Archive for the Comics Category

Scratch Film

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2015 by dcairns

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THE FLESH EATERS seemed like the best film for me to write about for the Film Preservation Blogathon, whose theme this year is science fiction. Obviously METROPOLIS, that ever-lengthening classic, would make a lot of sense too, but somebody’s probably already thought of that. But THE FLESH EATERS is an obscure monster movie in which the monster is played by neg scratches. Put it on a double feature with DECASIA, in which a man engages in a boxing match with an all-consuming blob of nitrate decomposition. But the silvery, wriggling scratch-monsters here are much too tough to punch out with a padded glove — they go boring into people’s legs in gory insert shots that are genuinely disturbing, despite the seemingly primitive nature of the effects work. I mean, OUCH.

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The movie gains huge cult credibility by starring Martin Kosleck, the man who sculpted Rondo Hatton in HOUSE OF HORROR and the screen’s silkiest Dr.. Goebbels. By this time, he seems to have had a little eye tuck which accentuates his feline/feminine qualities and adds even more unsettling ambiguity to his persona.

The movie, unusually well covered for a B-picture (mostly shooting in the open air must have made the filming go quick) is dynamically edited by Radley Metzger, the favourite pornographer of all right-thinking cinephiles (Russ Meyer being more of a cartoonist than an eroticist).

Speaking of cartoons, the script, which trafficks in soapy stereotypes and jut-jawed confrontations, is by Arnold Drake, comic book writer and creator of The Doom Patrol (in their Grant Morrison incarnation, my favourite funnybook thing ever). The Doom Patrol were freakish superheroes who were all multiply-disabled as much as they were hyper-powered, which suggests a slightly wacky and agreeable perspective, and that off-kilter feeling prevails here too. He also created Deadman, the funniest/stupidest name for a superhero ever, and the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Drake also seems to have storyboarded this flick, so that one-shot director Jack Curtis, otherwise best known as a voice actor, consistently delivers exciting and punchy compositions far more dynamic that anything usually seen in Z-list B-pictures from bottom-feeding indie production companies.

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Opening shot is a succulent flesh feast, a lithe bikini girl laid out like a banquet, in combination with the title seemingly inviting the audience to consider cannibalism. She’s soon skeletonized along with her obnoxious boyfriend, washing up later as a fully articulated set of science lab bones clutching a bikini top (the movie is totally silly but somehow preserves its own strange dignity).

Soap opera: a broke pilot takes a job flying a drunken movie star and her nurse/PA, unwisely trying to dodge a tropical storm — they wind up on an island inhabited only by nasty Kosleck and his weird man-eating sea-spawn, the results of a Nazi experiment he uncovered after the war. Rather refreshingly, Kosleck isn’t himself a Nazi — he’s a German-American employed by the US to investigate Nazi science — having found the ultimate weapon, he now hopes to make his fortune selling the blighters to the highest bidder.

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Barbara Wilkins’ balconette bra is the film’s strongest supporting player.

The bickering crew are eventually joined by another character, Omar the beatnik on his raft, a yammering chowderhead whose role is to delight us by dieing horribly, eaten alive from the inside out. Kosleck feeding him flesh eaters seems to anticipates Michael Fassbender’s entirely unmotivated poisoning of a crewmember in PROMETHEUS, while a guy who rides to the rescue on a speedboat only to immediately get his face eaten reminds me of Scatman Crothers abortive mercy mission in THE SHINING.

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The effects work is consistently ambitious and inventive. The most epic shot tries to suggest that the whole sea is glittering with the silvery worms, which it does simply by filming sunlight reflecting on the water’s surface. Not so much a special effect as an attempt at brainwashing, telling us that the commonplace sight we see is something else — Raul Ruiz would be proud of that. Landscape as bricolage. When Kosleck electrocutes the ocean as part of his crazy masterplan, we get one giant monster, the least satisfying thing in the film because obviously it has to be a Cormaneqsque monster costume, waving an action figure in its left tendril. But there’s one further insane flourish: to kill the thingy, stalwart Byron Sanders injects human blood into its eye, and Curtis films this action from INSIDE THE EYE.

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Blob-monster puppets inspire affectionate nostalgia rather than terror. But those scratches… those can really fuck you up, especially if you’re a film lover.

This is my first entry for the Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted initially at Ferdy on Film. Click the button below to read all about it and then donate.

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Blood and Thunder

Posted in FILM, Comics, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by dcairns

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To my surprise, Edinburgh University Library turned out to possess copies of Marvel’s THOR and its sequel, which I discovered while unsuccessfully trying to get something on Joseph Mankiewicz (but I won’t tell you why, just yet). A certain dumb curiosity made me want to check out the “Film by Kenneth Branagh” — rarely has a possessory credit (on a film Mr. Branagh did not write) seemed so fatuous. Maybe I just wanted to see if he’d gotten any better at directing films.

When Branagh first burst upon the scene, I didn’t admire his films but I could see where he was stealing from, and at least the source of his theft — mostly Welles — showed ambition. It wasn’t an ambition — becoming Orson Welles, only more commercially successful — that he was ever likely to succeed at, but it seemed possible that he might get good.

I have enjoyed some of the Marvel superhero things (Ben Kingsley is so wonderful in IRON MAN III I can’t describe it) up to a point, so it didn’t seem totally pointless looking at this thing, but I should admit it was pretty pointless after ten minutes. Fiona was enjoying Tom Hiddleston’s facial expressions, but there wasn’t much else to appreciate. I thought it was strikingly poorly edited, and Branagh’s big Wellesian idea this time seemed to be Dutch tilts. I imagine the meeting thus —

“I think we’ll have Dutch tilts in this one. Comic book vibrancy and all that.”

“When shall we use them?”

“Oh, I don’t think that matters.”

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Thor (Chris Helmsworth) was my least favourite character in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE so I admit I wasn’t expecting to love this. He has an OK character arc, I guess, and Natalie Portman is appealing. I don’t quite believe she’s a brilliant scientist but I don’t quite believe Stellan Skasgaard is either. Nor do I believe that when the Norse god is banished to earth and crash-lands in New Mexico (I knew he should have made that left turn at Albuquerque), he’s slammed into by a kind of Mystery Mobile in which three scientists are cooking meth doing physics, and one of them happens to be Scandinavian. But one shouldn’t really get upset about probability in a thing like this. I’m more upset about the meaningless camera angles.

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I rented DREDD because I’d heard good things, and I’m a child of 2000AD comic, and I slightly regretted missing this one on the big screen in 3D. And indeed, there are some pretty visual effects I bet looked spiffing in depth. Films made by Andrew MacDonald’s DNA tend to go for unsympathetic characters and unpleasant story worlds — odd, since he seems such a nice middle-class chap (and grandson of Emeric Pressburger). This makes him ideal for Judge Dredd, created by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra and Scottish writer John Wagner, who conceived him as a futuristic Dirty Harry, only more fascistic if you can imagine such a thing. The trouble with the 1995 JUDGE DREDD was that they neutered the character, turning him into an honorable action hero and removing his helmet (the comic book character has never been seen unmasked — he’s basically an impersonal functionary/killing machine).

Alex Garland’s script has a few good ideas and is part of his general redemption these days — I thought EX MACHINA was quite fine, despite hating his writing on 28 DAYS LATER, so I guess the dumbness was coming from Danny Boyle. This Dredd is meaner — Karl Urban basically just has to huskily whisper like Clint Eastwood, but with excellent timing. The comic WAS/IS comic, a jet-black, nihilistic blast of punk nihilism, dark chuckles amid Leonesque mayhem. I think the current movie is a little lacking in laughs, though there are some good ones, mainly to do with the sheer excessiveness of the bloodbathery — but you might not be amused by a man being made to blow off the top of his head with his own assault rifle, which makes you a better person than me.

I liked the acidic colours and Carpenteresque score. Director Pete Travis marshalled his resources well — a UK-shot, US-set dystopian thriller could all too easily resemble DEATH WISH III.

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There’s only a microscopic amount of character change in this one, mostly around Dredd’s rookie partner, Olivia Thirlby (unconventional and interesting) — weirdly, this actually makes it MORE pleasing than THOR, because less familiar. I challenge the screenwriting gurus to figure that one out.

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I finished my comic book weekend by actually reading a comic book, Domu by Katsushiro Otomo, creator of AKIRA. This was something I bought dirt cheap in a charity shop and it had been lying unread by my bedside for literally YEARS (along with heaps of other impulse-buy literature — it’s a real mess). Having finally picked it up, I consumed it avidly between the hours of midnight and one. Otomo has the ability to intrigue — his plots don’t resolve very neatly, but there’s so much damned apocalypse going on it’s hard to notice. The psychic kid stuff in this one is familiar, but this time the narrative is basically a police investigation crossed with a ghost story, set around a housing estate plagued by mystery suicides. The loose ends and unexplained elements are pretty evocative, suggesting an intriguing direction Hollywood movies could go in if they continue to de-emphasize plot at the expense of massive action set-pieces. Bring on the negative capability!

 

The Batman

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by dcairns

The Batman from David Cairns on Vimeo.

This is from the Robert Florey-directed THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936). At a certain point in the story, we get glimpses of different movies being shot on different stages of a studio which is being targeted by a murderer/terrorist, who turns out to be… well, I won’t spoil it. But we get to see Hank Mann and Snub Pollard as clowns doing crosstalk patter instead of the slapstick they were famed for (Mann plays the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS, among many other roles through a long career beginning at Keystone), but much more interestingly we witness the shooting of an expressionist horror movie, featuring a character called The Batman. He wears a dark cape and is accompanied by a grotesque figure with a painted grin.

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THE BAT WHISPERS

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS

This is all very interesting as the DC Comics Batman (known as THE Batman in his early appearances) didn’t make his first appearance until 1939. Creators Bill Finger & Bob Kane always credited the movies, though they mentioned THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). And indeed, the Bat and Gwynplaine look a lot more like the comic book characters than these doofuses, with the quaint twist that the Bat was a villain and Gwynplaine a hero, rather than the other way around.

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I’m also slightly amused that The Batman in Florey’s film looks so much like Brandon Lee in THE CROW, a much later descendant of the costumed crime fighter.

Florey, of course, directed for-real horror movie MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and *nearly* got to do FRANKENSTEIN, but for me the more relevant credits are his early shorts, THE LOVE OF ZERO and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA. Both are made in a Caligariesque kind of cardboard expressionism, and the latter is even a behind-the-screen story of moviemaking like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY.

As for the actors — the screen’s first Batman turns out to have been German character player Henry Brandon, best known for playing Scar in THE SEARCHERS. IMDb refers to his sidekick as “the gnome,” and the actor is my hero, John George, from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. A dynamic duo by anybody’s standards!

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