JACK H. HARRIS: November 28, 1918 – March 14, 2017
Jack Harris passed away earlier this year at the grand age of 98, and Spectacle has been doing an ongoing tribute with the help of Jack’s family. After April’s EQUINOX and UNKISSED BRIDE, May’s 4D MAN and DINOSAURUS, our finale playing in June is DARK STAR. Harris, “the guy who could fix pictures and get them out”, took this early John Carpenter student project and brought it to feature length and quality. In case you don’t remember, read the description below!
dir. John Carpenter, 1974
83 min, USA
SUNDAY, JUNE 4 – 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, JUNE 8 – 7:30 PM
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, JUNE 16 – 10 PM
FRIDAY, JUNE 23 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, JUNE 30 – 10 PM
Much like Dennis Muren’s almighty EQUINOX, DARK STAR was first made as a 68 minute 16mm student film by John Carpenter – with writing assistance from Dan O’Bannon, who also stars as Sergeant Pinback. Theatrical rights for DARK STAR were scooped up by Harris who provided funding for an additional 15 minutes of filming and a 35mm transfer. Upon completion he unleashed it on an unsuspecting public. The film cost a mere $60,000; in addition to gaining cult status and a seat at the throne of midnight movies, it would also launch the careers of Carpenter (VAMPIRES, GHOSTS OF MARS, THE WARD) and O’Bannon (DEAD & BURIED), alongside heavyweights like Ron Cobb (Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY) and Greg Jein (who won an Academy Award for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) lending their visual and effects talents.
Only five years after DARK STAR, O’Bannon would reuse many of the ideas in what would become the sci-fi juggernaut ALIEN – including a restless game of mumbly peg, a face hugging extraterrestrial, and a claustrophobic chase scene through the air shafts.
While often tossed off as a stoner-grade spoof of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Carpenter’s film is at its core about loneliness. After spending two decades blowing up unstable planets together, this shaggy crew have grown to loathe each other, even forgetting each others’ first names. Beyond one another and the ship’s computer, their lone conversationalists are the smart bombs aboard the ship prior to their release.
Despite the cramped space and lack of real sleeping quarters after a collision with an astroid, they each manage to find isolation in their own ways. Talby retreats to the observation dome atop the ship after the death of Commander Powell, preferring the vast emptiness of space to his human companions. Lt. Doolittle slinks off to a secret nook to hone his craft on a makeshift organ of sort comprised of bottles pitched with water. Boiler takes great pleasure in bullying and antagonizing Sgt. Pinback – whose constant attempts at revelry and (albeit forced) camaraderie only serve to make him the resident scapegoat. Even the late Commander Powell, encased in ice below the hull, remarks to Doolittle (via telepathy) that it’s been so long since someone came to visit him. The film certainly has moments of humor, but even these are often solely for the amusement of the viewer, with the events happening to isolated individuals only to be relayed to the group after the fact. Everyone has stopped listening to one another, with phrases lazily repeated back and forth over tubes of liquid ham. In a rare moment at breakfast between Talby and Doolittle the men bond over their two opposite desires. Talby longs to see the fabled “Phoenix Astroids” deep within the Veil Nebula, while Doolittle pines for the California surf back on Earth. Not long after, Talby is pulled into space from out of the malfunctioning airlock and Doolittle fails to dissuade a bomb from detonating aboard the ship: in a perfect cacophony of celebration and sorrow, both men get what they want as the credits roll. For us DARK STAR comes as the bittersweet end of our humble tribute to a cinematic giant.
This series would not have been possible without the help of Judy Harris and Danielle Sinay. Special thanks to Jon Abrams, Daily Grindhouse and, of course, our audience.
(a/k/a: The Beast, The Equinox… A Journey Into the Supernatural)
Dir. Dennis Muren / Jack Woods, 1970
80 mins, USA
THURSDAY, APRIL 13 – 7:30 PM
MONDAY, APRIL 17 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 22 – *7:00 PM* (SPECIAL Q&A!)
TUESDAY, APRIL 25 – 10 PM
FRIDAY, MAY 5 – MIDNIGHT
In 1965 a young Dennis Muren had a choice to make. He was 17 and could use the money his grandfather had set aside for him to either go to college or do something sensible and make a feature length genre defining, effects pioneering film. Having made the right choice, Muren and friends David Allen and Mark McGee set about making their vision come to life – and over the course of the next two and a half years THE EQUINOX…A JOURNEY INTO THE SUPERNATURAL was born. Among their support group was none other than Forrest J. Ackerman (famed/revered/beloved editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS – who would also lend his voice to the film in an uncredited cameo!) who helped the gang to snag Fritz Leiber in the role of Dr. Waterman. Muren and Allen headed up the technical side and dove headfirst into the special effects. Monsters abounded, winged demons poured out the ether, and giants stomped around the screen with terrifying voracity. And all reportedly to the tune of less than $7,000!
With the film completed, Muren set out to show it to the world but that proved to be difficult. Initially trying for a TV release, Muren ended up shopping it around Hollywood. The premise and eye popping special effects grabbed the attention of Jack H. Harris – the man who picked up THE BLOB (and later DARK STAR, SCHLOCK, FEAR OF A BLOB PLANET, etc). Harris shortened the title to EQUINOX and hired Jack Woods to beef up the run-time. Rehiring the original actors and casting himself as in the role of Asmodeus, Woods (with Ed Begley Jr on ass’t camera duties) retooled the creature feature, and soon 35mm prints were stuck! The film was unleashed on the world and in the coming years would help mold the very essence of the “cabin in the woods” subgenre; arguably, without EQUINOX, there would be no EVIL DEAD series.
In the wake of EQUINOX many of its creators would flourish: Dennis Muren continued down the path of effects work and would soon have a wheelbarrow full of Academy Awards for his efforts on films like the STAR WARS trilogy, ET, JURASSIC PARK, DRAGONSLAYER, CAPTAIN EO, and more recently SUPER 8. David Allen also pretty much changed the game in terms of effects while working on films like WILLOW, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS and became responsible for all things good in the world of Full Moon features with work on DOLLS, OBLIVION, and the PUPPET MASTER films to name a few. While this is Jack Woods’ only directing credit, he would end up with a lengthy sound department resume with titles like PHANTASM II and the STAR TREK franchise.
Dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (1960)
USA, 85 min.
THURSDAY, MAY 4 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, MAY 12 – 7:30 PM
MONDAY, MAY 20 – 10 PM
TUESDAY, MAY 30 – 10 PM
In his 1960 review of DINOSAURUS!, Howard Thompson of the New York Times wrote “If ever there was a tired, synthetic, plodding sample of movie junk, it’s this ‘epic’ about two prehistoric animals hauled from an underwater deep-freeze by some island engineers”.
Howard Thompson was always a hack and the Times has always been, and continues to be, garbage.
On a mysterious island in the Caribbean, a team of scientists discovers two dinosaurs and a caveman held in suspended animation for 70 million years. While the caveman and the Brontosaurus befriend the locals, the T-Rex, or TYRANT LIZARD KING!, does not. Crammed with underwater photography, stop-motion animation, puppets and lovely St. Croix exteriors, it’s a film made for dinosaur kids ready to blow their allowances on a rock-em sock-em matinee. Written with THE BLOB’s Steve McQueen in mind as the star, the role of Ward Ramsey instead went to newcomer Bart Thompson, who’s ready to show these overgrown lizards what for! Our tribute to the great Jack Harris (who both produced and wrote the original story) is well served by DINOSAURUS! Goofs, stunts, derring-do and dinosaur fights: THAT is what cinema is truly about.
4D MAN (aka MASTER OF TERROR)
Dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (1960)
USA, 85 min.
