Archive for The Shaggy Dog

Undying, my ass

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2008 by dcairns

In answer to the previous post:

“When the stars are bright,

On a frosty night,

Beware the bane,

In the rocky lane.”

Words that are still as true today as they were in 1942. So ~

We watched THE UNDYING MONSTER and (spoiler alert), the monster dies at the end. We felt so cheated.

BUT! This is John Brahm, and therefore of great pith and moment. As I was saying earlier, the visual intelligence of a great filmmaker does not necessarily equate to what regular folks would call intelligence in the handling of abstract ideas, and so we have a film where imagery and music and movement are always interesting –Brahm creates tense shots by cramming people together, shoving them to the extreme edges of the frame, moving the camera like a frightened character, as well as taking full advantage of the spooky lighting of Lucien THE KILLING Ballard and the atmospheric sets — while the story and dialogue are semi-stupid.

I say “semi”, because there’s a pretty good story gimmick at play in THE U.M. To discuss it, I have to get into real spoiler territory, so this is for those who have seen the film already, or for those who never want to see it or don’t care (in which case, why are they reading?). The rest of you, leave the room until I’m done.

Irresistably reminiscent of Scooby Doo, no?

Brahm’s crepuscular creepshow details the curse of the Hammonds, an upper-crust English family whose men, since medieval times, have been plagued by spookiness issues: if they venture out in frosty weather, they are liable to be killed by a savage monster, or else be attacked, go mad, and kill themselves. Clearly a total drag. This monster is said to originate from a secret room within Hammond Hall, and the monster has clearly been around for generations (ergo, “undying”).

What’s ultimately revealed (monster spoiler) is that the latest victim of the curse, Oliver Hammond, is in fact a LYCANTHROPE, suffering from a nervous affliction that makes him believe he turns into a wolf-man (even though he doesn’t KNOW he believes he turns into a wolf-man, not until he actually does it. It’s complicated.) and suffered his injuries after freaking out and killing his nurse and spaniel. There’s no immortal monster, just a series of afflicted individuals, since the condition is inherited by the male offspring.

In a beautifully bizarre moment, the transforming face of the wolfman is SUPERIMPOSED onto the actor’s shoulders, bobbing about as if not quite attached.

That part of it is quite smart, I think. What’s verging on the subnormal is that the guy clearly DOES turn into a werewolf, mit die fur und die fangs, and the forensic team heroes (C.S.I. Edwardian England! 4F American guy and strangely tactless, loud woman) actually gather a sample of fur which dematerialises before their very eyes. And yet still they cling to the hypothesis about it all being in the fellow’s mind. It’s either screwy writing or a clever satire on scientific scepticism and its refusal to accept those awkward facts (like Charles Fort’s “damned data”) not fitting its materialistic world-view. Hard to be sure.

What’s not in doubt is the cunning of Brahm’s storytelling, even if he does commit the cardinal sin of putting the camera in the fireplace at one point (the infamous “Santa Claus shot”).

OK, people who were hiding from spoilers, YOU CAN COME BACK IN NOW!

Amusingly, the film is co-written by Lillie Hayward, who also wrote Disney’s THE SHAGGY DOG, a rather different lycanthropic entertainment.

(The semi-intelligence of the story may be down to two writers adapting one novel, by Jessie Douglas Kerruish. In the book, the C.S.I. assistant actually has a lead role, and she isn’t a scientist, she’s an occult investigator called Miss Luna Bartendale. She sounds SUPER!)

Instead of Luna we get quirky feminine interest via Heather Thatcher as the aforementioned loud forensics assistant Cornelia Christopher. It’s not clear WHY anybody would employ her as a forensics assistant: she’s loudly superstitious, loudly maladroit (preparing toffee in a dish previously used for hydrophobia culture), and loudly tactless, comparing an innocent witness to a hanged murderess, before assuring her that “We will solve the murder.” “But there’s been no murder!” protests the befuddled girl. “No murder?” cries Cornelia, affronted. “Well what am *I* doing here?”

It’s a fair question. I think she’s providing a taste of authentic humanity, in all its strutting foolishness, amid the swathes of genre stereotypes. Clearly Cornelia should star in her own series of paranormal crime films, getting in the way and generally pissing everybody off. CORNY TALES, anyone?