bijou reviews – M

Man Beast

Rock Madison, Asa …
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Starring Rock Madison and Asa Maynor. Directed by Jerry Warren.

BijouFlix regulars are familiar with the amazing work of Jerry “Mix n’ Match” Warren. For decades, Warren fashioned a shoestring career out of purchasing awful Mexican flicks and re-editing them with new scenes into awful American flicks, with such exploitation monikers as THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN.

The usual lot of ‘has-been’ actors wandered in and out of the American scenes Warren shot on the cheap Stateside. In most of his latter efforts, the lack of production values for the American footage is ludicrously bad when contrasted with the often good production values of the higher-budgeted Mexican fare. It’s sort of like comparing thin, one ply, rough toilet paper you often encounter at rest stops on a lonely stretch of highway with the plump two ply, soft quilted variety of toilet paper you get at a five star hotel. It may be a strange analogy, but there is bad toilet paper, good toilet paper, and great toilet paper. And the production value of most of Jerry Warren flicks was decidedly poor toilet paper quality.

But in his first flick MAN BEAST (1956)? Believe it or not, there is ample evidence contained within its frames that Warren once had higher ambitions as a director/producer. Though of course it is damning with faint praise, MAN BEAST is definitely the high point, so to speak, of Warren’s unsteallar, albeit steady output.
The story of MAN BEAST is one of the reasons why this effort lingers as favorable when most Warren flix leave a vaguely “used” feeling in the average viewer (whomever that is!). But herein, Warren’s obvious care in producing the best he could — which is to say, barely adequate but professional in most respects — at least throws a curve ball into the folks who pitch the argument “there’s no such thing as a good Jerry Warren flick.”
Strike one for pitcher in the Yeti suit! Because, flaws and all, MAN BEAST is a perfectly fine B-movie in the 50’s monster sense, at once beholden to the headlines about yeti it exploits and at the same time managing a minor suspense concerning a wife searching for a missing husband who has vanished in the… Himalayas. Forsaking reason, she engages a local Sherpa to act as guide. Saner minds try to reason with her, but she departs into the mountains, determined to discover her husband’s fate. And as the first yeti pops up from beneath the snowdrifts undetected by her search party, you just know: things are not going to ‘go’ as she intended. Indeed, they’re about to go horribly wrong.
That’s enough about the plot. There are some narrative twists worth preserving for intended viewers, and further story details would ruin ’em. Suffice to say, Warren’s wise decision to hire a screenwriter results in a much finer production than his norm.
Enough easy ‘cheap’ shots; Warren’s been positively abused in this regard, perhaps rightly so. But here’s to him for doing what few else would do in his day: import Mexican movies and consistently distribute them in America. This not only enriched him but the Mexican film industry, which was glad to have at

least one Gringo who “got it” and did business with them (even if he, uhm, “altered” them for the American market).
While it is easy to laugh at his movies, in short, don’t forget to soberly remind yourself that were it not for Mr. Warren’s admittedly bad efforts, there would have been no Mexican cinema shown as widely as his efforts were theatrically in their day.
The studios certainly had no interest in building a market and taste for foreign flix — witness their continuing xenophobia to this day — and so, bad or great, Warren at least had the audacity, tenacity and pretty decent editing skills to patch together disparate elements into a semi-coherent whole (sometimes).

So hidden in the junk flix he imported and ruthlessly recut, Warren did what no other showman in his era did: popularize Mexican cinema amongst mostly Anglo American kiddies who grew up contentedly watching his releases in suburban matinees and drive-ins with the parents and who would have never otherwise knowingly nor willingly seen a Mexican flick.
Pretty devious and probably unintended, but if your taste runs to anything non-American in flix, Warren is a name you should know if not at least have cursory respect. And as MAN BEAST demonstrates, he was capable of much better than his career ever otherwise produced, which ala Orson Welles and Ed Wood gives his career an inevitably sad overtone.

For Yeti/Bigfoot enthusiasts, this is a true ‘must-see.’ The serious tone of the handling of the creature, along with a pseudo-mythology of its origins and means of survival, makes MAN BEAST almost believable at times. As fans of Cine du Sasquatch know and know well, making an entertaining Yeti flick is not an easy task; making one that is almost two-point-five dimensional as this effort is as rare as the oxygen on top of Mount Everest. — Notes by Roger Patterson.

