🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1952

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Continuing with my series on Science Fiction Films of the 1950s, though 1952 seems sparse in comparison to lets say 1956 & 1958, there was definitely a prevailing theme… fear of communist invasion! My favorite picture for this year would have to be watching Hildegarde Knef torment Erich von Stroheim in director Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s ALRAUNE, though Brigitte Helm’s 1928 portrayal of the soulless beauty born of sin is quinteseentially sublime.

WILD WILD UNTAMED WOMEN, POST NUCLEAR TRIBES, SOULLESS TEMPTRESSES CONQUERING PLANETS & STRATIFIED ZOMBIES!

Alraune aka Unnatural aka Vengeance aka Mandragore

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Born outside the laws of God and man!-the fruit of evil!

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Alraune Prologue

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Alraune 1952 Hildegarde

Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1913. Starring Hildegard Knef as Alraune, Erich von Stroheim as Dr. Jacob ten Brinken, Karlheinz Böhm ( Of  director Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) ) as Frank Braun, Harry Meyen as Count Geroldingen, Rolf Henniger as Wolf Goutram, Harry Halm as Doctor Mohn.

Viennese director Rabenalt is better known for his Nazi propaganda films and for countless operettas, lederhosen and heimatschmalz. Considered a tech-noir film import from outside the U.S.A., included among Spaceways (England 1953) The H-Man (Japan 1958) and Atom Age Vampire (Italy 1961)

The story was first filmed in 1918 and then in 1928 & 1930 with Brigitte Helm which was a beautifully films version. Brigitte Helm among dolls — Alraune 1928 silent- possesses an eroticism

Brigitte Helm among dolls -- Alraune 1928 silent

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Stroheim broods and over-acts in his inimitable way and Hildegarde Knef is exquisite. ten Brinken (von Stroheim) collects a the semen of a hanged murderer at the gallows, and takes this seed and inseminates a prostitute. What he creates is a ‘daughter’ Alraune–who is incapable of feeling ‘love’ or having emotional human connections with voracious sexual appetites, portrayed as almost demonic or like a succubus.

ALRAUNE Expressionist

the Cinematography of Friedl Behn-Grund (Murderers Among Us 1946, Confessions of Felix Krull 1957 and Titantic 1943) paints an expressionist foray into a moralistic fairytale of good & evil love & hate sin and redemption.

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The film is dark and uncanny as Alraune mesmerizes every male she meets, while ten Brinken becomes more and more perversely sexually obsessed with his beautiful but unfeeling archetypal dark-eve.

The film has an awkward atmosphere about it as if it’s trying to be a the threshold of new medical research blended with the profane and taboo science of artificial insemination, Gothic romance fantasy and man’s desire to conquer reproduction. The fetish of creating life, controlling it as if becoming god-like, the question of individuality, morality and the seed of moral instinct and sin–misfire in shocking and dreadful ways.

Alraune and the gorilla in the lab

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Erich von Stroheim—as ten Brinken shows Karlheinz Böhm or Karl Boehm the diary and where Alraune’s mother came from “I made a long search for her in the convent of Hamburg.”

When ten Brinken (von Stroheim) is in the lab and sees Frank out in the garden with Alraune he asks Doctor Moh (Harry Halm) his associate “Did he kiss her”

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Alraune-“ They were all in love with me and they all died and I killed them… You mustn’t stay I bring destruction. “

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Frank-“You can’t believe that there’s something strange and different about you. You’re a human being like anyone else.”

Alraune- “You could never forget that I’m trained from birth. My life began as a horrible crime that I was part of a foolish experiment.”

Frank –“Alraune how can you say that…  no one is all good or all evil. If only the bad were inherited then the world would be a HELL..”

Alraune-“In me there is no good-look where I came from. I was brought into being by the evil thoughts of a depraved man.”

Frank-“The crime was to bring you into the world and then to raise you without love. The plaything of insanity. Who ever is brought up without love is sick. You were never evil, you were sick. I won’t let you stay here. You must go away.”

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At that moment von Stroheim shoots Alraune being carried by Boehm and Alraune begins to die.

ten Brinken (vonStorheim) says-“No one else should have have!”

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ALRAUNE’S last words before he dies– “Now the toy is broken-the crime against nature that God didn’t want.”

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BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA

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BELA LUGOSI FINDS THE PERFECT GOOF TO TURN A GORILLA INTO A HUMAN AND VERSA VISA!

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Directed by William Beaudine who started out doing shorts in pre 1920s and directed several superior police procedural/noir/ dramatic Naked City television episodes in 1958,  (The Living Ghost 1942, The Ape Man 1943, Ghosts on the Loose 1943, Mystery of the 13th Guest 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, Forgotten Women 1949, Billy the Kid vs Dracula 1966)

This is the only film that actually featured Bela Lugosi’s name in the title. It co-stars the comedy team Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who is trying to take off on actor/comedian Jerry Lewis with several more doses of whiny asininery and though he might actually look like him, is not at all funny.

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Duke Mitchell: You know, someday I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!

Sammy Petrillo: Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?

Unfortunately the team does not nearly come close to touching the brilliant pairing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo only did a handful of bit part appearances, Shangri-La (1961), The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962) Keyholes are for Peeping (1972) and Out to Lunch (1977)

As Phil Hardy states about the state of Bela Lugosi’s career at the time, “already bedevilled by management, money, marital and drug problems, is the star of this awful piece.”

Technically a screwball comedy starring, it still seems to want to fall into the mold of science fiction as it involves a mad scientist and a formula.

Mitchell and Petrillo play night club performers who are entertaining the troops in Guam who fall out of an airplane and land on an a South Sea island. Nona (Charlita) finds them and takes them back to her father, chief Rakos (Al Kukime). Nona convinces her father to spare their lives. The unfunny pair also meet Dr. Zabor played by our lovable yet tired actor by this time without some of the nuanced dialogue he had been given in the 30s & 40s… Bela Lugosi. Zabor is a scientist who is performing clandestine experiments on gorillas trying to transform them into people. He is obsessed with Nona, and when Duke catches her eye, Zabor injects him with the serum and turns him into what else but a gorilla!

Sammy at some point figures out that it’s his friend Duke when the gorilla begins singing “Deed I Do” by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose.

Sammy Petrillo: This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.

Captive Women

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1000 YEARS AFTER THE H-BOMB!

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Directed by Stuart Gilmore (44 editor credits including- Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek 1944, Two for the Seesaw 1962, Toys in the Attic 1963, and The Andromeda Strain 1971), stars Robert Clarke as Robert, Margaret Field as Ruth, Gloria Saunders as Catherine, Ron Randall as Ridden, Stuart Randall as Gordon, Robert Bice as Bram Paula Dorety as first Captive, Chili Williams as second Captive, William Schallert as Carver. Once again some of the images are courtesy of matte painter Irving Block (Rocketship X-M 1950, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957)

Not to be mistaken with Captive Wild Women (1943) starring John Carradine!

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In a post-apocalyptic New York City, three tribes of mutants (the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver people) battle each other to survive.

When Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen saw they success they had with The Man from Planet X (1951) (incidentally re-using the cast once again, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke and William Schallert) they decided to try another science fiction story which had a British title originally called 3000 A.D. & 1000 Years from Now which reflect a much more science fiction sensibility that Captive Women which evokes that trend of jungle/adventure pictures. Howard Hughes who was running RKO at the time, decided to use the more sensationalist film title.

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After the world is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the survivors in our story concern three tribes who hunt each other down throughout the desolate ruins of New York City. First there are the Norms who by virtue of their name tell us that they haven’t been effected by the nuclear fall out. The Mutates led by Riddon (Ron Randall) , are ancestors who have been deformed by the passing down of their mutated genes, and go on raids of the subterranean tribe of Norms to conquer their women who are portrayed as beautiful and perfect for procreation which the Mutates would like to cleanse their lineage of the mutation they have suffered and begin to have healthy offspring. Then there is the last tribe, the Upriver People who are an evil bunch who are violent and worship the devil- ruthlessly led by Gordon (Stuart Randall)

When the Upriver People attack, the Norm leaders Riddon and Rob (Robert Clarke) take off, finding the Mutates are willing to help them hide out. One of the Norm women Ruth (Margaret Field) falls in love with Riddon.

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William Schallert plays Carver who has been banished by the Mutate tribe, winds up betraying them and showing Gordon the secret passage under the Hudson River, a tunnel that leads to the Mutate’s camp in New Jersey. In an ironic twist, during a battle between the tribes, the Upriver People are drowned. Though the story is very dark and brooding, there is a tinge of hope that with the budding romance between Riddon and Ruth they may begin a new civilization where all tribes work together.

Early on in the 1950s Rocketship X-M (1951) and Arch Oboler’s Five (1951) both dealt with the consequences of a nuclear holocaust, Captive Women plays out less about the effects of the atomic fallout  weaving the story around the different factions of tribes that are trying to forge their own society in a post-apocalyptic world. People have regressed back to a time of primal necessity (well they aren’t much different today are they), to survive, to procreate to prevail over other threatening tribes… the nuclear warfare has changed the look and function of the world and it’s survivors. Humanity is all about biological need and the misogynistic tribal-warfare narrative drives the story. Man vs man, man needs woman, woman gets dragged off like a piece of property. Some tribes are worse than others…

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The Hollywood Reporter said, “Captive Women was a ‘pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead… While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue  and the stilted performances make this… a long 64 minutes.” In Daily Variety “Is strictly for the exploitation houses.” 

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In The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an ‘unattractive farrago’ they also said- “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.”

CAPTIVE WOMEN 1952

Invasion U.S.A

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THEY PUSH A BUTTON AND VAST CITIES VANISH BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES! (1956 re-release)

Producer Albert Zugsmith worked with director Douglas Sirk on a few classics-was at a time the house producer for Universal -International, including Touch of Evil 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1958,

Invasion U.S.A. is directed by Alfred E. Green (Baby Face 1933, The Jolson Story 1946)

What a cast!!!…Starring Gerald Mohr (Gilda 1946, Detective Story 1951, The Angry Red Planet 1959, Funny Girl 1968) as Vince Potter, Peggy Castle as Carla Sanford, Dan O’Herlihy as Mr. Ohman and Edward G. Robinson as the radio dispatcher. Phyllis Coates as Mrs. Mulfory, Knox Manning as the newscaster.

Albuert Zugsmith’s cheap exploitation film is a bleak journey laced with doom, scaremongering and feasting off of the vitals of paranoia of the McCarthy era Communist invasion scare, and plays off the worst of our fears back in the 1950s –the film did more as a propaganda piece than a truly insightful science fiction thriller. Using stock footage from World War II army training films.

From Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies–he cites In a letter to the New York Times, Larry Evans said the film seemed to be claiming “that peace is merely a space between wars”

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A largely forgotten film that plays on the fears about communism featuring Dan O’Herlihy as a mysterious stranger who hypnotizes a group of people in a New York City bar and makes them believe that the Cold War is over and Russians have launched an all out atomic attack.

The film opens in a New York City bar littered with a variety of characters, you know the counter-intuitive groups of people who’s sensibilities will no doubt span the spectrum of American taste. They are involved in a heated discussion about the universal draft. Gerald Mohr plays Vince a television reporter interested in controversy and high octane filled conversations that stoke ideas,while Peggy Castle plays Ruth who isn’t too keen on the idea herself. Then there’s the cross section of America, the tractor manufacturer George Sylvester played by Robert Bice who is too pleased with his own success refusing to convert his plant over so the military in order to make weapons. Then there’s the rancher Ed Mulfory played by Erik Blythe who is on the attack against the system. Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway is portrayed by Wade Crosby who goes off on his own rant about tax increases because of all the defense appropriations.

