Cool Cinema Trash

Cool Cinema Trash: Robot Monster (1953)

Cool Cinema Trash


Moon monsters launch attack against earth!

Robot Monster (1953) is one of the few movies that can compete with Ed Wood’s Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959) for the title of worst film ever made. Clips from Robot Monster have become synonymous with the depths that no-budget 1950’s sci-fi movies can reach. Even if you’ve never seen it in its entirety, you’ll no doubt recognize George Barrows lumbering around in a gorilla suit and space helmet. What sets it apart from the rest of the drive-in dreck is that there’s a naive determination on the part of it’s participants to forge ahead despite rock bottom production values. In spite of everything it has going against it, there’s an endearing “Let’s put on a show!” quality that’s so wonderfully inept that its reaches a level of badness that rivals any Ed Wood film.

What it’s all about: Little Johnny (Gregory Moffett) and his sister Carla (Pamela Paulson) are playing outside when they happen upon an archeological dig. The Professor (John Mylong) and his assistant Roy (George Nader) are working outside the mouth of a cave in Bronson Canyon. “Gee, are you scientists?” Johnny asks. His questions will have to wait until after a picnic lunch with the family. After eating, Johnny’s mother and his sisters Carla and Alice (Claudia Barrett) take a nap among the rocks and dirt.

While the family is asleep, Johnny sneaks back to the cave, but Roy and the Professor are gone. Suddenly there’s an electric flash and Johnny falls to the ground. Stock footage dinosaurs are suddenly and inexplicably doing battle. When Johnny recovers, he finds “hi tech” machinery at the mouth of the cave. There’s another electric flash and Johnny runs for cover as the mighty Ro-Man appears. The infamous Ro-man costume is so blissfully silly that Ro-Man should be named the official mascot…no, patron saint of bad movies. Equally ridiculous is the “Billion Bubble Machine” that sits and percolates for no other reason than it must have looked cool in 3-D. (Robot Monster was originally released in both 2-D and 3-D formats)

Using his futuristic communication console (a bedroom dresser with a “view screen” where the mirror should be) Ro-Man contacts his home planet. Using his kooky style of techno-jargon, he reports on his progress. He has destroyed mankind with his Calcinator Death Ray (the electrical flashing light). “Their resistance pattern showed some intelligence,” he tells the Great Leader, “But all are gone now. The way is clear for our people.”

“Reject. Error.”

“Then there are perhaps eight people left on earth?”

“Precisely. Find and destroy them.”

Johnny runs back home…or what’s left of it. In the crumbling ruins of suburbia, humanity’s only hope has set up house. The Professor (who is now Johnny’s daddy) explains in his faintly European accent that, “The only reason we are still alive is that your sister Alice and I worked out a way to reflect his deadly beam away from the house.”

A crude system of wires surrounding the house prevents them from being discovered. When Ro-Man appears on their home view screen, he taunts them with an instant replay of the earth’s destruction. “Your death will be indescribable. Fool hu-mans, there is no escape!”

Roy hypothesizes that the Professor’s experimental antibiotic serum, which they have all taken, is what makes them immune to the death ray. They must get word to the space platform where what is left of humanity is stationed. Alice comes up with a way, “We’ll have to rewire the circuits on the view screen so that we can broadcast without Ro-Man picking it up. If only I had a decent assistant who could take orders instead of trying to be the boss.”

Though the script by Wyott Ordung is packed with quotable Ed Woodsian dialog, Roy’s response to Alice’s jibe is shocking hilarious. “You’re so bossy that you ought to be milked before you come home at night!”

Since she’s the last dateable woman on earth, Roy quickly has a change of heart. As they work on the transistors, he makes his move, “You know something, you’re either too beautiful to be smart, or too smart to be beautiful.”

“I guess we do get along alright at that,” she admits. “Let’s work together now…we can play later.” Despite their hard work and flirty repartee, they fail to succeed.

Ro-Man calls them up and taunts them again, this time with footage of the destroyed “space platform”. The sequence is a wacky combination of stock footage and a rinky-dink spaceship model. As the ship flies erratically towards the camera, the prop man’s hand can clearly be seen.

Ro-man orders them to give up. “Calculate your chances. Negative, negative, negative.” He then asks what might be the most hilarious rhetorical question in film history, “Is there a choice between a painless surrender death and the horror of resistance death?”

The Professor refuses to surrender in the face of such nonsensical threats. Instead, he tries to appeal to Ro-Man’s humanity by introducing each member of the family, “Let me show you the six people you want to destroy.”

Intrigued by Alice, Ro-Man agrees to negotiate only with her. “Is Alice gonna have a date with Ro-Man?” young Carla asks. Alice is determined to face the alien, but her concerned family ties her up to keep her from going.

Johnny sneaks away to meet with Ro-Man. When the death ray fails to work on him, Johnny tells Ro-Man that he “Looks like a pooped out pinwheel.” Being the precocious blabbermouth that he is, Johnny reveals the secret of their survival.

Ro-Man angrily shakes his fist as Johnny scurries away. “I will recalculate the spectrum dust in the Calcinator Death Ray to counter act this antibiotic and you will all be destroyed!”

While searching for little Johnny, Roy and Alice hide from Ro-Man in some dry brush. Danger apparently gets Roy frisky, but Alice acts coy. This entire sequence is played without sound, leaving poor Nader and Barrett to mime like two very bad silent movie stars. “Have you been playing house?” Carla asks when a very satisfied looking Roy and Alice return home. In a makeshift ceremony, the professor marries the two lovebirds.

When Carla ventures outside the safety of home, Ro-Man captures and strangles her. He then stumbles onto the honeymooners who are making out in the dirt. An awkward fight ensues and Roy is thrown over a cliff. Actually, he only ducks behind a hill with a prolonged scream indicating a fall to his death. Alice is swept away by the hairy simian conqueror, but they stop long enough to discuss Ro-Man’s weakness.

While his parents bury Carla, Johnny comes up with a plan to lure Ro-Man away and rescue Alice.

With a seemingly indifferent Barrett clutched in his arms, Barrows stumbles back to the cave where Ro-Man makes his move. “Suppose I were hu-man, would you treat me like a man?” he asks as he tears at the straps of her dress. When his groove is interrupted by the telecomunicator, Ro-Man must somehow subdue Alice.

In a moment so sublimely silly that it has to be seen to be believed, Alice stands idly by as Ro-man tries to tie her up while repeatedly adjusting his crooked helmet. When it becomes apparent that tying her up is too complicated and time consuming, Ro-man simply knocks her unconscious. After a brief conversation with the professor on the view screen, “Call me again at another time,” Ro-Man turns back to Alice who is now wide awake and has been miraculously bound in rope!

