Friday, February 1, 2013

When Nature Attacks!

Wise: Werth, I found it!  

Werth: What?  All the Oz: The Great and Powerful merch you've been trolling Toys 'R' Us and the Disney Store for?  

Wise: Not yet, but I did find a movie I've been hunting for years.  Back in the 80's, Superstation TBS used to program "Friday Night Frights," an anthology of all the best—and maybe I mean worst—horror films of the disco era that showed classics like the original Piranha (1978) and Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978). 
Werth: I love a good killer animals flick! 

Wise: I'm not a fan of scary movies, but as a kid I used to sneak downstairs to see how far past the opening credits I could last.  Most nights I was scurrying back to bed within minutes, but one film had me hooked.  This was long before the age of the internet, and if you missed the title of a late night movie, you could wait years hoping someday you'd stumble across it again.  And all I could remember about this flick—aside from my own abject terror—was that it was told in three parts and involved killer cats enacting revenge.  

Werth: Oh, you mean Cat's Eye (1985).   

Wise: Actually, Cat's Eye was the stumbling block to my search because it has a similar structure and theme.  And because it was written by Stephen King and starred a young Drew Barrymore, it had a level of fame that obscured the film I was looking for.  But thanks to YouTube and an overlong search for cute kitten videos that turned down a dark alley of cat attacks caught on tape, I found my prize: The Uncanny (1977).  

Werth: Dark alleys and pussycats. Your therapist is gonna have a field day.

Wise: Peter Cushing plays a milquetoast sci-fi novelist who has made the terrifying discovery that cats are really an alien life form bent on human destruction, and ventures to his publisher's (Ray Milland) house late one night to discuss three examples of feline perfidiousness.  In the first, a housemaid kills her wealthy mistress 
(Joan Greenwood) in the hope that she and the woman's ne-er do well nephew can collect the inheritance and marry, only to be mauled by the old lady's cats.  In the second, an orphan uses witchcraft to punish her aunt and uncle for disposing of her cat.  
And in the third, an actress murdered by her husband is avenged by her cat.  The film is pretty schlocky with deep shadows to cover the cheap sets and most of the cat wrangling is just about as terrifying as a commercial for Fancy Feast—but the score by British TV vet Wilfred Joshephs is spine tingling, and whoever designed the sound effects of cats shredding human flesh either deserves an Oscar or a long rest in tightly locked sanitarium.  

Werth: All this late night, animal terror talk reminds me of one of my favorite horror moviesThem! from 1954. 

Wise: Is that the prequel to Us!?  Or the sequel to Object of the Proposition!?

Werth: Them! is the first US "giant monster" flick and actually came out the same year as Godzilla. But the two movies are very different. Where Godzilla revels in showing a giant rubber costume stomping on Japanese cities and lots of Japanese people running and screaming, Them! starts small in the barren, beautiful New Mexican desert. 
A young girl clutching a battered doll is found wandering in a somnambulist state, unable to tell kindly Police Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) what has happened. Peterson finds out soon enough as they come upon the shredded remains of the mobile trailer of her parents, the body of the eviscerated trailer standing in for bodies of her parents that aren't there. The only clue is a pile of sugar.

Wise: Maybe they were baking a cake.

Werth: It doesn't take long for the intrepid sergeant and FBI agent Robert Graham (the ever-so-tall James Arness) to stumble upon an unbelievable discovery. The atom bomb tests at White Sands nine years ago have created a colony of giant ants, and with the help of ant know-it-all Dr.Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn sans Santa whiskers) and his assistant daughter Pat (Joan Weldon) this brave team attempts to save the world from being wiped out of existence by a species that is just as vicious as we are.

Wise: But maybe not Michael Musto.
Werth: What is so timeless about Them! is how it thrills and scares by not showing us the giant villains. The strange trill-like sound they make crescendos on the wind, making us imagine the terrible creatures several times before the mostly believable monsters are shown. What Them! gets right is how to scare us by hiding what we're up against. These monsters don't stomp on cars and eat radio towers on a sunny day in front of a lot of tourists with their Kodachromes.  
They lurk in the sewers, taking their victims at night, remaining hidden. The warning about the unseen dangers of messing with nature's tiniest element, the atom, is not lost amongst the sci-fi plot and car-sized, wiggily six-legged creations of what is still today, a genuinely scary movie.  

Wise: Ugh!  I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep tonight.  

Werth: Buck up, Wise.  Just count Oz water bottles until you fall asleep and meet back next week for more Film Gab.


1 comment:

Mickle St. said...

LOVE this gab! Scariest thing about THEM! is how they use the silent little girl. EEEEEEEEEEEk!