Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

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eating raoul

Eating Raoul: 31 Days of Horror?

#16. Eating Raoul (1982)

eating raoul poster

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Cult Classic

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Cannibal Challenge #1

Many moons ago, I picked this disk up secondhand. The cult comedy had the Criterion Collection seal of approval. I’m drawn to oddball black comedies; therefore, it required a watch.

Still, Eating Raoul sat and sat and sat, growing moldy in the watchpile until the Cinemonster had the good sense to include a “Cannibal” require in this year’s Hooptober.

I don’t mean to be the guy that skirts the rules, but the movies I wanted to watch featuring cannibalism aren’t necessarily part of the horror genre. I lined up three such films that I’ve been meaning to watch: Eating Raoul, Cannibal! The Musical and The Green Butchers. Hence, Eating Raoul counts for this year’s 31 Days of Horror Festival. The Watchpile wants what the Watchpile wants. If you’re imagining a Watchpile that’s something akin to Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, you’re on the right track.

But let’s talk no more about plants; this is a post about cannibalism. Om nom.

eating raoul

The Story

Two upper class twits named Paul Bland (Paul Bartel) and Mary Bland (Mary Woronov), that could have been transplanted from Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, dream of opening their own pretentious country kitchen restaurant. They’re grinding away at their 9-to-5s (liquor store clerk and nurse, respectively), scrimping and saving up enough to put the down payment on the most precious little country kitchen where Paul can serve his priceless wine.

Paul gets fired for refusing to push the crappy, overpriced swill at the liquor store, and then the couple accidentally kills a randy swinger who happens to fancy his wife. You see, since this is 1982, swingers roam the cityscape like feral cats and populate the building in which the couple lives. One wanders in for a big of a shag and meets his maker.

They dispose of the corpse, grift some spare change, and wonder just how much money might be made off of these carefree swingers. They carry plenty of cash to appease their sexual fantasies and wander about desperate and often intoxicated. If they just, say, knocked a few off, how much cash might they then tuck away into their nest egg? They’d be doing a public service. What could go wrong?

eating raoul 1982

With the help of a housewife/dominatrix acquaintance, Paul and Mary produce a newspaper advertisement showcasing their S&M services. Those that answer the add — those deplorable swingers — get a frying pan to the head and an early demise. But how to dispose of the bodies? Enter Raoul, a slick little schemester/ladykiller who happens to know a thing or two about disposal. For a small cut, he could take those bodies off their hands.

It turns out that Raoul does a little more than body disposal. He sells the “meat” to a dog company and trades in the deceased’s car without cutting the actual criminal masterminds in on the take. Raoul is just up to no good. Mary eventually succumbs to his greasy charms and the pair embarks on a little torrid affair. Paul catches wind of the tryst and decides its high time Raoul gets whats what.

eating raoul

Now, some days removed from my viewing, individual scenes and certain Paul Bartel line deliveries (the man had a wheelhouse, let me tell you) give me the giggles in fits and spurts. Eating Raoul features inventive, isolated comedic set pieces and two pitch-perfect lead performances, but the overall enterprise left me a little cold.

The black comedy leans so heavily on the schism between these prematurely aged fuddy-duddies and this notion of an increasingly unrestrained and modern sexual freedom. The swingers themselves aren’t necessarily a specific target for Bartel (that trend would have been on the pop-culture decline in 1982); it’s merely the social norms that they openly flaunt and how that infuriates his protagonists.

The specific satire directed at the sanitized middle-class bourgeois bullshit world in which our “protagonists” reside — safe from experience, safe from life — gets great mileage, yet the precision of the attack feels muddied by on-screen events.

eating raoul

Even when they reach beyond their security to obtain their financial goals — while still embracing their conservative tendencies (the image of Woronov dressing up as a German wench for a Nazi fetishist resonates) — there seems to be no recognition of their specific folly. And I get that that’s the point. And I get that the lack of self-awareness remains vital to the joke.

