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Austin Chronicle Scanlines

By Jerry Renshaw

("Scanlines" wishes to thank Encore Movies & Music, I Love Video, and Vulcan Video for their help in providing videos and laser discs.)

Invasion USA

D: Alfred Green (1963) with Dan O`Herlihy, Noel Neill, Edward G. Robinson, Jr., Phyllis Coates

AUGUST 18, 1997:  Several lushes are holding down barstools in mid-afternoon and listening to dire news about the Commies on a newfangled television device, when a mysterious stranger makes them watch while he sloshes brandy around in a snifter. Next thing you know, the news gets a lot worse, with the Russkies invading the West Coast with paratroopers, A-bombing New York, Boulder Dam, and a shipyard, while the U.S. military feebly fights back. (Modern-day audiences should enjoy the scenes of Congress members being machine gunned by Soviet troops.) But wait, it wasn't real! The mysterious fella hypnotized them all with the swirling booze! The lounge lizards clamp their fedoras on their blunt heads, straighten their ties, and leave sober as judges, full to the gills of scotch and new resolve on how they can all help make the U.S. a safer place. Apparently the filmmakers thought WWIII would look a lot like WWII, since about one-third of this film is made up of WWII and Korea newsreel stock. Even the post-nuke NYC is footage of London after the 1940 blitz. They even go so far as having the Russian officers look and sound like Nazis (cutting a few corners on costumes). Keep an eye out for both of TV's Lois Lanes (Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill) and Peggie Castle. Also, see if you can figure out which actor is Edward G. Robinson, Jr. (I couldn't). File under cold-war hysteria exploitation quickies, but remember that in '53 buying a bottle of vodka was enough to get you hauled in front of Joe McCarthy as a pinko commie symp. And no, don't confuse this with the Reagan-era film by the same name in which hero Chuck Norris single-handedly repels the Red Menace.


The Girl and the Geek

aka Passion in the Sun
D: Dale Berry (1964)
with Josette Valague, Rain Drop,
Mai Kai, Dee Dent

The Something Weird catalogue unearthed this primitive nudie/roughie feature, which opens in an abandoned carnival when the captive geek escapes from the sideshow and two cops (both dressed like Ernest Tubb) are called in to investigate. Cut to our heroine, a zaftig blonde, who's abducted from the airport by two thugs who throw her in the back of a car and drive off with the Ernest Tubb cops in hot pursuit. Eventually the two desperadoes get in a fight over a briefcase in which one of them is killed, but then the escaped sideshow freak (with Moe Howard hair and buck teeth, kind of Nutty Professor-ish) shows up and whups the daylights out of the remaining crook! The blonde steals a nearby truck and drives off, but not before the geek hops in the back and starts licking the back window! In the process of escaping the geek, the fleshy blonde burlesque queen finds time to swim nekkid in a muddy slough. Cut back frequently to the Sans Souci, a shabby strip club where more chubby gals take their clothes off while an old man mops his brow in front. Eventually the girl and geek of the title wind up back at the carnival, where the geek puts her on the Wild Mouse roller coaster. But wait! How did the cops know to go after the crooks? What was in the briefcase? Why did they want the blonde? Before you start heaving heavy sighs and shaking your head, forget it. Lie back and relax. This tissue-thin chimera of a plot has all the narrative integrity of a fever dream. Think of it as Buñuel-like; after all, storyline is not what it's about. Concentrate instead on the dubbed-in dialogue, the soundtrack that you'll get real sick of (like Perez Prado playing Persian music). Also, don't miss the peculiar dream segment with the tinsel sombrero. Appallingly cheap and trashy, The Girl and the Geek is nonetheless fun; just be sure you return it on time before it stinks up your living room.

Note: Though the credits say "Filmed South of the Border," an opening segment shows the Allen Parkway exit on I-10 in Houston. Any of you native Houstonians recognize the carnival/amusement park?


Mexican Monsters on the March

(Something Weird)

This anthology of highlights from various Mexican low-budget horror and sci-fi films from the Fifties and Sixties includes a lot of stuff that is beyond cheap, beyond cross-cultural differences, beyond any kind of reason; in other words, just plain weird. Highlights include The Brainiac, a vampire (chupacabra?) with two hairy pincer claws per hand that presumably sucks out brains with a long anteater tongue; The Baron of Terror, whose device melts people down to skeletons with living heads; Return of the Monsters, involving a guy with a big head, patchy hair, and oversize teeth wearing plaid shirt and running amok (he also turns up in Vengeance of the Hanged) and Dr. Satan, a fairly conventional vampire who puts together a platoon of pie-eyed, slack-jawed zombies to carry out his reign of terror. A standout is She-Wolf, involving a sexy blonde werewolf who is eventually brought down by a German shepherd; this scene was obviously done by simply turning a mean-ass dog loose on an actor in a padded suit! The real highlight, though, is Ship of Monsters, with two curvy space babes landing on a planet and recruiting four bizarre creatures to do their bidding. There's a jug-eared cyclops, a fright-wigged spider monster, a macrocephalic, exposed-brain midget monster and what appears to be a donkey skull with fangs set on a piece of PVC pipe. Eventually the midget monster gets shot with a slingshot, causing his latex head to collapse and spew forth pudding. As my friend and video trading partner Dave said, I think if I could go back in time to anywhere I chose, it wouldn't be the Boston Tea Party, it wouldn't be the JFK assassination, it would be back to the set of this movie so I could see how the hell they did it. You may have to rewind the tape as many as three times in sheer disbelief as this one flies plum off the cool meter. Guaranteed to stop your brain dead in its tracks.

It all just makes me wish to hell that I understood Spanish better and that I had some better knowledge of Mexican culture, because I have the feeling that a lot of these images are tied to Mexican folk beliefs and have a different significance to the original audiences than they would for us. Or maybe it's just that the writers and directors were wildly creative to the point of bordering on psychosis. So the next time your friends come over for videos `n' vittles, chill some cervezas, cut up some limes (a bottle of Herradura is advisable), and serve up this steaming platter of south of the border cinematic delights, suitable as appetizer or main course. Just be prepared to clean up when your pals blast Tecate out their nostrils when they get to Ship of Monsters.


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