Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Cramps Guide to Teenage Monster Movies

"God Monster" by Slim Gil:
The Cramps Guide to Teenage Monster Movies

Paul Rambali, NME, 25 July 1981

"Movies nowadays are all high technology and no brains, no imagination. What do you call it when you do something real good and you didn't expect it? No spontaneity... Not enough instinct. All those movies all look the same. There's no more fuzzy things!" – Lux Interior

THE CRAMPS HAVE a song called 'I Was A Teenage WereWolf'. Back in the days when teenagers and werewolves were more or less synonymous terrors that caused palpable tremors in the minds of God-fearing citizens, somebody had the bright idea of combining the two in a film called I Was A Teenage WereWolf. Mixing liberal sympathies with outright shock, it urged that one unhappy juvenile's delinquency was simply the result of an incipient case of Homo Lupus. The film is a piece of sentimental fiction but the Cramps song is autobiographical fact. Lux Interior was a teenage pariah. And his teeth were soo loooong...But they told him it was 'growing pains'. And then there was a film called The Fly, about a scientist who inadvertently transmutates into a human fly. It caused quite a scare in 1958. That was long before The Cramps wrote a song called 'Human Fly', which is about being a human fly, who cries 96 tears with his 96 eyes. 

"Some Guy had just climbed the World Trade Tower and the headline in The Post that day was: HUMAN FLY CLIMBS TOWER. I was out walking along the street at about six in the morning. It felt like Night Of The Living Dead the way all of the people were wandering around. Somebody had jumped off the roof of the building next to ours and they were scrapping him off the sidewalk. All of that made me go home and write the song..."

"People sometimes say our songs are about horror movies but none of them is. 'I Was A Teenage WereWolf' has nothing to do with the film of the same name. That song is absolutely true. I wrote a song called 'Man With The X-Ray Eyes' once after seeing Man With The X-ray Eyes on mushrooms, but we never did it." – Lux Interior*

ONE OF THE things I like about The Cramps is the imagery on which they feed. A midnight snack in the twilight zone of American culture. The Cramps pick their way through the discarded junk of another generation – the garage records and the B movies – like savages scavenging in old ruins where the gold has all been looted and all that's left are the totems. I asked the members of the Cramps to choose some of their favourite films. Most of these, it turns out, are horror films. Some are lurid teenage exposes. None of them is famous, though some are infamous. All of them are raw, heedless attempts to rattle an audience somehow. It may seem like a morbid selection, but the Cramps aren't morbid people. No more so than the millions of people who regularly go to see - and are amused as much as shocked by such films as Friday The 13th. Oddly enough, you need a sense of humour to really enjoy horror films. Or at any rate a sense of the absurd. I like to think that one day The Cramps will connect with all those millions of people. Their music isn't just the soundtrack to a horror movie. It is a horror movie. A horror movie without a budget, which is often the best kind.

IVY RORSCHACH: I like Peter Lorre, especially in M, but my favourite is Barbara Steele, because she doesn't have to do anything. She just stares. She's got a great aura, so breathtaking. She's made tons of horror films, although I think Black Sunday was the best. She's just incredible because she looks like a vampire anyway. She's got theses really weird teeth, and she always plays that kind of role. I'll watch the whole of The Pit And The Pendulum just to see her for five minutes. And it's just the way she looks, it's not make-up or anything...

KID CONGO: I like James Dean, an obvious choice. I like Vincent Price...Let's see...I like all those cheesy blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Mamie Van Doren I like a lot!

NICK KNOX: I like those blonde actresses too. And I like Clint Eastwood because he's so cool. The way he handles a gun: "I got five bullets in this…Do you feel lucky?". The way he kills all the bad and the ugly. That's what I want to do, kill all the bad and the ugly.

LUX INTERIOR: I always have an impossible time picking a favourite because I don't like actors or actresses too much. I like things that get completed without any stars or things like that...

Note: Dates and production details have been given where possible, but some of these films were doomed to obscurity. The only remaining copies are probably rotting away in the store rooms of Southern drive-ins where they once got a week-long feature run before making way for a Budd Boetticher western or a re-run of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers.

Mother's Day (1980)
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Starring Nancy Hendrickson and Deborah Luce

KID: It's one of the new wave of cheap horror films that are making the rounds in America. It's sort of like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but more up-to-date. It's about this mother and her two sons, Ike and Adlai. There's these three college buddy girls who go on a fraternity hike. They're heading off into the mountains and all the townspeople are saying: "oh... You don't wanna go up there. It's not safe!" and so on, and of course they ignore them, as stupid college girls would do, and of course Ike and Adlai get hold of them and terrorise them. Ike and Adlai have the best house in the world. I would die to live in this house. It's completely covered in graffiti, inside and out. Great words like 'Bread' and 'Milk'... all this really good stuff on the walls. They eat their food out of garbage pails – dog food and rice crispies and stuff. It's too cheap for anybody to put their name to it, but I think it was made in New Jersey. Anyway, I haven't got to the good part yet. One of the girls gets killed, and then the other girls get their own back. They get Ike and put Draino down his throat and then smash his head through the TV set, and then Adlai gets an axe in the crotch. It all looks like a home movie, and the dialogue is great, so funny.

IVY: It's called Mother's Day because the two guys are both murderous assholes but they're absolutely terrified of their mother. All through the film the mother is saying: "Don't go out in the woods, boys, because Queenie's out there! "Queenie's supposed to be some sort of bogeywoman, but the two guys think there's no such things as a bogeywoman. Then after the girls have killed the family and you think it's all over, this thing called Queenie arrives, and that's the end of the film. There was a real epidemic of these horror movies just made by amateurs. None of them ever gets a feature run. They get shown in bills of three movies and it only costs two dollars to get in. A lot of them are just miserable but that was a good one.

Ship of Zombies (1972)

LUX: That's a really great one, though it would probably be pretty hard to see. It just consists of these people that are shipwrecked out in this boat for some reason; they're in this boat and they come across a mist-shrouded ship, so they get on board. Most of them go below deck and then one by one the girls come on deck in bikinis and these Zombies come out of the hold and chase them. They chase the first one for almost 15 minutes, and the whole time she's screaming at the top of her lungs and cutting herself as she runs into things. By the time they finally catch up with her she's covered in blood from head to toe from continually running into things. The Zombies are real wild too. And it’s all human being noises backwards! And one after another they get killed off. Nothing else happens. It goes on for an hour and a half. I think it was made in the early '70s. In LA they show a lot of these Mexican and Philipino movies of which maybe only ten prints were ever made. These sick LA TV stations buy them and show them. LA is much better than New York was for horror movies. New York has this standard thing of showing only the kitsch favourites. LA gets the real raw junk!

Death Race 2000 (1975)
Directed by Paul Bartel
Starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone

NICK: It's a sports movie. The Death Race is the national sport of America in 1999. It's a race from New York to the West Coast and you score points by running people over. It's a real neat movie because they race around in these souped-up cars and some of them have guns that come out and some of them have daggers and there's a cowboy who's got these two big long-horns on the bonnet that he stabs his points with. When they stab somebody or run someone over the blood is so crimson red, and it just gushes out of the wounds. If you like colour you'll like this. Stallone plays a driver called Machine Gun Joe Kelly. He should have got an Academy Award. At the start of the race he pulls up to the line and there are all these people in the stands with big white F's on their sweatshirts because Frankenstein is the top driver. Stallone pulls out a machine gun and starts shooting into the audience. That's my favourite movie. That's why I like to drive so much...

The Cool And The Crazy (1958)
Directed by William Witney
Starring Scott Marlowe, Gigi Perreau and Dick Bakalyan.

"A few weeks ago a Brooklyn school principal committed suicide because he could not suppress the rape and hoodlumism in his institution. The Cool And The Crazy is a badly written, sloppily edited, poorly directed, low-budget film that may well inspire more such tragedies." - The Hollywood Reporter.

Filmed on location in Kansas city, where Dick Bakalyan and another actor were arrested for their delinquent appearance. Bakalyan also made a film called Hot Car Girls that year, and Richard Staehling in an essay called 'The Truth About Teen Movies' calls him "one of the teen-flick greats".

IVY: It's kinda like a Reefer Madness of the '50s, where all these teenagers are whacked out on pot. All these cool and crazy '50s teenagers get high on pot and crack up their cars. There's dialogue like: "Oh, you don't know what it's like being hooked on the smoke!" The whole movie's in slang. It's ridiculous, Daddy-o!

The Devil On Wheels (1947)
(Lux carried a cassette of the sound track to this one around with him.)

LUX: Forget about all other stuff... 'Teenagers rack themselves up on the highway! It’s great! They all talk like Ed 'Kookie' Byrnes from 77 Sunset Strip. It's from 1947 and everything they say in it is rock'n'roll talk. It's all new language. Junior builds a hot rod and Dad says: Now don't race this. It's alright to build it but I don't want to catch you racing it." And the kid says: "Oh, I never would, Dad...the next thing you see is vroom! He's taking off at ninety miles an hour with his girlfriend next to him saying: "Come on, you chicken!" It's just the greatest; The kid's putting more and more carburettors on his hot rod. It goes on and on and all the time he's promising not to race. Towards the end of the film he hits a woman on the street and then he goes home and finds out his Mom was knocked down that day by a hit and run driver.

