Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

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 speedball econo direction, the array of sexy, over-the-top, 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 an empty supermarket full of black toxic mist to disguise the lack of backgrounds.

You'd think THE UNDEAD 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), sexy star Pamela Duncan plays an unhappy street walker hypnotized by a crazed back alley psychologist to travel through the sea of time to her past lives, 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. Whoa! That's not how it works, but hey -- go for it! What else is intution and spirt guidance if not hypnotized selves of the future shooting us tips and cautions from their future psychiatrist's space couch? And what else are the voices one hears in one's head that if you answer either means your schizophrenic or a witch depending on the century. Only in this case, her past self is able to act on the counsel, and soon her loyal suitor and the palace guards are giving chase through the gnarled trees, and the hypnotist has no choice but to get hypnotized himself and join her in the past to try and correct the matter. Whoa! You will be either outraged at the total disregard for logic or jumping for joy for the same reason. It's the kind of looney premise we wouldn't see repeated until EXORCIST II.

I saw UNDEAD 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), bubbling cauldron, and other trappings, puts to rest the libelous claim of Glenda in OZ that "only bad witches are ugly" (the bad witch is sexy Alison Hayes) 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.

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 devil, and both witches as they all argue for and against Duncan going back to the executioner in the morning. Ingeniously, Corman finaly moves his camera outside, making the sun and sky seem suddenly more unreal and dreamlike than the black fog supermarket-bound night that came before.

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!


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