Quality time with his favorite earth gal is interrupted yet again when the Great One calls to berate him, “You violate the law of plan. Fact. You have captured the girl and not destroyed her. Fact.”

“To laugh, feel, want. Why are these things not in the plan?” Ro-Man questions.

The Great Leader hasn’t time for mushy emotions and gives Ro-Man his orders, “One, destroy the girl. Two, destroy the family. Fail and I will destroy you.”

But how can he kill the woman he loves? In a crisis of conscience, Ro-man expresses his newfound feelings in a bad movie sonnet that is Shakespearian in scope. “I cannot, yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do must and cannot meet? Yet I must, but I cannot.” When Johnny arrives at the mouth of the cave Ro-Man begs, “Alice, do not hate me. I must.”

Just as Ro-Man strangles Johnny to death, the wrath of the Great One is unleashed. “You wish to be hu-man? Good. You can die a hu-man!” Shocked by his own flashing death ray, poor Ro-Man collapses as more dinosaur stock footage is shown.

The earth’s final destruction dissolves away to show a helpful Roy carrying Johnny, who apparently got a serious bump on the noggin. “Boy, was that a dream or was it?” he asks as they leave the cave and head for home.

A last electrical flash reveals the ghostly apparition of Ro-Man, who lumbers menacingly towards the camera not once…but three times!

In conclusion: Director Phil Tucker had originally planned for there to be a robot villain in Robot Monster. When use of the robot costume they wanted fell through, Tucker contacted actor and stunt man George Barrows. He owned his own ape costume and made his living by appearing in low-budget jungle adventures. The rest, as they say, is history. In another tale that has since passed into bad movie legend, Tucker was so distraught over the failure of Robot Monster and the direction that his career had taken, that he got a gun and attempted suicide. The punch line of the story is that he missed. How much of this tale is true (it’s undoubtedly been embellished over the years) is anybody’s guess. Tucker directed a handful of other films, including The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960).

After being put under contract at Universal, George Nader’s Hollywood career consisted mainly of beefcake roles like the Cool Cinema Trash favorites Carnival Story (1954) and The Female Animal (1958). In the sixties he left Hollywood behind and continued his career in Europe. Nader retired from acting after an eye injury and in the late seventies wrote the gay sci-fi novel Chrome.

Robot Monster has been released on VHS and DVD by various companies over the years. The DVD put out by Image Entertainment (as part of the Wade Williams collection) looks great. A few minor specks on the print are understandable considering the films age. The disc includes a trailer and previews of other Image titles including several Ed Wood films.

Robot Monster was once the butt of caustic jokes on MST3K, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen. Every oddball moment of Robot Monster is a veritable treasure trove of comedic fodder. Whether you’re a hu-man or a ro-man, it’s hard not to love this bad movie gem.


Cool Cinema Trash: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Cool Cinema Trash

Night_Of_The_LepusThere was no limit to the horror… No end to the Night of the Lepus.

“Monsters on the loose” have been a staple of sci-fi horror movies since cinema practically began. During the atomic era of the 1950’s, drive-ins were inundated with countless mutated beasts in such films as Them! (1954) Tarantula (1955) and The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). The genre enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970’s, letting loose a whole new batch of critters hell-bent on revenge. Atomic radiation was no longer the mutanigenic culprit. Man’s careless abuse of the environment was to blame. One of the oddest of these eco-vengeance thrillers was Night of the Lepus (1972), in which a cast of familiar Hollywood faces must battle a warren of oversized bunny rabbits.

What it’s all about: Just in case the idea of giant killer rabbits was too high concept for the audience to grasp, there’s a faux news story at the beginning of Night of the Lepus. The alarmist tone of the report on rabbit overpopulation sets up the concepts that will be featured in the film. “Can this population explosion be contained?” the reporter rhetorically asks as we’re shown genuine newsreel footage combined with fictional scenes of the pesky varmints.

When the Arizona ranchland of Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is overrun with rabbits, he calls his friend from the nearby university. Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelly) suggests they consult with a husband and wife research team about the problem. Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) are busy collecting bat specimens when Elgin arrives and explains about Hillman’s rabbit explosion.

“Rabbit’s aren’t exactly Roy’s bag,” Gerry cautions. Nevertheless, Roy agrees to have a look at the problem. Hillman is reluctant to use poisons since they would harm the environment. Plus, it would mean taking his cattle off the range and selling them at the worst time of the year.

Roy suggests using hormones to alter the rabbits breeding cycle, thereby killing them off without effecting the cattle or the land. At their lab, the Bennett’s begin trials with an experimental serum. “If we could effect the blood of fifty rabbits,” Roy explains injecting a test subject, “It wouldn’t take long for this change to take place in the entire population.” They soon discover that the main side effect of their serum is rapid growth.

While her parents are busy with their experiments, annoyingly precocious Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) adopts one of the bunnies as a pet. It isn’t long before little Peter rabbit makes a break for it, escaping into the general rabbit population.

As the Bennett’s continue their experiments, Hillman sets a controlled blaze on his land in hope of starving out the fluffy critters. Young Jackie Hillman (Chris Morrell) wants to introduce Amanda to Capt. Billy, a nutty old prospector who lives in the hills. When they arrive at Capt. Billy’s camp, he’s nowhere to be found. Amanda checks the old mine and finds giant rabbits gnawing on what’s left of ole’ Capt. Billy. While a traumatized Amanda rests at the Hillman ranch, the local sheriff comes across the chewed up remains of a trucker who was overcome by the furry beasts.

Aside from the ridiculous killer bunny concept, the thing that makes Night of the Lepus so memorable is the use of live rabbits, the kind you would find in any local pet store. The filmmakers use quick cuts, close-ups, slow motion and just about every other cinematic trick to make the rabbits look as menacing and bloodthirsty as possible. Their efforts are pretty much in vain. We’re talking about bunnies here!

While the police try to figure out the recent string of attacks, the mutilated remains of a family of four are found. “Rabbits as big and ferocious as wolves?” Roy questions as the scientists theorize. “Assuming, inadvertently, we introduced defective cells into that one rabbit, it’s conceivable that we could have created the seeds for a mutated species.”

In the morning, everyone heads up to the old mine to see just how mutated the rabbits have become. Roy and Cole Hillman explore the mineshaft while the others set explosive charges at the entrance of the mine. They find the rabbits, take a few snapshots, and then beat a hasty retreat when the bunnies begin to stampede.

