Welcome to the weird, wonderful and wicked world of cult and genre films.
Whether you are just starting to explore the underbelly of cinema history or a seasoned collector of VHS, LaserDiscs and 16mm prints, there is something here for everyone. Check out our guide to help you navigate the jungles, alien worlds and harems of cinematic delights that awaits you here at Cultpix. We will constantly be adding suggestions, Top 10 lists and other ideas for which films to enjoy for any occasion, so scroll down.
Below are some of our suggestions for great themes and films, many of these culled from our newsletter The Weekly Exploiter. Check out themes such as werewolves, silent horror, fake gorilla suits, Nazisploitation, road safety horror and more.
Marie Forså in Mac Ahlberg's Justine & Juliette
Mac Ahlberg / Bert Torn at 90
Mac Ahlberg (1931-2012) would have turned 90 years old this week. He was a rare talent who not only crossed over from mainstream into erotica and back into mainstream, but also took the step across the Atlantic from Sweden to the top of Hollywood. Ahlberg started out as a talented cinematographer, and worked in both film and TV for major Swedish directors like Ingmar Bergman, Hasse Ekman, Gunnar Hellström, Åke Falck and Henning Carlsen (Carlsen’s film Kattorna/The Cats (1965) is available on Cultpix, shot by Mac Ahlberg).
Ahlberg started directing nudie films in Sweden and Denmark in the mid-Sixties. His debut Jag – en kvinna/I – a Woman (1965) became a huge international hit, and one of the films that helped create the wave of “Swedish sin” movies. He went on to do a number of elegant, well-shot nudie films, and as times changed, switched over to directing hardcore – mostly adaptations of famous classical erotic novels. Working for producer Inge Ivarson on these films, Ahlberg used the pseudonym Bert Torn, because he felt a bit uncomfortable lending his talent to pure adult movies.
After his directing career, Ahlberg moved to Hollywood and became a cinematographer on a number of films. Most notably on Re-Animator and From Beyond by Stuart Gordon. He worked a lot with Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Charles Band and John Landis. Later on, he shot major Hollywood studio productions such as Innocent Blood, Beverly Hills Cop III and Striking Distance, as well as the Michael Jackson video Black and White. He also directed two films in the USA: Hoodlums (1980) and Ghost Town (1988; uncredited). He was active until 2006, when he shot The Evil Bong.
Essy Persson and Mac Ahlberg at the premiere of I, A woman.
Unlike his contemporaries Joe Sarno and Torgny Wickman, Ahlberg unfortunately did not embrace the fandom in later years, and even denied making some of the films, when he gave a rare interview in the Swedish film magazine Chaplin in 1995. He saw himself foremost as a cinematographer, even despite the fact that he directed at least 14 feature films. We think it’s a shame that he didn’t enjoy the recognition of his work – as his films have an unmistakable elegance and great production value, compared to most other Swedish contemporary films in the genre.
Three of his Swedish nudie and erotica films are on Cultpix right now: Skandalskolan/The Second Coming of Eva (1974), Fanny Hill (1968) and Jorden runt med Fanny Hill/Around the World with Fanny Hill (1974), as well as one of the two films he directed in Hollywood, the crime oddball film Hoodlums (1980). You can also admire his early cinematography skills in Kattorna/The Cats (1965).
Later this year we will also stream four of the ‘literary’ erotica adaptations: Bel Ami, Flossie, Justine & Juliette and Molly, all of them in their original language plus also available in French dubbed versions. We also hope to bring you Nai Bonet’s Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979), which was the DoP gig that led Ahlberg to direct Bonet in Hoodlums.
Curious Alice in Acidland
Drugsploitation_Part_2:_A_Bad_Trip">Drugsploitation Part 2: A Bad Trip
If you remember drug films of the 1960s and 70s, then you probably weren’t watching them the right way. After the pre-War reefer scare and post-War heroin angst, the 1960s and 70s in the US unleashed a torrent of drugs to go with hippies, free love, the Vietnam war and protests against it. Nixon appointed Elvis as secret anti-drug agent, Reagan launched the War on Drugs, Nancy told kids to ‘Just Say No’, a frying egg is your brain on drugs and then Rachel Leigh Cook smashes up your whole kitchen. Heroin will do that to you, kids.
