1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Killdozer

This little film lies just outside of the study’s stated boundaries, being a television release only, and more of a horror/thriller than sci-fi. However, requests from readers tapped it back in bounds — even if just barely. Since it had no theatrical release, the book cover from the original novella is shown at left. Killdozer is often cited as one of those “so bad they’re good” movies, and a member of that small sub-genre of vehicles running amok. It certainly has a cult fan base. Clint Walker (famous as Sheriff Cheyenne Bodie on the TV series Cheyenne (’55-62) stars as the stalwart construction crew chief. His crew includes Carl Betz as Dennis, Neville Brand as Chub and James Wainwright as Dutch. A very young Robert Urich (pre-Spencer For Hire) is an early expendable, as is James A. Watson Jr. as Al.

Quick Plot Synopsis
After an explosion in space, a blue meteor tumbles towards earth, landing on a small island. On a remote island 200 miles off the coast of Africa, a crew of six men is left, with their construction equipment, with orders to construct a base camp for an oil company. After a mild bit of character development (tensions, backstories and the like). The young bulldozer operator, Mack, hits a rock that won’t move. His boss, Kelly, shows him how to deal with it by ramming the rock with the big D9 Cat. The rock glows blue and hums. The glow enters the D9’s blade and Mack is zapped with excess energy. The D9 then starts moving on its own until Kelly cuts its fuel line. Mack dies awhile later of what looks like radiation sickness. Tensions mount in the group. Al takes the checked-out and fixed up D9 out to do some work, but it gets a mind of its own. He jumps off, but can’t crawl backwards with his mouth open faster than a D9. He hides in a culvert pipe. (bad move) The D9 crushes him. More group tensions. The D9 roars in and trashes their camp. The four men flee in two jeeps and a truck, headed for the hills. They plan an ambush, thinking to use fire to stop it. En route to their ambush site, the D9 ambushes them. The jeeps get away, but Chub in his 1964 F-150 is caught by the blade, crushed and blows up. The three remaining men retreat to the hills again. Dutch does a bit too much drinking and decides to go to the beach for a swim. The D9 is there waiting for him. The jeep engine stalls. Dutch keeps trying to start it, then resigns himself to being crushed. He is. Dennis and Kelly try to fight machine with machine using a big Northwest 80D cable shovel excavator. After a protracted battle, the shovel finally snaps some cables. Kelly and Dennis run away, then hatch a plan to electrocute the dozer. They hook up a portable generator to some big steel perf plates (such as those used in temporary runways). Kelly tries to bait the dozer, but it doesn’t comply until Kelly breaks one of its headlights. Then, in bulldozer rage, it rumbles onto the plates and is electrocuted. After much sparking, smoke and flames, the dozer’s blade glows blue, then fades out. The thing is dead. Dennis and Kelly both know that no one will believe them, but are happy to be alive. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The absurdity of the premise makes the film easy for mockers to mock, but it actually a fairly tightly done made-for-TV thriller. The actors turn in reasonable performances, given the material. The battle between D9 and Excavator is fascinating for the audacity of it.

Cultural Connection
Lexical Legs — Despite the relative obscurity of an ABC Movie of the Week, Killdozer managed to enter the cultural lexicon with enough “legs” to still be a relevant and understood term 30-plus years later. In 2004, a disgruntled business owner in Colorado armored up a bulldozer and went on a rampage, damaging several civic buildings and business. He eventually committed suicide when the dozer got stuck, though may have intended to do so anyhow. His armored bulldozer quickly got the media nickname of Killdozer. YouTube videos of the 1974 movie still garner thousands of hits. A punk rock band named themselves after the film. An obscure form of homage.

Notes
Sci-Fi Origins — Even though the 1974 screenplay is not particularly sci-fi, the original story, penned by Theodore Sturgeon in 1944 was more so. In the original story, the alien entity was leftover from an ancient battle between aliens and their sentient machines that involved the lost continent of Atlantis. The construction crew disturb the resting place of the alien entity, which then resumes its warlike function — killing. Sturgeon had a hand in the screenplay, though to what extent is unknown. Sturgeon also wrote screenplays for two Star Trek (TOS) episodes: Amok Time and Shore Leave.

Book - Movie Comparisons — The book was set in WWII. The men were constructing an air strip on a remote Pacific Island, not an oil company base camp off the coast of Africa. Hints of the original story show up in the film, however, with the Quanset hut that they find, left over from WWII and the big metal plates they have on hand, which were used for making temporary airstrips. The book kills off the demon dozer with aerial bombardment, not electrocution. Both end, however, with the survivors admitting that no one will ever believe them.

