Posts Tagged ‘Freddie Francis’

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 383 – The Doctor and the Devils (1985)

March 15, 2019

The sordid true life tale of how Victorian era tomb robbers Burke and Hare provided cadavers for doctors for anatomical study is a tale that has been lensed several times over the years, one such being The Body Snatcher (1945) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. As the story goes, the enterprising thieves got greedy and instead of simply waiting for opportunities to seize and sell the bodies of the recently deceased, they decided that it was quicker and more profitable to just knock off a few specimens earlier to meet the demand. Not only did their victims fetch an immediate return but, because they could choose healthier and younger specimens, those bodies fetched an even higher price.

The Doctor and the Devils is yet another take on the story in which a young ambitious lecturer Dr. Rock (Timothy Dalton), ever looking for quality subjects, ends up tempting poor vagrants Fallon and Broom (Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea respectively) to sate his demands. While the practice of acquiring bodies for scientific studies was permitted at the time, it was highly regulated and only certain cadavers, such as those of dead prisoners were legitimately distributed. This was not acceptable to Rock, and as he acquired more and more bodies, often dissecting them in his operating arena classroom, the number and suspect high quality began to raise eyebrows, notably that of Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), Rock’s superior and Rock’s very assistant, Dr. Murray (Julian Sands). It all unravels when Murray discovers that Rock’s latest acquisition is the best friend of the girl he has been trying to charm, one of the local town prostitutes (sixties model Twiggy).

The narrative of the central story works well enough but there are a number of odd and unevenly handled portions of the story that make it a bit frustrating. Rock’s wife is an anatomical artist which supposedly makes her a disrespectful woman that already casts Rock in a bad light in society. The evidence of Rock’s wrongdoings are quite clear from the very beginning yet it takes Macklin and the authorities forever to act on their suspicions. Murray’s chasing Twiggy is a significant part of the story so you can pretty much tell that this will be Rock’s downfall early on in the film. And of course Twiggy being, well Twiggy, she does have her own out of place song in this film (guess it was part of her contract) which, while lovely, is just an awkward and unnecessary mood swing that really does not fit in.

Directed by legendary Hammer director Freddie Francis, this film was actually based on a screenplay by celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who himself died under some strange circumstances.

The strength in the film come from Pryce and Rea’s performances and their characters. Just about everyone else including Dalton just slow things down to the point of being tedious until the miscreants show up again. If you can stand the unnecessary straying from the central plot it’s not that bad a film but go for The Body Snatcher if you have to choose one or the other.