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Jerry Warren - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2010

Films directed by Jerry Warren on (re)Search my Trash

 

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To claim Jerry Warren was a good director wouldn't be just an overstatement, it would essentially be wrong. Warren simply wasn't very accomplished behind the camera, and he wasn't at all helped by his scripts, many of which he wrote himself, or the material lifted from Mexico genre films he frequently incorporated into his movies and which did not necessarily make much sense. And the topics his films tackled are invariably of the trash variety, with little in terms of redeeming values.

 

Yet just like another bad trash director, Ed Wood [Ed Wood bio - click here], many of Jerry Warren's definitely below-average films are held in high regard by trash movie enthusiasts like myself and have thus been made readily available on home video and later DVD time and again over the years, giving them much more of a spotlight than they would have deserved merely judging from their objective qualities - yet in cinema and especially genre cinema, judging films merely by objective standards will invariably obscure your view upon the fun stuff ...

 


 

Early Life, Early Career

 


Jerry Warren was born in 1925, in Los Angeles, California. Little is known about his early life, but sometime in his late teens/early 20's, the movie bug must have bitten him, and he started out as a bit player, appearing in films like the Chic Johnson/Ole Olsen comedy Ghost Catchers (1944, Edward F.Cline) and who knows how many other films. Unfortunately though, Warren wasn't much of an actor, so he never got past "uncredited"-status. However, Warren used his days as a bit-player to learn plenty about the film business, and eventually he came to the conclusion if he wanted real power in movies, he had to become a producer/director ...

 


 

From Man Beast to Teenage Zombies: Genre Movies in the 1950's

 

Jerry Warren it seems had found just the right time to make his dreams of becoming a producer/director reality: The mid-1950's. This was a time when the studio system was at its weakest yet drive-ins from all over the country were in bad need of films to sell to their teenage crowd. Drive-in owners in these days were not all that peculiar about quality of the fare they were showing, since their teenaged patrons were a rather undistinguishing crowd that came to have fun with their friends, get past first base with their partners of the opposite sex on their cars' backseats, and maybe party a bit. They wanted movies that had an easy-to-follow story, a few cheap thrills, and a sensationalist plotline that promised something this then new medium, television, would not show. Actual quality hardly ever came into this equation.

 

Like Roger Corman [Roger Corman bio - click here] and others, Jerry Warren was quick to realize that movies could be sold on their poster-motives and titles alone, and if you had a good poster, you didn't have to worry about the film attached to it all that much anymore - which was of course an invaluable fact to know for any low budget producer (and Jerry Warren always was his own moneyman) since it took pressure of actual production-values and allowed more shortcuts.

Why is that?

Because as long as the posters at the drive-in promised the teenage crowd the stuff they wanted to see, they would come, and if you didn't show a total bomb, they wouldn't complain. Point is that the drive-ins were more of a social gathering ground to begin with, and not too many teenagers actually came for a particular film or were interested in a particular director. One was just going to the drive-in because everybody else was there, too ...

 


Jerry Warren's debut as a director was Man Beast (1956), a film about an expedition into the Himalayas in search of the Yeti, an expedition that is led astray by a creepy mountain guide (George Skaff), who for some reason also works hand-in-hand with the snowmen ...

Considering both Warren's lack of experience as director/producer and the questionable quality of his future films, Man Beast is actually pretty decent, the scenery at least seems authentic, some actual outside shots are surprisingly well-handled (and might actually be stock footage, but there is no definite proof for that), Warren has actually been able to create something resembling atmosphere, and even the monster, cheap as it is on closer inspection, is at least effective. Sure, the film is marred by an onslaught of dialogue (as are many B-movies of the era, to be quite honest), but even that doesn't ruin the movie.

 

(By the way, there is one interesting piece of trivia about Man Beast: It's supposed to star an actor called Rock Madison in the lead, yet this was only an alias made up by Warren for actor Tom Maruzzi - and yet Maruzzi is credited with his real name as well while Madison's character name fits no one in the film - thus despite being top-billed, made-up Madison is not in this one. Despite being non-existant, Madison's also supposed to be in Warren's Creature of the Walking Dead [1965].)

 


While Warren still restrained himself considering dialogue scenes in Man Beast, he almost went over-board with his next film, The Incredible Petrified World (1957): Here the story about a diving bell gone missing miles below the surface and the adventures the divers have in an undersea world is frequently brought to a standstill by pseudo-scientific exchanges by a bunch of scientists including John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here] - who would by the way over the years become a Jerry Warren-regular. Actually, the film seems to be stopped cold before it even got a chance to start by an overload of dialogue, when Warren has characters discussing the film's setup rather than actually showing it. Of course, all the dialogue is a mere cover-up for the fact that the special effects of the movie are simply not up to the task, so it seems to be Warren's logic that the more scientific something sounds, the more real it will seem.

