Saturday, October 27, 2007

curse of the werewolf & plague of the zombies

There's something weird going around this week. Two of my friends wound up in the hospital- both with symptoms the doctors can't seem to diagnose (originally I made a joke here about one of my friends having a "severe case of hypochondria," which I felt bad about so I changed it, but when I told him about it, he said "That's awesome. You should change it back!" which is probably why he's one of my closest friends [and one of the few people I know who's a bigger hypochondriac than I am]...). All over, people are feeling pretty not hot. I've been having trouble sleeping, then when I do get to sleep, trouble waking up (I guess those two can kind of go hand in hand), and in generally have been feeling kind of fuzzy. For some reason, when a bunch of people I know all start feeling bad at the same time, my mind automatically goes to an epidemic of some kind...

Speaking of the plague, last night I watched two movies, both Hammer films from the 1960s, "Curse of the Vampire" and "PLAGUE of the Zombies." Neither totally blew my mind, but I enjoyed both, so I guess you could call these lesser entries in the Hammer canon (I bet a hammer cannon would actually be a pretty good weapon)..."Curse of the Werewolf" is the only, or if not the only, one of the very few, werewolf movies made by Hammer, which is odd because they specialized in the classic monsters, making numerous films each for Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy. Then again, this 1961 film's a tad less thrilling than 1957's "The Curse of Frankenstein" or 1958's "Dracula," despite the fact all three are directed by Terence Fisher. While those films are reasonably action-packed, this one is deliberately pretty slow, with a story that develops gradually over time, and long stretches without much dialogue. And it works, too, there is definitely some smart, effective filmmaking on display in "Curse of the Werewolf," but it's not scary. All the werewolf action comes at the end, more or less, and when it does, the scenario is more "King Kong" than "The Wolf Man" (the creature is chased up a tower where it fends for its life). This movie is also very decidedly unsexy not only for a Hammer movie, but for a werewolf movie starring a young Oliver Reed. What up with that?

Still, "Curse of the Werewolf" is a pretty good film. It has kind of a unique structure, starting on point and slowly building to the actual story, so that a first story leads to a second story, which develops into a third, which leads to what I guess would be considered the main story, with Reed turning into the werewolf and (sort of) running amok. And the story, as it unfolds, is pretty interesting. A beggar is brought to an aristocratic wedding party where he is mocked and humiliated in exchange for wine and food. The bride "buys" him, but after the party the beggar is forgotten and banished to a dungeon, where he spends the rest of his life in captivity. The only person who shows him any kindness if the jailer's mute daughter, who grows to a woman (as young girls are wont to do) and becomes a household servant after the jailer dies.

When she spurns the advances of her now-quite-mad (presumably syphilitic) master, she is banished to the dungeon, in the same cell as the beggar, who is also now-quite-mad and oddly hair covered, and who molests the mute girl. Somehow she manages to escape and runs off into the woods, where she passes out and is found by a kindly passer by. He takes her in and he and his wife care for the girl. She dies during childbirth and the older couple take in the child as their own. In preadolescence, the child begins showing signs of his lycanthropy, but the couple manages to cover it up and soon the condition seems to pass. Until, that is, the boy becomes a man (Oliver Reed) and sets off on his own...

The second film I watched was "Plague of the Zombies" (1966), directed by John Gilling (who also did Hammer's "The Reptile" and "The Mummy's Shroud"). This one had a much more traditional story and structure, but still wasn't especially action-packed until the very end. The zombies on display here are not the flesh eating kind (which I think were actually invented by George Romero in "Night of the Living Dead" a couple of years later) but rather the voodoo kind, ala "I Walked with a Zombie," a much better film than this one.

Here a father and daughter go to a town to investigate something or another and find themselves mixed up in the town aristocrat's voodoo scheme. The "plague" of the title is kind of a misnomer, since the zombie-ism of the film isn't actually contagious, and it doesn't really spread to plague-like proportions. In the end we do see a whole mess of zombies who have been enslaved in some kind of mining operation (commentary on British colonialism?) but they don't have much of a chance to run amok. And what good are zombies if they're not running amok. Still, like most Hammer films, this one is stylish and appropriately atmospheric and does contain some good performances and some creepy moments, so it's really not that bad in the end, it's just not that good either.

Check back tomorrow for more comics and film reviews...

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