A stuntman in a rabbit costume tackles Hillman. Quick cuts and close-ups are used to disguise the preposterous nature of the life and death struggle. While Roy and Hillman try to escape, a ferocious rabbit attacks a ranch hand at the mouth of the cave. The stuntman bunny is intercut with footage of a real rabbit with red paint staining its buckteeth and paws. Gerry scares the beast away with her shotgun.

Once Roy and Hillman are clear of cave, they blow the charges, sealing the rabbits inside. Maybe someone should let these scientists know that bunnies like to burrow. Sure enough, under the cover of night, the rabbits dig themselves out and begin to rampage across the Arizona landscape.

Spooked by the presence of giant bunnies, Hillman’s horses break free of their corral and are quickly devoured by the rabbits. One of Hillman’s ranch hands tries to escape, but the main road is blocked by hundreds of fuzzy man-eating critters. They chomp on the poor guy while Hillman and the rest of his employees hide in the storm cellar.

Rabbits lazily lope across the astro turf covered model of the ranch. They break into the farmhouse and try to gnaw through the floorboards to get to their next meal. Unable to reach Hillman, the herd moves further on down the road and attacks the proprietress of the general store. A farmer is also attacked on his front porch. It should be said that some of the miniature work featured in Night of the Lepus is quite good. The scale and detail of these landscapes is excellent. The only problem is that there are bunnies hopping through them, which ruins any realism that the scale models hoped to achieve.

Come morning, Gerry and Amanda leave for safer territory, while Roy, Elgin and the sheriff take a chopper up to the mine where their worst fears are confirmed. There are signs that the rabbits dug their way out. Night falls and the rabbits are on the move again. Ominous music plays as the bunnies hop across the miniature landscape and leap over “gorges”. The sounds of galloping hooves are also added to make the cute critters seem like they’re on an unstoppable rampage.

The National Guard and local authorities evacuate the town that lies in the direct patch of the oncoming horde. Roy comes up with the idea to put “a fence between the rabbits and the city. An electric fence.” Using the railroad tracks outside of town, they hope to electrocute the bunnies.

A deputy heads to the local drive-in to make this classic announcement: “Attention, attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way.” The drive-in patrons are enlisted to help with the plan. Their cars are lined up and headlights turned on, in hopes that it will herd the rabbits toward the tracks.

Gerry and little Amanda never reach their destination. When their camper gets stuck in the dirt, Gerry must fend off the rabbits with roadside flares as her only weapons. Roy arrives in the chopper just in time.

The rabbits spook a herd of stock footage cattle before nearing the railroad tracks at the edge of town. The fluffy horde hops ever closer as the juice is switched on. ZAP! As the rabbits hop across the tracks, there’s a snap, crackle and pop as they’re electrified. After a few moments of sparkly special effects, the rotund rabbits are eliminated.

A quick epilogue shows that life has returned to normal as Amanda and Jackie frolic in the fields of the Hillman ranch. If you guessed that there would be a harmless little rabbit waiting in that field, you’d be right. If you also guessed that the camera would zoom in for a final freeze frame of the innocuous critter, then it’s obvious you’ve seen more than your fair share of eco-vengeance horror movies.

In conclusion: With its horde of man-eating bunnies (aren’t rabbits supposed to be vegan?) and straight-faced performances by an especially earnest cast, Night of the Lepus is a bad movie must see. The next time the major networks rerun King of Kings (1961) or The Ten Commandments (1956) during the Easter season, pop Night of the Lepus into the DVD player instead.

But watch out…here comes Peter Cottontail!


Cool Cinema Trash: A Night in Heaven (1983)

Cool Cinema Trash

night_in_heavenIn class, he’s just another face in the crowd. In “Heaven,” the hottest dance club in town, he’s the main attraction.

Hollywood producers have long mined the pop culture zeitgeist in search of the next big blockbuster. Subjects as diverse as western bars (Urban Cowboy, 1980) and aerobics (Perfect, 1985) to the latest dance craze (Lambada and The Forbidden Dance, both from 1990) have all found their way to the local cineplex. In the early 80’s, when the fine art of male burlesque experienced a surge in popularity, it was only a matter of time before the story of a male stripper (and the women who loved him) made it to the big screen. A Night in Heaven (1983) was the first big screen look into the dramatic and tumultuous world of men who take it off for cash.

What it’s all about: As the Bryan Adams song “Heaven” plays over the opening credits, nice guy rocket scientist Whitney Hanlon (Robert Logan) gets on his recumbent bike and rides and rides and rides. He finally arrives home in time to kiss his wife goodbye. Faye Hanlon (Leslie Ann Warren) is a teacher at a Florida community college. With her hair in a bun and wearing an oversized pair of eyeglasses, Warren looks to be the very definition of a conservative school marm. During her speech class, she listens intently as young Rick Monroe (Christopher Atkins) gives a lackluster presentation.

“You say what you say well, but you have nothing to say,” she puzzlingly criticizes. She doesn’t fall for his good looks or fast-talking charm (at least not yet) and gives him a failing grade on his final exam.

That evening, Faye prepares for a night out with her sister Patsy (Deborah Rush) who is visiting from out of town. Once they’re all gussied up, she tells Faye, “You look like a hibiscus in bloom.” It’s meant as a compliment, but Faye looks more like a Ramada Inn cocktail waitress than an exotic flower.

The girls head to a local nightclub, Heaven, where a touring group of male strippers are performing. The women shriek and giggle as a motley crew of guys strip down to their g-strings. As we’re forced to watch them shake what little they’ve got, it’s hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere, at anytime, could have found what they’re doing sexy.

The M.C., who spouts lame double entendres and groan inducing puns, announces that it is time for the main event. From a flurry of bubbles and dry ice fog emerges a man in a silver space suit. When he removes his space helmet, Faye is shocked to find that “Ricky the Rocket” is her handsome speech student Rick.

“I just flunked that kid in my class!” Faye shouts over the loud music.

“You did what to his ass?” a friend comically tries to clarify.

“Give him an A!” Patsy crows as Rick, much to the delight of the female crowd, strips out of his costume.

Faye gets positively googly-eyed after Rick grinds his crotch in her face. They share a deep soulful kiss before he continues his routine and elicits tips from the eager club patrons.

At home in bed, Faye tries to initiate marital relations with her husband, but is rebuffed. As it turns out, nice guy Whitney has just been fired over a matter of principal. He refused to shift his focus to government weapons research.

