In Search of Historic Jesus

Starring John Rubinstein, John Anderson & Morgan Brittany. Directed by Henning Schellerup.

Those wacky Mormons in Utah sure knew how to make exploitation flicks. Among them were Overlords of the UFO’s, Bigfoot, the Devil’s Triangle, Area 51 (aka Hangar 18) and even the Son of God Himself, Sunn Classic Pictures (aka Schick Sunn) trotted out every major cultural icon of their respective era for celluloid immortality. And set ‘four-wall’ box office records in the process!

As covered in THE MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS, Sunn was truly the early pioneer behind the total pre-marketing of a picture before a frame was made — in other words, the modern blockbuster formula! By bombarding the hicks in the sticks with non-stop t.v. and radio ads featuring the names of their small towns EX:(“Two days ONLY in Blytheville! One day ONLY in West Port!”) with ballyhoo usually reserved for a touring Broadway production (instead of a crappy psuedo-doc Christ flick!), Sunn made a fortune on little expenditure.

In fact, the reported theatrical gross for this flick was $22,438,000 US dollars, and that’s minus two decades worth of inflation! Though they did spend heavily on promotion like today’s studios in ad costs easily surpassing production, Sunn nevertheless successfully hedged their bets on this one by optioning a best-selling book based of the same name. This not only gave them a “name” to capitalize on for awareness but also a shot at selling the stunned locals copies of said book in the lobby on the way in and out (used copies go for $2.25 average now at Amazon if you wish). One thing Sunn did spend on IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS (1980) was for a decent cast. For example, star John Rubinstein turns in a very respectable turn as Jesus, looking particularly Jim Morrison-ish circa AN AMERICAN PRAYER. Earlier in his career, Rubinstein had taken the “electric kool-aid acid test” and strolled wide/wild-eyed through the cult curio psychedelic western ZACHARIAH. Royal Dano shows up in a smaller part, too.

I saw IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS while taking a film history class in college. We dissected, discussed, analyzed to death each frame of the flick, Ad nauseam. My room mate and I would sit in the back of the auditorium and text messages to each other. I remember one day he texted me, “Do u know where I could buy a home std test?” What! “Not kidding.” I quickly googled “home std test kit” and found several likely looking sites. Don’t know why he didn’t do that. I sent him several urls pointing out that if he did test positive he was going to have to see a doctor AND if he tested negative, but had symptoms that didn’t go away, he better get himself to a doctor for further testing. And what about your girlfriend? Better fill her in. I had probably missed a quarter of the discussion about IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS at this point, but when I started listening in, it didn’t seem to have made a difference. I could pick up the string of the discussion without any effort.

One thing Sunn did not spend on IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS was for special effects. They are truly of the PLAN 9 variety, including such “spectacles” as: double-exposed lightning bolts striking temples on sunny days with nary a cloud in the sky — must be Him, alright; STAR TREK-ish “shaky cam” to indicate Yaweh’s teutonic wrath; tons of stock footage of recreated Biblical disasters; and the boardwalk beneath Jesus’ feet not bobbling too badly above the water line while he’s walking across the lake. Actually, these images are right on the wrathful mark for many church-goin’ Americans. Having grown up on the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament (no matter how much they were equally spoonfed the New), many uneasily feel right at home with ransacking types who are blessed in their conquests of God-ordained rape and pillage. Feels almost… patriotic, Bu$h-style, don’t it? Wow, just thank a merciful God (and General Boykin) He’s not on the other fellows’ side, at least. 😉

The director Henning Schellerup brings a familiar feel to HISTORIC JESUS that is not at all unpleasant. Rather, it is the culmination/summation of an entire “Schick shtick” sub-genre, and Schellerup distills it well. And well he should. In an earlier career as cinematographer, he shot the classic cult flix KISS OF THE TARANTULA, THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, BLACK SAMSON, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, PLANET OF DINOSAURS, and many others. My favorite parts are the simple grace notes, such as when the narrator/host steps from inside what appears to be an actual cave location and out of an exterior location elsewhere. Cheat cuts aren’t anything new, but the Sunn prop department’s very “foamy” looking giant rubber vagina outer cave prosthesis which is badly attached to a large natural boulder (it’s supposed to be an actual cave exit from which our red-faced narrator has just stepped) brings unintentional laughter. Talk about being born again!
Anyway, it probably helps if you waited in line as a kid to see one of these hype jobs to appreciate the subtle nuances of a Sunn flick. Otherwise, you’re likely just to nick yourself slum cinema shaving. Say, anybody got a copy of that best-selling book I can have for $1?– Notes by R.U. Holden.

