Friday, July 30, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, metaphysical, psychological, sociological*

I admire the wit of whoever summed up STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE as “Where Nomad Has Gone Before,” referring to the script’s clear indebtedness to John Meredyth Lucas’s script for the Classic Trek episode “The Changeling.” To be sure, though, Wikipedia relates many mutations of the STTMP script that was ultimately credited to Alan Dean Foster and Harold Livingston, though creator-producer Gene Roddenberry and others also did uncredited rewrites, and stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy had some level of input as well. The final on-screen story—and here I should note that I’m reviewing the theatrical release—proved to be a partial inversion of “Changeling.” The TV episode told the story of Nomad, a radically empowered Earth space-probe that seeks out Earth with the notion of sterilizing all imperfection. The movie, however, is about a radically empowered Earth space-probe that seeks out Earth looking for its creator in order to obtain some sense of “meaning” about its existential status.

Partly because of some of the script’s dramatic limitations, the overall story is easier to break down into sheer plot-points than were many of Classic Trek’s more ambitious episodes. STTMP definitely borrows from “Changeling” the basic trope of “Planet Earth is in peril from an invading entity," in this case a gargantuan cloud moving through space toward the Federation homeworld, blasting through a few Klingon ships on its way. By this time, the Enterprise’s five-year mission has long ended, with most of its crew assigned to other duties. The former Captain Kirk (Shatner) is now an admiral, while Mister Spock (Nimoy) has apparently resigned his commission in order to undergo a ritual purification of his human emotions on barren Vulcan. The Enterprise itself has been refitted and put under the command of a new captain, Decker (Stephen Collins). But for reasons that don’t entirely hold up, the Federation insists on sending the Enterprise out to investigate the cloud-menace by re-assigning to the command of the ship to Kirk, who usurps Decker’s captaincy, and also bringing back all the usual suspects: McCoy Sulu, Chekhov, Uhura, Chapel and Scotty. Along with Decker, some new (and younger) faces are also present, though the only one of significance is Lieutenant Ilia (Persis Khambatta), with whom Decker shared some unspecified romantic experience.

The Federation does not reach out to Mister Spock, but Spock—whose mental powers sometimes reached improbable heights—somehow reaches out to whatever entity inhabits the cloud. Spock, feeling attuned to the entity in some way, drops his purity quest and volunteers his services to Kirk and his former co-workers. It’s a matter of some irony that Spock’s subplot becomes so integral to the plot of STTNG, for in one of its earliest forms the script was devised for an episode of a never-produced, Spock-less TREK teleseries.

The Old Gang soon find that Spock has become more dispassionate than ever before, not even rising to retort against barbs from his former sparring-partner McCoy. Spock has, in effect, become the “computer” McCoy often accused him of being, seemingly concerned more with making contact with the alien intelligence than with saving the Earth from an invader. In an episode of the Classic series, this situation would have occasioned a barnstorming moral debate, in which Kirk and McCoy would have sought to convince Spock of the value of human emotions. But the script can’t very well torpedo the very plot-point that justifies bringing Spock on board, for Kirk and Co. know that they may need Spock’s psychic attunement to discover what’s going on in the cloud. So Kirk and McCoy can do nothing more than express vague disquiet with the Vulcan’s behavior. The other members of the Old Guard get even less to do than this, and their presence never rises beyond the level of a nostalgia-fest.

Decker gets a little more linear treatment, even though the viewer really never knows much about him save that he’s an earnest young captain. Within a certain space-navy protocol, Decker butts heads with new commander Kirk, and at one point Decker shows that he simply knows more about the retooled Enterprise than does the man most associated with the vessel. Decker also supersedes a prerogative almost exclusively given to Kirk’s character, since he alone gets something akin to a romantic arc.

When the Enterprise comes into contact with the cloud-colossus, it’s immediately clear that they have no ability to challenge the entity’s power. Kirk sounds a bit like the later Captain Picard, refusing to scan the cloud for fear of seeming aggressive. However, the entity scans the Enterprise, and it beams Lieutenant Ilia off the ship. Ilia never comes back, for the alien uses her mortal body as a template for a lookalike robot, Robot-Ilia, who shows up on the Enterprise, using this faux human body to communicate with the “carbon units” on the ship—which the entity has mistaken for an independent mechanical intelligence. Robot-Ilia still possesses some of Ilia’s memories, and seems drawn to Decker. The young captain doesn’t seem especially broken up by losing his former lover, and he’s quite willing to instruct the lissome robot in the ways of “carbon units.” I suppose one can call this “taking one for the team.” In her dialogue with the humans, the robot reveals that the entity within the cloud is called “V’ger,” and it seeks its Creator, which it believes to be on Earth.

Spock then takes the bull by the horns, donning a personal spacesuit and jetpack to plunge into the cloud. Following Spock’s quasi-mystical contact with V’ger, Kirk pulls the rash Vulcan back to the Enterprise. Confined to sick bay, Spock tells his human friends that he was mistaken to hope for an entity of pure logic, that V’ger is some sort of intelligent machine, but one racked with a fierce desire for self-understanding, not that different from that of “carbon units.” Spock’s epiphany traduces his desire to become the embodiment of Vulcan logic and to expunge his humanity, though by the end of the film the character just defaults back to the status he held on the original teleseries.

The Enterprise can do nothing to keep the Cloud of V’ger from drawing closer to Earth, and to further exacerbate tensions, Robot-Ilia, having completed her study of the carbon-units, informs them that V’ger plans to expunge them both from the ship and from Planet Earth, believing that they somehow impede V’ger from contact with the Creator. Kirk, in his only standout character-moment, bluffs Robot-Ilia into granting the carbon-units an audience with the unstable entity. This audience leads to the Big Reveal, as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Decker all learn that V’ger is the space probe Voyager 6, which was radically rebuilt on the planet of machine intelligences. This clue gives Kirk the insight he needs to attempt using old NASA transmission-codes to set up a dialogue with the mechanical entity. However, V’ger wants more than just talk; he wants direct contact with the Creator. Kirk and Co. realize that the only solution to V’ger crisis is if it receives an infusion of the human “capacity to leap beyond logic,” so that in theory it will go off and investigate other dimensions and leave the Federation alone. Decker sacrifices himself by providing the infusion, allowing himself to merge with Robot-Ilia in a sort of *hieros gamos* of which the ancient Greeks would never have dreamed. Once the godlike robot has its pound of human flesh, so to speak, it vanishes and the Enterprise once more flies the friendly skies of Federation space, looking forward to its next adventure.

In my original theatrical viewing of STTMP, I was naturally disappointed that the dramatic aspects of the show were sacrificed for this Big Abstract Idea (not to mention being put off by all the ghastly uniforms worn by the crewpersons, which outfits were then squirreled away in someone’s stock closet, never again to see the light of day). Nevertheless, purely from a mythopoeic perspective the movie succeeds in putting across its inversion of God’s creation of man and His demand for “tendance.” Here, man makes a device that, thanks to some plot-convolutions, goes far beyond what humanity can achieve in the physical sense. However, this “machine-god” needs tendance in the form of instruction about what to do with all this immense power. Spock plays a role that inverts that of Paul on the road to Tarsus, where the “god” speaks to the erring postulant by telling him in essence, “Don’t be like me.” Decker and Ilia are the beautiful young couple sacrificed to sustain the god, more as food for thought than as actual food— which also has the extra added effect of getting that young upstart out of Kirk’s command chair for good. Later iterations of Movie-Trek would emphasize some of the elements left out of STTNG, such as physical adventure and dramatic conflict—though I don’t think even the best of the movies ever captured the best myth-aspects of Classic Trek.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2021



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

Though I've not seen all of the eleven CARRY ON films prior to SCREAMING, I've the impression that this film is a little more rigorously plotted than most flicks in the franchise. If so, this may be because the producers were trying to hew to the model of "old dark house" horror-films rather than just sticking to the looser setups for British vaudeville gags. 

