HORROR AT THE PRICE OF A KITTY LITTER BAG
By Jenny Orosel
Every now and then I get bored with my normal movie-watching habits. I've got my favorite theaters, favorite video stores, favorite websites. I know where I can find good stuff, but sometimes I do wonder what else is out there that I'm missing. It's then that I try experiments.
Once I decided to take 30 bucks to a Wal-Mart clearance rack to see if I could find any decent horror movies. While I can't say I scored much in the way of good horror, I did find one where Chuck Norris played an angel and shot fire from his fingertips. That one bit made the thirty dollars well spent. And while at a used book store I tweaked that idea and came up with a new experiment.
One video bargain rack. Ten dollars (before tax). Would I be able to find anything decent? I'm not going to give it away, but at least it was interesting. Here's a run-down of what I scored:
Holla If I Kill You/Peter Rottentail ($2.00) Wow. What a way to start out the experiment. This double dose of horror comedies come our way via brothers Mark and John Polonia. Together they produced over twenty direct-to-video flicks. A part of me is not very surprised-for appearing to have NO budget, they put together a duo of workable movies. But considering these were done later in their career, they could have come up with better scripts. The first movie is about a bad comedian whose hecklers all turn up dead. The latter is about an evil children's birthday party magician who comes back from the dead as a satanic rabbit. The jokes abound, but are predictable (as are the endings). I think I can honestly say these would be much better if enjoyed with intoxicating beverages. Lots of them.
Cock Fighter/Cell Block Girls ($1.00) I was drawn to buy this because of the fact Mickey Rooney was in a Women-In-Prison flick, and also because I was getting two chances at a good movie for a buck. Cock Fighter was actually a decent film. Not a horror movie, but probably the darkest out of all in this experiment. Warren Oats wants nothing more for his life than to win the "Cock Fighter of the Year" medal (I had no idea there were medals for that sort of thing). He loses everything-his house, his wife, his girlfriend-in search of that goal. There was a big dramatic line to end it, unfortunately the cheap disc cut if off. If anyone knows what it was, please let me know. This one wins the award for best tagline: "He came to town with his cock in his hand and did something with it that's illegal in 49 states." I'm not kidding. That's the real tagline. Cell Block Girls was so painfully bad I had to stop watching ten minutes into it (and that says something, considering I attempted it AFTER sitting through both Polonia movies in their entirety). I never did make it to the Andy Rooney bits. I should probably be grateful.
Teenage Monster ($3.00) The most expensive of the finds, and the only stand-alone movie I picked up. And it ended up being one of my favorites of the haul. It has its faults. Ooh boy, does it have faults. When Charles was a little boy he was with his father in a gold mine when it was hit by some random electricity from outer space. It killed his father and turned him into a mentally deficient werewolf. He lives with his mom, who tries her best to hide him. But poor Charles just wants to come out and play.... Oh, there are so many plot holes here. What the hell was that electricity from outer space? Why does Charles sometimes speak in growls and sometimes in perfect English? All in all, none of this matters, because the pacing is so spot on that, as soon as a question comes to mind you're distracted with a new bit of excitement. Not to mention the monster (with make-up effects from the legendary Jack Pierce) looks pretty spiffy for a 50s sci-fi creature. Recommended, not for the scares, but for sheer fun.
Creature from the Haunted Sea/She Gods of the Shark Reef ($1.00) The bargain racks seem to overflow with double features like this, with public domain movies put out cheaply (see Cock Fighter above) then sold at places like the 99 Cent Store or Dollar Tree. This is one of those double features, but the appealing part is both movies were directed by the great Roger Corman. His might not be the most artistic of movies, but at least they're usually fun. She Gods of the Shark Reef is like any number of "Men Find Island/Planet/Tribe of Women Totally Isolated From Males" flicks from the 50s and 60s, and this one follows all the standards to a tee. There's a sleazy guy and a heroic guy. They find this tribe of women who haven't seen a man for generations. Immediately, the most beautiful woman feels a surge of hormones and falls for heroic guy. Guys fight monster off for the helpless women, take beautiful girl and go home. That covers not just this movie, but a whole horde of others that used to be the staples of late night broadcast TV. Maybe if I hadn't heard the story before I would have been more entertained. Instead I was just a little bored here. Creature From the Haunted Sea, on the other hand, was a total hoot. Played for laughs, a criminal is stowed away on a boat smuggling gold out of Cuba. His fellow passengers include one man who, due to an injury, can only smile no matter what he feels, and another man who speaks in animal sounds. In order to run off with the gold, he fakes a sea creature to kill off the other passengers. Little does he know a real sea creature is stalking them. With this one, Corman accepted he was making a clichéd movie and instead of playing it straight the way he did with She Creature he satirized the very genre, and it worked. Well.
Ghost Killers 3-Pack with Tormented, Nightmare Castle and The Spirit Hunter ($3.00) This was a weird trip. The draw here was one movie with Richard Carlson and another one with Barbara Steele, both of whom have made quality horror flicks. Not much was said about the third. Tormented stars Richard Carlson as a man who is about to be married. Unfortunately, his mistress is none too thrilled with this prospect. An accident happens and he has a chance to save her...and passes. Her very pissed off ghost does everything she can to mess things up for him. Interesting morality play, great pacing, all in all a win. Nightmare Castle has Barbara Steele in a dual role as the wife of Dr. Arrowsmith. He murders her and her lover so he can use their blood to restore the youth of his own lover. Then he tries to seduce her sister so he can get the money left to her by his murdered wife. Although the plot sounds somewhat muddled, it was actually a pretty good little movie. The performances were spot-on, the minimal effects weren't groundbreaking, but better than most of the movies from that time. All in all, I was happy with it. So back to back I had two 60s era public domain quality horror flicks, and I was expecting the third to be the same.
Then it came on.
The Spirit Hunter was made forty years after the other two, shot on digital video with actors that may or may not be professional. We start out with a guy being chased by weird lights. Turns out he's dead and those lights are the titular Spirit Hunters, trying to catch his soul and send him to hell. How can he make it to heaven? He has to find his body. Hurm. Okay. The problem is our dead hero lost most of the memories of his life so he must get them back, figure out where his body is, and touch it before he gets sent to hell. Meanwhile, he and the other characters discuss religion, god and Jesus. Then he runs from more god-awful computer effects. Now, I know a lot of Christians and a decent number of them are horror fans. Yet whenever I see a Christian Horror movie, they seem plagued by bad effects, unrealistic dialogue and wooden performances. And that makes me wonder why so many go so cheap with the quality of their films when they add a religious element. But that's for another column. The numerous failings of The Spirit Hunter were only magnified by seeing this after two great pieces of scare cinema.
If this column had included finds from various weeks, there would have been a Hammer Horror flick, some vintage exploitation, a couple strange Indonesian monster movies and some art trash. Sure, I've found some absolutely horrible things in the bargain bin. That's a chance you take when blindly diving into some movies you've never heard of before. Risks like that can be a lot of fun, and when you're paying a few cents per movie, it's a risk that is much easier to take.
WHERE TO FIND THESE MOVIES:
All movies mentioned in this article were found at the bargain rack at Half Price Books in Dallas, TX on the Northwest Highway off the 75.