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Films featuring comedy teams often seem dated and products of their
time; even the Marx Brothers early films seem a little Vaudevillian.
This film controls the comedy of Abbott and Costello in the framework
of a horror film and mixes them both well.
Lou Costello's persona of a child like bumbler is well contained here, and perfectly contrasts with the dark and shadowy presence of Count Dracula and The Wolfman. We are blessed to have them played by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney respectively, as well they should be, in this, the last Universal monster fest. Frankenstein's monster, the creature of pained self-awareness as conceived by Mary and Percy Shelley and portrayed by Boris Karloff in 'Frankenstein' (1931) and 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (1935) by this time has been turned into a lumbering walking statue and is the least interesting of the three 'monsters' present here.
The title of the film is misleading, since it really is 'Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula.' Fortunately for us, the Frankenstein monster is not the main attraction, but rather it's Bela Lugosi instead who is given a major role as he seeks to revive it by transplanting Lou's brain into the monster's body. We get a great scene where Bela reprises his hypnotic hand gestures and eyes as he seduces his lab assistant, Dr. Morney (Lenore Ubert). Near the end he utilizes his great hand gestures again to pull Lou up to his laboratory. Oh what we missed by his not being in other major productions during the forties!
The well edited film tightly mixes Abbott and Costello's verbal and slapstick comedy with the dark spookiness of their horrific environment and encounters. Both Bud and Lou are totally believable throughout, even in their reactions to the (now to us) preposterous costumed 'monsters.' It's all played straight. This is not just their radio or stage show schtick.
The only weaknesses are that the interactions between the three monsters and our heroes are not more prominent in the film (occuring just at the end) and do not go on long enough. The first twenty five minutes basically focus on Costello and his reaction comedy. It's as if the monsters are shortchanged to a just rapid chase sequence at the end of the film. When I first re-watched the film a few years ago, I was shocked by how much the actions of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster made it seem like I was watching Grandpa and Herman in 'The Munsters' (1964) -- nothing scary here. Now I've found out that Charles Barton, the director, was not only Abbott and Costello's best director, but was also the director of 'The Munsters', where he clearly appropriated what he did in this film.
Of course, all of this doesn't matter. What we get here is a wonderful time capsule of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. as well as Abbott and Costello's comic personae. This film will always be funny even to those who've never heard of any of these people or their characters.
I'll give it an 8.
While some viewers may disagree, the one sure element of Ed Wood's
legacy is this film, his 'love song' to the legend of Bela Lugosi. His
enthusiasm for Bela Lugosi is clearly evident here, because in addition
to creating and writing a starring role for him, Wood has Bela reprise
(to the delight of us fans) several of his signature moves -- his
hypnotic hand gestures from 'Dracula' (1931) and his joined clenched
hands and the close up of his eyes from 'White Zombie' (1932). Although
Bela is clearly affected by age, we don't care. Thank you, Ed Wood for
this on screen homage to Bela's career! Wood even gives Bela a couple
of long speeches that are both moving and ridiculous at the same time.
What distinguishes Ed Wood from even worse film makers is the unusual mix of his inept directing with his odd and quirky dialog and content (ranging from the science fictional to the psychologically surreal). 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (1959) and his script for 'The Bride and the Beast' (1958) are good examples. These qualities make him a colorful figure in the history of film, well worth being given the biopic treatment in Tim Burton's marvelous 'Ed Wood' (1994). His best film is 'Glen or Glenda' (1953), which also includes some bizarre use of stock footage, and great work by Lugosi.
What we need here is to have a DVD commentary by Steven Spielberg or George Lucas in which they dissect the movie scene by scene as a text book example of bad film making, and to tell us how each part could have been improved. They could call it "How Not To Make a Turkey." Even the untutored, like me, can spot a lack of able direction in almost every scene (Billy Benedict's hand gestures, Paul Marco's one-note acting), the incongruous (Billy delivers newspapers that neither Marco nor his boss bother to look through completely), and the inconsistent (How can a mute Lobo yell so loud with such nuances, or how can the super strong atomized Lugosi be killed by an octopus?),etc., etc. Well, the whole film is one mistake after another.