Usually the main stars of each CARRY ON film belong to an ongoing ensemble of comedians, including Jim Dale, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, and Kenneth Williams. In contrast to this tendency, the central characters of SCREAMING are a devious duo of mad scientists. Orlando Watt (Williams) and Valeria (Fenella Fielding, making the last of two appearances in a CARRY ON movie). Hawtrey, Sims and Bresslaw all have minor supporting roles, while major support-roles are filled out by the characters of Albert (Dale), who loses a girl to the monstrous mad scientists, and the two cops investigating the disappearance, Slobotham (Butterworth) and Sergeant Bung (Harry H. Corbett, who made no further CARRY ONs).

Americans best know Fielding for her role in 1962's THE OLD DARK HOUSE, a collaboration between the American director William Castle and Hammer Studios. This is about as close as SCREAMING gets to anything done by England's premiere horror-makers at Hammer, given that the film is all about a weird family, comprised not only of the Watts but also their pet Frankenstein Monster, "Oddbod." To be sure, Orlando may not even be alive any more, since in his first appearance Valeria is keeping him alive with electrical charges, which they both use to keep Oddbod functioning. But to defray their expenses in their expensive "old dark house," the Watts use Oddbod to abduct local girls, whom the sinister scientists change into wax statues by reversing the dead-coming-to-life currents, or something like that. The Watts then sell the statues to English department stores, and if the viewers wonder about just how remunerative this scheme could be, the script chooses not to dwell on the matter.

After Oddbod steals Albert's girlfriend Doris (Angela Douglas), Albert seeks out the local constabulary. Bung is only too happy to have a new case, to give him an excuse to escape his shrewish wife (Sims). They find one clue at the site of Doris's abduction: a very hairy severed finger. Back at the Watts manor, the duo discover that Oddbod's dropped a digit, so they infuse the hairy beast with more electricity and he grows the finger back. Later, the finger, accidentally exposed to electricity at the police lab, grows back a whole body, which makes it way to the manor and gets dubbed "Oddbod Junior."

Bung and Slobotham investigate the Watts simply because they're in the vicinity of the crime, but neither cop really suspects anything, while Bung is more than a little enamored of voluptuous Valeria. For some reason, though, the Watts think of the constables as a real threat. Albert finds Doris's waxen body in town, but can't prove that it's a transformed human being. So Orlando, who studied with both Doctor Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll, slips Bung a Mister Hyde mickey, so that the beastly Bung will do Orlando's bidding and steal Wax Doris. Bung reverts to normal without remembering what he's done, but the Watts try to get rid of the investigators with a plot derived from Doyle's "The Speckled Band." Bung still doesn't catch on to the villains, but he gets Slobotham to masquerade as a woman to lure out the kidnappers. This all leads to an epic (for CARRY ON) battle, when Orlando sends the two Oddbods to kill off the detectives. Bung changes into Sergeant Hyde and beats down the monsters. Orlando gets undone when a bolt of lightning providentially revives a mummy he has to have around, and the mummy takes Orlando's secrets to their graves. In a final coda, the married Sergeant Bung finds a way to get around his nagging wife and to shack up with vivacious Valeria.

There are a good smattering of ribald jokes and silly slapstick here, though nothing in particular stands out. Valeria doesn't appear to be a real "vamp"-- even if she does duplicate TV-host Vampira's "mind if I smoke" schtick, so it's  not till the belated introduction of the mummy "Rubatiti" and the ersatz Edward Hyde does CARRY ON SCREAMING register as a monster mashup.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

I've not found time in the past ten years of this blog to review any of the four Italian-made ATOR films that arose like the success of 1982's CONAN THE BARBARIAN like so many vultures flitting around a fallen corpse. Yet it's not that I hold them in as much contempt as I do the really poor sword-and-sorcery outings, not least CONAN THE DESTROYER, which managed to do everything wrong that the first film did right. The ATOR films are cheerful Italian cheese for the most part, and they certainly do not drag along trying to burn up screen-time, as I recently found to be the case with THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER

Three of the four ATORs-- the first, second, and fourth-- were written and directed by best-known-for-porn raconteur Joe D'Amato. For the third, IRON WARRIOR, another director, Alfonsco Brecia, took over, and this may have sparked D'Amato to pull out all the stops with the fourth and last Ator flick, QUEST FOR THE MIGHTY SWORD. I can't say it's good, but it's certainly unusual, being sort of a mashup between bits and pieces of The Siegfried Saga and a lot of quasi-Freudian pop psychology.

The film opens with not one but two Ators: the father, who rules over an unspecified kingdom, and his identically named baby son. It's possible that the older Ator may even be the one from the first film (though none of the stories in the series are literally tied to one another). The only reason for thinking this is that Older Ator is married to a woman named Sunn, while in ATOR THE FIGHTING EAGLE the hero's beloved was named Sunya. (She was, incidentally, a woman First Ator was raised to believe was his sister, which didn't prevent their doing a little canoodling even before they found out that they weren't related. And yes, D'Amato does manage to top that bit of perversity here.)

In any case, Older Ator possesses a magical sword, apparently given him by the gods, and the king uses the blade to personally take on any challengers in a "trial by combat" if they dispute his judgments. On the same day that he does so, one of the gods, Thorn by name, appears in the court and demands the return of the sword. Older Ator refuses. An armor-clad goddess named Dejanira (Margaret Lenzey) also runs up, trying to persuade the merciless deity to let Older Ator keep the weapon. Thorn slays Older Ator with a spear, which somehow causes the sword to become broken, which may be the reason the spear-god leaves the weapon behind. Thorn condemns Dejanira to the fate of a "sleeping beauty," confined to an underground cave until such time as a strong man rescues her-- which is more or less the same curse that Odin pronounces upon Brunhilde in the story of Seigfried.

Sunn also decides to crib from the saga. Since she plans to kill herself now that her husband's dead, she takes both her infant and the pieces of the broken sword and entrusts both to a dwarvish type named Grindl (who appears in a troll costume very similar to that of Thorn's brief appearance in the opener). Grindl wants some sort of payback for raising Baby Ator and keeping custody of the shattered sword, so when Sunn begs him for a lethal poison, Grindl slips her an aphrodisiac mickey. Not only does Sunn have sex with the malignant dwarf, the overlord Thorn decides to wreak further vengeance on Sunn by transforming her into a woman obsessed with giving herself to any man who asks. This curse becomes important later.

Meanwhile, Baby Ator grows into Ator II (Eric Allan Kramer), and he quickly gets tired of his substitute father, who refuses to fix the broken sword of Ator's heritage and uses the young fellow as a handy slave. This sequence is plainly meant to mirror the fostering of Seigfried by the dwarf Mime. Nephele (Marisa Mell), a mysterious female who may be one of the gods, shows up to inform Ator that his mother is still alive and suffering her cursed fate. Ator makes a couple of attempts to kill the "bad father," and he finally succeeds when he manages to repair the broken sword-- also a bit derived from the Seigfried-Mime conflict. Once this is done, Nephele instructs Ator to go looking for Dejanira, even showing the young hero an image of the comely Amazon so that he'll be sufficiently motivated. Armed with the restored sword, Ator braves the cave and its protectors, a slime-covered dragon and what looks like a conjoined-twin soldier armed with sword and shield-- and possibly a robot conjoined-twin soldier, to boot. The doughty (or  is that dotty) hero triumphs over his foes and pulls Dejanira out of her trance, escaping the cave before everything goes boom.

Ator and Dejanira more or less pledge their love to another in the tradition of Seigfried and Brunhilde-- but unlike those two, they have to deal with an encounter with a "bad mother" as well as a "bad father." When the heroes take a few brewskis at a local tavern, they stumble across a put-upon but mature beauty, who's been a whore for several years now. Ator rescues the woman from a ruffian. She tries to repay him with a roll in the hay, but Ator shows her only pity-- which is exactly what is needed to dispel the curse upon the woman, who is none other than Sunn. Apparently all of her hard living immediately catches up with Ator's mom, for she ages quite a bit more than the twenty-something years it took Ator to grow to manhood, and perishes. Dejanira admits that she knew of Sunn's curse but could not speak of it, even though she's been made a mortal by Thorn.