At a college art show, Rick explains to Faye that he strips to pay for school and hopes to get into hotel management (?!) as a way to care for his hard working mother. The hard luck story doesn’t impress her.

“I’m not grading your mother’s life. I’m grading your… performance.”

“How did you like my performance?”

Before Faye can answer she must introduce her husband to the student stripper who has peaked her interest.

Though she’d rather stay at home with Whitney, Faye is lured back out by her sister. At the club, Faye watches as “Mountain Man Dean” works the crowd. When an aggressive bachelorette removes his g-string, she faints at the sight of his “tree trunk”. The moment is played for laughs, but only serves to point out how the story veers from feminism to misogyny without ever making its intentions clear. Are these modern women free spirits who can have their cake and eat it too? Or are they adulterous nincompoops? What exactly is this movie trying to say?

Whitney tries to get a job as a video game developer, but nothing comes of it. In an obvious moment of foreshadowing, it is revealed that Whitney (the pacifist scientist and former Air Force pilot) is a gun enthusiast. Um…okay, sure, why not?

Patsy’s visit is cut short and she must return home. At the airport she reveals that her wild behavior during her time with Faye was a brief attempt to escape her troubled marriage. Faye gives her a pep talk and sends her on her way.

Faye finally beds her collegiate dreamboat in her sister’s vacated motel room. Thunder and rain outside their window sets the mood. Rick puts her hand down his pants before taking her for a ride. Atkins strips naked while Warren remains fully clothed during their love scene.

Patsy calls Whitney to let him know that she make it back to Chicago safe and sound. Since Faye isn’t spending time with her sister, Whitney begins to wonder just who exactly she is spending time with. Faye leaves the hotel room to teach a class. When she returns that evening, she finds Rick in the shower with his white trash girlfriend.

It’s from this point that the movie spirals towards its gonzo climax. In the hotel lobby, nice guy Whitney turns Dirty Harry and kidnaps Rick at gunpoint, “I wanna see you dance.” He takes the kid in a boat and goes out onto the water somewhere. Whitney then makes him strip naked and explain himself. “Where do you get off fucking my wife?”

Looking down the barrel of a gun, Rick blubbers like a baby and whines that, “I though she was lonely.”

Wrong answer. Whitney fires the gun and shoots several holes in the bottom of the boat, leaving Rick to fend for himself.

After each of their escapades, Faye and Whitney sit down together at their kitchen table and, with only a few words between them, all is forgiven. As the camera pulls back and Bryan Adams begins to sing, you may ask yourself, “Is that it?”

The answer is yes.

In conclusion: Directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky, 1976) and written by Joan Tewkesbury (Nashville, 1976) it would seem that, despite it’s salacious subject matter, an honest attempt was made to make A Night in Heaven a worthwhile drama. The fact that the end result was more salacious than serious probably has something to do with the question that has plagued Hollywood from the very beginning. Are movies art or are they commerce? In this particular case, art may have fallen by the wayside in favor of the film’s more marketable aspects (i.e. Sex).

Though no “making of” featurette is included on the DVD, it’s pretty easy to guess what went on behind the scenes while making this 80’s gem. The script offers a few clues as to what might have been. Along with the main story between the schoolteacher and her student, Tewkesbury introduces several secondary characters whose lives all intersect with one another. These characters were undoubtedly meant to support the main characters and add depth to the story. Unfortunately, they’re never given the chance to do so.

As one of the characters who have no real effect on anything, Deney Terrio (also the film’s choreographer) plays one of Rick’s friends who loses his janitorial job at NASA. By the film’s end he turns to stripping for cash. His comical dancing debut is oddly intercut with Whitney and Rick’s naked moonlit boat ride. When Rick’s sister is introduced into the story, she moves away moments later to be with her jailbird boyfriend. At one point Whitney even flirts with a former female co-worker but nothing ever comes of this plot point either.

Though there is no definitive source that says so, it feels as if the plot was slowly whittled down until only the most marketable aspects of the story (the stripping and the sex) were left. Considering that the movie clocks in at a meager 83 minutes, this is the most likely scenario.

A Night in Heaven is filled with the sights, sounds and attitudes of the Regan era. For some, this cheesy cinematic artifact may be a welcome walk down memory lane. For others, it may represent a bygone era that is best forgotten.

Though, the sight of Christopher Atkins bumping and grinding in a silver lamé space suit qualifies a truly unforgetable.


Cool Cinema Trash: Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)

Cool Cinema Trash


The most beautiful woman of our time in the most erotic adventure of all time.

You know this isn’t your father’s Tarzan movie when the MGM logo appears on screen and the lion’s roar is replaced with a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell.

What it’s all about: The adventure begins with a narrator (Wilfrid Hyde-White) relating the legend of Tarzan to his fellow club members, one of whom is presumably Edgar Rice Burroughs. This storytelling device might explain why Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) focuses on Jane’s point of view. After all, a bunch of dirty old men would much rather hear tales about a nubile blonde than the Lord of the Apes.

As Jane, Bo Derek is covered from head to toe in turn of the century finery. She hires a boat to take her to the camp of James Parker, an Allan Quartermain-type explorer who is also her long lost father. Before the credits are even over, Bo strips off her virginal white dress and goes for a swim in the river. Apparently she isn’t worried about crocodiles or piranha.

Upon arrival at camp, Jane is greeted by the expedition’s photographer played by the handsome, but wooden, John Phillip Law. Any under-emoting by Derek and Law is more than made up for by the hammy acting of Richard Harris. As Parker, Harris seems to think shouting at the top of his lungs equals a performance.

The family reunion at dinner doesn’t go very well. Bo resents Harris’s absenteeism. “Like a trophy, you posed with mother and child and then you were gone. Now doesn’t that make you a first-class bastard?” she asks.

Because she so closely resembles his dead wife, Parker takes more than a fatherly interest in Jane. “How much do you hate me?”

“I think so very, very much.”

Parker’s ultimate goal is to find the legendary elephant’s graveyard. “Any expedition on this continent is no place for a woman.” Harris chauvinistically explains. Moments later, Bo and the rest of the crew are all packed up and set off on their journey.

After several days, they make camp at the base of a huge plateau. While sitting cozily in their tents they hear a familiar yodeling war cry. Harris explains that the creature making the noise is Tarzan, the great white ape. He then proceeds, at the top of his lungs, to give a dissertation on the excitement of the unknown. “Fear is intoxicating.” When another Tarzan yell scares off most of his native bearers, Harris screams, “Oh shut up you boring son of a bitch!”

