Archive for the Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns Category

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Cold War Chills, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Post-Apocalypse Movies, Radiation, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the
REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Refugeoffear

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

It’s hard to make a boring film about nuclear annihilation, but REFUGE OF FEAR (1974), which was also called CREATION OF THE DAMNED, makes surviving a nuclear holocaust seem like the dullest fate imaginable.

The bomb has already been dropped when we meet the two couples surviving underground in a sophisticated shelter. We witness the survivors—Carol (the lovely Patty Shepard) and her husband Arthur (Fernando Hilbeck), Margie (Teresa Gimpera), her husband Robert (Craig Hill) and their son Chris (Pedro Mari Sanchez) —playing billiards, chatting, and having impromptu striptease shows. There’s actually no full nudity, which means the first hour of the film is pretty boring.

Chris attempts to contact other survivors over the radio, with no initial success. The group watches a Geiger counter to see if the radiation levels go down enough to leave the shelter.

The group begins fighting, mostly over petty things. Boredom sets in. Arthur develops an addiction to pills. Carol starts taking her clothes off and dancing provocatively for the group’s entertainment.

The survivors discover their pet cat dead. Robert, being the strict military man he is, skins and cooks up the cat. They can’t afford to waste anything, he tells Arthur.

Meanwhile, Chris is able to find another faction of survivors over the radio. They keep him updated on the radiation levels. Knowing that others have survived is of little comfort. They’re unable to leave. The air is still poisonous.

Eventually, boredom and her husband’s whininess drive Carol to have an affair with Chris, who is much younger and much more studly than Arthur. Carol taunts Arthur that her period is late. Arthur puts two and two together and tells the whole group that Carol is pregnant with Chris’s child.

Things become extremely tense in the shelter, so Chris leaves for the surface. We get a brief glimpse of the impact of the bomb. Chris enters a home, only to discover the fried and decomposed bodies of the former residents. Chris succumbs to the radiation and drops dead.

Back in the shelter, Arthur dies. Robert is convinced he committed suicide over the news of Carol’s illegitimate baby. Carol thinks Robert killed him. She’s so convinced that he’s a killer that she ties him up and holds him hostage. His wife, Margie, doesn’t seem to mind any of this.

Robert escapes. The three remaining members of the group try to get along, but Robert murders Margie, leaving him alone with Carol. He tries to control her, even going as far as drugging and raping her.

Carol eventually fights back. She keeps hearing someone over Chris’s radio. The other faction of survivors comes over the airwaves to tell them that the radiation levels have improved enough for them to leave. Robert doesn’t want to leave. He’s afraid Carol will go to the authorities and tell them that he killed Arthur and Margie. He attempts to kill her, but she locks herself into a room. She finds a gun and shoots through the door, killing Robert.

In the final scene, which seems odd and out of place, we see the whole gang back before the bomb hit, having a barbecue and discussing the construction of the bomb shelter. It’s a bizarre way to end the film.

REFUGE OF FEAR drags on at times. The characters are forgettable for the most part. The film could have been about half an hour long, and it would have been much more effective. We do see some tension, but tempers never fully boil over, which would have made the movie more exciting. People mostly snip at each other and storm off. It’s almost like a feature-length Spanish soap opera.

The one interesting thing about REFUGE OF FEAR is that it is a Spanish film about a nuclear weapon striking the United States. It’s a unique choice. Other Spanish films have addressed a nuclear weapon striking Europe, including Leon Klimovsky’s far superior THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976).

Despite its failings, the film captures the very real paranoia of the United States during the Cold War. People did build underground bomb shelters. People did stockpile food and medications. REFUGE OF FEAR is a solid example of the fact that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union troubled the whole world.

© Copyright 2013 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

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Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Studies The CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, Atomic Accidents, Atomic Supermen, Cold War Chills, Drive-in Movies, Gangsters!, Grave Robbing, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , , on December 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

CreaturewithAtomBrainPoster

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the Bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

Radiation is one of those givens in many films from the 1950s. You can bet your bottom dollar that the radiation is going to make something either really big or really strong. In the CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), a misleading title since there are multiple creatures here, radiation is used for the latter purpose.

The film opens with a bald man with stitches across his head walking zombie-style down the street. The man looks alarmingly like Ed Asner. In the next scene, he’s driving a car, which is a little disorienting, since he’s originally seen walking. He drives to a business where a man named Hennessey and his employees are closing up for the night.

Hennessey is putting the day’s cash away in a safe when Ed Asner’s twin smashes through a window and begins speaking in a robotic voice. He claims to be Buchanan, but Hennessey tells him that he doesn’t look like Buchanan. The creature assures him that he may not look like Buchanan, but he is, and he’s come back to see Hennessey die. The creature then picks up Hennessey and snaps him in two like a twig. Hennessey’s employees shoot at the creature, who lumbers away quietly, unaffected by the bullets piercing his body.

