Archive for Fiend without a Face

Here’s your head, where’s your hurry?

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-214622

My ongoing odyssey, known under the umbrella title See Reptilicus And Die, to watch every single movie illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, while both deeply silly and a colossal waste of time, did afford me the opportunity this week to explore the work of W. Lee Wilder, brother of the more famous Billy. Mrs Wilder was evidently a woman who knew what she liked, as she called one son Wilhelm and the other Billy (although she named him Saul). W. Lee seemingly knew what he liked also — cheapjack sci-fi horror pictures.

In other words, W Lee Wilder embodies the noble tradition of the Idiot Brother. As a lifelong Curt Siodmak fan, I have to respect this tradition.

vlcsnap-210690Never get a six-year-old to do your titles.

THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY, which is a long-winded and indirect way of saying THE HEAD, is a cranial transplant flick that’s unusually stupid, even for this particular sub-genre. Shot in Britain, the movie begins in stock-footage New York, where tumorous oligarch George Coulouris is facing his own demise with undisguised ill-humour. His inoperable brain-lump is set to cause imminent lights-out for the blustering titan of industry, despite his otherwise supposedly perfect physique  — his doctor calls him a “living Rodin,” which is stretching things a bit, since we’ve just seen George stripped to the waist, glowing with ill-health, his body a dough-slab from which spindly arms depend like watery noodles. One forms the impression that, even in Technicolor, George would remain gray. Maybe the doctor meant “a living Rodan,” referring to the Japanese movie monster, but the analogy still seems flawed, even if George does squawk a lot.

vlcsnap-213015Kim.

Some brief but tedious business introduces George’s slutty French mistress and a tiny bit-part is coughed up for Kim Parker as a saucy French maid — I’m obsessed with the beauteous Parker but FIEND WITHOUT A FACE seems to have been her only substantial role: she is THE WOMAN WITHOUT A BODY OF WORK. The Polish Parker shares a scene with the Yugoslavian Nadja Regin, both seemingly playing French, about equally well.

Flying to London, Coulouris angrily crashes the lab of painfully sane scientist Robert Hutton, a pioneering brain-transplanter who’s just succeeded in reviving the head of an embalmed monkey and stapling it to a fresh body. By wildest coincidence, I’d only just enjoyed Hutton’s work in THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING a few days earlier, if “enjoyed” is the word I want (it isn’t, he’s a drag).

vlcsnap-214884Fact!

Here’s the science bit: real-life surgeons have actually managed to graft one monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body, and see no reason why the operation couldn’t be repeated on humans. The only problem is that severing the spinal cord results in total paralysis, and you then need to deploy all the usual immune system suppressants to stop the body rejecting the head, or the head rejecting the body, whichever it would be. Maybe they toss a coin for it. Not, on the face of it, a very appealing op, but for a paraplegic facing organ failure (the innards of the paralysed give out far quicker than those of their ambulatory cousins) it could actually be a tempting prospect.

Poetic justice department: after performing this parlour trick on a baboon, one scientist foolishly inserted a digit into the beast’s maw to test its reflexes. It bit his finger off.

vlcsnap-214515Say hello to my little friend.

Anyhow, here’s where the film begins its ever-accelerating plunge into the stupid. Coulouris, learning that the transplanted monkey brain can be taught new tricks, benefitting from the skills acquired by its body, wants Hutton to give him a new head, which he will train in the art of being George Coulouris, thus cheating death. His cancerous old noggin can be thrown out with the garbage, he doesn’t care about that. Hutton is extremely reluctant, but after touring Madame Toussaud’s wax museum to get inspiration for whose embalmed bonce he wants stitched to his neck, George engineers the grave-robbing of the tomb of Nostradamus. Because a 15th century prophet’s head is exactly what you’d want if you were a New York businessman. Naturally.

The bodiless monkey seen earlier in the film was played, with rare skill and nuance, by a real monkey, its head thrust through a hole in the table-top. A similar approach is used for Nostradamus, but unaccountably Wilder and his co-director Charles Saunders (Bily had Charles Brackett, so W. Lee needed a Charlie of his own) decorate their cranial loner with a false nose, false moustache, false eyebrows, to the point that they might as well have a mannequin head sitting there. And it looks more like Baron Munchausen (who knew a thing or two about disembodied heads, or claimed to).

vlcsnap-214213Nostradamus didn’t see THIS coming.

Delivered to Hutton’s lab, the top storey of the deceased seer is duly revived with the aid of tubing, and commences to mumble unmemorably. He doesn’t pronounce any prophetic quatrains, but he does have a perfect command of twentieth century English. Coulouris, by now visibly losing his marbles by the handful, begins the long and difficult impossible task of brainwashing the severed head into thinking it’s him, so it can be transplanted onto his shoulders and continue his life. Think of it as a sort of cranial relay race.

