The Mermaid (1965)

THE MERMAID (1965)
aka Yu mei ren
Article 3349 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2010
Posting Date: 10-15-2010
Directed by Li Kao
Featuring Ching Lee, Ivy Ling Po, Yunhua Chen
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Fantasy musical

A scholar is the promised husband to the daughter of a prime minister, but the scholar’s lack of money make him an undesirable choice. However, a beautiful carp spirit who lives in the pond has fallen in love with the scholar, and takes on the form of the prime minister’s daughter to pursue her romance. Complications follow.

There’s always something adventurous in exploring a genre you’ve never encountered before; this is the first Hong Kong musical I’ve encountered. Thankfully, the movie was subtitled in English, else I would have had a very difficult time following it. Though most of the subtitles are for lyrics to Chinese songs which simply don’t translate elegantly into other languages, the plot itself is fairly clear. The movie is imaginative, romantic, comic and exciting at different moments; it’s certainly different than anything else I’ve seen from the Shaw Brothers. Ultimately, the movie charmed me; the simplicity of the story helped me to deal with the more difficult and exotic aspects of the production. I don’t know how many more movies like this I’m going to see, but I suspect that this is a good introduction to the form.

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The Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

THE EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978)
aka Occhi dalle stelle
Article 3348 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2010
Posting Date: 10-14-2010
Directed by Mario Gariazzo
Featuring Robert Hoffmann, Nathalie Delon, Martin Balsam
Country: Italy
What it is: UFO conspiracy movie

A photographer and a model encounter UFOs and are kidnapped. Reporters and police investigate. A secret group tries to cover up the story.

I like the title; it has a nice poetic feel to it. It’s a pity that the movie itself is a dull and tired affair. It’s one of those movies that I like to place in a special subset of science fiction movies that are primarily of interest to those who firmly believe that we have been visited by UFOs constantly over the last fifty years but, due to a government conspiracy, all knowledge has been suppressed. This movie is pretty much a sop to that outlook, and the minute the brutal cover-up group known as the Silencers shows up, I saw this turning into a typical conspiracy thriller with the usual ending, and that’s just what it is. I’d say the movie is a downer, except saying that would imply that the movie engaged you enough to get you emotionally involved in the first place, and such is not the case. There are much better UFO and conspiracy movies out there.

The Evictors (1979)

THE EVICTORS (1979)
Article 3347 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2010
Posting Date: 10-13-2010
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Vic Morrow, Michael Parks, Jessica Harper
Country: USA
What it is: Horror thriller

During World War II, a young couple moves to a farmhouse in Louisiana so that the man will have a job that will make him too valuable domestically to be drafted. However, the house has a history of violent death somehow tied to an eviction fourteen years earlier that turned violent.

I don’t mind the deliberate pacing of this horror thriller, though a horror movie that goes on for almost twenty-five minutes before it even hints that it may be a horror movie is bound to turn off some people. I also really like the strong period and regional flavor of the movie. And, as a thriller, it works well enough for most of the movie. The movie loses steam near the end, though, as it starts relying on plot twists that tie the action to the somewhat muddled and confusing opening eviction sequence. Then it tries for one final twist which is especially hard to swallow, partially because there’s no logical reason for it and partially because it’s hard to believe that someone would go for nineteen years without replacing a broken pair of reading glasses. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but count me among the dubious.

The Elephant Man (1980)

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Article 3346 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-12-2010
Directed by David Lynch
Featuring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft
Country: USA
What it is: Biography of a deformed man

A noted doctor rescues a hideously deformed man from a freak show. But can this man ever hope to have a normal life in his new environment?

This is one of those movies that always brings tears to my eyes when I watch it. Granted, that’s one of the intentions of the movie, and occasionally it tries a little too hard to jerk the tears; there’s a number of lines and moments that would benefit from a bit of rewriting and careful pruning. Yet these moments don’t damage the movie as a whole because there’s something so compelling in the way that the movie tries to get us to understand and empathize with John Merrick and what his life must be like having been born with such extreme deformities. It makes sense that he might himself weep when the doctor’s wife treats him with courtesy; the idea that a pretty woman might treat him this way after all the others have run away screaming may be unthinkable to him. No, the movie doesn’t turn away from the darkness or difficulties; we have moments where the doctor ponders his own morality in his use of John Merrick, and even when the actress visits Merrick, there is a real awkwardness to the meeting that makes one wonder whether the she herself is questioning her own motives. And the lower class exploiters (Bytes and the night porter) are never very far away. Mel Brooks of all people was an executive producer, albeit uncredited, and this would be the second full-length movie made by cult director David Lynch; it would prove to be one of the real anomalies in his oeuvre.

