This movie is quite educational from the start; as a shadowy figure creeps up behind a couple kissing on a park bench, unmindful of the figure behind them with claws for hands. The educational part is not that these two do not stop smooching even with a monster behind them (ground already covered in Invasion of the Saucer Men); no, it is the fact that two smoochers can be taken out with a single pad of ether-soaked cotton, both at once! Now that's something you don't learn in home ec class!
The two are picked up by muscular men wearing odd bodysuits and cowls similar to those worn by the Martians in The Purple Monster Strikes. The unconscious duo is then loaded in the back of an ambulance - the old 60s type, which looks unnervingly like a hearse - and are carted off to parts unknown.
The shadowy figure - known thus far only by his claws and his shoes (which seem to be Thom McAnns with boiler plate attached), then proceeds to get quite busy, abducting a regular laundry list of licentiousness. There's:
It is Rachel who will grow to be quite a large part of our plot, so her strip number gets a lot of screen time. This is alright, as she is actually Gloria Prat, and Ms. Prat is, as we say here in the border states, soothing to the eyes. In fact, she causes the band's saxophone player to lose his groove. Twice. Or perhaps he is simply unnerved by the arrival of a pair of boiler-plated Thom McAnns in the establishment, and their owner: a shambling monster with an inexpressive, ugly face (okay, mask) with a blinking light in his forehead. Even more outlandish: he takes a seat to watch Rachel. But wait, there's more: then everybody else goes back to watching Rachel. I mean, monsters with blinking lights on their foreheads watching strippers... I expect stuff like this in New Orleans, but not in... eh... where are we again? Argentina.
The police - both of them - are predictably baffled. "Ten kidnappings in ten days! And nobody's got even a lead!" fumes Inspector Benedict. Well, when the police are useless, we can always count on the fourth estate to take up the slack; enter two-fisted reporter George Foran (Richard Bauleo). Benedict is annoyed with Foran, since in his latest story, he referred to the Police as "impotent" (continuing the sexual strain begun in the opening and which will continue through the movie). "You're too sensitive," says Foran. "I didn't mean it that way."
Benedict is also none too fond of Foran's theory that the kidnappings have something to with a similar rash of abductions which occurred in Italy some thirty years earlier, engineered by a disreputable scientist who was studying sexual aberrations in woman. "Undoubtedly a madman... he was seeking a way by sex to improve our species." Oh yeah. That's mad, since sexual reproduction developed as a way to encourage diversity and reinforce positive traits in a species, as opposed to just splitting like an amoeba. But Benedict realizes that Foran is the only person in his jurisdiction capable of deductive reasoning, and asks him to bring in the info on that Italian crackpot.
As audience members, we are privileged to know that there is, indeed, a mad scientist at work in a secluded mansion (where the hell do these guys get their funding? Not to mention their realtors...). Yes, Dr. Humpp (Aldo Barbero) (and we know he's mad and evil and stuff, because he's got a skull and a couple of white mice on his desk) goes door to door, administering aphrodisiacs to his prisoners and issuing commands like "Put the lesbians in one room... I want to observe them!" And observe them he shall, via a private closed-circuit system that allows him to watch the couplings in the various rooms (insert mandatory Cinemax/ Skinemax joke here).
Not only does Humpp's peepshow cause him to hyperventilate, but strange lesions appear on his hand. His pretty but somewhat sulky nurse (Susan Beltran) fetches him a formula that causes the lesions to disappear. Humpp tells her that the effects of his formula are lessening - he'll need more, and more frequently. It seems that the only thing keeping the good (?) doctor alive is "extractions" from couples taken immediately after sex. The downside is that eventually all this horizontal mambo action will eventually use up his victims, and they are either turned into automatons like Big Ugly or the Purple Monsters, or tossed into a furnace.
Nursie reveals why she's so sullen: "Let me give you all the sex you want!" she pleads. "Oh, please, use my body to keep you alive!" Humpp turns her down, with all the sensitivity of a Jerry Springer guest: "I intend to use you with all the others!" (pause for quick hurl to floor) "Your love means nothing , your body already belongs to me, and I'll use in it any way I want... but in my own time!"
Meanwhile, the bartender at the strip club also comes to the conclusion that Foran is the only man in town with two neurons to rub together, and comes to the newspaper office with the tale of the Big Ugly Guy who came to the strip club the night Rachel disappeared. Benedict obligingly has a police sketch made for publication, while Foran holds forth on the Italian angle yet more, while Benedict uses hateful, hurtful words like "fantasy" and "science fiction". It seems our Gallic nutcase made men into automatons - much like Big Ugly - and George has even more details on the man's work: "The victims were all young, the men virile, and the women latent nymphomaniacs. The experiments were sexual and perverted." Which sounds like typical college life to me, but then, that's probably why I never became a reporter.
Back at Stately Humpp Manor, the scientist has opened an incision on Big Ugly's face, claiming that he is searching for the nerve that controls the libido (?). He then brandishes a lit cigar, claiming that it is a "positive electrode", and that by holding it against this nerve, he will develop the technology "to turn people into veritable screwing machines!" Whatever. All I know is that the cigar smoke is coming out the mask's eye and nose holes.
You might note that I generally refer to Humpp as as a "mad scientist" and not a "mad genius". This whole cigar-in-the-mask incident is one reason (another is that he keeps turning down the hot blonde, but that's a whole 'nother story). Another reason is that, requiring the ingredients for more aphrodisiacs, Humpp sends Big Ugly down to the corner drug store to get them. Yes, even more remarkable than the fact that you can get everything you need for a king-hell dose of the world's most potent aphrodisiac at your local Walmart, is the concept of the Frankenstein Monster walking into that Walmart, shopping list in hand. Or claw. And expecting to get away with it.
Unfortunately for Humpp, the pharmacist reads the newspaper, recognizes Big Ugly, and calls the reporter (not the Police, of course - they're impotent). This is also unfortunate for the pharmacist, as Big Ugly kills him and takes off.
Humpp, depressed by this failure, consults his Brain In A Jar. What? You didn't know he had a Brain In A Jar? Don't feel too bad, neither did we, as it isn't introduced until almost forty minutes into the picture. The Brain is probably the crankiest Brain In A Jar that would grace the screen until Blood Diner, almost two decades later... it basically calls Humpp a stupid twat for sending a monster to get the drugs, making this the first and perhaps only time in cinema history that a Brain In A Jar has served as the audience surrogate.
Yhe Brain is really a great creation, basically a balloon that inflates and contracts in a bubbling tank of water. Whoever is doing the voice acting for the brain is having a great time, rolling his 'r's... particularly in "aphrrrrrrodisiacs"... and generally chewing the scenery. If you can do that without any teeth.
We also get a glimpse of what the 'victims' do between bouts of marathon balling... they saunter about the mansion grounds, while Big Ugly strums on what looks like a guitar made of neon tubes. Rachel, clad in her customary see-through negligee, seems an especially appreciative audience. Personally, it reminds me more than a little of the Eloi milling about in The Time Machine. Why don't any of these people try to escape? Oh. Yeah. The non-stop sex. Sorry, forgot. Either that or they really enjoy the one chord Big Ugly seems to know on the guitar.
If you're thinking that this version of Time Machine needs a killjoy Rod Taylor substitute to shake things up, you're right. Using the shopping list Big Ugly left behind, the good guys set up a needlessly complex trap: when someone comes asking for the same ingredients, the pharmacist gives him only one, and directs him to two other pharmacies for the rest. Benedict stakes out one drugstore, Foran the other; and as luck would have it, Humpp himself comes to Foran's store. Leaving no note for Benedict (he's impotent, after all), the plucky reporter follows the ambulance, but loses his quarry on a desolate stretch of road. Some searching eventually turns up a hidden driveway, a hidden mansion, and some not-so-hidden Purple Monsters. Welcome to prisoner-hood, Mr. Foran, as he awakens strapped to a bed.
Humpp plans to couple Foran with Rachel, but the reporter once more proves his mettle by convincing Rachel to overpower Nurse Wretched and then free him. (Another sign that Humpp is not exactly Mensa material is that the rooms have bottles of ether and ready-made cotton pads just waiting for someone possessing more than a notochord to pick them up and use them). This escape plan is short-circuited, however, when Big Ugly appears in the room, tenderly bearing a flower for Rachel. Awwww, the big lug's soft on her! To lead the monster away from the hidden Foran, Rachel goes for a walk with it - but Big Ugly locks the door behind them, leaving Foran trapped with a delirious Nurse who thinks he is Humpp... and having nothing better to do, he jumps in the sack with her.
