Tag Archives: Mad scientist

1955 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER AND PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES

Coming Attractions:

“The Picture that unmasks society’s secrets. Jail Bait: the story of boy-crazy girl and gun-crazy guy. The most feared of our modern underworld—men who hate the law and abuse even those they love. See the siren-screaming, gun-blazing thriller, Jail Bait.”

The Violent Years. See what happens behind locked doors of a pajama party! Teenage killers fearing no law! Thrill Girls of the highway! Girl gang terrorists! Untamed girls of the pack-gang! Adolescent gangsters taking their thrills unashamed! Terrifying realism clawing at your unbelieving mind! See The Violent Years.”

It’s Showtime!

Bride of the Monster was ‘s most financially successful work, which of course isn’t saying much. It’s success may lie in its attempts to meet mainstream genre expectations, and the fact that it’s Wood’s only film to actually feature a star performance from. (In Glen or Glenda, Lugosi was a bizarre narrator. Plan 9 from Outer Space infamously used a few seconds of Lugosi footage, shot mere days before his death, making it a brief, posthumous non-performance which many Lugosi filmographies don’t even list). Rather than pursuing his own twisted muse, Wood, a Lugosi fanboy, attempts to fulfill what he imagines 1955 audiences want from a film starring Bela Lugosi, and therefore Bride of the Monster doesn’t reach the levels of inspired lunacy of the pair’s other collaborations. However, Ed Wood can only be Ed Wood and, in his defense, he’s deprived of good taste—which numerous artists have rightly observed is the enemy of great art. Wood made some of the greatest naïve art of all time. Thankfully, Bride of the Monster was produced before booze, poverty, and obsessive kinkiness grabbed poor Eddie by the throat and took him down, which means it’s charming as hell. Adding to its goofy grace is Lugosi’s last starring performance (he had what amounted to a mute cameo in Reginald Le Borg’s The Black Sleep in 1956), which features a beautifully mangled speech that serves as an almost perfect swan song for the horror star.

Still from Bride of the Monster (1955)Lugosi fans (and they are legion, or at least once were) are hardly apt to admit it, but their object of adulation was one of the genre’s worst actors, due in no small part to his clear disdain for the English language and astoundingly poor career choices. With damned few exceptions (notably, Ygor in Son of Frankenstein), he was a one-note performer. Even had more range (although according to peers and biographers, both actors were a tad slow on the uptake Continue reading 1955 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER AND PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES

254. THE FACE OF ANOTHER (1966)

Recommended

他人の顔; Tanin no kao

“The world in which Abe, Teshigahara, and Takemitsu came of age as expressive artists was not one for which they had been prepared by their forebears or by any social legacy. The values of prewar Japan had been utterly discredited by their nation’s defeat, the society emasculated by foreign occupiers for the first time in Japanese history. The so-called democracy that was being layered onto the Japanese body politic by temporary American rulers seemed ill fitted to a culture that had never valued individualism or freedom of expression. They wandered forth into a strange new world that had no identity of its own and was distorted by poverty and foreign occupation. Everywhere were symptoms of an existential dilemma on a vast national scale. In retrospect, it seems hardly surprising that the compelling themes of Japanese artists of the day were those of alienation, the search for identity, and the struggle for survival in a wasted landscape…”–Peter Grilli, writing for the Criterion Collection

“Yield to the mask.” —The Face of Another

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mikijirô Hira, Machiko Kyô, Miki Irie

PLOT: Left with a disfigured face after an industrial accident, Okuyama spends his days in bandages while complaining to his wife. Hatching a scheme of questionable ethics with his psychiatrist-surgeon, things change for Okuyama after a cunningly designed mask is crafted to allow him, at least part of the time, to be “normal.” However, the doctor’s warnings of personality shift come true as Okuyama attempts to seduce his own wife to wreak emotional revenge.

