Tuesday, November 08, 2016

115. The Werewolf of Washington and 116. They Saved Hitler's Brain

Jump to They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)

115. The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
Director: Milton Moses Ginsberg
Writer: Milton Moses Ginsberg
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

Jack, newly appointed as the President’s Assistant Press Secretary, is bitten by a werewolf while leaving Budapest. Once he arrives in Washington, he begins transforming into a werewolf and attacking critics of the administration.

Happy Election Day everyone! If you haven’t yet, get out and vote. I’ve largely avoided making political comments here and on my Facebook page, and I think I’ll keep that up. My obvious SJW-tendencies in these reviews probably express my stance enough anyway.

That said, I am like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for this to end. Very soon, we’ll be about to think about anything else. Can you imagine? So, to help you through this final moment and maybe even provide background material while you’re waiting for the election returns to come in, here’s a special Election Day Misery Mill featuring two kinda, sorta, political-ish films. Neither is overtly political. Both are, frankly, a little dull in their own way, but become just spectacularly silly by the end, and maybe that’s what we need right now.

So, The Werewolf of Washington opens with a voice-over from Jack (Dean Stockwell), where we’re told that he had been the youngest member of the Washington Press Corps and a rising star. However, he was also having an affair with the President’s daughter. To avoid complications, he asked to be transferred to Budapest, but the President was told Jack was transferred for being too pro-administration. So the President appointed Jack as Assistant Press Secretary necessitating Jack’s return to Washington.

From this, we cut to the movie where Jack is examining a walking stick with a silver handle shaped like a wolf. It’s a gift from his Hungarian translator/girlfriend (?) Giselle. It doesn’t really matter since, shortly, she’ll no longer be in the film. They’re driving to the airport when Jack sees a man blocking the road with a motorcycle. Jack swerves, hits a tree, and the car is wrecked. He goes looking for help because his plane leaves shortly, but is attacked by a wolf. He beats it to death with the cane, but it turns out to be the man blocking the road. The authorities insist there was no body and that Jack leave the country. The mother of the man gives Jack a charmed necklace to wear to prevent the curse from spreading. Once Jack gets home, he flushes it down the toilet (shown in a toilet-POV shot).

After that, the movie becomes ham-fisted routine. Jack is introduced to an administration critic, he sees a pentagram appear on their hand, and he kills them when he turns into a werewolf that night. First it’s the wife of a man the President wants to appoint to the Supreme Court, but she’s a political liability because she’s too brazen about the administration’s far-right politics. Next, it’s the publisher of a newspaper that was always critical of the President. Then he attacks a couple that saw him murder the newspaper woman—he’s aiming for the girl but kills the guy instead. The fourth night (how many nights do full moons last?), he’s loose in a federal building and kills a guard (he also meets a little person who’s a mad scientist keeping someone in a cage and apparently building a Frankenstein’s monster. They don’t factor into the movie, they’re just there).

The fifth night, he convinces a psychologist and the Press Secretary to chain him up so he doesn’t get loose. The President’s daughter comes by, though, agrees not to untie him, but the President orders Jack to come to the White House for a speech with the Chinese Prime Minister. Jack transforms on the helicopter ride over, attacks the President as it lands in front of a group of journalists, and then runs off to attack the President’s daughter. When he arrives, she kills him with a silver bullet. The President gives a speech over the closing credits that concludes with him turning into a werewolf.

This is supposed to be a horror/comedy or some sort of satire, and if we were closer to the Nixon administration, the targets of the comedy might be clearer. As it stands now, it’s just a laughably bad movie. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched this. You can get some clues that this is supposed to be the Nixon administration—they’re at war with the media, trying to figure out an exit from Vietnam, and the President is concerned about his China policy—but the movie’s stance is never actually clear. Its politics are at once ham-fisted and very vague. I mean, how are we supposed to read lines like this one from Jack: “I think your father’s a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ.”

This whole enterprise feels cheap—cheap sets, cheap sound, cheap script. The comedy rarely hits because the pacing is so deliberate and there’s a real sense of earnestness here. Even though there are parts that are clearly supposed to be comic or absurd, you can feel the director behind the camera going, “We’re showing those bastards, goddammit!” This is one of those rare comedies that misses the mark so much that it becomes funny in a wholly unintentional way.

The movie’s been in the public domain from the start and you can find a copy on archive.org here. Elvria featured this on her show Elvira’s Movie Macabre, both the original and the 2010 reboot. The latter episode had been on Hulu, but seems to have been pulled since it’s now available for purchase from Elvira’s Apple app.

Anyway, this is a fun, stupid movie. Nice to have on in the background while other things are going on or when people are actively looking to riff something. It would also serve as a nice counterpoint to election coverage as you watch the results come in.

116. They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)
Director: David Bradley
Writers: Steve Bennett, Peter Miles
From: Pure Terror

A pair of Americans are kidnapped and taken to the South American country of Mandoras where they find a Nazi plot to return the severed head of Adolf Hitler to power.

Who's been shaving Hitler's face?
I will admit to having very little to say about this movie. I watched it with my bad movie group, the Space Dukes, and there wasn’t enough going on to really keep our attention. There were, though, hilarious shots of Hitler’s head in a jar.

This is your standard 60’s B-flick: sci-fi premise exercised on a minimal budget in a pretty slap-dash way. Why is this one American couple so important? I cannot tell you, especially since the Americans don’t actually save the day. Instead, it’s local townspeople, objecting to the presence of the Nazis in their town, who actually take out the Furher. Considering this has a white hero who isn’t particularly heroic or useful, I have to wonder why it never got riffed by MST3k. It’s right up their street.

I can't offer a clever caption
What’s more interesting than the movie itself is the production story. Originally, this was the feature Madmen of Mandoras, which is a better title if you want the Hitlerhead to be a surprise. That movie was made in 1963, about 60 minutes long, and not impressive (although there’s a copy of it on Cult Cinema so I’ll be watching it eventually). In 1968, the producers decided to market it as a TV movie and hired some students at UCLA to film material to pad it out to 90 minutes. Thus this version with the more lurid, but spoiler-tastic, title. Most of the first half-hour is clearly from a different film that occasionally is intercut with the original movie. The new material focuses on two agents investigating the assassination of a government scientist who was developing “G-Gas.” They’re both dead by the 30 minute mark and we’re off to the races with Bland McSlabface and his wife, Mrs. Wife.

Once Hitler’s head gets into the flick, it’s outright laughable, and it’s certainly interesting to see how the film was recut, but it’s such a slog until that last half-hour. The movie’s not PD, although there are plenty of copies on YouTube. I can’t recommend it, but it’s there if you’re curious.

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