The Ingrid Pitt Files: Where Eagles Dare

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Welcome back to the Ingrid Pitt Files. Our movie this week is actually pretty well known to people who are not genre fans:   1968’s Where Eagles Dare.

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Now, this movie had two strikes against it for me before I even watched it. I like my history old, and I have no interest in World War II. Second, I really, really don’t like war movies. I can’t handle them. Horror movies aren’t real. Those things don’t happen. War movies may not always be based on true events, but they all have things that could feasibly have happened. I can’t handle that kind of suffering. I can’t even make it through a single episode of Band of Brothers or The Pacific without crying like a little girl with gum stuck in her hair. You’d probably never get me to leave the house again if I had to sit through Saving Private Ryan. (For the record, I actually did cry quite a bit during Wonder Woman.)

But I read the synopsis for this movie and I thought it might be okay. It didn’t seem like it was that heavy, so I watched it.

OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS GREAT!!!!

It leans much more toward the action/adventure side of things, and I am sucker for adventure movies, so I enjoyed it immensely.

I am going to limit spoilers for once, because if you have not seen this movie, you need to and I don’t want to ruin it for you. But the movie basically goes like this…

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A group of British soldiers, led by Major Smith (Richard Burton) and accompanied by a single American Ranger, Lieutenant Schaffer (Clint Eastwood, young but already squinting and scowling stolidly), parachute into Bavaria in an attempt to save an American General who crash landed near Schloss Adler, a fortress that is damn near impossible to get into. The General was taken to the castle to be interrogated by German High Command, as he is responsible for making plans for the Western Front offensive.

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There’s a short break for exposition at the beginning, but really, the movie just starts right in on the action. It also starts right in on the twisty-turny plot. We’re not more than 15 minutes into a 2 1/2 hour movie when we’ve already encountered a couple events that make you realize that not everything is as it seems.

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The group makes it to the village at the base of Schloss Adler, and at the tavern Smith makes contact with Heidi, played by our girl, Ingrid Pitt, in the scene where she utters one of the most famous lines in the movie, “I bet you have a beautiful singing voice too.” Heidi is a spy that’s been in Bavaria for awhile and she is asked to help Mary Ellison (Mary Ure) get into the castle as a servant. Mary has been secretly brought into the mission by Smith for reasons we don’t quite know until the end.

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This movie is solid all around. The performances are good, the direction is good, the writing is sharp and witty in an almost James Bond kind of way. Burton is impossibly cool, despite this movie being during his downward slide. I really can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the role.   Anyone else staring at Ingrid’s chest for a really long moment before saying “and what a disguise,” and I would have sniffed and looked away. I guess I’m just a sucker for Burton because I laughed when he said it.   Really hard.

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If anything, it might be a bit too long. Some of the action sequences can drag, and for a movie that long, they needed more music.   The main motif popped up a little too often and got grating.

Of what I’ve seen so far, this is one of my favorite Ingrid performances, even though she’s not in it all that much. I wish she had had the chance to do more films like this. She is composed and cool and exudes being in control at all times.   If you watch her, even in the background, she has the eyes of hawk and Heidi is taking in every little thing going on around her, which is exactly what you’d expect from a spy.

Ingrid spent part of her childhood in a concentration camp and admitted having trouble with this role because of all the men in Nazi uniforms and that might have unintentionally helped her as Heidi because she was extremely weary the whole time.  Not all of it may have been acting, but all of it fit for her character.

And I really can’t get through this film without giggling when I remember that Ingrid once claimed she’d given Clint Eastwood the best night of his life during filming.

That’s Ingrid, ever the shy flower…

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This movie also gets some points for making baby steps toward being not sexist. I mean, it is still sexist (how many times did Mary and Smith boink? In just a couple minutes when they were supposed to be doing something for the mission? And it didn’t even make sense in the plot, there was just this moment of “we have to show that he’s a virile man so we’re gonna suggest they had sex and go back to blowing stuff up”), but the two women were also integral parts of the mission and (okay, I’m gonna spoil this) they were both above suspicion the entire movie, never once threatening to fall into femme fatale mode. Also, the extended sequence of Mary with the machine gun at the end basically makes up for the unnecessary boinking.

It’s actually that scene that makes me wish Ingrid and Mary had switched roles. Mary was quite good, but on the other hand, I feel like Ingrid with a machine gun is the feminist icon we need but never got.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. And don’t put it on in the background. You have to pay attention and you have to pay attention to the whole movie. All of it. Because it gets you right up until the end.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: Ironside

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And we’re back again with the Ingrid Pitt files and another learning experience for me!

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Ingrid was in an episode of the 60’s cop show Ironside, starring Raymond Burr. It was the fifteenth episode of the first season called “The Fourteenth Runner” and it aired on 28 December 1967 (there is another first season episode called “Memory of an Ice Cream Stick” which I find extremely funny for some reason but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything).

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This is the only episode I’ve seen and will likely ever see, cop shows just aren’t my thing anymore, but Burr’s character, Robert Ironside was a cop who got shot and paralyzed and now is a cop in a wheelchair and that seems to be the gimmick. Not a bad gimmick, I think, especially since it means that people aren’t constantly shooting each other up and there is more mystery solving stuff going on.

I have to be honest, one of the nerd things that got me most excited was the fact that the series was created by Collier Young who not only wrote the screenplay for Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, but also did some work on one of my all time favorite shows, One Step Beyond, starring John Newland.

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In this episode, a Soviet marathon runner in San Francisco disappears in the middle of running a race.   Ironside and his team, I learn, are special investigators who work just outside of the police. That’s why he’s given this case. It ends up being a nasty tangle of Cold War tensions, stereotypical shady Soviet agents (which led me to a nostalgic sigh. They just don’t make two-dimensional, they’re-unconditionally-bad-because-of-where-they’re-from villains like that anymore. That’s really a good thing though. The Commies were special though), two-faced American agents and a whole lotta “who really wants what and what would they do to get it?”

