Feb 20

A*P*E: Meta-Film of a Fine Vintage

A*P*E - ApeIn 1976, an odd collection of American and South Korean filmmakers got together to make the 3-D feature A*P*E, a King Kong remake. Most people call it it a knockoff. I call it a parody. And as such, I think it’s a lot better a film than most people recognize.

Who Made This Film?!

You need to understand the context here. Dino De Laurentiis was about to release his big King Kong remake. And even though the film suffers in comparison to the 1933 and 2005 versions, it was still a big hit. It was the seventh highest grossing film in 1976, despite the fact that it wasn’t released until 17 December of that year. Had it been released earlier, it would have been the second highest grossing film behind Rocky. So love it or hate it (or both), it was a big deal.

A*P*E starts by claiming, “Jack H. Harris presents.” Harris is best known for The Blob, but ultimately might be remembered for the micro-budget Equinox, or as it might be better called, “Evil Dead 0.” Yet IMDb makes no mention of him. It’s likely he was involved in the distribution of the film. But the truth it, it is hard to suss out who was behind this multi-country, multi-company cheapie.

A*P*E Plot Summary

The film starts at about the end of the second act of the official King Kong films. A 36-foot tall gorilla has been captured and sedated. It is on a ship headed to Disneyland where it will be displayed. Right after being told that the experts think the great ape will be unconscious for five more days, it awakes, tears through the ship, and somehow makes it explode. Then it fights rather a long time with a shark (remember: Jaws was the big hit of 1975).

The gorilla makes it to land where we see that it has incredible night vision. Then it starts destroying buildings for no particular reason other than to show off what I suspect were some pretty great 3-D effects.[1] Lots of stuff flies at the audience. This is repeated throughout the film. And I have to admit that this is the first time that such things have made me want to re-watch a film in 3-D. I’m not a fan of the process in general. Anyway, that made up the first ten minutes of the film.

And Then a New Film Starts

After that, the gorilla disappears for while so we can be introduced to Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns), a movie star making her first film outside the US. She is met there by here boyfriend, Tom Rose (Rod Arrants), who is also a journalist. They spend a lot of time kissing and talking about getting married. I don’t mean this is snark. I enjoyed these scenes. They were charming, and the principals are solid television actors who are able to put in good performances with what were clearly limited takes (based on the editing).

This five minute segment of A*P*E set the tone for the rest of the film. At the beginning, the whole thing seemed rather like a standard monster movie. But this gorilla is just not that threatening. There are numerous shots of it just standing around looking decidedly nonthreatening. At one point, it walks across a field, being careful not to step on a cow grazing.

Not a Scary Ape

From time to time, we see the monster destroy buildings, but not people. We only know that people are dying because Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) keeps telling us as he shouts into the phone to various other military personnel about how they really should try to kill the gorilla rather than catch it because, you know, people are dying (off screen).

Eventually, A*P*E can resist its King Kong roots no more, and the gorilla kidnaps the movie star. But it’s curious. The film syntax in A*P*E is so primitive that it is often not clear what is going on. The gorilla was supposedly watching the star act. But from where? Visually, it isn’t clear. And certainly one of crew would have said something along the lines of, “You know that 36-foot tall gorilla that’s in all the papers? I think it’s on the set.” But I don’t want to nitpick a film that clearly doesn’t mean to be taken very seriously.

A*P*E Warned You!

In fact, it is hard not to see the entire film a spoof of the upcoming King Kong remake. The director of the film within A*P*E is named “Dino” (played by actual A*P*E director Paul Leder). I can’t see this as anything but a none-to-subtle attack on Dino De Laurentiis, producer of the 1976 Kong remake.

The Final Line

The film ends as you expect. But it ends with a different line. In 1933 (and 2005), it was, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” In A*P*E, Marilyn asks, “Oh, Tom: why? Why?” And Tom replies, “It was just too big for a small world like ours.”[2] This line has been widely mocked. But what’s the big deal? Somehow, it is okay to have grand statements like this in films we like but not in films we don’t?

This is not to forgive the line. It doesn’t work in the film because it (along with the whole scene) implies that anything in A*P*E was meant to be taken seriously. I like all versions of King Kong. And I cry at the end of all of them. Yet I know it’s crazy. They are silly films. Okay: giant gorilla so giant insects (2005, deleted from 1933) and giant snakes (1976). But what’s with the dinosaurs in the 1933 and 2005 versions? They’re not there for any reason other than that technically they could be done. And again, this is if you accept the idea of a giant gorilla falling in love with a human.

Enjoy the Meta-Film

A*P*E removes all the pretense that there is anything serious about all this. So on the level of meta-film, A*P*E is brilliant. Still, for most people, taking a giant gorilla seriously is more fun. But we’ve all had that experience. A*P*E allows us to laugh at Hollywood and ourselves.

[1] Note that Michael Weldon refers to it as “terrible 3-D.” You should probably trust him, given I haven’t seen it in 3-D.

[2] Note that pretty much everyone else quotes, “He was just too big for a small world like ours.” That’s not what I hear, and I suspect that it is just the result of everyone quoting IMDb from 2006.

Permanent link to this article: http://psychotronicreview.com/2017/02/20/ape-meta-film/

Feb 19

Why So Down on Krippendorf’s Tribe?

Krippendorf's TribeLast night I watched Krippendorf’s Tribe the 1998 filmed version of Frank Parkin’s almost unrecognizable novel of the same name. Since it first came out, I’ve been a defender of the film. It certainly isn’t great art — or art at all. It is just a silly film that doesn’t try to be anything else. And I think it works rather well in that regard.

Critics Don’t Like Krippendorf’s Tribe

As a result, I’ve never been very clear what critics hate so much about the film. Last night, I showed it to my father, and like me, he found it very silly and fun. So I thought I might revisit the film’s fairly consistent bad reviews with a trip over to Rotten Tomatoes.

I was surprised to find that a lot of the reviews were little more than complaints about the bawdy humor in the film. This in itself is kind of a strange complaint. The film is rated PG-13. ParaNorman was only rated PG, and it not only has sexual innuendo but scary scenes as well.

I think that film critics are usually at their worst when reviewing comedies. The thing about comedies is that the viewer brings as much comedy to the experience as the film. Ask any stand-up comedian. They will tell you that routines that work brilliantly on Friday nights often die on Tuesday nights with their small, scattered, and mostly unhappy audiences. (Why else does someone go out to a comedy club on a Tuesday?) There are a lot of comedies that don’t work for me, but other people find hysterical. Who am I to say that a film isn’t funny when others find it so? And can I really be trusted? If I had seen the same movie a day earlier or a day later, mightn’t I have found it funny?

One Good Review

Of the reviews, the only one I found that I thought was reasonably useful was Madeleine Williams’ review at Cinematter. She starts the review, “Krippendorf’s Tribe is a formula comedy. Done poorly, formulaic comedies might seem to signify the downfall of American cinema. However, every now and then one emerges, like Krippendorf’s Tribe, that actually works.” I think that’s about right: it does what it tries to do, although I have my problems with the film that I will get to later.

The Arrogance of Film Critics: an Example

For pure film critic arrogance and uselessness, however, you can’t beat Eric D Snider. Before I get to discussing his review of Krippendorf’s Tribe, let me give you a general overview of him. In general, his reviews are short and sloppy. But he used to write a column over at Film.com called, What’s the Big Deal? In those rather longer articles, he discussed famous and significant films and why people care about them. There, he actually spent some time and did a really good job. In fact, in these articles, I think he does what film critics ought to be doing. But I also suspect he’s seen those films more than once.

So I’m not saying that he’s an idiot or that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And clearly, people like short articles by people they consider film ombudsmen. But that very idea is what leads to things like his review of Krippendorf’s Tribe. It goes along very much with part of the tag line for his site, “Snide Remarks.” But it hardly matters; he may be an extreme example, but what he writes is very much what passes for film reviews today. He starts with his real problem, and it isn’t Krippendorf’s Tribe.

Sex Humor

In order to find Krippendorf’s Tribe funny, you must agree with it on one fundamental principle: Penises are funny.

