10 Shots From 10 Horror Films: 1987 — 1989

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at 1987, 1988, and 1989!

10 Shots From Horror History: 1987–1989

Hellraiser (1987, dir by Clive Barker, DP: Robin Vidgeon)

Stage Fright (1987, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Renato Tafuri)

Near Dark (1987, dir by Kathryn Bigelow, DP: Adam Greenberg)

Prince of Darkness (1987, dir by John Carpenter, DP: Gary B. Kibbe)

They Live (1988, dir by John Carpenter, DP: Gary B. Kibbe)

Night of the Demons (1988, dir by Kevin S. Tenney, DP: David Lewis)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Dick Bush)

The Church (1989, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Renato Tafuri)

Twin Peaks: The Pilot (1989, dir by David Lynch, DP: Ron Garcia)

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989, dir by Rob Hedden, DP: Bryan England)

6 Horrific Trailers For October 9th, 2022

It’s Sunday and it’s October and that means that it’s time for another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse trailers!  For today, we have six trailers from the early 70s.  This was the era when horror started to truly get …. well, horrific!

  1. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

First off, we have the blood and scream-filled trailer for Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.  This Italian thriller made quite a splash when it was released in America.  Indeed, for many Americans, this was their first exposure to the giallo genre.  This would go on to become Argento’s first (and, so far, only) film to be nominated for a Golden Globe.  (Read my review here!)

2. House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Speaking of blood and screaming, 1970 also saw the release of House of Dark Shadows.  Personally, I think this is one of the best vampire films ever.  The trailer is heavy on atmosphere.

3. The Devils (1971)

In 1971, British director Ken Russell scandalized audiences with The Devils, a film so shocking that it will probably never been in its full, uncut form.

4. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Italy was not the only country sending horror films over to the United States.  From Spain came the Tombs of the Blind Dead.

5. The Last House on the Left (1972)

Speaking of controversy, Wes Craven made his directorial debut with the infamous The Last House On The Left.  The trailer featured one of the greatest and most-repeated horror tag lines of all time.

6. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Finally, even as horror cinema changed and became more extreme, Hammer Studios continued to tell the long and twisted story of Count Dracula.  They brought him into the present age and dropped him in the middle of hippie-infested London.  No matter how much the rest of the world changed, Dracula remained Dracula.

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: The Early 70s

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at the early 70s!

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: The Early 70s

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970, dir by Dario Argento, DP: Vittorio Storaro)

House of Dark Shadows (1970, dir by Dan Curtis, DP: Arthur Ornitz)

Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970, dir by Mario Bava, DP: Mario Bava)

The Devils (1971, directed by Ken Russell, DP: David Watkin)

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971, dir by Amando de Ossorio, DP: Pablo Ripoll)

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972, dir by Bob Clark, DP: Jack McGowan)

Last House on the Left (1972, dir by Wes Craven, DP: Victor Hurwitz)

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, dir by Alan Gibson, DP: Dick Bush)

6 Shots From 6 Ken Russell Films

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

This October, we’re using this feature to highlight some of our favorite actors and directors, all of whom have made invaluable contributions to the horror genre!  Today, we pay tribute to the iconoclastic British director Ken Russell with….

6 Shots From 6 Ken Russell Films

The Devils (1971, directed by Ken Russell, DP: David Watkin)

Altered States (1980, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Jordan S. Croneweth)

Crimes of Passion (1984, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Dick Bush)

Gothic (1986, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Mike Southon)

Salome’s Last Dance (1988, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Harvey Harrison)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988, dir by Ken Russell, DP: Dick Bush)

Horror Film Review: The Devils (dir by Ken Russell)

In 17th Century France, Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) may be king but it’s the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) who holds the power. Richelieu has convinced that king that every walled city in France should have its walls blown up, the better to keep track of what’s actually happening within the city. Unfortunately, for Richelieu, Louis XIII promised the Governor of Louden that he would never harm any structure in the city, leaving its walls untouchable. While Louis XIII concentrates on throwing outdoor parties where murdering protestant is the main source of entertainment, Richelieu searches for an excuse to destroy the walls of Loudon.

Along with being frustrated by the fact that Loudon retains its walls, Richelieu is also upset that the unofficial leader of the city is Ubrain Grandier (Oliver Reed), a decadent priest who has not only criticized the discipline of clerical celibacy but who has also publicly opposed the Cardinal’s efforts to increase his own political power. Grandier has made it clear that, as long as he’s in control, the walls of Loudon will never came down and the people of Loudon, fearful of the plague that is ravaging the world outside of the walls, support him.

Among Grandier’s many admirers is Sister Jeanne des Agnes (Vanessa Redgrave), a hunchback who is also the abbess of the local convent. Having become sexually obsessed with Grandier, Agnes requests that he become the confessor of the convent. When Grandier refuses, it sets off a chain reaction that eventually leads to Grandier being accused of worshipping the Devil and “bewitching” Sister Agnes and several other nuns. With the arrival of Father Barre (Michael Gothard), a fanatical witch hunter, the city of Loudon descends into darkness and decadence.

Directed by the infamous (and, let’s just admit it, brilliant) Ken Russell and first released in 1971, The Devils is not an easy film to see. When the film was originally released in Britain, it was controversial for its uncompromising depiction of 17th century torture and its combination of religion and sexual imagery. (This, of course, was a recurring theme in almost all of Russell’s work.) The British censors demanded a few minor cuts before agreeing to approve the film for release. While the British censors focused on the scenes of violence, Warner Bros. also removed several sexually explicit scenes, the most infamous of which was a sequence in which a group of naked nuns sexually defiled a statue of Christ. Also removed was a scene of a priest masturbating while watching the nuns and finally, a scene in which Sister Jeanne masturbated with a charred femur bone. Russell was not happy with the changes and, needless to say, he was even more upset when Warner Bros. removed an additional three minutes before releasing the film in the United States.

In the U.S., The Devils was even more controversial than it had been in the United Kingdom and, while many critics praised it as being a powerful attack on hypocrisy, others described it as merely being pornographic. Despite the cuts that were made, the American version of The Devils was slapped with an X rating and Warner Bros. attempted to distance itself from the controversy that had developed around the film. As of this writing, The Devils has never been given a proper Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray release. It’s rare that ever shows up on any streaming platforms. Even YouTube has only a handful of scenes. If you want to watch The Devils in America, you’re going to have to track down a VCR player and watch it on VHS. And, even then, you’ll only be seeing the version that was cut for the U.S.

Will Ken Russell’s original, uncut version ever be seen in America? It’s a question that many film students have asked themselves. In 2002, a 117-minute edition of The Devils played in London, featuring some of the footage that was cut from the film’s original release. However, that version is still considered to be incomplete and it’s certainly not available here in the United States. The Devils does occasionally show up on Shudder, which is how I saw it earlier this year. Of course, the Shudder version was the cut American version, which Russell repeatedly disowned.

Watching the film, I could understand Russell’s anger. It wasn’t just that scenes had been cut out of the film. It was that the scenes were often edited out with such a lack of finesse that it made the film seem disjointed. Russell was a director known for his hallucinatory and deliberately over-the-top style. When the film abruptly cuts away from showing us its most shocking images, it feels antethical to everything that Russell was about as a filmmaker. On the one hand, it’s easy to say, “Who cares if a scene of Vanessa Redgrave masturbating with a charred femur bone has been removed from the film? Who wants to see that?” But if you watch The Devils, it becomes apparent that it’s not about what would be pleasant to see. Indeed, in many ways, The Devils is meant as a deliberate attack on the senses, one in which shocking imagery is used to awaken the audience from their complacency. As such, the controversy about how the film was cut is not about what’s acceptable. Instead, it’s about the fact that Russell has created a world where it somehow makes total sense that Sister Jeanne would pick up the femur and make use of it. By editing the scene so that it abruptly ends with Jeanne merely looking at the bone, Warner Bros. forced The Devils to not be true to itself.

