When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
This Week:

A classic Jack Arnold shot:  clean graphics with an exhilarating punch. REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, 1955

While in New York recently, I caught the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

In addition to the staggering displays of prized artifacts, MoMA hosted a screening series of Burton’s favorite films, including Disney’s post-War animated delectation THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, the 1974 all-star disaster (in more than one way) flick EARTHQUAKE, the 1935 Karloff/Lugosi version of THE RAVEN, and Robert Florey’s juicy black-and-white study of the macabre, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Most of these I had seen, but there were a few I had never given a serious look so — entering my favorite video store with movie schedule in hand — I found three titles I’d somehow never watched:  REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and MAD MONSTER PARTY.

[One movie on Burton’s list has been written about on this blog’s parent site, PostModern Joan.com.  Click here to read about THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE.]

One buzz-killer in many a horror film is the mandatory set up of identifying the monster and handling the resulting objections to the evidence that the monster exists.  In a vampire movie, there’s usually the place about 20 minutes in where the doctors wonder what those two little marks on the neck mean, and then there’s the scene where Scientist Number One tells Scientist Number Two that he thinks they’re dealing with a vampire, and Scientist Number Two replies that it’s preposterous and vampires don’t exist.  (You know the drill.)

However, there’s no such throat-clearing in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE.  We’re already back at the scene of the crime from the final shot of the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON as soon as the opening credits fade.  Universal contract player Nestor Paiva is again the captain of the same boat going up the Amazon to the Black Lagoon.  The first shot is of that boat, the Rita, navigating its way into the lagoon. 

Like KING KONG, the movie continues the Beauty and the Beast theme of the original CREATURE , but this time like KONG, the Creature is captured and taken to Florida for observation, exhibition and exploitation.  And (again like KONG) he escapes and hunts down the girl who’s the object of his fixation.  That fixation this time was Universal starlet Lori Nelson, whose uterus evidently was a homing device for the Gill Man:  when he escapes, he is able to swim up coastal waterways and land precisely at the motel where she’s staying and figure out which room is hers; later he trails her farther upstream to terrorize the patrons of the exact dockside nightclub where she just arrived for an evening of dining and dancing with her steady, leading man John Agar.  These non-aquatic sequences, filmed on location, give some of the coolest dividends as the dry land scenes are an overload of both everyday and legendary Florida mid-century tourist sites from the days when central A.C. was rare and Orlando was just a dot on the map.

1950s Sex Appeal:  John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfeld.
(The overdressed guy in the background is veteran character actor Dave Willock)

The neglected yet awesomely talented director Jack Arnold flawlessly choreographed the surprise attacks and near-misses of the monster with split-second precision.  Filming once again in 3-D, his visuals stripped movement down to the simplest, most dynamic methods of leading the viewers’ eyes around the picture plane for maximum effect.  (Even when not filming in 3-D, Arnold had a gift for grabbing the audience by the collar and dragging them into the action.)

[A serious film magazine in the 1970s published Arnold’s storyboards from THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN of the horrifying scene where the family cat got inside the house and stalked the six-inch tall hero.  The drawings showed how serious and effective Arnold was at his craft.]

In addition to B-Movie dream hunk John Bromfeld, the cast also included a dewy Clint Eastwood in his movie debut as a lab tech.

As the second of the Gill Man Trilogy, the dramatics and predicaments of REVENGE OF THE CREATURE uphold the classic and lurid ad copy of the first film:  Centuries of Passion Pent Up in His Savage Heart!

Speaking of ‘savage’, that bon-mot is tossed around a lot by the eponymous floating grey matter in THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, a low-budget indie sci-fi film from 1957 that (like so many from that genre) is just awful yet immensely fun to watch.

An outlaw alien, which somehow has the shape of a giant human brain, has landed on earth and penetrated the mind of John Agar (whom the brain calls “savage”).  Just watch the trailer and see:

For Agar, he has more to work with than in most of his body of work since he’s playing a dual role in one body:  the alien who has taken over his body, and the All-American scientist who is the alien’s prey.  This duality doesn’t necessarily bring out more from Agar the actor, but it’s fun to see him communicate to the camera and the audience that — although his loved ones may think he’s an honest guy next door — he’s actually an interplanetary badass.

The film has the usual kicks for people (like me, I confess) who get off on these cheese-fest low-budget films of the ’fifties.  Surprisingly the director Nathan Juran, an Oscar-winning (HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, 1941) art director, had a poor sense of composition in this film.  Juran helmed this film using his low-budget pseudonym, Nathan Hertz (which he also used for his directing credit on ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN).  However, this training in low-budget horror paid off the following year when, under his real name, Juran directed the just-about-perfect Ray Harryhausen film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Fortunately for Planet Earth, the floating / criminal / alien brain from another planet has the same terrain as a human one, so the heroes are able to discover its weak spot is the Fissure of Rolando, a factual part of the human cortex.  (BTW, “Fissure of Rolando” is a great name for a band!!)

But speaking of bands…

Every MAD MONSTER PARTY needs a kickin' band!

There’s one helluva party going on in the castle of a mad scientist in Jules Bass’ animated horror comedy MAD MONSTER PARTY.  The brains behind the ’sixties stop-motion animation holiday classic RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, Bass brings a gaggle of creatures (Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, the Mummy, etc.) and the vocal talents of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller (!) into a film that — just like Burton’s films — surfs the multiple waves of being cute, showy, funny and visually cool.

So, readers, I’m curious.  If you had to choose 3 films, what would they be? 

I don’t mean the 3 you consider the best ever made, or even your 3 desert island discs.  What 3 movies most accurately explain your tastes and enjoyment in art and entertainment?

Doug / PoMo Joan

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3 Comments to “This Week:
TIM BURTON’s Picks!”

  1. Gordon F says:

    I’ve always been curious about MAD MONSTER PARTY, since one of the credited writers is MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman. Does the film evince any of his characteristic over-the-top humor? (I rather doubt it.)

  2. Doug says:

    Well, it ain’t in the league of ‘Little Annie Fanny’ or wryly insulting like early MAD comics. The humor is wholesomely enjoyable, like the rest of the films aimed at ‘tweens back in the mid-sixties. Care to venture what your 3 choices would be??

  3. Tim Burton has a unique style when making his movie. I love Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands.`;~

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