Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Financial Bracketology

For those of us who can't wait until March, via The Big Picture, here is the financial equivalent of March Madness—in September. Pick your bracket! (Click image for larger version.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Madonna of the Wasps

You could hear the wheels turning. In 1958, the movie The Fly was a big hit; audiences in the 1950s couldn’t get enough of human/insect mutants. Legions of writers, producers, and directors throughout Hollywood began brainstorming other species of insects they could merge with humans. Ants? Termites? Gnats? Mosquitoes? Monarch butterflies? Grasshoppers? And then it hit them...wasps! A human/wasp hybrid! It’s just so crazy, it...just...might...work. What director was brave enough to take up the challenge? Why, Roger Corman, of course. So, in 1959, every expense was spared to bring The Wasp Woman to the silver (or at the very least zinc) screen.

Welcome to this week's Silly Sci-Fi Summary. Previous entries in this series are:
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
The Wasp Woman (1959)

Auteur/Perpetrator: Roger Corman
Star of Shame: Susan Cabot (who?)
Monster(s): Half-woman (bottom half)/half-wasp (top half); some day, I’d like to see a human/animal mutant divided lengthwise

The Wasp Woman is a Roger Corman film, so you know several things going into it: it will have been produced extremely cheaply, using community theater-quality sets, carpet remnants and black pipe cleaners that are meant to be the head of the wasp woman, and stock footage that only gives a vague sense of place. All that said, I actually kind of liked this one, but then after last week’s Horrors of Spider Island, perhaps even Plan 9 from Outer Space would seem like Citizen Kane. But it has that certain je ne sais quois that embodies really bad but fun cheesy movies.

By the way, last month Wasp Woman was released as part of Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic, a Mystery Science Theater 3000-like direct-to-DVD project that reunites MST3K alums Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester/Crow), Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank), Josh Weinstein (Dr. Erhard/original voice of Tom Servo), and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester). Cinematic Titanic is every bit as funny as prime MST3K, I hasten to add. Highly recommended.

Anyway, on to The Wasp Woman.

I suppose it would be picayune of me to point out right off the bat that under the main titles we see a swarm of bees, not wasps. But I’ll keep my peace...

It’s a Corman movie so you know there will be long walking scenes, and, sure enough, we start right off the bat with several minutes of Dr. Eric Zinthrop walking slowly across a pasture. He is dressed in what is either a beekeeping outfit or a short-lived fashion craze that was even more freakish than most other fashion crazes. It was a bold choice by the sound recordist to put the microphone inside his overalls. He climbs up a tree and puffs some of that anesthetic beekeeping smoke at what I guess is supposed to be a wasp’s nest but looks like a clumsy pizza chef tossed the dough a little too high and it draped itself over a tree branch. Zinthrop then starts talking to the insects; “No need to get nasty. Your poppy [?] isn’t going to hurt you.” He then snaps the branch off, climbs down, and stashes the wasps’ nest in a suitcase. (I always end up behind this guy at airport security.) He then starts shambling back from whence he came.

Cut to Beekeeping Central, where a lone beekeeper is pulling out those wooden honeycomb things. They are covered with bees, and the guy is not wearing any gloves whatsoever. Maybe you just get numb to bee stings after a while.

Dr. Zinthrop walks up. “I brought some new friends,” he proclaims. He’s a lonely man. “Wasps?” says the other guy. “They can sting a man to death.” Unlike bees, which are as gentle as kittens. “They know who their friend is,” says Zinthrop. “They can tell.” Sure they can.

Zinthrop ambles off, and a pickup truck pulls in. It is Mr. Barker, from the head office. Funny, everyone wears gloves to shake hands with him, but not to handle live bees. Well, he is from management, so perhaps that’s wise. “How are things at the front office?” asks Renfro. “Smooth as honey,” says Barker. Ha ha ha. Hopefully not as sticky. Barker says that they just turned in 1,000 pounds of orange blossom honey last month. Wow; that’s quite an operation they’ve got going, especially when you consider that it’s basically three guys in a field. It also looks like the bees are kept in those cardboard file boxes you get at Staples. Barker congratulates him, and Renfro expresses his thanks, adding, “I try to take my inspiration from the bees: always busy, busy, busy.” Memo to Renfro: end your conversations one sentence sooner. Barker looks at him oddly, as you can well imagine. Barker then says, “What about this guy Zinthrop?” To which Renfro responds: “What a nut. Him and his bees.” Oh, unlike Renfro who just said that he modeled his entire life on bee behavior. Zinthrop is apparently being paid to conduct research on royal jelly, and Barker is concerned that there has not been a progress report in some time. He then heads towards Zinthrop’s “lab.”

While walking through the field, he sees a wasp. “Wasps! How did this happen?” Um, it’s an open field. It’s kind of hard to cordon it off from other insects (trust me). I guess they can’t read the “No Wasps” sign that was posted. Zinthrop is fingered as the guy behind the wasps.

And we go to Zinthrop’s lab. Interesting that a major honey company’s R&D lab is a rundown wooden shack. “What’s all this nonsense about wasps?” barks Barker. Zinthrop has apparently been experimenting with extracting royal jelly from the queen wasp. “According to my figures, you’re better at extracting funds from the company.” Ba-bing. Zinthrop points out that he has learned how to slow down the process of aging, although it’s apparent that he has not used it on himself (or if he has, I shudder to think what he originally looked like). He then points to two dogs, one of which is a puppy. Or looks like one. Zinthrop says that both dogs are exactly the same age, the puppyish one having been treated with his wasp extract. Barker then fires Zinthrop. Zinthrop commiserates with his wasps. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Cut to stock footage of New York City; why is there a Packard stopped at a traffic light? Is it the 1930s? Inside Janice Starlin Enterprises, we cut to a board meeting. This was a time before PowerPoint (i.e., the “good old days”) so we see a close up of a bar chart mounted to an easel. It’s not labeled in any coherent way, but it apparently indicates that sales of the company’s cosmetics have been dropping. The meeting is led by Janice Starlin herself, and she asks for suggestions as to how to boost sales. The head of Public Relation, who looks like the guy from the Monopoly game board after falling on hard times (or after the past couple of weeks), is clueless. Bill Lane, obviously unconcerned with his job, has the answer. He somehow twists the sales chart data to prove that the decline in sales is because as of last February, Janice Starlin became too old to be an effective image for the company. She had been advertising her own products for 16 years and now her face has officially gone over to the dark side. Funny how he could easily date that to February. Mr. Monopoly, who is easily 800 years older than her, is conspicuously silent on the ravages of age.
Arthur Cooper, who has a bigger obsession with a pipe than Captain Black, applauds. Janice is chagrined, but admits, “Not even Janice Starlin could remain a glamour girl forever.” Got the premise? Good.

Janice’s secretary announces that a Mr. Zinthrop is there to see her, and that she has an appointment with him. Ah, I think I can see where this is going. Rather than retain an ad agency which will rebrand the company and perhaps hire a professional cosmetics model to be the public face of the company, she will instead turn to a nutty scientist with a wasp obsession. Funny how this case study always seems to be missing from marketing textbooks.

But first, Janice asks Captain Black into her office, which is lavishly decorated (well, lavishly for a Corman picture). I like the fireplace. Wait— Fireplace? How do you put a fireplace in an office building in midtown Manhattan? We never get a clear idea of what it is that Captain Black does for the company aside from smoke a pipe and look fey, but she asks him if he has ever done work on royal jelly. Does royal Jell-O count? He points out that no two people react to royal jelly in the same way, but queen bees like it. (I’m guessing this guy’s an expert on queens, all right.) She mentions royal jelly from queen wasps. (Actually, there is no such thing as royal jelly from wasps.) Captain Black wryly points out that the queen wasp is on a par with the black widow spider. “They’re both carnivorous, they paralyze their victims, and they take their time devouring them alive. They kill their mates in the same way, too. Strictly a one-sided romance.” He sounds jealous. He tells her to forget the whole business, and puts his lit pipe in his breast pocket. Is that a good idea?

Out in the reception area, kooky wasp guy is ushered into her office. As he passes the receptionist, she answers the phone with a voice that is supposed to be sexy, I guess, but sounds like she is speaking while stifling a yawn. Zinthrop is carrying a blanket-covered cage. He tells Janice, “It is I who give you time. I give you 10, 15 years I will.” Why does he sound like Yoda all of a sudden? Zinthrop had written her a letter outlining the results of his research on a youth potion derived from wasp enzymes. She demands proof. He pulls out his cage and says he will provide it.
They go to the company’s lab, and he pulls the blanket off the cage to reveal two guinea pigs. “They look terrible,” Janice says. Oh, you’re one to talk, Miss Getting-Too-Old-And-Dragging-The-Company-Down. Jeesh. Anyway, Zinthrop pulls out a hypodermic needle, fills it from a vial, and reaches down and grabs a guinea pig.

Okay, just a little pinprick. There’ll be no more “Ahhh!” but you may feel a little sick. Can you stand up (stand up...stand up...stand up)? I do believe it’s working; good. That’ll keep you going through the show. Come on, it’s time to go. The guinea pig has become comfortably numb.

Anyway, we cut to a close up of Janice’s face as she looks into the cage and the music conveys a transformation. We cut back out and the guinea pig has now become a small white mouse. Zinthrop is a little too eager to repeat the demonstration on the other guinea pig. Janice is convinced that he’s on to something, and she asks for his terms. She says she’ll have the legal department draw up the contract. There’s a document I’d like to see. He says he doesn’t need an official contract. I guess when you command armies of wasps to do your bidding, what do you need a lousy piece of paper for? He then points out that he has not tested his formula on human beings yet. She volunteers herself to be the next guinea pig. He doesn’t try too hard to dissuade her.

She then introduces Zinthrop to the company’s board, but does not go into details. There is then a montage, mostly of various people smoking and casting awkward glances at each other, as well as Zinthrop poking guinea pigs with long needles.

