Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 447 – This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

August 28, 2020

I was thrilled to finally get my hands on one of the late Josė Mojica Marin‘s films. Better known by his alter ego “Coffin Joe” or Zé do Caixão, the character he portrays in his films, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second installment of a trilogy by the legendary Brazilian cult creator who perpetuated the mystique with his signature naturally long fingernails (there was a arcane reason for those), top hat and ghoulish cape.

It took more than forty years to complete the trilogy ending with Embodiment of Evil (2008) his very last feature film, and this one immediately follows the events in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), the first film. I have not seen either of those others but this film has enough context from the first to make that unnecessary. The entire series centers on undertaker Zé’s quest to find the perfect woman to conceive his child that will be immortal and perpetuate his bloodline, one that he considered sacred and superior to all others.

The film begins with Zé returning to his home shantytown after having been found innocent of a string of murders due to a lack of evidence. Shunned by almost everyone except a few women who find his rebellious nature appealing, Zé with the help of his trusted scar-faced, hunchback servant Bruno quickly returns to the task of finding suitable mates. They quickly manage to lure six prospective women to his home and begin subjecting them to tests of obedience, fortitude and courage. One in particular, Marcia appears to be a standout, but when the others are shackled in a pit with poisonous snakes, even she balks hearing their dying cries.

With none of the girls satisfying his prerequisites Zé then turns to Laura the daughter of a Colonel who wields the real power in town and is Zé’s main adversary. Despite knowing about all his crimes, Laura professes and even proves her total devotion to Zé, scurrying to him during the middle of a feast celebrating her imminent engagement no less. But Zé learns that he has inadvertently murdered an unborn child. There is nothing more revered to him than the sanctity of a young life and upon learning of his accidental act, he descends into a state of pain and misery culminating in a nightmarish dream of being brought to hell. Upon waking up his ruse has unravelled and must once again face the justice being meted by an unruly mob.

Don’t let the fact that this was largely a low budget labour of love filmed by Coffin Joe and mostly  friends as actors. The film does suffer from a few long winded existential speeches by Zé that touch upon morality, justice and his “Immortality of blood” theology. But those moments aside this is a captivating film with some brilliantly filmed sequences. Filmed in black and white, Coffin Joe chose to film the hell segment in  gloriously nightmarish vibrant colors that would make Dante proud. The plot is quite complex with Zé being cursed at one point, Marcia manipulating a character that looks like a circus strongman, and an attempt to frame Laura’s brother. On the more salacious side, the abducted women are seductive with just a hint of nudity, while the horror is bolstered by a variety of scenes with spiders, maggots, snakes and mice. But as silly as some of it sounds, the film presents a surprisingly entertaining and solid story.

Rue Morgue issue 85

For most of his career Coffin Joe languished in obscurity because his movies were considered subversive by the conservative military dictatorship that ruled Brazil and kept his films from being exposed both at home and abroad. Thankfully they eventually got foreign DVD releases during the eighties which immediately catapulted him into the limelight and earned him the horror cult icon status he richly deserved and which he was able to relish before his passing.

My DVD by Fantoma Films only contained one short interview with Coffin Joe and a few stills as  extra features on the disc, but that was made up by the inclusion of a really nice “DVD sized” mini-comic inside with a nice Zombie story.  One last shout out I’d like to make here is to Rue Morgue magazine in which they featured Coffin Joe in their December 2008 issue. It was my introduction to him and if you can’t track down any of his films I would urge you to track down that issue for a comprehensive overview of his career.

Movie Reviews 445 – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

August 14, 2020

Roman Polanski is one one those polarising (no pun intended) people who is equally celebrated as an artistic genius and reviled as an accused child rapist. That being said, any time his name comes up it is just as likely that neither his accomplishments nor his deplorable past be the first thing that spring to mind, but an episode in his life that he has been indelibly associated with despite not even being present when it took place.

The event in question of course is the brutal slaying of his wife Sharon Tate, then eight and a half months pregnant with their child at the time, at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult in the first of a two night killing spree in which five people were murdered in early August of 1969. Most accurately filmed in the docu-drama Helter Skelter, and most recently turned on its head in a parody, alternate sequence of events in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the shocking Tate-Labianca murders remain a historical defining milestone of human heinousness.

Directed by Polanski and starring both he and Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers was the couples single professional collaboration, and with perhaps the exception of Valley of the Dolls, Tate’s most noted role. Dark associations aside, this movie is something of a standout in Polanski oeuvres as it is a comedy and a far cry from the drama that has been a staple of his illustrious career.

Featuring great cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, a vibrant color palette and assortment of odd looking almost caricature-like characters (I’m including the diminutive, barbed nose Polanski in that group), the film is a treat to watch, at least from a visual perspective. But the plot is a piecemeal of horror and vampire clichés and the comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, isn’t very funny.

A Van Helsing stand-in, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) travels to Transylvania with his bumbling trusted assistant Alfred (Polanski) hoping to prove his discounted theories on the existence of vampires. After nearly freezing and being rescued and brought to a local pub, they notice the abundance of garlic strings, but any mention of nearby castles or ethereal spirits are rebuffed by the townsfolk. Only when the Innkeeper’s daughter Sarah (Tate) is whisked away in the middle of the night do Abronsius and Alfred have the opportunity to make their way to the mountaintop castle lair of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to rescue the dear girl and hopefully put an end to the local scourge.

The film consists of a lot of slinking around the castle, late night snowy sleigh rides, a hunchback to contend with, and last be not least a glorious midnight ball of coiffed and pasty vampires. And while the film has a PG rating there are a number of ‘booby’ close calls. One thing I really love is the theme music which is a catchy chant with a touch of harpsichord.

I suspect that Polanski purists may not revere this film when comparing it to the many great films he has given us over the years. There’s no comparing it to Chinatown, The Pianist, Repulsion, his one other pure horror, the acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, which he made the very next year, or even The Tenant. Truth be told, most of the attention it does get is due to the historical aspect of Tate’s inclusion. And yet there is still something about it that draws me to rewatch it on occasion. If nothing else, it is unique in many ways.

Movie Reviews 444 – I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

August 6, 2020

Marriage is one of those long term commitments that you really have to consider wisely and make sure you have chosen a lifelong soulmate, a person you know from the inside out. But sometimes even the most arduous scrutiny can be thwarted when, for example, your groom to be is abducted and replaced by an alien entity the night before the nuptials.

Such is the case when newlywed Marge (Gloria Talbott) notices something has changed in Bill (Tom Tryon) the moment they tie the knot. While outward appearances have not changed, gone is his easy going demeanor as well as his passion for her. Instead she finds that her husband is now distant, quick-tempered and worst of all, reluctant to engage physical affection. There are other things too, like his fascination with storms and how dogs seem to take an immediate dislike to him. But her concerns are dismissed by those she tries to reach out to.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a poor man’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with less sophistication in a script that isn’t as taut, less frantic pacing and not nearly as visionary or novel in concept. However it has a few things that make it worth the watch. The story is a little more layered in the ‘aliens want to colonize Earth’ department with a conceptual twist that would later be swiped and reversed in Mars Needs Women. And while there isn’t a lot of it, the budget special effects work well and add a nice touch of genuine horror to the science fiction centric plot. In place of oozing pods we have a cool enveloping smoke sequence when humans are ‘assimilated’ by the aliens. The film also makes good use of ‘negative film’ when the aliens are portrayed, a technique that will be used often in later years and one that fans of the original Outer Limits television series will be all too familiar with. But by far the standout special effects are the glimpses of the alien ‘faces’ overlaying their human subjects whenever there is a lighting strike. The design of those faces and the aliens as a whole, with crisscrossing masses of musculature, is downright freaky.

With decent performances by the cast, especially the principals, there is enough mystery and intrigue in determining who are the ‘converted’ humans that are now aliens, Andromedans to be exact.. That said, the logic does fail completely in some scenes, notably one where a fellow ‘assimilated’ alien visits Bill who feigns ignorance when directly told to report to ‘the ship’ given other facts about the aliens dictate that he should have known immediately.

The ending is posse predictable but with a twinge of sympathy for the aliens, but as a whole the film is decent  nostalgic popcorn sci-fi horror fare.

Movie Reviews 442 – Green Room (2015)

July 17, 2020

While Sam Peckinpah can lay claim as the progenitor of ultra violence in films, writer director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room proves once again that there are still innovative creators willing to push some of those boundaries further while maintaining a high standard of storytelling as a framework and not just relying on blood and gore as the main draw.

