Friday, 31 October 2014

TORMENTED












d. Bert I. Gordon (1960)

Craggy middle aged Tom Stewart (craggy middle aged Richard Carlson) has it all: a beautiful young fiancée, a great career playing somewhat prosaic jazz piano, a cool pad, tight swimming trunks. The only insect in his unguent is Vi (Julie Reding), an old flame who loves him so much she’s prepared to wreck his life. Vi is pretty attractive in all sorts of ways (most of them sexual), and is quite obviously a bad lot as it's 1960 and her dress is so low cut that we can see her brassiere and several acres of her extensive bosom.  
They meet, as secret ex-lovers do, at the top of an abandoned lighthouse. It’s poorly maintained (bloody Council!), so a section of the guard rail gives way and leaves Vi hanging precariously over the raging sea. Stewart doesn’t kill her, but neither does he help her and so she falls screaming to her death: end of problem; start of story.

From here on in, despite being dead, Vi makes an awful nuisance of herself. Her ghostly footprints appear in the sand, bits of her jewellery keeping washing ashore, she covers her rivals wedding dress in seaweed and steals her engagement ring, and her disembodied head keeps appearing to Stewart to conduct increasingly bitter arguments with him. Some of these beyond the grave shenanigans are seen by others, some are not, so it’s hard to tell what is supernatural and what is psychological, whatever the difference is, although, either way, Stewart unravels pretty quickly.
In any event, by the end of the film an unhinged Stewart has killed a blackmailing beatnik (the great Joseph Turkel, one of Kubrick’s favourite actors) and is just about to murder a seven year old girl when Vi’s ghost swoops in and pushes him from the top of the lighthouse. The Council should have fixed that guard rail, or at least put some tape across the gap.

In a memorable coda, rescuers pull both Stewart's and Vi’s bodies from the sea and place them next to each other on the beach. Vi’s dead arm somehow flops onto Stewart’s corpse, revealing the stolen ring on her hand. It’s going to be a very long engagement.  

Friday, 24 October 2014

THE CRAWLING HAND












d. Herbert L. Strock (1963)

The Crawling Hand is a low budget film which uses the space race to colour a fairly traditional horror story. In it, a moon shoot ends in disaster when, on the return journey,  the rocket goes haywire. Despite having run out of oxygen some twenty minutes previously, the Astronaut's frightened (and frightening) face appears on the mission control monitors, alternately hissing ‘kill!’ and ‘press the red’, i.e. the button that will destroy him and his ship. As the ship is about to crash into a populated area, mission control press the button and the ship explodes, showering debris all over the coastline including, on a secluded beach, the Astronaut’s arm, sheared off at the elbow, but still wearing its glove and spacesuit sleeve (I was reminded of J.G Ballard at this stage, almost certainly not the film makers intention).
A brilliant but brooding young science student (‘I’m going to the top – and I’m making it on my own!’) wraps the severed arm in a shower curtain and takes it back to his digs where it promptly strangles his landlady and then takes him over: forcing him to do bad things until he gets flu and his high temperature weakens the arm to the extent that he can break the link and stab the severed limb repeatedly with a broken bottle. Hungry junkyard cats finish the job. Or do they? No, not really. The uncanny is not so easily disposed of.     
The Crawling Hand has a sliver of science behind the narrative, the reasoning being that mixing Earth molecules (pronounced ‘mole-ecules’ by the Chief Scientist) with space matter might possibly result in a hybrid life form that grows incredibly quickly and wants to kill everything. Yes, it’s tenuous, but this isn’t the sort of film that has to try and justify itself, so the vague attempt is actually rather charming. 

The best scenes feature the creepy hand crawling around, using its burned and degraded fingers to pull itself towards the next throat it wants to throttle. Full of filler and filmed on the hoof (the actors don't stop when they make mistakes) the concept of a parasitic virus from space owes a  lot to Quatermass, but mainly resembles a slightly wonky ghost train ride. Tellingly, the protagonists are attractive teenagers, hopped up on soda pop, young love and The Bird Is The Word by The Rivingtons, which features heavily throughout.


There is probably a monograph to be written about crawling hands in the movies, from The Beast With Five Fingers through to The Evil Dead and beyond. They're mainly horror films, of course, severed hands don't normally creep around in anything else. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

THE DEVIL'S HAND












d. William J. Hole, Junior (1961)

Robert Alda plays Rick Turner, a somewhat feckless electronics engineer with a penchant for panelled cardigans and lots and lots of pomade. Rick is disturbed by dreams of a beautiful, exotic woman, something that his less beautiful and less exotic fiancée is surprisingly sanguine about.

The story gets interesting when it is revealed that the beautiful dream woman is actually astrally projecting herself into Rick’s life by talking to a doll that has his face. It’s all part of the recruitment process for a cult run by creepy doll maker Neil Hamilton (perhaps best known as genial Commissioner Gordon from the Adam West Batman series)*. The cult is ostensibly about voodoo (hence the dolls), as personified by Gamba, ‘the Devil-God of Evil’, but it’s a somewhat ramshackle group, seemingly having no real purpose outside of being a cult, i.e. they sit around on bean bags listening to bongo music and watching interpretive dance.

Every now and again someone is killed for revealing the dark secrets of the cult, i.e. that they sit around on bean bags listening to bongo music and watching interpretive dance. It’s not the greatest film in the history of cinema (there are no monkeys in it for a start) but it has momentum, its own crazy logic and occasional flashes of style, as well as ticking four of my (multitudinous) boxes: it begins with a dream sequence; it ends in a fire; there is slinky ethnic music, and the ending hints at a sequel that is never, ever, ever going to happen.

* The dolls are creepy, and so is Hamilton, so that sentence works in all sorts of ways. I particularly like the scene where the creepy creepy doll maker, surrounded by his hideous homunculi, is interrupted mid rant by a ringing telephone: 'hello', he purrs, 'doll shop'

Friday, 10 October 2014

ATONAL CINEMA FOR ZOMBIES












I think one of the most influential books that I ever read was The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film by Michael Weldon: hundreds of capsule reviews of films that I never ever thought I'd see, most of which are now available at the press of a few keys and a couple of clicks. 

Weldon's book didn't need a lot of pictures, and it predated the readily accessible internet and its cavalcade of hyperlinks, .gifs and embedded video clips, so I'm not going to bother with them either. If you're reading this then you are almost certainly computer literate enough to find all that for yourself, which sounds a bit stroppy but isn't intended to be.  

I reserve the right to write about what I want here, but can confirm the focus will mainly be strange black and white American films from, say, 1930s-odd to 1960s-ish, most of which will be psychotronic, i.e. bizarre, obscure, wonderful.