Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Return to Oz (1985)

Starring Fairuza Balk, Nichol Williamson, Jean Marsh
Directed by Walter Murch
Rated PG: Some Frightening Images
Based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The film opens to Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) lying awake in bed staring up at the stars. We learn from Auntie Em and Uncle Henry's late night exposition that Dorothy hasn’t been able to sleep since the tornado from “The Wizard of Oz” and can’t stop talking about Oz, which no one believes really exists. They are also considering taking Dorothy to a clinic to receive electroshock therapy. What puzzles me is why Dorothy would be unable to sleep after triumphing over evil in another world, making such strong friendships and returning home safely. I would think she’d sleep more peacefully than ever after such a happy ending, but such is not the case. We also learn that the house hasn’t been rebuilt since the tornado, the harvest has been poor, money is tight, the chickens aren’t laying eggs and Uncle Henry has hurt his leg and can’t work. Dorothy and Aunt Em’s ride to the clinic only emphasizes the gloominess of the whole situation, as they travel through a vast, empty landscape capped by an imposing gray sky. Everything in the movie thus far has been filled with dread and apprehension, and it doesn’t get much better.

Arriving at the clinic, Dorothy talks to Doctor Worley (Nichol Williamson) about her trip to Oz with such astonishing detail you really have to wonder why no one has considered that she might have actually been there. Anyway, the doctor prescribes his shock therapy and turns Dorothy over to Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh), who wears a long black dress with spiked shoulders and more buckles than Edward Scissorhands’s suit, just in case you didn’t realize you were supposed to be intimidated. Also during this time, we are shown things for the express purpose of seeing them as characters in Oz, such as when Dorothy receives a Jack-o-Lantern because “Its almost Halloween.” It would have been subtler if they said “This will become an anthropomorphic character later.”

Anyway, Dorthoy escapes with the help of a mysterious blonde girl, but gets washed away by a rushing river and finds herself back in Oz. However, this is not the Oz she remembers as Munchkinland is destroyed (even thought Dorothy’s house is still standing), the yellow brick road has fallen apart and the Emarald City has collapsed, and its citizens turned into stone by The Nome King (Nichol Williamson) and the evil witch Mombi (Jean Marsh) While evading Mombi’s soldiers, the cackling Wheelers, Dorothy gains some new friends to help her; the robot “Tick Tock”, the Scarecrow-esque Jack Pumpkinhead and the talking chicken Belinda. Eventually they are captured by Mombi and locked in a tower, but manage to make an easy escape thanks to a moose-headed flying sofa called “The Gump”. No, really.

They arrive at the land of the Nome King and plead for the city’s emeralds and the return of The Scarecrow (as he was the king of Oz apparently). The Nome King refuses to give them up and gives them a challenge. Presenting them with a room full of ornaments and the challenge to guess which one he turned the Scarecrow into. Eventually Dorothy guesses correctly, which enrages the Nome King as he turns into a giant stop motion monster threatening to devour them all, but is defeated by Belinda laying an egg in his mouth. No, really. All is restored and Dorothy learns that the blonde girl who helped her is in fact the rightful ruler of Oz, Ozma. Dorothy returns back to Kansas and for a more or less happy ending.

Everything about this movie is dull and dreary, even when we get to Oz there is no joy at all. There are no colorful landscapes, no charming characters and enjoyable elements of escapism to endure us to Oz or to their quest. Even in the end when all order is restored, there is a monotone reaction by everyone. Dorothy’s friends from the original “Wizard”; Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, appear in a cameo when all is made right, but they don’t do or say anything, and serve only to remind us of how much more enjoyable the original was to us. The scale of the barren Kansas we see at the beginning is more spacious than the sets we see in Oz which seems limited to castles or caves and lacks the scale of how big Oz really is and resulting in a discomforting claustrophoic feeling. While there is some spectacular stop motion animation for the Nome King and his rock people as well as some good animatronics for Dorothy’s new friends, it just feels like the film is exploiting the talents of these artists and craftsman to do all the heavy lifting for a movie that doesn’t hold out any hope. It reminds me of what Tick Tock said at the beginning of the film; “I have always valued my lifelessness.” That sentence seems to sum it all up.

