Friday, October 28, 2016

111. Monstroid and 112. Green Eyes

Jump to Green Eyes (1934)

111. Monstroid aka Monster (1980)
Directors: Kenneth Hartford and Herbert L. Strock
Writers: Kenneth Hartford, Walter Roeber Schmidt, Garland Scott, Herbert L. Strock
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A giant lake monster, after laying dormant for years, reawakens and starts killing people in a small Colombian town.

We open with a couple relaxing near the edge of a forest—the guy lounging in a hammock, the girl dancing to the radio. The monster emerges from the woods and kills the guy. Years later, the corporation that owns the plant in the town is getting frustrated with local unrest caused by an anti-corporate activist and an American reporter covering the plant’s pollution.

To settle the issue, the company sends Travis to survey the situation and “deal with things.” He reads as a hitman the company’s hired which makes his transition into the film’s hero in the third act very strange. It is hilarious, though, during his initial briefing, to hear the complaints against the reporter. The company buys $4 million a year worth of advertising from the network she works for, but neither she nor the network will bow to the company’s demands that the coverage be softened.

That is the most sci-fi element of the plot.

So Travis arrives and immediately isn’t the primary part of the plot: the woman who survived the initial attack is now accused of being a witch and causing all the problems, the plant manager is having an affair with his secretary but is dumping her to date the mayor’s daughter, the reporter is refusing to back down but her conversations with Travis seem to be making Sanchez jealous, and Sanchez is still plotting against the company.

Who you calling "silly-looking?"
Anyway, several more people get killed by the silly-looking monster, Travis and Patty start dating, and they finally determine that there is, in fact, a monster. They plan to try to blow it up, but the helicopter they need ends up being used to take the original survivor to a burn ward after the townspeople try to burn her to death. Meanwhile, the plant is shut down briefly because Sanchez blows up the pipes leading into the lake, but accidentally blows himself up as well. So much for those plots.

Finally, a helicopter is hijacked, a goat carcass filled with dynamite is dragged through the lake and eaten by the monster, but the detonator falls in before it can be activated. So Travis dives into the lake, gets the detonator, and finally blows up the monster. The hitman is the hero. Twist ending, though, a dog stumbles across a clutch of eggs laid by the monster that are starting to hatch as the credits roll.

Lies, lies, and damned lies.
Pretty silly and politically strange. The opening credits say this was based on real events, twice, but that’s an attempt to justify why it’s dull. “But it’s all true!!!1!1!1!” The politics of the movie are what confuse me. Travis is pretty obviously the villain when he flies in and yet somehow becomes both the romantic interest and the big hero at the end. The reporter is never particularly antagonistic towards him either, which becomes its own curiosity. I was constantly wondering who I was supposed to be rooting for.

Even I'm confused, and I'm a puppet!
It doesn’t help that there are so many plots. I didn’t even get into the kids hanging out by the lake trying to get pictures of the monster or the presence of John Carradine as a priest who. . . collected a paycheck I guess. Then there’s the question of why Sanchez is present at all or the role of all the pollution concerns. I’d argue that the film itself is fundamentally confused considering it features the wrong title in its closing credits, calling the movie Monster there instead of Monstroid.

To the good, this movie appears to be in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 to archive.org. It’s a slog, I won’t say it’s not, but it is highly riffable. The monster itself is a delight of bad hand puppetry, and that’s always worth checking out, so watch it with friends and a strong sense of irony. That’ll help you through it.



112. Green Eyes (1934)
Director: Richard Thorpe
Writers: H. Ashbrook, from his novel, continuity by Andre Moses
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A rich industrialist is found murdered in the midst of a costume party. Now the police and a plucky writer of detective novels has to figure out who among the guests and staff may be guilty.

A curious end to “Shocktober” and a curious part of the Pure Terror collection. This isn't a monster movie or really any kind of horror movie at all. Instead, it's a passable murder mystery. As a 1934 release, I'm sure some would call it noir—the chief inspector certainly plays up the hard-boiled cop stereotype—but this is closer to a straightforward Agatha Christie mystery.

And I think I slightly love it.

I'll actually avoid, in this case walking through the plot in too much detail since it is a mystery and the uncovering of the details is the pleasure of the piece.

We open with the party. The guests in various costumes are playing what seems to be a game of hide-and-seek. As they run as a group to find the mansion owner's granddaughter and her boyfriend, those two are outside driving away. He tells her that he's cut the ignitions of all the cars there as well as the phone line to the house. That turns out to be an unfortunate choice as the mansion's owner has been found stabbed three times in the back. Police stop the car and escort them back to the house so the mystery can begin.

There are various players: the couple, the staff, a business partner who's just shown up from Mexico, and a mystery author who was a former suitor to the granddaughter. The first third is a bit rocky with the cops investigating and the author offering both quiet observance and smug interference. He felt very much like Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation and I wasn't sure if he was supposed to be the focal character or a foil to the chief inspector. The chief inspector isn't much better. He's constantly berating the other characters and just playing the one-note take-no-guff-cop.

Eventually the movie decides that the writer is, in fact, the main character, and he's the one gathering clues and putting things together. Even though it's only 68 minutes long, the story manages to be both nicely convoluted and to hang together well. It moves at a nice clip, the outcome isn't obvious, but makes sense when it arrives.

There's an odd charm to these old movies. The film looks like it's one or two steps up from being a filmed version of a stage adaptation of the novel and the acting is really hammy, but I think that's the source of the charm: naturalism wasn't a thing yet and you can feel the tension of movies becoming a medium distinct from theater in pieces like this. There's a, not simplicity, but efficiency to everything as well. Everything is very contained: it's these characters in these moments within this story and nothing else is present or hinted at.

Obviously I recommend it, maybe within that specific context of watching a movie that's done in, for all intents and purposes, a different language than film is done now. The movie is in the public domain and there's no Mill Creek mark on my copy, so I've uploaded an MPEG-2 to archvie.org.

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