Marcel Marceau plays the titular characters who is a mime and makes human dolls out of corpses using electronics wizardry.
Marceau is really quite wonderful. His expressions are creepy and off-putting, yet there is a childish playfulness to it.
The characters of the brother and sister were really good, and they were amazing as the reanimated doll corpses. They really looked and moved like a marionette would!
The bikers however, were extremely bad. From their really bad dialog and acting they didn't even feel like real people.
So there were some major faults in this film, but so many wonderful parts and subtle comedic moments.
I'm normally a big fan of William Castle and his one-trick-pony movies. The Tingler is one of the great guilty pleasures of filmdom. Dr. Sardonicus should have been called Dr. Hystericus. 13 Ghosts is one of the great haunted-house pictures of all time, and I can't even tell you what's so great about Homicidal because it'll give the game away, but trust me on this one. Short answer, as far as I'm concerned, Bill Castle's reputation as a B-film schlockmeister is pretty much undeserved; a number of his movies deserve the same A-list status that some of Hitch's more minor films got. Shanks, Castle's final directorial effort, is not one of those films.
This is the story of Malcolm Shanks (celebrated mime Marcel Marceau), whose only friend in the world is Old Walker (also played by Marceau), a mad scientist who has invented a way to reanimate and control the dead thanks to a machine he's built. When Walker keels over, Shanks learns to use the machine by experimenting on him. From there, he realizes that he can use the dead to make the living bend to his will...or to eliminate them when they get too uppity, like his shrewish sister and milquetoast brother-in-law. Meanwhile, Shanks, who's not the world's most well-socialized guy, is trying to figure out how to get involved with Celia (The Waltons' Cynthia Eilbacher), a lovely young pigtailed thing he thinks is hot. Things come to a head when a motorcycle gang invade Old Walker's house...
This is... um. How shall I say it? "A pile of elephant dung" will probably suffice. I find it very hard to believe that the same guy who made the movies I mentioned in the first paragraph made this (and I often wonder if he actually did; after all, "Lamberto Bava" directed Demons, but anyone with half a brain who's watched the sequel, which Bava actually DID direct, knows Dario Argento did a lot more than write and produce Demons). It's dull and plodding and hitchy and while it's possible to believe that this was simply a case where Castle's trademark gimmick simply failed, there's too much wrong with it to leave that as the only explanation for this mess. For example, Castle always had a way with actors, bringing out their best even in the silliest roles; here, there's actually a halfway decent cast, and no one, from Eilbacher to the glorious Helena Kallianiotes (Five Easy Pieces), has any clue what they're doing here from first frame to last. This can't be William Castle. It certainly can't be his last movie. Too much of my childhood is riding on that. *
Marceau portrays Malcolm Shanks, an innocent puppeteer who is beloved by the town's children but saddled with an abusive sister and her nasty, drunk husband. Keen to seize his wages, they find him a job with an old, rich scientist (also played by Marceau, in ridiculously heavy makeup) who is conducting reanimation experiments on the dead. Sure, it happens! When the scientist dies himself, Marceau takes over the operation, finding that his marionette skills are well-adapted to mastering the handheld invention which directs a dead creature's movements.
At least three mimes portray animated corpses, and most of the fun is watching these artisans at work in such an unusual, macabre setting. No one utters much dialogue except the sister and husband -- Marceau's character stays silent but *does* croak a few lines in the guise of the old scientist -- and the wordless action is accented by occasional title cards in the style of a silent film. Eventually, a hoodlum motorcycle gang complicates the plot, which unfortunately is a rather clichÃ (C)d touch.
"Shanks" is just a novelty, but it's entertaining. It is also William Castle's final work as a director.
This is really weird.