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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Incubus (1966)


It has been far too long since I reviewed a film I actually didn't like, so I figured I had better get off of the "this movie is great and you should see it" kick for a hot minute to deliver a write up on a hot steaming turd of cinema instead. That sounds fair, right? This one has been lurking on my movie shelf for far too long, mocking me weekly and daring me to write about it so like it or not its time has come. Please do not claim that I gave you no warning...

Trailer:


There is no proper theatrical trailer for this so far as I am aware (the only country it received wide distribution in was France- more on that later), so instead here is the home video release trailer from some time ago. It's a bit cheesy yes, but at least shows you a little of what you might get yourself into. I have done so many reviews that have no trailer available it's a pleasure to find one for a film this esoteric whether I like the movie or not. But enough meandering, I should tell you what it is all about.

Plot:

In a small village there lies a well which legend has it can make people young again and heal the sick. many conceited people come here and are victimized by succubi who lure them to their deaths in the lands surrounding the village. A young succubi named Kia tires of luring drunkards and corrupt whinos to their deaths and wants to destroy a purer soul. Along comes Marc (Shatner), a target which Kia cannot resist. She fails to heed the warnings that with a pure soul comes the danger of love (something the succubi cannot combat), in what is an ultimately predictable and boring fairy tale.

You might have noticed from the trailer up above (unless you are one of the MANY slouches who apparently think I put clips in these reviews for no reason at all so you just skip over them like a tremendous ninny) that this movie has the added bonus of not only being bogus but also being entirely in Esperanto. I don't know a lick of that language at all, and I don't think the cast does either. 95% of the time it sounds like they memorized the lines phonetically just to get paid. William Shatner is perhaps the one exception here, as he is also a halfway decent actor, but even he seems to struggle with this strange language much of the time. Apparently Esperanto was chosen to make the film feel more mysterious and ethereal but unfortunately the opposite is true, so instead the film becomes tedious and unintentionally hilarious. It is said that when this was premiered the portion of the audience that spoke Esperanto roared with laughter the entire time, which says all I need to know.

Example:


It's like watching a bunch of 14 year olds do Shakespeare, am I right? Now would be a good time to mention the dude who plays the Incubus. The actors name is Milos Milos, and his career is very short indeed (two whole movies). He had an affair with Mickey Rooney's wife and was found-along with Rooney's wife- shot dead in her home. One wonders why that happened as affairs generally do not end in suicide but theorize all you like. The cast is made up of actors who mostly did television work, and this makes sense when the forces vehind it are taken into account. The film almost feels like it was made for TV (it wasn't), which is kind of interesting in my opinion. It was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, who was the creator and also executive producer of The Outer Limits throughout its entire run. After the series was cancelled in 1965 he wanted to make a film with his now seasoned production crew with the idea of marketing it to the art house circuit. Needless to say it didn't really work.

The crew involved were no slouches though, and included people such as Dominic Frontiere writing the score (he later went on to do music for such films as Hang 'Em High and Hollywood superturd The Color Of Night which was unfortunately his final score) and cinematographer Conrad Hall (Electra Glide In Blue, Marathon Man, American Beauty). But no amount of talent could save the film thanks to the ridiculous choice of language used for shooting and the Milos Milos murder scandal, along with the suicide of actress Ann Atmar just weeks before the premiere, made it so nobody would touch it. It apparently enjoyed a good run in France (like I said earlier) which turned out to be quite fateful later on.

When Stevens wished to do a home video release in 1993 he found out the negatives, etc. had been lost and were presumed to have been destroyed by a fire. As not many prints of the film were struck, it remained a lost film until a print showed up in 1996 in the Cinematheque Francaise. The only problems were A) the condition of the print and B) the fact that burned in French subtitles were on the negative. After an exhaustive restoration (partially funded by the Sci-Fi Channel) everybody can marvel at just how bad a seemingly good idea can get. The French subtitles being part of the print used are why the English titles have a black border around them, which has the added consequence of blocking out a significant portion of the frame during certain scenes.

I think the idea of this film is compelling. The finished product is sluggish and actually almost painful to watch, and I do not recommend it to anyone but the curious or the Shatner completist. Art house horror movies are usually pretty bad with very few exceptions (The original version of The Wicker Man  is an example of a good one so far as I see things) and you can probably guess where this one falls in my opinion. I don't think being drunk while watching it would help much, come to think of it I don't think anything would. BUT: I am glad that this film wasn't lost forever no matter how bad I think it is, because there is nothing worse than having a piece of cinema good or bad disappear so that it can never be viewed again.

RECOMMENDED ONLY TO THE BORED/CURIOUS AMONG US

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Out Of The Past (1947)


How I lived so long without having seen this film is a really really good question. I have always had a deep love of film noir and all of its trappings and I cannot readily think of a film that really sets the bar for the rest more than this one. I know that is a bit of a blanket statement considering how many really terrific titles there are in this genre but I am not the only one who feels this way. I wish movies still had snappy hard boiled dialogue like this today, I would be more likely to shell out the pocket money for a ticket.

The film is all about the past of Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), a seemingly normal bloke, and how it catches up with him. He operates a gas station in a small town of little significance, and leads a simple life with his fiancee' Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) until a man from out of town starts asking questions. A major flashback (involving 40,000 dollars and a dame to end all dames) through Jeff's seedy past reveals all to Ann as they drive toward a fateful meeting. Sensing a setup but with no choice left but to finish business he would rather forget, Jeff must confront his past love (Jane Greer) and her maniacal lover (Kirk Douglas) and finally put things to bed.

This movie is a great deal more complex than this of course. What I give you above sounds a great deal like most other noir films but trust me there is far more than that to chew on. Not all films that fit into film noir can boast that, as with anything there are 50 B grade trash fests for every A lister like what we have here. I think that is something that helps the film the most. RKO Radio Pictures had been focusing on the all to lucrative market of B movies for a good while and someone decided it would be a good idea to give Out Of The Past an A budget, and it shows. Director Jacques Tourneur made one hell of a masterpiece with the money they gave him.

But of course flashy cinematography and good casting simply are not enough, the script is what is really important here. Daniel Mainwaring (who later went on to write the screenplay for the original 1956 version of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers) pulled out all the stops to deliver a screenplay so full of hard hitting dialogue and intrigue it makes my head spin. It is no surprise either, considering he also wrote the novel that the film is based on which was titled Build My Gallows High. The colorful speech used in movies like this has always been a major point of interest for me, and sometimes I wonder if everyone talked this way at one point in time and everyone was magically wittier in the 40's but somehow I doubt it. It's up to us clever folks to make sure that witty comebacks like the ones Robert Mitchum uses constantly in this film never go the way of the Dodo.

In case you have the memory of a goldfish, I mentioned a major flashback during the plot synopsis. The flashback is so major it actually takes up a vast majority of the running time. Much like an over extensive voiceover (think Apocalypse Now for an example of where it actually worked), a flashback of such epic length can be hard pressed to carry a movie. It happens so seamlessly that unless you stop and think about it you forget that a flashback is even happening. Try to think of another movie where this was done and done so very well, I bet you can't. Such a showcase of screenwriting skill is a rare occurrence indeed.

Most of the films I have seen lately have really incredible casting choices, and I have to say this is one more to add on the pile. Not a single dud to be seen anywhere. Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas' talents need no introduction. Seeing Kirk Douglas so young however was a real treat (he was around 30 or 31 at the time of release), due to the fact I didn't even read the DVD case to see who was in it in order to achieve maximum surprise. Jane Greer is a supreme femme fatale, displaying both fragility and also deadly cunning. Virginia Huston does an amazing job with the relatively small part she has, and it is a shame that she never got more successful. A car accident broke her back at the height of her fame, and by the time she was healed all she could muster were B level movie roles. A true shame indeed.

There is always so much more to tell with any film I choose to review, but I can never seem to bring myself to go all out (unless the movie in question is a stinker). Besides, part of the fun is letting you discover at least a little bit about a movie yourself. I can't find a single thing wrong with this movie, and I hope you feel the same way too. Color film is great but sometimes black and white can do more than any amount of Technicolor could ever hope for.

RECOMMENDED BEYOND THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT.