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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


How To Make Out To A Monster Movie
By Will 'the Thrill" Viharo

In this 21st century post-drive-in pop cultural wasteland, where does a swingin’ couple of hell-bent hipsters go for that most old-fashioned yet timeless indulgence, that flimsy yet fun excuse to hold sweaty hands and seek solace in each others’ amorous arms, the Creature Double Feature? The answer is sadly simple: Nowhere. You stay home, because the coolest pad in town is probably the one you decorated yourself, properly equipped with the modern luxuries of the hedonistic homebody: a hi-fi stereo system, microwave, blender, cocktail bar, and of course, a VCR.

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in the environs of Oakland, CA, where I host cult movies in “Thrillville Theater” every week at The Parkway Speakeasy Theater, or unless your local drive-in not only still exists but actually shows flicks meant for this classic venue, you will have to resort to entertaining your date in your own private drive-in. But keep that vintage roadster in the garage where it belongs—you can now make out to these original drive-in monster movies from the comfort and safety of your own couch. Plus, the snack bar is only a few steps away, and ideally, there won’t be a line (except the one you’re using to score).

The following list of suggested Creature Double Features, along with the basic accoutrements and refreshments required for the successful indoor drive-in experience, includes vintage monster movies originally made for the drive-in back in its heyday, the ‘50s and ‘60s, that are currently available on video:


I Was A Teenage Werewolf with Invasion of the Saucer Men (both 1957, American International Pictures; available on RCA Columbia Home Video).

This twin-bill of teen terror was the one that started it all. In the mid-50s, theater operator James Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Sam Arkoff decided to put their talents and know-how together to form their own film distribution company. Their simple but brilliant scheme was to target the one demographic that had been ignored by mainstream marketing execs: teenagers. Television was taking its toll on box office receipts, and entire theater chains were folding fast. Nicholson and Arkoff hired enterprising upstarts like Roger Corman to make economic exploitation double bills that promised more thrills than a tiny TV screen could ever hope to offer. Nicholson was a genius for thinking up titles, and then all that was needed was a poster to go with it. For that they hired people like the great Al Kallis. Once the poster and title were sold to exhibitors, the rest was easy—just make the film. The fledgling company, originally called ARC (American Releasing Corporation), was re-dubbed American International Pictures in 1956. Already gaining ground with teenagers, who had plenty of money, passions and rubber(s) to burn, AIP scored its first major hit with the double feature I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Invasion of the Saucer Men. Each movie clocks in at around 75 minutes, since the two were made to be sold as part of a double bill, a package deal that excited exhibitors found extremely profitable.

Teenage Werewolf was groundbreaking in several respects: not only did it feature one of the most-parodied titles of all time, but it offered the big screen starring debut of Michael Landon, who went on to find fame and fortune on the Ponderosa and the Prairie. To me, it was downhill from here: Landon was the James Dean of lycanthropes. With the fast-paced, sensitive direction of Gene Fowler, Jr. (once an editor for Fritz Lang), and the moody photography of Joseph LaShelle (who won an Oscar for Laura), Teenage Werewolf was a unique, unprecedented hybrid of genres: a JD horror noir. Paul Dunlap’s score added just the right touch of melancholia, creating a hauntingly nostalgic portrait of savage youth, which the first teenage drive-in generation related to in record numbers. The co-feature, Invasion of the Saucer Men, was directed by B movie specialist Edward Cahn, with an appropriately spoofy/spooky score by Ronald Stein. This dark little tale of teenagers, hot rods, and outer space invaders is actually a sci-fi comedy with some cool atmospheric chills along the way. Frank Gorshin, a frequent AIP player, turns in a great comic performance a decade before his famous stint as “The Riddler” on Batman. The bulb-headed, cat eyed aliens were created by Paul Blaisdel, a former comic book/pulp artist hired by AIP to make some of their most memorable monsters, from the Saucer Men to The She Creature to the cucumber-shaped alien Beulah in It Conquered the World (see Indoor Drive-In Date #5). The Saucer Men were the obvious inspiration for the Martians in Mars Attacks, both the trading cards and Tim Burton’s terrific 1996 film.

SUGGESTED MENU: Teenage Werewolf is a perfect ’50s time capsule, and hamburgers, fries and shakes will help create a vintage malt shop atmosphere. The Saucer Men pose one seriously weird threat: Their claws are filled with alcohol! Their victims die from alcohol poisoning! Get loaded fast pounding shots of tequila every time the aliens stab Frank Gorshin!