I actually think this was a very good story and I wish it had had the chance to play out over two or maybe even three episodes.

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The story ends up hinging on the runner’s girlfriend, Irene Novas (the first name is pronounced Irina, and I don’t know why they didn’t just spell it like that) a Hungarian Olympic athlete who defected, played by our Ingrid.

Now, this episode actually came out before The Vampire Lovers, which I covered last week, which makes this episode a little weird for me.

In this episode, she has to play vulnerable and she actually pulls it off. Well, kinda. In normal scenes where she’s just talking to people she’s good and believable as a woman worried about her boyfriend. There is a scene where she has to read what is his apparent suicide note that Ingrid totally hams it up and I admit I snickered a little. For most of the episode though, she is really just a damsel in distress and it doesn’t take much acting ability to let shady Russians grab you by the arm and drag you off. That was also weird for me because I’m not used to seeing Ingrid as a damsel in distress. It’s rather unbecoming on her and she spends the last part of the episode looking kinda bored while she tries to look worried.

This episode also had Ed Asner as a shady American operative of some sort (he’s a regular character, I think, so there’s probably something to that I’m missing), and John Van Dreelen as my “hey! That guy!” moment for this episode.

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In addition to being the mostly silent shady Soviet who stood there and looking down on everyone in this episode, if you’ve seen any TV between roughly 1959 and 1992 there’s a good chance you’ve seen him. He was in, like, everything; Airwolf, Dynasty, Knight Rider, Wonder Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Genre fans would know him from “The Jeopardy Room” episode of The Twilight Zone, as Van Allen in William Castle’s 13 Ghosts, and Garvay, the white hunter in The Leech Woman.

Now, I do have to say there was a little weirdness for this episode. Ironside solving the mystery actually involved, as a piece of evidence, the fact that the runner was dying his skin to pass as a Latino. So, the actor was in brown face for a good chunk of the episode. Now, this is offensive, but what’s more, it was in no way, shape, or form convincing.   I mean, it looked baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.   Like, fire your make up person, bad.

Also the writing hits a really weird stumbling block toward the end, when Ironside and his team are trying to stop the Russians from dragging the runner back to Russia. It involves a funeral for a dignitary from a made up, but vaguely Spanish sounding, country. Ironside is following the Russians who go to this funeral, where people are dancing and drumming in a way that the writer clearly intended to look foreign without having to do any research into what another country’s funeral customs would actually look like (and I’m pretty sure the main guy was wearing a coat with raccoon tails on it). After that ends, the Russians try to leave when Ironside stops them and they have a conversation about “collecting unique funeral services.”   I actually had to rewind the scene and watch it again because I could not believe that it was a conversation that was actually being had. “Collecting unique funeral services” sounds like a phrase that would happen in my head, and it’s not really a good thing when people verbalize the phrases that are in my head, you know?

Just sayin’.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: The Vampire Lovers

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All right! We are back talking about that most glorious of the stars in the night sky of horror cinema, Ingrid Pitt!

And this time around, I bring the goods. Behold!   The Vampire Lovers!

Now, I’m gonna assume that most people reading this are like me and first discovered Ingrid when she had fangs of some sort. This wasn’t the first Ingrid for me, and I can’t wait to talk about that one, but this is a great place to start.

Now I’m gonna talk this movie into the ground and there will be spoilers. Quite a bit has been made of this movie and I have opinions.   Let’s start at the beginning.

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We’re in Austria and a dude named Hartog is in a castle telling us about his dead sister and the creatures who killed her. The castle is decrepit and obviously abandoned, so it’s no surprise when the fog thickens and a figure draped in a shroud emerges. Hartog knows that these creatures can’t sleep during the day if they don’t have their burial shroud so he has taken this thing’s shroud and uses it to lure the creature to him. Once he’s facing it, we see that it’s a beautiful woman. She approaches and we have a nice close up of her tits (because that’s what this film is about) as the cross Hartog is wearing touches them and she flips out, fangs bear. He grabs her hair and cuts her head off.

Cut to a ball at the estate of General Spielsdorf (a gratuitously cast Peter Cushing, though I’d be much happier with the world if Peter Cushing has been gratuitously cast in everything). The Countess (the gloriously cast Dawn Addams) shows up with her daughter, Marcilla (our girl Ingrid). As soon as Marcilla enters everyone is looking at her (because duh) but she is looking at Laura (Pippa Steel), the General’s niece and ward. The Countess then pleads hardship, she has to leave, like, NOW, would the General be so good as to take care of Marcilla for awhile? The General agrees.

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Things go downhill from there. The Countess never comes back for her daughter and Laura slowly sickens as she has a series of nightmares about being attacked by a large cat. She dies and Marcilla disappears. The General knows Marcilla is responsible and immediately leaves to find Hartog.

Soon after, Morton and his daughter Emma (George Cole and Madeline Smith) are riding in the forest when they see a carriage have an accident. Out steps The Countess, claiming hardship. She has to keep going, but her niece, Carmilla (Ingrid again for those who haven’t guessed), is so unwell, would Morton be so good as to take care of her until the Countess sends for her? Apparently this was a thing you did in Austria back in the day because Morton doesn’t hesitate to say yes. The Morton household has two women in it, Emma and her tutor Madamoiselle Perrodot (Kate O’Mara). Carmilla comes on pretty strong with Emma, and we watch Carmilla seduce her, which was just glossed over with Laura. This involves Ingrid being nude a lot and a solid familiarity with Madeline Smith’s breasts as well. As Emma sickens, Carmilla sets her sights on Perrodot as well. We don’t actually see much of that since, while Kate O’Mara is a good looking woman, she doesn’t have that saccharine innocence that Smith does.

