Tuesday, July 31, 2018

BEASTMASTER: 'TEARS OF THE SUN" (2000)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


I don't plan to review other episodes of this 1999-2002 teleseries, which purportedly has nothing in common with the Andre Norton book from which the series took its title. However, though the show was uneven at its best, its writers did attempt to draw from a wealth of mythological motifs to flesh out Beastmaster Dar, the protagonist of a sword-and-sorcery cosmos. For instance, the hero derives his vaunted ability to commune with animals from Curupira, a goddess-like patron named after a Brazilian forest-entity.

"Tears of the Sea" transpires during the show's first season, not long after the hero loses his wife to savage raiders. Accompanied by his intellectual buddy Tao, Dar visits his wife's people, a tribe clearly patterned on the ethos of Polynesia in terms of their attire and their sea-based economy. Local woman Leilani was a best friend to the late mother of Kyra, and so Dar seeks out Leilani, her husband Mataffa and her teenaged son Tusi.

Tusi and Mataffa are actually seen by the viewer in an opening teaser, where Mataffa is manning a canoe while Tusi dives in the sea. Tusi is attacked by a shark but is saved by a helpful dolphin. Once the two men return to shore, another local asserts that dolphins are the reincarnations of the tribe's ancestors, though Mataffa regards the belief as an old wife's tale. Tusi, however, shows a fascination with the sea and later tells Dar that when he was diving, a part of him didn't want to leave.

Shortly before Tusi undergoes his test of manhood, Leilani makes a singular confession to Dar and Tao: Tusi is not her son by Mataffa, but of her late sister Sanu. No mention is made of Tusi's paternity, though one assumes he's dead too, but the narrative emphasis is all on the death of Sanu in the ocean, both the source of life and death to the tribe. Leilani also says that she and Mataffa have never revealed the truth to Tusi, but will do so after he officially becomes a man.

Tusi completes the test, but when told of his true parentage, he becomes disturbed and runs away from the tribe. However, this action spells his doom. He witnesses a local tribe-member, Gilan, club another tribesman in order to steal the latter's goods. Gilan sees Tusi, chases him, and then causes Tusi to fall into the sea from a height, killing him.

The tribe holds a funeral for Tusi without knowing that he was murdered. Dar becomes suspicious and attempts to gain information from one of the dolphins, implicitly the same one that saved Tusi earlier. The hero journeys into the depths, and apparently passes into a realm of death, where Tusi is a spirit and the dolphin is a comely woman who does not give her name. Dar uses the knowledge he gains to expose the killer. Gilan falls into the sea and is drowned by two dolphins, implicitly Tusi and his female companion.

The killer's death is not the pay-off, though, but the revelation that the dolphin-woman is Tusi's late mother Sanu. The two spirits briefly visit Leilani and Mataffa and then return to the sea, and the episode ends on an affirmation of spiritual survival.

One covert aspect of the story, though, causes me to rate this episode higher in mythicity than others. In a deeper myth-reading, Sanu is not just a deceased human being, but a personification of the live-and-death aspects of the sea. Tusi, though brought up by mortals, subconsciously yearns after the sea because it's a part of his own nature as well. The manhood ritual, which would normally lead to a young man finding a young wife, is upset by Tusi's encounter with the killer Gilan, which ironically leads Tusi to a communion with his dead mother, climaxed by Tusi joining his mother in the form of a dolphin.

Tusi's adoption by his mother's sister also reminded me of one of the stories about Adonis, the mortal lover of the love-goddess Aphrodite. Adonis's origin is much more fantastic than that of Tusi, but it's interesting that after Adonis perishes even as Tusi does-- by a male enemy-- he's "fought over" by both Aphrodite and Persephone:
Persephone greeted Adonis with arms wide open as he entered the underworld and her delight knew no bounds. At the same time, Aphrodite, knowing that her Adonis must be in the clutches of Persephone, rushed to the underworld to bring him back. Once again, Zeus had to intervene and stop the women from quarrelling over who would have rightful possession of Adonis. With great patience he told them that henceforth, Adonis would spend half the year with Aphrodite and the other half with Persephone. This last aspect may symbolize the life of a man, who spends half his life with his mother and half his life with his wife. Source: www.greeka.com
Neither goddess is technically related to Adonis, even though in a roundabout way Aphrodite is responsible for Adonis's birth. The show does not suggest that Tusi will become any sort of seasonal spirit, spending part of the year with his real mother and the other part with his aunt/adoptive mother. However, when he returns to the shore to speak with Leilani-- and he speaks only to her, not to his adoptive father-- he states that "I have two mothers. How lucky can a man be?" Yet in a sense, it seems that "Persephone" wins the argument. She doesn't do anything to cause Tusi's death-- indeed, at the opening, she preserves his mortal life-- but things work out so that she becomes joined with her son for eternity, rather than seeing him continue regarding Leilani as his mother, or, for that matter, seeing him married to a woman his own age. Naturally, even if the episode's writer was aware that myths like Adonis and Aphrodite have quasi-incestuous content, said writer naturally avoids suggesting anything of the kind for a mainstream television show.

Friday, July 27, 2018

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


In contrast to Pierce GOLDENEYE, Brosnan's first outing as Bond, TOMORROW NEVER DIES shows no particular desire to re-interpret the famed superspy for a nineties audience.

While some Bond films have opened with short sequences that have nothing to do with the main story, this time the hero's first mission-- targeting an arms-dealers' bazaar-- relates tangentially to a plot to bring about nuclear war between China and the U.S. This trope has been around since the 1950s, and the only new twist contributed by primary screenwriter Bruce Fierstein (who had collaborated on GOLDENEYE) is that the mastermind is a media-mogul, Elliott Carver, more or less a de-politicized version of real-life publisher Robert Maxwell.

Presumably MI-6 chooses to investigate Carver simply to aid their American allies. It helps, though, James Bond is in a unique position to investigate Carver's dealings, because Carver is married to a woman named Paris (Teri Hatcher), formerly one of Bond's old flames. As is often the case in Bond films, the hero doesn't maintain the illusion of being just an ordinary fellow for very long, particularly since Bond's raison d'etre in getting acquainted with Carver is to steal a code-device from the publisher. Nor is it long before Bond wins the affections of Paris away from her husband, which eventuates in Paris's death. But the film sets up a second "Bond girl" in Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), an agent of the Chinese government who's also checking out Carver's plots.

