[ SPOIL-O-RAMA, GUYS—DON’T CRY ABOUT IT—HAVE FUN WITH IT… ]
I’d been meaning to check these films out on my own for a while and had a set in my amazon wishlist waiting and ready when I saw this title in the list of choices of films to review. I called dibs and went immediately to amazon to grab this. So, just so I’m clear on what I’m working with, the set I now have is the Blue Underground set of all four Blind Dead films (and that Ghost Galleon that popped off its holder in transit better be watchable when I get to it…) and there is a decent amount of conflicting information (hence, the 1971/2 up top). This film is generally referred to as Tombs of the Blind Dead, but the disc in this set has two versions of the film—the first one I watched, La Noche Del Terror Ciego (The Night of the Blind Terror) is the original Spanish/Portuguese production title and cut; and The Blind Dead. Nowhere in the actual video material does it say the title I’ve always heard this film given, other than the box. Also, on the box it says it came out in 1971, but most other places say 1972. Continue Reading
October 16, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1972, blogging, Fright Fest, Fright Fest 2017, guest contributor, Horror, horror movie reviews, horror movies, movie review, Patrick Loveland, review, Tombs of the Blind Dead, undead, zombies, zompoc | Leave a comment
[ BIG SPOILERS—like, skip-to-the-number-score-if-you’re-actually-worried level spoilers ]
Okay, two things right out of the gate: this movie is terrible… but I’m going to explain to you why I feel (if you enjoy a certain level of badbad = goodgood) you should still watch it.
Also, it’s basically about mutant fish people raping women (when they aren’t killing everyone else to get to that) but seeing as how I highly doubt there are going to be humanoid fish people waddling out of the sea and actually raping anyone anytime soon, I’m not going to address that further in any serious way after this intro. I also won’t make a joke out of it, though, and you can call me what you like for that. Continue Reading
August 17, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1980, 1980 horror, Ann Turkel, Anthony Pena, B-horror, Barbara Peeters, classics horror, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, Doug McClure, fiction, film, film adaptation, Greg Travis, guest contributor, H.P. Lovecraft, horror movies, Humanoids from the Deep, Jimmy T. Murakami, Lovecraftian, Lynn Theel, monster movies, Movies, Patrick Loveland, Reviews, Vic Morrow | 1 Comment
[ SPOILERS ABOUND; also, PETTY, UNNEEDED LATERAL REFERENCES yaaay! ]
So back in the day, after his success fusing science fiction and horror with The Terminator (1984) and ALIENS (1986), James Cameron was shopping a treatment (not sure if it was one of his legendary ‘scriptments’) of his around Hollywood for a new original film called The Abyss. With these other two films under his belt—and possibly even his (false) start with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)—apparently several studios assumed he’d be using his vaguely revealed deep-sea setting to craft a horror film of some kind (or possibly knew it wouldn’t be, but made horror films anyway; but the assumption of horror was how it was told to me by an insider back in the dayday). While it was thrilling and suspenseful and had some spooky-ish setup moments, it was more of a survival action film driven ultimately by a well-guarded pure sci-fi premise.
Which brings me to why I am once again starting a review by talking about a film I am not reviewing—I chose to review DeepStar Six because I grew up watching it a lot and I wanted to revisit it, and it was one of the films produced at least in some small way in anticipation of competing with a Cameron epic deep-sea horror film (that doesn’t and never was going to exist). And when I first heard this story, I only knew about Leviathan (1989) and DeepStar Six…
There were three others made I only stumbled across when I first started researching for this review: The Evil Below (1989), Lords of the Deep (1989), and The Rift/Endless Descent (1990)—which was itself a low budget production also funded by Dino De Laurentiis, who had bankrolled the thematically similar Leviathan as well a bit earlier.
Okay, with that out of the way…
DeepStar Six is about a team of US Navy and civilian deep-sea workers setting up a prototype (?) nuclear launch platform on the ocean floor. They’re almost finished (and it’s established that this tour of duty has been longer than originally planned (im-por-taaaant).
While surveying the site they intend to erect the nuke platform on, they detect a cavern under it. The leader of the project on the civilian end decides it should just be… collapsed… or… something? So, they send a couple guys out to do that. That goes poorly.
Then, they…….. Okay, naw. I have to skip to just reviewing because—review spoiler—this one is not really worth a lot of analysis. I can’t fight my urge to talk trash within the summary, so that’s a bad sign.
Okay, I’ll be honest—I’d watched this movie in double digits when I was younger (my older brother chastising me about that fact every time he witnessed it) and even I remembered it not being great, but I was genuinely surprised on this viewing how well it holds up… for just about the first half.
We’ll return to that magical second half, believe me.
But the first half works.
The characters are introduced naturally enough and all seem to have their place in the station teams and such. Our focus characters are a submarine pilot, McBride—Greg Evigan (mostly of My Two Dads fame to me personally, other than this movie)…
…and another crew member, Joyce (whose role isn’t super clear. Her job puts her in close proximity to this sub pilot, which leads to their joint introduction being intimate and post-coital. It’s established that sub pilot has never been married because he couldn’t find a woman who would put up with his demanding schedule and all that. She practically beams with desire to assure him that wouldn’t be a problem for her—seeing as how they’ve been getting close on the regular and they do the same kind of work, I’d assume.
But no—he’s a loner Dottie… a rebel.
Other than that, we’ll go fast and loose. The jerky head of the project mentioned earlier, Van Gelder (Marius Weyers), decides to collapse the chamber under the chosen nuke erection site, ignoring Scarpelli’s (Nia Peeples) expert opinion—and hope—that they could find sea life that had been cut off from the rest of the ocean and evolved on its own in parallel. So, long story short… two other minor characters (pleasantly and charmingly played by Thom Bray and Ronn Carroll) blow the cavern, then guide a remote down into it and lose it. They detach their sub from the cat style threaded base and go down into the cavern.
Well, Scarpelli was right!—and we really, really know that because of her lengthy explanation, that is all but crosscut with this scene and also happens to be completely accurate somehow.
The two most fun characters in the film are immediately murdered by… something mysterious…
Said mystery creature then attacks a forward station staffed by Joyce and the probably-Russian Burciaga (Elya Baskin), crippling that station and causing McBride and the tragically underused but great Taurean Blacque as station commander Capt. Laidlaw—although, now that I think about it, his character gets to do something noble and dramatic in the last decent scene in the film so it works out better for him all around—to take a sub out to see why the forward station isn’t responding.
They hook the sub to the damaged, tilting-on-precipice-of-the-deepdeep forward station—‘cause golly, McBride is just the best—and use a manual bypass lever to go inside the station. They find Joyce and a just-dead Burciaga. While leaving, the manual lever inexplicably slips its notches and slams down onto Laidlaw’s midsection, breaking his back. They try to save him, but Laidlaw sees they’re all going to die if he doesn’t do something—so he presses a manual flood of the station, drowning himself and forcing the others to swim for it.
-[ rough mid-point; end of relative goodness ]-
Now that I’ve ruined the decent build-up parts… I’m going to go into a hard nutshell on this one.
After that mid-point, this film is, frankly, a mediocre one-plot time trials race to the bottom of fake-as-hell looking ocean floor. And that’s a snide reference to how some of the deep sea miniature effects are pretty cool… then this one recurring ‘set’ ruins those by being so murky as to look like a VHS transfer to 35mm for some sort of deliberate ‘realism’. Blargh, I say… Blargh and such.
After realizing there is something quite deadly lurking about and killing whatever is moving and/or lit up, they decide to secure the site and leave for the surface.
My favorite actor and character in this film is Miguel Ferrer/Snyder, and that’s for good reason. If you watch this film for no other reason, it should be Snyder’s jerky selfishness and telegraphed need to leave the DeepStar Six station ASAP becoming a bumbling, death-causing, drug-induced psychosis-fueled exodus—and resulting death-splosion of human jam.
Buuut before all that scene-chewing goodbadness, the biggest bullshit thing they make this character do is completely misunderstand the commands their super-secret nuclear erection control computer is presenting him. Van Gelder tells Snyder to ‘secure’ the nukes or something to that effect. While going through the procedure—and highly stressed from being undah dah sea too long, as well as the mystery creature attacks, and completely alone, I might add—he misinterprets the questions and options and basically tells the computer that Russians are trying to take the nukes… So it detonates them.
That goes poorly for good ol’ DeepStar Six station, and after that, Snyder had basically doomed them all (except for the ones who sort-of-secretly like touching each other, and as we find out, literally destined to be together…)
Other than that…?
There’s a pretty gnarly guy-in-diving-suit-gets-bitten-in-half scene—not many of those around. Then Nia Peeples gets eaten in the least convincing death in the movie (which is saying something).