In the morning, each expedition member scales the face of the plateau. Their climbing rope slowly rubs and frays against a jagged piece of rock until a native extra plunges to his death. “Why did you do that?! Why?!” Harris shouts at the heavens. What’s even funnier than his vociferous questioning of God is that the skies answer back with a rumble of thunder.

After traveling a little further, the expedition finds the great inland sea. Bo comes up with the bright idea of staying behind and taking a bath, assuring her father that she’ll catch up later. Left alone in the wilds of Africa, Bo strips down and frolics in the crystal blue waters. While rinsing off, she is stalked by a lion. She lingers in the surf while the jungle cat lays in wait on the shore.

Suddenly, with a rousing orchestral fanfare, our hero finally arrives. Lip syncing the classic Weissmuller Tarzan call, Miles O’Keeffe makes his grand entrance in a skimpy loin cloth. If Derek is a perfect 10, then O’Keeffe, with his long hair, perfect cheekbones, and ripped physique, is the male equivalent. An embodiment of the perfect male specimen.

Tarzan attempts to pull a resistant Jane from the surf, but the King of the Jungle and his feline friend are scared off by Parker and Holt who come to Jane’s rescue with guns blazing. With his daughter’s virtue in peril, Parker does what any father would do, “I’m going to have that ape son of a bitch’s head as my trophy.”

As they continue their trek through the jungle, they are watched by a bunch of surly tribal warriors. While filling her canteen by the river, Jane is taken away by Tarzan. She briefly escapes his brawny clutches but is soon engulfed in the suffocating squeeze of a python. Tarzan swings to the rescue, dives into the muddy river and wrestles with the snake. The scene is only two minutes long but feels a whole lot longer. The sequence is shown in slow motion, which might have been an effort to make the fight seem more dangerous and dramatic. All it really achieves is a kind of hilarious redundancy as we’re shown what looks like the same shots over and over.

Tarzan finally wins and collapses after the titanic struggle. Jane is conflicted. We know this because Bo chews on her fingernail, an unsubtle acting trick she uses several times throughout the film. Should she run away, or should she help the jungle man who saved her life? C.J. the orangutan, some chimps, and an elephant help bring Tarzan back to his home turf. While tending to the ailing Tarzan, curiosity gets the better of Jane. “I’ve never touched a man before.”

While Jane is busy playing doctor, her father and the remaining members of the expedition search the jungle for her. Tarzan eventually wakes up and retires to his leafy bachelor pad. Jane joins him when night falls. Director John Derek chose to shoot this scene “day for night”, which means the scene was shot in daylight and then darkened in post production. The process is seldom convincing and in this case looks particularly bad because Derek cuts between our lovebirds in their tree top getaway and a scene of the Parker expedition that was actually filmed at night.

When daylight comes, Bo’s virtue is still intact. “I’m still a virgin. Now I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. What are you?” she asks her jungle paramour while eating a banana. “You’d have to be, wouldn’t you? It’s a strange problem.”

Jane and Tarzan swim around in their idyllic jungle Eden and gaze longingly at each other. In other Tarzan movies this is where we’d get the obligatory “Me Tarzan, you Jane” scene and she would teach him to speak English. This time it seems that Tarzan will remain completely mute because that’s how Bo likes him. Big, dumb and good-looking. With Bo left to essentially act with just herself, we get some classic bad movie moments as Jane thinks aloud, “God, if the girls back home could see me now.” She then earnestly tells Tarzan that he’s, “more beautiful than any girl I know.”

Proving that even the most primitive man is unable to resist the siren’s call of Bo Derek’s breasts, Tarzan makes it to second base before he’s interrupted by Parker’s search party. The reunion is all too brief. The evil jungle tribesmen take Jane, Parker and Holt captive. They’re brought before the Ivory King, a hulking brute with a mohawk.

Bo is scrubbed down by slave girls and then covered from head to toe in white paint. To take her mind off the fact that she’s about to be raped by a Wrestlemania wannabe, Parker takes the opportunity to tell his daughter a story and begins to shout out the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. The Ivory King thankfully shuts him up by impaling him with an ivory tusk.

With a mighty Tarzan yell, the King of the jungle leaps into action. Tarzan battles the Ivory King in…yup, you guessed it, slow motion. Once again director Derek attempts to stretch the tension (and the running time) in a rather pedestrian fight scene. In real time the scene would last about thirty seconds. After some regulation wrestling moves, Tarzan wins and pounds his chest in victory.

Harris is given a final chance to ham it up in a touching death scene. With Bo naked and covered in tribal make-up (complete with green lip gloss) Harris gets in the last word, “Well, they certainly did a paint job on you.” Jane kisses her father good bye before heading off with her favorite jungle hunk. As the end credits roll we’re shown just what Jane has given up civilization for… frolicking topless with C.J. the orangutan.

In conclusion: Despite it’s notorious reputation as the erotic Bo Derek version of the Tarzan fable, there are actually no love scenes in Tarzan the Ape Man, plenty of nudity…but no sex. As we watch the appealing stars traipse through the jungle half naked for an hour and fifty minutes, something curious happens. After a certain point all that gorgeous flesh has a strange desensitizing effect.

So, we have a sexy Tarzan movie without any sex. What does that leave us with you might ask? Well, it leaves us with plenty. There’s Richard Harris chewing the scenery as only a classically trained actor can. We also have Bo Derek, a classic beauty to be sure, but an actress who’s completely incapable of carrying the dramatic burden of an entire movie. Then there’s Miles O’Keeffe, a gorgeous hunk of man playing a title character that’s practically irrelevant in his own film.

Tarzan the Ape Man was O’Keeffe’s debut and has so far been the only Hollywood studio picture he’s done. He did however go on to a career in low-budget action movies. Bo went on to star in another notable erotic flop directed by her husband, Bolero (1984).

The promotional tagline for Tarzan the Ape Man boasted that it was, “Unlike any other Tarzan you’ve ever seen!”

Now that’s truth in advertising. Ungawa!



Cool Cinema Trash: The Fan (1981)

Cool Cinema Trash

posterThis is the story of a great star and a fan who went too far.

Not to be confused with the Robert DeNiro/Wesley Snipes movie of the same name, The Fan (1981) is a crazy thriller that’s part Torch Song (1953), part Friday the 13th (1980), with a little bit of Cruising (1980) thrown in for good measure.

What it’s all about: If legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann had written the theme to Jaws (1975), then you’d have a pretty good idea of Pino Donaggio’s score for The Fan. As the ominous score plays over the opening credits, Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) composes a fawning letter to his favorite star.

“I bought a gorgeous new Lucite frame for one of your most famous pictures,” he writes. “I know of all the famous men in your life, but I adore you as no other ever has, or ever will. You are the greatest star of all.”

On the closing night of her latest play, legendary actress Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is mobbed by fans outside the theatre. One particularly ardent fan snatches the pen that she is using to sign autographs. Douglas, who is more ardent than most, trips the thief and takes the pen for his own collection.

The next morning, Sally’s household staff awakens her with boisterous birthday wishes. “As of today, I’m going to be forty-five forever,” she declares.

“Forty-nine,” her secretary corrects.

Bacall looks terrific, but even the most adoring fan would have a hard time arguing that she doesn’t look all of her fifty-seven years.

In the tradition of Thelma Ritter in All About Eve (1950), Maureen Stapleton plays Belle, the no-nonsense personal assistant who doesn’t take any crap anybody, let alone from her famous employer. Belle reads all of Sally’s fan mail and politely tries to placate Douglas’ increasingly demanding requests.

Jake Berman (James Garner) who was once Mr. Sally Ross, has lunch with the birthday girl. Sally confides to her ex-husband that she is worried about her next show, her first attempt at a musical. Jake confides that he plans to marry the young woman that he’s been seeing.

Later at home, Belle tells her employer that she’s just had three chocolates. “I’ve had three drinks,” Sally counters. When she asks her secretary about her plans for the evening, she gets a typically sassy response.

“One of your old movies is on. That oughta put me to sleep.”

Douglas has plans as well, demented as they may be. “You interrupted a very wonderful evening,” he tells his sister, “Right now I’m having dinner with a very famous actress. A great star of stage and screen.” Since he’s sitting alone in his apartment, she is rightfully concerned. It’s obvious that her brother has more than a few screws loose.

At her first rehearsal, Sally learns the simplistic choreography for the shows opening number. The moment she opens her mouth to sing “A Remarkable Woman”, the modest rehearsal band is replaced by a pre-recorded studio track. This only draws attention to the fact that Bacall has a very, shall we say, unique vocal style. It seems the only way the filmmakers could make Bacall’s singing palatable was with a full orchestra and lots of reverb.

Meanwhile, Douglas pounds out another letter on his typewriter. “We will be lovers very soon my darling—and believe me—I have all the necessary equipment to make you very, very happy.” Yikes. Not only that, he carefully rehearses a confrontation with his boss in DeNiro “You talkin’ to me?” style. He gets fired but paints himself the hero in a note to his idol. Belle, worried about the obsessive turn his letters have taken, severs all correspondence between Douglas and her employer.

In a new letter to Sally, Douglas writes that Belle must be, “jealous of our relationship. Has it occurred to you that she might have lesbian tendencies?”

In a moment that is sure to leave viewers scratching their heads, Sally balks at the idea of drinking coffee during a rehearsal break and takes one of the dancers down the street to a health food store. The woman drinks like a fish and has the gravelly timbre of a lifelong smoker, yet for some inexplicable reason, she has a problem with caffeinated beverages.

Douglas turns up at the rehearsal hall in an attempt to deliver his latest letter, but is intercepted by Belle. When she shows Sally the latest note from the “weirdo”, the star haughtily pulls rank. “You’re supposed to be my secretary and I don’t pay you to upset my fans!”

“He wants to be your lover for chrissake! What was I supposed to do, give him an appointment?” They quickly end their quarrel with Sally admitting to being a spoiled bitch. “One of the greatest,” Belle lovingly agrees.

Douglas has taken to stalking his prey. One evening, as Belle walks along a deserted subway platform, he attacks her with a straight razor. In the hospital, Jake and Sally stand vigil over Belle, whose face is bandaged up like the Phantom of the Opera. While her employee recouperates, Sally is forced to (horror of horrors) open her own mail! In his latest letter to Sally, Douglas cops to the attack on Belle. “The important thing was to get her out of the way so that we could be together. Soon we’ll be free to express our love—fiercely, openly, over and over again.” Double yikes!

The police are finally called in, but inspector Hector Elizondo has very little to go on. The previous letters were thrown away and Douglas stopped putting his return address on the envelopes. In the days before forensic science, it was so much easier to be a predatory psychopath.

When Douglas sees David the chorus boy (Kurt Johnson) give Sally a kiss on the cheek, he follows him to the YMCA. David changes into his Speedo and hits the pool for a few laps. Douglas slips beneath the surface of the water and pulls out his straight razor. As David swims past, he slices him open.

“My dearest darling,” he writes, “Once more I have proven my love. I am ready to do it again and again.”

“He’s after me now. Isn’t he?” Sally asks the inspector. Despite the threat to her life, the show must go on. The pressure starts to get to her at a dress rehearsal where, after flubbing a dance step, she storms off the stage.

In her dressing room, Sally lets loose to her ex-husband about all that is wrong with the show, which she refers to as a “masochistic little adventure”. Masochistic to whom? Her, or the audience that will have to pay to see it? “My secretary has been attacked, and now David,” she fumes. “And, oh yes, just a minor detail, there’s some freak out there who wants to kill me.”

Elizondo, who is perhaps trying to prevent undo harm to New York theatergoers, suggests that Sally let her understudy perform the previews. It’s a no go. Sally is a trouper. Douglas is somehow able to gain entrance to Sally’s apartment and ambush her maid. When Sally arrives home, she finds that her housekeeper has been killed and her penthouse has been trashed. A new note reads: “Dearest Bitch, I’ve exhausted myself trying to think of the perfect way to kill you.”

Sally goes into hiding. At her beach house she smokes, drinks and frets over things that go bump in the night.

What’s a cuckoo to do when the object of his obsession skips town? Hit the nearest gay bar, of course. Douglas picks up a handsome young guy and brings him home. On the rooftop of his building, Douglas whips it out… his razor, that is. He slits the poor guys throat, douses him with gasoline and sets him on fire. Douglas leaves a suicide note nearby, “Let my burning body be a monument to the great love that might have been.”

With her stalker now a pile of ash, Sally returns to New York and the show. On opening night, Garner resolves his character’s tepid subplot. He’s sent his bimbo packing and is ready to commit to Sally, a real woman.

Curtain up. Light the lights. As Never Say Never begins, it’s apparent that this is one faux show that will go down in cinema history as one of the tackiest ever committed to celluloid. Dancers in sequined costumes shimmy across the neon-lit stage as a fog machine works overtime. In the middle of it all is Bacall, who croaks out the gonzo show tunes courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice. During one number, she sits center stage on a giant bed while shirtless chorus boys cavort around her. In a brief backstage moment, the camera zooms in on a dancer who sets a riding crop on the prop table. Gee, do you think that will be important later on?

Douglas, who seems to have spent the last couple of hours carefully grooming himself at home, arrives in time for the show’s big finale. After seeing what we’ve seen so far, who can blame him for waiting till the end to take his seat. In a black sequined pantsuit, Bacall proudly puffs on a cigarette before launching into the nutty showstopper, “Hearts, Not Diamonds”. From the thunderous audience applause, it seems that Sally and the show are a smash hit. Later, after all her well-wishers have gone, Sally changes into something more glamorous for the big opening night party. Douglas has traded his razor for a penknife and quickly disposes of the remaining backstage help so that he can have Sally all to himself.

When it comes to thriller finales, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching a diva, in full designer eveningwear, being chased by a maniac. The Fan pays off big time as Douglas pursues his ladylove who is swathed in Halston couture. Sally grabs the riding crop (ah-ha!) and manages to get one good smack in before being chased out into the empty auditorium. “I never wanted to hurt you Sally,” he tells her, using the crop to punish the aging star.

Sally, it seems, has had enough. “You’re pathetic,” she growls as he backs her up against the stage. Brandishing his weapon, she remains unintimidated, “Well, I’ve had it. I will not be a victim.”

Douglas can’t bear it any longer and collapses into her arms. “Please love me,” he begs. Seizing the opportunity, Sally takes the knife and stabs him in the jugular. In what may be the single most horrifying moment in the entire film, the camera captures a close-up of Bacall’s eyes. Baggy, bloodshot and as wrinkly as grandma Moses, it’s hard to believe that a shot so unflattering could have made it into the final cut.

Douglas sits in an aisle seat, stone cold dead, an audience of one. Sally slowly walks up the aisle and out of the theatre. After all, she has an opening night party to attend. She wouldn’t want to disappoint her fans.

In conclusion: The deliciously awful Broadway spectacle featured in The Fan is, in no small part, thanks to Bacall and her husky baritone. As insane as the prospect of Bacall singing for a paying audience might seem, she did in fact star in a Broadway musical, not once, but twice! First came Woman of the Year, and later, Applause, a musical based on All About Eve. It just goes to show that truth is often stranger than fiction.

One issue that The Fan never seems to resolve is the question of Douglas’ sexuality. Is he gay or is he straight? He’s undoubtedly a showtune queen, fastidious about his appearance and knows his way around a gay bar. These are the classic traits of a Hollywood homo, but several references are also made to his desire to bed Sally. Perhaps the filmmakers added this tissue paper thin pretense of heterosexuality as a way to get audiences to believe that his character could desire a woman old enough to be his grandmother.

One thing, however, proves that Biehn’s character was unquestionably straight. In several instances, Douglas refers to Sally in his letters as “Miss Ross”. As any gay man knows, there is only one true Miss Ross, and Lauren Bacall ain’t it.


Cool Cinema trash: Orca (1977)

Cool Cinema Trash

orcaThe killer whale is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge.

He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance – across seas, across time, across al obstacles.

Mainly considered a B-movie sub-genre, cinematic monsters from the deep blue sea proved to be very popular with drive-in audiences of the 1950’s. This type of story received first-class treatment in 1975 with Jaws. People flocked to the theatres and soon Hollywood producers were scrambling to make their own tales of waterlogged terror. Dino De Laurentiis was no exception.

But De Laurentiis would out-do them all. Not only would his creature be smarter, faster and more deadly, he’d push the dramatic conflict of man vs. beast to operatic heights. The final result is Orca (1977), an over-the-top pop psychology update of Moby Dick.

What it’s all about: “My Love, We Are One”, the haunting instrumental by Ennio Morricone, accompanies the opening scene of two killer whales frolicking, splashing and procreating in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland. In actuality they’re only in a holding tank at Marine World, but more on that later.

Marine biologist Charlotte Rampling and her assistant Robert Carradine are doing some underwater research when they are threatened by a Great White Shark. Luckily the shark is distracted by the sound of an approaching boat. At the helm is fisherman and shark hunter Captain Nolan, played by Richard Harris with an Irish baroque accent.

Carradine, like the disposable character he is, rather stupidly falls out of his rubber dinghy. Just as he is about to become shark food, Carradine is saved by a killer whale that charges in like the cavalry. The impact of being struck by the giant whale sends the shark flying several feet into the air, landing in the water a bloody, whimpering mess.

Our glacial biologist calmly asses the situation, “There’s only one creature in the world that can do that…a killer whale.”

Later, back on dry land, Rampling is giving a lecture that is jam packed with info, the gist of which is that we’re comparatively stupid to whales. Her lecture serves three purposes. The first is to show how smart she is. The second is to give the audience background information on the movies main antagonist. And the third is to set up the movies premise. Rampling unsubtly foreshadows the main plot point when she unleashes this hum-dinger of a whale fact, “…like human beings, they have a profound instinct for vengeance.”


In voice over Rampling tells us that Harris has been coming to her lectures and that she has formed a crush on the salty old Sea Dog. That afternoon she finds the captain rigging a holding pen in the bay. His focus has shifted from shark hunting to whale hunting.

Even when she’s furious, Rampling never looks more than slightly annoyed. “Nolan, there’s a word for you.” She frostily deadpans.

“I know, and I’ve been called it many times.”

Their love/hate verbal sparring is full of flirty double entendre such as when she warns Nolan not to fool with Mother Nature. “It’s hardly something to screw around with.”

“That’s a very dangerous word to use around a fellow like me…I might get a notion or two.”

Captain Nolan and his crew (Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, and Peter Hooten) head out to sea and find a pod of frolicking whales. In an attempt to capture one of the creatures, Nolan misfires his harpoon gun and mortally wounds one of the whales.

Bo, apparently an amateur whaleologist, informs Nolan, “You nicked the male, you hit the female.”

The whale becomes tangled in the line and swims underneath the boat where she gouges herself against the boat propeller. The real reason that Bo is part of the crew becomes readily apparent. She has ESWP (Extra Sensory Whale Perception). “She’s trying to kill herself!” Bo shouts.

First, since the whale is underwater and underneath the boat, how does Bo know that the female Orca is purposefully trying to do herself harm? Second, how can she vouch for the whale’s mental state?

