4D Man (1959)
Directed by independent filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., “4D Man” is the second entry in the director’s unofficial trilogy of science fiction/horror hybrids, preceded by “The Blob” and followed by “Dinosaurus!” For his second feature, Yeaworth teamed up with Universal, who distributed the film. The film revolves around two scientist brothers whose experiments intertwine. Tony is hoping to create 4-dimensional force field, allowing someone to pass safely through solid objects. Scott, along with his fiancé Linda, has helped created cargonite, a nearly impenetrable mineral. Through a series of unexpected events, Scott manages to make himself fourth dimensional. His ability to phase through any object, Kitty Pryde-style, has two unforeseen side-effects. First off, he ages rapidly while using his power. Secondly, phasing through a person kills them immediately.
“4D Man” keeps a steady balance between science-fiction, horror picture, and character study. The story is deeply entrenched in the science-fiction conventions of the time. The cast is made up of severe looking men in lab coats. They watch through thick glass as experiments happen. Tony talks a lot about fusing gold and silver together on an atomic level and how his experiment would accomplish this same thing only much more quickly. Scott, meanwhile, is a cog in the machine of industrial science. He is unappreciated by his clueless corporate bosses. A major subplot involves the executive above him going behind his back and stealing his research. The fantastic element of the film is that Tony’s 4D-experiments are powered by human force of will. He is derisively referred to as an “alchemist,” which is actually a fairly accurate. Like many post-nuclear science fiction stories, “4D Man” presents a premise that appears plausible. Closer examination reveals the concepts to be fantastic and merely dressed up in hard science cloths. The movie references radiation giving people cancer but, at the end of the day, it can still do anything.
The romance and character interaction dominates the first half of the film. Nearly half-way through, Scott successfully shoves his hand through a steel block. He gets better quickly, phasing his hand through walls, storefronts, realizing too late that the activity drains his age. With that turn, “4D Man” becomes a horror film. Scott’s first murder is an accident but quickly utilizes his ability for revenge. He confronts his unscrupulous boss. Robert Lansing finally comes alive as a performer with a bristling monologue, tearing down the people in his life he sees as his enemies. Like Dracula, Scott sneaks into his lover’s house, lurking above her bed, a moment that builds intensity through character relationships as well as horror movie thrills. Before the end, the film is treating it’s 4D Man as a traditional monster. He leads the police on a manhunt, always evading capture. A little girl tries to befriend him, Scott trying to force her away before making up his mind, a fantastic moment. The focus returns to people at the end, the monster a man, confronting the maiden, put down by the love of his life.
“4D Man” is an underrated science-fiction thriller. The script is far more mature then you’d expect, thematically rich and complex, anchored by a trio of fantastic performances. Like the best genre cinema, it uses the fantasique premise to explore the human condition. [7/10]
Right from the get-go “StageFright” is playing with audience expectations. Like I-don’t-know-how-many giallos, we open with a working girl plying her trade on the mean streets. Out of the shadows of the alleyway behind her, hands emerge, pulling her back. Simon Boswell’s frantic electro-jazz score begins playing, by-standers flocking to the alley in choreographed fashion. The killer, dressed in an absurd owl head mask, leaps from the alleyway, rolling on the ground. Everyone begins to dance, in exaggerated, over-the-top fashion. The camera pulls back, revealing the city as a set, the setting as a stage. Director and crew swerve around in front of the stage, the ridiculous musical performance continuing. This is akin to what Mario Bava did in the original ending of “Black Sabbath,” revealing the artifice of the film format, pulling the curtain back. If we read the rest of the opening in this same light, the first few minutes of “StageFright” shows the Italian film industry in miniature. The director is an artist type, determined to push taboos and audience’s buttons. The financier doesn't care about the director’s vision, only if his investment is returned. The actresses are pushed through the meat grinder, degraded, the producers caring not at all. The entire production is rushed, its première only a week away. Considering director Michele Soavi worked for years in the Italian film industry as an assistant director, mentored by filmmakers as divergent as Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, and Joe D’Amato, he can no doubt attest personally to the shit that goes down on a low budget film set.
Despite its deeply European sensibilities, “StageFright” is not a true giallo. The identity of the killer is known from the beginning while the police play only a small role as absurd comic relief. Instead, the film owes itself to the most American of horror subgenres: The slasher film. With so many of those films depended on formula, many slashers are set apart by their setting. An old, empty theatre auditorium proves a fantastic setting for bloody slashery. The premise is right in-line with the genre: A theatre trope, doing some late night rehearsals, are unknowingly locked in with a brutal serial killer. The unstoppable killer wears a silly mask and offs everyone in creative, brutal ways, utilizing a number of weapons. The cast of characters is large and loosely defined. An actress is pregnant with the sound technician’s child, the leading man is flamboyantly gay, the director is trying to sleep with all of his actresses, etc. It’s not really important. “StageFright” even throws in an improbable spring-loaded cat, this one coming from the backseat of a car.
The film blatantly links horror with opera, mixing murder and dance choreography. The kill sequences continue the Italian tradition of stylized gore. An actress is stabbed repeatedly on stage, calling the audience out on their voyeurism. A man is impaled through a door with a giant, spiraling drill-bit, gore spilling on the floor. A woman is cleaved straight in two through a floorboard, the helpless half-a-body pulled out. “StageFright” doesn’t screw around. Irving Wallace gets a chainsaw. We see an arm sawed off in clear view, followed by a full-on decapitation, the head rolling across the floor. For all its stylization, “StageFright” is intensely, explicitly gory.
One extended sequence in “StageFright” will always stick with me. The music drops out, the camera slowly revolving around the entire auditorium. The killer arranges his victim’s bodies on stage, smearing each with feathers, tossing a mannequin head off. Irving Wallace sits, patting the cat in his lap, head down. The key to unlock door, Alicia’s way out of this nightmare, rest in the slots of the stage. She crawls under the stage, slowly trying to wiggle the key down into her hand, worried about drawling the cat or the killer’s attention. I’ve written about this scene before and how I truthfully, without hyperbole, believe it to be one of the most intense sequences ever put to film. After its torturous conclusion, the scene climaxes with a phenomenal jump-scare, one that always gets me no matter how many times I see the film. The catwalk encounter that follows is great as well, powered by the rock score and making good use of an axe and extension cord, but can’t compare to the edge-of-your-seat intensity of the previous scene. Even if the rest of “StageFright” wasn’t so good, the film would always be great because of that moment.
Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today”
This is one of those “Tales” were you can’t decide if your suppose to like the main characters or not. Brian Kerwin and Carol Kane are two rich assholes, the wife obsessed with appearance, the husband obsessed with guns. When Frances “Happy Gilmore’s Grandma” Bay comes to their door, she puts a medallion in the wife’s hand and switches bodies with her. The husband is confused by the frail old lady claiming to be his wife at first but, after encountering the missus at the train station, begins to believe her. Things wrap up, skip ahead three months, and have to wrap up all over again.
I think “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today” is suppose to be a parody of gun-rights and the upper-class. Donald is a proponent of gun ownership and the kind of person who definitely should not have access to firearms. If the witch was more obviously on a lower social status, the episode’s satire might be a little easier to read. While where on the topic, the witch’s plot is awfully specific. How did she know the owners of that house were rich? That the wife would handle the necklace? Kane and Kerwin get a funny moments, Kane when complaining about her husband’s shotgun, Kerwin when tricking the witch into believing her new host body has cancer. The ending is weirdly somber, considering how silly the rest of the episode is. I liked Crypt Keeper segments but the episode itself is highly uneven. [5/10]