And yet, despite all of that, The Devils remains a powerful and disturbing film, a hallucinatory collection of nightmarish images and haunting scenes. The excessive stylization that was Ken Russell’s trademark is perfect for this story of an entire community caught up in a frenzy of paranoia and repression. Though a period film (and based on a true story), Russell’s Loudon resembles an alien landscape, an almost expressionistic city of pristine walls and dirty streets. Vanessa Redgrave’s twisted nun stalks through the film like an ominous spirit, both wanting and hating Grandier at the same time. When the “possessions” begin, the possessed finally have the excuse to do what they truly want and to live just as wantonly as the men who previously controlled their lives. Because they’ve come to believe that they’re no longer responsible for their own actions, they can indulge in every depravity. But with Louis XIII casually murdering protestants for sport at his estate and Richelieu manipulating church policy to his own ends, the film asks why the people’s actions are more worthy of condemnation than the actions of the people who rule them.

The Devils has reputation for being blasphemous. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. After I watched the film, I did a little research and I was not surprised to discover that Ken Russell was a practicing Catholic because only a Catholic could make a film that both celebrated what the Church could be while also condemning it for so often falling short. While Richelieu represents the people who use religion as a vehicle for their own drive for power and Sister Jeanne and the witch-hunter Father Barre represents the fanatics who use church doctrine to justify their own madness, it is the sinner Father Grandier who represents what the Church should be. It is Grandier who is ultimately forced to put his own life at risk to protect the people of Loudon.

Is The Devils are horror film? Some would probably argue with my claim that it is. They would probably claim that it’s a historical drama with a heavy political subtext, However, for me, the imagery itself is disturbing enough to justify calling The Devils a horror film. The possessed of Loudon eventually prove themselves to be as mad as any of the infected people from George Romero’s The Crazies and the torture that Grandier suffers is frightening specifically because it’s all based on fact. There really was a town named Loudon that had walls. There really was a priest named Grandier who was accused of practicing witchcraft and who suffered the most vile torture as a result.. The Devils is a film about people driven made by a combination of repression and fanaticsm. It’s a horror film because it’s true and, needless to say, the madness that possessed Loudon didn’t die out in the 17th Century. It’s continued into the present day.

Oliver Reed may seem like an odd choice to play a priest but he gives one of his best performances as the charismatic but foolishly cocky Grandier. Vanessa Redgrave is frightening as the disturbed Sister Jeanne and British actor Murray Melvin is alternatively sympathetic and pathetic as a priest who comes to believe in Grandier’s innocence. For me, though, the film is stolen by Michael Gothard, who plays the fanatical witch hunter, Father Barre. With his long hair and his glasses, Father Barre bears a definite resemblance to John Lennon and the film portrays him as being the 17th century equivalent of a rock star, an arrogant and sensual man who encourages people to indulge in their most secret desires so that he can then declare them to be possessed and in need of an exorcism. Gothard had a magnetic screen presence, allowing him to steal scenes from even formidable talents like Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Gothard would go on to play the silent assassin in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only and was, again, memorably threatening. Sadly, Gothard took his own life in 1992.

Someday, perhaps the full unedited version of The Devils will be available. Until then, even the edited version retains its power to shock, disturb, and make you think. Today, more than ever, its portrait of hypocrisy and mass madness feels relevant. The modern age is still ruled by hysteria and paranoia and our leaders are still looking for any excuse to take down any walls that might protect us from having to submit to their will. How different is Sister Jeanne from the people who are currently hurling accusations on social media? How different is Father Barre from the the people who were are currently told have all the answers? We may no longer burn people at the stake but we’ve found new ways to silence voices of dissent. The film may have been set in 17th Century France and first released in 1971 but Ken Russell’s masterpiece is all about the modern age. The Devils in not an easy film to watch or find but it is more than worth the effort to track down.





Film Review: Mahler (dir by Ken Russell)

The 1974 film, Mahler, opens with a stunning shot on a beautiful little hut sitting at the end of a pier that overlooks an idyllic lake.  Suddenly, the hut bursts into flames.  Two children watch, both with oddly happy expressions on their face.  A nude woman breaks free from a white cocoon while a rock that looks oddly like a face appears to watch her.

Suddenly, the scene changes to a train that’s traveling through Europe in the early 20th century.  Traveling on the train is Gustav Mahler (Robert Powell) and his wife, Alma (Georgina Hale).  Every time the train stops, a crowd of people gathers and tries to get Mahler’s attention.  Mahler, however, is obviously ill.  Obsessing on death, he has Alma draw the shades.

