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Blog Post of Lost Souls

Spoiler Alert!  I am going to pretty much recount the entire plot of The Island of Lost Souls (1932).  I did not realize the year till I looked it up just now.  I guess most readers have had ample opportunity to catch this flick.

I have not written about an old horror movie in a long time.  I have a bunch of them on my DVR, and on a recent Sunday, I felt the urge to relax, crochet, and watch.  I thought, Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, what’s not to like?  So Island of Lost Souls it was.

The movie opens with a ship rescuing a wild-eyed guy from a derelict, and I thought, “Oh, swell, the whole thing’s going to be a flashback.  This guy just escaped from the bad island and he’s going to tell us all about it.”  It is a hoary device much used in the cinema and elsewhere.  It’s not a horrible device, but I have to ask, “Why?”  Only I did not have to ask it this time, because it wasn’t what happened.  The ship was on its way to the mysterious island.  One cliche successfully avoided!

Wild-eyed guy, who recovers from his wild-eyed-ness pretty quickly and is named Parker, is on his way to meet his fiance, who is waiting for him where this ship just happens to be going.  He is able to send her a wireless, so that’s a relief for both of them, as well as an important plot point later (I did include a Spoiler Alert, remember?).

Now we come to what I think is a pretty good piece of plotting.  Plotting 101, I’ve learned:  cause and effect.  Because this, then this.  The ship is carrying enough wild animals to stock a zoo.  The obnoxious, belligerent captain finds this so disturbing he drinks.  A lot.  Because of his drinking (and because he is an obnoxious, belligerent sort — see, character causes action as well), he has a confrontation with Parker in which Parker decks him (ooh, unintended pun:  they’re on a SHIP and Parker DECKS him!).  Because of this, the captain, who is also vindictive, throws Parker overboard into Dr. Moreau’s boat when Dr. M is taking delivery on the animals.

Dr. Moreau is at first put out by the intrusion, but he is soon reconciled as he conceives of a sinister use for Parker. At least, Dr. M does not see his purpose as sinister.  He sees it as a golden opportunity to further his scientific research.

I did not understand his scientific research one bit, and I’m thinking that H.G. Wells (who wrote the original story) just made it up as he went along.  Years ago I read a book about how to write science fiction, and the folks that wrote it seemed to think that the reader maybe ought to believe that what you wrote was at least kind of sort of maybe perhaps remotely possible.  Obviously, H.G. Wells never read that book.   I daresay it was written after his time.  No matter, on with the blog.

So Parker, although he is not supposed to be snooping (what a surprise) (and what a surprise that he does), soon finds out that Dr. M and his colleague (the doctor who was on the boat and partially responsible for rescuing Parker.  I forgot to mention him) are doing some sort of heinous experiments that involve a lot of screaming. In fact, the lab is known as the House of Pain.  I flashed back to army basic training every time I heard “House of Pain,”  but never mind my little psychological glitches.

The nefarious purpose Dr. Moreau has for Parker is to introduce him to this beautiful but mysteriously ignorant young woman.  Dr. M tells Parker she is a Polynesian or some such, and although Parker is fooled, we are not.  We know she is one of the doctor’s experiments.

It turns out — and this is where I just can’t picture what sort of science was used — that Dr. Moreau has made all these men out of animals.  And isn’t that typical Hollywood — and theatre in general — all those men and only one woman!  Well let’s don’t get me started on the dearth of good female roles anywhere in theatre.  This blog post is getting long enough as it is.

Apropos female roles, however, the part of the fiance is not negligible, as such parts often are.  Because she has received the wireless from Parker (see, cause and effect!), she is waiting for him when the ship docks.  Belligerent Captain tries to blow her off, but she enlists the help of the American Consul to get the whole story out of him.  Soon she is off to the rescue.  I suppose someone will carp that she needs the help of men to save the day, namely the consul and the boat guy, but I feel this is mere quibbling. We all get by with a little help from our friends.  I guess the consul and boat guy could have been women, but this was 1932, after all.  Let’s not ask for miracles.

Full disclosure:  I stopped paying a lot of attention after Fiance sets off to save the day.  I did look up and watch the dramatic conclusion.  It was climactic and not unearned.  On the whole, I feel Island of Lost Souls is not the usual cheesy fare I delight in writing about.  I enjoyed it and do not rule out watching it again sometime.



Cheesy Queen

I thought I might have found a cheesy movie when I saw the title Queen of Outer Space (1958) on the TCM schedule. When I saw that Zsa Zsa Gabor starred, I was even more hopeful. My hopes were confirmed with Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary. A typical ’50s sci fi flick: low budget, cheesy special effects and a lot of fun. I will say: not the most fun movie I could think of, but considering the cheese shortage I have been experiencing lately, it’ll do.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to give a lot away. I don’t think I’m spoiling much, though, because it’s the sort of movie where you pretty much see everything coming.

My first disappointment was that Zsa Zsa was not the queen. I learned that during the pre-movie commentary. My next disappointment was that the movie takes forever to get started.

