Monday, February 11, 2019

"Punch the Buttons and Make It All Work" - The Lucifer Complex (1978)

We all know James T. Flocker was responsible for the classic Ghosts That Still Walk (1977). Around the same time he made that nearly perfect film, Mr. Flocker produced The Lucifer Complex (1978), a thrilling spy adventure co-directed by David L. Hewitt and Kenneth Hartford.

Frustratingly, some of your universe's critics still refuse to understand what makes a good film. For example, reviewer TheBryanWay writes, "'The Lucifer Complex'... is the worst film I've ever seen." Reviewer barnabyridge agrees, writing, "Make no mistake about it, The Lucifer Complex is a genuine contender for the title of worst movie ever made. The most remarkable thing is that recognised actors have been persuaded to appear in this dismal offering – it's quite depressing to see the likes of Robert Vaughn, Keenan Wynn and Aldo Ray appearing in such cheap, inept, amateurish rubbish." And wes-connors writes, "One of the most boring films every created."

Read on, please, to discover the error of these reviewers' ways...

The film begins with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean as a narrator describes his island, one of many nondescript islands to dot the ocean. “Not a bad place to live, though,” the narrator says. “As if I had any choice.” His narration is accompanied by shots of him walking along the island’s cliffs and swimming nude in the island’s lakes. We then watch him enter a cave that is set up as a 1970s computerized headquarters.

He finds a snake in his cave. “I wonder what you’re thinking,” he says in voiceover before putting the snake on the concrete floor. He sits down at the computer and thinks, referring to the snake, “If you’re lucky, maybe someday you’ll be able to punch the buttons and make it all work.”

He describes to himself how every documented moment in the history of mankind, every book, speech, etc. is stored in his cave on a little synthetic crystal, which he also calls laser discs. The 1970s truly were an advanced time!

The narrator’s thoughts—and his video screen—turn to humankind’s wars. “Fascinating to watch. They believed—they actually believed—that killing off the enemy, dying for their countries, could somehow bring peace into their lives.” Then he watches a music video for three or four minutes.

After this fascinating framing sequence set in the future, the film’s story begins at the nineteen-minute mark. A truck loaded with prisoners drives into a German encampment, where men dressed in Nazi uniforms gun down a woman attempting escape. The narrator says, “My father would have believed that this happened during World War II. 1945. Instead of 1986, the year of the Great War. One few people even realized was being fought.”

The year 1986 was truly terrible. Along with the narrator, we watch a busload of people being gassed to death in the desert while the driver wears a gas mask. This leads, somehow, to a scene in a nightclub where a belly dancer belly dances for three or four minutes. The club is lit pink except for one man’s table, which appears to be in black and white. This man is Glenn Manning (presumably not the amazing colossal man of that other classic film), an international spy played by Robert Vaughn.

Mr. Vaughn is immediately hit on by a young woman who admires the belly dancer, and who attempts to imitate her moves. Mr. Vaughn comments critically, “I think you could do with a little less bump and a little more grind.”

Mr. Vaughn is called away to investigate the mystery of the busful of dignitaries who disappeared. He takes a Jeep into the desert and immediately finds the empty bus. He is also promptly knocked out when someone taps him on the head.

Later, Mr. Vaughn is reprimanded for incompetence by his bosses, including an angry Keenan Wynn, but they immediately  assign him to the same mission from which he was yanked. He flies a jet to the mountains of South America, where he is forced to bail out seconds before the jet explodes. Then he rolls unceremoniously down a hill before taking off his jumpsuit to reveal a nice casual outfit.

Being a very good spy, Mr. Vaughn walks directly to a Nazi base in the jungle. He stands underneath a guard tower and surveys the place. Fortunately for Mr. Vaughn, nobody sees him, though he is tracked by a series of hidden cameras. He watches from behind a fence as a truckload of female prisoners is delivered to the Nazis.

Eventually, Mr. Vaughn is discovered in the jungle because he walks casually across a dirt road where a Nazi Jeep is driving. He runs away through the tall grass, followed by Nazi officer Aldo Ray. In an extended suspense sequence lasting three or four minutes, we see shots of alligators watching Mr. Vaughn, though the alligators do not attack anyone. Soon, however, Mr. Vaughn is caught by the Nazis and knocked out again.

He wakes up as he is examined by Dr. Vogel, who gives him a tour of the medical facility he is in, ostensibly in Florida. Mr. Vaughn says impatiently, “Doctor, I tell you, I’m really turned on by all this technical expertise that’s available for the bump on my head and my ankle, but no offense but can we save it for later?”

Relaxing in his hospital room, Mr. Vaughn is visited by Julie O’Brien, his colleague from Washington. Mr. Vaughn begins his report about Nazis, but he is immediately convinced that the Nazis were just a bad dream by Dr. Vogel.

After Julie leaves, a woman breaks into his room with an axe. “I’m not going to let them put one of those monsters inside of me!” she cries while Mr. Vaughn tries to get the axe from her, which he manages to do quickly. “You dirty rotten Nazi!” she yells at Mr. Vaughn. She reveals that he is still in the jungle, still captured by the Nazis.

After the woman is dragged away, Mr. Vaughn escapes his room and investigates the “hospital.” He realizes that all the male “nurses” look the same, with dark glasses and apparently fake mustaches—and they seem to have no interest in him. He moves unfettered through the medical building, where he stumbles upon an unsecured room full of tubes holding naked people.

After finding the woman, April, who broke into his room and an unconscious identical woman, he realizes the Nazis are cloning people, including world leaders. With a series of well-placed karate chops (which work as well in your universe as in mine, rendering people unconscious immediately), he and April make their escape. Unfortunately for them, however, they realize that their elevator opens up onto the bars of a cage—a cage behind which stand Nazis!

The film cuts to the office of Oberfuhrer Frobel, who tells Mr. Vaughn, “So you see, Mr. Manning, the Fourth Reich is a reality. And through cloning, we are building a new master race.”

We are next treated to the image of Aldo Ray as a Nazi torturer with a German accent. “Now, little lady,” he says, “you tell us what we need to know.”

In another office, Mr. Vaughn has a casual meeting with Dr. Vogel. Referring to Hitler and the Fourth Reich, Mr. Vaugh says, “Too bad the old boy isn’t around to see it.”

“You underestimate the indestructible superiority of the true aryan,” says the doctor.

“You’re kidding,” retorts Mr. Vaugh at the prospect of Hitler surviving the end of World War II. He adds, “That’s impossible. He’d be in his eighties by now.” (Surely, nobody could live to be so old.)

Mr. Vaughn manages to get the upper hand, knocking out Vogel and then chasing off a phalanx of Nazis with a mixture of kicks, karate chops, and eventually a pistol. He and April escape, while at the same time a group of attractive blonde women prisoners (who are, ambiguously, either the hosts to the clones or the people to be cloned) also escape, easily moving from building to building and getting their hands on automatic weapons.

The ensuing shootout lasts three or four minutes.

Mr. Vaughn then commandeers a tank (the Oberfuhrer’s souvenir from the war, according to April) and drives it through the Nazi camp. This effect is accomplished with some excellent miniature work that looks so real the viewer might doubt his or her own eyes.

The Oberfuhrer complains to Mr. Ray: “Damn it, Krauss! Are we to be defeated by a handful of simpering females?”

Tragically for lovers of the cinema the world over, Nazi Aldo Ray is killed when he attempts to abscond with Nazi gold. One of the female prisoners shoots him, then spits on him. She also knocks out the Oberfuhrer with the bag of gold.

The climax of the Robert Vaughn story consists of roughly three hundred explosions and a dozen Nazis on fire falling to the ground. Mr. Vaughn and two of the women force the Oberfuhrer, for unknown reasons, to explore the jail cells, which coincidentally leads to the discovery of a teleportation device and the presence of Adolf Hitler himself.

Of course, Hitler does what he would realistically do in this situation, which is salute and begin orating. In English. “Greetings, Herr Manning. You are to be congratulated. You have won the battle. But unfortunately for you, you have lost the war.” Then he points his finger at Vogel, commanding a laser to shoot out of a statue and kill him.

Mr. Vaughn tries to shoot Hitler, reasonably, but Hitler just teleports away.

Mr. Vaughn must then face off against an enemy even greater than Hitler—a clone of Robert Vaughn. They fight for three or four minutes by rolling around on the floor. Eventually, the classic standoff occurs as April pulls a gun on the identical pair. However, the filmmakers cleverly change the perhaps cliched scene by only showing the real Mr. Vaughn in a one-shot rather than employing trickery such as a split screen. April realizes the laser was pointing at the one she is talking to, so he must be the real Mr. Vaughn.

They break into another room and shoot another Hitler, killing this one. In a surprise ending, we see the real Adolf Hitler, who happens to be Keenan Wynn (spoiler). Hitler pushes a button to open “sea gates” and flood the world, despite the fact that his plan was to replace world leaders with clones.

Mr. Vaugh and April chase and kill Hitler and escape, but, chillingly, we watch the narrator watching TV, on which we see Keenan Wynn’s cloned Hitler speaking in front of the United Nations or some other political body.

(In what might also be considered a twist, the narrator is not revealed to be a clone of someone involved in the preceding plot.)

The narrator steps away from his screen. “It’s all here. The rise and fall of mankind.”

He packs a backpack and leaves the computer cave. “Someday, maybe, a hundred years from now, a thousand, ten thousand years from now, some explorers from another planet will discover this time capsule. Ah, but I can’t wait around. I got my island to explore.”

The End

The Lucifer Complex is an inspiring film, offering convincing visual evidence that a handful of untrained women wearing nursing scrubs are more than capable of soundly defeating the entire remaining population of Nazis in 1986. Robert Vaughn's presence is mostly an afterthought, though he does make good use of the collectible tank at the end of the film, helping the women as they defeat the Nazis.

The film is also notable as an early example of metafiction, with the narrator watching the film and commenting on what occurs--many years before such works as Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I have to admit, however, that I believe Ghosts That Still Walk is a better film in James T. Flocker's flimography. (I must admit, I have not seen his first film, Teenagers Battle the Thing from 1958.) Still, The Lucifer Complex is an important contribution to world cinema as one of the few truly realistic portraits of Adolf Hitler, including his multiple deaths in 1986. For that, the film is to be enjoyed and cherished.