Thursday, August 23, 2012

Monster and the Stripper (1968)

... aka: Exotic Ones, The

Directed by:
Ron Ormond

The Ormond family - papa Ron, mama June and son Tim, had a fascinating film career that stretched four decades and included low-budget 'B' westerns (dozens produced for their company Western Adventures Productions throughout the 40s and 50s), cheapie science fiction flicks (such as 1952's MESA OF LOST WOMEN), sex-and-violence exploitation (1963's PLEASE DON'T TOUCH ME!) and, after Ron survived a plane crash and became "born again," Christian scare films that mostly played in churches (see my review of THE BURNING HELL for more information on these). Monster and the Stripper (the VHS title of what was originally called The Exotic Ones), falls square in the sex-and-violence category and it's an amazing whirlwind of craziness that you won't soon forget. We begin with a brief narrated documentary look at New Orleans, the "Paris of America." We get to see The French Quarter, Bourbon Street, St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square and the place where the Louisiana purchase was signed, learn a little history about the area and, naturally, get to see footage filmed at Mardi Gras. We also learn that New Orleans isn't only the birthplace of blues. It was also the birthplace of the exotic dance.

We venture into the swamp, where a creature known as "The Swamp Thing" (played by huge rockabilly singer Sleepy La Beef) pulls a swamper off his boat. A newspaper headline reading "Swamp Monster Strikes Again: Claims Another Victim" drops to reveal Titania (Georgette Dante), a limber exotic dancer giving her flaming tassels a workout. She then drops to her back for more tassel action, does flips, backbends, kicks, spins, headstands (where she drinks a glass of water), splits and all kinds of other stuff with a chair prop. Needless to say, Titania's currently the star attraction where she works, though even her wild act isn't packing 'em like it used to. With only his underground drug / crime ring currently keeping him afloat, strip joint owner Nemo ("Vic Naro" / Ron Ormond) is desperate for a new attraction. A talent scout brings a bunch of potential new acts over to the club to try to get entertainment coordinator Bunny's (the delightful June Ormond) approval. There's a chubby, rhythm-deficient go-go girl, several other dancers (including one who's "Klass with a capital k!"), a psychedelic nude body painter and a soul singer. The singer, Mary Jane (Donna Raye), is young, innocent and talented, and manages to impress everyone. Nemo decides to groom her to become a star by making the virginal girl sleep with him in exchange for a job and a 500 dollar advance for clothes.

Because none of the new acts are anything special, country boy Gordon (Gordon Terry) gets the idea to go into the swamp with a tranquilizer gun and capture the killer beast, which is reputed to be 9-foot-tall, have the strength of a dozen men and the ability to uproot trees with its bare hands. Gordon and one of Nemo's thugs, the drunk Coke (Cecil Scaiffe), enlist the aid of a redneck named Stud and a young boy named Timmy (Tim Ormond), whose stepfather has already been killed, to track the "thing" down. The guys camp out and eventually the monster - a big, caveman-looking dude with bushy hair and eyebrows, patches of hair glued all over his body and jagged teeth - shows up. It throws boulders around, pulls out Stud's guts and rips Coke's arm off and beats him to death with it! Gordon and Tim manage to shoot it with the tranquilizer dart, it's caged up and shipped back to the club. Now they have an unusual Freakshow act to pack the house. And what an act it is!

While all that's going on, Nemo's busy dealing in drugs and other criminal activities. One guy who runs a brothel for him steals money, so Nemo has his thugs blow cigar smoke in his face and force him to drink the contents of a spittoon. A nosy DEA agent (Edward B. Moates) hanging around waiting to bust Nemo and his cohorts ends up falling in love with Mary Jane and doesn't want her to turn into a tramp (oops... too late!). Titania gets jealous that the new girl is stealing her attention. After she accuses Mary Jane of sleeping with the barely-teenaged Tim (who's been hired by the club to train the beast), a nasty backstage catfight ensues. The monster's act - a play on Beauty and the Beast - involves Mary Jane charming the savage beast with song followed by Titania riling it up again by performing the "Wild Dance of Passion." That's followed by the "thing" being handed a live chicken, actually killing / geeking it, ripping it open and then eating its guts! The creature eventually escapes its cage, rips off the mean stripper's breast, crushes someone's head with its bare hands and then escapes into the streets of New Orleans never to be seen again.

Why this extremely entertaining, hilarious, colorful, tacky and frequently surprising little exploitation movie isn't more famous is a mystery. There's a little bit of everything in here for just about everyone. In addition to generous helpings of gore, skin and flagrantly awful acting (though not everyone is bad), the dialogue is often hilarious, the stripper acts are great and the music (including a memorable harmonica duet performed by Jimmy and Mildred Mulcay) is excellent. If you enjoy the bizarre, the campy and / or the trashy, seek this one out immediately. You won't be disappointed.