The scene cuts to a man talking into a microphone, commanding the creature to get in the car and drive back home. The creature doesn’t seem to get the message, so an egghead scientist with a bad German accent takes over and gives the commands. Turns out, the scientist is a former Nazi scientist named Steig (Gregory Gay), and Buchanan (Michael Granger), the man behind this whole operation, is a gangster who wants to exact revenge using these atomic creatures to do his dirty work. Why didn’t I think of this? The two are able to see everything the creature sees on a television screen in their laboratory.

The man who murdered Hennessey leaves behind luminous blood. After Chet Walker (Richard Denning), director of the police laboratory, conducts some experiments on the blood, he discovers that it is actually a chemical compound – and a radioactive one at that.

Hennessey was killed, according to Walker, by a creature with “atom rays of superhuman strength, and one that cannot be killed by bullets.” The journalists hanging around for the scoop are in such disbelief, they threaten to misspell the poor guy’s name. The nerve!

Buchanan and his Nazi scientist have an entire arsenal of zombies. Ed Asner’s twin is retired, and another guy is brought in to take out the district attorney, a man named McGraw. D.A. McGraw is also cracked in two by this superhuman dead guy.

By now, the police lab chief and his partner, homicide detective Dave Harris (S. John Launer), have figured out the fingerprints lifted from the original crime scene belong to a man who died weeks earlier. As it happens, the fingerprints lifted from the D.A.’s murder scene also came from a dead man.

Walker and Harris put their police noggins together and determine that there’s a connection between the two murders. The D.A. and Hennessey both worked together to get Buchanan deported to Rome.

Walker gets the military involved in this operation, as the military always seems to get involved when radioactive dead men roam the streets, wreaking havoc.

The evil duo’s plan goes a little tilt when the Nazi scientist gets a little thirsty and stops into a local tavern for a beer. When a solider stops into the bar to check the radiation levels, the scientist flees out the back door, leaving his beer and his change behind.

Apparently, dealing with radioactive zombies tends to cause one to become radioactive. The Geiger counter the solider is using goes off as he waves it around the stool on which the scientist sat. The ten dollars the scientist left behind is also radioactive, a fact that deeply disappoints the bartender, who was certain the money would be his.

A lot of strange, catastrophic things start happening. Things explode, giving us the perfect opportunity to view some stock footage.

Then something exciting happens again. Det. Harris is killed and turned into one of these zombies. Steig does something special for the good detective. He tinkers with his vocal chords, giving him the ability to use his own voice rather than Buchanan’s.

As might be predicted, Harris is used to find Walker. Walker sees his friend and gets into his car. Despite his medical degree, Walker doesn’t notice the stitch marks all over his friend’s forehead, the same stitches seen on the other creatures. The two speed off, but Walker jumps out of the moving car before Harris can take him back to Steig and Buchanan.

The car crashes, draining Harris of his energy. Walker and some other police officers notice that Harris seems to be heading mindlessly toward the source of his energy. After getting the military involved, they follow him to Buchanan’s hideout.

In one of the most half-hearted fight scenes in cinema history, Buchanan sets his atomic creatures on the military, telling them to kill, which apparently means walloping them gently with their limp arms and tossing them around like ballerinas. The soldiers’ guns are useless against the creatures.

Harris, meanwhile, comes to the hideout to regain his power. Walker happens to be there at the same time, trying to thwart Buchanan. For reasons that are never explained, Harris attacks Buchanan instead, giving Walker the chance to destroy the machinery keeping the creatures alive and saving at least some of the soldiers doing battle outside.

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN is a cute film, but it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s difficult at times to discern whether the filmmaker (Editor’s Note: it was directed by Edward L Cahn, whose other films include THE SHE-CREATURE, 1956, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, 1957, and  IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, 1958)  was going for a cheeky laugh or a serious scare. If you’re looking for a nostalgic chuckle, this film will suffice.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The bi-weekly column “Transmissions to Earth” returns in two weeks.)

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter: THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Apocalyptic Films, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Mutants!, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on September 18, 2012 by knifefighter

“Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter” Takes on
THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976) is a rare treat, a mélange of science fiction and horror, all while blatantly ripping off George Romero. Directed by Argentinian director Leon Klimovsky (THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, 1971), the film opens to a bright bedroom. Lily (Maria Perschy) is awakened by her husband, Victor (Tomas Pico). They have to plan for a party they’ll be throwing later that night.

The scene cuts to the office of a Russian ambassador. We know he’s Russian because he calls someone “comrade,” and there’s a picture of Lenin proudly displayed in his office. He’s speaking with someone on the telephone about leaving the country. We discover something bad might happen, but maybe not, at least according to the ambassador.

We move on to the party at Lily and Victor’s mansion in the countryside. Lily and Victor discuss who will be attending. It becomes clearer that this is going to be a kinky party. Doctors and businessmen, who are instructed to wear these bizarre rubber masks, are there to have a decadent meal with plenty of wine and narcotics—and a lovely selection of prostitutes to satisfy their needs. (For the under-18 or nudity-sensitive crowd, there is no explicit sex and only a small amount of nudity.)

