NAME: THE MIND SNATCHERS
WRITTEN BY: RON WHYTE, BASED ON THE PLAY "THE HAPPINESS CAGE," BY DENNIS REARDON
DIRECTED BY: BERNARD GIRARD
STARRING: CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, RONNY COX, JOSS ACKLAND
GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA
BOUGHT FROM: POUNDLAND
PRICE: MY JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY
WRITTEN BY: RON WHYTE, BASED ON THE PLAY "THE HAPPINESS CAGE," BY DENNIS REARDON
DIRECTED BY: BERNARD GIRARD
STARRING: CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, RONNY COX, JOSS ACKLAND
GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA
BOUGHT FROM: POUNDLAND
PRICE: MY JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY
It's snowing where I am right now. Quite alot. And my people, that being the British, are doing what they do best, which is losing their fucking minds totally and without hesitation. All forms of transport have been rendered useless. Express any desire to go outside and you'll be looked at like you just said you think it sounds like fun to run through the middle of a gun fight. People will open fridges hysterically stuffed with food and exclaim fearfully that there's nothing to eat (hello, Mum). It's the second Ice Age (which lacked the heart of the first one, but at least Scrat was still funny), a nuclear winter, The Lord himself has grown bored with humanity as an experiment and decided to kill us all by sufficating us with his dandraft.
With things currently being the way they are, I really wish I had a snow-based movie to cover this week. The only one I had lying around was "White Christmas," which I was foolish enough to cover over Christmas, and as was discussed at the time, didn't really feature that much snow (or Christmas). So instead I've chosen this week to completely go back on my word. Yes, this is the same 4-in-1 DVD that had "Leprechaun in the Hood" on it, the one I said I was going to judge based on the quality of one movie and one movie only. And yet here I am, reviewing another one. Well, obviously I'm a lying bastard and you can never trust anything I say or do ever again. I was actually going to take a bunch of pictures of me using the snow to get free advertising, including one of this place's initials seemingly spelt out in the snow with piss. Unfortunately I didn't have the guts to really get my old chap out in public, so I tried to do it with any fluid I had lyng around that was vaguely urine-coloured, but they all proved useless, so I had to scrap the idea. So not only am I a liar, but in my inability to successfully lie I've discovered I'm also a failure and a coward, too. That's good to know.
See, "Vampire Killer Barbys?" That's how you go all meta out of nowhere!
Actually, I didn't set out to be a liar with this one. I really do throw away the movies I pan. A friend recently asked me if he could borrow one I'd rubbished, saying I'd made it sound like a laugh, and I had to tell him it was probably at the tip by now. And this one really was in the bin, I swear. However, I was then informed by one of my readers (hello, Dr. Ashens. Please visit www.ashens.com to watch videos of a very funny man from Norwich review electronic crap) that the Christopher Walken movie on here was originally released in 1972 under the title, "The Happiness Cage," which caught my interest enough to make me fish it out of the bin (not even the little one I have in my bedroom, the main house one at this point), wipe it off, and put it back in my "To Watch" box.
Christopher Walken these days exists in an area of fame that's difficult to describe. I don't want to call it post-modern, because people who call things post-modern need to be headbutted. I don't even want to say parody, because that's wrong. If you look hard enough on The Internet, you can find a painting of him building Optimus Prime in what looks like a shed. That's not parodying anything, that's just amazing. I suppose the best way of putting it is, he's in the same place now William Shatner is, and has been for some time, that being his actual, real life persona is percieved to be as much of a character as the people he plays on-screen. His facial expressions, the way he dresses, and especially his voice. Everybody thinks they can do a Christopher Walken impression, just the same as everybody thinks they can to a William Shatner impression. The sad downside of this kind of fame is, it can kill an actor's career stone dead, because it makes it almost impossible to buy them in a role. You never fall in love with the characters they're playing, because no matter how hard they try, all you see is Christopher Walken pretending to be somebody else. In some cases it doesn't matter, like with Shatner, because he seems truly at piece with how his career has turned out, and is more than comfortable playing himself in any vehicle that comes his way. It's a bit of a shame with Walken, though, because with all due respect to Captain Kirk, he's a better actor than Shatner has ever been. Take his performance as Leonardo DiCaprio's father in "Catch Me If You Can," where he displays a range of emotions that most of his current fans are unfortunately unaware he's capable of. It's a genuinely moving turn, and when watching him there you can't help but shake the feeling that he probably deserves to be in more Steven Spielberg movies.
The movie begins with a monkey, which straight away is a mark in it's favour. Sadly it's a monkey in a cage with a bandage around it's head, but any monkey is better than no monkey. Christopher Walken is looking at it in a sort of passive manner (as you would), then the image freezes and we get the credits, as creepy-yet-strangely-upbeat music plays over them. As openings go, it's oddly unnerving, as you're straight away asking questions. "Who's that?" "Where are we?" "Why does that monkey seem to be suffering from severe head trauma?" All very mysterious, all very much what you'd expect from a movie called "The Mind Snatchers." Or even one called "The Hapiness Cage" really, because, well, there's a cage. The movie then begins with Walken's character, Private James Reese, entering a house party. Seeing Walken this young is quite an eye-opening experience, because you realise what a striking looking man he was. I mean, he still is now, don't get me wrong, but in his youth there were few men who looked the way he did. They say that some people look like animals (I'm told I look like a Mole when I remove my glasses, which is second only to my total blindness in reasons why I don't take off my glasses), well, Walken looks, to my eyes at least, like a lizard. His face is all angles, his mouth is wide and he has these tiny piercing eyes. He looks a bit like Thom Yorke from Radiohead's more attractive younger brother here. And I mean much more attractive. "The brother that wasn't caught in the fire"-more attractive.
It turns out this party is being frown by an ex-girlfriend of his, who he finds in her bedroom talking to another man. You should see this fool, he's got long fluffy hair and is wearing a white-checked jacket and sunglasses inside. I hope he gets the snot knocked out of him. Sadly he doesn't, as Reese just throws the woman's present at her, angrily asks her if she forgot his invite as she asks him when he got out (of the army I'm presuming, although as this film goes on it becomes obvious she could have been refering to a great many things), and the proceeds to cause a scene, ask girl he claims is, "sitting there, pretending you don't know me," to dance with him, before either whispering into, licking or biting her ear. He then proclaims her in need of, "a severe tongue-lashing," which it goes without saying doesn't go down to well with her boyfriend, who at first seems like he's about to get in Reese's face, but then thinks better of it. probably a wise move all things considered, as it's established here that Reese isn't all the ticket, and pretty much hammered home when he catches the girl he'd just embarrassed telling is ex she should kick him out and tells her, "I don't care if you're a girl, I'll punch you right in the mouth." He then punches a wardrobe so hard the door comes off one of it's hinges and then...
... suddenly he's in bed with his ex? This actually happens quite alot throughout the movie, there's several abrupt, I suppose technically bad cuts, where you'll find yourself shunted from one scene into another that's tonally completely different, sometimes even following the same characters as we do here. I can't decide if this is a stylistic choice, as if the film is visually representing what it must be like to swing from one emotion to another, or if it's just a mistake made by people who didn't know what they were doing. I'd like to think it's the first one, but it's probably the second one. Whilst they're laying there together, she tells him his behaviour isn't normal (no shit), and that she wants to help him. Ah, the old cliche of women being with bad men because they think they can change them. I wonder if that was even much of a cliche back in the early seventies. They're about to start going at it, when there's a loud knock at the door and Reese finds himself being confronted by two soldiers, following up a claim that he'd attacked a woman tonight. Reese tries to get them to go away by telling them he's in bed with someone, to which one of the soldiers responds, "I don't care if you're in bed with a four-star General!" I bet he would care. They manhandle him, and when he gets to the base its revealed that Reese's arm was broken in the scuffle. He continues to be a smart-arse to the person trying to admit him, before signing and then being subjected to what seems to be a psychatric evaluation, where he claims that every night he stays up and prays that the sun will rise the next morning, and sees the fact that it does indeed rise as proof that he's right to do so. I have to say, as portrayals of complete nutjobs go, this is a fairy convincing one. Usually actors take the fact that they're playing somebody mentally unstable as an excuse to g into full-blown cartoon mode, but Walken plays Reese in a very unpredictable, unnerving and occasionally humourous way, but it's funny in a manner you feel a bit uneasy laughing at, just like you would if you really were laughing at somebody like him.
