Tag Archives: Public domain

CAPSULE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Schneider

FEATURING: Karl Hardman, Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea

PLOT: An animated recreation of the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated features a number of talented animators filtering Romero’s original vision through their own artistic viewpoints, expressing the universal messages therein in their own mediums.Still from Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  While aesthetically intriguing and at times very eerie, there never was much that jumped out as being incredibly weird about Romero’s zombie movie.  Although it was the first of its kind in what is now a celebrated genre, Night of the Living Dead was always more of a message film than a meditation on the dead rising from their graves.  This animated version does indeed add some visual quirks, but there is no real strangeness here.

COMMENTS:  For fans of the zombie film, it doesn’t get much more better than the simple-yet-satisfying claustrophobia of the grandpappy of them all, Night of the Living Dead.  More than a horror flick, this grainy 1968 indie is a meaningful, smart work of art that pushes the boundaries of what the genre is capable of and what it can stand for.  So above any horror I can think of, this one definitely deserves an animated homage that explores it from a stylistic point of view.  And Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated doesn’t disappoint in that department.

Using a cadre of young, experimental artists, this exercise explores the original movie nearly shot-for-shot with different styles of animation.  The styles are incredibly varied: parts are simply still images, sometimes it’s a comic book-style series of cels, while at other times it takes on an anime quality. One artist takes the real footage from the film and animates over it to generate an eerie reality that blurs the line between realism and otherworldliness. The different mediums at work boggle the mind; whether it’s claymation, pencil sketches, Flash cartoons, or sock puppets, this project has something to evoke just about anyone’s personal aesthetic. It’s amazing what the creators do here to make you think of the movie in a whole new way.  The different animators break from the stark reality of the original to steep the entire world in a haunting, eerie mood that was not there before.  My favorite style, personally, is when they use the real life baby dolls to simulate some of the action scenes!  It doesn’t fit well with the other styles to create that perfect sense of dread and the unknown, but it’s just too funny to leave out!

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is definitely a success in my book.  The unsettling black-and-white animation combined with the oddly displaced archive voices of the original actors creates a mesmerizing experimental film that goes beyond the norm and pulls off something that few people have.  The various styles of animation work fluidly together to pay homage as well as to press the boundaries of the original zombie survival template.  My only complaint would be that the ending is the most clinical part of the film, when I thought it should be a bit more erratic in style.  In those desperate moments before daybreak, Reanimated doesn’t hit any crescendo notes that the original did not already sound, making the last few scenes almost redundant if you’ve already seen NOTLD.  That caveat, compounded with this film’s lack of utter weirdness, knocks Reanimated out of contention for a spot on the List, although it must be considered one of the more impressive movies released in2010.

If you’re a fan of the original, or just a lover of experimental animation, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated has something for you.  It’s a very strong feature that builds upon Romero’s work with a love and a care that is both heartfelt and reverent.  Despite its lack of general weirdness, it is still one of the better films in a year devoid of cinematic life, and a must-have for any fans of the zombie sub-genre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an ideal midnight movie for film geeks who don’t mind the animators occasionally taking some liberties or tweaking the material.”–Rob Gonslaves, efilmcritic.com (contemporaneous)

RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL (1937)

This odd hybrid could only have been produced in an era which gave no credence to genre labels.  Riders of the Whistling Skull is the kind of movie which is so delightfully in love with its period that one could easily imagine a true genre geek like Tarantino falling in love with it today.  Director Mack V. Wright is completely comfortable throwing horror, western, jungle, mystery and comic relief into a seamless mix.

The Three Mesquiteers (Bob Livingston, Ray Corrigan, and Max Terhune), for those not in the know, were the starring trio of a number of “B” westerns.  The well-photographed, well-paced Riders of the Whistling Skull is, by far, the best of these.  Pretty girl Betty Marsh (Mary Russell) is searching for her lost father, Professor Marsh (John Van Pelt), who, along with Professor Flaxton (C. Montague Shaw), has been kidnapped by a diabolical Indian cult.

