Jan 24, 2019

Shanks




A couple years ago, I recall an ex-girlfriend and I having a merry conversation about how many holocaust stories—in their innate improbable absurdity—oftentimes resemble Grimms' Fairy Tales, as if Jews were trying to exploit the childhood fears of Germans (and whites in general) against them while injecting them with a sort of ‘reverse of blood libel’ via the shoah mythos (after all, as history surely demonstrates, world Jewry certainly knows a thing or two about blood libel accusations).  In that sense, I was somewhat intrigued when I discovered that a corny kosher conman like William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts)—a sort of poor Hebrew huckster’s Hitchcock—concluded his film directing career with a bizarre Grimm-esque filmic fairy tale. Indeed, Castle’s shockingly unforgettable and strikingly singular swansong Shanks (1974)—a film that, not all that surprisingly, was nearly impossible to find for decades until it was released on DVD by OliveFilms in 2013—is arguably the most covertly kosher fairy tale film ever made, as if the auteur was projecting his own perverted (im)moral perspective on the goyim via the timeless myths of the goyim. Indeed, hinting at heeb-on-shiksa pederasty worthy of Der Stürmer and turning the goyim into a sort of herd of morbidly mechanical cattle-cum-golems, the film might be PG-rated but it is unequivocally fucked up and a true testament to Castle’s creepy kosher psyche, which is thankfully not camouflaged by too many tasteless gimmicks. With that being said, I still find it to be Castle’s most rewarding and unforgettable film, if not for oftentimes seemingly unintentional reasons. A clever hack with an unquestionable talent for successful promotions and gimmicks that got people into theaters to watch films that very few sane people actually wanted to endure, Castle not surprisingly had his greatest hit as producer and not as an ‘auteur.’ Indeed, Rosemary's Baby (1968), which features the director-turned-producer in a Hitchcockian cameo, is undoubtedly the most noteworthy film that Castle ever worked on and he was thankfully smart enough to get fellow Israelite Roman Polanski to direct it. Of course, as a film based on a novel by fellow tribesman Ira Levin with both covert and overt Jewish satantists tricking some dumb young shiksa broad into being raped by the Devil and ultimately getting impregnated with the bastard son of Satan as a sort of anti-Mother Mary figure, Rosemary’s Baby ultimately exposed Castle’s sense of racial loyalty and playful contempt for the dumb goyim, albeit in a slightly more sinister fashion than the countless largely worthless schlock films that he actually directed.  With Shanks, Castle not only revealed certain racial hostilities, but also some rather odd, if not downright odious, personal obsessions.


Undoubtedly, it is symbolic of Castle’s talent-for-promotion-over-art and strong Judaic identity that he created publicity for a fake German play entitled Das ist nicht für Kinder (aka Not For Children) ostensibly penned by a fake aristocratic Jewish playwright named Ludwig von Herschfeld (also Castle’s invention) starring self-loathing krautess Ellen Schwanneke (who apparently fled Germany after Uncle Adolf invaded Czechoslovakia) by vandalizing the outside of Stony Creek Theatre, which he just leased from none other than Orson Welles, with painted swastikas to make it seem as if he was being attacked by bloodthirsty National Socialists. In short, not unlike some ADL lawyer, Castle had a seemingly instinctual knack for exploiting persecution for profit, albeit in a vaguely artistic fashion.  Apparently, swastika graffiti charade was a great formative experience for Castle as it taught him the power of publicity and even led to him being hired by much hated Hebraic studio head Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures where he eventually had the honor of working as an associate producer on his old pal Orson Welles' classic film noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947).  Aside from his early work in theater and brief collaboration with Welles, Castle would not dare to dabble with something resembling real art again until the very end of his career when he produced Rosemary's Baby and directed Shanks.  While I think very little of most of his work, these two films alone warrant Castle being remembered as a notable figure of American cinema.

Needless to say, Castle’s final film, which naturally features Judaic stars, deals with themes of persecution and radiates a certain (slightly hermetic) Hebraic essence. According to Castle in his own memoir Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America (1976), he initially had no intention to direct Shanks and only decided to when the film’s exceedingly eccentric star Marcel Marceau—a French-Jewish mime famous for his ‘Bip the Clown’ stage persona—talked him into it. Apparently wanting total control over the production, Marceau must have seen Castle as a weak director and exploited him thusly, hence why the film seems quite different from most of the other various entries in the director’s fairly large and eclectic oeuvre (while best known for horror, the director worked in virtually every single genre while working as a for-hire studio hack before going independent in the late-1950s).  Still, the film is pure and unadulterated Castle in terms of its shameless semitic schlock factor.  Indeed, there is certainly a reason that John Waters has an eternal hard-on for Castle.  Either way, Shanks features Castle's most Jewy character as a nebbish schlemiel and pathetic putz of the super schmendrick sort as portrayed by a literal kosher clown with a wild and wiry Jewfro.


