To celebrate this 50th edition of Scott’s Film Geek Journal, I’m taking a look at several films from my favorite category. When I have my way, I love exploitation films and that’s what we have today, chronicling over fifty years of cheese. We look at sci-fi stinker MISSLE TO THE MOON, nudie cutie ADAM AND SIX EVES, the horror mash-up BLOOD BATH, the Cold War thriller DEFENSE PLAY and Astron-6’s bizarre throwback, MANBORG.
Yes, 50 editions of this already. Okay, not “already.” Originally, the plan was to do one of these a day, but cut me some slack. So, it’s an event and there will be more Journals to come.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 50
MISSILE TO THE MOON (1958) – Amateur scientist Dirk Green (Michael Whalen) has built a rocket and claims that he can travel to the moon. He even has a financial partner in the endeavor, the rock-jawed Steve Dayton (Richard Travis), who doesn’t believe that space exploration should be left entirely up to the government. Knowing that the government will try to clamp down on his experiment, Dirk hides a couple of escaped convicts in the rocket and uses them to help him blast off to the moon. Meanwhile, Steve and his long suffering fiance (Cathy Downs) are caught in the middle. Once they arrive on the moon, they discover slow-moving rock creatures. But they also discover that they can breathe once they enter a large cave. This cave is the home of a dwindling race of amazon women who have been aware of the inevitable rocket from Earth for some time.
It’s hard to review a film like MISSILE TO THE MOON. Is it bad? Oh, you bet your cardboard movie set it is. The acting is terrible and the plot is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, if you were to take every single cliché’ you think of when discussing bad 1950s sci-fi movies, chances are it’s right here. Wide-eyed wonder about the space age? Check. Lumpy heroes and their marriage-minded tagalongs? Check. Greedy and lecherous but otherwise non-threatening hep-cat talking criminals? Check. Bad monsters that could be thwarted by walking briskly? Check. Moronic plot devices that defy science? Check. Treacherous amazon women that reinforce the film’s sexist ideology? Check. Hilarious, Muppety spider monsters? Check. A worldview that says genocide is okay as long as conservative white guys come out on top? Check and double-check.
And yet, it’s those qualities that make MISSILE TO THE MOON an entertaining film to watch. Richard Cunha only directed a handful of movies, but virtually all of them are known as hokey cult favorites. MISSILE TO THE MOON is a howlingly bad movie, but it’s certainly not a boring one. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
The plot is paper-thin. A dim-witted prospector is in the desert when he sees a number of naked bathing beauties who shower him with food and gifts. This being a nudie cutie, we don’t see Adam close the deal with any of these girls. They just prance around, modeling in their altogethers. The film is shot sans sound and is narrated in post by Adam’s donkey, who speaks with a voice that sounds like Trusty from LADY AND THE TRAMP.
ADAM AND SIX EVES is bright and colorful. It’s also boring as hell. Watching several of the films in the Something Weird catalog, you need to enter what I call “zen mode.” This is where you just stare and take everything as it comes. These films played the original, real grindhouses and were designed to play to an inattentive audience. Hence, following the films meticulously and critically judging their pacing is out. The segments are long and padded out, because that’s just the way these things were. Using this viewing technique, I’ve uncovered a lot of gems. Unfortunately, ADAM AND SIX EVES isn’t one of them.
It’s a dirty guy that probably did stand-up for an empty nightclub, bugging his eyes out at some attractive naked women. And you’d think that the sight of these women would be enough to keep one interested for the one hour running time. But, you’d be wrong. Originally, this was shot in 3-D, but after a two year delay in its release, got released flat. It’s about the only thing flat in the whole film. Even in zen mode, ADAM AND SIX EVES is a chore. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
Sorry, no embedded trailer here. However, you can see a five minute clip HERE, provided that you are over 18.
BLOOD BATH (1966) – In the struggling artist scene, the one unqualified success of the neighborhood is Antonio Sordi (William Campbell), an artist who specializes in painting young women in the throes of death. It should come as no surprise to horror fans that the reason his paintings are so lifelike is that he really does kidnap young women, torturing them and killing them in an art studio he set up in a clock tower. What is strange is that Sordi also becomes possessed and is still in the thrall of his long-dead lover. He not only kills the women, but turns into a vampire and sucks their blood as well.
BLOOD BATH is a film born of chaos. The story goes that Roger Corman signed a deal for a European filmmaker to deliver a horror film starring William Campbell. What he got instead was a heist movie that he didn’t feel he could sell. Corman got Campbell back in town and hired Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, COFFY) to turn it into a horror picture. Hill shot extra footage with Campbell as well as some footage of beatniks that include Jonathan Haze and a young Sid Haig among their ranks. That’s where the film turned into a “mad artist” picture. Still not completely satisfied with the results, Corman hired Stephanie Rothman (THE STUDENT NURSES, THE VELVET VAMPIRE) to shoot even more footage, whereupon the film became a vampire picture.
If you ask anyone involved, no one is happy with the mess that BLOOD BATH turned out to be. No one, except perhaps me.
I found BLOOD BATH to be a transcendentally beautiful film, a film that rose above the clichés of its storyline to deliver a film that was hypnotic in its macabre beauty. The characters are well established and the acting pretty great for a low-budget effort. There are sequences, courtesy of both Hill and Rothman, that are absolutely beautiful to behold. From the chases down the nighttime streets to the twisted art studio to the visions of Sordi’s siren stirring within the paint on his canvas. This is an incredible film that shouldn’t work but does. It’s a gothic horror rooted in the 1960s art scene, a film ripe for rediscovery. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
DEFENSE PLAY (1988) – A teenager with a knack for computers gets a job at the university, where a select group of whiz kids is involved in a secret project for the nearby Air Force. The DART program is similar to our current drones, with tiny remote controlled helicopters being developed for surveillance and national defense. One night, the professor in charge of development is accosted in his lab by one of the helicopters and fried with a laser. The culprit is surely a dirty Commie mole and the teen teams up with the professor’s daughter to find out the truth.
Cold war thrillers were nothing new in the 1980s and in fact, they were sort of old hat. WARGAMES changed that and ushered a small number of films which put youngsters in the crosshairs of U.S.-Soviet intrigue. DEFENSE PLAY presents an Air Force weapon that isn’t very practical. The range on the helicopters doesn’t seem to go more than a few dozen miles and interrupted radio transmissions always seem to give them away. It also features the most reckless Soviet agent I’ve seen in quite some time, a person so worried about his cover being blown that he does everything he can to see that his cover is blown.
Directed by co-star and character actor Monte Markham (he plays the lead’s military dad here), this film is competently shot and while you’d never mistake it for a big budget film, it probably looks better than the two cents they did spend on it. You can’t really take this movie seriously, even if it wants you to. However, DEFENSE PLAY is entertaining in spots. It’s a mild curiosity, suitable for mid-afternoon viewing, nothing more. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
MANBORG (2011) – This film opens as a war is waged between humanity and the forces of Hell. Led by the evil Draculon, the hellbeasts make short work of the human resistance and kill two brothers on the battlefield. One of them is saved however and is awakened years later as Manborg, a half man/half machine/all asskicking force for good. Actually, Manborg has no idea what he is or what he can do at first, which creates kind of a learning curve for him. He is imprisoned along with a ragtag group of survivors. There’s Justice, the Jacko-like Australian hardcore dance machine. There’s Justice’s sister, the buttkicking Mina. And then there’s an Asian guy named #1 Man, who is brought along for some kung fu. After being forced into gladiator games, Manborg and his crew escape Draculon’s forces and get ready to strike back at him once and for all.
Our own Jesse Hoheisel has a word he often uses to describe things that are just a little bit more than awesome. That word is “amazeballs.” And let me tell you, there is nothing in that plot above that doesn’t make me scream, “amazeballs.” The film’s style is more important than its plot. It’s done by a Canadian collective known as Astron-6. They specialize in a specific style that makes heavy use of practical makeup effects and digital opticals and backgrounds. The film looks like a motion-capture video game with a really high bitrate. Every choice made by the filmmakers is an attempt to plant its tongue more firmly in cheek. The film is obviously post-dubbed on purpose. The dialogue is campy. Much of the film has a flavor that seems a throwback to 1980s cinema as well as comic book geek wishful thinking. The scenarios look like what someone would come up with after watching a ROBOCOP marathon and drinking an entire case of Red Bull. These Astron-6 guys are really interesting and show that there is still vitality in independent film.
No doubt, MANBORG is fun. Still, there was a part of me that wondered if it shouldn’t be just a little more fun. Am I really that hard to please? Judging from my review of BLOOD BATH, obviously not. And yet, much as I enjoyed this film, there was something missing, something that kept it from being the slam dunk I would have imagined. Maybe it was the tone of the humor that didn’t sit well with me. Maybe it was the strobing motion when a telecine transfer would have been preferable for this material. Maybe it was Manborg himself, who never really becomes what even this film could comparatively call a well-realized character. I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just not… well, amazeballs.
It should also be noted that MANBORG itself is barely over an hour long. The extra time listed on the DVD is for the short film, under the guise of an extended trailer for the film BIO-COP. Now this one really did work for me. It felt like ROBOCOP meets the craziest Troma flick ever made. MANBORG may be good but BIO-COP is great. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 228
Miss any of the previous Journal entries? Check them out here!
To hear more about my love of exploitation and my frustration with mainstream entertainment, tune into my YouTube web series, Moviocrity!