TOMORROW never slacks its pace, dishing out big fights and fast chase-scenes, the standout being one in which Bond and Wai Lin, handcuffed together, have to use a motorcycle to escape an almost endless slew of pursuers. However, the humor's not as sharp as it was in GOLDENEYE, and neither Hatcher nor Yeoh has very good chemistry with Brosnan. At the time the film was made, Yeoh was a major action-star in Hong Kong film, but her balletic martial-arts grace doesn't fit in a James Bond film, and the attempt to make her an "independent woman" who doesn't fall for Bond until the very end is thoroughly predictable.

Perhaps TOMORROW's greatest flaw is a boring villain. True, one shouldn't expect the sort of freakish geniuses birthed by Ian Fleming. But Carver never has much of a reason for wanting to start WWIII and then cover the news in his multi-media empire, despite Fierstein's invocation of the journalistic sins of William Randolph Hearst. It's not that a good villain requires an extensive backstory: Fierstein's own Xenia Onatopp has no backstory, but her character is intense enough to distinguish her from any other Bond-villain. Carver has no emotional center, and even Stromberg, the minor-league Captain Nemo from THE SPY WHO LOVES ME, comes off better.

If the film's phenomenality were to be judged only by Carver's THUNDERBALL-like escapades, it would be uncanny, but this time out the filmmakers chose to emphasize the superspy's many gadgets. In addition to humble devices, like a cellphone that emits an electric shock, Bond drives a heavily armored car that puts his old Aston-Martin to shame. Not only can the car shrug off gunfire, it can fire missiles and drive itself when its occupant is otherwise occupied.




Wednesday, July 25, 2018

HULK (2003)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *COSMOLGICIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL"






I made various disparaging remarks on Ang Lee's HULK during my review of the 2008 INCREDIBLE HULK, but I've never written a full review of Lee's film.

At the time of the film's premiere, I had high hopes for the adaptation. Lee was best known for intense dramatic movies like 1993's THE WEDDING BANQUET and 1997's THE ICE STORM, but he'd proved that he could handle intense action as well, in his adaptation of the martial-arts novel CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Unfortunately, though Lee claimed that he paid a lot of attention to translating the language of comic books into film, he never quite gets a handle of translating the way superhero characters work.

To be fair, the original five issues of THE INCREDIBLE HULK are all over the place, and it seemed as if creators Lee and Kirby couldn't quite figure out what to do with their Green Goliath. That said, the origin does create an empathetic comics-character in Bruce Banner. He's Every-Wimp, a spindly little guy who, possibly like Kirby himself, always got picked on by bigger men. 


Yet he's also valuable to the American war effort, so his genius allows him great repute-- except that his own Gamma Bomb unleashes the "Mister Hyde" demons inside him. It's a simple, elegant origin, and despite a rocky beginning, the character's second outing in Marvel's TALES TO ASTONISH-- given greater dramatic treatment by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko-- caught fire, and so the Hulk's never been cancelled again in any meaningful way.

Lee was certainly justified in not reproducing the Cold War aspects of the Hulk's first origin, and the script's idea of using "nanomeks" to heal trauma is a more viable concept that the TV-show's "tapping into strengths we all possess" schtick. The problem, though, is that for the first half of HULK, Lee spends a lot of time providing a dual origin for the Hulk-- he's exposed to gamma radiation, but he already has nanomeks in his body thanks to a crazy evil father. Yet the script fails to make Banner an empathetic character. The overriding conceit is that Banner is a trauma survivor-- the crazy father also tried to murder him as a child, only to kill Banner's mother-- and this has made him repressed and emotionally distant. (It's suggested that his emotional remoteness is why ex-girlfriend Betty Ross was attracted to him, with an intimation that it's a response to her being raised by a hardcore Army officer, General Ross.) In addition, the script also inserts a secondary villain, Talbot, as an obsessed ex-soldier out to monetize Banner's discovery. Ross and Talbot follow the model of similar "blocking characters" as they are found in the man-into-monster films of the 1950s, such as THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, that influenced the original comic book.

Main villain David Banner (winsomely named for the TV character) is not much better developed, though actor Nick Nolte gives a bravura performance anyway. The persona of the comics-character The Absorbing Man is clumsily grafted onto that of the Heavy Father, but the climax, in which the Hulk battles his father to the death, is curiously underwhelming, partly due to the dodgy level of CGI effects. Even less appealing is an early scene in which the Hulk must save Betty from a pack of gamma-mutated dogs, one of which is a poodle. 

Though Lee fails to capture the Banner character, he does at times communicate the appeal of the Hulk. The film's best scenes are those when the monster escapes the Army's prison and flees into the desert. Though this Hulk has nothing in common with the atomic experiments in White Sands, seeing him vaulting across barren sands and rocky escarpments still creates an archetypal frisson-- not least in the scenes where the Hulk tears apart an attack-force of tanks--

Just like in the funnybooks. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

EEGAH (1962)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


I've termed EEGAH a comedy because, despite its KING KONG-like conclusion, the bulk of the film concerns the titular caveman's frustrated attempts to get busy with the lead female.

Actually, EEGAH probably wouldn't be that funny to older viewers, except when accompanied by MST3K dialogue or similar mockery. When I re-watched it recently, the funniest thing about it were the credits, written out in bold letters on various surfaces. I've only seen this credits-technique in grindhouse films of the 1960s, and I've always assumed that the raconteurs involved resorted to this technique in order to save bucks. The film's writer/producer/director was Arch Hall Senior, father to the film's male lead Arch Hall Jr, and though he wasn't active in grindhouse films, he did produce one nudie-cutie, THE MAGIC SPECTACLES, the year before he did EEGAH.

I'll give Hall some points for unveiling his lonely caveman (Richard Kiel) early in the film; lead female Roxy (Marilyn Manning) nearly runs him down with her car. He runs away, and she conveys her experience to her father Mister Miller. Miller, a writer of adventure novels, decides that he'll forge into the desert all by himself, to investigate the apparent survivor of prehistoric times. When Miller doesn't come back at the expected time, Roxy and her boyfriend Tom (Hall Jr.) follow him. Tom gets separated from Roxy, who is in turn abducted by Eegah (so named because this is the most frequent sound he makes-- "Eegah" equaling "ego," I guess). When Roxy is deposited in Eegah's cave, she finds that Eegah has also captured Miller as well. Miller has been attempting to establish a dialogue with the illiterate caveman, and he points out that the cave was apparently one Eegah formerly shared with his family, for the preserved skeletons of other cavepeople are still gathered against a nearby wall. Miller theorizes that the sulfur content of the cave somehow kept Eegah and his relatives alive over the centuries, but has no explanation as to how they avoided discovery for so long a time. Apparently the last of Eegah's relatives perishes within the past fifty years, which may have precipitated Eegah's venture into civilization.