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Renton (Harvey Hall), the Morton’s butler, knows something bad is happening, but wrongly places it on the shoulders of Perrodot, who has been become very domineering while being manipulated by Carmilla. He goes behind her back and calls the doctor after a bartender warns him about vampirism.   The doctor recognizes the bites on Emma as those he saw on Laura and agrees with the precautions against vampirism Renton has taken (garlic flowers, crosses, y’all know the drill). Renton has secretly sent for Morton as well.   But Carmilla, knowing that her time in the Morton house is running out, seduces Renton and gets him to reverse all his precautions (by this point I felt really sorry for Gretchen the servant girl. Just give her one set of directions to follow and stop yelling at her!). She grabs Emma, meaning to take her away but is interrupted by an equally sick Perrodot pleading with Carmilla to take her as well. Carmilla stops to kill her and the interruption costs her the time she had to get away. The keeper of the General’s estate (who also happened to be in love with Laura, useless subplot) shows up and attacks Carmilla, causing her to disappear.

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While this has been going on, Hartog, the General and Morton (heretofore known as “the group of old dudes”) are at the rundown castle, which we now know to be Castle Karnstein, searching for the tomb of Mircalla (Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla – see what they did there? Clever!) to find her burial shroud. Truth to tell, I literally just finished watching the movie and I can’t remember if they found it or not, but whether they did or not Carmilla ends up in her coffin after having run back to the castle. The General claims right of revenge, stakes her, cuts her head off and that’s that.

A lot has been made of this movie for a couple reasons. One of them is the blatant lesbianism. Another is the sheer amount of boobs and blood in this movie.

I’m going to discuss the latter first and everyone reading needs to be aware that I am female and that informs my opinion of this movie A LOT.

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I like this film. I actually really do. But it, and the resulting Karnstein Trilogy, represent everything that is wrong with Hammer in the 70’s and why the studio ended up shuttering. I have never hid my dislike of 70’s Hammer. Hammer Studios could have trademarked the concept of boobs and blood as far as I’m concerned. But in the 50’s and 60’s, they skirted the line. They skirted the line in a way that fed the story and added the required romance to their Gothic fare. Sometimes, this was done out of necessity, to avoid censorship, possibly even for budgetary reasons from time to time.

Hammer started the 70’s with Taste The Blood Of Dracula, which amped up the boobs, but didn’t go too far. I haven’t seen Scars of Dracula yet, so that one may be skeezy, but it can’t be as skeezy as The Vampire Lovers, because with this movie, Hammer crossed the line they’d been skirting so far they were suddenly skirting the line of porno.   This led to a movie with a great deal of potential being actually kinda gross.

I’m going to jump to the other reason people talk about this movie because my discussion of that ties in with what I’ve already said.

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I sincerely hope lesbians do not watch this movie looking for something understanding of their sexuality. I hope they don’t look to this movie seeking empowerment of any kind. This movie has an extremely negative view of lesbianism as only viewing women’s sexuality through the lense of religion can create. Carmilla embraces her sexuality (as the way she expresses her vampirism) but she doesn’t understand it. Her sexuality is perverse and it destroys people. It pulls impressionable young girls away from father, uncle and lover and kills them. Carmilla is childlike in the way she expresses herself, meaning she lacks the maturity to understand that she is taking the girls away from the pure, right-thinking men in their lives. Carmilla must be destroyed and the men must be the ones to do it because the women are too weak and fall for Carmilla irresistibly.

But not before we get a bunch of scenes of women making out and biting each other on the tits.

This is where we get to the crux of the problem with this movie: It was made by and for the male gaze. The male gaze, which allows the double standard of giving men enjoyment by letting them watching the naughtiness, and then the enjoyment of being the ones to put the world right by destroying that naughtiness and keeping women in their submissive place.

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The problem with this movie, and all the 70’s Hammer and in particular the Karnstein Trilogy (I’m not gonna lie, they are among the very, very few Hammer films I actively hate and you will not hear me say a good word about the other two), is not the boobs and blood, it’s that what little respect the studio harbored for its female characters fled in anguish after seeing the script for this movie.

When I think of women in Hammer films, the first thing that always jumps to mind is Hazel Court in Curse of Frankenstein. Now, make no mistake, she was still the chick in the movie so she screamed and fainted and got carried off by the monster, but she was also bold and assertive and when The Baron told her not to do something she did it anyway. It’s the typical meddling women, but it’s also a woman who was trying to be part of her husband’s life when in any other movie, the women in her position would have been sitting on the settee weeping.   Hammer had a way of casting authoritative women in roles that were pretty stereotypical, but also had a strong edge to them, something Universal never did (even Countess Marya in Dracula’s Daughter was the victim even though she was the title freaking character).

That was noticeably different in Taste the Blood of Dracula, and by The Vampire Lovers it’s done a complete 180, just giving up the effort and giving in to the skeez.

The Karnstein Trilogy, in different hands, could have been a towering monument to female and lesbian empowerment expressed with fangs. Instead, it was yet another example of men having their cake and putting a stake in it too.

Okay, I’m gonna get off the soapbox and talk about the film itself and not all the conceptual stuff now.

Roy Ward Baker directed this and that is fairly obvious. It is a well directed film. And, he was very good at framing the intimate scenes. I didn’t care much for the dream sequences though.   Those were a little weird.

The art direction was lackluster for a Hammer film though. Some guy who reviewed it for the New York Times said it was opulently staged and I had to do a double take. That is opulent? Wait until that guy sees Kiss of the Vampire, or Captain Clegg, or Phantom of the Opera. His mind will be BLOWN!

However, there is some good use of color in this film, in particular, of course, red. You’ll notice that in the second part of the film, the part that focuses on Laura, the sicker she gets, the more red velvet pops up in her room. And of course we have to comment on the ball sequence, the first and best use of color in the movie.   Everyone, with the exception of the General, wears a drag color that blends in while they dance. There’s a gold lame dress in there and you can barely tell. Then The Countess arrives in black velvet and beside her Carmilla in blood red. Suddenly we have a focal point, and when Carmilla is dancing, you can find her anywhere in crowd (a similar trick was used in the ball scene of The Fearless Vampire Killers a few years earlier, though I can’t say if that inspired this). Likewise, as the film progresses, everyone tends to wear drab colors, except Carmilla who is always wearing something vibrant: Aqua blue, lime green, navy blue and, of course, that rather well known white nighty.

