The Bad Movie Report

Land of the Cheapass DVDs

Though I haven't plumbed the depths of my Beverly Wilshire Filmworks collection, those discs from the now-defunct manufacturer are getting harder and harder to find in the wild - so what point, really, is there in discussing them? Especially since in the past year a new player has entered the field, and they are impressive. Alpha Video has been turning out discs of public domain material with breathtaking speed. In several cases, they've duplicated Beverly Wilshire's output, but with better, more stable transfers. They've also put out some rarities, which alone should be anough to recommend them to the collector or the crap cineaste. (and for info on more Alpha discs, drop by The Speakeasy - you'll be glad you did)

Here's what I've had time to look at:


Maniac!The box promises "The most bizarre film ever made!" and "Unlike anything you have ever seen before!" The former is arguable, depending on how much film you've seen; I'd give Eraserhead or Meet the Hollowheads the edge on that. But the latter is pretty accurate. Maniac is a delirium-inducing mix of Edgar Allan Poe, Marihuana: The Weed With Roots in Hell, a boring psych lecture, and a Troma movie.

Produced and directed by the legendary Dwain Esper (also responsible for Tell Your Children, aka Reefer Madness, also available from Alpha), Maniac purports to be an educational film detailing the various forms of mental illness. In actuality, it is a lurid tale of a down-on-his-luck actor who kills a mad scientist and is forced to take the looney's place to cover up the murder. Not helping matters are the fact that the actor himself is going insane, tormented by images from Haxan and going on and on about "The Gleam!" What's really going to knock you out is the presence of nudity in this 1934 picture. Hey, it's okay! It's educational!

Don't believe me? Check out my full review.

Previously, the only source I had found for this move was Sinister Cinema, whose VHS formed the basis for my review. While Alpha's DVD is not a step up in picture quality, it certainly isn't a step down. There are all the pitfalls of a piece of celluloid this old: washed-out whites, dust speckling. Other damage is at a minimum, though, and Alpha is to be commended for taming the hiss that is the usual bane of audio in flicks this old. I recommend this highly as a party disc, and at this price, it definitely deserves to be in every B-fan's library.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

The Brain That Wouldn't DieThough this movie has become more or less iconic thanks to MST3K, for a while finding this on video was a very frustrating matter. I first saw this proto-gore movie uncut on TV during prime time (albeit on an independent TV station), and was delighted to find an official VHS release from Warner Home Video during the first video boom of the late 80s. Imagine my dismay upon discovering that this was a censored version excising all the surprisingly bloody fun, a horror movie pretty much without the horror, with splashes of black paint mysteriously appearing across the back wall during the climax. I guess I should feel lucky that my TV station didn't have this particular TV print. MST3K certainly didn't.

So video copies of the damned thing are now quite plentiful. And if you're not willing to part with twenty bucks for the version with Mike and the Bots, you can still get an uncut version of the movie here for a fraction of the cost.

If the time warp just opened up, depositing you in postmodern times and unaware of Jan in the Pan: brilliant but twisted surgeon Dr. Cortner accidentally beheads his fiancee, Jan, in a auto accident. Being brilliant but twisted, Cortner keeps Jan's head alive in a pan of liquid while he searches for a new body in the strip joints and sleazy bars of the city. Jan doesn't take too kindly to being Cortner's latest incursion into God's domain, and strikes up a rapport with one of Cortner's failed experiment's, locked in a closet. Yes, like all good mad scientists, Cortner has a monster in the closet. Not to mention a misshapen assistant, who is destined to lose his good arm in a rather messy and drawn-out fashion...

Plenty of dust speckling and a messy splice or two mar the sleazy experience, but that's certainly nothing you wouldn't see on a TV viewing, and is otherwise a terrific transfer. A good investment in your horror library, especially at this price.

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

Shameful confession time: up to this point, I had never seen any of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials or the feature films cobbled together from their episodes. Well, no longer!

Flash Vol. 1

The third and by all accounts the weakest of the serials, Universe starts with Ming the Merciless picking on Earth (as usual), his spacecraft sprinkling a dust which causes The Purple Death (instant extinction with a single purple dot on the forehead!) into the atmosphere. Flash, Dr. Zarkov and Dale once more climb into their zizzing sparkler-powered rocketship to kick some Mongo butt, and wind up spending twelve episodes there. Basic plot: Ming's captive scientists come up with deadly weapons, Zarkov invents counter-weapons, Flash falls off precipices, and Dale simpers a lot. The end.

Flash Vol. 2

I have to admit, this serial plays fair in its cliffhangers, whereas a lot of others do not - the Commando Cody/ Rocketman serials, in particular, were bad about that, as I recall. I distinctly recall one Rocketman episode which ended with a hero - or rather, a dummy wearing the hero's costume - was crushed by a pneumatic press. Next week, forget the dummy, the hero rolled out of the way in the nick of time. (SCTV's parody of serials, Six Gun Justice, had a lot of fun with this sort of thing) Flash Gordon, at least, doesn't cheat like that. Okay, he grabs a ledge on his way down, or falls into water, or survives being electrocuted for no particularly good reason, but events are not significantly changed after the fact. I give it points for that.

Am I the only one who's disturbed by the fact that the rocketship pilots can't see where they're going? Ming's sadism must extend even into his most faithful servants, as witness the fact that he gives his Captains names like Torch and Thong. And why is it, every time someone falls off a cliff or into a pit, we hear a chimpanzee screech? Twice, if it's two people falling?

Adventure-wise, it's a pretty cliched but fairly entertaining concoction, especially if you limit yourself to, say, one episode a day. These are the TV re-issues of the episodes, with an on-screen title of Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, which also replaces the original Universal copyright info with a "King Features Presents" logo. The whites are very washed out, and speckling is evident, but under control. Again, nice work is done on the audio.

Alpha has put out a number of serials (including the aforementioned Commando Cody Radar Men from the Moon and my next purchase, the Gene Autry vs Atlantis potboiler The Phantom Empire), all of them split over two separately -marketed discs. This is initially annoying, but since the discs are so blamed cheap, it's hard to knock Alpha for taking this route, and possibly making a little money for themselves.

Top 10 Forgotten Cartoons of All Time

But enough about Alpha, for the moment. Let's talk about an old-timer - Goodtimes Video. Goodtimes has been around for-freaking-ever, it seems (since 1984, in fact); their VHS offerings were staples of bargain bins for years. The tapes were a dodgy investment, quality-wise - frequently, to keep costs down, the tapes were T-30s recorded at Insanely Slow Speed, resulting in a blurry, soft picture. What we in the trade refer to as "stepped-on". DVDs, however, are already cheap to mass produce and Goodtimes has entered the market in a impressive manner.

Now, I dearly love my cartoons. When I was a child, I swore that, unlike most grown-ups of my acquaintance, I would never abandon them. So far, that's one of the very few of those promises that I've kept. (The one about Making Them All Pay was, in retrospect, a bit beyond my reach) So I've a fair number of animation collections like this.

The bad news is, there's a reason most of these cartoons are forgotten. The long-gone Van Beuren Studio is heavily represented, and they were never even in the running for my list of favorite cartoon makers. Though technically they're decent, the jokes and storylines are hackneyed and mediocre. Even the best of the VB cartoons here, It's A Greek Life - in which a centaur cobbler makes use of Mercury's winged shoes - is made dreary by the Life With Luigi immigrant humor. I mean, the creatures are foreign, right? So they gotta talk in fractured, comical English like foreigners, right? Right?

But if you also wondered what a Toonerville Trolley cartoon looked like, this is the place to find out. And when you see a Paramount cartoon announcing "Featuring Dog Face", with all the aplomb of a Donald Duck or Barney Bear, or any other alliteratively aliased animal.... frankly, I still haven't found the Official Yahoo! Fan Page for Dog Face. It's kind of a surreal moment for me - I expect to see another, familiar head in that introductory frame - Popeye, perhaps, or Chilly Willy*. Instead, I see a stranger's face there, and I realize that this is the only picture Dog Face ever made. I am filled with a great sadness at this. You poor bastard, I think. Where are you now?" Likely saying "Welcome to Wal-Mart" on a regular basis, I imagine.

