Archive for March 2015

The Outer Limits: The Invisible Enemy (1964)   7 comments

TheOuterLimits-Screenshot-old

The rocket M-1 lands on Mars. Its crew of two congratulate each other on a flawless landing and a start to their alien expedition.

M1
“Phew! We made it. It’s all smooth sailing now.”

Lieutenant Bowman (Anthony Costello) admonishes Captain Thomas (Michael Mikler) to “stay in touch at all times.” With that, Thomas heads to the surface of the planet to check the place out. Seconds later we hear a bloodcurdling scream and Bowman runs out of the capsule to rescue his comrade. Soon another scream pierces the silence, then nothing. Since communications are delayed by three and a half minutes, we get to hear the entire exchange again as ground control listens to the two doomed men.

ted
“Marco!”

Cut to three years later. It’s 2014 and the four-man M-2 land on Mars to explore and to find out what happened to the M-1. I can’t help thinking about the old joke. Q: “Why does the new Navy sail on glass-bottomed boats?” A: “To look for the old Navy.” Anyway, Major Merritt (Adam West) leads the M-2 and orders Captain Lazzari (Peter Marko) and Lieutenant Johnson (Robert DoQui) to go out and do some exploring. He too orders the men to stay in contact with the ship at all times. There are screams and men not staying in contact with the ship and bazookas and pretty soon, it’s a two man expedition.

shore
“This looks friendly.”

Merritt and Captain Buckley (Rudy Solari) are ordered by their bosses on the ground to stay put and, you guessed it, stay in contact at all times. Merritt’s had a tough mission, so he takes a nap. This gives Buckley the ideal opportunity to, um, tool outside and not stay in contact and stuff. You see, Buckley has a theory (ahem ahem) and he’s just itching to try it out. Merritt wakes up to find Buckley gone (no comment) so he blows off his orders to go look for the captain. Martian hijinks ensue.

adam chat
“You didn’t even leave a note.”

I don’t want to give away the entire plot here, but I will say this is the only television show, film, or toothpaste commercial that scared me as a kid. The episode aired first on Halloween 1964. I watched it and most of the Outer Limits episodes as reruns in the 1970s. I remember sitting, mesmerized, on the floor watching the famous opening segment narrated by Vic Perrin. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. we are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits.” Yes! I’m ready, Vic!


Isn’t that the coolest?

As much as I enjoy The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I’ve always considered The Outer Limits darker, edgier, and weirder. Like Serling’s and Hitchcock’s shows, Outer Limits starred a ton of film and television actors I knew. Robert Culp, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Bruce Dern, James Shigeta, Vera Miles, Ivan Dixon, Ted Knight, and Leonard Nimoy all starred in episodes.

adam west
…and Adam West!

Written for the magazine Imaginative Tales in 1955 by Jerry Sohl, The Invisible Enemy went through a few rewrites before filming began. Director Byron Haskin (Arsenic and Old Lace, War of the Worlds), producer Ben Brady, and the fabulously named Seeleg Lester also touched up the script.

So far I’ve mentioned everything but the thing that really scared me as a kid. It was a combination of the ominous music by Harry Lubin, cinematography by Kenneth Peach, who worked on the original King Kong, and special effects by Pat Dinga, who also worked on Bride of the Monster. The creatures in The Invisible Enemy were downright scary. They looked something like this.

open mouth outer
See! I told you.

piranha shark
“Hiya!”

These sand-loving piranha sharks move fast and have a great roar. They don’t seem to displace much of their odd, sparkly quicksand either which makes them hard to see coming. They’re also smart and a tiny bit territorial. This is their crap end of the universe and they’ll be damned if any buttoned-up astronaut types are going to swim in their pool. “Batman Shmatman!”, quoth the evil fish dudes. Well, maybe they don’t actually say that, but it’s implied.

adam
“Dammit! I should have brought my utility belt.”

