"Another day to live through. Better get started. "
This post is part of the Vincent Price Blogaathon, hosted by Reelweeigie Miget Reivews and Cinematic Catharsis. Find more great posts in this blogation here.
When I was thinking about a film to write about for this blogathon so many of my favorite Vincent Price films came to mind - The Fall of the House of Usher, House on Haunted Hill, Laura. But I figured what better film to watch when you're shut inside during a global pandemic than a film about a man alone in the world with vampires?
While normally I would concentrate on what really draws me to The Last Man on Earth (1964), its religious subtext and bleak, existential dread, given that this blogathon is about the last man himself, I would like to focus on Price's work in this film.
Adapted from Richard Mattheson's novel I Am Legend (1954), Last Man on Earth is hailed as one of the most faithful adaptations of the book in contrast to the two other major adaptations, Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). Mattheson himself noted this about the film, though he did not actually like it, using a pseudonym to pen the screenplay. He believed that Price was miscast for the part noting that Harrison Ford would have been the best choice.
Needless to say, Price did play the role with is usual style and flair.
If you haven't seen the film, I suggest you watch it before reading any further...
The Last Man on Earth opens with a sunrise and what appears to be a desolate cityscape. Getting closer we see bodies lying in the streets, in doorway, and on piles of construction materials. Quick cuts show us more and more, like images out of a wartime magazine. It is truly bleak.
It is among the dead that we are introduced to Price's character, Robert Morgan, who is sleeping. Once awake, Morgan narrates in a way that only Price could do. We get the picture of a lonely existence of mundane routine. Everything that we need to know about what is going on the present is situated within those first few shots. Coupled with the eeriness of Price's narration, we get the sense that Morgan has not only fallen into a routine, but has no belief he will ever break that routine.
Morgan goes through phases, we see him perform his mundane tasks almost lost in the ritual of it. Until he, like everyone in a zombie film, becomes too complaisant with the idea that he is alone and doesn't make it home before sunset. This jolt of coming so close to death prompts a resurgence of his scientific endeavors. This along with the appearance of a dog, a living dog, fuels Morgan efforts to understand and figure out the disease.
In the end, Morgan encounter a woman, who is a spy for a group of vampires who espouse the creed "better living through chemistry", and look to kill Morgan as he has killed members of their group. Ironically, Morgan, having given a blood transfusion to the woman he just met, saved her through his antibodies. And yet he had to die, the last man on earth.
The Last Man on Earth, distributed through American International, having been picked up from Hammer after British censors did not approved the film's subject matter. Can you image how good this film would have been as a 60's era Hammer film? Filming took place in Rome, which totally looks like L.A., since I haven't been to L.A. since we lived there when I was 5 - but yeah, it's totally L.A. The film is really interesting time for Vincent, as it drops between Comedy of Terrors (1964) and Masque of Red Death (1964), two of my other favorite Price AIP films. It seems like the marketing for this film didn't know what to do with it, and looked to market the film as if it were part of the Corman Poe cycle. The American poster for the film oozes with a gothic vibe - a Victorian looking mansion, and a ghost like figure of a woman adjacent to a large picture of a worried Price. And of course, a frail distressed woman in a state of undress. All of which do not appear in the film, which is fine with me. One of the things I love about mid-20th century genre films, especially those out of AIP and Hammer, is their promotional materials. Just amazing, amazing art produced that in some cases like Last Man on Earth, have nothing to do with the film itself.
This film still stands up today, and is visually striking in many aspects. It also served as a huge influence on George Romero, who cited it as one of his inspirations for Night of the Living Dead. This is evident in the vampires look, as well as the overall desolate look of the film. At the very least, we have this film to thank for influencing Romero.
As far as Price is concerned, I always enjoy his work, however, I would tend to agree with Matheson, he might have been miscast in this role. When I read the book it wasn't Price that came to mind - it wasn't Harrison Ford either, Matheson's ideal person. Yes, Harrison Ford with George Miller behind the camera. I can only dream of the film that would have been.
If you love Price, like I do, then this film is great. It makes a great double feature with House on Haunted Hill (1958).
This post is part of a new series I am doing I've titled Minor Distractions - just short pieces on small thoughts I write about when they come to my mind,
I've seen White Christmas (1954) more times than I can count, ok, I probably can count the times I've seen the film given that my father and I have watched it every Christmas day for my entire life. It is really interesting how the way you read a film changes as you age. One thing that never changed is my crush on Rosemary Clooney that I've had since I was 5. But, in the last decade of watching the film, my feelings about how romantic the relationship between Crosby's and Clooney's characters has changed - with some cringing involved.
Particularly the scene where Betty Haynes (Clooney) can't sleep, so her little sister, who is trying to hook her up, tells her to go down to the lodge and get some grub. There she finds Bob Wallace (Crosby) playing the piano and inquires about a some rumored sandwiches, as you do in a lodge late at night. This brings up Bob's theories about food and dreaming...
"Now if I have a ham and cheese on rye like that, I dream of a tall cool blond.."
"Turkey? I dream about a brunette..."
"What about Liverwurst?"
"I dream about Liverwurst.."
Cringe. I don't know if Bob is negging Betty or if the kitchen told him to push the leftover sandwiches. Either way, it works, and she joins him by the fire for a song about how he falls asleep to dream about blessings (read women).
According to a Good Housekeeping piece on the '25 Surprising Facts About White Christmas' this dialogue was mostly add lib by Crosby. While this bothers me because it seems outdated, even for 1954, what really struck me was the difference in age between Clooney and Crosby. At the time of filming, Clooney was 26, and Crosby 51. This knowledge, thank you Good Housekeeping, really made me think about the power dynamic of the two characters.
I think that there are a couple of different types of power dynamics at play in this scene. One, Bob is essentially a professional mentor to Betty. He and his partner were picked up by the two women to help improve their act by exploiting an old Army relationship. It is obvious that the men are teaching the women, as laid out it the scene that follows when Bob and Betty discuss the "blessings number". But does this mentoring lead to an uneven balance of power? Does this dynamic force Betty to laugh at Bob's jokes? Or even to feel pressure to be romantically involved with him to further her career? We don't really know.
We see this dynamic told visually in the scene as well.. Bob is standing, leaning over the bar while he explains his sandwich theory. While Betty is seated, looking up at him. The camera is placed to show both actors with a slightly off kilter over the shoulder shot. Thus, keeping the perspective the same. This position places Bob in the visual frame as the character with the power - visually above Betty at all times. Something you would expect from a mentor who is giving sage like advice about dreams, but perhaps not a love interest.
Second, there is the underlying dynamic of the dramatic age difference between the two actors. Since this age difference is visible(ish) to the audience, we can assume that it played into the power dynamic of the two characters. In a way, this age difference plays out a male fantasy, dating a woman half your age. While is not difficult to believe that a man in his 50s could be romantically involved with a 26 year old, it does make us think. What do you think when you see an older man with a younger woman? Gold-digger, yes. Maybe that's why Bob is counting his blessings.
I don't think either of these dynamics negate Betty's agency completely. Let's remember that she was the one who wrote the fake letter to the men getting them to come see the act in the first place. Betty also messes everything up by leaving to do a side gig after she thinks that Bob is a sellout. I think that it is a new way to look a the film, at least for someone who has seen it close to 100 times.
I hope to continue this series along with the other longer pieces I am writing. Sometimes it's really good to get things off your mind. Even if it's fa month after Christmas.
This post is written as part of the Second Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemigit Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis. To read more great pieces from this blogathon click here.
