TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

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DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

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Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) rises from his self-imposed embalming and travels to Egypt to find the River of Life to resurrect his bride (Caroline Munro) from her eternal slumber. Phibes is in a race against time, as his rival Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) also seeks eternal life and is headed there himself with his team. Phibes, not to be undone, finds gruesome ways to eliminate his competition, as he closes in on his goal.

Sequel is again directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he and Robert Blees. The 60s art deco look also returns, as does the twisted sense of humor. This installment seems to be a bit quicker paced and has more of a sense of fun, as Phibes’ death traps are even more elaborate and he has a hidden lair in one of the tombs that would make a Bond villain envious. How did he get all this stuff into Egypt and built without notice? Who cares? It’s a delightfully devious and fun romp as Phibes now has a rival who may be, at heart, even more sinister than he is. This dynamic makes Phibes more of an anti-hero this time as he slaughters his way through Biederbeck’s team with one death more inventive than the other. Watching him outwit his nemesis and decimate his accomplices, one by one, is a lot of ghoulish fun.

Price is again in top form, as usual, as Anton Phibes. The legendary actor is a delight to watch as the diabolical madman, and this time we don’t have to hide the fact that we are rooting for him. Robert Quarry is a suitable foil for the skull faced Phibes. His Biederbeck is a smug megalomaniac and we delight in watching his scheme slowly unravel at the hands of the devious doctor. Fiona Lewis is a sexy femme fatale as Biederbeck’s accomplice and romantic interest, Diana and Phibes’ loyal assistant Vulnavia returns (somehow) as well, though is this time played by Valli Kamp. Flick also features a brief cameo by the legendary Peter Cushing as a ship’s captain and a returning Terry-Thomas in a new role.

Like the first film, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a horror legend. It’s a bit more outlandish and thus twisted fun, than the first film, though the original was a bit more gruesome. There were many plans to bring the doctor back for a third film, one project was to be directed by George Romero and another would see Quarry return and add William (Blacula) Marshall to the mix. Sadly, none ever happened. There is talk of a remake with Malcolm McDowell, but this is such a classic Price role, it’s hard to see anyone else playing the organ and wearing the skull face.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Phibes.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

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THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

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Four years earlier Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) lost his beautiful wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) during a medical procedure. Racing home upon hearing the news, Phibes himself got into a car accident and was presumed burned to death. But the doctor is not dead and though horribly scarred, he plans to exact revenge on the nine medical personnel he feels responsible for Victoria’s death. Now the police are baffled as Phibes begins to exact his revenge in the form of biblical plagues and begins a bloody path leading to the chief surgeon (Joseph Cotton) for whom he plans the worse fate yet!

Price classic is stylishly directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he, along with William Goldstein and James Whiton. The flick may take place in 1925, but Fuest gives it a 60s art deco look and a very twisted sense of humor. While Phibes’ plans for those he seeks revenge on are quite ghastly, there is a sense of fun as Phibes unleashes his plagues with an assortment of bizarre gadgets and a disguise or two. The results can be gruesome, but nothing too extreme as the film was rated PG…or “GP” as it was called during this era. There is some fun to be had in watching Phibes make a fool of Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and evade any attempts by the law to protect those still yet to meet a horrible fate. It is a bit methodically paced and feels somewhat longer than it’s 94 minute run time, but watching Phibes play the organ while plotting horrible deeds is campy, ghoulish fun with Price doing what he does best. On a technical level it is well made though some of the FX are delightfully cheesy by today’s standards.

As for the horror legend, Price is at the top of his game here as the sinister Phibes. Even having to play the role mute and add his voice later (Phibes lost the ability to speak in the accident and uses a device to emit his voice) he still chills with the look in his eyes and his mannerisms and his dialogue is still recited with that Vincent Price flair. He never goes overboard, but just over-the-top enough to give a diabolical horror movie style Bond villain vibe to the gadget making/organ playing Phibes. Joseph Cotton is another movie veteran who knows to take the campy/creepy material seriously as the main target on Phibes’ list, Dr. Vesalius. Peter Jeffrey seems to be having a good time as the constantly baffled and outwitted Inspector Trout. Another role that is meant to be campy with the actor showing just enough restraint to not become outright silly. Virginia North is a sexy femme fatale as Phibes’ silent assistant Vulnavia and an un-credited role playing Phibes’ Victoria in photos and corpse form is British film vixen and future Bond girl, Caroline Munro. A classy cast that all approach the material with proper amounts of camp or seriousness.

Overall, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a legend. As a film itself, it is a little too slow paced for it’s own good and the mix of gruesome and giddy may not always work completely, but it is still a lot of twisted fun. The diabolical doctor would return for a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the following year.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Phibes.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TRUCK TURNER (1974)

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TRUCK TURNER (1974)

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1974 blaxploitation flick has soul music legend Isaac Hayes playing ex-football player turned bounty hunter, Mack “Truck” Turner. Mack and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) are hired to track down a vicious pimp named Gator (Paul Harris) who has skipped bail. Turner is forced to kill Gator in a gunfight and now must face his vengeful girlfriend/madame Dorinda (Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols) and her new associate Blue (Yaphet Kotto). With hired killers on his tail and a target on his back, Truck Turner is taking the fight to them to protect the ones he loves!

Aside from watching the future Duke Of New York in action and getting to see Star Trek’s Uhura as a foul mouthed madame, there isn’t too much to recommend about Truck Turner other than the obvious nostalgia. The film is sloppily directed by Jonathan Kaplan from a script that took three writers to concoct it’s simple story and hilariously vulgar dialog. The action scenes are badly choreographed and shot and the film feels like it was edited with a chainsaw. Not to say there isn’t some fun to be had from it’s epic badness or the brazen machismo in which Hayes seems to be impervious to gunfire, yet hits his target almost every time. The dialog is filled with profanity and racial slurs, which can be amusing…and quite shocking for those not used to an era long before politically correctness set in. It has something to offend everyone in today’s age of oversensitivity and if the racial slurs and portrayal of women as whores doesn’t accomplish it, a certain scene with Truck’s cat will. The thing is, the movie isn’t trying to offend, it was made at a time where exploitation films ‘went there’ and where proud of it. Still, despite it’s bravado, it seems to be just a little too badly made to really be enjoyable as camp. It is a very amateurish flick, but it did make money back in the day and does have a cult classic reputation, so who am I to argue. The legendary Hayes did the soundtrack himself, so at least there is that.

The cast play things surprisingly serious and that helps. Hayes is as cool as they come and gives his bounty hunter a confident swagger and yet there is a heart under all that testosterone. Nichelle Nichols is delightfully over-the-top and vulgar and really cranks out the trashy sex appeal as vicious madame Dorinda. Actually shows she is a versatile actress when allowed to play something other than Lt. Uhura. Yaphet Kotto gives threat and menace to his pimp Blue and Weeks is a solid enough sidekick for the macho Truck. It’s in the supporting cast that we start to run into trouble and performances range from adequate to awful with the various pimps, prostitutes and hit men. Also features small roles with Dick Miller and frequent John Carpenter guy Charles Cyphers.

Not sure why I didn’t enjoy this one. Normally I love this kind of stuff and maybe just went in with the wrong expectations. I was expecting something more on a Shaft level and maybe wasn’t ready for something that was a blatant exploitation flick that took itself far less seriously and was far less well-made. Perhaps then I will revisit Truck Turner once day and be ready this time for it’s badness, crudeness and rudeness. For now, I see it as a bad flick that was a little too bad for it’s own good at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous…it is Isaac Hayes after all…2 and 1/2 bullets.

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RANDOM NONSENSE: MONSTERZERO NJ FAUX POSTER ART- DRACULA vs. BLACULA!

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When I was a kid in the 70s, this clash of horror movie icons was a film that I wanted to see happen very badly. Obviously as a ten-year-old, I didn’t understand the concept of different studios and all that would need to occur to make such a film a reality, but would loved to have seen such a film actually happen. With revisiting the films of both characters recently, I decided to use my Photoshop skills to do a faux poster rendition, in the 70s style, of what such a film might have been like if Hammer and AIP had collaborated. Enjoy!

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poster art: MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)

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COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)

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Count Yorga, Vampire was originally written as a soft core porn film and while there are slight hints of this left in the flick, (and some prints are actually called The Loves Of Count Yorga, Vampire) star Robert Quarry (Yorga) refused to do the movie unless it was done as a straight horror. While the resulting 1970 cult classic does have a bit of a reputation, it is actually a bit talky and fairly tame by today’s standards.

Quarry plays Bulgarian vampire Count Yorga who has moved to L.A. and set his fangs on a group of friends by assimilating himself into that group by dating one’s mother…who then mysteriously dies (mysteriously…cough, cough). He then gains their trust by trying to console her daughter, Donna (Donna Anders) with a seance. Soon, one by one, the count goes after the women of the group to start his vampire harem. It’s up to the men, along with a doctor friend, to stop the fiend from putting the bite on their babes.

The film is directed in a pedestrian manner by writer/director Bob Kelljan (Scream, Blacula, Scream) and while he does give us some effective scenes, (the cat, the last act in Yorga’s mansion) in general the film could have used a bit more atmosphere, tension and good old fashioned scares. Yorga is classified by some as a classic 70s horror flick and it does have that nostalgic charm, but there were other early 70s vampire flicks like Blacula and The Night Stalker that just have more bite. Quarry does make a good vampire here. He is handsome and mysterious and can exude a calm menace when Yorga needs to be threatening, but he isn’t given all that much to do as there is a lot of scenes with characters sitting around talking and very little actual action. Quarry is definitely key in making the scenes that are effective work, especially when the film finally picks up a bit in the last act. The rest of the cast, thought, are rather bland and it seems really odd that the first character to suggest the work of a vampire, is the doctor (Roger Perry), who, as a man of science, should be the most skeptical. Also amusing is how quickly the rest of the characters go along with it.

Overall, this is an OK movie and there definitely is some entertainment value, especially with the 70s nostalgia elements, but it’s not quite the flick it’s reputation suggests it is. It is typical of the type of film American International Pictures was releasing at the time and probably would fit right in with the Blacula films, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Night Stalker as part of a 70s vampire movie marathon.

EXTRA TRIVIA: in a move that echoes some of today’s big studio decisions, Yorga had a number of gore scenes removed by AIP to get a PG rating (GP back in those days for some reason) and reach a larger audience. Today on DVD, those scenes are restored and the film is now rated, ironically, PG-13.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 fangs.

dracula_satanic rites rating

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SQUIRM (1976)

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SQUIRM (1976)

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Squirm is another of exploitation studio American International Pictures “nature gone amok” films that were popular in the mid 70s along with Frogs and The Food Of The Goods. It’s story begins when a freak storm hits the rural, coastal town of Fly Creek, Georgia and it knocks down electrical power lines sending thousands of volts into the ground, driving the local worm population into a maddened frenzy. And since the local worm population consists mostly of  “pinworms and blood worms”…which explains the gruesome fangs our featured worms have to pick their prey clean, right down to the skeletons. This is not good for the local human population, most of whom make their living selling said worms for bait. Looks like the tide has turned! And if that’s not bad enough, pretty Georgia peach, Geri (Patricia Pearcy) and new boyfriend Mick (Don Scardino) not only have an avalanche of murderous worms to contend with, but the jealous attentions of simpleton, handyman Roger (R.A. Dow) who is also driven crazy by a face full of angry blood worms. This is going to be a very bad day for Geri, Mick and the citizens of Fly Creek.

Written and Directed by Jeff Lieberman, who also made the trippy Blue Sunshine, Squirm is a pedestrian paced horror that takes a really long time to get going, but does provide quite a few creepy moments simply due to the nature of it’s slimy villains. The body count in this low budget thriller is fairly low with most of the deaths happening off-screen, though there are a few gruesome moments courtesy of make-up FX master Rick Baker. Lieberman does gives us a number of skin-crawling moments though, with tidal waves of worms and having the slimy critters come pouring out of shower heads at the least opportune moments. If those scenes won’t get you creeped out, the numerous close-ups of fanged shrieking bloodworms certainly will. Throw in some nice 70s nostalgia and the film does provide some entertainment though, it’s low budget, slow pace and anti-climactic ending keep it from really being the B-Movie treat it’s premise promises.

The acting is fairly wooden across the board with everyone, including pretty lead Pearcy speaking in a slow, monotone, Southern drawl. Actor Peter MacLean overacts a bit as the local jerk of a sheriff, but it’s not enough to score points in the camp department, though some moments from R.A. Dow’s ‘Roger’ do…especially when he’s acting with a face full of worms. And as for the worms, they clearly are the most effective performers and elicit quite a few “Ewwwww’s” when they appear, especially in large flowing numbers.

