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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Cremators

Harry Essex's other B movie in 1972 was The Cremators, also aimed at the drive-in market. It had an even tinier budget than his Octaman which was already low-budget. Once again, Essex was the writer, producer and director. He had help from Roger Corman. Once again, he got his son, David, an acting part in the film. The rest of the cast are third-tier (at best). Maria De Aragon stars as Jeanie. Marvin Howard stars as the nerd scientist, Ian. As he had with Creamators, Essex again brought a taste of 50s sci-fi to the 70s. The story itself hales back to the early 50s. The poster probably led ticket-buyers to think the film was much more exciting than it actually was. (no burning cities or scantily clad women)

Quick Plot Synopsis
A narrator tells how, 300 years ago, a meteor fell and only an indian brave and a fish were witnesses. Both died. The indian was chased by a rolling fireball. It runs over him, turning him a people-shaped pile of ash. Flash forward to 1972 and nerdy entomologist Ian is staying in a lighthouse and studying bugs. He finds some odd glistening rocks. He mails some to a colleague to study. The mailman is later overrun by the rolling fireball. The sheriff and medical examiner theorize a lightning strike. Ian meets Jeanie and they two develop a relationship. She''s intrigued by the shiny rocks he found. He gives them to her. A local beach bum / hippy brings Ian his dead cat to examine. Ian finds more of the shiny rocks inside it. When the dog of the postman is found, it too dies and has some shiny rocks in its belly. Later, a lone sailor walks down a dirt road. He stops to strike a match on a shiny rock. This upsets the fireball, so it rolls over him. The sheriff and examiner think it's another rogue lightning strike. Ian thinks it has something to do with the shiny rocks. They think he's just mega-nerdy. Ian's friend (who did not get his package) Dr. Willy Seppel, arrives. He can't explain the shiny rocks or their odd heat properties. He thinks they came from space. Two of Ian's specimens burn out of their wooden box and leave a char-trail out the door. He connects the dots that the fireball is like the "mother" trying to collect the little shiny rocks. The postman and sailor died because they had one. Jeanie is puttering to the island in Mack's boat, listening to Ian and Mack discussing all this via ham radio. The fireball rises up out of the water and chases Jeanie. Mack left two shiny rocks in a box in his boat. Jeanie screams and asks Ian for help. He tells her to throw the rocks overboard. She does. Willy takes a couple shiny rocks out in a boat. The fireball comes for him. He tries to shoot it with a big 12 gauge shotgun, to no effect. Willy is toast. Ian, upset over the death of his friend, has a plan. He tells Jeanie to stay in the lighthouse, but of course, she doesn't. Ian buries some dynamite in the sand, and puts shiny rocks on top. He stomps on them to make the fireball mad. It comes for him. He detonates the dynamite. Boom. Everyone is glad it's over, but there are still two glowing shiny rocks on the sand. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Fans of really-bad movies will find plenty of bad to laugh at. But, beyond that, the special effects work of Doug Beswick almost manage to save the film from being utter dreck. Granted, they're shoestring-budget effects, but Beswick manages to do a pretty credible job with that shoestring.

Cultural Connection
Eco-Nagging: Even though it had nothing whatsoever to do with the story, Essex did not resist the urge to pander to the blossoming ecology movement. He has his narrator scold in the opening monologue about how man has polluted the earth. Yet, there is no connection made between man's pollution and the "monster". Environmental harping was, apparently, just something that had to be included. A somewhat naked example of Hollywood activism, perhaps.

Remake from '52 -- It would seem that someone, Essex, or Corman, perhaps, had acquired the rights to a story by Judy Ditky entitled, "The Dune Roller." This story was dramatized on television in an episode of Tales of Tomorrow. This episode is viewable on the internet via archive.org and some other sources. The essentials of the story are the same. A scientist works on Lightning Island in lake Michigan.The island is infamous for lightning strike deaths. There is also the legend of the Dune Roller -- a fireball which burns people up. He finds odd rocks. The rocks apparently grow together. An old man is killed because he had some of the rocks in his pocket. The scientist (who has a girlfriend name Jeanie, too) decides to blow up the Dune Roller with dynamite. Some glowing fragments suggest the story is not over after all. The black and white TV episode (only 23 minutes long) has the visuals of the burned holes in the box, and the charred trails leading out the door. Essex kept that.

David II -- Harry managed to get his young adult son, David, another role in one of his movies, this time as a long-haired hippy instead of a long-haired "indian." David still has only the average man's acting ability. (very little) The only time he seemed to convey any pathos was when he was petulant and defiant. Perhaps these were emotions he was familiar with. David may have been a bit of a hyperactive handful as a son too. Note how much footage is dedicated to scenes of David running up and down the beach (which added nothing to the plot). David was clearly not intent to be an actor. He did no other movies.

Lame Love -- A curious scene (among many) in Creamators is the "love scene". Ian and Jeanie have obviously hit it off. And in swingin' 70s style, Ian has Jeanie in bed. Harry Essex did not, apparently, have an especially passionate imagination. The love scene starts with Ian kissing Jeanie as if practicing on a resuscitation dummy. She was appropriately inanimate. This is followed by a camera swing-around of the two lying motionless. The climax, so to speak, was a closeup of Jeanie's hand squeezing Ian's arm. Yes, that was it. Perhaps others, (Corman, maybe?) were urging Essex to include a gratuitous sex scene, but Essex really didn't want to. His enthusiasm was conspicuously absent.

Bottom line? Cremators is a very low quality production. Based on the budget of $50,000 or less, it may well have been a one-take shooting (which explains some of the bland acting). Albert Glasser's score is often lurid and loud to the point of annoyance. It is often used to prod tension or excitement, which the film never delivers -- like a sneeze that almost, but never quite comes. The screenplay appears to have been a first draft that was never cleaned up. Note how many times the scenes flip from day to night and back again. This film is better appreciated as a slightly more elaborate remake of a 1952 television episode -- not so much as a movie itself. Beswick's special effects (as low-tech as they are) almost carry the film. Clearly, the acting, editing and directing did not.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

Interesting. Haven't seen the original or the movie, but I intend to look at both and the short story. It bears a remarkable bit of similarity to Gene L. Coon's episode of Star Trek called "The Devil in the Dark" where the creature is burning the miners in acid because they keep getting the "silicon nodules" which are her eggs.