Christmas Evil (1980) Englewood and Montclair, New Jersey
Not only is Lewis Jackson's Christmas Evil (a.k.a. You Better Watch Out) one of my favorite Christmas-themed horror movies of all time, it's also one of my favorite movies of all time.
Santa-obsessed toy factory employee Harry Stradling (Brandon Maggart) keeps a list of who's been naughty and nice in his neighborhood, while struggling with the pressures of working for a company that, in his eyes, makes sub-standard toys. He finally snaps, donning a Santa suit and doling out old-fashioned holiday justice by passing out stolen toys to needy children and brutally murdering anyone who's wronged him.
Watch for "Walking Dead" star Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry's brother, "Home Improvement" star Patricia Richardson in a small role, and appearances by character actors Peter Friedman, Mark Margolis, and Raymond Barry, and E-Street band member Danny Federici. Maggart was a regular on the first season of "Sesame Street," and is also Fiona Apple's father.
The film was produced by former stockbroker Burt Kleiner and Pete Kameron, who had managed The Who and the founded of L.A. Weekly. Another producer, Ed Pressman, is the son of Pressman Toy Co. owner Jack Pressman (Pressman's factory appears in the film).
In honor of our impending trip to San Juan, here is the trailer for Robert Gaffney's Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, which was filmed in Long Island and Puerto Rico. Watch for Bruce Glover (Crispin's dad) as one of the aliens (and allegedly as the space monster, too). I first saw this in an 8mm condensed (and silent) version from Castle Films.
To call Andy Milligan an acquired taste would be an understatement of immense proportions; suffice it to say that the films of New York's king of underground sleaze will either leave you gaping in wonderment or highly offended, or possibly just sleepy. Seeds of Sin (available on a DVD from Something Weird with Milligan's The Ghastly Ones) is actually a recut version of Milligan's original film Seeds, but with hardcore inserts shot by producers Allen and Rosily Bazzini (owners of a New York restaurant called The Grotto).
It features a standard Milligan plot: A family of dysfunctional oddballs and perverts gather on Christmas Eve to argue, preen, fondle and eventually die in horribly ironic ways. What better way to spend the holidays? As a bonus, the Something Weird disc includes two reels of Milligan's original workprint of Seeds, including footage the Bazzinis snipped to create their hardcore version.
According to Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough, Milligan married star Candy Hammond on the set of Seeds (it was a fairly short-lived union). Seeds is almost all that remains of Milligan's early career making black-and-white sexploitation films, and I couldn't find any clips available online, so I've opted to post The Ghastly Ones trailer instead. For more of Milligan's early work, you can check out Vapors (1965) on the Something Weird DVD for The Body Beneath (1970).
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) Garden City, Long Island, New York
The kiddie matinee classic, brought to you by busy TV director Nicholas Webster and executive producer Joseph E. Levine. There was also a book and record set (see below) so that kids could read and sing along at home.
The movie was shot over the summer of 1964, and hit theaters that November, and was still playing every winter through the late 1960s. It has since been turned into a musical, and is presented each year at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, Calif.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974) Oyster Bay, Long Island
This weird, fascinating, and somewhat confusing early slasher film has unfortunately slipped into the public domain, so I have a feeling that we may never get to see it in any form other than the murky prints populating so many horror-themed multi-movie DVD sets. It's still worth checking out.
The film details the bloody history of a former madhouse, the return of its mysterious owner, and an accompanying murder spree. It's a moody, atmospheric film marred by a confusing script, a few missing scenes (at least it appears something has been cut from the prints available), and Mary Woronov's somewhat disengaged performance. The cast is also a lot of fun, and includes Hollywood vets Patrick O'Neal, John Carradine and Walter Abel, along with Warhol Factory refugees like Ondine and Candy Darling.
Late director Theodore Gershuny (who was married to Woronov at the time), filmed this in 1972. Associate producer Lloyd Kafman worked with Gershuny again on Sugar Cookies (1973), and went on to found Troma Films. Both Kaufman and Frank Vitale (another producer on this film) also worked with Oliver Stone around the same time.
Producer and writer Jeffrey Konvitz was an entertainment attorney also wrote both the novel and film The Sentinel (1977), and produced Spy Hard (1996).
From the Uniontown, Pa., Morning Herald-Evening Standard, Aug. 8, 1974:
For those of you lucky enough to live near Austin, Texas, the fabled Alamo Drafthouse is presenting the William Shatner film Impulse, with a live appearance by director William Grefe, tonight at Midnight.
