TROG (1970)
Director: Freddie Francis
Warner Home Video

Director: Tito Davison
Warner Home Video

CAGED (1950)
Director: John Cromwell
Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video has inaugurated its new “Cult Camp Classics” series with four box sets containing three titles each (all titles are also being sold individually). Set number 2, titled “Women in Peril” (“High heels and high danger”) is an oddball mix of horror, psychadelia and melodrama that somehow works as a solid night of campy entertainment. As we’ve come to expect with Warner, the transfers are all top-notch, making the viewing experience all the more pleasurable.

TROG (1970) has gone down in history namely because it’s the last feature film of Joan Crawford, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated leading ladies. Young researcher Malcolm Travers (Michael Griffin) and two of his buddies discover an unexplored cave in regional England where a half-man/half-ape missing like resides. It kills his one companion and traumatizes the other. At the local Brockton Institute lead by Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford), Travers and the good doctor decide to go back to the cave where they take a photograph of the creature, which she names Trog (Joe Cornelius), short for Troglodyte. A media circus is then created outside Trog’s dwelling where it makes its way to the outside world in a violent fit of rage, but Dr. Brockton is able to tranquilize the creature with her hypo gun and bring it back to the institute for further research.

With Trog now captive in an indoor cage, Dr. Brockton is able to teach it some new tricks, namely appreciating classical music, winding up children’s toys and playing catch in the courtyard. Soon after, a team of worldwide scientists lead by Dr. Richard Warren (Robert Hutton) visit the institute to conduct research experiments on Trog, inserting a chip in his head that will gives him the power of speech. But cold-blooded realtor Sam Murdock (Michael Gough), against Trog’s presence in the community from the beginning, unleashes the monster from its cage so it can wreak havoc with a trail of chaos and destruction that follows.

There is no point in defending TROG, it’s a bad film in execution, plot and almost every other way possible. However, if you go into it realizing the throwback-to-the-1950s campfest that’s to be had, it can be an enjoyable experience for un-pompous monster movie fans who don’t take things too seriously. Crawford is actually quite enthusiastic in the role, despite her pupils constantly wondering toward the cue cards, the fact that she has to throw rubber lizards to a man in an ape suit and she uses the words “hypo gun” more than anyone in cinematic history. A British production produced by American Herman Cohen (who had previously used Crawford in BESERK) with an original story written by Peter Bryan and John Gilling (both worked frequently with Hammer Films), it was directed by genre favorite Freddie Francis who was obviously going through the motions here. Despite the flat direction, there is a very memorable sequence of Trog going through a rampage, first throwing a fruit vendor through his shop window, then hanging a butcher on a meathook after he defends himself with a cleaver, followed by the monster turning over a driver in an automobile, watching it go up in flames as he wanders away.

In actuality, the face make-up design on Trog is pretty good. For Trog's headpiece, Charles Parker (who would go on to work on STAR WARS before his death in 1977) used a convincing automated mouthpiece with realistic canines which was pretty innovative for 1970. Too bad the rest of Trog (a beefy actor in brown animal furs) is not up to snuff. When Trog’s head is hooked up to electrodes for a glance into his past, animated dinosaurs by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryausen from THE ANIMAL WORLD (a Warner property from 1956) are employed to kill a few minutes. Familiar faces in TROG also include Bernard Kay (as a police inspector), David Warbeck (as a TV reporter), Chloe Franks (as a child abducted by the beast), Thorley Walters (as a sympathetic magistrate) and the producer himself can be seen briefly as a bartender. Second-billed Michael Gough, who had been playing obnoxious characters in Cohen productions since the late 1950s, is a lot of fun to watch and steals every scene he’s in.

THE BIG CUBE (1969) features the legendary Lana Turner in one of her final screen roles. In it, Turner plays middle-aged stage actress Adriana Roman, who is about to retire and marry wealthy financier Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH) in spite of protest from his blonde teenage daughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg). When Charles disappears during a sea outing and is presumed dead, the question of inheritance comes up, and Adriana uses her power of attorney to deny Lisa’s marriage, a stipulation which would go against her father’s wishes and ultimately prevent the teen from getting her money quicker. Lisa’s future husband is Johnny Allen (WEST SIDE STORY star George Chikiris), a womanizer kicked out of medical school for distributing experimental LSD-laced in sugar cubes. Johnny is only out to marry Lisa for her money, convincing her to give the stepmom the hallucinatory drugs that will cause her to feel guilt for her husband’s death, as well as assure her a place in the funny farm.

