SATURDAY MORNING B-MOVIE CRAPFEST: “Creation of the Humanoids” (1962)

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Ok, now, see, *this* is what I’m talking about! This is exactly the kind of movie I was hoping to stumble across when I started writing this column. A movie of complete, inept, pervasive badness that is, at the same time, surprisingly smart and insightful, with a chewy core of ideas that - no matter how badly delivered - remain provoking. And believe you me, this is one badly-told movie.

I’d only seen this once before, in 1981, when I was in 8th grade. It scared the hell out of me as only a somewhat overwrought 13-year-old can be frightened. Well, “Scared” is perhaps too strong a word. It made me very uneasy, however. I remember my growing apprehension as the ideas the film was throwing out in its sleepily didactic way began stacking up in my brain, forcing me to extrapolate conclusions in my mind that, for whatever reason, seemed dangerous to me.

I’m not sure why. I was a fundamentalist at the time, and a fanatical one by most measures of such things. I’ve since relaxed, of course, but there was this extremely legalistic point in my spiritual life in which I was constantly aware of my shortcomings, constantly afraid of going to hell, constantly trying to cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s to ensure my salvation, constantly trying to prevent myself from thinking things that would lead me into dangerous thoughts, which, of course, is impossible: You can’t force yourself not to think something, because in order to not think it, you need to first define what it is you’re trying to avoid thinking about, which, of course, means you’re thinking about it. If I sit in a corner, rocking in my vaguely Aspergery way, thinking “Mustn’t think of the color blue, mustn’t think of the color blue, mustn’t think of the color blue,” then I am, obviously, thinking of the color blue every time I think I mustn’t think about it.

Think about it! You can’t force yourself not to think of a specific thing, the best you can do is distract yourself. Bottom line, if anyone’s wondering, I’m still a Christian (or rather I should say I’m once again a Christian, after several years off for bad behavior), but I’ve since grasped the whole “Grace” concept that was completely escaping me in my nervous, twitchy, OCD youth.

Even so, I’m not sure what it was about this movie that frightened me back in the day. Questions of identity? The idea that man could create something with a soul? But I’d read lots of books with that idea by that point. The idea of discovering you’re a robot who thinks he’s a human? But I used to pretend that was the case all the time in grade school. No clue, really, I was just a weird kid.

So on the one hand, this movie put me off. On the other hand, this is such a bad film, such a bland film, such a monumentally boring film that I *never* saw it again on TV. Never. This film is so amazingly ponderous that it makes “Paris, Texas” look like a frenetic fun-filled romp by comparison, so boring and poorly made that Andy Warhol considered it his favorite film. Ever wonder why all those Warhol movies were so oddly out-of-phase and disjointed? It’s ‘cause he was trying to emulate this one, baby. He was shooting for the paragon of crap, and he hit the target.

And yet it’s an oddly *smart* bad film.

I should point out that there’s a difference between a merely bad movie like “Killers From Space” (
http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%E... ) and bad movies that just aim to be adventuresome popcorn flicks like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” ( http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%E... ); between halfassed misguided kiddie flicks like “The Green Slime” ( http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%E... ) and movies that try to say something smart, but end up fumbling the ball, like “Conquest of Space” ( http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%E... ); in fact, there’s even a difference between “Fun Bad” moves, like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and unwatchable bad movies like “The Beast from 10,000 Leagues” ( http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%E... ), and it’s unfair to use the same smelly yardstick of feculence to judge all of them, because they’re all trying for different things.

But far and away, my *favorite* bad film is the movie that takes a brilliant central concept, tries to educate and entertain, and completely, utterly fails to do either. Which brings us to the shining example of this which is “Creation of the Humanoids,” truly one of the most unwatchable films ever made.

And I kind of love it

PLAY BY PLAY

We start out with stock footage of a desert atomic blast, and some random electronic noises while a woman attempts to imitate a Theremin. A narrator informs us that there was a nuclear war that nearly wiped out humanity, and the survivor were forced to rely on humanoid robots for much of the grunt-work, since there were so few people. We’re treated to a montage of android evolution that is unbelievably silly, and we’re told that these ‘bots - disparagingly called ‘clickers’ - have also gotten smarter and smarter as time marches on.