So let’s ease into this era by putting on Jefferson Airplane and let the White Rabbit lead us down the hole with an Alice double bill. Alice in Acidland (1969) sees college student Alice Trenton seduced by her lesbian French teacher (the White Rabbit) and join a group of hippies, use LSD and marijuana, and then take part in wild orgies. Basically an excuse to show nakedness with a voiceover explaining that Alice, “now belonged to another society, another world. A world of Pot, LSD and Free Love.”
Balance this with Curious Alice (1971), which is an anti-drug short made by the US National Institute for Mental Health targeted at eight year old school kids to warn them off drugs. But the trippy Gilliam-esque animation style and fun that the various characters seem to be having undermined the message. “You oughta have some pep pills! Uppers!” March Hare urges Alice, “Amphetamines! Speed! You feel super good.” After the film was released the National Coordinating Council on Drug Education slammed the movie, saying that it was confuzed and counterproductive, warning that young viewers “may be intrigued by the fantasy world of drugs.” Curiouser and curiouser.
Two other anti-drug shorts are on the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Narcotics: Pit of Despair (1967) is about as unsubtle as they get, with a poisonous snake over the titles to drive home the message that drugs kill. Lily white highschool jock John starts taking pills and is soon hooked on heroin. There is a harrowing withdrawal sequence and the film has no happy ending, simply a title card that states “There is no end.”
Unlike this and other Reefer Madness-style warning films, A Day in the Death of Donny B (1967) looked at what drugs do to black kids and communities. Brought to you by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration it is a gritty docudrama focusing on one day in the life of Donny B, as he makes his way through Harlem to scrape together enough money to score some H. The cinéma-vérité black and white camera work, performances and moody score makes it a genuinely good film and some sites claim it even won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Before he started making high concept porn in the 1990s Alex de Renzy was a noted documentary filmmaker. Weed (1972) looks at every part of the marijuana ecosystem, as de Renzy interviews customs agents and drug dealers, travels to Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal, and finds marijuana growing wild in Missouri. The film was a direct response to President Nixon's Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. It is a serious look at a complex issue and a fascinating insight into drugs and life in the early 1970s.
Hippies were an easy target for exploitation filmmakers who wanted to capitalise on the fear/excitement around LSD, mushrooms, weed and other forms of mind altering substances taken by the Flower Children. Psychedelic Sex Kicks (1967), The Acid Eaters (1968) and Wild Hippie Party (1967) all featured variations of LSD leading to naked orgies. Warning: watch all three in one go and you might overdose on celluloid-opioid.
If it is true that it is not heroin that kills you but the lifestyle that goes with it, then two films from opposite ends of the Atlantic and the 70s show that being a junkie isn’t much fun. OK, maybe occasionally. Born to Win (1971) set in New York City sees George Segal hustle his way around Times Square to score, while a young Robert DeNiro for once plays a good cop, rather than being the junkie/psycho. Later that decade on the dark side of Rome, Don’t Count on Us (1978) was the first Italian film on drug addiction from the perspective of the addicts. It captures the desperate cry of a generation forced to take refuge in drugs after their dreams and ideals have been shattered. We can promise nudity, sex, coarse language and a cool soundtrack.
The Devil is Dope!
Drugsploitation_Part_1:_Roots_in_Hell">Drugsploitation Part 1: Roots in Hell
Drugs and addiction are no laughing matter; but tell that to the stoners in the early 1970s laughing at midnight screenings of Reefer Madness (1936), a seriously meant anti-drug film financed in part by church societies to warn of the evils of the devil’s grass. Anti-drug propaganda was far from the first moral panic, but it was the first to leave a lasting cinematic impact, which can be traced from the mid 1930s (when marijuana was as legal as tobacco in the US) until the Reagan-era 1980s.
We will look at some of the best (worst) of the films that don’t Just Say ‘No’ in two parts, starting with the pre- and post-War years in the US of weed and dope, before moving on to the hippie-to-yuppie era from the 1960s onwards when acid/LSD and heroin gave way to cocaine, Less Than Zero tolerance and the War on Drugs. (Anyone know who won that one, or do I need to watch Narcos to find out?)
The late 1930s was the Golden Era of films with a message about the evils of drugs. The granddaddy of them all was of course Reefer Madness, which just like Mary Jane itself was known by many different names: originally made as Tell Your Children but often re-edited and released variously as The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, and even Love Madness. An innocent puff can get you in all sorts of trouble: “from a hit and run accident, to manslaughter, suicide, conspiracy to murder, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness from marijuana addiction.”
It was only when the film was purchased by exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper, who inserted many salacious shots not in the original, that it was destined to become the cult classic that it is today. Its reputation was further cemented by the roadshow screenings in the 1950s. But it was college screenings by the founder of drug legalisation activists NORML in 1972 that made it a stoner classic. It has since been colorized, turned into a play, a stage musical and TV film. It is easy to laugh along, but also worth remembering that anti-marijuana sentiments in the 1930s were partly fuelled by racism amongst politicians and legislators, pointing their finger at Mexicans and black people in the USA, implying that they were poisoning the upstanding white youth of America.
Trailer advertising 1930s style.
There were a slew of other Reefer-like films, which all came about in the wake of the stricter Hays Office code and prior to the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act that effectively outlawed the weed. Most notably was Marihuana - Weed With Roots in Hell (1936), directed by exploitation supremo Dwain Esper, and written by Esper's wife, Hildagarde Stadie. In it high schoolers (most of them actors in their 40s) smoke, drink, laugh, have sex and (shock!) go skinny dipping. In Assassin of Youth (1937) a good girl is lured into a sordid world of obscene all-night drug parties, where anything can happen. Finally The Cocaine Fiends (1936, aka The Pace That Kills, Cocaine Madness) tells of the danger of the trendy new “headache powder” and was also re-issued several times with additional scenes.
In Devil’s Harvest (1942) a high-school student goes undercover at a strip club to expose the evil doers corrupting America’s youth by spreading the weed of Satan - MARIJUANA!!! (Notice that the dealer is using a hot dog stand to sell his poison - is there no end to these fiends’ depravity?) Meanwhile Teenage Devil Dolls (1955) takes the link between the Evil One and drugs further in the alternative title that left the contemporary reviewer from the New York times distinctly un-impressed: “"The sensationalism implicit in the title of One-Way Ticket to Hell is hardly evident in this depiction of drug addiction and narcotics traffic...a case history of a young girl's descent into enslavement to the habit.” Not helped by the fact that the film’s story is told in voice-over only, but with cool music by Robert Drasnin.
It was not until Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) that drug addiction got A-class treatment, with Frank Sinatra as a wannabe jazz drummer (always that drug link to music) who struggles to walk the straight and narrow path in resisting the temptation to shoot up - heroin is implied in the film, though never named, while the book by Nelson Almgren on which it is based had it as morphine. Not only Frank Sinatra’s best role ever, but famous for its Elmer Bernstein score and Saul Bass credit sequence and poster. We edge into the Age of Aquarius with Smoke and Flesh (1968), which will see us move into the hippie era of drug films in next week’s continuation of this subject.
No Slain, No Gain!
Slasher_\\\_Killers">Slasher \\\ Killers
Slasher films have a long and rich history. Wikipedia defines it with clinical precision: “Slasher films typically adhere to a specific formula: a past wrongful action causes severe trauma that is reinforced by a commemoration or anniversary that reactivates or re-inspires the killer. Built around stalk-and-murder sequences, the films draw upon the audience's feelings of catharsis, recreation, and displacement, as related to sexual pleasure.” Got that?
Slasher films even have a fascinating pre-history before the two 1960 films that are arguably the genres Ma and Pa: Hitchcock’s Psycho and Powell’s Peeping Tom. Guests in a remote mansion menaced by a killer in a hideous mask (The Bat, 1923); former sorority members killed off by someone who crosses their picture out from a yearbook (Thirteen Women, 1932); stabbings with a five-prong garden-weeder raised up and brought down in rapid edit (Sherlock Holmes film The Scarlet Claw, 1944); people with secrets on an isolated island killed off one by one (Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, 1945); the is-he-or-isn’t-he the serial killer (Jack the Ripper in Man in the Attic, 1953) all laid the blood-stained groundwork for Messrs Hitchcock and Powell to come along, with Coppola following just three years later with Dementia 13 (1963), where relatives gathered in an Irish castle are killed off one by one.
The Golden Age of Slashers is considered to be 1978 to 1984, with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface making their mark(s), followed by the direct-to-video and sequels era of 1985 to 1995. Andy Milligan’s The Ghastly Ones, a.k.a. Blood Rites (1968) pointed the way with its low budget, single location, excess gore and no-visual-holds-barred aesthetic that inspired many of the more famous slasher directors. The Horrible House on the Hill, a.k.a. People Toys (1974) is unusual in that the killers are children, but it crossed over with the period of evil child horror films (Exorcist, Omen and Don’t Look Now).
