Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Ray Bradbury Theatre – The Man Upstairs – review (TV Episode)

dvd set

Directed by: Alain Bonnot

First aired: 1988

Contains spoilers

The Ray Bradbury Theatre was an anthology series with the scripts penned by author Ray Bradbury (unsurprisingly). This was a season 2 release and featured a vampire – or at least a ‘something’ that is described as a vampire. I’ll get to that but the fact that Mr Koberman (Féodor Atkine) was deemed to be a vampire is enough to cover the episode as a review. The episode aired on Zone Horror.

Féodor Atkine as KobermanDouglas (Adam Negley) is an American child staying in Paris with his Grandmother (Micheline Presle), who happens to own a hotel. As the episode begins she calls Douglas in as she is about to start preparing food. We watch as she melodramatically cuts at a chicken, she’s going to gut it but calls it foul (or should that be fowl) fiend as she does so. Douglas spies a man walking along the road, an umbrella protects him from the sun – it is Koberman. As Grandma is sewing up the chicken and Douglas prods at the innards, there is a knock at the door.

Adam Negley as DouglasDouglas answers it and is really quite nasty to Koberman, indicating that there are no rooms available. Grandma overhears and intervenes, sending Douglas to show Koberman to a room. I know what you might be thinking, obviously the boy could sense the danger emanating from the man but, as I watched this, I began to develop a different theorem.

wooden cutleryDinner time and the guests gather. There is Mr Dumas (Henri Poirier) a painter and bookseller, Amy Treadwell (Kate Hardie) a British student plus grandma and Douglas. Dumas mentions that another girl has vanished and that a body was found drained of blood. Koberman enters the room and immediately covers his silverware with a napkin. He is quizzed and confirms that he is a traveller and his name is Hungarian. Grandma offers to get him cutlery but he has his own – wooden. The sound of silver scraping goes through him, which causes Douglas to twang a fork. Koberman leaves the table.

spotting the organThat night Amy goes to the library. Not long afterwards Koberman goes for a walk. Before he leaves Douglas asks him if he has (silver) coins that he could donate to his collection. The next day Douglas is playing Space Ranger (or some such) and has goggles that show heat signatures. He sees Koberman and notices something strange in his stomach/chest. Koberman approaches the boy and looks at the goggles, dropping them out of a window. Douglas finds them and, despite being smashed, they still work.

photos from the pastAmy doesn’t come down to breakfast and an investigation by Douglas discovers she is not in her room. He breaks into Koberman’s room where the guest is sleeping, rather deeply to the point that it seems like he is dead, and looks at the strange organ via the goggles. Then he notices the photos. Koberman has pictures of himself at the construction of the Eiffel Tower and lots of pictures of girls. He has pinned Amy’s picture up.

the organ removedDouglas examines a book on human anatomy and then sneaks to Koberman’s room with a carving knife and his coin collection. He holds the knife aloft… The next thing he is putting the organ on the kitchen table to show his Grandmother.

Now here is my problem… what has Koberman done? He has lived a long time, has a strange organ and is allergic to silver. He has dated a lot of women and has a thing for Amy – as pertinent a conclusion as the idea that he killed all the pictured women. We don’t know if Amy is dead and we certainly don’t know whether he has killed anyone at all. Douglas, on the other hand, treated him with both suspicion and derision all the way from the beginning, simply because he had an umbrella up on a sunny day. Yes Koberman broke his toy – that might have been an accident – he certainly didn’t toss Douglas out of the window and even offered to replace it (though with normal binoculars).

his stomach was filled with silver coinsYou’d think the police would have been more interested in Douglas and his sociopathic ability to commit stone cold evisceration and subsequent re-sewing of a paying guest, weird organ notwithstanding – and they only have Douglas’ word that it came out of Koberman. So what do the authorities, in the form of a police officer (Michel Winogradoff), and the Coroner (Bertie Cortez) do? Well it is reported, by Douglas, that Koberman remained alive even after he removed the organ. So what killed him? They open him up and find that he is filled with the (remarkably gore free) coin collection – it is asked, did that kill him? You think? Vampire or not, being cut open with a kitchen knife, your innards removed and replaced with coins and then sewed back up again is going to kill you.

the true face of evilThe authorities’ conclusion? Douglas made a wise investment, they state, as the child looks to camera with a glint of evil in his smug little eye.

There is interesting lore hinted through this re additional organs, longevity, aversion to bright sunlight and allergy to silver. I could mention the acting, the directing or the awfully synthesised eighties soundtrack but to me it is all irrelevant. We should only be concerned with the chilling story of a monster… and the monster was the boy. I blame the grandma, specifically for training him evisceration techniques via chicken carcasses. 5.5 out of 10 for a little film that makes you think.

The imdb page is here.

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