Monday, February 20, 2017

A Quick Look: THE CREEPING FLESH


   THE CREEPING FLESH was an interesting, if not overly successful, British offering. In the film, Peter Cushing discovers the skeleton of an ancient man-like creature that from all appearances was quite advanced yet extremely savage. While cleaning the bones, he discovers that application of water restores flesh to the ancient bones, complete with living blood. There's some interesting bits from there, but the film's twist ending is somewhat underwhelming. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the main highlights, as is usually the case when they are cast. Perhaps the main hindrance is that the concept isn't fully exploited, and the film plays more to psychological thriller than monster-on-the-loose. That might work well in another picture, but this one just feels unfulfilling.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Quick Look: THE BIRDS (1962-color)

   THE BIRDS is the closest thing the screen's Master of Suspense ever came to making a "monster movie." It's key scenes continue to be copied by "zombie movies" to this day. Although the second half is very strong, the first half is woefully meandering, as we follow Tippi Hedren in her bizarre pestering of Rod Taylor, basically a random guy she meets in a pet shop. She stalks him back to his home on the tiny island of Bodega Bay and then even rents a room with Taylor's old flame Suzanne Pleshette! Eventually, things begin moving as unexplained and seemingly random bird attacks begin happening. Soon, a full-scale war between bird and man has Bodega Bay crippled. What begins as Hitchcock's weakest work (apparently done to showcase Hedren) grows into some of Hitch's best. Ub Iwerks' amazing composite effects remain some of the best you'll ever see. The film forecast the dire nature-strikes-back genre of the 70's, and large swathes of the film were basically re-created for 1968's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and nearly every rip-off of that one to follow. 31 years later, a TV movie tried to sell itself as a sequel, though from what minimal -and very hazy- memories I have of it, it was really more of a remake. You could argue AIP's 1972 release FROGS was basically a remake with different animals. Of course, if you were going to say that, you could say it of dozens of 70's killer animal movies. "THE BIRDS is coming!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: I Dream of Jeannie


   Typical of 60's sitcoms, I Dream of Jeannie was also one of the most delightful. Larry Hagman played astronaut Tony Nelson, who experienced trouble on re-entry and became stranded on a tiny island well away from the area being searched for his capsule. On the beach he found an old bottle, out of which materialized the beauteous Jeannie -a genie played by the stunning Barbara Eden. Jeannie makes possible Tony's rescue and he responds by giving her her freedom, but the free Jeannie wants only to stick close to Tony and follows him back to Cocoa Beach, Florida. There, Tony must keep her existence a secret, which proves challenging as Jeannie flexes her magical powers in a frustrated attempt to please her new master. The eager-to-please Jeannie finds her dreamy master the kind of man who would rather do things himself, and from there much comedy ensues. Bill Daily plays the skirt-chasing Roger Healy, Tony's close friend and the only one in on Jeannie's secret. Roger constantly yo-yo's between loyal friend and greedy opportunist, more than willing to take full advantage of Jeannie's amazing powers. Tony's main obstacle was his CO, Dr. Bellows, played by character actor Hayden Rourke. The show was massively successful for several reasons, not the least of which was the stunning beauty of Miss Eden. Hagman and Daily made for one of the best comedy teams in television, and Larry had the funniest scream to boot. NASA's space program served as the background of the series. Though the rules regarding Jeannie's powers and backstory were in constant flux, each episode was sharply written. Eventually, Tony came to reciprocate Jeannie's affections and the characters married. Despite this giving the show it's true stride, this was about the time the ratings began to slide. The show was one of the earliest victims of the "rural purge" television experienced in the early 70's. Still, the show continued to grow in popularity through re-runs. Eventually, a pair of TV movies would emerge. I DREAM OF JEANNIE: 15 YEARS LATER caught up with the gang at a time when Jeannie was now the mother of an unpredictable teenager. Popular replacement actor Wayne Rogers filled in for absent Larry Hagman. I STILL DREAM OF JEANNIE saw Tony missing on a space mission and Jeannie desperately trying to find a new master. It was, like most such films, a defacto pilot for a series that never took off. Seems there was also an unrelated Saturday morning cartoon version of the Jeannie character.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Quick Look: FLIGHT TO MARS (1952-color)


   The early 50's saw a number of space operas in production. Some were science fiction, while others leaned toward pulp. Out of this magic period arrived FLIGHT TO MARS, a semi George Pal-ish space opera in which man lands on the red planet to discover a functioning civilization on the brink of exhausting itself. The Martians are split on how to handle the knowledge of Earth's new space capabilities. Some feel Earth may be their salvation by peaceful trade, others that Earth must be taken with force. Fine cast headlines the sort of space opera that tries to be both serious and fun, in a story where space-suits are functional but women wear miniskirts in the Martian city. A lot of elements here would be used over and over within the genre, but FLIGHT TO MARS maintains some originality in it's being the first film to play with these themes. Most previous space operas of the decade featured either barren worlds or civilizations too savage to menace our own world. After this, though, such films were less space-bound safaris and more cosmic intrigue. Although the film had some TV play, it's become fairly rare since it's original release. The Wade Williams DVD print is pretty worn, for example. Still, it's great to see pictures like this being preserved and enjoyed.

RODAN lobby cards