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Friday, September 14, 2018

Neanderthal Man


Neanderthal Man
1953
Ewald André Dupont

Dr. Clifford Groves (Robert Shayne) really likes Neanderthals. He thinks the size of their brains made them smarter than modern humans and he’s willing to prove it by making house cats into saber-tooth tigers, maids into monsters, and himself into an ape-man. What he hopes to accomplish with all this is anyone’s guess. Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane) and Jan Groves (Joyce Terry) are two dullards who take their sweet time trying to unravel the pretty obvious mystery.

The monsters of Neanderthal Man consist of an ape mask, stock footage of a tiger, and the worst Smilodon plushie ever revealed on film. I understand the logistics of including a saber-toothed tiger in a low budget film would be problematic, so I am almost willing to give that a pass, but there is no attempt to match the footage of a regular tiger stalking about to the stuffed animal with giant teeth stuck on it. The ape mask is perhaps even more embarrassing; by 1953, ape-suit technology had been well developed for movies, so I am not sure what the producers were thinking when slapping an unemotional dime store mask on an actor.

Actual Smilodon prop used in an actual movie made by adults.
If the movie has one saving grace it is the fact that the acting is so stilted and overwrought that it creates a delightful contrast to the shabbiness of the production. Everyone speaks in overstuffed diction that sounds important and then you remember they are talking about an ape-man who keeps carrying women off. The deadly seriousness with which everyone takes in the events of the film transports Neanderthal Man from cheap and dull into the realm of enjoyably terrible. The greatest flaw of the script is waiting around as we watch the leads slowly (and I mean sloooooowly) figure out that Dr. Groves is the one turning into a monster.

Neanderthal Man is filled with some very odd editing choices. A woman teleports into a bikini and back for a photo shoot, the fatal shot delivered to the ape-man is off camera and faded out before it can have any impact, and when Jan delivers the line where she comes to realize her dad is a part-time monster the final word is cut. Why? Only editor Fred R. Feitshans Jr. knew for sure and he isn't talking.



After trying Oil of Olape
Neanderthal Man also has an unexpectedly sleazy side. It is more than hinted that Groves rapes a woman while he's devolved, and in fact killing and rape seem to be his primary goals as he roams the countryside. Most films from this era would play coy and merely hint about such things, but Neanderthal Man all but comes out and states it bluntly. Also souring things is the implication that Dr. Groves has not only been experimenting on his maid, but that he's been molesting her

Neanderthal Man is cheap, badly acted and almost incoherent. It is a movie that I can’t recommend in good faith unless you are of that particular breed who eats up a specific kind of 1950s awfulness. Monster on Campus (1958) would basically replicate the plot of Neanderthal Man and do it better in every single aspect. If you want a good 1950s era take on Jekyll and Hyde check that one out. If you want delirious trash then take the hairy paw of Neanderthal Man.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hillbillies in a Haunted House


Hillbillies in a Haunted House
1967
Jean Yarbrough

Woody (Ferlin Husky), Boots (Joi Lansing), and Jeepers (Don Bowman) are on their way to Nashville for a ‘Country Jamboree.’ They get caught in a shootout between some government agents and foreign spies. Then for no reason they decide to spend the night in an old abandoned mansion. Little do they know that the mansion is the front for these same spies, among them Dr. Himmil (John Carradine), Gregor (Basil Rathbone), Maximillian (Lon Chaney Jr.), a gorilla (George Barrows), and their leader Madame Wong (Linda Ho).

The structure of Hillbillies in a Haunted House is odd. Most of the musical numbers are piled on at the beginning and end of the film. Whether or not you like country music, you still have to sit there and grind through song after song. This makes it feel less like a musical and more like a concert film. You can turn the movie off ten minutes before the end because the story has completely finished. The upside of this is that there are no momentum destroying musical numbers awkwardly stuck in the middle of the action. (I use the term 'action' very loosely here.)

Uh, oh the south has risen again... from the grave!
I expected goofball comedy that would feel right at home in a beach party movie and on that front Hillbillies in a Haunted House delivers for better or worse. The main cast are uninteresting. The villains are the real highlight and it is fun to see horror movie legends, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone together. Carradine and Rathbone are obviously playing it all as a goof, but Chaney is more of a straightforward heavy. There is also the regulation gorilla that is featured in many haunted house and beach movies.

It is a little bit of surprise that things take more than a slight dip into horror by the climax with some murder and a gorilla mangling. Even though this film is a lightweight farce, I was pleased to see it stretch its genre just a little bit. It is difficult to place much dramatic weight on a story like this and I think the film as a whole would have fared much better if the stakes had been upped earlier on in the proceedings. The film also has strange ideas about how an iron maiden works.

