Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Walking Dead (1936)

Karloff portrays an ex-con named John Ellman, recently released from jail after 10 years and trying to get his life back on track. He attempts to get a job with some shady racketeers, but ends up being framed for the murder of a judge the racketeers wanted revenge on. His innocence is exposed right after his death sentence is carried out, but he’s miraculously brought back to life by a scientist determined to reveal the secrets of life and death, while Ellman is determined to extract revenge…
This little film was directed by the gifted and influential Michael Curtiz, one of the most significant directors from the golden era of Hollywood. It’s a clever little blend of genres with elements from crime/gangster, sci fi and horror cinema, though the major emphasis seems to be on crime elements. Curtiz had some experience with horror and sci fi, directing Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum a few years earlier.

Watching the film, there are some undeniable similarities with Frankenstein. In particular is the scene where Karloff is revived from the dead, where some pretty elaborate scientific equipment is projected with test tubes, boiling and pumping liquids, and lots of electronics, with Karloff laying on the operating table being injected with whatever scientific quackery it is that brings him back to life. It’s pretty neat. 

Karloff was reportedly concerned with these similarities and wished for his character to have more lines in order to separate the two of them. I have always found Karloff’s facial expressions to be a cut above most of his peers, while his voice a cut below. He had a slight lisp and a gentle voice which simply didn’t suit many of the characters he came to portray throughout his career. In this film, his voice works okay because of the way the character is written – sort of gentle and innocent.
In addition to Karloff, there are other noteworthy performances in the film; Ricardo Cortez does a real good job at portraying a corrupt lawyer asshole intent on financial gain and collaborating with whorish gangsters. Also noteworthy is character actor Barton MacLane in a typical tough guy gangster role.

Direction and technical quality is standard of the era, pretty bland most of the time, but the pacing is good. The story keeps it interesting all the way. The ending might seem incomplete, but I found it refreshing. Karloff fans, fans of classic Hollywood cinema and fans of the golden age of horror/sci fi, will definitely get a kick out of this classic piece of art.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Devil Girl from Mars

A group of people with different backgrounds gather one evening at an inn around the British countryside when suddenly a flying saucer lands nearby. A creature in the form of a human female enters the inn and claims to be from the planet Mars. She intends to round up earth men and bring them back to Mars to procreate due to the “war between the sexes”, which left Mars short of men. She is armed with hypnotic abilities, a laser gun and the nephew of Robbie the robot.

This old school science fiction was made during the height of the sci-fi boom of the 50’s and early 60’s. Several where also produced in the UK, such as  Spaceways, Quatermass and “First Man into Space”. The whole plot takes place during one night and you follow a couple of scientists, a famous actress, a criminal and a few other eccentrics who just happens to end up at the inn on that particular night. It’s a very thin plot line and mostly consists of the female alien, Nyah, going back and forth from the spaceship to the inn delivering her apocalyptic messages of how inferior earth is to Mars.

 I must say though, I have always found female antagonists to be attractive. There should be more. Even though the costume of Patricia Laffan sort of makes her look like a cross between a transvestite and Darth Vader, she does radiate an authoritative and assertive tone I find highly attractive in a woman. I would rate her far above bombshell Hazel Court, who also appears in the film rather blandly, not making much notice.

It’s sort of written and directed as if it was a theater play. That’s the feel you get from it. The direction and camera work is really simple, it’s looks to be filmed entirely inside a studio and the sets are really simple. Much of the dialogue is pompous and somewhat pretentious, which was common in those sci-fi classics. I don’t mind that, it belongs to the genre.

At times it’s a bit boring because the story only goes back and forth from the flying saucer and the inn, but it does have its highlights in science fiction scenery; the first scene where Nyah summons her monolithic robot has epic qualities. The robot looks like an inbred cross between Robbie the robot, Tobor and Gorth, but never really gets to show of its brute strength. It does have some cool arms though, and some nice robot shorts on. Another scene is when Nyah uses her destructive laser beam gun and delivers devastating blows to anyone opposing her. A third scene is when Nyah shows of the extremely simplified interior of her space and explains to the awestruck scientist the secrets behind their technological superiority.

