Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Being from Another Planet (Byzantine Productions, 1982)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The movie I ran was a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of a 1982 (a bit late in the day for an MST3K film) movie called The Being from Another Planet — a title that actually gives away almost the entire plot and which wasn’t the original release title: it was Time Walker, which would have been more ambiguous but also even more incomprehensible given the actual content of the movie. It begins with a crudely lettered credit sequence set against the backdrop of ancient Egyptian art (and the actors’ names — Royce Alexander, Ben Murphy, Michelle Avonne, Nina Axelrod, Kevin Brophy, Annie Barbieri and the ever-popular Robert Random — are so preposterous that between that and the crude lettering of their names it looks like the credit sequence for a porn film!) and the central character turns out to be anthropologist Douglas McCadden (Ben Murphy), who discovers that there’s another sarcophagus in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

It turns out to belong to Ankh-Venharis (Jack Olson), who’s inadvertently brought back to life when it’s brought back to the college where McCadden teaches and, in an attempt to X-ray the mummy before they open its coffin, it’s exposed to the maximum dose of X-rays. One of the students opens a secret compartment in the coffin and extracts five crystals, and Ankh-Venharis goes on a crime spree to recover them from the other students to which the thief has given them. There’s also a green mold that’s found on the mummy that’s incredibly toxic — it instantly burns your skin if you come in contact with it and turns you into a bubbling black mass — and a triangular medallion onto which the mummy places each of the five crystals when he recovers them. When he has all five, he starts transforming from a mummy into an androgynous space alien (it’s only about 10 minutes before the end of the movie that it’s finally confirmed to us that he is a being from another planet) that looks like Annie Lennox in one of her farther-out videos; he then beams up from this planet, Rocky Horror-style, but not before leaving some mold behind to eat up the university P.R. person who wanted the discovery revealed to the press well before McCadden was ready to do so.

Did I also mention that when the mummy disappears from its “box” there’s a school-wide search for it — or that the mummy gets the power to run his interplanetary travel gizmo by patching into the university’s on-site nuclear reactor? The Being from Another Planet is an example of the sort of film that could have been genuinely frightening and entertaining if its makers (director Tom Kennedy and writers Tom Friedman, Jason Williams and Karen Levitt) hadn’t bobbled the execution at almost every turn; the film is shot in Murkovision — cinematographer Robbie Greenberg (and yes, the MST3K crew had fun mocking the diminutive form of his first name!) has an unerring instinct for making all the most important shots so dark you can’t possibly tell what’s supposed to be going on — and it’s one of those movies in which the fact that it’s in color just makes it look tackier.

It’s also a film that makes the 1932 Mummy look even better than it is — the more I’ve seen later mummy movies (including the first two in Stephen Sommers’ recent cycle) the more I admire what Boris Karloff, Karl Freund and John L. Balderston accomplished in that 1932 masterpiece: a marvelous mixture of doomed romanticism and chills (there, too, a naïve young idiot inadvertently brings the mummy to life, but Freund makes it genuinely scary while Kennedy just makes it look normal for a mummy to get out of its coffin and walk around), in which Karloff’s heartbreaking line delivery indicates what a fine romantic actor he could have been if his craggy face and tall, gaunt appearance (as well as his age — he was 42 when he made Frankenstein) hadn’t marked him for character roles even before he got “typed” in the horror genre. It’s not clear what the makers of The Being from Another Planet were hoping to accomplish, but this is an example of a film with some evidently serious intentions whose reach fell so far short of its grasp that it ended up suitable for MST3K.