P – “Pagan Island” to “Plan 9”
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
PET SEMATERY (1989)
“Sometimes dead is better” – or so says Fred “Herman Munster” Gwynn about 600 times in Pet Sematery, the movie based on the Stephen King novel. A young couple moves to a farmhouse in New England where their youngest child is promptly run down by a semi! When daddy finds that the dead family cat, Church, has been resurrected after being buried in the title location (actually a “soured” Indian burial ground) he gets the grand idea of doing the same thing with his kid. Gwynn is the sweet old man that befriends the family and Star Trek: The Next Generation alum, Denise Crosby, is the mom haunted by a dark family secret. There are some inspired moments- particularly the deformed attic-dwelling sister and the rotting ghost of a man who tries to help the doomed family. But when its not being too grisly to enjoy it’s being too ridiculous to take seriously. The sight of a knife-wielding toddler doesn’t quite make the impact that’s intended. Gwynn is great as usual but he’s misused and killed without dignity befitting a Munster. Director, Mary Lambert, had only directed music videos before this. Pet Sematery II followed starring Edward Furlong.
Don Coscarelli’s effectively creepy tale of a boy’s private battle with the evil that dwells in his neighborhood’s mortuary/cemetery is very original and filled with lots of bizarre and startling images. Angus Scrimm’s “Tall Man” would become a horror legend. I had many a sleepless nights fearfully waiting to find him standing over my bed, snarling: “Boy!” Flying silver balls drill holes in foreheads and shoot the gore out their backside. Jawa-like dwarves scurry around crypts. No solid explanation is given which adds to the surrealist nightmarishness of it all. The performances are all good and the script generously supplies a few well-placed laughs. There’s some brief toplessness, but it turns out to be dirty supernatural prank (ripped off in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors). Coscarelli went on to direct two decent sequels and Bubba Ho-Tep.
THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939)
This 12-episode serial stars Bela Lugosi as the mad Dr. Zorka who has discovered a new element capable of…well, freezing plants and creating tiny explosions evidently. But it takes a mechanical spider to get the job done. What?! Your typical circular serial storytelling lays it all out. The Feds are the heroes trying to get this important discovery for the security of America. There’s a nosy, Lois Lane-style reporter and a lumbering mechanical monster whose face has become sort of iconic in the genre. Rob Zombie has put the robot’s ugly mug on an album cover. A good example of the genre, but pretty flat and lacking the style of the Radiomen or Flash Gordon. All 12 poorly-restored episodes are available together on one DVD.
PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1955)
PHANTOM PLANET, THE
Unfairly dismissed, Phantoms actually has some solid scares in it. The premise, though wobbly, is intriguing enough. Ben Affleck seems an unlikely Sherriff and the dialogue produces a few winces, but it’s probably the best of movie based on a Koontz novel. Also, Rose McGowan is more than a little easy on the eyes.
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)
To criticize this movie for its open ending is to completely miss the point. Likewise, to say that this movie is slow means that you weren’t paying close enough attention. I was surprised with this selection last night when a friend brought it over. I had little to no interest in seeing it and now count it among my favorite movies of all time. I had a difficult time sleeping afterwards. Every whisper and movement seems to have purpose and the execution succeeds as the closest thing I’ve seen to a filmed nightmare. Not knowing what happened is where the true terror lurks. The best I can do to give you an idea of what to expect is that it’s like The Virgin Suicides crossed with The Blair Witch Project with a little bit of Heavenly Creatures‘ lesbian subtext sprinkled on top. This movie is challenging and disturbing to those who get it.
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Over-maligned and under-appreciated, Popeye may be considered a black mark on the late Robert Altman’s legacy, but lord knows Robin Williams would never be this endearing (or well cast) again. From the simple declarative song titles like “I’m Mean,” “He’s Large,” “I Yam What I Yam,” and “Blow Me Down” (all written and arranged by Harry Nilsson(!) to the amazing set designs that turned the island of Malta into the convincing shantytown Sweethaven, to Shelly Duvall as the very embodiment of Olive Oyl herself — there’s tons to love about this strange strange box office bomb. The timeless “moraliky” tale pushes a “be true to yourself” agenda that goes down easily with lots of vaudeville-style physical comedy and some early choice fight scenes that go down with nary a can of spinach in site. Special props to Ray “Mr. My-Favorite-Martian Hand” Walston for a spot-on rendering of Pop’s gruff papa, Poopdeck Pappy. Cult fave, Paul L. Smith, makes for a menacing Bluto. And that’s Altman’s grandson as adorable “infink” Swee’ Pea. Though there’s a bit of a drag to the final reel and a octopus attack that’s a tad hokey, this is a cult-worthy flick deserving of your respect. A definite fave from the GillMan’s childhood. ***
PRETTY MODELS ALL IN A ROW (1969)
PRIMITIVE LOVE aka Amore primitivo, L’ (1964)
Jayne Mansfield stars in the “story” segments that tie the documentary footage of this mondo curiosity together. Shot in Italian, Mansfield dubs her own voice in Engish when her lips are clearly speaking English on screen. The dubbing is pretty bad. There are two bellhops that peep Mansfield’s room – evidently played by famous Italian comedians. They are exhaustingly obnoxious. Mansfield wears a black wig and dances in a dream sequence. She does a bedroom striptease too, but doesn’t show the goods – still sexy though. The mondo footage appears to be part real and part staged. It’s a fun watch and one of the rare mondos without any major gross-outs – which could be good or bad I suppose. Some footage was used again in The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield.