Archive for Voodoo Man

Double Bonita

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2010 by dcairns

Bonita Granville is twins — one good, one evil!

“Which is the evil one?” I asked.

“The one in the negligee, obviously,” explained Fiona.

Later, she admitted that there is some difficulty telling which one is good, since Bonita has a certain “edge.” Or maybe we’re just carrying the strong feelings she evokes as a terrifying bully and sneak in THESE THREE. She’s very sweet as Nancy Drew in that series of films, but there she doesn’t have a bad version hanging around, reminding you how evil she can be.

The film is THE GUILTY, and there is not that much to say about it. But Bonita is an interesting figure. Like a lot of child actors, she never quite attained a real persona as an adult, but she kept slogging away at the acting, even when her star vehicles were released by Monogram, the bottom-of-the-barrel Poverty Row specialists. This little noir wisely avoids the jokiness of many Monogram horror outings like VOODOO MAN. It’s straight Woolrich delirium, but without much visual flair to compensate for the cheapness. The exceptions are (1) a nice nightmare sequence where Bonita wakes up next to the empty bed formerly occupied by her virtuous sister — a complete red herrings scene designed to make us think she might have something to do with the disappearance which actuates the story, and (2) a slow track past a dormant character. There’s no real reason for the move, which feels surprisingly modern, the kind of thing an anxious tyro would do to keep us interested in a static scene.

The other problem with the film is that, since watching a couple films in THE WHISTLER series, I get excited whenever I see the shadow of a man in a hat, and have to start narrating the film in a snide, Vincent Price type voice.

It’s him! “You thought, Bonita Granville — didn’t you? — that you could play two physically identical characters, carefully differentiating them by subtle shadings of characterisation… how wrong you were!”

Still, the supporting cast is fine, everybody’s a suspect and quite creepy with it, given the horrible nature of the crime, as it’s eventually revealed (with grisly relish). And I didn’t guess the ending, which is also quite modern, even if the story doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Based on this and THE INVISIBLE GHOST, Monogram (I keep typing Mongorama by mistake!) were very fond of the pointless identical twin device. I reckon it’s not plotting, it’s economy — I figured out myself that you pay actors by the week, not by the role, and have exploited this loophole several times myself…

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Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.

Deeper Crimson

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by dcairns

A quick update on my See Reptilicus and Die mission — a mission almost as old as Hitchcock Year and likely to run and run. I’m trying to view every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a prodigiously visual tome that haunted my childhood like a big green flapping bat. So how am I doing?

As you can see hereherehere and here, the titles previously listed as unseen are gradually changing to blood red, indicating that I’ve tracked them down and watched them. Since I haven’t written about every single film I’ve seen, a quick update might be in order, dealing with the more interesting cases.

THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is directed by EA Dupont, which is just bloody tragic. The auteur of VARIETY must have fallen not on hard times, but straight through them and into some monochromatic pit of hell where cineastes shovel shit while lashed by demons, huckster producers, and their consciences. The sabre-tooth tiger that isn’t anything of the kind is quite funny (Dupont boldly cuts from a real tiger in long-shot to a fanged glove puppet/stuffed toy close-up), and it was surprising to discover that this may have been the first movie monster to not only abduct a screaming starlet, but actually do the nasty with her, caveman style (all discretely off-camera). Even Beverly Garland, as cavebait, can’t save this cro-magnon crud.

THE MAGIC SWORD — Gifford has this Bert I Gordon sword and sorcery romp listed as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES which, given the presence of a Sir George and seven curses in the plot, suggests to me that this was the original intended title, although I can’t find any evidence it was released as such. Wikipedia offers ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON and THE SEVEN CURSES OF LODAC as alternatives. This was pretty enjoyable! It has Estelle Winwood (she of the widely-spaced eyes that allow her to look you in the eye and see the back of your head at the same time) and Basil Rathbone, who isn’t yet having trouble with his lines (see QUEEN OF BLOOD for evidence of what time did to poor old Sherlock) and thus is great fun. Gary 2001 Lockwood makes a spirited, if very American, hero, and Maila Nurmi (Vampira!) pads out the cast as a hag (“Vamp — I mean, Maila, wanna be in a film?” “Hmm, what’s the role?” “Hag!” “I’ll do it!”). Apart from oddly adult stuff like the damsel’s vacuum-packed bosom and the blood pouring from the injured cyclops, this was inventive and crammed with fancy special effects, all of which were decently special, if cheap. No stop-motion creatures, but the dragon puppet breathed real fire, and the humans were endearing.

VOODOO MAN is a very silly Monogram horror with Lugosi, Zucco and Carradine. The triple-headed threat ought to make the film impressively busy and bursting with fun, but instead it rather illuminates just how very affordable those actors had become. However, the thing is daft as a brush and basically played for laughs, although I’m not sure anyone told Bela. By this point in his life, Bela seems permanently typecast as widowers, perhaps to explain his hangdog appearance. George Zucco runs a garage where he steers women to their dooms, and Carradine plays a simple-minded, simple-bodied (he looks like a stick drawing) henchman. The hero is a screenwriter who tries to pass his adventure off as a movie script in the last scene. Good luck with that, fella.

Boris models the new-look string beard.

THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES is one of Boris Karloff’s many many mad scientist parts, which seem to have been made from a kind of knitting pattern in the early forties — Boris invents something wonderfully beneficial to mankind, mankind (personified by some well-meaning dopes) screws things up and somebody gets killed, Boris gets embittered and crazy and uses his powers for evil. Nick Grinde directed at least three of these with exactly the same plot, and I watched them all. Now this one and THE MAN THE COULD NOT HANG and BEFORE I HANG have all merged into one super-mad scientist movie, which might be called THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES THEY COULD NOT HANG BEFORE. All three are engaging, sympathetic, nicely photographed, and boast committed, only slightly campy performances from the tireless star.

DR RENAULT’S SECRET is far better than I’d expected, with a lovely monster played by J Carroll Naish, product of Dr Moreau-like experiments in accelerated evolution (THE NEANDERTHAL MAN uses the same plot device in reveree, winding back the genetic clock on domestic cats and domestic help). And it’s based on the same Gaston Leroux tale as BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON, another Gifford special which I may have to go to Canada to see…

THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE is a British nautical suspenser from the early thirties, when Lugosi was full of vim and good prospects, even when his characters are not. It makes a change to feel sorry for the character rather than the actor. The movie was moderately interesting, partly because the British version of 30s racism is more bluntly-spoken than the Hollywood equivalent — there’s some very nasty language from some purportedly sympathetic characters.

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, starring future director James GREAT GABBO Cruze, can be seen RIGHT HERE ~

It’s not a great work of art — mainly it’s quite funny, with Hyde looking like an unsavory Dudley Moore — but the filmmakers do a reasonable job of straightening out the story, condensing the action, and inserting a romantic lead, all of which actions would be repeated by subsequent adaptors. Stevenson’s story is an all-male affair, apart from the maid heard crying after Jekyll’s demise, prompting me to wonder if a version where Hyde’s secret life of vice took more of a Dorian Gray path might provide a new wrinkle on the story — something that’s sorely needed after a hundred or so different versions.