Fascinatingly, Coulouris goes about turning poor Michel de N, or his upper quadrant, into a sort of Mini-Me, by reciting lists of his business holdings, more or less exactly the technique he used to groom Charles Foster Kane as a responsible financial mind. And with equal success! Soon, the disembodied sage is dispensing financial advice that has Coulouris’s business empire teetering on the verge of complete dissolution.

vlcsnap-213979Yes, they shave in this lab. They also smoke. If they want the toilet, I expect they just do it in the corner.

Oh, and meanwhile, since Wilder, like his justly more celebrated brother, has one foot in film noir, he concocts an uninteresting subplot in which Mad George’s slutty mistress carries on with Hutton’s assistant (Sheldon Lawrence as “Dr Lew Waldenhouse”) an equally slutty fellow who actually shaves in the lab. It’s a classic noir scenario, cuckolding the rich, dangerous guy, and it generally ends badly for all concerned. George takes a horrible middling revenge and goes on the lam, leaving Waldenhouse slain. Hutton feels he has no choice but to attach Nostradamus’s head to the slaughtered loverboy’s lifeless form to reanimate him. We’re spared the scene of Hutton trying to get Nostradamus to memorize the names in Waldenhouse’s little black address book, in order to brain-train him for his new life, and instead the movie lolls towards its conclusion.

Yes: I know. This movie literally does not know what a brain IS. The assumption is made that it’s an organ like any other and, if transplanted, will serve the new owner like a heart or liver, and the new owner will soon learn to think with it just as before. This genuinely startling misconception seems to be the work of a scenarist rejoicing in the name of William Grote, who went on from this to write absolutely nothing else, except, I venture to hope, a lengthy apology.

The operation is a terrifying success — the new Nostradamenhouse Monster lives, breathes, and lumbers about. At this point, Fiona requested that I stop the film lest she wet herself. Ladies and gentlemen, can your bladders withstand the horror that is–

vlcsnap-211666

— THE MAN WITH A BODY!!!?

Staggering forth into the London night, looking not unlike Spongebob Squarepants, Dr Lew Nostradamus heads straight for church. Or at least, one assumes it’s a church: it has a church’s entrance, and a bell-tower, and a blast of organ music to introduce it, but Hutton is heard to say, via hasty post-dub, “He’s gone into that school-house!” I guess the censor objected to the following scenes of carnage playing out in a House of God.

Coulouris, happening upon his fugitive head by happy accident, pursues Waldendamus up to the schoolhouse belfry (?) — he might actually be shouting “Hey, you, come back with my head!” at this point but I may be imagining things — and is thrown to his death. Michel de Waldenhouse then wraps the bell-rope round his neck and jumps, in a successful bid for freedom: the head, still swathed in a full mummy’s worth of bandages, detaches from the body and dangles on high, looking down as its parasitic torso plummets to destruction, atop the shattered heap of Coulouris already adorning the flagstone beneath.

vlcsnap-211837Doc Nostradamus hangs his head in shame.

Let’s be honest. THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY isn’t a great film. It isn’t a good film. It’s a pungently hopeless film, stale and reeking with imbecile despair. But it does illustrate an important scientific principle: genetics ain’t everything.

In the indispensable Conversations with Wilder, Cameron Crowe, who’s clearly a braver man than I, tentatively raised the subject of Billy’s unesteemed sibling.

Crowe: Anything we should say about your brother?

Wilder: No, he was a fool. He lived in America many years before I even came here. I came here, really kind of pushed by Hitler. He was in the leather-goods business — he manufactured handbags. And then one day he said, “Well, if my brother can do it, I can do it too.” He sold his business, he bought a house here, and started making pictures, one worse than the other, and then he died.

Advertisements

KIM

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2009 by dcairns

JS1564440

Ever since watching FIEND WITHOUT A FACE I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Kim Parker, and since she isn’t in many other movies, there’s nothing I can do with this obsession except post a sexy picture of her for no reason. I found this on one or other of the internets, but now I can’t find it again. Fortunately I saved the pic so I know it wasn’t just a wonderful dream.

Fiona remarked on Kim’s “intelligent quality,” which is no doubt what interests me. Her face moves about, seemingly motivated by spontaneous eruptions of emotion and intellect, unlike everybody else in FWAF. Her body moves about too, which I couldn’t help noticing, repeatedly.

The Kim Parker oeuvre:

FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE is an offering from Billy Wilder’s brother, William (curious lack of imagination from the Wilder parents), hence no doubt terrible beyond words. Kim is way down the cast, but does have a foxy outfit.

THE GOOD COMPANIONS is by J. Lee Thompson, so may be of some merit. Kim plays one of the Three Graces, along with Shirley Anne Field — a small and possibly non-speaking part, but the costuming has possibilities.

In her other role, Kim was a maid or secretary, or a “Sinhalese girl”, so I don’t think there’s much hope there. She’s great in FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, but somehow nobody noticed, or else she found better things to do — her last film role was a bit-part the following year.

Mental Vampires. REALLY Mental Vampires.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by dcairns

frank-1910

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.