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Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Vesuvius Xperiment (2015)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Tomi Heady, Nick McNeil, Giancarlo Caccamo, Brianna Gentilella
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An experiment by the famed Dr. Vesuvius to give a man the ability to breathe underwater results in a terrible mutation, turning him into a murdering monster that escapes a New York hospital.

Turning his eye towards late 1950's science fiction shockers, writer/director/star Joshua Kennedy crafts another wonderful tribute to classic film, again making the most out of limited resources.  The picture adopts the structure and some key scenes from 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment, with Kennedy stepping into the shoes of that film's Brian Donlevy, playing a brilliant scientist whose overarching dedication to science rubs several the wrong way, although he also taps into some of his other acting heroes, notably the great Peter Cushing.  His performance, so dedicated to the cool determined scientist, should recall Cushing and Donlevy and other great actors, delivering his dialogue seriously in his rich deep voice while never cracking a smile.

In addition to Quatermass, there's also visual and dialogue references to the Hammer Frankenstein films, Kurt Neumann's The Fly, and some others I probably missed- it's always fun to watch Kennedy's movies and try to guess what classics of the past inspired him, as well as to witness how cleverly he recreates scenes without the budget, makeup, and special effects that the earlier films enjoyed.

Returning to the world of black and white after his past few movies were lensed in color, the young director makes good use of shadow and spotlights to add contrast and camouflage the university buildings he filmed in, while getting good performances from Caccamo as his ill-fated monster, Heady as the man's dedicated wife, and McNeil as Vesuvius' assistant who boldly challenges the single-minded doctor on a number of occasions.  Friends and classmates of Josh's playing mentally imbalanced hospital patients effectively add a feeling of unease to the setting, with Traci Thomas, Jeremy Kreuzer, and Carmen Vienhage adding some entertaining comic relief, and professors Michael Rosenfeld & Jonathan Danziger providing credibility to the story.

 Although the nature of the transformation of Richard Delambre, a nod to the scientist's surname in The Fly, is so fantastic that it could generate laughs from the audience if allowed, Kennedy never lets that happen, steering the film forward with a single-minded focus not unlike that of the character he plays.  Caccamo helps sell this, emulating Richard Wordsworth's fine performance in Quatermass, and looks great wandering hunched over by his mutation against the backdrop of New York City buildings.

A tribute to The Fly's famous reveal, featuring fine acting by Heady and the exposure of Delambre's mutated face doesn't quite have the same shock value as in that classic film (what could), but represents a best effort from Kennedy with what he had available to him- I think as he grows as a filmmaker, he will have better tools at hand for such scenes, but the same creativity with which to use them.

How wonderful it would have been had Kennedy had a James Bernard to score his picture, as that composer's past work would have been a perfect match for the visuals on the screen, but Josh finds an acceptable replacement in other musical selections, with passages from Holst's Mars, The Bringer Of War providing the right tone of dark menace.

I hope another film of this type is in Kennedy's future- he's shown a fine hand at capturing the eerie and unsettling images that unnerved audiences in the 1950s, and we could always use more movies mining unearthly horror on black and white film stock.

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