Friday, June 29, 2018

DIONYSUS IN '69 (1970)

I was quite happy to find this oddity from early in Brian DePalma's career, a film of a performance of an avant-garde play performed in New York City by an experimental troupe led by Richard Schechner. My impressionable 12-year-old self was fascinated with the press coverage of the avant-garde art scene in the 60s, and I have a vivid memory of reading about this play in magazines like Life. It looked less like a play and more like a "happening," one of those free-form art events, often including audience participation, that were all the rage in the hippie era. The play is performed more or less in the round, with the audience sitting on the floor and on scaffolding that surrounds the primary performance space. The text, such as it is, is drawn from The Bacchae by Euripides, and the best way to summarize what happens in this play is to go to the source. Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, has come to town and his female followers have whipped themselves into a frenzy of religious ecstasy, much to his pleasure. But the young king Pentheus is opposed to this worship (and religion in general) and wants to suppress it. The bulk of the dialogue is a debate between the god (William Finley) and the king (William Shephard), though most of the play's action consists of the undifferentiated cast members, dressed in skimpy clothes, writhing and spinning and chanting, and twice engaging in orgies in which clothes are taken off completely.

I don't mean to suggest that this comes off as an unplanned free-for-all; clearly, there is a script, though it often departs wildly from Euripides' text. Frequently, the actor playing Dionysus refers to himself by his real name, and also calls the actor playing Pentheus by his name.  The movement of the cast, while it sometimes looks—and might be—improvised, is clearly well-choreographed, though audience participation is encouraged now and then—I think a handful even join in on the orgies. Even though I read The Bacchae years ago, I got lost in this play's twisted narrative, but there's usually something interesting to watch. DePalma presents the entire play in split-screen, which in the beginning works well, as we see the same action from two different perspectives (and sometimes we see the audience reaction), but I grew tired of this style and longed to see what the show looked like to the audience, as we rarely get a full length shot of the entire performance space. There is some homoerotic content that may have seemed daring in the time—in addition to Dionysus kissing Pentheus, he also gives Pentheus instructions on how to give him a blowjob (ultimately done offstage). At about 90 minutes, it felt too long to me—the writhing of the cast and the speechifying by Dionysus get repetitious—but as a historical record, it's fascinating. The play was performed in 1968, but the title comes from the final scenes in which Dionysus posits running for office in '69. [YouTube]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


William Magee (Gene Raymond) is an author who has bet a friend that he can whack out a novel in 24 hours. To accomplish this, he gets a key, supposedly the only key, to Baldpate Inn, a resort hotel closed for the winter where he can get peace and quiet to write. However, that night he is anything but lonely as several other folks with keys to the inn show up, including a gangster, a hermit, a professor, and an actress who is in hiding as part of a publicity stunt. There are secret passages, a safe everyone wants into, an insurance scam and (maybe or maybe not) a murder. This is in some respects a classic "old dark house" tale, based on a popular 1913 play George M. Cohan, itself based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers, the creator of Charlie Chan. In addition to three classic-era film versions (1929, 1935, 1947), there were two silent films and a 70s horror film version called HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, notable mostly for its stars: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine (and Desi Arnaz Jr. who actually isn't bad).

You may think if you've seen one, you've seen them all, but not so. In the original play, there is a trick ending which is not used in the 1935 version, but is used in the 1929 film. Also, the three versions offer various running times which may affect your enjoyment of the movie. I would imagine that the stage version played out with the energy of a farce, but the pace of this version, at 80 minutes, is a little too leisurely despite the various entanglements that crop up constantly. The 1947 film is only an hour but feels as long as the '35 film. However, I liked Philip Terry as the writer, giving him the edge over Raymond. The 1929 film is my least favorite due to the presence of the wooden Richard Dix in the lead. The 1935 version has the added appeal of an excellent supporting cast including Eric Blore, Henry Travers, Grant Mitchell, Emma Dunn and Walter Brennan. There is a nice DVD set from Warner Archive with all three versions, and they're all worth watching for fans of the genre, though I'm not sure I'd suggest a binge-watching event. Pictured are Raymond and Travers. [DVD]

