Wild Wild World of Batwoman

What could be better than kicking back with a good movie? Well, every so often, you don’t have the appetite for the meat and potatoes of a well-crafted film, and you just want a light cinema snack. Hence of the profitability of mediocre (and worse) films like Transformers, Twilight, and 300. Our culture has a fascination with bad movies (unlike with other mediums), and much has been written about which films are the worst of all time. In 1980, critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry published The Golden Turkey Awards, in which they listed their picks for the worst movies of all time. They ultimately selected Plan 9 from Outer Space (Dir. Ed Wood) as the Worst Movie Ever Made. People tell me I’m competitive, which might be why I felt compelled to find a worse one. Recently, I did.

For an unending source of putridly bad movies, it’s hard to beat Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a serial in which host Mike Nelson (usually) and two robots are silhouetted in front of one of the worst low-to-no-budget flops the producer can find. Mike and the ‘bots make the movie bearable by inserting lines, yelling out jokes and generally lampooning the movie. It turns what would be a traumatic experience into a load of laughs. Usually.

Even Mike’s sense of humor was no match for the horrendous work of Jerry Warren, however, as shown by the colossally bad movie The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman (1966).

WWWB is about … well, that’s the problem, you really can’t tell. The character who seems to be the lead (Katherine Victor) wears a costume, vaguely reminiscent of a superhero costume, complete with a bat logo painted on her breasts. She doesn’t do much to fight crime, however, throwing one punch in the entire movie. Her response to “crisis” situations is usually to call bureaucratic meetings with her underlings, a cult-like troupe of teenage girls who carry guns but spend more time dancing the Jerk than anything else.

All this dancing makes them vulnerable because the “super villain” in this movie, whose costume basically amounts to a bowler hat and a ski mask, and who has an equally ridiculous name (Rat Fink), attacks them by serving them drugged drinks that make them begin dancing uncontrollably. There’s one particularly painful scene in which Batwoman confronts Rat Fink (Richard Banks) while one of her sidekicks is slowly doing an involuntary jig in the background – for about 10 minutes. These “Batgirls” are always doing odd things in the background, e.g. fighting over a horseshoe, and are sometimes more interesting to watch than the characters in the foreground.

Warren offered the role of Batwoman to Victor, but, having worked on Warren’s  Teenage Zombies and The Curse of the Stone Hand, Victor was not eager to work with Warren again. To convince her, Warren promised Victor large production values, color photography and her own bat boat in the film. None of these promises were kept.

Our herione.

Our herione.

Our Mystery Science heros are clearly overmatched by this one, as evidenced by Mike’s sudden plea (whether to the director or God, I’m not sure) in one of the most pointless scenes “Please, God, cut away to anything, please!” I felt pretty much the same way. Even Mike and the ‘bots’ lampooning wasn’t enough to ease the pain of this one.

As bad as this film is, you still might ask why I say it’s worse than Plan 9. With Plan 9, if you have the stamina to sit through it, you can sort-of figure out what it’s supposed to be about. It starts with an alien invasion, then we see the dead rising from the grave; eventually the movie sort-of  ties the two together, leading to a climactic scene inside a spaceship that looks oddly like a wood shop.

The villain.

The villain.

The production of WWWB was downright schizophrenic, largely due to the director’s egocentricism. Victor told Wikkipedia that, on set, if an actor rubbed Warren the wrong way, their lines would be cut out or given to other actors. Victor claimed “the pretty brunette who was kidnapped in the beginning of the picture was supposed to be the lead girl, but for some reason Jerry thought she was getting to big for her britches and gave all her lines to the girl in the leopard tights”. All of this sudden mind-changing by Warren left its mark on the movie. WWWB features, among other things, a man who wears a Hitler mustache for no reason, and another who shambles around the set like a dog, being treated like a pet by a guy who is apparently supposed to be some kind of mad scientist (George Andre). This mad scientist never really does anything, however. He does venture into a cave under his lab once, where he witnesses monsters that are just recycled footage from The Mole People. We see these creatures for two seconds and no explanation for their presence is ever given. At the end, Dog Boy comes off of … whatever he was on, and tells some kind of story about an atomic bomb made out of a hearing aide.

