Friday’s Pics 1960 Revisited: The Time Machine, House of Usher, Village of the Damned
I was not alive in 1960, so I assume everyone was tapping their foot expectantly, waiting for me to be born. The year 1960 gave us Psycho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ben-Hur, Mack the Knife, and the very first weather satellite. Emily Post died in 1960, and according to some—good manners died with her. A first-class stamp was a measly four cents in 1960, and the minimum wage was one shiny dollar. Adjusted, that’s about $5.30, compared to our current minimum wage, which adjusts down to about $4.80. But what we’re mainly here for are the films.
The world lost a great actor this week with the death of Rod Taylor. He was one of the earliest Aussie actors to make it huge in Hollywood films, and worked with amazing directors like Hitchcock, John Cardiff, and George Pal who directed our first pic of the week, The Time Machine. If you’ve seen The Time Machine, you might notice that the makeup and other effects don’t hold up all that well. You might also notice some logical flaws and rampant improbabilities. But that’s okay. See, The Time Machine is a story by HG Wells, who could never seem to shut up about how terrible the future was going to be. If Wells were still alive, he’d probably be bummed that we aren’t all half animal-half human creatures fleeing from Morlocks, and going insane from invisibility before we’re all eaten (well, drunk more likely) by aliens.
The Time Machine was made for just over $800,000, which was kind a lot in 1960. It went on to make over 2 ½ million at the box office, and of course has been released in a bajillion formats since then. There’s also a remake starring Guy Pierce. It’s probably the least dickish Pierce has ever been in a film. Haven’t seen or read The Time Machine? I can see why, you’ve only had half a century. 😉 The lead character in the film is actually HG Wells (Taylor) who can’t show up on time for dinner with his friends, despite having an actual working time machine. As expected, he travels to another time. What’s unexpected is that he goes to the year 802,701—so he’s actually lucky there is anything remotely like humans still around. The bad news is that there are Morlocks, and they suck. If you don’t know what a Morlock is, you should do yourself a favor and watch the original The Time Machine. It’s under 90 minutes and suitable for the whole family.
The week’s second pic, House of Usher, has some amazing talent behind it. American International Films is large like that. Written by the great Richard Matheson and directed by Roger Corman, this is one of the best of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of this era (though honestly, my all-time fave is Pit and the Pendulum). It stars Vincent Price in what would become the first of 8 films he did with American International. That’s kind of odd, since he looks older in this film than he does in the rest. Poe’s story is actually called The Fall of the House of Usher, and differs from this film in a few slights ways. The identity of the narrator is different, (the brothers friend versus the sister’s fiancé). Currently, House of Usher has a score of 90% at Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest rated of any of Corman’s Poe films.
What’s House of Usher about? A nice enough guy shows up at a fancy castle to visit his fiancée and meet her family. A few hours after meeting her lunatic-seeming brother Roderick (Price), the fiancé decides that the best course of action is to get his sweetheart the hell out of that house and never look back. Before he can do this, something terrible happens. Then we learn something, which makes the thing that happened seem even worse. As the fiancé attempts to fix the first thing and disregard the second thing, another even more shocking thing happens. Intrigued? You should be. I just managed to convey how amazing and suspenseful House of Usher is without any spoilers. You’re welcome. This is another film that’s perfectly good for watching with the family—unless you’ve got kids who have nightmares at scary stuff. Oh, and this movie has a surprisingly cool and effective soundtrack that’s well worth picking up if you ever come across it.
Speaking of scary stuff, our last pic of the week is a great one. Village of the Damned began the “hordes of devil children” genre to the forefront of horror. Long before Night of the Living Dead gave us adorable zombie children (Hi, Kyra!) and Damien Thorn was decades away—Village of the Damned showed us that evil children could be an utter menace, especially when they’re sporting those fetching British accents. The film is based on a book I’ve never read, called The Midwich Cuckoos. The evil children in this damned village look like freaky albinos and have weird glowing eyes so we can easily discern which ones are evil. That’s handy! Village of the Damned isn’t monsters-chasing-you scary. It’s not about shower stabbings or Godzilla smashing Tokyo. The horror here is quiet, slow building, and disturbing. It’s clear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was influenced by Village of the Damned.
The premise of Village of the Damned seems risqué for the time period. A whole village of people suddenly pass into a deep sleep one day. Actually, it’s not just the people in the village, it’s all the animals and anyone who gets near it or flies over it. A plane crashes, and everyone wakes up. Initially weirded out, the town gets over it until a few months go by. Then it turns out that tons of women are pregnant, despite having husbands who aren’t around, being virgins, etc. The ensuing children are born way early, and look like albino versions of creepy little monsters. Of course Brits are far too polite to say that. The kids get smarter and creepier as they age until…well, you’ll have to see it if you want to know the rest. And you totally should. Village of the Damned has a score of 96% at RT, which means even people who “hate black and white movies” love it. There’s a sequel, and a remake—both of which are best avoided. That’s all the movie talk for now.
See you’s next week!