Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Unearthly, The (1957)

... aka: House of the Monsters
... aka: Night of the Monsters

Directed by:
Boris Petroff

Oft-dissed, this low-budget time-waster (which was later poked fun of on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), managed to keep me reasonably entertained for 70 minutes. Not that it's particularly good, and it's certainly not original, but it's also not without merit. The acting is uneven, but passable, for the most part, the science is silly, there are a few (unintentionally) hilarious moments, the make-up fx work from Harry Thomas is good and the Island of Dr. Moreau-inspired shock finale is surprisingly potent after a slow build-up. I was also surprised to discover that the works of Ed Wood had actually influenced other films immediately upon their release. How else can you explain the presence of slow-witted behemoth Lobo; who was transplanted here from Wood's semi-famous 1955 mad doctor tale BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) with same actor (Tor Johnson) playing the part? The poster - complete with a seal promising it was "guaranteed to frighten!" - is pretty amusing, too. Good thing that wasn't a money-back guarantee!

Emotionally troubled Grace Thomas (Allison Hayes) - who has just suffered from a nervous breakdown - checks in at a large, remote clinic run by Dr. Charles Conway (John Carradine). Well actually she's been lured there under false pretenses by her own psychologist, Dr. Wright (Roy Gordon), who apparently doesn't think much of her despite the fact she's very kind and extremely polite. Not to mention a hottie. Dr. Conway doesn't want his "patients" to have any ties to the outside world, so Dr. Wright promises to arrange it to look like Grace has killed herself. In the meantime, she's led to believe that the clinic will cure her of her bouts of fright.

We're also introduced to an array of other characters who populate the clinic. There's Conway's assistant, icy blonde Dr. Sharon Gilchrist (Marilyn Buferd), who's in love with Conway, jealous over the attention he lavishes on the beautiful Grace and serves up midnight snacks of milk and sedatives. Then there's Danny (Arthur Batanides), a loud, obnoxious, chain-smoking neurotic who wants to break someone's neck for serving him cold toast and claims "It's a lousy world!" Natalie (Sally Todd) is a lovestruck, romance novel reading nympho who needs to "co-ordinate" herself. A thief and murderer named Frank Scott (Myron Healey) shows up fresh from a prison escape with an alias ("Mark Houston") and is blackmailed into doing Conway's bidding. And then there's hulking manservant Lobo (Tor J.), who also does the doctor's bidding and is described as "an overgrown moron" who has the "strength of a Hercules and the brain of chicken."

Naturally, Carradine's mad scientist is conducting unethical experiments and all of his patients are guinea pigs unaware of what's in store for them. Dr. Conway is interested is prolonging youth and vigour and feels he can do so by surgically implanting an artificially-developed "17 gland" (?!) and then shooting his test subjects up with a blast of radiation to kick the gland into gear. Unfortunately, his procedure hasn't quite worked out and sometimes the patient ends up a little lobotomized and/or deformed. One of his failed test subjects is a zombie-like man confined to a chair in the cellar with limited, jerky movement. Another female patient ends up getting her face horribly wrinkled. And well, let's just say those aren't the only two glandular experiments that haven't worked out.

Carradine had played this same exact egomaniacal, sociopathic mad doctor role a dozen times before this one and gives a typical John Carradine egomaniacal, sociopathic mad doctor performance here. You could make a drinking game out of the amount of times his character reminds us that he's a brilliant scientist who loves his work, so every other stoic line is something like "I am a scientist, thinking is my business!" or "As a true scientist, nothing is impossible!" or "They've always called the greatest scientists crazy!" During a completely bloodless (!) organ transplant surgery, Carradine dryly barks out orders to his assistant: "scalpel, sponge, sponge, clamp, clamp, clamp, wipe my brow, clamp, sponge, number 23 scalpel, brow, sponge..." as she hurridly tries to keep up with him. The transplant is done in about 90 seconds. Durng another amusing scene, Carradine plays Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' on the organ after dinner to try to cover up any noise being made while a patient upstairs is being drugged and prepped for surgery.

Hayes (immortalized as the title character in ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN) is a fine actress but stuck here playing a sometimes annoyingly naive character ("I'll do as you wish, doctor!"). Still, she commands attention in all of her scenes simply because she's so damn gorgeous to look at and is often clad in form-fitting attire that shows off her statuesque figure. Healey is a little wooden but somewhat likable as the fugitive, Buferd does OK as the loyal but frustrated assistant and both Todd and Batanides try their best to be convincing nuthouse patients, with varying degrees of success. Johnson is very, very funny here, makes hilarious facial expressions throughout and gets such side-splitting lines as "Ohhh... Pretty girl. Ohhh... Prettttty!," "FerdiNAND?" and "Time for go to bed!" So while the film is nothing spectacular, there's some definite redeeming camp value contained within.

Hey, director / producer Boris Petroff liked the end result so much that he decided to remove his name from the credits and replace it with "Brooke L. Peters!" In many ways, this film was a family affair. Petroff's wife Jane Mann wrote the original story and co-scripted, and his daughter Gloria Petroff appears in the pre-credits sequence clawing Lobo's face and screaming. Petroff also made ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961), which was also written by his wife.

Unearthly is an easy title to find. It's been released multiple times to both VHS - by Rhino and WEA Corp.; including a special version available with the MST3K commentary - and on DVD. The Image Entertainment disc includes a very good quality, nice-looking print of the film, but the special features are nearly nonexistent.



CavedogRob said...

I like this movie for some reason. I think it's Carradine's mad scientist character. He's obviously insane yet so sure of himself and his nurse falls all over him! Hmmm..who's crazier?!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yeah, this wasn't too bad (at least not as bad as I expected). The nurse character reminded me of Jane Hylton's in Circus of Horrors, who was also hopelessly in love with psycho Anton Diffring.

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