Final Score:

Two and a Half out of Five. Lukewarm.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Voices of Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, John Hurt, John Byner
Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich
Rated PG: Some Frightening Images
Based on The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The film opens and introduces us to a farm boy named Taran who fantasizing about being a great warrior despite being a pretty lousy at his current job as an assistant pig-keeper for his master Dallben. In fact, most of the Taran's troubles stem from his daydreaming which prevents him from focusing on this appointed task. I wonder if this kid has ever heard that phrase, “He who is faithful with the small things will be faithful in the big things”. I can understand him wanting to rise above his lowly position, but its hard to have sympathy when he keeps screwing up something so simple. However, he does get the call to adventure when he learns that the evil Horned King (John Hurt) has returned and he wants Taran's pig Hen Wen, who can see into the future. After escaping to farm to get Hen Wen to safety, he quickly loses her. Way to go idiot. At least he is humbled by this experiences, which alone makes him more enduring than that whiny brat from "Eragon" (which sounds a lot like “Arrogant” now that I think about it) Taran goes off to rescue her, and encounters a few people along the way. The first is the furry Gurgi (John Byner), we looks very much like a very hairy dog, and is likely meant to be cutesy marketable or comic relief in the typical “Disney sidekick” fashion. Thankfully his role is small and he doesn’t reach anywhere near Jar Jar Binks level of annoyance, but he gets very close. His cowardice doesn't make him very enticing to the audience either. Taran tracks Hen Wen down to a miniature version of Mordor which is apparently within walking distance and gets bullied about by some guards at a castle and is thrown into prison.

Taran is eventually recused from his captivity by Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), who is also there in this castle and can make her way about freely for reasons that are never explained. This is the part of the movie where I realize that it is best not to ask questions, because her appearance got me to thinking about a few things. First, if she’s a princess, does that mean that there are other royals?, a kingdom with an army of mounted men perhaps? Does this land they’re in even have a name? It also doesn't help matters that she is constantly referred to as "Princess", making it easy to forget her mouthful of a name. That's another thing, Eilonwy doesn't do anything "Princess-y". I suspect its just there because this is a fantasy movie, and fantasy movies have princesses, because if she were just an average girl who actually did something, there is no way people would accept it, right? The two also free a middle-aged minstrel named Fflam from the prison and he escapes with the two, but other than that, he serves no real purpose. In the original books (which I can just scarcely remember reading at a young age) Fflam's gimmick was that his harp's strings break whenever he lies. While his harp and breaking strings are present, they are never explained, and his harp disappears halfway through the film anyway.

In the end we see the Horned King uses titular black cauldron to resurrect at least six of the skeleton soldiers from "Jason and the Argonauts". Hardly what I'd call a formidable force, even if they are “indestructible” as we are told. Our heroes bargain for the chance to destroy the cauldron by exchanging the magic sword they found on their travels with a trio of witches. Yeah, because you want to give such a powerful artifact over to witches. Not to mention that it seems to me that you could probably destroy the magic cauldron with a magic sword. But then again, all the seems to make to sword magical, is that it sparkles when it cuts through things. But it turns out that the cauldron can only be destroyed by someone willingly going into it and never returning. Gurgi chooses to go but since he wasn’t a very distinct or likeable character in the first place there is no sense of loss, and when the Horned King's army is defeat, the witches bring Gurgi back to life anyway, which is a serious dramatic contradiction. The only thing that could have been worse is if someone had divided by zero. Also, Taran and Eilonwy kiss and the forest animals blush. I guess they are made for each in that they are both have no real personality. Oh, and Hen Wen the pig went back home to Dallben, and has apparently been there all this time. I'm sure you were all concerned.

While the animation quality is excellent, that comes standard with the Walt Disney Company, by the end there is nothing that is really visually distinct here for you to remember. Characters are introduced with nothing to make them unique, useful or interesting. Arguably Fflam could have been cut out with no great effect, it certainly would have given Taran and Eilonwy more time to connect and develop as characters, with Gurgi acting as moderator perhaps. Ultimately, its most damning flaw is that there is no sense of scale or risk. It is honestly like watching “Lord of the Rings” set in a suburban backyard. We are told there is great danger if the Horned King is able to raise his armies from the Black Cauldron, but we are never really told what the consequences will be if this happens, or what is at stake if our heroes do not succeed in destroying the black cauldron. If there is nothing at risk, then why should the audience care?

