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How many times have I stood before this symbol of my family's greatness? And now this crest and I are dying together. In another time and another place, I might have brought honor and glory to the Fallon family, but instead I shall leave a legacy of decay and unspeakable horror.
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This one can sting...you have to be in the right mood to appreciate this
My bad film guru (and the president of the Exposed Film Society) sprang this one on us last week. There was no denying the demented gleam in his eye as he pulled it out of its brown paper bag and announced what he had in store for us: "The Most Dangerous Game", filmed on a budget of about $2.95.
Of course, $2.95 went a lot further back in 1962, but still...
Anyway, there is certainly a lot to dislike about this film. It abounds with serious technical gaffes (my favorite was the 'repeating musket' that fired twice in two minutes without benefit of a reload). The hero is a wuss who stands by while his wounded friend fights the henchman and gets killed.
More? OK -The plot is a shambles with no continuity to speak of. The movie wastes five minutes with a 'special guest star' who serves as the physical embodiment of the villain's madness and paranoia, but never shows him again. The hero is choked unconscious by the henchman but makes no mention of it when he wakes up and first meets his host. The mute servant girl is captured, put on the rack...and then the movie (and the hero, who put her in this predicament) just sort of "forgets" about her.
More? Well, the sets are cheap, and the special effects are cheaper (the makeup is an exception to this). Much of the plot is carried by the narrator's droning, monotonic voice-over, which carries less dramatic impact than the menu recital at Denny's. Most of the dialog is simply ridiculous and stilted , as if it was translated from Japanese. ("I demand that our conversation be pleasant!!!") And the color values tended to shift violently from shot to shot, as if cheap film stock and problematic lighting equipment were the order of the day. (Note - this last may have been the fault of a bad print, rather than the camera crew).
But there were a couple of nice moments here and there. The makeup effects were startlingly good in contrast to the rest of the film, the actors were LOOKED interesting, especially the mute servant girl and the Countess. And in spite of everything, there was a definite creepy atmosphere to be found, very nasty and disturbing.
So what was the deal with this movie? I thought about it a bit, and realized that director/writer Pat Boyette basically tried to put a story from of the old "EC" horror comics on film. That would account for the stilted dialog, the sketchy character development (in a comic, physiognomy = character even more than in film), the loopy interior logic of the story ("EC" horror stories went out of their way to include a nasty "shock" ending and weren't big on psychological realism), the over reliance on the narrative voice (which belongs in captions over the panels), and the interesting makeup effects that mimicked the grisly pictures that the old EC artists did so well.
In fact, I'd be willing to bet that when Boyette saw his leading man during casting, he instantly saw that the fellow was as close to being the equivalent of the lanky, shambling figures and caved in faces that artists like Johnny Craig and Jack Davis drew as an actual human could be and still exist in the real world.. He used costumes and lighting to emphasize the cartoony aspect of the visuals and turned everyone into living EC comics characters. (See: the leading lady's blank beauty, the Count's strong bony features, oddly bronze skin and sharp chin, the platinum 'do on the tall, bony black henchman, etc.)
This would explain the movie's failings. Boyette knew how to 'frame' things, but he didn't know how to deal with three dimensions and moving bodies. Boyette knew how to tell a creepy story within the confines of a comics page, but the nuances of film and live actors escaped him. He wouldn't be the first person with this problem of course - look at what Joel Schumacher did to "Batman". But he didn't have a big budget to hide behind.
In any case, I'm imagine that Boyette walked away from this train wreck and probably spent less time thinking about "Dungeon of Harrow"than the folks who post on this film's message boards. He did, within certainly vague boundaries, what he set out to do, and you have to respect him for it...even if you don't care for "Harrow".
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