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But that is about the extent of compliment I can give to the costume department. I would bet money that guy has never had to dress women before.   The lack of imagination is really really disappointing. The General’s uniform is super spangly and has all the fancy bits and bobs on it and all the women in the movie wear the same damn dress. It’s the same pattern with just a bit of lace here and there or a pattern that is monochrome and you can’t actually see it anyway. Oh! The Countess’s dress at the ball scene as TRIM! She must be rich!

Also, that discussion about how Emma needs to take off her bodice because the dress won’t fit right with a bodice. Yeah, a bunch of dudes wrote that. I’ve worn those dresses. If you wear them without a bodice you’re taking your modesty (and possibly your back muscles) into your own hands.

Okay, I just looked up Brian Cox, the guy who did the wardrobes, and he is also responsible for the costumes in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which means he’s responsible for the drop in quality of Vulnavia’s costumes too! Now I really hate this guy.

Anyway, there were actors in this movie so lets talk about them.

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Peter Cushing is Peter Cushing he was great in this (beer bottle breaks against counter. “Say otherwise! I dare you!”) and I actually rather liked Douglas Wilmer as Hartog.   He perfectly manifested that dead eyed, “I’ve seen too much and done bad things for a good reason but that doesn’t make it okay I hope to God you’re never me” look. I really felt sorry for him and he ever told me what to do to kill a vampire, I’d sure as shit listen. I feel like the other men were really just kind of throw away characters, so they were good enough, really.

Kate O’Mara didn’t have much to do, but she was good. Again, this movie was about women being victims and it doesn’t take much ability to lay in bed, writhe and whine.

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That’s where we come to the sticking point in this movie for me. Now, I mean no disrespect, but I really dislike the way Hammer used Madeline Smith in every movie they cast her in. This one included. She’s very pretty, but she’s pretty in this big-eyes anime character, angelic way that means no writer ever thought to put any depth to her characters, they only thought to have her blink a lot, pucker her lips and be cheese-grater-on-my-last-good-nerve naieve. I’m sure Miss Smith is a wonderful woman, I have heard that she isn’t exactly pleased with her time at Hammer and I completely understand why. Every Hammer film I’ve seen her in, I want to slap her character. The Vampire Lovers is no exception.

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Now, lets talk about Ingrid. Ingrid struggled a bit here.   As much as I adore her, she has certain things she does well (which you will hear me gush about copiously when we discuss Countess Dracula), but her range isn’t that great. Ingrid has a certain power behind her performances, which means when she tries to play vulnerable, it almost feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She actually has to play vulnerable here quite a bit. The character of Carmilla is a tragic figure who just wants to love and be loved and doesn’t understand why that doesn’t work. When Ingrid tries to convey that vulnerability, it feels off and makes it all the more jarring when she flies into a rage.

The thing is, that actually kinda works for the character. It gives Carmilla a kind of wild, childlike, “I don’t know what I’m feel or how to express it but I’m FEELING!” edge that makes the character even more dangerous. Children don’t know that their actions can break things and don’t always understand what happened when their actions do break things, which makes Carmilla’s little meltdowns and the need to be coddled by her victims make sense.

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And this might be the explanation for an intriguing plot hole in the movie.

The Karnsteins have been destroyed except for Mircalla. So who is the Countess and The Man In Black that follows them around on the horse?   We don’t know about the Countess, but The Man In Black is clearly a vampire, we see fangs. It seems they have a well adapted system of dumping Mircalla off in places so she can feed and then collecting her when she’s done to do it all over again.

My theory is this:   Mircalla was born into eastern European nobility, so she probably grew up being coddled and told she could do whatever cruel, nasty thing she wanted. She also seems to have grown up emotionally stunted, either because of a mental disorder or bad parenting, which means she couldn’t be left to fend for herself. She’s too unstable and would get caught. What if the Karnsteins had friends who were vampires or possibly even family abroad when Hartog did his deed? What if they came back and found Mircalla alone and realized they had to take care of her and this movie is them doing that? This would fit snugly into an expansion of the Karnstein world suggested by Captain Kronos.

A few little tweaks and this movie could have been truly great, and it is one of my biggest Hammer regrets that they played it off for the skeez. That’s and the rest of the 70’s.

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A Labor Of Love: Caltiki The Immortal Monster

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Welcome back to my Bava obsession! This time around we come to one of the more well known of Mario’s movies and the first one we can recognize his hand in: Caltiki The Immortal Monster!

The movie starts in Guatemala, where a group of archeologists are excavating a Mayan site, attempting to find out why the population abandoned the area. One of the archeologists staggers to camp, muttering and barely clinging to his sanity. He saw something terrifying and the colleague that went with him is gone, but the archeologist can’t articulate what happened. The remaining group goes to the cave they were exploring and finds images of the goddess Caltiki, who demanded human sacrifices (fun fact:   The Aztecs did actually chuck people into lakes in caves, though it was for prognostication purposes and it was typically children. The Aztecs were kinda scary). One of the party searches the bottom of the lake (in the most jaw droppingly gorgeous scene in the movie). He doesn’t find his colleague but he does find quite a few skeletons and a whooooooole lotta treasure. He surfaces with his gains and insists on going back down to get more. The group reluctantly lets him, but once down there, something emerges and comes for him. Seeing that he’s obviously in distress, the group pulls him to shore, takes off his diving mask and sees nothing but a goo covered skull. Then the goddess comes out of the lake, but she is not a refined lady in all her splendor.  Caltiki is a blob monster that comes for everyone. She catches the arm of one of the men and begins digesting it while it’s still attached to him. The group wrests him away and runs. As the blob emerges from the cave, the group drives a nearby gas truck into it to stop it. The group goes back to Mexico City to get the man with the digested arm treatment. They remove pieces of the blob from him and take them off for study. Totally something that will have no consequences, right? Well, it turns out that Caltiki is a unicellular being that responds quite strongly to the radiation of a passing comet and the pieces begin to expand, digest more people and, worse still, reproduce asexually.   From there, the race is on to stop Caltiki and her brood from killing everyone and everything.

This movie has been referred to a grindhouse version of The Blob and I think that is a fair assessment. The Blob was a teensploitation movie that has some harrowing moments but in the end was wholesome fun because good still won out. It didn’t have this:

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So, maybe the good guys won in Caltiki, but I think this victory hurt a lot more than the one in The Blob did.

This film is also notable for a couple other cool reasons. It’s one of, if not the, earliest examples of found footage being used in a movie.   The scientific and astrological aspects make it decidedly Lovecraftian without any Mythos name-dropping. It’s also the first time we can visually tell which scenes Mario directed and which he was not (this was another instance of Freda refusing to finish, although the reasons why are debated). People who know Bava’s style can look at some scenes and say, “yup, there he is.”   Most notably this reveal from the beginning of the movie…

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… and the underwater scenes.

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There are just no words for how happy that scene makes my heart.

Also, the creature design was quite impressive. The first time I saw the movie I wondered what it was made out of.  Then I found out that not only was it tripe, but there were scenes where an actual person had to be inside the tripe moving it around and I got grossed out beyond belief.   While I still love the movie, the blob actually makes me very uncomfortable now that I know that.

And that was where we started with the accessory for my Bava gown!

As I said in my last post, when I decided I wanted to make accessories for the gown out of the movies, the first thing that popped into my head was “Caltiki necklace.” So that was sorted. The most important aspect I wanted to capture was the blob-goddess herself, so I wanted fabric and I wanted it to look like it was smothering, the way the tripe gushed up around its victims.

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The next step was me being overly obsessive. The movie was about a pre-Colombian Mayan location called Tikal (a real archeological site in Guatemala, not Mexico, thus my claim in the summary above), so I looked up Tikal and Mayan art and jewelry from the period. What did I learn? That there’s almost no research into the Maya in English and finding pictures of the jewelry they produced is next to impossible. I did find several artists from the area who produce original jewelry based on Mayan tradition, so I used some of that for inspiration.

I also discovered that the movie was wrong in its representation of the treasures that would have been in that lake (a movie?  Wrong?  NEVER!). Gold and silver were used as accents in Mayan jewelry in that period and wouldn’t become prominent until after the Spanish came. Copper was the metal of choice and it was strung with opals, amber, obsidian, mother of pearl and jade, the sacred stone to the Mayans, as well as shells and bone beads.

It’s here I should explain why I’m obsessive about stuff like that. I believe representation matters. The people who made this movie may not have been interested in making sure the Mayan culture was shown, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to be.   They chose a real place, where real people with a real history lived and I believe that should be honored, so I’m going to make it as Mayan as I can.

The next lesson I learned was that obtaining copper findings for jewelry isn’t that easy. There isn’t really a good selection. Nobody seems to find any value in copper for jewelry anymore.

I had an interesting idea when I ended up with a spool of copper (colored) wire. I wanted to represent how squishy and gushy the goddess-blob was, right? So what if I made loops out of the copper, strung them together and wove strips of black cloth through the loops? It would look like it was trying to force its way out and I could adjust the puffiness of the fabric to make it gush more or less.

As much as I wanted to keep this Mayan, it was stated implicitly in the movie that there was gold and treasure at the bottom of the lake. The answer? Throw in a couple gold beads and JEWELS. Because I looooooooove jewels. And I had a ton of random ones sitting around so I wouldn’t have to put out any extra money.

I also decided I wanted to mimic one of my favorite images from the movie.

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So I would need a little skull to tuck in there somewhere.

I’ve said this before and I will say it many times in the future: If you are a crafter who likes to do darker or Halloween-ish or horror style projects, one of the best investments you can make is to go to a dollar store at Halloween and just load up on those garlands of little plastic skeletons.   At Dollar Tree, you get 8 on each $1 strand and the decision I made last year that as soon as they put them out, every paycheck I would go and buy two or three until they didn’t sell them anymore was one of my best. I have a plastic baggie full of them for whenever I need them, no matter how many I need. They’re a soft plastic so you can cut them easily with an xacto knife. They’re not fragile but you can break them cleanly if you try a bit and you can paint over them no problem. The skulls are also thicker, so if you need to scuff them up some sandpaper a little or anything like that, they can take it.

So I gathered up my supplies…

… and went to town.

The first step involved a great deal of measuring and sketching. I had to determine how big the necklace was going to be, then make a mock up of the loops I was going to have and how I as going to make them. I decided to twist the wire around a sculpting tool.

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Then I had to determine how big the loops were and how many I would need, then the overall shape of the piece. I decided to make it kinda pointy, since most of the Mayan art I’d seen tended toward the pointy side.

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Then I just had to keep drawing it over and over and over again until I had the design balanced.

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Once I had gotten the design nailed down, I made a full line of copper loops and had to choose which fabric to use and how much to weave through. My two choices were black gauze and black terry cloth. The gauze had a nice texture to it, with the rough folds in the fabric but when I wove the terry cloth in, I knew that was it.   It mimicked the nubby texture of the treacle nicely.

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So I cut ½” strips of that for every row I was going to do and set those aside.

It was at this point that I had to make Caltiki herself. I decided I wanted to try and make the idol that was guarding the treasure lake.

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I knew it was going to end badly. I’ve done very little sculpting, but I also decided, since I wasn’t going to find an already sculpted one somewhere, I would just do it. So I gathered up what I’d need for that portion.

