Friday, 2 December 2016

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN














d. A. Edward Sutherland (1940)


The Invisible Woman has very little to do with H.G Wells, instead being a frivolous screwball comedy full of broad performances and lots of knockabout humour.

John Barrymore is the head scientist, a twinkly eccentric who has discovered the secret of invisibility. When he advertises for a human ‘victim’, he gets Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a headstrong young woman looking to heed ‘the call to adventure’. The experiment requires the subject to be naked, a detail that attracts much prurient interest and a great number of jokes, even though the most you see is a pair of bare legs.

The story is padded out with a bit of romance and a subplot about a gangster who wants to steal the process but, for the most part, it’s mainly about glasses of brandy and lampshades and cats whizzing about with no visible means of support whilst supporting characters look on aghast. If you like that sort of thing (I do), it’s a lot of good, harmless, undemanding fun.

Barrymore is in his late fifties here, but looks in his seventies. He gives a good but pantomimic performance, but then the production isn't notable for its subtlety.  In a change from the usual self-parodying roles of this era, the script only makes a couple of references to his real life reputation as a drunken ne’er do well and womaniser, and even lets him declaim a few Shakespearean lines. Bearing in mind that he has only a year and a half to live he seems in pretty good form, but then, for all his troubles, he was always a good actor.

Friday, 25 November 2016

THE MUMMY'S GHOST












d. Reginald Le Borg (1944)

‘If the Mummy didn’t make these tracks, I’ll eat ‘em’
It’s shit being a Mummy.  Dead, but not dead, wrapped in putrid rags that reek of your own decay. One eyed, one armed, one foot dragging awkwardly behind. You can’t speak, you can’t reason and, with no will of your own, you are wide open to become the shuffling slave of any unscrupulous person who knows the evocations and boils the right number of Tana leaves during a full moon.  Your heart, that putrefying organ, is filled with ancient spores and moss and dirt but, cruelly, still functions just well enough for you to continue to suffer the acute pain of a centuries dead lost love. 

And what do you do when you’re not needed to kill, to kidnap, to terrorise, to steal artefacts? Where do you go, what space do you inhabit? Do you live under a bridge, like a bandage wreathed troll? Or do you just sit in a shed or a cave or in the heart of the woods and wait? After all, waiting is second nature to you – actually, its first nature, the thing that you are most familiar with after thousands of years of stasis.  

Then, when you find that your beloved Princess Ananka has been reincarnated, how do you plight your troth? You lumber up to the poor girl and scare her into unconsciousness, terrify her to the extent that a grey streak spontaneously appears in her hair: she isn't pleased to see you, and that feeling of deathless love over the millennia is most definitely not mutual. 

So, you scoop up her inert body and drag her off to the river like so much laundry, pursued by an angry mob and a scrappy little dog who hates your dusty guts. As you disappear into the muddy water, dragging your (now inexplicably aged) reincarnated Princess with you, what do you think you’ll find down there? Peace? Contentment? Rest? These things are not available to you. They never will be. You'll be back.

It’s shit being a Mummy.   

Friday, 18 November 2016

TALK ABOUT A STRANGER












d. David Bradley (1952)

An unexpectedly fantastic little film, barely an hour long, full of shadows and suspense and atmosphere, great noir-ish shots and good performances, including one from Nancy Davis, in the year that she married fading star and rising Republican Ronald Reagan.

When a young boy (Billy Gray, who is great) finds his beloved dog poisoned, he is sure that his new neighbour, a dark eyed, beetle browed man with a foreign accent who keeps himself to himself and doesn't like dogs, is responsible. Billy channels his rage and distress into investigating the mysterious man, turning the rest of the town against the new arrival in the process. In the end, his obsession almost causes a tragedy.

This film pushes all the right buttons: it spends almost half of its running time showing us how happy Billy and his scruffy little dog are together, and these scenes are so amusing and touching that when the dog is killed, we are almost as devastated as Billy. From here on, the film gathers momentum, driven by Billy who seethes with anger and fizzes with the injustice of it all. The adults he comes across (with the exception of his parents), eager for sensation, rather irresponsibly stoke up this fury and soon the town is gossiping about the new neighbour, dissecting everything from his grocery order to the cost of his watch to the stubbiness of his thumbs - 'oh, and did you know that he murdered Billy's dog?'. You know how these things go in small towns.

In the end, disaster is averted and a perfectly logical (if rather dark) answer is found. Billy calms down and, in the process, acquires not only a new dog but a new sister and a new girlfriend, so it's a happy ending of sorts, just not for the old dog.

Friday, 11 November 2016

THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE












d. Leslie Kardos (1957)

We’re back in one of our favourite locations (alright one of my favourite locations), the women’s prison. This particular jail is notable for its high incidence of fatal heart attacks amongst the prisoners, usually preceded by lots and lots of screaming. Somewhat unpredictably, It turns out that the prison governors are all 150 years old, the last surviving guinea pigs of experimental animal magnetism experimentation. Apparently, the treatment has formed an invisible stone sheath around their bodies, protecting them from knives, bullets, breaks, bruises and the ravages of time. Every now and again, the treatment needs renewing, so, before they turn into statues, they order their lumbering henchman to steal a female convict, at which point they dump her in a warm water bath, attach some electrodes and suck the energy out of her until she’s good and dead.
No, I don’t know how they came up with them, either. But I’m glad that they did, as it’s another mad minor classic from that most psychotronic of cinematic years, 1957 AD.

Friday, 4 November 2016

STRAIT JACKET












d. William Castle (1964)

There is a sub-genre of cinema known as Psycho Biddy. You may already know that, but I think it’s worth reiterating as it always gives me a little pang of pleasure. A Psycho Biddy film contains a middle aged (or older) woman who is either guilty or suspected of suffering from a violent mental illness. Murder and mayhem most usually follows. Sometimes the biddy turns out NOT to be a psycho, and it is instead the people and world around her that are insane. Either ways, these films tend to be an amusing blend of over the top melodrama and gruesome physical and psychological horror, and are recommended as long as you don't mind screaming, lots and lots of screaming.
The psycho biddy here is domestic nightmare Joan Crawford. The film starts with her hacking her unfaithful husband and his floosie to death with an axe then flashes forward twenty years to her release from the asylum. The timid, aged, very grey Joan moves in with her now grown up daughter (who witnessed the whole thing) and, slowly, begins to regain a little of her mojo thanks to a new wardrobe and a polyester wig. Just when she begins to think her nightmare is behind her, she starts hearing voices and hallucinating severed heads. Then the decapitations begin…
It's a very William Castle type of William Castle film, in that the majority of the artistry in this film went into the title and the casting, and the rest just hangs loosely on the (hopefully wood, not wire) hanger. There is the odd visual flourish, and Joan has fun playing on the periphery of hysteria and it's nice to see persistent b-movie menace George Kennedy get his (paper mache) noggin knocked off. It's good fun.

Castle saves the best joke for the last frame, a reconstruction of the famous Columbia pictures logo of the flag draped lady carrying a torch. In Castle's version, her head has been chopped off, and sits neatly at her feet.

Friday, 9 October 2015

FROM HELL IT CAME




d. Dan Milner (1957)


The image of some creature lumbering out of the woods or jungle to threaten us is a primal fear, a reminder perhaps of harder, wilder times. No wonder that it features in so much of our folklore and mythology and, of course, our films. Where would our films be without screaming girls clutched in the horrible hands of hideous creatures? Nowhere, that’s where.

From Hell It Came is a South Sea Islands variation on the theme, and here the monster is the Tabanga, a malevolent tree stump. The film makers hedge (no pun intended) their bets a little by giving the grim faced tree multiple origins, and it is variously described as a mythical monster, a murdered Prince returning from the grave to exact revenge and a direct result of nuclear testing, but all of that is just incidental detail. What matters most is that the Tabanga is remarkably angry for flora, and immediately sets out on a murderous rampage.

The killer tree is notable for its permanent scowl, its indiscriminate and versatile approach to violence, and for the fact that it resembles something that they might put in a kids playground at a Halloween themed Wetherspoons. It eventually ends up in ‘the quicksand at the edge of the jungle’, a fairly predictable conclusion given that everyone in the cast says ‘the quicksand at the edge of the jungle’ at least once, just in case we miss the fact that it’s there. One primal fear down, 35,000 to go*.

* An arbitrary number, as thinking of primal fears was starting to freak me out. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

KRONOS




d. Kurt Neumann (1957)

When a huge asteroid crashes into the ocean, a crack scientific team are called out to investigate. What they don’t know, however, is that the asteroid is actually a UFO, and that the director of their scientific laboratory has been taken over by aliens, a race of people who have expended their own resources and are now travelling the universe seeing what they can steal from other planets. The aliens live by consuming energy: electrical, atomic, they’re not bothered, they just need lots of it and they don’t care where and how they get it.

To this end, they unleash an enormous, incredible machine onto the world, tall, black, metal, like a modernist sculpture of two water cisterns welded together. When the aliens are hungry, Kronos (as it is dubbed by one of the scientists – he knows his mythology, but can’t spell) rises up on hydraulic metal legs and more or less pogoes over to the next available power station and sucks it dry, crushing screaming peasants in his path. 

Can it be stopped? Well, yeah. For Dr Who fans, the solution is so obvious it’s amazing it takes the scientists and their computer SUSIE (Synchro Unifying Sinometric Integrating Equitensor) so long to come up with it: they reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.