Thursday, October 22, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 1

Paul Blaisdell, like many artists, when pretty much unappreciated during his lifetime, only receiving due accolades when he was no longer around to appreciate them. Blaisdell was a monster maker, the creator, builder, and often wearer of a slew of movie monster costumes and puppets in the 1950s. Unlike the monsters made for bigger budget films like "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," the films Blaisdell worked on had shoestring budgets forcing him to create his monsters for as little money as possible. Considering what he was working with, his monsters all turned out to be among the most memorable of their era, even if the hurried filmmaking at the time did not show them to their best advantage. Blaisdell tried to approach his monsters from a scientific perspective, designing them based on their perceived environments of origin, such as a squat alien from a planet with heavier gravity, or a reptilian humanoid from the ocean's depths. These monsters were all imaginatively designed, no matter how cheap looking they may have appeared in the final product. Among his creations are "The She-Creature," "It Conquered the World," "The Invasion of the Saucer Men" and "It! The Terror From Beyond Space" as well as oversized props for "Attack of the Puppet People," "The Amazing Colossal Man," and "War of the Colossal Beast."

With that in mind, it's painful to watch the wretched send-off that American International Pictures gave this man who contributed so much to the success of many of their horror pictures of the 1950s. "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow" (1959) was Blaisdell's last film, and yes he played the monster, but he also got to play himself --sort of.

"The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow" has no real plot, but a lot of stuff going on that doesn't become anything. The movie features a club of law-abiding, hot rod racing teens who speak in lots of hipster slang. An adult reporter is writing an article about Hot Rod culture and befriends the group as they search for a new clubhouse and deal with a gang of four juvenile delinquents who seem to have no motivation for bothering the good kids. There are many, many sub-par rock tunes being performed in a row instead of a plot developing. One of the girls, who breaks the rules and has a run in with the law, has a cool mom, and a square dad, and an eccentric aunt with a wisecracking parrot and a haunted house she's willing to let the kids have for their clubhouse if they can de-spook it. The kids have a spooky costume party in the haunted house, and eventually unmask the "real monster" as a high pitched, whiny Paul Blaisdell, tossed aside by AIP after all the monsters he provided, and now shamefully reduced to haunting a house.

There is a ghost, who appears only for the final few seconds of the movie. There's also a sentient, talking hot rod, and a pajama party in what is a really terrible movie to sit through. The climactic race between the good girl and the delinquents takes place off screen, and the haunted house element isn't even introduced until 45 minutes into this 65 minute movie. It's not scary. It's not funny. It's not even entertaining.

Poor Paul Blaisdell, forced by a restricted budget, to wear a modified "She-Creature" costume for its fourth movie, delivers his scripted lines in a pitiful, self-mocking voice without realizing how prescient those lines were. American International Pictures did toss him aside. His work for them after that was mostly concept sketches that were never used.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hehe. I put this movie on now and then to just have running in the background while I work. I like the kitschy musical numbers and innocent but lackadaisical quality of it. It's kind of like a cut-rate Disney live-action affair, without bothering with a Disney (or any kind of) plot, of course. Blaisdell was a gas but he didn't really compare with real make-up effects artists of the time like the Westmores.