Final Score:

Two out of Five. Forgettable.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill
Directed by Rowland V. Lee

*Spoilers Ahead*

Following in the massive footsteps of the phenomenal "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein", "Son" starts off strong with introduction of Doctor Frankenstein's son, Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returning to the ancestral Frankenstein castle with his wife and son Peter. The locals treat Frankenstein with resentment at the havoc his father's monster caused, and even Frankenstein's sole friend amongst the village, Inspector Krough (Lionel Atwill) warns him stay about from his father's work. The castle setting is firmly rooted in German Expressionism with its with distorted features and crooked cast shadows. Regrettably, unintended comedy soon comes into play with Basil Rathbone's maniac performance that switches moods at the drop of a hat and his son who has an unfortunate haircut that looks like he's wearing a dead raccoon on his head. There is also a scene in the dining room that is supposed to be charming, but is lost as there is a sculpture of a boars head just above Frankenstein, the tusks just barely missing his head. Inspector Krogh seems to take the cake in the opening act as he introduces his manaical arm, which he must raise and lower manually, inhibiting us from taking him seriously. The Inspector also exposits that the monster has been sighted, causing victims hearts to burst from shear fright, which doesn't match up to what we've seen in the past two films.

Frankenstein soon encounters Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a demented man, who was sentenced to the gallows, but freed when his neck didn't break and is now a hunchback. Ygor leads Frankenstein the resting place of the now comatose monster (played one last time by Boris Karloff). Here Ygor utters one of the strangest sentences in movie history when he addresses the monster's stiff body; "He is my friend. He does things for me." Okay... Frankenstein decides to revive the monster in order to restore his father's honor. After all, what could go wrong with that plan?

"I wish I could quit you."

The real travesty at this point is that that the so-called "stars" of the movie (Karloff and Rathbone) take a back seat to a secondary character like Ygor. Bela Legosi serves as the heavy in this feature, taking up more than twice the time on screen than that of his long time rival Boris Karloff. It would have been better had Karloff not returned as the monster for this picture, as his performance is a giant step backward. In the first two films the monster was the star, his innocent nature contrasted with his gruesome appearance and the violent situations he found himself in. Now, all of that character has been syphoned away and he has been reduced to a mute brute who does Ygor's dirty work, knocking off the people who sentenced him in a half baked revenge scheme. All the while, the monster is building up a body count and Krogh suspects Frankenstein has resurrected the monster, but Rathbone's character keeps making excuses that not even a child would believe for a minute.

There has been very little plot running throughout the film and it leads to a very unsatisfying climax involving the monster turning on Frankenstein by abducting his son. The day is saved when Rathbone's stunt double swings over a pit of molten metal to catch Peter and knock the monster in the pit. I'm rather disappointed we didn't see any buildings burn down like the last two movies. Frankenstein and family leave the village and are bid goodbye by the villagers.

While there are something interesting visuals the whole thing is ill conceived, the characters are devoid of anything interesting and the camp cancels out any potential drama and is probably best remembered as the basis for Mel Brook's spoof "Young Frankenstein".

Final Score:

Two and a half out of Five. Sub-Par.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Starring Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester
Directed by James Whale

*Spoilers Ahead*

After a brief introduction involving the retelling of the events of “Frankenstein”, Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester) begins to tell her captive audience what happens next to the monster and his creator. From there the film continues straight from the previous left off (or where it should have), at the foot of the burned out wreck of the windmill. The villagers discover Doctor Frankenstein’s frail body and race him back to his manor for help. Once the crowds have left, the monster emerges from the rubble and roams the countryside once more. Frankenstein arrives at his manor were he is nursed back to health by his fiancĂ©e Elizabeth, who is played by Valerie Hobson, who is a brunette rather than the blonde Mae Clark from the original. I’ve heard of hair turning white from shock, but this is the first instance I’ve seen were someone’s hair has darkened after a fright. Also, the servants refer to Henry as the new Baron Frankenstein, which leads me to wonder what happened to Henry’s father, the original Baron, who we saw was just fine at the end of the first film. I guess they weren’t too concerned about sequel continuity back in those days.

Henry still suffering from shock, talking about whether or not he was destined to discover the secrets of life, but he is interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Septimus Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). Pretorious’s entrance mirrors that of the monster from the previous, tall and looming in the doorway before cutting to a close up as the shadows literally cascade off of his sinister features. His face is astonishingly striking; a tasseled mop of pallid hair atop a brow of course creases with arched jet-black eyebrows matching up with his devilish pointed ears. His deeply cut crow’s feet lead like a creaky staircase from his hooded eyes to his bulging cheekbones. His hook of a nose seems to stretch his skin along his skull his thin mouth, which scowling appears to stretch out further than the dimensions of his face. Honestly, I cannot do his face justice through words; you must see it to believe it.

Doctor Pretorious talks to Doctor Frankenstein about his work and tempts and deceives Henry with the prospect of creating a race of monsters. Pretorious soon takes on the role of Mephistopheles, taking Frankenstein’s abomination of nature and taking it one step beyond, perverting the process for his own cause. It is interesting to see the two side by side. In the original Frankenstein was excited and captivated by his work, but with time saw the error of his ways, and while still fascinated by the results knew he had to stop the madness before it was too late. Pretorious conversely is wily and eccentric, but in his field of work remain cool and calculating, He has no one to act as a moral compass like Elizabeth was to Henry to prevent him from pushing certain boundaries, and openly mocks God for holding the powers of life and death. He shows utter contempt for human life altogether, going so far as to instruct his assistant to kill in order to retrieve the necessary body parts for their new monster rather than recycling parts from already dead bodies. So similar, and yet different, it reminds me of the two Terminators from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.

Meanwhile we return to the monster running through the forest seeking shelter from the villagers who continue to hunt him. He eventually finds refuge with a blind hermit who offers him food, teaches him to speak and tells him that it is bad to be alone. During this scene is when we get a better look at the monster and how he has changed since the first movie. Karloff’s face is considerably wider, I imagine the money he received from the last film allowed him to eat more, making him seem more inviting The black greasepaint in his makeup has also been diminished, his skin consisting of lighter tones. His hair is also no longer concealing his forehead and as a result looks more open and expressive like the face of a sad clown, further solidifying the monster’s position as a tragic hero. This is emphasized with the use of religious symbols that establish the monster as a persecuted Christ-like figure; being tied on a stake similar to a cross by the angry villagers and later feasting on bread and wine with the hermit. Sadly, his joy is short lived when hunters discover the monster in the hermits lodge and chase him away.

From there the monster stumbles upon Pretorious in a crypt. Pretorious deceives the monster about Frankenstein and uses him as a bargaining chip to force Frankenstein to continue to help him build a new monster, going so far as to have the monster kidnap Elizabeth and hold her hostage unless he complies. This leads into the climax of the film were we return to Frankenstein’s lab from the first movie as the two begin to build a mate for the monster. The procedure is far more complex and elaborate than before, but than again they are making a woman, of course it’d be more complicated (Zing!) Eventually we reveal The Bride (Elsa Lanchester, again) Aside of her iconic hair, her face is devoid of expression. She looks around the lab in shock, turning in her head in short sudden spasms like an insect. The monster lays eyes on her, his face light up as he says “Friend?” The Bride screams and recoils in terror. The monster is enraged and decides he is too good for this awful world, and grips the level that Pretorious says “will blow us all to atoms!” Good thing you put it within arms reach of anybody, I’m not entirely sure this guy isn’t a James Bond Villian. All seems lost but Elizabeth (somehow escaping her captivity) is about to rush in and rescue Henry as the laboratory explodes, taking the bride, the monster and Pretorious with it.

A few plot holes aside the film far surpasses its predecessor by miles. It has a greatly improved visual quality as technology has caught up so that there is better clarity in the picture allowing us to view subtler expressions. The sets are greater in number and in scale. The characters have been built up since the first film, we now care about them and can see them develop in ways that there wasn’t time for in the original, making us root for both Doctor Frankenstein and the monster against opposition, creating tension by pitting them against to an actual antagonist.

Final Score:

Five out of Five. Golden.

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Directed by James Whale

*Spoilers Ahead*

The film opens with the famed “warning scene” were a man steps out from behind a curtain onto a stage to warn the audience of how scary the film is. The film proper opens with a rather surreal credit sequence with a series odd images behind the credits including of circular rows of swirling eyeballs and a vague spectral head. The actual story begins in a graveyard at twilight. Already the atmosphere is gloomy with the painted sky, were the clouds are as black as oil and seem to blot out the sun. The macabre setting is only strengthened as we see Doctor Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) on his mad quest for cadavers.

