Use the Farce, Luke

Zarth Who

That’s Zarth, not Darth.

Starcrash. Even saying the title brings a smile to my face. No, I take that back. It brings out full-out laughter from me. Following the stellar success (forgot to give everyone a bad pun alert – more will come) of Star Wars, a plethora of galactic and inter-galactic SW knock-offs, clones, duplicates, and replicates blasted our way faster than the Millennium Falcon.

Okay, I feel better now. Got that out of my system now. Or, maybe not.

Back to the topic. When’s the last time you saw Marjoe Gortner in a film? Well, here’s your chance. For many of us Boomers, Marjoe Gortner is a wild-eyed film experience. There are few other experiences to compare it to. For those of us who watched movies through the 70’s and 80’s, at one point or another we ran into Marjoe. And watching him in Starcrash was a treat. We saw Starcrash with the sound all the way down while listening to a good variety of music that every so often seemed to sync up with the film. Seemed better that way as pesky things like dialogue couldn’t get in the way of our viewing pleasure.

Crash was a combo Italian/USA flick. And one thing about most of the Italian sci-fi and sci-fi/horror flicks from back then is their love of the primary colors. We’d have little red dancing lights, and multi-hued laser blasts, and an actual blue light saber-like weapon wielded by none other than Marjoe in the sort-of Luke Skywalker role. Except with, perhaps, more manic expressions at times. Well, all except for Luke’s uber-dynamic scene right after he gets his hand cut off by his dad near the end of The Empire Strikes Back. That “Noooooo! It can’t be true!” scream, with his face getting all twisty, is just all Shatner-ish from The Wrath of Khan (Khaaaaannnnn!). So, Marjoe didn’t go all Shatner, but he sure looked like he wanted to talk to someone about his lord and master Cthulhu. Anyway, Marjoe played this character named Akton (Akron, as in Ohio? I don’t know.), and David Hasselhoff played Prince Simon. And, since this was the 70’s, both had killer perm jobs. I mean, their hair didn’t move. They’d take direct laser blasts to the noggin, and nothin’.

So, we have Han Solo, uh… no, wait, I mean Stella Star (Caroline Munro), who’s this smuggler, and she teams up with this robot/android character who looks like a Cylon, except his (its?) head is really big and looks like a bucket. Stella occasionally runs around in her underwear. But it’s okay, as she wears one of those cheap plastic see-through raincoats over her underwear so she won’t get cold. But there’s this one scene where Stella and her bucket-headed friend lay down in a field to make snow angels. Well, actually, there wasn’t snow when they first laid down, but then it started snowing, and then they went to sleep, and all we kept thinking was that they were re-enacting the poppies sequence from The Wizard of Oz.

Quick aside here. Also around the same time Crash came out, all characters in Star Wars-like rip-offs were required to have variations on the names Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Chewie, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. Which is why, in an insane number of media we ended up with characters named Lone Star, Sally Starslammer, Princess Orgasma, Yogurt, Ooby-Dooby Kenoobi, Chewbacca, and every other combination.

Another quick aside. Caroline Munro. This nearly-nude lass busted out in several films I watched in my pre- and post-pubescent years, including The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and At the Earth’s Core. Some of the characters she’s played over the years had names such as Dia, Evil Priestess, and Mystic Mary, so Stella Star isn’t a huge leap.

For a while we thought Christopher Plummer could’ve gotten away with saying he never fully appeared in the movie, but he slipped up, and there he was, all non-holographic and everything. Mr. Plummer played the Emperor of the Galaxy, and here’s one of the places where they got really creative with making it not at all like Star Wars. They made the Emperor a good guy and not a bad guy. Huh? How about that? Not only that, but you wanna know what they named the Big Bad Ugly in Crash? Zarth Arn. No, that doesn’t make me think of that other guy at all. What was his name? Garth Raider or something.

There were several things to love about this movie, none of which had anything to do with quality, but that sure didn’t stop us from enjoying it in a Mystery Science Theaters kind of way. Besides all the pretty flashing lights, we had spaceships made from Dixie cups, buttons, cans of talcum powder, and all manner of random household items. There were some interior shots of dishwashers, and, you know that opening sequence of the original Star Wars where the pointy triangle-shaped spaceship flies past the camera, doing that vanishing-point perspective thing? Well, they got really good at that shot in Crash, as they used it a lot. A whole lot. No, make that a whole, whole lot.

Starcrash (or The Adventures of Stella Star or Star Battle Encounters or its original Italian title, Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione) warped onto screens all over the world with an initial release date of 12/21/1978 in West Germany. Italy would have to wait until January, 1979.

The director, Luigi Cozzi (although he went by Lewis Coates quite a bit) also brought us Hercules (1983), The Adventures of Hercules II (1985), both starring Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno, and 1989’s Paganini Horror. I may have to check out the Paganini Horror.

If you’re really wanting to dose yourself out on some other good ol’ Star Wars mimicry, check out Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Hardware Wars (1978), or Star Odyssey (1979). Not sure about availability of any of these, but good luck, and may the farce be with you.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Central City Days, Gotham Nights

I’m finally excited about a couple of new shows on the tube (yeah, I still call it the tube – can’t help it). Gotham and The Flash. And I like them for different reasons.

First off, I was a superhero kid. My three faves from way back when, starting in the early 60’s, were Batman, Superman, and The Flash, in no particular order. And I still read Batman and Superman comics. Not so keen on The Flash as I don’t care for the new artwork.

Anyway, with Gotham and The Flash, yeah, I pretty much have to be in front of the TV, watching, when they come on. I time-shift them, too, so I can re-watch them. Now, last night I hadn’t planned on watching The Flash. I was taping the show and planned on watching it tonight or tomorrow. I sat at my desk downstairs to write, uhhh… okay, I was going to play one of my video games. So, I’m all set up to play and The Flash started up. Nope, had to plop down and watch it live. And the only other show I do that with is Gotham. Once upon a time I was hooked on a brilliantly well-done animated superhero show called Young Justice, but the TV gods said, “Nope, you’re not watching it anymore,” and away it went.

Watched the 4th episode of Gotham Monday night. They’re doing a good job of spending a little time for development on each of the major players, although we didn’t have Selina Kyle the other night. Getting some good development on Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) and his psychopathic rise to power. Had a couple of Bruce Wayne/Alfred scenes, showing Bruce’s growing obsession with tracking down the baddies. No tech yet, it’s back to good ol’ poring over files and photos, doing actual detective work (DC – Detective Comics. Remember?) My main complaint with the Bruce and Alfred and occasionally Jim Gordon scenes is they always take place in that one crowded room with the fireplace. Aren’t there any other rooms in this huge, rambling mansion? We’ve had a couple of scenes of the front of the place, but that’s about it. I want to see more of the estate.

The Facebook group I discuss Gotham with (gotta say, that’s a lot of fun – hi, folks!) and I aren’t taken with the Barbara Kean (eventually, Batgirl) character. She’s not really working for me. But one of my favorite characters is Alfred. This edgier Alfred, I’m guessing, will eventually train Bruce some, but they’re not really taking us in that direction yet.

So far we’ve had a couple of throw-away crazies in the last two episodes, each with their own way of whacking the Gotham citizenry. Mainly these two or so nut jobs are just there to give Harv (Detective Bullock) and Gordon cases to work on and to show the darker side of Gotham. The real stories happen in the background with the slow, steady development of Penguin and Cat (Catwoman, eventually). Then, there’s Jada Pinkett Smith as crime boss Fish Mooney. Man, she is, as I described her the other night, pure delicious evil. Problem for Fish is, however, her boss, Falcone, is even more evil than she is.

Now, The Flash is a different show from Gotham. For one thing, Barry Allen (the Flash) isn’t Bruce Wayne, nor should he be. He’s a straight-up guy, no dark side to him. He operates mostly in the daylight. Batman is at his best at night.

The main draw for me, so far, with The Flash, is the guy who plays him – Grant Gustin. I haven’t seen his work before, but I really like the guy and the way he’s portraying Barry/Flash. He’s completely likeable. Plus, the actor who plays his father, John Wesley Shipp, played The Flash in the 1990/1991 series. It’s a little hard for me to realize it’s been 24 years since that version of The Flash was on TV. I mean, I still have my videotaped copies from back then. Jeez. Anyway, I loved the show back then and I love it now. And they’re playing it smart as far as the creation of supervillains.

One of the problems for all of us uber-geeks has always been, okay, we’ve got this one super man/woman/boy/girl who takes care of this one city. Where do all the supervillains come from? Well, they borrowed an idea from the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. To give Buffy a vampire of the week they explained it with the location of the town where she lived. It was situated over or near Hellmouth, a portal or something that kept popping out demons, vampires, and all manner of other things going bump in the night. Then, in Smallville, it was in the path of a bunch of “meteor rocks” (what we know as kryptonite) that rained down right about the time Clark’s spaceship crash-landed. And, wouldn’t you know it, those rocks spewed out radiation that randomly turned some of the Smallvillians into super-duper freakazoids.

That being said, what they’ve done with The Flash is explain the origin of Barry’s super-speed with a particle accelerator explosion that created the lightning bolt that nailed him. That same particle accelerator incident randomly clobbered other folks in his city, and we’ve already been introduced to two of the sub-atomic particle-generated evildoers.

If you’re into superhero shows at all, these two are well worth your while. I just hope the all-high-muckety-muck powers-that-be decide to leave them on the air.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Quite an Overbite You’ve Got There

horror-of-the-blood-monsters

Weird, wild, and wonderful. The three W’s. Wendy and I just finished watching a whacked-out Italian science fiction/horror film from 1970 called Horror of the Blood Monsters. This is right during the peak of the drive-in movie trasharama era. Joe Bob Briggs would love it. In fact, I might’ve seen it at one time or another at the drive-in. If I saw it back then I most likely filtered it with beer.

It had everything we love in this style of flick. Editing bloops and bleeps, bad acting, space ships, an orgasmatron, vampires, dinosaurs, cave people, crab people, flying bat/monkey whatevers, and bright, bright colors. Oh, and John Carradine. It had John Carradine.

Let’s see, we start things rolling with night-time shots on Earth and people getting bitten by a variety of vampires. Victims and vamps were played by the producer and his friends. Then we’re flying off into space in a model rocket powered by a Bic lighter. The ship has a problem and lands on a planet where the atmosphere changes from green to blue to yellow to red. If it’s red, bad stuff happens. Our intrepid crew climb out on what looks like a hardware store extension ladder in search of stuff to fix the ship. They meet two tribes of cave dwellers — one with normal teeth, the other with these really kitschy Spencer’s Gifts vampire teeth. The good tribe, the ones with normal teeth, know where the crew can get some fire water to get their ship going again. Meanwhile, John Carradine is back on the ship having absolutely the mildest coronary attack ever.

One of our space dudes falls in love with a cave girl. She wears a designer swim suit and loves him too, but he dies because he’s breathing the poisonous air, so that never went anywhere. One half the crew make it back to the ship where John Carradine is all better now. They take off and John Carradine says some pithy words of wisdom as they fly home.

The End.

Al Adamson, the director/producer of this fine mess, thrived from ‘61 to ‘83 cranking out drive-in fare such as this. A couple of his other titles are Psycho a Go-Go (1965) and Brain of Blood (1971).

Sue McNair wrote this beast. She went on to head up a Fortune 500 company. No, just kidding. After she wrote her one and only screenplay, I have no idea what she did.

Jennifer Bishop, the swim suit-wearing cave woman, followed up this movie with Bigfoot (1970).

‘til next time… Adios.

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Red Light… Blue Light…

Ronald Remy

All of us gathered on Tuesday night, October 7th, during tornado watches and warnings, wind and hail, to watch a thoroughly engrossing (but not gross) fun and fang-filled vampire film from the Philippines titled The Blood Drinkers. Okay, they could have done better with the title when they first released it for American audiences, but, hey, it was 1966, and this was prime for the drive-in theater crowd. The other U. S. title, Blood is the Color of Night, is better. More poetic. Although I like the sound of the original title, Kulay dugo ang gabi (released in ’64 in the Philippines). I have no idea how to say it, but I like it.

