Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Science!? 14: The Lost World (1925)

Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery), an eccentric scientist with a big anger management problem, starts an expedition into the depth of the Amazon basin to proof his theory of the survival of some dinosaur species on a difficult to reach plateau.

After he and his companions reach this Lost World and survive some adventures, they are able to return to their home in London, bringing a mighty big Brontosaur with them. The dinosaur turns out to be a true pioneer and starts a mild monster rampage.

This first screen adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book is mainly of historical interest as a relatively early work of stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien (eight years before King Kong). If you just fast forward through the human interest parts to the dinosaur footage, you won't really miss anything of interest. And even the effects are not completely up to O'Brien's standards.

In this The Lost World shows itself to be a precursor of the modern blockbuster, which also deals in a combination of sentimentality and spectacle.

But hey, at least there is a rampaging giant monster.

The Horror!? 79: Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

During World War II, a secret Nazi convoy transporting gold through the desert is destroyed by soldiers (some kind of partisans? The screenwriter surely doesn't know either) while camping at a desert oasis.

The battle's only survivor is the commander of the attackers who is found by a band of desert nomads.

Years later, an old Nazi officer seeks him out to find out where exactly the nice little heap of gold his subordinates transported is situated. The other guy helps him out without batting an eyelash. Talk about forgiving and forgetting. Of course, the evil Nazi bastard is far less lenient and kills him.

Soon he and a few other people are on their way to the oasis, only to have an unlucky encounter with the resident Nazi zombies, who don't show any respect for his rank.

At about the same time a young man, Robert, who is the son of dead soldier guy, experiences the wonder of time travel. Although he lives on another continent, he already knows about his father's death and studies his father's documents. He, too, learns of the gold and flies with a bunch of friends (the meat) to Morocco.

Very soon most of them are going to be zombie chow.

When I read the above synopsis the plot sounds a little more sensible than it actually is. Probably because I didn't mention most of the flashbacks, sub-plots and unrelated scenes. I can certainly promise you that it won't make a lick of sense when you are watching the actual movie.

Nonetheless I can recommend watching it, if (and I know this is quite a big "if") you are able to enjoy Jess Franco's work for more than the laughs.

Oasis of the Zombies is one of the films Franco made for Eurocine, which means even lower budgets and much worse actors than in his earlier films, as well as much more exploitational themes. Theoretically.

In fact, Franco treats his (dreary looking) zombies with disinterest, if not contempt. It's quite obvious that neither the zombies nor the plot are of any greater interest to him.

Instead, he tries to show us a very different way of seeing, a singular way of filmmaking, that -as is the case with his brother in spirit Jean Rollin- breaks most of the rules of "correct" filmmaking and asks the viewer to forget those rules - or be bored to death.

Because what most reviews of the film say is completely true: Oasis is cheap, slow, circumcisious and (seen as a piece of normal horror cinema) just plain boring. But if you are able to watch it while keeping a different perspective, as if it were the first film you have ever seen, you can find in the way the scenes are framed, in the deliberateness of all movement, the insistence on strangely insignificant details, something (and I know how pretentious all this sounds) that is the visual equivalent of a poem, beautiful, ugly and captivating.



Friday, May 30, 2008

The Horror!? 78: Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)

Jesse James we understand
Has killed many a man
He robbed the union trains
He stole from the rich
And gave to the poor
He'd a hand and a heart
And a brain

A small village somewhere at the border to Mexico is slowly turning into a ghost town. Only an older pair and their daughter Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) still live there in the hope their son might still come back from the castle of Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and her brother Rudolf (Steven Geray). But word gets down to them, that their son, too, died of "a highly infectious illness" the doctors Frankenstein weren't able to cure.

While the Lopez flee from town, we learn that the poor guy was the victim of Maria's continuation of her grandfather's work (Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Granddaughter wouldn't have been an acceptable title, it seems) of implanting an artificial brain in a fine new body. Unknown to her, her brother slyly sabotages her experiments by injecting the subjects with poison (from a bottle with a big white skull and crossbones the good woman must be blind not to see). So she thinks the real problem have to be her victims subjects, as "mere children" completely inferior to "big, strong man". She needs "a real brute".

Soon, she will find one, since at the same time Jesse James (John Lupton) and his partner Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) - a big, strong man - are learning some sad truths about the life of an outlaw - people want to kill you, some, like Lonny Curry (Rayford Barnes), a traitorous member of the Wild Bunch will even betray you to get on the good side of the law.

Jesse and Hank barely escape from Curry's trap, but not before Hank receives a grievous wound.

While they are on the look-out for a place to hide and a doctor, they meet the Lopez family. Juanita instantly falls for Jesse's expressionless face and his manly mustache and agrees to lead the men to the Frankenstein estate (without a word about possible dangers, but oh well).

There, they make Maria Frankenstein very happy - not only does she get the big, strong man she always wanted to play with, but also the hope to make Jesse her partner, when she will finally build an empire with the help of an army of one not exactly bulletproof creature.

At least her experiment succeeds and Hank, whose new brain makes him her obedient slave, can take to his new role in life, as well as his new name - Igor.

I can't possibly imagine why the good Doctor doesn't let him wear a shirt.

I think it is possible that I discovered a slight sado-masochistic subtext in the film. Could it be possible?

Anyway, I wasn't aware at all that films that looked and felt so very much like classic Poverty Row movies were still made in 1966. Well, director William "One-Shot" Beaudine had made quite a lot of films on poverty row, and I can't say he had learned anything since then.

But when you're talking about a film depicting the meeting of Jesse James and Lady Frankenstein, this isn't such a bad thing. Beaudine obviously knew a lot about letting his actors do their worst - the male actors, especially our hero, of course, are as wooden as they get, while our female leads (glorious, glorious, evil dominatrix-scientist Narda Onyx!) are completely over the top in each and every moment.

You can't do anything but love a film where the mad genius is a woman who rechristens her servant Igor, talks her own brother into subservience, and rants and casts melodramatic looks around permanently.

All of this is obviously terribly silly, but at the time so...beautiful you just have to love the movie and its true heroine.


Darling of the Day:

"You are no longer Hank Tracy! You are now - Igor! Do you understand? Igor! That is how you will be known! I am Maria Frankenstein! As I think, you will think! We are one! I will command, you will obey! You will live as long as I will it! You will die when I command it! Remember, you are always under my control! You are now Igor! I command you to arise! Igor! I am Maria Frankenstein! I created you! I created you! I command you to get up! Get up, Igor!"


The Internet Jesus asks his readers nicely(!)

to put a link to his and Paul Duffield's webcomic Freak Angels on their blogs. Seeing that Duffield's art is gorgeous and Ellis has been one of my favorite comic writers for a long time now, I can't help but comply.
Even though nobody reads this thing here anyway. ;-)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Science!? 13: UFO: Target Earth (1974)

A communication technics scientist (or something) accidentally finds the trail of a crashed (landed?) UFO. Together with a medium (or something), and later some university colleagues, he tries to solve the mystery of its existence (I think).
Um, U:TE is what happens when the director/writer of a cheap UFO movie tries to be clever and philosophical. A barely watchable mess of people reciting pseudo-philosophical nonsense in such a bored tone that even hardened viewers like myself have a hard time of not getting as bored as the characters obviously are. The direction tends towards the non-existent.
The only moments of note are two or three scenes featuring the medium. She can't act any better than the rest of the people on screen, but at least she's trying for moments of sweet, sweet laughable overacting.
Agents Scully and Mulder to the red courtesy phone, please.

The Horror!? 77: Funeral Home (1980)

A young woman named Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) comes to her grandmother's (Kay Hawtrey) home for the summer to help with the start of her tourist home. Up to the disappearance of Heather's grandfather a few years ago, the family home also served as a funeral home. Now Mrs. Chalmers has to take on annoying guests to make ends meet.
It doesn't take long for the viewer, and only a little longer for Heather, to learn that this part of small town Canada is plagued by a strangely high rate of disappearances (or shall I call it murder?). Is it possible that this has something to do with the strange shuffling, whispering person (or creature) Grandma Chalmers keeps behind a locked door in the cellar? Or with the mentally handicapped handyman of the house who is seldom seen without his axe? And why exactly does summer guest Mr. Davis (Barry Morse) sneak around so suspiciously? And isn't Mrs. Chalmers moral code a little strict?
Well, new deputy Joe Yates (Alf Humphreys), the only person on the police force who treats the town's little problem seriously will certainly answer all questions.
Funeral Home is a pleasant little movie. It succeeds well in mixing modernized elements of the old dark house movies (without gorillas) with a mild bit of the slashers while paying homage to a quite famous movie about a killer and an old dark house I will not name here to keep the review away from spoiler territory.
Although the plot twists and final solution of the murder mystery shouldn't be all that surprising for the average viewer. Still, the film stays enjoyable even if you know where all this is going to end, mainly thanks to solid direction and pacing courtesy of William Fruet, as well as some effective acting. Kay Hawtrey is especially good, but there is no-one on screen who doesn't do at least decent work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Horror!? 76: The Phantom (1931)

Quite deranged killer breaks out of prison before he can be executed and now terrorizes the DA who was responsible for his conviction. It follows the usual romp through not just one but two dark old houses (alright, one is an asylum), some stuff about brain transplants and a plot that can only work if one ignores the existence of photographies.
One of the barely endurable films of its kind. The two young heroes are especially annoying, trumping each other with some hardly bearable moments of wooden acting that nearly drove tears into my eyes.
Of course, if you believe the IMDb, this is one of the fun movies of its kind. Some people probably call anything fun that doesn't outright put them to sleep - and here's way too much screaming and whining of "comic" relief characters to fall asleep.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Science!? 12: Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)

Captain Kirk Hamilton is a man's man. In an age when most of humanity loves peace, he solves interpersonal difficulties with fisticuffs. In an age when most of humanity doesn't like all that icky touching their ancestors used when having sex, he prefers the old fashioned approach. In an age when most of humanity lets their thinking be done for them by machines, he hates those gigantic things with their blinking lights. Still, when an alien signal disrupts the communication systems of Earth and two or three small alien vessels attack, his ship is the one closest to the signal's origin, so he and his crew are mankind's only hope. After crash-landing on the source planet, the intrepid adventurers learn that it was once the home of a thriving civilization, until the civilization's machines rebelled and made their creators their slaves. Later, an atomic explosion seems to have destroyed most of the machines and started the natives on their way of genetic regression to a point where it seems sensible for them to eschew the use of all clothing except loincloths. (And no, they don't seem to have any women, sorry.) This is the point when the movie's plot becomes more or less impenetrable, but I am relatively sure that the terrible machines consist of one killer robot that the production designers of early Doctor Who would have been ashamed of and a computer who really likes to use the word "Earthlings" a lot. Also, there is a kind of twist ending.
Of course, words can hardly describe the singularity of the SF work of Alfonso Brescia. War of the Planets starts quite innocently and linear, though soon silly and unnecessary details, circumcisious scenes that don't seem to belong where and when you are seeing them, important plot points that are never explained and leave the viewer with the vague, uneasy feeling of having fallen asleep for a few minutes without realizing it, the slapshot and deeply strange production design and the puzzling and hysterically funny dubbing, push the film into the realm of the deeply unfathomable.
A possible explanation for all this is another theory I have about Brescia's work: In truth he was a member of a secret order of avantgarde film makers who effectively infiltrated the Italian filione production system and unleashed their experimental works on an innocent viewership. This makes War of the Planets a highly metaphorical work about a man named Alex Hamilton (or is even his name a delusion inspired by space opera writer Edmund Hamilton?), who cannot cope with the alienation and automatization that sets the tone of modern life and tries to escape from his troubles into a better life, in which he is a helpless cog in a machine, but a man of action who is able to cope with anything life throws at him. But even in his fantasies Alex can't escape a reality that slowly conquers even them.

The Science!? 11: Eegah (1962)

Roxy Miller (Marylin Manning) is driving through the desert one night when a gigantic, club-wielding caveman, who -as we'll learn later- is called Eegah (Richard Kiel), appears before her. Only tactical fainting (and believe me, this won't be the last time she's going to faint) and the sound of her car's horn save her from some sweet sweet caveman-lovin'.
To my great surprise both her boyfriend Tom (Arch Hall jr., who can't sing and can't act, just like Jennifer Lopez) and her father (director, writer and producer Arch Hall sr.) believe her, when she tells her story. Her father goes even further. If there is something like a giant still alive, he has to find and see him. So he charters a helicopter to fly him into the desert, where he promptly meets Eegah. Eegah doesn't clobber him, instead he drags the poor bastard into his cave (incidentally a cave in good old Bronson Canyon, the same cave acting as Ro-Man's home in Robot Monster). When the helicopter can't return to the desert at the promised time, Roxy and Tom jump into Tom's dune buggy to come to the old idiot's rescue. Soon Eegah abducts the girl. What follows are scenes of Arch Hall jr. trotting through well known landscapes, spiced up with scenes from Eegah's cave, where Mister Miller and his daughter try their best to distract Eegah from the sweet feelings that are swelling in his breast (at least he brings flowers this time).
After a long, long time father, daughter and useless boyfriend escape and return to the big city.
Not even the mummified bodies of his ancestors can comfort Eegah, so he wanders off into the city (which suddenly seems to be about a minute away from his home) to find the love of his life again. We all know how this must end.
Oh, Eegah, where have you been all my life? This wonderful, wonderful picture really has everything one can ask for from a bad movie: Bronson Canyon! The sweet memory of Robot Monster! Ray Dennis Steckler in a small role! Dialogue so stupid you can't help but be completely enthralled. A script full of those little details (mummified ancestors, sulphuric water as the reason for Eegah's existence etc etc) that make all the difference between a merely bad movie and the kind of bad movie the connoisseur cherishes and loves.
Even better is the acting. I am completely at a loss to decide who gives the worst performance - Junior? Senior? Marylin Manning? The mighty Eegah? Still, no none is lackluster or disinterested, everybody gives his enthusiastic best, even if it may not be all that much.
Junior's musical numbers (and his bizarre face contortions when he performs) are just the icing on this sweet mess of a cake. Why can't every film be Eegah?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Horror!? 75: Good Against Evil (1977)

You know the sad old tale: Satanic cult breeds a bride for their master Astaroth, influence and control her life subtly, make her successful, but lonely. Until The Boy comes along and the two of them fall in love. So our poor battered satanists have to do their worst to keep the two apart. Tragically neither accidents nor friendly suggestions nor hypnosis nor subtle seduction really do much more than keep them apart for a short time. At least the bride stays as virginal as the master wants. Finally The Boy -a good Catholic- seeks the help of a meddling priest and keeps poor Satan single for another hundred years.
A dreary and boring TV movie that tries to imitate Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, only without being unacceptable for anyone but certain Satanists, or without being interesting.
Old Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster probably wrote the script in a thirty minute lunch break. It could be the right movie for the time when insomnia strikes, though.