At this point, while the virtuous Tom is searching for his girlfriend, Eegah tries to beat his time with Roxy. This section of the film is the only one that commands any viewer-attention, for during this sequence Roxy and Miller have to adopt various strategies to distract Roxy's powerful suitor from making mating overtures. These scenes also have a nodding likeness to some of the tamer grindhouse films, wherein characters are imperiled by the possibility of being violated, even though nothing actually happens. I can't exactly call any of the performances here good, but they are diverting, particularly in the scene where Eegah lets Roxy shave off his hairy beard.

Finally, however, the two moderns escape Eegah and rejoin Tom. The lovelorn caveman follows Roxy, breaks up a swimming-pool party, and gets shot dead by police.

Though EEGAH isn't well filmed or written, I don't think it quite deserves its reputation as one of the worst films of all time. It's at least interesting that Miller is a traditional protective father who's righteously shocked by rock-and-roll-- especially the rather innocent ditties warbled by Tom-- and perhaps one could view Eegah as a symbol of every father's fears about What Those Boys Really Want. Roxy isn't a total innocent, either: in an early scene she titillates Tom by showing him a very small package and telling him that it contains her new swimsuit. Some critics have opined that Roxy and her father sound a little too intimate in their cave-scenes, leading to the conclusion that there's an incestuous undercurrent in the film. I don't think any such undercurrent was intentional, but it might be seen as a logical outgrowth of Miller's protectiveness toward his daughter.

Monday, July 23, 2018

AMERICA 3000 (1986), SHE (1982)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

Post-apocalyptic stories are often more concerned with creating new weird worlds than with expressing regret about losing the old familiar world. Every once in a while, though, I've encountered a post-apoc story in which the creators seem almost desperate to bring back the old world, even to the extent of duplicating the same mistakes that created the catastrophe.

Not since 1956's WORLD WITHOUT END have I seen an after-disaster flick so cavalier about the  mistakes of the past. True, writer-director David Engelbach didn't try to create any radical new cultures. AMERICA 3000 focuses on a tribe of Amazons who have revolted against male authority, implicitly because of some nuclear disaster. The Amazons tyrannize men, using them either as slaves or as brood-stallions, and yet for some reason the women maintain some reverence for the lost leader of earlier ages, the "Prezzi-dent."

"Prezzi-dent" is one of Engelbach's more bearable verbal concoctions, while the most of the rest are pretty stupd. "Neggy" means "negative," "the regs" mean "regulations," and so on. One young Amazon Vena is scheduled to lay with a stud named Korvis, but he breaks away from the Amazon camp and heads for the hills with a comic-relief friend. They stumble upon an old military bunker and figure out how to use ancient weapons to re-establish the standing of men in a female-dominated world. The story is vacuous but the action is fairly well staged, and the lead females-- Laurene Landon, Victoria Barrett, and Camilla Sparv-- sport incredible bouffant hairdos and buff bods.



Contrary to the credits of 1984's SHE, nothing in it resembles anything about Rider Haggard's 1886 book SHE. If anything, it riffs on a legend of Cleopatra, in which she supposedly slept with lovers whom she had slain the next morning. (Oddly, Haggard did do a CLEOPATRA novel, though I doubt that writer-director Avi Nesher read a single word by Haggard.)

Nesher focuses initially on a hunky guy named Tom and his comic-relief friend Dick. They come to the city ruled by the Amazon "She" (Sandahl Bergman), supposedly looking for the tribe that kidnapped Tom's sister, though they don't seem that much in a hurry about it. A slaver drugs both guys, keeps Dick and sells Tom, who gets tortured by She in a weird gauntlet-ritual. Tom survives and liberates Dick from the slaver. In the course of doing so, Tom finds out that only She can guide him and Dick to the tribe that stole his sister. Naturally, Tom and Dick kidnap She and force her to be their guide.

Nesher's continuity, even for the opening scenes, is all over the place, and it never gets better. The two guys and their girl-guide are almost killed by a tribe of mutants (She led the guys into their hands, but didn't realize that the mutants hate her too). She's female guards come to the trio's rescue and rout the mutants. At this point, you might expect the Amazon queen to take some severe vengeance, given how she treated Tom when he hadn't even done anything to her. But instead, she not only lets the two guys loose, she and her gal-pal Shanda follow them to help them out as they continually encounter one stupid menace after another. All of the menaces are resounding unoriginal, with the slight exception of a big bearded guy dressed in a pink taffeta dress.

Sandahl Bergman is the only thing worth watching here, but she's a long way from the glories of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. In fact, even though AMERICA 3000 is pretty stupid, that movie at least devotes some time to depicting the process by which the male and female leads fall in love-- whereas in SHE, the mutual attractions just happens, and no one does anything about it. Quite a comedown for a film ostensibly based on one of European literature's most celebrated romance-stories.


THE PHANTOM PLANET (1961)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological*


Fred Gebhardt had a very short career as a writer and producer in movies, with just four movies to his credit on IMDB. Prior to making this movie, he made the remembered-only-by-hardcore-fans TWELVE TO THE MOON. for which he functioned both as producer and writer of the original story, just as he does in PHANTOM PLANET.

I don't remember liking PHANTOM very much in earlier viewings, but I found it a bit more winsome this time around, despite recognizing the story's indebtedness to 1955's THIS ISLAND EARTH. No one will ever consider PHANTOM classic science fiction. However, I did find that Gebhardt, whatever his personal opinion of the genre, succeeded in putting forth some of its "gosh-wow" appeal, albeit on a small budget.

The "planet" of the title is actually an asteroid called "Rheton," inhabited by humanoids who were implicitly once as big as Earth-people, but who shrank down to tiny-size due to the combined effects of their special atmosphere and the gravitational controls that they use to steer their "ship." However, the Rhetonians aren't always able to avoid other space-craft.

