This week on TCM Underground: NOTHING

TCM Underground Wish List

We all know what February brings at Turner Classic Movies: “31 Days of Oscar Malarkey.” (Quoted from memory – that may not be the actual phrase.) Yep, nothing but award winners for four solid weeks. Don’t get me wrong — awarding-winning films are great and some of my favorites took home a statuette or two in their day. I watch CITIZEN KANE (1941) and CASABLANCA (1942) with the regularity of guilty pleasures and I’m just as apt to get jiggy with BABETTE’S FEAST (1987) as BLOOD FEAST (1963)… but in clearing space for all of these classics, TCM has asked TCM Underground to make itself scarce for a while. Tune in at midnight this Saturday night and you’ll be looking at MRS. MINIVER (1942) and THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) where ROLLER BOOGIE (1977) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) might normally hang. And, okay, fine — that gives us all the opportunity to head on over to Svengoolie’s place without feeling as though we’re cheating on TCM but, man, it’s tough not having access to our regular clubhouse. So as we bide our time, and because I now have nothing to blog about for four weeks, I present to you my Totally Kickass TCM Underground Wish List. But first, a disclaimer:

John Austin Frazier

Because I know how hard the TCM Underground programmer works to bring us all the finest of bizarre, offbeat, disreputable titles that Off-Hollywood has to offer (and we saw some real rarities last month, didn’t we?), I want to affirm that this wish list is merely the echo of my fluttering heart. This is just me thinking out loud about the kinds of movies I would love to see get the TCM Underground treatment. Please give these ramblings the same credibility as you would drunk texting. Anyway, in no particular order…

MPW-60880

1. SHOOT (1976). Director Harvey Hart was a Canadian who enjoyed a measure of success in Hollywood in the 60s and 70s, where he helmed the cool surfside drama THE SWEET RIDE (1968) and the busted TV pilot turned theatrical release THE DARK INTRUDER (1965), plus a lot of episodic TV (STAR TREK, THE WILD WILD WEST, MOD SQUAD, THE NAME OF THE GAME, MANNIX, COLUMBO) before returning to his native Toronto to make such beguiling features as THE PYX (1973) and this adaptation of the Douglas Fairbain novel. It’s the tale of bored, middle-aged, ex-military men (Cliff Robertson, Henry Silva, Ernest Borgnine) who get into a skirmish while at their weekend hunting lodge with Saturday shooters from another province (er, town — though shot in Ontario, SHOOT is set in America and brokers in good old Yankee intractability and gun fetishism). There’s actually very little shoot-ing in this, the film’s midsection being taken up with the fascinating psychology of its protagonist, particularly Robertson, as a former commanding officer neutered by peacetime and relegated to running a department store while screwing his boss’ pretty young wife. Movie blowhards Henry Silva and Ernest Borgnine are cast against type as small town guys, and nice ones, too (their improvised camaraderie in the first reel is fun to watch), and there are good roles as well for Canadian stalwarts Helen Shaver (who went from this to STARSHIP INVASIONS), Kate Reid (who next played Richard Burton’s wife in EQUUS), and Les Carlson (if the name isn’t familiar, you will remember him as the Christmas tree salesman in A CHRISTMAS STORY and Spectacular Optical CEO Barry Convex in VIDEODROME). Despite its logline and ad campaign, SHOOT isn’t really exploitation and Hart flirts with artiness from time to time (the first encounter of the hunters with their doppelgangers across the creek is nicely sustained) yet there is throughout a bassline of unpleasantness that gives the film spark and crackle.

Rituals 1977

2. RITUALS (1977). Actually, you could program a whole festival of “Canuxploitation” and I’d be over the moon. What a great time it was to be a filmmaker in Canada, when tax loopholes were employed to bang out one grimy grindhouse picture after another. David Cronenberg’s career rose out of that era and his early, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)-inspired RABID (1976) remains my favorite of his movies. I’d be hard-pressed to select even ten Canadian exploitation pictures to show, that’s how many great ones there are, but top of my list would be Peter Carter’s RITUALS (1977). Most often fobbed off as a DELIVERANCE (1972) rip-off, RITUALS is something altogether different; not an examination of modern man’s place in this wild world, as was the John Boorman film, but rather a parable about the complicated nature of healing and atonement. A group of doctor friends (Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, and Gary Reineke) head out on their annual getaway, this time to a remote patch of Canadian woodland (“Two hundred twenty two air miles from the nearest cathouse”) known as The Cauldron. While camping and horsing around in the middle of nowhere, submerged resentments percolate to the surface, revealing tensions that only become more pronounced when someone begins playing mean-spirited pranks on the friends — stunts that escalate from swiping their hiking boots to lobbing a buzzing hornet’s nest into camp. Shoeless and spooked, the doctors attempt to march back to civilization, finding only death and obliteration along the way. I’ve been trumpeting this movie for years and even though a decent DVD was put onto the market (long since sold out) a few years ago RITUALS still doesn’t enjoy the currency of later slasher movies that don’t do anything nearly as interesting with this formula. A movie does something rare when it provides you with protagonists you would probably dislike if you knew them personally but with whom you cannot help but side as they struggle from one challenge to the next. It’s a survivalist classic, and one that finds its citified dramatis personae learning to build fires, shelter for the night, and construct crude weapons from what is available on the land. The movie is also educational: I didn’t even know I had a popliteal artery until I saw RITUALS.

Orgy of the Dead

3. ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965). If you think Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is the limit, brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Wood-scripted (adapted from his own novel) ORGY OF THE DEAD is a bona fide mind-bender. It’s like an EC Comic sewn into a Tijuana Bible, a Gothic horror strip tease show in which a horror writer (William Bates) and his woman (the inimitable Pat Barrington, seen at top) crash their car while motoring through the sticks at o’dark-thirty and find themselves held prisoner in a rural cemetery while creatures from Hell prance and shimmy for the pleasure of The Emperor (Criswell) and Princess of Darkness (Fawn Silver). Now, I run with a pretty bent crowd, and always have — but even among the Psychotronic crowd I’ve gotten the most quizzical, almost betrayed looks whenever I spin ORGY OF THE DEAD. It is so off the hook, so stilted and bizarre, on top of being little more than a 90 minute burlesque show, that nobody seems to know what what to make of it. I own this on VHS and have the soundtrack CD, which has all of the dialogue — every labored syllable of Wood’s gassy, pretentious, immortal script. Oh, the quotability!

“No one wishes to see a man dance!”

” A pussycat is born to be whipped!”

“Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!”

“Do NOT trust to luck at the full of the MOON!”

Though I treasure my ORGY OF THE DEAD soundtrack, you really have to clap eyes on this thing to believe it. The awkwardness, the cheapness, the wall to wall nudity, and the desperation of Criswell (bloated and balding a decade past PLAN 9) to remember his lines as costar Fawn Silver (why she didn’t get her own horror host gig after this is beyond my ken) stares impotently. Man, this is the stuff. I wish I could show it to you.

Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman4. Anything starring Paul Naschy but probably WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1972). Paul Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina) was a Spaniard who grew up loving the Universal horror classics and devoted nearly the whole of his life to recreating them on his native turf. Though he played a wide variety of characters in his long and varied career, Naschy’s trademark character was Waldemar Daninsky, a good man cursed with lycanthropy, which earned him the shaggy sobriquet El Hombre Lobo. The actor-writer-director-producer played that character in eleven Spanish features (and one American cash-in), the best of which is arguably NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (“Walpurgis Night”) or, as it was exhibited in the States, WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. I never get tired saying that title. This is top shelf Euro-Cult, bedecked as it is with flashy cars, stylish duds, exotic locations, and fifty shades of grue. Naschy’s tortured protagonist lives in affluent self-isolation but must bat cleanup when he shelters two comely tourists (Gaby Fuchs and Barbara Capell) unwittingly revive a long-dead lady vampire (Paty Shepard as Elizabeth Bathory, the real-life blood-bather recreated here as an immortal blood-drinker). Naschy’s werewolf makeup is pretty fierce in this and director Leon Klimovsky (who helmed the Naschyless but otherwise essential VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY the following year) keeps the mix lively, throwing in the curveball of a pop-up Knights Templar-style zombie and a great dream sequence that must have had some influence, I’m fairly sure, on the Danny Glick business in Tobe Hooper’s mini series adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT (1979).

