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Monday, October 18, 2010

MONSTER A-GO GO -- DVD review by porfle

I can't really tell you why I love bad movies.  It doesn't make sense.  I mean, some of my favorites, such as TEENAGE ZOMBIES, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE, are pretty much total, blithering dreck.  Still, there's just something about them that makes them both entertaining and strangely compelling.  But whatever that "something" is, MONSTER A-GO GO (1965) definitely doesn't have it.

It starts out promisingly enough with some of the crummiest-looking opening titles I've ever seen.  As soon as they're over, unfortunately, the movie begins.  "What you are about to see may not even be possible!" declares narrator Herschell Gordon Lewis (of BLOOD FEAST fame) in solemn tones as the military investigate the crash site of a downed space capsule.  Near the prop capsule, which is actually much too small to contain a full-sized human being, a man's body is found mangled and burned by radiation.  (He looks okay to me, but that's what we're told).  We soon learn that the missing astronaut, Frank Douglas, has grown to a monstrous height and is extremely radioactive.

As the killer astronaut wanders around frying people, various military and scientific types investigate and discuss the matter ad nauseum.  The only semi-prominent actor among them, Peter Thompson, who had a fairly busy TV and movie career, was forced to exit the production halfway through, leaving the film a character short.  Writer-director Bill Rebane simply called back actor George Perry, who had played one of the monster's early victims, and recast him as that character's brother, also a scientist.  (The brief closeup of Perry's death-rictus after being fried by the monster is one of the film's few laugh-inducing high points.)

While many cheap sci-fi films of this kind start out with a lot of talky, boring scenes and eventually get interesting as the monster makes more frequent appearances, MONSTER A-GO GO chooses to stick with being talky and boring for its entire running time.  Just about the only sequence with any "pep" is a party scene featuring 20-something teens doing the Twist.  Rebane himself plays a jealous boyfriend who drags his girlfriend away from the party and stops the car on a deserted road for a little necking, where they encounter you-know-who.

The monster, played by eight-foot-tall vaudeville performer Henry Hite, is so rarely seen that we begin to wonder why more footage of him wasn't used, including some shots of him attacking Rebane's character which appear in the trailer but not in the film. There are a few closeups of Hite in his dried-oatmeal monster makeup and glimpses of him stalking around, but for the most part we get either POV shots, nocturnal attacks in which we can't see anything, or lengthy views of the monster's silver-booted feet as he staggers around.

The interminable dialogue scenes which are peppered with scattered glimpses of the monster (or, more often, his feet) finally give way to a series of lengthy night shots with military and civil defense personnel standing around in downtown Chicago.  "The long wait began," Lewis tells us, and boy, he's not kidding.  I've had more excitement reading fishing magazines in my doctor's office.  Finally, two of the main characters get outfitted in hazmat suits and follow their geiger-counter readings into the sewer, where astronaut Douglas (inexplicably lacking his monster makeup here) has sought refuge.

With only minutes left in the movie, we're sure that something is finally about to happen.  But guess what?  It doesn't.  As Rebane tells us in the commentary, he wasn't able to film the planned ending, so the story just runs out of gas with some head-scratching narration by Lewis that tries to explain why we've just spent 70 minutes in this cinematic sensory-deprivation tank waiting for a climax that's D.O.A.  There isn't even anything for bad-movie fans to laugh at. 

As it turns out, Rebane ran out of money and had to turn the troubled production (sans ending) over to H.G. Lewis to try and complete.  Lewis filmed a few extra scenes and then cut Rebane's footage together into something that bore just enough resemblance to an actual movie so that he could stick it onto the bottom half of a double bill and run it in drive-ins down South (with ads that openly mock it).  Rebane tells us that he was less than thrilled by the final result, originally titled TERROR! AT HALF DAY and intended as a serious sci-fi thriller.  But it's hard to imagine anyone being able to turn this woodenly-acted and profoundly inept monstrosity into a passably good film. 

For those hardy fans of MONSTER A-GO GO, Synergy Entertainment's "Special Collector's Edition" DVD is definitely worth seeking out.  Aside from the movie, which probably looks about as good here as you're ever going to see it (in full-screen with mono sound), the disc contains two amusing short films by Rebane, "Dance Craze" and "Twist Craze", which come as a refreshingly fun and colorful diversion.  (The three young flappers who do a mad Charleston in "Dance Craze" are awesome.) 

There's also a trailer, a stills gallery, a rather dry director's commentary, and a recent eight-minute interview with Rebane in which he states, when asked about the film's lingering popularity:  "I keep asking myself, 'Why do they want to see sh** like this?'"  Included in the DVD box is a 24-page booklet featuring an in-depth article from "Scary Monsters" magazine, which is cool except that the print is almost impossibly small to read.

The oft-heard term "so bad it's good" is most aptly applied when the filmmakers aimed for something worthwhile and failed miserably.  Here, the combination of a young Bill Rebane's good intentions being thwarted by budget and union problems, his stunning lack of talent as a director and writer, and the fact that his meager footage was placed into the hands of a seemingly indifferent Lewis for completion, makes for a viewing experience so utterly bland it's almost depressing.  It makes one yearn for the coherence and technical prowess of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.  It even makes something as profoundly drab as THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS seem like an Indiana Jones picture by comparison.  If there's any sort of odd fascination to be had from viewing MONSTER A-GO GO, it would be from how resolutely, almost nightmarishly unentertaining it is. 

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