Thursday, October 19, 2017

Revenge of the Creature

Year 9, Day 292 - 10/19/17 - Movie #2,757               

BEFORE: Come on, did you really think that would be the end of the Creature, disappearing into the murky depths?  Of course, he came back.  You can't join the pantheon of Universal Monsters if you only appear in one movie, and get taken down by a simple harpoon gun!  Nestor Paiva carries over from "The Creature From the Black Lagoon", and so does Ricou Browning, who played the Gill-Man in the underwater scenes.


THE PLOT: Men capture the creature from the Black Lagoon and make him an attraction at an aquarium, from which he escapes.

AFTER: Captain Lucas's boat steams back to the notorious Black Lagoon, and a new exposition expedition is on board to have conversations that remind us all what took place in the previous film.  Thankfully these guys all come from the Institute of Marine Biology and Mansplaining.  Seriously, they over-narrate everything that they do, whether it's playing cards or raising things with winches or fishing with dynamite.

Jesus, last time the "scientists" poisoned the whole lagoon just to force the Gill-Man to come out of the water - now they're using dynamite?  How many species of rare fish have to die just to catch one prehistoric anomaly?  And can blowing up the lagoon really count as science?  It certainly doesn't seem sporting, but it does get the job done - Old Gill floats to the surface, unconscious, and is soon netted up and brought to the Ocean Harbor Aquarium (sorry, "Oceanarium" just isn't a word).  Because why study him at a research center when you can make him an attraction like the dolphin show?  Step right up and see the underwater freak, right this way...

What little "science" is involved at this point consists of striking Gilly with an underwater electric prod to try to teach him basic commands like "Stop".  Because that could be helpful later, if he were somehow able to break out of his chains and walk among the public.  Wouldn't ya know, that's exactly what happens?  But I've gotta side with the Gill-meister here, considering what he's been through.  You can't put a beautiful 1950's dame like Helen in the tank with him and then expect him to not fall in love with her, right?  I mean, it just doesn't make any sense, they took the creature out of the ONE lagoon in the entire world where his species still survives, so if there's a potential mate left on the planet for him, she's BACK THERE in freakin' Brazil!

Or maybe he's not lovelorn, maybe he's just pissed that he's a freshwater creature from the Amazon River, and he's been placed in a SALT-water tank near the ocean in Florida.  Jesus, isn't that the first thing people should learn in marine biology class?  What a bunch of incompetent dopes.

So Gill breaks free and tracks down Helen in her bungalow, and I think he kills her dog.  (Not cool, Gill, that's not how to win a gal's heart...)  NITPICK POINT: Earlier in the film, Helen had called the dog her "boyfriend" - what did she mean by this?  Nah, she couldn't have meant that...  NITPICK POINT #2: When Helen can't find her dog, she still goes off on a sailing trip with Clete Ferguson.  That doesn't seem like any dog-owner I've ever known.  What about, "Sorry, Clete, I can't go sailing with you because my DOG IS MISSING!"

Gill-Man then tracks down Clete and Helen at a party, which is being held at a seafood restaurant. (Awkward...!)  Old Gill grabs Helen and jumps into the ocean with her - there you go, Gill, keep chasing the dream, maybe this time your sweetie will learn how to breathe underwater!  But the cops and the coast guard come together to track down the creature to where he's just chilling on the beach with Helen's unconscious body, and once again, any chance for a little inter-species romance is foiled again.  Maybe it's for the best, Gill-Man seems a little Cosby-esque in his practice of grabbing women, drowning them until they're unconscious, and then (presumably) making out with them.

NITPICK POINT #3: The marine biology institute is seen performing an experiment with a cat sharing a cage with a number of white rats.  Umm, they do know that cats and rats are not sea creatures, right?  Plus, what the hell could this experiment possibly be testing?  I guess this is in the film as something of a joke, or to allow for the first screen appearance of a VERY famous actor, as a lab assistant who finds the missing mouse in the pocket of his lab-coat.  Again, how is this possible - how could you have a white rat in your pocket and NOT know it?  It's patently absurd.

