Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Monday, April 19, 2021

Somebody's Sins: SAINT MAUD, VIY


One subtopic of horror cinema that never grows stale (when done right) is folktale-sourced religious mania. I don't mean the dull misogynist witch burning and repressed hysteria, I mean the hallucinating, stigmata-and-schizophrenia ecstasy and torment of the holy fools. I also like the literal interpretations of bygone era's living mythology, ala 2015's The Witch, transferring to the audience the mentality that may well leave us all to believing witches were real. and the Catholic Inquisition saved humanity from a pervasive barbarous pagan evil that might otherwise have rendered mankind into a state of perpetual fear and savagery (instead of just being sexually frustrated maniacs unable to tell when they're projecting because Freud is still centuries away). 

Myth is more alive than ever; just check out the supernatural documentary on the Tavel Channel, the plethora of ghosts, aliens, shrouds of Turin exposed to radiation, miracles and youtube videos run through idiotic talking head commentary. Ghosts, demons, sea serpents, yetis, and aliens hover ever on the edge of scientifically consensual reality. Like true mythology, the best shows never quite cross over to fiction (and being dismissed as hoaxes, paredoloia or mental illness) or scientifically-consensual reality (and moving wholesale into some world-shattering new reality paradigm). The best supernatural horror films tap into that 'maybe' - ala The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist. As long as there's no ultimate signifier 'real' to contrast our protagonist's experience, we never know what is real or imaginary (i.e. if Shelly Duvall walked past the Gold Room and saw Jack at the bar, talking to an empty Shining air, for example, which would put a damper on the scary ambiguity.  Without that outsider/sane viewpoint, the first person experience of our main character has to be taken as real, in a vivid way we can experience in the safety of the theater or couch. We can, during this sacred temple space/time, believe everything we see kind of. The best campfire tales are the 'true' ones, the ones that happened to a friend of a friend, you swear it; even if we're 95% sure it's just an urban myth, the lingering jolt of fear wakens one's sleeping senses. When we know for sure you just made it up, that you're making it up on the spot--it loses a lot of its cachet. Watching a film, we can feel it's real even when clearly fiction; the same does not hold true in direct experience. 

When there's even the remotest chance it's real, Death becomes externalized and thus we become immortal, weightless, enraptured and divine. When there's no chance it's not real, our mortality crushes down on us like a great weight. 

Myth, then is truer than reality, because it creates a coherent language out of the randomness of direct experience. In myth, the devil literally lurks within every temptation, appearing in a cloud of smoke when someone mentions selling their soul for a drink. You can't say that devil is purely fiction. After all, the end result is the same. Just because he acts invisibly, his dark energy infusing its way into one's soul via fermentation rather than sulfur and smoke, doesn't make him any less effective. The extremes of light and dark breathe in myth the way they never do in reality (unless you're manic, schizophrenic, insomniac, tripping, and/or an alcoholic). I can't speak for schizophrenics, but I've been or am all the others on that list, and have seen both angels and demons, I've ridden the snake and walked inside the dragon. Once, for several weeks, I experienced that super rare 'pink cloud' where a flickering rose-tint infuses personal perception. AA members who stick the landing long enough to find the 'pink cloud' can tell you the same thing: the same Monday night meeting that at first was kind of a sad shuffle of broken nicotine-scented boredom and percolated coffee one week suddenly glows with a pink-hued love that makes just being there akin to paradise the next. Which one of the two is 'real'? 

Knowing these things can happen from firsthand experience, it make sense that the best movies I've seen in all of COVID--the age of internationally mandatory cabin fever--are about saints and spiritual pilgrims. The 2019 Irish horror film SAINT MAUD, one of the few newer films I've seen lately, is a slow-build minor masterpiece (written/directed by the improbably- named Rose Glass!) about a home care nurse (Morfydd Clark) sent to live with and care for Mandy, a terminally-ill dancer/choreographer (Jennifer Ehle) in a big artsy seaside mansion. Deeply lonely and an undiagnosed, the ascetic Maude gets these sexual current waves of pleasure when praying to her Catholic god; when the waves stop, she falls into a harrowing depression and puts broken glass in her shoes or kneels on pebbles for atonement, olidifying with ascetic intensity the link between modern self-cutting high schoolers and Middle Ages flagellants.  When Mandy grows afraid in the dead of night she she momentarily rides the Maud god train, and even catches one of the waves (maybe) while they kneel together. Taking this as a sign, Maud takes it on herself to ward off the dancer's partying lesbian hustler (a kind of anti-Maud) in a move I'm sure she doesn't realize is the sort of thing abusive caregivers do. But if you think she's going hobbles and starves Maud, or and makes her write with a broken typewriter or serves her cold parakeets, you're mistaken, I'm glad to say.

So where is this going. Maud, what are you up to? 

 We can never be sure 100% she's not a modern day Joan of Arc since we see only see and hear what she sees and hears. Thus we know there's no evil in Maud, just what we presume is her unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic hallucinations, misinterpreted as godly messages and interventions (as they often are). We feel for her especially if we've suffered from manic-depression or drug or alcohol addiction. She's addicted to the thrill of the touch of God, and when it dries up, she reaches out for booze and sex like she's drowning. 

Saint Maud veers with deft drunk savant brilliance out of the path of the typical cliches and snags that so often ensnare neo-horror psychotic female-protagonists, avoiding--though exploring--torture porn obsessions with, auto-mutilation / self-cutting (The Skin I'm In, Thirteen), romantic desperation (May), performance/ persona intertwining (Persona, Always Shine, 3 Women, Clouds of Sils Maria, Mulholland Dr.) or incapacitated victim/mentally-ill caregiver endurance tests (Baby Jane, Misery), Saint Maud's only cliche'd element are the usual smash cut ruts (1). The film's dusky cinematographic beauty and wild, cathartic transfigurative ending makes up for any stale passages. And if we've recently seen Dream No Evil (1970) and longed for a Ridley Scott cut (i.e. remove the pedantic voiceover).

VIY is the other of my new mythic religious faves, a 1967 Russian comic-horror piece about a young monk and a witch he winds up ensnared by after a spring break sleepover at a peasant barn.  Based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, Viy has the rock hard power of genuine myth behind it and a great, wild-eyed hero in clowning Leonid Kuravlyov. A monk in seminary school (with the terrible bowl cut and burlap robe to prove it) he finds himself forced to read prayers over a beautiful dead girl by a cossack landowner whose word is basically law, at her dying request. It does not go well, and by the third night the witch is calling out the big guns, enough trippy demons coming out of the walls to trigger any bad salvia flashback. Luckily, there is an endless supply of vodka... at least if you live until the cock crows. 

Though we can see it working just as well in a trilogy ala Black Sabbath (1963), this short  (70 minutes) never seems dull even during the many day and morning scenes of the Philosopher's incessant escape attempts. The Russian folk horror detail is so point we feel like we're hearing this told by the fireside after a hard day at the harvest - deep in the vastness of rural Russia, where the closest law enforcement might be a three days drive away. Scenes such as when the Philosopher (as he's called by the cossacks) is ridden by an old farmer hag through the fields and the dosed sky like a human unicycle, have a fairy tale surrealism that both beguiles and amuses. There's an almost Hemingway-esque--contrast between the cool, ghost-filled nights of terror and the idyllic pastorale of central Russian farm life: singing, whining, and napping in the warm sun, with big peasant food spreads laid out and a never-ending supply of breakfast vodka. The Philosopher keeps trying to escape, but there's only emptiness outside this weird daytime paradise/nighttime Hell. It kept reminding me of being at summer camp in the Maryland woods in the early-80s when our nights were spent in terror of the Goatman, rumored to be loose in the woods, and that terror making every moment of sunlight seem extra precious. 


The only drawbacks to Viy are perhaps how short it is (barely over an hour) and the over-the-top English dub (which is the only option on streaming). Me, watching it on Shudder inspired me to get the Blu-ray so I could watch it in Russian - much better. It reminds me of those days at camp, the way fear of the Goatman in the dark made us laugh and sing in the daytime, made Jesus alive in our hearts. We all slept with our bibles (it was that kind of camp) and the power of the Jesus made us alive with the kind of love and light that only those truly terrified of the dark can have. We heard the Goatman in every rustle of leaves, every noise in the night; we never saw him directly, but he was there.  Viy and Saint Maud both get it. Believing is seeing. It's never going to be the other way around. 

NOTES
1. You know what I mean, where boy meets girl with a kind of impersonal hello at some dingy bar and we smash cut to the last few seconds of some joyless hand job or mutually demeaning doggy style. Yawn. Maud, you're better than that!!  

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

How the Hell Was Won: DEMONOID (1981), CRUISE INTO TERROR (1978)


INTRO: THE ORIGIN OF SATANIC PANIC

Blame it on the foundation-rattling popularity of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby if you want, but the 70s was occult down to its bones, wilding out adults and children alike (if we were too young to see them in the theaters, we caught them edited on TV). The devil was--all through the 70s--kid-friendly; he carried a current of underground electric jouissance that connected our elementary school playground gossip chakras in a unified field of ouija boards, vividly recounted movie plots, slumber party telekinesis and deep dish absorption of TVMs like Dark Secret of Harvest Home, Crowhaven Farm, Horror at 37,000 Feet and the discussed in this issue, Cruise into TerrorThe uncanny magnetism of the neighborhood covens often depicted in these films acted as a sort of tribal mask obscuring the mysteries of adulthood, which lax (in hindsight?) parental guidelines enabled us to often witness firsthand, even with inflexible bedtimes preventing us from seeing them to the end (denied closure, we'd lie in bed and dream the endings, and lurid and dark those endings were, way more lurid and far darker than the chaste denouements rattled off for us by a half-asleep mom the next morning). 

I forgot to mention the preponderance--as holy children's writs---of scary 70s paperbacks. These were so important because if you saw a movie either on TV or the big screen and you loved it, you had to accept the fact you might never see it again. The only way to 'own' it would be to buy the novel or soundtrack album (or the bubblegum cards). The child of the 80s could have his mind blown by the 'horror' aisle at the video rental store, but for the kid of the 70s, it was the supermarket checkout paperback rack that promised the 'real' scares. While mom shopped we'd stand hypnotized by the beguilingly cryptic occult covers, that underground jouissance current snaking right into us.

That all changed in the 80s, of course, when we could at last own these films, as well as rent stuff far too gruesome or sexual to have ever even graced out TVs before; But today... now... these final days, for some of us, The Car,  Beyond the Doorand The Devil's Rain and The Legacy, abide. 

Oh yeah, and....these two...

DEMONOID 
(1981)- Wr./Dir. Alfredo Zacarias
*** / Prime Image - A+

DEMONOID might technically be from 1981 but if you melted down a 70s shelf full of occult paperbacks, then wrapped the result up in a mix of R-rated nudity and gore + PG-rated TV movie covering, Demonoid would be what was left. Here we have at all, packed into a 92 minute thrill ride: a severed hand racing around, possessing one person after another; crazy train/car chases involving possessed victims; subliminal flash cuts of the severed hand's accompanying demon, its clawed hand raised with a mighty sword; dazzling fashion juxtapositions such as Eggar's mixing hardhat and high heels); absurd lines and misguided hamminess; Stuart Whitman's half-hearted oft-vanishing Irish accent as the priest doubting his faith; a whole TV mini-series worth of crazy twists and ridiculous contrivances welded into 92 nonstop minutes full of a familiar prime-time ABC TV movie innocence that makes the moments of nudity and goofy gore all the more startling.

But best of all, for bad movie lovers like me: talented actors trying to be convincing wrestling with a rubber hand. No one beats this hand; its demonic aura affixes to the next victim, now both evil and inexplicably driven to sever their own hand and, if possible, offer it to Samantha Eggar on a silver tray. It was her who discovered the original hand--last affixed to a Mexican Inquisition-era topless hottie-- buried deep in her husband's Mexican silver mine. The hand belongs to her. Do you hear? It crawls up her leg while she's sleeping and tries to initiate a ménage à trois with her drunk miner husband Mark (Roy Jensen). It possesses him for a consolation and soon he's leaping from his grave after Haji (Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill) sets him on fire for winning on 24 consecutive tosses at a Las Vegas craps tables. He cuts his hand off by slamming it on the car door of the cop called to investigate, then the cop drives off in a hurry to go make a plastic surgeon cut off his hand, at gunpoint - no anesthetic, while forcing Eggar to watch. The movie has barely begun and we're already in such fucked-up awesome territory one finds oneself longing to smash their hand in the doorjamb to join the party.

Devoted readers know I'm a fan of evil mummy hand movies, especially Hammer's 1973 gem  Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (the best of the many adaptations of Bram Stoker's 1903 novella "Jewel of the Seven Stars"). This is kind of a Mexican-Spanish Inquisition riff on those adaptions, with the tomb discovered accidentally and the hand being far busier. It's its own thing, baby - and it zips fast. The giddy flavors of De Palma's Fury are here coupled to some of the spiritual tropes of The Exorcist, It's got it all. 

Dopey Stuart can't believe any of it, even God's holy power seems beyond his belief system. Will he, like old Father Karras ("how can I be of service when I have such personal doubts?" he actually says this during his opening prayers - I mean c'mon! And instead of running track like Karras, Stuart works out at the local boxing gym), make the ultimate sacrifice? Who cares? As the hand makes its rounds, its chosen hosts get so frisky and loco, even after being burned down their skeletons, that you can't help but applaud the reckless high-wire idiocy of it all, reserving eye rolls only for the half-assed soul searching of Whitman's continuously wrong-headed padre (does he really think a security detail --a pair of cops in their car outside her apartment---are going to protect her from a disembodied hand? ("What are they gonna do?" quips Eggar, "arrest it?"). 

Eggar is perfect in the role. Smart as a whip and never totally scared, only horrified. When she watches as the priest blow-torches off his evil hand while staring at her in an impressively unwavering, shadowy leer (above) it's as if great and terrible acting meters merge in the gas tanks of some tailspinning biplane and somehow keep it aloft for whole minutes after it should have crashed. When she widens them in horror, which is often, her eyes become almost perfect circles, so bright they shine right through the spiderweb spiral ironwork (top) from which she watches Stu blow-torch his hand while staring at her in shadowy, inscrutable Satanic gravitas. Richard Gillis' uneven score at times evokes the ominously advancing synths of Carpenter; at other times it's fairly generic TV suspense-ville, but if you love good-bad 70s TV movies, but all the sublimer for it, covering many abrupt tonal shifts and sublimely meshing with the nice cinematography, the shocking gore, and the environs of the different victims. It calls for us! As Sgt. Leo says, "In the name of evil, you and I must obey." 

------speaking of evil-confronting 70s priests, check out:

CRUISE INTO TERROR
(1978) Dir. Bruce Kessler
ABC TV movie - **1/2    

Here's a Friday Night TV movie nearly every kid remembers from 1978 on ABC. I think I just got braces on or wisdom teeth out or had a throat infection or something as I have a memory of great pain and pain killers swirling in my brain in alternating currents, which elegantly gels with its sexy mood. There's also the reason we all remember it, for it has a unique spin on the mummy: here we never see a mummy or a ghost of a mummy; we see instead a child-size breathing Egyptian sarcophagus... possessing a sexy passenger list on a sexy cruise to Mexico. y make no sense, but it's a truly original, nonsensical idea, probably born from some writer dropping acid at the "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit which was then all the rage. Whatever the origin story, I knew I could at last see the film again even though I'd forgotten the title and everything else about it, just by googling the words "breathing sarcophagus." See? We all remember.

Still, I was too giddy and/or sick to remember if I liked it at the time (probably not) but it turns out this is a cute little gem worth rediscovering for those with the fondness. Would there was a Warner Archive DVR or some such thing the way there was/is for Bermuda Depths or Terror at 37,000 Feet (the film incidentally fits between them in terms of watchability), if for no other reason than the scenery, and attractive women gamboling to and fro on deck. It would be great eye candy, as relaxing as a lazy hammock Sunday. 

Robert "Charles Townsend" Forsythe is a hieroglyph-reading missionary priest on a cruise with his sexually frustrated, lingerie-wearing wife (Lee Meriwether). Noted archeologist Ray Milland is on the ship, headed for sunny Mexico to prove his thesis there's an Egyptian tomb there. A physicist, assorted babes, and first mate Dirk Benedict (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica) are aboard as well, and they're expecting you... ooh...ooh.

No Love Boat this, though there is some bed-hopping (Starbuck is very busy) and sunny days scuba diving in beguiling bathing suits. What is the strange curse hanging over the ship, causing accidents and freak encounters, some fatal (amongst other 70s occult crazes was a fascination with the Bermuda Triangle). One of the near misses is a harrowing encounter between three lovely snorkelers and a "vicious" (small, blue) shark (any self-respecting child of the post-Jaws late-70s scoffed at the tourist's overreaction to this harmless specimen'). Then, the ship breaks down and leaves them anchored in the middle of the ocean, conveniently right over the spot where archeologist Ray Milland needs to dive for his missing Egyptian tomb, thanks to a handsome physicist named Matt Lazarus (Frank Converse) recalculating Ray's figures and tells him the tomb he's looking for is actually sunk below the waves, "two degrees off our present course!" Captain Andrews (Hugh O'Brien) can't say no to a dive when the ship stalls out over the exact spot. Everyone wants to dive for the treasure and be rich! Freak storms and accidents abound. Let's go diving!

Ripe for some Love Boat style ship corridor of shame cabin-creeping, the guest roster includes several cabins full of foxy ladies and hot-to-trot wives whose husbands are either frigid (Forsythe's priest) or too focused on work (Christopher George's wheeler/dealer stock broker). The others are mostly single: Stella Stevens, Lee Meriwether, Jo Ann Harris, Hilarie Thompson. Lynda Day George (with Christopher--her real-life husband). They're both still hot and bucking at the seams (George's crack about "I can still look at the menu" when the other bikinis pass by is the kind of passive veiled crack that makes a couple's single friends roll their eyes and snort like impatient stallions). Looks like Starbuck has to step in again!

If you're a fan of 70s bad films you know the 'disparate slice of humanity forced to work together plotline was almost inescapable thanks to the popularity of Airport, Poseidon Adventure and 1977's Day of the Animals. And you know it's he 70s when virile men can rebuff the sultry come-ons of foxy ladies without judging them one way another; players like Dirk Benedict's first mate aren't depicted as sleazes in need of canceling so much as guys doing their manly duty to please the perfectly acceptable and natural desires of the passengers. If in our current climate you think that can't possibly be true, catch an episode of Love Boat, where the crew are all basically allowed and encouraged by the captain to bed down with the guest stars -- it's practically part of the job!-- and you have an inkling of how sex-positive we all were in the 70s. The national obsession with right-wing prudery had momentarily abated and mainstream America had what Alexander D'Arcy's gigolo piano teacher in 1937's Awful Truth call "a continental mind." 

That's one reason  70s TV movies are so fascinating, and remain so-- the openly sexually liberated prime time zeitgeist. 

As reverend Mather, Forsythe struggles just as much with seeming like a prude as he does with seeming to understand hieroglyphics (this was, after all, "Charlie").  When he reads an engraved tablet dredged up from below and exclaims"It's a serpent-headed bird!" or--reminding them of the fate of those sorry and/or dead archeologists who opened Tut's tomb and woke the "curse of the pharaohs"--demands the passengers not "mar that tomb!" can't help but draw laugh. Just like a buzzkill censorious reverend of the pre-code era, he seems determined to steer this vessel as far away from interesting and titillating as he can get it. On the other hand, at least he's not also having a crisis of faith  like Whitman in Demonoid or sulking and making shitty remarks like the mighty Shat in 37.000 Feet). Keenly aware of his limits as an actor, Forsythe never tries to hide himself in a 'performance' -- he knows his limits. 

And anyway, his priest is soon proven right. No sooner has the sarcophagus come on board than the cast is going full greedy savage arguing over where to sell the booty and how to split it, the evil spirit growing in strength the more bad vibes it sows. First its ruby eyes start to glow, then it breathes. We never even see it open! What is inside it? We never find out.  Its ruby eyes flash and cause sudden storms when someone tries to injure it, spooking everyone not under its malevolent sway. As more and more of the cast become sensually liberated agents of evil, the film gets funnier and freer. When Thomson snaps at her mousy friend Debbie (Jo-Ann Harris) for being too scared to even shoot a flare gun up in the air ("I'm scared, Judy!"). A flare gun for god's sake, if you'll pardon the expression. Of course Judy snaps! Finally and forever, full of devilish brio saying basically "stop following me around!" It's supposed to be the effect of the ancient evil at work (as in Exorcist) but it feels more like the effect of good, liberating shrooms. 

So does a sudden contempt for weakness and morality and unreserved attraction to earthly delight and fiery power make one evil, or just cool? Countering Forsythe's bland gospel is Milland ("I do not believe in biblical fantasies!") The captain (Hugh O'Brien) tries to explain all the deaths and storms and ship failures as coincidence, though it gets harder and harder as the freak events accumulate. 

