Sunday, December 10, 2006

bad movie octet (plus one)

It's been ages since I've done a bad movie post. I've been keeping notes and saving up material and so forth, but I haven't gotten around to posting. So I figured, hey, I'll just do the whole list at once and clear out the backlog and get my precious peace of mind back, even if it means relaxing my normally high (or at least highly wordy) standards somewhat.

FWIW, the title is the way it is because I started out with a list of eight movies and then remembered another one I wanted to cover. I couldn't just change "octet" to "nonet", because "nonet" is a silly word and nobody's going to know what it means. And I can't think of any other word offhand that means "nine of something", because stuff usually doesn't come in nines. Then I figured, it's really in the B-movie spirit to mess up and then try clumsily to patch things up after the fact, with decidedly mixed results. Well, whatever. That's how the title got that way, for good or ill.

So here's today's crop of movies...

The Atomic Brain aka Monstrosity

Your basic mad-scientist brain transplant movie. This time, the MS is working for a nasty old rich lady who wants a fresh, young replacement body. Made in 1964, this movie represents a sort of awkward transitional phase in the B-movie galaxy. Part 50's creature feature, part 60's exploitation flick. Don't get your hopes up, though. It would kinda like to be exploitation, but it lacks the courage of its convictions. No skin, and the allegedly revealing outfits are decidedly on the frumpy side, at least by modern standards. Oh, okay, in one of the lab scenes you get to see a bare navel. That was a big deal back in '64, apparently. We're also treated to a couple of ooky scenes of the old lady ogling the three transplant candidates, and some leering remarks from the narrator, but that's about it. Oh, about that narrator. Someone was getting paid by the word, I guess. Or the director realized he had a real stinker on his hands and thought he'd toss in the world's longest narrated intro to try to salvage the plot as best he could. I mean it. The intro is really, really long.

Oh, there's atomic energy involved. The MS needed it for the brain transplant machine. At one point he nonchalantly mentions he could blow the neighborhood sky-high with atomic energy if the cops got wise to his plan. Okayyyy... I suppose that can be an effective way to cover ones tracks, but there are subtler ways to go about it. There's a longer piece about this movie, complete with screenshots, at Horror-Wood. Enjoy!

Creature with the Atom Brain

People don't often realize how many B-movies of all kinds are really police procedurals under the hood. This baby's one of 'em. Sure, there's a mad scientist, atomic mischief, mind control, and whatnot, but it's a cop movie. See, this time the MS is working for a revenge-minded mobster. Seems the best way to get revenge on one's enemies is to lay hands on a few spare bodies, wire them up for remote control, juice 'em full of radioactivity to keep 'em going, and send them shambling around town doing people in. No, really, that's the best way. Seriously. Completely foolproof, almost.

If you can get past that part, this movie really isn't so bad, all things considered. I mean, at least you can follow the plot, basically, and it's paced decently, the acting is good enough, and the radio-controlled atomic zombie minions are pretty effective. It's just that a real mobster would get, I dunno, regular real-live hitmen to do the dirty work, more than likely. But still, this movie is fun and worth a watch, if you're into this sort of thing. There's plenty of stuff about this movie out there on the interwebs, including this article at 1000 Misspent Hours.

Bride of the Monster

Yes, the Ed Wood classic. I hate to admit this, but I hadn't actually seen this until recently, when Rob Zombie introduced it on TCM just before Halloween. Plan 9 is, uh, more of a classic, although Bela Lugosi is always a decent mad scientist. He's tired of working for the man, and has struck out on his own, working to create a race of atomic supermen, etc., etc. Remember what I was just saying about police procedurals? This it totally a police procedural. No matter what sort of crappy movie Ed Wood was making, there had to be cops in it somewhere. This is the movie with the classic bit where various people have to flail around on top of a completely inanimate monster octopus, flailing the rubber arms around themselves and screaming in agony. Kind of funny, and there's just enough so that it doesn't wear out its welcome too badly. The really scary part is watching the heroine wander around the burning lab in a taffeta wedding dress. Yikes. You can be sure Ed Wood didn't pay her enough to take that kind of risk. There's something to be said for this newfangled CG fire we have these days.

