Friday, September 23, 2016

101. Spare Parts and 102. The Island Monster

Jump to The Island Monster (1954)

101. Spare Parts aka Fleisch (1979)
Director: Rainer Erler
Writer: Rainer Erler
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A honeymoon goes terribly awry when the husband is kidnapped by an ambulance and his wife has to enlist the aid of a trucker to find out what's happened.

Monica and Mike are honeymooning in New Mexico when they check into a quaint little hotel. Shortly after they check in, an ambulance arrives and chases them across the desert. Monica escapes, but the drivers hold Mike at gunpoint and inject him with a sedative before putting him in the back.

Monica flags down a passing truck driven by Bill. He doesn't believe her story until the ambulance shows up at a truck stop far outside its region looking for Monica. The two of them decide to return to the hotel in hopes of getting themselves kidnapped to find out what is actually going on.

The ambulance kidnaps them, but truckers up and down New Mexico are tracking it, eventually hijacking the drivers themselves. Bill and Monica find out the ambulance is part of an organ-harvesting ring and the victims are being delivered to a “Dr. Jackson.” Bill and Monica put on the drivers' uniforms and go to the hospital.

While Bill is trying to get information, Dr. Jackson herself finds Monica and gives a general overview of the organ donation process. She then puts Monica and Bill on a plane to New York with several “patients,” including Mike, revealing that she knows who Monica is and gives her an address.

Monica and Bill are drugged on the plane, but Monica manages to wake up as they're landing and escape. That night, she's arrested by the police who aren't inclined to believe her story, but Dr. Jackson has arrived and turned herself in. She and Monica go to the hospital where Bill and Mike have been taken, rescue them, and, at the last minute, Dr. Jackson kills the intern who's been blackmailing her all this time. After she drops off Bill, Mike, and Monica, the evil nurses run her ambulance off a bridge and she dies. The trio are sent back to New Mexico to put their lives back together as best they can.

This is a slow, made-for-TV German film that, while a little too long, does a pretty good job of creating and holding tension. The revelation that Mike has been taken by organ harvesters doesn't come until 50 minutes/an hour into the movie so there's just a mounting tension of Monica having been dropped into an unbelievable situation that slowly becomes more believable for those around her.

The movie also has an interesting transition of control. Initially Monica is a freewheeling newlywed who's then running scared. Bill assumes authority and is largely running the story until Monica meets Dr. Jackson. Then Monica is the sole actor, making decisions and trying to regain control. Finally, Dr. Jackson shows up and takes control as the primary protagonist. That final move is a bit disappointing—it was nice seeing Monica become the central figure and Dr. Jackson's return ended up prolonging the ending—but it works overall. There's also the constant tension of trust: is Bill in on it, is Dr. Jackson helping or not, are the cops in on it? Nothing is certain until the very end.

While the movie could easily lose a half-hour without sacrificing any quality, it's actually pretty good. There's no specific villain so the story plays out as people dropped into a ghoulish, uncaring system that even those at the center of can't fully control or understand. I find that's an interesting moral space to explore and I enjoyed the movie for its Kafka-meets-cheap horror sensibility. There's virtually no violence and zero gore, but was consistently tense nonetheless. Definitely a recommend.

102. The Island Monster aka Il mostro dell'isola(1954)
Director: Roberto Bianchi Montero
Writers: Roberto Bianchi Montero and Alberto Vecchietti from a story by Carlo Lombardo
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A drug syndicate is using a children's hospital as a front to distribute their wares. When a new Lieutenant is put in charge of the case, the syndicate kidnaps his daughter.

Boris Karloff plays a drug lord that runs a isolated hospital for children. He uses his ability to order medicine from overseas to have drugs smuggled to him. The local authorities are aware of the drug trade itself, but connect it to Gloria, a singer at a local bar. While she's part of the scheme, it's Karloff that's running the show.

The police assign Lieutenant Mario Andreani to the head of the group trying to take down the syndicate. He tells his wife and daughter that he's going to be off the radar for a bit while he does undercover work. He's dispatched to try to seduce Gloria to find out what she's up to, but he's already been marked by the syndicate and they want Gloria to seduce him.

This plot doesn't go anywhere because Mario's wife decides to surprise him with a visit while he's leading an undercover operation. She gets jealous of Gloria, abandons their daughter at the hotel, and that leads to the kid being kidnapped.

Then not much else happens. The kid is being ransomed, Mario is back on the mainland because he's been sussed out, and Gloria is trying to get out of the drug game because she's had enough. The Lieutenant's dog somehow figures out that Karloff is the one that's kidnapped the girl, follows him to his hideout by stowing away in the back of a truck and then, somehow, in a small motorboat. The dog is a better cop than any cop in the movie.

Nothing happens for a long time, then the Lieutenant shows up as a representative of the Genoa mafia, or something. The dub was both mumbled and muffled so I could only understand about half of the useless dialogue. He's posing as a representative for the group that's going to make the big drug buy that will let Karloff and his entire band retire. Gloria recognizes him immediately, but doesn't rat him out.

The night of the deal comes, Gloria rescues the kid from the hideout, the cops close in on Karloff, and, as he's fleeing from the cops, he picks up Gloria and the kid. After they pass the drop-off point, Gloria realizes who he is, fights him, and gets shot. Karloff runs off with the girl, the Lieutenant and the dog chase him, and the dog distracts Karloff so Mario can shoot him. Family reunites and the movie ends.

Another big, wet fart of a movie to make me question my poor life choices, this isn't so much about villainous drug lords as the peril of bad parenting. It would have been a nice noir thriller if the mother hadn't taken her kid to vacation in the middle of a drug sting. What person married to a police officer does that? And then she just leaves the toddler alone in a hotel room. Getting kidnapped was probably the best possible outcome: at least the kid has adult supervision that's invested in her safety!

The dog is the only hero in the movie going full double-0-Lassie on the crooks which is as funny as you imagine. When the dog arrives at the island on the boat that it impossibly hid itself on, the dog jumps into the water to swim for shore. Only, the dog doesn't come back up after jumping off the boat. The camera holds on the spot the dog went in, there are a bunch of air bubbles, and then they stop. Cut to Karloff walking onto the shore. There may have been multiple dog actors in this movie.

It's stupid. The whole thing is stupid, and not in a fun way. The dub is terribly done, almost as though the actors are guessing at what they're supposed to be saying as opposed to reading from a translated script. The plot doesn't go anywhere, the characters don't matter, and the key events depend on people being stupid. By all rights, this should be public domain because how could anyone possibly care about it? But it's been GATT'ed so it's back under copyright. Frankly, no big loss.

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