The easiest way to describe the film is that it’s bland with occasional highlights. Fans of sci fi from this era should see it; others will think it’s a waste of time.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rosso sangue

aka Anthropophagous 2 / Horrible / Absurd / Monster Hunter

The George Eastman Show

George Eastman portrays a Greek man called Mikos (no, not Nikos), who is being chased by a priest early in the film. While running away, he manages to spear himself on the spiked edges of a fence. At the hospital, Mikos is saved by a miraculous operation. After a little while, he decides he don’t want any more of that shit and decides to split. He presents his new drill to the nurse and says he is ready to change his ways. Meanwhile, the priest reveals to the police that Mikos has suffered from a genetic experiment which has changed his personality and made his cells and tissue heal alarmingly fast. His only weak point is his brain. At the same time, Mikos decides it’s time to hit the town.
Although marked as a sequel to Joe D’Amato’s classic Anthropophagous, the two films have no connection in story line / plot, but more or less feature the same theme where the royal quality of Eastman’s intensity gets to shine. The film follows the slasher genre characteristics where Eastman’s portrayal shares a stronger resemblance to the typical slasher heroes of the 80’s.

During this period in D’Amato’s career, he had just put his Emmanuelle epics of the 70’s behind and had to adapt to the new types of films that emerged from the American film industry. At this point, the American film production raised its financial worth to such an extent that it became difficult for Italian films to compete. The easiest way to attempt to replicate the American films, was through genres requiring little money. In actuality, this mostly meant cheap horror flicks.
D’Amato already had some experience in gore drenched films, directing Anthropophagous and Buio omega a year and two before this one. The concept was easy to understand and the execution is what you could expect from this type of film. It follows the slasheresque build up with George Eastman walking around and destroying everyone within sight. Emphasis is put on creating memorable murder scenes. Three scenes in particular come to mind:

- The nurse receiving a drill through the head
- A woman’s head being cooked in an oven
- A butcher’s head being sawed
There is little doubt that these scenes are the main attraction and most memorable for fans and viewers. This is where D’Amato’s camera skills are put to use, and he makes sure to portray the violence as distinctly as possible. Little is left to the imagination, and that’s the way it should be. The FX quality is generally good, but apparent in some scenes. Surprisingly there is no nudity in the film, despite D’Amato’s reputation. The closest thing to nudity is a small clothed clip from his masterpiece, Porno Holocaust, being lifted into a scene where two kids are watching a supposed soap opera on the TV! The rest of the film is dominated by cheap interior shots, very little use of exterior locations and… interesting dubbing. A funny amount of attention is given to a super bowl match between the Steelers and the Rams, even though the characters don’t seem to have much interest in it. Actor and director Michele Soavi makes a little appearance, though I’d wish more was made of the scene. The film has a tendency to drag on a bit at times, because it’s not enough material to make it interesting throughout. However, any boring bit is well worth the wait whenever King George appears on screen.

The whole film is indeed a George Eastman experience. He doesn’t have a single line of dialogue, yet delivers on so many levels. How can one not be impressed by the intensity of his stare and presence? By the share ferocity of his character? He does not need makeup, fancy costumes or a knife. He’s a power force of his own. He is George Eastman and only needs to be George Eastman. 

When George Eastman walks, the earth shakes
When George Eastman stares, everything freezes
When George Eastman kills, he is not guilty
When George Eastman flexes his muscle, the earth loses gravity
Rosso Sangue, Horrible, Anthropopaghous 2 or whichever title is suitable is well worth the time for any D’Amato and b-movie fan, provided you’re not too picky. I would put a number of D’Amato’s other films ahead of this one, but one cannot ignore the temptation of George Eastman for 90 minutes.