Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Does it Suck: Battlefield Earth

What can I say about Karl Freund's Mad Love? First of all, I can say that it's one of my favorite horror films, one of ten or so movies that I would call perfect horror films. When I saw Mad Love, it was a revelation of the power and beauty of a genre and a vision of raw potential. I was spellbound, surprised and at times, frightened, which does not happen all that often, particularly when watching vintage horror. While I love it, there are usually not things present that actually scare me. I watch vintage horror to journey into a dark, smoky, mysterious place, to sort of walk among the dead. The necropolis is not usually somewhere I go to be frightened, but at times I'm surprised and Mad Love was one of those times.

Mad Love begins at a Grand Guignol play, like vintage horror itself, it's stagey, it's histrionic and for a contemporary viewer it's tame, but there's something truly unsavory about this play. It elicits a little chill. Until you see Peter Lorre's Doctor Gogol watching the show, handkerchief in hand. He's bald, he's perverse and he's obsessed with the movie's heroine, the play's lead actress, Yvonne (portrayed by Frances Drake). The chill gets bigger. There aren't many actors that do "just plain wrong" like Peter Lorre and in Mad Love, he's at the top of his game. And here, I will make an "Eaten Alive is better than TCM in some ways" style declaration of gleeful horror geek blasphemy: he's better in Mad Love than he is in M. He is obsessed with Yvonne, maddened that she's leaving the show to get married and is not afraid of invading her personal and sexual space. The only person that finds him creepier than she does is the viewer. He even goes so far as to purchase a wax statue of her for company.

A desperate tortured, sexually obsessed lunatic who believes that the world owes him for healing people, Gogol is a deep and complex villain, repulsive and sympathetic all at once. When Yvonne's husband, pianist Stephen Orlac (played with a surprising lack of over-the-top bluster by Colin Clive) has his hands mangled in a train crash, Yvonne has to go to her obsessed fan for help, appealing to the kindness in his nature and his love for her. The tortured doctor agrees, giving Stephen the hands of an executed criminal, which he exploits later. I don't want to spoil the plot of this rollercoaster of the macabre too much, but it turns into a story about perverse creativity. Doctor Gogol turns from sexual deviant to mad artgod, the creator of a monster, the animator in his twisted mind of Yvonne's statue with whom he falls in love. The film reflects on the power of horror, of art and of the twisted imagination in a nightmarish climax. Mad Love is brilliant. I recommend it to everyone.

Battlefield Earth, however, fucking blows. I recommend it to nobody. Martiniloving former Sweathog and author of Rotten Little Animals Kevin Shamel likes Battlefield Earth. Buy his books so he will get more money, with which he can buy DVDs of good movies. Kevin Shamel: Battlefield Earth. Does it suck?

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