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Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: When Worlds Collide & The Black Cat

Hey kids! Andy Larson, here, back again to illuminate you with some more cinematic treasures I discovered during another bout of my sleepless nights thanks to a overactive mind and the high degree of stress that comes from being the father of two small children.

For those of you that have never experienced insomnia, let me just say, find out whatever your secret is and sell the heck out of it.

Whether it’s bottle of some magic elixir made of kangaroo’s bladders and high grade whiskey or self help book with one of those catchy titles like “Sleep like a Sheep”,  whatever it is, get it out there because it will make you millions.

Trust me. If you think I’d rather be either up late at night watching these movies or actually practicing proper sleep hygiene, you know I’d be much less cranky of an old man if I was away in the world of Nod right now. But here I am instead bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to take you on whirlwind tour of some Sci-fi and Horror related films you might not have known existed.


When Worlds Collide

Background:

One of the true granddaddies of the “Doomsday Porn” genre, this 1951 movie makes no bones about what it exactly is: two worlds smashing together.

Well, I guess I lied. It’s not two worlds. It’s actually the Planet Earth and a rogue star called Bellus, so it should have been called “When Planets and Stars Collide” or “When Things you look at through a Telescope Collide”, but I don’t think those tested very well with audiences.

Anyways, unlike the movie Armageddon, there is no desperate plan to blow up Bellus before it hits the Earth. From that perspective, mankind just threw up their hands and said “Eh…screw it”. But what they did do was make a plan to build a cosmic ark like spaceship and fly a select few humans to a different planet called Zira. Of course, this movie is set in the 1950s so not one of these select humans is from any minority, which is pretty disgusting, but I’ll talk about that more in my reflections.

In any case, this movie was produced by George Pal after several years being in developmental hell. Yes, even movies back then got delayed and pushed around believe it or not. Originally, it was supposed to be directed by film giant, Cecil B. DeMille, based on the original 1932 novel of the same name. However, eventually Pal ended up with it after his success on the other sci-fi movie: Destination Moon.

Although Pal wanted to keep the lavish production values that DeMille was promised, he ended up getting a pretty slashed budget and had to make due with a lot less. In terms of the quality of the special effects, it does show at times, however compared to other lower budget sci-fi films of the 50s, it is pretty competent.  In fact it actually won the Oscar for Special Effects that year, so you gotta tip your cap to that.

As someone that’s also watched Destination Moon, you can definitely see Pal is continuing to grow as a film maker with this picture, and that this level of competency will continue into his future film adaptations of H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine” (which is one of my childhood favorites).

Final interesting fact is that this film was originally going to be remade as the 1998 movie Deep Impact, but after the story veered too far away to the original source material, it was rebranded as a separate movie all together. However, for those that have seen both movies, you can still see similarities.

2am Thoughts and Reflections:

So yeah, I have to start the reflection section with again pointing out that of all the saved human beings that were put on this space ark, none of them are from any minorities (well sans women, because even the film makers know that’s where babies come from). But yep, out of this random drawing of humanity, we have no people of color, none of Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or Asian descent, hell we barely have any white people from places like Italy or Russia.In fact, the guy that pays for the entire rocket ship who has a German accent is forced off the ship at the last second.

Yeah, they are fooling around with the message here: The future of the human race must be snowy white.

WASPs or nothing. In fact, I think they had room on the ship for a dog, but nope, no room for not one minority.

I know this movie is a product of its time, and the 1950s wasn’t exactly known for its inclusiveness, but still didn’t someone involved with this picture have the guts to say: “Yeah this is wrong. There should be at least one African American on board if this was truly a random drawing or heck even an Eskimo for God’s sake!”.

I’d like to think someone did suggest this though and was then immediately blacklisted for being too progressive and rational. If that person is exists and is still alive, please let me applaud you. You had forward thinking sir or madam. You should have been listened to. McCarthyism was wrong and this film got it wrong. As despite this film being decent at times with solid acting and real emotionalism of people on the brink, the decision to only include white people on the spaceship in the end is the thing I’ll remember forever.

