On Friday night GC and AB came over for another Festival of Bad Cinema. First up, the surprisingly sophisticated 1933 version of ‘The Invisible Man’, starring Claude Rains and directed by James “Let’s play ‘Spot the Homoerotic Subtext’!” Whale. It’s an old story: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy, boy turns self invisible using weird oriental drug, boy also suffers from slight homicidal psychopathic megalomanical side effects, girl frets and swans about in photogenic gowns, boy terrorises inhabitants of English village (all of whom were apparently played by foundation members of the Guild of Exceptionally Unattractive Actors), boy gads about nude in the snow but since he’s invisible makes it past the censors, boy enlists old colleague to help him do his dirty work, boy kills exceptionally unattractive police chief, several exceptionally unattractive vigilantes, and a trainload of innocent people (who may or may not have been exceptionally unattractive, not that it really matters after they’d careened down a mountainside and fetched a caboose in the face), girl frets some more, this time in furs, boy kills colleague who betrayed him, boy holes up in barn but is discovered by exceptionally unattractive yokel, boy is flushed out of barn by police, boy is shot by police, girl rushes to his bedside just as he dies and becomes visible for the first time in the film, and boy is revealed to be exceptionally unattractive, which probably explains a lot of his hang-ups.
Next we had the 1961 version of ‘The Pit and The Pendulum’, starring Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, a brooding castle, a pit, a pendulum and the dreaded directorial hand of Roger Corman. It’s supposed to be the 16th century (the sets look like Tudor-themed rumpus rooms) and a young Englishman (with an American accent) turns up at the castle of Italian nobleman Don Medina to investigate the mysterious death of his sister, the Don’s wife. But no one is quite what they seem, and deception upon deception is discovered, and before you know it someone’s in the pit with the pendulum, and that’s never a good position in which to find oneself.
One of the threads of the plot was an evil scheme to drive one of the characters insane, and watching a low budget horror film attempt to convey this, I couldn’t help but reflect that it was a helluva lot more convincing than Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith. It doesn’t bode well for George Lucas that he’s outscripted and outperformed by B-grade schlock horror actors and directors. It further doesn’t bode well that this surprises no one.
Lastly we headed into the 70s, with the Italian splatterfest ‘The Slave of the Cannibal God’, which starred Ursula Andress’s breasts, the rest of Ursula Andress, and some other people. In the beginning of the film, Ursula Andress’s breasts are in a comfortable room in the British Consulate in Port Moresby, explaining to the local consul that she needs to find her husband who has vanished in the jungle. It was a very comfortable room, with polished hardwood floors, healthy potted plants, elegant paintings and some nice mahogany furniture, and I found myself calling out, “Give it up, Ursula Andress’s breasts! We all know that if you mount an expedition into the jungle you’ll all get picked off one by one until it’s just the two of you, the rest of Ursula Andress, and one or two others. If your husband isn’t dead already he will be by the end of the film. Be sensible and just cut your losses and hang out here in civilisation.”
But did Ursula Andress’s breasts listen to me? Of course they didn’t. An hour and a bit later, having survived deadly jungle traps, tarantula attack, a deranged brother, treacherous guides, crocodile attack, dangerous rapids, spears, slippery rocks and the lecherous sideways glances of Stacy Keach, there they are, still attached to the rest of Ursula Andress, tied to a bamboo rack, being slathered in orange poster paint by nubile cannibal maidens. If only they’d listened.
One of the most notable aspects of this film was its failure to place a “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” disclaimer at any point. This was because every animal was harmed in the making of this film. There were numerous baffling cutaways to the Savagery of the Jungle, as serpent battled eagle, crocodile battled turtle, monkey battled python, and one of them always lost (specifically the eagle, the monkey and the turtle, although the turtle was a particularly feisty one and gave almost as good as he got). There was even a scene in which the guides sacrifice an iguana to appease their god, and they literally sacrifice an iguana, twitching and bloody and lovingly captured on film. American film companies would have tied themselves in knots trying to perfect an animatronic iguana with fake blood, but the Italians are a pragmatic lot, neither given to visceral squeamishness nor beholden to PETA, so they just filmed their extras killing a real one. Regardless of your feelings on animal rights, you’ve got to admire such directness.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s more to life than 1930s special effects, Vincent Price's overacting, and Ursula Andress’s breasts. But I suspect that if there is, I can’t afford it.