Dan O’Herlihy plays Mr. Ohman who expresses himself very carefully presenting himself as a ‘forecaster’ and tells the group that the future all depends on how we as a people will act presently.

Suddenly the television set in the bar becomes the focus as there is an emergency announcement that enemy troops have invaded Alaska and are now heading toward Washington to attack! The group in the bar scramble to get to where they need to be, the pall of doom hanging over everyone’s certain fate.

Before the various characters involved wake up from their trance they all die horrible deaths, plunging form the top of a skyscraper, drowning etc.

Vince goes back to his television studio to try and report that the enemy troops are invading Oregon, taking over air bases, bombing cities and devastating important landmarks all over the West.

The rancher returns home and he and his family are drowned when Hoover Dam is A-bombed. The manufacturer is shot dead in his office by his window washer who was actually a spy. The enemy is never clearly specified but the idea that they start their invasion with Alaska which is not far from Russia let’s us know who we are truly afraid of in this film.

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Finally enemy troops not only descend upon Washington D.C. where the Congressman is shot to death while giving a speech, they reach Manhattan and set off another A-bomb- a scene which the film boasts as it’s only special effects sequence. Carla who worked for the Red Cross dies, and so does Vince, unfortunately there was no time for their budding romance to bud…

With many fantasy/horror/science fiction type stories that allow second chances or glimpses into the dangerous tomorrows, the scene at the bar shows all slowly awakening as if from a trance. Mr. Ohman has placed them into some sort of illuminatory stasis now giving them back precious time to go into the world and perform good deeds in the name of “Eternal Vigilance”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies “Russian MiGs are shown and some of the stock footage used is printed reversed left to right so that the letters are backward This was to make them look Cryillic and therefore, Russian According to Larry Evans’ letter quoted earlier , The American Mercury, then the self -appointed mouth piece of anti-communism , Anti-Unamerican fanatics is shown in the film. The message in Invasion U.S.A isn’t just that we should consider the possibility that another war and one with the communist nations in particular will take place, but that we should actively prepare for one to the point of providing arms & trained propaganda newscasters actually here fomenting the inevitable conflict.?

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Hedda Hopper allowed her name to be used with the advertising of the film and it’s posters saying- “It will scare the pants off you” Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times quotes the cheap exploitation picture by saying, ‘there is still a modicum of high suspense running through the production, and perhaps even something to cause audiences to think.”

Newscaster: The big mystery now is why have no cities been attacked? Why did the enemy throw away surprise yet fail to drop a single atom bomb? 

Mr. Ohman: I think America wants new leadership.

Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?

Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.

Vince Potter: A what?

Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That’s the way we like to beat Communism now, by wishing it dead.

MONKEY BUSINESS

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Directed by Howard Hawks and notably considered a screwball–madcap-zany comedy starring Cary Grant, there is an element of science fiction that cannot be ignored and that’s why Monkey Business is viewed by some belonging to the Sci-Fi genre even with all it’s zany antics. Hawks having accomplished the more terrifying yet camp filled The Thing from Another World the year before certainly wears a versatile director’s cap. With a screenplay by writers Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I. A. L Diamond.

Referring back once again to Bill Warren’s terrific book Keep Watching the Skies, I could never write as concise and witty as Warren he puts it like this…After Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941, light fantasy, comedies became popular and a steady Hollywood product. Generally they took the form of fantasies, such as Heaven Only Knows 1947, and You Never Can Tell 1951, but frequently the fantastic elements was actually science fiction…{…} Cary Grant was one of Hawk’s favorite actors- Bringing Up Baby 1938, Only Angels Have Wings 1939, etc–and Grant was often at his best under Hawk’s direction. Hawks seemed to be amused by Grant’s ability to appear stiffly repressed while suggesting banked fires of frivolity. That is the specific subject of Monkey Business.”

Cary Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton (even his name is delicious!)

Grant plays absent minded professor Barnaby Fulton financed by Oliver Oxly played by Charles Coburn who wants his research to find a way to slow down the aging process. Fulton discovers a youth serum-elixir B-4, but when a chimpanzee sneaks out of his cage and mixes chemicals together, and spikes the water cooler,Fulton accidentally ingests the serum himself. Now listen, implausible you say, I’ve heard said that leave a chimpanzee in a room over the course of years he’d paint the Mona Lisa… true story!

Fulton begins acting like a high spirited college rowdy, buys a hot rod and drives Oxly’s secretary the adorable Marilyn Monroe all over town, and I mean drives her wild!
Problem is Fulton is married to sophisticated Edwina who is shocked by his new behavior, but eventually the serum wears off, but everyone from Edwina, old Oxly and his colleagues start drinking a lot of water! As in the end they revert to childish behavior swinging around the laboratory like chimpanzee’s themselves, they are in contrast with the civilized world, the elixir has caused emotional and moral anarchy and flies in the face of being a responsible adult, the message is quite dire. You not only can’t go home again, you can’t be young at heart again… Gee wiz!

There are no special effects, there are no substitute actors representative of the younger characters, the only signifier of youth is the actors behavior. So science fiction—not so much in terms of technology, but it’s always fun to include a comedy in the mix besides, Abbott & Costello and the bad movies that are unintentionally funny.

With the screwball dialogue and shenanigans the film the story resolves itself at the end with a bittersweet message that youth is for the young and we must accept getting older.

“Youth as presented in Monkey Business seems as much nightmarish as it does anything else”

Monkey Business Cary and Ginger

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Barnaby: Hello, Griffith Park Zoo, Snake Department. Sssshhh!

Oliver Oxley: Hello? Hello? What is this?

Barnaby: What do you want?

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr Oxley.

Barnaby: I’ll see if he’s here.

Oliver Oxley: No, I said *this* is Oxley!

Barnaby: Who is?

Oliver Oxley: I am, speaking!

Barnaby: Oh, you’re Mr. Speaking…

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr. Oxley speaking!

Barnaby: Oxley Speaking? Any relation to Oxley?

Oliver Oxley: Barnaby Fulton is that you?

Barnaby: Who’s calling?

Oliver Oxley: I am, Barnaby!

Barnaby: Oh, no, you’re not Barnaby. I’m Barnaby! I ought to know who I am.

Oliver Oxley: This is Oxley speaking, Barnaby!

Barnaby: No, that’s ridiculous! You can’t be all three. Figure out which one you are and call me back!

 

Lois Laurel: {Marilyn Monroe -at her secretrial desk, responding to Barnaby’s remark that she is at work early} Mr. Oxley’s been complaining about my punctuation, so I’m careful to get here before nine.

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Barnaby: Umph! I’m beginning to wonder if being young is all it’s cracked up to be. We dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters. That’s what youth is.

Radar Men from the Moon

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Directed Fred C. Bannon

A Republic Serial in 12 Chapters!

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Starring George Wallace (224 credits to this omnipresent supporting actor) is Commander Cody, Aline Towne as Joan Gilbert, Roy Barcroft as Retik, William Bakewell as Ted Richards, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg.

George Wallace wearing the special rocket suit from Republic’s earlier King of the Rocket Men (1949), is Captain Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. It’s cheap, really really cheap serial production– Cody must stop the Moon’s dictator the evil Retik from invading the Earth. Most of the action takes place on the Moon. Wallace doesn’t even need a spacesuit, and the lack of gravity doesn’t seem to effect Cody even after Destination Moon two years earlier showed up the problems with weightlessness. In 1966, the serial was condensed into a feature, Retik the Moon Menace.

George Wallace is Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe — that fantabulous flying super-hero scientist is fighting evil forces from the Moon who are destroying Earth’s national defenses using a strange and destructive weapon. Scientists Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne) and Ted Richards (William Bakewell) design both a special rocket powered suit and helmet that enables Commando Cody to fly, and a rocket that can reach the Moon. With the aide of security head Henderson (Don Walters) our hero uncovers a race of Moon Men who are using an atomic ray gun to target the Earth in order to invade the planet. When Cody, Joan and Ted travel to the cratered Moon to try and thwart the menacing Moon Men –in their rocket-ship they are captured by the Moon minions led by Retik (Roy Bancroft). The serial also stars Bob Stevenson as Daly, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg, Dale Van Sickel as Alon, Noel Cravat as Robal, Baynes Barron as Nesor and Paul McGuire as Bream.

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Radar Man from the Moon

"Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe," aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film " Radar Men from the Moon," at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)
“Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe,” aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film ” Radar Men from the Moon,” at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)

Graber: How ’bout a ride to town, mister?

Motorist: Sure. Hop in.

Graber: There’s a man in a flying suit chasing us. Step on it.

Motorist: Huh?

 

[Commando Cody, Ted, and Joan are about to board ship for the moon]

Commando Cody: I still think this is no trip for a woman.

Joan Gilbert: Now don’t start that again. You’ll be very glad to have someone along who can cook your meals.

Red Planet Mars

Red Planet Mars

Directed by Harry Horner (Beware, My Lovely 1952, Vicki 1953, The Wild Party 1956, production designer on The Hustler 1961)

Written for the screen by John L. Balderston, Anthony Veiller based on the play by John L. Balderston and John Hoare. John L. Balderston had also written the screenplays for Dracula 1931, Frankenstein 1931, Mad Love 1935, Bride of Frankenstein 1935 and Gaslight 1944. Veiller having written the screenplays for The Killers 1946, and  The Stranger 1946.

Stars Peter Graves stars as astronomer Chris Cronyn, Andrea King as his wife Lynda Cronyn, Herbert Berghof as Franz Calder, Walter Sande as Admiral Bill Carey, Marvin Miller as Arjenian, Willis Bouchey as the President, and Morris Ankrum as Secretary of State Sparks.

Based on screenwriter Balderston’s play Red Planet, the film is overtly focused on the fear of invasion and the insidious spread of Communism in the American consciousness in the 1950s.

Martyrs,Miracles,and Martians
Religion and Cold War Cinematic Propaganda in
the 1950s by Tony Shaw

Introduction

Consider this script: Chris, a Californian scientist (played by Peter Graves), has established radio contact with Mars, thanks to the invention of a former Nazi scientist, Calder (Herbert Berghof), now serving Lucifer with Soviet money in the Andes. Consequently, the United States learns that Mars has attained a high level of “civilization,” has developed nuclear power, and has dispensed with coal and oil. The news causes pandemonium on Earth, stock markets crash, depression reigns, and Moscow gloats over the threatened collapse of Western society. On the brink of chaos, the world learns that Mars is also a Christian society, ruled by a “Supreme Authority” whose teachings parallel those of the Sermon on the Mount. This prompts a religious revival on Earth and a revolution in Russia, where a group of pious peasants inspired by Voice of America broadcasts throw out the Communists and crown an elderly patriarch as their new ruler. The story ends on a bittersweet note: Chris, his wife, and Calder are all killed in a laboratory explosion, leaving the U.S. president (Willis Bouchey) to announce that the faith of the world has been saved and that peace now reigns. Few films capture the personal and political paranoia so often associated with “McCarthyite” Hollywood better than Harry Horner’s
Red Planet Mars, described by one critic at the time of its opening in 1952 as “a grotesque, almost insane fantasy, told in deadly earnest.–Even fewer films threw all their Cold War eggs—anti-Communism, an ambivalence toward science.”

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Graves plays a California scientist trying to establish contact with Mars, soon into the film he and scientists at the observatory discover that the Martians have melted the ice caps in order to irrigate their planet. Graves as Dr. Chris Cronyn surmises that Martians are a superior race. His wife Andrea King who plays Lynda feels worried about the findings believing that her husbands research is like “sitting on a volcano.”

Peter Graves whose specialty is radio waves and King play a husband and wife team of research scientists/astronomers who pick up a television transmission from Mars. The message describes the planet as being a utopian society with a god-like higher power in charge. Here on Earth, this news spreads panic among both Western governments and the Russian Communist government. In Russia, the peasants revolt and place a priest like monarchy in rule.

 

Narrator opens “This is a story not yet told….”

Observatory is high on a mountain in Southern California the giant telescope… “Searches the heavens for the secrets there contained…”

Red Planet Mars Observatory

Dr. Cronyn (Peter Graves) is the radio man— Dr. Boulting – Mitchell’s Assistant (House Peters Jr.)  is the guy with the spy glass…

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“Do you seriously think that you’ve established contact with Mars…?”—Dr. Boulting (Peters)
“Well you take pictures of it, why shouldn’t I talk to it?”—Dr. Cronyn (Graves)

Red Planet Mars the team meets

Photos of the canals of Mars that traverse the entire planet–Lynda asks if Dr Mitchell has had his telescope for years –why is he getting these pictures just now. Mitchell explains that Mars’ journey around the sun is an elliptical curve.

After the next batch of photos are taken… it shows the mountains are gone and the poles are level.

Dr. Cronyn- “You can’t wipe out mountains taller than the Rockies in the space of a week!”

Dr. Mitchell the astronomer asks Boulting to look at the canals with his magnifying glass. Lynda says “They’re different now they reflect light like mirrors.” Dr Mitchell (Lewis Martin) ‘Water reflects light”

Cronyn asks “Are you saying you think those pole formations are ice… and in a week these Martians have melted ice caps thousands of feet high and use the water to irrigate the planet?” “Isn’t that what the picture says?”-asks Dr Mitchell

Red Planet Mars "are you saying you think those pole formations are ice?"

Cronyn would love to ask the Martians who they figured out that amazing way to irrigate the planet…
“It’s Mars I’m getting my signal from, but how do I give that signal meaning… how do I find a means of communication.”

Boulting says, “One man who takes pictures, one man who believes he can talk over 35 million miles… it’s like having a grand stand seat to the creation of the world…”

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Red Planet Mars magnifies the canals

Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Mars prof shows the orbit of mars

There is also an ex-Nazi scientist Franz Calder (Herbert Berghof) who has invented a ‘hydrogen tube’ that he brings with him after the fall of Nazi Berlin. Cronyn (Peter Graves) uses this ‘hydrogen tube’ to contact Mars. The Soviets have planted the former Nazi spy  in order to make contact with Mars. “At this point the Christianization of the film begins.” – Bernard F. Dick

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Franz Calder who has believed to been dead since the war, has actually been living in a cabin in the Andes, living in the  ironic and ghostly eclipse of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. He taunts his Soviet compatriots —“You can find me only through finding Christ.”

Calder claims that the messages from Mars are actually fakes, telling everyone that he is the one who has been sending them –his plan– to bring about the downfall of capitalism. Calder is being supported by the Russians led by Arjenian (Marvin Miller) urging him to contact Mars before Cronyn in order to help wipe out democracy and bring about the fall of the Western civilization entirely.

Mars is the promised land, powered by cosmic energy. Its inhabitants have a three-hundred year lifespan and enjoy such an abundance of food that rationing is unnecessary. The realization that Mars is the new Eden and Earth is a garden gone to seed results in global chaos  as coalminers and steel mills close and banks default, believing that humankind had suffered enough, delivers an ultimatum: LOVE GOODNESS AND HATE EVIL… {…} Forget the galaxy and the follow the star of Bethlehem. The voice emanating from Mars is none of than God’s, the man of Nazareth and the man of Mars being the same. Suddenly, church attendance rises, and miracles are seen. The Soviet Union which ‘denied God’s word and worshipped false gods” abjures communism, and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church becomes head of the provisional government. – Bernard F. Dick

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RedPlanetMars (46)

Eventually Cronyn does receive messages from Mars saying that there has been incredible scientific advancements, this he deciphers from what looks like bar codes on the television screen. Cronyn has photos showing the ice caps on Mars described as mountainous peaks of ice thousands of feet thick, that are now melting at a faster rate, virtually overnight.

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When Cronyn releases his findings he is persecuted and blamed for the economic collapse in the West. Secretary of Defense Sparks (Morris Ankrum) tries to stop the flow of information in order to avert the disaster saying, “Our civilization is collapsing around our ears like a deck of cards… I can hear the laughter in Moscow now!”

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In Moscow they are celebrating–“We will build our world on the ruins.”

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This is pretty harsh straight forward propaganda that utilizes the elements of science fiction to push the fear and anxiety Americans felt during 1952. The President begs Cronyn not to release the information about the messages from Mars, pleading “You’ve shattered the economy of the free world” in which the scientist who is only interested in revealing the truth about his research and the secrets of the universe tells hims “I’m not interested in economics” as he continues to receive messages from the Martians. Another example of science vs –us against them etc.

Admiral Bill Carey (Walter Sande) responds ‘Science has made the volcano we’re sitting on… you’ll be the next to advance science–and maybe us–right into oblivion.”

Admiral Carey Walter Sande trying to convince Dr. Cronyn not to contact Mars nor refer to it as the more advanced civilization Cronyn tells him,  “Me talking to Mars won’t affect Vesuvius.”

Cronyn learns through their coded messages that the Martians have created their utopian society by following a supreme power much like our Christ figure. “Seven lifetimes ago we were told… to love goodness and hate evil.”

Calder shows up at the observatory claiming that he has been the one all along to be fabricating these transmissions from Mars in order to goad the naive into following them, he has sent them himself in order to sabotage the world. Calder assumes that Dr. Cronyn was responsible for the religious themed messages and that those pious missives never would have occurred to him at all since he only recognizes Milton’s version of a Satan who would rather reign as a king in Hell than follow God in a Heaven. He threatens to divulge his lie saying it’s all been a hoax at a press conference but Dr. Cronyn cannot risk that disaster from happening and so sacrifices himself and his wife to save the world.

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“That’s my god-Satan!” he shouts. “I’ll have beaten God!” when he reveals all to the world. Then he quotes Milton’s Satan.

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“As when of old some Orator renound
In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence
Flourishd, since mute, to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience ere the tongue
Sometimes in highth began, as no delay
Of Preface brooking through his Zeal of Right.
So standing, moving, or to highth upgrown
The Tempter all impassiond thus began”-Milton’s Paradise Lost

In the end, Cronyn and Calder fight as proof –a final ‘real’message from the Martians comes through the television screen saying that the supreme being on Mars is God himself.

Red Planet Mars - Lobby Card
Red Planet Mars – Lobby Card

Dr. Cronyn and his wife have secretly released hydrogen into the observatory room in order to blow the place up, preserving the message from the Martians and keeping Calder’s lies from getting out and wrecking the progress of the new world order. Lynda asks for a cigarette and begins to light it –Calder is standing there while another message from Mars comes in just to show that these communications are not fabricated by the evil Calder and the Cronyn’s are now vindicated. Calder pulls his gun out and fires at the monitor, the cigarette already ignites the hydrogen and blows the the three and the laboratory to bits.

The final word from Mars being “Matthew 25:23 “Ye hath done well, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” 

It is an act of Martyrdom and self-immolation The wife boasts to Calder that she possesses free will and she proves it by reducing three of them to charred bones. The article states cite again—“Of course one could argue that the lighting of a match is morally neutral but the laboratory setting makes the act at least morally questionable. Was she merely trying to frighten Calder, who panicked when he saw the match? Did the tactic backfire, literally? The biblical text approves her action elevating it to a sacrificial act. Since Calder identified with the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, preferring to reign in hell than serve in heaven, his wish was granted.” – Bernard F. Dick

 

ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS: JESUS WAS AN ALIEN?

Jesus was an alien

Painting “Vintage Contact” by Lawrence Jones

The film bring out an interesting argument that became a cultural fad in the 60s & 70s that pertaining to Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this hypothesis in the late …. In Chapter 4 of Chariots of the Gods?, entitled “Was God an Astronaut? … claiming that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, citing John 8:23

The young sons of the scientist Stewart or Roger (Orley Lingren -Bayard Veiller) are later told that their parents were snatched up in a chariot of fire.

After this final message, the people of Moscow dig up old vestments and place their new religious leader in charge toppling the Communist government, a new religious revival arises in Russia taking back their country from the Communists and they place one of the peasants who had been a priest as the new spiritual leader as head of state.

Cronyn now vindicated and becomes a hero with followers who gather around the observatory to applaud and worship him. Then he is reviled as a traitor. By the end he is somewhat of a Christ figure himself being sacrificed, while Calder’s house is destroyed by an avalanche.

During the fight where Calder fires his weapon at the transmitter causing the hydrogen explosion killing Cronyn his wife Lynda and Nazi Franz Calder, Cronyn becomes Christ-like.

The film has an epilogue where the American President (Willis Bouchey) gives credit to Cronyn for delivering the word about the new world order.

The President is making a speech. He says that that final message coming from Mars was “Ye have done well my good and faithful servants.” The rest was silence. We are told the whole Earth is their sepulchre.

During the early 1950s while these anti-communist science fiction narratives were being rolled out, there were religious crusades and sub-texts that bear a trace of what Phil Hardy referred to as ‘religiosity’ lead by high profile preachers like Billy Graham–and politicians like Senator McCarthy who exploited the fear of the spread of communism. This sentiment could be seen in films like Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From The Screen is Red: Hollywood Communism, and the Cold War by Bernard F. Dick, he writes that Red Planet Mars 1952 is one of the few science fiction films of the fifties featuring Soviets as characters sharing America’s determination to communicate with Mars.

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The final title rolls  “The Beginning” Instead of ray guns, monsters from Mars and rocket ships as Bill Warrens says–“it was sermons and a trip to church…”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies-“The writers concur with this the technological advances on Mars, though Bogus almost demolish Earth’s society through simple shame. When Cronyn’s wife expresses doubts and goes back to the house (probably to make coffee) Cronyn sucks on his pipe and sighs indulgently “Poor Lynda, with all her silly fears” The lab scenery is pretty good for the early 1950s. Calder’s hut is covered with ritual masks, which he occasionally talks to. The director tries to make the astronomer’s family important to him, little homey touches.” Warren calls all the Russians esp. Marvin Miller’s character Franz Calder ‘a swinish boor…. he adds The religious messages those woven into the film are monumentally patronizing… (LOVE and HATE )… bored those who didn’t care about the message, embarrassed those who believed in the message and turned off the rest.”

 

Admiral Bill Carey: I wonder what kind of world we’re opening the door on!

Linda Cronyn: [to Chris] We’ve lived on the edge of a volcano all our lives. One day it’ll boil over.

Franz Calder: He who follows the tyrant’s banner shall wear the tyrant’s chains. He who carries God’s banner shall know everlasting life!

Arjenian: You expect me to to tell them that?

Franz Calder: What you tell them is no concern of mine.

Untamed Women

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They Feared No Monster – Yet Fell Before the Touch of Man!

Directed by W. Merle Connell, starts Mikel Conrad as Steve Holloway, Doris Merrick as Sondra. Richard Monahan, Robert Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware as Myra, Judy Brubaker as Valdra, Carol Brewster as Tennus, Autumn Russell as Cleo and Lyle Talbot as Col.Loring.

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Untamed Women -director W. Merle Connell used clips from One Million B.C (1940)–Untamed Women was shot in under a week.

The story- a World War II bomber pilot Steve Holloway Mikel Conrad (The Flying Saucer) crashes and is rescued from a raft, given truth serum better known as sodium pentothal tells doctor Lyle Talbot the strange story of where he’s been. He and three members of his crew had washed up on an Island inhabited by beautiful women, dinosaurs and a nasty man eating plant. Did I mention the beautiful women?

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Untamed Women the plant that eats

The dinosaurs courtesy of One Million B.C —The half naked gals, costumes designed by E. Anderson responsible for the scantily clad UNTAM-ERY with their make up by Harry Gillette, not sure who tackled the 50s hair styles… very not- untamed. The women are supposedly descendants of Druids, how they wound up on this Island who knows, it’s just simply—by ancient druid magic one would suppose.

Morgan Jones and Carol Brewster. Jones is NOT a hairy man from the sea!

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They fear being savaged again by the ‘hairy men’ from the sea. Doris Merrick who plays Sondra believes in the beginning that Steve and his men are also the hairy men because they haven’t shaven for days. She and her untamed women banish them to the valley of the stock footage dinosaurs in order to put them through a trial by fire, then they pair off with these nice American fellas until the hairy men do actually return. These wooly savages kill some of the untamed women, one of the good guys and then of course a volcano erupts and everyone dies but Steve who has been given a token of Sondra’s love, a medallion that he is found clutching.

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Doris Merrick as Sondra who wears the ancient amulet around her neck.

Bill Warren adds wonderful vintage reviews at the end of each film he covers. Here’s another particularly hilarious summary from The Monthly Film Bulletin called it “remarkable rigmarole”

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Zombies of the Stratosphere

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE

Invasion From A Mystery Planet!–the Rocket Man Battle the “Robot from Outer Space”!

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES YOU’LL SEE…ROCKET SHIPS IN STRATO-FLIGHT!…STRANGE CREATURES FROM ANOTHER WORLD! ROCKET MEN FIGHTING ROBOTS! DEADLY MACHINES AND WEAPONS IN ACTION!

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A REPUBLIC SERIAL IN 12 CHAPTERS!

Directed by Fred C. Bannon, starring Judd Holdren as Larry Martin, Aline Towne as Sue Davis, Wilson Wood as Bob Wilson, Lane Bradford as Marex, Stanley Waxman as Dr. Harding, John Crawford as Roth, and Leonard Nimoy as Narab.

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Lost in Space jetpack

NOW!! that’s a jet pack… Guy Williams as Professor John Robinson — Lost in Space (1965-1968)

This time out it’s Holdren who wears the mask and flying suit. He plays a sort of star ranger. who uncovers and foils the plot of the Martians to blow up the Earth with an H-bomb and then shift Mars into Earth’s orbit. Bradford is the villain Nimoy is a zombie-like henchman and Waxman the treacherous scientist who helps them. The script by Davidson who single-handed wrote the last 13 Republic serials is crude as is Brannon’s direction. A year later Holdren took over the role of Commando Cody first layed out by George Wallace in Radar Men. but the serial was a false culled from episodes of Republic’s Commando Cody teleseries. In 1958 an edited down version of this serial was re-issued as Satan’s Satellites.

Judd Holdren plays Larry Martin a secret agent who can fly wearing his campy rocket suit with a kitschy control panel on his chest with buttons marked up & down (teehee), and not quite as fantastical ala Commando Cody. Martin is on the trail of a Martian spaceship that has been making secret trips to Earth. Seems the invaders working with a villainous atomic scientist with a grudge and they are looking to take over our galaxy by blasting Earth out of it’s orbit!

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Yes that Leonard Nimoy!

Shatner and Nimoy

STAY TUNED FOR

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Coming up…
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Cat-Women of the Moon
Donovan’s Brain
Four Sided Triangle
Invaders from Mars
It Came from Outer Space
The Lost Planet
The Magnetic Monster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Neanderthal Man
Phantom from Space
Port Sinister
Project Moonbase
Robot Monster
The Twonky
The War of the Worlds

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Postcards From Shadowland: no. 15

Anna The Rose Tattoo
Anna Magnani in Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo (1955) directed by Daniel Mann
Blood of a Poet 32 Cocteua
director Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of the Poet (1932) starring Enrique Rivero
Broken-Blossoms-Gish
Lillian Gish stars in Broken Blossoms in D. W. Griffith’s (1919) visual poetry
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Kongo (1932) Lupe Velez torments Virginia Bruce in this remake of West of Zanzibar (1928)
GIULETTA MASINA in Fellini's masterpiece oneric journey Juilet of the Spirits 1965
Guiletta Masina is brilliant in Juliet of the Spirits (1965) Fellini’s masterpiece oneric journey
kuroneko
director Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko (1968) a beautifully disturbing ghost story
Anita Louise as Titania
Anita Louise as Titania Queen of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1935
Brando and Schneider The Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in The Last Tango in Paris 1972
Ohmart and Franz The Wild Party
Arthur Franz, Anthony Quinn and Carol Ohmart in The Wild Party 1956
Annex - Alexander, Katharine as Alda Death Takes a Holiday)_01
Death Takes a Holiday (1934) Katherine Alexander as Alda with Fredric March as Prince Sirki/Death
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Richard Fleischer directs Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler 1968
Dead of Night
Part of several segments of this classical ghost story, Alberto Cavalcanti directs Michael Redgrave in perhaps one of the most famous frightening tales in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” Dead of Night (1945)
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck is attacked by Nymphomaniacs in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963)
Brighton Rock Dick Attenborough as Pinkie Brown with Carol Marsh
Film noir thriller Brighton Rock (1947) starring Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown co-stars with Carol Marsh
Clementine
John Ford’s epic western drama -My Darling Clementine 1946 starring Henry Fonda and Linda Darnell
The Maids 1933 men in drag
Charles Busch, left, and Peter Francis James in a 1993 Classic Theater Company production of “The Maids” (1933) in which the sisters were men in drag
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon Jérôme Pomino
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon as Jérôme Pomino
the-bride-wore-black
François Truffaut’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with The Bride Wore Black (1968) starring the incomparable Jeanne Moreau
The Sea Hawk 1924
The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Harold Lloyd starring silent film idol Milton Sills
through a glass darkly
Harriet Andersson in Through A Glass Darkly (1961) director Ingmar Bergman
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA.  Credit: Janus Films.  Playing 4/24 - 4/30.
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel’s VIRIDIANA Janus Films. 

Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling

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The Criterion Blogathon is hosted by three truly prolific bloggers, and I want to thank them for allowing me to join in paying tribute to the collection of landmark, art-house & original films from around the globe! Hosted by Aaron at Criterion Blues, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings!

When they started to hint that this blogathon was going to be BIG… none of us had any idea just how BIG!!!! BIG was!

Criterion Eerie Cinema of the 60s -‘That Haunting Feeling!

The trend of classical Gothic ghost stories in a decade of disorder…

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Carnival of Souls 1962:

Carnival of Souls

  • “When we are young we read and believe the most fantastic things. When we grow older and wiser we learn with perhaps a little regret that these things can never be. We are quite, quite wrong!” Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit

  • Is all that we see or seem… But a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe – A Dream Within a Dream

  • “I don’t belong in the world”Mary Henry-Carnival of Souls 1962

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Carnival of Souls (1962) was produced & directed by Herk Harvey who originally shot industrial & educational geographical shorts and found himself traveling all over the United States. He came across some inspiring locations when he decided to try his hand at an intellectual horror story. When he stumbled onto the abandoned Pavilion in Utah, which at one time was a grand party spot in the earlier part of the century, between the corrosive salt water air and the years of neglect, Harvey knew that he had found the right place to film his arty horror film.

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Saltair Pavilion: Historical photograph

Carnival of Souls doesn’t rely on it’s sparse dialogue to tell it’s story, for it’s the visual cues, and the spasms of unreality that become the narrator. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a ‘liminal’ wanderer , a heroine who is in a state of transition who occupies both sides of a threshold between reality & oblivion.

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mirror

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When Mary experiences bouts of her non-existence in public places, where people act as if she isn’t there, and when all noises and sounds go away and she is stuck in a silent world… she can touch a tree and the chirping of birds re-connects her to reality. This image represents the liminal space she occupies. But don’t get smart alecky with me, I know the difference between liminal and a tree limb! just a co-incidence people just a co-incidence…

After having several unfortunate mis-dealings with corrupt distribution houses like Hertz Lion on it’s initial release, and small indie companies that packaged the film as part of collection of B-Movie horror box sets in 1989. In 2000 Carnival of Souls received it’s rightful induction into the Criterion Collection when they put this beautifully artistic horror gem in their extraordinary catalog.

Herk Harvey was a devotee to Ingmar Bergman and more specifically his cinematographer Sven Nykvist (The Virgin Spring 1960, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 Persona 1966, Pretty Baby 1978, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988). Harvey tried to impart this inspiration to his camera guy Maurice Prather, in terms of how he envisioned lighting the film.

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Here’s a dismissive description of our female heroine aside from ‘misfit heroine’ which at least the character sees herself as an ‘outsider’… going through some life altering surreal journey … from Roger Ebert in 1989: “The movie stars Candace Hilligoss, one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)…

When women have something praying on their minds , it’s called worry, or if she takes that worry further and voices her anxiety, it’s called hysteria. If the same situation befell a man, he’d be a courageous loner trying to find his way through a challenge. No look of worry on his face. It would be called ‘determination.’

Film critic Roger Ebert also had this to say about Carnival of Souls back during it’s revival in 1989. Carnival of Souls” is a odd obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence Kansas., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from “Twilight Zone”, it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”…{….} And another effective moment when she’s in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music.”

Harvey came up with the story but it was scripted by writer John Clifford, who fashioned his hallucinatory version of the story as a psychological fun house ride in the same mold of Rod Serling’s anthology series, Twilight Zone. I got the same vibe myself when re-viewing the film, as it reminded me of the Hitch-Hiker episode with Inger Stevens. You can see the correlation between the heroine falling into a nether space that mimics life’s mundane locations, yet something is quite off — between her reality and the connection to those places. The tone of Carnival of Souls is somber and the colors are monochromatic which allows for the emergence of the “Man” to project even more supremacy over the mood and motion because of the lack of grey areas. He stands out superbly as the film’s boogeyman. Carnival of Souls is a story that doesn’t rely on elucidating or crucial dialogue. It is driven by eerie & arresting visual cues.

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Carnival of souls is hauntingly gritty, menacing and an ethereal nightmarish journey that our ‘misfit heroine’ (source -Jarenski) -archetype Mary Henry must roam through in order to find her place in the world… it is a visual and sensory driven allegory. Mary Henry, straddles the plain between reality and unreality, life & death, belonging & alienation, an outcast who is “unfit for the mundane world.” The film works based on the premise that Mary is unusual, an outcast or outsider. Even the people surrounding her act jittery, a bit bewildered and uncomfortable by her strange manner.

Gene Moore was responsible for the score that consists of REUTER ORGAN with exposed pipes. He had access to the Reuter Organ Factory and became inspired to use it as the musical undercurrent of calliope. It also gave Harvey the idea to use this motif as Mary Henry’s profession, and place of employment. With all the organ inflections and swells it is only Mary and us, who ever hear the magnificent instrument playing, filling out all the nuanced spaces without intruding, it is subtle and multi-layered for such a powerful instrument, that works well with the macabre carnival atmosphere.

The art and set direction are literally the real locations that Harvey and Clifford felt inspired by. They would sneak the crew in to film before getting booted out. The amusement park Pavilion called the Saltair, was shot in Great Salt Lake City Utah.

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With the exception of Candace Hilligoss who trained in New York City as a method actor under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, and character actor Sidney Berger as the lascivious neighbor John Lindon, the rest of the cast is virtually unknown non actors. Herk Harvey had requested that they scout for an accomplished New York Actress, and they found Hilligoss! Although Harvey refused to give Hilligoss any cues or background motivation for her character. She, like the other players had no rehearsals nor were they allowed or given any re-takes.

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Herk Harvey himself plays the ever-present ‘the Man’ as he is credited, who is the sinister presence that stalks Mary throughout the film. He creates an unsettling presence like the lurking archetype of ‘Death.’

Both Herk Harvy and John Clifford evaluated the final film saying that it had the art-house feel that they were shooting for, in their words  “The visual style with an Ingmar Bergman look & the mood of a Jean Cocteau film.” with a supernatural theme.

