Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Naked Vengeance (1985)

I rented Naked Vengeance (1985) on VHS sometime in the late ’80s. My video store had two different tapes to choose from: one R-rated, and one unrated. I knew enough to know that unrated meant better, or perhaps more: more nudity, more violence, more of everything that made my friends and I rent a movie. You could usually see that the running time was longer on the back of the unrated box than on the R-rated one. There were a few noted exceptions, but in this case the unrated tape was clearly the way to go.

Aside from horror films, I was also a big fan of of any kind of vigilante or revenge movie. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that my school was lousy with gangs of thugs who liked to terrorize anyone who got marks higher than a ‘C’. I had previously enjoyed such titles as Death Wish (1974), Death Wish II (1982) and Savage Streets (1984).

I don’t think I had ever heard the term “rape-revenge” or “rape-revenge movie” at that time. But a lot of these movies (including the three I just mentioned) involved a rape, which would then lead to some form of revenge (or at least random vigilanteism). I had seen the most notorious movie of this type, which was of course  I Spit On Your Grave (1978). Its reputation had preceded it. I knew Roger Ebert had called it a “vile bag of garbage” and one of the worst films ever made. But he also gave Death Wish II no stars and said: “I award “no stars” only to movies that are artistically inept and morally repugnant. So Death Wish II joins such unsavory company as Penitentiary II and I Spit on Your Grave.”

I happened to love Death Wish II. It was certainly the most violent movie I had ever seen when I was 12, but it was also tense and exciting. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat and sweating as I watched the climactic sequence. Incidentally, I screened it for a friend years later, when we were well into our twenties, and I watched him having the same physical reaction during that sequence. It made me smile.

So, Roger Ebert’s condemnation of I Spit On Your Grave was not a deterrent to me. And the cover of the VHS box was irresistible. “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition… but no jury in America would ever convict her!”


Truth be told, I was disappointed in I Spit On Your Grave the first time I saw it – and not just because she only kills four men – not five like the box claimed. I think I had expected something closer to Death Wish II or Savage Streets, but I Spit On Your Grave was way more rape than revenge. Way more. That’s not to say there weren’t some good moments once the revenge part got going, but I guess it was too little, too late for me at the time. I have since re-evaluated it (with the help of a director’s commentary and Joe Bob Briggs) and I appreciate it more now than I did back then. But that’s another story.

When I first saw Naked Vengeance (1985) I was shocked to discover that it was almost the exact same movie as I Spit On Your Grave – woman from the big city goes to a small town / rural area to be alone. She gets gang raped by a group of assholes and then kills them all in creatively violent ways. But Naked Vengeance, it seemed to me at the time, was better than I Spit On Your Grave. It was the movie that I Spit On Your Grave should have been. Naked Vengeance spends way more time on the revenge than on the rape. And it does it well, with energy and forward movement. I Spit On Your Grave seemed to move at a snail’s pace to my younger self. And it wasn’t fun. Naked Vengeance manages to be fun, as well as shocking, violent, suspenseful and all that good stuff.

Now, I know there are people out there who love I Spit On Your Grave. And as I said, I appreciate it way more now than I did back then. I have a nice edition of it in my home drive-in library. But for years I remembered Naked Vengeance even more fondly and wanted to add it to my library. Unfortunately, I never found a copy of the unrated edition on VHS after it disappeared from my video store. And I never found it on DVD. It seemed to literally vanish, perhaps eclipsed by better known movies like the ones I’ve mentioned. Thankfully that has all changed thanks to the new Shout Factory / Scream Factory double feature Blu-ray (which also includes Vendetta (1986), another personal favourite of mine.

Naked Vengeance was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, who made about a hundred movies, including Savage! (1973), Vampire Hookers (1978), and She Devils in Chains AKA Ebony, Ivory & Jade (1976). I used to see his name frequently in the credits of movies I would rent or purchase. They weren’t all great. Some of them were slow and tedious. So his hame was not a guarantee of excellence to my younger, movie watching self. But this one I thought was one of his best. I’m also a huge fan of TNT Jackson (1974), but that’s another story. 

Naked Vengeance (1985) lived up to my fond memories, and I believe it is more than just nostalgia. I will be watching it again on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a a #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Scream of Fear (1961)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to watch scary movies. Before I could even read the TV listings, I asked my Dad to tell me whenever there was a scary movie coming on the TV. This is how I first saw films like King Kong (1933) Frankenstein (1931) Dracula (1931) and Phantom of the Opera (1925). Sometimes a movie was on too late at night for me to stay up and watch. I remember one morning my Dad saying “It’s a good thing you didn’t see that movie last night. It was pretty scary.” This only made me feel like I’d missed out. Scary is what I wanted. I asked my Dad for details, hoping that hearing about it would give me the same thrill that watching it would have. All he would say was that it had something to do with a house. To this day I don’t know what that movie was.