The plot concerns that staple of cheesy movies, a civilization of all women. This one is on, what a surprise, Venus. But of course we can’t start out actually on Venus tussling with the ladies. We must start out on Earth, learning the mission of the three astronauts and their important passenger blah blah blah. Important takeaway: these guys are tops in astronauting but the mission is supposed to be a milk run.

I did not notice what year the movie is supposed to take place in — the future of 1958 anyways — but space travel has certainly advanced. The astronauts are taking Important Guy to a space station, which one astronaut refers to as a bus depot.

A word about the three astronauts. They are a captain and two lieutenants. I think they were supposed to have distinct personalities. The stalwart leader, the ladies man and the wise cracker. However, they seemed pretty much interchangeable to me.

Take off is slightly delayed when Ladies Man (I think) pauses on the tarmac to kiss a beautiful blond good-bye.

“Space ships are dangerous,” she squeaks in the approved airhead voice. “What if you get lost?”

As things turn out she should be more worried about his wandering eye than any wandering the ship might do, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Then again, this blond is not seen, mentioned nor thought of again, so I guess the whole movie is hard luck on her.

Stalwart Leader looks out the window (!) at them, then gets on the loudspeaker (!) and tells Ladies Man to get on board. After a few more smooches, he does.

The movie is further delayed when they feel the need to let us hear the whole countdown. Couldn’t they at least have started on five? In your better movies, during the countdown a character is trying frantically to get something done or a villain perpetrates some nefarious act. This movie just flashes on the spaceship, the blond looking worried, and the guys strapping themselves into beds. Apparently space travel has become very relaxing in whatever year this is supposed to be.

It’s gotten pretty hands-off as well. After the space station is blown to smithereens before their eyes and they are under attack themselves, Stalwart Leader puts it on autopilot and they strap themselves back into the beds.

“Who’s flying the ship?” I asked.

Flash to some of those cheesy special effects: either a model or a cardboard cut-out of the ship moves shakily across the screen while fake-looking flames squiggle below.

As is often the case in science fiction, the gravity and atmosphere on another planet are nothing to worry about. As a nod to reality, one of the astronauts says to Important Guy that he thought the atmosphere on Venus was too heavy from… something.

“I used to subscribe to that theory,” Important Guy says importantly.

“But my subscription ran out and I didn’t renew it,” I interjected and thought I was pretty clever for making Steven laugh.

The men disembark from their disabled but not totaled spacecraft and are soon captured by women with some pretty tough firearms. They speak English because, as one explains scornfully, they have been intercepting Earth’s radio transmissions.

I must say I was pretty glad to see the women show up. Who knew single gender movies could be so dull? Naturally the women wear low-cut, form fitting mini- dresses. I expected something like that. I have to ask myself: is it feminist or anti-feminist that with no men around to impress or entice, movie women just naturally pick the sexiest way to dress?

Another thing I wonder about thee all-female societies is the age distribution. It seems the entire population is in the 18 to 29-year-old range (Zsa Zsa might be a little older, but we’ll let that slide). Where are the little girls and the old ladies? Some mention is made about how the men are sequestered somewhere in a “breeding colony.” I wondered if they had figured out a way to make the men be pregnant, because I didn’t see any baby bumps either.

You know I don’t pay too much attention to these things, especially the boring parts like explanations. As near as I could figure out, the women, led by the one who is now queen, kicked out all the men, because the women were tired of war. They promptly built the super-duper weapon that destroyed the space station and now plan to destroy the Earth as well, for reasons unspecified. It is either a profound statement on absolute power corrupting absolutely, some kind of feminist or anti-feminist propaganda, or a typical B movie “Waaaait a minute” plot development.

However, one lets these considerations slide when enjoying a cheesy sci-fi flick. I’m afraid it was not an hour and a half on unalloyed enjoyment, but for an evening’s entertainment and the subject of a blog post, it was OK.

Drop that Torch!

I DVR’d The Night the World Exploded some weeks ago, when the pickings were slim (full disclosure: I did not make a note of the year and as I write this, I’m not even sure I’ve got the correct title) (further disclosure: the first draft read The Day the World Exploded; I had written the title but not the year in the TV Journal). I was not sure if it was the sort of cheesy horror movie I love to write about. Still, an old science fiction picture might not be too bad. Or, well, you know, too good. Last weekend, I finally got around to watching it.

Spoiler Alert: I’m probably going to give away everything but the ending, which I do not remember.

I don’t remember the beginning very well, either, but I did have a few minutes’ anxiety that the movie was going to turn out to be a precursor of the Irwin Allen disaster flicks of the ’70s. Of course those movies have a cheesy charm all their own. However, I felt fairly certain that a precursor made as a B feature in whatever year this was would not live up to the Allen opuses (can you use the word “opus” for movies or is it just for music?).

Having started right out with some earthquakes, the movie almost caught my interest when it was revealed that scientists did not know what was causing them. I right away thought subterranean monsters, maybe just woken up after vegetating in some tar pits or frozen during the ice age.

Um, no.

Before we find out the cause, we have to be introduced to the love story. This lady scientist named Hutch (honestly) is about to quit and get married. Some older guy advises her to don’t do that but continue to hold a torch for this other scientist. Sooner or later he’ll suddenly realize he’s in love with her.