Final Grade: C-

I’m not sure if I really need this section as I just mentioned what I thought above. This movie is really a fairly competent science fiction picture. Decent effects, decent acting, tense plotting and pacing throughout. But they didn’t include any one except white people on the spaceship and that’s going to be a problem for lots of people this day and age. It should have been at least a “B” graded film but yeah, it’s like a “C-” just because of that decision. A product of a bygone age…


The Black Cat

Background:

What can you say about a film that teams the Universal Monster movie icons of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff as adversaries in a decades old blood feud other than “why haven’t more people seen this”?!?

Made in 1934 prior to the adoption of the Hays Code which basically both stifled creativity and handcuffed truly adult themes in movies for the next god knows how many years, The Black Cat is a deeply disturbing psychological chess match between Lugosi, who is hell bent on revenge for the horrific war crimes done to he and his family, and Karloff who plays one of the most twisted devilish sadists ever committed to celluloid. I could say provide more exposition about  what drives their decades long battle of wits, but to do so would really ruin all of the twists and turns of this movie.

What I can say is caught between the two near forces of nature, are a young couple of honeymooners, Peter and Joan Alison, who just happen to get stuck in the cross hairs of this decade long blood feud, establishing the common horror movie motif of the hapless couple of regular people (often the audience ciphers) that have to escape from the terrible, often gory proceedings.

At only 69 minutes, this movie is incredibly short, but still delivers quite a punch. In fact, it’s on Bravo’s list of 100 Greatest Horror Moments for a particularly nasty little scene where Lugosi finally gets his revenge by skinning Karloff alive. Yeah, I said it, skinning him alive.

It was also the the biggest box office hit of the year for Universal in 1934, and as a result became the first of eight movies to pair actors Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff together. Many though cite this first one as the best, and as I’ll mention in my comments, I couldn’t agree more.

2am Thoughts and Reflections:

From the moment Lugosi shows up with the young couple at Karloff’s mansion in the foreboding Hungarian mountains, you know things are going to get downright crazy. And it doesn’t waste much time as in the span of the next hour, there’s  necrophilia, ailurophobia, incest, drug addiction, torture, flaying, and even a Satanic black mass with a human sacrifice.

With a laundry list like that you would think this movie was last years big budget slasher pic, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but nope, it’s nearly 100 years old at this point. And although it doesn’t deliver any of the real blood and gory, it really doesn’t have to. I come from the school of film making, that sometimes the things you don’t see are more terrifying than the things you do. It’s the old Jaws argument that it’s more terrifying not to see the shark, right? Let your imagination fill in the gaps.

As I said earlier, there’s a scene in this film at the climax were Bela shackles Boris to an embalming rack and cuts off his skin in a fit of insanity fueled rage. But they only show it in shadow, which is actually even more creepy because it’s so atmospheric. Gothic horror at it’s best in my opinion.

Plus there’s the actual black mass scenes with the zombie like cultists, and Karloff staring at Lugosi’s dead daughter encased in a glass tomb in his catacombs which are all just downright unsettling. I gotta say from beginning to end, this movie didn’t help me sleep at all. If anything else, it’s pretty powerful nightmare fuel.

Final Grade: A

Can’t say enough great things about this movie. It’s now second only to Bride of Frankenstein in terms of being my favorite picture from that Universal Monster Movie era, and that says a whole hell of a lot given my previous review of that film here.

We got two horror icons at the height of their powers with all the macabre and unsettling ferociousness of their performances, in a tale that although has nothing to do with the original Edgar Allen Poe short story, has all the trappings of what makes for really great scary movie epics.

Plus it’s super short. It’s like the length of one Netflix streaming episode. Surely everyone can find that much time even in their busy lives to throw this sucker on one dark and storming evening, and take the chance of joining me in fellow anxiety laden insomnia well into the wee hours of the morning.

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