The Undead (1957)
Guest Review by Jason Scott
Greetings from Canada! The city of Edmonton in the province of Alberta, to be precise. Sports fans might recognize the Edmonton Oilers as the team that uber-hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky played on during his glory years. Others might recognize Alberta as the Canadian province with the controversial oilsands (or tarsands, depending on who you ask).
But enough of that business. You didn't click on this review to learn about Canadian geography. You want to read about a b-movie, & I have a good one by b-movie master Roger Corman called The Undead. Despite the title, I'll inform you now that this movie doesn't contain any ghosts, ghouls, zombies, vampires, or other type of undead creature. Why this misleading title was chosen is a bit unclear. The supernatural phenomenon this movie's chiefly concerned with is witchcraft. Not the New Age Wiccan type, but the horrifying medieval variety.
The movie opens with the credits played through a screen of dancing flames. The music here sets a suitably ominous atmosphere. Immediately following the credits we get Satan breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Satan is played by 30-year old Richard Devon, an actor with a 40-some year career in various movies and television shows. Befitting the typical Corman budget, there's no elaborate make-up or costumes to help Devon sell his role. Satan dresses in black (I think. I can't really tell without color film), has pointy ears, a moustache & pointed goatee, & carries a pitchfork with very widely spaced tines. Rather than curved horns, Satan wears a hat with a curled up brim.
"I am speaking to you through a pitchfork, which makes me the indisputable face of Evil. Believe it!"
Satan declares that the following story is an example of his machinations throughout all of time. Time travel will play a role in this movie too, so these are not idle words. He ends by telling us to pray that we do not become objects of his nefarious attention, then throws back his head & gives a mocking laugh. Given that Satan is so eager for us to view the events of this movie, we can assume that a happy ending is far from guaranteed.
The next scene is a fog-swept street broken only by a solitary lamppost. Out of the mist emerges a lone young woman, quite pretty & dressed smartly in a light shirt & black skirt. Since this is the 1950's when women weren't supposed to be outside without a male chaperone, especially at night, it is to be inferred that this woman is up to some shady business, though she hardly looks to be disreputable. Apparently thinking that there's not quite enough smoke in the air, the woman takes out a cigarette & puts it to her mouth. A hand holding a lighter suddenly emerges from off-screen. The woman accepts the light then blows out smoke & smiles at the unseen helper. The hand grabs the woman's wrist. She's startled for a moment, then relaxes & allows herself to be led off.
"You're very pretty. Let me help you contract lung disease."
The screen cuts to a building sign that reads "American Institute of Psychical Research". Hmmm, I wonder if any other countries had Institutes of Psychical Research? The Soviets, perhaps? We now see that the woman has followed a man dressed in a dark coat & hat, though his face is still turned away from the screen. The pair passes through a doorway into a large office room. There sitting behind a desk is a middle-aged, bespectacled professor-type. He doesn't seem very happy at the arrival of these two guests, although he does seem to have been expecting them. He addresses the younger man in a disapproving tone, & it is quickly made apparent that he was once this fellow's mentor.
I'll take a break from the plot to go into a little more detail about these characters. The younger man is named Quintus Ratcliffe (quite a name). Quintus is played by Val Dufour, who was around 30 when this movie came out. Dufour has no biography on IMDb, & his film/tv credits end just before the '80s begin though that still gives him a respectable 25 years in show business. Quintus learned advanced techniques of hypnotism from the professor, but wasn't satisfied with this teaching & went off for 7 years to learn even more profound secrets from Eastern mystics. He's returned to his native land determined to tap into depths of the psyche never explored before, to "invade the past", & the young woman is intended to be his test subject. He wants the professor, the foremost authority on psychical phenomena, to assist him.
Quintus Ratcliffe, with a scar on his cheek & an intense look in his eyes.
The professor is named Ulbrecht Olinger (this movie has some great names). He's not at all eager to assist Quintus, thinking that the experiment is just absurd, but reluctantly agrees after being told that the experiment is going to happen with or without Olinger's assistance. Professor Olinger is played by 44 year old Maurice Manson (born Moritz Levine). Manson appeared on film & television from the late '40s to the early '80s. Before this time, he had been involved in theater work long enough for IMDb to note him as a veteran.
Professor Ulbrecht Olinger, with the typical movie professor prop of a pipe.
Quintus introduces Olinger to the young woman, who calls herself Diana Love. That sounds like a name a prostitute would use. FYI, Diana was a classical goddess with various personas. In one guise she was the chaste goddess of the hunt, but in another she was Hecate, goddess of witchcraft & the Underworld. I know I'm probably reading way too much into a b-movie, so feel free to take or leave that little bit of mythological trivia.
While the men are talking, Diana casually strolls about the office. She slyly pulls what looks like a cigarette case from Quintus' pocket & slips it into her purse, then goes over to flip through some books stacked on a shelf. I think the actress, Pamela Duncan, is trying to give us the impression that her character is a hardened denizen of the city streets whose virtue has been callously bought & sold so many times that she has seemingly slid beyond redemption, but for me the effect didn't quite come off. Diana just seems like a bored & spoiled rich girl out for a little fun. There's no real edge to her demeanor. To give a little bio on the actress, Pamela Duncan was around 32 years old at this time & only acted up to about the mid-'60's. She's best known for her roles in this movie & another Corman production, Attack of the Crab Monsters, which came out around the same time.
Anyway, it's hard to tell whether Diana hears what the men are talking about, although she's close by & they make no attempt to speak quietly, acting like she's not really there. If she does overhear anything, she doesn't seem to care. Quintus remarks that her "type" is almost devoid of willpower, & thus easy to manipulate with hypnosis. This rather insulting statement passes right over Diana's head. I suppose in her line of work she's heard it all. Once the trance is underway, Quintus doesn't intend to break it for anything. I'd think what he says about keeping Diana under hypnosis for two days or longer should get her interest, but not really.
In the next scene, Diana is lying on a couch like those ones that psychiatrists are commonly shown as having in their offices. The two men hover over her as they prepare to begin the experiment. Diana makes some half-hearted objection to being hypnotized, but Quintus reminds her that she's getting paid 500 dollars. I guess that's a fair bit of money for the time, but I might be inclined to hold out for a little more if I'm agreeing to be put into what might be a fatal trance. Quintus had earlier waved off Olinger's objection to the dangerous experiment on the grounds that he was paying the test subject well for her services. So he's not paying Diana for sex, which he seems to have no interest in, but he is paying her to risk her life in the interests of scientific experimentation. Is that any better? After all, he's still taking advantage of Diana's vulnerable position in society to get her to agree to some very risky business. Just a notion I'm throwing out for consideration.
Quintus looks like he has a headache. Maybe Olinger has some Aspirin.
Quintus remarks that Diana might want to remove the bracelet on her right wrist. I'd noticed this bracelet a moment before he mentioned it, so it seems to have been filmed to catch the eye. It shall prove significant, I'm sure. Diana says that she prefers to keep the bracelet on, & Quintus lets the matter drop so he can get on with his magnum opus.
Diana with her conspicuous bracelet.
Now comes an extended scene where Quintus hypnotizes Diana. He has her stare at his hand as his voice drones on about how his hand seems to go on forever, blah blah. I wonder how close this routine is to one an actual hypnotist would use? It works on Diana, though, as after a while she slips into a trance. It will become apparent pretty soon that Diana is not faking here. Although, it would have been interesting if she had pretended being hypnotized & made up the story that was to follow. Or, she could have been suffering from multiple personality disorder. Those premises are for other movies than the one we have here, though.
"How many fingers do you see?"
Quintus starts methodically peeling back the layers of Diana's past lives. We see her huddled up in a fetal position as Quintus guides her back to her life in the womb & beyond. Quintus & Olinger realize that they've hit pay dirt when the former asks Diana a question, & she responds in fluent French. Again, she could know French & be putting all this on, but no, she is reliving a previous incarnation. Quintus is barely pleased at what many would regard as a phenomenal accomplishment. He informs Olinger that he intends to go much further back yet.
The tension is getting to Olinger, & that poor pencil pays the price.
Diana has to be spoon-fed. Apparently she doesn't need bathroom breaks.
Remember that bracelet that Diana didn't want to remove earlier? Well, she now starts tugging on it with a distressed look on her face, as though trying to pull it off. Doing so should be easy, but for some reason Diana can't seem to get the bracelet off. The reason why is given a moment later as the scene dissolves & we go from a 1950's office to a dark dungeon back in what I'm assuming is medieval England. The bracelet has turned into a shackle that's binding the wrist of a young woman who looks exactly like Diana, except dressed in clothes more suitable to this era.
Diana's past life, who we eventually learn is named Helene.
Out of the shadows steps a very ugly jailer to torment our fair damsel in distress. This jailer is named Gobbo, played by 40-year old Aaron Saxon. What little information the IMDb has on Saxon is interesting. He was a wrestler who went by the name "Lord Spears", dressed in a suit, & quoted Shakespeare constantly. Around this time, Saxon had plastic surgery to repair his battered face so that he could land a role other than what we see here, which is basically that of a goon. I'm guessing this strategy didn't work too well, as his last acting credit was only six years after this movie came out.
The ugly are often employed as jailors, where only criminals get to suffer them.
I'll mention now that all the characters in the past speak with a sort of pseudo-Shakespearean diction. I think it's a good way of distinguishing the past scenes from the modern ones. There was no standardized English in Medieval England. The language in structure & pronunciation was different enough that English speakers of the 20th century would have found it largely unintelligible. There was so much regional variation in dialects of this time that even people from different parts of the British Isles could find communication difficult. Having the characters in this film speak in a more formalized way gives a bit of different flavor while still making it easy for audiences to comprehend what is being said.
Now back to the movie. Helene seems rather bewildered as to what she's doing in this dismal cell. She certainly does seem out of place. Gobbo sadistically informs her that she has been found guilty of witchcraft & is to have her head chopped off at sunrise. Helene is understandably upset at this news, which she now remembers, & piteously pleads her innocence to Gobbo, who really could care less. He sees a lovely young woman who is totally under his power, & his mind is taking a predictably vile turn. I imagine Helene isn't the first young lady condemned as a witch who has had to suffer through a night of captivity under the thuggish Gobbo. Historically, many unfortunate women suffered terrible indignities during witch-hunts. It was a violent age, women had little standing, & people hardly cared what was done to those who were likely consorting with the Devil. In fact, witch burnings & public executions were a popular form of entertainment.
"Bad news. Corman says to keep within budget you'll have to take a pay cut."
So, it seems as though our fair damsel is going to be violated, but out of nowhere comes the voice of Diana. It's a future life coming to the aid of a past life. This is a nice change from the usual scenario where the hunky male lead would come to the rescue of the endangered woman. Since Diana has just arrived in the past, she hasn't merged with Helene yet, & offers her no doubt experienced advice in dealing with brutish men. She instructs Helene to pretend to make love to Gobbo. Ewww! Helene is quite reluctant to carry out this strategy, even though it would just be an act, & I don't blame her.
She has no real alternative other than losing her virtue, however, so Helene makes a timorous attempt at bluffing Gobbo. He's been wondering who she's been talking to, which makes me think he really doesn't believe he has a witch held captive, because it would be obvious what sort of spirit is being addressed. Although Helene's advances are pretty lame, Gobbo easily falls for the act. Of course, the flattery of a beautiful woman can make much smarter men than Gobbo cast aside their reason. As the damsel draws near, Diana tells her to use her chains, but doesn't say how. Helene hardly seems strong enough to strangle Gobbo by looping the chains around his neck. In fact, she hardly seems cut out for any sort of violent action.
"Your collar's loose. I'll make it really, really tight."
Nonetheless, what Helene actually does is to clout Gobbo on the jaw with her chains. Well, it's a pretty light hit, as she's scarcely able to lift the heavy chains, much less use them offensively. Maybe adrenaline is kicking in? Despite his size, Gobbo must have a glass jaw, as this meek blow knocks him out cold. Diana orders Helene to grab the key, which she quickly does. Then Helene sneaks out of the prison.
"Who says I need a man to fight my battles for me?"
She doesn't get away cleanly, however. Gobbo revives, & immediately shouts that the witch is escaping. I wonder what story he's going to come up with to explain what happened? The accepted thinking at this time was that men were stronger & smarter than women, hence the rationale for female subjection. Gobbo would never be able to live down the shame of admitting that he was outwitted & overpowered by a woman.