Before things can get really kinky, the basement room where the Marquis de Sade-inspired debauchery was to take place begins to shake violently. The ceiling cracks open. The servants come in screaming, their eyes completely white. A pigeon crashes into the house, also devoid of its eyesight.

Dr. Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza) tells everyone he believes Europe has been hit by a nuclear bomb. The cellar-level bordello is the perfect place to hide out until it becomes clearer what steps they should take.

The following day, the men venture out to the village to gather supplies in a scene that looks remarkably like something straight out of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964). While there, they discover everyone in the village is blind, suffering from some strange disease brought on by the nuclear fallout. In one of the stranger scenes, the men break into a grocery store to get some food. They’re accosted by the storeowner, who is blind and doing his best to protect his store. Victor, who seemingly lacks all human decency, takes out his switchblade and jabs it into the guy.

The rest of the men attempt to deliver some of their ill-gotten food to the monastery, where the blinded masses are moaning and wandering around aimlessly. Victor wants nothing to do with their sappy, bleeding-heart charity, and he steps outside to smoke a cigarette. Some of the blind villagers find him and grab at him like zombies. He begins shooting them, but Dr. Robertson (Ricardo Palacios) strangles him to death before he can hurt anyone else.

No one tells Lily what has happened to her husband, beyond the fact that he is dead, out of respect for Dr. Robertson. Even so, murdering Victor takes a toll on Dr. Robertson. He wanders around in a catatonic state for a while, but then starts acting like an animal. The rotund doctor even takes to crawling around the mansion on all fours in the nude. Dr. Messier (Emiliano Redondo) tries to comfort the nutcase with a transistor radio. The radio has been silent since the bomb hit, but Messier tells Robertson that perhaps one day the radio will play music again.

Fulton and the lovely Clara (Nadiuska, who is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Conan’s mother in 1982’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN), find love despite the horrifying circumstances. It’s actually a believable, beautiful relationship, a bond that lasts throughout the film.

The film features Paul Naschy, Spain’s answer to Lon Chaney, who also starred in Klimovsky’s THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. He portrays Bourne, a man with flared nostrils who is ready and willing to shoot, punch, or kick anything in sight. Between Bourne and the blind zombie-like folks, the members of the party are in a dangerous spot.

Meanwhile, the blind zombies are being led around by a man who was blind before the bomb struck. He instructs them to attack the members of the party. One woman has her eyes gouged out by the horde. Another is shot in the mouth.

Suddenly, the transistor radio begins playing music. An announcer comes on to tell the survivors of the blast where they should report for further instructions. Between the blind people and the shotgun wielding Bourne, the remaining party members must fight for their lives. Few succeed.

Fulton and Clara make it after escaping into the woods while the others fight it out among themselves and the zombie horde. They flag down a bus driven by two men in radiation suits. Fulton gives them his identification. The two board the bus, which is occupied by other healthy people.

I won’t give away the ending to those who are eager to see this Spanish delight, but it left me feeling cold and frustrated. This was an exceptionally good film with an ending that fell flat for me.

It is obvious Klimovsky was heavily influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and THE OMEGA MAN (1971), or its predecessor THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. He brought his own style and vision to the table, and it makes for a refreshing take on the theme. The film is not without its plot holes. Some of the characters’ reactions to a horrifying situation don’t make much sense, but perhaps Klimovsky intended to demonstrate that people act irrationally when faced with a crisis. Despite its flaws, I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

The David Lynch Chronicles: ERASERHEAD (1977)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Classic Films, Cult Movies, David Lynch, Enigmatic Films, Just Plain Weird, Midnight Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns, The David Lynch Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2012 by knifefighter

The David Lynch Chronicles (Volume Three):
“A Dream of Dark and Disturbing Things”
By Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Nick Cato: It was inevitable we’d get to David Lynch’s famous first feature, ERASERHEAD (1977) for this column. However, we didn’t think we’d tackle it so soon. At first, my Lynchian sister and yours truly felt the film had enough coverage over the years, and for Lynch fans, is simply played out. But upon further thought, we agreed ERASERHEAD is the kind of film that can never have enough written about it, and its historical significance as both a classic midnight cult movie, as well as Lynch’s first feature, make it more than worthy of a closer look.

ERASERHEAD initially played at NYC’s Cinema Village, where it premiered in the fall of 1977 and played as a midnight attraction until the summer of 1978, when it switched over to the Waverly where it played for 99 consecutive weeks, becoming a genuine midnight cult hit. Today, the Waverly Twin is now known as the IFC Center, where they show the film about 4 times a year. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the film there 3 times and Sheri has seen it 6. There’s a certain aura that comes with seeing ERASERHEAD in the same theatre where it has earned its reputation and dazzled, baffled, and just plain freaked-out countless people over the past 34 years…so this column begins with a 35mm midnight viewing we attended there on a hot August night in the summer of 2012. The film print was a tad scratchy, but nonetheless beautiful, and as soon as it began (despite this being at least my 20th viewing), I still had goosebumps running all over me. And two minutes into it, I again felt as if I was experiencing something I had never seen before.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Although I’ve seen ERASERHEAD more times than I can count, I always get the feeling I’m experiencing something truly remarkable each time I view it. Seeing it at the place where it all began has a special significance. The 35mm print we saw in August added to the nostalgic beauty of the David Lynch experience.

