It’s that wonderful time of the year when we all get to celebrate those unsung actors with loads of character, thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema & Club & Outspoken and Freckled who are hosting the Fifth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2016… This will be my fourth time contributing to this fantastic event, having covered Jeanette Nolan, Burgess Meredith and last year’s Agnes Moorehead. As many of you know, it’s often the actors on the periphery of some of our most favorite films that fill out the landscape with their extraordinary presence, a presence that becomes not only essential to the story, but at times become as memorable perhaps even larger than life when compared with the central stars themselves. I’m thrilled to be joining in the fun once again and am sure that it’s going to be just as memorable this year as ever before!
The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!
“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”-Ruth Gordon as Maude
Maude: “A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can.”
I’ve been waiting to write about my love of Ruth Gordon for quite some time, and felt that this would be the best way to get off the pot and just start singing those praises for this remarkable lady of theatre, film and television. Ruth Gordon in so many ways channeled her true personality through the character of Maude, in life –she too always projected a spirit that played as well as she could…
“Choose a color, you’re on your own, don’t be helpless.” –Ruth Gordon -An Open Book
There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star. With her quirky wisdom and sassy vivacity that plucks at your hearth, Ruth Gordon stands out in a meadow of daisies she is emblazoned as bright and bold as the only sunflower in the field. No one, just no one has ever been nor will ever be like this incredible personality.
For a woman who is impish in stature she emanates a tremendous presence, a smile like the Mona Lisa, sporting a unique and stylish way she expresses herself with a poetic & fable-like language. Ruth Gordon is a character who dances to a different rhythm — how she sees herself and how she performs *life* is uniquely mesmerizing as it is burgeoning with all the colors of the universe.
Ruth Gordon is a dramaturgical pixie, with a curious hitch in her git along… an impish dame who rouses and fortifies each role she inhabits with a playful, mischievous and almost esoteric brand of articulation.
In a field of different daisies Ruth Gordon is that sunflower that Maude soliloquies poetically to Harold —
Maude-“I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”
Harold-“I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”
Maude-“Why do you say that?”
Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”
Maude-“Ooooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow come from people who are *this”, (pointing to a daisy) yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.” (she gestures to a field of daisies)
From the Arlene Francis 1983 interview with Ruth Gordon– actress, screenwriter and playwright…
Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Ruth Gordon never wanted to be told how to write nor be instructed on how to act… from her autobiography An Open Book- “I don’t like to be told how to act either. When I’m left alone thoughts come… ‘Don’t try to think’ said our New England philosopher, Emerson, leave yourself open to thought. If you find out stuff for yourself, you get to know what you believe; what you like, how to live, how to have a good time. It’s important to have a good time.”
from Hugh Downs Interview
“ I did grow up to have character. And I’m always doing some damn thing that uh I don’t wanna do but I know it’s right to do. And I finally thought of something in my next book and I’m gonna have it in there and it’s a very important thing to remember. Just because a thing is hard to do doesn’t make it any good. You tackle something and you work at it and slave at it and say now I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it and when you’ve done it better think it over and see if it was worth it… some easy things like falling off a log and stuff those easy things probably just as good but a New Englander has to do it the hard way. “
Arlene Francis “You once said ‘never face facts’ how can you avoid it?”
Ruth Gordon-“Oh my god look, we’re not facing facts now surely cause I might dry up and not have a thing to say in the world and then where would you be, you know… […] it would be stupid there are enough hazards in the world, I’m 85 now and I’m at my very best peak of my looks which might be an interesting thing to anybody because you figure, 18 why wouldn’t I be better looking than now?… “Don’t lets anyone tell their symptoms, it would be the most boring thing, even though everybody has so many… so the ‘don’t face your facts’ is if you face what’s the matter with you, you know we’d open a window and say goodbye everybody like tinker bell and take off and hope you could fly (she laughs) Don’t face the facts you know, I was 18 years old I was going on the stage didn’t know anybody in New York and I didn’t know anybody on the stage, and I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t tall which everybody was in those days, and uh I didn’t have any money and how was I gonna do this, so if I didn’t ‘not face those facts’ I’d say too bad she wanted to be an actress…”
Ruth Gordon, who always dreamed of becoming a ‘film’ star, beside an astonishing stage presence talks about winning awards for her work–“ The main award that I really value is the award I give myself and people say Oh you don’t know when you’re good you know, the audience knows, people know but you don’t know Well that’s stupid I know when I’m good for myself You might not like it, they might not like it, the public might not like it, but I know that wonderful performance that doesn’t happen too often, when anticipation and realization come together because that night when it’s all perfect and is great and you know … that you’ve just taken off… that’s my award…”
Ruth Gordon is bold and vibrant and an actress who never shied away from taking the quirkiest and eccentric roles. From irreverent Ma in Every Which Way But Loose (1978) the poignant Becky Rosen in Boardwalk (1979) to the perspicacious Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) George Segal’s tushy biting batty mother-Mrs. Hocheiser in Where’s Poppa? (1970) and of course the queen of campy kitschy New York City’s enigmatic coven hostess with the mostest– Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) …
Minnie is perhaps one of the most vividly colorful film characters with her sly and farcical mispronunciations and a wardrobe that is distinctly tacky. Part cosmopolitan part menacing, no one could have performed Minnie Castavet quite like Ruth Gordon, that next door meddling neighbor who befriends an American housewife, who is secretly waiting to become the godmother to the devil’s unborn son.
Gordon appears as if she was cut from a mold that makes her seem like a rebel to the inner workings of Hollywood. And as extremely unconventional as she can be, there is always a depth and authenticity to the wackiest of characters she’s portraying. From the lyrically loving and life devouring Maude in Hal Ashby’s different style of love story.
“ Well it’s a very good movie, I was absolutely wonderful Collin Higgins wrote a great movie Bud Cort was sensational, Hal Ashby became one of the top directors so how do you account for that, well it just happened. But, you see, some guy in Cambridge Mass. he wrote from the YMCA he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘I’ve seen Harold and Maude’ I don’t know how many times he’d seen it, and he said I’m at a loss to know why it means so much to me and I think about it , I think about it a lot and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s because to get through life you have to have somebody to tell it to’ that’s a very profound remark. I’ve had lovers I’ve have friends I’ve had family and I didn’t exactly tell it to them but Garson Kanin I tell it to him whether it’s bad whether I’m a failure whether I’m going grey. Somebody to tell it to. And it’s a very very necessary part of life. And in Harold & Maude Harold who was a kind of helpless geek with looks riches money everything he had … except knowing how to live. And Maude who didn’t have anything except she knew how to live. And Harold could tell it to her. he could tell it to her. She didn’t always have the answer. But he could pour it out. And so it was wonderful really, just pour it out, I said once even if I’m wrong agree with me because you know to Gar, have somebody you know would stand up for you.”
Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!
Bud Cort remained very close friends with Ruth Gordon. Here he is talking about her tremendous influence on This is Your Life television show honoring the extraordinary actress/writer.
Ruth Gordon and Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude 1971
from the Dick Cavett interview from September 19, 1969 expressing how if you had never seen Ruth Gordon on the stage “You would lament that fact… a lady who is one of the incomparable ladies of American Theatre. There have been cults about Ruth Gordon for years and years and years. When great performances on Broadway are discussed, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman, or Vivien Leigh or any of the classics are referred to Olivier in Oedipus, Ruth Gordon in *The Matchmaker* is always brought up as one of the masterpieces of all time. And she has been a wondrous presence in the theatre for over 50 years. Splendid comedian and a splendid comic writer.”
Ruth Gordon began to hone her craft and push the range of her acting ability which she revealed in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the restoration comedy The Country Wife in which she appeared at the influential theater–London’s Old Vic. She eventually found her way to Broadway, and landed a role in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House during the 1930s.
Severely bow-legged, in 1920 she spent time in a hospital in Chicago where she had her legs broken and straightened.
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “You lied to me, Miss Greene. You permitted me to believe your father was dead.”
Barbara Ann: (Tuesday Weld) “Well, they’re divorced.”
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “In our family we don’t divorce our men; we *bury* ’em!”
from director Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971)
A 79 old woman and a twenty year old lost soul meet at a funeral, and find love and life together in a darkly light comedy. Bud Cort creates an iconic figure of a young privileged young man disillusioned by life, who gets a kick out of antagonizes his priggish mother Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) with creative faked suicides. Once Harold is exposed to the wisdom and insight that Maude imparts, she manages to open up his heart and teaches him how to reach out and embrace the substance of life’s beauty.
Every Which Way But Loose 1978
Ruth Gordon plays the impertinently, uninhibited Ma to Clint Eastwood as trucker Philo Beddoe & Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) who travel around the West Coast looking for street style prize- fights. Along for the ride are Beverly D’Angelo as Echo, and evasive love interest Sondra Locke as country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor. There’s a hilarious assorted misfit motorcycle gang members and Philo’s pet Orangutan Clyde who’s always stealling’s Ma’s Oreo cookies!
co-staring with Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk 1979
Lee Strasberg plays David Rosen and Ruth Gordon portrays wife Becky who own a wonderful little diner, a loving older couple who have lived in their Coney Island jewish neighborhood for 50 years, until a gang moves in and changes the communities quality of life by threatening the local store owners with violence if they don’t pay ‘protection’ money. When David defies them, they burn down the diner and desecrate the synagogue. Janet Leigh also co-stars as Florence Cohen.
Ruth Gordon manifests a marvelously warm and poignant chemistry with master actor/teacher Lee Strasberg.
Ruth Gordon as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell: I accept all superlatives.
Ruth Gordon also had the distinguished honor of hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.
“She had a great gift for living the moment and it kept her ageless.”
— Glenn Close
Ruth Gordon had quite a unique way of expressing herself on stage, screen and in person and as Dick Cavett had said about the great actresses’ ability to always project her incomparable persona, what we get! — “It’s a lesson in something that only Ruth Gordon can teach.” And as she would say, she had “a lot of zip in her doo dah.”
I’ll end by saying this about this astonishingly iconic character whose sagacity and spark will never dim, when asked that particularly interesting question, ‘if you had 3 people you could meet in Heaven who would you choose?’ Ruth Gordon, you would be one of them!- With all my love, MonsterGirl
Now that October has left us, November Noir just feels right and who else to ring in this shadowy month but Shadows and Satin! Martha Vickers–Ida Lupino, it just doesn’t get better than that!!!
On Day Two of Noirvember, I’m shining the spotlight on Martha Vickers, who died on today’s date in 1971. Vickers was seen in four films noirs, including one of the era’s best – and, arguably, most confusing – features, The Big Sleep (1946).
But let’s begin at the beginning.
The lovely auburn-haired actress was born Martha MacVicar on May 28, 1925, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After attending schools in Florida, Illinois, and Texas, Martha and her family settled in California, where she found work as a model and attracted the attention of movie producer David O. Selznick. Selznick signed Martha to a contract, but it didn’t do much for her budding career. Instead, her contract was taken over by Universal and she made her big screen debut playing a corpse in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943). She was later seen in films of similar quality, including Captive Wild Woman (1943),
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BUD & LOU, CAT-WOMEN, JEKYLL & HYDE, HOSTILE BRAINS and HOSTILE MARTIANS… IT CAME FROM… AND MUCH MUCH MORE!
They’re too wild for one world!
Source-courtesy of Getty Images
Directed by Charles Lamont. Starring those 2 brilliant comedians Budd Abbott and Lou Costello, as Lester and Orville. With Mari Blanchard as Allura, Robert Paige as Dr. Wilson, Horace McMahon as Mugsy, Martha Hyer as Janie Howe, Jack Kruschen as Harry, Jean Willes as Capt. Olivia and Anita Ekberg as a Venusian guard.
From Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren –“To children in the 1940s and on until the mid-50s, a new Abbott and Costello movie was better than a trip to the circus.”
We all noticed that Bud Abbott was the straight man and Lou Costello was the mechanism to draw out the comic gags. At times Bud even came across as Warren says, “cruel” to Lou and I know for me it made me a bit uncomfortable even back then. Lou was lovable and wasn’t considered an idiot, but rather like a little boy trapped in a man’s body. Again I cite Bill Warren who sums it up beautifully-“His curiosity and haplessness got him into trouble and assured that he would stay there, but the film’s essential unreality always made us feel that Lou and Bud would be out of problems by the end…[…] There was always a sadness to Lou Costello, as there is with almost every clown.”
Directed by Charles Lamont who did all of Bud and Lou’s films here, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) Bud plays Lester, a handyman who works for a rocket research institute, and Lou plays Orville, a handyman who works at an orphanage. Of course the story’s title indicates that they take a trip to Mars, when the pair accidentally launch one of the rockets with them on board! They take a short trip, a very short trip as unbeknownst to Lester and Orville they haven’t landed on Mars, but in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. So when the outlandish and bizarre costumes parade around the duo, they have no reason not to think they’ve landed on another planet…
The film co-stars two wonderful character actors Horace McMahon who plays Mugsy (Naked City tv series 1960s) and Jack Kruschen who plays Harry– both are bank robbers on the lam, who have used spacesuits they stole from the ship as a disguise when pulling the heist. The two criminals hide away on the spaceship equip with paralyzer guns and lots of science fiction gadgets. And it gets launched yet again with our two characters Lester and Orville. This time they are heading for Venus. To go with this silly gendered plot line you’ll have to take it that Venus is run by a Matriarch name Queen Allura (Mari Blanchard)
Allura has banished all the men from the planet 400 years earlier because the King had been unfaithful to her. She also falls in love with Orville. Lou has eyes for Anita Ekberg (who wouldn’t…) she plays a Venusian guard. Queen Allura finds out that Lou is also unfaithful ‘like all men’ and goes crazy with anger. The passengers of the renegade ship manage to get away and crash land back on Earth. There’s a funny scene as they zip around Manhattan in the ship they make the Statue of Liberty duck then they zoom thought the Holland Tunnel giving New York a piece of science fiction slapstick. The film also co-stars Robert Paige as Dr. Wilson, Martha Hyer as Janie Howe, and Jean Willes as Captain Olivia.
In Jim Mulholland’s The Abbott and Costello Book he talks about the film, “The futuristic sets on Venus look expensive , but the film is so silly and is so obviously geared to kiddie matinee audiences that it is almost impossible to endure.”
Well if the adult child in you still adores seeing the antics of Bud & Lou then it should be included in their list of films you want to see.
Mary Blanchard as Queen Allura
Anita Ekberg as a Venusian Guard
Venusian #1: “What is it?”
Allura: “I could be wrong, but I think it’s a man.”
Venusian #2: “That’s a man?”
The Laughs Are Twice as MONSTER-OUS as Ever Before!
Again directed by Charles Lamont. Lee Loeb and John Grant wrote the screenplay working from a story by Sid Fields, based off the character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal science-fiction fantasy novel. With camera work by cinematographer George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein 1939, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943, Tarantula 1955)
With make up both Mr. Hyde and the mouse mask by Bud Westmore!
Our two heroes Slim and Tubby meet Boris Karloff as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.
Bud and Lou had already met Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man and The Wolf Man, it was just a matter of time until they met the conflicted dual personality of Dr. Jekyll and his darker alter ego Mr. Hyde. It was the first time the boys came up against a monster since 1951.
Bud and Lou are American detectives who tag along Scotland Yard, and come to find out that that the menacing Mr. Hyde has been terrorizing London for years. Meanwhile the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll is one and the same man… Boris Karloff. Of course, Lou tries so hard to get Bud to believe that the kindly Dr. Jekyll is actually Hyde. The other players in the film include Craig Stevens as Bruce Adams a newspaper reporter who is in love with Vicky Edwards (Helen Wescott) which poses a problem as Dr. Jekyll himself is in love with Vicky as well.
Bill Warren writes- “This romantic triangle is extremely artificial-Karloff at all time seems avuncular, not predatory-and was apparently added for the obligatory romantic elements, to enlarge the plot beyond Bud & Lou fleeing from Hyde.”