Stoll from The Face of Another (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Like 1962’s Pitfall and 1964’s Woman in the Dunes (also Certified Weird), The Face of Another was based on the work of novelist Kôbô Abe. While the psychiatrist appears only passingly in Abe’s book, his role was greatly expanded in the film to allow for a more tangible counterpart to Okuyama.
  • Director Hiroshi Teshigaraha stuck with the classic “academy ratio” and black and white film one last time with this movie, despite the then-current popularity of color and CinemaScope. He surrendered to modernizing pressures with his next movie, The Man Without a Map.
  • The incongruous waltz playing in the opening credits (as well as the German night-club song at the biergarten) was written by Teshigahara’s and Abe’s collaborator, composer Tôru Takemitsu, whose score was also instrumental in Pitfall and Woman in the Dunes.
  • Despite being commercially and critically well-received in its home country, The Face of Another met with a tepid audience beyond Japan’s borders. A number of critics, it seemed, had had just about enough of the intellectualist, art-house cinema that had been bombarding the movie scene for some years by then.
  • Another of Teshigahara’s art buddies — Arata Isozaki — stepped up to the plate, designing the psychiatrist’s morphing, glass-filled office. An architect by vocation, Isozaki went on to design numerous famous buildings, including the MOCA in Los Angeles and the stadium for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Though any shot with Okuyama bandaged sticks in the mind, the most jarring scene occurs when he’s fully disguised as a normal person. Having just been released into the custody of his psychiatrist after an arrest for assault, Okuyama and the doctor face a swarm of sack-clay masked citizens descending upon the streets. The doctor looks unnerved by the sight; his patient less so. Before their dramatic “goodbye”, they are utterly enveloped in a sea of faceless faces.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Ever-mutating doctor’s office; sunbeam cooks incestuous brother; the faceless masses

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Face of Another  is essentially a Japanese New Wave art-house musing on the nature of identity. But cranking things into the realm of bizarre is a series of sets and scenes—the doctor’s uncannily undefinable office space, mirrored mirrors, and so forth—as well as strange veering between philosophical and vengeful tones. Throw in a second (and even an obliquely referenced third) story line, a German biergarten in downtown Japan, and the occasional symbolist image (among them a Doorway to Whirling Hair and spontaneous transfiguration to slaughtered livestock), and, well, you could say you’re facing something pretty weird.

Trailer for The Face of Another

COMMENTS: The meaninglessness of personal identity is a troublesome thing to ponder. The interchangeability of any given cog in society’s wheel flies in the face of notions of individuality and the Continue reading 254. THE FACE OF ANOTHER (1966)

A KARLOFFIAN SIX PACK OF LOONEY TUNE DOCTORS

When Hammer Horror offered its premier director, , his own franchise, he chose to work with the Frankenstein character rather than Dracula. Fisher was astute enough to realize that Mary Shelly’s saga had more potential for expansion and innovation. Even so, Fisher was hampered Universal Studio’s preexisting model of dos and don’ts. Once forever removed Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup, the Monster became a lumbering bore played by lesser actors (, , Glenn Strange) and directed by hacks.

For his part, Karloff, in a variety of films, essentially took on the role of Dr. Frankenstein (in all but name). His Dr. Niemann was certainly the most colorful highlight in the assembly line monster mash House of Frankenstein (1944). Most regrettably, Niemann himself did not dispose of the whiny hunchback (J. Carrol Naish), Wolf Man (Chaney Jr.), or the irritatingly bland protagonists. While John Carradine’s Transylvanian count at least had a degree of personality, his screen time was brief. Briefer still was the monster (Strange) seen in a lethargic, somnolent state. When he finally awoke, his only threat was curing us of insomnia. This left Karloff to salvage what was left of the movie, and he did just that in a most entertaining way (unfortunately, the sequel, 1945’s House of Dracula, only had Carradine to attempt a rescue, which he failed to do). Of course, the doctor was infinitely more interesting than the monster here because he was played by the vastly superior, original monster. Fisher obviously realized this shift, paving the path for his Frankenstein series, which was actually about Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster).

Still from House of Frankenstein (1944)Karloff’s run as a mad doctor actually got its start in 1936, one year after his role in Bride of Frankenstein. The Man Who Changed His Mind (aka The Man Who Lived Again) was made for a UK Production company and directed by Robert Stevenson. The formulaic script is aided considerably by witty dialogue from the scriptwriters (including John L. Balderston, who penned Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Bride of Frankenstein); ripe, eccentric performances; and Stevenson’s fast-clipped pacing.

