The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: THE BEING (1983)
After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago, Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas, and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
In the short span of Jackie Kong’s cinematic career* there are a scant four features. Out of those, I had only previously seen one, BLOOD DINER, courtesy of last year’s Horror Movie Night line-up. This is a completely wacky, over-the-top homage to H.G. Lewis’ splatter classic BLOOD FEAST. The film is full of blood and intentional camp - and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. After seeing something like that, and knowing that her other two films are comedies, I figured that her first film would be more of the same - I was wrong. THE BEING (1983) has a few goofy moments but overall it is played quite serious, especially when it comes to the lead actor’s performance.
“The ultimate terror has taken form, and Pottsville, Idaho will never be the same.”
The small town of Pottsville, Idaho is a lovely place to spend your time. They keep things nice and clean. It’s the kind of place with the corner diner where everyone is a regular. But over Easter weekend things go a bit awry with many of the citizens disappearing. Detective Mortimer Lutz (Bill Osco) has his hands full with the missing townspeople, not to mention the mayor breathing down his neck over the recent allegations of nuclear waste being dumped into the town’s aquifer. Wonder if the two could be related? Soon enough Lutz comes face-to-face with the culprit, a strange looking bloodthirsty creature, but, as the case usually is in these situations, no one believes him. He seems to be the only one to see the creature and people think he’s a bit off his rocker. He even has a very TWILIGHT ZONE-esque dream sequence involving something on the wing of a plane. In this case it’s not a Gremlin, or even the creature in question, but the town scientist (!) Dr. Garson Jones (Martin Landau). As he and his love interest/waitress Laurie attempt to rid the town of this being death definitely ensues.
For the second HMN film in a row we are given some interesting scientific research to digest. Here Dr. Jones, who seems to be followed by an ever present camera crew, does a little experiment on the news to calm the nerves of the townsfolk, as well as potential potato buyers. With a glass of water from the local aquifer, a watch and a Geiger counter he demonstrates the amount of radiation emanating from the water is substantially less than from his wristwatch. Therefore, “one must conclude that dumping nuclear waste into the aquifer does not, and will not, affect the water.” Boom! You’ve been learned!
But the doc has much more important matters to tend to in Pottsville. There’s the pressing threat of “smut” infiltrating their happy community and tearing it apart. The mayor’s wife is head of the Sweeper Committee for Stamping Out Smut (yes, they actually sweep the area they are picketing) and there is a dangerous threat of a possible massage parlor setting up shop and they are going to “sweep the smut right out of this town.” But Jones comes to the Sweeper’s defence with his professional endorsement, making this priority one. He assures the cameras that “this is the kind of contamination we really have to worry about” and keeping porn out of the city is every person’s responsibility.
This Sweeper story really ends here and has no real bearing on the rest of the film. Maybe Kong was trying to point out how covering up for real problems with moral issues is something we need not turn a blind eye too. Or maybe the being which attacks people is the physical manifestation of perversion, whether from smut or toxins introduced into the environment, reeking its vengeance on mankind. Then again, it could just be some weird secondary plot device used to pad out the running time.
For a horror flick with a killer mutant on the loose the biggest shock it delivers is the cast. Kong managed to round up some pretty good talent. Really, why the hell did Martin Landau agree to do this? Not that the film is all that bad, but because of what it is, and who he is, it doesn’t make too much sense. Kong also managed to snag José Ferrer (THE SENTINEL, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) and Ruth Buzzi (LAUGH-IN) as Pottsville’s mayor and his wife. Everyone in the cast does a decent job, even the small parts, like the awesome stoned guys at the drive-in, one of which gives a brilliant reaction shot.
Who shall lead this cast of characters of fairly strong performances? Bill Osco as Det. Lutz, that’s who. Yeah, I don’t blame you if that name has no effect on you whatsoever. I was the same way. No surprise but this is his only leading role. Osco is mostly known as the producer of a bunch of sleaze and adult flicks. In this commanding performance he manages to lead a film as the worst of the cast by far. He barely breaks from the same monotone deadpan delivery through the entire film. When everyone is laughing, when everyone is screaming, when everyone is acting our main man remains a consummate stone-faced professional. Before you ask, at one time he was married to Kong and served as producer on all four of her features. Guess the mystery of his casting isn’t too hard to nail down.
THE BEING is not just cut-and-dry, it is shrouded in some mystery. We meet a woman, Marge Smith, who spends the majority of the film crying out for her little Michael and looking for him everywhere. Other than being tormented for being a witch by some local kids who throw shit on her door from a full bucket (?), each time we see her she is crying out for this missing Michael. But who is Michael? Even though the narrator - this movie does in fact have two, counting the DJ - says a small child is missing and it cuts to a kid, pre-teen age, running from something he is never named. He’s actually credited as “Running Boy”. One scene shows the creature in Marge’s home coming from a child’s room but it’s the room of a very small child. There’s a crib and a mobile, nothing like what would be in the room of a boy at the age of the one running at the beginning of the film. This brings into question if Michael is an unrelated missing person not mentioned by Sweet Talkin’ Gene or if he’s the being itself. Marge does call out to the creature as it runs from the house by the name Michael and later tells Laurie that the Nickelodeon style slime all over her porch railing is from old Mikey. Maybe her child somehow morphed into the monster terrorizing Pottsville. Of course Marge does not really seem to be all there, so who knows? Guess you’re left to complete that part of the story yourself. Like the peeling of an onion this film is full of layers.
One thing this film definitely gets right is “the being”. He is kept mostly under wraps and only show in shadows through the film until the final confrontation with ol’ Mort. When you finally get a good glimpse at the slimy bastard he resembles the love child of the xenomorph from ALIEN and the iconic Tarman zombie from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. It has the massive sharp teeth and overactive saliva glands of his mother and the drippy exterior from his paternal side. A very cool looking creature and the definite high point of the film for sure!
Laurie: But if this thing is actually killing people, then why is the mayor trying to keep it quiet?
Det. Lutz: Potatoes.
While this flick is much more serious than her other three features it does have its moments of comedy. There is an Easter egg hunt scene at the local church where a cute little toddler, rumored to be Kong’s own daughter, is going for eggs and every time the plastic prize is snatched from under her grasp by an older hunter. It’s an easy laugh but it had me giggling quite a bit, especially when the kid has her little fits of frustration. This is nothing compared to the end of the film where there is a really odd tonal shift. The being has been defeated, the DJ does a little wrap-up and there is a little stinger but before the credits roll we are treated to a brief “where are they now” sequence about the characters. Nothing too serious here like saying the mayor is now the first potato farmer in the White House and Lutz has moved onto a career as a stuntman. Then there are some very goofy freeze frame credits on the major cast including their death scenes when applicable. A very odd, light ending to this film.
THE BEING may not be the finest movie out there, or even in Jackie Kong’s brief filmography, but it has its merits. This would make a nice lighter movie to watch on Easter Sunday while the kids are out searching for eggs filled with candy. Definitely a good one to ease into the day before ending with another classic spring holiday splatter film - THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.
Time to First Blood: 5 minutes and 25 seconds
Body Count: 11 (and 1 cat)
Best Kill: Hole punched through a cop
Number of Expressions Displayed by Lutz: 1.5 (He smiles once)
Appearances by Michael: ?
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/2/11: THE CURSE (1987)
-3/9/11: MARDI GRAS MASSACRE (1978)
-3/16/11: TBD Next Week!
-3/23/11: THE VIDEO DEAD (1987)
*After doing a little research online I found that Jackie Kong has not dropped off the face of the Earth entirely. Her feature film career seemed to end in 1987 and save for credits on a TV show in 2001 no one had heard anything. She has a website at jackiekongfilms.com where she has updated as recently as last month about her whereabouts and the fact that she is working on a new film. She also debunks the misinformation on her IMDb page, has a scan of her driver’s license and mentions that a BLOOD DINER DVD is in the works by Lionsgate for release in 2011!