Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Some how when I start posting poster art for this Bava master work I neglected the American AIP art. It's very nice, don't you think?

Monday, February 19, 2007


Without planning of any sort I ended up watching a pair of snake related movies this weekend. I’ve had a cheap two DVD set from Brentwood called KILLER SNAKES laying around for some time. OK. A long time. All right damn it! I picked this up a few years ago simple to see a hard to find European trash movie named BLACK COBRA. That film sports lodes of nudity from Laura Gemser and some mild scenery chewing from Jack Palance as well as a cringe inducing finale involving snakes going places they should just never ever be. You can understand my willingness to part with 7 or 8 bucks for this filmic experience alone but the other movies in the set have taunted me for some time. Unwatched movies in my possession often taunt me and the pills don’t stop me from hearing it any more.

So first I popped in FER DE LANCE. A TV movie from 1974 with a good reputation that turned out to be well deserved. Starring 70s TV stalwart David Janssen and a host of familiar faces from that era it is a pretty suspenseful, well played 100 minutes. A crewman of a US Navy submarine brings 8 baby Fer de Lance snakes aboard because the ship’s named Fer de Lance. (He’s not a very bright guy.) But what started as an idiotic joke goes wrong when the snakes get loose, kill a few people and the sub ends up trapped in a rockfall over a thousand feet deep. Essentially SNAKES ON A SUBMARINE it moves along well with good performances and a well structured story that amps up the tension nicely. There’s even an attempt to keep things fairly realistic up to a point even if the folks that eventually go outside the sub would have been frozen corpses pretty quick given the temperatures they keep quoting. It’s an entertaining little movie and I recommend it to interested parties. Mark this one down as deserving of a quality DVD release if anyone every starts putting out classic TV scare movies with any regularity.

The second in my mini-marathon of reptile madness was SNAKE WOMAN. A hard to find black & white British film from 1961 it has been called to my attention recently as an undiscovered classic of horror. I was surprised to find I had it on this set of discs but I have to say the print was terrible. It looks like a 3rd generation dupe from a video tape source and while watchable it’s far from good. Maybe one day a better DVD will emerge but I don’t know if I’ll be picking it up.

The movie’s tale starts in 1890 in a small village where the aptly named herpetologist Adderson has been injecting his pregnant, terminally ill wife with snake venom. His crackpot treatment has been keeping her alive but he’s been unable to find a cure. The poor woman dies in childbirth and the baby turns out to have reptilian like cold blood and lidless eyes.

The local midwife freaks out demanding it be killed but the doctor spirits the child away before torch carrying villagers charge in to burn the house down. Putting the baby girl in the hands of an older fellow who expects to hand her over to her father the next day the doc leaves for a 20 year job in Africa. The girl runs away from her keeper and grows up in the ruins of her father’s house. Cut to 1910 as the doctor returns from his long, convenient trip. People are being killed in the night by King Cobra snake bites and a young man from Scotland Yard is sent to investigate.

What to say? I started thinking of this one as SNAKES ON THE HEATH and that was the funniest thing I could come up with that the film didn’t already have. The film is a mess and it’s certainly not the near-classic I’ve heard it described as. It’s got dozens of hysterically bad lines of dialog, a ridiculous central idea that it only half-heartedly tries to flesh out, a muddled romance sub-plot that is completely silly and a lot of pointless talking around the subject in rooms when simply taking action would have answered the various questions. Did no one think to check out the ruined house? How about a carefully planned hunt of the area for this mysterious killer girl everyone fears? Where are the angry gun toting mobs this place was so able to produce just 20 years before?!

But strangely, I can’t hate SNAKE WOMAN. It’s short, it made me laugh and it was interesting enough for a single viewing. Its story is no sillier than a dozen other films from the period but it bears the mark of filmmakers just going through the motions. It’s as if they were working from some ‘Rural English Horror Movie’ template and just plugging in elements to create a linear narrative. For black & white horror fans its worth seeking out but go in with lowered expectations. There’s fun to be had- just not as much or the same kind as I’d been led to believe.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Currently in theaters is one of the best dystopian films I’ve seen in years. Based on a novel by P.D. James CHILDREN OF MEN is simply stunning in its cinematic power with every shot, camera angle and moment of screen time used to near perfection. It riveted me like nothing I’ve seen in some time. Maybe I’m just overly susceptible to these kinds of apocalyptic scenarios but I have to admit that this film brought me to tears on at least three occasions. On every level I found it to be amazing and I could hardly wait to discuss the film with others. But much to my shock the two friends who had seen the film before me casually dismissed the film as ‘good but nothing special’ and ‘OK’. I could hardly believe my ears! I had been sure that a story this intense and so filled with emotion would have affected others in the same way. Perhaps not to the weeping extent I had been, but more than the lukewarm toss-offs I was hearing.

