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.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Glass Cage, The (1964)

... aka: Bed of Fire
... aka: Den of Doom
... aka: Don't Touch My Sister

Directed by:
Antonio Santéan

At an apartment house, a prowler is shot and killed, so a pair of detectives; aged, level-headed and experienced Lt. Max Westman (John Hoyt) and his younger, reactionary partner Sgt. Jeff Bradley (Robert Kelljan), are on the case. They go to interview Ellen Sawyer ("Arline Sax" / Arlene Martel), a quiet young blonde who claims to have shot the man when he broke into her flat. Ellen's recollections of the events don't seem to add up and neither do her stories about her family. She says her mother is dead and tries to change the subject any time the police ask about her father; whom she claims is an evangelist living in another city. As for Ellen's older sister Ruth, well she does live in town. In fact, Ruth was also there the night of the killing and had given Ellen the revolver used to shoot the intruder. Westman and Bradley go to Ellen's home and are unable to locate her. They find a portrait of the sister there though and she's a dead ringer for Ellen, only with darker hair and a much more sophisticated look. It seems that while Ellen lives very modestly in a cheap, barely-furnished apartment in a bad area of town, her sister is quite well off in her Hollywood Hills home and helps to support her sibling.






Jeff ends up becoming infatuated with the sweet-natured, soft-spoken and demure Ellen. Though she's polite and nice, she's also clearly got mental issues. And the same goes for Ruth (also played by Martel in a dark wig), who finally materializes at the police station to give her testimony. As it turns out, the victim wasn't a prowler at all, but Ruth's well-off businessman lover. We're basically given two options in this psychological horror / mystery. The first is that there aren't two sisters, and that Ellen and Ruth are the same schizophrenic person. The second option is that Ruth is a cold-blooded sociopath who wanted her lover dead for his money and thus set him up to be killed by her emotionally-fragile sister. Either way, the resolution to all of this isn't going to be surprising anyone. And if you don't want that aspect spoiled, go ahead and stop reading right now. I'll leave you with the note that this forgotten and extremely obscure film (thus far only distributed by Sinister Cinema on VHS) is worth tracking down.






Extremely low-budget and often technically crude (the boom mic is even visible multiple times), The Glass Cage still manages to overcome the predictability of its premise. For starters, it's surprisingly upfront for its time dealing with issues ranging from mental illness to childhood abuse to perverse sexuality. One of the more interesting side characters is Tox Midler (King Moody), an unemployed, sleazy starving artist / voyeur / exhibitionist who lives in a building across from Ellen and is constantly peeping in her windows. He knows just what's going on and witnessed the shooting, but instead of informing the police he attempts to blackmail Ellen into having sex with him. During one surprising sequence, Tox is in bed with a zoned-out Ellen trying to make love to her when she suddenly starts screaming and calling him "Daddy!" This kind of thing certainly wasn't the norm for mainstream releases in 1964, so it's easy to see why the film didn't get much of a theatrical release back in the 60s.






Ellen's frequent hallucinations are also very interesting, both in concept and in visualization. In one, she imagines a scar on her arm bleeding all over the place. In another, she's surrounded on a sidewalk by a bunch of leering men when suddenly a giant hand reaches out of a store window trying to grab her. In most of her delusions, a well-dressed man wearing a top hat and carrying a cane (Elisha Cook Jr.) is either chasing or following her. The man turns out be her father, whose current occupation as a clergyman (shades of The Night of the Hunter) betrays what a creep he really is. The director uses multiple cheap, experimental techniques to try to spice things up, including weird camera angles, distorted sounds, freeze frames, repeat shots and slow-motion. While these flourishes don't always work, they're highly effective when they do. Most of the performances here are at least decent, but everything pretty much hinges on the lead actress. Thankfully, the little-known Martel does not disappoint in her dual characterization. The actress gets to play two very different women; the delicate, aloof, introspective Ellen and the cool, seductive, outgoing Ruth, and she manages to pull it off. If this were a more high-profile film her performance would have received more attention.






I was also struck by the similarities between this and Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965), which was released the following year. While it may seem a long shot to even suggest that one of the most acclaimed genre films of all time was inspired by a low-budget film that hardly anyone saw, just check out the list of similarities between this film's Ellen and Repulsion's Carole Ledoux played by Catherine Deneuve. Both are attractive, troubled blondes with likely sexual trauma in their childhoods leading to mental problems as adults. Both live lonely existences in apartment houses. Both have to stave off the advances of lecherous male admirers who don't seem to care that the object of their unwanted affection clearly has a few screws loose. Both have self-absorbed and uncaring sisters who only financially support them and are quite their opposite in personality. Both Santéan and Polanski chose to illustrate the protagonists' inner turmoil by utilizing elements of surrealism. And the list goes on. Though this doesn't quite pack the same punch as Polanski's landmark film, it's still worthy of a reevaluation and a larger audience.