For Earth, it's the year 1980, and there's a flourishing space-program based on Earth's moon, apparently just to give the sense of the advances made. (PHANTOM is one of the few movies of the period in which there are assorted Earthmen but no actual scenes on Earth itself.) In the film's opening scenes, one Earth-ship has already been destroyed by a mysterious "phantom planet," and another such ship, manned by two American astronauts, is annihilated in the first five minutes. Nothing daunted, the Lunar Agency sends out another ship for reconnaissance, whose two-man crew consists of Captain Frank Chapman and his navigator Lt, Makonnen.

The viewer doesn't have much time to get to know Makonnen. He has a few philosophical lines about how people should pay attention to "the good and the beautiful." Then the ship encounters, but does not crash into, the Phantom Planet. A meteor shower does hit the ship, though, and when the two astronauts do a space-walk to make repairs, Chapman's air-hose is holed by a mini-meteor and another such projectile wounds Makonnen. Makonnen managed to hustle the unconscious Chapman back into the ship and shut the door before he Makonnen drifts into space, praying to his deity as he perishes. Chapman returns to consciousness in time to realize that Makonnen must be dead and that his ship has now been caught by the gravity field of Rheton.

Chapman lands the ship and ventures out onto the asteroid's surface, finding that it possesses an atmosphere. Still weak from his experiences, Chapman collapses, and the native Rhetonians-- all male so far-- swarm around his Gulliver-sized body. Then the atmosphere gets into Chapman's suit and shrinks him down to mite-size. He revives just as the Rhetonians approach, and he fights back a little before they subdue him.

The leader of the Rhetonians, one Sessom (more or less "Moses" spelled backward), tells Chapman he's never going to see Earth again, and that he must become a productive citizen on Rheton. Presumably most of the men seen earlier were married guys, since Sessom informs Chapman that as a citizen he's free to court one of two women-- Sessom's daughter Liara and a mute girl named Zetha-- who are apparently the only marriageable ladies on Rheton. The women are not consulted, but they're both very interested in Chapman, with the talkative Liara taking the lead by giving Chapman the nickel tour. Over time Chapman finds out some interesting bits of history. The Rhetonians once depended too much on their advanced technology and "grew weak." However,  they reversed this tendency-- possibly as a result of taking off in their own gravity-driven asteroid-- and began to live lives of comparative simplicity. (This strategy also gives Gebhardt an excuse for keeping the settings and costumes simple as well.)

Chapman has another problem in addition to his enforced citizenship, for Liara does have another suitor, an irritable fellow named Herron, who accuses Chapman of being in league with Rheton's not-yet-seen enemies, "the Solarites." This ought to work to Chapman's advantage, since he's become smitten with the silent, "sensitive" Zetha as against the somewhat privileged Liara. However, Chapman doesn't like being insulted, so the two of them fight a duel according to Rhetonian law, in which the combatants try to force one another into "gravity planes" full of disintegrating energy. Chapman wins but spares Herron. The Rhetonian then rewards Chapman by trying to help him get back to Earth, though not without some self-interest, to get rid of competition. However, with that conflict out of the way, Rheton is tracked down by the Solarites. Sessom uses the planetoid's superior technology to repel the invasion, but the violence releases the one Solarite prisoner held by the Rhetonians, and he provides some last-minute menace before being killed. Chapman, though he wants to remain with Zetha, cleaves to his military duty and returns to Earth, after which he has only minimal proof that what he experienced was real.

The Rhetonian-Solarite quarrel is really the only element cadged from THIS ISLAND EARTH, but it's not entirely a rip-off. I thought it interesting that the Solarites are called "fire demons" and that they use "heat bombs" to attempt destroying the gravity-mechanisms of Rheton. One might say that these fiery associations give them the role of devils as against the "angelic" Rhetonians. Even the Solarites' motives for attack-- they want to steal the gravity-tech in order to keep their own planet from falling into its sun-- sounds a bit like the attempt of evil demons to escape their own hell.

That said, PHANTOM is more concerned with Chapman's problematic adoption by another culture, and his determination to get back to his own world, despite the temptations of Liara and Zetha. Liara, Herron and Sessom are not particularly well developed, though. There's an odd subplot in which it's revealed that Zetha became mute due to the same Solarite incursion that left one living Solarite prisoner on Rheton. Apparently Gebhardt wanted to give her a "trauma breakthrough" moment, since at the film's end she recovers his original speaking-voice as the result of being briefly abducted by the Solarite. However, Gebhardt isn't as good with the big dramatic moments as he is with small ones, as when Chapman and Zetha have to bid one another farewell. That said, Rheton, not Chapman, is the "main character" of PHANTOM PLANET.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009), APOCALYPSE (2010)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*


These two direct-to-video cartoon-movies were the first two team-ups of Superman and Batman produced by the awkwardly titled production group, "DC Universe Animated Original Movies." Both are derived from DC comic books that I have not read.

The PUBLIC ENEMIES of the title are, in fact, the "World's Finest" team themselves. Whereas Silver Age comics showed Superman and Batman as clean-cut, well-adjusted types, later incarnations favor the idea that they're friends that constantly rag on each other. The script for ENEMIES does this passably well, though often the humorous byplay is lain on with a trowel. Just as intrusive-- as shown by the still above-- is director Sam Liu's visual trope of showing various characters with jagged shadows on their faces, regardless of light-sources. Perhaps this schtick was in the original comics-work.

In Superman comics, the hero's perpetual enemy Lex Luthor maneuvered himself into the role of the U.S. President, which became a long-running headache for the Man of Steel. ENEMIES starts with Luthor in the presidential office and ends with him leaving it, presumably because such long-term plotlines proved problematic in DTV productions. Luthor, despite running on a law-and-order platform that excoriates superhero vigilantism, has somehow improved the economy enough that even a few superheroes, such as Captain Atom and Power Girl, have pledged him their allegiance. However, Luthor's regime is marked by a catastrophe, in which a titanic kryptonite meteor is on a collision course with Earth. Yet, despite this danger, Luthor's priority is still all about getting rid of Superman. After framing the hero for murder, the pernicious president places a bounty on Superman's head, so that both real heroes and long-time villains are after him. Batman joins his buddy in a running battle with Luthor's forces, while trying to dope out a means of annihilating the killer asteroid.

The action-scenes are competently done, with the highlight being Batman's combat with a grotty looking Solomon Grundy. There are assorted re-designs, with a really bad one for Power Girl, and a total reworking of classic Superman villain Toyman, who becomes a precocious thirteen-year-old genius. (Definitely an improvement over the worthless version seen in Bruce Timm's SUPERMAN teleseries.)




SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE is a comparative improvement, being directed by Lauren Montgomery with a greater emphasis on splashy, hard-hitting action-scenes. In this case the inciting storyline was DC Comics's introduction of its fourth major iteration of the "Supergirl" character, so in essence the friendship of Superman and Batman takes a back seat to the new heroine, though there's enough interplay that I would consider all three of them central characters, while others, like Wonder Woman and Big Barda, play supporting roles.

In this iteration, Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El comes to Earth in a rocket sent many years ago by her parents before the explosion of Krypton. Her parents apparently gave her no advice about how to keep a low profile and learn about Earth's customs quietly, for she panics in the unfamiliar environment and rips up big hunks of real estate before the World's Finest Team subdues her. It's not clear why Kara is such a handful. She is an adolescent with hormone problems, and she saw her parents die before she was rocketed from her homeworld, but the script doesn't quite succeed in making her a rounded character. Because she seems so fractious, Wonder Woman shows up and invites the Kryptonian heroine to come to Paradise Island and train herself. However, Supergirl isn't there very long before the forces of Superman's old foe Darkseid come looking for her. 

Lacking a viable way to reach the the hellish world of Apokolips-- which is how the comics spelled the name of Darkseid's homeworld-- Superman,  Batman, and Wonder Woman appeal to a former native of that world, Big Barda. In order to keep things simple, the DTV prunes away the more complicated aspects of the comics-character's backstory, so that she's just a super-tough denizen of Darkseid's world, who came to Earth to get away from her tyrannical master. However, she joins the rescue team without any real conflict.

Almost as soon as Supergirl arrives on Apokolips, Darkseid seems to bend her to his will with ridiculous ease. In the 2000s, it was almost de rigeur for every major comics-character to manifest a "dark side," and thus Supergirl turns evil, as signified by her donning an outfit worthy of an exotic dancer. (Darkseid's motivations might be more comprehensible if he wanted to seduce the super-nymphet, but he only seems to want her to be the leader of his shock troops, "the Female Furies," and doesn't even seem all that interested in messing with Superman's mind.) 

So Superman fights his cousin to restore her sanity, while the other heroes run around creating as much chaos as possible on an already chaotic world. The subtler aspects of Jack Kirby's NEW GODS opus are dropped in favor of showing the Apokolipians (?) as one-dimensional devils. The script does have one tantalizing myth-reference, when Darkseid tells his minions to fetch him "the girl who fell from the sky," which puts him in the ballpark of Satan, seeking to suborn one of God's angels. But that's as far as the DTV is willing to explore metaphysical myths. Even after the Girl of Steel is returned to Earth, Darkseid drops his Satanic deceptions and shows up on Earth to duke it out with both of the Kryptonian cousins, as if he were one of Jack Kirby's more muscle-bound menaces.

Still, there are a lot of fights, with dozens of Earth-Amazons and Female Furies, so there's that.

SNOWBEAST (1977), ANTS (1977)



PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*


SNOWBEAST is more or less "Jaws at a ski-resort." A Bigfoot starts picking off skiers at a resort which is celebrating its long history with a winter carnival. Writer Joseph Stefano, famed for his work on the 1960 PSYCHO and on the teleseries "Outer Limits," tries mightily to keep resort-owner Sylvia Sidney and her grandson from sounding too much like the mayor in JAWS. It helps somewhat that the grandson, the first person to spot the snowbeast, describes something much more fantastic than a shark, so that the owner's decision not to warn everyone has a different context to it.

Since it's a TV-movie done on a budget, the director avoids showing the Bigfoot on-camera as much as possible. This results in some amusing "creature-eye" POV scenes. As in JAWS, a loose association of people come together in order to combat the menace, but they're all fairly unremarkable stereotypes: the grandson, the local sheriff, a female journalist who just happens to have done stories on Bigfeet, and her husband Gar. Gar (Bo Svenson) is, apart from the snow-creature, the focal character here. He's a Gold Medal skier who has rested on his laurels for a little too long, and most of the minor subplots concern threats to his masculine ego, such as his wife's wandering affections, but none of his conflicts are especially interesting. Gar gets the honor of slaying the beast, whose nature Stefano's script never explores, except to call it a "mutant."



As dull as SNOWBEAST is, ANTS, another telefilm-shocker from the same year, is duller by far. In place of ripping off JAWS, the inspiration here seems to be 1972's FROGS, in which natural creatures revolt against human incursions. The ants, like the creatures in FROGS, are framed as ordinary insects provoked to uncanny wrath. This prompts them to attack a hotel, which like SNOWBEAST's ski-resort, suffers some economic straits. However, this time the proprietor of the business-concern (another Hollywood luminary, Myrna Loy) is a sympathetic type who doesn't do anything to impede others from realizing their mutual danger.

Though various innocents are killed by the invading ants, the script's real targets are an evil developer (Gerald Gordon) and his mistress (Suzanne Somers), because they plan to bilk the hotel's owners out of their property in order to build a casino. Though Somers's character really doesn't do anything but go along with her associate, the film seems to take particular pleasure in having her ravaged by ant-swarms. This may the reason, as Svengoolie reported on his program, that managers of videocassette stories in the 1970s and 1980s reported a high loss-rate of rental copies. I'm not sure if that means that the people swiping the cassettes were fans or Suzanne Somers, or that they really just liked the idea of seeing "Chrissy of THREE'S COMPANY" meet a horrible death.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical*


Like most of Roger Corman's adaptations of Poe, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is obliged to build up the author's rather schematic plot with a number of subplots. The original story is concerned with Poe's most prevalent theme; that of doleful death overcoming all of the beauties and felicities of life. There is, however, a slight element of class warfare in the way that Prince Prospero attempts to remove himself and his aristocratic kindred from the misfortunes of the hoi polloi, and scripters Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell logically build up that element. However, I'm more impressed by the fact that they also show their Prospero-- in this Vincent Price iteration, a believer in Satanism-- treating his fellow aristocrats as badly as he treats the lower classes. When he denies two aristocrats entry to his castle, he's at least partly motivated by the possibility that they may carry the Red Death. But he also takes sadistic pleasure in informing the male aristocrat that he Prospero has already slept with the man's wife,

The Satanism alteration strengthens the plot's narrative momentum. Even viewers who have no familiarity with the Poe story will probably expect that somehow Prospero's sanctum will be violated and that he will fall victim to the plague. But Poe's Prospero is merely a selfish, flamboyant aristocrat, while Prospero the Satanist is more nuanced. He's first seen tyrannizing over his subjects, abducting virginal young Francesca for his pleasure and imprisoning the young woman's father and her lover Gino. Yet unlike some of Price's other tyrant-figures, Prospero doesn't immediately take advantage of Francesca. Indeed, he tries to convince her of the superiority of his Satanist faith, describing how Satan is the god of "reality." In one line, he almost sounds like Melville's Captain Ahab, seeking to "strike through the mask" of outer appearances:

Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existence. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.

