The "auteur in question,"
Harold Daniels, may not be a name that rolls off the lips
of many cult film fanatics. Yet in his brief directorial
career he turned out two of the finest examples of cult
cinema extant. His efforts deserve recognition. That's why
we're here. Daniels began his cinematic life as a character
actor in early-forties B potboilers such as Danger on
Wheels and San Francisco Docks. 1949's Daughter
of the West was his first attempt at directing, followed
by Roadblock, a 1951 noir outing featuring primo
B tough guy Charles McGraw.
Port Sinister and Sword
of Venus were soon to follow, but it was a low-low-budget,
1957 release that should be recalled as the cult watershed
it is. Daniels' immortal Poor White Trash (aka Bayou)
is a sleaze-packed B classic not to be missed. The cast
is topped by Peter Graves, the hardest-working man in junk
cinema at the time. The film is easily stolen, however,
by the unforgettable Timothy B. Carey. Sporting tousled,
greasy hair, a leering grin and sunken eyes, his ritual
cajun front porch dance will leave the most seasoned cult
film aficionado muttering, 'What the hell was that?' Carey
gained notoriety as a gunman in Stanley Kubrick's heist
caper, The Killing, and later in his career was befriended
by director/actor John Cassavetes, who gave Carey plum roles
in his maverick features.
One of Trash's true highlights
is a cabin love scene involving Graves and his cajun amour.
When it gets hot and heavy, we cut to footage of a pounding
storm and the resultant surging surf, and we linger on said
stock footage for what seems an eternity.
The following year, Daniels nearly
outdid himself. 1958's Terror in the Haunted House
was filmed in a process dubbed" Psychorama." In
the moments just prior to a fright scene, drawn images of
skulls, snakes or monsters were flashed on the screen for
fractions of a second, accompanied by such lugubrious legends
as, 'Get ready to scream,' and at that moment of peak tension,
'SCREAM BLOODY MURDER!' This prompted the U.S. government
to actually ban the film outright owing to its devious attempts
at subliminal coercion. It's worth viewing these segments
frame-by-frame in order to savor the impact of the 'frightening'
movie mainstay Gerald Mohr plays a nefarious newlywed husband
who coaxes his young bride (Cathy O'Donnell) into moving
back into the creepy mansion wherein she experienced terrifying
nightmares as a child. O'Donnell, who starred opposite Farley
Granger in Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night, is
quite effective, as is Mohr, who consistently delivered
smoothly hammy performances throughout a diverse career.
His snaky charm bridges the flat sets and see-through plot
quite handily, making the film far more enjoyable than it
otherwise might have been.
The following year, Mohr starred
in Daniels' second "Psycho-rama" feature, A
Date With Death, a crime-drama co-starring Robert (Sun
Demon) Clarke and Liz Renay. The director's final genre
attempt came in 1965. House of the Black Death was
distributed under an array of titles such as Blood of the
Man Devil and Night of the Beast. Co-directed
with scare-film great Reginald LeBorg, it featured John
Carradine and Lon Chaney, Jr.
Cult fans should take a moment to
appreciate Harold Daniels and, while we're at it, the too-smooth
suavity of the actor who brought his best film to life,
darkly debonair Gerald Mohr. Mohr's career ranged from 1939's
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (his screen debut, unrecognizable
under heavy makeup as sinister murder suspect Dr. Zodiac),
to I Love Lucy ('Treatment Ricky, Treatment.'), as
well as a stint as Columbia studios' jewel-thief-turned-sleuth,
The Lone Wolf. His sci fi and horror outings alone qualify
him for anyone's cult film hall of fame. Check them out
at your first opportunity.
Mohr and an aggregation of disillusioned travelers
cross paths in a big city bar where a smarmy British hypnotist
demonstrates the horrors of a Soviet takeover. Gerald's
offbeat charm stands out in this flick comprised of 80%
U.S. Army stock footage. Notable for the fact that both
TV Lois Lanes, Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill, are buried
in the cast.
The Angry Red Planet
If only all B movies were this crazily unique.
Filmed in the experimental 'Cinemagic'process, (a semi-effective,
high-contrast sort of infrared look), Mohr leads a band
of four explorers to the titular orb, where they encounter
the most ambitious array of alien animal life ever displayed
in a low-budget shocker. You won't soon forget the legendary
bat-rat-spider. Produced by Moe Howard's son-in-law, comic
artist Norman Maurer, and designed by storytelling genius