The on-site doctor, Norris (Cindy Pickett)—who also seemed to be the only semi-sympathetic character to the perpetually-losing-it Snyder—goes down in a blaze of… Well, she uses a defibrillator to electrocute the monster—wait, no. She electrocutes a huge amount of water to electrocute the enormous arthropod thing.
There’s also some bullshit late in the move about Joyce hearing God voices or some shit and feeling super-sure everything’s just gonna be peachy. I am not kidding.
Then the true-er-ish climax of the film is of course a desperate battle against the not-actually-dead monster at the ocean surface—that is so badly presented I just… I just can’t, you guys. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Okay, have you ever seen Game of Death? That one shot where it’s obviously a promo shot of Bruce Lee himself used as a bad matte over a shot of the body double guy?
This last part is worse than that.
It also reminds me of another film—but in that film, the fake background was intentional and part of the point.
WHAT I LIKED:
-The Creature. It’s actually pretty well done and seems to be a decently researched representation of a Eurypterid or other big arthropod from the WayWay Back. I almost added a point back in for the overall quality of the monster… but the script failed it badly enough I just can’t.
-Miguel Ferrer, but I always do.
-The two guys who bite it first are fun to watch.
-Some of the miniatures and underwater pieces are well done.
-Greg Evigan does a pretty good job, if I’m being honest.
-Nia Peeples ‘Scarpelli’ is adorably earnest in a pretty wasted role.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-The second half is mediocre at best and sometimes painful to watch—for all the wrong reasons.
-I decided not to even go into all the subtle and not-so-subtle limp parallels and visual/scene nods to ALIENS because I already talk about those movies too much and they’re just transparent and weak.
-The last fight scene with the monster is unforgivably cheesy and bad
-Said last scene is immediately followed by (what at least feels like) a ten second shot of the Joyce actress standing and looking at where she’s sure her lover just sacrificed himself to save her… and her diamond-hard nipples are framed prominently in the shot. I actually laughed at how long and obvious the shot was—not the emotion I think they wanted me to feel in that scene.
-Oh and then they rip off fucking JAWS by having McBride burst to the surface behind her, splashing around amidst the debris of the exploded sub… thing… I’m done with this trash movie. Ugh
I’ll give DeepStar Six………5.0/10 (added a full point because I loved Miguel Ferrer; RIP, good sir)
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, was released June 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/ Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/
You can ORDER A TEAR IN THE VEIL FOR on Amazon for $14.99!!
June 15, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1989, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, cult film, DeepStar Six, Elya Baskin, film, Greg Evigan, Guest author, Horror, horror movie reviews, horror movies, Miguel Ferrer, monster movies, movie reviews, Nancy Everhard, Nia Peeples, ocean monsters, Patrick Loveland, Reviews, Sean S. Cunningham, Taurean Blacque, terror, thriller, underwater | 5 Comments
[WARNING: EXTREME DIGRESSIONS, LATERAL ASSOCIATIONS, AND UNSOLICITED MUSINGS FOLLOW] To start, a confession—as much as I enjoy Italian horror (and horror in general), I’m not sure if I’d ever seen one of Mario Bava’s films in its entirety [preemptive update: since choosing this film for review and watching it through a couple times, I coincidentally had the pleasure of finally watching Blood and Black Lace at a good friend’s birthday movie party]. I’d seen a few of his son Lamberto’s, but looking over the Elder Bava’s filmography I couldn’t honestly say I could attach a title listed to a film I could clearly remember. My early days of watching Giallo and other types of Italian horror coincided with attending art/film school in San Francisco, so you’ll have to forgive my own uncertainty—as I wasn’t always completely sober while viewing a great deal of the offerings from “Le Video” and other VHS-lined halls of magical filmic goodness. I’m much clearer on the Argento, Soavi, and Fulci (my personal favorite) films I devoured at the time, but there were others that, for whatever reason, remain a vague blur.
So, why did I choose this film of all films? Second confession—if you know me this won’t come as too big a shock, but I’m borderline obsessive about the Alien film franchise. It is taking a considerable effort to not expand upon that statement with the finer distinctions I make between the different film entries, EU comics, novels, games, etc. and their varying levels of individual quality. You’re welcome (just trust me… you’re welcome). Simple version—I like Alien-related things that are good.
Okay, I’ll just cut to it—I chose Planet of the Vampires for review because Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive) said this recently while introducing a new 4k print of Planet at Cannes as a “Cannes Classic”:
“Planet of the Vampires” is the film that Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon stole from to make ‘Alien.’ We found the elements, we have the evidence tonight. This is the origin!”
