Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Hideous Sun Demon (1959)

While “making new isotopes”, slightly sleazy nuclear physicist (one supposes) Dr Gilbert McKenna (Robert Clarke who also directs) is having an off-screen accident that shoots him up with an unhealthy dose of very special radiation. At first, things seem to have gone surprisingly well for the scientist. Apart from a spot of unconsciousness, he seems perfectly fine. However, once Gilbert is exposed to sunlight, he turns into what his doctor will (in a little slide show he has prepared in his office for some reason that includes “mutated insects” that look just like insects to me, apart from a proto-punk haircut on a fly) explain as a sort of evolutionary regression. Cue stuff about embryos going through all evolutionary stages of mankind. Well, McKenna’s doctor does of course not use the word “regression” because that’d be too high-falutin’ for the film at hand, but hey.

Anyway, Gilbert may or may not go on a minor off-screen rampage on his first sun bath but he soon – also off-screen – turns back to his usual human form. Then, he’s put on a long-term vacation from work and spends his days whining how he can’t go out by day lest he turn into a monster, and spends his nights finally putting real energy into his career as an alcoholic. He also starts a kinda-sorta relationship with a gangster-owned bar singer, which might be supposed to mirror parts of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde for a time that can bring itself to use words like “prostitute” even less than the Victorian Age could. Obviously, it’ll all end, after much dragging of feet, scientists shaking their heads and Clarke shouting a lot, in a very minor rampage and death.

I really, really, wish I’d like The Hideous Sun Demon more, or that it just were a better movie than it actually is, because it has a lot of interesting angles to it that might have resulted in an actually good and intelligent monster movie if it had only had a decent script and a budget, or just had been made ten years later. As it stands, this is a film that promises to be a clever variation on various werewolf and Jekyll and Hyde angles that never follows any idea through, be it the simple reversal of a were-creature (and that’s what McKenna is, really) turning creature by sunlight, the attempts at mirroring Stevenson’s short novel in certain regards, or the suggested parallels between alcoholism and turning into a monster. Or the simple fact that our supposed monster really isn’t all that monstrous, doing more grunting and snarling and looking adorable than actual damage – unless you’re a collie or a rat, or somebody trying to shoot him, that is. Yet still the film never really manages to sell itself as a tragedy either, mostly because Clarke really doesn’t seem to have a handle on this whole directing lark, and most certainly not the ability to shoot around budget limitations that could make showing scenes like McKenna’s initial accident instead of telling it impossible.

It sure doesn’t help the film’s case that most of the acting is sub par even for a late 50’s monster cheap-o, with Clarke the only one on screen who puts actual effort in, effort that is completely misguided and probably faintly ridiculous (but then what isn’t?) but at least enthusiastic, and demonstrating an honest wish to play this thing straight. It is rather unfortunate that much of the film is so boring, with neither the monster movie bits nor the pseudo-noir sequences of McKenna’s nightclub-that-doesn’t-look-like-a-nightclub adventures ever coming together very well. Sure, the film has moments that’ll get a giggle or three out of most viewers but there are many more that are perfect invitations to yawns.

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