Philly Targeted by Assignment Terror: More UHF Memories of Paul Naschy
Classic Monsters, UFOs, and a Spy Movie Beat
They changed the name of the Frankenstein Monster to...the Feranksollen monster.
Lordy. One more confusing component found in an over-the-top horror/science-fiction movie that sacrifices coherence at the altar of a rousing ending.
The Return of El Hombre Lobo
The 1969 sequel to Frankenstein's Bloody Terror was the second werewolf film by Paul Naschy and, like its predecessor, was a staple on Saturday afternoons on Channel 48 Philadelphia. As with the original werewolf outing, the flawed film had enough uniqueness for it that it stood out from scores of other horror and fantasy films that appeared week after week.
While most horror films straight forward and simple in their approach to horror, this film wallowed in throwing everything at the wall: Dracula, Waldemar the Werewolf, the Mummy, Aliens from Outer Space, and the first appearance of the "Feranksollen" monster. Budget cuts eliminated the Golem and a climactic scene featuring spaceships landing.
We get all the James Bond stylistic spy movie influences, although they start as police procedural vibes early in the film. As I said, they threw a lot at the wall with this film.
The feature film was co-produced between Spain, Germany, France, and Italy and sought to follow up on La Marca Del Hombre Lobo's success two years prior. The film was a moderate success in European theaters but, unlike the Marca/FTB, the film never received a theatrical release in the United States. American International Pictures picked up the rights and released Los Monstrous del Terror as Assignment Terror direct to TV in 1970. So, the sequel arrived in the USA one year before the first film, a feature that turned out to be a hit for Independent International.
Poster art exists, revealing AIP had plans to release the film in theaters. For whatever reason, it didn't hit drive-in screens.
And what a film Assignment Terror is....
"Mankind's Fears" and an Army of B-Movie Monsters
Michael Rennie eloquently articulates the nefarious scheme the aliens from Ummo have in mind at the film's beginning. The aliens could detonate the world's nuclear arsenal, but this would make the globe uninhabitable. Instead, they are going to learn about "mankind's deepest fears" to exploit them. Bringing back to life the legendary monsters of terror is the first step. The second stage is to clone thousands upon thousands of these monsters and let them loose as an army, destroying the population.
The whole thing about studying fear is, well, overrated. You do not have to be afraid of sharks, but they can still eat you. The same goes for a werewolf.
And how do the aliens expect to live in a world where thousands upon thousands of mummies, werewolves, vampires, and Frankensteins running loose?
Of Gods and Monsters and Men and Women and Strange Musical Soundtracks
Monsters on the loose accompanied by aliens from space were usually enough for B-movie filmmakers, but this gem does have a bit of inspired casting.
Michael Rennie, Karin Dor, & Patty Shepard
The great Michael Rennie was the star of one of the all-time greatest science-fiction films ever made, The Day The Earth Stood Still. He lends his charisma and charm to this over-the-top monster fest in one of his last ever screen appearances. Great actors are always great, and this is true no matter what kind of film they appear in. Rennie might have a lot of wooden (and silly) dialogue in this film. Still, he does get across the struggles the emotionless, cold-hearted alien experiences as he assimilates human emotions into his stoic nature.
German Actress Karen Dor will forever go down in cinema history as the "woman who was fed to piranhas" in the James Bond classic You Only Live Twice (1967). Her presence in this film helps lend some credibility to the "spy movie" marketing that went into the movie's theatrical release. Assignment Terror tweak of the alternative title Operation Terror. Even the original title on the screenplay The Man Who Came from Ummo is an obvious riff on The Man from Uncle. As obtuse as it seems today to try to market an homage to horror of the 1940s and science-fiction of the 1950s as spy movies, but Bond-mania was HUGE in the late 1960s. Ten cent Bond rip-offs did make money....
The spy connection that brought us Karen Dor and her presence is most appreciated. Incredibly beautiful and classy, there is a bit of a "Diana Rigg in The Avengers" influence brought to her stoic role of an alien who, like Rennie, is slowly being overtaken by emotions as she experiences human feelings.
The presence of American-born Patty Shepard is another huge plus. Equally beautiful, Shepard plays a take charge modern women with a mod look that is striking. Shepard had charisma, and every time she is on the screen, she elevates the movie and engages the audience. What a shame she, like Dor, never became a bigger star, although Shepard was a frequent face in Euro-horror movies throughout the 1970s.
What of horror icon Paul Naschy? Nothing much. Assignment Terror was the only vehicle he was involved in which he and the werewolf assumed a supporting role.
Monsters A-Go-Go.....60's Style Remix
And what about that funky late 1960s go-go dance music that plays over the opening credits? Oddball, but it is pretty catchy in a time capsule sort of way. The go-go theme is even slowed down and played as romantic music at varying points in the film, another weird but effective touch.
The creepy, strained music that accompanies the horror monsters and the "laboratory" music associated with the alien's queues a change in tone at different points. Musically, the film is chaotic, unfocused, and....enjoyable.
And then came the monsters..........
And Then Came Los Monstrous Climax
The mummy rises from his tomb. The humans try to stay out of the monster's way and hide along the side of the stone doorway. The mummy is too tall to fit through a doorway designed for mortals, so it raises both hands and smashes through the stone archway blocking his path...
Memories like this etch into your mind when you see them at age five on UHF television. Strange stuff like this was not exactly common, and the aggressiveness of this mummy was a far cry from the passive-aggressive nature of black and white Kharis on Channel 17.
Monster mayhem is what made Assignment Terror perfectly unique for Saturday Afternoon horror fun.
We get a lot of mayhem during the climax of the film.
The mummy slowly stalks Patty Shepard and Craig Hill as they try to find their way out through the lonely catacombs beneath the castle. Hill grabs a torch hanging from the wall but knows he is no match for a 2,000-year-old living dead creature. Hill and Shepard back away and....the werewolf jumps the mummy!
The film's ending features a wild brawl between the werewolf and the mummy and another battle featuring the werewolf tearing apart the Feranksollen Monster as the laboratory and the castle blow up all around them.
Dismiss those rainy TV watching Saturday Afternoons of 30+ years ago all you want. They were full of a lot of great monster movie memories.
Look for a new book by yours truly on the days of watching UHF horror...coming soon!