Perhaps this is where we part ways. In general, penises are funny. But you could take out all of penis humor from the film and you would still be left with a lot of humor. There is no doubt however, that there is a fair amount of sexual humor. There is nothing especially right or wrong about that. Not that it matters, because Snider isn’t actually that interested in the subject. It is just a clever — and highly misleading — way to start and end his review.

If you do not hold that truth to be self-evident, there is no hope of your enjoying this movie. Also, if you are above the age of 9, there is no hope of your enjoying this movie. It’s a film aimed at kids that is too lewd to be viewed by them.

If the film really is aimed at kids, it has a funny way of showing it. Kids wouldn’t get most of the humor. I’m afraid that Snider is mistaking a film about a family for a family movie. He clearly knows the film is rated PG-13, but apparently he doesn’t know what it means.

Krippendorf’s Tribe Isn’t a Disney Film

Only the people at Disney could come up with such a quandary, and it is Disney (through its Touchstone Pictures division) that inflicted this live-action trainwreck upon the world. Surely Walt spins in his cryogenic chamber when he hears of thoughtless movies like this one being made, movies that obsess over genitalia as though they were fleshy, bulbous deity.

This is brilliant! Touchstone Pictures is a brand that Disney uses. It uses it to release films targeted at adults. If the film were made for kids, it would have been released as a Disney picture. Surely Snider understands this, but conveniently ignores it so he can continue his complaint that Krippendorf’s Tribe isn’t a different movie than it is.

I appreciate the shout out to the “Walt Disney’s not dead” urban legend, but it doesn’t belong anywhere in this review.

Let’s Make Fun of Actor’s Personal Problems From Decades Past!

Krippendorf’s Tribe stars Richard Dreyfuss, who at one point won an Academy Award, though I think he subsequently traded it for cocaine in an alley. He plays James Krippendorf, an eminent anthropologist whose wife recently died, leaving him with three kids you may have seen in other movies: the Sullen Teen, the Brilliant Boy and the Adorable 5-Year-Old.

That’s a low blow to Dreyfuss, whose drug problem predated the review by over two decades. What’s more, he’s done much fine work since then. Of course, Snider can’t even be bothered to say there is anything wrong with Dreyfuss’ performance; he just implies that he’s a bad actor.

His characterization of the children is, not surprisingly, quite wrong. The “Sullen Teen” (Natasha Lyonne as Shelly) has taken on the responsibility of running the house since dad has been an emotional wreck. The “Brilliant Boy” (Gregory Smith as Mickey) is smart, but that isn’t the only thing he is. And the “Adorable 5-Year-Old” (Carl Michael Lindner as Edmund) is so scarred by his mother’s death that he refuses to speak out loud. I’ll admit, these are not characters of the depth one would find in a Dostoyevsky novel, but Krippendorf’s Tribe is a screwball comedy.

When Critics Don’t Pay Attention

As the film begins, James is harassed by an aggressively perky college student named Veronica (Jenna Elfman) who wants to be on his research team. She also casually reminds James that 1) he was given a research grant of $100,000 two years ago; 2) he has wasted all the money on candy and gum; and 3) he is supposed to give a lecture and report his findings TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nothing like all caps and 14 exclamation marks to make your point! But here he gets a number of things wrong. Veronica was once Krippendorf’s student, but is now on the faculty of his school. We learn that he had a research grant of $100,000 and that he has used it all just living, but not from Veronica. Details like these get lost when you’ve tuned out to a movie, which means that Snider tuned out five minutes into it.

How could James have forgotten all of this? Easy. He is the world’s stupidest man.

No. He forgot it because (1) he still hasn’t gotten over the recent death of his wife; (2) it is a screwball comedy; and (3) if he had started a month earlier it wouldn’t have changed anything. Snider thinks the whole cast of characters are the “world’s stupidest people,” as we will shortly see.

When Critics Forget They’re Watching a Screwball Comedy

Well, he’s in quite a pickle now, isn’t he? It is difficult to sympathize, for surely no one with capacity to read these words is dumb enough to waste $100,000 of grant money and forget what he was supposed to be doing with it. Do you suppose that every time James bought something expensive, he thought, “Oh, yeah, all this money. I guess I should go do some research with it, shouldn’t I? Ooh, look, a shiny thing…!”

This is over-thinking the film, but I must admit to having similar concerns, given that I used to be research faculty. For one thing, when a scientist gets a research grant, he isn’t just handed a check. The money is distributed through the academic institution. There is a budget. Money goes to different things. But at least a third of that grant would have gone for Krippendorf’s salary, to allow him time off from his teaching duties. So much of that money was rightfully his to spend.

But I still think Snider is wrong to say that such a thing couldn’t happen. People get themselves into all kinds of situations, especially after a tragedy like the loss of one’s wife. And to demand that kind of plot realism in a film of this nature is ridiculous. I’m sure Snider has never made similar comments about Bringing Up Baby. (Note: Snider doesn’t like Bringing Up Baby, either; but only because he doesn’t like Katherine Hepburn’s voice — such is the depth of his analysis.)

“Me Critic! Me Smart!

Anyway, he does the only thing you could do in this situation, which is to fabricate a New Guinea tribe and attribute a lot of interesting social customs to it. For the tribe’s name he comes up with Shelmikedmu, based on his three children, Shelley, Mickey and Edmund.How could he name a tribe after his own kids and not have anyone notice the connection and thus realize his work is a sham? Easy. They are all the world’s stupidest people.

In fact, he did have other options; he just chose to lie because Krippendorf is a lovable rogue. The “Shelmikedmu” is only obvious to viewers because we are shown how he comes up with the name. No one would notice this similarity to his children’s names because they don’t sound the same and no one at the college would even know the children’s names. The problem here is not stupid characters but a reviewer determined to find fault in a film.

The Typical Shout-Out to Bit Players

One person doubts him, though. This is Ruth Allen, a rival professor played by Lily Tomlin, who possesses in her left buttock more class and talent than the rest of this movie combined. (The same goes for David Ogden Stiers, of whom Disney must have incriminating photos, perhaps involving livestock, in order for him to appear in this film. It also goes for Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who plays Krippendorf’s mother-in-law and who subsequently appeared in Norm Macdonald’s Screwed [Actually, it is the directorial debut of the brilliant screenwriting team Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski], which makes me wonder if maybe she actually died several years ago and is merely being propped up in strategic locations, Weekend at Bernie’s-style.)

Interesting that both Lily Tomlin and David Ogden Stiers have more class than the rest of the film. Logically, this is impossible, but whatever. I thought Tomlin did a good job with Ruth’s aristocratic disdain, but I thought they could have lost the monkey, which isn’t used to any comedic effect except for one fart joke. Elaine Stritch was very good as the boozy grandmother. Stiers played his part well enough, but it isn’t enough of a part to have a strong opinion about.

Misunderstanding the Plot

Anyway, the movie tries to pawn Prof Allen off as a bad guy simply because she doubts our hero — who is lying, you’ll recall, which makes doubting him a fairly reasonable thing to do. But live-action Disney films deal in simplistic, moronic terms. The main character is always a hero, and everything he does is right. By process of elimination, anyone who opposes the main character is a bad guy. If Disney made a film about Adolf Hitler, 1) it would be a musical, and 2) you’d be expected to believe the Allies were mean for picking on cute li’l Hitly (voice of Nathan Lane).

This is rich! Snider is complaining about heroes being definitional, and yet he gave the truly mediocre Marvel’s The Avengers a rating of B+. I will say no more about this, other than to suggest you read my review of that film, Marvel’s The Despots.

That’s right: Ruth is the “heavy.” But it isn’t because she doubts our hero. It is because she is a thoroughly unlikable character. From the very start, she wants to see Krippendorf fail. It is typical academic politics, but the man has recently lost his wife and deserves a little understanding. But the moment he’s back, she’s there to pounce. In that way, she’s very much like Snider himself, so I can see why he thinks she is unfairly vilified. (And actually, she is given a good ending because she’s shown to be ethical; she doesn’t want to admit that Krippendorf appears to be right, but she does.)

