Quickly Got Old


It started out as a rather good European graphic novel, Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. It’s uncomfortable and unnerving, and was taken by an American director to make as a film. Unfortunately that director was M Night Shyamalan, whose career, with the best will in the world, can be called ‘patchy’.

Too bad – it was an interesting idea. Holidaymakers end up on a beach that ages people the longer they stay on it. Children hit puberty, couples age and die, but it’s only their cells that mature, not their brains. In Shyamalan’s hands the film ‘Old’ becomes another Twilight Zone-style story told in stilted, often hilariously bad dialogue.

‘You don’t know me,’ says one character. ‘I curate exhibits for museums. I’m telling you this because I want you to trust me.’ When a body is washed up onshore another character cries, ‘He must have gone unconscious in the ocean!’

Shyamalan makes 1950s-style B-movies, but unlike the directors of those (with the exception of William Castle) he’s something of an egomaniac, insisting on writing as well as directing (something he shouldn’t do) and often appearing onscreen (something he definitely shouldn’t do).

But if he can’t write or act he at least recognises good hooks, and probably gives great meetings. When America greeted ‘The Sixth Sense’ rapturously, writers everywhere facepalmed themselves. The problem was simple; we collectively guessed the twist within thirty seconds of the film’s start, with Bruce Willis’s appearance. He’s wearing a shoddy hairpiece so it’s a flashback, therefore when he’s shot he dies, and in the rest of the film he’s a ghost. We watch for signs that anyone else is interacting with him and find none. A one-trick pony nicely carried through, but why didn’t audiences spot such an obvious trick? Were they really that easy to hoodwink?

Shyamalan’s career pinballed through other unsatisfying surprise-ending films, earning healthy box office figures even after he stumbled with a series of increasingly conservative fantastical tales like ‘The Last Airbender’. This was unfortunate in the UK (not a major market for him, but still) as the word ‘bender’ had an entirely different connotation. So when characters said things like, ‘My father was a bender and my son is too,’ everyone fell about laughing.

The Guardian said, ‘It is incredible how awful the once-feted director M Night Shyamalan has become and how he is still allowed to make big-budget films.’ The only reason why it’s of interest is that some of Shyamalan’s films could have been saved with decent scripts. The idea of ‘Old’ is intriguing, but nothing in it works. What was needed was a bit of intellectual rigour. Too many absurdities happen at once, nothing is thought through and the whole thing is topped with a ridiculously over-complicated, under-cooked denouement.

The puzzle remains; is the director driven by ego alone or does he genuinely think he’s writing good stories? Why does no-one stand up to him and point out how terrible they are? I guess he can point out the dollar bottom line to them and rest his case.

Back in the days of schlocky double bills Shyamalan would have been a whizz. I may not have been able to see them at the time but I caught up with everything from ‘War of the Colossal Beast’ to ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’, still a firm favourite.

(sample dialogue from ‘War of the Colossal Beast’)

Policeman: The man who made this footprint must be around sixty feet high.

Wife: But my husband is sixty feet high!

I loved all those films set in small desert towns where girls in sports cars scream when they spot something in the road, the kind of towns that have scientists’ labs in them. ‘The Vast of Night’ is a great low budget modern take on the idea, and well worth catching. Mr Shyamalan take note!

All suggestions for great schlocky old movies accepted.


16 comments on “Quickly Got Old”

  1. Jan says:

    I reckon nearly everybody “got” or Twigged the twist in “6th Sense”. It was pretty obvious for sure.

    Do you reckon that’s part of the reason the film was so popular at the time cos it made lots of folk feel clever? We nearly all left the cinema feeling we were bright? Or the others who left the pictures reckoning they had properly got their moneysworth because they hadn’t seen the “suprise”coming? He could hardly fail really making every one happy for various reasons.

    Shyamalan has made some duff pictures. He’s got a name that I don’t trust myself to spell right.
    ( I have gone with Mr F’s and have faith he’s got it right.)

