Posted by Richard Harland Smith on August 30, 2013
Why let those Trailers from Hell guys have all the fun, right? Trailers belong to everybody, right? Movie trailers cause me great pain these days. They’re so long and drawn out and boring — not like Back in the Day (BITD), when coming attractions were banged out as if by machine gun and laced with lurid imagery to pique the basest instinct. I mean that in a good way! I don’t know where in the body movie trailers are aimed in 2013 but in the 70s they were pointed straight into the gut. The voices of the announcers alone was like the Devil whispering in your ear. Actors like Adolph Caesar, Percy Rodrigues, and Don LaFontaine really knew how to get under your skin, compelling you to see this movie or that movie with the urgency usually reserved for burning things.
Here’s a cherished boyhood cinematic experience I don’t think I’ve ever discussed in this forum – Phil Karlson’s World War II actioner HORNET’S NEST (1970), starring Rock Hudson in a barber shop quartet mustache and an olive drab wifebeater. It’s like THE DIRTY DOZEN meets LORD OF THE FLIES (1963) in the tale of an American GI who has no choice but to recruit a squadron of Italian orphans to halt the progress of the Third Reich by blowing up a strategically situated dam. The preview alone will show you this isn’t kid stuff and yet the film was shown as an average Saturday afternoon matinee, as innocuous as DON’T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER (1968) — nothing kids like more than a divorce comedy! — or ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (1975). And yet the movie spoke to us, we scrappy Connecticut 10 year-olds, growing up on the streets of a one-strip mill town and in the surrounding woods, where caulking guns became our barking M3s. We felt we were these kids and could handle a suicide mission. HORNET’S NEST was thrilling and inspiring, even up to and beyond its downer finish (whose concluding tragedy anticipates TAPS by a decade or so). Rough stuff for little ones? Hey, it was the 70s. Empowerment wouldn’t be invented for another 15 years or so, so we were just in it for how many Jerrys we could take out, Jim Brown-style, before the bastards cut us down. Wolverines, hell. Hornets REPRESENT!
I was a little too young to catch EASY RIDER (1969) in the cinemas but I was just the right age to see all the movies Peter Fonda made in follow-up, including this incredible prolonged car chase from the genius of John Hough (who had just directed one of my favorite movies ever, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE). Well-known to cult movie aficianados, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is likely undiscovered country to 99% of the world these days, forty years after the fact. If they remade this movie now, the characters would be sympathetic and there would be a backstory explaining why these three sociopaths do what they do… but thankfully in 1974 we didn’t mess with that noise, we just hit the road and let the cops bring it on. Like the best exploitation fare, this movie seems to be a daft shuffling together of a number of previous films (successful and otherwise but all influential): BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), VANISHING POINT (1971), and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) spring immediately to mind. Truth be told, my favorite character in this is neither Peter Fonda nor his leading lady Susan George but Adam Roarke as the third wheel, the cool, quiet mechanic character, the one who genuinely likes Susan George but knows she doesn’t feel the same way and so he hangs back, letting Fonda be the Alpha Dog. Roarke (1937-1996) is one of my favorite 70s exploitation actors. He had a grinning, John Cassavetes quality that served him well in Jack Starrett’s THE LOSERS (1970), George McCowan’s FROGS (1972), and Richard Rush’s THE STUNTMAN (made 1977, released 1980), in which he played the vain leading man for whom Steve Railsback doubles. Also great in this is the mighty, mighty Vic Morrow as an insubordinate cop, Kenneth Tobey (as Kenneth Tobey, pretty much), and Roddy McDowall as (what else?) a supermarket manager. What a ride. And what a finish. It probably makes me love this movie even more that I saw it in a car.
