Your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge!
Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir
“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!” – Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)
The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.
In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.
Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.
Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.
In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.
“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity
You don’t know women until you know them without men!
Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.
Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).
Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.
The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.
Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.
Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.
Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.
Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.
The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.
Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)
Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.
When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira
Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.
“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!
Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)
Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.
Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.
The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.
Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.
Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.
Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”
Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute. She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.
Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.
Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.
Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.
She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.
The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!”Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”
Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.
Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?” referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.” “Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.
Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”
Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.
In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him. But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”
Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna, “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.” As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.
Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.” But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”
A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”
Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.
Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.
Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.
Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.”
Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.
In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.
He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”
In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.
The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.
Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two–”Tougher to get out” Cop one– “Wouldn’t you?” Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”
Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!
Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”
Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head
Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity,Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.
Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.
Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.
When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.
He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.
But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.
Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.
Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”
Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”
Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”
Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”
Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
“I’m on fire to transcribe my nightmares through cinema and music. After creating four films and four instrumental albums, I’m pregnant with The Doll, my next horror picture and it’s clawing at my insides. The upcoming horror shocker concerns a haunting at a family owned wax museum in Salem. Co-writer Michael Gingold and I recently completed the screenplay and had a couple of false start-ups, like all my films have had – but I’m very close now to securing the proper funding. As a cult filmmaker, I don’t go to Hollywood for my financing. I live in a world where independent films are funded through private investors. It’s an unstable realm for sure and I plan to get to the point where I can fund my own films as well as other independent filmmaker’s works. As with all my projects, I’m purchasing and acquiring some of the special fx and props before actual official pre-production. Right now I’m working with a sculptor, Jason Bakutis, on the the doll itself…An antique porcelain doll. Jason created the eerie ancient tribal mask that Jimmy, the lead character wore in my last film, Torture Chamber. My projects may take years to mount but I’ve learned that if my intentions are pure and I visualize the film and soundtrack enough the universe has no choice but to open the gate. It’s just a matter of alignment. Every one of my films has been a struggle to create and if I would have given up then there would be no DESECRATION, no HORROR, no SATAN’S PLAYGROUND or TORTURE CHAMBER. I see THE DOLL looming when my eyes are open…or shut. The film is always projected like slides in my inner eye. Not to mention, the sounds…I tend to plan my actual soundtracks before filming. I did it on every one of my films. The sound…first. Which I guess makes sense since I have sound-color synesthesia. When I was younger and the very loud school alarm would go off – I’d see little grey spirals, like mini tornadoes, every time. The sound induced the patterns, the visuals. One time I saw what looked like three giant dragonflies hovering over the side of my house. There was bombing going on in the neighborhood and the explosive sound produced these strange blobs of color. I thought they were real flying giant-sized insects and I remembering running in terror. The sound of rain…I don’t need to see rain, just hear it…and it’s involuntary…I see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of light.” —Dante Tomaselli
I first stumbled onto Dante Tomaselli’s work when I purchased a VHS copy of Desecration from one of the oldest video rental houses in Madison Wisconsin, known for their extensive collection in Indie, obscure and art house films. I was struck by the artwork on the cover and the story seemed fascinating to me since I’m a classic horror film nut who will always remain faithful to the sacred classical horror genre style from Mid 80’s all the way back to the Silent Era.
One of the many things that strikes me about Dante Tomaselli’s work– is the Nightmarish Beauty that feels vintage. The Hallucinatory, Religio/Horror style is how he manages to create a perfect sense of place in his film’s surroundings, that is not only otherworldly in ordinary spaces but also possess a throw back to earliest horror films without being derivative.
There is a reminiscent atmosphere of older films as if he’s found a conduit to the good old days and his own appreciation for the classical style of horror film-making in his own work and succeeds in adapting it with an original flare on screen. The effective and evocative sound design is also something that creates another layer to Tomaselli’s films. Even the sets are meticulous, Tomaselli has a grasp of how to set the scene that hints at another time period. This is also what makes Tomaselli’s films more frightening than most contemporary horrors. Satan’s Playground truly has the authentic feel of a late 70s early 80s classic horror film, I mean he used a wood paneled station-wagon in Satan’s Playground, it doesn’t get better than that! not to mention his eye for casting special actors that fit his characters perfectly. The same goes for all of his other three feature films, Desecration, Horror and Torture Chamber.
In particular I have come to adore Irma St. Paule who sadly passed away in 2007. Irma has presence. She added something special to Desecration 1999 as Grandma Matilda and as the wicked Mrs. Leeds she was superbly macabre in Satan’s Playground 2006.
Dante Tomaselli has tapped into his primal dark spot, his idand found a way to connect the dots to the outer world. Upon re-watching all four of his feature films, I became reacquainted with some of the elements that drew me to his work in the first place. Tomaselli within all four works has created one continuous nightmare realm. A Möbius Trip of time and space. A string of interconnected events, interchangeable, with their own symbology and iconography. One connected journey with thematic threads that weave a familiar tapestry– painting the entire picture as a unified message, and an alternate realm that is woven together with pieces from the same puzzle. Hallucinatory, non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic, visceral, east coast Americana Gothic, a 70s vibe with raw simplicity, transcendental & primal horrors. There is a definitive pattern, a cyclical nihilist fate where none of the characters manage to survive their journey, their ordeal. There are no real protagonists, just puppets in a modern Greek tragedy.
Sound in Dante Tomaselli’s masterful works are extremely key to the aura of his work. He painstakingly sculpts each soundscapes that breathe, lo-fi undertows, waves and tones that shade the atmosphere along with his dynamic color palate. The use of color and lighting is also reminiscent of great horror films of the 1970s & 80s, I might add.
Tomaselli also prolongs his character’s sense of ‘outsider-ship’ The Outsider theme is also continuous throughout his work, in particular the gangs of children, forgotten and disaffected children, angry, having suffered at the hands of abuse and torture, they band together with their collective angst, as in Horror and Torture Chamber. While society is trying to cure them, or figure them out, or repress their identities, or force salvation on them –they are caught up in their private hell again and again.
And there is a perfect sense of place that Dante Tomaselli establishes in all his films…
As in the old abandoned house filmed in the Pine Barrens featured in Satan’s Playground, the simple woods, a place of the natural world becomes an almost unreal hellish domain. A rustic limbo-land. And what I’ve come to realize, but I must give first credit to my partner Wendy who watched this chilling film with me together once again, this haunted Halloween month is that Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her demented kinfolk don’t even really live in that broken down abandoned place.
She gets the sense that the house really is empty, it’s uninhabited for real. She figured that they only appear when someone comes knocking at the door. Then the hellish realm opens up and they materialize, like phantoms, like demons. And you know what! –I believe she’s right.
Because getting to know Dante Tomaselli’s work, means realizing that there are dimensions, levels of hell here on Earth. The creepy Leeds clan are just like the elusive Jersey Devil himself, swooping in and out of the picture to take people out of this life! Even as poor Sean Bruno falls into the hole in the ground (much like Bobby in Desecration-again revisiting common themes) it’s like he is being sucked out of life and down into the bowels of hell, or falling into ‘nowhere’. And one of the most striking observations for me was Tomaselli’s use of Trees… trees representing the ‘natural world’. which Dante and I will discuss further into this post. There are trees uses as figures, as the embodiment of an elemental force in each of his four films.
From Matthew Edwards essay The New Throwback: The FIlms of Dante Tomaselli “…watching Poltergeist, how many people would feel comfortable keeping a doll of a clown in their room? In both Desecration and Horror, Tomaselli likewise uses familiar objects, or childhood toys, as a means of driving conflicting emotions.”
There are many moments of recurring iconography throughout Dante Tomaselli’s four timorous mind-blowing works of art. ‘The Devouring Mother Archetype”-Christie Sanford who is fantastic continued her demon mother entity in Desecration’s respective sequel Torture Chamber. In all four films, Sanford’s incarnation displays this rabid motherhood, not only with the symbol of a little boy trapped in a cage and the religio-horror aspect but her character Judy’s maniacal abduction of Paula’s (Ellen Sandweiss) baby, Anthony in Satan’s Playground, and then her violent Folie à deuxrelationship with the vicious Reverend Salo Jr. (Vincent Lamberti) and their treatment of Grace in Horror.
There is the re-appearances of the goat (a symbol of arcane Gods & supernatural significance), boils (damnation from hell) boy size cages, used in Desecration as the badly abused Bobby is imprisoned in one in his dreams, as is Jimmy in Torture Chamber. The torture rack used in Horroris brought back in Torture Chamber once again, illustrative of the themes of agony and punishment. There is a dark swirling, gaping black vortex, a circular menacing field that not only appears in Satan’s Playground out in the dark sky in the night time woods and we see it once again in Torture Chamber inside the castle structure. There are invisible bogs, holes to nowhere that Danny Lopes continues to get sucked down into, in Desecration and then again in Satan’s Playground. And of course there is Atmo Royce’s incredible artwork that Tomaselli commissioned specifically for his films, that are significant to each story. Even the puzzle that Grandma Matilda (Irma St. Paule) works on at the dining room table in Desecration has a story to tell, it also contains the grassy oubliette that Danny Lopes falls into.
Dante makes the lower-budget work to his advantage. Films with vast amounts of surplus funds wind up having no soul, yet Dante Tomaselli manages to convey what’s in his head by staying close to the art of intuitive style and not by using big money shocks. He is not restricted at all, but stays true to his vision.
I see Dante Tomaselli’s work as uniquely his own imaginary / hallucinatory vision. Dante’s collective works are like little filmic exorcisms, for childhood fears. Where the danger surrounds anyone who is young, and the adults become the monsters. Where religion becomes the monster, and where fanaticism, repression and abuse, drives people toward possession, damnation, and inevitably to Hell, or a hellish nightmare world where there is no escape nor salvation.
Yet on a very Americana landscape, with a truly east coast American Gothic narrative due to the fixation on suburban Catholicism, with Medieval emblems, Italian east coast Catholicism and the ordinary American family, the fixture of the church as in Desecration , Catholic idols and statuettes of the virgin Mary, all surrounding childhood fears, perversion of religion, fanaticism and madness. This all seems to manifested into these surreal nightmarish paroxysms on screen.
I also see amidst the imagery…agony, fixation, rage, desire, craving, cruelty, revenge, frenzy, hysteria and desolation, and outsider-ship as the proponents of the narratives, in Desecration (1999) Horror(2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and ultimately Torture Chamber (2013).
There’s an authentic American angst about ours sins swallowing us up and spitting us out into Hell. In Dante Tomaselli’s dream world, there exhibits a charismatic starkness, which exposes us down to a raw nerve and makes us feel closer to what might be a more straightforward Hell, than the depictions from classical paintings and literature.
it will continue to brand Tomaselli a hallucinatory auteur and broaden his landscape a bit more, but does not scale back on the schadenfreude emotional shivers and psychic acrobatics that his earlier works cause the viewer to go through, definitely me for sure.
Dante Tomaselli was born October 29, 1969, in Paterson, New Jersey- is an Italian-American horror screenwriter, director, and electronic score composer. He studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree in Advertising there. His first film was a 23 minute short, called Desecration which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals.
Later on, Dante Tomaselli expanded his screenplay Desecration into a feature length film and in 1999, the film premiered to a SRO audience at the prestigious Fantafestival in Rome, Italy.
The release ofDesecration(1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment was praised by reviewers for its unique vision for a independent horror production.
“I’m just this guy from New Jersey who has odd visions. I do have an obsession with replicating childhood nightmares, fears, anxieties. With my films, I’m trying to construct some kind of nightmare where we experience the protagonist’s damnation.”
It’s no wonder that he’s “just this guy from New Jersey with odd visions” and a life long supernatural / horror aficionado considering himself as a ‘supernaturalist, NOT a ‘satanist’, who also happens to be the cousin of film director Alfred Sole the director who brought us the edgy , cult Catholic themed horror favorite , Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which I loved the atmosphere of dread and that iconic clear mask of the killer, the yellow raincoat… The entire vibe is memorable.
Dante’s 2nd feature film, is Horror(2003) began it’s initial filming in January 2001 in Warwick upstate New York, which was Tomaselli’s first commercial success, and has maintained a wide release on DVD. Tomaselli also has a keen eye for casting the right people for her work. In an interesting & quite nostalgic maneuver the film cast celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin who maintained notoriety as ‘Amazing’ in the 1970s! Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment.
Tomaselli then made Satan’s Playground(2005), It stars 70’s and early-80’s cult-horror icons Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The film is set, and was filmed in, New Jersey’s infamous Pine Barrens Forest that truly has its own eerie mythology in real life.
In his fourth installment Dante Tomaselli released Torture Chamber (2013) yet another of his nightmarish journeys exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation. Torture Chamber had its World Premier at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain.
Dante Tomaselli’s work is being featured in an excellent edited volume released by the outstanding publishing company McFarland — FILM OUT OF BOUNDS. There’s a chapter (pg. 112-125) titled: The New Throwback: The Films of Dante Tomaselli.
The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ”Scream in the Dark” (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ”The Doll” (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth and most successful dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.
Stars Irma St. Paule ( 12 Monkeys 1995, Trees Lounge 1996, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her 2000) as Grandma Matilda, Christie Sanford (Horror 2003, Satan’s Playground 2006, Winter of Frozen Dreams 2009, Torture Chamber 2013) as Sister Madeline / Mary Rullo, Danny Lopes as Bobby Rullo, Salvatore Paul Piro (Joe’s Apartment 1996, Sleepers 1996, Night Falls on Manhattan 1996, The Sopranos (199), Find Me Guilty 2006, Satan’s Playground 2006) as Mr. Rullo, Vincent Lambertias Brother Nicolas, Maureen Tomaselli as Sister Rosemary, Gene Burke as Father O’Leary, Ruth Ray as Reverend Mother, Helen Palladino as Mrs. Cannizzaro the psychic, Nora Maher as Sister Rita, Mary Fassino as Sister Veronica.
Desecration is an eerie psychological chiller about a young 16 year old boy named Bobby Rullo played by Danny Lopes. It also stars Tomaselli regular Christie Sandfordas Sister Madeline/ Mary Rullo (Bobby’s mother) Sandford brings a certain ‘arresting presence’ to both characters.
The setting for Desecration is appropriately placed at St. Anthony’s Catholic Boarding School-St. Anthony is the Patron Saint of the Lost. And Desecration is the story of one lost boy’s journey through Hell! The film winds around a non-linear movement and flashbacks with soundscapes that are striking.
Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) is an outsider, a loner. He is emotionally scarred by his mother’s sudden death. Christie Sanford, simultaneously plays Sister Madeline and Bobby’s mother Mary. The two women it could be said are one in the same, both are Bobby’s tormentors.
16 year old Bobby Rullo suffers from a repressive and outright abusive Catholic childhood. He seems lost within the emotional turbulence since the unexpected death of his mother when he was five. 11 years later, at his Catholic boarding school, while playing with a radio controlled plane, it collides with Sister Madeline causing blunt force trauma to her head and killing her instantly on the grounds of the school. It is deemed an accident, but Bobby is failing school and he is told to pack his bags and go home. Bobby quietly utters- “Some people are blessed and others are just cursed.”
It is only after he inadvertently causes the death of the nun, that it unleashes a series of brutal and supernatural chain of events. As a premonition, at the opening of Desecration, during mass, sister Madeline can not get her candle to light, she runs out of the room seemingly afraid and ashamed, as the other nuns stare at her. There is an expression of shock and of dread on her face as she is not meant to be blessed, but as Bobby says, some people ‘are just cursed.’
Bobby begins his journey through Hell, where he sees visions of the dead nun and his dead mother. Bobby’s descent summons demons, and evokes powerful childhood nightmares and primal fears.
Desecration acts as a set piece for our childhood fears, and the overpowering influence of abuse, fanaticism and repression, which wreak havoc on our innocence. Desecration is in effect a film you experience from the inside out. You’re not supposed to make sense of it. There is no sense to one’s madness or one’s descent into a nether regions of Hell while the gates open wider. The dead sister Madeline who becomes more grotesque with time as she is book-ended by demon clowns who stand at the ‘gates’. She taunts Bobby with visions of her lurking about the grounds.
Bobby is also mistreated by Brother Nicolas (Vincent Lamberti who is quite intimidatingly sinister in this role and as Reverend Salo Jr. in Horror 2003 with his well chiseled fiendish grin) who manhandles him and slips him a Valium to relax, a queer thing to do as an elder figure of the church. Bobby asks him, “Can priests take Valium?” With a menacing tone he tells Bobby, “priests can do many things…”
Bobby becomes groggy, he begins to hallucinate, as he looks at the painting of a nun, it morphs into a blurry face like sister Madeline who appears to the Reverend Mother out on the grounds, faceless, then the painting of the nun becomes an unearthly skull. The use of Atmo Royce’s paintings is perfection, as a pinion to the surrealism of the film.
Bobby begins to hear the voice of a priest, “No description can be adequately revealed to the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” The sins of the mother, not the father are exacted on the children. The transformation of the nun painting becomes a skull as its final transformation, turns itself into a clown’s face.
Bobby wanders the halls in a daze, he gazes through the window of the classroom door and sees brother Nicolas’ eyes burn demonic as he turns to look at Bobby. Finally as he makes his way back to his room, lights a candle and says his prayers, he falls asleep and vines and dirt begin to envelop the room. The earth and the natural world are trying to swallow him up. He dreams of sister Madeline in her most frightening incarnation standing at the entrance of a gate, in between a set of demon clowns. Sister Madeline is now trapped in Hell and Hell is coming for Bobby. He is marked for damnation by the evils of the world.
Bobby has only one person he can trust and that is his dauntlessly pious Grandma Matilda who is wonderful in the role. Matilda’s devotion to her Catholic faith drives her forward to try and protect Bobby from his mother, her own daughter Mary who is haunting and terrorizing him from the grave. Grandma Matilda is part of the supernatural events that were triggered by his killing sister Madeline. Madeline is grotesque in death, but Bobby’s mother was an abusive monster in life, and how he processes the abuse he endured as a little boy is dreaming of her having locked him in a cage. Bobby’s father mentions how he’d come home and find his hands and feet tied to the playpen.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Grandma Matilda is putting together a strange puzzle that is an odd painting of trees in the woods, almost a primitive style artwork. There’s is one piece left to fill in and suddenly it becomes Bobby’s face as he is about to sink into a hole, another premonition of things to come. Grandma Matilda also discovers her daughters spirit in the house, “She’s a here(with an Italian accent, though Irma St. Paule is from the Ukraine, she does a wonderful job as an old world Italian Catholic) She’s a here!!!”
There is also a great sequence where Matilda wants to consult the psychic she plays Bingo with to help try and find Bobby who is missing. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “I see a very deep hole” Matilda-“the hole in the puzzle” “Yes it is a puzzle”Matilda also asks if his mother Mary has him, Mrs. Cannizzaro is fearful of the energy she is picking up on, the psychic is afraid to proceed. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “Your daughter is using him to escape”“Escape from what?”“From Hell!”
Bobby is run through a maze of physical persecutions and emotions. During biology class he sees the dead nun, drive up in a hearse and beckon to him to get in. Bobby hates confinement, he complains that there are no locks on his bedroom door at the school. We see a flashback or dream/nightmare sequences that he was kept in a large cage in his bedroom as a little boy. The room is filled out with creepy toys, clowns and an even creepier giant Humpty Dumpty doll and balloons and a hovering mother who reeks of inherent sadism and evil, as she is holding balloons and a bottle of formula while he is trapped in the cage crying.
It is a disturbing image as we see Bobby at 16 years old, lying in the fetal position in the cage, his mother splashing the baby formula all over him and cackling. When Bobby tells his Grandma that he had the worst dream about his mother again, and wants to know why there aren’t any photographs of her around the house. It is Bobby’s father who doesn’t want any pictures of his wife in the house! We hear Bobby’s father (Salvatore Paul Piro, who is fantastic as Bobby’s ill-tempered father) talk about his wife having had a breakdown after he was born and that “She was sick!”
While running in the woods, surrounded by trees, (trees which I’ve come to learn are very significant as a trope in all of Tomaselli’s films) he meets up with his friend Sean who suddenly falls into a hole. Bobby can hear unholy growling coming from the abyss. Or is it Bobby himself who has fallen in the hole?
There are moments of the right amount of gore, when sister Rita is looking through sister Madeline’s art portfolio, she sees the dead eyed nun outside the window, then the statue of the Virgin Mary falls off the shelf. Suddenly, sister Rita is attacked by a pair of shears, and she is literally stabbed to death, by these ordinary scissors that are animated by an unseen force, her wrists and limbs slashed and her throat stabbed. Perhaps this horrifying moment is as evocative as a moment from Lucio Fulci, yet Dante Tomaselli never cannibalizes other directors work, the mood is quite original and very much his vision. An abject sequence of fright that is startling, with each frame of Desecration a photo-play in classical horror. There is such a raw absence of adornment with Brendan Flynt’s cinematography which is alternatively balanced with the surrealism of the nightmarish sequences.
Desecration is not only Bobby’s journey through Hell, it encompasses everyone in his orbit. His grandma Matilda told him, “you were an angel Bobby” but is this enough to save him from being damned?
Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli, with music by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Timothy Naylor, film editing Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Maze Georges, production design by Jill Alexander, costume design by Nives Spaleta. And some amazing special effects, make up and evil pumpkin head puppetry by Monsters, Madmen and Mayhem Make-up Creations.
Horror stars Kreskin as Reverend Salo, Lizzy Mahon as Grace Salo, Danny Lopes (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Luck, Vincent Lamberti (Desecration 1999) as Reverend Salo Jr., Christie Sanford (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Mrs. Salo, Jessica Pagan as Marisa, Raine Brownas Amanda, Kevin Kenny as Kevin, Chris Farabaugh as Fred, and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp 1983) as the Art Therapist.
Horror (2003), utilizes some of the same imagery as Desecration, in fact Danny Lopes plays one of the characters, a troubled delinquent teenage drug user named Luck.
Horror, is a visually striking masterpiece of well–horror, about a group of runaway teens who escape from a drug rehab facility. Luck (Danny Lopes) shoots and kills the guard and takes his gun and a huge bag of candy and magic mushrooms which the van of teenagers proceed to partake in on their way to the Salo farm. In another nightmarish odyssey the teens encounter demonic forces at the rural family farmhouse owned by two sadists who imprison their daughter Grace, inject her with drugs to keep her compliant. Reverend Salo Jr is a phony preacher and faith healer and possibly the pair are murderers who run an odd religious cult.
Like so many of the scenes in Horror, there is another powerful sequence where Grace is looking out her bedroom window at her father holding one of his fire and brimstone sermons in the snow, during the cold white light of day, while people with crutches and boils are gathered round in a circle. Her father looks up and points at her, and that singular moment sends shivers up my spine. Lamberti is absolutely menacing as Revernd Salo Jr. And while the scene takes place in broad daylight, there is a feeling of claustrophobic terror and dread because Grace is truly trapped.
There is a hint that they might have even abducted Grace (she finds a strange scrapbook of pictures, one with a little girls legs sticking out of a bag, I think that’s the impression I got), who are these people, are they the Salo’s victims and are these photos trophies?)
And are they keeping Grace drugged so that she will not remember her past before she was abducted. The opening scene illustrates a form of abduction, as she is knocked out and brought back into the house. I also consider the fact that her Grandfather who was a mentalist and could hypnotize people, bending their will to his might have played a part in her captivity. Did Reverend Salo Sr. brainwash her into believing that they were family? Grace seems to have a psychic connection to her Grandfather, but is that because he has imposed his will on her consciousness.
There are flashback sequences of the Amazing Kreskin performing his mentalist act, the presence of this nostalgic celebrity adds another vintage sensation that we’re watching an authentic older horror film from the 1970s decade.
From the starling opening of Horror, Grace is stringing Christmas lights up on the front of the quaint little house, when she is accidentally shocked by a live wire and burns her hand, and as she comes down the ladder, she is struck by a dark figure who puts her in a body bag, throws her over his shoulder and dumps her on a bed like a rag doll, while her mother (Christie Sanford) laughs with a streak of cruelty. Her abductor we come to learn is the Reverend Salo Jr. her own father. The scene is chilling and brutal in it’s old fashioned simplicity. Again, Dante Tomaselli manages to bring me back to that eerie & uncanny sensation you get when watching a good 70s horror flick.
My first impression of this sadistic couple and Salo Sr (Kreskin) was the name that instantly made me think of the nightmarish fascist torture film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by Pasolini. I asked Dante if my association was correct and this is what Dante told me-“I was looking for a name that conjured depravity and Salo matched the vibration of the characters” (Reverend Salo – (Kreskin) and Reverend Salo Jr. – Vincent Lamberti)
After the opening where the pale and melancholy Grace (Lizzy Mahon) is attacked by her father and back inside the house and injected with a hypodermic to keep her submissive because she is acting up again (meaning –being independent of their will only by leaving the house and decorating for Christmas), eventually the teenagers who have escaped cross paths with Grace and the terrifying circumstances at the farmhouse intersect.
There is the presence of a black goat who is fixated on Grace, coming into the house and gazing at her. There is also a goat headed hooded figure in the woods that attacks one of the teenagers, yet another chilling scene.
The two disturbing narratives begin to integrate into one converging nightmare. The teens had escaped with the promise that Reverend Salo Jr would lead them and its the beginning of a new life, while handing out magic mushrooms in their shopping bag of goodies and a pamphlet from the Reverend with words that say- the End is near, Famine and the Anti-Christ.
While the teens are tripping out on hallucinatory drugs, we are getting images of the abuse Grace has been subjected to, and the collection of cult followers who are ravaged by boils and become almost zombie like. In fact, the teens, Luck Amanda, Marissa, Fred and Chris succumb to their own nightmare out in the woods, surrounded by violent visions, drug induced or supernatural forces at work both are simultaneously true.
Once in the farmhouse the violence continues, and Grace has a vision of the painting of her Grandfather Reverend Salo Sr (the amazing Kreskin) morphing into a frightening visage, as she discovers a hidden room in the attic with church candles and an Iron Maiden! Is she hallucinating from the drugs or was this where she was subjected to a medieval style torture –we see her being stretched on a rack, screaming in pain until she passes out. The rack will be seen once again in Torture Chamber (2013). The duplicity of religious fanaticism and hidden sadism and child abuse is ever present in Horror.
Again Atmo’s artwork plays a stunning visual role in the film. The painting in Grace’s room morphs into a savage visage of Grandfather Salo The Reverend Sr. The use of paintings that metamorphose into horrible versions of their former image puts me in mind of the Pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, in the first installment the wicked and murderously greedy Roddy McDowallkills his wealthy uncle (George Macready) and is then plagued by the painting that keeps changing to show his uncle climbing out of his grave and pounding at the front door of the estate, coming back in death to claim his revenge on his murderous bastard nephew. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series.
Horror is an atmospheric & disorienting chiller, another hallucinatory journey that coils around you like a snake head devouring it’s own tail–where it begins and where it ends is like any nightmare, where reality melts into horror and is as visually frightening as nightmare one can have.
Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Music by Dante Tomaselli, Bill Lacey and Kenneth Lampl. Film editing by Marcus Bonilla and Egon Kirincic, Art direction by Pete Zumba, Costume Design by Erika Goyzueta.
Stars Felissa Rose as Donna Bruno, Salvatore Paul Piro as Frank Bruno, Danny Lopes as Sean Bruno, Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead 1981) as Paula, Irma St. Paule as Mrs. Leeds, Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974) as Leeds boy, Christie Sanford as Judy Leeds, Ron Milkie as Officer Peters, Robert T. Zappalorti as cop/camper, Chris Farabaugh as stoner, Raine Brown as prostitute, Garth Johnson as Red Hooded man, Jesse Hodges as Lost Teen, Maureen Tomaselli as reporter, Emily Spectre as nurse, Paul LeRoy as truck drive/worshiper, Michael Ryan as the whipping boy and a slew of worshipers.
“SATAN’S PLAYGROUND is a supernatural shocker chronicling a family’s spine-tingling odyssey in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens region. En route to a wilderness camping retreat, their car inexplicably breaks down. As darkness falls, panic sets in. Then the marooned family stumbles upon an ancient and seemingly abandoned house. And it is here that they meet the bizarre Mrs. Leeds who lives there with her equally unhinged children. Offering no assistance, she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the forbidding countryside. Soon, the family will encounter a supernatural evil older than the woods themselves. SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…a place where deadly myth becomes gruesome reality.”– review by LDMediaCorp
Satan’s Playground has the true feel of the late 70s early 80s, exuding an Americana Gothic atmosphere with the backwoods, the netherworld of the Pine Barrens that cinematographer Tim Naylor creates with Dante Tomaselli at the helm. The sense of isolation and dread taps into all those primal fears of strange and unmerciful families that are outliers in society who kill people as part of their family routine, as ordinary as doing the chores.
This theme as always worked in films like Tobe Hooper’s dark adult fairy tale about a cannibalistic family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), John Hough’s repressed, isolated murderous religious fanatics portrayed to the hilt by Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo in American Gothic (1987), or even a cult favorite of mine, about a psychotic family of outliers in Spider Baby (1967)
Satan’s Playground is as dark as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale… and perhaps my favorite of Dante Tomaselli’s films.
What is so frightening is that families like The Leeds seem to be able to circumvent the law and social morays for long periods of time, as primitive as rabid animals who kill with a blood lust and not merely for survival. Added to this is the mythology of the Jersey Devil who has haunted our nightmares from the Pine Barrens for decades. He lurks and preys on random characters in the film, who are unlucky enough to be out in the woods, swooping down and slashing them to death or carrying them off to some hidden lair. The flapping of it’s wings are present in Satan’s Playground, while the hooded Satanists who are seen whipping their human sacrifice seem to be the least of the dangers in the story.
The story, chronicles another nightmare journey of a dysfunctional family who are headed through the Pine Barrens to enjoy a family camping trip. En route to the wilderness of the wooded nether regions Donna Bruno (Felissa Rose) her husband Frank who keeps falling asleep at the wheel (Salvatore Paul Piro) their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes) Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and her new born baby Anthony, break down when their wood paneled station wagon gets stuck in the mud.
Paula hears the flapping of wings, but it’s Sean who seems to have the hyper awareness that something isn’t quite right, he has a keener senses about his surroundings, trying to point toward the danger, with no one paying attention to him, because the other members of the family are too busy airing their frustrations. As darkness falls, panic sets in and the need to seek help sends each one out into the night.
As each one goes looking for help, they stumble upon an abandoned house, boarded up and in obvious decrepitude yet each family member knocks on the door looking to use a phone. Satan’s Playground has the feel of a macabre fairy tale of hapless victims wandering into dangerous spaces, at the mercy of an evil in its most pure form.
Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule not the kindly Grandma she once played but in the role as a most wicked witch) opens the door.
Right from the moment we enter the strange house, the layout tells us there is something off kilter. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the set design works incredibly well. It is here that each Bruno family member, one by one meets the otherworldly crone and the bizarre Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds boasts of her 13 children some who have died young, the rest worthless or developmentally disabled. She lives with her two unhinged children, the twisted Judy (Christie Sanford) who is mute and her son (Edwin Neal) who is also a violent psychopath.
Mrs. Leeds does fortunes to make money, or so she says. She offers no assistance and stalls while each Bruno keeps asking to use her phone. Mrs. Leeds warns of the violent unseen forces lurking in the forbidding countryside, not to mention the Satan worshipers. As she offers tea that is laced with some kind of drug, each one is knocked off by Judy who uses a large mallet or meat tenderizer. to brain her victims. Judy steals little Anthony, another childhood fear –of fiends coming in the night to steal children from their safe place. In Satan’s Playground there is no safe place.
The Bruno family comes face to face with inherent evil perhaps older than the woods, where they each face their own gruesome end. Does Mrs. Leeds even really exist in this world and is her 13th child, the Jersey Devil?
Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Music by Dante Tomaselli, Kenneth Lampl and Allison Piccioni. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Art design by Ian Salter, Costume design by Lisa Faibish
Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore(‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in The Sopranos 1999-2007) as Dr. Fiore, Christie Sanford as Mrs. Morgan, Lynn Lowry(The Crazies 1973, They Came from Within 1975) as Lisa Moreno, Ron Millkie as Dr. Thompson, Carmen LoPorto as Jimmy Morgan, Richard D. Busser as Father Mark Morgan, Ellie Pettit as Heather, Raine Brown as Hope, and Danny Lopes as Ralph.
from Out of Bounds: “… a restrictive moral, a kind of reactionary “medieval’ Christian vision du monde sneaks in. And is truly frightening.”
In Torture Chamber the story is revealed through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. Its about a metaphysical bond between a mother and her two sons.
There are Medieval emblems like Christian statues, the Iron Maiden in Horror and the Rack in both Horror and Torture Chamber.
From Horror Movies.ca “Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It’s probably the first serious independent horror film in a long time that’s in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon is called Baalberith, which, if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder,” he told the site. “Jimmy Morgan is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. This Catholic boy’s family is crawling with religious fanatics. His mother believes he was sent from the Devil to set the world on fire. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. Because of this, the troubled boy is sent to an Institution for disturbed youths. While there, Jimmy has a Charles Manson-like hold on the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That’s where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.”
Jimmy is a young boy who is a burn victim, badly abused by his fanatical religion mother (Christie Sanford) who in order to drive out his evil, subjects him to exorcism by his older brother who is a priest. When Jimmy escapes from the institution with other children who are burn victims, he wreaks revenge on his persecutors who then become the persecuted. Jimmy and his companions are a band of outliers to are hell bent on torturing their victims. Lynn Lowry as Lisa Marino who experiences her nightmares in flashback is a treat to watch, I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her performances in Romero’s The Crazies (1973), the outre bizarre Sugar Cookies (1973) co-starring cult favorite Mary Woronov and Cronenberg’s They Came From Within (1975).
Again, Dante Tomaselli’s film is non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic , hallucinatory, the soundscapes are footprints that lead you to the torture chamber. It’s a visceral and disturbing journey of a young boys retribution. A Gothic, transcendental horror as is Dante Tomaselli’s Desecration. Dante Tomaselli collection of films create a frightening world as he purges his scorn for religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.
Atmo Royce’s brilliant paintings from Torture Chamber (2013)
My conversation with Dante Tomaselli!
Joey – “I’ve seen TREES in all your films. They are a fabric of each film throughout each piece, trees seem to be very significant to you. Do they represent “a natural force”? and ‘elemental’ forces that go with the supernatural overtones…”
Dante Tomaselli- “Yes, I purposely place trees…woods in every single one of my films. I think trees are beautiful beings and I can stare at them endlessly. I do see these entities as sacred and elemental forces…rooted in the earth itself. Whenever I’m scouting woods locations for my films, I walk around in a trance and try to find the trees that seem to be calling out to me. The different personalities…textures…energies…Landscapes are real important to me…I like for the atmosphere to dominate. The Tree of Life twists…what gave life now takes it away. When I was growing up I would go deep into the woods and get myself lost. Where I lived in New Jersey there were endless woods in my backyard and I’d spend many hours out there alone with time just dissolving. I’d let my imagination run free and fantasize all kinds of sadistic and surreal landscapes and horror scenes. Sometimes on these excursions I feared I would disappear and never return. The trees were my refuge and represented safety and protection but at times, mainly in the dark, the same exact trees could be supremely frightening…their faces, energy…It’s chilling…a forest transformed into a place of evil…It goes against nature. That’s why that scene of evil woods in Wizard of Oz is so effective. You know, when I saw the trees come alive in The Evil Dead in theaters in 1983 when I was 13, it really pushed a button. And to have Ellen Sandweiss, who endured the ultimate scary trees… starring in one of my films – well…I’ve come full circle. For sure, in my independent movies I try to portray the woods as teeming with supernatural menace. In HORROR the woods were harboring the living dead or hypnotized souls…There are Satanists lurking in the Pine Barrens of Satan’s Playground, not to mention an invisible flying demon and…deadly quicksand. Torture Chamber’s abandoned castle was surrounded by whispering woods and there’s a burning gift leading to a glowing red hole to hell in the woods of Desecration.”
Joey- “Sound is one THE most significant enticements in your films. I’m wondering about the use of ARTWORK, not just Atmo’s incredible paintings but artwork as Symbolism. Desecration and Horror used his paintings. But there was also Irma’s puzzle in Desecration, in Torture Chamber there was the tribal MASK and even in Satan’s Playground there was the painting of the goat. I’m sure there are more hints of this, but these stand out. What is the greater gist of why these elements were so substantial in your work?”
Dante Tomaselli- “I like to paint with sound. I like glacial, pristine sounds mixed with low throbbing tones. The music is 50% of the film’s equation and even when I’m sculpting a song on an album like Scream in the Dark, where I was going for an amusement park Funhouse, dark ride vibe, I aways wanted the soundscapes to depict the vision that I experienced in my mind. I have to see something in order to score it. If I’m dry then there’s nothing at all but if the images are flowing then I’m fanatical about facilitating or scoring the vision. You can hear me cackling like a witch, that’s my own voice with no effects…in the first section of Dark Night of the Soul. To me, that track conjures the image of a violent storm cloud looming. It’s all about regret…guilt. Someone did something deeply wrong…and now there’s the fear of what’s coming next.
The paintings by artist Atmo Royce were commissioned by me. The images were straight from my screenplay, my imagination. I wanted a stern nun, a blurred nun, a skull nun and a clown nun. I wanted the images to have a Tarot card-like feel. They were to represent the desecration of religion…the hypocrisy, the flip side of faith where evil is cloaked in religion. Atmo Royce, who now lives in Germany also painted the changing preacher portraits for Horror which had a similar idea. I had an entirely different artist illustrate the changing pope portraits for Torture Chamber where Vincent Pastore is hallucinating while staring at a portrait of the pope in a homeless shelter. The painting by Mark Jones, commissioned by me, actually it’s pastel…it morphs into a grinning blood soaked character while we detect profane words on the crumbling walls. In all these cases, it’s about the Devil poking through. Evil winning.”
Joey- “Did you realize before hand or was it a natural progression to interweave identical symbols throughout each film. There are threads that connect all 4 films. There are sequences that re-haunt the next installment like one continuous dream. I will mention those in my piece, but I was curious if it evolved as each film opened up to you, or if this was something that was very purposeful before you even sat down to sketch out the framework of the films after Desecration?”
Dante Tomaselli- “I consciously set out to create an encompassing world of doom that is interchangeable from film to film; I see it as all one tapestry. I draw swirling mazes and I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. My films are never a celebration of violence. They’re really more about the sensitivity to violence. The confusion of being alive.”
“A Code Red Release – One of the most original horror films in recent years, Desecration is an eerily dazzling and genuinely frightening psychological chiller about a beyond the grave relationship between a teenage boy and his long dead mother. Bobby, a 16-year-old loner, has been emotionally damaged by his mother’s early death and a repressive Catholic upbringing. The boy accidentally causes a nun’s death, triggering a chain of supernatural events and violent mayhem that leads Bobby into Hell to confront his mother. Powerful childhood demons are exorcised and unleashed as the gates of Hell open in this gripping, hallucinatory film. First-time feature film writer/director Dante Tomaselli has created an incredibly atmospheric and terrorizing film that he has described as “being in the psychedelic fun house.” With its mist-shrouded ambience, photography and trance-like soundtrack, the film, almost subliminally, creates an unsettling mood that crawls beneath the skin. A sensational young talent, Tomaselli has taken the horror genre in a new and exciting direction.”
The remake of cousin Alfred Sole’s beloved 70s horror masterpiece ALICE SWEET ALICE remains in development for now Dante is more focused on his upcoming feature THE DOLL which is about a violent haunting at a family owned wax museum.
“I am planning an Alice, Sweet Alice re-imagining with my cousin (Alfred Sole). I am so completely focused on my next film, THE DOLL – which has a low budget ($500, 000)”
Hae Ree Choi is the illustrator on each of Dante Tomaselli’s albums!
I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.
I’d see multicolored streaks in the atmosphere. And I didn’t do drugs. Sometimes I could see sounds. They were different colors. I could taste color and touch sound.
I love performers from horror classics; I can’t help myself. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with actors from landmark horror films. The trend needs to continue with me…and the possibilities are endless. Jamie Lee Curtis, can you hear me?
It’s ambient filmmaking…told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. I was going for something completely out-there…not censoring myself…allowing my imagination to run wild.
I think I pulled the images from the dark pit of my childhood, my nightmares. Growing up, I had so many nightmares and was always wondering if what was happening was actually true. Or was it a dream? I didn’t use drugs. I know…that’s a shock. If anything, I was repressed and probably needed drugs to open me up. Everything I kept bottled up in the day would explode out of me at night. All of the negative debris of the day…it would all come popping up, so strongly in my nightmares.
I guess it has something to do with how I grew up, my background being Italian American and having two very religious grandmothers. But, really…I just think organized religion is a very scary thing. It gives me a feeling of paranoia. One group against another, thinking the other one is wrong and they are better, holier. Religion causes wars. It has a dark force that can’t be denied. Also, as you know, my cousin, Alfred Sole, directed “Alice, Sweet Alice,” the infamous Catholic slasher. I saw it at a very early age and it is forever embedded in my psyche.
In 1975, I was 5. In 83, I was 13. So, I got to see all these great horror movies, the golden age of true horror, while I was a little kid growing up. It was an incredible time to be a horror fanatic. I was like the boy in Romero’s Creepshow. My mother actually took me to see these 70’s, early 80’s movies because she knew how much I loved them. She enjoyed horror films too, actually. I’d cut out Ads from the newspaper, for movies like…It Lives Again, Prophecy, Phantasm, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and just…stare at them. I was in love with all of this stuff from early on.
I starting writing it right around the end of 1999, when there was all that end-of-the-world talk going on. I wanted to harness that feeling…that we all could be predestined for a horrible, violent death. The idea that the threat of violence can strike at any moment.
Thank You for sharing your thoughts with me, Happy Birthday Dante Tomaselli, I anxiously await your next wave of hallucinatory chills & your brilliant machinations come to life in vivid color!-May we find peace and transcendence through art, Love Joey
“You’re so pretty it’s a shame you have to die, it will be quick, but it won’t be easy. You’ll die of fright”
Tourist Trap (1979) A Charles Band Production. Written and directed by David Schmoeller, (Puppetmaster series) co-written by J. Larry Carroll, director of photography Nicholas von Sternberg, music by Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now 1973, Carrie 1976, Dressed to Kill 1980, The Howling 1981, Body Double 1984) Art direction by Robert A. Burns (who worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, which like Tourist Trap also had minimal gore and no nudity), special effects by Richard O. Helmer and make-up by David Ayers, Robert A. Burns, Ken Horn, Ve Neill and and Karen Stern.
Stars Chuck Connors (The Rifleman, Soylent Green 1973, The Horror at 37, 000 ft. 1973, Nightmare in Badham County 1976 tv movie) as the creepy Mr. Slausen. Chuck Connors had actually sought out the part of Mr. Slausen stating that he wanted to be the Boris Karloff of the 1980s! It is a very good role for him indeed, as he is perfectly peculiarly menacing and off-beat.
Jocelyn Jones plays Molly-the virginal final girl who just happens to be the daughter of amazing character actor Henry Jones!
Jon Van Ness (The Hitcher 1986) as Jerry, Robins Sherwood (Death Wish II, Blow Out 1981) as Eileen, Tanya Roberts (Charlie’s Angels, Sheena:Queen of the Jungle 1984) as Becky, Dawn Jeffory as Tina, Keith McDermott as Woody, Shailar Coby as Davey and Albert Band and Linnea Quigley as Mannequins.
The reason I hold onto my VHS tapes (as sad and worn as they are), instead of buying the Blu-ray version with better quality and vivid colors, is unfortunately that the newer version is cut down making it a shorter version of the movie. I’ll wind up with the new release but I’ll never let go of my VHS unless it disintegrates into analogue dust and goo in the Rubbermaid container!
Tourist Trapwith its sublime moments of terror will forever stay burned into my memory for its original brand of creepiness, partly due to the animated mannequins, the sense of isolation and dread and Pino Dinaggio’s enigmatic melodically robotic score incorporating ghost town saloon tinny piano sounds, and wind up toys, that drives the story perfectly! This to me is undoubtedly one of THE scariest films of the 1970s decade of horror. Not just the mannequins that play a factor in the level of freakiness, it’s the fact that the victims themselves get transformed somehow into mannequins themselves. Yes, they do, indeedy they do!
A group of young people driving in one of those jeeps called ‘the thing’ of the late 70s go for a trip out in the desert but of course as it is with all these pictures in order to set up the chilling story line, they must become stranded! Fortunately they break down by Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a tourist-trap museum run by the deranged Mr. Slausen, which is filled with a collection of remarkable automatons and life like-mannequins and some who are even gun slingers (you’ll find out)
These unusually menacing figures can not only move, they also possess the powers of telekinesis. Slausen (Connors who is effectively creepy in this macabre dark fairy tale about getting lost and winding up at the wrong house) might be the one who has the power to move objects at will, but either way, the film becomes a manic fun-house ride that is incredibly frightening as well as suffocating because they are trapped at the Lost Oasis. One by one, Slausen dispenses with the group except for Molly who has caught his eye, and animated his you know what, if you catch my drift. Actually, we get a little back story as Slausen tells Molly “you remind me of my wife.” whose likeness or life itself has been dedicated to wax in the museum.
