Caught this on TCM a couple of weeks back during their Underground time slot. The short form plot – Within a framing device of a puppeteer (Marcel Marceau) giving a show for kids, has an extended fantasy about being a deaf-mute called Shanks. Shanks dresses really cool for a Frenchman in the 70s, but in today’s world, would look like he owns a condo on Christopher Street.
He lives with his drunken brother-in-law and bitchy sister (who, hilariously, talks to him behind his back so there’s no way he can respond).
Shanks is forced to get a job with an old scientist who teaches Shanks how to reanimate the dead, first with wired electrical shocks, then with a wireless method that uses a little remote control.
As all Frenchmen are universally liked by children, Shanks stops off one day to entertain some of them, meeting the girl Celia (Cindy Eilbacher) and looking at her in a manner that’s not at all pervy, nosireee bob.
Upon returning to his job, Shanks finds the old man dead. Despondent, he does what any of us would do in that same situtation – reanimate the old man’s corpse with the method he learned. Shanks soon has the old man working around the house with his little paleo-Nintendo.
Shanks eventually turns his hated family into meat puppets, enabling him to spend more time with Celia. Celia finds out the meat puppets are dead, and after Shanks explains to her that they died semi-naturally, she seems quite alright with the fact they’re dancing about in a French vaudeville manner.
Shanks takes her to the Old Man’s place to celebrate her birthday, and dresses her up in a found dress so they can both pretend that she’s not jailbait later on.
We spend interminable minutes watching the antics of the meat puppets at the party, when a motorcycle gang(!) passes by. One of the gang’s members gets killed, and they bring him to Shank’s party, Shanks having forgotten to lock the doors, I guess. The gang turns out to be animals (and the one hot chick the gang has with them Shanks has no interest in, she being older than sixteen), killing Celia, and Shanks must use the mighty power of meat puppets to get justice.
Hard to look macho in that getup, son…
Finally, Shanks returns to Celia’s body and reanimates her, thus rendering his forthcoming charge of felony statuatory rape into misdemeanor necrophilia. As the framing device ends, we see Celia assisting the puppeteer – so this is really a perv fantasy?
Setting aside Marceau’s undeniable talent as a mime, was Marceau trying to lend mime legitimacy in the US by being in this film? If so, he failed – this could only be seen as a curiousity by most, although I suspect it was lionized in France. And what’s with William Castle doing this? I would have thought he had a better grasp on the ticket-buying public with movies like The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, and Macabre than to make this mess. Maybe Marceau was bribing him?
For extra credit – go to IMDB and read the review of this movie titled “This movie brought to you by Bombay Gin” by benovite. Hilarious!