A group of punk rock musicians have an unfortunate streak of botched concerts planned by a promoter who, in a last ditch effort to find them at least one decent gig, refers them to a cousin of his willing to host them in a remote Oregon bar. With an understated warning that his cousin hangs with a ‘rough crowd’ the band heads out hoping to recoup at least enough money to buy some real food and eliminate the need to siphon gas from parked vehicles as they have been doing to get this far.

After a few quick introductions upon arrival and setting up their equipment the band takes to the stage and play, unfazed by the discordant audience, even taunting them with a playlist that includes the lyrics “Nazi punks! Nazi punks! Fuck’em!”. With their performance completed, they gladly collect their pay and start packing the van for whatever comes next. That is until one of the band members, Sam (Alia Shawkat), forgets her phone in their dressing room and Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back to retrieve it only to stumble upon the body of a young girl in the room full of anxious looking skinheads.

The band is quickly rounded up back into the room and held at gunpoint until it can be decided what to do with the witnesses which include the despondent friend of the deceased (Imogen Poots). While the band pleads for their release promising to keep their noses out of the affair, the burly group confer among themselves as to their next steps and summon Darcy (Patrick Stewart) their evident leader. But with a bit of luck (and a lot of violence) the band regains control within the room, but are locked in. Thus begins a cat and mouse game of wits, proposals, counter-proposals, weapon exchanges, and … more violence.

With violence on par with Straw Dogs, the dire situation of the barricaded victims is further exacerbated by other things they find within their environs. Led by the geriatric leader figure Darcy, their captors are both a cult and a criminal organization, the hierarchy of which is based on the colour of the laces on their Doc Martens. With total command of his often dimwitted followers, Darcy is sharp as a knife, a meticulous planner and always it seems, one step ahead of the band.

Great suspense, excellent acting throughout and another example of the great loss it was to lose Yelchin, an actor who already made a huge mark at such a young age and was destined for so much more until his untimely, and nonsensical demise.

Movie Reviews 441 – Trog (1970)

July 10, 2020

Hollywood is renowned not only for creating larger than life movie stars but for setting some of them up for a  fall later when their shine has withered, and none of those demises have been as shocking as the precipitous drop that befell former Film Noir reigning queen Joan Crawford. Like some of her predecessors, she managed to resurrect her flailing career, first with Mildred Pierce, and even a second time with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But all that fame and glamour vanished and at the end her final feature film was a low budget horror movie called Trog.

Before I delve into the film itself, I must impart my fascination with this film which I cultivated upon reading a detailed synopsis – with the requisite gory film stills  to go along – in one of those 70’s horror pulp magazines, probably an issue of Famous Monsters. I read that article over and over laying on a mattress in the cargo space of the family’s station wagon on one of our yearly 400 mile vacation treks to the US. While I recognize it now as a modest, even feeble story, my then 10 or 11 year old adventure oriented mind was captivated by it. But without the multitude of media resources available today, it took more than 30 years before I could watch it, resigned to viewing it as an objective adult while at the same time relishing in seeing what my former imagination envisioned.

The story has three young men exploring an underground cave network with internal tributaries that eventually lead two of the spelunkers into the lair of a feral troglodyte. This “Trog” kills one and injures another but the third man escapes and brings his injured colleague to the hospital-laboratory of esteemed anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford). She immediately demands to visit the cave herself and manages to snap a picture of the creature which reveals to her its scientific significance.

With a skeptical police investigating the circumstances of the deceased man, Brockton brazenly lures Trog out and once she has him in her lab begins to study the creature. But having a wild animal within the confines of a small town irks one of the prominent business men (Michael Gough), a longtime nemesis of Brockton, and he has the local council effectively put Trog on trial. But the eventual fate of the beast rests not in any authoritative proclamation of guilt or innocence.

To be sure, while the script attempts to tackle a semi-serious plot of a ‘missing link’ in the human evolutionary progression, the story is rife with plot holes, implausibilities and outright silliness. Crawford puts on a brave face but is resigned to deliver long lifeless monologues urging that science prevail despite her own almost clownish application of ‘science’. While great effort was put into Trog’s facial appearance, the special effects end there, the rest of Trog clearly being a loin-clothed regular man.

