Category: 1973

Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

“Sassy Sue” (1973)

By today’s standards, a tame latenight softcore flick starring three who would go hardcore later: Sandy Carey, Tallie Cochran, and Colleen Brennan.

girdlertheman1Now that we know what’s in store for us from Bill Girdler’s filmography, let’s talk about the man himself. His biography is well documented, a good overview is found here, and some themes are worth repeating as we get ready to look at his films in depth.

Girdler was born on 22 October 1947 in Kentucky to a well-to-do family of industrialists, and after a short stint in the US Air Force–likely pleasing his grandfather whose plant built B-24 bombers during World War II–returned home to start Studio One Productions with his brother -in-law. After shooting a number of local commercials, the pair turned to feature filmmaking and changed their studio name to Mid-America Pictures. Six of his nine films were shot in Kentucky, Project: Kill, Grizzly, and The Manitou were his only Hollywood productions. Girdler and his brother-in-law would be business partners until Girdler’s untimely death in 1978.

Because Girdler said himself that he was more businessman than artist, his work is mainly underappreciated by film scholars. He gets mentioned from time to time as the director of Abby or Sheba, Baby or Grizzly, and that’s pretty much the extent to which he’s remembered.

A little more thought brings us a bit more legacy to think about: first, we see Girdler’s ghost at play nearly weekly in low-budget sci-fi and horror, especially in places like the SyFy Channel. Every time we see an “animals attacking humans” film, we should be thanking Bill Girdler. Grizzly showed that this sub-genre could be fun and successful, and it’s been with us ever since 1976 when Grizzly became the most successful independent film of its day.* More importantly, Grizzly was the first film in this genre since he was the first to rip off Jaws’ main storyline. Someone else would have done it if Girdler had not, but the point is that Girdler beat everyone else to the punch–and did it well.

Another thing we might have Girdler to thank for–only in part–is Pam Grier’s television career in the late 70s and 80s. She was pretty tired of the one-dimensional roles she was getting in the blaxploitation scene, and called it quits on the whole lot–Girdler’s Sheba, Baby was the last blaxploitation she shot and her last film for American International Pictures. Soon thereafter she moved on to television work for a spell.

As an aside, I’ll just mention quickly that Austin Stoker has fonder memories of Girdler, having been directed by him in Abby; Sheba, Baby and The Get-Man. According to Stoker, if you played a villain, Girdler would also make you show some positive sides of that character. Likewise, heroes were expected to show some villainy. To Stoker, this was a breath of fresh air during the height of blaxploitation–and he turned down many roles within this genre precisely because the charters he was asked to play were so one-dimensional in the way that Grier would have found all too familiar. One might conclude that Grier, as an African-American woman had fewer choices at that point while Stoker had more on account of gender.

Pam Grier, Austin Stoker (r) in Sheba, Baby (1975)

So what might have happened to Girdler if he hadn’t perished in that helicopter in the Philippines in ’78? He had already moved out to Hollywood and had completed three films there, the last of which, The Manitou, was starting to get into some seriously well known stars and bigger budgets–specifically Tony Curtis and $3 million. We’ll never know the answer to counter-factual questions, but one could see the upward trajectory Girdler was on, so who knows?

*Outside of porn. By any accounting, Deep Throat was the most successful independent film ever created.

william-girdler-02Thought I’d start the new year off right by sinking my teeth into a new project here on the blog–exploring all nine of Girdler’s fun exploitation flicks!

Bill Girdler was an up-and-coming horror and exploitation director who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1978 at the tender age of 30 in the Philippines while location-scouting for his tenth feature. He was just hitting his stride and was starting to see commercial success from his endeavors.

He also knew who he was as a filmmaker–he was in it to make money, not art:

I’m in the business to make money. Why kid yourself? Nobody wants to lose money. We haven’t and never will get into the art stuff. I’m not out to give messages to the world. We look at scripts for their commercialism. Art is not the objective of my films, but we try to put as much art into them as possible.

Girdler is most often remembered for his latter films, such as 1978’s The Manitou; 1976’s very successful Jaws-knockoff Grizzly; and 1974’s blacksploitation version of The Exorcist: Abby. But here are the trailers for all nine of his films, to wet our appetites:

Girdler often used many of the same players throughout his nine films–that’s Charles Kissinger (1924-91) on the left playing “Pa,” who appeared in seven of these nine films and quit acting after Girdler’s death.

