Bloody October: The Shallows (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

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The Shallows is certainly the most contemporary film you’re going to see on my Bloody October list (and it probably wouldn’t be on here at all save for my roommate reminding me of its existence). The Shallows hit cinemas this past summer, shocking everyone by being a “decently scary shark” movie instead of a “Blake Lively in a bathing suit, with a shark” movie. And while it ain’t Jaws, I’d say that The Shallows is a damn enjoyable film.

The plot is lovely in its simplicity. Surfer-girl and medical student Nancy (Lively) goes to Mexico to decompress from the emotions following the death of her mother. Heading to a “secret beach,” she has a nice day of surfing and sun. But when she tries to catch her final wave back to shore, a shark knocks her from her surfboard and takes a bite out of her leg. Bleeding and succumbing to shock, Nancy manages to pull herself onto a jutting rock in the middle of the shallows. She’s trapped there, hunted by a shark with a taste for human flesh, with no rescue in sight.

The Shallows hits all the right notes for a menacing monster movie without banking on complicated twists or needless exposition. All of the necessary elements are introduced early on: Nancy goes to the beach alone because her sister was supposed to go with her and bailed at the last minute; her medical training is established long before it becomes a necessary plot point; the presence of fire corral and jellyfish, which will figure into her attempts at escape, are points clearly dropped in without making an issue out of them. The leanness of the plot means that the film can focus on the trials of Nancy, for awhile the only character on the screen.

Lively makes for a sympathetic protagonist, pulling The Shallows away from a gimmick-laden genre film to an honestly decent movie that understands its predictability and revels in it. Without descending to parody, the film manages to be tense and frightening. Neither Nancy nor the shark strain credulity with their abilities – the latter is just an animal looking for food, the former prey trying to escape. While the film does hint at some deeper meaning – Nancy questions what’s the point of fighting when it’s all going to end the same anyways – it thankfully shies away from giving too much importance to philosophical life lessons.

The weakest point of The Shallows is the CGI shark, which makes its appearance way too early and takes away some of the menace. One of the strengths of Jaws was not showing too much of an animatronic animal, allowing the unseen evil to suffice for horror. The Shallows’ shark appears several times, and at each appearance becomes less believable. It’s so obviously CGI that it dissipates the menace of an actual animal hunting an injured woman.

Despite a few shortcomings, The Shallows is an effective film, never trying to be more than it is. This is a movie about woman vs. shark, and it’s allowed to be just that.

Bloody October: It (1990)

It (1990)

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I will confess something: I’m not a fan of Stephen King. I’ve read a few of his novels and there’s always a point at which he becomes sadistic in the treatment of his characters. I had to finally abandon Salem’s Lot for just this reason, and Pet Sematary stands as one of my least favorite books. But somehow, I’ve always enjoyed the adaptations of King’s books far more than the books themselves.

The 1990 miniseries It is based on King’s 1000+ page novel of the same name. It tells the story of a group of kids in Derry, Maine who face a nameless evil in the form of the diabolical clown Pennywise (Tim Curry). Pennywise has been slowly picking off the kids of the town one by one, luring them down into the sewers with promises of balloons and cotton candy. The Losers Club – seven kids who face different kinds of bullying from the local toughs – band together to stop Pennywise once and for all.

Like the novel, the miniseries spans thirty years. The final member to join the club Mike (Tim Reid) is also the only one to stay in Derry, acting as the local librarian. He’s the one who calls them all back together when a series of killings reminds him of Pennywise. As each member of the group filters back to town, their stories are revealed.

It suffers somewhat from its overlong, episodic structure. Rather than going in chronological order, the constant flashbacks as each Loser remembers his or her past becomes a wearing device, bouncing the viewer back and forth between the past and present day. It also slightly confuses some of the plot elements that are deemed important in the second half of the miniseries, when the Losers finally get back together in Derry. They all claim to have limited memories of what happened, yet the flashbacks, told from the perspective of each character, are very clear.