The chase is on now, as a bunch of men in jerkins, hoods, & tight leggings dash off to recapture the fugitive. This scene is dramatically filmed, as Helene frantically rushes through the woods with shouts of pursuit all around her. It reminds me of the scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where Snow White is fleeing through the scary forest, & perhaps Corman was inspired by that movie.
Medieval men had quite the fashion sense, which our model here shows off.
Helene's stopped in her dash for freedom by the appearance of a helmeted knight on horseback. She takes off in another direction, somehow managing to stay ahead of a galloping horse. She trips & falls over into the brush, which would presumably mean the end of her escape attempt, except the knight just gallops right by her without noticing that she's just off to the side. Maybe the helmet is obstructing his peripheral vision? It reminds me of the Ringwraith in The Fellowship of the Ring that somehow fails to sniff out the hobbits that are literally right under its nose.
That's no one I'd want to meet out in the woods at night.
Having narrowly evaded capture, Helene stumbles through the woods until she spies a stocky man with tonsured hair singing next to a hearse. She sneaks on to this wagon while the man keeps his back turned, digging what appears to be a grave. Within the wagon a coffin is laid, in which there lies the corpse of a man, as Helene discovers when she quietly opens the lid.
Helene opens the box to find Death staring back at her.
To her credit, Helene doesn't give herself away with a scream at this repulsive sight. The knight rides up now to talk to the gravedigger. This man's name is Smolkin, & he's my favorite character in this movie. Throughout the film, Smolkin will be singing macabre but witty tunes that he just seems to make up on the spot. He acts like he's not quite in possession of his marbles, but it's hard to tell how much of his behavior is genuine & how much is an act. Smolkin is played by Mel Welles (born Ira Meltcher), around 33 years old at this time. Welles was a man of many talents who, aside from acting, worked as a clinical psychologist, writer, & radio deejay.
Smolkin, who looks a lot like Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood legends.
So Smolkin & the knight talk for a bit about the fugitive Helene. The knight names the place Helene escaped from as the Tower of Death, which is a suitably dreadful name. He also remarks that 3 women are to be executed at dawn tomorrow, & the third woman must be Helene. If there's some special significance to having 3 sacrifices, it's never explained.
By astonishing coincidence, Smolkin is the one who Helene allegedly bewitched with her fell magic. The knight inspects Smolkin's wagon without finding Helene, though he doesn't look inside the coffin after being told that there's only a dead man within. Smolkin is sternly told to nail down the coffin lid as the law dictates, which he proceeds to do.
We see inside the coffin, where a horrified Helene is caught between revealing herself & getting beheaded, or remaining hidden & getting buried alive. What a nasty choice to make. It's obvious here that the "corpse" is really a manikin, as it flops about in a way a body really wouldn't, especially if it was still in rigor mortis. There's no sign of decay having set in, which is fortunate for poor Helene, although I'm sure it's no consolation to her as those nails get pounded into the coffin lid.
A woman sealed up in a coffin. Edgar Allen Poe would approve of this scene.
The wagon rides off, & it is here that we get our first viewing of an actual witch & her imp. They appear as two owls in a tree that change shape in a little cloud of sparks. These two will shape-shift throughout the movie, & each time the transformation will be accompanied by a burst of sparks. This ability to assume animal forms is about their only infernal power. The forms taken are always creatures of ill omen: a cat, rat, bat, lizard, & spider.
The witch & her imp just chilling out in a tree while plotting trouble.
The witch is named Livia, & is played by 27-year old Allison Hayes (born Mary Jane Hayes). Hayes was a busy actress throughout the '50s & '60s, with one of her most famous roles being the lead in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. She sadly died at the age of 46 due to over-prescribed calcium supplements that poisoned her blood. Hayes' character Livia will be the main villain of this film, a femme fatale who will seek to kill Helene & tempt the soon-to-arrive male lead to ruin. As can be easily guessed, Livia is the one truly responsible for bewitching Smolkin, & she spread the rumor about Helene's supposed witchery that has landed our fair damsel in such a dire predicament.
Livia. For some reason that dress strap on her left arm is always dangling down.
Livia's imp minion is played by the diminutive actor Billy Barty, who first appeared on-screen at age 3, & 30 years later did this film. Barty had a long career, appearing in movie & television roles right up to his death in 2000. He also played college football & basketball, had a stint as a journalist, & founded an organization called Little People of America Inc. at around the time this movie was distributed. The imp he plays here never speaks, & even his laughter is silent, but Barty does a good job giving this character some personality through facial expressions.
The imp, a very happy little guy. What a shame he's made happy by making others unhappy.
Livia basically just gives some exposition about how badly she wants to eliminate Helene & corrupt Pendragon, the grandiose name of the male lead. Since I mention Pendragon, I may as well deal with that character now. Pendragon is played by Richard Garland, who was around 30 years old at the time but looks considerably older. Garland co-starred with Pamela Duncan in this movie & Attack of the Crab Monsters. Like Allison Hayes, Garland had an early death at age 41, though he acted right up to the end, mostly in various television roles. His personal Devil was alcoholism, which caused his career to suffer & led to his untimely demise. I wonder if the effects of drinking explain Garland's prematurely aged features? When first watching The Undead, I had him pegged as a guy in his forties trying to pass as much younger. As a side note, Garland had a small role as a hardware store owner in a previous MMT-reviewed film, Panic In Year Zero.
Pendragon. Seriously, does he look 30 to you?
Pendragon is meant to be something like the Prince Charming character in a Disney animated feature, though his lined features compromise his handsomeness. It's never explained how he met Helene or where he's been recently, but he's somehow heard about the damsel's misfortune & has come to save her from execution. He rides past the tree Livia & her imp are perched in, & Livia immediately changes to a cat (black, of course) & takes off after him.
I guess Pendragon's not riding very fast, for Livia catches up to him. She changes back to human form & calls out to Pendragon, who stops & turns to her. He & Livia obviously know each other, although it's never explained how. Maybe they grew up in the same town? Pendragon explains his mission, claiming he'll storm the Tower of Death if necessary to save Helene. Livia acts all sweetly innocent. Pendragon departs to interrogate Smolkin, warning Livia to beware, as it's the eve of the Witches' Sabbath.