Snider Wants You to Remember: He Hasn’t Forgotten Penises

Krippendorf not only lies to his colleagues, but involves his children in it. Sullen Teen wants nothing to do with his scheme, but Brilliant Boy and Adorable 5-Year-Old are both more than happy to help Dad perpetrate fraud and embezzlement. They build a New Guinea Shelmikedmu set in the backyard and create video footage of the non-existent tribe, including a circumcision ritual. (The leader of the tribe — impersonated by James [Krippendorf] himself — wears a penis sheath, too. This means that in virtually every scene of the movie, there is a phallic symbol or reference of some kind. Gay porn doesn’t refer to penises as much as Krippendorf’s Tribe does.)

I won’t try to psychoanalyze Snider’s penis obsession. The truth is that the tribal leader doesn’t show up until the second half of the film, and given it is pretty much the only phallic symbol in the film, one is simply not in “virtually every scene of the movie.”

The family working together (eventually joined by Veronica, becoming the new mother figure), is the emotional core of the film. Krippendorf has got himself into a bad situation and the family bails him out. Also: it is not Krippendorf, but his older son who suggests the idea. And while his daughter is not happy about the situation, she reluctantly does help out until the end, when she fully embraces the need to save the family. Perhaps if Snider had allowed the film to unfold for him rather than deciding it was terrible and marking down every time he saw a penis sheath, he might not have missed the emotional core of the film.

Conclusion: Krippendorf’s Tribe Is Not Pickpocket

In the end, Krippendorf’s massive web of lies and deceit brings the family together, as even Sullen Teen pitches in to aid Dad in selling his soul to Lucifer and setting a fine example for the kids. Not to spoil anything, but he gets away with it all. There is never any comeuppance; he never has to admit it was all a fake. In fact, he gets a new girlfriend out of the deal, though the thrill of that victory is no doubt lessened somewhat by it being Jenna Elfman. The message to our youth? Lying is fine, as long as you can get away with it. Also, penises are funny. Hooray!

Yes, the lovable rogue gets away with his crime. How terrible is that?! We’ve never before seen that in a PG-13 film! And the kids learned that protecting those you love — even when they make mistakes — and making the best of a bad situation is more important than being ideologically rigid and dedicated to pieties that don’t make the world a better place. Also, all the work Krippendorf did in creating the Shelmikedmu was to show that a society could be created that reflected his own life. So it isn’t like the work was a total sham. This point is forcefully made in the film.

But Don’t Forget: Penises and Jenna Elfman’s Unattractiveness

But Snider just couldn’t finish his review with attacking Jenna Elfman. And the attack wasn’t even on her acting but rather on her suitability as a mate for Krippendorf. And then he comes back to his main point that he doesn’t think penises are funny. All told, I think Freud would have had a field day with his review. But I won’t go there.

I will say that for a successful website that specializes in movie reviews, Snider uses Krippendorf’s Tribe for nothing more than a rant about how he doesn’t like sexual humor (or didn’t on the day he saw the film), in which he missed several important points about the movie. It is typical of why I say I don’t like movie reviewers.

Real Problems With Krippendorf’s Tribe

On the other hand, there are real problems with Krippendorf’s Tribe. And Roger Ebert, in a mixed review, nailed the biggest problem, “Comic momentum threatens to build up during a late scene at a banquet, where the university’s aged benefactor unexpectedly discovers the secret of the fraud. But the movie can’t find that effortless zaniness that good screwball comedy requires.” Watching it, I can just imagine what the Marx Brothers would have done with it. I would disagree, however, that in this particular scene the film can’t find the zaniness; I think it doesn’t even try. The scene instead is used only as a plot device to make clear that Krippendorf and Veronica really are in love with each other.

The other problem with the movie is that the denouement comes out of the blue. There was not a single part of the film that allows the viewer to see the end and think, “Oh! That’s what that was all about.” Instead, the ending seems abrupt and tacked on. What’s more, given that the happy ending is completely dependent upon the daughter, her character should have been better developed. She has a few really good scenes, but none really involve her father.

