Archive for Village of the Damned

The Art of Gilling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2015 by dcairns

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My respect for John Gilling is rising as I begin to see him more as the idiosyncratic weirdball he was, rather than as a jobbing journeyman, my earlier impression. Certainly, realizing he had written for Tod Slaughter and made OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE long before his Hammer days made me appreciate that his association with horror movies came from love, not mere convenience. But 1956’s THE GAMMA PEOPLE (recommended — by which I mean “casually mentioned” — by Joe Dante) is something else.

Faced with an artifact like THE GAMMA PEOPLE, a luminous and misshapen lump of aggregated and mysterious material, like a kryptonite meteor fallen from who knows where, one is forced to concoct theories to account for its existence — the human brain, a question-and-answer organ, is simply unable to accept the object as found and describe it. We must fall prey to the deadly Intentional Fallacy and try to fathom what was going on in the minds of those who created this conundrum. Is it an alien probe, buried for decades, the product of natural but unknown processes, or a chunk of frozen piss that fell off the side of an aeroplane?

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My theory may not account for all THE GAMMA PEOPLE’s peculiarities, but it works for me. I think Gilling and his co-writer John W. Gossage were aiming to make a Charters and Caldicott film, and inspired by both the success of Abbot & Costello’s horror spoofs, and Gilling’s own experience with Arthur Lucan/Old Mother Riley, they decided to write a Charters & Caldicott versus Mad Science scenario.

The business of the characters being in a train carriage that gets disconnected and abandoned in a Ruritanian dictatorship is straight out of THE LADY VANISHES, so that’s exhibit A. The pair’s polite, befuddled reactions clinch this theory for me.

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However, two things occurred to make this attempt at forging a new double-act turn out quite wrong. One is the decision to make the film a dumb sci-fi movie, about which more later. The other is a two-parter: first, you can’t just invent a double act. The best of them seem to happen by accident, when two people come together and have comic chemistry, and somebody else, besides the audience, notices. William Powell and Myrna Loy were teamed as leading man and leading lady, but BECAME a double-act because the teaming worked so well. Martin & Lewis were thrown together with basically no materials and there was an explosion of comedy energy which still reverberates.

The second part of the double-act problem is that at some point it was decided that the film needed an American, and so Paul Douglas, fresh from JOE MACBETH (New York gangster version of Shakespeare filmed in England) was wheeled in to team up with Leslie Phillips. Impersonated by such mismatched talents, the Naunton & Wayne effect is seriously distorted and blurred, only just discernible. Phillips, a great comic force, gets the tone alright, but is vaguely dashing and randy, always, so his version of the Englishman abroad is apt to be racier than the Hitchcock original. Douglas is a lumpen golem, a two-fisted Frankenstein Mobster who’s very nearly cuboid in shape. He looks incongruous in any of the film’s throng of genres.

So the set-up is so misguided it’s kind of delightful in spite of itself. Then we add the plot, which is about a fugitive scientist trying to create child geniuses with gamma radiation (hey, it worked for the Incredible Hulk). He’s also creating learning-disabled “goons”, though it’s never clear whether these are accidents or deliberate. For no reason explained, all the goons are adults and all the geniuses are kids. This would make sense if his intent were to fashion a sort of zombie army.

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The IMDb tells us that the original story was by Robert Aldrich (uncredited) — I guess it could have formed a nuclear trilogy along with KISS ME DEADLY and the lesser WORLD FOR RANSOM. Aldrich being chums with Joseph Losey forms a strange connection with Losey’s atomic kid drama THESE ARE THE DAMNED. Plus there’s the Hammer connection. But THE GAMMA PEOPLE was produced by, of all people, Cubby Broccoli, with money from Columbia which seems to have facilitated considerable European location filming — probably in Germany.

Best joke: a scream is explained away by a suspicious character: “One of our poor burghers met with an accident,” and Sir Leslie P says, with the most magnificent straight face, “Oh? What happened to the poor burgher?” Possibly the kind of joke you have to play so deadpan it looks like you don’t realize it’s there, so the censor won’t leap from his chair and wave at the screen like Norma Desmond, or press a secret button on his arm rest that causes four men to charge into the screening room carrying a giant blue pencil.

Walter Rilla, whose son directed VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, is clearly the ideal choice to mass-produce spooky Aryan super-kids.

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But the leading lady is Eva Bartok, best remembered for Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. I’m always haunted by her real-life end: she wound up indigent in London, was hospitalized, and tried to tell the doctors and nurses that she had been a movie star. No one believed her. That’s the strange thing about life and films. Her fame evaporated, then she evaporated, but her films are still here.

The Carpenters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by dcairns

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As a change from my usual past-time of making up compendium movie titles (you know, like, THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, or DIAL V FOR VENDETTA or WHEN DIRTY HARRY MET CRAZY LARRY) which allow one to save time by imagining two or more films at once (there are TOO MANY MOVIES! Couldn’t we just mislay Brett Ratner’s entire oeuvre or something?), I’ve been working on a scheme to miniaturise John Carpenter’s career, converting his feature films into music promos for popular music artistes. This would allow his entire body of work to be watched in an afternoon, making film studies quicker and simpler.