What Critics Say:

”Utah production that trots out scholars in support of practically every known Jesus sighting, from pre-Columbian Mexico to the Shroud of Turin… for those who find amusement in such matters, the program does have an unintentional appeal.” — DVDLASER.com

“Sunn pursues the mystery of the Shroud of Turin, with overly serious narration provided by Brad Crandall in what may be one of the cheapest toupees ever worn in Hollywood. John Rubinstein, son of piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein, plays the son of a different kind of virtuoso here.” — T.V. GUIDE

”Documentary presents biblical and non-biblical information about the birth of Christianity, and the mystery behind Jesus Christ.” — ALL MOVIE GUIDE

Island of the Burning Doomed
aka Island of the Burning Damned aka Night of the Big Heat. Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen and Jane Merrow. Directed by Terence Fisher. Director Terence Fisher and actors Peter Cushing and Christopher had in the year previous to their making of ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED (1967) achieved modest success with the better-known cult classic ISLAND OF TERROR. If the name ISLAND OF TERROR doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you’ll remember the storyline, which has tentacled “silicate” aliens spearheading an invasion on a remote, British isle. The terrorized island inhabitants must survive on their own, cut off as they
are from civilization by the single-minded aliens, whose mission is to suck the marrow out of every human being — while they’re still alive — and thereby prevent their spreading presence from being known to Earthlings.

ISLAND is a dastardly concoction, preying on the subconscious fears of being isolated in a big crowd subject to sudden, apocalyptic terror; after 9/11, we can all too readily relate. The feeling that beneath the facade of normalcy, something is off kilter and that any moment, you might find yourself, say, vacationing on an ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED despite your travel agent’s calming assurances to the contrary prior to departure. So Fisher, Lee and Cushing trio’d on this hasty “sequel” of sorts (though not connected otherwise) to capitalize while the genre was still… er, ‘hot.’

Like ISLAND OF TERROR, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED plays more to the Quatermass tradition than to the H.G. Wells school of marauding invaders. Not that the invaders in ISLAND BURNING DOOMED are the friendly E.T. variety. They’re literally hell-bent on not only overtaking but melting our resistance, so to speak, by elevating Earth temperatures to something more akin to their native planet’s hotter-than-Iraq ecosystem.

They do this by landing, say, on a remote British isle, undetected by the local population. Soon, however, the slithering, repulsive aliens use their advanced abilities to begin a local climatic change (they emit both an ear-shattering whine and a blinding glow that renders humans helpless; they resemble the Horta from STAR TREK).

Within days, they can overtake a small community by driving the residents insane from the heat, forcing the miserable, unsuspecting humans to turn on one another ala TWILIGHT ZONE’s “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” (or, uncannily, an average episode of SURVIVOR).

While comparisons are “doomed” to be made to ISLAND OF TERROR, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED is not without its own guilty pleasures. Foremost amongst them is that the storyline is in the British tradition of treating SF cinema with a bit more intelligence — at least in terms of presentation — than their American counterparts of this era, who tended to go for outright fantasy or “space opera” masquerading as SF.

This means the scientist character portrayed by Christopher Lee actually seems like a scientist: rather aloof, inward, and prone to bursts of hostility at anyone who questions the dogmas of scientific scripture. As such, Lee handles the role with adroit simplicity, making his darker, mysterious lodger character the real “draw” of the flick until the more exicting alien invasion aspects overtake it. It’s a shame Lee was known only for his Dracula and other “top” Hammer roles prior to his rebirth these last few years. Here he shows why he was such an excellent character actor,

blithely assuming the role of a superior, scientifically holier-than-thou Man of Science who is every bit as dedicated as a Man of the Cloth to the feintest whiff of heresy. Too, it’s a neat mirror to his professor turn in HORROR EXPRESS.

