Tag Archives: Incredibly Strange Creatures

Heyday of the ‘spook shows’

monsterrallyad

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.

dick bennick paul bearer

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.

playhouse theater st pete

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?

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Classic shlock: ‘Incredibly Strange Creatures’

incredibly strange creatures lobbycard

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.

incredibly-strange-hypnotism

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.

incredibly strange creatures dance number

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.

‘Incredibly Strange Creatures,’ great memories

My companion, who is now long gone but shall remain nameless anyway, was itching to hit a zombie in the head with a baseball bat.

“If somebody comes at me, they’re gonna get it,” he said, showing me the baseball bat that was well-hidden under some blankets.

I don’t remember the year, but it must have been the late 1960s or early 1970s. The occasion was the re-release of “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.”

If you don’t remember this movie milestone, I’ll refresh your memory.

Ray Dennis Steckler was a maker of ultra-low-budget movies in the 1960s. He also acted in some of his movies, under the stage name Cash Flagg, probably because he could afford his salary.

In 1964, Steckler directed “Incredibly Strange Creatures,” which was released by Fairway International Pictures. Fairway released a handful of movies in the 1960s, including this and director Arch Hall’s “Eegah,” in which teenagers encountered a caveman. Of course. It was the 1960s and Hollywood had discovered what a potent box-office force teenagers could be. So teenagers were encountering everything from Frankenstein to giants to … well, you name it.

Fairway’s best-known movie was undoubtedly “Incredibly Strange Creatures,” in which teenagers encountered … not a caveman, but zombies at a carnival.

Stecker — er, Flagg — and other patrons of the carnival are hypnotized by a fortune teller and turned into crazed killers. For good measure, the fortune teller splashes acid on her unwilling slaves, giving them disfigured faces to match their murderous instincts.

By the end of the movie, the … well, sort of strange creatures had broken out of their cages and taken vengeance on their carnival captors.

That’s where my companion’s baseball bat came in.

At some point during the surprisingly durable theatrical lifespan of the movie, either during its original release or its subsequent re-release as “Teenage Psycho Meets Blood Mary,” Fairway or someone had the ingenious idea of selling the picture by offering something that TV couldn’t compete with.

Not 3-D. Not Smell-O-Vision.

Real life zombies, running loose in the theater (or more likely, considering the low-budget nature of the movie) the drive-in.

Or, as the ads put it:

“Not for sissies! Don’t come if you’re chicken!”

“Not 3-D but real FLESH and BLOOD monsters ALIVE! in the audience.”

“NO ONE WILL BE SAFE! THEY MIGHT GET YOU!”

“We dare you to remain seated when monsters invade audience!”

In theaters where the movie played, the management made its ushers wear cheap monster masks and, in the scene when the monsters rebelled and broke loose on screen, the hapless theater employees would run up and down the aisles, screaming and frightening moviegoers.

Except for my companion, who had made up his mind to brain one of the zombies if this outbreak occurred.

Really, he understood that “real zombies” — stop and think about that phrase for a moment — would not be rampaging through the aisles of the drive-in.

But just in case …

Anyway, my memory of the movie is fairly dim all these years later. But my memory of that baseball bat and the threat of violence in the aisles remains vivid.

No, nobody got hit with a baseball bat that night. Zombies — in this case undoubtedly the teenage employees of the drive-in — did rampage, but none got close enough to us to warrant a good beating.

Thank goodness. Beating up teenage zombies with a baseball bat during a movie that’s been acclaimed as one of the worst of all time isn’t something you want on your record.