The Children of Spider County

dir. Leonard Horn
1964 / United Artists Television / 51′
written by Anthony Lawrence
director of phogoraphy Kenneth Peach
original music by Dominic Frontiere
starring Lee Kinsolving, Kent Smith, John Milford, Crahan Denton, Bennye Gatteys and Dabs Greer
available on DVD from MGM, or for free viewing on Hulu and Youtube

A set of mysterious disappearances has the United States Space Agency worried. Four of the nation’s top minds have vanished into thin air, and all on the same day. More curious still, an investigation into the four men’s backgrounds reveals that all were born, prematurely, within a month of one another in rural Spider County, and that each share the same strange middle name – Eros. While the Pentagon is content to believe that the Soviets are responsible, snatching up our brilliant minds as part of a Cold War power grab, the US Space Agency is convinced something more troubling is afoot, something extraterrestrial. With a fifth super-human imprisoned in Spider County on a bogus murder charge the Agency sees an opportunity to solve the mystery once and for all, and sends one of its agents in to investigate.

Dubbed a ‘witch-boy’ and a ‘no-good dreamer’ by the superstitious locals, young Ethan Wechsler (Lee Kinsolving) is that fifth super-human, a fatherless mind-reading oddity for whom Spider County’s ire has finally reached a tipping point. The victim of a modern-day witch hunt, Ethan finds himself framed for a murder he didn’t commit and destined to die for being different, but a stranger in town has other plans for him. Quietly sinister and decked out in a snazzy business suit, the strange Aabel (Kent Smith) arrives on the scene and aids Ethan in escaping. It is soon revealed that Aabel, who hides a ghoulish insectine face and a set of death-ray eyes beneath his proper, human facade, is Ethan’s long-lost father, one of several emissaries from the dying civilization of the planet Eros who fathered children on Earth in hopes of securing the future of their race. Aabel wants to take Ethan home, away from vengeful humanity, but when his own cold and inhuman shortcomings (like a penchant for obliterating townsfolk) are revealed Ethan begins to have second thoughts…

By virtue of those involved alone The Children of Spider County should have been a classic of the generally fantastic first season of The Outer Limits. Writer Anthony Lawrence had previously contributed the terrific teleplay for the episode The Man Who Was Never Born, while director Leonard Horn had proven himself through his work on both that episode and the indelible The Zanti Misfits. Veteran performer Kent Smith, perhaps best known for his roles in Cat People and Curse of the Cat People and co-star of series episode It Crawled Out of the Woodwork, was on board, as was up-and-coming young actor Lee Kinsolving (The Explosive Generation). Unfortunately the pedigree of the talent involved wasn’t enough to overcome the difficulties that plagued the episode’s production, resulting in The Children of Spider County becoming one the series’ first and most lamentable failures.

The problems with Children‘s production were many, as enumerated in David J. Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen’s official companion guide, not the least of them being that producer Joseph Stefano, along with ace cinematographer Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood) and the KTTV soundstages where the series was usually filmed, were pre-occupied with the production of the pilot for The Unknown - eventually to become The Outer Limits episode The Form of Things Unknown. The Children of Spider County was left to fend for itself with a single day of scheduled studio time at Samual Goldwyn Studio, and time wasted with confusion over drafts on the part of assistant director Wilson Shyer (in his only series outing) left director Leonard Horn with no recourse but to repurpose much of the episode’s material for exterior photography on-the-fly. Worse yet was the state of Anthony Lawrence’s teleplay itself, which had suffered greatly through a lengthy series of re-writes.

The end product is a potentially promising concept lost in fifty-one minutes of dense and clumsy exposition and shoddy monster-on-the-loose action. For a series that so regularly excelled beyond its shoe-string production values the limitations here are far too obvious, from the rough-and-tumble camera setups to the blatant re-use of episode footage and a few outright gaffs. Director of photography Kenneth Peach, tasked with photographing every series episode from this point forward, was rarely so inspired as fellow DP’s Conrad Hall and John Nickolaus, but he was still a more than capable industry veteran. His work here is uncharacteristically rough, and rife with issues of focusing and stability – further evidence of the oppressive time constraints under which The Children of Spider County was produced. Even Wah Chang’s creature design seems rushed and bland, little more than a generic bug-eyed alien (played by The Galaxy Being himself William Douglas), memorable though the sight of that monstrous head poking out of a smart business suit may be.

