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, August 16, 2015

Flying Saucer, The (1950)

Directed by:
Mikel Conrad

The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World and When Worlds Collide (all released in 1951) are three of the hit films usually credited for kick-starting the sci-fi craze that dominated much of 1950s genre cinema. But beating all of them to cinemas by more than a year was this independently-produced film, which also predates the few other sci-fi offerings of its own year by a number of months (it was filmed back in the summer of 1949). In fact, this is believed to be the very first American feature film ever to involve flying saucers and was clearly made in response to a then-recent surge in reported UFO sightings that were dominating newspaper headlines. It may also be the first of such sci-fi films to infuse elements of the Red Scare into the plot, though unlike later films that hid their true agenda behind metaphor, this one just comes right out and blatantly says it in the very first scene. Unlike most of the later films, it doesn't involve extraterrestrials at all and the saucer featured here is a man-made creation. Aside from being a footnote and reference point for film historians, The Flying Saucer has been mostly forgotten by audiences for good reason: it's flat, cheap, slow-moving, padded with filler and often incredibly boring. Forget about flying saucers, this actually seems more like a travelogue promo for Alaskan tourism.

In Washington D.C., CIA agent Hank Thorn (Russell Hicks) drafts Mike Trent (director Conrad, who also wrote and produced) for a covert mission in Alaska, where there have been recent sightings of flying saucers. The film never really says what qualifications Mike has for such a mission, aside from the fact he's a famous millionaire Playboy and polo player originally from Alaska. Regardless, our government thinks this drunk, chain-smoking, womanizing smart ass is the right man for the job of discovering the secrets of the flying saucers before the Russians do and use them to drop A-Bombs on all of the major American cities. Hank concocts a fake story about Mike suffering from a nervous breakdown to throw off the press, set him up with blonde "nurse" Vee Langley (Pat Garrison), who's actually a secret agent, fly the two of them to Seattle and from there they are off to Alaska on a boat.

Upon arrival, Mike and Vee go to their hunting lodge and meet up with the French caretaker Hans (Hantz von Teuffen). Not one to expose their true intention for being there, Mike immediately asks the stranger, "You seen any Russian spies around here recently?" Things are quiet for awhile as Mike and Vee soak up the scenery, go on hikes, go swimming, go on boat rides, encounter wildlife ("I just saw a bear! They're dangerous, aren't they?") and get better acquainted in a romantic sense, but one evening they are disturbed by strange, loud sounds in the sky. A man truly serious about his work, Mike promptly heads into Juneau, goes on a pub crawl and gets wasted drinking rye. What does this have to do with flying saucers, you ask? Well, absolutely nothing, but it sure does help to eat up the minutes, doesn't it? 

It's eventually revealed that reclusive scientist Dr. Carl Lawton (Roy Engel) has finished his saucer prototype and has it hidden somewhere in the mountain ice caps with plans on selling the invention to the U.S. military for 10 million dollars. His assistant Mr. Turner (Denver Pyle) betrays him and goes to some Russian KGB agents stationed in Alaska led by Colonel Marikoff (Lester Sharpe) and his right hand man Alex Muller (Earle Lyon). The Russians are all played by American actors and none of them even attempt any kind of accent. The Frenchman is also in cahoots with the Russians but all of his attempts to kill Mike and Vee are botched in one way or another. There are a few poorly-choreographed and unexciting action scenes and lots of time is spent on travelogue footage. The utterly predictable finale takes place in some ice caves beneath a glacier.

Aside from decent location filming, some beautiful scenery and perhaps being a first of its type, this isn't a good film. It's dull, the acting is mediocre at best and it's filled with pointless, drawn-out scenes that exist solely to pad out the slim story line. Most disappointing of all is that there are just two scenes of the flying saucers in the air; both of which are over in a matter of seconds.


