Monday, October 27, 2008

Coyote Waits

One of my favorite mystery writers is no more:
Mystery writer Tony Hillerman dies at 83

Tony Hillerman, author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels and creator of two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes -- Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee -- died Sunday of pulmonary failure. He was 83.
I've read just about all his Navajo Tribal Police books (although I think I missed the last couple); A Thief of Time, The Dark Wind, and Skinwalkers are probably the best of the series—or at least they're my favorites. Time to go reread them, methinks. Hillerman's books were wonderful for conjuring up the landscape of the American Southwest—in all its beauty as well as its peril. It's one of my favorite parts of the country to visit. His books also also gave me a profound love and respect for Navajo culture, which has a lot to recommend it. I had the opportunity to see Hillerman speak at the L.A. Book Fair in 1998 or 1999 and the rather large auditorium was packed. He will be missed.

Hells Cells

For those about to calculate, we salute you.... Believe it or not, the most recent AC/DC video (what, you didn't know they were still around and had a new album out?) is being distributed...as an Excel spreadsheet. I kid you not. Sez Wired:
Phil Clandillon and Steve Milbourne, who work at a digital design boutique division of Sony/BMG in London, have put together what they call "the world's first music video in Excel format," for AC/DC.

They decided on this unusual format because they wanted the video to penetrate even the most Draconian corporate firewalls. After all, who can't receive an Excel spreadsheet?
So I guess you can create a pivot table and see if those dirty deeds were in fact done dirt cheap. Download the actual spreadsheet here. Sigh: it doesn't work on a Mac. But here is a YouTube promo video for the video (?):

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bored Out of "The Skull"

This special Halloween installment of Mis-Treatments detours from my cheesy Sci-Fi box to a movie that I actually deliberately bought: the 1965 thriller The Skull.

I first saw The Skull sometime in the 1980s; it must have been on Elvira: Mistress of the Dark or as a late movie on some independent TV station (remember those?). Ever since, it has been one of my favorite bad movies, and it has probably been at least 15 years since I saw it last. It came out on DVD earlier this year, so how could I resist? (I actually like this movie and I am only slightly ashamed to admit that.) Welcome to this week’s Mis-Treatment: The Skull.

Previous entries in this series are:
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
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 Skull (1965)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Freddie Francis (sorry, you lose all horror cred when you have a ludicrously alliterative name)
Star(s) of Shame: Peter Cushing looking only slightly less cadaverous than he did in Star Wars 12 years later; a young, hunky Christopher Lee if such a thing could be said to be possible), with far less hair than he had as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings movies
Monster: Demonically possessed and oddly ambulatory skull of the Marquis de Sade
“Plot”: A British collector of bizarre crap is stalked by the skull of the Marquis de Sade, which drives him to murder...or something vaguely like it

One basic problem with the movie—aside from the fact that it really is quite dull—is that it is based on the premise that the Marquis de Sade was demonically possessed and was evil. While it’s true that the word “sadism” was derived from his title (his full name was Donatien-Alphonse-Fran├žois, Comte [or “Count”] de Sade), and he did have a bizarre fetish for inflicting pain as part of his prodigious sexual proclivities, he wasn’t really evil, just a major pervert. In “literary” (and one uses the term loosely) circles, he is known for the novel Justine, which I have thankfully never read but which I understand is some kind of Family Ties fan fiction featuring Justine Bateman (damn Wikipedia). I guess De Sade’s Tina Yothers fan fiction has been lost to the ages, for which we should all be happy.

Anyway, De Sade was notorious for all sorts of perverted sexual acts and he was variously imprisoned and thrown in a mental asylum because of them. There is no evidence in any of his writings that he ever had any particular interest in Satanism (he admitted to being an atheist which, despite the belief of some, is not the same thing), or that he ever had Lucifer on his speed dial. De Sade also never killed anyone, which I guess would ruin it even for him. But then one questions how a decapitated skull could indulge in the activities for which the Marquis was notorious, since a skull by its very anatomical nature lacks the, um, pertinent parts. Still, this was 1965 and it was a good excuse to have a disembodied skull flying around horribly overdecorated English sitting rooms, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

The movie opens, as any self-respecting horror movie should, with a prologue set in a cemetery, where a cat meows and an iron gate blows in the wind (huh?). Or was it the wind... Bwa-ha-ha!
The rattling of the gate annoys Pierre, who is very edgy when he is robbing graves. He and his partner unearth a coffin, although we don’t know whose it is (except if we read the back of the DVD case or had some vague idea of the premise of the movie). He forces open the coffin to reveal what I guess is the body of the Marquis de Sade, who has certainly seen better days. Try getting women now, pal. Heh.
Pierre can barely contain his glee, and he looks like a kid in a candy store, albeit an old kid in a horribly freakish candy store. He takes a shovel and plunges it downward, which I guess was supposed to convey that he had chopped the Marquis’ head off, but all that really happens is that an owl freaks out, jumps onto a tree branch, and starts meowing like a cat, for reasons passing understanding. I guess even the wildlife surrounding the Marquis de Sade is perverted in some way. (Did the cat and the owl, um...you know; owl and the pussycat indeed.) Now a distant wolf starts getting in on the action. A regular menagerie-a-trois we’ve got going on here; the Marquis would be proud (or something). Pierre skulks (skullks?) off carrying something wrapped up in a black cloth. I’m guessing it’s either the head of the corpse he just defiled or he’s going bowling. It could go either way at this point.

He returns to his cluttered house, gathers some bottles, and takes the head-in-bag into the bathroom. If he starts singing “Rubber Ducky You’re the One” I’m turning this off. However, the bathtub is occupied by who I assume is his mistress, proving that he has little in the way of taste. She kind of looks like Bob Costas in drag. Ugh. He asks what she is doing there; now wait: he just dug up the Marquis de Sade and someone needs to explain sex to him? Jeez. She tries being seductive, but he has his skull to think about, and he kicks her out. She reminds him that he gave her his key; I guess he never expected her to actually use it. He says, “Not now. I’ve got to be alone tonight.” And then he disappears into the bathroom. Ah, now I understand: he had bad Chinese food for dinner. Been there...

In the bathroom, Pierre puts the severed head in the sink and pours various chemicals over it, presumably to remove the flesh. At least he’s not boiling it in a kitchenette in a Syracuse University dormitory.

Meanwhile, his mistress lies seductively on the bed eating a bowl of marshmallows. Huh? She lies back and utters a small moan. I guess this scene was targeted to the small demographic that is turned on by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. When you’re dealing with the Marquis de Sade, no fetish is too bizarre. Hm. Is her safe word “Fluffernutter”?