All of that is lamentable, but the most unfortunate victim of all is the storytelling itself, long a strong point of the series, which here takes a backseat to just getting as much of the script as possible on film. As with so much of The Outer Limits there’s a germ of greatness lurking within The Children of Spider County - a grand, tragic story of an alien race that, having lost itself at home, is searching for the better part of itself beyond; a warning against allowing the cold and the cruel to overtake imagination in our own world. More’s the pity, then, that circumstance so prevented its development. As such The Children of Spider County is all shaky images and death-ray eyes, with very little to show for itself beyond a B-monster in a suit.

War God

Original Title: Zhan Shen   a.k.a. The Big Calamity (Da Zai Nan)
Year: 1976   Company: Xinghua Pictures / Prince Pictures   Country: Taiwan   Runtime: 85′
Director: Chan Hung-Man   Writer: Lam Ching-Gaai   Cinematography: Lai Man-Sing, Lam Chi-Wing, Wong Shui-Cheung    Music: Wong Mau-Saan   Cast: Gu Ming-Lun, Tse Ling-Ling, Cindy Tang Hsin, Chan Yau-San   Choreography: Ho Ming-Hiu    Special Effects: Koichi Takano   Producer: Fu Ching-Wa

Poster for War God under its alternative Chinese title The Big Calamity

Pre-review note: English sources on the cast and crew of this film are practically non-existent, and the information above was gleaned from a combination of a meager HKMDB listing and a Chinese Wikipedia entry.  Accuracy is not guaranteed.

War God, alternatively known online under the unofficial titles Calamity and Guan Yu vs. the Aliens, was once among the rarest of the rare in Taiwanese fantasy, stuff the likes of which we Westerners could only ever dream of seeing in the flesh.  Like Poon Lui’s Devil Fighter and Yu Hon-Cheung’s Monster From the Sea, War God was until recently thought of as un-seeable, with only a handful of advertising images and contemporary newspaper articles arguing for its existence at all.

One can imagine my surprise, then, when a hard-subtitled rental VHS copy of War God found its way into torrent circulation, and the film once thought unobtainable practically fell into my lap!  The future is a wonderful place, my dear readers, a wonderful place indeed.

Continue reading

The Green Slime

a.k.a. Gamma Sango: Uchu Daisakusen (Gamma 3: Big Space Operation)
Year: 1968   Company: MGM / Ram Films / Southern Cross Feature Film Company / Toei Co. ltd
Runtime: 101′   Director: Kinji Fukasaku   Writers: Bill Finger, Ivan Reiner, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair
Cinematography: Yoshikazu Yamasawa   Music: Charles Fox, Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther, David Yorston
Robert Dunham, Gary Randolf, Jack Morris, Eugene Vince, Don Plante, Kathy Horan, Linda Miller
Disc company: Warner Archive Collection   Video: 2.35:1 progressive    Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD-R   Release Date: 10/26/2010   Product link: Amazon.com

After the discovery of an impending asteroid impact of apocalyptic proportions, Commander Rankin (Horton) heads to Earth-orbiting space station Gamma III – home of his old flame (Paluzzi) and former friend (Jaeckel) – where he mounts an all or nothing anti-asteroid offensive.  The mission is a success and the asteroid is destroyed, but a more insidious threat is lurking… Unbeknownst to Rankin and his crew a speck of primitive space-life is transferred from the renegade asteroid to the space station, where it spawns an army of tentacled monsters with a passion to kill, kill, kill!

The Green Slime is a delightful, dreadful, confounding paradox of late-’60s science fiction mayhem – an overly-ambitious and under-achieving opus that stands alone at both the top and bottom of its own singular heap.  Produced by Ivan Reiner and Walter Manley in cooperation with Japan’s Toei Company The Green Slime is the narratively unrelated but thematically similar offshoot of Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma One series, a collection of space station-oriented sci-fi cheapies produced in Italy by Reiner and Manley in the middle-’60s and distributed, with the exception of 1966′s Planet on the Prowl, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Though a considerable ad campaign and wide domestic and international distribution granted it a moderate financial success The Green Slime was a critical failure, and its release marked the end of Reiner and Manley’s careers in film production.

Continue reading

The Green Slime – Opening Credits

The opening credits for The Green Slime offer good insight into the two biggest differences between the often laborious 96 minute American release version and the comparably brisk 77 minute Japanese cut – the music and the editing.  The American version features the Charles Fox title theme we’re all familiar with, while the Japanese is scored with a brassy cue from Toei composer Toshiaki Tsushima’s score.

