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"Five to Frighten: '70s drive-in horror"

by Paul Gaita


Tired of movie classics? Why not reach back to our most embarrassing and
enjoyable of decades, the '70s? The five titles here represent the heights
(and depths) of the heyday of drive-in cinema, a genre long gone but never
forgotten by its fans. So put the rugrats to bed, rustle up a six-pack with
pull-tabs and a mess of Zagnuts, and help yourself to this treasure trove of
trash.

Caveat renter: Before you start any kind of serious video excavation, realize
that, as with most horror/exploitation films from the '70s, these titles fall
in and (mostly) out of circulation all the time, so they might not be readily
available at all video stores. Still, you should be able to, er, scare up at
least one for a little cheap fun.


THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971)

Satan's movie career may have waned in recent years, but during the '70s, the
Prince of Darkness was unavoidable at the box office -- worse than Antonio
Banderas and with just as much career sense, turning up in everything from
Mark of the Devil (1972) to Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (1978-TV). And while
he's offscreen in Brotherhood, his presence is definitely felt in this
underrated and unnerving picture about small-town devil worship.

Veteran screen badman L.Q. Jones (Casino), who wrote and coproduced the
film with Alvy Moore of Green Acres, plays the sheriff of a California town
gripped in a rash of bizarre murders and child abductions. Folksy town doctor
Strother Martin (Jones' costar in The Wild Bunch) is the culprit, in
reality the leader of a elderly coven of witches who plan to transfer their
souls into the bodies of the kidnapped children. Former Disney director
Bernard McEveety skips the usual Satanic cinema trappings -- no horned Goat
Lords or pea-soup-spitting kids here -- and gets his scares the old-fashioned
way, using shadows and odd camera angles to imbue everyday places and objects
(especially toys) with a sense of impending damnation. Also in its favor is a
typically unrestrained performance by Martin, who sports a founding-father
hairdo(n't) and high-collared Funkadelic-style cape while spitting out lines
like "Not your baby -- our baby -- Satan's baby!" with a decided relish.
Rated PG, it makes a fine double bill with the Val Lewton-produced The
Seventh Victim (1943).


CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972)

This film has garnered an unfortunate reputation as another Night of the
Living Dead rip-off, but, in all fairness, it's a mindlessly enjoyable
late-night flick, thanks to the competent, first-time direction of
producer/cowriter Benjamin (Bob) Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story). A
maddeningly pretentious actor (maddeningly pretentious coscreenwriter/effects
designer Alan Ormsby) and his troupe sail to a remote burial island to raise
the dead by means of a Satanic ritual (see, he was everywhere). Now, if
you're any kind of a drive-in student, you should guess by now that: 1) the
ritual doesn't work, but 2) as soon as the actors get to a cottage they can
be trapped in, 3) the ritual kicks in and the dead start prowling for human
flesh. The acting is amateurish even by drive-in standards -- and Ormsby and
Clark's cringe-inducing dialogue doesn't help -- but the balance of gallows
humor and horror is skillfully handled and there's enough zombie action to
satisfy those lonely hours when a Romero film is not close at hand. And if
you wanna talk rip-offs, the ending of Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) looks
mighty similar to the one seen here. Made in 14 days for $70,000, Children
features exploitation legend Ted V. Mikels as camera operator. Most of the
crew, including Clark and Ormsby, later made Deranged.


DERANGED (1974)

The misadventures of 1950's Wisconsin cannibal/necrophile/transsexual wannabe
Ed Gein have inspired two bona fide classic horror flicks (Alfred Hitchcock's
Psycho, 1960, and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974) and
two complete pieces of drek (Three on a Meathook, 1972, and Skinner,
1993). But this gleefully warped obscurity, cowritten and directed by Alan
Ormsby and Jeff Gillen of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, comes
closest to retelling the perverted particulars of Gein's case; what's worse,
it does so with a coal-black sense of humor.

Lonely middle-aged farm boy Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) misses his
hellfire-breathing mama so much, he digs up her dissected corpse and brings
her back home. After raiding a few graveyards to fill out Mama's dinner
table, complications arise when Ez reckons that she needs a little more
lively company. Aside from the wickedly funny script (Ormsby's writing had
improved greatly) and some gruesome effects by then-unknown Tom Savini, the
main reason to see Deranged is for Blossom's alternately hilarious and
hair-raising performance; you're not likely to forget him singing "Girl of
my dreams..." to Ma's disinterred corpse, or doing a bizarre, awkward dance
while accompanying himself on a drum made from human skin. The only misstep
is a ridiculous mutton-chopped reporter/narrator who appears onscreen to
spout ponderous (and obvious) observations.

If Deranged puts you off your popcorn, don't feel like a pantywaist --
coproducer Benjamin (Bob) Clark was so appalled by it he took his name off
the credits. Moore Video's letterboxed print is uncut and accompanied by an
ultra-cheap documentary titled Ed Gain: American Maniac (1981), which is
for desperate true-crime hounds only. A behind-the-scenes documentary is
available.


RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)

Satan hits the high road in this hard-driving Saturday afternoon favorite
that combines two well-loved drive-in genres -- horror and redneck car-crash
flicks -- to create one knuckleheaded but highly watchable picture. After
accidently witnessing a human sacrifice, vacationing motorcyclists Warren
Oates and Peter Fonda and respective wives Loretta Swit and Lara Parker are
forced to flee the highly mobile cult, whose members apparently include most
of Texas and Arizona. What the film lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with
change in the vehicular-mayhem department; however, depending on your
tolerance for shock endings (and whatever you've had to drink), the finale
will either knock you out of your seat or make you pitch a brick at the
screen.

Working behind the scenes on Race is a summit of drive-in dignitaries --
director Jack Starrett (The Losers, 1970), coscreenwriter R. Lee Frost
(producer of adults-only sado-epics like Love Camp Seven, 1968) and
producer/coscreenwriter Wes Bishop (cowriter of The Thing With Two Heads,
1972). Arkey Blue, heard on Chainsaw's soundtrack, appears as the world's
first Satanic country band.


MOTEL HELL (1980)

It missed being a '70s drive-in film by just one year, but Motel Hell"s
demented premise warrants its inclusion here. The movie's infamous ad line
read, "It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters."
Said critters include a biker, a pair of prostitutes and metal band Ivan and
the Terribles (with Cheer's Cliff Clavin -- John Ratzenberger -- on
drums!), who are waylaid by the relentlessly cheery Farmer Vincent (Rory
Calhoun) and his infantile sister Ida (Nancy Parsons of Porky's fame),
then buried up to their necks, their vocal cords slit, and fattened and
slaughtered to become the secret ingredient in Vincent's smoked meats.

United Artists' bid to jump on the slasher film train of the early '80s was
not a financial success, but its imaginative direction by British filmmaker
Kevin Connor (At the Earth's Core) and fiendishly toungue-in-cheek script
elevate it high above the soulless, derivative horror that dominated most of
the decade. Calhoun's charming and sympathetic performance as hard-working
Farmer Vincent is reminiscent of Roberts Blossom's turn in Deranged, and
it's interesting to note that this film's sympathies lie squarely with its
psychopathic protagonist (unlike Deranged, which ultimately condemns poor
Ezra). Also, for a movie about cannibal butchers, there's very little gore,
even in its climactic slaughterhouse duel between Farmer Vincent and Sheriff
Bruce. Costars Wolfman Jack, who pulls double-cameo duty as himself on the
radio and a minister.


- Pulse!, October 1996

###

"The Devil Still Makes Hollywood Do It"

by Cynthia Dunn
The Rebel Yell - Robert E. Lee High School
November, 1975

Unless you were hiding in a cave somewhere, I'm sure you knew of, and/or were in
attendance at the big Halloween party that was held at the local drive-in, where The
Exorcist, Beyond the Door, and It's Alive! played as a triple feature to thrill and chill
all the "ghosts and goblins" into an "unforgettable night of terror." It was more like a
completely forgettable night of laughter, or in my case, boredom, than terror. I never
understood what the big deal was in the first place with The Exorcist when I saw it
for the first time about a year ago out of curiosity after I had read the book. I
remember Jodi Kerr kept telling me, "You gotta read this, you gotta read this -- it's
sooo scary you won't be able to sleep at night!" Then another friend said that he saw
it when he went to visit his uncle, and the film was so scary, that the theater ushers
were passing out "barf bags" to the audience. Well, the book wasn't really scary, and
the movie was a big disappointment, as well. What's so scary about fake vomit that
looks like unheated pea soup? Or a little girl who floats above her bed, cursing her
lungs out like a sailor, and has a pizza face that 10 cases of pimple cream couldn't
cure in a million years? Absolutely nothing, and the same goes for Beyond the Door,
which is a cheap, badly dubbed rip-off of The Exorcist (complete with that awful, fake
green pea soup vomit), and It's Alive!, which is about some "devil baby" with fangs,
as it crawls and gnaws its way through the neighborhood. I suppose Hollywood thinks
that we need these sort of "demon movies" for cheap thrills to entertain us in our "dull
little lives," as there seems to be no end in sight of these types of movies. However,
the truth of the matter is that Hollywood would rather keep raking-in the cash at the
box office by churning out these products of folklore and religious superstition, and
presenting them as the ultimate representations of "evil," than to have the nerve to
show the true nature of evil, the face of the devil, and what and where hell really is.
Man is the real devil, and all the evils of war, annihilation, hatred and prejudice that he
inflicts upon his brothers and sisters here on earth is the real hell. So, fellow students,
until Hollywood can start presenting a true picture of evil in movies, I urge you -- as I
intend to do -- to boycott these stupid "demon movies." It's high time that Hollywood
stopped having it's devil's food cake and eating it, too.


- from Dazed and Confused (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993).

###

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