Friday, August 30, 2019
DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY (1991)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*
Though there are a lot of naturalistic psychos in action-adventure films, the one in DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY is a little more layered than most, thus making him an interesting topic for this blog.
The plot of IMMUNITY, in which a tough American invades a foreign country to avenge his slain daughter, sounds a lot like 2008's TAKEN. And the source-novel for the movie, Theodore Taylor's 1987 THE STALKER, has even more resemblance to the Liam Neeson flick, since in the novel the avenging hero goes after the villain, a West German diplomat, across "Germany, Denmark, and Sweden," whereas the film confines the action to one location, Paraguay. I assume that Taylor's original novel is the reason that villain Klaus Hermann is a bit more complex in the "perilous psycho" department.
That said, the screenplay and director Peter Maris get some mileage out of alterations that probably were rooted in cutting costs. Career military man Cole (Bruce Boxleitner, who's not a monolithic enough actor to fit this subgenre) has already lost his wife to cancer, and he's fiercely protective of his grown daughter Ellen, whom he claims is the spitting image of her mother. Before he meets Ellen's impending date Klaus, Ellen tells him not to be suspicious of the German youth: saying something like, "Not every German from South America is an ex-Nazi!" Ellen meets Klaus and they leave Cole behind, glowering. That same night, Klaus loses his pretense of cool. Not only does he rape and kill Ellen, he takes sadistic pictures of her before his local handler, to whose diplomatic office Klaus is attached, takes him away. The law apprehends Klaus but is forced to release him because he's immune to immediate prosecution. Authorities give Cole no real hope for extradition, and so down he goes to Paraguay, to avenge his darling daughter.
Though Cole is the star of the show, he's never as interesting as the Hermann family, which seems somewhat modeled after Freud's reading of HAMLET. In fact, the matriarch of the family is even named "Gerta," which has a strong resemblance to Shakespeare's "Gertrude." However, whereas Gertrude only married the brother of her late husband, Gerta seems to have directly contributed to making her son Klaus into a scopophilic pervert. Once the chief security man Stefan returns Klaus to his loving mother, she's less angry about his committing murder than the fact that he "wastes" himself on such women. Of the three scenes that involve Gerta (Meg Foster) and Klaus (Tom Bresnahan), they continually suggest that Gerta has on some past occasion seduced her son, although she sometimes keeps him at a distance by slapping or kicking him. In one scene, she comes to his room, and, thinking that Klaus is on the other side, tells him that he's never been able to hide from her before.
Though the movie doesn't quite say that the incestuous relationship is also sadomasochistic, this is suggested when Cole tries to get at Klaus by tracking down his mistress Teresa. Teresa initially disbelieves Cole's accusation because she's always found him to be a submissive-- suggesting that Teresa is a mother-substitute. Nevertheless, in this world every masochist hides a sadist, and when Klaus turns on Teresa, she becomes Cole's ally. To round out the HAMLET parallel, Klaus is also jealous of Stefan's relationship with Gerta, and one scene does show Gerta making out with Klaus. Gerta asserts that Klaus resents Srefan for taking his (Klaus's) place. This line suggests that Stefan is a father-substitute, even as Freud considered Claudius a daddy-doppelganger, so that the implication is that Klaus expected to be a de facto "husband" to Gerta once the patriarch passed. An additional interesting detail is that the deceased Hermann patriarch, though not definitely an ex-Nazi, earned his wealth and diplomatic prominence through munitions, and Gerta only gained her vaunted social position as Hermann's wife because she had been a "stripper" and so was good at manipulating men. For a closing touch, Gerta is killed and before he dies, Klaus takes a picture of her dead body just as he did with Ellen. Ah, those perverse Germans!
None of Cole's explosive attempts at vengeance are as interesting as the weird Hermann family, though things do blow up pretty good, and the film offers a nice sampling of familiar faces, like Billy Drago, Matthias Hues, Fabiana Udenio (as Teresa), and Robert Forster. Forster's role is sociologically interesting, for Cole and Forster's character served together in Vietnam, but the latter soldier was guilty of killing Vietnamese prisoners. This would seem to have no real pertinence to the main story, but maybe in the original novel it served to make Cole look less like "the Ugly American" by comparison.