Enter the Three Mesquiteers, who have found the injured Flaxton in the desert.  They take him to Miss Marsh.  Flaxton revives long enough to tell all that he and Professor Marsh found the lost city of Lukachukai (!) hidden deep in the region of the Whistling Skull Mountain.  Flaxton tells them of vast hidden treasures and of the unspeakable horrors of the ancient cult.  Before Flaxton can reveal the location of Lukachuka, the lights suddenly go out.  When the lights are turned back on Flaxton is discovered on the ground with a knife in his back.  Inscribed in the handle of the murder weapon is ancient Indian curse.  The mystery begins!

After a treasure map is discovered, The Mesquiteers join Betty and travel into dreaded taboo territory in order to find Professor Marsh and to uncover the identity of Flaxton’s murderer.  Shortly into the expedition, one member of the party is murdered, shot by an arrow inscribed with the same ancient Indian curse as the knife.  Another member of the party, Professor Fronc (George Godfrey) is kidnapped, tortured by Indians, and tied half naked to his horse, after being branded with the brand of the ancient Indian cult of Anastasia.
Still from Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937)
Silhouetted Indians atop Coachella Valley (atmospherically shot) attack the expedition with flaming arrows shot into the wagon, which of course, demands late 30’s, western-styled expert stunt work.  Betty goes missing in the ensuing chaos.  The Three Mesquiteers go out in search of her and find her in the middle of an ancient Indian cult ceremony.  Russell’s tight, white shirt competes with her equally tight slacks and the even tighter jeans of our three cowboy studs for inducing the most testosterone and smoldering sex appeal.  One halfway expects King Kong to come out of nowhere and seize the heroine from the clutches of the natives, but no such luck.  Never fear, because the Mesquiteers are old hands at heroically saving virginal heroines when danger looms.

When the expedition finds Whistling Skull, they stumble upon more killer natives, secret passage ways, living mummies, and Professor Marsh.  Corrigan wins the testosterone contest when he loses his shirt, bares his chest, fights off the cult, and saves pal Livingston.  The mystery is solved when the murderer is exposed.  Luckily, the Sheriff and his band have been following from afar.  They lend a hand in dealing with the murderer, defeating the natives, and surviving a terrible avalanche, all before the neatly wrapped last line of comedy relief.

The End.

59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

“There’s a rare kind of perfection in The Beast of Yucca Flats — the perverse perfection of a piece wherein everything is as false and farcically far-out as can be imagined.”–Tom Weaver, in his introduction to his Astounding B Monster interview with Tony Cardoza

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Coleman Francis

FEATURING: Tor Johnson

PLOT: Joseph Javorsky, noted scientist, defects to the United States, carrying with him a briefcase full of Soviet state secrets about the moon. Fleeing KGB assassins, he runs onto a nuclear testing range just as an atom bomb explodes. The blast of radiation turns him into an unthinking Beast who strangles vacationers who wander into the Yucca Flats region.