Still, there's no arguing with a skeptic, and sometimes that's a good thing: "There is a devil --it's in here, all of us --his name is greed, fear and all of the ugly things we can never face." So deep, bro. He even has a fancy poem to send us all to bed in a cautionary mood:

There is a devil, there is no doubt,
but is he trying to get in us
or trying to get out?
Gee dad, why can't it be both? As a Pisces, I'm comfortable with that kind of ambiguity.

The 70s will all end soon enough, the age of Pisces gone deep to Davy Jones', where it began- splattered like a glass goblet on the sidewalk outside the Dakota. (1).

But was the evil of libidinal freedom vanquished, or was the good of libidinal freedom stifled?



=====

Some Other Good Occult Movies of the 70s:
1. The first Dakota death-- Terry Gionoffrio in Rosemary's Baby in 1968 (the first attempt at impregnation, inside a fiction that manifest in culture as a televisual reality) to Lennon in 1980 (in a reality dictated by fiction) - in each case a metatextual rupture - the devil's favorite kind, though the early 80s Satanic panic hysteria effectively drove him underground by then, back under the rug of our collective unconscious, the covens replaced by a sea of slashers, just as the paperbacks were replaced by video rentals

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Fuest in Show: THE FINAL PROGRAMME (1973) aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH

 
What to do about Jon Finch? He can look as wan and bloated as any British drinker but when the dialogue and co-star is right, boy oh boy, he's like a prime era Peter O'Toole (in richly Shakeseparean, commanding voice crossed with a delightfully dissolute feyness) possessing a young Jim Morrison's dandy jaw line and heroic drug intake. Robert Fuest's dark, freewheeling, and--for a long time--hard to find British sci-fi satire from 1973, THE FINAL PROGRAMME (distributed stateside by Corman's New World Pictures as The Last Days of Man on Earth) is finally here in a stunning new transfer. Now we may marvel and swoon over Fuest's beguilingly surreal production design (he's the man behind the Phibeses), Finch's alcohol-enriched roaring, literate energy, and a roster of sublimely-etched side characters. Marred only by the occasional groan-worthy satiric jabs at consumerism's future ouroboros vanishing point (the world's supposed to be ending, but the budget can't afford crowd scenes or anything too dystopian, so we have to take Finch's word for it) and a kind of disappointing resolution, it's worth checking out for the game and hearty. 

Taking leaps of adaptive liberty (I'm told) with Michael Moorcock's countercultural touchstone (in Britain) novel, it's the tale of dissolute hard-drinking bad boy billionaire super-genius scientist military hardware collector and helicopter and (off-camera) jet pilot Jerry Cornelius (Finch). After a native funeral up in Lapland for his genius billionaire father,  Jerry plans to take resolve his family differences by dropping napalm on the ancestral mansion and jetting off with his (implied incestuous) sister. But first things first, he has to get the napalm, that means running around London meeting eccentric arms dealers. As a result of some bizarre passive-aggressive urge to be helpful, he agrees to help the three Quentin Crisp-ish scientist cronies who were working with his father before his death, mainly to find them a missing computer program tape (the "final" one) dad was working on, now hidden deep in a safe inside a vault inside the tricked-up mansion. To this end, he teams up with the scientist's sexy androgynous computer programmer Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) who has some (off-camera) habit of absorbing her lovers and/or anyone whose knowledge she seeks to possess (like military secret peddler Patrick Magee). Jerry only knows the program seems to involve involves some Italian pretty boy waiting in the car, and it's supposed to bring about the savior of the new dawn, a self-replicating perfect hermaphrodite human --the best of all man and woman has to offer -- a fusion of two brains, two genders, into one, a being that can finally formulate and answer the ultimate question.... why?