Will the Creature return?  Will he ever find love?  Should he be allowed to?  Will the aquarium commissary ever stop serving tuna fish sandwiches?  Perhaps these questions were answered in the next sequel, "The Creature Walks Among Us", but I kind of doubt it.

Also starring John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Grandon Rhodes (last seen in "Them!"), Dave Willock, Robert Williams (last seen in "North by Northwest"), Charles Cane (last seen in "The Big Heat"), Sydney Mason (also carrying over from "Revenge of the Creature"), Brett Halsey (last seen in "The Man from the Alamo"), Don C. Harvey, Tom Hennesy, Bob Hoy, Bob Wehling, with a cameo from Clint Eastwood (last seen in "True Crime").

RATING: 4 out of 10 flare guns

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Year 9, Day 291 - 10/18/17 - Movie #2,756          

BEFORE: This is another film like the original "Dracula" that's considered a classic, and I'm not sure how it slipped through the cracks over the years.  Why have I never gotten around to this one before? I guess I just had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.  These 1950's horror films aren't exactly great dramas, the early creature films just have an air of camp about them, unlike today's horror films that are all about serial killers and people being forced to escape from torture devices and holidays where all crime is legal for 24 hours.  Hmm, maybe the 1950's films weren't so bad.

Whit Bissell, who played Dr. Hill in the framing sequences in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", carries over to play Dr. Thompson tonight - talk about typecasting, right?

THE PLOT: A strange prehistoric beast lurks in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. A group of scientists try to capture the animal and bring it back to civilization for study.

AFTER: This is another instance where you don't really see the full creature for the first half of the film - but at least here there are about a dozen shots of a webbed hand reaching dramatically out of the water, coming close to somebody's ankle (or in some cases nothing at all) before the camera cuts away.  I mean, they really tried to wring as much suspense as possible out of that webbed hand.

The mystery here starts with a webbed hand, too, or at least the remains of one.  An archaeologist in the Amazon jungle finds a hand buried in some limestone - and it's a hand like nothing he's ever seen before.  He immediately realizes he's got to take this hand to the institute for analysis - because why bother looking for the rest of the body?  There's just no chance that any further digging will reveal anything else, I think that's the first thing you learn when you study archaeology - if you find something good, you should stop digging in that spot right away, because chances are you'll never find anything else in the same place.

His fellow scientists at the Institute for Stating the Obvious are all impressed by the find, especially since they all have definitely never seen anything like it before, which is the technical definition of a discovery, so they feel that an expedition should be mounted AT ONCE to return to that very spot that the guy was just at.  Again, don't even think that it would have made sense for the guy to just stay there and keep digging, if you think like that you'll never become an archaeologist yourself.  Then the scientists realize, "Hey, there are 6 of us here in this very room!  We could go on an expedition together!"  Note that most of the conversations at the Institute for Stating the Obvious are centered around how many people are in the room involved in conversation at the time.

The scientists believe that the Amazon jungle is a magical place, where somehow evolution has not taken place, so many of the jungle creatures are the same as they were millions of years ago, or represent nature's failed attempts to get sea creatures up on land.  And thus we have "The Creature", also called "The Gill-Man" who represents some sort of evolutionary dead-end and is definitely not just a man in a rubber suit, despite the fact that he looks exactly like that.  The Creature acts much like your average Frankenstein Monster or zombie, in that he approaches humans in a lumbering sort of fashion, with arms outstretched - either menacingly or not, depending on your own personal rate of speed.

But the Creature has one advantage over those other monsters - he SWIMS.  Perhaps he is the last one of his race, because he seems to have a propensity for capturing females in his arms, then diving down to the depths of the ocean with them, bringing them to his underwater cavern.  Which raises the question about how many women he's brought down there, only to wonder why none of them seem to survive the trip to get there.  Why, it's almost like they can't breathe underwater or something.