About that whole “blood is the color of night” issue, it was certainly true, as many of the scenes were tinted blood-red, some blue, and others, well, I’m not sure what the colors were. Some scenes were just plain black-and-white, and a minority in actual color. Washed-out, but still in color. What the hey? Well, the deal was that color film stock in the Philippines cost a good deal of money. Sooo… when they wanted some color they tinted the film to set a particular mood. And every so often, like if one of the victims suddenly recovered from being fanged, we’d see living undead color.

This wasn’t a perfect movie, sure. There were plot holes, editing problems, and then there’s the black-and-white/color film stock issue. But these things didn’t take away from the movie at all. I think they actually worked in its favor. I’ve always felt that art should have imperfections, and movies made on-the-cheap or on-the-fly strongly attract me. I love them because of their flaws. They show the filmmaker’s passion. It’s easy to Hollywood something up and insulate it with a monstrous budget, editing it to death or adding a bazillion special effects. But to go out there and just go for it. That’s just beautiful.

It’s not the first time a movie vampire exhibited passion and a desire for love (think Bela’s Dracula – not my favorite, but still a well-rounded vampire, not just a demonic bloodsucker), but Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy), the vampire in last night’s movie, certainly had panache. First off, he’s completely bald. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a bald-headed vampire before, but he pulled it off. He was a snappy dresser, looking good in either the tried-and-true cape, or a mod outfit, or a black turtleneck. Plus he occasionally wore some cool wrap-around shades. He also had some really pointy fangs, too, and he wasn’t afraid to use them.

Dr. Marco wants to bring his dead (mostly dead?) Katrina (Amalia Fuentes) back to life, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. He lives in a fancy villa a curious assortment of vampires, little people, and disfigured folks, some of whom speak. Others grunt. His semi-dead Katrina stays in a pre-rigor mortis state in what appears to be a chapel that’s separate from the main house. This is where the Doc keeps his nifty lab. No sparky stuff in the lab, though. What he needs is some fresh blood and a new heart from Katrina’s twin sister, Charito. For a while it looks bad for the home team until a “… man of action” (as the priest who’s narrating some of the movie says about the boyfriend, Victor) drives into town, fists and guns loaded.

And there’s one of the movie’s anomalies I love – we’re never certain who’s dead, who’s alive, who’s a vampire, who’s just plain deranged and psychopathic. Several of the characters seem to hop back and forth from live to dead to everywhere in between, and we were never sure who was what, but hey, it made it fun. Not for the victims, though.

When I did some advance research on Drinkers, and in keeping with so many of the foreign horror films we’ve watched, there’s not a lot of info out there, especially about the actors. I think our hero’s name was Victor de la Cruz, played by Eddie Fernandez. When he gets on board, we get some great action sequences as he dukes it out with the hunchback vampire assistant and a really mean little person, as well as exchanging some fisticuffs with Doc Marco.

I need to stop for now, but I’ll have more to say on this whacked-out little diamond in the rough later. It’s a lot of fun, has some great action sequences, and a few different spins on the typical vampire fare. And best of all, no sparkling vampires.

‘til next time… Adios.

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If a Writer Writes Something in the Woods and No One Reads His Stuff, is He Still a Writer?

What got me started into writing? Any of us, for that matter? For me, it was never an intentional thing. I didn’t write tons of stories when I was young, as some writers. I did get started with a little blue diary or two, probably starting off in grade school, the ones with the tiny metal keys to lock/unlock. Sometime a while back I found my diary and picked the lock. Had to. The key’s long gone. I read one or two of my random and sparse entries. It was just an end-of-the-day recital of some of the things I’d done that day. I had no idea about what writers wrote about or how they wrote. Nothing like that. My main experience with writing would be, over the next few years, just what drivel we wrote in our classes. The ever-unpopular book report, or the research report. I do, however, remember a stab I took at writing a science fiction/horror fiction piece for my sixth grade class, thanks to the liberal and imaginative teaching of my first male teacher, Mr. Hardy.