Once the story gets going, we see some guys in vaguely 19th century uniforms. They’re harassing passing androids, and they’re wearing Confederate kepis, so you just know they’re evil racists, right? One of these guys - named “Craigus” - also hassles a pretty blonde woman named “Maxine” who’s just a terrible, terrible actress. A cop comes by and tells Craigus and pal to knock it off, but Craigus simply states his rank in the “Order of Flesh and Blood,” and allows as how he’s the captain of the Order’s “Surveilance Committee” and the cop backs right down, and apologizes. So these guys are (A) not cops, and (B) operate in the open and (C ) are dangerous. Think “Klu Klux Klan meets Schutzstaffel” and you’re on the right track.

Meanwhile, two of the androids Craigus was hassling to go “The Temple,” where the robots are recharged. One of them, who reminded me a bit of Michael Ansara, confers with two others, and is given the task of taking an android that has been illegally made to look human back to the doctor/machinist to add a couple finishing touches. Androids are all grey and bald, their entire eyes are black like Lyta Alexander when she’s in full-on Vorlon Psychic mode, and they all wear these communist Chinese looking uniforms.

These two go to see “Professor Raven,” a human who’s involved in nefarious dealings with the androids, in exchange for an “Agreement” that they’ll perform for him at some point in the future. The androids bring Raven people who’ve recently died, and he downloads their brain into a chip, which he implants into the head of androids who’ve been made to look exactly like the dead person. The android wakes up after a short blackout, thinks it’s human, thinks “Wow, I was lucky to survive” whatever the thing was that killed the human, and goes on about his/her/its life. One hour a day, they remember what they are, and report in to the temple, but they have no memory of this afterwards.

We’re treated to a neat philosophical exchange:

Raven: You’re just a machine, you were built in a factory.
Clicker: Your parents were machines, too, just biological machines rather than mechanical. I know who created me. You need to accept your creator on faith.
Raven: Who created your creator?
Clicker: Yours. You see, we are brothers.

Craigus and his goons raid the lab. Rather than kill himself and be executed, Raven reactivates the skinjob they were working on, based on a person who apparently drank himself to death, or was killed in a bar fight. This man immediately kills Raven in a drunken rage. (“Accuse my sister of loving a robot, will ya?”) Craigus quickly realizes the man is a robot, and for the first time ever, a ‘bot has killed a person.

The Order of Flesh and Blood calls an emergency meeting - a Looooooooooooooong emergency meeting - to discuss this development. Their scientists find the chip, and figure out what it does, but they can’t figure out how it works, nor what to do about it. Androids are rated between R-21 and R-100. R-100 is really interchangeable with Man, so, of course, it’s illegal to build anything above an R-70. The skinjob they just captured - who was damaged in the inspection - was an R-35 that had been modified and upgraded to an R-96, the most advanced ‘bot ever built. Really the only way it’s lacking is that it can’t reproduce, otherwise it’s human, and it thinks it’s human.

The Order decides to play this murder up for their own political advantage, and the Grand Poobah of the order informs Craigus of some scandalous news about his sister: she’s shacked up with a clicker sexbot/servant/boy toy thing. Given his high position, they gave him the option of handling this personally and quietly, rather than have his adversaries use it against them.

Craigus goes to see his sister, and her new wind-up boyfriend, and we have a looooooooooooong philosophical discussion about the nature of love, affection, and so forth. His sister makes a fairly strong argument that her love for the ‘bot is real since the ‘bot is sentient, and because she paid for it, and because he’s been programmed to love her. There’s a kind of parallel thought process going on between her and her boy toy, so they both want the same thing. She makes about as good an argument as you can make for this sort of thing, and it’s clearly meant to be positive, but it still plays creepy as hell, both with her reductionist explanation of what love is, and also the obvious sex-slave-with-occasional-laundry-duties nature of their relationship. I mean, willing slavery is still slavery, right?

Craigus flies into a rage and mutilates her boy toy, which he just shrugs off, and his sister compares him to their reactionary ludite dad: “Father was against everything, space travel, atomic power, synthetic foods. Remember how he used to brag about raiding the weather control station?” Craigus decries his dad’s actions, and states that his anti-robot bigotry is completely different, in fact, it’s the one thing him and dear old dad agreed about.

“Maxine,” the woman he hassled in the beginning of the movie, shows up as a work chum of Craigus’ sister. Her and Craigus immediately get into an awkward staredown that’s supposed to be romantic, but, like everything else in this movie, is as awkward and offputting as something from a Jim Jarmush flick. The two of them immediately abandon Craigus’ sister, and head off to make out in public.

We get a looooooooooooooooooooooooooong sequence - even by the standards of this film - in which they alternately smooch, talk about love, smooch some more, talk about getting married, talk about how 1/4th of all kids these days are mutants, and how the human race is going extinct, and how they don’t want to be supplanted by the robots. Craigus is afraid to have kids, since he played in the radioactive ruins of a city a lot as a kid. Suddenly both of them go all zombie-like.

A couple androids show up and take them to the temple.

Inside the temple we discover that *both* of them are R-96 model cylons…excuse me, Robots - who believe they’re human. After debriefing, they come back to themselves, and are introduced to Professor Raven 2.0 - an android body that Raven downloaded his brain into, via his electronic soulcatcher.

He explains to them that they’re both androids, and they take it surprisingly well, considering he’s an android-hating Nazi and she’s a bad actress. Actually, maybe she doesn’t take it well. Frankly, it’s hard to tell. Did I mention she’s a bad actress?

Raven explains the nefarious plan isn’t nefarious at all: The androids are part of a secret society called the “Council for Human Preservation,” and they’ve concocted a plan to save us, since we’re going extinct: They replace us when we die with R-96 models. Eventually, Craigus - biological scientist by day, grand wizard by night - will announce that he’s discovered immortality, and they’ll make the whole thing public knowledge.

Maxine is upset that she can’t have kids in her new life, but Raven says that he can upgrade both of them to R-100 status, and she’ll be able to have babies. Then he turns to the camera and says, “And obviously the experiment must have worked, or else you wouldn’t be here.”

The End

OBSERVATIONS

You may have noticed that my synopsis is far shorter than usual. That’s because this 90-minute movie really only has about seven scenes in it. I’m not kidding: We have the street scene in the beginning, followed by the temple scene, the lab scene, the Emergency Meeting of the Racists scene, the “My sister loves a lovebot” scene, the makin’ out in the street scene, and the second temple scene, and that’s it. Each one of these goes on for between ten and fifteen minutes. The characters come to a new location, exposit a hell of a lot, then move to the next scene and exposit some more.

Really it’s more like watching a play than watching a movie, and the fact that each of the sets *clearly* only have one wall doesn’t help matters any. And of course the blocking is the worst kind of daytime soap blandness: Two people are talking on a set. One person wanders to one side and talks a bit. The other wanders over to them, and talks a bit. They talk in close proximity, then one or the other of them walks over to the far side and chats for a moment before the other comes over to join them. Camera shots are long, with few cuts, long and medium shots are preferred over closeups, the vistas in the distance are clearly just backdrops, the temple is a limbo set only slightly more detailed than the set decoration in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” I’m telling you, this is as bland as bland can be.

Made worse by the conflict being entirely verbal and philosophical, rather than physical. The robots are thought to be bad, but they’re actually not. The protagonist realizes he’s a robot, and that he was wrong about the other ‘bots all along. The end. Yeah, there’s one fistfight and a mutilation in there, but both of these are clumsy and out of place, and make no impact on the story.

Direction is terrible. Granted, the choice of shots must have been irritatingly scant given the sets they were working on, but does this explain Director Wesley Barry’s decision to start each scene like a second before people start talking, and end several seconds after they stop? Where did the idea to have everyone deliver their lines in a…slow…manner….with…pauses….between….every….word come from? Mr. Barry has a shocking fifty-something directorial credits to his name (most in TV), so he must have known better. I mean, he even was the producer on this mess, how could he not know it was crap? Before becoming a director, he acted in a shocking sixty-five movies, so clearly it couldn’t be that he just didn’t know how to work with actors. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. It is so amazingly deliberately slow, glacial like Noh drama.

I honestly think this movie was shot in basically twenty-one takes - three for each scene. They did one pass for the wide shots, one for the middle-range shots, and one for the (relative) close ups. Many of the cuts in individual scenes - and there’s not a lot of ‘em - can be explained as points where the actors flubbed their lines, and had to go to a different take.

And yet, strangely, there is an undeniable creepy vibe to this movie that, I’m sure, is completely unintentional. It’s unsettling. The robots are suitably inscrutable, with their blacked-out eyes, and their deliberate motion, and their unsettling habit of never looking at each other when they talk, nor looking at the things they pick up or equipment they use. The pacing is so slow, so out of the norm that it triggers that part of you which expects the shark to jump up in the background and scare hell out of you. So you tense up, waiting for the shark, but the shark never comes. Think of the spacewalk scenes, from 2001, and how simultaneously calm and tense they are, and you’ll get a feel for this movie.