Enter the most intelligent character in the film.
The music? Difficult to judge. This is country music before it became the overly produced pop hellscape it is now. It isn’t terrible, but it didn’t turn my personal preferences around. I think if the music choices had been a least a little more relevant to the story they might have been more interesting. As it is, the music feels completely separate from everything else.

Hillbillies in a Haunted House is slight, stupid, and silly. It is a film you can watch and immediately forget. The film isn't as terrible as other reviews would have you think, but it is certainly terrible. Any enjoyment hinges on your level of tolerance for fluff and endless country music.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bride of the Gorilla


Bride of the Gorilla
Curt Siodmak
1951

On a rubber tree plantation, Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) allows the plantation owner to receive a lethal bite from a snake, so he can be with the owner’s wife, Dina (Barbara Payton). An old native woman, Al-Long (Gisela Webisek) witnesses the murder and puts a curse on Barney, one that will slowly transform him into the Sukurat, a jungle demon. Barney and Dina plot to sell the plantation, and move away, but Barney begins disappearing into the jungle for days at a time and soon things start turning up dead.

The title Bride of the Gorilla evokes imagery of a monstrous brute of an animal pursuing a woman with lust and/or murder in its eyes. It practically begs to have a threadbare gorilla suit pounce on some actors and top off the whole thing with racist overtones. Surprisingly, Bride of the Gorilla opts for something a little more nuanced. Barney’s transformation is more of an internal event than merely morphing into a gorilla. The only person who sees him as a gorilla is himself, usually in his reflection. Whether this is a transformation into the Sukurat, an actual gorilla, or just a man losing his mind in the jungle is left up to the viewer.

"Oooh, I am going to gorilla that guy so bad."
A solid cast keeps the film’s outlandish premise grounded. Raymond Burr is great as Barney. I found him to be more complicated than I expected, he’s brutish and single-minded but he still cares for Dina. Many films conceive of a person’s transformation into a monster as a horrific experience, but the jungle and his place in it has an inexorable draw for Barney. He becomes willing to abandon anything for it. Barbara Payton as Dina has a too strong sense of loyalty to her lover, even willing to betray her husband or venture into the jungle if it means staying with him. Lon Chaney Jr. takes a sympathetic role as the Police Commissioner, it’s nice to see him cast against type as someone who is incorruptible in the face of an evil environment.

The jungle is the omnipresent menace throughout the story. Everyone fears it, except for Barney and perhaps the Commissioner. The actors sell their fear and fascination with it well. Visually it doesn't hold up as the jungle is reduced to a few sets and some grainy stock footage. A bad gorilla suit can often turn a horror film into an unintentional comedy, director Simodak very wisely uses the suit sparingly and even then it is relegated to strange dreamlike moments, making its unnatural gait and appearance work in its favor.

"Something is seriously wrong with this shirt."
I’d often heard about Bride of the Gorilla talked about derisive tones, and a plot summary along the lines of ‘Raymond Burr turns into a gorilla,’ doesn't exactly inspire confidence. So, I am pleasantly surprised at how atmospheric the film is and how it approaches such potentially silly subject matter with an air of uncertainty and menace. Bride of the Gorilla is much better than it’s reputation warrants and it is worth an hour and six minutes of your time.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Night of the Bloody Apes



Night of the Bloody Apes (aka La Horripilante bestia humana)
1969/1972
René Cardona
Jerald Intrator

Lucy (Norma Lazareno) is a luchador who accidentally injures another wrestler by tossing her out of the ring. As the woman lies in a coma. Dr. Krellman (José Elías Moreno) decides the only way to save his son from leukemia is via gorilla heart transplant and a transfusion. This results in Julio occasionally transforming into a half-man half-gorilla and rampaging across the city. Dr. Krellman realizes he needs to replace Julio’s heart with a human one, and he knows of a donor in the form of the comatose luchador.

Night of the Bloody Apes only features a single ape (maybe an ape-and-a-half if you count Julio’s post heart surgery problems). I would never dream of going into a film like this and expect it to make much sense, but the science behind Night of the Bloody Apes is especially loopy. It appears that Julio’s leukemia can only be cured with gorilla blood, and only a gorilla heart is strong enough to deal with that. Oops, it turns out that a human body trying to work with a gorilla heart puts scars on your brain that turns you into a gorilla-man. Everyone got that?