Meanwhile, in the bathroom (there’s a phrase one tries not to write too often), Pierre reaches into the sink and pulls out a nice, clean skull. I hope he rinsed it off, or the flesh on his hands will dissolve, and then there will be a disembodied skeletal hand creeping around in addition to the skull. But that’s a whole other movie.
On the bed, Marshmallow Girl (I’m guessing her name is Marsha?) calls out to Pierre, and she dashes to the bathroom door. Barging into the bathroom, she screams, although we don’t know why, but can take any number of good guesses. We zoom into the skull sitting on a marble table and the titles start zooming out of its eye socket.
Christopher Lee is credited as “guest star.” How does a movie have a guest star? Was this actually a long-running TV series? (“Next week on ‘The Skull,’ Peter breaks mom’s favorite skull while playing basketball in the house”...”Next week on ‘The Skull,’ Rockford and the severed head of the Marquis de Sade play a deadly game of cat and mouse”...“Next week on ‘The Skull,’ Benson, Mrs. Kraus, and the severed skull of the Marquis de Sade get trapped in a meat locker and reevaluate their relationship...”) We also learn that this movie was based on a story by Robert Bloch, a somewhat popular horror writer famous for the book that Psycho was based on, as well as a couple of Star Trek episodes (including the one where Scotty is accused of being Jack-the-Ripper).

And we jump out of the titles to purportedly to an auction in present-day London where Christopher Lee has just successfully bid on about £90 worth of books. We pan over and land on Peter Cushing. I thought I smelled his foul stench when I started this movie. He was perhaps hoping a Death Star was on the auction block, but no such luck. Behind him, Anthony Marco inhales a large quantity of snuff. Don’t tell me this is going to be a snuff film.

On the auction block, four freakish figures are up for bid. They represent, the auctioneer tells us, the hierarchies of hell. I didn’t know hell was quite so organized. (But then after Q4 sales dropped, there was a reorg and Beelzebub replaced Lucifer as VP of Marketing. The Prince of the Fallen Cherubim was given his pink slip.) Christopher Lee is visibly upset, likely because at various points in his career he has played all of those characters. Peter Cushing (his character name is Chris Maitland) and Christopher Lee (Matthew Phillips) get into a bidding war for the evil figures; Lee gets stuck with them with his bid of £1500. There’s a sucker (and an evil one, too) born every minute.
Afterward, Maitland asks Phillips why he paid so much for them; Maitland admits he only wanted them “because they would go well with my collection.” I’m guessing it’s not a collection of Star Wars action figures. Phillips has no idea why he wanted them so badly. Some people are just shopoholics. I’ve known women who reacted the same way around shoes, and many of those shoes were no less evil.

Meanwhile, Snuff Man (Marco) pays a visit to Maitland’s house. He is greeted by Mrs. Maitland (Jane), whose face looks like she was the survivor of a terrible trash compactor incident.
In Maitland’s drawing room, he certainly has enough crap. His whole house looks rather like Sir John Soane’s Museum. I wonder if he has a crypt in the basement. Maitland’s wife obviously doesn’t like Marco; she’s acting like Darth Vader. She asks Maitland why he puts up with him. “I need research materials and he is the only one who can get them for me.” What, dare I ask, is he researching? Giant planet-destroying space stations? Jane is frightened of Marco. “It’s because people all through the ages have been influenced, and terrorized, by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why. It’s all part of the unknown, and the unknown is always intriguing.” Um, what are you talking about? It’s a smarmy guy in your foyer holding a shopping bag, not one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Marco is ushered into the Crap Room, and tells Maitland that he has something “choice” to sell him: a book entitled The Life of the Notorious Marquis de Sade. “A man who has become a symbol of the cruelty and savagery that is in all of us.” He has?
Marco then provides a short biography of the Marquis. “There were rumors that he dabbled in sorcery, making sacrifices of blood to his master, the devil.” No, there really weren’t. Even Wikipedia doesn’t mention that. “A most interesting man. A most interesting book.” Marco asks £200 for it; Maitland scoffs, but then Marco points out that it is bound in human skin. (Now there’s a product an service differentiator for today’s commercial printers. Try that, Amazon Kindle.) Maitland asks Marco where he got the book; presumably not on eBay (although one never knows) and Marco points out that Maitland has never been so particular before, and takes a tour of the various items in the room, a shriveled hand here, a knife owned by the wife-murderer Bluebeard there. (Make note of the knife; we’ll be seeing it again.) “You didn’t ask about their pedigree.” “I needed them for my work.” What work, I again ask, not sure I want to know. ”Yes,” says Marco, “demonology, black magic, witchcraft.” Oh, he works on Wall Street. Now I get it.

Maitland opens a wall safe located behind some false books on his shelf and takes out £200. He closes the safe. You know, it would be a lot more secure if you couldn’t actually see the safe when the false books were in front of it. Doh! “By the way,” adds Marco on the way out, “I may have ‘another item’ for you....I think you’ll find what I have for you is ‘most interesting.’” The location of the secret Rebel base? Nah, no such luck. But I wonder what it could be. Really, I am in complete suspense. Or something.

We then dissolve to Marco’s flat, and I am sure I do not want a peek into this guy’s personal life. And, what a surprise, his place is full of arcane crap. Man, who was the set designer for this movie, Charles Addams? Marco enters, sniffs some more snuff, counts his money, then goes to the closet, where the skull is sitting on the top shelf. He takes it down, smiles admiringly at it, then kisses it. Now we’re getting into a whole weird area.
The next night, Marco takes the skull round to Maitland’s. Maitland admits that he enjoyed the book Marco brought round the previous night. “I hope what you’ve brought me this evening is just as interesting.” He then takes out the skull, and you know he’s dying to say “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio. A man of infinite jest.” Well, in the case of the Marquis de Sade, infinite something. Not sure “jest” would be the right term. Infinite “ewwwww” maybe. “So small and delicate,” says Marco. Are skulls really all that delicate? “And all I’m asking is £1,000.” Seems like rather a bargain. I mean, Christopher Lee had paid £500 more than that for those lame devil statues.

Maitland is aghast. “A thousand pounds?! For a human skull?” He’s right, you know. You can get a whole pallet full of human skulls for half that at Sam’s Club. Marco is insulted. “Do you think I would bring you an ordinary human skull? Do you think I’d ask you for a thousand pounds for the skull of a nobody?” This isn’t the skull of some Joe the Plumber (it’s probably a lot more capacious, with less bone). He is proud of his wares, I’ll give him that. “Marco, I wouldn’t pay that price for Napoleon’s skull,” says Maitland. What about for Carrie Fisher’s?

