Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Eye Creatures, The (1965)

... aka: Attack of the Eye Creatures
... aka: UFOs from Outer Space

Directed by:
Larry Buchanan

The Eye Creatures was one of a half dozen color remakes of black-and-white AIP productions; all made by Texas-born, self-proclaimed "schlockmeister" Larry Buchanan for his fledgling company Azalea Pictures. These things were all talky and poorly acted, had terrible special effects, were shot on the cheap on 16mm and haunted TV for a number of years, so a lot of people saw them back in the 60s and 70s. The ridiculously awful ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS (1966), a remake of the Roger Corman-directed IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956) was the most famous of these offerings. There was also CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966), a re-working of VOODOO WOMAN (1957), CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), a remake of The She Creature (1957), In the Year 2889 (1967), a re-do of Day the World Ended (1955), Hell Raiders (1968), a cut rate re-filming of the war film Suicide Battalion (1958) and this one, a remake of the fun minor cult classic INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957). Like the other films in this dubious series, credit was not given to Invasion's director Edward L. Cahn nor to the film's writers Robert Gurney Jr. and Al Martin nor to Paul W. Fairman, author of the original's source story "The Cosmic Frame." Never mind the fact that the film is a nearly word-for-word remake with basically the same exact characters.

A man with a briefcase handcuffed around his wrist shows up at a top secret military instillation to drop off an important ("Civilization itself may depend on it!") canister of film. On the film is footage of UFOs circling the Earth and landing somewhere near "Security Sector 3." Presuming the invaders are unfriendly, the General (Ethan Allen), head of the UFO division of the Air Force, sends operative and public relations expert Lt. Robertson (Warren Hammack) to the small town of White Rock Terrace, where he poses as a recruiting officer while investigating. Not taking all of this too seriously are Corporal Culver (Bob Cowan) and his underling (Tony Huston), who use their high-tech infrared video surveillance system to watch teenagers necking at Lover's Lane instead of the sky. Some green saucers land near cranky Old Man Bailey's (Charles McLine) farm in White Rock just as teenage "rough neck" Stan Kenyon (top-billed John Ashley) and his girl Susan Rogers (Cynthia Hull), the city attorney's daughter, are making their plans to elope.

On their way back from Lover's Lane, Stan and Susan hit and (they think) kill a weird-looking, white, lumpy alien creature with multiple eyes. Its arm is ripped off in the process but it has a life of its own and punctures their tire. They're forced to go to Bailey's farm for help, but he's sick of "those blasted smoochers" on his property and chases them away with a shotgun. Carl (Bill Peck), a drifter and con artist who's just recently arrived in town, stumbles upon Stan's car and the injured extraterrestrial and ends up getting killed by a bunch of the aliens. When the police finally show up, Stan is blamed for the death since he and Susan had reported hitting an alien to the police earlier, so they go on the lam in an effort to prove their innocence and enlist the aid of Carl's roommate Mike (Chet Davis) to help. Meanwhile, the inept military is called in and try to blowtorch their way into the fallen spacecraft. And I shall end this plot description right here because I feel like I'm being redundant. The scenes, characters and dialogue are almost identical to Saucer Men... and I've already reviewed it once.

This was the first of these remakes from Buchanan and, though really, really bad, it's slightly less awful than most of what would follow it. Helping matters some is that they got to pilfer from a decently-written script; which was witty and intentionally campy; making it very adaptable to an extreme low-budget. However, since this is a remake, it needs to find a way to improve upon the original or offer a fresh take on an established idea and this does no such thing. The acting is terrible, the photography is flat and ugly, the effects suck and the direction is leaden. The only new scenes grafted on (the goofy peeping tom military guys) are horrible. Worst of all, the creatures aren't even any good. The original had small, highly-memorable, giant-eyed aliens played by dwarfs. This one has regular-sized men in boring, lumpy white suits. You can even see the seams on the costume at times. Though these designs are awful, they are again better than what would pop up in later Buchanan films. If you combined the eye creatures from both movies and dyed it red, it would look exactly like Muno from Yo Gabba Gabba!

Future director S.F. Brownrigg (Don't Look in the Basement) was the editor, Basement star Annabelle Weenick was the dialogue director and Bill Thurman (a regular presence in Brownrigg and Buchanan films) has a small role at the beginning. Peter Graves narrates the USAF Briefing film. Retromedia distributed the DVD, as they have with most of Buchanan's other films (which are public domain).