We're then shown a room full of men sitting down listening to a recording of this conversation, as well as another between Reese and his ex when she comes to visit him, the reason for this being that they want to see if Dr. Fredrick would be interested in taking on Reese to use in is experiments, which he is, as it's noted that he's articulate and complex, but also shows signs of being a Sociopath and a Schizophrenic. Fredrick is played by Joss Ackerland, who some of you might remember as the dude with diplomatic immunity that Danny Glover shoots in the head at the end of "Lethal Weapon 2," although I very unfortunately recognised him instantly as Hans, Emilio Estevez's mentor from, "The Mighty Ducks." Now, he's a good actor, and I'm sure he gives a very good performance in this film, but I can't say I really noticed, because I found myself distracted everytime he was on-screen by his hair. It's... absurd. There's no other way of describing it. Not so much the cut, but it's colour. Or as I should more accurately put it, colours, because most of it is typical old-man greyish-white, with the exception of the fringe, which is, I kid you not, bright orange. It has to be a wig. It just has to be.
So Reese, broken arm and all, finds hmself shipped to this huge mansion, where he finds he is one of only two other patients- Tommy, who lies in his bed groaning and covered in bandages until he finally kicks the bucket on the operating table, and Miles, a Sargent from The South who makes Reese look like a totally rational human being. He's played by Ronny Cox, who in many ways steals the show, because without getting too far ahead of myself, during the course of the film, Miles will say, do, and admit to having done some truly terrible things, and it's a testament to the actor playing him that he remains at the very least engaging throughout.
Reese soon begins to smell a rat when Miles automatically assumes that he's dying, because the people they bring here usually are, himself included, and all Reese has is a broken arm. His alarm is raised even further when he discovers that Tommy has a massive hole in his intestines, and for some reason has bandages covering his head. "This place is alot of laughs," Miles says, "and there's only one way out." Sounds like he's describing the plot to "Patch Adams" to me, but never mind. Reese then enters what seems to be his default mode, which is to attempt to annoy anyone and everyone, switching the TV on and off for no good reason. This is the beginning of the love/hate relationship between Miles and Reese, and it's quite fascinating to watch, due in part because they're alot of long scenes together to flesh it out, and also because both men seem to know their characters inside-out and never feel like they hit a false note. Every moodswing feels perfectly judge, as does the other person's reaction to it, as does the other person's reaction to their reaction.
Reese attempts to get some information from Fredrick about why he's there, only for the doctor to abruptly leave the room and Reese to claim that he doesn't have a good feeling about him, which upsets Miles as he clearly thinks he's great. Actually, the film's handling of Fredrick is really admirable, as it doesn't stoop to portraying him as an evil mad scientist. His methods and procedures are questionable, but he's still a decent man who who refuses to abuse his power, only performing his experiments on his patients when they give their full consent. How much stock he should be putting into the consent of people who clearly don't have a full grasp on their faculties is never addressed, and the film still feels the need to present us with a remorseless bad guy in the shape of The Major (Ralph Meeker), but it tries harder at complexity than alot of films today do, so I think it should still be applauded. Anyway, following the Fredrick leaving, there's another strange cut as we go from Miles laughing hysterically (and with little reason) at Reese for saying that he studied English at college, to Miles lying in bed reading a book using his overhead lamp. My old Media Studies teacher would have done his nut at a cut like that. Curiosity gets the better of Reese and he decides to explore his surroundings, until he finds a room full of monkeys in cages, all of whom have seemingly had things implanted into their heads. I could go on about how terrible the security at this place seems to be, especially since it seems like they have alot of things worth hiding, but I won't be too harsh because I like this scene, as the footage of the monkeys jumping around, some of them even trying to remove the things that've been put on their heads, as this beautful-yet-sinister music plays in the background, growing gradually louder until it's almost overwhelming, is a very effective and creepy combination.