Yeah, right. None of my crushes ever accommodated me that way, and I held a couple of torches for an embarrassingly long time. Actually, I don’t really feel too embarrassed about it, because so do a lot of people. One thing most of us do not need encouragement for is to continue to hold a torch, and Hutch is no exception.

(Two side notes: One, nobody in this movie uses the actual words “carry a torch.” That’s my embellishment. Two, anybody gearing up to tell us that they never have and never would carry a torch, don’t bother; none of us will believe you.) (At least, I imagine it must be true that SOME people never carry torches, but how obnoxious it would be to brag about such a thing.)

Where was I?

Ah yes, Hutch stays a scientist, the earthquake nicely providing her with justification for such doormat behavior. The object of her desires does not even treat her very well. When she gets hung up climbing down a loose ladder, he taunts her in an unkind fashion to goad her into continuing. Oh I know, taunting is a time-honored technique and I daresay it even works on occasion. However, I find it unbearably condescending, paternalistic and mean (so anybody thinking of using the taunting method on me the next time I have trouble writing a post, please do not).

So there they are, down a hole in the earth, looking for the cause of the earthquakes. And they find a rock which they say is a new element. Another disclosure: I don’t know from elements. I had to memorize the periodic table in eighth grade science, but all I remember is that Fe means iron and there are some numbers that mean something about electrons or something.

Pause for PSA: Remember, kids! Pay attention in science class! I wish I had!

Back to the blog: Even with my limited scientific knowledge, I think that you cannot just look at a rock and know it is a new element. Sometimes you can’t even look at a rock and know for sure what kind of a rock it is! Don’t they have scientific tests for these things?

But one guy gets all excited and takes the rock home with him (cue unkind jokes about science nerds not taking girls home). We see the rock — uh, element — burst into flames and explode. Cool. Apparently it is quite an explosion, because they never find the poor guy’s body.

The action pauses for a little more condescension toward Hutch from that guy (you know, the one who is GOING to realize he is in love with her SOMEDAY) when she feels sad over her friend, because, you know, a lot of people died in the earthquakes. Perhaps he was making some profound philosophical point. I sat there thinking, “There’s always someone.”

I lost track of the movie shortly after that, so I don’t know how they contained Element 112 or whatever they were calling it. I think Hutch finally got her man, though. I would only recommend this movie for fans of spurious science and condescending love stories. Or, to use another rating system I’ve toyed with: needs robot heads.

Don’t Swallow Your Oxygen Gum

In my ongoing quest to find cheesy movies to write about, I watch some pretty bad ones. I try to make it all the way through them, just on principle. However, I think it is OK to write about a movie I didn’t watch all the way through, as long as I make a full disclosure.

Full Disclosure: I did not watch all of Battle in Outer Space (sorry, didn’t write down the year) (I’m not even sure I wrote down the right title; I can’t find it in any of Steven’s movie books). I don’t think I even watched enough to warrant a spoiler alert.

Steven and I tried to watch the movie twice. The second time, we weren’t even sure we had tried it before. The title didn’t sound familiar (I think I have established that it is not very memorable). On consulting the TV Journal before writing this, I learned that it was two weeks between attempted viewings.

Once it started I said, “Oh, yes, we started to watch this. Remember, the credits are in Japanese.”

Steven asked, “Is this the one where the guy goes up in the air?”

The scene Steven referred to is pretty much all I remember from the movie, and it goes way beyond “Waaait a minute” and into “Huh?” or even more vulgar expressions. A group of men (no women in this movie, another thing to dislike about it) are walking through a space ship, in outer space. Suddenly one of them starts to float up to the ceiling. One of his colleagues pulls him back down.

“I forgot there’s no gravity here,” Floating Guy explains. And they continue to walk down the corridor. On the ground! As if there’s plenty of gravity!

Excuse me, what? Just by knowing there’s no gravity they can act as if there’s gravity? It’s never explained. Not even some bad science crap like, “Push the button on your belt to create your personal gravity field.” I suppose some people would have found that harder to swallow than force of mind overcoming all, but I like an explanation, however spurious.

For example, I don’t know if anybody remembers a cartoon from (I think) the 1960s (I saw it in the ’60s) called Marine Boy. Marine Boy could function perfectly well in the water because he had — I kid you not — Oxygen Gum. I was about three years old (don’t sit there doing the math and shake your finger at me like I’m pretending to be younger than what I am) (I’m 49). I took things at face value. The only thing I found odd about Oxygen Gum was that Marine Boy put it in his mouth, gave one chew and was done. I did not have gum very often, but I knew you were supposed to keep chewing it.

I did not spend much of my young life pondering the inconsistency. I suppose it wasn’t too many years later that I began to understand the limitations of animation.

I don’t intend to spend too much of my middle age wondering what the makers of Battle in Outer Space were thinking with that gravity thing. The movie was dull, and there were not enough scientific howlers to distract me from that.

Perhaps I could find some re-runs of Marine Boy on the Cartoon Network.