Thanks to Tim Burton, we know the story of the financing of the film and how that contributed to its cheapness. Ed Wood, however, is not the king of "making the most of the least." That honor, of course, belongs to Edgar G. Ulmer and his no budget masterpieces 'Detour' (1945) and 'The Man From Planet X' (1951), as well as 'Beyond the Time Barrier' (1960), which was filmed in a shopping mall years before 'Logan's Run' (1976) was.
Finally, we can say that the movie is enjoyable for its Ed Wood oddness and the on screen presence of Bela Lugosi, who carries the film despite looking too thin and age ravaged. And we have Ed Wood to thank for all this: that despite all the weaknesses that abound, Woods enthusiastically, and with obvious respect, gives us his 'love song' to the legend of Bela Lugosi.
For the movie, though, I'll give it a 3 and half.
NOTE: Bela Lugosi's best performances are in 'Dracula' (1931), 'White Zombie' (1932), 'The Return of Chandu' (1934), 'The Black Cat' (1934), 'Ninotchka' (1939), 'The Son of Frankenstein' (1939), 'Invisible Ghost' (1941), 'The Wolfman' (1941), and 'Glen or Glenda' (1953). You can also see his hypnotic hands and eyes ("Look into my eyes! Look!") in 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many of the best films in almost every genre focus on characters and
their interactions, with the genre element in the background. This one
certainly does. It features a wonderful mix of pre- 'Stella Dallas'
(1937) soap opera, within a science fiction theme of using shrunken
people to carry out retribution.
Lionel Barrymore stars in a magnificent dual role as the framed and falsely convicted Paul Levond, and in his disguise as an escapee from Devil's Island as Madame Mandelip, a doll and toy dealer in Paris. Maureen O'Sullivan plays his daughter, Lorraine, who's grown up in poverty and hardship hating her imprisoned father.
The film starts off as if it's pure science fiction, with Levond escaping with another prisoner and scientist, Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), to Marcel's home and laboratory. There he meets the crippled and hunchbacked wife, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, with a 'Bride of Frankenstein' white streaked hairdo). Marcel explains how he's perfected shrinking animals and people to a height of nine inches, he claims 'for the benefit of mankind,' and how they can be manipulated through sheer will power. In classic off center shots of wild eyed scientists behind bubbling test tubes, we see the process take place.
Believing this scientific work to be evil and cruel, Lavond at first refuses to be a part of it, but when Marcel suddenly dies, Lavond realizes he can use the 'dolls' to exact revenge on his three banking partners who framed him for robbery and murder. Keeping his sense of morality, he doesn't use the dolls to kill them. He changes one, Matin (played by the great radio actor Pedro de Cordoba), into a doll; the second he only paralyzes (in a fantastic giant bed sequence); and the third he tricks into confessing in front of police. The scenes of the dolls carrying out his plans, shrunken people in an over-sized world, are better than those in 'Dr. Cyclops' (1940)--great art direction and set design. We won't see anything this good until 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' (1957).
But these science fictional moments are only a small part of the film. Its major focus is the relationship between father and daughter, and how he longs to tell her of his love for her, though when meeting her as Madame Mandelip, Lorraine rants and raves against her father. Finally, when Lavond's innocence is proclaimed, he burns up the toy shop and all evidence of its existence, since he was only going to use it to trap his partners and prove his innocence. Facing his daughter on the top of the Eiffel Tower, he refuses to reveal himself, saying that Lavond died escaping prison, but had truly loved her, as she tearfully expresses her guilt over the abuse she hurled at her father, now declaring her love for him. He says, "He always knew that inside you loved him." He then leaves, presumably to kill himself.
Not your typical 'sci-fi flick.' Is this because Erich von Stroheim himself was credited with co-writing the screenplay? The other writer, Garret Fort, was the writer for 'Dracula' (1931), 'Frankenstein' (1931), 'Dracula's Daughter' (1936) and 'The Mark of Zorro' (1940). The effective music was by Franz Waxman, who composed over 170 film scores.
And then there's the great acting. Henry B. Walthall was in over 320 movies, including the role of Roger Chillingworth in two versions of 'The Scarlet Letter' (1926 and 1934). His role is brief here but is appropriately 'mad scientist.' Rafaela Ottiano is best known for her role in 'Grand Hotel' (1932). Maureen O'Sullivan, who added such richness to her six 'Tarzan' films (1932, 34, 36, 37, 41, 42), was Judy Standish in 'A Day at the Races' (1937) and had a long and successful career at M-G-M. Best of all, of course, is the magnificent Lionel Barrymore, who even after being confined to a wheel chair in 1939, continued on as a leading actor for the next twenty years. He played 'Dr. Gillespie' in fifteen movies, and is a standout in 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946) and 'Key Largo' (1948). You can also see him in the ensemble horror film 'Mark of the Vampire' (1935).
Finally, Tod Browning, the director, who had difficulty making the transition to sound directing after his successes during the silent era, as is now well known regarding his weak 'participation' in 'Dracula' (1931), hit his peak here. This was definitely his best and most mature work. Check his two other good M-G-M souind films, 'Freaks' (1932) and 'Mark of the Vampire' (1935).
Though hard-core science fiction fans may feel cheated by the over emphasis on 'story,' the acting and production values make this a valuable and successful film.
I'll give it a seven and a half.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even if he's given top billing, in many of his films Bela Lugosi may
not be the real star who's featured most prominently in them. Here he
is. For real Bela fans, this is what you've been looking for.
Unfortunately, this is a 64 minute film that feels like 84.
Bela plays Dr. Kessler, a 'community leader' who lives with his daughter in a fairly spooky old dark house. The film opens with him imagining his wife's presence at dinner. This is the only 'invisible ghost' you'll see (?) in this movie. As it turns out, he has presumed that she is dead after she'd left him for another man and was killed in an automobile accident. In actual fact, the gardener is keeping her prisoner in his barn, where she is becoming increasingly demented.
The film is centered around Kessler, who when he sees his wife (played by the silent screen star Betty Compson) wandering outside the house looking up at him, is mystically mesmerized by her into committing murders within the household. During the course of the movie he strangles nearly half a dozen people, and almost does in his daughter Virginia (played by Loretta Young's older sister Polly Ann). Completely unaware of his dual personality, his self realization finally comes when a visiting psychiatrist is examining his butler, Evans (played by Clarence Muse). Here comes Bela's big scene: how he deals with the realization of what he'd done.
Betty Compson had over 200 film credits from 1915-1948. She is effectively odd in her few scenes, particularly staring in through the window during a rainstorm. The Young Man twins are played by John McGuire, who carved out a career of 66 mostly uncredited roles. Polly Ann Young can be seen as the 'Prairie Flower' in 'The Man From Utah' (1934) with John Wayne, as well as several other westerns during the 1930s.
Most impressive in the film is Clarence Muse, who plays Evans the Butler, not as a stereotyped black servant, but as one with dignity, normalcy and some of the best lines in the film. A trained opera singer, he was inducted into the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame in 1973. He had 153 TV and movie credits including the 'Swamp Fox' episodes of 'Disneyland' (1960), 'Car Wash' (1979), and was the coach driver at the beginning of Lugosi's amazing 'White Zombie' (1932).
So while it's great to see Lugosi throughout the whole film, a lot of it plods along, especially when the police investigate each murder and finally the desecration of Mrs. Kessler's portrait. The business of Kessler being drawn into the hypnotic trance gets a little repetitious. One or two fewer murders would still have made the point; in fact, a couple of nightmare scenes while Kessler is sleeping in which he sees himself commit the murders would have added to his unconscious conflicted feelings and dual nature. But then, I was never around to fine tune the script.
Still, it's a pleasure to see Bela Lugosi carry a whole movie by himself. There are a couple of others, particularly 'The Black Cat' (1934) and 'The Return of Chandu' (1934) the serial in which he is not only the hero, but wins and kisses the girl at the end!