Bad Machines — Killdozer is perhaps the more famous of the machines-gone-bad sub-genre. These include Duel (’71) (even though it was clearly the driver, not the tanker truck that was bad), The Car (’77), Christine (’83), Maximum Overdrive (’86) and Trucks (’97). The genre as a whole, has the credibility hurdle of things big, slow, and not especially scary being jazzed up to seem scary.

Untimely Deaths? — One of the endearing (or exasperating) features of Killdozer is how something so big, loud and slow, could ever catch a victim. In this, Killdozer share the puzzlement with the carpet monster in Creeping Terror (’64) and other such films. In those films, the victims help the monster by standing in one place and screaming “No no, don’t eat me” long enough for the slow monster to get up to them and eat them. In Killdozer, actually only two of the deaths were of this sort of easily avoidable doom. Mack died of radiation. No running would have helped there. Chub died when his truck was ambushed and rolled over. Not much running there. Al, however, is one of the lame deaths, as he obligingly crawled around slower than a D9, then hid in a flimsy metal pipe. Dutch did the classic waiting-too-long to try and restart his engine. When the D9 was upon him, he just sat there at accepted his fate. Perhaps being drunk does that. So, yes, some of the deaths are lame. But half of them weren’t.

Good Ol’ Electrocution — Using electricity to kill the monster is a very old, and somewhat hackneyed plot device. It was, of course, how The Thing was stopped in 1951. It destroys the Indestructible Man in ’56. It toasts the giant energy robot in Kronos (’57). and the Crab Monsters in ’57, Colossal Beast in '58 too, and numerous monsters after that. Such a tried and true monster solution.

Marvelous Echo — Marvel Comics put out an issue of Worlds Unknown in 1974, based only loosely on the film and drawing from the original short story for yet a third variant to Killdozer. The cover was wildly sensationalized and not germane to any of the three story variations (there was no woman character, and the dozer did not have a toothed blade or angry eyebrows). But, in this, the cover is in keeping with sci-fi movie posters tradition: which must feature a menaced babe of ample proportions and something with jagged teeth and/or angry eyes.

Bottom line? Killdozer is a cultural cult icon. For that reason alone, it deserves to be experienced. As a sci-fi film, it’s pretty darned thin. As popcorn entertainment, it fares pretty well. The actors do a fair job and the director, Jerry London, does a good job keeping the pace brisk and the exposition short. High art, its not, but it’s still fun and has thousands of fans.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The End of the World

The old 70s paradigm of doom and malaise lives on in this low-budget indie apocalyptic movie, The End of the World (EotW). The producers managed to recruit some well known, or better known actors such as Christopher Lee, Dean Jagger, Lew Ayres and Madonald Carey. All but Lee get scant screen time. Kirk Scott and Sue Lyon, both second-tier actors, garnered the lion’s share of the camera. Charles Band produced the film before he got better at producing. John Hayes directed, though is forte had been trashy horror or trashy soft porn. The resulting tale of alien-duplication and intrigue to destroy the world unfolds very very slowly.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A cook in a remote diner whiles away the empty hours of night until a Catholic priest walks in asking if he can call the police. Before he can, the pay phone blows up, as does the juke box and coffee machine. The latter scalds the cook such that he runs through a window and kills himself. A stunned Father Pergado (Lee) staggers up to a convent to be greeted by his evil twin. Cut to a “high-tech” computer lab where Andrew works. He picks up some strange signals from space. He has a ‘feeling’ about them. Andrew and his lovely wife, Sylvia (Lyon) investigate where the signals are coming from, but only find a peaceful convent. Andrew brushes off some professional obligations in order to pursue his obsession with the signals. They check out a second site, only to discover that it was a secret government eaves-dropping base. (at least there was a transmitter that time.) They are released. With no other leads, they revisit the convent. The second visit still revealed nothing, so they sneak back in a third time. The nuns capture them and take them down to a basement full of alien technology. The fake Father Pergado is actually an alien named Zindar. He and his “nuns” have taken human form to complete their mission. Unfortunately, their tampering with Earth messed up their matter transporters, so they’re stuck on Earth. Zindar holds Sylvia hostage to force Andrew to steal some special rare isotope crystal which will fix their transporter device. Andrew does so, reluctantly, but successfully. The transporter is fixed. Zindar exposits that they came to destroy the Earth because it spews ‘disease’ into the universe. He tells Andrew and Sylvia that, as aliens, they’re not such bad folks so Andrew and Sylvia are welcome to come to their planet instead of staying on the earth (which is about to blow up). Zindar briefly changes from Christopher Lee to an alien puppet head (seen in the poster), then beams away. Andrew and Sylvia decide life on an alien world is better than blowing up, so they transport away. The Earth blows up. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Christopher Lee is clearly the primary value in EotW. Despite the extra-lame script and career-killing production, he performs as an A-level professional. Sue Lyon is easy on the eyes.

Cultural Connection
Chronic Gloom —The 50s were rife with worries about nuclear doom, but despite that, almost all 50s apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies were essentially optimistic. Mankind somehow found a way to avert disaster. By the 70s, however, people seemed to give up that vestige of hope. With all the new plagues of doom the 70s wallowed in — pollution, overpopulation, starvation — it was easy to think there would be no light at the end of the tunnel. No way to avert doom. EotW is a blunt (if clumsy) statement of that sentiment. Nothing mattered. The Earth was just going to blow up.

Notes
Dark Klaatu — Klaatu came to Earth in The Day The Earth Stood Still (’51) to deliver a warning. Mankind had better mind its Ps and Qs or the galactic powers would have to destroy the Earth to preserve all those other planets out there. Zindar comes in a similar sort of messenger role but with bad news. “The planet earth has emitted an overabundance of diseases. You are contaminating the universe. All the planets, lightyears away from here will suffer, unless it is destroyed. We have received our orders.” There is no reprieve. Mankind did not mind its Ps and Qs.

Evil Twin — For no particularly expressed reason, the real Father Pergado is kept alive and allowed to keep praying at the altar. Why the duplicated nuns were not kept on, was never explained. The real Pergado (also played by Lee) is “artistically” differentiated by being dressed in all white. Whereas Zindar, the fake Pergado is in all black (with cape!). The fake nuns come to escort the real Pergado down to test out the matter transporter. They get him just as he finishes reciting the Lord’s Prayer, ending on the line, “…and deliver us from evil.” The transporter is still broken, so the real Pergado dies. Perhaps this is what happened to the real nuns. They were sent in as human guinea pigs to test the unit. Not a very advanced-technology way of testing equipment.

Wasted Talent — Perhaps, due to his father Albert’s reputation (as a second-tier actor, director and producer), Charles Band seems to have been able to sign up some known actors for his very obscure indie film. It is said that Christopher Lee only agreed to take the job because he had been told that the other known actors, such as Dean Jagger, Lew Ayers, etc. were in the film. These other actors, however, were wasted in bit parts with very little screen time. Jagger was Andrew’s cranky boss with only two small scenes. Lew Ayers appears only once as the manager of the eavesdropping base. Macdonald Carey plays a security guard. Instead of having the better talent play major roles, the lead characters were played by middling television actors (Scott and Lyon).

Catholi-phobia? — Screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli must have had a personal fear of nuns and things Catholic. He seemed to expect that the mere sight of a convent and closeups of frowning nun faces would creep out the audience. Maybe for some, they do. For most, however, the dots do not connect. Whatever ‘horror” Perilli was hoping for never materializes. Nuns just are not scary, unless one is already afraid of nuns.

Bottom line? EotW is an almost painfully slow film. At nearly 90 minutes long, it could easily have been cut to run less than an hour. It would still be lame, but faster. Far too much of it is shot at night, with insufficient lighting, which only makes the long padded sneaking-through-the-night scenes feel even longer. Lee is okay acting-wise. Others were wasted efforts (see above). Scott is bland as a hero. Lyon is pretty in a mid-70s (pre-Farrah) sort of way and looks good in a towel (twice!), but she adds little. Charles Band would go on to produce better films, but EotW is not among them. Unless one is a big Christopher Lee fan, there is little reason to sit through this film.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Terror is a Man

