Cool Cinema Trash: Hot Rods to Hell (1967)

Cool Cinema Trash


Call them punks… call them animals… but you better get out of their way! They’re souped-up for thrills and there’s no limit to what they’ll do!

What it’s all about: Hot Rods to Hell (1967) begins with a perfect Christmas Eve for a perfect suburban family, until traveling salesman and stalwart father Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews) is injured in an auto accident. After an extensive recovery period, Peg Phillips (Jeanne Crain) worries about her husband’s mental condition. “The accident did something to him Bill,” she explains to her brother-in-law, “It’s his attitude about things. I’m afraid he’s become a… a very frightened man.”

Once Tom is comfortably ensconced at home with his wife and two children, teenage Tina (Laurie Mock) and young Jamie (Tim Stafford), he must consider his family’s future. With his bad back, Tom can no longer cover the territory his old job required. Bill proposes a new business opportunity, owning and operating a desert motel.

The heavily made-up Andrews (who wears nearly as much make-up as co-star Crain) is terrorized by recurring nightmares of his accident. He decides that a fresh start is in order. “As soon as I’m able, we’ll make the trip. Just the four of us. Everything is going to be brand new.”

As the Phillips family makes their way through the California desert in their station wagon, they encounter a group of hot roding teens. Their bad driving understandably upsets papa Phillips but Tina has a different perspective, “All the kids drag, Dad.”

“What kind of animal are those?”

They’re the kind of animals that wear button down shirts and freshly-pressed slacks. Only in 1967 could these kids, who dress like young Republicans, be considered outside the norm. Duke (Paul Bertoya) the de facto leader of this wild bunch, can’t keep his hands off freaky chick Gloria (Mimsy Farmer). She asks the eternal question, “What’s left for kicks?” After some swell hot roding antics (close-ups are achieved using old-school rear projection techniques) Duke and Gloria engage in some heavy social recreation.

When the family car has a blowout, everyone is a bit rattled. “Let’s not go being too dramatic,” Mother quips, despite the fact that it’s all they’ll be doing for the rest of the movie.

At a nearby service station, Tom gets to talking with the station attendant about the motel and his plans for the future. Ernie (Gene Kirkwood as another well-dressed “hoodlum”) overhears their conversation and fills Duke in on the situation. It seems that the motel and its adjoining roadhouse, The Arena, are the only places for disenfranchised local teens to hang out. There’s no telling what a square like Tom Phillips will do to their favorite juke joint.

Tom, who’s chosen this particular moment to try and overcome his fears, takes the wheel of the family car only to be terrorized by Duke and his pals. The kids taunt and tease the Phillips family with their vehicular antics along vast stretches of uninhabited desert highway. What makes the scene so enjoyable isn’t the impressive stunt driving, but the reactions from Hollywood veterans Andrews and Crain. While his family is being menaced, Andrews is stony-faced but sweaty while Crain shrieks, gasps and overacts wildly. Accompanied by frenzied go-go music, the teens literally drive circles around old man Tom.

“Tom, we’ve got to get away from them,” Peg pleads, overstating the obvious.

They find refuge at a particularly verdant picnic area that has trees, grass and even a lake! Just the kind of place you’d expect to find in the middle of the desert. The family is able to eat their lunch in peace while dad rests his back.

Duke takes in an interest in Tina who is relaxing by the lake. She is repelled, yet intrigued by his freewheeling ways. “You almost killed us… for kicks.”

“Do you think I’d wanna hurt anybody who looks like you?” After giving her a kiss, Duke lays down the law, “Now tell your father that he’d better not try to change things because if he does… nobody around here… is going to have any fun. Not even you.”

A lunkheaded local (whose on screen wife is played by Hortense Petra, the wife of producer Sam Katzman) engages in some dangerous driving around the lake, which catches the attention of a highway patrolman. Tom and Peg report the earlier hot rod incident, “They have to be stopped officer, they’re going to kill somebody.”

With a stoicness that rivals Joe Friday, the patrolman gives them a mini sermon on modern troubled youth. “These kids have nowhere to go but they want to get there at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Giving them cars like that is like putting guns in their hands.”

With Duke and his gang long gone, the Phillips family continues their trip. They arrive at the motel to find the adjoining “coffee shop” really jumping. They quickly get settled in for the night but Tina sneaks out her bedroom window. It seems she can’t resist the siren song of Mickey Rooney Jr. and his combo. She finds Ernie and Gloria, who Duke refers to as “stale bread”, getting groovy on the crowded dance floor. Gloria makes a scene when she sees that Duke is interested in Tina, a girl who is apparently bakery fresh.

Though The Arena obviously sells alcohol, Duke and his underage pals seem to make due with soda pop. In a brief scene where Duke sits at a table, an awkward black bar obscures the brand name on the bottle he’s drinking from. It seems that a certain national bottling company didn’t care to be associated with the immoral hooligans of Hot Rods to Hell.

On the dance floor, Duke and Tina shake and shimmy and stare at each other longingly. In the parking lot, she insists that she’s “not like Gloria”. But Duke doesn’t take no for an answer, “It’s what’s happening around here.”

Tom defends his daughter’s virtue and chokes Duke, but a back spasm prevents him from finishing the job. “Any girl would want Duke!” Tina confesses, “You think I’ve never kissed a boy before?”

With talk like that it’s definitely time for a mother/daughter heart to heart. But their little talk turns into a hysterical screaming match when Peg questions Tina about her youthful yearnings, “Is that what you want? To wind up in a motel room with any man?”

“All you think about is me getting married! What if something happens to the man I marry? What if he gets to be like dad?!”

This hits a little too close to home for Peg. She gives her daughter a well-deserved slap before dispensing some motherly advice, “Tina, there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t want a man, but you’re young enough and desirable enough to demand that a man love you if he wants you.” In other words, get a ring before you give up the goods.

For Tom Phillips the motel deal is definitely off. He packs up his family and is back on the road in no time. On their way out of town they encounter a traffic accident. It seems the yokel from the picnic spot has met with a bad end. With all the subtlety of a “Blood on the Pavement” driver’s ed. film, the stoic policeman sermonizes, “The law doesn’t just belong to the cops, it belongs to them too.”

It isn’t long before Duke and Ernie catch up to them on a lonely stretch of highway. The boys continue to terrorize the Phillips family, each of whom indulge in their own unique style of histrionic overacting. A deserted roadside diner offers them a respite from the games of chicken. After a brief confrontation with the hooligans, Tom realizes that if he’s going to fight back, it has to be on their terms. Tom parks the car on a narrow bridge and, under the cover of night, hides his family in the desert away from any danger.

Duke and Ernie speed toward the family car for one final game of chicken. They realize too late that the car isn’t moving and swerve to avoid a collision. They roll their rod off the road and into a ditch.

Tom waves a tire iron like a crazy man, but soon has a dramatic epiphany. He realizes that he had the fortitude to stand up to these punks all along. In a speech reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s vow to rebuild her ancestral home, Tom tells the boys, “I’m not going to run anymore. I’m going back to my motel and I’m gonna clean up all the slop and garbage and the smell and it’s gonna be like it should be. And I won’t even need the police.” The police show up anyway and take Duke and Ernie away.

It may have been a deeply traumatizing experience for them all, but the Phillips family is closer and more wholesome than ever. “Peg,” a newly liberated Tom tells his wife, “I wouldn’t even mind if you drove now.” Everyone piles into the station wagon for the drive back to their own little piece of the American dream, a roadside motel in Mayville, USA.

In conclusion: Hot Rods to Hell was originally made for television in 1966. It was shot quickly (about two weeks) on the MGM backlot and in the areas surrounding Palmdale, CA. The producers were so pleased with the end result that they changed the title (it was originally called 52 Miles to Terror) and released the film theatrically.

The same year that Hot Rods to Hell was released, Gene Kirkwood, Laurie Mock and Mimsy Farmer appeared in another teen flick, Riot on Sunset Strip (1967). In that film the girls got to switch roles. Mock played a groovy beatnik chick while Farmer played a naive daddy’s girl who goes on an outrageously entertaining acid trip.





Cool Cinema Trash: Mahogany (1974)

Cool Cinema Trash


Mahogany – the woman ever woman wants to be… and every man wants to have.

Movies that prominently feature fashion as part of their plotlines are prime candidates for Cool Cinema Trash status. The Diana Ross melodrama Mahogany (1975) is a perfect example. It’s the rags to riches tale of a girl who works her way out of the ghetto and into the spotlight as a famous international fashion model and designer.

What it’s all about: During the “Kabuki Finale” of a chic European fashion show, insane kimono inspired gowns (with glowing trim) are paraded in front of an appreciative audience. Ross makes her dramatic entrance and takes center stage where she is surrounded by the wacky creations that she designed. After soaking up the adulation of the crowd, she returns backstage. Though the show is an unqualified success (go figure) she yearns for simpler times.

In flashback, the camera sweeps past dreary student sketches in a fashion design class. But plucky young dreamer Tracy Chambers (Miss Ross) thinks outside the box. When the instructor gives the assignment for next week, she warns Tracy, “No sequins, no rhinestones and no ostrich feathers.”

If you couldn’t already hum the melancholy theme from Mahogany, don’t worry, you’ll soon be able to. The Oscar-nominated hit song “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” plays as the opening credits roll. It’s just one of the many times the song in used in the film.

Tracy proves to be streetwise as well. When she’s threatened by a dangerous looking thug one evening, she scares him off by pretending to be a fast-talking ‘ho. Outside her Chicago tenement building, she finds hopeful politician Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams) loudly preaching social responsibility. When she spots Brian the next day, she plays a practical joke on him by pouring milk into his bullhorn. Assuming that some construction workers are to blame, Brian begins to knock some heads.

Tracy writes a bum check to spring Brian from jail. “I’m the one that turned that trumpet of yours into a horn of plenty,” she explains, “I felt guilty that’s all.”

“Why don’t I come by tonight,” Brian suggests, “and see if we can come up with something we can feel guilty about together?”

Despite this lame come-on, Brian continues to lay on the charm (this is Billy Dee Williams after all) and they get to know one another over a game of air hockey. As they take a walking tour of the ghetto, Tracy justifies her need to get out, “I can see there’s a much better life than this.”

Brian earnestly explains that, “Somebody’s got to stay and do the marching and the politicking and make this a better place to live.”

“And that’s you?”

“That’s me.” What woman could resist a man that noble?

At the posh department store where Tracy works as a secretary, hot shot photographer Sean McAvoy (a hammy Anthony Perkins) mistakes her for a model. “Making like a clothes hanger seems like a silly way to earn a living,” she tells him. But he believes that Tracy has what it takes. He snaps pictures of her as she dances among nude mannequins in a rainbow hued gown of her own creation. Later, she assists Sean as he shoots a fashion layout with the Chicago slums as his backdrop. Brian visits Tracy on the set and condemns the fashion biz as exploitative and pointless.

Tracy is turned down repeatedly when she tries to sell her designs to several windy city manufacturers. With so much of her time spent on her high-fashion dreams, she is fired from her department store job. While on line at the unemployment office, she runs into Brian, who is eliciting votes from the disenfranchised.

In a memorably corny exchange, Tracy harasses him. “I’m a widow from the South side,” she shouts. “My old man left me with six kids and all the kids got the flu. What’re ya gonna do about that?” Though he tries to charm his way through it all with inspiring political sound bites, she continues to bust his chops, “Help me get my old man back!”

Back at her apartment, Tracy sings an impromptu campaign jingle and suggests that he needs more “pizzazz”. As their relationship develops, she begins to spend more and more time on his campaign. “Flash that grand piano of yours you call a smile,” she tells him. Brian rather cruelly begins to take her support for granted. When Tracy receives a phone call from Sean, she is on the first flight to Rome.

Cue that theme song. The montage of Tracy’s Italian cab ride features every possible statue, fountain and tourist attraction in Rome. At Sean’s apartment, Tracy examines the eerie shrines erected in honor of his past supermodel discoveries. “I give all my creations the names of inanimate objects,” Norman Bates, um…Sean explains. “There’s only one word that describes rich, dark, beautiful and rare. I’m gonna call you … Mahogany.”

Tracy, now christened with her supermodel moniker, must strut her stuff in front of the representatives of the Gavina modeling agency. When they make disparaging remarks about her lack of cleavage, she tells them where to get off, “They want a dummy, or better yet, a couple of basketballs and a smile.” Carlotta Gavina (Marisa Mell) admires her spunk and hires her on the spot. Tracy has made it to the big time. Despite the fact that less than ten minutes of screen time have passed since the last montage, she is transformed into Mahogany in another visual medley. As the theme song plays, Ross prances about in more memorably atrocious fashions.

After Sean makes a pathetic attempt to seduce her, their personal and professional relationship takes a turn for the worse. While filming a commercial, Mahogany petulantly decides to wear one of her own ridiculous designs instead of the approved wardrobe. Sean tries to rip it off her…and who could blame him?

At a charity fashion auction, Mahogany wears an orange beaded kimono of her own creation. When no one bids on the dress, Sean demeans her by placing an insulting bid of 500 lire. Laughed at by the glitterati, Mahogany is about to make her humiliated exit when Christian Rosetti (Jean-Pierre Aumont) comes to her rescue. “Twenty million lire!” he shouts.

Afterward she tells Christian that, “I’ve waited a long time for this night. This is my first sale. You can have whatever you want.” Sean interrupts them and tries to make amends with his supermodel meal ticket. When Brain shows up in Rome she gives him a glimpse of her glamorous life. “It’s a whole new thing here,” she tells him.

Gigantic portraits are projected on the walls at a party thrown in Mahogany’s honor. Brian unwisely agrees to look at Sean’s gun collection. Sean continues his downward spiral into Psycho territory when he holds Brian at gunpoint. They wrestle each other to the ground. When Brian gains the upper hand, he pulls the trigger, but the chamber is empty. “What are you trying to do?” a googly-eyed and crazed Sean asks, “Kill me?”

After anointing herself with candle wax, Mahogany wonders why Brian can’t seem to get with it. She shifts into ultra diva mode when she shouts, “I’m a success and you can’t stand it. Me… Mahogany.” She calls him a loser and pours champagne on his head.

Before walking out the door, Williams delivers the movies cornball tagline, “Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with.”

As the orchestra swells on the soundtrack (one guess which song is played) Ross goes apoplectic and screams. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!”

In the middle of another commercial shoot with Mahogany, Sean gets into the drivers seat of a sport car and completely flips out. Speeding down the highway, they wrestle for control of the car. As they swerve across the asphalt, Sean snaps pictures of the petrified supermodel. Ross and Perkins continue to battle hilariously until the road ends and they crash into a construction site. While recovering at Christian Rosetti’s estate, Mahogany looks at the photos of Sean’s death drive. “He wanted to see death and that’s what he saw.”

As soon as she’s fully recovered, Miss Ross is back to her old ways and is screaming at the seamstresses in the couture workshop that Christian has purchased for her. At the showing of her premier collection, it appears that Tracy has achieved everything that she’s ever dreamed of. As the crowd cheers, Brian’s parting words ring in her ears. Could he have been right? At what price has she achieved her success?

Back at the villa, Christian intends to collect on his investment. When it becomes apparent that Tracy has no love for him, he asks, “Where do you want to go from here?”

Under a bleak and dreary Chicago sky, Congressional hopeful Brian delivers a speech to boisterous listeners. Suddenly, a female voice rings out from the crowd, “I’m a widow from the south side!” Resplendent in a white fur coat, Tracy steps forward and taunts Brian with the same recitation from the unemployment office. “I want you to get me my old man back!”

“Are you prepared to stand by him when the going’s gettin’ rough?” he asks. “Madame, would you be willing to put your imagination to work on behalf of the cause he’s fighting for? Madame, would you love and cherish him for the rest of your life?” As if bearing witness, Tracy eagerly answers yes to all of his conditions. “If you’re willing to do all that…I guarantee you, I’ll get you your old man back.”

“Then mister,” she coos, “you got my vote.” After their hopelessly hokey declarations of devotion, Brian and Tracy seal their reunion with a kiss. The crowd cheers as that song plays one last time.

In conclusion: When Mahogany was released during the height of the feminist movement in the 1970’s, the ending ruffled a few feathers. Many labeled it sexist. Mahogany, despite its contemporary urban settings, is in essence an old fashioned women’s picture. It’s the same kind of shop girl romance that Joan Crawford popularized in the 30’s and 40’s. The ending simply remained true to the story’s melodramatic roots.

Though the end seems to suggest that Tracy has sacrificed her dreams to be with her man, who’s to say that she became a mousy housewife after returning to Chicago? If Brian achieved his congressional aspirations, she could have become a powerful and influential politician’s wife. Even though her success in Europe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, why couldn’t she create a new business stateside? Americans love crazy fashion too. So, is it sexist? It’s all in how you look at it.

Motown maestro Berry Gordy received final credit (after Tony Richardson was fired) for directing this fashionable camp classic. Gordy’s only other foray into filmmaking was as producer of The Last Dragon (1985). When Mahogany failed at the box office, Ross’ film career suffered. After starting off promisingly with Lady Sings the Blues (1972), it only took the urban musical flop The Wiz (1978) to end her big screen career.

In an online review of Mahogany, an IMDB user says that this was the film that inspired him to become a fashion designer and a drag queen! Truly, what higher praise could there possibly be? It just goes to show… bad movies do, in fact, have the power to change lives.


Cool Cinema Trash: Robot Monster (1953)

Cool Cinema Trash


Moon monsters launch attack against earth!

Robot Monster (1953) is one of the few movies that can compete with Ed Wood’s Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959) for the title of worst film ever made. Clips from Robot Monster have become synonymous with the depths that no-budget 1950’s sci-fi movies can reach. Even if you’ve never seen it in its entirety, you’ll no doubt recognize George Barrows lumbering around in a gorilla suit and space helmet. What sets it apart from the rest of the drive-in dreck is that there’s a naive determination on the part of it’s participants to forge ahead despite rock bottom production values. In spite of everything it has going against it, there’s an endearing “Let’s put on a show!” quality that’s so wonderfully inept that its reaches a level of badness that rivals any Ed Wood film.

