There is a tradition in Japan to present ghost stories during the warm summer months. An 18th century kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya provided the most popular and durable storyline – that of an ambitious, would-be samurai named Iemon who marries and then murders Iwa, whose ghost returns to wreak revenge on her faithless husband.The story has been filmed numerous times; director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 version THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) is, many feel, the best filmed adaptation of this classic Japanese tale.
Though most versions of the tale follow the same basic storyline, there are interesting variations. There were several silent adaptations, now mostly lost, including Daisuke Ito’s silent YOTSUYA GHOST STORY NEW EDITION (Shinpan yotsuya kaidan, Nikkatsu, 1928), which starred Matsumoto Taisuke as Iyemon, & Fushimi Naoe in a double role as Oiwa & Osode. Other silent versions include Inoue Kintarou’s IROHAGANA YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), Nakagawa Shirou’s TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), one by film pioneer Shozu Makino from 1912, and over a dozen others. Early talkie versions were done in 1936 by Furumi Takuji and in 1937 by Onoe Eigorou. Keisuke Kinoshita did a two-part political version in 1949 that did its best to eliminate the ghost elements of the tale, making Iemon sympathetic.
Masaki Mori’s 1956 version featured Tomisaburo Wakayama, best known as Itto Ogami from the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. Wakayama starred also in the 1961 version directed by Yasushi Kato known as KAIDAN OIWA NO BUREI (GHOST OF OIWA). The same year as Nakagawa’s color version, Kenji Misumi did a black-and-white version released in the U.S. as THOU SHALT NOT BE JEALOUS, starring Kazuo Hasegawa.
Kazuo Mori, best known for the Zatoichi series, did YATSUYA KAIDAN: OIWA NO BUREI (CURSE OF THE GHOST aka GHOST OF OIWA) in 1969. 1981 brought the release of MASHO NO NATSU: YATSUYA KAIDAN YORI (aka SUMMER DEMON or SUMMER OF EVIL) from Yukio Ninagawa. Kinji Fukasaku (MESSAGE FROM SPACE; BATTLE ROYALE) contributed the notable CREST OF BETRAYAL version in 1994, that actually manages to combine both the Yotsuya ghost story with the tale of the 47 Ronin, two of Japan’s most popular tales.
Nakagawa is considered by many to have been Japan’s first great horror director. In addition to his version of THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA, he also directed SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE (Kaidan Hebi-Onna, 1968), JIGOKU (“Hell,” 1960), LADY VAMPIRE (Onna Kyuketsuki, 1959), THE GHOST OF KASANE (Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi, 1957), BLACK CAT MANSION (Borei Kaibyo Yashiki, 1958), and others.
A few things that distinguish Nakagawa’s version of the tale is that this Shintoho production was the first in color and widescreen. Shigeru Amachi, who also starred in Nakagawa’s famed evocation of Buddhist hell JIGOKU, gives a strong performance as Iemon Tamiya, a drunken, libertine ronin (i.e. a samurai without a lord to serve). At the start of the film, he accosts some nobles and asks one of them, Samon (Shinjiro Asano), for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Samon has a low opinion of the wastrel and turns Iemon down flat, infuriating the ronin so that he takes his sword and kills the entire group as they flee from his rage.
Iemon, realizing that murdering his intended bride’s father will not endear him to her – not to mention how the constabulary is likely to react to multiple homicides – conspires with his partner-in-crime Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) to lay the blame on a local bandit Usaburo, claiming that they valiantly fought a band of ruffians who got away. Iemon promises Iwa (Kazuko Wakasugi) that he will avenge her father’s murder, securing her hand in marriage and her fortune for himself.
Naosuke becomes attracted to Iwa’s sister Osode, and threatens to expose Iemon if he will not assist in eliminating the sisters’ suspicious brother. When the brother goes to a sacred waterfall to pray for justice, the rogues stab him in the back and push him off the cliff. They return to town with a story about how they were attacked by the same bandits as before, and the pair split up to seek the non-existent bandits.
Iemon and Iwa have a child, but Iemon proves a poor husband, spending most of his nights out drinking, while Iwa begins to suffer from ill health. Iemon gambles most of his wife’s money away, but one night he inadvertently foils a mugging, causing the robbers to flee and the nobles to thank him effulsively, while Iemon instantly falls for the nobleman’s lovely daughter Ume (Junko Ikeuchi). The nobleman offers Iemon a reward, and Iemon ironically responds with the same speech about honor that Samon had given him right before Iemon had murdered him.
Meanwhile, Naosuke is frustrated that Osode refuses to marry or sleep with him until he makes good his promise to avenge her father’s death. When Iemon happens to bump into Naosuke, Naosuke wonders whether he can pull off the murdering bandits gimmick a third time, but resolves that he’ll need another plan. Naosuke comes up with the idea of procuring some poison to kill Iwa to make way for Iemon to marry Ume. Because the portly village massues Takuetsu (Jun Otomo) is constantly coming by to see the ailing Iwa, a rumor has sprung up that the pair are having an affair. Naosuke sees how Iemon can claim to have caught the pair in flagrante to justify the murder of his wife. Dishonorable to the core, Iemon readily agrees to the plan and conspires to make Takuetsu his patsy.
In a telling scene, Iwa cries tears of joy that her husband has started treating her kindly for a change, apparently attempting to see to her happiness rather than being thoroughly selfish all the time. Little does she realize that his thoughtfulness in giving her the medicine she requires is simply a ruse to provide poison in her cup of tea. Takuetsu comes to give her a massage and starts coming on to her because Iemon has suggested that she fancies the doctor: however, Iwa, innocent and loyal to her faithless husband, is shocked by Takuetsu’s behavior.
Then it is Takuetsu’s turn to be shocked as the poison causes the skin on Iwa’s forehead to break out and become discolored, depriving her of her beauty. The shaken Takuetsu confesses that it was Iemon who asked him to seduce her. Realizing the extent of Iemon’s treachery, Iwa vows to kill their infant child rather than leave it to such a father. (Nakagawa doesn’t show this death, but the baby disappears from thenceforth, suggesting that Iwa did indeed carry out her vow).
When Iemon returns, he kills Takuestu for “betraying” him, and then with Naosuke’s help, nails the body of Takuetsu and Iwa to the shutters from his house, and has them carried to the local lake and cast into the water to sink. Naosuke finally sees the bandit that he had earlier blamed the other murders on, and proceeds to stab the bandit in the back so that he can finally marry Osode.
It is at this point that the genre elements now dominate the film. Iemon becomes haunted by visions of his dead wife nailed to the shutter. Naosuke snags Iwa’s comb and kimono with his fishing line and makes the mistake of taking them home to Iwa’s sister, who naturally recognizes these very personal items. When Iwa’s apparition appears in Naosuke’s home, he breaks down and confesses to helping Iemon kill Samon.
Iemon visits Ume’s parents, but when Iwa’s ghost reappears, he strikes out, killing his prospective bride and his prospective father-in-law when his blade passes through the ghost and strikes them instead. Osode finds that her brother wasn’t dead after all, but survived his attack, and the pair team up to get their revenge.
Nakagawa gives the film a very rich look, with beautiful art direction and lighting. Unlike American or European horror films fo the era, however, there is not much attempt to build atmosphere — no creepy sounds, crashing thunderstorms, or howling winds to generate feelings of dread. Instead, the film is briskly paced and presents the supernatural elements rather matter-of-factly. Nonetheless, there is some terrific imagery in the latter part of GHOSTY STORY OF YOTSUYA, particularly the makeup on Iwa and the image of bloody water or bodies floating on shutters in the air.
The narrative very much fits into the Japanese tradition of critiquing corruption and the lack of honor among those most entrusted with upholding the honorable traditions. Iemon is a most thorough villain, as is Naosuke, and we know inevitably they will be paid to pay for their terrible crimes. Nakagawa does a great job of building our suspense in finding just how such vengeance will be extracted.