But something about this entire premise plants it firmly in the realm of “pretty good” and well shy of contemporary classic. Maybe that’s the lot in life for black comedy. Success leans so heavily on the viewer’s whims and frame of reference. Subjectivity rules, more so than any other specific genre.

eating raoul

Final Eating Raoul Thoughts:

 

For a movie called Eating Raoul, it takes a long time to taste Raoul, but I suppose you had to first justify the consumption of Raoul before actually doing the dining. For a “Cannibal” movie choice, this was definitely wanting, but there’s only so many times you can watch Ravenous before getting bored with the same old dish.

I could see this growing on me enough to warrant a second viewing. So for now let’s call Eating Raoul a decent food truck offering — that’s not quite ready for Michelin star status.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 

Availability:  

eating raoul criterion

Available wherever fine Criterion Blu-rays are sold. Also Amazon, obviously. So I linked it below.

amazon-buy-button

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2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993)

symptoms 1974

Symptoms: 31 Days of Horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.
View my ’17 Cinema Shame/Hooptober Shame-a-thon Statement

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Mondo Macabro Blu
I’d never seen a film by Jose Ramon Larraz.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Country of origin: UK


#15. Symptoms (1974)

symptoms 1974Preconceptions can be damning. Especially, I think, when it comes to horror filmmakers. For example, I toss around the term “schlock” too cavalierly, and I’m quite sure most people misunderstand the affection I have for films falling under this umbrella.

After the Cinema Shame podcast I just released about Friday the 13th, I noticed that I used the terms “schlock” and “trash” to describe a certain genre of European filmmakers that indulge their baser instincts, mingling sex and bloodletting as if the two were inseparable parts of the same whole. These are not the correct usages of the terms, but I’ve come to use them both as shorthand.

Somewhere along the way “schlock” and “trash” became more prominent in my own lexicon. Shame on me. Words have meanings. Irony and certain twists of phrase are understood by those familiar with our tastes — not casual conversationalists.

Maybe a review of Jose Ramon Larraz’s brilliant Symptoms isn’t the place for soul searching about the way we present and interpret film criticism. Then again, I had prejudged Larraz based on the way other people used those very same terms to describe his work. It’s a commentary on how easy it is to misappropriate these blank and banal verbal shortcuts and how dangerous they can be when used unconsciously.

in my defense, however, I’d read plenty of discussion that superficially linked José Ramón Larraz with Jesus Franco, and while I hold great affection for a few of Franco’s films, a great auteur Franco was not. I made the shortsighted assessment that I did not need another “Jesus Franco” in my life, and therefore, Larraz waited on the sidelines until I finally uncorked this beautiful Mondo Macabro Blu-ray.

symptoms 1974

The Story

A young woman, Anne, is invited by Helen (Angela Pleasance) to stay at her English country mansion. She encounters a repulsive male-gaze creeper outside the estate and the increasingly off-kilter and fragile disposition of her host. Any further narrative detail would overburden Symptoms‘ efficient slow-burn efficacy and betray the final revelation.

Much to my surprise (and counter to Larraz’s well-documented reputation), Symptoms‘ pacing belongs to the realm of gothic horror. The film most obviously recalls Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), but further scrutiny reveals flavors of Hitchcock. A heaping tablespoon of Psycho (1960) and a dash of Rebecca (1940). One particular scene might even rekindle memories of The Innocents (1961).

symptoms 1974

Mood and tone dominate the film. Suspense lies in the anticipation, the constant sense that something — you don’t know what — will divert the film’s narrative at any moment. Larraz patiently invokes multiple sources of voyeurism, and John Scott’s score perfectly complements the camera’s study of the voyeurs’ uneasy objects of obsession.

The primary object, Helen (Donald Pleasance’s daughter, by the way) graces the screen with a porcelain countenance undermined by a tremor of madness. Despite her frail, vulnerable beauty, the viewer comprehends something terrifying within. Liken her to Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins’ boyish everyman. Norman differs because he projects his crimes onto another and that act of projection ameliorates the transgression behind the placid exterior. In the role Angela Pleasance is mesmerizing.

