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Beastly Cheese

I DVR’d two movies from TCM on the strength of the word “beast” in their titles. I felt sure a monster would be involved.

Spoiler Alert! There isn’t really a whole lot to give away, being as there’s not a whole lot to the movie, but what little there is, I’m going to consider fair game.

I’ve only watched one of the beastly movies so far, The Beast from the Haunted Cave. I couldn’t make out the year during the credits (beastly Roman numerals), but it has a definite ’60s feel to it due to the music and the font of the credits.

It also has a definite B-movie feel to it. B for boring. I wondered why they were taking so long to get to the beast as well as so long between beastly sightings. Then it occurred to me: the purpose of the movie was to give teenagers at the drive-in an opportunity to make out. Really, the movie makers were practically performing a public service. If only my husband would have been home, I could have honored their original intentions.

As it was, I watched and knitted. And, you know what, I’m going to render my spoiler alert unnecessary and just talk about the movie in a general sort of way, because as I sit here with my pen in my hand (before my shift starts at work), I don’t feel like recounting the by-the-numbers plot and the so-obvious characters.

I could probably digress at this point into theories of writing, most particularly the Don’t Wait Till You Feel Like It school of thought. After all, today is Monday. It could be a Monday Middle-aged Musing. It would fit the movie, too, because this one gives plenty of opportunity for your thoughts to wander.

The action of the movie (Oh, OK, I’ll write about the movie) takes place on a snowy mountain, first at a lodge then at the hunky, upright ski instructor’s remote cabin (at least, he wasn’t my type, but they obviously meant for him to be hunky). Three bad guys plus the head bad guy’s girlfriend (or maybe secretary)(you know I don’t pay attention to these things) are planning to blow up a mine, steal a bunch of gold, then cross-country ski to the aforementioned cabin to meet their plane which will take them to Canada.

I would have liked to see the plane that could land on a mountain in the middle of the woods. Unfortunately, it never shows up, due to a blizzard which we also don’t get to see. We also don’t get to see the mine explode, which I think would have been pretty cool.

Speaking of not getting to see things, we also don’t get a good look at the beast till nearly the end of the picture. This, of course, is often an excellent means to build suspense and render the monster even more scary when it finally shows up. The technique was used to great effect in Jaws. I’m pretty sure Spielberg didn’t have anything to do with this movie.

When we first encounter the beast (as I said, not as early as I would have liked), we see some weird double-exposured gossamer-looking stuff, then a hairy tentacle — a giant spider leg? — grabbing a beautiful brunette (never be a beautiful girl in a monster movie unless you’re the main one; she’s the only one with a shot at making it to the end).

Then we get to watch a LOOOOONG sequence of everybody cross-country skiing to the cabin. They even camp out in the snow. What kind of a getaway plan is this, anyways? But I suppose one mustn’t look too closely at the plot gyrations which lead the characters to encounter the beast. I think I’ve mentioned before, if movie people behaved sensibly, we would have much shorter movies (which might not have hurt this one, but then what would I be writing my blog post about?).

I’d just like to also mention, we don’t get to the Haunted Cave till almost the very end. Hunky ski instructor and secretary/girlfriend are escaping on cross-country skis when the blizzard hits (of course, the effects budget only covered grey skies). He suggests they hole up in a “haunted cave” that just happens t be nearby till the storm is over.

Excuse me, what? Like a haunted cave is a feature just anybody might have on their vacation property. What does that look like on the real estate listing?

The ending (guess I did need the spoiler alert) is extremely disappointing. Basically, the beast dies and its the end of the movie. You don’t even get to find out which characters live (there’s even some question about the beautiful brunette, remember her?) or what happens to the gold. I don’t mind assuming hunk and secretary get together, but are the other bad guys all dead, do they go to jail or reform their life of crime? What?

I know what regular readers are thinking: I need to start paying better attention to these movies I write about. Well, I thought I was, and I’m not about to subject myself to this turkey again to find out. I can only hope I like the next beast better.

