The Magus (1968)

THE MAGUS (1968)
Article 3810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2012
Posting Date: 1-19-2012
Directed by Guy Green
Featuring Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy/drama

An unhappy English schoolteacher who has come to Greece meets a mysterious man on an island, possibly a magician of sorts. The man takes the teacher on a journey of understanding through the use of a series of role-playing games.

I’ve not read the novel on which this movie is based, but, based on what I see here, I would venture to say it’s one of those that cannot be easily translated into another medium. The ambiguous nature of the “magic” of the title character makes the fantastic content here fairly elusive, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been in territory like this. This is one of those movies that doesn’t parse out easily (if at all), so I can’t say at this point whether this movie will call me back for more exploration or whether it might not even make me search out the novel on which it is based. I can say this much though; on a certain gut level, I sense that this movie more or less hangs together, and there are some very memorable scenes. Perhaps the most powerful of these scenes involves a flashback to World War II and tells the story of the title character as a younger man forced to serve as a mayor of the small town during the German occupation, and who must make a horrible decision when some members of the resistance kill some German soldiers, setting in motion a nightmarish sequence of events. In the end, you’re never quite sure what was real and what was fantasy and illusion, but, to the movie’s credit, it never really made me feel as if it would be explained. The acting is very good throughout, with Candice Bergen showing a vast improvement over her work in THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT, which also took place on a Greek island.


Magic Serpent (1966)

aka Kairyu daikessen
Article 3809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2012
Posting Date: 1-18-2012
Directed by Tetsuya Yamauchi
Featuring Hiroki Matsukata, Tomoko Ogawa, Ryutaro Otomo
Country: Japan
What it is: Fantasy with monsters

A usurper combines forces with a traitorous sorcerer to murder the ruler and take his throne. The ruler’s son survives, and is trained by a master magician to seek revenge.

This Japanese giant monster movie is more in the vein of the Majin movies than with the Godzilla/Gamera movies; it’s a period piece in which the monsters play roles in the final battle between good and evil. We have a giant dragon, a giant frog, and a giant spider before it’s all through; the giant dragon also appears early in the movie. Still, that doesn’t mean the fantastic content is restricted to either end of the movie; there’s a lot of content involving magic, including a rather memorable sequence involving swirling doors. The special effects aren’t always quite up to par, but the movie moves along at a nice clip, there’s an interesting array of characters, and overall I found it quite enjoyable. I’m sure Godzilla fans will recognize the dragon’s roar.

The Vengeance of the Vampire Women (1970)

aka La venganza de las mujeres vampiro
Article 3808 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2012
Posting Date: 1-17-2012
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Santo, Norma Lazareno, Gina Romand
Country: Mexico
What it is: More wrestlers and vampires

A mad scientist revives an ancient female vampire in the hopes that he can use her blood to help make his own monster immortal. She agrees to this with one provision; he must help her defeat the descendant of the man who staked her: Santo, the masked wrestler.

Yes, it’s Santo fighting vampires again, just like yesterday. I think this the fifth time in my experience with the series that Santo has taken on this particular type of monster, a fact that I assume arises from either the extreme popularity of that type of monster or from lack of imagination on the part of Santo’s screenwriters. Despite the title, this isn’t a sequel to SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (perhaps the most well-known Santo movie in the states). This one is from the seventies, so it’s in color and the females show off more skin.

You know, it’s sometimes tempting to think of the whole Santo series as of one piece, but there is a certain variety in the quality of the movies. Some of them figured that the presence of Santo was all that was necessary, and no more effort was put into them than that. Some made real attempts to come up with novel variations of the standard Santo plots, and some also tried to add some real atmosphere to the proceedings. The plot in this one is by the numbers, but it does come up with a few atmospheric touches here and there. Still, we’re on very familiar territory here, and the monster created by the scientist is a real disappointment; he’s a tall guy with a bandage that covers about one quarter of his face. Still, there are worse ways to spend your time than with this movie.

Santo en el tesoro de Dracula (1969)

aka Santo and Dracula’s Treasure
Article 3807 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2012
Posting Date: 1-16-2012
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Santo, Aldo Monti, Noelia Noel
Country: Mexico
What it is: Masked wrestlers and vampires

Santo, wrestler and scientist, has devised a time machine that can send people back into previous incarnations. He sends back the daughter of a fellow scientist, only to discover that she was one of Dracula’s victims. When the daughter returns to the present, Santo decides to prove his theories by using her knowledge to find Dracula’s crypt, where he can claim his medallion and ring and learn the location of his treasure. But an evil masked villain also wants the treasure… and isn’t above reviving Dracula to do it.

