I watch a lot of movies (there will now be a brief pause so you
can put on a shocked face and gasp, "No!"), The trouble
is, not every movie will support my normal several thousand words
of ranting and raving. What to do? As usual, my show biz training
comes to the rescue, with its main dictum of "If something
works, steal it!" Ken
Begg has been grouping smaller (yet somehow still massively
dense) reviews in his monthly Video Cheese articles, so
I have shamelessly ripped him off yet again. If I had a Playstation
2, I could blame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (or what I
like to call "The Amorality Simulator"), but I don't,
so I'll just cite desperation during the inevitable confessorial
press conference and weep copiously.
Of all the AIP Poe films (with the exception of
The Haunted Palace and The Conquerer Worm, both
of which appropriated Poe titles for marketing purposes), The
Oblong Box has the least to do with its source material. With
the exception, that is, of all the other Gordon Hessler-directed
Poe pictures (Cry of the Banshee, Murders in the Rue Morgue).
Inspired by Marlowe's site The
which examines B-movies and their literary roots, I pulled my
copy of The Annotated Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe
down from the top shelf, and had a go at it.
In case Marlowe has this one earmarked for review
soon, I won't go into the original Poe story. Suffice to say that
isn't Poe at his best, and the only thing it shares with the movie
is both feature an oblong box at some point.
In 19th century England, Sir Julian
Markham (Vincent Price) cares for his brother, Edward (Alister
Williamson), who was attacked by an African tribe in the opening
of the movie. This left him apparently mutilated and slowly going
violently insane, chained in a secluded bedroom in the dark, creepy
manor. The incident in Africa was sparked by something that happened
at the Markham Brothers' plantation, and if you believe in such
things, Edward is under a curse.
puts in motion a complex scheme to escape, utilizing Julian's
most trusted underling, and a witch doctor imported from Africa.
A potion supplied by the witch doctor puts Edward into a coma
indistinguishable from death. The underling is initally stymied
when Julian locks the coffin up before the burial, then callously
decides not to risk digging up Edward, dooming him to an agonizing
death. Fate and crap movie coincidence takes a hand in the form
of a resurrectionist robbing graves for a local doctor (Christopher
Lee). The revived Edward, wearing a mask to conceal his disfigurement,
blackmails the doctor for shelter, then proceeds to track down
and kill the men who betrayed him.
The script is sadly dismal, following a slow hackneyed
course to a bafflingly mean-spirited ending. Edward carries out
his vengeance as slowly as possible, oftentimes flying into a
homicidal rage and killing people who might have helped him. The
movie comes to a dead halt when Edward goes to the Bad Side of
Town looking for a servant girl who was nice to him. Then the
dead halt comes to an even deader halt as we watch a protracted
sequence of the drunken revelry in the pub. No lie, this sequence
takes ten minutes, and adds nothing to the story.
interview at DVD Drive-In , Hessler mentions that AIP was happy with the dailies they were
getting and gave him an extra week of shooting, asking him to "make it bigger". The rowdiness at the pub seems to be a prime
example of this. Overall, The Oblong Box really seems to
wish it were a Hammer movie... Hammer excelled at scenes of people
misbehaving drunkenly... but Oblong Box isn't even up to
the lesser Hammer outings. Well, okay, maybe it compares to Dracula
A.D. 1972 or Scars of Dracula, but that's no excuse.
The Corman-directed AIP Poes had an immediacy, a drive to the
proceedings, but The Oblong Box manages to make voodoo
curses, vengeful maniacs and premature burials paradoxically languid
years, people told me that I really should check out The Boogens,
that it was a "decent horror movie". Well, I finally checked it
out, and it is. Notice they didn't say great horror movie,
though. The box bears a glowing recommendation from Stephen King,
but in the 80s, what the hell didn't?
The opening sequence is damn clever, I
must admit: newspaper headlines from the 1880s provide the backstory
underneath the credits. A big silver strike births the boom town
of Silver City, but things soon go sour as mysterious attacks
begin decimating the ranks of the miners. The Army Corps of Engineers
eventually arrives and dynamites the mine shut. End of story.
Rather, end of credits, as a four man crew arrives
in the present day of 1981 to blast the mine back open and prep
it for operation. Of course, since we're here to watch a horror
movie, we're pretty sure that whatever was attacking the miners
at the turn of the century is still down there, and it's likely
powerful peckish at this point. It doesn't help that in the silver
mine's heyday, connecting tunnels were dug right into the homes
of Silver City...
The Boogens is a fairly typical monster
movie. There are few surprises as the plot unfolds, except that
incidents that provide leaden filler in other horror movies are
actually entertaining here. The characters are very likeable,
and the leads are cast a little against type. Although lead female
Rebecca Balding (of Soap and Silent Scream) isn't
the typical pin-up beauty that seems to be expected in these flicks,
she is goshdarn cute, which has the interesting effect
of making me want to protect her even more. Shown as being smart
and resourceful throughout the movie, the movie hits a false note
in the climax by playing the Screaming Panicky Female Card, which
is unfortunate. The Odious Comic Relief is among the first to
die, which always ensures the movie a special place in my tiny
black heart. Director James L. Conway delivers a solid piece of
work; he helmed another low-budget movie that's fondly remembered,
Hangar 18, and has since gone on to direct a slew of TV
episodes, in series like Charmed and Enterprise.
As ever, though, we're here to see the monsters,
Throughout the movie, the filmmakers play it cagey
by not showing the beasties, which is SOP for monster movies that
aren't total crap.
A tentacle here, some sort of extensible slashing claw there,
they're presented as being pretty frightening... until they have
to be shown at the end, and then they're pretty laughable, appearing
to be some sort of mutant turtle with tentacles and beach ball
heads. I've seen much worse, though, and so have you. Probably
Though I can't recommend you rush right out and
find this movie, I can say it's more than a painless way
to waste an hour and a half, it's a pretty enjoyable way,
and sometimes that's enough.
Sometimes I get screeners. Before you get envious,
let me point out that these are rarely screeners for movies I
actively desire. There are rare surprises like Bram
Stoker's Shadowbuilder, but most of them run to the quality
House Vampires from Hell, which, I must admit, actually
survived three stomps before breaking. So when I received a tape
of The Anasazi Mummy with a note from the producer/director,
Stephan T. Ripps that read "Hope this makes your 'Worst of the
Worst' list!"… let's just say confidence was not high.
I'll start by saying The Anasazi Mummy has
a few things going for it. First, it's only 29 minutes long. Second...
...Okay, let's see what we get in our 29 minutes.
2 Minutes of set-up as our protagonist meets three guys in a café who want him to come out to the desert and party with them. The
protagonist (never given a name, and henceforth referred to as
Proty) turns them down, and proceeds to tell them about the time
he went into the desert with a group of students and was the only
one to come back alive. The two minutes include the opening credits.
of recruitment footage as University of Nevada at Las Vegas student
Robert asks various people to come out to the desert with him
to dig for Anasazi relics. I don't know about you, but nothing
says archeology to me like impromptu outings. This is probably
the first sequence to be shot, as some of the "actors" have not
yet suppressed the need to glance at the camera before, after,
or during the scene. Robert asks one person in a commons area
with vending machines, and in the reverse shot, the answering
person is mysteriously outside, in front of a shopping center.
The reasons his expedition members - apparently
chosen at random - agree to go are at least varied. Proty agrees
because... well, somebody has to survive to tell the story,
I guess. One guy agrees because a gang is looking for him, and
he needs to get out of town. Another pops
open a can of Mountain Dew, announces that the Anasazi did peyote,
and that's good enough for him, and immediately throws the can
away. The one female member (the one who teleports outside for
her consent) is a semi-Goth chick * who agrees
to go because the Anasazi were supposed to be cannibals.
of Robert grappling with The Man to get faculty consent
for his trip. Why this is necessary is beyond me, but the faculty
of UNLV are stone fascists, maaaaan, and they're giving him the
as Robert recaps everything we already know to student activist "Paco" and "Paco" recounts the methodology of his successful campaign
to prevent an "illegal format change" at the campus radio station.
Given that there is a Brian "Paco" Alvarez in the credits, there
is a good chance that this is a true story. It's certainly tedious
enough to be one.
1.5 Minutes of Robert walking around campus, climbing stairs, and meeting
with "the Professor", as arranged by "Paco", to find out they're
leaving at 7am the next morning. Go, "Paco"! "The Professor" manages,
in just one scene, to look at the camera more times than the rest
of the cast combined. Go, "the Professor"!
