Sam Fuller's 'Shock Corridor'
at Adams House at 9:30 p.m. tonight
When the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema and the American Film Culture discovered the films of Samuel Fuller, they fell in love with them, and fell hard. Hard enough, at least, to set off a serious debate on a group of films seemingly made only to fill the second half of a drive-in double bill. Some people called fuller a genius, and others labeled him a reactionary cigar-chomping fraud. Even the New York Times devoted an article to finding out who Sam Fuller was and what kind of picture the made.
Fuller runs a one-men show: he produces, writes, and directs his movies, which include China Gate, Run of the Arrow, Merrill's Marauders, and Un-world USA. As a producer, he usually shoots them in the days, an extremely low budgets. As a writer, he has a flair for sensationalism, and his-plot ideas are lurid and compelling, though his script construction is sloppy and his dialogue implausible. As a director, Fuller can stand with the best. He is, as critic Andrew Sarris called him, "an authentic American primitive." He rarely uses tricky angles, generally putting his camera directly in front of whatever's happening, and extremely close to it. His cutting is relentless, so brutal it can hurt. For all their commercial motivation, his films have a clear and consistent personal style.
Shock Corridor can be chalked up as Fuller's best film to date. In it, a reporter feigns incest to gin admittance to a state mental institution so that he can track down the killer or a patient. Inside the asylum, Fuller subjects the reporter to a 90-minute horror show of shock treatments, nymphomaniac outbursts, sexual degeneracy, catatonia, schizoid fantasy, and psychotic gluttony. Shock Corridor is the Marat/Sade of film, a moody, almost choreographed, nightmare.
Fuller shows the minds of the insane by cutting frequently to strange romantic sequences composed of footage from travelogues and newsreels. Otherwise, he eliminates any traces of romanticism: a striptease scene, filmed in harsh style completely detached from sexuality, is simply cold and ugly. The shock-treatment scene consists of a rapid montage of earlier shots and sounds superimposed attack of the nymphomaniacs, and the hero's hallucination of being struck by lightning in a rain-filled hospital corridor are among the most brilliantly executed scenes of the American film in this decade.
Like most tough films, Shock Corridor has a core of sentimentality. Its ending, however, doesn't falter: Fuller undercuts the expected resolution with a note of quiet prolonged horror. Fuller's movies must be seen to be believed; they can't adequately be described. Shock Corridor is not often shown, and the Adams House Film society is performing a small public service in screening it. It is an extremely important film, and perhaps a great one.