Saturday, February 24, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: (1975) "Escape from Ape City"

In the second episode of the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes, which aired on NBC in 1975, displaced human astronaut Bill Hudson is captured by gorilla soldiers and taken with other “humanoids” to Ape City.  There, Zira and Cornelius hope to study this human -- whom they name “Blue Eyes” -- over Urko’s protestation that all humanoid subjects are required for soldier training.  Thanks to Zaius, the chimpanzees prevail. 

After Bill reveals himself capable of intelligent speech, Zira and Cornelius realize just how unusual their new subject really is.  A gorilla guard also overhears him talking, and alerts the authorities.  Bill escapes with the help of his two friends, and meets up with Nova and Jeff.  They burn up the gorilla wagons so that no more humans can be captured by the apes, and then flee to the wilderness.

Jeff and Bill realize that the humanoids on the planet are defenseless, but a new sanctuary could be provided in the mountains if only they can retrieve their laser drill from their downed spacecraft, still stuck at the bottom of the dead lake in the Forbidden Zone… 

“Escape from Ape City” feels very much like a re-imagination of the middle section of the 1968 original film, and the early section of its first sequel, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  

Specifically, the story here involves an astronaut from the 20th century coming into the custody of Zira and Cornelius, and their dedicated efforts to help him escape. In the film, Taylor was “Bright Eyes” and here Bill is, similarly, “Blue Eyes.” 

At least Taylor didn’t have to reckon with General Urko, however, and here Bill must also contend with that power-hungry military leader, as Brent did in Beneath. In both scenarios, the ranking ape general is rounding-up all captured humans for use in military training or war game exercises.  Also, one of the most intriguing parts of this episode involves Zaius decision to dole the humanoids out to various interest groups and locations, including pet shops, labor camps, and even a nature preserve.  As Zaius makes his decision, the episode cuts to a montage revealing each locale he describes. We see a humanoid woman sitting in a pet shop window, for instance.  

In a splendid bit of continuity between original film and animated re-imagination, Zira suggests in “Escape from Ape City” using the “Hopkins Manual Dexterity Test” on Hudson; something her corollary also suggested in the 1968 Schaffner production. Another faithful touch: in the spirit of Ursus, Urko declares in this episode that the only good human is a “caged” or “dead” one. Ursus spoke an almost identical line (“the only good human is a dead human”) during his rabble-rousing speech in Beneath.

Although a retread of so much familiar material from the Apes mythos, this second episode proves worthwhile mainly because of the close-up detail it provides on the Council of Elders in the “Simian Nation,” as well as that body’s motivations.  Dr. Zaius heads this governing council, which is populated by orangutans, and reports here the reason for the edict regarding the extermination of all mankind, should even a single man prove himself capable of speech.  

In particular, Zaius reveals the history of the planet: that mankind rose to prominence on Earth but then destroyed himself and nearly the entire planet with him before his fall to utter barbarism. The apes now live in fear that if man once again becomes intelligent, the whole world is at risk. This information “humanizes” Dr. Zaius and his ilk since it explains the reasons for ape fear regarding mankind.  Damningly, you can’t say the apes don’t have a cause for concern.

“Escape from Ape City” also features the weird verbal quirk of every character calling humans “humanoids,” which seems like a misnomer.  Aren’t the apes also, technically, humanoid?  Perhaps the series creators changed the moniker “human” to “humanoid” in anticipation of the Under Dwellers, another human-like enemy depicted in upcoming episodes.

The tail end of “Escape from Ape City” also clearly points to a plot-line of future importance.  The astronauts need a device -- a laser drill -- from their ship, and will attempt to recover it.

But first, we meet the Under Dwellers in the next installment: “The Unearthly Prophecy.”

Friday, February 23, 2024

50 Years Ago: From Beyond the Grave (1974)

One of the greatest Amicus horror anthologies, From Beyond the Grave (1974) was released in America fifty years ago today.

Directed by first-timer Kevin Connor, the film involves a strange shop, Temptations Ltd., (think Curious Goods or Needful Things) and its shopkeeper (Peter Cushing) dispatching cursed objects to a quartet of patrons. The first tale involves a haunted mirror, the second a cursed war medal , the third a snuff box, and the last story involves an antique door that opens a gateway to the dimension of a dastardly sadist.

In 2024, the film holds up remarkably well, and the first story plays like a spiritual predecessor to Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987),  featuring a spinning camera and blood splatter galore.  The second story and third stories feel more lighthearted in comparison, and the last tale is the real showstopper:a spiritual predecessor perhaps, to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and anearly step into rubber reality-type horror.

I had the great pleasure of meeting film director Kevin Connor at the Space:1999 Main Mission Convention in Manhattan in the year 2000.  We sat on at least one panel together, and late one evening, a group of fans and I got together with Mr. Connor at the hotel bar and he recounted some amazing stories of his film and TV career.  

A few years later, I interviewed Mr. Connor for Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), and for Filmfax Magazine (2008).  One subject we discussed is the now 50-year old From Beyond the Grave (1974)

MUIR: How and when did you become involved with the Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave

KEVIN CONNOR: I purchased an option on a book called The Undead by Chetwynd-Hayes (1919- 2001) and took twelve of the best short stories and turned them into a half-hour TV series. I couldn't sell them for love nor money until they fell into the hands of Milton Subotsky of Amicus Films. He took them to Warner Bros. who bought the idea as a feature film. 

Milton took four of the best stories and devised a link using Peter Cushing as a sort of a narrator. Milton then suggested I direct the piece which hadn't been my intention, but he said that editors make good directors because they know what is required to make a scene. So I am ever thankful to Milton for giving me my break. 

MUIR: What are your memories of working with David Warner on the first story, (which involves a man luring unsuspecting prostitutes back to his apartment, and an evil mirror)? 

KEVIN CONNOR: I was very lucky to have such a wonderful cast for my first movie, and David Warner is a marvelous actor. I'm not sure whether he really enjoyed doing a horror film, but he gave his all and was to me, as a first-time director, extremely supportive and not difficult. 

MUIR: What about the second story, involving Donald Pleasence? 

KEVIN CONNOR: The fun thing in this story was that Donald's real daughter, Angela, played his daughter in the movie. They were a really spooky pair. In this section I also had the wonderful Ian Bannen and Diana Dors. The third story had Maggie Leighton and Ian Carmichael. It was a tongue-in-cheek spoof. 

MUIR: The fourth story, about a doorway into the realm of an undead sadist, is quite terrifying. What are your memories of working on this installment? 

KEVIN CONNOR: In this story we had Lesley Anne Down (her first feature film) and the exceptional Ian Ogilvy. This did have a bloody element, but it worked out very well. My cameraman was the excellent Alan Hume and we had great fun creating some stop-motion tricks with a disintegrating body. 

MUIR: The wraparound segments involved Peter Cushing as a shopkeeper selling cursed antiques. What was it like working with Cushing? 

KEVIN CONNOR: Peter Cushing was a gentleman and really supportive of me as a first-time director. I worked with him on several other movies and he became a good friend. Peter was a very particular actor and took his craft very seriously. He was very detail-conscious and didn't look down on the genre. 

MUIR: Did you know that this very premise later became the format of a TV show (Friday the 13th: The Series). 

KEVIN CONNOR: I didn't know that it became a format for the TV show. Although the compilation film is nothing new. I seem to recall two black-and-white movies of Somerset Maugham short stories called Trio and Quartet, and of course Amicus made several films along this format. 

MUIR: Do you think that your background in editing helped make From Beyond the Grave move along at such a good clip, and tell short stories more effectively? 

KEVIN CONNOR: Yes, editing really helps. As an editor, I learned more from bad directors than I did from good directors. When a scene had been badly shot and I didn't have the material to speed up the action you realize very quickly that cover can get you out of a lot of trouble. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

My Father's Journal: "Striving"


(Or “Giants”)

By Ken Muir


How we drive ourselves to excel.  How we push to distance ourselves from the competition, to be relative giants among our more dwarfish peers.


Is it just to make a better living than the next guy, to be a better provider for our loved ones than he is for his? Or is there something more subtle and insidious at work? Are we intrinsically competitive? If so, where does that get us?  Does it just make us faster runners than most in the game of American capitalism?


After seventy-nine years I still do not have a satisfactory answer. Yes, being an ample provider for our families is an estimable goal. And the delights of a comfortable material existence are undeniable…….what billions around the globe would not give to have them!  


But are there not people just as happy as we who live with less, live closer to Nature and who distance themselves from “the grind” but still find inner poise and happiness?


Perhaps all we need is to be adequate to the times, to find a way to function amicably and effectively in the era that we find ourselves in.  Looking at the grand sweep of history, do we truly need to rise above the mass of our fellow citizens?  Does our attempt to stand higher just make us the taller toadstool in the damp forest mass of toadstools?


Billions have lived and died before us. Ninety-nine per cent of them are unknown, unremarked.  Who knows today which were giants and which dwarves, except for those few noted in history? Is striving all it’s cracked up to be?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Nonsense or Dream Sense? David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006)

"I can't seem to remember if it's today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was 9:45, I'd think it was after midnight! For instance, if today was tomorrow, you wouldn't even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill. Actions do have consequences. And yet, there is the magic. If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting over there..."

-- A strange Gypsy woman (Grace Zabriskie) discusses the vicissitudes of time (and "dream" time) with actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) in David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006).

This is an entirely personal assessment, but Inland Empire is the David Lynch movie that appears to make the least amount of "concrete," conventional sense and the most amount of "dream sense," if that is no paradox.

Inland Empire is a film in which logical, conscious connections between scenes are negligible and therefore almost fruitless to discuss or assess. Instead, the logic of dreams holds sway (powerful sway...) and Lynch's dream sense sweeps viewers from one emotional and terrifying moment to the next. 

For nearly three hours...

Like many of the artist's previous films, this is a "story" we can understand on emotional terms almost instantly, but not always on a clear, intellectual and practical level.

To truly comprehend Inland Empire we are required once more to undertake the process of "dream distillation." We must open ourselves up to Lynch's visual representations (dreams translated to images, via Freud's Interpretation of Dreams), and symbols, which in dreams replace action, persons and ideas. Before we get that far, a pseudo synopsis of what "appears" to occur in the film may prove helpful. 

In Inland Empire's first scene (after a scratchy record on a gramophone announces the introduction of history's "longest-running radio show, "AXXoNN,") two figures are depicted in expressionist, film-noirish black-and-white photography. They speak Polish.

Both personalities are "blurred" out so that viewers can't make out their faces (or even, in fact, that they have faces). This disquieting blurring effect cloaks their identities but also grants these mystery figures a strange timeless quality, as though their identities have been smudged and stretched (bled actually...) beyond the boundaries of the immediate context (a dark, seedy hotel at night).

Very soon, the man broaches sex with the woman ("do you know what whores do?") and the duo engages in it. During the act -- which is obscured by the blurry faces -- the woman asks fearfully "where am I?" and admits that she is "afraid."

Following this sequence Lynch cuts to shots of a crying woman in close-up, trapped in another hotel room and watching a banal TV sitcom replete with laugh track. The actors in this TV program are horribly creepy, humanoid bunnies. "What time is it?" asks one of the nicely-dressed bunnies. 

"I have a secret
..." says another ominously.

Next, in modern Los Angeles, we meet Nikki Grace (Dern) an actress up for a leading role in a new Hollywood film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows." A strange, foreign (Polish...) neighbor, a Gypsy played by Grace Zabriskie, shows up and introduces herself . She reports that Nikki will get the coveted movie part, specifically that she has a "new role to play." In sinister fashion, she also informs Nikki that the new role involves a "brutal murder" and that it has something to do with marriage.

The strange gypsy then tells Nikki a story, an "old tale" about a little girl, and it carries faintly diabolical overtones: "A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace, as if half-born. Then, not through the marketplace - you see that, don't you? - but through the alley behind the marketplace. This is the way to the palace. But it isn't something you remember," she says.

Nikki is appropriately disturbed by her neighbor's creepy demeanor, but the woman continues to chatter. She informs Nikki that actions have consequences, that there is "magic," and that if it were "tomorrow" Nikki would be sitting on her sofa...over there.

Cut to Nikki, already seated on the sofa, as though time has indeed bent to the neighbor's will. It is tomorrow.

Promptly, NIkki learns that she got the part and that she will be starring in the film with an actor named Devon (Justin Theroux). Disturbingly, Nikki and Devon also learn from the film's director, Halsey (Jeremy Irons), that "On High in Blue Tomorrows" is actually a remake of a film that was never completed, a Polish film called "47." Like the current screenplay, it was the tale of two illicit lovers ,and one based on an old Folk Tale. "Something happened before it was finished" says Halsey enigmatically, and the implication is that the story itself is cursed.

Before long, Nikki and Devon begin to unwittingly take on the characteristics of their characters, Sue and Billy, respectively. They become illicit lovers despite the fact that Nikki's husband is exceedingly jealous. He warns Devon/Billy that his wife "is not a free agent" and that the bonds of marriage will be "enforced.

And then Nikki seems to slip between realities, inhabiting other lives. And this is where the movie really gets complicated. 

The San Francisco's Chronicle Walter Addiego explains: "Dern seems to be two other characters as well: a housewife living in a white-trash environment (possibly the Inland Empire region, east of Los Angeles) and also a hardened young woman who vents her anger at length about being abused by men (in this guise she delivers an extended and quite powerful monologue to a mysterious fellow with crooked glasses).

As we eventually suss out, Nikki's journey is part film making illusion and part reality. But the final destination is frightening and sinister. She ends up at a hotel room labeled 47, where must pass a malevolent "Shadow" to free the woman we saw earlier -- perhaps the real Sue -- trapped in that hotel room (and still watching TV bunnies...).

Got it?

A close watching of Inland Empire reveals several familiar David Lynch obsessions, including sexual violence against women (an important factor in Blue Velvet [1986], Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992], and Lost Highway [1997], an excavation of Hollywood illusion (Mulholland Drive [2001]), and Evil as a symbol contained in one possibly supernatural individual (Bob of Twin Peaks; Robert Blake's bi locating videographer in Lost Highway).

Also, the 2006 film showcases the "gateway" to other worlds, other realities, like the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks or the world-opening/changing "box" of Mulholland Drive. Here, there's a gateway tagged with the legend AXXoNN that transports the protagonist, Nikki Grace, from one reality to another; from one state of being to another. On the surface it's just a door, with those letters scrawled roughly in chalk on it.

However, if we interpret the nonsense word "AXXoNN
," we come up with a close approximation in science: the word "axon."

And, biologically-speaking, an axon is a crucial part of our mental landscape. It is (
by Wikipedia) "a long, slender projection of a nerve cell, or neuron, that conducts electrical impulses away from the neuron's cell body or soma."

The diagram from Wikipedia (left) actually proves quite helpful here: it diagrams "axons" linking sections of the brain, closing the gulf between synapses and carrying "thoughts" from one point to another. 

The AXXoNN gate in Inland Empire fulfills much the same function. In the film, it links realities, identities, dreams and even disparate time periods together. Nikki navigates this gate and taps not into something personal (the "day residue" of dreams described Freud) but something much more Jungian in concept: an unconscious idea hidden in the conscious mind of the race itself; something about the "genetic" memory of women; of womanhood/sisterhood itself.

I discussed in my review of Lynch's Dune how Paul Atreides' dreams seemed to originate with the Divine, one important school of dream interpretation. In Inland Empire, the dream sense of David Lynch suggests supernatural communication instead; the magical linking of at least two women (Sue and Nikki), and perhaps more, across time and space.

The magical AXXoNN gate is a symbol for the human mind. The "longest running show" in human history is the human collective memory, in this case the female of the species' collective memory of sexual violence and abuse through the ages, across the globe.

The perpetrators of such violence are symbolized in Inland Empire as one male uber-being or presence, the "Shadow," a recurring monster figure. The Shadow is the Blurry Man in the film's opening scene who demands sex, and also an unseen killer on the prowl in Poland. Finally, he is monstrous man "guarding" room 47 and keeping a woman locked up there.

When Nikki shoots this Shadow, he changes shape. First he is a horrible female thing (an amalgam of many female faces; pictured above), but then he shows his true visage and it is both monstrous and terrifying.

The Gypsy (Zabriskie) has prepared us for the presence of this thing in her first scene: "A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and followed the boy."

The Evil that has followed thus "little boy" is the mistreatment of women; the "dark side" (or reflection) of manhood.

But by taking on the role of "Sue" in the movie, by becoming the receptacle for the remake's "curse," Nikki has crossed the gate and become aware of the collective memory of abuse in the "sisterhood" of women, and it is up to her to free the woman in the hotel (again, perhaps Sue herself...) who has been trapped there, unable to return to her husband and son because of the "box" (of sexuality?) where the Shadow has locked her up.

In very simple, horror movie terms, Nikki "exorcises" the ghost of Sue/the trapped spirit from the haunted tale of "On High in Blue Tomorrows." That "old tale" is about how men treat women poorly, like Billy treats Sue, or like Nikki's husband threatens her. In much the same fashion that Nancy Thompson takes away Freddy's power in a Nightmare on Elm Street, Nikki takes away the Shadow's power in Inland Empire.

One of the most significant aspects of Inland Empire is Lynch's complete negation -- nay annihilation -- of any coherent "timeline" of events. The film's dialogue constantly refers to time as meaningless or, at the very least, circular. Examples:

"In the future, you'll be dreaming,"

"I figured one day I'd just wake up and and find out what the hell yesterday was all about. I'm not too keen on thinkin' about tomorrow. And today's slipping by."

"This is a story that happened yesterday. But I know it's tomorrow."

"I'll show you light now. It burns bright forever. No more blue tomorrows. You on high now, love."

And, one of the creepiest incidents in the film involves Nikki passing through the first AXXoNN gate and coming upon...herself

Early in the film, Halsey, Devon and Nicki rehearse a scene from the movie on a darkened, apparently empty sound stage. But a noise is heard in the shadowy distance, and Devon investigates. The film later reveals Nikki herself is the source of that noise, observing herself, Halsey and Devon from a distance. Has she time traveled, or is all but we see or seem but a dream within a dream?

Once more, we must delve into dream interpretation or dream distillation to afford ourselves an understanding of what's happening in a Lynch film. Consider that, as dreamers, we do not experience time. In dreams, there is no past and no future, just the eternal moment of now (to coin a phrase). Time moves differently in the world of dreams, if it moves at all. More likely we -- the dreamers -- are the ones that "move;" from one vision or idea to another; from one phantasm to the next. But we don't "drive" or "fly or otherwise travel to new ideas in any conventional fashion On the contrary, we miraculously, seamlessly transition from things that happened, to things that might happen, to things that will happen. And they all seem to be happening NOW.

This is the dream sense of David Lynch, translated to film. We jump from one reality to another without conventional physical travel. The connections forged in the film are the connections of the mind, the subway path of the axons, the AXXoNN gate. A thought triggers another thought and we witness this progression of ideas played out. Only here, an idea in a scene (like the abuse of women) triggers another scene that's a variation on that theme, and on and on. The connections are the light-speed connections of cognition itself, of thought. David Lynch is an artist who knows his own mind, and Inland Empire is his mind's eye brought to the surface...dreaming on film for us.

Inland Empire also gazes specifically at Hollywood, the land where dreams come true for some and manifestly don't for others. This is the surface/underneath dichotomy that David Lynch often utilizes in his films.