What it’s all about: Little Johnny (Gregory Moffett) and his sister Carla (Pamela Paulson) are playing outside when they happen upon an archeological dig. The Professor (John Mylong) and his assistant Roy (George Nader) are working outside the mouth of a cave in Bronson Canyon. “Gee, are you scientists?” Johnny asks. His questions will have to wait until after a picnic lunch with the family. After eating, Johnny’s mother and his sisters Carla and Alice (Claudia Barrett) take a nap among the rocks and dirt.

While the family is asleep, Johnny sneaks back to the cave, but Roy and the Professor are gone. Suddenly there’s an electric flash and Johnny falls to the ground. Stock footage dinosaurs are suddenly and inexplicably doing battle. When Johnny recovers, he finds “hi tech” machinery at the mouth of the cave. There’s another electric flash and Johnny runs for cover as the mighty Ro-Man appears. The infamous Ro-man costume is so blissfully silly that Ro-Man should be named the official mascot…no, patron saint of bad movies. Equally ridiculous is the “Billion Bubble Machine” that sits and percolates for no other reason than it must have looked cool in 3-D. (Robot Monster was originally released in both 2-D and 3-D formats)

Using his futuristic communication console (a bedroom dresser with a “view screen” where the mirror should be) Ro-Man contacts his home planet. Using his kooky style of techno-jargon, he reports on his progress. He has destroyed mankind with his Calcinator Death Ray (the electrical flashing light). “Their resistance pattern showed some intelligence,” he tells the Great Leader, “But all are gone now. The way is clear for our people.”

“Reject. Error.”

“Then there are perhaps eight people left on earth?”

“Precisely. Find and destroy them.”

Johnny runs back home…or what’s left of it. In the crumbling ruins of suburbia, humanity’s only hope has set up house. The Professor (who is now Johnny’s daddy) explains in his faintly European accent that, “The only reason we are still alive is that your sister Alice and I worked out a way to reflect his deadly beam away from the house.”

A crude system of wires surrounding the house prevents them from being discovered. When Ro-Man appears on their home view screen, he taunts them with an instant replay of the earth’s destruction. “Your death will be indescribable. Fool hu-mans, there is no escape!”

Roy hypothesizes that the Professor’s experimental antibiotic serum, which they have all taken, is what makes them immune to the death ray. They must get word to the space platform where what is left of humanity is stationed. Alice comes up with a way, “We’ll have to rewire the circuits on the view screen so that we can broadcast without Ro-Man picking it up. If only I had a decent assistant who could take orders instead of trying to be the boss.”

Though the script by Wyott Ordung is packed with quotable Ed Woodsian dialog, Roy’s response to Alice’s jibe is shocking hilarious. “You’re so bossy that you ought to be milked before you come home at night!”

Since she’s the last dateable woman on earth, Roy quickly has a change of heart. As they work on the transistors, he makes his move, “You know something, you’re either too beautiful to be smart, or too smart to be beautiful.”

“I guess we do get along alright at that,” she admits. “Let’s work together now…we can play later.” Despite their hard work and flirty repartee, they fail to succeed.

Ro-Man calls them up and taunts them again, this time with footage of the destroyed “space platform”. The sequence is a wacky combination of stock footage and a rinky-dink spaceship model. As the ship flies erratically towards the camera, the prop man’s hand can clearly be seen.

Ro-man orders them to give up. “Calculate your chances. Negative, negative, negative.” He then asks what might be the most hilarious rhetorical question in film history, “Is there a choice between a painless surrender death and the horror of resistance death?”

The Professor refuses to surrender in the face of such nonsensical threats. Instead, he tries to appeal to Ro-Man’s humanity by introducing each member of the family, “Let me show you the six people you want to destroy.”

Intrigued by Alice, Ro-Man agrees to negotiate only with her. “Is Alice gonna have a date with Ro-Man?” young Carla asks. Alice is determined to face the alien, but her concerned family ties her up to keep her from going.

Johnny sneaks away to meet with Ro-Man. When the death ray fails to work on him, Johnny tells Ro-Man that he “Looks like a pooped out pinwheel.” Being the precocious blabbermouth that he is, Johnny reveals the secret of their survival.

Ro-Man angrily shakes his fist as Johnny scurries away. “I will recalculate the spectrum dust in the Calcinator Death Ray to counter act this antibiotic and you will all be destroyed!”

While searching for little Johnny, Roy and Alice hide from Ro-Man in some dry brush. Danger apparently gets Roy frisky, but Alice acts coy. This entire sequence is played without sound, leaving poor Nader and Barrett to mime like two very bad silent movie stars. “Have you been playing house?” Carla asks when a very satisfied looking Roy and Alice return home. In a makeshift ceremony, the professor marries the two lovebirds.

When Carla ventures outside the safety of home, Ro-Man captures and strangles her. He then stumbles onto the honeymooners who are making out in the dirt. An awkward fight ensues and Roy is thrown over a cliff. Actually, he only ducks behind a hill with a prolonged scream indicating a fall to his death. Alice is swept away by the hairy simian conqueror, but they stop long enough to discuss Ro-Man’s weakness.

While his parents bury Carla, Johnny comes up with a plan to lure Ro-Man away and rescue Alice.

With a seemingly indifferent Barrett clutched in his arms, Barrows stumbles back to the cave where Ro-Man makes his move. “Suppose I were hu-man, would you treat me like a man?” he asks as he tears at the straps of her dress. When his groove is interrupted by the telecomunicator, Ro-Man must somehow subdue Alice.

In a moment so sublimely silly that it has to be seen to be believed, Alice stands idly by as Ro-man tries to tie her up while repeatedly adjusting his crooked helmet. When it becomes apparent that tying her up is too complicated and time consuming, Ro-man simply knocks her unconscious. After a brief conversation with the professor on the view screen, “Call me again at another time,” Ro-Man turns back to Alice who is now wide awake and has been miraculously bound in rope!

Quality time with his favorite earth gal is interrupted yet again when the Great One calls to berate him, “You violate the law of plan. Fact. You have captured the girl and not destroyed her. Fact.”

“To laugh, feel, want. Why are these things not in the plan?” Ro-Man questions.

The Great Leader hasn’t time for mushy emotions and gives Ro-Man his orders, “One, destroy the girl. Two, destroy the family. Fail and I will destroy you.”

