Monday, January 26, 2009

Three Dimensional

For the Vincent Price Challenge:

The Oblong Box (1969, directed by Gordon Hessler) teams Vincent Price with Christopher Lee in a film that was supposed to be directed by Michael Reeves before his untimely death. Pity. Maybe he could have made more of the film's ridiculous plot, involving disfigured noblemen, body snatchers, and voodoo. As it is, it looks a lot like a television film. Not the best work of anyone involved.

The touchstone film to see for the 3-D process has always been Andre de Toth's House of Wax (1953), which, coincidentally, more or less turned Vincent Price into the next generation's Boris Karloff. This was a prestige production and it shows, not only in its production values, but in the lush Technicolor photography. It's more or less a remake of The Mystery of the Wax Museum--also a pioneering Technicolor film in its day--minus the Glenda Farrell reporter and the snappy dialogue. It's probably better for the focus on the main plot, in which disfigured sculptor creates disturbingly realistic wax sculptures from the bodies of his victims. There's a hint of the moral universe of the slasher film here, as good-time girl on the make Carolyn Jones (later Morticia Addams) is a victim while her virginal friend, Phyllis Kirk is the final girl. I've always been amazed that the most impressive display of 3-D was made by a director who only had one eye. Go figure.

The modern 3-D process is marginally more sophisticated, but the effects committed to celluloid are more of the same. Long things (sticks, guns, pointy tools) stick out of the screen at the audience. One hopes that more talented directors than Patrick Lussier will make better use of the process. All told, Lussier's remake of My Bloody Valentine (2009) is competent and agreeably mean-spirited. The 3-D got me into the theater, so in that way, it's a success. I might have seen it anyway, since it has Tom Atkins in it in a Tom Atkins-y role. Plus he gets a memorable and thorougly revolting death scene. I think it's also interesting for taking the convention of having 30 year old actors playing teenagers and advancing the plot until they're the right age for their characters. It also gets points for knowing what the audience for its sub-genre wants: gore and nudity. True, there's only one nude scene in the movie, and it's NOT starring scorching hot Megan Boone, but kudos to Betsy Rue for playing an extended scene completely starkers, full frontal. It's a doozy. Unfortunately, the movie plays its hand too early, and if anyone doesn't catch on to who the killer really is before the 40 minute mark, they just aren't paying attention. Plus, all of the really "good" stuff is frontloaded, and I spent the last 30 minutes of the movie waiting for it all to play out. The 3-D itself seemed more like a distraction than anything--I think they really needed to keep a deep-focus composition through out (they didn't)--and I wonder how the movie plays without it. I'm not going to pay to find out, though.

The Silent Partner (1978, directed by Daryl Duke) is one of those films that used to show up late at night on cable in the early 1980s along with stuff like Guyana: Cult of the Damned or The Evictors. It's always been hard to find on video, though it was in print on at least two separate VHS labels. It finally made it to DVD last year, and there was much rejoicing. This is a razor sharp thriller, in which nebbish bank teller Elliot Gould foxes vicious bank robber Christopher Plummer. Unfortunately, Plummer KNOWS he's been had, and a game of cat and mouse ensues. This film originally stuck in my mind for two scenes. The first, Plummer making dire, reasoned threats at Gould through a mail slot. The second, one of the nastiest decapitation scenes in film. I can only imagine how that last scene must have shocked an audience expecting a more genteel film based on its cast. Credit where credit is due: screenwriter Curtis Hanson gives a masterclass in suspense clockwork (Hanson later made L. A. Confidential) and Plummer and Gould make it tick. I need to apologize to Elliot Gould, too. I've never liked Gould, and I've said bad things about his performance in this film, too. But it was unwarranted. He's nearly perfect. I also didn't realize it back when I first saw it, but this film LOOKS Canadian. It never dawned on me how much this film looks like Cronenberg or any miscellaneous slasher film from the same era. Maybe it's the light. In any event, this comes highly recommended.

1 comment:

fucoid said...

have never seen either film... thanks for the tips.

favorite Price: last man on earth... maybe. the phibes series and theater of blood crack me up

favorite 3-D horror pic: f13-3... popping eyeballs, incoming spliffs, explosive pop corn. add this to the disco theme song, true love

dig your bits on film... insightful. thanks.