Marco puts the skull down on the desk. “You see before you the skull of Donatien Alphonse Fran├žois—Marquis de Sade.” That, and the musical sting, get Maitland’s attention. Naturally, Maitland would like some proof. Marco grabs a Havelock Ellis book (Skulls in Relation to Society, perhaps) from the bookshelf, and relates the story of the prologue of the movie. The Marquis de Sade’s skull was stolen by a phrenologist (you know, someone who believed the bumps on one’s head were some kind of indication of mental health) who wanted to study the skull to see if the Marquis was truly insane. Now, we’re back to Marshmallow Girl barging into the bathroom, and this time we see what she screamed about: Pierre dead in the bathtub. Well, most accidents do happen at home. We zoom back to the skull on the marble table—oh, no, the movie is starting again! Are the titles going to come out of its eye sockets again?

Fortunately, no, Marco continues. The executor of Pierre’s estate—Dr. Londe—is muttering to himself and puttering around Pierre’s house cataloging bizarre items. The woman returns, and she asks if Pierre had bequeathed to her all his marshmallows. The executor asks her who she is, and she giggles. OK, then. She mentions that Pierre had brought “something” back with him the night he was killed. “It changed him. Made him evil.” Why, because he kicked her out of his house for one night out of how many? That’s not really evil. Rude, yes, but hardly evil.

The executor mutters and putters some more. He holds up a freakish blue head with enormous ears; “wonderful, just wonderful.” A fine arbiter of taste he is. He comes across the skull and cavalierly tosses it onto a couch. The skull is not happy about that, and transports itself instantly to the mantlepiece, where it sits next to a black raven. This is turning into a weird Poe poem all of a sudden. The executor is bemused (or horrified, it’s hard to tell) and the skull silently forces him to grab a letter opener... Meanwhile, Marshmallow Girl emerges from the bathroom and starts packing her stuff into a wicker box. She grabs a marshmallow from the bed and disgustedly throws it away. How fickle! Well, maybe she’s moved on to Circus Peanuts. Behind her, the executor sneaks up and plunges the letter opener into her back. No more marshmallows for her. And we get the first Skullcam, where we see out of the eye and nose sockets of the skull. Which is very realistic, because when I see things, I can always see the edges of my eye sockets and even my nostrils. My optometrist can’t explain it.
Marco finishes up his story while we get Skullcam 2 looking at him and Maitland. “Dr. Londe could not explain his action to the police. To all their questions, he merely replied ‘The skull, the skull.’” I’ve taken tests like that.

Maitland is still skeptical. Marco appeals to his own reputation of not purveying fake items. Marco is easily talked down to £500. Maitland accuses him of having stolen the skull. Maitland needs some time to think it over, and Marco gives him his card. “If you change your mind, come round tomorrow night.”

Some time later, Maitland is playing billiards at Christopher Lee’s place. Maitland tells him about the offer of the skull—and Christopher Lee knows the skull is authentic “because, my dear fellow, it was stolen from me.” It turns out that he is glad that the skull has been stolen; he thinks it is “dangerous.” Lee cites as evidence that De Sade said that he wasn’t mad, but Lee believes instead that he had been “worse than mad: possessed...possessed by an evil spirit, a spirit which still inhabits the skull.” He goes on to tell Maitland that he kept the skull in a locked glass case in his library, and once a month, during the two nights of the new moon—the time of devil worship and black magic (it is?)—he found that the skull had been “removed” by invisible beings that would use its power. “Sometimes, I would even hear them calling me to join them in their ceremonies.” Yeah; uh huh.

Maitland says that he would jump at the chance to cavort with the evil ones, especially Dark Lords of the Sith; “It would make a great chapter in one of my books.” Christopher Lee chides him for being so cavalier about evil. Lee knew that if he set foot in the same room as the skull, “I would do whatever the skull wanted me to do.” He then points out the evil statues he had bought at the auction, and recalls that he was unsure why he had bought them. “Why did you?” Maitland asks. “Because the skull wanted me to,” he replies. Yep; you can imagine him continuing, “And when I’m at the grocery store, the skull makes me buy M&Ms, Snickers Bars, potato chips, and pint after pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream.” Come on, Chris; we’ve all used that excuse before!

Maitland is having none of it. But Christopher Lee says, “Keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade.” You know, not many people know this, but that was the original lyric to the Beach Boys’ song “Runaround Sue.”

We dissolve again to Marco’s hovel, and Mr. Snuffleupagus takes another snort. No one does snuff anymore, do they? I guess we should be thankful. He goes to the closet, and the skull is gone. He turns around, and—dah!—the skull is right behind him, being held by the apartment house’s caretaker. “Is this what you’re looking for?” Come on: just one “Alas, poor Yorick.” Please please please! Oh, you’re no fun, movie. Marco asks where the landlord got the skull. “In the ’all,” is the Cockney-esque reply. “In the broom cupboard.” He hands the skull back. “If you can’t keep your pets inside your own apartment, you won’t be allowed to keep any!” is what you would expect the response to be. As the caretaker leaves, he asks if any of the junk in the apartment is worth anything. Apparently, it is not. “Anyone’d have to be barmy to collect things like this.” He does have a point.

Back at Maitland’s place, he sits down with the Marquis de Sade’s book and reads into the night, and we pan over the assortment of crap in his house, most of it involving weird, distorted heads of various kinds. I swear I saw a Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle in there somewhere, but perhaps it was just a trick of the light. There is a strange montage and some odd music on the soundtrack, which is interrupted by a knock at the door. In walk two be-trenchcoated and be-fedoraed figures who abruptly announce that they are the police and that Maitland is under arrest and escort him out. This next bit is rather confusing, and it’s unclear if it’s a dream, or a skull-induced nightmare, or actually happening. The drive to the police station takes place in uncomfortable silence. However, when they arrive, Maitland says, “But this isn’t the police station.” We are not sure where it is, and Maitland is tossed unceremoniously into what at first seems to be a bare room but as we pull back we see that at the far end sits a judge, whose desk is full of more arcane statuary and curios. Man, does everyone in London have a weird statuary and curio fetish? And they say the Marquis de Sade was mad.

The judge glowers at Maitland, who insists on being told why he was brought there. The two “police” men clop over (everyone in this movie sounds like they are wearing giant tap shoes), hand Maitland a gun, and force him to play Russian roulette or the planet Alderaan will be destroyed. “Would you prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system!” That gets the judge nowhere, ironically. Anyway, the judge starts making strange hand signals. At one point, it looks like Maitland is being signaled to steal third base, but I could be reading that wrong. Maitland wins (he would have to, as the movie is only half over), and the judge grabs the gun, fires it, then laughs maniacally. Maitland then finds himself alone in a blood red corridor. The corridor has a series of vents, each of which spews out some kind of thick smoke which quickly fills the room. It also appears as if the walls are closing in, kind of like the trash compactor on the Death Star, now that I think about it. Through the smoke, the skull looms toward him. I think the lesson here is not to eat a Pizza Hut Super Supreme pizza right before bedtime.
Maitland claps his hands over his eyes as the skull bears down on him (it would be one hell of a head butt, I’ll give it that) and when he opens his eyes again, he is safe...but in a strange building. He walks down to the street level and discovers that he is in Marco’s apartment building. Hmm. I think I’d rather be in the smoky corridor with the skull. So would Maitland it would appear, and he goes home rather quickly. His wife is asleep on the couch, and he is pleased to see her. She fixes him a drink, and asks where he has been. He tells her he had a terrifying dream and woke up in Marco’s rooming house. His wife ain’t buying it. She goes to bed and sleeps fitfully. Maitland gets money out of the not-well-hidden safe and decides to pop by Marco’s—even though it is something like three in the morning. You know what they say: the skull never sleeps.

Maitland knocks on Marco’s door, and there is no answer. He tries the knob, and the door is unlocked. The room is dark and seems devoid of life—but then it did even when Marco was there. Maitland struts around like he owns the place, and opens the closet. A black mummified figure flops out and falls to the floor. Kind of like Fibber McGee’s closet, only weirder. He reaches up and grabs the skull and makes for the door. As the door swings away from the wall, Marco’s body flops onto the floor. Maitland isn’t sure what to do; he is clutching the skull like a football and looks like he’s about to run downfield with it at any moment. He goes out into the hall and stashes the skull in a closet, then returns to Marco’s room and calls the police.

Maitland’s story to the grouchy inspector is that he had come by to pick up a rare volume that Marco had, he found Marco dead, and called the police. Not too far off. The doctor is about to say something interesting about the body, but the caretaker arrives and interrupts. The doctor then himself interrupts—“Do you have a pet, a large dog perhaps?” The caretaker says they don’t allow them, then is quickly ushered out by the inspector, obviously an animal lover. The inspector is mad at the doctor, “Doctor, what do animals have to do with this?” he asks testily. Jeepers, give your own forensic examiner a chance, would you? “His jugular vein was bitten...clean through,” says the doctor. So nyah. So the skull bites. That could be the tagline for this movie.

We cut to Christopher Lee’s house, and a closeup of his clock. Hm. Could that be considered a Dooku clock? He is telling Maitland that the previous night was the first night of the new moon. (How many new moons a month are there in this movie?) That is, the first night of the evil skull-induced rituals. That means that tonight is the second night (you can’t put anything over on him). “If you have the skull,” says Christopher Lee, “get rid of it.” He then gives Maitland some kind of gold sphere on a chain—“protection against the skull, against the evil worshippers.” Maitland humors him. You know this won’t end well.

Maitland sneaks back to Marco’s building and retrieves the skull from the closet. The caretaker catches him in the act and asks if he is stealing something. “No, this belongs to me.” The caretaker doesn’t believe him and there is a slight altercation which is ended when the skull (maybe?) forces the caretaker to fall over a railing and plummet down a stairwell through two stained glass sky lights to his doom. Maitland isn’t all that broken up about it.

He goes home and locks the skull in a glass display case. Yeah, that’ll hold it. He takes out the talisman Christopher Lee gave him: the sphere actually opens up into a cross. It’s always crucifixes that thwart evil in these movies, but I wonder if any religious iconography would do. For example, what if he had a Star of David: would that work? Or a gold Buddha statue? Or a Navajo sand painting? What about a copy of the collected works of L. Ron Hubbard? I gotta know.

Later that night, instead of turning on the lights, he lights a bunch of candles in the skull room—I guess to really ratchet up the creepy factor. He then retires for the night (so was he lighting the candles for the benefit of the skull and/or the invisible evil worshippers?). You know how in the 1950s and 60s, married couples on TV and in the movies couldn’t be shown sleeping in the same bed? I guess in Britain, they couldn’t even be shown sleeping in the same room, because Maitland has his own bedroom and his wife’s bed is not much wider than an army cot. I guess it’s not so strange that they have no children and Maitland has a kooky skull obsession. Maitland slips into a smoking jacket and returns to the skull room—watched by the Skullcam. He spends the night staring at the skull. I think he needs a television.

The wind blows the window open, the curtains flutter, and the skull unlocks the cabinet. It clears off a round table and floats over to it. Maitland watches this all pretty calmly. The Marquis de Sade book then floats off the bookshelf and settles next to the skull. We get Skullcam perspective again, and even when Maitland stands up, the Skullcam pans up to follow him, even as the skull stays still on the table.
Maitland puts on a trenchcoat and leaves the house. We dissolve to a closeup of Christopher Lee’s Dooku clock, and Maitland breaking into the house. He is after the evil statues. Christopher Lee catches him, and warns him again to get rid of the skull. Maitland is sick of hearing about it, so he smashes Christopher Lee over the head with the Lucifer statue, and Lee collapses onto the pool table, scattering the billiard balls. It was a nice break, I have to give him that.

Maitland returns home with the statue, and the skull is waiting for him, like a faithful dog. Maitland places the statue next to the skull and the book, and it does make for a nice still life. Maitland then discovers there is blood on his gloves, although it could just as easily be marinara sauce or even red wine. For all he remembers, the skull sent him out for a lovely Italian meal and not to kill Christopher Lee and steal his devil statue.

Suddenly, the skull has drawn a pentagram around itself on the table with chalk or White Out or something (I hope it comes off; that’s a nice table). Maitland is under the skull’s control, it would appear, and he is sent right to the Bluebeard wife-murderer knife we saw earlier.

You know what playwright Anton Chekhov once said,: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” But then of course, Pavel Chekov once said, “If you mention nuclear wessels in one movie, you must maintain a ridiculous Russian accent for the rest of your career.” Points to ponder. But not for too long.

Anyway, Maitland grabs the knife and heads to his wife’s room. It’s actually rather convenient how the skull magically opens all the doors for him. I wouldn’t mind owning the possessed skull of the Marquis de Sade just for that alone. It would be a great help when carrying in groceries. He is about to stab his wife as she sleeps, but at that moment she rolls over, bringing the crucifix she wears around her neck into view. That, happily, prevents Maitland from stabbing her. It’s a good thing for her that he’s not Richard Dawkins. He tries to flee the room, but the skull has locked the door. He runs out through his own room and ends up back in the skull room. He tosses away the knife and is about to clout the skull with the evil statue, but I guess thinks better of it. He locks both the statue and the skull in the cabinet, blows out the candles, takes the key to the cabinet, and wraps Christopher Lee’s talisman around the latch. “That’s enough shenanigans from you, Christopher Michael Skull” he chides. He stalks out of the room and for good measure the skull magically smashes the mirror on the wall as he passes. The skull is not happy. Maitland retreats to his bedroom and takes off his bloody gloves. He looks in on his wife, who I guess could have slept through the London Blitz.

He collapses on he bed and starts weeping—yep, skull remorse. We’ve all been there.

Meanwhile, the skull is pissed, and is open for business. The wind bursts open the window again, and the skull relights the candles and bursts through the glass case. It is back in its pentagram. It calls to Maitland, and is now pretty insistent about him obeying. He is dragged downstairs for a face-to-skull meeting. I’ve had jobs like this. He retrieves the knife, stands with it, torn over what to do next. He can’t stop thinking about his wife’s crucifix and then, for some reason, he looks over at the display case, and the metal sphere of Christopher Lee’s anti-skull talisman suddenly opens into a cross. That tears it—Maitland drives the knife right into one of the skull’s eye sockets. Oh, that’s going to go over well.
Wisely, he beats cheeks out of there. Now the skull is really pissed. The knife is suddenly gone from the skull’s eye socket, but when Maitland walks into his bedroom, he sees the knife sticking out of his pillow. That’s not good. He tries to leave but is locked in his room. “Jane!” he yells, pounding on his wife’s bedroom door. Good luck waking her up.

The house starts shaking. He keeps yelling and pounding the door. “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!”

Now, the skull comes looking for him. It lifts up off its table and flies through the house. Suddenly, it is in his room. Gulp! As it heads toward him, you can’t help but wonder why he just doesn’t cut the strings that are holding it up, which are clearly visible. There is a lesson for us all: you buy a cursed skull, there will always be strings attached. As Skullcam zooms in on Maitland screaming, we fade to black. He’s dead, Jim.

The next morning, the room is trashed. His wife stirs in bed; oh, so she’s finally up, and at the crack of noon, too? She notices the wall hangings are askew, and charges into Maitland’s room: there he is, lying on the bed, his neck ripped open, and the skull sitting on the foot of the bed with bloodstained teeth. (This is why I will never get a pet.) She screams.

The inspector is back, investigating. He examines the skull room and the broken display case. The doctor comes in and explains that Maitland’s neck was ripped open, “just like in the Marco case.” “What’s the connection?” asks the inspector. “What connection could there be?” asks the doctor. “Witchcraft?” We pan down to the skull, sitting in its pentagram on the table. “Hardly,” says the inspector, and through the Skullcam we hear him say, “Not in this day and age....Not in this day and age.” Right.
Close up of skull, run end titles.

The end.

You know, I was in Costco the other day, and they had on sale a dozen possessed skulls for $19.99. Well, how could I refuse? The Marquis de Sade’s skull wasn’t included, but there were some other skulls that kept me up for several successive new moons.

The Marquess of Queensberry’s skull used its pyschic ablity to get me to break into other people’s homes and start boxing with them.

While taking Bob Denver’s skull out of the packaging, I was struck by lightning, and the skull fused to my hand. Thus, whenever I gesticulated or tried to put my hand down on a table or sleep in hammock suspended over the Skipper’s hammock, injury and destruction were the results, to hilarious effect.

Julia Child’s skull insisted on being boiled in a heavy cream sauce, with plenty of cooking sherry, until it finally fell off the counter and rolled around on the kitchen floor, giggling.

Every time I took the skull of Pope Gregory XIII out of the box, nothing really happened, but it was suddenly 11 days later.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Roger Corman could be considered the consummate “green” artist. Back before it was fashionable, he was recycling everything he could get his hands on—including movies. You may recall that in a previous installment of the Mis-Treatment series—Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet—Corman took a Soviet science-fiction film called Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms), hired a director to shoot and edit in some vaguely related footage of American and English actors, and released it as a separate film.

Corman then took the exact same Russian film, re-reedited it, hired newcomer Peter Bogdanovich to shoot some footage of Mamie Van Doren and a bunch of other scantily-clad, buxom women cavorting about on a beach, and re-released it as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Aside from the absence of Basil Rathbone, Faith Domergue, and complete confusion, it’s essentially the same movie—it’s the same dialogue from the Russian movie, although there is the occasional voiceover by the Alexei character that tries to explain things. Despite what some online reviewers thought, I actually found this version to be less confusing than the Basil Rathbone version. At least you can figure out who everyone is. At any rate, welcome to Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

Previous entries in this series are:
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
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
Interestingly, they altered some of the plot elements (and I use the term “plot” loosely) for this version, so it’s kind of like the characters are their on twins existing in alternate universes.

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

Auteur/Perpetrator: Peter Bogdanovich (credited as Derek Thomas)
Star of Shame: Mamie Van Doren
Monster(s): Guys in lizard suits; flying reptile puppets
In a Nutshell: Venusian women are pissed that interlopers from a Russian sci-fi movie have killed their petodactyl god

As the movie opens, a deep-voiced announcer tells us “The future of mankind is being decided behind closed doors.” Well, if you leave the door open, you’ll let all the bugs in. Were you born in a barn? Anyway, please continue. “All around the world, scientists are working on projects that will take mankind beyond the confines of this Earth.” Ah, so I guess the door will be opened at some point, unless you’re going to shoot a rocket right through the roof. We are then treated to a montage of the “original models” of the spacecraft they are using. Well, at least they’re honest about the fact that they’re showing us models.

There is then a lot of voice-over blather about the wheel, the original explorers of the Americas, yadda yadda yadda. And then: “The motion picture you are about to see can best be called a ‘fantasy of the future.’” I bet.

We then cut to the titles superimposed over a beach. Hoo boy—there’s that same piercing whine I remember all too well from the other version. I see that although Peter Bogdanovich used a pseudonym for his director’s credit, he used his proper name as the “narrator.” Now, was that the big-voiced guy we just heard or the Andrei guy who narrates the rest of the movie?

“Venus...Venus,” says Narrator #2. “Named after the Goddess of Love.” He sounds like Woody Allen. “This is...where I left her.” Who? The goddess of love? Let’s be frank, that was probably an affair that was bound to end. “26 million miles away.” Well, at least Venus is closer in this universe than it was in the other one. “I heard her, her and that sweet...haunting sound.” What, the shrill, piercing whine? I thought that was Celine Dion on the soundtrack. “They think I’m crazy back here on Earth.” As well they should. “Wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.” Well, we all think you’re crazy, so don’t worry about it. “Let me tell you the whole story. All of it...See what you think. You be the judge.” You make the call. Did he have control of the football before he stepped out of bounds? Was the catch in the end zone? Was it pass interference? You make the call.
OK, please, continue.

“It was two years ago, in 1998, that the first manned spaceship left Earth.” Wow, the future ain’t what it used to be (to coin a phrase). Destination: Venus. But, a meteor hit the ship, and it was destroyed. Ah, now we’re in the Russian movie. Six months later, a second attempt was made, largely comprising footage that was not included in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. The code name for Earth Control was “Marsha.” Well, I guess Faith Domergue got promoted. Oh, wait, she’s not in this one. “Marsha” in this version of the movie is everyone who is not on Venus. Check. We run through an entire room of people sitting at desks who announce they are ready. “Air conditioning, ready.” What?

