Reader and Classic Horror Film Board member todmichel recently alerted us to a post over at the Cinehound Forum that includes a VHS box cover and screen caps from a previously unheard of omnibus flick called Southern Shockers that was filmed in West Point, Miss., in 1985.
The box in the Cinehound post appears to be from either Spain or Latin America, and presents the film as El Espiritu del Zombie (The Spirit of the Zombie), although the credits are all in English.
For you youngsters in the audience, VHS technology and the color red had an often stormy relationship...
Here's the info:
Director: David Coleman Producer: David Hopper Special Effects: Chris Witherspoon Catering: Marcia Gibson Cast: Mike Gordon, Robert Harrell, Tom Hatcher, Eric Shusterman (as Preacher Hopewell)
Oddly enough, I spent every summer during the late 1980s in West Point, Miss., and I still have family there. But I never heard of this movie, which appears to be a very cheap, shot-on-video effort. Anyone know anything about this one? If you have information, post it here in the comments section or send me an e-mail!
I actually just finished watching this oddball, erratically edited slasher film that was recently released by Code Red (it previously floated around on video as Death Merchant in some quarters). Joe Spinell stars as a murderous undertaker with unhealthy designs on his recently departed female customers. There's lots of sweat, lots of aerobics, and lots of stock footage from The Corpse Vanishes (and The Terror, and Africa Screams, and Scared to Death, and ... Bedtime for Bonzo).
There's not really a trailer available, but I did find this promo reel (there's an introduction by a guy named Beck who provides some background). It's long, a little disgusting in places, and interestingly enough includes some sequences that are missing from the Code Red DVD.
Spinell died just a few months after completing the film.
House of Death (Death Screams, 1982) Shelby, North Carolina
When we first learned about the passing of former child star David Nelson, we weren't too surprised to note that most obituaries failed to mention that he had directed the obscure slasher film House of Death/Death Screams. Nelson is best known for portraying himself on the family sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" along with his parents and younger brother Ricky Nelson. But in the 1980s he directed several films (and TV show episodes), including two made in the South: The Florida film Last Plane Out (1983) starring Jan-Michael Vincent, and House of Death, which was filmed at Earl Owensby's EO Studios compound in Shelby, N.C.
House of Death is set against the backdrop of a carnival, with a shadowy killer offing teenagers. Like that other EO slasher film Final Exam (1981), House of Death suffers from a long, boring stretch in the middle and a lackluster killer with seemingly no motivation. What it does have, however, is former Playmate Susan Kiger and former North Carolina pageant queen Monica Boston. William T. Hicks, who plays the obligatory fat sheriff, was also in Owensby's Tales of the Third Dimension, A Day of Judgment, Challenge, and Living Legend: The King of Rock and Roll. (Thanks to Fred Adelman for the VHS images).
Folks, there are horrible guy-in-a-rubber-suit films from the 1970s, and then there's Track of the Moonbeast (1972). Like its contemporaries Octaman, The Milpitas Monster, and Slithis, the New Mexico-lensed Track rehashes monster movie tropes from the 1950s against a backdrop of the eco-conscious but fashion-challenged 1970s. Only, unlike its contemporaries, Track of the Moonbeast sports an excellent musical interlude and a really long scene about making soup.
Also unlike its monster-flick competition, the film boasts a pair of screenwriters with an unusual pedigree: Co-writers Charles Sinclair and Bill Finger had earlier worked on The Green Slime, a bunch of episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, and a Batman twofer featuring Walter Slezak as The Clock King.
The late Finger, in fact, was the uncredited co-creator of the Batman character, and had been writing comic scripts since the 1940s. Sinclair joined the radio/TV biz in the 1940s, primarily working as a trade magazine editor and PR man while dabbling in screenwriting on the side.
I caught up with Sinclair (now in his 80s) last year, and I've since conducted two lengthy interviews with him about his film work. Below, I've excerpted the part of the interview pertaining to Track of the Moonbeast.
For the record, the film was completed in September 1972, but there doesn't appear to be any indication it had a theatrical release. It first aired on television around 1978, but is generally listed with a 1976 release date.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank author Marc Tyler Nobleman, who put me in contact with Sinclair. Nobleman is currently writing a Bill Finger biography, and you can learn more about this unheralded comic writer over at his blog, Nobelmania.
How did you get involved in writing the film Track of the Moonbeast?
CHARLES SINCLAIR: I will start by saying that Track of the Moonbeast was the equivalent of a literary one-night stand, honest to God. It came, it went, and I kind of forgot about it. Mercifully, perhaps! The original tip off on this thing came from a lady I knew in the film industry named Joyce Graff.
She tipped me off that there was a company that was looking around for a property because they had been in contact with something like the New Mexico Film Development Board or something to that effect. The state government of New Mexico had decided that it would be nice to have them come down and make movies there to spread the economy around and all that. They were offering location assistance, and everything you could offer a film company.
When this quickie tip came in the early 1970s, Bill Finger was kind of winding down, the poor guy. He was fading away. He had had heart trouble. Bill was ten years older than I was. He was kind of living from hand to mouth a bit. At this point Bill had been working for the government, of all things, in some sort of government film job. The U.S. Army Signal Corps had a studio out in Long Island, the Kaufman Studios, where they made training films and other stuff. It's a famous little studio. They filmed Marx Brothers movies there.
So I got this tip. I thought to myself, what do I know about New Mexico? Not very much. I had never been there. I did a very quick study at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street on the state of New Mexico, and took some notes about the tourist attractions, something of its history, and so on.
Then I got together with Bill, and explained what this was and that we needed a quick, basic idea that we could expand on to make a low-budget film of some nature. All of this is taking place in a matter of a few days. So Bill and I sat around a pot of coffee and knocked ideas back and forth.
The producers were Frank and Ralph Desiderio, and the director was a man named Richard Ashe.
Yeah, yeah. I think we met with the Desiderio people, and who also had a third person there that was to be their cinematographer. So we met in just very routine restaurant somewhere in the east 50s, sat around a table drinking coffee or beer or whatever and discussed this thing.
We pitched our idea, and they liked it. They felt there was enough to produce it, and to get the New Mexico people involved because it was utilizing a New Mexico Indian legend, science fiction stuff, these basic ideas.
We bounced the idea off them and we talked money. And they pleaded that they were a very low-budget operation. I've been trying the last couple of days to remember how much we were paid for this thing. It was a split between Bill and myself, either $12,000 or $20,000 for the finished screenplay. It covered everything, all rights. There was a finder's fee for Joyce Graff, who had pointed us in the direction of this thing.
It was very much the last major thing that I ever did with Bill Finger. The money that he got from it was enough to keep him alive in the last few months and pay off some debts here and there.
Bill's forte was coming up with quick plots, because he had a hell of a memory. He remembered every movie he ever watched, and he would borrow a little here and a little there.
He also wrote nice, tight dialogue. He was a joy to work with on things like that. In comic books you can't be verbose. You're not going to come up with the Gettysburg Address when someone asks about the weather. It had to be simple and readable and snappy and terse. He was a great collaborator.
But we did this movie, we got the money, we paid off Joyce Graff, forgot the whole thing. Bill's fortunes did not get much better. In 1974, clunk, he died. So that was the end of that.
I almost literally forgot about the movie. I have a son on the West Coast who is involved as a writer out there. He phoned me one night, and said "Guess what? Track of the Moonbeast is coming up on an obscure TV channel." It was on the Sci-Fi Channel or Comedy Central or something of that sort. I said, "Great, I've never seen it." I looked in on it that night, and thought, "Oh my god, did I have a hand in this thing?"
It was kind of chopped up and mixed in with these people making corny jokes.
Then you saw the Mystery Science Theater version.
I was vaguely astonished to see that one of the characters in the movie was a fairly presentable, good looking girl who was kind of running around in what looked like these short, baby doll nighties. She's running around with hearts stitched all over her. I thought, "Did we write a girl into this thing?" I guess we did.
By the way, the original working title -- Bill and I always had great working titles that never got used -- was The Lunar Analog. I thought that was very sexy. My brother was a nuclear physicist, and he thought that was pretty good.
How long did it take to write the script?
One weekend. We just talked about the story line, then sat down in Bill's apartment, I think. We started in the evening after work, Friday evening. So we had a spaghetti dinner, because Bill was a very good short order Italian cook. He was hardly a gourmet cook, but he made terrific pasta dishes because they were cheap and filling. We sat down with beer and pasta and a couple of typewriters, or maybe just one typewriter, taking turns. We just went directly from the story treatment we had right into writing a script.
It was done and delivered I guess to Joyce Graff, who delivered it to the Desiderios. Checks came back, and that was it.
There will be a brief intermission before the shrieking resumes.
Following visits to both the Rideau Theatre and Britannia Drive-in by morality detectives, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a low-budget screamer which shows every intention of becoming an underground classic of the macabre, has gone to join Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS in the city's celluloid graveyard.
But it is the great dorsal-finned one who will save the day for horror buffs -- Jaws starts Friday at the Rideau.
Drive-in patrons this weekend will be treated to the sexual antics of Fritz the Cat.
Rideau Theatre manager Sven Petersen said today Ottawa morality detectives came to the theatre Tuesday evening and advised charges would be laid unless the film was withdrawn immediately. Nepean police gave the same advise to the manager of the Britannia Drive-in Wednesday evening.
One year ago this month, Ilsa, an x-rated film which depicted gang rapes and torture, was withdrawn from the Rideau Theatre for the same reason.
Mr. Petersen estimates that in the 12 days Massacre was shown, 3,000 people saw the movie at his theatre.
Had the morality division not acted, the film, which was teamed up with Vice Squad Women, would have died a natural death Friday, when the new program began.
In the interim, the somewhat tamer double bill Up the Down Staircase and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is being shown.
Ottawa police morality inspector George Zhukow said the department acted on legal advice before recommending withdrawal. "We warned them if they continued showing it they might be charged."
Section 1592 of the Criminal Code forbids the undue exploitation of sex, violence and cruelty.
Jack Bernstein, director of programming at Famous Players Ltd., headquarters in Toronto, said he hadn't expected Chainsaw to get the axe for its sustained horror. "This is a surprise to me because we haven't had any problem in playing the movie anywhere in Canada."
The programmer characterized the film as "just a fun thing." He said he has seen it and feels "it's not to be taken seriously."
The "fun" of the movie is 90 minutes of solid nightmarish horror depicting the tale of five teen-agers, one an invalid, who become involved with a gang of crazies with an unusual predilection for human flesh.
Reminiscent of horror classics like Night of the Living Dead and Psycho, it has been hailed by some reviewers for its allegorical content. In the concluding scenes, good triumphs over evil, albeit with a bloodied face and shredded halter top.
There is no overt sexual content in the film and few scenes involving the standard horror flick spurts of blood and gore.
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.