In the film, Shatner portrays a whimpering, mother-obsessed, polyester-clad killer gigolo who murders his wealthy girlfriends for their money. Written by Tony Crechales (who penned the excellent The Killing Kind), Impulse also features Ruth Roman, Jenifer Bishop (an Al Adamson regular who was engaged to producer Socrates Ballis at the time), Shatner's wife Marcy Lafferty, Blood Feast veteran William Kerwin (in a flashback), and wrestler/actor Harold "Odd Job" Sakata, who nearly perished during his on-screen death scene when a rigging failed and he was left hanging by the neck until Shatner and several crew members came to his rescue. (The photo below shows Sakata and Shatner with Bloodstalkers director Robert W. Morgan in the aftermath of this incident.)
From the Oxnard Press-Courier, March 28, 1972:
Note that this article indicates the film was made some time in 1972 under the original title of Want a Ride, Little Girl?
A few choice quotes:
William Shatner: "I've forgotten why I was in it. I probably needed the money. It was a very bad time for me. I hope they burn it."
Tony Crechales: "[Socrates Ballis] was at an airport. I don't know if it was here or in Florida, and Shatner was coming by. And he handed him the script, and said I would love for you to read it and star in it. Shatner took it! I went to his house not too far from where I live. By the time I re-wrote the script with his suggestions, I had one page of the original. It was all William Shatner."
Jenifer Bishop: "The one that I fell madly in love with was Harold Sakata. We became very good friends. He took me dancing at the Roosevelt when he came out to California. Sweet man, dear man. Wonderful dancer."
Robert Morgan: "If you look at that one shot, you take a look at Harold Sakata's tongue coming out of his mouth. We're all down below and we suddenly realize that that harness had slipped. He was literally strangling. Shatner grabbed him down below and tried to pick him up a little bit. A couple of us scrambled to the top and cut him down. He was in serious trouble."
William Grefe: "Shatner came down that rope and broke his finger, and to this day his finger is still crooked. He never got it set properly."
Upstate New York experienced the Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) thanks to producers Ed Kelleher and Ed Adlum (interviewed in my upcoming book). They followed up with Shriek of the Mutilated (1974).
The Legend of Blood Mountain (1965) Atlanta, Georgia
Local movie host George Ellis (as Bestoink Dooley) starred in this obscure Georgia horror comedy that had an incredibly convoluted second-life under a number of alternate titles. After its initial release, low-budget producer and spook show magician Donn Davison added bigfoot footage and re-released the film as Legend of McCullough's Mountain in the mid-1970s. Distributor Jeffrey C. Hogue later acquired the film and re-released it as Blood Beast of Monster Mountain (Something Weird released this version on video several years ago), and yet another version (the original cut, but missing a significant chunk of footage) was issued on video as Demon Hunter.
It's an invasion of walking catfish -- Zaat (1972), a.k.a. Bloodwaters of Dr. Z, a staple of late-night TV back in the 1980s. Director Donald Barton is one of the 13 interviewees in the upcoming book version of The Dead Next Door.
Here's an intriguing bit of lost film history -- an independent film, made entirely by a crew of women filmmakers, featuring cinematography by none other than New York's own Roberta Findlay. Anyone know what happened to the 1973 production Double Circle, a.k.a. The Waiting Room? Director/producer Karen Sperling was the daughter of producer Milton Sperling and granddaughter of Harry Warner. She previously made the film Make a Face (1971).
Although it still sadly lacks a legit U.S. DVD release, fans of The Boogens can at least set their DV-Rs to record the film tonight when it plays on Turner Classic Movies at 2:30 a.m.
The film was helmed by busy TV director James L. Conway, who was also responsible for Sunn Classic projects like The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977) and Hangar 18 (1980), and produced by Charles E. Sellier, Jr., a Utah filmmaking institution who not only worked with the prolific Sunn, but also directed the notorious Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).
"The Boogens" are scaly, turtle-like critters that emerge from an old silver mine to munch on a cast that includes future Mrs. Conway Rebecca Balding (Silent Scream, Soap), Fred McCarren, Jeff Harlan, and a lot of Coors beer.
It's a fun little movie that has been out of print for years, so if you have a chance be sure to take in the TCM broadcast. I'm hoping to dig up a copy of Stephen King's review of the film for the old Twilight Zone magazine ("Digging the Boogens") so I can post some excerpts later. I'd also like to find a copy of the novelization.
You can read an interview with Conway on John Kenneth Muir's blog. Clips and trailer below.
There's already been much written about Mr. Harold P. Warren's singular foray into surrealist low-budget cinema, the inscrutable Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), so I won't bore you with a recap -- the movie itself is boring enough. If you haven't experienced Manos, you should do so at least once. You will never be the same.
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.