Inland Empire cuts between the wealth and opulence of a movie star's life (Nikki) and life on the streets for several Los Angeles hookers. Importantly, the streetwalkers ply their trade on mean streets decorated with Walk of Fame "stars," a startling conjunction of wealth and desperation.

It's more than that, too. The film very much concerns the way that Hollywood (and film making in general) can take a horrifying, upsetting tale (like Sue's) and put a shiny gloss over it; "remaking it" as a palatable entertainment that pleases the masses. The underneath -- the darkness -- is buried beneath the mainstream, MPAA-authorized surface.

So, hookers -- preparing to meet their "johns" -- burst into a musical number featuring Carole King's 1962 hit "The Loco-Motion." Something seedy and demeaning has been turned into entertainment, a cavalcade of "tits and ass" as one hooker notes (after showing off her artificially augmented bosom).

As Inland Empire also notes, actors in Hollywood become buried in their parts, lost in other lives (the way Nikki becomes lost in other lives.) Accordingly, the film is literally packed with incidents wherein characters state "I'm not who you think I am." This could be a reference to many things. Like the fact that, as viewers, we often mistake actors for the roles they play (in other words assuming that Shatner is actually Captain Kirk-like; or that Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones-esque). 

On a deeper level, this notation that "I'm not who you think I am" could refer to any number of important dualities in human nature The conscious/subconscious mind, the waking/dreaming state, or the idea of the AXXoNN gate again: that our brains can hold both our contemporary "identity" and the collective or genetic memory of those who came before, which we can access.

Two characters -- in two time periods and two different cities in Inland Empire -- also say "Look at me and tell me if you've known me before." It's a desperate kind of demand; one designed to foster understanding of who you are and moreso, get an exterior verification that can anchor you in the present, in your identity. Dreams are like tides...they can carry you away and sometimes you need to know what others see.

David Lynch shoots Inland Empire in standard definition video, a controversial decision which seems to highlight the seedy, lurid aspects of theis particulartale. Unlike most Lynch pictures, this is not a beautiful one in terms of color and crispness. The typical greens and reds we associate with Lynch are here in spades, but they bleed all over into human faces...and faces often look haggard and worn out, suffused with ugliness. The underlying notion seems to be of a "now" (a presenttime) exhausted by the cumulative weight of the past, of the collective unconscious. There can't be beauty here when the past is so often ugly.

Laura Dern is literally the anchor of the film -- the only person we can really hold onto while we're unstuck in time, as it were -- and she gives a courageous performance. By the end of the film, all artifice and notions even of technique are stripped away and we are looking at a person exposed, raw. It's a great achievement in terms of screen acting and actually one of the finest performances I've witnessed in some time.

Although I am looking back at Inland Empire after my review of Dune (1984) last week, I bear a deep and abiding sense that this movie is actually the mountain that David Lynch has been climbing for some time. From Blue Velvet through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, from Lost Highway to Mulholland Drive, the artist has been ascending towards a film that speaks entirely in the language of dreams, towards a pinnacle of formalistic, expressionistic film making that can't be understood in any traditional, "conscious" fashion.

Some viewers Lynch will likely lose on the twisting mountain path leading up to Inland Empire. For instance, It has been called (by the Village Voice) "Lynch's most experimental film since Eraserhead." 

But for other fellow travelers, however, this movie represents the apex of a long and intriguing journey; the summation of a career and a world view. You're on high now. Or, as one of the characters in the film notes, this movie is really a "mind fuck."

My advice to you, the prospective audience, is make it a consensual one.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Lost Highway (1997) and the Dream Sense of David Lynch

"Waking dreams are the ones that are important, the ones that come when I'm quietly sitting in a chair, gently letting my mind wander. When you sleep, you don't control your dreams. I like to dive into a dream world that I've made or discovered, a world I choose."

- David Lynch. Lynch on Lynch, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1997, page 15.

What interests me most about David Lynch is the artist's unnerving and unerring capacity to express what I term "dream sense." 

Movie viewing has often been likened to dreaming with "eyes open," and human dreams convey a certain logic, flow, rhyme and reason. The Lynchian dream-sense, honed by the filmmaker's waking dreams, taps into this rich and subconscious language of phantasms.

Our dreams come in a variety of forms, and Lynch's films often mimic these shapes. 

Consider that dreams may be interpreted, in both myth and literature, as predictions or prophecies of the future (Dune [1984]), messages from Gods or otherworldly creatures (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992]), reflections of the repressed subconscious (Mulholland Drive [2001]) and even outlets for psychic guilt (Lost Highway [1997]). Lynch's films frequently deploy "the dream sense" to carry such thematic concepts; so much so that film criticism in regards to this artist becomes a study in symbols and oneirology. 

And to what purpose does Lynch often apply his "dream sense" in his works? 

Well, that's the question of considerable interest to me. As many critics and scholars before have suggested over the decades, the director seems very concerned with the gulf between appearance and meaning; between surface and underneath. The Lynchian dream-sense is a way at getting at that gulf; of traversing it.

Let's look at this idea as it applies to Lost Highway (1997).

"It should be acknowledged, straightaway," opined critic Eric Bryant Rhodes in Film Quarterly (Spring 1998, page 57), "that Lost Highway is, by design, extremely resistant to reduction into a definitive narrative account; by the film's end it is evident that Lynch has intentionally withheld the answers to questions inevitably provoked by the narrative's elusive and elliptical plot. It is virtually impossible to reconstruct a definitive and rational account of what happens in Lost Highway."

Critic Kenneth Turan called David Lynch's film the director's "most accomplished work since Blue Velvet" and termed it a "metaphysical stag film," (Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1997, page 10), while David Denby noted that the film is a "virtuoso exercise in spooky unintelligibility" (New York, March 3, 197, page 53).

Meanwhile, Jack Kroll at Newsweek suggested insightfully that with Lost Highway Lynch had become "the Heisenberg of cinema, telling us that the uncertainty principle rules our lives" (February 24, 1997, page 68).

Elusive. Metaphysical. Spooky. Uncertain.

All of these critical descriptors highlight the confounding essence of this beloved and beguiling David Lynch film noir. It's a movie that can't be intellectually "understood," perhaps, only "interpreted" in relation to the director's style and singular voice, in particular his pervasive use of "dream sense," the surreal language of dreams.

Specifically, Lynch has has publicly likened Lost Highway to a Psychogenic Fugue...a mental state of disassociation from oneself. That comparison could be the very key that unlocks a few of the film's most enduring and baffling mysteries.

We've met before, haven't we? Or We Got Some Spooky Shit Here...

Lost Highway depicts the startling descent into madness of a jealous saxophonist named Fred Madison (Bill Pullman).

Experiencing strange dreams about his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette) -- whom he suspects is having an adulterous affair -- Fred also comes to believe that someone is watching him inside his own home; videotaping him as he sleeps. Fred is a paranoid man, and even his house -- painted in deep, dark shades of crimson and scarlet -- appears to reflect his intemperate, suspicious nature.

When Renee is discovered murdered, Fred is arrested for the bloody crime, but then something truly strange occurs.

In his jail cell: another man seems to take his physical place. Fred wakes up...and is different. He is now Peter (Balthazar Getty), a young fellow, a car mechanic, associated with gangster Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent (Loggia). And Eddy/Laurent’s girlfriend is Alice (Arquette)...a dead ringer for the murdered Renee. 

Behind this strange metamorphosis -- and this strange new life -- is a terrifying and ubiquitous "Mystery Man" (Robert Blake) with a video camera...a man who can apparently be in two places simultaneously.

In the Far East, when a person is sentenced to death, they're sent to a place where they can't Escape: Or The Splintered Psyche as Madison's "Escape" Valve. 

A restless spirit of madness seems to haunt angry Fred Madison in Lost Highway. That spirit, while actually a part of Fred's psyche, is manifested externally in the film; as another "being" he physically encounters. 

Specifically, this specter of violence, revenge and madness takes the form of the pasty-faced, grinning maniac portrayed by Robert Blake.

In the film’s most deeply unsettling, most dream-like sequence, this specter of violence and guilt confronts Fred at a party and informs the saxophonist that he, the Mystery Man, is at his house right now, killing his wife.

Of course, a person can’t be in two places at the same time but the Mystery Man urges Fred to call his own house to confirm his disturbing story. Fred does so, and at his house the Mystery Man answers the phone. “I told you I was here,” he says.

The idea underlining this horrific, surreal sequence is that Fred has effectively disassociated from himself, from his personal identity, in order to carry out an evil, brutal deed: the murder of Renee. Fred has created a Boogeyman, a monster, to complete the task for him, since -- as a rational, evolved human being -- murder is not an acceptable act. Instead, Madison has reached deep down into his reptilian brain and created this thing, this monster.

Psychogenic fugues or dissociative orders are often precipitated by intense stress, and there's plenty of that to go around in the early scenes of this Lynch film. Sexual intercourse between Fred and the gorgeous Renee goes poorly, for instance. After some slow-motion photography and the exaggerated sounds of panting, Fred loses his erection, and Renee appears frustrated. The impression is of a troubled marriage and of Fred's looming, impulsive rage, ready to be sated. The Mystery Man appears briefly in this scene too: superimposed over Renee's lovely face. The monster's sudden appearance here is Fred's "flash" of violent intent, of rage, when he proves impotent.

Jealousy and looming rage are manifested again in the film's very color scheme, in Lynch's presentation of another important sequence. After a public musical performance, Fred rings Renee up on a red telephone and he's likewise bathed in hellish neon-sort of red light. She’s not home, and Madison's conviction that she is cheating on him grows exponentially. His very world seems to visualize this “red” streak of jealousy. Unable to get satisfaction from her husband, Renee has sought fulfillment outside the relationship...or so he imagines.

After creating the "mystery man" as an alternate identity from which to commit the murder of cheating Renee, Fred then disassociates again after the crime, creating an additional personality, Peter Dayton, where he can hide from his intense feelings of guilt and responsibility. Those unlucky souls who experience psychogenic fugues in real life often create totally new personalities, in new environs, with no memory of their real personalities or histories.

Of great significance, Madison's new personality, Dayton, is a heroic, young character who liberates Renee (now Alice...) from sexual humiliation and slavery at the hands of a powerful exploiter and abuser, Eddy/Dick Laurent.

Where Fred is impotent, Dayton is virile, engaging in satisfying sexual intercourse with Alice on a beach by night. He is the "dream" persona of Fred, as an unspoiled, vigorous, desirable youth. Fred Madison does not "snap back into being" until the film's conclusion when his Peter Dayton identity closes the loop and informs him that "Dick Laurent is dead." The death of his competitor for Renee's/Alice's affections allows Fred to be restored to his "real" state.

Importantly, this scene represents a kind of cinematic Möbius strip, relating back to one of the first scenes in the film. There are two ways to interpret it. The first is the psychogenic fugue approach. The early appearance of an unseen "stranger" at the door, informing Fred that "Dick Laurent is dead" is actually the fledgling start of Madison's dissociative mania; the sort of mental canary in the coal mine that pushes Fred to kill his wife and his competitor for her affections.

Or contrarily, one might read the entirety of the film as a murderous, disassociated fantasy occurring in Fred's dreams as he awakens to receive that cryptic message. He is only told once that "Dick Laurent is dead," and every event that happens in the film seems to occur in that very instant; his dream of murder; his escape into another identity, etc. This is the Jacob's Ladder (1990) reading of the film, I suppose.

David Lynch's description of the film as a Psychogenic Fugue also relates, in fascinating fashion, to musical terminology. A fugue is defined as a piece of music consisting of "two or more voices." Fred Madison, the Mystery Man, and Peter Dayton are all different voices inhabiting one psyche and their tale might appropriately be described as a musical fugue as well as a psychogenic one. For instance, a "fugue" often begins with an opening key (here, the "key" in which Fred Madison exists). Then, further episodes establish additional notes or keys (the Mystery Man, Dayton...). Finally, after expressing these "new" notes, the opening key in a musical fugue is re-asserted as the piece ends.

That is precisely the structure of Lost Highway, with Fred Madison -- our opening "key" -- brought back for the film's conclusion. A fugue (psychological dream state) explains the movie's narrative, and a fugue (piece of music) explains the movie's structure.

I swear I love that girl to death: The O.J. Simpson Connection?

Those associated with this Lynch film have reported that Lost Highway represents the director's free-association meditation on the O.J. Simpson trial which occurred mid-decade, shortly before the production of the film. 

This clue helps us discern another layer of the film. Pullman plays a public figure (a musician, not a sports hero), who becomes irrevocably connected to the murder of his beautiful wife.

The opening shot, a point-of-view from the dashboard of a car rocketing down a lonely highway by night -- the pavement illuminated only by headlights -- even recalls O.J.’s famous freeway chase in the white bronco. 

Like O.J., Fred Madison also loudly proclaims his innocence, but he’s not necessarily a reliable witness. For one thing, Fred doesn’t like the prying eye of the video camera. “I like to remember things my own way,” he complains “not necessarily the way they happened...” 

But go deeper. If the glove does not fit, you must acquit. And if Fred Madison is Peter Dayton...who do you arrest for the crime?