The creature tries to take down the crew, one by one, presumably to get to the girl, but the crew fights back with a lantern (kill it with fire!) and then bullets and harpoons.  The creature blocks the boat in the lagoon by damming up the entrance with logs, but the crew of the boat has a winch.  So technology beats monster once again.

When TCM ran this last year, the evening's programming was hosted by Dennis Miller, who noted that two men played the Creature in this film, Ben Chapman in the above-water scenes, and Ricou Browning in the underwater scenes.  Miller snarkily noted that he could see why the "walking" actor might not be able to do the "swimming" scenes, but why couldn't the "swimming" actor do the "walking" scenes?  It's a funny joke, perhaps, but the real answer has everything to do with the process of filmmaking, and the fact that Chapman's scenes were filmed in California, while the underwater scenes were filmed by the second unit in Florida.  See, it's just logistics.

Also starring Richard Carlson (last seen in "Hold that Ghost"), Julie Adams (last seen in "The Man From the Alamo"), Richard Denning (last seen in "An Affair to Remember"), Antonio Moreno (last seen in "Notorious"), Nestor Paiva (also last seen in "Hold that Ghost"), Bernie Gozier (last seen in "Dream Wife"), Henry Escalante, Ricou Browning, Ben Chapman, Perry Lopez (last seen in "Bandolero!"), Sydney Mason, Rodd Redwing.

RATING: 5 out of 10 menacing music stings

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Year 9, Day 290 - 10/17/17 - Movie #2,755                             

BEFORE: I snuck out to see "Blade Runner 2049" last night - I'm still processing what I saw.  I'm going to need a few days to figure it all out, but since I'm right in the middle of the horror film chain, I'm not going to post my review now anyway.  I've got a Ryan Gosling chain coming up in the first part of November, but I think I need to save "Blade Runner" for later on in November, as it represents the link between another Harrison Ford film and another film with Robin Wright.  So that's the plan.

Richard Deacon carries over from "Them!", where he played a reporter, and if you don't know who Richard Deacon is, then you don't know your classic television.  He's most famous for playing TV producer Mel Cooley, Rob Petrie's boss on "The Dick Van Dyke Show", and he also played Lumpy's father on "Leave it to Beaver".  He had supporting roles in several Jerry Lewis films, too, like "The Patsy" and "The Disorderly Orderly", and I'm sure he had other acting roles too, but most people probably remember his work with Dick Van Dyke.

Tonight he plays a doctor or something, as the plant people try to take over once again - but this is the ORIGINAL version, so I suppose this was really the first time the plant people tried to take over.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978) (Movie #1,203), "Body Snatchers" (Movie #2,186), "The Invasion" (Movie #2,479)

THE PLOT: A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

AFTER: It took me a while to recognize where I'd seen the lead actor, Kevin McCarthy, before - sure, he had a cameo in the 1978 remake of "I.O.T.B.S.", but that wasn't it.  In his later years, he played the mean old rich TV station owner in the Weird Al Yankovic comedy "UHF".  That's probably why he seemed so familiar to me.  Like Richard Deacon, he probably had a lot of other acting roles, but we all have our own frames of reference for these things.

Finally, a film that's a metaphor for Communism, right?  People invading small town America with a different way of thinking, making everyone conform and work for the benefit of the collective, right? Trouble is, the film's director swore time and again that it wasn't about that, and he was just trying to make a scary movie.  But the idea behind this film caught on, and I think the zeitgeist of 1950's paranoia gave it an additional, if unintended, meaning.

Those three German horror films I watched at the start of the month gave great insight into the fears of the German people in the 1930's - the worst thing would be to have one's fate controlled by a demon ("Faust") or a vampire ("Nosferatu") and have no say in the matter.  To be a pawn in the game of life, subject to forces beyond one's control.  Ah, the bitter angst of existentialism.  But for Americans in the 1950's, perhaps the fear was quite different, that someone would come along with new ideas like Communism, or vegetarianism, or hippie Communist vegetarian, and change the minds of other people with the power of their ideas.  Then, suddenly, those with the great American values of capitalism and meat-and-potato dinners would find themselves in the minority - the horror!