One thing I find especially endearing about viewing ERASERHEAD in a theater setting is experiencing it along with others, some of whom may be seeing it for the first time. ERASERHEAD is, for the most part, a very dark film with disturbing imagery and a thread of despair running through it. Even so, there are absurdly hilarious moments. Hearing a few people laugh uproariously during those moments really made the experience meaningful to me.

ERASERHEAD is as hard to categorize as it is to forget. Part post-apocalyptic tale, part horror flick, part art film, it could be one of the most polarizing films ever made. Some critics pooh-pooh it as nonsensical garbage. Fans see it as a masterpiece. I’m of the mind that almost everyone can take something away from this film. The message may not be pretty. It’s not intended to be a lighthearted tale. But sometimes reality is hard to swallow.

Nick Cato: The first ten minutes of ERASERHEAD are perhaps the most surreal and unusual among all of Lynch’s work. And it’s within this opening sequence where audiences are either drawn in or turned off.

We begin with a strange-looking man’s head seemingly floating through space. We eventually learn more about him (the main character, Henry Spencer), but here we don’t know what to make of this guy wearing a business suit with his hair piled high above his forehead. As Henry’s face coasts in and out of the frame, we see what looks like some kind of asteroid or planet floating behind him, and soon the scene shifts to a room where another strange-looking man sits looking out his window, pulling heavy-looking mechanical levers. Cut back to Henry, as a ghost-like embryonic creature comes from his mouth and begins its own otherworldly drifting.

After multiple viewings, this odd introduction can be taken many ways. It’s apparent the man pulling the levers represents God, or at least a god, and Henry is somehow seeking him, or aware that this being is not only watching him but “pulling the strings” of his life. The embryonic creature is Henry’s child, who comes in to play a bit later in the film. We later learn Henry and his girlfriend Mary had the child out of wedlock, so perhaps the entire opening of the film is a huge portrait of both Henry’s guilt and growing apprehension of fatherhood.

It should be noted that Lynch’s musical score—which at this point consists of odd-sounding winds and crashes—makes this sequence as eerie as it is fantastic. These sounds have become a staple of Lynch’s films, but here they’re raw and add a sense of uncomfortable surrounding. The film has barely begun and we’re already in a world we’ve never been in before.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: The sound for ERASERHEAD came courtesy of sound pioneer Alan Splet, who also did the sound for BLUE VELVET (1986) and DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989). If you’ve seen several Lynch films, you’re probably familiar with the eerie buzzing noise present in the background, just low enough to cause disquiet, and sometimes building to drive home a particularly stress-inducing scene. An interesting side note about Splet. Apparently, Mr. Lynch keeps some of Splet’s ashes in his studio.

The noise is the perfect background for our introduction to Henry (Jack Nance). In contrast to Nick’s interpretation, I’ve always felt that Henry doesn’t realize he’s being watched by the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk). The man, who is decrepit and weary, could be a direct symbol of God, or perhaps he’s symbolic of predestination, those things over which we have absolutely no control. I’ve never felt that Henry realized that his fate was being decided by this God-like individual. Henry has set these things in motion, of course, by having sex with his girlfriend, Mary (Charlotte Stewart).

One thing I find fascinating about this film is that it is told in chronological order, despite the surreal circumstances. Many of Lynch’s later films do not necessarily follow a linear storyline. ERASERHEAD starts, albeit symbolically, right at the beginning, when that sperm is released, and the wheels are set in motion for a nightmare.

We then see Henry stumbling along in a bizarre city. He has to walk over muddy hills against a backdrop of poverty and industrial waste. He lives in a dingy, tiny apartment, in between the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall (Judith Roberts) and a brick wall. The girl across the hall tells Henry that a girl named Mary called for him on the payphone and left a message for him to come over for dinner that night.

His apartment is small, that of a bachelor. It’s a one-room apartment just large enough for his bed, which is covered with a hole-riddled blanket. We later discover that those holes came from Henry’s nervous habit of picking at the material. In fact, Henry maintains an exasperated, desperate expression throughout. He always looks like he’s being chased by a monster.

Nick Cato: After we see Henry at home in his apartment, he goes to his girlfriend’s house for dinner, where he meets her truly bizarre family. Mary’s mother is a ball of anger, waiting for the opportunity to confront Henry about the baby Mary recently had. Her father, in contrast, is quite happy, despite being a bit irritated on the state of their town’s plumbing (he claims to have laid every pipe in the city over his lengthy career). And in the kitchen we meet Mary’s grandmother, who we’re never quite sure is dead or alive, like the grandfather in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). Mary’s mother helps the seemingly deceased senior to mix the salad, and even places a cigarette in her mouth which we never see her inhale.