By 1967 Hammer had already established itself as the “House of Horror” and had successfully adapted three Frankenstein films - the last being The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964. Having taken the Frankenstein from science fiction into the spiritual in Evil, Hammer sought dive deeper into the realm of metaphysics with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Initially conceived as a play on words centered around another film related to the awakening of a woman, And God Created Woman (1957), Frankenstein Created Woman changed the gender of the monster from male to female. Once again, Terence Fisher was at the helm, with Peter Cushing (of course) reprising his role as Baron Frankenstein. To add a little flavor to this gender swapping film, Hammer hired actress, and Playboy centerfold, Susan Denberg to play Frankenstein's monster, Christine. And like his monsters before, Christine was a victim of circumstances beyond her control. (Spoilers ahead, if you haven't seen this film..I suggest you go watch it before reading on)
A man is going to be executed at the guillotine, he murdered another man, and he doesn’t care. That is until little Hans comes out of the woods to witness this man’s execution. Of course, Hans is the man’s son, and this has left an indelible mark on him. This trauma, coupled with the fact that his father was a known, executed convict will follow him for the rest of this life. And given that the guillotine is now rusted and untouched, Hans’ father must have been the last person executed in this area. But Hans has a good job working for a local Baron/Doctor Frankenstein. Frankenstein is also dead when we meet him, but his death is intentional, it’s part of an experiment. Having learned that he can be dead for an hour without his soul leaving his body, Frankenstein, along with his assistant Dr. Hertz, can now finalize their research on the soul. This includes attempting at some point to capture a soul before it leaves a person’s dead body, and shoot wine glasses that are protected by an invisible force field. It’s time to celebrate, so the doctors send Hans down to the local pub to get some champagne. Having no money, Hans is forced to give the jacket he is wearing to the landlord for the bottle. Did we mention the landlords deformed daughter Christine works at the pub? Oh, and Hans and Christine are in love. While getting the champagne, Hans has a run in with some of the other gentlemen (read spoiled rich boys) of the town over their treatment of Christine.
Hans and Christine hook up at her place, not knowing that those gentlemen will put into action what will inevitably be the demise of all five of them. These young lads have had too much to drink and want more. When they’re caught, they kill the landlord. Good thing there is a jacket and Hans’ own temper to frame him. Of course he is arrested and tried. But he won’t give up his beloved and spoil her honor. The trial is quick and he is to be executed. A word of advice, don't commit a crime in this town. In the same manner as we saw Hans with his father, Christine is pulling into town only to see her Hans has his head removed. Traumatized, she runs to the nearest bridge and jump off. It’s a pity, but so convenient for Frankenstein, who now has a dead soul he can trap and a body he place it in - that is if his satellite dishes will get a strong enough signal to hold Hans’ soul.
Frankenstein is able to both embed Hans’ soul into Christine’s body, but also fix Christine’s janked up body. She is now a beautiful blonde bombshell. Christine can’t go out into the world yet, as Frankenstein must finish testing to make sure the procedure worked. But she does manage to go out at night, and meet some nice young gentlemen. As you can guess, Christine dispatches of these gentlemen one by one fulfilling her lover’s vengeance. But once complete, she can’t take it and jumps (again) into the water, killer herself and the soul of Hans. Frankenstein is left with nothing to show for all his hard work.
Susan Denberg (the stage name of Dietlinde Zechner) was hired using the “Hammer Glamour” model of actress recruitment. Hire a beautiful up and coming, and then promote her in PR before a single piece of film was shot. It helps if she’s already made a splash by appearing nude in Playboy - Miss August 1966, and would be on the minds of every 15 year old boy for a while. Unfortunately for Denberg, this film would be her only major starring role at Hammer. This was not the first time that Hammer had cast a beautiful woman in a titular role. Working with Fox had increased Hammer’s need to push the sex element of their films. Susan Denberg was already known, having appeared in Warner Bros An American Dream, an adaptation of the Norman Mailer book of the same title. Though the film flopped, it gave her the opportunity to put some roots down in Hollywood by dating a number of famous actors. After filming Frankenstein Created Woman, Denberg fell off the radar, returning to Austria and was believed to have committed suicide.
A Beautiful Woman with the Soul of a Devil
Victorians were obsessed with a lot of things, but one of the major topics that was on their minds was death. Where does one go when they die?, and do we have a soul? were questions many Victorian spiritualists attempted to answer. The industrial revolution and the scientific age had brought with it new ideas about the power of science. At the same time, questions that could not be answered by science were still weighing on the minds of Victorians. Great Awakenings, access to world travel, and the movement away from religious orthodoxy helped to fuel spiritualist movements. Mentalism, spiritualism and seances were popular. Many of these movements were concerned with the soul, which falls under the philosophical study of metaphysics. At the same time, the era of the filming of Frankenstein Created Woman was one of great change. The psychedelic movement was happening, and people were once again thinking about metaphysics, those unchanged things we can't explain.
Frankenstein Created Woman confronts the concept of the soul, wherein the soul is the truest form of a person's being. Hans' anger and revenge are lived out by his soul controlling Christine's body. Christine's soul has essentially no agency when under the control of Hans, and at the same time, she welcomes this control. She's removed his head from its burial and speaks to it from her bedpost. The lovers have become soulmates (pun intended), becoming one in spirit. It is only at the end of the film that Christine regains her agency and knows there is only one way to end this possession.
"Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not". Frankenstein has finally achieved god like status with manipulation of souls between two individuals. And the invention of a force field that can not be penetrated. No one really addresses this in the film It is simply taken at face value that he was able to do this, but that is for another post. What scientific achievement is there left for him to accomplish? But the question of what happens to the soul is never really answered. Thanks to the efforts of Frankenstein we know that it doesn't leave the body after an hour, but that is about it. Where did Hans' and Christine's souls go after she plunged into the river at the end of the film? So many unanswered philosophical questions!
Mary Shelley's text Frankenstein is often compared to the tale of Pygmalion found in Ovid's Metamorphosis, where a sculptor creates a beautiful statue of a woman. After creating this image, he falls in love with it, and pleads to the goddess Aphrodite for a wife as beautiful as his creation. When he returns home he kisses the statue and it feels warm. Aphrodite had granted his wish by making the statue a real woman. They marry and have children. This idea that a man can circumvent both a deity and women as the creator of life is embedded in both stories. But do both Frankenstein's monster and Pygmalion's Galatea retain any of their previous selves, since Frankenstein and Pygmalion are not so much creating life, but giving life to something that already exists. This idea of change is an underlying them in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and in its musical adaptations My Fair Lady (1956 musical and 1964 film). You can the take the girl out of the street, but you can't take the street out of the girl. Frankenstein Created Woman addresses this question in its portrayal of Christine. Frankenstein has made her beautiful, he has placed the soul of her love in her, and he had trained her in all the correct mannerisms befitting a lady. And yet, the vengeance of the soul prevails. The new body Frankenstein gives Christine is used as a tool for vengeance, luring men into a trap through Christine's sensuality.
Frankenstein Created Woman is possibly my favorite film of the Hammer Frankenstein series. The film takes the story we know from both literature and other adaptations and flips it - making the monster a beautiful woman and not a disfigured man. Frankenstein himself is a likable character, who had a bumbling side kick of a doctor. It also delves into metaphysics, asking the viewer contemplate an aspect of the the mythos that is not normally addressed - the concept of the soul.
For this piece I used a few resources that are really awesome (pictured to the left). I watched the film on Anchor Bay's Hammer Collection DVD, which was put out in 2001.
A few days ago marked the 31st anniversary of the release of The Goonies (1985) (I missed the 30th). So, I decided to watch it while doing some household chores, which turned into me sitting down and subsequently not completing those chores. The film holds a special place in my heart, serving as one of inspirations for my love of history and eventually, archaeology. Though I never realized how much of an influence the film had on me until this viewing. When you’re older you tend to pick up on subtle things in films you didn’t notice as a child. One of the immediate things I noticed is the importance of Mr. Walsh. Other than waving hello as the kids ride by, and not signing a document at the end, Mr. Walsh is not in the film. But without him there would be no adventure. It is his attic where the kids stumble across the map and the doubloon. But why would the Walsh’s have all this junk in their attic, and why wasn’t it addressed to the cleaning lady when discussing the packing of the house? Well, firstly, Mr. Walsh doesn’t want anyone up there. Second, he is the assistant curator of the local museum. The attic serves as overflow for the museum’s collections after a retrospective the museum did on local history (that’s what I said, retrospective. You never listen to me). While the central characters of the film are the kids, we can’t overlook the fact that one of the most important characters for moving the plot forward is an adult.
In a sense, I think that The Goonies is a film about our connectivity to the past and the places we live. The material culture (things) we leave behind for those who come after us can still have an impact. And we are connected to the past through those things.
Mikey and Brand are going to lose their house: the one they grew up in, with the white picket fence and the elaborate Rube Goldberg machine gate opening contraption (one of the many devices that create visual connection between the Mikey and One Eyed Willy). From the moment we meet them there is a sense of loss. Brand has accepted the fate of his family, while Mikey has yet to come to terms with it. Along with Mikey are his friends Data, Mouth, and Chunk. Mikey is the only one in the group that doesn’t have a nickname for some reason. Although technically “Mikey” could be considered a nickname, so never mind.
In their boredom, the group goes up to the attic. There they discover those electric glass ball things, and a bunch of old junk - including a map. Mike recalls the story of One Eyed Willy, a pirate who sailed the seas looting until he was trapped by the British. It was said that he had a whole boatload of treasure somewhere in the caves along the coast. Mikey and his friends decide to go on one last “Goonie” adventure. They tie Brand up, and take off. “I’m going to hit you so hard, when you wake up your clothes will be out of style!” Brand yells out the door as they leave. Using the map, the doubloon, and some really bad green screen/rear projection, they discover that the secret entrance might be located in an old restaurant. Once inside, they meet the Fratellis. After having a glass of water, and encountering an “it” the boys are kicked out. They didn’t hide their bikes very well because Brand caught up with them. And so did the girls (from a scene I didn’t mention) Andy and Stef.
The boys still want to get to the bottom of this mystery. With the help, again, of Chunk’s butter fingers they find a way down. Once below the basement level the story lines begin to have a duality to them, what happens above ground and what takes place below. Below the past, above the present. Yet we don’t really care about what’s going on above, except at certain points. It is interesting that in the first scene underground the children create chaos above by messing with pipes. Maybe I don’t know much about how pipes are installed, but wouldn’t the plumber notice that opening the kids move toward when he installed the pipes? I don’t know, anyway, moving on. Another thing to note in this scene, is the idea of water connecting those below with those above. It is water that helps them discover an opening in the basement floor, which leads them to water pipes underneath the street level. This theme will come up again at the wishing well, and with One Eyed Willy’s escape from the cave.
The Goonies come across the body of the “famous” treasure hunter Chester Copperpot. Chester Copperpot sounds like the name of an old man you’d buy moonshine off of during the Depression. He indeed does have the “key” to One Eyed Willy, as he stated in the newspaper article the boys read earlier. Around his neck, just remove the head and take it. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, the name Copperpot denotes what lies ahead of the group, a place with copper wishes. Ironically, the very place the group uses the “key” from Copperpot. The wishing well is also where Andy decides to become a Goonie, and Mikey gives his speech about time. His speech describes the duality of the character’s attempts at changing their fate. On the one hand, the adults above them are attempting to stop the foreclosure of their homes (the present). The children are also attempting this in a different way below (the past). The well is also a pivotal moment in the character’s connection with the past. Stef tells them not to take the coins because they’re "other people’s wishes". There is this idea that the coins are directly linked to people in the past and therefore must be preserved.
After a pee break, some kissing and slick shoes, the group makes it to the final test. They must play a piano, or organ, made from human bones (note: humans were harmed in the making of this piano). It is a good thing Andy decided to stay with the group since she is the only one who knows how to play a piano, or at least took lessons. Here we see again a connectivity to the past. Andy must recall a skill she learned as a child. It's a less appreciate social-skill in the 20th century, yet there is a universally timelessness to this skill. Both Andy and the men who built (make up) the piano are connected by it. After some foul play, Andy is able to lower the hatch, and the group slides their way towards Willy's ship.
The ship itself (an homage to the ship in Captain Blood (1935) which happened to be the movie Sloth was watching earlier) is still in tact. A feat in itself since it's been resting, water logged, in a cave since the 17th century. The kids climb aboard in search of Willy's treasure. Stef asks Mikey "where is the treasure," to which he replies "this whole ship is a treasure." Perhaps this statement relates to an ideal instilled by his father. The importance of the preservation of the past.
While the rest of the group is solely in this adventure for monetary gain, Mikey is looking to complete a story. To justify a folk tale told to him by his father. He is one of the only characters that believes the story to be true from the very beginning of the film. In discovering the ship, Mikey has already found closure. Once they find the secret room with all the treasure, they grab as much as they can. The only problem is they're caught by the Fratellis. Not to worry, Chunk, or should I say Captain Chunk, is there to save them with the help of his new friend Sloth. The group escapes, but they lose all the loot they had gathered. While making their way along the beach they're picked up by the police. Their parents show up, with hugs and pizzas.
Troy's father takes advantage of the group's gathering to have Mr. Walsh sign those papers. But all is not lost, Mikey happened to put some jewels in his marble bag, a fair exchange. They can use the jewels to pay off the debt. Mr. Walsh rips up the paper and everyone cheers. But what about that ship? Willy makes one more voyage out to sea.
The Goonies presents the past as important, but not important enough to be preserved. While the characters are not out to destroy the materials from the past, they certainly do nothing to prevent their destruction. At the same time, the film presents a connectivity to the past. It teaches us that those in the past should matter to us. We all have a story to tell.
Ironically, the character who is most involved in the preservation of the past, Mr. Walsh, inadvertently does nothing to preserve it. He stores artifacts in his attic, and he uses jewels to pay off a loan. In light of family circumstances, his professional code of ethics has been set aside. Or maybe marine salvage laws apply, so it doesn't matter. Either way, we can't be too mad at Mr. Walsh. At least he took the time to keep those items in the attic. The "rejects" from the museum found a place in his home.
One thing I think we can take away from this film is that no matter where you live, someone has been there before. And their story - their culture - influences you.
In part 2 I will be discussing one of cinema's most famous curators, Marcus Brody. Like Mr. Walsh, he is a character that is in the background yet has great influence on the film's narrative.
All photos are screenshots from the 2001 Warner Bros DVD release of The Goonies.
Kitty, Big Jim, and The Killers...
Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.
- Ernest Hemingway
If owning the best dialogue in a film was the definition of villainy, Max and Al, the hit-men in Robert Siodmack’s The Killers (1946), would be its poster boys. They’re curt, they speak with authority, and you’d be a bright boy to listen. They also back up what they say with action, “We’re going to kill the Swede”, and they do. While we could easily peg these two as the villains in this film, we might be jumping to conclusions. That’s because, like many noir films, the narrative is constructed through backstory, the killing of the Swede is just the starting point. It’s only through the eyes of multiple people that we get the story of why the Swede let himself be killed, and who it was that hired Max and Al to do it. But the story is disjointed, not a complete backstory. Rather it is a story of Ole from the perspective of the people who interacted with him.
After the unusual death of Ole Anderson it is up to insurance agent Jim Reardon to track down his beneficiary and pay out. Or maybe he’d rather investigate the strange death of the man everyone called the Swede. I mean, why did he let those men come and kill him without putting up a fight? What he finds is a tale of deception, obsession, and the “bad thing” Ole did once that lead him back to one person, Kitty.
Nick, who was tied up at the diner by Al and Max, gives us our first glimpse into the story of the Swede. Not only was he witness to the killers, but also the man who hired them, as we will later find out. A black Cadillac pulls into the filling station in Brentwood, NJ. There is some awkward tension between the man and the Swede. After the man leaves, Ole isn’t feeling so hot and goes home.
The next person interviewed by Reardon is Ms. Mary Ellen Daugherty, a housekeeper at the Palm’s Hotel in Atlantic City. She is the beneficiary of the Swede’s life insurance, though she doesn’t even remember who he is. She does remember Ole as a man name Nelson who was stressed out about the loss of a woman. He attempts to jump out a window only to be stopped by Mary. Grateful for this, Ole makes her the beneficiary of his insurance. But who was this woman?
Reardon’s hunch leads him(the office secretary Stella) to discover that his mystery man is Ole Anderson, a boxer from Philly.
Turns out Ole was picked up for robbery and did some hard time. Reardon talks to Detective Lubinsky, the cop who caught Anderson. Turns out they were childhood friends. Lubinsky became a cop and Anderson a criminal. Lubinsky describes the night Ole stopped being a fighter after losing to Tiger Lewis. The guys name was Tiger, he had to win. The Swede’s girl, Lilly, is there by his side. Though he didn’t really notice too much. She recalls the night she knew it was over between her and the Swede. They attended a party hosted by a known mob boss. Moments after stepping inside, the Swede spots Kitty. From that moment on it was a Lilly states “I knew the boat had sailed on that one.” But no worries, Lilly ends up with Lubinsky. So it worked out. For him at least.
Before having his iced tea and leaving, Lubinsky recalls one more story for Reardon. He had a tip that some stolen jewelry was at a cafe in town. He notices Kitty wearing a piece of jewelry,and before she can slip it away in some soup he nabs her. The Swede takes the wrap for the stolen property. This act gets him put into prison, where is cellmates with Charleston.
Charleston regails about his time in prison with the Swede over some drinks. Charleston’s story reveals the origin of the scarf found in the Swede’s possession. It was a gift some Kitty.
But Charleston didn’t just see the Swede while in prison. The last time he saw his was at a meeting for a big job. The meeting was with Big Jim and a couple other fellows. If you recall from earlier, the man in the Cadillac looks like Big Jim. Now we’re getting somewhere. Big Jim fits a lot of stereotypical villain roles. Firstly, his name begins with the word “big”. This denotes some sort or power Jim has within the criminal community. Also, no one ever followed a plan executed by Little James. But I have to wonder what the other mobster’s name “Jake the Rake” denoted. Perhaps his zen like demeanor. The second thing that typifies Jim as a villain, he brings his girl with him. Not only does this distract the other men involved, and she is distracting. It also shows the he has control over others. The third thing that makes his villainous is his attitude. He doesn’t want to wait for anyone, and he doesn’t take lip from anyone. Lastly, he takes the largest share of the loot without question. He’s not liked, but tolerated. And as we already know, he holds a grudge.
Anyway, the heist goes off without a hitch. Ok, so maybe someone got shot, but other than that, no hitches.
Skipping a couple of flashbacks, we to Blinky's description of how the group lost all the money to the Swede. It seems the meeting point burnt down the night before the heist, conveniently. So the meeting was to take place at a farmhouse. No one told the Swede, but he finds out anyway. Taking all the money, and shooting out the other's tires, he escapes. It's assumed that the Swede took the money to the hotel in Atlantic City with Kitty, who in turn dumped him a few days later. So who has the money?
The only way for Reardon to find out is to talk to Kitty. Since his meeting with Big Jim led nowhere. Kitty arranges to meet Reardon at a café. But it's a set up, and our boys Al and Max are there to help Kitty. This is where the bodies start to pile up. Max and Al should have used some of their quick whit rather than their guns.
At Colfax's house there is another shoot out. The gang is basically all dead now, except for Kitty, who is pleading with Big Jim to lie for her.
In the end she has to pay for the crimes she aided in committing. As Reardon states in his assessment of the case "The double cross to end all double crosses!"
So who is the villain in this film? Both Al and Max were essentially pawns, hired guns. From a male point of view, I would lean towards Kitty as the villain. She plays the Swede, getting him to take the money from the others. Like most portrayals of women in film, their power comes not from their ability to force others to their will, but rather it is through manipulation. Kitty uses her sexuality to manipulate the Swede. She can control him, to the point of wanting to kill himself. Leaving him to even accept his own death. And yet in the end, Kitty didn't run off with the money. She went right back to Big Jim.
Big Jim Colfax lives up to his name. Ordering the death of the Swede, organizing the heist, and manipulating all involved, even Kitty. True villainy lies in masterminding all the players involved. Knowing what others will do, and not caring who you hurt. It is a selfish act. Big Jim fits all of this, but in the end, like other villains, he perishes. And like the Swede, he couldn't escape the past.
I watched The KIllers on Criterion Blu-Ray. It also contains the 1964 version of the story staring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickenson, and Ronald Reagan. I highly recommend that you pick this set up. It's a killer (pun intended) set.
Also, this post was intended to be for the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings, Speakeasy, and Shadows & Satin. However, due to some illness I was unable to post in time. You definitely check out some of the other posts in the 5 day long blogathon here. And my thanks goes to the hosts of the blogathon.
This post is for the Beyond the Cover Blogathon hosted by Liz of Now Voyaging and Kristina of Speakasy (two blogs you need to check out right after you read this post).
A good story speaks to many people on multiple levels, so naturally it would seem fair that a good novel would make a good film. While this is not always the case, and some would argue that there are novels which are unfilmable, it has been the consensus that one genre in particular is easily adapted into film. This genre is crime or mystery. From Sherlock Holmes to pulps of the 30’s, these types of stories fit easily into the standard three act structure of film narrative. And who better to be adapted than one of the most popular mystery writers of the 20th century, Agatha Christie. Having penned upwards of 78 books, her work changed the way we look at the mystery novel. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was groundbreaking in its ability to conceal the perpetrator of the crime even to the most ardent mystery reader. So naturally, many of her works were adapted into films. The novel I will be looking at will be 1939’s And Then There Were None. First published in England originally under a different title, the title was changed to And Then There Were None when reprinted in the U.S., alternatively titled Ten Little Indians in some English language publications and play adaptations.
Many film adaptations have been made, from Rene Clair’s 1945 film of the same name to M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil (2010). And as recently as 2015, a mini-series was produced by the BBC. The adaptation I will be looking at is the 1970 Mario Bava thriller Five Dolls for An August Moon. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None by Mario Bava, based purely on the title of the book, would be Bay of Blood (1971). This post, however, is not about that film, and while Bava may have used the same novel as a reference when making Bay of Blood, we must remain focused. Adapted isn’t a word I would generally use to describe Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), more like loosely based. And to say that Five Dolls is mod is an understatement. It is as if Bava took the Danger Diabolik (1968) visual style, along with that rotating bed, and applied to Blood and Black Lace (1964). Eliminating the color palette of Blood and Black Lace , but giving us Edwige Fenech to make up for it.
Before we turn the pages of this story, let's take a moment to look at the word giallo. Italian for yellow, this word became synonymous with crime or mystery novel published from the late 1920’s and onward in Italy. Many of which were translations of English novels by authors like Cain, Hammett, Conan-Doyle, and of course Agatha Christie.The publisher Mondadori signified this genre by the color yellow, and this color scheme quickly caught on with other publishers as crime novels gained in popularity. When these types of stories were adapted for film in the late 1960’s beginning with Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), the name signifying that genre stuck. And the giallo film cycle was born. At its height,during the first half of the 1970’s numerous films were produced in Italy each year. Characterized by their stylized violence, inventive camera angles, and jazzy musical scores these films made famous by auteurs like Dario Argento, and Sergio Martino. By this time though, it's pioneer, Mario Bava, was already progressing to the next cycle, the body count movie. Films like Bava’s Bay of Blood would influence filmmakers in Canada and the U.S., like John Carpenter, in ushering of the age of the slasher film in the late 1970’s.
Five Dolls, like the Christie novel, is set on an island. A rich man has invited a number of guest to stay with him on the island. While in the novel,U.N. Owen is a mysterious figure to the guests, all of the guests of Mr. George Stark know him. They are all there because of one man, or rather one piece of paper. Professor Gerry Ferrell has come up with a new type of resin and three of the men are there to buy it from him. They’ve combined forces, offering him 3 million dollars, and maybe a wife or two. Whatever he wants. All the food, J&B whiskey, and sun he can handle. All he wants is to rest.
Marie doesn't want rest. Her husband needs her help in seducing the Prof into giving him the formula. Too bad she's more into the houseboy, Charles. I mean he can drive a boat with his feet, without looking ahead, while laying on the deck. Amazing young man. It's too bad someone stuck a knife in him. It is also unfortunate that Mr. Stark sent away the yacht for a few days, so no one will be bothering them. Not even the police. So like any normal group, they wrap up Charlie and hang him in the walk in freezer next to a slab of beef Rocky would use to train.
After the first victim, it becomes apparent that someone is trying to cause trouble for those on the island. The telephone/radio has been broken. Tempers are beginning to rise, and J&B whiskey is flowing readily. The men must still keep their eye on the prize. So Nick decides to bring his check to the Prof hoping to persuade him to do business with him alone. The Prof won't have it, so he returns the check, or does he. Maybe it's caught in someone's clothing.
Before this mystery can be solved, the professor is shot and dragged into the water. Oddly enough, we know who shot him. It was Mary-Ann, I mean Isabelle. Why she did this is unknown. Unlike the novel, the characters for the most part, while some visibly shaken, don't seem to be affected by these murders. Nick wants to know about his check, Stark wants to buy the formula from Trudy, the Prof Farrell's wife. While Jack and Peggy want to play footsie.
It's not long before more bodies turn up. This time it's Marie, wearing that red bra, perhaps the check is in it? She's been stabbed in the chest, exactly as she was in the opening seen, only this time it wasn't a joke. So the meat locker gets another body.
Stark's wife Jill can't take it anymore. So she kills herself. This is only revealed after a fight between Nick and George over the missing check. Peggy is shot while enjoying the morning sun. And I've lost count of who is left. With only a few people left alive they decide to wait it out together. The yacht should be there soon. No one has inquired where Isabelle is at all by the way. Trudy begins to record a message on a reel to reel tape player detailing the men she is left alone with and that one of them is in fact the killer. Just as in the book, a recording holds some importance. Not in detailing the supposed murderous deeds of the individuals. But to indicate that someone has been playing a trick on them. And that person is, no I won't give it away. I will say this, much like the novel, without the "epilogue", the film would not make any sense. There is a sort of twist at the end.
While it may seem that this film is dull due to Bava chosing to use primarily off screen violence, rather than a typical giallo. It fits in with the structure of And Then There Were None. In the novel the murders are mostly happened upon by the group. This gives the reader a further sense of confusion as to who is the killer. There must be someone else on the island committing these murders outside of the group. We are put in the same place as the characters. Unfortunately in the case of Five Dolls, we are just confused. But if confusing plots stopped us from watching films, we would never have the pleasure of such gems as The Big Sleep (1946). And let's be honest, much like reading Playboy for the articles, the real reason we came to Five Dolls is for the visual pleasure.
Apart from a typical 70's overuse, in my opinion, of zoom. Bava creates visual pieces that are beautiful. His famous painted mattes are in full effect here. These visuals, along with the jazzy score by Umiliani make for some great scenes. And while it may seem that Bava is less concerned with the Christie story he's pulling from, there are themes such as isolation, distrust, depression, and greed that are present in both. This film is an example of how literary works do not need direct adaptation in order to convey the same message. While we always say "the book was better" it is important to remember that the film is a vision or interpretation of text. And a good story has the ability to evoke thought through more that one medium.
If you are a fan of Bava's work I would recommend checking this film out. (All photos from this film are screen shots taken from the 2007 Anchor Bay release of the film).
Also, here is the trailer for the film care of Arrow Video. And don't forget to check out my Tumblr page
"They say there's no such thing as the perfect crime.."
So, it’s winter again. And like every winter, there comes that point when we start to wish that it would just end. Even if you love it. Even if you drink hot cocoa by the gallon, and ski 32 hours a week. Even if we’ve only had one snowstorm and it was 50 degrees yesterday. We still want that change to happen. Which brings me to Groundhog Day (Though I started writing this around the last day of February, and posting it in April. I was under the impression he saw his shadow. So I went back to bed). On the occasion of Groundhog Day I always watch the 1993 Harold Ramis film of the same name, because it is simply a phenomenal film and I am a walking cliche. I am not going to write about Groundhog Day, however, there is another holiday themed film by the same director I would like to discuss, The Ice Harvest (2005). And while there are many other films directed by the late Mr. Ramis that may be better, The Ice Harvest and Groundhog Day fit nicely into a February 2nd double feature. Both are philosophical, darkly comedic, and thought provoking. Before I begin, let me be honest, Ice Harvest is no match for Groundhog Day creatively. This doesn’t negate it from being a an interesting film.
Wichita, Kansas, Christmas Eve. Charlie (John Cusack) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have just ripped off their boss. “Are we really doing this?” Charlie says after the deed is done. This is more than just stealing some pens and a few post-it notes, however, they’ve stolen 2,147,000 dollars from a known mob boss. A mob boss, who will send people to kill them when he finds out. But it’s the holidays, so no worries. They’re pretty sure that Bill Guerrard is at home sipping eggnog, and by the time he finds out what’s happened they will be long gone. If not for a ice storm.
Apart from his immediate regret, Charlie is prepared to wait out the storm.“Just act normal for a few hours and we’re home free, ok?” Vic assures Charlie. But what is normal? Whereas Vic is calm and collective, Charlie is fidgety and most likely drunk. Charlie is more of an ideas man. Perhaps he’s thinking too much when he heads to the Sweet Cage, after he takes a nice icy spin and a brief encounter with Officer Tyler. At the Sweet Cage Sidney, the bartender and loving son, makes Charlie a drink with an umbrella upon his request. So much for acting normal. In walks Renata, a sight which forces Charlie to put down his drink for a moment. After some discussion about prospective changes in the law, Charlie promises to help Renata solve a small problem she’s having with a local politician. Again, out of character. Charlie makes a break for it after Roy Gelles shows up looking for him. He heads on over to another strip club. We get the sense that Charlie’s work was not in defending Guerrard against toxic waste dumping lawsuits. There he waves a stage fee for the dancers, which makes them happy, and makes the bartender question his motives. “It’s Christmas, It’s God’s Birthday.” is his defence. The real reason he is at the club is to snag a photo that gives Renata power over the local councilman. Once again Roy Gelles shows up looking for Charlie. Yes, you have to use his whole name, it’s more menacing. This prompts Charlie to contact Vic. Unfortunately his phone broke when he slipped on some ice.
Charlie must have a personal confrontation with Vic about the Roy Gelles issue. An issue Vic doesn’t seem too worried about as he finishes his dinner. Suspicions arise, when Vic gets a call from a woman. It’s ok Charlie, it was just his wife. Then who was he having dinner with?
Charlie can’t find out because he’s asked to help his friend, and ex’s current husband, get home. Pete is in a surly state of drunkenness. He makes Charlie have a drink with him before they go and makes it known to everyone in the bar that Charlie is a “mob lawyer”. The ride home takes the pair back to Pete’s in-laws (also Charlie’s), and then full circle back to the bar they started at. There will be some vomit, some crotch punting and another run-in with Officer Tyler. We are also introduced to Charlie's philosophy on life. After recounting a tale of his father and his twin brother’s deaths he bestows upon Pete his wisdom, ‘It is futile to regret. You do one thing, or the other...same results.”