He finds Smolkin at the graveyard & confronts the gravedigger about whether he was really bewitched by Helene. Smolkin cagily replies that, having lost his reason due to foul enchantment, he can't be sure that he's even Smolkin, much less who glamored him. Pendragon asks if Smolkin is jesting with him, to which the gravedigger again replies that in his condition he "can't tell jest from joust." Disgusted at this evasiveness, Pendragon mounts his horse & rides off, stating that he will return later. If he only knew that his sweet lady was trapped in a coffin a matter of feet from him. Smolkin shrugs off the encounter & hoists up the sealed coffin, preparing to lay it in it's final resting place with Helene still inside. This story is becoming like a Gothic horror novel where the heroine is about to be buried alive.
Helene throws caution to the wind & begins giving choked screams. Smolkin hears her cries & immediately pries the lid off the coffin with his shovel. He seems surprisingly unfazed when a sobbing, beautiful woman emerges from the coffin & throws her arms around him. Then again, if I were a solitary gravedigger who mostly kept myself company, I wouldn't be too upset if a pretty woman just sprang out of a box.
Now that's my kind of jack-in-the-box. (Or would it be jill-in-the-box?)
Helene doesn't know who Smolkin is, but he quickly identifies her. Helene asks Smolkin much the same question as Pendragon did, & gets much the same response. She pleads for Smolkin to help her, saying that if she can live past dawn she'll have a whole year to prove her innocence. Smolkin, apparently not at all angry with the woman who supposedly cast a spell on him, agrees to bring Helene to a place of safety. The two ride off in Smolkin's hearse, & I'm left wondering whether the gravedigger is really going to help Helene, or just bring her back to the authorities for what could be a substantial reward.
The next scene takes place at an inn called Gabriel's Horn. Livia shows up here as a cat & enters inside after turning back into a woman. There's not much of a crowd here, just a couple of people quietly sitting at tables. Livia is greeted by the chubby innkeeper Scroop, played by 35-year old Bruno VeSota (sometimes, as in this movie, written Ve Sota). VeSota died of a heart attack at the age of 54, but kept very busy in show business up to that time. Before he started appearing in movies in 1953, VeSota had acted in & directed literally thousands of television, stage, & radio productions. He appears as a night watchman in Corman's The Wasp Woman, which Nate & Pam jointly reviewed.
Scroop sitting there on the left. Apologies for the fuzzy screen cap.
Livia congratulates Scroop on securing his inn so formidably against witches during the Sabbath. Scroop takes this cue to point out all the herbs & supposed charms he's amassed to prevent supernatural guests from visiting his establishment. He even hands Livia a clove of garlic he keeps in his pocket, claiming that there's no better charm against evil spirits. Livia pretends to act impressed while surreptitiously handing the garlic to her imp, who has somehow materialized under the table she & Scroop are sitting at. Far from being repelled by garlic, the imp eagerly takes it, bites off a big chunk, & chews it with great relish. The imp's expression here is really fun to watch. The screen cap of the imp I put up earlier shows him during this scene.
At this point, Pendragon enters the inn. He walks upstairs without even a hello, telling Scroop to bring some ale up to his room. Livia takes the ale & goes up instead, giving Scroop a great line to "rest thine corpulence." Inside Pendragon's room, he's molding a ball of clay for some reason. I don't know why he has a lump of clay in his room. Is he into pottery? Without bothering to look around, he addresses Livia as though she were Scroop. Livia lets him go on for a moment before revealing herself. Pendragon is startled to see Livia, but doesn't order her out. Livia immediately starts trying to seduce Pendragon & distract his mind from Helene. He doesn't repulse her in outrage, but doesn't seem very responsive, either.
I guess shaping clay is what Pendragon does to calm his nerves after a busy day of doing whatever he does.
Livia putting some major moves on Pendragon. I don't think I'd mind being corrupted like this.
We cut back to Smolkin & Helene. The gravedigger drops Helene off & tells her that nearby is a cottage. Helene asks if she'll be safe there, to which Smolkin gives a characteristically ambiguous reply before heading off. I'll give you his song here so you can get an idea what they're like:
Hey diddle diddle, the cat & the fiddle, The corpse jumped over his tomb. The Murderer laughed to see such a sight, As he strangled the girl in the gloom.
With these grim lines drifting through the misty air, Helene nervously approaches the cottage & knocks on the door. A moment later, a hag's face appears at the window next to the door, causing Helene to scream.
Snow White comes to the dwarfs' house to find the Evil Queen in disguise.
Now we finally get back to the 1950's for a brief scene that reminds us about Quintus, Olinger, & Diana in the office. Diana is echoing Helene's scream & writhing on the couch. Olinger demands the experiment be stopped, but Quintus says it's too dangerous. If Diana reemerges from the trance at this point, the shock might kill her. Quintus doesn't seem nearly as concerned as Olinger by what's happening.
We quickly return to the past, where the old woman warmly greets Helene & half-pulls her inside. Then the scene shifts back to the inn, where Scroop has arrived in Pendragon's room bearing the building plans for the Tower of Death. I don't know why Scroop would have these plans. Did he steal them or buy them from someone? Anyway, Pendragon takes the map, pulls it open, & intently scans it as Scroop leaves. Livia is still in the room, lying in a corner silently observing what's going on.
There's another quick segue to the '50s, where Diana now has her hands clasped together as though in prayer. The men wonder if Diana will be in this position forever. The scene fades back to the past, where Helene is kneeling inside the cottage, mirroring Diana's behavior.
The hag who lives here is called Meg Maud, & she looks very much like the stereotypical witch. She even has a cauldron boiling over the fire. Meg Maud is played by 43-year old Dorothy Neumann. Neumann has no IMDb biography, but she has 126 acting credits on the big & small screen that covered 47 years. Many of her appearances were uncredited bit parts, but she has an important role to play in this film, as we shall see. As Meg Maud, Neumann has by far the most makeup to wear of anyone in the movie. It is noticeable many times that her pointed noise & chin are fake, but I won't quibble, as Corman was notoriously stingy with his bare budget & went to great lengths to avoid spending one extra penny more than necessary.
Meg Maud, complete with a wart on her nose.
Helene seems quite uncertain this old woman really means to do her good, & Meg Maud's behavior is hardly reassuring. She takes an ax (this movie has a lot of axes) from the wall & brandishes it at the poor woman, screeching that she's a friend of Helene's supposed victim, Smolkin. It looks as though Meg Maud might actually strike Helene with the ax, but instead she slices off some meat that she throws into her pot. The only harm she ends up doing to Helene is to take a strand of her hair, "a raven strand of maiden virtue", as she puts it. Meg Maud says that witches should work together & not fight, a sentiment that Helene hastily agrees with. Despite her virtue, Helen seems willing to practice deception if it will get her out of a jam, although as with Gobbo she doesn't bluff here very well. Meg Maud then heads out, warning Helene not to open the door for anyone but her. So now our oppressed heroine is alone in an old cabin owned by a queer old woman who may actually be a witch. Helene's certainly having a poor night thus far.
