Saturday, July 21, 2012

In short: The Vulture (1966)

The new school teacher of a Cornish village (Annette Carell) makes a terrifying discovery while taking a short cut over the local graveyard that leaves her in a state of shock and suddenly white-haired. Once she'll be able to talk again, she'll relate having witnessed a vulture with a human face and human hands having arisen from a grave. Can it be mere chance that exactly this grave has been described as being cursed by a lynched Spanish-British with a thing for his pet vulture in a freshly discovered parchment?
Scotland Yard, at least, thinks it is. Clearly, the school teacher is just being hysterical.

But US nuclear scientist Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton), arriving in the village with his wife Trudy (Diane Clare) to visit her uncle Brian (Broderick Crawford), has a more scientific explanation once he has learned of the legends and picked up a few feathers and coins. Obviously, somebody's experiments in "nucular transmutation" have gone horribly wrong, creating a man/vulture hybrid that is influenced by vengeful thoughts of the dead man from the ether. Even worse, Trudy's family must be in danger, for the dead man with the bad thoughts has reasons to hate them especially. SCIENCE(!) says so.

Curiously, nobody believes this deeply rational and scientific explanation, so Eric, Trudy, and local antiquarian Professor Hans Königlich (Akim Tamiroff) will have to solve the vulture problem all on their own. But why does Königlich always wear that ridiculous cape? And what's wrong with his feet?

As this plot synopsis should make perfectly clear, Lawrence Huntington's The Vulture is what happens when the basic idea for a British ghost story about vengeance from the grave crashes headlong into an especially ridiculous example of the 50s US monster movie. This culture clash might have led to an interesting little movie in the right hands, but Huntington - also responsible for the script - does not possess them. In fact, even if I were to ignore the script for a second, that would still leave a film as boringly directed as humanly possible (in fact directed in a style as if Huntington had never left the 50s), taking place in a few apathetically photographed locations and some sets so aggressively bland it's difficult to imagine someone actually designed them, played by actors who seem utterly indifferent to anything that's going on.

And with this I'm really leaving out the massive failings of the script. Just to take some examples: Huntington's problems to differentiate between nuclear physics and alchemy (really, the "science" here is about on the level of The Giant Claw just infinitely less hilariously put into dialogue); the obviousness of the film's bad guy whose identity seems supposed to be a surprise but could not fool a toddler; the slow, slow pacing - oh, the horrors go on and on.

Some of the film's problems can be somewhat amusing, of course. It's difficult not to crack up when Hutton begins to relate his scientific (cough) theories, or when everybody treats Königlich as if he were not obviously shifty; and witnessing Tamiroff in his full vulture gramps get up at the film's supposed climax is an astonishing example of why certain films should never show their monsters that can't help but grant one the gift of the giggles. However, for most of the time The Vulture is just boring and bland, aggressively avoiding everything interesting that could have resulted when the British ghost story met the 50s monster movie.


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