The film switches back and forth, from the conventional train setting to extremely stylized views of what one can only presume is taking place in Mahler’s head.  When Mahler has a heart attack, he envisions himself in a glass coffin, screaming as he watches Alma with her lover, Max (Richard Morant).  Every word that he hears on the train prompts him to think about the past but the past, as Mahler remembers it, is full of anachronistic details and references to events that took place long after Mahler’s death.  Mahler either remembers or imagines a trip to an insane asylum, where he meets a crazed man who claims to be the Emperor.  When Mahler thinks about how he converted to Catholicism to further his career, he imagines himself jumping through rings of fire while Richard Wagner’s widow, Cosima Wagner (Antonia Wilson), dressed like a Nazi dominatrix, taunts him.  The hut at the lake appears again, an apparent paradise where Mahler works on a composition about the death of his child.  Alma, meanwhile, surrenders her own musical ambitions, burning her compositions in a nearby forest.

Hmmm …. so, what we have here is a biopic of a renowned composer of classic music, one that is extremely stylized and features a good deal of religious symbolism.  With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that this is a Ken Russell film.  Especially early on in his career, the British director took an obvious joy in taking conventional genres and shaking them up with his own flamboyant style.  In fact, by Russell standards, Mahler is almost a conventional film.  For all of the shocking images to be found in Mahler, the film is still easier to follow than either Tommy or Lisztomania.  (There’s no scene in Mahler that’s quite as in-your-face as the scene in Lisztomania involving the giant phallus.)  If anything, one looks at Mahler in that glass coffin and Cosima Wagner with that swastika on her backside and thinks, “Well, Ken Russell was a bit subdued this time out.”  (Indeed, even the scenes of Mahler tied to a cross aren’t that shocking if you’ve seen other Russell crucifixion scenes.)

That said, Ken Russell’s relatively subdued approach works well with Mahler.  By keeping one half of the film conventional and one half of the film flamboyant, Russell comments on how we always tends to remember the events of our past as being more extreme than they actually were.  We internalize our fears and our prejudices and we make them into reality in our memories.  Mahler’s memories may be over-the-top but then again, the same can be said for everyone’s memories.  When Mahler imagines his family as being almost cartoonish stereotypes, Russell is showing how Mahler has internalized the anti-Semitism of German society.  When he pictures Cosima goose-stepping as he converts to Catholicism, Russell shows that Mahler was aware that he rejecting his heritage for his career.  (Some might find some of the images to be sacrilegious but Russell himself was a practicing Catholic.  Only the truly faithful could be as sincerely critical of the Church as Russell often was in his movies.)  Meanwhile, that the far more conventional scenes on the train work is largely due to the perfect casting of Robert Powell and Georgina Hale.  They’re believably in love but, even more importantly, they’re both believably brilliant.  You look at both Powell as Mahler and Hale as Alma and you instantly accept that they could both compose beautiful music.  The film portrays Mahler as being an early 20th century rock star and Powell plays the role with a mix of charisma and frailty.  As played by Powell, Mahler is someone who knows that he destined to be remembered as a great composer but who also struggles with the price that he’s paid to achieve his dream.

Ken Russell was a truly unique talent and, while Mahler may be a bit more conventional than some of his later films, it’s still a good example of what made him such an important (if underrated) filmmaker.

10 Bloody Essential if Lesser Known Michael Caine Films

A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson)

Today is the 88th birthday of the great actor and British cultural icon, Sir Michael Caine!

As I did with Chuck Norris earlier this week, I want to commemorate Michael Caine’s birthday by sharing ten of his essential roles.  Since 1950, Michael Caine has appeared in over 130 films and countless TV productions.  Trying to narrow his long and prolific career down to just ten films is not easy, nor is it really necessary.  All of Caine’s films are worth watching, even the ones that he made during the period where he basically accepted every part that he was offered.  Because he’s so prolific and because so many of his films are already well-known and regarded as classics, I’ve decided to focus of listing ten of his lesser-known but no less essential roles.

  1. A Hill in Korea (1956, directed by Julian Aymes) — This nearly forgotten war film is significant because it featured Michael Caine in his first credited screen role.  (He had appeared in three previous films but wasn’t credited.)  A veteran of the Korean war, Caine was hired to serve as a technical advisor and he was given the small role of Private Lockyer.  Years later, Caine would say that, “I had 8 lines in that picture and I screwed up 6 of them.”  The film is a standard war film and Caine is barely onscreen but everyone had to start somewhere and this film did allow Caine to appear opposite Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, and Harry Andrews.
  2. Billion Dollar Brain (1968, directed by Ken Russell) — In 1965, Michael Caine shot to stardom by playing the working class secret agent, Harry Palmer, in The Ipcress File.  Caine went on to play Palmer in four more films.  Billion Dollar Brain finds Harry trying to keep a computer and a mad millionaire from starting World War III.  This was Ken Russell’s first major feature film and, through not as flamboyant as some of his later films, Billion Dollar Brain still feels like Harry Palmer on acid.  Caine gives a typically good performance, as does Karl Malden in a key supporting role.  Caine’s future Eagle Has Landed co-star, Donald Sutherland, has a small, early role.
  3. Zee and Co. (1972, directed by Brian Hutton) — Caine is married to Elizabeth Taylor and having an affair with Susannah York.  This is the type of movie that probably could have only been made at a time when studio system veterans like Elizabeth Taylor were trying to prove that they could keep up with the new wave of filmmakers and stars.  Providing proof of his acting abilities, Caine somehow keeps a straight face and gives a credible performance while Taylor emotes all over the place.  The end result is loud, vulgar, and undeniably entertaining.
  4. Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979, directed by Irwin Allen) — I’m including this film as a stand-in for all of the films that Caine made strictly for the money.  It’s a ludicrous film but hard not to enjoy.  Michael Caine plays a tugboat captain who, with the help of Sally Field, attempts to salvage the cap-sized Poseidon before the luxury liner finally sinks.  Also showing up: Telly Savalas, Slim Pickens, Peter Boyle, and Billion Dollar Brain‘s Karl Malden.
  5. Mona Lisa (1986, directed by Neil Jordan) — The same year that Michael Caine appeared in his Oscar-winning role in Hannah and Her Sisters, he also played a gangster named Mortwell in Mona Lisa.  Caine is chillingly good in a rare villainous role.
  6. The Fourth Protocol (1987, directed by John MacKenzie) — This underrated spy thriller features Michael Caine as a world-weary British spy who has to stop KGB agent Pierce Brosnan from detonating a nuclear device.  This is a well-made spy thriller and it’s interesting to see Caine (who started his career as the anti-James Bond in the Harry Palmer films) acting opposite future Bond, Pierce Brosnan.
  7. Without A Clue (1988, directed by Thom Eberhardt) — This genuinely funny comedy stars Caine as Sherlock Holmes and Ben Kingsley as Dr. Watson.  The catch is that Holmes is actually a clueless actor who was hired by Watson to pretend to be a great detective.  When Prof. Moriarty targets Watson, Holmes is forced to actually solve a case on his own.  Caine and Kingsley make for a surprisingly good comedy team.
  8. A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson) — In this very dark comedy, Caine plays an executive who, sick of being passed over for promotions and criticized by his wife, decided to just kill everyone who annoys him.  This is one of Caine’s best performances and this underrated film’s satire feels just as relevant today as when it was released.
  9. Blood and Wine (1997, directed by Bob Rafelson) — This underrated neo-noir gave Michael Caine a chance to act opposite Jack Nicholson.  The two iconic actors bring out the best in each other, playing partners in a jewelry heist gone wrong.
  10. Is Anybody There? (2008, directed by John Crowley) — In this low-key but emotionally effective film, Caine plays an elderly magician who is suffering from the early stages of dementia.  Having entered a retirement home, he befriends the son of the home’s manager and the two of them search for evidence of life after death.  Though the film didn’t get much attention in the States, Caine described it as a favorite in his most recent autobiography, Blowing The Bloody Doors Off.  75 years-old when he appeared in the film, Caine proved that he could still take audiences by surprise and create an unforgettable character.

4 Shots From 4 Ken Russell Films: The Devils, Crimes of Passion, Gothic, The Lair of the White Worm

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using this feature to recognize and honor some of our favorite horror directors!  Today, we honor the legendary Ken Russell!

4 Shots from 4 Films

The Devils (1971, dir by Ken Russell)

Crimes of Passion (1984, dir by Ken Russell)

Gothic (1986, dir by Ken Russell)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988, dir by Ken Russell)



Horror Film Review: Altered States (dir by Ken Russell)

You gotta watch out when it comes to those sensory deprivation tanks.  They may look like fun and it might seem like a pleasant idea to spend a while floating in and out of a state of consciousness but those tanks will mess you up.  Especially if you’ve got unresolved issues with your family and religion.

Also, if you’re going to go to Mexico to try a powerful hallucinogenic, make sure you’re not appearing in a Ken Russell film because again, those drugs will mess you up.  It’s like you’ll close your eyes and, when you reopen them, you’ll be in an 80s music video or something.

Now, to be honest, Altered States came out in 1980 so it’s a bit unfair to complain that it looks like a music video from the 80s or, for that matter, the 90s.  Instead, it’s more fair to say that a lot of the music videos from those two decades looked like Altered States.  That shouldn’t be particularly surprising since this film was directed by Ken Russell and Russell was a director who specialized in combining music with wild imagery.

Altered States may have been directed by Ken Russell but it was written by Paddy Chayefsky.  Chayefsky, of course, is best known for writing the script for Network.  (He also wrote the script for the Oscar-winning film, Marty.)  Chayefsky is one of those writers who is always cited as an inspiration by writers who are trying justify being heavy-handed.  For instance, when Aaron Sorkin was criticized for both Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and The Newsroom, his supporters started talking about how he was just carrying on the proud tradition of Paddy Chayefsky.  In his autobiography, A British Picture, Ken Russell portrays Chayefsky as being a pompous control freak who refused to allow any changes to his dialogue-heavy script.  Russell responded by directing his actors to speak the dialogue as quickly as possible, rendering much of it incoherent.  In a few scenes, he even specifically had the actors eating so that their mouths would be full as they spoke.  Chayefsky was not amused and eventually demanded to be credited under his real name, Sidney Aaron.

As for the film itself, it tells the story of Dr. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt, in his film debut), who is convinced that he can cure schizophrenia by exploring states of altered consciousness.  As mentioned above, this leads to him floating in a tank and taking hallucinogenics in Mexico.  Somehow, this leads to him turning briefly into a caveman and then into some sort of primordial energy creature.  His wife (Blair Brown) is not happy that Eddie appears to be determined to reverse evolution and return to mankind’s original form.  For that matter, Eddie’s bearded colleagues (Charles Haid and Bob Balaban) all think that he’s playing a dangerous game as well.  Eddie’s daughter (Drew Barrymore, making her film debut) isn’t particularly concerned but that’s just because she’s like five and probably thinks it would be fun to have a primordial energy monster to play with.  Anyway, it all becomes a question of whether or not all questions need to be answered and whether love can defeat science.

Anyway, this is a deeply silly movie but it’s also kind of compelling, mostly because the uneasy mix of Chayefsky’s pompous, serious-as-Hell script and Ken Russell’s aggressive and semi-satiric directorial style.  Chayefsky obviously meant for the story to be taken very seriously whereas Russell takes it not seriously at all.  Though Chayesfky and Russell ended up hating each other, Russell keeps the film from becoming the cinematic equivalent of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s twitter account.  Chayefsky’s greatest objection was that Russell directed the actors to not only speak quickly but to also speak over each other but this actually works to the film’s advantage.  Eddie and his colleagues are young, arrogant, and determined to make their mark.  Of course, they’re going to speak quickly.  They’re excited and there’s no time to lose.  The film’s best moments are the early ones, where it’s hard not to get swept up in Eddie’s enthusiasm.  Of course, once Eddie turns into a caveman, it pretty much becomes impossible to take anything that follows seriously.

For all the talk about the origins of mankind and whether or not love can save the day, the main appeal of this film is to watch William Hurt totally freak out.  Jessup’s hallucinations allow Russell to do what he did best and they’re the highlight of the film.  Despite Chayefsky’s ambitions, you don’t watch this film for the science.  You watch it for the seven-eyed ram and the scenes of Eddie walking into a mushroom cloud.  Ken Russell was smart enough to know that audiences would take one look at William Hurt, with his WASP bearing, and totally want to see just how fucked up Eddie Jessup actually was.  On that front, Russell totally delivers.

This film is a mess but at least it’s a Ken Russell mess.