Tuesday, April 03, 2018


I can’t imagine any BTC reader NOT wanting to see a film called MONSTER A-GO GO, especially when the people behind it are legendary exploitation film names like Bill Rebane (THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, BLOOD HARVEST) and Herschell Gordon Lewis (BLOOD FEAST, 2000 MANIACS). Unfortunately, this is another film which is known more for its MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 skewering than for the original film, which is a shame because when seen without the sarcastic commentary and with the mindset of someone who stumbled across the film at a rural drive-in in 1965 or on a local UHF station’s Creature Feature package in the 1970’s, MONSTER A-GO GO is a totally entertaining experience that on the surface (say, if you walked into a room for three minutes while someone was watching it) looks like a typical z-grade locally made sci-fi film from the late 50’s or early 60’s, but the closer you pay attention to it, the more bizarre it seems, and if you stay with it until the end, it’s completely mind-blowing and would have anyone turning to the nearest person, even a stranger in a darkened movie theater, and saying, “what the **** was THAT?

After two twist-oriented music shorts which found a home at AIP and Crown International, respectively (which are included on the Synergy DVD of MONSTER A-GO GO, and which are quite odd….with non-synced music and no live sound at all in a ‘musical’ short!), Chicago-based film-maker Bill Rebane (later, on his better-known films, he worked out of Wisconsin) set out to make a serious, professionally made science fiction film dealing with the space program and a manned space capsule which gets lost in the atmosphere….and at the same time a ten-foot monster appears out of the blue and people wonder what’s the link between the two. Rebane shot a few weeks with a full union crew and a professional cast including 1930’s actress June Travis (who’d co-starred with people such as Warren William, Joe E. Brown, Ricardo Cortez, Ronald Reagan, Robert Livingston, and Wayne Morris back in the day, and who was the daughter of the one-time owner of the Chicago White Sox). These scenes, properly shot and lit and with quality production design, appear mostly in the first half of the finished product and stand out—they could be from a legitimate AIP or Allied Artists film of the era, which is surely what Mr. Rebane was aiming for…and he achieved it in these sections of the film. Then the money ran out, but only a fraction of the intended film was completed.

The exact details of what happened next are murky and have to be inferred from the comments of Rebane and Lewis over the years. Evidently, Rebane and Lewis had worked together on various projects in the past, and each had even worked for the other. Rebane knew that Lewis could work quickly and cheaply, so as Rebane raised small amounts of money, Lewis assisted him in shooting new footage over the next year or two to get SOMETHING in the can. These scenes have a more haphazard look—clearly, the budget was severely limited in the later scenes—and cast members vanished and were replaced by others, in one case a scientist character being replaced by his brother (or something like that).

Evidently, they were unable to shoot enough footage in these circumstances to complete the film, and it sat unfinished. In late 1964 (or around then), Lewis wanted a quick and cheap second feature to back a new film of his (you did a lot better on the state’s rights drive-in circuit if you controlled BOTH HALVES of the double bill), probably remembered this footage sitting in the can, and acquired it. Lewis always was a savvy businessman with a nose for an exploitable concept—he also knew what audiences wanted (or, at minimum, what attracted audiences….once they’d paid at the box office, their response to the actual product did not matter as much…few would ever demand their money back).

Let’s be honest—if a film is titled MONSTER A-GO GO, does the quality or content of the film REALLY matter? Of course not. Lewis understood that. Such a title would get people in the door (or through the gate of the drive-in). He also understood one of the cardinal rules of the low-budget horror and sci-fi film, stated bluntly once by Jerry Warren: “you didn’t need to make it good, just make it weird.” In the days before video/DVD, you saw a film ONCE at a theater, or you saw it ONCE on television. You could not replay it. Oh, you could pay to see it a second time, but few would ever do that, and few would also make a point of checking the TV listings for months so they could catch something during a rerun screening many months later. You saw the film once, and it was over and all you had were memories. That’s how a film-maker like Larry Buchanan could show you a wild and cheap and totally unconvincing monster suit once for five seconds and get away with it. There was the initial shock, then you looked at it a second time and wondered what the heck you were seeing, and before you came to your senses, it was off the screen and the film had moved on.

Knowing how difficult it would be to take Rebane’s film and finish it right—assemble the same cast, match the photography style of the initial scenes, work on continuity, etc.—Lewis wisely decided that the best thing to do to get a quickie completed feature in the can and out to the drive-ins of the South and Midwest would be to give it an exploitative title that would pretty much pre-sell anything he would attach to the title, shoot a few new scenes of dancing teenage girls, put a garage-band rock and roll song in the title sequence, shoot a few new scenes featuring a cheap monster (whether it matched the original one or not was not essential), and tie the whole thing together with narration. Did the film have no ending? That’s fine….just explain that away by having some self-reflexive comments about how there is no real ending to anything and nothing in life is fully explainable. On some level, that could be a deep and profound philosophical idea, and it also throws such a curve at the audience that they’d be taken aback, and before they could gather together their thoughts, the THE END sign is on the screen and any analysis is a moot point. Also, Lewis wisely gave a sarcastic tone to the film’s promotion, just to let anyone who complained about the lack of continuity or the cheat ending that he too was in on the joke and the film was intentionally outrageous. Check out the film’s poster, where it states “This film could set our space program back at least fifty years.” No wonder Mr. Lewis had a successful career in marketing and taught marketing after he left the film industry….this man could sell ice to penguins!

Patchwork films with recontextualized stitched-together footage (from either unreleased films or uncompleted films or whatever) date back to the silent era. The 1931 film CALL OF THE ROCKIES is essentially an unreleased (or super-obscure) silent film re-issued with some new footage, narration, and sound effects, and passed off cynically to a sound audience as something new. The 1949 feature GUN CARGO contains scenes from either two or three 1930’s projects that were unfinished, now linked with a little new footage and a “plot” that attempts to tie everything together. While you are at it, check out other films such as DEVIL MONSTER (1946) or CONFESSIONS OF A VICE BARON (1942) or RECKLESS DECISION (1933). Or the 1950-52 "Western Adventure" productions starring Lash La Rue and Al "Fuzzy" St. John, which cannibalize earlier LaRue/St. John features to create "new" films. And Al Adamson created a number of these using his own films as the raw material for the slicing and dicing. Just read about the production history of HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS sometime! The film industry is a business, and business is all about product. If you can slap together an hour-long product from existing footage, tie it together somehow with narration or a few crudely shot inserts, and then give it a marketable title, why not? One of the most wonderful aspects of z-grade film is the strange, non-logical, hallucinatory world it can create—truly, it can put you in an alternate universe the same way a song-poem record or a short-story by Ed Wood can. You feel like you are “on something” but you are not.

MONSTER A-GO GO does that better than almost any other patchwork feature. Characters morph into others, continuity goes out the window, but, as Jerry Warren was wise enough to observe, it’s weird enough that it does not have to be “good” in any traditional sense. Well-made, safe, standard Hollywood films are a dime and dozen…something like MONSTER A-GO GO creates its own strange universe, and it’s a joy to live in that universe for 70 minutes.

If you can find the long-out-of-print 2010 Syngergy DVD of this, it’s almost like a Criterion edition….it’s got Bill Rebane’s twist shorts, a long interview with Rebane, a commentary track by Rebane, and a massive analytical booklet with interviews with any number of folks related to the film in one way or another. If someone asked me to choose one film which was the epitome of what the term “Psychotronic” was coined to refer to, I’d hand them a copy of MONSTER A-GO GO….but I’d just loan it to them, because I want MY copy back again!

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