Ah, for the days of Kennedy and Kirk! Much as James Bond provoked a complete change of heart in Pussy Galore by banging her tambourine, Foran reels Nursie back from the dark side. Now completely in love with him, she sets about trying to help him escape.
But not very damned quickly, as Humpp hooks him and Rachel up to a machine that allows them to make love telepathically. Why this is important is beyond me (perhaps he had just seen Barbarella?), but it gives us a chance to look at more naked bodies for no particularly good reason, while Humpp exults, "Sex dominates the world - and now I dominate sex!"
Out in the fog-enshrouded courtyard, Foran and Rachel have an extraordinary exchange:
That night, Foran tries to escape again (the locking of doors in this supposed prison seems to be very arbitrary). He goes from room to room, conveniently looking in on scenes of fornication, playing cat and mouse with Big Ugly and the Purple Monsters, and finally winding up in Humpp's lab. After scoping out the closed circuit system, and reading Humpp's journal (in which the doctor actually uses the word 'concupiscent' in a sentence), he flips a switch that allows the cranky Brain In A Jar to yell at him. Maybe Humpp isn't so stupid, after all, as I note you can turn off the Brain's voice box. Which is probably why he's so cranky.
Nursie shows up, and tries to get Foran to escape, but he tells her he's not leaving without Rachel, with whom he has fallen in love. And yes, he still expects the smitten Nurse to help him. Which is probably why, in the first draft of this review, I thought his first name was "Dick".
He gives her a message to pass to the bartender so he can pass it to the Police (ha! Who's impotent now, Mr. Big Shot Wise Guy Reporter?) This is so Big Ugly can kill the Bartender. From there, things shift into... well, not overdrive, but at least into second gear. Humpp injects the traitorous nurse with a solution that will turn her into a mindless robot, like his other servants, but as he is no genius (and I am in fact considering downgrading his status to moron) the solution doesn't work very well; Nurse slips Foran a gun, he tries to shoot Big Ugly, Big Ugly attacks him, Nurse attacks Big Ugly, Big Ugly kills her, Big Ugly takes off with Rachel. 'Cause, he's like, a monster, and that's what monsters always do in the last reel.
The police finally arrive and start shooting everything in sight - good thing the innocent people are all upstairs doing the safety dance, and its just the Purple Monsters who get wasted. Foran grabs two cops and tells them "The monster has the girl! It's planning to rape her!" which seems like sheer projection on the part of our 'hero', but if it will end this movie any more quickly, I'm all for it. Big Ugly puts Rachel down and advances toward the cops, who oblige him by shooting - and it's a dang good thing for Rachel that the cops aren't packing steel-jackets, or that Big Ugly is unusually dense, as the only thing standing between her and ventilation is the aforementioned monster.
After a brief attempt at pathos, Big Ugly falls into a nearby bubbling, smoking pond, and dies. Come to think of it, damned near everything bubbles and smokes in this movie. I wish I'd had the dry ice concession.
Which brings us, at last, to Dr. Humpp. Confronted in his lab, he reveals that he was the first victim of that infamous Italian nutcase (now reduced to a cranky Brain In A Jar), and was working on a way to make man immortal through screwing. He then throws acid in Benedict's face and tries to strangle Foran. Rachel picks up a sharp thingie and stabs Humpp, and as the doctor goes through a hideous disintegration in death, Benedict walks up, wiping his face with a handkerchief. Yes, Humpp, in his last act of stupidity, used that beaker of smokes-while-it's-on-your-face-but-can-be-wiped-away-with-a-handkerchief acid, even though it was probably clearly labeled. Idiot.
Oh, and the Brain speaks up one last time and curses them out for spoiling everybody's chance at immortality. It gets itself so worked up, it bursts into flames. The end.
Frank (Basket Case) Henenlotter, in his excellent liner notes for the Something Weird Video DVD, tells us everything we need to know about The Curious Dr. Humpp, but didn't know who to ask. It began life as La Vengenza del sexo, a cheap little melodrama shot in only two weeks by Emilio Vieyra, one of the few Argentinean directors to make fantastic films. The American rights for it and another Vieyra film, Placer sangriento (Bloody Pleasure, which became The Deadly Organ) were bought by Jerald Intrator, the director of movies like Striporama (yes, the one with Bettie Page). Intrator proceeded to insert almost twenty minutes of nude people into Vengenza, feeling, with it's already liberal amount of nudity, its proper place was in the adult market.
Even without Henenlotter's helpful list of the additional characters, they're fairly easy to spot, as these sequences are all brightly lit, with none of the moody shadows evident in Vierya's original. Past this, it has to be admitted that Intrator took special care in inserting these sequences into the continuity; except for the fact that they run too long, most of them seem to inhabit the same plot line and location as the Argentinean elements (even if that solitary hand jive artist, played by porn starlet Kim Pope, seems to occupy a room in the mansion that is a clone of the bedroom from which she was abducted...)
The medical vampire is a subgenré that crops up every so often in the horror film; what Humpp has to distinguish it is the overt sexual angle - past that, everything is made-to-order from the neighborhood cliché store. Handsome doctor, dedicated nurse, hideous monster, monster's love interest that makes the monster eventually turn on the doctor. Were it not for the sudden appearance of naked people every three minutes, this picture would be indiscernable from any number of Euro-horror films of the late 50s and early 60s.
Barbero's Humpp is played so flatly that he is more an automaton than his minions, despite the somewhat over-the-top lines he is given in the dubbing; I don't think he ever utters a sentence that doesn't end in an exclamation mark. This works so remarkably against Barbero's performance that the effect is even more bizarre than intended. The portrayals of Humpp and Nursie are either tremendously low-key and subtle or just plain bland and workmanlike. In either case, the occasional appearance of the Cranky Brain In A Jar is like a breath of fresh air - finally someone on the evil staff that shows some life! It deserved far more screen time than it was given. Hell, the movie should have been about it. The Cranky Brain In A Jar would have made a better villain. Or hero, for that matter.
And speaking of changes wrought in the dubbing stage ( I was in there, somewhere. Wasn't I?), Humpp was originally known as 'Dr. Zoide', and the American version identifies the original Italian Nutcase (and Cranky Brain In A Jar) as "Poontangangelo", proof positive that whoever wrote the American script, if still alive, could still be churning out work for Troma.
But what works against Humpp, more than any of this, is the preponderance of naked flesh on display. Yes, call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, but every time Vierya begins to set up a mood or start some high weirdness, we suddenly find ourselves staring at those same seven actors again, in lengthy sequences that cause us to lose the narrative thread, such as it is. The fact that a scene or two seem to be excised in favor of more exposed skin doesn't help matters, either.
There actually is love of a sort on display here (this is, after all, the Tainted Love roundtable). The selfless dedication of Nurse Wretched (one day I'll actually get around to figuring out her name. Stupid notes), and the monster's high, pure innocent love for Rachel. Poor Big Ugly, accused of being a rapist, when he can't even speak in his own defense! Even if his desire for Rachel's company goes beyond mere flowers and one-note serenades, it's not his fault that Humpp stuck a lit cigar against his libido nerve. Both Nursie and Big Ugly are ultimately destroyed by their love, but what do you expect in a movie that posits mankind's ultimate salvation can be achieved only through sex, not through love? You certainly can't expect exploration of those themes when the movie's - or at least this version's - highest purpose seems to be to display as much bare skin as possible.
The lure of most exploitation cinema, the frisson it delivers, is due to the nude scenes being held to a minimum; like gore, the more sparingly nudity is employed, the more impact it carries. It's been said that if you watch pornography for five minutes, you want to have sex immediately, but if you watch it for ten, you never want to have sex again. I certainly had my need for viewing naked people sated within the first half hour.
Most other reviews of this movie positively gush with compliments (must... resist... obvious... pun!!!), but I must go against the grain here... as simple, titillating exploitation, I suppose it succeeds, but as a horror film - or a movie, period, trying to tell a story - it fails, weighed down so heavily by scenes added to satisfy the grindhouse raincoat crowd that, like the monster, the original work finally sinks from sight beneath a bubbling morass of flesh. La Vengenza del sexo, fare thee well.
The Tedious Dr. Humpp is more like it .
- February 10, 2001