Sunday, October 27, 2019


It's a rainy drab stuffy Sunday here in Manhattan, but with the comforting chill of night comes the chance to once more delve into Prime's bottomless cesspool. Tonight, a trio of monster classics, each mean and strange. Do you dare tamper in God's domain along with these stalwart scientists? 

(1957) Dir. Roger Corman
*** 1/2 / Amazon Image - A

Roger was at the top of his pre-60s/Poe phase game for this fast, cheap and fun whizzbang sci-fi / horror film. It's already come, wowed the world, and gone while other, similar science fiction films are just warming up. So there's group of scientists investigating the effects of nuclear fall-out on local marine life at a super remote atoll (ala Bikini) at the height of the Cold War atomic bomb test one-upsmanship days. The scientists include many of the cast members from THE UNDEAD: Mel Welles, Pamela Duncan, and Richard Garland. Beach Dickerson is a Marine, left on the beach with a buddy and a case of dynamite and grenades. What would a bunch of scientists want with this stuff? Beach wonders. Fat lot of good it does against crabs made of anti-matter who absorb the intelligences and voices of the scientists they eat (and then call to the survivors to meet them in the underwater caves, their voices drenched in heavy reverb). Sure the film gets laughs because the crabs are kind of ridiculous but I'll take a giant life size parade float puppet thing where you can see the shade sash string for lowering its eye lid and shoes underneath the abdomen, over just some rear screen projection of blown-up actual crabs, i.e. like Bert I. Gordon would do. Corman gets that we don't want cheap fixes; his crabs make only a feint towards crabbiness, but they have wild big eyes and booming voices and massive claws- and they rock.

I turn to this film again and again late at night when I need to forget the last film I just watched or allay whatever woes or anxiety the day has accrued. Its Charles B. Griffith script crackles with fast-paced brightness and speed. No sooner have they rolled onto the island than a Marine gets his head chopped off while looking underwater to see what's holding back their raft. I still remember the dirty kick I got from that as a kid (this was on TV a lot) as such sights were rare due to squeaky censors. Speaking of TV, future Professor (sans Marianne) on Gilligan's Island, Russell Johnson is Hank, the radio operator. He strikes 'sparks' with Duncan, though she's betrothed to Garland for some unforeseen reason (is it the hairpiece?). Not that there's any time for such tomfoolery --the crabs are using their atomic powers to slowly destroy the island, whittling the sides of rock to fall into the sea, ensuring the humans run out of places to hide. It's an interesting idea in itself, along with a few dozen others, and then BAM - it's all over. Now you're back on the Prime menu, left to figure it out for yourself. But come back anytime.

(1959) Dir. Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
*** - Amazon Image - A+

If you don't already have this on Arrow Blu-ray, you're probably not a Mario Bava fan. What's wrong with you? See his Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and Kill, Baby, Kill! and understand why we even love this early, fitfully entertaining mix of Gothic and sci-fi elements (a kind of Quatermass Catholica). Imagine if The Blob had an Attack of the Mayan Mummy backstory. Imagine no more. It's here. A chunk of giant pulsing, wet slimy muslin and jelly blob wakes from its sleepy tomb deep in a Mayan cave (in Italy and Spain they go to Central America for their mummies) after being stirred to life by treasure-grabbing archaeologists. A naive patriarchal scientist (John Merivale) figures a tiny sample of the thing can't hurt to bring home and study. Naturally, a lightning storm and/or cosmic rays from a passing meteor stimulate its growth and soon its devouring his house while his terrified wife tries to get out through the upstairs window. to get it all swelled up again. He's speeding home evan as the Italian army blasts the villa to ruin via flame-thrower-mounted tanks in a fiery climax.

All the while, a racist German archaeologist (GĂ©rard Herter) who touched the thing back in the tombs and lost his hand from its unstoppably corrosive surface, is now insane and will stop at nothing to ravish the scientist's pretty wife (Didi Sullivan), all while his own long-time abused Native Mexican-blooded mistress (Daniele Rocca) fumes from the shadows. As he chases the blonde wife all around the mansion, the blob gets bigger and bigger in the other room, breaking all sorts of glass, slithering around the halls and through the doors and foyers, all of it brilliantly lit by Bava's startling black-and-white cinematography, deftly preserved for the immaculate HD prime stream. Caltiki itself looks divine, deep black but with Bava's brilliant lighting capturing the glint of light off the slimy weird fabric/scales/ooze as it splits into smaller versions all growing ever larger as they devour flesh and trees alike during the climactic dark night.

The first 1/4 is the best, with the expedition to the rainforest rendered brilliantly via Bava's masterful use of mattes, mirrors, and miniatures, replete with time out for a sexy native dance as bongos play, men leer and the women scowl. If parts get too soapy or too dry in spots, blame that on Freda who turned the reigns fully over to Bava halfway through, allowing him to get his director's card at last. He fills Caltiki with his beautiful camera movements, mattes (the Mayan ruin exteriors are depicted using nothing but a photo and some smoke but you'd never know it) and lighting schemes. It might be uneven and at times irritating (the husband is really a pill) but it's atmospheric, beautiful, and bizarre. In other words, just fine for the Halloween festival curation purposes of this,  our accursed Kuersten Prime-a-thon (in Italian with optional English subtitles).

(1957) Dir. Ray Kellogg
** 1/2 / Amazon Image - A-

Casual monster fans may wonder, but for those of us of a certain age, the SHREWS was one of the better afternoon creature feature offerings on local TV. We weren't particularly convinced by the monsters - easy enough to tell they were shaggy dogs with wigs and false teeth -- but wild dogs can be terrifying, ask anyone who was ever chased by one. And as kids we could really freak ourselves out imagining how their digestive juices are so corrosive that even a tiny prick from their fangs is fatal. Now, as adults who've watched TV all our lives, it's fun to see Ken Curtis as a drunken douchebag pining for blonde research assistant Ingrid Goude and trying to off his chief rival, the laconic charter captain (James Best). We'd grow up to see Curtis tangle with many John Ford characters in similar circumstances (i.e. the rival groom in The Searchers) and we know Best as sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in Dukes of Hazzard. Yee-hah! And the big climactic use of overturned oil drums lashed together and used as protection for the survivors' escape to the coast was something no kid who saw it in the 70s ever forgot. It was the kind of thing we could vividly imagine ourselves doing, and it wasn't until Tremors-- with its savvy incorporation of the 'carpet is lava' furniture-hopping game--that  we'd see our exact type of imaginative made-up playground games so succinctly expressed.. Even today there's something unsettling about these monsters, chewing through walls with their venomous corrosive saliva, and Curtis just waiting for a chance to get you in a room with one so he can lock your escape route and thus once more have no competition for sultry Goulde. 

And there are cocktails. Lots of cocktails. 

Prime has a color version but their black-and-white version is the best (the one with the shrew tail wrapping itself around a woman's shoe).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous15 May, 2024

    Very enjoyable to read. I do love these monster flicks from the time when filming was mote creative, somehow….


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...