creature feature saturday double bill

Electronic Lover (Jesse Berger, 1966). Why do I bother? Every once in awhile I get the idea of watching some of the movies I'd seen on Creature Features on Saturday night when I was a kid. The problem is, I don't always pick the good movies from the array of choices (and they do exist). Electronic Lover is a sexploitation "nudie". but when I watched it for free on Amazon Prime, all of the nudity was edited out. (As a sign of how much nudity is in the movie, it runs 79 minutes but the Amazon version only lasts 60 minutes.) A sexploitation movie without the nudity pretty much has no reason for being, and I suppose I shouldn't rate this one too low since I saw an expurgated version. But trust me, it is so abysmal I'm positive the nudity wouldn't have helped. A crazed voyeur sends "Brother" out in the world with a hidden camera and watches the results from home. It is so cheap, it almost feels like an avant-garde film. Purely dreadful. 1/10.

Spies-a-Go-Go (aka The Nasty Rabbit) (James Landis, 1964). Another in the long line of Arch Hall movies. Arch Hall Sr. wanted to make movies, and after a couple of decades on the margins of the industry, in the 1960s Hall started cranking out what Wikipedia gently refers to as "some of the worst films ever made". The peak of his filmmaking was Eegah, in which he also starred alongside his son, Arch Hall Jr., and Richard "Jaws" Kiel in the title role. Junior appeared in many of his dad's movies ... he wanted to be a musician, so he'd play several songs, rather like Ricky Nelson in his family's TV show, except Junior didn't have much talent. Spies-a-Go-Go (titled Nasty Rabbit in the copy I saw) tells of a Soviet plot to release rabbits in the U.S. that have been infected with deadly bacteria. I think. The whole thing is played as a slapstick comedy ... bad slapstick comedy, although that probably wasn't intentional. Junior is a teen-idol rocker who is also an undercover spy. Oh, did I mention the rabbit occasionally talks to the audience ... he even gets the best lines (the IMDB only lists one "Memorable Quote", when the rabbit asks us, "I wonder if John Wayne had to go through this to get his start."). It's nowhere as good as it sounds. Richard Kiel pops in again for a cameo. Award-winning cinematographer László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Ghostbusters) turns up as "The Idiot", while his longtime friend Vilmos Zsigmond takes on the cinematography. (They teamed up more than once in the early days of their career, most "notably" when they were both behind the camera for The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.) Finally, the legendary Liz Renay, who played Muffy St. Jacques in John Waters' Desperate Living, has a substantial role. I really wanted this to be "so bad it's good", but instead it's "so bad it's bad". Still, it's better than Electronic Lover, so 2/10.

But stop ... there's more trivia! In this clip from Spies-a-Go-Go, Junior sings a song accompanied by his band, which included Pat and Lolly Vegas, who later formed Redbone.

Here is Redbone's biggest hit:

And finally, for you youngsters who actually made it this far, a brief reminder of where you've heard that song before:

So there you have it: the connection between Spies-a-Go-Go and Guardians of the Galaxy is exposed!


creature feature saturday double bill

The Ghost Galleon (Amando de Ossorio, 1974). AKA Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Zombies, Ship of Zombies, Zombie Flesh Eater, and The Blind Dead 3 (yes, it's a sequel, sort of). It's amazing to think there is more than one of these. As best as I can figure out, the "blind dead" are Templar knights whose eyes were torn out for their dabblings in the dark arts. They are zombies, the slowest-moving zombies in movie history, with no eyes. The plot doesn't matter, but if you're interested, here is the Amazon description of the film: "A boatload of stranded swimsuit models discover a mysterious ghost ship that carries the coffins of the satanic Templar, eyeless zombies who hunt humans by sound." Nothing is delivered ... the swimsuit models never get out of their clothes, the "boatload" consists of two women, and I'm not sure how we're supposed to figure out the thing about sound. Austrian lead Maria Perschy made movies with Huston and Hawks in the early-60s. Male lead, American Jack Taylor, was in more than a hundred movies, many of them Mexican and Spanish horror films. Bárbara Rey was Miss Madrid 1970. Rey actually has the best scene, when she is taken by the zombies. They are mostly doing their slow-moving arm waving, but Rey exhibits real fear for a couple of minutes before they cut off her head and eat her. The low budget is particularly noteworthy whenever we see the titular ship in long shot ... it looks like something Ernie would play with alongside his rubber ducky. The zombies look scary in a unique way, which lasts until they "move". The inside of the galleon is shot in spooky ways ... this would be the best part of the movie, except the film moves slower than a Templar zombie, so even the good parts are boring. 4/10.

