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Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940)

As far as sequels go, The Invisible Man Returns is fairly satisfying. It may not be as a strong a film as Bride of Frankenstein, but it certainly has more going for it than Revenge of the Creature. It also does a nice job of revisiting the elements of its predecessor without being too repetitive.

This time around the invisible man in question is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) has been wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his brother. His friend Frank Griffin (John Sutton) injects him with the invisibility serum invented by his brother Jack (the title character of the first movie) allowing him to escape, thus giving him the opportunity to track down the real murderer and clear his name. Things get complicated as the maddening side effects of the formula begin to manifest in Geoffrey.  The story becomes a race as Frank tries to discover a cure, while Geoffrey’s fiancée Helen (Nan Grey) tries to keep him from going over the edge as he attempts to confront the man he believes to be the real killer, Richard Cobb (Cedric Hardwicke). Hot on his heels is savvy Scotland Yard Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) who remembers the events of the original Griffin case all too well.

Though the storyline has some freshness, it still appears the filmmakers couldn’t resist bringing back some familiar plot elements of the original. Hardwicke and Grey’s characters seem like echoes of those played by William Harrigan and Gloria Stuart previously. But this is a minor quibble and easily overlooked in light of the new special effects tricks learned between movies.

I was a little curious about Vincent Price’s voice in this film. Price had one of the most recognizable voices in movie history, but here, in what is essentially a vocal performance, he doesn’t quite sound like himself. Granted this is one of his earlier performances, but he’s not that much younger than he was in some of his other notable roles. I suspect it was a conscious choice either on his part or the director’s; I just wonder what the motivation was. Only in a scene where Geoffrey seems to really be going off the deep in does Price’s familiar cackle sneak in.

Supporting features:

The Merrie Melodies cartoon Russian Rhapsody (1944)

The Our Gang short Fish Hooky (1933)

Next time:
The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt and Mary Philbin

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- THE CLIMAX (1944)

I’m beginning to suspect that the powers that be at Universal began to rely on Boris Karloff’s talents to bring life to weak scripts. As I discussed in my entry on The Mummy, those efforts (with the help of Jack P. Pierce’s amazing make-up effects) paid off; with The Climax, not so much. 

The main problem with The Climax is that it doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. Whenever Karloff is onscreen it’s a dark thriller, but the rest of the time it’s a light romantic comedy. Certainly, many of the classic horror films balance the scares and the laughs nicely, but not this time.

Karloff plays Dr. Friedrich Hohner, physician to the Royal Opera Company, whom years before fell in love with the company’s lead soprano Marcellina (June Vincent). When Marcellina’s star began to rise and their relationship began to take a backseat to her career, Hohner murdered her in a jealous rage and secretly enshrined her body in his home. Ten years later, Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster), a new soprano discovered by the company, sings with a voice much like Marcellina’s and the insane Hohner takes steps to control her, so that no one ever hears that voice but him.

As you might suspect, Karloff’s intimidating presence serves him well as usual, but the film suffers in his absence, and he doesn’t get enough screen time to keep the movie going.  Most of the film is taken up by Turhan Bey, who plays Angela’s love interest, Franz Munzer, another hero who really doesn’t take much action but spends plenty of time making moon-eyed “gee, I’m in love” faces at his beloved. One particular scene where he literally chews up his program while watching Angela sing at the opera is out-and-out embarrassing.  Of the rest of the cast, only Gale Sondergaard, as Hohner’s housekeeper Luise, is particularly engaging.

The other drawback of The Climax is that it just feels like there are too many shades of The Phantom of the Opera, and considering it features the same female lead and was filmed on some of the same sets as the 1943 version of Phantom that’s not exactly surprising. Just as I suspect the studio was looking for another Dracula with The Mummy, The Climax appears to be a further attempt to make lightning strike twice. Karloff certainly deserved a more worthy project for his color debut.

