1/11/07

806 The Undead

(1957, Horror/Fantasy, b&w)

STAY!

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Well…uh…there’s some witches, a hooker, and a time-traveling hypnotist who…um…

Summary:

A very perky Alison Hayes.We start off with Satan—a fey, goateed man in a Peter Pan hat—who laughs at us while he introduces the film…

(Hang on. Though I’m no Surgeon General, I feel I ought to warn you that the following film summary contains numerous run-on sentences, which are confusing both in content and construction. This is to encourage the reader to skim through as fast as possible, and thus avoid any attempt at such a thing as “reading comprehension.” A well-constructed summary filled with short, easily digestible sentences would make the reader pause every so often to try and figure out what on earth is going on, thus inducing frustration and nausea, increasing incrementally with each paragraph. The summary below will probably cause this as well, but at least you’ll get it over with all at once, at the end.

Ready? Now gird your loins, take a deep breath, and remember—don’t stop for anything.)

So there’s this scar-faced guy named Quintus who’s a psychical researcher (I think that’s what you call a sideshow hypnotist who went to community college), and he’s hired a hooker named Diana Love and brought her to his old professor’s office in the dead of night to prove all his mad theories were correct after all. (Quintus’ theories, that is. Not the professor’s.) Under some kind of vague duress, the bald Professor Olinger agrees to supervise the dangerously crazy experiment, which consists of Quintus boring Diana to sleep by talking about his hand. (Quintus’ hand, that is. Not the professor’s.) They spoon-feed her and watch her sleep for days and days until she starts babbling in French and clawing at her bracelet. Everything gets all wobbly…

…and we see Diana’s medieval self Helene imprisoned in the Tower of Death. Diana of the future speaks to Helene of the past, instructing her to put the moves on her repulsive jailer Gobbo, so she can club him into insensibility with her manacles and take his keys. The virtuous Helene balks at first, but does as instructed, escaping the guards (all twelve of them, or rather, all three of them running past the camera four times) and the knight (no one ever bothers to pretend that there’s more than one) by boarding a hearse/wagon and crawling under a bearded corpse. The aforementioned knight searches the hearse in vain, but orders the musical gravedigger Smolkin (Hey diddle diddle / The rat and his fiddle / The corpse jumped over his tomb) to nail the coffin shut. Smolkin does as he is told, but pries it open again with a shovel when he hears sobbing from within, freeing Helene and taking her to his good witch friend Meg Maude. You see, Helene has been accused of bewitching Smolkin with madness (though the sole symptom of his madness seems to be the inability to sing common songs without making graveyard word substitutions) which is why she was condemned to death in the first place. The old crone Maude soon determines the accusation is false, and offers to hide Helene until sunrise, after which she will have a whole year to prove her innocence, since witches can only be executed once a year, the morning after the Witch’s Sabbath.

Maude leaves Helene in her cottage and runs off to Scroop’s Tavern where Helene’s true love Pendragon (emphasis on the first syllable, not the second) tries to prove her innocence before dawn while simultaneously sculpting a clay bust of his beloved and fending off the advances of the predatory Livia (played by the busty Allison Hayes). Maude sends Pendragon off to her cottage in the woods and heads in to confront Livia, whose shapeshifting ways and imp employee (played by a way over-the-top Billy Barty) identify her as an evil witch. Though nothing is explicitly (or intelligibly) stated, we must assume she is the one responsible for the whole predicament, having bewitched Smolkin and framed Helene to pursue the rock-stupid Pendragon. She and Maude trade barbs, and Livia departs in the form of some sort of flying scone/bat/pancake/thing.

Now we get to a comedy (well, comedy-ish) of errors in which Pendragon and Helene decide to go back to Scroop’s, where they run into Maude, who agrees to watch Helene while Pendragon goes to look for Smolkin (Why? Who knows?), but they will go back to Maude’s place and wait for him there if he’s not back within an hour, except he meets Livia on the way out, who tells him Helene has been recaptured and sent back to the Tower of Death, and he believes her for some reason and fights with Gobbo but doesn’t find Helene, so he heads back to Livia who confesses her witchness and offers to take him to the Witch’s Sabbath where he can sell his soul to the devil in exchange for Helene’s freedom. In the meantime, the hour is up, so Maude and Helene flee to Maude’s house while Livia cuts off Scroop’s head as an offering to her dark master, taking it to the Sabbath with Pendragon where they see aforementioned goateed man with pitchfork and Peter Pan hat, who commands some zombie dancing girls to rise and wiggle while Meg Maude spies from afar.

Back in the present day, Quintus and Professor Olinger determine that Diana has altered the past by saving Helene when she wasn’t meant to be saved, which means that all of her future lives will cease to exist. (Well, yeah, of course. Anyone could see the logic in…huh?) In order to prevent this Quintus hooks up a reel-to-reel tape recorder which hurls him bodily (naked except for his wristwatch) into the past where he happens on the kingdom’s only knight and mugs him for his armor. He crashes the Sabbath to tell Pendragon that Helene is free and hiding at Maude’s cottage. Pendragon, Helene, and Smolkin flee into the woods while Maude and Quintus spar with Livia and her imp while speaking of Helene’s terrible choice (die now for the sake of her reincarnations or live and sacrifice all her future lives). Everyone (including Satan, but not including the imp, who fell victim to Maude’s holy water) gathers in the woods to offer Helene incomprehensible advice about the situation (STAY!). Helene listens to the voices of her future selves and runs to the executioner’s block, while Pendragon runs to prevent her, knifing Livia along the way. He’s too late; Helene is executed and returns to the present day as Diana, now imbued with newfound purpose and virtue. She and Professor Olinger glance over at Quintus’ chair, now draped with his empty clothes. (Quintus’ empty clothes, that is. Not the professor’s.)

