Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It's superbad B-minus-movie day here at the Moviepalace with two deadly dull sf films whose titles promise much more that the filmmakers could deliver. I'm reviewing BEAST because it was one of the first "monster" movies I remember seeing in a theater (probably at a Saturday kiddie matinĂ©e in the mid-60's). Like a lot of other poverty row sf films of the era, it's about a powerful creature from outer space which begins its takeover of planet Earth with a tiny handful of people who live out in the middle of nowhere, in this case, a desert. It's also a dysfunctional family movie masquerading as a horror film. Paul Birch's ranch is failing, and his wife, Lorna Thayer, is none to happy about that, or about using money they need to send their daughter (Dona Cole) off to college. I imagine she thinks that if life with a middle-aged dumpy loser in the middle of the desert is good enough for her, it's good enough for Lorna. But Lorna wants more, including deputy Dick Sargent (yes, the second Darrin from "Bewitched," who wasn't bad looking in his mid-20s). To complete the picture, there's a mute brain-damaged farm hand (Leonard Tarver) who, my partner reminded me, comes off like a less sinister Jud Fry (Rod Steiger's brutish character in OKLAHOMA!). In the middle of all this household tension, the outer space Beast arrives, shooting over their house one afternoon, landing in a small cave, and starting its planetary takeover by possessing animals, such as birds, chickens, dogs, and cows, and making them attack the humans (the sight of a rampaging cow is quite laughable, and even the dog attack is ineptly handled, though the bird scene is moderately effective, except that the same shot is repeated 6 or 7 times). Then it aims for the weak-minded Tarver, but Birch soon figures out what's up, and also figures out that when they band together, they can fight off the influence of the Beast. Yes, the moral of the story, almost literally, is, in the words of the Beatles, all you need is love. If you look at it as a precursor to later "animals gone wild" movies such as THE BIRDS or FROGS, you might get some enjoyment out of this film. The acting is pretty bad and I assumed that most of the players aside from Sargent were non-pros, but Birch and Thayer both had decent careers (Birch has over 100 roles listed on IMDb). The music is terrible, sounding like randomly chosen snatches from educational or industrial films. It’s not really much fun, even as a bad movie, even though one of the producers was Roger Corman. [TCM]

AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN is the work of renowned on-the-cheap auteur Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR, BLUEBEARD and many other sub-B movies). This was one of his last films, and he seems to have completely lost whatever creative spark he had by this time. Crook Douglas Kennedy breaks out of jail with the help of girlfriend Marguerite Chapman, and she takes him to the desert home/laboratory of crazy Army Major James Griffith who is forcing old guy scientist Ivan Triesault to work on a method of making living beings invisible. They want Kennedy to be their guinea pig and, once invisible, to go off and steal some radioactive material which is needed to keep the machine functioning. Of course, the stupid major never stops to think that a transparent man could get the upper hand fairly quickly and that's what happens. After he gets the stuff, Kennedy robs a bank but discovers that he can't control when he turns visible again, which causes problems. The actors don't act particularly well, but they do a nice job of pretending to get beaten up by the Transparent Man. The fx are so-so, but bare minimum. The unexpected nuclear blast climax is almost worth sticking around for, but you'll probably be sound asleep by that time. [TCM]

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