The beauty of Tourist Trap is in it’s restraint to use violence or gore, it is intense, lurid, tacky and wonderfully 70s style horror. It’s the moodiness of the surroundings and the idea that wax dummies are dangerous, not to mention the paraffin masks that Slausen & Davey wear that is wholly imaginative and injects something incredibly spine-tingling into the non-human atmosphere. With screaming mannequins, their grotesque mouths gaping open in a choir of falsetto!
Don’t expect to learn the deep dark secrets of the mannequins powers or whether Slausen and Davey are the same man as you’ll never see them together at the same time, and Shailar Cobey is credited as playing Davey. There just are no sign posts in this film, no clear explanation for any of the goings on, it is as ephemeral as a twisted dream. It is as I said, a Fun-house ride through creepy-ville. And Connors is spectacular as a hyper-sexual, lonely man-child who has too many toys to play with or I should say not enough living dolls. There are hints of House of Wax (1953)starring Vincent Price, though the narrative is different, the essence of what makes the story terrifying is the mania of the antagonist’s medium of sculpting wax over living bodies. Tourist Trap, is nightmarish, deliciously campy, disorienting, frightening and wickedly fun to watch as the mannequins invade the space, where there is no where else to run.
Mr. Slausen: “Oh sure, help yourself… but it doesn’t work. I got nobody to call.”
Davey: [deep, raspy voice] “We’re going to have a party!”
Davey: “My brother always makes me wear this stupid mask. Do you know why? Because I’m prettier than him.”
The script originally called for nudity, but Schmoeller said he was too bashful and embarrassed to bring it up with Tanya Roberts and the other actresses during casting. When they got to the lake scene, he finally asked them if they’d be willing. The collective answer was no.
Stephen King praised the film in his book Danse Macabre, especially its frightful opening scene.
Director David Schmoeller was startled when the film received a PG rating despite its disturbing subject matter. Schmoeller stated in an interview with TerrorTrap.com that he felt the film would have been more commercially successful had it received an R rating.
The mannequin who gives the female lead something to drink is actually Schmoeller’s then-wife. The mannequin originally had 2 lines, but Schmoeller had them edited out during post-production. She then never forgave him for that.
Tanya Roberts insisted on running through the woods barefoot in one scene. She thought it would help her better project a sense of pain and fear. The result was also that her feet were bloodied.
Pino Donaggio’s fee for composing the score was one sixth of the movie’s budget.
The plaster used in the death scene was actually dough.
Though the masked killer was called Davey, the production crew have since dubbed him “Plasterface”.
Tourist Trap was actually based on David Schmoeller’s senior film project at film school. (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD)
Jon Van Ness did his own stunt when he jumps through the window.
Jocelyn Jones was a classically-trained actress, whereas Chuck Connors was self-taught. During filming, Connors would often ask Schmoeller why Jones would have to go through various routines before filming scenes (such as breathing exercises.) (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD.) Shot in twenty-four days.
Irwin Yablans reportedly hated Pino Donaggio’s score for the film, as Yablans wanted another synthesized score in the same tradition as John Carpenter’s Halloween.
This is your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying If you happen to break down near a tourist trap anywhere USA, just wait for AAA!
This Halloween season I’m covering those fierce women who graced the 1950s Science Fiction & Fantasy/Horror screen with their beauty, brawn and bravado! Like years past–I pay tribute to the Scream Queens of the 1930s & 1940s
We’ve arrived at the 1950s decade’s deliriously dynamic dames… Who had to deal with mad scientists, gigantism, alien invasions and much more menace & mayhem!
Of course I plan on doing the 1960s and 1970s in the next year–and you’ll notice that I am listing some of our Queen B’s future films & television appearances of a supernatural or science fiction nature, and even a few scattered exploitation films that fit the bill. Added are a few photos to fill out the framework of their contribution to the genre. I’ve included honorable mentions to those who starred in at least one film and perhaps a few science fiction & horror anthology shows on television.
And I guess I should be super clear about this, so no one gets their hackles standing on end, not one actress who wound up only getting an honorable mention, (be it one of your favorites and believe me their are a few of mine on that smaller list), by any means does it imply that I think they have a less substantial participation in the decade’s genre.
All these actresses have performed in other types of films-other genres and dramatic roles and enjoyed a full career that transcends the science fiction & horror films they appeared in.
Allied together they created the fabric of the 1950s decade, colored by their unique and valuable presence to ensure that science fiction & horror/fantasy will live on to entertain and enamor a whole new generation of fans and aficionados.
Collectively and Individually these women are fantastic , and I feel very passionate about having put this wonderful collection together as a tribute!
I can’t begin to describe the admiration I’ve developed over the past several years, by delving into Beverly Garland’s long impressive career as a popular cult actress. All I can think of saying– seems crude– but it’s what truly comes to mind… Beverly Garland kicks some serious ass!!!
From historian/writer Tom Weaver-“For most fans of 50s horror there are just no two ways about it. Beverly Garland is the exploitation film heroine of the period. A principal member of Roger Corman’s early stock company, she was the attractive, feisty leading lady in such Corman quickies as It Conquered the World, Gunslinger, Naked Paradise, and Not of this Earth. In between Corman assignments she braved the perils of the Amazon River on writer-director Curt Siodmak’s Curucu, Beast of the Amazon, and a less harrowing Hollywood backlot swamp in Fox’s the Alligator People. Her 1960s film work included Pretty Poison, The Mad Room and the multi-storied Twice Told Tales with Vincent Price. Overall, this list of titles is unmatched by any other ’50s genre actress.”
The diverse, dynamic and uniquely sexy Beverly Garland was born in Santa Cruz, California. She studied with dramatics teacher Anita Arliss, sister to Hollywood actor George Arliss. Garland also worked in radio actually appeared semi-clothed in various racy shorts, until she made her first feature debut supporting role in the taut noir thriller D.O.A (1949) starring Edmund O’Brien. Beverly started out doing small parts in science fiction/horror films such as The Neanderthal Man 1955and The Rocket Man 1954. But her cult/exploitation status was forged when she signed onto to work with legendary filmmaker Roger Corman, the first film takes place in Louisiana called Swamp Women. In 1983 Beverly Garland received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She worked right up until 2004 and sadly passed away in 2008.
There are so many credits Beverly Garland has under her belt, I can only list the few that are memorable for me, but here she is linked to her massive IMDb list of credits for you to peruse. One of the roles that stands out for me is her groundbreaking role in the late 1950s as Casey Jones a policewoman for NYC in the series called Decoy (1957) Garland finds herself in diverging & dangerous situations where she not only uses her sexy good looks but her smarts and her instincts to trap criminals from all walks of life. It’s a fabulous show and it shows not only how diverse Beverly Garland is but the show was a historical first for a woman starring in a dramatic television series.
Beverly Garland has performed in drama’s including a musical with Frank Sinatra directed by Charles Vidor The Joker is Wild (1957) Film Noir (The Miami Story 1954, New Orleans Uncensored 1955, Sudden Danger 1955, The Steel Jungle 1956, Chicago Confidential 1957, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Adventure, Exploitation, Westerns and Crime dramas & Thrillers like Pretty Poison 1968. For the purposes of The Last Drive In tribute to this magnetic actress, here are those performances in the genre I’m featuring both film & television series!
“The Memories of working with Roger Corman are pleasant because I got along with him very well. He was fun to be around and work with. We always did these films on a cheap budget, and people were always mad at Roger because he’d hardly feed us! And no matter what happened to you, your worked regardless… You could be dead and Roger would prop you up in a chair!”-Beverly Garland
From Beverly Garland’s Interview in “Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup” by Tom Weaver (McFarland 1988).
In The Mad Room (1969) her character was pregnant–so was she at the time, with her son James.
[referring to her 1950s Roger Corman cult films] “It’s funny today because it’s so ridiculous. But at the time, it was very serious! We were just actors doing our best, I think. None of us overacted. I’m not saying we weren’t good. We didn’t do it tongue-in-cheek. We really meant it. We gave our all. We were serious, good actors and we played it seriously.”-Beverly Garland
“Maybe I do come on strong, and people sense in me a strength and a positiveness . . . It’s really the way I look and act, not the way I am . . . Once you cut through the protective coating, I’m strictly molasses.”-Beverly Garland
Audrey Dalton– “I noticed you wrote a bit about Beverly Garland. She was such a dear friend of mine. She was in Pretty Poison with Noel Black who just passed away last year. Bev died years ago and even though she remained active in the Scarecrow and Mrs King for so long, she loved acting in “B” films the most.”
Waitress Nola Mason in The Neanderthal man 1954, Ludine in The Rocket Man 1954, Vera in Swamp Women 1956, Claire Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu the Beast of the Amazon, Nadine Storey in Not of this Earth 1957, Joyce Webster in The Alligator People 1959, Ellen Winslow in Stark Fear 1962, as Alice Pyncheon in Twice-Told Tales (1963) Mrs. Stepanek in Pretty Poison 1968, Mrs. Racine in The Mad Room 1969, Science Fiction Theatre (TV Series) Katherine Kerston / Sally Torens– The Other Side of the Moon (1956) … Katherine Kerston– The Negative Man (1955) … Sally Torens, The Twilight Zone (TV Series) Maggie- The Four of Us Are Dying (1960) , Thriller (TV Series) Ruth Kenton– Knock Three-One-Two (1960)
Tom Weaver – “In your Corman movies you yourself generally played plucky, strong willed, sometimes two-fisted types.”
Beverly Garland- “I think that was really what the scripts called for. In most all the movies I did for Roger my character was kind of a tough person. Allison Hayes always played the beautiful, sophisticated “heavy” and I played the gutsy girl who wanted to manage it all, take things into her own hands. I never considered myself much of a passive kind of actress-I never was very comfortable in love scenes, never comfortable playing a sweet, lovable lady. Maybe if the script wasn’t written that way, then probably a lot of it I brought to the role myself. I felt I did that better than playing a passive part.”
Swamp Women (1956) An undercover policewoman helps three female convicts escape from prison so that they can lead her to a stash of stolen diamonds hidden in a swamp. Co-stars Marie Windsor, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Susan Cummings and Ed Nelson!
Also in Swamp Women 1956, Garland was expected to do her own stunts, even dropping out of a 20 foot tree. Roger Corman told her “When you’re killed you have to drop” Roger planted three guys underneath the tree to catch Beverly when she let’s go. “And when they killed me I just fell-dead weight on these three poor guys!” Roger told her “You’re really one of the best stuntwomen I have ever worked with.”
Even after breaking her ankle in Gunslinger 1956, Beverly was a trooper, she did all her fight scenes and worked to finish the film for Roger Corman, even though she couldn’t walk for weeks after that!
As Ellen Winslow, Garland takes a courageous role as a non-victim of abuse and assault, she pushes back head on against the grain instead of wilting from the trauma she prevails. The film showcases the gutsy quality Garland herself tried to portray in all her performances. in the darkly psychological Stark Fear (1962)A sadistic husband mentally tortures his wife, while eventually planning to murder her. Although no one believes her, she gets help from an unexpected source.
Beverly Garland recalls making Swamp Women co-starring Marie Windsor with Tom Weaver-“Swamp Women! Ooh that was a terrible thing! Roger put us up in this old abandoned hotel while we were on location in Louisiana- I mean it was really abandoned! Roger certainly had a way of doing things back in those days-I’m surprised the hotel had running water! I remember that we each had a room with an iron bed. Our first night there, I went to bed and I heard this tremendous crash! I went screaming into Marie Windsor’s room, and there she was with the bed on top of her-the whole bed had collapsed! Well, we started laughing because everything was so awful in this hotel. just incredibly terrible, and we became good friends.”
Carole Mathews, Marie Windsor and Beverly Garland in Swamp Women
Beverly Garland not only exuded a gutsy streak in every role she took, she shared the notable distinction of starring in one of Boris Karloff’s THRILLER episodes called Knock-Three-One-Two co-starring with the wonderful character actor Joe Maross who has a gambling problem and will be beaten to a pulp if he doesn’t pay his bookie. So he enlists the help of a psychopathic lady killer to murder his wife Beverly for her tightly held purse and large savings account!
Tom Weaver asks Beverly Garland if she enjoyed working on Twice-Told Tales (1963) — “Oh, I love it because I loved Vincent Price. He is the most wonderful sweet, adorable man! I don’t remember much about the movie, I just remember working with Vinnie and how wonderful he was.”
Tom Drake, Bill Elliott, and Beverly Garland in Sudden Danger (1955)
About working with Roy del Ruth on The Alligator People–“He was sweetheart of a guy and a good director. The Alligator People was a fast picture, but he really tried to do something good with it. And I think that shows in the film. It’s not something that was just slapped together. It as such a ridiculous. story…).. I felt when I read the script and when I saw the film, which was a long time ago, that it ended very abruptly. It all happened too fast; it was kind of a cop out. But there really was no way to end it. What were they going to do-were they going to have us live happily ever after and raise baby alligators?”
On first seeing the cucumber creature that Paul Blaisdell designed for It Conquered the World–“I remember the first time I saw the It Conquered the World Monster. I went out to the caves where we’d be shooting and got my first look at the thing. I said to Roger, ‘That isn’t the monster…! That little thing over there is not the monster, is it?’ He smiled back at me , “Yeah, Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?’ I said, ‘Roger! I could bop that monster over the head with my handbag!’ This thing is no monster, it was a terrible ornament!’ He said, ‘Well don’t worry about it because we’re gonna show you, and then we’ll show the monster, back and forth.’ ‘Well, don’t ever show us together, because if you do everybody’ll know that I could step on this little creature! Eventually I think they did do some extra work on the monster: I think they resprayed it so it would look a little scarier, and made it a good bit taller. When we actually filmed, they shot it in shadow and never showed the two of us together.”
Beverly Garland as Clair talking on the radio to IT– “I hate your living guts for what you‘ve done to my husband and my world, and I’m going to kill you! Do you hear that? I’m going to kill you!”…) “So that’s what you look like, you’re ugly…) You think you’re gonna make a slave of the world… I’ll see you in hell first!“
Tom Weaver asks —“Do you ever look back on your B movies and feel that maybe you were too closely associated with them? That they might have kept you from bigger and better things?
Beverly Garland —“No, I really don’t think so. I think that it was my getting into television; Decoy represented a big turn in my life. Everybody did B movies, but at least they were movies, so it was okay. In the early days, we who did TV weren’t considered actors; we were just horrible people that were doing this ‘television’ which was so sickening, so awful, and which was certainly going to disappear off the face of the earth. Now, without TV, nobody would be working. No-bod-y. But I think that was where my black eye came from; I don’t think it came from the B movies at all.”
Tom Weaver-“Which of your many horror and science fiction roles did you consider your most challenging?”
Beverly Garland–“Pretty Poison. It was a small part, but it had so much to say that you understood why Tuesday Weld killed her mother. I worked hard to make that understood not a surface one, but tried to give you the lady above and beyond what you would see in a short time.”
The bewitchingly beautiful Audrey Dalton was born in Dublin, Ireland who maintains the most delicately embroidered lilt of Gaelic tones became an American actress of film in the heyday of Hollywood and the Golden Age of television. Knowing from early on that she wanted to be an actress while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts was discovered by a Paramount Studio executive in London, thus beginning her notable career starring in classic drama, comedy, film noir, science fiction, campy cult classic horror and dramatic television hits!
Since then I’ve had the incredible honor of chatting with this very special lady whom I consider not only one of THE most ethereal beauties of the silver screen, Audrey Dalton is a versatile actress, and an extremely gracious and kind person.
Audrey Dalton’s made a monumental contribution to one of the biggest beloved 1950s ‘B’ Sci-Fi treasures and she deserves to be honored for her legacy as the heroine in distress, pursued by a giant bunny killing Mollusk “That monster was enormous!” –Audrey commented in her interview with USA Today.
Gail MacKenzie in The Monster that Challenged the World 1957, Baroness Maude Sardonicus in William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus 1961 Boris Karloff’s Thriller (1960-1962)- Norine Burton in The Prediction, Meg O’Danagh Wheeler in The Hollow Watcher and Nesta Roberts in Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook.
Barbara Rush appeared in director Martin Ritt’s turbulent suburban drama No Down Payment 1957 with ex-husband Jeffrey Hunter though they weren’t married to each other in the film.
Barbara Rush, Possesses a transcendent gracefulness. She moves with a poise like a dancer, a beautiful gazelle stirring in the gentle quiet spaces like silent woods. When I see Barbara Rush, I see beauty personified by elegance and decency. Barbara Rush will always remain in my eyes, one of the most gentle of souls on the screen, no matter what role she is inhabiting. She brings a certain kind of class that is not learned, it’s inherent.
She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1927 and began at University of California. Then she joined the University Players, taking acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse. Paramount scooped Barbara up and signed her to a contract in 1950. She debuted with The Goldbergs (1950) as Debby Sherman acting with Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg -a popular television program that follows the warm, human story of famous Jewish Bronx radio & TV family the Goldbergs, and their everyday problems. Co-starring David Opatoshu and Eduard Franz.
Before joining the Goldbergs she met the strikingly handsome actor Jeffrey Hunter who eventually became a hot commodity over at 20th Century Fox. Barbara Rush and Jeffrey Hunter fell in love and were married in December of 1950. They became Hollywood’s most gorgeous couple, and the camera seemed to adore them. Their son Christopher was born in 1952.
During her time at Paramount, Barbara Rush appeared in the science fiction catastrophic end of the world thriller directed by Rudolph Maté —When World’s Collide 1951 co-starring Richard Derr, Peter Hansen and John Hoyt.