Tombs_of_the_Blind_Dead-110651509-large

5. LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, 1972). There are so many Spanish horror movies of the 1970s that would slot nicely into the TCM Underground grid: Jorge Grau’s inspired 1974 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) ripoff NO PROFANAR EL SUENO DE LOS MUERTOS(the title translates literally as “Do not disturb the sleep of the dead” and the film is known under a number of alternate monikers, from LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE to THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE to BREAKFAST AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE but I first saw it at the drive-in in 1975 or so as DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW), Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s extremely upsetting ¿QUIEN PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO? (1976), aka WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, aka ISLAND OF THE DAMNED, and HORROR EXPRESS (1972), aka PANICO EN EL TRANSSIBERIANO, which stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as rival British archaeologists who must save themselves and their fellow passengers from an immortal alien entity who has popped out of the fossilized skeleton of the missing link. These are all powerful films but I think my first vote for non-Naschy Spanish horror from the 1970s would be any of the “Blind Dead” films directed by Amando de Ossorio. They constitute a cycle of four: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1972), RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973), GHOST GALLEON/HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (1974), and NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975). The movies’ army of eyeless skeleton blood-drinkers are, so the mythology goes, the undead Knights Templar, erstwhile Crusaders who lapsed to the worship of Satan while doing God’s work abroad. There’s a sameness to the movies that is actually key to their charm: unwitting regular folk stumble onto Templar territory and get chased and terrorized and cut to ribbons. There are eerie similarities shared by TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and John Carpenter’s THE FOG, among them dusty, sword-brandishing revenants stamping the terra and one of their victims rising zombie-like from the morgue for no earthly reason. I saw this at the movies as a boy and it has really stayed with me. Being eyeless, the Blind Dead can only catch you if you make noise – what more perfect monster to bedevil noisy children?

Matango

6. MATANGO (1965). Man, did this movie ever mess me up when I first clapped eyes upon it late one night in my grandparents’ Bronx living room. It played stateside on television as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and for this reason I avoided mushrooms for like thirty years afterwards, certain eating them would cause fungal eruptions all over my body. Directed by GOJIRA/GODZILLA (1954) man Ishiro Honda, MATANGO is super spooky, exquisitely beautiful, and entirely unforgettable. A yacht-load of swells washes up on a seemingly deserted atoll in the South Pacific; as the group struggles to adapt to their environment and survive, environment and psychology work to split them into factions, while mysterious, misshapen figures seem to haunt the decks and passageways of a rusted-out schooner in which the castaways have taken shelter. If you love jungle movies, as I do, and zombie movies, and ghost ship movies, then MATANGO is the full Monty and would pair with a number of other likeminded films, from Hammer’s THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) to Ken Wiederhorn’s underwater Nazi classic SHOCK WAVES (1977)… though you might also consider a Nipponese double shot and fold in Hajime Sato’s equally vibrant and disturbing KYUKETSUKI GOKEMIDORO (aka GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL, 1968), which is about a plane crash in a strange, strange land and the effects of the blasted terra on the survivors. Both of these films feature great use of old school miniatures which are the heart and soul, to my eyes anyway, of movie magic.

Orgy of the Dead

7. ORGY OF THE LIVING DEAD: A TRIPLE AVALANCHE OF GRISLY HORROR (1972). I vividly remember the TV ads for this roadshow triple bill of then-old horror movies recut and retitled for fresh cinematic exhibition in 1972. (I was tape recording some program off of TV one night before bedtime and caught this ad, which I continued to replay for myself in the solitude of my bedroom for years afterward.) What we have here are condensed versions of Mario Bava’s OPERAZIONE PAURA (aka KILL, BABY… KILL, 1964, revivied as CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD),  Elio Scardamaglia’s hospital whodunit LA LAMPA NEL CORPO (THE MURDER CLINIC 1966, rechristened REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Amando de Ossorio’s MALENKA (1969) starring Anita Ekberg (and rebranded FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD). It was a genius ad campaign created by renaissance man Alan Ormsby the same year he wrote and starred in Bob Clark’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and wrote DEATHDREAM, which we showed here a few weeks back. Many of us who had the great fortune to catch this campaign as unsuspecting children will never forget the special note of terror it struck in our tender young hearts. Obviously, this is pie-in-the-sky wish-making, done in complete ignorance of the logistics of acquisition and programming. But what’s an underground for, if not to inspire one to reach for the sky?

