Nightmare in Wax or Goodbye Max Hello Marie

Nightmare in Wax

If there’s one lesson to be learned from horror movies, it’s to stay the hell away from people who work in certain professions. Biogeneticists, morgue attendants, night watchmen, camp counselors, and above all else wax museum proprietors are people whose dire karma draws death and dismemberment like cheap motels draw unsightly stains. Nightmare in Wax, starring Cameron Mitchell in a sustainable performance that depletes few acting resources, is a 1969 testament to the dangers of socializing with persons who fall into that last category.

The Nightmare Begins

Movie producer Max Black, who could pass as Truman Capote’s taller brother, announces the engagement of Marie Morgan and Tony Deen, the two stars of his next low-budget fiasco, at a party he’s throwing.

Later that night, Tony is about to step into a lift when mad wax museum owner Vincent Renard injects him with a powerful tranquilizer. Renard is a man of distinctive appearance. He sports an eye patch, wears a Dr. Robert Schuller knock-off robe, and has a burn scar on his face that looks like mauve cake icing.

Three months after Deen goes missing, two cops, Haskell and Carver, drop in on Renard, who is promising the world to a lovely female head sticking through a table top in his waxworks studio. They ask him whether he knows anything about Deen’s disappearance. He says he doesn’t, then shows them Deen’s supposedly wax but disquietingly lifelike head, which is also sticking through a table top.

Renard flashbacks to happier, pre-mauve-cake-icing days  when he was in charge of the make-up department at Black’s movie studio and he and Marie were an item. He tells Marie she has to quit working for Black as he can’t stand how the old lech ogles her.

“Nobody does this to Max Black!” the producer bellows after Marie informs him she’s walking. Renard laughs at Black’s melodramatics. As Renard goes to light a cigarette, Black throws a glass of wine in his face, which erupts in flames. But they’re no ordinary flames. They’re magic flames suspended in the air several feet from Renard’s face. Not one to let a bad special effect get in the way of a good flashback, Renard stumbles screaming into Black’s swimming pool to douse the bogus conflagration.

Haskell and Carver speak with Marie, who has a flashback of her own. She visits Renard in hospital. Head wrapped in bandages, Renard sculpts a grotesque clay head as if it were his life’s purpose. He tells Marie to go away. When she refuses he rips off some of the bandages and forces her to gaze upon his empty eye socket. “Look at it! Look at it!” he snarls. “I want you to look at it!” She flees the room in horror. Renard throws the head on the floor, smashing it to pieces, then holds what’s left of it to his bosom and sobs. Sure it was a grotesque head, but it was his head.

Back in the present day–well, 1969–Marie calls Renard on the phone and invites him over to her place. He accepts the invitation. Aroused by the mention of his fiancée’s name, Deen keeps saying “Hello, Marie” until Renard ends the mindless mantra with a tranquilizer injection.

Nightmare in Wax injection

What are you doing after the decapitation?

Renard bumps into Black at Marie’s place. Their chance meeting is surprisingly amicable seeing how Black scarred him for life. Marie asks Renard if he would give her Deen’s wax figure. He agrees. But first she must pose for a wax figure he wants to make of her.

Sometime later, Nick, the museum’s gormless caretaker, who spends the entire movie in a Keystone Cop uniform, notices that the wax figure of a young woman is blinking. He tells Renard, who convinces him it was just a figment of his alcohol-impaired imagination. Renard promptly tranquilizes the young woman, giving her strict instructions not to blink, squirm, or shudder without his express permission.

Theresa, a ravishing go-go dancer with an IQ of minus twelve and a major thing for scarred, insane waxworks proprietors, joins Renard for a drink at his favorite discotheque. It was her wax head he was chatting with in an earlier scene. She says she can’t wait for him to complete her wax figure.

Black sends Alfred Herman, the director of his next movie, to the waxworks on a location-scouting mission. Herman recognizes the formerly blinking young woman, who was an actress in a vampire flick he directed. “She’s so lifelike. Hard to believe she’s gone,” he remarks.

“Maybe she isn’t,” Renard says. “Maybe she’s hypnotized—by a maniac.” He explains that by using a combination of certain drugs it’s possible to put someone to sleep and then wake that person centuries later.

Theresa lures Black to the museum on the pretext that Renard is going to unveil her wax likeness. Black collapses after downing a glass of spiked champagne. Renard informs him that he’s about to become one of the museum’s main exhibits.