As an added note, I looked the movie up in VideoHound’s Golden Retriever (Thomson Gale, 2005) and learned that the movie, which was made in 1960, was produced by Gene Corman, who is Roger Corman’s brother. A Roger Corman movie, of course, has unimpeachable cheese credentials. I had noticed Gene’s last name but hadn’t thought he could be related. Small world. And speaking of brothers, one of the actors was Richard Sinatra, Frank’s brother. VideoHound thought highly of his performance.

More Vegetarian Zombies

Spoiler Alert! I don’t know why I bother with these Spoiler Alerts. Real movie reviewers never do. Then again, I think it’s clear I’m not a real reviewer. You probably didn’t need a Spoiler Alert to tell you that.

I was thinking of Monster Movie Monday when I watched King of the Zombies (1941) on Steven’s collection of 50 Horror Classics (so I missed it by a day). Speaking of spoiler alerts, the blurb in the booklet that comes with the collection tells you almost everything. I should have known better than to read it. Really, the word “zombies” in the title tells me everything I needed to know.

The movie opens on three guys on a plane about to make an emergency landing on — what else? — a mysterious, uncharted island. They seem to be getting some radio transmission from the island but they can’t understand it. This makes them hopeful (radio transmission) rather than suspicious (can’t understand it). Of course, the characters don’t know they’re in a monster movie. That kind of ironic pose did not happen in movies till much later (although I do seem to remember Heckle and Jeckle knowing they are cartoon characters. Does that count?) (But I digress).

The three guys are the pilot, a jaunty Irishman; the purported hero; and his valet, a black man. I guess they referred to African Americans as “colored” at this time.

It is no secret that movies of this era reflect the racism rampant in the country at that time. When black people got parts in movies they were usually servants or natives. They sometimes got to sing songs. They sometimes got to act really scared. They were often the comic relief. In this movie, the valet gets to act scared, provides comic relief and is easily the most interesting character in the picture.

The proprietor of the island assures the three that he has no radio, although he is happy to welcome them as his guests. He has a catatonic wife, a beautiful niece and an extremely creepy butler. The Valet is not best pleased when the bad guy (oh you knew he was the bad guy as soon as I mentioned him; I’m not going to keep calling him the proprietor for the rest of the post) sends him off with the creepy butler to the servants’ quarters.

Things look up for Valet when he meets a pretty maid in the kitchen. They take a turn for the worse when she warns him of zombies — dead people who walk. Oh, there’s also an old witch-doctor-looking woman brewing something in a pot.

A lot of time is wasted with Valet seeing zombies and his boss and the pilot not believing him. Not a whole lot is done with the catatonic wife and beautiful niece (it’s the wife’s niece; she’s only related to the Bad Guy by marriage, in case anybody was worried).

That was actually OK with me, because Valet and Pretty Maid were my favorite characters anyways. The Irish Pilot was pretty cool, too, but he didn’t really have enough to do, except die and get made into a zombie. Oops. Well, that’s why I put in the Spoiler Alert.

The zombies in this picture, once again, are not flesh-eating monsters. In fact, Pretty Maid serves them up some stew-looking stuff that is apparently pretty bland. She realizes Valet has not in fact become a zombie when he asks for salt. Apparently zombies can’t eat salt (high blood pressure in the undead? News to me, but, whatever). She puts too much on just to be sure, so I don’t think the poor guy gets any dinner.

I kind of stopped paying attention by the end. I seem to think the zombies revolted; in fact, I remember reading that on the blurb. As in Revolt of the Zombies, it’s not such a much.

I feel I should mention that I watched this movie almost two weeks ago and have been having trouble with the write-up. In these not-as-post-racial-as-one-would-hope times, I hesitated over my description of the black characters. Then I thought maybe I could write a whole blog post thrashing out my dilemma. Before I wrote that post, I re-read my draft of this one and thought, “Hmmm, it’s not so bad. Maybe I’ll publish it after all.”

Zombies: A Love Story?

I wanted to have Monster Movie Monday, so I tried to find one I hadn’t seen yet in Steven’s collection of 50 Horror Classics. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Revolt of the Zombies (1936). Then again, I’ve been fooled before.