There are conflicting claims regarding Crawford’s on set behaviour at the time, numerous claims being that she was persistently drunk and relying on ‘cue cards’ for her lines, others denying the levels of her intemperance. Regardless, she never made a film after this one and to add insult to injury, after she passed away her daughter penned her infamous biography Mommie Dearest, later adapted to film, chronicling her abusive child rearing among other faults.

Hammer alumni director Freddie Francis employed nearly ten minutes of claymation stock footage of dinosaurs created by legendary artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen for another project, but even that feels as shoehorned in as some of Crawford’s diatribes. To be sure, this is a train wreck of a film, but one can argue whether the wreck is the film itself, or that of Crawford’s swan song. But sometimes you just have to see the wreck for yourself and I for one enjoy being a passenger on this particular voyage, Time and Time again.

Movie Reviews 439 – The Whip and the Body (1963)

June 26, 2020

I’ve been inordinately busy the last while and had to severely curtail my usual movie viewing habits to just one or two films a week so I decided to treat myself to the equivalent of a “sure thing”, a viewing of a Mario Bava film I have never seen before.

La Frusta e il Corpo has a few surprises, the first being the many alternate English titles it was released under. Mainly found as The Whip and the Body you can also find it as “The Whip and the Flesh”, “Night is the Phantom”, and, most bizarrely, titled simply as “What”. One smaller surprise is the appearance of star Christopher Lee, or should I say not his inclusion but his hairstyle. I’ve never seen him with a plain, side part cut and I actually had to take a double, even triple, take before I was satisfied it was really him I was seeing. But fans of Lee will be delighted to learn that his role is satisfyingly evil and right at home as he plays the part of Victorian era pariah in this multi-layered, dysfunctional family horror drama.

The emphasis on romance, spurned, feigned, hidden, and even violent, is evident with the seductive score from the very first few notes. Kurt (Lee), the outcast son of a elderly Count, returns to the family’s seaside castle to reclaim the entitlements he lost when he was disowned by his father. As it so happens one of the things he lost was the love of Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) recently wed to Kurt’s straight laced brother Christian (Tony Kendall).

Kurt meets up with Nevenka on the beach below the castle cliff and tries to seduce and rekindle her love for him. In doing so he viciously whips the sadomasochistic loving Nevenka as the surf crashes and her screams fade into the night. Despised and unwelcome by all, Kurt becomes the focal suspect when Nevenka fails to return that night. Not only is Kurt a scoundrel, but the very reason he was turned away in the first place was his role in the suicide death of the daughter of the Count’s servant. That girl’s memory is enshrined in a glass case containing a solitary rose and the dagger she used to commit her final deed.

Nevenka is found the following day on the beach, still alive but shaken and that night the very same dagger is used by someone to kill Kurt in his darkened room. The suspects include nearly everybody from Kurt’s dying father, his jealous brother, the servant mother of the girl who killed herself and even his brother’s mistress, his cousin Katia. But apparitions of Kurt and the fact that the dagger used to kill him inexplicably was the one encased point to a supernatural influence at play and even suspicions that Kurt is one of the ‘un-dead’.

While this is clearly a lurid tale with Bava’s signature kaleidoscopic color palette to match, the sexuality is rather surprisingly tame, relying on hints and suggestive dialogue. The film straddles being a Gothic horror and a whodunit mystery with just enough to satisfy both audiences. Many elements such as the seemingly incessant howling winds, slowly turning door handles, muddy boot prints and a swivelling fireplace work well for either genre. All in all, another solid Bava oeuvre.

My DVD from VCI Entertainment features a restored, uncut European version that includes the infamous beach scene (often censored), but oddly retains Bava’s directorial credit listed as pseudonym John M. Old and has opening credits that are a mix of English and Italian. Another peculiarity I’ve never seen before for such a short feature, a mere 88 minutes, is the film being needlessly segmented as Part One and Part Two. I’m sure there is a story behind all these weird aspects of this cut, but sadly the only Special Feature on the DVD was a commentary track by a critic and no separate interviews or featurettes.

Movie Reviews 436 – Graduation Day (1981)

May 29, 2020

If you were to believe the cover of my DVD (not the poster shown here) then Vanna White, the letter flipping goddess of night time game show Wheel of Fortune, was the star of the film Graduation Day. In actual fact, she barely makes opening credits, being literally the last person listed, which should prepare you for the fact that her role – if you can even call it that – is one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ ones. And true to form, I did miss her while watching, but more because she was so young compared to how she later looked on the show. So right out of the gate, the expected, yet clearly misguided marketing had me wondering what I was in for.