All that said, The Incredible Petrified World is not entirely without action and effects, we do have a diving bell, some diving, a world of caves and an underground volcano-eruption, so the film does deliver some (not that greatly staged) action - along with and endless string of explanations -, and at least some excitement coupled with lots and lots of talk - and to be quite honest, compared to other independent low budget sci-fi drive-in flicks of the time, The Incredible Petrified World is no better or worse than the bulk of them - and it's pure enjoyment to bad movie fans from 50+ years later ...

It should be noted here that besides John Carradine, another future Jerry Warren-regular made his Jerry Warren-debut in this one, veteran B-movie and television actor Robert Clarke, who would pop up in Warren's filmography time and again.

 


Flix.com


Of course, all of Warren's films were primarily made for a teenaged audience, but with his next one, he made clear who the target audience was even in the title: Teenage Zombies (1959) - and I'm talking about the teenage part of the title here, not the zombies, although ...

In scale, Teenage Zombies is much more modest than either Man Beast or The Incredible Petrified World, no Himalayas or undersea worlds here, but that doesn't mean the film couldn't have an outrageously wild plot that combines teens who go to an far-off island for some quality make-out time with a mad scientist, evil communists and of course zombies. Of course, the whole story makes little sense, but then again, who cares, for audiences back in the late 1950's, it had just enough thrills to remain entertaining, while today's audiences will rather laugh about the silly storyline and the even sillier dialogue, the bad make up and of course the man in an unconvincing gorilla-suit - and justifiably so.

It should also be noted that Teenage Zombies was Warren's crappiest film so far - while Man Beast and The Incredible Petrified World still boasted some production values (though they were by no means A-movies), there is pretty much nothing of the sort in Teenage Zombies: The beach scenes could have been shot pretty much everywhere in California, the scenes on the open sea are less than impressive, the villainess's abode seems to be a very nice middle class home - Warren's own home one wonders - and her lab is incredibly cheaply equipped.

And speaking of the villainess, she is played by Katherine Victor, a former stage and radio actress who had made her big-screen debut in the trash classic Mesa of Lost Women (1953, Ron Ormond, Herbert Tevos), and who would stay with Warren for the rest of his career.

 

One interesting and little-known fact about Jerry Warren's career is that he not only was a director/producer and general jack-of-all-trades on his movies (after all, personnel doesn't come in cheap and why pay someone to do something you can do yourself?), no, in 1959 he also recorded two hit singles, Street of Love and Monkey Walk, as Jerry Warren and his Pets. Now of course, Warren was no Elvis Presley, but his tunes were not half bad, songs targeted at the same teenage audience that went to see his films, and they were at least moderately successful.

 


 

Going Wild in the 1960's

 

While his last movie Teenage Zombies was a pretty crappy cheapo, Jerry Warren's next one, Terror of the Bloodhunters (1962) was actually a pretty accomplished piece of cinema. Sure, the title promised a savage and primitive jungle adventure Italian exploitation directors would not make until 10 to 20 years later, and the film failed to deliver on that account, but instead we are treated to a pretty sincere film about some prison escapees (including Robert Clarke and Dorothy Haney) trying to make it through the jungle and stay out of the way of the natives (which they succeed in but their pursuers don't). Of course, the film is strictly B-fare and the jungle is actually some North-American forest spiced up with a bit of stock footage of forest animals and scenes of native rituals and a burning native village, but as such it works pretty well, it features hardly any unintentionally funny scenes, is way less talky than most of Warren's other films, and is very competently made regarding its very low budget. And despite a deliberate use of stock footage (something all jungle films of the day had in common), it looks pretty much like being made out of one piece.

 

Speaking of stock footage: Nobody knows what gave Jerry Warren the idea, maybe it was pasting the jungle footage shot by someone else into his own film, maybe he just needed to deliver a film and fast, but in 1962, Jerry Warren started a kind of filmmaking he would eventually become famous for: his cut-and-paste movies. This essentially meant he took whatever films he could get his hands on cheaply, cut away all the material he felt he wouldn't need, shot some new scenes mostly featuring his regular actors (e.g. John Carradine and Katherine Victor) talking about what's happening in his source material, edited everything together and sold it as a new original film. There were of course two problems with this tactic: 1) The films Warren would get his hands on were usually not very good to begin with, and 2) Warren wasn't a talented enough director to improve these films quality-wise and especially his sense of pacing was off most of the time. Apart from that, in order to not have too much troubles lip-synching the dialogue at dubbing, Warren took most of the dialogue scenes out of his source films, which ironically made these films extra talky, because now he needed voice overs to explain the action and had to introduce new characters who do nothing more than talking about what's going on.