The Problem With Eric D Snider

But the issue at hand is not whether Krippendorf’s Tribe is a great film. The question is whether the film works on its own terms. And I think it does, although not spectacularly. But it is wrong to simply dislike the film and so write an article that takes potshots at every aspect of it, other than de rigueur shout outs to a couple of supporting cast members. The film — Any film! — deserves better. And Snider’s review doesn’t much engage with the film anyway. He simply states sexual humor to not be funny, nitpicks the plot, and casts aspersions on not the two leads as actors, but as people. It’s just a pathetic effort that says everything about him and nothing about the movie. And that’s not even a film review; that’s just an arrogant rant about a movie he decided not to like.

Permanent link to this article: http://psychotronicreview.com/2017/02/19/krippendorfs-tribe/

Feb 18

Everybody Loves Robot Monster

Robot MonsterIn 1953, Phil Tucker made his Hollywood directorial debut with the film Robot Monster. I don’t think there is a person alive with even the slightest interest in film who doesn’t know this film. They may not have seen it, but they know it: it’s the one where the monster is a guy in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on. That alone demands at least a half dozen of the hours of your life watching it.

Robot Monster Plot

Robot Monster is a film that really needs to be seen twice. The first time you see it, it’s a pretty standard 1950s science fiction film. It’s only on the second viewing that most people see it for what it is.

First Viewing

The story is standard. The evil people on the moon have sent down Ro-Man, the deep-sea diving gorilla, to destroy humanity. And he has accomplished this — almost. There are eight humans who are immune to Ro-Man’s death ray. He manages to kill two of them when they flee in their rocket ship. So then Ro-Man decides he’ll just kill them all the old fashioned way. The high point of the movie is when Ro-Man strangles the little girl (sadly done off screen) — something I had been looking forward to the entire film.

Later, Ro-Man finds the older daughter making out with the young hunka-hunka burning love scientist. Ro-Man strangles and then throws the man over a cliff. The man lives just long enough to run home and tell everyone that Ro-Man has absconded with the daughter. Ro-Man has fallen in love with the daughter and cannot kill her even when commanded to.

The remaining three humans hatch a plan to save the daughter. Meanwhile Ro-Man’s leader (Great Guidance — just Ro-Man on a video screen) learns of Roman’s love of the daught and apparently kills Ro-Man as he tries to the kill the boy (as mother and father rescue the daughter). Then there are dinosaurs and… Poof, the little boy wakes up and it was all a dream.

Or was it?! Because the film ends with Ro-Man walking out of the cave toward the audience — three times. So was it a dream or a prophecy?

Second Viewing

The second time you watch the firlm, you see that the “it was just a dream” ending is not the cheap trick. The first minute and a half of the film is made up of credits. And rightly so, as I will discuss shortly. But the next four minutes is spent with the little boy and girl playing without a care in the world. There is no indication that they live in a post-apocalyptic world. They meet two archaeologists. And then their mother and older sister arrive and the four of them have a nap. The boy wakes first, goes running, falls, and hits his head.

Cut to: dinosaurs fighting before the little boy wakes up and sees the cave filled with electronic gadgets that we will see Ro-Man using for the rest of the film. Now, the older archaeologist is his father and the younger one, Scientists #2, is now Love Interest #1. So Wyott Ordung’s screenplay, while fanciful, doesn’t play with the audience. If you watch the film closely, nothing should surprise you — in a bad way.

One Hell of a Movie

What makes people think that Robot Monster is a bad film is that Ro-Man is a gorilla with a diving helmet on. Otherwise, the film would be long forgotten as most films of that time are. But the great thing this aspect of the film is that the filmmakers are completely in on the joke. And really, is Ro-Man any more ridiculous than Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still — much less Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet?

Just how Ro-Man came to be was explained by Phil Tucker in an interview in the largely repellent The Fifty Worst Films of All Time:

Well, I originally envisioned the monster as a kind of robot. I talked to several people that I knew who had robot suits, but it was just out-of-the way, money wise. I thought, “Okay, I know George Barrows.” George’s occupation was gorilla suit man. When they needed a gorilla in a picture, they called George, because he owned his own suit and got like forty bucks a day. I thought, “I know Goerge will work for me for nothing. I’ll get a diving helmet, put it on him, and it’ll work!” And that’s how it came to be.

