Mental Vampires. REALLY Mental Vampires.


How is my (insane) quest to see every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Moviesgoing, you ask? Well, most likely you don’t ask, but safe in my cyber-cocoon I can imagine you asking any damn thing I want. My quest, codenamed “See Reptilicus and Die,” is going swimmingly.

EXTRAORDINARY UNDRESSING (1901) by R.W. Paul is a frabjous trick film in which a theatrically drunk fellow attempts to remove his clothes (strange how many Paul films centre on male denudings, from HIS ONLY PAIR to A WAYFARER COMPELLED TO DISROBE PARTIALLY, which gets my vote for most syntactically contorted title prior to I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW) but is thwarted by a series of jump cuts which see him instantly re-clad in a wide variety of different costumes. Then a cardboard skeleton appears and scares the crap out of him. I’d give it a 5 on my Earlyfilmometer — which means it’s not as good as THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, but still better than FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is two-thirds thick-eared sci-fi turgidity, with chipboard actors flailing their shoddly hinged limbs in a script the consistency of porridge, but that last third is a doozy. From the moment a suspiciously-accented “Canadian” (the film is a British production in its entirety) turns up as a drooling loon, having had half his brain sucked out — by “mental vampires” — through the back of his neck (his demented yodelling is both authentically terrifying and very, very funny), things start piling on the oomph.

Stick with it. Amusingly boring at first and then — enter the Famous Eccles!

A crusty scientist (an expert in “sibonetics”) makes a page turn by the power of his mind; an invisible force rips a hole in a screen door; and then killer crawling brains, with wiggling antennae and waggling spinal cord tails are crawling up trees and flying through the air and sucking people’s nervous systems out through the backs of their necks, just as if they owned the place. It’s all down to an experiment in telekinesis that misguidedly leached energy from an atomic reactor being used to power an experimental radar system (WTF?) and if that doesn’t make sense, never mind, because the animated special effects by Ruppel & Nordhoff (who sound like trapeze artists but presumably aren’t) are Lynchian and very gory. Poor Kim Parker, as the busty heroine, who is quite the pluckiest and smartest character, and most alive performer, gets brain leeches on her head TWICE, which is twice more then the average B-movie starlet would merit, but survives the experience and ends the film happily embracing the timber protagonist. Watch out for splinters.

And then I watched the full ten minutes or whatever of the Edison FRANKENSTEIN (viewable here), a lovely experience. Charles Ogle’s monster actually reminds me of both Dave Prowse’s shaggy beast in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, and a character from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. the film is also striking for the way it is rendered redundant by its own intertitles, which fully explain the entire plot, including many plot developments that we haven’t yet seen. But the mirrorplay is excellent, and the creation scene (a puppet burning, shown in reverse) is eerily creative.

41 Responses to “Mental Vampires. REALLY Mental Vampires.”

  1. Those brain creatures are awesome. I love the way the old guy sees the one coming out of the fireplace and stares at it as if his first assumption is that his delirium tremens is acting up again.

  2. Good unpleasant sound effects too. The chubby old guy is hilarious, and the lovely Kim Hunter is quite harsh towards him: “Pull yourself together!”

  3. The Title Fiend Without a Face has always confused me as Attack of the Killer Brains would appear more a propos.

  4. fiend is def one of my fave films. That and Attack of the Giant Leaches. There are a few more from that era I adore also.. the one with the killer dogs on the island… can’t recall its name just now… on a personal note, your blog site is spectacular! Go Baby! GO! Miss you! mb

  5. I was thrilled to find Edison’s Frankenstein on retrovision. I’m sure it was thought lost. Was it? Have you any idea when it turned up?

  6. Thanks Mark! Yeah, Fiend is doubly odd in that there are lots of them. I guess Fiends Without Faces doesn’t sound as neat. FWF is certainly a great title, but they could have written something else to suit that, and gone with the full-blown Attack of the Killer Brains, or Mental Vampires, or something.

    Thanks Mark. Still to see Leeches, and I’m not sure what the dogs one is. Hounds of Zaroff? Different era though.