To be original, killers did not need knives to wreck pain and death. In Drive-In Massacre (1976) the victims are dispatched with a sword, while in the very 1980s Jason-meets-Jane Fonda Killer Workout, a.k.a. Aerobicide (1987) the slasher’s dirty deeds are done with an oversized safety pin. Seriously! (We debated but in the end did not include Driller Killer, as his deadly tool of choice does not technically ‘slash’.) Six teenagers, a weekend by a lake, one bloodthirsty maniac all makes it a Blood Lake (1987). Finally in the very meta-rich Effects (1979), a low-budget horror film crew in a house in the woods see the line between reality and fiction blurred as their shoot turns into a ‘snuff’ film.
It is impossible to do the slasher genre full justice in one theme week (there is Italy’s Giallo and other great non-US films, for a start), but this is hopefully a taster and some films you might not already have seen. Many cult film fans only came of age during the Post-Modern Era of slasher films that came following Scream (1996 - celebrating 25 years this year!), so it is worth digging deeper into the half-century old genre and its even earlier antecedents. Just, you know, don’t have sex, remember to stick to the rules and don’t split up as you browse Cultpix.
Girls Without Rooms - are trouble!
The_Bad_Boy_of_Swedish_cinema">The Bad Boy of Swedish cinema
Arne Ragneborn started out as a teenage actor in the Bergman-scripted drama Hets (Torment, 1944), and Bergman's own Fängelse (Prison, 1949). He often played desperate young men in his early roles. At the age of 30 he directed the first of the films that would make him notorious: Farlig frihet/The Vicious Breed (1955), then his second film Paradiset/Paradise (1955) the same year! During the brief period of two years, he made five films with the same themes: juvenile delinquents, alcoholism, drugs, sex, prostitution, violence and crime. The Swedish board of censors was not amused. They threatened to ban the films, and in one case they did. Det händer i natt/Babes and Hoodlums (1956) was the first Swedish domestic film since 1917 to be banned in its entirety!
Sweden had come through WWII unscathed and the Fifties was a time of prosperity and social reform – on the surface. Ragneborn tapped into a much darker side of contemporary Sweden, and this was a reality which the authorities did not want to acknowledge, and most certainly not see being played out in cinemas. Hence the harsh responses from censors and film critics alike.
Harry Schein, the influential film critic who went on to become the first CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, had a mission to wipe out genre films that appealed to the common man, such as comedies and action movies. He wrote about Ragneborn’s debut: “The film is a blatant speculation in juvenile crime, homosexuality and other sexuality and blatant lies about the social care system. At the same time you can’t deny Ragneborn’s skillful way of using the medium, with well-directed scenes, fast pacing and smart storytelling.”
Arne Ragneborn - enfante terrible of Swedish cinema
The critic Hanserik Hjertén wrote in the major daily newspaper: “The Vicious Breed is a dangerous film. It’s dangerous because of its superficial skill.” His film Flamman (Girls Without Rooms, 1956) was no less provocative, with its depiction of teenage prostitution and had a similar reception.
Ragneborn had clearly hit a nerve, and became an outcast as a filmmaker. After Babes and Hoodlums got banned, he had a bright idea; he re-named the film (Aldrig i livet / Never in My Life, 1957), and re-edited it as a comedy, with a new prologue and epilogue, and in between was the original rough gangster film, disguised as a dream sequence! Both films are on Cultpix, so that you can compare them!
Regneborn didn’t directed any more movies after that, but continued with his acting career, especially in the Seventies when he was in cool exploitation movies (available on Cultpix, of course), like Eva – den utstötta/Swedish and Underage (1969), Skräcken har 1000 ögon/Fear has 1,000 Eyes (1970) and Anita – ur en tonårsflickas dagbok/Anita – Swedish Nymphet (1972).
[NB: Ragneborn’s films are all in Swedish, but we plan on commissioning English-language subtitles for them later this year, so that more people from around the world can enjoy them.]
Signal 30 - Highway Patrol code for something very bad.
Road Safety Horror
If footage of real Nazi concentration camps is not enough to shock you (see below), this selection of films pushes the envelope even further. Cars and vehicular accidents are the biggest serial killer there’s ever been. Vehicle deaths in the US rose from 26,785 in 1945 to a peak of 54,589 in 1972, before falling to 36,120 in 2019.