The East Side Kids Meet Bela Lugosi aka Ghosts on the Loose

I bought this for the Bela, and there's not much Bela to be had. The "East Side Kids" were a sort of comedy group/troupe/gang from way back when, doing the streetwise Brooklyn schtick that was everywhere back then (think Bugs Bunny), and you just never see anymore. Bela, sadly underused, is a German agent who's settled into a nice suburban house with several of his colleagues, where they churn out subversive Nazi propaganda. They ward away inquisitive neighbors by making the house seem haunted. Mirth ensues, and there's the usual array of gags with revolving bookcases, odd noises, suspicious paintings, the works. Eventually our gang of heroes unmasks the evildoers, and order is restored, the end. This isn't really a monster movie, or a mad scientist movie, but it's got Bela Lugosi and a "haunted" house, and it shamelessly plays off Bela's prior fame, so it's sort of an honorary horror/monster pic, and it's definitely a grade-B, Poverty Row production. The movie was shot by WIlliam "One Shot" Beaudine. His nickname came from his tendency to only shoot one take of any given shot, and use it even if people flub their lines, or bump into the scenery, or whatever. This movie is famous (in certain circles) because of one brief bit, so quick you'll miss it if you blink. In one scene, Bela is spying on our heroes by pretending to be a painting, because nobody can tell the difference if you just hold really still. The boys are trying to fix up the house, and they're dusting, and the dust makes Bela sneeze... but instead of "achoo" he says a very obvious "oh shit". There's no mistaking it. It's kind of amazing the Hays Office didn't blacklist everyone associated with the picture. Well, not so amazing. Censorship always works in inconsistent and ridiculous ways. Just don't show any navels in your big-budget musicals, and the Powers That Be will leave you alone, for the most part. And no wardrobe malfunctions in your halftime shows, dammit. One fun tidbit is that the movie features a young Ava Gardner in one of her first credited, speaking roles. She doesn't have much to do in the film, but if you're ever playing "Six Degrees of Bela Lugosi" with friends you can pick up a few extra credit points here, assuming they know who Ava Gardner is, the philistines. More at Moria and
Bloody Mallory
[Not embeddable, but free to watch, direct from the studio here].
I just don't get the French when they try to be funny. I really don't. This thing is sort of a French answer to Buffy, with a dash of Mystery Men tossed in. The pope is kidnapped off to another dimension, and a crack team of supernatural commandos are sent to rescue him, only to discover he's actually an evil fallen angel plotting to destroy humanity. The tone of the film ricochets back and forth between Saturday morning cartoon and bitter anti-Catholic rant. Too serious in some parts, and not enough in others. I suppose it boils down to Cultural Differences, like these things always do. In particular, I don't think anticlericalism really translates unless you're in a traditionally Catholic country. Otherwise you just sort of shrug off the dark mutterings about Jesuit plots and whatnot. Judging by the reader comments on IMBD, a lot of people love this thing, and you might be one of them. It mostly didn't do it for me, although the pink hearse was a nice touch. But... talking bats? That's just st00pid.
The worse sequel to Westworld. Westworld was pretty crappy too, but at least it had Yul Brynner as that scary robot gunfighter. Gave me nightmares as a kid, it did. He does have a cameo in Futureworld, but only in a groovy, allegedly "sexy" dream sequence, one which makes even less sense than actual dreams do. The thing that's really bad about both movies is that they don't make good use of the premise. Both start out by dangling the enticing wish-fulfillment in front of you, and introducing what you'd think would be the standard 70's disaster movie ensemble cast. Then they contract down into long chases through dark underground corridors full of pipes and ladders and pulleys. It's as if they ran out of money part of the way through production and had to dismiss nearly all the cast and sell off all the sets and film the rest of the thing in the steam tunnels under the studio back lot. And then it happened again when they made the sequel, that's the remarkable part. It doesn't help that Futureworld seems like the most tedious and annoying "Space Camp" vacation I can imagine. Who the hell would do that when Romanworld is a short people-mover ride away, robo-orgies and all? The only appealing part of the whole Futureworld concept is the ultra-lifelike "Rockem Sockem Robots" game. But even then, I'd feel bad for the poor robots. I really would. And sheesh, there aren't even any aliens. No green-skinned alien women, nothing. Just a bunch of 70's dorks in corny jumpsuits. If you can't even bonk a robot that looks like an alien, what's the freakin' point of Futureworld, I ask you? The underlying fantasy in the movies is that, since the people you're dealing with aren't real, you can click off the empathy part of your brain and live out every base desire. Since they're Hollywood movies, they hint at the sex a little, and then go and wallow in the violence. There was a real theme in 70's SF movies about the dangers of the unchecked id; Logan's Run comes to mind right away as another example. Everyone was so afraid we were becoming a bunch of hopeless lotus-eaters. The original movie was written by Michael Crichton, who went on to write Jurassic Park. The guy clearly has serious amusement park issues. Plus he's spent the last few decades sourly lecturing us about one exotic "danger" after another, always ripped from today's headlines. Sometimes it's "Japan is bad", other times it's a lecture about how men are the real victims of sexual harassment, somehow, and then there's always that groovy 70's-style lotus-eatin', which is Awful for some reason. Sadly, lotus is no longer on the menu in this country. Instead we've gone the opposite direction and it's nothing but apocalypic bible thumping and hypocritical moralizing and fire and brimstone and war all the time. But I digress. Futureworld didn't even get the Crichton treatment, and was released by AIP instead of MGM, but at least this means we get an AIP stock-issue mad scientist this time. This MS wants to rule the world by inviting the world's leaders to visit the park, and quietly replacing them with obedient robots. His nefarious plan fails when the intrepid, heroic pair of reporters escape and tell the world what they saw. This is a particularly dated post-Watergate twist, something you just wouldn't see in this day and age. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a new movie with a heroic reporter in it? If I was a movie industry type, it would be really tempting to remake, or "re-imagine" these movies, but do it right this time (and there are persistent rumors someone or other wants to give it a try). But I'm not so sure it's possible now, since it's not the 70's, and we just don't have that particular perspective on life anymore. They should've been done right the first time. Either with a bigger budget and a better screenwriter, turning it into The Towering Inferno in the Old West (and ancient Rome, and medieval England, etc.); OR do 'em as foreign films, probably Italian (they'd do Romanworld right, and Westworld too, probably); OR just film 'em as pornos, and give people what they really want to see. I mean, the movie folks can lecture us all they want about how people's deepest fantasies are about violence, but everybody knows that isn't true, at least not for normal people.
Revenge of Dr. X aka The Double Garden
Ooh. A crappy Venus Flytrap Man, and the world's angriest mad scientist. This time the MS is a NASA rocket scientist. He takes a break for some R&R in Japan, and this is what he does. One hell of a vacation, if you ask me. The climactic battle is right out of Frankenstein, with angry villagers pursuing the monster into the hills. By which I mean, right out of Frankenstein, except sucky. In the end the MS and the monster take a tumble and plummet to their doom, roll the credits. There are dogs barking all the freakin' time in this movie. You're supposed to be horrified when the doctor proposes feeding puppies to the creature, but all you can think is that it would be a real relief. Sadly, the version I saw was edited for TV, and was missing a crucial scene where the MS goes diving in search of some sort of rare undersea plant, and he's assisted in his search by a bevy of female assistants who swim around topless for no apparent reason. Well, that's not entirely true. They swim around topless to get people into the theater, because there's not much else about this movie that will. Anyway, the monster's one of the corniest you'll see. This movie came out in 1970, but the monster is pure 1955. But don't take my word for it; there's a much better review over at Bleeding Skull. Yes, that's the website's name. Another piece at Weird Wild Realm.
The Tomb
Like, totally awesome mid-80's Egyptian vampire crap, by Fred Olen Ray, the same guy who brought us Wizards of the Demon Sword. Yes, it's tongue in cheek and all that. I realize that. But even as a spoof it's still kind of crappy. The movie does have a mad scientist, although he doesn't do all that much. Mostly he's secretive and lies to a few people and stupidly seeks an interview with a hot Egyptian vampire, which doesn't turn out so well for him. I do, however, really want to hold up an ankh and shout "Stop in the name of Amun-Ra!" I don't know when that opportunity might arise, or whether I'll have an ankh handy when it does. And even if I do, chances are nobody will get the movie reference anyway. Trash City has a writeup. As that review mentions, Mr. Ray specializes in gratuitous nudity, which we get here in the generous form of Kitten Natividad. And nobody else, unfortunately, not even Michelle Bauer, who plays the vampire. He's less, uh, restrained in his more recent work, movies like Bikini a Go Go. Which (as you can probably guess from the title) is a truly dire movie, complete bottom of the barrel type stuff, but he doesn't cheat you on the nekkidness, FWIW. What you really get in the movie are a series of cameos by ex-stars and sorta-stars who were willing to lend their name to the production for 30 seconds of screen time. Sybil Danning appears briefly at the very beginning of the film and never again, while the, ah, legendary John Carradine has a brief spot as "John J. Andoheb", appearing for a bit of talking-head action to move the plot along. Watch his eyes. He's reading his lines off a script, or maybe cue cards, and he isn't even trying to hide it, the cheeky bastard.
Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster
No actual Frankenstein here. Just a NASA android who crash-lands in Puerto Rico and goes AWOL and happens across a very small plywood spaceship full of nefarious aliens. They're here to kidnap them some womenfolk to repopulate their species, the usual drill. But the noble robot stops 'em, the end. The best sequence is the extended Vespa ride around vintage San Juan. It's as if the director was born to film a Puerto Rican Roman Holiday, but didn't realize it at the time, and wasted his career making crap like this instead. So sad. Hint to aspiring filmmakers: Plywood, when covered in shiny black paint, still has an obvious plywood texture. The audience will be able to tell. Unless they're drunk or baked or something, which they probably are considering they're watching this kind of crap and haven't changed the channel or kicked the disc out or anything. Quite possibly they're just watching for Princess Marcuzan. That headdress thing of hers is pretty cool. If you're a big fan of stock NASA and military footage, you'll find a lot to like about this movie. I'm starting to think that being able to weave a thin plot around a raft of stock footage has become a lost art. Nobody does it anymore. Much, much more at Monsters at Play and DVD Drive-In.

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