Friday, 26 May 2017

SON OF KONG











d. Ernest B. Schoedsack (1933)

'I guess next time you leave big monkey alone, huh?'

Released a mere nine months after King Kong, and made at a third of the cost, Son of Kong is a charming, modest little film that packs murder, mutiny, dinosaurs, seismic disturbances and a big white hero ape into seventy minutes without ever removing its tongue from its cheek. 

Set a month after Kong's New York rampage, it focuses on hapless promoter / chancer Carl Denham, now broke and facing a grand jury trial and a dozen law suits. Eager to escape his legal woes, and feeling bad about dead Kong and his dead victims, he jumps on board his boat and hits the open seas.

After forty five minutes of mildly diverting intrigue and romance, the highlight of which is a group of monkeys in fezzes playing avant-garde mood music, he finds himself back on Skull Island in search of treasure, arriving just in time to save Kong's son from drowning in quicksand. Poor Little Kong 'ain't a patch on his old man', being gentle, dopey, boss eyed, albino and a mere twelve feet tall, but he is lovable and approachable and doesn't seem to want to eat anyone.  

Comically anthropomorphic, Little Kong becomes Denham's protector, beating up the various oversized mammals and reptiles that prowl the island, including a Nothosaurus, a Styracosaurus and a giant, angry bear that he puts into a headlock and punches repeatedly in the face.

All too soon, a violent earthquake sinks the island beneath the sea, and plucky Little Kong sacrifices himself to the turbulent waters in order to hold his best friend Denham above the waves until he can be rescued. It's all rather sweet, and although it lacks the impact, iconography and innovation of its illustrious predecessor it is fun, genuinely funny and easy to like.

Friday, 19 May 2017

HAND OF DEATH











d. Gene Nelson (1962)


Dr. Alex Marsh (schlock superstar, John Agar, Shirley Temple's first husband) is one of those madly intense scientists obsessed with making the world a better place by inventing unspeakable things. The main thrust of his work is to combine a hypnotic drug and non-deadly nerve gas, thereby giving the U.S.A a paralyzed and compliant enemy to invade. His reasoning is that it will save the horror and destruction of nuclear war but, as he speaks, his eyes glitter and his mouth grows wet: the idea excites him very much, a lot more than his over-eager fiancee in fact, who plays the coquette with his cheerful best friend in desperate lieu of attention from her permanently working husband to be.  

One late night, an exhausted Marsh clumsily spills some of his experimental solution over his hands, and tears open his lab coat and Hawaiian shirt in pain and horror before falling onto the bed and hallucinating test tubes, beakers and scurrying white mice. When he awakens, he not only has a first class tan, but the merest touch of his hands means instant death, a lesson his Mexican lab assistant learns very quickly. Ever responsible, Marsh douses the corpse and the rest of the lab in white spirit and puts a match to it before driving off to cause chaos downtown.

A film that runs out of steam very quickly and soon descends into jumbled images of a bloke just staggering about, Hand of Death is most notable for Marsh's transformation from handsome(ish) young(ish) scientist to bloated, blackened monster, as mutation turns his head into a lump of swollen coal and his deadly hands into bunches of over-ripe bananas. Interestingly, to disguise the disfiguring condition that has distorted his entire body and robbed him of his speech and sanity, he does the only thing he can under the circumstances: he puts a hat on.  

Friday, 12 May 2017

THE MANSTER












d. George Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane (1962)

Regular readers may have noticed that many of the films written about here are concerned with transformation, mainly of the uncontrolled and uncontrollable sort: people shrink or grow; they die but stay alive; they become bestial and unhinged or taken over, mostly at the gnarled hands of bad science, pure evil or alien conquest. Is that the worst thing, do you think? To become other, to turn into someone or something that you can't manage, and to know it is happening, to feel yourself slipping further and further into the void. Is it a metaphor for the human condition? Does transformation evoke old age, illness, death? Yes, in these films transformation is death, and can only be cured by more death including, ultimately, your own. I need some Propranolol.

In The Manster, jaded US foreign correspondent Larry Stanford is on his last assignment in Japan when he meets genius geneticist, Dr. Suzuki. Suzuki is interested in 'the beginnings of life' and seems nice enough despite keeping his brother and wife in the basement, having turned them into a hairy white ape and a disfigured hag respectively. While Larry has a Mickey Finn induced nap, Suzuki injects him in the neck with a serum designed to turn the hapless journalist into an entirely new life form.

In time honoured fashion, the first Larry knows about it is when he notices he has a very hairy hand. Next, he is startled to discover an eyeball embedded in his shoulder. After a few out of character homicidal rampages, an additional head emerges from him, malevolent and wizened, resembling a fairground coconut with comedy teeth. Head two is murderously angry with everything and everybody, not least Larry, who he wants to get away from as quickly as possible, ultimately leading to a violent split between host and parasite. 

As Larry reverts to human form, his erstwhile spare head and body conveniently having fallen into a live volcano, there is barely a second to wonder if Larry will pay for his crimes before the film's abrupt end. Let's hope the Japanese police are prepared to blame it all on the psychopathic man monkey and let Larry go home.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

THE WEREWOLF











d. Fred F. Sears (1956)

Cheaply but carefully made, The Werewolf provides a surprisingly contemporary retelling of the hoary old lycanthropic legend, placing the action in Smalltown USA and making it a condition of mad modern science rather than arcane folklore.

The origins of the werewolf are somewhat odd, with responsibility falling to a couple of fascist scientists who plan to outlive the impending nuclear apocalypse by combining human genes with the survival traits of other successful species. When a timid salesman injured in a car crash falls unexpectedly into their clutches they ruthlessly inject him with a syringe full of lupine essence and sit back ready to note down the results.

Their victim escapes, of course, and trudges through the snow to the small ski resort town of Mountaincrest. Here, the poor, frightened fellow transforms into a ravenous, drooling wolf: a hairy, hungry killing machine. The townspeople, dressed almost exclusively in plaid, form a posse to track him down.

The werewolf spends most of his time running, but never really gets anywhere, not least because there’s nowhere to go. In his old life he was a nice man with a wife and a son but now he is a crazed killer, a beast who inadvertently seals his fate by ripping apart the scientists who made him like this in the first place. With literally no turning back, he ends up full of yokel bullets, a bloodied heap of hair. His dying act is to revert to his human form, a pitiful and questioning look upon his face. 

It’s rather a depressing spectacle, but then werewolf films never have happy endings, they just don’t work that way.