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The flow of Swamp Thing sketches continue to hit the U.S. and international mails daily. Now, I’m about tuckered out; I’ve drawn almost 100 Swamp Thing sketches since mid-December, every one of them different!
I’m almost through with shipping all orders; thanks for your patience, and please, rest assured your completed SpiderBaby Store order and your free Swamp Thing sketch is either on its way or soon out the door.
The unexpected windfall of orders on January 8th and 9th have taken three+ weeks to complete shipping (including midway speedily replenishing supplies—co-signed personally by my creative partners Joseph A. Citro and Denis St. John—of The Vermont Ghost Guide, The Vermont Monster Guide, Monster Pie, and Horror Boo!M). I’m not complaining! What was intended as a modest trio of test-marketing experiments to share with the Center for Cartoon Studies Senior Thesis class I teach ended up paying off my car!
* Among the most forgotten—or, by those who remember it at all, the most maligned—of all 1950s and early 1960s science-fiction low-budget movies remains Phil Tucker‘s bizarre, inventive, completely impoverished THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS (1960).
It’s another cheapjack movie I unapologetically love, and recently reacquainted myself with via the finest-looking transfer of the film I’ve ever seen, anywhere, on DVD.
Tucker was infamous in my own childhood for his having written and directed the venerable 3D opus Robot Monster (1953), which was a perenniel late-night TV broadcast favorite for my generation. I’ll never forget the writeup in the Castle of Frankenstein TV Movie Guide for Robot Monster, which (along with their writeups of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead, and Teenage Monster) was the first truly articulate codification of an aesthetic reaction to cinematic atrocities as being, in-and-of-themselves, alternate reality cinematic experiences of some interest and value.
Alas, less than a decade later, brothers Medved turned that into a cottage industry of sorts that continues into the 21st century, launched with the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) (1978) by Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss, and Michael Medved, and Harry and Michael’s followups The Golden Turkey Awards (1980) and Son of Golden Turkey Awards (1986). Ed Wood was villified and lionized therein, as was Phil Tucker—but I still find much to honestly savor and enjoy in Phil Tucker‘s films, primary among them Cape Canaveral Monsters.
These movies are easy to mock, but it must be reasserted that unlike, say, hucksters like Jerry Warren, Tucker was honestly doing the best he could with what resources he had. The gore quotient in Cape Canaveral Monsters was also unusual for mid-1960s TV broadcast—the damaged human bodies the aliens possess were ripped, torn, and bloodied in ways only TV broadcasts of the uncut I Was a Teenage Frankenstein or The Brain That Wouldn’t Die shared in terms of such early black-and-white syndication broadcasts of horror movies—and it stands with a handful of other 1950s and early 1960s Night of the Living Dead predecessors made all the more interesting today in the context of what George Romero, John Russo, and their Image Ten partners accomplished in 1968.
I’d count Ray Kellogg‘s The Killer Shrews (1959), Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds (1962), and Ubaldo Ragona/Sidney Salkow‘s L’ultimo Uomo Della Terra / The Last Man on Earth (1964, adapting the source novel Romero always cites, Richard Matheson‘s I Am Legend) as thematic, pacing, and narrative template films for Night of the Living Dead; along with Cape Canaveral Monsters, I’d also count Ed Wood‘s now-immortal Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Edward L. Cahn‘s far less entertaining Invisible Invaders (1959), Herk Harvey‘s truly uncanny, superior-in-every-way Carnival of Souls (1962), and The Outer Limits episode “Corpus Earthling” (November 18, 1963) as essential “walking dead” predecessors to Romero and Russo‘s revolutionary classic, if only in terms of atmosphere, imagery, and iconography.
That duly noted, I don’t want to overstate or lend any false pop-cultural caché to Cape Canaveral Monsters. There’s quite enough to love on its own modest, completely mongrel terms.
For openers, say what you will about Tucker‘s poverty of means; he made great use of some pretty spectacular missile launch, misfire, and crash footage in Cape Canaveral Monsters. This footage lent the film what little spectacle it mobilizes, but given how much military stock footage informed most larger studio sf films in the 1950s (The Deadly Mantis was comprised of a startling quantity of such stock footage, for instance), I think it fair to credit Tucker for effective use of what he had here.
