Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, like most people who love film; I have a particular fondness for the zeitgeist of imaginative filmmaking that exploded in pop culture at the time. Films still being imitated and revered to this day. But along with that movement, as well as the general awesomeness of 70’s cinema from guys like Altman, Coppola, Ashby etc., there was the other side of pop culture that I had a fondness for and that was the Creature Feature.
Usually shown in the late hours of a weekend night or Sunday morning, this phenomenon first began in the early sixties when Screen Gems released a bundle of old Universal horror movies they sold to local television markets around the country in which the format called for a “horror host” to introduce the movie and sort of guide the viewer through them at commercial breaks. If you’re old enough to be around then, everyone remembers their host from their own particular part of the country. Growing up in Florida, my guy was Dr. Paul Bearer out of Tampa.
For many of us, this was our first exposure to Godzilla, Frankenstein, Hammer Films, Kung-Fu movies and various weird European Horror films from the likes of guys like Mario Bava. Looking back, this very fun pop culture niche wasn’t just limited to this particular format. As far as I’m concerned, the genre of these “weird movies” (some call it Schlock Movies) expanded into the realm of the Made For TV Movie (by which there was an inordinate amount of bizarre Horror and Sci-Fi films that were made along side the more contemporary dramas), weird documentary specials about Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis and the Drive-In Cinema which many were still up and running all the way until the late 80’s. I can still remember seeing a Drive-In Double Feature of Warlords of Atlantis and Clash of the Titans in fact.
After the death of Drive-Ins and the continuing scarcity of the horror movie host, these films continued to show up in ever evolving formats. There was Night Flight and Elvira’s Movie Macabre, both started in 1981 that took the format into national syndication. Then came USA Up All Night in 1989 where the horror host was replaced with comedians Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear. After that, the format evolved into one of the first examples of something that would come to be known as “meta”. In 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered on local Minneapolis network KTMA much like the original Creature Features began some 30 years earlier. It was such a hit that the fledgling network The Comedy Channel (later to be renamed Comedy Central) bought the series to fill up it’s programming schedule a year later.
Even though the slow decline of Creature Features first started in 1984 when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated regulations to govern the commercial content of television thus giving rise to the infomercial, these strange movies continued to show up very late at night in Florida as late as 1999 by my recollection. There was a quiet joy I used to get in stumbling home from hanging out with my friends on a Saturday night to find a movie like The Last Days of Planet Earth halfway through its run just hours before the sun came up, the alcohol and weed still busy altering my brain chemistry. Movies like this were my version of a nightcap as I stared dumbfounded at the screen, muttering, “What the fuck am I watching?” to myself. If you haven’t seen The Last Days of Planet Earth, I highly recommend that you do. You’ll have the same reaction stone cold sober.
Right as these kinds of movies seem to finally vanish forever, along came the DVD format and along with, it my new hobby. Thanks to the Internet, I could track down half remembered movies from my childhood within a few minutes. All I had to do was type “TV movie giant turtle” and there was The Bermuda Depths for sale on Amazon. Out of my mammoth film collection (I’m a hard copy guy), these films see the most watch ability out of all the movies I own. That’s because, if you’re like me and you’ve found other people who enjoy watching these movies as much as I do, you end up playing these movies for them. If you’re lucky as I’ve been, you and your girlfriend can waste away a lazy Sunday being highly amused by these films (the 50’s misogyny never fails to make her laugh until she’s crying).
These are the kind of movies that are best shared, usually with a good bottle of wine. Over the last year and a half, that’s what myself and a friend have been doing when we can find the time and it’s been a blast. We’ve seen many forgotten gems and even sometimes alternate Schlock with “real movies” just to break up our fast food diet a bit.
I’ve amassed an insanely large collection of these films over the last 10+ years due to the relative cheapness of these titles and the fact that they seem to be everywhere. I can’t seem to walk into a drug store, gas station or grocery store without coming across something special. They’re everywhere once you start to look for them.
Lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of starting an article about Movie Night because well, these movies demand to be shared. My hope is that some of you will want to track down these movies yourself and discover them along with your own friends and loved ones. It’s cheaper than a night out and usually a lot more fun. There’s a lot of fun in recreating to some small extent, the experience of the Drive In. A movie and a “short” is usually the way to go. Half hour shows after the main feature seems to fill in nicely. Right now, we’re working our way through Arrested Development, which is a nice change of pace after an hour and a half of desaturated 70’s film stock. Personally, I recommend a Coppola brand wine to go with the evening, which never seems to disappoint. Just be careful with the reds. They can really kick your ass the next day, which can make those first few hours of work a little tough.
So, forgive the long preamble and allow me to introduce you to Movie Night:
The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
My friend thinks this movie is superior to Conan The Barbarian, which I have to disagree on but nevertheless when I mentioned I have this movie sitting on the shelf, he couldn’t wait to dig back into it. A lot of people I know have a fondness for this movie, as do I so I had no objections to throwing it in the queue.
While not as good as Conan, which was released the same year, SATS is a hell of a lot of fun I have to admit. It’s one of those early 80’s movies that carry a lot of low budget charm that reminded me of the best of the Roger Corman/AIP films.
There’s a lot of wit and humor to the dialogue here once you get past the pondering opening Krull-like narration that goes on way too long. Once we get to the meat of the story, we are introduced to Prince Talon played by Lee Horsley, Matt Houston himself although with a long wig and not sporting his full 80’s stach yet.
As we learn from the opening “flashback sequence”, Talon saw his father King Richard (no, not that one. This one’s a pretty cool guy) slain on the battlefield by King Cromwell who is hell bent on complete domination. Why? Because he’s played by Richard Lynch, that’s why and what else is Richard lynch going to do in a movie but ruin everyone else’s day?
Talon, after watching his family killed and his fathers utopian kingdom laid waste, puts up a fight with what can only be described as one of the most awesome fucking swords in film history. It’s also incredibly impractical. I’m talking about a three bladed sword that can launch two of its blades as projectile weapons. Despite this, pre-adolescent Talon barely escapes with his life and Cromwell double crosses the demon Xusia (played by Richard Moll) that he resurrected to ensure his victory. Xusia appears later, very much alive so now that makes two characters that have sworn revenge on Cromwell because he’s such a dick. In the present, Talon comes to the aid of the beautiful Alana played by Kathleen Beller who you may remember as the “girl in the play” from Godfather Part 2 who is threatened in front of DeNiro and his buddy by the Black Hand.
After dispatching some of Cromwell’s soldiers who are after her, Alana tells Talon that they just captured her brother Mikah, the son of King Richard’s closest advisor who was staging a rebellion and played by none other than Simon MacCorkindale who I will always remember as Manimal.
Alana wants to hire the now professional mercenary Talon to rescue her brother but he won’t do it for any amount of money. However he will do it for a nice big slice of Alana’s sweet cherry pie. Payment in full once her brother is rescued.
Shortly after, Alana is captured herself and Talon infiltrates the castle to rescue them both. Unfortunately, he’s captured by Cromwell and set to be crucified at his wedding feast to Alana where the kings of the other kingdoms have been invited and will be slaughtered at Cromwell’s own version of the Red Wedding. Got to admit, the guys a trailblazer if nothing else.
Talon is somehow able to free himself from the spikes in his hand and goes on a berserker rampage, covered in blood and sweat, wearing nothing but a loincloth and a hairy chest. Seeing Horsley go full barbarian reminded me a lot of the Weapon X Wolverine and made me wonder if maybe that’s where the imagery came from. I’m convinced 80’s Horsley would have trumped Hugh Jackman’s version easily after seeing this fight sequence. It also contains the scene from this movie that I remember most vividly from the television ads, that of Talon, swinging his sword in slow motion and cutting through the soldiers’ blades. Pretty cool.
While Matt Houston is kicking ass, Cromwell’s aide spirits away with Alana, revealing himself to be Xusia in disguise. Cromwell and Talon get to her just in time to have Talon take out Xusia with his projectile sword and kill Cromwell right after.
In the end, Manimal becomes the new king, Matt Houston collects his debt with Alana and rides off with some new mercenary friends to film the sequel Tales of the Ancient Empire which will take 30 years to come to fruition and make Talon morph into Kevin Sorbo.
There’s just something about these low budget fantasy features that are filmed in LA rather than Spain that makes their charm unique and makes this film feel a lot like Beastmaster, which was filmed in Simi Valley right outside of LA. SATS was filmed in Malibu for the beach scenes, at the “Batcave” in Bronson Canyon and at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California for the interiors of Cromwell’s castle which was chosen for it’s Moroccan feel. If I hadn’t looked that up, I would have never known that was a hotel because the set decorators did such a great job turning it into a fantasy location. It’s amazing what a little green/red lighting scheme and some fog machines can conceal.
All of the performances are great and Horsley does an admirable job at channeling the Han Solo/Indiana Jones vibe that was so in demand at this time. He’s obviously having fun with this role.
Richard Lynch never disappoints as the villain. This guy never failed to scare the shit out of me as a kid when he would show up on Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers with his freaky burn scars. It turns out, he got those scars from a night doing some crazy drugs in New York City one night in which he pulled a Richard Pryor and set himself on fire burning 70% of his body. Welcome to a lifetime of villain roles Mr. Lynch.
Simon MacCorkindale is perfectly cast as a man of nobility and portrays a sense of justice and does double duty as the narrator once Oliver Reed dropped out.
Richard Moll does his usual 80’s gig as the monster here, which he will continue in Metalstorm two years later before settling into guard duty on Night Court. Too bad he was only seen in the opening scene since he had such a bad reaction to the contact lenses he wore that he was rushed to the hospital and could only dub the other Xusias lines for the rest of the film.
In fact, that wasn’t even the biggest problem that occurred while filming. Stuntman Jack Tyree was killed doing a high fall when he missed his airbag and the film is dedicated to him at the end. Maybe that’s why the sequel took so long to get made.
In all, this has everything you want from an R-rated, 80’s fantasy film. The cynical, reluctant hero right out of the Harrison Ford playbook, the buxom but innocent love interest that won’t be so innocent before the end of the film, bare breasts in every other scene, a hedonistic, middle age feast, a magical demon, American actors overdubbed with English voice talent to make it feel more “authentic”, swordplay, a James Horner-like bombastic score and a scene chewing character actor as the heavy. Not to mention, a pretty cool sword.
All around, a good time. It’s available on Amazon but a little pricey now since there’s only been one DVD release but it may be available on Youtube.
For the sake of completion, here’s a list of the other movies from past movie nights which most are available to buy or download along with two links to some great sites that carry these type of movies not available anywhere else.
Thanks for reading. See you next time.
Movie Site Lists:
Mod Cinema. This site has tons of old TV movies you can’t get anywhere else:
Cult Action. Tons of obscure European Exploitation movies from every genre.
List of past movies:
Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)- A sequel, War of the Gargantuas, followed.
Gargoyles (1972) – One of the most fun TV movies ever made featuring make up effects from a very young Stan Winston.
The Incredible Melting Man (1977) – Make up by a young Rick Baker who couldn’t get out of the gig as he explains on the Blu Ray features. I recommend the MST3K of this.
Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) – Shatner at his pre career revival best.
Laserblast (1978) – One scene pokes fun at Star Wars and ironically, the lead played Mark Hamill’s rival in Corvette Summer.
Mad Monster Party (1967) – A little known awesome stop motion film from Rankin/Bass, the guys who brought you The Year Without A Santa Clause and from your Christmas memories. Boris Karloff gets to voice Dr. Frankenstein this time.
The Beast Within (1982) – A forgotten 80’s horror flick with a lot of fun make up effects.
The Bat People (1974) – Again, a young Stan Winston creates the bat person of the title.
Chosen Survivors (1974) – A fun movie about survival after an apocalypse in an underground facility shot in Mexico.
The Earth Dies Screaming (1965) – A British alien invasion film with robots. Pretty fun but definitely done many times before.
Empire of the Ants (1977) – A fun AIP giant ant film shot in South Florida and featuring Joan Collins, Chris Pine’s dad from CHIPS and the guy who played Gary Seven on Star Trek.
The Land That Time Forgot (1975) – Doug McClure and dinosaurs. Just watch it.
The People That Time Forgot (1977) – Stars Sarah Douglass from Superman 2 and one of the hottest cave women ever to appear on film. Doug McClure shows up in the third act.
At The Earth’s Core (1976) – Another Amicus film starring Doug McClure and Peter Cushing as a bumbling professor and Caroline Munro as a sweaty cavewoman. Hell yeah.
The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) – A fun monster movie about a mutated giant snail where Catalina Island fills in for the Salton Sea. Apparently, it once was ACTUALLY a sea.
It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) – A great alien monster movie that takes place in the far off year of 1973. Definitely one of the early inspirations for Alien.
Planet Of The Vampires (1965) – This excellent Mario Bava film is the OTHER inspiration for Alien. Check out how much the spacesuits look like the ones in Prometheus.
The Monster Club (1981) – A really fun horror anthology film starring John Carradine and Vincent Price with cheesy 80’s pop music interludes.
The Norliss Tapes (1973) – A pilot for a never produced TV series from Dan Curtis, creator of Kolchak and Dark Shadows and starring Roy Thinnes and Angie Dickenson.
Phase 4 (1974) – Saul Bass, the great opening title creator takes a break from cutting together Kubrick trailers to direct this surreal science fiction film that capture some of the most hypnotizing micro photography of ants ever seen. Haunting and fascinating.
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) – Another inspirational film, this time giving rise to War Games and the Skynet idea in the Terminator films. A supercomputer decides humans are an infestation and takes action.
Race With The Devil (1975) – All you have to say to me is 70’s film about Satanists and I’m there. Peter Fonda and Warren Oats get in over their heads when they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and Oates gets to utter the immortal line: “I don’t believe a school bus on Sunday!”