As time went on Barbara Rush co-starred with some of the most desirable actors in Hollywood, James Mason, Monty Clift, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman , Richard Burton and Kirk Douglas. Her roles ran the gamut from disenchanted wives, scheming other women or pretty socialites
Though Barbara Rush is capable of a range of acting, the one great role of a lifetime never seemed to surface for her, though what ever she appeared in was elevated to a higher level because of her presence.
Television became a wonderful avenue for Barbara Rush’s talent, she appeared in guest parts in many popular tv series of the 1960s and 1970s. She also co-starred in tv movies. One enjoyable character she played was a guest villain on the 1966 television series Batman as femme fatale ‘Nora Clavicle” Barbara Rush also played Marsha Russell on the popular television drama Peyton Place 1968-69
Barbara Rush also turned to work on the stage. She garnered the Sarah Siddons Award for her starring role in Forty Carats. Making her Broadway debut in the one woman showcase, “A Woman of Independent Means” which also subsequently earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award during its tour. Other showcases included “Private Lives”, “Same Time, Next Year”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “Steel Magnolias”.
Barbara Rush still possesses that transcendent beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special someone memorable.
Attended and graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1948). She graduated from the Pasadena Playhouse School for Performing Arts in Pasadena, California.
Is mentioned in the movie Shampoo (1975), when hairdresser Warren Beatty says “I do Barbara Rush’s hair”.
Was separated from second husband Warren Cowan in 1969 at the time she learned of first husband Jeffrey Hunter’s sudden death following brain surgery after falling down a flight of stairs.
Appears in No Down Payment (1957) with ex-husband Jeffrey Hunter, they both portraying married characters, but not married to each other.
She is one of five actors to have played “Special Guest Villains” on Batman (1966) who are still alive, the others being Julie Newmar, John Astin, Joan Collins and Glynis Johns.
“I can safely say that every movie role I was ever offered that had any real quality went to someone else.”-Barbara Rush
As Joyce Hendron in When Worlds Collide 1951, as Ellen Fields in It Came from Outer Space 1953 Night Gallery episode as Agatha Howard in ‘Cool Air’ released on December 8, 1971 based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft and The Outer Limits as Leonora Edmond in episode The Form of Things Unknown written by Joseph Stefano released on May 4, 1964, as Karen Lownes in Kraft Suspense Theatre tv series ‘In Darkness, Waiting (1965), as Nora Clavicle and The Ladies’ Crime Club Batman Series 1966, Moon of the Wolf (TV Movie) 1972 as Louise Rodanthe, as Katherine Winslow in The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), The Bionic Woman (TV Series) – Jaime’s Mother (1976) … Ann Sommers / Chris Stuart, 1979 Death Car on the Freeway (TV Movie) as Rosemary
Queen of Blood 1966 is one of the films made by AIP, at the time Roger Corman was working for them. They utilized a lot of Russian film footage mostly because of their superior big budget special effects (a soviet fable called Mechte Navstrechu from 1963) shooting the action scenes around the cannibalized footage finished the film in 8 days. Produced by George Edwards and directed & written by one of MY favorite filmmakers –the very original visionary Curtis Harrington, Queen of Blood possesses a dream like quality, partly due to atmosphere and colors set forth by Art Director Al Locatelli(Dementia 13 (1963), American Graffiti 1973, Star Wars IV 1977), Set Designer Leon Smith and Cinematographer Vilis Lapenieks
More Soviet footage appears in other American International’s movies, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.
(uncredited The Little Shop of Horrors 1960, Lapenieks worked on Harrington’s other dreamy fantasy/horror masterpiece Night Tide 1961, the underrated The Hideous Sun Demon 1958, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet 1965, Deathwatch 1966, The Hellstrom Chronicles 1971, That Certain Summer 1972 tv movie, M*A*S*H 1972 tv series, Kojak 1974 tv series) With costume design by T. Glinkova.
Queen of Blood (1966) stars Dennis Hopper(working once again with Curtis Harrington having done Night Tide 1961)
The plot centers around 3 astronauts on the rescue mission–John Saxon as Allan Brenner, Dennis Hopper as Paul Grant, and Judi Meredithas Laura James. Included are Basil Rathbone as Dr. Farraday who heads an international space agency that receives the distress message from Mars, and a cameo by film historian, collector and founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland- Forrest J. Ackerman as Farraday’s assistant.
The year is 1900 and Earth has made contact with an Alien radio transmission. Saxon, Hopper and Meredith stumble onto a crashed spaceship on Mars that is inhabited by a mysterious sole survivor Velena (Florence Marly) who glows the most trippy verdant alien green and her hair, well– it is a marvelous killer bee bouffant
They quickly discover that the hemophiliac Alien Queen as she is credited, crazes, no NEEDS blood to sustain herself, like a space vampire. Once upon the crew’s space ship, sets out to kill each of the members. Hopper, begins to feel attracted to the Alien Queen who has a strange and sexually deviant mesmerizing lure, eventually he realizes what she really is, “She’s a monster… We ought to destroy her right now!”
In the end Meredith is the one who manages to destroy her but cutting her and she winds up bleeding to death. Things of it is, she leaves behind an vampiric aerie of her eggs. which Dr Farraday decides like all inquiring scientific minds do putting the rest of us at risk, to take the Alien Queen’s spawn back to Earth to study. What he doesn’t realize is that she has already hidden hundreds of her eggs on board the ship. And though Allan keeps saying “We have to destroy them!”Rathbone is insistent on keeping those creepy pulsating red aspic eggs for research! Damn scientists!
Though the story may sound simplistic, Harrington brings his brand of atmospherics to each scene, injecting a sort of queer distorting sense of reality, and as Marly begins her blood feasting, the menace and the fantastical color palate permeates each frame like a nightmare set in space.
From Curtis Harrington’s book Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood. He talks about the Soviet film Mechte Navstrechu in which he took footage by acquiring the American rights to the property, to work from in Queen of Blood. The Soviet version is about “the world’s natural fears of the nature of aliens…)… discovering at the end that the alien wants to be friends.”Harrington wanted to do the complete opposite of that with his film.
“I devised a tale in which the queen of the aliens–brought back to earth by a group of American astronauts –is a vampiric creature who seeks a new food source for her dying planet. The food source, as it turns out, is the human race. Some years later, it was very flattering to realize that I had created the prototype for a whole series of science-fiction movies dealing with monstrous creatures from outer space, beginning with Ridley Scott’s Alien.”
IMDb trivia –
The film was released in the United States in March 1966. Even before the release, its quality was sufficient for Universal to hire Harrington and producer George Edwards to make the feature film Games.
Director Curtis Harrington felt that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) must have received some inspiration from his feature, saying “Ridley’s film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborate version of Queen of Blood”.
This was an ultra low budget production. The elaborate special effects were taken (uncredited) from two big budget Soviet productions, Mechte navstrechu (1963), and The Sky Calls (1959). The film is based on the screenplay for the earlier Soviet feature film Mechte Navstrechu (A Dream Come True).
John Saxon later claimed that Gene Corman had more to do with Queen of Blood than Roger. Saxon estimated that his scenes were shot in seven to eight days and that Dennis Hopper “was trying very hard to keep a straight face throughout” during the making of the film.
Czech actress Florence Marly was a personal friend of director Harrington. He later said that he had to fight with Roger Corman in order to hire her “because she was an older woman. Harrington would say, “I’m sure he had some bimbo in mind, you know? So I fought for Marly because I felt she had the required exotic quality that would work in the role.”Harrington also said Dennis Hopper “was like a part of my little team by then,” so he agreed to also appear.
Harrington had made his name with the feature Night Tide, which impressed Roger Corman enough to offer the director a film project. “Of course, I would like to do a more individual film than Queen of Blood”, said Harrington at the time, “but I can’t get the financing. However, the film is entertaining, and I feel I was able to say something within the context of the genre.”
Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl sayin gaze into my eyes and tell me, do I look green to you?
Aurora over at Once Upon a Screen… offers a wonderful & witty tribute to James Whale’s campy Old Dark House themed film The Old Dark House that set the trend for Old Dark House movies!
Last night Aurora, myself and my girl Wendy had the thrilling pleasure of sitting side by side, popcorn in hand and funny & intelligent yet respectfully quiet commentary in the darkness of a traditional cathedral of film (one of the 5 original movie palaces in the NYC area). A truly great theatre –The Landmark Jersey City Loews for a James Whale/Boris Karloff dynamic double feature. They showcased the 35mm prints of the sublimely brilliant Kenneth Strickfaden-filled laboratory designs, and Composer Franz Waxman’s exhilarating score for TheBride of Frankenstein 1935 and The Old Dark House 1932. Both with outstanding cast members and characters alike! Including the live pipe organist who is there for all of these wonderful events! So without any further hold up…
Head over to the most informative, funny and heartfelt blog and get yourself a Halloween slice of joy, and while you’re at it… “Have a potato!” haha Ernest Thesiger gets me every time he says those three little words as only he can deliver…
Your EverLovin MonsterGirl sayin’ if you live in the Tri-State area please help keep this historic movie palace alive, they offer a wonderful night’s entertainment and thank you Aurora of Once Upon a Screen… for being the best movie pal!