What Critics Say:
“Actually pretty amazing — a coherent Jerry Warren film…by no means a classic, but it’s probably the best thing Jerry Warren ever did and is actually worth a watch.” — Dave Sindelar, SCIFILM

“Not bad for a ’50s B-movie about the yeti.” — ubik-11, IMDB.com

“Made by the future director of FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND and THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN… for one scene involving the exterior of a temple, Warren jumped a fence onto another set and began shooting.” — ghast1957, IMDB.com

Like this flick? See also: CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE; SNOWBEAST; NIGHT OF THE DEMON; SASQUATCH, THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT

Mind Snatchers, The

Christopher Walken…
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aka The Demon Within aka The Happiness Cage. Starring Chris Walken, Ronny Cox & Ralph Meeker.

Also known as THE HAPPINESS CAGE and THE DEMON WITHIN, THE MIND SNATCHERS (1972) features one of Christopher Walken’s strongest early performances. He plays a neurotic American soldier stationed in Denmark who is sent to an Army loony bin and tampered with ala Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

The similarities end there, however, between Kubrick’s work and this more ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST or THE NINTH CONFIGURATION toned effort. At the center of the movie’s success is the MIDNIGHT COWBOY-ish friendship that develops between Walken and fellow inmate hick Ronny Cox, whose pathetic counter portrayal to Walken’s more icy veneer gives the movie an emotional balance often lacking in most SF efforts.

Ralph Meeker plays the slimy military brass all in favor of Walken’s brains being scrambled if it suits Higher Ups. Though he’s much longer in the tooth, Meeker is at his sneering, scumbag ‘best’ in this later effort, distant and condescending as his equally king jerk of all times Mike Hammer in KISS ME, DEADLY. — Notes by R. U. Holden.

What Critics Say:

“Excellent performances by two of the guinea pigs, Ronny Cox and Christopher Walken, keep Rony Whyte’s screenplay… on a heightened edge, as does the presence of sinister Army officer Ralph Meeker.” — John Stanley, CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE

Ms. 45

Wayne Caro, Scott …
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Aka Ms 45: The Sweet Avenger aka Angel of Vengeance. Starring Zoë Tamerlis. Directed by Abel Ferrara.

Abel Ferrara and his screenwriter Nicholas St. John worked together like an early Scorcese and Schrader combination, but on the street real, exploitation level that the latter two all but abandoned as soon as Hollywood came calling. Not that Ferrara hasn’t had his shots in and around Tinseltown; rather, his best work remains the rawer, grade B stuff because nothing is censored from the “worst possible scenario” imagination of Ferrara and his scrib partner. In fact, the grimier and grimmer, the more Ferrara the effort. Arguably, from his first feature credit forward (DRILLER KILLER), and to BAD LEUITENANT and beyond, he is not unlike a latter-day Samuel Fuller, making tough, over-the-top but still strangely satisfying shock flicks that leave you emotionally devastated and feeling… transgressed?

No doubt, there is an element of fallen Catholicism that runs throughout MS. 45, again recalling the perfect blending of guilt and self-denial running through the Scorcese/Schrader combos. Ferrara arranges for his protagonist Thana – brilliantly portrayed by then 17-year old Zoë Tamerlis – to transform before our horrified eyes from a mute, withdrawn garment worker, oppressed by leering

males and glass ceilings everywhere she turns every day of her life. She puts up with her horrible fate, shyly trying to get through the day with her head bowed and unnoticed. But when she is brutally and sadistically raped twice in one horrible day by different rapists, Thana can no longer wear her veil of self-denial.

Suffering from traumatic stress disorder, Thana begins to carry a .45 with her everywhere she goes, ready to pull a Bernard Goetz in drag at a moment’s notice. Because she is suffering delusional flashbacks in which almost any man who invades her body space – some accidentally and others intentionally – literally become her original attackers, Thana has no remorse in pulling her weapon and methodically blasting her opponents to death. The image of a once-timid girl reduced to vengeful ‘angel’ of retribution is unsettling to say the least. The fact Thana regularly begins donning the habit of a nun riffs on the at once angelic and provocative nature of victim/victimizer dual-natured role she is cracking into, albeit slowly. As she readies for a killing, she solemnly kisses each bullet in a

sacrilege on the Catholic Mass. This is heavy, mythic stuff, on the level of Phoenix-like ascension from the ashes and all that rot. Except under Ferrara’s handling, it is anything but rotten, despite it’s relentlessly accurate depiction of the rotten “nightmare alleys” in NYC before Disney and Rudy G. “cleaned them up.” And who can deny the horribly poignant undertone of ex-Catholics feeling abused and wanting to hurt their transgressors with today’s “Father FeelGood” headlines?

