Which Way to the Cold Front?, or...
The Frozen Dead (1966)
The cold, the changed, perchance the dead, anew,
They say, "You can't keep a good man down." This also applies to bad memories.
In 1984 - that calendar year associated in literate hearts and minds with universal totalitarianism - one of the supermarket tabloids screamed at the top of its typography, "Falklands Invasion Was Planned By Adolph Hitler." The photographic evidence showed an elderly man with a nose-moustache, identified as a mysterious resident of Argentina.
Heh, well why not? Truth is stranger than fiction, isn't it?
In the years following World War II, the Nazi party became associated with ultimate evil. But it wasn't enough to show these popular images of twentieth century devilry in stories set during the war. No, they made a comeback. And we don't mean those pretenders to the throne called Neo-Nazis. In movies and books and comic books and, of course, supermarket tabloids, the evil wasn't destroyed. It merely went into hiding, where it planned and plotted and conspired to rise anew.
Some conspiracy theorists will tell you that it wasn't Hitler who shot himself. The body was cremated, so maybe that wasn't really der Führer. Maybe he's still alive in, say, Argentina. "Maybe" has a habit of becoming "probably," and this transformation precedes the "discovery" of supporting evidence. (My boss, Ken Begg, can tell you about a slightly more bizarre possibility.) On the other hand, there is ample, reliable evidence that what we thought we knew about Hitler's fate - that he did in fact kill himself - really was the truth.
But here at B-Notes, we don't deal with truth. We deal fiction. And, brother, have we got a deal for you....
We open with credits (sketchy white over charcoal and pastel drawings of things associated with mad science, like lab equipment and a dungeon) and a driving orchestral score. After the credits, go to a quiet nighttime shot of the moon over some trees. The silence is broken by the sound of a man screaming. On a moonlit field, a stocky man in his late forties called Karl (Alan Tilvern) leads seven chained men to a castle. In a window at the castle, a big scary bald guy (Oliver MacGreevy) watches them silently. (We can tell he's a scary because the musical cue tells us so.)
Back on the field, one of the chained men (Edward Fox) attacks their keeper. The other prisoners don't react to this little drama of aggression, and we pick up a couple of clues. For one thing, all the men in chains appear to be mentally defective in some way. Second, some of them are wearing World War II vintage German uniforms. (Cause and effect? Hey, this ain't a political column. Not really.) The keeper beats back his attacker.
In a laboratory, Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews) hooks up some equipment. Enter Karl. Dr. Norberg asks Karl if the general was supposed to be here already. Karl suggests that the general might've forgotten to reset his watch for their time zone. An alarm goes off. They check some controls and note that the temperature is 19.5. Miller is still frozen. Karl offers to level the temperature until the general arrives, but Dr. Norberg reminds Karl that they can't refreeze a body because that would cause cell damage. (Technically, freezing a body once causes cell damage, but never mind. This story's on a roll.) The doctor tells his assistant to let Miller thaw.
Karl prepares some equipment. He announces that they're ready. Dr. Norberg says he's not. He thinks Miller will turn out like the others. Karl asks him if he thinks Joseph was a failure. The doctor says Joseph wasn't a success and then announces that he knows that Karl sent a message to Berlin about a possible success. Karl says he was only following orders. Dr. Norberg laughs at the irony of that statement.
Outside, two men arrive. One of them complains about the English weather. They go to the front door and are greeted by the scary (or so the musical cue tells us) bald guy. He doesn't say anything. One of the visitors (Karel Stepanek) says he's General Lubeck and that Dr. Norberg is expecting them. The big scary (or so the musical cue keeps reminding us) bald guy quietly leads them inside, down some stairs to what looks a dungeon, and into the laboratory. Dr. Norberg greets General Lubeck, who in turn introduces his associate, Herr Tirpitz (Basil Henson).
Dr. Norberg and Karl go to work. They wheel out Miller. It's a man in his late twenties wearing a WWII German infantry uniform. The doctor and his assistant hook him up to some wires. They're running a machine with a scale that jumps back and forth. (For lack of better terms, will call it the back-and-forth-ometer.) The general explains to Dr. Norberg why this experiment is particularly important. It's not just twelve test subjects the doctor's been given. Elsewhere, there are over fifteen hundred party elite deep frozen throughout Europe and North Africa. When the war ended, they could have fled or faced trial or killed themselves. They took the untested fourth option.
Dr. Norberg asks if they did this voluntarily. They did. With a little sales pitch from Lubeck, they were willing to take a chance. So now the general asks to see their frozen assets. They walk over to a big iron door. It opens slowly. Inside, behind a glass wall, are three men, kind of chillin' in their field gray uniforms.
Norberg says that these three, plus the man they are thawing out now, are the last of the twelve test cases. The other eight have been failures. The general takes this opportunity to remind the doctor about all the money spent on this project, plus the funding for the castle and the doctor's niece's education. (Why is it that mad scientists require castles for their places of business. And come to think of it, why do they also tend to have nieces as foreshadowed plot devices?)
The doctor tells the general what happened to the other eight. One of them didn't survive. The other seven are mental cases. The general asks about Joseph, which Karl reported as a success. They walk over to the big scary (or so the musical cue tells us) bald guy. Dr. Norberg explains that Joseph here was accidentally locked in the freezer for twelve hours. He was revived but now operates at a diminished capacity. Reviving a body is one thing. Reviving a brain is the (pardon the pun) current problem.
The general chews out Karl for his overly optimistic report. The assistant scowls sadly by the back-and-forth-ometer. Then the general turns his attention onto Norberg and says they need their leaders now. The doctor reminds him that he said this technique may take time. He takes the visitors to see the other seven test subjects as an illustration of what he means. (And as they leave, Karl has either mysteriously teleported to the other side of the room or there are two of him. Thanks, continuity.)
