The Water Babies (1978)

THE WATER BABIES (1978)
Article 2226 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-20-2007
Posting Date: 9-16-2007
Directed by Lionel Jeffries
Featuring James Mason, Bernard Cribbins, Billie Whitelaw

A poor boy finds himself accused of being a thief while working as a chimney sweep at a country mansion. He jumps into a stream to escape his pursuers and finds himself in an underwater kingdom. In order to escape, he must find the Water Babies and then meet the Kraken.

The DVD cover makes this children’s fantasy look as if it’s going to be one of those treacly overcute productions – all right for young children but almost unwatchable for adults. Well, don’t trust DVD covers; the first scenes of this movie take place in a grimy, somewhat brutal London market that looks like something out of Dickens at his bleakest. The fact that our hero is a forced apprentice to a brutish chimney sweep (James Mason in an unexpected role) and his sniveling assistant (Bernard Cribbins) only underscores the Dickens similarity. No, this movie is not overly cute, but it isn’t quite satisfying either; despite some good and very interesting moments, the movie seems a bit jittery and off-putting. The first thirty minutes and the last fifteen minutes are live-action, but the middle half of the movie is animated, and largely follows the plot of THE WIZARD OF OZ ; a child and his dog find themselves in a strange land, they go on a journey and meet three companions, ask a favor from a powerful god-figure and are set on a task to defeat some villain to prove their worth. There’s really only two songs, but fortunately, the central one that pops up repeatedly is very good. Unfortunately, the animation, most of which seems to have been done by Russian animators, has a jerky, unpleasant feel to it that takes away somewhat from my enjoyment of the movie. The best thing about the movie is Billie Whitelaw, who, though she seems to play several roles, may actually be the manifestation of one person, and whose presence has a hard-to-define power over the proceedings; if anything makes me want to seek out the Charles Kingsley book on which the movie was based, it is her presence, as I’d be hoping that the book would explain it more fully. The cast also features David Tomlinson, and Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee provides one of character voices.

 

Advertisements

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968)
Article 2225 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2007
Posting Date: 9-15-2007
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Featuring Mamie Van Doren, Mary Marr, Paige Lee

A group of astronauts come to Venus to explore. A group of telepathic female Venusians who worship a pterodactyl try to destroy them.

This is what amounts to Peter Bogdanovich’s first theatrical film, in which he took (or was given) the Russian science fiction epic PLANETA BUR, edited in footage of beautiful Venusians in seashell bikini tops, added a lot of dubbing and narration, and voila! instant movie. The movie isn’t totally useless, largely because PLANETA BUR has some nice moments to it; the scene with the robot in the lava is the most memorable, but I also like the killer plant and the final revelation about the rock. The new footage is pretty bad, but sometimes memorable in its own right; the scenes where they hold a funeral for their pterodactyl god (who looks pretty rubbery and may be the best competitor with the monster in THE GIANT CLAW for the goofiest cinematic flying beastie) and the one where they find a new god qualify. Still, it’s fairly easy to find copies of PLANETA BUR anymore, so this version may be unnecessary, unless you absolutely have to see Mamie Van Doren in the seashell bikini top.

Incidentally, this movie is part of a group of three from the mid -to-late sixties which I associate with each other because it’s so easy to get them confused. The other two movies are VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, and WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET. To further complicate things, one of these movies also makes extensive use of footage from PLANETA BUR. Talk about recycling…

 

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 .

 

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.