Monday, October 24, 2016

Springmill Drive-In: '60s Horror Film Festival

Cody went to a drive-in for a quadruple feature of 1960s horror movies.

Having attended the Springmill Drive-In's "'50s Horror Film Festival" the previous weekend, I was eager to check out their '60s horror quadruple feature this past weekend, especially since this line-up was the one I found to be the best overall of the three decade-themed festivals the drive-in has scheduled (next up is, of course, the '70s). So on a cold and rainy October evening, my dog Zeppelin and I headed over to the drive-in for another night of frights.

I got a later start than intended, so I didn't get parked in front of the drive-in screen until just 5 minutes before showtime. If the drive-in's owner did an intro over the radio, I missed it while Zeppelin and I were getting settled in and while I was getting a drink from the concession stand, but I made it back to my car just in time to see the first movie begin.

7:25pm - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

My appreciation for and obsession with George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead, the film that gave the world flesh-eating zombies, has been well documented on Life Between Frames. If you're scheduled a horror marathon, you can't go wrong reserving a time slot for Night, and I was very glad to see that the drive-in would be showing this film. It may be the movie I've watched more times than any other, but I'm always up for another viewing, and even though I have seen it in the theatre more than once I had never watched it in a drive-in setting before.

This new viewing experience did not disappoint. It was awesome to see Night of the Living Dead in all its black and white glory looming ahead of me with the dark night all around me, the music and those sounds I'm so familiar with - those lines of dialogue, those crickets chirping - coming through my car speakers.

Aside from the coolness of seeing the movie at the drive-in, there's not much more I can say that wasn't already covered in the Film Appreciation article I wrote about it. Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest films ever made!

9:10pm - THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

I scored some popcorn from the concession stand before the second movie began, and I have to say, the guy who put butter on that popcorn did it right. He was not stingy, when I said I wanted butter he took the request seriously.

I did get to hear the owner's intro for this one, in which he said he considers The Last Man on Earth to be one of the best movies scheduled for the festival, and I would agree with that. The Last Man on Earth is a really great film.

An Italian production directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, this film is based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, a book that also influenced the creation of Night of the Living Dead. Vincent Price stars as the title character, Doctor Robert Morgan, who may well be the sole survivor of a global plague that turned the infected into vampire-like creatures. Three years have passed since the end of the world, three years that Morgan has spent alone, locked away in his fortified house while the vampires roam the streets at night, spending his days going around the city and staking any sleeping vampire he comes across.

One of the vampires who regularly comes around and pounds on his doors and windows, demanding that he come out, is his former associate Ben Cortman, who worked in the same lab as he did during the outbreak, both of them researching the disease. We see extensive flashbacks to the time of the outbreak, when Morgan was doing his job while the world crumbled around him, the disease even claiming his own wife and daughter.

We also see a lot of Morgan's alone time post-apocalypse, which may drag the film down for some viewers, but if you're going to be watching a one-man show you're in very capable hands when that one man in Vincent Price.

Eventually Morgan meets another person who is able to walk around outside during the day, and everything he thought he knew about the world is turned on its head.

The screenplay for The Last Man on Earth was written by Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo Ragona, William Leicester, and someone called Logan Swanson. Swanson was actually Richard Matheson himself, who decided to go by a pseudonym because he wasn't satisfied with the finished film. That's a shame, because even though Last Man isn't the most perfectly polished movie out there, it is a fantastic and reasonably faithful adaptation of Matheson's story. It does I Am Legend justice, and more than fifty years later it's still the most faithful adaptation we've gotten of that classic novel. Later adaptations, The Omega Man in 1971 and I Am Legend in 2007, strayed much further than this one does.


The Roger Corman production The Little Shop of Horrors is sort of the companion film to Corman's A Bucket of Blood, which was shown during the drive-in's '50s festival. The stories of the two aren't actually connected in any way, but like Bucket it was directed by Corman from a screenplay by Charles B. Griffith, and it was filmed on the same sets as Bucket - on a production schedule of just two and a half days.

