Monday, October 8, 2018

Nazis -- On Ice!


By Hank Parmer

The Frozen Dead (1966)

In the decades after WWII, fictional plots to revive the Third Reich were a pop culture staple. Some of these, like The Quiller Memorandum (1966) made for decent thrillers, and at least the genre went out on a fairly high note with The Boys from Brazil (1978). But the idea that somewhere Hitler's surviving henchmen were still secretly planning a comeback also spawned several lesser cinematic efforts during the mid-20th Century, some of them -- like The Madmen of Mandoras (AKA They Saved Hitler's Brain) and The Yesterday Machine -- extremely lesser.

Even though the title sounds like it could be the name of a stoner cover band from the Great White North, or a Disney sequel gone hideously wrong, The Frozen Dead is a cut above those last two films. But that's setting the bar so low a flatworm would be hard pressed to limbo under it.

The movie certainly has all the right ingredients for a cheese-fest: Walk-in freezers full of Nazis; botched experiments on human guinea pigs; a head kept alive in a box. All this, and a well-known leading man of the 1940s and 50s discovering his talent doesn't extend to faking an accent. At least they can sincerely say it wasn't typecasting, when they tapped Dana Andrews to play a Nazi expatriate and mad scientist.

Andrews had turned in some fine performances in The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura and The Oxbow Incident. And it took some guts for such a reputedly straight arrow to do that cameo as a corrupt Air Force general, in the criminally underrated The Loved One. By the mid-Sixties, though, age and alcoholism had restricted the range of roles he was being offered.

The Frozen Dead opens on a promisingly eerie note, with a half moon riding high above the treetops in the inky night sky. The silence is broken by an anguished cry, a low moan rising to an inhuman howl.

Could this mean a rare demi-werewolf is prowling about? No, it's just one of a half-dozen guys clad in the soiled, tattered remnants of Wehrmacht and SS uniforms. An individual in civilian attire smacks the noisy one repeatedly across the face with the butt of his whip, until he stops howling.


Worst. Theme. Spa. Ever.

Twitching, gibbering and groaning, the group shuffles across the lawn of a country estate. I do believe these guys aren't quite right in the head; one of them is even in handcuffs. Finished with their walkies, their attendant, Karl Essen, shoves and flogs the loonies through a wrought iron gate and down some steps, while Joseph the butler watches impassively from a second-story window.

In his basement bunker -- er, laboratory, Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews, and I'm telling you right now there will be no O. J. Simpson/Police Squad riffs) establishes his scientific bona fides by fiddling with some equipment. He's joined by Karl for a round of "Who can recite the most awkward expository dialog?"

General Lubeck is dropping by. And he's unusually late, a whole ten minutes! While they wait, Norberg is thawing out another subject, who's been frozen for the last twenty years. I dunno, you could be looking at substantial freezer burn with this one. Wait a second: 1965 minus 20 -- I think these chaps might be up to something dubious, possibly involving Germans and the end of World War II. 
Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than one
It's a tough call, but Dana Andrews ekes out a win in the dueling exposition with extra points awarded for his completely unconvincing accent. Be that as it may, the Herr Doktor isn't overly optimistic about his chances for reviving this one with his wits intact, considering how the last seven subjects turned out. Oh, I get it: Those are the whacked-out wretches we saw at the beginning. Although Norberg really shouldn't be such a Gloomy Gus: Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than one.

But there were only six of those guys. Who's number seven? Fortunately, this considerate scriptwriter immediately relieves us of any anxiety on that score, when Karl objects that Joseph the butler was a semi-success. Sure -- as long as you overlook the fact he's now a creepy mute.

Norberg is suspicious about the timing of the General's visit. He coolly informs Karl he's known all along that ever since he was assigned to the doctor at the end of the war, his assistant has been snitching on him to their higher-ups in the Party. Still, he's annoyed at Karl for going behind his back to the general and telling him they're ready.

But meanwhile, they have a body to reanimate. Norberg orders Karl to fetch Muller from the freezer and hook him up to the apparatus.

Three little maids from schooool!

If you look closely, you can see these frozen Nazis are being held upright by calipers, with the  points jammed into their ears. Looks pretty painful for those extras.

General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek -- a Czech actor who at the time was the go-to guy for portraying high-ranking Nazi officers, such as the fanatical Admiral Lutjens in Sink the Bismarck) arrives, with his gaunt, quietly intimidating companion, Dr. Tirpitz. The two are shown down to the cellar lab by Norberg's zombie-fied retainer.