Supporting features:
Popeye in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

The Our Gang short A Lad an’ a Lamp (1932)

Next time:
The Invisible Man Returns (1940) starring Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey, and John Sutton

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)

Well, well, a Frankenstein movie in which Dracula is the star. I must say I’ve really been looking forward to this one, primarily for the reputation of Bela Lugosi’s performance as Ygor, and I concur that it is everything people say it is. Bela’s flair for throwing himself completely into a role really pays off here. This is the part that conclusively establishes how much more he was than simply screen presence with an accent.  Of course the Lugosi aura helps, but where many of his characters are rather one-dimensional Ygor is, at last, a character with depth, at times earning our sympathy, at others our revulsion, an echo even of the Monster who he befriends and controls.

Taking place some time after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, this story concerns the journey of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) back to the castle and surrounding village where his father Henry conducted his notorious experiments so many years before. The villagers remember the creature Henry Frankenstein unleashed on them all to well, and Wolf, along with his wife Elsa and his son Peter (Josephine Hutchinson and Donnie Dunagan) are greeted with a rather cool reception. Only Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), who himself lost an arm to the Monster as a boy, shows them any treatment resembling respect, but he still advises them to leave for their own good. Soon Wolf encounters Ygor, an estranged villager shunned by the town having been convicted and unsuccessfully hanged for grave robbing. Ygor reveals he has befriended the Monster (Boris Karloff) Wolf’s father created, but that the Creature has fallen ill. Wolf, who had been in denial that the Monster even existed, now comes to his aid, not knowing that Ygor has been using him to enact his murderous revenge on the jury that convicted him, and so finds himself continuing the work of his father, just as the villagers feared.

Karloff is in good form as usual, though I wish there could have been more of a progression in the Monster’s development from the more articulate characterization in Bride of Frankenstein. Here he’s reverted back to the grunting and moaning Monster of the first film. Lionel Atwill gives a fine performance as Krogh, the voice of reason among all the madness. There are some rather nice scenes between him and young Donnie Dunagan as Peter. It’s a nice turnaround from the character I saw him play in Man Made Monster, which came two years later. Now, I’ve seen Basil Rathbone’s performance criticized as over-the-top, but I didn’t see it that way. I think maybe it’s because he exhibits behavior we’re used to in slapstick comedies. As things start to unravel around him, he runs around in hysterics trying to hold things together, not unlike Archie trying to keep Betty and Veronica from finding out he’s made a date with both of them on the same night. Yet Wolf’s behavior is justified. This is a man who’s found himself out of his depth trying to protect his family while trying to hide a terrible secret.  I think the performance works.

Finally, I must say I loved the art direction for this movie, particularly the enormous and sparse interiors of the Frankenstein home.  Wolf and Elsa take their meals in a virtually empty dining room while enormous twin gargoyles loom over them from a pair of fireplaces you could walk into. Young Peter’s bedroom appears to be on the farthest end of the house, accessible by a delicate-looking staircase, serving to heighten the danger he’s in when the Monster’s on the loose.

Overall, it’s not as solid as James Whale’s entries, but it’s still a worthy part of the series, a fitting swan song for Karloff’s tenure as the Monster. And congratulations to Lugosi, though I fear this is probably also the moment when his career entered into decline.

Supporting features:
Tom and Jerry in The Night Before Christmas (1941)
The Our Gang short Birthday Blues (1932)

Next time:
The Climax (1944) starring Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, and Gale Sondergaard

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- WEIRD WOMAN (1944)

This my second visit to the Inner Sanctum, and I think a pattern is beginning to emerge. Once again Lon Chaney Jr. falls victim to the machinations of a jealous woman. And once again we are made privy to his inner thoughts, but as the inner sanctum in question is that of the mind, perhaps that’s the common element. I suppose I’ll find out as I continue through the series.

