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  Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, The Carnival Of The Monsters
Year: 1964
Director: Ray Dennis Steckler
Stars: Ray Dennis Steckler, Carolyn Brandt, Brett O'Hara, Atlas King, Sharon Walsh, Madison Clarke, Erina Enyo, Don Russell, Toni Camel, Joan Howard, Neil Stillman, Gene Pollock, James Bowie, Whitey Robinson
Genre: Horror, Musical, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Madame Estrella (Brett O'Hara) is a fortune teller at the carnival, and tonight she is getting one of her more middle-aged patrons drunk and tries to seduce him, but he spurns her advances, sending her into a rage. She calls on her assistant to hold the man down while she spitefully pours acid in his face and sends him into the cage behind the back room where she keeps her disfigured zombies. Meanwhile, dancer Marge (Carolyn Brandt) is performing her act with her partner, but her boss notices she is not as adept as she should be and when she finishes he warns her she should sort herself out unless she wishes to be sacked. Nevertheless, when she returns to her dressing room she begins drinking after being frightened by a black cat - but losing her job will soon be the least of her worries...

Talk about the true auteurs in American cinema, your Woody Allen, your Orson Welles, even your Russ Meyer counts, then why isn't Ray Dennis Steckler mentioned among them? He turned out low budget work in a variety of genres, from comedy to thrillers to this, which was billed as "The World's First Monster Musical!". He didn't script the film, which is blessed with one of the most attention-grabbing, long winded titles in movie history - those honours went to Gene Pollock and Robert Silliphant (who also wrote The Creeping Terror, which enjoys a similar reputation to this opus), but the Steckler hand is evident all over this.

And Steckler directs himself too, under his accustomed pseudonym Cash Flagg, playing Jerry the hapless victim of the orange-countenanced Madame Estrella and her hypnotic powers. When we first meet Jerry he is with his flatmate Harold (the strongly-accented Atlas King) trying to avoid the subject of getting a job as he'd rather go out and have a good time, something that appeals to his girlfriend Angie (Sharon Walsh) despite her mother's concerns. The three of them decide to see the sights of the local carnival and the nearby beach, so off they go, leading to quite a few shots of them fooling about on funfair rides.

One thing that is incredibly strange about the film is the amount of incredibly strange noises on the soundtrack, one apparently an ominous heartbeat resembling someone using a sink plunger on a blocked drain, and that's without mentioning the theme music over the titles that sounds like someone leaning randomly on the keys of an electric organ. But music plays a big part of the film, as this is a musical after all, and so there is a wearisome amount of padding that it becomes clear the carnival rides were only the start of. Most of these take the form of acts that the fairground patrons have gone to see and range from dancing girls to a bloke with a guitar (why is the audience for the stripper, who has the world's shortest act, mostly made up of middle aged women?).

Jerry and his friends end up at the fortune teller's, nearly knocked over as they go in by a fleeing Marge who has just been dealt the Ace of Spades and sees it as a bad omen, especially after getting a glimpse of the incredibly strange creatures. One thing leads to another, and before they know it Jerry has been abandoned by the other two to see the burlesque show, asked backstage by the stripper and hypnotised at great length to kill off Marge. In fact, a lot of scenes go on a lot longer than is reasonable, notably the musical numbers; when the final one is interrupted by the incredibly strange creatures it's a blessed relief - everyone's a critic, I guess. With some eccentrically non-Hollywood touches such as the drunken leading lady you can see Steckler was playing by his own rules as usual, and they don't make them like this anymore. Music by André Brummer and Libby Quinn.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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