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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

12th September 2008

Larry Buchanan: Clown Prince of Kitsch?

Posted by: Craig Young

films.jpgI suspect that this is going to be the last evening off that I have this side of election eve, so I thought I’d contribute something a little more light-hearted- namely, a tribute to kitsch film director Larry Buchanan.

Fortuitously enough, I was lucky to find a filmography of this lost cinematic figure, written by US film theorist Len Craig. As he was a low budget horror film director though, I do have to wonder if the author doesn’t overdo the special pleading for Buchanan’s merits a tad. I’m afraid that the low production values do sabotage Craig’s attributions of narrative quality, and even incipient anti-sexism.

The Naked Witch (1961) was a relatively restrained piece- for one thing, the witch in question goes wandering around behind a vaseline coated lens that obscures explicit display of flesh. It involves a nineteenth century witch slaughtered by a remote German-American rural village in New England. The witch returns from the dead to wreak her vengeance on the patriarchal religious fanatics who did her in. And the narrator sounds visibly sympathetic toward her. On the other hand, Naughty Dallas (1964) is a dated burleque exploitation film with characterisation as negligible as the outfits that the performers wear- although the pathetic nature of male spectators is highlighted to offset the sleaze.

From then on, things get steadily worse. Teenage hormones and ardour win the day over military incompetence when it comes to The Eye Creatures (1965).  And given that Venus had been revealed as an 800 C wasteland four years beforehand, Zontar The Thing from Venus (1966) is just plain embarrassing, with an unconvincing low budget “monster” that is dispatched by the brave sacrifice of a heroine, while the army boys sit around spying on people and firing things into the air. As for Mars Needs Women (1967), the hapless male aliens invade our world with the intention of retrieving women, as only males are being born on their planet. Martian Dop tries to immobilise West, a stoic male hero, in a rather homoerotic scene that sounds like he’s chatting him up.

Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966) is better than it sounds, even if it does centre on a Southern US mad scientist with an estranged wife. In a novel twist, the monster is a converted human female, so the estranged wife’s feminist solidarity bond encourages her scaly sister to strangle the mad male scientist who mutilated her before one can say ’sisterhood is powerful.’

The Loch Ness Horror (1981) is on the side of the aforementioned bad animatronic model of a plesiosaur who only wants the return of her egg. By the end, one is left cheering when Nessie bites the head off her patriarchal oppressors, but sadly, she sacrifices herself to save the world from awful impersonations of Scotsmen.

In addition, Buchanan did do some serious work- including some almost feminist films about the male expoitation that led to the tragic end of Marilyn Monroe, a sober look at what might have happened if Lee Harvey Oswald had survived and been brought to trial for JFK’s assassination, and a plot to kill sixties rock stars.

Is Buchanan a neglected auteur or just plain awful? You decide!


Len Craig: The Films of Larry Buchanan: A Critical Examination: Jefferson, NC: Macfarland: 2007.

Larry Buchanan’s films on IMDb:

Tags: General

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