The Madness Of Dr Tube (1915)
Original title: La Folie du Docteur Tube. The most interesting thing about this short, experimental film directed by Abel Gance is the evidence it provides for how quickly certain scientist tropes got nailed down—the absent-mindedness, for instance; that they habitually mix their chemicals and their comestibles; and above all, that they’ll experiment on anyone. The literally egg-headed Dr Tube (Albert Dieudonné) develops a powder capable of distorting reality, and tries it out on himself, his dog, and a few random strangers… That’s about it for a synopsis. Obviously this film was undertaken chiefly to allow Abel Gance to do some experimenting of his own: the characters’ hallucinations are conveyed via the use of a series of distorting lenses. There is some humour here, but it’s very broad; and it is frankly disconcerting to watch Albert Dieudonné, twelve years later Gance’s Napoleon, flailing around like a slapstick comedian. Most copies of this film run about 10 min, but when a restoration was undertaken a few years back the projection-speed was corrected: the results, running about 17 min, are available online. You might want to stick to the shorter version, however: a little goes a long way.
Tarzan The Tiger (1929, 15 chapters)
This one also requires a bit of back-story: it was preceded by 1929’s Tarzan The Mighty, now lost, but does not seem to have been intended as a sequel per se. Though Tarzan The Tiger features the same three main actors, only Frank Merrill is playing the same role: Natalie Kingston played a castaway called “Mary” in Tarzan The Mighty; while Al Ferguson was a pirate descendant and strong-arm man called “Black John”. All this must have made mentions of “the past” in Tarzan The Tiger confusing for audiences, as their remembered past was not the one being referred to.
No explanation is ever forthcoming for why Tarzan is called “the Tiger” here. Though we do have a real tiger or two wandering through the African jungle. Naturally.
Tarzan The Tiger was (loosely) based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story, Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar. It opens at the Greystoke “plantation” in Africa, where Lord Greystoke (Frank Merrill) is explaining how he intends to restore the fortunes of his family and secure his estates back in England (which, we can’t help thinking, might not be under such financial threat if he hadn’t chosen to build a plantation the size of a palace “on the edge of the jungle”). Briefly, Greystroke plans to plunder a temple and steal a lot of jewels that belong to someone else: behaviour just fine and dandy, apparently, now that he’s a white man and a British aristocrat. Hence, he throws off his civilised trappings, puts his skins back on, and sets out for the Temple of Opar, home to the last descendants of Atlantis. Legend has it that a great treasure is secreted somewhere within the temple, its whereabouts unknown even to La (Mademoiselle Kithnou), High Priestess of the Sun Worshippers. Tarzan succeeds in slipping into the temple, opening the secret passageway, and entering the hidden room where a huge golden casket has been hidden for untold years. Just as he fills a pouch with jewels, a violent simoon sweeps through the district. The Temple of Opar crumbles under its assault, with Tarzan buried in the rubble. When he regains consciousness, he has lost all memory of his life as Lord Greystoke, and knows himself only as “Tarzan the Tiger”… At 15 chapters, Tarazan The Tiger is far too long to be consistently entertaining, and indeed ends up going over and over the same ground, with Lady Jane either dragging her husband from point to point in hopes of restoring his memory, or getting captured and needing to be rescued. The recurrent subplots involve La pursuing Tarzan, set upon having him as her mate, Jane notwithstanding; the machinations of Albert Werper (Al Ferguson), a false friend determined to seize the jewels for himself—and who, inexplicably though inevitably, decides he wants Jane too; and for the first stretch of episodes, the doings of a group of slave traders led by Achmet Zek (Sheldon Lewis), who realises that a white lady in skimpy clothing is just what his auctions have been lacking. However, the repetitive back-and-forthing grows tiresome; and we are left to eke our entertainment from Tarzan’s amnesia—which seems conveniently specific in its manifestations. “Tarzan knows no wife!” he declares over and over—leading to an hilarious bit where Jane literally gets Friend Zoned; though, mind you, the thing that goes closest to jogging Tarzan’s memory is when he catches a glimpse of her skinny-dipping… As Tarzan, Frank Merrill is appropriately athletic and muscular; though his occasional attempts to behave in an ape-like manner are pretty risible; while his cry (designed by Merrill) is just disturbing: mostly something like innnnnyyyahhh, or occasionally just nnaahhh or yyaahhh. Natalie Kingston gets the worst of it, her Jane going through an endless cycle of walking into traps, gazing in horror at (or away) from things, and pleading with Tarzan to remember her…which he will not.
(About that cry: Tarzan The Tiger is silent but, typically for 1929, has a series of sound effects imposed over the action, including Tarzan’s cry and Jane’s endless screaming.)
All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Based upon the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. In a small German town, inspired by the stirring speeches of their teacher, Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lucy), about the honour and glory of fighting for their country, seven young men enlist: Baumer (Lew Ayres), Kropp (Owen Davis Jr), Leer (Scott Kolk), Kemmerich (Ben Alexander), Mueller (Russell Gleason), Albert (William Bakewell) and Behn (Walter Rogers). Their enthusiasm receives its first check when they find themselves, to their initial amusement, under the command of their town’s former postman. Sergeant Himmelstoss (John Wray) proves a martinet, however, and takes pleasure in forcing the boys through the dirtiest and most exhausting drills. Sent to their first post, the young recruits are dismayed to find there is nothing to eat. They begin their service under the watchful eye of cynical veteran, Sergeant Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), who guides and protects them as far as he can when they find themselves under fire for the first time. As the recruits string barbed wire, they suffer their first casualty: Behn is blinded by the shelling, and cut down by machine-gun fire when he staggers towards the French line. Instinctively, Baumer rushes out to retrieve him—only to be soundly rated by Katczinsky for risking himself for a corpse. Before long, the rest are ordered into the trenches—where they find, not the promised honour and glory, but exhaustion, starvation, disease, terror and death… Time has done nothing to mitigate the raw power of Lewis Milestone’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s nakedly confronting novel of WWI, All Quiet On The Western Front. Indeed, you can almost look at this war film and wonder why anyone ever bothered to make another one; the only thing missing here from what might be made today is colour cinematography—and you can reasonably argue that this undermines rather than enhances the point being made, by inclining the viewer to look away. This film represents the serious face of pre-Code freedom: the film-makers pushed the boundaries in all directions, with long sequences of intense war-violence and other moments of graphic body-horror, nudity, sex, and one touch I’m not sure has ever been reproduced – has it? – when a young man under fire for the first time soils himself in terror. (Katczinsky’s response is a consoling arm about the shoulders and an assurance that it happens to everyone.) For a film made during the transition-to-sound period, All Quiet On The Western Front is even more astonishing. Its dialogue scenes are perhaps a little clunky, but technically the film is a marvel. The harrowing trench warfare sequence is completely uncompromising—right up to its final, gut-punch conclusion, when the camera pulls back to reveal that despite the slaughter, neither side has gained an inch of ground. Though it made a star out of a baby-faced Lew Ayres, and Louis Wolheim is unforgettable as the hard-bitten “Kat”, this really isn’t an actor’s film. The true honours here belong to director Lewis Milestone, who cut his film-making teeth in the US Signal Corp; cinematographer Karl Freund; and writers George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson and Del Andrews who, tasked with pulling Erich Remarque’s fragmented novel into a coherent whole, conceived the brilliant motif of the travelling boots. Nevertheless, the three struggled to find the right way of ending their story. It was Freund and Milestone who came up with the answer—and that’s Milestone’s own hand in the film’s famous final moments.
