• Film reviews

    #491 – The Alligator People (1959)

    The Alligator People (1959)

    Film review #491

    Director: Roy Del Ruth

    SYNOPSIS: Newly-wed couple Joyce and Paul Webster are aboard a train on the way to their honeymoon when Paul receives a telegram that disturbs him, causing him to get off at the next stop and vanish, leaving Joyce on her own. She relentlessly pursues any clues about where her husband may have gone, leading her to a plantation in Louisiana, which he once registered as his college address. There, she suspects that there may be some answers to her questions, but everyone seems to think otherwise…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Alligator People is a 1959 sci-fi horror film. In the opening, we see nurse Jane Marvin undergoing a treatment to cure her amnesia. While in a sedated state, she recalls to the supervising doctors the plot of the film: Joyce (as she was then known) had just got married, and they were on the train for their honeymoon, when Paul receives a telegram. Paul seems shaken by the contents and gets off the train at the next mail stop and disappears without explanation, leaving his new wife lost and confused about what happened. Joyce spares no effort in tracking him down, but the only clue she is able to find is an address he gave when he enrolled at college for a plantation in Louisiana, and so Joyce heads there to try and get some answers. The story of the film is honestly pretty well done: everything is contained, flows nicely, the twists are decent, and the explanations and justifications for everything that happens make sense. However, it is still a b-movie from a time when these types of films were cranked out en masse, and so it fits into a category in which things are expected to be a bit cheap and unoriginal. It’s executed better than some of the B-movies I’ve seen, but I think the problem is that it’s still not a very interesting setup. The horror element of the film doesn’t really meet expectations, as the “Alligator people” from the title turns out to be just one person, who is fairly humanised so as to not be portrayed as much of a threat.

    The female lead provides a more original twist on the b-movie film, and her inquisitiveness and relentless pursuit of answers concerning her husband is one of the strong points of the film. Unfortunately, there are also moments where she becomes a more typical “damsel in distress,” and the film doesn’t seem to know how to break out of these archetype completely, and her character jumps can go between these two poles very suddenly and awkwardly. The rest of the cast have particular roles to play that, again, while they’re nothing special, fulfil their purpose well. There’s no real gaps in the story or characters which would disrupt the viewing experience, which is pretty rare in a b-movie like this.

    The “alligator person,” when their face is finally exposed, is a scaly and deformed result of an experiment designed to harness the limb regeneration of alligators and apply it to humans (again, the explanation works pretty well). The makeup is okay, and not too distracting. When he finally transforms fully into an alligator human hybrid, the results are much worse, as it is clearly a guy in an alligator mask. Apart from that, the execution and production of the film are generally good, with the photography and camera setups working well, and scenes having a good level of detail. Overall, The Alligator People is a decently executed film that ties its characters and plot together well. The main problem is that it’s just not that interesting, and in terms of b-movie monsters, it’s just not as memorable or terrifying as others. It’s definitely better than many B-movies I’ve seen, but a bit of a bore.

  • Film reviews

    #489 – The Monster of Piedra Blancas (1959)

    The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)

    Film review #489

    Director: Irvin Berwick

    SYNOPSIS: The quiet Californian town of Piedras Blancas hides a dark secret: in the caves beneath the lighthouse, there hides an ancient monster that starts killing the residents of this sleepy town. Unaware of the monster’s existence, a number of the residents try to find out what is causing the killings…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a 1959 sci-fi horror film. Set in the small lighthouse town of Piedras Blancas in Southern California, the residents of the town find themselves being killed off one by one, with no idea who…or what is doing it. The film is paced like a typical monster movie of the time, with very little momentum at the beginning, and various murders until the monster’s reveal. The pacing is very slow in this one, and we only get the reveal of the monster about two-thirds of the way in, and everything before just involves these cast of characters that do little to distinguish themselves. The dialogue is pretty dull, and the character development doesn’t help make things exciting. I suppose this dullness reflects the setting of this sleepy seaside town, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting movie.

    The film is an independent production, so it doesn’t have the backing of the big studios, but then again, those same studios were cranking out films like this at about the same quality, and the same runtime just over an hour long (this runtime was typically suitable for being shown at drive-in cinemas as part of double features, that were popular at the time). As such, it’s rather indistinguishable from a more ‘mainstream’ production. The on-location shots of the cliffs and the town do give it a more authentic feel instead of just relying on sets, so it does have that going for it. The cast of characters can easily be remembered by their roles, and their names are somewhat irrelevant: you have the doctor, sheriff, storekeeper, lighthouse keeper and the young couple. Each of them, as mentioned, fills out a fairly predictable role, and adds very little to proceedings. The young woman manages to show a lot of skin fairly regularly (even going swimming in the sea naked at one point), which would have been a little risqué at the time, and not something I’m sure a bigger production could have gotten away with.

    The most notable aspect of this film is definitely the monster itself. Very similar in design to “The creature from the black lagoon,” (and designed by the same creator), the monster is based on a diplovertebron, which was a prehistoric creature that lived over three hundred million years ago. We don’t get too many shots of the creature in it’s full glory, but when we do it looks fairly decent for the time, with a scaly skin and water oozing out of its mouth. One of the other most memorable aspects of the film is the use of gore. In most Hollywood films, the killings would be done offscreen or without any blood or viscerality. When we get the full reveal of the monster, he is carrying the bloody decapitated head of his latest victim, which certainly comes as a shock, since nothing else has happened in the film up to that point, and also you just don’t expect to see that kind of gore in these films; also, the effect looks pretty convincing too. We get another shot later on of the abandoned head being walked over by a crab which is also has the same effect, but apart from that, there’s not too much to say about this film. The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a fairly forgettable film save for one or two moments that show off its horror credentials. It’s fairly short runtime means you can probably check it out without too much fuss though.

  • Film reviews

    #376 – The Mad Monster (1942)

    The Mad Monster (1942)

    Film review #376

    Director: Sam Newfield

    SYNOPSIS: Dr. Cameron, a scientist, has been experimenting with genetic modification, a practice which has left him the subject of ridicule and forces him from his university job. Out in the country, he experiments on his hired help Pedro to turn him into a werewolf, but when Pedro starts killing people in his werewolf form, Dr. Cameron finds it increasingly difficult to keep his experiments a secret…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISThe Mad Monster is a 1942 horror/sci-fi film. The film centres around Dr. Cameron, a scientist whose experiments in genetic engineering have left him ridiculed and cast out of the scientific community. He moves out into the country with his daughter Lenora to carry on his experiments, using his hired help Pedro as a test subject. Cameron successfully develops a serum that can turn Pedro into a werewolf-like creature, which ends up escaping and killing a little girl. Pedro is unable to remember the time when he is transformed, so Cameron uses this to his advantage to take revenge on those that ridiculed his research. The story is quite straightforward, and there’s no real surprises. The plot is all explained at the beginning, and it is up to the characters to unravel the mystery themselves. there’s nothing really special about the film, it’s another simple story of science going too far that has been done many times before (and after).

    The film attempts to create a horror atmosphere through some creative use of lighting and dark, minimal sets. Although all the violence happens off-screen (this is the 1940′s after all), so it is difficult to get much of an idea of how vicious this werewolf creature is. The cast of characters is pretty bland, but well defined, and everyone contributes to the story in some way. The acting and delivery of lines is sometimes a bit flat, but credit to the actor playing Pedro, who gives an expressive performance. One of the biggest drawbacks  of the film is that it often feels boring, with scenes that drag on too long consisting of dull conversations that go nowhere. You become very aware of the beginning and ending of scenes as they mostly end on flat notes without much fanfare, leaving you to wonder what the point of it was.

    As mentioned, the production values of the film are rather low, owing to the general state of the world at the time and having more pressing issues to address. Nevertheless, there are a few positives, such as Pedro’s “werewolf” make-up or costume being quite well put together. Sometimes Dr. Cameron delivers a good speech under an atmospheric light, but other than that there’s really not much else that stands out. The Mad Monster is an entirely forgettable film with a typical message of science going too far, and a blandness in terms of its looks and its dialogue leave little to recommend it.