Sunday, September 14, 2008

Monster A Go-Go (B. I. & L. Releasing, 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Anyway, the movie Charles and I ended up watching last night was an abysmal stinker from 1965 called Monster A Go-Go, a product of director Bill Rebane, who apparently started it under the title Terror at Halfday (which, given the Ed Woodian intermix of day and night shots seemingly at random, would actually have been quite an appropriate title for it) but abandoned the project unfinished when his money ran out. Three years later, hack (in both senses) director Herschell Gordon Lewis bought the rights to the footage to fill out one of the double bills on which he released his own product, filmed enough footage to get the movie to feature length and put it out under the inexplicable title it now bears. The only “a Go-Go” part of the movie is a sequence set in a disco, where a man leaves with a woman and in a later sequence, after they’ve parked their car (a Chevy Biscayne, as are virtually all the vehicles in this film), he’s eaten by the monster. The monster is Frank Douglas (Henry Hite), an astronaut whose capsule crash-landed on earth after having been … well, the continuity in the script Rebane co-wrote with Jeff Smith and Dok Stanford isn’t all too clear about this, but at first we’re given the impression that it’s the gimmick from The Quatermass Experiment that the astronaut’s body was taken over by a killer alien.

Only it turns out that before the guy left on his space flight he was given an injection of 200 cc’s of the radioactive serum “Tedium-51” (I’m not making this up, you know!) even though the normal dose is 100 cc’s and the human tests were done only on the previous formula in the series, “Tedium-50” — so the poor guy overdosed on Tedium (as will anyone who watches this movie!) and that’s what turned him into a monster — though all Rebane and his effects crew did to create the monster was to take a 7’ 6” tall actor, shave his head and plaster his face with something that looked like cottage cheese. The next gimmick is that one of the scientists at NASA (I’m not sure who plays him because this movie’s credits are so obscure that only Hite, Phil Morton as Col. Steve Connors and June Travis as Ruth, a female scientist who futilely tries to figure out how to disarm the beast, are identified by name with their roles on has actually developed an antidote (the only antidote to Tedium I can think of in connection with this movie is not to watch it at all!), only — as anyone who’s ever read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (or seen any of the films based on it) would know — every time the antidote is used, it wears off more quickly than it did before and it has the unfortunate side effect of making the monster dangerous over a wider radius because his body actually gives off radioactivity that progressively makes it toxic for humans to be within 25 … 50 … 100 … 200 feet in his vicinity.

When I saw Herschell Gordon Lewis’s name listed as the copyright holder I worried that the film would feature some of the gory scenes for which he was known — it didn’t, but frankly they would have been an improvement: disgusting might well have been better than boring, which is what this film is. It has no suspense, no excitement, no pace, very little spoken dialogue — to cover the lacunae in Rebane’s unfinished footage, Lewis himself recorded a narration (à la The Creeping Terror, which compared to this film seems like a horror masterpiece!) explaining the plot (such as it was) as it went along (or didn’t) — and much of the dialogue you can hear you can’t hear very well because it was badly distorted, sort of like a long-distance phone call in the days before satellite transmission. The low point comes in a scene in which the characters return to the lab they left shortly before and find it … well, actually it looks like just a few test tubes have been knocked over but the dialogue (or the narrator, or both) tells us it’s been destroyed in a rampage by the monster — none of this is actually shown, perhaps because they spent a good deal of their production budget renting all the test tubes, beakers and flasks and didn’t want to risk breaking anything and having to pay for it.

Charles and I were watching this in a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation that accompanied it with a Warners short from 1954 (a bit late in the day for such a dorky one-reeler) called Circus on Ice, dealing with the 40th Annual Carnival of the Toronto Skating Club and showing such unforgettable sights as a herd of trained zebras — at least that’s what they’re called in Ken Davey’s narration, though they’re actually female skaters in striped costumes — a “dragon” that’s scattered by another group of skaters, and a professional figure skater named Jacqueline du Bief who does a routine in which she plays a faun ambushed and killed by hunters. (Sarah Palin, call your office!) She seems like a nice enough person and definitely a talent with some charisma, but one would want to see her in a better showcase — and really, with the Ice Follies and Ice Capades already well-established parts of American pop culture by then, the idea of a “circus on ice” hardly had the novelty value director Gordon Sparling and writer Constance Jaquays clearly thought it did. At that, though, Circus on Ice clearly had far more entertainment value than Monster A Go-Go did!