I'd take exception to calling Tex Avery's Doggone Tired forgotten, since it seems to show up on Cartoon Network at least once a week, but there are a few hard-to-find little gems here. Two by the Fleischer brothers, Dancing on the Moon and All's Fair at the Fair, and another cartoon based on a long-gone comic strip, Happy Days, directed by Ub Iwerks. The absolute find here, though, is the Harman-Ising short To Spring, much beloved by fans of Peewee's Playhouse as the cartoon where the wizened gnome keeps screaming "Time for Spring, I say!" Trivia: There are two directors credited on To Spring: Hugh Harman... and William Hanna.

The image is a little soft, betraying a video rather than a film transfer, but the toons are all in terrific shape. And having a good copy of To Spring alone was worth the six bucks I shelled out for this disc.

Invasion of the Bee Girls/The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant

Speaking of rarities: this is one of a series of CatCom Double Feature discs, and the only place I have ever found these were at the Half-Price Books chain stores. Each disc is tricked out as a drive-in double feature (even reminding you to "drive carefully" at the end of the show), with cartoons and, in lieu of trailers, toy commercials from the 60s.

Written by a just-starting-out Nicholas Meyer (yes, Wrath of Khan Meyer. Seven Per Cent Solution Meyer), Bee Girls is a B-Fest perennial that tells the tale of a feminist doctor who is transforming women into um, Bee Girls, who proceed to love men to death. Literally. Featuring Anitra (The Price Is Right, Big Bird Cage) Ford, Victoria (When Dinosaur Ruled The Earth) Vetri, Wiiliam (nearly two hundred B-movies) Smith, and lotsa nekkid boobies. It got pegged as a "guilty pleasure" by either Siskel or Ebert, I don't remember which...

Also hailing from the early 70s is The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, which I saw as a young Freex at the Rialto, on a double bill with... I don't remember. But if I found Transplant the more memorable film, whatever that second feature was must have been utter crap. A very young Bruce Dern is Dr. Girard, a brilliant but (here's the plot twist) not twisted, but ultmately stupid surgeon who stitches the head of a homicidal maniac onto the body of a comatose Lenny type (played by John Bloom - if you ever wonderd what the Monster in Dracula vs. Frankenstein looked like without the lumpy makeup, here's your chance). Budget-conscious mayhem ensues.

Casey Kasem does double duty as Girard's sane friend and a newscaster on K-PLOT radio. Pat Priest, aka the second Marilyn Munster, is on hand to be menaced by the maniac (in both mono and stereo head versions) and her husband, when she threatens to go to the authorities. In fact, Ms. Priest spends a third of the picture bound and gagged in her negligee - and yet, in spite of this, somehow the movie just isn't very good. If you sit through the end credits (and the amazing song "It's Incredible"...) you'll discover that there are no less than three Medical Advisors listed.


The film elements in both cases show a lot of wear and tear ( a suspicious amount in the case of the boobage scenes in Bee Girls), and there's a lot of edge detection going on in Transplant. There is the usual drawback of a cheapass DVD - mastering from video rather than film results in a soft image. Still, two movies for five bucks is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you have a taste for slightly boring yet sleazy fun.

The cartoons in question are Betty Boop in "Poor Cinderella" and Superman in "The Underground World". Neither is exactly the Fleischer studio's finest hours, but they're still entertaining. There actually is a sort of preview after Transplant - a song from Stagedoor Canteen! The commercials are an odder bunch, featuring Barbie, the old Shrunken Heads Kit, and... this is pretty stunning ... The Johnny Reb Cannon. This is a toy civil war cannon that looks to be about two feet long, is mounted on wagon wheels and fires cannonballs. It also has a Confederate flag mounted on it. Boys are encouraged to dress in blue and gray uniforms and build log forts so those lucky enough to be playing the South (and therefore the only ones with cannons) can lay siege to them with their hurtling plastic spheres. Little girls won't miss out on the fun, either - they can dress up as nurses, and tend the wounded!

Yeah, I still miss the 60s.

- April 10, 2003