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*
Now that I've seen the culmination of M. Night Shyamalan's "ordinary superhero" trilogy-- the first two parts of which I reviewed here-- I tend to think of the whole in standard theatrical terms, with UNBREAKABLE as a fairly compelling first act, SPLIT as a weak second act, and GLASS as a strong third act.
As I stated in the earlier review, one of the more impressive things about Shyamalan's take on superheroes is that they don't really seem to escape quotidian existence. Even when a writer like Alan Moore tries to satirize the superhero idiom, he still has to reproduce many if not all of the most notorious superhero tropes in order that his barbs can find their proper target. But Shyamalan's trilogy seems to be more ambitious, in giving the audience superheroes whose powers and talents are difficult to assess.
Of course, a lot of metaphenomenal films have hinged on the ambiguous nature of the marvelous. Sometimes there's no doubt that marvelous entities exist, but there are some doubts as to the true nature of said entities. ("It's a cookbook!") At other times, the marvelous can be given a "realistic" explanation, though in many such works, ranging from Gothics to detective stories, the explanation is not much more realistic than the outright marvelous thing being suggested, thus resulting in the domain of "the uncanny." In both UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT, Shyamalan keeps his apparent marvels within a twilight realm that might transform into the uncanny. Does David Dunn really lose his apparent invulnerability when faced with his "kryptonite," or is that all part of a childhood complex? Does Kevin Crumb, in his monster-like persona of "the Beast," really possess super-strength when he's seen bending iron bars, or is he just doing what a lot of above-average strongmen can do, fueled by his own psychosis? The merely human witnesses to this marvels-- Dunn's son Joseph, Kevin's former captive Casey-- cannot be entirely sure that they have seen wonders, and so neither can the audience be sure. The only character who remains resolutely sure of the existence of modern-day superheroes is Elijah Price, and he's a madman who's killed hundreds of people in his quest to become a true super-villain. But his villainous name, "Mister Glass," constantly reminds the audience that his belief in the strength of superheroes may be a fantasy of compensation, because that strength is something that his eternally fragile body cannot ever possess.
Nevertheless, long after Price/Glass has been institutionalized, Dunn's desire to be a protector of the weak eventuates in his crossing paths with Kevin Crumb, who has recently begun preying on female victims once more. There's a brief "battle of the titans," but the forces of the ordinary world intrude on the mortal combat, in the force of Dr. Ellie Staple and a contingent of policemen. Both the would-be hero and his monstrous foe are consigned to the same asylum as the villainous Glass, and Staple claims that the only way the three of them can escape eternal imprisonment is to recant their respective belief-systems.
Since Shyamalan himself has cleverly set things up so that the audience cannot be 100 percent sure of what they've seen, any more than can the diegetical witnesses, the audience of GLASS hangs in a position of uncertainty. Have they indulged in beliefs about the marvelous simply because they, like the characters, want to be removed from the world of the ordinary?
Staple seems, for a time, to possess the "right reading" of the escapist superhero fantasy. However, it wouldn't be a film by M. Night Shyamalan if there wasn't at least the possibility of an ending with a twist, or even a "double twist." The mechanics through which the writer-director realizes the surprise. however, are less important than the implied ethical: that the people preaching "the reality principle" may have a vested interest in controlling the reality of everyone else.
Whereas SPLIT was a little too much James MacAvoy for me at least, his florid Kevin character is nicely counterpointed by the underplayed character of Bruce Willis's David Dunn, who remains resigned to his grim fate from the first, even when he sacrifices himself to save innocents who arguably don't deserve being saved. Samuel L, Jackson's Elijah is in some ways the moral center of the film despite his heinous acts, for he's willing to perpetrate evil deeds in order to banish a greater evil: the false belief in human limitations. Thus, GLASS may be the first film in which a hero, a villain and a monster share center-stage as part of the core ensemble. (Prior to this, the biggest admixture of persona-types I'd ever seen in a single film would be CHRONICLE, where its two co-equal stars are what I term "monster" and "demihero.")