It seems obvious that what Prospero really wants is both a confidante and a convert by the way he earnestly seeks to persuade her to renounce her naive Christian faith. Strangely, though in one line he credits his ancestors with seeking "the key to existence," in another he excoriates his ancestors for being Christians who tortured hundreds of victims in order to save their souls. I'm not sure Beaumont and Campbell really had Prospero's ancestry worked out, but at the very least, they were aware that the Christian hegemony was based on violence and death. Prospero has decided that because some of his ancestors were deluded, he's going to pursue Satan as a guide to reality, and he proselytizes to Francesca in the same way that Sade's libertines repetitively seek to persuade their audiences. He fails in his Sadean scheme to force Francesca's boyfriend and father to fight one another, but succeeds to some extent by forcing them to court death in order that each may save the other. Yet, even after Prospero kills Francesca's father and casts Gino out of the castle in order to be killed by the plague, Francesca seems not entirely averse to the saturnine aristocrat at the film's end. No sympathies are voiced, but it's as if Prospero did partly convert her, not with his sophistry but out of his sheer neediness, born of his soul's emptiness.

While the Satanist content improves the character of Prospero, it's rather a waste of time when applied to the original character of Juliana, the prince's consort, essentially cast aside in favor of Francesca. While Prospero believes that his allegiance to Satan will insure that the Red Death never broaches his castle, Juliana's motive for pledging herself  to be Satan's bride seems to have no real motivation. She suffers a bloody death attributed to the Dark Lord, and it may be that director Corman simply wanted a little more gore in the middle of the film to keep audiences interested.

Somewhat more successful is a subplot derived from Poe's "Hop-Frog." In that story, a dwarf revenges himself upon a king and his courtiers by tricking them into dressing up like apes and then immolating them. The film changes the dwarf's name to "Hop-Toad" and only has him kill off one enemy in this manner, but it's at least a serviceable gore-piece.

The conclusion is much more metaphysical than the Poe original. As in the short story, Prospero meets the specter of the Red Death, but this death-figure is a little more moral than Poe's. Earlier Death is seen rendering minor aid to good-guy Gino, and Death allows Francesca and a few others to escape the fate meted out to countless others. But far more significantly, Death also destroys Prospero's Satanic beliefs before slaying the prince, telling him:

Each man creates his own God for himself, his own Heaven, his own Hell.

If MASQUE had centered entirely upon Prospero's subversive philosophy, even if it was still for the purpose of subverting the subversion, I think I would have rated its mythicity higher. But the subplots, while necessary structurally, distract from the symbolic discourse.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

ALADDIN (1986)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


Bud Spencer, best known for the "Trinity" comedy-westerns he did with Terence Hill, played a solo role in this strange piece of Italian cheese. Aside from the last Hill-Spenser collaboration, 1994's TROUBLEMAKERS, ALADDIN is probably the last Spenser film to be accessible to American audiences. (The promo card above blatantly lies, for Hill is not in this film at all.)

ALADDIN is basically a 1960s Disney comedy filtered through 1980s Italian sensibilities. A teenaged loser named Al Haddin stumbles across a lamp which allows him to call up an entity (Spenser) who never calls himself anything but "the Genie of the Lamp" (though he eventually allows other people to call him "Gene"). This Genie, like the one from the famed "Aladdin" take, is not restricted by any "three wishes" rule, but he'll do anything his master commands. Since Al is a nice guy, he usually asks for mundane things like getting a car to impress a cute girl or winning a basketball through cheating with magic powers. At one point, the youth-- who lives with his widowed mother-- even wonders if the Genie would be willing to marry his mother. This seems to be the only thing the supernatural spirit balks at, since he claims, "I'm old enough to be her great-great-great-great grandfather." He does also have one other weakness, in that he loses his powers at night-time. However, he's still a very big guy, and fans who can't get enough of the bulky actor slamming thugs around will find some satisfaction here.

It's a loosely plotted farrago of gags and setups, particularly whenever the Genie runs across the criminal activities of a local Miami crime-boss (who nevertheless seems as Italian as the day is long). Like most Disney comedies, the crooks are mostly involved in petty crimes, like the oddly antiquated crime of the protection racket. That said, there's a very strange section of the film in which the crime-boss has Al abducted and kept with a bunch of younger kids, in what appears to be a child slavery ring, until the Genie rescues everyone. Nothing like that in Disney comedies!






PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1962)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*




This sword-and-sandal flick is best known in fan-circles by its risible American title, THE MEDUSA VS. THE SON OF HERCULES. The use of the “son of Hercules” tag was a marketing tool that often had nothing to do with the films placed under that rubric, and indeed the opening commentary establishes that sometimes these “sons” were merely figurative “relatives.” I’m reviewing the film under its Italian title because it deserves a little credit for making an attempt to adapt the Perseus myth of classic Greek mythology. That said, this film does to the Perseus narrative what THE MINOTAUR did to the mythos of Theseus: it puts the original through a sort of mythic mix-master.

The easiest way to approach the original is to boil it down to two essential plot-actions. In the first, Perseus must assert himself as the protector of his mother Danae against the lustful Polydectes, and to do that, he must conquer one monster, the Gorgon Medusa, and bring its head back to Polydectes. In the second, after slaying Medusa, Perseus encounters his future wife Andromeda, whom he rescues from a sea-monster. Curiously, as if the filmmakers wanted to “sell” the film on the strength of its monsters, both creatures-- creations of famed FX-maker Carlo Rambaldi-- are lumped together at the opening of PERSEUS. A particular part of Argos is inhabited by both a lake-dragon and a Medusa that looks like an ambulatory plant. The Medusa has tendrils rather than snakes-for-hair, and in place of a face, a single eye that can turn humans to stone. The propinquity of these creatures works out well for Acrisius, the king of Argos, because the monsters conveniently block any army that tries to attack Argos.