That over, Bill Lane is sitting next to Mary the secretary’s desk. They have some kind of budding romance going. Or something. Anyway, they are suspicious of Zinthrop. “Women!” says Bill, apropos of nothing. “Men!” responds Mary. Zing! “Every time you search for an answer, you always come up with ‘women’.” Bill then mention’s “male intuition.” Is there such a thing? “The only thing that’s missing is a genie with a lamp.” Ah, so the answer would be, no. They then go out to dinner. Captain Black intercepts them in the hall and thinks Zinthrop is a dangerous. He then laboriously describes the difference between a con man and a quack, and how Zinthrop likely falls into the latter camp. There’s no chance he could be both?

The next day, Maureen the receptionist is talking to another woman, complaining about her husband Irving, which she pronounces as “Oyving.” Oy vay. The phone rings, and she answers so incredibly not sexily, try as she might. “I got two words for you,” she says over the phone. “Drop day-ed...twice.” It was Oyving. “Calling to tell me Dr. Cyclops is on Channel 9 tonight.” God, I hope that isn’t a euphemism for anything. “I’ve see it twice already.” Boing.

Zinthrop shows up looking for Janice. He leers upsettingly at the women, and they heap shame on him behind his back. “What a charactah. A regulah two-eyed Dawktah Cyclops.” That’s supposed to be some kind of Brooklyn accent. It so isn’t. “He’s a real weirdy.” Weirdy?

Meanwhile, Zinthrop is in the lab, or actually out on the lab’s terrace (?), tending to a colony of wasps. Oddly, he has it placed right under a large hanging plant, so there is no way he can stand up without banging his head on the plant. There had to be a better place to put that. Janice comes by, and Zinthrop shows her a kitten that he reminds her she had seen as an adult cat a week earlier. When you’re a busy executive, it’s difficult to keep track of the cats you see. She is gaga over this. “Do you see what that means?” she asks the kitten. “You’re a kitten again. Your whole life to live over.” What a horrifying thought. Zinthrop then gives Janice her first injection. She sits down and rolls up her sleeve. On the wall behind her is a framed college degree. Huh? It certainly can’t be his. Whose is it?

Some time later, Janice receives a phone call from Accounting, and she stresses that Zinthrop can order whatever he wants and the company will pay for it. Mary is listening in. She calls Bill and tells him, giggling, that Zinthrop paid $2,300 for enzyme extract. I guess she knows where he could have gotten it cheaper; maybe Duane Reade was having a sale.

Three weeks later, Zinthrop is poking at Janice’s face. There is only a small amount of change. “Why is it taking so long?” “There’s more to you than a little kitten,” he responds. I would like to think there would be. She suggests upping the dosage. He says no. He muses that the product they create would be better as a lotion. Yeah, intravenously administered cosmetics may not go over all that well. “Janice Starling Enterprises will be world famous!” he pronounces. I thought they already were?

Meanwhile, Mary is going through Janice’s desk and finds the letter Zinthrop originally wrote. She takes it and calls Bill. She, Bill, and Captain Black go out to lunch and they read the letter. Captain Black wryly says, “He claims he can stimulate the rejuvenation process using enzymes extracted from wahsps.” Well, tah. “Janice Starlin[g] had built her whole career on youth and beauty and now that she’s losing them she’s scared to death.” Well, we have the theme of the movie.

Now, wait a minute. She runs a cosmetics company. Cosmetics, as I understand them, are designed to make people look more attractive. So if she herself can’t make herself look attractive using her own cosmetics, then doesn’t that imply that her company’s products, um, suck? But I digress... And why do characters sometimes pronounce her name “Starling?” Is she for the birds?

Bill and Captain Black wonder what they can do to get rid of Zinthrop. What do these guys actually do for the company, anyway? Captain Black takes the letter and will try to see if Zinthrop has some kind of record. “Come on, young lovers,” he adds wryly. Huh?

Nighttime in the Big Apple. Janice is alone in her office, smoking. (Man, this movie has got a two-pack-a-day habit.) All the lights in the rest of the building are out. She goes into the elevator, which is so not an elevator (in the wide shots you can see that there is no gap between the elevator car and the floor it is parked on). The elevator doors look like Star Trek doors. Too bad they don’t go shhh when they open and close. Anyway, Janice sneaks down to the abandoned lab and fixes herself a dose of the wasp enzyme. A big dose. A dose that looks like it’s about two pints. She doesn’t use a hypodermic needle so much as a turkey baster. Is that really wise? And surely Zinthrop will notice that so much liquid is missing. As she leaves, there is an ominous close up of the cat which has some strange lumps on its back.

The next morning, Maureen the receptionist is filing her nails and Janice walks in. She looks about 20 years younger. Well, I should say, she removed all the thick makeup she had been wearing. At the board meeting, everyone is agog. Mr. Monopoly is drooling over her like he had two hotels on Park Place and she just landed on it. Captain Black can barely puff his pipe. Alone with Mary, Janice asks her to tell her how old she looks. “23, maybe 22.” “That’s how old I was when I started Janice Starling Enterprises....I’m back where I started, 18 years ago.” I thought it was 16? Well, when you reach the ancient, decrepit age of 40, I guess it’s hard to keep these things straight.

Zinthrop walks into his lab, changes into his smock, then checks on all his animals. Uh oh: the cat is missing; he hears a strange, buzzing meowing noise, but can’t figure out where it is coming from. Ah, there it is! Directly in front of him. It is the cat, with some odd tufts of fur attached to its back, and looking quite feral. It leaps on him and tries to bite him. He strangles it and then dumps the body in some kind of oven. I’d skip lunch in the office cafeteria for a few days.

Meanwhile, in a restaurant (the same one they were in before) Captain Black is telling Bill and Mary, “Years ago, quacks were treating people with monkey glands.” They were? “Then deterioration set in.” Captain Black wants to break into the lab and find out what specifically Zinthrop is using. He again puts his lit pipe in his breast pocket.

After disposing of the cat, Zinthrop absentmindedly ambles out of the lab and into the non-elevator. Captain Black is suddenly there, hiding in the shadows. If you’re going to sneak around without anyone knowing you’re there, is it helpful to be puffing on a pipe? Or was everyone numb to the smell of tobacco in the 1950s? He notices the lab door open and walks inside. He closes the door. Note that there is no lock on the inside of the door. Captain Black looks into the wasp colony, then breaks into a locked desk. He finds what is supposed to be Zinthrop’s lab journal, but it looks more like his passport. And it only has about three pages, so I guess he wasn’t big on documenting his experiments.

There is a knock at the door. It is Janice. The door is apparently locked—but how? Granted, the knocking gives Captain Black a chance to hide out on the terrace. Janice is desperately searching for Zinthrop, but gives up after walking two feet into the room and calling his name twice. Well, that was thorough! She leaves, obviously not detecting the smell of pipe smoke.

Outside, we see a close up of a curb, and feet stepping into the street and waking off-camera. There is the sound of screeching brakes, a thud, and Zinthrop’s bloody body rolls back into the frame. Corman!

In Janice’s office, she is concerned about Zinthrop having gone missing, and a police inspector reassures her that he will find him. “Sooner or later, we find them all.” They do? What about Judge Crater? Or D.B. Cooper? He points out that she has absolutely no information about Zinthrop, such as a home address or a telephone number. “Mr. Zinthrop wasn’t a conventional employee,” she says. You got that right. I guess mad scientists rarely go through HR. Then she remembers the letter he had sent...but which Mary had taken. Doh! Janice realizes it was Mary who took it. Janice will call Mary. “It might be better if I busted in on her cold,” says the inspector. Huh? Did he previously work for the East German Stasi? Jeepers, I didn’t know New York City was such a police state in the 1950s. Giuliani wasn’t mayor then.

Before long, Mary is in Janice’s office. “I made a duplicate copy of Zinthrop’s letter. I was going to take that to Mr. Lane and Mr. Cooper,” but then I guess she remembered that the copying machine wouldn’t come on the market until the mid-1960s.

The inspector then instructs his minion to search the city for Zinthrop. It’s no wonder they don’t find him, as the streets they are driving on are not in New York. The officer heading up the search must be really new at it; the first two places he goes to look for a 75-year-old scientist are a root beer stand and a beauty parlor. It is only as a last resort that he checks the hospital (maybe it’s just me, but I probably would have started there)—and even then it is just to use the phone. But, serendipity has paid off: Zinthrop has been found, in a coma with a head injury. The inspector and Janice head to the hospital.

Sure enough, Zinthrop is lying unconscious, although the emergency room gave him some really festive-looking pajamas. “There’s definite brain damage. Just how much, we can’t tell yet,” says the doctor. I wonder how much was caused by the accident.

Three days later, Zinthrop is still in a coma. Captain Black wants to carry on...doing something. Janice says if Zinthrop doesn’t recover in another four days, Captain Black can take over the laboratory. Oh.

Later on, Janice is injecting another turkey baster full of wasp extract. At the same time, Captain Black is sitting...someplace (his office? the lab?) reading the thin pamphlet that was supposed to be Zinthrop’s lab journal. “Right under our noses....Incredible....he can’t have used it all...If I could run a qualitative analysis...” He is so flummoxed he leaves his pipe on the desk. Gasp!

Captain Black is breaking into the locked lab using a tire iron. A tire iron? Are there many of those lying around the offices of a mid-Manhattan cosmetics company? Captain Black prowls around the lab and retrieves a set of vials from the refrigerator, and begins examining them. Janice charges in from the terrace, and she now has the head of a wasp—or I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be. She is fashionable to the last; the chain around her neck nicely sets off the bent pipe cleaners jutting out of her head—er, I mean her antennae. Captain Black gazes longingly at the pipe cleaners, but brandishes the tire iron as the wasp woman charges at him. She grabs him around the neck with her hairy paws (say what?) and pulls him to the ground. As they tussle, she squeezes a packet of ketchup over his neck (oh, that’s supposed to be blood coming out of his neck), then digs in. You know, wasps actually paralyze their prey using stingers located at the end of their abdomens. Think about that, and how much goofier this movie would have been if the wasp woman attacked her prey in a similar fashion.

