the bloody, entertaining low-budget shenanigans as they unfold. Director McCormick also made TABLOID (1985), a parody of tabloid headlines, the seldom -seen sci-fi comedy REPLIGATOR (1996) and the more serious-minded HIGHWAY TO HELL (1989), and produced the goopy gore comedy OZONE ATTACK OF THE REDNECK MUTANTS (1986), which featured much of the same cast. The copyright date on the end credits says 1988, though this was actually filmed in either 1985 or 1986.

The VHS was from Donna Michelle. There is no DVD release that I'm aware of thus far.

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