My next surprise was to see that this was a Troma production. While the name of schlockmeister producer-director extraordinaire Lloyd Kaufman was nowhere to be found, the good folks at Troma are the ones who gave us such low brow classics as The Toxic Avenger, Father’s Day and Tales from the Crapper among the dozens of other B-film delights. Now I’m not averse to watching Troma movies, on the contrary, I believe that everyone should indulge in their brand of mindless entertainment on occasion, but I just wasn’t expecting that here.

You don’t have to be a genius to infer from the title that this film is probably about a bunch of school kids that will be ceremoniously killed off, and such turns out to be exactly the case. And for all the other flags encountered in those first few minutes, I must say that I had little hope for the rest, but I trudged on.

The film begins with a group of girls running in some high school race at track meet as they are cheered on by a grandstand of students and coaches. When one girl suddenly falters mid-stride suffering from some medical emergency and then dying right on the spot, she inadvertently sets in motion a serial killer among the student body. Taking a page from the Giallos that preceded it, the film then employs a black gloved killer point of view, stopwatch in hand, for the mounting pile of teen bodies, each death being ceremonially X’ed off from a team photo.

Included in the range of suspects is the runner’s elder sister (Patch Mackenzie), a knockout military officer who comes back home to pick up her graduation award and armed with many questions even before the spree begins. Then there is her stepfather who seems more interested in any insurance proceeds. Is it the overbearing coach (Christopher George) whose drive for athletic supremacy may not only have led to the girl’s death, but also resulted in his firing? And what’s up with the sleazy, lounge lizard, toupee wearing music teacher? The principal with the switchblade collection? The spineless cranky cop? The mystery is spiced up by a string of crude, sometimes laughable, yet still fun, student demises, mostly with some sort of sport or sport equipment involved.

I have to admit that the nostalgia factor for myself was not merely tied into the fact that this was an 80’s slasher, but the entire look and feel of the school and students brought back memories of my own high school (Go JFK!), right down to the green and yellow school colors of the skin tight gym shorts and tees. Throw in retro oversized radio headphones, roller skates, a peach colored suit, and last but not least, scream queen Linnea Quigley and I was sold. While the reveal was far from a surprise (some of the kills give it away) it does end with a nice Psycho-esque ending.

So what is my rating for this movie? I’d like Vanna to reveal the letter B please!

Movie Reviews 433 – King Kong (1976)

May 8, 2020

You know the story. A ship in search of some precious resource journeys to a supposedly secret mid-ocean island, perpetually shrouded by fog. When the crew make landfall they are surprised to not only find a race of wild natives, but the natives have enclosed their village within a towering fence and sing and dance praises to simian deity. The inhabitants are captivated by the young blonde and fair skinned woman who, through some odd circumstances, arrives with the ship’s entourage. The natives kidnap the woman, tie her spread eagled to an offering altar outside the perimeter of their enclosed village, and await the mighty beast King Kong. But Kong takes a shining to the beauty. In attempting to rescue her, the ship’s contingent capture the mighty Kong, and with visions of fortunes, bring him to the Big Apple, to show their miraculous find to the world. But Kong makes his escape, and with the girl in hand makes his way to the top of the Empire State building, only to plummet to his doom.

The original 1933 King Kong created a stir at the time of it’s release largely because of the then revolutionary stop motion cinematography by Willis O’Brien and has remained a cult favorite ever since. It wasn’t until 1976 that King Kong finally got a remake by none other than the flamboyant Italian Dino De laurentiis. The producer, known to be somewhat of a sensationalist with movies like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, also produced a vast number of mainstream movies after starting his career with Fellini films. Never shying away from thinking “Big” this King Kong would be different while still adhering to the conventional story.

Most notably this film substituted the then newly opened World Trade Center twin towers as substitutes for the Empire State building, a fact prominently featured in the magnificent John Berkley porter art – despite the highly exaggerated proportions added for appeal. When it came to production and the depiction of Kong himself, the big question was of course which type of technology would bring the gargantuan ape to life. Costuming and practical effects had come a long way since the original and so for the vast majority of the shots a costume developed by Rick Baker and Carlo Rimbaldi was used with Baker himself donning the suit despite not being pleased with the final product. While the evident man-in-a-suit is certainly a detraction at times, they compensated with a number of clever superimposed live action foregrounds and backgrounds and innovative angles. Some animatronics were used such as the mandatory ‘giant hand’ gripping our shrieking heroine (Jessica Lange in her first film gig), and even some embedded within the suit to better articulate facial gestures.

