Much like their first collection, BCI’s Drive-In Cult Classics Volume Two is populated with more than a few recognizable titles from the Crown International library. While this particular compilation focuses more on suspense and demonic influence than the first sexploitation-tinged collection, the two are similar in that the majority of the titles present have previously graced the digital format. In fact there isn’t a title here that hasn’t already been released on DVD in the past in some form; however several new transfers and a very attractive price point make this set worth the double dip.
Spread out among four double-sided discs, disc one features one of the most audacious and infamous cult cinema titles of all time, THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN. Making its premier in the early 1970s on television, THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN is a re-editing of THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS with additional footage, shot by Donald Hulette, added to expand the film's running time to fill a two hour time slot. While I don’t believe HITLER ever actually played a drive-in, THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS most certainly did and in comparison to its televised incarnation is a far superior film.
A deadly nerve gas threatens the entire world and only Professor Coleman (John Holland, FEAR NO EVIL) knows the antidote. Accosted by a strange and desperate man outside their home early one night, the professor’s daughter Kathy (Audrey Caire) and son-in-law Phil (Walter Stocker) are informed of the professor's kidnapping and the location of his captors only moments before the mysterious man’s assassination. Chartering a flight to Mandoras to rescue the professor, the couple are quickly sequestered and detained by the local corrupt government.
Confused as to who would commit such callous acts, Kathy and Phil happen upon a local revolutionary who explains their abductors back story in a convenient and thorough montage. Fugitive Nazi scientists have absconded to South America with the preserved head of Adolf Hitler and are plotting to terrorize the world once more. Kept in jar, a living arrangement that clearly does sit well with the madman, Hitler wishes to use the deadly nerve gas against his enemies and see Professor Coleman's antidote as the only thing stopping him from world supremacy. Reunited with the professor, it is up to Phil and a small band of revolutionaries to stop the pickled head of Hitler from reviving the Third Reich and letting loose upon the world a nerve gas so deadly it topples elephants like dominoes.
THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN contains additional footage incorporated at the film’s opening that follows two government agents as they conspire as to the whereabouts and safety of Professor Coleman. Clearly shot a decade later than MADMEN, the additional footage is rather pointless, adding nothing to the plot what so ever. A fact that was clearly evident at the time as not a single cast member of the additional footage lives longer than 20 minutes. BRAIN also appears to be slightly trimmed, particularly shots of Hitler’s inevitable demise. THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN is rather tedious given the added footage which comes off as a rather pedestrian student film but THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS is quite the opposite. Originally titled RETURN OF MR. H, MADMEN's pacing is obviously tighter and therefore easier to bear. Relatively amusing, it is unfortunate that MADMEN isn’t as well known as its bastard televised brother, but with a title so memorable it’s easy to see why.
Both films are presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio with THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS looking and sounding far better than its counterpart, as it is on hand in a new digital transfer taken from the original negative. BCI previously released THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS as a double feature with THE DEVIL’S HAND as part of their Starlite Drive-In Theater line with the same opening animated sequence being rolled over here. You can play the film stand alone or you can select the “Drive-In Experience” which plays several concession stand ads along side trailers for SECRET FILE HOLLYWOOD and THE HOSTAGE before starting the feature. Likewise THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN was also featured on the same Starlite double bill. For this set, the film is presented together with trailers for DANGEROUS CHARTER, CATALINA CAPER, LITTLE LAURA & BIG JOHN and SECRET FILE HOLLYWOOD, again.
In BLOODLUST, two young couples find themselves prey in an unwitting and deadly game of cat and mouse. While on vacation, Johnny (Robert Reed, Mike Brady on “The Brady Bunch”), Betty (June Kenney, TEENAGE DOLL), Jeanne (Joan Lora, SORORITY GIRL) and Pete (Eugene Persson, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER) decide to hire a boat to take them on a fishing day trip. With the fish not biting and their Captain (Troy Patterson, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER) passed out drunk, the two sets of lovers disembark to explore a nearby seemingly deserted island. Inadvertently finding themselves stranded, the group wanders the coastline until they happen upon the isolated mansion of Dr. Albert Balleau (Wilton Graff), the island's sole homeowner. The gang lucks out when Dr. Balleau agrees to board them for the night in his stately manner. Uneasy by the mansion's taxidermy décor and numerous hunting trophies, the group begins to wonder as to their host's true intentions, an assumption that is proven all the more deadly by Sandra (Lilyan Chauvin, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ), the Doctor's wife who informs the group of her husband’s hobby of hunting humans. Sandra, along with her stranded lover Dean (Walter Brooke, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA) plan to make a break for freedom but the Doctor is not about to let his prey get away easy, especially when four more participants have just unconsciously entered the game.
