Monday, August 31, 2015

The Projected Man (1966)

Long dismissed as being little more than a poverty row knock off of the far better known The Fly, The Projected Man isn't without merit in its own right.  It certainly has an interesting pedigree, co-produced by an uncredited Richard Gordon, (prolific producer and financier of low budget horror movies) , executive produced by Michael Klinger (later to produce Get Carter amongst other high profile British movies in the 1970s) and Tony Tenser (shortly to form Tigon) and directed by Ian Curteis, (then a TV director, but later to rise to fame as a TV writer, whose credits include The Falklands Play).  It also features US actor Bryant Halliday, (something of a fixture in Richard Gordon's movies during this period,) in the lead, supported by British soap opera regular Ronald Allen and stage actress Mary Peach, (who, for contractual reasons, had top billing).  Despite the combination of these talents, The Projected Man lacks the boldness and delirium of other Compton horror titles from this period, never quite able to rise above its status as a supporting feature.

Undoubtedly, this is down to the unoriginality of the script's ideas, epitomised by its passing resemblance to The Fly.  To be fair, this resemblance doesn't really extend beyond the basic idea of a scientist using himself as the subject for his matter transmission experiments and ending up transformed into a monster.  Unfortunately, the story the screenwriters assemble around this idea isn't terribly original, either, substituting a revenge plot set against the background of internal politics and financial skulduggery at a scientific institute for The Fly's simpler tale of scientist getting his comeuppance after overreaching himself.  Unlike Al Hedison in The Fly, Bryant Halliday doesn't get his atoms mixed up with an insect and then just  lurk around his home laboratory, instead being disfigured and turned mad after an experimental error during his 'test transmission', before rampaging about and murdering those he holds responsible for sabotaging his project at the scientific institute. 

The institutional background of The Projected Man was a feature popular in British science fiction thrillers of the era.  Whilst their US equivalents were either lone mavericks working in their basements or fully paid up government scientists with hi-tech facilities, British movie scientists usually worked within the confines of research institutes - sometimes government funded, but usually backed by research councils, shady companies, private foundations (usually equally shady) or fabulously wealth (and shady) individuals.  Always, they would find themselves harassed by bureaucrats demanding results and their work would be threatened by budgetary restraints.  Such is the case in The Projected Man, where Halliday's project is under threat from the institute's director because it isn't getting results.  Which, inevitably, results in Halliday calling in an outside expert (and old flame) in to help him find out why the animals he 'projects' all die shortly after rematerializing, before hastily scheduling a new demonstration for the director and the institute's financial backers.  Of course, it goes wrong - but due to sabotage.  It turns out that the director is in cahoots with the shady businessmen backing the institute to discredit Halliday and have him fired, so that they can steal his research for themselves.

Interestingly, Halliday remains oblivious to this subterfuge as he prepares to 'project' himself into one of the backers' houses unannounced, so as to prove his technology, instead focussing his suspicions on assistant Ronald Allen, who not only works directly for the institute, but has also started romancing his old flame.  His mistrust of Allen results in him using his secretary to assist him and, of course, she makes the fatal mistake during the transmission process which results in him materialising, not in the target house, but on a nearby building site.  Here, he disturbs a group of robbers attempting to break into a nearby furriers, inadvertently killing them with a single touch - as well as the disfiguration, a side-effect of the accident is to give Halliday an electrified touch.  Whilst a sub-plot involving the police investigating these deaths now starts, Halliday himself stumbles back to the institute, where he finally uncovers the plot against him, after overhearing the director's phone conversation with one of the shady financiers.  Whilst there, Halliday kidnaps his secretary - who is now clad only in her underwear for reasons too unlikely to go into - and somehow succeeds in taking her to his flat, (clearly, horrifically disfigured men carrying unconscious semi-naked girls through the streets at dead of night, isn't an unusual sight in that part of London, even when local police are already scouring the area for a multiple murderer) , where he tries to get more information from her about the director's shenanigans.

It all builds to the expected finale, with armed police helpless to stop an electrified Halliday from claiming further victims, before a climactic and explosive conflagration back at the lab.  Incredibly, The Projected Man packs all of this action and plot into just seventy seven minutes.  Unfortunately, because it spends so long establishing the office politics of the institute, the plot against Halliday and the motivation of the various participants, Halliday's transformation and his revenge plot, which really should have been the main thrust of the film, is severely delayed and seems very hurried in its execution, (although this might also be due to the film production running behind schedule and the original director replaced, possibly leaving some scenes unfilmed).  More valuable time is taken up with police inspector Derek Farr's murder investigation and repetitive laboratory scenes.  That said, the whole background of the internal politics of the institute are actually one of the film's best realised aspects, firmly grounding the subsequent fantastic events in a real world of budgets and workplace rivalries undoubtedly familiar to audiences.  The whole thing is briskly edited and the cast play it commendably straight, giving surprisingly good performances.  Whilst clearly intended to be the bottom half of a double bill. (which it was in the US, supporting Terence Fisher's Island of Terror), The Projected Man still deserves better than simply to be dismissed as a Fly knock off.



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