Friday, September 24, 2010

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
--- horror/science fiction

Dir: Terence Fisher

Where the last film, "The Evil of Frankenstein", seemed to pay homage to the original Universal Studios productions of Frankenstein, you would think now is the time to do the Hammer version of "Bride of Frankenstein". Well they did, but not quite as expected. When I first watched this film, I filed it in the category of, "Wasted Potential", mainly because I was comparing it to the previous entries. Instead, "Frankenstein Created Woman" has a much more interesting premise. As mentioned, upon first viewing, it does seem to veer into a supernatural slasher film, leaving us with little sympathy for anyone. Having said that, the film seems to open up some deep questions about the soul, something the predecessors only hinted upon in conversation.

The film opens with the famous Hammer Frankenstein trademark of the guillotine. Except the head razor has little or nothing to do with the Baron at all this time around. It is actually a flashback to this film's Hans' father. This sets up one half of the vengeance plot of the film.

Next we see Hans join a dotty old Dr. Hertz (played by Hammer Studios regular Thorley Walters) as they rush to resurrect a body in a coffin, until it is revealed to be none other than Baron Frankenstein himself. One could take this in two ways, first as it would appear the filmmakers are telling the audience Frankenstein has become a full on monster, even of his own doing. The other could be this is a sly reference to Hammer's other recurring cinema monster, Count Dracula.

Nevertheless, it's revealed Dr. Frankenstein is indeed dead, and having been on ice for an hour, has just successfully risen from the dead, proving the soul shall return to the body. Another banal experiment well done, and so to celebrate, they send Hans out for wine. Hans happens to be in love with the deformed daughter of an inn keeper. The daughter, Christina (played by Playboy model and Star Trek guest star from "Mudd's Women" Susan Denberg), it would appear has been constantly harassed by a trio of young elites who would normally fit right into a Hammer Dracula film.

When Hans defends his lover and gets into a brawl with the trio, he is later framed for the murder of Christina's father, the innkeeper. Hans is arrested by local authorities and after a trial is found guilty, sending him to the same fate of his father, the guillotine. Christina happens upon the execution and witnesses the death of her lover, sending her into a tearful hopeless act of suicide by jumping into the river. Where death can be found, Frankenstein, of course is not too far behind. He orders Dr. Hertz to retain the body of Hans for his experiment immediately after the beheading. As an added bonus, the townspeople go to Dr. Hertz with the body of Christina, and Frankenstein takes up the task of surgically altering her while using his soul transference apparatus to save Hans in Christina's newly formed body. The experiment is a success, but Frankenstein is careful to not yet reveal to her her true identity.

The rest of the film just serves as a catalyst for a formulaic revenge climax. Christina systematically goes after her lovers killers,using her new found sexual wiles, as a mysterious blond bombshell. When bodies turn up around town, the authorities immediately suspect the Baron. It is now he realizes completed what he was waiting for, that his experiment has worked, and that Hans' soul has returned from beyond the grave.

However, this film's reception has been, it is well written and balanced enough to get its message across. I believe there may have been some scenes in this film exist somewhere, or were left on the cutting room floor, as there is evidence of Frankenstein carrying Christina who's wearing a kinda little white bikini. Not sure what more of the story it added or not. Anyway, besides the wonky science of a rudimentary machine that can virtually upload the soul of a person, one can trust the films script thoroughly. If you forgive them bypassing the notion of an afterlife.

The cinematography is again well done, as are most of these Frankenstein entries. As much as it owes tribute to the Universal classic "Bride of Frankenstein", Hammer's attempt seems more like a homage to other films that dealt with facial surgery that did not yet exist. The French film "Les Yeux Sans Visage/Eyes Without A Face" both incidentally using the female protagonist name of Christina (Christiane in Eyes), and a mad doctor of a father.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pandora and The Flying Dutchman (1951)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Albert Lewin

On the outside looking in, this film looks like a knock-off of Joseph L. Manckiewicz's classic "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir". It is however far from it, as the former was somewhat romantic comedy, and this film has romance but little humor at all. It is almost an amalgamation of two figures of folklore and myth, drawn together for a union destined for eternity.

An Englishman named Geoff Fielding, recounts the tale of the tragic lovers, after fishermen alert the village of their bodies washed ashore. The beautiful Ava Gardner is Pandora Reynolds, a nightclub singer and fellow expatriate living on this enchanting Spanish port of Esperanza (interestingly enough, the Spanish word for "love" or "hope"). Like many of the films of this time, she is a young beautiful lady who has her pick of men. This lady however seems incapable of true love, as it would appear she's quite the heart breaker. Her current paramour is a successful race car driver, Stephen Cameron. Much to the dismay of an alcoholic long-time admirer, who promptly takes his own life in a local bar after spending his final moments with her. There is also another young lady, Janet, who happens to be Geoff's niece, despises Pandora for her wanton ways, and who really is in love with Stephen.

Later, Stephen asks for Pandora's hand in marriage, she accepts under one condition, that he destroy his race car. They agree to marry in six months, so Stephen indeed does drive his car off a cliff, and they enjoy a moonlit night on the beach, until the mysterious schooner appears. Visiting Geoff, the couple listen to him wax philosophic and tell the legend of the Dutchman, while they talk, Pandora slips away and races out to the sea to pique her curiosity of the ship.

Pandora invites herself on board nude and wrapped in canvas. The Dutchman is named Hendrick van der Zee, here played by James Mason, who brings a mysterious demeanor to the ghostly character without the use of special effects. More by his stoic presence, commanding ethereal voice, and his astutely recognizable English accent. He meets Pandora in the midst of painting a surreal portrait of her, (actual painting provided by surrealist Man Ray) at least her mythical namesake. Hendrick alludes to the fact that they were destined for each other, and he very much knows why, as he reveals the painting also shares a striking resemblance to Pandora. She gets upset and tries to destroy the painting, soon Stephen and Geoff call for her, as she departs.

Hendrick moves into a villa in town, and as he becomes friendly with Pandora and friends. One day Hendrick would reveal to Geoff while translating a dutch manuscript the tale of a 17th century buccaneer and that it is he that is cursed to wander throughout time, landing every seven years for six months until he finds a woman that will give her life for him. Geoff realizes, he's not reading at all, and that he and Pandora are meant to be.

Not long later, like most love stories complications arise. Pandora announces her wedding date is the very day Hendrick sets sail. Another would be lover returns to the island, a bullfighter, in search of his old flame Pandora. He is not only disgusted to learn of her marriage plans, but is observant enough to discern who Pandora's heart truly belongs to, and that it is not Stephen.

"Pandora and The Flying Dutchman" was directed by Albert Lewin, who is no stranger to the subject of immortality, as he helmed one of the better adaptations of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". The film was also shot by legendary cinematographer and director in his own right Jack Cardiff, and the film holds up with age as a lavish little gem of its time. It is always refreshing to see a well told love story without all the Hollywood tropes of post modern cinema. This tale shows the character development of a woman who is wooed by men who would give their life for her love, but she ends falling for the one man who already has. One could see the Christian allegory in that one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yeelen (Brightness) (1987)
MALI/ BURKINA FASO --- fantasy

Dir: Souleymane Cissé

We have seen magical eras of yore from the European part of the world ad nauseam. If you have ever wondered what the other side of the world was living like while knights battled dragons, and Persian bandits flew flying carpets, here's a peek into what may have been happening in the African territories.

In this particular film, "Yeelen", we are told a timeless story of a young wizard who is forced into battle against his equally powerful magician father. Star Wars fans will find that familiar territory, but this one goes in a much different direction. It takes place in the Thirteenth century, in the ancient Mali empire. In the films prologue introduces us to the strange customs of the Malian religious practices:

Komo is the name for a specific kind of sorcery.

Kore is the 7th and final stage of the initiation to become a sorcerer. It is symbolized by a vulture. Its emblem is a wooden horse, a symbol for the human spirit. Its scepter is a carved board called Kore wing.

Kolonkalanni, a magic pylon, is used to find lost things and expose and punish traitors and such.

The Kore wing and the magic pylon, are also magical weapons used in concert.

In the opening, we see a sorcerer performing a sacrificial rite to a god called Mari, so that he can find and punish, who we later learn is his own son, Nianankoro. He develops the magic pylon and prepares to seek for his son. Meanwhile, Nianankoro, looking on the reflection of a bowl of water, can see what his father has in store for him, and that he has two men carrying the pylon like a divining rod to find him. His mother implores him to go off and seek the assistance of his uncle. Nianankoro's departure from his mother and home is endearing to watch just with a simple look from each of them that breaks all language barriers.