And in another part of the castle, Dr. Norberg introduces his visitors the other seven. Tirpitz asks why he keeps them; they're obviously useless. The doctor says they may be useful for determining what went wrong. He explains. A mind is like a bank with deposit boxes. Into each box goes a memory. Each time he's revived one of the test subjects, he's been able to open one of the boxes but not the whole mind.
The doctor introduces each of them. One of them is crying. Norberg explains that this man experienced a moment of sadness, and that was the single memory he unlocked. Now all he does is cry. Here's another. This one keeps bouncing an imaginary ball.
Suddenly, one of the
subjects attacks the general, going for the throat with his hands.
After they pull him off, he calms down. The general recognizes
him. It's Norberg's brother, once a brilliant physician, now a
youthful (for his calendar age) killer. As for the other four, one
constantly combs his hair, one counts beads on a rosary, one digs with an
imaginary shovel, and one, who must've seen an elderly man, now acts
elderly. (Ladies and gentlemen, lets hear it for the Seven Drones:
Weepy, Bouncy, Strangly, Comby, Holy, Diggy, and Doc.)
The doctor takes his visitors back to the lab. Karl has already put Miller, who has a blank look, into a chair with a metal contraption that holds his head in place. His vital signs are good. (We'll assume that the back-and-forth-ometer was some kind of resuscitation device.) Norberg tells the visitors that right now, Miller's mind is a blank. He needs to stimulate the brain directly. He turns on a switch. One of the devices behind Miller begins to buzz. Norberg takes the device puts it on a set of guides. It's a surgical drill. He carefully pushes the bit toward a shaved spot at the back of Miller's head. From the front, Miller still has that same blank look. We hear the sound of the bit making contact.
Outside, Norberg's niece Jean (Anna Palk) and her friend Elsa (Kathleen Breck) arrive. (Oh, sure. When it rains it pours.) Elsa, who is wearing a big floppy hat, looks worried. She wished that Jean had told her uncle she was coming. No, says Jean, he'll be delighted by the surprise. (Unless, of course, the doctor is easily weirded out by outrageous chapeaus.) The girls go inside. Joseph meets them. Jean tries to strike up a pleasant conversation with him, but he's still giving the Universe the silent treatment. (Although Elsa looks frightened, Jean is not. Maybe she can't hear the musical cue that tells us this a big scary bald guy.) Joseph turns around and walks away.
Back in the lab, the doctor is still playing touch and go with the drill bit on the back of Miller's head. There's a knock at the door. Karl answers. It's Joseph. He's trying to communicate something by waving his arms and articulating. Dr. Norberg tells Karl to see what's wrong. (It's a bit like trying to figure out why Lassie may be upset.) They leave. Lubeck asks where the niece is. She's over in America, says Norberg, working on her masters. She knows that he's been doing research on reviving vital organs, but knows nothing about the intended end use for the party. He resumes his drilling and announces that he should be reaching the membrane shortly.
The door opens. Karl shouts to Dr. Norberg. Crunch! Miller's eyes close. The doctor explains his hand slipped because of that distraction. Now Miller is gone forever. Lubeck chews out Karl again. Karl explains that this is an emergency. Norberg's niece is upstairs. The doctor says she's not allowed in the lab so she wouldn't have come down here.
General Lubeck is saddened by the loss of Miller and asks Dr. Norberg what he can do to help. The doctor says there isn't enough documented information on the brain for what he is doing here. He needs a live one to study. Karl suggests a whole head and says slyly that he can get one of those. Norberg tells his assistant that his friends at the morgue wouldn't be any help here. Without oxygen, a brain decomposes irreparably after five minutes.
The doctor already has plans to use a living ape's head, replacing the top of the skull with a transparent substance and keeping it alive artificially. "Then," says the doctor excitedly in his thick German accent, "I can study the brain in detail." (Heh.) He's also expecting the arrival of a scientist called Ted Roberts, who has already done this with a dog's head. Karl asks if they could use Miller's head. Nope. Too damaged. The doctor tells him to bury the body and dispose of the uniform. While Karl is taking care of this, the others go up to meet the niece.
Upstairs, Dr. Norberg and his visiting associates have cocktails with Jean. Karl enters and tells the doctor he's finished with the lab work. Jean explains that her friend Elsa isn't up because she's asleep in the guest room next to her room. The other girl won't be up for a while because she gave her a sleeping pill. Lubeck and Tirpitz will also be staying at the castle. Plenty of room.
Later, Jean has changed into a nightgown. She takes a peek into the adjoining guest room. Elsa is crashed out hard on the bed, wearing a skintight slip and not under the covers. (Poor girl could catch her death like that.) Jean closes the door and goes to bed.
But a door opens slowly, making a creaking noise. A single eye peeks in. Jean looks up and turns on the light. The door opens more. It's Karl. Jean gets out of bed, seemingly unaware of Karl. Then we find out why. Karl is looking into the next room. (Thanks, establishing shots.) Jean opens the door to adjoining room, but Karl ducks back into the hall and closes the door. (The door doesn't make a creaking noise this time. Karl must've had a lot of practice at peeking in on girls.) Satisfied that Elsa is still safely asleep, Jean goes back to bed.
Karl enters the guest room. He stands over Elsa, who has begun to thrash in her slip, er, sleep. He pulls out a syringe. Elsa wakes up. Karl drops his free hand over her mouth and gives her gives her the shot with the other. She doesn't struggle for very long.
