Throne of Blood

Wowza!

Throne of Blood (1957)

I’m generally not a fan of Asian filmmaking. Outside of the occasional bad horror movie or bad other-genre movie getting ripped by Mystery Science Theater 3000, the only quality Japanese films I have seen have been by Director Akria Kurosawa. In truth, I did not care for Roshomon, but I did thoroughly enjoy Throne of Blood.

I became aware of this movie a couple years ago when seeing a play of the same name in Shakespeare Town, Ashland, Ore. The program referenced that the play was based on this movie, which is a Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. The play was stellar in an unsettelingly creepy way, and now that I have viewed the film, I see that it drew heavily from its inspiration.

A feudal kingdom is in the midst of war when we open. The Great Lord and his advisory panel are convinced the land will fall to its enemies, but are relieved when word arrives that two warriors have led victories on two battle fields. Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are the heroes whom we meet on their journey back to Spiderweb Castle. En route they become lost in the woods surrounding the castle, the paths through which are spiderweb-like so as to protect the kingdom from enemies.

Soon the men hear a wicked laughter in the woods and come across a pale, white-haired androgynous person (Chieko Naniwa) who sits in a wall-less hut and manipulates yarn on a spinning wheel. The evil creature –as the men see it– prophesizes that Washizu is already master of the North Castle and Miki the commander of Fort One. The spirit also predicts that Washizu will become Great Lord of Spiderweb Castle one day as will Miki’s son.

Upon arrival at Spiderweb Castle, the Great Lord bestows upon the war heroes just what the spirit foretold. As time passes, Washizu becomes increasingly ambitious and eager to fulfill his destiny. When the Great Lord visits the North Castle, his wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) –possibly the human embodiment of the evil spirit– convinces Washizu to murder the lord and blame it on his guards. The man then seizes the throne even though many suspect he killed his way to the top.

Once established as lord of Spiderweb Castle, Washizu sees enemies on all sides. When he must choose an heir, he considers selecting Miki’s –his best friend since childhood– son, but Asaji suggests she is pregnant. The evil spirit visits Washizu once more to assure him he will not lose in battle until the trees of Spiderweb Forrest rise up against him. That prophecy unfolds.

When watching a foreign film, it is often difficult to judge the acting quality, but in Throne of Blood it is evident we aren’t watching the same cast as Goke, Body Snatchers from Hell. Mifune as Washizu is particularly impressive in his body language and facial expressions. His wife, played by Yamada, brings the creepy, manipulative role to dark places. She seems to be constantly in a subordinated position on the floor, yet yields great control over her man. The performance of the evil spirit by Naniwa is heightened by special effects. The white makeup, fog around her and warped voice would send a chill down anyone’s spine.

If you are looking for a great way to start off your Halloween season, or just want to see a brilliant rendition of “Macbeth”, Throne of Blood is not to be missed. The picture is also well restored on the Criterion Collection DVD, which I rented; although, it offers little in the way of bonus features.

 Meet the witch (it arrives at minute 3):

Burnt Offerings

Gasser

Burnt Offerings (1976)

    I was not terribly surprised when Ryan accepted my offer to watch with me a movie Bette Davis made in the ’70s, which guaranteed “freaky, old Bette” fun. Both of us were expecting a campy, comically bad horror flick, not unlike those that became Joan Crawford’s specialty late in her career (see Trog, Strait-Jacket, and Berserk). We were both pleasantly surprised to find Burnt Offerings as a legitimate horror/thriller and Davis’ performance quite agreeable.

     Davis is actually a minor character in the flick that offers screen time to scarcely more than six individuals. She plays Aunt Elizabeth who joins her nephew Ben (Oliver Reed), his wife Marian (Karen Black) and their son Davey (Lee Montgomery)  in renting an old mansion for a summer. The home is run-down looking from the outside, but fine on the inside. It is in a secluded wooded area nearby a nothing of a town. The entire flick takes place on this property, giving the story a trapped feeling all around.

     The notion of dangerous houses is a regular theme in horror flicks, but Burnt Offerings takes the evil nature of an estate to literal lengths. When Ben and Marian interview the house owners Roz (Eileen Heckart) and “brother” (Burgess Meredith), they speak about the home as being immortal and said having the young boy around would be good for it. They were also overly pleased to hear an old woman would be staying with the family. They notify the renters that their mother lives in a third-floor room and that they will have to take her meals three times a day. She won’t be a bother or leave her room, they say.

