Friday, May 20, 2016

065. Crucible of Horror and 066. Beast From Haunted Cave

Jump to Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)

065. Crucible of Horror aka The Corpse (1971)
Director: Viktors Ritelis
Writer: Olaf Pooley
From: Pure Terror

A wife and daughter plot to murder their abusive husband/father, but when the body doesn't turn up where they expected, their fear starts to build.

Wyatt Eastwood rules the women of his family, wife Edith and daughter Jane, with a firm hand, but seems somewhat doting on his lawyer son Rupert. After twenty minutes, the plot starts to arrive when a member of the Golf Club visits to tell Wyatt that Jane has stolen 50 pounds from the club's safe. Jane, it seems, has also been pursuing a relationship with the man as he kisses her when he walks in and asks when she'll be visiting him again. Wyatt pays him back the money and then beats Jane that night with a riding crop, taking back the money she'd stolen.

The next day, Edith suggests to Jane that they kill him.

That weekend, Wyatt goes up to the family cottage for some hunting. Edith and Jane follow in the evening and poison him with Edith's sleeping pills. They position his comatose and, they presume, soon-to-be-dead body in the bed and return home. From there, they wait for the inevitable phone call reporting the discovery of his body, only the call never comes.

Instead, Rupert starts calling the house saying he won't be coming home for various reasons, asking after his father, and finally sending Edith and Jane back to the cottage where they find no body and no evidence of him having been there until they find him sealed inside a crate with a note taped to the top.

They worry about who could know and drive the crate far out of town that evening to push it into a ravine. Their fear mounts, though, as it starts to seem like someone has broken into their house. Wyatt strikes from the shadows, not dead at all, attacking Jane and leaving Edith in a catatonic state. The movie closes with Wyatt and Rupert gloating over breakfast while Edith stares, unresponsive.

The movie took its time getting started and then, once the decision came to kill Wyatt, really stayed in these empty spaces. There were hints that some kind of gaslighting was going on, but it was never clear who was organizing it and who was participating in it. The movie walks a fine line between subtlety and padding, and not always successfully. Some of the tension, honestly, just comes from them doing things badly.

In the first act, Jane is pouring some smoking chemical into a perfume bottle. I kept expecting that to come up later in the movie, an unexpected tool that she uses to fight back. Instead, it goes into her drawer and never comes back out. Also, there are weird issues with sexuality in the film. There are suggestions that Wyatt has incestuous feelings toward Jane—he feels up her bike seat when she comes home and there's a flashback to him catching her skinny dipping and then physically, not sexually, assaulting her. She's also kissed by the member of the Golf Club that comes by asking her if she'll be coming back to see him, even though he's there to rat her out for taking money from the club. Finally, when Jane and Edith finally attack Wyatt, Edith says she's read a book by de Sade, that Jane's read it as well, and they both liked it. There's a whole lot of, “Wha . . .?” going on there.

Frankly, the movie's a downer. We're supposed to be on Edith and Jane's side, but if that's the case then this is a grim world they're living in where all the men, including Rupert, their son and brother respectively, are aligned against them in a massive conspiracy to keep them broken and bound. And there's no sense of hope at the end, no sense that eventually things will change or that Jane will rise up and fight back, just that they're stuck there as Wyatt's property to be used as he and Rupert see fit.

The ending's what lost me. When I was trying to find out if this is public domain (it has a seemingly valid copyright notice, so I don't think it is), a lot of the references to the movie I saw said it was really dull. While it does take too long to start, once the murder plot gets under way, there's only tension. I kept anticipating jump scares that never came so there was never any release until those final moments. The film successfully made me feel the anxiety facing these two characters. Had the ending not been so grim, I might want to recommend it as a movie that actually does something well. The thing is, though, as thin as the character development was, I latched on to these characters' feelings, so their loss is my loss. Also, while the movie isn't brilliantly made by any means, it doesn't fall into that space of entertaining incompetence. The movie's just not fun and it's not well-crafted enough to be a piece of “serious cinema” that compels watching.


066. Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)
Director: Monte Hellman
Writer: Charles B. Griffith
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In
Watch: archive.org; Elvira's Movie Macabre

A group of gangsters plant explosives in a mine to cause a diversion from their gold theft. As they retreat to a hideout in the wilderness, a monster from the mine tracks them.

A Corman production—this time by his brother Gene (how B-grade to you have to be to not even rate the best Corman?)—it was filmed concurrently with Roger Corman's Ski Troop Attack. They were already in South Dakota filming a movie involving skiing, so Corman just had the screenwriter, Griffith, write another movie taking advantage of the location. Griffith rewrote his earlier film Naked Paradise, swapping that film's storm for a blizzard and adding a monster. The resulting film, unsurprisingly, is pretty low-key and low-budget.

Alex is plotting a gold heist with his lackey's Byron and Marty. His moll Gypsy is along as well. The plan is they'll detonate some explosives in a local mine. As emergency crews respond to that, it'll leave a safe containing gold bars unprotected. Once they have the gold, they'll meet up with Gil, a ski instructor, who's been hired to take them on a cross-country skiing trip to his cottage.

The plan moves along nicely until Marty takes a girl he picks up at the bar with him to the mine to plant the explosives. After he's set the charge, a monster emerges and attacks the girl. Alex doesn't believe Marty's story and they go ahead with the heist. The next day, on their way to the cottage, Marty starts to suspect they're being followed and worries that the monster is tracking them.

And then not much else. They get to the cabin, get a little snippy with each other—Gypsy keeps hitting on Gil, Alex keeps threatening her to stop, Marty keeps having closer and closer encounters with the monster—and then it kind of wraps up with them all ending up in the titular haunted cave with the beast.

It's a quick little flick, just 72 minutes, and neither great nor terrible. While not as dull as other Corman we're-here-so-might-as-well-make-a-movie pics, it also doesn't have quite enough incident to compel multiple viewings. It's not bad by any means: there is some characterization and personality to each character even if they rarely move beyond cliché, the annoying comic relief gets a nice moment of nobility that I hadn't expected, and the plot works even if the beast really isn't in the movie at all. This isn't hilariously bad like, say, The Killer Shrews, but it also doesn't devolve into people shouting at each other while drunk in a room.

I'd call it an all right watch, definitely better with vocal friends. It's very riffable. This is public domain, but all three of my copies (how is this my life?) have some sort of bug burned in that keeps me from uploading them. There is, however, a nice avi at archive.org and this was also featured on Elvira's Movie Macabre which is streaming on Hulu.

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