The heroes, joined by a sidekick named Skiold, seek to flee to some shelter free from the designs of Thorn, but if the Odin-like divinity is still pulling any strings, we don't hear of it. Seigfriend and Brunhilde then encounter three more characters derived from the saga: crazed ruler Gunther, his scheming sorceress-sister Grimhild (eighties sex-bomb Laura Gemser), and Gunther's dwarvish servant Hagen. Without dwelling on the saga-equivalents too long, suffice to say that the original idea is that the brother and sister try to chisel in on the great romance of Seigfried and Brunhilde. Sure enough, Gunther and Grimhilde have the same agenda, though they go about it a lot differently. Grimhilde assumes the likeness of Dejanira so that Ator ends up sleeping with the wrong hot girl. As for Gunther, he's apparently decided to borrow a little from HOUSE OF WAX as well, for he plans to "wed" Dejanira by encasing her in plaster. Ator not only comes to the rescue and defeats Gunther, Hagen and several men, he also can conjure up a new weapon out of nothing, for he suddenly manifests a mini-crossbow on his wrist to kill two Gunther-minions. After the villains are all dead, the young lovers flee the castle-- but the film's last shot shows a laughing dwarf appear on the screen before the credits roll-- Thorn, possibly, exulting in some scheme to doom the duo, as they were undone in the saga.

I've occasionally found a high degree of mythicity in apparent sword-and-sorcery junkers like THE SCORPION KING 2. However, even though I believe D'Amato was pursuing some Freudian themes in his remix of the Seigfried narrative, I don't get the sense that he was doing so for any purpose but to keep the pot boiling, as it were. But at least it's a lively enough pot this time.

Monday, July 26, 2021

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

My first thought about WONDER WOMAN 1984 is to wonder why its director/co-writer Patty Jenkins thought this was a particularly compelling story for the second Wonder Woman film. So far the story of the Amazing Amazon is her only current cinematic success since the 2003 MONSTER, so I would think she'd be trying to bring her "A-game." I'm not at all surprised that her collaborator Geoff Jones thought this bland regurgitation of "The Monkey's Paw" was a good bet, for I've found almost all of his movie/TV work to be routine and derivative. It may be, though, that neither of them was able to think past their own ambitions.

In Jenkins's case I get the sense that she wanted to make a movie that would boost her reputation as a director in other, possibly more  reputable genres. That may be the main reason the comedy and romantic elements sometimes overwhelm those of the adventure-mythos. The 2017 WONDER WOMAN had its share of narrative hiccups. but at least I didn't get the sense that Jenkins just phoned in the superhero elements.

What's most frustrating is that, as a comic book reader, I'm aware of a lot of WONDER WOMAN stories that would have made good movies, and maybe even still given Jenkins the chance to strut her stuff with other genre-material. But the story for WW84 seems like some toss-off tale that some disinterested comics-writer whipped out to fill a WONDER WOMAN deadline. The film's opening scenes telegraph the jejune moral of the entire narrative: "anything worthwhile must be earned honestly," a truism to which Johns and Jenkins bring absolutely no original thought.

I'm also flummoxed as to why Jenkins and Johns (and a third, less celebrated writer) set the film in the 1980s at all. Since the climax involves the possibility of nuclear armageddon, I suppose the writers thought that such a thing couldn't happen these days, now that most nations don't bother declaring war to take military actions. But the threat of nuclear holocaust has been done to death, to the point that no one save a kid-viewer could feel it to be a clear and present danger to the world of the Amazon.

It's possible that the eighties gambit was designed to keep Jenkins's second film distanced from the now moribund DC Extended Universe. Jenkins is clearly indifferent to the way Wonder Woman is setup in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN, wherein it was indicated that the Amazon remained in retirement since her debut-exploit during the First World War.  Here, Diana Prince puts aside her regular life as a Smithsonian relic-expert, donning her battle-armor and thwarting a mall-robbery. I suppose one can assume that she didn't mean to keep up the superhero game, and that she promptly disappeared again after her 1984 outing. 

Despite the fact that the nearly immortal heroine has been kicking around for almost seventy years, though, the script acts as if nothing has transpired in Diana's life since the conclusion of the first movie, which included the death of her first love Steve Trevor. Part of the "Monkey's Paw" plotline involves Diana meeting a version of Steve once more, whom she must eventually renounce in order to embrace the future. Again, this might be appealing if she'd been mourning for ten or even twenty years. But seventy years, with a woman who apparently does not age? Hard to credence.

The item that brings an ersatz Steve to life is an under-explained god-artifact, the Dreamstone, which can grant the wishes of its possessor. The first person to unintentionally use the stone is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new Smithsonian employee with raging inferiority issues. Desiring to possess the power and beauty she perceives in Diana Prince, Minerva enhances herself into the persona that will eventually become that iconic Wonder Woman foe, the Cheetah. But Minerva's limited ambitions are nothing next to those of frenzied real estate speculator Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Once Lord learns of the Dreamstone's power, he transfers the stone's wish-making potency into himself, after which he starts granting wishes regardless of their real-world consequences-- which culminate in the threat of nuclear destruction. 

Gal Gadot manages to score with her lively interpretation of Wonder Woman despite the dull and often inconsistent plot. Wiig and Pascal are never more than adequate in their roles, though I give the script a few extra points for giving the movie-Cheetah an origin reminiscent of the original character from the Golden Age of Comics. The action-scenes are decent but not especially memorable, and certainly not sufficient to wipe out the bad taste of a tedious storyline. Even an overly "woke" movie like 2019's CAPTAIN MARVEL wasn't this thoroughly bland, if only because one garner some entertainment by taking shots at its shrill Leftie politics.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

ROBOC.H.I.C. (1990)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

I hadn't seen ROBO C.H.I.C. since I rented the VHS, probably forty years ago. I remembered only that it was a pretty lame comedy, and didn't even know then (as I know now) that star Kathi Shower didn't even complete the film, so that her scenes had to be finished by another actress. The only time it came onto my radar again was when I heard that the film had been re-issued on DVD, but its owners, in order to avoid being sued by the people behind the ROBOCOP franchise, they re-titled the film CYBER C.H.I.C. 

Then it happened that some kind (?) soul downloaded the original VHS recording onto YouTube, sans any "cyber" changes. So I gave it a look, wondering if it might fall into the "so bad it's bearable" category.

My verdict is that though ROBO C.H.I.C. is too dull and repetitive to compete with truly demented movies like TROLL 2, one might get some laughs from it if one smoked a little weed first. However, to disclose my current sentiments, my current un-favorite film is the nearly forgotten TERMINATION MAN, which I abhorred because it capsulized all the limitations of the "deal film." ROBO C.H.I.C. isn't good in any way, but at least it's not a "deal film." Rather, it's just another "film on the make."

So what's the C.H.I.C. about? There's absolutely no spoof of ROBOCOP here. Wacky inventor Sigmoid Von Colon decides to create a female robot (Shower at first, later Jennifer Daly) for no particular reason. There are a handful of nude scenes while Colon works on his new toy, but he seems mostly insensible to her charms. He doesn't give her a name, nor does he plan to show her off to the scientific community, but for some reason he does install a laser ray and a sonic boom device in her artificial chassis. He spends a huge amount of time teaching the robot girl assorted bits and pieces of human culture, but he doesn't have any thought about making her into a crimefighter until the two of them witness some thugs hassling a lady. Of her own accord, the humanoid woman beats up the lowlifes-- and then Colon dubs her Robo C.H.I.C. and decides she would make a good crime-crusher.

