Pod 9 From Outer Space: The Black Sleep

Nick: It’s another episode of Pod 9 from Outer Space
Liz: Cue the music!
opening music
L: So today we watch 1956’s “The Black Sleep” which was released as – I don’t know if it was the B or the A film, but it was released as a double feature with last episode’s film “The Quatermass Xperiment” as a gothic double bill
N: So gothic, so double bill. It’s everything you could want, and less
L: I think definitely does fit the whole idea of gothic, I think more so that Quatermass
N: Yes, Quatermass was just sci-fi horror this is…
L: We said it does have some gothic elements, mostly the stuff that was very obviously Frankenstein-y
N: Yes, but this is Frankenstein writ large; you’ve got a mad scientist, you’ve got poor petrified freaks and misfits, you’ve got brains
L: Lots of brains
N: So many brains
L: Yeah we do actually get a shot of some neurosurgery which, they actually hired a neurosurgeon to do, as a hand-double for Basil Rathbone, who’s best known probably as Sherlock Holmes. But the fact that they wanted a brain surgery in this film to look realistic so much that they hired a neurosurgeon for this 12 day shoot is beautiful
N: It is a lot of effort to put into something like this, because at that point no-one would know
L: Do you want to explain the general gist of the film
N: Yes. Ok, so we start very strongly with a condemned man being – being visited, just before he’s about to be executed
L: And his name is?
N: Gordon Ramsay
L: Doctor Gordon Ramsay
N: Doctor Gordon Ramsay, got a doctorate in Flavourtown studies. Where is the science?
L: He did also do neuroscience
N: Yes, mainly Flavourtown but with a bit of neuroscience
L: It’s his minor
N: Yeah. And it’s, you know he’s being sent to, sent to hang for a crime he didn’t commit, and the, the doctor says “well try a little bit of this” to kind of, I think he said “steady your nerves”, didn’t he
L: Less steady your nerves more “you won’t even notice the execution happening”
N: Probably. Said – explains it’s, you know, from Asia, from the East
L: I think he said specifically Lahore
N: Yeah, so it’s all mysterious and everything. He takes it, and he’s declared legally dead
L: Before being hanged
N: Yeah before being hanged
L: He’s died in his cell
N: Yeah died in his cell, so the doctor takes care of the body and, well the weird thing is he wakes up, and is told one of those classic fake-death situations where he’s a free man now, and there’s the doctor who knows his secret so he can’t really do anything except whatever the doctor says. And so he’s – he becomes an accomplice and student, while becoming increasingly uneasy at the doctor’s unethical experiments and seeming, seemingly quite active relationship with a guy who’s definitely a bit of a kidnapper/body snatcher
L: We ought to mention a full-on, just going to have to say the word, “gypsy” stereotype
N: Yeah little bit. They wanted
L: Like he’s repeatedly referred to as Odo the that-word
N: Yeah. Yeah they wanted Peter Lorre for that role but
L: He wanted more money
N: Yeah I’d want a lot of money to do that role, it’s not great
L: Yeah his career was really at its peak at this point wasn’t it?
N: Yeah he’d be
L: Was this post-Casablanca?
N: I-I-yes. Casablanca would be actually during the war wouldn’t it
L: Yeah Casablanca was 40s wasn’t it
N: Yeah so at this point he’d be doing some Hitchcock stuff, he’d previously worked with Fritz Lang, so I think once you’ve done those
L: He’s a Proper Film Actor
N: Once you’ve done those two you really don’t want to act in something called “The Black Sleep” even if it is opposite Rathbone. So, you can imagine that this guy who likes experimenting on bodies and has access to…
L: Not on bodies
N: On brains
L: On live brains
N: Live brains, yeah. You can imagine that what happens, he basically just keeps on snatching people and blackmailing and conniving his way to get the brains he wants, until eventually the, Dr Gordon Ramsay and some of the core – poor sods he’s experimented on, start to – start to fight back, and that is his comeuppance
L: I love…I’m not sure how to refer to them as a whole, the patients?
N: Yeah
L: It’s just the variety in the things experimental brain surgery has done to them is wild, like there’s one woman with just patches of hair that look like furry leeches all over her body, there’s a guy who thinks he’s a crusade, there’s one guy who’s somehow ended up with some like, intense form of dermatitis? Like his skin is just all over, he looks like he’s fallen in a fire
N: I’m not sure the science checks out, to be honest
L: What?! Are you saying a film that’s based in a combination of phrenology and galvanism doesn’t hold up?
N: Seems strange but true
L: This is an – it’s set in Victorian times
N: Yeah
L: So it’s not as wild that he’s looking at phrenology as a legitimate science. Although it’s kind of interesting because it’s the combining the idea phrenology with actual things we know, like “the motor cortex exists” and “different parts of the brain do do different things, just not in that way”
N: Yeah, it’s – thing is there’s parts of this that really work for me, really felt fantastic. I like how character based a lot of it is
L: Everything that happens is due to someone’s actions rather that just something happens
N: Yeah, ’cause really the whole set up of this mysterious herb plant
L: Which does roughly translate to like “darkness of sleep”, which, I quite like that they actually made it mean something, rather than just some Indian sounding sounds
N: Yeah
L: Because again, this is the 50s
N: Yeah that was basically a nice to trick to get that guy out of trouble, and something you could use to kidnap people, but it’s just sort of, it’s the method, it’s something that gets the story going, and then it just fades into the background once you get into the doctor’s motivations and the, the condemned’s motivations as well. You really feel like he’s between a rock and a hard place, it’s a masterful manipulation of the doctor to – ’cause I think that it transpires that it was, yeah he’s really been just properly arranging it so he gets some nice patsy’s, people who won’t be missed, the condemned, the down-and-out and it’s, it’s interesting that he manages to get away with it by being quite respectable, really
L: Especially the fact that one of the victims’ disappearance…I’ll try that again. So one of the patients is a moneylender called Mr Curry, who is the guy that Gordon Ramsay was convicted of killing, so it’s very tidy
N: So tidy
L: So “this guy’s not missing, he’s dead, and this guy that killed him is also dead. So everything’s fine. There’s no need to investigate the secret room behind my fireplace
N: No. And he’s got a classic Mr Freeze motivation
L: Oh full on
N: Just “please resuscitate my wife”
L: Yeah she’s got some sort of…he says “malignancy of the brain”
N: sharp laugh
L: Which, I’m not sure what that means?
N: Shit
L: But earlier in the film he says the word tumour, so I’m going with brain cancer
N: I’m going with shit brain
L: Please doctor, you need to extract the shit from my brain
N: Absolute turd of a cerebral cortex. Total mud pie of a hippocampus
L: That’s why she’s been in a coma for 8 months, it’s been oozing out of her ears
N: Yeah it wasn’t cerebral fluid. That was a runny one
L: If we leave this in we’re going to have to mark this one as explicit
N: It was inevitable
L: Yeah
N: I think everyone does solid performances
L: Definitely. I mean, even minor stuff, like Bela Lugosi has a role in this, who I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about in the coming weeks/months/however long this podcast lasts, ’cause sort of, ’31-’56 he was The Person That’s in B-Movies
N: Absolutely was
L: For slightly sad reasons, but we’re not going to get into that right now, but yeah he is – I can’t remember the doctor’s name so I’m just going to call him Dr Basil, because he’s Basil Rathbone – yeah he’s Dr Basil’s sort of general purpose male servant, who’s also mute, from being experimented on himself. He doesn’t say anything, obviously, with being mute, but he does gestures, in order to communicate things. Not like sign language but like, very emphatic hand movements which I quite enjoy watching
N: He is pretty emphatic
L: Like, it’s some good hand acting
N: Classic hands
L: The other patient that’s sort of about in Dr Basil’s house I think is, he’s a quite interesting character on his own really, Mungo
N: Yeah
L: ’cause of course he’s called Mungo
N: Course he is
L: I mean, he’s not actually called Mungo but he’s referred to as Mungo
N: He’s a bit of a sad character, it’s, his daughter’s there as well, who’s very upset
L: Yeah she’s unwillingly acting a nurse, like surgical nurse
N: Yeah, fairly peeved about the destruction of her dad’s brain
L: So, I’m trying to remember, there was something wrong with him initially, that Dr Basil
N: Partial paralysis
L: That Dr Basil fixed but in doing so, because he didn’t understand his phrenology yet, made him violent and weird looking, because you can do weird looking with brain surgery
N: Oh yeah, there’s a lot of using brain surgery to go “ok, now your face is wrong”
L: But I did – there was a bit where we find out that he only acts violently when his daughter speak to him or looks at him, which feels really sad to me because I feel like he knows? He knows that’s his daughter and he knows what he’s become, and he lashed out
N: Yeah, really enjoyed that
L: That made me genuinely sad
N: Yeah think the father – things that really worked for me, the blackmail aspect, the faking death of a convict the classic, that’s really classic fun stuff, and yeah the how – how these people were trapped together and had to make the best of it is, it really felt like this kind of – there was a vulture circling over them, because at any point they could stop being useful. As evidenced by with how the doctor treats Odo at the end, he says “well you’ve failed me, so I’m gonna be cutting up your brain now”
L: And then decides to cut up the daughter’s brain instead because he needs a female subject, because male and female brains are different, so if he wants to learn about his wife’s brain, he needs to cut up a lady
N: Big knife small wife
L: Thanks Dr Phil
N: You’re welcome. But yeah, I feel like some of the patient stuff didn’t work so well, like the whole thinks-he’s-a-crusader thing
L: I quite liked that though, because that is a thing that can actually happen, someone thinking they’re an actual historical figure, that can happen to you
N: Yeah I think it’s kind of because, I can generally go with a lot of the, the things going wrong with the brains from the surgery, but it was too loud and brash next to the kind of, the really tense scenes that I liked, the scenes of, people aren’t shouting at each other they’re just softly saying “please, doctor, reconsider this” that kind of forms the feeling that Rathbone kind of exudes
L: It’s his thing
N: It’s fair, they had to do that, they had to go in that direction, because it is ultimately a B-movie, but the one thing I’d do again is make it, make it slower, make it more about those, those conversations at the table where he’s testing his pupil, and seeing how far he’s willing to go
L: So, I’m worried we’ve been a bit too serious because this is a genuinely good film
N: It is, it’s genuinely very good
L: But, I want to tell you a really obvious mistake that I noticed in the first shot. Now I don’t know what the exterior of Newgate Prison looks like, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the White Tower at the Tower of London
N: Eh, potato…
L: And like, we were talking last time about how there must be some B-roll that you can use, there must be, somewhere, some film of Newgate Prison
N: No
L: Or just, you could go and take a one second shot of it
N: It’s not allowed, just can’t be done
L: It’s this iconic location, and they’ve just gone “no, I know it looks really familiar, and you might have been there on your holidays, but it’s somewhere else, ok?”
N: Yeah just call it the Tower of London
L: Or just use it to establish that you’re in London, because one of the first lines that is said established that you’re in Newgate
N: Yeah
L: I know it’s not much of a goof, but this was a really good film?
N: Yeah
L: And I’m slightly questioning using it for this because I wasn’t expecting it to be this good
N: Well, I think it’s interesting because it’s establishing a nice theme early on, because the first one we had Westminster Abbey which definitely wasn’t Westminster Abbey. I think it’s worth, worth just looking out, kind of fun to see big location goofs like that, I think one of the big difficulties that comes up
L: Might be a bit hard I think because most of the films we watch I think don’t have these iconic locations. Like, there’s one that I’m looking forward to doing at some point called “Cat Women of the Moon” and there aren’t really any iconic locations on the moon
N: There’s that crater
L: Except for like, the flag
N: The other crater. The pond of chill
L: I think that is what it’s called, yeah. ‘Course that was back when they thought the moon was smaller
N: Oh yeah, much smaller. That’s inflation for you
L: Wait are you saying the moon actually did used to be smaller?
N: Yeah, yeah. Then, you know, hyperinflation. I think that is one of the challenges despite of the, you know, cheap sound stage, is getting a sense of place, and apart from the prison I think they did well with that
L: Yeah when we were at Dr Basil’s house it really felt like this big ancient pile, even though I don’t think we got an outside shot of it?
N: No
L: Just like the big stone stairs and the fireplace with the firedog in it and it felt big
N: It did
L: It felt…it felt cold
N: Yeah, it was impressive, we didn’t get many rooms, we didn’t get to see much of it, but that worked. I didn’t need to see much of it I just got…
L: You can imagine how big it is. Like you can’t see both ends of the wall, you can assume that it’s a big building, big room
N: Absolutely. So it’s, it’s an improvement on last week which was, you know, enjoyable, but a lot cheesier
L: This was enjoyable in a general way, rather than in an us way
N: Yeah I’d say to people who aren’t generally into watching B-movies and that, yeah stick this on
L: Yeah this was a good old film. So, we very clearly established last week that the message of the Quatermass Xperiment was “science is bad and doesn’t care about people
N: Yeah
L: Because the bible man told us. What is the message of Black Sleep, do you think?
N: I think it’s a bit more nuanced, in terms of science, but apart from that, I’d say – cause I think that that’s something a lot of these films go for – I think the real message is “definitely look a gift horse in the mouth”
L: Yeah
N: Real good idea, because then you’ll see
L: There could just be drugs and death in there, you’ve got to check
N: And blackmail. The horse might blackmail you. Even if you’re facing execution in the morning, you don’t want to just say “well yes Mr Horse, I will do whatever you say”, because that’s no way to be, be on a horse
L: So finally, on our camp scale, I believe I put it as “one to a field of tents”, I don’t think this even registers as like a pico-Glastonbury. Beyond crusader man, I don’t think, I don’t think we get any
N: Yeah, crusader man’s just in a little, little bed roll hollering about Saladin
L: Does he at least have a campfire, he’s so scrawny? I don’t want him to get cold
N: Yeah he’s got a campfire, eating some smores, getting ready to retake the holy land. They’re very invigorating smores
L: As long as they don’t contain black sleep, ’cause that’d be counterproductive
N: No they’ve got…they’re actually two communion wafers, and some mallowy substance
L: Just like actual marsh mallow the plant
N: Marshed mallow
L: No chocolate because he doesn’t know what that is
N: No he does not. So that is our review of Black Sleep
L: What are we watching next week, I believe it’s your turn to choose?
N: Next week we are watching “James Tont”
L: “James Tont, I believe you’ve told me about this, this is an Italian James Bond – is it a parody or just a bad impression?
N: I think it’s supposed to be a parody
L: The “I think” there, I really love
N: Well that does mean “James Idiot”, so, a bit of a parody
L: Oh like the Spanish tonto. Excellent
N: James Tonto spy genius
L: Stupid James
N: Can’t believe you James
L: What the fuck did you do James?
N: Oh James. Stop it. Just stop it now. No don’t touch that James
L: James. James cease James
N: Time out James, go in the time out corner

they continue to tell James off as the closing music plays

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