Sure, in its mad bid to be drolly satiric, and painfully hip, the result has not aged as well as one would hope: superfluous cameos like an ineffectually mugging Sterling Hayden as eccentric arms dealer Wrongway Lindbergh ("the Wrong way. is the right way!") reek of that late-60s 'older stars trying to fit into the counterculture via eccentric cameos and kooky glasses desperation.. There's also that bit where the ride up to Lapland in a balloon (which is I guess, kept handy for films that can't afford a Phantom F4, which Jerry supposedly pilots). But the whimsy and twee touches are kept at a distance. I do like the three wise men scientists (Basil Henson, George Coulouris, and Graham Crowden) who follow Ms, Brunner around; they more than make up for all the elements that seem to be missing. For example, Jerry's quest for napalm (he pronounces it "Nepal-m") and the rescue of his strung-out sister from his junky brother Frank's druggy clutches. We never really see the sister until much later so any inkling of what kind of strange incestuous reason he has for this is left unexplained. This is a film that blithely skips over vast and possibly interesting mythic arcs that may be in Moorcock's novel in favor of hit and miss (but at least it swings for the fences). Futuristic satire like a restaurant where wine and alcohol comes in dehydrated cubes (Jerry orders French toxic river sludge, demanding to know 'which bank' it was culled from.) or a pinball arcade where Jerry meets his stoned connection (Ronald "Why don't you tell me where the Ark is... right now?" Lacey) are well executed but may induce groans in those who by then have higher hopes for this strange, otherwise very hip movie. 

He is... nefarious

Perhaps the only film that comes close in its style is 1971's Hammer film Blood from the Mummy's Tomb. In that film too, a strident dominatrix-y intellectual badass female (Valerie Leon) runs roughshod over trios of stumbling old men scientists (George Coulouris and Aubrey Morris appear in both) while teaming up with a fey amoral aristocratic hipster (James Villers instead of Finch) to bring about some earth-shattering prophecy by ushering in a new kind of woman. Here, Runacre handles her carnivorous authority with cool throaty confidence and instantly establishes a deep in-the-moment sultry rapport with Finch's Jerry, one cool young super genius sexy cool titan to another. One can't help but wonder as to what a great Lady Macbeth she would have made opposite Finch in Polanski's 1971 film (instead of Francesca Annis, though she was fine enough). It's their scenes together--and her beating up Jerry's brother, the manipulative junky Frank (Derrick O'Connor)--that really crackle. 

Luckily most of the film involves the pair of them, with the three scientists making the perfect back-up band. Far from the usual stuffy bowler-and-brolly types we'd expect to be harumphing in the background or the dreaded reverse (that Richard Lester-ish style of conservative faux-hipness), these three-four older scientists manage the hitherto impossible - each being cool and individual while functioning as a cool ultra-dry comedy team. Aging scientists unconcerned with the surface flash, they're in pursuit of completing--with the straight facedness required to convey now-or-never urgency--a complicated experiment that's beyond mad/daft and that needs to be executed at a certain, looming time. 

Overall it's a film free of villains, unless you count Frank, who's taken over the family estate, setting all the futuristic alarms and traps --including psychedelic light attacks ("designed to cause pseudo-epilepsy:), elaborate inflatable tunnels (a mix of a carnival bouncy castle and Corman's Masque of the Red Death), poisoned gas, and poisoned needles shooting out of walls while the siblings shoot at each other in weird homemade futuristic air guns (just to be extra weird and save on blood expenses).

But all of that is fine with me because of the cocky actorly rapport with Runacre and Finch as these kind of super-cool amoral hedonist next-gen scientific wits in fabulous clothes and --in his case--a kind of foppish arrogant feminine elegance; hers, a Bowie-esque androgyne sexy-cool. With her tousled orange hair and natty slacks and his too-tight black velvet blazer and black nail polish, they're a superb-looking team, like they've spent a lot of time improv --they're destined to entwine! 

Hint: Fans of Hammer films (and their ilk) might recall Runacre as playing a great insane red-dress wearing schizophrenic Folies Bergère dancer in the same year's The Creeping Flesh.


There's a great climax set in an abandoned Nazi submarine pen deep under Lapland, where "the best brains in Europe" are kept in jars (groan-worthy but still interesting), working overtime to answer the "ultimate question", and sunlight is harnessed and accumulated during the midnight sun period of summer to power the special device Jerry's dad was working on before he died. It ends just how you'd think, though I shan't spoil it. Anyway, I recommend it. Take it for what it is, and just enjoy Fuest's wicked sense of design style (the submarine pen and other futuristic sets evoke fond memories of Fuest's Avengers episodes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again's ancient Egyptian tomb). I kept thinking I wanted to live down there, and get drunk with these people ("The classic sanctuary fixation" notes Ms. Brunner) to wind up safe and sound after the Fall, ready for the new dawn.


Note the empties behind them while brainstorming in Jerry's flat. His freezer is empty except for hundreds of McVities' Dark
Chocolate Digestives. I can really relate

Navigating the family mansion's "defences"
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