Monday, June 25, 2018

HEATWAVE! (1974)

It's Los Angeles in the 1970s, it's summer, and it's 112 degrees—and it's been that way for days. Young husband Ben Murphy wakes up in the morning, already sweaty and uncomfortable, to discover the bedroom air conditioning unit has stopped working. While he showers, his pregnant wife (Bonnie Bedelia) finds that the tap water has turned brown. At work, just as Murphy's boss is about to give him a promotion, the entire office is ordered to shut down for the duration of the heat wave to save resources. Bedelia's folks have offered them the use of their mountain cabin to escape the heat; Murphy resents his in-laws for making him feel inadequate but soon they feel they have no other choice. On the way up, Murphy stops to help a man attend to his heat-stricken wife, but the man winds up stealing Murphy's car so the two endure a long, sweltering hike only to discover that 1) the heat is just as bad up in the mountains, and 2) a fire has knocked out all the power. Not to mention that their cabin already has occupants: a young couple who found the back door unlocked. What could happen next? Yes, Bedelia, only seven months pregntant, goes into labor.

On the surface, this seems like a typical 70s disaster movie, albeit on a small scale since it was made for television. Modern day viewers would expect scenes of panic verging on the apocalyptic and at least a cursory attempt to blame the heat on climate change. But given the TV movie genre conventions, the era, and the low budget, what we get is basically a domestic melodrama with the climate phenomenon settling into the background, as issues such as career advancement and family tensions become the focus. To be clear, we're never allowed to forget the heat, mostly because of the visual representation of sweat—on Murphy's yellow t-shirt, in Bedelia's mussed-up hair, and on everyone's face. But the last half-hour is all about Bedelia's baby—once she delivers him, prematurely, the doctor (Lew Ayres) says that he needs an incubator to survive, but of course, there is no incubator and no power, so the climax is centered on whether or not Murphy, having already been symbolically emasculated a couple of times, can "man up" and save the child. [Spoiler: he can, with a little help from others. Also, the final shot is of rain falling, apparently signaling the end of the heat, with no attempt made at any time to explain why this has happened.] Murphy and Bedelia are very good, and David Huddleston is fine as a beer salesman who seems to befriend the couple but who then acts selfishly later before finally, with no apparent motivation, coming to their aid. Though the print on YouTube isn't great, I stuck with it because I like Murphy (pictured above in full sweat); unless you are already a fan of 70s TV-movies, you can probably skip it. [YouTube]

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

MACABRE (1958)

In the small town of Thornton, old man Wetherby has been going through a rough patch. His daughter Alice, who once dated police chief Jim Tyloe, married town doctor Rod Barrett, but she died giving birth and many of the townsfolk, including Tyloe, blame Rod who was dallying with Sylvia, his neighbor and mistress, at the time. Now Wetherby's other daughter Nancy, blind but something of a wild child, married to Tyloe but pregnant (perhaps by her handsome chauffeur Nick), has died, and again aspersions have been cast on Dr. Rod. Just hours before the scheduled midnight funeral of Nancy, the local undertaker reports that a child-sized coffin was stolen from his parlor. Meanwhile, at Rod's house, his nurse Polly takes a call that causes her to collapse: a man said that he has taken Rod's young daughter Marge, has buried her alive, and that Rod has just a few hours to find her before she will die. The suspects are plentiful since so many townsfolk dislike the doctor (indeed, as Polly notes, he barely has any patients anymore). But the focus seems to be on Polly, who, in unrequited love with him, is having a hard time dealing with the fact that he plans to marry Sylvia. But what about Sylvia? Or the cop? Could Wetherby himself have snapped? Even Rod's kindly housekeeper seems suspicious. Rod and Polly head out into the night, racing against time—and butting up against the midnight funeral—to find the little girl.