As for the editing, both title sequences use the same footage, but they cut to entirely different scenes.  The Japanese cuts directly the a UNSC office, where Commander Rankin (Robert Horton) has been called to deal with an asteroid crisis, while the American credits cut to a pointless scene of Rankin’s commanding officer confronting some of his peers and walking to his office.

The Green Slime – Trailer Show

I’m only working up one review for posting this week at Wtf-Film – I’ll give you three guesses as to what film I’ll be covering, and the first two don’t count.  The Green Slime finally saw release on DVD on October 26th last year, when Warner issued it as part of their DVD-R-on-demand Archive Collection, and it’s taken me a while for me to catch up to it.  I’ve finally snagged myself a copy, and since Warner couldn’t be bothered to include any supplements (a big reason I’m ambivalent about their Archive Collection releases) I’ll be posting some of my own.

First up is this collection of advertising material – original theatrical trailers for both the American and Japanese releases of the film and, my personal favorite, a 60 second radio spot that succeeds in making a G-rating sound creepy.

Star Crystal (1986) Closing Credits

In theory an alien terror film in the mold of Alien and The Thing, Star Crystal is in practice a hilariously awful science fiction absurdity the dreadfulness of whose conception should not be underestimated.  It’s impossible to really put the ineptitude of this one into words, but these closing credits (complete with an ill-advised pop number about…. Star Crystal…) should give you some idea of what to expect from it.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Year: 1964   Company: Paramount Pictures   Runtime: 110′
Director: Byron Haskin   Writers: Ib Melchior (original screenplay), John C. Higgins
Cinematography: Winton C. Hoch   Music: Van Cleave   Cast: Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West
Disc company: Criterion Collection   Video: 1080p 2.37:1    Audio: Linear PCM 1.0 Monophonic English
Subtitles: English SDH   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 1/11/2011   Product link: Amazon.com

When a mission to investigate Martian gravity goes awry, astronaut Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) finds himself abandoned on the red planet with the mission’s test subject, a woolly monkey named Mona, his only companion.  The odds of rescue against him, Kit must depend on his survival training and a good deal of luck to secure the necessities of life – air, food, water, and shelter – in a world seemingly dead.

The first half of Robinson Crusoe on Mars is hard science fiction at its best, a simple, pure story of human resilience on a planet hundreds of millions of miles from our own.  Shipwrecked astronaut Draper (the underrated Paul Mantee in one of his few starring roles) takes to the challenge of Martian survival with the unflappable spirit expected of a space explorer in the time of the Apollo Project.  Ib Melchior’s original (and extensively illustrated) screenplay had Draper fending off all manner of alien monsters, but John C. Higgins’ (He Walked by Night) adaptation of the same offers a brand of adventure far more grounded in reality.

Continue reading

Galaxy of Terror

a.k.a.: Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror
film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1981
runtime: 81′
director: Bruce Clark
cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran,
Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens,
Zalman King, Robert Englund,
Taeffe O’Connell, Sid Haig,
Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing
writers: Mark Siegler,
Bruce Clark and William Stout
cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
and Austin McKinney
music: Barry Schrader
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory LLC
Order this film from Amazon.com:
DVD | Blu-ray

Galaxy of Terror is due out on Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on July 20th, and is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com and other online retailers.

The anonymous ‘Planet Master of Xerxes’ (a man whose features are obscured by orange light) orders a mission to the far off planet of Morganthus after all contact is lost with a starship there.  He hand picks the crew of rescue ship Quest without their knowledge, gathering a motley assortment of officers and engineers with variety of psychological conditions (one is claustrophobic, another traumatized by a past mission, etc.).  After a crash landing on Morganthus the crew begins to disappear, killed by their own subconscious fears after an ancient alien pyramid renders them all too real.