This time around Chaney plays college professor Norman Reed, a man who has made his name on studies in logic. On a trip to the South Seas he meets Paula (Anne Gwynne), who has been raised by island natives to believe in tribal superstitions. Despite the dichotomy of their beliefs, the two fall in love and marry, much to the chagrin of Norman’s ex-girlfriend Illona (Evelyn Ankers). Illona begins to plot revenge by mentally manipulating Norman, Paula, and their colleagues at the college. Norman quickly finds himself under scrutiny for his professional conduct and, eventually, suspicion of murder. Paula tries to combat Norman’s troubles with her old tribal rituals, and Norman begins a mental war with himself as what appears to be mysterious circumstances begin to challenge his faith in logic.

While not quite on par with the first Inner Sanctum mystery, Weird Woman is still an enjoyable ride. Unlike Calling Dr. Death it won’t keep you guessing. The audience is let in pretty early on the fact that Illona is up to something even if the other characters are not. Chaney’s performance comes down a notch; his onscreen performance to the frequent inner-monologues doesn’t quite match up as well as it did in the earlier film. The rest of the cast gives merely adequate performances- with one exception. This film really was Evelyn Ankers’ time to shine. In The Wolf Man and Captive Wild Woman Ankers was pretty much the typical scream queen, the damsel in need of rescue, but here, she makes a rather devious villain. In a genre where there were really few good roles for young women, it makes for a refreshing change. Like Patricia Morrison in Calling Dr. Death, the Inner Sanctum is proving a good source for villainous females.

I’d say two for two then on the Inner Sanctum series. I look forward to seeing if it maintains its batting average.

This week’s supporting features:

Donald Duck in The Autograph Hound (1939)

The Our Gang short Free Wheeling (1932)

Next time:

Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lionel Atwell

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oh, Wise Guy, Eh? Nyuk, Nyuk

Yes, I admit it. I just saw The Three Stooges, and I had a good time. Unlike many of the recent revivals of old television and movie characters this is a loving homage rather than a self-referential parody. Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso are dead-on as Moe, Larry, and Curly, not just in voice, but in every nuance and mannerisms. I would have liked to have seen more references for the longtime Stooge fans, there was a sequence in a hospital, and no one thought to include a "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard", and a Shemp cameo would have been nice, but I think a character named Teddy may have been a nod to Ted Healy, who was part of the Stooges' original vaudeville act.

Early into the movie I realized I should approach it less like I would say the Smurfs movie or any of a dozen film reboots of tv sitcoms, and more like a stage show like A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (part of which is a re-imagining of a Chekhov story as a Marx Brothers film). Even as a film, I'd say it has more in common with the latter in spirit. I realized that had this been on Broadway rather than the big screen it probably would have been less controversial among the purists. (And a purist I often am.)

It's by no means flawless, I could have done without a Jersey Shore subplot, although there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing Snooky and crew getting eyepokes and head slaps (but lordy, they CANNOT act), but still, it was a fun diversion. I hope some of the kids in the audience will be tempted to check out the classic shorts, I know I'M in the mood for some.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946)

Not bad for a film with a premise based on a red herring. You see; it’s painfully obvious the filmmakers wanted the audience to think this was a werewolf movie. There’s the deceptive title, of course, and words like “werewolf”, “lycanthropy” and “curse” are sprinkled liberally throughout the screenplay, but, and consider this a spoiler warning if you need to, no werewolf ever shows up. I even wonder if after Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter Universal was looking for a third female counterpart for its major monsters. The truth is: it may be better to enter this film knowing, as I did, that there’s no monster, or it may be more of a disappointment. It’s really a simple murder mystery with suggestions of the supernatural, and while it’s quite predictable and full of clichés and one-dimensional characters it still manages to be somewhat suspenseful.

The main thrust of the story is that mysterious attacks and deaths are occurring in a London park that is conveniently located adjacent to Scotland Yard and the stately Allenby house. Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is engaged to Barry Lanfield (Don Porter). Phyllis, the last of the Allenby line lives with her Aunt Martha (Sara Haden) and cousin Carol (Jan Wiley), relatives in affectionate terms only, who stand to po

ssibly lose their residence in the house should Phyllis marry and go to live with Barry. As the attacks continue, Phyllis begins to suspect she has succumbed to the Allenby family’s werewolf curse of legend and that she’s taken to prowling the park at night for victims. She soon calls off her engagement, not wanting to burden Barry with her curse.