As a final note, I always found it interesting that the stage production Merrick attends near the end of the movie seemed more like a compendium of special effects than a real-life stage production. It was only watching it this time that I realized that we were seeing it through Merrick’s eyes, and it made me wonder what it would have been like had I never seen a movie in my life but was then allowed to see one and only one; I wonder how my memory would have recorded that experience.

Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

DR. JEKYLL Y EL HOMBRE LOBO (1972)
aka Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf
Article 3345 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-11-2010
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Paul Naschy, Shirley Corrigan, Jack Taylor
Country: Spain
What it is: Monster mash

When an English couple visits Transylvania, the husband is killed by thugs, but the wife is saved by Waldemar Daninsky. She takes him to England to cure him of his lycanthropy… to a certain Dr. Jekyll.

It’s a good thing Paul Naschy’s sincere love of the classic monsters counts for a lot; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a lot to recommend in this somewhat stolid and muddled compendium of horror cliches mixed with bizarre plot elements and an eye towards exploitation. Some of the plot elements are real head-scratchers; if someone out there can logically explain why turning Waldemar into Mr. Hyde will cure him of his lycanthropy, I’d love to hear it. As usual, Naschy gets to play both hero and monster, with the real villains of the movie being some boorish villagers and Dr. Jekyll’s insanely jealous (and just plain insane) girlfriend. Still, some good ideas pop up; I like the concept that one of the rampages occurs because Waldemar is caught in a malfunctioning elevator for a long period of time. Still, I’m willing to bet the original language version is better than the dubbed one I’ve seen. Leon Klimovsky’s direction is pretty pedestrian, but I will have to admit having been totally blindsided by an unexpectedly arty transformation sequence near the end of the movie. This is not one of the better Waldemar Daninsky movies, but it’s not the worst either.

Judex (1963)

JUDEX (1963)
Article 3344 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2010
Posting Date: 10-10-2010
Directed by Georges Franju
Featuring Channing Pollock, Francine Berge, Edith Scob
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Crime drama

A corrupt banker is threatened by a mysterious figure of justice named Judex; he must either give his fortune away to those he cheated or die. When Judex seems to make good on his threat, a woman who was hoping to marry the banker seeks to get hold of papers the banker had been using for blackmail so that she can make a fortune. This puts the banker’s innocent daughter at risk. Will Judex be able to save her?

Not only was Georges Franju a fine filmmaker in his own right, he was also an archivist and a lover of classic cinema. This is his tribute to classic serial-maker Louis Feuillade; it’s an adaptation of Feuillade’s own 1916 serial JUDEX. I saw the Feuillade version seven years ago, and found it nearly impossible to follow because the subtitles were in untranslated French, so this version which tells pretty much the same story is a revelation. Still, it’s no wonder I was confused; since Judex employs tricks I would be more likely to expect from a Fantomas-style criminal, and the banker’s crimes were mostly talked about rather than shown, it was very difficult to sort the good guys from the bad guys. In its own right, this is a fine and entertaining adaptation; it perhaps relies overmuch on outrageous coincidence at times (and that applies equally well to Feuillade’s original serials), but it has a real sense of fun and there’s even a touch of lyricism to it as well; I particularly like the scene with the mysterious magician at the party. Like the original serial, the only fantastic content is a closed-circuit television unit used in the banker’s prison cell, which, since this adaptation also takes place in the same time period as the original serial, is a scientific anachronism.

The Hunchback of Soho (1966)

THE HUNCHBACK OF SOHO (1966)
aka Der Bucklige von Soho
Article 3343 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2010
Posting Date: 10-9-2010
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Gunther Stoll, Pinkas Braun, Monika Peitsch
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi… in Color!

Police investigate a series of strangulation murders. These appear to be tied to the disappearance of an heiress and her replacement by a substitute.

This was the first of the German Edgar Wallace movies of the sixties to be shot in color. To my mind, this stripped the series of one of its strengths; the black-and-white photography of the earlier movies gave them a serious, moody ambiance that is missing in this brightly lit movie. Furthermore, though it may be just the dubbing, I do really get the sense that the comic relief has inexplicably taken over the movie; it gives the impression that everyone is playing for laughs which aren’t in the script. On top of that, the score sounds like someone hired an avant-garde jazz composer to write a James Bond-style score with vocals by a black-belt karate expert practicing his kicks; it’s disorientingly strange. Fortunately, the score isn’t used near as much as it might have been, and once you get through the confusing first half of the movie, the plot finally gains momentum and it turns out not half bad. The hunchback strangler is the horror element of this one, which isn’t a giveaway – it’s established before the opening credits. Though some of the later color movies in the series would show a bit more skill in retaining the moodiness, it was starting to be obvious at this point that the series was starting to go downhill.