Apparently, this movie was in color, but my copy is in black and white. It was also released in a version with a lot of sexy scenes, but that version of the movie is apparently lost. At least my version has English subtitles, so I was easily able to follow this one. It’s one of the more focused Santo movies, and it has no extraneous wrestling scenes (there’s one wrestling sequence, but it’s incorporated into the plot) and no musical numbers; it does, however include a nerdy comic-relief character, who I don’t recall popping up in any of the other Santo movies I’ve seen. The time machine was at least partially inspired by the one in “The Time Tunnel”. The first half of the movie is largely a rehash of the original Dracula story, while the second half mostly pits Santo against a hooded villain, with Dracula only reentering the picture during the final fifteen minutes. It’s one of Santo’s better movies, but I wouldn’t place it with my very favorites. And, if the English translation is correct, Dracula is afraid of mistletoe, so that must be why there are so few Christmas vampire movies. Tomorrow, more Santo/vampire antics…

El monstruo de los volcanes (1963)

aka Monster of the Volcano
Article 3806 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2012
Posting Date: 1-15-2012
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring Joaquin Cordero, Ana Berthe Lepe, Andres Soler
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican Yeti story

The inhabitants of a Mexican village are being terrorized by a yeti from the nearby volcano. And it appears that the yeti has his sights set on one of the women of the town for his mate.

You know a monster isn’t scary when the nickname that first comes to mind when you see him is “Fluffy”. But I’ve seen Fluffy the Mexican Yeti before; he also appeared in EL TERRIBLE GIGANTE DE LAS NIEVES, where he was equally non-scary. My copy of this one is in unsubtitled Spanish, but fortunately, one of my books gives a fairly decent plot description explaining the Yeti’s desire for the daughter of a local professor. However, it doesn’t explain the prominent subplot about four men who are working for a shadowy villain who is after a medallion of sorts. This part of the story doesn’t dovetail with the story of Fluffy until the end of the movie. Unfortunately, the parts with the human villains doesn’t look all that interesting and diverts the movie from the monster, whose innate huggability makes him the most interesting thing here as far as I can tell.

Anthropophagous 2 (1981)

aka Absurd, Rosso sangue
Article 3805 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2012
Posting Date: 1-14-2012
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Featuring George Eastman, Annie Belle, Charles Borromel
Country: Italy
What it is: A slasher/zombie movie

A horribly injured man is taken to the hospital, but it turns out that he has incredible powers of healing. He is also insane and homicidal. Can he be stopped?

The title implies that this is a sequel to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, which I reviewed under the title THE GRIM REAPER. It’s really not, thought it’s somewhat in the same mode, and features the same lead actor and the same director. The title is also deceptive, in that this killer doesn’t appear to be a cannibal, just an insane killer. In some ways, it’s like a zombie movie in that he is only vulnerable by an attack on the brain, though this is no more a regular Italian zombie movie than REVENGE OF THE DEAD was. The set-up during the first half is the more interesting part of the movie as far as I’m concerned, mostly because I was pretty curious as to what was going on here. The problem with the second half is that I don’t think it really manages to ratchet up the suspense as well as it could, as the contrivances become rather blatant as the movie progresses, and the denouement is rather unbelievable. However, gorehounds will probably be quite satisfied, as the movie is very bloody. To me, this was a mixed bag.

Revenge of the Dead (1983)

aka Zeder
Article 3804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2012
Posting Date: 1-13-2012
Directed by Pupi Avati
Featuring Gabriele Lavia, Anne Canovas, Paola Tanziani
Country: Italy
What it is: Zombie mystery

A writer recreates a couple of letters from the ribbon on a typewriter he has recently acquired, and he discovers a secret about a mysterious K-Zone, an area of land from which dead bodies can be reanimated. But there’s a cover-up underway, and those who try to help him end up dead. Can he uncover the secret before he, too, must die?

Some of the comments I read about this from my sources indicate it’s dull and uninteresting, and I can see how some might feel that way, especially since much of the promotional material surrounding it seems to imply that we’re dealing with an Italian zombie flick here. Yes, it is Italian, and yes, there are zombies, but we’re dealing with a much different type of zombie than the flesh-eating variety that became the norm for that type of monster, and those expecting the usual zombie antics will be very unhappy with this one. I myself was rather taken with the mystery/conspiracy approach here, even if the mystery and conspiracy are hardly surprises; after all, the movie pretty much lets you know what’s going on behind the scenes. My enjoyment stems more from watching the main character piece the puzzle together and follow the trail. Granted, there are some real flaws here; some of the pieces of the puzzle just fall into his lap, and I’ve never quite figured out why it is in movies like this why the conspirators spend more time killing off the side characters rather than the hero himself, but I suppose they wouldn’t have much of a movie if they did that. At any rate, I rather liked this one, even if I emerge from it not quite satisfied.