Lubeck reveals why this demonstration is so important: There are over fifteen hundred of the Nazi elite, quick-frozen at the end of the war and stashed away in Germany, France and even Egypt, just waiting to be thawed out and reanimated so they can get back to conquering the world. (It must have been the B-list Nazis who wound up taking the rap at Nuremberg.)

Considering it's taken the Herr Doktor all of two decades to get to this point, this willingness to stick with the project shows a remarkable degree of patience on the part of his masters, a quality you rarely associate with National Socialist big-wigs. The electricity bill alone for all those freezers must be astronomical! Especially the ones in Egypt.

And another thing: Why do these crypto-Nazi schemes to resurrect the Third Reich always sound as if they were devised by the Underpants Gnomes? Seriously, what does this fiendish plan amount to:

1. Defrost 1500+ elite Nazis
2. ????
3. World Conquest!

It's not like I'm expecting the general to provide a detailed scenario (although, given this script, it's not outside the bounds of possibility) but you have to wonder how effective these revenants will be. Even assuming the Herr Doktor ultimately works the kinks out and they'll be capable of more advanced tasks than sitting in a closet and drooling into a shoe, the guys will have quite a bit of catching up on current events to do. And then there's the inevitable jealousy and back-biting from the conspirators who haven't been on ice for the last twenty years.


Plus, elite or no, it's not like they made such a resounding success of it the last go-round. Perhaps they should start small this time, by running as National Bocialists in the North Minehead by-election.

Be that as it may, Dr. Norberg gives the general a major sad when he admits Karl jumped the gun. Sure, they can revive the bodies, but he still hasn't licked that brain problem. Lubeck doesn't want to hear it, after all the money the Party has sunk into this project, including buying this "castle" outside London and paying for his niece's education.

Norberg underscores his point by exhibiting his previous subjects, starting with the butler: After Joseph was accidentally frozen, Norberg managed to bring him back to life, but his intelligence is now "sub-normal". The general gives Karl a well-deserved parting stink-eye, before Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz follow the doctor to the dungeon for a peek at the other test cases.

The hitch is Norberg hasn't figured out how to get all the subject's memories hooked back up, after they've been defrosted. They fixate on things like a childhood recollection, or religion, or in the case of Norberg's brother (thoughtfully included by Lubeck in his batch of Gestapo-sicles) an irresistible urge to strangle people. Which definitely limits his ability to socialize.

But what the heck, they've already thawed Muller out, and it would be a shame to let him go to waste. (You know you shouldn't re-freeze uncooked meat.) Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz watch, fascinated -- and maybe just a bit turned on -- as Norberg starts to drill a hole in the back of reanimated Muller's skull.

Meanwhile, a taxi deposits Norberg's niece, Jean, and Else, her friend from college, at the front entrance to his mansion. Courtesy of some more clumsy dialog, we learn it's been over a year since Jean's last visit. She can't wait to surprise her uncle, who won't be expecting her to arrive from America for another week or two. Else isn't convinced that showing up announced is such a great idea, but her perky companion assures her it will be okay.

Down in the cellar, they hear Jean knocking at the door. Despite that Ƭsub-normal intelligenceƮ crack, Norberg thinks it's a smart idea to send Joseph to investigate, while he resumes drilling Muller's cranium. After Jean and her friend enter the mansion through the unlocked front door, Joseph greets the two. That is, he stands at the top of the landing and silently stares at them.

Jean is perplexed by the drastic change in Joseph. When she asks him to take their luggage, he instead returns to the laboratory and tries to inform Karl, but the best he can manage are vague gestures and inarticulate moans. Norberg dispatches his flunky to see what's up. Just as the Herr Doktor reaches the tricky part of this delicate operation, Karl bursts through the door, with the news that Jean is here.

Startled, Norberg's hand slips; the drill bit plunges deep into Muller's brain. Predictably, the doctor blames his feckless assistant.  (The poor schlub just can't catch a break.) The general furiously berates Karl for making them waste Muller, especially since the guy was considered a genius.

Norberg reassures the general that sweet, innocent Jean has never been allowed in the lab; she has no idea that her uncle is working for the Party. All she knows is that Norberg discovered a method for freezing defective organs, repairing them while frozen and then popping them back in their owner, good as new.

Gen. Lubeck eventually calms down, and offers to do whatever he can to help Norberg work out the bugs with that memory thing. The doctor believes he may have a solution, but first, he requires a brain to experiment with.