In his book Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence (2012), kiwi political scholar and esotericist Kerry Bolton notes in regard to the metapolitical Weltanschauung of the great American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft that he, “...saw Jewish representation in the arts as responsible for what Francis Parker Yockey would call ‘culture distortion.’ New York City had been ‘completely Semiticized’ and lost to the ‘national fabric.’ The Semitic influence in literature, drama, finance, and advertising created an artificial culture and ideology ‘radically hostile to the virile American attitude.’” Undoubtedly, as both a horror fan and someone that can surely relate to Lovecraft, I must say that Shanks is a somewhat more esoteric expression of semitic culture distortion in celluloid form, so naturally it should be no surprise that it is also the sort of film that Freud might see as a mild masturbation aid due to its odd oneiric wet dream tone and focus on the complete and utter manipulation of other people as puppets. Indeed, if there is any film that more clearly depicts the stereotypical Judaic fantasy of completely controlling and manipulating the goyim like puppets, it is Castle’s curiously, if not creepily, captivating swansong. While featuring outwardly Occidental story conventions of Grimms' Fairy Tales, the film is unequivocally covertly kosher in terms of its dubious sentiments/message and (lack of) morality, which of course is one of the main (yet less obvious) reasons as to why the film is so particularly anomalous.

Aside from the film’s strong covertly kosher character, it is also a sort of aesthetically schizophrenic cinematic artifact that might be best described as seeming like what might happen if the brain-damaged bastard son of Jacques Tati and Vampira directed a playful zombie film sans blood and guts. While the film technically does not feature what is conventionally called zombies, it does include undead beings of the reanimated corpse variety and they can kill. In fact, one might assume by reading the film's promotional material that it was a pro-zombie affair as indicated by the curious description of the film as, “a new concept in the macabre in which the Good come out of the grave and the Evil are sent to fill the vacancy.” From a Hebraic horror angle, these sort of mechanized corpses certainly be seen as a twisted post-religious twist on the Jewish folklore tale of the Kabbalistic anthropomorphic ‘golem’ being (which, of course, is a story that has influenced a variety of films ranging from the German Expressionist classic The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920) directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener to the mostly mediocre Roddy McDowell vehicle It! (1967), among countless other examples‎).

While star Marceau attempted to make Castle promise that Shanks would not be a horror movie like most of his famous films, the film clearly straddles a refreshingly blurry line between horror and fantasy, which is undoubtedly one of its more positive attributes. In fact, it is easily the eeriest and most unsettling Castle film that I have ever seen (which I guess isn't saying much). Likewise, it is also the artiest and most idiosyncratic Castle movie that I have ever seen, as if the filmmaker just caught a Georges Franju marathon and forgot he wanted to be the hokey heeb Hitchcock for a second. In short, Shanks is something resembling art from someone I thought was incapable of art, but then again star Marceau (who notably plays two very different roles), screenwriter Ranald Graham, and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Joseph Biroc (It's a Wonderful Life, Ulzana's Raid) also made serious creative contributions to the film. Interestingly, despite not even being well known when it was released, the film’s musical score by Jewish composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus), which incorporates motifs that were originally commissioned for (but notoriously rejected by Stanley Kubrick) for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was actually nominated for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score for the 47th Academy Awards in 1975. 


 Set in a world that, somewhat paradoxically, seems simultaneously anachronistic yet timeless, childish yet senile and perverse yet wholesome, Shanks is somewhat of an admirable failure that has much to interest cinephiles beyond its strange collection of collaborators. Indeed, aside from featuring elements of a trashed Kubrick score and notable performances like a very young and virile Don Calfa of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) fame as a sadistic biker bro, the film seems to be Castle’s curious attempt at making a sort of silent film, which makes sense considering it stars a famous mime in the almost-too-fitting role of a simple-minded deaf-mute. While the film does feature some sparse dialogue, the story is told with the help of simplistic silent era style title cards and the film even features a sepia tone sequence in what is arguably the most ‘darkly poetic’ moment of the entire film. While Castle reveals very little respect for the actual art of filmmaking in his memoir, it seems like he actually had fun making Shanks, as if he knew it would never be any sort of hit and simply used the opportunity to do what he always wanted to do.  Although just speculation, I cannot help but think the film was also largely inspired by Castle's nostalgia for the silent era films of his youth.  After all, in 1963 Castle took the artistic risk of directing a subpar remake of James Whale's pre-Code horror-comedy The Old Dark House (1932).  While directed by legendary gay Englishman Whale, the screenplay was actually penned by British Jewish playwright turned politician and Zionist activist Benn W. Levy, hence the kosher character of the humor that probably appealed to Castle.


