Texas Terrors: The Late Night Films of Larry Buchanan Part Two
Mars Needs Women (1967)
For reasons that have been lost to time but must surely have been monetary in nature, American International Pictures was pleased with the results of Curse of the Swamp Creature. Larry Buchanan was given the green light to follow this up with another original story provided it served as a vehicle for fallen Disney star Tommy Kirk. Two years earlier, Uncle Walt had relieved Kirk of his mouse ears and acting contract when his same sex proclivities became too well known in Hollywood and clashed with Disney’s strong family values. AIP had been quick to scoop up the former Mouseketeer but had been unable to find much for him to do except star in the last few entries in their failing Beach Party film series. Like John Ashley and John Agar before him, Kirk was given the unenviable task of delivering inane dialog on sparse sets and keeping a straight face while doing it. Here Kirk plays the leader of a Martian space crew sent to Earth to find suitable breeding stock for their entirely male population. Having not seen Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster from two years earlier, this band of wet suit clad invaders attempts to kidnap as many females as they can before the US government, represented by lots of stock footage, locates their spaceship. Fellow Beach Party bikini babe and future Batgirl Yvonne Craig plays a way too young looking female scientist who falls for Kirk. At the time of his death in 2004, Buchanan was supposedly working on a sequel to this film so insert your own “there is a God” joke here.
In the Year 2889 (1967)
After two, more or less, original stories, Buchanan returned to the Roger Corman well to squeeze out this inferior remake of The Day the World Ended. Former teen idol Paul Peterson, who had been bounced from The Donna Reed Show less than a year earlier, gets the poker faced role this time out and gets another Beach Party babe, the beautiful Quinn O’Hara, as eye candy. This post-apocalyptic pot boiler is short on action and long on dialog as the mismatched survivors of a nuclear war bicker incessantly and prove why cockroaches will eventually outlive them. Corman’s diminutive mutant, who looked like a three eyed tree trunk, is replaced in this version by a zombie in a business suit but everything else is pretty much the same as the first time.
Creature of Destruction (1967)
For his third television film of 1967, Buchanan produced his final Roger Corman remake, this time recycling the reincarnation monsterfest, The She Creature. Having run out of teen idols in need of rent money, popular voice actor and background player Les Tremayne turns in a credible lead performance as the villainous hypnotist. For his scenes on shadowy sand dunes commanding the title creature to kill those who threaten his hold over his beautiful assistant, Tremayne, in top hat and cape, seems to think he is remaking Vincent Price’s The Mad Magician rather than this Corman time killer. No matter how good his acting or overacting is, Tremayne can’t distract the audience from the awful creature costume that is cheap even by Buchanan standards. What little suspense is built by the film is quickly dashed as soon as the wet suited, ping pong eyed monsters appears on screen. Les Tremayne would go on to play Billy Batson’s mentor, Mentor, on the Shazam television series a few years later but the budget beast would be back much sooner.
It’s Alive (1969)
While the other films in Larry Buchanan’s late night movie collection can hardly be considered main courses, his final entry, It’s Alive, is still the stew concocted from their left overs. Buchanan regular Bill Thurman plays the nuttier than a loon proprietor of a roadside reptile attraction. Since business has dropped off due to the construction of a nearby highway, Thurman must resort to kidnapping the few visitors who do come by so he can feed them to the monster he has discovered in the caves on his property. Unfortunately, the visitors include Tommy Kirk, returning for a second helping of Buchanan shenanigans. Kirk still looked like leading man material in Mars Needs Women but his recent years of substance abuse are starting to show here. His once promising film career would last only a few more years. Also returning, is the monster costume from Creature of Destruction. As if it didn’t suck badly enough the first time, late night television audiences are given another opportunity to appreciate its community theater production values. Buchanan’s budgets for these films went from tiny, to miniscule, to almost nonexistent here. The opening is one long protracted car ride interrupted only by asinine narration. Just when viewers think they might finally get a little action, they are treated instead to a monotonous silent flashback that does nothing but pad out the running time. In all fairness, Buchanan was obviously tired of churning out TV turkeys and this gargantuan gobbler was just the wake up call American International needed to finally pack it in.
Even fans of Larry Buchanan’s films have a hard time finding anything to like in It’s Alive. I would like to suggest that it is deserving of a second look to those that have seen and dismissed it and a first viewing for those who have never had the opportunity. I believe It’s Alive transcends the boundaries of a bad movie and actually represents the closest thing to a nightmare ever captured on film. There are only five people in the entire cast (Thurman does double duty as both the batty bad guy and his prehistoric pet), much of the film is shot without synchronized sound, and the cave monster looks like something that escaped from an adolescent’s psyche. The sets are sparsely decorated, the colors are garish, and actions often result in either no sound being made or the effect being mistimed. This is a difficult enough movie to make it through on a bright Saturday afternoon so I can only imagine what someone who fell asleep during the nightly news would think if they woke up three hours later in the middle of this film!
Buchanan’s television contract with American International Pictures came to a merciful end in 1969, after a four year run, but he and Sam Arkoff remained business associates. AIP would release several more Buchanan theatrical features including Bullet for a Pretty Boy, a gangster melodrama starring yet another tarnished teen idol, Fabian Forte. Larry Buchanan became known for specializing in conspiracy films centering around Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, and even The Door’s Jim Morrison. He would return to the horror genre one final time with 1981’s The Loch Ness Horror but even with a bigger budget the film was still a Buchanan bomb!
For anyone interested in sampling or revisiting the films of Larry Buchanan, most of them are available on budget priced DVDs. Some are also available in multi-feature packages at discounts so check online retailers like Amazon.com for bargain priced discs.