11/22/07

CT001 The Oozing Skull

(1972, Horror, color)

Rating: ***

You are the wind beneath my scabs.

In a nutshell:

A mad doctor transplants a dictator’s brain as part of his maniacal plan to rule the world!

Summary:

Al Hirt, ladies and gentlemen.Abdul Amir, benevolent dictator of the Middle Eastern nation of Khalid, lies dying of an unspecified illness while his closest advisors huddle around him to make plans for the future. If Amir dies, their country will be thrown into turmoil and chaos. There is only one solution: hire a mad scientist to transplant Amir’s brain into a younger, healthier body, and then perform plastic surgery on the new body to make it look like his old one. Amir agrees with the plan, says “farewell for now” to his Middle Eastern friends Mohammed and Robert, asks his hot blond Middle Eastern personal assistant Tracey to marry him after his resurrection, and expires.

As Amir’s personal physician, Robert gives the deceased ruler an injection and wraps him in aluminum foil for shipping. Fifteen hours later, they arrive in the United States to unwrap the corpse on the operating table of one Dr. Trenton, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire. Red tempura paint squirts every which way as Trenton and his jauntily-chapeaued dwarfish assistant Dorro perform gruesome surgery on the deceased’s cranium, finally storing the brain in a giant pop-o-matic with electrodes.

Dorro descends to the dungeon to extract the blood the brain will need from a helpless young woman named Katherine, while Trenton tells Robert and Mohammed to leave him be until he’s done. Robert and friends pile into a station wagon and depart, but while driving the windy road away from Trenton’s mountain hideout, another huge seventies car begins to chase them. It eventually forces them over a cliff. Robert leaps to safety at the last moment, but the other, um, people from Khalid (Khalidites? Khalidians?) plummet to their deaths.

Meanwhile, Trenton’s other freakish assistant, the hulking, disfigured Gor, stalks the night for likely bodies to complete the operation. He chases a cat burglar into the apartment of an underdressed young woman, but mangles the corpse beyond repair in the process of bringing it back. Faced with a dying brain and no other available bodies, Trenton straps down Gor for the operation. As he succumbs to the anesthetic, Gor’s last thoughts are a flashback of the violent drunken rednecks that assaulted him with battery acid.

Tracey arrives in the U.S. to check on Trenton’s progress; Robert picks her up at the airport to explain that everyone who helped him transport Amir is dead, and he fears Trenton is in danger too. Meanwhile, the man who ran Robert and company off the road gets a call from Trenton, who, it turns out, hired him to kill everyone else involved. He tells the assassin to go back to the car, where he will be “paid.” The tree stump-dense assassin apparently doesn’t think this suspicious at all; on his way back to his car, Robert and Tracey drive past. Robert recognizes him and pulls over to give chase on foot. The case goes over rooftops and down alleys, finally ending with the assassin’s escape and inevitable car bomb-induced demise.

If it takes a mop to remove your make-up, then you've gone a little overboard.Robert and Tracey make it back to Trenton’s office to inform him of the sinister goings-on. Trenton feigns surprise, and at their insistence shows them what has become of Amir. They’re horrified at their beloved ruler’s freakish new visage. Trenton tries to calm them down, assuring them it’s only temporary until he can find a better body, but Amir wakes up and is horrified as well. He knocks out Robert and half-strangles Trenton before finally escaping with Tracey. They attempt to flee by car, but Dorro has sabotaged it, so they lumber off into the woods.

Trenton wakes up first, and has Dorro escort Robert to the dungeon. Given their rather large difference in size, Dorro does this with a great deal of difficulty; when he finally arrives, he is astonished to find that blood-donor girl Katherine has found the keys he left in easy reach and escaped her chains. She stabs him to the heart with a syringe. Robert wakes up and treats her injuries, sucking the rat venom from her leg (???) so that they can escape. He recovers a gun from the sabotaged car and gives chase to Tracey, Amir, and Trenton.