You still see it today, I don't have to draw much of a line to connect this fear of "the other" to today's apparent fears of immigrants and people of color, or men's fear of women's reproductive rights, or even fears of gay marriage or trans people serving in the military.  It all comes from people fearing the things they don't understand - what if someone woke up one day and found their town full of people of a different race or sexual orientation, what would happen then?  Well, probably nothing, but the fact is that white people are on their way to becoming the minority in the U.S., and deep down that probably scares the crap out of the more conservative ones.  And I think we've all seen how certain people have been able to play upon those fears to get themselves elected, which almost doesn't seem fair.

A worse fear might be knowing, deep down, that something is very wrong with one's town, or country, then going out and sounding the alarm, only to have no one believe you, or to find out that you acted too late.  That's what happens here to our main character, after he's called back from a medical convention to his home in Santa Mira.  But when he returns, all seems well, and the people who were demanding to see him just a few days ago are suddenly feeling much better.  Or are they?  Certain people in town are swearing that not only is Uncle Ira not acting like himself, they feel like he might not really BE himself.  And just as our hero starts to put the pieces together, finding a body here and a seed pod there, people try to convince him that everything's fine, it's just an outbreak of a little mass hysteria.

In the framing sequences, our everyman narrator is telling his story to the doctors in a mental hospital, and boy, I sure have seen my share of those this October!  From the asylum run by Count Orlok in "Nosferatu" to the many incarnations of Renfield, always seen in the asylum run by Dr. Seward and/or Prof. Van Helsing, to the asylums frequented by Dr. Victor Frankenstein as he harvested body parts from their inmates...

The special effects here are also quite laughable, as with "The Thing From Another World", if you're looking for scary visuals you're better off watching the more modern remakes.  And the music is horribly annoying as well, as my wife pointed out.  She joined me for the latter half of this film, and I really should watch more movies with her, because she has a way of cutting to the quick when something seems ridiculous.  She picked up on the 1950's vibe right away, since the man here made all the decisions, and his girlfriend was really just along for the ride.  Outside of making a sandwich for him now and then, she really didn't serve much purpose - and in "The Thing From Another World", the two women on the Arctic base don't seem to do anything but make coffee for the men.  Ah, good old sexism, going strong in 1956.

Also starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter (last seen in "Airport"), Larry Gates (last seen in "Some Came Running"), King Donovan (last seen in "The Caddy"), Carolyn Jones (last seen in "The Tender Trap"), Jean Willes, Ralph Dumke (last seen in "Artists and Models"), Virginia Christine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson (last seen in "Being There"), Guy Way (last seen in "How Sweet It Is!"), Eileen Stevens, Everett Glass (last seen in "The Thing From Another World"), Dabbs Greer (last seen in "Julius Caesar"), Sam Peckinpah, Whit Bissell (last seen in "Destination Tokyo"), Robert Osterloh (last seen in "The Wild One").

RATING: 5 out of 10 farm trucks

Monday, October 16, 2017

Them!

Year 9, Day 289 - 10/16/17 - Movie #2,754                                          

BEFORE: James Arness carries over from "The Thing From Another World", where he played the title villain, and today he plays a human, the male lead in this invasion story.  But the invasion this time is home-grown, it's giant ants attacking humans...


THE PLOT: The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.

AFTER:  I guess I should have realized by setting up a week of 1950's films that I'd have to suffer through some very fakey special effects.  These are obviously some kind of puppet ants, large-scale models that were made to rock back and forth to simulate life-like movement.  As opposed to using close-up footage of real ants and superimposing it against the live-action footage of people, which would have been another way to go.  Something tells me that neither method would have looked realistic, but maybe the use of real ant footage might have worked a little better, but I guess we'll never know.