To augment the reviews of films based on H.G.Wells’ “Island of Dr. Moreau” we must digress back to 1958 for Terror Is A Man (TiaM). The screenplay was written by Paul Harber, with no acknowledgement to Wells, but Harber’s story is clearly derived from Wells’ Moreau. This sci-fi / horror hybrid has undertones of Frankenstein as well. Where the 1932 adaptation had inserted a "panther woman", this version features a "panther man." Richard Derr stars in the role of shipwrecked sailor who stumbles on the doctor’s island. Greta Thyseen plays the curvaceous and lonely wife of the doctor. It was filmed in the Philippines. This film was re-released in 1964 with the title Blood Creature, perhaps to appeal to the drive-in horror market. It was given the odd marketing gimmick of a ringing bell (more like an old phone ring) to alert viewers when something shocking was about to come, so viewers could close their eyes.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Shipwrecked William Fitzgerald washes up on a remote island. He is nursed back to health by a Dr. Girard. A strange creature kills a couple of island natives, so the rest of the village flee in their canoes. Girard and his assistant, Walter, capture the beast, which is Girard’s project-in-progress. The doctor’s wife, Frances (Thyssen) is afraid of her husband’s work, and lonely. William takes a shine to her and offers to help her get off the island. Girard does not hide his work, but puts in some long exposition, telling William the back story of the making of CatMan from a panther via surgery. Using glandular hormones, Girard says he can grow Catman’s brain to be human. Why? Girard does not think humankind can evolve to betterment, being held back by ‘complexes’ etc. So, he wants to start afresh with his new man — the start of a new perfect race. William agrees to help the doctor with his work. Unseen by others, Walter beats the gurney-bound Catman with a board. Later, when everyone is down in the lab, Walter comes in and the Catman goes into a rage, breaking free. Girard tries to talk soothing. Walter gets a torch and lights Catman’s bandages on fire. Catman passes out and is sedated again. Walter, William and Frances talk of escaping the island, but Walter wants to kill the creature first. When he comes down to the lab with a gun, Catman breaks free and kills Walter. Thus escaped, Catman kills the servant girl, Selena and runs out into the jungle. Girard and William go looking for him, but he has doubled back to the house. He corners Frances and she swoons. Catman carries her away. Girard and William follow. Catman carries Frances up to the sea cliffs. Girard convinces Catman to put Frances down, but he then claws the doctor’s face, then throws him over the cliff. William shoots Catman in the stomach, causing him to fumble down the cliff to the beach. There, Catman encounters the servant boy, who gives him the small boat in which to escape. Frances muses that she thought the Catman only wanted to help her. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The paraphrase of Wells’ Moreau story gives the script some interest. The production is spartan, which gives the story a more intimate feel. Thyssen is marvelously out of place (statuesque platinum blonde in tight skirts and pumps — on a rustic jungle island).

Cultural Connection
Evolution into the Master Race — During Dr. Girard’s long exposition about his work, he posits that organisms evolve into better and better species. Girard felt that present mankind was too flawed to ever evolve into the superior beings he envisioned, so he undertook to shortcut the process. His goal was rather Nazi, to create a superior race of super men.

Notes
Based on the Book — Even though Wells is not credited as the source material, it is clearly drawn from his “Island of Dr. Moreau.” Paul Harber, who wrote the script, was more experienced as a third-tier actor than a writer. Reworking Wells was easier than creating a whole new story. Of course, the addition of a Marilyn Monroe clone was pure Hollywood and not Wellsian. To his credit, Harber kept vivisection as the doctor’s method, not the tepid “genetics” used by later retellings.

Hint of Frankenstein — Mixed in amid the strong Wellsian story are elements of the classic Frankenstein story. Instead of a whole village of beast-folk, Girard has only one — his “monster”. It has stitched up scars too, per the classic monster. Walter beats Catman, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant tormented the monster.

Misplaced Babe — The Frances character, played by former Miss Denmark 1951, Greta Thyssen, is almost surreally out of place. Where almost everything on the set and costumes is dark, she is always dressed in whites to go with her platinum blonde hair. She is always clean, tidy and wearing the classic pointy-peaks undergarments of the 50s idiom of beauty. She does some sultry glamor posing on the beach — for no good reason. Amid all the ‘horror’ and drama, her part was to look unapproachably glamorous.

Radio Pheromones — Apparently the lonely and lovely doctor’s wife was giving off “help me” pheromones. Total stranger William falls in love with her very quickly and promises to help her get off the island. Fat, sweaty Walter picks up her pheromone transmission, but thinks to finagle a bit of booty as part of helping her. Even the beast, Catman, is implied to have picked up Frances’s pheromones and carried her off as his version of “help me.” She believed, in the end, that Catman was just trying to help her.