Theresa asks Renard what he’s going to do to her, now that she’s witnessed his criminal activity. “Kill you,” he replies matter-of-factly. Screeching like a parrot with a migraine, she makes a run for it. He chases her around the museum, then kisses her passionately before knifing her in the gut.

Renard spies Haskell and Carver parked outside the museum. He speeds off in Black’s car with Theresa’s corpse in the front seat. The two cops pursue him. As Black’s car swerves along the darkened city streets, Renard kisses Theresa and professes his undying love for her. He then abandons her in the car and gives the cops the slip on foot.

Nightmare in Wax Head

You’ll get out of there when you tell me what you did with my drink coaster collection.

The following morning a newspaper headline reads MAX BLACK MURDERS SHOWGIRL, even though the cops have yet to charge or question him.

Marie visits the museum to check out Deen’s “wax” doppelganger. Meanwhile, Haskell, deeply suspicious of Renard, sneaks inside. A jittery Nick is too preoccupied with a group of twitching wax figures to notice him.

Renard prepares to make exhibits out of Marie and Black with Deen’s assistance. He commands some wax figures to lend added support.

Haskell makes his move but is overpowered by Renard’s wax zombies.

Black laughs hysterically as Renard is about to lower him into a huge vat of molten wax. His levity infuriates Renard, who lunges at him but misses and falls into the bubbling brew.

Renard wakes to find he was only having a nightmare. Distraught over the shocking events he dreamed, events that seemed frighteningly real, he relives a few of the movie’s many highlights.

Speaking of Highlights

You too can relive them, on DVD. Just be aware that the picture and audio quality is on par with that of a VHS tape fished out of an oil spill.

She Devil: Unforgettable! Unforgivable! Unbelievable!

She Devil

If you like your camp amped, if you like your histrionics hyped, if you like your melodrama magnified, you cannot, you must not go past the B-grade pearl of great price that is She Devil. This outré classic from the glory days of good-science-gone-bad movies, the 1950s, will have you asking that age-old philosophical question: what the hell? But there’s really no mystery about this movie. It’s a simple what if story, as in what if Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were written and directed by Liberace?

There Be Spoilers

Dr. Scott is examining a pencil drawing of a fruit fly through a microscope in his laboratory. It was probably meant to be an actual fruit fly, but there must have been a miscommunication with the studio’s props department. A colleague, Dr. Bach, pays him a visit. Scott tells Bach he’s been working on a serum derived from the fruit fly that will cure all diseases. So far it’s cured two guinea pigs of tuberculosis and mended a cat’s broken spine.

Scott injects one of Bach’s patients, Kyra Zelas, with the serum, which heals the terminally ill woman overnight. A nurse with the acting ability of particle board declares the healing a miracle. After Scott gives Kyra a second injection, Bach notices that the puncture mark left by the needle has vanished almost immediately.

Bach invites the rejuvenated and slightly paranoid Kyra to stay in his mansion so he and Scott can monitor the serum’s long-term effect on her. She tells him she accepts his invitation but only because she wants to, then vows to get everything she’s ever desired.

Kyra visits an upmarket fashion boutique and watches a sugar daddy pull out a big wad of cash to pay for an outfit his trophy wife has just tried on. She marches right up to him and demands he give her the money. Before he has a chance to say no, she snatches the dosh and makes for the exit. He grabs her and she scones him with a glass ashtray. As the manager of the boutique calls the cops and an ambulance, but not necessarily in that order, she ducks into one of the changing rooms. Two cops show up so fast you’d think the police station was next door. Kyra overhears the manager telling them she’s a dark-haired woman in a cheap black dress. She throws on a white dress that by some remarkable coincidence has been left in the changing room. The cops bang on the changing room door, demanding she let them in. She gazes into a mirror and wills her hair to turn platinum blonde. It does. The manager apologizes to her profusely when she sashays out of the changing room, looking like Mamie Van Doren.

She Devil and the sugar daddy

I’ll give you $200 if you whack me over the head with that ashtray. It’s aversion therapy. I’m trying to give up smoking.

Later at Bach’s mansion, the two doctors are both amazed and aroused by Kyra’s sexy transformation. She claims she dyed her hair, but a test Bach runs on some of her hair strands reveals that the color is natural pigmentation.