"You see here? This is what will happen to your fingers if you're careless with an ax."
We see Meg Maude coming up to Gabriel's Horn. As with Smolkin, I wonder whether she is intending to aid Helene or turn her in? She enters the inn & immediately meets Scroop. Meg Maud's demeanor is different now. She is no longer cackling or acting as erratically as before. She quickly learns that Pendragon is here, & in turn says that she has Helene at her place. She has Scroop call Pendragon down, warning the innkeeper not to say a word to Livia, which indicates that she is really not in league with witches after all.
Meg Maud tells Pendragon to go to her house immediately. Pendragon wants to know the reason, but Meg Maud says there is no time for answering questions, he must get to her house ASAP. She gives him some rather vague directions & he dutifully heads out the door. Meg Maud goes upstairs to have a little conversation with the fair Livia.
Livia is lounging in bed when Meg Maude enters. The two of them banter for a bit, & in the course of their talk Meg Maud reveals that although she knows the sinister practices of witches, she is not one herself, & intends that Helene shall live to see the light of dawn. Livia strolls over to the lump of clay Pendragon was working on, which it can now be seen is in the shape of a head. She picks up a knife & begins drawing it across the clay head's throat. There are two quick cuts to Helene & Diana, showing them acting as though the knife is cutting into both their throats. Fortunately for them, Meg Maud pulls the knife away before Livia is finished. Livia never uses this effigy magic again, although it seems like a quick & effective way to deal with her rival.
Helene feels the knife of black sorcery biting into her.
Is that clay head supposed to be of someone in particular? It doesn't resemble Helene.
Pendragon has found Meg Maud's cabin very quickly, though it seems to be quite close to all the scenes of action. He knocks on the door & Helene opens up, despite Meg Maud's admonishment about only opening the door for her. They have their joyous reunion, with Helene in no way rebuking Pendragon for being gone while she languished in a dungeon.
"Sorry I wasn't around when you were really in danger, but better late than never, right?"
Back at the tavern, Meg Maud recognizes Livia's lurking imp, disguised as a lizard, & literally throws the book at him to shoo him away. Returning to the house, Helene & Pendragon are sitting by the fire. Helene says that she tricked Meg Maude into thinking that she was a witch. Pendragon chides her, saying that she couldn't fool anyone & the old woman was the one who sent him here. When Helene replies that she still finds this cabin dreary, Pendragon offers to take her back to Gabriel's Horn, where she will be safe (or not). En route there, the couple hides in some bushes to avoid a knight who rides by. This knight may be the same one as before. He shows a similar lack of alertness by failing to notice two adults & a big horse concealed in bushes right next to where he's passing. The knight might see better if he took off that helmet. What does he need it for, anyway?
"I've been pretty useless so far. I'll make up for that by moving you to a less safe place."
Livia takes up the verbal gauntlet Meg Maud has thrown down, saying that she will work her wiles on Pendragon & see Helene executed. Meg Maud gets in the final word & leaves. Livia & her imp both head off as bats to the graveyard to prepare for the Witches' Sabbath.
To the graveyard now, where Smolkin is working while singing another song. Livia enters, & in a nod to the convention of witches riding broomsticks, she's using a broom to sweep out "wandering ghosts" from the graveyard in preparation for the Sabbath.
It's gravedigger vs. witch. The shovel vs. the broom. Who will be the victor?
Smolkin rather foolishly mentions that a head is to be offered to Satan so that he'll be sure to appear. Livia says she'd almost forgotten about that bit, & predictably answers that Smolkin's head could serve the purpose. The gravedigger, again showing off his nimble tongue, replies that the Devil might feel cheated by being offered the head of a crazy man. Livia seems to agree, for she lets Smolkin keep his head on his shoulders.
At Gabriel's Horn, Meg Maud is telling Scroop that she needs to get back to check on Helene when a knock is heard at the door. Scroop cautiously opens the door & peers out, quickly stepping aside to let Pendragon & Helene in. Meg Maud rebukes Pendragon for taking Helene away from her cabin when there are soldiers crawling all over the place, and her words seem reasonable to me. Pendragon replies that they avoided the soldiers, & Helene will be safer in his room than Meg Maud's house.
Now that the two lovers are safely together, Pendragon announces that he's going to find Smolkin to further his plan of proving Helene's innocence. I'd say it would be better to keep Helene alive until morning, when she'll apparently have a whole year to prove that she's no witch. Pendragon wants to exonerate her tonight, though, & tells Helene to stay in his room. If he's not back in an hour, she's to go to Meg Maud's cabin. Why would Pendragon have taken Helene from that cabin if he was just going to have her go back so soon? Who knows. Meg Maud for some reason doesn't warn Pendragon about the plotting of Livia, which will prove troublesome.
Pendragon's getting a lot of action with the ladies tonight.
So Pendragon swiftly arrives at the graveyard to fetch Smolkin. Livia's still here, & seeing an opportunity to further her schemes, lies that Helen has been recaptured. Pendragon says that's not possible & stupidly tells Livia where Helene is. Livia conjures up an image of Helene in chains on the side of Smolkin's hearse. Pendragon proves that he's definitely one of the dullest knives in the drawer by immediately accepting this apparition as proof positive that Helene is indeed in prison again. He dashes off, presumably to waste time liberating the phantom of Helene from the Tower of Death. He doesn't even bother to ask how it is Livia can cause this image to magically appear, which I think might be important to know. Livia & the imp turn into bats & fly off to Meg Maud's cabin. Left behind, Smolkin decides he'll go warn Meg Maud of the mischief going down.
Livia tells Pendragon to "look at the glass", though this is solid wood with no sign of a glass.
Meanwhile, back in the '50s, Quintus is interrogating Diana, trying to figure out what's going on in the past. From the responses he gets, Quintus learns about Helene, & is also clued in to how Diana has changed the past, which disturbs him. Olinger notes a bruise on Diana's forearm that hadn't been there before, which indicates to Quintus that Diana's regression is both physical & mental, though I don't quite get that part since physically she's still in the office.