Oh yeah, Spoiler Alert! I really don’t know how to write about a movie with spoiling something. In this case, I’m probably going to be giving something of a plot summary, so I may spoil everything.

The movie takes place during World War I. The first scene finds the main guy, a soldier, trying to warn his superiors about the danger of zombies, tireless, indestructible robot creatures doing the bidding of their master. Or he may be pitching them as a way to win the war. I was counting stitches on my knitting at the time, and I was really just waiting for the monsters to show up anyways. Predictably, the superior scorns the entire notion.

In the outer office, Main Guy has a conversation with his friend, a likable egotist, who advises him to be ruthless and run roughshod over people to get what he wants. I thought, “Ah! Here is the theme of the picture: ruthless vs not. OK, now bring on the monsters.”

During this scene, a guru-looking guy is standing by, straight and utterly motionless. I thought at first he was a zombie wandered in from another scene, but no, he’s a guy that has the secret of making zombies. He’s going to show people what zombies can do. I think. It got hard to follow at this point, although things cleared up a little when they get to Angkor Wat. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Switch to a battle scene where some Asian-looking soldiers (remember, movies of this era are not known for their diversity and sensitivity) have glazed, robotic expressions on their faces. They march slowly toward the European-looking soldiers (by the mustaches, I thought they were French). The robot-like ones are impervious to bullets and annihilate the others.

Excuse me, what? I mean, did that, in fact, just happen? And did Guru Guy make it happen, just to prove a point? If they ever explained exactly who Guru Guy is, I missed it. In my defense, I was still suffering from a cold and was a little fuzzy in the head (insert smart remark of your choice).

The next thing we know, Guru Guy is murdered as he prays in front of some statue. Might have been Buddha. Might have been some Chinese god. This movie really mixes it up with the ethnicities, as far as I could tell. The murderer wants the zombie-making secret. He doesn’t get it but at least he gets away with the murder, largely because the soldiers seem more exercised about loss of the zombie secret than the dead body.

Soon they are all in Angkor Wat, where they might find the secret. The expedition is led by an archaeologist with a beautiful daughter. I’m sure some of you were just waiting for a beautiful daughter to show up (you know who you are).

I was not very impressed with the set for Angkor Wat. It was very obviously a painted backdrop. You can get away with this on stage or sometimes in a movie when it’s seen through a window. Not a very big window. Didn’t they have some stock footage of some similar looking place they could have flashed, then put the outdoor scenes next to a wall or near a tent or something? Of course, one suspends one’s disbelief when watching a movie, but my disbelief was already hanging by a thin thread.

Main Guy tells Beautiful Daughter a story about some guy who gave up everything for the woman he loved. She likes that, but it seems she doesn’t like Main Guy as much as she likes his friend the Likable Egotist. She uses Main Guy to get him and does so — you guessed it — ruthlessly.

Now I like a love triangle as well as the next movie buff, but where are the zombies? Finally, Main Guy discovers the secret. In this movie, you can turn anybody into a zombie using some kind of mental telepathy. For the first zombie, Main Guy is burning some stuff in a petri dish and wafts the fumes toward his subject, but he doesn’t do that more than once. One guy he even zombie-izes from another room.

These zombies, by the way, are not the messed-up, flesh-eating monsters you may have been hoping for. They are merely robotic. Soon Main Guy has like a bazillion of them, including his former friends and bosses.

The only one he doesn’t zombie-ize is the Beautiful Daughter, because he still wants to marry her. She agrees to marry him in order to save her true love’s life.

So what wins out in the end? Ruthlessness or sacrifice for love? Well, I don’t want to give away the ending (despite having given away practically everything else), and, quite frankly, I’m not sure of the answer even having seen the ending. I will say that the Zombie revolt, when it finally happens, is not what I would call a revolt, and I don’t think if even lasts long enough to rate being the title of the movie.

On the whole, I found it an interesting movie, largely because I kept trying to figure out what sort of a picture it was. Supernatural adventure? Philosophical love story? I’m still not sure. Perhaps I’ll get some other movie buffs to watch it with me and we’ll have a discussion. Might rate another blog post. Or would that be too ruthless of me?