Fade to a pair of hands and a dramatic chord. The hands reach for
Elsa, who is now somewhere else. They go for her throat while her
mouth moves with no sound. Her lips repeatedly say, "Help me. Help
me. Help me." (Or maybe, "Get me...out of...this
Dr. Nordberg objects, but Karl puts on the sales pressure by reminding the doctor that time is running out real fast.
And General Lubeck would hate to find out that he had an opportunity like this and missed it.
The doctor is still not convinced. What will they tell Jean? Karl's already got this part worked out.
They'll leave a note from her saying she didn't like the place, so she caught a train to
London. Finally, the doctor gives in. (After all, it's not
like the girl's name was Abby-something.)
The next morning, Karl enters a train station and buys a ticket for the young lady outside.
The clerk (John Moore) looks outside and sees a girl in a big floppy hat with her back to the window.
Later, Jean tells Dr. Norberg that Elsa's missing. He tells her that Karl took her to the train station. Oh, and she left this note. He passes it to Jean. The note reads, "Dear Jean, I now am in london now, und not decapitated in der basement. If they find me decapitated later, it vasn't Karl, because he's a real nice guy. You should go out with him. Regards, Kar - er - Elsa." Nah, just kidding. It says she went to London and will call after she gets there.
Jean's a bit mystified that Elsa would take off for London like that, but
her uncle tells her not to worry and wait for her to call. Jean sees
Karl in the hallway and asks him why Elsa left. He says that she seemed upset about something, so at her request, he bought her a one-way ticket to London and put her and her luggage on the train.
Jean's still confused and exits. Later, Karl tells Dr. Norberg that he thinks she's onto something.
The doctor is convinced there's nothing to be worried about.
In the lab, Dr. Norberg and Karl look at a wooden box, about cubit
cubed, sitting on a table. The doctor tells his assistant that he's bringing Dr. Roberts down here, so keep the box locked.
After his tour of the lab, Roberts asks Norberg if Jean will be joining them for dinner. (Hey, we just had a line that said she wasn't.) They run into her in the upstairs hallway. She's excited because she found a button from Elsa's coat, and this would-be Nancy Drew insists that her friend wouldn't have left without it. Roberts recognizes the button and asks if her friend had a big floppy hat with buttons like this. Yes, she did. He says that he nearly ran into her friend while she was getting on the train.
That night, Karl's in the lab. He's looking at that box on the table and it's spooking him out. He opens a side panel, looks inside, and freaks. Yup, it's Elsa's head. She's looking a lot older, maybe because of the creepy blue lighting, no hair, and a sustained dramatic (no pun) organ chord. She glares at him. (She doesn't seem to be taking this well.)
Jean's in bed. The (no pun) organ chord continues. She
screams. Someone knocks at her door. It's Dr. Roberts.
He came to see what the screaming was about. It was a
nightmare. She saw Elsa's headless body being buried, and then, in
some kind of dark cave, Elsa's head was trying to talk to her. She apologizes
Roberts tries to be the sensitive man about the dream. Jean would rather have a sedative.
She has one already, over at the nightstand. (Cripes, what a little
pill popper this grad student has become. Must've gone to Berkeley.) She says
she still thinks that something is wrong.
He suggests for the sake of her sanity that she should go check things out. Oh, and call me Ted, he
says. She says goodnight, Dr. Roberts.
Next day, Jean and Ted, er, Dr. Roberts go to the train station. They ask the ticket agent about the girl. He remembers her, but didn't see her face. Just after that conversation, a man jumps onboard the train just as it's leaving. He's carrying two brown suitcases. Jean freaks. Those were Elsa's bags. Jean asks the ticket agent about the guy. He says that was Mr. Smith, but given his thick accent, Mr. Schmidt is more likely.
Elsewhere, a woman (Anne Tirard) combs her hair. But the hair is attached to a mask. She has a couple of nasty scars on the side of her face. The doorbell rings. She puts on the mask and goes to the door. (Gee, talk about a woman putting on her face for company.) It's Jean at the door. She wants to talk to the lady of the house, Mrs. Smith. That would be the mystery woman here. Despite the mask, her face looks elegant and natural, such that you can't tell she's wearing a mask. (Must be one of those magic masks from the Mission Impossible TV series.)
Jean asks about Mr. Smith going to London. Why? Because she wants to know about the bags he was carrying. Mrs. Smith says sternly in her thick German accent that her husband left yesterday, not today. (Sorry, but it's got to be said. Blucher!) This must be a mistake. Jean apologizes and leaves. Mrs. Smith tensely spies through a window at the girl's departure from the neighborhood. (Blucher!)
Ted, er, Dr. Roberts has gone for a walk on the castle grounds. He hears a man screaming. Over to the side of the castle are some stairs going down. He squeezes behind some wrought iron bars and takes the stairs down to a door. In he goes.
Elsewhere, Dr. Norberg is checking over the Seven Drones in their cell. In a concerned voice, he tells Karl that they all look half dead. (Um, heh.) Have they been eating? Karl says it's that head; it will destroy them all. The doctor tells his assistant that he's imagining things. That is, the head worries him, and he's transferred his fear to these guys. Karl gets defensive, but this little bit of psychoanalysis is interrupted by a quiet alarm.
Ted, er, Dr. Roberts is now in a dungeonny part of the castle basement. He passes by a manacled skeleton. (Do things like this come with castles or do you have to get an interior decorator to put them in for you?) While the young scientist is inching along by the light of his cigarette lighter, Karl jumps him from behind.
Back at the train station, the ticket agent tells Jean that Tommy the porter knows something. He calls him over. Tommy says he saw her friend get on the train, but saw her in a car after train left. No, he didn't see her face. Jean tips him. (We admit that our understanding of this gratuitous gesture in this context is about two bits shy of the standard ten percent.)