In the best known version of the myth, Acrisius is the grandfather of Perseus. Acrisius attempts to keep his daughter Danae from having any relations with men by imprisoning her in a high tower. She becomes pregnant by Perseus anyway, usually through the agency of the god Zeus, though one variant claims that she’s impregnated by her uncle Proetus, Acrisius’s rival for the throne.

In the film, Perseus’s father is a mortal who was murdered by Acrisius, who then married Danae, who was at the time of the marriage ignorant of Acrisius's crime. Perseus was also separated from both father and mother. At the time of the film's beginning, Danae is now aware of what her second husband did to her first one, and she curses both her husband and his grown son-by-another-wife Galenore (not in any version of the myth). She tells them that they will be punished when her son returns, and that they will know him by special birthmarks on his shoulders.

Thus, while in most myth-tales Perseus is inseparable from his mother, here the hero is reared apart from her, presumably by adoptive parents, in a neighboring realm over which Acrisius tyrannizes. The hero’s just a common worker—not in any way blessed with godly powers, or even a huge build. However, he’s attracted the attention of a local princess, Andromeda, who gets his attention by shooting an arrow at him. Perseus doesn’t initially intend to pursue the noblewoman, but he’s forced to compete for her hand when Galenore, who covets Andromeda, challenges the commoner to a duel. Perseus wins the duel but Galenore recognizes the commoner’s birthmarks and plots his demise.

Since the movie has already married Danae to Acrisius, there’s no need for a Polydectes. There is eventually a mother-son reunion scene. but as if to keep Danae from tying up any time Perseus might direct toward Andromeda, Danae is summarily killed by stepson Galenore. This leads Perseus, in roundabout fashion, to make a foray into the land haunted by the two monsters. Unlike the classical hero, Perseus gets no help from any gods or spirits, but uses his human skills and cleverness—again, looking into a reflective shield—in order to best the Medusa. Since it doesn’t have a head to cut off, Perseus resorts to the Cyclopean method of monster-slaying: stabbing the creature in its eye. After that the stone soldiers revive—which they don’t in any classical Medusa-myth—and help Perseus conquer his enemies and win Andromeda.

Of the many heroic roles essayed by American actor Richard Harrison in European productions, his Perseus is probably his most famous. It's not a great performance, but Harrison's earnestness is winning, and the fact that he isn't a boulder-shouldered monster creates a little more suspense for the hero's fate than one usually sees in peplum.

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS (2016)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*



Though the Justice League gets top billing, this DTV release is primarily a TEEN TITANS story. The central plot centers upon Trigon, the demonic father of the mystic heroine Raven, and his efforts to escape his otherworldly confinement in order to prey upon Earth. In the comics this event transpires close to the point when the “New Teen Titans” are newly formed. In the comics it's a major accomplishment for the team, establishing that despite their youth they’re no longer "the Junior Justice League."

In this iteration, the Titans seem to have been operating for some time. The original Robin (a.k.a. Nightwing) is no longer with the group, but his sometimes inamorata Starfire now leads the young heroes, now consisting of Beast Boy, the Blue Beetle, and Raven, whose demonic heritage is not known to the rest of the group. (Starfire, incidentally, is now a respectable-looking, almost matronly heroine, in contrast to the innocently oversexed version that premiered in the early 1980s.) Nightwing persuades the Titans to accept the induction of a temperamental teenager: the new Robin. This version of Robin is Damian Wayne, the son of Batman by the daughter of the supervillain Ra’s Al Ghul, deceased in the DTV world.

At least a third of the film seems devoted to showing the arrogant Damien’s early contempt for the other teens, which, predictably enough, gives way to an esprit de corps by the final scenes of the film. The Leaguers are converted into possessed pawns of Trigon, which loosely parallels a similar NEW TEEN TITANS story in which the “old” heroes were marginalized in order to make the young bloods look good. Thus Raven is forced to confess all to her teammates so that the Titans can subdue their possessed quasi-parental figures—though, to be sure, Superman gets some action in that endeavor as well.

The action-scenes, the lifeblood of the genre, are decent but not especially memorable, while the character-arcs, especially Damien’s, are predictable and draggy. Both of these DC franchises enjoyed earlier TV-cartoon incarnations that remain fan-favorites today, and inevitably, the laborers behind this DTV version logically seek to make their visual versions distinctive. A few of the re-designs reflected costume-changes in the contemporary comic books, but even those that are original to the video are underwhelming. For the most part I found the video a decent time-killer, though the fan in me strongly disagreed with the attempt to align one of DC’s best villains—the aforementioned Ra’s Al Ghul, temporarily back from the dead—with a lesser fiend like Trigon.

MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND (2006)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*




DOUBLE SPOILERS—

Are required this time, because I;m disclosing the plots of both a 2006 movie and an earlier film on which MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND seems to have patterned itself.

As many others have said, there’s nothing new about movies swiping from other movies, as per the saying that “imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.” There are any number of “shark” or “ark” movies that make no bones about their derivative nature. In this case, though, it’s not impossible that the patterning was wholly intentional.

First., here’s a quick summation of the 2006 film:

Likeable schmuck Matt dates Jenny, a moody beauty. Matt has two work-friends: a male goofball who approves of the liaison, and a female buddy, Hannah, who seems less than pleased. Little do any of them know that Jenny is actually the secret ID of the superheroine “G-Girl.” Matt soon finds out not only her identity, but also that she’s clingy and prone to violent outbursts. When Hannah breaks up with her boyfriend, she and Matt end up sleeping together. Having fallen in love with Hannah, Matt breaks up with Jenny, and she uses her super-powers to take acts of petty vengeance against him.  Professor Bedlam, G-Girl’s resident super-villain, approaches Matt with a solution: to drain her powers with a meteor-fragment like the one that empowered her. Matt and Bedlam trap the erratic superheroine, but things go awry when some of G-Girl’s powers are drained into Hannah. The two super-women fight until Matt finally convinces G-Girl that Bedlam’s obsession with her is actually a measure of his devotion, at which point G-Girl pairs off with Bedlam and Matt remains with Hannah.