It might have worked better as a shorter film, cutting down on some of the episodes and allowing the story of friendship and loss of innocence to develop over time. There are quite a lot of themes that are only cursorily touched on here – including what “It” is, exactly, and why it has chosen Derry – yet the miniseries still feels overlong. Nor is it always clear that It manifests itself as something that each child fears. Apparently Beverly is afraid of sinks backing up?

The first half of It is saved by the presence of Tim Curry, who makes one hell of a scary clown. Curry’s peculiar brand of indulgent, delicious evil is well-suited to Pennywise, a sadistic trickster as well as a manifestation of evil. Pennywise isn’t just content with eating children every thirty years – he wants to scare the bejeezus out of them first. As he torments the children and their adult selves alike, his presence becomes something to look forward to. It’s rather disappointing, in fact, when It’s true form is revealed…

It is a serviceable film that nonetheless would play better, with all its flaws, as a two hour movie and not a 3+ hour miniseries. A little whittling down of the story – or at least making it less episodic – would have gone a long way to making even this TV version higher quality. To that end, a new version of It is currently being produced as a two-part film, which is both interesting and a little worrying. I’m not sure that clowns need any more bad rap at the moment.

The Faculty (1998)

The Faculty (1998)

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The 90s were a time of some high quality horror movie…somethings. I hesitate to say parodies, because that conjures images of the Scary Movie franchise, so let us say horror movie metas. The first Scream film hit cinemas in 1996, bringing with it a simultaneous celebration and critique of the slasher subgenre, and of the movie brat culture spawned by a generation of fans who knew just a little too much about genre. In Scream’s wake came The Faculty, Robert Rodriguez’s delirious salute to alien invasion films that engages with sci-fi tropes in much the same that Scream did slashers.

The Faculty hits the ground running. We open on Herrington High School during football practice, where Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) loudly abuses his team and flips a table. That’s about all we get to know about the coach, because he’s immediately possessed by a weird alien lifeform. A bit of a bloodbath later, and the opening credits actually roll. The rest of the film hits first on all of the typical high school movie tropes before we return to the aliens: we meet the captain of the football team Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the clever geek Casey (Elijah Wood), the bad boy drug dealer Zeke (Josh Harnett), the bitchy head cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), the new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris), and the goth girl Stokes (Clea DuVall). As the film goes on, each trope is carefully subverted, fleshing the characters into existence outside of their generic markers. It’s a clever conceit in itself, but one that couldn’t be sustained without those aliens and some good body horror to back it up.

As more and more faculty members fall prey to the parasite, our small band of clichés must come together to defeat the alien menace. A good part of this is figuring out the rules by which the parasites operate, which is where Stokes comes in: a sci-fi geek, she knows everything from The Thing to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the books on which they are based. With her guidance and a bit of luck, the students navigate the changing school and try to suss out how to kill the aliens…preferably without killing everyone else in the process.

While the notion of rules is more thoroughly played out in ScreamThe Faculty is all that it sets out to be. There’s a healthy dose of body horror, indulged in with all the delicious glee that one expects from Rodriguez. The plot certainly borrows heavily from the films that it’s referencing, but that’s to be expected: if you go into The Faculty with the expectation that it will fail to fulfill generic expectations, you will be disappointed. The actors are all game for their roles, but the adults appear to be having a lot more fun than the young people. If you thought you didn’t need Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie as a tag team of malevolence, you were very wrong – they’re delightful. Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, and Selma Hayek all get in on the action, with Famke Janssen’s mousey English teacher finally letting go in a scene that probably most put-upon professors have dreamt of once in a while. The Faculty gleefully lets the teachers take revenge against bullying students, and then gives the students their chance as well.