The Corpse Vanishes (Wallace Fox, 1942). With a lot of these crappy B-movies, it's easier to just talk trivia ... there's little to say about the movie itself. Well, there is some classic dialogue, like when Bela Lugosi (who cares what the character's name is) is asked if he makes a habit of collecting coffins. "Why yes," he replies, "in a manner of speaking. I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed.  Many people do so, my dear." Lugosi, who was 60, made so many bad movies that it's easy to forget they didn't all suck. The same year as this one, he made The Ghost of Frankenstein, which wasn't terrible, and only three years earlier, he had been in Ninotchka. But The Corpse Vanishes was bad. It came from the Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, and one of the producers was the legendary "Jungle Sam" Katzman. It was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The characters included another legend, Angelo Rossitto, as a dwarf (Rossitto's long career stretched from Freaks to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). The plot involves Lugosi stealing dead brides-to-be (he is the one who kills them ... they die at the altar ... oh yeah, they don't really die, they just exist in some type of coma) so he can extract something from them to inject into his ancient wife, resulting in that wife becoming young again. Oh, why do I bother? The only good thing about The Corpse Vanishes is that it is over in 64 minutes. 3/10.

 

 


what i watched last week

By request: I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016).

Nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar (it lost to O.J.: Made in America), I Am Not Your Negro reminds those of us who remember James Baldwin how important he was (and hopefully introduces him to younger viewers). I remember reading The Fire Next Time when I was 10 or 11, and it turned on many lights for me, growing up as I did in a town with no black people. I don’t know that Baldwin’s fame has had the staying power of King, or Malcolm, or the Panthers, perhaps because while he was a vocal advocate, he was primarily a writer, not a speech giver. His autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain was still being taught when I was in college. Perhaps I’m wrong, and Baldwin is still remembered as an important figure. In any event, I Am Not Your Negro does a solid job of bringing Baldwin to our attention, using film clips and voice-over narration of his words read by Samuel L. Jackson, who effectively buries himself in the role (it took me awhile to realize it was an actor reading those lines). This is an efficient documentary that speaks to us today, as well as serving as a history lesson. #723 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 9/10.

Film Fatales #28: Jesus’ Son (Alison Maclean, 1999). Billy Crudup heads an impressive cast in a film based on a series of short stories by Denis Johnson. There is a casual realism to the tale of junkies and lo-fi criminals, partly due to the presence of so many characters who are neither junkies nor criminals. It’s a slice-of-life with no apparent agenda. It could use a little more spice ... this isn’t Sid and Nancy. Crudup’s character is named “Fuckhead”, and by his actions and his voice-over narration, I thought “FH” was a bit slow, which I don’t think was the intention. Among the supporting cast, many in what amounts to cameos, are Samantha Morton, “Mike” Shannon, Denis Leary (not as obnoxious as usual), Jack Black, Will Patton, Miranda July, Dennis Hopper, Kevin Carroll from The Leftovers, and Holly Hunter. Maclean deserves credit for a production that clearly had appeal to a lot of actors (this was only her second feature ... she has done a lot of work in television). I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. 6/10. (Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951). Revisiting a favorite. There is a long-standing discussion about whether Nyby actually directed The Thing (an editor, this was his first credited director’s job). Howard Hawks produced ... Nyby had worked with Hawks many times, and when people pointed out how Hawksian The Thing was, Nyby reportedly said that of course Hawks rubbed off on him from all their work together. The film makes an impressive example of the auteur theory as it applied to the studio system ... everyone thinks Hawks directed it because it’s recognizably a lot like many other movies he directed. You can enjoy The Thing without knowing this stuff ... it’s compact, manages to make individual characters out of the stock cast, and is more horror than sci-fi. It’s hardly worth comparing it to the John Carpenter remake ... they are quite different. 9/10.

