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27.12.08

The Revenge of Doctor X (1970)



aka The Double Garden; The Devil Garden; Venus Flytrap

Director: Kenneth G. Crain
Writer: Edward D. Wood Jr.
Starring: James Craig, James Yagi
Running time: 94 minutes
Public Domain

Ed Wood wrote a screenplay called Venus Flytrap that was eventually picked up by Japan's Toei studios. At some point it was renamed The Devil Garden - which somehow became known as The Double Garden (heavy Asian accent, maybe?) - and has surfaced on video as The Revenge of Doctor X. The plot is like a cross between Frankenstein and Little Shop of Horrors, filtered through the singular mind of Ed Wood. Even by Wood standards, this film is completely nuts.

Dr. Bragan (James Craig, who was at one time a double for Clark Gable) is an overworked, short-tempered scientist who seeks some rest and relaxation in Japan. For some reason, he drives from Florida to Wilmington, NC (which happens to be the home base of the site you are currently viewing), where his car breaks down. He meets up with a mechanic/snake handler whose face is covered in grease paint. While waiting for his car to be repaired, he decides to dig up one of the local venus fly traps. Next thing you know, Bragan is in Japan, where he meets up with the cousin of his assistant. She takes Bragan to a huge house in the middle of the mountains, which just so happens to be right next to a very active, fire-spewing volcano. Bragan doesn't seem to interested in relaxation, though - he has extremely vague, yet very important, scientific work to do. After watching the hunchbacked groundskeeper play Toccata and Fugue in D minor, scuba diving with some topless Japanese ladies, and experimenting with some local plant life, we get to find out just what it is that Bragan has been feverishly working on: a man-sized, rubber monster with Wilmington Venus Flytrap hands. Dr. Bragan is the only one who seems to be surprised when the monster, which looks like something Paul Blaisdell threw together while drunk and blindfolded, begins chowing down on the locals.

This is one deliriously silly movie. The script is pure Ed Wood - full of unlikely conversations, non sequiturs, and some very strange one-liners. James Craig, as the obsessed scientist, shouts about a third of his lines - whether the situation calls for him to be angry or not. Stock music plays for virtually the entire running time, usually incongruent with what is happening on screen. The effects are terrible. It is painfully dumb, about twenty minutes too long, and makes little sense.

I thought it was a lot of fun. Only Ed Wood could dream up this kind of weirdness, and present it with the straightest face possible.

The Revenge of Doctor X is in the public domain, so it shouldn't be hard to track down. There are several budget-priced DVDs available, and it can also be downloaded off the net, free of charge. Most versions of this film feature the opening credits for The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, a completely unrelated film that shared a double bill with this Wood monstrosity.

26.12.08

Boogeyman (2005)



Director: Stephen T. Kay
Starring: Barry Watson, Emily Deschanel, Lucy Lawless
Rated PG-13 Running time: 89 minutes

Tim (Barry Watson) is a successful magazine editor with a paralyzing fear of closets and darkened rooms because some kind of supernatural killer ghost/goblin thingamajig made his father disappear fifteen years earlier. Receiving word that his mother (Lucy Lawless in ghoul makeup) has died, Tim returns to his hometown to settle her affairs. His childhood shrink convinces him that the best way to conquer his fears is to spend the night in the house his father was attacked in. Tim follows the doctors orders - which was a very fortunate turn of events for the film's screenwriters. The next hour or more consists of Tim wandering around in the dark, opening doors, closing doors, giving puzzled/frightened facial expressions, and reacting to loud noises on the film's soundtrack. A computer generated "boogeyman" shows up, and Tim defeats him without too much trouble.

Boogeyman
isn't so much a movie as it is a series of eardrum-rattling bangs and clangs, droning shrieks, halfhearted emoting, and a preponderance of footage edited together in the most seizure-inducing manner possible. In short, it is exactly like every other film that Hollywood likes to call "horror" these days. Director Stephen Kay works hard to ensure the film manages to be both boring and irritating, and that the characters are as bland and uninteresting as possible. Who needs a coherent, engaging screenplay when you've got an arsenal of modern horror techniques at your disposal? Boogeyman manages to be nerve-rattling, alright, but for all the wrong reasons.

2 out of 5

24.12.08

Them (2006)




Director: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Starring: Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen
Running time: 77 min.
Released by Dark Sky/MPI
Also known as Ils

A French couple moves into an old dark house in Romania. The process of settling in is seriously complicated one night when something or someone begins stalking them in their new home.

That's all the plot you are going to get out of Them, a very lean, mean little movie that wastes little of its 77 minute running time on setting up this nightmare scenario. It doesn't have to. Directors Palud and Moreau aren't interested in story - only in scares. They certainly have the techniques down - from the dark, dreary digital photography to a soundtrack that'll have you looking over your shoulder, the makers are in full control of the action. All that is required of the film's stars, Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen, is a lot of running around while looking frightened, which they do fairly well. This is a short, effective film that doesn't overstay its welcome. My only criticism is with the film's prologue - a scene featuring a mother and her daughter being terrorized in their car. Too much information about what is to come is given away, and it seems to have been tacked on, presumably to fatten the movie up a bit.

I don't want to give away too many details about the film, as the less you know going into Them the better. It's supposedly based on real events, though there is no question that the makers took a good number of liberties with the source material. I advise against looking into the film's inspiration until after you see the movie.

Some folks have said that this is one of the scariest movies of all time. I wouldn't go that far, but I will say that Them is a very well-executed thriller that deserves a rental.

3 out of 5