Friday, 20 January 2017

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN











d. Jack Arnold (1957)

'Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too'.

Despite it's sensational title, 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' is an astonishingly thoughtful, even profound film, especially at its conclusion, where our hapless hero, now less an inch high, stoicly accepts his fate and embraces the process of slowly melding into the Universe. 

It starts, like so many stories, with a normal person (blog fave Grant Williams, who is excellent) being made abnormal by exposure to radioactivity, in this case via a dirty cloud that sweeps over him while he's out yachting. Shortly afterwards, he notices that his clothes are becoming looser and, ominously, his wedding ring falls from his finger. Medical science are baffled and pretty useless as 'people just don't get shorter' (actually, they get shorter all the time, particularly as they get older. In fact, people get shorter over the course of a normal day, and are always tallest when they get out bed: fact).  

Within a few months, he's incredibly angry and living a wretched life barricaded in a dolls house under constant threat of dismemberment by his own pet cat. It's terribly sad, especially as the mysterious condition diminishes him in every way except mentally, leaving him all the time in the world to question himself as a husband, as a man, as a human being.

Eventually, he ends up lost in the basement, presumed dead by his family and locked into a life or death battle with a resident spider. He drinks water that drips from the boiler and lives on crumbs from a slab of stale cake. It's a hard, miserable existence, and there is a palpable sense of relief when he finally realises that his normal life is gone forever and that whatever his future brings will be at a sub-atomic level. So, he raises his eyes to the night sky and accepts he will go from microscopic to submicroscopic, from quark to proton, finally becoming an infinitesimally small, nameless particle known only to God, to whom 'there is no zero'. 

I'd like to have that sort of courage and spiritual depth, but I'm a bit of a 'fuck it' person, so I'd probably just impale myself on a needle or jump on a mouse trap. We all have our own way of shrinking away to nothing, I suppose.

Friday, 13 January 2017

THE BRAIN EATERS












d. Bruno VeSota (1958)

'A few weeks ago, Riverdale, Illinois was just another small, quiet town. But on that Saturday just after midnight, a living nightmare began'.

A 200 million year old race of hungry neon leeches land on on Earth with the idea that they are going to plug themselves in to the necks of human beings, operate them like mad puppets until they finish eating their brains, and then move on until the supply is extinguished. You can see what's in it for the leeches, but the Midwest natives are unconvinced, so eventually use science, a harpoon gun and several lives to zap the little bleeders into oblivion.

Not much happens, to be honest, but it's relatively well made and the alien's ship, a gleaming metallic cone of unknown material filled with a myriad of concentric tunnels, is interesting, as is the late appearance of the human manifestation of the malevolent hirundea, happily played by our old friend Leonard Nemoy (that's how it's spelled on the credits), wearing a silly Father Christmas beard to make him look older and wiser, his familiar features further obscured by odd lighting and a vaseline smeared lens. It's good to sort of see him.

Friday, 6 January 2017

THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER











d. Ronald V. Ashcroft (1958)

A young, pouting woman with extraordinary eyebrows, dressed in a skin tight iridescent metal catsuit and shimmering with radiation, arrives from outer space on a mysterious mission. Finding herself in a secluded forest, she stalks towards the only occupied place for miles around, a cabin occupied by a geologist and his dog. On the way, she kills a fox, a snake, a black bear and the members of a criminal gang who have kidnapped an heiress. Her silvery fingers are deadly, and the merest touch from her means radium poisoning and instant destruction. It's a bad situation, especially as she seems unstoppable by conventional means, i.e. she is shot about thirty times and it makes no difference, but these are Americans, so they just keep on firing into her.

Eventually, the geologist is able to whip up a cocktail of acids that kill the murderous alien and dissolve her away, leaving behind nothing but a trail of animal and human corpses and a medallion that contains a message from the President of the United Federation of Planets (or something like that) saying hello to the Earth and asking if we need any help with anything. It seems the young woman was merely an galactic emissary on a good will mission, a revelation that makes no sense at all unless the President of the United Whatnot of Whatever is an idiot, as sending a kill crazy person dripping with death to the middle of nowhere with a message of interplanetary importance was always bound to end in abject and embarrassing failure.

Super cheap, majorly clunky, the film only really jerks into life when the shiny un-smiley alien psycho lady is on the prowl but that's okay, as she's on the prowl for fifty minutes of its sixty five minute running time.  

Friday, 30 December 2016

INCUBUS











d. Leslie Stevens (1966)

In a village by the sea, the venal and the conceited gather to prolong their worthless lives with the magical, recuperative powers of the local water. Whilst there, they are seduced by succubi: young, blond women who lead them into temptation and then kill them and send their corrupted souls to Satan.

Into this rather odd set up walks William Shatner - a wounded soldier with an incorruptible soul. When a succubi cannot destroy a man, she is fated to fall in love with him - with far reaching cosmic results.

Thrown together quickly by 'Outer Limits' producer Leslie Stevens, 'Incubus' is a truly bizarre film: arty, beautiful, original - yet also clumsy and cheap and very slow moving. It looks like a Bergmanesque bad dream, and the choice of Esperanto as the language spoken throughout is a stroke of strange genius* - it makes an odd film even odder, and lends a suitably disorienting feel to this already atmospheric production.

A few words about William Shatner: I love him, and his presence in something is always a treat. I don't care about his hair and he's always been a good enough actor for me. We'll miss him when he's gone.

* The actors apparently speak it very badly, though, so the film isn’t even a favourite with Esperanto speakers.

Friday, 23 December 2016

THE CYCLOPS












d. Bert I. Gordon (1957)

A group of pushy Americans looking for a lost pilot crash land in a mysterious Mexican valley. The trip has been organised by the pilot's girlfriend who, even after three years, can't accept that he is dead. On the plus side, the valley is filled with million of dollars of raw uranium; on the down side, it's inhabited by a  menagerie of enormous creatures, many times their normal size: lizards, insects, rats, eagles, snakes and, most memorably, a twenty five foot tall nappy wearing man beast with one eye, terrible teeth and a partially melted face. Is he friendly? Not so much. Could he conceivably hold the secret to the mystery of the missing man? I wonder... 

I particularly like the scenes of the Cyclops menacing people. Lacking depth perception, he rather struggles to grab them, so we're just left with a poorly back projected hairy hand jabbing pointlessly at the actors (at one point accidentally tearing away the backdrop). The cast, which includes Lon Chaney, Jr. as a loveable dirtbag, don't seem to quite know what they are reacting to and their blank, confused faces combine with poorly executed special effects to provide a very silly 64 minutes.

The Cyclops, who (of course, it's so obvious now!) turns out to be the missing pilot, ends up being speared in his remaining eye and left to die. It's rather cruel: he didn't ask to be marooned in that radiation choked valley and get mutated into a horrible giant, after all. His once devoted girlfriend, having quickly realised the drawbacks of being involved with an ugly, angry monster, is in the arms of another man before her massive ex-beau has even fallen over and died.    

Director, writer and producer Bert I. Gordon ('Mr. B.I.G') obviously liked the concept (and the make up) revisiting it in both The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and its sequel War Of The Colossal Beast (1958), although in these films the mutation is the result of plutonium bomb testing.    

Friday, 16 December 2016

THE ATOMIC CITY













d. Jerry Hopper (1952)

The Atomic City starts with footage of test explosions and Hiroshima and of the men and women who live and work at the Los Alamos Atomic Research Site, their faces blacked out ‘for security reasons’. Obviously, they don’t really want to be developing weaponry with the capacity to destroy the world and everything on it, but, while the ‘spirit of aggression is not yet dead in the world’ they simply have to do it.

When leading scientist Frank Harrington’s son Tommy is kidnapped, Harrington knows immediately what the ransom will be: secrets. He and his wife try to handle things without informing the authorities but, very quickly, the Harringtons learn that they themselves are under constant observation, and even their best friend is an undercover FBI agent who has infiltrated their family in order to keep a close eye on them. What follows is a taut, well scripted story with some surprising flashes of violence and cruelty: a communist courier is killed by a car bomb once he delivers his message; Dr Harrington extracts a confession using his fists; the boy, Tommy, is bricked up in a cave in the Jemez mountains* and left to die (this last one is hard to take, he’s a nice little feller) .

The Harringtons are only interested in getting their son back, of course, but, for more or less everybody else the stated priorities are, in order of importance: maintain security; catch the spies; save the kid. Cold or not, it’s still a war. In the end, they manage to more or less do all three, but not until after a great climax in which Tommy is left hanging from a cliff face.  Even though you know it will work out in the end, it’s genuinely breathless stuff, particularly as Tommy is just so gosh darned cute.    

* This area is a designated national park, and the mountains, caves and the ruins of Pueblo American civilisation here are used to provide a fascinating and unusual backdrop to the action.  

Friday, 9 December 2016

NOT OF THIS EARTH













d. Roger Corman (1957)

‘Do not run from me, Nadine, I am going to dispatch you’

As you might have guessed, I watch a lot of films with aliens in them. Occasionally they are benign, but mostly they are predatory and with conquest on their minds. The necessities of low budget film making render a full scale alien invasion virtually impossible, of course, so the idea of a lone envoy, an advance scout is a recurring motif. The sole alien has the fate of the Earth in his or her hands or, rather, it is up to us to thwart his or her plans before the Earth is taken over.
In Not Of This Earth the extra-terrestrial is a pockmarked middle aged man with an archaic turn of phrase and a house in the suburbs. Mr Johnson (probably not his real name) has sensitive ears, and his eyes are permanently covered by impenetrable black shades. He’s here because there has been a nuclear war on his planet, Davanna, and now everybody is dying of a disease that is turning their blood to dust. His mission is to find out whether human blood is a compatible substitute. If it is, they will invade; if it isn’t, the world will be destroyed.
To be honest, Mr Johnson is a bit of a horror, being a murderer and a vampire and having gloopy pupil-less eyes that, when turned on a human being, burn out their retinas and parts of the brain. When he’s not killing teenagers, winos or vacuum cleaner salesmen and draining their blood, he’s kidnapping people and sending them through a dimensional portal to be experimented on, or giving a female alien the blood of a rabid dog. He's far too evil to be wholly successful and so is thoroughly defeated. 

The fact is that you can’t just come down to Earth and start stirring without expecting human beings to fight back. We may be primitive, perhaps, and lack mind control and killer eyes, but, by Christ, we’re feisty, and it’s just a matter of time before we find a way to fuck you up.