Shanks (1974) Reviewed
If a truly visionary WTF concept was enough to float a whole movie, flicks with titles like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers would live up to the images those words inspire in your imagination, and movies with capsule summaries like the one Shanks requires would always point toward a rewarding viewing experience. In fact, the more I tell you about Shanks, the better it’s probably going to sound. And I have to tell you…This movie features 1) murder by reanimated rooster, 2) corpse puppets, and 3) the only visual more unnerving than a birthday party clown. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a middle-aged street puppetteer, played by a mime, waltzing with an underage girl at her birthday party which, it so happens, is being held in a scary old castle. Oh, and don’t be alarmed by the sawed off finger in your birthday cake!) So it turns out that horror-master/gimmick-meister, William Castle’s last directorial effort is probably his most odd, original…ill-conceived, awkward, tonally-confused, and eyes-glazingly dull. World’s Most Famous Mime, Marcel Marceau, plays the lonely deaf-mute pupetteer, Malcolm Shanks. Malcolm lives with his wicked widowed sister-in-law and her abusive alcoholic brute of a second husband. He is given the secret to turning corpses into remote-controlled puppets by a creepy old scientist (also played by Marceau in heavy latex), who abruptly dies…and is immediately reanimated by Malcolm in an attempt to delight a beautiful pigtailed age-inappropriate fan. More people die, more people are turned into puppets, and more things that sound really intriguing in print occur…Like the evil biker gang that shows up in the last third of the film to help max out readings on the WTF meter. I keep finding myself wanting to report that there is the germ of a great movie hiding somewhere in the nearly dialogue-free running time of Shanks, but that’s just me wanting. Maybe Shanks started out as something else, and just ended up like this: darkly comic, but not funny; visually unique, but not attractive; and chock-fulla eerie quirk-whimsy, but in a Ratboy kinda’ way rather than a Pan’s Labyrinth kinda’ way.