This weeks review is for a film I actually like: The Manipulator aka B.J. Lang Presents (1971). As there are no helpful youtube clips for this movie beyond other folks own reviews and I do not as yet have the items necessary to make my own clips, I will have to do my best to describe things to you with only words. This movie is what I like to refer to as a real live sleeper hit.
It seems this film was made in the dark end of Mickey Rooney's career, and as such has an incredibly low rating on imdb which I firmly believe is very unjust. The loosely defined plot (with little unnecessary exposition, which I feel does this film tremendous credit) centers on ex Hollywood makeup artist BJ Lang (Rooney) and an actress (Anders) he is holding captive in a multi level building of some sort. We are never certain just where the building is located or even what kind (we can assume a warehouse) as events constantly unfurl into a world of escapist insanity.
Lang is living in an immense delusion of grandeur and is "filming" (with no doubt empty cameras) a production of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac- all the while yammering and conversing with imaginary crew members and recounting his former (and pitiful) notoriety. The poor actress who has been kidnapped/coerced/tricked (we never know) into playing the part of Roxanne is tied to a wheel chair by rags for a fair portion of the film. Claustrophobia, paranoia, and schizophrenia commence through the final frame.
I won't give away anything more than this because I want you to seek it out, rather I will focus the rest of this short and sweet review on what makes this film work so well in my opinion. The film is frightening, bizzare, and psychedelic. The only special effects utilized are something modern directors with digital cameras have all but forgotten about- OPTICAL TRICKERY. Fisheye lens closeups, slow motion, under cranked images, and even stills make the viewer become one with the crumbling edifice of Lang's shattered mind.
The use of these camera tricks combined with constant contradicting shots of escape and imprisonment of the captive actress only further serve to make one question reality itself. Has she escaped? Much like Ridley Scott's incomparable horror classic Alien (1979) its what the audience does NOT know that makes things so frightening. As mentioned before where is this warehouse of props we are in? How long has she been kept there (we only know long enough to be desperately hungry) and how did she get there? What was the final straw that pushed Lang to such depths? The answers never come, and I prefer not to know what's behind the curtain.
As far as I know, the only home video releases (in the US at least, anybody who knows of foreign releases please chime in!) are the Vestron VHS reviewed here and a Mill Creek Entertainment DVD only available in one of those terrible "50 movies for 20 bucks" type box sets filled mostly with garbage. If you find this movie lying about somewhere don't hesitate, its a rarity!