Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Man with Two Heads, The (1972)

... aka: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Blood
... aka: Man with Two Faces, The

Directed by:
Andy Milligan

By Milligan standards, this is a disappointingly dull, slow, routine and somewhat tame adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Technically-speaking, it's slightly more competent than most of his other films. He's still stuck with a microscopic budget, but in this instance the camera seems to stay on a tripod much of the time, the primary actors are decent (it was actually filmed in England using local talent), the sets and costumes look a bit more convincing than usual (maybe they were allowed to raid a theater wardrobe department instead of someone's linen closet) and the whole production has a stage play feel to it. Sadly, because it's a fairly faithful Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation, Milligan's personality seems almost completely absent from the dialogue. It's almost as if he was trying to go legit or was aiming for respectability. Either that, or someone had him on a tight leash throughout the production. There are still trademark Milligan flashes to the cinematography from time to time, such as the camera spinning around to where you can't tell what the hell is going on during most of the horror scenes, but for the most part, this is a sterile and impersonal effort. The only thing of distinction is the high level of misogyny and that it has some of the absolutely worst overlighting in the history of cinema. During most of the scenes, the actors faces are drowned out in white glare.

In merry England, a hag prostitute (who's later referred to as a "young girl") gets stabbed and gutted. After the killer is captured and commits suicide, atheist medical school professor Dr. William Jekyll (Denis De Marne) gets permission from the dead man's wife to procure the body for his studies. Jekyll's theories on how to eliminate man's criminal urges are so outlandish they've alienated from the entire medical board and he's only been able to find six students in all of Europe to teach. His students dismember the killer's corpse (they actually start hacking into it with cleavers and a hatchet!), remove the head and Jekyll uses his special formula, which isolates and treats the "evil area" of the brain, on the killer's brain. It turns the bad area blue and the deeper the blue the more evil the person.

Sensing his formula will work on humans, having already created an antidote and frustrated by the fact he's going to have to wait on a shipment of vicious animals to do further tests on, an impatient Jekyll decides to go ahead and drink the serum himself. Little does he know, but his favorite student Jack Smithers (Berwick Kaler) has accidentally erased Jekyll's antidote formula by spilling liquid on the papers. Smoke fills the room, Jekyll writhes in agony and then transforms into a misogynist alter ego with a palid appearance, a toothy grin and thick eyebrows. Clad in a top hat and cap and introducing himself as Danny, Jekyll starts frequenting a local pub and sets his sights on singer / prostitute April Conners (Julia Stratton, billed as "April Conners"). After beating a man with his cane, Jekyll accompanies April back to her apartment and then proceeds to degrade her ("You're a cheap little slut. You know that, don't you? You shouldn't be allowed on the face of this Earth. You're scum!" You're the defecation of the slums of London!"), slap her around, pulls her hair, smack her over the head, makes her bark like a dog and then burns her with his cigar. He decides not to kill her, though, and just knifes a prostitute outside after he leaves.

The next day, Jekyll wakes with ripped, blood-stained clothes but no recollection of the past evening's events. From here on out, he'll slip in and out of the Danny persona. He starts being mean to his mothering sister Carla (Jacqueline Lawrence), starts neglecting his fiance Mary Ann (Gay Feld) even more than he already was, tells his sole female student that "All women should be in bed to be used!," shows up at Jack's to stab him to death and set his house on fire, then pays another visit to April to whip her with his belt. On his third visit to April he decapitates her with a meat cleaver, but any trace of gore seems to have been removed. Things get a bit frantic with the seizure-like 'shakycam' camerawork whenever anything horrific or action-oriented occurs.

Though De Marne gives a fair performance as the tortured doctor, this is sadly both boring (with many gruelingly long talk scenes) and completely unoriginal. It's almost like an attempt at a Hammer Film, minus those film's production values and general competence. It does however have one solitary bizarro scene where Jekyll spends the evening in a hazy brothel where kinky sex and mutilation take place. Unfortunately, the copy I watched was so damn bright I couldn't even make much of it out.

Billed as "Jeremy Brooks," Gerald Jacuzzo (from the director's much more memorable TORTURE DUNGEON) has a small role. Originally filmed as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Blood, the title was changed by producer William Mishkin to cash in on the success of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971) and The Thing with Two Heads (1972). The only VHS releases I'm aware of in America came via Midnight Video in 1982 and then through Something Weird Video.

Cellar Dweller (1987)

... aka: Cannibal Monster, The
... aka: Ork
... aka: Underground Werewolf

Directed by:
John Carl Buechler

Comic book artist Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs), best known for his horrific "Cellar Dweller" series, has been using an ancient Satanic book to fill in his dialogue bubbles. In the process, he manages to resurrect both a big demon monster and a lady in peril, all of whom go up in flames. Thirty years later, horror-loving cartoonist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Mullowney, who'd marry actor James Farentino and go by the professional name Debrah Farentino) arrives via taxi to the secluded Throckmorton Institute for the Arts, an artist's colony which used to be Childress' home. A big fan of the "Cellar Dweller" comics, Whitney decides she wants to do something along those lines with her career. She's given a chilly reception by school administrator Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo), who remembers Whitney unfavorably from a convention years earlier and doesn't believe comic art is actually art (calling it "populist tripe'). The cellar where Childress did most of his work, and the same place he and the woman died (Childress was blamed for killing her) is off limits to everyone.

Whitney soon meets a handful of other students, including young abstract painter Phillip Lemley (Brian Robbins, then known as the star of the series Head of the Class and now a successful producer and director), eccentric performance artist Lisa (Cheryl-Ann Wilson) and cigar-chomping pulp writer and Raymond Chandler wannabe Norman Meshelski (Vince Edwards). There's also the bitchy Amanda (Pamela Bellwood, just wrapping up her long stint on the primetime soap Dynasty), who had previously attended another art school with Whitney and made her life a living hell because she was jealous of her success. Since Mrs. Briggs is on Amanda's side, the two women team up to try to get Whitney kicked out of the artist's colony by setting her up as a plagiarist. Meanwhile, Whitney keeps hearing noises coming from the cellar. Upon investigating, she discovers all kinds of remnants from Childress' career, including copies of his comics and the Satanic book ("Curses of the Ancient Dead"). How none of this stuff was damaged or destroyed in the fire, or removed by the police, is anybody's guess.

Whitney convinces Mrs. Briggs to let her set up her work station in the cellar. She starts messing with the evil book, draws the titular creature and then people start dying as the flesh-hungry creature materializes in the 'real world' and gobbles them up. Some interesting things happen; Whitney begins drawing comics that come true, but then the drawings start materializing out of thin air, we learn the creature is fueled by literally consuming creative energy, etc., but they aren't always adequately expanded upon. One nice touch toward the end is that our heroine discovers she can both contain the monster and bring those who have been killed back to life, but that aspect is completely undermined by a poor ending.

Seems the filmmakers were shooting for nothing more than a fun, escapist movie with an appreciation for macabre art and a comic book feel, but they're only partially successful because of the muddled, half-hearted creature mythology (the film runs just 77 minutes and probably could have used at least another 10 to fill in the gaps). Farentino is a likable and appealing lead, De Carlo has a fun supporting role (Combs is pretty much wasted, though) and the design on the big, wolf-like monster is pretty good. There's also an old-of-left-field fantasy sequence featuring an axe-wielding zombie. Director Buechler (best known as a make-up fx man) had already made TROLL (1986) for executive producer Charles Band's Empire Pictures (note the posters for DOLLS and GHOST TOWN on the wall). He'd also go on to also direct FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988), GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1990), WATCHERS REBORN (1998), MINER'S MASSACRE (2002) and others.

Screenwriter Don Mancini would go on to write CHILD'S PLAY (1988) and all of its subsequent sequels; finally stepping into the director's chair for SEED OF CHUCKY (2008).

It was filmed in Italy and released to VHS several times (through New World, Starmaker and others). Image released a laserdisc, though there's no DVD as of this writing.


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