But how can he kill the woman he loves? In a crisis of conscience, Ro-man expresses his newfound feelings in a bad movie sonnet that is Shakespearian in scope. “I cannot, yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do must and cannot meet? Yet I must, but I cannot.” When Johnny arrives at the mouth of the cave Ro-Man begs, “Alice, do not hate me. I must.”

Just as Ro-Man strangles Johnny to death, the wrath of the Great One is unleashed. “You wish to be hu-man? Good. You can die a hu-man!” Shocked by his own flashing death ray, poor Ro-Man collapses as more dinosaur stock footage is shown.

The earth’s final destruction dissolves away to show a helpful Roy carrying Johnny, who apparently got a serious bump on the noggin. “Boy, was that a dream or was it?” he asks as they leave the cave and head for home.

A last electrical flash reveals the ghostly apparition of Ro-Man, who lumbers menacingly towards the camera not once…but three times!

In conclusion: Director Phil Tucker had originally planned for there to be a robot villain in Robot Monster. When use of the robot costume they wanted fell through, Tucker contacted actor and stunt man George Barrows. He owned his own ape costume and made his living by appearing in low-budget jungle adventures. The rest, as they say, is history. In another tale that has since passed into bad movie legend, Tucker was so distraught over the failure of Robot Monster and the direction that his career had taken, that he got a gun and attempted suicide. The punch line of the story is that he missed. How much of this tale is true (it’s undoubtedly been embellished over the years) is anybody’s guess. Tucker directed a handful of other films, including The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960).

After being put under contract at Universal, George Nader’s Hollywood career consisted mainly of beefcake roles like the Cool Cinema Trash favorites Carnival Story (1954) and The Female Animal (1958). In the sixties he left Hollywood behind and continued his career in Europe. Nader retired from acting after an eye injury and in the late seventies wrote the gay sci-fi novel Chrome.

Robot Monster has been released on VHS and DVD by various companies over the years. The DVD put out by Image Entertainment (as part of the Wade Williams collection) looks great. A few minor specks on the print are understandable considering the films age. The disc includes a trailer and previews of other Image titles including several Ed Wood films.

Robot Monster was once the butt of caustic jokes on MST3K, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen. Every oddball moment of Robot Monster is a veritable treasure trove of comedic fodder. Whether you’re a hu-man or a ro-man, it’s hard not to love this bad movie gem.


Cool Cinema Trash: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Cool Cinema Trash

Night_Of_The_LepusThere was no limit to the horror… No end to the Night of the Lepus.

“Monsters on the loose” have been a staple of sci-fi horror movies since cinema practically began. During the atomic era of the 1950’s, drive-ins were inundated with countless mutated beasts in such films as Them! (1954) Tarantula (1955) and The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). The genre enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970’s, letting loose a whole new batch of critters hell-bent on revenge. Atomic radiation was no longer the mutanigenic culprit. Man’s careless abuse of the environment was to blame. One of the oddest of these eco-vengeance thrillers was Night of the Lepus (1972), in which a cast of familiar Hollywood faces must battle a warren of oversized bunny rabbits.

What it’s all about: Just in case the idea of giant killer rabbits was too high concept for the audience to grasp, there’s a faux news story at the beginning of Night of the Lepus. The alarmist tone of the report on rabbit overpopulation sets up the concepts that will be featured in the film. “Can this population explosion be contained?” the reporter rhetorically asks as we’re shown genuine newsreel footage combined with fictional scenes of the pesky varmints.

When the Arizona ranchland of Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is overrun with rabbits, he calls his friend from the nearby university. Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelly) suggests they consult with a husband and wife research team about the problem. Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) are busy collecting bat specimens when Elgin arrives and explains about Hillman’s rabbit explosion.

“Rabbit’s aren’t exactly Roy’s bag,” Gerry cautions. Nevertheless, Roy agrees to have a look at the problem. Hillman is reluctant to use poisons since they would harm the environment. Plus, it would mean taking his cattle off the range and selling them at the worst time of the year.

Roy suggests using hormones to alter the rabbits breeding cycle, thereby killing them off without effecting the cattle or the land. At their lab, the Bennett’s begin trials with an experimental serum. “If we could effect the blood of fifty rabbits,” Roy explains injecting a test subject, “It wouldn’t take long for this change to take place in the entire population.” They soon discover that the main side effect of their serum is rapid growth.

While her parents are busy with their experiments, annoyingly precocious Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) adopts one of the bunnies as a pet. It isn’t long before little Peter rabbit makes a break for it, escaping into the general rabbit population.

As the Bennett’s continue their experiments, Hillman sets a controlled blaze on his land in hope of starving out the fluffy critters. Young Jackie Hillman (Chris Morrell) wants to introduce Amanda to Capt. Billy, a nutty old prospector who lives in the hills. When they arrive at Capt. Billy’s camp, he’s nowhere to be found. Amanda checks the old mine and finds giant rabbits gnawing on what’s left of ole’ Capt. Billy. While a traumatized Amanda rests at the Hillman ranch, the local sheriff comes across the chewed up remains of a trucker who was overcome by the furry beasts.

Aside from the ridiculous killer bunny concept, the thing that makes Night of the Lepus so memorable is the use of live rabbits, the kind you would find in any local pet store. The filmmakers use quick cuts, close-ups, slow motion and just about every other cinematic trick to make the rabbits look as menacing and bloodthirsty as possible. Their efforts are pretty much in vain. We’re talking about bunnies here!

While the police try to figure out the recent string of attacks, the mutilated remains of a family of four are found. “Rabbits as big and ferocious as wolves?” Roy questions as the scientists theorize. “Assuming, inadvertently, we introduced defective cells into that one rabbit, it’s conceivable that we could have created the seeds for a mutated species.”

In the morning, everyone heads up to the old mine to see just how mutated the rabbits have become. Roy and Cole Hillman explore the mineshaft while the others set explosive charges at the entrance of the mine. They find the rabbits, take a few snapshots, and then beat a hasty retreat when the bunnies begin to stampede.

A stuntman in a rabbit costume tackles Hillman. Quick cuts and close-ups are used to disguise the preposterous nature of the life and death struggle. While Roy and Hillman try to escape, a ferocious rabbit attacks a ranch hand at the mouth of the cave. The stuntman bunny is intercut with footage of a real rabbit with red paint staining its buckteeth and paws. Gerry scares the beast away with her shotgun.

