Category Archives: drive-in movies

Warm hands?

  
This ad for William Castle’s 1959 fright flick “House on Haunted Hill” has me all “huh?”

See it with someone with warm hands has a more than devilish meaning, seems like.

Also – a blurb from Louella Parsons? Was Hedda Hopper out of town?

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Have a Boris Karloff Fourth of July

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You don’t necessarily think about Boris Karloff, king of the Universal monsters, on the Fourth of July.

You do think about drive-in movies on the Fourth, and here’s a Karloff-centric drive-in quintuple feature ad.

It’s likely this drive-in Karloff marathon took place in 1965. The top-billed picture, “Die, Monster, Die,” was released that year. All the others were older.

Karloff had been well-known as a horror film actor for decades by that point, since 1931’s “Frankenstein,” and continued to appear in movies and TV up until his death in 1969. Beyond his death, actually. Although his health had declined over the years and he was often confined to a wheelchair, Karloff worked on movies late in life and some of those were released as late as 1971, two years after his death.

In 1965, when this quintuple feature was released, he was considered a horror movie elder statesman at age 77.

Karloff wasn’t known to a new generation of fans, by the way, until he narrated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 1966.

Classic drive-in horror: ‘The Vampire Lovers’

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When i was a pre-teen and young teen, “The Vampire Lovers” was something of a holy grail.

If by holy grail you meant a Hammer horror film that not only featured Peter Cushing, a favorite actor, but also actress Ingrid Pitt and a bevy of actresses in various stages of undress.

And making out.

I didn’t see the 1970 movie in theaters or even a drive-in, a venue in which I assume it excelled. I saw it years later on HBO or Cinemax or on home video.

But for a while there, I was fascinated at the thought of seeing this R-rated movie.

A big part of the reason for my interest was this picture:

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This “Vampire Lovers” publicity shot of Ingrid Pitt – or at least one like it – appeared in an issue of Cinefantastique magazine and guaranteed I would jump at the chance to see the movie when I could.

Of course, in the days before home video or the Internet, that meant waiting for it to come around to a theater again – something that didn’t happen with British horror movies – or for it to show up on HBO or some other pay channel.

I saw it back then, which it finally showed up, and I watched it again this afternoon.

It’s an odd movie and presented something of a risk for Hammer – best known for the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies – and its U.S. distribution partner, American International Pictures.

That’s because while the movie had all the trappings of Hammer’s successful horror movies – period setting, costumes, good production values and blood, all in living color – and it had Cushing as a good guy, it had a couple of offbeat elements.

Chief of them was the movie’s sexually-charged villainess, played by Pitt. As Carmilla, Pitt is a vampire very much like Dracula – including his taste in victims.

Carmilla, you see, is a lesbian vampire.

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Sure, she seduces and kills, with fangs sinking into throats, a couple of men in the movie. But it is her attraction and seduction of women in the film that sets it apart from other monster movies of the day and is, to a great degree, why it became a cult classic.

Pitt – who appears fully nude in the film – spends most of the movie seducing, bedding and biting female acquaintances including nubile Emma (Madeline Smith, who appeared in several Hammer films). She even appears to fall in love with the young woman, which proves to be her downfall.

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Hammer made a series of erotic female vampire movies, of which “The Vampire Lovers” was the first. The others were “Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil.” Pitt also played the title role in “Countess Dracula” in 1971.

If you’re just seeing “The Vampire Lovers” for the first time, be aware there is fairly extensive nudity – all female cast members of course; sorry for those hoping to see Cushing at least bare-chested – and scenes that are sexual in nature.

In other words, that publicity photo of Pitt didn’t lie.

Christopher Lee: Last of the legends

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When I heard earlier today that Christopher Lee had died at age 93, I thought, “That can’t be right, can it?”

After all, it was only within the past few years that he was playing the evil wizard Saruman in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies, and just a few years before that when he played Count Dooku (sigh) in the “Star Wars” prequels.

This was a man who – even though he had certainly earned his rest at 93 – had always seemed invincible.

During World War II, Lee fought on the side of the angels, serving in various British military roles and, most amazingly, as a Nazi hunter for Britain’s Registry of War Criminals.

His film career was as lengthy and varied as his contemporary and frequent co-star, Peter Cushing, who often played Van Helsing to Lee’s Dracula in Hammer films beginning in 1958.

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Although Lee had a busy career in recent years, it was as Dracula – and Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy – in Hammer films that made his reputation as an actor in horror outings. Sometimes Lee’s Dracula was little more than a snarling creature, but in his last outing as the Count – “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” – he had something of a dual role, playing a reclusive billionaire who wanted to bring about the end of the world … and just happened to be Dracula.

