Friday, August 8, 2014

"Monster A Go-Go" Is One Go-Go Gone Flick

Go-go dancers and space aliens: Two great tastes that go great together!

"What you are about to see may not even be possible within the narrow limits of the human mind..."

Boy, they ain't kiddin'!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you "Monster A Go-Go", a movie begun in 1961 by Bill Rebane (of "The Giant Spider Invasion" fame) and shelved when the money ran out. Later, the unfinished footage was scooped up by Herschel Gordon Lewis (director of the beloved classic "The Corpse Grinders"), padded with scenes shot with an entirely different cast, released in 1965 on a double bill with "Moonshine Mountain", given a new name ("Terror at Half Day" was the original moniker) and advertised with the screaming tag-line, "The picture that comes complete with a 10-foot tall monster to give you the wim-wams!!"

How do you do justice to such a film?

I not sure, but I'll do my best...

Our feature presentation begins with strange satellites hovering in the sky. Naturally, NASA sends a space capsule to investigate. The astronaut in charge of the mission is one Frank Douglas. For some inexplicable reason, NASA loses contact with Frank and his capsule crashes to earth. The good news is that the capsule appears to be OK. The bad news is that astronaut Frank Douglas is nowhere to be found.

Then there is some really bad news: the helicopter pilot who landed at the crash site before the NASA mucky-mucks is dead. But not your garden variety dead. When the NASA folks find him, the pilot is "horribly mangled in a way the men had never seen before." Oh, yes, and all the pilot's blood was gone, which may account for the stiff having "withered up like a prune" and then "shrunk".

Not a lot of leg room: Frank Douglas's space capsule appears to have been designed for Smurfs.

"Monster A Go-Go" then switches to the suburban home of Ruth. She's the widow of  another astronaut and has become very close to Frank over the years. How "close" are Frank and Ruth? Well, Frank appears to be single and Ruth is a widow and both are consenting adults, so whatever Frank and Ruth get up to in the privacy of their own homes is really nobody's business. That's how "close" they are.

Anyway, a lady scientist  and Col. Steve Connors from NASA visit Ruth and tell her the awful news about Frank. She completely falls to pieces. When Ruth's son Billy (or Jimmy) comes home and asks, "What's wrong with mommy?" Col. Steve doesn't reply "It's a long list, kid" or "Mommy's upset because she just lost her meal ticket", but instead tells Jimmy (or Billy) that they will be getting an ice cream soda later. The tween realizes this is so totally bogus and runs off.

Next we cut to a laboratory where scientists dicker over Frank being AWOL and wonder about those weird burns surrounding the space capsule. One egg-head believes they are a fraternity prank. With the investigation clearly going nowhere, NASA sends even more big wigs to town to help move things along.

So far, the proceedings in "Monster A Go-Go" have been pretty grim. Therefore, the director (who knows which one) cuts to a swingin' twist party at somebody's house. One gal in particular is twisting up a storm, which upsets her rather sullen boyfriend. After he downs a few shots, the sullen boyfriend yanks his cuddlemate off the dance floor and into his car. They drive for a bit, park and then begin making out.

At this juncture, an unidentified narrator pops in to discuss how many "what if's" there are in life. It would be easier to take the narrator's philosophical musings seriously if they weren't paired with footage of a college couple getting all kissy-face. Anyway, this existential interlude abruptly ends when a thing/force/monster shows up and kills the sullen boyfriend. The girl screams and then faints.

"And how am I suppose to get back to the dorm before curfew now?!" A co-ed reacts to the murder of her boyfriend by an unseen monster/alien/thing.

In case you're wondering, yes, astronaut Frank Douglas is still missing.

Back to the action.

Scientist Dr. Chris Manning decides to tramp out into the area where Frank's capsule crashed. A brave man, Dr. Manning is armed with only a blow-dryer as he stumbles among the thickets and brambles that blanket the crash site. Then the narrator pops back into the picture and declares that Dr. Manning is about to come face-to-face with something SO INCREDIBLE, SO MIND BLOWING, SO ASTOUNDING that it will change his life FOREVER...except the poor sap will be deader than a door-nail any second now, and thus unable to share his findings with an eager public.

What happened? Well, a 10-foot tall chap with a face like a wood duck and a bad case of acne strangles Dr. Manning with his enormous hands. This, I believe, is the monster meant give us "the wim-wams."

Now "Monster A Go-Go" really gets cooking.