Their struggling does not attract the attention of the night watchman (I guess that’s what he’s supposed to be), played by the very large, porcine Bruno Ve Sota, a frequent member of Corman’s regular troupe, whose appearance is accompanied by whimsical circus music.

In the lab, Janice has dewasped after getting her injection. Wait—why does she turn into a wasp after the wasp enzyme wears off, but then turns back to a human when she injects more of it? Maybe logic isn’t the best thing to be searching for here. But I do wonder where Captain Black’s body went. Did she eat the entire thing? Is it hidden somewhere? Does she now smell like pipe smoke?

The next day, Janice unveils their new advertising slogan to the board—that is, for the new youth medicine. Mr. Monopoly points out that they need to be careful: cosmetics are one thing, medications another. They might end up going directly to jail, without passing Go and not collecting $200. Janice gets a headache, and she’s cranky. “I don’t intend to be stopped by the timidity of my own staff.” Well, that and the FDA.

Some time later, out in the reception area, the Algonquin round table of receptionists is comparing their atrocious Brooklyn accents. “This is Mawreen yaw’re tawkin’ to.” Shudder. They are musing about the fact that Captain Black missed the board meeting. My first guess would be that he put his lit pipe in his pocket one too many times and set himself on fire. That he was eaten by a human/wasp mutant would be my second guess.

The non-elevator opens and two deliverymen enter wheeling a fold-up bed. “Hey, pretty puss,” one says to Mawreen. Pretty puss? Were people actually like this in the 50s? He asks where Miss Starlin’s office is. “Suite number one,” she replies. This rankles the deliveryman more than it really should. “Well la-di-da. The Duchess of Flatbush herself.” What? “How would you like to have this phone wrapped around your ear? Wise guy.” Mawreen responds. “That’s more like it, sister.” He seems mollified. They wheel the bed into Janice’s office without further ado. What the heck was that all about?

Mary is in with Janice. Apparently, Zinthrop is being transferred to a room in the building, and Janice will be sleeping in her office. Hmm. Logically, she should be chewing off bits of her wooden desk and using her saliva to pulp the bits of wood into paper to fashion a nest. I mean, if she were really a wasp. “Oh, Mary, before you go see if you can work that...thing.” She points to the bed that was just wheeled in. She doesn’t know what a bed is? “Oh, sure. I’ve seen lots of these,” says Mary. Were beds a novelty in the 1950s? She unfolds it in about two seconds. “Oh, that was simple,” says Janice. Was she expecting it to be complicated?

In a short while, Zinthrop is wheeled in. He is conscious, and still wearing the festive pajamas. He is accompanied by a nurse who resembles Lilith from Cheers. He struggles to remember something “important.” Something about a feral cat that was turning into a wasp? I mean, that’s pretty easy to forget, even without a head injury.

Back in reception, Bill says, “Sure is funny about old Coop.” (That would be Captain Black.) Yeah, getting eaten by a half-human, half-wasp. Hilarious when you think about it. Janice wanders in; speak of the devil. Bill points out that no one has heard from Captain Black all day. “I wouldn’t worry about that. Mr. Cooper has been here a long time.” Where is “here”? In her stomach? Then Bill starts leering at the young-looking Janice. “You think Zinthrop would give you any of those treatments?” he says to Mary, his girlfriend. Aw, he always knows just the right thing to say. She hits him, but not nearly hard enough.

That night, Bruno Ve Sota is back on the job and is futzing with a transistor radio. He hears a weird noise coming from inside the lab. Oh, man, if Janice eats him, she’d better mix in a lot of Lipitor with her wasp enzyme. He draws his gun and enters...

In Zinthrop’s room, he and Lilith the nurse hear Bruno Ve Sota scream from several floors away.

The next morning, Mary is discussing the missing security guard with Janice. So, again, what happened to the body? Did she eat all of it? If she keeps this up, age and beauty are going to be the least of her worries as she gains 900 pounds. And if she didn’t eat him, where is the body? How do you hide Bruno Ve Sota’s body anywhere?

That night, Bill and Mary are out at dinner...in, again, the same restaurant, at the same table. What is this, Seinfeld? “There’s something going on in that building,” says Bill. He plans to snoop around, starting with “Cooper’s lab.” Cooper had a lab? Sure enough, Mary and Bill are breaking into Captain Black’s desk.

In Zinthrop’s room, Janice is trying to get him to explain what is happening to her. Back in Captain Black’s office, Bill and Mary find the skimpy lab journal and read about the experiments on Janice. Then they see, on the desk...dum dum dum...Cooper’s pipe. “Don’t you get it?” says Bill. “He’d sooner go out without his pants on than leave that pipe behind.” Of that I have no doubt. So now they know he’s somewhere in the building. Bill says, “He’s dead. And the night watchman.” Cooper is the night watchman? Oh, I see; the night watchman is also dead. A little awkward phrasing there....

Janice is pleading with Zinthrop to make more of the extract; she is running out and is jonesing big time. There is a zoom into Zinthrop’s face and the music perks up. Ah, that can only mean one thing: Janice is turning into a wasp. Zinthrop screams and Lilith the nurse comes into investigate. Janice the Wasp attacks her, forces her down on the couch, and tucks in to her neck. Again, she should have a stinger in her butt. Someone has confused wasps and vampires, but never mind.

A short time later, I guess, Bill and Mary are in Zinthrop’s room, and he is asleep. “Don’t touch him!” exhorts Mary. Why? Will he get old person’s germs on him? While Bill ignores her warning and touches Zinthrop, Mary notices a bloodstained rag of some kind on the couch. She points it out to Bill and they react very slowly.

In the lab, Janice has used up the last of the enzyme extract, but has at least dewasped. Once again, I ask, where is the nurse’s body? She gazes longingly into the wasp colony, and there is a closeup of a swarm of bees. (Huh?)

Bill and Mary are also wondering what happened to the nurse. Zinthrop wakes up and warns them that Janice shouldn’t take any more injections. Well, the toothpaste is out of that tube, isn’t it? Mary calls up to Janice’s office, and Bill immediately grabs the phone. Janice chides them for still being in the building. Zinthrop is struggling to get up. Bill will go up to Janice’s office. Zinthrop yells, “The insect! the insect!” Ah, that clears everything up. He is such a help. Bill then sends Mary up to Janice’s office and says to call the police, as the phone in Zinthrop’s room doesn’t have an outside line. (Of course it doesn’t.) She runs off to what is sure to be her waspy doom.

Janice is pacing back and forth, obviously thinking, “Which of them should I eat first?” Janice has locked herself in her office and Mary begs to be let in. They struggle, and Janice slaps Mary. “I’m sorry I had to do that.” Then why did you?

In Zinthrop’s room, Zinthrop is even more incoherent. Bill is trying to get something out of him. “You do not understand! You do not understand!” Sounds like John McCain during the Presidential debate. Mary is in great danger. “You fool, you fool! Miss Starlin will kill her and tear her apart into shreds....Miss Starlin is not a human being any longer." He adds, “She will destroy the girl, as a wasp will destroy her enemies and devour the remains.” Sounds like Nixon. But is that what wasps really do?

Meanwhile, Mary has been telling everything to Janice—finding the lab notebook, etc. We close in on Mary’s face...I guess Janice is changing again. Yep. Mary screams, and there is a struggle. Bill and Zinthrop hear the scream (noises do carry very well in that building), and they charge out of the room. Bill waits for the elevator, then decides to take the stairs. They notice that the elevator has stopped on the laboratory’s floor. The lab door is locked, but Bill kicks in the scored glass, which makes it pretty easy. (He works for a cosmetics company; how butch do you think this guy is, anyway?) Zinthrop lurches in behind him. While Bill is fending off Janice the Wasp with a stool, Zinthrop grabs a bottle of carbolic acid that just happens to be lying around. You know it’s bad stuff because it even has a skull and crossbones hand-drawn on it. I guess sometimes even a professional scientist needs to be reminded that some things are poison. Zinthrop throws the bottle and it beans Janice right on the top of the head. The bottle breaks, and Janice starts smoking as the acid eats into her—and she then plummets off the balcony to her doom. Twas beast that killed the beauty. Or, as they said in Cinematic Titanic, “Twas beauty killed the bees.” Mary is okay, Zinthrop not so much.

The end.

Not many people realize this, but The Wasp Woman was actually a loose adaptation of one of business management expert Peter Drucker’s least known books, Management Challenges for Freakish Half-Insect Mutants (an expansion of his article for the Harvard Business Review, “They’re Not Employees, They’re Food”) which laid out essential advice for running a company when you have the tendency to turn into a giant wasp. As with most adaptations of books, they changed some fundamental points; Drucker had explicitly stated that managers and owners should not eat their own employees; that’s what the competition was for. Well, Corman had a small budget and a limited cast, but did what he could.

Still, for most of us in the workplace, we face bigger management problems than a boss who randomly turns into a man-eating wasp. Corman tackled other management challenges and adapted Peter Drucker’s Concept of the Corporation for the other film he directed in 1959, which was retitled A Bucket of Blood.

On a sad note, actress Susan Cabot who played the titular wasp woman, met her own tragic end. I am not making this up; via IMDb: she was bludgeoned to death in 1964 by her son, Timothy, a weight-lifting dwarf, which could have been a Roger Corman film in and of itself (or an only slightly loose adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deep Thought

After watching the Presidential debate on PBS last night, followed by the additional commentary, I have come to the conclusion that Mark Shields should never be seen in High Definition.

Stop Calling Me Michael!

I am deeply ashamed that I remember the show Knight Rider, but for those who want to have KITT's voice (that is, the voice of David Hasselhoff's car—or, basically, actor William Daniels) on their GPS, they now can, with Mio's Knight Rider GPS. Says Gizmodo:
William Daniels, the original voice of KITT, guides you as you cruise the streets, fighting crime. Flashing red LEDs are synced up to the speech, and the screen marks your location with a Pontiac Trans Am icon.
With my luck, I'd end up instead with the voice of William Daniels playing the irascible chief of surgery Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere. "Make a left. You missed your turn. I bet you couldn't find the Earth on a globe."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Imponderable

Why do smoke detector batteries only ever die in the middle of the night?