Hot Rods To Hell (1967)
Directed by John Brahm
Produced by Sam Katzman
(Legend has it that Sam Katzman coined the word 'Beatnik'. Other legends have it that he overheard one of his technicians using it and put it in a film pronto. In 1956 Katzman made four films. The titles: Rock Around The Clock, Earth vs The Flying Saucers, Rumble On The Docks, The WereWolf. What a legacy!)

KID: Hot Rods To Hell is about this gang of kids who terrorize a small town. There's this one scene where the guy's driving around in this convertible hot rod and his girlfriend's sitting on the ledge behind him, almost on his shoulders. She's got her hands in front of his face so he can't see and she's shouting: "Faster! Faster!" After that, how could you want to watch anything else?

Death In Small Doses (1957)
Starring Peter Graves and Chuck Connors
Directed by Joseph M. Newman

NICK: That's another real good one. It stars Chuck Connors who was The Rifleman. It's kinda like a documentary about truck drivers and speed. Y'know, the Bennie kind? And Chuck Connors is a beatnik truck driver who's on the road and on the go 24 hours a day. Every town he hits he just pops more pills and he's got a girl on each arm. His lings' real way out, like gonesville, Daddy-o! He ends up hallucinating and crashing his truck. It was made in 1957. I like it a lot.

Blood Feast (1963)
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

LUX: There are all these movies that were made by this guy named Herschell Gordon Lewis who owned a chain of drive-ins in the early '60s. He made them to show at his drive-ins. Blood Feast is about this weird guy who has an Egyptian temple in his basement where he sacrifices people, and Two Thousand Maniacs! It's real great. It's about a Southern town, and the first thing you see is a bunch of people putting up a detour sign at the crossroads. It turns out the whole town is full of people who came back from the grave after the Civil War. They were massacred by the Union soldiers and they came back from the grave after a hundred years looking for revenge. They lure all these vacationers into the town and get them to join in all these quaint backwoods sports like rolling down a hill in a barrel; except the barrel's lined with knives. Eventually they just return to their graves for another hundred years. That really is a great movie, and it still gets shown from time to time.

The Creeping Terror (1964)
Directed by Art J Nelson

LUX: The monster in that one is actually a rug; a rug over a car! it sort of looks like a turtle crossed with a giraffe. The head comes down and scoops people into the body. First of all it eats an entire hootenany, 40 kids out hootenanying in the woods. Then it eats an entire record hop. The first time it strikes there's a guy and a girl laying on a blanket. The girl's wearing a bikini and the guy's running his hands all over her. They see this rug coming with a car under it and the guy takes off and leaves the girl there screaming. And the girl's got high heels on too! A bikini and high heels! There's a censored version and an uncensored version the girl takes about five minutes to get eaten. It's so sick. It's the height of fashion, that movie. All the girls wear beehives and back-zip lurex pants.

IVY: Yeah, I had a pair of pants made that were inspired by that movie! And of course it's all jive talk because it's always teenagers that get snuffed by the monster. It goes to this place where there are all these teenagers making out in their cars and flips all the cars over. I'm not sure what happens in the end. I could never really follow it...

LUX: Like all good B movies it just kinda peters out. In the end it just gets boring. Instead of building to a climax, they run out of ideas and the action just disintegrates. But you can see that one. It's still around and it'll be a classic one day when people realise... Boy, it had the greatest fashions. The monster breaks through the wall of a gymnasium to eat the record hop – all these teenagers dancing – and what of course would happen at that moment? A fight breaks out! Amazing; It's probably a more true account of America in the early '60s than American Graffiti or any of that bullshit. It's the way it really was. Total insanity. A fight'll break out any minute – it wasn't all nice people and ponytails. It was the real fashions of the late-'50s and early '60s – incredibly sexy and tribal and outrageous!

IVY: It's all pointed bras, stilleto heels, skin-tight gold lame pants with a back-zip, ankle boots, ratty, beehive hair, and everybody twisting.

LUX: All the guys wore pants that looked like they were sewn on to them, and they'd never be able to take them off. The real hard-core hoods they were then; not punks, hoods! I grew up in a place outside of Akron, Ohio, and the only people that lived there were hillbillys that worked in the rubber factories. The dances that went on there and the clothes that people wore then, in the early '60s, were just the wildest, the absolute wildest! Beyond anything else. It was like a science fiction comic book, wild and bizarre and nothing to do with Pat Boone and all that stuff. Places away from the cultural centres, like northern California or the South or the Mid-west, is where it was the most extreme. Those were the places where people weren't afraid of doing something that wasn't in vogue or the new trend or whatever. I think that'll always be the case. The most crazy stuff, the most memorable stuff, will always go on away from the culture, away from the ballet and Broadway and things like that. I don't think that's really a good breeding ground for rock'n'roll or its abominations!

Paul Rambali, 1981
(via David Holleman)

UPDATE: Here are photocopies of 2 parts of the original article, the first part is missing...