Once more we are transported back to the lab, where the scientists and NASA folks endlessly talk and prattle about the missing Frank Douglas and the strange deaths that are popping up all over town. Because Dr. Chris Manning is dead, his cousin, who is also a scientist, has taken over his role in the investigation. For quite a while now Dr. Manning #2 has been acting a little cagey and for some reason keeps disappearing into the laboratory's basement after hours armed with a long, thin hypodermic needle. Hmmm, sounds fishy. What could he be doing? Shooting up? Giving himself Botox injections? Running his own "Dr. Feel Good" practice on the side?

None of the above; after all, Botox wouldn't be invented for years. Turns out Dr. Manning #2--off screen, mind you-- discovered the wim-wam producing monster and hustled him to the lab basement WITHOUT TELLING ANYBODY. What's more, the good doc had been giving the alien monster anti-radiation shots in hopes of "helping" the guy, ALSO WITHOUT TELLING ANYBODY. The shots seemed to be working, and the alien's skin was clearing up, so Dr. Manning #2 thought everything was A-OK. Then one day, the monster broke out of the basement, trashed the lab and headed off for parts unknown. This finally convinced Dr. Manning #2 to spill his guts to NASA.

Oh, and another tidbit: not only is the monster a murderer, he's also RADIOACTIVE and coming into contact with the gent--like the sun bathing housewives the monster snuck up on--can be fatal.

"Does this Haz-Mat suit make my hinder look big?" The brave men of "Monster A Go-Go" prepare to confront their nemesis.

With the realization that a radioactive monster is out prowling around unsupervised finally causes the scientists/ NASA guys to get their rears in gear and capture the guy. With the aid of the police, the fire department, the National Guard, the Emergency Response Team and who-knows-what-else, Dr. Manning #2 and Col. Steve Connors don safety suits and track the monster to a long-abandoned, boarded-up sewer drain. Slowly but surely, the men (using a Geiger counter because, remember, the monster is radioactive) descend into the darkness below, following the monster's trail, coming ever closer until...THEY REACH A DEAD END. Then the narrator informs us, "But there was no Monster!"

Where did he go?

It doesn't matter. There was no monster.

But what about the murders of the pilot and the sullen boyfriend and Dr. Manning #1?

Terrible tragedies, but there was no monster.

And the housewives? Who scared them? Wasn't that a monster?

No, remember, there was no monster!

If there was no monster, what did Dr. Manning#2 drag down to the lab basement and give all those shots to?

Please repeat after me: THERE WAS NO MONSTER!

OK,OK, so what happened to astronaut Frank Douglas?

Oh, that, well, good news! While Dr. Manning #2 and Col. Connors were tracking a monster that never existed in the first place, a messenger arrived with a cable announcing Frank Douglas was found, "of normal size", floating around in the ocean. Case closed.


When a movie pulls a stunt like "Monster A Go-Go" does, it's only natural to feel cheated, lied to, frustrated, mad and seriously pissed-off. I feel your pain, movie lovers, because I experienced it all myself.

However, what I believe happened to "Monster A Go-Go" was this: Herschel Gordon Lewis had two separate reels of film. Each was equally shoddy. He tried to blend the reels together into one coherent movie, but realized he could not. So he tacked on a cop-out ending and called it a day.

If that theory doesn't satisfy you, consider this one:

If two bad movies got together and had a baby, it would grow up to be "Monster A Go-Go".

Until next time, save the movies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lee Van Cleef Is "The Master" Of His Domain

Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten draw swords in a TV Guide ad for their series "The Master".

Before she was the ex-Mrs. Ashton Kutcher, before she was the ex-Mrs. Bruce Willis, before she was a member of "The Brat Pack", before she joined the cast of "General Hospital", before she appeared in such films as "Ghost", "Indecent Proposal", "St. Elmo's Fire", "The Scarlett Letter" and "Striptease", Demi Moore honed her craft (if not her acting) in delightfully dunder-headed TV shows like "The Master" (also known as "The Master Ninja").

Broadcast on NBC for 13 episodes in 1984, "The Master" starred one Timothy Van Patten (formerly of "The White Shadow") as Max Keller, a curly-headed slacker who roams the countryside in a custom van with no visible means of support. His best buddy--and moral, intellectual and acting superior--is Henry, a hamster (or gerbil). Henry rides in a state-of-the-art mounted cage and easily out acts Van Patten every chance he gets.

An even bigger draw than Henry is the ferret-featured, epic sneerer Lee Van Cleef, star of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and countless other Spaghetti Westerns. He plays John Peter McCallister, "the first Occidental ever to become a ninja master."  McCallister is pretty content being a ninja until he learns "he has a daughter he never knew he had." So he makes tracks to the US of A to find her, which upsets his fellow ninjas. I guess ninja's don't have a family leave policy.

 Henry the Hamster (or Gerbil) chews plenty of scenery (and carrots) in his break-out role in "The Master".

