“Sci Fi Pictures presents”

The Full Moon era has ended. Sci Fi are producers of hundreds of TV movies I’ve never heard of, most of them involving sharks, and a few craptastic sequels (Species 3, Stir of Echoes 2, Firestarter Rekindled, Return of the Living Dead 4+5, lots of Lake Placid movies).

“Written by Courtney Joyner”

A cowriter on part 3, also video store faves Class of 1999 and Doctor Mordrid.

“Directed by Ted Nicolaou”

Ted made Bad Channels, which you’ll recall got mashed up with Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, and also made TerrorVision and the Subspecies movies, so he seems like the right man for the job.

It’s a Christmas movie! The Demonic Toys have been rebranded as Christmas Pals by a toy company run by Vanessa Angel (the fake woman in the 90’s Weird Science TV series). In a Child’s Play / Halloween III mashup, she’s helping a demon destroy humanity, and step one is getting cursed toys into every household.

Angel + Henchman Julian:

Meanwhile across town, Disgruntled Suburban Ruffalo Scientist Bobby Toulon has got a full collection of crucified puppets in his basement, is trying to bring them to life using ol’ Andre’s notes. It’s a funny thing to say about circa-2004 Corey Feldman, but he gives one of the finest performances of the franchise – I like the gruff crank voice he’s doing. He’s assisted by loyal daughter Dani Keaton (already a horror vet from Pinocchio’s Revenge and Carpenter’s Village of the Damned). Everyone else in the movie is Bulgarian, since that is a very cheap place to shoot a movie.

All the nazi-fighting magic is turned into toy company espionage. I don’t love the attempt to cross dark puppet magic with christianity, but whatever. Each side runs into setbacks: Six Shooter blows up the lab and all the puppets catch fire, and Angel is scrambling for a human sacrifice on Christmas eve and has to bleed her receptionist in the iron maiden.

It’s definitely a proper Puppet Master movie, in that it’s crowded with Toulon family mythology bullshit, and feels long at 90 minutes. Angel needs the Toulon secrets to complete her evil plan and kidnaps the daughter, but Corey upgrades the puppets’ weaponry, and they fuck up some demonic toys. The demon (wearing a santa suit, nice) is displeased and drags Angel to hell.

I get barely over an hour of laptop time on the flights, and don’t wanna stoop to watching Prestige Cable TV Dramas, so this box set of 65-minute Boris Karloff movies was just the ticket.

Karloff plays a mad genius (the same year he donned the neckscrews for the third and final time in Son of Frankenstein), working with Dr. Lang (Byron Foulger, a Preston Sturges regular who would later work with the real Lang) to perfect a mechanized external glass circulatory system for reviving the dead, so patients’ hearts can be stopped then revived, rather than having to keep them alive during major surgeries. Maybe not a great era for Euro-accented scientists to advocate gassing people to death. Anyway, Karloff’s test subject is willing student Bob, whose girlfriend Nurse Betty (Capra regular Ann Doran) calls the police, who bust up the experiment, ensuring Bob can’t be revived. After receiving the death penalty, Karloff is allowed to walk around the court insulting everyone… of course he’s donating his body to science, and Lang is there to collect.

“Make it weird, make it dramatic, and make it snappy.” A megalomaniac vengeance-seeking undead mad scientist can’t be our 1930’s movie hero, so enter Karloff’s beautiful daughter Lorna Gray (the 1940’s Captain America serial and Adventure in Sahara) and her reporter boyfriend Scoop, who crash daddy’s months-later plot to trap his condemning judge and jury in a booby-trapped house and murder them one by one, using electrified walls and poisoned telephones. Lorna and Scoop and the cops stop the rampage after only a couple victims, and a dying Boris shoots up his glass contraption, because who deserves eternal life, who can say?

Karloff, Lang, and the glass contraption:

Scoop up front with a bunch of dead men:

Lorna is disappointed in her dad:

Part one was the masterpiece that I remembered, and part two… well, it’s a sequel, it’s fine. Maybe losing Stuart Gordon (who was filming Robot Jox instead) was a real problem, or maybe it’s just sequelitis, or I should relax, since this is still quite good.

Dan has no self-respect, is still palling around with the clearly mad Herbert, who is doing gruesome experiments in an unsupervised warzone before returning to the hospital of part one, where he claims he’s doing important work but mostly fucks around reanimating whimsically-joined body parts.

Curious Dr. Graves (Mel Stewart of Shirley Clarke’s Cool World) awakens the evil psychic head of Dr. Hill. As before, emotionally fragile Dan tries to have a love life (Fabiana Udenio of the second Austin Powers) and West accidentally kills someone (this time a cop!) whom he has to resurrect to get out of trouble. And sure as shit, they go the full Frankenstein, making a Bride out of stolen body parts, causing a love-triangle problem for Dan, who chooses life, so the new creature tears her own heart out.

Some sequelly repetition here to be sure, but adding the mad doctor and the puzzle girl, then sending Kirsty and the resurrected Julia through the labyrinth with them, all great ideas. Overall made by people in sympathy with the spirit of the original, though that wouldn’t last through many more sequels. Too many flashbacks to the first movie, but in fairness you could never follow it without them. A powerful movie, never truly scary because you don’t quite buy it, but no acting missteps either. Leviathan, Lord of the Labyrinth should’ve played a bigger part in later movies, instead of continuing to obsess over Pinhead’s human origins.

Skinless Julia:

Stolen Skin:

Barker wrote the story, and screenwriter Peter “Martin” Atkins would write the next two, then Wishmaster, before turning to novels. Randel went on to make the haunted-clock Amityville sequel, the famously bad Fist of the North Star, and most recently a kids movie about a telepathic dog.

“Help my daughter”

Julia and Channard:

Poet horror lobotomist Dr. Channard is my dad’s age, was in Prospero’s Books and Hot Fuzz. Julia is in The House of Mirth which I also need to rewatch. Kirsty’s boyfriend Steve flakes off forever and is quickly forgotten, as Nurse Kyle becomes her sympathetic new guy: William Hope went from Aliens to this, then nothing, and twenty years later found his calling as a Thomas the Tank Engine regular. “Get them off me” guy was Oliver Smith – appropriately the same actor who played Skinless Frank.

Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.

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.