Back to the past, where Helene has been sleeping. Livia & the imp are on their way, but Meg Maud is still looking out for Helene's safety. She rouses the maiden & tells her that they should get back to her cabin. Helene objects that Pendragon could still return, but Meg Maud replies that the hour is up & Pendragon will now come back to her house regardless.
Livia & her imp show up just as Meg Maud & Helene have gone out the door. Livia comes downstairs to confront Scroop, who's sitting at a table sharpening an ax (yep, another ax). This is the first of the unwise things he does. His second unwise action is to move away from the ax while allowing Livia to move closer to it. She demands to know where Helene is, & Scroop tries to bluff his way out of trouble, saying that no witch could get by the charms on his door, though he must know better by now. Livia, noticing the ax, tells Scroop that Helene is dangerous. Scroop does his third & final unwise act by saying that he "is not one to lose his head."
"Can't I please have another 5 minutes of screen time?"
Taking this as her cue, Livia calls Scroop a liar & comes at him with the ax, saying that she needs a head for the Sabbath. Scroop doesn't even try to defend himself. He just screams & recoils as Livia swings the ax with an evil sneer.
"Roger told me you cost him a full dime more than he budgeted. Off with your head!"
Unless Livia has been given supernatural strength, I don't think that she strikes with anywhere near enough force to go through the flesh, bone, & tissue of a healthy adult male. I also think Scroop could use his considerable size advantage to overpower the witch. His head is duly chopped off, however, though we never actually see it being done. Livia tells the imp to collect the head, & with a big smile on his face he places the head in a wicker basket without actually showing it on-screen. The two depart the inn with their prize. Alas, if only Scroop had lost his reason like Smolkin, he wouldn't have lost his head.
"Happiness is holding a bloody ax."
Pendragon has snuck into the dungeon of the Tower of Death. He finds, as we knew he would, that Helen is not there. She, of course, escaped without his help hours ago, & he's just acting as a total dupe by coming here in search of her. He does meet up with Gobbo the (not so) lovable jailer from before. Gobbo just wanders in for some reason & spots Pendragon. Rather than demanding an explanation for what Pendragon is up to, or calling for any assistance, Gobbo goes straight to the attack.
So we get a rather lame fight scene, where the two men are mostly flailing at each other with weak slaps. At one point, Gobbo grabs Pendragon & strikes him several times on the forehead with his open palm. Is that supposed to somehow hurt? They crash into the walls a bit, & it's obvious that the walls only look like stone, & are really a much less stable material. For a moment, it seems that Pendragon might lose this fight, which would seriously hurt his credibility as the virile male lead. He rallies, though, & beats Gobbo down. It's notable, though, that Pendragon has to smack Gobbo several times before the jailer goes down for the count. His girlfriend knocked out Gobbo in a manner of seconds, after all, & she's far from a warrior maiden. This entire scene adds nothing to the plot, & I suspect it was put in to add some action to a movie that really doesn't have much of that sort of thing. We now know that, gullible as he is, Pendragon is of some use in a fight.
"I brand your forehead with the Palm of Death!"
"If you think your face looked ugly before, wait 'til I'm done with it!" (Again, apologies for a blurry screen cap.)
Back in the '50s, Quintus has decided to take drastic action to sort out this messy situation. He tells Olinger that he has learned from the remarkable shamans of Nepal how to actually go back in time using the trail blazed by a person under hypnosis visiting a past life. These shamans in Nepal really have some incredible abilities. I wonder why it is they stay isolated off in some distant part of Asia rather than using their powers to take over the world, or at least some small part of it? Why go to all the trouble of learning these advanced tricks of hypnosis without any real purpose?
Anyway, back to the movie. Quintus says that Diana has thrown her entire destiny off track, & that if Helene does not die as she was going to, none of her future lives will be. He's bound & determined to straighten matters out. Olinger typically makes an objection that Quintus just as typically overrules completely.
The two men talk in the foreground while the object of their conversation lies between them in the background. It's a nicely composed shot.
There is now a scene with Pendragon returning to Meg Maud's house after beating up jailers to no purpose. He's suddenly pulled into the bushes by Livia. Livia reveals to Pendragon that she is a witch, which he's surprised to learn though I imagine he would have figured it out earlier from her ability to make images appear on surfaces. She proposes to Pendragon that he can save Helene's life by giving his soul to Satan. This deal seems like a really bad one, as everyone knows that the Devil is not the sort who deals honestly with mortals. Nonetheless, Pendragon again demonstrates his poor reasoning by agreeing, after only a moment's indecision, to sacrifice his soul for the sake of Helene. This gesture would be a lot more meaningful if we didn't know that Helene was safe & Pendragon was really causing her trouble rather than saving her from it.
Quintus is now preparing for his leap back in time. He & Diana are hooked up to a cardiograph machine. He'll bring the wavelengths of his brain in-sync with Diana's, at which point he should emerge back in the time she's enmeshed in. Quintus is going to use self-hypnosis, but he also needs Olinger to hypnotize him so he will go into a deep enough trance. Olinger agrees to this plan, as he's agreed to everything Quintus has proposed. Quintus is really calling the shots throughout this movie, & I wonder how effective a teacher Olinger really is. Why should the instructor be taking all the orders from the student, after all?
Quintus prepares to meld minds with Diana.
So, Quintus physically travels back in time. I'm not even going to try to explain how this sort of thing would be in any way possible. It's part of the movie, so I'm just going to accept it. We see him crouching behind a bush as a knight is talking to some underling. Quintus has arrived without his clothes. There's one shot to show that he is wearing pants, but I think that was accidentally brought into frame & never re-shot.
Sigh. Yet another blurry screen cap. Quintus is just behind those bushes in the foreground.
Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, the knight really needs to be more aware of his surroundings. As the underling departs, Quintus pulls the knight from off his horse & throws him to the ground. Holy smokes! Quintus must be in amazing shape. From what I've read about the Middle Ages, the average peasant would have been considerably stronger than the average twentieth century urban dweller. A knight, who was bred for war from an early age, would have been a truly awesome opponent in a fight, but this one is easily bested. Perhaps Quintus had some trick of mesmerism that incapacitated the knight?
