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Four "B's" and an amazing "D-minus"
on May 30, 2011
"Creepy Cowboys" is a collection from Retromedia of four westerns made by "poverty-row" studios, containing elements that terrify some of the characters, though there is nothing exactly "supernatural" about them. They are on a 2-sided DVD.
"Tombstone Canyon" is 1932 film from World Wide pictures, directed by Alan James, with Tarzan and his human, Ken Maynard. Ken is used for target practice in Tombstone Canyon on his way to meet Luke Waley, a friend he hasn't seen since childhood, from whom he expects to learn his family origin. A shot is fired; he follows a black-caped mystery man (Sheldon Lewis) who vanishes, but there's a gang shooting at him. Ken is helped in driving them off by a female, Jenny Lee (Cecelia Parker), daughter of rancher Colonel Lee (Lafe McKee). They go to Lafe Waley's cabin and find him dead. And the canyon contains a madman with a maniacal scream, who is killing those associated with the Lazy S ranch, run by Art Sykes (Frank Brownlee) whose men are hostile to Colonel Lee. Who is the mysterious Phantom Killer? Ken Maynard and Tarzan (who does an amazing "play dead" scene) lift this one above the typical B-movie, and the supporting cast is also fine. The plot moves along quite well, and the print is mostly good, with only a couple dark scenes and a few scratches.
"Vanishing Riders" is from 1935, directed by Robert F. Hill and released by Spectrum Pictures Corporation. During a shoot-out Sheriff Bill Jones (Bill Cody) kills a criminal, and adopts the dead man's son, Tim Lang (10-year-old Bill Cody Jr.) after turning in his badge. Some time later they ride into Silver City, almost a ghost town, and find Bill's friend Hiram McDuff (Budd Buster), a storekeeper. He tells them of a gang of murderers and cattle rustlers, headed by Wolf Lawson (Wally Wales) who killed rancher Ed Stanley, whose niece Joan and nephew Frank (Ethel Jackson and Donald Reed) now can't get anyone to help get their cattle to market to avoid foreclosure by the bank. When Joan shows up for supplies, Hiram volunteers Bill and Tim to help at the ranch, and later unwittingly gets more help from none other than Wolf Lawson and his gang, who plan to steal the cattle. But Wolf's men are superstitious, afraid to go into Silver City because the place is said to be haunted. Clearly made for juvenile entertainment, the plot has more than a little stretching of credibility, including the gang's fear of ghosts, to make Tim a major part of the action. For its purpose, the film works fairly well, the younger Bill Cody doing a good job in his role. And there is some well-handled humor, includling a scene with Wolf Lawson's gang singing in a manner that might be expected of real cowboys, without much vocal training. The print has a few scratches but is otherwise sharp and with good contrast, the sound is good enough.
"The Rawhide Terror" was released in 1934 by Security Pictures, directed by Bruce Mitchell and Jack Nelson, original story and supervision by Victor Adamson, well known for his low-budget films. It opens with an attack by a gang, badly disguised as Indians, on a wagon and killing the parents of two boys who have identical birthmarks. The older boy wanders off, his mind gone, laughing maniacally. Many years later, a crazed masked killer with a maniacal laugh is using wet rawhide to slowly strangle his victims as they lay tied up in the sun. The victims are all members of the gang that attacked the wagon, now respectable citizens, demanding that the sheriff take action. Started as a serial, the film ended up a short feature. It suffered a change of hero; ranch hand Al (Art Mix) vanishes somewhere in the middle of the film and the Sheriff (Edmund Cobb) has to take over the duty of saving Betty Blake (Frances Morris) who, with her (much) older brother Tom (William Desmond) have rescued a boy, Jimmy Brent (Tommy Bupp) from his abusive foster father (William Barrymore, a.k.a. Boris Bullock) who is, no surprise, the Rawhide Killer. But with the change to a feature, our title character must find a faster means of dealing with the remaining gang members. And what happened to the other boy with the matching birthmark? Critics who complain about acting in other "poverty row" films should consider this one. Experienced actors William Desmond and Edmund Cobb try hard, but can't overcome the writing and directing. Still, there is entertainment of the "so bad it's good" variety for viewers in the right frame of mind. Picture quality is fairly clean, sound is OK. There is supposed to be a fragment of an original chapter title at the beginning, but it was edited out of this edition; it is present in the version from Alpha Video but otherwise this is a better copy. I also thought I saw the start of an end title where a runaway wagon is heading for a cliff with Art Mix tied up in it, but it can't be seen clearly. IMDb shows the running time as 52 minutes; this edition is just over 46, a six minute improvement.
"Wild Horse Phantom" was released in 1944, one of the many films directed by Sam Newfield for PRC. Billy Carson (Buster Crabbe) follows escaped prisoner Link Daggett (Kermit Maynard) and his henchmen with help from Fuzzy Jones (Al St. John) to recover $50,000 stolen from the bank, which must be found to avoid foreclosure on the local ranchers. The trail leads to an abandoned mine, but there are weird things going on inside. The bad guy can't find the money he hid, and there is someone in the mine with a maniacal laugh -- or is it inhuman? Billy is confronted by a female, Marian Garnet (Elaine Morey, a.k.a. Janet Warren) but she doesn't do much, other than being the daughter of rancher Ed Garnet (Budd Buster) who owns the old mine. Tolerable "B" feature of its kind, and while Al St. John's humor is not subtle, it is under better control than usual, and he has an unusual "dramatic" scene early in the film. Along with a few scratches and splices there is an editing error, a repeated piece about 15 seconds long. Sound is fine.
And yes, as noted in other reviews, the labels on the hub of the DVD are for a different collection. Ignore them. While not as cheap as one of Mill Creek's movie-packs, the transfer quality is fairly good, and if only three of the films are up to expected B-movie quality the fourth has interest of a different kind.