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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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Worst Horror Films

Horror’s “Worst” Films – The Creeping Terror (1964)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – The Creeping Terror (1964)

By 1964 Stirling Silliphant was a respected writer for television and would go on to write some of the most popular movies of the 1960s and 70s. His two brothers, Robert and Allan Silliphant, also wanted to break into the movie industry and Allan wrote/produced one of cinema history’s most bizarre films, The Creeping Terror, though practically nothing of what made it to the screen was how he had envisioned it. They teamed up with director A.J. Nelson, who went by the moniker Vic Savage and who, unbeknownst to them, used their brother’s pedigree to lure in potential investors, often paying Savage a few hundred dollars in return for bit parts. Essentially, Savage was a con-man, a sociopathic egomaniac (starring in the film himself), and a drug-addicted sadist looking to make a quick buck. When they realized their association would hurt their brother’s reputation, the Silliphants backed out of the project. However, just before the release of the film Savage was sued and, facing possible jail time for fraud, fled. Savage’s misdeeds are chronicled in the aptly named docudrama The Creep Behind the Camera (2014). He would die in 1975 of liver failure. Eerily, Savage would not be the only connection to crime that the film would have, as the assistant director was Hollywood stuntman Randy Starr. It would be Starr’s gun that would be used by the Manson family in the Sharon Tate murders in 1969.

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Vic Savage, the real creep.

If there’s a thread of commonality between many of these terrible films from the 1960s, it’s the absence of live sound as a cost-saving measure. Like The Beast of Yucca Flats, Savage filmed the movie silently and added audio later, and not very well as the lips often do not match up. The long stretches of silence with occasional voiceover recall those educational videos from the 1950s, though there’s far less continuity to be found here. And here’s a question: did we really need the scene of a mother giving her baby a rectal thermometer?

Regardless, these shortcomings pale in comparison the majesty of awfulness that is the monster, which is basically a slow, awkwardly shuffling bundle of carpet and fabric that makes Star Trek’s horta look like a masterpiece of creature effects. It’s languid pace is not a problem for the teen-hungry creature because nobody in this movie knows how to run, walk, or roll away from it. We see a woman laying on a blanket, screaming as it takes its time getting to her. It’s the kind of stuff you see in parodies of monster films, but not in monster films themselves. And luckily for the U.S. military, which sets out to incompetently confront the monster, its crashed ship is filled with dials that are labeled in English.

At one point it appears as if we’ve intruded on the plot of another film filled with long scenes of teens dancing goofily at a party until, of course, the creature shuffles in to swallow them and no one is able to find a well-marked exit. Truly, the monster is something that must be seen to be believed, particularly when it humps a car in order to try to flip it, but the rest of the movie is a horrendous mess. The carpet-creature is tasteless entertainment, but the rest is an endurance test, so have the fast-forward button ready.

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Horror’s “Worst” Films – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Is there a more famous “bad movie” than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, or a more infamous director than Ed Wood, who had a 1994 biopic made about him by none other than Tim Burton which starred Johnny Depp? Uwe Boll is certainly bad and well-known, but Ed Wood’s Plan 9 was the holy grail of bad films for generations of tasteless movie connoisseurs and continues to be the standard by which all other schlock is judged. And rightly so.

Plan 9 From Outer Space 1959 still2

Though released in 1959, Plan 9 didn’t receive the negative recognition we’ve come to associate with it until it was chosen as the “worst movie ever made” by Michael and Harry Medved in their 1980 book The Gold Turkey Awards. Stephen King has written negatively about the movie for what he perceived as its exploitation of a morphine-racked Bela Lugosi. Indeed, Lugosi was about as far from his glory days of 1931’s Dracula, or from his fame as a premiere actor in his native Hungary preceding that time, than one could get when he died in 1956. Before he passed, however, he had performed some silent test footage with Wood for what was intended to be Tomb of the Vampire, some of it outside actor Tor Johnson’s home, who would also appear in Plan 9 (nor is this the last time we’ll see Johnson on this list). Rather than discard that meager footage, Wood built Plan 9 around it and cast his wife’s chiropractor to play Lugosi’s double even though he looked nothing like the actor, covering his lower face with a cape. What King saw as exploitation may have been tribute, as Wood and Lugosi allegedly became close in the actor’s final years.

Nevertheless, that Wood was in a sense making Lugosi’s last movie attracted many actors to the project who’s better judgment would have otherwise kept them at bay, such as Maila Nurmi, more famously known as the wasp-like Vampira, TV’s incredibly influential first horror host. Nurmi reportedly insisted that her character be mute because she found the dialogue dreadful.

Plan 9 From Outer Space 1959 still

Ed Wood is what one gets when they combine enthusiasm and determination with absolutely no talent or taste. Plan 9 manages to be a fast-paced, entertaining ride mostly because it never sits still. It’s easy to count the short-comings, such as the bizarre rambling narration by Wood’s friend, the eccentric and famously inaccurate psychic Criswell (“And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future”), and well as the cheap sets, the bad acting, the pathetically poor costumes and special effects, and lack of editing continuity as sequences go from night to day to night again, and so on. Plan 9 is a bad film, undoubtedly, but it’s never a boring one.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)

Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956) is a sci-fi monster film that was UK produced but written and directed by American Cy Roth. In a film that makes even the worst original series Star Trek episodes look like Citizen Kane (1941), we follow a group of bored looking, chain smoking astronauts (even in the spaceship) as they land on the 13th moon of Jupiter only to discover the lost civilization of Atlantis. The meager society is made up of an old patriarch and a bevy of beautiful women who do seemingly endless dance routines when they’re not being plagued by a monster they call “the man with the head of a beast” – really, a guy in an unmoving fright mask and black jumpsuit with visible zippers down the back who comes around and yells “Rrraaaaaaagh!” And 1950s sexual politics abound as the girls are all man-hungry, man-hating, or helpless damsels (at least Robot Monster gave us a female character who was supposed to possess a brilliant scientific mind, even if we never saw it).

This could have been great campy fun were it not so soul-crushingly slow. The film is mostly padding – at one point we follow a secretary through a door, down stairs, having a conversation, then back up the stairs and through the door again. Maybe the editor fell asleep like I almost did. Not even the short skirts, nice legs, and arching backs can save it. With all the filler and a storyline that never seems to want to start, this one is unfortunately a test of endurance.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Robot Monster (1953)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Robot Monster (1953)

In December of 1953 director Phil Tucker was staying at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles. Despondent from a dispute with his film’s distributor, who was refusing to pay him, and unable to get work because he was saddled with the negative criticism his film had received, Tucker attempted suicide. Some reports say that he shot himself – and missed. He had sent an alarming suicide letter to a newspaper and, so the story goes, was saved when reporters and detectives found him unconscious in his hotel room. As Hollywood legends go, it can difficult to separate the fluff from the fact. Whatever the reasons or method, he lived on to make more films, but the specter of Robot Monster, which had been released the summer before in 3D, haunted his career.

Robot Monster is a no-budget children’s sci-fi tale about an alien named Ro-Man who has wiped out humanity save for a family who have found a way to hide from him. Ro-Man is a monster that looks as if a kid made him by going through stuff in his closet. He’s essentially a guy in a home-made gorilla suit with a fish-bowl shaped helmet with TV antennae sticking out. His communication device, which he uses to contact his superior on his home world, is a bubble machine. The movie was filmed in four days entirely outdoors.

The film is clearly geared towards kids – we even see sci-fi pulp magazines in the closing credits – though it’s unlikely to win their hearts or even keep their interest for more than a millisecond. We should remember that both sci-fi and horror were seen strictly as kids’ stuff in the 1950s, which is why so little of it is what modern audiences would consider serious horror entertainment.

Despite the film’s shortcomings it managed to showcase two actors of note. George Nader went on to win a Golden Globe the following year (not, of course, for Robot Monster). The film was also the last for actress Selena Royle. She had had an active career with MGM until two years prior when she was brought before the House Committee on Un-American Activities where she had refused to name names. Stigmatized as a Communist sympathizer, her career was virtually over, even though she successfully cleared her name.

The movie is bad, certainly, but it retains a modicum of child-like charm. Even Stephen King has a soft spot for it, for he agrees with the review from The Castle of Frankenstein which generously states that though the movie is “certainly among the finest terrible movies ever made” and is “one of the most laughable of the poverty row quickies… the pic does make some scatterbrained sense when viewed as a child’s eye monster fantasy” (Danse Macabre, pg. 213). The movie even has some similarities to Invaders from Mars, released just a few months earlier.

Robot Monster is innocent enough to be inoffensive in its failures as a legitimate film, and that’s why it’s tasteless entertainment. Believe it or not, there are far worse movies to come…

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