I doing my best to avoid spoilers here, but I think even the plot threads mentioned above may easily lead someone to figure out who the real killer is, so I’ll leave it at that and just say that somehow it succeeds in the execution. Even though the characters (which also include Lloyd Corrigan as the standard blundering police inspector and Eily Malyon as the meddling housekeeper) are basically archetypes, the actors still manage to breathe a bit of life into them. Sara Haden is particular good as the mysterious Aunt Martha. As for the leading lady, I think Phyllis could have been written better. June Lockhart’s acting is fine, but she spends most of the movie lamenting from her bed waiting to be rescued.

In the end: a monster movie it’s not, but for a murder mystery, it’s a nice effort, even if it won’t keep you guessing until the end.

This week’s supporting features:

Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd in To Duck… or Not to Duck (1943)

The Our Gang short Hook and Ladder (1932)

Next time:

The Inner Sanctum mystery Weird Woman (1944) starring Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, and Ralph Morgan

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Someday Man and a Maybe Child

I can't let the day end without sharing a few more thoughts on Davy Jones. I'm among those who first discovered the Monkees in the mid-80s when MTV started rerunning their television series around the clock, and somewhere in there I got addicted. I've been revisiting the show lately and I find it still holds up. As actors they had shades of the old comedy greats like the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello about them. As musicians and singers, well they actually were more influential and talented than a lot of people give them credit for, and if anything, their songs always make me happy, but this isn't really about debating the merits of the Monkees, it's about saying goodbye to one of them.
I only ever saw them (well, three fourths of them) live once, during their 2001 tour, but Davy... I saw him perform almost once a year for nearly a decade. Living close to Walt Disney World has its benefits and for a good while one of them was the opportunity to go see Davy Jones perform live every spring at Epcot. And it wasn't just watching him perform, it was seeing his multi-generational fan base. The crowd was always made up of fans (mostly women) who first saw him in the 6os, their children, and grandchildren. (I wouldn't be surprised if there was a great-grandchild or two) Then there were the ones who discovered the Monkees in the 70s on Saturday mornings or in the 80s on MTV and their offspring. And Davy sure could work a crowd, and he wasn't afraid to get down in the stands with them. I met Micky Dolenz once, but I never got to speak with Davy personally, but he struck me as kind and generous with regard to his fans. I remember one incident in particular, and I think this was at the very first concert I saw him in at Epcot. A man approached the stage and passed him a note, at first he seemed distracted, and I though he may have been thrown off his game, but the note turned about to be from someone who had once seen Davy as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, and soon we were treated to a medley of Oliver! songs that had not been part of the planned set. I thought that was rather gracious of him. A week ago, I was already mentioning plans to see Davy again this spring, but sadly this tradition has come to an end. This was part of a series of concerts in an open air auditorium every spring in the park. I doubt I'll be able to walk past any of the other acts without a tear coming to my eye. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to see him perform so many times.

Opinions will always be divided as far as the Monkees are concerned, but to me they belong right up there with many of the other big groups of the 60s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who... And until today, they were the last of my favorite long term bands whose roster was all still with us. I'm gonna miss you, Davy. To paraphrase a song by your bandmate, Mike: We won't be the same without you.

I'm sure most people are playing "Daydream Believer" today. Great song, I don't blame 'em, but I think this one's my favorite of his.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- THE BLACK CAT (1934)

It’s amazing that a film can be so enjoyable, yet so incoherent. Plot-wise, it’s all over the place, but it’s saved by the sublime acting of Boris Karloff and the imposing presence of Bela Lugosi.