But nothing really pulled me to writing. I never really got fired up about it. Besides, I was on a science/math track. I wanted to crack wide open the universe’s secrets – invent a time machine, or an anti-gravity device, something like that. I wanted to eventually be an inventor. But for some reason that dream never got off the ground. And writing still consisted of reports and diagramming sentences.

Then in high school I got lucky. No, not that way. Get your minds out of the gutter. I landed a couple of English Composition classes that focused on creative writing. Finally, things opened up. Not all at once, but gradually. One of my teachers told us in class one day about how he approached a writing assignment. He said that he would sit there at his desk for a while and just let his mind percolate before putting pen or pencil to paper. Well, that idea I liked. He didn’t say anything about outlines or any of that jazz.

Almost but still not quite there. The drive to write was missing.

Another creative writing class in my senior year, and we played around with a few different styles. I don’t remember anything specific, but I do remember getting into some free writing.

Closer.

Okay, I graduated from high school, rebelled against pretty much anything and everything, and I read most anything. I got into that Angry Young Man phase, wearing my five dollar army jacket, smoking cigarettes, living at a 24 hour restaurant called Sambo’s, carrying at least one paperback with me at all times, and doing the whole writing on napkins things. Then I started opening up more, playing with words, reading Castaneda, stretching, testing the limits. And I wrote the occasional piece, just a commentary or two, about my thoughts, frustrations, that sort of thing.

Still I never thought of being this thing called a writer. That was for other people. That was for, well, writers. I certainly wasn’t one, even though my buddy told me one of the pieces I wrote was publishable.

Publishable? You kidding me? I’m going back to college to become an engineer, not a writer.

Then, other life events happened, as they will. I kept journals. I’d go back over them and discover some glass-clear truths. And that’s when I started to see. This thing called writing, it wasn’t about book reports or research papers. It was an entire universe of possibilities. I began playing with words, writing in different color inks, writing upside down on the page, splitting and tearing words apart. I finally gave myself permission to put anything, anything at all on paper. Now, some of that stuff has since met the recycling bin, but I was starting to see just what I could do with this thing.

I wrote a handful of children’s book manuscripts (nothing published yet), joined writing groups, met my wife in one of the groups. All the time I experimented and played with words. Then, several years after Wendy and I were married, I was writing movie reviews for a local paper, the Georgetown News-Graphic. I wrote a few magazine articles, too. But each time it was work. I had to reach for the words. But one day, by accident, something wild happened. My editor wanted a short review, shorter than normal, of a movie I went to see with a buddy of mine. I had a deadline that afternoon, and we wanted to do something else after the movie, so I fired something out in half an hour or less. I didn’t bother to read it over, just sent it to my editor. I felt it was not up to my usual stuff, but I sent it anyway.

Later that day I got an email from my editor. He said it was probably my best review ever.

What? No, that’s not right, I thought. I just threw stuff together without thinking. Without overthinking. What I had just discovered was stream-of-consciousness writing. Of course, I didn’t realize there was such a thing. All my training taught me that was wrong. You had to plan, then write. You couldn’t just slam words on the paper. It was against the law and I was violating it. But I was intrigued. And worried. ‘Cause now I put pressure on myself. How could I, a borderline control freak, let loose every time and let words fly? It wasn’t supposed to work that way. So, for a while I stubbornly persisted, writing the “normal” way, with a plan, sketching stuff out, going step-by-step. But every so often I’d let myself go and just step on the gas and write. The times I did that I felt really good.

Now there were a lot of crashes. Sometimes I’d produce some hideous crap. But every so often I’d strike gold. I’d find my muse and, as I call it, write like jazz.