Charlie drops off Pete's and picks up his ex wife’s Mercedes, headed for the Sweet Cage to give Renata her present. She in turn has a message for Charlie from Vic to meet him at the Velvet Touch. She also can’t help but catch on that Charlie is hiding something, which probably involves money.
At the Velvet Touch Charlie doesn’t find Vic. He does find a finger in a clamp though. Charlie’s night just got more interesting. Thinking it might be Vic’s finger he heads for his house.
Roy Gelles finally gets to have a few words with Charlie, unfortunately those are muffled words, as he is stuffed in trunk. Vic intends to drop him at the bottom of a lake so that he can take some pleasure in his slow death. A little overkill, which Charlie should rightly notice. With muffled tiny seeds of doubt placed by Roy Gelles, Charlie is beginning to doubt if he is going swimming once they reach the lake as well. In a scene that hints of Diabolique, the two men drag the trunk to the pier. They should have taken the warning to keep off. Roy doesn’t give up that easily. After shooting Vic though the trunk, he manages to stand up. Vic shoots him, all while Charlie is watching in total befuddlement. “You’re dead Roy, quit pretending you’re not.” But it’s too late for Vic. With Roy’s death the pier breaks and the two men are thrown into the water. Lucky break for Charlie. So, Charlie has the money and no one to share it with. Perhaps the lovely Renata will be willing to take some off his hands. Oh wait, Charlie doesn’t have the money. Vic didn’t have it on him when they went to the lake. Now Charlie has no money, he’s been up all night, and has killed someone. Not exactly “It’s a Wonderful Life” kinda film. Renata seems to still want to run away with him, at least he has that.
Just one more hurdle to freedom, his boss. Back at the Sweet Cage Renata and Bill are waiting for Charlie. Bill is not happy, he is supposed to be at home watching his kids open presents. Needless to say, he doesn’t make it back for present time. Like most actions in the film, Charlie steps hap hazardly into the killing of multiple people.
So why is this my go to February 2nd double feature. Firstly, both films are different. One is a comedy whereas, the other a thriller. Both start different actors with different acting styles. But it’s there similarities that really makes them a great double feature, other than the fact that Harold Ramis directed both films.
Charlie is trapped, on Christmas Eve no less. Not trapped by a wife that’s cheating on him, or kids that don’t love him anymore. No, he is literally confined to one location by the weather. Like that of the snowstorm that wasn’t supposed to happen in Groundhog Day, Charlie can’t leave until the next day. And much like Groundhog Day what happens during that one day has a profound affect on the character. Repetition can either give your life meaning or slowing take it away. Charlie is finding that the latter is true. He just wants to leave Wichita with his half of the money, but is forced to live out one more daily routine. Something Charlie has a little trouble doing. Then again, it is God’s birthday, so what’s the harm in acting a little abnormal? Within this routine lies Charlie’s real trap, choice. He might not be the best at making choices. About the only good choice he makes is borrowing his ex wife’s Mercedes. Whereas Phil Connors is given endless repetition of choice without any consequence, Charlie is faced with the fact that as dawn approaches his choices are beginning to catch up with him. From the moment he walks into the Sweet Cage, turns down a beer and tells Reneta he can help her out with her problem he is questioned about his motives. This doesn’t seem to phase him. Only with the arrival of Roy does Charlie’s nervous tension returns. Which brings us to one of the themes of both Groundhog Day and Ice Harvest, regret. While Phil regrets some of the actions he takes, he knows that there is no tomorrow,and that none of this will matter when the clock strikes 6 a.m. Charlie, on the other hand, feels the twinge of regret. Yet as he explains to his friend Pete “it is futile to regret, you do one thing, or the other. Same result.” This world view would explain Charlie’s ability to go forward with actions that may in fact kill him. I mean, he’s going to die eventually anyway.
Spattered throughout the film in red sharpie is the phrase “As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls.” We see it on the bathroom wall, a payphone,and eventually the back of a camper. It’s revealed that this was written by Charlie. But why does he write this all over town, other than a homage to a Pat Metheny and Lyle Mars album with a very similar title? I think this phrase is central to Charlie’s world view regarding choice and regret. That we are all doomed to the same inevitable fate. And that no matter what you do it won’t make a difference. Vic has no problem making choices. He’s chosen the right partner, a man with no backbone. The only thing he needs to do is get out of town, and make sure that his wife won’t talk. Then get rid of his partner in a nice double cross. But Vic didn’t count on Roy planting the seeds of doubt in Charlie’s mind, which seal his fate.
The Ice Harvest has all the trappings of a neo-noir film. It is grounded in a work of pulp fiction, and though it steers away from the novel in some elements, it remains true to the thematic nature story (I would recommend reading the novel if you have a chance. It is darkly comedic). Characters, set pieces, and plot developments are nestled in a the seedy underworld. Or what some would consider seedy. As Charlie says to Vic “I sue people for a living, you sell them porn, Roy hurts people”. This is only reiterated by Pete’s insistence not to mess with Charlie because he’s “big time mob lawyer”. Even the honest characters have anger issues. Like many noir films, there really isn’t a “good guy” that we are supposed to be rooting for to win. It’s more or less, which character is more empathetic. We want Charlie to win, while in reality he is a thief and murderer. Unlike that of Phil Conners journey, Charlie is not aiming to be a better person. Perhaps even the opposite. The Ice Harvest also contains a key noir element, the femme fatale. Renata works on Charlie at a very slow pace. So slow you may not even realize, as he didn’t, her villainy until it is almost too late. She is playing both Vic and Charlie, waiting for one of them to bump off the other. This plan works pretty well, until Charlie decides to look in her closet. You should have changed bags Renata.
In the end, both protagonists from Groundhog Day and The Ice Harvest reach their goals. Phil finds love and gets out of his never ending cycle, while Charlie finds money and removes himself from the his daily routine. To the victor goes the spoils, pancakes.
Check out my photographic posts about this film on Tumblr here
You're the Dummy, Dummy
"My mom was a ventriloquist and she always was throwing her voice. For ten years I thought the dog was telling me to kill my father."
Dolls, are creepy. My apologies to little girls and doll enthusiasts around the world, but it’s a fact. Innocent things can take on the most sinister sides to them. A child’s room could be filled with dolls at night and you’d think nothing of it. But visit your grandma’s house and be forced to sleep in her guest room, which also houses her massive doll collection. You’re not sleeping. In the same vein of creepiness as dolls, are puppets. Puppets, however, step up the creepy a notch or two. They have a fluidity of movement that dolls just don’t have. The puppeteer makes it talk, dance, laugh and mimic all types of activities. Once done, the puppet sits or hangs lifelessly.
Perhaps is more than just lighting or your eyes playing tricks on you that is making you fear puppets. It might be a real fear, automatonophobia. Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being. This can be the fear of puppets, muppets, ventriloquist figures, marionettes, automatons, or other mechanical creatures. I think in a way, we all have little of this phobia in us. For me it’s not the puppets I’m scared of, it’s the puppets coming to life and attacking me that gives me the willies. There is a lot of potential scares in puppets. Just imagine them moving and acting without the aid of their human manipulators. Not cool. If you’ve ever seen Poltergeist (1980) or Pinocchio (1949) you know what I’m talking about. There is also this idea that the puppeteer has embedded some portion of their own personality into the puppet. That maybe, the puppet has acquired some of the owner’s spirit. This is especially the case in that of ventriloquist figures. Ventriloquists are known to talk to their figures when not in use. Many times the figure or dummy is given elements which caricature the artist themselves. Further exasperating the idea that the doll in imbued with elements of the master.
The idea for this post came after watching Attack of the Puppet People (1958) on TCM. This movie has no puppets, save one, and it doesn't attack. It gets demolished by a very small man. They should have really gone with one of its pseudonyms, I Was a Teenage Doll, which is more closely related to the actually plot of the film. Although there are no teenagers in the film. I won’t bore you with this film, but it did lead me to think about puppet movies. Child’s Play series aside, which is technically a doll movie, I came up with a few films involve puppets. They’re all related to the art of ventriloquism. They are Devil Doll (1964), Magic (1979), and Dead Silence (2007).
Now I know there are many, many other puppet movies out there. I mean there are like four Puppet Master films, and let’s not forget Black Devil Doll From Hell (1981) or Black Devil Doll (2011). Technically, those last two are also doll movies. All of the films I chose to discuss here have commonalities to them such as ventriloquism, and the supernatural. While Black Devil Doll and Child’s Play use the supernatural to move the plot, I wanted to stay away from serial killer doll possession films. As much fun as those are. These three films also speak to the different ways in which we identify with puppets. And how this identification can lead to the automatonophobia we all have.
The word ventriloquist comes from Latin, meaning to speak from the stomach. Ventor meaning stomach, and loqui meaning speak. In Greek, this type of act was referred to as gastromancy, which sounds more like the ability to tell all gasses to do your bidding. Throwing one’s voice has long been associated with the supernatural. Often this ability was either feared or revered. While initially seen as sorcery, this skill became more widely used for entertainment purposes, hitting its peak in the days of vaudeville. Yet associating ventriloquism with the supernatural has lingered in our collective minds. As society became more secularized, this supernatural association led to the linking ventriloquism with those who are gifted with supernatural powers to perhaps just mentally unstable.
The ventriloquist doll has played a role in a number of films. Including Lon Chany's Nemo in The Unholy Three (1927), The Great Gaboo's (1929) Otto and Hugo from "The Dummy" tale in Dead of Night (1948). Much like in those three films, the ventriloquist doll plays a key role in the themes of the magical, psychological, and supernatural in the three films I would like to discuss.
In the opening credit sequence of Devil Doll (1964) we see the Great Vorelli riding in a car with a doll next to him as if he was his partner or maybe even a sidekick. The figure looks aimlessly straight ahead. Vorelli, carries the figure up to a poster outside the venue to show him that their show is a smashing success. It is sold out. We also learn that Vorelli’s sidekick has a name, Hugo.The name Hugo may be a nod to the ventriloquist figure from Dead of Night (1948).
A reporter named Mark English is on assignment to cover this Vorelli act. He’s enlisted the aid of his friend, Maryanne (Yvonne Romain), to attend the show and be hypnotized by Vorelli. At first she is reluctant, but eventually makes her way up to the stage. She is hypnotized and told to dance with a man. No, she doesn’t think she’s a chicken. They’re just dancing, nothing more. As a final trick, the show stopper, Vorelli brings out Hugo and places him on his lap. After some disdainful banter between the two, Vorelli orders Hugo to walk to the edge of the stage. A feat that astonishes the crowd. After the show Vorelli puts Hugo in a small cage and says to him “ You never win, you always lose.” Odd thing to say to a puppet, though perhaps true.
Mark wants to find out what is up with the puppet. He seems to think there is a small man or boy inside that is manipulating the puppet. Why not a girl or a small woman Mark? Rather sexiest I'd say. So he convinces Maryanne to invite Vorelli over to her grandmother’s charity ball to perform. She meets with Vorelli, and has some wine with him. Unfortunately she’s also hypnotized during this encounter. Vorelli is a player. I mean he drinks wine at 10 a.m. During the performance at the dinner party Vorelli and Hugo have an argument over a ham sandwich. Vorelli’s point being that Hugo can’t eat anything because “You are a dummy Hugo” as he puts it. Hugo’s insistence on acquiring a sandwich makes for a very awkward situation for those watching. I don't know if that was part of the act or what. That night Hugo escapes from his cage and visits Mark. He tells him “Find me in Berlin, 1948.” So Mark begins to investigate this encounter. Meanwhile, Maryanne has grown ill and they don’t seem to know what’s wrong with her. Vorelli knows what can cure her disease, his bad medicine. When visiting Maryanne, Vorelli tells her to ditch the zero and get with a hero. Maryanne tells Mark she’s in love with Vorelli and is going to marry him.
Mark's contact in Berlin has come up with something. Turns out while working in Berlin Vorelli had a couple of kids working as his assistants. One of which was named Hugo. Coincidence, I think not. So apparently Vorelli used some magic to put Hugo’s consciousness inside a dummy. Thus creating the ultimate dummy. After hearing this wild story Mark returns in an attempt to stop Vorelli from stealing Maryanne away from him. He doesn't’ fare well, but just when you think all is lost, Hugo figures out a way to switch his body with Vorelli’s in a kind of a Vice Versa (1988) way, putting him in the dummy. Finally Hugo can enjoy a nice ham sandwich. Why Hugo didn’t just do this from the very beginning is unknown.
While not directly related to the mental state of the ventriloquist, Devil Doll does tell the story of a desperate mentally unstable man. Vorelli’s inability perform illusion forces him to use real magic. This beg the question, if he had real magical abilities, why was he just a performer? Devil Doll addresses one of our biggest fears driving automatonaphobia, that a figure can be possessed by the soul of a person. Forced to do the master’s bidding like a zombie, never to enjoy a sandwich ever again.
Unlike Devil Doll, Magic (1978) begins not with the main character already established as a ventriloquist, but at the beginning of his career. Corky is a magician. Although he’s a very accomplished magician, he is not very good at picking the locations at which he performs. He bombs at a local bar. Corky weaves the story of his first gig to his mentor. Detailing how great his act went, just as the teacher told him to do. Then in the end he reveals, though it is clear from his pallor, that he bombed. The mentor tells him he has to do something to cure his stage fright.
Flash forward, to a sold out show. Corky is beginning his act as he did before. Someone heckles him from the audience. Turns out that it was his puppet, Fats, that heckled him. The crowd loves it. His agent Ben Greene has invited a big television executive with him to catch Corky’s act. The executive is not impressed at first, but by the end of the show he is on board. There is a catch, the broadcasting company requires both a physical and mental examination. Corky doesn’t like this one bit. Neither does Fats. Corky refuses to meet with a shrink. Facing the now uncertainty of his television career he decides to get away.
He heads out of the city to his hometown to stay at an out of season cottage. There he sees Peggy Ann Snow (Ann Margaret). Peggy is someone from his past, though he doesn’t think that she remembers him. She does, but doesn’t think he remembers her. How cute. After meeting Fats and a trick of mentalism the two fall into bed together. Fats is not a fan of this. Peggy is married to a cruel husband who just happens to not be around much. After he returns home suddenly Corky is left with an awkward situation. He proposes the idea of running away together to Peggy. She says she has to tell her husband. Meanwhile, Corky and Fats are having an argument when his agent comes to the door. He has tracked Corky down. He is disturbed by the argument he witnesses between Corky and his puppet. He wants to send Corky to a doctor. So he proposes an challenge. If Corky can go 10 minutes without talking as Fats he won't have to see doctor. Ben will push him through to the network. But alas, Corky can not. As Ben is leaving Corky hits him. He is now left with what he thinks is a dead agent. Fats tells him to dump the body in the lake. So Corky does this, almost dying himself as Ben is not dead and wakes up from his bump on the head. The next day Peggy's husband is waiting for Corky. He wants to go fishing and have a talk. It seems to both the audience and Corky that he knows what been going on while he was away. During the fishing trip they have an encounter with a log that nearly gives Corky a heart attack. While leaving they see a body of the Ben on the shore. I guess Corky didn't weigh him down enough. They check out the body. And the husband goes to call for help. This is where he runs into Fats, who knifes him in the gut. Or so we think it's Fats. Turns out it was just Corky.
So now he has two bodies to get rid of before Peggy comes home. Once she is back, she decides that she wants to wait for her husband to return to tell him that she's leaving with Corky. Oh the irony. She keeps waiting, and this leads to an argument between them. Eventually, Fats and Corky get into an argument where Corky tells him that just the two of them are going away and that Fats has to leave. Corky ends up stabbing himself in the stomach just as Peggy decides she wants to not wait for her husband. If only she had decided five minutes earlier.
The film begins with a lie. Corky lying to his mentor about how his first solo gig went. Almost every other interaction within the film is based on lies. It is as if Fats is the only one who can tell the truth. This type of behavior is commonly seen in movies involving ventriloquists. Fats is a characterization of Corky. They dress the same. Fats has exaggerated features of Corky. He says what Corky can’t say. He is the Mr. Hyde to Corky’s Dr. Jeckyll. Much like that of Devil Doll, Corky speaks to Fats in a harsh tone, arguing with him. Unfortunately for Corky, Fats is not a boy trapped in a puppet, but the imaginary creation of Corky’s own mind. He is in a sense a coping mechanism for Corky’s intense stage fright. As Farryl Hadari states “A puppet represents a human being without being a human. Thus it is an excellent vessel for projection. Projection is attaching one’s feeling or actions to another object or person. The puppeteer endows the puppet with characteristics that reflect his or her own inner view of human nature, self and others.“(from Do You Speak Puppetry) Fats is the voice that Corky refuses to use. And in some cases he speaks out of turn, which causes trouble. Corky is projecting his secret thoughts onto Fats.
While it has been noted that during performances the ventriloquist figure, will say things the ventriloquist did not intend to say. Taking them by surprise, it is most likely Corky doesn’t have this problem.
\In some cases the puppet doesn’t even have to speak to be scary. The master scares us enough. While Voreli was a bit creepy, and Corky was shy and passive, Mary is neither. In the final film discussed, Dead Silence (2007), oth the supernatural and psychological converge. .
The origin of the word ventriloquist opens Dead Silence with a little history lesson "In the 6th Century B.C. it was believed that the spirits of the dead would speak through the stomach region of the living." This sets the tone for the entire film. That this is going to be a film about the supernatural nature of ventriloquism.
Jamie Ashen is a hipster, on the cusp of the modern age of hipsters. He lives with his young wife, who sports a Mia Farrow ala Rosemary's Baby haircut. They listen to records, play guitar, and are do-it-yourselfers. Jamie drives a red 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. They have it all going for them. They also now have a ventriloquist figure, care of an unknown delivery. Billy is one of the creepiest ventriloquist figures ever to appear in film. The couple makes their first mistake after opening the package and seeing this, Jamie’s wife plays with the figure. Who plays with a creepy dummy that arrived on your doorstep via an unknown person? Hipsters, that's who. Their second mistake is they order take out, and don't have it delivered.Isn't it the point of take out to be as lazy as possible?
When Jamie goes out to get Chinese, his wife takes Billy and puts him on the bed so he can watch her. So when Billy attacks her we aren't surprised. Jamie is though, as he returns with the food and a rose to find the mangled body of his wife. Once in the custody of the police we meet Detective Lipton (Donny Wahlberg). He is adamant that Jamie killed his wife and is trying to cover it up by telling a local ghost story. He also has a sever case of five o'clock shadow that won't seem to go away no matter how much he shaves. Jamie is released and decides to go home to bury his wife, along with his new pal Billy, of course.
When he arrives home he notices that the town of Raven's Fair is basically deserted. All of main street is shut down. He first heads to his father's house. His father lives in a large mansion with his hot young wife. There is some animosity between father and son which is immediately apparent. Jamie goes to the funeral home to make the arrangements. At funeral of his wife he happens upon the grave of Mary Shaw and the graves of her 100 dolls.
Jamie is convinced that the old myth about Mary Shaw is related to the death of his wife. He finds out that the doll that he's been traveling with, which showed up on the night his wife died, is named Billy. First off, he travels with Billy in the passenger's seat, much like that of Vorelli and Hugo in the opening credits of Devil Doll. That right there is weird. Then he stays in a seedy motel with the doll hanging out by the window. Both things I would not recommend. So, needless to say Jamie decides to return the doll to the cemetery. He does this at night, obviously. After finding Billy's little doll coffin empty he throws the doll in and buries it. Returning to his car he encounters Billy outside his car after hearing some strange noises. Jamie decides to go investigate the noises and the appearance of the doll. Smart. This leads nowhere. Back at the motel Jamie finds the doll, along with Detective Lipton. Lipton takes the doll. He and Billy later discuss the art of shaving. Apparently Lipton’s permanent 5 o'clock shadow forces him carry a razor around in his pocket. Billy is clean shaven.
Jamie snags Billy and they go visit the local coroner. He tells the tale no one else is willing to speak of, the story of Mary Shaw. Basically, a little boy made fun of her and she shut him down. Then the boy goes missing, to which everyone blamed Mary. So they killed her. After her she had some crazy request to be turned into a doll herself. A frightful idea. Now the ghost of Shaw is scaring people and removing their tongues if they scream. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn. So Jamie is off to fight a ghost in what will most likely be a failed attempt to try and find a way to prove that he didn’t kill his wife.
This leads us to the really old, cool theater on an island that no one has used since they killed Mary. Which is a shame, because it is a really cool looking theater. While snooping around the theater, Jamie comes across a notebook written by Mary describing how to build the perfect doll. This is where the drawing from the opening credits come into play. Jamie learns that the missing boy was named Michael and he was Jamie's great uncle. Mary has been slowly, over the years killing all of the family line of those who killed her.
Not convinced that Jamie is innocent, Lipton accompanies Jamie to the theater on a tip from the coroner that he has proof that Mary has been committing murders.
At the theater Jamie and Lipton find a secret room that contains a very creep case. Perhaps hearkening back to Poltergeist, there is a doll of a clown lite by the only light in the room, creepy no? The case contains all 100 dolls of Mary Shaw. The boys also find Jamie's great uncle. Reunited at last, wait, no. They attempt to destroy all the dolls, but are forced to leave in a hurry. Lipton doesn't make it. At least his razor still works. Jamie makes his way back home. There he finds out that his father has possibly been dead for a while, and that his hot wife is actually a doll. Created by Mary as the perfect doll. Indeed.
What Dead Silence teaches us is that you can fill a film to the brim with tropes, putting them in at all the right places, and still have a film that is uneventful. Dead Silence combines themes presented in Magic and Devil Doll. While primarily about the supernatural, the film touches on the mental stability of the killer, Mary Shaw. I mean she wanted her corpse turned into a doll, you don't get much more mentally unstable than that. It also takes us back to our fear of the supernatural forces surrounding the art of ventriloquism. We may no longer believe that ventriloquists are magicians, but we still don't trust them.
So, what do these films tell us about automatonaphobia? First, that fear can be partially derived from fiction. I am creeped out by dolls, not because of their intrinsic creepiness, but mainly because I saw films like Poltergeist when I was younger. Which also happened to compound my fear of clowns at the time. Secondly, the distrust of ventriloquist is not completely without merit. They are in fact deceiving us, or they wouldn't be very good at what they do. There is a concept in psychology called visual capture. Visual capture is the dominance of our vision over other senses in how we perceive the environment around us. The ventriloquist effect is a form of visual capture. It is a process by which we perceive sounds to be coming from the figure's mouth rather than the ventriloquist's because our visual capture is overriding the fact that we know the ventriloquist is making the noise. This gives the figure, at least in our minds, a voice.
Now you may be thinking "what do I do if I have this phobia?". I would advise that you stay away from ventriloquist acts, don't watch the Muppet Show, avoid the doll isle at the toy store, and don't go near an American Girl store. Most of all, have no fear, they're just dolls, they can't hurt you. Unless they're possessed. Then run, toss them in the fire, do not stab yourself or others, and if necessary, share your ham sandwich.
And then there is the Vent Haven Museum. I wonder if they do overnights...
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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