Could it be that a film I hold so close to my heart could have pilfered from another film openly, or at least been heavily influenced? I was torn by this… so this review will be a bit torn. I’m going to abandon the regular review what-I-liked/didn’t-like format I would do and try something different. I ended up watching the film twice, with two mindsets—first, looking for connections to Alien. Then, as its own film (which would’ve been impossible for me the first time, feverishly Alien-crazed as my feeble mind tends to be).
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS POSSIBLE ALIEN INSPIRATION/SOURCE MATERIAL:
I’d heard in the past that Alien strongly resembled another film, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, but still haven’t watched that due to stumbling onto some images of the creature in the film—it… didn’t do much for me. That’s unfair, I know, but it’s hard when you’ve been spoiled (and scarred) by the diseased mind of a brilliant Swiss dark surrealist like Giger. Planet of the Vampires intrigued me for different reasons.
The Wikipedia article for Planet’s “Influence” page states that Ridley Scott (director of Alien) and Dan O’Bannon (main writer of Alien; co-written with Ronald Shusett, then revised heavily by Walter Hill and David Giler before being rolled back some), had stated they’d never seen Planet before making Alien. From what I know of Scott, that wouldn’t surprise me. After some snooping, though, I discovered some different things about O’Bannon’s history with it.
O’Bannon is quoted as saying he was ‘aware’ of Planet but didn’t feel like he’d ever watched all of it. He also says that he thought about Forbidden Planet (a classic I’m more familiar with) way more than It! while writing Alien. His approach seemed to be to make the ultimate scary-monster-on-a-ship movie, pulling from a lifetime of Sci-Fi film watching—something crystallized in this quote: “I didn’t steal from anybody—I stole from everybody!”
So, where does this Planet/Alien comparison—that I’ve now stumbled onto many times while researching this review—come from?
Planet of the Vampires starts with two ships (Argos and Galliot) in space near a planet. They discuss a signal they’ve been monitoring from an unknown origin somewhere down on the surface. A powerful force grabs their ships and exerts an incredible force on them, pulling them down into the planet’s atmosphere. They are set down in a strangely gentle fashion after such powerful artificial force. Upon touching down all but the captain of the Argos go mad, immediately attacking him and each other. He’s able to smack sense into most of them, and then he and a crew member chase the still-crazed doctor out onto the spooky planet surface. After he is released from whatever mysterious power had hold of him, the captain sends him back inside.
So far we have a mysterious planet (large moon in Alien, but close enough), a signal of unknown origin, and a rocky, dark planet surface. Okay, I see that. This is followed by a dangerous trip across the spooky, dark planet’s surface to investigate the fate of the Galliott. The Galliott’s crew are mostly dead, with a few missing.
There’s a decent chunk here with nothing comparable, then they find a third ship near the Argos while doing a survey, and a few of them go to investigate. So we also have space-suited ship crew investigating a planet’s surface, only to find a… “alien” ship. Not only that but the remains of said alien crew are skeletons of humanoids of great size—possibly up to three times that of an average human.
I see where this is going… These basic elements (and that they later take off, with malicious stowaways aboard) are similar between the two films, and from what I’ve come across the imagery of the skeletal alien crew is one of the strongest “gotcha!” things for those who feel Alien was directly influenced by Planet, due to the similarity to the former film’s “Space Jockey”/ “Pilot” scene.
But Planet was not the only film about a crew touching down on a spooky planet, finding weird things, and leaving with something that wasn’t exactly pleasant in their ship. Other than It! The Terror From Beyond Space, the director of another Sci-Fi movie called Queen of Blood, Curtis Harrington, is quoted as saying he felt the makers of Alien most likely had been heavily inspired by his film—due to it also having that same rough barebones plot. I’m no expert, but I’m sure there are at least a few other Sci-Fi films from before Alien’s late 1970s writing and production that could be boiled down to the same basic structure.
Also, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is the closer film to the follow-through of Alien by default—Planet doesn’t have what you would call a “creature” per se. There is a zombie- or revenant-like reanimation and possession that takes place, followed by more insidious mimicry of human behavior. I’d go so far as to say Planet’s last act more closely resembles John Carpenter’s The Thing in its emphasis on paranoia and mimics trying to use their human hosts’ technology to their advantage—that is if The Thing was also missing its well-loved practical creature effects. Giger’s nightmarish creations were undoubtedly a huge part of Alien’s power and success as a film. There is nothing like that in Planet of the Vampires.
