Directors: Ray Dennis Steckler, Peter Balakoff
Media Blasters/Guilty Pleasures

Ray Dennis Steckler is no stranger to "Psychotronic" film buffs, having created such legendary 60s era indies as the super hero spoof RAT PFINK AND BOO BOO (also available on DVD from Media Blasters) and the lengthy titled monster musical THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. Another perhaps lesser-known effort was THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS, which is actually three 16mm shorts edited together (with separate credits for each), blown up to 35mm, and unleashed to kiddie matinees sometime in the late 60s. Producing and partially directing (Steckler reportedly never worked from scripts), it's an obvious homage to The Bowery Boys/East Side Kids pictures of the 40s and 50s. Steckler stars (under his then screen name, Cash Flagg) as comic character Gopher, and his resemblance to Huntz Hall (and imitation of him) is right on the money.

The three 16mm shorts that the feature are comprised of are: THE LEMON GROVE KIDS, LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE GREEN GRASSHOPPER AND THE VAMPIRE LADY FROM OUTER SPACE and LEMON GROVE KIDS GO HOLLYWOOD. The first episode has Steckler's Huntz Hall clone Gopher and a bogus Leo Gorcey named Slug (Mike Cannon) and their neighborhood pals involved in a cross-country race with a rival gang. This concludes with an attack by a Lon Chaney-like mummy played none other than Bob Burns. A gorilla and Rat Phink also make an appearance. The second episode has Gopher, Slug, some other guys and kiddies running into a vampire woman and grasshopper man who kidnap unsuspecting neighbors, putting them in a trance. The last story has no Slug (sort of like what happened to the real Bowery Boys when Gorcey left), but Gopher, a guitar-strumming Ray Haydock, and some children trying to safe a Tinseltown starlet from a duo of bumbling thugs. Here, Gopher doesn't wear the trademark upturned baseball cap, but the reason is easily explained in the accompanying director's interview and commentary.

Steckler shot the screwball adventures of the Lemon Grove Kids in his Californian neighborhood, mostly in his backyard and in his house, casting friends and family, including his young children. Although they tend to have a "home movie" look (at times they resemble the live action segments of the 60s Three Stooges cartoon show), the sharp editing, capable camera work and colorful antics make this interesting enough as a harmless tribute to old-time comedy, slapstick humor and monster movies. The cast also includes Steckler's then-wife and leading lady Carolyn Brandt (in three roles, including the very Vampira-like vampire lady), BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS director Coleman Francis, and Herb Robbins of THE WORM EATERS fame. The year of this title is usually given as 1965 or 1966, but some segments were shot earlier and some later (judging from Gopher's sudden elongated sideburns in the last two shows). People have reported seeing it in the theaters (with the episodes in different order) in the late 60s and early 70s, when they had ushers dressed as monsters running down the isles--namely a mummy to coincide with an added sequence shot specifically for this stunt.

Media Blasters has released THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS under their "Guilty Pleasures" banner, and the complete package is most satisfying. For the transfer, they must have gone back to the original negative since the image is in near-immaculate condition. Aside from obvious flaws caused by shooting on 16mm, the picture is reasonably sharp and best of all, the 60s Eastman color is extremely vibrant. The mono audio is very clean, and again, despite the limitations of 16mm filming, hold ups nicely. The original trailer that's included is letterboxed (and according to its narrator, the film is widescreen), but the feature is shown full screen here--obviously shot open matte and then matted to 1.85:1 for theatrical protection.

Aside from the aforementioned trailer, there are some other supplements. First off is a video interview with Steckler who is seen sitting in his office. He starts off by expressing how much he loved The Bowery Boys, how the Lemon Grove Kids idea came about, buying a toy spaceship from a junkman, and a great story about meeting Huntz Hall and screening the film for him. The very likable Steckler (great sense of humor!) also gives a full running commentary. He has a pretty vivid recollection of the filming, and tells where most of the cast and crew came from and where they went to in the years to follow. At times, he tends to narrate what's on screen, so I wished more time had been spent talking about the distribution and release history of the film. Still, a very enjoyable listen. There's also a still gallery which isn't much at all, and trailers for other Media Blasters releases, including RAT PFINK AND BOO BOO.

Media Blasters has done a fine job teaming up with Ray Dennis Steckler to present this film on DVD. Now bring on THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES and THE THRILL KILLERS! (George R. Reis)