Anyway, Quintus dons the knight's attire & mounts his horse. Curiously, Quintus' watch has come along with him, & I wonder why nothing else he was wearing did. Again curiously, Quintus knows how to ride a horse, which at this time would have been an enormous beast requiring considerable strength & skill to reign in. Perhaps Quintus learned to ride in order to visit those shamans in Nepal, who likely lived in places inaccessible by any other means.
At Meg Maud's house, she's putting a cross around her neck & preparing to head off to spy on the Sabbath. She leaves Smolkin to guard Helene. He seems a strange choice for a guardian, but I guess there's no one else since Pendragon took off. Helene is completely over her initial suspicion of Meg Maud, & tells her that she regards the old woman as an angel. Meg Maud has certainly done a better job protecting Helene than the constantly absent Pendragon.
The Witches' Sabbath begins now, & a group of figures emerge into the misty graveyard. Presumably, they are all very desperate or very greedy people who have come to ask favors of the Devil. Rather disappointingly, there's no sign that any orgies are going to be taking place tonight.
"What the hell? I thought the Witches' Sabbath was being held at a new night club, not a damn graveyard!"
A frightened man accosts Quintus with an appeal for aid. Quintus rudely casts the fellow off, saying he has his own troubles to deal with. The man isn't really offended, but the arrogant & entitled knights of the time probably dealt with the peasantry like this quite often. Quintus then makes an appeal to the fellow for aid, asking for directions to Meg Maud's house. The man says that he doesn't know where that is, he's just trying to stay clear of the Witches' Sabbath. Quintus demands to be told where the Sabbath is, & with some reluctance the poor man gives him directions before taking off.
"My GPS doesn't work. Would you be so kind as to point me in the right direction?"
Livia & Pendragon arrive at the graveyard. Livia steps forward to make an invocation to the Devil & then casts the basket with the severed head on to the Altar of the Profane.
"Here you go, Satan. I have a basket of freshly baked muffins. They're yummy!"
A sheet of flames roars to life & as they die Satan appears to the crowd.
"I speak softly, but carry a very sharp pitchfork."
He assures everyone assembled that he's really not that bad (yeah, right). Satan promises everyone health, wealth, & security in exchange for selling their souls by putting a signature down in a book opened before him. To show what a fun guy he is, Satan has three zombie women appear in front of tombstones, rise to their feet, & do a neat choreographed dance for everyone's entertainment. Once finished their routine, the women silently lie back down in front of the tombstones & disappear. It's really quite the scene to watch.
The Dance of Death!
Now the suppliants come forward. Two men write their signatures, which are likely X's as the vast majority of the population at this time was illiterate. If they'd been given a contract, they wouldn't have been able read a word. They don't have to sign with their blood, as is sometimes required.
The first man is a leper who shows no sign of leprosy that I can see, & complains about being a social outcast. He signs his name & gets Satan's pitchfork symbol branded on the back of his hand, for whatever good that's going to do him. As far as I can tell, he's still a leper & now can be ostracized even more for bearing the mark of the Devil.
This fellow seems less than overjoyed by his conversion to the dark side.
The second man is an older fellow who claims that he's worked hard all his life without getting any wealth. He signs his name & gets handed a black bag with the same pitchfork symbol sewn on to it. Presumably the bag contains money, though given how the typical Devil's bargain goes, I could imagine it's filled with coins of no value, leaving this guy with an apparent fortune he can't actually spend. We don't find out what's in the bag, though, as the man just grabs it & walks off.
"Here's your bag full of fool's gold. Thanks for the soul, sucker."
Livia guides Pendragon up to Satan. After some hesitation, Pendragon is about to sign his soul away when Quintus intervenes. Quintus & the Devil know each other, though what their prior dealings were is vague. Satan says that Quintus is dabbling in black arts by traveling back in time. Quintus proposes that Pendragon barter with Satan, lending out his soul for a month instead of just giving it away. Satan, showing rare annoyance, says that he's not in the business of leasing souls. Livia, seeing her victory slip away, encourages Pendragon to ignore the stranger & sign the book like he was going to do.
Pendragon does a real see-saw here, first agreeing with Livia then with Quintus. He doesn't have much heroic resolve.
Quintus promises that Helene will be safe if Pendragon forgets the book. Pendragon agrees to go, but states that he will have to return if Quintus' words prove false. They leave, & Meg Maud also sneaks off. She showed up to observe the Sabbath from hiding as planned, but didn't interfere in any way. Livia also leaves while the Devil throws back his head & laughs. He seems able to find the humor in any situation.
Meg Maud returns to her cabin to tell Helene & Smolkin what has happened. She tells Helene that she is now safe & can rest easy, but these words may be premature. Quintus & Pendragon arrive at Meg Maud's cabin now, followed immediately by Livia & her imp. Quintus sends Pendragon to the house, & Livia has her imp chase after him, but he just misses getting through the door before it shuts.
I wouldn't think a door would be such an obstacle for a demon, but maybe Meg Maud has some kind of charm cast on it.
Inside, Pendragon & Helene have their reunion for the second time tonight, while Meg Maud & Smolkin talk about how impetuous young people are. Pendragon finally (finally) finds out that Livia actually lied to him about Helene being recaptured, & that he was about to sell his soul for nothing, really.
The hag & the fool will continue to have a purely Platonic relationship, which is just as well.
Quintus tells Helene about Quintus, & when she sees him out the window she gets very frightened, saying that she's sure he wants her dead. Meg Maud thinks that Quintus has cast some kind of dark enchantment on Helene. He sends Pendragon & Helene off with Smolkin out the back door to the depths of the woods where they may not be found. People have a very hard time staying in one place during this movie. They're constantly heading off somewhere.
Outside, Livia & her imp are fascinated by Quintus' watch, which he is showing off the way a tablet owner would show off the latest nifty app. He moves the arms of his watch forward, causing Livia to ooh & aah over his ability to control time. These two foes are actually acting quite friendly here, which is surprising. I'd think Livia would want to claw Quintus' eyes out for snatching Pendragon away from the Devil's clutches.
"If you think this is impressive, you should see what my iPhone can do."
Quintus suggests they go inside the house. Meg Maud lets Quintus inside, but slams the door in Livia's face as she tries to tailgate in. Livia lets out a cry very similar to an outraged cat. Quintus explains to Meg Maud who he is, & they have a conversation by the fireplace about Helene's skewed destiny. Quintus says that Helene has the choice to either avoid death in the morning but live only once, or die as she would have without Diana's interference, & live many other lives throughout the ages. Quintus puts the ball squarely in Helene's hands, saying that her fate must be her own choice.