Where does Demi Moore figure in? Well, she plays Holly Trumbell. Max meets her when she flags him down in order to escape a nasty sheriff (Bill McKinny). See, Holly and her dad Claude Akins (the cast list priceless, am I right?) are being squeezed by an evil developer (Clu Gulgar), who wants to pave over their historic airport and put up a shopping mall.

Max and McCallister, meanwhile, meet in the local dive bar. It's there that corrupt sheriff McKinny has the nerve to paw through the aging Master's suitcase. This ticks Lee off sooooo much that his body double proceeds to demolish the bar. In the ensuing mayhem, Max and the Master escape together and find refuge at the Trumble Airport.

Still with me? Good. Max is soooo impressed that John is a ninja that he offers to help the old pepper find his daughter in return for ninja lessons. Van Cleef at first demurs, insisting that Max lacks the "internal discipline" (not to mention the smarts) to become a ninja. He later relents because the story-line demands it.

There are two sub-plots running through "The Master" like an open sewer: locating McCallister's long lost daughter is one. The other involves disgruntled ninja Okasa (Sho Koshgi), who wants to off the Master. Okasa is sooo determined to do Van Cleef in, that he dodges his every step, even donning elaborate disguises to nail him. He comes fairly close, but Lee always manages to escape in the nick of time.

While Max, the Master and Henry travel over hill and dale trying to locate Van Cleef's daughter, they stop along the way to help people with their personal problems. Besides Demi and Claude Akins, our heroes also help a dance club owner fight a Japanese mob take-over (and assist his daughter with her physical therapy), as well as inspire the workers of a local cannery to establish a union.

Even an attempted "arty shot" can't hide Demi Moore's less-than-adoring attitude about on-screen cuddlemate Max.

However, my favorite episode of "The Master" involved Max and John saving the bacon of a senator's dim-wit daughter.

The duo first come to her aid when her spiffy red sports car experiences brake failure. Max, who happens to be hang gliding at the exact spot where this gal's brakes give out, swoops down and has her grab onto his...uh...wires or something. While Cindy (as I call her, I couldn't find her name in the cast list) hangs on for dear life, Max whizzes over to where the Master is standing. On Max's command, Cindy then flings herself into John's waiting arms. This stunt is suppose to be nail-biting and show what great shape the Master is in. In reality, it looks as if an intern tossed a 50 pound bag of wet cement at the unsuspecting Van Cleef's bread-basket.

To thank the fellas for saving her life, Cindy invites them to her father's snooty garden party. This black-tie gathering is interrupted when terrorists (disguised as waiters) turn over the buffet table and take hostages, one of them being Cindy. The hostages are then hustled over to an impenetrable fortress to rot. Actually, the impenetrable fortress is not really that impenetrable: guest-star George Lazenby (James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") manages to climb over the property's fence and snap pictures of the impenetrable show how impenetrable it is. Meanwhile, John and Max have been taken to police HQ. The police are at a loss as to how to save the hostages until one of them recognizes John is a ninja master and the only one who can climb up the fortress's high walls and save the day.

Besides the pedestrian writing, ham-bone acting, predictable slo-mo car crashes and cheesy special effects, "The Master" is also a hilarious showcase for the dubious talents of one Timothy Van Patten.

Simply put, Van Patten has the worst diction imaginable; he makes Elmer Fudd sound like Richard Burton. Often times you just can't understand him, making "The Master" the first English-language TV series that needed subtitles... for its star.

As for Demi, her role in "The Master" required her to do little more than pout and pucker-up with Van Patten. She would later perform this skill with Robert Redford, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas. While Moore's future leading men were considerably more "A-list" than Timothy Van Patten, her acting never strayed far from her "Master" beginnings.

 Timothy Van Patten polishes his rodent impression. A real rodent would later upstage him in  this department, too.

So what does this all add up to?

1) Timothy Van Patten was the Elmer Fudd of his generation.

2) Lee Van Cleef can still out-sneer anyone.

3) Demi Moore has given the same acting performance over and over again.

4) "The Master" was a lot like "BJ and the Bear", except the chimp was replaced by a hamster/gerbil. And Claude Akins showed up, but not as Sheriff Lobo. And the lady truckers were replaced by ladies-in-distress. And there is a ninja.

5) Small towns in America are regularly threatened by evil capitalist pigs, corrupt sheriff departments and union busting thugs.

6) Nowhere else but in the universe of Junk Cinema will you find a mush-mouthed jerk driving around with a Spaghetti Western icon who ends up tangling with an ex-James Bond, Monte Markum, Ed "Kookie" Byrnes and the future ex-wife of both Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis.

Now that's entertainment!