Red Zone Cuba (1966) (part 1 of 9)
You asked for it! Just keep repeating that to yourself as you slog through this recap. That’s right, Red Zone Cuba is one of the most requested movies, if not the most requested movie here at the Agony Booth. Believe it or not, I actually had more than one person volunteer to recap this movie for me. If you’re familiar with the film, the first thing you’re thinking to yourself is why the hell didn’t you take them up on that offer? Unfortunately, in the end I was forced to write this one myself. Simply put, I’m the only person in the entire world crazy enough to seek out and shell out the cash for the original, unaltered version of this film.
I say “unaltered” because, like several films on this website, this movie is only widely available on video as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it’s fairly evident that this is one of their most popular episodes, second only to “Manos” The Hands of Fate. In fact, there’s a lot of contention in MST3k fan circles about which is the worse film. Of course, having to decide whether or not “Manos” is a worse movie than Red Zone Cuba is a lot like having to decide whether you’d like to come down with the Ebola virus or leprosy.
I try not to take a firm stand on issues like these, because I don’t want to become one of those Comic Book Guy-style movie geeks who pronounce every film they see to be the “worst… movie… ever.” But I will say this for “Manos”: It does have a bumbling, almost charming naïveté about it. When you see the movie, it’s clear that it became such an unwatchable mess because director Hal Warren was in way, way over his head and didn’t have a clue what he was doing. With Red Zone Cuba, however, you get the feeling that everyone involved knew better, but just didn’t care.
This makes it something much, much worse than an incompetently-made, idiotic B-movie that evokes reactions of unintentional hilarity. No, this is a movie that will make you angry, angrier than you’ve ever felt in a movie before. Angrier than when Kirk fell under a bridge in Generations, angrier than watching what Joel Schumacher did to Batman, angrier than how you felt during the endings of AI, The Game, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, or Boxing Helena all put together.
Far be it for me to spoil a movie this early into a recap, but Red Zone Cuba is a film that seriously gives Seinfeld a run for its money in the “being about nothing” department. In this movie, three drifters meet up and do nothing. Then they get recruited by the military, and nothing happens. The military sends them off to Cuba, and nothing happens there, either. Finally, after some more nothing happening, they head out to a mine where nothing happens some more, until one guy dies. Seriously, that’s the whole movie.
Compounding the pain is how the “characters” are about as charming as my living room furniture. (And I live in a crack house.) The three main characters actually have negative personality. That is to say, as I watched this movie, personality was sucked out of me and I become a significantly less interesting person than I was before I saw it.
Any discussion of Red Zone Cuba would be remiss without a mention of its writer, director, and star, Coleman Francis, who’s also singlehandedly responsible for two other cinematic abominations, Beast of Yucca Flats and The Skydivers. Until the IMDb recently altered the formula used to calculate the list of its bottom 100 films, these three movies were all in the bottom fifteen. Probability dictates that every now and then, a totally clueless director like Hal Warren or Tony Malanowski might punch through and end up making one of the worst movies ever just by pure chance, but to make three of them clearly requires active hatred towards paying audiences.
And don’t think his co-producer and co-star Tony Cardoza gets off the hook here, either. Not only did he co-produce all of Francis’ films, but he also produced and had a cameo in Hellcats, a film that somehow is just as hellish to sit through. Watching these films makes it abundantly clear that both Francis and Cardoza had negative talent, and when they get together, incredibly, the whole is even less than the sum of its parts. In this regard, Red Zone Cuba is their masterpiece, because it might just be the one, true anti-movie.
Now, I usually don’t mention stuff before the movie like FBI warnings or production credits (unless they happen to be printed on a sheet of paper), but in this case I have to mention that the words “An Anthony Cardoza Enterprise Release” hang on the screen for at least three minutes [!]. Personally, if I were even partially responsible for a piece of shit like this, my name would blink on and off the screen faster than the legal disclaimers at the end of a reality show. But maybe that’s just me.