Karl, desperate to get back in the general's good graces, offers to procure one for the doctor. Norberg chides his overeager assistant: He needs a living brain, not one from a cadaver supplied by Karl's "friends".

The Herr Doktor instead plans to use an ape's head. He'll keep it alive, while replacing the top of the skull with transparent plastic. This way he can more easily study the brain. 'Kay. It's difficult to understand what he expects to learn about the inner workings of the organ from looking at the outside -- although it would make a great conversation piece. But hey, the guy is supposed to be a mad scientist. Let's just go with it.

Dr. Norberg has invited an American researcher, Ted Roberts, to come work with him. Dr. Tirpitz finally gets his turn to chime in with some back story, reminding everyone that Roberts successfully duplicated the Russian feat of keeping a dog's severed head alive. So he ought to be just the guy for the job. Norberg promises to keep him in the dark about the Nazi-revivification stuff, though.

Karl has an inspiration: Why don't they use Muller's head? But the Herr Doktor shoots this idea down, too. He has no use for a spoiled brain. He orders downcast Karl to "take care of" Muller, and destroy the uniform, as well. His bumbling lackey promises he'll do so after everyone is asleep.

Dr. Norberg invites his guests upstairs to meet his niece. Else, feeling out-of-sorts, has already retired for the night. Ominously, Karl overhears Jean explaining that she gave her friend a pill to help her sleep. Dr. Norberg insists the general and Dr. Tirpitz sleep over, too.

(They can pop some popcorn, make a tent with a sheet, and tell ghost stories: "And then he woke up -- in Stalingrad!")

Later that evening, Karl sneaks into Else's room and injects her with a sedative. He carries her down to the lab and introduces her to Norberg's homicidal sibling (played, incidentally, by Edward Fox, the eponymous "Jackal" in the 1973 political thriller) who promptly chokes her to death. Karl wakes Norberg up, tells him there's an emergency and hurries him downstairs. Dr. Norberg is shocked when he sees the corpse of his niece's friend, but Karl insists he should look at the silver lining: Now he's got a fresh brain!

The Herr Doktor balks at the notion, until his assistant prods him into action by pointing out they have only two or three minutes left before her brain turns to mush. Besides, what would the general say if he knew they'd passed up such a golden opportunity? (And we know who's just itching to tattle, don't we?)

It seems to me that the Herr Doktor is a little too ready to accept Karl's story, if you know what I mean, but Norberg isn't entirely persuaded: What will they tell Jean? Karl suggests they can say Else didn't like the place, and left a note that she was leaving on the 6:00 AM train. Norberg gives in, and agrees to perform a head-ectomy on his niece's luckless friend.

Note that earlier the script had Dr. Norberg inform the audience that the brain will rapidly deteriorate five minutes after you stop breathing. So Karl discovered Else's body, evidently only a few seconds after her death, and was able to run upstairs, roust out the doc, return to the lab and have this conversation -- which on its own chewed up almost two minutes. And in the time remaining, they can cut off her head and plug it in to some kind of life support? Works for me.

One thing's for sure: That surgical steel chainsaw Dr. Norberg ordered from Harbor Freight ought to come in mighty handy!

Next morning, Karl cunningly lays his false trail: He buys a one-way ticket to London at the railway station, loudly remarking to the clerk that he's purchasing the ticket for the young lady. Who is standing at the edge of the platform with her back to them, dressed in Else's clothes and wearing an Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany's-style hat to hide her face.

"She does not seem to like our place," adds Karl, anxious to nail down every detail of his deception.

When the 6:00 AM to London arrives, the woman hastily boards it, bumping into a handsome young American (he resembles a taller, sort of ill-defined Tony Perkins, circa Psycho, with a big dose of doofus) as he steps down. Just as it begins to pull away from the station, she exits the train from the front, and hastens to join Karl in his car. We never see her face.

Back at the Norberg place, Jean is understandably upset over her friend's disappearance. The doctor claims Else asked Karl to take her to the station early this morning, and produces a note saying she's taking the 6:00 to London and will call her when she gets there. Either Jean is completely unfamiliar with her college friend's handwriting, or Norberg and his cohorts have a skilled forger on 24-hour call.

Jean is perplexed over why Else suddenly took off, without a word of explanation; Norberg advises her to wait until her friend calls from London. After she leaves the dining room, it's plain the doctor is having second thoughts about this flimsy cover story.

Norberg's niece corners Karl, who confirms that he took her friend to the station and bought her a ticket. "I put her and her two pieces of luggage on board the train," he assures her. After she heads upstairs, he warns the doctor that Jean suspects something; they can't afford to have her hanging around. Norberg merely laughs it off.

