Archive for Captive Wild Woman


Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by dcairns


There was a producer called Jerry Warren who used to buy up and dub Mexican horror movies. His creative efforts went way beyond simple revoicing, though. He would sometimes shoot new scenes with down-at-heel “stars” like John Carradine and paste them into the purchased footage for added marquee value (and to help delude US audiences into thinking they were going to see a Hollywood film), and sometimes he would even take two movies and cobble them together, keeping the most sensational bits and throwing out the boring logic and narrative coherence. Thus we get films like FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF, which is a great, lunatic title, but actually a really boring, unengaging watch, because nothing in it flows or makes sense.

THE AZTEC MUMMY VERSUS THE HUMAN ROBOT, however, is an authentic Mexican monster movie. With its demented title, it just SOUNDS like a Jerry Warren mash-up. A solemn VO narrates pans of Aztec pyramids, telling us that what we are about to see is a true story based on experiments by American hypnotherapists Dr. Hughes and Dr. Tony. Dr. Tony is immediately my new favourite character in anything, ever, just because his name is Dr .Tony. A man you can trust. I want his first name to be Anthony. Sadly, after this introduction, he doesn’t actually appear in the movie. In a way, though, that’s even better. We can imagine what he would have been like. We can even make our own movies about his many exciting adventures, battling space cats and vampire numismatists and club-footed zombie orangutans.


This is Rafael Portillo’s third Aztec mummy film in two years, after which Angel di Stefani lay down his lumpy rags and moved on to better things more crap. Though he does have a bit part in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL — maybe the presence of a plainclothes mummy in that movie explains the strange curse that befalls its characters?

If I had to guess, I would say that maybe the Aztec Mummy isn’t as celebrated as the various Egyptian ones – Imhotep, Kharis, et al — because his name is Popoca. It’s not a name to inspire terror. It might inspire a dance craze, or a soft drink, but not terror.

The first half of the film is basically a series of flashbacks recapping the earlier entries, also featuring the portly Dr. Krupp, AKA The Bat, a sort of chunky master-criminal in a wrestler’s mask and cape. This may seem unacceptably cheapskate, but Universal had already led the way in eco-friendly movie recycling with its trilogy about gorilla-woman Julie Dupree the wild woman: JUNGLE WOMAN, the sequel to CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, spends most of its first half summarizing the previous entry.

I remember as a kid being a bit disappointed that the actual “meeting” in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN was so brief, but there was a pleasing dynamic — the lumbering, slow but powerful monster versus the nimble, snarling and ferocious lycanthrope. Unfortunately, poor Popoca and his opponent, a severed head plumbed into a clunky metallic cyborg who looks like a scaled-up clockwork toy, are both of the big slow lumbering idiot school of movie monster, making their climactic Donnybrook one of the slowest fights ever rendered on-screen. The two unnatural beasts face each other, eyes meeting across a crowded crypt, then gradually shuffle forwards, waving their forelimbs… closer… closer…


Losing all patience, Portillo cuts away to the heroes crossing a cemetery to the tune of some xylophone suspense. By the time he’s cut back, the Human Robot is exploding in a shower of sparks, and the Aztec Mummy is being crushed in his steely embrace. Then they start shoving each other into the walls — it’s much as I imagine the famous Norman Mailer – Gore Vidal stooshie (“Norman came at me suddenly, and I pushed him aside. He staggered across the room, colliding, to our mutual surprise, with the inventor of the Xerox machine”).

Oh, and despite his human head, the Robot is being remote-controlled by the maniacal Dr Krupp (alias The Bat) until a faceless hero shoots the buttons out of his hand. Then the Aztec Mummy really lays into the Human Robot, hitting him so hard, I swear his legs shrink into his torso, and then his arms come off. So he’s dead, I think. And the Mummy turns on the Bat and his disfigured henchman and does something aggressively horrible to them but we can’t see because of all the smoke belching from the remains of the Human Robot, and because Portillo has a tendency to stick his camera miles away from the actual action. Probably for his own safety.




First Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by dcairns

Just kidding! Got in to Dublin and joined my co-director Paul for lunch, visited the dormant office where our edit is happening, and then went to the cottage where I’m staying. I didn’t know you could have a cottage in a city, but it turns out you totally can. The great shock of a cottage is that the door from the living room opens directly onto the (-4°C) outside world.

But that was all fine until Paul plugged in a faulty kettle he’d “repaired” and blew out the electricity. I want to make it clear that this was in no sense an unwise thing for him to have done.  He’d changed the plug and that should have done it, and even if it had not, I can’t see any good reason why one kettle should knock out all the electricity. My dad’s a trained electrical engineer but it turns out that knowledge isn’t passed on genetically. The fuses had tripped, Paul re-set them, and ten per cent of the power came back. So I had my laptop, a (hastily borrowed) heater, and the lights.

It turned out to be a perfectly nice evening, with the rain lashing down outside, the heater clenched between my knees, and THE JUNGLE CAPTIVE playing on the laptop. Acquanetta (born with the less exotic name of Mildred Davenport), Universal’s resident jungle woman, has been written out of her own series (using an inversion of Hammer’s later FRANKENSTEIN series’ structure, each of the three episodes features the same monster but a different mad scientist — this time it was Otto Kruger, following in the unsteady footsteps of John Carradine and J. Carroll Naish), replaced by Vicky Lane. But we do get Rondo Hatton. And Jerome Cowan, as a detective not so much hard-boiled as scrambled.

Poor Paul was guilt-stricken about the black-out he’d inadvertently triggered, had a sick kid at home to tend to, and a plane to catch, so he was really suffering more than me. He left me with a bottle of wine, a shepherd’s pie, and an incredibly warm duvet. No complaints from me.

