55 Years of Body Snatching

The original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released 55 years ago today in 1956. It’s a B-quality movie that’s creepy and fun. Fall asleep and your body is cloned in a big slimy alien pod outside your bedroom window or down in the basement. Then you’re dead and replaced by a clone with no emotion. “Come on and join us.” No, run!

I saw “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” about 20 years ago on VHS and thought it was boring, but my childish adult sensibilities have allowed me to appreciate it now as a story about non-conformity. (Originally it was supposed to scare Americans into not becoming Communists, but The Tea Party is taking care of that these days.)
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I enjoyed “The Fly” more than “The Fly”

I recently saw the original 1958 version of The Fly for the first time and enjoyed it as a top-notch B-movie. Then I tried to watch David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake and lost interest after Jeff Goldblum’s face began to fill with pus. Cronenberg’s propensity for the gruesome does nothing for me. Even though the original begins with a scientist found dead under a giant printing press that has squooshed his head and one arm into a bloody pulp — and murdered by his wife! — it doesn’t rely on the gross-out to underlie the drama; all that’s shown is the blood (briefly), not the guts.

Then there’s the mystery: Why did the scientist’s wife kill him with a… huh?… a printing press? And why is she so concerned about the strange-looking fly buzzing around the house? She may be a typically vacuous B-movie female character, but what the hell’s going on here? The answer, of course, is that her husband’s latest invention, the disintegrator/integrator, has transmorgified him into a fly! He’s now a human with a fly head (and one fly arm), and the poor little fly now has a human head! So that pretty much makes The Fly a B-movie, but it’s a good movie because it’s not completely stupid. Vincent Prince looks like a creep, the performances are silly, but the low-tech special effects are inventive and the dramatic-tragic elements of the story are well-played. It’s not a bad movie to check out if you just want to have fun.

“King Kong” Kicks Ass

I’m talking about the original 1933 version of King Kong. It is a great movie and a hell of lot more violent and gruesome than I ever thought. It must have shocked and scared the crap out of audiences in 1933. I never realized what an incredible movie it is.

The stop-motion special effects are executed with style and drama that are so expressive, “the beast” comes across as a sensitive guy. There isn’t much of a story until Kong comes into the picture — and then you can watch the movie with the sound down if you feel like it because everything unfolds in broad strokes: 1) Island natives capture Fay Wray for sacrifice to Kong; 2) Kong runs into the jungle with Ms. Wray, protecting her instead of eating her; 3) A rescue party runs into the jungle and are killed off one at a time by Kong; 4) Kong is captured and brought back to the US… and so on. Although King Kong is sometimes considered a B-quality monster movie, it’s operatic and poignant as well. I’d love to see it in a theatre someday.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Trilogy)

I’ve been watching a lot of B-movies lately. The acting is wooden, the production values are dated, but the filmmakers made the most of what little they had. The low budgets forced them to get innovative. Watching B-movies isn’t a bad way to learn about film. There’s no subtlety to any of the elements, the editing, the narrative, the music, the acting — so it’s much easier to see what the filmmakers were aiming for. My favourite B-movies so far: King Kong (1933) — it isn’t just a B-movie; it’s amazing. Forbidden Planet — there would be no Star Trek without this movie. Destination Moon — which may have been Kubrick’s inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It Came From Outer Space — a generic but entertaining “sci-fi” B-movie about aliens crash landing in the desert. And the latest surprise hit is The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon may be the best creature-feature B-movie I’ve seen since the original King Kong. Dramatically, it’s not in the same league as King Kong, but it’s a good action movie with enough thrills and surprises so it never gets boring. The DVD Talk synopsis (edited): “Starry-eyed scientist David Reed, adventurer-investor Mark Williams and curvaceous Kay penetrate the Black Lagoon to search for a full fossil to match the skeletal claw discovered by professor Carl Maia. But what greets them is an aquatic man-fish that takes an instant liking to the way Kay fills out a contoured swimsuit. The Gill Man decimates the supporting cast while the leads argue the best way to capture it; after he blocks their exit from the Lagoon, the wily Devonian goes a step further and claims Kay as a romantic spoil of war.” The underwater scenes (impressive even by today’s standards) are exciting and especially creepy when the The Gill Man follows the “curvaceous Kay” while she’s swimming. The creature may be a guy in a rubber suit, but it’s a pretty damn affective rubber suit.
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Forbidden Planet ! ! !

Forbidden Planet is the ultimate “sci-fi” B-movie. When one of the opening credits reads, “Electronic Tonalities by Louis and Bebe Barron,” you know it’s going to be a fun ride. Pick any five minutes from Forbidden Planet and you’ll see evidence of its influence on Star Wars, Star Trek and even Alien. It’s a total goofball movie full of blatant chauvinism and cheesy (yet spectacular) special effects and aliens that can read your mind, and a robot and a crazy spaceship and insane “electronic tonalities” — all kinds of fun stuff.

Make yourself a big bowl and popcorn and dig in. You’ll have a blast (unless you take it seriously).