Now, a quick summation of the 2001comedy SAVING SILVERMAN:

Likable schmuck Darren, over the objections of his two goofball buddies J.D. and Wayne, becomes engaged to Judith, a “mean girl” psychologist who patently means to separate Darren from his old life. It's also apparent that she doesn;t really love Darren; she just likes controlling him. After the two goons are unable to block the impending marriage by appealing to Darren's better instincts-- particularly by setting him up with old girlfriend Sandy-- the duo kidnaps and imprisons Judith. Judith, a skilled martial artist, eventually breaks free of the goofballs and holds Darren to his commitment to marry her. But J.D. interrupts the wedding and throws himself on the "grenade" by telling Judith by telling her that the two of them belong together because they challenge one another. Judith releases Darren, allowing him to be paired with Sandy.

The common thread that may have led someone involved with SUPER to borrow from SILVERMAN is that both films concern powerful but bitchy women who impose themselves on nice guys and have to be diverted to other targets—i.e., not-so-nice guys—so that the nice guys can end up with nice girls. Of the two, SILVERMAN’s gender politics are at least sporadically funny, while SUPER just chalks up another epic fail for former GHOSTBUSTERS director Ivan Reitman.  Part of the reason is that while SILVERMAN speaks to a familiar malaise, in which marriage breaks up a gang of guy-friends, SUPER is an overly simple riff on superhero tropes, lacking any of the complexities seen in the roughly similar HANCOCK.

Even in terms of gender politics, the slob-comedy comes out better than the sprightly looking rom-com. Judith is innately a powerful woman, who, though inappropriately hooked up with a weaker man, doesn’t stop being powerful when J.D, persuades her that she needs a more challenging matchup. However, Jenny is essentially a nerd who has coolness thrust upon her, but remains a nerd at the core. Her origin explains that she and Bedlam were outcasts together at college. One night she was just on the edge of surrendering her virginity to him, when a meteor crashes to earth near them. Jenny’s exposure to the meteor’s radiation changed her into G-Girl, giving her the chance to play the savior of mankind but distancing her from her old almost-boyfriend. This twist on the Superman-Luthor dynamic has some potential, but it’s largely wasted, given that the film places more emphasis on the dull characters of Matt and Hannah. This too differs from SILVERMAN, which emphasizes the over-the-top absurdities of Judith and J.D.

SUPER isn’t entirely a waste of time. Jenny’s character is too one-note to give Uma Thurman anything to work with, but Eddie Izzard makes an urbane super-villain. Maybe the film resonates best with people who have had breakups with crazy exes, but I think that even they would find the film blandly derivative.

Friday, July 6, 2018

THE WHITE BUTTERFLY KILLER (1973)



PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


This film's heroine-- Pao, played by prolific Hong Kong actress Hsu Feng-- is never called "White Butterfly Killer" in the English version of this HK film. The title made me wonder if it might be an example of metaphenomenal cinema, since many HK films of the period touch on such material, even if it's only in terms of kung-fu avengers who wield unusual weapons for justice.

Pao is first seen running a tavern with three female companions, and all four of them display considerable kung-fu talents when local gangsters try to give them trouble. However, Pao is after more than serving drinks. Years ago, she was raped by the head of the local crime syndicate. Though the film doesn't explain how she or her employees acquire top-level fighting-skills, evidently Pao does train herself for the purpose of avenging herself on her rapist and his allies.

Female avengers were not extraordinary in 1970s Hong Kong films, but for once, the female lead isn't simply raped for the purpose of giving her a motive to beat up a lot of villains. To be sure, Pao does kick a lot of asses. But the script, so far as I can judge from the dubbing, devotes some effort to capturing her inner torment. When her romantic interest confesses that he can't credence her lust for vengeance because she seems so "soft," Pao smashes her fist into a wooden door, and asks if he thinks her softness makes her weak. Later, having been counseled that her rage will never be dispelled by seeking vengeance, she beats down one victim but starts to grant him mercy. However, the fellow then tries to jump her when her guard is down, and so pays the price.

The one element of the film that's almost metaphenomenal involves a memento from the time of Pao's rape, for the rapist cut off her queue. Apparently Pao somehow reinforced her ponytail with hide or metal, for when she battles her principal opponent at the climax, she hits the villain with the queue as if it was as hard as a flail. But because this element is used only at the film's end, I decided that it doesn't qualify as an uncanny form of an "outre device."

THE BRUTE MAN (1946)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*

In this review I commented that HOUSE OF HORRORS, the first in a two-episode "Creeper" series, was much better than it had a right to be, given the temper of the times. I also opined that HOUSE was probably the best film in the ouevre of workhorse Jean Yarbrough. In contrast, the last in the series-- THE BRUTE MAN, a rough prequel to HOUSE-- is pretty ordinary, which probably helped usher the series into oblivion.

The basic story is attributed to Dwight Babcock, who collaborated with George Bricker on HOUSE, and BRUTE's screenplay was written by Bricker and one M. Coates Webster. In HOUSE Bricker and Babcock used the deformed "Creeper" character to take pot-shots at the professional art scene, but there's no such ambition here The Creeper, who never had an origin in his earlier appearances, is wanted for previous murders at the point when he wanders back to a city where he once lived. After he commits a couple more murders, the killer encounters Helen, a young blind woman who does not show fear of his disfigured features. Like the character in HOUSE, the Creeper seems to have a dim desire to find someone who will befriend him, though again the killer is still largely focused on killing those responsible for his situation.

It comes out that two other locals, the now-married Cliff and Virginia, knew the Creeper when he was a normal-looking collegian, Hal Moffett. Because Cliff and Hal were competing for Virginia's attention, Cliff hoaxed Hal into giving the wrong answers on a chemistry test. This resulted in Hal being confined to the chemistry lab, thus giving Cliff the chance to move in on Virginia. Hal, however, contributed to his own tragedy by losing his temper and smashing a chemical container. The resultant explosion not only injures Hal, it also alters his glandular condition and results in the young man's hideous malformation. In real life, actor Rondo Hatton suffered from the disease of acromegaly, and BRUTE MAN was his last film before he succumbed to the malady.

Apart from the interest value of the "origin," though, BRUTE is a routine thriller. Only the blind girl is marginally sympathetic, but she's clearly just a complication in the Creeper's life, as he tries to steal enough money to furnish her with an eye-operation. The Creeper kills a few more victims, including his tormentor Cliff, but he's denied the bravura exit of a death-scene, since the police have to take him alive. Perhaps when the script was produced, no one surmised how close Hatton was to death, but during production, it was clear that his capacity was diminished, so that his last performance was negligible next to his somewhat more noteworthy acting in HOUSE OF HORRORS.