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Shock Corridor

In Film on August 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

We have too many intellectuals who are afraid to use the pistol of common sense.

– Dr. Boden

Sam Fuller – that bold, brash, cantankerous, get-the-story-first copy boy turned movie maverick must seem like a relic in today’s day and age; a man whose movies and ideology may be gone by the way of typewriters and print media. With his wide, down-turned, elongated mouth supporting a well-moistened stogie, he looks and sounds like a parody of Classic Hollywood pic-tcha makers. His story telling is infectious and inspiring. Funny and blunt. His best observations have the subtly of a musket blast to the kisser. Fuller reveled in stirring the shit with his provocative yarns and his 1963 opus Shock Corridor is his most daring and unapologetic.

If Sam Fuller were still alive today, I wonder what he would think of the nation he so dearly loved and fought for. Our massive deficit, class warfare instigated by the rich, Tea Party Libertarians, Rick Perry, yada yada yada. Shock Corridor was his direct response to his view with America in the 60s. A country bubbling with rage, ignorance and a resistance to change. Over forty years later, ignorance is bottle fed to the masses while rage has been replaced with complacency. Sam wouldn’t be posting about these national injustices and hypocrisies on Facebook, or laughing smugly alongside The Daily Show newscast. No sir, he would make a goddamn movie about it.

As he recounts in his autobiography A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, Shock Corridor originated as a script that he pitched to Fritz Lang in the late 40s about a journalist trying to solve a murder that was committed in a mental hospital. Fuller was observing the changing nation around him – the scars left behind by Joseph McCarthy, The Civil Rights Movement and nuclear warfare. He revamped  his decade-old script to the newly christened Shock Corridor and made a film to deliberately provoke its audience. He writes, “My madhouse was a metaphor for America. Like an X ray that fathoms a patient’s tumor, Shock Corridor would probe our nation’s sickness. Without an honest diagnosis of the problems, how could we ever hope to heal them?”

Shock Corridor never healed the nation. But when viewed today, its invigorating to see a filmmaker rattle some cages, even if the message only reaches  the back row of the movie theater. Its potent cocktail of madness, sex, psychotherapy, racism and murder still packs the walop the director was striving for. It’s depressing that there aren’t movies (or the men who made them) like this anymore.


Experiment in Terror

In Film on August 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm
Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams fend themselves from one of Dr. Moreau’s ghastly creations in “Island of Lost Souls”

I am obsessing over the upcoming release of Island of Lost Souls, the first adaptation of H.G. Wells “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, coming from Criterion in October. Starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi and Leila Hyams – it’s about damn time that the film comes home to the digital format.  In the mean time, I have been indulging in some of my favorite megalomaniac scientist movies. Peruse through this list of some of my favorite Mad Doctor Movies or I will transplant your brain into the body of a gorilla.

Doctor X (1932)
Michael Curtiz’s (Casablanca) lurid shocker helped set the stage for Lionel Attwill’s malevolent quack-persona. In a movie that seems to have everything for classic horror fans (cannibalism, a wise-cracking newshound, synthetic flesh and Faye Wray); the only thing that outshines Attwill is the lurking, cloak-drapped Moon Killer and his bloody reign of terror. Made in a rare three-strip Technicolor process that creates a striking teal green and rusty-sepia toned hue, Doctor X is easily one of the best American-made horror films of the pre-Code era.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)
This Universal B-movie quickie gets off to a marvelous start before turning into a goofy jungle romp, but I still love it. Attwill returns as this time as Dr. Benson, a San Francisco practitioner who experiments in suspended animation. When his test subject dies, he flees for an ocean liner headed to Australia. After a fire breaks out on the ship, Benson and a group of castaways find themselves captive on a jungle island where he revives the village chief’s dying wife. Praised as “God of Life”, Benson runs rampant and plans to continue his medical theories on his fellow shipmates. While no masterpiece, it’s tough to shrug off this 68 minute comedy-thriller. Director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy) embraces the moonlit city streets and sleek medical interior in the opening scenes of the film and gives the picture its only real moments of visual flair.

Re-Animator (1985)

Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of Dr. Herbert West is one of the greatest characters in contemporary horror cinema. The first of the Re-Animator films walks that thin line between camp and serious horror, all thanks to a bravo performance from the icy-eyed actor. Spawning two sequels and a new musical, Re-Animator is one of the last great 80s horror franchises to not feel overexposed. Based on the short story by H.P Lovecraft, director Stuart Gordon and co-writer Dennis Paoli update the text with gloriously gruesome results.

The Tingler (1959)

Vincent Price stars in William Castle’s ludicrous thriller about a scientist who discovers that a parasite which lives along the spine in the human body and can only be stopped by the blood curdling screams of its host! To test his theory, he induces fear into a deaf-mute. Price’s LSD “trip” is almost worth the cost of admission alone.

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre star in this Arsenic and Old Lace-ish black comedy that sometimes feels like a live action Looney Toons movie. When a divorcée  buys a house from Professor Billings (Karloff), she allows him to continue using the cellar to conduct his experiments; creating an army of war-bound super-humans. When he can’t seem to perfect his plan, the town mayor/sheriff, Dr. Lorentz (Lorre) becomes unwittingly involved when he sees the prospect for financial gain. Former light heavyweight “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom is great as the door-to-door powder puff salesman while Maude Eburne as Aunt Amelia thinks she’s a chicken.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
James Whale’s own follow up to his Universal horror classic is wittier and more imaginative than its predecessor. And with all due resect to Collin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, it’s his mentor, the effeminate Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorious who steals the show. Franz Waxman’s playfully gothic score was one of the first great soundtracks of Hollywood filmdom and forever linked the haunting theremin sound to the image of shocking electrodes and bubbling test tubes.

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Paul Morrisey’s underappreciated sex/horror satire can be a bit of an endurance test. It’s too well made to be appreciated by the elite “so bad, it’s good” thrill seekers; and a little too cerebral for the average gore hound. Originally filmed in 3-D, the film does not seem to lose any of its impact in regular ol’ 2-D, but I have to admit that I would love to see how those dangling guts look on the big screen someday. Udo Kier makes for a marvelous Dr. Frankenstein with lines like: To know life, you must fuck death in za gall blader!

Beast of Blood (1971)
This is my favorite of the Flippino Blood Island films, which is not saying much. Still, the image of the disembodied, flesh-charred monster is quite a sight. This is a direct sequel to The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, but don’t worry, you’ll have no problems following the story without a frame of reference. In fact, it might be more enjoyable that way. Former teen heart-throb turned Manila-bound, B-movie producer and occasional actor John Ashley returns as Dr. Bill Foster, who tries to stop Dr. Lorca (Eddie Garcia) and his headless creation from attacking Polynesian jungle virgins.

Murders In The Rue Morgue (1932)

In what may be one of the most overtly sadistic horror films ever made, Bela Lugosi stars in this luminously photographed thriller, mixing Darwin’s then-radical theories of evolution and horror from Edgar Allen Poe’s original short story. Lugosi stars as Dr. Mirakle who kidnaps prostitutes and injects them with ape blood to create a cozy cage mate for his sideshow gorilla. Made directly after Lugosi’s turn as Dracula for Universal Pictures, this was supposedly slimmed down by nearly 30 minutes from the studio itself over fear that the film’s macabre storyline might be too much for audiences.

The Man With Two Brains (1983)

Remember when Steve Martin was funny? Me too. I accept his new-found career in Pink Panther and Cheaper By The Dozen remakes and sequels, but I can never quite warmed up to the new image of that wild and crazy guy from my childhood. In The Man With Two Brains, Martin stars as Doctor Nathan Hfuruhurr, a leading neurosurgeon who has a telekinetic romance with a brain in a jar. All of Martin’s collaborations with Reiner (The JerkDead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and All of Me) are funny, but this still remains my favorite. And who’s that giving Kathleen Turner’s venus mound a heart-shaped buzzcut?