Google+

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Cyclops


The Cyclops
1957
Bert I. Gordon

Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott) is searching for her missing fiancé, Bruce Barton (Duncan Parking). She manages to get together a small group to fly to a caldera where might have been. The caldera is filled with uranium which has mutated all the animals that live there. What might it have done to a person?

The Cyclops effectively works as another sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), it even came out the same year as that film and year before War of the Colossal Beast (1958) and the same actor played the monster in both The Amazing Colossal Man and The Cyclops. All three films are about a really big guy who is strangely difficult to track down. Like War of the Colossal Beast, both giant men have one working eye and a disfigured face. Bert I. Gordon had a vision, and that vision was big people occasionally with messed-up faces, or he had a single script and squeezed three movies out of it with only minor changes.


"Mlem"

If you are familiar with other early films of Bert I. Gordon, they usually rely on using a simple optical effect to make animals and people appear much larger than they are. The Cyclops is no different than many of his other films. A band of adventurers wander around some trees and meet some giant animals for most of the running time until finally the title monster makes its appearance. In The Cyclops is no different, we get a parade of giant lizards, a tarantula on a string, a mouse, and a mouse-eating hawk. (In case you were wondering, some animals were harmed in this production, so fair warning).

Wisely, the script creates an emotional connection with Susan Winter looking for her fiancé who has gone missing for some time. When he shows up as a 25-foot giant with a melty face and one big eye we not only get a monster but a note of tragedy as well. Now, don’t go in expecting to cry at the end, it’s not quite that dramatic. Once Susan’s giant fiancé shows up, there no feasible way they can rescue him, and it feels hopeless because it is.


"Too much moisturizer!"

Gloria Talbott is fine if not exceptional as Susan Winter. She’s tasked with carrying the emotional weight of the film but is hindered by the paper-thin script and the fact that she has to scream at everything that moves. The other male leads are not that interesting, save for Lon Chaney Jr. who seems obsessed with yelling and making sure his scintillator is shiny. He’s far and away the most fun character simply because the film benefits from the tension of having an actual antagonist, something The Amazing Colossal Man films lack.

The Cyclops is a fairly standard 1950s giant atomic horror films and a carbon copy of other films from the same director. While this one didn’t benefit from a rise in popularity from being featured on MST3K, while both Amazing Colossal Man films did, it’s solid enough for a fan of this subgenre of film to find some enjoyable things. It you’re relatively new to the world of Bert I. Gordon, it’s not the worst place to start and is in fact a good representation of his 1950s-1960s output.


Friday, October 8, 2021

Curse of the Doll People


Curse of the Doll People (aka Muñecos infernales)
1961
Benito Alazraki

A group of explorers celebrate having stolen a statue from a powerful houngan. Their celebration is cut short when these men start dying one-by-one as foretold by a curse that they originally mocked.

One of my favorite elements of Mexican horror films from this era is the spooky atmosphere they evoke. The black and white photography is often quite striking and these films are filled shadowy images that often capture the magic of the early Universal horror films. Curse of the Doll People has all of this and an unsettling foe in the form of the Doll People. The faces of the Doll People resemble their former victims but just so slightly off as to hit the uncanny valley. Watching them silently creep towards their victims evokes some chills even sixty years later.

"Let me just pop that zit."

Curse of the Doll People wins points for being so relentless in offing its victims. I was genuinely surprised at quickly Curse of the Doll People starts plowing through its quartet of would-be thieves. I also appreciate that it takes a well-worn plot involving a cursed object being stolen and those involved being picked off one-by-one and adds some interesting complexities to the situation. With each murder the ranks of the killer dolls grow more numerous as the victim’s soul is placed in a doll. It is an ingenious way to keep the threat escalating even as the potential victims diminish.

There were number simple camera tricks and props that were delightful as well as effective. My favorite being the scene where the houngan behind all the mayhem is performing a ritual to trap a soul in a doll. This is visualized by having smoke emerge the from the doll and simply reversing the film. Perhaps the eerie set dressing and evocative mood of the whole film helped, but I really loved this small moment. This carries through to the satanic rituals and other moments that sell the whole film as classic monster tale but with a uniquely Mexican genre approach. 

"I see your fridge needs de-icing."

To view this film through a modern lens, however, it is difficult to sympathize with victims of the curse. They are the ones who intruded where they weren’t supposed to be. They were the ones who took something they weren’t supposed to take. The film tries to cast these people in a more sympathetic light but honestly, they kind of had it coming (also there is pretty racist description of a voodoo ritual that doesn’t help their case one bit.) Thankfully this is a horror movie, and you are more than welcome to root for the monsters and here it feels fully justified.

Curse of the Doll People is a charming display of old school horror. There’s nothing particularly innovative or terrifying in it, but it does nicely fill that niche of comfortable horror films to watch on a gloomy October night.


Friday, October 1, 2021

The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly


The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly
1957
Mitsuo Murayama

Someone is murdering a seemingly random string of people. There is no evidence left behind save for people reporting hearing a buzzing sound. As they die, victims often motion to the sky or swat at their own faces indicating… an insect? One victim is an associate of another scientist who has developed a ray that can turn things invisible. Is there some kind of connection?

"Allow me to vent. Haha!"

The concept of The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly sounds like pure pulp mayhem; two characters with superpowers duking it out across Tokyo in fast paced comic book mayhem. So, imagine my surprise to discover that this film is, in fact, the exact opposite of that, a methodical police procedural where we follow the police's fumbling attempts to stop a mysterious killer by discovering their motive and methods. Admittedly the method is outlandish, but we spend much of our time with regular detectives doing regular detective work.

The visualization (so to speak) of the invisible man antics are fine if nothing you haven’t seen before in other movies featuring invisible people. The human fly elements are decidedly stranger, to become a Human Fly you must break an ampule which releases a cloud of gas. Breath it in and you shrink while gaining the ability to fly. To make things a little spicier the ampules are addictive and can make the user vicious. I appreciate the film’s efforts but to see a tiny person lazily flying around a room doesn’t instill much fear no matter how many people get stabbed over the course of the story.

"Being invisible sure has a peel. Haha!"

So, what we have is a very strange film, a grim murder mystery where the casualties start piling up eventually into the hundreds , a serious discussion about the ethics and dangers of using invisibility, and the inner workings of a criminal organization and their monopoly on chemicals that turn you into a human fly. I will definitely give The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly points for an original concept and an unusual approach to the material, but the film ends up too staid for its own good. I’m all for taking silly premises seriously, it’s really the key to making a film like this work. This film moves too slowly and too methodically. It forgets to have much fun with its science-fiction elements. The height of the invisibility gags is seeing someone peel a banana. The human fly elements get a bit more play but most that action is reserved for off screen.

If approach The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly as more of a crime film that a superhero or science-fiction film I think you will find it imminently more enjoyable. It might not be the most exciting film you’ll encounter but it is a very mature and unique genre film for the late 1950s. Even though it is flawed, I have to admit it has its own subtle charms.


Friday, September 24, 2021

The Majorettes

The Majorettes
Bill Hinzman
1987

The Majorettes opening credits are a prime example of the 1980s aesthetic that a lot of modern films try to capture. It features heavy buzzing synths and imagery of the flickering title including a skeleton that occupies the space between cool and hopelessly silly. The film itself never achieves this balance but it does a have few surprises along the way. Are they enough to save the film from itself? That depends on the reason you are watching.

The Majorettes starts out like of the other dozens of slasher movies from the era. There are some horny majorettes and a goof in all camouflage is sneaking around and slitting their throats. Since The Majorettes emerged just as the slasher heyday was crumbling under an onslaught of film censorship, the kills are largely bloodless and that definitely lessens the impact of the horror. There is also the strange choice to have layers of voices making dinosaur roaring sounds while the killer does his thing. A slasher in just a camouflage outfit isn’t an interesting choice, especially by 1987 when we had the likes of Freddy Krueger on the slasher scene.