The film could also be viewed slightly in the realm of a Neo-Realist work, ‘Post WWII, Italy working under the constraints of a war torn nation, they were filmed in real locations with non-professional actors.’ -Gary J. & Susan Svehla

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Carnival of Souls attains a gritty naturalism, with the non created sets or the use of recognizable actors, except for Candace Hilligoss who wasn’t even given any direction about her character’s motivation! ironic for a method actor who trained under the master Lee Strasberg… Hilligoss’ state of un-ease was authentic…

The make up for what I’m calling the ‘Dead Ensemble‘ came about because of the budgetary restrictions. Using egg whites, yes egg whites, what happened as a happy accident was a chilling & effective look of rotting flesh, and the pale gray glow of death. The egg whites created the pasty grey and flaky tone due to the use of B&W film stock.

To get permission to film the car plunging into the Kaw River in Kansas, the film crew had to agree to pick-up the tab for any repairs to the bridge. In fact the police attempted to arrest Harvey for attempted murder til Harvey showed it to be a simulation for their film and not a real accident.

Filming the entire movie in a month much of the footage was executed with guerrilla -like shooting tactics because they would have to get in and out of the settings, grab the few shots on that location due to not having permits to be there or to close the streets for filming! Most of the audio was post-dubbed, so it was an impossible task to get the syncing just right.

Sadly, With all the financial problems and the lack of recognition that the film failed to get initially turned both Herk Harvey and John Clifford off from making another picture.

The film opens on a street of a Midwestern heartland town where three young women in a car are being challenged to a drag race by a gang of young hoodlums. When the driver agrees, the girls begin to tear up the road and head over the very narrow bridge. All three including Mary Henry (Hiligoss) plunge off the bridge into the murky waters below. As the car falls beneath the clouded river, the film’s credit’s ripple over the surface of the water, creating an eerie prelude to the story.

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drag race begins

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car goes into the river

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This image strikes me as a portrait of Americana- a photo that Shelby Lee Adams might have taken. The menfolk almost looming like apathetic vultures over the car wrecked in the river below

out of the water onto the landing

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another similar view -the men looking down on Mary Henry -objectification & a silent pronouncement from the patriarchy!

The sole survivor, Mary emerges from the cold river, drenched like a drowned and rotting water lily, smeared and splattered in mud. While the rescue party arrives on the scene, local townspeople are there, and the police work on raising up the submerged car, Mary walks out of the water staggering onto the jettee. Mary is asked about the other two women in the car but she tells them that she doesn’t remember anything. Mary just walks away from the scene of the accident.

As if the entire ordeal was just a dream you wake from to find that it isn’t real, it hasn’t happened, Mary walks away and returns to her job at the organ factory. She tells her boss that she has decided to make a change in her life. She has taken a position as a church organist in another city in Utah. When her co-workers gossip about Mary’s decision they remark in a bit of foretelling dialogue, giving away some dreary foreshadowing of things to come for Mary , “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.”

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“Mary it takes more than intellect to be a musician… put your soul into it.”

Mary leaves town, she drives past the scene of the accident. She begins to experience a sense of panic, of trepidation washing over her , but she makes it across the bridge safely. It’s nighttime, shes driving by herself and she sees the abandoned pavilion which instantly sparks her interest. But when she reverts her gaze back to the road she sees directly in front of her a vision of the pale faced stranger who’s sinister presence startles her, and for a moment she veers off the road. Managing to gain back control of the car she makes it onto the road and continues driving til she gets to the gas station.

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The only music Mary can get on the car radio is organ music…

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Once there, she is haunted by either strange hallucinations or actual supernatural contact of a sinister man (Herk Harvey) with a macabre pale dead face in a off the rack suit and then a tuxedo.
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The monochromatic frames work to intensify the look of the ‘Man’ who literally appears to be part of the seducing void & darkness moving around Mary.
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Mary meets her new landlady at the boarding house where she’s taken a room, near the church where she’ll be the organist.
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The minister tells her that the congregation would be interested in meeting their new organist but she coldly replies to him. If they say I’m a fine organist that should be enough”
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“We have an organist capable of stirring the soul” sure but consider the fact that she’s a ‘lost’ soul herself!

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She makes it to her new rooming house, getting ready for bed she catches another glimpse of the ‘Man’ outside her bedroom window. In the morning , she goes to her new job at the church. The minister (Art Ellison) tells her that he’d like the congregation to meet her as she’s the new organist and part of the community now. Yet, odd bewildered Mary isn’t interested in this ceremonious display, he imparts a fatherly cliché to her “You can’t live in isolation from the human race.”

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the ‘Man’ appears at the church looking strangely at the stain glass panel, what is he thinking? it’s an interesting juxtaposition of the image of a pious figure being gazed at by the figure of ‘death’

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Mary feels cut off from the world and is believed to be crazy by the people she encounters. She also becomes drawn to a decaying old amusement park where the ‘Man’ who visits her hallucinations, escorts her into a waltz of the dead in the empty ballroom. Meantime, the police are back at the scene of the accident pulling up the wreckage of the car from the river. Mary is pursued by the sleazy roomer at the boarding house, John Linden who’s got plans on getting Mary in the sack!

From CRITERION The Liner notes by Bruce Kawin–there are fun references to other movie titles like “Call it Orpheus meets An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge–organ

there are similarities.. After the accident she plays the church organ without any religious conviction and has a date without desire, She is accused of having no soul.
She feels cut off and doesn’t know why and to find out the reason is to be destroyed : To synchronize with and , quite literally meet her fate.

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Mary can see Saltair Pavilion from her bedroom window

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The film is filled with signals and omens that forewarn that something has shifted in Mary’s life either through her dreams or her new reality. John Clifford’s script seems inspired by the old expressionist fantasy dramas and Harvey’s direction allows the atmosphere to embrace a weird style, that could easily have been a silent film. Carnival of Souls depends much on visual cues, and a quirky narrative filled with curiosity, honesty and repressed primal fear.

Once Mary walks away from the commotion of the accident she drives to a local garage for assistance. She sees the ‘Man’ and flees on foot. (This is very reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode called The Hitchhiker starring Inger Stevens being stalked by what looks like a hobo, but just might be death himself trying to take her back with him.)

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Inger Stevens is Nan Adams in The Hitch-Hiker episode of Rod Serling’s brilliant anthology sci-fi/fantasy show The Twilight Zone The Hitch-Hiker aired on Jan. 22 1960.

On Mary’s day off she goes shopping, and in the midst of a retail transaction she becomes disconnected from her surroundings. First people refuse to acknowledge her as if she’s not there. (great idea for a film effect right M Night Shyamalan? yeah as I was saying) Then Mary begins to lose her sense of hearing. Nothing seems to make noise, there isn’t a sound to be heard.

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While shopping in the department store, the people around Mary act as if she isn’t there. As if she were a ghost… 

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why can't I hear anything
“why can’t I hear anything?”

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Mary becomes hysterical when she thinks the older gentleman at the water fountain is the ‘Man’ Dr Samuel’s tells her she’s hysterical and that she should control herself…

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She flees to the tranquility of the city park and leaves the urban stresses behind her, and suddenly her senses start coming back to her. Once she lays her hands on a tree trunk the natural world let’s her in again. She can hear bird’s chirping and becomes connected to reality again. But this is only shortly lived as it lasts briefly before, she thinks she sees the ‘Man’ standing by the a water fountain. Mary becomes hysterical. Dr. Samuel’s comes to her aide, tells her she’s hysterical and to control herself. He takes her to his office across the street.

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Mary- “It was more than just not being able to hear anything, or make contact with anyone. It was as though, as though for a time I didn’t exist. As though I had no place in the world. No part of the life around me.” Dr. Samuels-“And then you saw this, this man?” He tells her that perhaps the Man represents a ‘guilt’ feeling. She tells him that it’s ridiculous. Mary  “Well I know one thing. If my imagination is playing tricks on me, I’m gonna put a stop to it!” He tells her she’s strong willed. She tells him that she’s survived if that’s what he means. He tells her that the Pavilion holds some kind of meaning to her. She’s going out there alone and prove that it’s just her imagination.

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She tells him she has no interest in being with other people. She also figures that her unease is somehow connected to the abandoned Carnival/Pavilion. So fixated on it is she, that she feels compelled to return there and try to exorcise these recent terrors. While visiting it during daylight she interprets it as a harmless place. But… she is unaware of the ‘Man’ lying beneath the surface of the water… waiting for her.

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cast the devil out

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Mary is cast under the spell of the lurking dead and the strange draw to the abandoned & desolate Saltair

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Profane

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“Profane… sacrilege What are you playing in this church. Have you no respect Do you feel no reverence? Well I feel sorry for you… and your lack of soul. This organ the music of this church these things have meaning and significance to us. I assumed they did to you. (to Mary it was just a job) But without this awareness I’m afraid you cannot be our organist. In conscious I must ask you to resign”
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At Church Mary is compelled to play the organ like a feverish madwoman, beyond the control of her hands, she hits the keys and creates dark progressions. Her music becomes malevolent on the pipe organ (Much like Siohban McKenna’s Emmy in Daughter of Darkness 1948) As Mary strokes the keys inflamed, overcome and aroused by the inexplicable desire, she sees images of the ‘Man’ and the others, the dead ensemble rising from the water, then waltzing at the Pavilion, moving in a quick pace, toward her. The jump cuts are very effective, as if they create the illusion of the dead ones hurling themselves at her. The minister interrupts Mary’s day-mare he cries ‘Sacrilege’ and he dismisses her from her post at the church.

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CRITERION liner notes: All the music with the exception of the jukebox is the organ.

“The organ is the music of Mary’s mind and of the world in which she finds herself. the world as a gain the way things are. It may be that she imagines her story in her own terms. With a soundtrack as cold as she is said to be, or that she ‘really’ lives for awhile in a world where the dead intrude. The underscoring and the underwater undead make it likely that what we see and hear is her windscreen. But the horror film can have it both ways.”

“An alternate world and an imagined one. Aside from the music the most artistically daring element of this film-one that defies a central convention of the horror genre -is its flight from romanticism , it’s concentration not on a foaming monster or on the hammering bosom of a Hammer heroine, but on a cold fish. If she is a magnet for the Gothic , there is nothing exciting or sexy about it. The thrills of this carnival are cold ones…. bits of death.”

The ‘Man’ continues to pursue Mary, she sees him everywhere, even while she’s playing the organ. The minister shows Mary around town and she asks him to accompany her to the Pavilion. Strange too, Mary can see it from her bedroom window.

When she returns to the rooming house Mary has to rebuff the seedy lecherous John Linden (Sidney Berger) who keeps trying to insinuate himself into Mary’s apartment. She also sees the ‘Man’ again.

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Mary is fixated on the Pavilion in the way Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is fixated on Hill House. The Pavilion has become a catalyst, a place of connection to Mary who til now has been literally disconnected from the living world. The old rusted machinery of the ballroom, and the rusted collapsing spiral staircase reveal the old is enticing both women who don’t belong in this world that is new and young and vibrant. Both Eleanor and Mary Henry exist in a dust filled space of detachment and estrangement.

Mary accepts a date with her sleazy predatory neighbor Lindon, but refuses to drink, dance or be held close. They go back to her room, she sees John’s face become the ‘Man’s’ reflection in the mirror. The next morning she checks out of the rooming house, determined to leave this town behind. She is detained by car trouble. Dropping off the car at the gas station even proves to be an ominous affair.

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Having been fired, wanting to leave town, the car is the garage, she goes to the bus depot, but can’t buy a ticket because no one hears or sees her. She tries to get onto the bus, the dead ensemble are inside laughing approaching her She tries to get on the train, they close the gate on her. she runs, there is a motorcycle cop, but he pulls away, as does the taxi cab that doesn’t see her…she runs the organ and the heels of her shoes, in a frenzy, her inner monologue why can’t they hear me, why can’t I hear anything.

