The Unearthly (1957)

THE UNEARTHLY (1957)
Article 2224 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2007
Posting Date: 9-14-2007
Directed by Boris Petroff
Featuring John Carradine, Allison Hayes, Myron Healey

A doctor is experimenting with a gland that can give eternal life, but the people on whom he experiments all turn into monstrous freaks.

This rather cheap, plodding horror film doesn’t have much of a reputation, and, other than the memorable ending, it is pretty forgettable. The performances are uneven. On the plus side, John Carradine is rather restrained, the secondary characters are decently done, and Tor Johnson does a good job (for Tor, that is). Tor even has what may be his most memorable screen line, “Time for go to bed!”. I’m less taken with some of the other performances; Myron Healey would have been acceptable if he’d actually acted like the dangerous murderer that people are supposed to believe he is, and Allison Hayes does little more than fill out her costumes; she seems bored here, and for a woman who is supposed to be dealing with issues of fear, she never comes across as anything but bland. The movie mostly feels like a weak imitation of THE BLACK SLEEP , a movie which shares two of its cast members (Carradine and Johnson) with this one. A couple of creepy moments do help things, and Harry Fleer’s twitchy zombie is somewhat reminiscent of Herk Harvey’s character in CARNIVAL OF SOULS .

 

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The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959)

THE 30 FOOT BRIDE OF CANDY ROCK (1959)
Article 2223 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2007
Posting Date: 9-13-2007
Directed by Sidney Miller
Featuring Lou Costello, Dorothy Provine, Gale Gordon

A garbageman inventor finds himself forced to marry his girlfriend when she enters a radioactive cave that turns her into a giantess. He then must protect her from the military forces, who believe that she is an extraterrestrial invader.

This was the only movie Lou Costello made without his partner Bud Abbott. It was also his last movie, and arguably the weakest of all of his movies. Because of this, it’s tempting to blame the movie’s weakness on the absence of Bud, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true; after all, THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES has a reputation as one of his best movies, and though he did it with Bud, it wasn’t as a team. Furthermore, you could easily have substituted Bud in the Gale Gordon part here, and it wouldn’t have made the movie any better. No, what Lou needed here was a decent script; though he’s putting forth his best effort, his lines simply aren’t funny. Director Sidney Miller had a long career as an actor, but he wasn’t much of a director, and the movie suffers from a lack of energy and imagination. I almost get the feeling that the movie was tossed off without much care, which is a shame, as it would prove to be Costello’s last movie; he died before it was released. At any rate, it really makes me appreciate the quality of his movies with Bud Abbott; even the weakest of those come off as better than this one.

 

Alligator (1980)

ALLIGATOR (1980)
Article 2222 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2007
Posting Date: 9-12-2007
Directed by Lewis Teague
Featuring Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo

A giant alligator is loose in the sewer system of Chicago after having been kept as a pet and then flushed down the toilet and forced to dine on the carcasses of animals used in scientific experiments.

On the surface this movie is just a rather ordinary JAWS variation. Those who look a little closer, though, might find a number of amusing little touches that give it an added boost. A welcome and subtle sense of humor is one of the big pluses, and for those who keep a sharp lookout, you’ll see references to “The Honeymooners”, THE THIRD MAN, and a popular comic strip. There’s even a visual reference to the James Bond movies; at least I thought so during one of the shots of a sewer tunnel. It also has one scene-stealing performance; Henry Silva shows up as a big game hunter who is intent on bagging the giant gator himself, and he is wonderful. If you’ve seen as many jungle movies as I have, you should appreciate the satire in the scene where he tries to hire some of the “native help”. These fun touches help compensate for the occasionally flat direction and some rather cliched characters. The story was co-written by independent filmmaker John Sayles, who has occasionally ventured into fantastic territory; he worked on PIRANHA, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, THE HOWLING and THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, to name a few. The movie also features Dean Jagger and, in a memorable cameo, the great character actor Mike Mazurki.

 

Toto nella luna (1958)

TOTO NELLA LUNA (1958)
aka Toto in the Moon
Article 2221 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2007
Posting Date: 9-11-2007
Directed by Steno
Featuring Toto, Sylva Koscina, Ugo Tognazzi

When an Italian man is discovered to have an element in his blood similar to one found in monkey’s blood, American scientists believe he will be the ideal man to send into space. However, there are complications with German spies and aliens from outer space.

There are several familiar names in the cast and crew; Ugo Tognazzi is mostly famous for his appearance in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Sylva Koscina appeared in HERCULES UNCHAINED , DEADLIER THAN THE MALE and JULIET OF THE SPIRITS, among others. and co-writer Lucio Fulci would go on to become the director of a number of gory Italian horror movies. I wish I could say much about their contributions here, but given that my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Italian (the plot description above is pieced together from what I could figure out), I can’t really say too much. It was a vehicle for an Italian comedian known as Toto, and much of the humor is verbal. Still, there are some interesting plot elements here; the story initially seems to revolve around the cover of a magazine known as SOUBRETTE, the aliens are represented as disembodied eyes who communicate over great distances, and the aliens are able to use pods to duplicate people (which makes me think that someone involved saw INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ). It looks fun enough, but it’s always hard to tell in these circumstances; with subtitles or dubbing, it could turn out to be just dumb. Nonetheless, there appears to be a considerable amount of science fiction content, not least of which are the various pieces of science fiction artwork that pop up in the story.

