Friday, 26 May 2017

SON OF KONG











d. Ernest B. Schoedsack (1933)

'I guess next time you leave big monkey alone, huh?'

Released a mere nine months after King Kong, and made at a third of the cost, Son of Kong is a charming, modest little film that packs murder, mutiny, dinosaurs, seismic disturbances and a big white hero ape into seventy minutes without ever removing its tongue from its cheek. 

Set a month after Kong's New York rampage, it focuses on hapless promoter / chancer Carl Denham, now broke and facing a grand jury trial and a dozen law suits. Eager to escape his legal woes, and feeling bad about dead Kong and his dead victims, he jumps on board his boat and hits the open seas.

After forty five minutes of mildly diverting intrigue and romance, the highlight of which is a group of monkeys in fezzes playing avant-garde mood music, he finds himself back on Skull Island in search of treasure, arriving just in time to save Kong's son from drowning in quicksand. Poor Little Kong 'ain't a patch on his old man', being gentle, dopey, boss eyed, albino and a mere twelve feet tall, but he is lovable and approachable and doesn't seem to want to eat anyone.  

Comically anthropomorphic, Little Kong becomes Denham's protector, beating up the various oversized mammals and reptiles that prowl the island, including a Nothosaurus, a Styracosaurus and a giant, angry bear that he puts into a headlock and punches repeatedly in the face.

All too soon, a violent earthquake sinks the island beneath the sea, and plucky Little Kong sacrifices himself to the turbulent waters in order to hold his best friend Denham above the waves until he can be rescued. It's all rather sweet, and although it lacks the impact, iconography and innovation of its illustrious predecessor it is fun, genuinely funny and easy to like.

Friday, 19 May 2017

HAND OF DEATH











d. Gene Nelson (1962)


Dr. Alex Marsh (schlock superstar, John Agar, Shirley Temple's first husband) is one of those madly intense scientists obsessed with making the world a better place by inventing unspeakable things. The main thrust of his work is to combine a hypnotic drug and non-deadly nerve gas, thereby giving the U.S.A a paralyzed and compliant enemy to invade. His reasoning is that it will save the horror and destruction of nuclear war but, as he speaks, his eyes glitter and his mouth grows wet: the idea excites him very much, a lot more than his over-eager fiancee in fact, who plays the coquette with his cheerful best friend in desperate lieu of attention from her permanently working husband to be.  

One late night, an exhausted Marsh clumsily spills some of his experimental solution over his hands, and tears open his lab coat and Hawaiian shirt in pain and horror before falling onto the bed and hallucinating test tubes, beakers and scurrying white mice. When he awakens, he not only has a first class tan, but the merest touch of his hands means instant death, a lesson his Mexican lab assistant learns very quickly. Ever responsible, Marsh douses the corpse and the rest of the lab in white spirit and puts a match to it before driving off to cause chaos downtown.

A film that runs out of steam very quickly and soon descends into jumbled images of a bloke just staggering about, Hand of Death is most notable for Marsh's transformation from handsome(ish) young(ish) scientist to bloated, blackened monster, as mutation turns his head into a lump of swollen coal and his deadly hands into bunches of over-ripe bananas. Interestingly, to disguise the disfiguring condition that has distorted his entire body and robbed him of his speech and sanity, he does the only thing he can under the circumstances: he puts a hat on.  

Friday, 12 May 2017

THE MANSTER












d. George Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane (1962)

Regular readers may have noticed that many of the films written about here are concerned with transformation, mainly of the uncontrolled and uncontrollable sort: people shrink or grow; they die but stay alive; they become bestial and unhinged or taken over, mostly at the gnarled hands of bad science, pure evil or alien conquest. Is that the worst thing, do you think? To become other, to turn into someone or something that you can't manage, and to know it is happening, to feel yourself slipping further and further into the void. Is it a metaphor for the human condition? Does transformation evoke old age, illness, death? Yes, in these films transformation is death, and can only be cured by more death including, ultimately, your own. I need some Propranolol.

In The Manster, jaded US foreign correspondent Larry Stanford is on his last assignment in Japan when he meets genius geneticist, Dr. Suzuki. Suzuki is interested in 'the beginnings of life' and seems nice enough despite keeping his brother and wife in the basement, having turned them into a hairy white ape and a disfigured hag respectively. While Larry has a Mickey Finn induced nap, Suzuki injects him in the neck with a serum designed to turn the hapless journalist into an entirely new life form.

In time honoured fashion, the first Larry knows about it is when he notices he has a very hairy hand. Next, he is startled to discover an eyeball embedded in his shoulder. After a few out of character homicidal rampages, an additional head emerges from him, malevolent and wizened, resembling a fairground coconut with comedy teeth. Head two is murderously angry with everything and everybody, not least Larry, who he wants to get away from as quickly as possible, ultimately leading to a violent split between host and parasite. 

As Larry reverts to human form, his erstwhile spare head and body conveniently having fallen into a live volcano, there is barely a second to wonder if Larry will pay for his crimes before the film's abrupt end. Let's hope the Japanese police are prepared to blame it all on the psychopathic man monkey and let Larry go home.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

THE WEREWOLF











d. Fred F. Sears (1956)

Cheaply but carefully made, The Werewolf provides a surprisingly contemporary retelling of the hoary old lycanthropic legend, placing the action in Smalltown USA and making it a condition of mad modern science rather than arcane folklore.

The origins of the werewolf are somewhat odd, with responsibility falling to a couple of fascist scientists who plan to outlive the impending nuclear apocalypse by combining human genes with the survival traits of other successful species. When a timid salesman injured in a car crash falls unexpectedly into their clutches they ruthlessly inject him with a syringe full of lupine essence and sit back ready to note down the results.

Their victim escapes, of course, and trudges through the snow to the small ski resort town of Mountaincrest. Here, the poor, frightened fellow transforms into a ravenous, drooling wolf: a hairy, hungry killing machine. The townspeople, dressed almost exclusively in plaid, form a posse to track him down.

The werewolf spends most of his time running, but never really gets anywhere, not least because there’s nowhere to go. In his old life he was a nice man with a wife and a son but now he is a crazed killer, a beast who inadvertently seals his fate by ripping apart the scientists who made him like this in the first place. With literally no turning back, he ends up full of yokel bullets, a bloodied heap of hair. His dying act is to revert to his human form, a pitiful and questioning look upon his face. 

It’s rather a depressing spectacle, but then werewolf films never have happy endings, they just don’t work that way.

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.