Get That Girl (1932)
When Ruth Dale (Shirley Grey) sets out in a taxi for the Los Angeles rail terminal, she fears – and rightly – that she is being followed. She does not see the second taxi held up, so when a different vehicle pulls up at the terminus just behind her, she mistakes the harmless Dick Bartlett (Richard Talmadge) for her shadower. Believing that Bartlett has missed the train, Ruth allows herself to relax on the rear platform—only to be joined by him almost immediately. Bartlett is smitten by Ruth, but confused by her hostile attitude; while she, still suspicious in spite of his friendly demeanour and obvious admiration, decides that he poses little threat. Meanwhile, Ruth’s real followers are also on the train. Having lost a lawsuit that awarded a large fortune to Ruth, their plan is to kidnap her and force her to sign a waiver, or – if she proves stubborn – to keep her in custody until the time in which she must sign the relevant legal documents expires. To this end they have entered into a partnership with Dr Sandro Tito (Fred Malatesta), who has a private asylum where he conducts experiments on his patients. The abduction succeeds—but Dick Bartlett, having come accidentally into knowledge of the situation, is soon rushing to Ruth’s rescue… Though it was was directed by George Crone, this film was produced by stuntman-turned-actor Richard Talmadge—and it is his work here that makes it worth watching. Get That Girl is a reasonably entertaining comedy-thriller, rather haphazard in the way it is put together, and with a few too many flailing fight scenes; but Talmadge’s stunt-work is exemplary—and all the more so since he goes through the whole film wearing a suit, tie and hat! That said, Barlett / Talmadge’s affect is rather strange; and I haven’t seen enough of him to know whether this was natural or assumed. As Ruth, Shirley Grey ends up being less spunky and more stand-around-and-scream than her initial scenes suggest will be the case. The creepy goings-on at Dr Tito’s asylum are not given as much weight as we would like, nor is the lurking subject of one of his failed experiments nearly creepy enough to provoke the sort of screaming to which Ruth resorts whenever she sees him. The three kidnappers are played by Carl Stockdale, Victor Metzetti and Billy Jones; while Geneva Mitchell slinks around as Tito’s devoted but neglected wife. Get That Girl also offers a few amusing pre-Code moments. (Henchman in drag: “Do you mean that I’m a pansy?” Second henchman: “Right now you smell more like juniper berries.”)
The Flaming Signal (1933)
During an attempted long-distance flight, an engine in the plane flown by Lieutenant James Robbins (John David Horsley) burns out and catches fire. Robbins assists his dog, Flash (Flash the Wonder Dog), to bail out via parachute, but then attempts to ditch the plane in the waters by a small Pacific island. Robbins survives the crash, though Flash must pull the debris to which his master is clinging towards shore; the dog then summons help in the form of Molly James (Marceline Day). Molly tells Robbins that there is no way of communicating with the outside world on the island, only a ship that stops by once a month. She takes him to her father, the Reverend Mr James (Henry B. Walthall), who arranges for a room at the local trading-post. There, the brutish Otto Von Krantz (Noah Beery), not content with exploiting the natives he employs as pearl-divers, assaults the daughter of the native chief—sparking an escalating war, with Robbins and Molly trapped in the middle… All you really need to know about The Flaming Signal is that “Flash the Wonder Dog” was top-billed, and rightly so. I did consider writing up this synopsis purely in terms of what Flash does, i.e. Flash stows away on a plane; Flash parachutes to safety; Flash pulls his injured owner to shore; Flash discovers a nearly-naked woman… The problem with this is the problem with the entire film, namely, that Flash pretty much disappears during the middle section of it, while we are forced into the company of the disgusting, drunken Von Krantz instead. (Noah Beery’s performance suggests he may have been drunk for real.) Meanwhile, the rape of the native girl is treated as a mere plot-point; and there is also some unpleasant stock footage involving an octopus and a shark. Flash reappears during the climax of The Flaming Signal, however, killing two people of his own volition (eh, they were asking for it), and surviving a fall off a cliff that makes his casual parachuting to ground look reasonable by comparison. Otherwise, there are really only two points of interest here: the film’s pre-Code status, which allows us a glimpse of Marceline Day clad only in some skimpy panties; and the fact that after Von Krantz shoots dead the natives’ high priest, they perform a voodoo ceremony and bring him back to life…making this technically a zombie film, though I doubt the people who made it even realised it.
Green Eyes (1934)
An elaborate costume-party is held at the country house of Steven Kester—who is found dead in a closet, stabbed in the back. When the police are called, they discover that Kester’s granddaughter, Jean (Shirley Grey), and Cliff Miller (William Bakewell) have not only fled the scene, but disabled the phones and the other vehicles first, making them the obvious suspects. However, the investigation conducted by Inspector Crofton (John Wray) – with the unwanted assistance of detective-story author, Michael Tracy (Charles Starrett) – soon reveals that Kester was a cruel and selfish man; so that the question is not who had a motive to kill him, but who didn’t…? Green Eyes was based upon the novel, The Murder Of Steven Kester, by Harriette Ashbrook, who also wrote the screenplay…and a strange experience it must have been, being compelled to rewrite her novel to the extent of changing her detective’s name from “Philip” to “Michael”. The point of Ashbrook’s detective series is that Philip Tracy gets away with what he does because he’s the district attorney’s kid brother; here, we’re simply stuck with yet another writer of mysteries thinking he’s qualified to play detective, and butting into a police investigation whether the cops like it or not. (They don’t.) Despite their denials of being more than “just good friends”, it is soon apparent that Jean Kester and Cliff Miller were trying to elope rather than fleeing a murder scene; though Jean has a more than adequate motive, in Kester’s threat to cut her out of his will—and a second one, in that her grandfather’s cruelty was largely responsible for her mother’s death. But Kester’s financial manoeuvring earned him many other enemies, including Roger Hall (Arthur Clayton), who Kester defrauded many years before, and the Pritchards (Stephen Chase, Dorothy Revier). Conflicting testimony as to who was upstairs in the house at the time of the murder makes it impossible for the police to isolate a suspect; but when the murder is followed by a suicide, they consider the case closed. It is Michael Tracy who realises the suicide has been staged—and who also realises the significance of the gathering being a costume-party…
(I was reading Harriette Ashbrook’s Philip “Spike” Tracy series until I stalled through the rarity of the books; but they’ve just become available on Kindle—whoo!)
The Fatal Hour (1940)
Also known as: Mr Wong At Headquarters. While working on a smuggling case near the docks, police detective Dan Grady is shot and killed; his body is discovered when it breaks free of the weights which it sank to the bottom of the bay. The death of Grady is a shock for everyone at police headquarters, in particular Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers), who was Grady’s close friend. Both reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) and James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) come to headquarters to express sympathy and offer their help. Bobbie discovers that, shortly before his murder, Grady was seen at a dockside nightclub owned by racketeer Harry “Hardway” Lockett (Frank Puglia). Mr Wong, meanwhile, takes a piece of carved jade found amongst Grady’s effects to a contact in Chinatown, who advises him to keep an eye on Beldon’s, a jewellery store. With his struggling business in receivership and under the control of John Forbes (Charles Trowbridge), Beldon has entered into a criminal partnership with Lockett and Tanya Serova (Lita Chevret) to smuggle Chinese artefacts into the country: an arrangement threatened when Tanya and Beldon’s son, Frank (Craig Reynolds), fall in love… The fourth in Monogram’s Mr Wong series starts on an unusually serious and sombre note; so that for a time we think / hope that we may get a subdued Bill Street for the duration. No such luck, though: soon enough Street is back to normal, “investigating” chiefly by bellowing at the top of his lungs and violating people’s rights. Also as usual, it is Mr Wong and Bobbie Logan who do most of the heavy lifting. The Fatal Hour is, to an extent, an inverted crime story: the viewer is let in on the Lockett / Serova / Beldon conspiracy, threatened when Beldon announces his determination to stop his son marrying Tanya, whatever the cost. But when people start turning up dead, who is responsible? Tanya’s murder has an ear-witness: a horrified telephone operator hears the whole thing, and is able to give the police an accurate time of death; a time at which Frank Beldon was seen entering her apartment. The case seems open and shut, but Mr Wong has other ideas… Monogram’s budget for The Fatal Hour was so low (something in the four figures), it’s hardly surprising that it ends up being a generic crime drama played out on limited sets. The film is worth sticking with for the denouement, though: it doesn’t make much sense, but it’s fun watching Wong go through his re-enactment. By this point in the series, everything is so dialed back you’d hardly know that Boris Karloff was supposed to be playing someone Chinese—except that this is the one in which, in response to a racial sneer, Wong snaps back – in perfectly English English – “That’s right: I’m the Chinese copper!”
Find The Blackmailer (1943)
John Rhodes (Gene Lockhart), an honest politician, hires private investigator, D. L. Trees (Jerome Cowan), to help him out of a jam that might sabotage his campaign for mayor. Having begun to pay to keep his fiancée ignorant of her brother’s criminal past, Rhodes is now being blackmailed by the man, Molner, and his girlfriend, actress Mona Vance (Faye Emerson). In particular, Molner has a talking crow that he has taught to say, “Rhodes! Don’t kill me, Rhodes!” Should anything happen to Molner – who has a lot of enemies – Rhodes is sure to be suspected. Trees’ task, therefore, is to get hold of this bird; but when he goes to Molner’s apartment in quest of it, he finds instead Molner’s dead body and a rifled safe… The plot of this comedy / thriller from Warners makes very little sense – as that brief synopsis makes crystal clear – but its touch remains light, and it certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome. At only 55 minutes, Find The Blackmailer is one of the shortest films ever produced by the studio—which would in fact close its B-movie production arm before very much longer. The fun of this film is less innate than the invited comparison with Warners’ actual detective stories of the same period, right down to the starring of Jerome Cowan – Miles Archer to Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade – as Trees. Furthermore, we find in it three things we’d hardly expect from any Warners production of this era: (i) an honest – or at least, non-corrupt – politician; (ii) a competent, level-headed police detective; and (iii) the fact that when Trees, a defrauded bookie and an untrustworthy bodyguard find themselves standing over Molner’s dead body, and with $30,000 missing from his safe, they decide that the sensible thing to do is—call the police!? I nearly fell off my chair…
Ghosts On The Loose (1943)
Also known as Ghosts In The Night and The East Side Kids Meet Bela Lugosi. In preparation for his wedding to Betty (Ava Gardner), Jack (Rick Vallin) buys a small house on the edge of town: not much, but the best he can afford. Just before the ceremony, Jack is approached by a man (Wheeler Oakman) who tells him he has a client willing to buy the property from him for twice what he paid. When Jack hesitates, the man reveals that the reason he got the property so cheap in the first place is that the much bigger house next door has a reputation for being haunted; he then gives Jack sufficient cash for a few days’ honeymoon away, adding that they’ll sort the matter out later. After the ceremony, Jack takes Betty to a luxury hotel in town. Meaning to be helpful, Betty’s brother, “Glimpy” (Huntz Hall), and his best friend, “Mugs” McGinnis (Leo Gorcey), round up their gang and set out to put Jack and Betty’s house in order for them. By mistake, they end up in the “haunted” house next door—and find themselves dealing with strange noises, disembodied voices…and much worse… This was the last film for the East Side Kids before they morphed into the Bowery Boys (losing several of the “kids” along the way). Given that it was made in 1943, it is hardly a spoiler to say that the film’s menace isn’t ghosts at all, but a group of Nazi agents using the haunting as a cover for their activities. Alas, Bela Lugosi’s appearance here as Emil, the leader of the group, is little more than a glorified cameo – if “glorified” is the right word in context – though that said, he comes off much better than poor Ava Gardner in the totally thankless role of Betty (which did at least give her her first screen credit after a string of uncredited bit parts). As for the rest of it, it’s a matter of taste. For me, Ghosts In The Night is far more entertaining in its marginalia than it is in its…well, you can’t really say substance. Leo Gorcey’s malapropisms are pretty funny; and debate still continues over whether Bela slipped in an, “Oh, shit!” under cover of a sneeze here or whether he was giving us the Hungarian version of, “Achoo!” Frankly, Gorcey’s pronunciation of shut is closer to the mark; while, whether ad-libbed or scripted, a different dirty-language joke was definitely slipped past the censors. (It stands for mezzo-forte, you philistines!) The film ends on a note that today is both topical and tasteless.
Fog Island (1945)
Based upon the play, Angel Island, by Bernadine Angus. After being released from prison, Leo Grainger (George Zucco) retires to his isolated home on Fog Island, where his step-daughter, Gail (Sharon Douglas) is also living, hiding from the notoriety of Leo’s case and the strange death of her mother. Framed for embezzlement after an investment went wrong, Leo is determined on revenge upon his former business partners—not least because he believes that, while he was in prison, one of them murdered his wife. Knowing that the others suspect that, far from losing their invested money, he hid it away for himself, Leo calculates upon their greed bringing them to the island—where he has a few surprises waiting for them… This PRC production is good fun, not least for the co-casting of George Zucco and Lionel Atwill, just as long as you don’t expect it to make a lot of sense. The back-story of Leo’s framing is never properly worked out—but in any case, it’s really just an excuse to trap half-a-dozen nasty people in a remote spot and give them what’s coming to them. Alas, we lose Leo / George about halfway through – the problem with jerking around a group of people when you believe that one of them is a murderer is that, you know, one of them is a murderer – but it’s fair to say that he gets the last laugh anyway… The lovers’-spat back-and-forth between Gail and Jeff Kingsley (John Whitney) – the latter the son of one of Leo’s intended victims and therefore exempt from his revenge – gets tiresome, but it is worth sticking with Fog Island for the amazing ruthlessness of its ending. The film’s supporting cast includes Jerome Cowan, Veda Ann Borg, Jacqueline deWit and Ian Keith.
(Some PRC sloppiness in the credits: George Zucco is listed as Leo Grainer, though clearly called ‘Grainger’ throughout.)
Fury Of Achilles (1962)
Original title: L’ira di Achille (The Wrath Of Achilles). Adapted by Gino De Santis and directed by Marino Girolami, this is a faithful and unexpectedly effective adaptation of The Iliad—and offers probably the best performance of Gordon Mitchell’s career, as a complex, tortured Achilles. The film opens about ten years into the siege of Troy, with the Greek forces led by Agamemnon (Mario Petri), Odysseus (Piero Lulli) and Achilles himself reduced to sacking and pillaging surrounding communities to restore their supplies. However, this is not the only reason: the kings choose for themselves amongst the captive women, with the arrogant Agamemnon taking by force Chryseis (Eleonora Bianchi), a priestess of Apollo. Xenia (Cristina Gaioni), a slave, is happy enough to be chosen by the handsome Patroclus (Ennio Girolami); but when Briseis (Gloria Milland) is brought to the tent of Achilles, she tries to stab him to death—only to have the dagger melt away in her hand. Achilles tells her that, as a demi-god, he is invulnerable in all but one point on his body…and neither he nor anyone but his mother, the goddess Thetis, knows where that vulnerable point is. He adds, bitterly, that he knows himself to be fated to kill the Trojan prince, Hector (Jacques Bergerac), and then die himself. Learning that the Greek forces have moved away from their coastal base, Hector leads an attack on their ships, hoping that by destroying them, they will cut off the Greeks’ supplies of men and arms. The plan nearly works but, alerted in time, Achilles leads a counter-attack in which Hector is wounded. Meanwhile, after petitioning Apollo, Chryseis’ father, Cressus (Nando Tamberlani) attempts to ransom her back with an offering of a golden chariot filled with treasure. When Agamemnon refuses the exchange, Apollo curses the Greeks with plague and lightning. With the gods apparently turning on the Greeks, and with a division arising between Agamemnon and Achilles, for the first time the Trojans see a hope of victory… Fury Of Achilles is an unusual peplum, chiefly focused upon the failings of the men involved, but with the gods occasionally taking a direct hand in their affairs—turning the tide first this way, then that. The opening sequence of the sacking of Moesia is brutal, and seemingly sets the Greeks up as the villains of this telling. From there, however, the story becomes less about Greek versus Trojan than Greek versus Greek, with the focus shifting from the war in general to the internal divisions amongst the attackers—and to Achilles’ struggle to come to terms with his destiny. Gordon Mitchell is convincing as Achilles, and displays more range than his earlier films give us reason to expect from him. In fact, all of the characters are given more psychological shading than is commonly found in films of this kind, revealed during dialogue scenes of unusual depth; although all that said, there are plenty of well-staged fight-scenes too—not least the climactic showdown between Achilles and Hector, during which the latter throws a spear that misses by only a hair’s-breadth Achilles’ heel… At close to two hours in running-time, Fury Of Achilles never feels overlong; it is only a pity that good quality, widescreen prints of this film are so hard to find.
The Fury Of Hercules (1962)
Original title: La Furia di Ercole. After many years, Hercules (Brad Harris) visits the city of Arkad, only to learn that the old king, his friend, is dead, and that his daughter, Cnidia (Mara Berni), is now ruler. Hercules is disturbed by the ongoing building of a fortress-like wall around the city and the treatment of the slave-labourers. However, Cnidia and her chief counselor, Menistus (Serge Gainsbourg), tell him that the wall is a necessary defence against a band of dangerous rebels. A feast is given in honour of Hercules, though in pondering the many changes in Arkad since his previous visit, he struggles to take any pleasure in it. During the entertainment, there is a daring attempt upon Cnidia’s life: it is thwarted by Hercules, though the attackers manage to escape. It seems she spoke truly when, during a feast to celebrate Hercules’ visit, there is an attempt upon the queen’s life, thwarted when Hercules intervenes. That night, as Hercules sleeps, Cnidia’s handmaiden, Daria (Brigitte Corey aka Luisella Boni), slips into his room via a secret doorway. She begs him to come with her, insisting that she can prove that it is not the rebels who pose a threat to Arkad, but Menistus and his followers… Based upon its location shooting in the former Yugoslavia and (literal, I suspect) army of extras, this seems to have been an ambitious production; yet The Fury Of Hercules ends up being a fairly generic intrigue-in-the-palace peplum—in spite of the efforts of, I kid you not, six writers. It is also unnecessarily long, dragging out the climactic conflict(s) to the point where you lose interest. The only slightly unexpected things in this film’s set-up are that Cnidia is not actively evil, just rather stupid and easily manipulated; and the time it tales Hercules to recognise who the real bad guys are. Otherwise, it’s business as usual: Cnidia falls instantly for Hercules, who only has eyes for Daria, and through her agency joins up with the rebels, turns the tide of battle in their favour, and exposes the evil Menistus. There are plenty of fight sequences, both collective and mano a mano…or anyway, mano a something-or-other: Hercules also fights a lion, and what is either a skinny gorilla or a very tall chimpanzee. These scenes are (mostly) amusing, but The Fury Of Hercules is quite brutal in other respects, with the rebels’ numbers severely reduced by the time of their triumph—though the impact of this is diminished courtesy of a couple of the worst death scenes I’ve ever snickered through, not to mention a blinking corpse. Brad Harris makes quite an appealing Hercules, a bit smarter than usual, and a bit more human too (if that isn’t a contradiction); while Serge Gainsbourg (!) is suitably weaselly as Menistus. Meanwhile, future Hercules Alan Steel aka Sergio Ciani has a supporting role as one of Menistus’ hired goons.
Desert Of Blood (2008)
Near the Mexican town of Tecate, a young American thinks he has made a significant find with his metal-detector—but instead unleashes a long-buried horror… As he works with his young friend, Cris (Naim Thomas), Father Hernandez (Flint Esquerra) has a sudden vision of a grave and a cross… Carlos (Mike Dusi), a coyote, has a startling encounter with a mysterious man (Justin Quinn) who promises him power in exchange for his help—most immediately a light-proof room, which he needs before dawn… At the ranch she owns with her brother, a woman called Sarita (Yvonne Rawn) is suddenly confronted by Luis Diego, who she knew and loved as a young girl—and who has not aged a day since. Though promising not to harm Sarita, Luis swears vengeance against the men who buried him alive, thirty-five years earlier. Sarita tells him sadly that they are long dead… In California, Maricela (Brenda Romero) receives a message that her Aunt Sarita has suffered a stroke, and immediately sets out for Mexico with her friends Samantha (Tori White) and Heather (Natalie J. Horton). Taking over Sarita’s care, Maricela finds her aunt conscious but unable to communicate. That night, Maricela is threatened by a violent young man, and rescued by a handsome stranger who introduces himself as Luis—and who sees in Maricela the perfect focus for his revenge… Desert Of Blood is the kind of film I struggle to treat fairly. It is obviously a low-budget, independent effort, and is therefore to be commended for its general air of professionalism and its obvious ambition—and, given its setting and premise, for its location filming and its predominantly Latino cast. However, the film’s flaws are intrusive, and make it hard for me to warm up to it. Some of these are to be expected – some weak writing and ropy acting, plus a creepy over-emphasis on the actresses’ assets (gratuitous nudity in the opening minute? really?) – but the main problem here is that the film’s tone is all over the place. In essence, Desert Of Blood can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be From Dusk Till Dawn or Twilight, and so toggles between bloody throat-tearings (an effective but over-deployed prosthetic effect) and romantic angst (also over-deployed). Furthermore, writer-director Don Henry doesn’t always seem to recognise when he has a good idea: Luis’ uncertainty about his own powers could have done with a greater focus (“I thought I killed you?” he says to an accidental turn-ee); while his odd relationship with Carlos also could have been better developed. As it is, Luis’ hesitation between his desire for revenge and his attraction to Maricela is ultimately far too reminiscent of the done-to-death reincarnation / lost-love trope. Still, it’s refreshing that the film picks and sticks when it comes to its lore; it’s also an interesting choice that the v-word is never mentioned…
Dying Breed (2008)
Trying to help – and impress – his Irish girlfriend, Nina (Mirrah Foulkes), Matt (Leigh Whannell) organises for his old friend, Jack (Nathan Phillips), to carry the two of them deep into the Tasmanian wilderness using his new SUV and his inflatable motor-boat. Nina is following up the work of her sister, Rowan, who was searching for evidence that the thylacine is not extinct, as long believed; however, the journey is also a pilgrimage of sorts: eight years earlier, Rowan disappeared before being found drowned in a remote area. It is evident almost at once that the trip is going to be difficult: Jack has invited his girlfriend, Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo), without telling the others; while his abrasive, self-absorbed personality jars upon Nina’s already taut nerves and emotions. She is also repulsed by Jack’s enthusiasm for cross-bow hunting. Arriving at the shores of a lake, the four summon the car-ferry in order to cross. During the trip, Matt tries to make friends with a strange little girl, who chants a nursery-rhyme about someone called ‘the Pieman’—and who bites Matt on the hand. Matters go from bad to worse when the travellers arrive at the small pub where they are to spend the night: the behaviour of the locals is unnerving – including an attempt made to spy on Jack and Rebecca having sex – while is addition to savagely beaten the young man he believes to be the spy, Jack slashes the tyres of a car that cut them off earlier in the day…only to go berserk the next morning when he discovers his own car scratched up in retaliation. After travelling some distance by boat, the four prepare to hike deep into what they believe to be pristine wilderness—only to discover that it hides a terrible secret… Sigh. I was hoping for more thylacine… I didn’t enjoy Dying Breed but this sort of “backwoods” horror is one of my least favourite sub-genres, so YMMV. This film’s back-story is both fascinating and depressing, and there is a definite interest in seeing the tropes established by films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes relocated into the Tasmanian wilderness; but as is invariably the case for me with this sort of film, the relentless ugliness (including animal violence) is finally just too much. Dying Breed draws upon two of the darker chapters in Tasmania’s history (there’s no shortage to choose from): the extermination of the thylacine, and the story of the convict Alexander Pearce, who during his term of imprisonment made several successful (if temporary) escapes from custody—during which times, he allegedly survived by killing and eating his companions. The shadow of “the Pieman” hangs long and dark over the film’s narrative, which as per tradition finds arrogantly oblivious young city-dwellers venturing into territory dangerous for more than just its distance from civilisation. Dying Breed perhaps succeeds best in its ironic contrast between the spectacular scenery (actually the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria) and the escalating horror of its characters’ situation; or perhaps in smaller related moments, such as Matt stumbling over a discarded beer bottle moments after Nina’s romanticised rhapsody about their isolated surroundings. But ultimately, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before. The film also leaves the viewer with too many unanswered questions—not least, why is Rebecca killed instead of…the obvious alternative? The central actors do a good job of setting up the characters’ unfortunately conflicting personalities; while the supporting cast is appropriately creepy. However, the thylacine ends up more as the film’s McGuffin than an integrated plot-point, in spite of the implications that we’re left with. At least Dying Breed has the grace to insist upon the animal’s secret survival; though of course that doesn’t compensate for the upsetting nature of that infamous piece of footage of the last one, inevitably played under the film’s credits.