As deaths were climbing in the 1960s there was a feeling that seatbelts were not enough - drivers needed to be shocked into safety, particularly impressionable teens getting their driving licence. Most notoriously the Driver’s Education films produced by Highway Safety Films used footage of actual auto accident scenes and were often closeups of mangled accident victims in full technicolour. We are no fans of trigger warnings, but this is some seriously disturbing shits that your parents and grandparents were forced to watch, before they were allowed behind the wheel of a car. There were reported faintings and people throwing up at schools and the DVLA where it screened on 16mm.
We have four short films, each one about half an hour long, created by the Highway Safety Foundation and Safety Enterprises, Inc. using footage supplied by the Ohio Highway Patrol. Signal 30 (1959), which is the radio code used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol for a fatal traffic accident, features graphic footage of smashed automobiles and their horrifically injured and dismembered drivers and passengers.
It spawned two sequels and was featured in - as well as giving name to - an episode of Mad Men. Mechanized Death (1961) demonstrates US highways and byways to be nightmarish avenues of carnage and destruction. Wheels of Tragedy (1963) shows injured and dead car crash victims being pulled from their vehicles with music that will haunt you. Options to Live (1979) is mostly just a compilation film of the previous ones, but if you want all your corpses in one place... Warning again: this is as close to a real-life snuff film as you will ever get, no joke!
Shake hands with danger - and you could lose a finger or more.
This is what a female friend from the US remembers about being made to watch them in highschool. “Everyone hated them and they burned into your skull and eyes. They gave my friends nightmares and made us afraid of driving altogether. I saw a bit then hid behind my hands, a habit I keep to this very day. I think they thought making us scared and sick was achieving the goal of making us safer drivers when it did exactly the opposite.” Worse than any horror film.
Other countries had their own road safety films, though none as graphic as the US ones. In Sweden there was even a feature film made. Kit and Elsa Colfach, husband and wife writers/directors and MD, had a very strong message to the youth of yesteryear: don't have sex, don’t drink, don’t drive. Susanne (1969) only has a voice-over, no dialogue (probably for budget reasons) in this story of youth-gone-wrong and suffering the graphic consequences. Nurses were at hand at cinemas, as audience members passed out because of the authentic operation scenes in the film. We have also included their short film Kör försiktigt (Drive Carefully, 1956) about the danger of children in traffic, and Blindbock (Blind-Man’s-Bluff, 1954), with very in-your-face operation scene in colour. You have been warned!
Finally, in 1980 Centron Productions hired horror director Herk Harvey (Carnival of Souls - also on Cultpix) to make a safety film about the proper and wrong ways to use heavy industrial machines, sponsored by the Caterpillar Tractor Co. Shake Hands With Danger (1980) features dismemberment, gore, demolition and a super catchy country & western theme song: "Shakes Hands with Danger," the story of Three-Finger Joe. It will stay with you as long as the images of the car crashes.
Hitler - Dead or Alive (1944). Think Inglourious Basterds, but with the Three Stooges.
Film makers could be forgiven for loving Nazis, given that they have provided an endless stream of big screen entertainment from the 1930s until today. There is no film genre that they have not appeared in, whether war films or comedies, but they are unique in having their own subgenre of Nazisploitation, which flourished in the 1970s and 80s, many of them Italian or American. Related to Women-in-Prison and Rape & Revenge genre films, it is no surprise that they informed Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but also his earlier Grindhouse film with Robert Rodriguez that featured the fictional trailer by Rob Zombie for Werewolf Women of the SS, with Nicolas Cage and Udo Kier (watch it here).
The subject of Nazis in films is too big to do justice in a small Cultpix festival, so consider these films tasters of what the genre has to offer. Love Camp 7 (1969) is one of the earliest and arguably kicked off the whole Nazisploitation genre that gave us cult classics such as Horrifying Experiments of SS Last Days (1977) and Nazi Love Camp 27 (1977). Two female US officers go undercover in a Nazi camp to get information and extract a prisoner. Full on female frontal nudity and sadistic punishments ensue. Banned by the censor boards in both UK and New Zealand, it retains the power to shock more than half a century after its original release. Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS may be more famous (we hope to secure the rights one day), but this is the film that started it all.
