Friday, 1 September 2017

THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS












d. Phil Tucker (1960)


For all its power and wealth and air punching bravado, America is a frightened country: scared of infiltration, scared of domination, scared of difference, scared of dissent, scared of being unable to follow the manifest destiny invented to give them the excuse to do whatever they want. In The Cape Canaveral Monsters the Americans come up against aliens who share this self-centred obsession, but rather impudently have a manifest destiny of their own: to own and rule Earth.

The aliens take the form of hyperactive balls of light whose jittery movements are accompanied by discordant, disorienting music. They have the ability to live in human corpses, and live in human corpses they do, starting their invasion by causing a fatal car crash and casually moving into the male and female victims. Both are hideously disfigured, and the male corpse has his arm ripped off, but the aliens reason that they're not entering any beauty contests and there are lots of spare arms out there and, besides, the bloke alien can always stick his clearly not missing arm down the side of his trousers and hope for the best.  

Their mission is to disrupt missile tests at Cape Canaveral using some sort of magnetic ray gun. Whatever it is, it works. The idea is to destabilise the space programme and prepare the way for an alien invasion. Only a sex obsessed young scientist and his put upon girlfriend can save the Earth and after 70 minutes of fairly uneventful narrative, they do. It ends on an ambiguous note, so the Americans stay scared and angry, their default position. 

Not a bad film, but that doesn't make it a good one. It's okay, and I'm okay with that and so should you be.       

Friday, 30 June 2017

THE MADMAN OF MANDORAS













d. David Bradley (1963)


More brains. Well, sort of. Hitler crops up a lot in psychotronic films, either in person or as the justification for various nefarious goings on. Although he is clearly a villain, he is not always the genocidal monster that we know and despise him as. Instead, he is a stereotypical bad person and common or garden megalomaniac, sometimes slightly silly, even comical. It's a facile and potentially offensive view, but I think it comes from an understandable place: these films were made in the aftermath of the war and, even twenty or thirty years later, the enormity of Hitler's crimes were still too much to process - too hard to remember.        

The Madman of Mandoras is a load of claptrap about poison gas and the threat to world peace posed by a Third Reich who have run away / relocated to South America. The Nazis have Hitler's head in a jar and it is still giving them orders and rolling his eyes in frustration and anger. No idea why they haven't attached a body to the head, they're clearly pretty technologically advanced. Perhaps it's better to know where that guy is.

Do the Nazis succeed? Do they fuck, and we get to see the flesh burned from Das Fuhrer's skull, a sight that is unedifying but strangely satisfying, which is perhaps why we get to watch it for a whole minute and a half.   

Friday, 23 June 2017

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE











d. Joseph Green (1962)

'Let me die, let me die'


The human brain is the most complex thing in the Universe and, since the Enlightenment downgraded the soul to a might have rather than a must have, it's also the most important thing we possess. Little wonder, then, that the brain fascinates scientists the world over, particularly in films like The Brain That Wouldn't Die, where the line between scientific genius and obsessive fanaticism is a very thin one indeed.

Doctor Bill Cortner is full of the energy and arrogance of youth, a man in a hurry to prove his theories on the transplantation of limbs and organs to the extent that he has become unethical, performing illegal operations using body parts pilfered from the hospital where he works. When his fiancee Jan is decapitated in a car crash, he takes the opportunity to pluck her severed head from the burning wreckage, wrapping it up in his jacket and taking it to a secret lab, bringing it back to life with a 'new special compound' that not only reinvigorates the head but makes it telepathic.

Jan's head, plonked on a metal tray full of chemicals and filled with tubes and pipes, is pretty pissed off about the arrangement and asks repeatedly to die. Bill has other ideas, however, checking out strip clubs and beauty contests in search of a suitably pneumatic replacement chassis before settling on a facially scarred but otherwise intact nude model.

From here, it all gets quite complicated, despite being defiantly non complex. All I can say is that between the giant homicidal freak locked in a closet and poor decapitated Jan's overpowering death drive, it can only end in flames.      

Friday, 16 June 2017

THE LOST WORLD









d. Irwin Allen (1960)


Arthur Conan Doyle's tale of an unknown Amazonian plateau populated by dinosaurs and savage primitives was first filmed in 1925, and has been adapted umpteen times since. This version is from Irwin Allen, the parsimonious producer and director of such television classics as Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. Allen spent a fair amount of money on this production, so made sure he got the most out of it by recycling clips from it for years to come. 

Unable to justify the expense of stop motion models, Allen simply glued horns and shit to some standard lizards and let them loose on miniature sets. The results are unconvincing, especially when a gecko blunders into shot and someone shouts 'My God, a Tyrannosaurus Rex!'. When a giant spider is needed (there's always a need for a giant spider in films like these) he simply blows up film of a normal spider to enormous proportions and uses an optical effect to colour it day-glo green.

The two best things about the film are ginger: Jill St John as a spoiled and slightly mercenary heroine, the sort of pretty thing on the make who comes on a dangerous expedition wearing red go go boots and carrying a poodle, and the great Claude Rains as the indomitable Professor Challenger, a man with hair and a beard as fiery as his irascible temper. 

Rains was born in Camberwell in abject poverty (nine of his brothers and sisters died in childhood), and grew up with a thick London accent that he never completely eradicated. A very dignified actor, his professional speaking voice is careful and cultured, a sort of dry purr but, when he gets excited and speaks quickly, every now and again you can quite plainly hear the twang of his native Cockney. It's a very endearing trait, and one that you'll listen out for from now on, I hope.    

Friday, 9 June 2017

CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON


d. Curt Siodmark (1956)


Routine technicolor exotic adventure potboiler with a variety of vicious animals and some shrunken heads. The titular beast is an extraordinary thing, a sort of malevolent parrot with piercing blue eyes, fearsome tusks and slashing talons: it's also fake, a ruse by a native witch doctor to keep the white man and his disease ridden civilization away. 

The fakeness of the monster doesn't really matter, however, as elsewhere real nature is working overtime to demonstrate it's redness in tooth and claw. The protagonists are attacked by crocodiles, several big snakes, a spider the size of a dinner plate, a jaguar and a load of piranhas, represented several times with mismatched, washed out stock footage. 

Shot on location in Brazil, the film never really takes off, despite being punctuated by somewhat manic dance routines and having a beefy male star who never stops smoking, regardless of whether he's eating, kissing or having a medical examination.

I was particularly impressed by the no nonsense heroine, played by Beverley Garland. She is beautiful, yes, but she's also a doctor, a scientist and an explorer, a person of great intelligence and nerve who is determined to make the world a better place. These qualities are even noticed by our carcinogen addicted hero who admiringly says: 'You're not frightened of anything, are you?' Disappointingly, she responds 'Of course I'm frightened, I'm a woman'. Bah.   

Friday, 2 June 2017

JUNGLE WOMAN











d. Reginald Le Borg (1944)

It's worth remembering that half the films made during the golden age of Hollywood were b-movies, and never intended to be anything other than a time filling support to something more important, more expensive, more valued, the thing that people wanted to see. There are great b movies, made with love and care, and these tend to be the ones that are remembered today. Then there are films like Jungle Woman, incomprehensible potboilers thrown together from old footage and cliche and padded out with voice overs, flash backs and long scenes of people walking corridors and going up and down stairs until sixty or so minutes pass.

Ostensibly a sequel to, but more like a rehash of Captive Wild Woman with all its teeth pulled out, the production misses any number of chances to be as silly or interesting as only a film about a beautiful woman who used to be a gorilla can be and really only merits notice because of the sulky presence of its female star, the mysterious and exotic Acquanetta, here slap bang in the middle of her five film credit career. The so called 'Venezuelan Volcano' is her usual somnolent self, drifting around in a self-absorbed daze, occasionally scowling and staring. She's not much of an actress, but she's a hell of a presence, the sort of person who enters a room glowering and makes everyone wish she'd either say something or just go away.   

As a final note, it is now believed that Acquanetta was neither Venezuelan or a gypsy or an Arapaho Indian but instead that rarest of all onscreen Hollywood persons: an African American.