What Larry Buchanan was to Texas …
What Bill Rebane was to Wisconsin …
What William Girdler was to Louisville and Andy Milligan was to Staten Island, Earl Owensby was to North Carolina. “The Dixie DeMille” himself is the subject as Halloween Month continues!
Low-budget filmmaker Earl Owensby occupies a unique niche in American movie making. Like Roger Corman before him, Owensby set out to be absolutely certain that his films made a profit and – again like Corman – a lot of his flicks were unpretentious B-Movies. Owensby notoriously never spent more than a million dollars on a film and never accepted a distribution deal that would net his company less than eight million dollars.
Many of Owensby’s movies are entertaining and boast decent production values, but for the sake of this review I will be looking at three of his lesser efforts that I feel fall into the fun-bad category.
WOLFMAN (1979) – With this movie Owensby completed his move from being a budget Joe Don Baker in vigilante movies like Challenge, The Brass Ring and Dark Sunday to being a budget Burt Reynolds in race-car and prison flicks like Death Driver and Seabo to being a regional horror film producer like Bill Rebane.
In a sprawling southern mansion the aged patriarch of the Glasgow family lies on his death-bed. A minister who is really a Satanist (Ed Grady) is in cahoots with some of Glasgow’s sleazy heirs to pass the family curse of lycanthropy on to the eldest Glasgow male – Colin Glasgow (Earl Owensby). You’d think that would happen naturally if you’re a fan of other werewolf films but Owensby plays by his own rules in this southern-fried wolfman movie.
The Satanist stabs the bedridden patriarch to death with a silver dagger then joins the sleazy heirs in some over-the-top sinister laughter. Our main character Colin returns from abroad for his father’s funeral and to claim his inheritance.
Naturally he’s soon turning hairy in the by-then ALREADY outdated quick dissolve and pasted-on hair technique. Colin’s nocturnal transformations begin to complicate his romance with a woman whose store sells more clocks than the entire continental United States will EVER need to purchase.
All the right people get killed along with several innocent victims, Earl’s regular cast of supporting players embarrass themselves in the usual ways and the heavy southern accents lend a fun “Hee Haw Meets The Werewolf” feel to the piece.
The story is set a few decades after the Civil War so part of the laughs come from spotting the many anachronisms that are lurking in the background of various scenes. Plus the cast members all wear clothing from different time periods like in Earl’s later period pieces.
I like to refer to the phoney, floating time period his movies take place in as “L’Owensby Epoque.”
A DAY OF JUDGMENT (1981) – This movie plays as if Owensby collaborated with Reverend Estus W Pirkle like Ron Ormond did for the religious zealot/ Cold War potboiler If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?
You can strip away that movie’s Cold War angle, though, since A Day of Judgment is set in the 1920s American south. Well, 1920s-ISH we’ll say since the usual fun Owensby anachronisms turn up repeatedly in assorted scenes.
Reverend Cage addresses a church that is virtually empty and bores the few faithful who remain by bitching and moaning about how poor attendance has been. He’s leaving town and is basically washing his hands of the place, warning that the increasingly sinful town will get what’s coming to it.
Next we have a series of scenes featuring some of the more sinful citizens of the deep southern town. Adultery, bigotry, covetousness, greed and outright murderous passions lurk behind every corner of this Mayberry-turned-Sodom and Gomorrah. These scenes go on so long even Larry Buchanan would scream “Pick up the pace, dammit!” at the screen.
A sinister, monstrously ugly man in black arrives in town, driving a horse-drawn carriage and sporting a long scythe. This figure is the film’s Grim Reaper/ Angel of Death/ Foolkiller- type menace. As the citizens’ various forms of evil reach their sinful climax the black-garbed figure steps in and kills each of them.
He doesn’t just use his scythe, however, he bumps them all off in supernatural ways that reek of poetic justice, like when evil figures get their comeuppance in anthology shows like Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside and others.
You can shut the film off when the Man in Black dispatches all of his victims in appropriately macabre ways OR you can stay tuned for the goody-two-shoes Christian sermonizing ending. That ending shows the dead sinners waking up and realizing it was all a dream, scaring them all back into attending church on a regular basis and renouncing their “sinful” ways.
A Day of Judgment was also released under the title Stormbringer to try to make the supernatural vigilante seem like the main character. The main – some would say only – fun from watching this flick lies in ridiculing it relentlessly.
The backstory on this hilarious mess of a movie is legendary among us lovers of Bad Movies: it started out as a moralizing Christian scare film stretched out to feature length. Along the way it was decided it would sell better as a horror film so the Grim Reaper figure was thrown in just to provide scary-looking scenes for the trailer. Ah, the shenanigans pulled by low-budget filmmakers in those pre-internet days!
DOGS OF HELL (1983) – This movie is the most watchable of the three I’ve reviewed in this article. If you’re not into the “so bad it’s good” aesthetic like the rest of us are then Dogs of Hell would be the Earl Owensby film for you to try out.
Also released under the title Rottweiler, this 3-D movie – yes, 3-D – has the most Larry Buchanan-ish feel out of all of Owensby’s projects. However Earl injects the proceedings with more life than Buchanan’s pack of stiffs ever mustered.
A scientist has trained a pack of Rottweilers to be the ultimate shock troops. Under his treatments the canines have been transformed into mobile killing machines who could be dropped behind enemy lines to wreak havoc with no care for the consequences.
Needless to say an accident involving the vehicle transporting the maniacally violent dogs across the state frees them to prey on all the innocent civilians in a resort community. The ten canines chow down on plenty of the usual southern stereotypes who populate Owensby’s movies.
The remains of the victims are often fairly gruesome but, hilariously enough, we never get to actually see the dogs themselves inflicting the damage. We get shots of the Rottweilers stalking and lunging at their victims or maybe a dog-level POV shot followed by a cutaway.
This is by no means a good movie, understand, it’s just the most entertaining of these three in its own right. You’ll still find yourself laughing at all the wrong times as the story plays out to its predictable finish.
Earl Owensby also produced a horror anthology film titled Tales of the Third Dimension (1984) but I haven’t been able to track down a copy yet so that’s why this wasn’t a Halloween Quadruple Feature.
FOR MY ORIGINAL LIST OF THE TOP ELEVEN BAD MOVIES FOR HALLOWEEN: https://glitternight.com/2011/10/24/the-eleven-most-neglected-bad-movie-classics-for-halloween/
FOR MORE BAD MOVIE REVIEWS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/bad-movies/
FOR SILENT HORROR SHORTS FROM 1896 – 1909 CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/10/19/the-best-silent-horror-film-shorts-1896-1909/
FOR MORE HALLOWEEN ITEMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/halloween/
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