The Cult of the Azalea Pictures by Larry Buchanan (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

Mars Needs Women (1967) came next and was an original screenplay, like Swamp Creature, and not a remake of a 1950s movie.

It begins with women who are enjoying themselves – on a tennis court, in a nightclub and in a shower – suddenly disappearing. Then the military are informed via teletype from outer space: “Mars Needs Women”.

Dop appears to the military “in earnest”

Enter former child actor Tommy Kirk (1941-) as Dop, a Martian who appears from thin air to let the military know that due to odd chromosomes, the number of females born has dropped and that so the planet may survive – and not turn homosexual – Mars Needs Women!

Mars of course was the Greek God of war and if you believe some crazy sources, the Greeks invented homosexuality! They certainly practised it and furthermore the actor Tommy Kirk is gay – he looks good by the way before drugs took a toll and his hair fell out!

DVD cover for Mars Needs Women (1967)

The beginning of the film shows as the few women disappear, all the meetings are between men, whether military of men meeting socially.

Dop pleads to the military: “We are in earnest!” and that only a small number of Earth women are needed for breeding purposes.

Of course, the military, always remarkably foolish in Buchanan’s Azalea universe, see it as an act of war and Dop vanishes. The Martians must take their operation undercover to gather the women. They land their spaceship in an abandoned ice factory with its phallic smoke stacks. The Martians disperse in modern clothing, one of them remarking that ties were “pure male vanity” and, of course, a phallic symbol.

The stripper in the Athens strip club reveals little. It is a 60s television movie!

One of the Martians goes to the Athens strip club. Note the Greek. There he watches a strip tease without much enjoyment… it promises much but as this is a 1960s television movie, it doesn’t deliver. This echoes as Dop and another Martian go to the Holiday Inn – rather like two homosexuals seeking a room – and there in the lobby find a sign for a news conference by Pulitzer Prize winning scientist (played by Batgirl Yvonne Craig 1937-2015 breast cancer) about the Martian threat entitled Sex and Outer Space. Sexy despite horn-rimmed glasses the lecture promises much for voyeurs!

Yvonne Craig was Batgirl in the 60s tv series and emancipated in Mars Needs Women

Anyway Dop decides to go to the conference and uses hypnosis and an almost gay suggestion/seduction scene ensues as he takes identity cards from a journalist.

“You will do as I say. You will do my will.”

Tommy Kirk on the right “seduces” a journalist in a scene in Mars Needs Women

While Buchanan was by no means homosexual and had an ambivalent attitude to actor Kirk’s sexuality, the film however has some sort of sexual connection between men in several of the scenes – a brooding sexuality. All of it latent of course! At the conclusion of the hypnotic trance and having lost his card to the aliens, the journalist says: “Unless you know some out of the way place.”

It’s almost blatant bi-curiosity and certainly a rarity for a 1960s movie – although if you watch a Rock Hudson (1925-85 AIDS) movie of the era, these things were also thinly veiled. Whatever the vibe of Mars Needs Women, Buchanan goes with it and bookends it with another strip scene just so we don’t get the wrong idea and change channels!

A black and white Mars Needs Women trailer. The film is in colour.

Bubbles the stripper has finally entranced the Martian at the Athens and he goes backstage like a sexual predator and she screams.

Meanwhile at the conference, Dop asks the only intelligent question, which intrigues Yvonne and they go the local planetarium in a romantic fashion. It is full of schoolchildren, symbolic of Mars once upon a time. When the narration tape breaks, Dop finishes the story of Mars.

Kirk and Craig behind the scenes of Mars Needs Women

Another Martian goes to a football stadium where a Homecoming queen is being crowned for the city. This “ideal woman” is kidnapped.

Anthony Houston appears again

Dop and Yvonne date further and visit a museum created by Yvonne’s father which is dedicated to female reproduction. There are probably more pictures and recreations of the female reproductive organs few men of the era had ever seen!