The movie itself starts with a car rolling into a dilapidated train station that looks like it’s way, way on the outskirts of town, which is probably where Coleman Francis should have left this movie’s screenplay and any notion of filming it. A young guy wearing a tie and a tweed jacket gets out of the car, and then we cut to John Carradine in a stereotypical conductor’s outfit of an overalls and cap. Yes, that’s right, this movie is blessing us with the sight of John Carradine dressed like a character from Thomas the Tank Engine.
Ah, John Carradine. There are extremely prolific bad movie stars out there, and then there’s John Carradine. Frankly, I’m still awestruck by this guy’s resumé. Wizard of Mars, Myra Breckinridge, The Astro-Zombies, Satan’s Cheerleaders, Frankenstein Island, the list goes on and on. And the best part is that nearly all of these roles only required John to show up for, at the most, about two hours worth of work. Red Zone Cuba is really no exception. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that he drove to the set and left his engine running for the five minutes it took him to get in costume and deliver these lines.
John emerges from inside the train station and stares directly into the sun for at least half a minute. Here’s a thought, if Coleman Francis had stared into the sun for six hours before commencing filming on this movie, would it have turned out any worse? We cut back to the youngish guy in the tweed jacket also staring out into empty space, and in a trademark Francis-ian motif, the camera momentarily goes out of focus.
John Carradine turns away from all that sun-staring and begins walking away. He’s feverishly puffing on a cigarette, but unfortunately cigarettes don’t quite kill a person that fast. Tweed Jacket Guy suddenly has a cigarette himself, which he takes a long drag on before running towards John Carradine. Then it’s back to John Carradine continuing his lengthy stroll down the train platform, and we see him stare down at the rails, possibly contemplating throwing himself on the tracks in an attempt to escape from this role.
Tweed Jacket Guy runs up to John Carradine and address him as “Mr. Wilson”. I find this rather appropriate, given that he’s dressed like Dennis the Menace. Mr. Wilson asks what Tweed Jacket wants and addresses him as “young mang [sic]”. This foreshadows a speech impediment that was already evident in Wizard of Mars and would become extremely pronounced by the time of Frankenstein Island.
Tweed Jacket introduces himself as Jim Benton from the Gazette. He says he’s doing a “follow-up story on the desperados that were through here in ’61!” Mr. Wilson looks confused as he squints really hard, takes off his cap, and scratches his head. I mean, come on, there must be a lot of “desperados” that come through this area. You can’t possibly expect him to remember them all.
Finally, it stars to come to him. The Gazette Guy further jogs his memory by reminding him that the three desperados were “Griffin, Cook, and Landis!” He also mentions that Mr. Wilson was the “engineer on the train they grabbed that night!” Actually, I’m not sure why the Gazette Guy even bothered to come down here, since he seems to know a lot more about these desperados than Mr. Wilson (or this script) will ever tell us.
Mr. Wilson nods. “I was making a run out of Albuquerque! That was in ’61!” Yes, I think he knows about the ’61 part. The reporter wants to know if Mr. Wilson got a good look at the desperados, but Mr. Wilson says he didn’t. He explains that when he was pulling out of the station that night, and “looking back for the conductor’s signal, I saw some men running. It was dark.” I was scared. I was alone. Hold me, dude!
Meanwhile, the reporter feverishly writes down all this explicit detail in his notebook. He tells Mr. Wilson to continue his story, since it appears to be off to such a rollicking start. Mr. Wilson says, “It seems like a looooong time ago!” Actually, he’s referring to the time that’s elapsed since the “An Anthony Cardoza Enterprise Release” credit appeared on-screen.
At this, the reporter just stares at him, so we get a tight close-up on Mr. Wilson. “Griffin… unnnhhhh… He ran all the way to hell!” And back! Hilariously, an ominous blare of horns is heard, as if this statement was somehow shocking or involving or intriguing or anything. The reporter looks up in shock, also for no reason. Mr. Wilson, having dropped this bombshell, takes a moment to suck on his cancer stick again and blow smoke, presumably right into the reporter’s face. And that, my friends, is the extent of John Carradine’s cameo in this movie. Sadly, you could almost call this the quintessential John Carradine cameo.