Back in the past, Quintus and Satan chat pleasantly, and Quintus remarks about how he really ought to be getting home. Satan reminds him that Helene/Diana was the one who guided him here; without her to guide him back to his own time, he’s stuck. He laughs maniacally (Satan laughs, that is; Quintus doesn’t find it funny) promising to reserve Quintus a spot in hell once his natural life is over.

(There now. It’s all over. Inhale, exhale, inhale, and so on. Put your head between your knees if you have to. There you go. Feel better?)

Introduction:

Tom Servo's one of those rare few who can eat his own brain and suffer no ill effects.Mike attempts to explain the plot to this point. Tom and Crow keep urging him to start further back, until he’s explaining about the numerous temp jobs he had before the chronology of the show began. One job in particular sticks in his memory, and he recalls his lazy, stinky, accountant-punching work habits while wondering why he was fired. Eventually he devolves into a bitter reverie, muttering obsessive inaudible threats to himself.

Host Segment One:

The Observers administer an intelligence test to everyone. Pearl tells them the test is biased against her and refuses to complete it. Bobo is a “profoundly stupid ape,” a claim he refutes by stacking boxes in the background. Gypsy ranks “eightieth percentile among robots of her kind, of which there is only one.” Crow fell asleep and drooled all over his test. Mike was still in his reverie when he took his and could only write why, why, why… Tom only missed one question and it was due to a misplaced decimal—a score that ranks him higher than one of the Observers. They send the unfortunate Observer’s brain off to the Enrichment Chamber.

Host Segment Two:

Tom has been taken to the planet’s surface to be an Observer. The other Observers congratulate him, but question his Observer qualifications. They challenge him to read Pearl’s mind. Servo glares at her and describes her thoughts as, “I couldn’t read a mind if it were written on a cereal box…” He breaks down and admits he was reading his own mind. Pearl complains that they’re out of spoons. Spoons begin to spill freely from Servo’s sleeve, and he flees the Observers’ wrath. They catch him and discover his external brain is just an olive. They send him back up to the Satellite.

Host Segment Three:

Livia the witch appears on the Satellite of Love to enslave one and all! Or she would, if she could stop metamorphing. After cycling rapidly through the forms seen in the film (a cat, a crow, and a scone/bat/pancake/thing) she moves on to such items as a football, an inflatable penguin, and Pearl Forrester. When movie sign rolls around she’s stuck as a bottle of bleach.

Host Segment Four:

Mike remembers he has a Digger Smolkin record he bought at a garage sale. Upon playing it, they hear classic songs with many key lyrics replaced. Even Beethoven’s Fifth is rendered as “Bababa Rat! Bababa Death!” Greensleeves is sung almost unaltered, with only one word changed at the end.

Host Segment Five:

Crow is an imp, and chuckles generically while Tom obsesses over Leonard Maltin’s three-star rating of this film. He makes Mike dress up as Maltin and read an apology that includes such phrases as, “I have been to the proletariat district and consorted with the prostitutes…” Down on the Observer planet, Bobo has gotten up for a midnight snack. He sings “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano,” and shouts “mayo-NNAISE” while he makes a sandwich for a long, long time. Mistaking the Enrichment Chamber for a refrigerator, he slices up an Observer’s brain. He realizes his mistake when every attempted bite provokes an offscreen scream, tapes the brain back together, and flees with the jar of mayonnaise.

Stinger:

The Observers hold up their brains.

Stinger:

Peter Pan: Antichrist.Single-digit cast? Check. Two or three locations? Check. Stilted, incomprehensible script? Check. Allison Hayes in next to nothing? Double-check. Even if I hadn’t seen his name in the credits, I could have identified this as a Roger Corman film. The only thing that might have thrown me off is the intensely bizarre Mighty Jack quality of the story. Half of a normal Corman film is footage of the characters walking from one place to another. This one eschews walking scenes for the frenetic pace, arbitrary rules, and plot non sequiturs of a bad Japanese TV show. It’s more of a trade-off than an improvement. On the one hand, it’s nowhere near as boring as most of his other films. On the other, it makes a whole lot less sense.

There are a lot of good host segments in this episode. From Mike’s bitter memories, to his Maltin impersonation, each sketch is well executed. My favorite is the shapeshifting witch segment (especially when she turns into Pearl for a moment), while my least favorite is the interminable “Bobo making a brain sandwich.” It’s not that it isn’t well done; it’s that it goes on more than a little too long.

When it comes time to select a quote from the film segments from the top of the review, I usually only have one, or at most two, in my brain to choose from—if I have any at all. For the Undead I chose STAY, which is what Quintus shouts at the culmination of a plethora of bizarre, nonsensical advice about whether or not Helene should sacrifice herself to save her future lives. A good argument could also be made for Mike’s comment immediately following, when he states, “I’ve never known more about what isn’t going on in a movie.” During the lengthy “hypnotize you with my hand” scenes, Tom shouts “SLEEP!” a number of times, something they will repeat in several future episodes. At the very beginning, when Satan shows up to introduce us to the movie, Mike introduces him as, “Peter Pan: Antichrist.” Any one of the above would be funny enough to put at the top of the review. Several others during the film were funny enough as well. It’s a wretched, nonsensical movie, but the commentary is some of the best they’ve done during the run of the show, and it never slows down.