Saturday, February 15, 2014
The Thing That Couldn't Die!
The word that comes to mind when I think of the 1958 Universal horror flick The Thing That Couldn't Die is "creepy". It's not especially lurid nor gross, none of the Universal pictures of this era were those things, with their slick studio patina, but it was unrelentingly creepy. It's a movie with scary ideas, if the folks in charge here don't necessarily do the most with them.
The story begins benignly enough on a quiet California ranch where the owner Flavia (Peggy Converse) and her ranch hands Mike (Charles Horvath) and Boyd (James Anderson) dig up a four hundred year old chest found by budding witch Jessica (Carolyn Kearney). Along for the expedition are ranch guests Gordon (William Reynolds), Linda (Andra Martin), and Hank (Jeff Stone). It turns out when the two ranch hands, the weak-minded Mike and naughty greedy Boyd, open the chest without permission, it contains the severed head of executed warlock Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes).
The disembodied head exerts control over Mike and causes him to slay Boyd beginning a tiny reign of terror as the head connives to uncovers its body hidden elsewhere on the ranch centuries before. Standing in the way is the naive morality of Jessica who at one point sees Drew's execution in a vision. The movie winds to a reasonably crisp if a bit too quick finale. But along the way there are some very unsettling scenes.
The movie's best moments are when the severed head of Drew, often carried around by the zombie-like Mike is held aloft and its magnetic eyes lock onto its victim. The mouth then soundlessly mutters instructions which are understood by its new servant. It's creepy stuff, the kind of images which populate nightmares.
This movie hasn't been widely released, in fact appears to be available only on a questionable print from Warner's on-demand library. I'm not sure it's worth the price, but I do know that seeing it again on TCM was a real treat and transported me back to some rousing Saturday afternoons when it didn't take much to chill a ten year old's heart.
Creepy it was, creepy it remains.