THE BIG CUBE is in the same vain of AIP’s trippy 1960s exploits (THE TRIP, PSYCH-OUT etc.), only with the added camp and over-dramatics of big screen soap operas like VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and small screen ones like “Peyton Place” thrown in for good measure. Lana Turner (who was pushing 50 at the time, wih most of her close-ups shot in soft focus) is not playing a bitchy character, but rather a do-gooder who is victimized when given LSD, making for some psychedelic and unintentionally humorous acid trip sequences. Anyone remotely familiar with Turner’s vintage Hollywood roles will get an eye opener when seeing her in a late 1960s rock and roll party atmosphere, complete with bikers driving their vehicles into a mansion’s swimming pool and surprising topless go-go dancing provided by sexy redheaded “Laugh-In” star Pamela Rodgers as the promiscuous Bibi. It was released when the ratings system was fairly new and given an “M” (Mature) rating, but has been re-rated PG for this DVD.

Although he was 34 at the time, Chikiris plays the college-aged heavy here as a sleazebag who constantly uses and abuses people to get what he wants. It was apparent that the actor was struggling to find suitable parts at the time (he found some overseas work during this period) and it would be hard to envision him as Heavenly Blues in THE WILD ANGELS a few years earlier, a role he was to play until being replaced by Peter Fonda. His character’s drug induced demise in a rat-infested tenement is pretty hilarious, especially when he spares an ant from feasting on a sugar cube, preaching to it while it crawls on his finger. Dependable Richard Egan, as Adriana’s love-smitten playwright Frederick Lonsdale, keeps a straight face throughout and is instrumental in this opus’ rather happy ending. Directed by Chilán-born Tito Davison, THE BIG CUBE was shot in Mexico using some local actors in minor parts; they are noticeably re-dubbed by acceptable American-sounding voice artists.

1950's CAGED tells the story of Mary Allen (Eleanor Parker), a 19-year old girl who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mary is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in a crime, waiting for him as he robbed a dime store, and he gets shot to death in the process. Widowed and pregnant, Mary is sent to the "big house" where her sweetness and naivety is put to the test. The warden, Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead) is actually sympathetic and caring, but it's the cold-hearted, six foot+ matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) who puts poor Mary through hell. Matron Evelyn is indirectly responsible for killing a kitten which Mary has rescued, and her disobedience results in the poor girl getting her head shaven and tossed into solitary confinement.

The best film on the set in terms of storyline, acting and production values, CAGED treads a fine line between classic and camp. It's actually a compelling, entertaining melodrama with film noir tendencies under the direction of John Cromwell (father of actor James Cromwell). One of the early prototypes of the women-in-prison genre which would become a drive-in staple by the early 1970s, the film still packs a punch (though it could only hint at the exploitive elements which would become the norm 20 years later) and the choice dialogue is pretty memorable. You might find it surprising (since this is part of a "Cult Camp Classics" collection) that CAGED was nominated for three Academy Awards; Best Actress (Parker), Best Supporting Actress (Emerson) and Best Story and Screenplay (Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld). The supporting cast of actresses is very impressive, including Ellen Corby ("The Waltons"), Betty Garde, Jan Sterling, Lee Patrick, Olive Deering and future TV Alice Kramden, Sheila MacRae. Speaking of "The Honeymooners," when watching broad-shouldered, hard-mugged Betty Garde, it's hard not to conjure up her appearance as Thelma, the grumpy maid in that show's classic "A Woman's Work is Never Done" episode.

The quality on all three titles is excellent. Previously available on VHS and laserdisc, TROG is presented here for the first time in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colors are extremely bold, detail is fantastic, and the source print is in impeccable shape, so basically, TROG has never looked better. Making its home video debut, THE BIG CUBE, also presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic aspect ratio looks equally pleasing. Also making its home video debut, CAGED is presented in a proper full frame aspect ratio, with a clear, well-detailed black and white transfer. The mono sound on all three is excellent. Each title has optional subtitles in both English and French, with CAGED having additional Spanish subtitles. The only extras are the original theatrical trailers; TROG’s is a real delight for monster movie fans, as it’s rarely been seen before. (George R. Reis)