Nakagawa depicts the ghosts so that they may well be figments of Iemon’s wicked imagination – a sudden appearance of conscience in a hitherto totally immoral character. As in THE GHOST OF KASANE, spirits provoke and enrage Iemon until he takes action that drives him to his own self-destruction. (A few years later, Mario Bava adopted a similar approach in such films as BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY, KILL, in which ghostly vengeance is staged so ambiguously that it appears the victims may actually be killing themselves.)
THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA isn’t a film for those with attention-deficient disorder. The characters are solidly portrayed and the psychologies are built up before there is much in the way of a pay-off. However, I must say that I find the conclusion far more satisfying than those endless horror films of the recent past which substitute a few seconds of explicit gore for interesting characterization or a plot worth paying attention to.
THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, 1959). Director: Nobuo Nakagawa. Cinematographer: Tadashi Nishimoto. Music: Michiaki Watanabe. Producer: Mitsugu Okura. Cast: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Shuntaro Emi, Junko Ikeuchi, Ryozaburo Nakamura, Jun Otomo, Kazuko Wakasugi Writer: Masayoshi Onuki, Yoshihiro Ishikawa.
There is a tradition in Japan to present ghost stories during the warm summer months. An 18th century kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya provided the most popular and durable storyline – that of an ambitious, would-be samurai named Iemon who marries and then murders Iwa, whose ghost returns to wreak revenge on her faithless husband.The story has been filmed numerous times; director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 version THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) is, many feel, the best filmed adaptation of this classic Japanese tale.
RED RIDING HOOD, based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is a werewolf movie in the style of a paranormal romance. Instead of building an atmosphere of horror, such stories are about women involved with supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, demons) and the ensuing romantic difficulties. These women are often either the ultimate in “bad girls” or are dating ultimate bad boys with supernatural powers that need to be marshaled and contained. As a subgenre of romance, paranormal romances have been building in popularity for the past decade and have become a staple at many bookstores.
One of the most popular paranormal romances is Stephanie Mayer’s series of TWILIGHT books, and RED RIDING HOOD’s director is none other than Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who directed the first TWILIGHT film. RED RIDING HOOD benefits from her ability to create beautiful visuals on a limited budget. Both the cinematography by Mandy Walker and the production design by Thomas Sanders are strong.
In the script by David Johnson(ORPHAN), Valerie is the young girl who receives a red cloak from her grandmother (Julie Christie). In the opening scene (set in a European mountain village that is never actually specified — it could be Austria or the Carpathians), Valerie traps a young rabbit with her friend Peter and is encouraged to slit the rabbit’s throat, with the spilling of blood indicating her transition into adulthood and her growing bond with Peter.
Some years later, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to marry the handsome woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother (Virginia Madsen), knowing how little woodcutters make (being married to one) is determined that she marry the brooding blacksmith Henry (Max Irons) instead. Rather than Team Edward and Team Jacob, these two men vie for Valerie’s love and attention. Henry realizes that Valerie prefers Peter, but Henry is game to show her that he is worthy.
Complicating matters, the village has been terrorized by a werewolf for many years, so every full moon, one of the village’s animals is tied to a stake and left for a sacrifice. However, this particular full moon, the werewolf bypasses the planned sacrifice and kills Valerie’s sister instead. Consequently, the village priest, Father Auguste (Lucas Haas) summons famed werewolf-hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to put an end to the horrors.
The villagers decide to tackle the problem themselves and send a posse after the werewolf. In the process, Henry’s father is killed and the Reeve (Michael Hogan, Saul of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) beheads the wolf he thinks is responsible. Father Solomon arrives in the village with two daughters, a warrior band of Moors, and a large iron elephant which is later employed as a torture device. Solomon has dedicated his life to eradicating werewolves, since one decimated his family. To aid him in his quest, he wields a silver sword and has replaced with natural fingernails with silver ones.
Goldman does an impressive job limning a larger-than-life fanatic, chomping on the scenery without quite going over the top, though at times it is a near miss, especially when he hisses while torturing someone about how “he sings with the love of Satan,” which borders on camp. Seyfried, from BIG LOVE and VERONICA MARS, imbues her character with some strong qualities as well. She’s no damsel in distress; her Valerie is smart, strong, and independent-minded, blue-eyed and stout-hearted.
The weakest element proves to be the werewolf itself, an underwhelming piece of CGI with black fur and brown eyes. The werewolf confronts Valerie and actually talks to her in a voice only she can understand. She realizes that the werewolf is one of the villagers, someone she knows, and so she dedicates herself to trying to solve which villager the werewolf could be. Is it Peter? Hans? Could it be Father Auguste luring Father Solomon for an ultimate showdown? Could it be one of her village girl friends? Could it be a member of her own family, such as her grandmother or her father (Billy Burke). However, once word spreads that she has communicated with the wolf, Valerie herself is suspected of witchcraft.
Though the images are beautiful, much of the dialogue is sappy, and far too modern for the time period, giving the film a Renaissance Faire 90210 feel. Though it tries hard to be anything but scary, the film doesn’t really satisfy, though in some ways it comes closer than Universal’s recent retread of THE WOLF MAN. RED RIDING HOOD doesn’t have the delirious sexual undertones or inventiveness of Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, and the beautiful Seyfried, looking great in Renaissance-era lingerie, is stranded between being a symbol of purity and one of sexuality. Though it is reminiscent of the TWILIGHT franchise, RED RIDING HOOD cannot quite recreate the successful formula.
RED RIDING HOOD (March 11, 2011). Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Writer: David Johnson.
- Amanda Seyfried…Valerie
- Gary Oldman…Solomon
- Billy Burke…Cesaire
- Shiloh Fernandez…Peter
- Max Irons…Henry
- Virginia Madsen…Suzette
- Lukas Haas…Father Auguste
- Julie Christie…Grandmother
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the actor-writers of two the very best comic horror films of the previous decade: SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. SHAUN OF THE DEAD brilliantly and humorously used zombies as a metaphor for braindead slobs working braindead jobs, an appalling fate to which much of the populace can easily relate. HOT FUZZ tackled the excesses of the police-action-drama with a dollop of serial cult killers in an out-of-the-way town for good measure. Both of these films were brilliantly directed by Edgar Wright, who last year offered the incredibly offbeat videogame contest-as-comedy-movie SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, a film which connected more with its audience on video than it did in the theater. Unfortunately, Pegg and Frost’s latest offering, PAUL, doesn’t scale the same heights of inventiveness, though it is not without humor and some charm.
This time Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD) directed, and the setting and humor are pitched more to an American audience rather than a British one. PAUL gets off to a reasonably good start as two Brit fanboys, illustrator Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost), achieve their lifelong dream of attending the San Diego Comic Con, literally the world’s largest genre convention. Mottola effectively limns the milieu from costumes to dealer’s room to author meet-and-greets. The pair are particularly excited to meet their favorite sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), who has inspired Clive to write his own sci-fi novel featuring a green female Amazon with three breasts.
To round off their trip to America, the pair rent a Winnebago and tour famous UFO sites across the country, from Area 51 to Roswell, New Mexico. Along the way, they witness a car crash and encounter an escaping alien who has named himself Paul (Seth Rogan’s voice). Paul needs a lift north to sync up with his fellow aliens, and cajoles the starstruck pair into helping them. While he is a knowledgeable alien gifted with invisibility and other powers, he is also has a bit a fratboy; he smokes, drinks, and moons others in pursuit of his own amusement. Though Graeme and Clive are initially fearful of their saucer-eyed friend, they become fond of him and vice versa.
