Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 25

Jungle not included.
Jungle Woman (1944)
“Jungle Woman” is a direct sequel to “Captive Wild Woman.” When so many of these ’40s movies have little continuity between films, it’s refreshing to see a sequel not rewrite the previous film's ending. All of the primary characters from part 1 are brought back. Acquanetta, of course, but also Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers. Even if their parts amount to cameos, it’s nice they bothered to show up at all.

The film has a framing device. A doctor is on trial for murdering a woman. In flashback, he and his witnesses explain their story. In the grand tradition of “The Mummy” series, this sequel opens with almost ten minutes of stock footage from the previous movie, J. Carrol Naish’s new character hastily inserted. At one point, two characters have a stock-footage fueled flashback within the flashback! The gist is after Chella the Gorilla was shot, Naish’s doctor bought the body only to find she was still miraculously breathing. To save money on sets, Naish also bought the sanitarium from the first movie. Without explanation, Chella the Ape morphs into Paula the Woman. The movie is such a low budget affair that it doesn’t even have new footage of a guy in an ape suit. The transformation happens totally off-screen.

Paula learns to speak. Acquanetta does better here then in “Dead Man’s Eyes” but she’s still incredibly flat, shouting all of her lines in monotone. She immediately falls in love with a new guy, an equestrian. Naturally, this dude all ready has a girlfriend, the doctor’s daughter. Things that make Paula the Ape Woman angry: The guy she has a crush having a girlfriend. The “Frosty the Snowman”-sounding retard with the catchphrase “What a jip!” hitting on her. Her crush and his girlfriend canoodling in a row boat. The doctor generally being passive aggressive. Not only isn’t there any crappy ape suit action, there isn’t any monster action either. Paula only wears her were-ape make-up at the very end. For these reasons and more, “Jungle Woman” is an incredibly dry, slow-paced affair. It feels much longer then even its meager hour runtime.

Serendipitously, the AV Club posted a Primer on the Universal Monsters just today. Noel Murray makes the good point that all the monsters are connected by an important facet. Though murderous and inhuman, each one has relatable, all-to-human desire, usually for love and understanding. Even if the movies are crappy, Paula the Were-Gorilla shares that defining characteristic. She only wants love. Is it her fault the guys she want are already taken, inspiring her murders? If the films weren’t such micro-budget, thinly written affairs, the character could’ve been iconic. I wasn’t able to find the final part of the trilogy, “The Jungle Captive,” where Acquanetta was traded out for Vicky Lane, but it’s probably not much better. [4.5/10]

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
According to Wikipedia, this movie is set in 1995. They believe “The Mummy’s Hand” was set in 1940, when it was made. “Tomb” and “Ghost” were thirty years later, in 1970. I personally think it’s more likely that “The Mummy’s Hand” is set in 1910. Even if “The Mummy’s Curse” is set in 1965, it looks a lot like 1944. The best way I can fan wank this is that it hasn’t actually been twenty-five years. Local legend has just extended the dates. Once again, the fans are putting more thought into this then the people who made the movies did. Another glaring continuity issue is that the action has shifted from Massachusetts to New Orleans, completely without explanation. All the references to Swifton College and Mapleton are intact but in a totally different state.

When I was young, watching on TV, I thought this was the worst classic monster movie I’d ever seen. Now, it’s not that bad, but it’s definitely a subpar effort. “The Mummy” sequels really are particularly identical. By part five, the formula is especially strained. The High Priests of Arkam raise Kharis from his sleep, sending him out to retrieve Ananka’s mummy and take revenge on all in his path. The lumbering mummy somehow manages to claim several victims, strangling each one. In the last reel, one of the High Priests develops a burning lust for the female love interest. Kharis turns on his bosses. Rinse, repeat.

“Curse” doesn’t do anything to make Kharis intimidating. He causes a cave-in at the end but, otherwise, remains dusty and slow. At one point, characters speed off in a car, just out of the mummy’s reach. Not a good way to pump up your main threat. This is also the weakest make-up of the series. Aside from the occasionally atmospheric New Orleans setting, the movie’s main differing point involves the resurrected Ananka. In the sole impressive sequence, Anaka pulls her mummified body from the mud of the recently drained swamp. The dazed, undead girl wanders the sunny swamp, confused. It’s a surprisingly striking sequence, recalling the later “Carnival of Souls.” Once again, a potentially interesting plot-thread is dangle before us. Ananka joins the local camp and shows some unexplained knowledge of ancient Egyptian culture. Sadly, Virginia North isn’t given anything to do besides sleep-walk and faint. She wanders into some people, Kharis strangles them, she wanders off into more people, Kharis strangles them, until the end. The rest of the cast, from the hero, love interest, crusty foreman, and the racially insensitive workers have zero personality or development. Martin Kosleck plays the young priest who fails at resisting temptation. His tussle with the hero and Kharis are the film’s only exciting action. The Ananka subplot is limply resolved off-screen.

In his review of this film, the indispensable David Sindelar points out that you can easy rotate the titles of the Mummy sequels around. I like the Kharis films well enough but they are all undeniably uninspired and formulaic. Like a shambling corpse, “The Mummy’s Curse” is the franchise limping off to its grave, dusty, tired, and old. [5/10] 

Strange Confession (1945)
I bought the Inner Sanctum Mysteries box when it first came out, like a dutiful little UniMonsters fan boy. I know I’ve seen all the movies before but obviously I wasn’t paying much attention because I didn’t remember a single thing about any of them. Except “Strange Confession.” I remember liking “Strange Confession” a lot.

Rewatching it now, that seems a little strange. Oh, it’s a decent movie, certainly up to par with the rest of the series. For a fact, it’s a bit atypical, since it doesn’t feature any hypnotism, numerous women lusting after Chaney, or that much depressed monologue. (Unless the entire movie is a monologue, which is certainly a way to look at it.) Until the last five minutes, there’s nothing about “Strange Confession” that marks it as a horror movie, not even a thriller. Chaney plays a pharmaceutical chemist and a committed family man who is a little slow for his boss’ taste. (J. Carrol Naish playing another asshole.) After firing Chaney and re-hiring, he is shipped off to South America to work on a project. Even in 1945, Big Pharma was evil. The wicked boss releases the drug Chaney is working on early, causing several deaths, including a personal tragedy. Proving how big a bastard he is, Naish hits on Chaney’s grieving wife, causing a little revenge to be in order.

The early scenes of Chaney, his wife, and his son frolicking at Christmas time are super warm. Serious “It’s a Wonderful Life” vibes. Most of the movie progresses in that manor, a family drama about the clan trying to get by on limited funds. Naish bides his time, waiting to prove just how big of an asshole he is. This probably doesn’t sound horribly interesting but it chugs along at a decent pace, fairly captivating, if never spectacular. When things get super serious at the very end, that’s when Lon Chaney is really allowed to act, playing up the avenging father bit fantastically. And that’s the main reason to check out “Strange Confession,” for two fantastic theatrical performances from Naish and Chaney, master character actors. The horror content is marginal, and it’s not the best Inner Sanctum flick, but I’m not hard to please. [7/10]

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