Allow me to demonstrate.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK would become ESCAPE FROM NEW ORDER, replacing one electronic soundtrack with another, and playing the whole film just slightly faster to make it the same length as Blue Monday. The belated sequel (and I plan on writing something about that particular phenomenon, with ideas for how D.W. Griffith and Fred Niblo might revive their careers) could be called ESCAPE FROM E.L.O. Carpenter’s pointless remake of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED could even retain its title, but with Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies digitally inserted in place of Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley. I’m not saying it’s an improvement but it is a refreshing change of direction.

ELVIS! can also keep the same title, but now it’s going to be about Elvis Costello. Sorry.

TV thriller SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME will now incorporate the song of the same name by Rockwell, who will be played by Adrienne Barbeau.

THEY LIVE! will now be a concert film, with the full title THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: LIVE!

Here are some more:

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE GHOSTS OF THE NEPHILIM

PRINCE OF THE DARKNESS (two for one!)

RINGO STARMAN

CHRISTINA

ASSAULT ON HEAVEN 17

MEMOIRS OF A MANFRED MANN

IN THE MOUTH OF MADONNA

That last one could have just been called IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and been about Madness, but it made me laugh and in fact is the entire reason I wrote this post. If anyone has any more pop group/movie title mash-ups ideas, let’s have them.

12 Angry Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2008 by dcairns

There’s a mutating meme coursing across the interweb — bloggers challenging each other to name twelve films they haven’t seen. The task varies from blog to blog, sometimes amounting to a confession of what well-known or important movies the author hasn’t caught up with, sometimes tending towards a list of extreme rarities that nobody can find.

I think both lists have value. Maybe somebody out there will be able to help me out with the films I want to get my mitts on. And maybe naming the films I haven’t seen will shame me into watching them. I also like the Self-Styled Siren’s approach, which involves listing twelve films in her collection which she hasn’t gotten around to running yet (including LA FIN DU JOUR!).

So my first list will be twelve rare films that I went to considerable effort to get, then didn’t watch.

1. THE POWER AND THE GLORY. An early Preston Sturges screenplay. Looked for this for AGES, finally got it a couple months ago. Haven’t even peeked at it. What a maroon!

2. Early Hitchcock. I’ve seen most of the thrillers, but odd things like RICH AND STRANGE are sitting neglected. Nice quality, from the recent box set of early Hitch… I’m contemplating spending a whole week running all the Hitch I haven’t seen. Yep, I’m CONTEMPLATING it…

3. Murnau’s TARTUFFE. Bought the Kino edition from America. I keep putting it on, then getting distracted. It may not be major Murnau, but it certainly has inspired bits (I love the style of the modern framing story more than the actual Moliere adaptation), and if I watched it properly who knows what I’d get out of it?

4. Michael Powell’s quota quickies. A fascinating glimpse into the creative process: watch Powell slowly spread his wings and try things out and gain confidence, on threadbare budgets and schedules so brief the Kleig lights barely have time to warm up. I have a number of these, all more or less unwatched. Let CROWN VS STEVENS stand for them all.

5. UN REVENANT. A fog-bound Parisian gangster film in the poetic realist vein, directed by Christian-Jaque and starring the mighty Louis Jouvet. I paid good money for a fine copy of this. So why haven’t I watched it, two years later? BECAUSE I AM AN ARSE.

6. Resnais’s MURIEL. Got very excited about seeing this, bought it, watched ten minutes, was intrigued, got interrupted, never went back. I’m dreadful. A failure as a man, and as an assemblage of molecules.

7. LES ORGEILLEUX. Gerard Philipe gives an astonishing performance (I peeked) in Yves Allegret and Rafael E Portas’ sensational drama. An unusually articulate IMDb reviewer calls it “one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen”. It may be one of the greatest films I haven’t seen. How would I know?

8. THE HUMAN CONDITION. Masaki Kobayashi’s nine-hour three-film extravaganza, released by Criterion but now out of print. Miraculously got a copy via Mark Cousins, then failed to watch it. Kobayashi is one Fiona’s very favourite filmmakers, but I think the phrase “nine hours” is putting her off.

9. MARILYN. Wolf Rilla (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) directs this British B-movie answer to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Got a surprise TV airing this year, I recorded it. Then kind of set it to one side. We met Wolf Rilla’s son once, Nico Rilla. He recommended a Rilla movie with a terrific title: THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER.

10. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. Perfectly nice pre-record boxed DVD of this lying on the living room floor amid a heap. And yes, I know Scorsese directed part of it, I know the story behind his firing, and I was able to use that information to work out which bits he directed. And I’ve watched those bits. But I need to watch the whole thing!

11. LE TROU. I have this Jacques Becker crime yarn in a beautiful Criterion Collection edition, (and TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI too). I loan it to people. They watch it. I don’t. And yet I liked CASQUE D’OR quite a bit.

12. UNDERWORLD BEAUTY. I do like a Seijun Suzuki yakuza flick. I’ve watched BRANDED TO KILL numerous times (I still get utterly confused). And yet this one remains unwatched. I am an idiot!

Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface…

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