Why Jerry Warren did not just leave the films as they were and provide them with a decent dubbing job is not wholly understandable, but I guess it's a combination of 3 reasons, 1) he was no expert in dubbing, 2) he wanted to have a certain creative control over the films he put out, and 3) pure professional pride, he saw himself as a producer-director, not distributor, so he had to make the movies his before he put them out.

 

The cut-and-paste-method of filmmaking is of course highly reminiscent of Godfrey Ho's ninja movies of the 1980's [Godfrey Ho bio - click here], yet Jerry Warren was by no means the first one using this technique, which might be as old as cinema (or rather editing) itself. The schlockiest example of cut-and-paste movies prior to Warren's movies is possibly The White Gorilla (Harry L.Fraser) from 1945, starring Ray Crash Corrigan [Crash Corrigan bio - click here] in the bridging scenes while the actual story sequences are lifted from the 1927 silent (!) serial Perils of the Jungle (Jack Nelson) - which White Gorilla-director Harry L.Fraser actually wrote. To go further back in film history, the 1935 serial Queen of the Jungle (Robert F.Hill) was pretty much entirely built around action scenes from the 1922 serial Jungle Goddess (William N.Selig). And it's not just cheap B-movies and serials either that used material from other films, even the first Tarzan-film starring Johnny Weissmuller [Johnny Weissmuller bio - click here] Tarzan the Ape Man borrowed quite a bit of footage from Trader Horn (1931, also by W.S.Van Dyke), while later Tarzan films often came back to Tarzan the Ape Man for a bit of extra (action) material, including the Turkish Tarzan Istanbul'da/Tarzan in Istanbul (1952, Orhan Atadeniz) and 1959's Tarzan, the Ape Man (Joseph M.Newman) starring Denny Miller, which unlike the Weissmuller-film was shot in colour though (!).

These are only randomly chosen examples though and the fact that they are all jungle pictures is due to the facts that 1) jungle pictures are naturals to use stock footage to fake rich wildlife in the first place, so why not use still more footage from other sources? And 2) I just love the genre, and if it serves to make a point better than other genres, so what?

 


Back to Jerry Warren though:

The first film he was giving his cut-and-paste-treatment was Rymdinvasion i Lappland/Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959, Virigl W.Vogel), a Swedish film that has the distinction of being the probably first and only giant monster movie to be set and shot in Lapland. In all, Terror in the Midnight Sun is a rather beautifully shot film that is less than special though when it comes to the monster, a very badly done creature. On closer inspection though, Terror in the Midnight Sun is an odd choice to give an American makeover, since the film was shot (mostly) in English anyways, and easily understandable English at that, had a clear narrative structure, and pretty much followed the typical drive-in sci-fi formula as it was. Sure, it was also a tad boring, but so were pretty much all of Warren's films with their onslaught of dialogue every now and again ...

For some reason though Jerry Warren thought he knew better when he turned Terror in the Midnight Sun into Invasion of the Animal People in 1962, put a few American actors including his regulars John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here] and Katherine Victor in a weird and unnecessary framing plot, and made some weird re-cuts of and additions to the original film so it made less sense, like adding a subplot about the aliens' telepathic powers and rearranging the film in a way that the spaceship landing that starts the action now happens almost 20 minutes into the movie (it occured right at the beginning of Terror in the Midnight Sun).

 

Invasion of the Animal People is of course entertaining for all the wrong reasons, but Warren must have been pleased enough with the results (or was it just that he didn't care?) that he released more cut-and-paste jobs onto the public, starting with The Violent and the Damned and A Bullet for Billy the Kid in 1963.

The Violent and the Damned is a prison movie based on the Argentinian film La Balandra Isabel Llegó esta Tarde (1950, Carlos Hugo Christensen) while A Bullet for Billy the Kid is a Western (duh) using portions from the Mexican movie Una Bala es mi Testigo (1960, Chano Urueta) starring popular Mexican cowboy actor Gaston Santos held together by scenes featuring Steve Brodie and Lloyd Nelson, among others.

Unfortunately, there is little to say about either film beyond that because they are both considered lost nowadays.

 

Certainly not lost is Attack of the Mayan Mummy (1964), a film based on the Mexican La Momia Azteca/Attack of the Aztec Mummy (1957, Rafael Portillo). Attack of the Mayan Mummy is the exception to the rule considering Warren's cut-and-paste-movies inasmuch as here, the originally shot footage by Warren actually outweighs the footage lifted from Attack of the Aztec Mummy. The odd thing though, nothing really happens in the newly shot footage, it just shows characters commenting on what has just happened in the Mexican footage or contemplating what will happen - and it all seems to serve primarily one purpose: To avoid having to dub and lip-synch too much dialogue of the original footage. The result is so bad in fact that the film has come to be known as a trash masterpiece ...

 

While Attack of the Mayan Mummy was made up more than half of original footage, Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964) used almost no newly shot scenes - but it used most of the scenes Warren used for the earlier film from Attack of the Aztec Mummy again, as more or less of a back-up plot for his main story: You see, for Face of the Screaming Werewolf, Warren got his hands on another Mexican film called La Casa del Terror (1960, Gilberto Martínez Solares), which sounded too good to be true for a low budget filmmaker like him, because it featured Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio - click here] as a mummy turning into a werewolf (!). Sure, Chaney's heyday was long past, but he still carried enough marquee value to make a buck or two off - and seeing him playing a mummy turning into a werewolf, well that's certainly a new twist that should attract some extra crowds. There was just one problem with La Casa del Terror: It was a rather naive and childish comedy starring Germán Valdés - and not even a very good one at that. Still, that alone wasn't a fact to deter a filmmaker like Jerry Warren, he just edited out all the funny parts (including pretty much all scenes featuring Germán Valdés) to make it into a serious film ... and yet, stripped of its comedy, La Casa del Terror was so thin on plot that not even Jerry Warren's typical bridging sequences could make something out of it ... and thus the scenes from Attack of the Aztec Mummy were simply re-used, with some voiceovers and talking heads in the newly filmed scenes (this time it's actually a bunch of newscasters) explaining away all the film's inconsistencies - or at least that was the plan, the finished film is unfortunately simply chaotic, nonsensical, and not even half as funny as its making-of-story might suggest.

 

Like Face of the Screaming Werewolf, Curse of the Stone Hand uses material from not one but two existing movies, this time from Chile. But while both Attack of the Aztec Mummy and La Casa del Terror were at least rather recent movies in 1964, the films Warren used for Curse of the Stone Hand - La Casa está Vacía (1945, Carlos Schlieper) and the Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation La Dama de la Muerte (1946, Carlos Hugo Christensen) - were already almost 20 years old, and of course it showed. At least this time around, Warren had the good sense to not try to mix and mash them together but tell them one after the other anthology style (with scenes with John Carradine and Katherine Victor rather clumsily linking them), but then again, he used less than half of each movie and thus pretty much failed to do the source material justice or giving the audience a coherent picture.

 

For Creature of the Walking Dead (1965), Warren again relied on something Mexican, and a film closer to home, too, La Marca del Muerto (1960, Fernando Cortes), an atmospheric mad scientist-tale. And the atmosphere of the source film is actually Creature of the Walking Dead's saving grace, since despite his best attempts - like doing almost no dubbing but have a narrator do narration over dialogue scenes and such - Warren is unable to totally destroy the film, like he did with his earlier efforts. Katherine Victor by the way is in this one (in the Warren-shot scenes only of course) again, along with B-movie legend Bruno VeSota, whom Warren had previously used in several of his cut-and-paste films.

 

House of the Black Death (1965) is the last of Warren's cut-and-paste jobs and also an exception among them, inasmuch as it was based on an unfinished US-American film, the 1959 flick (tentatively titled) Night of the Beast by Harold Daniels, starring John Carradine (yup, he was in the original scenes this time, not Warren's additional ones) [John Carradine bio - click here] and Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio - click here]. Warren added the ending to the film and seemingly randomly threw in newly shot scenes starring among others Katherine Victor (who would have thought). However, in this film about Satanists, Warren's newly shot scenes work much better with the source material, and the fact that the film was unfinished also seems to work in his favour, as this way he got more creative control over the material than when merely shooting around an existing, finished film.

 

With House of the Black Death, Warren ultimately left the realm of cut-and-paste filmmaking to make what many consider to be the ultimate Jerry Warren film (though it's not all that typical for his body of work) while others consider it the worst movie of all time (which it isn't - though it's bad enough) while yet others simply don't get it: The Wild World of Batwoman/She was a Hippy Vampire (1966).

