Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966 **1/2

Dir: Harold P. Warren
Stars: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Harold P. Warren, Diane Mahree

One of the most polarizing films in b-dom, some b-aficionados consider it too genuinely bad to be a b-classic, others regard it very highly, including one Quentin Tarantino who according to IMDB actually owns an original print of it. It's almost a dead cert that it influenced David Lynch in some way with its long shots, surreal qualities and creepy characters. My own feeling is that it is a b-classic but that unlike say Plan 9, Spider-baby, or Faster Pussycat, is not one that can be watched over and over, at least within a short span. Partly this is due to what makes it so distinct, the very loooong slowly paced scenes, which are kind of mesmerizing in their bizarreness, and may be some unintentional realism you don't see in most movies, in the sense that life often happens at a slow pace. I seem to remember that Hitchcock once said something about how melodrama is life with the boring parts taken which definition Manos may not be melodrama, but it is a distinct work, and how many things can you say that about?

Some performances deserve credit. Tom Neyman plays the "Master", and is quite genuinely intimidating with his glaring eyes and his scowl. He is a cult leader who has a whole bevy of wives who go into some kind of trance or standing coma during the day time. One of the things that is most made fun of in the film is how strange the speech of the wives is, as when one is discussing the fate of some intruders into their secret hideaway and first wants to spare the woman, then in the next sentence declares that they all must die. But I rather think that, while it may be due more to ineptness than design in the writing, it actually reflects the off-kilter mental state of thralls of a cult, so is actually more convincing than if everything they said was consistent.

Probably by now the films most famous element is the unforgettable character Torgo, portrayed by John Reynolds in a reported drug induced stupor. His uneven way of phrasing such lines as "The master would not approve" have become iconic. Reynolds sadly died shortly after the shoot, so it is nice he has achieved some immortality as a subject of - if I can juxtapose these words - fond derision.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians 1964 ***

Dir: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Pia Zadora

This much maligned holiday flick has some pretty solid assets. One is the catchy opening song. Another is some drama between the spacemen characters that you don't normally see in space invader type movies. In contravention of space invader tradition, the invaders are not all in unison as to their purpose. They have distinct personalities, fairly unique in sci fi flicks. The aliens in the Aliens franchise, for instance, all seem pretty much to be on the same page. Eat humans, impregnate John Hurt, chase Sigourney Weaver, pop out eggs.

A group of green skinned Mars-boys heads to earth in order to kidnap Santa Claus so that they can bring joy to their children.

Vincent Beck, as the most malevolent of the martians, Voldar, accomplishes a pretty menacing performance. He has a particular point of view, which is that Mars used to be a planet of warriors, and he feels they are becoming soft. He can be identified by his mustache.

Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian little girls.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dracula: A.D. 1972 ***

Dir: Alan Gibson
Hammer Studios, 1972
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame

Probably unintentionally, but who is to say, this film seems to symbolize the death of "swinging London" and has a lot of fun doing it. Part of the fun is Peter Cushing as a very visceral version of two different Van Helsings. Stephanie Beacham is his lovely and groovy granddaughter, one of a group of young mods who get their kicks from disrupting snooty parties. When that proves not enough, their de facto leader Johnny Alucard, who at once channels Alex of Clockwork Orange and prophesies Sting and Billy Corgan, and who presumably has some charismatic appeal to his mates, decides the next step is Satanic rituals. In Hammer films, Dracula and Satan are inextricably linked, even interchangeable.

They raise Drac from the dead. Drac decides to get revenge on his archenemy Van Helsing's progeny, "kneel before Zod" style, by having Van H.'s youngest descendent Jessica dress in a revealing white dress and lie on an altar, but not before first practicing on her lovely friend portrayed by Caroline Munro. This flick is fun and action packed, with much groovy scenery and costumes. Another trademark "less is more" performance by Lee and his booming voice. Only disappointment for me is the gorgeous Caroline Munro being disposed of pretty quickly and not become a seductive vamp girl as I'd hoped. As in The Spy Who Loved Me, she seems to meet her fate too soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Curious Dr. Humpp aka La Venganza Del Sexo 1967 ***

Dir: Emilio Vieyra
Stars: Gloria Prat, Richard Bauleo, Aldo Barbero, Hippies, Lesbians
A line from this movie, “Use my body to keep you alive,” prefaces the Rob Zombie song “Never Gonna Stop Me.” Print watched was the later, Americanized version where more overt sexual scenes were spliced in. Plot involves a grim-faced scientist kidnapping randy young people to copulate, which somehow provides him with a serum to keep him young forever. A talking brain in a jar is in league with him (reminiscent of Krang and Shredder on TMNT, retroactively), and his beautiful assistant pines for him. He tells her that her body is his to use as he pleases. Contains some genuinely weird scenes and moody, dark cinematrography. The charmingly unaffected Gloria Prat is the focus of desire for Humpp’s strange creature-ally. Action moves very quickly, as in the first few minutes we see the creature and Humpp’s automaton slaves, who actually look a great deal like the aliens in Killers from Space. Has almost everything you look for in a great B: a mad scientist, a monster, a beautiful girl (well several actually), a talking brain, drug use and murder. The elements gel almost perfectly, and only the overt sexuality becomes a bit of a drawback, as some of the naked scenes, likely not in the original cut, get too long and tedious. For my money the gorgeous and exotic Prat, fully clothed, or at most in a semi sheer nightgown, is much hotter than any nudity. Suggestion is the power of a good B. Or to put it another way, if an exploitation schlock movie is presented as legitimate but has a sexual subtext, that’s more interesting and enticing, and a more telling analog to daily life, than if it’s just a porno with a concept. Also, it’s more fun, and more funny. Otherwise, though - totally a classic. Soundtrack is beautiful, a lot of moody flute helps maintain the nighttime eeriness of many of the shots. Most of Vieyra’s technique is to film outside in the middle of the night with a floodlight, but it works very well for him.

Here's a trailer for a Vieyra movie that I like even better for no sensible reason, called alternately Feast of Flesh. Gloria Prat also appears in this underappreciated classic of eeriness and overdub.