28 Responses This week on TCM Underground: NOTHING
Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : February 4, 2015 5:54 pm

This list put a big grin on my face. So much to love! But I’ve never seen or heard of SHOOT (1976)so I’m going to have to track it down.

Posted By Jf Jeter : February 4, 2015 6:05 pm

My favorite of your posts thus far. I’m hanging on to this list for reference next time I head to the used record/video store.

My personal Underground Wish List, again in no particular order:

Multiple Maniacs
Two Thousand Maniacs
Spider Baby
The Incredibly Strange Creatures…
Blue Velvet
Naked Lunch
Kafka
Stroszek

Posted By Will McKinley : February 4, 2015 6:36 pm

I would gladly stay up late for each and every one of of these.

Posted By Craven Lovelace : February 4, 2015 6:39 pm

Man, I’m with you on “Orgy of the Dead.” I love that movie with a purple passion (which is the only kind of passion one should bring to the great Wood’s oeuvre). I also own it on VHS and also own the CD! There just can’t be enough “Orgy of the Dead” in my life. I wish they’d release it on Blu-Ray. Love your blog.

Posted By swac44 : February 4, 2015 6:47 pm

I’ve got that Orgy of the Living Dead TV ad on one of those 42nd Street trailer collections, great discs to throw on when you’ve got friends over for drinks. I definitely remember seeing the print ad for that marathon in my local paper as a kid, wishing I could have been old enough to go.

I’ve heard of Shoot but have never seen it, don’t know if it ever surfaced on VHS (maybe in Australia, there are a number of Canucksploitation titles that turned up down there while remaining in limbo at home), but I’d be game to watch it. Luckily, I found the Code Red DVD of Rituals at a local video store only recently.

And for more on the great (and not-so-great) films of Canucksploitation, here’s a whole website devoted to it:

http://www.canuxploitation.com/

Posted By John S : February 4, 2015 7:16 pm

Les Carlson also the the dogged telephone man in “Black Christmas!”

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 4, 2015 7:20 pm

And the narrator of DERANGED. So sad to lose him last year.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 4, 2015 7:21 pm

SHOOT is available on YouTube.

Posted By joe : February 4, 2015 7:29 pm

if you’re looking for something else to write about during Oscar month, how about this – what’s the MOST Underground lineup you would be able to put together for Oscar month? should be able to get something together from the makeup categories alone, even if they maybe won’t be quite 100% Underground (but Silence of the Lambs comes close… if only they’d have cast Karen Black and John Carradine instead of Foster and Hopkins…)

Posted By John S : February 4, 2015 7:37 pm

Didn’t know that. Too bad.

Posted By Richard Brandt : February 4, 2015 8:31 pm

Nice to know that even in a 1972 triple bill ad campaign, Mario Bava’s name carried some weight.

The novelization of WEREWOLF VS. VAMPIRE WOMAN is a classic, as it truly reads as if it were written by someone trying to make sense of a badly edited movie in a language they did not understand.

Posted By Jonathan Barnett : February 4, 2015 9:35 pm

What a lovely list. It reminds me of the old days of Mobius Home Video Format. I have seen almost every movie on it.

“More Gold! More Gold!”

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 4, 2015 9:43 pm

Richard, Tim Lucas was the first to point out that Alan Ormsby’s ad campaign for THE ORGY OF THE LIVING DEAD triple bill marked the first time Bava’s name appeared above the title in an American release of his film. A good read is Tim’s 2007 blog post on the “John Austin Frazier” business…

http://bavabook.blogspot.com/2007/05/john-austin-frazier-unmasked.html

Posted By Chris Poggiali : February 4, 2015 11:33 pm

My local drive-in’s annual Labor Day dusk-to-dawn show for 1981 was the “Orgy of the Dead” triple bill, shown after a double bill of CHEECH & CHONG’S NICE DREAMS and STIR CRAZY. All three of the movies had been played on TV for several years by that point.

Posted By Gamera2000 : February 5, 2015 3:31 am

A wonderful list of films. I haven’t seen the first two, but the rest are all classics of a kind.