When he comes back to his room, he finds Miles going out of his mind, using a pair of binoculars to spy on Anna Kraus (Bette Henritze), a lovely little Red Cross nurse that plays Checkers with Miles, who he's obviously obsessed with and has claimed is constantly coming onto him. This poor character is, frankly, punished for the sins of the filmmakers, as during her brief time on-screen, she's reduced to tears by Reese and then raped (mercifully off-screen) by Miles. The scene where he's aggressively coming onto her momentarily descends into farce when she tells him there's no way he could love her because she's fat, to which he responds, "Fat girls turn me on." I find this objectionable for a couple of reason, the lesser being that this woman isn't that fat, but the biggest being that the only reason I can see for those two lines being put in there would be to get a laugh, and, y'know, there's nothing I want to do more during a scene where a man is trying to force himself on a woman than laugh (in case you're one of those people who takes everything they read on The Internet literally, that was sarcasm). But again, I have to give it up for Cox's performance, because only a few scenes ago he was essentially an emotional seesaw, talking one minute in an animated fashion about how horny he was, the next sadly talking about how he's been divorced for eight years, how nobody except the Red Cross woman comes to visit him, and how he never thought he'd die lonely. You go from feeling sorry for him to being annoyed by him to being repulsed by him in a matter of minutes. And he still manages to somehow make you give a damn about his plight by the end.
I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I think I'm going to end up jumping around alot more than I usually do, because as you've probably figured out, this is a very talky movie ( it was originally a stage play), so I don't feel as bad as I usually would about leaping around and addressing events out of sequence a bit.
Following his discovery that the building is surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire that points inwards, obviously designed to keep people in and not out (although it'd still do a good job of keeping people out), as well as being patrolled by angry guard dogs from the inside (again, this would still be a decent deterent for anybody thinking of breaking in), Reese finally confronts Fredrick properly, telling him he's figured out that he's a "brain doctor," and wanting to know what's going on. Fredrick is amazingly forthcoming, telling him about his experiments on Tommy's brain, done to see if he could stop him experiencing the crippling pain that had him crying out, and also that he died on the operating table ten minutes ago. Reese finds this disgusting, but Fredrick insists that Tommy was with it enough to know what was going on at the time, and was happy to know that the techniques they were using on him could go onto help other people. Again there's complexity here, as you sort of get the sense that the only reason Reese is so pissed of is because he's now terrified that the same thing is going to happen to him. He can't care about Tommy really, because it's been established already that he doesn't really care about anybody.
Oh, and after this scene, we get another horrible cut, this time to Miles sitting up violently in bed from a nightmare screaming, "BENSOOOOOOOOON!" "Who's Benson," Reese asks, and Miles tells him to remind him to tell him before he dies.
It's not Reese who gets to hear that story though. During a pretty pathetic fight between the two of them following Anna's rape (and again, I didn't buy for a second that Reese was really indignant about that, but rather just using it as new material to get to Miles), Miles starts violently coughing up blood, and is later told by Fredrick that he has a few months to live, tops. Miles then tells him the story of what happened to Benson when they were in Vietnam together ('NAM FLASHBACK!), how he was a "coloured" guy he didn't like much, and that he pushed him onto a live grenade in order to save himself. He'd been so ashamed of himself that he'd told everybody that Benson had thrown himself onto the grenade to save him, leading to him being decorated as a hero following his death. Using this story as leveage, Fredrick convinces Miles to allow him to perform experments on him, so that his life may actually have some meaning.