 

Witchcraft ’70 (1970)

WITCHCRAFT ’70 (1970)
aka Angeli bianchi…angeli neri
Documentary
Article 2220 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2007
Posting Date: 9-10-2007
Directed by Luigi Scattine and Lee Frost
Featuring Edmund Purdom, Alberto Bevilacqua, Anton LaVey

This is a documentary about witchcraft around the world.

I don’t know whether this documentary about the various witchcraft rituals from around the world is faked, partially faked, or all real, but if it has been faked, it does a good job of making it look like it isn’t. It might make a good companion piece to WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES , though I don’t think it’s quite as entertaining. It generally eschews interviews in favor of ritual footage, though it does feature interview footage of a policeman commenting on the prevalence of witchcraft in his area (which he links to the increase of drug use) and a spoken interview with an initiate. It covers both black and white witchcraft; the most interesting example of this is the filming of two competing rituals in Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale. It gets rather dull at times, largely because there really isn’t enough variety between the various rituals to keep one from being bored. The Anton LaVey footage is interesting, in that the commentator talks about the subdued and rather bored feeling to the Satanic rituals, which he attributes to the fact that they go through it almost three times a day; there’s nothing that sucks the magic out of a ritual like its over-repetition. Some of the rituals were filmed with the permission of its participants, others were filmed in secret, and for some they found it necessary to purchase amateur footage in place of any that they could shoot themselves.

The movie does not say that witches and Satanists have real power; it is more interested in the fact that those who engage in the rituals do believe in its power. It saves any messages it has for the end of the movie when, after footage of a group of hippie Satanists, it makes the point of explaining that the location of the ritual is not far from the home of the Manson family, and that, though none of the filmed rituals here actually include such an action, there always exists the possibility of the revival of human sacrifice.

Oh, yes, and there are lots of naked people in the rituals. I’m guessing that this may be the primary appeal of the movie to some.

 

Who Killed Mary What’s ‘er Name? (1971)

WHO KILLED MARY WHAT’S ‘ER NAME? (1971)
Article 2219 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2007
Posting Date: 9-9-2007
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Featuring Red Buttons, Sylvia Miles, Conrad Bain

Upon his dismissal from the hospital, a diabetic ex-boxer decides to investigate the murder of a hooker when the authorities fail to make any investigation of their own. He rents out the hooker’s former apartment, and begins questioning the offbeat characters who knew her.

This movie was listed in John Stanley’s CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE STRIKES AGAIN, but, as happens occasionally with some of his entries in the book, this one has no fantasy, science fiction or horror elements to it that would merit its inclusion. However, I agree with his evaluation of the movie, in that it is not the plot that really makes this movie work; it’s the plethora of odd and curious characters that populate the world of this movie, not least of which is our hero played excellently by Red Buttons. There’s also a filmmaker who covers the neighborhood trying to get cinema verite footage for a movie about hookers and a junkie who torments prostitutes to win the support (and money) of old women to satisfy his habit, as well as a likable prostitute, a suspicious cop, and a friendly bartender, as well as a buddy who helps him with his investigation. These characters go a long ways towards keeping our interest when the story falters or gets confusing. As well as those listed above, the cast features David Doyle as one of the prostitute’s clients (with the nickname of Captain Marvel) , and Ron Carey, who I remember from “Barney Miller”. It’s not a perfect movie, but the strengths are greater than the weaknesses.

 

Spy Squad (1961)

SPY SQUAD (1961)
aka Capture That Capsule
Article 2218 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2007
Posting Date: 9-8-2007
Directed by Will Zens
Featuring Richard Jordahl, Pat Bradley, Richard Miller

Communist spies try to get their hands on the capsule of a downed rocket that will give them important information. Unbeknownst to them, the capsule was actually planted by CIA agents who have planted a homing device inside in the hopes that the spies will lead them to their boss.

This is either the single most dunderheaded spy movie ever made, or one of the most slyly subtle comedies to pop up on my list in some time. Yet, despite the wealth of evidence against it, I suspect it’s the former. It’s directed by Will Zens, who I’m mostly familiar with for having directed a dead-in-the-water military drama called THE STARFIGHTERS, and this movie certainly reminds me of it at times, with its wealth of conversational dialogue that goes nowhere. Despite the fact that the Russian spies speak perfect colloquial English, they still call each other “Comrade” on every occasion, and one repeatedly uses the word “cotton-pickin'” as well. These are some of the most hapless spies I’ve ever seen, what with their internal bickering and their ability to find the most absurd obstacles possible, including run-ins with the Department of Game and Fish, a fatal encounter with a bathing beauty with a spear gun, the theft of the capsule by an eight-year-old boy looking for his pet snake, and being dragged into a cocktail party by an over-eager hostess. The supposedly-valuable capsule looks like a painted conical road marker, and it’s treated with such disdain by everyone who gets near it that it’s hard to believe it’s supposed to be valuable. After a while, the hilarious absurdity of the thing becomes its great strength; it just gets funnier as it goes along. The fantastic content is extremely slight if there’s any at all, though, and even though IMDB lists Dick Miller in the cast, the movie bills someone named Richard Miller who is a totally different person. If you like your bad movies funny, this one is recommended.