Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Behold with awe, and weep: THE UNDEAD (1957)

My favorite Corman movie, this loopy black and white tale of reincarnation, hypnotism, knights, witches both good and bad, devils and Satanic graveyard dancers zips by in an hour and leaves my jaw agape every time. I love Charles B. Griffith's and Marc Hana's droll script, and Corman's jam econo direction, the array of sexy or otherwise awesome performances, the feeling of flowing poetic weirdness that it can only come from being shot in sequence over one long night in a single empty supermarket, full of black toxic mist to disguise the barren cheapness (and it was!). You'd think it would satisfy itself with being just one thing, but there's a lot going on here: two witches, demon midgets who turn into leftover bat props from IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, and Satan and his dancing ghoul girls!

Meant to tie in to the then-craze for reincarnation (set in motion by the popularity of the Bridey Murphy story), Pamela Duncan is hypnotized to travel through the sea of time to her past lives, but she ends up derailing the 'Grand Scheme of Things' when she's able to whisper advice to her about-to-be-beheaded for witchcraft Middle Ages incarnation. When her prior self escapes the axe thank to her future self's tip, her loyal suitor and the palace guards give chase and the hypnotist joins her in the past to try and correct the matter, at which time you will be either outraged at the total disregard for logic or jumping for joy for the same reason. I saw this when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, Dorothy Neumann the definitive good witch. Her crooked nose, clearly made by cheap putty that seems always about to dry and fall off (you can see the line between Neumann's real nose and the false one) puts to rest the libelous claim of Glenda in OZ that "only bad witches are ugly" and I love the casual way she asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon. Maybe our guardian angels are just our distant future selves slipping us hot tips at definitive moments via whatever time travel-hypnosis tools are available in "time yet to be." I'd love to travel into the distant past of THE UNDEAD since Alison Hayes is awesome as the va-va-Voom-level hot bad witch with eyes on Pamela's man and I'm sure I could lure her away with my manly knowledge of Photoshop. Such wizardry!

Lastly, the insidiously merry laugh of Satan himself, played brilliantly by Richard Devon, incorporating modern wit and ancient evil as a good-humored beatnik trickster who transcends time itself and recognizes the time-traveling hypnotist right away, by name! Awesome. Once the rubes leave, the site of the black mass becomes a point of contact between the by-now-insane hypnotist, Duncan, the good and the bad witch as they all argue for and against Duncan going back to the executioner in the morning when, in one final miracle, Corman films in the genuine outdoors at dawn. What a night...

See it here, free, courtesy AMC!

1 comment:

  1. When Corman was on and really cared about a script, he delivered amazing cinema. "Masque of the Red Death" being the best example, and a personal favorite. Even his worst director-for-hire clunkers have moments of awkward poetic brilliance. I haven't had the chance to see this one yet. But definitely will now. Thanks for posting the link!