I fondly remember the salacious ad art for Galaxy of Terror, featuring a vulnerable beauty in scraps of clothing being menaced by a variety of unlikely beasts (including a buggy skeletal bat thing hovering with obviously impure intent), staring up at vintage late ’80s me from the seedy depths of the local rental store’s horror shelf.  Only elementary school-aged at the time, I’d never have dreamt of trying to sneak something like that passed my observant mother (the prominent cleavage on the cover would have stopped her cold long before she glimpsed the ‘R’-rating), but that didn’t keep me from wondering what horribly disgusting (and inherently exciting) events might dwell behind such an illustration.  I was a long time in catching up to the film, one of a seemingly endless number I remember passing over in youth, but it was easily worth the wait.
Continue reading

Forbidden World

a.k.a.: Mutant
film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1982
runtime: 77′ / 82′
director: Allan Holzman
cast: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap,
June Chadwick, Linden Chiles,
Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver,
Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen
writers: Tim Cumen,
Jim Wynorski and R. J. Robertson
cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
music: Susan Justin
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory LLC.
Order this film from Amazon.com:
DVD | Blu-ray

Forbidden World is due out on two-disc special edition DVD and Blu-ray (content is identical across releases, including the ‘director’s cut’ of the film on a separate DVD) on July 20th, and is currently up for pre-order in both formats through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

A cheapie like few others in New World Picture’s extensive and budget conscious library, Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World (also known under its working title Mutant) is a nasty bit of gross-out science fiction horror that offers some serious bang for its meager buck.  Pushed into production by an ever-opportunistic Roger Corman as a means of getting an extra day out of a pricey set constructed for Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World is never much more than a seedy exploitation of the monumental success of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but that doesn’t keep it from being a hell of a lot of fun.

Continue reading

The Deadly Spawn

a.k.a. Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn
rating:
company:
Filmline
year: 1983
runtime: 81′
country: United States
director: Douglas McKeown
cast: Charles George Hildebrandt,
Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter,
Jean Tafler, Karen Tighe
James Brewster, Elissa Neil,
Ethel Michelson, John Schmerling,
Judith Mayes, Andrew Michaels
writers: Ted A. Bohus, John Dods,
Douglas McKeown, Tim Sullivan
cinematographer: Harvey M. Bimbaum
music: Paul Cornell, Michael Perllstein
and Kenneth Walker
special effects: John Dods, John Mathews,
John Payne, Kevin G. Shinnick,
Arnold Gargulo and Gregory Ramoundos
disc company: Synapse Films
release date: October 26, 2004
retail price: $19.95
disc details: Region 0 / NTSC / dual layer
video: 1.33:1 / pictureboxed / progressive
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (English)
subtitles: none
special features: Two feature-length audio
commentaries, production photo and still galleries,
comic-style prequel short, outtakes and audition
tapes, new alternate opening, original trailer,
cast and crew biographies
order this disc from Amazon.com

Plot: A monster crashes to Earth in a meteorite and crawls into a damp basement, where it slowly eats its way through the members of the family living in the house above.

The Deadly Spawn is the sort of film that could only have emerged from years of heartfelt hard labor on the part of good friends, a grimly imaginative bit of gross-out monster horror that’s at least as much fun as it is rough around the edges.  The brainchild of writer and producer Ted A. Bohus and special effects man John Dods, the film touches base with just about every science fiction monster romp of the preceding 30 years, from It Came from Outer Space and The Blob to the then-recent Ridley Scott mega-hit Alien, while retaining a unique low-budget magic all its own.  Made for about the cost of my second car The Deadly Spawn is far from perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being a hell of a good time.

The premise is simple: A monster crash-lands in the New Jersey countryside and finds a nice wet home for itself in a family’s basement.  Once there it grows, sending baby monsters out to conquer the surrounding town.  People are eaten, families destroyed, and a monster movie obsessed boy becomes on unlikely hero.

It’s best gotten out of the way early that the script by Bohus, Dods, director Douglas McKeown and production assistant Tim Sullivan, has its fair share of low points.  Long sections of the earliest two thirds of the picture are devoted to slow slogs of exposition, none of which is terribly interesting.  The main cast of high school kids is a welcome change from the traditionally irritating monster-chow variety, at least.  They spend the picture worried about real-world things – grades, studying, a dead uncle in the recliner downstairs – though a brief bit of romantic interest between two of them is better left skipped.  In the end the teenagers exist only to be threatened by the title monster, dependent on the real hero of the story (an eleven year old) for their survival.

The biggest problem with the drama is just how superfluous most of it is, though the true star of the picture – the toothy, multi-headed brainchild of John Dods – and its crafty implementation more than makes up for it.  The Deadly Spawn‘s extensive displays of monster-oriented death, mayhem and destruction are certainly its biggest selling point, and with good reason.  The chief creature, roughly a man’s height with three heads and fleshy stalks protruding from its back, spends quality screen time with the young hero in the basement in a series of wonderfully shot scenes.  There are moments where the low key lighting and imaginative framing seem positively inspired.  The most memorable of the scenes by a fair margin is when the child and spawn first meet, the boy watching as the monster vomits up his mother’s disembodied head!



