Wednesday, September 28, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

By rights I shouldn't like this lame British comedy any better than the horrendous HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, released about six years later. RENTADICK, despite its "Carry On"-style name, doesn't deliver much salacious content beyond the curves of female lead Julie Ege, though Ege gets a lot more scenes than any of the women in HOUND.

Like the later film, RENTADICK provides the viewer with a loose plot designed to let a bunch of comedians horse around. Armitage (Donald Sinden) comes to a British security firm with two concerns on his mind: he needs to protect his chemical plant from spies, who want the plant's newly developing paralysis gas, and he wants someone to spy on his hot Swedish wife Utta (Ege). There's not much question that the spies are about, as there are a bunch of Japanese men running around, led by the kimono-bedecked "Madame Greenfly" (Tsai Chin of THE FACE OF FU MANCHU).  It's not immediately beyond question that Utta Armitage is also guilty, but since there's less potential for comedy if she's virtuous, no one will be overly surprised by the script's direction in that respect.

The principal authors of said script are pseudonyms for Graham Chapman and John Cleese, some time before they took part in the Monty Python troupe. But this silly script has none of the wit of the Python work, and was apparently nothing more than the writers' attempt to try their hand at the sort of middle-class comedy they tended to mock later. Chapman and Cleese didn't like what the producers did with their original script, hence the pseudonyms. The finished film seems incapable of laying out the personalities of the characters very well: at any given time it's hard to keep track of what the three main members of the goofy security firm are supposed to be doing. (I couldn't even figure out the purpose of introducing a subplot about comical Arab slave traders.) This stands in contrast to even the least of the "Carry On" films, which have the distinction of being able to succinctly describe the plot-functions of much larger casts.

The comedians are professional enough, but they've little to work with, and the SF-content of the paralysis gas is only occasionally referenced. Though Julie Ege isn't precisely viewed as a stellar actress for her time, her sexy character is at least easy to comprehend, so that the actress comes off better with this material than her more experienced collaborators.

Monday, September 26, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological, psychological*

To get the obvious stuff out of the way: yes, BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES is a boondoggle. It was the last of three films that Roger Corman had contracted to deliver, and it had the least amount of front-money to work with. David Kramarsky, listed as "production manager" and "assistant" on a couple of earlier films, is credited as sole director, but current information asserts that he shared directing duties with Corman and another fellow, Lou Place, who both had minimal directorial credits in 1955. The idea was pre-sold to distributors before the film was completed, and some if not all of these distributors were less than pleased to learn that the titular "beast" was an invisible alien whose "eyes" were those of the various animals and humans he could control. There certainly were not 50,000 of these critters in the film's desolate setting. One might suppose that the "million eyes" might stand for the thousands, if not millions, of people that the alien and his people would control when they invaded Earth. But that's probably being too charitable for a title that was probably cobbled together by a producer on a cocktail napkin.

IMDB has no credit for an original story, so I'd guess that credited screenplay-writer Tom Filer simply had to work from the skeleton of a plot given him by Corman or one of Corman's associates. If there's anything worthwhile in BEAST, it's probably as the result of Filer trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (or maybe a cow's ear, given the film's hilarious bovine attack sequence).

Filer only worked on two films, this one and the later SPACE CHILDREN. According to his online bios, he was not a regular Hollywood screenwriter, and seems a consciously "literary" type who was briefly drawn into Corman's orbit for some reason (most probably Filer's willingness to work cheap). Some of his stories appeared in Pushcart Prize anthologies, so we're not exactly dealing with a routine Hollywood hack. Still, not even the most exalted writer could have done much with the restricted concept of BEAST, so it's no surprise that Filer didn't quite manage to make that silk purse.

The quick summation of the story is that a somewhat dysfunctional family. the Kelleys, lives on a ranch in an arid valley, with only one close neighbor (an old man who apparently has just one cow on his ranch). The aforementioned alien lands in the valley, apparently testing its mental control-powers on the local wildlife, and on the more susceptible humans as well. The Kelleys consist of middle-aged father Allan, his wife Carol, and their grown daughter Sandy, but there are two other residents on the ranch. One is Sandy's faithful dog Duke. The other is "Him," a handyman who cannot speak; under vague circumstances Allan brought Him to the ranch, claiming to have found him wandering about. Of the three family-members, then, two have strong bonds to a non-familial resident, and for good measure, Sandy also has a boyfriend of sorts, a young sheriff named Larry.

Carol, at the outset, seems to be the main source of the dysfunction. At the outset Allan's voice-over admits to the audience that he's barely making a go of the ranch (chickens are seen at one point) and that this had led to a strain between him and his wife. This is confirmed when Carol begins grousing not only about money troubles, but about the horrible isolation of life in the valley. While the assorted directors aren't skillful enough to show the actors at their best, the shots of the desolate valley do capture the sense of a brooding wasteland inimical to life. Clearly Carol is having a mid-life crisis: her daughter is grown and about to go off to college (at Allan's insistence), and Carol feels she's been stuck in a dead-end business with a husband who has failed to provide for her. During the opening quarrel with Allan, Carol even says she feels like she hates Sandy, who's still got her life ahead of her.

For SF films of the period, this was a pretty rare look inside the head of a middle-aged woman, predating a similar approach in THE LEECH WOMAN five years later. On the minus side, though, Filer doesn't follow through on Carol's emotional arc; she's simply the means by which the script establishes the sense of the valley's hostile environment, long before the alien lands and starts monkeying around with the wildlife. Blackbirds, chickens, and the family dog start echoing the hostility Carol expressed toward the world of nature, and on a few occasions, even humans begin acting strangely, particularly "Him." These various animal-attacks, relying on lots of stock footage, are theoretically designed to build up to the family's climactic encounter with the alien (hastily given a nominal physical presence by "monster maker" Paul Blaisdell to placate irate distributors).  However, the only "attack" that supplies any tension is when friendly Duke becomes menacing, and must be "put down" by Carol. Mysteriously, once she's vented her violence upon her daughter's dog, Carol's animus toward her dead-end life simply vanishes, and she re-confirms her bonds of love to both daughter and husband.

The conclusion is also marked by an overly convenient resolution, when the script discloses, rather arbitrarily, that the alien can't control fully functioning human beings because they have souls. The sudden introduction of religious concerns, sanctifying the unity of the family, may be intended to give the audience the assurance that the dysfunction was purely short-term in nature. And the suggestion of an eleventh-hour intervention by an agent of God is equally problematic. The alien, a non-corporal intelligence occupying the enslaved body of another alien, is forced to flee when the host body mysteriously dies. The possessor-alien jumps into the body of a rodent, and the rodent is snatched up and killed by an eagle-- a bird which, according to the Kelleys, is never seen in the valley. Apparently God decided to put in his oar only after the Kelleys had come through their baptism of fire.

BEAST is a cheat on many levels, but there's some interesting unused potential here. The film isn't a post-apocalypse story, but it has roughly the same vibe as Corman's DAY THE WORLD ENDED, released six months after BEAST. Both films focus on a nubile young woman trying to find happiness with her ideal mate, but being threatened by males she does not want. Both films also have a patriarch-figure who seeks to protect his daughter, though there's no maternal figure in the later film. However, in BEAST there's a strange connection between Allan and one of Sandy's unwanted suitors, "Him." That connection is,. to be sure, given a naturalistic explanation at the climax. That explanation, aside, though, it's not impossible to see "Him" in psychological terms, as the "shadow side" to the beneficent patriarch. It's tellingly disclosed that the handyman, long before he becomes the alien's pawn, nurtures a forbidden passion for his benefactor's daughter. On the whole, "Him" may in the tradition of the un-intellectual stooge who works for the patriarch, sort of a road-company Caliban to Allan's Prospero. And if there are Freudian currents in BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES-- however badly rendered-- that puts the Corman film up on the better known Freud-film of the next year, FORBIDDEN PLANET. But such currents had arguably been around for years in the horror-films of previous decades, as exampled by 1934's THE BLACK CAT.

Friday, September 23, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*


Usually the only time I review naturalistic films here is if they help me illustrate some aspect of the NUM theory. A particularly salient example appears in this 2012 post. In this compare-and-contrast of three thriller films, I asserted that only one of them, the 1981 EYES OF A STRANGER, displayed an uncanny phenomenality because of the killer's "larger-than-life" quality, which exceeded all of the "mundane trappings" of the film.

I have not read the William Goldman novel on which NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY is based, though I understand that the book diverges from the common view of the "Boston Strangler" case by imagining a fictional situation where two killers are on the loose in the same city. The Jack Smith-directed film, however, hews closer to the common view, although the fictional killer Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) doesn't target as wide a variety of victims as the original Strangler. In the real world, the victims ranged in age from their 20s to their 80s. In contrast to the historical criminal-- and to the vast majority of all fictional serial killers-- the Smight version only kills women over 50, because they remind him of his deceased actress-mother.

LADY's script maintains an amusing parallel between the Oedipal issues of its monster and the comical mom-domination suffered by Moe Brummer (George Segal), the police detective who eventually tracks Gill down. As a further irony, it's as a result of his investigation that Brummer lucks onto a beautiful girlfriend his own age, Kate (Lee Remick). In the film's most amusing scene, Kate, after having dated Brummer for a while, is invited to meet the detective's domineering mother. But because Kate has heard Brummer's complaints about his parent, Kate manages to impress Mrs. Brummer by pretending to share the mother's verbal ball-busting tendencies toward her son.

Gill proves a far more more consummate actor than Kate, for his gimmick is to assume various disguises in order to get the older women to let him into their apartments, whereupon he kills them. Yet, despite this disguise-skill, Gill never inspires the "dread" that I look for in uncanny psychos, even of the mundane sort that appears in EYES OF A STRANGER. Everything about Gill, as well as his functional double Brummer, is easily explained by Freud's emphasis upon "physiological concepts," as Jung termed them.

The TV-movie ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT appears to be a completely mundane thriller up to its last moments. Rich girl Adrienne (Jane Seymour) is being neglected by her husband Richard. The husband disappears, and Adrienne's only clue is an answering-machine at her house, on which Richard accidentally recorded a sultry phone-sex conversation with an unknown woman. Adrienne attempts to file a missing-persons report with the police, but somehow can't bring herself to tell them about the mysterious recording. After getting little response from the cops, Adrienne resorts to the help of a private detective, Henderson (Parker Stevenson).

Eventually Adrienne finds out the identity of her husband's paramour, a phone sex operator named Laura (Beth Broderick). Laura claims to know nothing of Richard's fate, but somehow she talks her way into joining the investigation. Given that the film has no red herrings to speak of, I'm not revealing much by disclosing that Laura isn't telling the truth.

Eventually Adrienne does find her husband, dead and hung up in a freezer (which is the closest this mundane film comes to a "bizarre crime"). The last few minutes alone take on some resemblance to a psycho-thriller, for even though Laura isn't a literal psycho, she starts doing a "SHINING Jack Nicholson" take as she stalks Adrienne. Henderson comes to the rescue, though the final victory technically goes to Adrienne. A follow-up romance between the rich girl and the detective is strongly suggested.

Since both of the main actresses, Seymour and Broderick, are elegant lookers, I found myself wondering if the script might have been improved with a different approach. There's a minimal suggestion that Adrienne is a "don't muss my hair" type of wife, and it might have been more fun if the "other woman" had been cast as a grittier personality, rather than being almost as refined-looking as the heroine. But I doubt that anyone involved in this production was concerned with "fun."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

I remarked in my review of the 2015 FANTASTIC FOUR that it was so bad that the films by director Tim Story and his scripters looked good by comparison. Therefore I decided that I should examine them once more.

Both films are, as I said, pedestrian affairs, particularly given the great strengths of the original Lee-Kirby comics. I have not read the ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR reboot on which the first film was originally based, but it may be the source of the adequate chemistry between the foursome. At the same time, UFF may be the source of the film's worst mistake: making Doctor Doom a modern financial wizard, to whom Reed Richards must come begging to facilitate his new project. One shouldn't expect total faithfulness to the original versions of the 1960s, but Story's Doom is nothing but an empty shell, in which all the elements-- his rivalry with Richards, his reason for donning his signature armor-- are stunningly tedious.