The Science!? 10: Alien Species (1996)

Bad computer animations UFOs attack! Some people in an unconvincing lab are concerned! The Professor has to know! But they can't reach him on his car phone! There is a prisoner transport with two Jerky Deputies! The Sheriff stays in town! The men in really bad rubber suits aliens abduct people! Then they suddenly start to destroy houses with their green 'splodey rays! The people in the lab are still worried! The Professor had an accident! Luckily, the transport finds him and his two female companions! The transporter is attacked with green 'splodey rays! The annoying people inside our heroes escape into a cave! Back to the lab! The aliens are now 'sploding a city! The people from the lab flee! Guy With Stupid Glasses from the lab has to find The Professor! Back to the cave! Oh noes! The cave is an alien nest! Psychological drama! Shooting! Much screaming and whining! More rubber suits! Green energy shields! An alien energy shield remote control! The Prisoner With The Heart Of Gold and the terrible action hero one-liners and surviving chicks escape! They make the cave 'splode! The aliens are angry! They try to kill our heroes! What luck! Guy With Stupid Glasses finds them! They flee! Then Guy With Stupid Glasses and his laptop and Prisoner With Heart Of Gold shut down the alien ship's shield! Prisoner With Heart Of Gold shoots ship down with the bazooka Guy With Stupid Glasses found somewhere! The alien invasion fleet retreats, having lost one of their hundreds of ships! The End!
Welcome to the very special hell of shot on video (or is it digital already? It looks terrible anyway) backyard productions! Alien Species is an especially annoying specimen of its kind, because it has the ambition to tell a story of apocalyptic proportions on a budget that isn't even big enough to tell the story of some people screaming a lot and running away from rubber monsters. It's really hard to picture the shabbiness of the proceedings or the ugliness of the production if you haven't experienced it for yourself. Let's just say it makes Robot Monster look like a hundred million dollar film. And in total contrast to that beloved classic, Alien Species isn't even the slightest but entertaining.
If the production design, lighting and camera work aren't enough to make your eyes bleed, there's always more to punish you to find, starting with a cast whose only professional actors (of course in cameo roles) are Charles Napier and a very drunk Hoke Howell (The Professor, whom the titles identify as a "Dr. Chambers"). The rest is one of the most talentless bunches of people that has ever come together in a single room. Bad emoting, bad line delivery, there's nothing these people can't do very very badly.
I think my plot synopsis says enough about the quality of the script, I'll just add that I'll never want to be reminded of the dialogue.
Now, after the viewer's eyes, brain and taste buds are destroyed, Alien Species offers another treat in probably the most annoying bad synthesizer soundtrack I have ever heard (and think about the movies I watch day in, day out). Thankfully this seems to be "composer" Dan Kehler's only movie work. The only other credits IMDb gives him are for the scores of a few late Sierra adventure games. Which weren't all that bad. He still deserves not insignificant amounts of physical violence.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Horror!? 74: The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)

This bills itself as a documentary about the Bigfoot "expert" Ivan Marx, containing real life footage of the big B. Actually it is a lot of (surprisingly sharp) animal stock footage, permanent and from minute to minute more paranoid and absurd sounding crackpot raving and a little footage (unsurprisingly out of focus) of people in Bigfoot suits. I don't know if Marx has a place in the history of cryptozoology, and if he has, what it might be, but since I know that not everyone interested in the possibility of the survival of previously unknown species is an idiot, I have the hope he is seen as a fraud at worst and a crackpot at best.
The film itself drifts between moments of utter boredom (the bizarrely edited animal footage) and hilarity (Ivan Marx and the Indian rituals, see Ivan invent his "theory" about the Bigfoot as a migratory animal - based on, um, nothing).
In case you want to take it a little more seriously, you could read it as the case study of a man who quickly glides from something resembling sanity into full grown delusions. But honestly? I think this interpretation would make it sound much more interesting than it deserves.

Grindhouse Theatrical Cut (2007)

There has already been said so much about Grindhouse that I will only add a few thoughts:

- Miramax really thought this would do well in cinemas??

- I love the incredible affection both sub-pictures (though I would argue Tarantino's half is actually two films paying homage to totally different styles, but connected by Stuntman Mike) have for their sources. Which doesn't mean they don't see the troubling tendencies and stupidity inherent in Grindhouse movies, but that they try to work with, against and on them, instead of just being smugly superior, like Scream and its ilk do.

- I honestly find the scene in which El Rey gives Cherry her machine gun leg both actually romantic and funny.

- I also wasn't aware before that Rosario Dawson and Rose McGowan can act.

- The fake trailers are a thing of beauty. My problem is that I will never be able to see Machete, quite clearly the greatest Italian action film never made. So I am all the more thankful that Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror is the best Italian zombie movie ever made outside of Italy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Science!? 09: Giants of Rome (1964)

Gaul during the Gallic Wars. Julius Caesar (Alessandro Sperli) is just one step away from being recalled back to Rome and being branded unsuccessful in the conquest of Gaul. He knows he must win a decisive victory against the Gallic forces. The trouble is that a very important mountain pass is blocked by a terrible secret weapon the Druids invented. To remove this obstacle, Caesar sends a small commando unit, lead by a certain Claudius Marcellus (Richard Harrison), behind the enemy lines to destroy the weapon. Of course the troop gets captured, escapes with a few prisoners including the mandatory love interest, fights dangerous battles and is hindered by a cowardly traitor in their midst. There may even be a heroic sacrifice or two.
Antonio Margheriti has, as a typical filione director, made films in every genre imaginable, some of them not suited to his directorial strengths. He was at his best when he worked either on Gothic Horror or war movies (his love for science fiction lead to fun, but very uneven films). Here, he uses a classic war movie formula in a historical setting and the results are quite satisfying. The action is much more dynamic and gruesome than I'm used to in movies (not produced in Asia) of the the first half of the Sixties. This is one of the few cases of Western movies of this time where I would even use the word "choreography" when speaking of the fights.
Story and characters are neither surprising nor original, but Margheriti expertly diverts the viewer's attention by keeping a high tempo and a high body count.
I could now criticize the many historical inaccuracies and stupidities the film contains, but really - who watches these films for the historic truth? Especially when the basic story could take place in any time and any war, just with different weapons.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Science!? 08: Radio Ranch (1940)

Gene Autry (playing himself) is quite brilliant in making enemies. Surprisingly, the people who hate him in this film aren't disgusted by the stupidity of his songs, but have problems with the location of his Radio Ranch, his brand new broadcasting center and a kind of predecessor of Michael Jackson's Neverland. Firstly there are a shady scientist and his henchmen, who are searching for a huge radio deposit and the ruins of the underground civilization of Mu, and won't even stop at framing Autry for the murder of his two main sidekicks' (he has a whole horde) father. Secondly there is the still very much alive underground city of Murania and its elite troop, the Thunder Riders. They want to kill Autry because of his immense popularity that draws the eyes of the world on their home. And nobody would care if they killed him!
Oh well. Radio Ranch is the movie cut of the 1935 serial The Phantom Empire. Very typical serial stuff and relatively fun thanks to its wacky concept.
Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for really bad country music. We are not talking Hank Williams here, to be sure, more the Western brother to bad Vaudeville.
Autry is the film's biggest problem anyway. His acting is not just bad, he is also incredibly uncharismatic, making a less than convincing two-fisted hero.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Doctor Who news of the Day

I may have already mentioned that I take Moffat to be the best New Who writer by far? Since when are the right people getting the promotions?

The Science 07!?: All the Kind Strangers (1974)

Photographer Jimmy Wheeler (Stacy Keach) drives through the American countryside. On his way he meets a little boy struggling with a paper bag of groceries. Since Jimmy is a nice guy, he promises the boy Gilbert (Tim Parkinson) to take him home. "Home" turns out to be a big house far off the main roads and six more children, as well as a woman the children call their mother (Samantha Eggar). Jimmy soon realizes that she isn't her mother, but a friendly soul like himself who wanted to help a child and is now held prisoner by the little psychos. And, since Jimmy is such a nice man, he'll surely have no problem with being their new Dad. If not, he will probably learn what happened to his predecessors as head of family.
All the Kind Strangers turns out to be a very competent and effective little film. It looks surprisingly good for a TV production of the time, probably thanks to director and old workhorse Burt Kennedy, who knew how to make things work on a budget. The basic idea of the movie is weird enough to charm every friend of the American Gothic.
The acting is fine, even the child actors don't annoy. The script is comfortably simple and uses the always effective technique of hinting at certain things more than showing them.
A slight feeling of wrongness runs through many of the scenes, hinting at country life as claustrophobic and not too helpful for one's state of mind.
I can even overlook the much too friendly ending. It still is a TV movie, after all.