The next morning, Bach sees a photo of Kyra’s old dress in a newspaper report about the assault and robbery at the boutique. He and Scott conclude that the serum has given her fantastic adaptive powers that enabled her to change her hair color instantaneously to avoid being nabbed by the cops. They confront Kyra with the report, who grouches that they created her, so she’s their problem now.

Kyra overhears Bach encouraging Scott to create an antidote for the serum. She approaches Scott when he’s alone in his lab and says she won’t let him inject her with an antidote, because there’s nothing like being indestructible. She walks over to a caged black panther and lets it claw her arm. Scott cleans the bloody marks to find her wounds have already healed completely. Unable to contain the blazing furnace in his trousers any longer, he and Kyra start getting it on in the lab until 1957 film censorship yells “Cut!”

Bach holds a party at the mansion and introduces Kyra to sleazebag Barton Kendall and his wife. Kendall doesn’t bother to hide his sexual attraction for Kyra. He even makes a pass at her in the mansion’s garden, knowing that his wife is watching. His wife slaps Kyra and calls her a trollop. She warns Kendall that she’s not going to put up with his philandering anymore. He asks her for a divorce, but she refuses to grant him one, as she’d have to give up the power and prestige that comes from being a Kendall.

Kyra disguises herself by turning her hair black, then strangles Kendall’s wife to death for slapping her, a strangulation that’s every bit as convincing as the flying saucers in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Later that evening, Bach accuses her of the murder. She confesses to the crime but tells Bach there’s nothing he or Scott can do about it, because they turned her into the mighty morphing homicidal floozy she is, which makes them accessories after the fact.

She Devil and the panther

You think you’re hot stuff, don’t you, puss? Well, get a load of this feline. Now, this is what you call catty.

They attempt to give Kyra the antidote for her condition while she’s asleep, but she wakes up and threatens to destroy them if they don’t leave her room. They leave without questioning how she would destroy them, since although she’s indestructible she doesn’t have super strength. Come the next morning, she’s packed her bags and gone.

Bach and Scott learn that Kyra is engaged to be married to Kendall. Scott visits Kendall to warn him about the devil woman with evil on her mind. But Kendall isn’t in a listening mood and accuses Scott of being jealous because he too is in love with Kyra. Scott admits he is and then storms off.

A few months into her marriage, Kyra tells Kendall that she’s fed up with all the boring weekends they’ve been spending at his country retreat. Kendall, whose blood-alcohol level reads “no smoking or open flame,” says his former wife was right about her: she is a trollop. When she calls him a drunk, he pulls a gun on her and shoots her in the shoulder. He begs her forgiveness and, incredibly, gets it.

While driving Kyra to a hospital in his sports car, Kendall tells her to keep still or her bullet wound will start bleeding again. She shows him that she has no bullet wound, then grabs the wheel and steers the car toward the edge of the mountain road they’re on. The car sails off a cliff backward, and the two dummies made up to look vaguely like Kyra and Kendall earn every cent of whatever the film’s producers paid them. Kyra exits the smoking wreckage at the base of the cliff as good as gold, but Kendall isn’t so lucky.

Bach and Scott hear a news report about the fatal car accident—fatal for Kendall—over the radio. Bach insists they do something to stop Kyra once and for all.

They meet with the “grieving” widow at Bach’s mansion and give her an ultimatum: she must submit to an operation that will return her to her sweet normal self or they will go to the police. She says she needs time to weigh her options.

Kyra and Scott rekindle their old romance. She promises to make all of his dreams come true if he forgoes injecting her with the antidote and helps her kill Bach. Scott informs Bach, who comes up with a plan to knock her out by making her stew in her own waste. No, not number ones and twos, carbon dioxide.

The plan works and they operate on her. Post-op, Scott observes a heavenly glow around Kyra, whose hair changes back to its original color before his and Bach’s eyes. She regains consciousness and confesses her love for him but dies shortly thereafter.

The film ends with Scott gazing upon a portrait of a platinum blonde Kyra that looks as though it were purchased from an outdoor market in Tijuana. “She was so beautiful,” he remarks.

She Devil Is Waiting Just for You

She Devil is available in a sumptuous widescreen transfer on DVD and Blu-ray. Watch it with somebody you love or whom you plan to inject with a psychosis-inducing drug that will give him or her miraculous healing and transformative powers.

The Flesh Eaters: Greatest B-grade Horror Movie Ever!

The Flesh Eaters

It’s an outrage, a meretricious atrocity, a blaring, brazen bloodbath. It’s The Flesh Eaters, a cinematic Grand Guignol shot in ghastly black and white and produced with frightful thrift that just so happens to be the greatest B-grade horror flick ever made—and I do mean ever.

This movie has got the lot: a crazed naziphile scientist, a beefcake hero who doesn’t know the meaning of the word pain or emote, a whining, drunken trollop and her blonde good-girl assistant, a platitude-spouting beatnik imbecile, and a giant luminescent monster that looks like the spawn of Squiddly Diddly and a fried dim sim. If that’s not enough to whet your exploitation movie appetite, there are gouts and gouts of inky gore. In fact, such is this motion picture’s gruesomeness that when I first saw it almost 20 years after its 1964 release it had been given a short back and sides by a TV censor.

The Flesh Eaters was directed by Jack Curtis and scripted by Arnold Drake, a veteran comic book scribe who conceived DC’s Doom Patrol and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the feature film version of which has just blasted onto cinema screens. Drake’s ability to fit a big story into a small comic book keeps the movie galloping along at a Kentucky Derby pace. There’s no time to be bored with this celluloid wonder.

Warning: Spoilers Galore!

Pilot Grant Murdoch is flying sloshed actress Laura Winters and her personal assistant, Jan Letterman, to Provincetown in his seaplane when engine trouble forces him to make an emergency landing on a deserted island. While looking for shelter from an approaching storm, they encounter Dr. Peter Bartel, a marine biologist with an almost impenetrable German accent, who lumbers out of the misty surf in a scuba diving wetsuit. Bartel claims that he’s conducting research on shellfish.

So drunk she can barely crawl, Winters stumbles across a human skeleton washed up on the shore. Bartel puts it down to sharks despite the fact that the skeleton is intact and has been picked cleaner than a box of chicken McNuggets at a stoners’ party.

Bartel invites the new arrivals to spend the night in his tent, where he introduces them to his pet parrot, Lewis. He says that Lewis keeps him company on long, lonely field trips. The bird’s confounded screeching has a miraculous healing effect on Winters, turning her sober instantaneously.

Murdoch takes Jan aside and tells her that he doesn’t buy Bartel’s explanation about the mysteriously well-preserved skeleton, and that he suspects the marine biologist is hiding something from them.

The next morning Bartel approaches Winters on the beach. Seeking the kind of companionship a parrot just can’t provide, he asks her why she’d want a virile hunk like Murdoch when she could have an aging marine biologist like him, who knows shellfish better than anybody. She laughs at his lame pick-up technique and bites him on the hand.

Hey, that's not the doggy-dinner-bowl look. That pickup seminar was a gyp.

Hey, that’s not the doggy-dinner-bowl look. That pickup seminar was a gyp!

Winters hits the bottle hard. She then collapses on the beach as pickled as an onion. Meanwhile, Bartel casts the seaplane adrift, stranding her and the others on the island.

Alarmed by the number of fish skeletons littering the shore, Murdoch informs Jan that they have to leave the island and fast. He goes looking for Winters and finds her at the water’s edge, staring stupidly at the rope that had been anchoring his seaplane, which is nowhere to be seen. He blames her for casting it adrift. She storms off in urgent need of another drink.

Murdoch happens upon the titular flesh eaters, glowing carnivorous microbes that infest the ocean around the island. They attach themselves to his legs when he rescues Winters from a sea-locked boulder on which she has the alcoholic sense to get stuck. Bartel digs them out with a pocket knife. Not wanting to see Murdoch bleed to death, Jan doffs her blouse and tears it into strips that she uses to bandage his leg. He gallantly drapes his shirt over her.

They hear jazz music. It’s coming from a phonograph on a raft offshore. Omar, a goofy beatnik, is the raft’s sole passenger. They holler at him to stay away from the island, but he’s too busy shouting beatnik drivel to hear them. He comes ashore with his sandals caked in flesh eaters. Surprisingly helpful for a mad scientist, Bartel cuts off the sandals with his trusty pocket knife.

They all enjoy a spot of tea on the beach. Afterward, Jan and Murdoch are exploring some sand dunes when they come across a huge black box covered in white polka dots with a power cable attached to it. Murdoch surmises that it’s a solar battery. How Bartel managed to get it on the island without the help of a crane is left for the more mechanically-minded viewer to figure out.

