Schadenfreude

 review 
 Earthquake 

TWO OF MY favourite movies are The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974); on the surface, disaster porn, but on closer inspection, films which seek to highlight humanity's better qualities. They were directed by Irwin Allen (who also gave us TV's Lost In Space and Land of the Giants).

Also released in 1974 was Earthquake, a nasty, mean-spirited film that borrows many of the elements of those superior pictures, but none of their virtues.

Look, the depiction of a cataclysmic 'quake in LA oughtn't be a walk in the park, but this is just grim. Earthquake revels in suffering and gratuitous violence (as if the natural disaster wasn't bad enough, everyone is a complete cunt to everyone else), putting instances of body horror and trauma centre-stage for our viewing pleasure; often, in a weird comic-strip style that feels almost like spoof. But it ain't that. The characters are largely charmless - Charlton Heston looks bored, George Kennedy is unpleasant, and an aging Ava Gardner embarassing. Richard Roundtree (yes - Shaft!) is here too, and then he just isn't. The whole sorry enterprise is steeped in desperation and Schadenfreude.

Unlike the relatively sophisticated Poseidon, or Inferno (yes, really - Earthquake makes me want to attach the S word to those pictures), Earthquake wasn't directed by Irwin Allen, but by Mark Robson, who also directed Val Lewton's Isle of the Dead and Bedlam, as well as Ingrid Bergman's The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Go figure.

Immediately after my evening in mid-70s hell, I was so sickened and dispirited that I had to watch several episodes of another '70s stalwart, the feel-good sitcom The Good Life, just to cleanse myself of the knawing sense of despair Robson's film left me with.

Watch it once, to see for yourself how it shouldn't be done.


2 comments:

John G said...

I agree - such a dreary film by contrast with Inferno & Poseidon (despite the appealing prospect of Mr Roundtree in a black & yellow leather jumpsuit). I remember when it came out, & the marketing gimmick was that it was filmed in 'Sensurround' so you would 'experience the quake in the cinema' - which was achieved by a rumbling bass tone played over recently-improved chain cinema sound systems. It's always disappointing when something trashy turns out to be just dull. How strange the director should have also directed the sensitive & atmospheric Isle of the Dead, which I love (probably B. Karloff's best performance). It just shows: script script script! The director is NOT the creator of the film...

Zee Jai said...

Ah yes, Sensurround, the phrase that's attached to "Earthquake" at the hip. Was it ever used on any other film, I wonder?

If only 3D would go away as quickly...

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