Sci-Fi Film Review: The Humanoid (dir by Aldo Lado)


humanoid

When all the editors of the site got together at the TSL offices and discussed who would review what during our sci-fi month, there were two films that I immediately claimed for myself.  One was Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash, which is one of the best-known and most popular of all the Italian Star Wars rip-offs.  The other was The Humanoid, which is considerably less known.

What is The Humanoid?  It’s an Italian film from 1979 that was designed to capitalize on the popularity of both Star Wars and James Bond.  While the plot was largely ripped off from Star Wars (with a dash of The Golem tossed in for good measure), the film’s cast featured three performers best known for their roles in two then-recent James Bond films.  The Spy Who Loved Me’s Barbara Bach played the evil Lady Agatha.  Moonraker‘s Corinne Clery played heroic scientist Barbara Gibson.  Finally, the title character — the Humanoid — was played by none other than Richard Kiel, who previously played evil henchman Jaws in both of those films.

The main reason that I wanted to see it was because the film was directed by Aldo Lado.  Aldo Lado may not be as well-known as Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Ruggero Deodato but he still directed some very memorable films.  Short Night of Glass Dolls, Who Saw Her Die?, and The Night Train Murders are all classics of their genre, combining shocking violence with Marxist political subtext.  What, I wondered, would an Aldo Lado-directed Star Wars rip-off be like?  Fortunately, The Humanoid has been uploaded to YouTube and I was able to find out.

The answer, to that question, is that the Aldo Lado-directed Star Wars rip-off isn’t very good.  But it’s so strange that it’s never less than watchable.

Allow me to attempt to explain the film’s plot.  If things get confusing … well, it can’t be helped.  That’s just the way this film works.  The Humanoid opens in outer space, with a lengthy opening title crawl that informs us that evil Lord Graal has escaped from prison and is planning on attacking the planet Metropolis (yes, the planet is named Metropolis) and overthrowing his brother, the benevolent ruler known as Great Brother.  As the title crawl disappears into space, the camera pans over to a giant spaceship and basically, it’s the exact same shot that opened Star Wars.  You have to admire a film that, in less than a minute, can rip-off Star Wars, Superman, and George Orwell.

Anyway, it turns out that Lord Graal is a tall and imposing figure who dresses in black armor, a black cape, and a black helmet.  (Sound familiar?)  He’s played by Ivan Rassimov, who played a lot of villains in a lot of Italian exploitation films.  Sadly, he never takes off that helmet so we never get to see the truly impressive head of hair that was almost always a highlight of every Rassimov performance.

humanoid_07

Graal’s main ally is Lady Agatha (Barbara Bach), who is actually several centuries old but she remains young by daily injections of a serum that is made up on virgin blood.  (The Bathory Method, in other words.)  Lady Agatha is really evil but she does have really great hair and she gets to wear this V-neck dress that is simply to die for and provides an interesting contrast to the amazingly boring white jumpsuits that all of the good people seem to be wearing.

The youth serum was developed by a mad scientist named Dr. Kraspin (played by five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy).  And Dr. Kraspin is good for more than just youth serums!  He’s also developed a method of mind control, a way to turn humans into … humanoids!

(“Come quickly!” Dr. Kraspin cries, at one point, “I am creating my first humanoid!”)

Dr. Kraspin tests his method out on interstellar police officer, Golob (Richard Kiel).  Good Golob has a beard and mustache and spends most of his time talking to his pet robot, Robodog.  (“This is my robot dog!” Golob enthusiastically says at one point.)  However, when Golob gets hit by Kraspin’s Humanoid Ray, the beard and the mustache vanish and Golob just growls.  Much as in The Golem, Kraspin places a device on Golob’s forehead which allows him to control Golob’s actions.

Good Golob

Good Golob

Bad Golob

Bad Golob

Meanwhile, Kraspin also has a grudge against Dr. Barbara Gibson (Corrine Clery) and sends Golob to destroy her.  However, Barbara is hiding out with enigmatic child genius Tom Tom (Marco Yeh) and the Han Soloish Nick (Leonard Mann).  And, fortunately for all of them, Tom Tom has the power to make crossbow-wielding angels descend from the heavens…

One of the things that makes The Humanoid an interesting viewing experience is that it’s essentially a kid’s film that was made for an exploitation audience.  Hence, scenes featuring cute Robodog and precocious Tom Tom are mixed in with scenes of brutal violence and a naked virgin being drained of her blood so that Agatha can remain young.  It makes for a notably odd viewing experience.

