Monday 2 April 2018

6 - Castle, Bowie, 50s B-movies, Yankee Zephyr (+non-canonically, 8 sci-fi refs and some Castle mentions)

The Night Walker (1964 - B/W) - Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in William Castle's strange dreamsploitation. It feels very TV-like, but the dream sequences are very appealing, better than anything Wes Craven ever did. Lots of talking mannequins, whirling faces. It does feel a bit sub-Serling, better suited to telly. But then it goes all a bit Brian Clemens at the end. Like a lot of Castle's films (including dare I say it, Rosemary's Baby, the Old Dark House, less so as it is Hammer and quite fun), it is a load of TV-ish old nonsense with some standout gimmicks in the middle. The soundtrack by Vic Mizzy is good, later reused as the theme for the 1972 Stewart Granger Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) - Slightly too disorientating and hard to follow for me. Bowie isn't a good actor. I know what Roeg is doing, but Roeg's films, apart from the Witches I find kind of inconsequential. Nice looking, but dull. Like Friedkin, I find he shoots around people than at people.

Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981) - Nice locations in New Zealand, a good cast (Ken Wahl, Donald Pleasence, Lesley And Warren, George Peppard, Bruno Lawrence) but a confused tone (it should be a big epic adventure but ends up being a wacky comedy caper with a helicopter cockpit on tank-tracks the sole moment of innovation). The choice of David Hemmings as director may have ruined it. Nice soundtrack. Lee Tamahori as boom operator. It all boils down to a good cast and locations saddled with an uninteresting semi-heist plot about a crashed warplane (the Sneakers problems - interesting characters but rubbish situation). A lot of Australian exploitation has this problem. Always some interest, but quite often, not enough. Even Mad Max has it. Barry Humphries' movies and Howling III avoid it by throwing so much weirdness that most of it sticks. They're not great films but there's a sense of gonzo invention at work that a lot of Aussie B-movies dream of. Then again, unlike a lot of Aussie exploitation, they are proudly Australian, rather than blandly Mid-Atlantic like so many others.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959 - B/W) - Attractively shot Corman-produced antebellum insect attack film, blessed with a creepy atmosphere, but not much else. But more impressive than the typical poverty row studiobound shocker of the era. A lot of the Corman films of the era - there's an energy to them - something like The Wasp Woman is rubbish, but there's a kind of pop and fizz to the direction that's lacking in the acting or indeed the plot. They aren't great films, but the direction doesn't make them terrible. Uninteresting surroundings and routine action make them subpar. Corman and his mates, unlike other B-movie folk of the era tried their best, and made good out of what they had. They weren't trying to make art. They didn't know these films would still play today. It's the effort that counts. The best SF movies of the 50s are things like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre of The Earth, the right mix of adventure and awe (which makes good SF, in my opinion), before those sort of period SF movies descended into all-star caper movies that were too busy trying to cast, mostly miscast as many stars as possible, and cramming in all sorts of jokey asides.
50s sci-fi wise, War of the Worlds I enjoy the most out of the alien movies (Body Snatchers I can see its quality, but it never connected with me, see also Day the Earth Stood Still), while The Fly's the best mad science/creature film. Jack Arnold's stuff i.e. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a good  solid journeyman thing blessed with good ideas and good performances, but not quite the scale they need, and the Creature I always felt was a character with untapped potential. And Harryhausen's early films, because they are US-made lack the great parade of British character talent that his later films benefit from - a human face alongside the creatures. The creatures carry the early films. And Forbidden Planet looks great, but it's a pilot for Star Trek, really.

Invasion of the Animal People (1960) - One of those typical poverty row shockers. But the Swedish snowbound location footage has an unearthly, alien feel  that something like Hammer's The Abominable Snowman lacks.

The Bat (1959) - Stagey, mechanical semi-period old dark house plodder with Vincent Price. Like an average Karloff Thriller or Hitchcock Presents. Nothing you haven't seen before. There's a character called Mr. Davenport, which makes everything seem like Rentaghost USA.

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