TUESDAY, MAY 2 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, MAY 12 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, MAY 20 – MIDNIGHT
TUESDAY, MAY 23 – 10 PM
Harris’ sensational followup to THE BLOB saw him working again with director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., this time on a Faustian tale of prismatic fraternal jealousy. In 4D MAN, mutton-faced 20something scientist Tony (James Congdon) develops a technique that allows one object to pass through another (cf: the fourth dimension), while his older brother Scott (Robert Lansing) has coincidentally just invented a metal called Cargonite – so dense it can’t be penetrated. Tony’s recklessness and Scott’s pathological resentment double-helix vis-a-vis the latter’s girlfriend Linda (Lee Meriwether), instantly drawn to the younger brother’s devil-may-care attitude while furthering Scott’s descent into bitterness.
It doesn’t take an orthogononical physicist to figure out what happens next: incapable of stopping himself, Scott co-opts Tony’s experiment and turns himself 4D, tripling (or is it quadrupling?) down on the radiation exposure that was already giving him hellacious headaches – and, as it happens, accelerating his own aging in the process. Oscillating between unstoppability and death’s door in his solid state, Scott reaches out to suck up the lifeforce of a litany of victims including his old boss, as well as a little girl (played by Patty Duke!) – bringing Yeaworth’s narrative to a bitter interdimensional boil better seen than blurbed. From beginning to end, 4D MAN muxes a fine 1950s line between trenchant sci-fi boilerplate (ala print) and big-screen drive-in schlock-a-rama: the impossible object of earthly satisfaction drives both men to different dooms in a poetic crosshatch. You won’t believe your eyes when you see the film’s matte-intensive SFX (breathtaking in their lo-fi conviction), nor your ears from the first trill of Ralph Carmichael’s swingin’ jazz soundtrack!
Upon 4D MAN’s original release, Famous Monsters of Filmland published a full-page spread with the following edict/ultimatum: “In this exciting story you will watch a man cross the threshold into the Fourth Dimension; you will watch him perform feats that may seem totally unbelievable – but: what the 4D MAN does can be done! Jack H. Harris, the dynamic producer of THE BLOB, now amazes the world with his announcement of ONE MILLION DOLLAR CASH AWARD to the person who successfully performs the feats attributed to the 4D MAN… Find out from your local theater manager when he will be playing 4D MAN, and Remember: your admission ticket could be worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” As part of 98 YEARS: JACK HARRIS, Spectacle offers same.
THE UNKISSED BRIDE
(aka MOTHER GOOSE A-GO-GO)
Dir. Jack Harris, 1966
USA, 82 min.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5 – 10 PM
SATURDAY, APRIL 15 – MIDNIGHT
SATURDAY, APRIL 22 – 10 PM
The almighty Jack H. Harris’s only turn as director, UNKISSED BRIDE is the age-old story of a young couple named Ted and Margi (Tommy Kirk and Anne Helm) who have been saving it for their honeymoon, only to discover Ted has erectile dysfunction at the suggestion of nursery rhymes. It may seem like that’s an easy thing to avoid, but no matter how our randy paramours try, Mother Goose is always there to block the proverbial shot. Instead of turning that into a kink, Ted visits a psychiatrist (the great Danica D’Hondt in one of her last roles) who prescribes a hallucinogenic spray (I’m not kidding) and we’re off to the races.
It’s important to note Tommy Kirk (here tellingly billed as Tom Kirk) was trying to break free from his history as a child star (SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, OLD YELLER, the Mickey Mouse Club Hardy Boys series), mostly via a bunch of beach movies (MST3K fans know him from CATALINA CAPER and VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS). As a star who was fairly unceremoniously released from Disney (presumably but not officially due to Kirk’s homosexuality), he might seem an odd choice for a film about a man having difficulties having sex with a woman.
This is compounded when Ted squares off against ultra-lothario Jacques Bergerac (LES GIRLS, GIGI, but *especially* THE HYPNOTIC EYE!) who, as a guy married to both Dorothy Malone and Ginger Rogers, has little trouble flinging some woo. Madcap hijinx ensue (some of which are pretty much guaranteed to offend), and it’d be a mistake to give away the plot, but you just know this is a film with featured songs (including Kirk singing one himself), lots of great LA locations (our couple go to the Troubador at one point), speeding-up-the-film Benny Hill style, Henny Youngman AND Joe Pyne: to put it simply, it’s a gas.