La nuit des étoiles filantes (1973)

... aka: Among the Living Dead
... aka: Christine, Princess de l'érotisme
... aka: Erotic Dreams of Christine, The
... aka: Exorcismo per una Vergine
... aka: Labyrinth, The
... aka: Vergine tra i Morti Viventi, Una
... aka: Vierge chez les Morts-Vivants, Una
... aka: Virgin Among the Living Dead, A
... aka: Zombie 4

Directed by:
Jesus Franco
Jean Rollin (zombie dream sequence)
Pierre Quérut (additional sequences)

Like numerous other Franco films, this took on many different shapes as it bounced around European theaters in the 70s and finally made its home video debut in the 80s. Filmed under the title Le nuit des étoiles filantes ("The Night of the Shooting Stars"), Franco originally intended this to be a pseudo-surreal film about death and the afterlife. The distributors, however, had other ideas in mind. The release date is usually listed as either 1973 (the production year), 1974 or 1975, and the film may have debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in its original form in the spring of 1974 (sources give conflicting information). French distributors got their hands on it first and had director Pierre Quérut add brand new soft-core footage starring Alice Arno (as "The Princess of Eroticism"), Nadine Pascal, Pierre Taylou and Wal Davis (aka Waldemar Wohlfaart) so that it could be sold as a sex film. When it came time for its video release, hack company Eurociné bought up the rights, removed the added sex scenes, hired Jean Rollin to shoot completely unrelated new zombie footage to splice in and then it was issued under the title A Virgin Among the Living Dead. This cut was the one distributed by Wizard Video in the U.S. and then re-issued under the title Zombie 4 as part of a bogus series that also included Franco's Revenge in the House of Usher (1982) and D'Amato's Monster Hunter (1981). For the Italian release (under the title Exorcismo per una Vergine / "Exorcism of the Virgin"), someone combined this film with scenes from one of Rollin's earlier vampire movies. The version I watched had the French title Una vierge chez les Morts-Vivants, runs 78 minutes and does not have the added sex scenes nor Rollin's zombie footage. I believe this is the closest version to what Franco originally intended.

Kind-hearted teenage orphan Christina Benton (Christina von Blanc) arrives in a small coastal town from a London boarding school. She's been summoned there by a letter asking her to come visit her estranged family and attend to the reading of her late father's will. Arriving at an inn late that night, Christina receives a warning from the innkeeper about her planned destination; Montserrat Mansion, that she chooses to ignore. The woman also insists that nobody lives there, something Christina will be hearing a lot of over the next few days. Basilio (director Franco, as "Jesus Manera"), the mumbling, incoherent family servant arrives there the following morning to pick her up. After a long car ride where Christina observes strange behavior in the birds and ever stranger odors emanating from the plants, she arrives at the mansion and finally meets her bizarre extended family. While her stepmother Hermine is upstairs dying, her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) plays upbeat piano music, her inhospitable Aunt Abigail (Rosa Paloma) behaves zombie-like and emotionless and her cousin Carmencé (Britt Nichols) chain smokes, constantly coughs and laughs at the most inappropriate moments. Christina gets to see Hermine only briefly and she too spits out a warning ("Run... run away...") in her last dying breath. Everyone seems strangely unphased by any of this. And the strange events only get more bizarre from there.

None of her relatives seem to ever eat and any outsider she meets keeps insisting no one lives in the manor. Basilio runs around at night with a chicken head spouting gibberish. A blind woman named Linda (Linda Hastreiter) shows up in Christina's bedroom hoping to "help" her and says she'll pray for her to keep evil away and Christina meets a crazed old man at a nearby chapel who tells her to immediately leave the area. So what is that, four warnings now? Well, make that five as the ghost of Christina's late father (Paul Muller), who hung himself, starts calling to her at night and provides yet more wise advice to get the hell out of there. Dead bats appear on her bedspread, her Uncle slaps her across the face for attempting to bring a local boy into the home and she catches sight of Carmencé cutting up Linda with scissors so she can feast on her blood. A lawyer shows up to finally settle the estate, leaving everything to the naive young woman, but she insists all of these weirdos still stick around. Oh yes, and there is also a woman dressed in black lurking around who's referred to as "The Guardian of the Night" (Anne Libert); a seductive Grim Reaper-type figure.

An entertaining, often dream-like film; Virgin presents a tug-of-war between (s)exploitation and art typical of much of the director's other work. One moment it's going for straight-up sleaze ("You shattered the big ebony phallus!"), the next providing tongue-in-cheek macabre humor (Nichols nonchalantly painting her toenails during a funeral) and a minute later feeling like a haunting otherworldly meditation on death. Composer Bruno Nicolai seems to understand just what's going on and contributes a wonderfully weird and schizophrenic score to proceedings. There are tons of zoom shots, as well as some very stylish and well-executed moments like the dead father - noose wrapped around his neck - floating backwards to lead his daughter down a path and descending into the dark in the arms of the Grim Reaper-like lady. And, of course, there are some seriously smokin' hot actresses in this film who are naked as often as not. All of the brainless behavior and strange events are adequately explained by the final plot revelation. I've seen some refer to it as being ambiguous but it seemed pretty cut and dry to me personally.

Virgin has always been one of Franco's easiest-to-find and, as a result, most viewed of all his 200+ films. Here in America, the Wizard VHS, with its eye-catching art and large-sized display box, was a fixture of most video stores' horror sections. Image Entertainment released a DVD in 2003 under their EuroShock line. The release contained both the original cut as well as the one with Rollin's inserts (which increases the running time by 13 minutes).

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