Sunday, December 23, 2007

23rd February 2007: Schlock Around The Clock triple!

Beast From Haunted Cave

USA 1959 b&w

Director Monte Hellman Writer Charles B. Griffith

Cast Michael Forest (Gil Jackson), Sheila Carol (Gypsy Boulet), Frank Wolff (Alexander Ward), Richard Sinatra (Marty Jones)

First we have Beast From Haunted Cave, produced by Gene Corman and his more famous brother Roger Corman for Roger’s distribution company Filmgroup. What sets Beast... apart from other micro-budgeted fodder from the Corman stable is a smart script from Charles B. Griffith, who also wrote the beatnik comedies Little Shop Of Horrors and Bucket Of Blood, and thoughtful direction by maverick auteur Monte Hellman.

Set in the mountains around a ski restort, a quartet of criminals plan on dynamiting the local mine and heading off with the gold to Canada. The leader’s girlfriend, a nymphette pushing past her prime, catches the eye of ski instructor Gil, a would-be mountaintop philosopher complete with pipe and polo neck sweater whose “Nature Boy” routine she sees as an opportunity to escape her squalid life.

Once inside a desolate cabin, alcohol and petty jealousies spiral towards violence, whilst outside a string of dead bodies are found, blamed on a renegade cougar. It turns out to be an eons-old creature disturbed by the dynamite. Resembling a cross between the tree creature from Evil Dead and Cousin It, it almost seems like an afterthought tacked on by the Corman Brothers to sell this snow-bound sucker. Hellman worked on Roger Corman’s 1963 quickie The Terror with Boris Karloff with Jack Nicholson, later directing Nicholson in a pair of existential westerns, and pairing up with Warren Oates for Two-Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter, for which he should have been hailed as a true American auteur. Instead he never really made a name for himself outside cult appreciation circles, which is a shame, but is probably testament to a certain pigheadedness and refusal to compromise.

Beast From Haunted Cave was the first film for Hellman - for the most part it’s an idiosyncratic beatnik noir thriller and quite a good one too. Is there such a thing as “Intelligent Schlock”? You be the judge, jury and exectioner during the 1959 Beast From Haunted Cave.

The Atomic Brain

USA 1964 b&w

aka Monstrosity

Director Joseph V. Mascelli Writers Dean Dillman Jr, Sue Dwiggins, Jack Pollexfen, Vy Russell

Cast Marjorie Eaton (Hetty March), Frank Gerstle (Dr. Otto Frank), Frank Fowler (Victor), Erika Peters (Nina Rhodes)

There are bad films, and there are cheap and nasty movies. Then there’s the kind of no-budget weirdness that some people get angry over watching. Those people are now safely tucked away in their asbestos warrens mindlessly consuming CSI Crisco Bay and will never know what they’re missing.

So to The Atomic Brain, or its original title Monstrosity, a wacko b&w horror feature made in Texas by Joseph Mascelli, the cinematographer on early Ray Dennis Steckler Z-grade masterpieces such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (also 1964). It has a plot that would make Ed Wood Jr proud: in a seemingly deserted mansion in the country, a mad scientist Dr Frank is in the basement stealing corpses from the local cemetary and performing brain transplants with his atomic psychlotron machine.Upstairs is millionairess Mrs March, a vicious hateful old biddy who’s waiting for a new body for her old wrinkled brain. And she has three bodies to choose from: three foreign girls, picked up at the airport by Mrs March’s boyfriend, the aging gigolo Victor, and driven back to the house. Who is it going to be? The English girl, the Austrian or the Spaniard? The incessant, eccentric Criswell-like narrator intones: “Making love to an 80 year old woman in the body of a 20 year old girl is insanity!” Oh, and more more important plot point: keep your eye on the pussy.

Whereas Ed Wood movies are campy and insane, this one is so straight-faced that it just comes across as insane. The Spaniard ends up with the brain of a cat, the graverobbing butler has the brain of a dog - obviously trained by throwing a bone and told “go fetch!” - and the English girl has a more annoying British accent than Dick Van Dyke and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady combined. But that’s all part of the charm of bad cinema - it’s cheap, it’s nasty, and just like a dwarf pope, it’s mercifully short. So until we find a way of transplanting the brain of a gorilla into a call centre operator, and thus making them 50% more intelligent, we have the latest in faulty atomic-age technology from 1964, The Atomic Brain.

The Amazing Transparent Man

USA 1960 b&w

Director Edgar G. Ulmer Writer Jack Lewis

Cast Marguerite Chapman (Laura Matson), Douglas Kennedy (Joey Faust), James Griffith (Major Paul Krenner), Ivan Triesault (Dr. Peter Ulof)

Now for a Poverty Row creature feature made even cheaper by the fact the monster IS INVISIBLE!

The Amazing Transparent Man opens with master safecracker Joey Faust (fantastic name!) busted out of jail by the morally compromised Laura and is taken to a gothic country mansion complete with kidnapped Nazi scientish Dr Ulof - who strangely enough is the most sympathetic character! - and a full laboratory in the attic.

In the original story of Faust, our flawed hero sells his soul to the Devil for seven wishes. The Faust in The Amazing Transparent Man has no such choice, and is instead blackmailed into stealing atomic secrets for dastardly spy Major Krenner. First Dr Ulof uses a guinea pig as an...erm... guinea pig in his invisibility experiments, and then Faust heads out in the all-together. Faust may be bad, but Major Krenner’s worse, and plans to use Faust as the blueprint for his army of invisible supermen to help him take over the world.

This bizarre, to say the least, fusion of Z-grade science fiction, Cold War paranoia and gangster potboilers makes sense when you read The Amazing Transparent Man is directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a Moravian-born specialist in cheapie noir thrillers such as Detour (1945) and Bluebeard (1944). With double-crossing tough guys spouting hardboiled one-liners and bitchslapping triple-crossing dames all within the hour mark, you can’t possibly hit a wrong note. All that’s missing is the golden opportunity for the immortal line, “See, you can’t see me, see?” before being gunned down by the cops and ALL you can see is blood, and they cart off his invisible corpse in a see-through body bag. Now THAT’s irritainment!

No comments: