Monday, 20 October 2014

They Saved Hitler's Brain (1969)

3.5 out of 10
According to the official version of history, with the Red Army advancing in Berlin, Adolf Hitler shot himself in his Führerbunker on the 30th of April 1945. However, this is, apparently, not correct. Because, in truth, what actually happened was that, just before the fall of Berlin, surgeons removed Hitler's head. The disembodied, re-animated Führernoggin was then, in a case of choosing his brains over his Braun, ensconced, still alive, in a jar. This allowed what remained of the former Reich Chancellor to be smuggled out of the country. Then he would be able to plot his revenge from the fictional South American state of Mandoras. So, who makes this claim? Former Julius Caesar director, David Bradley, that's who! Because, this is precisely what his film, Madmen of Mandoras, was about: a disembodied head of Hitler planning a second shot at world domination. Anyhow, it is the sixties. So that's precisely where our story begins: two decades or so, give or take, after the second world war. An American scientist named Professor John Coleman, who is played by minor character actor John Holland, has developed an antidote to a deadly poison gas that is apparently, and somewhat unimaginatively, known as G-gas. However, it turns out that this gas is central to the plans of a band of exiled Nazis, and Hitler's head. These angels of death plan to overthrow the world, while their beloved Führer barks his orders at them from within his jar. So, mankind is in real trouble here. Because, unfortunately, our scientist hasn't bothered to inform anyone of the findings from his research. Worse still, the professor only goes and gets himself kidnapped along with his cute, but daft, beatnikbabble spouting daughter. She is played by Patty star Dani Lynne, by the way, and the pair find themselves whisked off to the fictional South American state. Luckily, for professor and daughter, help is at hand. This is because his other, more coherent, daughter and his son-in-law, who works for C.I.D, are on the case. The pair, who are played by Audrey Caire and Walter Stocker, are coming to the rescue! Despite its unashamedly oddball premise, none of this turns out to be nearly as exciting as it sounds. Sure, as would be expected, there is a limited amount of fun to be had. Especially with the sight of a jibbing Hitler, in a jar, shouting stuff. But, sadly, “Schnell! Schnell!” proves to be his only dialogue of note. So, as a result, we are left only with a chance to watch the Führer twitching, grimacing and riding around, in his jar, on the back seat of a car. It is a shame but, despite the title, the mustachioed one, who is played by Bill Freed, only has a few minutes of screen time. Even this is not really used to that great an effect. As a result, Madmen of Mandoras turns out to be nowhere near as much fun to watch as the excellent and snarky “Jan in the Pan” re-animated head from The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Then again, those who are into cult cinema may, possibly, get something or other from the film. Fans of Batman may even find it fun to spot some filming locations from the television series. However, take away the cameo from Hitler's head and all that is left is little more than a slightly dull, occasionally confusing, run-of-the-mill political thriller. Of course, not everyone agrees. Indeed a company called Paragon Films would pick up this Crown International feature sometime in the latter half of the sixties. Furthermore, not only did Paragon seem to believe that the film would have a receptive television audience, but they would underscore this misplaced faith by getting some students to shoot a further half an hour, or so, of footage. Apparently, this was in order to produce something more appropriately timed for a two hour TV slot. Anyhow, the resulting nonsense would be called, drum roll please... They Saved Hitler's Brain. Unfortunately, despite one of the coolest titles in the history of filmdom, this version, that would be released in 1969, is pretty much unwatchable. Indeed, They Saved Hitler's Brain underscores the point that having a good title is not the same as having a good movie. You see, not only does the resulting mess make little sense but, an inappropriately funky soundtrack, variable film stock and the changes of hairstyles and clothes all serve to betray the fact that this is really nothing more than two distinct films, from two different eras, bolted together. Thankfully however, within half an hour, all the characters from the additional footage are dead. So, with this opening storyline left hanging, it feels as if someone has switched channel mid-movie. Thus, They Saved Hitler's Brain reverts, without much in the way of an explanation, to Madmen of Mandoras. Anyhow, They Saved Hitler's Brain may not be great, but at least, during the second half of the film, there is some decent, and stylish, Noir-style lighting and cinematography going on. This is due, of course, to Stanley Cortez of Night of the Hunter fame. Indeed, considering that this is, pretty much, balls deep into B-movie territory, the film, at least, is incredibly stylish at times. So, here, the film honestly looks far better than the story really deserves.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Bloodlust! (1961)

5.0 out of 10
Bloodlust! is a sort of a remake of the RKO pre-code classic The Most Dangerous Game. It was filmed during 1959, but not released until the early sixties. It was the only feature film directed by Ralph Brooke. In this adaptation of Richard Connell's short story, The Hounds of Zaroff, we see Wilton Graff adopting a Count Zaroff type role. He plays Dr. Albert Balleau. Balleau is a big game hunter. He is also wealthy enough to possess his own, private, topical island. Here he spends his spare time, along with his small band of Breton shirted henchmen, tracking and killing the wild animals that they import. But, now, he seems to have developed a passion for hunting people. However, this wasn't something he always liked to do. You see, Dr. Albert Balleau was once a museum curator. However, after spending the war as a sniper, a role he secured due to his “steady hand and keen eyesight”, he developed more sadistic tastes. He began hunting people for sport. However, Balleau has largely confined his activities to the sport of hunting criminals, the insane, and others who would not have really been missed. Indeed, as the smug Dr. Balleau explains in one of his frequent, pompous and overly theatrical monologues “what had been an unpleasant duty became a pleasure then it developed into a passion and then into a lust. A lust for blood! A lust that has grown with the years!” Meanwhile, just a little way from Balleau's island, four teenagers are enjoying some time aboard a yacht. Straight from the “Grease school of teenage casting”, our youthful twenty-something band features The Brady Bunch father Robert Reed, in is his first credited role, Teenage Doll star June Kenney, Joan Lora from Lure of the Swamp and soon-to-be producer Eugene Persson. The group have been spending a little time fishing, shooting, canoodling and demonstrating judo moves. However, they decide that, while the skipper is flat out drunk, they would break the monotony by borrowing a dingy and heading for the nearby island. Unfortunately, though, this brings the four of them into the orbit of the deranged Dr. Balleau. It is here they would become his prey. From here it all sticks pretty closely to The Most Dangerous Game formula. Give or take. Anyhow, the film itself would, eventually, be released back-to-back with 1970 horror Blood Mania. This was after it had been picked up by Crown International Pictures. This company, that was founded in 1959 by Newton P. Jacobs, would mostly make its name by releasing crowd-pleasing B-grade exploitation fare into the drive-in circuit. Indeed, this sort of stuff would, apparently, account for over half of their market at one point. You see, with a filmography that would include the likes of the High School comedy The Pom Pom Girls, the Dorothy Stratten led Galaxina and the delightfully insane Zalman King vehicle Trip With The Teacher, Crown International, it seems, had an excellent understanding of the exploitation market. They would even, occasionally, rename films in order to cash in on whatever it was that was popular at the time. Their roster would include stuff such as biker films, teen oriented comedies and even sexploitation flicks. So Bloodlust!, as part of a horror double feature, would fit nicely into their catalogue. However Bloodlust!, despite its classic roots, is not really a great film as such. It is, nevertheless, merely a half-decent, if somewhat unexceptional, slice of B-grade hokum. Though the film is certainly nowhere near as interesting as Jess Franco's take on the story, for example. Then again, Bloodlust! had to be something special in order to come anywhere near to rivalling Alice Arno's topless-huntress act in the Perverse Countess. Sadly, it isn't and it doesn't. The main problem here is that, having taken a decent enough idea, the film seems to be mostly intent on simply going through the motions. Also, any potential energy here is, far too easily, dissipated in extended bouts of needless verbosity. For example, in one scene our group of youngsters are alone with the evil doctor. His crossbow is before him on his desk. However, instead of attempting to overpower him they simply listen, intently, as his speech goes on and on. He explains, in detail, what he intends to do to them, while the group interject occasionally. Sometimes, instead of nodding along while the doctor discusses their demise, the group, unbelievably, decide to ask the occasional question. However, it becomes clear, after a while, that all this is simply no more than a device used in order to eat into the running time. Talk, after all, is cheap! Indeed, much of the film is split between the group talking in their rooms, or wandering around the doctor's mansion and jungle aimlessly. Even the whole manhunt segment seems to consist of nothing more than footage of our heroes pootling through the nocturnal, studio based jungle foliage. Meanwhile the doctor walks about carrying his crossbow. There is little sense, here, of any actual hunting going on. No dogs, no real tracking. Nothing! Just walking. As a result, the film is almost totally devoid of the tension that should exist between hunter and prey. Sure, there are the occasional jungle perils to entertain, but even these seem to consist mostly of some quicksand and, get this, leeches! Wow! At least, however, the film does attempt to break the monotony now and then. It does this by upping the gore and violence quotient a bit. So we get treated to a brief shot of some fake looking, dismembered body parts, an acid bath demise and a crucifixion finale. But these cheap shocks prove to offer far too little to elevate the film from the minor feature morass which it inhabits. You see, sadly, in terms of striking a balance between teen drama and thriller, Bloodlust! finds its scales tipped ever so slightly in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, Bloodlust lacks that certain something which has been critical to the success of other versions of Most Dangerous Game. That is, simply, either hunting themed thrills or Alice Arno's tits.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

5.5 out of 10
Picture the scene: It is the Capri Theater, El Paso. The year is 1966. It is autumn. The townsfolk and dignitaries begin to gather. Meanwhile, just around the corner, another group is starting to form. These happen to be the cast and crew of the feature that is playing at the Capri. You see, today these are to be the guests of honour. This is their day. It is première day! The problem, so it seems, is that there is only one limousine. So, the group are transported, four at a time, to the theatre. This, nevertheless, at least gives the impression that a fleet of cars is delivering our stars to the screening. Then eventually, with everyone at their seats, the darkness descends and the feature presentation, Manos: The Hands of Fate, begins. However, from the outset, it is clear that not all is well. The tinny echo of poorly realised, post production dubbing, fails to synch with the 16mm hand-held footage on the screen. A little girl, Jackey Neyman-Jones, aged seven, is upset. She simply does not recognise the voice in the film as her own. This is not how a movie is supposed to be. The effect is jarring. Even a child can see that! The audience certainly sees this and, as the ripples of laughter drift across the theatre, those associated with the feature sink, further and further, into their seats. Some of the cast even choose to leave early, rather than hang around and be recognised. Indeed, so notable is the quality of the audio, that a review in the El Paso Herald Post suggests that, maybe, it would make sense to scrap it altogether. The newspaper then mischievously adds that, by re-dubbing the film into Esperanto, this “brave experiment” could possibly be marketed as a “foreign art film of some sort or other”. This, pretty much, sums up Manos: The Hands of Fate. You see, insofar as the film has any sort of reputation at all, it is for being the worst movie ever made. Though, to be fair, the film is, technically at least, a bit ropey. For a start, some of the supporting performances are, at best, lackadaisical. Also, an overbearing score drowns out a fair bit of the dialogue and the film slips, continually, in and out of focus. Even a brief shot of a clapperboard remains in the final edit. Indeed, there are far too many goofs in this film. They should have found their way to the cutting room floor. But, bizarrely, all simply remain in situ. For example, a pair of Satyr legs that are fashioned from wire are worn back-to-front by John Reynolds. This means that the star, who seems to be tripping his nuts off on LSD throughout, comes across as less of a demonic servant, as intended, and as more of a bumbling, mumbling, nobbly kneed, acid casualty. But, for all its flaws, Manos: The Hands of Fate is really worth the effort. It is certainly not simply a case of "so bad it is good". For, in its own way, it is a strange, captivating and aesthetically unorthadox piece of backwood religious cult horror cinema. It can be enjoyed on its own, admittedly wonky, terms. You see, the film is something dreamlike. It is something dark. It is ever so askew. In its extremely amateur rawness, Manos: The Hands of Fate appears, pretty much, just like how we are led to believe that a snuff film is supposed to look. That, in itself, is interesting. So, as a result, the film gets under the skin a little. It feels a bit naughty. What especially helps the film along is an intense, and somewhat theatrical, performance by star Tom Neyman. He is simply delightful in this. Indeed, every second of his screen time is hypnotic. He also has an incredible cape. Tom plays “The Master” and he would also be involved in the art department. He provides the paintings and the costuming. Indeed, according to stuntman, assistant director, cameraman, grip and "man in car", Bernie Rosenblum, everyone seemed to have a bunch of roles in the making of the film. Also, apart from the fact that three members of the Neyman family would appear in Manos: The Hands of Fate, the Neymans would also provide a car and the sweet and soppy pet that plays a “devil dog” in the film. You see, this is why it would be unfair to be too hard on Manos: The Hands of Fate. After all, it would only be made, at all, because of a bet. This would be between Harold P. Warren, an insurance salesman, and award winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant., Indeed Warren, who here writes, directs and produces had, up to this point, absolutely no experience of film-making whatsoever. Yet, over a period of eight days or so, he manages to make the best of a largely amateur cast, a camera that can only shoot a few seconds of film at a time and an extremely limited budget. Funds were raised by promising a share of profits from the film. But the film would make no money. Indeed, only the dog would get paid. It would receive a bowl of food. Still, one needs to be philosophical about such things. So, in concluding Manos: The Hands of Fate, the director attempts to leave us with a final thought. We are asked if this is really "The End?". However, any attempt at having the last word gets trumped by the El Paso Herald Post. They suggest that someone, here, must be "spoofing us".

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Morons from Outer Space (1985)

5.0 out of 10
There was, during the 1980s, something of a revolution occurring in British comedy. Featuring pioneers such as Alexi “Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?” Sayle, Keith Allen, Ade Edmondson, and a host of graduates of the Comedy Store, this new comedic Angry Brigade ranted against what they perceived as a racist and sexist old guard. And, to be fair, they had a point! After all, with British evening schedules dominated by the likes of Mind Your Language, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Fawlty Towers, British comedy was squeezing entire series of material from the observation that foreigners speak in strange voices. Meanwhile, Love Thy Neighbour derived alleged "hilarity" from the idea that a working class white man had issues with the fact that his neighbour was black. This, in itself, would not necessarily be so problematic. However, the "don't your sort all..." type dialogue that almost continually accompanied the premise most certainly was. Indeed, given the saloon bar bigotry paraded on Granada's stand-up series The Comedians by the likes of Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson and Stan "German Fokkers" Boardman, something probably had to change. This is not to say that all that went before was simply reactionary. Indeed, it was probably the case that much of the comedy that dealt with race relations in the seventies was intended to promote understanding rather than sew division. After all, the likes of Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby in Eric Chappell's Rising Damp, or Alf Garnett in Johnny Speight's Till Death Us Do Part, would be portrayed as out-of-touch old dinosaurs. They were simply unable, or unwilling, to come to terms with an evolving Britain. As such they were cast as figures of fun. But, change was inevitable and change came. It came in the form of "Alternative Comedy". With hindsight however, none of this may have been quite as edgy as it initially appeared. For example, Rik Mayall's Trotskyite career defining student character, "Rik, the people's poet", was simply a younger, more shouty, Citizen Smith. While The Young Ones itself was little more than The Goodies reheated for a new generation. So, up to a point, the presentation was younger and fresher, but the material itself was very much a part of a continuum. You see, for all its carefully scripted, bombastic, faux-radicalism, and all the talk of “THATCHA!”, this new wave lacked both the urgency and bona fide anarchy of Tiswas, for example. Indeed, much of this new comedy amounted to little more than a sneering lampoon