The early sections, in which the irradiated foursome became acquainted with their new capacities, and more or less luck out, becoming popular celebrities at the same time. At the same time, Doom's fortunes fall as the foursome's rise, and so he turns into a super-villain, with no real purpose beyond attacking his super-powered foes.

There are some decent character moments scattered throughout the meandering script, but even the strongest arc-- the romance of Reed and Sue-- fails to prove compelling, since it depends on a conception of Richards as a typical absent-minded professor-type. Ben Grimm, prior to becoming the Thing, is given a girlfriend named Debbie, who has no purpose in the story except to reject him instantly when he becomes monsterized, thus conveniently setting up the monster-hero's encounter with his prospective new girlfriend, the blind-- and black-- Alicia. The Human Torch, who tended to be somewhat negligible in the comics, becomes an egotistical "player," but although he gets many of the best lines, advocating the fun of being a superhero, his character too comes off as somewhat hollow.

RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has the advantage of  not having to establish the primary heroes and their villain Doom (who makes a return appearance). However, its attempt to translate the mythic charms of Lee and Kirby's so-called Galactus Trilogy is almost a total wash. Again, I don't mind the judicious excision of elements that wouldn't have worked on the screen, such as the appearance of the Watcher and the visual conception of Galactus as a giant guy with a big helmet. But the fact that the world-devourer Galactus is given no compensating visual depiction speaks to the poverty of imagination here.

The Silver Surfer's arc is curiously inert and unimpressive. In the original Lee-Kirby story, the Surfer is an alien being who simply does not comprehend why organic beings should mind being devoured by his planet-eating master. (Later Stan Lee backed off on this depiction, depicting the Surfer as a more rational humanoid alien, transformed into his space-surfing form by his master, though he never actually guides Galactus to any worlds with life on them.) The movie's Surfer borrows from both origins: he tells Sue Storm that he became the Surfer so that his world would be spared by Galactus, but there seems to be no question that he has indeed sacrificed other living worlds to his master. The director and writers utterly fail to put across the alien's conversion to the importance of humanity, giving him a banal reason: that Sue reminds him of his lost love back on his homeworld.

Doom provides a secondary menace while the characters try to prepare for the advent of Galactus, and he's no more interesting this time around, except in one scene. The scripters evidently read a sequence from the comics in which Doom sought to steal the Surfer's power, and adapted this basic idea. This engenders the film's only mythic moment in terms of visuals: Doom approaches the Surfer and seeks to persuade the alien to serve his evil purposes. Because Story keeps Doom's familiar metallic visage hidden by his hood, he projects a more Satanic aura here, not least because the action is set upon a "high place," such as is suggested by Satan's final temptation of Jesus. However, after this one intriguing moment, Doom simply becomes a standard badguy once more, and the heroes' exploits are rendered ludicrous by a sitcom-like plot-line in which the characters start assuming one another's powers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological*

"Who Mourns for Adonais?" feels very much like a script by a writer who's aware of elements that helped sell other scripts to Gene Roddenberry. "Adonais" is certainly a better treatment of the Roddenberry-trope of the "irresponsible god" than "Squire of Gothos," but I wouldn't be surprised to find that authors Coon and Ralston modeled their would-be deity upon Trelane. Like Trelane, the episode's villain-- an alien who calls himself Apollo-- wants attention and adulation from modern humans, as represented by the Enterprise crew. Admittedly, Apollo's motivations are better than Trelane's. Since Apollo was one of several aliens who came to Earth in archaic times and inspired all of Greek culture, this gives him some affinity with Earth people. Trelane brings a female crew-member down from the Enterprise and dresses her in frilly court garb so that he can dance with her. Apollo does the same with Lt. Palamas, but he has a more compelling motive: he plans to mate with her, just as his father, Alien-Zeus, mated with a long-perished Earth-woman to beget Apollo himself.

