Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Ultimate Terror Has Taken Form

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.

THE BEING (1983)
Rated R
Running Time 1:22
Directed by Jackie Kong
Stars Bill Osco, Martin Landau, Marianne Gordon, Jose Ferrer, Ruth Buzzi, Dorothy Malone
Originally published October 14, 2005

Anyone who's had the misfortune to sit through any of Jackie Kong's other features, such as the witless BLOOD DINER or the painful NIGHT PATROL, won't be surprised to learn this Idaho-filmed monster movie that she wrote and directed is pretty awful. On the other hand, in the right setting with a few friends and the proper blood-alcohol level, THE BEING is good for some hearty guffaws.

My favorite example of Kong's incompetence is a scene in which three local yokels break into an empty building with the intention of burning it down. One says, "Let's see if we can find anything around here to burn," while clearly standing in front of a high stack of cardboard boxes. Time means nothing to Kong either. She follows one night scene with a day scene, and then she cuts back to night, where one character states the time as being "11:45 pm," when a musical recital takes place. On a Sunday night. Don't any of these people have to work on Monday? You can have a good time playing Spot the Continuity Errors with this movie.

THE BEING opens with a portentous, deep-voiced narrator telling us "strange and unexplained events are occurring" in Pottsville, Idaho, which a country music DJ tells us is the "potato capital of the world." Right away, we know we're in big trouble—has there ever been a good horror movie that began with useless narration?

However, we do learn that people have been disappearing ever since a young boy named Michael vanished near the town's new nuclear waste dump. Some townspeople are worried that the presence of so much radiation will be hazardous to their health, but Dr. Garson Jones (Martin Landau, an Oscar winner for ED WOOD) tries to assuage their fears by pointing a Geiger counter at his wristwatch and a glass of water. Whew! That makes me feel better, Marty!

More hazardous to their health is the "being" of the title—a slimy, red mutated creature with tentacles and large teeth that randomly chomps down on the Pottsville populace. Investigating is local cop Mortimer Lutz (producer Bill Osco, Jackie Kong’s husband, billed as both “Rexx Coltrane” and “Johnny Commander”), who has the odd habit of talking to himself ("Now why did he leave his flashlight lying the middle of the street?") and sorta has a crush on cute waitress Laurie (HEE HAW honey Marianne Gordon, married to Kenny Rogers at the time).

The silly character names seem to indicate Kong and Osco were making a comedy, but since there's little in THE BEING approaching intentional humor, it's hard to be sure. Nothing is funnier than the monster, which has one eye that wobbles around like a bobble-head doll. Since we only see it from mid-torso up, it’s probably being pushed around in a wheelchair. It also has the ability to appear anywhere at anytime. Even if it was just seen vanishing into a hole underground, it can still pop up seconds later inside an automobile.

Obviously, if the filmmakers fail to set any ground rules or limitations regarding the creature's abilities, it's hard to generate much suspense. Kong's main preparation must have been watching ALIEN a few times. There's even a scene where two characters wander around a large building searching (for no real reason) for a cat!

Since Osco's earlier producing efforts had been of the softcore porn variety, including FLESH GORDON, a few jabs are taken at fanatics who picket a massage parlor. Inexplicably, even the Landau character, who isn't a local and would seem to have little interest in Pottsville politics, grabs a sign. Despite their billing, none of the above-the-title stars, including LAUGH-IN’s Ruth Buzzi and Oscar winners Jose Ferrer (CYRANO DE BERGERAC) and Dorothy Malone (WRITTEN ON THE WIND), have much to do, except Landau, who actually gives a decent performance, considering what he's working with. Osco Coltrane Commander Kong may have been going for a deadpan style of acting, but he comes off somnambulant instead.

THE BEING was filmed in 1980 as EASTER SUNDAY (the film's setting, which actually is irrelevant), but not released until 1983. It closes with picture credits, which are always fun (although they were probably used to stretch the film to 82 minutes), and AMERICAN GRAFFITI-style "where-are-they-now" cards, which aren't.

1 comment:

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Andrew Nette