Monday, December 17, 2007

28th December 2007: The Best of the Worst

Robot Monster

USA 1953 b&w

Director Phil Tucker Writer Wyott Ordung

Cast George Nader (Roy), Claudia Barrett (Alice), Selena Royale (Mother), John Mylong (Professor)

This week on Schlock Treatment it’s three of the best, of the worst. Three notoriously, deliriously, fiendishly bad films, starting with one of filmdom’s Golden Turkeys, the 1953 Robot Monster.

Originally and unimaginatively filmed in 3-D, Robot Monster opens with a blast of lightning (not to mention the inexplicable stock footage of fighting dinosaurs from Lost World…!!!). Something has landed in Bronson Canyon near a family of scientists. The youngest son Little Johnny, a wisecracking would-be Starship Trooper with his own honest-to-goodness ray gun, stumbles on a cave, and lo and behold comes one of the most memorable entrances in movie history. From behind a bubble-blowing radio with rabbit-ears aerial comes Ro-Man the Robot Monster, and my… god… what a space monster: a plastic-chested gorilla suit, and what looks like a deep sea diving helmet with a matching rabbit-ears aerial.

The rest of mankind is wiped out by Ro-Man’s C-ray – all except the Scientist’s family and his young buck assistant, on whom the German-sounding scientist (hmmmmm) has been experimenting with a vaccine to end all disease. Lesson here, kids: always trust a scientist. “Foolish hyoo-mans!” Ro-Man declares, and offers them a choice of a “painless death and the horror of resistance death!” To which little Johnny says, “You look like a pooped-out pinwheel!”

Before long Ro-Man starts to pick up human emotions through his aerial – confusion, distraction, despair – and he’s not alone. We know exactly how he feels. Ro-Man suggests a date with the pretty Alice; she’s already taken, it seems, given the surreal courtship rituals between a muted Roy representing Adam and his Eve (Alice), who are literally the last fertile couple on Earth… until Johnny and his little sister come of age, of course. “Jimminy!”

C-ray, Ro-Man… Robot Monster is a canyon load of retarded pseudo-technological gibberish delivered with such ape-suit-straining conviction. Plus you can’t see Ro-Man’s lips move through his diving helmet, so he waves his furry arms in an expressive manner whenever he has dialogue or communicating via a TV-radio 2-in-1 with the Great One (hence the need for the rabbit ears). Almost all of the action takes place within one VERY familiar-looking canyon, which director Phil Tucker makes full use of: shots of Ro-Man walking up a hill, walking down a hill, walking across a hill – and boy did they really get their money’s worth out of the gorilla suit – all to the strains of an overly confident score by Hitchcock’s favourite composer Elmer Bernstein

If we were screening it in 3D, you really would see those rabbit ear antennae COMING AT YA! Since it’s in glorious 2-D, we get instead a guy in a flat gorilla suit signaling the end of all mankind unless we start overbreeding now… in the 1953 Robot Monster.

They Saved Hitler's Brain

USA 1963 b&w

aka Madmen Of Mandoras

Director David Bradley Writers Steve Bennett, Peter Miles

Cast Walter Stocker (Phil Day), Audrey Caire (Kathy Coleman 'K.C.' Day), Carlos Rivas (Camino Padua/Teo Padua), Bill Freed (Adolph Hitler)

Our next film is living, breathing, swimming proof some films are like panning for gold just downriver from an animal rendering plant. Sure there’s a lot of fat to wade through, but then you hit a nugget and it’s all worthwhile. And THAT, my fiends, is the only way to describe the indescribable experience of They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

Originally released to cinemas in 1963 as Madmen Of Mandoras, the film opened with scientist Dr Bradley kidnapped along with his antidote for nerve gas. His daughter and son-in-law head to the Banana republic of Mandoras to rescue him, where they uncover a town white-anted with blond-haired, blue-eyed, stein-swilling sausage eaters and World War 2’s most horrifying secret.

