This putrid endeavor by schlockmeister Larry Buchanan, doesn’t even apply to the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. It’s just purely awful. And so here at The Last Drive In it has earned the Barney Fife Takes a Great Big Axe and Pow Pow Pow! to this horrible bit of film schlocking.”
But what did I expect…When I couldn’t even make it past 20 minutes of Buchanan’s other unnecessary remake The Eye Creatures 1965 which was a re do of Invasion of The Saucer Men 1957 . Or his other schlocky “Story of a Witch Who Became Restless in Her Grave” The Naked Witch 1961.
This is director Larry Buchanan’s ludicrous and at times offensive remake of Ed L Cahn’s Voodoo Woman 1957.
Ed L Cahn’s Voodoo Woman
It’s truly an awful piece of junk, that actually made my brain hurt and my body ache to have to sit and watch it all the way through in order to distinguish it with the Pow Pow Pow Award.
It’s also sad that John Agar actually participated in this project or any other Buchanan project, not that he’s a great thespian of the stage and theater. Not that his film credits add up to an impressive career. His presence does lend that certain warmth, a familiar face amidst the B-movie debris. Unfortunately here, he doesn’t contribute any charisma, or plausibility to the plot at all. He appeared to be tagging along with the rest of the cast, as if he was just waiting around in between scene changes like a burned out accountant waiting to do their taxes. Was Buchanan blackmailing Agar? Why else would he do this film.
The film tone, I don’t mean atmosphere, I mean HUE, itself has a greenish coating over it as if director of photography Ralph K Johnson went crazy with a Roscolux #90: Dark Yellow Green lighting gel, which made the film green and murky rather than moody. Was it a queer arty attempt at Day for Night.
There are retro horror/sci fi films that have a certain charm because they took themselves seriously and didn’t realize that they were making fools of themselves. The narratives filled with an intense passion that couldn’t be pulled off, still giving it a kind of quirky likability. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space for instance. Ed Wood’s films in general for that matter.
Now, having grown up on Long Island I can tell you, that this was not filmed in the balmy, wormwoody, mossy, Gothic backwoods of the bayou swamp lands. Eastern Texas perhaps, well it is on the border of Louisiana…
Look at the rural Gothic architecture
…as set design and art directer Robert Dracup would have us believe, we are in the heart of marshy snake magic country.
“Somebody been living up in the swamps and I don’t mean the natives!”
This line in the film is supposed to set us up for the impending dread of what lurks! A really ugly twerp in sunglasses, who’s too skinny to subdue a gorgeous wife like Pat (Francine York who’s had a very healthy career in television ) or a big strapping hulk like Tracker who could snap his neck like a field bean. And yet this scraggy twerp holds sway over an entire island.
And God help me the dialogue insults and reeks, an inept miasma of platitudes in retrograde. I think Tony Huston wrote this script as a fifth grade English project, there’s no other explanation for it’s adolescent composition.
Again I blame set designer Robert Dracup, for the secluded goings at the supposed hidden house in the woods, which might as well be a split level mid 60s South Massapequa N.Y. aluminum siding pre fab, including the swimming pool filled with hungry stock footage crocodiles.
The interior scenes with sparse rooms decorated with an emphasis on ceiling fans, might have been utilized as to create that noiresque, tropical, southern Gothic , hot heady atmosphere, yet all I can say is that they looked like they came from the mark down end caps at The Home Depot and are not the atmospheric prop Dracup or Buchanan might have intended them to be.
Most of the interior shots reminded me of having to sit in dingy Mechanic’s garages or Jiffy Lubes, waiting for my car to get an oil change. All that paneling!!!! and smoke stained furniture. Even the exterior shots of the woods, weren’t filmed with an air of mystery, as this was Voodoo territory was it not! Again, the greenery might as well have been shot off the Southern Parkway of Long Island.
None of the scenes were blocked with an eye toward vérité. Even low budget films, have known their best moments because of the lack of high polish. The film lacked any atmospherics, even the laboratory scenes were infantile, seeming as if they were filmed in the stockroom of an empty Best Western.
The pathetic attempt by the really repulsive Jeff Alexander (Twisted Brain, Zontar, The Thing From Venus) to perform as Dr Simond Trent, a pale and woeful boogeyman, sort of Dr Moreau, who growls out commands like “Breathe!, and “Get Up!” and “Live!” Toward the end of the film he actually says in this e coli contaminated dialogue “Get Up! Get Up! the world awaits you as my first citizen!” …Wow, that bad…My neighbor who trapped small birds and squirrels for who knows why. kept me up nights, this little toad, just made me want to retch.
Dr Simond Trent looks more like a unappealing podiatrist with halitosis of the scalp and forehead, than an imposing man of science, although I did want his sunglasses, which would look better on me, than him. Alexander is noooo Charles Laughton or George Zucco in the mad scientist department. Actually I think I went on a blind date with this guy back in the 80s, yeah, it could be him.
Charles Laughton as Dr Moreau = Brilliant performance as mad scientist!
Jeff Alexander as Dr Simond Trent = Scrawny little maggot in a white lab coat!
The film opens with the pasty reptilian doctor Trent hovering over a glass tank filled with a whitish vapor, which conceals his latest experiment, a half fish half human ‘transmutaion’. We only know that he’s trying to create a man-fish, as he tells us in one of his weenier diatribes. What we see is merely a black nailed claw fighting it’s way through the dry ice to wave for the camera.
Trent has been mucking around with the evolutionary process, and thinks himself a god. We see sharp black nails on a grayish clawed, webbed hand, poke through the misty vapors, then suddenly sink back down out of sight. His experiment has failed. So he carries the scientific miscarriage down to his um, his, well, his…pond, lake, creek, no…….his swimming pool, his Gothic southern backwoods, swimming pool, walks onto the ehhmm, diving board, and throws the laundry bundle of ‘what ever it was’ into the pool of stock footage crocodiles, or alligators who proceed to eat the said failed experiment.
The use of hokey native drums in the soundtrack to enhance the voodoo theme comes off more insulting and exploitative than ritualistic and authentic. And they started giving me a migraine after a while. I found the use of the casting of local black ‘natives’ as they were referred to, a disrespectful caricature and racist.Buchanan did nothing to empower the roles for these black actors, he merely extended the travelogue like artlessness in a 60s modish setting.
Not that movies from the 50s and 60s didn’t utilize the whole ‘savage’ lens as the narrative to inform us of how primitive black culture was, even in an American milieu, even in modern times. How we should ultimately fear their ‘difference’ and their, ‘Magic’ and the retribution, which ultimately was just as much the cautionary tale here as Trent mucking around with science and playing twerpy god of the poolside laboratory.
At some point in the beginning of this mess, we find ourselves at The Fly’n Fish Inn. Run by Frenchy (Roger Ready,who was in Night Fright with Agar, and Creature of Destruction 1967 starring Les Tremayne yet another remake, this time of Ed L Cahn’s The She Creature 1956).
Sitting at the bar drinking is Brenda Simmons (Shirley McLine, who also starred in The Eye Creatures and Buchanan’s The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, which I haven’t seen yet).
Brenda and Frenchy…oh now that’s chemistry
Brenda and Frenchy are scheming lovers who are trying to get information from visiting ‘Oil Man’ Driscoll West (Bill Thurman from Gator Bait) who has hired a geologist (John Agar’s character Barry Rogers) to take him into the swamps to help locate the oil. Brenda flirts with West, which is also a tactic to stall him from going back to his motel room, so her brainless boyfriend Ritchie (Cal Duggan Mars Needs Women) can sneak around West’s room and find the map and plot of the area he plans on surveying.
When West, repels Brenda’s advances, and catches Ritchie in his room, a homo erotic brawl fit for gay lumberjacks ensues, (I really want West’s brown leather boots though!) and the pathetic Ritchie stabs West to death.
Ah the manly ballet of death scene with Ritchie and Oil Man West!
Frenchy and friend Rabbit dispose of West’s body in the swamp, in a grisly fashion by chopping up his body with boat and mechanical saw., yet the film doesn’t seem to even pull that off either. We just see something that looks like a clip from an Industrial Instructional video using a device on a boat that literally saws things up that pass under the bow. A large rusty bowed metallic saw with teeth dipping into the water once or twice. Oh the carnage!
Brenda, Ritchie and Frenchy scheming to get of West’s body
The really big saw! but no money in the budget for blood
Agar showing a huge amount of zero chemistry for Francine York’s character!
Once Barry Rogers the geologist arrives, Brenda impersonates West’s wife, as Rogers has never met the man, who has hired him. Frency and Brenda hire Rabbit as a guide, and bring Ritchie along passing him off as West’s assistant. Neither Brenda or Frenchy plan on leaving anyone alive, once they get their hands on the oil, but they stumble onto Dr Trent’s secret house in the bog, that’s the end of that. Once Trent’s lab assistant Tom (Tony Houston The Eye Creatures ) starts to question Trent’s work, Trent slips into his ceiling fanned room one night with a syringe and, he becomes another failed experiment who gets yelled at a lot “Get Up” Live!”
Lab assistant Tom says to Dr Trent at one point “It’s enough to win you world acclaim!” Dr Trent sullenly ponders like any good hammy actor delivering this fine comeback “Yes, but acclaim…that’s nothing…to create life,…to move it up and down the evolutionary path…”
Alexander should be given The CrApademy Award for acting….
So that’s the great scientific endeavor?, making men into fish, so that they can stay under water? Bringing them back to when they crawled out of the primordial ooze, that’s your ambition? Geez
Prelude to Tom’s volunteering to be Trent’s guinea pig. another Homoerotic moment
Later on Pat accuses Trent of killing Tom and he says ” Tom’s not dead, he volunteered!” and she cries, “Who would want to be turned into one of you pet monsters!” I swear he wrote this while in 5th grade.
It’s not until Brenda becomes the ‘Instantaneous Transmutation’ a ridiculous looking creature that would make even the great puppet master himself Paul Blaisdell roll over in his grave. The very manly humanoid, bares a slight cornball resemblance to several creatures that come to mind. The creature in Creature Walks Among Us 1956, and dare I say it, they might have snuck into the wardrobe closet of Project Unlimited and stolen ideas from make up artist Fred B Phillips and John Chambers . The Monstrous Brenda could be a poor relation to The Children of Spider County and Keeper of The Purple Twilight episodes of The Outer Limits, but of course without the cool campiness, slick charm, and not nearly the heart. Let me be clear, this monstrosity of monster make-up sinks back into the dry ice of the tank compared to these others I’ve mentioned.
When the monstrous Brenda finally emerges by the pool side, there is a comical verbal sparring between Pat, (John Agar stands comatose next to her while on the other side of the cheap screen door) trying to convince Brenda not to hurt them, to look at what Dr Trent has done to her beautiful self, almost urging her to jump in and end it all, in the meanwhile, Dr Trent is commanding her not to listen, and trying not to get thrown in himself.
In the end, ultimately it ISN’T the native’s snake worshiping, voodoo death curse, their powerful mucky marsh magic, cosmic justice or even the local law that brings down Dr Simond Trent, it is the transformation of Brenda Simmons into more of a bloated blue gumby character more than gil woman, the walking train wreck of the evolutionary path that throws Dr Trent to the crocodiles.
In between, there’s a lot of meandering lifeless footage of the idle travelers on their journey as they embark into the swamp lands in search of oil and bewaring of the ‘natives.’
Just to reiterate the racism which was part of my strong displeasure with the film, Dr Trent also holds sway over the locals, who are primarily black folk who live in fear of the profanity that Trent is exacting on their families and their land. He uses them for experimentation, as flunkies to do his dirty work, and to bang drums warning him of intruders who are coming his way. Much like Voodoo Woman, and in a sadly antithetical way, The Island of Dr Moreau 1977 or Island of Lost Souls 1932. It harms me to even mention these 2 memorable films in the same sentence.
One of Trent’s strong arms is Valjean, played by Ted Mitchell who serves as a right-hand-man to Dr Trent. Valjean also seems to be the elder of the swampy marsh people while managing Trent’s compound so Trent has time to yell at the mist filled tank of monsters in the laboratory/storeroom.
Tracker, played by Bill McGhee who you might remember was the gentle yet disturbed giant in the superior low budget horror film Don’t Look In The Basement 1973 renamed The Forgotten has the job of watching over Trent’s wife, Pat (Francine York, Space Probe Taurus, Mutiny in Outer Space, General Hospital and even Streets of San Fransisco, Columbo and Kojak).
Standing guard at Pat’s bedroom prison…whittling wood
Why in god’s name did Pat ever find this sunglasses wearing slug attractive is the true horror of the film. She is basically his prisoner, especially once Pat stumbles onto poor Tom misting away in the fog of the dry ice filled tank in the laboratory. She turns some knobs, and pulls a tube here and there, performing a mercy killing on Tom so he dies, after all he’s better off dead than becoming a man fish who can live under water, swimming in a pool with hungry crocodiles.
Pat, trapped in the laboratory closet of her own making
At one point a ‘native’ father comes to Trent saying “My son is gone, I just want to see the man who brought evil to us!” Trent and the man struggle, until Valjean, sticks a knife into one of his own neighbors, in defense of this mad doctor who treats him like a dog.
The ‘native’s’ do grow restless with the evil that Trent brings to them, and so they burn an effigy of him ‘THE EVIL ONE,’ “You must be the instrument of revenge!”- Valjean says in his tribal mask. They all do a Voodoo snake dance, and descend upon the house, to wreak revenge on the doctor. I ask the question, why Valjean would betray the trust of his own people in the first place, only to turn full circle around and don the Voodoo mask and order his followers to finally destroy Trent.
A side note: One of the girls, a mute named Mura, played by the beautiful Gayle Johnson whom Valjean’s seems to have a familiar relationship with, is attacked by Ritchie. He attempts to rape her. She runs away and leads Ritchie to the swamp where he falls into a patch of quicksand.
The scene where Mura’s facial expressions actually show compassion and regret for not helping her assailant does have a certain tone of quality to it. Not that Gayle Johnson’s running from place to place barefoot was a measure of her acting skills, but I do feel that it was her scene with Ritchie that struck me.
There is a moment where she is framed in between the foliage in silhouette than has a bit of presence to it. Perhaps, the idea of race, power struggle and rape would have made for a better plot line, under someone else direction. I think this was an accident, and only due to Mura’s apt facial expression that caught that moment right.
At one point I swear in this blatant ripping off of other films, I honestly thought I heard the theme music from Creature From The Black Lagoon, while the travelers/interlopers/oil surveyors/schemers were moving through the stock scenery footage.
Pat and Barry Rogers take off in a plane and probably get married and blah blah blah….
so I say!
Pow Pow Pow to the Hokey Native Score, infantile dialogue, horrible set design, one yucky looking brown latex glove, the worst acting ever and blatant exploitation of black folk , crocodiles and cruelty to turtles ( he feeds Tom while in the tank a turtle, we proceed to hear him crunching. Dr Simond Trent YOU bastard!)