Saturday, May 25, 2024

DELIRIUM (1972)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


Though the story of Renato Polselli's DELIRIUM is fairly obvious-- when it's not incoherent-- it earns myth-points for being fairly "in one's face" about the "war between men and women," even when some members of one sex join the wrong side.

Main character Herbert Lyutak (Mickey Hargitay) lives in some unspecified part of Europe. Though he lives in a ritzy-looking house, his only professional history is that of a criminologist who advises police on the behavior of psychos. (This doesn't count his service in the American military during Vietnam, though this detail appears only in the American version.) But first we see Herbert plying a deadly avocation. He offers his car to take a pretty girl in a bar to her destination, but Herbert callously murders her-- and it's not his first killing. The local cops, aware of a pattern-following serial killer in town, learn that Herbert was seen with the murder victim, so that he's briefly a suspect. But then someone commits a new murder while Herbert's in custody, so the cops drop their suspicions and never give Herbert a second look until movie's end.

The identity of the second killer remains in play until the end, but no viewer will really doubt that all the non-Herbert murders are committed by his devoted wife Marzia (Rita Calderoni). Given that she's constantly bleating about how deeply she loves Herbert, and that no one else has a motive to help him, Marzia's shared guilt in the killing of female victims is no surprise. Herbert does knock off a male victim too, but just for self-protection, not for psycho-killer reasons. Herbert is driven to kill because he's filled with remorse about being impotent with his wife, and apparently he derives some relief from murdering women, though he doesn't sleep with them either. 

Just as Polselli has no intention of creating a story of detection, he also doesn't get into the psychology of Herbert or Marzia, and I could barely figure out the identities of most of the other characters thanks to Polselli's scattershot script. Though Herbert's wife has remained technically virginal since the couple's marriage, she apparently enjoys sapphic relationships with her maid Joaquina (Christa Barrymore) to blow off steam. 

It's not the cops who bring Herbert down, but Joaquina, who attacks Herbert with a whip because he's about to blame all the killings on Marzia. The different versions give Joaquina different reasons for attacking. In the Italian, she does so because she's in love with Marzia; in the English one, it's because one of Herbert's victims was her sister. I didn't fully watch the English version, but I don't think it offered much beyond extra murder scenes, and a loose implication that maybe PTSD is partly to blame for the psycho's impotence. This add-on motive proves irrelevant, since Herbert always seems driven by intertwined passion for, and hatred of, femininity. 

The glossily-photographed murders look great, but it's hard to say that they don't implicate the director in a certain amount of misogyny. I'm not sure that the maid's brutal attack on Herbert counts as any sort of "Revenge of the Female," but it helps that I liked Barrymore better than star Calderoni. The other victims are also stone glamour-pusses, though I recognizes none of the performers. Hargitary and Calderoni certainly dial the emotion up to eleven, and for good measure Polselli throws in some wild sex-dreams in which Hargitay struggles in peplum-style chains while his wife and her maid cavort in bed. But at least no one can accuse Polselli of falsification. He promises the viewers "delirium," and that's just what he gives them.

MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1953)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*


MESA has been a strong contender for "worst film" since the whole "so bad it's good" meme arose. It does sport a few delirious scenes mitigating a lot of tedium, so I can't say it's nearly as boring as, say, THE MARVELS. And even if there wasn't a lot of intellectual heft to the movie itself, one ought to admire all the strong detective work done by cineastes to figure out the flick's complicated genesis.

MESA began as a 1951 project for independent company Howco, helmed by one-film writer-director Herbert Tevos. This project, if it was completed, was deemed unreleasable by Howco. During 1952, the company hired Ron Ormond-- then best known for writing and directing low-budget westerns-- to shoot new continuity to make MESA more salable. Ormond brought back many members of Tevos' cast and crew for additional scenes, but a few actors shot completely new scenes, including performers Jackie "Uncle Fester" Coogan and Katherine "Batwoman" Victor. Most of the new scenes have the effect of a wraparound, as the survivor of a catastrophe narrates his experiences as the Mexican Zarpa Mesa, followed by the Tevos footage with new inserts, and then the conclusion comes back to the "real time" of the survivor. The wraparound also sports a narrator speaking some extremely wonky lines, the writing of which has been intriguingly (if not decisively) attributed to Ed Wood.

On this page of the CHFB discussion-board, Tom Weaver testifies to his having read the original Tevos script, entitled "Tarantula." This involved a madman with a gun, name of Masterson, showing up at a Mexican cantina. After shooting an exotic dancer (Tandra Quinn), Masterson forces three people-- two of whom landed in the city in a malfunctioning plane-- to help him escape justice. Two other persons, one of whom is Grant, the plane's pilot, are also taken hostage as the plane takes off. The plane crashes on a lonely mesa, apparently inhabited by some sort of unexplained giant tarantulas. The only part of the Tevos section that has any psychological substance is that while the crash victims are contending with the elements and the giant spiders, Doreen, a woman who plans to marry a rich man she does not love, falls for pilot Grant, and though she's a trifle shrewish, Tevos allowed both of the new lovers to survive. In the Ormond reworking, Grant and Doreen are also the only survivors,

Ormond attributes the giant spiders to the research of mad scientist Doctor Arana (Coogan), but his main purpose has been to produce a race of "super spider people," with whom Arana plans to rule the world. He relates all this to a Doctor Masterson, a potential colleague who visits Arana's lab on Zarpa Mesa. But when Arana demonstrates that the many hot women in his lab are actually spiders turned into mutated humanoids-- one of whom is Quinn's dancer, dubbed "Tarantella"-- Masterson repudiates Arana's plot. Arana injects Masterson with a drug that drives him mad, so that no one will believe his wild story. Thus in Ormond, Masterson has a grudge on his mind when he shoots Tarantella in the cantina (which she survives, thanks to being able to regenerate), and also when he hijacks the plane, intending to return to the Mesa for a confrontation. Then all the survival-scenes from Tevos are interpolated. Ormond then has the survivors of the crash meet Arana. Doreen tussels a little with Tarantella and then Masterson blows up the whole lab, with only Grant and Doreen winning free. However, the last shot of the film shows that one of the spider-women survived the conflagration, ensuring that humankind may yet face a Giant Spider Invasion.

Ormond probably did make the original version more coherent, but it's still a muddled mess, in which none of the characters are interesting, much less likable. The only reason I give this one a "fair" mythicity rating is because Ormond introduced the notion of "female supremacy" among the insect world, because Arana can only make formidable killers out of female spiders, while male spiders only produce deformed dwarfs. Thus Ormond's finished version joins the burgeoning company of other Female Monsters of the Fifties, whose ranks-- the Fifty-Foot Woman, Lisa of CULT OF THE COBRA, Kyra Zelas of SHE-DEVIL, and various others-- far outstrip the paltry number of she-creatures from the previous decade. To be sure, the "Lost Women" don't really DO much of anything-- though in the cantina Tarantella performs what some fans have called a "mandible dance." But when dealing with a goofy black-and-white flick with wooden performances and an insanely repetitive flamenco score, one has to take one's virtues where one can find them.



Friday, May 24, 2024

DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939)

 






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


This Republic serial, co-directed by William Witney and John English, is generally regarded as one of the best examples of "the Golden Age of Serials." I think it's very strong for its first six chapters, and then loses some momentum due to repetitiveness (and that's not counting Chapter 11, one of the notorious "clip episodes.")

That said, it's hard to beat DAREDEVILS for the simple clarity of the revenge-motives of both villain and heroes. At the opening, an escaped criminal (Charles Middleton) uses his old prisoner-number, 39013, as a nom de guerre as he pursues a monomaniacal project to destroy all the holdings of industrialist Granville. No specific reasons are given for the evildoer's grudge, except a loose allusion to Granville having helped imprison 39013. The villain and his gang of cutthroats don't care if the public gets in the way, and in episode one 39013 strikes at a Granville-owned amusement park. At this park, three superb athletes are performing, and they too have a nickname, "Daredevils of the Red Circle," for the target-like circle each one wears on the front of his shirt. 39013's thugs set the park on fire, and though the Daredevils escape death, the kid brother of one of them does not. The trio dedicate their lives to taking vengeance upon the murderers.

Each of the Daredevils is given a specialty in addition to general athleticism. Tiny (Herman Brix) is a strongman. Bert (Dave Sharpe) is an escape artist. And Gene (Charles Quigley) is a high diver with exceptional reflexes, as well the one who loses his kid brother in the fire. The trio seek out Granville's mansion to proffer their amateur assistance, and Granville's granddaughter Blanche (Carole Landis) proves instrumental in getting her grandpa to accept the guys' help. The athletes thus become independent agents who can get johnny-on-the-spot to any of 39013's sabotage operations-- at least partly because the fiend, like many a comic-book villain after him, is usually considerate enough to announce his next target.

But there's a wrinkle, for Granville is not Granville. The man whom the heroes meet is actually 39013 himself, disguised in a perfect mask (meaning that he's played in those scenes by the same actor essaying the real Granville). The industrialist is imprisoned in a cell beneath the mansion, where a Rube Goldberg device threatens to drop poison gas into the man's cell if said device is not regularly corrected by Granville's captor. 39013's sole desire is that his enemy should hear about every enterprise being destroyed in turn, so that he'll know that his entire life's work has been wrecked before he himself perishes.

The roust-and-repeat actions of the super-athletes, as they dash hither and yon foiling the villain's pawns, might have become tiresome but for an additional angle: someone inside the mansion is privy to 39013's schemes. That someone sends printed notes to the Daredevils, warning them of this or that peril, and each note is signed with the same "red circle" image as the brand used by the heroes. To be sure, there are two or three named characters at the mansion, and surely no one would have suspected the comical Black butler Snowflake (though imagine how 1939 audiences might have reacted, had Snowflake been the Daredevils' secret benefactor). I'll note in passing that aside from the butler's condescending name he doesn't perpetrate any other racial-humor schticks except for his broad accent.

Since 39013 isn't a scientist, mad or otherwise, he only used a couple of diabolical devices besides his poison-gas contraption. In one case, his thugs rig a clinic's curative radioactive device so that it will slay a patient with deadly rays. In another, 39103 executes an expendable henchman by flooding the garage at the mansion with poison gas. But was that really the most efficient way to set up hench-executions? When the heroes survive getting caught in the same trap, they do a whole detective-number on the garage's gas-apparatus, which conveniently gives the good guys a new avenue for tracking down the crooked cabal. But the script makes it sound like 39013 intended to make the gas-apparatus look like it was tampered with by agents unknown. Why would he do so, since he doesn't expect to found out, thinking he can pass off the garage-executions as carbon monoxide poisoning from the automobiles?

The action set-pieces in the first two episodes are the most thrilling in the chapterplay. After that, the rest of the episodes are mostly hand-to-hand fights, well enough done but not that noteworthy. As far as acting, Middleton takes top honors with his hiss-worthy villainy, though 39013 would not make my list of best serial-villains, just as the serial wouldn't make my twenty best of all time.

INVINCIBLE, SEASON TWO (2023-24)

 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


INVINCIBLE Season 2 is more of the same as Season 1, so anyone who liked the first will probably like the second. I admit that I'm probably a bit more torqued at Season 2 because I thought it was the final one. But that's not a sin I can lay at the show-runners' door.

So Mark Grayson, a.k.a. Invincible, survives his brutal defeat at the hands of his father Omni-Man. He's spared because his dad, who's been masquerading as a superhero while operating as a covert agent for an alien empire, feels an upsurge of paternal feeling and deserts his post on Earth. Mark and his mother Debbie are both hugely traumatized by Omni-Man's betrayal, but Mark tries to get back to his regular activities with his girlfriend and his first year at college. At the same time, he desperately wants to validate himself as a real superhero, as against his father's falsehoods, and he accepts more assignments from government coordinator Cecil. 

One of these assignments involves investigating a secret science-facility, even without knowing that the Mauler clone-brothers are involved in its operation. The real mastermind behind the facility is Angstrom Levy, a high-minded idealist with the ability to access multiple alternate dimensions. His big "mad science" scheme involves somehow pooling the knowledge (or something) of alternate versions of himself so as to enforce absolute peace upon all dimensions. (Well, except for the dimension he's going to give to the Maulers for their help.) Invincible's interference results in that stale old trope, the Deformed Villain Out for Revenge on the Hero Who Caused the Deformity. Levy is one of the worst villains but I suppose he was brought in to reinforce another subplot, in which it's revealed that in most alternate dimensions, Invincible and Omni-Man teamed up to bring Earth under the dominion of the Viltrum Empire.

At least slightly more germane to established plotlines is an arc in which Invincible must seek to deal with Earth's impending invasion by Viltrum. However, the hero's first major interstellar adventure starts out as a hoax, as bug-aliens beseech his help with a catastrophe endangering their planet Thraxa. Once Invincible arrives, he finds that Thraxa's real peril is their own impending invasion from Viltrum. And just for a bonus, the current ruler of Thraxa is none other than-- Invincible's dear old dad. Also, during his ascension to kingship, Omni-Man has also mated with a female Thraxan, resulting in a mostly humanoid baby, Thraxa's defense against Viltrum does not go well: Omni-Man is captured to be tried as a traitor, while Invincible must take his infant half-brother back to Earth.

