Archive for It Conquered the World

Van Cleef & Arkoff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2014 by dcairns

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I’d always wanted to see IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, ever since seeing images of the monster, who seemed to resemble a prize marrow with a face and pincers, and ever since reading Roger Corman’s magnificent memoir How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (one of the truly wise books about cinema) which recounts how star Beverly Garland appraised her extraterrestrial co-star coolly, uttered the words “So you’ve come to conquer the world, have you?” and then felled the short-arsed visitant with a single kick to the forehead.

“Lesson one,” writes Corman, “Always make your monster bigger than your leading lady.”

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Lee Van Cleef plays a rogue scientist who befriends a Venusian who wants to invade Earth. Van Cleef thinks this is a swell idea and makes all the arrangements, communicating via a kind of ham radio, though the monster speaks only in a serious of musical parps and whines. Van Cleef understands every word, prompting Fiona to compare this with Charlie Brown’s conversations with his teacher in the animated show.

Fiona is fascinated by Van C’s tiny forehead. Kudos to Corman for avoiding typecasting the scientist role.

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The movie is centred on two couples, Van Cleef & Garland, who have a lovely dysfunctional relationship (“I’m going into town and when I come back I pray you’ll be sane,” she says) and the Peter Graveses, who keep dropping by. It’s sort of a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? with a space alien in the role of the little bugger.

The Venusian “It,” known to fans as “Beulah,” is vaguely conical (and more than vaguely comical). “He” has floor-length skin ending in a trimming of tentacular tassels. When he is angry or aroused, space-bats come flying from under his fleshy skirts. He lives in a cave with a hot spring because it reminds him of Venus.

The title, like the title of Roger’s book, is a lie — IT doesn’t at any point conquer the Earth, but it does cut off all electricity. So IT CAUSED A POWER OUTAGE would be a more accurate title. Somehow it also stops everybody’s watch from working, which seems unlikely and has no effect on the plot. When hero Peter Graves jumps on a bicycle, I half-expected the wheels to refuse to turn. “The swine!” Graves would cry, shaking his fist. But no.

The space-bats stick implants into the back of people’s necks to control them, like in INVADERS FROM MARS. I guess Venusians have been studying the Martians’ techniques.

There’s a good bit Fiona spotted of townspeople fleeing for the hills (we never see them again): one of them is clutching a saxophone. So at least they’ll have music, wherever they go.

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Note also the woman left-of-centre smiling at the camera. She may be fleeing for her life, but she isn’t going to let a little thing like that spoil her day. Shades of REPTILICUS, whose terrified refugees had a kind of carnival atmosphere to them.

There’s more recognizably deliberate comedy from Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze as bumbling soldiers. Miller is always welcome, but Haze’s lame-brained Mexican act is appalling.

Strange dialogue, from Samuel Z. Arkoff’s brother-in-law and/or an uncredited Charles B. Griffith: “Your hands are human but your mind is enemy,” Graves tells Van Cleef. Ye-es.

 

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Reptivoli

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2014 by dcairns

Pictorial history of horror films back

A long time ago, in the early Cretaceous period I think it was, I swore to see every film depicted in the pages of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. I have not so far succeeded. I called my quest “See REPTILICUS and Die,” and I had been holding off on viewing the Danish dino non-epic until I had successfully tracked down such features as THE DEVIL BAT and THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE. I have not entirely succeeded. It’s not so much that several of the “most wanted” titles may or may not be lost films, it’s more that THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET seems unwatchably dull, even more so than its Hammer remake (known locally as ANTON DIFFRING’S ARSE IS ON FIRE), and that BLACK DRAGONS is an incoherent mess that makes you feel unpleasantly stoned when you try to watch it. But I may get through them one day.

Braving the possibility of a vengeful deity striking me down for tempting fate, I plopped REPTILICUS in the laptop and perused it with Fiona from the comfort of the marital bed. At least we would be carried off together. An IMDb reviewer seems to have shared my concern: “This is the movie that we Danes can be proud of!! It is the worst movie ever made but it is so funny that I am about to die.”

