Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters!

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters is not really a movie in the sense that you'd expect. It's actually comprised of three half-hour shows featuring different versions of Ray Steckler's Lemon Grove Kids. The Lemon Grove Kids are an homage to the East End Kids who became The Bowery Boys. Steckler is a fan of classic movies as is shown in most of his mainstream work. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is his attempt to make a horror movie and weirdly a musical at the same time. The Thrill Killers was a straightforward noir suspense flick but was marketed later as horror when the name was changed to  Maniacs on the Loose. The Lemon Grove Kids shorts are comedies through and through, though blended with a hardy helping of sci-fi to stiffen the brew. 

The name Lemon Grove is selected because that's where Steckler and his family lived when they were making these little movies. In the first one titled The Lemon Grove Kids we meet the gang led by Slug with a wide array of bizarre characters in the gang, none more than Gopher played by Steckler himself. Slug was an homage to Leo Gorcey's "Slip" who led the gang with pugnacious efficiency and Gopher was a tribute to Huntz Hall as "Sach" the most moronic of the gang of morons. This little movie shows a showdown between the Lemon Grove Gang and the East Lemon Grove Gang in the form of a race which is infiltrated by gangsters who have bet heavily on the outcome. There is a wide range of zany gags with pratfalls being nigh endless. At end though the movie switches gears and Gopher encounters a Mummy and a blonde chick who menace him and at the same time the audience itself as mummies invade the theater. Later still Gopher chances upon a scene from Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (more on this movie next week) and a whole club of 8-milimeter movie afficianados. 

The second show is if anything even weirder with a somewhat different gang of Lemon Grove Kids working to help out a neighbor with his yardwork and landscaping. The neighbor was played by Colman Francis, a low-budget moviemaker himself and director of The Beast of Yucca Flats. (He'd also played a small part in the first Lemon Grove show as a gangster.) While the kids are working they are steadily kidnapped by denizens of a spaceship. The aliens are a Green Grasshopper, a Vampire Lady, and two costumed critters called "Choopers". There are also three witches, but at some point the sheer volume of weird almost collapses this one, though the energy never drops. 

The third show is much more modest with the Lemon Grove Kids being mostly Steckler's actual kids led by a folk singer. They help C.B Beaumont (more on her next week as well.) played by Carolyn Brand (who also was the Vampire Lady in the second flick). There's a fortune teller and two gangsters who plot to kidnap Beaumont, an actress they think they can demand a hefty ransom for. It's a wild ride but ultimately less successful than the other two due to its more modest aspirations. 

All three are weird, the second winning that contest. The best one is the first which cleaves most closely the the classic Bowery Boys model with some added spice. I enjoy these and being only a half hour each they don't wear out their welcome as Steckler movies sometimes can do. 

Next time it's some of Ray Dennis Steckler's most peculiar and darkest films. 

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