What makes you a fan?
Whatever your interests, there’s always something specific that gets your attention and won’t let go.
For me, it was movies—horror movies—and the scarier the better. I liked that nervous feeling we all get when something makes us uncomfortable. I liked sitting there and wondering if this is the one that finally makes me turn my head away. To me, it’s the greatest feeling in the world and I owe it all to four specific films.
My mother loves watching horror movies, so it was early on in life I got introduced to Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Soon after I discovered the joys of Corman, Price and Poe, but in the midst of all that there were two that grabbed me like no other.
Tarantula had its spider and Them gave us ants, but my bug of choice was a praying mantis…a Deadly Mantis. With a screenplay by Martin Berkeley from a William Alland story, The Deadly Mantis (1957) dealt with a praying mantis frozen in the Arctic ice in a state of suspended animation until the iceberg it was trapped in breaks apart due to a geologic shift. Once free it attacks and destroys a transport plane leaving a claw fragment behind, which is discovered and sent to Washington for identification. This leads to Dr. Ned Jackson (William Hopper) being sent off with photographer Marge Blaine (Alix Talton) to help the military outpost nearest the plane, headed by Col. Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens).
Continuing on its journey inevitably leads it to the outpost where, attracted by the lights, it touches down. The scene of Marge going about her business while the Mantis looks in the window is one of my favorites. Once she begins screaming he brings the house down…almost literally. His next stop is our nation’s capital, where he lands on the Washington Monument and battles it out with jet fighters before taking off again for New York City, where the wounded mantis makes its way into the Holland Tunnel, where it is gassed to death. Hearing it wailing in pain as it died is something I could never get out of my head, and it’s the main reason this movie stuck with me throughout my life. The movie features some excellent special effects for a movie released in 1957 and fine direction by Nathan Juran.
Next was a Mexican horror film called The Brainiac (1962) directed by Chano Urueta and starring Abel Salazar. It concerns Baron Vitelius on trial by the Inquisition for heresy, witchcraft, necromancy, fortune telling, seducing married women and keeping the Cubs out of the World Series. (OK, the last part I made up, but someone has to be held accountable.) Laughing as they torture him, they eventually burn him at the stake. Before he dies, he spots a passing comet and vows to return with the comet’s next passing.
Forward 300 years and the Baron, true to his word, returns and in no time has sucked the brain out of two hapless victims with a forked tongue, met and befriended Vicki and Ronnie and even managed to rob a bank. While the search continues for the comet, the Baron throws a party to celebrate the purchase of his new home, inviting all the Inquisitors descendants including….Ronnie and Vicki.
Memorable here is how he walks over to an urn, in full view of the party guests, and takes a spoonful or two of brains after carefully making sure the entire room wasn’t looking at that particular moment. By the time the party is over the Baron has been cordially invited to visit them all at THEIR homes. First, he visits Professor Pantoja and his daughter and, after murdering them, sets fire to the house. Next, he visits industrialist Luis Meneses and his wife, murdering her and using his hypnotic power to have Luis hop into the furnace. After a visit from the bumbling police duo, mainly in the film for laughs, he visits the newlyweds and disposes of them, as well. Somehow, the chief finally puts it all together and realizes Ronnie and Vicki are next.
As luck would have it, they are at the Baron’s, where he wishes to give Vicki a gift to celebrate her upcoming wedding. They leave the room and a suspicious Ronnie begins poking around. The Baron confesses his love for Vicki, but tells her as the last descendant she must die. Ronnie finds the jar of brains as Vicki rushes in with the Brainiac in pursuit. Since Ronnie’s ancestor defended the Baron he has no wish to harm him and merely passes through him to where Vicki is now cornered by his butler. This is where the bumbling police show up with…….FLAMETHROWERS?!! The day is saved.
Where to begin? Paper mache meteors, sets that move, hilariously bad dialogue and shamefully bad acting. Put it all together and you get an unforgettable movie that is so bad, it’s good. Most memorable of all is the hairy faced Brainiac with his forked tongue that always seemed to bend away from the person he was trying to kill.
These were the two films from childhood that would have me up at all hours of the morning. (MANY is the time my dad would come home from work at 3 in the morning and find me sitting in front of the TV watching one or the other) I always knew when they were on. I’ve never forgotten them and I always enjoy revisiting them from time to time. Now, it’s your turn.
Next time we meet I’ll tell you about the two films of my teenage years that cemented my love of horror. Here are hints: “In space, no one can hear you scream” and “the only thing more terrifying than the last 10 minutes of this film are the first 90.”
Watch and enjoy!
Fred’s article is just one of many great genre posts also spotlighted on our page located on the Famous Monsters of Filmland site.