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Trying to buy a bus ticket people walk right over her, the teller doesn’t acknowledge her. She is invisible to the world.
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She tries to get onto the train. they close the gait in her face. She is not there…
She screams "why can't anybody hear me!!!
Mary screams… “Why can’t anybody hear me!!!”

She attempts to buy a bus ticket, and becomes separated from the world again, so she attempts to just get on the bus. Jumping through the open door of the idling bus, she is confronted by the passengers, the dead ensemble.

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She meets with Doctor Samuels again in his office. He sits and listens with his back to her, she tells him “I don’t belong in the world” As the psychiatrist turns to answer her, it is revealed to be the ‘Man’ sitting in the chair. Mary screams… and wakes up in the garage. For a moment Mary is allowed to acknowledge the experience as a dream.

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Mary to Doctor Samuel’s chair back -“You’ve got to tell me what to do!”

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Mary drives away from town, directly to the Pavilion. The outside lights are illuminating the dead ensemble dancing. Mary sees herself as one of them. She’s dancing with the ‘Man’, caught in his embrace. The quick cuts create a frenetic dizzying night torment. The dead ensemble begin to chase Mary onto the sand by the beach. Then the scene changes to the austere sky and bleached out white of daylight.

There she is haunted by strange visions involving the pasty-faced wraith who continues to be a menacing force. Mary  is disconnected from the natural world, and the people around her experience her as odd perhaps even crazy. Even the most ordinary and mundane places like church, retail shops, parks, train stations and doctor’s offices are not safe as the pale-faced wraith that shadows her seems to be everywhere.

It is this feeling of isolation & being alienated by the world that draws Mary to the eerie abandoned Pavilion. At the Pavilion she is escorted by the ‘Man’ to come join the dance with the ‘pale-faced pushing up daisy’s gang’ in the empty ballroom.

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the end

The quick cuts of the ‘Man’ are appropriately horrifying because of the lack of grey tones, he appears with the ghastly pasty white face in dark contrast to his evening wear and the dark corners in which he appears to be occupying.

The power in the Pavilion comes on and the festive lights come up in the ballroom -the dead ensemble in their evening attire are waltzing. She see herself as one of them, she is dancing with the ‘Man’- she screams and runs but they chase her down to the beach. Now it’s daytime, the cold light of day at the Pavilion-slipping in and out of a dream, reality, darkness & light or belonging of terror.

We see the police, the minister of the church and the locals are investigating Mary’s disappearance. Mary’s car is still at the Pavilion. There are many sets of footprints leading down toward the beach and then… they end abruptly.

Is she trapped between the world of the dead or the world of the living? Mary Henry avoids death throughout the film as she is stalked and seduced by the pale-faced ‘Man’ with the mocking gaze and the ‘Lifeless Mob’, the ‘Dead Ensemble’ but it might just be a tryst she’ll have to show up for eventually…

Just to recap- The opening prelude shows us Mary rising from the cold waters of the river, her hair splattered with mud, she staggers onto the river bank passing the rescue party. She moves awkwardly as she emerges. It is perhaps the most powerful scene in Carnival of Souls, as Mary Henry indifferent toward ‘rescue’ or ‘deliverance.’ The extraneous attempt are mocked by the reality that Mary doesn’t seek salvation, and soon will embark on a nightmare journey trying to find her way out of purgatory. She is lured to the deserted Pavilion, trying to exorcise the nightmarish wraiths that stalk her even in the stark light of day.

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The film fell into obscurity for a while because of a bad deal struck with the corrupt Hertz-Lion Company to distribute the film in small theaters , who either didn’t understand or didn’t care to embrace Harvey/Clifford’s vision for the film. So Hertz Lion packaged it as a B-Movie venues exclusively, and playing at drive ins in the Southeastern U.S, not allowing it’s intended urban city Indie arty audience to see it. The Company also kept the profits then went out of business in 1964. Leaving Harvey and Clifford unpaid, the film lab who struck the release print unpaid as well. Carnival of Souls was edited for release to be used as double billing. The film was butchered by Hertz Lion, sacrificing mood and the script’s intelligibility for the sake of a shorter print, which would be easier to distribute.

Now you may suppose that the film’s continuity was sacrificed by this, yet Carnival of Souls does not seem to suffer from lack of atmosphere, unique camera work or said continuity, the film still deserves the art-house label as Herk Harvey and John Clifford originally intended.

Even after  ‘it languished in obscurity’ due to the dubious distribution strategy by the corrupt Hertz Lion Company and despite all the cuts and edits from the original film, Carnival of Souls has gained a tremendous cult following,

It’s one of my favorite classical horror films of the 60s! With many of us discovering this horror gem on late nite television with it’s spooky programming like Chiller Theater, Creature Feature and Night Fright on WOR Channel 9 in New York… all of which I was nourished on as a really young horror fan in the 60s & 70s.

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Candace Hilligoss was frustrated with Herk Harvey because he gave her NO motivation for her character, little to no explanation for Mary’s actions. Coming from the method school of acting, this created a conflict with her role, yet the blank stare and the disconnection to the narrative inadvertently or unconsciously created the no- affect heroine that propelled Mary even further into a netherworld caught between reality and unreality. Sound and silence. Visibility and imperceptibility. Mary Henry walks through the film perplexed and alienated.

Hilligoss would appear in one more horror picture from the 60s Corpse of the Living Dead (1964) a gruesome horror whodunit with a heavy dose of cynicism and sadism, Del Tenney style.

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Carnival of Souls has a visual narrative that is somewhat like a dark poem, or a funeral dance.

I’ve read an interesting essay that touches on a corollary between Carnival of Souls and Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost story The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House. From Hidden Horror the chapter on Carnival of Souls by Prof. Shelly Jarenski- They make a few interesting comparisons. Such as the prelude… “… And we who walk here… walk alone.” in my malleable childhood mind, both the prelude and the coda stayed with me like a creepy lullaby or maudlin soliloquy. Jarenski says “The film’s core themes are encapsulated in that line uttered by the misfit heroine Eleanor Lance.”

Jarenski also mentions that ‘Eleanor seemed happiest becoming a ghost, belonging to the house.’

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the haunting

Words like ‘we’ or ‘walking’ does create an ominous ambiguity. That Eleanor will either join the collection of lost souls in Hill House or be doomed to walk alone for all eternity in ‘isolation and despair.’

Jarenski asserts that Carnival of Souls can be understood as a corollary to the more ceremonious and celebrated The Haunting because “It portrays what being part of the community of the dead, while simultaneously feeling utterly alone, looks like.”

Source From: More Things Than are Dreamt of- they point out the idea that The Haunting is much more than just a ghost story. As Shirley Jackson wrote in her novel, “During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory Eleanor had been waiting for something…”

Because of the key player Eleanor Lance not being a professional para-psychologist or a willing believer, what surfaces during the story’s reveal is that we are witnesses not just to a haunting, but a lonely woman, a disillusioned spinster, most likely a virgin who is yearning for release.

Mary Henry is also an isolated outcast, drawn to something possibly nefarious, but it’s something better than being a nothing, or being invisible around regular people… “I have no desire for the close company of other people.”

Mary Henry goes through portends and psychic spells that tamper with her senses, spells that are jarring and utterly frightening. The idea of abject ‘horror’ as with The Haunting (1963) or Daughter of Darkness (1948) doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural force behind the fear that is awakened. The apprehension of evil, the supernatural or the fine line between life and death are made a disturbing odyssey as we aren’t sure what is happening to Mary or us. The disturbing tone as Jarensky puts it, is ‘atmospheric oddness.’ The oddness that is familiar in Robert Wise’s The Haunting as Hill House’s angles were all ‘odd’ leaving one to feel that there is one big distortion as a whole. Mary Henry has been shifted off the mortal plain, journeying through a dizzying quagmire of nocturnal terrors or daytime sensory ordeals and alienation from the world.

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I’ve made my own connection with another stunning picture that deals with the fine line between death and life, reality and unreality. I’m talking about Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) where the hero also takes a grotesque and frighteningly nightmarish journey from life… through death…

So is it a ‘death journey’, a collective hallucination, or is Mary Henry going mad?

From the booklet notes of CRITERION by Bruce Kawin

“In Carnival of Souls (1962) one place is allowed to be blatantly creepy: The Amusement park where ghosts rest under the water and rise to dance. The rest of the world appears both normal and somehow wrong and part of what is wrong about it -and within stand encompassing it- it the liminal protagonist , Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) For she has gone wrong , and in the world with her. It may be her subjective world, as in the Cocteau and Bergman films that producer -director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford admired, but it is ours as long as we are in the theater, and it look too much like the real world outside the theater for comfort.

Mary Henry could also be said to be the archetypal “alienated heroine’, ‘the misplaced heroine’ or as Jarenski calls it ‘the misfit heroine’ who also feels like she lives on the fringes of society, with no place she truly belongs.

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Now this is where Mary Henry and her queer mannerism, church organ playing that becomes almost diabolically fevered, and the peculiar magnetism to either attract men or repel them still puts me in mind of director Lance Comfort’s Daughter of Darkness (1948) concerning the odd Irish lass Emily ‘Emmy’ Beaudine (Siohban MacKenna) Emmy too, was the church organist, who aroused every man in the county with a supernatural allure, yet she repelled dogs, horses and the womenfolk. And, when a man did want to go further she would scratch their eyes out or murder them in a fevered rage. Emmy is a wild thing, driven out of town for being one of the devil’s own. When Emmy played the organ, she became entranced not unlike Mary Henry, often she would lose herself in long drawn out musical conflagration to darkness. But was it supernatural or a monstrous feminine morality play about women’s primacy.

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Both women, provocative and strange possess a power to attract and repel, with Emmy’s boxer and Mary’s neighbor Linden. Mary plays the organ with a “pragmatic irreverence.” When the minister admonishes her, calling it ‘sacrilege’ she leaves her town “I am never coming back!

The parishioners talk behind her back, “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.

But even as Mary is seen as renegade, wicked or immoral she still doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin, not as much as the people on the periphery of her world are. Those who inhabit the tenuous wall between life & death.

When Mary states that she feels separate from other people, we are dropped into a scene where the outside world that invades and surrounds her, loses all it’s sound. It is a marker to how she is cut off from the world.

Julia Kristeva the scholar who expanded brilliantly on Freud’s postulations on the sub-conscious & fear in his The Uncanny describes something that is pervasive through Carnival of Souls. The film takes the mundane, the familiar and these familiar points of reference, department stores, city parks, train stations and brightly sunlit beaches, suddenly become ‘out of place’ This is what happens to Mary Henry as she bares witness to the manifestation of the uncanny. She experiences a ‘profound psychological disturbance’ that is virtually impossible to describe.

As Jarensky says, “everything seems familiar to her, and yet she feels an inexplicable sense of separateness.”

With each time the sinister and other-worldly ‘Man’ shows himself to Mary, the film begins to spiral into a nightmarish hazy Kaleidoscope of eerie unreality. It not only seems like an assault on Mary, it makes us really uncomfortable as well, causing us anxiety.

Carnival of Souls has an enduring eerie charm that has sustained it’s cult status for years. Part of what works so well for this unique film is the lack of direction Hilligoss got from Herk Harvey leaving her as authentically lost as her character Mary Henry wandering through a netherworld too frightening to navigate. Low budget, filled with happy accidents that when viewed in retrospect bares the look of an art-house horror though unintentional the low grade quality creates a haunting appeal….

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Continue reading “Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Simply Double Creepy Sunday Nite Surreal: Just Leave the Rotting Bodies in the Spare Room!

