It’s been thirty years, and I’ve got all but a few Joe Dante movies on the ol’ blog, so time for an Innerspace rewatch. I must’ve seen this more than once on cable – some scenes are clearly etched in my memory (The Cowboy singing “I’m an old cowhand from the rio grande,” for some reason) and most of the others felt awfully familiar as they unfolded. Besides the nostalgia value, it’s a tightly written, well-made studio comedy full of enjoyable performances and Bugs Bunny references.

The movie’s secret weapon: Robert Picardo as The Cowboy

Kevin McCarthy in his henchman lair:

Are the opening titles, exploring light beams inside a drink glass, a goof on Stan Brakhage? Probably not. The murdered scientist in charge of Dennis Quaid’s miniaturization experiment is John Hora, better known as Dante’s cinematographer on six movies. Evil Dr. Margaret is Fiona Lewis, the maid in Fearless Vampire Killers, and her false-armed henchman is Vernon Wells, lead villain in Circuitry Man. One of the movie’s writers did an unfrozen caveman drama, the other wrote The Dead Zone screenplay.

Quaid meets his host body:

Meg, right as Martin Short is jumping out the back of a truck:

I thought I heard that this was the kid-friendliest of the post-Mononoke Ghibli movies, and maybe so, but it’s also one of the most unexpectedly bizarre. A magic fish-princess flees her underwater bubble-hatted environmentalist mad-scientist Liam Neeson-sounding dad and befriends a five-year-old boy, turning herself human to stay with him on land during a major flood.

After the flood, octopi and trilobites and eels and jellyfish waste no time moving in:

Most of Neeson’s activities are never explained:

Ponyo running on watery waves of blue fishes is some magical animation:

Human boy Sosuke and his mom meet Ponyo’s ocean-goddess mom:

“The dead should keep quiet.”

Now that i’ve watched Franju’s Shadowman and Judex, lesser-known masterpieces of light, shadow and creepy atmosphere with pulpy serial subjects, it’s time to revisit the original. I’m not sure how he got from Blood of the Beast to the psychiatric hospital drama Head Against the Wall, but as cofounder of the Cinematheque Francaise, perhaps he had an omnivorous love for poetic film in all forms.

Upbeat carnival music – not creepy sounding, which possibly makes it even creepier – as a woman with a pearl necklace (Alida Valli of The Third Man, schoolmistress of Suspiria) furtively dumps a trenchcoated faceless body (movie always fades out quickly after showing us anything faceless) into the river. She works for surgeon Pierre Brasseur (the actor Lemaitre in Children of Paradise), who saved her face from disfigurement and hopes to completely recreate a face for his even-more-disfigured daughter Edith Scob, who spends most of the movie behind an uncanny featureless mask, as recently spotted at the end of Holy Motors.

In her full-faced years, Edith dated a handsome young doctor with plastic hair (Francois Guerin of The Aristocrats), who suspects she is still alive and involves a heavy-set inspector (Alexandre Rignault of La Chienne and Mon Oncle d’Amerique) in the case. I get the young doctor confused with a young cop (Claude Brasseur, Pierre’s son, of The Elusive Corporal), but neither of them ultimately matters.

L-R: elder Brasseur, elder cop, young doctor, young Brasseur/cop:

Paulette having her treatment:

The very reasonable-acting mad doctor kidnaps more girls, attempting to graft their faces onto his daughter’s to only temporary avail – first Edna (Juliette Mayniel of Chabrol’s Les Cousins), who escapes into the main house then suicides when she sees herself in a mirror, then police-plant Paulette (Beatrice Altariba, Cosette in the Jean Gabin Les Miserables). Faceless Edith, hidden away in her room with no entertainment except her own funeral program, finally loses her patience, frees Paulette, stabs the pearl-choker assistant in the throat and sets the lab dogs loose on her dad, then wanders outside, a walking statue surrounded by doves.

Franju made after Head Against the Wall, assisted by Claude Sautet (a noted director in the 1970’s). Cinematographer Eugen Schufftan had shot People On Sunday, worked with GW Pabst, Max Ophuls, Rene Clair and Edgar Ulmer. A quiet movie but for the judicious, counterintuitive use of upbeat music.

“You’re an amazingly unscientific young man.”

“Are we not men?” Fun to imagine young Devo watching this in the 70’s and inverting the mad scientist’s intentions for their de-evolution theories. There’s even Devo-specific content on the Criterion disc, which I need to rent sometime.

Based on the HG Wells novel Island of Dr. Moreau which was remade a few times, with Burt Lancaster then Marlon Brando as Moreau. Here it’s Charles Laughton (same year as The Old Dark House), reveling in his role of the kindly accomodating villain, the calm and rational “mad” scientist with a whip. Laughton may have just invented camp in cinema, beating Bride of Frankenstein by a couple years. All the fun in the movie comes from Laughton along with the creatures whom he has forced to rapidly evolve in his surgical “house of pain”: slinky, sexy Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke, who next appeared in Murders in the Zoo) and fur-faced servants including M’ling (Tetsu Komai) and the Sayer Of The Law (Bela Lugosi, the year after Dracula).

Bela!

No fun at all comes from our obligatory decent romantic couple: Richard Arlen (also the obligatory romantic lead in Thunderbolt) and Leila Hyams (also the obligatory romantic lead in Freaks). He was hitching a ride on a trading ship when he argued with the captain and got dumped at Moreau’s, and after he’d failed to show up, his fiancee Hyams teams up with some other captain named Donahue and goes searching. Donahue doesn’t make it out, nor does “doctor” Montgomery, a morally grey character who works with Moreau. And Moreau has compared himself to God – never a good idea in a movie, so we know he’s doomed as well.

The movie’s pretty good overall, with cool creatures and a perfect dose of Laughton, but it also serves up a smarter ending than expected. Laughton has built his dominance over the semi-evolved creatures through intimidation (the whip, House of Pain) and The Law, which forbids killing. But when he orders one monster to kill the captain, the others have enough of a grasp of logic to realize that “law no more,” and go on a Moreau-and-island-destroying rampage.

Kenton also made some Lon Chaney Jr. horrors in the 1940’s. Adapted from the Wells story by Philip Wylie (who’d also work on Wells’ The Invisible Man) and Waldemar Young (Love Me Tonight, Desire) and shot by Karl Struss (Sunrise).