Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 28

The Cat Creeps (1946)
I’m surprised that, by 1946, studios were still making traditional old dark house mysteries like this one. That’s all “The Cat Creeps” is. You’d think by the late forties, the genre would be completely discredited after numerous periods. A group of people travel to an isolated mansion on an island. The rich owner of the mansion is murdered and other deaths follow. Our hardboiled journalist protagonist and the motley crew of characters around him investigate, hoping to find the hidden cache of millions before the killer does.

Aside from the old mansion and the murders, the film’s only genre elements involves a character who believes that the dead woman’s spirit lives on in her pet cat, at least until the mystery is solved. The cat leads to the film’s few interesting moments, such as its snarling head peaking out of a doll house. The mansion setting provides some okay atmosphere. Noah Beery Jr., as the journalist lead, comes off as a jerk early on. His romantic scenes with Lois Collier are a little better. Iris Clive, as the kooky psychic who communicates with the cat, probably gives the film’s best performance. There’s one or two intriguing or semi-exciting moments, like a tussle in a basement or a late period battle in an old children’s bedroom. The final reveal of the money’s location is sort of cute, as is the last minute shot of just what that creeping cat has been up to.

Not much to report concerning “The Cat Creeps.” It’s another uninteresting old dark house picture. This was Erle C. Kenton’s finale genre contribution, after directing “Island of Lost Soul” and most of Universal’s later monster rallies. No doubt it was the final, forgettable nail in the sub-genre’s coffin. [4/10]

She-Wolf of London (1946)
“She-Wolf of London” is generally regarded as one of the worst Universal Monster movies. After some of the stinkers and duds I’ve seen this October, I can’t really say it comes off as all that bad. The story is a fairly standard affair of a woman marrying into a new family, paranoid about a family curse. When the murders start to happen, the poor girl naturally believes herself the killer. Equally naturally, it’s fairly obvious to the viewer she’s being gaslit by someone in the household. This is practically an English-set, female centric version of one of the Inner Sanctum movies.

“She-Wolf of London” has a couple of things in its favor. There’s some decent atmosphere. A scene of the she-wolf, who is naturally just a normal woman in a cloak, stalking the fog-strewn parks of England, is actually sort of exciting, assuming fog excites you. There’s some other interesting direction here and there, such as a dutch angle during the obligatory “Villain confesses their plan” sequence. Jean Yarbrough, who contributed some stand-out atmosphere to the previous “House of Horrors,” does a decent job with the direction. June Lockhart, future “Lost in Space” and “Lassie” mom, is solid in the lead role, even if she’s mostly bed-ridden. She certainly has no problem with the jittery, nervous mode the script puts her in. Sara Haden also does well in the villainous part. 1940s UniHorror stalwart Martin Kosleck shows up in a bit part, creepy German accent included. There’s a lot of dull scenes of talking and romantic banter but the film at least wraps up in a semi-satisfying manner. Surprisingly, there’s no “Lovers make up, all’s well that end’s well” tagged-on post-conclusion scene. That’s truly unusual.

The real reason people dislike “She-Wolf of London” is because there’s no actual monster in it. The title promises a female werewolf stalking about, tearing out throats off-screen, the distaff counterpart to Larry Talbot. That’s not what we get at all, so disappointment is in order, I suppose. If you know you’re getting a monster-free, psychological mystery going in, “She-Wolf of London” is an unremarkable but inoffensive time-killer. I’ll take it over “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” or “Jungle Woman.” [5/10]

The Omega Man (1971)
“I Am Legend” has been a strangely consistent story. Not only did it inspire the zombie apocalypse as we know it, it’s birthed three major adaptations, each very different from one another. “The Last Man on Earth” matches the book’s bleak tone and features one of Vincent Price’s most serious performances. The most recent “I Am Legend” was more of a remake of this film and, as far as a modern blockbuster adaptation of the material goes, far stronger then I expected, not to mention featuring an unusually good Will Smith performance. But out of all the adaptations of Richard Matheson’s landmark novel, this one is probably my favorite. Awash in seventies kitsch and featuring Charlton Heston at his bronzed matinee god macho best, “The Omega Man” delivers lots of thrills and numerous laughs.

Though horrific, the last man on earth concept appeals to us for other reasons. Like the zombie apocalypse, it serves a certain level of wish-fulfillment. The film opens with Chuck Heston tearing down an abandoned LA street in a sports car. When that car gets a flat, he just goes to the dealership and grabs another one. Though all versions of the story make it clear that living in a world alone has a negative effect on one’s sanity, in this rendition Robert Neville is haunted by a phantom ringing phone; I’m sure there are times when any of use would like to be completely alone, especially those of us who live in an urban locale. In all versions, Robert Neville is also something of a total master of his domain. Like all the nut-job survivalist in the world, living in a walled-off compound, blasting huge guns, totally relying upon ourselves and no one else… It’s a form of absolute power and that would appeal to just about anyone. Of course, the world of “The Omega Man” comes at a horrible price. Unlike angsted vampire slayer Vincent Price, Charlton Heston has no qualms about blasting away at the hordes of the half-living with machine guns and grenades. Unlike Will Smith looking for a cure, it’s even an established character trait of Heston’s Neville that he only wants to destroy the infected.