In this remake, made at the tail end of the 70’s energy crisis, the original mission of the ship is a search for a hidden oil reserve by a corporate climber (Charles Grodin) working for the Petrox corporation. Desperately needing a boost to his boardroom ambitions, he relies on a geologist’s (René Auberjonois) satellite research of the island whose very existence only recently came to light. Their plans are thwarted by Jack, a stowaway paleontologist (Jeff Bridges, unshaven here and nearly as scruffy as Kong) who is convinced that some huge animal is living on the island. The damsel-in-distress, a wannabe movie starlet, arrives via a mid-ocean drifting dinghy and immediately takes a shine to Jack to complete the eventual interspecies love triangle.

This film is a bit of hodgepodge in that while we do get the thrills of seeing a decent (but sometimes flawed) Kong, you really do have to put your brain aside to enjoy it and even then there are moments you just can’t help groaning. There is so much of an attempt to focus on Lange’s beauty that we have to accept that she arrives wearing a spotless, pristine black evening dress after being adrift for who knows how long. Her on-ship wardrobe thereafter is supposedly cobbled up from sewn sailor threads, but inexplicably that ends up being a pair of skimpy, snug denim hot pants. Kong’s handling of her includes an exhale breath blow dry after her taking a waterfall shower (think wet T-shirt contest) and literally stripping her at one point. Making matters worse is her ditsy horoscope revelations that include her “Crossing water and meeting the biggest person in my life”. So sexual is her presence in the film that she even has a silly line about how she was saved by Deep Throat. (Dig into the history of pornography to understand that one kids. Skip the Watergate references.)

On the positive side this was a successful showcase for the World Trade Center, now of course ingrained in all of us after the events of 9/11. Watching the ads for this film back then was the first time I became personally aware of the towers as I must have missed news of the plans to change the Manhattan skyline with them earlier. I love how the film cleverly integrated them by having Kong associate the towers with the two restraining poles of the sacrificial altar back on the island. On my visits to the towers in years before 9/11 I would always think of King Kong while standing on the observatory floors.

One last comment on this King Kong is that when the beast comes to his eventual demise, it is presented in a very shocking and bloody end. Given the fate of those towers it stands as a startlingly prescient moment.

Movie Reviews 432 – Evil bong (2006)

May 1, 2020

I’m a huge fan of B-movie producer, director and writer Charles Band and the many films he created with his mini-empire of companies, the most notable being Full Moon Features.  For those who aren’t familiar with his low budget movies – over 300 films and still going strong – he has a tendency to revisit titles that gain traction, creating such series’ as Subspecies, Trancers, Demonic Toys, and my favorite by far, the many Puppet Master films (the first six films in the series I reviewed here and here).

Now with Evil Bong I had no idea what I was in for other than what the title offered and as it was in one of those multiple film horror boxes (8 films on two disks, half being Band films) I did not even have a decent cover photo to rely on. But the title pretty much says it and as the title credits rolled to the tune of a Rasta-like score, the cast of unknowns ended with none other than the godfather of ganja himself, Tommy Chong so I knew I was in for a good, if not high, time.

A pointdexterish dweeb answering an ad to share an apartment ends up living with three airheads: a surfer dude, a jock, and disinherited wealthy washout. When one of the doobie boys comes across an ad in High Times magazine for a vintage, reputedly haunted bong he responds to the ad while dismissing the seller’s unusual warning. When said bong arrives it is an intricately decorative piece with a nondescript inlaid female face, but the boys are more interested in lighting her up than heeding any caution.

The surfer dude is the first to succumb to the bong’s trance, fiendishly smoking the skunk until his essence is spirited away to some mystical dimension strip joint! But the gals there give him more than a show and he soon succumbs to them, his body dying in real life back in the pad. As the other boys try to hide the body, they too soon fall prey to the bong’s life sucking aura, as the bong begins developing facial features and world domination ambitions. Their only hope lies with a stoner former owner of the bong (Chong) to destroy it.

