Friday, November 11, 2016

117. Shock and 118. The Alien Factor

Jump to The Alien Factor (1978)

117. Shock (1946)
Director: Alfred L. Werker
Writers: Eugene Ling from a story by Albert DeMond, additional dialoge by Martin Berkeley
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org

A psychiatrist who’s murdered his wife has the only witness committed to his sanitarium so he can try to convince her she imagined the whole thing.

Janet Stewart checks into a San Francisco hotel to meet her husband, Lt. Stewart, finally returning from the war after two years in a POW camp. She hasn’t had word about him the entire two years and doesn’t even know if he’s injured or not. While waiting for him to arrive, she overhears an argument outside. When she looks, she sees Dr. Cross (Vincent Price) murder his wife. Lt. Stewart arrives the next morning to find her in a state of shock.

The hotel calls in the service of a psychiatrist who happens to be staying there and it’s none other than Dr. Cross! He does a preliminary exam and then, after getting details from the Lt., suspects Janet witnessed the murder. He suggests the Lt. admit her to the sanitarium Dr. Cross runs.

Things inevitably escalate. Cross learns that she did see the murder, he tries to convince her it’s just a delusion, events in the sanitarium convince the other doctors that Cross is right, Janet tries to get out but isn’t believed, and Cross keeps weighing his options while his mistress starts to advocate murder.

Mrs. Cross’ body is found near Cross’ vacation lodge and it’s assumed she fell over a cliff while walking at night. However, the police catch a cat burglar in the area and suspect he may have killed Mrs. Cross. The exhume the body and determine that she was murdered with a candlestick. While they suspect the burglar, Cross decides too much of the truth has come out and decides to kill Janet.

He’s going to put her into a state of shock with shots of adrenaline, and “accidentally” make her overdose on the final one. At the last minute, though, he loses his nerve. His nurse mistress tries to finish the job and Cross murders her instead. It’s at this moment the Lt. and authorities, now suspecting the truth, rush in and find Cross with the nurse’s corpse. Janet and the Lt. are finally reunited and Dr. Cross leaves with the chief detective, presumably to spend the rest of his life in jail.

I mentioned with Green Eyes that I have a real affection for these old black-and-white films, but this one missed the mark a bit for me despite having Vincent Price. The presentation is nice and it feels very film noir, but the movie never commits to one of its two possible storylines.

The set-up’s pretty clear. Either the movie will be about Janet trying to escape an institution where everyone assumes she’s disturbed and she has to endure the doctor’s attacks, or it’s about Dr. Cross getting pulled ever deeper into a situation he never wanted to be a part of. While the movie is primarily the latter—he murders his wife in a moment of pique and has to keep doubling-down on the error—it didn’t feel like it was committing to his moral degradation. Once he hypnotizes Janet, he knows she saw the murder, and has to decide what to do from that point on. His mistress, the nurse, is more overtly evil, occasionally seducing him into deciding to make Janet’s life worse. They start by keeping her sedated, and then he’s hypnotizing her trying to erase the memory, and then straight-up gaslighting her.

That’s all fine, plot-wise, if we’re either watching it from Janet’s point-of-view or seeing Cross wrestle with the decisions to do these things. Since it’s neither, the movie has no clock, no end point it’s being forced to, so there’s rarely any sense of dread. Then it has the blah ending where the good are reunited and the evil punished.

To the good, the movie appears to be in the public domain. There are a few copies already up on archive.org and I’ve added an MPEG2 here. It’s not a terrible movie and it’s put together well enough, it just never grabbed me.


118. The Alien Factor (1978)
Director: Don Dohler
Writer: Don Dohler
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: YouTube

A spaceship crashes unleashing a trio of horrific monsters upon a small rural town.

From Don Dohler, arguably, the master of low-budget backyard filmmaking, comes a simple flick about monsters killing random people. Dohler’s also known for the very strange, very bad The Galaxy Invader, which I had felt like I’d seen as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it never was one (although Rifftrax did do a version). I saw it 8 years ago when I first started the PD Project and, from my comments there, clearly hated it. While that movie is pretty poorly done, The Alien Factor, Dohler’s first, is pretty good.

We open with a couple making out in a car only to be attacked by a monster. The girl gets away, but the boy is killed. The local doctor and sheriff both think the boy was killed by a wild animal since the girl is in shock and can’t tell them differently. The sheriff tells a trio of men not to go looking for the animal and they, of course. . . actually listen to him.

There’s a real sense of people acting reasonably in this film.

The trio does eventually decide to hunt down the animal and bring their friend Susan, but insist on sticking together just so nothing happens to any one of them. Again, reasonable, except what happens happens to all of them: the first alien monster shows up and kills all three men and Susan runs away screaming.

The next day, an invisible alien approaches a man outside his house and ages him to death. The sheriff and doctor don’t know what to do about any of it and the sheriff wants to call in the State Troopers. The mayor objects to that plan as it would bring too much attention to the situation and torpedo his plan to build an amusement park in the area.

The movie also hits every sci-fi/monster movie cliché, and I kind of love it for that.

At this point, the movie pauses to take a breath, watch a local band play “Theme from Filler,” and then another deadmeat gets et.

An astronomer from a nearby observatory, Mr. Zachary, visits the mayor and says he saw a meteor land in the area a few nights before and asks for permission to go looking for it. The mayor joins him on the search leading them to the crashed spaceship and the funniest line in the movie: “Looks like my meteor is a spaceship of some kind.” Everything about it—its cadence, delivery, tone—all of it had me laughing harder than I have in a while.

Zachary finds a dying alien at the crash site who psychically relates the rest of the plot to him before the ship blows up. Zachary goes back to the sheriff, reveals there are three aliens, but that he has secret technology that can kill them. He feels more and more like a Poochie as the movie progresses, killing each alien when no one else can and then being told how awesome he is for doing so. Peak Poochieness comes at the end when it’s revealed that he himself is an alien who has come to save the Earth from the monsters, but now must return to his home planet. Only he gets gut-shot by the sheriff and dies. So I guess he’s 100% Poochie.

The movie has flaws, but it’s fun both in spite of and because of those flaws. The acting’s generally flat, but Zachary is pompous and hilariously bad. Since everyone else is right in the middle, his Shatner-lite antics really stand out. And while, as I noted, it slows down a bit in the middle, it picks back up after that scene. The movie manages an even enough pace throughout and even the technical aspects like sound and camerawork are competent: they’re never so good that they stand out, but never so bad that they’re distracting. In fact, there are several shots that demonstrate Dohler knew how to frame a shot and get the most out of the available light.

And the monster costumes are awesome. Yes, they’re guys in goofy suits, but they’re awesome suits. The final monster is superimposed on the film, a stop-motion creature, I think, whose movements they manage to match to the actor pretty well. The monsters legitimately impressed me.

The seams show, yes, but I found that made the movie more impressive. This was a demonstration of what a bit of passion, skill, and a whole lot of sincere effort can do. The frustration of so many of the other movies I’ve been watching is they had budgets, teams, and talent, but couldn’t give a single damn about making a movie. It’s clear Dohler liked making movies and this one came out nicely.

While this movie is not PD, the owners have made it available to watch freely on YouTube, so please don’t repost or reshare without their permission. Normally I gripe about films not being public domain, but these guys have been working to keep the movie available and to protect their copyright. The actual frustration I have is that Cinematic Titanic did an episode of this, but when I went to link to it, I found that CT had pulled all of their content. I suspect this might be related to the upcoming reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but whether it is or not, I’m always frustrated when access to content is revoked. At least the unriffed version of The Alien Factor is available, and it is so, so riffable. Very fun bad movie that’s not even that bad.

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