While never quite rising to the heights of its meta-movie counterparts, The Faculty succeeds in its project to make an alien invasion film with a difference. It’s simply entertaining, an enjoyable diversion that hits all the right notes. I might not have finished it with the same sense of exhilaration that I did the Scream franchise but damn if it wasn’t fun getting there.

Bloody October: Housebound (2014)

Housebound (2014)

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I’m not sure what’s in the water over there around New Zealand and Australia, but they are producing some unique horror films right now. The Australian feature The Babadook was notable for its female-centric narrative punctuated by some truly terrifying sequences; now another film about haunted women comes from the neighboring country of New Zealand in the form of Housebound. 

Housebound focuses on Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a very inept felon captured while trying to rob an ATM. This is not her first offense, however, so the court sentences her to a fate worse than prison: house arrest at her mother (Rima Te Wiata) Miriam’s home. With a sensor fixed to her ankle so that she can’t leave the grounds without setting off an alarm, Kylie has to settle in to life with her mother and stepfather Graham (Ross Harper). At first Kylie is just sullen about the whole ordeal, but soon she learns that her mother persists in a long-standing belief that the house is haunted. When Kylie herself begins experiencing some rather paranormal phenomena, she enlists the help of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security contractor who monitors her sensor and just so happens to be an amateur ghost hunter. As the pair begin to discover some sinister secrets about the house, Kylie becomes more convinced that it’s not all in her mind.

Housebound is that perfect blend of horror and comedy that makes films like Scream or Gremlins so enjoyable. The first half of the film is a legitimate haunted house story, complete with weird noises, looming figures, flashing lights, and strange events. The second half focuses more on Amos and Kylie’s attempts to discover the reason behind the haunting, leading them further afield – and Kylie into greater danger. But the whole film is underscored with wry humor: Kylie is a sarcastic, sullen young woman, her mother bright and bubbly and largely at peace with the fact that her house is plagued by a ghost. Most importantly, however, the plot all hangs together, right from the very beginning. The denouement is always a challenge for haunting films; there’s only so many way to resolve the story. Housebound actually gives a satisfying, believable conclusion to a very weird tale, bending genre tropes without ever breaking its own rules. The fact that this is all done by a first-time director and a relatively unknown cast just makes that much more surprising and exciting.

As an inveterate lover of haunted house movies, I can recommend Housebound with gusto. My one complaint is that there’s at least one twist that I did manage to predict, but that did nothing to damage my enjoyment of the film. It’s an entertaining ride from start to finish, rarely missing a beat, and bringing some proper scares along with it.

Bloody October: Corridors of Blood (1958)

Corridors of Blood (1958)

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There’s a bit of a misnomer in the title of this film: while there are many corridors, there’s very little blood featured in what amounts to an effective thriller from 1958.

Corridors of Blood stars Boris Karloff in rare non-monstrous mode as Dr. Thomas Bolton, an expert surgeon in the Victorian period searching for the key to painless surgery. Bolton’s humanitarian efforts to discover anesthesia have him experimenting on himself with a mixture of gases until he finally finds the mixture that works. Unfortunately, the mixture also causes blackouts that have Bolton wandering London, getting into mischief and eventually being exploited by underworld criminal Black Ben (Francis de Wolff) and his associate Resurrection Joe (Christopher Lee) to sign false death certificates for murder victims.

Corridors of Blood is a surprisingly slow-moving film for its run time (it comes in at less than an hour and a half), taking awhile to build the character of Bolton and the world of barbarous surgery that he’s trying to reform. The most intense scenes are also the earliest, as Bolton performs amputations without the benefit of anesthesia. That in itself is horrific enough and Bolton’s colleagues seem to be immune to the suffering of their patients, relying on the refrain that you cannot separate pain and the knife. Bolton disagrees, but as he gradually becomes addicted to the anesthetic gases with which he experiments his own surgical skill suffers.

While far from a horror film, Corridors of Blood is actually quite effective at creating a sympathetic protagonist whose gradual downfall is entirely due to his humanism (in contrast to your usual mad scientist). Christopher Lee puts in a strong but underused performance as the sepulchral Resurrection Joe, a character who looms out of dark corridors dressed in a funeral coat and top hat. The other characters are fairly stock, from the earnest young doctor who wants to make a difference to the sweet Victorian maiden (Bolton’s niece) confused by what’s going with her uncle. Still, though you can predict the ending of this film, that doesn’t make it any less poignant.

The Bat (1959)

The Bat (1959)

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B-grade mystery movies of the 1950s had a cache all their own. Very often the ghostly or apparently supernatural killer was in it for the money and nothing else, which for me usually takes some of the suspense out of the investigation. I was pleasantly surprised by The Bat, however, which has all the earmarks of a generic thriller and manages to be a bit different. The Bat is a surprisingly clever, funny little film, stocked with some excellent character actors led by Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price.

The Bat opens with mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (Moorehead) leasing an old mansion while the owner is away on an extended hunting trip. The mansion and the small town have a sinister history, though: they were the site of several murders the year before by a character known only as The Bat, a serial killer who preys on women by ripping their throats out with steel claws. Cornelia is thrilled at first, but things start getting ugly when The Bat apparently breaks into her house and releases a rabid bat into her bedroom. These events are wound up in the disappearance of a million dollars in securities from the vault of the local bank. The culprit is the bank’s owner and proprietor of the very mansion where Cornelia and her maid now live; but the bank owner was murdered by his friend Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price) before revealing the location of the securities (I’d say this was a spoiler, but it happens within the first ten minutes of the film’s run time).

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There are actually more than a few twists and turns running through a film that appears quite simple on the face of it. The mansion is treated as an “old dark house,” but some of the suspense is punctured by Cornelia and her maid’s no-nonsense attitude to tales of ghosts and killers. AgnesMoorehead is at the top of her game here, playing Cornelia as an acerbic Agatha Christie who delights in the mayhem going on around her, and is more than capable of taking on several Bats at once.The film makes excellent use of its female characters, each of whom proves to be much tougher than the men that surround them. Female friendship is powerful and long-lasting, while male friendship proves remarkably false. It’s really up to the women to solve the mystery, save the town, and find the loot; the men are too busy killing each other off.

Moorehead has a brilliant counterpart in Vincent Price; their scenes together pop as each tries to out-creep the other. Price’s sinister persona is pitch perfect as always, giving the simplest lines dark and terrible meaning that he obviously delights in. If there’s a flaw in him, it’s that he’s so obviously sinister from the beginning, as the audience is privy to the original murder of the bank owner.

The Bat isn’t a brilliant thriller by any means; one wonders what a Hitchcock or a Lang might have made out of the same cast and script. But it is a diverting little film, enjoyable from beginning to end. Don’t assume that you know the solution as you go into it – it has quite a number of hidden corridors.

The Haunted Palace (1963)

The Haunted Palace (1963)

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The Haunted Palace combines four – FOUR! – of my favorite things: Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Roger Corman, and Vincent Price. As such, there’s almost no place that this film can go wrong.

With a title and epigraph lifted from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Haunted Palace is actually based on the Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, about a man possessed by the evil spirit of his long-dead relative (a gross oversimplification of the story, but bear with me). Roger Corman’s adaptation takes a remarkably faithful approach to that story; which, given the serious problems with adapting Lovecraft, is quite impressive for a 1963 film. Vincent Price opens the film as Joseph Curwen, a suspected warlock living in a massive palace above the village of Arkham. Young girls begin vanishing during the night, only to reappear again the next day with no memory of where they’d been. The latest abduction results in the town rising up against Curwen and his unnatural necromantic tendencies. They burn him in his own front yard, but not before he’s placed a curse upon their children and their children’s children, promising to return to wreak terrible vengeance.

Moving forward about a hundred years and Charles Dexter Ward, Curwen’s great-great-grandson, reappears in Arkham to take over the lease on his relative’s estate. Along with his wife Anne (Debra Paget, Ward is met with violent hostility from the townsfolk, all of whom bear remarkable resemblances to their great-great-grandfathers. As explained by the kindly Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell), Curwen’s curse and Ward’s uncanny resemblance to his forebear is just the tip of the eldritch iceberg. Curwen was apparently trying to summon the Elder Gods, his activity taking the form of drawing creatures out of the abyss and mating them with the local girls, resulting in children with bizarre deformities (whose descendants at one point menace Ward and Anne). Now the town fear that Curwen has returned in the form of Ward to take vengeance and begin his work again – a fear eventually realized when Ward moves into the palace and Curwen begins taking over the body of his relative.

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The Haunted Palace follows at least some of the plot of Lovecraft’s novella fairly closely, albeit with some notable changes. The action centers on Curwen’s slow possession of Ward, with the help of his partner-in-necromancy Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.). The film introduces the very Lovecraftian themes of violation, degeneracy, family curses and, of course, the Elder Gods, all mixed together in a hodge-podge of lurid detail. The only truly sympathetic characters in the film are Ward, Anne, and Dr. Willet; the townspeople are venal and cruel, though they might not deserve the fate that Curwen eventually dishes out to them. Under Corman’s direction, The Haunted Palace draws out the sexual underpinnings of the story without veering into exploitation. In a movie that includes roasting people alive and offering women up to creatures from the abyss, the most disturbing scene is Curwen’s attempted rape of Anne while in the body of Ward.

Supported by a uniformly excellent cast, Vincent Price is of course the star of the show – and how he seems to enjoy it! His transformation between Ward and Curwen is effected with minimal make-up, instead relying on Price’s remarkable expressiveness of face and voice. Though Price has often been maligned as a ham actor, his ability to summon sympathy for villains and horror for heroes is a talent that Corman honed in the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Here it is on full display, to excellent and chilling effect.

The other actors are almost as enjoyable as Price, although they have considerably less to do. Paget deserves her share of the accolades, playing Anne as a damsel in distress still able to operate on some of her own initiative. There’s a wonderful and heart-breaking pathos to Ward and Anne’s relationship, as Anne is forced to deal with a husband who looks like himself and demonstrably is not. Then there’s Lon Chaney Jr. (here billed just as Lon Chaney), whose sad-eyes and sympathetic face conceal a true monster this time around.

The Haunted Palace does exactly what it sets out to do, and is successful as far it goes. While some of the opening sequences drag a little, particularly Ward and Anne’s arrival in the village, the narrative bounces along at a good pace, with little additional flourishes to distract from the central thrust of the story. It’s an early Lovecraft adaptation, but a remarkably successful one. Besides, how often do you get to see Vincent Price psychologically torturing Vincent Price?

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Bloody October: Fright Night (1985)

Fright Night (1985)

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Yet again, I am a big horror fan and yet, somehow, I have managed to miss seeing the original Fright Night before now. This has been properly rectified, and I am pleased to say that the hype was not misplaced.

Fright Night tells the story of Charley (William Ragsdale), a high school student who decides that he’d rather watch the weird neighbors next door than have sex with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse). Although I know that subsequent events were largely out of Charley’s control, there still seems to be a moral in that story: sex first, vampires later. What Charley does see that fateful night are his new neighbors moving a coffin into the basement; this, in addition to the appearance on the TV screen of Fright Night, a late-night spookfest featuring “vampire killer” Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), provokes Charley to believe that his neighbor might be a vampire. This is later confirmed by the arrival and subsequent disappearance of a prostitute, whom Charlie sees going into the house. When the prostitute later winds up dead, Charley’s suspicions are confirmed. Consulting his friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), Charley learns about the best way to fight against vampires – but not before his mother has invited the offending creature into the house. And no wonder! Our vampire is dashing Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), by whom most of us would not object to being bitten. Will sexy vampire triumph over horny teenager? We’ll just have to wait and see!

