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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Vulture

This indie production was a joint, American, Canadian and British project. The Vulture was written, directed and produced by the same man, Lawrence Huntington. Normally, this one-man-band-ism spells doom for a film, but Huntington was an experienced producer, directed many films before The Vulture and written several of those too. His movie played second-feature to The Deadly Bees. They gist of The Vulture is a crime drama, which Huntington had a great deal of experience with. The film only barely qualifies as sci-fi, being mostly crime-horror, in the Hound of the Baskervilles idiom.

Quick Plot Synopsis
On a dark and stormy night in Cornwall, a woman takes a shortcut home through a graveyard. She is stopped by the sight of grave stone wobbling. The ground opens up. She runs, with the sound of flapping wings overhead. She screams and faints. In the hospital, her hair has turned white and she rambles about seeing a huge bird with the head of a man. Everyone thinks she's gone mad. The grave belonged to a Francis Real, who legend says turned himself into a vulture and carried off a young boy. The boy's family buried him alive. Just before this, Real pronounced a curse on the Stroud family. Supposedly, the was buried with his box of gold coins. That, the inspector thinks, is the real crime -- grave robbing. Eric Lutens, renowned Nuke-u-lar scientist and his wife are visiting her uncle Brian at his Cornwall mansion. Eric learns of the curse and seems to take it very seriously. Everyone else dismisses it as superstition. He thinks it's a case of Nuke-u-lar Transmutation. There is a creepy and mysterious sexton skulking about, and an odd old professor Koniglich who seems to know a lot. Uncle Brian does not heed Eric's warning to keep his windows closed. He carried off in the night, and found dead in a sea cliff cave. Brian's brother Edward is next, then Eric's wife Trudy, so he packs her off to London for a flight back to America. Eric returns to check out the mystery. Trudy is lured to Koniglich's house with a fake telegram. Edward is carried off by big talons too. Trudy doesn't want to wait at Konigligh's house, but since her car won't start, she waits on the road for a bus. The big talons carry Trudy off too. Eric gets to Koniglich's house too late, but finds a basement science lab and reactor. At the controls sit a skeleton. Eric now knows that Konighlich had used his personal lab and reactor to experiment with nuclear transmutation, trying to beam out the bones of his ancestor (F. Real) into his lab, and back to life. He did not know that Real had been buried with his pet vulture, so the two merged into one monster -- one bent on revenge. He spots Trudy's handkerchief so knows she's been abducted. He rushes to the seaside cave. Trudy awakens in the cave, horrified at the large bird with Koniglich's head. Eric calls down, telling her to shoot him with the small pistol he gave her. She does. Vulture-man staggers out of the cave. Eric shoots him again with his .45. Vulture-man falls to the rocks below. Eric bundles up the body, weights it with an anchor and drops it into the sea. Eric and Trudy take a nice slow boat back to America. He is smug that the police will believe he was right all along when they find Koniglich's underground lab. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Most of the runtime plays as yet another family curse / monster mystery films, but the last third of the film as actually rather fast paced with suitable tension to keep it interesting.

Cold War Angle
This is thin, but it was tampering with things nuclear that created (yet another) monster. Mismanaged science takes its toll.

Better Baskerville? -- Huntington's mystery-curse story plays out much like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story. A family curse for a wrong in the misty past. A strange creature with a legendary, supernatural flavor. A science-minded man searches for a rational explanation. The last member of the cursed family is saved. Now, whereas Doyle's monster (the Hound) turned out to be trumped up reality, Huntington let sci-fi mumbo jumbo provide him with a real monster. The trusty boogey man -- nuclear energy -- created yet another monster.

Better "Claw" -- The 1957 film The Giant Claw is much maligned for the goofy puppet which was supposed to be the terrifying monster bird from space. All credibility fell away when the puppet was fully seen. Bird monsters are just tough to do. But, Huntington managed to avoid The Claw's mistake(s). He never gave you a good square look at the man-bird. You only got glimpses of the claw feet. Only at the end did you get more of a view, but even then, it was in close-up or in passing, so you never really got to see how cheap or goofy the man-bird costume was.

Plot Hole? -- Who was the skeleton in the lab? There were two "men" at some point. The dead Real and the living Koniglich. For the movie, we have one man-bird and one skeleton. Was that the skeleton the real Koniglich and the bird-man (the transmutated Francis Real from 1749) pretended to be Koniglich? Did the real Koniglich somehow merge himself with the essence of bird and man, and those were Real's bones in the chair? Whoever the skeleton was, he died quickly, sitting in a console chair, reaching a bony finger for a button. Doesn't suggest it was Real. The skeleton added an air of creepy to the scene, but it made no sense in the plot.

Characters -- While the plot of The Vulture is fairly predictable, and most of the acting is uninspired, there are a few highlights. Edward Craddick does a good job of the red herring sexton. Robert Hutton, as Eric, is fun to listen say Nuke-u-lar every time. Broderick Crawford bombasts around like a Type A Dr. Watson, so you're almost glad when he gets nabbed. Akim Tamiroff, as Koniglich, plays his role with more flavor. He's just fun to watch.

Hot Car -- Vintage muscle car fans will be amused by the "fast car" that Eric "hires" while (supposedly) in London. Despite the dark photography, a quick eye can see he's driving a red 1966 Mustang fastback -- with left-and drive! All the other cars in the film are British and right-hand drive. The soundtrack even gives the Mustang a deep growling exhaust note.

Bottom line? The Vulture starts out slow, with the rather well worn trope of a family curse and a monster. Things do pick up nearer the end, and while still predictable, Huntington does manage to keep one's interest. For sci-fi fans, there is little science beyond some bizarre blather and a couple minutes in a "lab". Still, it was entertaining.

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