Inexplicably, Universal hasn’t made the entire “Paula Dupree, ape-woman” series available on home vid, but you can get the first installment (helmed by Dmytryk!) in this fine box set —

Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive (The Black Cat / Man Made Monster / Horror Island / Night Monster / Captive Wild Woman)

Life is But a Dream

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by dcairns


Rondo Hatton! The very name sends shivers of excitement, mingled with profound shame, down my caffeine-encrusted spine!

For those in the dark, Rondo was an acromegaly-afflicted human being exploited in cinema for his grotesque appearance. I read about him as a child in Monsters of the Movies and A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, where Denis Gifford described him as the only actor to play Hollywood monsters without makeup. To my infant self, that seemed like a pretty neat career. The idea that there was something degrading or offensive about casting a man with a severe pituitary problem as a psychopathic killer didn’t really occur to me until later, not could I see any of Rondo’s films, apart from his brief appearance in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME as a rival to Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo in the Feast of Fools scene, and his stomping turn in the rather good Sherlock Holmes movie THE PEARL OF DEATH (a fairly faithful adaptation of a very enjoyable Conan Doyle story).


But Hatton actually had what might be termed starring roles, albeit in cheapjack exploiters over at PRC (Producers Releasing Corps, or Poverty Row Company if you prefer). Regular Shadowplayer Douglas Noble supplied me with a copy of THE BRUTE MAN, so that I could move one step further along in my deluded quest to see all the films pictured in Gifford’s mammoth green history of the horror genre. This is the one movie where Rondo is entrusted with what we could describe as actual lines, although given the standard of writing on display it might have been kinder to let him remain THE MUTE MAN.

But Rondo acquits himself well. I was talking to students last week about the kids in SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, little girls who don’t so much act as simply whisper. My theory is that very small children, and very old people, have a kind of innate reality onscreen which excuses them from having to act. It’s enough for them to exist. A person who is really living, or really dying, can hold our attention simply by existing, by standing there as a living record of themselves. Rondo has the same quality. His line readings are peculiar, amateurish, but he’s far preferable to most of the characters who attempt to “act” in this film. I’m reminded about Alexander Mackendrick’s line that as soon as you put a real person up against an actor, the artifice of the actor is exposed. Rondo acts as a physical, big-faced rebuke to those striking poses and attempting “inflection” around him.


He also has an engagingly plebiean accent, sounding a bit like a more muted Bender from Futurama.

Z-movie hack Jean Yarbrough actually achieves a little bit of momentum and what could pass for atmosphere, and for once Rondo is up against something “uglier” than himself, Tom Neal’s moustache. I’m not really down on moustaches, I secretly covet a Don Ameche pencil-thin appurtenance of my own, but Neal’s cookie-duster looks like a furry centipede unfurling in the shadow of his nose. One longs to don a Jean Cocteau-style rubber glove, reach into the TV screen and brush it from his upper lip. Failing that, one longs to have Rondo snap his spine like a twig. Rondo obliges.


Creepily, the story rehashes elements from Rondo’s own biography, portraying him as a college sports star disfigured by illness (a cheesy chemistry lab explosion is drafted in as explanation), but leaves out the part about him becoming a movie star. A shame, since an unlikely Between Us Girls-style rise to celebrity at the end could have provided a welcome twist. Instead, Rondo, who has been robbing and killing to raise money for a blind girl’s sight-restoring operation (making this a sort of homicidal remake of CITY LIGHTS, or a less homicidal version of John Woo’s THE KILLER), is betrayed by the blind girl, who pockets the reward to get the op and is congratulated by the campy cop characters for her civic-mindedness. Rondo, who seems to have been shot in the cock by Tom Neal, is dragged off by the authorities and absolutely no comment is made as to what will befall him. Presumably PRC were holding onto the character for a sequel, having already paraded Hatton through two similar freakshows. But THE BRUTE MAN was to be Rondo’s last film — his pituitary tumour upped and killed him that same year.


Acromegaly gets a look-in in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN too, as its one of the many glandular disorders mad prof “Dr. Sigmund Walters”  claims to be able to cure. In reality, he’s more interested in turning gorillas into foxy chicks by transplanting cerebellums. Worryingly, he speaks of racial improvement, and worryingly, his foxy chick is played by Acquanetta, a Brazilian Native American starlet who isn’t trusted with any lines (and doesn’t quite have Rondo’s presence) and whose casting seems almost to suggest that Universal are saying that dusky Brazilian women are closer to our primate ancestors than the likes of, say, Evelyn Ankers.

Since the doc is John Carradine, there is still fun to be had for the non-Klansmen among us, and a scene where JC berates his subject for giving way to her primitive passions and reverting half-way to an ape state, struck me as unaccountably hilarious.

Director is Edward Dmytryk, during his B-Movie Hell period. His Karloff outing, THE DEVIL COMMANDS is an incoherent (butchered by the censors) but classier offering from this time. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN moves at a fair old lick, throws in lots of impressive-but-worrying lion-taming footage (is firing pistols in the air really the best way to calm a big cat?) doesn’t worry too much about making sense, but has insufficient ape-woman action. Unlike Rondo, poor Acquanetta isn’t trusted to say anything at all, which means her potentially fascinating psychology is left unexplored, and her participation in the lion-taming act (being a disguised gorilla, she has power over jungle cats — you know, in the way that gorillas don’t) consists of standing beside the cage and staring. I can’t help thinking her talents would have been better exploited by giving her a role that involved moving about a bit. Her thighs are impressive.


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