Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, July 13, 2009
      ( 7/13/2009 09:00:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"A MONSTER LIES WITHIN EACH OF US!" A bargain boxed set collecting three of its schlock flick DVD collections, Retromedia's Mad Monster Rally advertises that it contains "8 Huge Hits" within its three disc set. Only three things wrong with that particular statement: a.) none of the low-budget entries contained in this set could be described as "huge" in any way; b.) none of 'em were hits and c.) the set contains nine movies, not eight!

I know: details, details. To begin, all three discs in the package were originally released singly as Sci-Fi Trash-O-Rama, Morella's All-Nite Spooktacular and Morella's Blood Vision. That last was reviewed by yours truly when it originally came out in 2008, so let's take a gander at the other two discs. To be sure, the movies are all of a piece. When the big-name directors in the set include the likes of Larry (Mars Needs Women) Buchanan and Del (Horror of Party Beach) Tenney, psychotronic movie buffs already know what they're in for.

Earliest disc in the set is the honestly titled Trash-O-Rama, which features two full-length films along with an engagingly dated newsreel from the early fifties examining The Flying Saucer Mystery (lots of stiff scientists and self-proclaimed abductees staring into the camera with this 'un). The first feature, Creature of Destruction, is one of a series of made-for-teevee remakes of earlier American International Pictures flicks that Larry Buchanan foisted on televiewers back in the late sixties. A remake of 1956's The She Creature, the movie stars ubiquitous drive-in actor Les Tremayne as a worn-out Svengali named John Basso who uses past life regression to conjure up a bug-eyed rubber-suited monster to kill the rich and stupid on a California coastal community. It's not entirely certain how this works: though it supposedly involves Basso hypnotizing his lovely girl assistant (Pat Delaney), so she regresses into some sort of prehistoric sea beast, the girl never leaves her chair while the creature wreaks havoc on unwary beachgoers.

Ineptly shot, with a guest appearance by barely remembered sixties rocker Scotty McKay (who gets killed by the creature), the movie nonetheless shines when placed alongside the set's second sci-fi non-thriller, 1974's UFO: Target Earth. Written and directed by Michael A. de Gaetono, UFO looks like it was shot around a Georgia campus by first-timers really freaked-out by the far-out finale to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its ploddingly paced non-plot involves a college prof's (Nick Plakias) investigations into UFO sightings by an isolated Georgia lake, concluding in a psychedelic computer graphics sequence that looks like a badly lensed screensaver. All the elements of a truly lame no-budget entry are in this 'un: voiceover narration to fill in for the unfilmed dialog, hatchet-style editing, an extended scene where the boom mic floats prominently above the seated characters' heads. The moviemakers may not've been on hallucinogens while making it, but you'll wanna be, watching it.

A trio of retro teevee robot toy commercials fills out Trash-O-Rama. WIt's wy too brief, but the ads may get your nostalgia nodes a-firin'.

The second disc, Spooktacular, goes beyond trash-o-rama sci-fi into low-rent horror. As with Blood Vision, the set contains intros by the trés busty Ghost Hostess with the Mostess Morella, as well as two Retro Drive-In segments hosted by Retromedia mastermind Fred Olen Ray. All very corny but still fun for anyone who ever got hooked on a late-nite local teevee creature feature. And, unlike Blood Vision, all three of the movies on the disc contain a Morella intro.

Odd film out on the set is Hobgoblins, which is not mentioned in the outer boxed set packaging – the mysterious ninth flick in his "8 Huge Hits" set. An inept attempt at horror comedy a lá Gremlins, the future concerns a group of evil aliens who are capable of turning peoples' deepest dreams into reality. After crash-landing in a Hollywood studio (because movie studios are dream factories, get it?), they're locked in a vault by crotchety studio guard Jeffrey Culver until their inevitable release by the requisite dumb teen. The muppety Hobgoblins, so cheaply constructed that their hands don't work, play their mind games on a group of eighties kids, turning the movie's nice girl Amy (Paige Sullivan) into a bar-performing tease, bringing a horny teen's phone sex fantasy to life, etc. In the right hands, the film could provide plenty of sardonic chuckles, but these aren't the right hands.

Why is it not mentioned in the outer packaging? Perhaps because a "20th Anniversary Edition" of this turkey is also being released this summer on DVD – or maybe because the movie was memorably trashed in Mystery Science Theater 3000 set. Whatever the reason, it's an unforgettably egregious film.

The other two entries, 1972's House of Blood and The Cremators could have also provided fodder for the MST3K guys, especially the latter entry. The first is a weak attempt at a psychological horror thriller, which even includes the hoary fake-dead-body-in-a-bathtub gag, while the second could have fit on the Sci-Fi Trash-O-Rama set without any argument. Written and directed by Harry Essex, co-writer of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the movie centers on a batch of intelligent space rocks that are capable of pulling a great fiery ball out of the water whenever anyone fondles 'em too much. ("It never reacts unless it's disturbed," the movie's ecologist/scientist explains.) Said fiery ball rolls along the road without burning anything until it gets to its victim, which it turns into a doll-sized pile of ashes.

Reportedly filmed for $50,000 – and looking like it was made for half that much –Cremators is most notable for the appearance of Maria DeAragon as its shrieky heroine. DeAragon's most memorable role, as described in a short interview feature included on the Spooktacular disc, was as Greedo, the nasty alien shot (first) by Han Solo in Star Wars. Now there's a role worth putting in the old resume!

Retromedia's boxed set is packaged with all the garish lettering and monster movie mag graphics that you'd expect in a collection like this. As with the best exploitation promo fare, many of the images you see appear nowhere in the movies, though the Trash-O-Rama set does feature a nice image of the Creature of Destruction on its front. Of the three discs offered, I tend to favor Blood Vision, in large part because two of its sixties-set entries have a better fashion sense then the cheapies produced in the seventies and eighties.

Still, Mad Monster Rally contains its share of amusing moments, provided you don't (like me) watch too many in a single weekend. Sit through too many of these dogs in a row, and you might find yourself screaming at the teevee set, "I want production values!" You know you're in trouble when you turn off the DVD, and one of SyFy Channel's Saturday nite features starts to look promising.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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