Adding to the fun is the introduction of RV park attendant Ruth Boggs (Kristen Wiig), a brainwashed Bible Belt babe who wears a T-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin in the head with the slogan “Evolve This!” Confronted by an actual alien, Boggs finds all her preconceptions challenged and winds up embracing the kind of life she daydreamed about but never had the courage to pursue. Wiig demonstrates a very sure sense of timing, though jokes concerning her inept attempts to curse, unfortunately, don’t improve with repetition.
PAUL benefits for a great supporting cast who play mostly underdeveloped characters. Jane Lynch is mostly wasted as a waitress at an alien-themed café, though she reappears and gets off an amusing line to Wiig at the end. Adding a sense of peril, Clive and Graeme put a dent into a truck belonging to a pair of insensitive locals, David Koechner and Jesse Plemons, who accuse the pair of being gay. Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) is charged by the Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver) with the task of bringing the escaped Paul back to Area 51, where for the past half century he was being pumped for information (including, in an amusing flashback cameo, the voice of Steven Spielberg) while his image was promulgated to keep the public from panicking once his existence became known. Zoil brings in a pair of inept but determined detectives (Bill Hader from SNL and Joe Lo Truglio from Reno 911!) to aid him in the recovery.
Adding to the fun are a series of references and insider gags best appreciated by long-time genre fans, with bits of dialogue and business copied from STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE X-FILES, E.T. (Paul specifically requests some Reese’s Pieces at a gas station stop, gets disguised as a kid in a costume, and possesses magical healing powers), and ALIENS. Some of the bits are obvious, while others, such as a bluegrass band playing the “Star Wars Cantina Theme” in a bar, are less so.
Though he sounds and acts much like the regular Seth Rogan, the Paul character comes off pretty well. The motion-capture animation here is not exceptional, but the character is emotionally expressive and demonstrates personality. The main difficulty is that the movie’s story loses direction near the end and resorts to replaying action movie clichés as the agents trying to recapture the alien close in while Paul visits his first human contact (touchingly played by Blythe Danner). Mottola simply doesn’t have the flair for action scenes that Edgar Wright does, and so these come off as slightly generic.
Like many modern movies, PAUL leaves a lot of destruction in its wake (the RV gets trashed, a house blown up, a couple of characters are killed in nasty ways), but there is no sense of consequence to these actions. Clive and Graeme proclaim the experience the best in their lives, but the movie doesn’t give any hint of what their regular lives were like, or whether they can afford to fix the things broken in their wake.
Pegg and Frost clearly work well together, but once again Pegg is the nervous Nelly who winds up romancing a girl, while Frost is the hopeless best buddy who becomes jealous that Pegg’s attention gets focused elsewhere. The film takes potshots at close-minded religious fanaticism (“You just can’t win with those people”), but doesn’t offer anything particularly profound or controversial.
PAUL is a pleasant enough diversion for science fiction fans, but in the end leaves us hungry for the conclusion of Pegg and Frost’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy.
PAUL (March 18, 2011). Director: Greg Mottola. Writers: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg.
- Simon Pegg…Graeme Willy
- Nick Frost…Clive Gollings
- Jeffrey Tambor…Adam Shadowchild
- Seth Rogen…Paul (voice)
- Jason Bateman…Agent Zoil
- Sigourney Weaver…The Big Guy
In its fourth season, DEXTER continued to court controversy with its shocking season finale. In Season 3, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) became involved with psychopathic killer Lila who threatened his family, especially Rita (Julie Benz ) but clever Dexter manages to escape Lila’s trap, stop Lila, and save his family. In the 4th season, Dexter is not so fortunate.
Showtime’s DEXTER is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Florida writer Jeff Lindsay. Its main character, Dexter Morgan, is a serial killer whose adopted father, a policeman, rescued infant Dexter from a traumatizing crime scene, recognized Dexter’s true nature, and trained him to kill only other killers. Dexter was taught to blend in and appear normal as much as possible, and to that end he chose as a girl friend Rita, a formerly abused woman who had serious intimacy issues. As a sociopath, Dexter lacks real emotions, though he has learned how to fake them, but he has always been fond of and protective of children, so he takes to Rita’s two kids Astor and Cody right away. Gradually, Dexter recognizes how much he needs Rita, marries her, and they have a child together.
As Season 4 opens, that child, Harrison, is being colicky; consequently, Dexter has been losing sleep, his concentration is shot, and he winds up flipping his SUV in an accident shortly after his latest kill, leading him to worry that his victim’s body may be discovered, revealing the dark secret of his true nature. Meanwhile, Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) returns to Miami in search of the biggest serial killer of his career, whom he has dubbed the Trinity Killer. His return brings back the pent-up longings of Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), just as she thought she was finally happy with her new boy friend Anton (David Ramsey).
The main thrust of this season is Dexter’s relationship with Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), who he realizes is the Trinity Killer. Because the Trinity Killer’s victims are spread out over the country, Agent Lundy assumed that Trinity must be a loner, but Dexter is shocked to discover he is actually a family man with a seemingly loving and affectionate wife, son, and daughter. Dexter decides he can learn from this man how to be both a serial killer and a successful family man – something that the voice of Dexter’s late father Harry (James Remar) cautions him against.
Additionally, the recurring motif of this season is the bad choices Dexter makes. His lack of alertness causes him to bring the wrong file to a trial, resulting in a murderer going free. No problem, figures Dexter, planning to kill the man to satisfy his “dark passenger” (i.e. the serial-killer part of his personality), ignoring that his method of disappearing the bodies of his victims ensures that the affected family will never have closure.
In fact, in his selfish need to be the one who kills the killer, Dexter more and more sabotages his own police department’s investigations. Worse, he abandons his stepson to commit a murder of what turns out to be an innocent man. To divert the police from his prey, he frames another man, a trucker who once got away with murder, and murders him as well. When he discovers just how much a monster Arthur is, especially to his own family, he fails to alert the authorities because that would interfere with his own selfish intentions. But, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said, eventually he will sit down to a banquet of the consequences of his actions.
DEXTER remains a strong series because of the sharp writing, performing, and production values, which have been nominated for several Emmys. Michael C. Hall gives a terrific performance as Dexter, who is both diabolically clever and, at times, a clueless screw-up. Julie Benz is also quite good as the long-suffering, frustrated but still loving Rita, who repeatedly uncovers Dexter’s lies and tries to be reassured by his assertions that he simply “didn’t want her to worry.” She uncovers how Dexter has kept his old apartment after their marriage and the couple wind up in counseling this season, though the counselor correctly points out that this is not new behavior for Dexter (who in the past has covered up his nocturnal activities by claiming to have had a drug addiction and an affair).
Lauren Velez and David Zayas remain appealing as the characters Lt. LaGuerta and Det. Angel Batista, who become romantically involved this season; but with so much going on, their affair is mostly shuttled to the sidelines. C.S. Lee perfectly limns Dexter’s creepy Asian cohort Vince Masuka, a forensics expert who has a talent for making anything he says sound perverted (“It’s a gift,” he modestly proclaims in one of the funnier exchanges this season).
In Lindsay’s books, Deborah knows just who Dexter is and comes to accept him, but in the series Debra is still putting together just who Dexter is, and she remains more of an innocent, though she does have a traumatic time this season. Carpenter once more delivers a strong performance throughout, correctly noting how Dexter has given her confidence, but she is still clueless about the ways he has undercut her investigation for his own selfish ends.
John Lithgow does a superb job as the conflicted Arthur: at times hard and ruthless and, at other times, vulnerable and human, Lithgow lets the audience see the wounded boy inside, who is compelled to re-enact the core traumas of his past; he is the ultimate control freak – who is out of control.