As we watched it, my wife said the following has always been one of her favorite movie scenes:


don't breathe (fede alvarez, 2016)

Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez and his team, working on a budget of $10 million, turn out a picture that grossed more than $150 million. Don’t Breathe does such a good job of using atmosphere to deliver thrills that you don’t mind that the story is nothing new.

Three young burglars try to rob the house of a blind Army vet with money. It doesn’t go as planned. The blind man is very resourceful when it comes to dealing with intruders. He also has a few secrets. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues do a good job of parceling out information, so that we know the blind man suffered greatly from the loss of his daughter, but the ramifications of this are held back until just the right moment. This is standard stuff for horror films, but the movie is almost done before the predictability takes over.

Stephen Lang as the blind man is the best thing about Don’t Breathe. He is both frightening and sympathetic, at least at first, and he convinces us that he can do the physical acts he performs despite being blind. The three robbers aren’t the usual klutzy doofuses ... they just overreach, and aren’t expecting that blind man to be such a powerful opponent. It’s fun to see Dylan Minnette a year before 13 Reasons Why, and Jane Levy plays ... well, if you don’t know who she plays, you haven’t read much theory about modern horror. (Hint: think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.)

Everything is compact and efficient. Alvarez and cinematographer Pedro Luque offer some elegant visuals in the early going, taking full advantage of what amounts to an old-dark-house setting. And it doesn’t exactly peter out at the end. It’s just that the “surprises” come more and more quickly, so that you begin to expect them, which takes away the scariness. If Don’t Breathe sounds good to you, chances are you’ll like it. But it doesn’t transcend its genre, so it’s not a must-see if you aren’t a fan to begin with. 7/10.


the screaming skull (alex nicol, 1958)

I should create a new category for movies like this. Call it “Creature Features”. There are no actual creatures in The Screaming Skull, but it’s the kind of movie that turned up on late-night Creature Features TV shows. It was done by the MST3000 guys. That kind of movie.

Often, the trivia is more interesting than the actual movie, so here goes. Director Alex Nicol also appears as a mentally challenged gardener, which makes sense, as Nicol had been acting throughout the 50s (The Screaming Skull was his first directorial effort). Female lead Peggy Webber is still with us (91 years old) ... she is a big figure in radio and appeared in Welles’ Macbeth. She is nicely summarized in the title of an article about her from 2015, “Radio Theater's Peggy Webber Is 90 — and Cooler Than You”. The producers used their tiny budget well, as there are only five characters, and all of the action takes place in the same place. It’s not the kind of cheapo movie where no one knows what they are doing ... the camera is always where it belongs, the acting is acceptable, and the music is helpful. That music is by Ernest Gold, who won an Oscar two years later for Exodus. The cinematography is by Floyd Crosby, who had himself won an Oscar all the way back in 1931 for Murnau’s Tabu. (And he’s the father of rocker David Crosby.)

And with that, I’ve dispensed with most of the trivia. Well, I could mention that this American International Picture was released as part of a double bill with Terror from the Year 5000.

And the movie? As I mentioned, it’s competent. It doesn’t suck. It’s over in 68 minutes. But it’s also clichéd, obvious, and boring. It’s Gaslight without the entertainment, and if that’s a spoiler, well, this is a B-movie from almost 60 years ago, I think the spoiler time period has elapsed on this one. 4/10.


the host (bong joon-ho, 2006)

I wrote about The Host almost ten years ago, and I guess you could it was a case of damning with faint praise, when I devoted a mere one sentence to what I thought was a 7/10 movie: “Korean monster movie, a few dozen rungs above what you'd see on any random Saturday on the Sci-Fi Channel, if not quite the 5-star masterpiece some critics call it.” Having just watched it again, I have to say, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking back in 2008. At the least, I should have realized that “a few dozen rungs” is a lot.

Partly, I have context now, having seen a lot of Korean horror since 2008. Just to take Bong’s movies, there are Memories of Murder, Mother, and Snowpiercer (the latter actually being his American sci-fi-action flick). In other words, I’m a fan of Bong and Korean movies in ways I wasn’t when I first saw The Host, so I’m more predisposed to like it.

There are other little things ... Scott Wilson, who’s had a long career in everything from In Cold Blood and The Great Gatsby to The Walking Dead, has a cameo at the beginning of the movie. And Doona Bae, who I hadn’t noticed before in several movies, but who is a fave of mine on Sense8, so now when I re-watch The Host, there’s Bae as the archer. These are the kinds of things that bring a familiarity to The Host that wasn’t there before.

But enough explaining. I still missed the boat, because The Host isn’t just a few dozen rungs better than Sharknado, it’s in another league. The monster is cheesy but intriguing. The political undercurrents are there without taking over the movies. And the core characters, from a dysfunctional family that responds in various ways to the monster’s appearance, are finely-drawn and interesting in their own right. The Host works as a family drama, even without the monster.

Plus, the comedy isn’t stupid, and like the politics, it never overtakes the movie.

I still think I’d start with Mother if I wanted to introduce someone to the work of Bong Joon-Ho. But The Host is getting closer. #104 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st cenury. 8/10. (At this rate, if I watch it again in 2026 and 2035, I’ll give it a 10/10.) (Trying to imagine me watching a Korean monster movie when I’m 82 years old.)


godzilla’s revenge (ishirô honda, 1969)

The title has nothing to do with the movie, and it would probably be better to use an alternate English title, All Monsters Attack, which is at least closer to what we see on the screen.

I’m sure many people think all of those old Japanese Godzilla movies are equally bad, with perhaps a nod to the original, which is actually a fine movie. Well, even fans of the movies tend to agree that Godzilla’s Revenge is the worst Japanese-made Godzilla movie of all time. Just think of how bad some of those movies are, and then try to imagine the depths to which Godzilla’s Revenge must go to take the title of Worst Ever.

For instance:

The fight scenes among the monsters are footage from earlier Godzilla movies (and not necessarily the best ones). Godzilla does not go on a rampage in a city with a large population. He lives on something called “Monster Island”.

“Monster Island” doesn’t actually exist ... it’s a place the hero, Ichirô, dreams about when he sleeps.

Thus, none of the monsters, including Godzilla, are “real” within the context of the film’s universe.

Ichirô is a latchkey kid who lacks parental advice because they are always working, and who is regularly bullied by the other kids.

When Ichirô dreams of Monster Island, he hangs out with Godzilla’s son, who speaks, thus allowing them to have conversations where Son of Godzilla explains that his dad is trying to teach him not to be a coward.

When Ichirô is awake, he uses his dream memories to emulate Little Godzilla, finally getting the courage to fight back against the bullies.

Oh, there’s also a plot about two bank robbers that are captured thanks to Ichirô.

Seriously, this is one awful movie. And I confess, I watched it on our DVD copy. Yes, I own Godzilla’s Revenge. 2/10.


blu-ray series #16: eyes without a face (georges franju, 1960)

Since I don’t know who the audience is for this blog, I don’t know how much I have to say to provide context. Say nothing, and some people will be left behind. Say too much, and I’ve bored the readers. In this case, I’ll err on the side of saying too much.

Georges Franju was a Frenchman who, with Henri Langlois, started the Cinémathèque Française in 1936. It held (and holds) one of largest archives of films and film-related material in the world. Their post-war screenings were attended by many of the future stars of the French New Wave. Franju went on to make documentary films before moving on to fiction films, of which Eyes Without a Face was the second.

By the time this film made it to the U.S., it was treated like a typical drive-in horror flick. A couple of scenes were edited, the title was changed to the ridiculous The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (there is no chamber or Dr. Faustus in the movie), the French dialogue was dubbed into English, and it was stuck on a double-bill with the immortal movie The Manster (HALF MAN, HALF MONSTER!). I don’t remember The Manster, but I seem to recall seeing The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus on Creature Features when I was a kid. That I am not sure of this last face suggests the movie didn’t make much of an impression, if I did see it.

Which brings us to Eyes Without a Face. The concept isn’t completely original … scientist’s daughter has her face disfigured, scientist tries to graft a new face onto the old one … at some basic level, I suppose it is a horror film, although the buildup is so slow I’m not surprised I can’t remember if I saw it. There are a couple of faded stars to tart things up … Pierre Brasseur, who was in Children of Paradise in 1945, plays the scientist, while Alida Valli, the female lead in The Third Man in 1949, plays his assistant. In fairness, Valli had been in plenty of movies of note in the 1950s.) The scientist and his assistant kill young women, looking for a match for the disfigured daughter, and again, this isn’t exactly a new idea in horror.

So why is Eyes Without a Face considered a classic? Partly, it’s the perfectly controlled way Franju gradually lets the audience into the scenario. At first, the scientist seems like a somewhat arrogant man who is still mourning the loss of family members. But as the film progresses, we realize that the doctor will stop at nothing to achieve his aim of fixing his daughter’s face, even after she expresses her desire to just die. Ultimately, he is uninterested in his daughter. He only wants to create a new method of grafting. Thus, the film is a commentary on patriarchy, where women are mere symbols for what men want to accomplish. It’s also a warning about placing too much importance on reason … the rational scientist never seems to understand what he is doing to his daughter, or why she would want it to end.

But what really lifts the film is Edith Scob, who plays the daughter. Scob is aided by the mask she wears to cover her mangled face … it makes it hard for the actress to emote, and more props to her for using her eyes and her body to express emotions. But it’s the actual look of the mask that will haunt you long after you’ve seen the film.

ewaf

I’m not sure she’s even wearing a mask … in an interview included on the disc, she talks about sitting in makeup for long periods. There are times when the mask is taken off or put back on, but that could be camera trickery. Whatever … what matters is that the mask simultaneously looks like a mask (i.e. “fake”) and like a real face. It’s exquisitely done … her face looks oddly flawless.

Franju happily, consciously, messes with our notions of the possibilities of art in genre work (which might have been more vital in 1960, I suppose). Eyes Without a Face is an ambitious film. It’s better than the average horror film, there’s a lot going on, there is plenty of interesting subtext. All of which, to be honest, makes me enjoy thinking about it more than I enjoyed actually watching it. #338 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. For a companion piece, try something by Cocteau, maybe Testament of Orpheus. Or John Woo’s Face/Off.


what i watched last week

The Heroic Trio (Johnnie To, 1993). (Siu-tung Ching must also be mentioned from the start for his work as “martial arts director”, i.e. wire fu.) I don’t remember exactly when I saw John Woo’s The Killer for the first time. I know we rented the VHS video from Palmer’s Cameras, so that might narrow the time frame. I knew nothing about it, but the in-store advertisement looked interesting. About halfway through the movie, I said something like “holy shit”, and became an instant convert to Hong Kong movies. It was a good time for such movies, and one of the pleasures of finding something new-to-you is that there is already an established batch of things to watch. (Binge-watching TV series carries some of the same feeling, or reading the first book in a series.) First I watched Woo’s classics, then Jackie Chan, then anything I could find. The UC Theatre showed HK double-bills on Thursday nights, which meant there was always something new. Michelle Yeoh was a particular favorite, thanks to her great beauty and terrific ability in action scenes (she had no martial arts training, but used her past as a ballet dancer to good effect). There was Yes, Madam! with Cynthia Rothrock, Police Story 3: Super Cop with Jackie Chan, and Wing Chun, which she carried largely on her own, although Donnie Yen was along for the ride. The Heroic Trio came between Super Cop and Wing Chun, and it’s a truly loony piece of work. The plot makes no sense, but it doesn’t try anyway so that doesn’t matter. The laws of gravity are broken with regularity, as is always the case with wire fu, so there is no reason the laws of narrative would fare any better. There is a surprising amount of real grossness to some of the violence, which needs to be mentioned for folks who are squeamish. But the hook for Heroic Trio is the actors who play the titular characters. There’s Yeoh as “Invisible Woman”, Anita Mui as “Wonder Woman”, and Maggie Cheung as “Thief Catcher”. I don’t know if I can translate this cast to an American production … maybe if they made Charlie’s Angels with Sigourney Weaver, Madonna, and Michelle Williams. Yeoh would become famous in the West as a Bond Girl, and later for her part in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon … Cheung is loved worldwide for movies like In the Mood for Love and Clean (for which she won a Best Actress award at Cannes). In Asia, Mui was the biggest star of the three, often called the “Madonna of Asia” for her music, which placed her atop the charts for many years. But Mui was like Madonna, if Madonna could act … Mui won awards for acting as well as singing. In short, these are three of Asia’s most honored and respected actors, and they show up in a bizarre wire fu movie. It’s quite fun, if you’re in the right mood. You can tell Yeoh is handling most of her own action work, but To makes Cheung and Mui look good, too. Yeoh also has the most showy role as far as acting goes, and she makes the most of it. (Cheung is often comic relief, as she was in the Police Story movies with Chan.) Perhaps Charlie’s Angels is a good comparison: three absolutely beautiful actresses kicking ass. But Charlie’s Angels didn’t have Siu-tung Ching. 7/10. For a follow-up, you could catch the sequel, Executioners, which I haven’t seen but which isn’t highly regarded. For Yeoh, try Wing Chun. I never miss a chance to tout In the Mood for Love with Maggie Cheung, although it is nothing like this movie. Finally, Mui won awards for her work in Rouge.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011). The viewing experience isn’t always relevant, but in this case, I need to state upfront how I watched this movie. I watched the first half on Blu-ray, but the disc kept screwing up, so I finally gave up and returned it to Netflix. They sent me a replacement, and I watched the second half a couple of days later. (Creepy sidenote: when I put the replacement disc in the Blu-ray player, the movie started up where I’d left it with the other disc.) I mention this because Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a long movie (a little more than 2 1/2 hours), and it is built to be watched in one sitting, so that it will draw out a cumulative response. Since I took a break in the middle, I was able to put off some of the possible boredom that might have ensued otherwise. (Mick LaSalle called it “colossally, memorably and audaciously boring”.) I could certainly see why some people would be bored … “nothing happens” for long stretches of the film, and the first two hours offer multiple renditions of the same events: police are driving a murderer around, looking for where he buried the body, but he was drunk at the time, can’t really remember where the grave is, and many places in that part of Anatolia look the same, so they drive to a spot, get out of the car, look around, murderer says that isn’t the place, they get in the car, drive to a spot, etc. As they drive around, we listen to their conversations, which seem extremely mundane (click here for a discussion of yogurt). It all reminded me a bit of L’Avventura, where the characters wandered around, seeming aimless, while Antonioni turned their lives into something bigger. Anatolia is designed to frustrate your expectations … it’s a police procedural, it’s noir, it is, in Andrew O’Hehir’s words, “like an episode of ‘CSI,’ scripted by Anton Chekhov, stretched to two and a half hours, and photographed against the bleak, impressive scenery of Turkey’s central steppes.” There are no clear solutions to anything, and what we learn about the characters lacks clarity as well … what you think you know could slip through your fingers. It’s not a movie for everyone. #116 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. I give it 9/10. I haven’t seen them, but Ceylan’s earlier movies Distant and Climates are also highly regarded. Or you could watch my 17th-favorite movie of all time, L’Avventura.

Spider Baby, or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (Jack Hill, 1964?). Another one of those movies where it’s as much fun talk about the extraneous stuff as to discuss what’s on the screen. Let me get the latter out of the way. Spider Baby is a low-budget Inbreeding Meets Lolita story that is part horror film, part comedy, and overall better than you would expect. One poster read “Seductive Innocence of Lolita, Savage Hunger of a Black Widow!” It will never rise above cult status, but within that context, you could do worse. Now to the fun stuff. It’s the first film directed by Jack Hill, who gave us such classic 70s exploitation movies as Coffy and Foxy Brown. It stars Lon Chaney, Jr. who actually does a decent job. (The above-mentioned poster says, “Starring Spider Baby and Lon Chaney”.) The cast includes cult faves like Sid Haig, Carol Ohmart, even Mantan Moreland. It was filmed in 1964 for around $60,000 … the title at the time was Cannibal Orgy. The money men behind the production went bankrupt, so the film wasn’t released until 1968. The song that plays under the opening credits is performed by Chaney. One of the actors, Quinn Redeker, went on to some success as a soap opera actor, and also was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to The Deer Hunter. Jill Banner, who plays Spider Baby, died in a car accident at the age of 35 … at the time, she was working with Marlon Brando. A lot of cheapo movies are incompetently made. Credit to Jack Hill for making a movie where the camera is where it belongs, where the performances are reasonably OK, where you’ll see something a little bit different. Doesn’t mean it’s a good movie, but relatively speaking, it’s fine. 6/10. For a companion, you could watch one of Hill’s Pam Grier movies. There’s also Chaney in The Wolf Man, which is very good, or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which also features Chaney (and Bela Lugosi as Dracula!) and which is very very good.