    Was the Edison Frankenstein lost? I’m not sure — may be one of the few films of its age NOT to ever have been lost…

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    Sigh…Now I guess I have to see HEAVEN’S GATE!

    RAGING BULL and ANNIE HALL are terrific films, so Mr. Bach is assured of his place in heaven. How is his book on the Cimino film.

    Amazing that a Sorbonne graduate ended up being a Hollywood executive in the 70s, must have been the last of his kind.

  8. No, you don’t have to see Heaven’s Gate. A few You Tube clips will suffice.

  9. United Artists were probably THE best studio for a director to work at: “We’ll agree on the project and then see you at the premier,” was their attitude. Bach was around as that was starting to change, maybe, but they still have Cimino all the rope he needed…

    I find the film alternately impressive and maddening. Maybe not a must-see, but worth a look, even if only for sheer oddity. The sound mix is so wilfully muddy at times, it’s just bizarre. In other news, Hugh Hudson is releasing a revised version of Revolution with a new VO by Al Pacino. Revolution is sort of the British Heaven’s Gate, since it helped sink Palace Pictures, but it’s not really very good at all.

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    RAGING BULL was a major risk of the kind that Hollywood would not even think of doing today. Scorsese’s NEW YORK NEW YORK was a big disaster and he was making a film about a violent boxer which was admittedly commerical in the wake of the popularity of such films as ROCKY and “Matilda, the Boxing Kangaroo” and then Scorsese said he wanted to shoot it in B+W, which was more expensive than colour at the time and it’s real B+W not like the Coens’ film where it’s shot in colour and coded in B+W.

    And then the amazing protracted production and post-production of the film where they basically got the freedom to handcraft the film essentially. That’s why the 70s were so special because that kind of freedom wasn’t there in Old Hollywood and not there today.

  11. Christopher Says:

    “Whos that at the door??”..
    ….”Its a BRAIN!”
    ……..”Tell ‘im we don’t want any!”..
    I love the hatchet in the brain part part!..ah..That’ll do me good to see on sunday morning…

    I’m in LUV with Frankenstein’s 1910 fiance..Oh If I could only travel thru the scratches and deterioration of time to reach her!..
    One of the things I like about the Edison is that it has the part where the Monster peers thru the Bed Curtains as in Shelly’s original novel..I’ts an effective bit and I’ve often wondered why other Frank-films don’t use it…Its partly this reason I avoid beds with bed curtains! =:oo

  12. Arthur S. Says:

    I understand this scene is very famous. It’s really something. Who’s playing the violinist who starts the dance.

  13. The film’s composer, David Mansfield, is the violinist. Isn’t he adorable? Very Ninetto Davoli.

    The music is one of the few things about Heaven’s Gate that actually works.

  14. The film still has its fans:
    I do think it errs on the side of incoherence, but its still a unique look at the West, and has some spectacular stuff, even as it works as a kind of anti-spectacular.

  15. Not sure what you mena by “anti-spectacular.” Every scene was designed to impress.

    When they were preparing to show the complete version on Z channel a screening was arrnaged at MGM. I saw it on the largest possible screen with a handful of tohers, including Jeff Bridges — who just adores the film. Can’t really blame him because it’s so much a part of his life. He even bought the cabin that was Isabelle Huppert’s house.

  16. That’s sweet.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that although Cimino throws money at us throughout, he also denies us the traditional satisfactions of the epic film, and his set-pieces are a mixture of choreography and chaos. He pretty much breaks all the rules of epic cinema — not always intelligently, I’ll admit. But I have a sneaking respect for the intent, insofar as I comprehend it.

  17. Tony Williams Says:

    Shame on you, David C. for making light of THE FIEND WITHOUT A FACE!

    In the UK Macmillan era Age of Affluence that paralleled Eisenhower’s America, young audiences would thrill to the presence of virile Americans such as Marshall Thompson, Rod Cameron, Robert Hutton, and Forrest Tucker who would aid the UK against alien threats and marry the landlord’s daughter at the climax. Note the concluding lines “You’ve got the situation well in hand”, a sub-textual Freudian reference to the UK/USA “special relationship” where the political is personal long before the days when Obama pawned Gordon Brown off with some crappy DVDs he could have bought on Oxford Street.

