28 November 2014

Assignment Terror (1970)
Contributed by Brian Heiler

Brian Heiler is a freelance pop culture writer specializing in toys and the 1970s. He is a frequent contributor to the Village Voice site Topless Robot, The Mego Museum, as well as his own Internet tree fort Plaidstallions.com

In the late 1970's, the listing for Assignment Terror would crop up in TV Guide every three or four months.

It was always followed with “BOMB!” or “TURKEY TIME” depending on what publication you were reading. What caught my nine-year-old imagination was the film’s description, which I recall was something like this:

“Aliens gather the legendary monsters to take over the world, only the socially conscious wolfman stands in their way.”

That concept just kind of blew my mind. I was always a fan of the “Monster Rallies," it was like an undead version of the Justice League. There was no way I was missing this film. It was made for me.

My only obstacle to seeing it was the fact that it normally aired on a Tuesday around 3 AM. I had a fourth grade classmate named Freddy who actually had a deal with his parents: he’d take naps and watch late night monster and kung fu movies. I pitched the same thing to my folks, but surprisingly, they weren’t quite as copasetic about it.

Finally the stars aligned. The film aired on a long weekend while my parents were having a party. They weren’t hard drinking night owls, so this was my chance.

I waited in my room patiently, having smuggled a bottle of Coca-Cola and some coffee grinds (quite the cocktail) and I spent the evening watching a Twilight Zone marathon on my black and white TV until I could sneak downstairs. Around 2 AM, I scurried downstairs to catch the film on the colour television.

The film itself was a trip. Despite being less than a decade old, it looked extremely dated; the print was terrible - which added to the allure. Plus the dubbing was weak. However, being up really late as a kid always seems to make the movie scarier, and this was the case here. I vividly recall the scene where Michael Rennie removes the stake from Dracula’s skeleton, causing his organs to appear including his eyes.

I stuck the film out and the biggest impression made on me was by the Wolfman. The guy playing him did so with a real vigor. He tore through the (fantastically creepy) Mummy and (somewhat generic) Frankenstein monster with glee.

Little did I know this “Paul Naschi” (seriously, the English print misspells his name) was not only the star but the writer of the film too? Seeing as he wasn’t top billed in the film, I wouldn’t come to realize the importance of his character “Waldemar Daninsky” until much later in life.

Assignment Terror had a big impact on me. It fueled an already burgeoning love for monster movies. But it also created a newfound fascination with obscure and offbeat cinema. The strong realization that the words “Bomb” in the TV Guide can mean “extremely entertaining."

In college, this was the first movie I tracked down; I still watch it on an annual basis.

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