BluRay/DVD Reviews

PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA / THE SALTON SEA / THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD

By • Mar 20th, 2008 •

Share This:

PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA
(Cinema Guild) 2004. 73 mins & 58 mins.

This is a charming movie about a pestilent American mega-disaster: an artificial sea not far from Palm Springs that gave great hope to entrepreneurs and home-owners that a world-class resort town would spring up, but all that springs up today are toxically dead fish, and worse. It’s for us what Bunuel’s LAND WITHOUT BREAD was to Spain, except that the US government won’t kick Metzler and Springer out of the country for having made it.

There are nicely framed vistas of seemingly irreversible decay. Also the camera discovers some exceedingly odd human specimens who fit nicely into the decadent environment but are treated mostly with dignity by the filmmakers. It’s no wonder that John Waters was attracted to the project – which he narrates, giving some flowery scripting his enthusiastic best.

I can’t let the review go without mentioning the colorful, appropriate font, used on the jacket cover, and throughout the film. It’s a lovely brush-stroke indicative of the thinking that informs the entire project. The intrepid, committed writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors got the mood of the piece just right.


THE SALTON SEA
(Warner Bros) 2002. 103 mins. 1.85:1 AR. “R” rating.

What more decadent locale for a modern noir than the Salton Sea? Except that very little of the film’s narrative takes plafce there. It’s more like what CHINATOWN was to that fim – a metaphor for decay. Of course when you see the shots of fish flappiknt impotently on the shore, you instantly realize “That’s our good old Salton Sea.”

A passel of chamelion-character actors have a great time improvising and fitting into the ensemble. D’Onofrio is particularly submerged in his character. But that’s not to play down the contributions of Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg at all. Kilmer really throws himself into it, his biggest drug culture immersion since THE DOORS.

Cinematography and Art Direction are remarkable, and the screenplay – to the extent it is adhered to by cast and director, is real and surreal by fits, and a joy to partake of. I don’t know how this one got by me – perhaps because, as I’ve read but can’t confirm, Warner Bros was so uncomfortable with the drug content and JKF assassination bit that it limited the film’s release – but I’m glad it was brought to my attention, and I heartily recommend it.


THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD
(United Artists) 1957. 83 mins.
Packaged both alone and on a double bill with IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

On a budget of a quarter of a million, this wonderful little ‘B’ kicks squid butt. It is in no way the lesser of the three Salton cinema excursions, in fact, fortunately, they fall into three separate categories so there is no reason to measure one against the other.

Much of this one, as with the Kilmer vehicle, is not shot on location, though a bit of it may have been, or perhaps it was just stock footage. It’s more the concept, courtesy of David (George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE) Duncan, that makes use of the toxic site, taking its ecological concerns to a hyperbolic conclusion, the result of which is the appearance of mutant sea mollusks which terrorize the inhabitants, providing some nifty shock-scares so emblematic of the era.

Tim Holt is a no-nonsense military protagonist. (Is there a Naval research base nearby, or was there in the 50s, doing test parachute jumps into the sea?) He looks a bit misshapen and worn-out a mere ten years after his youthful appearance in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, but gives the part his best effort. Audrey Dalton is real pretty, and Hans Conried, a fish out of salt water, gives a rare horror genre performance as the ‘scientist’, 16mm-footage-lecture-sequence and all, and makes the film all the more interesting for his presence in it.

The monsters are, partially, courtesy of Augie Lohman, who helped build the great tree across the chasm in the original KING KONG, and they’re big and menacing. The B&W cinematography by Lester White is excellent…perhaps the film’s best feature. Sadly, there is heavy speckling on all the “B” unit footage, particularly disturbing during the opening title shot, where it is so heavy that it actually looks like special effects.

MONSTER comes either alone on a DVD or, better yet, and just as inexpensively, on one of those MGM double bills, paired with the equally good, equally scary, predecessor to ALIEN – IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. Now let’s see, was MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD the predecessor to anything? Giant snails… hmmm… I don’t know…

Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,
Share This Article: Digg it | del.icio.us | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

One Response »

  1. You can watch the film’s trailer here:

    http://www.saltonseadoc.com/

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)