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C Entries
Edward L. Cahn
James Cameron
Lewis John Carlino
Richard Carlson
John Carradine
Helena Bonham Carter
Leo G. Carroll
Maurice Cass
Lon Chaney
Lon Chaney, Jr.
John Cho
Arthur C. Clarke
Phyllis Coates
Joan Collins
Sir Sean Connery
Roger Corman
Buster Crabbe
Richard Crane
Tom Cruise
Peter Cushing
 
CAHN, EDWARD L.
(1899–1963). American director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: Robot Wrecks (short) (1941); The Gas House Kids in Hollywood (1947); Experiment Alcatraz (and produced) (1950); The Creature with the Atom Brain (1955); The She Creature (1956); The Zombies of Mora Tau (1957); Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957); Voodoo Woman (1957); It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958); Curse of the Faceless Man (1958); Invisible Invaders (1959); The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959); Beauty and the Beast (1963).
 
There is a characteristic theme that reverberates through the science fiction and horror films of Edward L. Cahn, and that is somnambulation. He repeatedly deals with various sorts of zombies, soulless people who move slowly and stiffly while they are driven, by black magic or twisted science, to carry out evil deeds. And, as commentators invariably note, there is a certain slowness and stiffness about Cahn's directorial style, at first glance suggesting a lack of talent, lack of interest, or both. Yet Cahn cannot be dismissed as just another mediocre B-movie director, because viewers consistently remember his science fiction films and wish to see them again. Perhaps they remember them only for their ineptitude, and perhaps they wish to see them again only to laugh at their absurdities; still, there can be something genuinely entertaining, even compelling, about Cahn's films, which is not true of the often ridiculed but truly unwatchable films of Phil TUCKER or Edward D. WOOD, Jr.

To explore the strange power of Edward Cahn, one must explore the hermeneutics of zombification. Why do zombies move so slowly and stiffly? Because they are being forced to do something that they really don't want to do. And, to ask the question that every eight-year-old asks when watching zombie movies, why are people afraid of beings that move so slowly and stiffly, sluggish menaces easy to escape from? Because, as people who have nightmares about such encounters may testify, those being pursued may freeze in terror, or stumble and fall, whenever zombies draw near. And why do they find zombies so disconcerting? Because not only their ability to do harm, but also their very situation, is frightful; they represent a condition of abject enslavement to others' wills that is unsettling in ways that werewolves and vampires are not.

How might all of this relate to the career of Edward L. Cahn? After an apprenticeship as a film editor, Cahn emerged in the 1930s and 1940s as a regular director of low-budget comedy shorts and crime films, which appeared to be his favorite genre. Then, in the 1950s, when the market shifted in response to changing demands, he was suddenly assigned to direct teen exploitation films (Shake, Rattle, and Rock [1956], Motorcycle Gang [1957]), science fiction films, or even both at once (Invasion of the Saucer Men). A man who came of age in the Roaring Twenties surely was less than pleased by this reversal of fortune. He may have felt trapped by such projects; reluctant to direct these films, something he didn't really want to do, he may have worked slowly and stiffly, either subconsciously, or consciously in an effort to make the resulting films so awful as to persuade producers to stop hiring him for work in this field. His films, then, project a special ambience—not simply films about zombies, but seemingly films made by zombies. Imagine what George ROMERO's Night of the Living Dead would have been like if one of the film's attacking zombies had been handed a camera and asked to film the proceedings, and you have some idea of why Cahn's films can be so uniquely fascinating.

An Edward L. Cahn film festival, then, would be an orgy of guilty pleasures. The Creature with the Atom Brain and Invisible Invaders command attention for their numb juxtaposition of incompatible science fiction and horror elements—murderous zombies caused by atomic energy or invisible aliens—and the latter film also features one of John CARRADINE's worst performances, which is saying quite a lot. The She Creature and Voodoo Woman arguably provide a proto-feminist take on the zombie theme, as men manipulate women and turn them into monsters, while The Zombies of Mora Tau adds a further element of outré entrapment by placing its zombies underwater. But my personal favorite would have to be The Curse of the Faceless Man, made more evocative by my childhood fascination with Pompeii, depicting an ancient resident of that doomed city who is turned to stone and obliged to lumber through the countryside to find the reincarnation of his lost love, whom he then carries about in languid homage to Universal's languid mummy films. Its story line advanced primarily by voice-over narration (apparently due to a lost soundtrack), this film presents a protagonist who is not only zombielike but also both faceless and voiceless—the most horrifying fate imaginable for any man, or any film director.

Yet Cahn's masterpieces—It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Invasion of the Saucer Men—project taut energy as well as hypnotized stupor. Despite the idiocies in the former film—a four-person spaceship the size of a small office building, where astronauts blithely fire guns that would actually penetrate the hull and kill everyone on board—it remains a suspenseful and involving story of people trapped in a confined area with a rampaging monster, perfectly conveying Cahn's own plight, and it is justly cited as a distinguished predecessor of Ridley Scott's Alien. Invasion of the Saucer Men represents powerlessness of another kind, teenagers who are both numbed by injected alien alcohol and ignored by unsympathetic, disbelieving adults, forcing the kids to find some way to foil an alien invasion all by themselves. Their evocative solution is to employ symbols of youthful freedom—their hot rods—to blast the aliens with blinding headlights. Was there similarly a final triumph in Cahn's career? Of sorts; after the odd The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, Cahn escaped from science fiction and horror to spend the last four years of his life making twenty-two more movies, mostly westerns and crime films, with only one more excursion into the fantastic (a version of Beauty and the Beast). No doubt he enjoyed being liberated from his years of unsettling involuntary servitude in the realm of science fiction films.

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