I’ll see if I can get it all straight. Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who has just been released from a World War I prison camp, and is on his way to the home of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), whose actions during the war resulted in the deaths of many men as well as Werdegast’s imprisonment. The purpose of Werdegast’s visit is revenge, and to learn the fate of the wife and daughter he left behind. During his journey, Dr. Werdegast encounters a pair of honeymooning Americans played by David Manners and Jacqueline Wells. The three end up on an ill-fated bus trip that results in them all staying in Poelzig’s imposing mansion, so that the young bride can recover from injuries sustained when the bus crashed. Werdegast learns that his wife has died (possibly murdered by Poelzig) and that his daughter has subsequently become Poelzig’s bride. Oh, and apparently Poelzig is also the leader of a satanic cult, and Werdegast is afraid of cats.

Yes, it’s all a bit convoluted, but somehow none of that matters, because at the center of it all Karloff and Lugosi make wonderful adversaries. The way they toy with each other’s emotions and psyche becomes a waltz of intimidation. Manners and Wells seem to only be there to get into danger as the battle escalates. In fact Wells’ soul purpose is apparently to scream and be rescued. In another era this film could have been just the two men and a chessboard. The two leads are all it really needs.

Of course there are a few other elements that make The Black Cat stand out. There’s a gruesome, though mostly left to the imagination, torture scene at the end, and there’s Poelzig’s rather perverse inclination for collecting the corpses of beautiful women (including Werdegast’s wife) in glass cases. Nice components, but they’re hastily assembled. Like The Mummy, the movie’s greatest assets are its stars.

And if you’ve never read the Edgar Allan Poe story that lends its name to the film, don’t worry about spoilers. Of the three Poe adaptations I’ve viewed so far, this one bears the least resemblance to its source material. In fact, I think the only reason Lugosi’s character has a fear of cats is to justify the title.

This week’s supporting features:

Tom and Jerry in The Midnight Snack (1941)

The Our Gang short The Pooch (1932)

Next time:

She-Wolf of London (1946) starring June Lockhart, Don Porter, Sara Haden, and Jan Wiley

A Study in Classic Horror- DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936)

Dracula’s Daughter is a strange attempt at continuing the story from 1931’s Dracula. Universal was obviously desperate to cash-in on the first movie’s success. At it’s heart it’s a worthy story, and might have done better if it were allowed to stand on its own rather than use the Browning / Lugosi film as a crutch.

The core story is intriguing. The title character, Countess Marya Zaleska, played by Gloria Holden, is actually trying to free herself of the curse that consumed her father. When Dracula’s death fails to rid her of her hunger for human blood, she turns to a psychiatrist, Otto Kruger as Dr. Jeffrey Garth, for help. I found the idea of vampirism as addiction a refreshing take on the genre, even if Dr. Garth’s methods of surrounding an addict with that which tempts him or her are absurd in today’s world. The Countess’ desire to rehabilitate herself makes her a much more sympathetic character than her father. She comes off, not as evil, but as a soul tortured by her own needs.

I really enjoyed Gloria Holden’s performance. It might easily be mistaken as lifeless, but I think it’s just right. The sadness in her eyes and mysteriousness in her voice are just what the character requires. I even wonder if her portrayal had any influence on Carolyn Jones years later in The Addams Family. If only the rest of the film had been more tightly constructed.

The first problem the film has is its attempt to begin exactly where Dracula left off. This movie opens just moments after the last one’s climax as two policeman discover the body of Renfield, and Professor Van Helsing (again played by Edward Van Sloan) emerges from the next room having just staked the Count. He is immediately arrested under suspicion of double murder. I suspect with no television or home video market, the filmmakers assumed audiences would simply forget that John Harker and Mina were also on the scene, or that Doctor Seward could corroborate Van Helsing’s story. Van Helsing seems to have forgotten as well because he can only think to defend his case by bringing his colleague, Dr. Garth in to vouch for his character. Somehow, even in the 1930s, I doubt audiences were that forgetful.

Another problem is the film’s use of humor. In other horror classics like Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Werewolf of London humor balances out the more serious aspects of the stories rather well. Here it seems odd and fairly forced. I’ve read in the early stages of developing a Dracula sequel that James Whale was the first choice to direct. As Whale directed two of the films I just mentioned, I wonder if the awkward use of humor here was an attempt to imitate Whale’s style.