Whither Nigeria?

This has been making the rounds of the economics blogs today, and is pretty funny in a grim sort of way. Hoisted via The Big Picture blog.
SUBJECT: REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

DEAR AMERICAN:

I NEED TO ASK YOU TO SUPPORT AN URGENT SECRET BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP WITH A TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF GREAT MAGNITUDE.

I AM MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY OF THE REPUBLIC OF AMERICA. MY COUNTRY HAS HAD CRISIS THAT HAS CAUSED THE NEED FOR LARGE TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF 800 BILLION DOLLARS US. IF YOU WOULD ASSIST ME IN THIS TRANSFER, IT WOULD BE MOST PROFITABLE TO YOU.

I AM WORKING WITH MR. PHIL GRAM, LOBBYIST FOR UBS, WHO WILL BE MY REPLACEMENT AS MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY IN JANUARY. AS A SENATOR, YOU MAY KNOW HIM AS THE LEADER OF THE AMERICAN BANKING DEREGULATION MOVEMENT IN THE 1990S. THIS TRANSACTIN IS 100% SAFE.

THIS IS A MATTER OF GREAT URGENCY. WE NEED A BLANK CHECK. WE NEED THE FUNDS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. WE CANNOT DIRECTLY TRANSFER THESE FUNDS IN THE NAMES OF OUR CLOSE FRIENDS BECAUSE WE ARE CONSTANTLY UNDER SURVEILLANCE. MY FAMILY LAWYER ADVISED ME THAT I SHOULD LOOK FOR A RELIABLE AND TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO WILL ACT AS A NEXT OF KIN SO THE FUNDS CAN BE TRANSFERRED.

PLEASE REPLY WITH ALL OF YOUR BANK ACCOUNT, IRA AND COLLEGE FUND ACCOUNT NUMBERS AND THOSE OF YOUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN TO WALLSTREETBAILOUT@TREASURY.GOV SO THAT WE MAY TRANSFER YOUR COMMISSION FOR THIS TRANSACTION. AFTER I RECEIVE THAT INFORMATION, I WILL RESPOND WITH DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT SAFEGUARDS THAT WILL BE USED TO PROTECT THE FUNDS.

YOURS FAITHFULLY MINISTER OF TREASURY PAULSON

Monday, September 22, 2008

M'Ludd

So I get this envelope in the mail, and it is curiously not a bill or a solicitation for a credit card. It is from my mother, and inside is a page torn from the August 31 issue of the Boston Globe Magazine, a pretty funny mock-pro-Luddite rant. Here's the kicker: it cost her 42 cents to mail and took a few days to get here. I went to the Boston Globe site, did a quick search, and can link to it immediately, right now, for free. Heh.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Spiders from Mars

Today’s Silly Sci-Fi Summary explores a truism about the cinema. They say that some movies are so bad they’re good—well, some movies are so bad that they make you want to chew your own head off. The following film decidedly falls into the latter category.

Previous movies in this series are:
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Sometimes a filmmaker has a vision, a view of the world that challenges our preconceptions and leaves us changed in some way. We are different after our cinematic journey. But then some filmmakers got nothin’ and are content to simply have scantily clad women frolic on an island while loathsome men (and occasionally spider puppets) paw at them.

The Horrors of Spider Island (1960)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Fritz Böttger (credited as Jaime Nolan, like it matters)
Star of Shame: None to speak of
Monster(s): Half-man/half-spider/half-nightclub manager, two other lecherous oafs

Let’s be clear: the spiders are the least of the horrors in this movie; far more creepy and disturbing are the humans in it, but I guess “Island of Leering Goat Men” wasn’t a compelling enough title. (IMDb tells us that this German/Yugoslavian co-production was actually called Ein Toter hing im Netz, or “A Corpse Hangs in the Web.” One of the alternate U.S. titles is “It’s Hot in Paradise.” I guess no one was quite sure which direction they were going (aside from down the drain). This was a tough one to make it through, and even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version is rough going.

Oh, and the “horrors” also include the dubbing.

I should have known this was going to be rough when the opening titles feature stripper music. This does not bode well.

Hm... “Distributed by Pacemaker Pictures.” That could explain why the movie goes off when I use my garage door opener. Maybe I shouldn’t use the microwave while this is on. Then again, maybe I should.

OK, scene 1....The horrors!! Oh, it’s just Los Angeles. A palm-tree-lined boulevard. (remember that: the establishing shot is a palm tree-lined boulevard.)

And then...the horrors! Oh, it’s just a guy parallel parking. He is parking in front of a “talent” agency (and one does use the term loosely). Inside, several women are seated in a waiting room; a sign on a door tells us that they are waiting to see “Mike Blackwood.” As one women tells us where Singapore is, the cameraman is immediately distracted and pans down to another women adjusting her stockings. Ah, so the movie’s style is established right at the outset. As one of the women reads about the chief industries of Singapore, another asks, “Doesn’t it say anything about the 32 night clubs?” Damn World Almanac; always leaving out the important things.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just the women’s bad, overdubbed accents, as they discuss whether they have ever been to Singapore. One lady mentions she had a friend who was an oil sheik who took her there. (Huh?) “Aren’t they the ones who run around in them turbans?” “Listen, honey, when they take their turbans off they’re all the same.” Regular Algonquin Round Table this. So we now have the premise of the movie: the women are going to audition for the opportunity to travel to Singapore to dance in their 32 night clubs. Interestingly, this is one of the first movies to tackle the controversial topic of outsourcing. You know, companies offshoring their exotic dancing jobs to Singapore. Tsk.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just the manager who is selecting women for the Singapore trip, “Gary,” whose torso is a perfect square. Have no fear (or, actually, have plenty of fear): he will be shirtless very soon. He swaggers around the room and fondles the women upsettingly. One woman stands up. “I’ve already been to Singapore.” “And you look like it.” What the heck does that mean?

Gary and Georgia, his secretary (or something), walk into the office, where talent agent Mike Blackwood, who looks like Dr. Strangelove, greets them. Gary sits behind Dr. Strangelove’s desk, and they begin auditioning women in the creepiest, most upsetting way possible: the women come in one by one (in an endless scene) and either show their legs and/or dance about clumsily. (Sample dialogue: “This is Babs. Her legs are worth their weight in gold.” It’s a wonder she can walk. “I’ve had all the boys I can take.” Yow. “Are you always so picayunish?” Huh?) Gary says yes or no to each of them in an unnecessarily cryptic manner: He puts his feet up on the desk and, if he likes a girl, he crosses his legs. If he doesn’t, he leaves his legs uncrossed. Georgia understands. I feel for her. Gary then feels the need to explain this pointless system to Dr. Strangelove. “You always were a crazy guy,” says Dr. Strangelove. Oh, yeah.

Cut to an airplane taking off and flying over New York City. And— wait...New York City? They’re flying from L.A. to Singapore via New York? They are soon over Honolulu. What? And I thought getting from Albany to Atlanta involved some weird connections!

The horror!! Oh, it’s just stock footage of a plane in flames and heading toward the ocean (i.e., stock footage). Our auteur dramatizes the horror of the plane crash by putting two women on an all-black set and filming them in extreme close-up as they scream and fall forward. It is one of the silliest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strangelove is on the phone and drinking. “There’s no need to fear the worst. The last we heard the plane was on fire and we lost radio contact....It’s been four days.” Well, that certainly doesn’t sound serious!

Cut to a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Gary and several of the women are splayed out within it. One of the women is crying; “Would you stop that bawling!” says Gary. “You’re driving us all crazy.” It’s a good thing he’s there. “A ship has got to come by here. There’s got to be some land.” How big could the Pacific Ocean be, anyway? One of the women sees a bird. “Where there’s a bird, there must be land!” says Gary. A regular Noah, he is. And sure enough, it takes a while for them to notice the large island directly in front of them. They all start paddling for it.

Because Gary is the lone male, he has to physically carry each of the women from the raft to the beach, while at the same time being as condescending as possible. Oddly, as the women lie on the beach, Gary feels the need to adjust the position of their arms, as if he is posing them for something. It is at this point that all the women turn into shrill, petulant succubi while Gary in turn treats them like misbehaving two-year-olds. That must be part of the filmmaker’s vision. So here they are, trapped on a tropical island—and one with evergreen trees. (Evergreen trees? Are they native to the tropics?)

The next day, the stripper music strikes up as Gary announces that there is water. That is, a waterfall.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just Gary, shirtless. Here’s how to picture it in your mind: go to your kitchen, open a can of Crisco, scoop out a handful, and form it into a ball. Then, roll it in hair. That’s this movie’s leading man. Oh, and as he drinks from the waterfall, there are some overdubbed slurping noises which will forever haunt your dreams, as will the sight of Gary rubbing his hands all over his body. Excuse me, I have to run out and be violently ill...

There went breakfast. Anyway, the women literally crawl into the waterfall and moan appreciatively. Thank god Gary has his shirt on again. “That’s enough, girls! Let’s go have a look around.” Are they on a schedule? As they wander around the island, Gary demonstrates his alpha male capabilities by cutting his hand on a bush. You know, there should be two of him, as he is just too much man for one body. The girls’ accents and the overdubbing start getting even more bizarre.

One of the girls finds something. “A hammer,” says Gary. “There must be someone on this island.” Ya think? I mean, it could be a naturally occurring hammer. “A hammer, with a long handle. It must be for the purpose of excavating some sort of metal. Most probably uranium.” What is he, Louis Leakey all of a sudden? one of the girls says, in a ridiculous southern accent, “Can you eat that?” The horrors!

They then come across a cabin. Inside...the horrors! Actually, yes: they find a man stuck in a giant spider web. How do you blunder into a giant spider web like that? Did he not see it? Gary disposes of the body, and we zoom into what is apparently supposed to be a spider, but looks more like a cross between a crab and an owl (a cowl?).