To sum up my thoughts, I feel like it’s a little unfair to say Alien stole from anyone Sci-Fi film—it appears to have been more of a loving potpourri of elements from many earlier Sci-Fi films with attempts of their own at claustrophobia and scares. The setup of Alien is not its greatest strength and is its least original aspect. Thankfully, it more than makes up for that in the realms of atmosphere, design, special effects, acting, genuine fear, and well-earned and -executed scares.
Valaquen at Strange Shapes, a favorite blog of mine as an Alien series fan, puts it best I feel with this line: “The story of the Nostromo could easily be that of the Demeter, the ship that Dracula stowed upon on his way to London.”
It’s not the bare-bones plot, but what they did with it that made Alien groundbreaking and frightening.
Whereas the legacy of Planet of the Vampires is cheapened by it being treated as a footnote in the history of Alien. I honestly wish I’d heard of it in a different context. Which leads me to…
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS A FILM ON ITS OWN TERMS:
As stated above, the film begins with two ships in space. Well, it starts with a title sequence with some pleasant spacy shots. Then, we see the two ships. Right off the bat, it’s clear we’re in for a B-movie affair of some kind, as the model work for the ships and space background is done well enough, but leaning toward cheap and a bit cheesy. This isn’t a strike against the film coming from me, for the record. A shot focused on a bright section of one ship model dissolves into a shot of space out through a circular ship bridge area, the camera tilting down to show more examples of what I’ve learned Bava was known for—getting the most out of low-budget production values. Large banks of glowing, pulsing readouts and other kinds of equipment are seemingly lit in such way as to make it less clear how much empty space the set actually has. This could also have been a stylistic choice, but I have a feeling I’m not entirely wrong either way.
Then we are treated to one of my favorite things about this film—the costuming. The crew spacesuits are dark, form-fitting, and sleek, with bright orange trim. One has to imagine that—and this is really the last Alien-ish part, I swear—whether or not Ridley Scott had ever seen Planet before making Alien, he’s seen it since, and wanted to either poke some fun at that or make a genuine homage.
My only complaint is they only wear their snazzy bright yellow helmets in the scene I mentioned earlier where the captain and a crewman chase the doctor out onto the planet surface after they touch down. They make great paperweights for the rest of the film, sitting on flat surfaces all over the Argos and Galliot just looking cool and not helping the space adventurers breathe safely.
The sets are also really well done. The interiors are deliberately minimal and have glowing and blinking machines placed strategically. But where the sets really impress is the exterior planet shots. A thick ankle-deep fog blankets the planet surface, swirling around at every step that breaks it. Rocky outcroppings, spires, and crags on the planet surface look suitably natural and menacing. Lava patches are well-executed with superimposition and matting. The ships’ implied sizes are reinforced by landing supports and airlock set constructions. The airlock hatch mechanics are smooth and believable. There’s a weight to their use that feels right as if they’re part of a large vessel and not a cheap suggestion of one.
Also, the use of the different sets and camera tricks gives the planet a good sense of size. They have to travel good distances between ships and don’t just jump around through editing.
Photographic effects bring the sets together and make the planet surface feel dangerous and foreboding, and this otherworldly feel is consistent. Optical printer post-production slo-mo is used to give the rising of a few dead Galliott crew members a strange and menacing feel.
The atmosphere, in general, is fantastic. The planet is mysterious and spooky, even before they find the remnants of the alien presence. The open interiors of the ships go from comforting chambers of safety to increasingly empty areas hiding possible terrors around every corner.
A lot of the heavy lifting for the atmosphere is the lighting. Having now seen Blood and Black Lace since deciding on Planet for this review, I can definitely express with confidence that Bava’s lighting is my favorite thing about his films (so far; I have much more to watch). Those two films have different cinematographers, but Bava seemed to have a strong enough sense of light and color that it was dictated at a directorial level. His bold, almost garish color choices are toned down some in Planet, going for darker, cooler colors than the bold reds and violets he plays off the darkness in Blood. There is some of that in Planet, though, when the reluctant planet explorers are traversing the surface and having to climb over and around lava flows.
He also uses a nice trick, backlighting the rocky set pieces from a distance, suggesting either light poking in through the thick atmosphere or unseen moons or other celestial bodies throwing light from afar. But the surface areas are dark, mostly lit up by lava or eerie, dim fill lighting. These two things contrast nicely.