All this, and a pretty good super-fight at the conclusion.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
ANT MAN AND THE WASP (2018)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*
In my review of the 2015 ANT MAN, I expressed the hope that the writers of the next film in the series would "expand upon his rather two-dimensional personality." But though the same director came back for the sequel, the only writer who also participated in the first film's script was main actor Paul Rudd. And, since Rudd's Ant-Man is still the same "self-effacing dork" whom I didn't like in the previous entry, that must mean that Rudd is perfectly within his comfort zone.
Some things are the same: once again former felon Scott Land gets drawn into the schemes of Henry Pym (Michael Douglas), the first Ant-Man, and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). However, now it's been two years since Lang used the Ant-Man suit to help the wrong group of Avengers in CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR, and so he's been sentenced to house arrest since being apprehended. This allows him a lot of daddy-time with his little daughter Cassie, but his allegiances have caused the government to put out warrants on Henry and Hope. Why did the government give Lang such a minor sentence, yet get all hardcore on two scientists who didn't even participate in the alleged criminal activity? Such questions are of course left blowin' in the wind.
However, like Hamlet Lang has "bad dreams," one of which has to do with a previous visit to the microcosmic "quantum realm." The microverse plays a big part in the forrthcoming AVENGERS: ENDGAME, but in ANT/WASP it just inspires Lang to dream about Janet Van Dyne-Pym, who was lost years ago and presumed dead. He contacts Henry about the dream, and this spurs Henry and Hope to decide that Janet (the first Wasp, by the way) is still alive in the quantum realm, and they need Lang to help them, even if it means getting in dutch with the Feds for breaking house arrest.
However, the scientists need lots of special hardware to make their quantum tunnel. Perhaps inevitably, there are competing interests for that hardware, ranging from an arms dealer and his crew to a mysterious new villainess, "the Ghost" (derived from a male foe in the IRON MAN comics).
In contrast to the first film, which exploited a lot of the original comic's charm in showing ant's-eye views of the human world, director Peyton Reed and his people opt for a "Fast and the Furious" vibe, alternating improbable heist-scenes with various car-chases and fistfights-- which are, for the most part, well done though not superlative. In a very loose reworking of the Ant-Man/Wasp partnership, Henry Pym gives his daughter Hope equipment that makes her into the new Wasp. Whereas in the comics Henry was the "straight man" and Janet Van Dyne was the funny one, the movie series reverses this, making Hope-Wasp a rather dull "straight woman" who constantly rags on Scott Lang's dorkiness. The Wasp gets as many good kickass fights as her male partner, but somehow she still comes off as an even flatter character than Lang.
There's a lot of the trademark Marvel humor, and a predictable rescue of the missing mama (played by none other than Michelle Pfeiffer). Once again, the villains are one of the weakest links in a Marvel superhero film. The Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is supposed to be a pitiable opponent, because she suffers perpetual agony due to the scientific experiment that gave her ghost-powers, but at no point does she seem to be anything but another "scientist's daughter seeking to avenge her daddy." A secondary quasi-villain is provided by Bill Foster, a quarrelsome former colleague of Henry Pym, but his character is vague and chimerical, changing to suit the needs of the script.
ANT MAN AND THE WASP is at least a good time-killer, but I wouldn't mind if it was the last of this particular series.
5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (2017), 6-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (2018)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*
Though I never expect much of Syfy's "giant critter" films, I've formed the habit of watching them just to gauge the gradations of badness.
These two sharkfests were preceded by both a "2-headed" and "3-headed," shark attack, after which I presume that some producer thought the number four was either unlucky or underwhelming, so he or she skipped ahead to "5" and then "6." All of the films were made by famed copycat studio The Asylum, and the first two in the series at least boasted some moderate-sized names in the acting department, such as Danny Trejo and Carmen Electra. However, I recognized not a single name in the 2017 and 2018 entries in the series, which no doubt connotes the producers' deep and moving commitment to promoting young (and cheap) talent.