The film shows as Warren points out a “series of set pieces” as they chase Hyde around a wax museum, filled with homages to other films like wax likenesses of the Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula.
Sadly, the film was not well received, people had started to tire of the ‘meet’ films of Bud and Lou and the popularity was waning. Universal had actually been planning a Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon but it never got off the ground.
Craig Stevens co-stars as Bruce Adams, Helen Wescott as Vicky Edwards and Reginald Denny as the Inspector with John Dierkes as Batley.
Slim: Now look! You can’t make two persons out of one. If there’s a monster, there’s a monster. If there’s a Dr. Jekyll, there’s a Dr. Jekyll. But one can’t be the other.
Tubby: Now listen Slim. All I know is that I locked up the monster and when I came back, Dr. Jekyll was there. You know I’m no magician.
FANTASTIC SEA-GIANT CRUSHES CITY!
Eugène Lourié who was an art director working with Jean Renoir. Directed The Colossus of new York 1958, The Giant Behemoth 1959, and Gorgo 1961. He started out designing ballets in Paris, was the art director for Strange Confession 1944, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry 1945, Limelight 1952, Shock Corridor 1963, The Naked Kiss 1964, The Strangler 1964. Eugène Lourié designed one of Renoir’s most influential films, Rules of the Game (1939), he also designed work on The Southerner (1945) Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and The River (1951) To say the least he has had a wide range of eclectic films.
Screenplay by Bronx born Fred Freiberger ( Garden of Evil 1954, Beginning of the End 1957)
The film stars Paul Hubschmid as Professor Tom Nesbitt, Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter, Cecil Kellaway as Prof. Thurgood Elson foremost paleontologist , veteran science fiction hero Kenneth Tobey (The Thing 1951, It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955) as Col. Jack Evans, Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Stone, Steve Brodie as Sgt. Loomis, Ross Elliot as George Ritchie, Frank Ferguson as Dr. Morton and King Donovan as Dr. Ingersoll.
A ferocious dinosaur awakened by an Arctic atomic test terrorizes the North Atlantic and, ultimately, New York City. The film begins when they are testing a nuclear device inside the Arctic Circle, which winds up freeing a prehistoric ‘Rhedosaurus’ which is a carnivorous giant beast that walks on four legs and lives under water and can walk on land too! Tom Nesbitt played by Paul ‘Hubsschmid’ Christian is the only survivor to tell about the prehistoric creature, but no one believes his story.
Eventually the Beast emerges again and sinks a small ship with that survivor telling the same story, identifying the ‘Rhedosaurus’. Cecil Kellaway plays a well known paleontologist that Nesbitt seeks out for help. Now the Beast starts moving toward New York City believed to be the ancestral origin and breeding ground for the Rhedosaurus. It comes ashore on Manhattan, right near the Fulton Fish Market. Elson is lowered in a type of diving bell called a bathysphere so the paleontologist can study the creature up close. Unfortunately he becomes a tasty morsel, a hard candy with a soft center… Yikes!
It then proceeds to smash and stomp everything in it’s path, until it returns to the river. What complicates things is that while it becomes wounded, they discover that it’s blood is highly infectious and deadly, so they need to find a way to destroy it even more than ever.
The wounded Rhedosaurus takes refuge in an old fair ground on Coney Island near a roller coaster which it takes out it’s aggression on by snapping it like twigs in it’s massive jaws and claws.
Prof. Thurgood Elson: [in the diving bell, to view the monster] “This is such a strange feeling, I feel as though I’m leaving a world of untold tomorrows for a world of countless yesterdays….[…] It’s unbelievable he’s tremendous!”
Professor Tom Nesbitt: “The world’s been here for millions of years. Man’s been walking upright for a comparatively short time. Mentally we’re still crawling.”
George Ritchie: [referring to the A-bomb test] “You know every time one of those things goes off, I feel as if I was helping to write the first chapter of a new Genesis.”
Professor Tom Nesbitt: “Let’s hope we don’t find ourselves writing the last chapter of the old one.”
SEE: THE DEADLY CAVE OF MOON-GOLD!
SEE: THE BLOOD-THIRSTY BATTLE OF MOON MONSTERS!
SEE: THE LOST CITY OF LOVE-STARVED CAT WOMEN!
Directed by editor Arthur Hilton, who worked on noir classics The Killers 1946, and Scarlett Street 1945. The film stars Sonny Tufts as Laird Granger, Victor Jory as Kip Reissner, Marie Windsor as Helen Salinger, William Phipps as Doug Smith, Douglas Fowley as Walt Walters, Carol Brewster as Alpha, Susan Morrow as Lambda, Suzanne Alexander as Beta, Cat-Woman are Bette Arlen, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall and Judy Walsh. originally in 3D– it’s Schlock at it’s very best!
An American space crew is led by the uptight straitlaced Laird Granger (Sonny Tufts) who does everything by the book, but as Kip (Victor Jory) says “some things aren’t in the book” And that’s for sure, when you wind up on a planet with Cover Girls in black leotards. From the moment they leave the base on route to the moon, the crew find themselves in trouble when a meteor creates trouble for the ship, a fire in the bottom of the craft started by acid forces them to land, suggested by Lt. Helen Salinger who is the ship’s navigator and Laird’s girlfriend. She picks the area in between the dark and light sides of the moon. This makes Kip very suspicious though he’s pretty skeptical about most things that’s why he carries a gun with him at all times.
Don’t be too impressed with Windsor’s character playing a Lt, after they crash land she still has to grab for her compact and fix her face, and powder her nose. Marie Windsor (whom I adore) is sultry and perfectly suited for film noir (Force of Evil 1948, The Sniper 1952, City that Never Sleeps 1953, The Killing 1956, The Narrow Margin 1952 ), and is a joy to see in this film even if it’s a true stinker! She’s much better suited for the science fiction obscure gem that has it’s shocking moments, The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963).
Helen leads the crew when they go out to investigate their surroundings and find a nearby cave, they realize that the atmosphere is exactly the same as it is on earth. There’s water and oxygen and so it is safe to take their space suits off. The gang is attacked suddenly by some cheesy hairy horned spiders which they manage to kill. In the meantime someone has stolen their spacesuits and helmets. They go deeper into the cave until they stumble onto an ancient Greekesque city inside the moon where they are greeted by women who look like a dance troupe for Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp in their black leotards. Helen slips away to meet Alpha (Brewster) the leader of the Cat-Women who are telepathic.
They are called Cat-Women for no reason I can glean, or that emerges from the entirely silly narrative. Alpha tells Helen- “Our generation predates yours by centuries.”
The Cat-Women led by Alpha (Carol Brewster) has been in telepathic communication with and controlling Lt.Helen Salinger for years, unbeknownst to the men in the crew. There are no men on the moon but Zeta (Alexander) explains, “We have no use for men.”
Alpha tells Helen-“You are one of us now.”
Alpha has been controlling Helen by imprinting an image of the moon, a white spot on her hand. Once this spot is covered it breaks the control over her.
It’s not that the Cat-Women haven’t been enjoying their lives cavorting around with each other dancing and creeping around in their oh so Mod-erne leotards, it’s that their planet’s atmosphere is breaking up and in order to survive they must seek out a new planet. So the plan is to steal the crew’s rocket and go to Earth, c0ntrol the mind of the Earth women and eventually take over the planet! First they must truly gain Helen’s male compatriot’s confidence in order to find out how to run the ship.
Of course the cynical Kip doesn’t want any part of these gorgeous moon gals…
Kip secretly in love with Helen gets her alone, puts his arms around her, which breaks Alpha’s spell, and Helen tells him what’s going on.
Once Kip (Jory) figures this out he covers Helen’s hand and quickly asks her three questions, two that inquire whether she’s truly in love with Laird or him, the other is to find out how to get away.
But Alpha has already gotten information out of Laird and Walt has taken Zeta back to the ship to show her how it operates.
It was Alpha who helped Helen get her assignment to the space crew. Of course, the men become enamored of Cat-Women in leotards, except for Kip (Victor Jory) who is suspicious of these beguiling tribe of moon temptresses. Walt Willis (Douglas Fowley) wanders off with one of the women to explore the cave that is filled with gold, she stabs him but not before he teaches her how to fly their spaceship. Another of the Cat-Women has fallen for one of the crew members, Lambda (Susan Morrow), falls hard for Doug Smith (Bill Phipps) the radio operator. All she wants is to go back to earth with Doug, romp around on a sandy beach drinking a Coca Cola.
In this soap space opera, the staid and steady Laird has fallen for Helen, and under a sort of mind control has given all the information the Cat-Women need to take over. They make plans to return to earth with Alpha and Beta (Suzanne Alexander). Lambda tries to intervene but gets brutally conked on the head with a large rock and killed. Kip shoots the evil Zeta and Alpha off screen, the remaining earth crew kill the rest of the Cat-Women, escaping with Helen and head back to earth.
Cat-Women of the Moon is one of those so bad it’s good movies that’s just fun to watch! It’s more space soap opera than science fiction but those girls are so outré Mod-erne in their black leotards BUT no physical attributes that make one think of any similarity to cats, their features nor feats of skill… The best part of the film is the dance scene by the Hollywood Cover Girls in their unlike cat costumes. The film was remade in 1959 called Missile to the Moon.
As Bill Warren illustrates how badly filmed this is and in particular how ‘excruciatingly stupid’ the script and visuals are… (i.e.) the chairs the crew sit in are standard swivel desk chairs that roll around the floor on castors.– “Take the spaceship cabin. Ignoring the fact that it looks like someone’s front room and that down is always in the direction of the floor, even when the ship spins end-for-end in an effort to make the meteor fall off (which it does), there is still enough in the room to make a good technical director faint.”
Laird Grainger: “The eternal wonders of space and time. The far away dreams and mysteries of other worlds. Other life. The stars. The planets. Man has been face to face with them for centuries, yet is barely able to penetrate their unknown secrets. Sometime, someday, the barrier will be pierced. Why must we wait? Why not now?”
Alpha: “Four of us will be enough. We will get their women under our power, and soon we will rule the whole world!”
Directed by Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride 1947, The Man Who Cheated Himself 1950)
Based on a story written by Curt Siodmak who wrote the script for The Wolf Man 1941, with the script co-written with director Feist. This above average Science Fiction suspense stars Lew Ayres as Dr. Patrick J. Cory, Gene Evans as Dr. Frank Schratt, Nancy Reagan as Janice Cory, Steve Brodie as Herbie Yokum, Tom Powers as Donovan’s Washington Advisor, Lisa Howard as Chloe Donovan.
Donovan’s Brain is perhaps the caviar of Brain in a Tank films to all the other Velveeta films of that sort. Although it is a remake of the quite engaging Lady and The Monster (1944) and Vengeance (1962) both based on the novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak.
Siodmak’s story has been retold several times, first with director George Sherman’s The Lady and The Monster (1944) starring Erich von Stroheim, Richard Arlen and Vera Ralston. Then in 1962 it was re-visioned as a British Sci-fi chiller directed by Freddie Francis called The Brain starring Anne Heyward. Because of Siodmak’s talent at storytelling the film is an intelligent and compelling film
And Boris Leven’s set design lays out the eerie ‘science gone awry’ landscape, with tanks filled with brains, it doesn’t hearken back to Strickfaden’s elaborate mad scientist milieu but it works for this particular science fiction/horror narrative.
Bill Warren-“One of the few sets apparently actually constructed for Donovan’s Brain is the laboratory, which looks satisfactorily jury-rigged and inexpensive. Unlike most ‘mad scientists’, Pat Cory hasn’t bothered to build elaborate consoles with labeled switches. The tank for the brain is literally a large tropical fish tank, again adding to the air of improvised science.”
Essentially Dr. Patrick Cory (Lew Ayres) and his associate Dr. Frank Schratt (Gene Evans) are doing brain research, they’ve been trying to remove a monkey’s brain and keep it alive outside of the body, though the foundation for doing these experiments aren’t truly spelled out. We just hear that it’s “for the good of humanity.” In these fascinating Science Fiction tales where science hubris and it’s idolization by often well meaning doctors –often see their experiments go awry.
Assisting them is Pat’s wife, Jan played by Nancy Davis, who had just become Mrs. Ronald Reagan. Now, the experiment with the monkey was encouraging –“A brain without a body, alive!” I suppose in 1953, these three hadn’t met Jan in the Pan (The Brain that Wouldn’t Die 1962), or they wouldn’t have been that excited over the prospect of live brains in tanks looking like a benefit to humanity.
As fate would have it, the same day they have success with the monkey brain, a small plane crashes very close to the lab, being doctors Cory and Schratt are called upon to help the victims. There is but one survivor, a multi-millionaire named Warren H. Donovan. Donovan is close to death so the two operate on him, but it’s no use and the millionaire dies. But, it is Dr. Pat Cory who has the idea –“Science can use Donovan’s brain,” though his wife Jan and partner Frank fervently object at first. “What an idea, stealing a man’s brain”-they go along with Pat’s operating to remove the dead man’s brain and keep it alive in the tank…
In many ways, looking past the sci-fi elements of the story, it is a stark crime thriller about the evils of power. This is also one of those science fiction morality plays that informs us that is it ‘science’ itself that is the villain and is ‘evil and dangerous’, especially in the hands of a scientist, even if he is altruistic at heart. Dr. Pat Cory is a good man, who happened to trigger a very bad series of events. It is a story about “tampering with things man (and women) was not meant to know.” In the end he tells us, “I did many foolish things.”
The 1953 film is the closest to the novel. Dr. Patrick Cory, the scientist, attempts to save the life of millionaire Donovan “Donovan carried to an extreme the independence of the self-made man”, Dr. Pat Cory, who is working with the research of the powers of the brain, seduced by the potential of unlocking the secrets of the brain, seizes the opportunity to explore his theories. The danger ensues once he removes Donovan’s brain from the severely damaged body and under very clandestine experimentation not unlike our old Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pat Cory manages to keep the brain alive in a tank in his laboratory.
W.H.Donovan had been a very famous yet shady character in his business dealings, so his death draws a lot of media attention. So Pat and Frank have to keep their experiment a dark secret. The two scientists also run into a free-lance journalist Herbie Yocum played by Steve Brodie, who wants to take some sensational photos like the operating table where Donovan died. This, Pat Cory agrees to because he doesn’t want to create any suspicion around his death, especially near his laboratory. But Yokum takes a photo of the brain in the tank.
The experiment is a success and Donovan’s brain is taking in all the nourishment it needs to become stronger, it actually begins to increase in size. The equipment in the lab also indicates that there are thought waves occurring in the brain. Donovan’s brain is actually sending out thoughts telepathically. “Donovan’s brain is giving out thoughts. All I have to do is use my brain to receive them.” Pat Cory tells Frank. So he sits in front of the tank and concentrates leaving his mind open, and it works, he goes into a trance and starts to write notes in W.H. Donovan’s handwriting. This terrifies Jan and Frank, who worry about Pat’s state of mind. The next day, Donovan’s brain takes hold of Pat once again, this time actually causing him to limp the same way Donovan used to when he was alive. At this point Donovan is in complete control of Dr. Pat Cory.
But Donovan alive was a very powerful and ruthless business man , one of the wealthiest men in the world who is still asserting his influence from his remote tank. He forces his will over the poor scientist and actually possesses Dr. Pat Cory like an evil demon. Lew Ayres is a wonderful actor who does a great job of playing Dr. Pat Cory. So good at playing sensitive civilized men, here he is at the mercy of a very strong willed cutthroat, who wants to see his missions carried out as planned right before his plane crashed. Pat charters a plane where he takes Donovan’s favorite suite in a hotel he was famous for hanging out in, and he closes out his bank account for $27,000 that Donovan kept under a false name. He purchases new equipment so the poor doctor can now boost his brain power even more. He even orders suits like the ones Donovan used to wear and takes up his dirty business dealings.
Pat runs into Yocum, who has figured out the truth behind all the secretive veil surrounding Donovan’s death/life. He knows that Donovan is still alive and starts to blackmail Pat Cory.
Steve Brodie who plays the smarmy reporter Yocum pays the price of finding out about Dr. Cory’s stealing Donovan’s brain and his plan to blackmail the doctor backfires. It isn’t long before, the ruthless mind of W.H. Donovan takes over Cory’s body again hypnotizing Yocum and sending him off into the desert so he can drive his car off a cliff into a fiery mess…
Gene Evans is very subtle as the inebriated colleague Dr. Frank Schratt. Donovan forces Dr. Pat Cory to continue his tax evasion scheme. He also cuts Donovan’s children out of his will, and plans to have his brain placed in permanent residency at a special installation to house and protect his criminal brain..
Frank tries to shoot the brain in it’s tank-“It’s unnatural, unholy”-but it forces him to shoot himself instead.
From Bill Warren- “When the brain takes over, Ayre’s transformation from Good Dr. Cory to Bad W.H. Donovan are subtle and powerful.”
During a moment when Donovan is not in control, Pat Cory takes the opportunity to send a message to his wife, with instructions on how to destroy the monstrous brain, but we do not hear what he instructs her to do. Later Donovan thinks that Frank (Gene Evans) and Janice (Nancy Reagan) are in the way and plans on having them taken care of the same way he did with Yokum. That’s when Frank tries to shoot the brain as it forces him to turn the gun on himself. Once Donovan has taken over Pat Cory’s body fully, the doctor no longer exists. He tries to strangle Janice Cory, during a thunderstorm, when a bolt of lightning strikes the lab’s lightning rod, which we now learn was part of Dr. Pat Cory’s instructions. He has hook up a special conduit so when the bolt of lightning hits, the juice charges the tank and Donovan’s brain becomes fried dumplings.
Of course Dr. Pat Cory must pay for his profane crime of tampering with science and using an unauthorized brain in his experiments,but his faithful wife Janice promises to wait for him.
Gene Evans (The Giant Behemoth 1959, Shock Corridor 1963) plays the good friend who drinks too much, but he’s dependable and likeable. And have no fear, though he shoots himself he does not die by the film’s end.
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [after Cory wakes Dr. Schratt up from a drunken stupor] “My dear Dr. Schratt, you sober up with more—[pauses and shrugs] grace than anyone I ever saw. You’re terrific. C’mon, let’s go.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “Are you kidding?—[He hold out his shaking hand]—Look! Nope.”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “Frank, don’t let me down.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “What’s more useless than a surgeon with a hangover? I’m a drunken zero.! I pass!”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “No, you don’t. I’d rather have you do a corneal transplant for me drunk than anyone else sober—[Pulls him by the arm] Let’s go boy.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “You’re brilliant but not normal.”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [Laughs] “So are you, but are you and who is?”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [after Cory wakes Dr. Schratt up from a drunken stupor] “My dear Dr. Schratt, you sober up with more.” [pauses and shrugs]
… Grace than anyone I ever saw. You’re terrific… C’mon, let’s go.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “Are you kidding?” [He holds out his shaking hand]
… Look! Nope.”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “Frank, don’t let me down.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “What’s more useless than a surgeon with a hangover? I’m a drunken zero.! I pass!”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “No, you don’t. I’d rather have you do a corneal transplant for me drunk than anyone else sober.” [Pulls him by the arm]
… Let’s go boy.”
Dr. Frank Schratt: “You’re brilliant but not normal.”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [Laughs] “So are you, but are you and who is?”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: -“Perhaps I’ll cure Frank and every other alcoholic if I can solve the mystery of Donovan’s Brain. I think it’s a matter of chemistry how the brain thinks. The problem is to find out what chemical combinations are responsible for success… failure… happiness… misery.”
Janice Cory: “Sounds impossible.”
Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “But it is not. It can’t be. There has to be a way.”
Directed by Terence Fisher this is a rare and obscure little film! Stars Barbara Payton as Lena/Helen, James Hayter as Dr. Harvey, Stephen Murray as Bill, John van Eyssen as Robin, Percy Marmont as Sir Walter.
Photo courtesy of: Alamy
1950s had some memorable science fiction films within the genre that entertained us in the decade that saw the heyday of the illusory American dream—where the books and films forged out of fantasy were a great release from the anxiety of WWII and the advent of McCarthy Era paranoia. It was rarity to find American science fiction films of the early 50s that were based on novels of the same name. This was even more of an oddity for British films. Then there was the very provocative Four-Side Triangle, adapted from the novel by William F. Temple and scripted by the prolific Terence Fisher who also directed, co-scripted by Hungarian born Paul Tabori who went on to write several science fiction novels himself, the most well known being The Green Rain. The novel was published in 1939. A first fantasy feature by Hammer with director Fisher’s that predates his stint with the Hammer brand horror/sci-fi The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958)
Four-Sided Triangle wasn’t received very well, and it’s still considered quite dreary and so it remains pretty obscure today.
And I find it sort of possesses an air of deviance and a serious curiosity piece concerning a love triangle that becomes a twisted kind of quadrangle. The films stars Barbara Peyton who plays a dual role —the object of both men’s desire.
Lena who returns to her English home town to see her old child hood friends, Robin (John Van EYSSEN) and Bill (Stephen Murray) have invented a machine that can duplicate objects by reconstructing matter into energy. Not unlike the transportation device in The Fly (1958) that messed with atomic particulars that re-assembled matter then sends it to another location re-assembling it, sans any contamination in the field like let’s say a house fly… “Eeeeeee….Help me, Help me!”
They try out their experimental machine first using a totally innocuous object — a watch, which they manage to duplicate. Meanwhile Lena and Robin get engaged and leave to get hitched, leaving Bill to mess around with their new discovery. He uses a living subject instead of just an inanimate object. He’s also madly, tragically in love with his brother’s girl, Lena. This is where the story becomes if not risqué it bares the element a of twisted Sci-Fi melodrama. His brother Robin returns from the honeymoon and heads out to London on business. Poor lovesick Bill asks Lena to please submit to his very profane request… to allow him to duplicate her, using the machine, so that he may fulfill his desire for her in some way.
Lena actually agrees to this, and her doppelgänger Helen is born. But as they say careful what you wish for, and while the machine is effective in duplicating the subject, it does exactly that! And what happens… Helen falls in love with brother Robin as well. Oh what a tangled web we weave. It’s a theme about life’s song of irony and the lesson that we shouldn’t meddle with nature. The constant trope that runs through most to all Science Fiction stories. Not to play god, not to tamper with the nature of things, nor to be as bold to force our will upon other people or the natural world, at least not without paying the consequences for these sacrilegious actions.
Of course Bill is devastated by the outcome, and instead of learning his lesson, he delves deeper in the dark recesses of his lower self and tries to wipe out Helen’s memory, in hopes of being able to seduce a blank slate. Bill does wash her mind clean, by electronically eradicating Helen’s memory but there is a fire in the laboratory and one of the women is killed.
I’m sorry, but you get what you deserve when you’re willing to create a woman in a machine that mimics the object of your desire. It is pathetic and outré creepy, and it says that that any woman will do as long as she’s from the same atomic particle ‘mold’ rather than accepting fate. It doesn’t create much sympathy, even if it is born out of a broken heart. Get over it, or get a puppy!
Lena: An empty mind… and a new beginning!
Murderous Martian creatures from out of space! From out of space… came hordes of green monsters! Mankind’s oldest fear…The Alien’s last conquest!
Directed by innovative designer William Cameron Menzies who directed (Things to Come 1936) a surreal & beautiful science fiction dreamscape with a screenplay by Richard Blake. Starring Helena Carter as Dr. Pat Blake, Arthur Franz as narrator/Dr. Stuart Kelston, Jimmy Hunt as David MacLean, Leif Erickson as George MacLean, Hillary Brooke as Mrs. Mary MacLean, Morris Ankrum as Col. Fielding, Max Wagner as Sgt. Rinaldi William Phipps as Sgt. Baker, Milburn Stone as Capt. Stone.
Invaders From Mars is perhaps one of the most recognizable science fiction gems of the 1950s partially due to William Cameron Menzies eye and experience for artistic design, he creates a dreamlike colorful yet terrifying landscape, with the feel of a comic book horror/sci-fi/fantasy. It’s a vision of alienation, alien occupation and paranoia that we can all relate to at some point in our lives. I know it effected me as a kid, while not growing up in the 1950s I certainly was fed a substantial dose of the product of horror/sci-fi/fantasy that came from the contribution of literature and film that preceded my childhood growing up in the following decade of the turbulent 60s.
The story uses as it’s protagonist a little boy who experiences a nightmare journey that recycles itself in the end, creating the dreaded sense of entrapment. The young protagonist finds his “Own reality is being twisted into the kind of horror…[…] the story is literally a nightmare.”
The story is told from the point of view of David MacLean played by Jimmy Hunt. Bill Warren in his terrific overview Keep Watching the Skies published by McFarland. “Children operate with a different kind of logic than adults: events proceed from cause to effect, but the causes adults and children see don’t produce the same effects, and vice versa. Adults and children are not frightened of all of the same things, nor do they find the same things interesting. It takes a special imagination to achieve this kind of viewpoint.”
David is a young star gazer who is awakened one night by a flash of bright light when he looks out his bedroom window and sees a flying saucer land out over the hill. He wakes his parents, George and Mary (Leif Erikson and Hillary Brooke) to inform them of what he’s seen. The artistic direction and color palette reminds me of Finnish painter Hugo Simberg. The set pieces have a surreal, simplistic yet fantastical color scheme and composition.
Menzies art directions were “like a daisy chain” of dream sequences.
In the morning, father George goes out to investigate near the place David saw the craft go down, the fence seems to disappear into the sand dune. A mysterious hole in the sand swallows up George, who doesn’t return home, his wife phones the police, until George suddenly comes back but with a completely different temperament. He seems like a changed man. He has no emotions at all, yet he bares a strange ill-tempered streak, verging on violent when unprovoked he strikes David hard with the back of his hand, when David questions him about a strange mark on the back of his neck.
“Say dad when you were out there did you see anything?”
“lets not start that flying saucer nonsense again.’
he notices the implant in the back of his father’s neck “Hey dad” “Yeah what do you want!” “what happened to your neck, it looks like there’s a ….?”
Imagine the nightmare of a twist of fate where the people who love you now hate you and the ones who are supposed to keep you safe, become the most dangerous!
The next to disappear in the sand pit are the two policemen Douglas Kennedy and Charles Kane -called out to find David’s father. Once they return they appear to have the same eerie ill mood as George, zapped of any human emotion. Now, when a little girl also disappears, seemingly swallowed up by the sand and disappears in front of David, he tells his mother, but she too returns just as a fire starts in the basement of the little girl’s house. David panics and goes to the police station. Seeking out the symbol of authority and protection right… wrong…!
The little guy talks to the chief. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“What makes you think the chief will?”
One of the cops who has been taken over by the invaders asks, “What’s the trouble Mac?”
it’s a very creepy tone, that seems menacing in it’s coldness…
David sees that the guy has the same wound on the back of his neck. Pulling his collar over it to conceal it.
When the little guy runs into the police station asking to see the chief, it goes to that place where we feel most vulnerable and the panic sets in when we realize there is no one you can trust, no one to believe you. There is no safe place. And those you love are gone. The threat goes to the issue of trust and sense of safety and not just about creepy aliens lurking around. A film of paranoia and insecurity.
Spielberg says that Menzies gave himself the license to work on the film doing homages using BERTOLD BRECHTIAN sets, because it was a dream. Also the fear that it kept recurring is the notion that there isn’t any escape you can wake up from the nightmare, but it only begins all over again. “It’s a trap. It’s absurd. it’s deadly frightening.”
There the chief of police Bert Freed has also been taken over by the Martians who have submerged themselves in the land behind his house. David is locked up until a psychologist Dr. Pat Blake played by Helen Carter who comes to see him and realizes how genuinely frightened he is. He is petrified when his parents come to pick him up, his mother now showing the same frozen demeanor as his father. So Dr. Blake keeps David in her care and takes him to see a colleague Dr. Stuart Kelston played by Arthur Franz. Dr. Kelston is also an amateur astronomer who not only believes that David saw a space craft land in the back field, but that the earth could very well be under siege by Martians, an immanent invasion could be near. That they might be trying to interfere with local rocket experiments being launched in the area. And of course, that’s where David’s father works.
Kelston has a telescope and he, David and Dr. Pat Blake see David’s father lure General Mayberry (William Forrest) to the sand dune that swallows him up. Soldiers are sent to surround the sand pit, overseen by veteran science fiction supportive actor Morris Ankrum who plays Colonel Fielding along side Sergeant Rinaldi (Max Wagner). Meanwhile the Martians are systematically sending out their possessed humans to sabotage the works. The Martians act like puppet masters who can also control their subjects by exploding the devices implanted in their brains –the marks on their necks are where they’ve been drilled. Lovely thought…
David is told that his parents are getting their control devices taken out through surgery, just as the sand trap opens up right under his and Pat’s feet, they fall beneath the sand into the underground lair that the Martians have been operating from. We get to see two green Martians who walk like they shuffle (excuse me for saying, back in the day my older brother used to say that they walked like they had shit in their pants) actually these Martians do sort of qualify as ‘pants monsters’.
Anyway, the two Martians bring David and Pat unto the grand Martian leader, a very kitschy Martian –a goldish green head including shoulders with nasty tentacles encased in something like a glass orb. The main Martian telepathically uses it’s eyes to communicate it’s creepy menacing power not with squinting veracity but more with a comical sort of soulessness.
The nefarious Martian Intelligence is portrayed by Luce Potter.
Thank God the military saves the day as Fielding, (poor General Mayberry gets killed), enter the Martian’s underground chambers and rescue David and Pat, she was just about to get her brain drilled into, they blow up the spacecraft. After this climatic seen as David is on the surface running away, he awakens from this nightmare, (the rolling flashback in his head is a terrific touch) as it was truly a nightmare… runs into his parents bedroom, thank god the nightmare is over, he goes back to his room falls asleep until he is again awakened by a space craft landing out in the field behind his house, the entire cycle of events to repeat all over again. It’s quite a stunning conclusion… that doesn’t give us any release.
In honoring Menzies incredible eye for design, and how the film was envisioned as if we are experiencing the nightmare through a child’s eyes, I defer to the way Bill Warren sums up some of the visual highlights of the film- “The jail set is especially impressive. The only things on the set are those that would impress themselves on a boy; (I’ll ignore that presumptive gender bias) there is a police chief, one sergeant at a towering desk, and on the wall behind him a clock with hands that don’t move, one cell and one key to the cell. The walls are white and almost not there at all; the hall from the front door to the desk is long and tall, it is a set out of a dream, as if it is only partially real…[…] The interior of the Martian flying saucer is equally imaginative and equally minimal. It’s composed almost entirely of greenish plexiglass. There are no instruments visible at all, there are a couple of tubes which reach up out of sight and a large inexplicable hole in the floor. The sphere with the Martian Intelligence inside rests on a pillar, and is brought to it brought to its perch by the giant green mutants.”
Not to mention the surreal space behind David’s house, the sand pit and the fence that disappears out of site, the winding trees that melt into space. It’s all very much a dreamscape. A reduction of images in which the minimalist elements actually add to the eerie atmosphere the opposite of Grand Guignol and Gothic old dark house set pieces. How can something so simplistic be so menacing. I guess that’s why Menzie’s film is still so gorgeous to experience today.
Actor Mark Hamill-“The Invaders From Mars were no angels. They were here to bend our minds. They were the thieves of love and trust. The film was directed by the great art director William Cameron Menzies who gave it a memorably surreal design on a tiny budget.”
Director Steven Spielberg talks about how Invaders From Mars turned his world around “it got to a primal place which basically says the first people not to trust is your father and mother.”
Director James Cameron “What is the deep seated psychological fear that’s happening here. Maybe it’s a simple and elemental as you’re in a relationship with somebody whether it’s child/parent husband/wife but you never really know what that other person’s thinking. And they might be evil.”
Steven Spielberg “It certainly touched a nerve among all the young kids like myself who saw that movie at a very young age. That you would come home and that you would not recognize your mom and dad they would have changed into people who hate you.”
When the father hits his son so violently that it knocks him down, as Spielberg says “it’s a shattering primal attack on us.”
I had the same reaction, I came home one night and felt like my parents had been exchanged somehow. they were not cruel like David’s parents in Invaders from Mars, yet I felt that they were somehow duplicates. I walked around the block for an hour afraid to go inside the house. These movies certainly made impressions in that deep rooted primal way. The subtleties of films like Invaders from Mars will still leave their mark on your psyche.
The giant green Martian Mutants must have zippers up the back of their velour costumes…
The idea of not being believed works as a trope and it possesses a powerful persuasive tone that seeps inside and effects you as a kid watching Invaders From Mars.
All of a sudden, parents turn into aliens, monsters and cruel. It could be a metaphor for any number of difficult issues children might confront, like alcoholism, abuse etc. It is the changes that the child experiences in private where they cannot convey to people outside the home, that tells the story of alienation and estrangement. It is a terrifying journey they must navigate on their own, while they try to negotiate what is happening to them.
The ship has crashed into the land, over the hill. The sand sinks down like quicksand that drags down anyone who walks over it. The mutants who walk like my brother used to say to me, like they’ve got shit in their pants, worship and serve this giant tentacled head in a glass orb. The whole vision of the ground ‘literally’ collapsing where you stand. it gives the idea that you can’t even feel safe where you stand. It will suck you down into the bowels of the earth where evil creatures will turn you into a mindless image of yourself.
Spielberg says “What really unseats you as a child seeing that movie. it’s all a dream. He wakes up and his mom’s normal and his dad is normal and they don’t believe him, but what happens in the last scene.”
“It starts all over again… It’s the groundhog day of science fiction —lol I thought the same thing Spielberg. that’s pretty much what it is…. he’ll just go through the whole loop and then wake up over and over again. There’s a twilight zone episode like that where Dennis Weaver keeps getting sentenced to death by a jury and goes thought the execution only to wake up and do it all over again… Spielberg puts it like this “it’ll be a never ending mirror tunnel of nightmares.”
Narrator: The heavens. Once an object of superstition, awe, and fear. Now a vast region for growing knowledge. The distance of Venus, the atmosphere of Mars, the size of Jupiter, and the speed of Mercury. All this and more we know. But their greatest mystery the heavens have kept a secret. What sort of life, if any, inhabits these other planets? Human life, like ours? Or life extremely lower in the scale? Or dangerously higher? Seeking the answer to this timeless question, forever seeking, is the constant preoccupation of scientists everywhere. Scientists famous and unknown. Scientists in great universities and in modest homes. Scientists of all ages.
XENOMORPHS INVADE OUR WORLD! They can look like humans or change to objects of awesome terror!–From Ray Bradbury’s great science fiction story!–Amazing Sights Leap at You in 3-DIMENSION
From a story by the master of fantasy and science fiction Ray Bradbury
The science fiction film that brought us the amorphous bubbly one eyed Xenomorph.
Jack Arnold’s amazing foray into an alien crash landing that involves stolen identity, invasion fear and the possibility that life on other planets might be benevolent but still really really creepy.
The film stars Richard Carlson as displaced reporter John Putnam, the wonderful Barbara Rush as Ellen Fields, Charles Drake as jealous Sheriff Matt Warren, Joey Sawyer as Frank Daylon, Russell Johnson as George, and Kathleen Hughes as June.
Art direction by Robert F. Boyle (North by Northwest 1959, In Cold Blood 1967, Cape Fear 1962, The Thomas Crown Affair 1968) and Cinematography by Clifford Stine (This Island Earth 1955, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957,Touch of Evil 1958, Imitation of Life 1959, Operation Petticoat 1959, Spartacus 1960, Patton 1970) Read Stine’s credits on IMBd they are far too many to list! The mesmerizing musical score is by an un-credited Henry Mancini, Irving Gertz and Herman Stein. The memorable visual effects are by David S. Horsley-(The Killers 1947, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948, This Island Earth 1955) It Came From Outer Space was also filmed in the sensationally hyped 3D!
The music is wonderfully inspiring to the mood, especially with the desert’s sense of estrangement and when the presence of the Xenomorphs are near. I think they use it as some of the stock music for Night of the Living Dead… I need to check that out… From what I see about their contributors I cannot link to any of the three music contributors to It Came from Outer Space… but I always get a thrill when the ‘coming near’ motif music happens in both!
In reading Bill Warren’s–Keep Watching the Skies his overview of It Came from Outer Space, gets into the discrepancies about Ray Bradbury’s full participation in writing the screenplay, being totally replaced by Harry Essex who is credited for the screenplay, if it was his memory that was failing in recollecting what happened or if he had been misunderstood and his work co-opted by Essex because Universal didn’t like Bradbury’s treatment of the script. Warren is totally supportive of Bradbury being an un-credited contributor to the script. While he delves into the weeds a bit more about the mystery and contradictions about the facts behind-the- scenes, I think I’ll just stick with Jack Arnold’s beautifully executed science fiction master work here. But the entire section on the film is fascinating if you want a good read and 1950s science fiction is of particular interest, pick up a copy of Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren, it’s a sensational compilation of a decade of gems and stinkers, informative, funny engaging even including old published reviews of the films during the time of their theatrical release. I highly recommend it.
First of all,this is one of those science fiction films that’s actually a really good film, with so many elements that work fabulously to transcend genre. This is one of the first major studio Universal – International to release a film in 3D, and one of the first to be shown in what was called wide screen and in stereophonic sound.
It was also the first science fiction film to be directed by Jack Arnold. (YAY!!!) The first using the southwestern desert as a location— the Mojave desert to be exact and not the Arizona desert as plotted out in the story—Donovan’s Brain was set there but made little use of the area as a central focal point. The desert already has an eerie, isolated vibe to it…
The film stars Richard Carlson as John Putnam and Barbara Rush as Ellen Fields.
Ray Bradbury wrote the original story on which the film is based, He was at the height of his writing with The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451 which brought his genius into light.
The story opens as a meteor cuts through the evening sky like a glowing fireball high above the alienating desert landscape. For the locals, this brings about many different reactions, including that of John Putnam, amateur astronomer who’s having dinner with his fiancee Ellen Fields. This gets John so excited that he immediately wants to drive out to the sight to investigate. He and Ellen hop on a helicopter and go and see where the meteor left a large crater.
Meanwhile from the view of what ever the alien life force is, it moves from the crashed spacecraft, revealing that it wasn’t a meteor at all. —“Bradbury describes quick shots of animals fleeing in fright from the alien visitor. The jack rabbit, for instance. At this point, he does not mention the use of a subjective camera technique , which has so often been commented on in relation to the film.” -Bill Warren.
Putnam arrives at the crater and approaches the object that has crash landed in a gaping hole, nearly burned to molten rock. Suddenly a landslide occurs and covers up the opening and the space ship.
Bill Warren–In a sequence (not in the finished film) almost certainly suffused by Billy Wilders’ Ace in the Hole /The Big Carnival 1951, which also took place in the Southwestern desert, earth moving machinery arrives in an effort to uncover the buried pilot. No one believes Putnam’s story. Eventually everyone give up and goes home, including Ellen and Putnam. A strange shape crosses the highway in front of them, they stop to look for whatever it was and a Joshua tree in the dark frightens Ellen, but they do not see the strange shape again. The alien, with the first-person camera emphasized (the camera’s point of view is the Alien’s) watches them leave.
The next day Putnam is interviewed by hostile reporters. A few days later, the excitement of the meteor has died down. They drive into the desert alone. stopping to look around. “It’s alive” says Putnam “it looks so dead out there. And yet, it’s all alive and waiting around us and ready to kill you if you go too far from the road. The sun will get you, or the cold at night, or the snakes and the spiders or a sudden rain that floods the washes will get you. Ohm there are a thousand ways you can die in the desert.”
Here’s Essex’s version of the same scene, which is in the film, “It’s alive.” say Putnam. Ellen nodding adds, “And yet it looks so dead out there.” Putnam goes on. “But it’s all alive and waiting for you… And ready to kill you if you go too far. The sun will get you or the cold at night… a thousand ways the desert can kill.” There isn’t much difference though some of the dialogue is shared by Ellen which is a nice touch.
Putnam and Ellen drive on and meet the phone linemen. Putnam climbs up the ladder to listen to the strange sounds on the wire that the linemen have been noticing since the crash. The elder lineman says —
–“In all my years nothing like that sound. Like Someone’s on the line. Down that way maybe, tapping the wire. Or up the other way, tapping the wire. listening to unlike we’re listening to him… After you been working out in this desert for fifteen years like I have you get funny ideas. There’s that sun in the sky and the heat, and look at the roads, full of mirages. And the sand out there, full of rivers and lakes that are fifty, a hundred miles away…. And sometimes you get to thinking maybe some nights, or some noons like this noon , the sun burns on the wires and gets in the wires and listens and hums and talks like this talk and that’s what you hear now. And sometimes you wonder if some of the snakes and the coyotes and the tumbleweeds don’t climb the poles at noon, far off where you can’t see them, and listen in on us human beings.”
“Once again, Essex condenses and duplicates this speech without understanding the poetic paranoia behind the words. Fortunately director Jack Arnold and actor Joe Sawyer did, and the scene is one of the most famous and best like in the finished film.”-Bill Warren.
Putnam and Ellen decide to help the linemen find out what’s happening to the wires, and head off in the opposite direction from the one the linemen take. The linemen meet the alien , the scene cuts to Putnam and Ellen. who turn around and go back. They meet the alien masquerading as the younger lineman (Russell Johnson) When he quietly walks up and taps Putnam (Ellen in the film) on the shoulder, Putnam spots a body behind a mesquite bush, assumes the linemen are dead, and that what he is talking to isn’t human.
The scene that follows, one of the only two in the film in which Putnam is not the central figure, was added to the screenplay by Essex. In it, the alien George (Russell) tells the real Frank (Sawyer) that they have landed by accident and that they have the power to make themselves look like us.
Bill Warren passionately tries to defend and clarify this.. “I could continue through the entire storyline in this fashion , it would be profitless. Despite all claims by everyone else to the contrary, the story and the best elements of It Came From Outer Space were written by Ray Bradbury, not by Harry Essex. Because of the many influences of this film, Ray Bradbury’s therefor far more responsible for the look, the feel and the approach of 1950s science fiction movies than he has ever been acknowledged or even suspected before.”
In the finished film the aliens apparently literally take on the form of other people, they are actual shape shifters their bodies are malleable enough that they can actually restructure themselves to resemble anyone. In Bradbury’s script, the effect is the same but the power seems to come from hypnosis —the aliens resemble lizards in Bradbury’s treatment.
I learned something really interesting from reading Warrens analysis of the film. I myself have often confused Richard Carlson with Hugh Marlowe at times. Here is partly the answer to that
“In the draft actually called It Came from Outer Space, almost all of the film that was to be was created by Ray Bradbury. In this draft (begun October 1, 1952) Bradbury emphasized scenic and character descriptions much more strongly than the had in his earlier drafts. probably on studio orders. In so doing he created the standard science fiction her of the 1950. who was to be played by Richard Carlson or the nearest equivalent through most of the rest of the decade. Hugh Marlowe, John Agar, Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason. The characters they played were almost always variations on John Putnam the dedicated slightly strange and earnest young researcher. The actors often physically resembled Carlson.”
When it all comes down to it, what Bill Warren is asserting is that he found evidence that Essex’s script was a duplication of Ray Bradbury’s treatment, meaning the result –he isn’t getting the credit for his contribution and Essex is getting credit for Bradbury’s work. And he feels that what Essex did manage to change slightly, didn’t work at all, including inventing some of the poorly envisioned scenes.
What does happen by the end of Bradbury’s final draft is how his incredibly fluid and convoluted description of these alien came to life as close to the poetic description Bradbury put forth. The few times the aliens show themselves they are hard to assess, in form, with the emphasis on their milky jelly like eye in a gigantic impression of a head, surrounded by a foggy mist, with sparkles and glistens like a jello mold … but in the end, the film shows them as close to their poetic description that Bradbury had envisioned. Different than some man in a lizard type pants monster suit with bug eyes, or layers of monster make-up, the floating amorphous alien really does seem to exist on the extra terrestrial plane.
“One of his main contributions to It Came from Outer Space seem to have been the shimmering bullseye effect used whenever the camera ‘is’ one of the aliens. The subjective camera “playing’ the aliens at time is Bradbury’s idea. but the refinements seem to have been Jack Arnold’s–Bill Warren
Another aspect of these aliens is that they are not quite hostile, though they are not benign either. it’s sort of a unique view of them. They are panicked and desperate to get off the Earth, and get back to their original destination “Our mission was to another world, only an error dragged us to Earth” Some of the aliens, such as the one in the guise of Ellen that tries to kill Putnam,are indeed hostile to people. Others are just nervous, such as the Putnam duplicate. or openly friendly , like the one that copied George the lineman. In short, just like real people, they don’t have a common attitude they are not of one mind. They reveal an individual spirit. It’s quite a break away them from other aliens who are a collective group on a mission, unified.
This being director Jack Arnold’s first science fiction film leads with a focus on how the alien relates to this world he has invaded. The result that his films seems less fanciful and more realist than most other of this period, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.
Ellen Fields: If we’ve been seeing things, it’s because we DID see them.
Sheriff Matt Warren: [three-shot, characters gazing toward sky into which meteor-spaceship has rocketed] Well, they’ve gone.
Ellen Fields: For good, John?
John Putnam: No. Just for now. It wasn’t the right time for us to meet. But there’ll be other nights, other stars for us to watch. They’ll be back.
“THERE MUST FOREVER BE A GUARDIAN AT THE GATE FROM HELL…”
I’ve written enough here at The Last Drive-In, to sort of feel more relaxed about letting it rip sometimes. I’m hoping you’ll indulge me a bit while I go off on a tiny rant… I hope that’s alright…
Michael Winner’s film was a failure at the box office. So what!
You will have undoubtedly read 9 out of 10 reviewers who will make too convenient a statement about The Sentinel being a Rosemary’s Baby rip off. In terms of how I experience this film there’s more too it than just a pat dismissal and a flip accusation of being derivative. I had first read Jeffrey Konvitz’s book when it was published in 1974, and then went to the movies to see his adapted screenplay The Sentinel during it’s theatrical release– I was a ripe 15 year old who was captivated by the grotesque and eerie imagery. I also saw Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz 1971.
Perhaps there is a conscious connection or homage made by director Winner between the devilish residents of the infamous Bramford Arms with it’s history of murderers and deviants –the facade filmed of New York Cities Dakota with birds eye view of Central Park as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into their house of Hades in Rosemary’s Baby 1968, perhaps my favorite film.
Alison Parker (Christina Raines) does come in contact with a similar Gothic building filled with oddball characters who wind up being the ghosts of murderers who once lived in the impressive Brownstone. I imagine the gateway to Hell would attract an evil ensemble of nasties. And to counterbalance Alison as the women-in-peril who must fight off the paranoia and heady mind games are the devil and his minions who toy with Alison in order to drive her mad enough to once again try commit suicide. Rosemary Woodhouse has a perseverance to keep her devils at bay and hold onto her precious baby even if he was to carry on his father’s legacy. Either way, it’s both buildings filled with eccentrics and the fog of paranoia that tie the two films together for me, but that’s where it ends.
As an amateur film buff and classic horror film aficionado I think I have some authority when weighing in on whether director Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is just derivative dreck and/or dribble.
And I discovered that it’s not just the average chimer-in nudnik on IMBd who feel the need to review this film in such a simplistic way that making the comparison to Rosemary’s Baby feels like just a cop out to me.
It is even referred to as such in writer John Kenneth Muir’s entirely comprehensive book Horror Films of the 1970s– citing two film reviews during the time of The Sentinel’s theatrical release…
Look, as far back as it’s theatrical release and the critique was, to lump all ‘devil’ in the city, good vs. evil tropes with the 1968 seminal film by director Roman Polanski based on Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby.
“…a crude and obvious imitation of Rosemary’s Baby, but much creepier and more bizarre. The unnerving ending obliterates the memory of the rest of the film… makes good use of several past-their prime actors in small roles but attempts at psychological insight, subtlety or believability fall flat (it’s a horror story not a autobiographical story of Aimee Semple McPherson for crying out loud… believability.) The great special effects at the end justify the film’s faults however.” Darrell Moore. The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Horror films, Crowne publishing 1983.
I say to that, we leave believability outside our un-conscious abject fear chamber that is our most hidden dread drenched mind when partaking in a little collective anxiety ridden purge, right Dr. Jung?
And if critic Darrell Moore is talking about Ava Gardner–a gorgeous 55 year old woman is NOT past her prime, I hate when sexism and agism rears it’s ugly head!, I’m heading toward the number, which continually amazes people, I read these kinds of misdirected comments all the time, some critic or person saying ‘she’ looks so good for her age-40ish!, does that imply that Ava and I should be embalmed already? Geesh, but in the words of Sophia Petrillo, I digress…
February 12, 1977 from The New York Times written by Richard Eder—“The confrontations are supposed to be terrifying but the most they offer is some mild creepiness… Mr. Winner has sweetened the mess with some nudity, a little masturbation and a dash of lesbianism.”
Interesting that the one bit of titillation Richard Eder manages to pluck out is the lesbianism. In fact that seems to be of most interest to many reviewers. Well, it’s 2016 and if a lesbian pops up in a film, it’s now about as outmoded and the shock obsolete as the landline and mullets… well I have seen people still sporting mullets.
And I’d like to say there’s more than just mild creepiness, there are absolute moments of mind jolting terror. The exquisite color palette and the eye for detail that supports the sense of mystery such as the fabulous Houdini poster in Michael’s apartment -a center piece in plain sight that one might miss though it is there to instruct us on our journey through the dark maze of the storyline
If anything, the film lies closer in relationship to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) where another protagonist Trelkovsky portrayed by Polanski himself, is being mentally tortured by a group of people (Shelley Winters, Lila Kedrova and Jo Van Fleet) in his building that may or may not exist ultimately driving him to attempt suicide. The fact that our heroine Alison is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless yet strange and quirky neighbors, that are actually, unholy denizens of hell definitely evokes comparisons in my mind with Roman Polanski’s equally disturbing THE TENANT (1976).
The fact that the main protagonist is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless but, actually, unholy tenants brings forth comparisons with Roman Polanski’s equally unappetizing in THE TENANT (1976)
I’d even go as far as to compare director Michael Winner and writer Jeffrey Konvitz’s film has something of a Alejandro Jodorowsky flavor to it, with the grotesque imagery and surreal processional. Or might have influenced the very hallucinatory Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that deals with a soul’s nightmarish journey through unfathomable realms of consciousness that conjures demons and angels alike.
With The Sentinel some people are fascinated, some are repulsed and some just think The Sentinel is truly a retread of Polanski/Castle’s superior masterpiece.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)
First off, my impression of classical 70s horror is that it’s hard for that decade to be derivative when it started an entire trend of moody, pseudo-violent social commentary’s that had a limitless freedom to go down an adventurous road. If 70s horror took its cue from older decades and genres, perhaps a nod to Tod Browning, Val Lewton, French New Wave cinema and the surrealists like Jean Renoir and René Clément, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini. But please arm chair critics that spend time comparing a 70s horror gem to a a film without the constructive reasons to support it, or to even hold it up against a contemporary film by saying it lacks a good body count and special effects, I hope I don’t offend thee, but –please!!! You’re out of your element– stick with Saw and films like The Conjuring by James Wan… You don’t understand the 70s decade of horror and it’s unique contribution. Sorry to be so snotty here…
Now it’s even been compared to The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) as well. I suppose where ever the devil lurks, it’s automatically a Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist, Omen rip-off. Well… the element of paranoia exists in the film as Alison Parker goes through a nightmarish journey through a maze of surreal events, while she devolves toward her ultimate fate. There are elements of minions from Hell that lurk and groups of diabolical characters that come in and out of Alison’s orbit. And like The Omen and The Exorcist, the film does open up in Italy with a sense of ancient religious underpinnings hinting at the inner workings of the church. It then brings us to a church in New York City where Monsignor Franchino and a colorful group of acolytes convene in a ceremony, with a quick cut to Alison posing in a post-modern sheer black flowing cape as if moving Martha Graham style, a dark looming allegorical winged bird or augury swathed in black like the angel of death.
The juxtaposition of the old and the modern is a nice touch. BUT… that’s where the comparison ends. The film has it’s own unique story. It has been blamed for being too simplistic a story. Okay fine. Perhaps, too many mainstream contemporary narratives have gotten so convoluted and disorienting that a simple plot is not enough. Then again, there’s the complaint that it’s predictable. Well, then don’t watch it, if the journey isn’t worth the end result. Plot holes is another gripe– Well, perhaps during that simplistic story, they weren’t paying attention. The film explains as much as it can, within the visual narrative. And that’s enough…
The Sentinel is perhaps one of the most engrossing, nightmarish, surreal a horror film as any of the 1970s… with it’s origin based on the story of the Garden of Eden and the angel Uriel who was entrusted to guard the entrance from the Devil. Alison Parker (Christina Raines) has been chosen by providence and by lot for her past transgressions, her two suicide attempts–now to be groomed by the secret order of the Catholic church to redeem her damned soul, taking the place of the blind priest Father Halliran and become the new Sentinel, Sister Theresa to guard over the gates of Hell in– Brooklyn Heights.
Dante Alighieri wrote his allegorical epic poem between 1306 and 1321. Virgil is the guide who takes the reader through the author’s examination of the afterlife, which travels through the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Heaven).-source wikipedia
The Sentinel 1977 is another extraordinary occult film whose ambiance benefits from being shot on location in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan. 10 Montague Terrace in Brooklyn Heights with the Promenade off Remsen Street. The building is still there…
As writer Jack Hunter describes in his chapter Flesh Inferno from Inside Teradome: The Illustrated History of Freak Film he talked about Federico Fellini’s Sartyicon 1969 and immediately The Sentinel floods into my mind- —“His vision of Petronius’ ancient Rome, Fellini willfully fills the screen with a succession of grotesqueries, images both beautiful and bestial, ghastly and gorgeous.”
Aesthetically, the scattered surrealism works, because it supports the religious mythology and dark fantasy of the oddball characters and the story. The moody camerawork by Richard C. Kratina and sense of realism within the disorienting story offered by set design Ed Stewart works to create a surreal atmosphere of anxiety and ambivalence. No one will believe that she isn’t just having another emotional crisis. The building reveals its dark origins, the entire film is decorated with dread and kitschy late-seventies embellishments filled with hallucinogenic moments of abject agony (a la Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini Satyricon 1969, Juliet of the Spirits 1965) soul tormenting— ominous and sinister visions and flashbacks, profanity, debauchery, cannibilistic malevolent Milton’s Inferno and Dante’s Divine Comedy as archetype and the ‘fallen woman’ as fetish.
Dante’s Inferno is a weary journey emblazoned with fire and perdition… a landscape occupied by devil’s, lost souls and shades.
Divine Comedy opening verse—the plaque in the basement of the brownstone that Michael uncovers reads as follows
“THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE CITY OF GRIEF. THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE PAIN THAT IS ETERNAL. THROUGH ME YOU GO AMONG PEOPLE LOST… ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.
Now the hint that the brownstone is the gateway to Hell and she has been chosen as the next sentinel to guard over it, as a way of redemption for her past suicide attempt cutting her wrists in a graphically bloody scene while she’s wearing her Catholic girl short plaid skirt white blouse and penny loafers, Mary Janes or black and white saddle shoes. is chosen by a secretive and distant association of Catholic priests to be the next “sentinel” to the gateway to Hell, the idea of blinding these Sentinels is to prevent their eyes to fall upon evil horrors that might induce fear and influence them away from their guardianship. All sentinels had tried to kill themselves, now priests or nuns in the files. They didn’t exist until after their attempted suicides showing up as clergy. Raines’ father is a gnarled, bony old man and he is shown so scrawny as to be suffering from pernicious anemia and putrid bile, his cadaveric screeching mannerisms like a vicious desiccated old buzzard.
Both the operatives of good and the minions of evil, work to try and get her to either take up the mantle of guardian or try to kill herself and become another soul won over by the devil, thwarting the secretive group of the secret sect of the Vatican to protect the gates of Hell from re-opening, watching over her to keep her from being terrorized into another suicide attempt.
Writer Jeffrey Konvitz Produced and wrote the screenplay for the film Directed by Michael Winner (The Nightcomers 1971, The Mechanic 1972, Death Wish 1974) the film was scripted by Jeffrey Konvitz (Silent Night, Bloody Night 1972—-The Stone Killer (1973)) based on his 1974 novel which the film does an excellent job of paying tribute to. The story unfolds beautifully with twists and turns and an extremely creepy and campy bizarre ambience.
Composer Gil Melle created the resplendent orchestral vibe, majestic horn section,haunting woodwinds and resonant strings that cry out. Les Lazarowitz is credited as the sound recordist who creates a sonic landscape of terrifying wails, metallic splashes and waves of dark moody textures.
And Richard C. Kratina (camera work on Midnight Cowboy 1969) worked on the interesting camera angles and cinematography. Costumes and wardrobe by Peggy Farrell, Set Design –Ed Stewart. Film editors Bernard Gibble (The Man in the White Suit 1951) and Terence Rawlings (Our Mother’s House 1967, The Devils 1971, The Great Gatsby 1974, Alien 1979)
Someone on IMBd pointed out that Michael Winner’s audio commentary for the UK DVD spotlights the director regaling you with the tale of how Universal head honcho Ned Tanen rejected Martin Sheen and insisted on Chris Sarandon for the lead only to wonder who was “that awful Greek waiter.”
Director Michael Winner, Chris Sarandon and Christina Raines on the set of The Sentinel 1977 image courtesy of Horrorpedia.
Director Michael Winner caught a lot of flack when it was realized that he had used actual disfigured people who were born with physical disabilities instead of special effects to represent the demons rising up from the bowels of hell. Something that Tod Browning experienced when he released his film Freaks in 1932. Or consider director Erle C. Kenton’s characters adapted from the H.G. Wells story of Island of Lost Souls (1932). Why Tod Browning’s film Freaks was banned for over 30 years, when in retrospect Browning portrayed his ‘freaks’ as sympathetic heroes that we not only saw as very human but empathized with, the accusation that the film was exploitative seems unwarranted.
Dick Smith did the make up which interspersed the real life ‘freaks’ with the make up costumed damned souls from hell. There’s a man who has testicles for a beard, I’d like to know if he was that way real life or created to as one of the denizens to shock. One of the sideshow ‘devils’ also appeared in the Thomas Tryon adapted film directed by Robert Mulligan —the incredibly atmospheric The Other (1972)
With special make up designed by legendary Dick Smith who also worked on The Exorcist 1973 and music by Gil Melle special effects by Albert Whitlock (The Birds 1963, Earthquake 1974, a few episodes of Star Trek, The Thing 1982, a few episodes of Star Trek) additional Make up by-Robert Laden —although people with real facial deformities were also utilized… -a whole crowd of real-life freaks and disabled extras as the denizens of hell. real-life freaks (some of whom are said to have also featured in Jack Cardiff’s THE MUTATIONS .
Without giving away a few secrets, I can say that the climax is riveting as the devils and damned start to pour out of Hell, unleashed by Chazen at their side.
As John Kenneth Muir aptly puts it, about the controversial use of real life people with actual deformities to plays Hellish monstrosities “it is no doubt the strongest in the film, “The idea of physical deformity (i.e.”evil”) is one of The Sentinel’s more powerful conceits.”
The Sentinel is one of the most definitive horror films of the 1970s decade. The cast of characters, and the story-line, the imagery and the intensity play out like a grim yet colorful nightmare, without shock value for the sake of just being graphically violent. I do have a bit of an uncomfortable time watching a certain scene with Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra who performs a sexual act on herself while Sylvia Miles goes to get the tea, in order to shock and upset Alison. I wish the scene had been more suggested and toned down, it still would have served its purpose. I understand that the idea was to be vulgar and offensive in order to express how profane these characters were to develop but it makes my skin crawl to watch it, as it’s only moments it seems to last forever until the look of ecstasy and climax washes over the beautiful actresses face. This is an extremely awkward moment for Alison and a very unusual welcome to the building to watch the couple fondle each other in their leotards and wild teased out coiffed hair.
Charles Chazen matter of fact tells Alison as he points with his own flamboyant style “This is where the lesbians live,” and exchanges like Alison asking Gerde “What do you do for a living?” She answers “We fondle each other.”
I suppose in 1977 even the allusion to the idea that lured and sexually explosive lesbians existed on screen was in itself a titillating and provocative notion, today the use of them as a ‘fetish taboo symbol” has lost its luster to shock and tantalize..
Christina Raines plays a young model with an afflicted soul –Alison Parker. Her boyfriend is portrayed by Chris Sarandon as the smarmy mustachioed sketchy Lawyer who was marvelous as Leon -Sonny (Al Pachino’s) lover who wants a sex change so bad, Sonny’s willing to rob a bank for the money–it’s a true story also set in NYC of course I’m talking director Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Sarandon apparently was not happy with the film post production.
Then there’s José Ferrer as a “Priest of the Brotherhood” Arthur Kennedy as Monseigneur Franchino , the magnificent Ava Gardner in a short cameo is sophisticated and outré Vogue as Realtor Miss Logan who I believe to be literally an ‘outside’ agent in the true sense of the word, working for the secret Catholic society trying to strategically ensure that Alison will be in place and ready to take over as the Sentinel because on the appointed date Father Halliran (John Carradine) who is now fading psychically too weak to uphold his task as Guardian over the Gates of Hell will need a successor. John Carradine looks decrepit and spooky with his fixed gaze and staring off white eyeballs, and although he has a distinctive voice we all love, he has no dialogue in the film which works.
Burgess Meredith -Ebullient, mischievous and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner.
And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone episode Printers Devil and Torture Garden 1967. He also played a malevolent character along side Eileen Heckert as Arnold and Roz Allardyce in Dan Curtis’ equally creepy Burnt Offerings (1976).
While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s non humorous gem he’s splendid as the spiffy little eccentric cultivated Charles Chazen.
Veteran supportive actor Martin Balsam the scatterbrained scholar, Professor Ruzinsky, who translates the Latin passages into English for Michael Lerman, Beverly D’Angelo plays Gerde’s girlfriend Sandra a mute pixie, the guttural Sylvia Miles (Murder Inc 1960, Naked City 1961-1963, Midnight Cowboy 1969) plays Gerde the guttural pythoness who adds that bit of titillation everyone seems to like to point out, as they are vulgarian Lesbian ballerinas lazing in their leotards.
And of course the uncomfortable scene where Beverly D’Angelo delightedly pleasures herself in front of Alison while Gerde is getting the tea. When she comes back with the tray and finds Alison getting up to scram -Gerde replies like a Diva “It’s very rude to drink and run” I particularly loved this description of the classic actress- “featuring predatory Teutonic lesbian Sylvia Miles.” I just adore both actresses!
