Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Other Catwoman and Metal-Faced Hulk

I recently watched Eugène Lourié's turgid 1958 sci-fi parable, The Colossus of New York, on Blu-ray. It looked fantastic, but the movie itself was just so flat and dull that there was no enjoyment to have outside of the brief, and rather silly, way that New York City was actually incorporated into the narrative. It bares no similarity to Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space other than it being a Z-grade black and white science fiction from from the '50s (that famous movie was released one year later), but I was struck my the similarity in my viewing experience of each.

I didn't like them. While hardly surprising that I wasn't a fan of, in Plan 9's case, a film hailed as the worst ever made, or a cardboard cutout of a Frankenstein's Monster remake in the form of The Colossus of New York, they were two films that I immediately thought of after the double feature at the Astor Theatre last night. Quite on a whim, I went to along to the famed repertory house to catch 35mm prints of Arthur Hilton's Cat-Women of the Moon (aka Rocket to the Moon) and Phil Tucker's Robot Monster (aka Monsters from the Moon). I guess 1958 was all about the moon. I mean, there's not even any mention of the moon in Robot Monster! Then again, the villain in Robot Monster is neither a robot nor a monster, really, so maybe we shouldn't split hairs. Still, I thought of Colossus of New York and Plan 9 from Outer Space because whilst I watched those two films in the comfort of my own home, by myself, and disliked them terribly, I saw these two (arguably) equally dreadful movies from the same era, but did so in a cinema with about 50 other patrons all laughing along and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I have no doubt that Colossus is a dud no matter how one views it, but Plan 9's reputation makes me suspect I'm missing something that home entertainment simply can't provide.

Would I have enjoyed Cat-Women of the Moon and Robot Monster half as much if seen at home with all the distractions that my meagre wage can afford? I assume no. There's something about watching an overweight, pelvic-thrusting gorilla in a space helmet tip toe around the desert as he(?) tries to destroy the American nuclear family that doesn't pack quite the same punch when by one's lonesome. I would like to see more, quite frankly. And at only 65 minutes each, it's certainly a quick and very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours of one's evening. Despite the incredibly Z-grade quality of both movies, they provided far more genuine entertainment than most of the films I have seen from 2012. No, they're not good movies by any stretch of the imagination, but gosh they're a riot to watch in the right setting.

Cat-Women of the Moon, to those who've seen both films, is clearly the inferior of the two. The effects are all but non-existent, the women are hilarious cliches, and the romance is startlingly abrupt, but you don't watch something like this for the thoughtful presentation of ideology about space colonisation and the dilemmas of faith around searching for life on other planets. You just don't! You go to giggle at the "space age" look and marvel at the naive simplicity of it all. How these rocket scientists use a tiny window to judge their moon landing on the dark side of the moon is a true miracle of science.

Still, it's a far more competent film - if one can use that term to describe these things - compared to Robot Monster. An absolutely hysterical post-apocalyptic sci-fi rumble that uses the magic of public domain stock footage to warn moviegiers that they're destroying the planet and that if they keep going the way they have been, we will all be invaded and killed by gorillas in space suits with posture issues, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and sensitive feet. How does one even begin to comprehend? There's a wedding (and honeymoon under a shrub) for no apparent reason other, the women don't wear bras, stop-motion dinosaurs are sent down to Earth via lightning, and a giant alligator battles a giant lizard out of any context. It's mad, I tellsya. Mad! What else could we expect from a film written by somebody with the name of Wyott Ordung?

And yet in that darkened cinema as the small crowd (especially for a cinema that can seat over 1000) had a fun time, these films became more than just forgotten Z-grade shockers. Cinema - as in the psychical building of a cinema - has the power to turn even the strangest of concoctions into memorable experiences.

Has anybody else experienced this films of this type. Is Plan 9 from Outer Space a must see on the big screen, or is its inherent badness not even able to be overcome by a crowd of cult-like devotees and their riotous laughter? I anticipate the day when I get the chance to see it in such a scenario.

1 comment:

FDot said...

I've had a couple of experiences along the same lines. One was a screening of "Wild Women of Wongo". On its own, the film is atrocious. In a theatre of like-minded people ready to revel in its ineptitude, it was a hilarious experience.

Same goes for "Night Warning" (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker). When it was released in the 1980's it was meant as a serious horror film. Seeing it with an audience of horror aficionados, it was an over-the-top comedy.

Watching a film alone is always a different experience than in a theatre. I don't think Plan 9 would be any different. At home, it would be unwatchable. In a theatre with people purposefully there to celebrate is awfulness, it would be a much better viewing experience.