It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

... aka: It! The Vampire from Beyond Space
... aka: Terror from Beyond Space

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

This low-budget sleeper was a key inspiration behind the extremely influential blockbuster ALIEN (1979) and its first sequel ALIENS (1986), which makes it a must for serious fans of the genre. Set in the near future (1973 to be precise), Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) of the United States Space Command finds himself alone on Mars. Sixth months earlier, he and his nine-member crew completed the first successful trip to the red planet but the ship was heavily damaged in the landing, stranding them. Since then, everyone except for our protagonist has mysteriously disappeared. In Washington at the Division of Planetary Exploration, a press conference is held to reveal the bad news. A rescue mission led by Colonel Van Heusen (Kim Spalding) has been organized, Carruthers has been apprehended and the new crew begin the four-month-long trip back. Being accused of murdering the others on his mission, a court martial and a military firing squad awaits Carruthers back on Earth... granted he and the others can even get there in one piece! Prior to their lift-off, one of the men decided to open the air lock and throw some empty crates out. In the process, whatever it is was that killed off most of the initial crew has snuck onboard.

No one seems to believe Carruthers when he talks of a potential "mysterious creature" that killed his crew. And the ones who do don't believe their superiors on Earth or the courts are going to believe it. Logic seems to point in the direction that Carruthers freaked out when they became stranded and decided to kill everyone so the food supply would last longer. He claims that all of the men disappeared during a sandstorm. A skull of one of the crewmen with a bullet hole in its head is all the evidence there is, so it's not looking good for Carruthers. Despite this, the mild-mannered suspect is allowed to roam free on the ship, as one notes "Can you think of a better prison?" In other words, there's no escape for anyone. For four long months. First one man disappears. And then another. A shriveled body turns up. And since Carruthers was with some of the other crewman at the time of the deaths, blame can no longer fall on his shoulders. After everyone actually sees the creature, it's a struggle for survival from then on out.

With two men already dead, the remaining eight whip out their arsenal of guns, explosives and other weaponry. They wire all of the ventilation shafts (where the creature is first spotted) with grenades (!) and wait. After setting off that trap and managing to easily survive explosions, the monster proves to be impervious to both bullets and poison gas. They manage to trap it down below for the time being while trying to figure out just what to do. An autopsy conducted on one of the victims reveals that there's not a molecule of oxygen or a drop of water left in the body. All blood, bone marrow and every ounce of edible fluid is gone, leading to death by dehydration and cellular collapse. If that's not bad enough, whoever is injured by the creature gets infected with an alien bacteria that creates a fast-spreading, leukemia-like condition that our antibiotics have no effect on.

As the situation grows more grim and the monster starts getting hungry again (it can easy tear its way through whatever metal door or hatch is in its way), the humans must start risking their asses to try to take it out. Unfortunately, the near indestructible being manages to not only survive all of their weapons, but seemingly everything else they throw its way. Metal steps wired with enough electricity to kill 30 humans barely slows it down. Even direct exposure to a nuclear reactor capable of killing 100 does nothing. Everyone left is eventually forced up to the top level control room, their last possible sanctuary, and must come up with a brand new plan before the monster gets in.

Since this was made prior to our expansion of space knowledge, some of this is now naturally silly or hard to believe. Just being one small puncture away from death doesn't stop these folks from constantly firing guns and setting off things to explode! There's also one moment that has two of the astronauts climbing outside of the traveling rocket and walking down the side to access a floor below where the creature is. Moments like those aside, this is a solid, well-paced little sci-fi / horror / suspense film. The man-in-a-suit monster design, with a pig-like snout, sharp claws and rows of sharp teeth, actually isn't too bad for the time, though it's usually kept in the shadows.

I've already mentioned its influence on the Alien series, though I've not really given many examples. The similarities don't stop at the premise of an almost unstoppable alien stowaway let loose in the claustrophobic closed confines of a spaceship either. A scene of one crewman crawling through the ventilation shaft with a flashlight and encountering the monster instantly brings the later film to mind. The bacterial "infection" which leads to some nasty stomach cramps was of course expanded upon in Alien with the monster "impregnating" victims leading to the famous stomach-burster scene. Both films also utilize the air lock to finally stop the creature, though they go about it in two completely different ways. Of course Alien had the talent, budget and lack of censorship to fully realize the horror-aboard-a-spaceship scenario while this film did not. That hardly means this deserves to be forgotten; it deserves a place in genre history as an influential minor classic.

The cast also includes Shirley Patterson (billed as "Shawn Smith") as the female love interest who sparks the affections of both Carruthers and Van Heusen, Ann Doran and Dabbs Greer as husband-and-wife doctors, Paul Langton (THE COSMIC MAN) and Ray “Crash” Corrigan as the monster. Director Cahn also made many other enjoyable low-budgeters, including INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957) and THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959). The ads offered 50,000 dollars to anyone who could prove that "It" is not currently on Mars!

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