Meanwhile, the handsome American shows up at the mansion. It's Dr. Ted, the Dog Torturer! Karl, wisely filling in for Joseph, conducts the new arrival to the guest room, to give him a chance to freshen up. Here Ted has the meet-cute with Jean, whose shapely legs he finds protruding from beneath the bed as she searches for something. Annoyed at being caught in such an undignified pose by this smirking hunk, Norberg's niece exits.

Down in the lab, Dr. Norberg and Karl admire their handiwork. To heighten the suspense, we don't actually see poor Else's head yet, although they did fix up a fancy green-baize-lined wooden cabinet for her new home.

"It's alive," whispers awestruck Karl. (Well, someone had to say it.)

Norberg advises Karl that he plans to show off the lab to Ted. But not to worry: He'll keep the box with the head closed and locked.

True to his word, before dinner Dr. Norberg takes Ted on a tour of the works. For starters, he displays his First Place entry in the science fair: a living heart, liver and kidney in jars. But of course, he says, that's nothing, compared to keeping a head alive. Our hero comes over all "aw, shucks", assuring the doctor he could never have done it, if Norberg's work hadn't pointed the way. Geez, you two: Get a room!

But that's just kid stuff. Norberg has Karl pull back the curtains to reveal a truly astounding piece of mad science: His wall o' arms!

"I haf created ze vorld's first operational 'Tickle Machine'!"

Apparently inspired by Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, for some bizarre reason Dr. Norberg has attached seven severed arms to a wall. Dr. Ted is even more impressed when Norberg sends electrical impulses to one of the limbs, causing it to slowly, spasmodically flex. Congratulations, Herr Doktor, you've just discovered Galvanism!

After the tour, Norberg is careful to lock up the laboratory, explaining to Ted that he only does it out of habit. Jean has never seen the lab, and, oh yeah, he doesn't ever talk about his work around her, either. Ted agrees to do the same. I mean, there's nothing so odd about that, is there?

Ted is clearly well within the parameters for your typical cheesy horror film hero. You know: Blind to the most obvious hints.

Jean's search under the bed in the guest room yielded a clue: a button torn from Else's coat. She shows it to her uncle, protesting that Else would never have left it "just lying anywhere". (Sounds reasonable to me.) Ted asks to see her find, and declares that a woman in a hurry, wearing a coat with buttons like this and a big, floppy hat, bumped into him this morning as she was boarding the train.

Dr. Norberg is visibly relieved.

Later that night, down in the lab, Karl stares at the head cabinet, torn by conflicting emotions: revulsion -- and yet, fascination, too. Finally, he opens it -- slowly ... to reveal:

"This is the last time I order the box lunch!"

This extreme makeover has clearly given Else a bad case of the blues. Her lips move, forming words which, sans lungs, she can't voice. Which is probably a good thing, if this movie wants to keep a "G" rating. Karl hastily shuts the box, and flees the lab.

And as anyone who's seen Donovan's Brain or any one of a dozen horror movies with this same plot device will know, Dr. Norberg hasn't reckoned with the fact that once the brain no longer has a body to keep it occupied, it compensates by gaining psychic powers. (It's in the contract.)

While someone nearby mashes a key down on their Hammond organ, Jean tosses and turns in her bed, then wakes from a nightmare, screaming. Ted raps at her door, anxious to find out if she's okay. She lets him in, and throws herself into his arms, sobbing about her terrible dream: She saw Else's headless body being buried, and then her friend's head, in someplace dark, perhaps a cave. And she was desperately trying to tell Jean something -- it could be she really needs a Kleenex.

Despite all that evidence to the contrary, Jean is still certain something terrible has happened to Else. Ted suggests they start by investigating at the train station, first thing tomorrow.

Next morning, while Ted checks Karl's story with the station master, Jean suddenly spies a man boarding the train, carrying what she's certain is Else's luggage. Ted runs after the train, but he's too late.

Further questioning elicits the fact that the man with the suitcases is named Mr. Smith. Although, as the station master comments, with that thick German accent, it ought to be "Schmidt". He doesn't know the guy's address, but he's certain Mr. "Smith" lives somewhere close by in the village.