William Castle sold this film as being so shocking that is was likely to cause death by fright. But actually, it's not really a horror movie, though it's dressed up like one. It's a slightly ghoulish mystery with a child-in-menace theme, though that aspect is handled rather badly; since we never see the missing girl until the very end, we don't identify with her and it's difficult to be concerned about her. The movie is almost real-time, all taking place on the night of the midnight funeral (a cool and creepy idea which is not handled as effectively as it could be). Backstory is filled in with some awkward flashbacks, and the blind daughter, the most interesting character (well played by Christine White), is not developed much at all. The acting is either bland (William Prince as the doctor) or over-the-top (Jacqueline Scott as Polly). I have a hard time watching Jim Backus in serious roles, because my memories of Mr. Magoo and Thurston Howell III intrude, but he's fine as the police chief, and Ellen Corby—best known as Grandma Walton—is OK as the housekeeper. The uncredited Robert Colbert is nice eye candy as the chauffeur (pictured with White). The mystery is interesting and the outcome not immediately predictable, so it's worth watching, but don’t expect a full-blooded horror movie. [TCM]

Monday, June 18, 2018


On an uncharted African escarpment (basically a big cliff), Tarzan and Jane, with their adopted son Boy, live in isolated bliss until one day when they see a plane overhead which spooks the jungle animals but excites young Boy who has never seen one before. On the plane is big game hunter Buck Rand (Charles Bickford), hunting lions to take back for Col. Sergeant's circus in the States.  With Rand are his older assistant Manchester Montford (Chill Wills) and easy-going pilot Jimmy Shields (Paul Kelly). The plane lands and as Buck starts to make his hunting plans, Tarzan swings in, busts up Buck's rifle, and warns the men to get out by sunrise. But early the next morning, a curious Boy heads out with some elephants to see the plane up close. He meets the men and shows off his skills making the elephants perform tricks, and when a band of natives attack, Buck snatches Boy up and the group takes off for New York City, with Buck planning on passing Boy off as an orphan so he can sell him to the circus as a performer, though Jimmy is dead set against the idea. When Tarzan and Jane realize what's happened, they (with Cheetah) are able to track Buck down to New York to get Boy back, though first they have to buy big city clothes, and Tarzan has to learn to tamp down his natural aggressiveness in order to deal with the law. Jimmy helps Tarzan get a lead on Boy's whereabouts, and soon they wind up in a courtroom to argue that are Boy's legal guardians. But Tarzan gets violent, is put in custody, and escapes, swinging through the skyscrapers and leading the police on a chase to the Brooklyn Bridge. But it's back the circus where the real action happens, as elephants stampede to save Boy.

This is the last of the MGM Tarzan movies (the rights went to RKO for the next decade) and one of the last ones before Weissmuller went to seed. Here, he's definitely packed on some weight but he still gives it the old college try, though obviously the vine swinging scenes are either done by doubles or borrowed from earlier movies. It's fun to see Tarzan stuffed into a business suit, and it's equally fun to see him bust loose near the end. Despite the title, less than half of the movie takes place in the Big Apple, but the jungle scenes are nicely done; Johnny Sheffield as Boy is more animated than he would be a few years later as the teenage Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Bickford, Kelly, and Wills constitute a much stronger supporting cast than most of the later Tarzan films would muster up. This was O’Sullivan's last time around as Jane and she gets a nice scene in which she muses to Tarzan about the modern world, noting that the city is "a stone jungle" where"men's minds are more tangled that the worst underbrush in the jungle," and saying, "It would break my heart to see your strength and courage caught in the quicksand of civilization." Paul Kelly is especially good as the nice-guy pilot. There's a little too much (actually, for my taste, a lot too much) clowning around with Cheetah the chimp, but I must admit he's a well-trained little guy. One scene has Cheetah making noises on the phone with a confused African-American janitor (Mantan Moreland)—it sounds cringe-worthy, but Moreland, who never gets enough credit for making the most of his often demeaning roles, makes it work. [TCM]