Intelligent Design — Harber’s exposition tosses around the usual old presumptions about Evolution. Changes happen slowly and incrementally over a long time. William points out that what Girard is doing is not sped up evolution, but intelligent design. A deliberate intelligence was manipulating things to make the new creature. It was not random mutations over eons.

Sequel Hint? — Viewers will note that the “monster”, Catman, does not die at the end. Instead, he escapes in a boat. The writer and/or producers were leaving room for Catman to return, rather like the Creature from the Black Lagoon did, or like Frankenstein’s monster did. Unfortunately, Catman did not return. Subsequent “Blood Island” films followed all new and unrelated story arcs.

Bottom line? TiaM is not a great old sci-fi, but it’s not too bad for nostalgic entertainment. The paraphrase of Wells is interesting. The heavy-handed dubbed audio gets a bit annoying at times. Those who like old black and white horror/sci-fi hybrid B films, will find TiaM to be a sturdy example.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Empire of the Ants

The old-school style of sci-fi movie did not simply vanish after Star Wars rewrote the paradigm. Indeed, Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International already had a few old-paradigm projects in production when the New Age began. Empire of the Ants (EoA) follows quickly on the heels of another Arkoff production based on an H.G.Wells story, Island of Dr. Moreau. Unlike Island, EoA is a much looser adaptation, but clearly trying to cash in on Wells’ name recognition. Bert I. Gordon provides his usual “magic” as special effects expert and director. Joan Collins stars as Marilyn, the shrew-ish and shifty real estate developer. Robert Lansing stars as the heroic and taciturn boat captain. The rest of the cast are lesser lights and television actors. Of note, though, Christine is played by Jack Palance’s daughter, Brooke.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Under the credits, we are shown a boat dumping 55 gallon drums of nuclear waste. We know this because it says so on the drums in big red letter. One drum washes ashore and starts leaking. Ants swarm over the silvery ooze. Meanwhile, Marilyn welcomes aboard captain Dan’s boat, a group of would-be buyers for parcels in her Dreamland Shores development in a remote area of Florida and right where the ants are eating the ooze. The group of prospects is the usual social sampling for group-survives-ordeal stories. There is a retired couple, a middle aged couple, a younger couple. There is a middle-aged single woman, a curvaceous blonde and a liesure-suit single guy. Much of the early part of the movie is devoted to character development and drama. Christine and Larry, the younger couple have a weak marriage because he’s a total jerk. Larry tries to maul Coreen, the blonde, but gets kneed for it. The middle-aged single woman has a sad back story and takes a shine to single captain Dan. Liesure suit Joe has a sad back story too, and Coreen takes a shine to him. While touring the parcels, the middle aged couple discover that the development is a scam. They are, however, attacked and killed by giant ants. The ants then attack the rest of the group, who flee. A thunderstorm douses their protective camp fire, so they must flee again. The retired couple hide in a shed and get eaten later. Christine trips but Larry is too big of a wuss to save her. She is killed. The rest make it to a row boat and row up the river. Eventually, the ants jump on them, killing Larry. The rest are herded by the ants towards a small town with a sugar factory. The people in the town act strange and thwart the group’s efforts to leave. It turns out that the queen ant has set up shop in the factory and gasses the residents to bend their wills to hers. Thus, her army of human slaves feed her ants the sugar. The survivors resist indoctrination. Captain Dan uses road flares to set fire to the queen. In the pandemonium, the survivors escape. Heroic Joe opens the valve on a gasoline tanker truck and drives it all around the factory. He jumps from the moving truck, which crashes and explodes into flame, obligingly. The factory and (presumably) all the ants burn. The survivors escape in an outboard motor boat. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Some may enjoy EoA as one of those so-bad-they’re-good sorts of movies. Much of the fun is nostalgic. EoA is, at it’s heart, a mid-50s big bug movie, dressed up in leisure suits and bellbottoms. If shot in black and white, and the fashions adjusted, EoA would fit right into the 50s. Joan is her usual saucy self. Pamela Shoop (as Coreen) is easy on the eyes. Brooke Palance adds an understated pretty too.

Cultural Connection
Old Bogey Men — The roots of Gordon’s screenplay ring the old alarm bells about nuclear radiation. By the mid-70s, audiences had grown accustomed (weary) to pronouncements of ecological doom. The old bogey man of the dangers of nuclear radiation must have seemed almost quaint to audiences in 1977. As per the old magic, the radioactive waste manages to make the ants grow huge — which radiation was imagined to have the power to do — and it also made them more intelligent.

Notes
Based on the Book — Actually, a short story. H.G.Wells wrote “Empire of the Ants” in 1905 as a multi-chapter short story. James Turley and Bert I. Gordon’s screen adaptation is very loose, but does draw some elements from Wells’ original. In Wells’ story, a Brazillian gunboat is sent up the Amazon to investigate stories of ant infestations. He thinks he’s just being dissed by his superiors, but hears rumors and encounters a derelict boat with dead men aboard. The boarding party are killed by largish (a couple inches) ants which behave oddly organized. The captain burns the derelict. The gunboat comes to a deserted town near a sugar factory. Seeing more ant activity and no human survivors, the captain leaves. The narrator thinks it’s just a matter of years before the ants’ empire reaches civilization and there’s nothing anyone can do. Knowing the original story, various scenes seem less like non sequiturs. The burning boat. The trip up the river, the ant-controlled town. The sugar factory. Wells, however, did not have nuclear waste as his bogey man.

Ant Fest & Body Snatchers — Turley and Gordon’s story is a hybrid of Them! (’54) which has raditation-enlarged ants, and Phase IV which had intelligent ants (though not large) that work at controlling humans. Throw in a dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the mind-controlled townsfolk just for fun.

Bad Bugs -- Director Gordon tried to disguise the modest nature of his "giant" ant puppets by (a) not showing them very much and (b) making sure the camera is wiggling crazily whenever there is an ant attack close up. The technique is a bit overdone, almost to the point of inducing motion sickness in sensitive souls. But, what's a director to do with a low budget?

Touch of Noir — There is a hint of film noir in Turley’s characters. None are “clean”. Marilyn is a catty scam artist. Her helper, Charlie is her resentful “kept man”. Dan is a grumpy misanthrope. Coreen was a gold digger who got dumped. Joe was an out-of work divorcee. Thomas trusted no one. Mary was a nag. Larry was a loser AND a jerk. His wife Christine was milk toast and burdened with daddy's money. The old couple just mooch on tours like that one, for the free vacation angle. Margaret was the lonely, bitter spinster. Unlike classic noir, the misfit toys find future mates and leave the island. Dan and Margaret warm to each other. Coreen gets feelings for Joe. Presumably, things get better for the two couples.

Bottom line? EoA is clearly an old-school low-B grade film. After the high polish of Star Wars, EoA looks especially dowdy and cheap. The acting can be amusing for it’s weakness — such as victim #2, Mary, standing still and screaming a LOT, while the ants slowly crawl up to her. EoA is low quality entertainment, but not entirely a waste. It would make a fun tripe-feature Ant Fest with Them! and Phase IV.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Samuel Z. Arkoff and his American International produced this second film adaptation of H.G.Wells’ 1896 novel. The first was Island of Lost Souls in 1932, starring Charles Laughton. Arkoff’s film used the novel’s title: The Island of Dr. Moreau (IDM). Burt Lancaster stars as the doctor. Michael York plays the unfortunate sailor. Barbara Carerra stars as “the woman”. Richard Basehart plays the Sayer of the Law.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Andrew Braddock (York) and fellow sailor, Chuck, had been adrift in a lifeboat for 17 days before washing up on a remote Pacific island. Chuck disappears to unseen shadowy creatures while Andrew looked for water. He runs to escape pursuers, but falls and knocks himself out. He comes to in a bed, tended by a man named Montgomery. He is in the compound of Dr. Moreau. Andrew is immediately entranced with the lovely Maria (Carerra). Andrew learns a bit of Moreau’s vague work, and even sees a partially humanized bear-man on Moreau’s table. Andrew and Maria meet up for some caressing and implied furtherance. The next day, Andrew sees the finished bear-man, which Moreau treats more like an animal. Andrew, determined to confront the shadowy beasts in the surrounding jungle, takes a rifle and searches. He finds a cave. In the cave, are the beast men. The Sayer of the Law has them all recite the laws, all ending in “Are we not men?” A cat man (reverting to his wild cat-self) attacks Andrew. Dr. Moreau’s sudden appearance (and gunshot) ends the fight. Montgomery hauls off the errant cat-man to get a booster treatment. Later, the lion-man fights with a real tiger at a watering hole and kills the tiger. Moreau discovers this and confronts the beast man. Killing is against the Laws. The guilty lion-man run away, pursued by the pack of beasts and Moreau. Another beast-man leads Andrew on a short cut. They find the wounded and exhausted lion-man, who urges Andrew to kill him so he doesn’t have to endure Moreau’s house of pain. Andrew shoots him, but this scandalizes the beast men. Andrew and Maria pack to flee the island in the patched up lifeboat, but Moreau captures Andrew and injects him with animal serum to study the process in reverse. Montgomery objects, so Moreau shoots him dead. The beast-men see this and realize The Law is no more. M’Ling puts Montgomery’s body outside the compound where the beast-men find it and realize that men can die. Moreau comes looking for Montgomery’s body and is chased and mauled by the beast-men. He dies inside the compound. The beast-men attack the compound, trashing the place and setting fires, as well as releasing the caged animals, which in turn attack the beast-men. In the melee, Andrew and Maria escape to their boat. The vengeful cat-man pursues. After a bloody fight, Andrew wins and the pair drift away into the vast ocean. Eventually, a ship finds them. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Since the screenplay follows Wells’ novel fairly well, the power of the original story still shines through. Lancaster does a fine job as Moreau: at times affable, yet at other times unhinged.

Cultural Connection
Science Playing God — Inherent in Wells’ novel, and still present in IDM is the notion of “cold” science tampering with nature, dabbling at being a creator. Modernized, this Moreau dabbles in GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). While this somewhat nullifies Wells’ “House of Pain” device, it does move the story into modern science-ethics discussions. Moreau, as symbolic of dispassionate science, changes things to suit some lofty future potential “good” for mankind, quite unconcerned about the pain and damage caused along the way. At one point, Moreau shouts, “I created you” as if the beast-men owed him respect (not hatred). The take-away: Man makes a poor god.

Notes
Based on the Book — Wells’ novel came out in 1896. IDM was the first film adaptation to use the novel’s title, but it wasn’t the first film. There was a silent film in 1913. The 1932 “talkie” starring Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls followed the book closely in some ways, yet added Hollywood-isms in others. IDM is somewhat similar in following the book’s plot fairly well, but taking a few of its own liberties. IDM repeated the “panther woman” element introduced in the 1932 film. (more on her below). IDM compressed some plot elements, which allowed for a faster pace. A difference added in IDM is that Moreau uses DNA injections, not vivisection. And, in a sort of flip-side, Moreau tries to turn Andrew into an animal. The end turns out much the same, regardless of who ends up killing whom, but the fact that the sailor escapes WITH the girl. Wells’ novel had no girl.

Panther Woman 2.0 — An element not in the book (though perhaps hinted at) was the “Panther Woman” named Lota in the 1932 version. Wells did describe a puma experiment in his book, though never as a woman, but a work-in-progress that eventually kills Moreau. In 1932, she had graduated to Moreau’s crowning achievement. Lovely and new-to-the-world, Lota was the “wild” love interest. In 1932, she (like the beast-folk) began to revert to her animal nature. While she was planning to escape with Parker, she sacrifices herself (battling the Ourangutan-man) to save her love. In IDM, the panther woman progresses more. Maria is like Lota in that she’s lovely and new-to-the-world. The screenplay and directing actually give no clear inkling that she is one of Moreau’s creations. The backstory Moreau tells (of a rescued child) could be true. After all, Moreau doesn’t seem too good at DNA-altering beast folks into tidy humans, so Maria would a fluke. The poster suggests that Maria was a panther, and might return being one. The screenplay does nothing with this. Then, for fans of the ’32 film who had wished that Lota could have escaped, they get their wish — just 45 years later.

Other Versions — In addition to the 1913 silent film, and the 1932 classic, there was a Filipino version made in 1959, Terror Is A Man. This, looser adaptation had the bad doctor create just one beast-man made from a panther. This film tried to be cerebral, like Wells, but was limited in budget. Terror was re-released in the 60s as Blood Creature and would spawn a cheap “Blood Island” horror series spinoff which had nothing to do with Wells’ story. Following IDM in 1996 would be another remake, this time starring Marlon Brando.

Bottom line? IDM is a reasonably well done remake of Wells’ story and the 1932 film version. The science part gets even thinner as a bit of lab table work and some hypodermic injections. The rest is old-school horror and things-chasing-people action. It made an interesting follow up to Day of the Animals released earlier in the same month. IDM is above average entertainment for an American International film, though still not a “great” film.