That’s a great story and part of what I love about these idiosyncratic low-budget films. You use what you’ve got. He had a friend with a gorilla suit and the rest is film history!

The Technical Side of Robot Man

From a technical perspective, the film is very good. And this is even if you don’t consider their constraints. The film was shot for $16,000 — that’s less than $150,000 today. And about a quarter of that budget went to them filming in 3-D. And they shot the whole thing in 4 days.

But it features a number of good actors: George Nader, Austrian legend John Mylong, pinko Selena Royle, and later television character actor Claudia Barrett. Together they appeared in over 350 films and television shows. And that doesn’t even count the 132 appearances of George Barrows — not always as a gorilla. Imagine what they would have done in 4 weeks.

In addition to this, the camera work by Jack Greenhalgh is excellent. They made things easy by shooting entirely outdoors. But why not? The film hardly needs interior scenes. And the outdoor shots look good — not something easy to do in the southern California sun. The editing by Merrill G White is also top rate.

To top it all off, it has a fantastic score by Elmer Bernstein — one of his first.

Some Interesting Things

I don’t think Ro-Man coming at the screen at the end indicates that the little boy’s dream was a prophecy. I think they were just playing around with their 3-D. And I’d love to see it in 3-D. I’ll bet it gave 1953 film-goers a nice fright at the end of the film.

All those scenes with the dinosaurs were taken from One Million, BC and Flight to Mars.

According to IMDb, Tucker’s first film was Dance Hall Racket, that was written and starred in by his friend Lenny Bruce. This is because IMDb goes by when a movie was released. Racket was released four months earlier. But Robot Monster was made first. However, none of this really matters. According to Tucker, he made some two dozen “girlie” films like Tiajunana After Midnight — which is the only one that IMDb lists, perhaps because of the success of Robot Monster.

A Hit?!

That’s probably the most amazing thing about Robot Monster: it was a hit. Phil Tucker claimed that while he was ripped off, the film itself was quite successful — netting over a million dollars — that’s roughly $10 million today — and an over 6,000% ROI. At the time, Variety wrote, “Scripting and majority of performances rarely rise to a professional level… of the principals, the less said the better… Pill Tucker’s direction… is off.” I’d say, as usual, what we had was another reviewer, quick to criticize based on a single viewing without a thought to what the producers were trying to do.


I highly recommend checking out Robot Monster. And I’m not alone. In The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon writes, “Movies don’t come any better.” But even Harry Medved, usually a priggish teen throughout The Fifty Worst Films of All Time inadvertently shows a fondness for Robot Monster. When Medved (brother of one of the worst film reviewers of all time) and Weldon agree on a film, you know you need to see it.

It’s only an hour long. And it is in the public domain. You can download it for free at Archive.org: Robot Monster. Or you can just watch the copy embedded above. You can also buy it on DVD, but I haven’t seen it and can’t speak to its quality. It doesn’t seem to have any extras. I would, however, suggest that you skip the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, even if it does include an interview with Larry Blamire of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra fame.

Permanent link to this article: http://psychotronicreview.com/2017/02/18/robot-monster/

Feb 13

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats Review and Analysis

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Four years ago, I was watching The Comedians of Comedy. It is pretty good. It features Maria Bamford who is brilliant and hilarious. Overall, it is worth checking out, but it isn’t great.

The event is hosted by Patton Oswalt. At the end of the show, he does a monologue about writing screenplays. It is very funny. In particular, he riffs on a film called Death Bed: the Bed that Eats, although he refers to it as the much funnier, “Death Bed: the Bed that Eats People.” He claims that he is now working on a screenplay called, “Rape Stove: the Stove that Rapes People.”

Here is the routine:

First Watching Death Bed

I knew I had to see the film. For one thing, as much as I found Oswalt’s routine funny, I knew that he was wrong about how this movie got made. Such movies are not made within the studio system. They are personal projects that people pour their souls into as well as all of their money. As bad as it may be, it is more authentic art than anything that Oswalt has done or ever will do.

