1/9/07

701 Night of the Blood Beast

(1958, SciFi, b&w), with:

Once Upon a Honeymoon
(1956, Educational-Industrial/Musical, color)

This has “Steve” written all over it.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A goofy angel saves a struggling songwriter’s honeymoon.
Film: An extraterrestrial parrot monster impregnates an astronaut with alien brine shrimp.

Short Summary:

Should we get a gay man for our roof, honey?In Once Upon a Honeymoon, Jeff and Mary have been married for nearly one year. Though one assumes they’ve consummated by now, they have not yet managed an actual honeymoon. This seems to be a matter of great concern among the Celestial Powers-That-Be, so a quorum of officious white-robed types gathers on Cloud Seven to discuss the problem. The chief angel (God maybe?) berates the exuberantly goofy Wilbur for his tardiness and his lack of invisibility. Wilbur dons enormous Elton John-esque glasses and leaps from the cloud to sort things out.

Down on earth, Jeff and Mary are almost out the door and on their way to honeymoon bliss when the phone rings. It’s a Broadway producer, complaining about the score for Jeff’s latest musical. They can’t leave until he rewrites one of the songs to the diva’s satisfaction. Jeff sits down at the piano and chain-smokes himself into a stupor. Now listening from the roof, Wilbur sprinkles magic, um, angel dust all over everything, inspiring Mary to flit about the house and sing of her redecorating fantasies.

More dust causes Jeff to become inspired by the rattle of the rotary phone. He rewrites his wife’s redecorating fantasy musical number for the diva, who is pleased beyond words. They dance their way out the door to their honeymoon, leaving Wilbur to lock up behind them.

Film Summary:

Night of the Blood Beast begins with astronaut John Corcoran in a tiny rocket capsule in space. His systems fail, so he pulls every lever available to him (there are four) and resigns himself to death.

Later, the rest of the space program employees (all five of them) arrive to recover the capsule. John’s dead, of course, but the head of the program, Dr. Wyman, is astonished at his lack of rigor mortis. They load him into the back of a pickup and drive him back to their headquarters. Meanwhile, some mud slides off the top of the capsule and creeps off through the underbrush.

A lot of overwrought exposition introduces us to the rest of the characters. These include the terminally depressed Dr. Wyman, his assistant and John’s bereaved fiancĂ© Julie, a pair of technicians named Steve and Dave, and a mostly non-present photographer named Donna. Dr. Wyman and Julie do tests to determine John’s deadness, and are surprised by his healthy blood pressure and the presence of rapidly expanding cartoons in his blood. The power goes out, and a ragged parrot monster attacks Steve when he heads outside to flip the breakers. They huddle all together in one room, each of them taking turns to keep watch over John’s corpse until morning.

Steve and Dave wake up to find Dr. Wyman’s head missing. John wakes up from death at this point as well, to alternately make serene proclamations of intelligence from the stars and have nervous breakdowns in Julie’s cleavage. They examine him under a fluoroscope and find that the expanding cartoon blood has turned into shrimp-like alien babies. The parrot monster bursts in at this point, but they drive it away with gunshots and a thrown lantern.

An aborted hunt through the countryside results only in Donna’s brief capture and quick release, so they head back to spend another day spent in overwrought exposition. They learn that the monster can contact John via telepathic means, so he leads them out to a meeting with it. The parrot monster comes out to cry, “I mean you no harm,” and spout vague utopian nonsense at them. John shakes himself free of the monster’s psychic hold and shouts that it intends to enslave humanity and use them to spawn more of his kind. He stabs himself dead(er) while Dave and Steve finish the monster off with flare guns and Molotov cocktails. When it’s all over, they shake their heads and wonder if they’ve done the right thing. They conclude that they will never know.

Introduction:

Widdle Clayton is a cute widdle baby with cute widdle maternally-inflicted gunshot wounds.Tom and Crow have decided to take more of an active role in their personal safety. This entails attacking Mike with a Taser, pepper spray, and green dye.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester’s mother Pearl has come to live with him for an undetermined (or, as he puts it, interminable) period of time. She demands he perform a trombone recital, so he slicks his hair back and does as requested while she sits next to him, rapping the bell of his horn every time he goes off key. Up on the Satellite of Love, Crow pulls out a trombone and plays, “Getting Sentimental Over You.” Pearl stops Dr. Forrester’s recital and raves about how everyone is better than him. Quoth she, “If I’d only had the daughter I’d prayed for, instead of you.” While she rants, she lets slip his full name, Clayton Deborah Susan Forrester.

Host Segment Two:

Mike tries to compose a new tune about phones on a tiny piano covered in cigarette butts. Gypsy sings along while spectacled angels Tom and Crow make her every telephonic wish come true. “Hello! Hello! Hello, hello, hello! I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello. And if you say goodbye I’ll sock you in the eye, and line you up against the wall and POP goes the weasel!”