Once dinner is served, Mary’s father asks Henry to carve the chickens. They’re small game-hen-sized birds, and when Henry begins to slice, the chicken begins to bleed out, as its legs kick in stiff spasms. If ever there was a film that portrayed the awkwardness of meeting your girlfriend’s parents, ERASERHEAD nailed it, albeit in a most unusual fashion.

When Mary’s mother takes Henry away from the table, and asks him if he is responsible for Mary’s baby, the house turns dark. Henry’s paranoia and guilt begin to bubble, especially when he’s commanded to marry Mary. And in this one crucial sequence, we see Henry accept the fact his single, lonely life is coming to an end, although he assures Mary’s mother he loves her daughter, despite the continually apprehensive look on his face.

Sheri Sebastian Gabriel: Life for the newlyweds is anything but happy. Their baby is a horrific monster—literally! The baby, who was born prematurely, is wrapped in bandages and cries all day and night. Mary can’t handle it, and bails on Henry. She heads back to her parents’ house.

The infamous baby from ERASERHEAD. Henry’s pride and joy.

Henry seems to handle the kid well enough, but every time he tries to leave, the baby goes berserk. This scene rings true for anyone who has ever made it through the body-sucking, brain-draining first year of a child’s life. You can’t leave. The fear of being trapped is played out very well here. Henry, the man who lives between temptation and a brick wall, can’t even step outside without his baby screaming.

Marriage is another trap for Henry. We see Henry and Mary, who has apparently returned to their apartment, battling it out over the bed. Mary, sound asleep, takes up the majority of the bed, nearly knocking Henry off. She chomps her teeth and rubs her squeaky eyes. It drives Henry mad. Again, the fear of being trapped and having to deal with someone else’s quirks is portrayed here. Henry is drawn in the night to a mysterious sperm-like object he found in his mailbox and put on a shelf. It’s a symbol with all the subtlety of a brick to the head. Your sexuality is on a shelf now, pal, because you’re married and have a baby. It’s all over.

It’s hard to tell if Mary is really back, or if we’ve just witnessed Henry’s own dream-world perception of his new wife. The girl across the hall then appears, and Mary is gone. Seems the girl across the hall has locked herself out of her apartment. She asks Henry if she could stay with him. Then things get really weird.

Nick Cato: And I think this is where the film loses most people. It’s a dream sequence taken to surreal heights as only Lynch can do it, although at times during it, it seems we shoot back to reality for a few moments, and then back again. After staring into his radiator and dreaming about an odd-looking woman who promises—through song—that, “In heaven, everything is fine,” Henry is now seriously contemplating suicide. His own personal Angel of Death (the singing radiator woman) has assured him there’s nothing to be afraid of and that what lies beyond his current world can only be better.

‘In Heaven, everything is fine….”

In the middle of this sequence, we flash back to Henry’s room where he attempts to have sex with his neighbor, all the while trying to distract her from his hideous child who’s just across the room atop a dresser, wrapped in a dirty cloth. Henry’s neighbor seems to make eye contact with the creature, but as they begin to consummate their short-relationship, Henry and the woman begin to melt into the bed, bringing us to another dark sequence where we follow a worm traveling around the rock-planet seen at the beginning of the film.

It is here where we also discover why the film is called ERASERHEAD: when Henry loses his head while listening to the radiator woman sing, it falls on the stage floor and eventually finds itself on the street in an industrial area, where a young boy brings it to a factory. The head is examined and it’s discovered it’s made of the same material used to make erasers in pencils. The boy is paid for his find. Perhaps this is Henry feeling his new, standard existence as a husband and father, illustrated in a most bizarre and comical fashion?

While this off-beat section of soul-searching symbolism still causes me to scratch my head, in the end Henry wakes up…he has denied his angel’s offer of the after-life (despite the vivid, eerie dream) and decides to go on with his child.

Albeit not for too long.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: The scene at the pencil factory really drove home the full message of this film for me. When I initially saw ERASERHEAD, I believed it was about the pure fear of becoming a parent, which is terrifying enough. After a few viewings, I realized that it’s really about the futility of life itself.

Henry’s head pops off to be replaced by the grotesque head of his child. Henry’s head is used to make assembly line pencils, all exactly alike. The message is clear to me. We are only here to reproduce and become as useless as Mary’s grandmother. I don’t necessarily think Lynch meant it to be prophetic. Perhaps it was meant as a way to urge people to break away from the futility of existence, to be individuals rather than accept our role as reproducers. The act of reproduction doesn’t have to mean that we lose our own identities. If we allow ourselves to live in this manner, to be replaced by our children and to become useless, the only way out of our inevitable unhappiness is suicide. It’s the feel-good movie of the 20th Century!