Dave Sim in "misogynist doesn't like to be treated like he would treat a woman" shocker

The Horror!? 73: The Fatal Hour (1940)

The murder of an undercover cop leads the detective Mister Wong (Boris Karloff) to the uncovering of a smuggling ring, as well as the problematic family relations of the rich and corrupt.
Not much to say about this one. Well made for a Monogram film, only racist in its choice of actor for the leading role and not even that dumb.
It's a decent way to kill an hour, and the way "modern technology" of the time is used in the explanation of one of the murders is charmingly quaint.
Karloff had better luck with his slumming than Lugosi.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Horror!? 72: Night Train To Terror (1985)

The Devil and God (and an atrocious 80s band, that deserves more than the terrible and painful death it receives) ride on a night train. To while away the time until the climactic train crash, they sprout nonsense and discuss three "cases".
The first one tells the story of a man who is kidnapped and brainwashed by (and I quote) "evil doctors" of an asylum. They need someone to kidnap women for them. What other way can there be to find women to rape and mutilate and sell to other doctors?
The second case shows a young love threatened by the machinations of an ex-lover and his "Death Club", an institution that cultivates the fine art of suicide in the most insane ways possible.
The third and last one is a bit of an enigma. It's the story of an Holocaust survivor who learns that a war criminal is really a demon...or the story of a Nobel laureate who proves the non-existence of god. Soon the devil tries to recruit him, but learns that the scientist doesn't care for him, either. And Cameron Mitchell seems to have been in bad need of beer money, since he waddles through the story too. You see, he is a cop who...Oh, what's the use? I give up! There's just no way to find any sense in the last part of the movie.
What a mess! Five directors concocted this bad mixture of bad acting, bad scripting, bad special effects (although the stop-motion is quite adorable) and bad everything else.
The cutting deserves an extra beating. Is it really possible that no one responsible for the production had the slightest clue about the way transitions work? Everything choppily jumps back and forth and sidewards, possibly to destroy the last vestiges of sense that were able to survive the savage attacks of the flying monkeys of idiocy.
Seen in the right state of mind Night Train To Terror could of course be very fun - it is definitely a good choice if you are sleepy or drunk and slowly drifting away. I can't guarantee you won't choke on your own laughter, though.

The Science!? 06: Warriors of the Wasteland aka The New Barbarians (1982)

The year is 2019. Some years ago the world finally ended with a big atomic bang. Now small bands of survivors roam the European wastelands, trying to eke out a living. To make a bad situation worse, a group of men calling themselves "The Templars" try to purify the world. If I followed the mad ravings of their leader The One (George Eastman) correctly, the only way to achieve this purification is to kill every single survivor. Sounds like a plan to me. All works out well for the Templars until they cross paths with the semi-heroic wanderer Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete) and his part-time friend Nadir (Fred Williamson).
This is as good as Italian post-apocalyptic action movies get. Sure, most of the film consists of people in very silly costumes (a moment of silence for poor Fred Williamson and his disco Robin Hood outfit) driving around or killing each other in interesting ways (or both) or Eastman foaming at the mouth, but the art of making it interesting lies in the execution. And as his cop movies with people like Maurizio Merlo and Franco Nero proved, director Enzo G. Castellari was a fantastic director for action scenes, as well as a certain kind of melancholic machismo you can also find in Warriors of the Wasteland. Add to this a cheap and effective soundtrack by Claudio Simonetti, some very inspired cutting (sometimes in the rhythm of the music) and some brilliantly stupid ideas like the small child that helps Scorpion out as a mechanic and kills about a dozen bad guys in the showdown and you have a tight and mean little film that probably cost next to nothing.

Darling of the day:
"They are people from a sect. They believe in something called...[long pause] 'God'"

The Science!? 05: Hercules Against The Moon Men (1964)

Some time ago (could be decades, could be centuries) a part of the moon fell onto Earth, making a nice new mountain in Greece near the city of Samar. As is customary, the rock is home to a race of aliens who press the Samarians into regular sacrifices of young women and men. Now, an unspecified time later, the townsfolk are finally ready to rise up against their tormentors, especially since they are able to summon the help of unflappable hero Hercules (Alan Steel) (Maciste in the original version of the film).
Unfortunately their queen Samara (Jany Clair) doesn't agree. She can't resist the aliens' promise to become queen of the world when their plans finally come to fruition. To achieve this goal she will even kill her family and sacrifice her sister Bilis (Delia D'Alberti) to the invaders.
One cannot measure a peplum's quality the same way one measures the quality of a common movie. Logic, characterization and acting quality are as dust in the eyes of the Greco-Italian gods. To still be able to ramble on about them, I have invented the Herculean Five Part Formula.
The first part is of course the Herculean People Throwing Scale. Since I sometimes lost count during the course of the movie, I have to go with eleven of ten points.
Part two is the Herculean Manly Bellylaugh Scale, a very weak point of ...against the Moon Men that leaves me no other choice than to award only two points.
Part three is the Herculean SM Kink Scale. I computed a very solid eight here.
Part four is the Herculean Man In Rubber Suit Scale, an aspect that made me at first fear the worst for the poor little movie in question. A very rubber-suity second half lead to six points, though.
The last and absolutely not least part of my formula is the Herculean Strange Colors & Artificial Sets Scale. An eight seems more than justified to me.
After ignoring the lowest scale, I calculate 33 of 40 possible points - a very commendable achievement.
Leaving all scientific objectivity aside - the grand finale of the movie is a gorgeous mixture of color, beautiful artificiality (and rubber suits) that more than makes up for some slower moments in the first and second act. I was not at all surprised when I learned that director Giacomo Gentilomo left the movie business for the painting world soon after finishing ...Against the Moon Men. (What exactly is it with Italian directors and painting anyway? Mario Bava was a painter too and Dario Argento is obviously highly influenced by the art form. Something to keep in mind, I think.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Doctor Who 2008 episode 7

Well, at least it was better than the last episode. The first two thirds were even really fun and, though silly as hell, delivered with verve. But -as I tend to say quite often- Doctor Who could really use a good story editor, at least one good enough to see that it is one thing to play with the style of this year's author who meets the Doctor, but quite another to copy all the faults this author's plots have. Since the show doesn't have one, the last act is plagued by everything that makes Agatha Christie's books so loathworthy - a solution to the murder mystery that manages to be obvious and deeply stupid at once, characters acting like cardboard cutouts and the pacing of a dead snail.
And please, dear, dear writer - do not try to explain Agatha Christie's fame by her ability to deeply understand people's passions and acts. Her books did never more than reproduce the social values of her time, which is as far from understanding people as is possible. 

The Horror!? 71: Sisters of Death (1977)

During the initiation rites for a sorority, one of the pledges is accidentally killed. Since its an old American tradition to play with guns on occasions like this, the death is ruled an accident. A few years later the surviving sisters are invited to a reunion party. Soon after they have arrived at the place where their party's supposed to be, they learn the terribly surprising truth: This party is a trap! And really, who would be suspicious if invited by persons unknown into a remote house with an electrified fence?
All this has been arranged by the dead girl's father whose conviction that one of the girls murdered his daughter on purpose has driven him mad (and induced a tendency to play the flute all night long).
I seem to have no luck with movies today. Not that Sisters of Death was terrible, it's just so terribly inconsequential. In truth, it's a little touching to see a film slink shamefully right past exploitation ("I'd really like to be titillating, but what about the children!"), mystery ("Oh, you'll never guess what I'll reveal now! Oh, you did? Well, never mind."), slasher ("Killing people is fun! What do you mean, show something!? Think about the children!") and even the slightest bit of suspense ("I don't think I should try to excite you. Think of your heart!").

The Horror!? 70: The Gorilla (1939)

The usual manor owning rich guy is threatened by a killer usually wearing a gorilla costume, surprisingly dubbed "The Gorilla". When the police sends the Ritz Brothers to solve the crime my tolerance for "humor" consisting of grimacing, running around and screaming dies a lonely and terrible death.
If you don't know who the Ritz Brothers are just try to imagine an even less funny version of the Three Stooges. Or better, don't.
Poor Bela Lugosi plays the sinister butler as a final proof that his work with Abbott and Costello wasn't the worst he did.

The Science!? 04: Star Odyssey (1979)

An alien overlord named Cobol/Cobor (don't ask me about exact names here, the English dub is terrible) buys Earth in an auction. He soon appears in his invulnerable flying saucer near a futuristic Earth, attacks it and starts to take as many slaves as possible. Humanity's only hope is a dubious professor with psychic powers and a band of misfits he very slowly starts to assemble. For some reason somebody probably knows, the world government won't give him official help, so he has to use highly unconventional and illegal ways to capture his dream team. After about an hour, things happen. Then more things happen. Why? How? I don't know. Later even more things happen. There are fights. Finally, our heroes attack the enemy mothership. They win, as far as I'm able to tell. There's a promise to outfit the two odious comic relief robots with genitalia, so they can "proof their love for each other" - a clear foreshadowing of director Brescia's sf pornos (please, don't ask). A Happy End, I think.
On the seventh day George Lucas created Star Wars. Five minutes later, the Italian film industry heard about its success and started to churn out dozens of bizarre copies, clones and wannabes. For some of Italy's directors, like Star Odyssey's Alfonso Brescia, a long held dream of making space operas came true.
As my failure to produce a plot synopsis above shows, this film, as well as everything else Brescia touched was troubled by a complete disregard for things like logic, taste and sense. I don't want to sound pretentious, but the only word that really describes the Brescia experience for me is "dadaist". It makes more sense the more I think about it. If I am following Greil Marcus' logic in Lipstick Traces (and why shouldn't I) there is a spiritual/intellectual line that can be drawn from medieval flagellants and heretics to the Paris Commune to Dada to Surrealism to Punk Rock. Why not draw a line from Surrealism to bad Italian movies, when their hatred of order and sense itself is so obviously connected. Punk Rock and Italian SF films even started at the same time!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Science!? 03: Killers From Space (1954)

Doug Martin (Peter Graves) is a scientist working on the American H-Bomb project. One day while he observes the atomic cloud from a bomb test from out of a plane, his plane crashes and his pilot and he are presumed dead. Until Martin reappears a few days later without a memory of the incident and with a fresh and very unusual scar on his chest. His bosses are suspicious and order him to spend an extended leave at home. Nonetheless Martin is able to steal the exact time and date of the next bomb test. If only his colleagues knew that he is neither an evil Commie spy from hell nor just plain mad. In truth, he is the mind controlled slave of a group of alien invaders who have painted golf balls instead of eyes and plan to utilize the energy released in the next test to mutate and multiply their army of archive footage insects and reptiles. Yes, their base is located in the Bronson Caves.
It is still not a widely known fact that Billy Wilder had a brother who also worked in the film business, W. Lee Wilder. It's probably not that surprising if you keep in mind that W. Lee's films were mostly more or less workmanlike pieces of Fifties B-Pictures like Killers From Space.
Actually, Killers is one of his better films. Its first half has something I can actually call pacing without damning myself to much time in hell. The paranoid parts (all in the first half) work reasonably well, too.
But as soon as our alien would-be invaders appear the movie makes a hard turn in the direction of the inept but at least mildly hilarious. Did it really have to be golf balls!? The highpoint of the latter half is of course Doc Martin's hilarious flight from badly used archive footage (my personal favorite is the "giant" grasshopper), which overshadows the supposed climax like the giant rabbits in Attack of the Lepus overshadow every other animal in giant monsterdom in cuteness.
But hey, I've seen worse.

The Horror!? 69: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Seymour (Jonathan Haze), a klutzy and naive young man, works at Gravis Mushnik's (Mel Welles) flower shop on skid row. His luck takes a decidedly different turn when he crosses two plants and creates a very special new species. A species that needs blood to survive. Looking on the bright side, the unusual flower makes the flower shop quite popular and Seymour's boss very happy. And Mushnik's daughter Audrey (Jackie Joseph) finally starts to notice Seymour. But soon a few measly drops of blood aren't enough for the now very talkative plant (favorite sentence: "Feed me!"). Fortunately our hero shows a tendency to accidentally kill people, which makes for a happy and healthy wonder plant. Of course, things can't stay perfect forever...
Finally a veritable classic. In the last few years the old story about the production time of Little Shop having only been about three days has been corrected, re-corrected and changed so often that I've lost track of the momentary count, so I'll say it was shot in three to five days, plus or minus one, two or three weekends. The script was definitely written in one night, under the influence of the deadly combination of alcohol and coffee I suppose, and it's well worth it.
The whole enterprise shows a sense of playfulness, a feeling of people just doing something for fun that films on a less impoverished budget can't and won't afford, so that the kind of experience it provides is still unusual today. The closest comparison today are certain Takashi Miike films, especially his work for the DVD market.
The playfulness makes it difficult for me to write much about Little Shop, it's a film to be experienced, not talked about.
So if you haven't seen it already, do it now. Since the film is in the public domain there is no excuse not to watch it here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Science!? 02: Eternal Evil (1985)

Meet Paul Sharpe (Winston Rekert), failed documentarist, now director of commercials, father of one son and still in a not very happy marriage. Also, he's a jerk. The only way he can cope with his oh-so-terrible life is through his nightly exploits in astral dreaming, something he had dabbled in years ago without much success. That changed when he met Jannis (Karen Black), a dancer who now acts as something like his spiritual mentor. Soon though, Paul's dream self starts to kill people he knows in real life in painful ways. As if this wasn't weird enough, his son starts to talk to a strange being he calls "The Blue Man". Will police detective Kaufman (Paul Novak) and Paul find out what is really happening before it's too late?
Eternal Evil aka The Blue Man is a Canadian TV movie, and quite a conundrum. One seldom sees such a strange mixture of the cheesy (hello terrible child actor! Hello French woman! Hello death faces! Hello soundtrack! Hello non-surprising surprises!) and the surprisingly good in the form of obvious, but not often used plot points, some really neat and very atmospheric camera work and really rather good acting. Even, if you can believe it, effective moments of idea-based horror.
Since its cheesiness is more amusing than annoying, Eternal Evil is a nice little surprise.

The Science!? 01: Unknown World (1951)

Dr. Morley is a far sighted, if not incredibly optimistic scientist. For him the invention of the H-bomb guarantees the self-destruction of humankind and the complete uninhabitability of the planet's surface. But he has a plan: To find a habitable place deep under the Earth's surface as a haven for humanity. After the US government (who was obviously as science-hating then as it is now) rejects his plans, the vapid, but adventurous son of a millionaire, promises to finance the project, if he will be part of the explorative mission. The scientist and his team agree and they soon start to use one of those underground drilling vehicles movies love so much to search for a better place for mankind. Although not much is going to happen along the way, not every intrepid explorer will survive.
Unknown World makes reviewing very difficult. On one hand it is clearly a boring and slow piece of work, neither very well acted nor in any way exciting. On the other hand, I doubt that it was meant to be exciting. Clearly someone in the production (director? writer? producer?) had the idea to make a filmic version of hard SF and tried his hardest to stay as plausible and earnest as possible, avoiding everything exciting and totally unrealistic Fifties SF excelled in. The end product shows how difficult it is to avoid the stupid without losing the fun, too. I watched without any emotional relation to the proceedings.
Another failure, probably the one most destructive for the kind of movie this is trying to be, is its lack of sense of wonder. If you are trying to show us something relatively mundane, show us how beautiful and strange the seemingly mundane can be. Instead we get to see the (ineffectively lit) Bronson Caves.
The last failure of Unknown World is again rooted in an attempt to be different and better than its contemporaries. I saw obvious signs of interest in a deeper and more realistic characterization let down by equally obvious signs of the ability to think character arcs through to their logical end. Instead the writings uses lazy short cuts to push the characters back into the usual clichéd positions.
So, is the movie boring? Yes, very much so. Do I recommend it? Not really, no. Is the wish to make something different commendable? Yes, absolutely. 

The Science!?: An Introduction

A helpful and friendly soul, also known as my Gramma, donated another lovely cheap DVD box set containing many unwatchable movies. So project "100 movie pack Sci-Fi [sic] Classics" is a go. Just a short look at the list of movies shows a very broad definition of SF, reaching from serials with a Singing Cowboy to peplums. So everything is right with the world.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Horror!? 68: Mama Dracula (1980)

Vampire countess needs a bath in virgin blood to stay in shape. But a good virgin is hard to find. Can Professor van Bloed, who looks about fifteen years old, and his newfangled artificial blood help? Do I care?
I am sure that the Geneva Conventions prohibit use of this film. I have seen my share of painfully unfunny comedies, but this...this is so bad I can't find words to describe it. I can't even ask "what the hell were these people thinking?". The brain-dead do not think.
At least I can report that this was the fourth and final film of "director" Boris Szulzinger. I suppose a mob of villagers carrying burning torches saved us from further pain. We should build them a monument.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Horror!? 67: The Bat (1959)

Crime writer Cornelia von Gelder and her maid (I suppose) Lizzie rent the house of bank director John Fleming, ignoring the fact that a murderer commonly called "The Bat" is known to have committed some atrocious murders there. While they are getting comfortable, said bank director is on a hunting trip with his friend Dr. Wilson deep in the woods. He tells Wilson that he has embezzled one million dollars from his bank and now needs Wilson's help to fake his own death. The good Doctor himself doesn't like all this faking business and kills his dear friend, leaving the money hidden away somewhere for the taking.
Soon mysterious things happen at von Gelder's place. Who might the notorious murderer be? The good doctor with his problematic morals and his interest in bats? The chauffeur with the slightly shady past? Or someone else? And where is the money?
The Bat is one of many versions of The Circular Staircase and a very fine one, if you like old fashioned murder mysteries.
"Old fashioned" to modern eyes I mean; as a matter of fact Director Crane Wilbur cut down consequently on the more irritating parts of his source and made it a piece of Fifties matinée cinema that is as fun to watch as the best films of its kind.
This old dark house is a quite modern one, even things like its secret doors are cleverly modernized and most importantly there is no odious comic relief who needs killing, nor any gorillas.
We also have the pleasure of seeing Vincent Price in one of his more laid back performances as Doctor Wells, while Agnes Moorehead gives one of her competent performances. (In most movies with her I know, she's completely horrible, which is kind of strange if you see good work like this or hear one of the many radio plays she acted quite brilliantly in.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Horror!? 66: Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

Most of the time I try to give at least a small plot summary for the films I inflict upon myself, but Revolt of the Zombies has beaten me. The mere thought of thinking about it ever again makes me sick. How and why you (as director, producer etc) go from White Zombie to something like this is not just hard to explain, it shouldn't be possible.
Just try to imagine the most long-winded script, with the most mind-numbing love story you have ever seen mating with the worst special effects, the most disinterested actors, and the most static and lifeless camera work. One cannot describe this kind of monstrosity - watching it feels like it must be part of Jack Kirby's anti-life equation.
Can I die now, mummy?

The Horror!? 65: The Killer Shrews (1959)

Captain Thorne Sherman and his helmsman and friend Rook Griswold transport supplies to a research station on a remote island. Nobody told them that the resident scientists under Doctor Craigis and his daughter Ann have made some troubling mistakes in their quest to solve the problem of overpopulation. Their experiments created a species of dog-sized, poisonous and highly aggressive shrews. After depopulating the island's fauna, the monsters are in dire need of food. As if this wasn't troubling enough, the island is hit by a hurricane, destroying every hope of leaving for at least a day. Soon Rook, being black, is eaten and it doesn't look too good for the rest of our heroes either.
Why the hell didn't Ray Kellogg direct more films? His only directing credits (if you believe the IMDb) besides this and The Giant Gila Monster are something about a dog and John Wayne's nauseating The Green Berets. And yet The Killer Shrews shows so much promise, some of it certainly created by one of the tighter and psychologically more nuanced scripts for an American monster movie of the Fifties, but most of it carried by a directorial sense for suspense you won't find in too many movies of the time. What impresses me most is the oppressiveness the siege scenario provides, even if the monster are obviously dogs wearing shaggy carpets and fake heads and teeth. The character's actions are not always pretty or all that clever, providing a far more realistic feeling than usual. And there are not many films of its time that actually know what jerks their designated heroes are.
The movie's big problem is some very uneven acting, with performances reaching from the decent to the terrible. Ingrid Goude's Ann is a real pain to watch and has a voice that has a lot in common with the (very effective) screeching noises the shrews produce.
This of course shouldn't hinder anyone to watch one of the great monster movies too few people know.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Horror!? 64: The Vampire Bat (1933)

A series of strange murders plagues the small European (who knows where exactly it lies) town of Kleinschloss. Since all victims are found bloodless with two small puncture marks on their necks, the superstitious townsfolk soon decide the murderer must be a vampire! Only the more urbane policeman Karl Brettschneider doubts the theory. Nevertheless he soon suspects mentally ill Herman Gleib of the deeds, the same man the villagers choose as their scapegoat. But to nobody's surprise the killings don't end with Gleib's death. Could the real killer be...a gorilla-less mad scientist?
The Vampire Bat is surprisingly classy. Sure, its script won't win prizes for originality, but it's well enough executed and expertly paced and the plot seems as logical as plots containing mad scientists get. Even the scientist's motives and plans make some kind of sense.
The mostly more than competent cast helps a lot, too. Dwight Frye and Lionel Atwill were of course already old hands with the kind of parts they play; Melvyn Douglas and (really charming) Fay Wray make one of the more likable "young hero & heroine" pairs of the Thirties and Forties.
If Frank R. Strayer's direction only would be a little more creative, we'd be looking at a real forgotten classic. Since he later directed snoozers like Condemned To Live I am not going to complain about him showing competence here, though.

Meme warning

What Is Your Battle Cry?

Prowling through the tundra, swinging a sharpened screwdriver, cometh Houseinrlyeh! And he gives an ominous scream:

"For the love of carnage and discord, I look forward to hearing the lamentations of thy women!"

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Zombie Strippers! (2008)

Experiments of the US government under George W. with the goal to create a super soldier by reanimating the dead go a little pear shaped. Nothing that an elite unit of marines can't handle, though. If you don't care too much about the small things like the infection and escape of one of the soldiers, that is. He soon stumbles into a local strip joint, bites the resident star stripper and is imprisoned by the shady owners of the club (one of them played by Robert Englund's hammy grimace). To George Romero's surprise (delight?) we learn that female zombies retain a lot of their mental capacities and make incredibly popular strippers. The promise of money piling up in their greedy little hands lets the owners ignore small problems like the mindless male zombies the diet of their stars leave behind. What's a cellar good for, anyway?
It is only a question of time until the coming of the big gut munching. But what will be the catastrophe's trigger? The rift between living and undead strippers or the marines searching for their escaped colleague?
To my surprise Zombie Strippers! turns out to be a far more entertaining movie than I expected. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about one of these so-called "good" movies here, but about a heavily exploitative b-picture with slightly competent direction and mostly terrible acting.
Here's the thing, though - writer-director Jay Lee wallows in absurdity, reaching from tasteless jokes that are incredibly funny in their unfunniness to strippers sprouting badly delivered bits of French existentialist philosophy to a dead woman shooting pool balls out of her vagina. The whole film achieves - especially in the last third of its running time - that weird state some of the most interesting b-pictures live in, when no honest viewer can tell what part of it is meant as a joke and what part is meant seriously. And this viewer surely won't complain about the strange kind of bliss this gives him.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Doctor Who 2008 episode 6

Do you know the two or three dozen Star Trek episodes about the warring factions who fight for something they don't understand and have to learn that they are basically alike? Me too. So what could be a better idea for Doctor Who than to rip them off, only much much worse.
Just last week I wrote how glad I was about the end of the series' experiments in being clever. This week I was punished for my optimism by something even worse - an experiment in being clever, meaningful and moving at the same time. The result? An insufferable mixture of corniness, bad melodrama, self righteousness and every cliché one could possibly imagine.
Adding a deeply stupid, clichéd (yeah, what a surprise) and annoying sub plot about the Doctor's clone daughter hasn't made the mess any better.
I won't even try to point out all the holes in the plot logic. And Tennant still plays dramatic scenes as if suffering from constipation.
Next week's episode featuring a murder mystery and Agatha Christie can only be better.

Los Vampiros De Coyoácan (1974)

I have to give writer-director Arturo Martinez credit for one thing: he really tried to deviate from the standard formula for luchadore movies. The problem with Los Vampiros is that everything that differs from your normal Mexican wrestling film has been changed for the worse.
So Mil Mascaras and his sidekick Superzan are themselves sidekicks of a certain Dr. Wells, soon-to-be vampire hunter, and don't get a lot to do. Some might say that -given the thespian qualities of masked heroes- this is a change for the better, and the both of them are probably not the best actors in the movie, but at least they seem interested in what they are doing. The rest of the bunch just stands and stares and speaks their dialogue I soon started to ask myself if they had been drugged by the evil vampire baron. Which is a nice theory if one ignores the fact that the baron himself is no bloody different.
Worst of all, someone thought it clever to make a luchadore movie without much action, possibly to make the ponderousness of the acting all the more annoying. This is especially shameful since the few action scenes that are there feature quite nice choreography and some prime silliness. It's too sad that you have to wait for the vampiric wrestling dwarfs for almost an hour (or a subjective year).

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Horror!? 63: The Monster Maker (1944)

Dr. Igor Markoff is a man with many interests. He is a medical practitioner, dabbles a little in hypnosis, owns (I bet you never saw that one coming) a murderous gorilla with a terrible fear of dogs, is a distinguished expert for disturbances of the glandular system and tries to create a cure for acromegaly, when he is not trying out his own variant of the disease on unsuspecting lab animals. He also has a secret - he killed the real Dr. Markoff years ago in Europe. The original Markoff was the lover of fake-Markoff's wife, so obviously they both had to die. And what better way is there to kill one's spouse than to infect her with one's special brand of acromegaly?
Years later in America, Markoff attends a concert by the pianist Lawrence and soon recognizes in Lawrence's daughter Patricia the spitting image of his own wife. Obviously he has to possess her (and I use the word "possess" very deliberately). And what better way is there to win a woman's love than to first stalk her and later, after having been told off, to infect her father with one's favorite disease and try to blackmail her into marriage?
The Monster Maker is a passable PRC movie, relatively well acted (as in "everyone but the villain seems quite bland and disinterested, though not completely incompetent"), relatively tight (as in "the first half of the film actually moves along at a nice pace, while the second half drags considerably"), with a relatively complex, though also very unambitious villain (played relatively exciting by J. Carrol Naish) and a lot of interesting subtext. I am absolutely sure that director Sam Newfield (or Siegmund Neufeld, as he called his producer-self) didn't mean to create a commentary on the concept of women as possessions of men (aka objectification), but it is nonetheless hard not to interpret the film this way, seeing that Markoff knows absolutely nothing about Patricia as a person and first tries to blackmail only her father into letting her marry him, showing an extreme disinterest in the will of his future wife. The fact that she is finally rescued by her sick father and her incredibly jerky fiancé makes this reading even clearer.
So it's a (relatively) competent movie with some interesting aspects, although probably not a good starting point for viewers new to Poverty Row.

Darling of the Day (of course spoken by fiancé jerk):
"Funny people these foreigner!"

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Meme again

You are The Hierophant

Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching.

All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.

The Hierophant's purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant's only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Horror!? 62: The Ape (1940)

Doctor Adrien is a not especially well-loved doctor in a small American town. He is secretly working on a serum to cure polio. His favorite patient is the paralyzed Frances Clifford, a young woman who reminds him quite a bit of his dead daughter, whom he couldn't save from the same illness. But he needs (you guessed it) human spinal fluid to produce a working serum. Coincidence helps him with a great way to cover up his tracks: A murderous gorilla (who looks better than one can expect from a Monogram feature) escapes from a traveling circus. Adrien is able to kill it. He hides this fact and proceeds to search for his involuntary fluid donors in a costume made out of dead gorilla. Yes, he must be a genius.
Before watching The Ape I didn't know that Boris Karloff (playing Adrien, of course) did his slumming for Monogram, like Lugosi. To my disappointment the film is neither good nor bad enough too be really interesting. Karloff's acting is subdued where uncontrolled hamming is asked for and Curt Siodmak's script seems as if its author was a little ashamed to write an ape movie, but sadly not ashamed enough to do something interesting with the sub-genre. So the film ends up in the very special hell of mediocrity.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Doctor Who 2008 episodes 04+05

Lesson of the Day: Militarism is bad. Who'd have thunk?
Now it's obvious - someone with a lot of sense had an idea for this season of the Doctor, namely the return to the pulp Science Fiction roots of the show.
I am the first to admit that this is a great idea, since it brings us bizarre invasion plans, mind control, evil clones, the theory that those who control the world's cars can control the world's future, explosions, Martha Jones, Agent of U.N.I.T., Sontarans, breakneck pacing and absurdly simple solutions to complex problems.
So yeah, this season (and this two-parter) is a lot of fun, but I find it a little disappointing to see that the writers seem to copy many of the flaws of pulp skiffy. All is well as long as there's action and absurd situations, but as soon as the characters' psychology comes into play, the show delivers only trite clichés. Come on, you couldn't really think of something better than the traitor who gets betrayed by his bosses and so redeems himself by doing the right thing? Oh look the companion's mother is...annoying! What a surprise! Whoa, no real person acts this way? But how else can the plot work? Or the beautiful character arc we developed in about five minutes on the loo!?
Still, this is much better than the earlier experiments in being intelligent and meaningful that only showed that the show's writers took itself for much more clever than they really are (episodes by Moffatt and Cornell obviously excluded - these people are clever).

A wish for the future: Could someone, anyone, please write a competent military commander? I am not a fan of the military at all, but this is just ridiculous.

Doctor Who 2008, episode 03

Lesson of the day: Slavery is bad. Who'd have thunk?
Again, this is a neat, very pulpy episode, again decently paced and entertaining enough. The worldbuilding could have used a little more (or any) thought though. I can't be the only one to think that the survivability of a species whose members carry their second brains in their hands is low to the point of no-existence. And - nice as they may look - the Ood's whole physical conception doesn't make any sense (even for the Doctorverse). They're completely humanoid, just with the face of Cthulhu and an outside brain that permanently blocks the usage of one of their hands!? What the fuck? 