The five women collected and the Martians plan to leave but are raided by the military and flee leaving the women behind.

Yvonne is left to ponder the gulf between the planets as well as between men and women. Mars Needs Women was reportedly Buchanan’s favourite Azalea. He may have hoped to reprogram Kirk with his film romance between him and the beautiful Craig but of course that was hopeless. And such things are being made illegal in some places now!

Not from Mars Needs Guitars but a good Hoodoo Gurus song I Want You Back (1984)

There was talk of a Broadway musical of course! And Buchanan was working on a video sequel at the time of his death. It’s influences include the album Mars Needs Guitars by the Aussie band Hoodoo Gurus. Again it has gained a well-deserved cult. Remember it was all done on a micro-budget.

“We could freeze her…”

An interesting line at the end happens, as the kidnapped women lie sedated on stretchers outside the Martian spacecraft when Dop and Yvonne turn up and Dop wants to stay with Yvonne. But a Martian says they can take Dop and Yvonne: “We could freeze her en route/and root”. Did I hear that right? Or have I got a dirty mind?

Are women needed on Mars at all except for breeding? Not pleasure?

As Dop says to Yvonne: “The word ‘love’ was removed from our vocabulary one hundred years ago.”

Was Mars’ civilization, like that on Earth, meant to perish and be forgotten? All over a little word! Which couldn’t be carried out?!

A poster for In the Year 2889 (1967) which is a title taken from Jules Verne

After the false prophet of Zontar, Buchanan went back to Biblical basics with In the Year 2889 (1967). What is essentially a Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve story, it was another remake of a Roger Corman film from the 1950s, this one The Day the World Ended (1955).

Opening with a quote from the Bible, it is set in the future in a small valley which is sheltered from the atomic apocalypse which has overcome the planet. It is there that a diverse group of characters end up together.

The Day the World Ended (1955) helped put Roger Corman into business

Head of the household is actor Neil Fletcher who is left in the valley with his daughter played by Charla Doherty. Their relationship is one of the generation gap, something which was becoming more apparent in America around the time the film was made. Their life is complicated by other characters turning up, including a couple of criminal types, as well as a drunk, and the Adam character played by Paul Petersen (1945-). We see within this diverse microcosm, that just like the world it seems equally doomed.

Paul Petersen is the Adam character in In the Year 2889

“When my brother couldn’t find the answer to something… He’d look it up in the Bible. He believed it held the answers to everything,” says Adam/Petersen to Fletcher as they ponder if there’s an answer to their predicament.

But not everyone is cut out to listen to Fletcher’s God-like character reading from scripture every evening – least of all drunks and criminals. Meanwhile, a gluey-eyed mutated creature roams the area.

“We’ll have no more of this disgusting behaviour,” says Fletcher, smashing the alcoholic’s jug after he catches the gangster’s moll doing a striptease.

No more disgusting behaviour! Nobody’s perfect.

Even in the house of God there is a generation gap as some children as not as conservative as their Bible thumping parents. But we are all a part of God’s and/or the universe’s story in one way or another… in this case Adam and Eve.

In the Year 2889 doesn’t Bible bash us. It’s a nice message that not having a partner isn’t the end of the world… er… and that romance and love isn’t dead even after the apocalypse if you are lucky enough to have one.

The mutant in In the Year 2889

With the mutant caveman dead at the end along with all those nasty types, the world has finally moved on… the creature could be seen as a symbol of the microcosm’s collective fears and angst. It is a troglodyte, entirely Godless and it eats raw meat too. That’s what you get when you drop atomic bombs! The young couple are saved from this monster by rain as they stand in a pool of water. They are saved by the true nature of God and baptised at the same time – Adam and Eve. Its CODA message at the ending with the Adam and Eve characters holding hands reads: the beginning. Not the best of the Azaleas but not too bad.

The She Creature has a good cast but Buchanan improved on it which wasn’t difficult

Buchanan would follow with another remake entitled Creature of Destruction (1967). It is a remake of The She Creature (1956) directed by Edward L. Cahn (1899-1963). The original film was really a response to the Bridey Murphy psychic phenomenon that gripped America at the time about the case of a woman under hypnosis remembering a past life.

Buchanan’s Creature of Destruction has been hailed as some sort of feminist masterpiece. And for its budget limitations – they’re not far wrong.

The monster from Creature of Destruction (1967) takes a break. It’s also in It’s Alive.

Buchanan has made something quite compelling as he tells of a cheapjack hypnotist who takes his subject to a suburban lake resort where he performs to the polite claps of the audience. At one point these claps are almost surreal as if the audience in the auditorium don’t matter which adds to the otherworldly artiness of this low budgeter. I guess at the time no-one would really applaud Buchanan, so he keeps the applause in perspective. Unreal.

The title credits of Creature of Destruction is a part of a psychic event

Basso is the hypnotist played by radio announcer Les Tremayne, who would later turn up as Mentor in the 1970s television series Shazam!

When I say the movie is psychically oriented, we have the opening scene which predicts the ending. In fact, in the end we see the same scene as in the beginning but with location sound instead of an almost Theremin-like high pitched ring to begin with.

Paul Blaisdell in his original She Creature costume. He always insisted he wore the costumes.

We also glimpse the creature which is very similar to the costume used in Swamp Creature and the one that was used again in the final Azalea It’s Alive. The suit is cheap, practically made out of a wet suit with ping pong balls used for eyes. It’s halfway between Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Paul Blaisdell’s (1927-83 stomach cancer) She Creature creation.

Basso’s protégée, or victim, is played well by Pat Delany/Delaney, now married to the film’s writer Tony Houston (Enrique Touceda III).

Pat Delany, she used two spellings, was a former Miss Texas and is great in “Creature”

Delaney is a woman oppressed, a woman abused, a woman drained of energy by depression. All under the spell of Basso each evening as he virtually rapes her on stage every performance as he compels her to speak of past lives. His power over her is strictly mental as Basso, who dresses a bit formally with a top hat in his promotional photos, is well past his physical prime and impotent. It is during one of Basso’s “performances” that there is a psychic message in which he declares there will be a murder. That murder is by a creature which emerges from the lake. And like the “children” in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979), this creature is a manifestation of the rage of Delaney’s character.

The Brood (1979) has a similar female rage manifestation as a part of its plot

Then throw in a performance by pop singer Scotty McKay (1937-91 heart attack) for some contemporary action for the teenagers and kids. McKay gets killed by the creature later for probably ripping-off the Batman theme during one of his performances.

Neil Fletcher turns up again, this time as a businessman who sees dollar signs in Basso’s act, while Aron Kincaid (1940-2011 heart failure) is an army psychologist who takes an interest in Delaney.

Scotty McKay rips off the Batman theme in Creature of Destruction which leads to his death

“When I touch you Doreena, you will awaken,” says Basso to Delaney, who spends much of her time in a red upholstered chair. She symbolises all the oppressed women in bad relationships, she is their martyr and their revenge.

“You’ve had me in deep hypnosis when I told you not to do that,” she says almost like rape in marriage or having sex with a partner who is asleep. A lot off people like it! Basso tells her they are about to be rich through Fletcher.

“We merely try to explain the unexplainable,” says Kincaid about his take on psychics to the businessman, his prospective father in law.

Aron Kincaid was an artist as well

Killing with its talon-like hand, the creature is called “it” by some police afraid to call it a psychic phenomenon since that is just not possible. Or is it?

The businessman hopes to validate Basso on stage with Kincaid’s blessing during a performance. Delaney gives her Bridey Murphy performance, her hands on the giant phallic like orbs of the chair. Kincaid is almost convinced, as she seems to know the unknowable. Basso takes more credit for the act than is due and he would be nothing without this woman in his life, who must “perform” in her upholstered chair each night.