Desmond Harrington plays Quinn, Debra’s partner, whom Dexter sees raking off some cash from a crime scene. Consequently, Quinn alternates between trying to appease and make friends with Dexter and accusing him of stepping out on Rita. Additionally, he has a sexual relationship with reporter Christine Hill (Courtney Ford) who milks him for information about ongoing investigations in order to grab headlines. Christine proves a master manipulator who sets no boundaries when it comes to getting what she wants, and the media pressure her reporting represents certainly has an affect on the police, though as the season goes on, we discover that Christine has her own history to complicate things.
Though set in Florida, DEXTER makes canny use of West Coast locations, especially around Long Beach and Redondo Beach, to substitute for Miami. The series has a slick look, and depends on several talented directors including Ernest Dickerson, Tim Hunter, John Dahl, Keith Gordon, and Romero Tirone, the last having often served as the series cinematographer, though Martin Layton assumes that duty for some of this season.
The Blu-ray disc of DEXTER: THE FOURTH SEASON includes sample episodes of CALIFORNICATION, THE TUDORS (one of Showtime’s greatest series), and a new reality series set in a gun shop & firing range called LOCK AND LOAD. There are not many DEXTER-related extras however, apart from brief interviews with Michael C. Hall, Clyde Phillips, David Zayas, John Lithgow, C.S. Lee, Julie Benz, Lauren Velez, Jennifer Carpenter, and James Remar.
Mixing ethical quandaries with the simple demands that family and work place on us, DEXTER: THE FOURTH SEASON is compellingly watchable television, with a finale that reminds us just how much we care about these characters; as things horribly unravel, the message seems to be that, sometimes in our obsessions, we overlook the things in life that are actually most important to us.
The creator of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA returns with a one-two double bill of genre movie spoofs: THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
Larry Blamire created a minor cult sensation in 2001 with THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, a genuinely amusing spoof of no-budget 1950s sci-fi films such as BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER. In addition to writing and directing, Blamire also limned the character of Dr. Paul Armstrong, a scientist dedicated to the pursuit of Science, and provided the voice of the title character: a superior alien intelligence embedded in a skeleton, able to hypnotize others to do his bidding, who spends most of his screen time complaining in a condescending manner about how stupid the humans he manipulates are.
Blamire showed a real knowledge of genre precedents, and clearly knew how to make this material work. Rather than resorting to eye-rolling, mugging, or winking at the audience, Blamire’s cast played things relatively straight, with classic bad-acting coming from the fatuous dialogue and the no-resource aesthetic. Particularly appealing were Blamire’s wife Jennifer Blaire as Animalia, a human conjured up by an alien ray out of a housecat and given to weird dancing, slinky black leotards, and sultry looks, as well as the aliens who created her: Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnel), who struggle to understand the strange Earth people they encounter with their odd language, rituals, and rites.
Blamire followed CADAVRA with the amusing but still unavailable on video TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD. Now Shout! Factory has released his two latest efforts, a sequel to CADAVRA called THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN and a parody of ‘30s Old Dark House movies called DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, bringing his repertory cast of actors along with him.
THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN in many ways is a parody both of sequels (characters killed off in the original are brought back as their twin brothers) and of lost civilization films (such as THE LOST CONTINENT). This time, Blamire shoots the film in a digital widescreen format (2.35 aspect ratio) with the first half in traditional black & white and then switching to color halfway through once the main characters reach the Valley of the Monsters.
Government agent Reet Pappin (Frank Dietz) has been sent to the Amazon Jungle to uncover a supply of Jerranium 90 (a “little rock” that made all the papers). Teaming up with Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson), whose husband Dr. Paul Armstrong (Jerranium’s actual discoverer) has been missing for two years, Pappin searches for the missing doctor and for this valuable geological material. Armstrong (Blamire again) is now a bitter and boozy alcoholic, disappointed that his discovery’s name was granted to a usurper who named it after himself. “The jungle gets into your blood and builds tiny little houses of pain, and you’d better not be there when the rent’s due, ’cause the anaconda — funny thing — they don’t know how to read the lease. Seems they never learned. And the only thing longer than a croc’s mouth is the time it takes to swallow you whole,” Paul intones gravely. Clueless Betty just thinks her hubby has a case of the “grumpys.”
Dr. Peter Fleming (Brian Howe), now under the mental control of the constantly complaining Lost Skeleton (actually, nothing much is left of the lost skeleton except its skull) is urged to find the Dalp of Anacrabb and joins the trio along with his dependable guide Jungle Brad (Dan Conroy). Meanwhile, a competing troop of searchers is led by Ellamy Royne (Trish Geiger), who is accompanied by our old friends Kro-Bar and Lattis as well as a newly resurrected Animalia. They gamely resurrect their shtick, which mostly works except for a silly you haven’t “touched your food” joke stolen from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. They mouth dialogue such as Lattis’s, “We waste time explaining things we already know.’’ To which Kro-bar responds, “We waste time acknowledging that we already know these things.’’
Once the group reaches the colorful Valley of the Monsters, they encounter Chinfa (Alison Martin), Queen of the Cantalope People (apparently so named because they wear enormous cantaloupes on their heads, and in the case of Chinfa, a cantaloupe brassiere as well). Unfortunately, here is where the film starts to stumble with some long, pointless dialogue scenes and one of the worst “native dance” sequences ever filmed. Nevertheless, the climax is enlivened by some deliberately crummy-looking critters created by the Chiodo Brothers (KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE), including a giant Venus-flytrap monster and the cyclopean turd monster Gralmanopidon who has a brief but memorable climactic battle with the Lost Skeleton skull. (The Chiodo Brothers’ hanging miniatures, including the mountains leading to the Valley of the Monsters and the pyramid of the Cantalope people, are by contrast quite accomplished).
The Shout! Factory DVD also includes a brief making of short, commentary from many members of the cast and crew, and a brief (though not terribly amusing) gag reel of blown takes. While not as amusing as the original LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN does have some memorable moments of mirth performed by people with a clear love for this kind of genre material.
The late Ishiro Honda has long been considered Japan’s premier fantasy film director, and certainly worthy of a book-length study, which is what author Peter H. Brothers’ Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda provides. Clearly, Brothers is well-read and well-informed on his subject.
Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda is divided into three major sections. In the first, Brooks provides comments and insights on the hallmarks of Honda’s approach to direction and storytelling. In the second, he provides a mini-biography of the director, filling in many background details on his life (such as his extended military service and his long apprenticeship as an assistant director) that I have not previously seen or read. He also makes clear why the preferred spelling of Honda’s first name is Ishiro, despite his early films being credited as Inoshiro.
The final, and longest section of the book, examines each of Honda’s fantasy films in detail. This section is divided into several subsections, charting the rise and fall of Honda’s film career. Brooks does take an unusual approach to titles: he addresses each film by a translation of the Japanese title rather than by the English release title or by the Japanese title rendered in the letters of the Western alphabet. Thus, ATRAGON is referred to as SUBMARINE WARSHIP. While Godzilla and Mothra are referred to by their English names, Rodan is consistently referred to by his Japanese name of Radon.
One strength of Brothers’ work is the emphasis placed on a Honda’s collaborators. He notes the differences between the approaches of his two major screenwriters, Takeshi Kimura (whose work tended to be downbeat and critical) and Shinichi Sekizawa (whose work was more child-like and hopeful). Brothers frequently cites the quality of Eiji Tsuburaya’s work, Honda’s main special effects expert. He carefully comments on the scores of Akira Ifukube, noting the orchestrations used for the various pieces. Additionally, he makes note of actors who make multiple appearances in Honda’s films.
On the downside, however, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda contains no illustrations whatsoever. (Toho Studios, which produced most of Honda’s movies, are notoriously difficult about granting permission to reproduce stills, and there are no pictures of Honda himself, even personal ones). Brothers assumes the reader will already be familiar with each of these films and so doesn’t bother with summaries and other basic information. When commenting on Ifukube’s scores, Brothers seems to mention individual pieces by translations of soundtrack cue titles rather than referring directly back to the films themselves.