For this movie I, reluctantly, can only give it a 4 and a half.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This a fine little British horror film, with an engaging story, good to
great acting, suspenseful music and wonderfully composed photography;
it is only slowed down by a few too long sequences (Marianne on stage
doing the Twist; English's frequent repetitive conversations with
Doctors Keisling and Heller).
At first you think, "Oh no, not another ventriloquist and his dummy story!" Even if living doll films haven't been ruined for you by 'Chuckie' movies, this one has a unique spin, though the main theme is really how the ventriloquist, the Great Vorelli (played with great sinister tones by Bryant Halliday), uses hypnotism to try to control (and marry) the rich and beautiful Marianne Horn (played by Yvonne Romain), originally in love with American newspaperman Mark English (well played by Dr. Heywood Floyd of '2001' (1968) himself, William Sylvester).
Unlike the classic dummy story in 'Dead of Night' (1945), here Vorelli, after years of study of the arcane in Tibet and the Orient, has succeeded in transferring the soul of one of his stage assistants into the wooden frame of his dummy Hugo. English finally uncovers Vorelli's past in Germany where he had effected the transfer. After Vorellli puts Marianne into a hypnotic coma prior to transferring her to a new female dummy, Hugo leaps into the act when English suddenly bursts in upon Vorelli.
The film is notable more for its well composed close up photography, suspenseful tympani playing that heightens the tension, and great acting by Halliday, who barely did any acting after this; he was one of the founders of Janus films, and then moved to France. Yvonne Romain can be seen in 'Circus of Horrors' (1960) and as the jailer's daughter in 'Curse of the Werewolf' (1961). And then there's William Sylvester, also in 'Gorgo' (1961) who does a fine job.
Go with the film despite the cheap looking opening titles. I'll give it a 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the best Monogram quickies because it is a fast paced
story well told full of creepy and eerie weirdness. It is well suited
to late night watching for lovers of the bizarre.
Bela Lugosi gives a good performance as Dr. Lorenz, a suave, devoted husband to his 'Countess' wife, while at the same time moonlighting as a body snatcher of brides who suddenly die at the altar (due to his poisoned orchids, of course). He extracts glandular fluid from them to inject into his wife's body to keep her young and beautiful (as we find out, she is really in her 80s). He stores the bodies for future use in a morgue in his basement.
There is much that gives the film its creepy, eerie quality. First, there is his bizarre 'family' attending him: delightfully ugly Minerva Urecal as his housekeeper Fagah, with her two sons the dwarf henchman Toby (played by Angelo Rossito) and Angel (Frank Moran), a retarded necrophiliac hunchback. Then further menace and atmosphere are added by heavy rain and cracks of lighting instead of music, by dark shadows and lots of hidden passageways, and in the pleasure Lorenz and his wife take by sleeping in coffins. When suspenseful and tension building music is used, the staccato violin theme is catchy and effective. You can hear this same music used in other films as well, such as Grand National Film's' 'Rollin Plains' (1938) with Tex Ritter.
The action of the story is equal to the 'female reporter hot on the trail' B pictures of Universal or other major studios. Luana Walters plays the reporter Patricia Hunter, who discovers the poisoned orchid clue to the murders. Naturally, the hybrid orchid was developed by Dr. Lorenz himself, so she hitch hikes to his spooky mansion on the crest of a dark and forbidding mountain with Dr. Foster (played by Tristam Coffin) to interview him. The weather prevents them from leaving, so they must stay overnight in the spooky house and become victims to the mad characters' menace. Eerieness follows as Patricia passes through secret doorways and passages, stalked by the hunchback, and discovers the dead bodies. Hidden in the dark basement she witnesses Lorenz kill Angel bare handed.
Finally, after returning to her newspaper office, a plot is enacted to stage a fake wedding to trap Lorenz. He foils it, kidnapping Patricia to make her the next 'donor' for his wife's youth serum. Dr. Foster and the police arrive just in time to rescue her, although Fagah has already exacted her revenge on Lorenz. And all of this is done in little more than 60 minutes (with no commercials)!
