Saturday, May 22, 2004


Only the most devout Peter Graves completists should bother with this limp, derivative TV werewolf story. Aside from a few well-wrought attack sequences, Scream of the Wolf is useless as horror, mystery or even unintentional comedy. Board-stiff Clint Walker's character operates as a curious kind of red herring, set up so obviously as the killer from the outset that the viewer is likely to disregard the clues. As an obsessed big-game hunter, Walker spouts half-baked Nietzschean philosophy and glowers meaningfully at his friend/nemesis Graves, taking the story into Most Dangerous Game territory and destroying any supernatural elements with the worst cop-out ending short of the "it was all a dream" bit. Director Dan Curtis keeps it slick and professional, but everyone here is just picking up a paycheck, except for Jo Ann Pflug, who gets to the core of her shrill, domineering character and throttles it for all she's worth. Both Curtis and scriptwriter Richard Matheson had respectable TV terror reputations; Curtis helmed a number of Dark Shadows episodes, Matheson was a Twilight Zone veteran and a year after this misfire they collaborated on one of television's great horror experiences, Trilogy of Terror. Scream of the Wolf's resurrection on DVD shouldn't be interpreted as the discovery of a lost gem, but rather a mercenary attempt to squeeze a few bucks out of a best-forgotten public domain yawn-fest.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


A moody little revenge tale with a no-nonsense title, The Severed Arm is good for low-impact proto-slasher sleaze. Trapped for weeks in a cave-in, a small group of men draw straws to determine who will sacrifice an arm for food. The loser is a bad sport, but the others amputate anyway, mere minutes before finally being rescued. Fearing the legal ramifications of their desperate (and ill-timed) act, they tell authorities that the arm was crushed by falling rocks; luckily, the victim has lost his mind as a result of the experience, and his madness allows the others to keep their conspiracy alive. Five years later, a severed arm is mailed to the former leader of the doomed excavation, and one by one each member is attacked by an axe-wielding maniac. Who else could the killer be but the one-armed man? It's a cute premise, but too easy to poke holes in if one isn't careful. Why do the spelunkers assume that no one will believe the one-armed man's "crazy" story? Wouldn't the police search for the missing limb after the rescue and discover the lie? And why trust the daughter of the disfigured man to help when the bodies start dropping? First time director Thomas S. Alderman (his only other known credit is for 1974's Coed Dorm) moves things along at a decent pace, but much of The Severed Arm is too dark to determine what's happening, set as it is in caves, dimly lit stairwells and all-night radio stations. Some versions of the film have been stripped of excess grue, but the murders are disturbing nonetheless, and the whole exercise is shot through with a very '70s grindhouse flavor that should please exploitation fans (dig that "eerie" synthesizer score!). The acting is par for the course, relatively flat even when the leads are facing certain murder. Former Gidget and Beach Party girl Deborah Walley figures prominently in the film's "poetic justice" conclusion. Character actor Marvin Kaplan (from TV's Alice) does his usual wisenheimer/schlep routine as a bearded late-night DJ named "Madman Herman." Ray Dannis was far more lively in the oddball cannibal classic The Undertaker and his Pals than he is here as the reluctant amputee, and brawny Vincent Martorano had a meatier role the following year as a soft-hearted killer/kidnapper in The Candy Snatchers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


The combination of blue collar ethics, a burgeoning national youth culture and Detroit's 1967 race riots made an uncompromising, politically-charged band like the MC5 inevitable, and director David C. Thomas does an excellent job of keeping A True Testimonial moving in perfect pace with the music of the group and the raging era that birthed them. Told in the surviving members' own words, the story of the MC5's triumphant blitzkrieg through the late 60s and inglorious dissolution in the early 70s will be compelling even to those without much interest in rock & roll (and more than a few will be converted along the way). Guitarist Wayne Kramer is the film's primary interview subject, having been part of the band from its innocent beginnings to its bitter finale, and he's enthusiastic about the chance to relive his memories and revisit the places where it all happened. Bassist Michael Davis is interviewed at his Arizona ranch, and he appears at ease with the past and comfortable in the present. However, it's drummer Dennis Thompson who best embodies the contradictions of the MC5, a band that promoted peace and brotherhood but wielded rifles in promo shots and were openly competitive with other groups that dared to share their stage. Defending the band's rallying cry of "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers," Thompson insists that "behind the 'motherfucker' is peace and love and growth and equality, okay?" and he's often combative in his segments (he takes time to insult both Kiss and Iggy Pop over the course of the DVD's interviews). MC5: A True Testimonial would be valuable if only for the volume of archival footage unearthed, certain to thrill long-time fans who missed the chance to witness the power of the band first hand. Previously unseen home movies not only capture the MC5 tearing it up for the audience, but clowning together between gigs (including a few priceless seconds of volleyball played in full stage attire), and the weathered silent footage of these young bucks in their prime is bittersweet. Thanks to the paranoia of the United States government, the band's storied appearance at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention has been preserved, and Thomas includes ultra-rare TV performances that provide the film's best moments; seeing the MC5 blaze through "Looking at You" before a huge outdoor audience is worth the price of admission alone (and the DVD release features several more exciting television segments as extras).
Upcoming AMG reviews? We'll see what they afford me ...

WOLFMAN (1982, Worth Keeter)
THE DEMON (1976, Percival Rubens)
THE BABY (1972, Ted Post)

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (1969)

Methuselah's sole LP release didn't connect with the record-buying public of its day, but it contains some great moments, even if the entire exercise bears a heavy sheen of pretension. Singer John Gladwin wrote the bulk of the material on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and he displays a jones for biblical imagery that may have confused some of the band's potential secular audience, as well as alienating any devout listeners who wondered what any of it had to do with Christianity. There's no true gospel to be gleaned from Methuselah, just lots of familiar Bible references and name-drops, but Les Nicols' lead guitar cuts through any nonsense, ripping out snarling solo runs even during the quietest moments and keeping things grounded. At their best, Methuselah recall a noisier, uglier Fairport Convention, mixing traditional British folk with American blues and injecting a straight shot of psych-out electricity for the long-hairs. The album's standout track is undoubtedly the thumping, blazing "High in the Tower of Coombe," a down-beat tale of medieval wench thievery with an anthemic instrumental hook, and the excellent "Fireball Woman" is mournful, high-volume balladry. A finale of "Frere Jacques" is downright excruciating, unfortunately, a progressive-rock misstep complete with falsetto chorus and a jazzy instrumental breakdown. Despite Methuselah being such a very British band, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John only saw release in the United States, issued by Elektra alongside bands like the Stooges and Love. Methuselah dissolved shortly afterward, and Gladwin and rhythm guitarist Terry Wincott unplugged themselves and formed the unique folk act Amazing Blondel, which endured into the 21st century.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Monday, May 03, 2004


Got a hell of a DVD box set at Video Vertigo last night ... one of those cheapo no-frills Brentwood releases, ten films on five discs, all sick zombie/etc. masterpieces for eight bucks. It's worth the price just to have Night Train To Terror at my fingertips, and the rest of the lineup features films I've been looking for (The Severed Arm, Memorial Valley Massacre) as well as plenty of bonuses that are quickly bearing fruit (like the amazing Horror Rises From the Tomb and a few of those "Blind Dead" flicks).