The performances are pretty good too. According to Wikipedia (don’t hate), Barry Sullivan was the only actor speaking English, Norma Bengell (a Brazilian) spoke Portuguese, and the rest of the international cast spoke their own languages—not understanding each other as they performed.
I knew that most of the voices were dubbed, but wouldn’t have guessed they were so disconnected. They all perform well together. There are some “scream queen” worthy moments and some pleasantly hammy, scenery-chewing moments (unintentionally amplified by the dubbing, I’d say).
There’s even a twist ending. I won’t spoil the specifics, but whether you end up unsure if it was tacked on or not (as I still am), it gives the whole thing a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits outro feel.
As I expressed above in detail, I doubt this film was a huge influence on Alien directly. On its own merits, I really enjoyed it. It’s a straight-faced sci-fi/horror piece with great use of budget and plenty entertainment value. Or as the original trailer dubs it…
I’ll give Planet of the Vampires…………….7/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, The Sirens Call Ezine by Sirens Call Publications, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/ Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/
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October 25, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1965, Alien, Aliens, Barry Sullivan, color, Evi Marandi, film, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Guest author, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, Horror, horror reviews, Mario Bava, movie reviews, Norma Bengell, Patrick Loveland, Planet of the Vampires, Reviews, sci fi, science fiction, science fiction fantasy, space | 1 Comment
Taking a cue from the original The Invisible Man, the Return seems to keep with that same breakneck speedy opening, forcing the audience to catch up as the story progresses rather rapidly. I’m not sure if I was just totally exhausted before watching this movie last night, but it took me a while to figure out what was going on and who was who. Sure. It doesnt take Sir Sherlock Holmes to figure what the scientist is doing, or when the guards in the prison discover the remnants of Mr. Griffin’s clothes on the floor. It did take me though almost half the move to realize who Cedric Hardwicke was playing as. Was this intentional or just the style of classic Invisible Man tropes? Who knows. What I did enjoy, other than the superb acting on all fronts, was the overall deeper theme of the movie, much like the predecessor, The Invisible Man Returns discusses the ugliness of people when they’ve shed their masks, or keeping to the movie, when the masks become invisible. Who are we when our actions are no longer accountable? Similar, one might say, to the even more classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the abominable Mr. Hyde glares into the mirror and howls, “Free! I’m free at last!” Well, before I start rambling off topic, let me close my statements by saying that I did enjoy The Invisible Man Returns, the acting was a pleasure watching, both the voice acting of Vincent Price and the always impressive Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would go on to play in another Invisible Man tale in Invisible Agent, and in The Ghost of Frankenstein. But the movie did drag on a bit, especially in the middle, and it didn’t have the same bite as the original. Okay, I’ve said my peace, and without further delay…let us see what our special guest has to say.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
By Patrick Loveland
[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A 76 YEAR OLD FILM, AN 83 YEAR OLD FILM, AND A 119 YEAR OLD NOVEL]
I’ll start spoiling right out of the gate by clearing up something I’d wondered myself when Thomas allowed me to choose this film—how could The Invisible Man return? He’d died at the end of the novel and the 1933 film based on it that this film was made to be a sequel to. So, I’ll explain it sooner than the film does—Jack Griffin, The Invisible Man from the first film did indeed die at the end. Griffin’s brother Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) has been hand-waved into existence—having worked on the invisibility experiments with Jack (named John when referenced in this film), of course—and uses his matching knowledge of invisibility to help a lovely young woman and friend named Helen Manson (Nan Grey) free her fiancé, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), from death row for a crime he didn’t commit (the murder of his brother). There, now we’re on the same page. I actually enjoyed the vagueness of the situation in the film’s early parts, but found it was a bit too vague about the character relationships as it went on, until about—
Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Alright, so…
The Invisible Man Returns was written by Curt Siodmak and Lester Cole, and directed by Joe May as a sequel to Universal’s popular earlier film, The Invisible Man, which was based on the novel by H.G. Wells. One thing that’s interesting to me about this sequel is that instead of the Invisible Man in this story being mostly concerned with curing himself of his invisible state, this character has been convinced by Griffin that the process can be easily reversed after his escape. That allows him to focus on clearing his name and getting revenge for his wrongful imprisonment.
The film begins in Radcliffe Manor’s kitchen with the servants looking morose as they bicker over the possible guilt and approaching state-implemented death of Sir Radcliffe.
Then we transition to Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) resting his chin on his hand atop a high chair back, watching something with obvious fascination. Helen Manson sits across the room from him on a couch, almost catatonic from worrying about Sir Radcliffe, her fiancé—as Cobb practically ogles her.
Helen rises from the couch and opens the room’s curtains in a shot that seems (to me) to be a visual nod to the intro scene in the first film, wherein Griffin closes the blinds and curtains in a deliberate fashion in the parlor he’s just begun renting.
Dr. Griffin arrives and he and Helen convince Cobb to call one last influential friend in hopes of stopping Radcliffe’s execution. The friend is away, Cobb says after hanging up.
Having failed to stop the execution of his friend, Griffin visits him in his cell. Radcliffe is given the invisibility agent and escapes his cell, probably as the guard who was in it with him opens to door to yell that he’s disappeared.
Radcliffe escapes the prison through the countryside and after some travel naked and on foot, reaches Dr. Griffin’s cabin in the woods and the waiting Helen. They meet and talk. The caretaker brings some food and catches Radcliffe with his dark glasses removed, eye holes in his bandage wrappings gaping and empty. After being rushed out, the caretaker calls the police and one policeman arrives. Radcliffe argues with him and closes the door. Radcliffe quickly gets undressed, causing a turned away Helen to faint when she peeks at him, seeing the strangeness of his invisibility herself for the first time. Radcliffe escapes.
Griffin experiments in his lab above the Radcliffe mining operation, turning an invisible guinea pig visible again. Shortly after turning, it dies painfully. Radcliffe arrives and they talk. Then a man comes by to harass Griffin and Radcliffe watches this, hidden in plain sight as he is.
I’m going to stop there because this film really is worth watching yourself, no question.
What follows is an investigation by Radcliffe/The (new) Invisible Man into who actually killed his brother, complicated by the horrible side effect of the invisibility agent—madness. Dr. Griffin is in a race against time and Radcliffe’s ever-growing madness—and escalating violence—to cure the invisibility he knowingly “saved” him with.
First let me Disclose with Extreme Fullness that I’m not well-versed on Universal Monsters. Before this, I’d seen a handful of the films (including The Invisible Man), but it had been decades since I had. At this point I’ve seen more Hammer films, but both houses have their own charms. I blame growing up in the 1980s and being terrified, chilled, horrified, and thrilled by the likes of Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Predator, Terminator, the Of The Dead trilogy, An American Werewolf in London, and many other films from the heyday of practical creature and makeup effects. I got it into my head, as many other young’ns like myself seemed to, that “old” movies were just totally corny and had little to offer, horror or otherwise—something I’ve heard younger people now expressing about those same 70s and 80s films I hold as a high water mark, with their “bad special effects”… Harumph!
It took a few friends and teachers in art/film school to open my mind to older films, one showing me things like The Lady From Shanghai and Sunset Boulevard, and another showing me one (because it was her father’s favorite film, so I had to like it (or be able to act like I did)) that would from that day on be a genuine favorite, The Third Man. Then came the film that convinced me all older horror and sci-fi films weren’t (fun but) cheesy and quaint, The Thing From Another World. Sure, I’m not fond of the actual creature effects in that one, but damn is it thick with tension and atmosphere (as it should be coming from the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—which had a better creature they probably couldn’t have done justice to anyway). I saw Carpenter’s take on the novella first as a boy and it destroyed me and will always be my preference, but I was really impressed how well everything other than the actual creature held up in this first version/“original”.
Soooo, all that leads to me saying that even with my general open-mindedness at this point for older horror and sci-fi films, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed this one. Maybe it was its sequel-to-an-iconic-classic status, or that it had a different lead actor. Possibly my confusion as to how there could be a sequel. Something had me uneasy about it. Gladly, other than some vagueness in the early parts that I’ve covered, I was very pleasantly surprised.
WHAT I LIKED:
Vincent Price, starting as a man given a new lease of life, then progressing through madness and murderous rage toward his ultimate goal. All of the main actors did well, actually. Other than Price, I’d say my favorite performance was Cecil Kellaway’s, as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Sampson. I also liked Nan Grey as Helen. I wasn’t familiar with her and was quite fond by the end.
The special effects were genuinely impressive. I’m not unfamiliar with practical trickery and old school post-production image manipulation, but there are shots where I really couldn’t begin to figure out on my own how they’d pulled them off. A favorite of mine is when Inspector Sampson is trying to calm Cobb down after escaping the invisible Radcliffe in an upstairs room. Sampson’s been giving people cigars the whole movie, so he gives one to Cobb as he smokes his own.