The soap operatics involving Mark's family and friends, and those between the young Guardians of the Globe, are also more of the same: efficient but pedestrian. Surprisingly, Invincible's closest superhero friend, Atom Eve, doesn't get much development until the last few episodes. But then, in between Season 1 and Season 2, Atom Eve was the only hero to get her own hour-long special, so I'm sure the show-runners have big plans for her. 

Season Two might not be my cup of root beer. But I admit it does an okay job of making the lives of its protagonists increasingly messy-- to say nothing of providing loads more scenes showing INVINCIBLE's patented "superhero gore."

Thursday, May 23, 2024

ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT CAM GIRL (2022)

 






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


CAM GIRL is the first in an OAV series that might be termed "Giant-Porn." About its only significance is that though it's been designed for roughly the same market that liked ATTACK OF THE 60 FOOT CENTERFOLDS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT CHEERLEADER, CAM GIRL is the only one that actually borrows the primary dramatic conflict of the big-girl movie that started it all: ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN. To wit: as in the first ATTACK, the girl with the gigantic assets starts out as an ordinary Earth-woman whose husband is cheating on her, and she ends up using her biggitude to take vengeance. 

But it's impossible to have even the slight investment needed for a supremely slight comedy when all of the characters are terminally stupid. Popular cam-girl Ivy (Beverly Wood) has made a fortune posing for sexy videos, but she has no idea that her sleazy camera-guy/husband Bradley is boning another model, Fuschia (Christine Nguyen), whom Bradley even photographs side by side with Ivy. To diversify their wealth, Bradley has Ivy invest in a gimcrack experiment to expand foodstuffs to end world hunger. (The experiment is represented by a whole three scientists.) Ivy is too impatient to wait for trials, so she eats one of the experimental foods herself, and of course it makes her into Giant Girl. After coping with this turn of events, she finds out about the affair. Yet Bradley's so stoked about selling more videos with Ivy's titanic bod, Fuschia gets jealous and with equal stupidity eats some of the giantizing food too. Thus CAM GIRL is able to compete with CENTERFOLDS and CHEERLEADER in spotlighting a catfight of colossi at the end-- though it's the most listless of the three, thanks to Jim Wynorski's usual bad direction.

Oh, one other mildly original touch: Bradley gets punished by what might be called a "double motorboat of doom," though somehow he survives to show up for this crapfest's first sequel. 

INVINCIBLE, SEASON ONE (2021)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

I didn't follow Robert Kirkman's INVINCIBLE series, so prior to beginning to watch the Amazon TV show, I read a handful of the earliest comics. and found them to be nothing more than a routine "decompression" comic book.

As soon as I began the first of Season One's episodes, I soon found that the show, helmed by one Simon Racioppa, was at least innocent of the charge of decompression, which would have meant that plotlines unreeled in the slowest manner possible. From that first episode, it's obvious that the producers meant to take full advantage of the animated format. INVINCIBLE fills all eight episodes of its first season with big, honking fight-scenes, which I'm sure Racioppa and his fellows think is all that superhero fans really want. And we're not talking pristine Jack Kirby punch-ups. Body parts go flying, and copious blood flows.

INVINCIBLE, on the face of things, reproduces the archetypal superhero setup of comics' Silver Age, where the daily routine of contemporary Earth is interspersed with the almost constant battles of superheroes and supervillains, with a few alien invasions thrown into the mix. But I said "on the face" because that's all INVINCIBLE replicates: the surface setup. If I were inventing thematic titles for my reviews, I'd have called this one, "No Time For Wonder." Whether it's the title hero, his faux Justice League allies, or villains with colorful names like Doc Seismic and The Mauler Brothers, all lack any emotional context. They're all just gaudy chess-pieces, and they exist to support a pedestrian, badly-structured melodrama.

The title character is Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen), teenaged son of Deborah and Nolan Grayson (Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons). Though his mother is a mortal human, his father is also the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man. He's also an extraterrestrial, so even though the Graysons were able to interbreed, they're not sure Mark will inherit his father's super-powers. Of course, if he didn't, there would be no story. In due time Mark gets his powers, is trained in superhero-ing by his father, and takes on the persona of Invincible.

Almost as soon as Mark's made his debut, tragedy strikes. All of the Earth's foremost protectors, the Guardians of the Globe, are slain by none other than Omni-Man. Cecil Stedman, director of the Earth-agency that liases with the Guardians, suspects Omni-Man's guilt, but keeps his own counsel due to the killer's almost insuperable powers. With the Guardians gone, a group of adolescent heroes, the Teen Team, must step up and become the new Guardians. Patently, this came about partly so that Invincible would have a bunch of adventure-seeking peers, not least Atom Eve, who in her secret ID goes to the same school as Mark.

All of the characterizations of the main character and his regular cast are, as I said above, "pedestrian." The only one I liked a little bit was Teen Team leader "Robot." Though his fellow crusaders think he's just an intelligent automaton, the body of "Robot" is actually a surrogate for a genius with a deformed body, and a minor arc is devoted to how he tries to make himself a new body, and the romantic course he charts for himself.

The "badly structured" complaint applies to the whole Omni-Man arc. The scripts never give any reason as to why the false hero chooses to eradicate his former allies at that particular time, though his proximate motive is that he's actually an agent of the alien Viltrum Empire. He kills the superheroes with the general idea of softening up Earth for conquest, though there's no indication that Omni-Man's people are anywhere close to invading. Of course eventually both Debbie and Mark find out his true nature, and this leads not only to loads of emotional angst, but also a bloody battle between father and son. Invincible loses the contest, but his father can't quite exterminate the seed of his loins, so he departs Earth, though he comes back for a new arc in the second and last season.

INVINCIBLE is like a huge, intricate ice-sculpture. It looks good on the surface, but there's no heart beneath all that ice.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

THOR THE CONQUEROR (1983)

 







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


I know, I know, I've said before that I'd found the absolute worst sword-and-sorcery movie. "This time for sure!"

Even with a lot of bad S&S films, I've sometimes been able to give the filmmakers a slight benefit of the doubt. I've sometimes been able to look at how the writers or directors incorporated some nugget of myth or magic from much better stories into their cheapjack, done-for-dough operations. But not here, not in this pasta tomfoolery from director Tonino Ricci (of the far more enjoyable STORY OF KARATE, FISTS, AND BEANS) and writer Tito Carpi (of several much better spaghetti westerns). Since these two men weren't utter incompetents, I have to assume they had little to no interest in the barbarian warrior genre and just did the absolute least they could get away with.

So when Thor is a child (though we don't see him as a child), his barbarian father is killed by rival barbarians commanded by a nebulous chief named Gnut. We barely even see Gnut enough to get time to boo him, and though we see the father killed we're mostly told about the situation through a narrator. Said narrator is also the wizard Etna, who takes charge of Thor and raises him offscreen until he's old enough to be played by Conrad Nichols (despite the name, also Italian, like the rest of the cast). 

We don't know anything about the wizard Etna, except that he likes to sit in trees, where he sometimes changes himself into an owl when the camera's off him. Etna claims to know the will of the supreme god Teisha, who has decreed that Thor has some great destiny to be a leader of men. Thor must find the hidden sword of his father (why didn't the father have it with him when he died?), and with that maybe-magic blade, Thor can kill his father's killer and bring peace to the land, Oh, and there's something about "golden seeds," which I think were just ordinary seeds that were going to foster the practice of agriculture in the primitive world.

This very basic setup might have been pardonable had any of Thor's fights with bad barbarians been even a little bit bracing. But they're all clumsy and poorly shot. Also, when there's some bit of barely explained magic-- some opponent somehow uses magic to blind Thor-- Etna, who barely aids Thor at any other time, shows up to cure the hero's eyes before he even has time to cope with his disadvantage. It also doesn't help that the sword Thor finds-- actually a double-bladed axe-- has more acting-ability than Conrad Nichols does.

Wrapping up as quickly as possible, Thor also perpetrates two rapes of defenseless women, both with the full approval of Etna. One female is a slave woman liberated after Thor kills the bad barbarians who hold her prisoner. Thor takes her back to his cave, and despite Etna's advice that he can do anything he wants to a slave, it's Thor's first time and he's relatively restrained before the camera cuts away. The slave girl is then never seen again. On Etna's advice Thor then trespasses into the local Amazon territory, so that he's attacked by some very short, delicate-looking swordswomen. Thor kills a couple of them and rapes a third, Ino, whom he takes back to his cave to become the mother of his children. For no particular reason, Ino falls in love with Thor and helps him in his climactic confrontation with Gnut. The validation of rape, without even the hint of a Stockholm syndrome as an excuse, is a stupid reason for any film to stand out, but that's the only aspect of THOR worth noting.