The Objective (2008)
In the wake of the 9/11 attack, intelligence from the Middle East suggests that the Taliban may be in possession of a nuclear weapon. However, a small group of government agents know that the object picked up in surveillance may be something even more dangerous… CIA operative Ben Keynes (Jonas Ball), a military veteran, travels to Afghanistan to meet up with a Special Forces unit led by Chief Warrant Officer Wally Hamer (Matthew R. Anderson). The men are informed that their objective is to locate an important local cleric called Mohammed Aban, in order to gain from him a statement supporting the American position. Arriving at a small Afghan village, the unit learns that Aban has taken refuge in the mountains—sacred territory, where the Taliban will not go. Having acquired a guide, Abdul (Chems-Eddine Zinoune), the men set out into the desert. Almost immediately, they begin to experience a series of strange and unsettling events—the sound of an approaching helicopter, which simply stops; the mutilation of a casualty’s body; canteens filled with sand instead of water—until at last they find themselves overlooking a valley which Abdul does not recognise, and which appears on no map… The Objective is an ambitious and rather unsettling film, though one perhaps a little too smart for its own good. Still—it’s refreshing to watch something that errs in that direction, rather than the other. Shot on location in Morocco and directed by Daniel Myrink, for a considerable stretch this film contents itself with looking like a story of modern warfare, and getting its attendant details right. (A couple of the cast-members, I gather, actually are ex-military.) It is only because the viewer has been told so, via Keynes’ voiceover, that we are aware the mission is other than it seems. A series of strange events and their attendant casualties finally forces the truth from Keynes: that they are tracking a phenomenon known to the CIA since the 1980s, one nearly invisible to the naked eye but which manifests on thermal imaging as a glowing, triangular object: a force with the power to manipulate both solid objects and the minds of men; to kill—or to save… The main problem with The Objective, as tends to be the case with this sort of film, is that it is a lot easier to present the manifestations of “it” than it is to convey “it” itself. The escalating weirdness encountered by the rapidly dwindling group of men is much more effective and disturbing than Keynes’ eventual one-on-one with the phenomenon; while the film’s ending is oblique to the point of confusion. I’m also not sure how to reconcile, “It will save us all!” with an historical “Hill of Bones”. Still—the screenplay by Myrick, Mark A. Patton and Wesley Clark Jr is in some ways extremely clever, linking the vimāna of Indian mythology to military disasters suffered in the region by Alexander the Great and the British forces of the 19th century; while the film makes excellent use of its eerie Moroccan locations. Keynes himself is unsympathetic, but the film does a fine job delineating the fierce loyalty and interdependence of the special-unit men—who understandably react with uncooperative fury when they discover that they’ve been recruited for a suicide mission without their knowledge…
(One of the soldiers, Weapons Sgt /Sniper Pete Sadler, is played by the Australian actor / stuntman, Jeff Prewett. He was allowed to keep his accent, and his nationality is name-checked—although no explanation is ever forthcoming for how an Australian ended up in a US Special Forces unit…)
The Pacific, 1945. On a remote island, a unit of Japanese soldiers under the command of Colonel Ozu (Tohoru Masamune) discover what appears to be a nest of gigantic eggs, and soon find themselves under deadly attack… Having delivered a B-29 to Hickam Field in Hawaii, Maxine West (Jamie Mann) and her all-female crew of the Women Airforce Service Pilots are hoping for a little R&R. Instead, they are ordered back into the air immediately, tasked with transporting Colonel Jack Toller (Brian Krause), his men and their cargo deep into the Pacific on a secret mission. Almost immediately, the plane encounters a violent storm. Maxine clashes with Toller when he orders her to fly on regardless, without deviation. While she is in the cabin, arguing the point with him, her co-pilot, Betsy Quigley (Shauna Rappold), sees something in the air that is not an enemy plane… Conditions become so dangerous that, over Toller’s continued objections, Maxine decides that they must set the plane down and ride out the storm. She succeeds in making a crash landing on an island, however the plane is damaged and one of her team killed. As their crew inspects the plane, Maxine and Betsy join Toller and his men in searching the surrounding area. They find evidence of Japanese casualties, while their base has been almost cut to pieces. As she examines a strange, claw-like object, Betsy is suddenly taken prisoner by three Japanese soldiers—but even as they and the Americans stage a dangerous stand-off, one of Toller’s men is killed by something that swoops out of the sky… I’m sure Warbirds looked like a really good idea on paper, but that’s where it should have stayed. No-one in the cast, including a surly Brian Krause, manages to be at all convincing; the female half comes off like a bunch of teenagers playing dress-up, although this isn’t all their fault: the designers were so intent upon showing they had researched 1940s civilian hairstyles and makeup they didn’t stop to think how absurd those things would look in a war-zone. Most annoying of all, however, is the petulant, insubordinate behaviour of Maxine West, who disputes her orders and argues with Toller at every turn, in between insisting upon how well-trained she and her crew are: you just know this is writer-director Kevin Gendreau’s idea of how a “ballsy” woman might behave. As for the rest of Gendreau’s screenplay, I concede that his deployment of a raft of 40s war-film clichés was probably a conscious choice, but unfortunately the cast don’t seem to have been let in on the game. At the same time, the script struggles with deciding on an appropriate attitude to its Japanese characters—and with its American characters’ behaviour in response. All of this nonsense gets in the way of what we’re really here for: the – flock? swarm? – of pterosaurs that inhabit the island, and which, by the time the Americans crash-land there, have reduced the Japanese from a whole unit down to three men. The best part of Warbirds is its opening scene, which has the Japanese soldiers discovering an underground nest, in what appears to be a deliberate evocation of the kaiju eiga…including of course Rodan. Though obviously CGI, the adult creatures are easily the best thing about the film—though their size fluctuates, and their behaviour and physical capabilities (check out that air-speed!) are ridiculous even by the undemanding standards of a SyFy original. You can certainly understand the theoretical appeal of a ‘pterosaur vs Zero’ dog-fight, but in execution it’s another of those things that should have stayed on paper. Warbirds finally ends in a manner that is completely absurd in the practical sense, but which at least violates history less than the film seems to be striving for most of the time.