The Wild World of Batwoman is essentially about a bunch of bad guys trying to steal an all-powerful hearing aide (!) and the attempts of superheroine Batwoman (as played by Katherine Victor) and her bikini-clad Batgirls to keep it out of their hands - and in the end, the all-powerful hearing aide turns into an all-powerful bomb, too ...

The main mistake many people make concerning The Wild World of Batwoman is to take it seriuosly, which it was never intended to be - actually, the film was more of an hommage to/rip-off of/cash-in on the then extremely popular Batman TV-series starring Adam West, itself a masterpiece of campy and surreal nonsense. And made on a way tighter budget than the series, Warren's film tries to duplicate its over-the-top ideas - and yet fails, at times even miserably, mainly because humour was never Jerry Warren's forte and because what was campy in the original is only childish here.

However, The Wild World of Batwoman still has its saving grace, which comes to the fore every time Warren does not try to copy Batman and lets his own pulp fantasies run amok, like in the Batgirls' skimpy outfits, in the Batwoman costume that suggests more of an exotic dancer than a superheroine, Warren's urge to include some monsters - lifted from another movie (1956's The Mole People by Virgil W.Vogel) - in the film, even if they make no narrative sense, and so on and so forth. In all, The Wild World of Batwoman shows Jerry Warren at his trippiest - and this time, it's all his own doing, too, he didn't have to mix and mash footage from other movies (the tiny bits from The Mole People aside) to make something new, this time the craziness must have been intended ... and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say ouch!!! or just be happy that the film has been allowed to see the light of day (or darkness of a projection room) at all ...

 

Speaking of, the release of a film called The Wild World of Batwoman did not go unnoticed by DC Comics, Batman's owner/publisher. After spotting the many similarities between one of their flagship characters and this independent low-to-no budget movie, they sued over the Batwoman-name - which is why the film has been originally pulled from distribution to later be re-released as She was a Hippy Vampire in some areas, even if there were no hippies or vampires in the movie (which is why it was equipped with a new beginning that shed at least some light on the vampire angle).

Makes one wonder though why a big company like DC Comics was so terribly afraid of a little independent film ...

 


 

Frankenstein Island: A Fitting Swan Song

 

Possibly out of frustration over the events surrounding The Wild World of Batwoman and DC Comics, Jerry Warren pulled out of the film business after the release of that film as She was a Hippy Vampire to concentrate on other business options ... but then again, what goes for every self-respecting zombie also goes for almost all of the more eccentric figureheads of the horror genre: You can't keep a good man down - and thus in 1981, when he was pretty much forgotten by his fans of old (which were not all that many) and before rediscovery of films like his on home video kicked in, he out of the blue released a new film, 15 years after his last one, and yet he had assembled most of his regulars from yesteryear again, like Katherine Victor, Robert Clarke, even John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here] and frequent Jerry Warren-guest star Steve Brodie, plus veteran B-actor Cameron Mitchell, a newcomer to Warren's cinematic realm.

 


Flix.com

The film in question, Frankenstein Island, is a story about a group of balloonists stranded on an island full of bikini-clad girls and monsters and controlled by the daughter (Katherine Victor) of Frankenstein (John Carradine), who is with her as a ghost - and it is pure narrative madness, but it's also a great (and unintentional?) hommage by Jerry Warren to himself: in its mix-and-mash structure of story- and genre-elements it is reminiscent of Warren's cut-and-paste-movies, while its unrestrained throwing around of pulp clichés can be traced back to The Wild World of Batwoman, and yet storywise, the film is remarkably similar to Teenage Zombies, with Katherine Victor even playing a similar role in both movies.

The outcome of this strange blend is of course utter trash and maybe one of the worst movies Warren has ever made - and at the same time, it's simply hilarious and a film that's hard to top in terms of low-budget outrageousness ...

 

Of course though, the early 1980's were no longer the 1950's, and by 1981, Waren's directorial style seemed terribly outdated, as low budget filmmaking had moved on from 1950's drive-in routines quite significantly - so the film failed to find a large audience (though it has probably made its money back on home video).

Warren could not help but notice his time as a filmmaker was over, and he never shot another film.

He died from cancer in Escondido, California, 1988, at the age of just 63. But as unlikely as it seemed during his lifetime, probably, his films, with all their obvious, undeniable flaws, have lived on since then and will continue to do so for quite a while now, at least as long as there are trash movie lovers like myself.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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