In the lab, Dr. Norberg criticizes Karl for nearly killing Ted, er, Dr. Roberts, who is sitting in a chair unconscious. This isn't the old days when the party had to do this sort of thing. Ted, er, Dr. Roberts wakes up. His head hurts. It was an accident, says Dr. Norberg. Then he explains about how his brother became mentally ill after his experiences in a concentration camp. Jean doesn't know he's still alive. Norberg keeps him here at the castle, trying to cure him. Unfortunately, says Dr. Norberg, he broke loose and attacked.
At a police station, Inspector Witt (Tom Chatto) asks Jean for address of Mrs. Smith. The detective says not to worry about how incredible this all sounds. It's his job to check everything out. And keep an eye on Karl. And don't tell anyone about this visit here.
Back at lab, they're still talking about the, uh, accident. The whole house is tense, observes Ted, er, Dr. Roberts. He says Jean is convinced that her friend didn't leave by train. Dr. Norberg tells him that what he's about to hear must be kept in the strictest confidentiality. Elsa was killed by Jean's father. He doesn't want Jean to know. Then Dr. Norberg lets it all hang out. He tells Ted, er, Dr. Roberts about what they did with her head. Calling the police would've been problematic for his insane brother, and, well, Elsa was dead already so there was no ultimately sense in letting the opportunity to go to waste. Ted, er, Dr. Robert doesn't seem to have any ethical problems with this. (Do you somehow get the idea that the filmmaker thought "medical ethics" was a contradiction in terms?)
They open the box. The top and side panels fold away. We get a clear shot of the head, sitting on top of a table with nothing under it. (Except for maybe mirrors. Fortunately, Norberg doesn't wave a broom under the head to prove the illusion.) Elsa's asleep. Dr. Norberg explains that this set-up was based on Ted's, er, Dr. Robert's paper about the dog's head. He points out the small tanks and tubing for oxygen and glucose. The top of the skull has been replaced by a transparent dome. You can see the brain pulsing like a heart. (Uh, sure.) Ted, er, Dr. Roberts is impressed. Dr. Norberg says she's asleep because the glucose is turned down. Increase the flow, and she'll wake up. The next thing he'll be doing is hooking up the wires from the arms to her head so he can study how the brain processes motor movements. (Wait a minute. Wasn't he worried about how the conscious brain remembers things?)
Dr. Norberg turns on the head. They gaze at it expectantly.
The head wakes up (to the tune of that single, high pitched (no pun) organ chord.)
She looks around, then glares at Dr. Norberg. He turns her off. Ted,
er, Dr. Roberts comments on the hatred. He agrees to help with this experiment and to tell no one.
That night, Jean is in her room dressed for bed. After knocking, enter Ted, er, Dr. Roberts . They talk about her worrying about Elsa. He excuses himself, but first asks if she has a sleeping pill. (Damn druggies.)
In the cell of the Seven Drones, Karl checks on the occupants. Weepy Drone is squirming. Elsewhere in the dark, Elsa's head (with the blue light special and the high pitched (no pun) organ chord) whispers something. Jean whispers "help me" in her sleep. She wakes up with a start.
(At this point in the story, we should note that it is a well known fact - at least within the context of movies like this - that living disembodied heads and brains will naturally develop telepathy by force of circumstances. This is related to how people who have become blind will develop greater acuity with their remaining senses and how politicians caught in scandals will develop book deals.)
The next day, Karl is working out. He's interrupted by a phone call. It's Mrs. Smith. She tells him that the police were at her home because that Norberg girl was asking questions. He says they don't have anything to worry about because they're here legally. She says there are earlier records that would damn them. Her conclusion: The girl knows too much. Her recommendation: Get rid of her. (Blucher!)
In the dining room, Jean and Ted, er, Dr. Roberts make small talk. Karl is checking over a chart. Enter Dr. Norberg. The small talk continues. Jean asks her uncle if she could see his lab. Dramatic chord. Karl looks up. Sure, says her uncle, as soon as Ted, er, Dr. Roberts and he have completed an experiment.
Later in the lab, Dr. Norberg tells Karl to relax. When Jean comes down, they will hide everything. Karl suggests she knows too much and may suspect even more. They should tell Jean about her father to abate future suspicions. Dr. Norberg says this would only lead to more suspicions on her part. He'd have to explain why her father looks so young. He'd told her that they were in a concentration camp together, but he didn't tell her that they were running the show. Karl freaks and says he should've told her when she was young. Dr. Norberg says the only thing that would've come of that would've been guilt.
Enter Ted, er, Dr. Roberts. They open the box, cue organ chord. The head's awake and glaring at them. Ted, er, Dr. Roberts says he can't work with her staring at him. They get a towel and cover her eyes.
After the experiment is over and Ted, er, Dr. Roberts has left, Lubeck and Tirpitz find out the police have been making active investigations regarding Mrs. Smith and that Karl is also being investigated. They take him down the lab and interrogate him. Old school questioning techniques follow. Dr. Norberg starts to interfere, but Lubeck makes him back down. Finally, the big question. Who are the Smiths? Karl professes his loyalty to the party and says they're his family. They helped him get things for the doctor. Things like body parts. Dr. Norberg thought they came from the morgue. No, says Karl, they came from the next town, from live people. Then he re-affirms his party loyalty. Lubeck excuses Karl and tells Tirpitz to go check on the Smiths.
Outside on the castle grounds, Ted, er, Dr. Roberts asks Jean if she remembers her father. She doesn't, but that's why a friend like Elsa means a lot to her. They pause by the castle and start to kiss. (Guess we won't be calling him "Ted, er, Dr. Roberts" anymore. That's OK. We have his new name ready.) From a window directly above them, Karl looks down. Then he pushes a big flower pot out the window at them. Dr. Roberts, er, Ted sees it just in time. (Y'know, most people consider it rude to kiss with open eyes.) He pulls Jean out of the way. It just barely misses. They look up but see no one at the window.