Still from The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Beast of Yucca Flats can always be found somewhere on the IMDB’s “Bottom 100” list (at the time the review was composed, it occupied slot #21).
  • All three of the films Coleman Francis directed were spoofed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000“.
  • Tor Johnson was a retired Swedish wrestler who appeared in several Ed Wood, Jr. movies. Despite the fact that none of the movies he appeared in were hits, his bestial face became so iconic that it was immortalized as a children’s Halloween mask.
  • All sound was added in post-production. Voice-overs occur when the characters are at a distance or when their faces are obscured so that the voice actors won’t have to match the characters lips. Some have speculated that the soundtrack was somehow lost and the narration added later, but shooting without synchronized sound was a not-unheard-of low-budget practice at the time (see The Creeping Terror, Monster A-Go-Go and the early filmography of ). Internal and external evidence both suggest that the film was deliberately shot silent.
  • Director Coleman Francis is the narrator and appears as a gas station owner.
  • Per actor/producer Tony Cardoza, the rabbit that appears in the final scene was a wild animal that wandered onto the set during filming. It appears that the feral bunny is rummaging through Tor’s shirt pocket looking for food, however.
  • Cardoza, a close friend of Francis, suggests that the actor/director may have committed suicide in 1973 by placing a plastic bag over his head and inhaling the fumes from his station wagon through a tube, although arteriosclerosis was listed as the official cause of death.
  • The film opens with a topless scene that lasts for only a few seconds; it’s frequently clipped off prints of the film.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats is believed to be in the public domain and can be legally viewed and downloaded at The Internet Archive, among other sources.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Tor Johnson, in all his manifestations, whether noted scientist or irradiated Beast; but especially when he cuddles and kisses a cute bunny as he lies dying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Coleman Francis made three movies in his lifetime, all of which were set in a reality known only to Coleman Francis. His other two films (The Skydivers and Night Train to Mundo Fine [AKA Red Zone Cuba]) were grim and incoherent stories of despairing men and women in desolate desert towns who drank coffee, flew light aircraft, and killed off odd-looking extras without finding any satisfaction in the act. Though his entire oeuvre was more than a bit bent by his joyless outlook on life, his natural affinity for the grotesque, and his utter lack of attention to filmic detail, this Luddite tale of an obese scientist turned into a ravening atomic Beast survives as his weirdest anti-achievement.


Trailer for The Beast of Yucca Flats with commentary from director Joe Dante (Trailers from Hell)

COMMENTS:  Touch a button on the DVD player. Things happen onscreen. A movie Continue reading 59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

CAPSULE: VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Bogdanovich (using the pseudonym Derek Thomas)

FEATURING: Mamie van Doren

PLOT: Three cosmo—I mean, astro-nauts—are sent to Venus to rescue two missing comrades,while Venusian blondes in seashell bras pester them from afar by sending volcanoes, thunderstorms and dinosaurs to hinder them.

Still from Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Prehistoric Women is a classic Frankenstein-film, stitched together from various pieces of footage lying around the studio. The movie was made from dubbed footage from the Soviet space opera Planeta Bur, some effects from a second Soviet science fiction film, new voiceover narration which changes the focus of the original plot, and added scenes shot years later featuring English-speaking actors. Not only is the discrepancy between film stocks, soundtracks and atmospheres disorienting, but the new footage of (top-billed) Mamie van Doren and other scantily clad, pterodactyl worshiping Venusian dames is itself bizarre. This makes Prehistoric Women a worthy curiosity, if one for specialized tastes. Unfortunately, the movie is neither entertaining nor demented enough to merit inclusion among the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Though it was seriously intended, the original 1962 Soviet space opera that forms the bedrock stratum of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women was not a great movie. Looking at it from a post-Cold War perspective, the most valuable thing about it is the revelation that, despite petty ideologically differences, the US and the USSR were not so different as we supposed at the time: both societies assumed that nearby planets in our shared solar system would probably be inhabited by dinosaurs. Technically speaking, the special effects are highly variable: the hovercar looks great, the giant-tentacled cosmonaut-eating Venus flytrap is not bad, the tin-can robot is standard Forbidden Planet surplus issue, and the men in dinosaur suits are as cheesy as anything you might see in a low-budget 1950s American sci-fi epic. The color, which was tinted from the original black and white, is extremely washed out in surviving prints, a look that producer and director Bogdanovich managed to keep consistent for the new sequences; or, maybe, the passage of time did their work for them. The muted colors add another layer of unreality to the film.

Looking at the original Soviet film, you have to believe that Corman was onto something: what this movie really needed was a bunch of sunbathing, telepathic, pterodactyl-worshiping sirens in skintight pants and clamshell bras to liven things up. The gratuitous mermaid babe sequences are the most memorable parts. Every time the explorers face an environmental Venusian threat like a volcano or thunderstorm, it turns out the ladies’ pagan ceremonies were the cause. Their siren scenes, which all take place on a single rocky beach, are accompanied by an eerie, wordless keening, and the fact that the prehistoric witches never speak except in voiceover does add a legitimately dreamlike feel to these sequences. Prehistoric Women is slow (and incoherent) by contemporary standards, but the patient viewer seeking a cinematic experience that’s the equivalent of a fractured dream half-remembered after falling asleep on the couch at 2 A.M. while watching a sci-fi marathon on a UHF station will find this to be mildly rewarding.

