Six more examples of Bad Cinema, ranging from hilariously awful to simply wretched.
“It’s Alive!”: Not to be confused with writer-director Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, this is a film no sane person would want to own—unless they thought it exerted the train-wreck fascination of a Plan 9 from Outer Space or a Beast of Yucca Flats, or it was an uncredited adaptation of a story by Richard Matheson…or both. Yes, you guessed it, the answer is “C: All of the above.” To call this low-rent bastardization of Matheson’s “Being” a no-frills production is to define “sound” as a frill; much of it is shot silent, with ridiculously portentous narration and/or cheesy (and equally uncredited) music. It’s probably just as well that director-producer-writer-editor Larry Buchanan didn’t spend much on the scenery, the way this cast chews it, especially Big Bill Thurman as an Ozarks wacko who keeps a pet monster in a cave, feeding it with passing strangers who won’t be missed. Eighty minutes is an eternity, about which you can read more than you ever needed to know in Richard Matheson on Screen.
Mesa of Lost Women (aka Lost Women of Zarpa): Astounding piece of Bad Cinema with Jackie Coogan (yes, Uncle Fester from The Addams Family) as a scientist experimenting with spiders in his desert lab. Someone decided that a strumming guitar and piano would make for a menacing soundtrack. The unintentional hilarity that results must be heard to be believed (when things get tense [?], he just strums harder!); oddly enough, the score was reused by the same company, Howco, in Ed Wood’s Jail Bait. Wood players Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller, and Mona McKinnon are also on hand here, and although Eddie himself was not involved, it’s heavy on such Woodian traits as disjointed plotting and non-sequitur-filled dialogue. Also features a jaw-dropping “exotic” spider-woman dance sequence.
Metempsycho (aka Tomb of Torture): This one has no nudity or gore, which—while hardly prerequisites—always help maintain interest, since a lot of it consists of people walking around, but it does have a high weirdness factor. The utter absence of a single recognizable name on either side of the camera (unless you count co-writer “Johnny Seemonell,” really Giorgio Simonelli, who collaborated on a dozen films with the skull-crushingly unfunny Italian comedians featured in Mario Bava’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs) certainly didn’t bode well for this Euro-curiosity. For those of you without a dictionary at your fingertips, metempsychosis refers to the transference of a soul from one body to another at death, and while it’s hard to tell what’s going on for a lot of the time, the implication seems to be that this happened when a countess was killed and her young lookalike was born. After two young girls trespassing in the castle are tortured to death by a maniacally laughing servant who looks like he got his face caught in a Mix-Master, it looks like we’re in for an exploitation bonanza. But what follows is a bizarre mishmash of Gothic atmosphere and painfully scored comedy (Simonelli’s contribution, no doubt), as a reporter seeking a story on the two murders falls for the lookalike, who’s haunted by dreams of the countess being killed by an armored figure. I can’t be the only one who watched this film waiting for the latter to brandish a rubber chicken a la Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and you’ll want to do the same after seeing it.
Monstrosity (aka The Atomic Brain): This rock-bottom-budgeted curiosity concerns a mad scientist swapping brains. It seems the Doc’s wealthy female patron wants to find herself a hot young bod (hey, don’t we all?), but they’re not getting the best results from the corpses that he and his deformed assistant (the titular monstrosity) are stealing from the local boneyards. So she hits on the idea of hiring three young and difficult-to-trace women from foreign climes, ostensibly to work in her household, and plans to leave her fortune to the most promising of the three, so that she can happily spend it in her new body. The Doc, however, has other ideas involving her pet cat, and—in predictable fashion—most of the cast has bought the farm by the end.
The Navy Vs. the Night Monsters (aka The Night Crawlers): A Shakespearean classic of Bad Cinema, based on the novel Monster from the Earth’s End by Murray Leinster, whose lame Wailing Asteroid inspired the insipid Amicus SF flop They Came from Beyond Space. Quite a track record! This one stars Anthony Eisley (Dracula Vs. Frankenstein), Mamie Van Doren (Matheson’s ill-fated The Beat Generation), and—God help us all—Bobby Van, so you know you’re in trouble. A planeload of scientists and samples from an Antarctic hot springs area crash-lands at the Gow Island naval base, and pretty soon the gang’s tangling with hilariously inept killer trees. While famously stacked, Mamie’s not even as attractive as I remembered, so she contributes essentially nothing; as for the rest, I’m tempted to ask which is more wooden, the trees or the cast, and to call the dialogue sappy.
Night Terrors: Since this represents the collective effort of director Tobe Hooper and stars Robert Englund and William (Phantom of the Paradise) Finley, you can bet that good taste will be but a memory. Englund plays both the Marquis de Sade, in period scenes that don’t seem to have much to do with anything except exploitation, and his equally twisted modern-day descendant. Finley plays an archaeologist who locates an ancient Gnostic tomb, in which he discovers…something or other. Englund fingers (in every sense of the word) his daughter to be first corrupted, then terrified by the murders of most of the cast, and finally sacrificed for the purposes of…something or other. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly according to plan, but the film really just stops rather than actually ending. A sleazy, inexplicable mess.