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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Undead (1957)

Time for something very weird that doesn’t fit easily into a category. In my series of movie reviews for genre flicks from the fifties I’ve covered giant bugs, atomic horrors, witchdoctors, alien menaces, and even long dead Spanish conquistadors coming back to terrorize the living. But the Undead is so far out there that it stands alone even among the oddities. I guess the best way I can describe this is as an odd drive-in version of a fairy tale with a very dark ending. This is a strange movie.

We see a lady walking in the fog. She stops and is offered a light by an unseen figure. Next, we see her walking into a doctor’s office with a man, obviously the one that helped her out with the cigarette. It is established quickly that he is a scientist/doctor and she is his subject. He is there to prove to a third man that he can regress her to past lives. Okay that sounds cool and before you know it she is on the couch being put under.

The session works better than they could have imagined. The woman, Diana, goes back to a former life where she was a woman named Helene. Unfortunately, the point at which she arrives is also the night before Helene is supposed to be executed for being a witch. She helps her former self escape and that sets into motion a series of events that could have dire consequences. See she isn’t just remembering her former life, but somehow the hypnosis sent her consciousness back in time and she changed history. Or at least it will be changed if her ancestor doesn’t die by the morning as she should. The scientist who hypnotized her follows her back in time by using brain waves and other science stuff. Not so much to set things right, but to see what happens. Oh, and there is Devil too! If you have witches, you need to have the Devil.

This is one of those Roger Corman movies that was shot with no money, used his normal cast of character actors, and was made quickly. Like many other Corman flicks the writing is decent and there was some thought put into the story. I guess reincarnation was a big deal at the time and never one to let free publicity slide by this was rushed into production to take advantage. But is it any good? The answer to that is both yes and no.

Got to have the Devil in the movie!
The story is unique and different. You have someone who isn’t just reliving their past life but is also able to change it. Thus, causing issues where history is changed dooming the character who changed things to nonexistence. That is unless the former self who was saved gives themself up to be executed. For a cheap and quickly made movie for the drive-in market this is a complicated and interesting story. Then again whenever writer Charles B. Griffith is involved the plot and story are always top notch. The guy wrote some seriously cool scripts in his day including this one as well as Bucket of Blood, Death Race 2000, and the legendary Little Shop of Horrors.   

The cast is solid and handles the dialogue well. When the movie goes back to “olden” times the characters start speaking as if they were doing Shakespeare in the park. This could have been awful, but they are so good at it that I was amused. The gravedigger has some clever little quips and songs that play off of recognizable tunes with the words changed to fit the story. It was also great to see Corman regular Dick Miller in a small but memorable role of a leper who sells his soul to be healthy. The real bonus is seeing a very young Billy Barty as the Imp who while he has no dialogue it is a great part. This only goes to prove my theory that Barty was good in everything!

The Dancers
There are issues with The Undead. The pacing is very uneven after kicking off quickly it loses its way a bit with the subplot of the evil witch running around trying to steal Helene’s boyfriend. The only good parts about her scenes are the inclusion of Billy Barty’s Imp character. The movie also flashes back to the present for a couple scenes that are clearly used to pad the running time. At only seventy-one minutes is seems like they didn’t have enough material for a feature so used what they could to get to there. This includes an entirely random and goofy dance sequence because when the Devil arrives he brings the entertainment! It makes for a movie that can be a bit boring at times. I also didn’t understand the weird logic that forced the Helene character to sacrifice herself. If she lives her future selves don’t exist because as they say in the movie, “She lives this life or many lives.” That isn’t explained at all. Since her death is a big deal I would have liked a line or two explaining the logic behind it.

This is at best an oddity from the master of the low budget movie, Roger Corman. If you like the weird stuff or are a fan of the man, then The Undead is worth checking out. But I can’t recommend it to everyone. I’m not sure how well it would play to a crowd expecting the typical monsters and/or aliens.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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