Angelo Rositto was a lead player in the amazing Tod Browning film 'Freaks' (1932), and is also recognizable in 'Babes in Toyland' (1934), Samuel Fuller's 'The Baron of Arizona' (1950), as a regular in TV's 'Baretta' (1975) and in 'Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome' (1985). Both Frank Moran and Minerva Urecal rejoin Bela's housekeeping family in 'Ghosts on the Loose' (1943) with the Bowery Boys. Luana Walters can be seen as the female lead in the serial 'Drums of Fu Manchu' (1940), as well as the 'Prairie Flower' in many Monogram westerns. Tristam Coffin, with over 232 movie and TV credits, had a chameleon character, voice and personality that made him equally believable as either hero or villain. He's easily recognizable in either role from his many western TV appearances of the 50s, and in the serials 'Holt of the Secret Service' (1941), 'Spy Smasher' (1942), 'Perils of Nyoka' (1942), 'KIng of the Rocket Men' (1949) or 'Radar Patrol Vs. Sky King' (1949).
As for Bela Lugosi, we are always drawn to him as if we had been hypnotized by his eyes and hand gestures the first time we saw 'Dracula' (1931) and 'White Zombie' (1932). Too many of his films don't feature him enough in terms of screen time, as this one doesn't; but it moves along in such a fast and interesting way that this is a minor drawback.
This one deserves at least a 5. It's definitely good for late night viewing.
NOTE: In 'The Invisible Ghost' (1941) the story completely revolves around Bela as the lead character in which he is not even aware of his own dual personality. While much slower in pacing than this film, he dominates the movie both in terms of screen time and character. Also noteworthy is his amazing turn as Ygor in 'The Son of Frankenstein' (1939), definitely one of his performances for the ages.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Known as a Monogram quickie, the 'Jeckyll and Hyde' type premise, the
story and cast had the potential for a very rich and interesting film--
if it had been given a bigger budget and a more deeply elaborated
script. At barely more than 60 minutes we have an extremely fast paced
movie with many of our favorite "B" movie icons -- Bela Lugosi, Tom
Neal, Dave O'Brien, Wanda McKay, John Archer and Wheeler Oakman.
Bela, whose English delivery is now excellent and natural, with that great hint of a Hungarian accent, plays Frederick Brenner, a professor of criminology by day and Karl Wagner, the philanthropic director of "The Friendly Mission," a soup kitchen and dormitory in New York's Bowery by night. He has a third identity as the head of a criminal ring of thieves and bank robbers.
His modus operandi is to double cross and kill his henchmen (who frequently include Mission transients) after they have served his villainous purposes, and then to have a 'rum dumb' caretaker doctor bury them in the Mission's basement. Unbeknownst to him, the doctor has devised a way to revive the dead and keep them 'alive' as zombies, hidden below the basement in a cellar.
The movie shows us scenes of his triple life including blissful tender moments at home with his wife; teaching about paranoid schizophrenics in his college class; doling out soup to Bowery bum denizens; and coldly throwing one of his henchmen off a roof as he stages a jewelry store robbery. In such a rapidly paced film, the inner tensions of his schizophrenic nature are barely touched on, except in a brief moment where he moans in his sleep experiencing nightmares. Oh what this film could have been if given the full "A" treatment! Here we're not going to get anything like Peter Lorre's anguished plea for tolerance and understanding regarding his own compulsive nature that he cannot control as in the great German film 'M' (1931).
Wanda McKay, who plays Wagner's perky nurse assistant Judy Malvern, is betrothed to the rich playboy John Archer, who is, coincidentally, one of Professor Brenner's students, Richard Dennison. You can guess that Brenner/Wagner's double life is going to start to unravel. In this case, Dennison wanders into the Mission while doing research on how the indigent live, and meets Brenner as 'Wagner.'