When MS. 45 “hit” the theaters in 1981, nobody was ready for it, despite the fact TAXI DRIVER was already half a decade earlier and easily more violent, disturbing and unflinching. Of course, TAXI DRIVER was a studio flick, as hard as that is to believe these days (can you imagine the poor sap at a studio who would green light TAXI DRIVER now; probably be canned before the day was out). And MS. 45 was a tiny, independent flick that was released by a non-studio. All of which translated into easy pickings by the

feminists of the period, many of whom correctly surmised the underlying misogyny and latent sadism in the usual grindhouse drivel playing on 42nd in the day. But this is anything but usual, and so the criticism was misdirected towards the one flick that seemed to be addressing the imbalance, however sexistly rendered from a “male chauvinist’s” point of view.

Despite the intensely disturbing nature of MS. 45, it is interesting to note that while a majority of the initial critics lambasted the early rape sequences that motivate Thana’s cruel but understandable revenge, they often failed to inflict anywhere near the same venom on the ensuing acts of atrocity she commits on innocent men. The glaring lack of consistency suggests it’s okay to kill an innocent man (as Thana does during a very suspenseful alley scene in which a decent guy tries to return a package she has accidentally dropped) if a “bad man has wronged you” even though the dead man is just as “innocent” as

Thana! Ferrara and St. John are clearly aware this irony, as it is built into the story and flick. But it is interesting that in the hysteria of “burn ‘em at the stake,” no one bothers to “blame” Thana for her actions. And given the final target of her fury (her exploitative garment industry boss), one can clearly make the case the flick is as subversively political in nature as was Ferrara’s THE KING OF NEW YORK, albeit in a less blackly comic manner (though the flick has its share of humorous moments).

All psychobabble aside, MS. 45 succeeds as gritty, street brutal ‘entertainment,’ if that’s the correct word, because it feels so unpredictable. At each and every turn, Ferrara turns the screws tighter, and watching the mute Thana react to the increasing pressure to extract her bloody body count has an undeniably cathartic effect, not unlike MAD MAX or THE WILD BUNCH, equally brutally effective revenge melodramas. — Notes by R.U. Holden..
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What Critics Say:

“You’d think that making a movie with a mute as the main character would be next to impossible, but Ferrara and Tamerlis pull it off. It’s impressive watching Thana transform from naïve young innocent in the beginning of the film to the bitch-goddess-destroyer… every bit the exploitation classic it’s been championed as over the past twenty

years.” —

CULTURE DOSE

“[Ms. 45] was second-billed to ‘Amin: The Rise and Fall’ at a sleazy 42nd Street theater, not far from the garment district where Thana is employed [in the movie]… mute Thana represents all the women of the world who don’t speak out against the daily outrages they are subjected to from men (bosses, boyfriends, strangers): a constant barrage of come-ons, orders, insults, patronizing conversation. ‘I just wish they would leave me alone,’ she writes, but she hasn’t the nerve or the capacity to tell men to ‘Fuck off.’” — Danny Peary, CULT MOVIES 2

“Thankfully Ferrara keeps this one tight and short (unlike THE ADDICTION) and it keeps the attention the whole way through. Gory but a gotta see.” — EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY FILM SOCIETY

“A brilliant, gory — and finally human — cult classic.” — Jeffrey Anderson, THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

Mysterians, The

Toho Pack Box Set – The Mysterians, …
Akihiko Hirata, Ku…
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aka Earth Defense Force. Starring Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata & Yumi Shirakawa. EFX by Eiji Tsuburaya. Directed by Ishiro Honda.

Only a real Grinch at heart couldn’t love a flick so amiably pleasant and entertainingly diverting as THE MYSTERIANS (1957) . A super-rarity for decades, this early Toho classic is a real charmer, complete with scary aliens who want to mate with Earth women, a giant robot who smashes everything in its path, and of course the required flying saucers.

In essence, THE MYSTERIANS was Toho’s answer to the spectacular success of George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. Though very different movies, they share a trait of serious-mindedness that is altogether rare if not absent in later kaiju efforts.
Further, actual Japanese stars take center stage in the thespian roles. And while no one looks to rubber suit monster flix for Anthony Hopkins style acting, it’s still refreshing to have believable actors who underplay rather than the more obnoxious mugging so common in later efforts.

The most refreshing aspect is the actual tension generated by the race against time aspect of the storyline. As the earth scientists work in harmony to devise a technological demise to the invaders’ superior abilities, the stakes actually feel at risk instead of inevitable, unlike later and more pandering kaiju flix.

In terms of harmony of direction and effects, the venerable duo of Honda and Tsuburaya is at its very best in this saga. Though as dated as Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE MYSTERIANS is equally charmingly so, and therefore a bona fide “must see” for fans of either gentlemen, kaiju cinema or alien invasion flix. — Notes by Matt Black.