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There are little statues of Kali and the Minoan Snake goddess that I have with similar shapes that I dug out for reference.

It didn’t help. The piece turned out terrible and while I thought of redoing it, I knew it would take years of practice for me to actually get it right, so I just went with it. I still think it looks kinda lame, but well, you do what you can. Probably something Mario thought at several points in his career.

The next issue I had came up was when I had to think of a way to connect the rows I was making.   What I came up with was weaving the rows together, so the top strand of wire would go through the loop above it.   I could then insert the tool below that loop and twist it.

This ended up being really annoying. There was copper wire flopping everything and figuring out how to hold it so the wire wouldn’t end up knotted around the loops took awhile. Fortunately, the wire I bought was really pliable so it was easy to bend back into shape. I also reminded myself that I was going to be shoving cloth through the holes, so mistakes would most likely be covered.

Before I had started I had done the other tricky, but also the most part, of mapping out where the jewels would go.

Some of them were woven into the wire as I made loops. Some of them would be glued on later. Some had a bit of both.

I then proceeded to weave the cloth strips through the finished rows. I left them hanging out so that I could adjust the puffiness as I desired. I also wanted to make sure I had enough room to maneuver in gluing the remaining jewels on.

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I glued on the remaining jewels. I finished the ends by snipping off any excess wire, then wrapping the ends of the terry cloth around the edges (thus protecting myself from getting stabbed as well) and sewed it in place.

The last part of the body of the necklace was the skull face. I cut the back off the head so it would lay flat, then I used nail polish.   I smeared on some red to look like blood, then cut a corner off a kitchen sponge and used that to glob on clear nail polish. Nail polish worked best in this case because it was extra glossy, so it would stand out.   Once the skull was ready, I glued it to the necklace, puffed up the terry cloth around it and glued the edges of it around the bottom of the skull. That both hid the edges and made it look like the black was spitting out the skull. I smeared some red nail polish around the skull and on the edge of the hatchet charm at the top left of the necklace (yes, I actually had a hatchet charm and I have no idea where it came from. I was surprised to find it).

I put the clasps on the ends of the top row so I could actually wear it, clipped anything that was sticking out and looked down at my handiwork.

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And my heart sank.   It wasn’t very good. It looked shoddy and the clay figure in the middle was still bugging me. I toyed with the idea of starting over from scratch, even coming up with a new idea.   It sucked!

For a lark I put it on.   And I smiled. Because once it was on, I loved it!

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I had accidentally made it sit high, so there was a high Victorian collar feel to it, and it felt like a hand grabbing for my throat. It looked rough around the edges, tattered, like it had just been pulled off a dead body.   It looked shoddy and a little half-assed.

It looked grindhouse.

Suddenly it was perfect.   And I’m still happy with it, crappy looking clay figure and all.

It’s been about a month since I finished it and the goddess-blob hasn’t gotten me yet, so I assume she doesn’t mind the bad likeness.

Up next: The Giant Of Marathon!

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: Dr. Zhivago

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Okay, this week we’re gonna talk about one of the movies I was dreading watching for this series, MGM’S 1965 epic, Dr. Zhivago.

Why would I dread watching this movie? It’s a classic! Celebrated by generations of movie goers!

Yeah, thing is, I don’t really like good movies. I mean sometimes I’ll enjoy one of them, but in general, the more a film “explores the human experience” the less I care. I’m living the human experience. I don’t need to watch someone on screen going through all the bad shit I just went through.

I want Peter Cushing.   And dead people. And Peter Cushing. And old houses with secrets that involve dead people. And those old houses with secrets and dead people need to involve Peter Cushing. A young, super hot John Carradine is also acceptable.

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What makes it even worse for me is that this movie is touted as one of the greatest love stories ever written.

Sweet Jayzus I hate love stories! I have an extremely low opinion of love and the role it plays in society so these movies never move me.   They usually end up annoying me more than anything.

So I’m in for a three-hour love story that movie snobs tell me is a work of art. Ingrid is an extra so I may not even find her and Peter Cushing isn’t in it.

*head hits desk*

BUT I CAN DO THIS!   So I settled myself in and did it.

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In all honesty, it took me about four and a half hours to get through because I kept pausing it and wandering off.

But I didn’t have as much trouble as I thought I would. This is 1000% not my type of movie. It is never in a hurry, which I found annoying. It’s a MOTION picture (to borrow an MST3K joke) and paintings exist if I feel the need to just sit and stare at pretty things. I also feel like it would have been better as a miniseries. There were too many characters and plotlines to follow (for a movie called Dr. Zhivago, I’m not convinced we see enough of him to justify the title) that it made the movie feel unwieldy, like there was no through line in the plot. Some people are okay with that. I prefer to have a point to the story I’m watching.

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My personal, and quite sick, fascination with World War I buoyed me through the first part, and I was quite pleased that the love story wasn’t actually that big of a deal in the grand scheme of the movie. It also helped a great deal that the love triangle didn’t end up in acrimonious destruction for all involved. There was a marvelous, and I think quite Russian, pragmatism to the whole thing and I liked the fact that the idea was that the heart is big enough for more than one kind of love. For my part, I think Zhivago loved both Lara and Tonya, just not in the same way.

It helped that no one in this movie, besides Strelnikov, is really a jerk. Zhivago, Lara, Tonya and even Yevgraf are all good people just trying to make it in a bad situation. You don’t come to hate any of them, again except Strelnikov who is a straw man for the Bolsheviks in this case.

That brings me to one of the things I actually was really impressed with in this movie. Dr. Zhivago really is a war movie, but without all the war movie trappings we now associate with war movies. It made you understand the cost of war without beating you over the head with an emotional cudgel and making you look at concentration camps and people dying in the mud.

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And the performances all around were top notch. I did have a little trouble with Omar Sharif. He was a good enough actor, and I really liked the vulnerability he displayed, but there was a misfire with the make up. Apparently they tried to make his eyes wider so he didn’t look so Egyptian, which totally explains the big-eyed anime child vibe I was getting off him the whole movie. I also really liked Tom Courtenay as Strelnikov. That dude was scary.

I read that Ingrid had five separate roles in the movie, all of them bit parts. I never saw her once. But I did see a welcome face.

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That’s Adrienne Corri on the right. You can barely see her, but it’s the only picture of her in the movie I could find.

Of course, there are, like, a BAJILLION people in this movie so you’re bound to recognize everyone anyway.

Anyway, I watched it.   There we go. Peace out.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: The Mammoth Book Of Vampire Stories By Women

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We’re doing something a little different with The Ingrid Pitt Files today. We’re reviewing a book!

I’m sure anyone reading this knows that Ingrid Pitt was a writer as well as an actress. If you’ve ever been to ingridpitt.net you’ve seen the metric ton of blog posts she wrote in addition to links to the books she had a hand in.

When I started doing The Ingrid Pitt Files, I remembered that I had bought a book ages ago that she’d been part of. I hadn’t read it yet, so I decided to dig it out and give it a go.

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The Mammoth Book Of Vampire Stories By Women was edited by Stephen Jones. The edition I have was released by Running Press in 2007.   There are other editions out there and they probably aren’t that different, but when it comes to books, I’m not enough of a minutia freak to look all that up.

This edition is just over 600 pages and has 34 stories in it (they said mammoth book, right?). These stories are largely reprints and to any regular reader of vampire short fiction a bunch of these will be familiar. Just about all the authors should be known to that crowd as well. For someone who doesn’t have much knowledge about this area of literature, this book is a good primer. There’s a lot of variety in it and it will introduce you to many famous characters in the sub-genre.

The thing is, the sheer volume of stories makes the book extremely hit or miss, but does give you the opportunity to feel things out and see whom you’d like to keep reading.

The editor tried very hard to include many different visions of vampires, rather than the simple fangs-in-throat variety. My personal annoyance with this, inside and outside of this collection, is that whether or not we have the biting of heaving bosoms, everything still seems to come down to sex. For my money, a FABULOUS way to turn vampire tropes on their head would be to make them not about sex but no one seems to have figured out how.

There’s some good stuff in here. Elizabeth Hand’s “Prince of Flowers” is a wonderful story that works in some Southeast Asian folk horror.   It’s about a woman who works in a museum taking inventory of the artifacts in storage and finds a doll that she’s inexplicably drawn to. Things go downhill from there. Think Richard Matheson’s “Prey” only weirder and bloodier. And with more plants.

“Year Zero” by Gemma Files hit my buttons in a couple ways, being a period vampire story with unconventional vampires. The story takes place during the French Revolution and follows Jean-Guy Sansterre, a former slave turned Republican who has to deal with the aftermath of a brutal assault while hunting his attacker and navigating the vicious politics of a revolution in full-on, paranoid implosion. The story deals very deftly with themes of class, race, slavery and humanity’s inability to not freaking kill each other. But you have to pay attention when you read this story and go slowly. I had trouble keeping things straight in my head and I was a bit confused about the ending, though I still found it upsetting in the same way I found the end of Night of the Living Dead upsetting. There’s something to be said for a work of fiction that can make you feel that.

Christa Faust’s “Bootleg” was also quite good. Mona is a former musician who decides to visit her old band mates and help them record a song she wrote. Once in her old stomping grounds memories of her toxic relationship with Victorine, who worshipped Mona’s stage persona and not Mona herself, come back. As Mona is trying to deal with her feelings, one of her old band mates tells her she saw someone who looked exactly like Mona in Victorine’s apartment. Mona can’t stop herself from investigating and what she finds is pretty ugly. This story is a beautiful, heartfelt meditation on identity, learning to let go and coming to terms with your past to make yourself whole.

My favorite story in the book is the last one, “Jack” by Connie Willis. Jack is the story of two men named Jack who work as neighborhood watch and rescue in London during The Blitz (I’m sure there’s a title for that they did, but I don’t know WW2 stuff, so I don’t know what it is). Our narrator is one Jack, the other Jack comes to his ward and ends up being a very good “body-sniffer”, someone with the ability to find people buried in rubble after a bombing. In fact, he’s inexplicably good at it and the narrator slowly finds out why. I have little patience for WW2 stories. I don’t like war stories, and especially with WW2 there’s almost a knee jerk attempt to make them either full blown testosterone laden hero worship, or to put your audience on an emotional rack from the first second of the story so the entire experience becomes emotional torture porn (though some movies astoundingly manage to do both). This story does neither. It focuses on a small group of people in one section of London and illustrates quite marvelously how bad times can bring out the strengths in people.

BUT! You came here for the Ingrid! She wrote the introduction for this book, which is full of anecdotes from the making of The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula and The House That Dripped Blood (fake fangs in Kate O’Mara’s cleavage!   I was in pain laughing about that!), with the brutal honesty Ingrid always displayed when writing about herself.   And she uses the phrase “Gothic Overkill” which is not only a great band name, but also how I hope people describe my life when I’m gone.

She also wrote a story for the volume, entitled “Hisako San”. It’s a fun story about a detective investigating a woman named Hisako who intends to murder a U.S. senator in London on a trade mission.   But there’s much more to Hisako than anyone suspects and she’ll get the Senator come Hell or high water. The story is essentially a battle of wills between two strong female characters, Hisako and Janet Cooper, the woman investigating her.   I found it rather nice that both females get their hands dirty and there is plenty of giving and taking of damage for both of them (it’s one thing to have women running around beating people up, but the true measure of equality is when you have characters who do not hold back when fighting women – i.e. they’re okay with hitting a girl – and women who can take a blow like a bad ass. One of the reasons I adored the new version of The Mummy so much).   Hisako is in no way shape or form a conventional vampire, but I won’t say more so I don’t spoil it. I would guess this is one of Ingrid’s earlier stories.   It very much has an action movie feel, right down to the way the story ends, which is suuuuuper cinematic. But it’s also written in a way that I’ve seen in other authors who either start out as actors or screenwriters write. It moves maybe a little too quick, descriptions of things tend to be a little too clipped and the focus is on dialog, so there’s not a lot of world building going on. We see more of what’s happening as opposed to where it’s happening or even really whom it’s happening to. The story does have a super cool idea at its core, it just could have used some fleshing out.