Bartel zaps a fishbowl full of flesh eaters in his tent with 10,000 volts of electricity while the others look on. He says he’s going to kill the flesh eaters in the ocean the same way. They leave Bartel to continue his pioneering work. He grins fiendishly as he watches the flesh eaters fizz back to life.

A motorboat approaches the island. The speed-happy guy piloting it cops a spray of saltwater in the face, which flesh eaters promptly reduce to a very bad make-up effect. The boat does a U-turn and skips back the way it came. Murdoch and his companions, who’ve been watching from the beach, sorrow over what would’ve been their means off the island.

Bartel sends Murdoch and the ladies out to find a spot where he can jump-start the ocean. While they’re gone, he offers Omar a flesh-eater Micky Finn. The idiot sculls it. Black gloop pumps out of Omar’s stomach as Bartel holds a microphone to his mouth and records his agonized howls.

Sometime later, Murdoch and the ladies hear Omar screaming. They spot him sailing into the distance on his raft. Unbeknownst to them, the screams are coming from a reel-to-reel recorder next to his corpse, which is lashed to a mast. Flesh eaters have eaten his stomach clean through.

Okay, that settles it. Vindaloo is now off my menu, like, forever.

Okay, that settles it. Vindaloo is now off my menu, like, forever.

Winters is taking a nap in the tent when she’s awakened by a boiling sound coming from the fish bowl. She lifts a tarpaulin covering it and recoils at what she sees. Rather than flee, she does her makeup. And then she flees. The tarpaulin rises as a heaving mass beneath it grows bigger and bigger.

Winters comes on to Bartel. She explains that she wants to be on his team now because his team is the winning team. They pash. Then Bartel stabs her with a wooden stake. He buries her body atop a sand dune, which isn’t the ideal place to hide it, but he’s in a hurry. As he hastens away, her hand pushes up through the sand.

Murdoch has a heated argument with Bartel, who pulls a gun on him. Bartel reveals that the flesh eaters are the creation of Nazi biologists. (Who else!) He says that being a patriot he plans to sell the flesh-eater tech to the US military, but that if they don’t want it, he’ll sell it to the Russians.

Bartel orders Jan to fetch some equipment from the tent. She’s confronted there by a hideous glowing blob creature that’s scarfed poor Lewis. Realizing that the creature is the result of Bartel’s fish bowl experiment, she races back to the beach and warns him not to electrify the water. But does he listen? No, instead, he forces Murdoch to throw a saucepan-cum-electrode into the surf.

The blob creature bursts out of the tent, electricity arcing from its two tentacles. Bartel tells Jan and Murdoch that he has to shoot them so he can escape the island while the blob creature is busy chowing down on their corpses. Suddenly, Winters teeters toward him, clutching the wooden stake he stabbed her with. She snarls that she’s going to kill him. He shoots her in the face. Dead for real now, she rolls down a dune and collides with the blob creature, her lifeless hand plunging the stake into its beach ball-like eye. Blood drips off her hand into the eye, and then the creature explodes.

Bartel and Murdoch deduce, brilliantly, that human blood is deadly to the flesh eaters when they’ve become a blob creature. Their deduction comes right in the nick of time, for a second blob creature is forming in the ocean. They jury rig a giant hypodermic needle so they can inject it with blood.

Bartel holds Jan and Murdoch at gunpoint again. He says that killing them is the only way for him to avoid the electric chair. Murdoch knocks the gun out of his hand. They fight and Bartel ends up in the drink. Roaring in pain, he staggers out covered in flesh eaters, then grabs the gun with his flesh-stripped hand and shoots himself in the head.

A condo-sized blob creature bubbles up out of the ocean. Murdoch, wearing a wetsuit and armed with the hypodermic needle, trudges into the brine to kill it. The creature wraps one of its tentacles around him and lifts him high into the air. He falls, landing on its colossal eyeball. He empties the needle into the horrid orb, then leaps to safety just before the creature goes up in a cloud of smoke.

Murdoch and Jan embrace on the beach. They walk off together as the sun sets behind them.

No Home Should Be Without The Flesh Eaters

So there you have it, folks, the greatest B-grade horror movie of them all. Dark Sky Films released a sparkling transfer of The Flesh Eaters uncut and in its original widescreen format on DVD some time ago. It’s available at all good DVD stores and a few bad ones as well.