They investigate the cabin, and learn (between scenes, I guess) that the place belonged to a professor of something or other, who had kept a diary. Georgia says, “The poor professor, when he made the last entry in the diary, never knew how horribly he would die.” I think that applies to most people who keep diaries. “Discovering that uranium deposit didn’t help him any,” adds Gary. I would imagine that large uranium deposits are of help in a very limited number of situations, and being trapped in a giant spider web probably isn’t one of them.

Fortunately, the professor has a lot of canned goods, and the rest of the shrill harpies file in for food. “It must have been a gigantic spider to weave such a large web.” Are we sure she’s not an entomologist?

The provisions will last for a month. Meanwhile, they also find a trunk full of the professor’s clothes. Why did he have women’s blouses? Oh, I so don’t want to know. The girls start fighting over a shirt. “Now stop it or I’ll take care of both of you,” scolds Gary. Um, what does that mean? Spankings? (In this movie that would not surprise me.) “Give me something to drink,” demands Gary, and Georgia gives him a bottle that is on a shelf five inches from his hand. He really is unappealing. Where are the giant spiders when you need them?

The girls continue to bicker, and they all sound like Wilma Flintstone. One woman suddenly has a posh English accent, and says, “I simply cannot stand this frightful heat any longer.” Good job, old bean. And she starts stripping, which pretty much gets to the main point of the movie: to have all the women frolicking around in their underwear. “Why don’t you throw your dirty blouse somewhere else?” The horrors! Oh, that’s just that really atrocious southern accent again. And of course there is an outdoor shower, which the director particularly liked.

Gary announces that it’s time for sleep, at which point the stripper music kicks in again, and we cut to the outdoor shower.

The horrors! Gary stands in the window, shirtless, rubbing his torso. one of the women walks past and rubs against him slowly, moaning “Oh, Gary.” Hang on, I have to go be violently ill again...

There went last night’s dinner. Anyway, Gary finds a revolver, and decides to go for a walk. That can only mean one thing...yes! Spider! Spider! Spider!

Sure enough, as Gary is rubbing his back against a hollow tree (huh?), a giant spider (or whatever it is) creeps out of the hole and bites Gary. Gary shoots the spider, but thanks to the spider bite, he immediately transforms into a half-man/half-spider mutant, although he isn’t any more or less hideous looking; kind of a lateral move, really. The girls all start walking through the woods shouting for Gary. That goes on for a while.

We then cut to a lone woman walking by a pond. The stripper music kicks in again; and she is soon killed by Gary. Two other girls hear her scream and run to her. As they find her body, real sexy music pipes up very loudly. (They’re not real clear about a variety of things in this movie, are they?)

The girls then all start fighting with each other. That goes on for a while.

Twenty-eight days later, two of the women see a ship on the horizon. One of the women starts yelling to it. The other says, “Would you stop that screaming! You’re driving me crazy.” Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t want them to hear you. The ship goes on by. I don’t blame it.

The horrors! Oh, on another part of the island, two more creepy, lecherous, loathsome guys pull up in a boat, and start unloading it. Who are they? Mr. Backstory fills us in: “Bob, I’m sort of glad the professor picked us out to help him with his work.” Ah. And: “Bob, all you think about is whiskey and women.” They then proceed to unload enough whiskey to float the Queen Mary. They waste no time becoming unappealing and creepy. Bob hears giggling, and climbs a tree and leers at several of the women who are frolicking partially nude in the water. He licks his lips...sorry, have to go be ill again...

There went lunch from two days ago. Anyway, the horrors! One of the swimming girls—Gladys—screams and is pulled into the reeds.

The other girls come across the dead spider and the gun from when Gary was bitten. That was 28 days ago, and no one noticed this before? They then ask what happened to Gary. You mean he/it hasn’t shown up for 28 days? What has he been doing all that time? Rubbing his torso?

Meanwhile, it turns out it was Bob who had pulled Gladys into the reeds, and he is suddenly mostly nude and they are lying side by side in a romantic embrace. Gladys thinks nothing of this guy’s sudden appearance or that he may have a boat.

Then the others hear a noise in the woods, and it turns out it is Bob’s partner. They point the gun at him, and his response is, “Hey, baby!” The horrors!

There is this exchange of dialogue among the women: “I think he’s handsome.” “He doesn’t look too terrible.” “They’re the ones who are the most dangerous.” The horrors!

Bob returns with Gladys, and things go really downhill from here. They all introduce each other; the guys tell them that their disappearance made all the world papers. Of course it did. Their ship is coming back in two days. “Just wait until you get back to New York...Maybe you’ll make it to Hollywood.” I thought they had been in Hollywood. Remember the establishing shot? There aren’t palm trees in New York. (I think this movie needed a botanist on the crew.)

The horrors! They then have a big island-themed party which goes on interminably. There is lots of whiskey, Bob hits on all the women, the other guy has a thing for Ann (there was a woman named Ann?). People dance, they love, they fight with each other, and Bob’s partner wastes no time getting his shirt off. Sorry, have to go be ill again...

There went every meal I have ever eaten. Anyway, the party goes on for rather a long time. Ann and the guy who is never named try to have some kind of romance, while Bob gets in trouble by hitting on everyone. One of the girls literally says to Bob, “Hello, big boy.” The horrors! He breaks off from kissing one girl to go off with the second one. For some reason, during this seduction scene, a telephone starts ringing. (Oh, it’s a trumpet. Why it sounds like a phone, I have no idea.)

This goes on forever. I’d recommend you go do something else for a while, and I’ll let you know when something marginally less upsetting happens.

After a lot of sexist blather from the men, Bob and Joe (ah, so that’s his name) start fighting with each other, for reasons that are unclear. But then they start laughing maniacally. Maybe this movie is an educational film on bipolar disorder. The horrors!

Bob wanders down toward the lagoon, shadowboxing while he walks. Maybe the spiders will come back into the movie. Hope springs eternal. Could it be...Yes! One of the spiders bites Bob, and he drops. And none of that turning into a werespider or anything. He’s dead! Woo hoo! Gladys finds his body and screams. Joe and the girls come out of the house. Joe says, “That sounded like a...” yes? “A scream.” Ah. Gary the Spider Mutant chases after Gladys, and Joe and the others chase after Gary. Joe discovers that the gun he tries firing is out of ammo. Doh! He runs back to the cabin to get more, and Gary chases Gladys to the top of a cliff, and Gladys plummets to her doom.

Like most movie monsters, Gary can instantly transport himself long distances in no time to attack whoever is conveniently attackable, and sure enough Gary pops in to attack Joe. He then vanishes, while Joe and the girls make it back to the cabin. Gary, who I guess had to run and pee in the bushes or something, comes back, bursts in the front door, and starts pursuing Georgia. She says his name, and he backs off. While Gary turns his attention to Joe, Georgia lights what looks like a stick of dynamite (dynamite?!). Oh, it’s just a flare of some kind. Whatever it is, Gary doesn’t like it, and he flees. They all light flares and chase after him. Joe says, “No one goes alone. Everyone stay in pairs.” So what do we see? The very next scene one of the women alone.

They chase Gary through the woods. Joe says, “Stop, the quicksand starts here.” Quicksand? Of course. Gary gets that sinking feeling.

Cut to exterior, boat sailing away and...

The End!!! Yes!!!

Oh, man, did this one bite. During the interminable party scene, I read some reviews online and apparently there were a number of these kinds of “nudie/stripper/horror” films released in the early 1960s, particularly in Europe. There are probably better examples (there would almost have to be), but this one has nothing whatsoever to redeem it. Acting? Terrible. Dubbing? Laughably inept. Makeup effects? The neighborhood kids do a better job on Halloween. Script? Come on; this thing could not possibly have been written. It’s basically porn without nudity, and a horror movie without horror. Logically speaking, this movie doesn’t exist. And, oh, how I wish that were the case!

Free for All

I’ve never quite understood the animus that many people have for paying for software. I mean, sure, I’m as much of a cheap bastard as the next guy, but I can think of a million other things I’d rather pay for less than software (cable television, all those arcane mobile phone charges, and don’t even get me started on health insurance). I have no serious objection (other than Jack Benny-esque cheapness) to paying for tools that I use for my business—or even for the things I enjoy outside of work (which do not involve software).

I mention this because yesterday was apparently Software Freedom Day, which I initially interpreted as meaning “turn the computer off and do something fun,” but my hopes were quickly dashed when I read that it is actually about switching to Open Source software. I confess I have mixed feelings about Open Source software; sure, it’s free, and my inner Jack Benny likes that, but I have found that it often requires a bit too much work, even just to download it. I have been using NeoOffice (and am writing this in NeoOffice), which is an Open Source alternative to Microsoft Office for the Mac, and while I don’t dislike it, it seems to do pretty much the same things that Word does only in a more confusing and convoluted manner (as if that were possible). After all, my beef with Microsoft Word is not that it costs money; it’s that it sucks. My favorite word processor thus far is actually Apple Pages, which even though it has its limitations, seems to suck less than Word does. (I have also used OpenOffice on Windows and it seems to me to have all the same things that annoy me about Word. Sure, it’s stable; but that reminds me of the old joke: “The food here is terrible.” “Yes, and such small portions.” Again, my problem with Word—or even PowerPoint—is not that it’s not free, but that it is annoying and unpleasant to use.)

On the desktop publishing front, I tried downloading Scribus—Open Source desktop publishing software—this morning and was confused almost immediately. These are my download categories:
  • Source tarball
  • SVN Snapshots
  • Templates and Sample Documents
  • Scripts
  • Color Profiles
What the hell is a tarball? Where’s the, um, program? Oh, and this headline caught my eye:
Scribus 1.3.3.12 Stable Release Announcement
Oh, good, it’s a stable release. Thank heaven for small favors. Those of us who are running businesses based on the usability and stability of desktop publishing software really don’t have the luxury of dicking around with what is basically hobbyist software (don’t comment; that’s not the slam you think it is). I’m sure Scribus is a fine program, and I will give it a try one of these days, but for now, I am perfectly happy to stick with Adobe InDesign. And anyone—like a graphic designer—who bases their business and their livelihood on software can ill afford to have that software be anything but reliable. Why do you think it took eight years for designers to switch from QuarkXPress to Adobe InDesign? Because the former worked, it worked well (or as well as anyone needed it to) and the latter had to prove itself before entire workflows could be transitioned. This stuff has to work, it has to work consistently and reliably, and it has to work without a lot of fuss and bother. Few people in graphic design like updating software; that’s why we rarely do it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I’m not trying to dis the Open Source movement (quite the contrary; there’s an article in the current issue of Scientific American about how a group of scientists and other innovators has adopted the principle of the Open Source movement to develop advanced prosthetic limbs, simply because the market for them is too small and the development costs too high to make them a high priority for traditional bioengineering research), and I think if you are a computer hobbyist who loves getting under the hood of software and constantly updating and tweaking programs, then Open Source software is for you. It reminds me of people who are really into cars and love getting under the hood and tweaking things—more power to ’em. As for me, I just want to turn the thing on and go where I need to go without a lot of bother. That’s pretty much my attitude toward software, as well.

More importantly, though, while I respect the hobbyist and, well, socialist nature of the Open Source movement, I also respect the fact that there are people who are trying to build a business around software development. How do we promote economic growth if we expect that more and more things will be free? How do we make money? Flaky stock market bubbles? All become consultants and explain to people how to use their free software? If we’re going to start socializing products and services, I can think of better places to start than computer software (don’t get me started on health insurance). (But then seeing how many companies and industries come to the taxpayers for a bailout when the so-called free market fails them, perhaps we’re closer to socialism than anyone cares to admit. Not that I’m necessarily opposed to that; let’s just be clear about it and do it right. The 20th century provided countless examples of it done wrong and disastrously so.)

It also strikes me that there is the expectation that software will be free simply because it is easy to copy and send back and forth. It takes minimal effort to download software, and very little effort in making it available. (This is why no one ever expected that CDs would be free, but apparently MP3s are supposed to be. Like all we ever paid for was the physical medium.) Physical items are much more difficult; so even though, by the logic of the Open Source movement, automotive enthusiasts could create their own cars and give them away for free, the logistics are much more difficult and the physical materials a bit too expensive for that to be practical. But in theory, that is how the automotive—or any—industry should work. What would happen to our economy if that were the case? Sure, there are few materials costs in software development, but there is an investment in time and “intellectual property.” Of course, there is a growing feeling that intellectual property should be free...but if that’s the case, what the hell are some of us supposed to do for a living? Manufacturing jobs don’t exist here anymore. And I don’t even eat at McDonald’s.

At the end of the day, I have no objection to paying a fair market price (yes, that’s a big qualifier) for things that I use and/or like. After all, that’s how our economy is supposed to work.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk Talk Talk

Well, last night I appear to have won the Toastmasters Division F Humorous Speech Contest with my "Fly the Unfriendly Skies" speech (scroll down, I'm too lazy to link). As a result, I now compete at the District Level, and journey to beautiful, downtown Trumbull, CT, on October 11. As it turns out, the Grand Poobah herself, the president of Toastmasters International, will actually be visiting our District Conference. Gulp! As if that weren't enough, it turns out there is a Toastmasters club in Newburgh, NY, which will be in attendance. I'm toast...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Remember a Day

Founding member of Pink Floyd dies

Richard Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, has died today following a struggle with cancer. He was 65.

Wright was the band's long-term keyboard player, as well as a songwriting contributor to classic albums such as Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. He also mastered a wide range of instruments including the synthesiser, saxophone and Farfisa organ, during the many years of Pink Floyd's career.

The band formed in the mid-60s, during which time Wright performed as a vocalist on many of the their songs. However, his preoccupation later on was with experimental compositions, a credit to the many instruments he played.

Wright released a solo record in 1978 called Wet Dream and went on to form pop group Zee in the 1980s, though, perhaps unsurprisingly, neither were quite as successful as his original band.

Wright performed with the surviving members of Pink Floyd in 2005 for Live 8.

Fellow founding member Syd Barrett died of pancreatic cancer in July 2006.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Talk Talk

I am happy to report that last night, against all odds, I won the Toastmasters Area F4 Humorous Speech contest, competing against three other folks from several other clubs in the Area. I now get to progress to the Division F contest to be held Thursday, September 18, hosted by State Farm in Ballston Spa.

I will be making some tweaks (including some cuts—I was, I was told I came within 10 seconds of being disqualified for running too long) for the next stage, but for the amusement of those who are not able to come to any of the contests, here is the text (sans ad libs) of the speech as it stood last night:
Fly the Unfriendly Skies

In April 2000, my fear of flying hit critical mass. Granted, I was never a very good flyer. Whenever I flew, I would grip the armrests with a force that could crush coal into diamonds. On one particularly rough flight, I gripped them so tightly that my fingers became embedded and I couldn’t get them out. After we landed and everyone deplaned, I was still unable to get free. The flight attendants had to literally remove the armrests from the seat and I needed to find an emergency room to have them surgically removed. So there I was, walking through the Los Angeles Airport looking like Edward Armresthands or something. It was very embarrassing—and it was then and there that I vowed that I would never fly again. And, for the next seven years, I kept my word.

In the years since, I had joined Toastmasters to get over my fear of public speaking and began accepting offers to speak professionally. Last year, I had to give a presentation in Atlanta, Georgia, so I began to investigate how to get to Atlanta. By train, it would take about 18 hours—one way. Since I would only be in Atlanta for less then 12 hours, that meant that it would take longer to get to Atlanta than I would actually be in Atlanta. That seemed really silly to me, so I decided that it was high time (so to speak) to conquer my fear of flying.

I went to online and started looking at flights. Did you know that the least expensive way to fly from Albany to Atlanta—and I’m not making this up—is to fly from Albany...to Detroit...to Chicago...to Atlanta. Why not throw Seattle in, as well? The kicker is that would actually take longer than the train! So that wasn’t going to work.

I discovered that there are no non-stop flights from Albany to Atlanta, but Delta has nonstop to Atlanta from, of all places, Newburgh, NY. Yes, the bustling metropolis of Newburgh, as opposed to the backwater of Albany. But, whatever. It was a one-hour flight; up, down—perfect! I made my reservations, gritted my teeth, and hit Purchase. And I was on my way.

It was then that I remembered one potential problem. I know there’s not a term for this, and there probably aren’t any self-help books, but in addition to a fear of flying I also had a dread fear...of Newburgh, NY. Now, let me explain. Some years ago, a friend of mine told me about a near-fatal experience she had in the Newburgh, NY, hospital, thanks to the ineptness of the staff. And she said to me, “Whatever you do, never go to the Newburgh, NY, hospital.” To which I responded, unthinkingly, “Oh, I can’t imagine my ever needing to go to the Newburgh, NY, hospital.” I’m not superstitious, but even I know that you don’t say things like that! It just incurs the wrath of the supernatural force that avenges really dumb statements. So now I suddenly had a whole new level of anxiety in addition to the flying: what would happen to me in Newburgh on the way to the airport that would result in my ending up at the Newburgh hospital?

So the next several weeks were fraught with tension.

Finally, D-Day arrived and I am happy to report that I made it to the Newburgh airport without incident. Now, I wasn’t expecting a huge, international airport like JFK or LAX, but I was unprepared for how small the Newburgh airport actually was. For example, the main terminal was located in a strip mall between a Family Dollar and Mr. Wang’s China Buffet. The runway doubled as McDonald’s drive-thru. On the plus side, the only time flights were delayed was when someone didn’t want pickles on their Whopper.

I was very early, as usual, so I checked in—at the Dunkin Donuts counter—and shambled into the terminal and chanted the religious mantra I always repeat when I am under stress: “Where’s the bar?” Well, not surprisingly, there wasn’t one. And Mr. Wang’s didn’t open until five, so I was out of luck there. Fortunately, I had my carry-on bag and had brought a bottle of my favorite single-malt Scotch—a little “liquid courage.” However, you can’t take containers larger than three ounces through airport security—so I had to improvise. (Take out and hold up Ziploc bag with 8 or so 3-oz vials of amber liquid.) Unfortunately, one was shampoo and I had neglected to label them, so it was kind of like Russian roulette. Blecch.

So the plane started boarding and I guess I was expecting a bigger plane, like a 747, or one that was...airworthy. I should have been suspicious when I saw “Spirit of St. Louis” written on the side. The plane looked like something the Air & Space Museum had rejected for looking too antiquated. I climbed in behind the pilot, tied the rope around my waist, and put on the leather aviator’s helmet and goggles. There weren’t armrests, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

The pilot got on the megaphone. He introduced himself as “Wrong-Way Rogers,” which did not inspire confidence. But, soon we started taxiing down the drive-thru—I mean, runway. We were only slightly late taking off; the pilot didn’t want pickles on his Whopper. But soon we were in the air. And, sure enough, an hour later, we landed on time...in a cow pasture not far from the Atlanta airport, which wasn’t bad when you consider that we didn’t have any real instruments to speak of. I quickly deplaned, and was about to kiss the ground, but then remembered that it was a cow pasture, so I simply heaved a sigh of relief.

That night, it occurred to me that in the past few years, I’ve actually conquered what polls have found to be peoples’ top fears: public speaking, flying, Newburgh, NY.... Death is also up there, but I think I’ll put that one off for a while.

I’ve actually flown about a half dozen or so times since then, often on real planes. I have discovered, though, after one particularly horrible experience involving a missed connection and a night spent in an airport, that I had been wrong all these years: I wasn’t afraid of flying, I was afraid of airlines! Which, as anyone will tell you, is a perfectly rational fear.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Change of Mind

Today’s Silly SciFi Summary courtesy of my Sci-Fi box set poses important questions about an issue of crucial importance in the 2008 Presidential election: brain transplants.

Previous movies in this series are:
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World

The Atomic Brain (aka Monstrosity) (1964)
Auteur/Perpetrator:
Joseph V. Mascelli
Star of Shame: None to speak of
Monster(s): Creepy old woman; feral creature that resembles Stephen Stills; vaguely Hispanic woman with the brain of a cat

Called Monstrosity in its original theatrical release (and one uses the word “theatrical” advisedly), it was retitled The Atomic Brain for subsequent TV and video infliction— I mean, releases. Putting the word “atomic” in any title in the 1950s and 60s was a surefire way to tap into both Cold War fears of nuclear destruction as well as fears of science getting up to not-at-all-good things. The Atomic Brain, though, is less about either of those things than it is kind of a creepy middle-aged male fantasy. Or female nightmare. Or feline horror (there are certain scenes in this movie that would be utterly terrifying to any cats in the audience.)

This movie was also done on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The movie certainly opens abruptly! Less than a second into it, we are asked, “Can death be outwitted?” Certainly not at chess, as Ingmar Bergman could tell you, although I always thought that if I challenged Death to a game of Scrabble I’d have a fighting chance. But what does that have to do with atomic brains? We are told about how medical science patches up and heals injured people (and the narrator makes this sound like a bad thing)—but “is the transplantation of the human brain the next step?” As it turns out, scientists say yes, but then the narrator goes off on a tangent about “blood-sucking vampires.” A bit of a leap from one to the other, I should think.

In the background, we see Dr. Frank (not Dr. Frankenstein, I hasten to add) puttering around in his lab. I wonder if he is really Dr. Konstantin Frank,* before he got into winemaking. But I digress. Back to the blood-sucking vampires... “Is man now doomed to produce a race of ever-living monstrosities?” I would say yes, but then I’ve been to South Florida. And now we get to the premise of the movie: will rich old people steal the bodies of the young and transplant their brains into them and live forever? Young people, of course, live forever. They never become old; no, not at all. But, okay, I’ll grant the premise. Do go on. “Such questions may see fanciful”—or downright goofy—“but at this very moment, scientists are working on the answers to brain transplantation...and human bodies are used.” They are? (The scary thing is that the religious right thinks that this is exactly what scientists are actually up to!)

We are introduced to Dr. Otto (not Konstantin) Frank and his latest victim—er, patient: a young girl who had recently died and whose body had been stolen. We are told that Dr. Frank transplanted an animal’s brain into her body. What animal? A dog? A cow? A ring-tailed lemur? A spider? Who knows, but it might make a difference. Fortunately, she was just the right height so that the metal support straps cover up her naughty bits. “The brain cells are being reactivated by an atomic fission.” Well, that explains the title of the movie, but—huh? “Has he found a way to outwit death?” Good question.

We then cut to a cemetery, and the night watchman (in a cemetery?) is making his rounds. Dr. Frank needs another body, so he breaks into a vault using a sledgehammer and chisel. As it turns out, he has the physical strength of a two-year-old so it takes rather a while. The watchman sneaks out his bottle (of course) and is easily overpowered by Dr. Frank’s pet/bodyguard/goon Hans, who is one of Dr. Frank’s failed experiments but, as MST3K pointed out, is a dead ringer for Stephen Stills. The narrator expresses wonder about the “monstrosity.” Well, what was anyone expecting? If you transplant an animal’s brain into a human body, what do you think is going to happen? That the result will be able to solve quadratic equations and join Mensa? Jeez. Talk about unreasonable expectations.

Meanwhile, “Inside the vault, a body waits.” Well, there’s probably little else it would be doing. Stephen Stills takes the body back to the car. Well, he’s handy to have around, at any rate. And probably easier to manage than graduate assistants.

The car returns to a large mansion, conveniently located a short drive from the cemetery. Dr. Frank pushes the button to open the glove compartment and the automatic gate slides open. To open the glove compartment, does he need to use his garage door remote? Another experiment that failed, I suspect.

It turns out that Dr. Frank’s lab is below the mansion, and the new body is brought down for another transplant. The narrator expresses concern that brain tissue in dead bodies decays rapidly; “where are the live, fresh bodies he was promised?” Surely FedEx gave him a tracking number. The narrator is also pissed about the fact that all his scientific research has to be conducted at the whim of “a miserly old woman brooding upstairs in her bedroom.” You know, this is the weirdest adaptation of Great Expectations I’ve ever seen.

We then cut to the crotchety old Mrs. March, the rich old miseress herself, played by Marjorie Eaton. Marjorie Eaton, IMDb tells us, had a long distinguished career playing mostly uncredited old women. Here, she gets her star turn. And it is very upsetting. The narrator has mixed feelings about her and her money, “Money horded through a long greedy lifetime, each day more money, each day death getting closer. Ah, but to start life again in a brand new body, beautiful and young.” But wasn’t she at one time young (you would think so) so logically at some point she will arrive back at the same place. Ah, but there are other issues going on: “Hasn’t everyone tried to cheat her? Wanting her money while they smiled at her ugliness?” That does kind of sum up our economy as whole, if you think about it. Then we are introduced to Victor, “this old fool.” Boy, for a narrator, he’s certainly judgmental.

Mrs. March and Victor are evaluating the girls they have “hired” and who are due shortly. “Pleasing personality,” scoffs Mrs. March, “whatever that might mean.” It certainly is a foreign concept to her. Maybe the problem isn’t her oldness.

On the radio, KPLOT breaks in with a news announcement about a body being stolen from the cemetery.

Down in the lab, Dr. Frank has strapped the new body into his atom brain thingie—the metal straps also hide her naughty bits. Boy, I guess every woman in that town is the same height.

Mrs. March and Victor pay a visit to the lab. “The bodies must be fresh,” says Dr. Frank. Well, don’t say “hi.” Dr. Frank also points out that if the police shows up, he has a special button that will set off a nuclear explosion. A what?! Uh, isn’t that a bit of overkill? (And I think you can pretty much anticipate the end of the movie. Although, even at only 10 minutes in, I’m already anticipating the end of the movie. Badly.) When Mrs. March hears of this she says, “Be careful!” Ya think? They watch as the dead girl is reanimated. “She lacks one thing: a brain,” says Dr. Frank. Oh, who needs one of those? They’re more trouble than they’re worth a lot of the time. Victor, like a dork, taps on the glass, as if she were a fish in an aquarium.

Then, suddenly, terror! Horror! Oh, never mind; it’s just a Pan Am flight landing. Sorry; I have a perfectly rational fear of airlines.

At LAX, we are introduced to three young women, who are accompanied by some of the goofiest music cues in the history of movie soundtracks. One buxom blonde apparently has a xylophone in her underpants, which plays in time to the movement of her buttocks. Whatever meager shred of dignity this movie may have had (and it had none) is now gone forever. Her name is Bea and she is supposed to be British, although her unaccountably vaguely Australian accent sounds like someone doing a bad imitation of a Foster’s beer commercial. She sits down next to Nina (pronounced Nyna, for reasons passing understanding), who is supposed to be Austrian (certainly not conveyed through her accent, which only kicks in about every third sentence). Then Anita wanders over and says “Por favor, I no speak anglays very good. ” Oh, please kill me. (On the plus side, one can imagine Lou Dobbs’ head exploding, which is the only way of getting through this scene.) It turns out that the three of them have been hired as “foreign domestics” (huh?) by Mrs. March. Victor turns up to drive them back to the mansion. Victor has trouble pronouncing Anita’s last name (Gonzales). He lives in Southern California and he can’t pronounce the name Gonzales? He should get out of that mansion once in a while.

Now things start to take a creepy turn. “Three new bodies,” says the narrator. “Three fresh new bodies. No families or friends within thousands of miles. No one to ask embarrassing questions when they disappear.” Yeah, those crazy Europeans, not caring when young women go missing overseas. “Victor wondered which one Mrs. March would pick....Victor knew his pick, but he still felt uneasy. Making love to an 80-year-old woman in the body of a 20-year-old girl was insanity.” Ewwww!!!!! That’s what this is about? I need a shower. Yes: Mrs. March planned to have her brain implanted into one of the young girls, and she intended to transfer her fortune to the one she selected (that is, to herself). Victor, apparently in love with Mrs. March (but why?), was looking forward to a best of both worlds scenario—if that’s the best term for it. “It was unpleasant to think what was going to happen to these girls, but a man has to consider his own future.” I’m guessing the theater’s concession stand did not do a brisk business while this movie was playing.

They pull up in front of the mansion. Bea asks, “Aren’t there any nybors?” That accent has got to go. There are no other servants, but, Victor says, “I don’t think you’ll find it boring.” Meanwhile, Stephen Stills prowls the yard and looks on...

They enter the house; “What a jolly little plyce this is,” says Bea, so not British.

Anita sees Stephen Stills peering in the window and screams, although David Crosby would actually be scarier. Everyone ignores her.

They go upstairs and are introduced to their boss. Mrs. March takes great delight in ogling the women and poking their butts with a cane, and it is creepier than you could ever imagine.

Victor goes down to the lab to get Dr. Frank. The brainless woman is wandering around (huh?) loose (if she has no brain, then how...oh, never mind). The narrator tells us, “As with the other bodies stolen from cemeteries, the nerve endings of the brain were too far gone to receive a proper transplant. The experiment had failed to produce anything more than a walking, breathing, zombie-like creature.” Sarah Palin? “But the doctor permitted her to walk around the laboratory. She was quite harmless and at times even...quite amusing.” I am so happy that the movie does not elaborate, as there is already an all-you-can-eat buffet of loathsomeness here. “She doesn’t need to have a brain,” muses Victor. “There could be advantages.” Ewwww!!!!!

Dr. Frank is ordered to give the girls an examination, and the girls begin to get suspicious that they are not mere domestic help. What tipped you off? The job interview in your underwear, maybe? Mrs. March yells at Victor, “Have you disconnected the phones? Can’t I depend on you for anything?” Buy, I can see why she appeals to him.

During the exam, it is discovered that Anita has a big birthmark in the shape of West Virginia on her back. “Hideous,” says Mrs. March. “She’s useless. Do anything you want with her.” The other two are “perfect medical specimens.” Outside, Stephen Stills howls.

Nina in her not-Austrian accent tries to quit. Mrs. March does not let her. Victor wanders in while they are half-undressed and makes some sort of disturbing guttural noise that sounds like someone backing a car over a goat. It is the most pleasant thing to come out of Victor’s mouth, actually, especially when he inexplicably offers his congratulations to the girls, who are starting to catch on that something is weird.