Spectre (1977) – Another pilot for a never produced series, this time from Gene Roddenberry, starring Robert Culp as a paranormal investigator. Not available on DVD but if you have a smart TV, you can watch the full movie on Youtube.
American Scary (2009) – A great documentary about the history of horror movies hosts.
Black Sabbath (1963) – A great horror anthology film from Mario Bava and starring Boris Karloff as the narrator.
The Born Losers (1967) – The first film to feature Billy Jack and still the best.
Billy Jack (1971) – Actually the second Billy Jack film but the most iconic. The hippy school stuff is way silly but it’s fun to watch Tom Laughlin kick ass. I nominate Benicio Del Toro to star in the inevitable remake.
The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) – Too damn long and WAY to much hippy dippy stuff although the school massacre at the end was well done.
Starcrash (1979) – An Italian Star Wars rip off with the smoking hot Hammer babe, Caroline Munro in the title role. David Hasselhoff shows up for a “laser sword” fight.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – One of the best monster movies ever made. The best news is the original 3-D version is on Blu Ray.
Revenge Of The Creature (1955) – A great sequel that takes place in Florida and filmed at Marineland, which I used to visit every summer in the 70’s. Look for a young Clint Eastwood as a bumbling lab assistant.
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) – A great final chapter with a haunting ending.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) – One of the best TV movies ever with Charles Durning at his creepiest. Look for Marlon Brando’s sister as the lead characters’ mother.
The Devil’s Rain (1975) – This movie has everything: Satanists, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta in his first speaking role and Ernest Borgnine transforming into a goat monster. Watch Shatner practice his Khan yell, this time it’s “Corbusssssss!”
The Devil’s Sword (1983) – An absolutely insane and over the top Indonesian fantasy film that has to be seen to be believed.
Dinosaurus! (1960) – A dinosaur and a caveman are revived on a small island and are befriended by a small boy. Great fun.
Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (1978) – Another bizarre television movie that reunites Kim Richards with her Witch Mountain co-star, Ike Eisenmann and starring Richard Crenna as the dad and lead.
The Possessed (1977) – Here’s yet another TV movie dealing with Satan, this time a demon possession and it’s truly scary and effective. Check out Harrison Ford showing up as one of the victims probably right after he shot that silly space movie because obviously nothing’s going to come of that gig, right?
Fiend Without A Face (1958) – A fun horror/science fiction movie that features stop motion brain creatures.
Genesis 2 (1973) – Another failed Roddenberry pilot with Alex Cord as a man who wakes up in the 22nd Century to find a fucked up future. Pretty awesome.
Planet Earth (1974) – Like Star Trek before it, Roddenberry gets the chance for a second pilot and replaces his lead again, this time it’s John Saxon. A solid second try.
Strange New World (1975) – Third times a charm as Roddenberry’s first pilot gets rebooted but this time without it’s creator. John Saxon returns in the lead role.
Satellite In The Sky (1956) – A ponderous British science fiction drama about the space race in which they take forever to get there.
Shock Waves (1976) – The original Nazi zombie film and still the best.
Slaughter (1972) – One of the best blaxploitation films. Jim Brown exudes cool and Stella Stevens gets naked so it’s worth watching just for that.
Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973) – Jim Brown returns and has to take out main villain Ed McMahon.
Battle In Outer Space (1960) – A fun alien invasion flick from the studio that brought you Godzilla.
War Of The Planets (1965) – The first of Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma One Quadroligy. It’s Spaghetti Star Trek with Kirk’s libido turned up to 11.
Wild, Wild, Planet (1965) – The second Gamma One film. All four were made in three months using the same actors and sets and they’re beyond fun.
War Between The Planets (1965) – The third Gamma One film.
The Snow Devils (1966) – The last Gamma One film that inexplicably involves Yetis.
Journey To The Seventh Planet (1962) – A pretty imaginative AIP sci-fi film about the first trip to Venus. John Agar is the astronaut that wants to bang anything that moves.
Deathstalker (1983) – Roger Corman produces another low budget fantasy film to cash in on Conan and it’s a lot of fun. Phil Spector victim Lana Clarkson goes through the entire film topless. THE ENTIRE FILM.
The Warrior And The Sorceress (1984) – Another Corman fantasy cheapie. This time David Carradine basically plays Yojimbo. Yet another hot babe goes through the entire film in nothing but a thong. THE ENTIRE FILM. See a pattern here?
Black Belt Jones (1974) – Another blaxploitation classic with badass Jim Kelly in the title role and featuring one of the toughest female sidekicks ever. I had to smile when she confronts four thugs and tells them “I’m going to beat you like a tired faggot.”