Once Roy and Hillman are clear of cave, they blow the charges, sealing the rabbits inside. Maybe someone should let these scientists know that bunnies like to burrow. Sure enough, under the cover of night, the rabbits dig themselves out and begin to rampage across the Arizona landscape.

Spooked by the presence of giant bunnies, Hillman’s horses break free of their corral and are quickly devoured by the rabbits. One of Hillman’s ranch hands tries to escape, but the main road is blocked by hundreds of fuzzy man-eating critters. They chomp on the poor guy while Hillman and the rest of his employees hide in the storm cellar.

Rabbits lazily lope across the astro turf covered model of the ranch. They break into the farmhouse and try to gnaw through the floorboards to get to their next meal. Unable to reach Hillman, the herd moves further on down the road and attacks the proprietress of the general store. A farmer is also attacked on his front porch. It should be said that some of the miniature work featured in Night of the Lepus is quite good. The scale and detail of these landscapes is excellent. The only problem is that there are bunnies hopping through them, which ruins any realism that the scale models hoped to achieve.

Come morning, Gerry and Amanda leave for safer territory, while Roy, Elgin and the sheriff take a chopper up to the mine where their worst fears are confirmed. There are signs that the rabbits dug their way out. Night falls and the rabbits are on the move again. Ominous music plays as the bunnies hop across the miniature landscape and leap over “gorges”. The sounds of galloping hooves are also added to make the cute critters seem like they’re on an unstoppable rampage.

The National Guard and local authorities evacuate the town that lies in the direct patch of the oncoming horde. Roy comes up with the idea to put “a fence between the rabbits and the city. An electric fence.” Using the railroad tracks outside of town, they hope to electrocute the bunnies.

A deputy heads to the local drive-in to make this classic announcement: “Attention, attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way.” The drive-in patrons are enlisted to help with the plan. Their cars are lined up and headlights turned on, in hopes that it will herd the rabbits toward the tracks.

Gerry and little Amanda never reach their destination. When their camper gets stuck in the dirt, Gerry must fend off the rabbits with roadside flares as her only weapons. Roy arrives in the chopper just in time.

The rabbits spook a herd of stock footage cattle before nearing the railroad tracks at the edge of town. The fluffy horde hops ever closer as the juice is switched on. ZAP! As the rabbits hop across the tracks, there’s a snap, crackle and pop as they’re electrified. After a few moments of sparkly special effects, the rotund rabbits are eliminated.

A quick epilogue shows that life has returned to normal as Amanda and Jackie frolic in the fields of the Hillman ranch. If you guessed that there would be a harmless little rabbit waiting in that field, you’d be right. If you also guessed that the camera would zoom in for a final freeze frame of the innocuous critter, then it’s obvious you’ve seen more than your fair share of eco-vengeance horror movies.

In conclusion: With its horde of man-eating bunnies (aren’t rabbits supposed to be vegan?) and straight-faced performances by an especially earnest cast, Night of the Lepus is a bad movie must see. The next time the major networks rerun King of Kings (1961) or The Ten Commandments (1956) during the Easter season, pop Night of the Lepus into the DVD player instead.

But watch out…here comes Peter Cottontail!


Cool Cinema Trash: A Night in Heaven (1983)

Cool Cinema Trash

night_in_heavenIn class, he’s just another face in the crowd. In “Heaven,” the hottest dance club in town, he’s the main attraction.

Hollywood producers have long mined the pop culture zeitgeist in search of the next big blockbuster. Subjects as diverse as western bars (Urban Cowboy, 1980) and aerobics (Perfect, 1985) to the latest dance craze (Lambada and The Forbidden Dance, both from 1990) have all found their way to the local cineplex. In the early 80’s, when the fine art of male burlesque experienced a surge in popularity, it was only a matter of time before the story of a male stripper (and the women who loved him) made it to the big screen. A Night in Heaven (1983) was the first big screen look into the dramatic and tumultuous world of men who take it off for cash.

What it’s all about: As the Bryan Adams song “Heaven” plays over the opening credits, nice guy rocket scientist Whitney Hanlon (Robert Logan) gets on his recumbent bike and rides and rides and rides. He finally arrives home in time to kiss his wife goodbye. Faye Hanlon (Leslie Ann Warren) is a teacher at a Florida community college. With her hair in a bun and wearing an oversized pair of eyeglasses, Warren looks to be the very definition of a conservative school marm. During her speech class, she listens intently as young Rick Monroe (Christopher Atkins) gives a lackluster presentation.

“You say what you say well, but you have nothing to say,” she puzzlingly criticizes. She doesn’t fall for his good looks or fast-talking charm (at least not yet) and gives him a failing grade on his final exam.

That evening, Faye prepares for a night out with her sister Patsy (Deborah Rush) who is visiting from out of town. Once they’re all gussied up, she tells Faye, “You look like a hibiscus in bloom.” It’s meant as a compliment, but Faye looks more like a Ramada Inn cocktail waitress than an exotic flower.

The girls head to a local nightclub, Heaven, where a touring group of male strippers are performing. The women shriek and giggle as a motley crew of guys strip down to their g-strings. As we’re forced to watch them shake what little they’ve got, it’s hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere, at anytime, could have found what they’re doing sexy.

The M.C., who spouts lame double entendres and groan inducing puns, announces that it is time for the main event. From a flurry of bubbles and dry ice fog emerges a man in a silver space suit. When he removes his space helmet, Faye is shocked to find that “Ricky the Rocket” is her handsome speech student Rick.

“I just flunked that kid in my class!” Faye shouts over the loud music.

“You did what to his ass?” a friend comically tries to clarify.

“Give him an A!” Patsy crows as Rick, much to the delight of the female crowd, strips out of his costume.

Faye gets positively googly-eyed after Rick grinds his crotch in her face. They share a deep soulful kiss before he continues his routine and elicits tips from the eager club patrons.

At home in bed, Faye tries to initiate marital relations with her husband, but is rebuffed. As it turns out, nice guy Whitney has just been fired over a matter of principal. He refused to shift his focus to government weapons research.