“When nature defies its own laws…” Hmm.

82 minutes later (for we watched the AIP English dub, not the 92 minute Danish original) Fiona remarked, “That was really disappointing. Although I did quite like the way everyone spoke really slowly, and all the women looked the same.”

The people spoke slowly because they were Danes speaking a second language for the English version, not knowing that AIP would dub them all anyway.

Danes drilling for oil in Lapland strike dinosaur blood instead, preserved in a layer of what is technically known as “icy muck.”

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The film’s main title appears over a closeup of the man’s crotch and his bloody hands. Which is kind of strange when you think about it or don’t.

They exhume a tail, which isn’t what they were looking for but maybe works as a consolation prize, ship it to wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, and stick it in a tank of nutrients (I think they mean meatballs), where it begins to regenerate, like Oddbod Jnr in CARRY ON SCREAMING. The logic being, if a lizard can grow a new tail, why can’t a tail grow a new lizard? Hang on to that logic, for it is the last you shall encounter for some time.

Not anticipating that a rampant dinosaur in their capital city might cause traffic congestion, the Danes carry on feeding the tail while the American officer brought in to supervise the military side of the tail-feeding goes on a sight-seeing tour of the city. The Tivoli Gardens get much play, with even their own theme song, “Tivoli Nights,” (AKA “the love theme from REPTILICUS”). Prolific sci-fi scenarist and Scrabble tray Ib Melchior obviously included this scene to make us ache all the more heartily for the destruction of Denmark’s capital along with its entire population, and he succeeded all too well. The bloodlust emanating from Fiona as she lay beside me staring at the scenes of Scandinavian merrymaking with a look of cold psychopathic rage was positively alarming. But when the eventual sauropod rampaged through the scenic grounds, spitting acidic venom in all directions, I heard myself cheering alongside her.

Fiona did, however, feel that it was a gross dereliction of the monster’s duty to fail to bite the head off the Little Mermaid statue.

Don’t watch this song unless you have someone conveniently positioned to punch on the arm right afterwards.

The dinosaur itself is a… I think “puppet” is actually dignifying it too much. I don’t know exactly how they’re making it move — nor do I know how it’s actually supposed to move in the movie’s reality, since as Fiona pointed out, it has feet but no legs, is sort of dachshund-shaped — but I think it’s a basically inert figurine being waggled about by an offscreen “effects artist” holding it by the tail. In effect, what the Lap oilman unearthed was the monster’s handle.

Via Facebook, Jim Earp draws our attention to the unsung figure of the drawbridge operator, who panics and raises the bridge so that a score of panicked citizens can cycle over the brink into the deep. “One of the greatest interpretations of anguished, imbecile helplessness in the history of cinema.”

THIS song wasn’t in the version we saw, otherwise I believe we would both be dead. They would have to cut us out of the mattress. The “singer” WAS in the film though, in his Stephen King CREEPSHOW costume, providing the kind of laborious light relief that wouldn’t even work as relief if surrounded by autopsy footage.

Also, in the English version, Reptilicus doesn’t fly. Nor does he emit pathetic firecracker pops from his slack, rubbery jaws — clearly, AIP decided to mask what they considered an effect falling short of their high standards, by superimposing great snotty spurts of green goop. Or maybe they were worried that a fire-breathing dinosaur was inherently implausible. Yeah, that’ll never work.

At the end, the big guy is not actually killed, just rendered unconscious, his eventual destruction something the Danish authorities will presumably take care of offscreen, with the same wisdom and efficiency with which they grew him from a severed appendage and turned him loose in the first place.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the ocean, a severed dinosaur foot, blown off in an earlier skirmish, awaits its chance to emerge and stomp the countryside in a sequel as yet unmade. I have Gilliamesque visions of the foot, which has declined to regenerate another legless dinosaur, bouncing around Jutland on its own recognizance, while a moron in dungarees warbles disturbingly.

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“I don’t want this to be the last film I see,” said Fiona. So we watched IT CONQUERED THE WORLD.