Tremayne also appeared in The Slime People. He was a big voice on radio once upon a time.

“Stop fighting the truth. It’s just as possible the boy saw the soul of a living woman transmigrated to her first primitive body.” In this case a fishman! “Simply because you’ve never seen such a thing, don’t deny it can’t exist,” says one character.

I won’t go too much further into the plot of Creature of Destruction… Basso is humiliated when shown to be impotent with Delaney on stage one night. Kincaid tells her that ridding herself of Basso would be like getting rid of an infectious disease… venereal at that!

A woman depressed and “raped” on stage every night by her stage partner

Creature of Destruction is an early look at female depression in having to play a role in the pre-feminist era. It is also an early look at parapsychology. When the psychic premonition is realised it is too late for the businessman at the end of the film. Delaney has in the meantime rejected fame and fortune as well as her oppressor. But it is short-lived freedom as she is killed by Basso, leaving her a martyr. Basso in turn kills himself and amid all this carnage the creature dissolves as the gun spins on the floor like some wheel of fortune or a game of spin the bottle.

A depressed looking de Montaigne

Following another Buchanan voice CODA there is the quote credited to French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592 tonsil infection): “There is no monster in the world so treacherous as man.”

It’s Alive (1969) is the final of the Azalea Pictures worth mentioning. There is the previous year’s Hell Raiders which is the odd one out because it is a World War II movie. It stars John Agar and for many years was thought a lost film. However, it turned up. But I have gone well over my allotted space…

While it is not a remake of a movie, It’s Alive is reportedly based uncredited on Richard Matheson’s short story The Being. Haven’t read it so don’t know.

Some sort of ad for the once considered “lost” movie Hell Raiders (1968). Now found.

Starring Bill Thurman (1920-95) as a country male who is the ultimate in a world of male domination, he keeps a female teacher, who stumbles on his out of the way abode, as a prisoner.

When a couple also get lost in their car, Thurman invites them in only for them to be captured and held hostage in his underground cavern where some sort of lizard creature – the same costume as Swamp and Creature – lives.

The monster appears again in the caves below in It’s Alive (1969). Not to be confused with the 1970s Larry Cohen film.

It’s the typical middle class bored married couple go for a Sunday country drive which goes awry.

Tommy Kirk is in this one again although by now he is wearing a toupee and his looks have passed along the way of his drug and alcohol haze of a life.

The teacher is another repressed and abused female, who tells her story in flashback almost as if it was a silent movie with occasional narration.

It’s Alive is one of the first in the modern Texas Chainsaw Massacre vein which looks at the hidden dangers of the isolated Texas countryside.

Bill Thurman plays a very unpleasant character in It’s Alive

Kirk is soon a hostage with the couple and the husband, who is sometimes violent, is killed by the creature from the hot springs in the cave. With the help of the teacher and some dynamite, Kirk and the recently widowed woman are freed walking away arm in arm with the end title card: the end?

It was Buchanan’s last Azalea Picture and certainly not the best. But it is interesting.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) trailer

Billy Thurman, incidentally, was admired enough by Steven Spielberg for him to appear in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)… Don’t underestimate the influence of the Azalea Pictures as they ushered in the mass production of television movies during the late 1960s onwards to the point where television product has encroached onto the big screen with Netflix product.

Larry Buchanan was low-budget dynamite!

But Buchanan did it all with virtually no money and just a dedicated crew and actors who would work for next to nothing. He created art and messages in products where there was previously none. Buchanan was an artist – the first in the medium of direct to television colour movies otherwise seen as quickly shot trash. And to many people they will remain so!!

What he did on such budgets and time constraints was amazing! Buchanan didn’t write the screenplays, except for Zontar which he co-wrote. As producer he also edited his films. If you listen closely to one scene you can hear him direct Delaney in Creature of Destruction.

They all can’t be “classics” but by the grace of God, or Zontar, Larry you did a good job under the circumstances. Adieu maestro!

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