One might well expect that at this point in this "mockbuster" series, the creative personnel would be just going through the motions. Certainly "5-Headed" confirms this. Six credited writers and director Nico de Leon, who has no other credits except for being cinematographer on the same film, elected to churn out yet another take on JAWS. From what I can tell, the third film provides no more info than did the first two on how a multi-headed shark came into being, even though the protagonist is a lady marine biologist, Doctor Yost. She works for a marina in San Juan, and when Old Five-Heads shows up, her boss at the marina uses a combination of coercion and persuasion to get Yost and her gaggle of youthful college-interns to attempt to capture the beastie. Yost doesn't impress viewers with her smarts, given that even after she's lost one student to an unexpected attack, she again ventures out to catch the shark with an ordinary boat and more disposable students. After losing yet another youngster, she and her boss finally consult a not-too-grizzled shark-hunter, who's apparently the "Quint" of the story, as well as Yost's romantic interest. For good measure, there's also a "Mayor Vaughan" crammed into the story for no good reason, and his refusal to close the San Juan beach costs the usual hecatomb of lives.
The only half-decent scene in the film is the way in which the shark-hunter kills Five-Heads by impaling him with explosive charges, but this too seems extremely JAWS-derivative.
Strangely, though, someone at the Asylum must have decided to give the fourth film to a guy who at least had a little more experience making junky Syfy flicks, many of which are also bizarre shark-flicks. Thus one Mark Atkins chimes in as both director and co-writer (with just one other scribe),. and the result is-- well, still bad, but diverting in that the newest monster, Six-Heads I'll call him, gets to torment a bunch of dysfunctional married couples.
William (Brandon Auret), an old salt who apparently owns a little island somewhere, has chosen to monetize it by running what the script calls an "obstacle course marriage counseling service." In other words, about six couples with marital problems come to the island to use the setting for "trust-building" exercises. One immediate fly in the ointment, before Six-Heads even shows up, is that William himself has just lost his wife to another man. In fact, the ex-wife shows up with her lover in her own boat, asking William to sign the divorce papers. However, they don't get off scot free, for there's not only a six-headed shark in the offing, but also a storm that threatens to inundate the island, and thus deprive the embattled tourists of any high ground.
While the various characters aren't much better than stereotypes, at least they're lively stereotypes, particularly Mary (Thandi Sebe), a contract lawyer who keeps threatening to sue William for getting them into this mess. Neither the monster nor his numerous victim-munchings are any better or worse than dozens of other "bizarre shark" flicks. However, Atkins does provide an "origin" of sorts for the multi-headed critters, and there's a nice scene where William manages to chop off one of the monster's many heads and send it back to the drink to regenerate. I liked the performances of Auret and Sebe, which is the reason they're the only ones getting a mention.
Saturday, August 17, 2019
FIGHT: ICZER-1 (1985)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*
ICZER-1 (the name very loosely translates as "Warrior-One") remains one of the most popular OVAs of the 1980s anime boom, both in Japan and in America. Yet the ICZER franchise remains an odd outlier, one which was not exploited by numerous follow-ups as with, say, GUNDAM and DRAGONBALL. According to the best online history I've found, the site AALTOMIES, the core concept began as a two-episode manga in the tradition of the subgenre *yuri,* or "girl-on-girl" porn. Artist Rei Aran created two of the main characters, Iczer and Nagisa, who utilize a giant robot, Iczer Robo, to battle invading aliens, but Aran did not continue the concept to any great extent. The three-part OVA, directed by Toshihiro Hirano, built upon Aran's designs, excised explicit sexuality and emphasized lots and lots of "body horror" graphics, including implied but not literal "tentacle sex." But perhaps even more integral to ICZER's success as a video production was that Hirano countered all the dripping, oozing horror with a noble, super-powerful heroine, roughly the equivalent of having the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft taken out by one of Robert E. Howard's musclebound stalwarts.
Hirano's ICZER so emphasizes non-stop kinetic action that the storyline is barely comprehensible on a logical level. Not until the third of the three "acts" does the viewer get even a partial history of the invading aliens, the "Cutowolf" (Japanese for "Cthulhu"), and how Iczer-1, an android, escaped the control of the aliens and decided to prevent them from conquering the planet Earth. In the first act, one only knows that the Cutowolf are making a series of random-seeming attacks on Earth, none of which seem ideal for either subduing or exterminating the native population. The aliens have three basic methods of attack. One is to unleash "Vedims," amorphous beasts that can infest Earth-people and turn them into disgusting monsters (only once does Hirano show one of the creatures directly taking over an Earthman, jumping on the unfortunate fellow after the manner of the "face-hugger" from 1979's ALIEN.) The second attack-method is to use "Voids," heavily-armed cyborgs, which appear to be more amorphous beasties, wearing heavy armor and wielding super-weapons. Lastly, the Cutowolf have skyscraper-sized mecha-warriors, which would seem to be the most efficacious weapon, given that every time they're used, the titanic robots wipe the floor with any Earth-forces that oppose them. The mecha-warriors have to be driven by at least one sentient pilot, though it's implied (never explained) that the power of the robots can be enhanced by having a sort of "co-pilot," if said co-pilot can "synchronize' with the pilot.
Apparently when Iczer-1 escaped the control of the beings who made her, she took one of these mecha-warriors, Iczer-Robo, with her. Iczer is a formidable warrior who can take out numerous Voids and Vedims with both her super-strength and her energy-powers, which can be fired either from her hands or through an energy-sword. (The sword is surely indebted to the STAR WARS lightsaber, though it's never clear how the thing works, since Iczer wears no scabbard and the sword just pops up whenever she happens to need it). However, Iczer knows that she needs an advantage to battle the Cutowolf's own giant warriors, so she seeks a teenaged Earth-girl, Nagisa Kano. Again, there's no explanation as to how Iczer senses that Nagisa has the psychic abilities needed, nor does Hirano waste any time explaining how the Cutowolf also locate Nagisa. Some Vedims transform Nagisa's family into monsters, and Iczer is forced to slay them all. Having failed to kill Nagisa, the Cutowolf unleash upon Japan a giant robot, Delos Theta, piloted by a hot-chick pilot, Cobalt (seen earlier in the anime's only explicit yuri-scene, enjoying an afterglow with another hot chick, Sepia).
To say the least, the traumatized Nagisa doesn't want to take part in a battle of giant robots, particularly since Iczer, like her director, doesn't supply much detail about how this whole "synchonization" thing works. Iczer forces the issue, she herself takes the pilot position in the head of Iczer-Robo, and a tractor-beam from the big robot's both sucks Nagisa into the chest-region, somehow strips off all of her clothes, and hooks her into the system. Under its pilot's control, Iczer-Robo has a titanic fight with Delos Theta, but the good robot almost loses because Nagisa can't get with the program. Then Iczer-One reminds the schoolgirl that the Cutowolf killed her parents, at which point Nagisa flies into a rage and destroys both the bad mecha and its pilot.