Conveniently enough, a wimpy mad bomber named Harry Truman Hodgkins (Burt Ward) undertakes to hold the city for ransom with strategically placed nuclear bombs, which Hodgkins alone can control with his codes. Trouble is, the police, led by a short commander with compensation issues, are total morons and they arrest him without worrying about the city's destruction. However, various criminal elements decide to kidnap Hodgkins in order to leverage his invention. Robo C.H.I.C. goes looking for the mildly irritated bomber and has an assortment of totally unconvincing fights along the way. Toward the end a gang-boss hires the services of a rival scientist (played the film's only other "name," Jack Carter) to zap the cyber-crimefighter, but eventually the heroine vanquishes the bomb threat, and everyone's happy, even the short policeman.

Despite the badness of both the fights and the jokes, this film qualifies as a combative comedy. Both of the screenwriters were also the film's directors, and neither shows the slightest sense of comic timing, even when a tiny number of the jokes have a little promise. As dumb as the POLICE ACADEMY films were, at least their makers knew what effects they were going for. Oddly, the writer-directors also toss in a number of learned-sounding references into the film, having characters discuss such esoteric matters as entropy and George Bernard Shaw, albeit ineptly. That's why I call this a "film on the make," in that its makers were willing to try any stupid strategy to score in the marketplace-- which as a rule only works once in a blue moon.

MAD MAX (1979)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I've never been a big fan of the original MAD MAX. I like all of the sequels to some extent, and I appreciate that the film launched the career of Mel Gibson. But as a lifelong afficianado of science fiction, I 've never liked the way George Miller's initial opus gets labeled a "post apocalyptic world." The idea explored in later films, that fossil fuels have been depleted-- possibly by warfare-- is barely addressed in the original movie. 

The dynamic is perhaps more evident within the Aussie culture. The continent consists of a handful of big cities sprinkled around a vast and unforgiving landscape, and so the citizens are arguably more dependent on their vehicles than the citizens of the U.S. One online essay claims that the Aussies were particularly affected by the 1973 OPEC oil shortage, and that Miller's image of insane drivers, fetishizing their vehicles as they speed aimlessly through the Australian deserts, is a recapitulation of the "road rage" that pervaded the country during the shortage.

That said, I'm not claiming that Americans or anyone else are insensible to "car-philia." If that were the case, the original film could not possibly have enjoyed international success, no matter how little its original cost. In addition, there's no question that even if Miller had no interest in sci-fi elements, he knew just how to pull off the kinetics of high-powered vehicles pursuing one another along open desert roads. 

The basic aesthetic of MAD MAX is that of the western. Highway patrolman Max Rogatansky (Gibson) is a married cop with a baby on the way, and he's mightily tempted to hang up the crimefighting gig for the pleasures of regular life. To prevent this, nasty bikers led by "Toecutter" (Hugh Keys-Byrne) step up their attacks, both on ordinary citizens and on other highway patrol officers. This leads to a tragic fate for Max's family and his commitment to revenging himself on the bikers.

MAX is a grimy, visceral thriller. It's not particularly original, but it did give rise to the much better sequels, which in my opinion are the main reason that the original is still remembered. (Note: Alan Moore almost certainly swiped the climactic revenge-scene in MAX for a corresponding sequence in WATCHMEN.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Though there's a lot of junk-film that yields insights even through their ineptitude. some flicks are just a black hole of worthlessness.

One opening that occurred to me was to spotlight the good looks of leading lady Athena Massey, as I have done above, and claim that this was the only half-decent aspect of the film.

An alternative was to mention that the name of the protagonist, Dylan Pope, was the best thing about the movie. But then I realized the writer probably used some app to toss together dozens of "cool hero names," so I can't even give TERMINATION MAN that much credit.

In the final analysis, this is just a "deal" movie, in which American crap-maker Roger Corman agreed to produce a movie as long as it was shot on the cheap in Central Europe. The movie needed an equally cheap American actor with a merchandisable "name," so the filmmakers got Steve Railsback, still barely known for anything but his perf in a TV-movie about Charles Manson. They added an actress willing to do some brief nudity, Athena Massey. Finally, they cobbled together a stupid plot about a bionically enhanced secret agent, Dylan Pope, and gave him some BS mission about preventing a Serbian terrorist from unleashing a deadly gas on Europe.

The utter cheapness of the movie is most damaging in the fact that this supposed Sixty-Dollar Man can't really do much of anything but run fast and heal his wounds quickly. To me this means that either the filmmakers weren't willing to spring for fight coordinators or that Railsback didn't want to do any fights. I could easily believe the latter, because the actor gives one of the most lackadaisical performances I've ever seen in an alleged action movie.

And that's all I have to say about this cinematic turd.

Monday, July 19, 2021

BLOOD (1973)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Though there's no real humor in this film by "gutter auteur" Andy Milligan, I can't help but think that when Milligan began BLOOD, he must have been amused about the prospect of taking a plot loosely derived from the Classic Universal monster-films and putting it through his psychosexual wringer. I've not read the recent Milligan biography, but somehow I doubt that he was deeply devoted to the horror genre, even if he'd been earning his daily bread making rock-bottom exploitation horror-films for the past four years.

Almost all of the action takes place within a single house (Milligan's own home in Staten Island), supposedly set in (going by the costumes) late 19th-century America. A couple, the Orlovskys, buy the house and move in, at which point it's revealed that they've brought more baggage than just their belongings. Lawrence and Regina argue constantly, with Regina accusing her husband of infidelity with their maid Carlotta. More importantly, though, Lawrence is treating Regina for some degenerative disease-- she's first seen in a veil, which Lawrence lifts to reveal a ravaged countenance. However, Lawrence is able to reverse this condition with his scientific wizardry, which somehow involves draining blood from victims' brains and feeding it to their man-eating plant-- which somehow helps Regina out (I couldn't follow how). 

It's also revealed that Lawrence is the son of 20th-century American werewolf Larry Talbot, while Regina is the daughter of the undead Dracula. Milligan has no interest in exploring any of this monster-mythology; he's tossing monster-tropes out to entice viewers who want a werewolf/vampire fix. Lawrence briefly gets all furry and Regina sprouts fangs in one scene, but Milligan's really focused on the monstrous hatred all of the characters-- the married couple, the servants, a few incidental victims-- bear for each other. As many reviewers have observed, Milligan's preferred form of address is having characters shout at each other at the top of their lungs. The dialogue is endlessly acerbic but not particularly witty, and the plot is even more threadbare than the sort of forties B-picture it most resembles, like THE CORPSE VANISHES

The most interesting thing about this visually unappealing slice of weirdness is that Milligan seems to have intuited that the "monster mash" films of forties Universal had a certain "family reunion" vibe.  One sees this to best effect in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, where lonely Larry deals with both a substitute mother (the gypsy Maleva) and a monster with whom he bonds in a loose sibling-like manner. I can picture Milligan looking at a quaint old film like this and then deciding to churn out a movie with deep psychosexual obsessions and occasionally outbursts of gore. Milligan's characters, though, are so hard to watch that only a second viewing did I notice an incestuous vibe between the maid Carrie and her brother, one of the tossed-in victims.

EL TOPO (1970)


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

Though I admired Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1989 SANTA SANGRE and found the 1962 FANDO AND LIS diverting, until now I never got around to watching the Chilean-French director’s most celebrated film, EL TOPO (Spanish for “the mole.”) My shortest possible review boils down to, “liked it, didn’t love it,” with a side helping of recognition for the movie’s role in launching “midnight movies” in the U.S.

 Pauline Kael dubbed TOPO an “acid western,” and it may well be that some of the film’s appeal was for viewers who wanted to take drugs while watching a movie that didn’t make big demands on attention. Jodorowsky’s weird western (wherein he also plays the title character) is a conglomeration of colorful, frenetic episodes loaded with quasi-religious symbolism, punctuated by mass quantities of sex and violence. Extreme versions of these story-elements had by that time taken on the association of young filmmakers defying the staid limitations of Old Hollywood, though in America violence remained more popular with the mass audience than sex. If anything, though, Jodorowsky seems more preoccupied with filling his landscape with a smorgasbord of sexual anomalies, ranging from rape and homosexuality to sadomasochism and even a touch of gerontophilia.  


The character of Topo, mounted on a horse with his young son Hijo (played by one of the director’s real sons), opens the film. Like most heroes of spaghetti westerns, Topo has no history, but he’s not obsessed like them with making a few dollars more. In fact, money is barely if at all mentioned in the flick. Topo and Hijo stumble across a town whose inhabitants have been massacred by bandits, and for reasons unknown, the outlaw (as Jodorowsky’s commentary calls him) decides to go after the bandits. He kills them all but decides to take one of their women with him. For whatever reason Topo leaves his son behind with a Franciscan monastery, never to be seen again in the movie. Topo also decides to challenge four great masters of fighting-arts who happen to live in the area. The director may have been inspired by the Hong Kong kung-fu films that were just beginning to show up on international screens, but if so, Jodorowsky undermined the appeal of such challenges by having Topo win with guile rather than strength or skill. (In the commentary Jodorowsky claims that his gunfighter-hero absorbs the skills of those he defeats, but this conceit does not translate as well as the director supposes.)


During these exploits Topo and his female companion are joined by The Woman in Black. The two women have a lesbian sadomasochistic encounter and the Woman in Black executes Topo with several gunshots to the body, particularly the hands and feet (one of the most obvious Christ-references in the film). Topo’s body is found and dragged to a subterranean mine by a family of “monsters.” All of them are the result of the inbreeding they’ve suffered due to confinement in the mine by the neighboring townspeople. (Possibly a reference to Christ succoring “the blind, the halt and the lame?”) Despite his being fatally shot Topo resurrects and leads the freaks to freedom—but the result are anticlimactic, as the townsfolk kill the monsters and Topo kills them—after which he takes his own life and his grave is covered by honeybees. The end.

 There are some genuinely clever visionary tropes throughout EL TOPO. In an early scene evoking the narrative of Moses, Topo makes water flow from a stone—but it’s after making violent love to his unnamed female companion, and the stone looks like a big rocky phallus. Many other scenes, however, had no particular social or religious context; they seem to be nothing more than jazzy surrealistic scenes that Jodorowsky wanted to commit to film, and his latter-day interpretations of their meaning don’t entirely convince. Strangely, throughout the movie I kept thinking that I was watching a film by a much less experienced filmmaker, say, one in his twenties—though in truth, by the time TOPO was released in U.S. theaters Jodorowsky would have been about 41.


One controversial scene captures the guerilla-consciousness of the filmmaker, for in publicity he claimed that he, while acting the part of El Topo, really did rape the actress playing the gunman’s unnamed female companion. Later Jodorowsky recanted that statement, claiming that he faked the story in order to provoke audiences. Today this sort of “anything goes for art’s sake” seems as far from modern sensibilities as the cavemen’s first artistic doodles.


The mole didn’t burrow his way into my heart, but at least his underworld journey was moderately interesting. The ABKCO DVD release also includes a sprightly-surrealistic 1957 short, “The Cravat,” about a salon where the attendants seamlessly remove people’s heads for them.    

Friday, July 16, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Like the famed 1939 WIZARD OF OZ and the not-so-famous THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER, THE PRINCESS BRIDE takes the form of an imaginary narrative framed by its real-world tellers, though the first two are dreams while BRIDE is a "figment," by which I mean a fictional story-within-a-framing-fictional story. In addition, while there's no intrinsic reason that BRIDE couldn't have as much marvelous fantasy-content as WIZARD and GULLIVER, apparently source-author William Goldman (whose book I've not read) desired to keep his salute to fairy tales very close to naturalistic models. Only a few elements, such as some of the world's monstrous denizens, could be deemed as marvelous even if the "inner narrative" weren't framed as an imaginary sequence within a naturalistic cosmos.

Because BRIDE has become a cult film since its 1987 release, it would be egregious to examine the film in terms of plot-points. The frame takes the form of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the story of the Princess Bride to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). The script plays with this conceit more than other movies using a similar frame-device, in that a few times toward the opening, either Falk or Savage interrupts the narrative. Strangely, though, these break-ins put an added emphasis that BRIDE is going to be a "happy ending" story, and this actually adds to its persuasiveness rather than detracting. For me at least, once the film called attention to its own artifice, I felt the film's use of tropes from romances and adventures became even more persuasive, rather than less so.

As the title suggests, BRIDE is about the romancing of its female lead Buttercup (Robin Wright, whose character is only a "princess" in a figurative sense late in the film, when she's engaged to marry a prince). Long before the engagement, Buttercup falls in love with farmhand Westley (Cary Elwes) and they plan to be married. Westley is subsequently lost at sea, and after the passing of five years, the still-grieving Buttercup consents to marry local prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), purely because it doesn't matter to her what the rest of her life is like without Westley. Outlaws Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo (Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant and Mandy Patinkin) kidnap Buttercup for unknown reasons, and a mysterious masked man, possibly the Dread Pirate Roberts, intervenes to liberate the young woman. The athletic masked adventurer bests all three outlaws, either with wit or with fighting-skill. When the pirate takes custody of Buttercup, he rails at her for her coming marriage-- which foreshadows the revelation that he's actually Westley.

Humperdinck and his men capture both young lovers. The prince eventually reveals that he has no interest in marrying Buttercup, but has an involved political reason for having had her kidnapped. The fortunes of Buttercup and Westley are almost at their lowest, but Westley made a good impression on the outlaws Fezzik and Inigo, who come to the couple's rescue.

I would guess that Goldman wanted to follow the general outline of a romantic fairy tale while slighting undermining its plot with his focus on oddball characters-- Fezzik, Miracle Max (who revives Westley from near-death) and, most of all, Inigo Montoya. Inigo has spent his life in quest of the man who killed his father. Inigo's conflict, though not without humor, comes close to usurping the centrality of the Westley-Buttercup plot. Indeed, even though Westley demonstrated superior skills in the mode of an Errol Flynn adventure, he sits out the conclusion, and Inigo gets the big swordfight with his enemy-- which is rather like having a Robin Hood adventure wherein Little John gets the climactic battle. Still, since Inigo has more or less pledged his fealty to Westley's cause, I would argue that Inigo's triumph is also that of Westley and Buttercup.

BRIDE fully deserves its favored status as a cult film. Its only flaw in my eyes is the overly goofy sequence involving Miracle Max and his wife (Billy Crystal and Carol Kane). For me, the film stops dead while they're on the screen. But everything else works so well, they're easy to forget.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021



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

I'm pleased to see that the final entry in the FLASH GORDON serials took a turn for the better. It's axiomatic that few if any other serials in any franchise ever emulated the pulpy, sexy extravagance of the 1936 outing. Still, the confused, repetitious events of FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS were more than a small comedown from those heights. By contrast, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE-- UNIVERSE, for short-- is slick rather than sultry, and the 1940 installment places a greater emphasis on gadgets than on the monsters and semi-human hybrids of the first chapterplay. But UNIVERSE offers just as much bang for the buck as the original FLASH.

Like a lot of serials, the plot of UNIVERSE wanders like, well, the wandering planet Mongo. One has to assume that the world ruled by Ming the Merciless somehow became ensconced in Earth's solar system after bolding bursting upon the scene, since the hero and his friends can still rocket there in a few days. At the opening of UNIVERSE, Ming is believed dead, but he gets better and launches a new attack on Earth with "purple death dust." Flash (Buster Crabbe) once more jets off to stop the fiend, accompanied by the genius scientist Zarkov (Frank Shannon) and Flash's girlfriend Dale Arden (this time essayed by Carol Hughes rather than Jean Rogers). The trio seek out their old allies-- Ming's daughter Aura (Shirley Dean, replacing Priscilla Lawson) and her husband Barin (Roland Drew, replacing Richard Alexander). The original purpose is to seek a cure for the Purple Death on Earth, but as Ming starts unleashing more and more exotic weapons, the intrepid adventurers must continue trumping all of the tyrant's aces in one way or another. 