     When the family arrives to move into the house for the summer, the brother and sister are absent, leaving a note that they had to exit early. Marian climbs to the top floor to check on the mother and finds an empty tray and dishes in the adjacent sitting room. The woman does not answer when she knocks on the door, so Marian presumes she is asleep. 

     Marian fills her days with cleaning and sprucing up the mansion while Ben and Davey explore the grounds and clean out the swimming pool. During their first dip in the water, however, Ben is overcome with some evil force and tries to drown the boy while Aunt Elizabeth screams at him to stop. Marian easily forgives this rough-housing got out of hand. The next strange occurence is the sudden awakening of all the clocks in the house that have been out-of-order. They all jump forward to midnight and chime while everyone is asleep. This prompts Ben to leave his bed, which is when he discovers the gas furnace is leaking in Davey’s room and his door locked. Aunt Elizabeth admits to being in the room earlier but denies any wrongdoing.

     Aunt Elizabeth, a woman described as energetic for her age, has become increasingly older in her appearance and too tired to leave her bed. One night she is literally green with illness. Ben and Marian try for a doctor, but he arrives after the woman has passed. Ben is now thoroughly convinced the house is evil, but Marian is too enthralled in the estate to leave it and too committed to the mother to leave her alone. When Davey is yet again put in peril, Marian is finally persuaded to part, but must return inside to tell the mother of their departure. When Ben goes after her, we find out what is behind the mysterious bedroom door.

     I don’t know that I can totally unravel the mythology at play in Burnt Offerings, but suffice it to say this house is not so much haunted as alive itself. It seems to prey on the young and old alike, taking their lives as a way of rejuvenating itself, such as through the flowers in the greenhouse that resurrect themselves after Aunt Elizabeth’s death, and the shingles and siding that shed to reveal younger versions. It’s a thrilling and creepy concept that is well executed.

     The hints of Marian’s madness or corruption are subtle with the gradual greying of her hair –which is restored when the family decides to leave– and her glances at the third-floor window when her personality changes. The practical effects, however few were necessary, add to the unsettling feeling the audience gets as we continually try to rationalize what has occurred. Burnt Offerings is a fantastically understated horror flick that only further establishes my growing fear of Victorian-era houses.

Feature: The Long-Take Movie

Unless you are a movie-as-an-artform type of fan, the editing in a movie often escapes us. In most cases, all of those cuts are meant to be invisible, at times subliminally conveying a message without us realizing it. And although cameramen might painstakingly struggle to film a scene in one long take, many audience members will fail to recognize the accomplishment.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first director to bring to fruition a movie done entirely in one long take, sort of. Moviemakers in the 1940s were limited by this thing called “film”, the actual celluloid that ran through the camera and recorded all the images later flashed before our eyes. So in those days it was not possible to capture a 90-minute movie without ever stopping the camera because the actual reel only held a certain amount of film. In the case of Rope, Hitchcock instead gave us the illusion of a cut-less picture by disguising the breaks between reels. He did succeed in never stopping the camera rolling while there was film left, but hid the transition between reels by focusing in on the backs of characters, creating a black screen that would prevent viewers from distinguishing a break in filming.

Fast forward 60 years to the age of digital film photography and the issue of celluloid can no longer hamper a filmmaker’s ability to keep the camera rolling. In 2001, a Russian director developed the idea of making a movie in one, 90-minute take all centered on the Hermitage museum. Although the idea of not having to edit any footage sounded easy to Aleksandr Sokurov at first, bringing about the actual filming of Russian Ark took several years of planning.

The film crew, cast of one main character and more than a thousand extras were given four days access to the museum. Three were used to remove items, insert new ones and prepare the lighting for the shoot. The actual filming had to occur on one day. Told as a dream, the story runs through 300 years of Russian history as significant characters float in an out of the scenes while the French marquis who is guiding the camera criticizes Russia’s lack of artistic culture. The camera itself is the second character, the dreamer, who converses with the marquis and himself through a post-production voice over.