    There were quite often interesting ideas in his films that he couldn’t quite make work. There was that film (sorry I can’t remember the title I should have Googled this fella b4 writing) where to begin with you believe you are in 18C America. I think 18C but who knows? in the past somewhere …. then it is revealed in various ways that the film is actually set in the present and the folk we are watching because of the devastating losses of their loved ones have chosen to retreat into a communal fantasy “living in history” scenario. Again apologies a big spoiler there!

    Now I thought that was a really interesting kernel of an idea but he just couldn’t pace the film or the reveals to make it work. Same with “Signs”

  2. Rob says:

    The ‘bender’ thing has really tickled me. It’s such a school insult, along with ‘spanner’.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    Of course no list of cinema schlock would be complete without Ed Wood’s ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space.’ Not even sure, however, whether it actually qualifies as ‘schlock.’ Probably should be on the next rung down (make that several rungs down) as one of the all-time worst films, made all the more ‘memorable’ by its astonishing confidence. Might be tempted to pair it up with in a double-bill programme requiring a degree of leglessness for admission with ‘Criminally Insane,’ in which a morbidly obese woman kills anyone who attempts to stop her from eating. ‘ 250 pounds of maniacal fury!’

  4. Paul C says:

    Many people guessed the twist ending of MNS’s The Village long before the end too. Once you know the twist the film becomes empty and there’s no point in ever watching it again.

  5. Helen+Martin says:

    Any movie title with “Outer Space” in it is going to be schlock. Or “Tomatoes”. That’s one of the reasons I never saw “Plan 9…”. Somehow I got the idea that all science fiction was like that so I wasn’t introduced to Bradbury, Clarke, and Azimov until I was married. Those authors are not subject to weeding as I work my way through our books.

  6. John Griffin says:

    I couldn’t finish watching ‘Sixth Sense’ as I, like many, guessed the ‘twist’ a few minutes in, as I did with ‘The Village’. ‘Signs’ was half a goodish SF B movie IMO, and the tragedy of ‘Unbreakable’ is in other hands (though not Marvel) it could’ve been an excellent film – alas it died two thirds through and the denouement less than amateurish.
    As for ‘Airbender’, well…….:)

  7. Bob Low says:

    Shyamalan is a frustrating film maker. I still think “The Sixth Sense” is a fine film, mainly because of the performances and the atmosphere. Audiences then expected him to keep coming up with ‘surprise’ endings, and slated some of his later films unfairly for not being twisty enough. I actually like “The Village”, and don’t think the ending is meant to be such a huge reveal. It struck me as being more a parable about state control than anything else. “Unbreakable” was just silly. “Signs” was admirably restrained and well played by the cast, but featured the stupidest invading aliens in film history. Sadly, few of the films he’s made since then have been even watchable. I caught “Old” on DVD recently, and watched in horrified fascination. It not only doesn’t work, on any level, it descends into presumably unintentional comedy in the second half. It’s not boring, at least.

  8. Joel says:

    re: bender… i had to look it up…i can relate…i was here in the states watching a movie and a brit character says “i need a fag in the worst way”, totally cracked me up…i thought, “you ain’t the only one sister”…as for shama lama, i have always enjoyed his movies more than less (and find him to be sexy as well)…my favourites are the village, signs, the happening, the visit, and split…i find the others enjoyable but less so…looking forward to “old”…good thing there are all kinds of movies, books, music, et al that everyone can find something they connect with…that’s why art, to me, is so important

  9. Alan R says:

    When one of us paid to get into the Plaza Cinema on the Kingsland Road, Dalston, and we opened the rear exit to let everyone else in, every film we saw was a classic, schlocky or not. Every film was fantastic. On 19th December 1959, the last film shown at the Plaza featured Eric Fleming in “Curse of the Undead”. A groundbreaking film with a vampire masquerading as a gunslinger. Only Preacher Dan could stop him. Preacher Dan should have won an Oscar. We bunked in 3 times that week.