But that’s appropriate because The Humanoid is one weird movie.  Much as he did with Night Train Murders (which was “inspired” by Wes Craven’s Last House On the Left), Aldo Lado doesn’t allow The Humanoid‘s rip-off status to prevent him from tossing almost everything you could imagine into The Humanoid.  Full of melodrama, bad special effects, over-the-top performances, and way too much plot for a 90 minute movie, The Humanoid is one of those movies that simply has to be seen to believed.  It’s utterly ludicrous and, as a result, oddly likable.  It may not be good but it’s never less than watchable.

Golob and RoboDog

Golob and RoboDog

 

Sci-Fi Film Review: The 10th Victim (dir by Elio Petri)


10th Victim

Before The Hunger Games…

Before The Purge

There was The 10th Victim!

This Italian film from 1965 takes place in a future that is a lot like our present.  After years of war and senseless violence, the world is finally at “peace.”  Wars are avoided by allowing people to take part in the Big Hunt.  When you join the Hunt, you’re agreeing to take part in 10 rounds of competition.  For five rounds, you’re the hunter.  For the other five rounds, you’re the hunted.  Survive all 10 rounds and your reward will be money and retirement.  So far, only 15 contestants have managed to survive.

If you’re being hunted, you get a letter informing you that you are now being hunted.  The only way to win is to kill the person who has been assigned to hunt you.  Unfortunately, you’re not told who is hunting you and, if you accidentally kill someone who is not hunting you, you’ll be sent to prison for 30 years.  And, of course, the whole time you’re trying to avoid getting killed, others are being hunted around you.  World peace means that there are constant gun battles in the streets, all of which are calmly observed by a rather apathetic populace.  It’s a violent world but it’s legal violence so it doesn’t really concern anyone beyond the people that are getting killed.

(At one point, an announcement is heard while a hunter guns down his target: “Live dangerously but obey the law…live dangerously but obey the law…”)

Coverage of the Big Hunt is the world’s most popular television show and, as a result, legalized murder has become big business.  Companies regularly sponsor hunters and turn their kills into elaborate commercials for their products.

When we first meet Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), she is using a literal bullet bra to shoot a man dead.  Caroline is sponsored by Ming Tea and, when she is assigned to hunt Marcello Pollitti (Marcello Mastroianni), the company flies her out to Italy.  In order to make Marcello’s death as cinematic and commercial as possible, Ming Tea and Caroline decide to lure him to Rome’s Temple of Venus.  The Ming Tea dancers are flown in, a choreographer starts working on their routine, and Caroline tracks down Marcello.

Tenth Victim

Marcello has just found out that he’s being hunted and he’s more than a little depressed.  He’s also paranoid and when Caroline first approaches him, Marcello suspects that she’s his hunter and not, as she claims, a journalist.  However, because of the legal penalty for killing a non-hunter, Marcello cannot kill Caroline until he’s sure that she wants to kill him.  Meanwhile, Caroline cannot kill Marcello until they’re at the Temple of Venus, in front of the cameras and the dancers.

And, of course, there’s also the fact that, as they get to know each other, Caroline and Marcello start to fall in love.  When Caroline observes Marcello conducting a bizarre religious ceremony (he’s the head of a cult of sun worshippers), she is so touched that she starts to cry.  Or does she?  Are her tears just a ploy to keep Marcello from suspecting that she wants to kill him?  We’re never quite sure.

If you didn’t already know that The 10th Victim was made in 1965, you would guess it after just a few minutes.  This is one of those hyperstylized works of pop art that, for many people, define 60s cinema.  How you react to the film will depend on how much tolerance you have for its nonstop style.  Speaking as someone who happens to love over-the-top pop art, I enjoyed it but I could imagine other viewers ripping out their hair at the sound of the film’s peppy theme song.

But, if you’re patient, you will eventually discover that, underneath the film’s excesses, it’s actually a rather clever satire of media, politics, culture, religion, and just about everything else that deserves to be satirized.  Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are both a lot of fun and, in the end, the whole thing works as both a surprisingly accurate prophecy of today’s world and as a time capsule of the 1960s.

Plus, I loved the bullet bra.  I need to get one of those.

It’s a dangerous world, after all.