While the second serial was a shoddy bowdlerization of Alex Raymond's "Witch Queen of Mongo" sequence, UNIVERSE melds events from two then-contemporary strip-runs, later entitled "Ice Kingdom of Mongo" and "Power Men of Mongo." While TRIP pokes around as lethargically as its lumbering clay men, UNIVERSE is full of thrilling action-sequences-- explorations of snowy landscapes, an execution by death-ray, lots of hand-to-hand struggles, and a big explosion at the end that apparently destroys Ming for good (which in a roundabout way justifies the title about the hero conquering "the universe" controlled by Ming). Flash meets one of the many lusty queens of the comic strip, Queen Fria, but she only appears in the first two chapters, hardly having time to do more than cast admiring eyes in the hero's direction. The dynamic from the first serial, wherein Aura was a gutsy lady and Dale was a wimpy dishrag, is entirely reversed, with Dale being a definite heroine who fights for her man while Aura just mopes around, mostly as a captive to her tyrannical father. As if to make up for the lack of a vixenish royal, Ming introduces a lady spy into the good guys' ranks, name of Sonja (Anne Gwynne)-- and she, along with a heavy lifter named Torch, creates a lot of trouble for Flash's mob (hah) when Ming isn't lobbing missiles and exploding robots at the heroes. Ming, btw, is much improved this time out, lusting openly after delectable Dale and stabbing one of his enemies with a casually diabolical air.

Jerry Blake's review of this serial mentions that originally Universal had planned to star Crabbe in a sequel to the 1939 BUCK ROGERS. However, when BUCK's box office was less than impressive, the studio changed horses in midstream and made the BUCK-sequel into a FLASH-outing. This proves ironic since the FLASH GORDON strip started out as an attempt to chisel in on the financial success of the space-themed BUCK ROGERS feature, even though Raymond eschewed BUCK's concentration on gadgets for lots of sex and savage animal-battles. 

It does make me wonder whether or not the scripters for UNIVERSE had originally started to plot out the BUCK sequel before the word came down about the FLASH refitting. If so, that would explain what UNIVERSE is awash in wild, colorful gimmicks-- not only exploding rays and purple dust, but magnetic rays and electric ray guns, as well as a tribe of "rock men" whom I preferred to TRIP's "clay men." I also find interesting that the spy Sonja and her confederate Captain Torch work together so well. The first BUCK ROGERS introduced the serial's version of the perennial Rogers-rogue Killer Kane. Could the writers of UNIVERSE considered bringing back Kane for the sequel and teaming him with a serial-version of Kane's female partner from the strip, the ardent Ardala? I don't suppose I'll ever know, though. 

When I look at all three sequels-- all being broadcast on TV when young George Lucas was growing up-- I tend to think that UNIVERSE is the one that captures the adventurous (but not too sexy) feel of the original STAR WARS.

ADDENDUM: On the CHFB "Jerry Blake" mentioned that when he wrote his review he wasn't entirely sure about the fannish rumor that the 3rd FLASH serial had started out as a second BUCK project. However, a diligent poster confirmed, through research of online trade papers, that at one point Universal did announce a project entitled "Buck Rogers Conquers the Universe."



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*

The first "episode" of Kenneth Johnson's INCREDIBLE HULK series was one of the two 80-minute TV-movies airing on CBS prior to the actual series. The regular episodes of the ensuing five seasons were always a must-watch at my house, even if the series' schtick of "bad guys clonk David Banner/ Banner Hulks out and dispatches bad guys" became wearying after a while. 

Though no one in television would have agreed back in the days when comics were thought to be trash, the origin for the TV-Hulk is far inferior to the genesis-tale rendered for the Green Goliath back in INCREDIBLE HULK #1. Lee and Kirby, possibly working more on instinct than by any rational process, fashioned a deeply resonant story of a shrimpy little guy whose brain unleashes a cataclysmic nuclear force but who still gets belitted by broad-shouldered bullies. Then an act of altruism on his part unleashes in him his Inner Bully-Boy, a green-skinned malcontent who might be said to embody the power struggle between East and West in the early sixties. This begins Bruce Banner's long ordeal, having his rational mind sloughed off with every transformation to the Hulk, just as Henry Jekyll's innate decency was overpowered by Hyde's utter immorality. The early Hulk is also has a little Hyde in him, occasionally planning to master humanity for his own sake, but the creators dropped this, probably reasoning that such naked power-lust would make the character unsympathetic. Lee and Steve Ditko finally hit upon the ideal persona for the Incredible One: that of a confused, bitter child of ill fortune.

The most interesting thing about Kenneth Johnson's origin of his Hulk is not how little it resembles the origin of the comic-book character, but how much it resembles that of Lee and Ditko's seminal superhero Spider-Man. Peter Parker fails to take an action that would have ultimately saved his beloved Uncle Ben, and for the rest of his life, he must make up for his inaction in performing superhero feats. The course of David Banner (Bill Bixby) is apposite, even though the first viewers of the pilot knows even less about Banner than the first readers of the SPIDER-MAN feature knew about Parker. In the HULK pilot-film, the viewers know only two things: (1) that his mother once told him "anger doesn't solve anything, " and (2) that 11 months previous, Banner went driving with his wife Laura. The car crashed, and though Banner was flung free, Laura is caught in the burning car and killed. Banner tried to pull Laura from the car but was not strong enough. Now, working at an institute alongside colleague Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan), Banner seeks to expiate his failure with his research. Having heard that some individuals were able to perform impossible feats of strength under extreme pressure, Banner obsessively analyzes the body chemistry of these individuals, trying to discern why they possessed the power he did not. Upon analyzing DNA samples, Banner and Elaina finally determine that sunspot activity was high at the times that the "strong people" exhibited their temporary super-powers, and that although Banner shares the same anomalous DNA as the others, sunspot activity-- including the emission of gamma rays-- was low at the time of Laura's death.

If all Banner wanted was an explanation as to why he was unable to do what the "strong people" did, this revelation should have sufficed. But the essence of Banner's personality is that he's under what Freud called an "repetition-compulsion." He can't forget having been weak at the wrong time, so he experiments on himself to prove that he's capable of manifesting the strength he lacked at a crucial point in time. This time gamma rays are not implicated in a weapon of mass destruction, but originate in one of the machines at the institute just happens to be able to duplicate the effects of the sun by emitting doses of gamma radiation. Banner for some reason fails to notice that said machine has been calibrated to unleash more gamma rays than he intends to dose himself with. That night, after ending the experiment, the scientist connects with his Inner Rage Monster, transforming into the creature that tabloid journalist Jack McGee dubs "the Hulk" (Lou Ferrigno).

As is often the case in comics, the origin is more interesting than the hero's actual exploits. This Hulk starts out in a state of perpetual confusion, and mute as well, while his first exploit feels like a loose rewrite of the famous "child at the lake" scene from the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN. The Karloff Monster encountered a small child at a lakeside and accidentally killed her. Here the Hulk scares a considerably older girl at a lakeside, tries to help her when she's in real danger, gets shot by her father and tosses the man around before running off and reverting to Banner. 

Eventually Elaina learns of Banner's problem and they attempt to cure his cursed condition, while trying to avoid the scrutiny of nosy McGee. The next two transformations of Banner to Hulk take place at lab facilities, reason being that the characters must be kept in the same place for the climax, in which both Elaina and Banner appear to die in a catastrophe. Banner then begins his lonely "Fugitive" existence, traveling from place to place, eternally seeking a cure-- at which point the series pretty much abandons any further development of the Banner character. All that's important from then on is to show the Hulk atoning for Banner's "sins" by playing Good Samaritan, just as Spider-Man did for the misdeeds of Peter Parker.