At a college art show, Rick explains to Faye that he strips to pay for school and hopes to get into hotel management (?!) as a way to care for his hard working mother. The hard luck story doesn’t impress her.

“I’m not grading your mother’s life. I’m grading your… performance.”

“How did you like my performance?”

Before Faye can answer she must introduce her husband to the student stripper who has peaked her interest.

Though she’d rather stay at home with Whitney, Faye is lured back out by her sister. At the club, Faye watches as “Mountain Man Dean” works the crowd. When an aggressive bachelorette removes his g-string, she faints at the sight of his “tree trunk”. The moment is played for laughs, but only serves to point out how the story veers from feminism to misogyny without ever making its intentions clear. Are these modern women free spirits who can have their cake and eat it too? Or are they adulterous nincompoops? What exactly is this movie trying to say?

Whitney tries to get a job as a video game developer, but nothing comes of it. In an obvious moment of foreshadowing, it is revealed that Whitney (the pacifist scientist and former Air Force pilot) is a gun enthusiast. Um…okay, sure, why not?

Patsy’s visit is cut short and she must return home. At the airport she reveals that her wild behavior during her time with Faye was a brief attempt to escape her troubled marriage. Faye gives her a pep talk and sends her on her way.

Faye finally beds her collegiate dreamboat in her sister’s vacated motel room. Thunder and rain outside their window sets the mood. Rick puts her hand down his pants before taking her for a ride. Atkins strips naked while Warren remains fully clothed during their love scene.

Patsy calls Whitney to let him know that she make it back to Chicago safe and sound. Since Faye isn’t spending time with her sister, Whitney begins to wonder just who exactly she is spending time with. Faye leaves the hotel room to teach a class. When she returns that evening, she finds Rick in the shower with his white trash girlfriend.

It’s from this point that the movie spirals towards its gonzo climax. In the hotel lobby, nice guy Whitney turns Dirty Harry and kidnaps Rick at gunpoint, “I wanna see you dance.” He takes the kid in a boat and goes out onto the water somewhere. Whitney then makes him strip naked and explain himself. “Where do you get off fucking my wife?”

Looking down the barrel of a gun, Rick blubbers like a baby and whines that, “I though she was lonely.”

Wrong answer. Whitney fires the gun and shoots several holes in the bottom of the boat, leaving Rick to fend for himself.

After each of their escapades, Faye and Whitney sit down together at their kitchen table and, with only a few words between them, all is forgiven. As the camera pulls back and Bryan Adams begins to sing, you may ask yourself, “Is that it?”

The answer is yes.

In conclusion: Directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky, 1976) and written by Joan Tewkesbury (Nashville, 1976) it would seem that, despite it’s salacious subject matter, an honest attempt was made to make A Night in Heaven a worthwhile drama. The fact that the end result was more salacious than serious probably has something to do with the question that has plagued Hollywood from the very beginning. Are movies art or are they commerce? In this particular case, art may have fallen by the wayside in favor of the film’s more marketable aspects (i.e. Sex).

Though no “making of” featurette is included on the DVD, it’s pretty easy to guess what went on behind the scenes while making this 80’s gem. The script offers a few clues as to what might have been. Along with the main story between the schoolteacher and her student, Tewkesbury introduces several secondary characters whose lives all intersect with one another. These characters were undoubtedly meant to support the main characters and add depth to the story. Unfortunately, they’re never given the chance to do so.

As one of the characters who have no real effect on anything, Deney Terrio (also the film’s choreographer) plays one of Rick’s friends who loses his janitorial job at NASA. By the film’s end he turns to stripping for cash. His comical dancing debut is oddly intercut with Whitney and Rick’s naked moonlit boat ride. When Rick’s sister is introduced into the story, she moves away moments later to be with her jailbird boyfriend. At one point Whitney even flirts with a former female co-worker but nothing ever comes of this plot point either.

Though there is no definitive source that says so, it feels as if the plot was slowly whittled down until only the most marketable aspects of the story (the stripping and the sex) were left. Considering that the movie clocks in at a meager 83 minutes, this is the most likely scenario.

A Night in Heaven is filled with the sights, sounds and attitudes of the Regan era. For some, this cheesy cinematic artifact may be a welcome walk down memory lane. For others, it may represent a bygone era that is best forgotten.

Though, the sight of Christopher Atkins bumping and grinding in a silver lamé space suit qualifies a truly unforgetable.


Cool Cinema Trash: Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)

Cool Cinema Trash


The most beautiful woman of our time in the most erotic adventure of all time.

You know this isn’t your father’s Tarzan movie when the MGM logo appears on screen and the lion’s roar is replaced with a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell.

What it’s all about: The adventure begins with a narrator (Wilfrid Hyde-White) relating the legend of Tarzan to his fellow club members, one of whom is presumably Edgar Rice Burroughs. This storytelling device might explain why Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) focuses on Jane’s point of view. After all, a bunch of dirty old men would much rather hear tales about a nubile blonde than the Lord of the Apes.

As Jane, Bo Derek is covered from head to toe in turn of the century finery. She hires a boat to take her to the camp of James Parker, an Allan Quartermain-type explorer who is also her long lost father. Before the credits are even over, Bo strips off her virginal white dress and goes for a swim in the river. Apparently she isn’t worried about crocodiles or piranha.

Upon arrival at camp, Jane is greeted by the expedition’s photographer played by the handsome, but wooden, John Phillip Law. Any under-emoting by Derek and Law is more than made up for by the hammy acting of Richard Harris. As Parker, Harris seems to think shouting at the top of his lungs equals a performance.

The family reunion at dinner doesn’t go very well. Bo resents Harris’s absenteeism. “Like a trophy, you posed with mother and child and then you were gone. Now doesn’t that make you a first-class bastard?” she asks.

Because she so closely resembles his dead wife, Parker takes more than a fatherly interest in Jane. “How much do you hate me?”

“I think so very, very much.”

Parker’s ultimate goal is to find the legendary elephant’s graveyard. “Any expedition on this continent is no place for a woman.” Harris chauvinistically explains. Moments later, Bo and the rest of the crew are all packed up and set off on their journey.