There's also a likely influence from "Space Seed," a script on which Gene Coon collaborated, though he did not originate the first pitch. Apollo probably has mating on his mind to some extent when he waylays the Enterprise with a giant energy-hand, but he doesn't actually select the crew that descends to his planet (even if he does reject the possibility of Spock as a visitor, because of the Vulcan's resemblance to Pan). McCoy brings Lt. Palamas (note the Greek-sounding name) because she's an expert on Earth-archaeology-- just as in "Space Seed," the first landing-party to encounter Khan's ship includes Marla McGivers, an expert on history. Palamas will be temporarily overwhelmed and seduced by Apollo as McGivers was seduced by Khan, but there the resemblance ends. McGivers may be a retrograde female character in her desire to mate with a manly he-man, but her character is consistent even when she realizes that she's done wrong and seeks to make amends. Palamas is introduced as a love-interest for Scott, and it's strongly suggested that she will easily leave the service if she gets married, as most women do, even in the 23rd century. Palamas shows no passion for her profession, and her seduction by Apollo is under-characterized, almost as if she became willing to give it up to a guy who gave her a really fancy dress. Palamas also betrays Apollo as McGivers did Khan, but with a different tone: here Palamas is the Castrating Woman, confusing and ultimately defeating Apollo simply by scorning his male attentions.

The trope of "aliens who were once Earth-gods" has always been absurd, but Coon and Ralston strive to give it some gravitas. On one hand the future-men declare that they no longer need the parenting influence of gods-- though, perhaps to keep from sounding too atheistic, Kirk delivers a line about finding it adequate to have "one" god. On the other hand, the script attempts to capture the Glory That Was Greece in this science-fictional context, and to admit, however obliquely, that all human culture descends from early man's attempts to understand the universe through a multiplicity of deities.

On a closing note, I'll admit that Ralston and Coon get some of the details of Greek myth more or less right. When Apollo disses Pan, he mentions that he wants neither "sad faces" or "fear," while in Greek myth, Pan was an image of "panic" and had at least one contentious encounter with Apollo. The planet of Apollo is given the name "Pollux," another semi-divine son of Zeus. :Lastly, Apollo compares Kirk to both ":Agamemnon" and "Hercules," and the genuine Apollo of myth did indeed have some aggressive moments against those worthies.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological, psychological*

On re-viewing this episode, which opened TREK's second season, I noticed that its elaborate evocation of Vulcan mating-rituals recapitulates one of Gene Roddenberry's most-used tropes: one I like to call "Savage Masculinity." No single episode adequately glosses the trope. Yet despite the occasional predictions that humans will someday advance to a higher plane, some TREK episodes-- "The Enemy Within," "Shore Leave," "Return of the Archons," and "Space Seed"-- evince a sneaking admiration for the masculine gender's more, uh, forthright qualities. Malayan culture came up with a term for sudden, violent behavior, which term evolved into the English phrase "running amok." but in this story the process of going berserk is linked to a specific time, when the body of even a logical Vulcan feels compelled to be joined with that of a female, or else perish.

Theodore Stuigeon's script is a masterpiece of misdirection. For the first half-hour, "Amok Time" is a military drama, as Spock begins displaying violent, irrational behavior aboard the Enterprise. Kirk must walk a balance between interacting with his first officer both as a subordinate and as a friend. Eventually he and McCoy pry the truth out of the reluctant Vulcan: whether it contradicts Starfleet protocol or not, Spock must at a certain time return to Vulcan to "take a wife"-- a wife, one soon learns, to whom he's been engaged since childhood.

At the second half-hour, however, military concerns are left behind as Spock invites his boon friends Kirk and McCoy to attend his wedding ceremony on Vulcan. Up to this point the Enterprise has usually encountered alien cultures in states of aberrant behavior, thus allowing the representatives of the Federation to come in and straighten things out. However, Vulcan's archaic wedding-customs are, as the matriarch T'Pau says, a deep ritual that "comes down from the beginning." Kirk and McCoy are put in the position of guests seeking not to embarrass themselves in their friend's world. Their ignorance then comes in handy for a woman who wants to be married even less than Spock does.