This was the ever-frugal Corman’s second attempt to recycle footage from Planeta Bur. In 1965 he released the same Russian footage, with different inserts, as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. The earlier film featured a few scenes of top-billed star Basil Rathbone as a mission control type back on earth, barking extraneous orders to the stranded cosmonauts that were relayed to them through yet another unnecessary character. Mamie and her buxom coven were a big upgrade over Basil, and not just in pulchritude; without the ridiculous Venusian siren subplot, Prehistoric Planet was a much duller experience, while remaining just as confusing.

Because Corman was too cheap to renew the copyrights on his 50s and 60s movies, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women fell into the public domain.  It can be found on many bargain-priced compilations or can be legally viewed or downloaded by anyone through the Internet Archive or other sites.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[the] very peculiar ending… has a weird B movie pulp poetry to it.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review (DVD)

CAPSULE: WHITE ZOMBIE (1932)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Victor Halperin

FEATURING: Bela Lugosi

PLOT: A Haitian plantation owner seeks the help of local witch doctor and zombie mogul ‘Murder’ Legendre (Bela Lugosi) to bewitch another man’s bride.

Still from White Zombie (1932)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTWhite Zombie can send quite the uncanny chill down your spine and is well worth a look for those seeking to soak up some classic Gothic atmosphere, but its weird elements are too submerged for it to make the List.

COMMENTS: Although talkies had been around for five years when White Zombie came out, the film is suffused with the sensibility of a silent movie, with the machinations of mustachioed villains causing damsels in flapper bobs to daintily faint.  The players still use the exaggerated facial expressions and physical gestures of actors used to conveying emotions by pantomime, and when they do speak, they over-inflect, as if concerned with projecting their words into the last rows of a theater.  This mannered, operatic style, where the characters magnify their fear, grief, malice and wonder in an recognizable but unnatural way, plays right into Bela Lugosi’s larger-than-life persona.  The Hungarian, here again the soul of suave degeneracy, dominates the proceedings in what may be the second best performance of his career.  In an era where we’ve become used to completely naturalistic performances and sets, White Zombie‘s primitive aesthetic seems romantic and, yes, a little weird; when this stately style is wedded to such a stark good versus evil storyline, the results can be magical, if you allow yourself to fall under its spell.  Even the grain in the picture, the hiss in the soundtrack, and the jumps where a few frames of film are missing add to the dreamlike effect. (Watching White Zombie, it’s easy to see how Guy Maddin became intoxicated with this era of film).  The narrative holds few surprises, there are dry patches, and the action climax isn’t exactly a thrill ride.  But White Zombie features many wonderfully disquieting moments that worm their way under your skin and make you squirm in your seat, including the Haitian funeral set to ancient African tribal chants and the damned souls powering the creaking mill wheel at Legendre’s sugar cane factory.

This was the first film to bring the Haitian idea of the zombie—a soulless, re-animated corpse brought to life by a combination of drugs and witchcraft—to the cinema.  Lugosi, just a year off Dracula, was a hot horror commodity but a notoriously bad businessman: he only received $800 for the role of Legendre. 

White Zombie is in the public domain and therefore can be found in many different DVD packages. The best picture comes from the restored Roan Group print (now released by Alpha Video). Although the source material used is not pristine, the best value is Mill Creek’s Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection (also containing Carnival of Souls and several other worthwhile titles, along with some stunning losers like Creature from the Haunted Sea). White Zombie is also in the public domain and can be legally viewed or downloaded for free at the Internet Archive.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Contemporary critics  found White Zombie childish, old-fashioned, and melodramatic.  They might have allowed that it was also a Gothic fairy tale filled with traditional symbols, dreamlike imagery, echoes of Romanticism, and (probably unintentional) psychosexual imagery.”–Carlos Clarens, An Illustrated History of Horror and Science-Fiction Films