Additionally, there are some other difficulties. The copy-editing is poor, for example. There are a couple of references to “eye-pooping” effects rather than “eye-popping.” Brothers uses “mute” when he means “moot.” At one point the word “contretemps” is misspelled, and a few times letters or words are omitted, obscuring meaning.
Another problem that occasionally crops up is unsupported suppositions. For example, Brothers hints that Tsuburaya contemplated suicide if the original GODZILLA had not been a success, also that Honda was never “particularly interested in directing films that stressed creatures over characters” and that he “longed to return to the kind of sweet, sentimental pictures that he was fond of directing that stressed human values.” A quote or source citation would make these claims more convincing.
However, Brothers is certainly correct in his assertions that Honda didn’t make his monster movies with the intention of frightening people. Though the creatures in them are colorful characters of mass destruction, Honda does not create typical suspense or scare scenes, and largely eschew depicting gory demises, though his original GODZILLA gains great power from its depictions of the Japanese detailing with the aftermath of the irradiated lizard’s onslaught in ways that evoke memories of the post-Hiroshima survivors.
Additionally, Brothers correctly notes Honda’s repeated emphasis on the hopes for a United Nations-oriented peaceful solution, showing Japan joining a league of nations in combating alien or monster menaces or other major problems (such as GORATH’s potentially world-destroying planetoid). When the Godzilla series was revived in the ‘80s, the tendency then was to show a more militaristically aggressive Japan (Kimura’s scripts tended to be very critical of the Japanese military establishment).
One issue I wish that Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda had delved more into is the differences between the Japanese and American versions of the films. Brothers doesn’t mention how Honda’s ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN was turned into an abomination called HALF HUMAN for its American release (something nicely covered recently on the And You Call Yourself a Scientist website). For the most part, Brothers concentrates on the original Japanese versions, not even mentioning how classic Universal horror themes were added to the soundtrack of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA for its American version (though he does note that the American version of the film lets the Seahawk disaster sequence run without the interruption of scenes from the Pacific Pharmaceuticals bon voyage party, as in the Japanese version).
Though Brothers does at times have a tendency to lay on the superlatives, he doesn’t stint from criticizing what he perceives as Honda’s lackluster later fantasy productions. After box office receipts began falling off on Godzilla films in Japan, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka ordered the budgets slashed, and the Godzilla films became increasingly geared towards children. Under these restrictions, Honda fell far short of his previous proven abilities with such uninspiring fare as GODZILLA’S REVENGE and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.
Nevertheless, Honda made a total of 25 fantasy films, a sizeable and significant body of work worthy of the serious attention Brothers gives them. In addition to the Godzilla movies, these included his science fiction invasion trilogy THE MYSTERIANS, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, and GORATH; his science fiction efforts THE H-MAN and THE HUMAN VAPOUR, his submarine movies ATRAGON and LATITUDE ZERO, his Frankenstein duo FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, as well as launching MOTHRA and RODAN on their merry careers. There is also the fascinating morality tale that is MATANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), with its evocation of the Seven Deadly Sins and the beautiful Kumi Mizuno actually becoming more alluring as she transforms into a fungus.
Despite some caveats, for the serious lover of kaiju movies, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda is worthy of your time and attention. This kind of attention focusing on one of the most prolific directors of fantasy films is long overdue.
The word peplum derives from the Roman word for pleated skirt, and a “peplum movie” is one in which the characters wear such skirts. SON OF SAMSON (originally Maciste nella Valle dei Re [“Maciste in the Valley of the Kings”]) was the second of Mark Forest’s muscleman movies (his first was GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON) and one of the earliest competitors to the highly successful HERCULES, which had kick-started the sound revival of the peplum genre. Forest would play Maciste 7 times and appear in 12 different pepla movies.
Traditionally, Maciste was the son of Hercules or even an alternate name for Hercules, but this film identifies him as the son of the biblical Samson instead. The character of Maciste is one of the longest-running cinematic characters, having been featured in over 50 films; he made his initial appearance in Italian cinema is the incredibly impressive silent epic CABIRIA( 1914), directed by Giovanni Pastrone and loosely based on Flaubert’s Salammbo. As in that silent film, Maciste here tells another character that his name means “of the rock” (macis is the Latin word for “rock”).
SON OF SAMSON follows the standard plot of a Maciste movie, which usually involves a young lady who runs afoul of an evil ruler and who must be rescued. Maciste also helps the rightful ruler overcome a usurper and confronts an evil queen with carnal designs who attempts to seduce him with a belly dance. In 11th CenturyEgypt, the Persian Queen Smedes (played by Folies Beregeres dancer Chelo Alonso) rules Egypt despite being secretly in league with the kingdom’s Persian invaders, who are raping and pillaging their way across the countryside. When Pharaoh Armiteo (Carlo Tamberlani) hears that Smedes participated in selling Egyptian women as slaves, the Pharaoh berates her for exploiting his subjects; however, one of Smedes’ minions shoots an arrow into the Pharaoh’s back. Meanwhile, Kenamon (Angelo Zenoli), the son of the Pharaoh, who has been traveling and fighting across Egypt, recovers from his wounds and spends some time with Norfret (Frederica Ranchi), who pines for him when he returns to Tanis. Persians attack Norfret’s village, killing the men, burning the huts, and rounding up the women to be sold as slaves.
Maciste, the Son of Samson (Mark Forest), viewed by the Egyptian as a potential savior, lies sleeping by a mountain when a lion stalks him. Seeing this, Kenamon shoots the lion with an arrow and as Maciste thanks him, another lion approaches. There follows the typical shots of Maciste hugging a lion followed by him struggling with a lion skin rug with roars and growls dubbed in. Finally, Maciste beats the second lion to death with his fists. In gratitude, Kenamon gives Maciste a ring as a token of his friendship. Taking his leave of Kenamon, Maciste comes across the Persian raiders, whom he crushes with boulders and a huge stone wheel, rescuing the Egyptian women and escorting them back to their village. Kenamon in turns finds the streets of his city of Tanis empty following the death of his father, Armiteo. Visiting the mummy of his father, Kenamon is advised by the Grand Vizier (Petar Dobric) that he is the new Pharaoh.
To secure her position, Smedes proposes she wed Kenamon, who declines saying that it is too soon after his father’s death. Smedes immediately assumes that another woman has won Kenamon’s heart. She leaves him declaring, “Our marriage must take place on order of the Persians.” Distressed, Kenamon finds his egress blocked by spear-carrying guards. He dispatches a servant to carry word to Norfret, but the servant is quickly intercepted by guards and pumped for information. Aware of Kenamon’s interest in Norfret, Queen Smedes plots to use the mystical “Necklace of Forgetfulness” on Kenamon, which will make him her slave. The Vizier, who is in cahoots with Smedes, places the necklace of forgetfulness around Kenamon’s neck, and he instantly falls under Smedes’ spell. Suddenly he relishes her company and accedes to her every request.
Meanwhile, Maciste drives the rescued women in a carriage to an oasis in a failed effort to find water. They find a similar situation once they reach the town of Memphis, where greedy merchants conceal what little water there is in their animal skins. Maciste. hearing that Kenamon’s coronation is about to take place in Tanis, resolves to find men to aid in the fight against the marauding Persians. Waiting until nightfall, he moves part of a mountain side to create a natural spring and supply the populace’s water needs.
The corruption of Tanis is established in that travelers must bribe the guards to be admitted. The merchant with Maciste gains him entry by disguising him as a merchant whose rich caravan will be arriving shortly. Once inside, Maciste sees a young boy cry out for mercy for his father, who is being whipped. The boy throws rocks at the guards from a nearby rooftop after being chased away, so the guards climb up a ladder to pursue him. Maciste grabs the ladder with the guards on it, walks it over to the Nile and throws the guards into the water.