The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958). I originally intended to give this movie its own post in the Blu-ray series, but I don’t think I can do it justice, so I’ll just attach it here. It’s almost universally admired as one of the greatest films of one of the greatest directors, but it mostly left me cold. I’m willing to accept that I just wasn’t in the right place to appreciate it. It’s an hour shorter than Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, but I found it much harder to get through. Again, the might be my own fault … I didn’t realize half the film is a flashback until I read it in reviews after the fact. I get the comparisons to King Lear, but this movie is far too quiet for the comparison to work … the main character never explodes against the world the way Lear does, and in fairness, emulating Lear is not likely to have been Ray’s intention. I can’t blame him for what others said about his film. Perhaps because I was bamboozled by the time frame, I never found the main character to change. It could have been a 20-minute short and worked just as well for me. For now, I’ll file it under “watch it again in a few years”. #218 on the TSPDT list. 6/10. I obviously don’t have any recommendations for similar movies to watch. Perhaps Charulata, another Ray film that I saw 40+ years ago and remember liking.


what i watched last week

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012).  Impressive, and Haneke knows it. Amour is an unrelenting look at old age, and he cuts straight to the point: not long after the movie begins, Anne (Emmaneulle Riva) has what seems to be a stroke, after which we get two hours of her fading gradually until she is barely there. The title comes from the fact that Haneke thinks he’s telling a love story, between Anne and her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who cares for her as she dies. Indeed, Riva and Trintignant have a great rapport, and it is not hard to believe they have been together for a very long time. There is heartbreak, and even horror, because we all know this fate awaits us, too, whether as the sick one, the caretaker, or (eventually) both. Haneke doesn’t turn away from the realities that are so often passed over in more congenial films about old codgers. As I say, it’s all quite impressive. Yet I think the title is a misnomer, for Haneke’s control of the material is so severe that we feel distanced, even when seeing the most personal aspects of the characters’ lives. Riva and Trintignant are magnificent, and Amour really is unforgettable. Yet somehow it feels bloodless. #77 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century, and winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. 8/10.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957). My wife is in Nebraska, and I’m sitting at home wondering how to pass the time. So I dredged up this classic from the Creature Feature days of my childhood. Nothing in the movie makes sense, although you can probably guess that from the title. Giant crabs eat humans and absorb their brains, after which they retain the memories and can speak in the humans’ voices, telepathically. Virtually every scene has something completely unbelievable, even without considering the premise. You can’t compare it to, say, Amour … if that film was 8/10, Attack of the Crab Monsters must surely be 1/10. But compared to various other cheapo 1950s monster movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters ranks reasonably well. Every scene has action, an order Corman gave to screenwriter Charles B. Griffith. So the picture moves quickly, and it’s over in 62 minutes, so you don’t really have time while you are watching to consider how dumb it all is. On the other hand, the need to make something happen in every scene is one reason the movie is such a mess: there is no time for logic when each conversation must be quickly interrupted by a rampaging crab monster. Inspirational quote: asked why the brains inside the crabs have turned against their former friends and colleagues, Richard Garland explains, “Preservation of the species. Once they were men. Now they are land crabs.” 5/10.

Battle in Outer Space (Ishirô Honda, 1959). Honda had a fascinating career. In America, he’s best known for movies like the original Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Attack of the Mushroom People. (Pacific Rim included a dedication to him.) But he started as an assistant to Akira Kurosawa, and five years after his final movie, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Honda went back to work with his old mentor on Kagemusha, Ran, and Dreams. Battle in Outer Space, like Attack of the Crab Monsters, was a fixture on the Creature Features of my youth. It holds up a bit better … there are some lovely visuals, and the space battles have a cheesy goodness. (Luckily, the humans’ ray beams are squiggly, while the aliens are straight, so you can always tell who is shooting.) I’d rather watch it than watch Armageddon. 6/10.