Archive for June 5, 2013

A Fate Worse than Death is Still Better than Nothing

Posted in FILM with tags , , on June 5, 2013 by dcairns


Last we saw, Carter Holmes was prisoner of the deadly “bomb chamber” and destined to be exploded the moment the little hand of the clock touched the big hand. Actually, his escape at the start of Satan’s Soulmate, Episode 8 of our serial photoplay, TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS, is pretty ingenious. The bogus Turks who bound our hero omitted to frisk him, so he draws a revolver and shoots the clock. Thinking they heard the explosion, his executioners rush in to enjoy the mess, and he covers them at gunpoint. Then, with heroine Ruth Stanhope’s aid, he gets untied and locks them in the bomb chamber, which I guess is no longer going to explode until the clock is fixed.

At this point, the music on my DVD unexpectedly goes all techno. Our heroes escape into the charming ornamental garden. Suddenly it’s night-time.

Oriental mastermind Wang Foo is displeased at this latest thwarting — Pasha Ackmed the Turkish bad guy will pay with his head! He puts a tail on Carter and Ruth — but the guy he sends is a stunted hunchback, which seems a questionable choice. Any tail with a distinguishing trait such as being four foot tall and bent double surely has a good chance of being “made.” Wouldn’t you remember this guy if you saw him?


Plus, can he really keep up with those little legs?

Meanwhile, things which should have been clear several episodes ago are belatedly resolving. The evil cultists are devil worshippers, apparently, and their leader, known to me previously only as “the rug merchant,” is called Aboul Shabistari. He looks quite the dude in his white duds.


Still running around the garden, Carter and Ruth meet a lion. Either one of those Chinese lions you hear so much about, or an import, brought in to decorate the place. A sort of voracious gnome. Carter is clubbed insensible by Wang Foo’s pint-sized spy, and wakes up with the lion in his lap, as Ruth experiences her weekly kidnapping, this time, most insultingly of all, by a guy the height of Zelda Rubinstein.

Those weird floating eyes show up again, and the lion, understandably alarmed, releases its grasp on Carter’s trousers and legs it.


Now we meet Professor Latour, another scientist (what odds would you give on his life expectancy in this serial?) with a pointy beard and a hidden safe behind his bookcase. He’s the owner of another of those ceremonial daggers everyone is chasing — his chances of lasting the reel are not looking good. He might as well be a native bearer or a Starfleet ensign.

A prisoner of Wang Foo, Ruth is now to be anointed with the rarest of perfumes. “Sounds good to me,” says Fiona, passing through the room. Then she’s to be arrayed in the costliest of silks. “Yeah,” says Fiona. She’s up for that. If kidnapping comes with a free makeover, what’s not to like? Well, quite a lot, actually, as Wang makes clear, using the universal language of leering and suggestive pauses, that this is all preparatory to a fate worse than death. Or at any rate, worse than GANGSTER SQUAD, which is pretty bad.

At the American hotel, Abboul meets with Monsieur X, that masked man of mystery, and proposes to trap the fake Monsieur X who’s still at large, by laying in wait for him at Professor Latour’s place. The Brand X Monsieur X will be heading there to snaffle his dagger. Then they’re shocked to find Carter in the corridor — just as in San Francisco, all the characters have checked in to the same hotel. Awkward. They decide to lure Carter to Latour’s place too.

Carter is just getting his pith helmet when Ruth’s dead dad, Dr. Stanhope, turns up. He’s rather surprised at this. The answer to the mystery is produced — the murdered man was Stanhope’s identical twin. Actually, it’s complicated —


Wang Foo alarms Ruth with his hypnotic powers — director Duke Worne demonstrates this by either tracking into a close-up on the Mexican Chinaman’s eye, or else having the actor lean in to camera slowly — I can’t quite tell which. I must remember that trick — if you can’t move the camera, put the actor on roller skates. He may not yet be a menace to the whole world but he can roofie girls with the power of his gaze. He’s also entranced the vamp, Zora, and now he causes her to astrally project her soul from her body. Her soul wears a white unitard. She clambers into Ruth’s body, and now we have a case of possession — if not demonic, at least vamp-iric.


The phony Monsieur X finds Professor Latour dead, the mark of the goat’s hoof fresh on his brow — was screenwriter J. Grubb Alexander horribly mistreated by university staff in his infancy? This seems a vendetta with him. Anybody in this serial photoplay acquiring a chair in anything soon requires a coffin. Anybody giving a lecture might just as well paint a target on their forehead.

Carter arrives and arrests the phony, thinking he’s caught Monsieur X. Then the real Monsieur X catches both of them. The phony, unmasked as that guy from episode 1, vaults out the window, but Carter is not so lucky, plugged in the back while attempting to flee the interview.

Shooting your hero dead is a novel kind of cliffhanger — want to see how they weasel out of it? Tune in next week to Shadowplay. See You Next Wednesday, as John Landis is always saying.