    Again, the heroic scientist played by Kynaston Reeves (known for playing cane-happy teacher Quelch) in the 1950s BILLY BUNTER TV series gives his life to save plucky American Marshall. At the end, the civilians have learned their lesson and will co-operate with their American military saviors in future.

    (Final footnote. Kim Parker did not make many films but she was briefly married to Canadian DJ Paul Carpenter and she was an Auswitzch survivoir)

  18. What a beautiful reading. The movie certainly captures “the white heat of the technological revolution” and suggests that while the military may push experimental reactors to the brink of meltdown, and a few of us may get our brains sucked out, everything will be OK as long as we don’t let scientists interfere.

    I love Kim Parker even more now.

  19. The so-called “Edison Frankenstein” was thought lost and, in fact, forgotten for some 50 years until the mid-sixties when a copy turned up in the hands of an eccentric collector, one Alois Dettlaff. He essentially hoarded the film, estimating it was worth millions and even lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an Oscar in recognition of his historical find. He briefly circulated a copy defaced with proprietary markings. Sadly, the elderly, reclusive Dettlaff, estranged from his family, died alone in 2005. His body wasn’t found for a whole month. What became of the original print is unclear, but eventually, the film popped up on YouTube and is now freely available for all to see.

    If you don’t mind my posting a link, I blogged about the film and its strange career:

  20. Arthur S. Says:

    He pretty much breaks all the rules of epic cinema — not always intelligently, I’ll admit. But I have a sneaking respect for the intent, insofar as I comprehend it.

    Well, I love anti-epics that succeed as epics. Ford’s CHEYENNE AUTUMN is a terribly underrated example of this. Mann’s THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Hawks’ LAND OF THE PHAROAHS, even LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, one of Cimino’s favourites, ends on a note of sad banality. The things which the Ford, Mann and Hawks have in common is that for an epic there is no single epic hero, and the closest to “Hero” don’t really do great actions that have an effect on the action and we really don’t identify with the single characters but with the totality of the events which is the Brechtian Epic Model. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is an old-fashioned epic story but it gradually subverts and decomposes that.

    APOCALYPSE NOW is another example. As is Scorsese’s recent GANGS OF NEW YORK.

    Visconti’s THE LEOPARD is probably the most sophisticated and subversive epic film of all time.

  21. Then I think there’s a good chance you’ll at least appreciate what Cimino is attempting. And whether you love or hate the film, you’ll be in some pretty good company either way.

    Pierre, thanks for the link, and for telling the story so nicely. I’m fascinated by film collectors, I should write a script about them. Nearly did, one time, in collaboration with the shadowy B. Kite.

  22. The film that Heaven’s Gate reminds me of most is Garrel’s La Cicatrice Interieure. It’s all about repetitive circular patterns.

    Of course the Garrel didin’t cost one day’s coffee break on Heaven’s Gate and it’s under an hour long.

    Cimino’s manifest lack of talent was proven in his subsequent films: Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, Desperate Hours and Sunchaser. None of them is worth a tinker’s damn.

  23. Arthur S. Says:

    I saw THE SICILIAN on TV once and thought it was interesting, I don’t really know about the politics too much but I thought it was better than THE GODFATHER PART III, which is not saying much but I saw them both at nearly the same time on TV so they are linked. That said, I am not really interested in seeing it again unless it comes my way.

    THE DEER HUNTER is very criticized by some for it’s politics but I thought that it was a very moving film and the performances are superb.

  24. The great film about Salvatore Giuliano is Salvatore Giuliano by Francesco Rosi. Gore Vidal did an uncredited polish on the script of The Sicilian, but I can’t fathom what he contributed to it.

  25. Cimono’s post-Heaven’s Gate career has certainly been a mess, which was probably inevitable. Even if the film had been a hit, I’m not sure where he could have gone afterwards. And it would certainly have taken a very stable personality to survive the critical and public reaction.

    I like Heaven’s Gate more than I like The Deerhunter, I think.

  26. I do too, actually. The Deer Hunteris nothing more and nothing less than an obfuscation of American war crimes.

  27. The Sicilian just seemed broken-backed, but then Cimino doesn’t have much talent for getting to the core of things. Maybe there’s some great Vidal work that’s just smothered in the mix.

    Heaven’s Gate just sort of orbits around the story and characters without quite getting down to it.

  28. And that’s the thing. For viewers the question that hovers over every frame of Heaven’s Gate is “Why are we looking at this?” And Cimino can never quite bring himself to answer it. The roller skating dance palace was a real place — called “Heaven’s Gate.” This sort of thing actually happened. The scene itself appears quite charming. But it has no plot, character or even thematic purpose. It’s just there.

    Filmmakers of real talent like Philippe Garrel and Leox Carax can forego plot and character for visual spectacle because they have a sold sense of mise en scene. Cimino longs for one but it’s just not in him. The film just drifts by.

  29. I heard Cimino talk about his approach to big scenes, and he said he liked to have several cameras recording pre-planned shots, and a few more just kind of drifting around catching whatever seemed interesting. And the two styles arguably don’t quite mesh — we don’t feel we’re in a period documentary, nor do we feel we’re in a well-designed work of art.

    But for that one film, it’s sort of interesting. Maybe he knew he had to spend and spend no matter the consequences for his career because if he didn’t blast the screen with riches the poverty underneath would be sure to show…

  30. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, David C, a great metaphysical reading involving “the white heat of the technological revolution” as phrased by Harold Wilson whose Government proved a disappointment to the Left and increased British dependency on the US even more.

    Now we know the real meaning behind all those British sci-fi films that usually concluded with Forrest Tucker marrying the landlord’s (George Woodbrige) daughter played, of course, by Rona Anderson.

  31. Who was it who pointed out that British scifis always end with the characters gathered in the pub waiting for the end of the world? It was quite nice to see Shaun of the Dead revitalise that cliche.

  32. kevin mummery Says:

    Much of Heaven’s Gate could have been improved with the insertion of the flying brains from Fiend Without A Face, especially the disgusting sounds made when they were destroyed…the roller rink sequence practically cries out for flying brains, yet sadly, none make an appearance. Cimino really missed an opportunity here, I think.

  33. Oh they’re there alright, but still in their invisible phase. Clearly a lot of brains were sucked out to make the budget overruns posible.

  34. I saw a short Michael Cimino made a couple years ago, his first film work in a decade. It was awfully energetic but I didn’t understand its point… I think it’s an in-joke so I was supposed to be familiar with Cimino’s work and/or life, and I am not. Or, worse, maybe it’s NOT an in-joke and I couldn’t make sense of it anyway.

    The band Yo La Tengo turned me on to the Heaven’s Gate soundtrack. It’s nice music, though I’ve never seen the film.

  35. It is beautiful, and Cimino was very lucky with his early scores. He actually disapproved strongly of Stanley Myers’ theme for The Deerhunter and didn’t want to use it. Imagine that!

  36. While on the subject of epics and music, RIP Maurice Jarre.

  37. kevin mummery Says:

    One of Jarre’s overlooked scores is from Eyes Without A Face, which I found kind of surprising since I associate his work primarily with David Lean’s epics, especially Dr. Zhivago. I guess it’s like thinking only of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly when thinking of Ennio Morricone. Or Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight when Lonnie Donegan’s name comes up. Too bad he never scored any films, eh?

  38. Too bad he never scored Eyes Without a Face. Gothic skiffle! It’s the coming thing.

    I guess Jarre must have had other European successes before the Lean years (which were, paradoxically, rich years). Just checked — several Franjus.

  39. Christopher Says:

    ..One of my fave Jarre “lesser” scores is for the euro -western Red Sun with Chas. Bronson and Toshiro Mifune..

  40. I can dimly recall the movie (Terence Young?) but not the score, alas.

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