"No, don't flush the toilet, AAARRRGH!"

Then things take a bit of twist. The killer is revealed well before the end of the film and pressed into service by an evil couple. From this point on The Majorettes becomes an action revenge film complete with a shirtless hero machine gunning his way through bad guys. It’s a weird twist but it does liven up proceedings just a little. The Majorettes performs another genre trick by ending on a final moment that is legitimately disturbing, probably the only real moment of horror in the whole film and they do it through implication rather than yet another poorly edited throat slitting.

Where the film really falls down is in its characterization. I realize this is a low rent slasher film and odds are it never was going to have strong characters, but most of the characters in this film don’t rise above odious. I expect that from the killer and the gang, but the majorettes themselves barely rise above helpless targets. 

This is happens to people who repeatedly pee in the pool.

The soundtrack is a delight, a throwback to earlier 1980s slashers with harsh analog synthesizers. It is far and away the most successful element of the entire film. This feels like the gritty kind of score that a lot of modern synthwave music tries to recapture, but this is real thing. A cheap yet effective soundtrack to a cheap ineffective movie. 

In the end The Majorettes has a lot of elements that just don’t plain work mixed with some novel ideas. Nothing here blends together well enough to elevate the material beyond being a quirky slasher. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining at times, but there is lost potential to be something so much more than it is.  The whole plot is confusing mishmash of slasher movie, biker film, murder mystery, and T&A exploitation but it never finds its voice.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Invasion

Invasion
1965
Alan Bridges

Invasion takes its time to get going, but slowly the pieces fall into place. An unknown object lands on Earth and a strange figure stumbles out of the woods only to be struck by a drunk couple driving home from a party. They reluctantly take him to a hospital where he is unresponsive. Two other figures in similar clothing approach the hospital as a forcefield envelopes the building. Both parties claim that the other is a criminal, but who is telling the truth?

In comparison to the number of science-fiction films that came out of the United States in the 1950s-1960s, there were few that came out of the U.K. They are so few that it is relatively easy to keep track of them, so it was a delight to encounter one that fell through the cracks. Invasion follows along with the main body of British SF from this period in that it is more concerned with ideas rather than action. This is partially due to budget restrictions, but it is an element that reoccurs so often it seems to just be a part of the British approach to the medium.

Sobriety test - IN SPACE!

Invasion was written by Robert Holmes, who penned several episodes of Doctor Who, and this film could have been turned into a Doctor Who script with only some minor changes. Much like early Doctor Who, the story is told largely though dialog and contains very little in the way of action. The pacing is slow even at 82 minutes, but it carefully metes out the complications to keep the drama escalating. There is even a nice moral grayness to the conflict as the aliens don’t really seem to care who they kill as long as they achieve their goals, this goes for prisoner and jailers alike. What is less defensible is casting the aliens with Asian actors so as to make them appear exotic. To make things worse one of the nurses is also Asian which allows one of the aliens to take her place and none of the white cast can tell the difference. Although probably an accurate recreation of what might have happened in 1965, it has not aged well and mars an otherwise mild film.

"We removed your appendix. All six of them."

Visually there isn’t much to note. The few special effects shots are serviceable and don’t get in the way of the believability of the narrative. The copy I saw was sourced from a video tape and the image was dull and washed-out. There are several parts of the film where dialogue sounds like it was added later and it is very difficult to understand some of it. These are minor issues that shouldn't impact your overall viewing experience.

If you’re already a fan of British SF from this period and especially a Doctor Who completist, Invasion is an interesting if lackluster film. If you are looking to approach this subgenre, I wouldn’t start here, take a look at the Quatermass films for something that is similar but much more inviting in terms of production and pacing. 