Really the only good actor in this mess is Don Megowan as Craigus. Primarily a character actor in westerns, he’s got an relatively stiff, stagy manner that actually seems relaxed in comparison to everyone else. He’s kind of a low-rent Charlton Heston, spewing the most ridiculous things with bone-dry seriousness. There’s a very thin line between ‘imperious’ and ‘dull’, and Don manages to on the ‘imperious’ side, if only barely.

Not surprisingly, this film marked the end of Erica Elliot’s career. She played Maxine. She had a brief career, just four gigs in two years, and then she disappears. I’m always curious when that happens. Poor thing. It makes me feel bad about correctly assessing her talents.

Don Doolittle, who plays “Raven” has a similarly inexpansive career - just four credits, of which this was the second, yet bizarrely it was spaced out over eleven years.

So there’s plenty to dislike in this film, but I still pretty much love it. Why?

Because it’s freakin’ brilliant, if you can discount all the stupidity. By which I mean that the film is actually trying to challenge its audience. It’s not just zam-bang-boom Flash Gordon stuff, nor alien boogymen stuff, it’s actually asking very fertile questions about the nature of man and of identity itself.

I mean, think about it: this is territory that’s been fascinatingly mined by Blade Runner, by the new Galactica, by Bicentennial Man, and by half a zillion Philip K. Dick stories. We’re not just touching on this to make way for a hot naked chick making out with a greasy-haired short British dude, either. No, no, no, we’re in full-on philosophical mode here. The Robots have a somewhat gnostic view of the world, with humans as a demiurge that facilitated their own creation. I mean, show me another crappy B-movie where you’re gonna’ get dialog like this:

Raven 2.0: if a man has a leg, does he loose his soul?
Craigus: No, a man’s soul isn’t diminished by that.
Raven 2.0: If he looses both legs, does that diminish his soul?
Craigus: Of course not, you can’t multiply a negative. He just goes out and gets artificial legs.
Raven 2.0: And you’ve been an artificial body. Is that so different?

And somewhat later:

Craigus: This operation must transplant the soul, then?
Raven 2.0: No, but it transplants the faith that you have a soul, and that’s enough.

So there’s some real thought put into this, some real philosophy, and unlike those 3 AM dorm room bong conversations we’ve all had, where we end up deciding the meaning of live is whatever the cute chick in the corner says it is, so you’ve got a better chance of having sex with her, these more-or-less make sense.

This is all the more amazing coming from writer Jack Simm, who gave us such other crapfest classics as “The Giant Gilla Monster” and “The Killer Shrews.” He was mostly known for doing TV westerns and sitcoms, so the idea that he had something intriguing as this stirring around in his mellon is intriguing.

I also have to admire a movie that doesn’t shy away from introducing us to an icky racist organization we think are the good guys, then gradually revealing them to be far worse. They engage in terrorist bombings, it seems. Granted, they do this in the most boring way possible, but it’s still an uncomfortable and chancy way to make a movie of this sort.

One bit that jumped out at me was when Craigus and his sister are talking about their Ludite father, who opposed Robots, Space Ships, Nuclear Power, Synthetic Food, and everything. This is put forward in the movie as an archetype of what conservatism is, but in actual fact, it struck me as liberal hippie crap. Then that made me think that Hippies are people who are so conservative that perhaps they can’t tolerate anything invented in the last five hundred years or so. That amused me, but was clearly totally unintentional and in my own head.

So, really, there’s a whole heck of a lot of clever stuff going on in this film, if you can discount the acting, direction, sound, sets, action, inaction, lighting, pace, shoddiness, and unrelenting awfulness of the production. I recognize not everyone is capable of doing that, of course.

So, in the end, I’m not saying that this is a good movie: It’s clearly a great big steaming pile of horse crap, but if you’re capable of looking closer you’ll discover that it’s a steaming pile of horse crap defecated from an animal that, for whatever reason, had been eating diamonds.

Unlike any other film we’ve done in the “Crapfest” column, this one really really tries to say something important, to matter, and though they mostly fail in every observable measure, the fact that they tried makes them loveable to me. I just love this move that once scared me.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?

Sure, why not? Stranger things have happened.

If you’d like to watch this movie, you can do so free online here

http://www.clicker.com/movie/creation-of-the-humanoids.html

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