If you’re wondering where to start with short vampire fiction, this book is a good place.   It’s got a little bit of everything from authors in all time periods and the stories themselves feature all kinds of backgrounds.

Though, come on ya’ll, just because you have a vampire anthology doesn’t mean you need to put “The Master of Rampling Gate” in there. Seriously, this is, like, the 5th book I’ve got with that story in it. We get it, Anne Rice writes vampire stories.   Don’t put that story in anymore vampire anthologies. Just don’t.   Please.

The Ingrid Pitt Files: Sound of Horror

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This week in The Ingrid Pitt files, we take a look at the movie that is simultaneously the dumbest and the most awesome concept ever, 1966’s Spanish produced Sound of Horror.

I’m gonna spoil the movie here and now: This movie is about invisible dinosaurs.

See? The most awesome concept ever, while at the same time managing to be the dumbest.

There’s nothing that could ever be un-cool about invisible dinosaurs because at heart, we’re all 7 years old and never got over how cool dinosaurs are. And INVISIBLE dinosaurs? Invisible everything is just better (like glow-in-the-dark). Two awesome things together make things even awesomer, right?!

Then the adult in your head kicks in and you realize they made the dinosaurs invisible so they wouldn’t have to put out the money to actually make dinosaurs to show you.   And then it’s like that moment when you’re a kid and you accidentally see your dad hiding your Easter basket and, I mean, on the one hand, you still get the Easter basket (or invisible dinos, in this case) but some of the magic is gone and you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. And you realize that being an adult kinda sucks because not only do you have to get a job and pay bills, you can’t just believe in the invisible dinos anymore.

Sound of Horror is like that.

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But with Ingrid Pitt where we actually get to see her!

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Sound of Horror follows a group of treasure hunters in the Greek Islands who *ahem* acquired two halves of a map made by some antiquities thieves during World War II.   The thieves stole a bunch of Greek antiquities and hid them in a cave and the grizzled treasure hunters see it as their right to have the items (because war? They keep talking about how much the war sucked at every turn.   I mean, war does suck, but it’s not an excuse to steal antiquities). They enter the cave and start blowing things up, unearthing prehistoric eggs and causing them to hatch. Viola, invisible dinos! Add into the mix one treasure hunter’s niece, another treasure hunter’s girlfriend (yay Ingrid!), a housekeeper that supplies us with our “native superstition” element and constantly pronounces doom, an archeologist and a driver and you have a siege horror movie that frankly isn’t anything all that special.   Not nearly as special as it should have been, since it involves invisible dinosaurs, anyway.

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First, the dinosaurs.   We didn’t see much of them, since they were invisible and all. But the brief glimpses we get of them – transparent shots here and there in the house and in profile while it’s burning at the end – show a pretty standard rubber suit dinosaur. I’m also not sure about the sounds it made. We don’t know what a dinosaur like that would have sounded like, but the sound in the movie just didn’t fly for me, and I can’t quite figure why. However, what money they didn’t spend on the dino was put into some really gnarly, bloody, gross claw slash wounds on the bodies the dinos killed. I was quite pleased with those effects.

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Of course, we can’t neglect the showpiece effect, the dino getting hit my two throwing axes that proceed to float in the air.

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This effect was a little stiff, but I still liked it. We saw, in a shot after this one, blood from the dinosaur all over the ground and I think the shot would have been more effective if we had seen both together, but given what technology I’m guessing they had, it was pretty good.

On the whole, the performances were okay. Nothing was expected of any of the actors except for the treasure hunters to be grizzled, the girls to be pretty and scream a lot, and the driver to be the comic relief, so they all achieved their aim. Also, there didn’t need to be that many of them. We really could have done without the driver, the niece, and Ingrid.   They didn’t really have any purpose in the plot.

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Now, I try to put myself in the mindset of people watching a movie when it originally came out, but there was something weird that kept me from being able to do that with this movie.   I studied quite a bit of anthropology in college (intended to make it my minor but bureaucracy got in the way) and I’ve been an armchair Egyptologist since I was 12. Sitting down to watch this movie for this blog post was not the first time I’d seen this movie. The first time I saw this movie I nearly screamed bloody murder when they took DYNAMITE into an archeological site.

DYNAMITE!!!

*Wilhelm scream*

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I blame the archeologist in the movie for letting them do it and I’d strangle him with my own two hands if I could. Excuse me, I just need to let this heart attack pass…

DYNAMITE… in an archeological site. *rage shudder*

Anyway, Ingrid. We see quite a bit of her in this movie.   Her character, Sofia Minelli, enters at about the 15 minute mark. Ingrid said in her blog that they needed a skinny blonde in this movie and that’s what she was. That is about the sum total of her performance. I was a little surprised though. The niece, Maria, is clearly supposed to be our heroine so I, cynically, thought Sofia would be a problem as a character and be jealous of Maria, or try to sabotage the group (more than one woman in a movie tends to mean one of them is bad, right?), but her character was kind and she cared about the other people and did what she could to help them but was ultimately useless (though in her defense, none of the character are really all that useful). Still, I feel like I haven’t seen Ingrid in a role like that much, where there weren’t some darker undertones to what she was playing.   Mind you, I like the darker undertones, but it’s nice to see a change every now and then.

And there was one really stupid thing about her in this movie that bugged me: Short hair. Ingrid has short hair in this movie.

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That’s just… not right.   I mean, she’s still gorgeous.   But… long hair. She should have long hair. All I’m sayin’.

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