Friday, September 10, 2021

Satanic Summertime Blues


It’s a notable sign of the times when watching a summer filled with satanic cults, possessions and even the arch fiend himself feels like a fun vacation compared to the world outside. I’m not religious in the slightest, so I can only imagine that someone more devout would take things away from these films that I don't. In the end though a horror film is about the violation of autonomy, and satanic movies are no different. Each and everyone one of these films is about the intrusion of an inherently transgressive force, in this case, they are dressed up in the costuming of Christianity. For most of these films, the religious nature of its antagonist is really just set dressing, Satan and western religion are an easy shorthand for good and evil that most people in the audience will be familiar with. What is particular to many of these films is was how they are centered on the loss of self. The horror of these films tended to be very personal in the nature, I assumed we would be hitting some apocalyptic stories but in most of them the stakes are surprisingly low, a family, some random kid, or a village were threatened, but rarely the whole world. Maybe that’s why they seemed almost cozy in the light of an ongoing global pandemic.

Best Film: The Black Cat

Worst Film: Satan’s Cheerleaders

Weirdest Film: Night Vision

Biggest Surprise: Beyond the Door


Satanic Summer

976-Evil (1988)

Beyond the Door (1975)

The Black Cat (1934)

Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

Fear No Evil (1981)

Legacy of Satan (1974)

Night Vision (1987)

Race with the Devil (1975)

Satanic Attraction (1989)

Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

Satan’s Storybook (1989)

The Whip Against Satan (1979)



Friday, September 3, 2021

Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door (Chi sei?)
1975
Franco Micalizzi

In the wake of The Exorcist (1973), there was a flood of possession movies. None of them were going to be able to match the precision of that film but what they could do was go push the transgressive content. Many of these films opted for an adult central character so that they could go further with the sex, others upped the supernatural content to include more demonic events, more gore, and more colorful vomit. Probably the greatest of these cash-ins is Beyond the Door. Its ethos is to be The Exorcist but even more so (to the point where they were successfully sued by Warner Bros).

The plot is, at first, a pretty standard affair. Dimitri (Richard Johnson) in debt to Satan must ensure that Jessica (Juliet Mills) gives birth to the Antichrist or else he will die and go to hell. Jessica starts to act strangely as it becomes more and more apparent that the unnatural baby in her womb is in fact a demonic force. Also there is something about nose flute and toy car.

Dukes of Hazzard: Requiem

Opening with a florid voiceover from presumably Satan himself, Beyond the Door sets an odd tone right from the start. There is an undeniable thread of weird humor in the film, a little boy is drinking pea soup out a can, a young girl curses like sailor for some reason, there is even a lengthy musical interlude as Robert is surrounded by street performers in a scene that I think is supposed to be unsettling but somehow lands on weirdly joyous.

There are also some effective horror moments, the breathing and roaring walls, Jessica going through some familiar (aka lifted directly from The Exorcist) demonic shenanigans, but it’s pushed to an extreme; buckets of vomit, creepy sexuality, and spooky moans fill the film. Imagine the relatively somber Exorcist but given a comic book makeover. The religious horror is played with zero reverence for religion but 100% reverence for shocking the audience.

"Got anymore of those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pudding pies?"

One of the quirkiest and perhaps greatest elements of Beyond the Door is the soundtrack. A mix of soul-funk and bizarre electronics. Italian films have a history of filling their horror films with funky tunes that most people wouldn’t associate with anything spooky, and somehow it works. Often in film, music informs the viewer how they are supposed to feel. A sad moment will have mournful music, a triumphant one will have an appropriately triumphant tune. Most horror films will have deep bass or atonal strings to indicate that something unsettling is happening. What happens when a film hits you with a funky bassline during the middle of tense scene of unholy evil? The viewer is left uncertain, suddenly you’re not being told how to you are supposed to deal with the scene. I think it works as an antidote to the often-blatant manipulation of traditional music scores.

Beyond the Door is a marvelously strange film that might have begun as a straight-up rip-off of The Exorcist but takes on a life of its own through its sheer strangeness. A wonderful film and highly recommended.