As if he assumes the audience are retarded children (his lifelong career of cinematic gimmicks certainly hints at this), Shanks begins with a rather literal inter-title that reads, “William Castle PRESENTS A Grim Fairy Tale.” Of course, the film is certainly Castle’s equivalent to Curtis Harrington’s Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) in terms of its Grimm-esque adult fairy tale quality (also, both films are inhabited by quirky Judaic stars). At the very beginning of the film, deaf-mute puppeteer Malcolm Shanks (Marcel Marceau)—an expert lip reader with the spirit of a child who is surely an idiotic savant of sorts—is depicted giving a puppet show using marionettes modeled after friends and family members to happy kids while his beautiful blonde love interest Celia (Cindy Eilbacher) and an eccentric old inventor-cum-dandy named ‘Old Walker’ (also Marceau) watch on in ecstatic delight. While his sadistic sister Mrs. Barton (Jerusalem-born Belgian Jewess Tsilla Chelton, who was part of Marceau's troupe) and alcoholic brother-in-law Mr. Barton (Philippe Clay, who was also part of the troupe) see Malcolm as a loser and mock his peculiar puppeteer talents, Old Walker is so delighted with his puppet show that he takes him under his wing as a lab assistant at his rather quaint gothic mansion where he does morally dubious yet ultimately successful scientific experiments involving the use of electricity to reanimate dead animals, including frogs and chickens. Naturally, when Old Walker unexpectedly croaks, Malcolm decides to use the reanimating method on him, thereupon symbolically becoming the master of the dead master (after all, Malcolm was Old Walker's protege).  As a proud puppet-master, it is not hard for Malcolm to make the transition from fiddling with marionettes to the undead, though it is somewhat creepy how much unexpected joy it brings to his initially rather bleak and stagnant life.  Of course, Old Walker is not the only corpse that Malcolm decides to reanimate as simple bad luck among certain fearsome family members eventually provides him with an entire troupe of completely subservient undead human-puppets.



As the sole breadwinner of his decidedly dysfunctional family, Malcolm naturally comes into trouble when he dares to withhold some money from his savagely stupid dipsomaniacal brother-in-law, who is such a mean-spirited bully bastard that he smashes an Old Walker puppet that hapless protagonist was in the process of making. Luckily, Malcolm gets revenge by (somewhat unintentionally) killing Mr. Barton with a surprisingly deadly zombie chicken in what proves to be an absurdly stupid Castle-esque death scene. Thankfully, Malcolm’s luck doesn’t run out that day as his similarly abusive sister is killed in a ludicrously lackluster suburban hit-in-run accident while she is, rather ironically, attempting to prevent her reanimated husband from getting hit by a car. While Malcolm eventually buries the corpse of Old Walker out of respect for his generous mentor, he takes great joy in cavorting around town with his reanimated sister and brother-in-law while completely controlling them just as they once controlled him.  Not longer a violence dysfunctional family that trades punches and kicks for hugs and kisses, Malcolm even seems to have a lot of fun simply watching TV with his personality-less family members, which was not a privilege he was afforded when they were officially still alive. For whatever reason, Malcolm even thinks it is a good idea to flagrantly flaunt his undead family members and their odd (read: completely unnatural) body contortions to his childlike love interest Celia. Quite predictably, Celia—a seemingly underage little lass that practically radiates virginal purity and untarnished goodness—gets a little freaked out when she eventually realizes that the Bartons are literal dead meat, but she is also extremely excited about a birthday party that Malcolm has planned for her and, like women tend to do, is willing to overlook the dubious complexities of the undead family dynamic. For Celia’s present birthday, Malcolm is preparing a cute marionette modeled after her. Unfortunately, she will not live long enough to properly enjoy it. 


