Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

I haven't seen the 90s version of Moreau, but if it's really as abysmal as folks say, then we can graph the versions of this story as a steady downward slide from the great original Wells tale to the pretty swank Island of Lost Souls, with this flick occupying the inoffensive middle ground before the Ragnarok of the Marlon Brando version.  1977's Island has a promising cast, with Michael York and Burt Lancaster searing as the leads, and Richard Basehart running a respectable second behind Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law.  Parity is present, but the balance tilts when we measure the sleaze factor—this Island is divested of the perverse undertones of the 30s version and it tries to compensate for it with frequently-impressive visual effects.  In this way, Island of Dr. Moreau is a symbol of 80s genre films to come.


The immortal story: guy lands on an island, island has a doctor, guy finds out that the doctor is turning animals into people, gets goosey about it.  Even if you know the story going in (and now you do!), this is still an entertaining effort, thanks to the acting and the aforementioned effects.


The animal-people sometimes look cuddly, sometimes mortifying, but always interesting and well-done.  Kudos to the makeup team and the actors themselves, although I wish the director would have restrained the pig-guy who insists on leaping and tumbling during the fight scene like he's in fucking Gymkata instead of The Island of Dr. Moreau.


One other thing about stunts.  This was made in 1977, when almost nobody cared what happened to animals, and there's no better proof of that than the film's many scenes of panthers, lions, etc., getting slammed through walls and thrown out of windows.  The animals are frequently paired with made-up actors, which is admittedly really cool (and hopefully the stuntmen in bear makeup who had to wrestle tigers got paid), but I definitely felt guilty watching some of this stuff.  People complain about CGI and sometimes they're right, but at least it means that you can do stuff like this without actually pitching jungle cats off of balconies.  


I found this to be fun, but definitely much more shallow than the 1933 version and the original book.  It's like they took the skin of the story, but sucked all the meat out of it and ended up with a pretty conventional good guy/bad guy structure.  


***

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Frenzy (1972)


The usual charming Hitch trailer.  I would recommend that this trailer approach be resurrected, but my heart sobs at the prospect of Eli Roth or Rob Zombie attempting something like this.  "Come see my new shit because this shit is gonna be fuckin' brutal, goo!  Camnibalz!"  Frenzy was born in Hitchcock's less-loved later period, but what it lacks of his typical style is more than compensated by the vicious 70s spirit that seeps into this thing.


The opening scenes are a Hitchcock version of "Dre Day", as the director pulls a gat on his critics by flaunting his continuing command of style.  The camera swoops in like a predatory beast on a capacity crowd drawn to a speech about pollution (this the fantasy film portion of Frenzy).  This section acts as an overture to all the film's themes—the increase of grotesque violence represented by a strangled woman floating down the river, the intersection of dead river lady and the anti-pollution speech previewing the film's dives into dark comedy.


River lady, like her cousin in Jaws, doesn't figure prominently into the film as a character, but acts as the starting point for a long line of deaths.  It seems that London women are being strangled and dumped, nude, in assorted places.  After a while, suspicion lands on Richard Blaney, who is certainly unpleasant enough to be a believable murderer.  The use of repellent people as protagonists fits right in with the 70s grindhouse aesthetic, but it's really an expansion of something Hitchcock had been doing forever.  Psycho, Strangers on a Train, all that.  What's fairly new and also very 70s is the pitch-black comedy that pops up in Frenzy, sometimes to glorious effect.  See the recurring gags about the inspector's wife and her terrible cooking, or this incredible piece of dialogue:

"We haven't had a good juicy series of sex murders since Christie. And they're so good for the tourist trade. Foreigners somehow expect the squares of London to be fog-wreathed, full of hansom cabs, and littered with ripped whores, don't you think?"


If that doesn't convince you that Hitchcock was not really interested in being the nice gentleman of murder-mystery any longer, please see the scene in which someone falls face-first into a dead lady's crotch.  Divorced from its director's famous name and maybe dialed down in terms of quality, this could have played to crowds of hobo junkies on 42nd Street.  As it stands, Frenzy makes for the perfect blend of quality filmmaking and seedy obsession, plus it's endlessly quotable.  "Just thinking about the lusts of men makes me want to heave!"


***1/2