Host Segment Three:

Pearl decides it’s time for Dr. Forrester confess to his little friends. Dr. Forrester isn’t sure what to confess, but tries anyway, guessing his way through a list of disgusting high school pranks, finally asking, “Is it poop related?” Failing to free himself from this situation by peaceful means, he pulls a knife on his mother, who takes out a gun and shoots him.

Host Segment Four:

Crow dons a dress to announce, “I have lain with Blood Beast, and I am pregnant.” He shows them his shrimp-enriched body under the fluoroscope. Mike, Tom, and Gypsy express their doubts, citing his lack of a womb. Crow finally admits it was just a ploy for attention. “Who wouldn’t want to be pregnant?” he exclaims. It’s an excuse to get the whole world to “bend over and smooch my ever-widening—” Mike cuts him off in a hurry.

Host Segment Five:

Mike tries to read a letter, but Crow keeps interrupting with an anti-baby diatribe, decrying their lack of mobility or control over bodily functions. He declares himself a baby as well, stating that Mike will have to “follow me around and clean up my poop!” Down in Deep 13, Pearl has bandaged her son and forces him to cry like a baby until she can rock him to sleep.

Stinger:

Quoth Dr. Wyman, “A wounded animal that large isn’t good.”

Thoughts:

Dr. Wyman is depressed by his pilot's death, bloodborne cartoons, and life in general.Despite being wildly disparate in content and tone, the films featured in this episode share important common element. We see this in Tom Servo’s parting shots. In the feature, when Steve answers the question of whether or not they did the right thing by saying, “We’ll probably never know,” Tom answers with, “And just what it is we’ll never know, we’ll never know.” To the short he simply says, “What the hell was that about, anyway?” Which is to say, both films want something from us, but neither will tell us what it is.

With the short, at least, it’s easy to guess once you find out it was made by a telephone company. They want us to buy more phones, install more lines, talk more and over longer distances, etc. Not that I would have known that without research. Their roundabout way of conveying their point, with goofy theology, ballroom dance, and uninspired songwriting, undercuts this message pretty thoroughly. Not that I didn’t have fun watching it. It’s lightheartedly bad to the point of infectiously silly, without the technical ineptitude that makes lesser films unwatchable.

The film drags on for hours, even though it’s only sixty-two minutes long, and has its characters talk at each other for nine tenths of that time without telling us what it wants us to consider. The morality of the space program? The sacrifice of free will for personal security? Personally, I didn’t see their dilemma at the end. John, with his mind firmly rooted in the alien parrot monster’s intentions, quite clearly told them it wanted to subjugate humanity in favor of its own ragged race. Given the fact that it murdered two of their friends and brought one of them back to life for the purpose of breeding its young, I don’t know that the creature ever really deserved the benefit of the doubt.

What the film wants us to feel is another matter. It wants us to feel terrified, of course, but that just ain’t happening in a Roger Corman film. Though he only produced and let someone else direct, it still bears the hallmarks of his work—e.g. a single digit cast, one to two locations, and a talky, stilted script. The parrot monster’s costume has been recycled from another film he shot that same year, Teenage Caveman.

Night of the Blood Beast originally aired as a Thanksgiving special in 1995, with host segments themed to that holiday. The host segments summarized above replaced them in the normal run of the show. My favorite is Gypsy’s phone song. Funny and bizarre, it makes little to no sense, and thus fits perfectly with the tone of the short it mocks. Crow’s diatribes against pregnant women and babies come in second. The ‘Bot’s efforts to defend themselves from Mike work as well. Mary Jo Pehl is gratingly creepy as Pearl Forrester, and her domination of Dr. Forrester is absolute. Just watching her puts me on edge. That means she’s very effective in her role, but I still miss Frank’s easygoing incompetence.

The film segments involving the short are hilarious. When Wilbur leaps off the cloud with a flamboyant cry, the head angel shakes his head while Tom says, “I hate theater people.” When Jeff sits at his piano and stares into his ashtray, Mike says, “What would Liberace do? [Thinks for a moment.] No, I better not do that.” When husband and wife dance at arms length, Mike admonishes them to “leave room for the Holy Ghost.” The film segments dealing with the feature can get rather dreary, but the SOL crew saves it with number of running jokes. One of them deals their treatment of John’s body, which the characters talk about at length while Mike and the ‘Bots say things like, “Look how dead he is,” “It’s like he’s dead or something,” and “He’s getting deader.” This peters out once John wakes up, but by that time we’ve noticed that, despite their separate appellations, Steve is the only name the characters say with any regularity. This leads to the Satellite crew calling everyone “Steve,” which turns out a great deal funnier than I can make it sound in this review. The exuberant short and the Satellite crew’s running jokes about the film make this an episode worth watching more than once.