Peter Cushing is on hand to act as a foil to Lee’s straight man status, and with his natural charm and urbane manners, Cushing is well equipped and more than able to acquit himself with ease. Though they don’t have as many scenes together as in HORROR EXPRESS, it’s still a joy to watch the two lead a cast of equally professional actors. And don’t think they’re actually sweating: that’s glycerine they’re slathed in since the flick was shot in early February in England! In fact, in several exteriors, you can catch the actors’ frosty breathes as they try to pretend they’re burning up while acting in sub-zero weather. Just imagine the fun of cold slime covering you head-to-toe, day in and day out, as you freeze your arse off pretending you’re about to melt. The smell of the glycerine gloop couldn’t have been too pleasant under hot lights used for filling in shadows, neither. ;(

The other “angle” that makes ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED so luridly fun to watch is the romantic triangle that exists between writer/innkeeper Patrick Allen and his former mistress Jane Merrow, who shows up unexpectedly on the remote island where Allen has holed up ala Hemingway to write his latest masterpiece, his obedient wife in tow. How the wife doesn’t suspect Merrow the moment she lays eyes on Merrow in a bikini that defines the word “seductress” is the real SF! Still, it allows Merrow to needle and seduce Allen, who uselessly struggles not to give in to the “little slut” (as he calls her!) as she uses every possible moment to proposition him, always promising never to tell his still unsuspecting wife. As Fisher lingers on the twisted features of Patrick Allen, torn between faith and a taste of more admittedly convenient tomfoolery, you get the secondary meaning of ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED. 

The aliens? Well, it’s like the Quatermass series in that regard. That is, if you’re only watching for a big special effects “pay off,” save your money. This is again the cerebral approach that has admittedly lost favor in Age of Cinema du Mindless, but for anyone who remembers fondly such fare as FIVE MILLIONS YEARS TO EARTH and X THE UNKNOWN, the refreshing albeit simple joys of sipping a cup of BURNING DOOMED are not to missed. You won’t need any sugar cubes to mask the bitter aftertaste of post-modernism as from the latest “SF” fare you’ve seen, and though the brew is definitely weaker herein than in ISLAND OF TERROR, it’s still “steeped” in the same, flavorful bouquet. — Notes by Lord Summerisle.

What Critics Say:

”This film is one of my all time faves! The first time I saw it I loved it straight away. I love the Englishness of it all….the country pub….the warm beer!!!….Enjoy gawping at the stunning beauty of Jane Merrow in a wet bikini and more!” — Iain Turner, IMBD.com

”A fun 60s Science Fiction B-Movie… well-paced and features Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at their best… If you liked ISLAND OF TERROR, QUATERMASS II, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and X THE UNKNOWN, I recommend you check this out.” — SCIFILM.com

“An eerie and effective film… Fisher knew how to create great atmosphere and this film has plenty of it… I think true lovers of older science fiction and horror can appreciate this film more than casual viewers.” — rosscinema, IMBD.com

“He’s got a wife, a hotel with a huge number of boarders who add to the rich character-study tapestry… he gets a new secretary who’s one hot little number — only we find out that he’s already ‘well-acquainted’ with her, which, bouyed by her breast size and JamesBondWomanesque hips, gives her ample opportunity to become overheated in various states of undress.” — OH, THE HUMANITY!

”Don’t expect anything groundbreaking but this movie is well-paced, fun and features a great performance from Christopher Lee… Fun B-Movie.” — sfaddict, IMBD.com

Like this flick? See Also: HORROR EXPRESS

Indestructible Man

Indestructible Man
Lon Chaney Jr., Ma…
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Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Casey Adams & Marion Carr. Directed by Jack Pollexfen.
INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956) is one of two movies directed by the late Jack Pollexfen (1911-2003). Jack was normally a writer/producer who gave us such things as NEANDERTHAL MAN, PORT SINISTER (a forgotten film that had treasure hunters battling giant crabs on a volcanic island), DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL and that late night brain trainsplant classic, ATOMIC BRAIN. Jack stepped behind the camera to direct this film and for the most part it is just totally a fun movie, although there seem to be some problems with the editing (but I will get to that later).