We now discover why Miles and Reese are being kept at the mansion- because Fredrick has a very specific experiment he wants to try out on them, attempting to cure their bouts of anger and violence by implanting something into their brains that stimulates it's pleasure centre whenever a little buzzer is pressed. It's at this point the movie gets a bit silly. The way they stimulate Mile's brain is to implant two mental pipes into his head, and then hook those up to some wires. It looks a bit Mickey Mouse, but then this was obviously a movie made to a strict budget over 30 years ago, so I can't complain too much. However, the way the Miles expresses the pleasure he's getting from pressing that buzzer is another thing altogether- he starts breathing and groaning heavily, holding the buzzer with both hands over his groin, looking like he's, well, pleasuring himself. And that was obviously the point, as when they ask him where he felt sensations the most, he says, "My crotch." I guess it ties in with Miles stating before how horny he is, but it feels a bit crude. And he's given full control over the buzzer, as Fredrick wants to avoid manipulating people as much as possible, which leads to him pressing it continually and becoming hopelessly addicted to it. When Reese finds him and unhooks him from the machine (after he's thrown Fredrick around ina fairly comical manner), he starts bawling like a baby that's had it's bottle taken away, and the sight and sound of it is genuinely disturbing, to the point that I found myself feeling sympathy towards a man who is little more than a rapist and a killer.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Reese decides to flee, taking out the main orderly with a well-placed and meaty door to the face. He goes on the run in the forest surrounding the building, being followed by the orderlies until he's eventually recaptured (all this as bafflingly cheerful music plays over the top). The same procedure is then performed on him, but not before Fredrick is told that he was dooped into signing the consent papers the second he entered the place, thus causing Fredrick to have accidently betrayed his principles, which all but destroys him. Being left with no choice though, he tries to convince Reese to push the buzzer (interestingly, in the, I don't know, few hours it's been since they did this to Miles, the technology seems to have moved on enough that it's now portable and Reese doesn't need to be hooked up to anything. I guess it's true what they say about how fast technology becomes outdated), only for Reese to tell him to fuck off with a speech that reminded me totally of that "I NEED MY PAIN!" one Captain Kirk gave in one of the "Star Trek" movies. I can't remember which one off the top of my head right now, which I'm sure is going to have the hardcore Trekkies putting a price on my head. I'm also far too pleased with myself about the fact that I've managed to connect Walken to Shatner within the context of this movie, too. I really need a girlfriend
In the end, The Major has enough of all this touchy-feely bullshit and presses the buzzer himself, which brings Reese to his knees, exclaiming, "God!" They then trot him out in front of the press as proof that their experiments are a success, where he's kept in-line with a few strategic presses of the buzzer, as Fredrick looks ashamed of himself and The Major soaks up the praise like a smug bastard. There's no music over the end credits, we just hear them answering more questions, claiming amogst other things that nothing ever went wrong with what they were attempting.
I don't really know what this movie was doing on this disc, as by practically anybody's standards, it's not a horror movie. The brief write-up of it on the back of the box compared it to "A Clockwork Orange," and that's also not fair, because while they may share a few themes, it put together with nowhere near the flair and confidence that movie was. Which is not to say it's a bad film, because it's not. Like I said, it's wordy, and if you like your movies to have a little more kinetic energy about them, you'd probably be wise staying away. But the acting's good, especially from Walken and Cox, and the script for the most part does a good job of putting across it's themes and giving the characters individual, interesting voices, which is a must for a film like this. If I had to describe it as anything, I'd call it a Sunday Night Movie, the kind you watch when you're coming down from the madness of the weekend, but not quite ready to snuggle down with something too warm and cosy
Second time's the charm. I think from now on, if I get anymore multi-packs, I'll probably watch two movies before making a real decision about it.
Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and do you know how you got that dent in your top lip? Way back before you were born, I told you a secret, then I put my finger there and I said, "shhhhhhhhh."