Real Nazis have never seemed more seductive than in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), the hagiographic documentary of the Nazi party rally in Nürnberg in 1934 that sees Hitler descend from the clouds in his plane like a modern god. Riefenstahl, who directed, produced, edited and co-wrote the film is arguably one of the most influential female filmmakers in the history of cinema, but sadly her most famous efforts were in the service of a regime of pure evil. Lest we forget. That unspeakable evil was laid bare in shocking in detail in the 1945 documentary Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps, which was shown at the Nürnberg war crime trials against leading Nazis. (Warning: some of this footage is genuinely shocking, even for seasoned horror gore hounds.)
Have you seen this man?
Arguably peak Hollywood Nazis was during the Second World War itself, when the entertainment industrial complex swung into force in the propaganda battle. Ronald Reagan wore a Nazi uniform in Desperate Journey (1942) and John Wayne fought fictional ‘Japs’ in Flying Tigers (1942); meanwhile true Hollywood heroes like James Stewart were risking their lives in real bombing raids over Germany. But the budget films are the most interesting, such as Hitler - Dead or Alive (1942), in which a team of ex-con bounty hunters go to Germany in search of Hitler. Think Inglourious Basterds, but with the Three Stooges. A companion piece is Monogram’s Enemy of Women (1944), which sees Joseph Goebbels rejected in love but rises to power as Nazi Propaganda Minister and tries to manipulate the woman back into his arms. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it lurid and "pitifully unprofessional in virtually every way."
The less said about SS Operation Wolfcub (1983) the better. Two mercenaries infiltrate a neo-nazi training camp in rural Sweden. Everybody speaks Swedish - kind of. An action film by Joe Sarno with Harry Reems, but no nudity and sex - what were they thinking?
Finally, the Prince of Darkness himself Bela Lugosi played crypto Nazi in Black Dragons (1942), but should be better remembered for being one of the key speakers at a rally in Los Angeles in August 1944 demanding the rescue of Jews in his native Hungary. Lugosi had previously helped to form the Hungarian-American Council for Democracy, calling for “Nazism to be wiped out everywhere.” We agree - except on the big screen.
The East Side Kids - failing the Bechdel Test miserably.
Bela Lugosi’s Monogram 9
Bela Lugosi was Hollywood horror royalty who ended up doing schlocky films with Ed Wood. Between this came his fascinating period from 1941 to 1944 known as ‘Monogram Nine’, which was when even Universal’s B-film non-horror unit had stopped taking Lugosi’s calls and he instead went to work for ‘Poverty Row’ studio Monogram Pictures. These cheap-o horror/mystery/comedies were typically filmed in just six to seven days, full of bad acting and cheap production values. Yet somehow they have become sub-genre classics.
For anyone fascinated (as we are), we recommend the book of essays “Bela Lugosi and the Monogram 9”, edited by Gary Rhodes (no, not the TV chef) and Robert Guffey - who also discuss it in an entertaining and informative podcast. They write that, “The entries in the Monogram Nine are bizarre and strange, populated by crazy, larger-than-life characters who exist in wacky, alternative worlds. In nine films, the improbable chases the impossible.” They are so different from standard Hollywood films of that era that you can enjoy and admire them on many different levels.
Monogram 9 was not Lugosi’s best acting, but some of his most fun. He is a mad scientist (The Corpse Vanishes, The Ape Man), mad doctor (Voodoo Man), crypto Nazi (Black Dragons, Spooks Run Wild), crazed homicidal maniac (Invisible Ghost), or criminal mastermind (Bowery at Midnight), sometimes pitted against the East Side Kids and often with a dwarf sidekick. In Spooks Run Wild he is called ‘vulture’ because Universal owned the right to call Lugosi ‘vampire’. What these films lacked in budget, the made up with charm in terms of goofiness and humour. Most of them are also little more than an hour long, making them quick and easy to enjoy.
Bela Lugosi was going through a tough time when he made them, with increased dependence on opioids for an old injury, as he saw his popularity eclipsed by that of Karloff and Chaney in the late 1930s and early 40s. He was later reduced to touring and theatre, with his final Dracula on film being in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Even if Martin Landau would win an Oscar for playing Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, it was a sad end to a career of one of the greatest horror actors. In this career, the Monogram 9 exists as microcosm of all that was great about the Great Bela Lugosi.
[The ninth film Return of the Ape Man (1944) is not included on Cultpix as Paramount owns the rights to it, so instead we have included a Lugosi non-canon Monogram film, The Mysterious Mr Wong, with Bela Lugosi in yellow/face - so wong, yet so right.]
These are not the hands that I ordered!
Comedy and horror are the two silent film genres that are still the most watchable. Good slapstick or Harold Lloyd acrobatics don’t need dialogue to be funnier, while a vampire creeping towards you is scary enough with just intense music. So if you have not seen a horror classic yet, these are some true terror treats.
Having recently celebrated its 99th anniversary, Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror (1922), is perhaps the single greatest vampire film of all time. Not only is Max Schreck the creepiest embodiment of Count Dracula ever (although they couldn’t call him that for copyright reasons), but it also pioneered timeless vampire film tropes like the vertical coffin rise, the spider like scuttling (achieved by under-cranking the camera) and the creepy vampire shadow silhouette. The film is best seen projected on a big screen in an old church with real organ music, but it deserves to be watched many times, so catch it today on Cultpix.
As the copyright had expired long ago, Frankenstein had already been turned into a film in 1910 with Charles Stanton Ogle as The Monster. The Edison one-reeler does a good job of compressing the story into 12 minutes, with the monster creation special effects ingenious (think Indian Jones face-melting in reverse) for its time. Jekyll & Hyde came next in 1920, with John Barrymore (of acting dynasty fame and Drew’s grandpa) doing the dual roles. Budget was big, production values high and transformation far less silly than when David Hasselhoff did it on stage.
The Hands of Orlac (1924) is such a great story that it’s been remade numerous times (you can see Hands of a Stranger from 1962 on Cultpix as well), about a concert pianist who loses his hands, only to have an executed killer replacements grafted onto him. As with Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) it is a German Expressionist horror classic and a reminder that no country has ever had a monopoly on horror, but the pendulum has swung to different territories, whether US, UK or Japan, in different decades. But the ability to frighten is universal and perhaps that is why words are often not needed.
Three Horror Greats Go Ape
Go Ga-Ga for Gorilla Suits
Long before Andy Serkis began monkeying around with mo-cap, Hollywood B-films made do with actors in fake gorilla suits, rather than getting a costly real ape and animal wrangler. Lon Chaney (Bride of the Gorilla), Boris Karloff (The Ape) and Bela Lugosi (The Ape Man) were just three of the horror greats forced to act opposite half-man, half-moth-eaten-gorilla-suit, which tended to be reused from film to film.
Bela Lugosi probably had it worst in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, not only forced to share top billing with a hipster ape, but acting alongside a Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin tribute act so bad that Jerry Lewis tried to sue them. You can read the essay Acting the Ape: Hollywood Gorilla Men, check out the list of the Ten Greatest Gorilla Suit and watch a selection of the best (and worst) examples in the Fake Gorilla Suit subgenre of films. Simian appropriation or thankless acting gig? You be the judge.
Dean Stockwell is having a really bad hair day.
"Werewolf? There, wolf!"
They don’t smell their own crotches, you know, they smell each other's crotches, and it’s a form of… greeting*. Of all the B-movie monsters, werewolves are probably the most funny and terrifying, equally adept at turning up in horror as in comedies, or mixtures of both (An American Werewolf in London, Teenwolf, take your pick). What is it about men with excessive facial hair that inspire fear, loathing and mirth - could it be an anti-hipster thing? *(What We[rewolves] Do In The Shadows)
The top pic of our Wolf-Man themed films is Lycanthropus (a.k.a. Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory). This B&W classic is genuinely thrilling and chilling even today. The werewolf theme is shadowed by an intense subplot about blackmail and prostitution. No surprise as the script is by Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote some true masterpieces of Italian horror cinema in the 1960s.
Dean Stockwell sinks his fangs into politics and politicians in The Werewolf of Washington, which might not be up there with London and Paris as howling cities, but is a strange post-Watergate horror-cum-satire. Watch out for the phone booth scene and the scenes with Biff McGuire as the president are pure gold. Though after what’s been happening in D.C. in the past year, this doesn’t seem too strange or far fetched. Meanwhile Moon of the Wolf ads small town Louisiana cajun spice to the shape shifting stew, while in The Mad Monster a mad scientist uses a serum on his gardener to turn him into a howling monster to realize his crazed plans: “An army of wolf men. Fearless! Raging! Every man a snarling animal!”