As his journey begins, he runs into trouble all too soon, when a local village accuses him of being a cow thief. When discovered to be a magician, he is given a chance for reprieve, in exchange for his help against raiding bandits. Nianankoro agrees to use his magical powers to assist the kingdom, and performs a powerful ritual that declares flies and insects against the invading tribes. Nianankoro is released, and in exchange for his help, the king grants him assistance with one of his own beautiful young concubines. Eventually, she sleeps with him, and her king gives her over fully to Nianankoro. Meanwhile, Nianankoro's irate father is fast on his trail. With his "magic pylon" on the hunt, Nianankoro finally reaches his uncle, and realises the battle between he and his father is not going to end as he may have anticipated.

"Yeelen" boasts some impressive cinematography, on behalf of the French film crew (one of the dp's went on to work on a similar film "Buud Yam"), that really succeeded in accentuating the rich colors of the forests, outback, and desert landscapes. As I mentioned earlier, this is a refreshing look at an African culture that gets little to no recognition in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of fiction. Culling the script from various folk tales and legends, Souleymane Cissé does a decent job with the material given him. Though had the film had a larger budget, it's interesting to see what more could be seen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kdo Chce Zabit Jessii? (Who Wants to Kill Jessie?) (1966)
Czechoslovakia --- science fiction/ fantasy

Dir: Václav Vorlícek and Milos Macourek

When it comes to Sixties comedies, you pretty much know what you can expect from them. They're definitely going to be pretty silly, no matter what country their from, and this film is no exception. There must've been something in the air. . . besides all the cannabis. From the comic strip opening, we pretty much can tell we're in for a zany ride.

The film, "Who Wants to Kill Jessie?", tells the story of government research scientist, Ruzenka, who invents a machine that is able to telecast dreams onto a monitor. Her milquetoast engineer husband, Jindrich, has been having wacky fantasies based on a comic strip he has been following about a beautiful woman (Jessie, played by the first Czech Playboy model Olga Schoberva) being chased down by two villains. One dressed as a cowboy, and the other a Superman knock-off, both conspicuously very Americana . . . hmmm. They are after her for an invention called anti-gravitational gloves. The scientist conducts a kind of showing of what her invention is capable of, using a cow as her guinea pig. The monitor shows the cow in distress over him having gadflies, and then once the scientist injects a serum to treat the nightmare into the cow while it's asleep, the gadflies emerge from the cows ears. This, for some reason is ignored, as the fellow scientist are simply amazed that they can see what the cow is dreaming.

One night while her husband is clearly talking in his sleep, and dreaming of the misadventures of Jessie, Ruzenka hooks her husband up to her invention, to espy just what is on his mind. Much to her consternation, she sees her husband and Jessie, as well as the two rascals after her. She wakes him up in disgust, and sends him to the couch. But not before giving him the serum. This is the part of the film where reality, goes out the window. For when her husband wakes up, he arises with Jessie asleep on the couch with him. Unfortunately, it also means her two adversaries are can't be far behind.

When Jindrich goes to work to continue on construction problems in the warehouse he's employed in, he leaves his all too real dream girl in the house. She eventually escapes her two pursurers through a window. She thus begins trapesing around town in nothing more than a short dress fleeing her comic-strip predators. This however becomes a major problem when his dreams cause troubles in the real world, and both Ruzenka and Jinrich are at fault.

Would it be too pretentious to look at this film as an allegory about freedom the often Commie powers-that-be who controlled most of Eastern Europe at that time? Perhaps. This comedic fantasy is so over-the-top you can't help but laugh at some of the stuff explored in the film. The dream characters have actual word ballons in the film that the reality characters physically interact with. Two interesting factoids: This film is not alone in the Czech New-Wave film movement, although Milos Forman didn't have too much to do with them, the movement didn't last too long at all. The other interesting factoid is, Japan has developed a machine that can see into dreams. Though the technology is far from what is seen in this film, or something like "Paprika" or the recent "Inception", it does exist in a rudimentary stage.