Nick Cato: As if the film couldn’t become darker, Henry survives his dream and is now alone in the apartment with his child. He wonders if his dream was real and knocks on his neighbor’s door, only to find no one home. He paces his apartment a few times, looks at his child, and then hears his neighbor in the hallway. He opens the door he sees her with a male friend, then closes the door and spies on them through his keyhole, a picture of Henry going back to the common adolescent practice of voyeurism. His life is now quickly unwinding.

Henry begins to come to grip with reality (something few audiences do during screenings of this). He’s a father…for all he knows, a single father as Mary seems to be gone for good. He’s no longer his own man. There was no sexy neighbor in his bed last night. He looks back at his child, or what passes for a child, and decides to grab a pair of scissors, where he cuts it free of its bandages…then its life.

Upon the release of ERASERHEAD, critics cited the ending as grotesque, classless and disgusting. Perhaps it’s a bit of each. But what few took the time to understand is that, when Henry stabs his child to death, he’s really killing himself (proved by the final shot of Henry embracing the woman in the radiator). He has finally agreed that the next life is where he belongs, that he has become the norm and the norm isn’t where he wants to be. For the sake of the film, his child has been put out of its misery; for the sake of Henry, he has gone on to better things. It’s a dark, depressing statement, yet, in its own way, one full of beauty, especially in the brightness of the film’s final shot.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: In fact, the final shot is the only time in the entire film in which we see Henry smiling. He’s free. If life means being trapped, death is the happy solution.

I think that Henry killing his child really drives home the point that you can’t take back your actions in life. You can’t undo what’s been done. After the heinous act is completed, some horrible infection begins spilling from the baby’s guts. The baby’s gigantic, disembodied head begins popping up throughout the room, as if to say that this solution was not for Henry to decide. If things are predestined, as Lynch seems to believe given the existence of the Man in the Planet, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Nick Cato: Some may wonder what has drawn so many people to multiple viewings of film that deals with such depressing, bleak topics. While on the surface ERASERHEAD may seem like a dingy, gloomy freak show, created only to cater to acid-taking crowds, when you let its simple messages sink in, it actually becomes a celebration of life.

I know many people who consider ERASERHEAD to be too strange and that it makes no sense. This is hardly the case. While Lynch may have used unique symbols and methods in telling his tale, when you take away the bizarre imagery, it’s basically a look at one man’s fear of fatherhood and marriage, and of the mistakes he has made in life. And unlike your typical by-the-numbers Hollywood movie, Lynch’s nightmare-ish vision only improves and has more to offer with each viewing. As far as debut films go, ERASERHEAD is simply incredible.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: I’d like to go on record as saying that ERASERHEAD is not for everyone. Some people see movies for an escape. Some enjoy a good action flick to get away from the doldrums of everyday life. Some people love romantic comedies because they provide some solace for the downtrodden. ERASERHEAD is a film for those who like to ponder big questions.

The broader appeal of Lynch—to me, at least—is that he gives you something you can sink your teeth into. Each time I watch ERASERHEAD, I pick up another layer. There’s always something else just below the surface that I didn’t pick up the last time I saw it. If you’re looking to escape the harsh realities of life, this film—and possibly most of Lynch’s films—would not appeal to you. But if you’re looking for something that will make you question existence, something that will force you to dig a little deeper, there are few films that come closer to perfection than ERASERHEAD.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

(NOTE: although ERASERHEAD is easily available on DVD, it is strongly suggested you seek out a midnight screening. The film continues to screen in theaters around the globe to this day).

 

Henry (Jack Nance) sits abandoned by his wife in his small apartment, contemplating fatherhood and his future.

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Action Movies, Atomic Accidents, B-Movies, Fugitives, Gangsters!, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

Atomic blasts are prominently featured in many films of the 1950s and 1960s. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in most people’s minds. That fear and paranoia is evident in the cinema of the time, particularly under the threat of the Soviet Union’s perceived nuclear arsenal.

The MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961) is just this sort of film, but it brings a little something extra to the table. It’s a mobster tale for the Atomic Age.

The film opens to some tough, well-dressed men discussing Eddie Candell (Ron Randell), who has escaped on his way to death row at San Quentin. Candell led this criminal syndicate before being falsely convicted of murder, convicted in no small part through the testimony of his former underworld pals. Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso) has taken over Eddie’s role as mob leader, and he’s also stolen away his girl, Linda (Debra Paget).

Everyone is scared that Candell is coming for them, but Linda is particularly afraid. She not only testified against her man, but she’s also sleeping with his replacement. Linda is the type of insufferable bird-brain that makes viewers root for her horrible demise, but more on that later.

We then see Eddie Candell stumbling through the desert, hands still cuffed, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie. Who knew that San Quentin inmates were transported dressed to the nines? He has wandered onto an atomic testing site, and the scientists notice him too late. He is blown away by the atomic bomb, which is apparently strong enough to knock off his suit jacket but not strong enough to touch his tie! It does rip his shirt sufficiently to give us a glimpse of his strong, impenetrable chest. The researchers discover that he has survived from a recording of the blast.

Dr. Meeker (Tudor Owen), an egghead scientist, demonstrates to a couple of police officers, Capt. Davis (Morris Ankrum) and Lt. Fisher (Gregg Palmer), that the atomic blast didn’t kill Candell but made him indestructible. He does this by demonstrating on produce! He shows them a watermelon that was hit by the same atomic blast. I have no idea why a watermelon was on the testing site, but it serves as a convenient example. The half of the watermelon facing the ground seems normal. It can be cut away with ease. The other half, however, bends the knife. The bomb was comprised of something called Cobalt Element X, which is not quite as deadly as Uranium 235, according to our scientist. Candell’s insides have been fused with steel. Using egghead logic, Meeker tells the officers that Candell could be the most dangerous man alive unless he is apprehended and studied immediately.

Candell steals a dynamite truck and, of course, heads to the home of his former crony Andy Damon. He catches Linda on her way out the door. She’s a blithering nincompoop who pleads with Candell to spare her. She only testified against him, she says, because Damon forced her to. She’ll do anything he wants! She’ll run away with him! She’ll go straight to the district attorney and tell the truth! A group of Damon’s henchmen catch him in the act of roughing up Linda, and they start shooting at him. Candell and the bad guys discover that his body simply absorbs the bullets.

Candell runs away with Linda, hoping to get her to go to the district attorney and help him proclaim his innocence. He also hopes to use Linda as a pawn to get Damon to confess that he lied on the witness stand. Candell’s motivation remains true throughout the film. He never wavers in his desire to have his name cleared.

He drives to the home of his protégé and love interest Carla Angelo (Elaine Stewart). Linda is left in the dynamite van while Candell visits Carla. Carla is clearly smitten with Candell. She sees his horrible condition and wants to selflessly save him. It seems interesting that Carla’s character is the polar opposite of the opportunistic Linda.

The police come to the door while Candell is at Carla’s home, urging her to come with them to a secure location. She agrees to come along, but not before telling Candell to slip out the back. It’s all a setup, however, and the police surround the dynamite van once Candell gets in with Linda. The van will blow and take down innocent people, Candell shouts to the coppers, like the poor man’s James Cagney. Clearly the police in this film were not trained in hostage negotiations. Candell takes off with Linda, and no one bothers to give chase.

Meanwhile, Damon has found himself another dame in record time, and he starts thinking of alternative methods of annihilating his nemesis since mere bullets won’t do. They devise a plan to throw him out the window of their high-rise apartment. It’s brilliant! An atomic bomb won’t kill him, but a 20-story plunge to the sidewalk just might do the trick!

The plot is quickly ruined when Candell comes to the apartment and knocks two of the henchmen out the window instead. Talk about instant karma!

Damon gets to Carla and, in an extremely racy scene for the era, attempts to rape her. The plot is foiled by a passing police officer, and Carla makes off with the gangster’s car.

Carla goes right away to Dr. Meeker. She’s obsessed with saving her lover. Candell’s health is deteriorating. She and the doctor make a trip to her apartment, where they find Candell. He is afraid of what’s happening to his body. He doesn’t want to deal with the doctor. He wants to deal with Damon on his own terms. Perhaps he realizes his time is limited.

In a showdown at the same atomic testing range that sealed his fate, Candell gets his vengeance against Damon and goes down in a blaze of glory. Thankfully, Linda gets her comeuppance as well. For her support and love, Carla is spared.

This was the final film for 1920s director Allan Dwan, the man responsible for such classics as ROBIN HOOD (1922) and THE IRON MASK (1929). THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE certainly not without its flaws, but it’s an action-packed, engaging spin on the classic mobster tale.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Eddie Candell (Ron Randell), left, gets his revenge on slimy mobster Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso) in THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE!

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Makes Room for WHO? (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Cold War Chills, Cyborgs, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Science Fiction, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Presents:
WHO? (1973)
Movie Review by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

It’s a scorching-hot summer, so it’s the perfect time to chill out with some Cold War concoctions.

Unless you’re a young whippersnapper, you probably remember a time when Americans feared nuclear attack from our most dreaded enemy, the Soviet Union. Communism was a threat that led to the construction of bomb shelters. Most schoolchildren participated in bomb drills that involved ducking and covering under their desks. Even into the 1980s, when I was in elementary school, there was a sense of dread that the Russians could attack at any time. Would we be able to retaliate? How much time did we have? Should we make the first strike? Espionage, intrigue, and fear made this a great time to make films or write books.

 

WHO? (1973)—which was also called ROBO MAN—is based on the phenomenal 1958 Algis Budrys novel “Who?” The film opens with two cars driving along, one of which seems to be pushing the other off the road. There’s a horrific crash. We discover that the lone survivor of this crash was an American scientist named Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), who has sustained severe injuries. The Soviets save his life. His skull was crushed, necessitating a metal helmet-type apparatus over his cranium and face. A chest plate keeps his heart beating, and a metallic arm was used to replace the missing limb.

