Yes I’m old enough to remember this and similar cautions when going to a drive-in movie.
We were always reminded.
Yet I remember seeing it happen.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I’ve written about the 1964 low-budget classic, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies” before, notably my memories of seeing it at a drive-in with an older relative.
I didn’t touch on the movie all that much, though.
Ray Dennis Steckler directed and stars – under his pseudonym Cash Flagg – and I guess you could argue he’s a forerunner to the director/stars we’re familiar with from today. His performance isn’t horrible but he’s undercut by the low, low-budget of his own movie.
The movie follows a group of friends who visit a carnival and stumble upon bad guys who hypnotize, disfigure and enslave people, turning them into, in effect, zombie slaves.
The movie has the telltale leisurely pace of a low-budget flick. For what seems like forever, characters wander around, gazing at stuff, talking about nothing. There seem to be endless scenes of arty dance numbers, totally out of place at a nightclub. Watching one of these movies makes you appreciate how a well-written, well-edited movie … well, moves.
Considering the movie was touted as “the first monster musical,” I know what Steckler was going for. But sheesh. I lost track of how many musical numbers were included.
A dancing girls sequence seems to have been shot in a community theater, and the producers were intent on getting their money’s worth because the scene goes on and on .. and then is followed by another musical sequence. Cue up “Let’s All Go to the Lobby!”
Likewise, scenes of a nightclub comic are so bad they almost seem like a modern-day parody.
Not to mention the interpretive dance/dream sequence.
After a quick break to hypnotize a victim … it’s another musical performance!
Endless shots of carnival rides.
The cheapness of the movie’s production really stands out when you see how many sets look cheaper than your standard 1960s sitcom living room – and that’s the most lavish sets here. The fortune-teller set, which consists of a few drapes and blackout curtains, isn’t as bad as the plywood airplane cockpit in “Plan Nine,” but it’s pretty bad.
Something has to be said about the hairstyles of the three leads. They are, respectively, a receding combover, a towering pompadour and a huge and baffling head of helmet hair.
When the “Incredibly Strange Creatures” finally break loose with about 15 minutes left in the movie … it’s time for another musical sequence. Steckler really knew how to build suspense!
For a real treat, seek out the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” version of the movie from 1997. It’s available through Hulu online and Mike Nelson and the robots’ version of “Incredibly Strange Creatures” is just as funny as you’d think it would be.
A while back I was inspired to begin this recurring look at the poster art of 1970s movies after seeing the throwback-style poster for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Movies don’t get any groovier than “Coffy,” the 1973 blaxploitation flick starring Pam Grier in the title role. And the poster does justice to the movie’s storyline.
After her younger sister is hooked on drugs, Coffy, a nurse, sets out to kill as many drug dealers as possible.
It’s a pretty straightforward plot.
If you’ve never looked at it, check out the oddly-written Wikipedia page for the movie, complete with plot recap.
“Coffy uses her sexuality to seduce her would-be killers,” indeed.
And good lord, what an impression Grier made on a lot of us.
See what I mean?
Tom Laughlin is not as well known as Peter O’Toole, certainly, but Laughlin made his own mark on the movie business. He died today at 82.
Laughlin was probably best known for creating the character of Billy Jack, a pacifist who unleashed his deadly martial arts moves when he was pushed … too … far.
Laughlin played Billy Jack in four movies: “The Born Losers” in 1967, “Billy Jack” in 1971, “The Trial of Billy Jack” in 1974 and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” in 1977. He was ultra-recognizable with his close-cropped hair and blue jean jacket. He was also the guy usually laying waste to a bunch of heavies.
Although the movies were pretty straightforward vigilante fantasies, Laughlin, who also directed, was credited with pioneering modern-day marketing techniques and releasing some of his films himself when big studios spurned them.
Laughlin ran for president – yes, president – in 1992, 2004 and 2008.
Last year I wrote about going to see “The Born Losers” at the drive-in. Here’s that entry.