And it turned out that I was right. It was made by George Barry, shortly after he got out of college. He put together $10,000 to make it, but eventually spent $30,000 on it. You can find out more about it by reading Stephen Thrower’s review of it on Amazon.

After looking for a little while, I found the whole film online as part of an episode of some bizarre Creature Features show called “Doktor Sick”: DoktorSick Program ep 8 Death Bed the bed that eats people. Sadly, the film is repeatedly interrupted, but it is easy enough to skip ahead. Don’t, however, take that as a recommendation.

Art, Horror, and Fetish Films

Death Bed is a cross between art, horror, and fetish films. As such, I think it is a must see for anyone studying film. The truth is that I learned something new: there isn’t much difference between art, horror, and fetish films. All of these films tend to fall in love with the objects of their focus. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Now that I think about it, Cries and Whispers combines these same elements. What’s more, Death Bed does it with a fair amount of wit and humor.

In the pantheon of low budget favorites, I would put Death Bed far above “Manos”: The Hands of Fate but below The Final Sacrifice. But bear in mind, I really like The Final Sacrifice. Be warned: Death Bed is only for enthusiasts. It has almost no dramatic momentum and barely works at all as a traditional narrative film.

Seeing the Real Thing

Last month, I finally saw Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, as it was intended to be seen. The DoktorSick version was edited to make the film look as silly as possible. When I missed on my viewing of it in that form was that the film is, at core, a comedy.

This makes Patton Oswalt’s stand-up routine about the film all the more pathetic. The film establishes itself as a comedy from the very beginning. The bed eats an apple and then returns the apple to the top of the bed with the core intact. Many similar sight gags follow. It never loses sight of its essential nature.

The biggest problem with the film is its structure. Death Bed gets a bit bogged down at the end of the second act and part of the third act. I assume this is because the writer-director, George Barry, felt the need to make it a feature film, instead of the hour-long film it really should be cut to.

Death Bed Is Great to Look At

What’s most remarkable about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is just how visually stunning it is. The camera work is great. The lighting is superior to the vast majority of low-budget student films. And the variety of images is far greater than anything I can think of outside of maybe Kundun. It would make a great stoner film at very least.

But there is much else to like about the film. The acting, for example, is really quite good — especially for a student film.

Is it a Bad Movie?

I understand why people laugh at the film. The story is hard to follow and so requires constant narration of an artist who has been consigned for eternity inside what I assume is one of his own paintings. And even then the plot isn’t clear. A demon wanted to make love to a woman on this bed, but she died, and so the bed came to life and needs to eat from time to time.

Just as it must eat, the bed must sleep. The artist uses one such nap to help the two remaining characters. He explains how to destroy the bed, which involves bringing back to life the love interest. This leads to the reanimated woman and the demon copulating and the bed bursting into flame, apparently killing the demon and the woman (again).

But none of that really matters. It’s just an excuse for a number of bits, the best being when a young man tries to kill the bed by stabbing it. Unfortunately (for him, not us), his hands get pulled into the bed, and when he removes them, they are skeletons. It’s hilarious — but even more, it is so bizarre. I would gladly watch anything that George Barry wants to put on screen. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, he never has again and is now pushing 70 years old.

The Evil Medved brothers

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats suffers from what I think of as the Medved brothers syndrome: the idea that it is fun to watch “bad” films. But somehow, it is almost always low-budget films that are “bad.” (Harry seems to have been more open to low-budget films than his more famous older brother Michael.) This seems to be because what people mistake for bad is really just idiosyncratic. They will watch the most mediocre, witless film and think nothing of it because it is just like so many other mediocre, witless films.

Bed With Still Living Foot - Toni Allen

So isn’t Death Bed: The Bed That Eats bad? It must be! George Barry must have been trying to make Captain America: Civil War and just couldn’t hack it, right?! Wrong. It never occurs to these idiots that Barry made a film that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art. And despite its low budget, it is technically competent. You don’t need to like it, of course. But you really are a philistine if you don’t respect it for the idiosyncratic art that it is.

And if you give it a chance, I really do think you will enjoy it.

Permanent link to this article: http://psychotronicreview.com/2017/02/13/death-bed/