Friday, June 15, 2018


We see a woman driving home, parking in her garage, and getting out of her car only to be attacked by a person in what looked to me like an elaborate Mexican wrestler mask. He stabs her repeatedly off-camera, though in a nice touch, we see her blood spatter the side of her white Mustang. We have just witnessed one in a series of "mutilation murders," as the newspapers call them, and they are the handiwork of disgraced space scientist Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine) and his squint-eyed, mute, hunchback assistant Franchot. Sort of. Much in this movie is unclear. DeMarco has been creating artificial "Astromen" who, I think, can have thoughts and communications from others implanted in their heads through a small computer chip, or something, and sent off on outer space missions. The murders seem to be the work of DeMarco's first Astroman who unfortunately has a defective brain—though why he can't be controlled from afar is never made clear. DeMarco's former associate, Dr. Petrovich, is assisting CIA agent Holman (Wendell Corey) in figuring out what's going on, as are the strangely accented Eric (Tom Pace) and the handsome blond Chuck (Joseph Hoover). But exotic female spy Satana (Tura Satana, pictured at right) and her henchman Juan are also looking for DeMarco for the nefarious purposes of a foreign power, and they won't hesitate to kill anyone in their way.

That summary makes this movie sound almost coherent, but it's not. In my movie-watching notes, I wrote, "About an hour in, the narrative falls apart and you just quit caring." But you don't stop watching, because this train-wreck of a movie has an Ed Wood/bad movie appeal. It's directed by the notorious Ted V. Mikels who, if nothing else, had a knack for titles; other films of his include Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, The Corpse Grinders, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, and The Worm Eaters. Production and acting levels are perhaps a notch above Ed Wood's, though not by much. The sets look like they were put together in a couple of hours and the Astro-Zombies (never actually called that in the movie) are clearly just wearing masks, though they are sort of scary looking. Chuck and Eric's idea of treating a female scientist to a nice time is to take her to a tiny strip club, lit only in red, while a topless dancer done up in body paint writhes monotonously for minutes on end. There's also a long tedious sequence showing poor Franchot draining blood out of a body. These are the highlights of the film.

John Carradine took a lot of low-rent parts later in his career, and usually, like Vincent Price, threw himself into the role with as much gusto as his aged self could muster, but here he's stuck mostly rattling off a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo to his assistant and doesn't get the opportunity to chew any scenery. Wendell Corey, at the end of a respectable career in supporting roles (the cop in Rear Window, the jilted boyfriend in Holiday Affair), can barely articulate his lines, whether because he was drinking or because he was just embarrassed, I don't know. William Bagdad as Franchot gets lots of close-ups as he listens to Carradine drone on but isn't given much to do except to drool menacingly over a skimpily-clad young woman strapped to a lab table—for what reason I was never sure. Tom Pace (Eric) has an odd accent, like he was Hispanic brought up in Brooklyn, but the actor is from Yugoslavia. Joseph Hoover (Chuck, pictured above) is good-looking—if you like blond, square-jawed guys—and knows it, and he gives one of the more normal performances here. Then there’s Tura Satana whom cult movie fans will know as the scary dominatrix from FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! She's not much of an actress, but she's a hell of a presence, even when she's just sitting in a room in a tight dress smoking a cigarette while she waits for her puny underlings to carry out her chores. This is definitely fun for a MST3K-style viewing, but you'll feel badly the next day. [IndieFlix]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