Finally, in need of a climax, the last act of the film abandons the psychological plot threads to fall back on the old rescuing-the-damsel cliché. The Countess abruptly give up on her decades-old quest for inner peace and decides to embrace her curse, although in a bit of a twist, Dr. Garth was willing to share her curse in order to save the damsel.

With a better script, the Countess could have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her more iconic counterpart from Bride of Frankenstein; instead she’s relegated to mere cult status. Still the film is worth watching, and maybe occasionally revisiting thanks to an enjoyable performance by its lead actress.

This week’s supporting features:

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy in Orphan’s Benefit (1934)

The Our Gang short Spanky (1932)

Next time:

The Black Cat (1934) starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Julie Bishop

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923)

This is the third film version I’ve seen of Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris, better known in the English speaking world as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and it’s a large scale story to adapt dramatically in any era. Yet it’s a particularly massive undertaking for a time when films had no spoken dialogue, so it’s no wonder they called upon the talents of Lon Chaney to play the story’s best known character, Quasimodo.

Chaney was far more than a master of make-up. Even through pounds of prosthetics he knew how to convey every emotion with just a simple look. There’s a heartbreaking moment when he recognizes Esmeralda as the woman who gave him water while he was receiving a public beating, but is quickly dismayed when she recoils as he rushes to greet her. With half his face covered, Chaney manages to convey Quasimodo’s simplicity, his loneliness, his compassion, and every moment of anguish and pain.

The rest of the cast holds up their end of the story well opposite Chaney. Patsy Ruth Miller makes a good Esmeralda, particularly in the scenes when she begins to warm toward Quasimodo after he offers her sanctuary in the cathedral from the hangman’s noose. But I think Chaney’s greatest co-star is simply the enormous scope of the project. It’s just amazing to think in the early 1920s that a huge recreation of Notre Dame Cathedral was built on the back-lots of Hollywood.

It’s just a shame that this film hasn’t been preserved that well. A lot of its grandeur has been lost over time.

I do have to wonder, however, if I will ever see an accurate dramatic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. I read the novel shortly after seeing Disney’s attempt at making it into musical comedic romp, and found that the original story is far darker than Hollywood would have us believe, and no version I’ve seen so far has been willing preserve Hugo’s original tone. Granted, there are versions I haven’t seen, so maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

This version, however, was still a noble endeavor, though I think the 1939 version with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara is still my favorite.

This week’s supporting features:

The Looney Tunes short Eatin’ on the Cuff, or The Moth Who Came to Dinner (1942)

The Our Gang short Choo-Choo! (1932)

Next time:

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) starring Gloria Holden, Otto Kruger, Marguerite Churchill, and Edward Van Sloan

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955)

In some ways I’ve been dreading reviewing this one, because the only time I’ve seen it before Mike Nelson and his robot pals were heckling it on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that may have clouded my perception of it. After a second viewing I’d say it’s not a bad film, but it’s certainly not a great one either. It’s kind of like the second Jurassic Park movie, which really didn’t work for me either. It’s about finding an excuse to get your monster to civilization so it can wreak havoc on a grander scale, but when you really get right down to it, it’s just more of the same.

The man versus nature theme worked so much better in Creature From the Black Lagoon. In that one, you could make the argument that the Gill Man is a sort of protector of his little part of the world that has remained untouched by humanity, even if he does have an inexplicable interest in human females. In this sequel he simply becomes a savage beast in captivity that turns on his captors. One tiny line about his DNA being closer to man than fish is about all the film does to further his saga, it may offer an explanation for his pursuit of the film’s blonde bombshell, and it might even set up events for the third movie, but apart from that it quickly becomes a rather generic monster movie.

Another sad fact about this sequel was the filmmaker’s need to tweak what was already a great costume. In my Black Lagoon review I talked about the near believability of the costume design, but here the eyes look a bit more rubbery and bubbles from the back of the Gill Man’s head betray the suit’s breathing apparatus.