Spock, it should be noted, does not want to be married: he speaks of having hoped that he would spared the mating-urge by his half-human heritage. However, because he defines himself first by his Vulcan heritage, he's willing to accede to that culture's demands-- which he can hardly sublimate, given that they have become incarnated in his own biology. It's broadly implied that it's functionally impossible for a male Vulcan to refuse the mating-urge, but that females can do so, which may speak to Roddenberry's personal beliefs about female sexuality. Further, females unwilling to be married to their planned consort-- as Spock's fiancee T'Pring is-- can only escape unwanted male attention by invoking another male as a protector. I suspect this trope would not play well with modern feminists.

T'Pring brings her new protector with her, but gets the brilliant idea to name Captain Kirk as her protector. Kirk, concerned only with helping his friend, agrees to meet Spock in combat with the fatuous idea of simply "knocking him out." In one sense, though, McCoy proves the most savvy of the trio, in that he finds a way to basically "cheat" the Vulcan ritual of its surrogate victim.

I've passed over commenting on the skillful interaction of the three leads, since this has received ample praise. I will say, though, that this is probably the only episode where Christine Chapel serves a useful purpose, even if it's as an object of pity. Kirk and McCoy see her making ready to bring the
now-tempestuous Vulcan a meal, at which point McCoy shows his faux-sympathetic contempt with the lines, "You never give up hoping, do you?" Chapel, as much a doormat as she was in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?," can't even manage a halfway clever response. Later, after Kirk agonizes about the conflict between friendship and duty, he finally decides to take Spock to Vulcan against Starfleet orders, and he sends Chapel to give Spock the news. When she braves Spock's den, the Vulcan broadly implies that he might finally be willing to mate with her, in a patent attempt to defuse the sexual torment he's experiencing. Chapel, trying to do the right thing, pointedly ignores Spock's overture and gives him the news he wants to hear. Spock, believing that release is right around the corner after all, endeavors to give Chapel some empathetic treatment by asking her to bring him some of her soup, in essence returning the two of them to their normal status. Chapel, though, is so gushingly happy for this minor acknowledgement that one can't help but find her inferior to the conniving but supremely logical T'Pring.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *uncanny*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*

I've not seen the fifth entry in the "Inner Sanctum" series, but I've the impression that of the six only these two indicate the reality of psychic phenomena. FROZEN GHOST brings one character's mind-reading talents into focus only a couple of times in the narrative, while PILLOW OF DEATH allows the matter to remain ambiguous at the conclusion. As I've done elsewhere, I've included references to the uncanny tropes that both films use, even though the first film's claim to the domain of the uncanny is "cancelled out" by a mostly legitimate invocation of psychic powers.

Like the other "Sanctum" films I've seen, FROZEN GHOST is a tissue of overwrought performances and under-thought plot devices. Still, this time the script is a lot more lively than the previous three entries, though it doesn't really make much more sense. This was Harold Young's first turn in the "Sanctum" director's chair, displacing Reginald LeBorg-- and since I found Young's JUNGLE CAPTIVE much duller than LeBorg's JUNGLE WOMAN,  I have to credit the script for the improvement. 

At least something's always happening in GHOST, including the fact that one has to wait almost to film's end to figure out what the title means. Lon Chaney Jr., stuck in the perpetual "guilty suspect" persona he'd perfected in 1941's WOLF MAN, has a stage-act that he performs for a radio audience. (I suppose such acts did take place, though to modern ears it sounds like a contradiction in terms of innate appeal.) As "Gregor the Great," professional hypnotist, he's able to cause his girlfriend/ assistant Maura (Evelyn Ankers) to demonstrate psychic gifts to glean obscure facts from audience-members. By a piece of dumb luck that will later work to the benefit of other parties, a drunken audience-member challenges Gregor to put him under. The man acts offensively on stage, and Gregor tells Maura under his breath that he'd like to kill the fool. The moment that Gregor tries to hypnotize the lout, the man dies of a heart attack.

Later Gregor will again have cause to think he has deadly mesmeric talents, but at this opening point, the hypnotist's guilty reaction to the tragedy seems little more than absurd, He breaks up with Maura and goes looking for some other profession. His helpful business manager George sets him up with a new profession, lecturing at a wax museum run by Madame Monet. I don't know what a hypnotist, even a famous one, could possibly have to say to customers of a wax museum, but apparently the publicity gimmick works. Madame Monet is very pleased with Gregor, and becomes romantically interested in him, as does her assistant-niece Nina. Oh, and Maura comes back to pursue the reticent Romeo. Just as in WEIRD WOMAN, Chaney's character is one reluctant chick-magnet-- though he has no fan in the guy who makes the wax statues, former plastic surgeon Rudi (Martin Kosleck)

Madame Monet appears to perish under Gregor's gaze, but her body can't be found. Nina finds out the truth-- that there's a conspiracy between Rudi and the least likely suspect-- and that the conspirators are guilty of making Monet into one of her own statues, though she's kept alive with the use of a convenient "suspended animation drug." The bizarre crimes are then uncovered when Gregor hypnotizes Maura and gets her to reveal the least likely suspect.

FROZEN GHOST is nonsense, but it gives its cast meaty material to masticate. PILLOW OF DEATH, though, not only couldn't bother to come up with a decent title, the titular-- and far from impressive-- murder-weapon barely even appears on screen.

I saw the film a few weeks ago, and have almost forgotten all of it, except two things: (1) that the killer turns out to be a "perilous psycho" who knows himself but slenderly, and (2) the most interesting character is a medium who may or may not have real psychic gifts. He also works through a medium, just as Gregor the Great did, and Chaney's character Fletcher has a romantic conflict between wife and secretary, just as did his character in CALLING DOCTOR DEATH. Like the aforementioned "Paula the Ape Woman" series, it appears that in the doldrums of Universal's "B-unit," the creative agents thought little of blandly recycling elements of earlier films without making much distinction.

For anyone who might want an actual breakdown of the plot of this tacky item, this site offers a witty blow-by-blow.  



HOLY GRAIL is an eminently quotable movie, but an uneven one as well. For all the jokes that work-- the Black Knight sequence, "I fart in your general direction," the riddle-game of the Bridge of Death-- there are as many jokes that fall flat, like the Castle of Aaaargh and "she weighs the same as a duck."

Though I've reviewed a lot of spoofs in the domain of the marvelous, GRAIL isn't one of them. The Python-script is more properly an irony-drenched satire than a comedy, and one that constantly interrupts its own diegesis by calling attention to its artificiality. For example:

(1) The film starts off with a clip from an unrelated British film, DENTIST ON THE JOB, and then begins the real credits, which include unsanctioned ads, for which the credit-makers are, we are told, "sacked."

(2) The Legendary Black Beast of Aaaarrrggghhh, who is represented by an animation of a multi-eyed critter, only misses killing all of Arthur's knights because his extra-diegetic animator drops dead of a heart attack.

(3) The big combat-scene at the film's end is interrupted by British bobbies, who cart off most of the knights to the pokey.

The helter-skelter Arthurianisms are constantly treated as "fallacious figments," thus aligning the film with works like the 2013 LONE RANGER and the 1968 HEAD.

Saturday, September 3, 2016



SURVIVING THE GAME is a compelling, though not to say riveting, take on the classic "human hunted by other humans" trope. This Ernest Dickerson directorial effort infuses the original Richard Connell plot with racial content, in that this time the victim is Jack Mason (Ice-T), a homeless black man who's talked into coming along on a hunting-trip by several wealthy men. Most of the hunters are white guys, but one of them is black, as well as being the fellow who talks Mason into participating in the adventure. This effectively transforms the film's theme from one of racial opposition to one of class-opposition, implying the moral that black people can get sucked into the pit of upper-class privilege.

The action-sequences are nicely done, even if the viewer has to roll with the idea that city-guy Mason can learn, while on the run, how to evade and eventually kill off most of the men pursuing him. In addition, the flick displays a cornucopia of strong actors-- Rutger Hauer, Charles Dutton, Gary Busey, and F. Murray Abraham-- though the only strong dramatic arc is that of Abraham's character and his son (William McNamara), who gradually become alienated from the "dangerous game."

