Friday, 28 November 2014

THE MAZE











d. William Cameron Menzies  (1953)

Sir Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) doesn’t have any trace of a Scottish (or even recognisably British) accent, even though he is heir to a Baronetcy and a large, gloomy castle in the Highlands. When he receives an urgent telegram (is there any other type?) he drops everything (including his pretty fiancĂ©e)to hurry  home – and doesn’t come back. After a few weeks, his wife in waiting and her Aunt decide to investigate, only to find themselves embroiled in a terrifying world of shadows, secrets and slime.

You can tell that The Maze was originally shown in 3D by the sheer amount of things that get shoved towards the viewer: the animate (a lithe lady dancer); the inanimate (a telegram), and the somewhere in-between (a rubber bat on a piece of string). Like the rest of the film, however, this is all window dressing for the genuinely surprising finale, in which an enormous frog looms into three dimensional view before throwing itself out of a window.
This shock climax is concluded with a long scene in which the Sir Gerald tells us what the hell just happened. I’m not going to give it away but it involves Teratology. At first his explanation sounds absolutely ridiculous but, because he perseveres with it, his story ultimately achieves some degree of pathos, if not verisimilitude. It’s still absolutely ridiculous, though*.  

* Director William Cameron Menzies isn't at his best here, unfortunately: perhaps he was still thinking about his other 3D film of 1953, the extraordinary anti-Communist fever dream Invaders From Mars.

Friday, 21 November 2014

THE FIEND OF DOPE ISLAND




d. Nate Watt (1961)

The Fiend of Dope Island is about a love triangle between a marijuana farmer and gun runner called Charlie, a heavily accented showgirl called Glory La Verne and an undercover narcotics agent (I didn't catch his name). It is not, as far as I know, based on a true story. 


The semi-psychopathic and possibly brain damaged Charlie (he has two prominent scars on his head) is played by Bruce Bennett. Bennett used to be an Olympian called Herman Brix, and was lined up to play in the first MGM Tarzan film until he broke his shoulder and Johnny Weissmuller took his place. Brix soon returned reborn as Bennett and played Tarzan in a cheap serial overseen by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. His Tarzan was a gentleman: educated and articulate, but he was no match for Weissmuller and soon went back to character roles. Bennett’s performance here is pretty wild, but not particularly good, which is great, especially if you like ham. 

The film is relieved from being tedious by little studs of excitement like fist fights, shark attacks, bongo music, some surprising nudity and lots of corporal punishment. A well-oiled bull whip is the weapon of choice, if you don't count 'The Yugoslavian Bombshell' Tania Velia, who cha cha cha's into the midst of the male dominated island like a sex grenade with the pin out.  

The credits claim that this delightful trash flavoured trifle introduces Tania, but she’d already been in Hollywood for a few years at this point. Soon after this film was released she went home to Belgrade. Draw your own conclusions. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

SHE DEMONS



d. Richard E. Cuhna (1958)

She Demons is a pulp magazine brought to life, you know, the sort with a cover that has a statuesque blonde in her scanties being tortured by a Nazi with a lascivious expression on his face.  Chuck in a hurricane, some horribly scarred women, a live volcano, some mild bondage, lots of flagellation and a bongo number and you have any number of reasons to enjoy this fun little feature that was clearly made on a shoestring and in someone’s back garden but, nevertheless, is stupidly entertaining.

Irish McKenna plays the statuesque blond, a spoiled little rich kid who finds herself stranded on an uncharted desert island after her Daddy’s yacht sinks in a hurricane (she admonishes her rescuer for not salvaging the essentials: ‘you might at least have picked me up a pair of toreador pants’). The island, as you might expect, is populated by a savage she cult of mutated women and a gang of nasty Nazis, led by a scientist who is trying to restore his wife’s lost beauty (some lava fell on her face) by experimenting on the natives. It’s a bad scene, especially when the head German takes a shine to Irish and decides that SHE will be his Queen from now on.
Totally preposterous, extremely enjoyable, She Demons is some sort of classic, and comes highly recommended for anyone with an interest in sensation, shock science and interpretive dance which has got to be everybody, surely? 

Friday, 7 November 2014

TARZAN TRIUMPHS












d. Wilhelm Thiele (1943)

I’ll start by saying that I love Tarzan films. I also hate Nazis, so Tarzan Triumphs, where Tarzan kills Nazis, is my sort of movie.
When the German army invade the sub-Saharan city of Palandrya it takes Tarzan a long time to intervene, despite the entreaties of an exotic Princess (Jane is away in England nursing wounded soldiers). Tarzan, played with implacable practicality by Johnny Weissmuller, doesn’t understand what it has to do with him – he fights as a last resort, and only to survive – this isn’t any of his business. When the Nazis impinge on his escarpment, however, and try to kill his son and his monkey, Tarzan, rather like the United States after Pearl Harbour, finally understands that tyrants don’t just stay in other people’s backyards, instead having a nasty habit of spreading out if unchecked. In perhaps the single most dramatic moment of the cycle, Tarzan’s face darkens and he grabs his knife, uttering the immortal line: ‘Now Tarzan make WAR!’ and, by Christ, he does.
We needn’t go into extensive detail about how he systematically wipes out the Germans other than to say he employs both his in-built talent for death (Tarzan is a good man, but he kills pretty much everything that he disagrees with) and the deadly natural accoutrements of his jungle home: crocodiles, rampaging elephants, some geographically misplaced piranhas. For all their arrogance and advanced ordnance, The Nazis have no effective answer to Tarzan’s primal savagery and so, accordingly, die, one by one, screaming in horror and incomprehension at how this could happen to a member of the master race. Aficionados of the series will be familiar with the relentless horror and violence of Tarzan films, and although this is relatively tame in comparison to, say, Tarzan Escapes, it is still strangely satisfying to see so many nasty National Socialists get their bloody comeuppance.
The pay off, in which almost psychotically naughty chimp Cheeta talks to Berlin on the radio and is mistaken for Hitler, is brilliant, propaganda at its best, although, even in her role as an agent of chaos and misrule, Cheeta consistently demonstrates more humanity and compassion than the fucking Fuhrer ever did.   

There are clips of this fantastically entertaining film all over the internet, including one which comes with a very 21st century proviso: 
*WARNING* Johnny Sheffield ('Boy') is only 12 in these clips. If you prefer to see older people in peril then please do not view.

Incidentally, if you are interested in Tarzan films AND what I have to say on the matter, I am currently working on a short book called Tarzanetics which will include far more analysis and graphs and things. It will be published via The British Esperantist, i.e. my own private vanity press.