Thursday, 27 March 2008

Shock Corridor (1963)

Samuel Fuller’s 1963 opus Shock Corridor is the most bizarre film I’ve seen since….well, since the last Samuel Fuller film I saw (The Naked Kiss). Fuller had made various westerns, war movies and crime films in the 40s and 50 but nothing could have prepared audiences for the sudden extreme weirdness of his early 60s movies. Imagine One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest remade by Ed Wood jnr and you have some idea of what to expect from Shock Corridor. A journalist comes with a scheme to solve a murder committed in a mental hospital and at the same time to come up with a story that will be guaranteed to win him a Pulitzer Prize (the Pulitzer Prize being his big obsession). He will pretend to be committing incest with his sister so he can be committed to the mental hospital in question. The fact that he doesn’t have a sister I just a minor detail. He’ll get his girlfriend to pretend to be his sister. Needless to say, he finds that getting into a mental hospital is a lot easier than getting out again! There were three witnesses to the murder, all patients in the institution. All are quite mad, but he’s convinced he can get the answers from them.

What follows is intended to a harrowing account of the horrors of madness and of incarceration in an inane asylum, but the movie is so outrageously badly made that it will provoke more laughs than shudders. There is intended perhaps to be an element of black comedy in this film (I think, although to be honest it’s difficult to know what Fuller was thinking of), but it comes cross as more camp than black comedy. The scene where the journalist inadvertently wanders into the “nympho ward” and the poor boy is subjected to an attempted pack rape by a dozen crazed “nymphomaniacs” will have you howling with laughter. The acting is unforgettable. You’ll try to forget it, but you won’t be able to. Constance Towers plays the journalist’s girlfriend (the one pretending to be his sister). She also starred in Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, made the following year. Her acting reaches Meryl Streepian depths of awfulness, although it has to be said in her favour that you’ll get a few laughs out of it, which is more than you’ll get from Ms Streep’s acting. She has some stern competition in this movie though. Peter Breck as the reporter provides an extraordinary mix of woodenness and hysteria. Despite its staggering ineptness there’s a certain fascination to Shock Corridor. You find yourself compelled to keep watching. And it does have something to say. Nobody knows what it’s trying to say, but it’s definitely trying. It is entertaining, and it’s certainly preferable to the dreary sludge that mainstream Hollywood had been churning out for the previous decade. It’s worth seeing for its strangeness value alone.

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