Most of the plot-action in the remainder of the OVA is much the same, as the heroes keep pursuing random-seeming strategies to counter the villains, and vice versa. The Cutowolf's best move is to design a "sister" to their nemesis, naming the new android "Iczer-2." Iczer-2 kicks Iczer-1's butt in their initial fight, and then rather improbably spares the heroine, challenging Iczer-1 and Nagisa to grab their giant robot and engage in another mecha-battle. This sets up the main action that opens the video's third act, as Iczer-2, together with the bereaved Cutowolf girl Sepia, co-ordinate to animate a mecha named Iczer-Sigma. However, by this time Iczer-1 and Nagisa have become a polished team, and Iczer-2 is forced to teleport away while both Iczer-Sigma and Sepia are destroyed. However, Iczer-2, exhibiting her first burst of sibling rivalry, decides to steal her sister's co-pilot. The heroine invades the Cutowolf fortress in an effort to rescue Nagisa. The Earth-girl, however, is temporarily turned against Iczer-1 by the evil sister, and then does yet another turnabout, sacrificing herself for Iczer-1 so that the heroine, though bereaved, is still able to tap into their former bond and destroy the whole Cutowolf fortress. But just to give the feature a happy ending-- probably owing something to the conclusion of the 1978 SUPERMAN-- Iczer-1, during her battle with the Big Bad, taps into a sort of "wish-granting" machine. This makes it possible for Iczer-1 to erase all the evils that have befallen Earth, so that Nagisa once more has her family and her ordinary life, though she no longer remembers having fought evil at the side of the android.
Now, I've stated that I consider the mythicity of this OVA to be "good," despite the fact that the plot wanders all over the place. The thing that makes FIGHT: ICZER-1 a strong, psychologically-oriented mythciity is its rewriting of the formerly explicit sexuality of the original manga into a scenario of a love that will never be reciprocated.
In the original manga, Iczer-1 is a cat-alien who initiates a relationship with an Earth-girl. Since the manga is largely unavailable, I can't speak to how explicit it was. However, director Toshihiro Hirano continually undercuts the possibility of an Iczer-Nagisa relationship. Nagisa is the eternal innocent, with no suggestion of her having interest in any sort of sex. Her second encounter with the Vedims is a Lovecraftian version of "girl-on-girl" violation, as Nagisa is attacked by transformed versions of her classmates. Iczer-1 rescues Nagisa, but it eventually comes out that, for no stated reason, Iczer cherishes a not-entirely-secret love for the same girl she needs for the synchronization-process. Like most plot-events in the story, Iczer's besotted condition gets no explanation at all, and Nagisa certainly does not reciprocate. At one point she even yells at the heroine because she thinks that Iczer is pronouncing her name in too familiar a manner. After being exposed to many perils, Nagisa more or less accepts that she has to accept Iczer as a battle-partner, and the usually passive girl even toughens up a little in Act 2, using Cutowolf technology to dispel several Vedims. When Iczer-2 temporarily brainwashes Nagisa into fighting her former mentor, for the heroine it's the equivalent of a sexual betrayal, even though the two of them have never had sex. (Iczer-2, however, does torment Nagisa was some briefly-suggested "tentacle sex" from a handy Vedim, so maybe Nagisa isn't entirely virginal at that point.) Still, Iczer's love, however frustrated in a literal sense, is validated when Nagisa regains her normal personality and forces Iczer to shoot her-- which of course is the prelude to the heroine's defeat of her evil sister, as well.
I mentioned that the conclusion of FIGHT: ICZER-1 was probably borrowed from the 1978 SUPERMAN, but not only in respect to plot mechanics. The arc of the first two SUPERMAN films, however distorted from director Donner's original intentions, is one of heroic isolation from the world of ordinary life, which the hero protects but cannot be part of. FIGHT: ICZER-1 stands as yet another variation on this theme, and because the ending of FIGHT is circular in nature, that may be an underlying reason as to why the popular anime never managed to develop a serial form of the franchise in any meaningful manner.
Friday, August 9, 2019
THE WHITE GORILLA (1945)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*
"We have no right to the jungle-- it belongs to the natives, the birds, and the animals who have been here since time began"-- Collins, the huntsman who kills the titular ape.
THE WHITE GORILLA, though indisputably a bad film, has a curious place in the admittedly limited history of American jungle films. GORILLA's recycling of silent-film footage from over 15 years previous made it easy for the casual viewer to get a look at scenes from the obscure 1927 serial PERILS OF THE JUNGLE, starring Frank (TARZAN THE TIGER) Merrill. Purportedly the whole serial survives in the UCLA Archives, but that's not exactly a commercial venue. From the material excerpted, I can't even be sure that PERILS qualifies as a metaphenomenal film. though there is a white jungle boy who's seen commanding his pet elephant in a couple of scenes. (The narrator says he has "mystic powers," but I tend to doubt it.) Merrill's character Bradford was almost the central hero of PERILS, though here he's demoted to the status of "support character" by the 1945 frame-story about the White Gorilla.
H.L Fraser wrote but did not direct PERILS, and years later, he cannibalized the silent serial into a new feature, both written and directed by him. He directed a lot of B-films, mostly westerns, over the years, but probably most are not recognizable, even to modern B-film fans. His credits as a writer are a little more distinguished, as he contributed to the scripts of the 1943 BATMAN and the 1944 CAPTAIN AMERICA.
Even in 1945 audiences probably would've reviled a B-film interspersed with grainy, undercranked footage, so it seems unlikely that Fraser and his fellow producers were doing anything but whipping out a quickie product that didn't cost them very much. The new scenes compensate for the silent footage by assigning an omniscient-narrator function to Collins (Ray "Crash" Corrigan), who's first seen arriving at a trading-post in some part of the African jungle. He's survived a lot of harrowing incidents, some of which relate to scenes from PERILS, though his most recent encounter is with the fabled White Gorilla. By the emphasis Fraser places upon the albino ape, it implicitly becomes the new focus of the whole narrative, to which all of the other actions are subordinated. Collins is certainly not a strong enough character for any viewer to invest any interest, though some modern fans have been amused that the same actor playing Corrigan also portrays, at least in some scenes, the White Gorilla.
We're told that the white beast is an outcast from its gorilla-tribe by virtue of its unusual coloration, but no one in the frame-story seems to comment on this assertion. However, just to give the White One something to do, a big black gorilla shows up from time to time and has desultory fights with the albino. Fraser seems to be building up to a major combat between the animals, but in the end he changes horses in mid-stream, having the brute try to make time with a lissome human girl, at which point Collins shoots the outcast dead. Then, as a further odd touch, his black-furred enemy mourns the fallen ape and tries to "bury" him with branches.
As shown by the film's closing lines, Fraser does try to evoke the mysteries of the jungle, albeit in very predictable ways. Still, how often do you get a B-level jungle-film in which the narrator claims that the jungle ought to belong to its original owners?
Saturday, August 3, 2019
THE BIG BLACKOUT, PASSWORD: KILL AGENT GORDON (both 1966)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
The most amusing alternate title for THE BIG BLACKOUT is seen in the ad above, which translates to "Perry Grant, Agent of Iron." True, as played by two-time actor Peter Holden, Perry Grant does get into some decent punch-ups, but he's only average-looking for this type of character, and the descriptor "iron" suggests someone as powerful as, say, Gordon Scott. All that said, I used the title THE BIG BLACKOUT because it denotes the only metaphenomenal content of the movie: that the villain, a schemer named Josipovici, plans to conquer the world using a device able to black out whole cities. Not surprisingly, the film wastes no money showing us the device in action, and instead wears out its meager budget sending Perry around to various parts of Rome, looking for evidence of counterfeiting and romancing a couple of comely women, principally Marilu Tolo. The actresses serve as little more than window-dressing, and the few romantic interludes are tediously shot.
In contrast, though Doug Gordon, the titular character of PASSWORD is not any more interesting than Perry Grant, and though the movie's plot is even more loosely organized (something about arms smuggling), the filmmakers at least give the male viewer plenty of pulchritude. Not one but two famed Eurobabes, Helga Line and Rosalba Neri, liven up the dull action. Neri draws a gun on Gordon, but he disarms her and ties her up until she tells him what he wants to hear. Line, apparently an agent for Russia, has a fun moment when an enemy gets the drop on her, and she blasts him with a handheld pocket laser.
That laser, by the way, is the only element in the film that qualifies as marvelous. Gordon uses no gimmicks, though at one point a henchman of the bad guys tries to off the hero with a halfway interesting weapon: a seltzer bottle that sprays corrosive acid. In a scene toward the end, one of the villains-- a woman in a wheelchair who's not actually crippled-- kills one of her foes with an umbrella that shoots a spear into the guy's back. Oh, yeah, and the wheelchair-woman puts both Gordon and Line's character into death-traps, and Gordon escapes his trap with ludicrous ease.