Doctor Who 2008, episode 2

Oooh, pulpy goodness! Old Pompeii a day before the eruption! True prophecies! Evil soothsayer cults! Sacrifices! Circuit boards made of marble! Stone monsters! Stone infestations! The Spock dilemma! A companion with a spine! A moral dilemma that kinda makes sense and does in ten minutes what Star Trek needed hours for! A volcanic eruption! The truth about history! 

Doctor Who 2008 episode 1

I dreaded watching this a little bit, since Russel T. Davies' scripts tend to be less than tolerable at best, while his scripts for season opening episodes tend to be atrocious. But to my surprise this was actually quite decent.
Of course, Davies humor is still very much hit or miss, but at least half of the jokes were funny (obviously the ones where he is not trying so terribly hard to be funny - worst offender would be the Doctor and new companion Donna just barely not meeting half a dozen times). The more sentimental scenes were not very original, though still effective enough to make Donna actively interesting, especially through the relationship to her grandfather.
And the Adipodes are probably the cutest and most absurd little monsters in the history of the show. I want one just like that as a pet.
I can't even complain about the plotting. It was deeply silly in a good natured way and featured surprisingly little amounts of one of Davies' most annoying tics - the seemingly deep seated conviction that watching people run really really fast while bad music is playing in the background is incredibly exciting.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Horror!? 61: Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

It seems even I have standards. Standards that make it impossible for me to watch Italian cannibal movies like this one to the bitter end. I have no problem with the gut munching, but watching real animals getting tortured to death crosses a line I am not willing to cross.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Horror!? 60: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

The Horror Classics Box Number 1 surprises here with a pretty decent looking print. What strikes me as strange is the changing of the character names in the intertitles back to the names from Stoker's Dracula (on which Nosferatu is loosely based). Someone must have thought this a good idea after the trouble Murnau had with Stoker's estate had faded. But why change "Wisburg" (in our reality Wismar) to Bremen? It's puzzling.
Quite bizarre acting real estate agent Knock/Renfield sends his young protégé Hutter/Harker to Transylvania to sell a house in Wisburg to a certain Count Orlok/Dracula. Hutter leaves behind his beloved wife Ellen/Nina (yes, I know that her name should be Mina) without a suspicion that he will soon unwittingly send plague and death back to his hometown.
I think I have already mentioned how much I tend to watch silent movies for their dreamlike qualities. This way I don't have the trouble accepting the reality of what I see that many people of my generation (at least those parts that actually know of their existence) seem to have with films this old and so far away from modern sensibilities.
More expressionist films like Nosferatu are not exactly making this difficult, since they never wanted to be naturalistic anyway. (Nothing ages as badly as yesterday's realism)
I can not add very much to the amount of clever things already written about this movie, so I'll just comment shortly on two points.
Firstly, I am awed by the effectiveness of Max Schreck as Orlok. His simple and effective make-up, but most of all his body language completely convince me of him as an ancient, terrible being, so out of touch with time and life itself he cannot bring anything but plague and death.
Secondly, does it seem strange if I see Ellen Hutter, who sacrifices herself to save her husband and her hometown in an act of astounding courage, as the mother of all courageous horror heroines?

The Horror!? 59: Trauma (1978)

Fabio Testi (Italy's third important cop actor behind Maurizio Merli and Franco Nero, probably because he is always strangely mustache-less) plays Inspector DiSalvo who tries to solve the rape, mutilation and murder of a teenage girl. It doesn't take long for him to understand that she and her three best friends shared a dangerous secret, and soon the murders and murder attempts start to stack up. As if this wasn't enough, the proprietors of the exclusive boarding school that the girls attend, as well as some affluent parents aren't exactly helpful.
One of my pet theories is the absolute importance of stylization for the giallo. Nothing else is as important to decide the quality of a film in this sub-genre. Of course this does not necessarily mean that all gialli have to stylize the same things or stylize them in the same way, although many gialli tend to drift in the direction of a strangely softening stylization of violence and hysteria into something aesthetically pleasing (seen in many movies by Mario Bava or Dario Argento). Trauma chooses a somewhat different path, clearly influenced by Massimo Dallamano's What Have They Done To Solange and What Have They Done To Your Daughters and by the gritty but equally stylized hyper-realism of Italian cop movies. It takes from these sources its protagonist, its rougher (but no less accomplished) aesthetics and a deep distrust of authority figures.
And it does so very cleverly and just as self-conscious as necessary. Even the script makes an unusual degree of sense, although the final reveal is of classical giallo-weirdness.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

To the Gaming interwebs

Yes, I really know that fucking GTA 4 is out, thank you very much. Strange how I couldn't miss it when every fucking gaming site, blog and intertube vomits the same shit at me for a fucking month.
And you know what? The more I had to hear about the damn thing, the less I wanted to play it.

The Horror!? 58: White Zombie (1932)

A pair of young lovers, Madeline and Neil, comes to Haiti to get married. They have been invited by an acquaintance of Madeline, the plantation owner Charles Beaumont, who not only invited the two to get married in his home, but also wants to hire Neil as his agent. What they don't know is that Beaumont is madly in love with Madeline and won't even stop at acquiring the services of the sinister Murder Legendre (played by Bela Lugosi!) to win her over. During the wedding banquet, Madeline seemingly dies, poisoned by Beaumont as the first step in her becoming one the Living Dead. But the plantation owner soon understands that he can't love a zombified Madeline and tries to persuade Legendre to take his curse back. Little does he know about Legendre's own infatuation with the woman. Although he will soon learn more than he wants about the man's unscrupulousness.
White Zombie is a veritable classic and even the battered print I watched shows very clearly why. Every single shot, every little angle is constructed to convey a very definite mood, so that soon the film seems to breathe an air of desolation and decay.
Technically it is a strange bastard. On one hand it consciously uses very anti-realistic sets, heavily influenced by German expressionist cinema of the silent era I think; camera work and cutting on the other were highly advanced and unusual for their time. Of course many of these techniques also look and feel very artificial, as does the acting. The genius lies in the way director Victor Halperin uses the all-around artificiality to convey mood and themes of White Zombie much clearer than a naturalistic approach could. Some of this leads directly to the production work of Val Lewton for RKO's horror unit ten years later.
Still, White Zombie remains a singular achievement.

The Horror!? 57: Legacy of Blood (1971)

Multimillionaire Christopher Dean dies and leaves his dysfunctional family and his equally disturbed servants with a slightly eccentric will: To qualify for a share of the legacy they have to live together for a week at the remote family mansion. The money will be shared between the survivors. And the survival of the flock seems doubtful even before a killer starts to pick them off one by one, since their dysfunctions include incest, sadism, masochism, alcoholism and lamps made out of dead nazis.
The best thing about sitting down on my couch, slapping a DVD into the player and watching a movie is the excitement if and when the film reaches a state of transcendence. When it stops being a mere movie and becomes something organic, possibly even alive. There are a few ways a movie can reach this mystical wholeness, one of them, the way Legacy of Blood chooses, is by being so inexplicably bad and weird that I just can't imagine how someone, anyone in his/her/its right mind could ever have thought making it was a good or at least sane idea. There is absolutely nothing right with this movie, the acting is unbelievable, the direction does nothing right, the cutting dissolves the film into moments that just don't fit. The script defies human description, and laughs at human comprehension. The most bizarre dialogue is uttered in ways I never thought possible. It's as if the proverbial monkeys had left their typewriters to try and make it in Hollywood.
Now, after I cried, after I laughed, after I stared in disbelief, after I tried to hide, after I succumbed to the seduction of the anti-sense equation, I finally understand what Hassan-i Sabbah meant when he spoke: "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."

Darling of the Day:
"I think we're alone inside this patchwork of insanity."