But my biggest problem with Revenge is John Agar. I just find him so unappealing. In other entries I’ve talked about the forced romances in the old horror and sci-fi films, and I think this one has the most forced of all. Lori Nelson even seems to play the earliest scenes of romance as if Agar’s advances are unwelcome, yet they’re still engaged before the film’s last act. Their paring could not have been any less believable had Agar said, “We seem to be the two leads in this picture, we may as well be a couple.”

I’ve got one more film to go in the Gill Man’s saga, but based on this one, it’s hard to place high hopes on it, especially since I’ve already seen pictures of what becomes of his look in that one. Hopefully, I’m wrong and the script will make up for it.

This week’s supporting features:

Tom and Jerry in Puss Gets the Boot (1940)

The Our Gang short Free Eats (1932) featuring the debut of George “Spanky” McFarland

Next Time:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) starring Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Norman Kerry

Friday, January 13, 2012

We Are ALL Geeks!

For those of you who don't know I work in the exit shop of a theme park ride that sells those photos they take of you at key moments of the ride. A couple of weeks ago, I had a customer buying a photo who informed me that she was only buying it because of her shirt. I glanced down and saw that you could clearly see "Carolina" across the front of the shirt. My own thought was "you have the shirt, why especially do you need this picture of the shirt?, but hey, if you're happy..." We finished the transaction, I handed her her photo, and as she turned to leave she said "Go Gamecocks!" and departed. Now I'm not a sports fan in the slightest, but I do know that the Gamecocks are a collegiate football team in South Carolina, still I thought this was an odd way to end a brief conversation with someone you've never met before. Obviously this is a person who invests a great deal of her enthusiasm into her sports team, but I wondered what her reaction would be to a group of fans at a sci-fi convention dressed as Klingons or Imperial Stormtroopers. Would she stare in baffled amazement? Would she sneer with superiority and label them "geeks"? I wonder does, she realize that she is also, in fact, a geek? I'm sure she doesn't label herself as such, she's a "sports fan", but what is a sports fan, but someone who geeks on sports? I actually get a glimpse at what it looks like when these two aspects of fandom intermingle almost every year at Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia when the convention and a big bowl game both fall on Labor Day weekend. It's an odd sight, but somehow they co-exist in the same space for a few hours. There is even a little overlap. The truth is we all geek on something. I can't say I have ever witnessed a guy in a Jedi robe say "May the Force be with you" to a waitress who's just taken his order, but I have seen comic fans engage in behavior that is just as awkward to witness in public, as that of the Gamecocks lady.
I was in another position once where I volunteered to work a table at a convention for a pair of local museums who each had science-fiction themed exhibits. Some of the museum personnel were new to the con experience and were behaving as if they'd been deposited in the middle of a leper colony. I found myself in the position of having to defend fandom in general, which I'll admit was challenging at times, particularly with the guy in the poorly constructed costume who carried a picture of the character he dressed as to hand out so you could see what he was really going for. I tried to point out that they weren't just "being weird", they were exhibiting their individuality, their creativity and their skills. Yet for all my efforts these two girls still left that day still feeling they were somehow superior to all of the "geeks" they had witnessed, despite the fact that one of them became really excited when she got a picture of the back of Billy Dee Williams' head, or that another was at extreme sport competitions with boyfriend every other weekend. (Celebrity geek. Extreme sports geek.)
I'm not trying to claim that we pop-culture geeks are necessarily better than any other kind of geek, although I could do without those situations at parties where other guys think the only way to initiate a conversation with other males is to mention the latest athletic competition. It just amazes me that the different groups are unable to recognize their similarities. I mean which is geekier? The shirtless beer-gutted guy painted head-to-toe in his team colors, or the guy in the Superman costume with a decidedly un-Supermanish physique? Tough call; let's put them in a room and let them debate. I'm sure it would be more entertaining than any of the current Republican debates.