Based off of the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, BLOODLUST! can’t compare to the suspense or set design of the 1932 RKO adaptation starring Fay Wray, but it is serviceable as a drive-in, teeny bopper take on the material. The pacing is steady and the film as a whole can be quite entertaining, but it is hard to not laugh at some of the more obvious shortcomings. Wilton Graff plays the role of a wealthy recluse well enough but menacing he is not. Why the four young and healthy youths didn’t just bum rush the frail and aging Dr. Balleau is beyond me, and while I can’t really take Mike Brady seriously as a heroic lead, both Joan Lora and June Kenney are a pleasure to watch and reason alone to visit this island at least once. Previously available on a number of public domain releases, BCI's presentation boasts a new full frame film transfer which looks great. The film certainly shows its age but the mono audio is easy to follow and understand and the black and white cinematography is surprisingly well-detailed.
What cult do you have to join to be taunted by dreams of an otherworldly Linda Christian? In THE DEVIL’S HAND, Rick Turner (Robert Alda, REVENGE OF THE BARBARIANS) begins to have regular nocturnal encounters with an unknown beauty much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Donna (Ariadna Welter, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN). Mysteriously drawn to a local doll shop, Rick is shocked to discover two dolls that bare an uncanny resemblance to both Donna and the mystifying woman from his dreams. Stranger still the shop keeper (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from the “Batman” television series) claims to know him as the client who commissioned the doll of the mystifying woman. Having already been paid for, Rick curiously agrees to deliver the doll and thus comes face to face with the woman of his dreams, Bianca (Linda Christian, SLAVES OF BABYLON). Finally alone with his seductress, Bianca is all too quick to make her true emotions known. A witch and voodoo cult member, Bianca quickly enlists Rick into the demonic fold, bringing him to cult masses and sponsoring him as a new member. Enticed by Bianca’s beauty and the good fortune that she brings, Rick will have to snap back to reality if he is to avoid the sharp trials of Gamba, the great Devil-God of Evil and save his old flame Donna from being stricken to a hospital bed for life.
Straight out of the gate, THE DEVIL’S HAND is a winner as it features one of the best opening credits songs put to celluloid. Allyn Ferguson's and Manuel Francisco's surf instrumental track is infectious and sets a tone that quite frankly the film doesn’t live up to, but damn is it fun. Solid performances are given by all present, particularly Robert Alda, Alan Alda’s father, who appears to be loving every minute of screen time with his striking costar, and who can blame him? I don’t think Linda Christian has ever looked better than she does here. Gorgeous in every frame, Linda entices the viewer as easily as Bianca convinces Rick to leave his girlfriend to worship the great Devil-God of Evil. Granted, the cult gatherings feel more like a Kiwanis Club meeting than they do a black mass and the whole voodoo doll angle feels weak when given that the dolls appear to be made by Madame Alexander. Still, if you find yourself with 70 minutes to kill, what better way to pass the time than with Linda Christian and Satan?
As previously mentioned, BCI released THE DEVIL’S HAND as a double bill with THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS as part of their Starlite Drive-In Theater in 2006. Alpha, through Gotham Distribution, also released THE DEVIL’S HAND on DVD, as well as BLOODLUST!, both of which are in the public domain. This release may however be the end all, as the film is presented in a new transfer from a new fine grain film print that looks amazing. With very little damage visibly present, the picture quality is superb. There is absolutely nothing to complain about as far as the presentation is concerned as blacks are strong and detail throughout is sharp. Audio is solid, again paying due service to a swinging opening theme. Choose the "Drive-In Experience" to be treated to a Woody Woodpecker cartoon and trailers for CARNIVAL OF CRIME and DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE.
If there is a shining jewel among this set it is unquestionably THE CREEPING TERROR, a film so dreadfully awful that it borders on genius. A space ship crashes on earth, bringing with it two slug like aliens who can best be described as overgrown Venus flytraps covered head to toe in soiled sleeping bags. While one of the aliens remains trapped inside the interplanetary vessel, the other slowly stalks the country side, devouring anyone lazy enough to fall down and roll willingly into the creature's flapping mouth/vagina. It’s up to a small group of military men, the local lawman Martin, (director Vic Savage aka Arthur Nelson) and scientist Dr. Bradford ("Marlboro Man" William Thourlby) to destroy the monster and uncover its deadly design.
God is this film awful! So why can’t I stop watching it? Mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000, as was BLOODLUST!, THE CREEPING TERROR is must see for fans of bad cinema. The majority of the film is narrated by Larry Burrell as during post production, it was discovered that the majority of audio was either out of synch or non-existent. This only adds to the film's charm as it gives the proceedings a training film vibe that seems strangely appropriate. My favorite scene takes place in a school gymnasium during a sock hop and features some of the most hilarious dancing I have ever seen. Not a single participant has any thing remotely resembling rhythm and there reaction to the slow moving monstrosity of dirty linens is priceless.
Presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, THE CREEPING TERROR is definitely showing it age and suffers from constant contrast issues, almost as if the majority of the film used was overexposed. This by no means takes away from the film’s “magic”, as the picture is still clear enough to see several sets of shoes poking out from underneath the alien life forms undulating body. Audio is sufficient, leaving no problems in following the harrowing events.
Any one related to or even fond of Marge (Tracy Olsen) has a big problem. In TERRIFIED, somebody wants Marge all to themself and they are not afraid to kill to get some quality alone time with her. One night after dinner, Marge decides to travel to a ghost town to talk to Crazy Bill. What harm could possibly come from such a night's activities? While Marge and David (Steve Drexel, HOT ROD GANG) hit the road bound for ghost town, Marge’s beau Ken (Rod Lauren, THE YOUNG SWINGERS) stays behind, flustered after being run off the road by a deranged driver. Upon their arrival, Marge and David uncover the body of Crazy Bill in the adjoining cemetery, impaled on a small graveyard fence. Meeting up with Ken, who changed his mind and decided to join the pair after all, Marge and David both decide it would be best to contact the authorities right away as it appears that the killer is still lurking nearby. Ken however wants to stay in hope of capturing the murder, or at the very least subduing the killer until the police can arrive. Leaving Ken behind, Marge and David will have to put the peddle to the metal if they are to notify the police in time to save their friend from a cunning killer that uses terror to deadly effect.
If one of your daughters, sisters or sisters-in-laws ever expresses the desire to travel to a remote, abandoned ghost town in the middle of the night to visit someone commonly referred to as “crazy”, let them go. If they are that stupid they deserve what ever fate brings them, just don’t you dare tag along. Joking aside, TERRIFIED certainly has its moments, mainly the cat and mouse game that plays out between Ken and the masked killer, but on the whole has little to be desired. The acting is often stiff, save for Rod Lauren who tends to overact but in an almost appropriate fashion. Tracy Olsen in particular is quite dull as the sexual interest of both teenager and killer alike. The ghost town and adjacent graveyard setting are put to good use; comprising the majority of the film's duration. I’d be willing to bet that the producers where given access to a western set between productions and wisely milked the opportunity for all that it was worth.
Previously available in a now discontinued Horrible Horrors collection through Rhino, TERRIFIED receives a new film transfer whose visual presentation exceeds with passing marks, but whose audio fails miserably. The print looks well enough, showing its age with a bit of grain and debris, but the audio sounds as if it was recorded in an underwater cave. Popping and crackling like a fresh bowl of Rice Krispies, the picture can often be hard to follow as dialogue is a muffled mess that will have you cranking the volume to catch even a character's name.
Young archeologists are turning up missing and Father Roche (Donald Pleasence, HALLOWEEN) won’t stand for it in LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, another Satanic tinged cult film, this time set in the rocky countryside of Greece. Ignoring the concerns of Father Roche, a small group of archeologist travels to the site of ancient Greek ruins where they stumble across the entrance to the underground chamber of the Minotaur. Days later when Laurie (Luan Peters, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW) arrives to join her friends on the expedition, she is shocked to discover them missing. Father Roche, suspicious of the strange circumstances, calls for help stateside from an old friend (Costas Skouras), a private investigator, to track down the missing youths. While the town's people prove to be less than cooperative, all signs continue to point to the Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing, ASYLUM) whose property line houses the ruins from which all of the disappearances have occurred.
Also known as THE DEVIL’S MEN, LAND OF THE MINOTAUR feels about as Satanic as a kids meal from Chick-Fil-A. Both offer familiar contents but neither offers enough to leave you full. This may be due to the fact that BCI has presented the edited PG version of the film that cuts out most of the blood and all of the nudity. Save for the film’s female cast sporting short hot pants throughout the picture there’s not much too really recommend here. Donald Pleasence appears to be practicing for his role as Dr. Loomis and Peter Cushing tries to look interested but could just have easily phoned in the part from his hotel room. Not even the giant stone Minotaur with its nostrils of shooting flame and disembodied voice can save the picture from falling to the side as a forgettable time waster.
Previously available from BCI on a “Crypt of Terror” double bill with Norman J. Warren’s TERROR, this collection's MINOTAUR sports an anamorphic widescreen transfer in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print, like the film itself, is nothing to write home about. Colors are often soft and the contrast at times feels oddly off. However considering the film's age, this might just be the result of shooting in the hot Greece sun on a low budget. Mono audio is fine with Brian Eno’s score (really?) out of place as it sounds as if it belongs to much more entertaining picture.
Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere, THE CHANGELING) decides to move into her aunt's home in the California countryside after inheriting the property from her recently deceased mother. Unfortunately for Jane, the locals are anything but helpful as most believe that her new home is cursed by Jane’s late, devil worshiping aunt. Not one to let rampant inhospitality get her down, Jane settles in, determined to make roots in the sprawling abode despite the local children’s taunts of witchcraft. It isn’t just the locals who appear to be unhappy with her recent appearance as Jane is repeatedly harassed both on and off the road by an ominous hearse that only appears at night. Brushing off the attacks as the childish actions of local attorney Walter Pritchard (Joseph Cotten, SOYLENT GREEN), jealous of not inheriting the property himself, Jane hires a local boy to mend the aging house and finds comfort in the arms of Tom (David Gautreaux), a puzzling if not attentive companion. Just as things appear to be calming down, the night once again brings the indomitable hearse and its creepy chauffeur, determined to drive Jane straight to hell.
THE HEARSE is a strange picture to peg down. One gets the impression that the goal was to film a satanic potboiler but somehow along the way the filmmakers ended up with a ghost story. Trish does a decent enough job as the strong willed Jane, but a scream queen she is not. She’s about 10 years older than your normal horror movie heroine, which is refreshing, but her character seems to have been written for a much younger woman. This is especially evident when ever Jane interacts with the small town's young male demographic, who fawn over her as if a Victoria's Secret model had just moved in next door. Keep an eye out for a youthful Christopher McDonald (HAPPY GILMORE, THE IRON GIANT) in his first theatrical acting gig.
Presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer that retains the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, THE HEARSE looks exceptionally clean and blemish free. Night scenes, and there are many, are often too dark but as a whole the print looks good. Audio is serviceable with original theatrical trailers for THE HEARSE, BLOOD MANIA and DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE rounding out the disc.
Liner note by Brian Albright detail the torrid history of this set's assortment of Crown International titles with a rather exhaustive attention toward THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN and THE CREEPING TERROR. Considering that most retailers offer this set for under ten bucks, it’s hard not to recommend picking it up, especially given the solid transfers for MADMEN OF MANDORAS and THE DEVIL’S HAND. If however your tastes favor the exploitation pictures found in volume one of the Drive-In Cult Classics collections, you’ll be glad to know that volume three is already scheduled for release and is set to include THE BABYSITTER, THE PINK ANGELS, SINGLE ROOM FURNISHED, VAN NUYS BLVD, WEEKEND WITH THE BABYSITTER, MALIBU BEACH, THE POM POM GIRLS and BLOOD MANIA. Sounds like another winner. (Jason McElreath)
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