A taxi takes Jean to the "Nein! I mean, no, absolutely positively not a Nazi!" Smith residence. Before the mizzus answers the door, she hides her cruelly scarred face by quickly donning what turns into an amazingly life-like mask. Seriously: Until she puts it on, the mask looks more like it came from the Michael Myers collection, then, apparently by magic, by the time she opens the door it's indistinguishable from living flesh. Speaking in a thick German accent, she gives a chilly reception to Norberg's niece: No, her husband isn't in, and he definitely did not go to Nuremberg -- er, London this morning. Then she hustles Jean out the door.

For some reason, Ted didn't accompany Jean on this fact-finding expedition. Instead, he's strolling pensively through that lovely garden on the Norberg estate. His reverie is interrupted when he hears a muffled, agonized wail coming from the vicinity of the mansion. Ted decides to investigate; he descends those steps that lead down to the cellar.

Cut to Dr. Norberg: He's in the dungeon, checking up on his pet lunatics. He has a spat with his assistant, accusing him of neglect because the zombies are off their feed. Karl blames it on the brain's psychic influence. The Herr Doktor scoffs at his foolish notions.

A warning light alerts them to Ted's presence. While exploring by Zippo-light a dank, cobwebby passageway beneath the house, he finds a completely intact skeleton, chained to a wall.

"Hey, buddy, can I get a light?"

Something funny here: Isn't it a bit early to be putting out the Halloween decorations? It's really not that surprising, though, as we all know country mansions in England usually have at least a couple of these stashed in the cellar.

Without warning, Karl pops up and coshes him from behind.

Jean returns to the train station, where Karl's poorly-conceived plan begins to fall apart when a porter tells Norberg's niece he saw the lady in question board the train -- but then, just a couple of minutes later, she got off, and went away in a car.

Back at the lab, as he waves smelling salts under unconscious Ted's nose, the Herr Doktor scolds Karl for almost killing the guy. Karl protests there was nothing else he could do, but Norberg reminds him it's not like the old days, when "the Party had to do these things for political reasons". (Uh-huh.) It's time now for a kinder, gentler fascism.

Fortunately for Karl and the doctor, Ted overhears none of this conversation. When he comes to, at least this time the doctor manages to concoct a somewhat more plausible lie: He tells our hero he was attacked by his brother, Jean's father. In a particularly shameful fabrication, Norberg claims the poor guy was driven violently insane by his time in a concentration camp. When the doctor came to England, he brought his brother, too, in the hope that he might someday cure him. And he just happened to get loose, while Ted was poking around in the cellar.

Ted of course swallows this story hook, line and sinker. I suppose it would have been in bad taste for him to ask to see this brother. After all, Dr. Norberg is a fellow scientist, so you can take him at his word. And of course it was all Karl's fault, for leaving the door open.

I guess it would also be impolite for Ted to question these lax security arrangements for their live-in homicidal nutcase.

Norberg, having accurately assessed the gullibility of his colleague, reveals that his niece's suspicions about her friend are correct: His brother murdered Else. Ted wants to know why Norberg didn't call the police. The doctor explains he didn't want his precious niece to find out her dad was a murderer, plus it would cause no end of fuss and bother. And well ... the girl was dead, and he needed a brain to experiment with, so why get the authorities involved?

But, Ted blurts, it's murder! Norberg counters this objection by pointing out that scientists are always testing stuff on themselves. (I mean, look how well that worked out for Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man.) This way Else can contribute to science, plus it gives her something to do to pass the time, instead of decomposing in an unmarked grave. Let's not quibble over these fine distinctions between "volunteer" and "convenient murder victim".

Incidentally, would he like to see Norberg's head-in-a-box?

He thought you'd never ask. Ted's face lights up, as he reacts to the sight of Else's chalk-blue, plexiglas-domed head rather like a kid admiring his best friend's new toy. (As is de rigueur in a scene like this, the naked brain pulsates under the plastic.)

Ted wants to know if the head can think, and react. Norberg explains he's feeding her just enough oxygen and glucose to keep the brain alive, but unconscious. The Herr Doktor increases the flow. Else opens her eyes, her lips twist into a snarl. Ted is struck by the look of pure hatred she turns on Norberg.

The doctor tells Ted that once he locates the correct nerves, they'll hook up her brain to his wall o' arms. What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, I guess that explains why Norberg created the thing, but wouldn't two arms, or even just one, have sufficed, if he was looking for a proof of concept? If you ask me, the way he's gone about it seems like not only overkill but an unnecessarily complicated way to get a hand job from Else. Nonetheless, Ted agrees to work with Norberg and keep Jean in the dark about her friend's horrific fate.

I've seen plenty of movies starring anti-heroes, and FSM knows many of the turkeys I've reviewed here featured protagonists who left me wondering what was the point of  even having them in the story, when they did nothing particularly hero-worthy. But I have to applaud The Frozen Dead for really thinking outside the box (sorry) in coming up with a romantic lead who's not merely clueless but also plainly sociopathic.

For one thing, Ted is setting himself up for one hell of an awkward explanation, if Norberg's niece ever finds out what really happened to Else, not to mention what they've been doing with her buddy's head. And leaving aside his grotesque experiments with helpless canines, Ted doesn't seem to have much of a problem with keeping Else alive and aware of her hellish situation, as long as someone else does the initial dirty work. In fact, he calls it a "great achievement" and he's positively enthused to be a part of the team.

But unbeknownst to the Herr Doktor and his new colleague, Jean has gone to the police with her suspicions. It's their duty to investigate, the inspector assures her, whether they find her story credible or not. Before she leaves, he warns Jean to keep an eye on Karl and not tell anyone she's contacted the police.

That night, Jean has another bad dream about Else. She wakes up, repeating "Help me!" over and over. Ted drops by Jean's bedroom again to see how Jean's coping. She senses he's not telling her something, but he claims he's only worried about her recurring nightmares. And even if her friend came to a bad end, says Ted, you'll still have to move on with your own life, right?

Which seems like an astonishingly callous thing to say, given the circumstances. Something makes me think Ted may have been raised by wolverines. At the very least, I doubt he has many close friends. But he's young and (sort of) handsome and not a Nazi, so dammit, he's gonna get the girl!

The mysterious Mrs. "Smith" rings up Karl, to warn him the inspector's been nosing around. Even though Karl assures her all the wartime records that might reveal her true identity have been destroyed, the woman isn't convinced. She urges Karl to get rid of Jean. (Presumably the coppers wouldn't find that at all suspicious.)

Breakfasting with Ted and her uncle, Jean dismays Dr. Norberg by asking to see the lab. After a slight hesitation, he agrees -- but she'll have to wait until the two have finished with their latest experiment. She seems satisfied with this.

Meanwhile, Karl is spending entirely too much time with Else's head, and it has him rattled. When Dr. Norberg joins him in the lab, the Herr Doktor orders him to relax: They'll hide all the incriminating stuff before they let Jean see the place.

Karl, frantic over the news that the inspector is going to pay a call, begs him to tell Jean about her father. Norberg reminds Karl it's not going to be easy to explain why his brother hasn't aged. Not only that, but all these years he's been letting her believe they had been concentration camp inmates, not administrators. It would be just too embarrassing.

Karl demands to know why Norberg didn't tell her the truth. The doctor explains he wanted to spare her the guilt, and let her have a normal childhood. So he's a Nazi mad scientist with familial feelings, okay?

Ted joins them for today's head games. But when he belatedly realizes Else is fully aware of her present state, he turns squeamish. Until they put a blindfold on her. Problem solved!

Sometime later, the inspector finishes interviewing Norberg in his parlor. The Herr Doktor regrets that he gave Karl the day off, so he isn't available for questioning. That's okay, says the inspector, just ask him to pop by the station tomorrow. By the way, has Norberg ever met the Smiths? They're Germans, too.

Norberg denies any acquaintance with the couple.

Cut to the lab, where, while Dr. Norberg watches, the general has Dr. Tirpitz torture the truth out of Karl about his connection to the "Smiths". He confesses that they're family. They only helped him procure body parts for Norberg; he swears that they know nothing about the project. Karl also volunteers the information that those people pieces didn't come from the morgue, as he'd told the doctor: His kin have been doing a brisk corpse-collecting business in a neighboring village. Norberg is not pleased.

Lubeck sends Karl to his room. Aw, gee whillikers ...

While all this is going on, Ted and Jean have been having a heart-to-heart in the garden. Or rather, Ted has been reciting his life story, while Jean stares off into space, to all appearances bored out of her skull. (A reaction with which I can easily sympathize.) She apologizes, explaining she's distracted by this inexplicable urge to check out the lab. He squirms a bit, and promises they should be through with their experiment soon.

But for some unfathomable reason, romance is in the air. The two pause for a kiss beneath a window. Karl, seeing his opportunity, tries to ace the pair by pushing a heavy vase off the balcony. It narrowly misses them.

Dr. Tirpitz catches Karl in the act, and out of his room, so he manhandles him back down to the lab. Norberg's assistant is clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, blubbering that he must kill Jean, she knows too much. The general, fed up to here with Karl's unceasing ineptitude, orders Tirpitz to shove him in the freezer.

After Karl's drawn-out demise, Ted makes his appearance. It's the big day, after all: They've finished wiring up Else to the wall o' arms, so it's time for a test run. But sadly, it's a total failure. She can't (or won't) evoke so much as a twitch out of the limbs.

Now, is it just me, or does it seem particularly odd that Ted doesn't seem to think there's anything so strange about these two sinister, obviously German observers appearing out of nowhere to view an experiment conducted by a German-accented scientist, on an illegally procured, living brain? This guy defines oblivious.

Ted and Norberg get into an argument over whether Else has willpower or not; the American leaves. Lubeck suggests the doctor should go check on his niece.

After Norberg departs, Tirpitz and the general decide Karl may have had a point about Jean. His loyal henchman volunteers to take care of her. Lubeck agrees, but insists it must look like an accident. Else hears all this, and sends a warning nightmare-gram to her friend.

Fortunately, Jean is one of those early-to-bed types. After tossing restlessly for a bit, she rises from her bed and sleep-walks down to the lab. Ted visits her room, finds her not there, then catches a glimpse of her descending the staircase and follows. Seeing her try the door to the lab, he decides to wake her up. Jean is convinced Else is in there, and Ted reluctantly confirms her hunch. But he doesn't have a key. He urges Norberg's niece to return with him upstairs, where he'll tell her everything.

But while all this is going on, Dr. Tirpitz has been at his nefarious work. He dissolves a handful of sleeping tablets in Jean's water carafe.

Ted and Jean go to his room, where he gives her a stiff...slug of whiskey. Coughing, she asks for water, but he has none, so she returns to her bedroom and pours herself a glass. Raising it to her lips, she suddenly stops (suspense!) glances at Ted and asks, "Is it that bad?"

"Yes," he agrees, sheepishly. "It's that bad."

She puts down the glass, without drinking. Ted makes her promise to hear him out completely before she says anything, then begins by asking if she remembers how he joked about that dream she had in which Else's headless body was being buried. Well...it's true.

(Way to go, Ted! There were at least half-a-dozen ways you could have begun this awful revelation, and you chose the one that can't help but throw your loathsomeness into sharp relief.)

Jean protests: "But I know she's alive!"

Ted reminds her she promised to keep quiet during story time, and continues.

Cut to Lubeck and his henchman, as Tirpitz explains how he's getting rid of Jean. I'm a bit hazy on how a poorly staged suicide fits the definition of "accident", much less how it's expected to get the authorities to quit nosing around, but the general seems pleased. No wonder these guys lost the war. Tripitz (accurately) predicts Norberg will be willing to believe anything, and if Ted wants to tip off the coppers, well, his mucking around with Else's head after the fact might be a trifle difficult to explain.

Now it's Else's turn to advance the plot, as she makes the wall o' arms respond to her will. The arms flex and their fingers clutch. Satisfied with her progress, she lets them relax and hang limp again.

Back to Ted and Jean: He explains about her father, and then fesses up to helping Norberg experiment with Else's head. She was already dead, after all, says Ted, in a feeble attempt to mitigate the crime, and it couldn't hurt her.

Now, how can he know that? Leaving aside the obvious mental cruelty, Else's every waking moment might be a hell of excruciating agony. But sure, tell yourself whatever you have to, buddy. Contrite now, Ted admits he doesn't know why he went along with her uncle's gruesome project -- it must be his magnetic personality. Anyway, he made a mistake, and he's sorry.

Mind you, Ted comes off more as if he's apologizing for sleeping with her best friend, rather than conspiring to cover up her murder after the fact, so he could help Jean's uncle conduct ghoulish experiments with her severed head. Norberg's niece would be nuts to let this one get away from her, right, ladies?

Jean's expression hardens with determination: She demands to see her father.

Ted thinks her dad is being kept in a room beyond the laboratory, but he tries to dissuade her from paying him a visit: He won't even know you, he warns. Jean still doesn't believe him: How could her uncle have kept the truth from her all those years? Ted replies Norberg was probably sparing her feelings. He reaches out to her, but Jean recoils. "Don't touch me!" she blazes at him.

Which is an understandable reaction, if a bit low-key on her part. I would have thought a punch in the face or a kick in the nuts would have been more appropriate. But then, she has been raised as a posh Brit.