And next thing you know, Tirpitz is dragging Karl to Dr. Norberg and Lubeck the lab. Tirpitz says Karl just tried to kill Jean and Dr. Roberts, er, Ted. Karl rants that Jean knows too much. Dr. Norberg says he's hysterical and starts to get him a sedative. Lubeck thinks of a better way to get Karl to chill out. He has Tirpitz drag Karl to the freezer and toss him in. They watch him through the big window. The horrified henchman bangs on the glass and pleads for his life. Lubeck tells Dr. Norberg to lower the temperature. He hesitates. Lubeck makes it an order. The doctor follows through. Karl stops moving after a while.
Later, Dr. Norberg opens the box for Lubeck. (This ain't the kind of show-and-tell we're used to.) Enter Dr. Roberts, er, Ted and Tirpitz. They're ready to run an experiment. The young scientist asks where Karl is. He, uh, had to leave. (Yeah, maybe he'll be back next spring thaw.)
Dr. Norberg leans forward towards the head and looks her in the eyes. "You have no will power of your own," he says. She glares back at him. On the count of three, he says, you will raise your arms. One, two, three. She closes her eyes like she's concentrating. Everyone looks at the arms on the partition. They don't move.
Maybe there's something wrong with the electrical connections between her and the arms. They can't find the chart. Dr. Roberts, er, Ted asks where Karl would've put it. Dr. Norberg looks around but can't find it. He last saw it when Karl put it...into his pocket. (It isn't directly stated in the dialogue, but you can imagine the size of the Norberg's irony migraine about now.)
Lubeck suggests she may be refusing to do this. Perhaps she's
just being stubborn. (It's not
like anyone can accuse her of PMSing just now.) Dr. Norberg says she has no will.
Dr. Roberts, er, Ted says that they've not seen any evidence of will power.
The senior scientist freaks out and shouts that he knows what he's talking about.
Dr. Roberts, er, Ted excuses himself. After a moment, Dr. Norberg
Tirpitz and Lubeck talk about Norberg. Their greatest hope has just become their weakest link. They think maybe Karl was right about Jean knowing too much. Elsa listens while they talk about making Jean's death look like an accident.
The head tries to talk in a whisper again. Jean's in bed. Elsa calls to her. Jean gets up, but she's in a trance. She walks down the hall.
Dr. Roberts, er, Ted is in his room. He knocks on the door to the adjoining room, opens it, and sees that Jean isn't in. He goes looking for her. He finds her at the door to the lab. She's still in a trance, trying to open the door. Dr. Roberts, er, Ted finally wakes her up. OK, now she's awake, but she protests that she has to get in there and help Elsa. The young scientist finally gives in. He admits that her friend is in there, but before she sees her, he's going to have to prepare her for the shock. They go elsewhere so he can tell her what happened.
And up in Jean's room, Tirpitz is dropping several pills into a water bottle. In the darkness in the lab, Elsa looks up. Tirpitz leaves the room just in time to spy on the return of Jean and Dr. Roberts, er, Ted. They go into his room.
Dr. Roberts, er, Ted pours Jean some whiskey. She coughs it up. She asks if it's really that bad. (We assume she means the news about Elsa and not this guy's choice of cheap rotgut.) He says it is. (Ditto.) They go over to her room, where she has some water. She pours herself a glass, raises it to her lips, but pauses to ask a question. While they talk, she sets the glass down. He explains that the dream about the headless body was accurate. Jean announces her insight that Elsa's dead, but she feels she's alive.
Outside on the castle grounds, Tirpitz explains the workings of the current plan to Lubeck. Jean obviously committed suicide because of her concern for her friend. (Of course, give how this girl and her friends have been dropping downers like after dinner mints, the police wouldn't be able to rule out an accidental OD, either.) Dr. Norberg will eventually accept it. And as for Dr. Roberts, er, Ted, they'll see if he believes it and decide what to do next. Either way, the young scientist won't go to the cops because he wouldn't want to explain about the severed head.
And speaking of severed heads, Elsa looks over at the arms. The volume on the ambient (no pun) organ chord increases. The arms start to move. It's full motion including the fingers. She relaxes. The arms drop, uh, dead.
Back to the endangered young people. Dr. Roberts, er, Ted has just finished telling Jean that her father killed Elsa. She asks where her father is, but then doesn't believe it because her uncle would've told her. And then she backs away from Dr. Roberts, er, Ted and picks up the glass of water again. While she tries to make a few value and character judgments on the fly, she raises the glass to her mouth.
Cut to Elsa. She loudly whispers, No!"
And Jean throws the full glass of water away from her. She explains to Dr. Roberts, er, Ted it's like something pulled the glass out of her hand. Ted checks out the water bottle, pouring some into his hand. He tells her someone put something in it. She looks at him. A wheel spins in the back of her mind, and it lands on, "You bastard!" He denies it, then says they're going to the police. She tells him to find Inspector Witt and bring him here. He tells her to lock herself in and don't open the door for anyone.
Back to Elsa. She whispers, "Jean...Jean...." (Older views may say "The Dancing Machine" by reflex.) And Jean goes for a walk. (Heh, scratch that "stay in a safe place" plan. Must be a cause-and-effect rule in movies like this for why they never work.) She knows where her uncle keeps the keys to the kingdom. After grabbing them, she goes down to the lab. When she opens the door, creepy music begins to play. Then she looks in, and creepy music continues. Then she looks around, and the creepy music builds to a climax. (Look. We know exactly what she's about to see. The only members of the audience who are going to feel any sense of suspense are those who've just tuned in.) Finally, she sees Elsa's head. She doesn't freak. Elsa whispers to Jean, "They're trying to kill you." Jean can't understand what she's saying. (Well, trying to talk without lungs and a fully functional set of vocal chords must be a real chore.)
