Archive for Joe Dante

The Chimp of the Perverse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2012 by dcairns

Revisiting the works of the late Richard Franklin, which I remembered as being pretty good. They are! But alas he perhaps never quite achieved a totally satisfying film… still, agreeable oddity, a likable spirit, and some camera panache counts for plenty.

Franklin was an Australian Hitchcock fan who studied film in America alongside John Carpenter. He was certainly the right guy to make PSYCHO II, from a smart Tom Holland script. If you’re going to do such a criminal thing, at least do it with respect and humour.

After a couple of softcore exploiters he didn’t much like to talk about, Franklin made PATRICK, a comatose telekinetic kid thriller, then the enjoyable ROAD GAMES, which we also watched. After PSYCHO II and CLOAK AND DAGGER (haven’t seen it) came LINK, his psycho chimp thriller with Terence Stamp, made for the late unlamented Cannon Films –

What most of the best Franklin films, and most of the best weird Australian films, have in common, is a script by Everett De Roche. Check his credits — besides the Franklin films, he wrote HARLEQUIN (Robert Powell as a modern Rasputin) and LONG WEEKEND (when everything attacks!) and RAZORBACK (JAWS in the outback with a wild boar!). Apart from the Peter Weir and Rolf de Heer Festivals of Strangeness, he seems omnipresent.

LINK is set in the UK (locations on the Scottish borders) but de Roche’s script makes Terence Stamp’s nutty primatologist an honorary Ozzie, with his matey, classless, no-frills manner. It’s a great way to take the curse off the scenario’s more fantastical elements — have them explained by a casual (yet intense) ordinary (yet impossibly handsome) bloke. Stamp is blocked on his latest opus –

“I was gonna call it Out On A Limb but Shirley MacLaine beat me to it.”

It’s actually one of Stamp’s nicest performances, and nobody appreciated it because it was in a killer chimp film. If A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE had a homicidal ape in it, we’d never have heard of Marlon Brando.

Stamp is joined at his isolated clifftop manor by a young Elizabeth Shue, who’s better than the average girl-in-jeopardy, although the script doesn’t do her as many favours as it does Terry. There’s a blandness in the role, and a bit of 70′s bloke sexism — I’m surprised the actress didn’t mutiny when called upon to answer the question “Can you cook, clean?” with “Well, I’m a woman, so I guess I have some kind of genetic aptitude.” The role, and the film, ultimately devolves into a lot of running around, rather as HOLLOW MAN would years later.

But what we were really watching for was the APES, and here LINK satisfies fully, if bizarrely. At the time, there was a certain amount of critical incredulity about the idea of chimpanzees as horror movie menace. The world is a bit better informed now about the dangers of apes run wild — a chimp is pretty much the most dangerous escaped zoo animal you could hope to meet. Stamp tells a charming story over dinner about one ape who savagely dismembered his human owner to try and sell us on this idea. “What had he done to the chimp?” asks Shue. “Oh, nothing. The chimp was just glad to see him,” smiles Stamp.

This is one of the few primatology-based movies to show signs of real, intelligent research. All of which is nearly overshadowed by the bizarre casting of the titular ape, a chimp played by an orangutan in blackface. Presumably because no adult chimp of sufficient training was available, some poor orang has been given a close-cropped haircut and a dye-job, then dressed as a butler (his character is a former circus artiste). It’s the simian equivalent of Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, an embarrassment to modern sensibilities. We were also shocked that none of the apes (three appear) were accorded a screen credit. I mean, that’s just good manners and good showbiz.

Whoever the anonymous ape is, he acquits himself well, aided by a few bits of prosthetic trickery, most of them well concealed. Unfortunately, orangs are pretty sluggish compared to chimps, so he’s not as adept at moving in a threatening way, but he sells the moments of sexual tension well, eyeing Shue’s body double with the sly lechery of a primeval George Sanders. It might seem like the movie’s most B-picture exploitation angle, but Link’s attraction to Elizabeth Shue (this is the same year as arthouse monkey-love epic MAX, MON AMOUR) is perfectly accurate in terms of simian behaviour. Captive apes often have crushes on humans. Lucy, raised as a human child, liked to relax with a glass of gin, a copy of Playgirl and a Hoover attachment.

Orangs, even in the wild, are known to be sexually rapacious. The name may mean “old man of the forest,” but it ought to be “dirty old man of the forest.” as Julia Roberts nearly learned to her cost.

“Pretty human!”

LINK is good fun — lots of problems, but only the score seems truly wrongheaded — Jerry Goldsmith has been encouraged to rip off his own GREMLINS theme, and it doesn’t work — although it gets better when he adds the timpani from Marlene Dietrich’s Hot Voodoo number in BLONDE VENUS, which Franklin quotes at the film’s start, in a bit of sub-Joe Dante pop culture referencing.

I love to see their little faces light up…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on January 2, 2012 by dcairns

Burning, severed gremlin head in the original GREMLINS.

It’s one of those movies we catch a minute of on TV and we end up watching the whole thing. There are a number of movies like that, and Joe Dante is responsible for a disproportionate number: GREMLINS II, INNERSPACE… if MATINEE, THE ‘BURBS and SMALL SOLDIERS turned up more regularly, they’d probably have a similar effect.

And each viewing turns up more details, like the wonderful puppetry of Gizmo falling asleep to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS on late-nite TV: fear, sleepy fear, sleep… And a trip to the IMDb turns up more in-joke casting that eluded me, like the fact that the town minister is the guy from The Trouble with Tribbles. Demented gag where he casually encourages one of his parishioners to insert a hand into a mailbox he knows is gremlin-infested, just so he cans see what happens…

At any rate, I’ve contributed a short appreciation of Dante to La Furia Umana, the excellent bi-lingual online movie magazine, and you can read it here.

They Came From Beyond Poverty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by dcairns

INVISIBLE INVADERS was one of a mere handful of movies (how many movies can you fit in a hand?) still to be viewed in my demented ongoing quest to se every damn film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a quest I have termed See Reptilicus and Die.

Reader, I watched it.

Edward L Cahn was a Z-list schlockmeister with a mildly redemptive actual interest in sci-fi, leading him to make the above-average space monster outing IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. Consequently, his 1959 invasion from space cardboard epic has a few intriguing ideas floating around in it, albeit all mismatched and ill-thought-through.

As Joe Dante points out over at Trailers From Hell, II shares a plot motor with the legendary PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE — alien invaders (who have colonized the moon) reanimate the dead, turning our own deceased relatives against us. Since this is an available location + stock footage kind of epic, the visual effect here is a little more like the later NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, so we can say that the movie has combined two cheap tricks of the B movie: monsters you can’t see, and monsters which are just zombified guys in suits. For some reason, the possessed corpses in this movie are all male.

A very special episode of  Little House on the Prairie…

Immediate problems are apparent: the aliens attack by sabotaging us and turning our own weapons against us — “Holland, Finland and Russia have been blown up!” — which means they’re only really effective when invisible. The possessed corpses are a cumbersome add-on who seem to add nothing to the invasion beyond a bad odour. It’s also not clear how the aliens can become intangible enough to enter the corpses, but leave dragging footsteps in the dirt, and can be sealed inside locked rooms.

Similar confusion arises when our heroes fight back with an acrylic spray. This might easily be used to make the invisible invaders visible, but instead they use it to seal one into his futile corpse-vehicle, transporting him back to their underground lab (shades of Darabont’s Walking Dead show, and indeed the phrase “the walking dead” is used throughout), where they crack the plastic shell with high pressure and attempt to destroy their prisoner with a battery of experimental techniques. Finally, sound waves reduce the poor invisiblite to a soapy mound of foam.

What’s not clear is why they assume the alien will survive being hermetically sealed in an acrylic coating. Wouldn’t they go the way of Shirley Eaton in GOLDFINGER?

John Agar wears a terry-cloth hazmat suit.

Ah, John Agar, his very presence the stamp of low, low quality. In biology class, agar means is a jelly used to cultivate germs. In movies, it’s roughly the same. Agar’s last movie, THE NAKED MONSTER, came out three years after his physical death, which is always a sure sign of a very special kind of career. Also, he was married to Shirley Temple. In my book, that makes him a pedophile. That may not be fair, or true, but since when did that stop anybody?

True star of this movie is wattled scientist and pacifist Philip Tonge, in a dignified and sincere turn that manages to inject a bit of humanity into the thing. He’s joined, briefly, by John Carradine as the first victim of alien resurrection, Dr Karol Noymann — a name previously assigned to Edgar Barrier in writer Samuel Newman’s earlier THE GIANT CLAW. Again, this info comes from Joe Dante. It was nice to see Carradine as he’d just appeared, via stolen clips from VOODOO MAN, in Craig Baldwin’s MOCK UP ON MU, which I watched not five minutes earlier, thus adding to my ongoing sensation of being trapped in an uncanny web of coincidence. This is the feeling that’s held sway since I started reading Ulysses, “the book with everything in it,” and I wondered if the invisibility theme encountered in Cahn’s film and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman and another film I watched, THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN (directed by Lionel Jeffries, who’s also excerpted in MOCK UP ON MU) had anything to do with Joyce. It does!

“For I’m the boy / Who can enjoy / Invisibility!”

Thanks to the mysterious Andrew deSelby for pointing this out.

Observe the sonic death ray. It’s clearly made of wood. Since it’s been hastily improvised in response to an unexpected alien invasion, that’s actually reasonable. But the wily humans, not wishing to give away their ultimate weapon’s jerry-built origins, have painted it silver.

Smart.

Can anyone explain why I find the above image so funny?

Joe Dante also claims that the zombie motif is reprised from Cahn’s CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (scripted by Curt Siodmak), “but without that film’s squibbing” — in the print we saw, the squib effects were present and correct, providing some slight added value as little explosions puncture the zombie army’s business suits.

Usually Hollywood movies with pacifist characters exist in order to show the pacifist either learning the error of his ways and wading in, fists a-flying, or getting disintegrated, thus illustrating the necessity for violent action. This movie’s take is more nuanced, or one might say fucked up, since the pic ends with Tonge’s dewlapped peacemonger uniting the nations of the Earth — against the common enemy, those invisible bastards from the Moon.

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