1 minute of
loading everybody in "the Professor"s truck for the trip to the
desert. I guess this is why they needed the faculty - nobody else
of driving out into the desert. Proty informs us this would
have been really boring without "the Professor"s stereo and Proty's
brand new Swallow This CD. So we get to hear a song by Swallow
This while watching desert scenery creep by through the windshield.
not sure how you young'uns classify your music these days, but
in my time we probably would have called Swallow This "punk" or
"hardcore". I'm sure "the Professor" loved hearing it, which is
why he boots them out "400 miles southwest of Las Vegas". And
apparently hotfoots it back to civilization, probably muttering
under his breath the whole way.
of our cannon fodder hiking "7 or 8 miles" through the desert,
to the toe-tapping tunes of Swallow This. Somebody's carrying
a shovel, and somebody else is carrying what looks like an unrolled
sleeping bag, but overall these guys seem woefully unprepared
for a couple of days in the desert. Nobody is wearing a hat, Robert
never wears anything but black concert T-shirts, and absolutely
nobody is carrying water. Guess it's a good thing they're doomed.
Oh, yeah, there's an Indian following them. The
accompanying Swallow This song runs a little long, so we get to
see that shot twice.
of orange-tinted footage (the sun is setting) as the party unearths
a mummified Anasazi Witch Doctor. As the mummy is barely under
the surface, we must assume that the coyotes in this neck of the
desert are not particularly pro-active. The Indian, Edward Two
Dogs, crops up for some exposition. Unfortunately, the camera
mike is no match for the desert wind (which keeps threatening
to blow off Edward's hat), so the wily Indian must teleport to
another location so he can give his speech about the Medicine
Man Mummy coming to life every now and then to drive off palefaces.
Robert is having none of this as he just spent 22.5
minutes getting to this point, so Edward moseys off
and the party proceeds to pitch camp for the night.
"Camp" is a very loose term here, as our party
mainly sit on the blue-tinted ground and talk silently, probably
wondering why none of them thought to bring a tent or water, but
somebody sure as hell brought the stereo and Swallow This CD,
so we can listen to them for the next 2.5
comes back from being "on watch" to tell Robert the mummy is gone.
Robert immediately assumes that Edward stole it, and heads out
into the blue tint to get his mummy back. Robert never returns.
Now, at 24 minutes,
with barely five minutes left to go, our title character shows
up. He's not bad - the mask is pretty darned good, in fact. The
white robe costume is okay, if suspiciously clean for being in
the ground for so long. The hands appear to be gloves from a Jack
Skellington costume, and we see the actor's fleshy forearms between
the sleeves and the gloves a little too often, but what the heck.
So for 2.5 minutes
we get the Anasazi Mummy death-a-thon set to the immortal strains
of Swallow This. First the Mummy shows up with "the world's largest
diamondback rattler". Damn, that thing is huge! Almost
like it was, I dunno, a python or something...
The Mummy crops up with a bow and arrow for the
next guy. We see the Mummy pull back his bow (he's standing six
feet from the guy, who never notices) , then we cut to his victim
with successively more arrows stuck in the paperback book that's
hidden under his shirt. Watch this sequence for the novel "Is
the camera on? Okay, then I'll act!" form of his death throes.
The Semi-Goth Chick gets lifted off the ground
by her neck (this is required by law in all crap zombie and mummy
flicks) and then she magically transforms to the bug wrangler
so we can see a scorpion and a tarantula caper about her body.
That the poor arthropods only want to get out of the frickin'
sun by crawling under her body is all too obvious.
Well, it's Proty's turn, but in a startling 15
seconds, Edward Two Dogs appears, throws his zippo
lighter off-camera, and the Mummy is wreathed in digitally-superimposed
flames, which somehow manages to actually be more effective than
a similar effect in The
Dead Hate the Living. So much for ancestor worship.
back in the present, Proty storms out of the café. The
three guys left behind decide to go into the desert anyway. Oh,
look, the Mummy's still wandering around. Oh, look, the credits.
Oh, look, I can buy a Swallow This CD. Oh, look, the end. Oh,
look, I seem to have accidentally slashed my wrists at some point...
I'd hate to disappoint Stephan, but I don't make
lists. The Anasazi Mummy is pretty bad, though -
it never rises above its home movie origins. Post-production is
evident in some of the transitions, the titles, the tinting, but
the whole enterprise needed a little more up-cutting to excise
actor flubs and at least one instance where the camera accidentally
shoots a little footage when it wasn't supposed to be on.
So what is The Anasazi Mummy , really?
Home movie ...or marketing tool for Swallow This? (I'm voting
for the latter). I'll just say that the best part of the flick
is the old guy in the café who's obviously wearing a long-haired
wig ("You bring the bud, and I'll bring the Bud Lite!"),
and the fake critical comments on the movie's Website,
which you can also visit by clicking "Own It!" below. But should
you own it? Cripes, don't be layin' that on me, man. I've done