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

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Frozen Dead

Yet another British import of 1967 was another Gold Star Production, written and directed by Herbert J. Leder (of "It!" fame). The Frozen Dead (TFD), avoids some of the pitfalls of one-man-band projects, but not all. Star Dana Andrews lifts TFD from the sea of B-movie obscurity, though not too high above the waves. The story is a horror / sci-fi hybrid, in the Frankenstein mode, made up from a combination of traditional tropes. TFD is another installment in the head-in-a-box subgenre.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Norberg is former Nazi doctor leading a quiet life in a rural english mansion. His clandestine project is trying to revive frozen Nazi party elite. His work has only been partially successful. Of the dozen frozen men he had, the first seven suffered brain damage. They're kept in his basement like prisoners. The eighth, Joseph, is an expressionless mute who serves as Norberg's butler. Norberg's financial backer (and shadow Nazi party boss) drops in to witness the successful reviving of the 9th man. If successful, it will be the start of thawing 1500 loyal Nazis. The revival fails when Norberg's assistant, Karl, interrupts with news. Norberg's niece, Jean, and her friend, Elsa, dropped in. Norberg laments that he wished he had a fresh brain to study so he could figure out why prior attempts failed. Karl takes this as an assignment. He drugs and strangles Elsa, but blames Prisoner #3 (who happens to be Norberg's brother and Jean's father) who when unfrozen suffers violent outbursts. Karl coaxes Norberg into taking the opportunity. Elsa's head is kept alive in a box. Karl fakes Elsa's sudden departure, but Jean is suspicious. Norberg invites a Dr.Roberts to help him. They fail to get the head to control a wall of severed arms. Roberts becomes conflicted between his devotion to science (the head project) and his developing love for Jean. Meanwhile, Elsa's head (now inexplicably blue) develops telepathic powers. The prisoners are fearful. Karl is obsessed. Jean has bad dreams. She also keeps investigating Elsa disappearance, This eventually involves a police inspector. Turns out that Karl was not fetching body parts from the morgue, but killing people for the parts, so everyone has a lot to hide. Norberg's Nazi bosses grow impatient. Misbehaving Karl is tossed in the freezer. Lubeck is about to shoot Jean for knowing too much. Norberg struggles with him for the gun. They stray too close to the wall of arms. Elsa's head controls the arms to strangle Norberg and Lubeck. Jean rushes to the basement cell to see her father (Prisoner 3), but he starts to strangle her. The police inspector shoots Prisoner 3. Jean, Roberts and the inspector go to Elsa's head, which whispers over and over, "Bury me....bury me..." The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Dana Andrews does a reasonable job of portraying Dr. Norberg as both a dedicated scientist and a man with some scruples. Alan Tilvern plays the role of minion with a bit more depth than minions usually get.

Cold War Angle
Aside from the customary science-is-dangerous theme, TFD pushes the older Nazi Boogey Man buttons. There's nothing particularly Cold War about it.

Best Fiends -- As memories of WWII continued to morph into legend, film Nazis became more and more a caricature. TFD dabbles in that legend mode. The only German word Karl ever says is: "Schnell!" to his line of "prisoners." The frozen nazis wore full uniforms (with medals!). Clothes make the nazi. Tirpiz and Lubeck indulge in some stereotypic beating/torture of Karl. Mean, cruel, ruthless Nazis. The ideal film villains. So easy to write. The implication of a potential shadow threat of 1500 nazis waiting to emerge and resume their quest, is more of this legendary role.

Getting A Head -- Leder was writing on familiar ground with his head-kept-alive trope. Prior examples of the living head include Man Without a Body ('57), The Brain That Wouldn't Die ('62) and demonstrating that living-heads and nazis are a natural, Madmen of Mandoras ('63) Why Elsa's head had to be blue, is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps she could not be a girlish pink and still inspire fear. She was made up to look older and more haggard.

Brain Power -- Another retread trope in TFD is the notion that a brain separated from its body will most likely develop telekinetic and telepathic powers. This featured in Donovan's Brain back in '53 -- there, just a brain in a jar. The phenomenon appeared in Colossus of New York too, with Jeremy's brain inside the robot. Of course, Jan in the Pan in The Brain That Wouldn't Die started developing psychic powers. So, it's not too surprising that Elsa's head does the same. Interestingly, the brain prop showed a pulsating brain, is it were a heart.

Traditional Desert -- Customary in sci-fi / horror hybrids, is for the misguided (or mad) scientist to be killed by his monster. It is the traditional just-deserts for the hubris of playing God. The man who caused the problem is himself killed by it. In TFD, Elsa's head and the wall of arms make a sort of disassembled Frankenstein monster. They work together to extract just revenge -- not only on Norberg, but the shadow Nazi Lubeck too. TFD also has a subtle bit of cultural catharsis in that Norberg's "work" amounts to Nazis being maimed and killed by experiments by a Nazi doctor. More just deserts.

Low Rent Space -- Another well-worn trope is that the mad scientist lives in a big old house with his lab downstairs in the medieval-looking stone basement. Perhaps this is a legacy of that first Frankenstein movie. Good science takes place is well-lit modern campuses. Evil science takes place underground in dim rooms with stone walls. It's easier to track that white hats and black hats.

Bottom line? TFD is somewhat slow paced and constructed of many prior tropes. As such, it won't impress much of anyone familiar with the genre. Beyond Andrews and Tilvern, the acting is quite flat, except for a few rare, but well done, little moments. TFD is old-school rehash, but fairly watchable, if you're patient.

No comments: