Tuesday, March 24, 2015
1989's "Lobster Man From Mars" a refreshing film
"Lobster Man" seems right on the mark for what it was seeking to attain. It was a spoof of movies on the lower end of the budget spectrum. I hesitate using words like "spoof" or "parody." I'm not sure it was consciously done that way. Some of those '50s 'B' movies of the sci-fi genre stand as parodies unto themselves. Let's say "many" of those sci-fi movies. This is how we got "Mystery Science Theater 3000." That ground has been covered. "Lobster Man" reminds me more of a college student sense of humor. It's very impulsive and direct. "Let's put a film noir detective in the movie." Why not, because then we can have fun with those cliches. It's not as if such a character fits neatly into the movie. He doesn't. But he's definitely funny.
I have this 1989 movie on VHS tape. I dusted it off to watch it again the other day. I found it refreshing. The '80s were the last decade with no Internet. So, we see a world where people adapt to their environment with none of that digital wizardry. Somehow people got by. The detective uses a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
"Lobster Man from Mars" had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. A movie like this must have intrigued Tony Curtis. The big-name Hollywood guy not only directs the movie, he stars in it. He plays big shot Hollywood film producer "J.P. Shelldrake." He is arrogant and feels he needn't be distracted by the boring matter of paying taxes. So he constantly tells his exasperated accountant to "just take care of everything." Phil Proctor plays the accountant.
The accountant decides that Shelldrake needs to release a flop movie so the expenses can be written off. Shelldrake owes millions in back taxes. Onto the scene comes young aspiring filmmaker Stevie Horowitz. Stevie is to moviemaking what I am to songwriting. I write songs because I have a passion for it, but I certainly wouldn't mind monetizing it at some point. I try not to be delusional. People like us can get our eyes glazed over and start thinking we really have a shot. We love what we do. That kind of passion can give you blinders to reality.
Stevie Horowitz has repeatedly tried to get Shelldrake's attention. So much so, he has real rapport, a flirting type of rapport in fact, with the young female office assistant. At the end we see these two breaking the shackles of their mundane, insignificant existence.
Stevie's newest cinematic adventure is "Lobster Man From Mars." It might be just another unfortunate effort by a deluded soul. Of course, there's nothing wrong with Stevie's passion if he recognizes its limits. People like us have trouble doing that. Stevie gets a break in an oddball way, though. Shelldrake needs that flop movie. Shelldrake agrees to screen "Lobster Man From Mars." The two sit side by side in the screening room. We occasionally see them exchanging comments.
"Lobster Man" appears to fit Shelldrake's aim of releasing a movie that bombs. The aim is thwarted when the movie does the opposite of that! At the end we hear a radio report of how the movie climbs the heights of success. It's like seeing a songwriter like me suddenly turning out a chart-topper. Maybe this is why I have a special affection for the movie. There are so many souls like Stevie and yours truly out there. We love our art. We don't expect financial reward but we would certainly take it. We plow forward. It's so endearing to see someone who is immersed in his art.
In the end, Stevie realizes in real life what stays mostly in our wildest dreams. It's exactly like winning the lottery. And not only that, Stevie appears about to consummate his flirting relationship with that charming office assistant. She too realizes her dreams of maybe "becoming someone" albeit as an extension of Stevie. It's an inspiration for all the faceless souls who toil daily in anonymity.
Shelldrake's conceit has caught up to him. His chutzpah overcomes him. He's powerless in the face of the awesome IRS. We see no IRS people in the movie. It's just this cloud of threatening authority, the way all of us see that agency.
Stevie, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, got funding for his movie from his jailed con man uncle, "Joey." We see parallels with the Mel Brooks movie "The Producers." Oh, and "Mars Attacks" comes readily to mind too. "Mars Attacks" had budget limitations that stood in the way of stop-motion special effects. We got CGI instead. "Mars Attacks" was no quirky or obscure "film festival" type of movie. Most of us remember it.
An "acquired taste?"
"Lobster Man" stayed on the fringes for popularity, which is unfortunate. Maybe it's an acquired taste. I definitely had the taste to enjoy the movie from beginning to end. You can imagine the filmmakers simply having fun with it. They aren't cynically crafting a movie that will make the cash register go ka-ching. They are clearly having fun. They aren't desperate to make special effects work. I absolutely love the weird space bat creatures. They have a cackling laugh. The special effects are on the level of what we might see in "Gilligan's Island."
As a songwriter I loved the theme song that reflects the campy quality of the movie. Let's savor the lyrics: "He came from the stars, Lobster Man from Mars. Earthmen beware, he's after your air! No place to hide, Lobster's right outside!"
Some people might not like "Lobster Man from Mars." Maybe they don't remember movies like "Robot Monster." You have to hand it to many of those films: they had imagination. Yes, even "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Many of these movies could have been done on a higher budget basis and become quite legitimate.
The robot in the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was barely good enough from a special effects standpoint. I would assert that black and white was a "cover" for many marginal special effects, and I think the moviemakers in Hollywood were well aware of this. Color was not totally a step forward. The WWII movie "The Longest Day" was made in black and white at a time when color had completely taken over. Color is much more revealing. There are some things, like the bleak nature of WWII combat, that are best obscured.
It has been written that "Lobster Man's" unapologetic low-budget look is a "translucent veneer." An apt characterization. We see an over-the-top melodrama. The detective hardly fits seamlessly into the movie. He seems impulsively added in by someone who was just amused by the cliche aspects of film noir. "I'm just a passer-by from Palookaville" is intoned with a sax player in the background.
"Lobster Man" has an in-film narrator. I love Deborah Foreman in this movie. She's such an attractive sweetheart. Her significant other is played by the equally perfect Anthony Hickox who shows a special earnestness. Tony Curtis knew what he was doing in selecting these two. Is Deborah Foreman still working? She and Anthony play "John and Mary," a young and innocent couple. They find the hiding place of a flying saucer in a dark cave. They strive to warn authorities but are ignored.
We get a haunted house. It's surrounded by boiling hot springs. Get it? Maybe the evil "Lobster Man" can be coaxed into the boiling water. Enter "Colonel Ankrum," the chauvinistic military guy. We see stock footage of soldiers firing mortar weapons. Ankrum has the house destroyed. The Lobster Man is in possession of Mary and flees to his cave. In an absurd and funny scene we see Mary promising not to escape and Lobster Man believing her. Of course she escapes. Lobster Man pursues.
The movie reaches its climax at Yellowstone Park. Mary lures Lobster Man to walk over the Old Faithful Geyser, and you know what happens. A lobster's death!
We see Bobby Pickett in this movie - remember, from "Monster Mash" - as the king of Mars. The plot premise is that Mars is afflicted by a shortage of air. I guess it's "leaking." Pickett commands the unsavory "Lobster Man" with his assistant, "Mombo," to fly to Earth via flying saucer. Oh, "Mombo" is a gorilla wearing a space helmet. The two have a mission: to "steal our air." We never see how this would be done, but it's no matter.
Lobster Man has a weapon that turns his victims into smoking skeletons. At the end the victims are all restored or cured like the victims in "The Brothers Grimm."
Lens to an earlier time
We meet John and Mary along a lonely road. The plot unfolds. We see quaint aspects of life before digital communications. Small businesses operate in a slow-paced, small-scale and boring way. People are in no hurry to make money - they just do what they have to do. There are aspects of this lifestyle I miss, like the gas station attendants that would befriend you. You'd "send in film for developing."
The heroes of this movie are imbued with goodness. The Lobster Man is evil incarnate. Remember the days of drive-in movies? Our town of Morris had its own drive-in out where the Hosanna church is located. One can easily see "Lobster Man From Mars" on the screen of such a place.
If you're a sci-fi purist and feel such stories must be taken totally seriously, you'll have problems with "Lobster Man From Mars." I remember the short-lived '70s TV series "Quark." It was an all-out parody of movies like "Star Wars." Remember the series star? It was Richard Benjamin. Didn't he direct the significant movie "My Favorite Year?"
At least one of the "Star Trek" movies gave us some parody. We see the Star Trek heroes go back in time to the 1960s. They are warned: "These people are primitive and they can get excited." Sure enough we see a hyper motorist. Spock walks around San Francisco, a tall man wearing a robe and with pointed ears, and no one cares. It's San Francisco. What a hoot.
I definitely got a hoot out of "Lobster Man From Mars" and its space bat creatures! I'd love to watch this flick again in the future. Maybe I'm just in love with Deborah Foreman, I don't know. Let's do a Google check on her:
Stevie Horowitz is played by Dean Jacobson. What a story: a young man is impassioned by an avocation, filmmaking, and he makes it big at the end. Maybe this is an appeal of the movie. We all have hobbies in which we overestimate our abilities. Dave Barry has written "there's a fine line between having a hobby and mental illness." Barry's assessment is spot-on.
What we see in "Lobster Man" is the likeable and unpretentious Horowitz character who fulfills every hobbyist's dream. He becomes the studio's new boy wonder. Not only that, he "gets the girl." Perfect plot resolution. Me, I'll take Deborah Foreman.
To those of you who found this post doing search, please listen to my songs! Here's a link to the YouTube page that has my songs. Please share any foodback. God bless.