Both films have that right amount of reductive 70s horror enchantment….!

CRIMINALLY INSANE 1975

Alden in Criminally Insane 1975

Priscilla Alden is Crazy Fat Ethel…

Now let me say right here and now, that I do not advocate fat-phobic themes and story lines. I avoided watching this film for that very reason.

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“She’s 250 Pounds of Maniacal Fury” -tagline

But on one particular insomnia ridden night, I felt the urge to try and embrace a 70s horror trope for the sake of being well versed in my classic horror knowledge. I have to say that I was truly impressed by the simplistic and claustrophobic view with which I experienced Priscilla Alden’s performance. An unstable woman who is released from an institution after she is deemed ready to face society again. The film is directed fluidly by Nick ‘Philips’ Millard

The opening titles have such a purely creepy simplicity to it, it makes me think of Saul Bass doing a film school project. It sets up the moodiness and the isolation that is pervasive throughout the film.

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And what I took away from this very elementary vision of madness was this… This gem of a horror film is NOT about fear of fat girls, or conflating obesity with mental illness. What I got from the story was that Ethel Janowski is just a mentally ill woman, whose food represented her comfort, her freedom and her identity. And when the interfering people in her life, like her uptight Grandma Janowski (Jane Lambert) or slutty cocaine sniffing parasite of a sister stand between Ethel and her happiness or freedom… Watch out!!!! I won’t even say that Ethel is a likable anti-hero, she’s belligerent, self absorbed, anti-Semitic and homicidal!

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One could say that the food is used as a prop to make Ethel appear more grotesque … Or it might be a commentary on how our culture of excess has unleashed a sort of madness

That’s about it. The idea is that people should be allowed to do what they want even if it’s perceived to be unhealthy for them. Let them eat 6 boxes of Nilla wafers and a gallon of milk. Don’t lock the kitchen cupboard or empty out the refrigerator, don’t be the delivery boy who insists that $4.50 isn’t gonna cover it,treat them like imbecile children nor a nosy neighbor be.

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“Did you know they tried to kill me… that goddam Jew doctor gave them orders not to give me enough to eat… two lousy boiled eggs and a piece of dried toast for breakfast… they were trying to save money and starve me while they were at it…”
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Grandma-“Dr Gerard just wants you to lose a little weight” Ethel- “Why what do I need to lose weight for?”

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I never saw Ethel as crazy because she was overweight. It’s everyone else in the film who identifies her illness as being connected with her being ‘fat. I see her as just another off-balanced damaged soul on that old rickety Ferris Wheel of life., who gets triggered by the people around her to go even more crazy when she feels threatened or out of control.

The mood is fabulous, I think of Don’t Look in The Basement the very stark and realistic tone of the plain environment, that still holds a sense of strange & lurking weirdness. Thanks to the cinematography by Karil Ostman and the sound by Ronald Gertz that works so well to conform to the queasy atmosphere and Ethel’s derangement.

THE CANNIBAL MAN 1973 or Week of the Killer

or (US dubbed release “The Apartment on the 13th Floor”-again misleading as all the murders take place in Marcos’ little historic house that keyholes the backdrop of modernity and the high rise apartments of the nouveau riche.

The Cannibal Man

Directed by Eloy De La Iglesia known for his interesting To Love, Perhaps to Die 1973  with Sue Lyon, Christopher Mitchum, and Jean Sorel.

Just a word of warning there is a very disturbing scene in the beginning that takes place in the slaughter house. Those of you as sensitive to animal cruelty or killings like myself would advise you to skip the first awful minute and get into the wonderful jazz score by Fernando G. Morcillo that leads you out of the charnel house and into the openness of the city.

First to clarify one thing about The Cannibal Man… the film has nothing to do with cannibalism, and it is unfortunate that such a moody psychological film should be anchored with a label that would give the wrong impression of the story. I am a fan of Spanish horror films, and I am actually adding this one to my list of favorites, having navigated around the title and sitting with the film on it’s own terms. A film about an alienated man, who is surrounded by a landscape of modernity taking over the quaint and a pervading sense of loneliness and futility. Marcos is a tragic figure in a very bloody play.

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Vincente Parra is perfect as the virile yet detached Marcos… a fascinating character. the archetypal outsider who stumbles into a whirlpool of trouble in a single moment of fate that makes him spiral into a fog of Sisyphusian madness, filled with a diss-associative savagery that lifts the film out of ordinary gore into art-house butchery.

Marcos works for the local slaughterhouse. One night while on a date looking for a taxi with his girlfriend they find a very nasty and violent cabby who kicks them out of his cab when he gets offended by the couple kissing in the back seat. Marcos argues with him and refuses to pay for the ride. The driver actually physically punches Marcos and then assaults Paula (Emma Cohen) In a fit of rage and legitimate self defense Marcos picks up a large rock and kills Goyo Lebrero the taxista.

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Marco manifests a strange neutrality around the situation. Back at Marco’s house Paula insists on going to the police and telling them what happened. Marco begs her to understand that the police won’t believe it was an accident. “Don’t you see Paula, if I go to the police they will never listen to someone as poor as I am…”

Marcos says that her parents will be furious that she’s been seeing him and he just can’t afford to get into trouble. But… she refuses to listen to him. She breaks it off with him, telling him that she won’t be made a fool of, and marriage shouldn’t be based on lies. You can see Marco begin to uncoil at that moment. “So I can go to the police… or I can go to hell right!”

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Marco places the dead Paula on his bed as if she is sleeping. An act of remorse and his growing confusion….

Marco kisses her as his hands crush the life from her throat, we see her struggle, a close up of her green eyes and Marcos with a somnambulist sense of self preservation, a killing machine that must operate to keep himself one step away from the horrible incident with the cab driver and the insanity that has been let out of his head.

What makes the film so eerie and realistic is this nightmarish cycle, this spiraling out of control pace where Marco must continue to remove all obstacles that threaten his sense of autonomy as an outlier in the world. Even from the beginning we get the sense that he is not as interested in marrying Paula as she is about marrying him.

Once his brother comes to the house, his brother’s fiancée looking for him and her inquisitive father show up, oh and the nice local waitress Rosa (Vicky Lagos) who has had her eyes on Marcos, he must continue to kill each one in order to protect his secret.

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Marcos’ simple little house becoming the ‘killing field’ is more than a bit unsettling.

He begins posing the bodies in his sparse bedroom, using as much room freshener as he can, before the smell of death becomes too obvious. Yet on the outside he acts as if nothing has happened, or that there are several rotting bodies in his bedroom. He then takes them to the slaughter house piece by piece in his duffel bag.

The ordinary look of Marcos’ simplistic home, the bachelor setting, his wall of tools, no frills, no style or I should say money for such privileges is perhaps necessary for the very trappings of an under class worker in the early 1970s. There is an overt sense to the film about classist friction …

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Marcos’ humble working class house….
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Néstor ‘s opulent apartment complex that towers over Marcos little home… the disparity between the classes is an obvious stresser and sub-text to the narrative…

Of particular interest is the relationship that develops between Marcos and the handsome bourgeois Néstor (Eusebio Poncela )who lives on the 13th floor of the high rise behind Marcos humble little cottage. Néstor’s interactions with Marcos allow him to be free of the fear and frenzy he is submerged in. There is an element of homosexual attraction for both men. It’s a poignant chemistry and adds a layer of realism in the midst of the bloody fugue of Marcos’ environment and identity. At one point Marco speaks of his bad memories… Néstor suggests that he should perhaps “bury them’ already. It leaves us wondering if the tranquil authoritative and voyeuristic fellow knows what the mysterious Marcos has been doing but is a silent admirer out of love.

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Néstor perhaps speaks the most telling idea of the story when he tells Marco who warns him about the dangerous wild dogs that roam the area, while walking his Boxer who is in heat… “There’s no danger, a well fed dog is always stronger than the hungry ones”

This has been your everlovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ in any case, never run out of air freshner!

Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!

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promo shot for The Wolf Man- Evelyn Ankers

THE WOMEN OF CLASSIC HORROR: THE 1940S!

You could say that Evelyn Ankers is still the reigning queen of classical 1940s horror fare turned out by studios like RKO, Universal and Monogram. But there were a host of femme screamtales that populated the silver screen with their unique beauty, quirky style and/or set of lungs ready to wail, faint or generally add some great tone and tinge to the eerie atmosphere when ever the mad scientist or monster was afoot. Some were even monstrous themselves…

For this upcoming Halloween I thought I’d show just a little love to those fabulous ladies who forged a little niche for themselves as the earliest scream queens & screen icons.

ELSA LANCHESTER 1902-1986

I’m including Elsa Lanchester because any time I can talk about this deliriously delightful actress I’m gonna do it. Now I know she was the screaming hissing undead bride in the 30s but consider this… in the 40s she co-starred in two seminal thrillers that bordered on shear horror as Mrs Oates in The Spiral Staircase 1945 and a favorite of mine as one of Ida Lupino’s batty sisters Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941

I plan on venturing back to the pre-code thirties soon, so I’ll talk about The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter, Frances Dade (Dracula) and Kathleen Burke (Island of Lost Souls) Gloria Stuart and Fay Wray and so many more wonderful actresses of that golden era…

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Elsa Lanchester as Mrs.Oates in director Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase 1945
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The Sisters Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941 starring Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino and the wonderful Edith Barrett (right)

ANNE NAGEL  1915-1956

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Anne Nagel & Lon Chaney Jr in a promo shot for Man Made Monster
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Anne Nagel strapped to the slab and at the mercy of the ever mad Lionel Atwill. Here comes the glowing Lon Chaney Jr! in his electric rubber suit in Man Made Monster!

The depraved mad scientist Lionel Atwill working with electro biology pins gorgeous red headed Anne Nagel playing June Lawrence, to his operating slab in Man Made Monster 1941. Lon Chaney Jr. comes hulking in all aglow as the ‘Electrical Man’ which was his debut for Universal. He carries Anne Nagel through the countryside all lit up like a lightning bug in rubber armor. Man Made Monster isn’t the only horror shocker that she displayed her tresses & distresses. She also played a night club singer named Sunny Rogers also co-starring our other 40’s horror heroine icon Anne Gwynne in the Karloff/Lugosi pairing Black Friday in 1940.

She played the weeping Mrs.William Saunders, the wife of Lionel Atwill’s first victim in Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942. And then of course she played mad scientist Dr Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco’s) daughter Lenora in The Mad Monster 1942. Dr Cameron has succeeded with his serum in turning men into hairy wolf like neanderthal monsters whom he unleashes on the men who ruined his career.

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Anne Nagel and Lionel Atwill Mad Doctor of Market Street

Poor Anne had a very tragic life… Considered that sad girl who was always hysterical. Once Universal dropped her she fell into the Poverty Row limbo of bit parts. Her brief marriage to Ross Alexander ended when he shot himself in the barn in 1937, and Anne became a quiet alcoholic until her death from cancer in 1966

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Lon Chaney Jr and Anne Nagel Man Made Monster

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Dr Cameron’s daughter Lenora (Anne Nagel) discovers the wolf-like man in his laboratory in The Mad Monster
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Glenn Strange as Petro the Hairy man in The Mad Monster 1942

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the sultry Anne Nagel and Bela Lugosi in Black Friday 1940 photo courtesy Dr Macro

MARTHA VICKERS- 1925-1971

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Martha was in noir favorites The Big Sleep 1946 & Alimony 1949. This beauty played an uncredited Margareta ‘Vazec’s Daughter’along side Ilona Massey as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein and the marvelous older beauty Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the gypsy! in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1943. Then she played heroine Dorothy Coleman in Captive Wild Woman 1943 and Miss McLean in The Mummy’s Ghost 1944.