Unlike Rope, which relied on a handful of characters getting their parts correct, Russian Ark protected itself from any on-screen mishaps by giving only one character specific dialogue to deliver. There is a certain lack of synchronicity in the voice over as at times the marquis’ pauses for response do not last long enough and the voice over runs on top of his dialogue. Also, the lack of echo in the voice-over dialogue makes it seem to us as though these thoughts are occurring in the dreamer’s (or our) head, especially because the marquis at times does not seem to hear what is said.

Moving ahead to today, the horror movie Silent House recently hit theaters as yet another 90-minute example of cut-free filming, or so it would seem. Technology has taken us so far forward that directors Chris Kentis, Laura Lau were able to mimic a single-take film while actually filming 10-minute segments and disguising the transitions in post-production. The result is a highly suspenseful picture that relies entirely on practical effects and lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

The story contains one main character the camera follows, two family members and a couple extra appearances. The effect relies on a dark house and mostly up-close shots of the scene, which protects against mistakes that might occur in the background. Also, being a horror movie, the characters’ reactions to the events and dialogue do not have to be perfect, thus giving a more natural feel. The movie avoids the use of CGI to create scary creatures for us and was unable to show the result of one character’s bludgeoning because the application of makeup could not have occurred fast enough to fit within the long-take structure. Silent House instead relies on severe suspense rather than actual terrifying scenes to scare the audience. The long-take approach adds to this and gives the effect of things happening in real time. (Silent House Video Clip)

The use of long takes, and in particular movies that try to use nothing but, is highly demanding on all the collaborators in front of and behind the camera. Extensive rehearsing and extremely long retakes if mistakes are made can mean lengthy, demanding days for all involved. The endeavor is certainly one done more for artistic satisfaction than commercial gain or public popularity as the average theater-goer is blind to this work. I think we can see evidence of this as the technique has failed to gain popularity among film makers. Nevertheless, I have always been intrigued by the long take, and so a movie that does only that will have me at its beck and call time and time again.

Source: “In One Breath: The Making of Russian Ark” documentary; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

White Corridors & The Carroll Formula

Ring a Ding Ding

     I recently watched two more Screen Directors Playhouse episodes, one of which was highly thrilling the other of which was greatly amusing. The first, White Corridors, was like a mini horror movie. We open on Linda Darnell as Ellen who is distressfully driving her convertible with a panting passenger lying in the back seat. She pulls up to a hospital and wanders through the strangely empty nighttime halls until she meets Pat Hitchcock (daughter to Alfred) playing an unhelpful Nurse Windrod. The woman essentially refuses to admit the sick woman because she has no doctor instructing her to. When Dr. Bruno (Scott Forbes) appears, he agrees to help and brings the patient in.

     Ellen waits as her friend is operated on for a burst appendix and is told she should return to her hotel, and Nurse Windrod seems rather annoyed that visitor will not depart. Wandering the halls, Ellen overhears some moaning and shouting and cracks a door to witness a man dressed as a doctor strangling a patient who is threatening to expose him as a fraud. This happens in silhouette behind a curtain, so Ellen is unsure what the murderer looks like. She attempts to call the police but chickens out and instead confesses the scene to Dr. Bruno. When Dr. Gorwin (John Bentley) enters and informs the woman they two are the only doctors on duty, she realizes one of them must be the murderer, as do they.

     Upon inspecting the scene of the crime, Ellen and the doctors find a male patient fast asleep and no sign of a body. The doctors want to give Ellen a sedative, but when she gets the chance she re-examines the crime scene and hides in a closet where she overhears a doctor and nurse talking about the crime. The story will end with a chase scene once the murder is revealed to us.

     Director Ted Post‘s White Corridors was highly suspenseful and sets the viewer on edge as soon as we meet Hitchcock’s unpleasant and shady nurse. We get the impression seedy things happen in this hospital all the time and the plot pushes us toward our own conclusions about the murderer that will be turned on their head by the end. The performances are all great even if Darnell is rather unattractive. The shady set is also wonderfully eerie, setting us in the proper mood to be frightened.

     Next was the fun but not quite as exciting The Carroll Formula about a “nut case” who derived a magical power from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” story. Michael Wilding is a patient in a mental asylum because he insists that a box of toys were once full-size objects that he can shrink and reconstitute at will. As this David speaks with some psychiatrists, we learn that in researching Lewis Carroll, he discovered the man had found a way to do just that and so he used the technology to create his own shrinking gun.