Nothing pads a film like getting a rocket ready for take off, so this takes rather a while.

The narrator tells us that there are two people on the new mission: astronaut Howard Sherman and Captain Alfred Kern. And we see who they are as they are introduced. Ah, I was right in the last movie, the balding guy was Kern. And the robot is still there, and it is still named John.

At this point, I feel if Corman can recycle, so can I, so I will use the same text I used for Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet where appropriate. So nyah.

Close up of a balding man muttering “Awaken, John.” (It was a bold choice of the sound editor to have all the voiceover actors read their lines with marbles in their mouths.) John is the robot. Is John the best name for a robot? Then again, in Russian it would have been “Ivan,” which would have at least sounded a bit cooler. The robot speaks in the halting, word-by-word manner we have come to associate with talking robots.

The narrator tells us that they made it halfway to Venus without a mishap. They stopped at a space station—Texas (huh?)— for refueling. This takes rather a while.

We then cut to another ship and the narrator tells us they are the command crew. They are “William (Billy) Lockhart, astronaut Hans Walters, and me, Andrei Fernau.” Ah, so that’s who they all are. See, movie, how much clearer everything is when you know who the people are!

Ah, and we still have the wall-mounted speaker, the fourth crewmember.

The ship leaves Texas and is purportedly on its way to Venus. This also takes rather a long time.

At last! The first ship makes it to Venus, and prepared to land.

Kern stares out the window, and says, dourly, “A planet of fire below us.” It is? “Is it a new world, or will it consume us all?” Jeepers, what a downer.

The oven timer rings and the ship lands, or tries to. And they’re off. Apparently. Everyone watches the landing ship as it descends into white clouds. “I don’t like the looks of this.” Join the club. Kern gives control to the robot who, again, immediately screws things up. “This landing place is strange,” we hear. “This truly is a prehistoric planet.” What? Do uninhabited planets usually have some kind of recorded history?

The landing ship lands and gives the command ship their coordinates. Remember that: they know where the ship landed. They say there is water beneath them, and they are drifting. There is what sounds like the engines firing, and everyone starts getting worried. Andrei is sweating profusely and shouting “Kern! Sherman!” into the radio. “It’s hopeless,” he says. They’ve lost radio contact with Kern and Sherman. The others start moping around despondently. Jeez, it’s like a shipful of Morrisseys. But at least we know who is supposed to have landed, unlike in the alternate universe. That’s something.

So the unholy trinity decides that they have to go after them. On the plus side, it wasn’t a case of inexplicably having three ships converge on Venus simultaneously. It has that going for it.

And off they go. They rerun some of the rocket launching footage. It takes rather a while.

We then cut to a partially assembled robot lumbering across the rocks toward Kern who is holding its head. The ship has crashed, and the robot is in pieces. Ah! So that’s why the robot was in pieces; Faith Domergue had been wrong; it hadn’t been disassembled prior to...controlling the ship’s landing. That makes a tad more sense now, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, they are attacked by small jumping lizard creatures. Sherman shoots them while Kern finishes putting the robot together. They tie the robot to a boulder (?) but he lurches off and is followed by the lizard creatures. But still: baby got back. That robot has a huge butt. It is not so much a robot as a robutt.

Meanwhile, Kern and Sherman engage in some witty banter:
“I’m wondering if we should be here at all.”
“Why don’t you catch a bus and go home.”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t if I could find one.”
Ah, the great spirit of interplanetary exploration! The two of them and the robutt do...something involving ropes.

Andrei then explains that the third ship was ready to take off. This takes a while. They again refuel at Texas. This takes a while. “The refueling was accomplished in record time.” I guess if you set the bar low enough...

Andrei then uses the whole second leg of the flight to wax poetic. “Maybe there was some reason that Venus was named after the goddess of love.” Well, um, yeah...most things are named for a reason. What, do you the planet came named that way, that ancient astronauts looked at it through a telescope and saw a “Hello, My Name Is Venus” badge stuck on the cloud cover?

Before he could dwell on that too much, they arrived. Thankfully.

The ship (called the Typhoon in this version) then lands. “We’re landed,” pronounces Andrei dramatically, “Voila.” “Don’t begin celebrating yet.” On this ship? Not much chance of that. They stand up and start jumping around. “It sure feels strange to have weight.” Oh, the novelty wears off; trust me.

Outside, they see nothing but clouds and “formations of weird rock.” They turn on the “outside sound pickup” and hear an odd moaning noise, followed by a shrill, piercing whine. For some reason, they think it is a human sound. This gets Andrei going. He can hardly contain his narration. Lockhart tells Andrei to get his spacesuit on, as they are going outside. “I’ll be right behind you,” he replies. “That’ll be handy if I slip. Now get popping.” OK, then. It is at this point that they all start turning into the Lockhorns and ragging on each other. Walters says, “It’s 4.7 on oxygen.” What? “That’s pretty close,” says Lockhart. Huh? Are they speaking in code?

Outside, Andrei starts walking slowly along the rocks. His narration starts waxing poetic about how desolate Venus is. Now he sounds like Percy Dovetonsils.

Meanwhile, Lockhart and Walters explain to each other that Marsha (remember, that is Earth Control in this universe) has just called and detected “radar movement,” which may be Sherman and the robot.

As they call to Andrei to return to the ship, he is attacked by a weird tentacled plant thing that kind of looks like a giant Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion. At the ship, they hear Andrei making strange groaning noises. They run and free him from the Bloomin’ Onion. Andrei denies having called out as he was being attacked.

Knowing from Marsha where the objects believed to be Kern and Sherman were, they set out in their hovercar and trundle along the rocks. This time, tough, they don’t stop and get a blood sample from a brontosaurus grazing on a barren cliff (?). Funny, their twins in the alternate universe did, and found it quite hysterical. These guys don’t know what they’re missing.

Cut back to Kern and Sherman, who are finished with the ropes. “We have very little oxygen left,” says Kern. Well, maybe they should stop ragging on each other and conserve it. Sherman hopes the others are looking for them. “Through this heat?” says Kern. It’s hot? No one else has said anything about heat. One of them has a torn suit; “the infection is getting through.” Huh? “Maybe we should take some quinsulin.” “No, we’d have to rest after.” Ah. “Must... keep... moving,” says Kern in a way that would out-Shatner Shatner. And they lumber onward, the robutt ahead of them. True, the enormous metal ass is a bit of a beacon, I’ll give it that. (One could so easily make a Bender/Futurama reference here. But I shan’t.)

They continue on and find a waterfall. The robutt does not like the water and says it is in danger. Kern tells it to look for shelter. The other two are as equally wussy. The robutt finds a cave, and Kern and Sherman stagger into it. They collapse. Kern starts deliriously going on about how useful mathematics is, before he passes out. Sherman, meanwhile, deliriously repeats “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.” What is he, Jan Brady all of a sudden?