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Fright Night makes excellent use of the vampire mythos we all know so well – and anyone who has ever watched a vampire movie, from Dracula to Dracula Untold, will recognize certain important rules that are made, subverted, and at times even broken. The film melds tradition with a unique story, as the vampire moves in next door and heads to dance clubs. Dandridge is a charming but wholly unsympathetic villain, avoiding at every turn the pitfalls of modern vampires that are just “misunderstood.” He’s not misunderstood – he’s an evil lord of the undead, taking sadistic pleasure in torturing Charley (whom no one will believe) and seducing fair young maidens. While I cannot avoid thinking of Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride, he makes a credible vampire.

Roddy McDowall is the other major force at work here, channeling everyone from Peter Cushing to Vincent Price (Peter Vincent, anyone?), with a smattering of Elvira. He’s an actor playing a vampire killer, now faced with an actual vampire – and when he finally gets into the swing of things, it’s a pleasure to watch. The other actors in the group are a cut below McDowall’s hamming, the most obnoxious being Evil, who shouts and giggles like a demented Renfield to no apparent purpose. Charley and Amy are likably bland, as are most heroes and heroines in vampire stories.

My sole objection to Fright Night is a reveal nearing the end, where a rule hitherto established and accepted is bent and then broken with little to no explanation. Vampire movies depend upon their rules: if your vampire is repelled by crucifixes but not by garlic, can’t cast a reflection in glass but can in water, all well and good. But you don’t introduce a new and non-traditional rule at the eleventh hour and then fail to explain it. That’s just bad form.

But for that single caveat, Fright Night is a glorious love letter to the vampire genre and a classic in its own right. There are no sparkly vegetarian vamps here: these guys are strictly carnivores.

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Bloody October: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

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If humanity were to suddenly be subject to an airborne disease that turns its victims into the walking dead, who do you think would be the last man standing? No, not those idiots on The Walking Dead. Only one man could possibly survive the zombie/vampire apocalypse, and look good doing it too: Vincent Price.

Based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth stars our Mr. Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, a biologist who has spent three years as the only man on Earth apparently not infected by a horrific airborne plague that claimed his wife, daughter, and best friend. The film takes us through Morgan’s typical day as he awakes, hangs garlic over his doorway, and heads out into the abandoned city with a bag of wooden stakes to find and destroy more of the vampiric creatures that were once the human population. He has to return before the sun goes down, though, for the vampires come banging on his door, threatening to kill him. He spends some time trying to get into radio contact with other living beings, but all to no avail. It appears that he truly is the only man left alive.

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The Last Man on Earth reportedly inspired George Romero to make Night of the Living Dead, so all you Zombie-philes should get down on your knees and praise this weird little movie. This is a zombie movie before there were zombie movies, but the vampiric creatures share much in common with Romero’s later conception of the walking dead. Half brain-dead and only really powerful in numbers, the vampires seem to lack basic organization, banging on Morgan’s door and shouting threats without being able to organize themselves well enough to actually break into his house. Morgan’s contempt for the people that were once his friends is pathetic. In a flashback sequence, we learn of the origins of the plague, and of the slow decay of surrounding civilization as more people fall victim. When Morgan wanders the deserted city in search of vampires, the film provides an effective sense of the desolation and loneliness of streets without people and stores left empty. There is something horribly realistic in the first 3/4s of this tale of worldwide pandemic, the terror and mistrust perhaps all too real in this day and age.

Price gives one of his most affecting performances, at once sympathetic and slightly sinister as he struggles with his day-to-day existence, forced to burn the mutilated bodies of the vampires. He’s the only character on screen for most of the film’s runtime. Despite the somewhat hokey voiceover that was far too common in films of this period, Price’s performance elevates the film (as his performances so often did) – his elation at spotting a dog running loose in the streets is heartbreaking, for here he sees at last some hope of companionship in his long, lonely existence. Morgan is a monster and a hero in the same breath, and his suffering plays out over the contortions of Price’s remarkably expressive face.

The weakness of The Last Man on Earth lies in its denouement, which I won’t spoil for the reader. A relatively effective set-up is punctured in the final act, leading to a curiously unsatisfying conclusion. While miles ahead of its successor I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, The Last Man on Earth does not quite make good on its narrative promises.

Yet for all that, there is much to like about this odd little film. Price here embraces the melancholic suffering so prevalent in many of his best performances. He has taken the world’s cares on his shoulders, and become a monster in the process. Nothing could be so heart-breaking.

Bloody October: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

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Sure we all make fun of Universal’s weird attempt at creating a new franchise “universe” to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe (God, I really fucking hate that phrase) and the DC Cinematic Universe. But you know what? Universal actually did have the original multi-film, multi-character, multi-storyline world. It started way back in the 1930s with the rapid-fire release of Universal’s original monster trilogy: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. Many years later, The Wolf Man was added to mix, along with some of the “little brothers” of those historic monsters, including The Invisible Man and the subject of this little review: Creature from the Black Lagoon.

As the opening voiceover informs us, evolution has taken some interesting twists and turns, beginning deep in the ocean and proceeding onto land, as human beings eventually emerged from the primordial ooze. But there might still be things out there that defy evolutionary theory, and it is in the depths of the Amazonian jungle we might find them. The film proper begins with Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovering a fossilized hand in a rock formation somewhere deep in the Amazon. The hand looks almost human, save for webbed fingers and claws, and Maia thinks he may have stumbled upon a missing link – a, uh, missing fish-link, in point of fact. Leaving his native guides to guard the camp, Maia returns to civilization to show off his new find and possibly get together an archaeological team to dig up the rest of the skeleton. He gets his team in the form of ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), his boss Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning), Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell), and their “colleague” Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) (I could not quite figure out what it was that Kay did, other than go swimming and scream, but she’s supposed to be a scientist-type of some kind). The team head off down the Amazon aboard a fishing boat run by Lucas (Nestor Paiva).

When the group arrives at camp, they discover that it has been destroyed and the two guides killed. Being brave scientists, they carry on with the excavation, only to have it be a bust: the skeleton is nowhere to be found. On a hunch, they travel further down the river to the Black Lagoon to see if they can find pieces of the skeleton there. That’s how they meet the Creature, an amphibious humanoid who just wants to have a pleasant swim, but instead nearly gets harpooned in his first contact with his distant cousins.

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Like many films of the same period, Creature from the Black Lagoon suffers from an overabundance of exposition, as our scientists explain what we’re supposed to feel as we feel it.  As with Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man, the Creature’s animalistic nature is far more sympathetic than his human counterparts. He has had his Lagoon invaded and been shot several times, prompting a predictable violent reaction. One wonders just want these scientists want with shooting harpoons at a species that they’re supposed to be studying. Even the conflict between David and Mark over how best to go about dealing with the Creature is just about one form of invasion over another: David desires to poke, prod, and study the Creature, while Mark just wants to hang its head over his mantlepiece.

To its credit, Creature from the Black Lagoon features some truly remarkable underwater photography. The Creature’s movements are beautifully performed and detailed – his natural habitat is the water and he understands and moves with it far more fluidly than the divers outfitted with oxygen tanks and goggles. Out of the water, the Creature looks like a big, walking fish – the use of prosthetics remarkable for the period, and still oddly convincing even now.

While far from a great film, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a rightfully iconic one, an interesting variation on the horror stories of radioactive lizards that were cinema’s response to the Atomic Age. Rather than being created out of modern violence, the Creature comes from an evolutionary past, a connection between the human past and the future. That the response is to shoot and flee from it perhaps says more about humanity than the film ever thought to.