For her big birthday celebration, Malcolm prepares Celia a sort of lavish Victorian dinner where the guest of honor sports a beautiful white gown that was owned by Old Walker’s assumedly-long-dead wife and the zombie Bartons act as both the servants and entertainment. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the fun and games come to a swift and ugly conclusion when the mansion is quite unexpectedly invaded by a small gang of bikers led by a big buff buffoon named Goliath (Biff Manard). While the bikers initially entered the mansion in a desperate attempt to revive their leader Beethoven (Phil Adams) after he fatally crashed his motorcycle on a road nearby the estate, the outlaws soon forget their dead leader and immediately begin following the lead of Goliath as he encourages them to fulfill stereotypical negative biker stereotypes like raping, pillaging, and even killing. Indeed, despite a noble attempt made by his haggard old lady ‘Mata Hair’ (Helena Kallianiotes) to stop him, Goliath decides to rape assumed virgin Celia. Meanwhile, a biker with the somewhat fitting name ‘Einstein’ (Don Calfa) plays around with Old Walker’s experiments after Malcolm is beaten and tied up. When Malcolm eventually escapes from his bondage, he is greatly dismayed to discover Celia’s corpse lying outside in the yard. While the bikers further demonstrate their affinity for mindless sadism by playing around with the undead Bartons using Malcolm’s remote control, the vengeful protagonist opts to unearth Old Walker and uses him to execute a murderous revenge campaign against the savage biker outlaws. After zombie Old Walker strangles and drowns most of the bikers, Malcolm gets in an epic Rocky-esque fistfight with Goliath on top of the roof of the mansion that eventually results in the latter falling to his death. In a display of poetic necrophilia, Malcolm then reanimates Celia’s corpse and the two begin to dance romantically in what is a literal Danse Macabre moment. Somewhat unfortunately, the film does not end there, but instead comes full-circle and returns to the very beginning, thereupon ultimately revealing that the entire story is bogus and was nothing more than the protagonist’s sick twisted fantasy. In the end, the film concludes with a quote from the great British satirist William Makepeace Thackeray that reads: “Come... let us shut up the box and the puppets = for our play is played out.” Interestingly, while Castle certainly did not know it at the time as he “felt 1975 would be a big year” for him as a filmmaker and he certainly did not plan for Shanks to be his swansong, Thackeray’s quote ultimately proved be a fitting coda to his filmmaking career. 


 
Notably, in his memoir, Castle claims that Marcel Marceau, who was naively hoping that Shanks would “play forever,” once asked after they finished the film: “Be truthful with me, Bill. Do you think that SHANKS will be better than ROSEMARY’S BABY?” It seems that Castle had a pretty good idea of his talents (or lack thereof) as a filmmaker and was not exactly satisfied with the final result of his film as he apparently replied to Marceau by stating, “I don’t know, Marcel. You were great, but I think I might have failed you. Your world of mime and my world of horror may not mix. Only the audience will tell us.” Unfortunately, after more than four decades, the audience has spoken as Shanks is hardly considered one of Castle’s classic films, let alone any sort of horror classic or otherwise, which is rather unfortunate as, I for one, personally feel it is his most artistically merited film.  Indeed, the film is just too innately idiosyncratic for the masses, including film dork and seemingly most Castle fans.

While Stanley Kubrick was so cryptic and sensitive (?) about his actually quite stereotypical New York City Jewish intellectual background to the point where he would actively erase all Jewish traces from his source material (e.g. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), British Jewish film scholar Nathan Abrams argues in his insightful text Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual (2018)—a book that is, somewhat ironically, arguably as incriminating as Kevin McDonald's classic The Culture of Critique (1998) in terms of exposing the hermetic motivations of Hebrews—that all of the American auteur’s films are, at the very least, covertly kosher. In fact, Abrams even argues that Kubrick actively sought to destroy all prints of his first feature Fear and Desire (1953) because the film is too overtly personal and, in turn, Jewish as is especially personified by the character Private Sidney (played by fellow Jew and future filmmaker Paul Mazursky)—a sort of implicitly Judaic stand-in for the filmmaker—who is hardly a flattering portrayal of a Hebrew soldier as he is a psychologically feeble intellectual that not only suffers from debilitating paranoia and posttraumatic stress, but he also senselessly murders a young fisherwoman (Virginia Leith) after disturbingly attempting to molest her. Undoubtedly, the titular character of Shanks will probably seem similarly disturbing to most white gentile viewers as his peculiar behavior and questionable motivations are similarly kosherly curious. Surely, it is no great irony that, whereas as a great filmmaker like Kubrick started his career with his most incriminatingly and unflatteringly kosher character, Castle concluded his career with such a character.



 While the Kubrick and Castle had next to nil in common, there is still this glaring perennial Jewish connection and it is impossible to truly understand either filmmaker without taking it into serious consideration.  In fact, just as Kubrick did with his films, Castle opted to drop any mention of Jewishness and antisemitism for his Crusades period action-adventure film The Saracen Blade (1954) despite those racially-charged elements being central themes of American negro Frank Yerby's source novel.  Incidentally, both men also married blonde Aryan women (indeed, while Kubrick curiously married the niece of great Nazi era auteur Veit Harlan, Castle married a Dutch immigrant).  Of course, all the main ingredients of Castle's swansong are completely kosher and, in my less than humble opinion, it is nearly impossible to completely appreciate the film without considering these facts.  Whether it was inspired by ancient Aryan fairy tales or not, there is no way that a goy could have ever directed a film like Shanks.  While I seriously doubt Castle would appreciate it, I cannot help think of the strangely otherworldly Judaic quality of the film and be reminded of Alfred Rosenberg words, “The life of a race does not represent logically developed philosophy nor even the unfolding of a pattern according to natural law, but rather the development of a mystical synthesis, an activity of soul, which cannot be explained rationally, nor can it be conceived through a study of cause and effect.”  Indeed, it is easy to point to perversion and control fantasies when attempting explain the implicit Jewishness of Castle's film, but it is ultimately more of a visceral metaphysical matter when it comes to such a particularly preternatural cinematic work.



Undoubtedly, Abrams’ book is not just helpful in terms of studying Kubrick semi-esoteric Jewishness, but also when it comes to Jewish films and characters in general, especially of the male persuasion. In that sense, it is no coincidence that the worst villains of Shanks are virtual a stereotype for all the things that Ashkenazi Jews have historically loathed about European gentile masculinity.  Indeed, as Abrams explains in regard to the Jewish ‘ethnical’ code of menschlikayt, it, “…rejected goyim naches, a phrase that ‘broadly describes non-Jewish activities and pursuits supposedly antithetical to a Jewish sensibility and temperament.’ Literally meaning ‘pleasure for/of the gentiles,’ […] It can therefore also be interpreted to mean a ‘preoccupation with the body, sensuality, rashness, and ruthless force,’ as manifested in such physical activities as bearing arms, horse riding, dueling, jousting, archery, wrestling, hunting, orgies, and sports in general. Denied the right to participate in such activities, Jews instead denigrated them, consequently also disparaging those very characteristic that in European culture defined a man as manly: physical strength, martial activity, competitive drive, and aggression.” While they might not be completely conscious of this while watching it, white gentile viewers will ultimately find Malcolm Shanks’ exceedingly inexplicable behavior, lack of masculinity, and almost pathological passivity to be the most ‘horrifying’ aspect of the film and not the dumb bikers, who are little more than muscular ciphers. Indeed, just as Henry Frankenstein is the true monster of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), so is the eponymous protagonist the real ‘monster’ of Castle’s film, though I seriously double Castle and Marceau—two Jewish outsiders—would agree with that as they surely highly identify with these cinematic creatures.  But then again, the film was advertised with the poster tagline, “Deliciously Grotesque.”

For better or worse, Castle is a sort of classic cult film legend. As demonstrated by his cameos in classic New Hollywood era flicks like Hal Ashby's Shampoo (1975) and John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975), Castle had already even achieved the respected cult icon status among great director of the era shortly before he died even though his horror films had already become quite passé.  A couple decades later, Joe Dante would pay tribute to the filmmaker with the Castle-esque hero portrayed by John Goodman in Matinee (1993).  Castle certainly earned his star Marcel Marceau's lifelong respect, as the Hebraic frog states in the Jeffrey Schwarz doc Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007) that, “I think he was a wonderful director” and he even describes Shanks as a film where, “Everything was poetic.”  Indeed, in a sick twisted semitic way, like if Bruno Schulz had the spirit of an extroverted businessman, the film is the poetic final word of a shameless schlockmeister that one would assume didn't have a single poetic bone in his entire body.  In short, the film that manages to shatter certain stereotypes while also painfully upholding others.  While I usually would not be able to stomach Judaized Teutonic fairy tales that are blessed with everything from the baroque to bathos, Shanks reminded me that sometimes effectively eerie fantastic horror is possible via cross-cultural mongrelization.



-Ty E

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