The movie opened with two beads of blinding white light surging out of a pitch-black screen at the viewer: these blobs of light were the nominal “monsters,” energy-beings from another (unnamed) planet.
The little light patches spy on a couple on the beach, and hitch a ride on a the back bumper of the couple’s car as they drive away from the beach, prompting a fatal accident. Enter the voice-overs from “Earth Expedition #2” Hauron (vet TV actor Jason Johnson) and Nadja (the marvelous Katherine Victor, best-known for her Jerry Warren outings) to possess the bloodied bodies of the couple. After Nadja rescued the severed arm of Hauron’s dead host body from the back seat, they hustled from the scene of the accident.
Tucker didn’t have much false respect for his invaders—less, clearly, than he’d even afforded the diving-helmet-domed Ro-Man of Robot Monster. Where Ro-Man puzzled over his place in the universe with pitch-perfect Catholic agonies (“I cannot—yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do “must” and “cannot” meet? Yet I must—but I cannot!”), Hauron and Nadja openly despise one another and barely pretend to get along, except when “Leader” is on the intergalactic shortwave.
Look, nobody else has ever had the balls to say it, so I’ll just come right out and say it: Hauron and Nadja were the greatest zombie couple in all of 1950s and 1960s cinema, and we’d not see or hear their like again for decades. For that alone, this was and is a national treasure.
Within minutes of screen time, Hauron lost his freshly-transplanted arm again to a military police guard dog, and the guard carried the severed limb back to Mission Control (cue close up of the severed, blood-dripping limb, and a tracking shot down the length of the limb to focus on the blood pooling on the floor). Thereafter, Nadja and Hauron became a bloodied, scarred, bickering couple entombed in their subterranean cavernous spaceship, the black heart of Tucker‘s invasion. As in Robot Monster, the centerpiece of the invasion craft was a television monitor accessing “Leader” back where-ever-the-hell-they-came-from, with whom Hauron and Nadja banter as their sorry spearhead expedition puttered and putzed about with securing Earth specimens for study between successful attacks on Cape Canaveral missile launches. Ro-Man, move over!
Sally (Linda Connell) and Tom (Scott Peters) in—yes!—Bronson Caves, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California. Jesus wept.
Back at Mission Control, Dr. Von Hoften (Billy Greene, wielding a risible German accent) puzzled over those missile crashes, commanding a small team of scientists, including student Tom (Scott Peters) and Von Hoften‘s niece Sally (Linda Connell). With her uncle frowning on even minor attempts at fraternizing among the team, Sally nonetheless contrived a night out in the convertible with fellow team scientist Bob (Gary Travis) and Bob‘s non-scientific date Shirley (Thelaine Williams). While lazing about in a makeshift Lover’s Lane with their transistor and car radios providing appropriately love-lorn pop music, Tom and Sally wander the nearby very-non-Floridian landscape trying to find the source of the annoying static (via their transistor radio picking up interference from Hauron and Nadja’s transmissions).
Leader: We need more Earthlings for our experiments, especially females.
Nadja: We will see to it, Leader. We have to make another capture anyhow—to repair Hauron’s arm.
Leader: You must be more careful with the electroconvulsive shock and the freezing. The last ones you sent were dead when they arrived. It makes study extremely difficult.
Nadja: I will see to it.
This is why I love Cape Canaveral Monsters so: the constant bitchfest between alien-possessed-rotty-bodies Hauron and Nadja. This is priceless stuff, and unlike any previous zombie or space-zombie movie ever. Hauron takes a lot of verbal abuse from Nadja, who just loves to rub it in about his losing that fucking arm not once, but twice.
Hauron: We wait till after the launching to find more Earthlings. I can get by with one arm till then.
Nadja: Don’t you owe it to the Council to use all your facilities for your work?
Hauron: Every missile from Cape Canaveral has either failed or was let go to avoid undue suspicion. Could you have done any better?
Nadja: Well I was just—
Hauron: I have to get this power pack get fixed up right! Now, don’t bother me again! Is that clear?
Nadja: Yes. Perfectly clear.
After Hauron uses a bazooka-like weapon to disrupt and crash another missile test launch, he immediately struts his stuff in front of a sneering Nadja:
Hauron: I didn’t do badly for a one-armed man, did I?
Nadja: Do we start looking for some specimens to send back now?
Hauron: No, I think not. Night seems like a better time. For now, we need some rest.
The latter line was delivered as Hauron suggestively stroked Nadja‘s torn-flesh-putty-ravaged cheek and scarred face. What kind of “rest”? Were these possessed corpses doing more than “sleeping” together? I was about eleven when I first saw this movie on TV, and even then, I shuddered and I wondered…
While Tom and Sally stumbled around in the dark trying to locate the source of the static, wouldn’t you know it: it’s hapless Bob and Shirley who were ultimately abducted. Oh, unfair universe! This was, after all, a horror movie. Tucker let us know what the aliens had in store for Tom and Sally as Shirley was “prepared” and frozen for transmission to alien world.
Bob, though, suffered far worse indignities. Hauron coveted and surgically transplanted Bob’s healthy arm onto his shoulder stump. Bob succumbed to the post-surgical trauma, and after he died, Hauron took his chin!
I mean, wow. His chin.
Nadja: He had a nice chin, except for that tiny scar.
Hauron: Perhaps the more human I look, the more freely I could move around.
Nadja: His chin to replace yours… if your new chin needs a little trimming, I’ll fix it when I get back.
C’mon, what’s not to love? At this point, I must once again evoke the Pre-Code science-fiction and horror comics Eerie Publications was reprinting in the 1960s. When I first saw Cape Canaveral Monsters, damned if these bits with the aliens coveting limbs and a chin didn’t make me think of (and dig out) my ragged dog-eared stack of Weird, Witches Tales, and Voodoo Tales that very morning, and get my fingers and thumbs all black with smudgy-ink once again.
Back to Cape Canaveral Monsters: We even get a snippet of transcental dialogue at one point from Hauron, when the imprisoned Bob tries to talk science with the admittedly-curious-about-this-particular-human-specimen Bob…
Hauron: Dreaming? Oh yes, sometimes when you humans are asleep, you see things that are not real. Hmph.
Shakespeare, it’s not, but I must add that when I first saw this loopy movie, I thought I’d dreamed the ending, which is even more abrupt and infuriating than the one grafted onto Monster A-Go-Go.
This was an early WTF? bummer twist ending, implying within seconds that the invaders triumph via the cheapest imaginable trickery: as the last car drove out of sight, with Bob and Sally safe and sound and the invaders apparently defeated, Tucker overdubbed the sound of a car accident (you know the one, old-timers: the one used in every road safety educational film and TV commercial about highway safety) and Sally’s scream. The screen went black, and the light-blob abstractions of Hauron and Nadja flared into sight till they swallowed the screen, with the space-age sounds associated with them throughout roared, then the credits rolled. The End.
Again: What’s not to love? However sloppy the execution, this was pretty downbeat stuff for 1960, before such endings were de rigueur. If memory serves, Randy Palmer (justifiably) included this in his Famous Monsters of Filmland article in the early 1970s listing all the twist-downbeat-endings of horror and sf films up to that point in time.
Along with writer-director Phil Tucker, there’s some credentials attached to the cast members of interest to genre devotees. Nominal hero Scott Peters cut his acting teeth doing a lot of TV, along with roles in Invasion of the Saucer Men, Motorcycle Gang, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People, Hot Rod Gang, The FBI Story (appearing, uncredited, as John Dillinger!), Panic in Year Zero!, The Girl Hunters, and in David Bradley‘s astonishing Madmen of Mandaros aka They Save Hitler’s Brain. He’s best known to my generation, though, for having played Detective Valencia on Get Christie Love!
Better yet is the fact that heroine Sally was played by stylishly short-haired ingenue Linda Connell, in her one and only screen role. Linda was the daughter of W. Merle Connell, the vet cinematographer who shot Cape Canaveral Monsters for Tucker (as “Merle Connell”) along with Tucker‘s earlier Lenny Bruce vehicle Dance Hall Racket (1953) and Tucker‘s documentary-exposés Tijuana After Midnite, Dream Follies, Bagdad After Midnite (all 1954), and Strips Around the World (1955). Pater Connell was also the director of a string of almost iconic low-budget exploitation gems, including A Night at the Follies (1947), Hometown Girl, Test Tube Babies (both 1948), The Devil’s Sleep, Trouble at Melody Mesa (both 1949), International Burlesque (1950), Ding Dong (1951), the One Million B.C. stock-footage feast Untamed Women (1952), The Flesh Merchant (1956), and Not Tonight Henry (1960). That’s a lot of exploitation history between the Connells and the Tucker clan.
But the crowning glory of Cape Canaveral Monsters was and remains the venomous back-and-forth between ravaged zombie co-stars Jason Johnson and Katherine Victor. Jason Johnson was in too many TV shows to list—oh, hell, here goes: The Clock (1950), Gang Busters (1951), Robert Montgomery Presents (1950, 1952), Highway Patrol (1956), Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (1955 and ’56), Science Fiction Theatre (1956, including, interestingly enough, “The Living Lights” episode), Playhouse 90 (1956 an ’57), Circus Boy (1957), The Lone Ranger (1957), The Adventures of Superman (1958), Father Knows Best (1958), Studio 57 (1958), The Adventures of Jim Bowie (1956-58), The Rifleman (1959), Laramie (1959), Zane Grey Theater (1958-1960) and so on and so forth into the late 1970s, as well as big-screen outings like Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), I Want to Live! (1958), and many more. Johnson was a true working actor and an omnipresent player for my generation’s boob-tube habits.
Katherine Victor, though, was a more rarified player and cultivated taste, having been relegated primarily to the ill fortunes and ample screentime producer/director Jerry Warren padded running times with, both making and breaking Victor‘s career over the course of a little more than a decade.
She is splendid in Cape Canaveral Monsters, making the most of every nit-picking line (especially over that lost arm) and positively seething from the screen when she gets the upper hand on the lowly Earth patsies. Tom Weaver (who should know!) notes that Katherine was born Katena Ktenavea “in the Hell’s Kitchen district of Manhattan…grew up in Los Angeles and began her acting career on the stage and radio in the late ’40s.”
Victor made her film debut as one of mad scientist Jackie Coogan‘s “spider women” in the notorious Ron Ormond atrocity Mesa of Lost Women (1952), but I first struggled to stay awake through a Jerry Warren movie on late-night TV and was stirred into paying attention by Katherine Victor‘s “Dr. Myra” role in director Warren‘s otherwise God-awful Teenage Zombies (1959).
Tom Weaver notes on imdb that Katherine was thankfully “always busy outside of acting (in modeling, real estate and in various jobs in the animated cartoon business),” but that “the stigma of being a regular in Warren‘s movies stymied her mainstream acting career.” Indeed. Nor did she make much of a “living” from Warren, or Tucker, for that matter, earning only a reported $300 from Warren for her pivotal role in Teenage Zombies (1959) and a whopping $450 from Tucker for The Cape Canaveral Monsters one year later. She went on to appear in the “bonus footage” shot for Warren‘s US cut-and-dubbed-and-padded editions of
- Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959) aka Invasion of the Animal People (1962), which I wrote about on Myrant previously here
- and with even more affection here,
- and La Marca del Muerto (1961) aka Creature of the Walking Dead (1965), which I wrote about in some detail here.
Katherine also appeared in Warren‘s recuts of Curse of the Stone Hand (1964, incredibly cobbled together from three Chilean 1940s movies by Carlos Hugo Christensen) and House of the Black Death (1965, with Warren finishing a feature abandoned by director Harold Daniels), as well as the infamous Frankenstein Island (1981, Warren‘s final film), but will forever be enshrined by many for her titular role in Warren‘s gobsmacker The Wild World of Batwoman (1966), and far be it from me to steal any thunder from her there.
But she’ll always be the greatest space-zombie of them all, Nadja, to me!
Swamp Thing® and ©DC Comics Inc/DC Entertainment Inc.; sketch art ©2012 Stephen R. Bissette. All other artwork and photographs © respective years by their respective proprietors, posted for educational and archival purposes only.