I confess that my main interest in viewing the film was to decide, as I did with two other films using this trope,  whether GAME's usage of the "bizarre crime" of human-hunting falls into the "uncanny" or "naturalistic" Though the later film lacks any of the Gothic touches of the original MOST DANGEROUS GAME, I find that the 1994 GAME displays the same "grandiosity" characteristic of bizarre crimes in the uncanny domain. The script by Eric Bernt-- his best work, in my opinion-- never allows the viewer to forget the enormity of the hunters' crime, and because of that, Mason's triumph over them also acquires the spectacular dimensions of the combative mode.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

For their third feature film, the Three Stooges have an encounter with an American version of the Italian muscleman epics. Since the film made more money than any other Stooges feature film, I gather that the *peplum* subgenre hadn't at that point worn out its welcome in American theaters.

Aside from that bit of sociological data, HERCULES feels like a bit of retread of HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL, right down to the trope in which the trio of goof-ups make a scientific breakthrough via sheer dumb luck. In addition, once again the aging comics put themselves on the line for a younger romantic couple-- scientist Schuyler and girlfriend Diane-- and also have to deal with another bad-tempered boss. This time the boss (George Neise) is also putting the moves on Diane, and a large part of the story concerns timid Schuyler finding the courage to defend his girl against a competitor.

Schuyler has tried and failed to construct a time-machine. The Stooges work their magic on the device, and the machine whirls Schuyler, Diane, and the daffy trio back to Greece in 900 B.C. Their sudden manifestation interrupts a war in Ithaca, with the result that righteous king Ulysses loses a battle and is imprisoned by his enemy, the usurper Odius (also played by Neise). Odius is served by Hercules, who in this incarnation seems to be not a super-powered demigod but simply a really strong bully-boy. Odius takes the time-traveling quintet back to his palace to celebrate, though like his 20th-century descendant he really wants to 'celebrate" with Diane. Technically, though, Schuyler and the Stooges commit the first act of aggression: Schuyler insists that Ulysses is a "good guy," so the guys help the deposed king escape. Odius then condemns the four guys to the slave galleys, and makes plans to marry Diane.

During the time that the guys are exiled from Ithaca, Odius could have married Diane a dozen times over, The film never explains how Diane fends off her captor, though if the film had introduced Ulysses' wife, maybe Penelope could've given the 20th-century girl some pointers on discouraging male attention. Diane's fate is definitely secondary to the script's desire to send the four guys on various adventures. In line with the subplot about building up Schuyler's confidence, it just so happens that when he's sentenced to the galley, it builds up his whole body into Herculean proportions. Curiously, the same rigors have absolutely no effect on the Stooges.

Once Schuyler looks as powerful as Hercules, the Stooges escape the slave galleys by claiming that the hulking scientist is the real thing. This leads to the best sequence in the film, as the four adventurers are charged with overcoming a two-headed Cyclops. Later, in the travelers' quest to make enough money to return to Ithaca, the Stooges become fight-promoters for Schuyler-- initially arranging for "fake fights," in part to build up the scientist's confidence.

Eventually, though, Schuyler has enough real fights to build up his martial skills. When the foursome returns to Ithaca, Schuyler ends up having a wrestling-match with Hercules, who resents the impostor who's been using his name. Not only does Schuyler win the match, he informs the strongman that later centuries will believe Hercules to be a great fighter of justice. Hercules promptly turns on his own boss Odius and helps overthrow the usurper. The five time-travelers return to their time-machine with Odius in pursuit, and as they return to their own time, they manage to banish the villain to an inhospitable place in the time-stream.

One routine, in which the Stooges are mistaken for female slaves and forced to work in a women's bathhouse, simply comes off tired, partly because the material has been made blander for the juvenile audiences at whom the films were aimed. The comics' encounter with the mythic past makes for a pleasant stroll down a pop-cultural memory lane, but nothing more.