“I await your order,” says the robutt. Well, I’m guessing it won’t be a Bloomin’ Onion.

In the hovercar, the trio hears the piercing whine. “That voice again,” says Andrei, excitedly. Down, boy! “Almost sounds like a girl.” “Or a monster,” adds Walters. It is a fine line, I guess. How long have they been in space?

Speaking of girls (and monsters), we cut to a shoreline, and Mamie Van Doren—wearing white spandex pants and seashells over her naughty bits, lie on the rocks, and awaken. (There is no truth to the rumor that another version of this movie featured Charles Van Doren in the same outfit.) As we hear the piercing whine that has Andrei all hot and bothered, Mamie says “Our sisters are calling. They are hungry. We must go into the sea.” Since the decided not to record the dialogue live, and I guess they felt that synching the ADR would be more trouble than it was worth, they opted to have the women communicate psychically. As they march along the beach, they look like they are in a bad 1980s music video.

Meanwhile, more witty banter from our intrepid explorers:
“It’s a human.”
“Well, there sure are no humans here.”
“We’re humans.”
Doh! So is one of them making the noise?
Lockhart muses about the possibility that other men have been to Venus before. Walters is having none of it. Andrei goes off excited by the idea that the voice belongs to a girl.

Mamie and the Van Dorens go for a swim and catch some fish. And if the sight of a hot blonde biting the head off a live trout doesn’t turn you on, well, then there’s something terribly wrong with you.

We cut back to Lockhart and Walters, and Walters then adds, “I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind exploring planet Venus.” Does he realize what he just said? I guess the space program isn’t all that selective about who it lets in.

Meanwhile, as the 80s music video women are swimming, they see a cutaway to the dorky flying pterodactyl puppet from the Russian movie. Mamie says, “It’s our beloved god, Ptera. And he’s angry.” When are gods ever not angry? “We must leave this place.”

As the hovercar darts over the sea, they make contact with Marsha, “who sounds horrible,” as a weird whooping noise drowns Marsha out (it sounds like Curly from the Three Stooges is in Earth Control). They then manage to make contact with John the robutt, who gives them their position. They then ask about Kern and Sherman. “They do not speak. They do not move.” Well, that’s extra precise, isn’t it? Are they dead? Sleeping? Watching this movie? “How much time until we get there?” Walters asks Lockhart. “Who knows?” is the response. Didn’t the robutt just give them their position? Shouldn’t they at least have a vague idea?

Lockhart then instructs the robutt to administer some kind of medicine to Kern and Sherman. This takes a while—“You must do this quickly”—and John drops what looks like a BreathSavers into the mouth of an unconscious man (is that a wise idea?), dumps water on his face, then closes his helmet. Oddly, this seems to help.

The hovercar is then attacked by the really goofy looking pterodactyl puppet—the god Ptera, apparently. They try shooting down the puppet with the “astrogun,” but its clumsy, awkward, lethargic flying apparently makes it a tough target. Still, the voiceover tells us that they did kill it, which their twins in the alternate universe of the other movie were not able to do, so score one for these guys. The narration tells us that they end up diving into the water because of the damage the creature caused, despite the fact that it came nowhere near them.

To simulate the astronauts being under the water, the director placed an aquarium between the camera and the actors to give the illusion that they were underwater and surrounded by fish. Yeah. Andrei wanders off to find something interesting. What are the odds he will be successful?

Meanwhile, the 80s music video women find a rubber pterodactyl lying on the rocks—the remains of their god, killed by the Earth people. They are not happy. They have some kind of board meeting on the rocks, and then carry the carcass to the holy place and pray to his spirit. And if the sight of a parade of scantily clad women carrying a giant rubber pterodactyl doesn’t turn you on, there is something terribly wrong with you.

Underwater, Lockhart then finds an idol, which Walters thinks is just a petrified tree. Lockhart pulls some seaweed away to reveal a ruby—and it does look like the eye of some kind of reptile bird thing. They all insist that there was some kind of civilization. “And I’ll bet there still is,” says Andrei, still eager to find the female components of one.

The 80s music video women pray to a big carved pterodactyl. The moment of silence lasts rather a while. They then put a chef’s hat on Mamie Van Doren—ah, so I guess the ritual involves eating the remains of their pterodactyl god. Yum; eatin’ good in the neighborhood. Actually, they plan to avenge Ptera’s death, which won’t be easy since they’re not in the same movie.

Meanwhile, Andrei wanders off again (“Something drew me away”), bounces about and has a brief run-in with an octopus puppet. I want that puppet! There is also a half-hearted attempt to juxtapose shots of Andrei bouncing around with two of the 80s music video women swimming underwater and staring. “I felt like I was being watched,” his voiceover tells us.
Andrei then finds a cave that he thinks was carved. He finds a weird rock that looks like an elephant ear pastry.

The 80s music video women are still dragging the rubber pterodactyl around, and must return his flesh to the sea. Which they do, and it takes rather a while. Two women emerge from the sea and report that there are demons under the sea (apparently, Planeta Bur was playing at the undersea movie theater)—Mamie is sure it was the ones who killed Ptera, and she once again vows revenge.

Meanwhile, after their underwater odyssey, Lockhart, Walters, and Andrei pull the hovercar onto the shore. Every part of the hovercar is perfectly dry except for the radio (of course). “I’ve tried everything I know,” says Walters. “Have you tried a long string and an oatmeal box?” Is he Wilford Brimley all of a sudden? Lockhart is still obsessed with the idea that there is a civilization on the planet surreptitiously watching them. “Let’s face it. They built a city that is now under the sea.” Oh, right: one reptile bird statue and suddenly it’s an underwater city? That’s a bit of a reach, even for this guy. The shrill whine starts up again. “Beautiful song and a beautiful girl,” says Andrei. No, and...probably no. “If I could just see what she looks like.” Andrei then goes off and talks to the rock he found.

Lockhart and Walters are then about to drive off without Andrei, but they beckon him into the hovercar so they can rag on him about being in love with a Venusian woman.

Across the sea, the 80s music video women have built a little stone cairn and walk around it repeatedly. I guess this is their revenge ritual. Or something. “Oh, god of the fire mountain,” Mamie chants, “let your red hot earth rain down.” “Red hot earth?” But they’re on Venus. They glare at the pile of rocks for a while and it bursts into flames. They would be handy to have along on a camping trip.

Meanwhile, Kern, Sherman, and the robutt are fully recovered and are hanging out on some rocks. Kern says “That’s strange. It’s suddenly gotten dark. There’s an ash cloud above us.” They look out and suddenly see an erupting volcano. I guess the 80s music video women’s fire god is on the ball. They are amazed by it. “Look at the magnificence. No one on Earth has seen such a sight.” Tell that to the people of Pompeii. Or Krakatoa. Or... They want to get a better vantage point, which can only mean one thing: they will be trapped by lava flows. They busily collect samples...while the whole time the robutt just stands there and does nothing. A fine analytical tool it is.

The 80s music video women are really into the chanting of “Fire fire fire fire!” One is just begging Arthur Brown to leap out and bellow “I am the god of hellfire and I bring you...fire!” Time to dig out my Crazy World of Arthur Brown record.


As the lava covers the only path to safety, they climb on top of the robutt, which then wades through the lava. Oh, so a few drops of water would destroy it, but it can walk through molten lava with no problem?
“Fire! I’ll take you to bun/Fire! I’ll take you to learn/I’ll feel you burn...”
Well, only for a short while: as the temperature approaches 7500 degrees, the robutt announces that it’s self-preservation mechanism will force it to toss off the extra weight, which it proceeds to do. Kern wastes no time in instructing Sherman to yank out the robutt’s self-preservation mechanism. He is unable, however, and John grabs Kern and tries to chuck him into the lava. The robutt suddenly goes dead, just as the hovercar shows up and rescues them. They leave the poor robutt standing in the lava, until it slowly tips over and falls face forward into the lava. “I never thought I’d see your ugly face again,” says Sherman to his rescuer. Good one. They should have saved the robot instead. “We should have saved Kern’s robot instead.” Doh! It takes a long time for the lava to completely cover the robot’s giant ass.

To Kern’s credit, he does gaze on the remains of the robutt sadly. “It was just a metal monster, but when his destruction was imminent, he called my name.”

The guys all loaf around as they fix the hovercar (or something). Andrei’s voiceover tells us that the volcano destroyed much of their provisions and the rocket’s excess fuel supply, and there was a issue of the extra weight of Kern and Sherman. Wait—they went on a rescue mission and didn’t take into account the weight of the guys they’d be rescuing? What are they, FEMA? On the plus side, they don’t have to lug the robot back. The butt alone was good for 700, 800 pounds.

Walters shows the others a picture of his children, triplets whom he has named 1, 2, and 3. He jokes about it. OK. Lockhart is still on the “there must be a civilization here” kick, using as evidence the fact that on Earth humans once lived in the water when the air was toxic—uh, when was this? (Yeah, and humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Uh huh.) Kern brings up the lizard people. “They may look like lizards, but couldn’t they be people?” Wow, that’s like, so deep. “They saw the ship, got frightened, then donned their lizard costumes, and jumped up and down to spook us away.” Actually, now that you mention it... They argue about this for a while. “Here, you two. Have some coffee and rest your voices.” Coffee?

Andrei then launches into an internal monologue about the so-called “woman” he keeps hearing. Walters jolts him out of his reverie by donning some vegetation and pretending to be the Bloomin’ Onion creature. They all laugh. Isn’t this over yet?

The 80s music video women, a hard day’s work done, return to lying about on the rocks. Mamie is the morning alarm call; as the women get up, Mamie spots something on the beach. It is the lava-encrusted robutt, which they begin pawing and believing to be a sign from the god of the fire mountain. Mamie realizes the earth people are still alive, and are disappointed in the work of the god of the fire mountain, and believe that Ptera—who is dead—will cover for him. This is like a bad (or a good, actually) workplace dynamics training video.

Meanwhile, the dorks take the hovercar back to the ship. “I think we’ve done a job we can be proud of.” What did they do, exactly? At least their twins in the alternate universe made this pronouncement after doing a fair amount of research via a lengthy montage. Ah, they had done some research; we just didn’t get to see it. Shucks.

The 80s music video women gather again at the statue of Ptera and beg him to “bring forth the waters from the fiery heavens.” Huh? Anyway, it starts raining rather heavily.

The dorks in the ship prepare for take off, and notice the heavy rain. Andrei’s voiceover laments the fact that every drop of rain is taking him away from the woman. He’s got some issues.

The area around the rocket starts flooding, and the ground starts to fissure. The dorks panic, and start lightening the ship’s load.

Meanwhile, Andrei takes out his elephant ear pastry, chips away at it, and reveals a carving of a woman’s face. There is life on Venus after all! He implores them not to leave, but they do anyway.

And as they ship disappears into the sky, the 80s video women are annoyed at their various gods for being inept at revenge. They give their god a performance review and fire Ptera—which involves throwing rocks at the pterodactyl statue. If only all religions were subject to this kind of review! I’ve heard that faith can move mountains, but I didn’t know the reverse was true.

They think for a moment, then decide to worship the lava-encrusted robutt instead. That’ll go well, I’m sure. And of the sight of Mamie Van Doren wearing a chef’s hat while praying to a dead, rock-covered, huge-assed robot doesn’t turn you on, then there’s something terribly wrong with you.

And as the ship streaks through space, Andrei tells us, “Well, that’s the story.” Ah so that’s what that was. I thought it was a fever dream brought on by some bad swordfish I had for dinner. It has apparently been two years...and although there are no more missions to Venus scheduled, Andrei insists he’s gong back. “Or I’ll die trying.” We should be so lucky.

The end.

The idea of taking one movie, re-editing it, shooting vaguely related footage, and creating an entirely new movie (or two entirely new movies) sounds like a wacky idea, but it’s actually not without precedent. Few people—even hardcore film buffs—realize that some of the classic movies of all time were created in just this very way. Here are just a few examples:
  • The Return of the Jedi—Lucas was having a dearth of inspiration when it came time to make the final film of his original Star Wars trilogy, so he took footage from a live action Care Bears movie and used cutting-edge effects and editing technology to seamlessly integrate footage of the rest of the Star Wars cast to tell the story of the destruction of the Galactic Empire.
  • Casablanca—Originally a short subject featuring a one-man piano performance called “Sam! Sam! Sam!” eventually an entire World War II romance was filmed and edited around it.
  • Gone with the Wind—Originally a public service announcement about fire safety and prevention, David O. Selznick beefed it up by adding a whole Civil War epic.
  • The Godfather—Originally a home movie of an Italian wedding, Coppolla bought the rights to it and padded it out with a whole Mafia-related subplot.
  • Citizen Kane—Orson Welles took a 30-second TV spot for Rosebud brand sleds and constructed an entire film around it.
So when we look at Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women—or even Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet—let us remember that it isn’t so strange after all. Or better yet: let’s just not look at either of them at all ever again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Plant 9 From Outer Space

It's been a while since I commented on the impending enslavement of humans by our impending robot overlords (just a matter of time, really), but via Gizmodo, here is evidence that they will infiltrate out lives disguised as houseplants:
plants fixed with a set of these robotic legs would actually be able to walk around and find the light as it moves around the room. So, despite your best efforts to kill them, robo-plants will be stayin' alive
Creepy animation at the link.