A position the film itself seems not entirely sure on. Another reason “The Omega Man” stands among the adaptations of Matheson’s novel is because the infected are intelligent, not senseless zombies or animals. Though most of the movie would seem to agree with Heston’s notorious gun obsessed ways, I can’t help but pause at the moment when one of the family pulls out a revolver. While the story deviates wildly from the source material (Matheson’s novel is covered in about the first half an hour, with the novel’s ending having a wildly different pay-off), Neville is still doubtlessly a morally ambiguous character. Well, even if he is ambiguous, the movie still ends with him in a Christ-like pose, his blood being the cure to save all mankind. (Imagine “Eat me, drink me, I am the Lord!” in Heston’s leathery growl.)

Even then, this is Chuck Heston in full-on action hero mode. “The Omega Man” is an action film, foremost. There are several fantastic, gun-slinging moments. The early invasion of Neville’s garage is a favorite, as is his march of revenge on the streets at the end. My favorite moment is the motorcycle escape through the mutant-filled sports stadium. It’s not a bad performance, with Chuck sneaking one or two moment of subtly in among all the histrionics and action star theatrics. The supporting cast certainly helps. Anthony Zerbe matches Heston, ham for ham. The presence of Rosalind Cash and Lincoln Kilpatrick, both sporting full afros, mark this as something of a blaxploitation film. Both give good performances, even if neither actors’ jive-talk has aged well and Heston and Cash’s romance never quite gels. The movie drags a little bit in its later half, in-between action scenes. The action tone overwhelms the sometimes legitimately effective horror elements and the mostly-for-plot-purposes sci-fi elements.

I like the movie plenty but I full-blown love its score. Ron Grainer’s music is what I like to call “Gothic Disco.” The driving horns and beats are pure ‘70s funk, that wouldn’t be out of place in a “Shaft” sequel. Grainer’s maintains the macabre tone with howling organs. It’s like the Phantom of the Opera stepped into Wattstax. I adore it. The music alone bumps “The Omega Man” up a grade or two in my book. [7/10]

The Venture Bros.: “A Very Venture Halloween”
I’ve fallen a little out of love with “The Venture Bros.” and it’s really no fault of the show. When I first discovered the series, it was all ready three seasons in. Seasons I devoured quickly. It was lovely finding a show that was as invested in convoluted, nerdy things I am. However, two years in-between seasons has been rough. It’s hard to keep a fandom light burning that long without any official word. Season four, despite having some excellent episodes, was definitely my least favorite of the show, mostly because two of the show’s best characters, Brock and the Monarch, were pushed to the sides.

Despite that, I was looking forward to this Halloween episode, if only because it’s the first new “Venture” product in quite some time. The episode is fairly decent, if a little light on big laughs. The opening montage, which shows the boys attempting to frighten their father with Halloween pranks over the years, is probably the biggest laugh of the night. The story has three threads running. The boys, along with friend Dermont, investigate a spooky house on the grounds of the Venture compound. Rusty and Sgt. Hatred bond with Pete White and Billy Quizmaster over trick r’ treaters attempts to breach the compound security for the sake of sweet, sweet candy. The best storyline revolves around Baron Orpheus’ magic-themed Halloween party. Dean discovers a startling piece of his past, while befriending a mysterious new character seemingly inspired by the Dude and voiced by JK Simmons. It’s the emotional core of the episode and certainly provides a moment or two. I’m still not a fan of Dermont as a character, even if the show continues to use him in better ways. I’m sure non-fans have no idea what I’m talking about.

The show still has a knack for clever pop culture references. Pete White sports a Ziggy Stardust costume, “The Craft” is repeatedly brought up, one half of a two-headed man dresses up as Rosy Grier in “The Thing with Two Heads,” Project Mayhem gets named-dropped and Sgt. Hatred is either undergoing hormone treatment or is dressed as Bitch-Tits Bob, my initial thought. The best joke is a sudden stop into “Hellraiser” territory, featuring a Pleasure Toast extruding cenobite. The show’s conclusion, involving a zombie upraising and a sudden appearance of a fireball tossing Santa Claus, should have been hilarious but kind of floats in under the radar. Baron Orpheus ends the episode with a monologue about the true meaning of Halloween: How we become who we truly are. Well, that’s close. (It’s actually about, at its most simple, becoming someone else and, at its most arch, mastering our fears and superstition for a day.) Either way, it’s pretty touching. Orpheus continues to be one of the show’s best characters, even if the series overall has gotten away from the breezy, hilarious first two seasons’ tones towards a more complicated, if less amusing, character and mythology oriented mode. I’m still looking forward to season five. [7/10]

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