On Broadway ("the electric highway of happiness," we are told in a title card), actor John Woodford, for whom the theater is named, is starring in a play called The Snare; as he reaches behind his back to grab a candlestick to fend off an attacker, he drops dead on stage. When the cops arrive, a complicated offstage situation is brought to light: Mike, the stage manager, overheard a quarrel in the dressing room of leading lady Doris Terry (Laura La Plante) between Woodford and director Richard Quayle (John Boles). It turns out that she was not only dating both men, but also seeing fellow actor Harvey Carleton (Roy D'Arcy) as well.  When the coroner arrives, Woodford's body is nowhere to be found. No one is charged and the ensuing scandal makes Doris break things off with all her admirers and head to Europe, and the Bunce brothers, who own the theater, close it down. Five years later, producer Arthur McHugh (Montagu Love), a close friend of Woodford's, reopens the theater and gets the original cast and crew of The Snare together to perform it again, apparently hoping to solve the cold case. Carleton takes Woodford's role, and flirtatious newcomer Evelynda Hendon joins the cast. Even the Bunces show up. The mood in the old dark theater is spooky, and tension builds when notes begin appearing like, "Let the dead sleep!" Carleton's script contains a scrawled message, "I warn you, death plays this part!" Stage manager Mike reports seeing Woodford's ghost, and we see a short caped figure creeping about the place. Will this recreation reveal the killer, or lead to more deaths?

This late-period silent film is a nice little gem, directed with wit and style by Paul Leni, known more for his similarly flashy THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927). The acting belongs mostly to the school of exaggerated facial expressions, though Montagu Love as McHugh comes off as surprisingly subtle and modern in his acting style. Boles is also good—he is best known now as Dr. Frankenstein's friend in the Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN. The mystery is a bit muddled, and the motive behind the murder isn't given a very logical explanation. But this is definitely one to watch for visual style: roaming camerawork and unusual camera angles crop up with frequency; there are interesting montages, and spooky shots in the dark. One of my favorite moments is of elderly actress Barbara (Carrie Daumery, pictured, appearing like a ghost, shrouded in cobwebs. This is essentially an old-dark-house thriller set in a theater, so we get secret passages and grasping hands and, as noted above, someone sneaking around in disguise. Though the theater set is fairly plain, the exterior makes it look like the monstrous Moloch figure in METROPOLIS. If you have any tolerance for silent films and like spooky thrillers, you’ll love this. Apparently Universal restored this for a silent film festival in 2016, but they have not yet released it on DVD; my copy, from Grapevine Video, is well-worn and a little splicy, and may be missing a few chunks of narrative, but it's quite watchable. [DVD]

Monday, June 11, 2018


Richard Lancing (aka the Earl of Greystoke), his wife and their toddler son are flying over Africa in a small plane, observing wildlife, when the plane loses altitude and the radio goes dead. They crash in the jungle, on the escarpment on which Tarzan and Jane make their home, and only the baby is left alive. Tarzan finds the boy and he and Jane raise him as their own. Tarzan wants to call him Elephant, but settles for Boy. We watch as Boy grows up, gets pretty good at vine swinging and letting loose with his own high-pitched version of Tarzan's jungle yell, and generally learns the ways of nature. Five years later, a group consisting of Lancing's cousin (Ian Hunter), his wife (Frieda Inescourt), the Earl's uncle (Henry Stephenson), and their guide (Henry Wilcoxon) arrive on the escarpment looking for the lost boy, or preferably, proof that the boy is dead so Hunter can legally get his hands on an inheritance. Tarzan and Jane take them to the wreckage but are reluctant to admit that their Boy is the missing heir, though eventually Stephenson figures it out. Over the uncle's objections, Hunter and Inescourt decide to take the lad against his will back to England where they figure they'll be able to control the money and estate as he grows up. At first, Jane sadly agrees to the plan but when Tarzan rebels, she traps him in a deep grotto and goes off to deliver Boy. But between an attack by a cannibal tribe and Jane's realization that Boy's best interests will not be served, plans go awry. Can Tarzan get free in time to help out? Well, yeah, of course. And with some help from Cheetah and some marauding elephants (which are de rigueur in the 30s Tarzan movies) the bad guys get their comeuppance and the Tarzan family remains intact.