The gods having decreed to Maciste that Egypt will be free, Maciste goes to the slaves who are erecting an obelisk. When the obelisk slips down, crushing slaves and guards like, Maciste arrests the descent with his mighty muscles, and has the slaves pull from the other side. That night he tells the slaves to construct weapons while he seeks out Kenamon and enlists his aid in their cause. However, Kenamon doesn’t recognize the man he once saved in the jungle, and Maciste is beset by guards. He backs into what proves to be a swiveling wall and enters the “Cell of Death,” wherein the walls close in to crush him. With his incredible strength, he makes it to the gate of the cell and escapes, arranging for the slaves to attack during the next day’s chariot race.
At the chariot race, the winner is told by Smedes that he will have the honor of punishing some escaped slaves. He is given a chariot with long scimitars welded to the hub. The women Maciste rescues are brought into the arena blindfolded, and the chariot is driven among them, eventually cutting down the blind seer who prophesized Maciste being Egypt’s deliverer. Angered, Maciste throws off his disguise and grabs the back of the chariot, arresting its progress and bring the team of horses pulling it to a stop.
Impressed, Smedes falls for the mighty Maciste and grants him his wish of releasing the women prisoners. That night, she attempts to seduce Maciste with a seductive dance that allows Chelo Alonso to show off her dancing talents, though who knew that Persian queens were so versed in bellydancing? This allows Maciste to get close to Kenamon again and spell out his plans; unfortunately, Smedes can overhear them. Enraged, she gives Maciste a knock-out potion and orders him thrown to the crocodiles. Still, the mighty hero makes quick work of these reptilian foes and escapes to find the women safe and the slaves ready to revolt. After knocking down a few dozen soldiers, the rest of the royal force arrives, led by Kenamon. Maciste ties a rope to a support on the bridge they must cross, and as the leaders of the royal force almost reach the other side, Maciste pulls away the support, causing the bridge to collapse.
This causes the necklace to fall from Kenamon, and he once more remembers Norfret and turns against Smedes. Leading everyone back to the palace at Tanis, he tells the crowd that Smedes, for her perfidy, will be burned until she is embers, and that the crowd will deal with the overthrown Vizier. Smedes proclaims, “You win Maciste, but you will never burn me.” She runs through the wall passage of the cell of death and into the crocodiles’ lair. Norfret reunites with Kenamon, and Maciste, his destiny fulfilled, leaves to find other people to free and possibly other films to appear in.
The refreshing thing about this movie is the Egyptian settings, complete with authentic looking costumes and shots of the pyramids. SON OF SAMSON is directed by Carlo Campogallani, whose career stretches back to Italy’s silent era, when he directed some of the earliest Maciste movies, including MACISTE I (1919), LA TRILOGIA DI MACISTE (1920), MACISTE CONTRO LA MORTE (aka MACISTE VS. DEATH) (1920), and THE TESTAMENT OF MACISTE (1920). His other peplum include GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, URSUS, and SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR. Campogallani keeps things moving and gives a fairly spectacular feel (the film is shot in Technicolor and Totalscope) despite the limited budget.
The fantasy elements of the film are largely limited to Maciste’s supernatural strength, the blind seer with the gift of prophecy, and the magical necklace that bends Kenamon to Smedes’ will. The horror elements include a generous application of bright red Kensington gore during the battle scenes, the crushing walls, the crocodile pit, whippings, and torture of a prisoner using a red-hot poker. Campogallani also gives us a disturbing image of the Persian depredations near the opening when we see snakes slithering past the heads of victims buried up to their necks in desert sand.
While not one of the more impressive 1960 genre efforts, SON OF SAMSON is a reasonably entertaining historical adventure that doesn’t make the mistake of presenting fantastic creatures it cannot quite pull off, unlike its immediate predecessor GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON. It is colorful and, like most pepla, features very fetching female leads with an impressively muscled bodybuilder at its center.
SON OF SAMSON (originally Maciste nella Valle dei Re [“Maciste in the Valley of the Kings”], 1960). Directed by Carlo Campogalliani. Story and screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Ennio De Concini. Cast: Mark Forest, Chelo Alonso, Angelo Zanolli, Federica Ranchi, Carlo Tamberlani, Nino Musco, Zvonimir Rogoz, Ignazio Dolce, Andrea Fantasia, Petar Dobric, Vira Silenti, Ada Ruggeri.
Originally created to be a co-feature for BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN is the Rodney Dangerfield of low-budget Invisible Man movies: it gets no respect, even though it’s really not a bad little effort.
Like BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN was produced by Miller Consolidated Pictures, directed by cult director Edgar Ulmer, and shot in Texas with very limited funds. Naturally, if one has limited resources, making a special effects film usually isn’t one of the more effective options, but THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN does feature an interesting combination of gangster and science fiction plots, some decent performances, and unlike many similar productions, a decent pace that keeps things moving rather than eating up running time with endless dialogue scenes.
The movie opens on the run, in a way, with searchlights illuminating the opening credits (an interesting choice on Ulmer’s part), which quickly transition to Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy from INVADERS FROM MARS and THE LAND UNKNOWN), an imprisoned safecracker, making his escape from prison. (We see a guard firing a machine gun from one of the prison’s guard towers, but it isn’t clear just what is being shot at as Faust seems to be running along the same wall). Faust gets picked up by Laura Matson (Marguerite Chapman from FLIGHT TO MARS), who drives him to see Krenner (James Griffith from THE VAMPIRE), the man who arranged Faust’s escape.
Krenner is a mercenary who has given himself the title of major and who plans to take over the world by creating an army of invisible soldiers. He has arranged for Faust’s escape because he needs Faust to steal some fissionable materials used in the transparency experiments of Dr. Peter Olof (Ivan Triesault from THE MUMMY’S GHOST). Kremer is clearly a megalomaniac whose ambition far exceeds his ability. He offers Faust a thousand dollars to steal radioactive materials from a military nuclear weapons laboratory nearby and seems surprised that the prospect of imperiling his life and freedom for such a small amount does not appeal to the escaped convict.
To secure Ulof’s cooperation, Krenner keeps Ulof’s daughter (Carmel Daniel) locked away in a small room in the attic laboratory. Ulof is depicted as a weary, resigned but brilliant scientist who admits to Faust that he killed his own wife when he was forced to conduct medical experiments while in a concentration camp and was given subjects whose faces were hidden. Krenner keeps Faust in line by threatening to kill him and collect a reward from the police (Fauts is wanted dead or alive), and Krenner’s personal thug Julian (Boyd “Red” Morgan) seems quite prepared to carry out the threat.
We first see Dr. Ulof use his transparency ray on a guinea pig, which is strapped down and has parts disappear from view, leaving only some leather straps to indicate its location. Krenner warns the doctor to keep the projector away from the safe containing the fissionable materials needed to make it work, planting a piece of information that will prove significant later. (The minimal visual effects are handled by the Howard A. Anderson Co., which have parts of the subject turn into film negative before disappearing from view. The Anderson company handled optical effects for the original STAR TREK TV series).
Running less than an hour in length, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN wastes no time in rendering Faust invisible so that he can steal the special “fissionable material” (called X-13) from what looks like a bank vault. The reckless Krenner has Dr. Ulof use the new material immediately on Faust before ascertaining whether it will work as well as the prior radioactive material. The next time Faust becomes invisible, he chooses to rob a bank rather than follow Krenner’s orders to steal more X-13. However, in the midst of the robbery, Faust’s hands and head make an unexpected appearance, causing him to be recognized and take off with Laura on the run.
Returning to the farmhouse, Faust demands Dr. Ulof inform him what’s going wrong. Dr. Ulof urges him to put a stop to Krenner’s plans and gives him the bad news: given his exposure thus far, Faust only has a month left to live. (Naturally if recruits are informed about this minor drawback, it won’t be easy for Krenner to assemble his invisible army).
