Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Director Report Card: Mario Bava (1966-1968)

11. Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
A paring of Vincent Price and Mario Bava, two of the biggest names ever in horror? I know what you’re thinking. “This’ll be great!” Hold on. First off, if you couldn’t figure it out from the title, “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” isn’t a horror movie, at least not intentionally. What it is instead is a madcap slapstick comedy, a broad parody of James Bond. (Maybe. It might actually be a parody of Italian knock-offs of James Bond. I couldn’t tell.)

I haven’t seen the original “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine,” asteamed classic it surely is, but this movie helpfully recaps the first film in its opening minutes. What you do need to know: Dr. Goldfoot is a mad scientist with vaguely defined plans for world domination, which he wants to accomplish with his indestructible, exploding fem-bots. You’d think a more practical application of this technology would be to build a Doom-Mech or at least a very large bomb, Dr. Goldfoot clearly seems to think seducing world leaders is the way to go. Even though his plans are fairly evident from watching the movie, Dr. Goldfoot still takes the time to break the fourth way and directly drop a load of exposition on the audience. Always there to foil his easily foiled plots are the secrets agents of S.I.C. and a pair of slapstick Italian bellhops. Fabian (standing in for Frankie Avalon from the first movie. Obviously a drop in quality) plays the horniest chaste secret agent, who spends a lot of time trying to kiss his female sidekick. Dr. Goldfoot has two Asian sidekicks, a big Asian guy who likes to chloroform women graphically and is always being called “stupid” by his boss, even though there’s no evidence to support that; and a kind of hot, half-way dragon lady called “Hardjob,” which is about as sophisticated as the humor gets.

So what exactly passes for “humor” here? You get lots of furious mugging from the tenth-or-twelfth-rate Laurel and Hardy, Franco and Ciccio. There’s the most obvious and corny visual and dialogue puns you can imagine. Do you love scenes of characters twitching around spastically in fast-motion? (Correct answer: Only if it’s set to the “Benny Hill” music.) Because that makes up about 65% of the supposed “comedy” content here. And then there’s the wacky, wacky chase sequence, which takes us through an amusement park and into a hot air balloon. And just when you’ve had enough of that, you realize there’s still twenty minutes left. The movie throws in some awful special effects and a few more puns before mercifully ending.

Vincent Price camps it up to even higher levels then usual, playing two roles. He’s so campy that, despite being surrounded by half-naked women for the majority of the run time, Dr. Goldfoot still comes off as extremely gay. The girls that play the titular bombs are fairly attractive, though not as hot the previous models Bava has shown off. There’s none of Bava’s trademark style here, save one measly zoom at the end. There’s nearly nothing to recommend about “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.” You will not laugh, chuckle, giggle, chortle, snicker, or snort, not once. For completest only. [Grade: D-]

12. Danger: Diabolik!
It says a lot about Italian culture that their more-or-less answer to James Bond, a jet-setting superspy, is a jet-setting super-thief. Or maybe it was just the timea. Diabolik robs, maims, and murders not for Queen and country, or even profit, but out of hedonism and a desire to stick it to the man. (And stick it to his girlfriend.) His comic was hugely popular in the sixties and is still published today. The character’s amoral streak would be toned down in time but he’s in full-on murderous asshole mode here. The only reason we’re ever really given to cheer for Diabolik is that he’s just a lot cooler then everyone else. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve enjoyed a repugnant protagonist free of ethics, but it would’ve help if the character had a more defined motivation then just stealing cool shit for his girlfriend and fucking with Detective Ginko’s head.

This was a big budget movie for Bava and a departure from the small horror flicks he was most well-known for at this point. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of it lacks his trademark style. There’s not much sweeping camera work and the swirling colors are saved for a few brief sequences. (Such as the psychedelic opening credits, which are played over a swirling tornado of colors. Or when a map illustration fills itself out.) Bava’s style and surrealness comes through more in the over-the-top set design. Diabolik’s base is set up like a modern art museum. The shower stalls have red circles hanging in front of the bather's naughty parts. His bed is shaped like a heart and rotates. His alarm system is a giant, multi-colored pipe organ. See through glass tunnels and geometric shaped supports seem to be the general phrases of the day.

The film is very groovy over all. Aside from the hero’s anti-authority style and the art deco sets, there are other elements that mark this as an artifact of the late sixties. Chief among these elements is Ennio Morricone’s swinging score. There are three main themes: A groovy guitar riff with some wacky jazz trumpets over it. (Otherwise known as “Driving Off to the Store,” to the MST3k fans in the audience.) A sappy, incoherent love themed called “Deep Deep Down,” that is repeated a few times too many. And a wah-wah-ing underwater theme vaguely reminiscent of Morricone’s famous Spaghetti western music. It’s a fun score if a little repetitive. Other swinging sixties moments include a groovy moment in a drug and music filled go-go club, the sole moment of Bava color, and a general campy attitude. The camp allows the movie to get away with a lot of things, such as an underwater car, a very covenant plot-device that allows Diabolik to appear dead for ten hours, an airplane with a retractable hole in the floor, and some shoddy rear-projection effects. The movie owes a lot to 007, what with its improbably gadgets and casual sex and violence. The movie acknowledges it’s cheesiness a few times, such as a scene when a fake body flying through the air is suppose to look like a fake body.

The dubbing makes it difficult to judge the performances, even if some of the English-speaking actors did their own voices. (There are at least two different dubs out there, by the way, one of which is much better then the other.) John Philip Law has a lot of swagger and manages to wear Diabolik’s skin-tight black outfit without looking completely ridiculous. He does come off as a little on the wooden side though, especially whenever he speaks. His sidekick and girlfriend Eva is mostly just a sex kitten. She exists mostly to show off some very chic fashion. (She’s also not as hot as the girls in Bava’s previous films. More supermodel skinny then spaghetti-fed curvy.) Michel Piccoli looks and acts a lot like an Italian Christopher Lee, mostly playing puzzled and frustrated as Diabolik’s arch-enemy, Inspector Ginko. Adolfo Celi, best known as the bad guy in “Thunderball” so that’s another Bond connection, plays scumbag crime boss Valmont. Celi is greasy and sleazy here, having a lot of fun.

The story pretty much goes from one set-piece to another, leading to a very episodic feel. This doesn’t make the movie very complicated, neither does its simple cartoony characters, but it does make it easy, breezy Saturday morning viewing. “Danger: Diabolik” is mostly Bava in workhorse mode and is a clear sign that his best filmmaking period is over. But it’s still a fun, campy little action flick. [Grade: B-]

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