I thought that most 1950's Hollywood horror films were symbolically about the spread of Communism, but I guess not, I'm hard pressed to find a connection to politics here.  Maybe they're Red ants, but that's hard to tell in a black-and-white movie.  They're green on the poster, which is weird because I've never seen green ants in nature.  And these are supposed to be real ants that were enlarged somehow with radiation, even though we know now that excessive radiation doesn't make things bigger, it just kills them.  But I guess in the 1950's filmmakers didn't worry too much about science, because that would just get in the way of the premise that they wanted.

Anyway, a child is found wandering in the desert by some New Mexico policemen, and they then discover a couple of forced-entry break-ins where the residents or shopkeepers are found dead, but nothing is stolen, although they do find a pile of loose sugar at each crime scene, along with a mysteriously shaped footprint.  Naturally, it's a long time before they're able to put the pieces together and come up with "giant ants", because who the hell knows what shape an ant's leg is?  The FBI is called in, and so is the country's leading ant expert, whose knowledge of ant society becomes instrumental in determining whether there might be queens spreading to new nests in order to lay more eggs.

Oh, and the ants are super-strong, of course, and have suddenly developed a taste for human flesh, because that means they're a threat to society and must be eliminated, despite the fact that our radiation created them in the first place, so the ants aren't really at fault here.  It's the human invention of atomic weapons, and the desert testing that created the giant ants, so that means they're connected to the American guilt for dropping the atomic bombs in World War II.  We did feel guilty about that, right?  Just checking.

A task force is quickly formed, and though everyone present is briefed on the social habits of ants and their likely behavior, what does all that matter when the proposed solution for dealing with them is "Kill Them With Fire"?  In fact, this is the third film in a row where that solution comes in handy - burning the villain down in his lair is starting to feel like a huge cop-out for when the screenwriter can't think up an original ending and needs to wrap things up so he can move on to the next screenplay.

Also starring James Whitmore (last seen in "Who Was That Lady?"), Edmund Gwenn (last seen in "The Trouble With Harry"), Joan Weldon, Onslow Stevens (last seen in "The Three Musketeers" (1935)), Sean McClory (last seen in "Bandolero!"), Chris Drake, Sandy Descher, Mary Alan Hokanson, Don Shelton (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), Fess Parker (last heard in "Harvey"), Olin Howland, Richard Deacon (last seen in "Kiss Them For Me"), Ann Doran (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), with cameos from Dub Taylor (also last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Leonard Nimoy (last seen in "For the Love of Spock"), Dick York.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Wilhelm screams

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Thing From Another World

Year 9, Day 288 - 10/15/17 - Movie #2,753                                      

BEFORE: A word about the linking, since "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is a dead-end for me - it wasn't always that way, since when I set up this chain I was planning to have Peter Copley carry over into "Five Million Years to Earth", a 1967 film that I'm fairly sure I saw as a child, but I was going to watch it again in the chain for the first time as an adult.  And that film was going to link to another film with a similar name that I haven't seen, which is "20 Million Miles to Earth".  And they both were going to be part of this 10-film chain that's all about invading creatures, whether they're aliens or giant insects or whatever.

But then I wanted to add one more Chris Hemsworth film to November's chain, and that meant I had to drop something from the last 60 films on the year's schedule - the easiest thing to drop was the film that I had seen before, but this eliminated the connection between the films in the first half of October with those in the second half.  In fact, this film and the next seven films, all made in the 1950's, form an interconnected loop, so I could basically start it anywhere, and consider it complete within itself.  So now I'm moving "20 Million Miles to Earth" to further down in the chain, to be next to the 1956 film "Godzilla", which it seems to share some DNA with.  And I may watch "Five Million Years to Earth" right after that, but I'm not going to count it, because as I said, I've seen it before.

My last-minute second-hand link, however, is that Victor Harrington from "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" was also in "The Diamond Wizard" with Margaret Sheridan.  I know it's lame, but at least it's something.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Thing" (2011) (Movie #2,181) & "The Thing" (1982) (Movie #2,182)

THE PLOT: Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a bloodthirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.

AFTER: Having seen two more recent versions of this same story before, both with much better special effects, what else can I learn from watching the original?  First off, I've probably got a bunch of laughable not-so-special special effects in the days to come, so I'd better get used to that.  The alien here never really looks like anything other than a big man in a suit with a mask - isn't a little weird that the alien is supposedly plant-based, but also humanoid?  It seems like an awful coincidence that a plant creature would evolve on another world, but instead of roots and leaves, it would have two legs and two arms.

Of course, the original story this was based on ("Who Goes There?", written by John W. Campbell) featured a shape-shifting alien, something featured in the 1982 and 2011 remakes, but not in this 1951 version.  That's a shame, because it removes much of the suspense here - thanks to a Geiger counter, the men at the Arctic base always know when the alien is approaching, but in the remakes, the alien could already be among the men, disguised as one of them.  So that little fact really upped the paranoia factor - there's much less reason for the men to distrust each other here.

Or is there?  One scientist in particular seems keen on keeping the alien alive, no doubt for the chance to study a plant-based humanoid that apparently drinks blood - he even keeps a bunch of seed pods drinking from a vial of plasma, without telling the other men at the base.  So this is basically a primer on what NOT to do if you discover a flying saucer.  Don't use explosives to free the saucer from the ice, don't bring the alien pilot back to your base in a big block of ice, but if you have to do that, be sure to stow the block of ice in a very cold place, or else it could thaw out...

This one's generally regarded as a horror classic, despite the fact that it was made so cheaply that you never really see the alien in close-up, because the make-up was so poorly done.  As a result people felt a heightened sense of mystery and suspense, due to hardly ever seeing the creature, but this seems like a dodge to me.  The audience shouldn't be required to adjust their reactions to the film presented to them, especially if shoddy filmmaking was involved.  This sort of reminds me of the movie "Jaws", which had trouble with the mechanical shark.  "Oh, it's brilliant and suspenseful, because you hardly ever see the shark!"  Umm, no, that was due to technical difficulties, not as a conscious method of heightening tension.

Starring Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey (last seen in "Marlowe"), Robert Cornthwaite (last seen in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"), Douglas Spencer, James Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols (last seen in "The Out of Towners"), William Self, Eduard Franz (last seen in "Dream Wife"), Sally Creighton, James Arness, Paul Frees (last heard in "Bells Are Ringing"), John Dierkes (last seen in "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), George Fenneman, Everett Glass (last seen in "Pal Joey"), Edmund Breon (last seen in "Gaslight"), David McMahon, Robert Stevenson.

RATING: 4 out of 10 thermite charges

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Year 9, Day 287 - 10/14/17 - Movie #2,752                              

BEFORE: Peter Cushing carries over again from "Frankenstein Created Woman", and this will be my last Frankenstein-based film for the year.  I've got to move on to other creature-based films, I'm on a tight schedule if I want to both keep the list from expanding out of control and finish this year's films in time for my vacation.


THE PLOT: Together with a young doctor and his fiancée, Baron Frankenstein tries a brain transplant to save an associate, the mentally ill Dr. Brandt.

AFTER: Well, it's about time someone took Dr. Frankenstein down - and make no mistake, the titles of the Hammer Films series clearly and correctly refer to the DOCTOR when they say "Frankenstein", not any creature that he may have created.  So, points for that - the original novel is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus", and Prometheus was the Greek god who gave humans fire and life and knowledge, so even in the original story's title, it's the doctor, not the creature being discussed.  The creature should always be nameless, or if that's too weird, then "Frankenstein's Monster" will suffice.

But even in this Hammer Films series, at some point they reached the point of ridiculousness - I realize now that each film is meant to be taken individually, the story doesn't really carry over from one film to the next to form one larger story.  None of the films make references to events from a previous film, or Dr. Frankenstein can be working anonymously in one film, then openly in the next, as the story requires.  He can even appear to die in one film, only to be miraculously revived for the next one.