But Matango has a special place in my heart. It was a wonderfully surreal film that I would almost describe as beautiful and I think proof positive of how good and underrated a directory Ishiro Honda was. I also wonder if it was influenced by an old William Hope Hodgson story called The Voice in the Night were the starving survivors of a shipwreck are turned into fungus when they begin to consume it.

Posted By Phil Marchesseault : February 5, 2015 2:56 pm

Excellent List, Richard,

I particularly love the Blind Dead series and ORGY OF THE DEAD, which is an old-time guilty pleasure of mine. In terms of the latter, I have always wished, however,that the camera had been closer to its subjects.

I would also add THE HANGING WOMAN and Bava’s RABBID DOGS, two films I could watch any time.

Posted By Phil Marchesseault : February 5, 2015 3:07 pm

Forgive the typo: RABID.

Posted By Mario500 : February 5, 2015 6:38 pm

I found the third word in the name of the list (the one after “Totally”) offensive.

Posted By Times Square Angel : February 5, 2015 11:54 pm

Definitely on Anita Ekberg’s birthday (Sept. 29th) TCM should have a birthday marathon for Anita. “Malenka” in its full 93 (or 98) minute European cut should be shown restored with the original ending (the Vampire uncle is really a mad sadist posing as undead). It should be paired with “Screaming Mimi” a fabulous find that hasn’t been aired on TCM in years. Throw in “Suor Omicidi”/”Killer Nun” with Anita and Joe Dallesandro and you have a killer Ekberg night of cult horror!

Just do it.

Posted By JoeS : February 6, 2015 8:59 am

MATANGO – Gilligan’s Island meets Homer’s Land of the Lotus Eaters.

Posted By george : February 6, 2015 9:37 pm

I’d nominate these movies, none of them available on DVD in the U.S. last time I checked:

MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976)

WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1972)

OPEN SEASON (1974)

SLUMBER PARTY ’57 (1976)

CALIFORNIA DREAMING (1979)

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977) (Yes, I know it’s a major studio movie, but it sure does wallow in sleaze)

Speaking of sleaze, has LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977) ever had an uncut TV showing? It is on DVD and YouTube, if your stomach can take it.

Posted By Jay : February 7, 2015 8:49 pm

So sad to hear we’re not getting TCM Underground this month. My hat goes off to you guys over there…the programming for January was brilliant! Keep up the great work. Looking forward to Underground’s return!

Posted By tony : February 25, 2015 2:15 am

Great list…

My personal wish list includes

The Final Programme (aka The Last Days Of Man On Earth)
Danger: Diabolik!
Re-Animator
El Santo Versus The Vampire Women (or any El Santo film)
Daughters Of Darkness
Dark Star
Hollywood Boulevard
Get Crazy (really obscure 80′s punk film)
Liquid Sky (even More obscure 80′s punk film!)

Posted By Wesley : March 8, 2015 10:56 pm

Does anyone know what movie the header pic for this article is from?

Posted By Rich : March 10, 2015 12:37 am

TCM would make me and the entire theater crowd in Jefferson City, MO very happy if they showed Copperhead (1983).

“Put down that snake, boy!”

Posted By swac44 : March 10, 2015 8:06 pm

Wesley: I think it’s from Orgy of the Dead. At least that’s the title that best fits the bill.

Posted By swac44 : March 10, 2015 8:06 pm
Posted By Mike : July 25, 2015 8:16 am

Would love to see some of these titles on tcm underground:

Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park
Tuff Turf
3:15
Avenging Force
Trick Or Treat (1986)- (This movie hasn’t been on tv since the 80′s.)
Terror Train
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Elvira : Mistress Of The Dark
The Monster Squad
The New Kids
The Funhouse
Halloween (1978) – (Extended Cut with tv scenes added in would be really kool to see on tv again)
China Girl
Escape From New York
The Deadliest Season
Jason Lives : Friday The 13th Part VI
Runaway
Class Of 1984
The Outsiders : The Complete Novel Extended Cut
Touch N Go
3’0 Clock High
Side Out
Death Wish 3
Stick
Clownhouse
Skatetown U.S.A
Nighthawks
Over The Edge
Critters
Ghoulies II

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