Friday, April 15, 2016

055. The Day the Sky Exploded and 056. The Eerie Midnight Horror Show

Jump to The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974)

055. The Day the Sky Exploded aka La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio (1958)
Director: Paolo Heusch
Writers: Sandro Continenza and Marcello Coscia from a story by Vigilio Sabel
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

An atomic rocket sent to the moon goes astray. Shortly thereafter, strange phenomena are seen in the sky.

An Italian-French co-production (hello dubbing!) that's mostly notable for featuring cinematography by Mario Bava who would go on to pioneer the giallo genre. This is an odd duck because it's one of those Mill Creek features that's not particularly anything, neither good nor bad. I'll admit to falling asleep while watching it, having to rewind to catch what I missed, only to fall asleep again. That this happened during the climax doesn't say much for the film.

The film itself is a sci-fi disaster movie that's much more a melodrama than a sci-fi flick (shades of Deep Impact anyone?). An astronaut is sent to the moon on an atomic-powered rocket that's been designed by an international group of scientists, including a Russian. Geopolitics and Cold War paranoia are completely absent from the film. Something goes wrong, the astronaut ejects, and the rocket careens off into space somewhere.

Once he returns to Earth, the astronaut is facing domestic strife because his wife thinks he's spending too much time at the job (of traveling in space) and not enough with his son. As they're about to reconcile and fly back home, strange things start to appear in the sky. It turns out the rocket exploded in an asteroid field which made the asteroids form a mass that's rushing to Earth, sucking up all the planet's magnetism (magnets, how do they work?)

On top of compasses no longer working, the asteroid mass is going to impact the Earth killing everything. In response to this, the astronaut decides he needs to stay back and work with the other scientists which just exacerbates his marital problems: once again, he's putting his job before his family.

There are times you get to work that plotline into your movie, and times where working it in is just shrilly repeating the trope of women being unreasonable. When, in the context of global destruction, the character's concern is their scientist husband not playing catch with Billy as often as he could, your film's politics are showing.

Anyway, the scientists are hoping the moon will destroy the incoming asteroid and, when it doesn't, they come up with a last-minute backup plan to fire all the Earth's nukes at it. Why that wasn't one of the first things they thought of, I cannot tell you.

Of course the moon plan fails, disaster is visited upon the planet in an orgy of stock footage, and, for no apparent reason except the movie needs to run a little longer, one of the scientists goes mad, insists we've been playing God, and deserve our fate. He knocks out the air conditioner to the room holding the “calculator,” aka. the computer that's doing all the nuclear launch calculations, causing it to overheat and shut down. We don't actually see this on screen because Spaceman Baddad has had a last-minute change of heart, abandons the project, and finds his family seeking cover in the collapsing city. He returns to the lab to find that the more interesting plot moved on without him.

Anyway, bad scientist gets killed, computer goes online, rockets go boom and the world is saved from galactic holocaust by nuclear holocaust.

One of the curious things about the film is the editing. There are just random cuts throughout, sometimes mid-conversation. I don't know if my version is taken from a damaged print that was stitched together or if it was actually that poorly cut. Those edits do make for some unintentionally hilarious moments, but otherwise it's a real snoozer.

The movie is in the public domain, but my copy has a Mill Creek bug burned in so I can't upload the MPEG. There is, however, a copy available on archive.org if, for some reason, you're particularly eager to watch it or want to add material to your stock footage collection.


056. The Eerie Midnight Horror Show aka Enter the Devil aka The Sexorcist aka L'Ossessa(1974)
Director: Mario Gariazzo
Writers: Ambrogio Molteni from a story by Mario Gariazzo with additional dialogue by Ted Rusoff
From: Pure Terror

An art student is harried by the spirit possessing a sculpture from a deconsecrated church. Her only hope lies with a reclusive priest who’s been battling the devil all his life.

From the description and list of alternate titles, you’d be justified in thinking that this is an Exorcist rip off, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But where The Exorcist focused on the horror of a child losing control and a priest losing his faith, this focuses more on compulsive masturbation and the sexual potential of possession.

Yeah, it’s that kind of film.

Danila is an art student asked to confirm the artistic value of a sculpture of a crucified man that’s on display in a deconsecrated church. The church was shut down due to its membership using the grounds for orgies. Danila points out the beauty of the work and starts falling under its spell.

Later, at a party thrown by her parents, Danila sees her mother having an affair with a family friend—specifically getting whipped by the family friend. Danila’s unnerved by the experience and returns to her studio to work on cleaning a painting. While there, the sculpture awakens and rapes her. Only it’s just a dream . . . or is it?

She starts having violent episodes of compulsive masturbation, begs her father to have sex with her at one point, and generally has repeated visions of Satanic rituals led by the crucified figure.

Damned dirty lies
The movie initially is trying to walk the line between her being haunted and having a psychological episode in response to her mother’s affair—she begs her boyfriend to get her out of her apartment, tries to get away from her family, and seems to have the episodes in response to the family’s presence—but that pretense falls away pretty quickly.

The family makes several attempts to cure her before letting scientists examine her. They decide, as scientists always do, that this is a spiritual matter and she should be referred to a priest. She’s delivered to a nunnery in a secluded village and tries to escape immediately resulting in one of the most unintentionally funny sequences in the film. She’s running, bloody and screaming through the town, without eliciting much of a reaction, and it just looks strange. It looks like an old Saturday Night Live bit featuring Laraine Newman. I was waiting for Father Guido Sarducci to pop out and give his blessing. It would have elevated the tone.

Finally, late in the film, the priest emerges, confronts the devil in the girl, the devil tries to make the girl seduce and corrupt the priest, the priest flagellates himself with a whip (echoing the mother getting whipped earlier), and then dies in a final confrontation with the possessed girl. She whips him to death, but he expels the demon.

The movie never really finds its story. From the conclusion, which runs about as quickly as I’ve related it here, you’d think it’s about this conflict between the devil and the priest, but the priest isn’t part of the story until the end. The girl isn’t really a character so her presence is mostly for the exploitation effect of seeing her suffer, thrown fits, and take her clothes off. That leaves us with the parents and the story sort of becomes about how the ordeal of trying to save their daughter reinvigorates their marriage. The husband stops ignoring his wife and his wife spurns her sadomasochistic lover. The lover actually threatens to reveal their affair to everyone, but that’s his final appearance in the film.

I actually thought the lover was Satan in all the visions the girl was having, which would have heightened the sense that the daughter is disturbed by witnessing her mother’s affair. When I realized that wasn’t the case, the film lost whatever sense of cleverness I was assigning it.

While not as much of a snooze as The Day the Sky Exploded, I didn’t find it very compelling either. It’s interesting as an artifact—how films tried to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist and then, from the title, The Rocky Horror Picture Show—but rather than be a stunning mish-mash of original elements and plot points from the source, this reads more as a softcore reinterpretation. The movie just wasn’t much fun, and with exploitation fare like this, that’s important.

This may be public domain, I’m in the process of finding out. If it is, I’ll upload a copy to archive.org. Until then, or if not, streaming copies are easy enough to find with a Google search.

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