As an uncertain testament to the artistic value of the film, the British film board submitted Symptoms as the UK’s official Cannes entry in 1974. Produced in England, but directed by the Catalonian Larraz and funded by the Belgian Jean Dupuis, the international flavor of the production may have made it an unusual choice. (Fun fact: Smurf money paid for Symptoms. Jean Dupuis was heir to the Éditions Dupuis S.A empire — the Belgian publisher responsible for European comics such as The Smurfs and Gaston Lagaffe.)

smurf

Final Symptoms Thoughts:

Back in 2010, the BFI placed Symptoms on its short list for most wanted missing British films. Long unavailable on anything but a fuzzy VHS tape, the discovery of a new print in 2014 set in motion the events that brought this Mondo Macabro Blu-ray (and a Region B/2 BFI release) to fruition and hopefully a modern re-evaluation among the great films of 1970’s horror.

The flawless restoration work that appears here would never betray Symptom‘s longstanding status as a so-called “lost film.” José Ramón Larraz’s film not only deserves mention in the same breadth as Polanski’s Repulsion, but it might just be the superior film. Lingering and unsettling psychological terror characterizes Larraz’s masterpiece. “Schlock” this is not.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 

Availability:  

symptoms blu-ray

I might require another viewing to unpack this movie, but in the meantime, you’d be well Smurfed to pick up Mondo Macabro‘s pristine Blu-ray release.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991)

from hell it came

From Hell It Came: 31 Days of Horror

from hell it came

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Warner Archive Blu

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#14. From Hell It Came (1957)

from hell it cameThe “Killer Tree” sub-sub-subgenre has deeper roots than you might imagine. Off the top of my head, you’ve got the tree from Evil Dead (1981), The Guardian (1990) starring my muse Ms. Carey Lowell, Day of The Triffids (1962), and a brief segment in Poltergeist (1982). But we’re really just scratching the terra firma of this fertile film forest.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention The Crawlers (1990), Trees (2000), and Trees II: The Root of All Evil (2004). The last of which is notable because it stars Ron Palillo (aka Arnold Horshack). You haven’t seen any of these, and I haven’t either. (Though, Trees II boasts a good pun and I can’t often resist titular punnage.)

Without a doubt, however, the grandaddy of them all was 1957’s From Hell It Came, a film that is unfairly maligned as one of the worst movies ever made. None other than Leonard Maltin gave this film his backhanded seal of approval by saying, “As walking-tree movies go, this is at the top of the list.”

That said, let’s look at this logically. If a movie resides in the canopy of its particular sub-sub-subgenre, how can it possibly belong on your or anyone’s worst movie list? I’ve already named a handful of films that live in the shadow of From Hell It Came.

from hell it came 1957

The Story

On a South Seas island, a prince is wrongly “convicted” of murder after he embraces the devil medicine brought to the island by Western doctors hoping to wipe out the island’s plague / potential nuclear fallout problem. That the tribe’s witch doctor did the killing, framed the prince, and judged him guilty of murder represents perhaps a glitch in the island system of law. Before being put to death with a dagger in his heart and buried in a hollow tree trunk, however, the prince vowed to return and seek revenge on those that had wronged him.

No doubt you can see where the movie’s going with this. As a result of the nuclear contamination — because you positively cannot have a 1950’s monster movie without some sort of atomic age panic — the prince returns as a scowling tree stump known as “Tabanga,” the legendary tree monster of the South Seas.

Paul Blaisdell’s original sketches for the Tabanga in From Hell It Came.

Produced and directed by the Milner brothers, From Hell It Came represents their second and final creature feature after The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955). Without belaboring the point, there’s a good reason they only made two.

From Hell It Came gained due infamy from the remarkably labored tree monster that lumbers (pun intended) around screen terrorizing island wrongdoers. The Tabanga effects have been credited to the legendary 1950’s effects man Paul Blaisdell. Blaisdell monstered up films such as Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and It Conquered the World (1956) among many others. After submitting a few color sketches to the Milners with no response, Blaisdell figured the filmmakers had passed on his ideas… until he saw the film and recognized his concept — in a laughably lesser package.

I’m going to shop short of crediting Tabanga’s comical “guy-in-a-tree-suit” appearance for the lasting appeal of From Hell It Came because the film contains more than just ironic entertainment. Not much more, but perhaps as a result of the Milners’ lack of any formal filmmaking skills they ignored screenwriting and narrative convention as much as they embraced face-value 1950’s science fiction tropes.

from hell it came

The way the Milners force the “Tabanga” legend into the story of American doctors investigating nuclear fallout, never comes together — but a viewer steeped in 1950’s science fiction will note the bubblegum holding the operation together.

When the Tabanga first begins to grow up from the ground — his pout face and permanent frown lines betraying the sadness in his lonely, still-beating heart — the doctors’ first reaction to exhume the thing to take it back to the lab. To study? To nurse back to health? The true motivations remain slightly unclear and grow even foggier when they determine that the “life” begins ebbing from this roadside stump carving. To break this down, they took the pulse of a tree stump and then decided to inject it with a serum that’s proven successful at exacerbating radiation effects in monkeys.

They’re justifiable shocked when the arrive at their lab the next morning to discover that it’s been trashed, and Pouty McStumpface has disappeared, having already commenced his comeback tour of revenge. Tabanga’s targets offer little resistance as he systematically dispatches them in quicksand and apparent strangulation. There’s no will they or won’t the survive. The wrongdoers die and the doctor’s go on a half-hearted crusade to maybe dissuade a tree from killing or maybe not. The plan’s not entirely clear; they’re armed with a mild case of righteous indignation and rifles.

from hell it came

Final Thoughts:

I won’t oversell this. The locals dress in cabana wear from Tommy Bahama and the doctors dote over a grotesque tree-stump like it might potentially cure cancer — yet it seems overtly clear that a frowny-face tree stump that grows magically from the ground would most certainly harbor ill will.

The off-kilter dialogue between the American doctors contains upwards of 75% sexual innuendo, and veteran character actor Tod Andrews in particular delivers his share of lecherous lines with unrequited panache. And most notably, From Hell It Came lacks any particular moral compass. The doctors recklessly engage in pseudo-science and local politics. The islanders murdered an innocent man in cold blood. The tree monster — who should be our rooting interest by process of elimination — doesn’t return with conscience enough to differentiate between those that deserve a comeuppance and those that do not.

All this adds up to a film that can’t be pinned down despite the fact that as viewers we’ve seen this particular story play out in dozens of creature features from the 1950’s. Odd, offputting and poorly conceived, From Hell It Came might not be the result of great minds, but the baffling filmmaking decisions that came together to create the great Tabanga stumbled into an unforgettable branch of inexplicable entertainment.

Now, Warner Archive, as long as we’ve deemed From Hell It Came worthy of a Blu-ray, where’s my SHH! The Octopus 3-disc Special Edition?

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

from hell it came warner archive

A 1957 killer tree movie doesn’t deserve to look this good. But as long as it does, let’s embrace the absurdity and applaud Warner Archive’s efforts.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. House III: The Horror Show (1989) / #22. House IV: The Repossession (1992)

The Dismembered (1962) – 31 Days of Horror

the dismembered 1962

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Garagehouse Blu

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#13. The Dismembered (1962)

the dismembered 1962When the words “lost” and “film” appear together I sign the dotted line. I love the sense of time-capsule re-discovery that goes along with these types of releases, like they’ve just been unearthed and no one on the face of this earth has seen them in 50+ years.

When the term “regional horror” also appears between “lost” and “film,” I get anticipatory goosebumps.

After ordering The Dismembered aka Oswald, You Botched It Again! from DiabolikDVD earlier this year, I held off watching this particular Garagehouse release until it was high time for the @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Challenge.

I didn’t know anything about the movie other than what I’d read on the Garagehouse website. A horror-comedy filmed in Philadelphia in 1962, The Dismembered was making its home video debut on Blu-ray, mastered from director Ralph S. Hirshorn’s only 16mm print.

If that Blu-ray cover and the tease of a forgotten regional, low-budget horror-comedy doesn’t interest you, you might just be a Halloween grinch.

the dismemberedThe Story

After a successful jewel heist, the mastermind thieves hide out in an old house haunted by a few demented spirits whose only joy in this world is dispatching unwanted guests with the most gruesome methods at their disposal. The catch is that the methods at their disposal are more Tom & Jerry than Edgar Allan Poe, and the cantankerous spooks are competing with the undead from a nearby cemetery to see who gets the young men first.

I have no way of knowing if Stuart Gordon happened to see a copy of this film, but if he had, I imagine this became juicy fodder for Re-Animator. Ralph S. Hirshorn had a camera and some ingenuity and a bunch of willing conspirators and goddammit they were going to make a movie. The low-budget nature of the production emphasizes the humor over the horror, but the film’s not lacking in the kind of grotesque macabre that could have been found in any number of AIP horror films of the era. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die seems relevant.

Dismembered body parts that make up the title of the film roam the house, but they’re more Thing from the Addams Family than the occupants of any of the murderous hand pictures such as The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), Mad Love (1935), Idle Hands (1999), The Hand (1981)… holy hell there are a lot of murderous hand movies. As I was saying, the dismembered bits and pieces torment like mischievous, rogue spirits from a rather morbid Scoooy-Doo Where Are You? episode.

the dismembered 1962

From the goofy, opening credits The Dismembered revels in its low-budget constraints, goading its viewers to come along as willing conspirators in the shenanigans. As the production clearly lacked any financial backing whatsoever, that’s not a bad opening play. The film’s self-awareness becomes, in fact, its greatest asset.

The community theater spooks morbidly plotting to kill the bank robbers dress like they walked into a Goodwill and asked for the vintage section, and the practical effects are virtually non-existent. The dismembered appendages that wander in and out of frame are tossed by off-screen stagehands and when they travel, they distinctly ambulate as if tied to fishing line. The oozing mush that passes as a murderous brain becomes the star of the production, but I won’t spoil that particular effect with gory details.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a lack of talent involved. Hirshorn clearly had talent and it’s a shame that he never really had the opportunity to deliver on that potential. After directing The Dismembered and a competent short film from 1959 called “The End of Summer,” Hirshorn shipped off to Hollywood on a deal from Columbia, but returned to Philadelphia shortly thereafter as a result of the death of his father and the subsequent failure of the family business. It’s impossible not to wonder what he could have done with money and talent, but then again Hollywood has crushed plenty of creative spirits that just wanted to make movies for the fun of it.

the dismembered 1962

Final Thoughts:

Horror fans should be well versed in the language of low- or no-budget filmmaking. An average viewer would likely dismiss this film after approximately 15 minutes of its modest 65-minute runtime. But we’re not average viewers. We’re veterans that relish the enthusiasm of the men and women who pieced their films together with only blood, sweat, tears and a wicked sense of humor.

It’s no small miracle that The Dismembered has returned from the grave after all these years — and fans of classic film would be well-served to seek out this release. Support independent DVD and Blu-ray distributors that go above and beyond in bringing you lost gems like this. It goes without saying that this is not objectively great filmmaking. The value lies in the willingness of the viewer to embrace The Dismembered‘s goofball charms for what they are — pure cheese and self-aware schlock. if you do that, I bet you’ll enjoy Ralph S. Hirshorn’s The Dismembered just as much as I did.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

the dismembered 1962

Garagehouse’s Blu-ray features a remarkably clean scan of a 50+ year old regional horror picture filmed on 16mm. That we even have the opportunity to see The Dismembered is beyond comprehension. Make sure to listen to the audio commentary by Ralph S. Hirshorn himself and Philadelphia indie filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. House (1986) / #19. The Old Dark House (1932)

The Body Snatcher – 31 Days of Horror

body snatcher 1945 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Lewton production

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1940’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#12. The Body Snatcher

the body snatcher 1945I crashed #TCMParty last week because I knew The Body Snatcher was a Lewton-produced, Karloff-starrer I hadn’t seen. When showtime arrived, I tried to change the channel, but what ho! I was recording Brooklyn Nine Nine and This is Us. A show I wouldn’t miss and one show I’d be dead if I deleted.

As it turned out I owned The Body Snatcher in the Lewton DVD set, so I bustled over to my box-set bin and unearthed the beauty just in time to tune in with the TCM broadcast.

Some years ago, I immersed myself in the literature and film of “body snatching” and the culture of 19th century grave diggers in order to write a short for my MFA thesis. Among many others, I read the Robert Louis Stephenson story that supplied the story of The Body Snatcher. I read up on Burke and Hare and all sorts of other true tales of grave robbing and the like. It’s a wonder anyone survived this period in medical history.

This kind of thing happened all the time. The Body Snatcher rang true with many real life accounts. Medical schools lacked cadavers, and certain nefarious types know how to get cadavers. Though I came away schooled in the profession, my short story never really came together, and it ultimately hit the cutting room floor after a few fruitless revisions.

If I dig I might unearth a copy, but something tells me that it’s not worth the effort. It might be better off buried. It concerned the story of a grave digger who dug his own grave, but couldn’t bring himself to lie in it. A nice pick-me-up, you know?

Oh now I’ve piqued my own curiosity. Let’s get a taste, shall we? After all, it’s akin to literary grave robbing. Aha! The ten-year-old file was actually where it belonged. Here’s the opening paragraph from my unpublished, unloved short story “Restless with Phil”:

Death arrived Tuesday around noon. He started to introduce himself to Broxton, but the gravedigger hushed him. “I know who you are,” he said. “In my profession, you better know Death when you see him. But I would really rather call you Phil than by your proper name.” Death agreed to being called “Phil” and sat down beneath a nearby poplar and watched Broxton dig. Broxton dug for a long while. Death grew bored and passed the time by talking about the recent heatwave and how it had kept him busy much of last week with farm animals and the elderly and how the whole thing had really left him little time for recreation. When Broxton finally spoke, he asked Phil why, exactly, he’d chosen to sit under this tree, in this particular cemetery, if it was indeed recreation he sought.

If anyone’s interested in reading a story that goes absolutely nowhere, I can pass around copies. My adviser had some choice words about this piece of literature that would be enough to sway anyone from ever attending a creative writing program.

But back to Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher.

The Story

Dr. Toddy McFarlane needs cadavers to practice newfangled surgeries. A student named Donald encourages Dr. Toddy to perform a miraculous procedure on a young girl (Tiny Tim in everything but name). Toddy promotes Donald to be his assistant and soon Donald starts to question where Toddy’s getting his parade of corpses. Toddy has, of course, been obtaining bodies from the local cabbie — because where else would you get dead people? Donald starts to ask questions about the legitimacy of this enterprise.

I enjoyed the tone and pacing. Boris Karloff’s brilliant turn as the unscrupulous “snatcher” keeps the entire enterprise afloat, but like most of these Dickensian-era grave-robber tales, I find them too mired in the period to be effective as moody shockers. The Burke and Hare story has become so well-trodden as cinematic fodder that it’s almost meta to reference the Burke and Hare murders in a story inspired by Burke and Hare.

As a result, I’m convinced there’s a more interesting story to tell here. Wise plays it entirely straight, and without any likable characters I found myself lacking anyone to care about in this tale. The righteous characters are willfully ignorant or insufferable and the evildoers are buffoons. We’re left with Karloff’s grave cabbie-turned-robber-turned-murderer as the heart of the production. As he’s merely the villain-in-name, Wise’s production under-serves this character in favor of the surgeons, aka the villains-in-subtext.

When you’re cheering on the offing of annoying minor characters (the blind street singer/Little Match Girl, for example), something’s gone slightly amiss in the execution.

Final Thoughts:

As the final cinematic pairing of Karloff and Lugosi (the latter’s role is minimal), The Body Snatchers has a built-in curiosity factor. The sight of either of these two actors on-screen elevates the film, but Wise naturally focuses on Daniell’s Doc and Wade’s assistant. There’s enough of Karloff’s brilliance to recommend a viewing, but I would expect viewers to be merely whelmed overall. I wanted something greater from a Lewton-Wise-Karloff-Lugosi production so perhaps expectations damned my enjoyment. So forget everything I just said and go in cold. Okay?

I know The Body Snatcher has it’s boosters, but it’s pretty far down on my Lewton list of favorites.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

val lewton collection

I watched The Body Snatcher from the Val Lewton Horror Collection. While the price of that little 9-film box set has soared to upwards of $100, you can still rent or purchase the individual Lewton films from Amazon for $3/$10. Of course if you want all 9 films it makes sense to just splurge for the OOP set because at least you’ll get physical copies of all the films rather than those digital thingamajobbers.


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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. House (1986) / #19. The Old Dark House (1932)

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