I still vividly remember going to see the 1973 movie, which was released stateside as “Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride,” at a theater here in Muncie. I was almost alone in the theater. Maybe Hammer’s brand of horror seemed old fashioned by that point. After all, “The Exorcist” was released that year and introduced a new type of horror movie to the masses.

But Lee – and Cushing, and Vincent Price, and all the rest, gone now – will always typify the horror genre to me.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Lee.

Heyday of the ‘spook shows’

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I’ve become interested lately in the “spook shows,” afternoon or midnight shows in theaters big and small during the first half of the 20th century. In these shows, some classic – or not so classic – horror film would be screened, a magician or TV horror host would present a live stage show – often one that included “monsters,” AKA guys in masks – and a “blackout” period wound ensue in which glow-in-the-dark figures would appear to fly through the air above the audience.

I never saw a spook show, although I saw a drive-in showing of “Incredibly Strange Creatures” that included guys in monster masks running through the aisles.

I’m intrigued by spook shows, though, and will likely research them and write more about them here in the future.

In the meantime, above is an ad I found online for a spook show.

It’s possible to figure out a few things based on this newspaper ad.

First, we can tell that this spook show likely happened sometime after May 1958, when Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula” was released in the U.S. That movie starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, of course, and ushered in a new era of horror movies in color. The ad notes that “Horror of Dracula” was the moving playing onscreen

That’s assuming there’s no mistake in the ad, however. The monster faces used in the ad are from “House of Dracula,” the 1945 Universal monster release. That doesn’t mean all that much: The images could have been used for decades.

The ad promised free copies of Famous Monsters magazine, which began publishing in 1958.

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The show was “presented” by Dick Bennick, who was a TV horror movie host from the 1960s to 1995, although he was in St. Pete after 1973.

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The final bit of information from the ad confirms the St. Petersburg location. the Playhouse was a movie theater in St. Pete that operated from 1928 to 1973.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see this show today?

Welcome to the low-rent universe

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It’s news to no one that shared universes are the big thing in movies right now

Marvel began building its shared cinematic universe in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has announced plans to continue it through at least 2020. Not to mention Marvel’s TV entries in that shared universe, like “Agents of SHIELD,” “Agent Carter” and “Daredevil,” the latter debuting on Netflix in April as the first in a series of “street-level” hero shows that will culminate in a “Defenders” series.

Of course, DC/Warner Bros. are trying to get their superhero universe going; Sony wants a “Spider-Man” universe but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And Universal has announced a shared universe of remakes of its 1930s and 1940s monster films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula and other creatures. I’m still pondering that one for another entry here.

So the other day, a movie company that I’ve never heard of, Cinedigm, announced plans to create, of all things, a shared movie universe. But using what classic cinematic tales?

The 1950s and 1960s exploitation movies of American International Pictures.

Specifically, 10 films: “Girls in Prison,” “Viking Women and The Sea Serpent,” “The Brain Eaters,” “She-Creature,” “Teenage Caveman,” “Reform School Girl,” “The Undead,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Cool and the Crazy” and “The Day the World Ended.”

Strangely enough, I like this idea.

Marvel has this kind of thing perfected, down to an art and a science. I’m not sure DC’s superheroes will ever really come together on the big screen because of, I believe, a wrong-headed approach that seems more like Warner Bros. is ashamed of comic books.

But the AIP films, some of which were originally directed by low-budget auteur Roger Corman?

That’s genius.

Not because the company says it intends to shoot all 10 movies back-to-back from recently-completed scripts. Not because remaking these old AIP classics for cable TV a while back worked so well.

Because these dimly-remembered movies are perfect fodder for the remake machine.

Somebody once said that if you were going to remake a movie, don’t remake a classic. How could a remake of “Psycho” possibly work? (It didn’t.)

But with the AIP flicks, most people won’t be comparing them and, unless the remakes are horrible, they won’t be comparing them unfavorably.

And the idea of a universe shared by the monstrous, mutated “Colossal Beast” and the juvenile delinquents of “The Cool and the Crazy?” How can that possibly work?

The producers say the movies will share “a recurring cast of antiheroes, monsters and bad girls.” I can’t say that’s a bad idea and I base that on what Marvel has done with its movies.

Really, consider how improbable it might have looked, 10 years ago, to propose a shared universe that would include a bone-crunching political thriller, a good-natured space opera, a Nordic fantasy world and a rampaging monster movie. Yet “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the “Thor” movies and the Hulk’s appearances all worked.

Who’s to say those juvenile delinquents won’t end up fighting alien invaders to big box-office returns?

Stranger things have happened.