SHANKS (1974) Reviews and overview

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Shanks is a 1974 American horror film about a puppeteer able to manipulate dead bodies like puppets. Mime Marcel Marceau, in his first major film role, plays the titular Malcolm Shanks. It also stars Tsilla Shelton and Philippe Clay.

It was the last film directed by producer-director William Castle. Conductor Alex North reused some of his score that Stanley Kubrick had rejected for 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Malcolm Shanks (Marceau) is a deaf, mute puppeteer who lives with his cruel sister (Chelton) and her husband (Clay). His skill with puppets is noticed by a doctor who takes him on as a lab assistant. The doctor’s experiments involve reanimating the dead and controlling them like puppets. When the doctor dies unexpectedly, Shanks continues the experiments to exact revenge.

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Marceau, who had for decades before performed in his signature white face makeup and without speaking, both spoke and appeared without makeup for this film. He played two roles: Malcolm Shanks, who could not speak, and Old Walker, who could. He had appeared in 20 shorts and films in small and cameo roles, often as his mime character Bip. Director William Castle took an interest in him after watching him perform the pantomime “Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death” and approached him with the script for Shanks, saying it dealt with similar themes. Said Marceau of the script, “it was exactly what I had been looking for.”



Shanks is a true rarity one of those ‘one of a kind’ movies which refuses to be pigeonholed (horror, comedy, social commentary and love story are poetically interspersed around Marceau’s touching performance). Walking the tightrope of such disparate tones (genuinely creepy scenes consistently jar with quirky humour) must have been a big headache for Paramount for its release back in 1974.’ Lovely Jon, Days Are Numbered

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‘Different from anything else I’ve seen and very different from anything else I’ve seen with William Castle’s name on it, it’s certainly a memorable piece and I’ll want to come back to it again for a second viewing. Did it feel like a piece of genius? Not really. Was I enthralled, disturbed and entertained, as I should be when viewing a ‘grim fairy tale’? Well, yes, I was. I’m sure it’s not going to disappear from my mind any time soon and that’s usually a pretty good sign.’ Apocalypse Later


‘So what we have is an audacious idea well handled, and yet “Shanks” never really engages us. Maybe it’s just too civilized; it perfects subtle physical jokes that Jacques Tati would have been proud of, but it never really gets into its characters and it moves slowly.’ Roger


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