A group of American government agents are then seen waiting outside of a gated area, discussing Dr. Martino’s return to America. As Martino is led to the Allied outpost, the men discover, to their horror, that Martino is now a metallic man. His facial features are obscured by this mask. FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould) is unconvinced that the metal man is really Martino. He believes his archenemy, Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard), is handing over a Russian spy instead.

Unless you’ve read the novel (and maybe even if you have), the opening sequences of this film are confusing. The film deviates from the book substantially in that Martino is disfigured in an explosion while working on his secret K-88 project in the novel. This gives the Soviets a more plausible motive for wanting to keep Martino alive. The film version of Martino is also working on a secret project called Project Neptune, but there seems to be no connection between the automobile accident that nearly killed him and that project. There’s no solid explanation given for why Martino’s car was pushed off the road.

Martino is not immediately returned to the United States. Instead, he (and the audience) endures endless interrogation. Rogers keeps him in a small room in an Allied facility to learn his true identity. He’s convinced that Azarin either sent a Russian spy in Martino’s place or brainwashed the real Martino into spying for the Russians. This film (and the book, for that matter), would have been extremely short and pointless today. Even if the Soviet Union still existed, DNA testing would solve this matter quickly. Fingerprinting was certainly a widely used identification method even in the 1950s, but this is dismissed by Rogers. He’s so skeptical that he believes Martino’s one natural arm might be someone else’s.

In flashbacks, we get glimpses of Martino’s interrogation by the Soviets. We also learn about his early life, his loves, and his brilliant mind. Bova does the best he can with the material he’s given. He manages to give emotion to Martino, a man whose own expressions are veiled in mystery. Being able to emote under a ridiculous metal mask is a remarkable feat, but sadly one that couldn’t save WHO? from being a snooze-fest.

Even so, WHO? could have been an amazing film. Budrys’s novel is a thrilling, fast-paced mystery, despite the obsolete circumstances. Even though we know that the Soviet Union no longer exists and DNA testing would clear up any doubts about Dr. Martino’s identity, Budrys was such an amazing storyteller that even a modern reader wonders right up until the end about the man beneath the metal helmet. After an hour of insisting that he’s really Martino, viewers of the film will probably stop caring. Too much time is given in the film to interrogation and Rogers’s own skepticism. The real suspense in the novel comes when Martino is finally released back into society. Had they released a spy? The FBI had to keep tabs on this man because they believed him to be a real threat. It’s to the film’s disadvantage that it focuses on questioning rather than exploring the real fear of unleashing a potential enemy upon the populace.

About an hour into the film, something interesting finally happens, something unintentionally hilarious. A car chase, complete with bass- and guitar-heavy 1970s-style car chase music, ensues just before Martino is put on a plane to return to the U.S. Some bad guys of unknown and unexplained origin start shooting at the plane. This chase feels tacked-on even by 1970s car chase standards. I won’t ruin the one interesting part of WHO? for you, but I will tell you that it really doesn’t advance the plot of the film.

Martino makes it back to America, Miami to be exact. In the novel, Martino lived in New York. New York seems more appropriate. The metal-headed man seems oddly out of place among the palm trees. If a cyborg could blend in anywhere, it would be New York City. He wants to go back to work on Project Neptune, but he’s being tailed by the FBI and isn’t cleared to go back to work.

One of the many problems I have with the film version of WHO? is the fact that several major plot points and the twist that Budrys spent a couple hundred pages setting up are kind of tossed together in the last 30 minutes. The first hour is boring and repetitive. The last 30 minutes feel as if the filmmakers remembered that they had to wrap this thing up, so they slapped some elements of the novel into the movie. Without the proper setup, however, it seems choppy, sloppy, and confusing.

If you’re looking for a refreshing taste of Cold War paranoia while relaxing on the beach this summer, pick up a copy of the book. It will make a lot more sense and keep you on the edge of your beach chair. The film is great if you’re ready for a nap.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

CKF Welcomes SHERI SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL!

Posted in 2012, David Lynch, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns, Staff Writers with tags , , on July 17, 2012 by knifefighter

We have been remiss by not officially welcoming SHERI SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL to this site earlier. She co-writes the column THE DAVID LYNCH CHRONICLES with CKF’s “Suburban Grindhouse Guru” NICK CATO. And today is the debut of her brand new solo column, LADY ANACHRONISM’S FALLOUT SHELTER!

Here’s more about Sheri:

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel developed an obsession with unraveling David Lynch films after seeing ERASERHEAD in college. ERASERHEAD remains her favorite film of all time, but she is also partial to MULLHOLLAND DRIVE and LOST HIGHWAY. She has worked as a writer in some capacity for nearly 20 years. Her horror fiction has appeared in a few magazines and anthologies. When she’s not reading or luring small children into her sweets-encrusted home, she enjoys watching horror films at midnight on the big screen. She lives in New Jersey.

Welcome aboard, Sheri!