Laura, who is attracted to Faust, also turns against Krenner, who has done little more than exploit her or slap her around. She reveals to Julian that his son is dead, so Krenner will never be able to keep his promise to rescue the boy. Krenner kills Laura, and upstairs in the laboratory, he and Faust get into a major tussle after Faust releases Ulof’s daughter, during which the transparency projection ray hits the fissionable material and fission occurs, setting off an explosion that wipes out half the county.
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN ends on what it hopes will be a thoughtful note. A police officer asks Dr. Ulof what should be done about his invention of the invisibility ray. Ulof muses that perhaps it would be best if the secret of transparency were lost, and then turns to the camera to ask the audience “What would you do?”
The performances by Griffith as the unrealistic criminal mastermind and Triesault as the coerced, largely uncaring scientist are both interesting. Except for Morgan, the cast acquits itself professionally. Ulmer’s direction is not particularly inspired, but he got the job done effectively in a short amount of time. This was his last American-made movie. Jack Lewis’ dialogue can be a little strained at times, but it never makes you wince. The film never really amazes, but it is a lively, fast-paced, B-movie thriller.
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Written by Jack Lewis. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Ivan Triesault, Boyd “Red” Morgan, Cornel Daniel, Edward Erwin, Jonathan Ledford, Norman Smith, Patrick Cranshaw, Kevin Kelly, Dennis Adams, Stacy Morgan.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is a low-budget, science fiction epic-adventure-wanna-be ultimately sabotaged by Arthur C. Pierce’s weak screenplay. According to To “B” Or Not to “B” by Robert Clarke & Tom Weaver, the project came about when actor-producer Robert Clarke optioned a script by Arthur C. Pierce, which Clarke planned to produce through a deal withMiller Consolidated Productions. Les Guthrie, the film’s production supervisor, suggested Edgar G. Ulmer as director, and Clarke, who had worked with Ulmer on THE MAN FROM PLANET X, agreed.
Despite having scripted several science fiction films (THE COSMIC MAN, THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS, MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE, CYBORG 2087 WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, DESTINATION INNER SPACE, DIMENSION 5, and possibly uncredited work on NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS), Pierce talent could only charitably be described as lacking. Ulmer was never happy with Pierce’s threadbare script and demanded rewrite after rewrite, driving Pierce to such frustration that he broke a pencil in front of Ulmer’s face. According to Clarke, “The incident did seem to bother Edgar a little bit; I remember that later on, Edgar in his heavy Hungarian accent referred to Art as, ‘This writer who brrreaks his pencil in frrront of my face!’”
With a commitment to begin production in Texas, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER was forced to get underway before the script problems were fixed, and the film suffers for it. Guthrie arranging shooting in Carswell Field in Fort Worth, depicting an Air Force Base, and The Texas Centennial Fair Grounds in Dallas for the underground city. The entire production took place on a 9- or 10-day schedule, with a budget of $125,000.
I was originally saw BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER as part of an Ulmer Retrospective at UCLA, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, with Robert Clarke and Shirley and Arianne Ulmer in attendance. Shirley Ulmer explained that, having minimal budget resources, Edgar was fascinated by how he could reuse the same triangle structures to construct the various sets needed. This became a major design motif for the film as well as a huge budget-saver.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER begins in 1961 with Major William Allison (Clarke) doing a high-speed test flight for the new X-80, an experimental jet craft (represented by footage of an F-102). He achieves such speed that he “breaks” the time barrier and is propelled into the year 2024. Despite finding his base deserted and the world a desolate wasteland, Allison stubbornly refuses to accept that he has traveled into the future, making him seem more an imbecile than a reasonable hero.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER posits that atomic testing wiped out much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer; cosmic radiation seeped in, creating a plague in 1971 that wiped out most of this future world. Some of the population has immigrated to Mars or Venus, while the “First-stage” mutants built underground cities to escape the radiation. At one point Allison sees a bad matte painting of an above-ground city, but that is never explored. (Shirley Ulmer suggested that Edgar himself had painted the drawing).
Instead, Allison is captured and brought to the underground Citadel where the Supreme (genre stalwart Vladimir Sokoloff) considers him a spy and an enemy, and doesn’t even recognize the major’s Air Force insigna (another foolish conceit of Pierce’s. given that the leader is clearly more than 63 years old). However, the Supreme’s daughter Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), a mute with telepathic powers (she can read thoughts but not transmit them), convinces the leader that Allison means no harm, and she becomes attracted to this man from Earth’s past.
Surprisingly, Allison finds other time travelers trapped in the same Citadel: General Karl Kruse (Stephen Bekassy), Captain Alicia Markova (Adrienne Ulmer, acting under the name Adrienne Arden), and Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen). Only now, after Kruse tells him, does Allison finally believe that he is in the year 2024. Allison learns that the members of the underground city are waging a war with the more mutated mutants (represented by stock footage from Lang’s JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY plus three men in obvious bald caps). Markova convinces Allison that the only way to prevent this future is to travel back to the past in his experimental plane and warn the world to changes its ways.
Not surprisingly, the science explaining the time barrier is bad, as Bourman uses a blackboard to suggest that the Earth is somehow spinning near the speed of light already. “You had a velocity approaching the speed of light before you even left the ground,” he seriously intones, off by a factor of over 600 million miles per hour. Even sillier, to return to his own time, all Allison need to is reverse his course.
To create a diversion, Markova releases several imprisoned mutants, who proceed to slaughter every underground inhabitant they encounter. Trirene gets Allison the plans to the tunnels that lead back to his ship; Allison wants to take her back with him, but Markova has other ideas, pulling a gun on the pair only to be shot by Kruse. Bourman then kills Kruse and demands to be returned to his time. Trirene jumps in the middle of their argument and takes a bullet meant for Bill, who in turn kills Bourman and brings the Supreme back his dead daughter. Fortunately for Major Allison, the Supreme decides it is best for Allison to return to his own time.
In the big finale, Allison lands his plane, having crossed the time barrier again; only now he is 50 years older (Clarke made-up with crinkled rice paper by former Universal makeup star Jack Pierce to give the appearance of very wrinkled skin).
Of course, being released the same year as George Pal’s wonderful THE TIME MACHINE did BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER no favors; it is much inferior on every level. The citizens of the Citadel are not the Eloi—the underground mutants don’t feast on them or exploit them as the Morlocks do in H. G. Wells’ famous tale. Instead, this conflict is more akin to Clarke’s CAPTIVE WOMEN for its central conflict, with some time traveling and a warning about a possible bleak future thrown in for good measure.
Although Clarke was usually at least likeable, here he comes off as unpleasant and stubbornly stupid refusing to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Even worse, stunt man Boyd “Red” Morgan, who has a pronounced Texas accent, was given a major role as the Supreme’s torture-advocating underling, and it quickly becomes clear that he is no actor.
Ulmer in his career made many interesting and wonderful low-budget films. Sadly, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is no worth companion to such classics as THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, DETOUR, or THE MAN FROM PLANET X. Additionally, the sound quality is very bad on the prints that I have seen, making this dull and clichéd film even more unintelligible.
Miller Consolidated Pictures hired exploitation expert Kroeger Babb to ballyhoo BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, and Babb figured to attract an audience with a gigantic giveaway contest featuring major prizes. Unfortunately, thanks to particularly bad timing, the money was wasted when a gigantic snowstorm kept away potential moviegoers in the Northwest; the company lost their shirts, going into bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Consolidated Film Laboratories foreclosed on liens on BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and its co-feature THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, then sold both to AIP for distribution.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Screenplay by Arthur C. Pierce. Cast: Robert Clarke, Darlene Tompkins, Vladimir Sokoloff. Boyd “Red” Morgan, Stephen Bekassy, arianne Ulmer, John Van Dreelen, Ken Knox, Jack Herman, Don Flournoy, Tom Ravick.
David Pirie in his excellent book A Heritage of Horror identified a new kind of horror film that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, namely the Sadian horror film, so-called because it was suggested that they would appeal to sadists only. The initial titles in this trend were HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS, and PEEPING TOM, but of course the tradition stretches back to the days of the Grand Guignol.
An early American contender for this new Sadian type of horror movie was the sleazy shocker THE HYPNOTIC EYE, which features one of the most memorable openings of any ’60s movie, right along side of Sam Fuller’s classic kick-off to THE NAKED KISS. The first shots of THE HYPNOTIC EYE depict a young woman lathering up her hair with shampoo. Instead of bending over the sink as one might expect, we see her bending over an open flame on her range – in a unique shot from the range’s point of view. Her hair catches fire (actually flames are superimposed over her hairdo) as her screams of agony dissolve into police sirens.
Sick? Certainly, but a brilliant piece of shock cinema that grabs the audience’s attention immediately. THE HYPNOTIC EYE is the brainchild of William Read Woodfield, who initially had the idea of making a movie with nothing but white lines that would hypnotize an audience and plant the suggestion that they had experienced a great movie. He told the idea to his agent, Charles Bloch, who turned around the sold the concept to Allied Artists; only naturally Allied Artists wanted a real movie to go with it. Woodfield banged out a script he called THE SCREAMING SLEEP; George Blair, who had directed many episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was assigned to direct, shooting the film in 12 days on a budget of $365,000.
Following the fiery opening, Detective Steve Kennedy (Joe Partridge) tries to comfort the now bandaged woman, who seeks assurance that she won’t be transformed into a monster. An orderly shakes his head no when Kennedy glances at him, and after receiving false assurance to ease her mind, the woman passes away. Later, Kennedy discusses a recent spate of female mutilations with criminal psychologist Dr. Phillip Hecht (Guy Prescott). So far 11 women have been mutilated, including one who mistook the blades of a metal fan for a vibrator, a woman who mistook a razor for her lipstick, and one who drank lye when she thought she was drinking coffee. (Blair cuts from this dialogue directly to the image of the metal blades of a fan to give the dialogue an additional level of discomfort).
Kennedy heads out with his girl friend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders of TIME TRAVELERS) to see a stage hypnotist, the Great Desmond (Jacques Bergerac). Kennedy is a skeptic and insists that the hypnotist uses plants and stooges to achieve his results. When looking for volunteers, Desmond selects two women and then selects Dodie, after a nod from his assistant Justine (Allison Hayes of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN fame). Desmond makes Dodie stiff as a board, then light as a feather, and causes her to levitate using nothing but hypnotism (and stage magic). He also whispers something into her ear that is apparently a post-hypnotic suggestion.
After the show, Dodie heads home and prepares to wash her face in her sink. Once more director Blair and cinematographer Archie Dalzell select an unusual angle through a glass sink as Dodie pours something into the water. Another angle shows us that she poured in sulfuric acid just before using her hands to splash her face. Suddenly registering pain, she pops up in THE HYPNOTIC EYE’s second major shock scene, and we see in her bathroom mirror that the acid has already eaten into her flesh.
Compared to later films in this cycle, such as Hershel Gordon Lewis’ THE WIZARD OF GORE and Joel Reed’s BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (aka THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW), THE HYPNOTIC EYE is relatively tame, but for its time it was quite a shocker. That the victims are all beautiful women has caused the film to be labeled misogynist by some. On the other hand, from this point, the plot deals mainly with Marcia’s correct assumption that Desmond has something to do with the mutilations, with Kennedy allowing Marcia to go back to Desmond and jeopardize her own safety in order to find the truth.
The Hypnotic Eye of the title proves to be a blinking device with the shape of an eye with concentric circles that flashes light at the spectator. Desmond conceals it in his palm to put his victims under his hypnotic control more quickly. Dr. Hecht twice gives warning that while hypnotism has medical benefits, in the wrong hands it can cause great harm. However, as regular viewers of Penn & Teller’s show BULLSHIT! know, hypnotism itself never works without the full participation of the so-called victim.
Like the good journeyman director that he is, Blair keeps THE HYPNOTIC EYE moving at a good pace, and manages a few more effective shock and suspense scenes. In one, Kennedy canvases the surviving victims, asking them if they had attended a hypnotism show, heard of Desmond, or of Justine. All of them, including Dodie, say no. However, one of the women asks for a cigarette and a light, and when Kennedy digs in her purse for some matches, he sees a “hypnotic eye” balloon, and as he lights her cigarette, we see that the woman had gouged her own eyes out (her face having been kept dark until that moment).
Another good suspense scene has a hypnotized Marcia in her own apartment as Justine suggests she take a nice shower while turning up the water to its hottest setting. Just as Marcia is about the enter the shower and become scalded, a now-concerned Kennedy knocks at her door, causing Justine to hold off at the present and attempt to pass herself off as an old roommate of Marcia’s over for a visit. (Kennedy uncovers the lie as he knows Marcia never attended a private boarding school, though why he doesn’t recognize her as the magician’s assistant just seems to point up his obtuseness).
Unfortunately, THE HYPNOTIC EYE stumbles a bit in the third act, as we get treated to a ten minute segment in which Desmond attempts to hypnotize the entire audience (including the audience in the theater watching the film). This was ballyhooed by Allied Artists as Hypno-Magic (a variation of the Hypno-Vista gimmick that Emile Franchel used to open American engagements of HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM), and it stops the forward momentum dead as we watch members of the audience following Desmond’s directions – and as we supposedly become hypnotized ourselves.
At the climax, we finally get the motivation behind all these mutilations: when Desmond gets shot, Justine rips off her face mask to reveal a scarred visage beneath, before doing a double-gainer onto the stage below her. Fortunately, our plunky young heroine is plucked from peril by her paramour as we reach the happy ending, and Hecht reminds the audience not to allow anyone but a medical doctor or someone assigned by a medical doctor to hypnotize them, contravening the intentions of the sequence which occurred just shortly before.
Unfortunately, the heavily French-accented Bergerac is more of a liability than an asset to THE HYPNOTIC EYE. As Woodfield told Tom Weaver on the Astounding B Monster website, “My idea of casting was a man named Pedro Armendariz; I thought he would have been wonderful as the hypnotist. Somebody got the idea of Jacques Bergerac, and Bergerac was available and Armendariz wasn’t, and Armendariz had language problems that were too much. But Armendariz to me had the look. No one has ever accused Bergerac of being a very good actor.”
Adding some interest to the picture is a sojourn to the beatnik coffee house where Lawrence Lipton recites a beat poem, “Confessions of a B Movie Addict,” with numerous references to classic horror films while musician Eric “Big Daddy” Nord beats time on the bongos. Additionally, Ferdinand DeMara, known as the Great Imposter for his practice of bluffing his way into occupations he had no business being in (such as ship’s doctor and lumberjack), was given a cameo as a doctor in a hospital, which according to Woodfield allowed them to promote the film with DeMara’s appearance on the JACK PAAR SHOW. (DeMara wrote a best seller about his exploits, which became a movie with Tony Curtis and was the basis of the TV series THE PRETENDER).
While overall rather low-rent and disreputable, THE HYPNOTIC EYE does provide some genuine shocks, and after seeing it on Seymour’s FRIGHT NIGHT TV show, I have never forgotten it. Even so, it is still not as sleazy as THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, and it does hold your interest throughout. This is one early ’60 shocker that deserves to be better known and to finally see a release on video.
THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960). Directed by George Blair. Written by William Read Woodfield, Gitta Woodfield. Cast: Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Joe Patridge, Guy Prescott, Fred Demara, Jimmy Lydon, Lawrence Lipton.