Warren first released the film under the title Batwoman. Then, after being sued, he re-released it as She was a Hippy Vampire (there is no vampirism in the movie). As you can imagine, the film suffered a quick and painful death at the box office. Decades later it was released on video under its current name.

If you’re someone who combs through vaults of old movies, looking for unsung classics, this is one to avoid. It’s astonishing production wrapped before too many cast/crewmembers simply stormed off the set. Even the MST3K version is unbearable. Ed Wood must be spinning in his grave.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

BSD posterIn one of the most important chapters in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” Lucy Westenre tells the story of how she received three marriage proposals in one day. We gain a chuckle by reading it, but we also learn how good Lucy’s heart is and how kind and humble she is, as well as see the character of her suitors.

But there is a fourth man in Lucy’s life, a certain Count we all know. He visits her at night, and she begins to be found in the morning at the brink of death, almost totally drained of blood. Her three suitors rally around her and, with the help of Dr. Van Helsing’s transfusion equipment, literally pour their life into her. So it goes for many pages; the Count steals her life away by night; the men who love her exhaust themselves by day in a desperate battle to save her life. Van Helsing trims her room with garlic. The Texan suitor, Quincy Morris, patrols the grounds around her home all night. But the Count’s craft is too great and Lucy finally succumbs. By this point the characters are sufficiently developed that the reader feels their loss almost as acutely as they do.

But of course, Lucy becomes a vampire. She preys on local children for awhile until once again confronted by her suitors and Van Helsing. Dr. Seward, narrating this part of the story, describes “the thing in the coffin” as a “mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.” They put a stake through her heart, and watch her turn back to the woman they once knew.  There follows a beautiful paragraph about redemption, eternal life and contrasting inner beauty with the perverse eternal youth of a vampiress.

Would that I had sufficient space to fully describe the literary riches in Stoker’s masterpiece, but that will have to do. Imagine then, my disappointment at Francis Ford Coppula’s attempt to film “Dracula.” To do justice to the book would have required a long movie; probably around three hours. Coppula seems determined to cut it off at two, so that the movie, even in its best moments, is nothing more than a watered-down version of the book. To make matters worse, Coppula crams in a sub plot in which Mina Murray dates Dracula while her fiancé struggles across Europe. Taking a page from “The Mummy” Coppula seems to imply that Mina is a sort of reincarnation of a bride of the historical Dracula. The movie never explains this, however. In fact, the editing of this film is downright schizophrenic. The story I told above takes all of 10 minutes to fly by in the film, and begins with a shot of Lucy lying on a park bench, apparently being raped by a werewolf (I can only assume this is Dracula in some other form, but this too is never explained). Far from being Stoker’s figure of “sweet purity,” Coppula’s Lucy is essentially a 19th century valley girl. Seward and Quincy are barely given any screen time, and with no back-story, Arthur’s lines about how he would give the last drop of his blood to save Lucy are as flat and unbelievable as anything in Hollywood. Even her two death scenes seem insignificant.

drac, mina

Gary Oldman sucks in "Dracula."

To be sure, a proper film version of “Dracula” would get slow at times, bogged down in dialogue and character development, but it was precisely these things that made the book great. It takes the reader through the loss, the grief, the struggle and the eventual triumph of the seven main characters. If we didn’t feel their bravery, their love for each other, and their iron faith, reading the accompanying horror story would have been a waste of time. Perversely, the only genuine affection in Coppula’s film seems to be between Mina and Dracula.

In typical Hollywood fashion, Coppula tries to compensate for this lack of substance with spectacle. Disembodied shadows creep across walls, water flows uphill and blood flows out of inanimate objects for no reason. This entertains for a few minutes, but it’s a poor substitute for a story. It might even be scary, if any of it looked real, or if there was any reason to care.

Coppula’s film is to Stoker’s novel what a vampire is to the person he or she was in life: the same thing, except stripped of its soul, its passion, its humanity, and marked by lurid signs of cruelty and bloodlust.

The book

The movie

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