of the "right on!" attitudes of the left. Even the quirky sketches that punctuated The Young Ones had been done to death, a thousand times or more, with the likes of Monty Python or Spike Milligan's Q series. Nevertheless, this was still an important period in the evolution of British humour. It drew a line under the old and welcomed the new. Indeed, it was a time that introduced many of the talents that would come to define British comedy for the subsequent decade. The vanguard of this new wave would coalesce around the likes of A Kick Up the Eighties, The Comic Strip Presents and The Young Ones. These shows would launch the careers of such talents as Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane, Tracey Ullman, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. As a result of the alternative comedy wave, Britain would be introduced, in its wake, to shows such as Hale and Pace, Black Adder, Bottom, A Bit of Fry & Laurie and Alas Smith and Jones. The title of the latter, of course, played upon that of an American western series that was popular in Britain at the time. Alas Smith and Jones, as the title suggested, would star the former Not the Nine O'Clock News comedy pairing of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. A regular fixture on British television throughout the early eighties, Smith and Jones would go on to make their big screen feature debut, in 85, with Morons From Outer Space. They also wrote it. Appropriately for a title of "Morons from Outer Space", this Mike Hodges directed film actually opens in outer space. It is here that we are treated to some decent, spaceship exterior, Peter Aston miniatures. Then, for the sake of humourous contrast, we are introduced to the garish, pre-Spaceballs, camper van style space “podule” interior. It is here that we initially meet our morons. They are Sandra, played by Joanne Pearce, Julian played by Paul Bown and Desmond played Jimmy “Oz from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” Nail. The morons here are led by a chief moron, Bernard, who is played Mel Smith. In an early scene reminiscent of the domestic boredom of Dark Star, Bernard makes his way out onto the recreation deck to play “space ball”. It is at this point that he becomes separated from the trio. It seems that, as a result of tampering with the controls, Sandra, Julian and Desmond have accidentally cut Bernard adrift. They then, in one of the more impressive and budget busting scenes of the film, manage to crash-land their ship alongside the M1 motorway in England. Meanwhile, having failed to secure a ride from a decrepit sex mad space traveller who is seeking a “female of the species”, Bernard is ultimately ejected into the United States. This then provides the film with an opportunity to get to its main point. That is a tale of parallel lives. In a parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Bernard, who believes the litter bins to be the robotic leaders of earth, winds up confined, with an “Eskimo Chief”, in a mental institution. Meanwhile, in England, the moronic trio are transported from Escape From Planet of the Apes style mistrust to Stardust like celebrity. The film uses this situation to underscore one of the central points of the film. This concerns class, especially in the British context. Also, the notion of meritocracy. You see, despite the fact that we are led to believe that Mel Smith's Bernard is the intelligent alien he, unfortunately, fails at Earth life and becomes destitute. Meanwhile, his fellow aliens, on the other hand, succeed. This is despite their self-evident extraterrestrial imbecility. Their success, which just so happens to be in showbusiness, is the result of nothing more than a simple case of being in the right place at the right time. Aside from making this pertinent point about the nature of Britains rigid class system, the film largely rejects the opportunity to cast its eye over the quirkiness of life in the UK. However, this is not to say that the film totally ignores the social climate of the time. After all, Morons from Outer Space still manages to make observations on Cold War era transatlantic relations and even comments on the cult of media manufactured superficial celebrity. Nevertheless, aside from the far-from-heavy-handed approach to the serious stuff, the film is pretty funny at times. Morons from Outer Space also parodies Close Encounters of the Third Kind frequently throughout. There is an Airplane-style madcap panic situation when the presence of aliens is announced and a limited amount of slapstick. But, the film mostly relies on a gentle, understated, dialogue driven comedy that is very, very, British. It also features the sweet song Take Me Sideways. The lyrics go "bim-bim-bim-bim-bim when I'm with you-oo". It was a massive hit, apparently, on Planet Blob.