While fans of the new breed of bargain basement monster horror (now industrialized and dominated by a few awful straight-to-video companies) will be accustomed to gore, the violence of The Deadly Spawn was quite graphic and intense for the time.  The many monster attacks are quick-cut and bloody, and rendered all the more effective by the free-for-all nature of the scripting (the film happily abides by Joe Bob Briggs’ rule for horror, that anybody can die at any time).  The Deadly Spawn opens with a classic cult scare, with the monster devouring not one but both of the parents of the household.  Later a teen-aged love interest is unceremoniously beheaded and tossed out of an upper floor window!  An attack on a vegetarian luncheon provides some welcome bad-taste laughs while the schlocker ending takes the “?” finale of The Blob to its logical conclusion, with a gargantuan spawn devouring the countryside.

The John Dods directed special effects, made for little more than the price of the 16mm stock they’re filmed on, are generally excellent.  The full-sized spawn puppet is a magnificent creation, even if it does look a little too much like a trio of razor-toothed cocks perched atop a bulging scrotum base.  Some of the simplest techniques manage the most impressive results, like the tiny tadpole spawns wriggling along barely submerged tracks or two-dimensional paper and foam puppets filmed in silhouette.  There’s little doubt that CGI would be used for such effects these days, but I’ll take the foam-and-rubber work of Dods and company over that newer method of doing business any day.

The Deadly Spawn was quite a success when 21st Century Film Corp. released it theatrically in 1983 (after nearly three years in production), making back ten times its production budget in its opening week in New York.  It was on home video that the film found its real cult following, both in America and especially in mainland Europe (it was banned as a “Video Nasty” in England), and I remember passing by its graphic over-sized Continental Video box many times as a child.  It looked terrible to me then, the cover showing the full-size creature surrounded by dismembered limbs, but it was one of the first videos I rented when I went to work at my hometown’s own (and now defunct) Video Spectrum years later.

The home video market has come a long way since the time The Deadly Spawn was released, and Synapse Films deserves no small amount of praise for doing such an exceptional job of bringing the film to its long-awaited digital debut.  Working from the original 16mm camera negatives, Synapse has delivered the most definitive video release of the title to date.



The 1.33:1 progressive transfer presents The Deadly Spawn in its originally intended aspect ratio, and while the pictureboxing  (to compensate for overscan on traditional television sets) limits the available resolution a bit my complaints about the transfer otherwise are slim.  In fact, I don’t think I have any!  The wonderfully grainy image presents with strong detail and accurately captures the highly variable nature of the photography.  Extensive color correction makes for exceptional results, and the frequent reds (seen in blood, bath robes, and even a telephone) really pop.  There is some minimal damage, limited to infrequent dirt and speckles, but nothing distracting – I’d wager this looks better than many of the 35mm blowups that played theaters in the 80s.   Audio is a healthy Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic track that faithfully reproduces the highs and lows of no-budget recording.  There are no subtitles.

Proving that The Deadly Spawn was as much a labor of love for Synapse Films as for the original creators, the supplements are stacked.  First up are two audio commentaries, one with writer and producer Ted A. Bohus and another with special effects man John Dods, writer / director Douglas McKeown, production assistant Tim Sullivan, executive producer Tim Hildebrandt and actor Charles Hildebrandt (the 11 year old hero of the film).  The cast and crew track makes for tremendous fun, while the Bohus track tends towards the more serious and informative, covering the troublesome nature of the lengthy production as well as the distribution issues with 21st Century Film Corp.  Other supplements are more traditional, including a theatrical trailer (sourced from tape), extensive stills galleries, filmmaker biographies, and even a bloopers and outtakes reel, though there are some standouts.  We get audition tapes for the cast, a contemporary John Dods introduction to the creature listed as “A Visit with The Deadly Spawn 1982″, an alternate opening with some new effects added, and even a comic book prequel to the film.

I’ll never be one to call The Deadly Spawn a great film, but it’s certainly a fun one and I’ve been a fan for a long while now.  The reasonably priced Synapse Films disc was released on my birthday, 2004, and I picked up my copy as soon as I was off work that evening.  It’s a great disc by any estimation and comes highly recommended to both fans of the feature and monster horror buffs in general.  As for the film, it may be a little shabby but I love it all the same.  This reviewer says see it!

order this disc from Amazon.com