The slow buildup of Doctor Frankenstein and his back story, while eerie, is nothing compared to the first appearance of the monster his has created (Boris Karloff). Walking through the doorway backwards with a slow revealing turn and gradual close up on his ghastly thin face and ghoulish black eyes, his massive figuring looming in the doorway reminiscent of Nosferatu. Karloff’s pantimine performance easily steals the show and makes him the most enduring character with his slow demeanor and innocent nature against the violent adversities around him. His character, unable to speak produces various hics and moans that will likely arouse laughter in an unappreciative audience.

Unfortunately, the ending is by far the weakest portion of the film. In another infamous scene, the monster accidentally kills a little girl. While he flees in terror of what he has done, a mob of angry villagers decides that the monster must be destroyed. The climax occurs on the roof of a windmill were Frankenstein and the monster have a clumsy fight in the dark making it difficult to tell what is happening. Frankenstein is through from the roof and presumably dies (?), while the monster supposedly perishes in the flaming wreck. I have to wonder who justice is done to by this resolution. Was Frankenstein punished for meddling in the unnatural? Was the creature destroyed because of its origins despite his innocence? It’s a rather clumsy way to end development that was just starting to go somewhere. Theres a coda at the end that involves the Baron making a toast to "A son to the house of Frankenstein". I have to wonder why it is there as it only serves to confuse as to whether or not Henry is dead or not. Personally it makes me wonder by the Baron isn't in the sequel. While it isn’t as frustrating a coda as the end of “The Fly”, but I still thinking the image of the burning windmill and a strong musical score to cap it off would have made a much better ending.

The setting creates the gloomy mood appropriate for such a scary story, Karloff's portrayl of the monster is simply unforgettable, but the film is limited by time and doesn't develop our leading characters their full potential and just seems to stop a little short.

Final Score:
Four out of Five. Great.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Time Machine (1960)

Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
Directed by George Pal
Based on the novella by H.G. Wells
Science Fiction/Adventure
Rated PG


The film begins on December 31st, 1899, where we are introduced to our time traveling protagonist; George (Rod Taylor). George quickly establishes his belief in progress and a utopian future as well as his distaste for war. He uses a time machine that he has invented to seek out this future. He skips ahead every few years to check on the state of the times. In each period he stops in he is greeted by the descendants of his friend Filby (Alan Young), who are kind enough to exposit the effects of the majors wars as well as the looming threat of nuclear armageddon.

This leads George's landing site to eventually be hit by a nuclear bomb, propelling his time machine into the far off future of October 12th, 802701. Here he meets the Eloi, a peaceful society living in a lush natural land, but devoid any real civilization, seeming to be only connected by common apathy. George is about to leave to return to his own time when the monstrous Morlocks emerge from underground and abduct many of the Eloi to use as food. What makes things worse is that the remaining Eloi do not feel compelled to do anything about it. They are unwilling to help their own, and are simply content to lounge in their comfortable lifestyle. George can no longer stand by as an observer, and must act to save the future.

Up until this point in the movie there has been nothing subtle about its anti-war stance and pretty much ignores the idea of confrontation with evil being at the root of conflict. This renders the final act rather silly as George is able to free the prisoners and retrieve his time machine through violence. Suddenly he goes from a preaching pacifist to some sort of rock 'em-sock 'em pulp fiction action hero. I’ve just got to wonder how someone who so detested fighting so much could be a master of the famed Austin Powers Judo Chop. To make things even more ridiculous, the climax occurs when one of the obstinate Eloi natives curls his fist like George McFly from "Back to the Future"and socks the enemy Morlock so hard that the monster starts oozing strawberry jam out of its mouth.

Thus the day is saved by introducing violence into the united, peaceful so
ciety. George doesn't appear to realize the irony that he's become the very thing he despised or offer any kind of explanation for his contradictory behavior. Instead we just get a typical action movie ending.


The preaching of the first half is quite irritating and makes the bizarre shift in tone during the final act utterly jarring. The only enjoyable part of the first act is Alan Young's brief bits of comic relief.

The special effects showcased in this movie were groundbreaking at the time of its release. Though, the historical context is likely to be lost by those who have been weaned on Computer Generated Images. Time lapse photography is used to show clocks move in fast motion, candles melting and flowers budding as George travels through time. There also a running gag involving his comments on a store mannequin whose fashions change with the passing decades. I'm amazed that something made of wood and plaster could have such longevity. Surely the store owners would have had it replaced in the course of a decade, or at least gotten more than one after a time since the business was booming if it stayed open over a hundred years in the future. Personally, I think it might have been funny use the stop motion to show the mannequin's neckline dive and hemlines soar in a sort of a parody of the quickly changing designs in women's clothes at the time this was made as well as anticipate our current global warming wardrobe.

