Monday, October 23, 2017

"I'm Not Going to Guilt, I'm Going to Hell" - Frozen Scream (1975)

We now consider Frozen Scream (1975), one of my universe's classic contributions to the metaphysical horror genre. This is the first film produced by actress Renee Harmon, and it is arguably her finest and most coherently realized work.

Your universe's critics appear to disagree with my assessment. Coventry writes, "Frozen Scream is one of the most retarded movies I've ever seen and it's definitely the most useless film listed in the notorious 'Video Nasty' ranking." Reviewer jonathan-577 calls the film "disastrously chaotic, sludgy, tawdry and completely unpredictable." Reviewer HEFILM writes, "It's hard to believe this was made in 1975 or on the planet earth." (HEFILM is not quite correct: The film was made on Earth, but of course it was made on the Earth of Universe-Prime, not your primitive Universe-X.)

Let us challenge these misinformed opinions and see what a powerful philosophical statement Frozen Scream represents.

The film opens with images of waves crashing on a beach, a woman artfully superimposed. "Ever since the creation of life," she says, "man has dreamed of immortality. But the fruit of eternal life has always been devoured by death itself."

Then a male narrator responds, "Immortality? Why would anyone want to live forever in a world like this?"

As if in answer, we see a man and woman making love beside a swimming pool. Both of them, however, are murdered by a bug-eyed, Peter Lorre-esque man dressed in black.


The man in black is next seen carrying another woman to a mansion, where a female scientist played by Renee Harmon in a white lab coat implants a small round chip in the woman's throat.

In the middle of the night (a grandfather clock strikes six o'clock), a man named Tom Girard receives a mysterious phone call. The man at the other end of the line laughs maniacally and says, "You are no longer, Tom. The angels will be there in a few minutes. Please be ready for them."

Tom, presumably in order to be ready for the angels, pulls a revolver out of his drawer. He also calls the police.

The angel arrives in your universe's traditional form of a black-cloaked man with a black mustache. "Judgment day," he says. "Time to pay your dues." Other angels arrive and beat Tom up. Then they graphically inject him with a drug.

We find out soon that the drug killed Tom. His wife Ann wakes up in the hospital with white-coated Renee Harmon standing over her. Ms. Harmon believes Ann is not telling the truth about the men who killed her husband and drugged her as well.

It is at this moment that the film introduces one of its many innovations. As Ms. Harmon and Ann are speaking in her hospital room, a man's voiceover interrupts them, commandeering the narrative. It is the same man's voice that interrupted the narrative at the very beginning of the film. He tells us he is Sergeant McGuire, a cop investigating the disappearance of two med students that were somehow involved with Tom's death. As he speaks, the filmmakers cut to the hospital lobby, where McGuire is waiting to see Ms. Harmon; when he finishes his voiceover, he speaks to Ms. Harmon, repeating the information that he just imparted to the audience via voiceover.

"Some checking has gone on and it seems no one has seen them since your last seminar at the university," says McGuire.

Ms. Harmon calmly deflects his inquiries and goes about her business. McGuire watches her go, and we hear his thoughts again: "A pretty bad acting job, I'd say. It doesn't take much to see through her indignant rage."

While Ms. Harmon conspires with her colleague Dr. Johnsson, with whom she announces she is having an affair, we hear McGuire's voiceover again, even thought he is not present. He explains that he was engaged to Ann Girard, the late Tom Girard's wife, but she broke off the engagement and married Tom. He wants to find Ann again to ask her why she left him.

Meanwhile, Ann is having a nightmare that her husband Tom is the grim reaper.

She wakes up in her hospital bed, screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Good, you're awake," says Ms. Harmon, who is again standing over her bed. "I have good news. You can go home today."

Ms. Harmon personally drives Ann home.

During the drive, the two women flash back to a Halloween beach party with Tom, Ann, Dr. Johnsson, and a priest named Father O'Brien. Tom intimates that some of the attendees, including himself and a woman named Catherine, are soulless. In response to Johnsson mentioning a "guilt trip," he says, somewhat cryptically, "I'm not going to guilt. I'm going to hell."

Shockingly, one of the black-clad angels kills a girl with a hatchet to the forehead while she is taking out the garbage.

Ms. Harmon drops Ann off at the plantation, but first she tries to convince Ann to come back to the university and help continue Tom's work on immortality. "Living forever...after all, that's what most religious philosophies are all about."

During a romantic tryst with Dr. Johnsson, Ms. Harmon intentionally slices open her arm with a scalpel. This allows the filmmakers to add another monologue from Sgt. McGuire, who is not present: "If you ask me about love, it's a lot like life. When it's over, it's over."

Ms. Harmon teaches a seminar at the university. She explains that her theories of immortality are based on the Greek letter theta, which stands for thanatos, or death, but the bar in the letter cancels death out, so that means immortality.

Sgt. McGuire has lunch with Ann, and she tells him nothing is going on. However, she reveals that Dr. Johnsson has a private laboratory in his basement, though this seems fairly typical of scientists working on immortality.

Fortunately for the audience, the filmmakers insert a scene of Dr. Johnsson and Renee Harmon explaining their research over the malfunctioning unconscious body of a young woman.

Dr. Johnsson explains, "Her physical temperature hasn't risen, but her emotional tenure was very heated. Psychologically, she may have triggered a malfunction in her prefrontal circuitry."

