Turkey Day 2019

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“The only bad movie is a boring one”, a statement made by author Stephen Thrower that I not only agree with, but live by as well! This last Turkey Day, we put that statement to the test and proven it to be true! For the most part, that is.

Before we get to our 17th year of holding our annual Turkey Day Marathon, I have to first say how thankful I am to have so many like-minded friends that journey out to the Chicago suburbs twice a year to celebrate the types of films that we watch. They are not only true cinephiles, but know that there is entertainment and enjoyment in even the lowest rated film out there. Well… most of them!

Joining us this year was my Turkey Day co-pilot since 2005, Aaron Christensen, as well as Neil Calderone, Jason Coffman, Brian Fukala, Chris Kuchta, Bryan Martinez, Jill & Gregg Olheiser, and Gavin Schmitt. Whether they are well experienced Turkey Day survivors like Jason, Neil, and Brian, or relatively new to these experiences, like Chris, Jill, Greg, and Gavin, I think I’m pretty sure everyone left with a full belly and a smile on their face.

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Of course, while watching the films would still be the same, the day itself would not have been had it not been for the amazing array of pizzas that my wife Dawn and son Nick cranked out all day long. The amount of time and effort that they did, before and during, for my little viewing get-together not only makes me proud, but also impresses the hell out of me, each and every time. I know everyone’s belly was very happy they were there! Plus a little shout out to the dessert that Jill made!

Okay… let’s get to the Turkeys!

Mesa 1Mesa of Lost Women (1953) – Going by the rating on IMDB, this was our lowest at the day, listed at 2.7, and might not have been the best way to start! In fact, the first part of the film, we were all having a blast. Between the opening narration (which is always a good thing at Turkey Day), the title women, to even the mad doctor played by Jackie Coogan, a decade before he became Uncle Fester in The Addams Family TV show, everything looked like this was going to be one of those low rated films that is actually pretty good. Uh…no. Not it’s not. The second half features a lot of walking. And then more walking. And then some more walking. Let’s not forget the loud guitar music that is playing throughout most of the film, even when there is dialogue that you are trying to hear!

The film is about a crazy doctor doing experiments with insects and women, hiding out in the middle of the Mexican desert to keep from peering eyes. He has discovered that by taking something from the pituitary gland from insects and putting them into women, he is creating a new race. Somehow in the process, we get one giant spider, about 8 feet wide! You’d think that would be amazing, and it is when we get to see it. But just not enough of it to really let it sink its teeth in!

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It also doesn’t help when you start to wish bad things to happen to the characters in the film, only because you’re just so tired of hearing them! There’s a character that spends most of the running time in a daze with a strange smile on his face. We were all feeling like that by the end of this film, except it wasn’t a smile. No, not a good way to start off the marathon. But we can only go up right?

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4-D Man (1959) – I actually got to see this at the Skyline Drive-In this past August at their annual Super Monster Movie Fest, and knew while watching it that I had to add it to the next Turkey Day lineup. Honestly not poorly made, but the acting and the science are two of the biggest things to make it more than worthy. That, and the constant jazz score that seems to be around all the time, even when not really appropriate for the scene!

Robert Lansing plays a scientist who uses his brothers theory about moving through matter. Not really that unfair since his brother has just stole the woman he loved… which is the SECOND time he’s done that! Of course, the effects of the experiment allow Lansing to walk through walls or anything else that gets in his way. Of course, this new power makes him go mad.

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The effects are dated but it is an interesting story, with the best part of the movie is the acting. On one hand you have Lansing coming through the “less is more” acting school while his brother, played by James Congdon, does enough overacting for the both of them! Future Catwoman Lee Meriwether plays Lansing’s assistant and is the one the brothers are fighting over.

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Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966) – Back in 1966, director William Beaudine directed two films that have become immortal in the world of Turkeys. The first one is Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, which I honestly wouldn’t recommend watching, unless it is with Joe Bob Brigg’s commentary. But the second title is Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, which I would HIGHLY recommend watching. Within the opening minutes, during the night while people are sleeping, it is plainly obvious that it is not only the middle of the day, but with a completely blue sky! And the fun just continues from there.

John Carradine was 60 years old here as he dons the cape and top hat playing Dracula as he makes his way west, not giving an entirely convincing scary performance as the Count. Instead, we get a lot of red tinted close ups of his glaring hypnotic eyes, which seems to get funnier each time. No matter the script, such as here, Carradine still gives it his all, which even with this material and title, really says a lot about him.

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The real charm of this movie are the characters and the dialogue. We have the European couple who seemed to know all about vampires, to the old female “pill-slinging” doctor, to Billy the Kid himself, who isn’t really a bad guy… at least not anymore! I can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh out loud more than a few times, even more so with a group of fellow cinephiles. This has got to be one of my favorites of all the Turkey Day Marathons.

Scream baby screamScream Baby Scream (1969) – I first heard about this movie when I had interviewed Doug Hobart, the man responsible for creating and playing the title creatures in Bill Grefé’s Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu (both 1966), which he did the makeup for this one as well. This was also one of early features written by Larry Cohen. Neither one of these reasons make this a must see feature! While it does have an interesting story and some decent makeup effects for the time, there’s a couple of problems that made it the hardest title to get through in this marathon.

While this was released on DVD, the print is so dark that there are more than a few sequences where you can’t see much of anything. But the worst part are the characters, especially our main hero, played by Ross Hagin. While Hagin appeared in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Crazies (1973), that was pretty much his career as an actor. And seeing him in Scream Baby Scream, you can see why. He plays one of those characters that you actually are waiting for something bad to happen to, but unfortunately it just takes way too long to get there. Unless you’re a huge die-hard fan of Cohen and/or Hobart and need to see all their work, you might want to wait on this one, at least until someone puts out a nice cleaned up Blu-ray.

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Astro Zombies (1968) – I have been a huge fan of Ted Mikels, ever since I first met him back at the very first Cinema Wasteland show in September of 2000. He was so genuine, so friendly, and so passionate about his films and loving the chance to meet and talk to his fans about them. Of course, when you realize that Mikels always considered his titles to be well made pictures and not the campy tripe that most feel they are, well then… that’s when the conversation would get weird. But I still love and respect the guy and I love one of this most famous titles, Astro-Zombies.

Rumored to be shot in 6 days, with a budget of only $37,000, Mikels, who was the writer/director/editor/producer, gives us a combination tale of a mad scientist, a multi-country spy story, and the police that are trying to tie it all together. John Carradine (our second appearance this Turkey Day), plays Dr. DeMarco who is trying to build an artificial “astro-man”. Of course, since the brain he used was that of a criminal, well, you can guess how that goes. But you also have a league of spies, lead by Tura Satana, that is trying to track down DeMarco to steal his secrets for her own country.

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The dialogue is just great, showing Carradine’s skill at once again delivering the most nonsensical lines of science talk, all while keeping a straight face and doing his best to sell it to the audience. That’s a professional, right there. Plus, the title terror, who has a power source that can be recharged by light, even if it comes from holding a flashlight to his forehead… one of the funnier parts of the film.

Crash 2Crash! (1976) – Here is another example of what I love the horror genre. Up until a couple of weeks before Turkey Day, I had never even heard of this movie, which is about a possessed car driving around California crashing a ton of cars! And it came out a year before my favorite possessed car movie, The Car, came out. AND… it was directed by Charles Band and has John Carradine in it! Again… how could I have never heard of this before.

None the less, thanks to Amazon Prime and a well spent $3.99, we were able to experience it for Turkey Day and it definitely was a hit. Sure, it is probably not a Turkey, though I bet you’ve never seen a dog getting attacked by a possessed wheelchair, have you? The story is about a young woman who goes into a coma after a car crash, but because of a small amulet (purchased from Reggie Nalder!?!?!), the car decides to get revenge for the unconscious woman.

There are more than a few W-T-F moments that will keep everyone attention, as well as getting more than a few rounds of applause.

blood beat 1Blood Beat (1983) – For some reason, we’ve had our fair share of Wisconsin made films appearing in our Turkey Day Marathons. Granted, they have usually been from director Bill Rebane, but this time we out we have something different. And I mean really different.

We have a family living out in the woods of Wisconsin doing their normal thing while trying to deal with a ghostly Japanese Samurai. Yeap… just another typical day. The beauty of this film is that it definitely gives the viewer something different for a change, and for independent films in the ’80s, that wasn’t the easiest, with the market being constantly flooded with the usually T&A and gore flicks. So to see someone try and at least come up with something original, you have to give them credit for that.

As for the movie itself, sure, the acting isn’t the best, but it does have some really good special effects moments, though quite a few glowing and flashing lights. Ah…the ’80s.

And another Turkey Day comes to an end. We made it through 7 features once again, and I think other than a couple of road bumps, everyone came out unscarred! Until next May, when we do it all over again. Maybe you should start planning your own Turkey Day in May…?

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