The inspector finishes a sentence, takes a big pull off his cigar, and blows it to the side of them—exposing the vague outline of a human form where nothing is visible, then that form turns its only-now-visible head. The smoke wafts around perfectly, suggesting the form without being too clear. I have to assume this shot and the next sequence I’ll describe were very influential on the obvious, loose Invisible Man remake, Hollow Man. More than the original film even.
My favorite chunk of the film begins with this blown smoke effect, which also touches on my favorite thing about the film—use of particles and other things to make the Invisible Man somewhat visible. After the inspector blows his cigar smoke at the invisible Radcliffe, he goes for a judo dive to grapple him into submission and make the big arrest. He misses and Radcliffe hides again, possibly in plain sight once more, but the inspector’s suspicions are confirmed—the man is actually invisible, and he can be seen with environmental tricks.
As rain pours down, Inspector Sampson receives special equipment delivery and has a team of policemen don gasmask rigs and smoke-throwers, then fill the house they’re in with fog machine-like smoke. Radcliffe had escaped out into the rainstorm apparently, because two police see his outline—from rain pelting his naked body—as he sneaks back in through a side door to the building Cobb is being held in.
Once inside again, we see the heavily geared policemen advancing down a corridor, smoke pouring from their throwers. A shot from behind them shows the smoke-outlined body of Radcliffe attack a policeman, knocking him out and disappearing into a room with him.
We move to Helen, worried as always. One of the geared, gasmask wearing policemen approaches her in a hallway, Radcliffe using the body and head covering gear of the man he knocked out to be invisible in a different way.
I love that whole sequence and wish there was a bit more of that kind of cleverness throughout.
Also, it’s actually pretty funny if you pay attention to the way things are phrased at certain points.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
Vincent Price takes top spot here as well, but not because he isn’t good. As a man wronged and trying to make things right, he does a fine job balancing that with the madness and anger the invisibility agent causes. I think I just really loved the barely-contained rage and Claude Rains’ delivery in the first film, as I feel it captured the novel’s Griffin really well. I know this is a different character, but I also felt this character was a little more light-hearted, then almost comically maniacal at times with barely any attention paid to transition. Which leads to my other issue…
Things happen a little too easily or conveniently sometimes. Even the best shot, the smoke blowing reveal, is a little too easy. How did the inspector know he was there? They also set up him giving cigars to at least two people, but I’m not sure if that was just to call attention to his own smoking so it would be in the audience’s mind in time for him to execute his brilliant smoke maneuver.
The pacing and build. It’s not boring before it, but things don’t really pick up until almost exactly halfway through the film. I understand the classic script structure halfway point power swap aspect, but in this it dramatically improves the film overall, instead of strengthening the arc of the protagonist in an already interesting plot. Radcliffe starts investigating who actually killed his brother, starting with a drunk former night watchman named Willie Spears (Alan Napier, in a fun performance) who Cobb has made superintendent of the Radcliffe mining operation. This is also where the audience starts to be shown possible motivations of those who have framed Radcliffe. It doesn’t ruin it, but this half and half feeling leads to an uneven presentation, even with rising action taken into account.
The ending. As I said, spoilery is my stock-in-trade today. Griffin dies in the first story, beaten by a mob in the novel, and shot in the film. His body is revealed after death, which I feel is poetic and tragic and part of why it works well. In The Invisible Man Returns, as far as we are shown, Radcliffe lives and there’s swelling music and it’s a relief and all that (even though Frank Griffin just said Radcliffe would die without surgery, but that’s none of my business…). I’m not saying I wanted a sad moral tale of an ending, but once again it did feel a bit too easy. I take into account that this character’s story is quite a different one with different motivations and crimes, as I said in the beginning myself, but something in-between might’ve felt more appropriate for the tone they’d set as the film went on.
This film is entertaining, decently thrilling, has fantastic special effects, and has some genuinely funny moments sprinkled in too.
I’ll give The Invisible Man Returns 7/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and shorter prose fiction. He also draws somewhat disturbing imagery on Post-its. By day, he schedules classes, helps instructors get set up for class sessions, possibly draws said weird Post-its, and moves many furniture’s at a state college in Southern California where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in late 2016 by April Moon Books. You can connect with Patrick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/ Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Or Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/
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July 20, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1940, author, Curt Siodmak, dark fiction, Guest author, H.G. Wells, Horror, horror reviews, movie reviews, Patrick Loveland, Radcliff, Reviews, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns, Universal Classics, Universal Monsters, Universal Monsters in Review, Universal Studios, Vincent Price | 4 Comments