I love The Invisible Enemy for the cool story, well-done effects, original creatures, and because it brings back great memories of sitting, cross-legged on my living room floor getting scared. Fun stuff.

I wrote this for the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by the lovely and talented Terence Towles Canote on his blog mercurie.blogspot.com @mercurie80

Fun idea, Terry!

amoktime

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Gone With the Pope (1976)   6 comments

Criterion 14mm BD case wrap

A quartet of slow-witted ex-cons plot to kidnap the Pope and demand a dollar from every Catholic as ransom.

creepy pope
Creepy Uncle Pope.

That sounds spectacular. It isn’t. Letterboxd and imdb list Gone With the Pope as a 2010 film because Grindhouse Releasing restored and released it theatrically in that year after someone found a work print of it in a garage. Perhaps they should have left it there. It was made in 1976, no doubt to celebrate the bicentennial. I’ve heard the un-pc quality of this film compared to Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite or The Human Tornado. In that they are both films made in the 1970s, I’ll buy it. Of course using that rationale I Spit on Your Grave is comparable to Pete’s Dragon.

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Movie.

I digress. The Human Torpedo has something Gone with the Pope doesn’t, a script, heart, characters you give a crap about, and some semblance of onscreen talent. Rudy Ray Moore is funny. His stand-up style resembles that of Don Rickles. He abuses the audience and they eat it up. He has great comedic timing and a charismatic presence. The other actors playing with Moore are pretty good too. They at least can have a conversation on camera. In Pope, I wondered if any of the, um actors had even seen a movie. Just godawful.

sitting around
Do we act now?

Also, I think there was something wrong with the cameraman. The framing of the shots was obscenely bad. Often, in close-ups, the frame consisted of one and a half of a person’s eyes. I mean, the guy left out half an eye. It reminded me of those skits in Benny Hill in which they show a film with the continuity all messed up. The camera shows an actor, then moves off him and when it shows him again, he has a mustache or a different shirt. I like when I see it in Benny Hill. Here, not so much.

benny hill

Then there’s the music. In Moore’s films, the action moves to a funky soul and R&B soundtrack. Soul Train’s Don Cornelius chose the music for Dolemite. In Pope, writer/director/star Duke Mitchell sings lame, off-key lounge lizard songs as he shoots people.

murray
I wish.

Between scenes of murder and degradation, Mitchell shows romantic montages of he and his girlfriend riding merry-go-rounds and lighting each others’ cigarettes. Sigh.

horses
“I’m sure cotton candy’s good for them, honey.”

There are also scenes in clubs in Las Vegas and Lake Arrowhead, California. Terry Gilliam could easily have used footage of these acts in nightmare drug sequences in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

bad band
Show business!

Finally, there’s the incredibly tasteless and offensive narrative in Gone with the Pope. No group escapes Mitchell’s abuse. He denigrates pretty much everyone he comes across. I don’t think you can watch exploitation films, which I like, and expect them to conform to modern sensibilities. That said, wow.

happy
Did he really say that?

I’ve seen racial or sexual humor in this type of film and, if it’s funny, I laugh. Gone with the Pope isn’t funny. The racial and sexual humor doesn’t work. It’s mean-spirited, lazy, and poorly done. I’m not sure who the intended audience was for this film because it’s hard to imagine anyone but a complete lunkhead finding anything to like about it. I’m glad I saw it and I think it’s important to show films like these just because they are bad and do offend people. After all, it’s hard to rate films if everything you see gets five stars. I won’t say it’s a time capsule because I don’t believe the views expressed speak to the times as much as they do to the tastes of a small group of odd people. I just like seeing what different people do with a vanity film.

duke gun

Grey Gardens (1975)   2 comments

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Dig those wacky Beales! Funny, twisted, and often heartbreaking, Grey Gardens allows us to intrude into the lives of former Bouvier family socialites, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie Bouvier Beale. Living in tony East Hampton, New York in the family’s once grand seaside mansion, the two recluses live in filthy squalor with a gang of cats, raccoons, possums, and goodness knows what else.