A true appreciation of David Lynch’s cinematic work arises from interpreting his symbols and reading carefully his powerful, subconscious dream imagery. In the case of Lost Highway it feels like Lynch is attempting to capture the psychological condition of instinctual, unconscious, reptilian rage, the utter madness and insanity of a jealous husband who is destined to kill his wife. Even the settings reflect this rage, in shades of terracotta, crimson and blood red.

The Lost Highway of the film's title is, perhaps Fred Madison's threadbare sanity; his psyche now fractured into blind alleys, dead-ends and avenues that go, approximately, nowhere. Lynch takes us into this nightmarish fugue state, showing us pieces of the splintered psyche and making us feel Fred's impotent, bubbling rage.

And some real "spooky shit."

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Saturday Morning Cult TV Blogging: Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975): "Flames of Doom"

With Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) due in theaters in a few short weeks, it seems an appropriate time to remember a more obscure corner of the simian-verse.

Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975) is a Saturday morning TV program developed for television by David De Patrie and Fritz Freleng. 

It assimilates and re-invents characters, plot lines, devices and technology from all previous incarnations of the franchise, including the Pierre Boulle novel, the 1968 film and sequels (Beneath, in particular), and even the short-lived 1974 live-action TV series.

The result is an invigorating and unique shot in the arm for the franchise.

The premiere episode of Return to the Planet of the Apes, “Flames of Doom,” (by Larry Spiegel), finds a NASA space capsule called the “Venture” traveling on a routine deep space mission on August 6, 1976. 

Aboard are three astronauts: Bill Hudson (a white man), Jeff Allen (an African-American man) and Judy Franklin (a woman). 

Bill narrates the captain’s log and confirms Dr. Stanton’s theory of “time thrust;” that man can utilize faster-than-light speeds to propel himself into the future. Admirers of the 1968 film will recognize this comment as a reflection of Chuck Heston’s opening narration, and Dr. Hasslein’s theory named there. It’s been simplified for children in this cartoon, but the idea is the same.

No sooner has Hudson informed us about this scientific theory than the ship’s chronometer goes wild and the Venture plunges into a time warp. The “Earth Clock” goes crazy, and the Venture arrives battered and bruised in the year 3979, where it crashes on a strange planet, and into a dead lake.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the surface  – in a city ruled by intelligent apes – General Urko, a gorilla power-monger, addresses the Supreme Council of Ape City and demands genocide against all humans. 

Arguing the opposite case is the kindly chimpanzee Cornelius, who pleads for a “different course.” He and his wife, a behavioral scientist named Zira, wish to study humans as the key to “simian origins.” Arbitrating this dispute of national importance is the ruler of the apes, an orangutan named Dr. Zaius. 

I must note that the level of attention to detail in this scene is remarkable.  

For as Zaius issues his decision on the matter at hand, the edit cuts to a stone relief on the wall behind him which reveals the long history of ape-human relations. There are images of apes hunting humans and even domesticating them.

Humans may be hunted as legitimate sport, Zaius concludes, or brought into the city to perform “menial tasks.” They may even serve as domestic pets, but Zaius will not demand their total destruction.

However, on an ominous note, he warns that Article 18 of the “Book of Simian Prophecy” demands that man must be destroyed at any cost if he develops the power of speech. In other words, this is a temporary victory for Cornelius’s cause, and for the primitive, mute, stone-age humans who populate caves outside the technologically advanced ape-city.

Watching this portion of the episode, a few matters become plain. First and foremost, the franchise has returned to the ape society as depicted in Boulle’s original novel. In other words, the apes dwell in a twentieth century city with television, radio, automobiles and the like. 

Their city is not a rock-outcropping like in the popular original movie, but rather a contemporary metropolis with buildings and skyscrapers that resemble those from human history in a wonderful nod to the adage “monkey see, monkey do.” The ape culture of the original film was almost medieval, despite the presence of guns and such medical advances as brain surgery. Not so here.

For instance, the imposing ape council building resembles nothing so much as our own Capitol Building where Congress deliberates when it isn't shutdown. Since this is a re-imagination and updating of Planet of the Apes for the mid-1970s, not only is there the burgeoning nod to gender and racial diversity (this was the era of the equal rights amendment...) in the make-up of the astronauts, but the focus on the Council and its proceedings reveals a more bureaucratic bent to the apes.

Instead of ape culture being essentially of one mind (as in the see-no-evil/hear-no-evil/speak-no-evil triumvirate of the Schaffner film showcases), here Ape society is bedeviled by partisan politics, with chimpanzees representing the pacifist left, gorillas the militant right, and orangutans the sensible center. This is especially important considering the context of Return to the Planet of the Apes: immediately post-Watergate and soon after the Vietnam conflict. Again, this is an example of updating and changing a franchise, but not throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Continuing with the story, Bill, Jeff (voiced by Austin Stoker of Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Assault on Precinct 13), and Judy abandon their sinking spaceship and flee into the Forbidden Zone. Recalling the portions of the original film shot in Death Valley, the series offers an artistic montage here as the three astronauts search for water and food under the glaring sun of what they believe is an alien world.

The animated frames turn a bright scarlet hue to represent the heat of the desert and there are close-ups of human faces caked in sweat. Close-ups of tired feet marching in the sand also appear. This montage doesn’t rely on dialogue, but rather on clever images that express an emotion. 

The animation is limited perhaps, even crude but these limitations are marshaled as a strength on the program. Overlapping views, double exposures, intense close-ups, insert shots and first person subjective point-of-view shots all provide a texture to the desperate march through the wasteland. 

This march ends, appropriately, with the sighting of an Ape Mount Rushmore. Another new touch, but again one that along with the ape metropolis reveals the ape talent for mimicry (monkey see, monkey do) and is therefore thematically valuable; a subconscious reminder that all of the simian accomplishments are built on “aping” human society.

Later episodes go further with this idea, visiting "The Tomb of the Unknown Ape" or mentioning the famous author, William Apespeare.  One episode, "Invasion of the Underdwellers," even casts eyes on -- at least briefly -- a simian Mona Lisa.

In the desert, Jeff and Bill lose Judy when fires spontaneously erupts in front of them, and an earthquake splits the ground in a series of lovely frames that reveal a high degree of fidelity to images from Beneath the Planet of the Apes (particularly Taylor’s abduction by the underground mutants). 

The astronauts have little time to ponder the loss of their companion, however, as Bill and Jeff encounter a tribe of stone age humans, including the beautiful Nova.

Suggesting an interesting mystery, Nova wears the dog tags of another astronaut, someone named Brent (again, a reference to Beneath the Planet of the Apes). 

His birth date was May 2, 2079, so Jeff and Bill are forced to ponder the notion that an astronaut who was born after them arrived on the planet of the apes before they did. Boggles the mind, no? 

This is a pretty advanced concept for a kid’s show, and it also provides an underlying mystery for adults to enjoy. Where is Brent? What happened to him? 

Before long, the apes arrive, on the hunt,  in tanks, jeeps and with heavy artillery. The gorillas even lob gas grenades at the primitive humans. Here, the series utilizes zooms inside individual frames (not actual motion, but rather camera motion…) to suggest the frenetic pace of the hunt. Jeff and Bill are separated, and Bill is captured and taken to Ape City.

That’s where the first episode ends, but already, the attentive viewer can detect how this canny re-imagination assimilates the critical aspects of the Planet of the Apes mythos with something akin to 20/20 hindsight.

Instead of making up the saga as it goes (a deficit of the otherwise outstanding motion picture series…), Return to the Planet of the Apes accounts for -- from the very beginning -- the mutants in the Forbidden Zone (here termed “The Underdwellers.”) It also employs familiar characters in new ways and in  new situations, and even incorporates movie imagery to vet the story. 

In terms of characters, Urko derives from Mark Lenard’s character on the 1974 TV series. In Beneath, a similar character was known as “Ursus.” He is essentially the same ape here, as are Zira and Cornelius, but Dr. Zaius has changed the most. 

Zaius is no longer a hypocritical religious zealot, but rather an equalizing force of moderation in Ape Society…almost heroic, actually.

The free ape is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought,” he even states; an ideal that the original movie’s “chief defender of the faith” could never get behind.

This is actually a significant structural change as well as a symbolic representation of the left/right divide in our culture. Why? Because with Zaius moderating pacifists and war-mongers, we can more logically believe that humans (particularly the astronauts) can continue to escape and outmaneuver a technologically advanced simian culture. The whole planet isn’t out to kill them; they do have allies.  Dr. Zaius is even referred to by his enemies, the Underdwellers, as being "just...for an ape," and again, this is a sea change in the character's depiction.

From the original Planet of the Apes movie, “Flames of Doom” also incorporates other powerful visuals. We see the ape scarecrows on the border of the Forbidden Zone again, and, on a connected note, hear the same gorilla “hunt” horn on the soundtrack. We see a small, yellow rubber raft and a U.S. flag planted in the Forbidden Zone too, as well as the discovery of a first green plant indicating life on the fringe of the desert.

Again, the approach here seems to be to this: take what worked in the apes movie, book and TV series, and then put them all together in a more coherent, cohesive story, smoothing out the bumps and making everything jibe. 

That’s important, because long time Planet of the Apes fans will remember some of the more dramatic gaps fouling continuity in the film series. In Planet of the Apes, for instance, it is the year 3978 when Taylor arrives, but when Brent arrives on his heels in the follow-up, Beneath, it is magically 3955.

Similarly, there are discrepancies between Escape and Conquest in the story of how the apes ascended to superiority in man’s world. Cornelius’s story involves an ape named Aldo (whom we meet in Battle), but does not take into account the true ape revolutionary, Caesar.  Coming at essentially the end of the apes cycle, Return to the Planet of the Apes benefits from knowing everything that came before.

Indeed, this is the only valid reason for the re-imagination of a franchise. Taking what worked in one production and maintaining it; and taking what didn’t work and improving upon it. It must be done, however, with a degree of love, patience and restraint involving the material. I feel like I see all that here.

Notice that there is not merely change for the sake of change; that characters have not miraculously and randomly switched sexes, and whole swaths of mythology have not been removed or altered to suit a developer"s ego, or need to be "creative."

What I’m suggesting is that fundamentally there is a respect in evidence here for the the productions that came before, for the Apes mythos. So yes, a re-imagination can work, and this dedicated animated series is one example, at least in its first chapter, where it did so.

None of this means, however, that Return to the Planet of the Apes doesn't sometimes lapse into childishness and silliness. The series was made, after all, to air on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. The intended demographic was young children. This factor plays out in some funny ways throughout the series.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

My Father's Journal: "Under My Hands"

Under My Hands

By Ken Muir


So much of memory is images locked in my brain, recollections flipping one to another in that cerebral footlocker.  How vivid, how strong they are.


Oddly, I find that among the strongest are tactile memories, the feel of so many materials, so many jobs, under my hands. 


Wood, sheetrock, PVC, stone, tools, wires, paint, leaves, soil….the list is nearly endless. 


I can still feel them there, each one, each substance, each a connection to work performed. 


For a man who made a decent living as a manipulator of ideas and words, this fascination with works of the hands is a bit odd, I guess. 

But somehow it completed me, it was a side of me that needed to find expression. It gave me an inner balance, a breadth which I somehow required.


And at bottom, I suppose, it gave small flesh to the idea of my being a pale, paltry imitation of the Renaissance Man………always a goal of mine but an outcome never achieved. 


Perhaps, however, I’ve made a good run at “jack of all trades.”

Monday, February 12, 2024

70 Years Ago: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Seventy years since the rise of The Gill-Man? Impossible to believe. 

Yet one thing is for certain, The Creature from the Black Lagoon has been a touchstone for several generations of movie fans and monster kids.

When he wrote the foreword for my 2013 book Horror Films FAQ, The X-Files creator Chris Carter said the Jack Arnold film might "just be the original X-File," and discussed the film's impact on him.

"It the best horror movies, prey on my impressionable mind," Carter writes. "So moved, I got my parents to buy me a Revell model kit of the creature that I built and painted and stared at on my shelf on my way to untold nightmares..."

Today, let's remember that original nightmare, and start with the following words:

"In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth...this is the planet Earth, newly born...the heat rises, meets the atmosphere...the restless seas rise..."

With a few sentences omitted for space, Jack Arnold's 1954 feature, Creature from the Black Lagoon begins with a narrator speaking the words displayed above. The ominous-toned speaker thus commences the film with an aura of grand eloquence, and more critically, a sense of context, history, and perspective. 

The voice-over narration reminds us that there is a connection -- a link -- between past and present, between the beginning of life on Earth, and the Anthropocene Epoch.  

This is an important point, because the film explores a clash between Ages, a clash which excavates not only the differences in life forms...but the similarities as well.

Creature from the Black Lagoon opens in the Amazon. A strangely human-like fossilized hand/wrist is discovered in the rocks by an archaeologist named Carl Maia (Antonio Morena). Hoping he has unearthed a previously unrecorded life-form - a missing link between life in the seas and life on land - he seeks the help of a friend, Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) at the nearby Instituto de Biologia Maritima.