Going by IMDB credits, Roger Browne apparently made this cheapie between two of his somewhat better Eurospy outings, his "Superseven" films.
Thursday, August 1, 2019
HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR: "THE CARPATHIAN EAGLE" (1980)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*
Most of the episodes of the thirteen episodes of 1980's HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR are at best tolerable time-killers, such as Peter Sasdy's "Visitor from the Grave," or really awful crapfests like Don Leaver's "Mark of Satan." Francis Megahy, though, directed and co-wrote a nice little thriller in "The Carpathian Eagle," with a few interesting myth-motifs mixed in.
To be sure, the mythic content of "Eagle" comes about because the script is seeking to come up with ground its psycho-killer in a medieval background roughly reminiscent of the real-life multiple murderess Countess Bathory. In real history, the 17th-century countess used her aristocratic position to massacre roughly six hundred peasants, possibly for the purpose of using their blood to preserve her youth.
In this telefilm, 1980s England suddenly sees an uptick in serial murders. The police, led by an inspector named Cliff, determine that most of the victims seem to be men who had picked up a young woman. The killer is variously dubbed "the Eagle" or "the Eagle Woman" because the murders are committed with a curved weapon that reminds someone of an eagle's claw, though Clifford seems dubious that a woman could commit such feats of violence.
Clifford has no clues to go on, but a TV interview informs him that a young author named Natalie is about to debut a new book, which tells the sordid history of a Hungarian countess from 300 years ago, who tended to kill people as the modern murderess does. When Clifford asks Natalie where she got her info, the young woman takes the inspector to meet her source, a modern-day London resident, Mrs. Henska, who claims to be the last living descendant of the subject of the book.
According to Henska, her ancestor, unlike Bathory, started her career more "sinned against" than "sinning." She cheated on her husband the Count with a young falconer, and when the Count found out, he not only killed the woman's lover, he imprisoned his wife and subjected her to torture and rape, apparently being inspired to Sadean heights by the countess's transgression. However, the countess manages to mousetrap her husband, calling to her aid a hunting-falcon that claws the nasty ruler to death. It's at this point that the unnamed countess takes on her most Bathory-esque nature, albeit with some additional borrowing from the legend of Cleopatra, who supposedly invited men into her boudoir for one night and then had them killed after they'd satisfied her. Henska emphasized that the countess, whose age is never stated, began inviting young men into her bed and then killing her. That's the last thing Henska can tell Clifford about the ancient serial killer. The part about an older woman killing younger men seems constructed to suggest that Henska might be the killer. Similarly, Clifford also meets another red herring in Henska's nephew, who is a drag performer and thus brings in the possibility that the murders are being committed by someone with gender issues.
The red herrings might make some sense, except that they're not necessary (which is why I'm not inserting SPOILERS). Every murder-scene in "Eagle" shows viewers the face of the killer, and it's none other than Natalie, who looks frumpy in her author-persona but who glams up a lot when she's trolling for guys (including a pre-fame Pierce Brosnan). Obviously there''s no significant difference between the age of Natalie and the ages of her victims, with one exception: once, and only once, she fails to kill one of her intended targets, who unlike the others is at least over fifty. Still, I find it interesting that the script sets up a backstory that emphasizes the archaic monster's preying on younger men, and then translates that into a modern-day killer who still kills young guys but accidentally spares her one potential older victim.
Up until the end the narrative is ambiguous as to whether or not Natalie might be possessed by the spirit of the ancient countess. However, a coda shows Natalie researching yet another female killer, whom she clearly plans to emulate, meaning that in essence she is a "chameleon-killer." "Eagle" isn't particularly deep, but in terms of playing with matters of gender-violence, it hews closer to the better Hammer films than the rest of the "Hammer House" oeuvre.
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