Expectedly, this is Karloff’s show, and he responds by bouncing off the walls. The absurd plot is about thought transferal (a brain transplant without actually removing the brain), and aptly, Karloff seems to have a hard time staying put in his skin. As Dr. Laurience, he nervously wrings his hands, incessantly pulls on his hair, chain-smokes Continue reading A KARLOFFIAN SIX PACK OF LOONEY TUNE DOCTORS

200. METROPOLIS (1927)

“I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier… Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities.”–H.G. Wells

“Those who understand cinema as an unassuming storytelling mechanism will be deeply disappointed in Metropolis. That which it recounts is trivial, overblown, pedantic and outdatedly romantic. But, if to the tale we prefer the “plasitco-photogenic” background of the film, then Metropolis will fulfill our wildest dreams, will astonish us as the most astonishing book of images it is possible to compose.”–Luis Buñuel

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: The future city of Metropolis is starkly divided between two classes: the rulers who spend their days in pleasure gardens, and the workers who live underground and run the massive machines that supply the city with power. Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the most powerful man in Metropolis, discovers the existence of the underground world when he becomes entranced by beautiful Maria, a woman who prophesies to the workers that a Mediator will come to unite the two classes. Joh is not happy with this development and he enlists the scientist Rotwang to kidnap Maria and create a robotic duplicate of her to discredit her with the workers; but the doctor, who harbors a personal grudge against Fredersen, sabotages the plan.

Still from Metropolis (1927)
BACKGROUND:

  • Metropolis cost 5 million reichmarks to produce (about $24 million in inflation-adjusted dollars). This would make it one of the most expensive movies of its era, and although its cost has often been exaggerated, it did almost send its studio into bankruptcy. The movie utilized thousands of extras: reports range between 25,000-37,000 people.
  • Adolph Hitler was a fan of Metropolis, despite having banned another of Fritz Lang’s films, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, for its anti-Nazi sentiments. Joseph Goebbels told Lang that he would be made an honorary Aryan despite his Jewish heritage (the director’s mother was a Jew who converted to Catholicism). Goebbels offered him a position as head of UFA, Germany’s national studio, which Lang declined.
  • Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote the screenplay for Metropolis and followed up with a novelization of the story. She willingly joined the Nazi party in 1932. Lang and von Harbou divorced in 1933. Lang fled to France in 1934, and then went on to Hollywood in 1936.
  • In the early years of movies, the concept of film preservation had not yet been formed, and many movies were lost when the prints decayed or were deliberately destroyed. At 153 minutes, Lang’s original Metropolis cut was too long for many exhibitors of the time, and 30 minutes were deleted after the premier for international audiences. Portions of the original uncut prints of Metropolis did not survive, and it was long thought that a complete version of the film would never surface. In 2008, however, a nearly complete print containing an additional 25 minutes of footage was discovered in Buenos Aires. Although of poor quality, the segments were incorporated into existing prints of Metropolis and the film was re-released to theaters (and later on home video) as “the Complete Metropolis.” A few minutes of footage are still believed to be forever lost, however.
  • Ranked #35 on Sight & Sound’s poll of the greatest movies of all time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The robot encircled by electrified rings as it takes on the form of Maria is not only Metropolis‘ most memorable vision, it’s one of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An allegory of steely skyscrapers and miserable sewers, Metropolis is a movie that reveals, and revels in, the unique power of silent film to create an experience that feels more like living through a myth than listening to a story. Divorced from dialogue, drained of color, it is the pure images that stick in our memory, like fragments of a dream. Metropolis is not the weirdest film on our List, but its influence is seen throughout fantastic cinema (the cityscapes of Brazil would not have the same shape without it, to name just one example). Metropolis is simply too big to ignore.


Trailer for the 2010 restoration of Metropolis

COMMENTS: There is hardly an ounce of reality in Metropolis, which Continue reading 200. METROPOLIS (1927)

CAPSULE: BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (1982)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Graham Crowden, Leonard Rossiter, Malcolm McDowell, Marsha Hunt

PLOT: The unions are picketing, mobs gather outside the hospital gates protesting the institution’s harboring of an African dictator, an investigative reporter is sneaking around posing as a window cleaner, and Professor Millar is continuing his secret experiments, all on the day Her Royal Highness is scheduled to grace Britannia Hospital with her presence.

Still from Britannia Hospital (1982)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scattershot, though in  a pleasant way, Britannia Hospital is the least (and the least surreal) of Lindsay Anderson and Malcolm McDowell’s “Mick Travis” trilogy. It does end with an unexpected wowza of weirdness, however.

COMMENTS:The very first scene of Britannia Hospital sets Lindsay Anderson’s black and bitter tone. Picketers flag down an ambulance outside the hospital. “No admissions except by union dispensation,” croaks the protestor in a Cockney accent. The strikers check the back and find an old man gasping for air; the paramedic reads a newspaper while they check his paperwork before passing him through. Unfortunately, the old man gets inside the hospital just as the nurses are going on break. “You can’t leave that there,” says one supervisor of the soon-to-be corpse lying on the stretcher, but what are they going to do? They’re off the clock.

There are not many likable characters in Britannia Hospital. The hospital administrators are more concerned with serving a proper English breakfast to the private patients in their luxury suites than in healing the sick. The unions grind the institution to a halt over any perceived slight. The doctors pursue private research into Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. The protestors are looking for any excuse for a riot. Perhaps the closest thing to a sympathetic character here is Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), an investigative reporter planning to expose corruption in the hospital. (“MickTravis” was the name of the central character in the first two McDowell/Anderson collaborations, but he plays only a minor role in the ensemble cast here). Guess whether Travis gets a happy ending.

With the minor exception of a pair of royal protocol experts—a dwarf and a cross dresser—the arrogant and obsessed Professor Millar (Graham Crowden) is the strangest (and most fun) character in Britannia Hospital. His campy dialogue and reverence for “science!” make it seem like he’s stopped by on his way to the set of a Hammer Frankenstein picture to deliver his lines. His dastardly machinations even provoke an outrageous gore sequence, which further makes it seem like his character is on loan from a completely different movie. As for his final (and totally out-of-character) speech—the blank faces of the assembly reflect our own experience. We don’t know what to make of this “new beginning” he prophesies, or how in the world it is supposed to fit into the social satire that had been the movie’s currency up until this point.

I call the movie a satire because it mocks human vice, but Anderson’s outlook in Britannia Hospital is too bleak and hopeless to properly be described as satire. Satire implies a moral or political point of view; satire takes sides. The vision here is misanthropic and hopeless. The privileged upper classes are an easy target (the hospital harbors a cannibal, after all, just because he pays for a private suite). But we wouldn’t root for the lower classes, either. The union bosses are corrupt, hypocritical, and easily bribed. The mobs of protestors are willing to tear the innocent limb from limb along with the wicked. If they storm the hospital and overthrow the authorities, we are certain that the proletariat’s leaders will be no more virtuous than the current administration. The scorched earth tactics of both sides are tearing apart the hospital. It’s a naked power struggle: money on one side, numbers on the other. There are no good guys.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…another surreal Lindsay Anderson piece that takes many wild forays and yet still manages to come together as a whole in the end. This is as good, as clever, and as pointed as any of his better known stuff.”–Richard Winters, Scopophila (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Leo,” who said it “seems a bit odd.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEAR GOD, NO! (2011)

DIRECTED BY: James Anthony Bickart

FEATURING: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia LaCroix, John Collins, Shane Morton, Nick Morgan, Rusty Stache, Nick Hood, Jim Sligh, Rachelle Lynn, Jim Stacy

PLOT: The Impalers are a vicious motorcycle gang rampaging across the land indulging in drug trafficking and other antisocial behavior, like rape and nun killing. After a shoot-out in a strip club, they top off the party with a home invasion, whereupon their paths cross with a mad scientist, his daughter and associate. They plan a night of fun, with humiliation, rape and murder on the menu… but the scientist has something unexpected in the basement. Meanwhile, there’s something in the woods that’s killing animals and quickly working its way up the food chain…

Still from Dear God No! (2011)

COMMENTS: Dear God, No! (official site) is another throwback to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970’s, when political correctness didn’t exist. It goes balls to the wall with the 5 B’s of Exploitation Movies – Bikers, Bullets, Boobs, Blood, Beer – all of which are in ample supply… and adds another ‘B’ to the party – Bigfoot. Like most of the neo-grindhouse films, there’s lots of loving homage on display, and most of it is done very well. Unfortunately, DGN! falls into the same trap as most other trash throwback films do, that of overkill… everything is intentionally over the top, way too much to take really seriously or to really get offended by. There’s no real sense of transgression, which most of the actual 70’s grindhouse features actually had; and, most of the comedy and acting here is really labored. That said, on the technical side of things it’s good, solid low-budget work. It’s a fun ride, and it looks like the real thing—arrested adolescents will bow down in praise, feeling ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ for over an hour. Afterwards, they’ll be wanting something a bit more substantial. So will you, probably.

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)

DIRECTED BY: Joseph Green

FEATURING: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Leslie Daniels

PLOT: Against her wishes, a surgeon keeps his fiancée’s severed head alive while he searches for a new body for her.

Still from The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Brain that Wouldn’t Die bypasses the rational portion of the frontal cortex and directly stimulates the part of the brain that responds to misogynist daydreams and deformed mutants in closets. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a cheesy, sleazy 1960s b-movie, but Brain shows a shameless and deranged imagination that pushes it into the realm of the genuinely strange.

COMMENTS:”The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculation and often lose themselves in error and darkness,” says an assistant mad scientist by way of explaining a mutant to a detached head. “Behind that door is the sum total of Dr. Cortner’s mistakes.” Now, substitute “filmmaking” for “experimentation, “in this movie” for “behind that door” and “director Joseph Green” for “Dr. Cortner” and you have a perfect description of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. This simple story of Bill, a surgeon who tries to find a new body for the decapitated fiancée whose head he is keeping alive in a pan in his lab, could have made a forgettable matinee monster movie, but the tale takes so many illogical and ill-advised turns that it wanders off into a cinematic no-man’s land and winds up in a perversely fascinating sewer. Forget about the fact that the head—who is so chatty that Bill eventually has to put surgical tape over her mouth (!)—couldn’t talk without lungs; that’s only the most obvious of this movie’s many problems. People in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die act according to an alternative psychology that is bizarrely consistent with the movie’s need for sleaze, but in no way natural for human beings. When Bill’s beloved Jan loses her head, he demonstrates the movie’s theory that the first stage of grief is lust as he’s immediately off picking up strippers, cruising the streets leering at female pedestrians, and lurking around figure modeling studios looking for a suitable replacement body. He’s not just interested in finding just any body to save his love’s life as expeditiously as possible; he has to find a donor who’s stacked. It’s the perfect chance to upgrade! Fortunately for him, most of the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Norimizu Ameya, Yôta Kawase, Mika Kunihiro, Sosuke Saito

PLOT: In the midst of bizarre and intricate top secret drug research, four mad scientists run

low on test subjects and use one another as guinea pigs. Their equipment malfunctions as the team succumbs to the drug’s psychotic effects. The entire experiment spirals horribly out of control, turning the final test subject into a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster—with a unique twist.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The bizarre story, unconventional filming, and shocking imagery in Rubber’s Lover make it a weird viewing experience, even by the standards of the Japanese cyberpunk genre.

COMMENTS: Kinetic editing and dark, shocking images define this unusual, experimental Japanese horror film. In a modern update to the Frankenstein plot, a team of rogue scientists conduct experimental drug, sensory, and mind control research on abducted human subjects in a secret government torture lab. The results are promising, but they can’t seem to get the dose right; the subjects keep dying. (Who might have predicted that?) Worse, they are running out of hard-to-obtain “patients” and time is running out to conclude experimentation. Their horrifying lab is full of eerie black iron devices and electronics, all maddeningly grotesque in appearance.

Threatened with impending shut-down and loss of grants if they don’t achieve viable results soon, the crazy quartet decides to give their last living human guinea pig a mega dose of their weird drug cocktail. His brain explodes, dosing an assistant by spraying blood on him. Now the assistant is instantly addicted, semi-psychotic, and useless for being anything but, you guessed it, the next test subject.

The researchers fight over which of their two drugs they should test on him, as both have developed competing formulas. One decides to test his drug on his partner, turning the hapless associate into a mad sex offender who then marathon-rapes a female executive sent to shut down their lab. To prevent her leaving and making a bad report (why would she want to do that?) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Lang/(version prepared by Giorgio Moroder)

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: Freder, son of the man who rules Metropolis, discovers the plight of the subterranean

Still from Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis

workers who make the city run when he falls in love with a proletarian female preacher; his new lover is replaced by a robotic imposter who intends to lead the workers to ruin.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a powerful candidate for the List, but Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis isn’t.  Kino’s 2010 “Complete Metropolis” restoration is now the definitive version of the film; Moroder’s re-imagining, with its synth-pop soundtrack and vocal intrusions by 1980s rock acts like Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler and Pat Benetar, is a curiosity.