Little Edie 1972

Documentarians Albert and David Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter) gained the trust of the two women which allowed them unprecedented access.

maysles

They tell stories, laugh, sing, dance, and berate each other on camera. Depending on your mood, the film can be a depressingly hard watch or an uplifting look at the unkillable spirit of Little Edie.

edie

Bound by familial duty, the time she lived in, and her own fears, Edie never made it out of her mother’s sight. She never married or had a career and later Edie rarely left the confines of her shabby house.

Big edie

As a slice of life documentary, Grey Gardens works because we really see how the Beales live. As a peek into the insular Bouvier/Kennedy clan, it’s a weird, guilty pleasure. It makes me wonder if I should be watching. Do you remember those old Sally Struthers ads begging you to save the starving children in Africa? How many takes do you think they did before they gave the kids a sandwich and shooed flies off them? Grey Gardens makes you want to shoo away the flies…and buy the stars a couple dozen litter boxes. Good stuff.

piano

Genocide (1968)   1 comment

genocide

A US Air Force carrier armed with an H-bomb runs into a swarm of insects and loses control over a small Japanese island. Before the plane augers into the atoll, the crew of three parachute to safety. Naturally, the Air Force send men to search for the airmen and the bomb, which has gone missing as well. Oops.

slim
Found it!

On the island, Air Force officers find two of the airmen dead and a third seriously injured. The arrest Joji (Yûsuke Kawazu) for murder. He had a watch on him belonging to one of the dead men. Despite evidence that the men were eaten alive, the authorities plan to ship Joji to Tokyo for trial. Only Joji’s wife, Yukari (Emi Shindô) and his boss Dr. Nagumo (Keisuke Sonoi) believe Joji. Meanwhile, the third airman, Charlie (Chico Roland) regains consciousness and rants about insects. Since that happens to be Dr. Nagumo’s specialty, he perks right up. Dr. Nagumo, Yukari, and Charlie’s doctor team up to find the rogue bugs and try to convince the seriously nasty Air Force guys to listen to Charlie. In their defense, Charlie has recently fallen off a cliff so his version of events is less than reliable.

charlie
Charlie hates sneeze guards.

Bad things keep happening to Charlie. Annabelle, Joji’s paramour and a less than stellar individual, kidnaps Charlie and tortures him using her pet insects. This does wonders for Charlie’s already fragile mental state. Annabelle’s rationale for being such a sick twist is that she spent part of World War II in a German concentration camp so she has the right to abuse and torment whoever she likes.

annabelle
Come. My insect dungeon awaits.

Back among the sane, Joji escapes, the Air Force guys refuse to listen to anyone, and Charlie runs amok. He gets away from Annabelle and steals her magic revolver managing to squeeze fourteen shots out of it. I counted. Things go downhill from there. The insects Dr. Nagumo suspected all along run rampant over the island and it’s clear that if they’re allowed to leave the island, all hell will break loose. Humans will never win against an army of different types of insects who have joined forces. It’s at this point when people start suggesting that the H-bomb isn’t such a bad thing after all. Will they or won’t they? Only director Kazui Nihonmatsu and Edward Teller know for sure.

teller toy
You got chocolate on my isotope!

I enjoyed Genocide. Wow. What an odd thing to say. The plot made sense even if it was filled with stereotypes. That’s not an unprecedented statement. I mean, Gone with the Wind makes sense as a film even though the characterizations aren’t exactly modern. It looked good. Shizuo Hirase was the cinematographer on this film and Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell and he makes it look good. There’s also a trippy paint scene during Charlie’s hallucination sequence done by Keiji Kawakami and Shun Suganuma. Genocide has a distinctive point of view and features insects that kill so I’m in. I watched this on the When Horror Came to Shochiku Criterion box set. It looks fabulous.

butterfly

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