Victor, speaking of old goats, shows Bea to her room. The xylophone is still in her underpants, and it makes a strange plinking arpeggio as Nina slides across the bed. Anita’s bedroom is in the basement, while Nina’s is at the top of the house. “I’ll have to show you,” says Victor. Of course he will.

Bea tries to use a wall phone to make a call, but it doesn’t work. So I guess the March house uses Verizon.

Later that night, Anita is in bed, and hears a weird tapping noise. She opens her door, and, as she screams, we zoom into her teeth and cut to black.

The next morning, Bea and Nina are polishing the silver (if not their accents) and musing on what happened to Anita. “I don’t blyme her for not wanting to sleep in the bysement.” Could she please not talk? Mrs. March shows up and yells at them not to polish the silver as it will stain their hands. They are also told that Anita has left during the night. Later, Bea is castigated for walking up stairs; “those pretty legs will get ugly muscle.” It’s a weird management style.

Nina intercepts Bea at the bottom of the stairs. “Become with me,” she says. Huh? Become what? Oh: “Bea, come with me.” You know, commas exist for a reason.

They—and their weird, freakish music cues—sneak down into the bysement—er, the basement. (Now she’s got me doing it.) They discover that Anita’s clothes are still in her room. “Why would she leave without her clothes?” Have you seen her clothes? They then jimmy open a door; Dr. Frank, whose lab is down the hall, hears something, and wanders out to investigate, clutching a cat. But the girls are gone. Why is he clutching a cat? Oh, now things start to get really upsetting.

The narrator tells us that the doctor’s most important experiment is about to take place, and the grafting will take place with a living breathing human body. That is, Anita’s. “And the brain would come from the doctor’s favorite cat.” (Now this is turning into a Lou Dobbs fantasy.)

Upstairs, Bea is packing. Nina comes by and they decide to somehow flee the house. The soft, almost silent closing of a suitcase catches Mrs. March’s attention through two closed doors and a long hallway. Mrs. March gets up and walks slowly down the stairs, the oboe simulating the sound her joints must be making. (Who the heck is the music editor for this movie?!) She creeps down to the basement and finds the jimmied door and evidence that it had been the girls. As it turns out the girls are right behind her. They quickly run in the other direction.
Meanwhile, Mrs. March struggles back upstairs and locks Bea and Nina in a room.

Victor comes back and tells Mrs. March that she has an appointment to see their lawyer in the morning to change her will. She yells at him for taking so long. Yes, she is one hot mama.
They go down to lab to see what the doctor has been working on and...OH MY GOD!!! Yes, the cat’s brain was successfully transplanted into Anita’s skull—I’m guessing he had to use no small amount of those styrofoam packing noodles or something since a cat’s brain is pretty small compared to a human skull. Mrs. March is horrified. “Does she have all the instincts of a cat?” Is that really the first question that pops into your mind? Dr. Frank demonstrates, and Anita successfully captures, kills, and eats a mouse. I personally don’t want to see the litter box.

While the doctor had been busy doing upsetting things with a vaguely Mexican girl and a cat, the brainless woman ambles outside and is mauled and killed by Stephen Stills. The grisly tableau is watched from the upstairs window by the girls. For some reason, even though the girls are three floors higher than the underground, concrete-lined lab, Dr. Frank can hear Nina yell “Somebody help her!” He runs out and chains Stephen Stills to a tree, which is reminiscent of the most recent Crosby, Stills, and Nash tour.

Later, the girls serve Mrs. March, Victor, and the doctor dinner and, in the kitchen, plot their escape. Bea will attempt to seduce Victor (like that will be difficult). She will then get the car keys. Bea finds Victor in the study having a nightcap (following all his daycaps, I guess). They go for a quiet romantic walk outside past the chained up, hideously mutated creature. While they are having a tender moment in the bushes, Mrs. March calls to Victor, and he goes back to the house. Bea wanders over to a gazebo and sees Anita hanging from the top—do cats climb up concrete and iron gazebos? Someone has apparently confused cats with monkeys. Anyway, Anita scratches out Bea’s eye.

In the blink of an eye (so to speak), Anita is on the roof the house somehow. Nina opens the window and looks up and sees Anita peering over the eave. Nina runs up to the roof to help her. Trying to get down, Anita plummets to her doom (actually, she falls quite gently to her doom).

Now the wheels are really coming off the wagon, and they hadn’t been screwed on too tightly to begin with. In the lab, Dr. Frank is treating Bea while Mrs. March and Victor look on. He holds up her eye in his hand, “Astonishingly complex isn’t it, the human eye.” Could you be more creepy, please? Nina bursts in, is shocked by seeing Bea with an eye missing, and she then tells them that Anita is dead. Dr. Frank runs out. Nina is pissed; she orders Mrs. March and Victor from the lab, and oddly they obey. Dr. Frank returns and says that his prognosis for Bea is good. “I’ve preserved the eye. Let me show you...” No! “She is a very lucky girl,” says Dr. Frank. “Do you think that ironical?” Ironical? Dr. Frank then expresses his sour grapes that other doctors have won Nobel Prizes, while he is stuck in a crazy old lady’s basement because she is the only one “who can supply me with the funds I need to continue my work.” Nina is not impressed.

Bea wakes up and freaks out when she realizes what has happened.

The next day, Victor and Mrs. March return from a day of shopping for Nina’s/Mrs. March’s new wardrobe. They have also made a hair appointment...in Nina’s name. Later, Nina tries on the new clothes while Mrs. March ogles. The narrator reminds us, “the stupid girl wasn’t just modeling Mrs. March’s future wardrobe...but Mrs. March’s future body. So round, so nicely rounded in places that men like.” Sounds like an old Lucky Strikes commercial. Oh, and what a surprise, lecherous old Victor bursts in without knocking. “Don’t stop your style show on my account.” Oh, I think they should.

And now the gloves come off: Mrs. March tells Victor point blank that he is no longer needed. “You are no longer needed,” she says, “close the door on your way out.” “So I’m no longer needed at all, is that what you’re saying?” Um, yes; which word did you not understand? Victor hints that something macabre is about to happen, and Nina catches it. She is curious. Victor slinks out. You think he’s gonna drink?

Yep, sure enough, he is in the study downing what looks like a bottle of A1 Steak Sauce. Nina drops by and asks for clarification to his earlier comment. Victor drunkenly accuses her of being in on a plot to cut him out. Um...by having her own brain removed? He then shows her a press release (press release?) announcing that the March millions will be left to an orphan girl (she’s an orphan?). I guess they’re hoping it’s a slow news day. Victor then adds, “The next press release will be ‘March mansion destroyed by fire.’” Do you really need to send a press release out for something like that? Usually huge mansions that are consumed by fire make the news pretty much by themselves. And sending it out before the fire might raise suspicion. She implores him to help her and Bea get away. He agrees, and has her sign something. Then he tells her to go out to the car and wait.

After Nina leaves, it turns out that Mrs. March has been hiding in the drapes and she pops out and stabs him with a knitting needle. Or I think she does. It’s filmed and edited so weirdly that you’re not sure if they’re even on the same set as each other.

Nina then goes to Bea’s room and, suddenly very Austrian, tries to get her to accompany her escape. “Now; I won’t gow.” Still not British. Nina runs back to the study and finds Victor’s body. She screams, more out of relief than terror, I should think. Dr. Frank chloroforms Nina and brings her down to lab. Mrs. March is strapped into the bed next to her, and it looks like it’s showtime. Mrs. March drones on about how because of her hideous old body, “No one ever gave me any attention. Just my money. I never knew what it was like to be loved for myself.” Hadn’t there been by definition a Mr. March? And, hey, what about Victor? He inexplicably had a thing for her and she treated him like crap! “Why did you kill Victor?” asks the doctor. “Victor was a fool.” You know, again, I don’t think the old body was the problem.

All right, we’re in the home stretch here. Mrs. March is anesthetized, and the doctor glances over at where the cat’s brainless body is hanging. He has an idea...

Some time later, Nina wakes up...and she is still Nina. Where is Mrs. March? Her brain has been put...in the body of the cat! (I guess it would have to be really crammed in the cat’s skull.) The doctor says, “You are now a very wealthy woman, Nina.” He wonders how he can keep access to her money. The cat is pissed and immediately scratches the doctor. “Dr. Frank enjoyed this transplantation,” the narrator tells us. Is that a tone of gloating?

Well, Mrs. March gets the last laugh. The cat manages to trap Dr. Frank in his atom brain tube thing and at the same time trigger the nuclear destruct device. So, basically, it’s like any cat. Nina is still strapped to her gurney. Bea, in bed, suspects something is up and staggers out. She pulls her bandage off to reveal an empty eye socket. Thank you, movie. She helps Nina escape. She runs back for her eye, which she spies in a Petri dish. However, her depth perception is obviously not what it used to be, and she blunders into a piece of machinery and is electrocuted before she can get to it. Doh! Nina flees the building just as it is consumed in flames. She wanders away, followed by the cat—that is, Mrs. March. “She would follow that girl. Some time, some place...revenge would come.” How is that gonna happen?

The end.

And that was how Dr. Frank transitioned from transplanting brains to opening a Finger Lakes winery. Boy, Dr. Frank did have a wildly awry moral compass. He said the goal of his research was to save lives, but if you can only transplant brains from one live body into another live body, that kind of means you have one extra brain that has to be disposed of. In other words, someone has to die to save someone else who wasn’t really dead to begin with. It’s probably futile to examine the moral implications of a movie like this too closely, but all brain transplant movies have the same problem. Maybe the goal should be to work on transplanting human brains into animals. But, as Dr. Farnsworth said in Futurama: “Sure everyone’s in favor saving Hitler’s brain. But put in the body of a great white shark, and suddenly you’ve crossed a line.” So maybe we should just all keep our brains to ourselves. Think about it won’t you? Thank you.

*I hasten to point out that I have visited Dr. Frank’s Finger Lakes winery many times and his wines are excellent and having nothing whatsoever to do with transplanted brains.