The Blob (Paramount, 1958) with The Giant Claw (Columbia, 1957), both available from Goodtimes home video.

Steve McQueen has been posthumously crowned the King of Cool (of course, Dean Martin shares that throne). The Blob, McQueen’s feature film debut, did for monster movies what his big hit Bullitt (1967) did for cop movies by providing the genre with one unforgettable scene for the ages. Of course the latter has the famous San Francisco car chase. The Blob has that killer sequence where the titular menace attacks a movie theater full of screaming kids watching the great obscure nightmare noir Daughter of Horror (narrated by Ed McMahon!). Despite its campy approach, this is actually a very effective little classic, in color with a theme song by none other than Burt Bacharach. The Giant Claw, on the other hand, is flat-out one of the funniest movies ever made—even if that accomplishment is completely accidental. The sight of the screaming giant alien chicken is enough to put you in the hospital. Genre giants Mara Corday and Jeff Morrow (see more of both in Indoor Drive-In Date #6) had no idea what they were supposed to be afraid of while filming this classic turkey (or chicken…whatever), directed to react to an invisible terror that would be added in later, during post-production. At the screening, they found out, and to their ultimate mortification discovered the audience was screaming too—with laughter.

SUGGESTED MENU: Buffalo wings and Jello shots!


The Amazing Colossal Man (AIP, 1957), available from RCA Columbia home video, with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Allied Artists, 1958), available from Fox home video.

Drive-in director Bert I. Gordon’s initials are B.I.G, and he lived up to ‘em. He specialized in fright flicks about mutated giants, whether grasshoppers in Beginning of the End (1957) or a tarantula in Earth vs. the Spider (1958). In this absolute must-see, his most famous hit, B.I.G. brings us the atomic tale of Col. Glenn Manning, transformed after exposure to a radioactive blast into a bald, diaper-wearing, neurotic madman who grows to be 60 feet tall before taking a destructive stroll through Las Vegas (back when it was still a swinger’s paradise—I wish he’d go on a rampage now and destroy the Disneyesque desecration Vegas has become). The obvious co-feature is the female answer to the amazing Mr. Colossal, buxom beauty Allison Hayes in the camp cult masterpiece Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, also starring sultry Yvette Vickers, who unwisely tries to steal Big Mama’s man. Almost as funny as The Giant Claw, but also somewhat touching, too. Beware the giant rubber hand!

SUGGESTED MENU: BIG bowl of popcorn, BIG bag of chips, BIG bottle of soda, BIG case of booze. Surround yourselves with tiny toy cars, plastic soldiers, etc. Later in the evening, pretend you’re the stars of the evening’s film selections: strip down to your underwear and wrestle to see who comes out on top!


The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Universal, 1954), available from MCA home video, with The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959), available from Republic Pictures home video.

Rubber-suited monsters rule! Forget the cold, calculated CGI effects of today’s jaded junk—check out these two exotic examples of ancient aquatic humanoids on the rampage in a modern world gone mad! Jack Arnold directed the first (and second) in the famous Creature trilogy, and it was an immediate hit, securing Universal as the classic monster movie studio after their successful Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man and Invisible Man franchises from the‘30s and ’40s had been done to death. The Gill Man is the ’50s Monster Poster Boy—even Marilyn waxed poetic about Gill in The Seven Year Itch. He is also this fan’s all-time favorite monster. (And to me, the two sequels, Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, are equally essential, so feel free to switch the premiere installment with either of these worthy successors). Gill’s influence can still be felt, and a remake has again been announced. Yawn. The original can never be equaled. But I still love the Creature knock-offs that immediately followed, like The She Creature (AIP, 1956, currently not on video) and The Monster of Piedras Blancas, a low-budget re-working of the same basic premise, starring pin-up doll Jeanne Carmen as the object of the beast’s affections. This rubber suit is actually scarier than Gill’s! Word has it the real town of Piedras Blancas screens their dubious claim to fame once a year. You won’t have to wait or go that far.

SUGGESTED MENU: Seafood! Polynesian drinks like Mai Tai’s would also be a propos.


It Conquered the World (AIP, 1956), available from RCA Columbia home video, with Invaders from Mars (1953), available from Wade Williams home video.

Aliens from outer space taking over human forms in order to infiltrate our society was a big theme in the ’50s, often cited as an allegory for the era’s communist xenophobia. Everyone has seen the most famous example, Don Siegel’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Here are two that are just as subversive, with their own styles. Roger Corman proved he was already well on his way to achieving drive-in immortality when he gave us It Conquered the World, the cynical sci-fi cult classic featuring Paul Blaisdel’s cucumber-shaped mind-controlling Venusian, Beulah (aka, “Cuddles”). It Conquered co-starred a grave Peter Graves, screaming star Beverly Garland, spaghetti western icon Lee Van Cleef as the insane dupe, and really cool ’50s-era ranch-style houses. Set designer cum director Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars actually pre-dates Body Snatchers, and for many it’s the ultimate children’s nightmare, shot in gorgeous three-strip Technicolor and featuring many stunning, surreal images of a hostile alien takeover in an otherwise idyllic suburban world. In the end, of course, it’s revealed to have been a dream—or was it precognition?

SUGGESTED MENU: Cucumber salad, sandwiches with lots of pickles, veggies ‘n’ dip.


Tarantula (Universal, 1955) with This Island Earth (Universal, 1955), both available from MCA home video.

Universal Studios was the home of all the classic monsters of gothic yore, but in the ’50s, the masses were obsessed with atom-splitting experiments and the constant threat of a nuclear holocaust, the monsters were atomic-powered. Universal was just as successful and memorable in this “modern” era as in the fog-shrouded heyday of vampires, mummies and werewolves. Big Bugs were a big deal in the atomic ’50s, and many cite 1954’s classic giant ant thriller Them!, which started the trend, as the ultimate Big Bug movie. My favorite Big Bug movie, however, is Tarantula, Universal’s answer to Warner Brother’s ants. Not only does it have a scarier monster seen more often, with equally effective special effects, but it also has a sub-plot involving human mutations, genre faves Mara Corday and John Agar, and even Clint Eastwood in a cameo as a jet fighter pilot naplaming the titular arachnid! The bleak, haunting, mysterious desert setting was ubiquitous in‘50s sci fi - largely due to 1953’s It Came From Outer Space, another classic sci-fi film from Tarantula’s director Jack Arnold (see Indoor Drive-In Date #4). In the same year as Tarantula, Universal also released their all-time classic outer space extravaganza This Island Earth, recently parodied in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. Not that this flick really warrants satire—the beautiful three-strip Technicolor, the big-brained Metaluna insect-mutants, the otherworldly ambience and the square-jawed acting of Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason will wipe that smirk off your face. As a bonus, there’s Faith Domergue as the pretty ingenue. This film ranks right up there with Forbidden Planet as interstellar entertainment. Lounge lizard fact: Both Tarantula and This Island Earth feature unbilled musical cues scored by Henry Mancini!

SUGGESTED MENU: Anything small and squishy, like escargot, so you can feel you’re dominating the insect world rather than vice versa.


Angry Red Planet (1960) available from MGM home video, with The Atomic Submarine (1960), available from Image Home Entertainment.

The great things about drive-ins was that you could go anywhere while parked in your car, from outer space to the depths of the ocean. With this pair of B movie babies, you can do both in the same evening, parked on the same couch. Angry Red Planet was partly shot in a weird tinted process called Cinemagic, and you get to experience Mars as this pink psychedelic planet inhabited by strange creatures like a giant rabbit-bat-crab-spider monster (the film’s centerpiece)! When you’re not on Mars you’re in some alternate Earth world (meaning you can see it only in the movies) populated by hot babes and clean cut men, so it’s an all-around good time. The Atomic Submarine is a true oddity, combining a plot and props right out of the classic TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with the already-old monster from outer space bit, this time portrayed as a submerged giant one-eyed thingie that talks in a deep, serious voice like a math professor. Trust me, this is far more entertaining than over-bloated tripe like The Abyss, which this ambient little gem pre-dates by almost three decades.

SUGGESTED MENU: Spiked fruit punch, devilled eggs (or anything that looks like an alien cyclops).


Horror of Dracula (Hammer, 1958), available from Warner Brothers home video, with The Awful Dr. Orloff (1960), available on video from Image Entertainment.

The Europeans weren’t nearly as prudish as Americans when it came to sex (though they did edit out our violence)—at the drive-in in those days, if you didn’t see sex in your car, you wouldn’t see any at all. Unless, of course, you went to an imported horror movie. Hammer Studios of England re-invented the gothic horror genre amid the atomic terrors of the American ’50s, beginning in 1957 with the ground-breaking gory hit The Curse of Frankenstein, starring future icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and then cemented their budding reputation as the new kings of horror with the sanguinary smash Horror of Dracula, starring the same popular pair. Lee’s Count is the definitive interpretation, for my money, even more so than Lugosi: he’s sexy, sinister, and suave. This is not only the best in the long-running Dracula series, starring Lee, but this is also Hammer’s all-around best movie, which is saying a lot. For a completely decadent evening of foreign intrigue, pair this with the even sleazier Spanish classic The Awful Dr. Orloff, Jesse Franco’s first big hit in this country, and the first horror flick to actually show what others only hinted at: nudity! It goes by fast, but it is there, so no blinking. The depraved goings-on and mad skin-grafting experiments are abetted by the blind man-monster Morpho, the insane Dr. Orloff’s rather frisky assistant. But hey, it’s from Europe—so it’s an art film! Expect your date to initiate some fear-induced cuddling.

SUGGESTED MENU: Any Euro cuisine, with red wine. Lots of red wine. Or Bloody Marys, of course.


The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) available from the Wade Williams Sci-Fi Gold Collection, with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1959), available from Rhino home video and MGM home video.

A stylish evening of sleaze awaits you with this double-shot of sun, fun and sin. Robert Clarke is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met - he was also in the sci fi classics The Man From Planet X and Beyond the Time Barrier, among many other films, in all genres. But he will always be best remembered for his ultimate gig, as the star, director and producer of The Hideous Sun Demon, which inverts the werewolf legend by having the tormented titular lizard-man turn in the daytime. This movie scared the hell out of me when I was a little tyke—now it plays like a really cool private eye movie with a monster in it! Watch for the mess in the Sun Demon’s pants—both sides—as he climbs up a ladder! It looks like a very weak bladder, but that was really Robert Clarke sweating to death inside the incredible rubber suit during a LA heatwave. The stock music on the soundtrack was later used as the score for Night of the Living Dead! (Oddly, I also recently noticed it on the premiere episode of The Untouchables.) The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was made in‘59 but wasn’t released until ’62—like with any mental patient, I guess they had trouble convincing the outside world to accept this crazy, violent, sex-obsessed menace into polite society. This is absolutely the sleaziest movie I’ve ever seen, at least in black and white—a demented doctor starts looking for a voluptuous body to attach to the head of his decapitated girlfriend which he keeps alive in his basement! Also locked away in a closet is another horribly botched experiment waiting to break loose and wreak havoc! Killer sax on the soundtrack, grindhouse-style strippers and a terrific catfight are only a few of the many decadent delights that are buried in this bargain-basement beauty.

SUGGESTED MENU: Brain food and lounge lizard cocktails. Rub suntan lotion on each other during the dull parts, and there will be several.


Robot Monster (1953) with Catwomen on the Moon (1953), both available from Rhino home video.

The 3D craze came and went in the ’50s, and you’ll see why for yourself when you don the glasses that accompany both of these videos, two original 3D Z Grade kitsch masterpieces, both at least as hilarious as The Giant Claw. Robot Monster’s director (so to speak—he basically edited together a lot of stock footage with superimposed bubbles), Phil Tucker, reportedly tried to kill himself shortly after the making of this movie. The Robot Monster himself, a gorilla costume with a deep sea diver’s helmet, has become a symbol of sorts for Bad Cinema, a dubious honor, to say the least. Catwomen on the Moon rivals Queen of Outer Space as the most outrageously sexist pin-ups-on-another-planet movie ever made. The dialogue has to be heard to be believed—but I can tell you, it wasn’t meant to be as hilarious as it is, it just turned out that way. That’s the beauty of it. You won’t be able to tell if your headache is from laughter or eye strain, but it won’t matter, both flicks are short and fast and well worth the suffering they induce.

SUGGESTED MENU: Junk food, baby. Junk food.

Will Viharo runs the Thrillville Revue in San Francisco, CA. For details ckeck out

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2000 Article List
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