     Showing this to his girlfriend Sylvia (Havis Davenport), the two realize this holds great potential for world peace because nations could shrink their armies and deliver them on one plane to the opposing country. David, therefore, starts visiting various branches of the military to demonstrate his discovery but does so in a way that baffles and enrages the government officials, which is how he winds up institutionalized. The man escapes, however, by shrinking the bars on the hospital window and re-enlarging a table and rope to allow for him to rappel out the window.

     The Carroll Formula, directed by Tay Garnett, was a lot of fun. One can easily get a laugh by showing people in utter disbelief of a goofy magic trick of sorts. Wilding is entertaining as ever and Davenport is enjoyable as the perhaps surprisingly supportive girlfriend. Some things are simply too real to deny, I guess. The funny device David uses to shrink thinks makes goofy sounds and has a twitching antena that makes it seem like it has a life of its own.

     This episode also made me realize the great resources directors must have had in creating these Screen Directors Playhouse shorts. This one depicts a hangar full of military planes and uses a huge cannon as part of the character’s stunt. This was one impressive series.

Dead of Night

Wowza!

Dead of Night (1945)

     Happy Halloween! I hope everyone has spooky plans on this my favorite holiday. There is an endless array of movies that would be appropriate to review on this dark day, but it so happens I stumbled on a new delight last week that I think appropriately encompasses the spirit of the holiday. Dead of Night is a British-made movie that is essentially a framework for the telling of a handful of short scary stories. Therefore, the movie has four credited directors and four writers associated with it, including H.G. Wells.

     Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is an architect who has been summoned to a country hotel for some consultation on renovating the building. Before he even arrives at the estate, he knows the place is familiar, although he has never been to this area of the country. He walks in, takes off his coat, and hangs it up as though he has been there many times. Entering the parlor, he immediately recognizes the five people in the room and knows all about them. He has experienced all this through a recurring dream. Among the guests is a psychologist who thinks it is impossible Walter has dreamed of these actual people and that everything is a coincidence. To show they believe his story, the remaining guests begin to recount eerie stories of their own that suggest other supernatural possibilities.

     One guest (Antony Baird) tells how he predicted his own death and thus avoided it. This racecar driver, following a crash on the track, looked out his hospital window one night after his clock has stopped and sees a hearse. The driver says to him: Room for one more. Upon release from the hospital he prepares to board a bus when he sees the same driver, who says, “Room for one more.” The man declines to get on and the bus then crashes killing all aboard. Another man tells a of his friend’s experience with a ghost. Two golf buddies vying for the same woman agree to let chance determine who will marry her, and the loser subsequently walks into a pond on the golf course and dies. He comes back to haunt the friend but comically has trouble returning to the heavens. A young woman (Sally Ann Howes) then tells of an Xmas party she attended where she meets a boy who is afraid of his sister. The girl finds out later that boy had been strangled by his sister decades prior in the home.    

     The final two stories are the most spooky of the lot. A woman (Googie Withers) says her fiancée/husband had a bizarre experience with a mirror she purchased for him from an antique shop. When he would look into the mirror, the room he saw behind him was not his own. It featured a large antique bed, burning fire and other ornate decorations of a bygone era. At first he could shake the wrong image but eventually it is there all the time and horribly upsetting his disposition. When his fiancée stands beside him, he cannot see her reflection. Even after moving into a home together following their wedding, the problem persists and he confesses he senses something evil from the other world in the mirror. The woman learns from the antique dealer that that original owner strangled his wife, and she nearly succumbs to a similar fate.

      Lastly, the psychologist (Frederick Valk) tells a story about a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believe his dummy is alive. The psychologist had been called in to analyze this man’s state of mind after he is charged with murdering another ventriloquist. The story he tells suggests it is instead the dummy that caused the man to shoot another.

     Dead of Night masterfully executes its scary stories without any special effects or jump-out-of-your-seat music. The whole duration of this movie I felt on edge and nervous about what was to come and why all these people were in a house together. As mentioned, the story of the mirror and the dummy frightened me the most. I loved how eerie the concept of a mirror reflecting something other than reality can be. I think it is merely the unknown that worries one in this circumstance: What does the mirror want and why is it doing this? Where is that other room and why am I in it? Stories about ventriloquist dummies seem to be a frequent source of horror and I cannot help but think of the “Goosebumps” book “Night of the Living Dummy” that happened to be the only one I could not get through out of fear. Those dolls tend to be unpleasant and unfriendly looking to begin with, so when they seem to speak without anyone around, that certainly is frightening. Redgrave does a great job as a man at his wit’s end afraid of his own doll. I should also note that the framing story has a twist of its own that makes one glad he is not Walter Craig.

What to Watch — Halloween: Village of the Damned

Watch out, George Sanders! There’s something not right with those blonde kids! TCM has planned during its expanse of horror movies on Halloween, Monday, a perfectly bizarre tale of alien offspring: Village of the Damned. A British town’s female inhabitants start bearing emotionless children nine months following a strange occurrence during which all inhabitants of the locale –human and animal– pass out. The incident is investigated by people from outside the town who discover that everyone who entered the village’s perimeter during this “time out” fall unconscious. 

Village of the Damned (1960)

The 12 children are born to all child-bearing women in the town around the same time and have similar features. They are also developing at a faster-than-normal rate. Their eerie eyes often upset normal people and they begin using their collective telepathic powers to not only read minds but control them in some cases.

Like many old horror movies, Village of the Damned is not scary in the same sense that we use the word for movies today. There are no monsters jumping out from around corners or bloody axe murders. Instead the film is just disturbing by the simple suggestion that such beings could exist. The children are also unsettling in their appearance, which is also a simple aberration from the norm. Sanders is enjoyable as ever as one of the brood’s “fathers” who ultimately will save the earth from their destruction.

Just think of a brick wall to protect your thoughts.

  • Village of the Damned is set for 8 p.m. ET Oct. 31 on TCM.

The Pit and the Pendulum

Dullsville

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

     I think I’m safe in saying that no actor was more familiar with the work –or the loosely interpreted work– of Edgar Allen Poe than Vincent Price. The man made nearly a dozen movies based on this master author’s works. This saddens me, however, because as much as I adore Poe, I detest such period-piece horror movies made in the 60s and 70s.

     The only plot element Price’s movie borrows from Poe’s short story is the actual title device and void. Whereas Poe wrote of a man sentenced to death during the Inquisition and his time in a cell containing a pit and his escape from a swinging blade also therein, the movie waits until the end to even introduce the titular scene.

     Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels to the eerie castle of Don Nicholas Medina (Price) to learn more about they mysterious death of his sister Elizabeth, the Don’s wife. It takes a while staying with Nicholas, his sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and houseguest Dr. Leon (Antony Carbone) to discover what truly happened. The story told by Nicholas is that Elizabeth became haunted by the torture chamber in the castle basement that was his father’s pride and joy. She eventually killed herself or was possessed into shutting herself in an iron maiden. She was interred in the cellar walls as is tradition for the family. What follows, however, are a series of strange events that seem to suggest Elizabeth is either still alive, a ghost or Nicholas is staging these two options.

     SPOILER In truth, Elizabeth only faked her death with the help of her lover, Dr. Leon. They endeavored to drive Nicholas mad and to his death so they could be together, but when he discovers what is happening, the master of the castle takes his revenge. Brother Francis is then seized by Nicholas, now possessed by his father, and is strapped to a stone island surrounded by a pit. Above him swings the scythe-like blade that inches toward his stomach within Nicholas’ control. Luckily, Catherine and the butler come to the victim’s rescue and plunge the mad Nicholas to his death. END SPOILER

     The Pit and the Pendulum is rife with laughable absurdity. The performances are a bit melodramatic or just bad and if you read too deeply into the doctor’s actions, he comes off as trying to get everyone in bed. The back story on Nicholas’ parents is twisted and gory, but nothing in this movie is particularly frightening. Although the pendulum makes for a certain amount of suspense, the happy ending for all innocent characters is too nice.

  • The Pit and the Pendulum is set for 1:45 a.m. ET Oct. 24 on TCM.

Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein

Yipes!

Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein (1974)

     After viewing Flesh for Frankenstein , I have to wonder if Producer Andy Warhol had said to himself, “How do we modernize Frankenstein. I know! Add loads of breasts and sex!” For that really is all that Flesh for Frankenstein is. It follows the same concept of the mad scientist in Bride of Frankenstein in desiring to create a human race derived from reanimated humans, it just goes about it in a much more graphic fashion typical of the times.

     Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) has created in his lab a woman assembled from a couple individuals and brought back to life. His next endeavor is to create a man with an immense libido. He has most of the body assembled from a handful of people but needs the head and brain of such a sex maniac. To find the perfect brain, he and his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) lurk outside a brothel where two blonde blokes are having their fun. One of these men is a sex addict, the other is his chaste friend who desires to be a monk and needs some tutelage in the ways of the ladies. Despite their visit to the whore house, however, he remains unmoved by the variety of breasts. Unfortunately, Frankenstein observes him outside the brothel with two naked women and thinks he is engaging both their services at once. As the men walk home, Frankenstein and Otto knock out the actual ladies man and cut off the head of the celibate one.

     Meanwhile, Lady Katrin Frankenstein (Monique Van Vooren) –who is both the Baron’s sister and wife– has hired the ladies man Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) to work as her body-guard and lover allowing for plenty of bedroom scenes, many of which are watched secretly by the Frankensteins’ strange children. When Frankenstein brings his female monster and newly animated male monster to the dinner Nicholas is serving the family, the servant is disturbed by the tall man with his friend’s head. He later shares his concerns with Katrin, but she’s too busy wanting sex. The mad scientist is confused about why his male monster has no sexual desire and cannot understand why both his wife and his female monster are so interested in the servant.

     SPOILER Katrin is permitted to try to draw some sexual desire out of the male monster, but he ends up crushing her in his arms instead. Nicholas has meanwhile been caught snooping in the lab and is being held captive by Frankenstein. Otto at this point is desiring a sexual exploit of his own, and following the example set by his master earlier in the movie (“To know death, Otto, you have to f— life in the gallbladder.”) fornicates with the female monster’s stomach incision, disembowling and killing her in the process. This enrages Frankenstein who dispatches of Otto, but the scientist too is eliminated, this time at the hands of the male monster. Nicholas wishes to free his friend, but the monster declares he cannot live in this alien body and instead digs his hands into his own incisions and kills himself. Nicholas is left dangling from a crane and when the Frankenstein children enter, it looks as though they plan to continue the family business. END SPOILER

     The version of Flesh of Frankenstein I viewed is one of the edited versions. When it was originally released in 1974, it was given an X rating for the sex and vivid violence/gore. Much of that happens away from the camera’s eye in the R-rated cut. Despite the gruesomeness of it all, the movie is laugh-out-loud horrible. All characters have soviet-style accents except Nicholas, who despite having “grown up” with his sexless friend has a New Jersey accent. What was worst was a scene between a horny and nude Katrin and an uninterested Nicholas during which the woman makes horrible sucking sounds while kissing the man’s armpit area while he is trying to convey his suspicions regarding his friend’s head. This drags on for several minutes and is impossible to not laugh at. Anything that is not a laugh riot will likely creep out any audience member through this terribly uncomfortable film. I am not a fan of anything Andy Warhol has done, so count this among them.

Goke, Body Snatchers from Hell

Gasser

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)

     I should preface this review by saying, do not let the rating fool you; Goke, Body Snatchers from Hell is a bad movie. What makes it entertaining, however, is how comically bad it is. This Japanese horror/sci-fi flick presence with its “frights” a blatant moral message: War is bad, the Vietnam war in particular.

     A planeful of a variety of Japanese individuals and one English-speaking woman are in transit above a remote desert part of the country when the two pilots are alerted that a passenger might have a bomb on the aircraft. One pilot Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida) calmly searches all bags and eventually finds a rifle in the back compartment and is immediately confronted by the villainous passenger (Hideo Ko), who orders the flight’s path to be changed. Just after this takeover, however, lights flash outside the plane and it is sent careening toward the earth. All passengers minus the other pilot survive the slow crash landing of a miniature airplane model, but their troubles are far from over.

     The hijacker takes flight attendant Kazumi (Tomomi Sato) as a hostage and heads out into the desert wilderness. The two eventually come across the landed flying saucer that caused the plane’s crash, and by standing in its mere presence, the hijacker’s face splits vertically along his nose and a mercury-looking goo oozes into the wound, thus making the man an alien slave. Once Kazumi explains the events to the rest of the flight passengers, some clashing emotions among the passengers (“I am a psychologist and it will be fascinating to see how all of you respond to this situation.”) results in one being pushed from a cliff and the hijacker/alien waiting below latches onto his neck like vampire, turning the man into a decayed corpse. The remainder of the film follows the endeavors of the passengers to survive against the alien.

     The moral of the story is that had humans not been so occupied with killing themselves via the atomic bomb and the Vietnam War, the aliens would never have had such a great opportunity to visit and take over the world. One will find it impossible to escape this message as a good amount of dialogue is devoted to furthering this theory. Outside of the moral, Goke‘s story is not a bad one and the cast of characters is fun. Besides the psychologist, we have an alien enthusiast, politician, weapons dealer (who resembles a Japanese version of Jeffrey Combs) and his slutty wife, and the American woman who is on the way to pick up her husband’s body (he died in the Vietnam War and they apparently don’t send bodies home). Despite being evil and having a nasty wound on his forehead, the hijacker looks remarkably like a Japanese Tony Curtis, with fantastic hair and dark eyelashes.

     I understand the print of this I saw at the horror movie marathon was a rare one, but I have also heard the it is not foreign to TCM, so although the likelihood of seeing Goke is low, I would recommend taking the opporutnity if it presents itself, if only for a laugh.

Bride of Frankenstein

Dullsville

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

     Over the next couple days I will be reviewing movies I saw last weekend at a horror movie marathon, which I am proud to say, I survived from beginning to end (with a several hour break for a trip home and nap in the middle). Nevertheless, a handful of older fright films were shown, including the splendid Cabinet of Dr. Caligari complete with keyboardist’s accompaniment. I will start with the oldest in the lot, Bride of Frankenstein, which despite Boris Karloff‘s magnificent image of the monster is full of flaws.

     The film opens with a dialogue among author Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron about Mary’s yet-published manuscript, “Frankenstein”, during which the writer explains the moral of that story –the hazards of playing god– and says the plot is not yet finished. Her next story, as she describes, begins where the prior one ended, with the burning down of a mill with the monster inside. Both Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the monster survive this event and while the doctor and his wife-to-be Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) mull the moral lesson he has learned, the monster escapes into the woods.

     The monster is at one point captured by a mob of townsfolk who jail him only to have the beast easily escape and return to the wilderness. There he meets a blind man who is unafraid of his horrific facade and befriends him, teaching him of wine, smoking and the English language. Eventually some seeing people come along, however, and in the chaos that ensues, the blind man’s home is burned and the monster runs away.

     Meanwhile, a colleague of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), has shown the monster’s creator that he seeks to create a female version of the monster to allow for the beginning of a race derived from the reanimated creatures. Dr. Frankenstein sticks to his guns given the horrible tragedy that came from his original venture but is persuaded when, working in tandem with Pretorious, the monster kidnaps Elizabeth. The monster looks forward to his new “friend” but once brought to life, the woman merely hisses at her predetermined mate. The monster therefore pulls the self-destruct lever of the castle where the work is being done and ends the monsters’ lives, sparing Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth.

     Besides the notion that a castle would have a lever designed to blow up the premises (you know, the ancient version of today’s self-destruct button), most of the monster’s activities in the movie are cause for laughter rather than fright. His many utterances of “drink gooood” and “smoke gooood” are absurd and show how harmless alcohol and cigarettes were considered in this bygone era. The monster picks up the English language all too easily and moves from infantile assemblages of words to coherent sentences complete with verbs. Although it is fun to hear the monster more than grunt, such as with the word “friend”, his growing intelligence is less amusing. The mate, who is also played by Lanchester, also makes one laugh during her short duration on the screen. She jerks her head about like a bird and is more fascinating by her physical appearance than by anything she does or any noise she makes. The only thing Bride of Frankenstein has going for it is that makeup work on Lanchester and Karloff. Perhaps it is because he was first monster in a sound picture, but I hold Karloff’s image as Frankenstein’s beast as perfect.

%d bloggers like this: