Now that I’ve got death by nuclear or atomic blasts on the mind, thanks to having re-watched Miracle Mile the other day, let’s travel into the surreal world of mysterious and deadly, glowing-atomic-death-in-a-box movies for this weekend’s Mind Control Double Bill.
Kiss Me Deadly ‘55
Kiss Me Deadly is one of the most grim, nihilistic film noirs of all time, and in the world of film noir, that’s saying a lot. Directed by Robert Aldrich, probably best known for The Dirty Dozen, based on the book by Mickey Spillane, featuring his detective Mike Hammer. Thing is, the screenwriter hired for the project, A. I. Bezzerides, thought the book was crap. He thought Hammer was a sadistic jerk. So first off, he ditched the plot, some typical gangster nonsense, and created something far weirder and darker.
In Bezzerides’s version, Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picks up a woman on the roadside (the great Cloris Leachman in her film debut) wearing nothing but a trenchcoat, just escaped from a mental institution. She doesn’t last long, but leaves Hammer with clues enough to get involved.
And what does he get involved in? There’s a valise out there containing something very valuable. Lots of people want it. Now Hammer does too. Because Bezzerides thought Hammer was such a son of a bitch, that’s how he wrote him, turning him into a petty, vicious, sadistic prick, who beats up and tortures anyone he wants info out of. Despite my recommending this movie, there’s a stretch in the middle during Hammer’s investigation where it’s not really a pleasant movie to be hanging out with. It’s hard to tell where anything is going, and Hammer is no fun at all. He’s a bastard and you kind of end up hating him.
But that valise. Eventually he finds it and it’s hot to the touch. He unlatches it, opens it barely a crack, and a hot white light shines forth. He shuts it fast.
This is not normal in a noir. It should be money. Even drugs. But some kind of mysterious atomic fuel? Now that’s something else. The end of the movie makes any boredom or frustration leading up to it all worthwhile.
Another thing to note: the opening credits of the movie scroll down instead of up. Which brings us to our second feature:
Repo Man ‘84
One of the greatest, weirdest movies of the ‘80s, written and directed by Alex Cox. It stars Emilio Estevez, in what is by far the best movie he’s ever been involved with, as a punk kid who gets a job repossessing cars with Harry Dean Stanton and some other weirdos, most notably “that guy” Tracey Walter, who has a lot to say about time travel and plates of shrimp.
The plot centers on a certain Chevy Malibu and what’s in its trunk, which something is directly inspired by Kiss Me Deadly’s box ‘o light. Whenever the trunk is opened, a blinding white light shines forth and reduces anyone looking at it to a pile of ashes. Is it too atomic fuel of some kind? Might be. Then again, it might be aliens. Atomic aliens?
There’s no excuse at all not to see Repo Man. If you haven’t seen it since the ‘80s, now’s the time to revisit it. There’s nothing much like it out there. It’s full of this odd, dead-pan humor throughout. The soundtrack is a classic. It is, above all, a very strange experience.
In a final nod to Kiss Me Deadly, Repo Man’s end credits scroll down. I don’t know why I like reverse-scrolling credits so much, but I do. There’s something kind of evil about them. And there’s something evil about this double bill. Enjoy!