I think I thought so highly of Georg Fenady’s TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973) back during the Nixon administration that I saw it in both my local movie house and then again at my local drive-in (though perhaps time and the elements have embellished my memories). Either way, it was such a wonderful, trashy experience for me at the tender (boy, was I ever!) age 11. By trashy I don’t mean collegiate, snarky, and ironic in the so-bad-it’s-good way we talk about these movies now but rather in the sense that you could feel yourself being degraded appreciably by the experience of watching this movie. No, it’s not full of nudity or violence — in fact, the average age of the cast is 60 and several of the principals (John Carradine, Broderick Crawford, Louis Hayward, Elsa Lanchester, Ray Milland) are clearly older than that, so flesh is at a premium (and thankfully so). No, even more disturbing than the aging Hollywood A-listers slumming to pay the pool guy are the unknown actors who bring the wax figures to life during a nightmare sequence. It’s a simple effect — just some crappy makeup that makes them look waxy (Jack the Ripper is particularly disturbing to me, even to this day) and slightly unreal and it all comes together to make you feel a little queasy and uneasy. Yet despite my discomfiture throughout, I was engaged and thrilled and in love with the lady who played Lucretia Borgia. The IMDb tells me now that her name is/was Rose Huerta and that she never made another movie… but oh how she inflamed my preteen passions. I thought about her a lot. I wanted her to chase me with her poison cup. I wonder where she is now. I’d love to hear from her.
I confess I never saw ORGY OF THE LIVING DEAD but the trailer terrified me in 1972. A choice repackaging of three unrelated horror films by the independent distributor Europix International, this fearsome three-fer retitled Mario Bava’s OPERAZIONE PAURA/KILL, BABY… KILL (1966) as CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD, Elio Scardamanglia’s LA LAMA NEL CORPO/THE MURDER CLINIC as REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD, and Amando de Ossorio’s MALENKA (1969) as FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD. A pretty good lineup (though I wouldn’t see any of these movies for 30 years) but the damned preview was traumatizing. I remember this well because I had, in those days, a habit of audio taping TV shows and sometimes I’d forget to press the stop button and would catch commercials, too. This and the trailer for Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent’s ultra-violent paella western CONDENADOS A VIVIR/CUT-THROATS NINE (1972) were replayed by yours truly in heavy rotation in the isolation and darkness of my boyhood bedroom (where I hunched over the recorder like Jason Miller in THE EXORCIST… my senses heightened, my heart racing). This is a great example of old school ballyhoo and would have remained buried in my brainmeats for eternity were it not for YouTube and Tim Lucas. In a 2007 blog post, Tim was able to tease out the backstory to the ORGY OF THE LIVING DEAD trailer, its author and participants. Required reading, if you missed it all those years ago.
It was a toss-up as to which soul-scarring Rod Taylor western I was going to use as my outro here and THE DEADLY TRACKERS (1973) won out over CHUKA (1968) due to availability. They are both crippling oaters that could double in a pinch as horror movies. THE DEADLY TRACKERS was started by feisty Sam Fuller but finished by Barry Shear, a TV director who had just come off the impressive one-two punch of THE TODD KILLINGS (1971) and ACROSS 110TH STREET (1972) but who never again directed another feature. TRACKERS is a compromised work, disowned by Fuller, but it still packs a punch. Based on Fuller’s original story “Riata,” it’s one of those Pyrrhic revenge tales whose hero (Richard Harris, as an immigrant lawman) becomes the monster he hopes to stop (Rod Taylor, leagues away from his romantic leading man days, and backed by a posse that includes Neville Brand as a grizzled owlhoot with a railroad tie for a hand – who thought that was a good idea?). After a hostage scenario in a border town, a child is taken prisoner, his mother shot in the face, and the child trampled by horses (you probably could have guessed that these are Harris’ loved ones). There’s a good quicksand death (spoiled in the trailer) and to show you how perverse THE DEADLY TRACKERS really is Al Lettieri plays a nice guy. The ending is another downer (and may have inspired the 1976 South African revenge tale, ALBINO, aka NIGHT OF THE ASKARI, whose 1969 source novel ends quite differently) and one that I carried with me out onto the sunsplashed streets of Danielson, Connecticut. I was 11 or 12 and understood now that life could be hard and unfair and that even my best efforts could, by circumstance and fate, come to naught. But I was unafraid and optimistic and would soldier on with full knowledge that, even if expecting the worst, the best was yet to come.
Additional reading at KINDERTRAUMA: “The Voices That Haunted My Youth” by Unkle Lancifer.
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