After several days, they make camp at the base of a huge plateau. While sitting cozily in their tents they hear a familiar yodeling war cry. Harris explains that the creature making the noise is Tarzan, the great white ape. He then proceeds, at the top of his lungs, to give a dissertation on the excitement of the unknown. “Fear is intoxicating.” When another Tarzan yell scares off most of his native bearers, Harris screams, “Oh shut up you boring son of a bitch!”

In the morning, each expedition member scales the face of the plateau. Their climbing rope slowly rubs and frays against a jagged piece of rock until a native extra plunges to his death. “Why did you do that?! Why?!” Harris shouts at the heavens. What’s even funnier than his vociferous questioning of God is that the skies answer back with a rumble of thunder.

After traveling a little further, the expedition finds the great inland sea. Bo comes up with the bright idea of staying behind and taking a bath, assuring her father that she’ll catch up later. Left alone in the wilds of Africa, Bo strips down and frolics in the crystal blue waters. While rinsing off, she is stalked by a lion. She lingers in the surf while the jungle cat lays in wait on the shore.

Suddenly, with a rousing orchestral fanfare, our hero finally arrives. Lip syncing the classic Weissmuller Tarzan call, Miles O’Keeffe makes his grand entrance in a skimpy loin cloth. If Derek is a perfect 10, then O’Keeffe, with his long hair, perfect cheekbones, and ripped physique, is the male equivalent. An embodiment of the perfect male specimen.

Tarzan attempts to pull a resistant Jane from the surf, but the King of the Jungle and his feline friend are scared off by Parker and Holt who come to Jane’s rescue with guns blazing. With his daughter’s virtue in peril, Parker does what any father would do, “I’m going to have that ape son of a bitch’s head as my trophy.”

As they continue their trek through the jungle, they are watched by a bunch of surly tribal warriors. While filling her canteen by the river, Jane is taken away by Tarzan. She briefly escapes his brawny clutches but is soon engulfed in the suffocating squeeze of a python. Tarzan swings to the rescue, dives into the muddy river and wrestles with the snake. The scene is only two minutes long but feels a whole lot longer. The sequence is shown in slow motion, which might have been an effort to make the fight seem more dangerous and dramatic. All it really achieves is a kind of hilarious redundancy as we’re shown what looks like the same shots over and over.

Tarzan finally wins and collapses after the titanic struggle. Jane is conflicted. We know this because Bo chews on her fingernail, an unsubtle acting trick she uses several times throughout the film. Should she run away, or should she help the jungle man who saved her life? C.J. the orangutan, some chimps, and an elephant help bring Tarzan back to his home turf. While tending to the ailing Tarzan, curiosity gets the better of Jane. “I’ve never touched a man before.”

While Jane is busy playing doctor, her father and the remaining members of the expedition search the jungle for her. Tarzan eventually wakes up and retires to his leafy bachelor pad. Jane joins him when night falls. Director John Derek chose to shoot this scene “day for night”, which means the scene was shot in daylight and then darkened in post production. The process is seldom convincing and in this case looks particularly bad because Derek cuts between our lovebirds in their tree top getaway and a scene of the Parker expedition that was actually filmed at night.

When daylight comes, Bo’s virtue is still intact. “I’m still a virgin. Now I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. What are you?” she asks her jungle paramour while eating a banana. “You’d have to be, wouldn’t you? It’s a strange problem.”

Jane and Tarzan swim around in their idyllic jungle Eden and gaze longingly at each other. In other Tarzan movies this is where we’d get the obligatory “Me Tarzan, you Jane” scene and she would teach him to speak English. This time it seems that Tarzan will remain completely mute because that’s how Bo likes him. Big, dumb and good-looking. With Bo left to essentially act with just herself, we get some classic bad movie moments as Jane thinks aloud, “God, if the girls back home could see me now.” She then earnestly tells Tarzan that he’s, “more beautiful than any girl I know.”

Proving that even the most primitive man is unable to resist the siren’s call of Bo Derek’s breasts, Tarzan makes it to second base before he’s interrupted by Parker’s search party. The reunion is all too brief. The evil jungle tribesmen take Jane, Parker and Holt captive. They’re brought before the Ivory King, a hulking brute with a mohawk.

Bo is scrubbed down by slave girls and then covered from head to toe in white paint. To take her mind off the fact that she’s about to be raped by a Wrestlemania wannabe, Parker takes the opportunity to tell his daughter a story and begins to shout out the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. The Ivory King thankfully shuts him up by impaling him with an ivory tusk.

With a mighty Tarzan yell, the King of the jungle leaps into action. Tarzan battles the Ivory King in…yup, you guessed it, slow motion. Once again director Derek attempts to stretch the tension (and the running time) in a rather pedestrian fight scene. In real time the scene would last about thirty seconds. After some regulation wrestling moves, Tarzan wins and pounds his chest in victory.

Harris is given a final chance to ham it up in a touching death scene. With Bo naked and covered in tribal make-up (complete with green lip gloss) Harris gets in the last word, “Well, they certainly did a paint job on you.” Jane kisses her father good bye before heading off with her favorite jungle hunk. As the end credits roll we’re shown just what Jane has given up civilization for… frolicking topless with C.J. the orangutan.

In conclusion: Despite it’s notorious reputation as the erotic Bo Derek version of the Tarzan fable, there are actually no love scenes in Tarzan the Ape Man, plenty of nudity…but no sex. As we watch the appealing stars traipse through the jungle half naked for an hour and fifty minutes, something curious happens. After a certain point all that gorgeous flesh has a strange desensitizing effect.

So, we have a sexy Tarzan movie without any sex. What does that leave us with you might ask? Well, it leaves us with plenty. There’s Richard Harris chewing the scenery as only a classically trained actor can. We also have Bo Derek, a classic beauty to be sure, but an actress who’s completely incapable of carrying the dramatic burden of an entire movie. Then there’s Miles O’Keeffe, a gorgeous hunk of man playing a title character that’s practically irrelevant in his own film.

Tarzan the Ape Man was O’Keeffe’s debut and has so far been the only Hollywood studio picture he’s done. He did however go on to a career in low-budget action movies. Bo went on to star in another notable erotic flop directed by her husband, Bolero (1984).

The promotional tagline for Tarzan the Ape Man boasted that it was, “Unlike any other Tarzan you’ve ever seen!”

Now that’s truth in advertising. Ungawa!