Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)

... aka: Hell Creatures
... aka: Invasion of the Hell Creatures
... aka: Invasion of the Saucer-Men

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

It's Saturday night in the small American town of Hicksburg ("No I'm not kidding, that's the name... Scout's honor!"). The businesses are closing up shop for the evening. A couple of scam artists, or as they like to be called "investment specialists," have run out of luck and plan on hitting the road in the morning. All of the teenagers - at least the lucky ones - are heading up to Lover's Point for some drinking and smooching. Grumpy Farmer Larkin (Raymond Hatton) is sick and tired of the teeny boppers littering his cow pasture with their beer cans and getting his prized bull Old Walt drunk. And an unidentified flying object has just landed on the outskirts of town. Several people witness it, including Joe (Frank Gorshin), one of the scammers, who immediately returns to his boarding house to tell his buddy Artie (Lyn Osborn) they've just found a new way to make some money: UFO exhibitions. Though the local police are skeptical about the presence of an alien craft, the military is immediately on it and have sent a small squadron into the woods to check out the landed saucer. Back at Lover's Point, a couple of teenagers - Johnny (Steven Terrell) and his girl Joan (Gloria Castillo) - decide to call it a night. To avoid being detected on their way out, they decide to drive home with their lights off and end up running over... something.

Initially thinking they've struck down a young child, further investigation reveals they've actually hit a little green man. The alien's hand detaches and moves on its own, grows needle-like claws out of each fingertip and flattens their tire. They rush off to Larkin's home and make a phone call to the police before being chased off by the mean farmer. Scammer Joe plans on retrieving the alien corpse from under Johnny's car but is attacked and killed by the aliens. When the police finally do show up, Johnny and Joan are accused of being drunk and are blamed for the death. They sneak out of the station, steal the police chief's car and set out to prove their innocence. Luckily, when they return to the crime scene they are able to trap one of the detached hands inside their car, then enlist the aid of Artie in taking its picture. The aliens turns out to be so light sensitive they dissolve on contact with light. Meanwhile, at the spaceship, the military are trying their dardnest to get the aliens to show themselves. After firing shots at the craft, they try to open it with blow torches and just blow the whole thing up, then go about trying to cover things up.

Several things make this stand apart from many similar efforts. For starters, it's witty and light-hearted, almost spoof-like (claiming right out of the gate to be "A true story of a flying saucer!") and can actually be viewed as a send up of similar alien invasion films. The filmmakers even poke fun at all the stereotyped characters and cliches present in this genre, often effectively. Secondly, the movie actrually mocks the military, who are shown to be rather incompetent and that's not something you see too often in the gung ho 1950s. And third, the alien designs are really charming. The beings are small, but have large, bulbous heads and huge eyes. The detached hands, which have their own eyeball, are a very imaginative touch, as are the needles that protrude from the fingers and inject a drug into victims which simulates intoxication. The aliens seem to have inspired the same line of notorious Topps bubblegum - released in 1962 - that were the basis of the 1996 Tim Burton sci-fi comedy movie MARS ATTACKS! (1996). The film also seems to have influenced Frank Henenlotter's cult classic BRAIN DAMAGE (1987), which involved a tiny parasitic monster that hooked victims on its blue hallucinogenic "juice" (injected via needle-like appendage) in exchange for fresh human brains.

One of the most amusing scenes is a cow vs. alien fight. The alien shoots the cow up while the cow gouges out its eyeball with its horn! The cast includes Russ Bender as a doctor, Sam Buffington leading up the military unit, Douglas Henderson as an army lieutenant, Scott Peters (star of THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS) and Ed Nelson. Dwarf Angelo Rossitto (who had a long line of genre credits stretching back to the silent days) plays one of the saucer men. The technical effects are credited to Paul Blaisdell, who did the spaceship scenes, and the special effects (the aliens) are credited to Howard Anderson and Alex Weldon. Ronald Stein (who worked on many early Corman films) did the score and Samuel Z. Arkoff was the executive producer.

American International Pictures released this to theaters on a popular double-bill with I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957). There was a VHS release by Columbia TriStar in the early 2000s but the film has never been officially released on DVD.


Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea (1972)

... aka: From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital
... aka: Trágica ceremonia en villa Alexander
... aka: Tragic Ceremony
... aka: Tragic Ceremony at Villa Alexander
... aka: Tragic Experience at Villa Alexander

Directed by:
"Robert Hampton" (Riccardo Freda)

Originally titled Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale Europa (roughly: "From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital"), this attempt at a modern Gothic pretty much flat lines. After some sailing, four young hippies - pretty Jane (Camille Keaton), her boyfriend Joe (Máximo Valverde), wannabe musician Fred (Giovanni "Petrucci" / Petti) and rich, spoiled industrialist's son Bill (Tony Isbert) - decide to camp out on Lighthouse Point beach. Bill has the hots for Jane and tries to impress her by giving her a pearl necklace. We discover that there's a strange legend behind the necklace. Supposedly, it belonged to a crazy old woman believed to be possessed by the devil and the possession was thought to have been brought on by the cursed pearls themselves. The woman who owned them was exorcized but she and her entire family died anyway. Bill had tried to give them to his mother (Irina Demick) but she gave them back to him because she found it to be in bad taste. So now they're Jane's. She accepts the gift but refuses to kiss him for it. After all, she already has a boyfriend. Now I need to stop right now and point out that this "possessed pearls" subplot has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film, so why it required about ten minutes of screen time, a lengthy flashback and constant shots of Jane strumming the pearls is anyone's guess.

All four decide to take a trip to town in Bill's dune-buggy like "Scarabo" vehicle. They run out of gas and have to push it to the nearest gas station. When they arrive, the attendant ("Pepe" / José Calvo) acts like a prick and refuses to take their traveler's checks without an ID. Just to get rid of them, he pumps a tiny amount in and sends them off. The little bit of gas doesn't take them very far and they end up stranded by a large villa. A voice over the intercom tells them to park their car in the garage and come inside. They briefly meet the home's bizarre-acting owners: Lady (Luciana Paluzzi) and Lord (Luigi Pistilli) Alexander and are welcomed to spend the night. While bathing, Jane falls into a trance, wanders downstairs and finds herself stretched out on a sacrificial table with her hostess hovering over her with a knife. The guy stumble in just in time and disrupt the black mass. Over a struggle for the knife, Bill accidentally stabs Lady Alexander and they take off. Make-up artist Carlo Rambaldi then gets to take over as the cultists start slaughtering each other set to the tune of Stelvio Cipriani's classical score.

Jane and company then make a pit stop at Bill's home, his mother gives them money for a hotel (dad's away on a hunting trip and her lover is spending the night) and they end up going to Bill's father's country home to hide out and try to decide what to do. A news broadcast compares the Alexander home massacre to the Manson murders and authorities already suspect the presence of hippies (Fred left his guitar behind). We also learn that Lady Alexander's body has disappeared and that the gas station owner died fifteen years ago. One by one, the young folks are mysteriously killed off - or forced to kill themselves - by some unseen force. The sole survivor is rushed off to a nuthouse in a catatonic state where doctor Paul Muller tries to explain the nonsense we just witnessed.

One might expect a bit better from director Freda (using the alias "Robert Hampton" here), one of the pioneering forces behind the late 50s / early 60s Italian Gothic revival. The film has some nicely composed shots here and there - including one of Jane descending a staircase holding a candelabra while the curtains blow in the wind - but otherwise it's pretty bland. In interviews, Freda has stated that he hated this movie and regrets making it, and it's easy to see why. One thing that does breath a little occasional life into the proceedings are the Rambaldi fx. There are some very gory moments in here, such as a gunshot to the head and a man slashing his own throat. The best however is a man getting his head hacked in two with a sword. It's so good the filmmakers decided to repeat it at least five times. Keaton - best known for her starring role as the vengeful rape victim in the notorious I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) - also has some nudity.

The DVD - titled Tragic Ceremony on the cover but Estratto dagli... on the actual print - is from Dark Sky. The disc also comes with a 13-minute interview with Keaton titled Camille's European Adventures, where she briefly discusses her work in WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1971), SEX OF THE WITCH (1973), this film and MADELINE, STUDY OF A NIGHTMARE (1974), which has never been released in America but she claims is her favorite of all her films.

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