The old woman prepares for the arrival of Hansel & Gretel.
The movie title, The Undead, makes just a bit of sense now. Quintus states that in the morning Helene will both die & live. She'll be dead in this life, but her soul will carry on in other lives. Or, she'll live this life, but many other women will never know what life is. So Livia is sort of undead, in a sense. It's not at all what we associate with the word "undead" these days, but it kind of works, I guess. I still think the movie could have used a different title.
As the two talk, Quintus notices Livia trying to sneak inside in the form of a white rat. He traps her using his now empty cup. I have to say that I'm very unimpressed by Livia's infernal powers. What kind of self-respecting witch would be foiled by the simple device of an overturned cup? Meg Maud is brandishing an ax, wanting to put an end to Livia for good & all, but Quintus convinces her to let Livia live for now, though I don't see why it matters to him. Meg Maud settles for taunting Livia, who can only impotently shake the cup. Outside, the imp is becoming increasingly frantic in his attempts to enter. Having no success at all with the front door, he turns into a bat & flies off to try something else.
As you can see, a witch can be caught like any common type of vermin.
We now see a large spider descending from a web just behind Meg Maud. It can easily be assumed that this is the imp, who's finally managed to get inside. If Quintus notices this approaching menace, he doesn't give a word of warning.
The radioactive spider descends toward Peter Parker...Oops, I think I've mixed this up with something else.
The imp turns back into his humanoid form & leaps on to Meg Maud's back, seemingly trying to strangle her. To his credit, Quintus tries to help, but despite being dressed in armor he's easily beaten off by the imp. You know, the men in this movie have been surprisingly ineffectual in helping out the women who are in danger.
"Why'd you take away my favorite toy? Give it back! Now!"
Meg Maud saves herself by wetting her fingers in the bowl of holy water she's conveniently prepared & flicking it on to the imp. The demon must only get a few sprinkles, but that's apparently enough. The imp screams in pain and flops around on the ground before lying still. Rather a pity, I say, as the imp was fun.
Scratch one imp. Livia will have to go to the pet shop of Hell to get another.
Quintus & Meg Maud head out to find Helene. Livia finally manages to escape from the cup by turning into a cat. I don't know why she didn't do that before. She immediately turns into a bat & flies off.
Out in the forest, Helene & Pendragon are sitting on a rock out in the woods as Smolkin patrols the area with his trusty shovel. Pendragon hears someone coming & tries to defend his lady. For some reason, he doesn't carry a sword, but only a dagger, which I'm noting now he never drew during his fight with Gobbo. Why doesn't Pendragon have a sword? Even a peasant was supposed to have one at this time in case he got called into militia service. In modern times, it's like Pendragon's settled on having a .22 pistol for a weapon when he could have a Magnum instead.
Pendragon holding his dagger, though it's so dinky it can't really be made out.
Anyway, Pendragon tries to stab the figure emerging from the trees, which turns out to be Quintus (& he has the knight's sword, by the way). Again demonstrating some remarkable fighting ability, Quintus easily fends off Pendragon's thrust. Of course, previously Quintus threw an armored knight off his horse, so he wouldn't really have much trouble with Pendragon. Despite beating Gobbo earlier, I don't think that Pendragon is really well cut out for the action hero role, & it's just as well he's not required to do much in that vein during the film.
Smolken meanwhile has encountered Meg Maud. Livia appears, assumes human form, & tries to attack Helene, but is warded off by Meg Maud.
So Pendragon, are you just going to blandly stand there & leave an old woman to defend your lady love? What's the matter with you?
Everyone is assembled in this clearing now, even Satan, who shows up at this point. Helene wants to know what's going on & why everyone's so interested in her. Meg Maud, rather than Quintus, explains her bizarre situation.
Poor Helene gets a montage of characters urging her to either live her one life or die now & live many lives. Every character is on one side or another, except for Smolkin, who only makes a dour remark on the whole business. Despite earlier telling Meg Maud that he doesn't care what choice Helene makes, he now urges the maiden to stay. Quintus tells Helene that Diana is a wretched woman without virtue who really doesn't deserve life (ouch!). Livia mocks Helene, telling her to die now so she can live a future life as a trollop. Helene finally tells them all to hush up. She wants to hear from the future women whose lives are dependent on her decision. Quintus steps forward & does the hypnotic hand exercise again, though it works much faster this time.
"Watch the amazing hand at work."
Helene now hears the voices of several future lives pleading with her one after the next to let them live. The last voice is Diana, who claims that she has been inspired by Helene's example & wants the chance to be a better person than she has been. I'll mention again that what little I've seen of Diana's conduct doesn't indicate that she's as spiritually bankrupt as she makes herself out to be. She tells Helene that it would be murder to let all these future lives disappear, which seems an extreme statement to me, but then I'm not in Diana's position of being snuffed out of existence.
Helene listens to her future lives. Her expression shows what a hard choice she must make.
Helene makes her choice, bids a final farewell to Pendragon, & then rushes off.
Parting is such sweet, sweet sorrow.
Pendragon chases after Helene, shoving aside anyone who gets in his way. Livia stops Pendragon in his pursuit & makes a last plea to let Helene go so he can have her babies with cute curved horns & hoofed feet. This time Pendragon repulses her with disgust, blaming her for what's happened. He pulls out his dagger, stabs Livia in the belly, & continues after Helene without a backward glance. Livia dies quickly, & for some reason her body turns into a cat. Is this supposed to mean that she's lost all shred of humanity & hope for salvation, leaving her soul to writhe in torment for eternity? Perhaps.
I'll avoid mentioning the Freudian implications of a woman being stabbed in the belly by the man she lusts for.
As the sun slowly rises, we get shots of the town square where the other two condemned women are being led up to the chopping block. I'm willing to bet their only crime is being the victims of malicious gossip, like Helene, but unlike her they're given no choice between life & death. The first woman meekly puts her head down on the block, while the second has to be forced down. The assembled crowd jeers & spits at both of them. The executioner's ax is raised & brought down, & a wicker basket shudders to indicate that a severed head has just fallen into it.
The dreaded executioner with his ax of doom.
This was the reality TV of the time. As usual, the men find violence much more entertaining than the women.