The weakest point of the Johnson concept is the idea that the police are going to be seeking the Hulk, just as Lieutenant Girard and other cops used to pursue Richard Kimble. In Jack McGee's closing speech he claims that the cops have issued a warrant for the Hulk's arrest, which is hard to credence since no one but McGee has seen the titanic green monster. The voice-over for the series re-iterated this lame trope over and over-- "the creature is wanted for a murder he didn't commit"-- this, in spite of the fact that no matter where McGee goes in pursuit of the Hulk, no one ever believes his stories about the big green guy. And this too is a credibility stumbling-block, since in the second-season episode "Killer Instinct," the Mute Muscle-Monster is seen by thousands of spectators, knocking around big football players and presumably being filmed by TV cameras.

I can't make any great claims for the series as a whole. Even the best episodes don't rate more than "fair" in any department.

But I sure did like seeing the Hulk tear stuff up.



Monday, July 12, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

If RETURN OF DOCTOR X didn't have the distinction of being "Humphrey Bogart's only horror/fantasy film," the movie would probably be no better remembered than, say, 1941's THE SMILING GHOST,  a comedy-horror vehicle for Wayne Morris. This genial actor gets headliner status over not-yet-famous Bogart in RETURN's opening credits (though oddly, not in the closing credits). 

Morris plays Garrett, a fast-talking big city reporter. He pursues a routine enough story, seeking to interview wealthy socialite Angela Merrova (Lya Lys), but he finds her dead in her apartment. Garrett duly calls in the cops, but when they show up, Merrova's alive again. At the same time, Garrett begins looking into a series of murders where the victims don't get better, but are plundered of their "Type One" blood supply. Garrett consults with a doctor-friend named Rhodes (Dennis Morgan), and Rhodes in turn consults with his former mentor, a hematologist named Flagg (John Litel). Through Flagg, Rhodes also encounters a strange, pasty-faced fellow assisting the blood specialist, and this man is named Marshall Quesne (Bogart). When Rhodes shakes the assistant's hand, he finds the other man's hand unusually cold-- which should have been enough for any viewer to target Quesne as the source of all the troubles.

Quesne is actually a Doctor Xavier, a blood specialist who conducted an illegal experiment, killing some subjects with his use of a starvation-project. This odd detail may reflect the dead doctor's fate, for after his execution Flagg uses a special artificial blood compound to bring the physician back to life. However, the blood in Quesne/Xavier's veins won't reproduce, so "Doctor X" starts playing vampire by feeding off victims with the proper blood-type.

Flagg's motivations for bringing back Xavier are pretty paltry, in that the former simply wanted to profit from the latter's immense hematological knowledge in general. But then, the film keeps things moving so efficiently that most viewers in the day probably didn't care about motivations. By "moving," I'm talking mostly about lively "talking head" scenes, since there's not much action. One never sees Xavier preying on any victims, and the side-plot of Merrova-- who must have been another Flagg experiment, since she too has pasty, clammy skin-- never serves any plot-purpose. Only at the end does Xavier prey upon a young nurse who just happens to be Rhodes' girlfriend, but this connection doesn't mean much, since it's the cops, not Rhodes, who ring down the curtain on the second life of Doctor X. Not surprisingly, while the rest of the actors acquit themselves competently, Bogart's underplayed performance of Xavier is the standout, for all that the character is something of an empty vessel.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Of the various SF-features whose original forms were recut by schlockmeister Jerry Warren, I never got a look at one of his first, INVASION OF THE ANIMAL PEOPLE. Thus I was able to view the original American-produced, shot-in-Sweden film, TERROR IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN, without any preconceptions.

TERROR was produced under the direction of Virgil Vogel and written by Arthur C. Pierce. But perhaps shooting on the icy mountains had a bad influence on the filmmakers, for TERROR's pace is truly glacial. The film feels as if it had been produced by some Swedish Chamber of Commerce, replete with vistas of impressive snowy landscapes, often with determined individuals foraging across them. 

The script opens with a tease-- a UFO crashing into one of those snowy landscapes-- and then takes its sweet time delivering on the promise of that opening. An American scientist, in Sweden with his ice-skater niece Diane, forms an expedition to investigate the impact site. The usual romance-arc is supplied by a young Swedish scientist, Doctor Erickson, who's depicted as much more of a "player" than your average fifties big-brain. Even before he meets Diane Wilson, it's established that Erickson likes the ladies, and implied that Diane will be the one who brings him to heel. Prior to the expedition getting going, the film devotes considerable space to the cat-and-mouse game between the two young people, with the result that Diane, though apparently scornful of Erickson's lasciviousness, stows away on the expedition. This is also the only way the script can put the female lead in a "damsel in distress" situation, since the budget isn't great enough for the film's monster to come searching for her, KING KONG style, in the city.

Once the expedition reaches the crash site, they must contend with the crew of the ship: lean, black-robed men who never speak or otherwise communicate their intentions. They don't seem to be concerned about effecting repairs to their ship, and when they do leave, the ship takes off without incident. Additionally, the robed men unleash-- possibly unintentionally-- a tusked beast-man about twenty feet tall. Is the beast-man an escaped specimen or a guard dog? Hard to say, but he develops a Kong-like crush on Diane and waltzes away with her. There's also an odd scene in which Diane has escaped the monster, only to run into the robed aliens, who simply surround her and stare at her until she passes out. 

Finally, the expedition mounts an attack on the beast-man, and this scene is the most winsome, since we see a bunch of men with torches chasing down the monster a la many Frankenstein films-- but this time, the "villagers" are in snowshoes. They drive the monster over a cliff with the torches, and then the robed aliens leave, with no one even venturing a guess as to what it all meant.

TERROR is pretty dull and devoid of anything fearful. Since Pierce tended to imitate more popular films, I think here he was going for an unholy blending of KING KONG and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The courting game between Diane and Erickson is modestly diverting in contrast to any of the film's SF-elements. If Warren's ANIMAL PEOPLE is a worse picture, it can't be by much.

Sunday, July 4, 2021



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

The most notable aspect of this throwaway Eurospy is in what it does not do. Unlike many other productions of this subgenre, the spy protagonist is not sent chasing after some super-weapon that’s never shown due to the movie’s measly budget. Instead, the titular agent seeks to prevent the city of Beirut from being devastated by a bomb. In the film’s presentation of the bomb, it’s not shown to be any sort of radical new “super-explosive,” which would sway the film toward the category of the marvelous. Now, the composition of the bomb, which involves radioactive mercury for some reason, may be complete nonsense, but the script makes it sound as if the mercury-bomb is a near extrapolation of then-current technology, and that it’s capable of killing 60,000 citizens of 1966 Beirut.

If the film gave the villain—known as “The Sheikh,” and possessed of just four fingers on one hand—any motive for wanting to attack Beirut, I must have missed it. I don’t remember anything akin to a blackmail scheme such as the one in THUNDERBALL, and though the plot sounds not unlike later terrorist schemes of real and reel experience, politics aren’t emphasized either. I’m only giving away a small but pretty obvious twist by revealing that The Sheikh isn’t a real Arab. It’s just a piddling reveal that was probably copied from many previous flicks, long before IRON MAN 3’s “Phony Mandarin” reveal achieved a measure of infamy.

Richard Blake, Agent 505 (Frederick Stafford) sets out to track down the Sheikh, getting into various fights and female involvements on the way. All of these adventures are competent but very low-wattage, and the film sorely lacks the humor of the better Eurospies. On occasion Blake’s opponents use a few other uncanny gimmicks, such as a poisoned phone receiver and a “liquid oxygen” bullet, and these have the effect of spicing the tedium a little. Blake just has one lady in his love-life, so no lessons in the arts of seduction this time round.

Czech-born Stafford, best known to Americans for his role in Hitchcock’s TOPAZ, is like the movie, competent but not exciting. Before 505, director Manfred Kohler wrote and directed TARGET FOR KILLING, which certainly more watchable than this item.  

