Friday, August 19, 2016

091. Black Hooker and 092. The Head

Jump to The Head (1959)

091. Black Hooker aka Street Sisters(1974)
Director: Arthur Roberson
Writer: Arthur Roberson from his play
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A black couple raises the white son of their sex worker daughter as each of them tries to find their way in the world.

If this ain't a big wet fart of a film. There isn't a plot. There is no plot for me to relate. The script is adapted from a play written by the writer/director and it's pretty obvious which parts were in the original play and which parts were added to flesh the film out/give it an exploitation edge.

Before I struggle through the pretense of describing the non-events of this movie, I'm going to start by noting that none of the characters have names. Not a one. There's grandma, grandpa, painted woman, boy, and girl. That's literally the extent of effort put into this production. Also, race is never mentioned even though this black family is raising a blond-haired, blue-eyed white boy. While certain parts of that can go unspoken, the movie's set in what looks like the jazz age. Race and passing are going to be a central concern to this narrative and to not mention them even once raises the question of why we have a mixed-race family at all.

So. We open with boy getting chewed out by grandpa because his mother is a sex worker and that's how he was conceived. Grandma stands up for him saying how he was made isn't his fault and that doesn't mean he can't be good. Then painted lady arrives, has a brief falling out with her parents, and leaves, pledging never to return. She goes back to sex work in the city and boy gets baptized in the barn where grandpa holds services.

Cut to who knows how much later, and boy is an adult. He's in love with girl, a black woman, who he promises he'll marry once he's set up a good life for them in the city. She runs into grandpa while looking for boy and grandpa rapes/has sex with her. The scene is confusing because it cuts from grandpa clearly moving in on her to what are obviously two other people on a different set performing the sex scene where the sex is consensual. Boy sees it and runs away to the city.

In the city, painted woman refuses to accept him as her own so he gets a job at a butcher's. The butcher's wife tries to seduce him, but boy rejects her, and the butcher catches them. Presumably he catches his wife failing to seduce boy and then threatening to tell her husband that they have been having an affair, but he fires boy anyway.

Back at the farm where grandma and grandpa live, grandma is waiting for boy to pick her up to take her to his graduation that is apparently about to happen from a school that I guess he's been going to for the past several unremarked years. Painted woman shows up because her pimp has threatened to kill her and she needs to lay low. She and grandpa get into an argument and grandma dies of a heart attack.

Everything goes sepia for grandma's funeral. Boy is there and, after everyone has walked away from the coffin (that's just sitting in the middle of a bit of desert), he sees his mother lounging on the coffin. He walks up to her and we cut to her apartment where she tells him she's sick and needs his help. He starts shouting “whore” at her and chokes her to death. Cut to black, end film.

There's no movie here. There is no movie here. Ostensibly it's about a family trying to raise their grandson despite his racial difference and the morality of the time, but that plot is never actually explored. Since boy's appearance is never raised as an issue, it's not a part of the movie, so it makes no sense that he's Aryan. Then there's grandpa sleeping with girl, boy being rejected by his mother, and the shopkeeper firing him for being hit on by the shopkeeper's wife. These could be plot points of a story about a character's loss of innocence and their transition into dealing with the world as the imperfect place it is as opposed to the space of righteousness they were taught, but the movie doesn't engage with that either. There is no movie here.

Despite having a copyright notice on the film, I think this is in the public domain. There are copies on Desert Island Films and Film Chest, which are not 100% guarantees, but a good barometer. Also, both my copies have Mill Creek bugs on them and I'm increasingly inclined to think they only do that to public domain films so they can claim ownership. It's a moot point because the movie's not worth watching. If it is public domain, there's some nice footage of young boy and girl running through fields together that could be cut into something better. It'd be hard to cut them into something worse.


092. The Head (1959)
Director: Victor Trivas
Writer: Victor Trivas
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

A mad scientist finds a way to preserve dead tissue and uses it to keep his mentor's head alive in a pan.

Dr. Ood seeks out Prof. Abel who's been developing serum Z for keeping organs alive. Prof. Abel has a bad heart and asks his assistants, Ood, Dr. Burke, and Bert to transplant the heart from a dying man. In the lead-up to the transplant, the donor dies and Dr. Burke calls off the surgery. Ood objects and kills Burke, burying his body in the forest. He and Bert do the surgery anyway, but it's unsuccessful so Ood keeps Abel's head alive using serum Z.

After two weeks, Burke's cousin, Irene, who is a humpback, starts inquiring after Dr. Burke. Ood fakes a letter saying Burke is safe and that Burke wants Ood to do an operation on Irene to repair her back. He also has Prof. Abel tell her the same thing via intercom.

Ood is planning to transfer Irene's head to the body of Lily, a striptease dancer that he knew back in the old country. She'd poisoned her husband and Ood gave her plastic surgery so she could take on a new identity. He tricks her into coming back to the lab where he spikes her drink and puts Irene's head on her body.

Three months later, Irene wakes up in her new body. Ood is immediately handsy, though, and she flees back to her apartment. By coincidence, she goes to the bar Lily used to dance at where she meets Lily's ex, a sculptor who's also the son of a judge. He remarks how similar Irene's body is to Lily's, but that Lily was found dead on a railroad track three months before. Irene starts to put things together and confronts Ood who tells her the truth. She flees, but is captured and surrenders to him.

While this is happening, Bert finds Dr. Burke's body and, after talking with Prof. Abel's head, realizes Ood is a murderer. Bert helps Irene escape initially and is ready to stand up to him on Abel's behalf, but Ood shoots him.

The police show up due to the sculptor's claims—only because he's the judge's son—and save Irene and Bert from the house as Ood is setting it on fire. Ood climbs to the roof and jumps to his death.

Immediate shades of The Brain That Wouldn't Die, this is curiously more full of incident and much less fun. The Brain That Wouldn't Die has the head interacting with people, the evil doctor going into town on the hunt for new bodies and getting thwarted several times, and just a bit more energy. This movie's kind of grim. You have the mad doctor who keeps his mentor's head alive for months and tricks a disabled woman into submitting to surgery that ultimately horrifies her. Plus the subplot of the doctor knowing the dancer from before seems like something out of a noir film.

There is some camp fun to be had with this movie. I kept referring to the villain as “Dr. Rude,” since that's what his name sounded like. Plus Dr. Burke is kind of a Cyril Figgis-type and I was making jokes around him the brief time he was in the movie.

Which is also the problem. The movie loses the campy elements pretty quickly and then is slightly uncomfortable. It has neat sets, an okay atmosphere, and tends to hang together as a story, but it lacks that sense of fun. This apparently had been public domain, but got GATT'ed.

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