Jean reaches for her glass of water, raises it to her lips. But Else at the last possible moment telepathically seizes. control of her friend's arm and makes her fling away the glass of doped water. While Jean gapes at her hand in amazement, Ted tastes the water from the carafe, and concludes it's been tampered with.

Showing a rare flash of smarts, after the incident with the flowerpot, and now this, he concludes someone's out to get Jean: They need to skedaddle, pronto!

Jean inexplicably decides she won't leave the mansion, and wants Ted to fetch the police. He reluctantly agrees, but only if she promises to stay in her room, keep the door locked and don't let anyone in. But you know that's not going to happen, right? After Ted exits, Else telepathically nags her friend into paying a visit to the lab.

While Dr. Norberg restlessly paces his room, Jean gets the key to the lab from a chest in the study. Okay, so all this time she knew the key ring was there in that drawer? And never thought of checking the laboratory out on her own, or telling Ted she knew where the keys were kept? Or did Else tell her this by mental transference? If so, how could the head-in-a-box have known where Norberg hides the keys? Can she read minds now, too?

Norberg comes to a decision, and leaves his room. With Karl no longer around to take care of these  details, the Herr Doktor has thoughtlessly left Else's cabinet open. So naturally, the first thing Jean sees when she enters the lab is her friend's mutilated head. She's appropriately horrified.

Her uncle appears, and confirms Ted's story that her father murdered Else. But not so fast: Jean shows off her new talent as a severed head whisperer and learns the truth from Else: It was Karl who set her up to be strangled by the loony. And she really, really wants Jean to check out what's behind Steel Door Number One.

General Lubeck surprises them. "Why not tell her everything?" he suggests, threatening the two with a pistol. Despite his having been the general's inseparable companion up to this point, for some reason Dr. Tirpitz disappears from the movie. Which, as will be seen, is mighty convenient for the plot resolution.

Jean gets a good look at Karl and his corpsicle pals, as Lubeck lets his fanatic freak flag fly: Her father was a Nazi. (And he smells of elderberries!) So is Uncle Norbie. And they plan to defrost a bunch more Nazis and take over the world. Norberg and his niece back away, as the general advances on them, working himself into a fine Master Race lather prior to plugging the heroine.

Norberg jumps the general, wrestles with him for the pistol. It will of course come as a surprise to absolutely no one who's slogged through this tedious, senseless dreck that their struggle carries them within reach of the wall o' arms. At long last, Else gets sweet revenge, with extra helpings of irony, as she remotely strangles the two to death.
"This is for Waldo Lydecker!"

You really have to hand it to her. Literally. I have trouble enough getting two arms to do what I want, and here she controls three of them at the same time. And she can only see what she's doing with these arms out of the corner of her eye. Impressive, huh?

Ted and the inspector find Jean in the dungeon. By all indications, this reunion isn't going so well: They catch her father doing an outstanding Homer Simpson imitation on Jean's neck. (So I imagine accompanying her to the purity ball will most likely be out of the question.) The inspector shoots the madman, and Jean crumples to the floor in a faint. Ted cradles her in his arms.

Cut to the inspector, Ted and Jean leaning over Else's head. Fade out, as the luckless victim of this idiotic atrocity can only repeat the words "Bury me...bury me..." again and again.

Which by an odd coincidence, also happens to be the most fitting epitaph for this film.

3 comments:

Jimbo said...

I wonder if this film was the inspiration for the later zombie films. Also too, "The Quiller Memorandum" is one of my favorite thrillers. Alec Guinness, George Segal and Max von Sydow put in great performances.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"The Boys From Brazil"? Really? With 100% mahogany Gregory Peck as Josef Mengele? And one of my favorite exchanges of all time:

Laurence Olivier, as a bullet-riddled Simon Wiesenthal: "Call a doctor."

Mengele: "I AM a doctor."

And this one is worse? I can't wait to see it.

Hank said...

It's a good thing I'd swallowed that mouthful of coffee before I read "100% mahogany Gregory Peck". That was perfect, @Buttermilk Sky.

Believe me, compared to this one, or if you want a more extreme example, Madmen of Mandoras, The Boys from Brazil is the Citizen Kane of this genre. Unsurprisingly, they're both available on YouTube, in good prints even, so knock yourself out.


@Jimbo: It's certainly possible. I know it showed up pretty regularly on late night TV during the late 60s/early 70s, which is when I got acquainted with the movie. Then there's the granddaddy of Nazi zombie films, Shock Waves (1977). Not a bad little low-budget flick, although a bit slow-moving at times. Nice score, though.

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