Fred Stuthman who has appeared on more television and theatrical features than you can imagine plays Alison’s horrible, skeletal, degenerate father and an even more repulsive looking damned soul, blueish toned, white eyeballed phantasmagorical corpse.
Eli Wallach plays the sarcastic cynical New York City homicide Detective Gatz who has believed in the guilt of Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) who has some secrets and sins in his life meaning he might have killed his first wife. Jerry Orbach plays a director of commercials Alison is working on. Jeff Goldblum plays Jack a fashion photographer.Tom Berenger, the wonderful William Hickey plays the a professional safe cracker Perry that Michael (knowing his share of shady characters and criminals as he’s a defense lawyer) hires to break into the church and grab the files on Father Halliran , and Christopher Walken as Rizzo, Detective Gatz’s partner, who utters this telling line “She went to a party with eight dead murderers” and Deborah Raffin plays Alison’s best friend Jennifer. Hank Garrett plays Brenner the private investigator Michael hires to dig into the back story about Father Halliran and the involvement with the Catholic church.
Kate Harrington plays Mrs. Clark who was at Jezabel’s birthday party and appears in the mug shot that Gatz and Rizzo look at. She murdered her boyfriend violently. Then there’s the Clotkin sisters, Lillian and Emma played by Jane Hoffman and Elaine Shore murderous cannibals and hedonists. All the neighbors become menacing, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. The decorated apartments, wind up being revealed as vacant shells in disrepair.
Christina Raines (The Duelist 1977, Nashville 1975) plays an afflicted soul–Alison Parker a high fashion model in New York City who also does shampoo commercials, who lives with but can’t make a commitment to her boyfriend lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) She craves her independents and holds Michael’s proposal’s of marriage at bay. Soon after an argument with Michael about moving out on her own Alison gets word that her father has passed away at her family home in Baltimore, which triggers memories of her childhood trauma, leading to her first suicide attempt. After the funeral she returns to the city and finds an advertisement for a lovely Brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.
So goes to meet with the chic Realtor Miss Logan (the voluptuous Ava Gardner) unaware that she is being followed by a priest. She finds that the apartment is unbelievably reasonable for a New York rental which is owned by the Catholic church —She agrees to take the place from Miss Logan who obviously wants Alison to move in, dropping it’s price from $500 to $400 as if Alison heard it wrong the first time she complained that it was out of her price range — “I can’t afford $500.” Alison says, with which Miss Logan misses no time in saying ”$400 is not excessive.”
… The beautiful layout is in Brooklyn Heights right across the water from Manhattan, decorated with gorgeous Gothic furniture, high ceilings and ivy growing up the sides of the building and a blind priest Father Francis Matthew Halliran (John Carradine), who just sits and appears to be looking out the window on the top floor. Although the Brownstone was a steal, and furnished as well, somehow it managed to be lensed by Dick Kratina with a sense of eerie and dangerous foreboding.
Alison’s response to learning that occupant of the top floor is Father Halliran a blind priest “Blind? Then what does he look at?”
Once she moves in, she starts to meet very odd and mysterious tenants who begin to give her the pip and the whim whams. First she meets the droll little character in 4B Charles Chazen…
Alison’s sense of independence starts to deteriorate after a series of disturbing events. Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith — or the little dapper ‘devil’) is played to the hilt by wonderful character actor Burgess Meredith who runs rampant with his nifty asides and axioms, who has a sovereign reign over his legion of “devils.”
The door bell rings. The animated little puck like old man, which a yellow parakeet on his shoulder and tuxedo cat in his arms flashes his delightful smile at Alison…
“Chazen is the name Charles Chazen. I’m your neighbor in 4B and this is Mortimer. Um he’s from Brazil. And this on the other hand so to speak… this is Jezebel. Say hello to that nice lady Jezebel. (Meowww) That’s it darling. She’s got indigestion.” Alison introduces herself, “Well hi I’m Alison.” Charles Chazen-“Really, may we uh, (he enters her apartment) oh! what a lovely apartment. Absolutely lovely.” Alison-“I was wondering when I was going to meet my new neighbors.” Charles Chazin-“My, you’re so pretty. Haven’t I seen you before, on television? Now don’t tell me I know you’re in a ” Alison answers – “I’ve done some tv commercials.” Charles Chazen responds unenthusiastic– “Oh… really, I thought you were an actress…[…] Oh my dear your taste is impeccable. I wish you’d help me redecorate my poor place someday would you, hum?…Were you waiting to go out?” Alison- “I’m waiting for a friend.” Charles Chazen-“Ahh well, friendships often blossom into bliss as they say, and speaking of bliss Mortimer loves his belly rubbed would you..” Alison-“Do you know any of our neighbors” Charles Chazen-“Yes I know all of our neighbors and they’re very nice, except that priest who lives above me, he’s a… (waving his hands dismissively) well however he’s quiet most of the time.”
Charles Chazen leaves a picture in a gold frame on her fireplace mantle, leaving with her some mirthful advice, “remember you eat and drink in moderation my dear.”
Alison also meets the lesbians Gerde and Sandra…
As soon as she moves into the building her sleep is disturbed by loud footsteps and clanging sounds that make the chandelier swing back and forth. Alison meets the Realtor to find out more about the neighbors in her building, in particular the person occupying the floor above her, as their heavy footsteps and loud banging kept her up all night.
Alison goes to inquire about the tenants and the person who occupies the apartment above her telling Miss Logan about the noises that kept her up all night. Logan is shocked to hear about this as the only tenants in the building are supposed to be Alison and the blind priest, the only tenants who have inhabited the building for years. Alison is disturbed by this news and returns home to find that Mr.Chazen’s apartment is truly vacant and the dust tells the story that it’s been sorely neglected by time.
“My dear Miss Parker aside from the priest and now of course you, nobody has lived in that building for three years.”
Miss Logan and Alison take a cab back after having the conversation in the cafe about being kept up all night by someone making so much of a ruckus on the floor above her. Monsignor Franchino stands behind the blind priest his hand grasping a cobweb covered statue baring an insignia ring belonging to their secret sect, he tells Father Hilliran “I am here holy father I have come so that you may shed your burden in peace.” and Alison takes Miss Logan through the apartment building, showing her vacant furnished rooms that looked cob webbed and dust covered as if it has been neglected for years. Alison informs Miss Logan –“This is where the lesbians live.”- Miss Logan hands Alison the keys dropping them into her hands with a gesture of skepticism before she opens the door.- Miss Logan handing Alison the keys- “Be my guest.”
the continual shot of the stairs leading upward seem symbolic of spiritual ascension and the death journey of the soul as in the story of Jacobs Ladder.
As Alison and Miss Logan begin to walk around the room she tells her that the furniture was different in there before. “Oh come now Miss Parker these pieces have not been touched in years.” Miss insists that she has to get back to the office, but Alison takes her to 4B where Charles Chazin lives, staring out the window she sings to herself, “Happy Birthday dear Jezebel… believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night… for a cat.” Miss Logan smiles with a superior air “Sorry I missed it.”
Then Alison urges Miss Logan to let her into Father Halliran’s apartment as she wants to see the old priest, but she tells Alison that it would be highly improper. The priest is taken care of by The Diocesen Council of New York sees to his needs. Monsignor Franchino breathing a sigh of relief that Miss Logan hasn’t let Alison into the priests apartment.
We then see Alison on a commercial shoot where she has her first fainting spell, begins to suffer from severe migraines, begins looking pale as death.
Charles Chazen throws as sort of a welcoming party for Alison and introduces her to the rest of the odd tenants in the odd old building.
He invites Alison to the birthday party he is throwing for his black and white cat Jezebel, before he takes her inside to meet the guests, he blindfolds her with a red scarf. Jezebel is a perfectly delicious name for a devil’s cat. “Black and White cat… black and white cake…” -quoted by the murderess Mrs. Clark -Jezebel the tuxedo cat wears a pointed birthday hat with streamers at the top, very slick element to the quirkiness of the ghostly damned tenants.
Later on that night Alison hears more clamorous noises from the floor above her apartment which is supposed to be vacant. Alison starts to experience weird happenings in the apartment as well as her health starts to deteriorate as she begins getting striking headaches, looking paler, anemic and practically deathly.
Michael is becoming concerned for Alison’s safety and hires a private investigator James Brenner (Hank Garrett) to keep an eye on her.
We experience her past by way of flashback. Alison has a history of emotional distress, two suicide attempts, once as a teenager, after she saw her father’s sexual antics— a bacchanalian orgy— explicit menage a trios scene with assumed ladies of ill repute and then some time after Michael’s wife apparently committed suicide though detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) has been daunting him since it happened, believing Michael had something to do with her untimely death and it might turn out to be murder!
Alison’s strained relationship with her creepy philandering father who used to bring prostitutes home to the house and gallivant around the house with them, when Alison comes home from catholic school and finds them cavorting with cake and wine… In a protest to her religious schooling Alison’s father rips her silver crucifix from her neck and tosses it on the floor. She quickly runs to the bathroom and slices her wrists.
Since her past childhood trauma, her connection with religion and failed suicide attempts, she leaves her faith and the Catholic church behind.
Alison chases phantoms all through the building like Alice in Wonderland. It is more than mildly creepy as written, it is all out frightening as hell, and still is…
That night begins the first of horrifying visions that assault Alison’s world. Visions of her decrepit father who lurks and lunges in the shadows. Armed with a butcher knife and a flashlight she decides to go investigate the vacant apartment above her. When she sees him!
She is suddenly smack in the middle of a nightmarish sequence as she encounters the specter of her father, a ghoulish corpse, lensed with quick cuts to project an eerie type of movement by the phantom who spurts from behind the bedroom door of the apartment upstairs first hidden in shadow then walking quickly without an awareness of her presence at first, then he appears to come after her prompting her to slash at him with her knife, the blood sputtering out of the bluish corpse.
Slashing at her father’s ghost, she runs screaming out into the night blood splashed across her white slip, as people gather around her. Detective Gatz questions Michael the next day. Michael puffs on his Italian cigarette, “This isn’t police business” Detective Gatz “A girl running through the street at 4am saying she’s knifed her father, blood on her, that’s police business.” he shrugs staring out the window. He gives Michael Lerman a dig, making a comment an inappropriate hand gesture about his wife’s supposes suicide plunging off the Brooklyn Bridge. “The mistress of the bereaved husband took an overdose… but lived.”
Alison is resting at the hospital unable to respond for quite as she’s been drugged to keep her calm. Back at the police station Det. Gatz is discussing the case with Rizzo “She’s in the hospital blurbing about neighbors that don’t exist… except one, a priest, and he wouldn’t know if the building burnt down.”
Yet another theme has been developing that of paranoia and the protagonist experiencing alienation and disbelief by everyone surrounding her.
An un-credited Joe Hamer plays the detective who recognizes Anna Clark’s name. “It’s funny I know that name from somewhere.” Gatz tells him it’s one of the invisible neighbors. Cut to a book with crime history filled with murderers and a photograph headlining the infamous Anna Clark. Michael shows Alison the photo and ask if she’s seen that face before. “That’s Anna Clark she was at Charles Chazen’s birthday party.” Michael reads, “Mrs. Anna Clark convicted murderess, sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing March 27, 1949 for the murder of her lover and his wife.” Jennifer takes the book from Michael and continues reading “when he refused to leave his wife, she chopped them up in bed with an axe… charming.”
The quality in terms of how powerful The Sentinel holds up to a big production like The Omen or the vastly mimicked but never successfully redone William Peter Blatty /Director William Friedkin’s striking masterwork that is The Exorcist, The Sentinel is a self contained little jewel that must be seen through a very warped kaleidoscope of horrors. It’s tropes of good vs evil, secret religions sects, and the devil in the city exists for sure, but it’s bursts of horrors from the Id and unsavory characters create a world inhabited by a different set of innocents, angels and demons.
Perhaps the most startling vision in the film aside from the climactic ending which as said I won’t reveal here, is the moment her cadaveric father lurks behind her bedroom door hidden at first by shadow, in an almost paused moment in time, as if appearing from another realm, his movements otherworldly and alien, as she recognizes this ghoulish apparition as her recently deceased bastard of a father. I know it still rattles me to this day. It’s a gruesome scene as she stabs at his face, glazed over whitened fish like eyeballs and deathly comatose stare she thrusts away slashing at him with a large butcher knife.
The night she sees the ghost of her father she also has a lucid vision of killing her recently deceased father by slicing into his face, cutting an eyeball (the surrealist short Un Chien Andalou 1929) and cutting his ghoulish blue nose off!
They find Brenner’s body dumped in a land fill, with the exact wounds described by Alison claiming she inflicted on her father. They also find Alison’s file and Michael’s name in Brenner’s office, connecting them to his murder.
She goes to Church and seeks out counsel from the priest who has been secretly trailing her the entire time. Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy) tells her that it’s time to ‘embrace Christ’ and that the lord has a purpose for her.
Alison goes to church and lights a candle and prays. Monsignor Franchino who has been secretly trailing her comes to her side, he tells her that it’s time to ’embrace Christ’, “You came to be heard.”
What winds up being revealed is that Alison really killed Brenner and not the apparition of her father, it was the private Brenner hired by Michael. Detective Gatz and Rizzo. (Wallach and Walken) make connections between Michael Lerman, his hysterical girlfriend and now two murders, seem to link them all together some how. During her waking nightmare, running out into the dark streets collapsing in her scant white nighty drenched in her own blood, holding the knife, she is now suspected of murder along with her boyfriend the sleazy attorney Michael Lerman.
Drawing attention to herself by screaming out in the streets all blood soaked leads police detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) and partner Rizzo (Christopher Walken) to investigate both Michael and Alison with certainty that it all somehow leads back to Michael Lerman’s first wife who supposedly killed herself. Detective Gatz has an eternal hate on for this hot-shot lawyer who once showed him up in court regarding the whole wife’s suicide. That case is really a motivating factor is Detective Gatz’s dogged approach to finding out whose blood was really on Christina and if Michael Lerman has anything to do with it. Alison is taken to the hospital that night.
While the police do some investigating from the descriptions and names of the party guests Alison gives them. The cops uncover that one of her ‘imagined’ party guests and supposed neighbor is Anna Clark , a murderess who went to the electric chair for chopping up her boyfriend and his wife with an axe.
Michael starts to believe that Alison is experiencing some kind of uncanny paranormal phenomena, when she returns home he begins to quiz her randomly pulling out books from the shelf of the vacant apartment 4B… As he shows her pages, she begins to fluently read Latin phrases though it appears to her as being written in English. Of course Michael is suspicious of Father Halliran mysterious blind priest on the top floor. When he tries to question him, there is no answer and the door is locked.
Back at the brownstone she shows Michael the vacant apartment, pulling select books off the bookcase, “The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, Techniques of Torture by Illard.. you’ll like this one for variety, all the pages are the same.” Michael, “Alison there’s nothing strange about this book.” “What do you mean?” “All the pages are different.” “All the pages are the same… all of them!” “Alison either one of us is lying or one of us is seeing something that isn’t there now, tell me what do you see in this book” She slams the book closed… and insists “Latin, I see nothing but Latin, everything in there is Latin” Michael takes a pen out of his pocket and tells Alison to write down exactly what she sees. Michael points with his finger, words like “Though the Church and superstitious” Alison begins to write down what she sees-“TIBI SORTU…” etc. “Jesus Alison you really are seeing Latin.”
They try to get inside Father Halliran’s apartment, but the lock has been changed.
Michael then takes the translation to the dotty absent minded Professor Ruzinsky (Martin Balsam) “You know when you phoned I thought you had a serious problem something challenging. A few word more and I’ll have it Eldridge” Michael corrects him, “It’s Lerman, Michael Lerman” Ruzinsky agrees, “Yes, Eldridge Lerman… there we are, well, -‘to thee thy course by lot is given charge and strict watch that to this happy place no evil thing approach or enter it.’-“
“It’s been a long time Mr. Lawyer you take a high chance.”
“William O’Roarke Father Halliran William O’Roarke disappeared July 12, 1952 after attempted suicide. “ Perry-(Hickey) says “They’re the same man. William O’Roarke became a priest named Halliran.” “Yes but why?” Perry shrugs-“I just open doors” Michael digs through each file expounding- “Before Halliran there was Father David Spinetti,who started life as Andrew Carter declared missing, Carter reappeared as Spinetti and died the day that Halliran started life as a priest. Before him Mary Thorne becomes Sister Mary Angelica. All of these people going back for years lived ordinary lives and then became priests or nuns. All of them sometime or another… attempted suicide…. […] if these files are right Father Matthew Halliran dies the same day that Alison Parker disappears and becomes Sister Theresa.” (insert sweeping Gil Melle style strings…)
So he hires offbeat character actor William Hickey as Perry the safe cracker and ace lock picker to break into the Diocese and lift the files on the quiet Father Halliran. Before becoming a priest, he too had tried to commit suicide, just like Alison. Michael also finds a file on Alison Parker who is next in line to become Sister Theresa who is due to take over– tomorrow!
This as writer John Kenneth Muir brings out how it begs the question about redemption, does Alison have free will? Was she chosen by God to be a servant or did her fall from grace, her suicide attempt cause her to owe her life to Christ?
Detective Gatz –“Rebecca and Malcolm Stinnet, Sandra (Narcotics Addict) Gerde Ingstrom, Emma and Lillian Clotkin, Anna Clark, all people the Parker girl said she met.” Rizzo-“All killers all dead. She went to a party with 8 dead murderers.” Gatz heartily replies- “Doesn’t everybody?”
Michael goes on to investigate further, rummaging around the old brownstone he finds a boarded up plague in the basement that tells the opening saga of Dantes Divine Comedy revealing that the building has been built over the portal to Hell and the lost souls who wander there. Michael finally goes up the stairs to confront Father Halliran strangling him to death then he himself is struck down by an unseen figure in the shadows who cracks him over the head with a religious statue.
When Alison returns home, she finds Michael there, who proceeds to explain that she has been daunted by ‘devils’ and that she is to be the next Sentinel.
And this is where I will leave off…
The ending is a grotesque morality pageant that might terrify or even offend certain people, but if you’re willing to investigate a rare 70s horror story with a dark atmosphere and a visual journey into darker realms… dare enter!
John Kenneth Muir Horror Films of the 1970s
“Seventies films such as Frenzy (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) were also more explicit, and far more intense, than previous horror productions had been. This was a result of the “new freedom” in cinema to freely depict graphic violence and bloodletting and a shift to the paradigm of existential ‘realism’ over the romantic ‘supernatural.’” continuing Muir writes “Seizing on this spiritual doubt and vulnerability was another blockbuster movie trend of the 1970s, the religious horror film. The Exorcist (1973), Beyond the Door (1975), The Omen (1976), and The Sentinel (1977) and many more that found stark terror in the concept of that the Devil was real, and that mankind’s eternal would was in jeopardy from demonic possession and the Antichrist, among other iconic boogeyman”
A term used called it ‘savage cinema’ and was unique to the 70s although not much anymore since the rising of the ‘torture porn’ movement.
The climax has very disturbing imagery, not unlike a parade of oddities and gruesome atrocities you’d see in a Jodorworsky (El Topo 1970, Santa Sangre 1989 or nightmarishly gory visions of hell from Lucio Fulci.
Once again from Muir’s book he at least insightfully makes the connection between The Exorcist 1973 and The Omen 1976 by endowing the type of good vs evil films coming out of the 70s as they “set forth a conspiracy in the Church, a kind of possession by evil, the corruption of the innocent,and other common elements of 1970s Hollywood supernatural flicks. The Sentinel is not as powerful a film as either The Omen or The Exorcist, but it does feature some startling moments and is a solid horror film despite an overload of clichés. The film’s greatest power comes in its jolting, surprising revelations.”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I’ll be standing watch all night long on Halloween, wishing you and yours a happy and healthy candy binge!
From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett & Stacey Abbott
Aired December 11, 1973 as an ABC Movie of the Week
“Beware the seal of Kah-ub-set, for he who dares to remove it will open the gates of Hell.”
The Cat Creature was directed by horror film icon Curtis Harrington— Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970) tv movie, What’s the Matter with Helen (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), Killer Bees (1974) tv movie, The Dead Don’t Die (1975) tv movie also directed by Curtis Harrington, Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) tv movie.
The Cat Creature was scripted by Robert Bloch based on a story by producers Douglas S. Cramer , Wilfred Lloyd Baumes and writer Bloch himself.
From Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood written by Curtis Harrington -he talks about how different television executives’ mind-set for tele-films are than major motion picture executives.
Director/writer Curtis Harrington master at ‘horror of personality’
“I found out just how different on a television movie called The Cat Creature. The script was written by Robert Bloch, based on an old story he’d published in Weird Tales. In fact, he was one of the horror writers I had discovered in the pages of Weird Tales during my teen years in Beaumont. It was a nice pulpy story about a girl who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess. In casting the actress to play the modern incarnation of this beautiful goddess, I got my first nasty taste of TV executive thinking. I discovered that this new set of black suits was always very involved in the casting of leading roles in the network TV drama. Unlike movie executives whose primary interest was ‘box office appeal’ they were concerned with something they called TVQ” This meant the ratings the stars other television appearances had received. The connection between a star’s suitability for a role meant absolutely nothing, and this was the case of The Cat Creature… […] I recalled that Egyptian women supposedly used henna to dye their black hair red, so we put a dark red wig on Meredith Baxter, and she agreed to darken her eyes with green contact lenses… […] Bloch had written an important supporting role, the proprietor of a magic shop, for a man. I suggested that he rewrite the role for a woman and that we try to get Gale Sondergaard for the part. Sondergaard was an actress I remembered vividly from my childhood. She had been memorable as the sinister Oriental [sic] woman in The Letter and in the title role of The Spider Woman, a Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes adventure in 1937…
“I had wanted the proprietress of the occult shop to be played as a lesbian to lend a bit of spice to the show. But Standards and Practices , the office of the network devoted to removing any element to a script that might offend Mrs. Grundy, sent a memo after that there must be ‘NO SUGGESTION WHATSOEVER THAT THIS CHARACTER IS A LESBIAN.’ However, my natural propensity toward subversion was given its due when Douglas Cramer allowed me to add a dwarf hooker to a scene in a cheap hotel where Stuart Whitman as the detective interview John Carradine, who plays the hotel clerk. The dwarf lady of the evening is shown seated on the counter in the hotel lobby. Swinging her short legs and batting her eyelashes, she says to Stuart, “How’s tricks, baby!” This was left in, and Cramer was very pleased when the incident was singled out for comment in a New York Times review of the show. It wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to seeing in the bland medium of television.”
The Cat Creature was written by prolific horror-writer icon Robert Bloch, (Psycho (1960), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964) a few episodes based on Bloch’s stories were used in Boris Karloff‘s anthology television serie Thriller—The Weird Tailor 1961, The Grim Reaper 1961, The Hungry Glass, The Cheaters, The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), Torture Garden (1967) The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972) Bloch wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, Circle of Fear and Star Trek.)
The story of The Cat Creature—
An estate appraiser Frank Lucas (Kent Smith) comes to catalogue a private collection of Egyptian relic, the inventory at an estate –among the deceased’s possessions is an Egyptian mummy adorned with splendid regalia –wearing a large amulet around it’s neck and topped the golden head of the cat Goddess Bast.
Just to be clear as a person who worships cats–The story of The Cat Creature is a creation for a horror tele-play that has no foundation in historical fact. Bast was not a murderous cat nor an evil deity. Bast represents protection and is a sacred symbol of that protection toward cats… She is not a monster!
From Wikipedia–Bastet was a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion, worshiped as early as the 2nd Dynasty (2890 BC). As Bast, she was the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt. Her name is also translated as Baast, Ubaste, and Baset. In Greek mythology, she is also known as Ailuros.
The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge. During the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.
Shortly after Lucas leaves, a thief Joe Sung played by Keye Luke steals the amulet, the mummy disappears setting off a series of uncanny events and several mysterious murders. Frank Lucas is found dead and Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) calls in Prof. Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) as an expert to help identify the missing amulet. Joe Sung tries to pawn this ancient amulet at The Sorcerers Shop an occult shop owned and run by Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). After Black’s young salesgirl is murdered in the same fashion as Frank Lucas, she hires a new girl to work in her shop. Enter, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) who gets pulled into the mysterious happenings and begins a romance with Prof. Edmonds.
The strange killings show the victims all baring the marks of a giant cat attack, as if they’ve been clawed to death. Is it the resurrection of the Goddess Bast who is committing these murders?
This ABC Movie of the Week, showcases the actress whose popularity was rising at that time, Meredith Baxter, who plays the mysterious Rena Carter who may be somehow involved in these strange ritual killings. David Hedison plays Prof. Roger Edmonds an archeologist who is called upon by the detective on the case, Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) to assist him in solving the murders. Just a note… I am absolutely crazy about Stuart Whitman, down the road I plan on doing a feature on his work –his credits too long to mention, so see the link to IMBd, I also really want to do a feature on the incredibly mesmerizing actress of the 70s Barbara Parkins who appears in another ABC Movie of the Week Snatched that I’ll be covering in just a bit…
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Marco is on his way here to arrest you”
Rena Carter “What!”
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Don’t you see Everything about you adds to Marcos’ suspicious no previous address no social security number A girl who covers her tracks A girl who stops at the shop not by accident but with deliberate purpose. Marcos thinks that you destroyed everyone who stood between you and that amulet.”
Another bonus of this creepy tele-film is that it co-stars the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. as Hester Black the occult shop owner.
In an interview actor David Hedison commented, “All in all, it was a very happy experience. Meredith was a joy to work with, and a fine human being. Stuart Whitman and I talked and laughed a lot about our early contract days at 20th Century Fox in the late 1950s and 1960s. And of course, Gale was a lovely woman and shared so many wonderful memories with me about her early films. And I should add that all the felines behaved beautifully–even in one of the more violent scenes with me at the end of the film. I managed to escape without a scratch!” –“One other memory was of the first screening of the film before it aired. There was a small invited audience at a screening room on the lot. My wife, Bridget, had not read the script or seen any of the shooting, and at one point when the Cat Creature suddenly jumps out to attack, she got such a fright she let out a scream- much to the delight of the producers and director”
From Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal-“here he (Curtis Harrington) successfully recreates the moody thrillers of Val Lewton of the 1940s. Relying on creepy atmosphere and suspense.”
Deal points out one of the prevailing great elements of The Cat Creature, it’s fabulous casting of course Stuart Whitman who is a tremendous actor, his appearances go all the way back to the early uncredited 50s classics like When Worlds Collide (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Whitman was nominated for an Academy Award for his startling performance in The Mark 1961, as a tormented man dealing with his repulsive impulse to molest children and his ultimate redemption. It was a risky role, that he inhabited with dignity and pathos. A prolific supportive actor and leading man he appeared in Cimarron Strip tv series from 1967-1968. One of my favorite films of his Shock Treatment (1964) was another powerfully nuanced portrayal of Dale Nelson an actor who is paid to infiltrate a mental hospital to expose a crazy psychiatrist Edwina Beighly played by the silky and sly Lauren Bacall. Stuart Whitman has appeared in stinkers too, like Night of the Lepus (1972) about giant mutant bunnies, eh not so much… in Jonathon Demme’s Crazy Mama 1975 with Cloris Leachman, and a very slick Italian cop thriller called Shadows in an Empty Room aka Blazing Magnums (1976). And since we’re celebrating these ‘tele-fright’ films of the 70s let’s just mention his other supporting roles, he plays a psychic looking for a missing husband in Revenge! (1971) with Shelley Winters as a deranged mother who lost her daughter and The Woman Hunter (1972).
David Hedison of course was popular with horror fans for his campy over-the top performance as a altruistic scientist who loses his head over his discovery to transport matter in the fantastical classic Sci-Fi hit, The Fly 1958 (which is part of my series to follow Keep Watching the Skies -coming up The Year is 1953) starred in the hit television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)
The supporting cameos are such a treat! Seeing Gale Sondergaard who is terrific as the occult shop owner Hester Black who while reading Professor Edmonds his tarot cards gets into a battle of the wills between skepticism and fanaticism. Sondergaard received the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Adverse (1936) I adore her as Emily in the Abbott & Costello romantic comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946) even then she was open to the spirit world! Sondergaard was one of the unfortunate actors who were targeted by HUAC, brought before them she refused to testify and was blacklisted from the industry for over 20 years. She returned in 1969, and The Cat Creature was her first ‘tele-fright’ (as writer David Deal puts it) of the 1970s.
The Deputy Coroner (Milton Parsons) looks like a corpse himself, just one of the macabre details that Harrington likes to throw into his ‘horror of personality’ films and teleplays.
The busy working actor Kent Smith has appeared in so many film and television supportive roles. Best known by horror fans for his roles in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat people (1944)
Here he plays Frank Lucas the cat creature’s first victim. Ironic isn’t it! His other tele-frights include director Curtis Harrington’s How Awful About Allan (1970) starring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. He was also in The Night Stalker (1972) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974). One of my all time favorites, is the lovable, ubiquitous the theatrical acrobat likes of Burgess Meredith who could inhabit the role from vagabond to thespian at times quixotic poetic tongued –the sharp, and saturnine character actor John Carradine who plays the manager of a sleazy hotel clerk. Carradine can make the smallest part enormously unforgettable and has graced many a tele-fright– Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Night Strangler ((1973) and Death at Love House (1976) Next to Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, I have such a sweet tooth for John Carradine and he’s another icon I’d love to feature here at The Last Drive In.
From David Deal’s terrific Television Fright Films of the 1970s a movie of the week companion –“Charlie Chan’s number one son Keye Luke is the amulet thief in his only telefright appearance of the decade but most curious is Peter Lorre Jr. who appears as a dying pawn broker Lorre Jr. was really German born Eugene Weingand a notorious imposter who was once taken to court by Lorre for using his name. Lorre died before his case against Weingand was settled, allwoing the impersonation to continue. Relative newcomer but top billed Meredith Baxter was fresh off the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom and would soon marry her co-star David Birney, where she would heifeenate her name and has become a fixture to television.”
Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the score, he has won Oscars and Emmys for his compelling music, for instance Fantastic Voyage (1966), A Man Called Horse (1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) Race with the Devil (1975), Bound for Glory (1976) and supplied the poignant music for the dark disturbing psychological mini-series starring Sally Field–Sybil (1976). He also added his music to other tele-fright films such as Vanished (1971) The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) and The Possessed (1977) starring wonderful supporting actress of the 1970s Joan Hackett.
Though I am a huge fan of the directors body of work, I have to look away from Harrington’s predilection to either kill off cats or make them look sinister in his films, so avoid The Killing Kind (1973) with Ann Southern or if you love rabbits lets not forget the poor bunnies in Whats The Matter With Helen (1971).
Also the sound the cat creature makes doesn’t sound anything like a growling menacing cat, it sounds like an old man who smokes too many cigars and needs to spit up his oatmeal and prunes.
Satan Has Returned For Her!
Aired January 9, 1973 ABC Movie of the Week
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and screenplay written by writer/director Collin Higgin’s whose credits include the cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon and one of my personal favorite films–Harold and Maude (1971), he also penned the memorable feminist comedy classic Nine to Five (1980) starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda.
Busy 70s television Canadian born actress –with the girl next door beauty –Belinda J. Montgomery plays Diane Shaw, whose mother has died, leaving her with the revelation that she is actually the daughter of Satan. Diane’s mother Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd) had carnal knowledge with the prince of darkness and Diane is the product of that unholy union. Alice was also friends and worshiped Satan with Lilith who befriends and lures our wayward devil waif into a web of suspense as she spirals toward her fate.