Enter Dr. Norberg. Jean says she wants to see her father. Her uncle concludes that Dr. Roberts, er, Ted has told her everything. Then he asks if he told her if it was her father that killed her friend. However, Elsa whispers, "No!" followed by the news that Karl did it. Then she directs Jean's attention to the big metal door. Jean goes over to it and demands to know what's behind it. (So will you take what's in the box or do you want what's behind door number one? Ne'er mind about the curtain.)
Enter Lubeck, who is armed with two old reliables: a semiautomatic pistol and the line, "She knows too much." He opens the big metal door. Jean freaks when she sees the field gray corpsicles, plus Karl who's picked up a nice frosty coating. Lubeck tells her about her father being one of them at one time. Jean doesn't believe that her father was a Nazi and accuses them all of being mad. Lubeck approaches her with the pistol, but Dr. Norberg gets in his way. It's a wrestling match, and wouldn't you know it, they've picked a spot next to the wall o' arms for their little fracas. Jean backs away from all this. Elsa concentrates. The arms begin to move, and, after a little flexing, they grab Dr. Norberg and Lubeck by their necks. After the two men stop moving, Elsa smiles and relaxes. (No, the arms don't high-five each other, no matter how much you'd hope to see it.)
Elsewhere in the house, Inspector Witt and Dr. Roberts, er, Ted have arrived. They go down to Dungeonland.
Strangly Drone is doing his thing to Jean while the girl is trying to reason with him. The good guys arrive just in time. The inspector shoots Strangly dead.
Dénouement. Inspector Witt, Jean, and Dr. Roberts, er, Ted are gathered around Elsa. She's saying something. Jean tells her they can't hear her. Elsa draws a deep breath (don't ask) and repeats it several times. "Bury me. Bury me. Bury me...." The end. Go to end credits, cast only.
The first twenty minutes of this movie are pretty good. The script delivers some nifty exposition. Rather than falling into the trap of characters saying things they probably wouldn't say for the sake of giving us back story, these people reveal a little at a time through conversations that would be normal for them. That "little at a time" deal is good for getting the audience's attention. Directly telling us what has happened before would bore us; making it a game where we have to pay attention doesn't insult our intelligences as much.
To make this work, those first few minutes keep moving. Rather than giving us long static dialogues, characters are shown doing something. They explain it to new characters. And while that's happening, new characters tell old characters the rest of the back story.
The idea of waking a person to a single memory is also interesting. We may not buy it, but it plays well.
However, this promising beginning comes to an end when the the doctor
expresses his desire for a living head, and then Jean and her friend
arrive. From this point forward, the plot twists are by the numbers.
The Dr. Norberg character is played as a traditionally tragic figure. When we first meet him, he seems like a nice enough guy. Then we find out about his past, when he probably wasn't so nice. But that's OK, because seems like a nice guy now. And as a nice guy, he's got guilt for that not so nice past. He's working for some very not nice guys toward a very not nice end. Events in the story are about to jack up his sense of guilt.
Over the course of the story, you see him making compromises while circumstances turn up the pressure. Reviving twelve test subjects was an intellectual focus, but his boss turns up the pressure by telling him about the hundreds elsewhere. Elsa's dead body lies in his lab. At Karl's suggestion, he compromises by using her head in his experiments, and his niece's investigation turns up the pressure. (The shot of him focused on washing his hands is a nice touch.) He starts telling lies to cover lies. Then he finds out that all those body parts he'd been using didn't come from a morgue, followed by his resigned participation in the execution of Karl. No wonder he snaps when he senses it all catching up with him.
However, a tragic figure should have a significant destruction.
We don't get that here. Killed by his own creation? Sure, that
fits, but given the way it's played, it's a darn silly death. Ah,
well. At least they tried, and it works better than most other
presentations of mad scientists. This element of tragedy is
significant because the most famous mad scientist in literature was also
called a "Modern Prometheus." And Prometheus was a one of
the original tragic characters.
Like many other British horror B flicks of this time, this one has some good production values. Sets are nicely decorated. In some scenes, like the bedrooms, they're notably ornate. The laboratory may not be very convincing, but it's got appropriate decorations in the background.
The although there are no memorable motifs in the music, the orchestral score is lush, supported by strings. And the cinematography is quite good too, with no day-for-night shooting.
It's an interesting concept. Characters wake from their suspended animation focused on a single memory. The quality and uniqueness of the presentation almost distracts you from the incredulity. But that's only "almost."
Does the freezing effect cause this? This would imply brain damage. If brain damage, then you'd expect random damage. And random damage should also include the brainstem. Damage to the brainstem would corrupt the autonomous systems, and that would mess with things like breathing and heartbeat. More likely the revived characters would be doing time on life support equipment. Assuming no brainstem damage, the effect of a stroke would be more likely.
By the way, freezing causes cell damage. When the water in the
tissues freeze, it expands. This ruptures the cell walls. We
are told by the movie that refreezing them will cause cell damage, but
we're not told why it's all right to be initially frozen. But let's
say Dr. Norberg found a way around this. (See the movie Iceman
(1984) for an example.) OK, now we have no cell damage. How
come these guys aren't waking up? A mystic might take the approach
that their souls left their bodies. (See Frankenstein Created
Woman (1967) for an example of a story about soul migration voiding
restoration of life.) We don't get this in the story, so maybe we
should just forget wondering about the whole thing. "It's in
It's a living head on a table. C'mon, who thought this would be a good visual in a movie? It didn't work in The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962) and it's not working here. Matter of fact, the sum goofiness of this image, replete with pulsating brain, pretty much voids the positive values of the rest of the movie.