Thursday, July 1, 2021



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

 Of all the sixties superspy films, the two featuring James Coburn as the debonair Derek Flint—which works I’ll term “FLINT 1” and “FLINT 2”—come closest to duplicating some of the appeal of Eon’s James Bond series. This is easiest to see in the general look and sound of the Flintfilms. Even though neither movie had a budget equal to the average Bond film, they did an exemplary job of reproducing the “conspicuous consumption” glamor of Bond’s high-society exploits (though one doesn’t see Flint venture into any of the seamier settings where Bond seemed quite comfortable). Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for both films convey the same sultry glitz as the scores for the best Bond works, though it may be a blessing that the producers didn’t try adding lyrics to the music.


The best feature of the Flintfilms is their flawless reproduction of what I’ll call the “Hugh Hefner aesthetic,” the fantasy of being a well-heeled lothario able to lure countless women into one’s “pad of sin,” so to speak. FLINT 1 establishes that the hero lives with four girlfriends, all of whom are equally sanguine with sharing Flint’s sexual favors, which is certainly something the comparatively fastidious Bond would never have done. FLINT 2 cuts Derek down to just three girlfriends, and of course in both films Flint romances at least one extraneous woman, both times a femme fatale working for the hero’s opponents. (On a minor note, in both films Flint’s girlfriends get kidnapped by the villains, but in neither movie do the fiends try to make the hero back off with threats to his lovely bunkmates. Apparently, the kidnappings only take place to give the hero a more personal reason to save the free world.)


An even more profound difference is that, for all Bond’s multifarious talents, he was never presented as a polymath superman. According to a DVD commentary for THE ULTIMATE FLINT COLLECTION, a paperback novelization of the 1966 film calls Flint a “soldier of fortune”—but how many real soldiers-of-fortune also moonlight as surgeons, biologists, and general scientific geniuses? How did Derek Flint get that way? The films don’t even give the viewer even as much explanation of his nature as one gets for the genesis of Doc Savage, an earlier polymath superman. Even Flint’s relationship with his ostensible boss Cramden (Lee J. Cobb) is left vague, though FLINT 1 implies that the hero worked for Cramden in some capacity, probably as an independent operator. The films have fun with a hero who can go his own way and ignore his superior’s commands. Yet because the viewer never knows how Flint keeps himself and his girlfriends in opulence, it’s clear that the writers wanted the audience to embrace the Hefneresque fantasy without asking such inconvenient questions.


Further, thanks to Coburn’s real-life training in martial arts, Flint is a much better technical fighter than the rough-and-tumble British spy. As good as Bond’s fights were in their way, even the greatest Bond afficionado can’t imagine 007 duplicating Flint’s best brawl, taking out a half dozen henchmen in FLINT 2’s gymnasium setting.


I probably didn’t make any such comparisons when I saw both Flintfilms in my youth. I probably took both serials on the same terms, as being wild adventure-thrillers. Nevertheless, seeing them again today causes me to realize the ways in which the Flint producers intentionally distanced themselves from the Eon franchise—not to mention some of the unintentional differences.


For instance, the Eon Bonfilms are always well paced, being careful to keep the audience interested in the proceedings. In the Flintfilms, though, the hero, once he’s apprised of the threat he must track down, spends a tiresome amount of time in the detection process, and not in an entertaining way. The writers throw in bits of humor to break up the dull parts—during a bar scene, Flint pretend-brawls with a “friendly” fellow spy who looks a bit like Sean Connery. But the dull parts remain dull nonetheless.


In one respect the Bond producers had a big leg up on the Flint producers, because the former got to adapt the books of Ian Fleming, books rife with fascinating hommes and femmes fatales. The writers of FLINT 1 don’t even try to come up to this level, though. The villains of this opus are a trio of mad scientists who assemble their own private spy-organization, “Galaxy,” and then attempt to blackmail the world into submission with their weather-control machine. Cramden, who heads the even more unfortunately named spy-group “Zowie,” sends Flint after Galaxy, and two Galaxy-agents, Gila (Gila Golan) and Rodney (Edward Mulhare) come gunning for the hero. I found most of these sequences boring, even Gila’s seduction of Flint, which of course leads to her defection from the evildoers to join the side of the angels—or rather, one angel with a killer kiss.


The film finally picks up the pace again when Flint reaches Galaxy’s island refuge. Once the hero’s there, he finds out that, in addition to harboring the usual small army of henchmen, the scientists have a boatload of “pretty people” who reside on the island for reasons never clear to me. (This made a little sense in MOONRAKER, where the villain planned to repopulate the world, but that wasn’t the idea here.) Somewhat more believable is that the scientists, who claim that they desire world rule to control all the fractious countries, also use brainwashing machines to turn hot young women into “pleasure units.” Possibly the writers had some notion of presenting the scientists as a nonconsensual mirror-image of Flint’s randy-but-consensual sex-life, but if so it’s a muddled message. Even CASINO ROYALE  pulled off a similar trope much better, showing villain Woody Allen trying to eliminate all human males taller than he, so that beautiful women will no longer scorn him.


Though the Rodney and the weather-nerds are unimpressive foes, and Gila is no Pussy Galore, FLINT 2 comes up with somewhat better villains (though Flint’s female conquest is even less impressive than Gila, and she more or less fades out before the ending). This time the menace is an all-female organization, Fabulous Face, which also hangs out in an island paradise (in the Virgin Islands, ha ha). Instead of a trio of scientists, the secret cabal is headed by three relatively mature women, none of whom stand out from one another, and with a few exceptions almost everyone in Fabulous Face is a hot young woman. FF’s plot does involve world blackmail, in the form of taking control of a space station with nuclear capabilities, but they’re more subtle in other gambits, replacing the U.S. President with a lookalike impostor and trying to brainwash all American women into overthrowing the patriarchy and erecting a matriarchy.


While no one would call the schemers of FLINT 2 “feminist,” their attempt to elevate women to the ruling class is at least more resonant than Galaxy’s vague altruism. Not only does the threat of matriarchy summon forth associations of “the war between men and women,” it’s possible to see Fabulous Face as the obverse of Flint’s tediously pliable conquests.


Once again, before the hero gets to the island refuge, he must meander through an assortment of trivial escapades, though the one in Russia, wherein Flint contends with ballerina Yvonne Craig, has a little oomph. When the matriarchs of FF outline their devious plan for the hero’s benefit, he’s refreshingly chauvinistic about women wearing the pants, even the script does give the women some good rejoinders about their unappreciated skills. Fortunately for Flint, the plot doesn’t require him to engage in fisticuffs with a bunch of girls. Because FF had to deal with some male conspirators to put across their plan in a male-dominated government, those former allies, led by General Carter (Steve Ihnat), decide to take over the whole operation. Thus, Flint is free to exercise his vast martial skills on thick male skulls, and the betrayed Fabulous Facegirls even throw in with the hero. In what will be for some viewers FLINT 2’s standout scene, the hero directs a bunch of women to schmooze with a group of Carter’s men, only to clobber the guys with their kung fu moves. Nevertheless, Flint is the main hero, so he gets the big final scene, rocketing all the way up to the space platform to overpower Carter, save the world, and receive bounteous appreciation from hot women. The movie ends with the implication that by helping Flint, Fabulous Face will get off with no more than a rap on the knuckles for their massive conspiracy. In fact, a studied shot of the three matriarchs suggests that they’re going to continue their quest for power in a more typical feminine manner: that of “stooping to conquer.”


THE ULTIMATE FLINT COLLECTION is rife with a lot of other DVD goodies, including the aforementioned commentary. One item I appreciated purely from a completist’s POV: an obscure TV-movie pilot for a Flint series, OUR MAN FLINT: DEAD ON TARGET. There’s no metaphenomenal content here: Flint (Ray Danton) is a troubleshooter who gets mixed up in a mundane and very boring kidnapping plot. He’s partnered with an aspiring lady detective played by Sharon Acker, and the only thing the producers borrowed from the films was the notion that this Flint was still a lothario with at least two concurrent girlfriends.