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'The Thing that Couldn't Die' (1958): A Review

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The Thing that Couldn't Die

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Deep in the subterranean abysms of the Earth, the vengeful Mole People conspire to destroy the art of cinema as we know it. A race of blind, petty mutants whose inability to enjoy classic cinema has driven them to the brink of madness, the Mole People have done everything within their power to pollute the theatres with their terrible, awful films in hopes of driving us above-dwellers to turn our backs on the art form they themselves cannot experience.

‘The Thing that Couldn't Die’ (1958), directed by the Mole People’s human puppet, Will Cowan, is a film that conveys nothing save that it has nothing to convey, and tells the story of a young woman named Jessica (Carolyn Kearney), a psychic who lives on a remote ranch with her Aunt Flavia (Peggy Converse). There, Jessica discovers an ancient box while water-divining, and her Aunt takes the box back to their house where Jessica’s romantic interest and resident smug-factory, Gordon (William Reynolds), insists that the box be kept intact for appraisal and opened by an expert.

However, the Aunt's greedy foreman Boyd (James Anderson), anticipating treasure inside of the box, secretly convinces the slow-witted handyman and obligatory oaf Mike (Charles Horvath) to break it open after he [Boyd] has gotten his fill of peeping on Jessica. Instead of treasure, however, the men discover the head of Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes), a man executed some 400 years earlier for sorcery. The head quickly awakens and then telepathically takes over the mentally vulnerable handyman, using him as a pawn in his dastardly plan to reattach his head to his body so that he might fulfill his modest dream of taking over the world.

Where to start? The material might’ve proven to be interesting enough where it not for the fact that, in keeping with the diabolical plans of the Mole People, the film’s ‘stable of actors’ consisted only of community-theater players, escaped mental patients, and people picked randomly from out of a convenient crowd. Carolyn Kearney’s portrayal of ‘innocence’ comes off like a confused adolescent child who wants to be taken seriously despite her insistence that nearly everything – from boxes, to the wind, to wishes – is full of ‘evil’. This, coupled with her confused glares and childlike behavior only serves to make her more annoying than sympathetic.

Not that her performance alone is to blame for the film’s ineptitude: William Reynolds, portraying her romantic interest/boyfriend, comes off as a smug and condescending figure, the chemistry between him and Kearney proving to be non-existent. Though Gordon (Reynolds) claims that he’s known Kearny’s Jessica for many years, the two of them come off as being total strangers to each other, their shared scenes together displaying no warmth or intimacy. And as for the film’s villain and the titular ‘thing that couldn't die’, actor Robin Hughes (or rather, his head) comes off as being more ‘mincing’ than ‘menacing’, his wide-eye glares and the mute, mechanical movements of his mouth more likely to induce shrieks of laughter than of fear in audiences.

In addition to talent, suspense is also conspicuously absent from the Mad Cowan’s film, its story plodding along on tiptoe as the disembodied head of Gideon Drew repetitively takes over the minds of the ranch’s residents one at a time, all in an attempt to dig-up his body and intact a “fiendish plan” that ends in one of the most anticlimactic fights ever caught on camera. Even purveyors of ‘So-Bad-Its-Good’ cinema will have a difficult time enjoying Cowan’s disasterpiece, its tedious plot and utter lack of action making it too boring to riff on, and its acting too conventional to laugh at.

The Mole People and their human puppet Will Cowan knew precisely what they were doing when they made ‘The Thing that Couldn't Die’: Impossible to enjoy at face-value, impossible to enjoy ironically, the film, quite simply, is impossible to enjoy on any conceivable level.

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.

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