And then she develops telepathy. OK, now we're not only goofy, we're freely borrowing from other movies that audiences for this kind of story were likely to know, like The Lady and the Monster (1944) and Donovan's Brain (1953). (Never mind the ones already done but weren't likely known, like The Man Without a Body (1957) and The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)) Deduct a few more points.
Did we mention she can talk? No lungs nor vocal chords and she can talk? And she can twist her head around without neck and shoulder muscles? More points to the negative.
On the other hand, we wonder. Would it have been better if,
instead of telepathy, she developed levitation and started chasing down
would that require she give her intended victims a (::groan::) head start?
As if the head-on-a-table wasn't ill advised enough, here's some
dismembered arms. As presented, they can't be anything else but live
arms sticking through a wall. Maybe the talent behind the wall was
seized by fits of giggles at what they were doing back there. And
how does one put this on a résumé? Although this is instrumental
in the demise of the doctor, the net effect is fodder for a lot of easy
puns. Deduct a whole lot of points.
Although it fits into the rest of the story, the whole subplot with the Smith family feels out of place. It follows the Nazi hunter story model instead of the mad science model, and it's disconcertingly sketchy. The Nazi bad guys over in the mad science main plot are better integrated into the whole. Perhaps they should've either done likewise with the Smiths, giving us more Mrs. Smith, or just dropped it. As is, it distracts more from the story than it adds. (Blucher!)
Herbert J. Leder (producer, writer, and director) also did his total filmmaking thing on a couple of reasonable crime melodramas. Unfortunately, his hand on weirdness was a bit unsure. His other creature feature was the well made but poorly conceived It! (1967, a.k.a. Curse of the Golem). More brains? He also wrote the screenplay for Fiend Without a Face (1958).
This movie was made a year after Dana Andrews (Dr. Norberg) finished his term as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He'll probably be best remembered as the lynch mob victim in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), the detective infatuated with a woman thought to be murdered in Laura (1944), and a veteran in serious need of a reality check in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Unfortunately, like other actors who once did well at the top of the bill, he was eventually relegated to silly stuff like this and Crack in the World (1965) and Airport 1975. But here in Frozen Dead, he plays that unsuspecting, disillusioned character type that made him famous - he just does it with a German accent.
Philip Gilbert (Dr. Ted Roberts) had various bit parts in other movies, but also directed the effectively depraved Blood and Lace (1971).
Anna Palk (Jean) plays her character in this movie as a wide eyed innocent variant on Hayley Mills. She dropped her innocent act in Tower of Evil (1972), wherein her slutty character is the first to go.
Alan Tilvern (Karl) was a British character actor, but he played a variety of nationalities. People are most likely to have seen him near the end of his career, when he was playing R. K. Maroon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
We don't see much other screen work for Kathleen Breck (Elsa) after this. She did some television, but that's about it. We'd hate to think that something like this in her résumé strangled her future as an actress, especially after what she must've gone through to play this character.
Oliver MacGreevy (Joseph) had various bit parts. Fans of cult horror have seen him as the homicidal Santa in Tales From the Crypt (1972).
Now we come to the bit player in the role of "Prisoner Number 3," or as we call him, Strangley Drone. He wasn't as famous as his brother James, but this was about to change. A few short years later, this bit player's finely tuned facial features and acting abilities didn't go unnoticed, and he was cast into a role many actors would've killed for. The role: The Jackal. The movie: Day of the Jackal (1973). Ladies and gentlemen, meet Edward Fox. You can also see him as the explosives pro in Force 10 from Navaronne (1978), General Dyer in Ghandi (1982), and M in Never Say Never Again (1983).
Davis Boulton (cinematographer) was a regular for Leder, but also lensed The Huanting (1963) and Song of Norway (1970). Regarding that last one, please note that on a big screen, it is nice to look at.
Philip Martell (musical director) also led the orchestra for various Hammer and Hammeresque titles.
As noted in this article's introduction, it wasn't long after the Second World War that the Nazi party was elevated from stock bad guys in propaganda films to a symbol for ultimate, organized evil.
The following list of stories regards things the Nazi's left behind besides bad memories. It intentionally excludes basic war criminals (like The Producers and The Marathon Man and Apt Pupil), stories where somebody with a swastika merely drops in (like the nightmare demons in An American Werewolf in London), and recent Neo-Nazi stuff (like Surf Nazis Must Die).
(Just let us know when you start seeing thugs in SS uniforms crawling out the walls.)
She Demons (1958) - Castaways wash up on an island populated by chorus girls and ex-Nazis. The bad guys are using the girls for experimental gland harvesting.
The House of the Seven Hawks (1959) - Ship's crew searches for lost Nazi treasure. The "lost Nazi treasure" adventure appears in various other stories. See also The Bay of Saint Michel (1963), The Log of the Black Pearl (1975), Bear Island (1979), Feiying Gaiwak (1990, a.k.a. Operation Condor (1997)) -- reviewed at Cold Fusion Video, and Cascadeur (1998).
Madmen of Mandoras (1963, a.k.a. They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968)) - People looking for a missing scientist run into a secret Nazi enclave. Reviewed at Jabootu.
The Flesh Eaters (1964) - Again, castaways and an island. But this time, a leftover Nazi scientist is still working on his pet project, which really, really bites. Reviewed at The Bad Movie Report. See also Shock Waves (1977), wherein the leftover Nazi scientist is still working with his army of underwater zombies. Reviewed at Cold Fusion Video.
Furankenshutain Tai Chitei Laijû Baragon (1965, a.k.a. Frankenstien Conquers the World (1966)) - OK, so here's the deal. At the end of WWII, Nazis drop in on Dr. Frankenstein and take his monster's dismembered heart, which is still beating. Onto a plane it goes, bound for Japan. One atom bomb later, and they've lost track of it. A few years later, a kid not only starts turning into the Frankenstein monster, he also grows to a height of several feet. Enter another giant monster, and they fight. So tell me. At what point did somebody lose control of this movie?
Tales of Suspense, #66 (1966) - Comic book fans can tell you about how, due to the magic of retroactive continuity, Captain America was accidentally frozen after the end of World War II. He thaws out a few years later, and in this issue of the comic book, he runs into his old enemy, The Red Skull. Ol' Red is the embodiment of comic book Nazi evil. His animation was also accidentally suspended at the end of the war, and he'd like to resume enslaving the world. Various other old Nazi supervillians started coming out the woodwork, too, like Baron Zemo, Arnim Zola, the inhabitants of Exile Island, and the Death's Head Guards. See also the movie Captain America (1992), wherein the Red Skull has been inexplicably transmuted into an Italian. The movie has been reviewed at And You Call Yourself a Scientist.
The Quiller Memorandum (1966) - American agent in Berlin discovers a secret plot to start a Fourth Reich. See also A Man Called Dagger (1967) and The Odessa File (1974).
...And Millions Die! (1973) - Ex-Nazi in Hong Kong hides a germ warfare time bomb in the sewer system. The race is on to find it.
Wizards (1977) - In the far future, after the world has mutated into a fairytale land, an evil sorcerer discovers the magic of ancient Nazi propaganda reels. After he shows them to his armies, they're well nigh unstoppable. Reviewed at Oh the Humanity and another review at Badmovies.org.
Hitler's Son (1978) - Secretly fascist political leader in German finds out that a simpleton in an institution is the son of Der Führer. He's got big plans for the guy. See also Hitler's Daughter (1990), reviewed at Stomp Tokyo.
The Boys from Brazil (1978) - When cloning became the buzzword of paranoid science fiction, this plot was sure to follow. Old Nazi holdouts have been raising copies of Hitler, and an old Nazi hunter is onto the plot.
Le Lac des Morts Vivants (1980, a.k.a. Zombie Lake) - Dead German soldiers rise from the dead and start fondling the local women. Some people call this genius. (Nope. Can't see it.)
Death Ship (1980) - People at sea discover a floating hulk, and it turns out to be haunted from the time it was a Nazi prison ship. (Some people call this genius, too, ya know. Nope. Can't see it, either.) You can find a less than favorable review over at Badmovies.Org.
Night of the Zombies (1981) - Directed by Joel M. Reed, and not to be confused with the one directed by Bruno Mattei. Yanks and Germans are still slugging it out in an isolated area of Europe, only now they're doing it as a pastime. Seems they were exposed to chemicals the made them into immortals with a taste for human flesh. Sounds like it could be good, but it ain't. (Unless there's someone out there seriously calling this "genius," too.)
La Tumba de los Muertos Vivientes (1983, a.k.a. The Oasis of the Living Dead and Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies) - Lost Nazi treasure again, only this cache is guarded by the reanimated corpses of the original custodians. (Special thanks to Ken Begg and Nathan Shumate for bringing this fine title to our attention.) See also Il Fantasma di Sodoma (1988, a.k.a. The Ghosts of Sodom), wherein we have the ubiquitous teens-pestered-by-ultimate-evil thing, but this time it's by the ghosts of Nazis who were rudely interrupted in mid-orgy by their own deaths.
The Holcroft Covenant (1985) - Mere words fail. See the analysis at Jabootu.
River of Death (1989) - Conrad's Heart of Darkness meets Mein Kampf. More properly, this is a variation on Apocalypse Now with a Nazi god at the end of the river.
Elves (1990) - Threadbare variant on the semi-mystical critter horror genre, only this time it was part of an old Nazi experiment. Reviewed at Badmovies.Org.
Lebensborn (1997) - Not to be confused with the 1961 film about Nazi breeding camps. Or maybe it was. College students in the Midwest find out they've been selected as subjects for the old breed-the-perfect-Aryan project, still in progress. Sexual confusion follows.
Götterdämmerung - Morgen stirbt Berlin (1999, a.k.a. Bombs Under Berlin)
- It is perhaps fitting that the Germans should have the last word on this
whole residual Nazi evil thing. An old time bomb is found in Berlin,
set at the end of the war and still ticking. And someone's been
maintaining it. And there may be other such bombs throughout the
The Frozen Dead is related to both the living head/brain transplant genre and stories about telepathic brains. For the former, see the "Roots, Shoots, and Other Compares" in the B-Note on Frankenhooker (1990); for the latter, see "Roots, Shoots, and Other Compares" in the B-Note on The Brain From Planet Arous (1957).
Scientist tries to revive cryogenically frozen Nazis, but he gets sidetracked by experiments on his niece's best friend's decapitated head. Promising for about twenty minutes, but then the plot veers off into mad science horror clichés. Dana Andrews congenially portrays some effective mad science dramatics in this slick production. Positive points are overwhelmed by the inherent goofiness of a living head on a table plus poorly realized animated arms. Distracting subplot about additional war criminals doesn't mesh well with the rest of the movie. Recommended for fans of so-called camp horror and people who've learned to associate the Nazi party with ultimate evil - which I suppose is most of us.
This has been only a small part of the B-Master's round table on movies with appendages with an attitude and glands going gaga. Check out the other contributions for this event, which we call "Parts is Parts."
Originally published on 19 May 2001.