What Critics Say:

“Ishirô Honda tale of technological ingenuity vs. a superior invading force… special FX in THE MYSTERIANS are almost uniformly top-notch… nobody does buildings consumed in sheets of flame or earthquake damage like a Japanese FX crew.” — Bad Movie Report, STOMP TOKYO
“When I was young I remember that the ‘Marcolights’ were pretty cool and the music was very dramatic. The music still sounds good today… You may be pleasantly surprised to see the leader of the Seven Samurai as the head scientist.” — gjhong, IMDB.com

“Perhaps the most intriguing of all Toho sci-fi films.” — Ken Hanke, MOUNTAIN XPRESS

“The actor playing the Leader of the Mysterians was Yoshio Tsuchiya. He also played the Vapor Man in HUMAN VAPOR, Controller of Planet X in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, and Businessman Shindo in GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH… Eiji Tsuburaya’s advanced special effects highlight a battle of fire, lasers, rockets, tanks, and flying saucers between the humans and space aliens… A cool alien invasion movie.” — Oliver Chu, IMDB.com
“A surprisingly serviceable science fiction film… Honda’s aliens arrive in giant pyramids, anticipating CHARIOTS OF THE GODS by 20 years, and proceed to stomp the Japanese countryside in high style.” — Dave Kehr, CHICAGO READER

Like this flick? See also: BAMBOO SAUCER; THE DARK; THE EYE CREATURES; HUMAN VAPOR; X FROM OUTER SPACE

Mysterious Monsters, The

Mystery of Bigfoot

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aka Bigfoot the Mysterious Monster. Starring Peter Graves and Peter Hurkos. Directed by Robert Guenette.

This nearly impossible-to-find docudrama is a bona fide rarity and one of our all-time “most requested by customers” flix, so we’re very glad to finally offer it to all of you who have so patiently awaited its debut. Starring Peter Graves as the man with the mission to prove whether crypto-zoological species like Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster are “real” or imagined, MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS (1975) owes its popularity to the successful marketing of its initial releasing company, the venerable but sadly extinct Sunn Classic Pictures Inc.
In case you don’t remember Sunn Classic, they were the Salt Lake City-based group of canny Mormon distributors who realized early on that by making only the movies that pre-surveyed audiences in malls selected as desirable (“which of the following movies

would you see based on the title alone?”), they could largely avoid the costly disasters of the studios. The formula was so successful that it didn’t take Hollywood long to essentially adopt it and basically make Sunn Classic irrelevant. But before their strategy was co-opted, they made such anti-classics as IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS, HANGAR 18, THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY, and THE LIFE & TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, among many others.
In this cash-in on the 1970’s Sasquatch craze, Sunn cannily hired director Robert Guenette, who would later go on to even greater cult fame as the director of both THE MAKING OF STAR WARS and GREAT MOVIE STUNTS: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, both definitely great behind-the-scenes looks at movie production at the studio level. But in MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS, he may have struck the deepest nerve with his Gen X audiences, most of whom very fondly remember this overly-serious attempt to not just prove Sasquatch exists – it’s a given by host Peter Graves – but actually discredit anyone who says Bigfoot could possibly be only a myth. This uneven-handed quality makes the flick conversely

popular with True Believers, who enjoy seeing Sasquatch presented as fact rather than pseudo-science and outright quackery.
Though the focus is on Bigfoot, there is extensive coverage given to other

Fortean-style encounters with the unknown, including a visit with psychic Peter Hurkos, the Loch Ness Monster and Yeti among others. In fact, the footage of the Loch Ness castle in ruins and endless fathoms of brackish waters attests to why the sightings – fact or fantasy? – easily persist in such a foreboding environment. If you’re into the crypto-zoo’ism of it all, the rare 16mm footage of the earliest known Loch Ness Monster sightings captured from the 1930’s onward is a treasure trove, as are the priceless sequences containing many classic Abominable Snowman

footage taken in the Himalayas, including what was widely authenticated to be a Yeti scalp during the expedition (it was later discredited as being composed of Yak hair).
But of course, the piece de resistance is the classic Patterson footage, which is analyzed herein and declared authentic beyond further dispute. Whether or not you believe Peter Graves as he gravely intones said verdict is whether or not you believe the recent death-bed

confessions the footage was “just a hoax” as authentic or not. — Notes by Travis Crabtree.

What Critics Say:

”Peter Grave narrates! With Bigfoot! The Loch Ness monster! The Abominable Snowman! Peter provides proof! Can you take it?” — Michael Weldon, PSYCHOTRONIC GUIDE

Like this flick? See also: CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE; MANBEAST; SNOWBEAST; NIGHT OF THE DEMON; SASQUATCH, THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT

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