2013 Drive-In/Exploitation/B-Movie Challenge! PART 4

by kdlough

11. Invaders From Mars (1953) Genre: Sci-Fi

I feel a bit weird lumping Invaders From Mars in with some of the movies that have been featured so far; sure, it’s low budget and very silly at times, but it’s also a real masterpiece, one of the final films made by legendary Hollywood art director William Cameron Menzies. The silliness, rather than damning the film to the realm of kitsch, actually deepens its nightmare tone. It can definitely be enjoyed for its camp value, but you would have to be pretty close-minded not to appreciate its Lynchian Möbius strip qualities. Who says a kid-oriented sci-fi flick can’t also be high art?

Still, it goes without saying that this is a perfect kids’ movie. I think I first saw it around the age of 10, and images from the superior paranoiac first half have stuck with me my whole life. Particularly the sinisterly recurring shot of a country path; if you’ve seen Invaders From Mars, you know what I’m talking about. I feel like there are scenes in this movie that have wiggled into generations of kids’ collective subconscious.

And have I mentioned that this is a beautiful movie all the way through? You can’t get much better than the 50s for this sort of heightened-senses color cinematography. I love the set design too, with freakishly high ceilings and long, narrow rooms. I feel like I don’t have time to go into more detail, but seriously folks: this is a good ‘un.

12. A Bucket of Blood (1958) Genre: Beatsploitation

One of Roger Corman’s many masterpieces; not as funny as Little Shop of Horrors, but personally I think Bucket of Blood has its better known brother beat. For one thing it’s a little more inventively shot, which helps make you forget that 90% of the movie takes place on two sets; and in addition, Charles Griffith’s screenplay is wittier and one of his most dramatically resonant. I find it hard not to feel that the cynical (to say the least!) view of artists and art-making in this movie is in some way indicative of Corman and Griffith’s reflections on their own supposed “hackiness.” I’m not sure that the ultimate conclusion is much more than “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” but there’s still a lot to dig into. Plus, I love cheesy depictions of beatniks.

Although, about the “cheesiness” of the beatniks in this movie: am I the only one who thinks this is maybe one of the better portrayals of the Beat scene in a 50s movie? Sure, its intent is parody, but I like all the different little groups and archetypes the movie throws in: the hangers-on, the pompous types, the rich older couple, the burn-outs – it gives you the sense that the coffee house is a real melting pot of artists, bourgeois tourists, and genuine weirdos, a fairly nuanced and (as far as my experience goes) true to life depiction of the community dynamics in this sort of counter-culture “scene.”

It also helps that all the performances are funny, with a lot of great turns from Corman’s stock company. Dick Miller is good, of course, playing something a little different than his usual angry/scheming type. Shame he didn’t get more top-billed roles.

13. The Burning Hell * (1974) Genre: Christploitation

ARRG. Another Ron Ormond/Erstus W. Prikle collaboration; it’s not as openly crazy as If Footmen Tire You, but it makes up for it by being every bit as irritating. The film opens with a dreadful song about hell sung by the most joyless church choir you’ve ever heard. We then move on to a brief scene with Moses (WOW, THAT’S A VERY FAKE BEARD) damning some followers to hell, followed by the story of Lazarus and the rich man – a story which Pirkle, who doesn’t seem to understand the rhetorical purpose of a “parable,” insists is TRUE TRUE TRUE. Inter-cut with these re-enactments is the exact same church sermon conversion story from the first movie, this time with a hippie played by Ormond’s brother as the conversionee.

As in Footmen, the church scenes feature extensive shots of fairly grotesque and uncomfortable-looking country folk. A particular favorite of mine was this shot of two very creepy little girls that could be right out of The Shining:


I’ve been around this sort of Southern Christian proselytizing my whole life, and what always strikes me as funny is that the folks who make this kind of stuff are so locked into their Judo-Christian mindset that the idea that someone might not know what Christianity is or have grown up with other religious beliefs never really occurs to them. So you get a hell scenes where apparently the only damned souls are white people who moan that they knew all along they should have accepted Jesus. By their own belief system, wouldn’t hell be filled mostly with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc etc?

And in the main conversion storyline, after Pirkle learns that the hippie he’s talking to is already a Christian, but not a Southern Baptist, he becomes enraged, refuses to listen to the kid talk about his own beliefs, and throws him out of his house. If there’s anything these people really hate, it’s Christians who belong to a different denomination than theirs. I will never not find this kind of thing weird.

If this movie convinced me of anything, it’s that Southern Baptists have no idea what good religious music is. Every one of the “worship” songs featured in The Burning Hell is the same droning, tuneless mush. I know these folks thought dancing was evil, but does their singing have to be this stiff?

A GROUNDS-KEEPING UPDATE: Okay, I know I’m getting a little behind on getting these updates posted, and it’s becoming abundantly clear that there’s no way in Burning Hell that I’m getting to 100 movies this month. But never fear, the show is still going on and I’ve got a backlog of write-ups waiting in the wings.

In the past week we’ve also lost two B-movie icons: Jess Franco and Annette Funicello, in addition to a very important writer in my life, Roger Ebert. I had intended to dive into write-ups for the cinematic output of Ebert (as screenwriter) and Funicello (as star) this week, but of course their passing has made getting copies of their movies nearly impossible. Luckily (unluckily? Who knows.) Jess Franco never enjoyed the same level of mainstream attention as the other two, so our next update will include a brief write-up on one of the directors most-remembered trash-poetry dreams. ‘Till then!