While not as imbued with a more intricate plot as is found in most earlier Band productions, it nevertheless does contain some of his staples, notably some animatronic puppetry and buxom babes. As one can imagine there are plenty of corny dopey scenes (aside from the actual dope) including a variety of ‘killer’ bikini tops in the dreamlike strip joint that are used as the coup-de-grace killing of the victims.

While the film is funny at times I will be honest and say that given the subject matter, which I felt would provide plenty of fodder for laughs, I felt it wasn’t as imaginative as I had hoped. Chong is well Chong, but minor roles by talents Bill Mosely and Phil Fondacaro are wasted here.

I was in a good enough mood to watch the entire end credits which surprisingly contained a trailer for the sequel Evil Bong 2: King Bong which honestly looked more interesting. And like so many other Band films, Evil Bong has developed into an entire series, eight to be exact (at least so far) if you count the Gingerbread Man Vs. Evil Bong crossover. Enough to satiate any craving and give you the munchies.

Movie Reviews 431 – The Invisible Man (1933)

April 23, 2020

Even with the limited availability to horror entertainment I had as a kid (in the form of a few comics, some hand-me-down Famous Monsters magazines, newspapers and two black and white TV channels), aside from Godzilla or King Kong, the monsters that gave me prepubescent hard-ons were undoubtedly the Universal studio monsters. But even among those classics there were the top triumvirate of stars, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, and then there were what I consider the second tier in The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And last, but certainly not least there was The Invisible Man.

I’m not quite sure why The Invisible Man always got the short end of the stick when it came to popularity but I would assume that part of the reason was that it becomes a lot trickier trying to market something that you can’t even see. And that’s a shame because it does have a lot going for it.

Claude Rains is no Karloff or Lugosi when it comes to horror film repertoire, but as a mainstream actor his credentials are unquestionable being four time Oscar nominee of many classic films. Oddly enough he was cast here in this starring role, his first American film, solely for his voice, and as you listen to him in the film, you can understand why. Directed by Frankenstein director James Whale, The film was based on the HG Wells novel, but because Wells was unhappy with his adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (filmed as The Island of Lost Souls) he was able to secure control over the script so it is fairly faithful to the source.

The central special effects, not merely makeup and prosthetics, which features a live and moving actor with seemingly invisible portions of his exposed body, required intricate filming techniques and is still remarkably effective today. No shortcuts are taken either as we not only witness articles of clothing coming on and off, but also the removal of rolls of bandages covering his head when not fully invisible. Of course there are also a few gimmick shots like a self propelled bicycle and others.

The mostly serious dramatic approach to the plot has a few well placed and timed comical sequences (shrieks really) highlighted by booze nipping character actress Una O’Connor and some Keystone Cops bungling. The plot, simple enough, is about a scientist who achieves a breakthrough in his research to develop an invisibility agent, but with the unfortunate side effect that it slowly turns him mad (a recurring theme that will remain prevalent in the sequels) and soon has him dreaming of world domination while at the same time seeking a cure to regain opacity – at least at first. His descent into insanity is peppered with maniacal laughs and by the end devolves into power crazed monologues.

My DVD box set from the Universal Monsters Legacy set included the four sequels including The Invisible Man Returns starring Vincent Price in the title role, but who much like Rains in the original we only get a glimpse of him at the very end. The third instalment takes quite a turn in more than one way. The Invisible Woman not only opted for a different perspective in gender, but went out for all comedy in a Three Stooges manner. I’m not kidding as Shemp Howard, the sometime Stooge when the original Curly died, has a minor role in this one. As a comedy you could do worse but it’s too jarring a change to really fit in with the series. It took World War II and patriotism to bring out The Invisible Agent in which the original Invisible man’s grandson disrobes to help the allies’ effort. This marked a return to a serious (if cliché) plot of Nazi maneuvering to get the invisibility serum and Peter Lorre as a Japanese foil. The last of the original series was The Invisible Man’s Revenge, easily the most inferior of the series, presenting a psychotic man who has been wronged by friends and seeking revenge with invisibility bestowed by a scientist. The only redeemable character is the scientist played by John Carradine. This box set also included Now You See Him, a great documentary on the making of the film, somewhat explaining how some of the effects were achieved, as well as some discussion on the sequels.

This film is a horror classic that, counter to the implication of the title, offers a lot more than the eye can see. Well worth a watch.