Little Shop shares more than just sets with A Bucket of Blood. Both films center on meek, rather dim young men - in this case Jonathan Haze as flower shop employee Seymour Krelboyne - who end up accidentally committing murders that turn out to improve their social status. In Bucket, the lead character became a popular artist by covering the bodies of his victims in clay. In Little Shop, Seymour feeds his victims to the bloodthirtsty plant that he created by crossing a butterwort with a Venus flytrap. Give the guy a break, he didn't know his plant was going to gain the ability to speak and demand to be fed with blood.

In both movies, the lead's boss knows that people are dying to create the art/feed the plant, but they let this slide because of crowds and money these things draw in. Having this strange plant that Seymour created on display in the flower shop is great for business. The more it eats, the bigger it grows, and as it gets bigger more people will come by the store to see it.

The idea of a human-devouring talking plant is certainly horrific, but Little Shop's main intention is to make you laugh, and it is an amusing, silly little movie. Highlights among the goofiness is an appearance by Bucket star Dick Miller as a flower shop regular who buys flowers to eat them, and Jack Nicholson, just at the start of his career, as the masochistic patient of a dentist who decorates his office with flowers from the flower shop.

The Little Shop of Horrors is a terrific movie that could have been even better if they had been able to spend more than two and a half days making it (they were pressed for time because the sets were going to be destroyed). Taking the shooting schedule into account, it is an incredible achievement. This two and a half day movie is not only still worth watching fifty-six years later, it made such an impression that it ended up serving as the basis of an excellent stage musical. In 1986, that musical was turned into a film that I watched many times when I was growing up.

11:55pm - 13 GHOSTS (1960)

Producer/director William Castle was one of the greatest showmen in the history of filmmaking, a man who made him such a name for himself that he would appear in the trailers for his latest films to present them to the audience. He was known for creating gimmicks to draw in the crowds - for his film House on Haunted Hill, which was shown at the '50s festival, Castle created Emergo: in select theatres that showed the movie, a plastic skeleton would be sent flying over the viewers on a pulley system at a specific point in the running time. For his movie The Tingler, he created Percepto, where seats in select theatres were outfitted with vibrating devices that would shake the seat to coincide with scares.

House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler were both directed by Castle from screenplays by Robb White, and 13 Ghosts is another of their collaborations. For this film, which finds a family moving into a supposedly haunted house willed to them by an occultist uncle, Castle came up with Illusion-O. Within the story, the dead uncle left behind a specially crafted pair of glasses that allows the person wearing them to see the ghosts that are around them. To replicate the experience of using these glasses for the audience, Castle had audience members supplied with special viewing devices that, much like anaglyph 3-D glasses, had red and blue lenses in them. When the ghosts appear in the film, the black and white picture turns blue and the ghosts are red apparitions floating in front of the blue background. With their Illusion-O viewers in hand, audience members then had a choice: look through the red lens to get an even better look at the ghosts, or look through the blue lens and have them obscured from view. Yes, the blue lens was for scaredy cats.

In some prints of the film, you don't get the Illusion-O option, the ghost scenes are just black and white like the rest of the movie. The print used for the drive-in screening, however, did have the red and blue coloring, so we got to see the red ghosts on the blue background, but unfortunately we didn't have the special viewer to enhance them or block them. Oh well.

I was lucky enough to watch a screening of 13 Ghosts with a Illusion-O viewer at a theatrical horror marathon I went to in October of 2010. I enjoyed that, but I enjoy this movie with or without the gimmick. It's one of the more fun haunted house pictures.

I'm not sure how the overall turn-out of this night of the '60s festival compared to the night of the '50s festival that I went to, but I do know that more people stayed for the duration this time than they did the week before. That makes sense to me, because this was an awesome line-up of movies that provided several straight hours of entertainment. There aren't really any low points in this bunch.

With four movies watched, Zeppelin and I headed back home through the dark October night, passing by houses decorated for Halloween as we went. This holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

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