Does anyone not like Martin Landau? A familiar face on our TV screens for decades, a lot of you probably first saw him when you were growing up in the US cult sci-fi show Space 1999. He finally won an Oscar in 1994 for his incredible performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, but tonight, in true Zombie Club style, we would like to honour him in a slightly less obvious way. First up, he joins a stellar cast for some psychiatric hi-jinks in Jack Sholder’s brilliant 80’s horror Alone in the Dark - a movie which could just as easily have appeared in a ZC dedicated to Jack Palance or Donald Pleasance. Waiting patiently to go next in the queue, Landau tries to reassure the locals by saying stuff like "It's perfectly safe" in Jackie Kong’s The Being from 1983.
This evening’s Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee, in association with Donald Pleasance's weed pipe
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Plot Four dangerous loonies try to kill their new psychiatrist.
Zomblee Somewhat of a forgotten gem, Jack Sholder's early 80s horror is more than ripe for re-discovery. Not only is it a nut house flick with a difference but it boasts one of the greatest casts ever to appear together in a horror movie. And better than that, they're all playing psychopaths. It would have been such a travesty if Sholder's film turned out to be rubbish with talent of this calibre; thankfully, the result is a very cool tale indeed.
When Dr Potter (Dwight Schultz) arrives at The Haven as a replacement for Dr Merton, he struggles to form any rapport with the criminally insane patients on the third floor. This is probably due to the fact that they're all convinced he murdered Dr Merton, and thus conspire to kill him. Soon, a power cut enables their escape from The Haven, and they flee to the town centre and take the opportunity to get involved in good old-fashioned looting, just like at the end of Police Academy, but it's not TVs they're after - they get tooled up with all sorts of weapons ("Wow! Jack Palance has got a crossbow!" - Jim), before venturing towards Howlin' Mad Murdoch's house with murder on their crazed minds.
There isn't a weak performance in this movie. Landau is so fucking intense it scares me. Palance is a seething figure of deluded psychosis, either whispering or shouting all the time. Pleasance is a hoot as Leo, the weed-smoking shrink who's crazier than most of his "voyagers". Erland van Lidth also cuts an imposing figure as child rapist Fatty, and would you believe that not one of us could remember where we recognised him from (The Running Man, The Wanderers, and Stir Crazy were his only other credits!), while Dwight Schultz, well, plays a very sane, straight psychiatrist ("I like the irony of Schultz being the only sane one." - Rawshark).
Alone in the Dark also has a decent fear factor, for reasons above - the cast, and Renato Serio's effective score gives it a welcome European flavour. He also scored Puma Man, you know. We decided tonight that we don't watch enough nuthouse flicks at ZC. I have a feeling that will change soon.
Jim Oh man, where did this one come from? Dwight Schultz, Martin Landau, Jack Palance and Donald Pleasance in the same movie? With the fat guy from The Running Man too? That's an amazing cast and the whole thing feels too good to be true. It's not though, as Zomblee has rightly pointed out this is true, it's as good as you hope and I was kicking myself that I hadn't seen this beauty before. Shame on me.
So, after an amazing diner dream sequence intro that seriously makes you sit forward in your chair, we're introduced to Dwight 'Murdoch' Schultz's first day on the job in a new Asylum (which I'm still spelling with a capital 'A', mainly because The Pleasance runs it and he's madder than the inmates). The residents give him a frosty reception (they think he killed the last doctor, see) and he discovers that the top floor, where all the nutters live, has electrically powered locks on the doors and windows. Then he goes to a gig by a band called the 'Sick Fucks' and in the middle there’s a power cut, which consequently releases all the kooks, who make a beeline to his house to avenge the so-called death of their former doctor, detouring through town to pick up supplies from the riot that's going on. ("Martin Landau's picked up loads of shit!" - Zomblee)
"So we've got a siege going on at the end," remarked Rawshark as Palance & Co surround Murdoch's house, and thoughts drift to all the wicked siege movies we’ve watched over the years. Murdoch does his best to talk sense into the crackpots ("He really needs Donald Pleasance right now," - Zomblee - "to whisper stuff in their ears.") and things get very tense as everyone acts their socks off, especially Jack Palance who steals the show with the movie ending with him actually returning to the ‘Sick Fucks’ gig. "If it ended now that would be brilliant," noted Rawshark, a mere two seconds before the final credits role.
There was some decent in the middle of the film when we clocked there was a severe lack of nudity on show, but Zomblee quickly reassured us ("Look out for the babysitter.") and everything turned out okay. All in all there’s very little to fault with Alone in the Dark - I think we were all rather impressed.
”I guess I just prefer psychopaths, what else can I say?”
Rawshark Yes, most certainly impressed. It’s moments like these that really make Zombie Club so special, when we stumble upon a classic gem with such great cult actors such as the line-up tonight. Pleasance, Palance, Landau and Screaming Mad Murdoch as a Psychiatric Doctor in an Asylum, all together in one film? It sounded great the moment we heard about it, and thankfully, Alone in the Dark did not disappoint.
Opening boldly with a rather insanely great dream sequence (”it’s raining in the diner everybody!” - Jim), Alone in the Dark soon settles into plot as Dr Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) arrives at Leo Bain’s Asylum to take on the role vacated by Harry Merton, the previous Dr who used to look after the patients on the third floor. Said psycho patients - including Frank (Palance), Preacher (Landau), Fatty and Bleeder - unfortunately believe Dr Potter has killed Dr Merton, and therefore plot to kill him, a chance they are given when they escape the Asylum during a brief power black out midway through film.
It’s a cracking set-up, and very well scripted, but really, this film belongs to three people, with Martin Landau (”Landau does mad very well” - Zomblee), Jack Palance and pipe-smokin’ Donald Pleasance all giving great performances. Pleasance oozes stoned philosophy as Dr Leo Bain (”To Melody, I am invisible”) in a way that just makes you want to cuddle him, whilst Palance is terrific as the devious leader of the insane. When ‘Bleeder’ tools up with a hockey mask and a claw during the riot after their breakout, Palance is happy with just a crossbow, and let’s face it, you really can’t get a much better combination than Jack Palance with a crossbow.
Add to all this some nudity, dashings of good gore (including axes and baseball bats and ears being sliced off), gentle moshing (”Poshing?” - Zomblee) to a heavy rock band called The Sick Fucks, a great twist that none of us saw coming and a perfectly-timed ending, and what you have here is a film very ripe for rediscovery. Check it out.
”People here aren’t called patients – they’re called Voyagers”
Director Jack Sholder
Cast Donald Pleasance
Runtime 90 mins
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The Being (1983)
Plot Small boy turns into toxic monster.
Rawshark And so from the sublime to the ridiculous... It’s hard to believe that The Being was made only one year after Alone in the Dark - enough to wonder how Martin Landau could have slid so far down the barrel in twelve short months. I bet they never showed clips from this film when he finally nabbed his Oscar for Ed Wood eleven years later.
Also known as The Pottsville Horror, The Being is toxic trash of the lowest variety as it follows the story of a young boy in a small Idaho town turning into a Nuclear monster due to chemical spillage. Martin Landau is on hand as Garson Jones, a Government scientist whose only purpose is to repeatedly tell everyone (wrongly) that the Nuclear power station is completely safe. It has in fact spawned a blobby, fleshy, rubbish monster who likes to kill people in cars and at drive-ins. On the trail of said blobby being is Detective Mortimer Lutz, a guy who likes to mumble to himself a lot, and who runs like a girl the first time he spots the monster, sprinting through both night and day in alternate scenes.
What makes this film even more frustrating, is that dotted around the ample landscape of below-averageness, one or two scenes really do stand out. The girl’s hunt for Easter Eggs and discovering the being’s lair is nicely done, there is some gleeful splatter and there’s even a bizarre B/W Lynchian dream sequence featuring a plane and a witch on a broomstick. But essentially, the film’s threadbare plot (”I’ve only written about the equivalent of one side of A24” - Zomblee, ”It’s all about the potatoes man!” - Jim) and hammy acting isn’t enough to save it from obscurity. Not one of Mr Landau’s finer moments.
Jim Wow. To be honest with you, I’m really impressed with how much Rawshark remembers from The Being - either he makes much better notes than I do or is incredibly good at recalling things that happen when he’s under the influence. For it was tonight, you see, that Rawshark and I got a little bit excited in Alone in the Dark, so at half time Rawshark made a mercy dash to the off licence to top up the bottle of red quota we’d each sank through the first film. It made perfect sense at the time but consequently The Being is a bit of a blur.
That’s not to say some of it is memorable, I distinctly remember Martin Landau continuously explaining to the camera that the toxic dump site was perfectly safe, and the bit with the Easter egg hunt, but that’s about it actually. The guys were on form with their riffing though ("It suddenly goes from night to day very quickly in this movie." - Rawshark, "The stereo's bleeding!" - Zomblee, "Beast at the window!" - Rawshark, "All women in diners seem to be called Norma." - Zomblee, "That's the worst sushi restaurant in the world." - Rawshark) although without any context for those comments I guess it just sounds like random gibberish.
Oh well, you win some you lose some. Maybe I should borrow this one off Zomblee and watch it again? Mind you, after reading Rawshark’s bit above, maybe I shouldn’t…
"Wipe that smirk off your face, pepper belly!"
Zomblee Welcome to the sleepy town of Pottsville, where nothing much happens. Usually. What makes Pottsville stand out from a thousand other small towns, is that it is home to what Marin Landau refers to as "the most sophisticated dump site in the country". A radioactive dump, that is; I'm not talking about the morning after a heavy beer and curry night. After some local folk go missing (due to the fact that there's some kind of radioactive monster ripping heads off), the local detective, Mortimer Lutz, wanders from scene to scene in search of some charisma, until the pesky monster appears under his bed. Understandably concerned, Lutz then approaches the Mayor (Jose Ferrer) seeking permission to investigate the plant, but the Mayor has other things on his mind, like his wife's anti-porn committee meeting, which he describes as "the real contamination", even though he loves a bit of the dirty stuff.
Eventually Landau invites the local reporter to camp out at the waste plant while he monitors activity - any chance to get his Geiger counter out I guess. This is when policeman Lutz has that really weird dream Rawshark was talking about, where it goes all monotone with flying cars and shit. Completely pointless. Soon after, Landau and Lutz discover secret tunnels and loads of green goo at the plant, which is when the creature attacks, kills Landau, leaving only our completely rubbish copper to go one-on-one with the monster.
The Being itself is a little reminiscent of the creatures in The Deadly Spawn, but is not in the least impressive in any way, which is how one could describe the entire movie. A few nice moments pepper the otherwise dull script, like the really stoned guy explaining to the cop how his friend got killed by a monster while watching a monster flick at the drive in, and also the Easter Egg scene Rawshark mentioned earlier. Bill Osco gives a risible performance as the local cop though, which is even worse considering that it is he who is really the leading man, and not Landau, who despite knowing how to operate a Geiger counter (we love them here at ZC), is only here for the pay cheque. Budget limitations are ridiculously apparent (not in a good way) - an over indulgence in false scare moments involving either dogs or cats, and a reliance on throwing boxes about for dramatic effect during the final scene do little to make The Being stick in the memory.
”I’ll tell him to fuck off. Fuck off!”
Director Jackie Kong
Cast Martin Landau
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I'll be completely honest, The Being was so forgettable that I couldn't recall virtually anything about it the next day. This often happens with the second (or fifth) Zombie Club movie, but in this case I had no other choice but to sit through it again. The things I do for Zombie Club! I think we'd all sit through tonight's first movie again in an instant; if you're a fan of quality 80's horror (which almost feels like 70's horror) and you haven't seen it, you really must check out Alone in the Dark, which is kind of what I was like when Jim and Rawshark ran for their train.
So it's good night from us, and good night from Martin Landau. See you next time for some fleshy Giallo action, courtesy of Shameless.
23rd Mar 04 Forget the Ed Gein movie – this is where its at. Deranged is darkly hilarious but also deeply disturbing account of the nefarious activities of the same person, but is executed with much more skill than the Ed Gein movie.