The chase scene takes far too long, and most of the events that take place in it make no sense, but the results are as follows: Amir somehow confuses his memories with Gor’s and chases a kid for no apparent reason. Robert rescues the kid and makes out with Katherine before sending them both to safety. Tracey figures out that Trenton has installed a mind-control chip of some kind in Amir’s head, which gives him headaches every time he tries to disobey. When the four remaining characters finally gather, Trenton orders Amir to capture Robert; he does so, chasing Tracey over a cliff in the process.

They take Robert back to the lab, where Trenton transplants Amir’s brain into Robert’s body and then surgically alters Robert’s face to look like Amir. In the final scene, Amir resumes his place at the head of his country, naming Trenton as his head of medical research department, and granting him a huge budget. Jarring flashbacks from Robert’s point of view interrupt his speech.

Thoughts:

Mary Jo's Brain of Bloodmobile.Is this supposed to be an exploitation film? I guess I have more stringent requirements for my exploitation than the makers of this turd. Film hacks of the world take note; my requirements for exploitation are as follows: Your movie must be laden with heaping helpings of a) gore, b) female skin, and c) melodrama. Let’s check the movie against this list, shall we?

a) Well, I guess it’s got gore, but only in the first surgical scene. We see a splash of red paint, a mangled bald cap, and a rubber spider or two in the rest of the film, but nothing else particularly shocking.

b) We glimpse a woman in her bra, and a young woman chained to a wall, but only briefly and not in the same scene. Sex-wise, this is tamer than pretty much any generic spy flick of the era.

c) Sure, the plot lends itself to overwrought histrionics, but the acting and script do not support this. Come on, movie. I demand unrelenting screams, passionate expressions of hopeless love, and peals of maniacal laughter. This movie conveys its ludicrous plot with the clumsy dialogue of a seventies adventure show, delivered in the husky whispers of a Shyamalan film.

Ultimately, my main problem with the movie is that it includes bits of token exploitation, but doesn’t quite have the nerve to go all the way with them. Yes, it’s bad, but in a competent sort of way, wobbling the film away from the happy delirium it could have achieved. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re going to make a good film, make it good, and if you’re going to make a bad film, make it bad. This halfway crap just isn’t all that entertaining.

Fortunately, the Cinematic Titanic treatment of it features not one, not three, but five riffers, and they’ve all got entertainment flying out their collective wazoo. MST3K creator Joel Hodson finally returns to the ring of riffing, bringing with him a plethora of writer/performers from that show, including J. Elvis “Josh” Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Mary Jo Pehl. When paint spurts everywhere during the operation, Frank wants to know, “Who are they operating on, Sherwin Williams?” As the bra girl happens upon both the cat burglar and the disfigured Gor, Mary Jo, says, “She’s got two stalkers? That tramp!” During the rooftop chase, Trace calls the film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Douchebag.” When Amir wakes up in a horrific body wanting to know if this is a joke, Joel says, “If you could see the look on what’s left of your face.” As Trenton’s control device continuously buzzes in Amir’s brain, Josh says, “It’s like there’s a game show in my head, and I’m always wrong!”

Yes, we knew there would be riffing, and that the riffing would be funny, but what sets this apart from every other post-MST3K project is the silhouettes. Their unobtrusive arrangement is such that it will be difficult to tell who’s talking if you aren’t familiar with the people involved, but if you pay attention you’ll see that the gesturing silhouette is pretty much always the one speaking. Also, there’s no introduction, nor host segments of any kind; instead, they occasionally freeze a frame to get up and discuss, or do a prop comedy routine. Guest silhouettes such as Stephen Hawking and Al Hirt are introduced, the latter to interrupt his trumpet solo with continuous vomiting during the brain transplant scene. Silhouette chandeliers are dropped; people lean in from each side on cherry pickers in an attempt to alter images; at one point, J. Elvis smashes a guitar. They make better use of silhouettes than the original show.

The DVD is expensive, and this probably due to the quality of the silhouette routines, but considering that at their current rate we’ll only get one every two to three months or so, the price isn’t that bad. The folks at Cinematic Titanic have delivered what is, without question, a superior riffing system, and I can’t wait to see them try again with a film that isn’t so dull and dreary.