Originally Martha MacVickar she started modeling for photographer William Mortenson.David O Selznick contracted the starlet but Universal took over and put in her bit parts as the victim in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and in other ‘B’ guilty pleasures like Captive Wild Woman & The Mummy’s Ghost. She was also the pin-up girl for WWII magazines.

Martha also starred in other noir features such as Ruthless 1948 and The Big Bluff 1955. She was Mickey Rooney’s third wife.

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Martha Vickers and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep photo courtesy of Dr Macro
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Martha Vickers and Lon Chaney in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
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Martha Vickers and John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman
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I just can’t resist Vicker’s sex appeal here she is again… Wow!

FAY HELM  1909-2003

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Fay Helm as Nurse Strand with John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman

Fay Helm played Ann Terry in one of my favorite unsung noir/thriller gems Phantom Lady 1944 where it was all about the ‘hat’ and she co-starred as Nurse Strand along side John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman. Fay played Mrs. Duval in the Inner Sanctum mystery Calling Dr. Death with Lon Chaney Jr. 1943

Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady
Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady

Fay Helm plays Jenny Williams in Curt Siodmak’s timeless story directed by George Waggner for Universal and starring son of a thousand faces Lon Chaney Jr in his most iconic role Larry Talbot as The Wolf Man 1941

Fay as Jenny Williams: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

Fay was in Night Monster 1942. Directed by Ford Beebe the film starred Bela Lugosi as a butler to Lionel Atwill a pompous doctor who falls prey to frighting nocturnal visitations. I particularly love the atmosphere of this little chiller with it’s swampy surroundings and it’s metaphysical storyline.

Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) a psychologist is called to the mysterious Ingston Mansion, to evaluate the sanity of Margaret Ingston, played by our horror heroine Fay Helm daughter of Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) a recluse who invites the doctors to his eerie mansion who left him in a wheelchair.

Fay gives a terrific performance surrounded by all the ghoulish goings on! She went on to co-star with Bela Lugosi and Jack Haley in the screwball scary comedy One Body Too Many (1944)

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Fay Helm in Night Monster
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Fay Helm with Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man

LOUISE CURRIE 1913-2013

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Louise Currie and Bela Lugosi in The Ape Man

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Bela Lugosi as half ape half man, really needed a shave badly in The Ape Man 1943, and Louise Currie and her wonder whip might have been the gorgeous blonde dish to make him go for the Barbasol. One of the most delicious parts of the film was it’s racy climax as Emil Van Horn in a spectacle of a gorilla suit rankles the cage bars longing for Currie’s character, Billie Mason the tall blonde beauty. As Bela skulks around the laboratory and Currie snaps her whip in those high heels. The film’s heroine was a classy dame referred to as Monogram’s own Katharine Hepburn! She had a great affection for fellow actor Bela Lugosi and said that she enjoyed making Poverty Row films more than her bit part in Citizen Kane! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she appeared in several serials, from both Universal & Republic like The Green Hornet and Captain Marvel.

Tom Weaver in his book Poverty Row HORRORS! described The Ape Man as “a Golden Turkey of the most beloved kind.”

Louise Currie followed up with another sensational title for Monogram as Stella Saunders in Voodoo Man 1944 which again features Lugosi as Dr. Richard Marlowe who blends voodoo with hypnosis in an attempt to bring back his dead wife. The film also co-stars George Zucco as a voodoo high priest and the ubiquitous John Carradine as Toby a bongo playing half-wit “Don’t hurt her Grego, she’s a pretty one!”

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Pat McKee as Grego, Louise Currie, John Carradine and Bela Lugosi in Monogram’s Voodoo Man 1944
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the outrageous Voodoo Man 1944

Continue reading “Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!”

Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960): A Devilish Lovecraftian Nightmare Shrouded in Smoldering Shadows and Fog

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” The basis of fairy tale is in reality. The basis of reality is fairy tales.”-Professor Alan Driscoll

 HORROR HOTEL (1960) or The City of the Dead

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“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Religious superstition consists in the belief that the sacrifices, often of human lives, made to the imaginary being are essential, and that men may and should be brought to that state of mind by all methods, not excluding violence.”- Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

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“300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever”

“Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard”

Remake of City of the Dead due 2013
Remake of City of the Dead due out some time in 2013?

Horror Hotel (US) or The City of the Dead (British) (1960) is directed by John Llewellyn Moxey who eventually emigrated to America and became in my opinion one of THE best directors of fantasy, horror and suspense films made for television. (The House That Would Not Die 1970, The Night Stalker 1972, A Taste of Evil 1971, Home For the Holidays 1972, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have All The People Gone 1974, Conspiracy of Terror 1975 once again about a secret cult of devil worshipers this time in the suburbs of California, Nightmare in Badham County 1976, Killjoy 1981 and Desire, The Vampire 1982 not to mention contributing to numerous outstanding television series, and other films too many to list here.)

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Darren McGavin as Kolchak The Night Stalker produced by Dan Curtis and directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey

With a screenplay by George Baxt (The Shadow of the Cat 1961, Strangler’s Web 1965, Vampire Circus 1972 (uncredited) and his really awful mess, Horror of Snape Island 1972) he was also the scenarist on Sidney Hayer’s Circus of Horrors (1959) Baxt went on to do another witchcraft themed film co-scripted with prolific writers Richard Matheson’s (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Trilogy of Terror 1975) and Charles Beaumont’s (The Intruder 1962 , Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death 1965) The other screenplay was based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife , which turned into yet another film directed by Sidney Hayer, and was an equally moody and unnerving piece in the trope of black magic themed films entitled Night of the Eagle or it’s alternative title best known as Burn Witch Burn (1961)

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Burn Witch Burn

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Night of the Eagle I do Believe

Horror Hotel or City of the Dead is also a story co-scripted by Milton Subotsky an American émigré who relocated to England and eventually took over as the head founder of Amicus the only true rival to Hammer Studios Gothic series of films at the time. Horror Hotel was their first film made by the company then called Vulcan Productions. Subotsky was also the uncredited producer on the film. Released in the states with the title Horror Hotel the film used the inane catch phrase “Just Ring For Doom Service” which is unfortunate as it downplays the truly profound artistic quality of the film’s visual narrative. The film also marks the first appearance of Christopher Lee in the Satanic Cinema genre. Then Lee appeared in The Alfred Hitchcock Hours quite interesting occult themed sequence rather than Hitch’s usual mystery methodology, an episode entitled, The Sign of Satan (released May 8, 1964 from Season 2 episode 27) where Christopher Lee plays the mysterious foreign actor Karl Jorla in a episode that also dealt with devil worship.

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Horror Hotel was filmed on a sound stage in England, with an all British cast, yet the plot was set in an obscure village in America’s provincial Massachusetts for it’s historical relationship to the Salem Witch Trials and the mystique of the witchcraft frenzy that was so pervasive during the Puritanical 17th Century.

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1692 in Salem Village, 185 people were accused of witchcraft, 156 were formally charged, 47 were pressured into confessions and 19 victims were ultimately executed by hanging. It remains a shameful phenomena in colonial American history. More women than men were accused and executed. Illustration by Douglas Grundy / Three Lions / Getty Images

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With a haunting bit of cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (Olivier’s Hamlet 1948, Horrors of the Black Museum 1959, the noir classic The Frightened City 1961, A Study in Terror 1965, one of my guilty pleasures which is Beast in the Cellar 1970, Who Slew Auntie Roo 1972 with my one of my favs Shelley Winters and Beware My Brethren 1972) and art direction by John Blezard and Original music by Douglas Gamley.

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The cast includes Christopher Lee as Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll, Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow and Venetia Stevenson as avid student Nan Barlow. Interestingly enough, it’s quite shocking that the script actually kills off the supposed heroine Nan within the first 30 minutes of the film, much like Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960.

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Patricia Jessel is the imposing Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs.Newlis an obvious anagram for the 300 year old witch much like name switcheroo used by Sidney Blackmer’s Roman Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Tom Naylor plays Bill Maitland Nan’s prowess boyfriend. Betta St. John is Patricia Russell the granddaughter of the blind Reverend Russell played by Norman Macowan. Ann Beach has an impish sort of Patty Duke like quality to her as the poor mute Lottie a slave under Mrs. Newlis’ iron grip and Valentine Dyall (love him as Dudley the caretaker ‘all you city people’ in Robert Wise’s The Haunting ’62) plays Reverend Jethrow Keane also resurrected from those by gone days of witch burnings.

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Rosemary Woodhouse figures out through a little game of scrabble the true identity of her kindly old neighbors

Bill Maitland brandishing the cross

I’m not sure why this absolute gem has been so overlooked, when it’s still such a genuinely frightening and effectively creepy contribution to the classic horror genre. It’s moody and saturated with an unearthly fog that blankets the town and exudes an impending sense of doom and dread. The film is almost impressionistic with it’s tonality of the macabre which permeates the landscape with the undead specters walking amidst the fog soaked night, and we as spectators know of the looming arcane rites of the ritualistic blood sacrifices held by ambiguous figures in monkish robes.

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The camera work is startling at times, and surprisingly cerebral for a low budget film, as in the opening sequence when they are executing Elizabeth Selwyn, the camera closes in tightly on several grotesquely puritanical, pious and unrelentingly exaggerated expressions of hostility and hypocrisy as the villagers call out with their blood lust to burn the witch, their fever for punishment, lacks any godliness, as they are framed more hideous than Elizabeth Selwyn who is tied to a stake and set on fire. Only a quick glance at a little girl’s face read in panic as Selwyn evokes the power of Satan and a darkness washes over the villagers like a paint stroke of black light. The use of shadow is almost reminiscent of Jacques Tourneur’s thoughtful psychological terror plays of the 40s, (Cat People 1942, I Walked With A Zombie 1943, noir classic Out of the Past 1947 and Curse of the Demon 1957) While not in the same league as the master of shadow and light the great Val Lewton or Tourneur, there are some elements with the added sphere of paranoia that creates an atmosphere filled with uncanny dread and unknowable spaces and devilish premeditation, that evokes some of the same type of moodiness.

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Jacques Tourneur’s beautifully visually impressionistic masterpiece of Val Lewton’s
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Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon 1957 starring Dana Andrews
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The mysterious Reverend Jethrow Keane lurking in the ghostly mist in Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead

Again, not being hindered by the restraints of a small budget, the film appears as a beautifully eerie Lovecraftian fable, filled with an entire village inhabited by listless cult followers dedicated to the worship of Satan. They haunt the streets swathed in ritual robes shrouded in shadows and fog, wandering through swirling mists, and an ominous sweep of fog that obscures these undead spirits of the night, soulless, dressed in robes or outdated clothing. The entire village is vexed by black magic reigned over by the resurrected witch Elizabeth Selwyn who was burned at the stake more than 300 years before in 1692. While it’s obvious that the degenerating, decomposing village of Whitewood is a sparsely designed set on a humble sound stage, John Llewellyn Moxey manages to infuse this little city of the dead with a very disquieting ambiance. Dickinson lights the inhabitants of Whitewood and the hazy mysterious village itself using very enigmatic black and white compositions.

SYNOPSIS:

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“WITCH!!!!!!!!!”

The film opens as the fog shrouded village of Whitewood is at first an empty frame consumed within a smokey cloud of air except for a giant iron fire pit blazing to the left of screen. Like specters emerging through the deathly fog, several villagers move closer into focus until they are upon us in mid screen. They are thirsty for the blood of the declared witch Elizabeth Selwyn who has brought about the death of Abigail Adams. They decree that she should be put to death as a witch, and so they converge on her little cottage, dragging her out and tying her to a large wooden stake. As she faces her accusers it seems as if she is emitting a hissing sound like a serpent. A pilgrim woman slowly grinds out the words, “Wiittcch!!!! as Elizabeth Selwyn contemptuously spits on her.

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‘Help her Lucifer, Help Her’

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