This was the only directorial credit for Santéan, who co-wrote the screenplay with veteran character actor Hoyt (who receives top-billing here). Both men were also the executive producers. It's also interesting to see Bob Kelljan - who's better known as a director - in an early acting role, though he's the weakest link among the principle actors seen here. Kelljan went on to make the huge hit Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and its follow-up The Return of Count Yorga (1971), as well as Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) and the sleazy rape-revenge drive-in hit Act of Vengeance (1974).

So will a DVD distributor eventually step in and save The Glass Cage from its sorry fate, or will it remain forgotten and unloved for the rest of eternity? It's hard to tell. For now, it exists only for the extremely dedicated genre fan; one who's willing to slog through a faded, sometimes-jumpy and heavily-damaged VHS print to seek its rewards. Said video was poorly distributed to begin with and I doubt many will pay attention unless a major label bites.

★★★

Manster, The (1959)

... aka: Doktor Satan
... aka: Kyofu
... aka: Nightmare
... aka: Sôtô no satsujinki
... aka: Split, The
... aka: Two-Headed Monster, The

Directed by:
George P. Breakston
Kenneth G. Crane

A furry man-beast mauls three women to death and then returns home, where his brother promptly burns him with steam, shoots him and then tosses him inside an active volcano, which he can access through a trap door in his basement lab! The brother - Dr. Robert Suzuki ("Satoshi" / Tetsu Nakamura) - is one misguided (though not completely heartless) fella. He was not only was responsible for his brother's monstrous state, but also has used his own wife Emiko (Toyoko Takechi) as a guinea pig in his experiments. Now facially disfigured, the deranged Emiko is kept locked in a cage in the cellar where she jumps around and wails like a banshee. But rest assured, Dr. Suzuki's just getting warmed up. World Press foreign correspondent Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) shows up to the doctor's secluded mountaintop home looking to do a story on him. Suzuki discusses his research into how cosmic rays and evolution / mutations are linked, asks all kinds of personal questions and then wastes no time drugging Larry's scotch and then injecting him with some kind of substance while he's out cold. It seems the good doc is running low on test subjects and the strong, young Larry has stumbled there at the worst possible time. After all, when it comes to the greater good for mankind, "What happens to one man doesn't make any difference."






Larry returns to Tokyo and plans on going back to New York City in a few days to be reunited with his estranged wife Linda (Jane Hylton). First, Dr. Suzuki shows up and decides to start pampering his test subject and show him a side of Japan he's never seen before. He takes Larry to a whorehouse where he gets drunk on sake and messes around with some geishas. Then it's off to a hot springs hotel. Suzuki's sexy personal assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) flies in for the occasion and soon Larry finds himself drawn to her. He's having so much fun he's forgotten all about going back to New York... but his wife hasn't forgotten about him. Arriving in Tokyo, Linda discovers the man she's married has made a 180 degree change for the worse. He not only tells her he wants to be with Tara, but he's also become a short-tempered drunk who's starting to show violent tendencies. Regardless, Linda doesn't want to give up on her marriage and, with help from Larry's boss Ian Matthews (Norman Van Hawley), decides to try to get to the bottom of things. Larry, on the other hand, is beginning to show strange physical changes to match the internal ones.






After losing feeling in his hand and having disorienting black outs, he starts getting a bad kink in his shoulder, which soon begins to mutate even further. During one of his spells, he goes to a Buddhist temple and murders a priest; not remembering any of this later. He then hits the streets and starts murdering others. A eyeball forms on his shoulder, and then an entire head sprouts out! Dr. Suzuki is hoping he'll eventually split into two different beings. After Larry murders a psychiatrist (Alan Tarlton) his boss tried to hook him up with, a police superintendent (Jerry Ito) organizes his forces and a city-wide manhunt ensues. Like the ill-fated creature before him, Larry ends up heading back to Dr. Suzuki's lab for the big finale.






A Japanese / American co-production filmed in Japan, The Manster (also released as The Split and under numerous other titles) is one of those films that's considered a bad movie favorite despite the fact it's actually not really a bad movie. Sure, it's utterly ridiculous and has some unintentional laughs here and there, but it's not poorly made and there's genuine imagination at work here. Some scenes are surprising and borderline surreal and the premise predates both the awful The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971) and the intentionally silly The Thing with Two Heads (1972) by a good number of years. I much preferred the approach of this one. It takes itself seriously and even shows some heart; particularly in regard to the mad scientist character, who turns out not to be a one-dimensional evil sort at all, though he seems that way at first. The makeup effects, which are excellent for the time, are credited to Shinpei Takagi, who also plays the Buddhist priest who gets killed.






Co-directors Breakston (best known as an actor) and Crane (who also made Monster from Green Hell [1957]), had both worked on the TV series African Patrol together. Sam Raimi paid direct homage to this film in his third Evil Dead flick; Army of Darkness (1992). The Japanese release came in 1959 and the U.S. release was three years later. It was initially double-billed with the superior The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus aka EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960).

★★1/2
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