But what really stretches the bounds of credulity is his stubbornness in continuing to conduct brain transplant experiments, when none of them ever really turn out well.  I guess if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail, and Dr. Frankenstein's "hammer" is brain transplants, because we're back on that bus tonight.  "But, Dr. Frankenstein, the patient has a sore foot!" "Tut, tut, a brain transplant will fix that problem, just wait and see!"  So what if he becomes a raging beast with a giant scar around his scalp, he's in a new body with a perfectly fine foot!

Which leads to a few questions, like if Dr. Frankenstein can fix his former associate's mental illness, why does he have to put it in a new body to do so?  Why can't he open the skull, fix the brain, and keep the brain where it is?  OK, so the first body "died", but doesn't the second body also die when you take its brain out?  And if he can bring that second body back to life, why couldn't he just bring the first one back instead, without scooping out the brain?  I may not be a doctor, but I think I can tell when a medical process is not being implemented in an efficient manner.  Like if you brought your car to the auto shop with a bad spark plug, would you let the mechanic transfer the whole engine to a different car just so he could replace that plug?  It would be little consolation if you came in with a 2016 Ford Mustang and left with a 1975 Ford Pinto that had the other car's engine in it.

But I digress.  The first time we see Dr. Frankenstein here he's robbing labs for equipment, but wearing a disturbing mask while doing so.  Because if he's arrested, there's no chance that the police will remove that mask and identify him.  He soon moves to a boarding house, and he learns that the woman who runs it is engaged to a doctor who works at an insane asylum, who's stealing narcotics to help pay for his fiancées mother medical expenses.  Dr. F. leaps at the opportunity to blackmail them both into working for him, raiding more labs for equipment and supplies.  All so he can "help" out his old associate, Dr. Brandt, who's an inmate at the asylum.

If there was any doubt about Dr. Frankenstein sociopathic nature, this film confirmed that he would do anything - lie, cheat or steal - in order to keep his experiments funded.  He uses all kinds of blackmail and manipulation to keep his assistants in line, and in this film, that even includes rape, in a very controversial scene that was added late in the production process.  Cushing said repeatedly that he hated the scene, because he didn't want Dr. F. to be seen as a sex fiend - but I guess being a thief, murderer and a doctor performing illegal brain transplants was better by comparison?  I don't know where one draws the line, I guess.

It seems like a shame that TCM didn't run two of the Hammer Films Frankenstein films, especially since the final one, 1974's "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell" featured Dave Prowse as the new Creature, and that's an interesting pre-cursor to the first "Star Wars" film, with Cushing and Prowse later appearing on screen together as Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader - I'll have to try to track that one down someday, but I just don't have a slot for it now.

Also starring Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones (last seen in "The Elephant Man"), Simon Ward, Thorley Walters (also carrying over from "Frankenstein Created Woman"), Maxine Audley (last seen in "The Prince and the Showgirl"), George Pravda (last seen in "Anastasia"), Geoffrey Bayldon (last seen in "To Sir, With Love"), Colette O'Neil, Peter Copley (last seen in "Oliver Twist"), Jim Collier, Windsor Davies, Allan Surtees.

RATING: 4 out of 10 scalpels

Friday, October 13, 2017

Frankenstein Created Woman

Year 9, Day 286 - 10/13/17 - Movie #2,751                        

BEFORE: I can't believe it, but after last night there are just 50 more movies to watch in 2017.  But I feel good about the fact that I know exactly what those 50 films are going to be.  All of those are in my possession on DVD except for 10 of them - of those 10, 4 will be released on the big screen this fall, another 4 I'll have to buy in a DVD set from Amazon, 1 is screening on Netflix, and the 10th I will be taping off cable very soon.  So it's all kind of coming together as I'd hoped.  (And I now have a ticket for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on December 15, so I've got that going for me...)

Of the remaining 50, 12 of them are horror films - and once I'm done with Frankenstein films, I'm going to transition to a mix of aliens and creatures - you'll see what I mean in a few days, and how the linking has dictated what's in this year, and what's being put off until next year.  And if nothing links together next year, which is possible, I'm prepared to accept that - at least I'll know I had the best possible Movie Year 9, and October of Movie Year 10 is for random follow-ups (ghosts, zombies, Dr. Jekyll and yeah, probably more vampires).