Combat Cops a.k.a The Get-Man a.k.a The Zebra Killer starts Girdler’s trilogy of blaxpolitation films. This one also makes an appearance in the Spike Lee joint, Summer of Sam (1999).

Personally, my fave of Girdler’s films. Initially earning $4 million of box office (about $19 million in today’s dollars) in its first month, this film was taken out of circulation when Warner Brothers sued Girdler because it was too similar to The Exorcist. By the time the suit was settled and profit could be earned again, Girdler was already dead. Also, William “Blacula” Marshall hated Girdler’s script.

The last blaxploitation picture for both Girdler and Pam Grier! “The heat’s on, but she’s doin’ the cookin’!” I love that line.

This brings us to Grizzly, arguably Girdler’s best known film. This was the highest-grossing independent film of all time in its day–it’s record not beaten until Halloween (1978), earning about $39 million worldwide in its original theatrical run (about $175 million in todays dollars, or about a day-and-a-half of the box office from Star Wars: The Force Awakens if you prefer).

This one’s an odd duck. Leslie Nielsen and Gary Lockwood play it straight in some sort of king-fu action flick. Is that a “Velvet Elvis” style painting of Nielsen with a Luger at about 0:47ish? Holy crap, man.

This is two trailers bundled into the same video. Neilsen returns, and this has the same basic plot as Grizzly, which is basically Jaws on land. Apparently Day of the Animals (a.k.a. Something Is Out There) is thought to be the sequel to Grizzly, but not so: that dubious distinction goes to Grizzly II: The Concert (1983), starring young versions of George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, and Laura Dern.

Finally, we come to the end of Girdler’s filmography. He described this flick as a combination of The Exorcist and Star Wars–Girdler was an exploiteer until the end. However, he did not survive to see this film’s debut. This was easily Girdler’s most ambitious project, with a $3 million budget and A-list stars such as Tony Curtis as players.

I’ll be diving into these films over the next several posts: their production, what the casts and crew went on to do afterwards, and Girdler’s legacy.

A Bell From Hell (1973)


400px-SS-CC-M1911-01I’ll just come out and say it: I keep a candle lit for Ms. Caffaro. If you do too–and you know who you are–why don’t you spend the next eight hours watching all the Cheri Caffaro films I was able to find on YouTube. You’ll know where to find me:

Let’s start with 1971’s Ginger. I’ve written about this one before, but may find the need to revisit this later this year.

79425-up-your-alley-0-230-0-341-cropHer next outing was with the late Haji in Up Your Alley also from 1971, but sadly this gem is not uploaded just yet. If you can find it, look for Uschi Digard (scroll down to #8, yes this is a side project of mine) and Luanne Roberts of Trader Hornee fame.

In 1972, Cheri returns to her roots with the second installment of the Ginger trilogy, The Abductors. Raunchier, and down-n-dirtier than Ginger:

download (2)Girls Are For Loving, from 1973, the last Ginger flick is also not (yet) available online. Sounding like porn in both title and dialogue–and acted to about the same quality–we get these choice bits of dialogue:

I want that dame spread – not dead.


I don’t mind giving my bod to him, in the name of the flag of course . . . Let’s just say I like to fuck a lot.

It does not get better than this, folks!

This brings us to the last of Cheri’s (available online) on camera roles, in Savage Sisters from 1974, co-starring blaxploitation actress (and Bond Girl from the year before in Live and Let Die) Gloria Hendry, and the ubiquitous Sid Haig:

download (3)Cheri’s last on-camera film was a reprise–in all but name–of her earlier Ginger films, Too Hot to Handle from 1977. This was one of a plethora of exploitation films shot on location in the Philippines, and if you weren’t already crushing on Cheri, she did her own stunts!

From here, Cheri moved behind the camera and helped produce a couple silly flicks: H.O.T.S. in 1979 and The Demons of Ludlow  from 1983.

H.O.T.S. starred no less than three Playboy centerfolds, a Miss USA, and a couple veteran B-movie/sexploitation actresses . . . and Danny Bonaduce.  Sign me the fuck up.

Sadly, Cheri does not bow out of her film career on a high note. Demons of Ludow  is a boring mess of a horror film–a bit of a departure from her earlier oeuvre, featuring a haunted upright piano. Maybe it would have been better if the haunted piano was a grand piano.

Nowadays, and for most of the past twenty years or so, Cheri has been out of the public eye. She reportedly didn’t care for being type-cast as an exploitation babe, and the producing gig didn’t come to much, and apparently she removed herself from the film industry.  This coming April, she’ll turn 70. Would love to see her give some interviews on the occasion . . .

bottom-of-barrel-headerI do love the terrible movies, but sometimes there are those that make you guzzle the palette-cleanser afterwards. Here are some of the worst films I saw last year, as told to Mike and Iris at the Badasses, Boobs, and Bodycounts podcast. Here are my faves of last year. Spoilers ensue, so reader beware.

1. Lords of Salem (2012)–Way too much build up and confusing imagery, but little follow-through on story. I really want to like Rob Zombie as a filmmaker–I remember really liking House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejectsbut those were getting to be a long time ago now.  My problem with Lords, was that just as I was finally expecting the horror movie to start, as the Heidi character made her transformation (or whatever) into a full-fledged witch (or whatever), the end credits started to roll. All the menace and the malevolence of the coven in the first scene that threatened to wreak havoc on modern-day Salem was reduced to a couple on-screen sentences where we had to read what the final implication of this film was?  Did Zombie run out of money two-thirds of the way through his production?

And in any case, the final implication was pretty limited–the penultimate reveal was that the witches create a ritualistic mass suicide? That hardly seemed worth the effort, or 90 minutes of everyone’s time. No huge threat to the city, let alone humanity. Like I said, I really wanted to like this film and Zombie as a director. Surely I must be missing something. I went as far to track down the novelization of this film that Zombie wrote. And? Nothing. It’s just a simple description of what we see on screen with a smidge more detail, but no insights into what I was missing. Probably because with this project–book and film–there’s no there there.

Rob, I’ll always love your music, and your first few films, but you really are making a lasting relationship harder than it should be.


2. Gappa the Triphibian Monster (1967)–basically, a get rich quick rip-off of Japanese monster films by one of Japan’s oldest film production companies (Nikkatsu), which has been in the business for nearly a century. At times, as the KaijuCast podcast (another favorite) discussion of this film noted, Gappa is almost a shot-for-shot remake of classic kaiju scenes. As if the best parts of Japanese giant monster movies were all mixed up and thrown against the wall to see what would stick. The resulting film is like watching the whole sticky mess slide down the wall.

images (2)

Of course there is “Hobo With a Shotgun” in Lego!

3. Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)–started as a fan-made exploitation film trailer on a $150 budget for a contest that Richard Rodriguez was sponsoring, and when it won, they got rid of the fans and hired pro actors like Rutger Hauer to make the “real” film.

I’m not exactly sure what bothers me more: having pros replace amateurs, or the mere presence of Hauer. There’s only a few films I like him in, and I’m afraid I like him even less once I heard what an ass he can be on-set. Had the amateurs been able to stay on, this could have been (probably at best) something only as good as Thankskilling or Antfarm Dickhole. I find those sorts of films have much more charm than actors slumming it and trying too hard to recreate 70s grindhouse.

the-werewolf-of-washington-movie-poster-1973-10202498394. Werewolf of Washington (1973)–I live in the DC metro area, so maybe the idea of a political operative becoming a werewolf just hits too close to home.

But seriously, the last scene of this film–in which the President of the United States contracts lycanthropy in the back of Marine One–should have been the starting point for this whole affair. Just so we could be spared the site of (an impossibly young) Dean Stockwell as some silly aide doing his best to keep up appearances.

All that said, this film may have the best line of dialogue of any film I saw in 2014:

I think your father is a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ.

The President–this cross between Lincoln and Christ–goes on to tell Dean Stockwell who’s turning into a werewolf again to “stop scratching at your palms. It’s just not manly.” Or somesuch. Not sure why I believe that our protagonist sees this guy as a blend of two of America’s most respected historical figures… But on it goes… An we didn’t even get into the secret Frankenstein lab under the White House staffed by little people.