Renee Harmon summarizes: "Will she be as unstable as before? Will she end up like Tom and Russell who are more like monsters than anything human, and Kirk's behavior is rapidly bordering on a pathological state--you are responsible for that, you sent him on that terrorizing errand."

"I'm aware that we've had some minor malfunctions," says Dr. Johnsson, explaining how lowering body temperature will result in the retardation of the aging process, and hence immortality.

Meanwhile, Sgt. McGuire and Ann consult with Father O'Brien, who tells them, "I can't believe Tom had any enemies, except maybe for his own guilt."

The priest, who lives in a very nice mansion, further explains that Tom was working on paralyzing rats and bringing them back with lower body temperatures. "When the rates recovered, their personalities were altered, diffused, almost soulless. If they were human, one could almost say that they were without souls. But that's absurd, of course."

When Sgt. McGuire and Ann leave, Father O'Brien sees a man in the confessional. Unfortunately, the man is interested in more than just absolution, as he strangles Father O'Brien in the confessional.

Ann has a terrifying night when a black-robed man breaks into her house and holds her at knifepoint to tell her he has a message from her murdered husband Tom: Hell is cold and lonely. Then the man leaves.

The film takes us to a barn dance where a rockabilly band sings "We're Gonna Try to Get It On" and another song, judging by the lyrics, called "We're Gonna Jack Around Tonight" (sung to the tune of, and repurposing most of the words of "Rock Around the Clock.")

At the barn dance, Catherine, one of the scientists' subjects, collapses. Ann takes the opportunity afforded by her collapse to sneak into Dr. Johnsson's secret basement laboratory. When the doctor climbs down into the basement with one of his black-robed assistants, Ann hides. She overhears Johnsson telling the man he can do as he likes with Ann once she leaves the party. "McGuire will have a difficult time assembling things other than clues to your disappearance for a long time." As soon as he has imparted this information, the doctor climbs back upstairs, followed by his henchman.

Ann snoops around some more and finds a refrigerated closet full of topless frozen men, including Tom.

Sgt. McGuire finds her in the house, and the two of them run from Johnsonn's henchmen. In one of cinema's all-time classic fight scenes, Tom proves himself to be pretty good at fisticuffs, as well as at gouging a man's eyes and throat with his fingernails.

Ann hides in a building, where the night watchman is killed by one of the robed henchman, who somehow uses the wrong side of a knife to commit murder.

The henchman is stopped from killing Ann by Renee Harmon, who has control over the frozen experimental subjects. She merely has to suggest that the man is burning for him to collapse at her feet.

Ann faints, and then wakes up strapped to a bed in the secret lab.

"I'm sorry we had to abduct you," Ms. Harmon says.

"I won't be one of your zombies!" says Ann.

"But you will," replies Dr. Johnsson.

(It must be pointed out here that Ms. Harmon wears a cleavage-revealing lab coat during this sequence, which is a clear giveaway that Frozen Scream originated in Universe-Prime, as it is my understanding that such garments are, for some reason, uncommon in your universe.)

But Ms. Harmon has been pushed too far past the bounds of morality. She grabs a pistol and shoots Johnsson.

After Ms. Harmon unites the restraints, Ann finds the lever that makes everything explode.

In the surprising ending, nearly everyone has been implanted with the immortality chip.

The final shot involves a truly effective and shocking injection, one of the finest endings of a 1970s movie ever committed to film.

From the opening clash of introductory monologues, it is clear that Frozen Scream is about much more than the misguided plot of a pair of doctors to achieve immortality through lowered body temperature and throat implants. The film is a dialectic exploration of the human condition itself, and whether that condition should be preserved forever. (Spoiler: No, it should not be.) The film contrasts the emotional Ann with the soulless thugs controlled by Dr. Johnsson and Renee Harmon, and it suggests that even a temporary life is better than a cold but never-ending existence as a black-cloaked automaton. It asks us which we would prefer, and then it tells us the answer: a normal life.

However, in thinking about it more thoughtfully, I would wager there are more than a few people who would enjoy living forever as a black-cloaked thug.

Another point of distinction of Frozen Scream is its inclusion on the list of video nasties released by the Director of Public Prosecutions of the United Kingdom. Frozen Scream was never prosecuted for being obscene or for not being classified by the British Board of Film Classification, joining other illustrious films such as The Beyond (1981), The Boogeyman (1980), The Slayer (1982), and The Toolbox Murders (1978), which were also listed but not prosecuted.

Fascinatingly, Renee Harmon later wrote a novel called Evil Covenant, published in 2001, based on the film.

Renee Harmon's contributions to cinema must be mentioned here, as they appear to be underappreciated in your universe. Ms. Harmon wrote or co-wrote five films in the horror and action genres, produced those films, and acted in 10 films. In addition to these direct contributions to genre film, she was also an acting teacher and wrote a variety of books on acting and directing. Her love of cinema, and particularly genre cinema, is evident in all these contributions. Ms. Harmon died in 2006 at the age of 79, but her screen presence continues as her films, such as Run Coyote Run and Jungle Trap, continue to be released posthumously. Her passion for filmmaking, her interest in metaphysics and morality, her contributions to the teaching of the craft of cinema, and her charming German accent all deserve to be remembered for generations to come.