Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Halloween 2013: September 25

The Jungle Captive (1945)

The missing Ape Woman film, the concluding chapter in Universal’s most underachieving monster saga.  Unlike “Jungle Woman,” “The Jungle Captive” doesn’t feature any stock footage. Actually, it has little set-up. During a morgue robbery, the attendant mentions an Ape Woman, without disclosing her origins. If a viewer isn’t familiar with Paula’s previous exploits, odds are good they’d think this is a stand alone feature.

Anyway, the plot: A mad scientist obsessed with reviving corpses gets his henchman, played by Rondo Hatton, to steal Paula’s body. He is determined to revive the Ape Woman. To do so, he kidnaps a young female nurse who, along with her finance, believes the doctor to be benevolent. Transferring the living girl’s blood into the dead were-gorilla somehow brings Paula back to life. The first half-hour of the hour long film is spent on this, meaning the central monster doesn’t do anything until it’s half-way over. It becomes apparent to the doctor very quickly that the newly resurrected Paula is practically brain dead and requires a grey matter transplant. Gee, good thing he’s got this young girl of the exact same physical type right here, isn’t it?

Once again, Paula proves to be an ineffectual monster. She breaks out of the house and kills a dog. That’s it. Rondo is more proactive, frequently murdering people for the doc. Paula’s origin is retconned a bit. Originally a gorilla that got a human thyroid, leading to the transformation, Paula is now a gorilla that got a human brain. Perhaps this was done to account for a new actress playing the part? While Acquanetta was wooden, she was at least a little more interesting then Vicky Lane, who does nothing but stand around and blankly stare. When under the make-up, she delivers some unconvincing snarls and growls.

The clueless boyfriend and asshole detectives finally put two-and-two together. The body count spikes with servant turning on doctor, doctor turning on servant, and monster turning on doctor. Despite being slow and clumsy, I liked “The Jungle Captive” more then “Jungle Woman.” At the very least, you actually see the monster in this one. I’ll defend Hatton’s acting. He’s gruff but you can gleam some emotion under his ugly mug. If he had lived longer, you know “monosyllabic henchman” is a part he would have played more. None of the Ape Woman movies are good but some are less terrible then others. Maybe the novelty of a female monster was enough to get three films out of the premise. Maybe, in the forties, Universal would sequelize any of their B-flicks. Either way, it’s no surprise the characters remains the studio’s most obscure creation. [5/10]

Vampires in Havana (1985)

This is one I’ve been meaning to get to for years. I remember first hearing about it on a list of “Cartoons for Grown-Ups.” Along side “Heavy Metal” and a bunch of Bakshi was “Vampires in Havana.” The title always stuck with me though I never had much desire to actually seek the flick out. Hey, look at that, there it is on Netflix Instant.

The plot is surprisingly complicated. Dracula, after forming a European union of vampires, orders his mad scientist son to create a formula to allow vampires to walk around in the daylight. It doesn’t work at first. Later, in 1930s Cuba, he has perfected the formula and raised Dracula’s grandson on the juice. Because of this, young Pepe doesn’t know he’s a vampire and spends his time playing jazz and seducing babes for the revolution. (To the protest of his traditional girlfriend.) Meanwhile, a cartel of Chicago vampires want to buy Dracula’s castle and make it an in-door beach. In-door beaches are apparently quite the revenue stream for vampires. The councils come after the formula while local criminal elements are also after Pepe. Got all that?

Despite being released in 1985, I suspect the movie was in development for a long time. The animation is loose and sketchy, like a (more) demented version of “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It would have been fine in the 1970s but probably looked very dated in 1985. Which isn’t to say there aren’t stand-out moments like when Lola imagines her married life with Pepe. There are a couple of clever sight-gags, like a vampire bar built under a hospital, blood on tap straight out of patients’ arms. The movie never gets huge laughs but has an energetic, anarchic tone that I like. The jazz score is good too.

The movie might be the first time some vampire tropes were presented on-screen. Silver bullets harming vampires? Okay, probably not. Vampires from different social backgrounds coming together to form a council? Hmm, I’m not sure. Guns loaded with wooden stakes? Okay, “Vampires in Havana” had to have done that one first. It’s an entertaining enough comedy and over quickly at only 80 minutes. For the perverts, yes, there are animated boobs though whether the character designs will do it for you is a matter of taste. [6.5/10]

Living Doll (1980)

Mannequins saunter right into the uncanny valley for me. The more realistic and detailed, the creepier they are. This short, another regular feature of Saturday Nightmares and HBO filler, understands this. Its opening credits close-up of dress shop mannequins is almost as creepy as anything else that happens in the film.

 The story isn’t complex. A janitor in a fabric shop takes abuse from his boss and costumers all day. In order to blow off steam, he goes up stares and breaks the mannequins. After falling sleep up there, he wakes up in the middle of the night surrounded by the dolls. That’s when things get creepy…

“Living Doll” would play fantastically on the big screen, where its creaking sound design, eerie musical score, and shadowy direction could be truly appreciated. It’s not as effective as half-remembered long-ago TV viewings or a murky YouTube video. When the mannequins finally come to life, it has the potential to be campy. Still, the film’s final images, of mannequins with bleeding eyes or a sudden, pasted-on doll face, are undeniably creepy. My first viewing of the film, years ago, played out in a not-dissimilar fashion. I fell asleep probably during an episode of “The Hitchhiker” or something and awoke to this disquieting, spooky short, not exactly sure of what I was watching. Man, I miss what the USA Network was in the early nineties… Anyway, “Living Dolls” is a very effective short. Give it a watch. [7/10]

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