Um, your administration is in jeopardy when your aides can’t tell the difference between a pent-a-gram and the Pent-a-gon…

host5. The Host (2006)–I love monster movies, and this Korean variation on the theme seems to have learned all the wrong lessons, but I suspect it’s just that something got lost in translation. The trick to watching this movie, I suspect, is to know something about the cultural context it is embedded in. At least one person sees a number of visual references to Korean touchstones that probably would blow right by most American audiences. Most Americans–including me–being oblivious to all this might have just seen this as an incoherently scripted monster movie.

In which case this movie seems like it had a marketing problem. Don’t inflict oblivious horror/monster movie aficionados with coy social criticism and expect the film to do well as a horror flick. On the other hand, given the amount of comedy in this film, how sharp was the cultural criticism? I have no idea, and won’t get too wrapped around the axle on this.  I keep saying to myself, it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie.

The Body Shop aka Doctor Gore




The Body Shop – aka Body Shop; Shrieks in the Night and later retitled Doctor Gore – is a 1973 American horror film written, directed and starring former TV horror host and magician J.G. Patterson Jr. The film was originally titled Anitra, as can be glimpsed on the film’s slate board, lazily included in the trailer!).


It stars Jenny Driggers (as the aforementioned Anitra), Roy Mehaffey, Linda Faile, Jan Benfield, Jeannine Aber, Candy Furr, Vickie O’Neal and Jerry Kearns. Future directors Worth Keeter (credited as the “special horror consultant”) and William Girdler (credited with music, music editor and sound effects) also worked on the film.

Patterson worked on a number of Herschell G. Lewis’ in a special effects capacity and was associate producer on The Gruesome Twosome (1967). He also produced Axe (1974). He died of cancer in 1975 in Charlotte, North Carolina (he chain smokes throughout The Body Shop).



Plot teaser:


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This week something happened in Match-Up 6 that I had not anticipated: a tie.  So, we’ll re-compete that one (Day the Earth Stood Still vs. Black Sunday).  Also, the first shut-outs of our competition so far!  Here’s how it shook out last week:

Day the Earth Stood Still–1 vote (50%)
Black Sunday (this week’s “Movie of the Week,” coincidentally)–1 vote (50%)

Carnival of Souls–4 votes (100%)

The Thing–3 votes (100%)
The Birds

Witchfinder General–2 votes (67%)
Them!–1 vote (33%)

I Drink Your Blood–3 votes (100%)

The Exorcist–3 votes (75%)
ThanksKilling–1 vote (25%)

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!–3 votes (75%)
Blacula–1 vote (25%)

She-Devils on Wheels–3 votes (75%)
Toxic Avenger–1 vote (25%)

All of the above carnage brings us here.  So, here are this week’s matches:

The Re-Match!

Kurt Russell or Vincent Price?



Next time, Final Four!

godzilla_2014_poster_51784To celebrate the release of the highly anticipated Godzilla film this weekend, here are the trailers of 29 previous Toho films. I don’t include non-Toho films here, especially the highly-despised 1998 Matthew Broderick version, and I’m not a kaiju-guru enough to know if this list is complete.  But it at least gets us a good start to appreciate Godzilla’s long heritage.

1.  Godzilla (Gojira), 1954

2. Godzilla Raids Again, 1955

3. King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962

4. Godzilla vs. The Thing, 1964

5. Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, 1964

6.  Invasion of Astro-Monster (Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), 1965

7. Ebirah, Monster of the Deep (Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster), 1966

8. Son of Godzilla, 1967

9. Destroy All Monsters, 1968

10. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster), 1971

11. Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1972

12. Godzilla vs. Megalon, 1973

13. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, 1974

14. Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975

15. Return of Godzilla, 1984

16. Godzilla vs. Biollante, 1989

17. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, 1991

18. Godzilla vs. Mothra (Godzilla & Mothra: Battle For Earth), 1992

19. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, 1993

20. Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, 1994

21. Godzilla vs. Destroyah, 1995

22. Godzilla 2000: Millennium, 1999

23. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, 2000

24. Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, 2001

25. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, 2002

26. Godzilla Tokyo SOS, 2003

27. Godzilla Final Wars, 2004