The fourth of the MGM/Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, this was originally going to be the swan song for Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane; she wanted out of the series so she was killed off by a cannibal's spear, but preview audiences reacted so badly that her final scenes were reshot to allow her to recover and O'Sullivan was given a raise as incentive to continue. Adding 8-year-old Johnny Sheffield helped to keep things fresh. He's a bundle of energy and his acting is better than Weissmuller's. A scene showing Boy and Tarzan frolicking underwater is delightful and a nice break from the usual re-used stock footage that wound up in many of the Tarzan movies river scenes. I especially liked Boy's jungle yell, which I assume was Weissmuller's yell sped up to a higher pitch. The supporting roles in the 30s movies were generally from the first rank of character actors, and they are all quite good here, especially Stephenson as the uncle who regrets his role in the little family melodrama. Worth watching, especially as the series began a nose dive in quality in the next few years. [TCM]

Friday, June 08, 2018


Rita and her brother Eric arrive in Africa in search of their cousin Jane (last heard from living on an isolated escarpment) whose signature is needed on some paperwork so that Rita and Eric can get their share of an inheritance. Their main motivation, however, is to talk Jane into coming home with them. What they don't know but we do is that Jane is happily living the carefree jungle life up in an elaborate treehouse with her mate Tarzan and his pet chimp Cheetah. Captain Fry agrees to lead their expedition, mostly because he hopes to capture the legendary great white ape, which we figure out is Tarzan. Natives think the escarpment is "juju" (i.e., a place with bad vibes) so it's difficult to find men who will stay with them, especially after a nasty local tribe stages an attack. Finally, 20 minutes into the movie, Tarzan appears, giving forth with his famous yell and saving the expedition from the tribe. Jane agrees to go back to England temporarily which makes Tarzan sad and sullen—though he hits it off with Rawlins, the comic relief associate of Fry's. Meanwhile, Fry plots to capture Tarzan to take him back to civilization. Jungle adventures ensue.

This third installment in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan series was originally so violent that preview audiences reacted negatively, so a sequence involving killer bats was removed and other scenes reshot to reduce violence, though a couple of surprisingly graphic deaths remain. Otherwise, after two fairly interesting movies (TARZAN THE APE MAN and TARZAN AND HIS MATE), this begins the series’ slide into stereotyped situations and repetitive plot lines: sinister white hunters, menacing native tribes, bumbling sidekicks, chimp antics, elephant stampedes, alligator fights, and stock footage standing in for African locations. It retains a bit of a rough edge which would eventually be sanded away, and is generally well paced. Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan (as Jane) work well together, and the supporting cast is fine, particularly William Henry as Eric and Herbert Mundin (a very familiar 1930s face) as Rawlins. If you've seen any of the later Tarzans, this is not required viewing, but it's painless. [TCM]

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SWING (1938)

Directed by Oscar Micheaux, a groundbreaking African-American indie director, this "race film," a movie with an all-black cast, begins in Birmingham as we see an alarm clock go off at 6 a.m. and Mandy reluctantly rising to go her job as a maid to a white family. Her husband Cornell, a self-styled dandy, comes strutting in from catting around all night and just wants to go to sleep. Meanwhile in another Birmingham home, Lem gets ready to go to work as his wife Eloise stays in bed with a headache. Lem, the jealous type, suspects her of cheating, and sure enough, we soon discover that Eloise and Cornell are having a fling. When Mandy tracks them down at a nightclub, she starts tearing the clothes off him and gets into fisticuffs with Eloise. Months later, Mandy, having left her husband, is living in Harlem where she has met up with Lena, an old Birmingham friend. Mandy was helpful to Lena back then, so Lena is determined to help Mandy, getting her a job as a wardrobe mistress for a show being put on by producer Ted Gregory, Lena's boss. But, surprise, the star of the show is none other than Eloise, using the name Cora Smith, and being a general pain in the ass to everyone. Lem is around too, and eventually Cornell shows up, broke and miserable. In a twist right out of 42ND STREET, a drunken Eloise breaks her leg and Lena tries to talk Ted into using Mandy to save the show at the last minute.

These race films, which got only limited releases in areas with good-sized African American audiences, had lower budgets even than the mainstream Poverty Row B-movies of the era, so they come off as cheap in most aspects, such as sets, costumes, music and acting, but most of them have an appealing scrappiness that keeps you watching. This one mixes melodrama, comedy and music, and the acting, at least by the women, is a notch above what you might expect. Cora Green is OK in the lead; she comes off a little too goody-goody early on but toughens up later—at one point, she exclaims, "My name is Mandy Jenkins and I can whip any hussy that stands on two feet!" Better is Hazel Diaz as Eloise, the bitch you love to hate. Both women only made a couple of movies and apparently were better known as club singers; Green does a nice rendition of "Bei Mir Bist du Schon." There's also a good tap number called "I Got Rhythm, Boy." There are also decent performances from Dorothy Van Engle as Lena and Carmen Newsome (pictured) as Ted. Stereotypes are mostly confined to the no-good Cornell, but unfortunately we discover at the very end that the name of the show that's opening is "Ah Lub's Dat Man." [TCM]

Friday, June 01, 2018


Scientists in the United States and England have discovered a mysterious thirteenth moon of Jupiter, which has apparently been obscured by cosmic fog or something until now. Their observations indicate it has an earth-like atmosphere, so a band of five guys take off in a rocketship from England to the new moon. They don't wear spacesuits, they seem to have plenty of gravity on their ship, and they even have their electric razors and Chesterfield cigarettes handy when they get bored taking notes about the flight. They dodge a meteor shower, and when they approach the moon, a voice speaking English comes over the radio asking them about their mission. Upon landing, they see a lovely young woman (Susan Shaw) in a toga menaced by a monster in a black turtleneck. Warning shots from their revolvers stop the assault, and two of the crew (Anthony Dexter and Paul Carpenter) wind up in what looks like a ancient Greek building populated by a bevy of toga-clad young women and one older man (Owen Berry). They call their community New Atlantis; they claim to be descendents of the survivors of the sinking of Atlantis. (How they got from the earth to this moon is a question never answered, not even asked!) The women, wearing tight tops and short skirts, perform a ritual dance to the music of Borodin (even if you don't know that name, you might recognize the music as "Strangers in Paradise," a Borodin melody turned into a show tune from the 50s musical Kismet), then they drug the men and seduce them in their sleep—at least that's what appears to happen. The other three astronauts galumph about looking for the missing two; meanwhile, Berry, in gratitude for the men saving Shaw, his daughter, promises her to Dexter. The two have been flirting, but the other Maidens, believing their god is angry over the situation, choose her to be a fire sacrifice—hence, I guess, the title of the movie.

There is very little positive to say about this. Though the budget is certainly far more than Ed Wood ever had to work with, the director, Cy Roth, is utterly awful at directing actors or shooting effective action scenes. Even the dancing maidens look awkward (not to mention bored). Had more attention been paid to the sets and costumes, this might have at least been fun to look at, like the similar CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE. The acting is dreadful, which I suspect says more about the director than the actors. Rodney Diak, as the youngest of the astronauts, is at least good looking and proves diverting for a minute or two. The opening scenes have dreadful echoing sound, and the peak of bad movie enjoyment is in the first few minutes when Dexter and Carpenter are having a discussion in a British observatory which is interrupted by a secretary in tight clothes and glasses—markers that she is a repressed lioness in the sack—who takes dictation for a minute, then leaves with the camera following her every move. This scene has no motivation except for a cheap joke (one of the men expresses the hope that they'll find a being like that near Jupiter) or because the director promised his girlfriend a walk-on part. This is pretty much as bad and boring as its reputation would have it. Watch it at your own risk. [Amazon Prime]