Tom Neal, meanwhile, puts in another cynical, tortured (and vicious) performance as a hired killer, used by Brenner / Wagner to rub out his henchmen, and Dennison as well. As a result of Dennsion's disappearance, the police finally discover Brenner's dual nature and raid the Mission. Seeking his own revenge, the caretaker doctor leads Brenner down to the cellar to the awaiting zombies ("You can escape this way...") In the final scene, Dennison is magically returned to normalcy where he joins Judy in his bedroom to live happily ever after.
Wanda McKay is also in 'Voodoo Man' (1944) with Bela, and many other Poverty Row 'features' as well as the odd Universal serial 'Raiders of Ghost City' (1944). John Archer, besides starring in the great 'King of the Zombies' (1941) with Mantan Moreland, is in 'Destination Moon' (1950) and many 50s-60s TV shows including 'Perry Mason' and 'Bonanza'. Tom Neal plays the hero in the serial 'Jungle Girl' (1941), as well as in his classic noir film, 'Detour' (1945). Dave O'Brien, who had the most successful career, mostly as a cowboy star, plays the cop who tracks down Brenner. He's most famous as the 'hop-head' in 'Tell Your Children' (1936) which we all know and love as "Reefer Madness'. Wheeler Oakman, with over 280 film and TV credits as a villain, plays one of Brenner's henchmen. He was in countless serials and westerns, and played Tarnak in 'Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars' (1938).
Wow! All these great familiar faces in one fast paced, weird little movie that sadly, was too cheaply made. Oh, what it could have been! Therefore, sadly, I can only give it a four and half.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is not really a zombie film, if we're defining zombies as the dead
walking around. Here the protagonist, Armand Louque (played by an
unbelievably young Dean Jagger), gains control of a method to create
zombies, though in fact, his 'method' is to mentally project his
thoughts and control other living people's minds turning them into
hypnotized slaves. This is an interesting concept for a movie, and was
done much more effectively by Fritz Lang in his series of 'Dr. Mabuse'
films, including 'Dr. Mabuse the Gambler' (1922) and 'The Testament of
Dr. Mabuse' (1933). Here it is unfortunately subordinated to his quest
to regain the love of his former fiancée, Claire Duvall (played by the
Anne Heche look alike with a bad hairdo, Dorothy Stone) which is really
the major theme.
The movie has an intriguing beginning, as Louque is sent on a military archaeological expedition to Cambodia to end the cult of zombies that came from there. At some type of compound (where we get great 30s sets and clothes) he announces his engagement to Claire, and then barely five minutes later, she gives him back his ring declaring her love for his pal, Clifford Greyson (Robert Noland). It's unintentionally funny the way they talk to each other without making eye contact. This would have been a great movie for 'Mystery Science Theater 3000', if they hadn't already roasted it.
It's never shown how Louque actually learns the 'zombification' secret, but he then uses it to kill his enemies, create a giant army of rifle carrying soldiers and body guards. We won't see such sheer force of will until John Agar in 'The Brain From Planet Arous' (1957).
Finally Claire consents to marry him if he will let Greyson live and return to America. Louque agrees, but actually turns him into one of his hypnotized slaves. On their wedding night he realizes that Claire will only begin to love him if he gives up his 'powers.' To gain her love, he does so, causing the 'revolt' of the title, in which all his slaves awaken and attack his compound and kill him. Greyson embraces Claire, and we seem to be at the end of a parable: "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."
So really then, it's not that bad of a film, despite the low IMDb rating it currently has. On repeated viewings (?) one can see the artistry in the well formed script! Dean Jagger had yet to develop into a good actor, and is almost unrecognizable in his youngness -- is that really his own hair? We remember him more for his bald, old man roles in 'White Christmas' (1954), 'X The Unknown' (1956) and 'King Creole' (1958). The story borrows a lot of its basic themes from the Halperin brothers better, earlier film 'White Zombie' (1932) in which hapless Robert Frazier (as Charles Beaumont) uses 'zombification' to win the love of Madge Bellamy (as Madeline Parker).
If you want real zombie movies (of which there are hundreds!) I'd start with 'White Zombie' (1932), 'King of the Zombies' (1941), 'I Walked with a Zombie' (1943), 'Night of the Living Dead' (1968), 'The Last Man on Earth' (1964) and its two remakes. In the modern era of classy films, there are 'Horror Express' (1972), 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' (1988), '28 Days Later' (2002) and its sequel, as well as many, many, others too numerous to mention.
This one is not really a zombie film. Judging this movie on its own terms, it's more of a semi-Gothic romance. As such it ranks a little below some of Universal's bottom billed B horror movies of the late 30s and early 40s. So I'll give it a 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here's a good concept wasted. It's a mixture of Ed Wood's bizarre
writing talents and a text book example of bad movie making.
On their honeymoon at his mountain home, Dan Fuller's wife, Laura, (played by Charlotte Austin) encounter his gorilla, Spanky, which he keeps in the basement-- Dan is apparently a big game hunter. In one of the several high points of the film, she shows an almost animal attraction for the gorilla, and vice versa. Later that night in the bridal chamber, the gorilla sneaks in and they again have another smoldering staring session, climaxed by Spanky pulling off her nightgown. (Is Ed Wood trying to tell us something?) Naturally, the husband shoots and kills the gorilla.
Dan then has a psychiatrist conduct hypnotic regression sessions on Laura, as she had been previously talking to him about the possibility of having had past lives. We then discover that in her past life, she had been a gorilla! Of course, the 'hypnotic regression' theme was obviously drawn from the number one best selling book of 1956, 'The Search for Bridey Murphy,' in which a doctor regressed an American housewife who spoke in an Irish brogue and recounted in great detail her previous life as Bridey Murphy in Cork County, Ireland in the 18th century. We also can't help catching a little spin here on 'King Kong' (1933), for in this case the girl has a thing for the gorilla too!
Dan then decides to take Laura with him to 'Africa' on safari for new animals. Here the film takes a sharp turn into obvious bad movie making with a Must To Avoid in capital letters: the dual personality theme is abruptly dropped and forgotten for the next 30 minutes or so. Instead we are subjected to pointless sequences of a tiger running through the jungle, fighting what appears to be a crocodile, and finally attacking Dan, who had been cluelessly stalking towards the camera seemingly oblivious to Laura's screams or the roars of the tiger, in non tension building shots.
Finally, in the last five or six minutes of the film, Wood's ambivalent identity theme returns, as does a gorilla, who sweeps a sexually hungry looking Laura off her feet and takes her to the Bronson caves where she becomes queen of the gorillas. The end.
As others have noted, Charlotte Austin's sexual stares are the high point of the film, and the low point is the needless and extended middle section that could have been totally dropped. If only the tightly done and well scripted first fifteen minutes could have continued with the development of Laura's sexual 'awakening!' We keep waiting to see her turn into a gorilla, as was done by Raymond Burr in the much better 'Bride of the Gorilla' (1951), but it never happens; we get the tedious tiger segments instead. A good concept has been disappointingly wasted here.
Charlotte Austin's sexual stares linger in the mind, but not the rest of the film. I'll have to give it a two and half.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a great under rated horror comedy. In the great horror films,
whether comedies or not, the horror is not played for laughs but is
treated seriously while the characters surrounding the horror element
contribute the comic aspects. You can see this from the 1930s on from
the comic relief in 'Dracula' (1931) through 'Abbott and Costello Meet
Frankenstein' (1948) to this well crafted film. What a deft touch by
director Larry Hagman!
You can say it's dimly lit (not for dramatic effect necessarily, but due to a cheap budget), but there are so many wonderful cameos from well known stars that it's continually enjoyable. Godfrey Cambridge, Dick Van Patten, Richard Stahl, Richard Webb, Cindy Williams, Burgess Meredith, the 'Naked Turk' and Larry Hagman all add wonderful touches and moments. Robert Walker, Jr. gets a little grating towards the end, but the movie is saved by the tension filled finale in in the bowling alley. A job well done! I'll give it a 7.
It's a true sequel to 'The Blob' (1958) and produced by the same production team. They also retooled the independent horror film 'Equinox' (1970). All three are highly recommended.
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