Wondering what the general critical response to the film was led me to an odd critique of the film that fascinated me much more than the back & forth of arguing the movie’s cinematic worth. From the perspective of a serious science fiction fan this fellow complains that the English government would have acted in the opposite way as portrayed in CHILDEN OF MEN. He insists that they would have instead forcing all illegal foreigners out of the country they would try desperately to attract young people from around the planet to bolster their economy. He backs up his opinion with the fact that this is what the novel lays out. His belief is that this misstep cripples the film. Hogwash!

As even he admits the concentration camps and forced expulsions are meant to be a commentary on the current state of ‘Homeland Security’ in the United States he seems not to have noticed his argument fails because of those recent events. His opinion overlooks the basic, terrifying fears of a population in such a nightmare scenario. I’m reminded of the old bit of sad wisdom that a person is smart but people are stupid and easily swayed by fear. The very possible end point of this being that any politician hoping to not be dragged out into the streets would be tempted to get out in front of such a wave of terror stoked hatred. It’s very easy to imagine the speeches railing against the contaminating influence of ‘the other’ used to maintain political power. Indeed the one scene of a government leader shows us someone much above the horror of the world around him. When asked how he copes with the fact that in 50 years everyone on the planet will be dead he sighs and says “I just don’t think about it’. This is a weak man capable of doing terrible things to maintain his place. All you have to do is look around today to see just such sad pandering masquerading as leadership. And to posit that a government would be able control such a situation in the way he describes is (I think) being overly optimistic if not silly.

I do agree with the writer on his points about the filmmakers’ removal of the strong religious aspects of the book. The lack of maniacal religious fervor in a large part of the population is something I would expect in the situation presented. This might be seen as a weakness or flaw but I can see also how including this would have made keeping the film’s complex story under control very difficult. Adding some religious content might have made the actions of some characters more understandable but I never found motivation to be a problem in the film. And it might have even been a distraction from the important ideas being shown through harsh action onscreen.

Well, I’ve run afield when I started out to simply praise this excellent film. I urge others to see it so that one day I’ll be able to find someone touched as deeply by it as I was. I hope!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Recently I had recommended to me the 1936 film THE GREEN PASTURES. I was told that it was an historical curiosity and one of the few all black cast movies from the period to get a DVD release. The film moves the tales of the Old Testament from the Tigris and Euphrates valley and Egypt to the Deep South visualizing them in the imaginations of rural black children. Sitting in Sunday school and coaxed by their pastor to ask questions about what they’ve learned the young kids imagine the creation of Earth, Adam & Eve, Noah’s ark and the Exodus from Pharaoh’s slavery in simple, childlike terms.

I found the film fascinating and bizarre in almost equal measure. It would take a much savvier writer than I to properly address the historical significance of this movie. But I can honestly say I was unsure if I should be insulted by its often degrading view of black people or stunned that the film was made at all. Make no mistake- the movie is insanely offensive in its portrayal of rural southern blacks. The Louisiana patios they speak in is nearly incomprehensible at times with every single character seemingly clueless about things as simple subject and verb agreement. When the character of the Lord God himself speaks as if addressing a pool hall after a hard night of drinking you know you’re in the presence of mighty, entrenched racism. Not to mention that HE is referred to as 'Da Lawd' by everyone with that spelling in the end credits as well!

Smartly Warner Brothers makes no bones about the film being racist. In an onscreen card before the film begins they admit the film is a product of its times and certainly does not represent their view of African-Americans today. But their statement that to ignore the past racist attitudes is to try to pretend they did not exist- which would be wrong. I think this may be the best way to acknowledge the very thorny issue of watching deeply racist films that painfully mirror the attitudes of the times in which they were created. To hide them from view is to sanitize the past but often they can inflame still seething anger over wrongs on both sides. I agree that it’s a bad idea to try to forget the stereotypical racial views of past decades and I’m thrilled to be able to see any films made in the 1930s as I know how many of them are gone. But part of me wonders if this isn’t Warner’s having its cake and eating it as well. After all- they’re making money off this old property just as they did when it was originally made. Are there good intentions behind this DVD release or just a smart bit of profiteering? And am I leaning towards praising them because I’d like to see more such movies released from their vaults? After all SONG OF THE SOUTH is still one of the most requested movies unavailable on video. Disney refuses to release it out of fear of criticism for its supposed racist portrayal of southern blacks. Would a short preface like the one seen here be enough to shield Disney from charges of racism?

In the final analysis I don’t think I care. I enjoyed THE GREEN PASTURES and I think that most people of any race would be able to see it for what it is- a reflection of the mind-set of the times. Black people have come a long way in the past 70 years in the United States and seeing this curious film might point out a few things (both good and bad) to people of all races. In a way it might be good to show people this or other such bits of movie history to expose them to the kind of attitude on display. If nothing else it would spark some discussion on the subject beyond the reactionary standard of the day.