I also remember one Sunday afternoon, my Dad calling me up from the basement because something scary was about to start. I sat in front of the TV and watched the first twenty or thirty minutes of a movie that just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. It was about a family living on a farm. They had a bunch of horses inside a big old barn, and one night that barn caught fire. The horses were trapped inside, going crazy. As the family formed a chain and passed buckets of water from the well to the burning barn, I remember my Dad shaking his head and saying “I think I was wrong. This isn’t a scary movie.”

I refused to give up hope. “Maybe the horses will die and then the barn will be haunted,” I suggested.

My Dad looked skeptical, but he said “Maybe.”

I don’t remember if the family saved the horses or not. I do remember that nothing much seemed to be happening after the fire, and eventually I gave up on watching that movie. My Dad felt bad for giving me a bum steer. “The TV listings made it sound like it would be scary…” he explained.


In those days, we didn’t have a lot of places we could look if we wanted to find out about a movie that was coming on TV. If it was a famous movie, like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc., then we already knew what we were getting into. But if it was a title we’d never heard before, all we had to go on was a one or two sentence description published in our local newspaper’s TV guide (in our case, called TV Scene). Sometimes the descriptions weren’t very accurate. One famous example from several years later (and not from our local paper) was this description of The Wizard of Oz (1939):

Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

Almost sounds like a horror film, doesn’t it?

The other thing our local TV guide did, was to assign a star rating to all movies. Really good, classic movies like Casablanca (1940) or The Maltese Falcon (1939) would tend to get three or four stars (four being the highest rating possible).

One day we found a listing for a movie called Scream of Fear (1961). I don’t remember what the description said, but it was clear from the title alone that this was a scary movie. The only problem was that the TV Scene only gave the movie one star! One star?! I’m not sure if I had ever seen that before. Boring, unfunny comedies tended to get two stars. How bad did a movie have to be to get one star?

My Dad and I were unsure if we should watch this movie. With a rating of one star, it was bound to be terrible. But, we had suffered through the first part of the horse fire movie and turned it off. We figured we could stop watching if this movie was as bad as the TV listings claimed.

To make a moderately long story somewhat shorter, we both loved Scream of Fear, and we kept commenting to each other as we watched, with variations of “How can this movie only get one star?” and “What’s wrong with the guy who reviewed this movie?”

And that brings up a good question: Just who were these guys who wrote blurbs and assigned star ratings to movies in local TV listings? Did they really watch all of the movies? Or did they just make assumptions based on the type of movie, or it’s reputation (or lack thereof)?

I think it’s fair to say that I never trusted a star rating in the TV Scene again.

My Dad and I judged Scream of Fear to be an excellent movie, with suspense, atmosphere, mystery, and – yes – scares. It’s been compared to the much lauded French film Diabolique (1955), which is a film my Dad told me to tape off of late night TV once we had a VCR. We also loved that movie, and I think we could see the comparison, but each was still their own film. Scream of Fear is a Hammer film (perhaps the first one I ever saw, I’m not sure…) written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote (and directed) a lot of films for Hammer. It was directed by Seth Holt, who is somewhat lesser known (at least to me), perhaps because he died young (at age 47, in 1971).

Jimmy Sangster on the set with Susan Strasberg,

I wanted to see Scream of Fear again for many years, but for some reason it was hard to come by. I never saw a VHS tape that I could rent or buy. And it was never again listed in the TV guide. I started to wonder if it had vanished into the ether, or if perhaps my Dad and I had imagined watching it all those years ago. I found other Hammer films like Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), and Fear in the Night (1972) – all written by Jimmy Sangster, by the way – which seemed similar, and I wondered if I could be remembering the title wrong. And yet none of these films were quite the right one, upon closer examination. 

When I bought books like Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, I was relieved to see that Scream of Fear was included, and therefore not a figment of my childhood imagination. O’Neill gives the movie three stars, by the way, and calls it “a first rate shocker.” Too bad he wasn’t rating movies in my local newspaper…

Seeing Scream of Fear again after all these years only confirmed my opinion of it. I’m sure that I would list it as a personal favourite if I had managed to see it more often over the years. I look forward to doing exactly that in the future, whether on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, or any other day of the week. Scream of Fear (1961) is a #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Mole People (1956)

This is another movie that I probably saw on Not Quite Classic Theatre back in the 1980s. For those who don’t know, Not Quite Classic Theatre was a late night movie show that introduced me to many old monster movies (and other B-movie delights). I wrote about it a while back, to explain my use of the #NotQuiteClassicCinema hashtag.

I’m sure that I saw The Mole People (1956) many years ago, but I can’t say for certain that it was on Not Quite Classic Theatre. Whether it was or not is really beside the point. It is exactly the kind of movie that I was thinking of when I first conceived of the hashtag.

The Mole People is a type of story that I’ve always liked; the discovering of a lost civilization story. More specifically, it’s about a lost civilization deep inside the Earth. I remember seeing films like Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and old film serials like The Phantom Empire (1935), which was about singing cowboy Gene Autry discovering an ancient civilization buried beneath his own Radio Ranch. As a kid, I was fascinated by stories like this. And I was always on the lookout for caves that I could explore, hoping that they might lead to some exciting discovery, like a lost world – or, at the very least, some buried treasure. Unfortunately, living on the prairies there were really no caves to be found. 


Since posting about the movie last week, a few people have commented that they particularly like The Mole People. I like it a lot, too. Which is why I’m so puzzled to see that it gets a much lower rating on the imdb than some it’s 1950s B-movie peers (4.9 which is, technically, a failing grade). Tarantula (1955) gets 6.5, It Came from Outer Space (1953) gets 6.5, The Monolith Monsters (1957) gets 6.4, etc. In 1993, a writer at the Los Angeles Times called The Mole People “arguably one of the worst sci-fi films out of the Universal shop.” James O’Neill, in one of my favourite movie review books, Terror On Tape, says The Mole People is a “stodgy Universal programmer” and “one of the company’s weakest ’50s flicks.” He also notes that “The downbeat ending is especially unfortunate.” 

Maybe this is where the problem lies (for some people). I don’t like spoilers, so I’m not going to discuss any details, but the ending of the The Mole People could be described as a little “downbeat”. I must admit that I might have preferred a happier ending in some ways, but the final minute of the film did not erase my enjoyment of the previous 75 minutes (or so). And in thinking about it afterwards, I could understand why the filmmakers might have felt that it had to end that way. 

Whatever the reason(s) that some people don’t this film, I’m encouraged to see a quite a few users on the imdb saying things like “I don’t care what anybody says, this film is a hoot!” and “What is wrong with everybody, this is a good movie!”. Not to mention hearing from friends and acquaintances how much they like it. If The Mole People is the “worst” that Universal Pictures had to offer in the 1950s, then this is good news – because it means I have a lot of truly great movies left to see.

The Mole People (1956) is a wonderfully entertaining 1950s Sci-Fi Fantasy B-movie. It’s also a perfect choice for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn and I welcome it to the ever-growing library of #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Torture Garden (1967)

I seem to recall that somebody told me never to watch Torture Garden (1967). He may have gone so far as to say that it was the worst movie he’d ever seen. Well…

Clearly he’d never seen any truly bad movies.

Torture Garden is a well made movie, with good actors, good production values, etc. It is not even in the same category as the “worst movies ever made”. I could name a few titles that might be contenders, but no matter which ones I choose, there will be someone out there who will say “But I love that movie…”. And I will most likely nod my head and say “So do I.”

I am a connoisseur of “bad movies”. I have friends with whom I watch movies, and we often refer to our marathons as “bad movies nights”. But this does not mean that we judge all of the movies we watch to be “bad”. Often we discover movies that we quite like; lost gems from the video fringes and bargain bins of yesteryear. Sometimes a movie is objectively “bad”, but it is 90 minutes of pure entertainment. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is often called “the worst movie ever made”, but it is actually quite fun to watch. This raises the question: If a movie if entertaining, can it truly be called bad?


One of my favourite movie review books, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, gives Plan 9 From Outer Space three stars (on a four star system). On the same page he gives Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me (1971) three stars. These movies are at opposite ends of the spectrum, quality-wise, but O’Neill gives them the same rating. He calls Plan 9… a “grade Z masterpiece” and notes that it is “a lot funnier than many intentional so-called comedies.” A lot of books would give Plan 9… zero stars, or half a star, and dismiss it as a “bad movie”. I admire O’Neill’s approach, which I think is more useful. Incidentally, O’Neill also gives Torture Garden three stars. One might be tempted to think he gives all movies three stars, but I can assure you that this is not the case.

Torture Garden is an entertaining horror anthology by Amicus Productions, the British film company that specialized in horror anthologies (Tales From The Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973), etc.), It is written by well known author Robert Bloch, most famous for writing Psycho. All of the stories in Torture Garden involve an element of the fantastic; something that could be described as “far fetched”, if one was particularly inclined to stick with realism. I could imagine that this might be why some people would say Torture Garden is  a “bad movie”, or in fact “the worst movie” they have ever seen.

But that’s complete nonsense, isn’t it? Good movies can be made from ideas that are utterly absurd. I can think of a few personal favourites that if someone had pitched to me before they were made, I might have said “How the hell is THAT going to make a good movie?” The idea, or concept, isn’t always the most important thing. A composer friend of mine was once looking for an idea for a new musical. He wanted it to be “perfect”, so he kept running ideas past me and asking what I thought. Most of the time I would say “That’s an idea that could work.” Eventually I said “Look, it doesn’t matter what IDEA you choose. The trick is just to pick something and work hard to MAKE it good.” Who would have thought that a musical about cats would be a monster success (not withstanding the new movie adaptation which some people are calling “the worst movie they have ever seen)?

Torture Garden (1967) is not the worst movie I have ever seen. I enjoyed it – perhaps all the more for having been warned away from it once upon a time. The fact that some people feel it’s horrendously bad makes it #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema and the perfect addition to a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.