If the message of "The Time Machine", had been “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” like in “High Noon” it might have been something, but I don’t think that moral is intentional here. The original novel was written in 1895 to satirize British class divisions. It depicted aloof socialites as ignorant, giggling florists who, when the tables are turned, were subjugated by the undesirable working class depicted as subterranean savages as their class would have been perceived. This adaptation doesn't do the source material justice. A film that they might have done better to follow the example of is Fritz Lang's classic silent film “Metropolis” , which contained many of those similar themes.

Final Score:
Three out of Five. Average.

For a more thought provoking film about H.G. Well's famed time traveller, I would recommend the 1979 film“Time After Time”. In that movie we see the intoxicating nature of violence on a Victorian time traveller and how he was pushed to the breaking point as a result.

The Fly (1958)

Starring Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison
Directed by Kurt Neumann

*Spoilers Ahead*

The film opens with a night watchman witnessing Helene (Patricia Owens) flee from a hydraulic press that has crushed the body of her husband Andre (David Hedison). She confesses to the crime of murder to the police, but something is strange, and her brother-in-law, Francois (Vincent Price), is called in to aid the investigation and we soon learn the horrible truth: Andre has been turned into a half-fly, half-man. There is intrigue with this suspenseful mystery set up as the story slowly comes together. However, I couldn't help but notice something about this film that I'd seen before. It seems that high concept science fiction movies from the fifties they don't seem to have dialogue so much as they feel like the actors are just reading the outline for the story. Vincent Price sounds like he's reading the back of a book jacket and feels rather starchy but manages to make it work with his weighty theatrical presence, giving his character unique motion and diction to make his emotional turmoil seem genuine. With the exception of Patricia Owens, he seemed to be the only "real" person in this movie.

Patricia Owens serves as the emotional centerpiece of the film. She is frightened by her husband's condition but also shows determination in her quest to find the fly need to save his life, leading to an emotional drain that feels very authentic and helps us to understand the "blank" state we find her in at the beginning. Unfortunately, the only time we see Andre is when he is in the lab explaining the teleportation device during flashbacks while Vincent Price takes up most of the screen time and sticks better in our minds. We see Andre's passion to perfect the device, but he makes careless mistakes in testing without pause, question or morals. This doesn't seem in anyway natural or rational, even within the reality we are presented. If Andre had been given some reason for rushing his tests or why he choose to test it on himself, maybe I'd have more sympathy for him. As a result there really isn't any connection made between Andre and The Fly since his transformation occurs off screen. Andre can't talk as The Fly and decides go with the "Star Trek" route of communication (The famed "knock once for yes, twice for no") as well as using his typewriter to tell Helene "I'm losing control". Can you really be losing control if you can actually type it out? Body language isn't used to much of an advantage as Andre just sort of walks around the lab hiding under his hood all the while. The only time he seem sincere and emotional is when he is writing on the chalkboard and his sloppy handwriting shows a loss of

The climax is what makes it all worth it though when we see the Andre-Fly stuck in a spider's web. The shot of his face on the fly body is one of the greatest composite shots I have ever seen in a movie. The shot is cleverly cut between shots of an actor in full makeup plasted with an expression of terror. The same of true of the predatory spider; a model mixed with live action shots that build the tension and gives the iconic "Help Me!" scream delivers a horrifying chill while I hold my breath in anticipation, waiting for the inspector to crush the web at the final second. Brilliantly frightening and suspenseful.

Unfortunately there is a tacked on coda in the style of "Bambi", were we get Vincent Price giving Andre's son Phillipe some hackneyed speech about how "Science Is Bad" and "Death isn't a Big Deal." What a load! It really dulls the dramatic tension we had going. Just imagine the impression that would have been left if Vincent Price's "You're as guilty of murder as her", had been the last line of the movie.

Strong acting by two thirds of the headline cast and emphasis on the human element of the monster buoy up what could have easily been just another a typical period monster movie. Suspense and mystery are also key players and serve as an excellent frame for the story, especially with Patricia Owen's detective movie style of flashback narration. Overall there is a very charming "stage play" feel to the whole thing, particularly with the acting and the appearance of the sets.

Final Score:
Three and a half out of Five: Above Average.