Shanks (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute manipulates dead bodies.

Malcolm Shanks (Marcel Marceau) is a deaf-mute who lives with his cruel sister (Tsilla Chelton) and her alcoholic husband (Phillipe Clay). Malcolm’s puppeteer skills attracts the attention of an aging, eccentric inventor named Mr. Walker (Marcel Marceau) who hires Malcolm to come work with him inside his gothic castle. It is there that he learns of Mr. Walker’s newest invention, which allows him to animate the dead bodies of animals through electronic shocks. Malcolm uses this new found knowledge to animate Mr. Walker himself after he dies and then his sister and her husband when they die by accident, but when a biker gang invades the castle Malcolm is afraid they’ll misuse the invention for bad purposes.

Usually I enjoy offbeat movies, but this film, which was the last one to be directed by William Castle, is never able to catch its stride. It becomes hard to tell whether to even categorize it as a horror movie at all, even though it does have some dark elements, but it’s not inventive enough cinematically to consider it an experimental film either.

Marceau’s presence doesn’t help things. His character never says anything, only when he’s playing the role of Mr. Walker, but even then it’s only a few words. His facial expressions are good, so you pretty much know what he’s thinking, but after awhile his quietness makes him too transparent and he’s just no longer interesting at all and overshadowed by his teen co-star Cindy Eilbacher who does virtually all the talking and could’ve easily been made the star especially since her acting is really good.

The plot is thin and an excessive amount of time gets spent with Malcolm having the dead bodies, which he controls via remote control, dance around and at one point even go shopping, but after awhile this gets one-dimensional and repetitive. Dead bodies can also decay and start to smell real bad, but this reality never gets touched on. I was also confused because Phillipe Clay’s character is killed when he gets attacked by a chicken who bites into his face and makes a bloody mess of it, but when he’s a dancing dead body that injury mysteriously disappears completely.

I thought the introduction of the biker gang, who enter into the story way too late after the film also already become seriously boring, would enliven things, but it really doesn’t. I also didn’t like the visual approach, which is all mixed-up. During some scenes it looks to have been shot in the modern day suburbs and then at other points, especially when inside Mr. Walker’s castle, more of a medieval/gothic look. The inside of Malcolm’s sister’s place is all off too looking like the interior of a home during the 1930’s versus the 1970’s. The title cards that get thrown in at various intervals to help narrate what is going on, much like what you’d see in a silent movie, was not necessary.

I wished I could’ve liked this more, the idea certainly has potential, but there needed to be an added subtext. It’s just too simple and straightforward the way it is and unclear what audience the producers were aiming for.  Children may enjoy parts of it, but will become frightened at other points while adults will find some of it to be clever, but become impatient with the slow pace.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

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