Le laboratoire de l'angoisse (1971)

... aka: Laboratory of Anguish, The
... aka: Laboratory of Fear

Directed by:
Patrice Leconte

Leconte first picked up a camera at the age of 15. By his early 20s, he was working as a cartoonist and attending the famous state run film school Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (Institute for Advanced Film Studies), which would later be renamed La Fémis and boasted many alumni who'd later make their mark in film including Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, Claire Denis, Volker Schlöndorff, Jean-Jacques Annaud and Costa Gavras. After completing a number of shorts, Lcconte made his feature film debut with the comedy Les vécés étaient fermés de l'intérieur, which wasn't well received by either audiences or critics. Leconte's follow-up films, however, were hits and he'd go on to become a top comedy director in his home country. Unfortunately, his films were seldom released outside of France and none really got him much in the way of critical respectability. The tide started turning with Tandem, which was not only financially successful in France but also received six César Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. Lcconte broke away from comedy with his next feature, Monsieur Hire (1989), and the results were career-changing. Not only did the film win widespread critical acclaim and numerous prestigious awards, but it also put the director on the radar outside of France and won him a much-wider international audience that he enjoys to this day.

Le laboratoire de l'angoisse was one of Leconte's very early shorts; his second if IMDb is to be trusted. It's also his only film with a horror label, though it's primarily a dark comedy. The song "The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid" (aka “The Snake Charmer Song” and “The Girls of France”) plays over the opening credits and then we get a disclaimer telling us that “Chemical and biochemical realism was not the primary concern of this film.”

The setting is the National Research Center of the IMPC, where all of the best graduates of the nation's chemistry schools go to work. The pretty Clara (Marianne di Vettimo), the sole female employed there, proves to be one of the most dedicated and hardest working scientists in the place and is always there late into the night after everyone else has left. As she's working on obtaining a deposit of silver oxide from lead chloride; a slow process that requires lots of patience and many different chemicals, klutzy night janitor Antoine (Michel Such) sets about trying to woo her. He plays her a Lebanese flute, jumps up on the table, breaks flasks, brings her cold chicken to eat and does various other things to try to get her attention. She's so busy with her work that she barely pays any attention to him even when he confesses his undying love for her.

By the film's end, Antoine manages to accidentally mangle himself up pretty good with various chemicals as he nervously pursues the completely disinterested girl. His hand smokes as he spills sulfuric acid, arthycylic acid and mercury on it. After Clara successfully completes her experiment and he thinks he stands a chance, he has a nasty encounter with some chemical called carburet tritonytrate that leads up to a gory visual gag. This is OK but not particularly clever or inventive and the laughs are mild at best. It runs 11 minutes and is available on a Region 3 DVD called Their First Films distributed by Alto Media. The set also includes early shorts from other well-known French directors like Mourice Pialat, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Jean-Pierre Melville.


To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, here comes a rant...

Usually when I disappear from here for a little while there's a pretty good reason and this week is no exception. To start, my grandmother flew into town from Florida for a week-long visit. That coincided with my 5-year-old niece coming to stay for six days before she starts kindergarten next week. On top of that, I'm in the middle of selling a house and must have everything cleared out before October 1st. Of course, that also means I'll be moving myself so I'm going through the process of trying to decide what to keep, what to give away and what to try to sell. A few garage sales in the sweltering summer heat may even be in my future. There's a lot of nostalgic things here that remind me of friends and family members who are no longer around and those things aren't going to be easy to get rid of. I keep telling myself things are only things and I just need to decide on one piece for everyone. And just a few days before my granny and niece came to visit, a friend was in a terrible car accident, suffered a serious head trauma and has been in a medically-induced coma ever since. We're still waiting for word on how all that is going to pan out. And though I managed to get a little time off, I still had to work most of those days. 1500+ miles of driving and an average of 3-4 hours of sleep a night for a straight week later and I'm surprised I can even string two coherent sentences together right now.

Keeping up a blog for a number of years is a very interesting thing. I first started back in 2008 with one (I thought reasonable) goal in mind: Watching and reviewing every horror movie made from 1950 to 1990. Not only was I completely ignorant about the sheer amount of horror movies made worldwide during that period of time, but I also never realized the unexpected twists and turns my own life would take over the following years. In 2008, I loved my job, loved where I was living, was in love and loved my life in general. All of my friends and family were doing good and I was in a long-term relationship I felt pretty secure in. I was young, naive and idealistic enough back then to think that nothing would ever change. 

All these years later, I now realize my “blog archive” on the sidebar has taken on another life entirely. While most will see movie titles, months and days, periods of activity and inactivity, I see an archive of my own life's ups and downs. I see the time when a roommate accidentally left the door open, my cat wandered outside and was hit by a car. I see the months I took off trying to heal after losing friends and family. I see the time I disappeared as relationships were ending or just beginning. I see the time I was sitting in a car on the side of the road not knowing where I was going but knowing I was going to have to pick up again and start my life over completely from scratch. I see all of the moving around from state to state. I see the vacations. I see the new jobs. I see myself needing a new car transmission. I see the people who are there one day and gone the next. I see the four or five computers I've burned through. I see periods of time when I was happy, sad, burnt out, busy or bored. All of that makes me realize that when my life's going as smoothly and comfortably as I want it to, I'm far more active on here. When I actually have time to write, I'm more at peace.

If you're unfamiliar with blogging, you also may be unfamiliar with the blogging community at large. There are quite a few film bloggers out there. Many of us follow each other. Many of us discuss movies in depth and trade information and trivia and thoughts and ideas. I honestly consider many of my blogger buddies as friends even though I've never even met most of them in person. We often try to pass along encouragement to each other to keep going, even though we seldom get much feedback for the time and work we dedicate to these things. We do what we do simply because we love film.

I've had many blogging buddies come and go over the years. Not only does “real life” often knock us off course either temporarily or permanently, but there can also be a good deal of frustration involved with blogging. I've seen many great writers throw in the towel due not only to a lack of encouragement but also a lack of acknowledgment. Sometimes taking a few seconds to say a simple “Nice review” or a “Thank you” can make all the difference in the world. Hell, even if you don't have anything nice to say, negative comments at least let the author know you're reading. I fondly remember one BPOH visitor a few years back who harassed me and called me every name in the book over a negative review I wrote for an extremely obscure Hong Kong ghost film that hasn't even garnered 50 votes on IMDb yet. This guy threatened to make my life hell until I deleted my review and, to his credit, he really tried to keep his word, sending one nasty message after another for an entire year. Little did he realize, but his grammatically-challenged tirades every single week became a constant source of amusement for me and I actually missed getting his crazy rants once he finally did give up. The moral of the story is: sometimes something is better than nothing. 

Bloggers also face numerous other issues. One of the most annoying things is our work being pilfered (or downright plagiarized, verbatim) and knowing there isn't a whole lot we can do about it. I've noticed many of my reviews here have been copied and pasted onto other websites as the film's plot synopsis or as a review someone else is attempting to take credit for. Knowing that the people who do this wouldn't dare do it to an “established” genre site but they sure don't mind snatching whatever they want from us lowly bloggers, is doubly annoying. Another issue is the constant spam we have to read through and discard. While I'd much prefer to not have to filter and monitor my comments section and have whatever anyone sends go through immediately, I just can't do it because of the constant spam / ad “messages” I get here. There's actually an automatic spam filter here, but it also needs to be constantly monitored because more real comments end up in that folder than actual spam!

Film bloggers' reputations have also taken a hit in recent years by filmmakers who create their own new blog(s) and then write glowing reviews for their own films while pretending to be an impartial critic. I've seen this happen too many times to count by this point and these “critics” and their “blogs” vanish into thin air once they've finished promoting their film. The fact this even happens at all is unfortunate because most of us are actually as unfiltered and uncorrupted as it's going to get as far as film criticism is concerned. The vast majority of us are not paid for our work, haven't been bought off by companies and don't regularly schmooze with filmmakers, actors or producers and then go on to write glowing reviews of their work. That's more than can be said for nearly every single genre-specific website out there that's reasonably well-known. You know, all of the ones that are constantly blurbed on DVD covers and such. I'm sure I can speak for most of my blogger buddies out there when I say that my opinion will not nor will it ever be bought.

Though I'm almost embarrassed to say it, this rant actually started out as a review before it morphed into something else entirely. That's just how I operate sometimes. The horror community lost a great blog just last week and, logging in here tonight, I noticed a message from another who was closing his doors for good as well due to lack of support. I'm not going to name names out of respect to these gentlemen in case they have a change of heart, but I will say that the quality of the writing that could be found on these two blogs is vastly superior and far more thought-provoking, intelligent and insightful than what can be found on any of those flashy sites that have flourished over the past decade or so. It really annoys me to no end just because it seems almost unfair. I'm even pissed at myself right now because I'm also guilty of frequently visiting, reading and enjoying many blog posts myself over the years without always showing my support. I plan on changing that bad habit.

I also wrote this because, knowing I'm about to enter an unsure / hectic period in my own life, I may be absent from here for long stretches over the next three to four months. Seeing a lot of my blogger buddies go away and never come back though has made me decide that I'm never going to delete this blog nor will I ever abandon this place. As long as Blogger is around and I'm of sound mind and body and have the time, I'll be right here. If for some reason Blogger goes kaput, I will just put up my own website. I'll be as prolific as life allows me to be. It's hard to really put into words, but working on this over the years has turned into something relaxing for me. It feels like a good part of my life. It feels like one of those comforting constants that's there even when life's all over the place.

So I will share one brief story before I finally get some much-needed uninterrupted sleep (yessss!) and stop being all groggy and sappy. A few years back, I relocated to a new, unfamiliar city with who I thought was the love of my life after five years of dating and gave up pretty much everything to be there. A few weeks later, I discovered not only was my significant other cheating but they also planned on moving the person they were having the affair with into our place. So why was I there? Well, I never did get a real answer but I drew the conclusion I was expected to transition into a roommate to help pay the bills. When all of that came to light, I was so overwhelmed with shock I quickly packed up what I could fit into my car and took off. I drove for awhile and eventually pulled over to the side of the highway on the outskirts of the city at around 2am. At that point in my life, I was pretty much on my own. I really didn't have anyone to turn to and my nearest friends were over five hundred miles away. Not that I wanted them or anyone else to know. I didn't. I was far too embarrassed to tell anyone and felt like a complete idiot.

The situation I found myself in was pretty dire, but I managed to eventually dig my way out of it. That required a lot of sacrifice and strict budgeting on my part. I came to the conclusion I'd have to sleep in my car most of the time, so I did just that; moving to a new parking lot every single night so the police (or someone else) wouldn't catch on to me. Every three days I went and stayed at the cheapest, sleaziest hotel in town which, in many ways, was even scarier than sleeping in my car but at least there was a bed, a warm shower and a chair in case I needed something to prop under the door handle. I frequently used rest area bathrooms and truck stops to get ready for work. I gave myself two dollars to eat a day plus two dollars for my caffeine fix. I did one load of laundry every two weeks. And all that time I kept completely to myself apart from work, avoided new relationships of any kind and saved up everything I could. After two and a half months of living like that I was finally able to afford a cheap apartment which stayed unfurnished (my bed was essentially a sheet on the floor) while I saved every penny I could until I had enough to get out of that city. It took less than a year.

While all of that was going on, I was not only scared, confused, heartbroken and extremely stressed out but I also became extremely depressed. I think the latter had a lot to do with why I never asked anyone for help. In fact, I flat out lied to friends and family back home the few times I talked to anyone and told them I was doing just fine. To this day, most people don't even know it happened. No one in my family knows and unless one is a closet horror fan and I don't know about it and come here and read this, they likely never will. I think most of all, a part of me felt compelled to get through that all on my own just because I had to prove to myself I could. Growing up, one thing I seldom experienced was the feeling of stability. I was shuffled around from home to home living with different relatives in different towns from a very young age all the way up through high school. With this incident, I think I needed to know I could handle whatever was thrown at me and handle it all on my own. Life has seemed much easier ever since.

I, of course, was almost completely away from internet during this time, except for a few stops at the library here and there. The first time I checked my email in many, many months, I had a half dozen messages from blog readers – complete strangers all - wondering where I was and asking if everything was OK. It was one of the only things that happened all year that was able to put a smile on my face and also probably helps to explain my personal attachment to this place. Those comments also made me understand the true power of a simple, friendly gesture and taking a second of one's time to pass along something positive and encouraging to other human beings... even ones you are never going to actually meet in real life. Reading those comments from those readers when I did made me feel a little less alone in the world right when I needed it. 

So with all that said, I just want to express my gratitude to all of my friend friends, blogger friends and visitor friends. Hell, even my old stalker friend who wanted me dead for over a year, can get a little love. Told ya I can be a sap when people don't let me sleep. It'll be back to business as usual here soon. The business may be a bit slower for a spell, but it'll still be here. Hell I may even put something up as soon as tomorrow granted I don't sleep all day.

p.s. Any misspelling, run-on sentence and other grammatical errors. plus any trace of verbose sentimentality, must be completely forgiven by all due to, well, you know... Zzzzzzz
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