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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 2 - Dr. Cyclops (1940)

Well, last week I kicked off a new series called Forgotten Horror Gems.  For those that are just joining the blog, here's how it works.  I pored through listings of horror movies from 1920 - 1989 and looked for films I hadn't seen.  Admittedly, that list is actually pretty short considering all of the movies that were released over that period.  I'm not bragging.  I could have been using that time to solve world hunger but hey... it is what it is.

Over the next twelve months, I'm going to work my way through the list and amazingly, my wife and daughter both agreed they'd like to participate in this as well.

So without further ado, I present to you a movie that I've been intrigued by since I was a child.  I've seen stills from it in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, but amazingly I'd never actually seen the film.  So here we go!

First of all, how beautiful is that poster art?  I don't want to get too far off on a tangent here, but my friend Mike Carvalho was the one who first really opened my eyes to the beauty of classic movie posters.  I may post more about that at another time, but just let me say that you will not find a poster that looks anything like this coming out of a movie studio today.  Look at those colors!  Look at the unfeeling, malevolent expression of the mad doctor and the fear on his victim's face.

That's how you sell a movie!

Okay, rant ended.

Dr. Cyclops is about a well-regarded scientist who has secluded himself in a laboratory in the jungles of the Amazon.  While that may seem weird, the truth is he's there because of a giant deposit of pitchblende, a mix of uranium and radium if I understand the explanation correctly.  This geological cache of radioactive riches holds a key to the experiments he's conducting.

He has one problem though.  His eyesight is horrible.  Despite thick, coke-bottle lenses, he's now lost the ability to look into his microscope clearly, so he summons three scientists from America to come verify something for him.  The three travel thousands of miles through the jungle and once they arrive and confirm his theory he thanks them and asks them to leave.  

Needless to say, these three (four if you count the mule driver) didn't travel all that way just to look in a microscope for literally five minutes and be turned away.  They want to know more.

Soon, they find out first hand what the doctor has been working on.  He's discovered a way to shrink living beings and their confirmation of his theory removes the last obstacle he had in making the process safe for his subjects.  In order to keep them from returning to the mainland with his secrets, he shrinks them to try to keep them captive.  Of course, they escape and then have to dodge the terrors of the jungle itself before finding a way to deal with the mad doctor and return to their normal size.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Dr. Cyclops is a great movie.  Personally, I have never been exactly wowed by movies about people being shrunk down to the size of dolls.  I just feel like it's a gimmick that quickly runs its course.  That said, Dr. Cyclops does have some pretty amazing effects and while most of the performances are standard, Albert Dekker's performance as the title character shines.  He's not the kind of mad scientist who is doing evil unknowingly (a la Dr. Frankenstein).  He truly is evil, making some horrific decisions including randomly killing his subjects. 

The version of this we watched was in gorgeous Technicolor also.  It was a joy to see with all the heavily saturated greens of the jungle throughout.  The very first scene has some crazy "fish tank" blue lighting thing happening with ripples flowing across the walls and the doctor.  Seriously cool!

But all this aside, how is it as a movie?  Well, I'll ask the girls to explain.

Karen:  First of all, I felt deceived by the movie title.  I was expecting a giant cyclops monster.  I had no idea where the movie was going so when it turned out that wasn't the case, I felt a little cheated.

Lilith:  That didn't bother me because I didn't know the name of the movie. I came down after the credits.

Karen:  Aside from that though, I liked this.  I really liked the small people and how everything became giant; like sewing needles become giant weapons in their hands, etc.  It made me think about all the prop departments and how they had to make this stuff.

Lilith:  I liked how they would all work together to defeat the doctor.  It reminded me of the scene in Cinderella where all the mice and birds come together to sew her dress.  

Okay, all this is great, but what about the story itself?  Did you like that?

Karen:  Honestly, I did.  It was fun and nostalgic, but the acting was atrocious and some of the dialogue was horrible.  It was still fun to watch.  I loved how they paraded all of these exotic animals around just to try to convince you it was really shot in the jungle.  I swear, there's a point where thirty animals show up one at a time on screen and to be honest, I'm not even sure they all really exist in the same jungle.  It was like being at the zoo.

Lilith:  I forgot about the tiny horse!  They were mean to the tiny horse!

Karen:  Yes, I wanted the tiny horse for my own. He was really cute, but they treated him very badly!

Lilith:  Yeah, when that guy slams the door shut on his box, that was just rude!

To be clear, people die in this movie but the tiny horse is not harmed in any way.  Slamming the box shut was the extent of the harm done to the horse, but this seems to have stood out to the girls.

So, to wrap things up:

1. Dr. Cyclops is not about a cyclops, but isn't a bad film.

2. It looks really nice but the acting isn't the best.

3. When you're shrunken by a mad doctor and want to escape, just remember that 'Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.'

4. Don't be a jerk to the tiny horse.

From my perspective, it's a fun watch but not essential.  If you're looking for a nostalgic trip one night, you could do worse than to check this out.  You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime.  If you'd like a look at the trailer, here you go!

Next week, we'll go back to the black and white classics for a forgotten Boris Karloff movie.

Until then, check out my series on exploring Japan or visit my Amazon Author's page!

See you soon!


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