Thursday, January 26, 2006

Godmonster of Indian Flats

The "Godmonster" of the title is not a reference to Pat Robertson or Jack Abramoff, although I admit either would be a reasonable guess. But not this time. Tonight's bad movie is Godmonster of Indian Flats, a peculiar early-70's yarn about a gigantic, horribly mutated sheep marauding around near Virginia City, Nevada. As numerous IMDB users have noted, it's one of the, ah, less convincing monsters you're likely to see on film.

And, as is typical of old monster movies, you don't actually see much of the monster, and you get the feeling they're trying to pad the movie out early on, to bring what would otherwise be a 15-minute rampage up to feature film length. So we get a parallel story, a conflict between the local creepy, insular townsfolk and an eastern mining conglomerate that wants to take over the place. The whole "weird doings in an isolated town" angle is actually pulled off reasonably well, although you keep waiting for Mulder and Scully to show up and make fun of all the yokels.

The early 70's were a very serious time, both in and out of the film world, and it just wouldn't be right to make a monster movie without delivering a Serious Message. And in Godmonster, you get two for the price of one. First, the residents of this desolate mining town are concerned about the big bad easterners coming in and messing the place up with even more mining, which would cause pollution. Early on, someone mentions cyanide, which really is used for gold mining these days: It's one of the few substances that dissolves gold, so you just pour cyanide on top of a pile of dirt, and the gold goes into solution and washes out the bottom. This would be a great idea, except that cyanide is poisonous. Plus, gold-mining oldtimers tend to think that it's cheating, because it's too easy, kind of like fishing with dynamite, or something. So anyway, that's Serious Message number one.

Serious Message number two is (I think) an plea for racial tolerance and harmony and understanding, or something. The local representative of the eastern mining guys is black, see, and he spends much of the movie being mistreated by the ignorant, bigoted locals, which isn't very nice or hospitable of them. But on the other hand, he's working for the big Eastern polluters, so the two messages are sort of working at cross-purposes. In the end, it's not 100% clear exactly what important life lesson we're supposed to come away with.

But wait! There's more! If you get the DVD from Something Weird, cleverly hidden among the disc's special features is a second genuine full-length feature film! Who could resist a deal like that? The bonus movie on the disk is an obscure exploitation flick from 1964 called Passion in the Sun. The plot isn't overly taxing, to be sure. A "circus geek" in a cheap fright wig escapes from a disused amusement park, and heads off to go on a rampage. Meanwhile, a burlesque dancer is snatched from the local airport by a pair of Bad Men toting an important suitcase (probably full of cash, but we never see inside it). She escapes when the two men quarrel over the loot, and an extended chase ensues, with our heroine managine to lose articles of clothing at a remarkable rate. A pair of local cops are in the mix as well, following along several steps behind our heroine and the remaining Bad Man. As the movie's from way back in 1964, we know justice will prevail in the end, but not just yet. Since viewers will probably start drumming their fingers during the long chase through the underbrush, all the while waiting eagerly for justice to prevail, the filmmakers generously chose to break up the (lack of) action with a series of burlesque numbers. These take place at the club where our heroine was originally headed, and feature dancers who would be considered rather, uh, fleshy by present-day standards, at least cinematic standards. Eventually the geek shows up, does in the remaining Bad Man, and takes over the crucial role of chasing our heroine. So they inevitably end up back at the amusement park, and she ends up hiding on a rollercoaster. Naturally the geek fires the thing up, so as to better torment our protagonist. So she goes for a few spins around the track, trying to look terrified, but eventually the geek tires of this, or something, and inexplicably crawls out onto the tracks, where the rollercoaster hits him. Finally the cops show up and comfort the poor lady, who's been fending for herself the whole movie up to now. For their valiant efforts, HQ gives our boys in blue the rest of the night off, so inevitably they end up at a certain burlesque club of our acquaintance. There's another couple of numbers, now featuring our heroine with the others as backup, and our "heroes", not late to the party for once, enjoy a hearty handshake to close the film. The credits immediately pop up to tell us that the whole thing was filmed "south of the border", which I guess was important for legal reasons back in the old days, due to those few extremely tame topless scenes. I could swear that in one scene I saw a freeway exit for Galveston, but I suppose there could be a different Galveston in Mexico that I'm totally unfamiliar with.

The definitive book or academic paper about 60's exploitation films has surely been written already. It's not like the material is very subtle and hard to puzzle out, for starters, plus the main thing to talk about is the nudity, which gathers a crowd in the academic world just like it does everywhere else. And the genre certainly had its weird conventions. There were only a few set circumstances that gave you an excuse for a nude scene. 60's viewers, presumably all male viewers, seemed to really go for the "peeping Tom" thing, since viewers are treated to an endless parade of scenes with women in the buff, sitting around putting on makeup, or idly chatting with friends, or doing some other very mundane activity, blissfully unaware they're being watched. You don't need to be a graduate student to pick up on the obvous male gaze aspect here. When the movie camera's not peeping in the shower, you get things like the aforementioned burlesque scenes, which I guess are there because putting anything on stage automagically turns it into art. Or at least it gives you a reasonable legal defense on grounds of artistic merit, in case somebody tries to prosecute you. And then, the costumes used on stage tend towards the ethnic, lots of grass skirts and "Indian princess" outfits. If you start out with the right set of clothes, by unspoken social convention you'd temporarily become sort of pseudo-ethnic, and nudity didn't really count somehow, because you're just an innocent child of nature, a la the old days of National Geographic.

And then, to take the cake, after pulling off their vastly underwhelming "rescue", our two police buddies win the right to see the heroine in the altogether -- in a pure and innocent 1964 way, of course. Hey, the movie may not sound like much, but it's a definite step up from the oeuvre of Doris Wishman. That is, unless you like endless shots of feet and inanimate objects, which I understand really does the job for some people.

To sum up tonight's double feature: Start off with "Godmonster" (if you dare, and/or care), so that you'll have had a few drinks or whatever by the time you get to the lower half of the double bill. Otherwise you'll either a) vastly overanalyze the thing, like I did, or b) get extremely bored and turn it off. Which would be understandable, considering that every moment you spend watching a bad movie is a moment of your life you'll never get back. But it's also true that sometimes you've got nothing better to do on a Saturday night, relentless sands of time notwithstanding, and if so, you could do worse than "Godmonster". I know, because I have, so sooner or later you'll probably be hearing about those bad movies too.

No comments :