Friday, 24 April 2015

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, USA












d. Denis Sanders (1959)


Dostoevsky goes beat, man. Well, sort of. George Hamilton plays Robert Cole, a beer can bongo playing high school drop out with a very punchable face and a massive superiority complex. Ray believes that he is special, an Alexander the Great, a Napoleon Bonaparte, albeit one who lives in a Los Angeles bedsit and spends most of his days either asleep or drifting aimlessly around amusement arcades. Cole believes that important people like him shouldn't have to operate within the normal moral framework of society and that, as they know best, they should do whatever the hell they like. Typical student, really. His view is that if, for example, he had beaten a pawnbroker to death, then he probably had a very good reason, and he's too clever to get caught, so let's leave it at that.    

I haven't read Dostoevsky's original novel (I haven't read ANY Dostoevsky, please don't tell my mates), but I am familiar with the basics, which is just as well as you certainly don't get any help from the film itself, which cleverly reconfigures the source material so that it becomes virtually incomprehensible. Despite the inherent drama of the storyline there is no tension here whatsoever and the narrative is reduced to a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes in which an out of their depth cast are left spouting cod philosophical non sequiturs in lieu of characterisation and dialogue. The music is quite good, though. 

The Cole/Raskolnikov character needs an actor able to convey a fierce intellect, a complex personality and a monstrous personal philosophy. Instead we get a very young George Hamilton, who looks a bit thick and keeps stiffly throwing his arms in the air and shouting. With a better actor the film might have had a chance but, as the producer later admitted, they simply couldn't afford Anthony Perkins.   

I didn't set up this blog to be mean to films, by the way, but Crime and Punishment, USA is pretentious and poorly executed and it would be dishonest of me not to say so - and I'm nothing if not a deeply moral and upright person.   

Friday, 17 April 2015

MAN BEAST













d. Jerry Warren (1956)


My expectations were low for this film, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching lots of (generally well filmed) footage of a small group of people traipsing through snow and climbing mountains hunting for the Abominable Snowman, especially as, every now and again, a scruffy looking Yeti would appear from behind a rock or from a hole in the ice to watch their progress and shake his manky head at the folly of it all. Then, towards the end of the film, when a sinister mountain guide ripped open his silk chemise to reveal a coarsely matted white hairy chest, declaiming that he was part Yeti himself, I choked on my can of Lilt and ascended into psychotronic heaven powered by the sheer silly brilliance of it all.  

It seems that the Yeti are simultaneously at several stages of evolution. Some look like albino gorillas with skulls for faces (they mainly do the heavy work); some are more man than beast, facilitated by a breeding programme with kidnapped local women. The sinister mountain guide is particularly excited about getting his hands on the sole female in the expedition, an American woman, as he believes that their offspring would perhaps skip two generations of development, maybe putting a Yeti in the White House by the year 2,000.

Triple threat film maker Jerry Warren is often criticised for the sheer shoddiness of much of his output, but, on this evidence, he could also put something half way decent together when he wanted to. Man Beast is cheap, yes, but it is also fun, engaging, surprising and the mountain footage is nicely done. Sure, it's no La Regle du jeu, but then I've always thought the highly rated French classic conspicuously lacking in Yeti action.       

Friday, 10 April 2015

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER













d. Edgar G. Ulmer (1960)


A super cheap sci fi b-movie made on an abandoned air base in just ten days, Beyond The Time Barrier isn't exactly 'the most terrifying film ever made'*, but it is a tiny triumph over adversity, a testament to the ingenuity, imagination and determination of its director, Edgar G. Ulmer - and his family, who worked on the production in various roles.

When a USAF test pilot breaks the sound barrier and the time barrier in a new plane, he finds himself projected forward to the year 2024. Things are fairly grim in the future as a space plague has split mankind into two groups: murderous bald mutants, and deaf mute 'survivors' who have become sterile. The only fertile woman on the planet is wheeled out to mate with the test pilot and, as she's rather attractive, he's not too put out, although another time traveller, a bloody Russian, is about to put a mighty spoke in the works...

Ulmer started his film career as a set designer and, no matter how cheap his films are, they always have a very definite look. Here, the survivors live underground in a sort of geodesic pyramid. From the outside it's clearly a drawing but, inside, it is nicely realised, halfway between a bomb shelter and a holiday camp, made up of dozens of interlocking triangular panels. In a nice touch, Ulmer doesn't just fade the scenes in the pyramid out, but uses triangular ellipses to move from place to place. It's  a small but important point: Ulmer isn't just here to make pointless trash: he has a vision, and he manages to bring it to screen on a shoestring. Regardless of the results, I think that's quite an achievement.   

* The trailer makes quite a lot of unsubstantiated claims. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

DAUGHTER OF DR JEKYLL















d. Edgar G. Ulmer (1957)


As you might expect from the title, this is a silly sort of film, albeit one that seems to wilfully muddle horror mythology simply for the sake of it. It's also a film that is occasionally hard to watch, as the interiors and exteriors are so unevenly matched in terms of quality and visibility that they might as well be from completely different productions.

When a young woman turns 21, she inherits a large country estate and the truth about her lineage: she is the daughter of the notorious Dr. Henry Jekyll. Despite the fact that she was born several years before he started the experiments that would transform him into Mr. Hyde, she is frightened that his 'condition' might be hereditary, concerns that her guardian is rather poor at assuaging: 'Well, there's absolutely no proof that it is - and absolutely no proof that it isn't'. The condition in question, by the way, is Lycanthropy. Yes, sod Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll was, it seems, a werewolf. Don't worry, though, the local villagers know what to do to stop a 'blood sucking' werewolf. That's right, you bang a stake through its heart*. 

Despite being under sedation and locked in her room, every night Ms. Jekyll has feverish dreams of herself as a saturnine, feral figure, emerging from the family crypt to kill. When she wakes up she is in her own bed, but covered in blood and mud to find that, invariably, another female servant has been murdered on her way back home to the village. 

The set up of these murders is less than meticulous, and it is soon apparent that it is physically impossible for Ms. Jekyll to have committed them. All we're seemingly left with is the prospect of a Scooby Doo big reveal type ending - which, happily, doesn't quite happen, as there is one more left handed twist of the cinematic pepper pot which, along with a superbly eerie theremin score,  just about redeems the whole thing.

Staking werewolves, though? Come on.  

* As a lifelong horror enthusiast, this actually hurt my feelings.