David and his beautiful girlfriend (also a scientist), Kay (Julia Adams) are intrigued by the discovery and petition their publicity-minded boss, Mark Williams (Richard Denny) to authorize an expedition. William agrees and they all head up the Amazon River on an old barge called the Rita

There, on a tributary leading to a black lagoon, a place that remains "exactly as it was 150 million years ago," the scientists confront the Gill Man: a strange life form that can move easily from the black depths of the water to dry land. 

A battle is waged between Reed and Williams over how to handle the creature -- pure research vs. killing/capture -- and in the end, the hunt for the "monster" proves deadly to more than one crew-member.

Though Creature from the Black Lagoon runs a scant eighty-something minutes, director Jack Arnold proves adept at finding the quickest, most efficient, and most cinematic way of expressing ideas and themes. In other words, his visuals pack maximum punch.

Early on, for instance, it is necessary to introduce Reed, and Arnold does so by taking his camera straight down underwater, following a line of depth markers -- 20 feet, 25 feet, 30 feet, 35 feet -- all the way down until his camera lands on a busy swimmer: Reed, conducting research at the bottom of the sea. 

It would have been easier and much less costly, no doubt, simply to cut from the surface to Reed far below it, at the ocean floor, but instead -- and this is the essence of good dramatic filmmaking -- Arnold utilizes an unbroken, single shot that preserves space to reveal visually that David is a hands-on kind of guy, doing the difficult and dangerous work himself. We wouldn't have understood that facet of his character so quickly and so easily with a cut or a series of cuts, and so this unbroken shot not only establishes location, but also something important about the heroic quality of the lead. 

And indeed, when the film reaches its denouement, it is David out in the water clearing debris from the Rita's path, living up to his introductory scene, doing the difficult labor himself.

Similarly, the long plunge down into the water to locate Reed visually reminds us of the gulf between land and sea; of the distance separating life in the two realms.  As this is a key leitmotif in the film, Arnold's shot expresses this notion beautifully -- and simply -- as well.

The underwater photography throughout Creature From the Black Lagoon is nothing less than extraordinary, and one classic sequence immediately jumps to mind. The lovely Julia Adams -- adorned in a white one-piece bathing suit -- swims across the black lagoon alone. Her shapely figure cuts the placid surface, and far below, in utter darkness, the creature mirrors her every move, entranced by her grace.

There's much material of interest in this famous sequence, both thematically and visually. Since the gorgeous Adams is adorned in white, the traditional color of a wedding gown, it is easy to view her as the creature's intended bride. The Gill Man is tantalized by this visitor in his domain and keeps returning to the Rita not merely to kill crew-members, but to claim his beautiful prize, one senses. 

Furthermore, this relationship is viewed differently by each character during the swimming sequence. Kay believes she's swimming a solo and revels in her every graceful motion, but deep in the darkness below (a blackness opposite to Kay's shining white) the monster believes differently. 

He sees them as a duo, as partners sharing something special: a dance just for two. Perhaps this dance even reflects the creature's mating rituals in some fashion we can't understand. 

And as Kay spins sensuously in the water, the males in the audience no doubt sympathize and share the creature's longing for her.  Why else the fascination with this movie monster over the years? He's a guy who doesn't get the girl,despite his deep desire for her, despite the fact that he is captivated by her beauty.

Adams is quite an athletic beauty and there is an unfettered and uninhibited quality about the water dance she performs when Kay believes she's alone. 

But then the scene ratchets up the suspense as the Gill Man -- no longer content to admire Kay from afar --moves in to touch her, his webbed hands growing ever closer to her kicking, dangling naked feet. 

Thus the Gill Man goes from an obsession with Kay to something much more dangerous: the need to possess her. 

Again, this is the dynamic of many a love relationship, isn't it? With an unrequited love leading to increasingly desperate behavior.

In many regards, Kay is the film's central and most important character. Every important conflict in Creature from the Black Lagoon involves possessing her, at least to some extent.

She is the love object for not only the Gill Man, but for rivals Mark and David. Each of the three "men" in her life wants her for himself, and indeed, acts to win her. If you're so inclined, you can even look at these men as equaling a rough ladder of evolutionary development. 

On the bottom rung is the Gill Man, using brute force, murder, and killing to win his female prize and take her.  

Next up the ladder is Mark, who shows off his machismo with - ahem - a very large spear gun. Notice how he keeps drawing attention to the weapon, and wants so desperately to use it. He's a human male, unlike the Gill Man, but one still driven by such qualities as pride (the need to show off) and vanity (the need to prove to the world that he captured the creature). 

On the top rung of the movie's male characters is David. The most evolved of Kay's suitors, he demonstrates his respect for science and his opponent, and works for the communal good...knowing when to give up the hunt and seek escape. 

However -- finally and ultimately -- it is up to Kay to choose which kind of man she will favor (a demonstration of Darwin's survival of the fittest?), and in a film about dead ends and blind alleys of evolution, this character dynamic represents a fascinating subtext, a mirror to the external adventure.

For Kay will not merely decide which man to favor as her mate, but is also the most diplomatic and evolved of all the film's characters, a comment, perhaps, on women and the role they play in human civilization.

Early on, Kay defends Mark to David. "Publicity brings endowments, and without money, there wouldn't be any research," she notes, explaining apparently indefensible behavior.  In other words, it is the woman who is able to see all sides, to bridge the gap between evolved and un-evolved, and ultimately, that's why she's the film's most valuable prize. 

"There are many strange legends in the Amazon,"
 a character in Creature from the Black Lagoon reminds us at one point. This film concerns the discovery of something legendary, something wild, and the need of the human race to understand and possess it, much as the men in the film seek to possess Kay. 

The film has maintained its popularity with horror fans over the years because, like King Kong, The Creature is thoroughly understandable and therefore thoroughly pitiable. He's a beast in love, and so we see something of ourselves in him.  He may be a relic from a long-gone age, but the desire to love and be loved -- to procreate and thus attain the only immortality available to life forms on this mortal coil -- is universal.

If you ask me, the real villain in the film is not the Gill Man, but Mark. 

The creature works by instinct alone, and who can blame him for that? David is evolved enough to let his intelligence and intellect dominate his choices and decisions. But Mark should know better than to pursue and kill that which he doesn't understand. Ultimately he pays for this mistake with his life. 

A man should be evolved enough to know that there are things in this universe that deserve better than to be trophies on a wall, whether it be a woman...or a creature from the black lagoon.

Return to the Planet of the Apes: (1975) "Escape from Ape City"

In the second episode of the animated series  Return to the Planet of the Apes,  which aired on NBC in 1975, displaced human astronaut Bill ...