Seconds before accidentally banging her head on the door frame.
Night of the Bloody Apes delivers exactly the kind of sleazy gory action you think a movie about ape heart transplants would offer. There is a feast of gore including gouged eyes, torn throats, a slowly ripped off head, and a few clips of an actual heart transplant. The movie isn’t content to just splash around some blood and cheap body parts, director Cardona makes sure the camera does a smash zoom into the mess just to make sure he isn’t accused of having any subtlety whatsoever. There is also a fair amount of nudity on display as Julio consistently rips the clothes off of his female victims.
Although the film does feature some luchador scenes, Lucy's part in the film diminishes as it goes on until she all but disappears from the story completely. Night of the Bloody Apes is a remake of an earlier film called Doctor of Doom (1962), also by Cardona which features virtually the same plot but follows a woman wrestler bring the mad doctor to justice. Night of the Bloody Apes is much more about turning women into victims, so Lucy’s story is never really brought to a satisfying resolution.

The film also spends far too long with Dr. Krellman as he feels bad about his son’s illness and eventual gorillafication. I understand this is meant to give the finale on a hospital roof a King Kong (1933) kind of resonance, but since the story fails to generate even one sympathetic character, the whole thing is pointless.

"Let me just get that eyelash out."
Something Weird Video’s DVD of Night of the Bloody Apes looks great. The film is shot with a brilliant almost Technicolor intesnity, mostly in service to highlight the bright red blood. The heart surgery inserts are much worse quality and the crispness of the rest of the film really makes for a stark contrast. The music is comically soap opera in tone, even during some of the horrible murders.

Night of the Bloody Apes is lurid, gross, and nonsensical. It is far away from a trash masterpiece but it rides on enough sleazy charm to be worth checking out.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Monster and the Girl


The Monster and the Girl
Stuart Heisler
1941

The Monster and the Girl opens in a courtroom where Scott Webster (Phillip Terry) is on trial for murder. He’s accused of killing a man who lured his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew) into a life of prostitution through a sham wedding. Scott was framed but he's found guilty and executed. Thankfully(?) a scientist puts his brain in a gorilla body and Scott has a second chance to exact revenge on the criminals who ruined his sister’s life.


"Sure, I lied to you, forced you into prostitution, and sent you brother to the electric chair,
but does that make me a bad person?"
The most surprising thing about The Monster and the Girl is how much respect the film gives to its pulpy subject matter.  We are not just tossed into the brain swapping; the viewer is given a lengthy court sequence with flashbacks to Susan’s crushing realization of her faux marriage and her coercion into prostitution. There are also a few tough scenes of Susan pleading with gangsters to save her brother. When it finally gets down to some gorilla-style revenge, it is done so almost exclusively through shadow and suggestion. The Monster and the Girl is much more invested in long lingering shots of the gorilla’s soulful eyes rather than necks getting snapped. In a way, the story feels akin to the weird fiction of the time, as much is left to the viewer's imagination.

The Monster and the Girl’s main strength is also its biggest fault. Things are maybe just a bit too reserved. This is primarily a noir-revenge film, and it wouldn’t have changed the story at all to just have Scott escape prison and go on a killing spree. So given that we have a killer gorilla on the loose the film almost steadfastly refuses to use its most lurid element. The first killing we are told about via a radio news broadcast, after that most of the attacks are simply the gorilla lunging out of the shadows and the film cuts away. I think the story needed one full-on attack at the climax as a counter-point to keep all the previous action from feeling the same.

"All that snoring and somehow I'm the monster?"
I went into The Monster and the Girl expecting it to be a threadbare production like many killer ape movies from around this time. Although it isn’t a large production and is relegated to just a few sets, it is a wonderful looking film. It is filled with moody plays of dark and light. The gorilla suit isn’t quite as convincing in full body shots, but the moments of just its face watching and waiting for potential targets or former siblings are genuinely touching and unnerving.  The cast also does a great job. You hate the gangsters and you feel bad for Susan and Scott. There is a lot of emotion at play here and it helps elevate the film from just being a standard gorilla on the loose movie.

The Monster and the Girl is a minor classic and manages to pack a lot of things into a run-time of barely over an hour. This is no shambling shoddy ape suit movie, it is a carefully made and occasionally thoughtful noir story that just happens to feature a brain transplants and a killer ape.

Friday, August 10, 2018

APE

APE (aka A*P*E)
1976
Paul Leder



A 36-foot tall ape escapes future enslavement at Disneyland and decides to take out his frustrations on South Korea. Along the way, he takes a fancy to a movie star, Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns). After the ape hunts her down and runs off, Tom (Rod Arrants), Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) and Captain Kim (Nak-hun Lee) give pursuit.  Will the ape find true love or just a lot of bullets?