Peter Cushing carries over again from "The Revenge of Frankenstein".  Since TCM ran these films last year, I've learned that "Revenge" was the 2nd film from Hammer Studios in their Frankenstein series, and tonight's film is not the third, but the fourth.  So TCM kind of screwed me here, by not running ALL of the films in this series, just select ones.  And I usually trust them to be completists, like me - what gives, TCM?  Now I've got to watch an incomplete series, and even if I do catch up later, the other films will now be out of sequence.

Who knows, maybe the third film, "The Evil of Frankenstein" was really terrible, and they're doing me a favor.  For now, I'll have to proceed with the plan, I'm locked in to it now.

 

THE PLOT: Baron Frankenstein captures the soul of a recently executed young man and installs it in the dead body of a young maiden, Christina.  With the memories of the man still intact, she starts to kill the people whose false accusations led to the man's execution. 

AFTER: The Baron is back, after some other adventures not disclosed here, and he's back to doing medical experiments - because those have worked out SO well in the past...  And though this is still set back in the prehistoric age where science is concerned, this film was made in 1967, so what else can you expect from the swingin' sixties but a beautiful young Playboy model type playing the poor, crippled peasant barmaid?  And the doctor can't wait to put a man's soul into that body, because that's just so kinky, right?  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, we're presented with Hans, a noble peasant man who's been known to help Dr. Frankenstein (who's back to using his full last name now, so I guess the heat's died down...) and his new medical partner, Dr. Hertz (is his first name Dick?) around the lab.  When Hans was a boy, he watched his father get executed by guillotine (because Hammer Films paid good money for that guillotine, so they have to use it in EVERY film...) and that affected him deeply.  Hans loves Christina, the daughter of the local innkeeper, and the innkeeper isn't crazy about Hans dating his daughter.  But she's paralyzed on one side, so really, the innkeeper should just be happy that someone has taken an interest.

Then there are these three "dandies" - in modern times they'd be called "douchebags" - who frequent the inn and give Christina a hard time.  Hans gets into a scuffle with them to defend her honor, but they return late at night to steal some wine and end up killing the innkeeper and framing Hans for the crime.  As we've seen in previous Frankenstein films, there was no real forensic science back then, so all you had to do was leave someone else's article of clothing at the murder scene, and no worries.  Hans refuses to give up an alibi, I guess because if he said he was sleeping with Christina, that would destroy what little reputation she has left in that small German town.

Dr. Frankenstein appears at Hans' trial as a character witness, but that feels rather half-hearted, since the Baron probably can't wait to get a fresh dead body to try out his new "soul machine", which can somehow remove the soul from a dead body - even one with the head chopped off.  It's something of a leap in logic from one experiment - the Doctor has his own body frozen and revived, to prove that the soul does not leave the body after death - to the next, but it's really junk science that makes this whole franchise work, so you kind of just have to roll with it.  At least this is more elegant than cutting the brain out of one body and putting it in another - cheaper in terms of special effects, too.

So Hans dies and the Doctor vacuums out his soul, and then Christina is so distraught that she drowns herself, giving the Doctor the perfect (?) place to put Hans' soul.  But he kind of forgets to remove her own soul, so suddenly there are two souls fighting for control of that body.  Hans' spirit ends up acting like a voice in Christina's head, telling her to seduce and kill the men who framed him.  I can't quite tell if this is poetic justice or an evil spirit acting from beyond the grave, maybe somehow it's both. 

Also starring Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters (last seen in "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother"), Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont (last seen in "Mutiny on the Bounty"), Peter Blythe, Barry Warren, Derek Fowlds, Alan MacNaughtan (last seen in "Patton"), Peter Madden (last seen in "Doctor Zhivago"), Philip Ray, Ivan Beavis, Colin Jeavons (last seen in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"), Alec Mango (last seen in "Lust for Life").

RATING:  3 out of 10 spilled glasses of wine