1/30/07

901 The Projected Man

(1967, Horror-Mad Science, color)

Pretty, you may be.

Rating: *1/2

In a nutshell:

An impatient scientist partially fries himself during a botched teleportation experiment.

Summary:

He's McProjecting(tm) himself.Dr. Paul Steiner (Bryant Haliday, a.k.a. The Great Vorelli) can project (i.e. teleport) inanimate matter without difficulty, but can’t seem to project living creatures without frying them. He calls in his pathologist ex-girlfriend Patricia Hill to help him. She flirts with his assistant, Dr. Chris Mitchel, and makes a few astute observations to help them correct the problem.

Meanwhile, the laboratory director Dr. Blanchard conspires with the prodigiously eyebrowed Mr. Latham. They concoct a scheme to sabotage Paul’s projector during a demonstration, thus discrediting him in front of a vague authority figure named Lembach. This will give Blanchard an excuse to cut his funding and steal his projection research.

Furious at the sabotage, Paul works in secret with Chris and Patricia to correct the problem. As soon as he’s fixed his projector, he goes to Blanchard’s house to beg Lembach for another chance. Under duress from Blanchard, Lembach refuses. Paul then attempts to project himself into Blanchard’s house, but his vapid secretary Sheila screws up the process. He ends up projected into a random back alley, where his hideously burned face frightens a trio of inept burglars. He kills them one by one with his high-voltage touch and stumbles back towards his laboratory.

In the meantime, Blanchard and Latham decide to make their move. While Blanchard deflects Chris and Patricia’s questions about Paul’s whereabouts, Latham sneaks into the laboratory to steal Paul’s data tapes. To his surprise, Paul is there too, drawing electricity into his body through the main power line. Paul fries Latham and destroys the tapes.

In the scenes that follow we see numerous autopsies and police interrogations, Paul’s murder of Blanchard and several unlucky passers-by, implied sex between Chris and Patricia, and several gratuitous shots of Sheila in her underwear. Eventually they all corner Paul in some kind of industrial warehouse. Patricia coaxes him back to the lab, where Chris has been working to find a way to reverse the effects of the failed projection. Rather than accept a cure, however, the maddened Paul destroys the equipment and burns the place down. No one bothers to tell us who (if anyone) survives.

Introduction:

Lembach is staying! Wooooooo!The Satellite of Love has been pulled back through the wormhole, ending up in orbit around present-day earth. Upon the gradual discovery of their time and location, Crow exclaims, “We can see Ethan Hawk movies again!” Tentative celebration ensues.

Host Segment One:

Pearl and her cohorts arrive at a spooky but strangely familiar castle, filled with strange, whispering voices. Quoth Brain Guy, “[They are] a howl of quiet desperation against an uncaring universe. Nepenthe! Nepenthe!” “You are so gay,” Pearl replies. A spirit possesses her to play baseball tunes on a gothic pipe organ. She recognizes the place as the traditional home of her ancestors, Castle Forrester.

Host Segment Two:

Tom and Crow have developed a projection device, which they use to project Mike’s class ring to live a new, full life in a very vaguely defined remote location. They repeat this process with his St. Blaise medal and the love letters Denise wrote him before she died. Quoth Mike, “If I didn't know better, I'd think you were just burning the things that mean the most to me, and thinking it was funny.” He tests their denial by “projecting” Tom’s autographed picture of Shirley Jones. He and Crow laugh at Tom’s subsequent tears.

Host Segment Three:

Mike calls Lembach and entices him to stay with the prospect of “shenanigans.” He and his fellow Satellite-dwellers rejoice when Lembach agrees. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl reads from her family diary, noting all her ancestors tortured their prisoners with various forms of bad storytelling. Mike shrugs off her taunts—Lembach is staying, and nothing can ruin his joy. Lembach calls to say he has to leave after all.

Host Segment Four:

Crow has imbued himself with the Touch of Death. Mike has his doubts, provoking Crow to vigorously defend his claim. After some negotiation, they reach an agreement and shake hands, whereupon Crow’s Touch of Death kills Mike. Tom and Crow have to lug him into the theater. A repeat touch brings Mike back to life partway through the following film segment.

Host Segment Five:

Tom wants a research grant to continue work on his water engine, but his demonstration goes awry. Mike shuts down his experiment and agrees to fund Crow’s rival proposal for two leaf blowers and a hat. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl and her minions have donned military uniforms. Pearl declares she will dedicate herself to taking over the world.

Stinger:

Quoth Paul, “Lembach is staying in town for another few days.” Chris and Patricia rejoice.

Thoughts:

The sanest brand of madness ever to afflict a scientist.English mad scientists leave a lot to be desired. The British sense of restraint may work well in other kinds of films, but in the wrong hands, subtlety is merely tedious. American (or Americanized) mad scientists don’t make for great cinema either, but at least they shout a lot and make pretty ‘splosions. Look at Bela Lugosi as Dr. Varnoff in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. There is no experiment too ill advised, no revenge too petty, and no speech too exuberantly melodramatic for Dr. Varnoff; when he finally meets his overcomplicated end, we shake our heads and realize his demise was silly, but inevitable. The Projected Man’s Paul Steiner, on the other hand, barely qualifies as a “mad” scientist at all. His experiments are only slightly out of the ordinary, his method of revenge is more passive-aggressive than overt, and when confronted with evidence of his rival’s flagrant wrongdoing, all he can say is, “how childish.” We watch him work through approximately forty-five minutes of unnecessary grant-seeking intrigue, and then he starts killing people for no apparent reason. Why did he burn the place down instead of accepting the cure at the end? I understand he’s upset about his burns, and he seems a little jealous of Chris and Patricia’s relationship, but he’s still nowhere near the operatic levels of insanity he’d need to justify that kind of rash decision.

I’m guessing that feedback on the planet-hopping storyline of the eighth season was mostly negative, because most of this episode’s host segments are dedicated to discarding them in favor of a new fixed location. Castle Forrester is the SciFi Channel’s equivalent of Deep 13, a dank, musty place that will serve as Pearl’s headquarters in her mad scheme to rule the world! I have mixed feelings about this. For future episodes, this is really the best thing they could have done. Mostly gone are the days of unnecessary plot advancement. Pearl now has an objective and a home. These will give her character an anchor and simultaneously fade into the background during her upcoming comedic antics. Unfortunately, the host segments of this episode are mostly a loss while they explain the transition from one setting to the next. Pearl’s discovery of the castle’s backstory has some funny moments (I quite enjoyed the creepy baseball park organ) but mostly I just didn’t care. Not all of the host segments bother us with Pearl’s genealogy, though. Crow’s Touch of Death is particularly funny, and the ‘Bots’ projection machine is almost as good. The “Lembach is staying!” sketch seemed more like a cry of frustration over the maddening grant subplot than an actual joke. When taken as such, it is quite effective.

The film segments have some good lines. Dr. Chris Mitchel’s inexplicable statement, “Pretty, you may be,” inspires Tom’s “Driving, she may be,” and Mike’s “An exhaust system, she may need.” Later, Tom comments on Sheila’s rather staid underwear by saying, “She tried to buy the turtleneck panties, but they were out.” Many times, however, the satellite crew is reduced to commenting on the exhaustively explained subplot, as in Mike’s, “And the plot thinnens,” and his exasperated, “At this point, I really have to agree with cutting off the funding.” You’ll need to see this episode if you want to understand the show’s continuity, but I wouldn’t watch it just for the film.