Lon had just come off the movies INDIAN FIGHTER where he costarred with Kirk Douglas and MANFISH, a waterlogged retelling of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” where he worked with Victor Jory. A lot has been written about how unreliable Lon was in those days, usally being unable to remember lines because he was in a booze-induced fog, but just look at his record up to this point. He’d had good roles in movies like NOT AS A STRANGER and I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES in addition to doing television. Director Pollexfen recalled during an interview when he was well into his 80’s, that Lon was always reliable and the decision to give him next to no lines was to make his character seem like more of a monster.
In this crime drama/sci-fi/horror film Lon plays a career criminal named Charles “Butcher” Benton (we never know how he got that nickname and maybe we are better off for not knowing) who is railroaded to the gas chamber after joining in an armored car robbery and hiding the loot from his partners. Before walking the last mile Butcher vows to get even with his crooked attorney and the guys who testified against him. Will he? Well this would just totally not be a very interesting movie if he didn’t!
Robert Shayne (who also plays a mad scientist in NEANDERTHAL MAN)

“borrows” Butcher’s body to experiment on a cancer cure. Along with his assistant (Joe Flynn, long before he joined McHale’s Navy) he zaps the corpse with 278,000 volts of electricity (now just how is that supposed to cure cancer?) and presto! Lon comes back to life but he has been transformed into ” . . .a vicious, brutal animal with an almost inconceivable amount of strength.”
He is also like just so totally impervious to bullets… gee, I guess you could say he is… an INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN!

Heading back to Los Angeles, Butcher quickly settles accounts with his partners, who have names like “Squeamy” Ellis. Meanwhile a cop (Casey Adams) tries to track the mad killer down but he seems more interested in romancing Butcher’s ex-girlfriend, a stripper named Eva Martin (Marion Carr).

Now about those editing problems. Scenes in the movie seem taken out of context and just totally juggled around. Chaney kills off crippled safecracker Joe Marcelli (stuntman Ken Terrell, best remember as Jess the two fisted butler from ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN) and the narrator informs us his next victim is his crooked lawyer (Stuart Randall).
But when next we see Lon he is bumping off former partner Marvin Ellis instead. This scene is a hoot. Lon picks up Ellis and carried him to the railing of a tall building (actually the famous Bradbury Building, site of Joseph Losey’s 1951 remake of M and also the Outer Limits episode “Demon With A Glass Hand”). He is supposed to have superhuman strength but you can see 50-year old Lon struggling to catch his breath as he carries the man!
The eightysomething Pollexfen dimly recalled a directing a scene where Lon rampages through a police station, tearing down cell doors looking for his intended target and injuring Ms. Carr in the process; while dialogue late in the film suggests this event happened but it is nowhere to be seen in this movie. Watch carefully during the scenes of the police stalking Butcher in the LA storm drains. Most of the footage is lifted from the 1948 film noir thriller HE WALKED BY NIGHT and sometimes the shadowy figure meant to be Lon Chaney is actually Richard Basehart! In all this is a fun film, best watched late at night with copious amounts of popcorn, candy and root beer. It was originally released on a double bill with the colour, widescreen film WORLD WITHOUT

END but it is still totally cool by itself.
Watch for some real life LA landmarks which are gone now like Angel’s Flight (also seen in Ray Dennis Steckler’s THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES . . .) and the seedy burlesque theatre.
Hero Casey Adams, whose real name was Max Showalter, can also be spotted in THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENEGED THE WORLD. Lon Chaney’s next film after this was THE BLACK SLEEP. Jack Pollexfen went back to producing.
The lasting influence of INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN is proven by the graphic novel adaptation a couple of years back (left), in which ‘Butcher’ Benton is back, only this time transformed into a Terminator-styled steroid case (but with the same plot largely intact). — Notes by Countess Zarina Suspiriorum
What Critics Say:
“This was just like an online casino. Suspense while sitting down”

“Lon Chaney comes back to life and with a vengeance… He is a mute killer who literally throws people all over and kills with no discrimination at all…A lot of fun!” — Roderick, IMDB.com

“One to be appreciated specifically by fans of lousy drive-in movies… Chaney spends the entire film looking as though he’s just fallen out of bed in a cold sweat after maybe an hour’s sleep on the tail end of a two-day bender.” — ZIGGY’S VIDEO REALM
“There is something quite compelling about the outdoor footage in the city; you get a sense that it’s all happening in a very real place with lots of people milling around.” — SCI-FILM.org
“There’s a great dummy-tossing scene down a flight of stairs. I was also amused when Detective Chasen stumbles across a crime scene and asks one of the bystanders what happened: ‘A guy called ‘Squeamy’ was killed,’ says the man. ‘Squeamy Ellis?!’ replies Chasen. No. Another Squeamy, jackass.” –STOMP TOKYO.com

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