Naturally as the working formula would suggest Diane is then pursued by devil worshipers headed by Lilith Malone played by the grand lady herself, Shelley Winters. Of course there are elements that pay tribute to the far superior classic pre-occupation with devil cults and paranoia in the city Roman Polanski/William Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) brought to life by the stunning performance by Mia Farrow, and the presence of such greats as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly and Maurice Evans.
Shelley Winters having a Ruth Gordon/Minnie Castavet moment!!!
Feeling trapped by her destiny, she soon meets and falls in love with Steve Stone (another tele-fright favorite-Robert Foxworth). Steve asks Diane to marry him and so life is possibly good again? Well maybe not so much…
Lilith-“Dear, You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s old friends”
Alikhine-“You are your mother’s daughter!”
Lilith- “SHE WAS ONE OF US”
Mrs Stone (Martha Scott) “She got religion, and turned away”
Alikhine-“You are your father’s daughter!”
Diane –“NO! NO!”
Alikhine- “He is the evil one.”
Mrs Stone- “The all seeing… he is Lucifer”
First off, The Devil’s Daughter is still entertaining to watch, I adore Belinda J. Montgomery and I could watch Shelley Winters bring in her mail. She’s been lighting up the screen since she played the neurotic Jewish mother Faye Lapinsky in director Paul Mazursky’s sublime Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976) to watching her as Belle Rosen who swims under treacherous waters in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) , as she envision Ma’ Kate Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) or the tragic Helen Hill/Martin in Curtis Harrington’s gruesome horror of personality thriller What’s the Matter with Helen (1971) as the bellicose Mrs. Armstrong in Bernard Gerard’s The Mad Room (1969) as the vengeful and deranged mother in the tele-fright film Revenge! (1971) going back to the luckless love-sick and doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951), as the delightful singer Binky Gay in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), the sympathetic Terry Stewart in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) or the gutsy and classy torch singer –Joy Carroll alongside Frank Sinatra in the dazzling musical noir film Meet Danny Wilson (1951)…! there it is I just adore Shelley Winters!
Belinda J. Montgomery was one of the more prevalent actresses in the 70s teleplays, like Season Hubley who looked fresh scrubbed and awfully pretty but could play it all damaged and less than pure if you know what I mean.
The Devil’s Daughter plays like a dark comedy, with a surprisingly pessimistic or should I say fatalistic ending, not unlike it’s finer forerunner Rosemary’s Baby.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc had started out his career working in television and has directed many popular contemporary television series link to IMBd to see his complete credits, in the late 60s and 1970s he worked on Rod Serling’s television horror anthology series from 1969-1973 Night Gallery.
If you’re familiar with the series you’ll recognize the painting of Satan that emblazon’s Lilith’s living room wall, could be a tout to the series that utilized artwork of art director Thomas J. Wright who painted all of the paintings used to introduce each story.
Szwarc directed a the ‘tele-fright’few Night of Terror (1972) and in 1973 directed the Lovely But Lethal episode of Columbo starring Vera Miles. Some of his notable theatrical releases – Bug (1975), Jaws 2 and the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980).
What makes The Devil’s Daughter the most interesting to watch are the familiar character actors that populate the film. The nefarious characters that are not quite they seem to be on the surface. Of course there’s the mentioned Diane Ladd as the profane mother who slept with the devil in the first place but in her waning years found religion but was executed by the cult for her transgression. There’s the wonderfully perspicacious Ian Wolfe whose presence always adds an extra depth to any story, here he plays Father MacHugh a kindly priest who while he doesn’t believe the gossip about Lilith would rather see Diane move out of Lilith’s house and live with a girl her own age. When Diane does decide to move in with a friend, Lilith blows her stack…
Fans of Dan Curtis’ cult television horror soap opera of the 1960s Dark Shadows will recognize Jonathan Frid as Lilith’s mute ‘chauffeur companion.’
Film star Joseph Cotten plays Judge Weatherby, Martha Scott as Mrs. Stone, Lucille Benson ( a quirky character actress who was great at playing batty old ladies) as Janet Poole and Thelma Carpenter as Margaret Poole curious twins, a pair that reminds me of the odd relationship between Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom and Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra in Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) which I am highlighting this Halloween month of October! The Poole sisters dress alike, Janet is white and Margaret is black, and they have cats with opposite colors.
The persnickety Abe Vigoda (the irascible Detective Fish from tv’s Barney Miller) plays Alikhine an expert in ancient art of dance, Robert Corthwaite (the fanatical scientist intent on idolizing the superiority of the super carrot in The Thing from Another World 1951) plays pastor Dixon.
Some of the dialogue is as campy and hilariously high brow as all get out–“You are promised in marriage to the Prince, the Demon of Endor.”
And much like the climax of Rosemary’s Baby there is the ensemble of Satanists seen in Lilith’s scrapbook of yesteryear, the cult standing around in living rooms in their robes posing for a the photograph.
Diane struggles to fight back her legacy as the Devil’s own daughter as she struggles with nightmares, manifests her inherited evil nature and wearing her ring with the strange insignia, mentally impels a young boy to walk out into traffic, nearly getting him run down by a car.
There’s a nice touch as she meets her roomate’s horse and they become frightened by her presence bucking and whinnying, a sign that they can see her evil essence. When Alikhine (Abe) leads the ‘ancient dance’ at the party Diane has an instinctual rhythm that guides her movements. Will Diane succumb to her legacy or will she use her power to fight her destiny? I won’t tell… “They actually refer to me as the Devil’s daughter.” -Diane
Aired October 10, 1973 ABC Movie of the Week
“Sally, Sally, Sally… We want you, we want you. It’s your spirit we want, your spirit we need… When will they come to set us free… there’s time enough we have all the time in the world.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of the most remembered television horror films of the 1970s. It no doubt has left a lasting impression with so many of us. Enough so, that director Guillermo Del Toro remade it with more teeth and polished effects in 2010, renewing a whole revitalized generation of fans of the story and mood of the piece in all it’s palpitating unreality. That’s why it has maintained such a cult status all these years. The creepy atmosphere is partly credited to director John Newland who wasn’t a stranger to stories of the macabre and uncanny as he developed the late 50s series One Step Beyond. which dealt with real life experiences with the uncanny and the supernatural. He also had a hand in directing several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series that blended mystery, horror and noir in his 60s series Thriller.
I love the color palate by set designer James Cane–the purple and blue tones, the reds and pinks, the golds and browns, the lighting and set design is a rich visual set piece to work within the modern ‘things that go bump in the night’ trope.
Felix Silla, Tamara De Treaux & Patty Malone as the creatures: on the set of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Newland worked steadily through the 60s and 70s with Karloff on Thriller and then with Rod Serling on Night Gallery. In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, director Newland has such a grasp on what is eerie and spooky in the classical sense delivers an atmosphere that is rich with a wonderful color pallet. He produces a simple story with spine tingling chills, that are often missing today. Newland’s device works great often due to the lighting and the quick glimpses, as you just catch aspects of these little menaces, rather than have them appear for long periods of time on camera. Another creepy mechanism that I find startling is a device within the make-up developed by Michael Hancock (The Omega Man 1971, Deliverance 1972, Altered States 1980, Se7en 1995). where the creatures speak but their mouths do not move, it is as if the voices come from behind their faces.
It’s an odd effect, and though it lacks the virtual ‘teeth’ that Del Toro’s savage creatures have, I am filled with such nostalgic shivers for the old look of things. The kitschy decorating for instance. The creature masks also remind me of something you’d see in The Twlight Zone, episode of Eye of the Beholder, in the same way make up artist William Tuttle created masks where their mouths didn’t move when they spoke. The effect just works. The three little devil imps with their shriveled scowling faces and piercing eyes and creep-tastical voices are among the most iconic and remembered creatures from the 1970s.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is “lit like a horror movie–pools of light glow amidst shrouds of darkness and mysterious shadows abound” “Even a darkened party scene is justified as reticence to reveal the house remodeling underway. The truth is fear of the dark is universal., especially when prune-face goblins tug at our bedclothes.”- David Deal: Television Fright Films of the 1970s.
Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) inherit a eerie old Victorian house from Sally’s grandmother that holds a dangerous secret legacy, as it harbors the spirits of little devil imps who need to be set free by a designated person whose soul they aim to possess. Once Sally moves in to her grandparents garish and secretly ghoulish old house, Sally discovers these little creatures living down in the pits of hell behind the bricked up fireplace in the creepy, musty den. Like her grandfather before her, Sally is next in line to ‘set them free’ by being their chosen sacrifice. She now must convince her success driven husband Alex that she isn’t crazy or a hysterical, bored housewife. Alex refuses to listen to Sally’s pleas to leave the house, or that the strange happenings and sightings of antagonistic little demons are real and not born out of her imagination or a way for her to sabotage his budding career that takes him away a lot. The only person who not only believes Sally but has tried to warn her not to meddle in things she doesn’t understand, is William Demarest as cantankerous handyman Mr. Harris, who worked for Sally’s grandparents. He knows about the little evil gnomes bricked up behind the fireplace and tries to no avail to get Sally to leave the creepy den as is, “Some doors are better left unopened.”
Sally pushes on the bricks of the old fireplace, Mr. Harris the handy walks in, in his
sour-puss scowling manner-
Mr Harris-“It won’t work.! Sorry Miss I didn’t mean to make you jump”
Sally-“It’s alright… well why won’t it work? I mean surely all it needs to be is smashed open”
Mr. Harris- “those bricks are cemented 4 deep and reinforced with iron bars. There’s no way of opening it up.”
Sally-“now who’s idea was that?”
Mr.Harris-“Your grandmother had me do that twenty years ago.”
Mr. Harris-“Well, it, it was after, er (he stops and looks at the fireplace)
Mr. Harris- “I just can’t open it up.”
Sally-“Now Mr. Harris surely you’re not afraid of a little hard work, hhm?”
Mr. Harris-“Its not the work it’s just that some things are better left as they are”
Mr. Harris-“That’s for cleaning out ashes”
Sally-“it’s been bolted shut”
Mr. Harris-“By me, and that’s the way it should stay!”
Told by both Alex and cranky pants Harris to leave the fireplace alone, naturally she unbolts the ash pit, releasing the creatures who proceed to torment her, making it look like she is crazy, torturing her, gas-lighting her, as we here whispered tones of
“No don’t hurt her, not yet… “but I want to I want to…”
Oh there’s plenty of opportunity and time to torment, hurt and and drag Sally down to hell. Sally, it’s too much fun to drive her mad, messing with the lights whiles she’s taking a shower, then leaving the straight razor on the dark bathroom floor, poking out from behind curtains and bookcases, peaking out of the floral arrangement at the haute dinner party intended to impress Alex’s boss, placing a chord across the steps hoping she’ll fall down the long staircase. Sally sees these little menaces everywhere but no one else does. Alex doesn’t even believe that it’s mice, the place was fumigated right before they moved in. After Alex has a fit and fires Mr. Harris for filling his wife with dread, he finally reaches out to him wanting to hear about the history of the house.
Apparently, Mr. Harris tells Alex, that Sally’s grandfather was heard screaming in the study the night he disappeared presumably as he was being dragged down into the pits of hell. After that, the fireplace was bricked up and the ash pit bolted shut. The wicked little imps have been waiting all this time to be set free.
The simplistic story, everyone at one time has been afraid of the darkness and the unseen terror that it holds and the beauty of this enduring film which moves along in a very quick pace that doesn’t seem rushed, nor empty. Each scene while at times frustrates from the standpoint of stupid things you don’t do if you feel you’re in danger, like at the height of the danger drawing ever so near, just lie down on the bed and take a nap, okay you’ve been drugged with the sleeping pills slipped into your coffee by those little creeps. You will forever ask yourself, go to a hotel, why not just get out of the house. You feel like you want to scream at Sally, get the hell out… now for the love of Mike! And by the end, it tickles you to finally see her being dragged and daunted.
It’s hard to make out in the darkly lit scene but the goblins are climbing the stairs like a mountain.
Sally -“It’s was something like this little ferocious animal grabbed at my dress… Alex’s irritated voice scolds Sally like a child--“Look Sally you’ve got to stop this!!!”
I must admit, it’s too delicious to see these little nasty creatures bounding up the stairs, rigging them with a chord in order to cause one to trip, fall and break ones neck, and pop out of the luscious darkness wielding what is to them a giant a straight razor. These little evil imps inhabit our world view perfectly of those ‘things that go bump in the night.’
Kim Darby is plain and perfectly whiny within the horror version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that works to the films sense of go ahead drag her down the stairs already feeling, though I cheered for Carrie Snodgrass in the afore mentioned film of the 70s. ” Sally trips into a surreal world of gloom and although she never really gets a grip on things, she still shows some resolve.” Buying flashlights and candles instead of a room at a Hotel. sure Sally sure…
Alex and Sally experiencing martial woes and little devil imps in the suburbs!
As Sally puts it when having a heart to heart with her only friend Barbara- “Most of the time she feels like a reasonable adjunct to his getting ahead”
Barbara tells Sally that she knows exactly what’s it’s like to be “left by yourself to brood”
‘Making imaginary mountains out of imaginary mole hills” that’s exactly what her friend Barbara thinks the breaking of the ash tray by the side of the bed and the sounds of something lurking behind the kitchen garbage merely was…
This 70s tele-fright film could work as a horror story that embroiders the dismissal of women, their needs, their perceptions and their entire world into a adult fairy tale/nightmare. How a woman can become discounted when what she thinks and feels is chalked up to being merely her ‘imagination’ or emotional distress, and/or an unreasonable emotional dependency on her man who is trying to make it. Or… she is just plain exuding hysteria. Don’t Be afraid of the Dark consists of blunt hyperbole of the hysterical woman not in it’s undercurrent rather, right out in plain sight a contrast to the ‘shadows’ and goblins that lurk in the dark. Metaphor for women’s desire to be set free? I’ll leave that to scholars…
Kim Darby looks better than ever… no frowzy Sally here!
Actually I read that originally actor George Hamilton was cast as Alex. The chemistry would not have been as well suited as Hutton’s disbelieving soul. Hamilton is too sharp an actor for Darby’s frowzy simple girl next door style. William Demarest gives a well suited supportive performance as the cranky handyman Mr. Harris who knows all to well about the secrets of that bedeviled house with it’s ancient wicked creatures lurking about. It is Sally’s friend Joan played by Barbara Anderson who finally believes Sally isn’t going mad. At first she suspects that it is a mad housewife deal, sexual frustration, martial woes, and just plain hysteria. Anderson won an Emmy for her role on Ironside as Officer Eve Whifield.
Writer Nigel McKeand was sometime actor and was one of the demonic voices on the film. Prolific composer Billy Goldenberg (Columbo) is adept at both classical and pop music and has been in demand, providing music for film and television since the mid 60s. He tele-fright scores include Ritual of Evil (1970), Duel (1971), Terror on the Beach (1973), Reflections of Murder (1974), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), The UFO Incident (1975) and One of My Wives is Missing (1976).
One of the great aspects that work in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the set direction by James Cane, the big old Victorian that creates the mood of a ‘chamber piece’ is so creepily garish with colors that clash, and a mix of neo-gothic, Louis VI and contemporary styles that even Sally decides to hire decorator Francisco Perez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) whom the dastardly gnomes accidentally cause to fall down the steps killing him. Still, Alex doesn’t quite see that something is wrong with the house.
Even after Joan (Barbara Anderson) begins to believe Sally, the efforts made to protect her friend are sluggish and frustrating, just to make our skin crawl with anxiety as these wicked little things chant “we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you”, while Sally is destined to go the way of her grandfather. This special Movie of the Week chiller is brimming over with eerie atmosphere.
Felix Silla, who played one of the creatures also played Cousin It in The Addams Family.