In an attempt to create eternal life for the Fuhrer, he’s given hormone shots from seig-heiling surgeons, has his head removed with the brain safely inside, and is flown from his Berlin bunker to Mandoras. Mr H”, as he’s now referred to, is chin up in a jar on top of a valve radio shouting his plans (“Mach schnell!”) to start the Fourth Reich. “This is like some kind of bad joke,” says our latern-jawed hero, but alas it’s horribly real. With high camp ideas played as torturous highbrow drama with bogus noir touches from pretentious UCLA teacher-turned-director David Bradley, it’s Casablanca with cranial clamps. Questions of “who”, “what”, “where” and “when” become irrelevant, and only the “why?” remains. And then the ending kicks in – and what an ending. But the strange tale doesn’t end there.

In the 70s, Crown International sold Madmen Of Mandoras to TV as a late night shocker. However the finished film was short of 19 minutes for its 2 hour commercial slot, so NEW footage was shot for the film’s opening, along with its new and infinitely more memorable title: yet another scientist, another pair of agents sent to rescue him, only they look like beach bums and pool hall hustlers, the hair’s longer (the new hero looks like a Hispanic Ringo Starr off the Rubber Soul cover), the soundtrack sounds like porno funk, and only the cars look like they belong to the rest of the movie. To use a new metaphor: it’s like grafting a pair of toddler’s legs onto a pensioner’s torso. It’s a patchwork effort that doesn’t fit, and can it stand on its own tow feet? Yes, but barely.

They Saved Hitler’s Brain has those occasional golden moments of absurd genius – and how can you forget the waxen features of Hitler’s head peering out from the back seat of a car - that carry us through the trite attempts at mimicking Touch Of Evil. This is like the recent movie Jarhead, only with a real jar and a (maybe not so) real head. The head, of course, has a square mustache, because – as the title says - They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

The Beast Of Yucca Flats

USA 1961 b&w

Director/Writer Coleman Francis

Cast Tor Johnson (Joseph Javorsky), Douglas Mellor (Hank Radcliffe), Barbara Francis (Lois Radcliffe), Bing Stafford (Jim Archer), Larry Aten (Joe Dobson), Conrad Brooks (Man in overalls)

Schlock Treatment viewers will recognize the bald pate and agonized features of Swedish wrestler and part-time Ed Wood Jr All-Star. Tor appeared in a small fistful of non-Ed Wood films, but between his zombie in Plan 9…, the mute Lobo and his title role in The Beast Of Yucca Flats, we’ve seen the entire range of his acting abilities. Wood regular Conrad Brooks also makes an appearance as…… but the Ed Wood connections don’t end there. The Beast’s narration sounds like it came from the booze-addled psyche of Ed-Baby himself – flat, abstract, perfunctory, like Sam Spade on Seconol - which manages to make wry comments about progress and its inherent paradoxes (“Touch a button… things happen…”) AND the fragility of the human condition, and all within 10 words or less.

Tor plays Joseph Javorsky, a Russian scientist with a briefcase full of secrets, pursued by KGB assassins onto Yucca Flats where he walks straight into a mushroom cloud. “Yucca Flats… the A-Bomb….” is all the narrator can manage. Tor emerges hideously scarred like a blanched walnut, looking just like Lobo in Night Of The Ghouls but with less clothing, and goes on a strangulation spree clutching a makeshift club and seemingly with a bad taste in his mouth. The narrator’s editorial? “A prehistoric beast in a nuclear age.” Thanks for paying attention.

At less than an hour, The Beast Of Yucca Flats is like a waking dream in which nothing happens. With the barest of bones story-wise, there’s a chase across the desert with two patrolmen, a family of nuclear-age poppets who are stranded on the highway (“110 in the shade… and no shade…”) and Tor doing his scariest wrestling faces, and yet it’s devoid of tension. Shot without sound, EVERYthing is dubbed over the top, dialogue’s always from off-screen, and all that’s left is the hypnotic cadence of the hipster Voice of Truth. “The hunter… becomes the hunted” and that’s all we need to know in a film that’s as quick and painless as one of Tor’s strangleholds in the sub-atomic dream-like world of The Beast Of Yucca Flats.

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