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Friday, June 8, 2012

Reel Bad Cinema: Assignment Terror (1970) review


Michael Rennie (Dr. Odo Warnoff), Karin Dor (Maleva/Melissa Kerstein), Craig Hill (Inspector Tobermann), Manuel De Blas (Count John Mierhoff), Ferdinando Murolo (Farancksalan's Monster), Gene Reyes (Mummy)

Directed by Tulio Demichelli

The Short Version: This ambitious, yet terribly troubled Spain-Germany-Italy co-production is a great deal of fun, despite being a jumbled, insanely nonsensical mess. Paul Naschy returns as his classic wolfman, the Polish Waldemar Daninsky, although he's more of a supporting role this time out. He doesn't even utter a line of dialog till nearly 50 minutes into this 83 minute movie. Michael Rennie, in his last role, plays an alien; this time a low-rent Klaatu bent on taking over the Earth after their own planet freezes to death likely because somebody failed to pay the heating bill. Apparently, money was in short supply funding this lively, if childishly silly monster packed mini-epic.

Aliens led by Michael Rennie from the planet Ummo plan to conquer the Earth by using the many superstitious fears of earthlings against them. This plan involves amassing a motley clutch of legendary monsters with plans of cloning them to use as an army to overthrow mankind. They first resurrect a vampire named Count Mierhoff whose remains are on display in a magicians carnival act. Next, they bring Waldemar Daninsky back to life after performing an operation on him removing a silver bullet from his chest. Then it's off to Egypt for our alien entrepreneurs to unleash a mummy which is revived by a large golden cross. I'm serious. You can't make this shit up.

Their final task is to bring to life Dr. Farancksalan's Monster. Dr. Frankenstein apparently threatened to sue for the use of his name and likeness so this Farancksalan fellow took his place. Meanwhile, Inspector Tobermann immediately cries 'monsters are on the loose' and sets out to stop them. The aliens, having apparently seen the 'By Any Other Name' episode of the original STAR TREK, discover the capacity for love and jealousy within their human shells that brings about their eventual downfall. The film climaxes with Toberman and Daninsky in a handicapped tag team match against the vampire Count John Mierhoff, the Mummy and the lumbering Creature.

This bizarre, thoroughly bonkers Naschy mish-mash vies with VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972) and the Spanish cut of THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1973) as the wackiest Spanish horror flick on the Euro icons resume. It's from the same director as the horrible, if judiciously sadistic Eurocrime non-epic RICCO (1973), which should tell you the level of insanity on display here. Absurd plot lines like this one were often found in the wilds of Mexi-horror, but Spain seemed to be up to the challenge of creating equally fun, if kooky crapola of the highest order. 

The plot here makes very little sense and the inexplicable nature of the narrative leaves little room for comprehension, forcing one to either shut off their brain, or their DVD player. This Euro kitchen sink stink has a little bit of everything floating around in its rainbow colored cesspool. There's an El Cheapo "central control" set, dozens of flashing sci-fi lights, a Spanish disco scene, flashy colors, an ambitious scope the films $1.95 budget can never realize and a cadre of monsters including Naschy as Daninsky, a skinny mummy (the subs refer to it as female?) and a Farancksalan Monster that looks suspiciously like Scott Bakula.

According to Naschy's memoirs, this movie had a heftier than usual price tag applied to it. A few directors were attached to the project including Spanish director Hugo Fregonese, who had done directing jobs in Hollywood. He worked on the film for a few weeks before walking away from it enabling Tulio Demichelli to take over. American actor, Robert Taylor was initially desired for the role, and reportedly, the actor personally contacted Naschy about doing the picture. In the end, the role went to Michael Rennie who arrived in noticeably ill health.

Despite being given a larger than usual budget, the several months of trouble the picture faced took its toll on the production till Isasi Isasmendi (presumably the same man responsible for directing SUMMERTIME KILLER in 1972) stepped in and helped out on the film enabling it to be completed.


ASSIGNMENT TERROR has nary a dull moment and not only is this all mon-star mash assembled with (body) parts of better movies, it also has an exceptional cast in front of the camera, too. Michael Rennie (likely best remembered as Klaatu from the iconic 1951 science fiction classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) masquerades as Dr. Warnoff, the head alien sent to Earth to take over by using old classic Universal movie monsters; an ingenious idea for planetary conquest if I ever heard one.

Apparently, these aliens from the oddly named planet of Ummo (like 'Uno', but with two m's) are disembodied spirits who need human bodies to survive. The script doesn't really explain what they are, nor does it say how the head alien came to find Dr. Warnoff's body. There's also no explanation given as to why this Plan 9 From Outer Space requires the mass production of vampires, werewolves and mummies when it's stated these otherworldly beings have more potent means for taking over the planet.

Michael Rennie is the evil Dr. Warnoff, although he looks more a tired Dr. Wornout than anything else. Rennie also seems terribly disinterested in this movie, particularly in such scenes where he is performing open heart surgery on Waldemar Daninsky to remove a fatal silver bullet (actual surgery footage is used here!), or revivifying the silliest looking Frankenstein Monster since the slapdash creation of Hammer's THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964). This was the actors final film before dying in 1971 from Emphysema.


Paul Naschy has little to do here except skulk around in both hairy and human form. His werewolf scenes are energetic to say the least, even if the make up and fangs aren't up to par with other entries. He gets scant few lines of dialog and doesn't even utter anything at all till past the halfway point. Because of this and the additional gaggle of ghouls, this never feels exclusively like a Naschy movie.

After his body is operated on, Warnoff orders he be given a serum to keep him from changing into a werewolf. Yet that night, he changes anyways and escapes, killing a girl and menacing another. Later on we see him being given this serum. Also, a Mr. Sternberg mentions meeting Daninsky, yet we never see this happen. Possibly there were editing mishaps, too? The highlight, and likely a pleasurable one for Naschy, is that he gets to tussle with two horror heavyweight icons during the finale.

First it's a fist flyin' bandage burner with the Mummy, who goes out in a uniquely creative fashion. Naschy himself took on a much more vigorous, and gore happy cloth wrapped avenger in THE MUMMY'S REVENGE in 1973.

Then it's a slugfest with the lumbering Farancksalan's Monster, a creature who has no difficulty opening doors, using keys, pulling levers, and yet seems to walk around with his eyes closed! Daninsky and the Creature toss each other around paying respectable tribute to 1943s FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN as they destroy the cardboard control room sets as electric sparks enthusiastically explode around them. Incidentally, Warnoff states this creature is driven electrically, even though this poor man's Frankenstein's Monster is electrocuted at the end!

Craig Hill, an American actor, took time off in between Italian western roles to play the determined cop on the case of both the missing and the murdered. He's one of the few civic figures in films that immediately jumps to the (correct) conclusion that the crimes are the work of monsters. You could say Inspector Tobermann was the prototype for KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER. If you're familiar with his numerous western film roles, seeing Hill in a non-sagebrush setting is a welcome change of pace.

The lovely Karin Dor plays the alien Maleva, who has hijacked the corpse of Melissa Kerstein. Dor was a familiar face in Euro horror and also westerns. She graced the screen in such influential western pictures as the German production TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE (1962), a film which begat a slew of sequels and helped usher in the Italian brand of western. Dor was also a beautiful presence in the supreme Gothic German horror film THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967) starring Christopher Lee and Lex Barker.

The music score by Franco Solima is below par and sometimes sounds like it belongs in another movie. Much like the out of place score for Naschy's bewildering VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972), the quirky late 60s disco cues only add to the unevenness of the whole enterprise.

Far from a classic, this obscure entry in Spanish horror cinema delivers brain-dead thrills in spades. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll likely be reminded of how it was being a kid staying up late to watch these kinds of movies on the late, late show long after your parents have gone to sleep. I wonder if Fred Dekker had this movie in mind when doing THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)? Grab your popcorn and coke, sit back and be entertained by this woefully ridiculous, highly entertaining piece of Euro horror goodness. 

This review is representative of the R2 Film Art PAL DVD.


Erich Kuersten said...

this looks awesome, the plan nine comparison you mention surely god-given. Kids don't need reasons to have all their monsters--vampires, zombies, wolfmen, aliens--in one goofball endeavor. They can't follow half the story line anyway, and just assume adults know what they're doing with all that jazz.

It's too bad now with video and all shows and movies are made that directly talk down to kids and operate solely on their level, rather than being 'adult' films targeted at kids indirectly, like this... too bad I aint got PAL

venoms5 said...

I'm not even sure kids nowadays, as "sophisticated" as they are now with their cell phones and video game systems would fine much entertainment value in something like this. Big kids like us, though, now that's a different story!

Erich, if you have a region free player, you should be able to play the disc just fine.

Maynard Morrissey said...

Omg, I have to see this.
Just couple of months ago, I've seen the hilarious "Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf" with Naschy as Daninsky, Wolfman and Dr. Jekyll - wonderful, just wonderful :)

The Vicar of VHS said...

Excellent review! You are dead-on regarding the strengths and weaknesses of this flick, and also the glee to be found there. Of course for hardcore Naschyphiles, it's an absolute must-see as Naschy's homage to his inspiration, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN. It's really all about Naschy getting to rise from the dead (a la Lon Chaney in FmWM) and fight the Big Monsters just like he always dreamed, and for me it's an especial joy to get to watch him doing it.

Incidentally, I can solve one mystery for you: Mr. Sternberg is meant to have met Daninksy in the previous Waldemar film, FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR (aka LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO), making this one of the few (only?) movies in the series to have any continuity with another entry.

venoms5 said...

@ Harry: If you enjoyed that one, you should probably like this one even more. Very entertaining film! Personally, Naschy's movies he directed himself are superb compared with movies he did for others. Makes me wish he'd of directed more of his pictures. He was truly talented when in complete control.

@ Vicar: Thanks so much, Vicar! Yes, once Daninsky began duking it out with the Creature, it was almost verbatim from the older Universal picture.

And thanks for clarifying the Sternberg bit. I will need to go back and re-watch the MB DVD now!

Erich Kuersten said...

Venom, is there a region free player you would recommend, ideally one with blu-ray?

venoms5 said...

Actually, I am not sure about a region free player with Blu ray capabilities that I could recommend, but here's some reasonable region free Blu players at amazon...

Gialloman and DontIgnoreMe said...

do you know a site that carries this and paul naschy's mummy movie on dvd?

Bud said...

Venom, your review of Assignment Terror was excellent, citing the strengths and absurdities--still as a Euro horror parody,you can't take it seriously at all--it's for laughs! Is it available on DVD??

venoms5 said...

Thank you, and yes. The DVD specified at the bottom of the review. You can purchase it here. There might be copies at ebay too.[sl]-Thriller/Dracula-jagt-Frankenstein-DVD-(Paul-Naschy-Los-Monstruos-Del-Terror)-(PAL-Region-2).html

Cliff said...

What a wonderful review. This flicks's a real head-scratcher, but really rather fascinating in its own way. You captured it very well.

If you're a Karin Dor fan, here's a little more on this really striking actress:

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