APE was made to cash-in on the release of Dino Dilaurentiis' King Kong (1976) remake and managed to beat it into the theaters by two months. APE throws everything it can into the mix to try and attract an audience. Do you like giant apes? We have you covered. Did you think Jaws (1975) was great? Well, our ape fights a giant shark. Do you like the television show M*A*S*H? Hey, we’re going to title our movie, A*P*E. Toss in some 3-D and you have a film that leaves no then-popular trend untouched. It is a pity that the script and the effects budget didn’t get nearly as much attention, but you have to make sacrifices somewhere, I suppose.

APE lets the audience know exactly what it thinks of them.
The flow of APE’s narrative feels like someone wrote the script after only hearing descriptions of what happens in giant ape movies. The ape is captured conveniently off-screen and is being shipped by boat to America. The story calls for the ape to get loose so it can rampage around South Korea. So, the movie just has the boat explode and the monster gets out. No explanation. Shortly after the ape gets in a fight with a giant shark, or more accurately a guy in a sopping wet ape suit punches a dead shark in someone’s pool for what seems like an hour, we get our movie star in distress, the American and Korean military struggling to deal with the monster, we have the traditional hordes of people running away and so on. All the key elements for a kaiju movie are here they are just incompetently executed.

Just how incompetent? The ape doesn’t stomp on buildings so much as trip over them. When it comes time to fight a giant snake, someone just hands him a real snake like it’s a threat. Marilyn veers from screaming her head off about being grabbed to cooing and saying sweet things to the monster and then back again. The 3D scenes consist of people jabbing things directly into the camera over and over. It’s all a colossal mess, but it is an amazing colossal mess.

This Fruit Gushers™ ad did not go over well.

The acting is all around terrible, but the secret MVP of the entire of the movie is Alex Nicol as Colonel Davis, a man who's only defining feature is that he finds giant ape invasions endlessly irritating. Davis grouses at everyone, barks orders, and ignores phone calls to smoke cigarettes. He is a treasure.

APE is trash of highest order and what is even more delightful is that it tries to have a moment of unearned seriousness when the ape is finally killed (cheerfully throwing up blood along the way), Tom utters the immortal line, “He was just too big for our small world.”

Bravo APE.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Link


Link
1986
Richard Franklin

Jane Chase (Elisabeth Shue) is a graduate student looking to do some work with Professor Steven Philip (Terence Stamp), who has made a life studying the behavior of primates. Dr. Philip brings Jane to his house as an assistant to him and his three chimps. One of them, Link, takes a sinister interest in Jane. Soon, Dr. Phillips vanishes and Jane finds herself trapped in the house with Link.

Link gives us a trio of apes, a young chimp named Imp, an older one named Voodoo, and Link, who is played by an orangutan with dyed fur and prosthetic ears to make him appear to be more chimp-like. It is a decision that could have been disastrous but I think it makes Link appear even more uncanny and threatening. If nothing else about this movie really works, the animals are excellently trained, and some careful editing gives them a wide range of facial reactions to the various turns of the plot.

Eat your heart out, Lancelot Link
The human cast is relatively small, we spend the majority of the film with Jane. Shue seems comfortable around the apes, even during her infamous nude scene with Link. Her character is innocent to the point of being dense, when Dr. Phillip vanishes she seems completely unsuspecting of any foul play until Imp practically gives her all the clues. Terence Stamp is having a lot of fun as the idiosyncratic Dr. Phillip. His scenes ranting about the nature of humanity and his rapport with his test subjects (human and ape) really livens up the first half of the movie but it also means things slow down considerably once he vanishes. There a few more characters who show up later in the film to give Link someone to kill, but they really aren’t memorable in any significant way.

So, the animals are good, the cast is fun, and even the premise sounds like it could be a good time, what goes wrong? The pacing is an issue, we spend a lot of time getting to know our characters but the film forgets to let the rising threat of Link lurk in the background. Even when Link strikes and takes out Dr. Philip, the entire event is off-screen, the impetus being to cast doubt in the viewer's mind that he’s actually killed, but we know he’s dead. The movie has to set up the central conflict of Jane vs. Link so it is wasting time being coy. There is also the question of tone. I feel like the movie was aiming for black comedy, but there’s nothing here that is particularly funny. I am only basing this assumption on Jerry Goldsmith’s Gremlins-esque theme that gets cranked up every time the movie needs to generate some energy, often to no avail.

Terence Stamp isn't the only one who chews the scenery.
Link is a great premise that never feels focused enough to deliver on its promise. There are separate elements here that can be viewed on their own but the whole thing never blends together into a good film. Consistency is the missing link of Link.