Inexplicably, they bring the injured whale onboard while her mate observes from the water. Bleeding, traumatized, and hoisted high above the boat’s deck, the pregnant female has a miscarriage. The fetus plops down onto the deck while the father lets out an anguished roar. Nolan quickly washes baby Shamu overboard.

As the crew heads back to port, Orca repeatedly rams the boat. Guessing he wants his mate back, Keenan Wynn climbs out on the yard arm and cuts the female loose. Orca leaps out of the water and plucks Wynn off the boat.

With his wife returned, Orca and friends swim toward land in a water bound funeral procession. Orca then beaches her corpse to remind Nolan of the pain he has caused, and that for his crime, he will pay.

The next morning Nolan is surprised to see that the whale made it to shore. “She didn’t swim,” Rampling tells him, “her mate pushed her. He followed you.”

Enter Will Sampson as Umilak, the wise native. “She speaks you the truth. She knows it from the University, I know it from my ancestors.” He continues with more hokey mumbo-jumbo and restates Rampling’s asscertation that the whale will hunt Nolan down.

A fin, with a recognizable nick in it, breaks the surface of the water with a familiar shark-like menace. Duh-dum, duh-dum. Orca smashes through the hull of every boat in the harbor, except Nolan’s.

That night a representative of the local fishermen tells Nolan that he’d better take care of his whale. “An hour ago a kid saw a fin off the North point. A fin with a nick in it. Stationary. Just waiting.”

Sure enough when Nolan goes to the jetty Orca is waiting for him. People must constantly explain everything to Nolan, proving that whales are indeed smarter than man, or at least this man.

Rampling enlightens Nolan, “Why do you think he sunk the other boats in the harbor and not yours? He deliberately left you your boat because he wants to fight you on the sea.” But fighting is the last thing Nolan wants because he understands what the whale is going through. Nolan lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident. They are brothers in misery. All Nolan wants to do is look Orca in the eye and tell him that he’s sorry, that it was all a terrible mistake.

But Orca doesn’t want to talk, he wants vengeance. To prove he means business, Orca sets the dock and hillside ablaze with the help of a conveniently located gas line and a precariously perched lantern.

“The monster’s message to us is clear,” Will Sampson chimes in again, “we must send him Nolan or he will torment this village without mercy.” Oh, boy. Orca please kill him, kill him now!

If torching the village and forcing us to endure Will Sampson weren’t bad enough, the whale with the attitude next attacks Bo Derek. While nursing a broken leg at Nolan’s Cliffside home, Bo senses something. Her ESWP kicks in.

Orca’s ultra sonic sound vibrations shatter her wine glass. Before she can escape, he strikes the house supports and the cottage begins to slide into the bay. The back of the house crumbles away as the whale smashes through the floorboards. Nolan tries to save Bo but Orca rises out of the water and bites through her cast with a loud crunch and swims off with her leg.

Enough is enough. While Orca leaps and splashes in victory, Harris shifts the historonics into high gear. “You revengeful son of a bitch. You win. You want revenge? Well you’ll have it! I’ll come out there and fight you!”

Harris and the remaining cast members head out to sea. In voice over, Rampling reiterates the loopy pop-psychology logic behind the voyage they are about to embark on. “At this point I was sure of only one thing, that his grief had made the Orca wildly unpredictable and I felt an obligation to protect both it and Nolan from the consequences of that insanity.”

Nolan intends to use explosives to drive the whale to the surface. Rampling objects and they idiotically fight over the stick of dynamite. The fuse is lit and the dynamite is dropped during the scuffle. Rampling springs into super heroine mode and tosses the dynamite overboard just as it explodes.

Upset by all the drama, she leans over the side of the boat with a case of the dry heaves. Orca swims quickly upward, racing towards the surface. She pulls her head back just in time as Orca leaps from the water with a mighty roar. He then waves his flipper at Nolan, beckoning them to follow.

Oh, by the way, Robert Carradine (aka Mr. Disposable Character) finally dies. He is plucked off the boat by the toothy jaws of Orca. Rampling doesn’t seem overly upset at his demise. In fact, everyone simply carries on with their business.

Rampling narrates in her usual pseudo-intellectual style as the boat sails farther north trough the polar ice. “The creature led, Nolan followed. If there were any other purpose to what we were doing only the Orca knew it.”

Harris has been driven to the breaking point and is so delirious that he gives us this philosophical bon mot, “He loved his family more than I loved mine.”

Silently Orca nudges an iceberg towards the humans, sandwiching the boat between huge blocks of ice. Will Sampson is (finally) crushed in an icy avalanche while Rampling and Harris make it off the boat as it sinks into the freezing waters. Rampling takes refuge on an iceberg, but Harris is trapped on a floating sheet of ice. Orca breaks the surface and gives Harris the evil eye. The final showdown has begun.

With a shrieking battle cry, Orca rises out of the water and positions himself on the edge of the ice and, like a giant see-saw, the ice tilts up. Nolan looses his footing and slides into the water.

The whale slowly circles around the helpless Nolan until, finally, with a flick of his giant tail, Orca sends Nolan flying through the air. Like a rag doll Harris crashes against the ice. His broken and bloodied body rests briefly at Rampling’s feet before slipping into the cold depths of the ocean.

A rescue chopper sweeps over the horizon on its way to rescue the stranded Rampling. Orca, his quest for vengeance now complete, quietly swims away.

In conclusion: There are both good points and bad about how they used trained killer whales for most of the production. On the plus side, a real whale is obviously more convincing than a mechanical mock-up. On the negative side, those whales lived in California and the film was shot in Newfoundland. You obviously can’t set whales loose on location, so all their scenes were shot in the tank at Marine World. The footage from the two separate locations rarely match. The sunlight and water clarity often varies from shot to shot within a single scene.

In the films frigid finale you can’t see the actor’s cold breath. That’s because it was shot at the Mediterranean Film Studios in Malta. The giant outdoor tank that overlooks the sea offers a controlled production environment while giving the illusion that the action is taking place in the middle of the ocean. The wood, plaster and Styrofoam ice formations were built around the edge of the tank and the shallow water (about five feet deep) made it easier to operate the mechanical orca in the films man vs. killer whale finale.

As ridiculous as the vigilante killer whale in Orca might seem, it wasn’t the last time this plot device was used. In Jaws the Revenge (1987), Bruce the great white hunts down the remaining members of the Brody family. It’s ironic that the fourth and final installment of the Jaws franchise would heavily borrow from the same movies that attempted to copy the original Jaws. Ah…that’s showbiz.