    The Plaza was a second rate cinema, with second rate seats but showing magic films like Curse Of The Undead. Nothing was better in the world than “the pictures”. I would bet “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” was a major attraction.

    My mum and dad would never go to the Plaza – the “flea pit”. They went every week to the Odeon and “the Dalston”. But those cinemas had sensors on the exit doors that lit up in the cinema when a door was open. If we ever managed to find the money to pay to get into a cinema, we would always take the opportunity to see an “A” film. Finding an adult woman in the queue to “take us in”.

    I am embarrassed to say I watched Dune a $400 million movie, and the only comment I had is “it’s a bit long”. The only conclusion I can take from this is that the enjoyment of films depends on your current circumstances, the time in your life when you watch them, and the friends you share them with.

    The Quatermass Xperiment by Hammer Films stands out for me from that time.

    “When 3 men take off in a rocket and only one comes back, in our reckoning that leaves minus 2. And minus 2 puts us in an embarrassing position having to investigate plus 1”.

    I’m not sure if Hammer Films qualify as “great schlocky old movies” but they were good considering the budget was 20 quid a film. I’d like to see what Shyamalan could do with 20 quid.

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    For those of us who just can’t get enough of CF — here he is recently on the podcast ‘SoHo Bites’ with host Dominic Delargy discussing the film, ‘The Sandwich Man’ (1966). CF’s segment starts at about 23:47 (as you probably know, you can manually advance the progress or running time bar to that point). https://www.sohobitespodcast.com/episode/33

  11. Jan says:

    Yes I’d forgotten “Unbreakable” which I have to say is probably the best of the bunch.

    Unbreakable set off really well and there’s that great speech about comics and how their “history” stretches back to ancient Egypt which I honestly think falls into the bit batty but interesting category.

    Then the film sort of slides away halfway through. His difficulty seems to be in pacing his films as much as anything else. The tension never lasts and his stories get confused

  12. Glasgow1975 says:

    Bender. *sniggers*
    I recently watched Devil, which Shamalamadingdong only wrote, didn’t direct or appear in, and it was not bad for an tv watch, the end was a bit rubbish tbh but until then, the tension ramped up as people stuck in a lift with the devil are killed one by one…

  13. Joel says:

    @glasgow1975 i totally forgot about devil, i did enjoy that as well…i used to watch “elvira, mistress of the dark and her movie macabre” on either saturday nights or sunday afternoons…this was where i saw most of the vincent price/edgar allan poe movies, as well as every kind of horror story…satanism, slasher, monster, animal…i remember the titillation of the scantily clad females, not to mention elvira…most of the movies were from the late 60’s and 70’s…full of schlock, but almost always entertaining…did the uk have a similar horror movie tv show?

  14. Helen+Martin says:

    I looked up bender above but it didn’t give me anything to snigger at so I tried adding Br. meaning and got it. What a disgusting nation you are in your teen years.
    The Soho Bites interview was very good. Even though I haven’t seen the Sandwich Man film we got a pretty good view of it through the descriptions and it reassured me as to what was really happening in London in the mid-60s. I’ve learned to expect voices to sound different when miked and whatever they were using certainly changed Chris. He sounded about 20 years old. Of course, that’s two mikes – the taping one and my computer – so I don’t know which was the larger influence. I notice it on our CBC radio when the host of one program is interviewed on another and you hardly recognise someone you hear every week. (Yes, drinking each other’s bath water happens here.)

  15. Cary Watson says:

    The Beast of Yucca Flats and The Creeping Terror are probably my favourite, so bad they’re hilarious schlock movies. The former features the world’s slowest car chase, the “beast” petting a bunny, and Tor Johnson. Terror has an alien critter (basically a rug with a mouth) attack a sock hop as well as eating a guy playing a guitar for his girlfriend. Enjoy.

  16. Hazel Jackson says:

    “Devil Girl from Mars”anyone? ….… but schlockiest hit movie in my book is the original Wicker Man.

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