Lies In Plain Sight (2010)
Sofia Delgado (Martha Higareda) is called home from Boston, where she is studying mathematics at MIT, when her cousin Eva (Cheyenne Haynes) commits suicide. As a child, Sofia was taken in by her aunt, Marisol Reyes (Rosie Perez), after her father, Hector (Benito Martinez), found himself unable to cope with his wife’s death and Sofia’s blindness. Eva became Sofia’s best friend and protector, encouraging her independence and helping her to “see” the world in her own way. Choosing to stay with Marisol, her husband, Rafael (Yul Vazquez), and their younger daughter, Alexa (Kendra Jain), Sofia struggles to understand Eva’s death. In particular, the lack of a suicide note and the resulting absence of any explanation strikes Sofia as quite as much out of character for Eva as the suicide itself. When her questions only cause more grief for Marisol, Sofia searches for other ways of gaining information. A message from Eva’s doctor leads to the discovery that not only was she pregnant, but had been seeking an abortion. This causes the family to turn on Eva’s boyfriend, Ethan McAllister (Chad Michael Murray), who denies being the father of Eva’s baby, and insists that in fact they had broken up some time before her death. To Sofia, privately, Ethan confides that Eva had many problems and secrets… This Lifetime movie is an Americanisation of the 2006 Israeli film, Lemarit Ain (Out Of Sight); though when I say “Americanisation”, one of its strengths is the re-working of its story to involve an extended Hispanic family, an unusual and refreshing choice for this sort of production. Its other positives are the low-key ways the script handles some potentially tasteless material, and a strong central performance from Martha Higareda. Above all, though, Lies In Plain Sight never falls into the trap of becoming an “heroic blind lady” story—even though the film’s focus becomes, progressively, not Eva’s secrets (which are obvious enough to the viewer), but the peculiar trust issues which may be associated with being blind. When we meet Sofia, she is a strong young woman who has built an independent life for herself thanks to the love and encouragement she always received from her family, Eva in particular. Yet from the moment she returns home, Sofia begins to discover that, throughout her stay with the Reyes family during her teenage years, she was lied to: in some cases, venial lies, or lies intended kindly; but lies just the same; each one undermining Sofia’s understanding of her world. Yet each discovery, no matter how painful, makes Sofia only the more determined to get at the truth, not just of Eva’s death, but of her own life; but her persistence upsets and angers her family, isolating her in the process. Eventually Sofia discovers Eva’s diary hidden where only she could have found it, a gesture that re-establishes her fundamental belief in her cousin’s truth; but having found it, who can Sofia trust to read it to her…?
(This may be an unusual Lifetime movie, but it’s a Lifetime movie just the same; and if you think that by the end, independent Sofia won’t have chucked MIT for a b-o-y-f-r-i-e-n-d, you haven’t watched enough of these things.)
The Bye Bye Man (2017)
Wisconsin, 1969. A man goes on a killing spree, forcing his victims to reveal to him anyone to whom they said “the name” before shooting them to death… Many years later, Elliot (Douglas Smith) and his girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas), move into a long-empty off-campus house, which needs work but includes the furniture stored in the basement in the rent. With the help of Elliot’s best friend, John (Lucien Laviscount), the couple clean and furnish their new home. However, as they enjoy their first night in their bedroom, situated in the top of the house, the two are bothered by a series of strange incidents. Elliot finds a gold coin that won’t stay where he puts it; he also discovers, one a piece if paper lining the drawer of his nightstand, the words don’t think it don’t say it written over and over. When he pulls out the paper to examine it more closely, he discovers that, underneath it, the phrase THE BYE BYE MAN has been scratched into the woodwork. Elliot and Sasha throw a house-warming party. Among the attendees are Elliot’s brother, Virgil (Michael Trucco), his sister-in-law, Trina (Marisa Echeverria), and the couple’s young daughter, Alice (Erica Tremblay). As the adults drink and party, a bored Alice wanders off and finds her way into the main bedroom. There she finds a strange gold coin, and is drawn to a small, dark doorway leading down into the depths of the house… Meanwhile, Sasha’s friend, Kim (Jenna Kanell), who claims to be “sensitive”, insists she detects a disturbing atmosphere in the house. When the other guests have left, she offers to hold a séance. Elliot, Sasha and John agree, though Elliot is deeply sceptical, even when Kim tells him things about his own past. All of a sudden, however, Kim is gripped by a strange force, and begins chanting, don’t think it don’t say it over and over—while Elliot is compelled to blurt out, “The Bye Bye Man…” This is a film I wanted to like better than I finally could—for a couple of different reasons, one of which I’ll get into below. I was led to this by another film – also dealt with below – however the two really have little in common other than a disappointingly generic boogeyman; though this one does have the cachet of being played by Doug Jones. The Bye Bye Man seems set up as a film about The Bad Place, and you know how I like those; but this is misleading: the “curse” evoked and passed on by saying or even thinking of this particular boogeyman operates regardless of place, and results in hallucinations, misperceptions, blackouts and finally outbreaks of violence. The surrounding plot is never worked out in any coherent manner—which may be the fault of the film’s original screenplay, but may also be the consequence of what was obviously some fairly savage cutting, from an initial R-rating down to PG. The Bye Bye Man was, I gather, based upon the possibly-true-story, The Bridge To Body Island, found in Robert Damon Schneck’s The President’s Vampire; and I assume it is to this we can trace unexplained details such as the moving coins, the reiterated train imagery, and the fact that the titular menace comes accessorised with a pet hell-hound (which is frankly more adorable than terrifying, albeit in a gross sort of way). The cutting also undermines the single best thing about this film, its bravura, one-shot opening, as mild-mannered reporter, Larry Redmon (Leigh Whannell), guns down his friends and neighbours. We get a flashback to a more detailed version of this scene later in the film…during which the quest for PG-13 results in completely bloodless shotgun murders. During its final third, as Elliot, Sasha, John and Kim are increasingly assailed by their “infection” and their struggle not to pass it on, the action of The Bye Bye Man spirals completely out of control—as does the acting from everyone except Cressida Bonas, who almost sinks into a coma instead, as Sasha is afflicted by – gasp! – a bad cold. (She also gets Naked John as one of her hallucinations: talk about being let off easy!) The film manages to waste both Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss, though the latter’s one-on-one with Douglas Smith, as the cop interrogating Elliot, is a welcome oasis of low-key tension. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the reveal of Larry Redmon’s post-infection living-room, complete with thousands of iterations of the mantra don’t think it don’t say it written all over the walls and ceiling…although evidently not until he’s already rendered it all futile by scratching THE BYE BYE MAN into his nightstand. I must confess—if the film ever explained how Larry’s nightstand ended up in Elliot and Sasha’s house, I guess I’d phased out by then…or maybe I was just distracted by the amusing similarity between this detail and the haunted furniture of the (original) Amityville sequels…which brings me, finally, to the other point I needed to make…
(…that I was biased in this film’s favour by the discovery it was directed by Stacy Title and written by her husband, Jonathan Penner, for whom I have a stubbornly prevailing soft spot thanks to his contribution to Amityville 1992: It’s About Time…and now the consequent realisation that the furniture business here might have been deliberate!)