COMMENTS:  Set in a massive, mostly underground city that’s equal parts Futurist dreamscape and Babylonian pleasure garden, Metropolis is an unqualified, iconic Expressionist masterpiece, and if you want to turn down the sound and watch it while listening to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga mp3s, that’s not going to destroy its visual splendor.  Whatever questionable choices “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” composer Giorgio Moroder may have made with the proto-techno soundtrack that he added to this restoration (more on that score later), this Metropolis looks like it’s been struck from a pristine print, and it’s as feverishly hallucinatory as any other version.  The decision to tint most of the scenes works wonderfully (and may even have reflected Lang’s original wishes; tinting was not at all uncommon in 1927).  The colorization is tasteful and intelligent, with scenes on the surface bathed in radiant sepia, while the underground sequences utilize shadowy shades of steel blue and grey.  This process retains the film’s monochromatic scale, simply shifting the palette towards the blue or the amber spectrum.  Moroder added additional color effects for a few scenes; some of the equipment in mad scientist Rotwang’s laboratory glows with electricity, and when he transforms his robot into the image of Maria, the automaton’s eyes shine with an inhuman, metallic blue glint.  Because some segments of Metropolis were lost, Moroder also Continue reading CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

ROLAND WEST’S THE MONSTER (1925) STARRING LON CHANEY

The Monster (1925) is part of  the extensive Warner Archive Collection 2011 releases. This film, directed by Roland V. West and starring Lon Chaney, goes a considerable length to prove the adage that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Essentially, The Monster is the precursor for the tongue-in-cheek old-dark-house-with-malevolent-horror-star-as-host movie. Considerably later,Vincent Price and William Castle visited The Monster‘s familiar territory in the House on Haunted Hill (1959), a film that has become the stereotypical example of the genre.

Director Roland V. West revisited The Monster territory again in the following year’s hit, The Bat and, yet again with sound in The Bat Whispers (1930) (for which he is most remembered—well, he may actually be best remembered for giving  a deathbed confession that he murdered his girlfriend Thelma Todd).The Monster is the least known of West’s dark house trilogy and, although it is the weakest of the three, it retains interest for several reasons.

The Monster is an oddity in the way it uses star Chaney. Chaney’s body of work goes a considerable distance in debunking his reputation as a “horror” actor.  The few horror films Chaney appeared in are more aptly described as bizarre, densely psychological melodramas.  The Monster, however, could serve as a prototype for a genre celebrity in a B-movie parody. Chaney’s Dr. Ziska is strictly cartoon horror.  He could romp with Baron Boris in Mad Monster Party (1967), or brew up a Gossamer with Bugs in Hare-Raising Hare (1946).

Hick amateur Johnny (Johnny Arthur) has just gotten his detective license in the mail, just in time to try and solve a local whodunit disappearance. Johnny, the local nerd, has his eye on Betty (Gertrude Olmstead) but she’s on the arm of the local jock hero. If only Johnny could solve the case and win the girl. This setup leads the three teens to the local spooky house run by Dr. Ziska, a mad surgeon running a former sanitarium. Ziska is aided by caped ghoul who rolls imagined smokes and, with the aid of a mirror, plays saboteur to cars on lonely back roads. Ziska is also assisted by the hulking mute, Rigo.

Still from The Monster (1925)Trap doors, laundry chutes, secret basements and an electric chair are the props in West’s dream-world. Chaney’s Ziska is surprisingly foppish with smoking jacket, a flapper-like quellazaire, and a wayward eyebrow. Ziska wears a menacing grin at all times, making him a possible first member of a Grand Guignol Three Stooges which might include Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi in their lean salad days. Foppish or not, Ziska is man enough to get aroused when he straps poor Betty to the table. With Rigo’s Frankenstein monster-like presence, about the only thing missing is a Vampirella to play opposite Ziska’s Dr. Deadly.

The Monster is not great cinema, its not the best West, best Chaney, or best Old Dark House movie ( would deliver that seven years later), but it is silent pulp and, in the right mindset, it can take you back to the days of milk duds and acne.