Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another Bachelor Movie Marathon, Part III

During the most recent marathon, I re-watched Bloodlust! (1961), which I've already commented on. I watched three other films, two of which had the benefit of a humorous commentary. One aired on MST3K while the other was a RiffTrax video. RiffTrax is essentially MST3K but without the shadows or the storyline of an unfortunate janitor being shot into space and forced to watch terrible movies. The commenters are Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, who were trapped in the Satellite of Love's theater during the final three seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Bryce, Carl, and I watched Ed Woods' most (in)famous film, which is sometimes called "The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies", just prior to our bimonthly game of 40K. It was the second time I had watched it and I was looking forward to inflicting it on others.

Concerned that violence-prone humanity is on the brink of discovering a devastating scientific principle that will allow them to destroy the entire Universe, an alien race implements "Plan 9" in an attempt to wipe out the human race. It quickly becomes obvious why Plans 1 through 8 failed since Plan 9 involves reanimating the dead to destroy the living. And by "the dead" I mean three whole corpses consisting of former Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, horror hostess Vampira, and the genuinely dead Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was resurrected by the miracle of stock footage and shots of a chiropractor who continuously holds a cape in front of his face in an unconvincing attempt to hide the fact that he's not Lugosi.

For the most part our hero is pilot Jeff Trent who had previously witnessed an unidentified flying pie-plate... uh, object, and just so happens to live near the cemetery where the three reanimated ghouls spend the bulk of the film. Although the aliens have figured out interstellar space travel, it doesn't seem to occur to them that the corpses will be singularly unsuccessful if they remain exclusively in a cemetery where there are very few of the living to harm. There are just enough of the living around to notice that something's not right, though, so the police are brought in to investigate. Thrill as the local police race to the cemetery in response to strange goings-on! And then return to the cemetery later in the film. And... well, maybe even a third or fourth time. And then stand around and accidentally bump into obvious prop tombstones.

I've seen plenty of films written by Ed Woods (e.g., The Violent Years (1956)). Woods' writing style was horribly wordy, filled with non sequiturs, and hysterically melodramatic. The perfect example of this is when "The Amazing Criswell" (who is obviously reading from cue cards) opens Plan 9 with an overly long and highly dramatic narration that declares that "future events such as these will affect you in the future". And Bryce and I still like to quote the alien Eros' line berating the humans for their foolishness: "You see! You see! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!" The icing on the cake is that the actor says it the same way you would expect a petulant ten year old to say it.

Plan 9 is only one of two films I've seen that were also directed by Woods (this and Bride of the Monster (1955)). Although his writing could be slightly mitigated by a relatively competent director, you can imagine the horror that resulted when Woods directed his own movies. Even then, I think that those who declare this to be the worst movie ever made haven't seen enough films from this end of the cinematic bell curve. I would say that movies like Monster A Go-Go (1965) or The Creeping Terror (1964) are much worse simply because they're poorly made and boring.

Since Plan 9 from Outer Space falls into the so-bad-it's-good category, it really deserves a split rating:
F (by nearly any standard of filmmaking)/B+ (for sheer entertainment value)

Time of the Apes (1974/1987)
Apparently, Planet of the Apes (1968) drew a phenomenal number of viewers when it first aired on Japanese television. It was so popular, in fact, that a 26 episode television series was produced in the mid-seventies called Saru No Gundan (Army of Monkeys) in which a scientist and two children end up in an ape-dominated future. Unlike Planet of the Apes, the apes of this series appear to have achieved a modern technological level. Nor are the apes surprised by talking humans. And there are UFOs. I really don't know why there are UFOs, but I've seen enough Japanese sci-fi films made between 1954 and 2004 to know that UFOs show up in a lot of them.

Fast forward to the late 1980s when producer Sandy Frank, who dubbed foreign films such as the Gamera franchise in order to air them on US television, spliced together the 26 episodes of Saru No Gundan into a single film called Time of the Apes. Unfortunately, it turns out that you can't take 26 episodes of a TV show, edit them into a 97 minute movie, and hope for it to make any sense.

When an earthquake strikes and the roof of a cryogenics laboratory begins to collapse, scientist Catherine (I'm not sure she's even given a last name) and two visiting children (Caroline and Johnny) duck into three freezing chambers for protection. When they wake up, they find themselves in a future where apes evolved from men!... well, no, I guess I don't know why apes are running things. And unlike Charlton Heston, we won't even get a Statue of Liberty scene to suggest what happened while our protagonists were frozen.

In no time the three are being hunted by Police Chief Gebar and only avoid capture and execution thanks to the inexplicably well-dressed and well-armed human named Gôdo. Apparently Gôdo is the human that the simian police force are really after, although they seem pretty willing to kill just about any humans.

The humans are eventually captured but, instead of being executed, they're handed over to Cabinet Minister Bippu, who seems a lot less eager to be killing them off than Gebar. Gôdo and Johnny escape and eventually return to break the girls out, although Catherine claims that Bippu is actually trying to protect the humans and is reluctant to leave. Since the previous action only followed the boys' escape and evasion of Gebar's forces, we see absolutely no evidence of Catherine's claims. However, by the end of the film Bippu seems downright civil and helpful, although his transformation from wary jail keeper to friend of humanity seems extremely sudden (presumably it happened during the hours of story that Frank cut out).

Oh, and then there's the UFO. And it uses some sort of video device to show the events that led to Gebar's vendetta against Gôdo and proves to the ape that their dispute is based on a misunderstanding. And thus the movie's primary conflict is defused by a deus ex machina. And the UFO kind of sort of returns the trio to their own time. But we don't know why or even where the spaceship is really from. And the laboratory isn't destroyed after all. But it wasn't a dream, they were somehow frozen to a temperature below absolute zero(?!?) and that allowed them to time travel... or something. I'm not sure how much damage Sandy Frank did to the original explanation for the time traveling, but I've seen plenty of Godzilla films with utterly nonsensical "science", so it may have been inherent to the original series.

I don't know how good Saru No Gundan was, although I believe it was popular in Japan. However, Time of the Apes is pretty awful. The costumes and plot are mediocre, but it's the pacing and plot holes that really hurt the film. I've seen several movies made from two hour pilots or the first few episodes of a failed TV show, but I've never seen anyone try to make one out of more than two dozen episodes. The mysterious UFO, the mutiny against Bippu that lasts all of two minutes, Gôdo's background, the fate of all other humans; all of these are so poorly explained or inadequately covered thanks to Frank's chainsaw that the movie can't help but to suffer from it.

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