Deadly Secrets By The Lake (2017)
New York police detective Jennifer Riley (Stefanie von Pfetten) barely has time to celebrate her capture of a serial killer before she receives a panicked phone-call from her younger sister, Lauren (Ferelith Young), who has been arrested for the murder of her business partner, Victor Townsend (Andrew Moodie). Jennifer is estranged from her family and has not been back to her hometown of Thornwood Heights since she was seventeen—when she fell under suspicion in the disappearance of her best friend, Abbie Blake. Her arrival provokes a range of hostile reactions: from mining magnate, Connor Blake (Chris Gillet), who blames Jennifer for Abbie’s presumed death; from her elder sister, Nova (Claire Rankin), on whom the burden of the family’s problems have since fallen; and from Deputy Chief Lewton (Dean Armstrong), who is in charge of Lauren’s case. Moving back into her old home with Nova and their father, Chief Tom Riley (Fulvio Cecere), who has taken a leave of absence, Jennifer is determined to get to the bottom of Victor’s murder—and in doing so finds her life in danger… “The Lifetime Movie Network in association with Harlequin”… How could you possibly recommend a movie more strongly than that!? I gather that Deadly Secrets By The Lake is part of some kind of crossover universe, and it ends with a set-up for a sequel; but it works as a standalone mystery, if “works” isn’t too strong a word. The film is hampered by a weak and predictable script, but its main issue is Jennifer herself, who behaves so stupidly that you’re surprised she even survived her first week on the job, let alone made it to detective. In addition to going off alone and unarmed to meet with suspects, Jennifer likes to go around telling people what she knows, and what the police department knows, and what evidence hasn’t been found yet that might implicate the real killer… Meanwhile, things are no less exasperating on the romantic side of the equation; I mean, you knew there’d be one, right? The one real surprise thrown up by Deadly Secrets By The Lake is that Jennifer cheats on her New York boyfriend, Santos Alvarez (Tahmoh Penikett), after she is thrown back together with Hayden Blake (Steve Byers), Abbie’s brother, with whom she was secretly involved as a teenager. Even by Lifetime standards, these two “nice guys” are embarrassingly personality-free: Hayden gives the impression that someone brought a loaf of white bread to life; while Santos’ puppy-dog eagerness for domesticity and his constant refrain of “I understand!” almost ask for what he gets. As she picks her way through this emotional minefield, Jennifer tries to focus on the murder of Victor Townsend, who in partnership with Lauren ran a “controversial” true-crime blog, and went out of his way to battle Connor Blake. At the same time, Jennifer remains haunted by Abbie’s disappearance—with the truth perhaps coming to light at last, when she and Hayden discover a body…
Slender Man (2018)
You know—it’s got to the point where the ‘Screen Gems’ logo at the beginning of a film provokes me to an involuntary shudder… Given the tragic real-world fallout of the ‘Slender Man’ meme, it is incredible that anyone would think that making a film like this was a good idea—and indeed, it is clear that those involved realised fairly early that it was a really bad idea; yet instead of the plug being pulled, we ended up with Sony trying to shop their film to Netflix instead of releasing it directly, and then – say it with me now! – cutting their initial bloody R-rated version down to a PG-13 rating. Whether Slender Man could ever have been any good seems debatable; what we can say for sure is that the film that ended up in release is a dreary, unimaginative mixing of The Ring and The Blair Witch Project, with a smidgen of Sinister thrown in for good measure. (Well…not good, exactly…) In a small Massachusetts town, four friends – Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso) – gather in the basement hideaway of the latter’s house, while her alcoholic father (Kevin Chapman) sleeps upstairs. Chloe tells the others that Kyle (Miguel Nascimento) and Tom (Alex Fitzalan) were unavailable that evening because they were planning on trying to invoke a mythical being known as ‘Slender Man’, via a particular internet video. Annoyed at being excluded, the girls decide to watch the video themselves… Over the following week, each of the four must deal with having exposed themselves to the disturbing imagery. During a school field trip, which takes a group of students to the edge of the local woods, Katie separates from the rest—and disappears… The police, the media and initially Katie’s friends respond as if to an abduction; but when no trace of Katie is found, Wren argues that her disappearance is connected to the video they watched. The other three begin researching the legend of Slender Man, seeking some way of getting Katie back—only to realise too late that they have invited a terrifying pursuit… There are multiple levels upon which Slender Man fails, including a failure to understand its source material. The soul of creepypasta is brevity: the fragmented narrative that allows fear to build within its gaps. Consequently, the screenplay’s attempts to flesh out its boogeyman fail rather spectacularly—not least because it wants Slender Man to be more than “just” an internet phenomenon, instead of engaging with its myth as an internet phenomenon. Though there are splutterings about the-meme-as-virus, there is much more of a contradictory linking of Slender Man to all the various child-threatening figures of legend—reducing the internet from prima facie cause to just one more medium. Furthermore, this fleshing-out results in the film contradicting its source at pretty much every turn, including the age of Slender Man’s rescuees / victims. And it is certainly victims that this film increasingly gives us, as Wren, Hallie and Chloe are stalked and terrorised in a series of scenes that never manage to be at all frightening…although that might be because we can’t see them. This is, in all seriousness, the most visually impenetrable film I’ve come across since the heyday of Peter Hyams. The scenes set in the woods at night are at least understandably dark, if no less annoyingly so for that; but there is no excuse for the inside scenes being every bit as murky. (The film finally gifts me a two-fer: No-One Ever Turns The Lights On PLUS The World’s Darkest Hospital.) There are signs in Slender Man that the four young actresses are capable of better, but they are defeated here by a script that grows ever more hysterical and incoherent. The best part of this film involves, not the four protagonists, but Hallie’s relationship with her younger sister, Lizzie (Taylor Richardson): the two are friends in a way that movie siblings so rarely are. (We see in these moments that Julia Goldani Telles, at least, can do better.) But this is a tiny touch of relief in what is otherwise a comprehensive failure. The bottom line of Slender Man is that there is absolutely nothing in this film remotely as disturbing as that original batch of internet images.