Thursday, December 31, 2015

IT! (1967) / THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)

These two films were shot in England by producer and director Herbert J. Leder and released in the United States together on a double bill. Both are variations on standard horror movie tropes. In IT! (which is basically the Frankenstein monster meets Psycho), Roddy McDowall is an assistant to a museum curator who goes with his boss to inspect the ruins of a warehouse fire. In the smoldering ashes, they find a large stone statue in humanoid from with a spooky-looking pointed head. The curator puts his umbrella in the outstretched arms of the statue and next thing you know, he's dead at the feet of the statue, and McDowall notices that the statue's arms are in a different position. It's taken to the museum and is determined to be the legendary Golem of Prague, a creature who could be activated through mystical means to protect the Jews of the city. McDowall, who incidentally keeps his dead mother at home in a rocking chair, learns to control the indestructible Golem and wrecks havoc around London until the military drops a small atomic bomb in hopes of destroying the creature.

This movie has many faults, the biggest of which is the weak script; they bother to identify the creature as the Golem but then do absolutely nothing with that potentially interesting plotline, turning "It" into just another shambling super-strong monster. Same goes for McDowall's character who seems to be a slightly better-adjusted Norman Bates; he has a crush on the curator's daughter (Jill Haworth) and has the Golem destroy a bridge just to impress her, but she falls for a manlier American (Paul Maxwell) and so winds up a damsel in distress in the climax. But the dead mom is just a weird plot detail from which nothing comes. McDowall does what he can but generally the acting is lackluster. What stops this film from crossing over into camp is the Golem itself, which is treated seriously for the most part. Unfortunately the atom bomb finale is very silly.

THE FROZEN DEAD is a forerunner of the Nazi zombie mini-genre that has sprung up lately (as in 2009's DEAD SNOW). Dana Andrews is a German scientist living in an English mansion who has been working for 20 years on the project of thawing out a handful of important Nazis, including his brother (Edward Fox), who were frozen at the end of the war. Despite getting funding from some surviving Nazi bigwigs, he has not yet had complete success: the bodies can be brought back—as can body parts; Andrews has a wall full of human arms hung like decorations a la Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST—but the brains don't function. The same day that Andrews' niece (Anna Palk) and her friend (Kathleen Breck) arrive for a visit, Andrews learns from his superior (Karel Stepanek) that there are 1500 more Nazis on ice waiting for revival and Stepanek is getting impatient, so Andrews' creepy assistant (Alan Tilvern) kills Breck but keeps her head alive for experimentation purposes. What they don’t count on is Breck's brain establishing a telepathic bond with Palk, who gets visiting American scientist Philip Gilbert to help her search for the missing girl. Though fairly low-key, this is a better movie than IT!, partly due to Dana Andrews who is quite good, and to the production design—the lab is atmospheric, the frozen Nazis are creepy, and the disembodied head looks properly distraught. There is very little gore here for modern viewers, but the tone is properly creepy. [DVD]

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