Which led me, finally, to start a blog. It’s the perfect laboratory for my Frankensteinian word play. I still struggle. That’s what we do, anyway. I’d heard a quote some years ago that artists must contend. Or words to that effect. I fight with being what I think of as a “pure writer”, the writer who is not concerned about feedback or publication, but writes simply to create. And even though my main style is stream-of-consciousness, it doesn’t always work for every situation. But my main motivation is to write. Write like the (bad pun alert!) Dickens. Every time I sit down I wrestle with my inner editor. I wonder if I can lay words on paper. There are times when I’d rather play a video game. But I still write. For whatever reason it’s in me. It’s in all of us creative. One thing, at least, I’ve learned (but still have to remind myself of) is not to stop. You must write, even and especially when you and everyone else says not to quit your day job. So, pick up that pen, pencil, computer, or papyrus, and toss some words around. You’ll be glad you did.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Writing Flotsam and Jetsam

writers-block-graphic-how-to-cure-uncreative-periods-hemingway

Here I am again, trying to decide what to do with this mess of writing I have. I’m sitting here at my desk at home, surrounded by years of writings in notebooks and my computer. There are files scattered about on CD’s, folders within folders on the hard drive. Fortunately, nothing on floppies anymore. At least as far as I know. Basically, I have my crap spread everywhere.

So, now, I’m attempting to pare down the mountain. I’ve deleted a bunch of duplicate emails that I’ve sent home to myself from work over the years. That was the easiest way to write when I needed to — an email to myself. Well, in addition to the files and whatnots, I now have tons of emails with scattered and miscellaneous bits of writing.

What to do with all my pieces parts of stories, ideas for stories, and article fragments? There are phrases, made-up words, and all-too-brief story ideas — so brief I have no idea now what I was thinking at the time I wrote them. Do I toss stuff out? And what to toss? How much? Or do I keep everything, try to organize?

No, I’m not tossing anything that I think I can use, work into something at some point. If I can take some of these assorted fragments, weave them together, then I’ll keep them. But I have lots of stuff that are just half-formed ideas that never developed. Or, what I call garbage writing, a natural outcome of stream-of-consciousness writing.

What I’ve managed to do today is delete one hundred or so duplicate emails. As far as the rest, I need to schedule a little time each week, each day perhaps, to organize. I’ve done a quick search out there on the ‘net and there isn’t one answer that takes care of everything. Just gonna be some work to get organized. Good thing is, I’ve gotten a post written out of the deal.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Don’t Turn Out the Lights

Drac

Okay, folks, time to get dark. It’s October 1st, and we all know what that means. Some of the TV channels (if they’re any good at all) will host a belfry full of horror and science films, some good, some bad, and everything else in between. If you get TCM (Turner Classic Movies), they’re pretty reliable. Best thing about them is no freakin’ commercials. And they generally show decent (by decent I mean good to excellent quality) movies. I checked out their lineup for the month and they don’t disappoint. I’ve seen a good many of the ones scheduled, but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch them again. Anyway, here’s a quick look-see.

On October 25th, Stephen King, the Master of Horror, talks about what got him started into horror and the history of horror in all the various media. Not sure of the time, so I’ll list the TCM’s site at the bottom of my post. But I’m excited about seeing the man. Haven’t read a whole lot of his work, but I’ve read some, and do know that he knows horror. So, I want to hear his take on things.

They’re featuring some of the old silent greats – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), one of the best German Expressionist horror movies; 1922’s Nosferatu, another excellent example of German Expressionism, and one of the best on-screen vampires ever; the incredible Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Of the non-silents there are some fantastic, lesser-known films such as Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), a fine example of how the monsters are not who you think they are; the eerily desolate Carnival of Souls (1962) – this film, for a low-budget work, does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of isolation and bleakness; Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in 1958’s Dracula (renamed to Horror of Dracula for American audiences – in fact, it’s listed in TCM as Horror of Dracula), my first on-screen intro to the world of vampires, except for, perhaps, Barnabas Collins in the original Dark Shadows; William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) – the performance by Joan Crawford is intense, but no less so is Carol Harbin, who’s a scene-stealer.

There are several others I’m looking forward to, some obscure ones I’ve either never seen, or haven’t seen in a long time – Curse of the Demon (1957), a supernatural chiller from director Jacques Tourneur; The Masque of the Red Death (1964), a Poe/Corman/Price combo I’ve always wanted to see; and 1968’s Hammer production of The Devil’s Bride (original British title The Devil Rides Out), a devilish chiller starring Christopher Lee.

Oh, yes, here’s the link I promised:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/443507%7C444317/Classic-Horror-Introduction.html

I’ll return soon with more Halloween horror updates.

‘til next time… Adios.

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