(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
Jack Pollexfen directs Indestructible Man, a 1956 science fiction/horror film that features Lon Chaney, Jr. as the titular character and employs certain film noir sensibilities. The screenplay by Vy Russell and Sue Dwiggins isn’t exactly the stuff of legend and it’s almost impossible to make the argument that this is a traditionally good movie, but it’s not without entertainment value.
Much like many cheapies of this era, Indestructible Man is cobbled together from a handbook of genre clichés and a pile of stock footage. Some may even recognize hints from other motion pictures, with the climax in sewers awfully reminiscent of the 1948 film noir He Walked by Night. Of course, Werker and Mann’s movie proved what “Poverty Row” studios could do with innovation. Pollexfen’s movie does not.
The film opens with the tremendously-named detective Dick Chasen (Max Showalter) explaining the details of a recent case, which commences the flashback narrative style. The tale concerns the Butcher (Chaney, Jr.), a murderer set for the death penalty. Prior to the big day, he swears revenge on the criminals he worked for.
After he’s executed, the Butcher’s corpse is taken to a doctor (Robert Shayne) who somehow brings the killer back to life. The Butcher sets out on his course of revenge, which includes finding a showgirl (Marian Carr) and a map to some cash. Chasen is on the trail, too, and he falls for the showgirl. What’s more, the Butcher seems to be impossible to kill.
Chaney, Jr. doesn’t have many lines in the film and that gives the Butcher an odd source of strength, which boosts his imperishable appeal. He functions like a Jason Voorhees, stalking and lumbering after his enemies and even slaughtering a few people who don’t deserve it. Whether he’s killing a helpful motorist and stealing his car or charging a roadblock, Chaney, Jr. lets his face do the work.
Chasen is the opposite of the Butcher in that he won’t shut up. His narration is endless and he provides too much exposition, explaining and over-explaining critical plot points so that the audience is never lost for a second. To follow-up, other characters will explain what Chasen’s voiceover has already explained. It gets more than a little tiresome.
In fairness, the Chasen voiceover is intended as a nod to film noir. He attempts to play the rumpled, conflicted detective with an affection for a certain stripper. He’s constantly talking about the moral struggle he feels wandering into the burlesque house, but that doesn’t stop him from taking Carr’s Eva out on a date for hamburgers.
There are some truly goofy scenes and the whole grave style of Indestructible Man keeps it from being a total bore. Consider how the Butcher lifts one of his victims over his head and throws him over the stairs, for instance, or how he finds trouble at the substation just in time to trot out the big makeup job.
There’s also a fair bit of eye candy for those into that sort of thing. Pollexfen seems particularly interested in finding capricious reasons to return to the burlesque house, jogging out additional scenes that have Eva trading shifts with a coworker. Other showgirls and strippers prance around in the background or foreground in various states of leggy revelation, too.
Make no mistake about it, Pollexfen’s film is fairly typical of 1950s low-end science fiction and horror. It’s a hodgepodge of stock footage, half-baked ideas and hysterical surplus. The voiceover is stuck on overkill and the acting is wooden. Still, there’s something enjoyable about this 70-minute jaunt and it can be fun to watch Chaney, Jr. stalk around in his admittedly lesser form.