Overall, Squirm is a moderately creepy and amusing “nature run amok” flick with a few gruesome moments and plenty of slimy worms to get us through it’s slowly paced 90 minutes. It is a cult classic and it’s waves of carnivorous worms do stick with you, but it’s not quite the gross-out treat it could have been with a bit larger budget and a director who could instill a little more life into the proceedings. Certainly worth a nostalgic look and definitely works within an evening of like features, but a little disappointing if you were expecting more. You might find the MST3K version far more entertaining!

2 and 1/2 fanged blood worms… ewwwww!.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: COOLEY HIGH (1975)

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COOLEY HIGH (1975)

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American International Pictures was a studio renown for it’s horror and exploitation films but, in 1975 produced this poignant look at the life of a group of young African-American students at an inner city high school in Chicago. Written by Eric Monte and based on his real life experiences growing up in that city, the film chronicles the lives of a group of friends at Edwin G. Cooley High School in 1964. While the film has it’s share of humorous moments, it is also a heartfelt look at the struggles and hardships of life in big city ghettos that many do not see or do not want to see. The film also inspired one of the 70s most popular sitcoms, What’s Happening.

The film focuses on two best friends, star athlete ‘Cochise’ (Welcome Back Kotter’s Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and wannabe screen writer ‘Preach’ (Glynn Turman from J.D.’s Revenge). Like most high school boys, they and their friends have big dreams, but also fill their current lives with cutting class, clowning around, girls and partying. But as Cochise and Preach dream of a better life outside of their rundown neighborhood, they also also fall prey to some of the negative aspects of urban life, as a harmless joyride in what is revealed to be a stolen car leads to consequences that may jeopardize their dreams, their future and maybe even their lives.

Cooley High is very well directed by Michael Shultz and it is the director’s restraint in not going overboard with the sentimentality, or the comedy, that creates a very natural, slice of life atmosphere and makes this film all the more charming and effective. Monte’s script has everything the film needs to get it’s point across and Shultz wisely lets his characters and the situations they get in tell the story without over-stylizing or over-dramatizing. The film’s events come across as real human drama…or comedy…and one can get the flavor of what life was like at that time and place, for better or for worse. The comedy and drama are perfectly mixed and one never overpowers the other and the film’s messages about the hardships of urban life are effectively understated. The characters, for the most part, come across as real people not stereotypes, although delinquent’s Robert (Norman Gibson) and Stone (Sherman Smith) come close in their representation of the type of youths Cochise and Preach should avoid, not fraternize with. The film is also given added atmosphere from an incredible soundtrack of original music by Freddie Perren and a slew of Motown classics which really give the film the ambiance of the time period it takes place. The music is perfectly utilized throughout and almost serves as another character.

And as for the characters, Shultz has a good cast. Jacobs and Turman create very realistic youths whose activities and dreams are not unlike any youth coming of age. Hilton-Jacobs gives us a colorful, confident jock and lothario who at heart cares about his friends, while Turman gives us the more sensitive poet and dreamer who is Preach. A dreamer who is sometimes too distracted by hi-jinx with his friends to concentrate on his future. SNL legend Garrett Morris gives a nice dramatic turn as Mr. Mason, a teacher who works hard to prepare his students for a chance at a better life. Cynthis Davis is pretty, book-loving Brenda who captures Preach’s heart. She is a kind and sweet young woman and Davis gives her a nice strength, too, that would come from a harder life. We also have Corin Rogers and Joseph Carter Wilson giving realistic performances as Pooter and Tyrone, respectively, two good friends of Cochise and Preach. And as the local thugs, Gibson and Smith seem to try to give Robert and Stone a little personality with their limited screen time and more stereotypical roles, a rarity in Monte’s script.

Overall, this film is a classic, though one that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. It portrays an honest view of a slice of life at a time when far less attention was given it. It has a down to earth style of telling it’s story and a cast that really help to make it’s characters seem like real people and not movie characters. It’s a fun movie and at times a sobering and sad movie, but most of all it’s a damn good movie. Add to that a great, though hard to find, soundtrack of Motown hits and you have an underrated gem.

A classic 4 friends.

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COOLEY HIGH SOUNDTRACK TRACK LISTING

Cooley High soundtrack

  1. Baby Love – Diana Ross & The Supremes
  2. Fingertips – Stevie Wonder
  3. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) – Four Tops
  4. Stop! In The Name Of Love – Diana Ross & The Supremes
  5. Luther’s Blues – Luther Allison
  6. Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas
  7. Beechwood 45789 – The Marvelettes
  8. OOO Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  9. (You Can) Depend On Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  10. Cleo’s Mood – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  11. Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
  12. You Beat Me To The Punch – Mary Wells
  13. 2 Pigs And A Hog – Freddie Perren
  14. My Girl – The Temptations
  15. Sweet First Love – Freddie Perren
  16. Three AM…I Love You Mama – Freddie Perren
  17. (I’m A) Road Runner – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  18. Mickey’s Monkey – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  19. Haulin’ – Freddie Perren
  20. Cold Blooded – Freddie Perren
  21. It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday – G.C. Cameron
  22. Reach Out I’ll Be There – Four Tops
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)

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THE INCREDIBLE MELING MAN (1977)

My friends and I had a lot of fun when we saw this cult classic at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack N.J. and it was gleefully for all the wrong reasons most of the time. The Incredible Melting Man is a delightfully bad 1977 sci-fi/ horror about ill-fated astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) who returns from a space mission exploring Saturn’s rings with a mysterious condition where his flesh is melting and he is radioactive. For some reason, just as mystifying as to how he got this way, (there is a hint it was caused by viewing the sun through Saturn’s rings, but it’s never confirmed.) Steve must consume human flesh to slow down the degeneration. As his mind degenerates, too, West escapes the hospital and begins to chow down on the locals while he is pursued by friend Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and Air Force General Perry (Myron Healey). As Steve melts more and more, the more locals, including Nelson’s in-laws, fall victim to the stricken astronaut who becomes less and less human by the minute. Can he be stopped? Can the process be reversed? Who will be his next meal?

All the questions are answered and if this kind of flick is your thing, you’ll have a fun time watching the answers unfold. Despite it’s less then 90 minute running time the film is methodically paced. There are a lot of scenes of West roaming around the countryside with the last moments of the mission playing over and over in his head while Dr. Nelson follows his trail with his handy geiger counter. Most of the attacks are off camera thought there are plentiful shots of the gory carnage and one great shot of a dismembered head going over a waterfall and smashing on the rocks below. Aside from the gore and melting FX, which were done by the now legendary Rick Baker, there is plenty of hilariously bad dialog and unintentional laugh inducing situations. The film, by writer/director William Sachs (Galaxina), has an uneven tone, though it’s supposedly not all his fault. Sachs claims he wanted something more campy and fun like the sci-fi flicks of the 50s, while the producers wanted a more serious horror flick and these artistic differences give the movie an unbalanced mix of serious moments and much lighter moments. But the thing is, some of the more serious scenes come across as unintentionally funny and some of the humorous scenes meant to be funny, aren’t successful in their attempt and just come across as awkward. So they are very entertaining, but not for the right reasons. Sachs just doesn’t quite have the right touch to mix horror and camp as say, Joe Dante did in Piranha and The Howling though, it would appear that’s what he was going for.

But either way, this production’s heart is in the right place and the really cool work by future Oscar winner Baker is very effective…and of course all the intentional and unintentional entertainment it provides, is worth watching it for. The filmmakers were really trying hard here to deliver a new and horrifying movie monster, but the talent (aside from Baker) is just not quite there behind or in front of the camera and the disagreement between director and producers doesn’t help either. The acting is just as bad as the before mentioned dialog and the inept cast stumbling around finding body parts both of the victims and the Melting Man, produce far more laughs then chills. Also, some of the conversations between gore scenes are hilariously inappropriate, given the situations the characters are in and it’s hard to tell how much of this was intentional and how much was not, but it’s entertaining either way, so, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

To a degree Sachs got the kind of campy fun movie he was trying to make, but it’s not totally on purpose. Made by the legendary American International Pictures, Melting Man has earned cult classic status and has become one of MST3K’s funnier episodes and if you are a connoisseur of ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema then this is a prime example. The added nostalgia of this late 70s flick only makes it even more fun. The kind of movie they sadly don’t make anymore and a personal guilty pleasure of mine. Thankfully Melting Man is now available on a gorgeous extra filled blu-ray from the folks at Scream Factory! Also features cameos by 70s B-Movie regular Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux’ Smith (Laserblast) and acclaimed director Jonathan Demme.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Rick Baker had some protégées working on this film, future make-up FX legends in their own right, Greg Cannom, Craig Reardon and Rob Bottin!

3 nostalgic melting men!

incredible melting man rating

 

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